It may or may not be a sin, but I cannot hear your name, St. James the Less, without crocheting apocrypha for you, without drafting sentences, all of which start Nonetheless, St. James the Less and then lapse, describing a world whose vividness—the molting sycamores and lepers, an urn lurching on the potter’s wheel, the fishermen darning their nets—always trumped your quiet rectitude.
Nonetheless, St. James the Less—after the Greater James, his fervor all joy and rage, and not unlike simple imprudence, anointed the contrite and doused those who had it coming—it must have been you (was it not?) blotting kerosene from all the penitents’ habits.
The good sweet Lord knows I have nothing wise to say about anything Whatsoever; certainly that has been proven over the last fifty-five years That we have known each other. And while spiritual verve is inarguable, Religious pronouncements at a time like this can sound awfully shallow. So all I want to do this morning is find some word that can approximate The love I feel. Affection and respect are ingredients, sure, and certainly Laughter and stories, especially those that start out remember that time?, Because stories are a terrific way to say things that you can’t find words For. I keep wanting to push deeper, but I can’t get deeper than the story Of the time we broke your finger—all us kid brothers attacking the king At once, ostensibly in the flow of a football game, but really we wanted To take you down, to miraculously drop the taoiseach, because we loved You, because your were our hero, because you were the tallest and oldest, Because you laughed, even with your finger bent in the wrong direction, Knowing that we were so furious because a bruising tackle is a language Also. You can say a lot about love by hammering your brother in a game, It turns out. You knew what we were saying. I remember you taped your Finger back together and didn’t bother to tell Mom. We admired that too.
On the gallery wall in Paris you see a splendid life-size thigh, how it’s tapering to a calf and pointed toe. It’s a Degas ballerina who pulls light on like a stocking.
The ornate gold frame says, Look at this. You’re here alone, so why not stay, go down to the very root of light, practice patience? Sinking in, you linger all afternoon.
On the subway home, you see and praise legs. Bare. In jeans. Thin or superbly plump. Recall your lion-footed table. Praise this leg of your trip, learning to see. Joy trumps itself: Allegro, legume. The wonder: your own tibia! The miracle: your own leg to stand on!
What if that brave Emmett had somehow managed to escape, my boy who had done all that talking, a word or maybe two before those thirsty fists demanding to be quenched in his blood slammed my door down looking for him.
Say he heard their pickup truck. Say he jumped out the window of my clapboard house and ran through row after row of burly-cheeked cotton until even the lily-white moon could not follow him.
Say he made it to that line of loblolly pines and hid in the colored cemetery; no whites allowed their children or their womenfolk to go there where the haints of lynched men lurk, hate messages singed into their chests.
Say he made for the river seeking safety in the bulrushes, the final resting place of so many slaves who ran for freedom, hoping his battered breath might last long enough under the cesspooling water, stringy-fingered weeds and copperheads grabbing for his ankles.
Say the Tallahatchie had not turned vengeful, angry that some black boy would pollute the waters where white men feed their families and their lusts.
Say, too, from the river he searched for a ditch to lie in, coffining him from the burlap-hooded vigilantes swooping over the countryside.
Say a thunderstorm struck that night, as they screamed to God to let them catch the boy before the lightning or the buzzards did. Say, too, they scattered black and white posters all over Mississippi vowing to bury him.
Then say, just say, how he almost found the train tracks which might have led him out of the Delta, out of Egypt, I called my son.
The space between two people never quite closes. That’s all right. It’s the rub of surfaces we need anyway, the slow
brush of hand on arm, the quick hug as we discover an old friend has gone gray, that he’s reading on a hard
chair in the back room, leaving most of the house to strangers. It’s all right to leave him there, maybe, to walk across
the red bridge and into the woods, travel the worn paths in windy sunshine. Turning left each time will bring
you back. It’s all right, maybe, to explain that you won’t be back till late, that you hope for coffee in the morning,
for a small table upstairs to spread out your books and papers, most of which you won’t open before you pack up to leave.
The space between two people can open like a net, collapse, dangle loose and empty, ready to catch and hold, to bind.
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).