And who is this young stripling beside you, Uncle George bellows from his hospital bed in Chicago, untamed city of wind and soot. His white hair in a tousle, he sits up, surveys us, this man who terrified me as a child with his fiery preaching.
Young marrieds in the '50s, we stand beside his rumpled bed above the traffic on Michigan Avenue, sirens echoing. In this city my husband is studying the body's diseases while I read Hamlet and King Lear, both of us seeking cures.
Lear cries "Howl, howl, howl!" Surgeon enters with his sharpest knife, pours medicine that kills before it heals. No rescue without nakedness, Shakespeare writes, Lear fumbling the button at Cordelia's throat, all of us leaning into the final word, mercy.
Onion skin, they called those thin pages in our Bibles, translucent and strong. Finger smudge at the edges, pages shining over the layers that wait for understanding. After decades I taste them new, the onion sliced raw, tang of earth in my mouth.
Book of leaves, a tree in our house. My father brings it to the table. Before oatmeal and bread, the words like seeds drop down into a damp place. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away,” blessed be the leaves turning in his hand.
My children, bathed and fragrant, lean against my shoulders as I read. They listen to the Shepherd who calls to them, who walks the edge of a cliff. They smell the burning bush, huddle with me as the glory passes over, as I cover them with these paper wings.
The stories walk out the door with us— Joseph dreaming, Ruth gleaning, Jesus in a boat, Jesus wearing thorns. Sometimes he gazes like a lion, stares down the marble aisles of churches through glass angels, out to the ruins we have made.
One red satin ribbon marks the place, cord of God’s desire for us sewn to the spine of the text. No matter where the scarlet falls, no matter which chapter or verse, it is relentless in pursuit, the prophets stumbling behind us, weeping and singing, the blind man seeing.
Veins in the leaves are traceries of Hebrew and Greek, hidden and sweet, stories from which we begin again. I smell roots and eat. “Blessed are those planted by the river.” I will sleep in threads of silk, for I have eaten the Book, and one day will emerge with wet wings lifting toward the white lilies.