Readers of P. D. James’s novel Children of Men won’t be prepared for the emotional breadth of the film version by Alfonso Cuarón. Like most dystopian stories, the book is relentlessly grim, icy and pedantic.
Close to an hour more of light since December’s solstice stood the calendar on edge, balancing my dwindling days between the here and the hereafter. This late January thaw has turned thoughts to spring again, those Holland-ordered bulbs I bedded late into November already showing green above the gray and crusted soil. You’d think, with seventy winters now beneath my crust, that I’d know better, learn to stay hunkered warm against those drifts that still must slump against the garage door. Yet an old, insistent summoning, wiser than winter’s experts, sends me back to the seed catalogs, makes me check trowel, fork and leaf mold, bends my head to bloom and blossoms yet unseen but lending never-ending fragrance to every lifeless, frigid scene.
The year: 1944. The place: a makeshift military encampment in the verdant countryside outside of Madrid, where a company of Spanish soldiers is methodically eliminating the few remaining resistance fighters trying to topple the fascist government of General Franco.
The trouble is the halo. He’s never dissected one, prying it open with a blade under cover of night to determine its component parts: seeking with his fingertips for the thin band of cartilage that holds it erect, or the branched nerves channeling light as coldly steady as foxfire on a rotting log. The same goes for wings. Without evidence from his cadavers, he dispenses with them, painting angels as fit as young quarrymen and pasta-loving cherubs to whom aerodynamic principles will never apply. Even God looks as if he climbs into bed each night stiff from a hard day’s work but not ready for sleep, his brain crammed with thumbnail sketches of airy beings aglow with inexhaustible fuel flying by faith in unborn Bernoulli’s constant.
These waters, I must trouble for myself, in an age of the absence of angels, as I plunge, first of the day to break the lambent surface of the pool, and commence my daily reaching after miracles, swimming laps at almost eighty-one. The miracle I seek these recent years has been defined, and then refined, by that old friendly temporizer, “yet”; no longer seeking not-to-die-at-all, just not-to-die-quite-yet, to win a couple bonus years, in which to pen another poem or two, to pile a few more chosen words onto this heap I have—for Oh so long—been working on. Any healing that might come will clearly have to be short term. Until, that is, I reach the final turn, take up my beggar’s bed, and walk.
Print books remain significantly more popular than digital books, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. The bad news is that the number of people who reported reading a book in any format last year was 73 percent, down from 79 percent in 2011 when Pew first started gathering data on the reading habits of America (Publishers Weekly, September 16).