Confusing, how the landscape stumbles— there is sky beyond this sky, a backyard of chickens, a broken dog. Ambition, like green fields, slows upon autumns and the few ancient trucks. Work earth, plow and hoe, bent over the soil again. Years of this sameness. Years of the white sun.
To marry a girl was the one thing. The other, talk—long into nights out past the river. Sometimes three of us found ourselves there. We shared what we had, even failures we’d carried in our coats. In that certain dark, nothing but compassionate days, when our tilling turned the ground to wider orbits, to order.
A village closes upon itself. The road’s rise toward Copsa Mare is the firm hand urging. Doorways are boundaries children learn to respect. Someone, born to it, swells within his father’s isolation, painting his barn a fierce yellow. Hay in the lofts. I know how surely we fall to ourselves in this world.
There are tracings in the snow-filled field, Tracks I see but cannot read; except the deer’s Small heart-shaped prints, the rest remains A mystery. And so, I think of Hebrew script, The jagged flame that writes of God, but Is not God, the scholars say. God dwells in White fire, not in black. In sky glimpsed Through dark winter trees, in breath-filled Silence when we pray.
Politics, our children, Some ball team—ordinary Palaver among old friends At a B-plus restaurant, Till between the soups and the blood-
Red meats I mentioned a nun. She wanders the crack dens of bitter- End Brooklyn, forging through places Grown hot as embers with sin. I needed to call it so,
Though I had no axe to grind. She seeks “the least of these,” For which I voiced only wonder. And yet when one woman countered, “Your faith’s no more than a crutch,”
A devil put cruelest things In my head. I didn’t speak them, Mindful of words of James: How our tongues are harder to govern Than bloodhorse or masted ship.
How they need to be governed no matter. Though faith didn’t need my defense, Believe me, that moment of choice, My silence, didn’t come easy To one who for years was addicted
To thought he called free, unsponsored, Till all that freedom produced A pair of paper slippers, Blue robe, steel gurney with straps. In a bright-white lockdown ward,
Librium’d, flat on his face, He groped for the crutch of grace, With which he has hobbled his way From the Pit, as the Psalmist calls it, Up to a wider place.
That seemed a choice as well: He chose to believe in salvation. As still I hope to choose, Though the crack house carries on, The pit bull snarls at his station,
Urine steams in the hallways, Stars on high are a puzzle, And my nun can’t account for a thing. There’s none of us who can, Wrapped in our other addictions.
Yet there’s no accounting either For what I felt this Easter: I heard from the gospel of John About Mary Magdalene. Woman, why are you weeping?
So the Christ is said to have asked her Before he named her: Mary. To which she answered: Rabboni! I recalled a state beyond crying, All my tears sunk into the bedclothes.
A voice announced, It’s over. Then I felt the rush of undying. In Hebrew, rabboni means teacher. You can look it up in a book. Does my friend believe these stories?
She doesn’t. Nor I, exactly. Not a word. Not a literal word. I believe them inexactly, In a way that beggars our speech. Something taught me something.
It’s no use to speak of it glibly, There’s no accounting for grace. Why then did it prove such a battle For me to say nothing that evening?
The tongue as I say was hot As a coal, was keen as a sword? I might loose it. Caustic. Unruly. How it hates to speak of faith, And can only speak of faith.
Which is after all merely a word.
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).