as through a glass darkly meant a window to my child’s eyes, probably at night, or perhaps it was the frown our mothers told us God might make permanent so we’d better cut it out, that dark look we got sent to our rooms for, but when mirror was finally identified, like looking glass someone explained, I understood face to face only was that God’s face lurking behind mine as I peered at the medicine chest in the morning or would we have eyes at all if we made it to heaven, drowning like moths in a sea of light.
You may sense it in the call of a Canada goose in flight a longing strong enough to carry an entire flock to their destination You may feel it in the grumble of a distant storm that dark dissatisfaction at what is in comparison with what will be The people who should never let us down let us down The cabin roof groans with the weight of so much snow The stairs in the old farmhouse complain with every footstep even with the memory of feet that move no longer The branches of an enormous oak moan in the high wind You many hear it in the spirituals nurtured in the cotton fields of the deep south a deep sorrow at temporal hopelessness distilled into hope for beyond Comin’ for to carry me home You may think you merely imagine it in the whistle of a train as it rumbles through a midnight crossing but the tracks through BC’s mountains were laid with the blood of Chinese navvies the sweat of abandoned dreams & the boxcars rolling through the prairies during the depression carried the last hope of the unemployed Don’t imagine that that wail has nothing to do with human grief Sometimes our wounds heal completely sometimes they leave a scar A woman learns of cancer in her breast a man finds his heart is failing We fall to our knees for a miracle & are startled when an answer seems to come a taste of what will be Hear the wind in the cavity where the siding is loose Hear it banging against the wall Sometimes our wounds don’t heal at all We fall to our knees but the sky grows grey featureless & silent We long for what we had what we almost had what will be You may sense it in the stillness of a beaver pond or in the rush over Niagara You may see it in the sunflower pushing through the soil reaching for the sky for the sun When we most identify with this world we are least content
For just this day I thank you, Lord—this day when in a new and lonely empty place appeared a friend with whom I could retrace through forty years an undeserved array of other moments shared, and so survey as back across a pathless hillside face a hidden net of tangled trails where grace had always, always canopied the way. The bits of furniture he left behind will be of course in constant, welcome use but they will also serve as types that bind with unseen ligaments of love my loose days here to many others far apart in space and time but very near in heart.
At first—a leering mob circling the house, jeering, dancing naked, taunting the guests with their sex— the daughters thought their father brave to step outside, lock the door behind him, stretch his arms out in protection.
But then, even he offered them up, a sacrifice to protect strangers. Their father. The only “righteous man” in a city destined for flames, “Do with them what you like. But don’t do anything to these men.”
Then their eyes were like Isaac’s below the knife, the ram not yet in the bush, the blade gleaming.
What dread dug in the daughters’ betrayed hearts before the rioters, struck blind, stumbled, fell down, unable to find the door, Lot tugged back safely to the house?
And later, when they left that life behind, eyes straight toward Zoar, did they hear their mother turning, her stories sliced off mid-sentence?
What kept their gaze fixed? Their father’s almost-sacrifice or the intervention?
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).
Life smooths us, perfects as does the river the stone, and there is no place our Beloved is not flowing, though the current’s force you may not like. —St. Teresa of Ávila
This rounding roughs us even as it smooths, the force of God’s water strong, tumbles the small stones even as it soothes and carries them lightly along, The rain falls full and fills the streams. The river drinks their love. The trees bend heavy with dreams. There’s nothing that does not move.
Borne along by fire and flood, by wind that tongues and grooves, our bodies brimmed with blood that feeds us as it proves perfection is no steady state. It’s on the way and always late.
They warned us, like innocents, not to name our goat, to exercise good sense, refuse to see him as a pet or even, oops, as him. Just do whatever all it takes to tame the thing toward that appointed time when goat and fate should meet, when the dull drawn blade would withdraw blood from funny, fuzzy throat.
For days or weeks, we avoided eyes, made it a point to see the animal as meat. Through open window, so relieved, I heard you say to our neighbor, “No, you do it.”
And kindly, our neighbor did—spared you, and me too. But I will never forgive myself the rare deliciousness of the stew.
Even after years living with the blind, guide dogs continue gazing into the dead fish of their owner’s eyes. The dogs are not stupid. They simply see what eyes can’t see behind the bloodless husk of facts. And soon enough, their guileless trust awakens something in the blind: not sight, exactly, but the cognizance that they are seen—which is another kind of seeing—call it faith, blind faith.
Obvious of course, now and in the beginning: God is not a perfectionist. Good at detail for sure, and drama, but lacking the compulsion to get every piece of punctuation in its proper place, ever. And forever forgetting the finishing touches: a proper frame, that final proofreading.
Tempting to be critical of such sloppiness, all those excesses and omissions. For instance, surely there is too much sadness to go around, more than what’s necessary for lessons and poetry.
But I don’t mean there is no serious business here. Only that there is something else on the canvas, an art in line and color, a splash of mystery, a priority of passion perhaps, well beyond the right answer and its rush of applause, something still seeping into our soil.
Here’s a story. My first job, at fifteen, was in a bakery, Cleaning the vast foul pots and kettles and baking pans At night, for hours, alone, with horrifying chemicals, & Finally locking the shop and trudging home in the dark. I hated it from the first hour but I couldn’t quit instantly Because I was afraid to be teased and be mortified. This Went on a week. The back door to the bakery was in an Alley that looked like a good place to get shot. One day As I shuffled sadly down the alley I saw a slumped man Sitting by the back door, smoking. I didn’t know him & Figured I was about to get rolled. I was sort of relieved, To be honest, because then I’d have a decent excuse for Quitting. But when I got there the man stood up, and he Said boy, I run the shop next door, and I see you in here Working, and I bet you have not eaten, and that’s awful Hard work, I know how that guy leaves his kitchenware, So here’s a sandwich. Now, it’s not from me exactly but From my wife who has a real sharp eye. So there you go. I quit a few days later, and at my dad’s instruction I quit Face to face with the baker, who was furious, and it was No fun at all, but then I went and said thanks to the lady. Even now sometimes I see that man smoking in the alley, And standing up, and being kind to a kid he didn’t know. Even now I’ll be walking along and suddenly there he is, Waiting to be kind. We think we are alone but we aren’t.
A curving trail—the callused field obscures it until we shovel out the clotted brick, lug a ton or two of sand to fit trenches, level rumpled earth, correct courses. A mallet stuns a thumb, new blisters bud as self-impressed we shout, “This row is done!” but then a kid names names, prefers George Toad, Kate Cricket, slaps William Mosquito, pats Barkly, unleashed, our best company. We rest and share cold drinks. David brings homemade muffins, burned, blueberry plenty. Sun flickers around us, summer’s wings. Yet sand, we need more sand! Deer watch from trees while we adjust the pathways on our knees.