Road movies provide screenwriters with a built-in structure. It allows them, in the immortal words of the Queen of Hearts, to “begin at the beginning, go on until you reach the end, and then stop!” But what happens when an ending isn’t really the end? Or when the “real” end sends us down a different road altogether?
It’s the coat I notice first, several sizes too big, and blue as the sea, an ocean to drown in, and clearly not hers. It was, I guessed, his, just two months dead, and she, his wife for scarcely a year, stays afloat, barely, marooned in his clothes, in anything that keeps him close, the scent and touch of cloth to skin. But it’s the shoes that pierce my heart—gunboats, we called them when I was a child—and they do look like boats, his New Balance sneakers that carry her, heeling, over sharp breaking waves.
Hubble pockets light years, eons, sees eye to eye with dust, a small drop of water. NASA’s robot stalks tiptoe, a cat’s paw on the prowl to report if there is life, beeps back a monument of stone and ice, an unresponsive mountain in orbit. Delicate antennae translate the laws of physics into a mourner’s sigh.
But the frozen droplet, like the sea to a drowning man, whirls its rueful hoard of thanks deferred, of love unvoiced, the pleas of miracles before the eyes, the mystery of the heart, the mind’s Post-it notes: Praise the Lord, Carpe Diem and Memento Mori.
Here’s my question. What if there was a poem That didn’t know what it was about until it got To the end of itself? So that the poet’s job isn’t To play with imagery and cadence and metrical Toys in order to make a point, but rather to just Keep going in order to find out that the poem is About how hard it is to watch your kids get hurt By things they can’t manage and you cannot fix. If I had been the boss of this poem I would have Made it so they can manage things, or I could be The quiet fixer I always wanted to be as a father; But that’s not what the poem wanted to be about, It turns out. This poem is just like your daughter: No one knows what’s going to happen, and there Will be pain, and you can’t fix everything, and it Hurts to watch, and you are terrified even as you Try to stay calm and cool and pretend to manage. Some poems you can leave when they thrash too Much but kids are not those sorts of poems. They Have to keep writing themselves, and it turns out You are not allowed to edit. You’re not in charge At all—a major bummer. I guess there’s a lesson Here about literature, about how you have to sing Without knowing the score . . . something like that. All you can do is sing wildly and hope it’ll finish So joyous and refreshing that you gape with awe.
Philosopher Michael Ruse is an ardent evolutionist and unbeliever, but he often comes to the defense of believers who are under fire from militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. Ruse says his sympathetic stance toward religion is partly due to his Quaker upbringing. “I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving (and very intelligent) Christians. I never forget that,” said Ruse. He also objects to what he regards as bad atheist arguments. Evolution explains the existence of religion as an adaptive mechanism, but that doesn’t necessarily explain it away. “It is as plausible that my love of Mozart’s operas is a byproduct of adaptation, but it doesn’t make them any the less beautiful and meaningful,” Ruse said (New York Times interview, July 8).