In June the World’s Fair with bright red strawberries and cream over seared Belgian waffles. It grows hot. Trapped in the crowd, a tangled skein of nerves, lost and hungry for quiet, for tenderness, I ride with my aunt on a long conveyor belt to see the Pietà. So gentle the grieving, tranquil mother with her downcast eyes, the stone folds still around her, the cold flesh of her perfect son. She does not attempt to cry. My aunt, primed by The Agony and the Ecstasy, leans to recognize “Buonarroti” on the chiseled band, tasting the contours of each round unaccustomed syllable. She whispers the name. She will not last two years. Silent, thrilled and careful as dancers, when we step off on solid ground we are joined by our secret, sworn never to tell what we have no words to say. This is how it will be in the winter we take our leave: bitter flakes in a sharp ribbon of wind beyond tears or anger, the long frozen loop home from the hospital waiting for me, as we both know. Suddenly shy and tongue-tied as a girl, she will reach out from her bed to touch me, recalling too the marble brow, faintly wrinkled, the white hand, open, as if it were asking a question.
Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is a homeless woman driving cross-country with her dog, Lucy, and sleeping in her car at night to save money and stay warm. One morning, her car won’t start. Her funds are limited, and she finds herself at the mercy of the local mechanic (Will Patton). She panics and shoplifts some dog food. She is caught and arrested.
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.
One morning this summer I was basking in the sun With the brother closest to me in age. We had been Brought up almost as twins but then took disparate Roads, as twins do. He was sobbing and I was near Tears and the ocean was muttering. I heard a heron. We had been having the most naked open talk we’d Had in many years. I wanted to tell him how deeply I loved him but words are just so weak and shallow. So I talked about the forsythia bush we used to hide Under together. It was the safest place on the planet. The light was always amazing in there and it wasn’t Ever muddy somehow and you were draped in gold. It was a hut a huddle a tent a canopy a cave a refuge. Sometimes you have to use a thing to say something Else. We do this all the time. We talk sideways, yes? But sidelong is often the only road that gets to where You know you need to go. So much means lots more Than it seems like it could mean. Tears, for example.
John Coleman, who died recently, presided over Haverford College during the tumultuous Vietnam War era. He sympathized with students’ antiwar protests but also tried to channel the antiwar movement in constructive ways. When students considered burning the American flag, Coleman placed a washing machine at the center of the campus and encouraged students to wash the flag instead. He persuaded dozens of college presidents to sign an antiwar statement. On sabbaticals he took blue-collar jobs to explore the gap between academics and workers (Inside Higher Ed, September 12).