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
Standing on the street in the early morning of late autumn,
I marvel to see, to my left, over my own backyard, rain
and to my right, over my neighbor’s barn, only clear, dry air.
As I walk this line drawn by the ordinary length of asphalt,
I think of the theologian who said, God is on the loose now,
no longer hidden behind the parochet, waiting for the high priest
to ask for the atonement of his people’s sins.
The rain has to clear somewhere. Why not here? Like the road has rent
a veil that cloaks the fullness of sight, separates shade from light.
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).