Another headlong visit to another burbling seething sea of shaggy miracles. I wear my good black shirt so as to indicate respect and some small dignity. We are supposed to talk about writing but as usual things spin away utterly, And we are arguing about basketball and religion and if Montana is heaven. I say Montana cannot possibly be heaven because it's snowed for two years Straight there, grizzlies have learned to ski, has no one read the newspaper? Then a round kid in back raises his hand. He sort of sneaks it up quietly, As if he wants to ask a question but he's not actually sure he should. Yessir, I say, how can I help you? When babies are aborted, he says, is there a birth Certificate? You can't get a birth certificate if no one ever gave you a name, Right? And if you are going to get aborted, no one would want to name you. But if you don't get a name or a birth certificate were you actually a person? His hand has stayed shyly in the air as he asked his three questions, I notice; As if as long as his hand was an antenna no one could interrupt him or tease Him or say his questions were stupid or inappropriate or this is not the place Nor the time for such questions. But when is the time for questions like his?
Just as I came out of the Gallery, I saw a gull among hoards of tourists encircling the statue of Lord Nelson, crazed while I prayed he'd make it out, resume flight I attribute to all birds, boundless.
But my dying: I try to keep it lined around the edges of the ordinary so I can—shall I say—appreciate?
Drawn to that picture by the glowing dark around the woman, kneeling, Christ standing, the Scribes and Pharisees shrouded in black, I saw she, too, has just discovered light, knowing, moments ago, she escaped stoning.
Since I can't pay my tribute to the sun like citizens in the Roman Empire, especially that old ragtag Nazareth where things happened and are progressing here in my fingers—I have to pay Rembrandt a kind of tribute, poem after poem.
A man should never outlive his own son. Titus, you were the last to leave Rembrandt. Here, seventeen, you will live ten more years.
I started to write these poems about light. Now all I write about is death and hope: Titus, looking out at us, planned a life, marries ten years later, dies in a year.
Say it: the obscenity of dying.
I'll muse on him: a memento mori. I'll prop his postcard up to light my desk.
There is no waking without him. The creases in your sheets remind you his job is to mess with your life. He stalks you into the kitchen where the coffee splashes your hand then flings you to the cold baptism of the faucet. No, you will not forget him when he swerves you to the edge of the snow bank and overrides your heartbeat, when he hunts you down with "morning by morning new mercies I see," the rhythm cutting your thoughts like a blender's metallic pulse.
You wish he never knew that sometimes you want to grip a god you can leave behind, the cool bronze calves of a statue you can visit in a temple down the street, a straight-faced fellow happy with an offering of a charred bird or two. You could finally be alone with your luxurious fears, escape into the woods without his breath blowing the leaves into your path, the expectant open fields of his hands waiting for you to swipe in your crumbs.
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).