“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,
Philosophers have measur’d mountains, Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings, Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains: But there are two vast, spacious things, The which to measure it doth more behove: Yet few there are that sound them; Sinne and Love.
Who would know Sinne, let him repair Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair, His skinne, his garments bloudie be. Sinne is that presse and vice, which forceth pain To hunt his cruell food through ev’ry vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay And taste that juice, which on the crosse a pike Did set again abroach; then let him say If ever he did taste the like. Love in that liquour sweet and most divine, Which my God feels as bloud; but I, as wine.
We’re here to gather evidence, to find The DNA—or at least to lift the finger- prints of Deity. A treasure hunt With clues craftily concealed, but there Nevertheless. If clouds drifting dreamily Across the moon’s congested face won’t do, Or waves that threaten passion in the Higher sense, beyond a Category Five, make you shrug, consider numbers, Counting to infinity. Boot up Your Apple, and see how many zeroes it Can prophesy. Click a remote: note How mice, unwired, can still point To sites unmentioned in the manual. Divide three into ten, and claim eternity.
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.
It’s the coat I notice first, several sizes too big, and blue as the sea, an ocean to drown in, and clearly not hers. It was, I guessed, his, just two months dead, and she, his wife for scarcely a year, stays afloat, barely, marooned in his clothes, in anything that keeps him close, the scent and touch of cloth to skin. But it’s the shoes that pierce my heart—gunboats, we called them when I was a child—and they do look like boats, his New Balance sneakers that carry her, heeling, over sharp breaking waves.
Here’s what’s to be read, or part of it, in mud by the brook after last night’s storm— storm that scrawled itself on sky in color and light, here then gone.
It was matchless. Thus I won’t even try to speak of such flash. No, back to the mud, to the scrimshaw of busiest rodents—voles, mice—and the paired stabs of weasel,
and the lissome trail of a gaunt angleworm, who lies there still, just under the brush, carnal pink or its tail showing out. Small gnats make a veil on my face.
I choose not even to wave them away. But for my mild heavings of chest after the climb to this upland water, the still of the place is absolute,
and the fullness too: the water striders in the pool above the fortuitous dam of sticks and debris are water striders up and down: they stand on themselves
on the surface reflection, foot to foot. How many grains of sand in the world? So one of my daughters wanted to know in her infancy. “A gadzillion,” I’d say.
“I love you more than that,” she’d answer. What have I ever done to earn blessing? I choose to believe in grace, believe the splendors of the universe
lie not in my eye but rather subsume me, small drab me, one part of so many. Beauty not in my eye but including my eye, which tonight may see the cavalcade
of star and planet or cloud again, gravid. When I consider all this, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? It seems right
to have knelt, although one kneels by habit by this brook. The pinespills sunk to its streamstones would take my lifetime to tally up, and more would keep coming, please God, keep coming.
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).