It stands in the water stilted head cocked like a hammer; faster than the eye it hooks a flash of gray and then a glimpse of silver quickly swallowed. I wish the canoe to silence, hold breath with the day a ruffle of air and feathers an explosion into grace and it’s gone a hundred yards away. I begin the painstaking task of easing oar and self across the surface towards this totem an avatar granting pure life, motion, a reason to be. It wings forth again in perfect silence and falls perched on the stillness that stretches its hand out over the water down deep into the mud the fish that are blind to the roots into me where even now I am winging
The oceans feel the pulling of the moon. The whole earth feels it. Why then cannot I? I am too fragile, small to face that doom. The oceans live millennia; I die. The oceans churn me under in their power. Their force is mighty, and their mass is more. The moon climbs high and falls, led by the hour. If time is known, location then is sure. But what predicts where we may be and when, When even we don’t know? Command the sky To turn, but what’s the will that orders men? The heavens say it’s either God or “I.” At waning gibbous, just a bit past full, I see the moon, but cannot feel its pull.
As I stood, rooted, winter-locked, my hand outstretched in southern sun, the lizard leapt to the branch of my arm as if there was nothing at all to fear. As if I was the tree he sought, he rested, weightless, green as grass, pink throat-fan ballooning with each small breath, and I felt something ease inside, a sweetness rising, as he ran, quick as raindrops, up my trunk, toe pads tickling as he touched, oh so lightly, neck, cheek, hair, like a blessing, or a prayer.
A man doesn’t have time in his life to have time for everything. He doesn’t have seasons enough to have a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes was wrong about that.
A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment, to laugh and cry with the same eyes, with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them, to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget, to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest what history takes years and years to do.
A man doesn’t have time. When he loses he seeks, when he finds he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves he begins to forget.
And his soul is seasoned, his soul is very professional. Only his body remains forever an amateur. It tries and it misses, gets muddled, doesn't learn a thing, drunk and blind in its pleasures and in its pains.
He will die as figs die in autumn, shriveled and full of himself and sweet, the leaves growing dry on the ground, the bare branches already pointing to the place where there’s time for everything.
These days, as some people are bent on making war and others equally determinded to keep peace, I return to my former teacher, Yehuda Amichai, a German-born Jew who migrated to Palestine and grew up with the nation of Israel, a soldier, professor and poet.
His fingers kiss the crown of my distress, my tresses gently lingering in his hold while frankincense makes dizzy unto death. Newly blanched, the black ewe joins the fold
and what is sin of me is gone, released. Oh wetly, I am held to this. Delight, shines the cruciform pose of the priest. There’s Jesus in his hands. The water’s white.
Study war no more
Mar 18, 2011
Michael Izbicki grew up in a nondenominational church in California. A National Merit Scholarship finalist, he chose to go to the U.S. Naval Academy out of a sense of duty to his country during a time of war. At the naval academy he began to doubt whether the career to which he had committed himself could be squared with the tenets of just war doctrine. He got in trouble when he responded no to this exam question: "If given the order, would you launch a missile carrying a nuclear warhead?" After a four-year legal battle, the navy discharged him as a conscientious objector. Izbicki may have to reimburse the service for part or all of his education (New York Times, February 22).