in the brambles and in the brush, in the long shadows on the long street, in the creases of the faces that I greet. Dryad of my back yard, Apollo of my morning, bell tones hefted heavenward, musk of hardwood burning, my wild hand that guides the pen, my tame heart that wilds when all cries Christ! and Christ! again. O beauty, O fast friend, your touch upon my parchment skin, youngs it new. The year begins.
The organ swings into the invitation hymn, slinging us around the known world toward the apogee of surrender, Oh Muse of Scripture, Muse of Choice, Muse of the Sawdust Trail. I look at my hand resting on this oak pew, shaped like Asia, a million cells teeming, blood pumping, going on with its normal irreligious, hungry life. Things are being decided. We are singing Just As I Am, the fourth verse, over. My right hand listens to the soprano next to me, balancing on her catwalk of steep chords. It longs to fly up to that soaring obbligato. Just raise your hand, the Evangelist calls, if you want God to use you on the mission field. What he means: when God wants to find you, He will know where to look. My right hand twitches, tugging skyward on its kite string. What I have been taught: marks on paper, numbers, letters, postulates, break down. The whole repertoire of my life has been practice for this moment. I try to make myself restful and empty, nothing but an interval before the generous right hand, and the sinister left, decide.
Uncovered in his isolette, patches taped over his eyes, the baby lies hot and quaking in the light as my hand hesitates over the chalky shell, the room sounding its clicks and soft alarms.
Ex opere operato, the sacrament draws its holiness from the work done, not the purity of the practitioner, but every pettiness, every scalding word and deliberate ignorance crowds behind my eyes, in the crevices between wrist bones, along my ears’ creases.
The mother shifts in her wheelchair, adjusts her milk-heavy breasts, sighs. I wet my fingers, slide them cool along the newborn brow, into the soft dip of fontanel, and say the words.
The palm trees put on white hoods, saber cacti were sheathed in cotton wool, children licked it off the balcony railings as if it were whipped cream. It stayed for a remarkable 24 hours and every car in the city sported a snowman on its roof! Pickup trucks carried snow people riders. All the photographs of the Great President on University Avenue had bushy snow eyebrows.
Everyone laughed. They laughed a lot over little things. When the old lady who was throwing her garbage out on the street nearly hit me with a plastic bottle, we both laughed; students running to catch the bus missed it, and they laughed; the girl who cut the party cake which fell apart, laughed. They all laughed when the Great President’s eyebrows slid down over his face.
Their laughter was lighter than snowflakes, as strong as spider silk. It was the fabric that protected them in that palace where the desert is unfailing, dark as the secret police and dependable as their poverty