Growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church, I learned to confess my sins by kneeling directly in front of the priest. I had no reason to believe that other churches handled this sacrament differently. When I first saw Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, I was mesmerized by the scenes of Death and the Knight talking to each other, in part because they were sitting in some sort of booth with a small door between them. What a great cinematic concept, I thought. When I later visited a Catholic church for the first time and saw the rows of confessionals, my response was, “They stole the idea from Bergman!”
Somewhere in the sacred opera, in a sea of men, the little voice, fearless in the face of the foreign marketplace of sound booming in the maw of the basilica, came forth, the little voice, like the water bird above the river.
The lost child’s chant, meant to take away a mother’s grief, came at us from behind.
His form, white, diaphanous, backlit, wafted from the narthex down the nave, one flaming wing trembling, his treble sure, sure, soaring, pinning my lapsed heart to some small certainty:
All shall be well. The ears of the deaf shall be open, as well as the gates to the house of doubt.
It takes 10 or 15 minutes to catch up to the shorthand narrative style of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth film based on the J. K. Rowling novels (released at about the same time as the seventh and final book in the series).
In this painting, on a wagon’s perch, a man, reins invisible on his lap and his face a smudge of umber, further tarnished by the turkey red that day remainders on dusk. And around him, the hauler of fence posts, a dark outline, waxy as the outline of a child’s less practiced hand. Through the body’s black trace glows a little of the background: the going sun, its rusty flare.
Where it all seems to be this way, a little insubstantial around the edges, perhaps either will suffice to weigh us down: a load of fence posts to rut us into the snow and earth on the soft road home or the knowledge that we are not beautiful— at best our clothes hang on us like an angel costume made out of bed sheets hangs on a girl in a pageant, her tinsel halo letting through the dark of the stage curtain drawn behind her as she bows.
A Load of Fence Posts is a painting by Lawren Harris, a member of the Canadian Group of Seven. The painting can be found in the McMichael Gallery, near Toronto.
Here in the basement of the Espresso Royale on Sixth Street in this land grant university town, amid English Fog lattes and keypad-clatter, in the afternoon before the all-hallows-eve in which Katie, a great-great-et-cetera granddaughter of the townswoman they hanged for the crime of witchcraft, will play a game—homo ludens— of volleyball against the maize-and-blue Michigan Wolverines I draft a missive to the good citizenry of Dorchester as though they might yet happen upon these words, as though their revivified selves were a short gallop from this latitude and longitude, as though their sins of omission and commission might still be forgiven— not just forgotten—by an act of penance that includes a pilgrimage to tonight’s venue and a maniacal cheering for this descendent as she executes (I didn’t invent the language) a perfect play that culminates in (really, I didn’t) a kill. Full stop because I don’t know how to end this letter. So I do what I always do: continue breaking lines and staggering down the page until it’s time to witness more volleyball and cheer like nothing else ever happens or matters.
Researchers at Yale University School of Public Health have discovered a link between longevity and reading books. People who spend up to 3.5 hours each week engrossed in a book were 17 percent less likely to die in the 12 years following the study, and those who read more than 3.5 hours are 23 percent less likely to die in the same period. The longevity advantage remained even after adjusting the data for education, wealth, cognitive ability, and other variables, although no cause-and-effect relationship was established (Tech Times, August 8).