Soulful and tough in equal measure, The Pursuit of Happyness is the ideal movie for the Christmas season. It’s a triumph-of-the-spirit film in which the protagonist’s journey from poverty and occasional homelessness to solvency and the promise of a future is so thorny and obstacle-laden that you can’t imagine how he’s going to get there.
These midwinter days that bridge Epiphany to Lent can seem anything but ordinary as the steady waxing light reflects across old December’s glaze of ice, a biting wind hisses across the stark bones of the bracken, and treetops signal sparse against a sky expecting still more snow before nightfall. Scarlet and speckled birds announce themselves about the brightness of the holly, spray from the creek creates bright frosted chandeliers among the tangled overhanging branches, and dusk draws down its spangling of stars so crystalline they lift the eye— heart too—toward a principality that banishes any vestige of routine predictability. Ordinariness exists—if at all— within the desiccated soul, too distracted by its fearful self to notice.
So near to evening, thoughts against thought will run,   unsettled in currents: fish, aswim down suddened light.   Upon the bank, I’ve slowed to discern the turn toward night in the songs of birds. Even water itself is by dark undone.
Trees and road, hill and distance—all coaxed into one.   Stern shapelessness, I cannot place myself. Wouldn’t know right so near to evening. Thoughts against thought will run,   unsettled in currents: fish, aswim down suddened light.
like this, then—boat that drifts for the shore, done   with floating blind. At the edge of my vision, a white   something. Sand bar? Rock break? There’s not enough sight to say. Will I learn at last how much such doubts have won? So near to evening, thoughts against thought will run.
Near chamomile and rosebud potpourri a pair of porcelain camels rest, bit players glazed and unaware of this faux Nativity. Peasant extras lift their silent, pleasing prayers with seasonal adoration. None harbors signs of panic: no goats or stable maids, no wise trio, those dazzled star readers bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Not the puzzled carpenter from Galilee. Not the curious shepherds, nor the virgin exhausted still from her spotless labor.
These figures encircle a barren trough. Where have you gone, O lost Christ child? In truth, the Messiah’s size is the stuff of legend: he’s been abducted. (No Ascension- Come-Early before the ministry begins) Not much bigger than a packing peanut, the babe’s become an object of devotion, begotten for those tenacious paws’ wild swatting or mouth that totes the Savior in haste. We spy the vacancy and know the culprit: fat Larry, golden pear and roly-poly cat,
that ring-tailed and recidivist felon. Regular brigand of the infant Son, he mocks this fragile coffee-table cast. We joke that his is a holy commission, converting birthplace to an empty tomb, Bethlehem yoking the born and risen. Each time He’s someplace new: laundry room or water dish. Under chair, in basement, unknown manger now. And still His grace and tiny lacquered limbs feel ever present, embodying their reliquaried space.
There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry. –Mark Strand
What shall I do with this book I love so much I’d like to eat it? Meeting the poet at a reading, I would cast my eyes down. I’d walk behind him, not stepping on his shadow. If he told me I was half blind, I might lose sight in both my eyes. At home, everything I write becomes infected with his wildness: for instance, this, which I never planned, which has no ending.
Where shall I put the book, so full of life my car could barely stick to the Expressway? When my cold encyclopedias sense its goofy brilliance, they climb and hang on one another like Chinese gymnasts. I must subtract to make a place for the book to live. I lift out histories, then other listless volumes. I toss my boring files, erase the answering machine, renounce the desk, computer, pens.
Only the illumination of St. John stays. In my study’s scooped-out heart I wait beside the book, which glows with light borrowed from some distant star. I look at St. John’s face. He gazes from his throne, his eyes blazing with love and understanding. Tongues of flame play over him, sent from the Source who is both arsonist and fireman, and in his right hand, he holds a book.
The kindergarten bus bounces past me this morning as I shamble out to my car and a little cheerful kid waves To me shyly and whatever it is we are way down deep Opens like a fist that’s been clenched so long it did not Think it would ever open again and for a moment I am That kid and she is my daughter and I’m waving to her Hoping she will wave to me and we think that we can’t Write that for which we do not have words but actually Sometimes you can if you go gently between the words
Bill Haslam, Republican governor of Tennessee, recently vetoed a bill that would have made the Bible the official state book. Haslam is a Christian who says his favorite authors are the popular Christian writers Philip Yancey and Eugene Peterson. The governor said the nation’s founders “recognized that when the church and state were combined, it was the church that suffered in the long run.” Treating the Bible as a cultural artifact trivializes it, he argued. The two Republican sponsors of the bill said they would try to override the veto, which can be done with a mere majority of votes in the two chambers of the state legislature (Los Angeles Times, April 17).