He would sit Sunday mornings in his big steepled chair the cross hung gold and unswayed overhead a man in a robe. I had seen him dress sitting on the side of his bed he wore ribbed gauzy undershirts and white boxer shorts and my father’s legs had no hair where socks go. As the organist played a meditation he would span his forehead with his hand and seem to suffer but then leaning back his bright eyes would go fishing for me in the dark congregation and I waited
and waited until he caught me and smiled. During most of the service I stared at unmoving biblical men in stained glass. I loved to have him see me in church and after the sermon I stood in line and went through shaking his hand like we didn’t know each other and I told him I enjoyed it and he put his other hand on top of mine.
It might as well be the inner sea, all these people floating by in surges, welcome calm after the last parishioner slips away at low tide, after the third mass, after he’s greeted each one personally, remembering chief worries, daughter in trouble, husband wronged, teenage boy not certain if he’s in or out of religion, black-hatted old woman who swam in during mass, fluffy white-suited—some misguided angel. The day is old. He walks back alone to the huge rectory built for twelve, now inhabited by one priest and the tidal wave of his God.
First there was the twitch of the olive leaf lipping its stem, then the sigh of silt, settling, and the surrender of crickets, their legs, like fans, folding, when the trill of a brook, intoxicating, irresistible, like the grace of his Lord, carried him away that evening— no chariot for Enoch at the age of 365 who walked with God and simply like the last day in a year was no more.
The diaries of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon have been digitized and made available to the public by the University of Cambridge. Sassoon, a British soldier, was quickly disillusioned by the war and became an outspoken war critic. His diaries feature poetry, prose, and drawings and include his 1917 antiwar “Soldier’s Declaration,” which got him committed to a hospital for the duration of the war. He described the first day of the Battle of Somme as a “sunlit picture of hell” (BBC, July 31).