We Are the Eighth Day, © Melanie Weidner


Across and down

Following in the tradition of Spellbound (about kids participating in a national spelling bee) and Word Wars (about Scrabble players), the charming small-scale documentary Wordplay captures the fervor with which many Americans approach the New York Times daily crossword puzzle.

After the biopsy

“Each time that we have some pain to go through, we can say to ourselves quite truly that it is the universe, the order and beauty of the world, and the obedience of creation to God that are entering our body. After that, how can we fail to bless with tenderest gratitude the Love that sends us this gift?”
                                —Simone Weil

The pathology report an icon; the tissue
staining the slide, God’s kaleidoscope.
And those cells, obeying their DNA,
cosmic dust as they whirl and split.
Why not praise cancer, relentless, blind,
that seeks and finds the lymph and blood?
Because I am unthankful, rude.
Because if I linger over this gift,
I will change, I will vanish from the earth.
In Russia, an icon of Mary has wept
for twenty years. Mary, do you see
my nuclei mutating, like words
in “whisper down the lane”? This same God
took your son away. Help me disobey.


The last radio show

Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is such a deconstructionist’s dream that you almost expect the late Jacques Derrida to make a cameo appearance. Talk about reality’s insubstantiality: here we have the cinematic version of a beloved radio program, now over three decades old, whose sly conceits play on a homespun America that barely existed.

The Sistine Chapel

On the scaffold twenty meters up
tracing her head in the damp plaster,
Michelangelo knows it’s going to take
more than a breath to make Adam drop
his can’t-be-bothered pose, too bored
to stand even at God’s charged arrival,
held aloft by a crew of hard-working cherubs
who struggle to maintain lift long enough
for contact to occur: a critical maneuver
of the right hand complicated by the added
weight of Eve on whom His left arm rests.
Drops of paint freckle his face as he wonders
how many priests will take offense
but concludes that only skin to skin will do.
Without it, Adam’s forever grounded.
God’s touch is first. Hers is next.


I'll always remember

I’ll always remember
the sweltering night in Missouri,
the pulsing din of the katydids,
the prairie grass stretching away
on the other side of the trees.
In the dark woods across the pond,
a lost calf bleats its anguish—
six times, then eight, then six again.
I sit at the camp table listening,
as so many nights before. In the tent,
sleeping, the boy, now thirteen,
the woman, after twenty-seven years.
Moths and greenbugs attack the lantern,
flapping crazily. Before I finish tonight
they will land in the halo
of the hot gas light, diligently
search out the lantern’s air vents
and incinerate themselves.
In the morning I will brush away
the fine white ash. This is not
a fitting metaphor
for any human aspiration.
The light we are seeking
is not the kind that destroys
those who seek it. True,
the bright burning gas
tempts us sometimes. I know, I know.
There are nights when we feel
that bad. I turn the valve of the lantern
to off and wait for my vision
to adjust to the darkness.
The almost inaudible
breathing from the tent
comforts me. I think of us
sitting on the shore
as the last sunlight seeped
from the sky, watching the boy
cast his fishing line
again and again
out into the pond, catching nothing
except happiness. The light
we are seeking catches all the world
in the shooting arc
of the outthrown line, never
to be lost, not bounded
by night, dangerous
only to death.