Onion skin, they called those thin pages in our Bibles, translucent and strong. Finger smudge at the edges, pages shining over the layers that wait for understanding. After decades I taste them new, the onion sliced raw, tang of earth in my mouth.
Book of leaves, a tree in our house. My father brings it to the table. Before oatmeal and bread, the words like seeds drop down into a damp place. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away,” blessed be the leaves turning in his hand.
My children, bathed and fragrant, lean against my shoulders as I read. They listen to the Shepherd who calls to them, who walks the edge of a cliff. They smell the burning bush, huddle with me as the glory passes over, as I cover them with these paper wings.
The stories walk out the door with us— Joseph dreaming, Ruth gleaning, Jesus in a boat, Jesus wearing thorns. Sometimes he gazes like a lion, stares down the marble aisles of churches through glass angels, out to the ruins we have made.
One red satin ribbon marks the place, cord of God’s desire for us sewn to the spine of the text. No matter where the scarlet falls, no matter which chapter or verse, it is relentless in pursuit, the prophets stumbling behind us, weeping and singing, the blind man seeing.
Veins in the leaves are traceries of Hebrew and Greek, hidden and sweet, stories from which we begin again. I smell roots and eat. “Blessed are those planted by the river.” I will sleep in threads of silk, for I have eaten the Book, and one day will emerge with wet wings lifting toward the white lilies.
Did God create the microbes, too? On which day did God say, “Let there be Brie”?
Are these, then, messengers of the Holy One— Clostridium Gabriel Difficile and Staphylococcus Michael Aureus? The seraphim Influenza and Pneumonia?
No drunk driver will take her away. No warriors wage this assault. No mugger, no terrorist, no drive-by shooter. No one to blame. No one.
Unlike the monotonic booping of her monitor And tweeting IVAC pump, Her ventilator pipes an almost merry tune From time to time, Like close encounters of some kind, While tiny creatures who, naturally, Dance in colonies on heads of pins, Swing, Lo, to carry her home
He awakens on February first, stunned again by that odd wonder: how quickly old has come. Of course if his will were done he’d have risen youthful, but age is here, he’ll own it. He thanks God
for its coming without companion pain, without reliance on medicine. As he has since he was younger, he puts on snowshoes and clambers over drifts and up a daunting bluff. As much by determination
as muscle he powers on through the powder. The view from here—a blessing: eastward the white White Mountains all seem to be staring placidly down on ice-dams hunched in the river. He kicks his feet out of leather bindings
to climb a tree. West, a neighbor’s strange herd of alpacas mills, all wool, though mere months back—short-shorn, with feeble reeds for necks— they were fragile creatures, naked, susceptible, silly, same as us all.
He forces air out through his teeth—birdwatcher trick—and imagines a lisping cloud, his sounds small jets of steam. Let kinglets come, he dreams. Did an eagle shriek? Too far to tell. But golden-crowned kinglets are flying
from his south to land all around, on his limb and all the way up to the crown, then are gone so quickly he all but missed the marvel: the kinglets come.
Then I looked down into the lovely cut of a missing river, something under dusk’s upflooding shadows claiming for itself a clarity of which my eyes were not yet capable: fissures could be footpaths, ancient homes random erosions; pictographs depicting fealties of who knows what hearts, to who knows what gods. To believe is to believe you have been torn from the abyss, yet stand waveringly on its rim. I come back to the world. I come back to the world and would speak of it plainly, with only so much artifice as words themselves require, only so much distance as my own eyes impose. I believe in the slickrock whorls of the real canyon, the yucca’s stricken clench, and, on the other side, the dozen buzzards swirled and buoyed above some terrible intangible fire that must scald the very heart of matter to cast up such miraculous ash.
2. 2047 Grace Street
But the world is more often refuge than evidence, comfort and covert for the flinching will, rather than the sharp particulate instants through which God’s being burns into ours. I say God and mean more than the bright abyss that opens in that word. I say world and mean less than the abstract oblivion of cells out of which every intact thing emerges, into which every intact thing finally goes. I do not know how to come closer to God but by standing where a world is ending for one man. It is still dark, and for an hour I have listened to the breathing of the woman I love beyond my ability to love. Praise to the pain scalding us toward each other, the grief beyond which, please God, she will live and thrive. And praise to the light that is not yet, the dawn in which one bird believes, crying not as if there had been no night but as if there were no night in which it had not been.