They will not see me, living out of sight down the hill, the white-robed army of monks at prayer, the makers of incense and beds and meals with the smell of God about them.
They might feel me step into their pilgrimage, balancing between the jagged and the smooth stones, paying homage to the rock borders that turn me closer in, farther out, maddeningly away from the center.
This is no way to live a life. How many times have they made these very turns in their cloister, no labyrinth to guide them but only the vague inner nudge?
It is the place where tortuous and torturous merge. I take half an hour; they use half their lives. And for what? A pile of rocks in the center, a single life well lived?
The question, maybe, gives us pause. It does not stop that inexorable pull, like undertow sent to immolate a swimmer beneath the waves,
or the ineffable peace that spreads with every step.
I heard the Irishman on the radio say, only it didn’t sound the way we’d say it: commonplace, like dirt under the nails. He held it on his tongue, “Air-th,” as if it were the best place, like heaven: spacious, intricate, infinitely rich, with swells of color and cloud, forest stipple and patches of swale, the “r” rolling along like the hills. As if it were the best word in the language, better even than love.
The scarlet petals were floppy as old hats by March, and falling into piles on the rug, so I cut its plastic pot to free its roots and laid it by the compost in the mud. Busy that spring, I never noticed how it waited out the months, night after night in wind, in grueling rain and a late snow, inclining from the compost into light, its new leaves firming, shining, thick, like a novitiate of a strange order, as days warm, growing fierce and quick, blessing the lost plants I’ve lodged there. It rang like church bells, red, on the hour. Now let me learn to love what cannot flower.
The shavings curled from my plane the afternoon she stood a shadow in the door and spoke the single syllable. I thought, So soon, but deep in me a harmony awoke, a rhythm lost in the hammer song I made furnishing the world chair by chair, bed by bed. Her single word was Go. My debt was paid. Joseph’s memory would be satisfied: My craft would find its end in speech—the Word voiced as once when spoken it divided light from dark and all Creation bloomed. I heard my father in her voice. Both sadness and delight indwelt the shop, as if the two were one as they may be when the work of wood is done.