The trouble is the halo. He’s never dissected one, prying it open with a blade under cover of night to determine its component parts: seeking with his fingertips for the thin band of cartilage that holds it erect, or the branched nerves channeling light as coldly steady as foxfire on a rotting log. The same goes for wings. Without evidence from his cadavers, he dispenses with them, painting angels as fit as young quarrymen and pasta-loving cherubs to whom aerodynamic principles will never apply. Even God looks as if he climbs into bed each night stiff from a hard day’s work but not ready for sleep, his brain crammed with thumbnail sketches of airy beings aglow with inexhaustible fuel flying by faith in unborn Bernoulli’s constant.
These midwinter days that bridge Epiphany to Lent can seem anything but ordinary as the steady waxing light reflects across old December’s glaze of ice, a biting wind hisses across the stark bones of the bracken, and treetops signal sparse against a sky expecting still more snow before nightfall. Scarlet and speckled birds announce themselves about the brightness of the holly, spray from the creek creates bright frosted chandeliers among the tangled overhanging branches, and dusk draws down its spangling of stars so crystalline they lift the eye— heart too—toward a principality that banishes any vestige of routine predictability. Ordinariness exists—if at all— within the desiccated soul, too distracted by its fearful self to notice.
Soulful and tough in equal measure, The Pursuit of Happyness is the ideal movie for the Christmas season. It’s a triumph-of-the-spirit film in which the protagonist’s journey from poverty and occasional homelessness to solvency and the promise of a future is so thorny and obstacle-laden that you can’t imagine how he’s going to get there.
There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry. –Mark Strand
What shall I do with this book I love so much I’d like to eat it? Meeting the poet at a reading, I would cast my eyes down. I’d walk behind him, not stepping on his shadow. If he told me I was half blind, I might lose sight in both my eyes. At home, everything I write becomes infected with his wildness: for instance, this, which I never planned, which has no ending.
Where shall I put the book, so full of life my car could barely stick to the Expressway? When my cold encyclopedias sense its goofy brilliance, they climb and hang on one another like Chinese gymnasts. I must subtract to make a place for the book to live. I lift out histories, then other listless volumes. I toss my boring files, erase the answering machine, renounce the desk, computer, pens.
Only the illumination of St. John stays. In my study’s scooped-out heart I wait beside the book, which glows with light borrowed from some distant star. I look at St. John’s face. He gazes from his throne, his eyes blazing with love and understanding. Tongues of flame play over him, sent from the Source who is both arsonist and fireman, and in his right hand, he holds a book.
The Mayan Empire existed for 4,000 years, from 2500 BC to 1500 AD, and it spanned five modern-day countries—Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. Mayan civilization made significant strides in astronomy, agriculture and architecture, and it prided itself on its colorful art and skilled artisans.
It was the holy part of the day, my loved ones asleep in other countries, me with no duties and rooms full of quiet. I ate my dark bread with brie and jam, pressed out two cups of dark coffee. And that must be the sun, skulking like a grown-up boy who knows it’s been too long since he visited his mother. He has no excuse but all is forgiven, she will open the curtains, haul up the shades, crack the windows though it’s far too cold for that. We will ring all the bells in the quiet church across the street, unscrew the doors from the jambs, dismantle all the borders, forgive the Russians whether they like it or not. And mercy will pour down like sunshine in the grand photographs in the vast inscrutable book I bought for ten euros at the bookstore downtown, a store full of books translated out of the language I know so that I could read only the authors’ names. Truth must be personal, said Kierkegaard, home from another of his long, brooding walks. And yet not merely private. You shall love the neighbor, he insisted. Outside my window the church is solid and pale, three stories and a squat round tower, in the tower three narrow windows that reveal nothing. Winter sun warms the green roof, but the entrance is still in shadow.
Ten refugees have been selected to compete in the Summer Olympics in Brazil this year. Five of them are runners from South Sudan who have been living in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya. The Sudanese will be joined by two Congolese judo fighters, two Syrian swimmers, and an Ethiopian marathoner. Anjelina Nadai, one of the Sudanese runners, said she first started running while tending her family’s cows. She discovered she could get to the cows in half the time by running instead of walking. These athletes will compete under the Olympic flag, not that of any nation. If any of them should win a medal, the Olympic theme song will be played (The Christian Science Monitor, June 3).