“It did what I wanted it to do,” said my sister of the carefully composed little book of old family photographs she’d arranged with sheer vellum slips between the pages, “so they could see through to the old faces, maybe circle them, write things, mostly gather round close and remember because the book is small.” Their knees would almost have to touch.
Going down the list: after against among around, I think how trivial they are, how low their self-esteem, how like safety pins they merely connect. Prepositions are the paid help we’re not allowed to talk to, the maids in black uniforms who pass hors d’oeuvres at parties. Or rather, if we could laugh together, they would be the forbidden joy leaping like sparks between us. Who can survive without connection? All winter, green waits for the sun to wake it from its nap and so we say sunlight lies on the grass. Even the simplest jar connects—jar under moonlight, on counter, jar in water. Imagine prepositions in the Valley of Dry Bones stitching the femur to the heel, the heel to the foot bone. And afterwards, they got up to dance. Between, beside, within may yet keep the chins and breasts from tumbling off Picasso’s women. If I could, I would make prepositions the stars of a book, like the luminary traveling the navy sky the night sweet Jesus lay in his cradle, pulling the nameless, devious kings toward Bethlehem, and us behind them,
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.
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?
At year’s end, when all is sad and done in, we gasp as clouds of smoke appear. But it’s only the yews spewing pollen, outdoing chimneys as if it were spring. That and speech about Mideast peace as juncos reseed themselves, the Christmas rose flops open to cold, and Barney the cat perfects his new trick—he unbars our door.
He stares. (He prefers indoors.) But right there’s the morning star, just like the chorale’s. And up close, trouble— a pup hunting kibble and warmth. And there’s more. Mt. Rainier shows up in pink and blue bunting. So clear. Such fresh-powder glory. The sleepy volcano seems suddenly haloed, huge, and near. So much for our little stable.
Amazon says that the most highlighted Bible passage on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader is Philippians 4:6–7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Atlantic, November 2).