I heard the Irishman on the radio say, only it didn’t sound the way we’d say it: commonplace, like dirt under the nails. He held it on his tongue, “Air-th,” as if it were the best place, like heaven: spacious, intricate, infinitely rich, with swells of color and cloud, forest stipple and patches of swale, the “r” rolling along like the hills. As if it were the best word in the language, better even than love.
The shavings curled from my plane the afternoon she stood a shadow in the door and spoke the single syllable. I thought, So soon, but deep in me a harmony awoke, a rhythm lost in the hammer song I made furnishing the world chair by chair, bed by bed. Her single word was Go. My debt was paid. Joseph’s memory would be satisfied: My craft would find its end in speech—the Word voiced as once when spoken it divided light from dark and all Creation bloomed. I heard my father in her voice. Both sadness and delight indwelt the shop, as if the two were one as they may be when the work of wood is done.
The scarlet petals were floppy as old hats by March, and falling into piles on the rug, so I cut its plastic pot to free its roots and laid it by the compost in the mud. Busy that spring, I never noticed how it waited out the months, night after night in wind, in grueling rain and a late snow, inclining from the compost into light, its new leaves firming, shining, thick, like a novitiate of a strange order, as days warm, growing fierce and quick, blessing the lost plants I’ve lodged there. It rang like church bells, red, on the hour. Now let me learn to love what cannot flower.
Both the owner and his daughter said we’d have to see the crosses, so of course I tried to avoid them, but wandering aimlessly
after sublimity as I do on free afternoons I followed a sign that said “Baptismal” down a narrow way
and stepped carefully on the rocks across the icy creek. When I looked up there they were, enormous,
big enough to crucify a pteranodon or a giraffe. As I climbed the muddy path some part of me said,
I have to safeguard my doubts and another remembered how the old picker said to Goodman, I find
the prettiest woman in the room and play every song for her. Too edgy to eat, Salinger’s Franny tried to pray
the Jesus prayer all the way through homecoming. With the sun low behind the crosses, I could barely look.
Thin grass, lichens, rocks and gravel lay low all around, stunned by some brutal devotion not their own.
Three weeks to solstice. Faint thin birdsong. So many trees, so many rocks, so many women
whose lives and bodies I will never touch. The creek rippled on, Shasta glowed in the chilly haze,
a strand of spider silk glinted in and out of sight. Breathe in: This is paradise. Breathe out: I must go.
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).