I have just one person left on earth who’s been My friend through grade school, high school, church, and sports, The pastor says. Meanwhile the winter rain Explodes on the metal roof like handgun shots,
And it’s hard to hear the man go on: Thing is, He’s lost his memory. There comes a catch In his throat, a thing that no one here has witnessed Through all his ministry. Here’s the trouble, he adds,
I’m left alone with the things we knew together. Silence ensues, save for a few quiet coughs, And rustlings of the worship programs’ paper. Then the preacher seems to change his theme right off,
Speaking of Mary, and how she must have suffered When her son referred to his apostolic peers As family, not to her or his brothers, Not to Joseph—as if he forgot the years
Spent in their household, as if he kept no thought Of ties that bind. The congregants are old. They try to listen, but their minds go wandering off To things like the pounding rain outside, so cold
And ugly and loud. The storm, so out of season, So wintry, still improbably recalls The milder months, which vanished in a moment, And which they summon vaguely, if at all.
The Quaker Meeting House in which we wed was shabby—its carpet faded Wedgewood blue, no festive flowers in a vase, or ribboned pews. But I loved the butter-yellow stucco walls, and the little graveyard at the back, ivy-grown, where only the tops of squat square stones shown grey above the vines. Beneath the eaves, we held for view our newly golden fingers, the charms through which we’d changed from two to one.
We knew a great thing had been done. We were to be each other’s rune and grail, trunk and totem, handkerchief and spoon. Forsaking sex with all others, refusing escape alone from trouble, we promised to cling to the human whom we’d named and kissed. And what a wonder that we did, and have, that years have proved us braver than we knew, and merry, too, love still searching out each other’s hands, as when, beneath the poplars’ summer green, we walked from vows to wedding cake and dancing, and cars drove in the street below the underpass, distracted, to their many destinations.
I don’t know if it’s Kaqchikel or Tzutujil they speak here. I use my small Spanish to haggle for a woven bracelet. Mark and the girls wander off, so I walk alone past stalls of cheap skirts and plastic shoes, baskets of melons, even a table of carved statues of the local saint, Maximón, with his Stetson hat and big cigar.
In a shop I’m drawn to a crucifix, hanging alone among the clay pots. The carver has nudged the local wood into its graceful form. Shy, he says a price— hardly anything—but my local cash is gone and my watch shows nearly noon, time for the last boat back.
At the dock the rest look impatient, the boatman drumming the motor, but I can think only of the pale wood, the stripe of darker grain in the hanging head.
The boat rides low in the water, and as we reach the lake’s heart— great craters guarding its distant shores— the wind comes suddenly alive. People have warned us of the lake’s treacherous afternoon xocomil— the wind that carries away sin. The pilot turns away. I catch Mark’s eye and look at our daughters in a crush of fear.
As the village shoreline shrinks, I remember that locals plead with their cowboy saint, offering oranges, cigarettes, and soda. The waves rise and we sit stiff, our eyes on our distant beach. I picture the carving, the curve of the corpus, the crossed feet.
No one in our boat can calm the storm.
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).