To settle into a new city:
Finish a podcast episode begun in the last place you lived. Take some longish showers. Find a good shirt at the thrift store—the locals like your style, or used to like it. If all else fails, move away from that place, and find your memories of it immediately tender and piercing.
I lay up my Madison years to mellow and age. A draught of them will lighten the heart in heavier days.
Possibly whole libraries of alluring letters are waste, distraction, baubles that should not exist in the same world as morality. Remember that everyone must build upon the foundation, and what is built of straw and the lighter sorts of wood will not escape the conflagration. So maybe there is a wisdom for me, too, in what the apostle says: “In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” But I decided to rearrange conditions, struck out for the study of philosophy, and impertinently enough invited God to come.
Or did I forget to ask, until now? God, will you come?
I’ll pray five minutes, or sit and think of praying. Nothing will be said to me, and maybe it will be a mistake to wish it otherwise. Just to leave a little air unbroken, then, for now. To leave a blank page in the manuscript, where the quiet one may read from me what he knows how to find.
Where I have come, great clerks have purposed
To greet me with premeditated welcomes;
Where I have seen them shiver and look pale,
Make periods in the midst of sentences,
Throttle their practised accent in their fears
And in conclusion dumbly have broke off,
Not paying me a welcome. Trust me, sweet,
Out of this silence yet I pick’d a welcome.
Self-effacer, how to hail you? Can I even make my “you” refer to you? By your name I supplicate, maybe, some bent idol of the mind’s welding. But let your playfulness overcome your jealousy, and for your own mirth answer mercifully the prayer you intercept.
Our sport shall be to take what they mistake.
After they scraped away a half-mile of ash and cracked ice in the excavation, they uncovered him there in the shell of an old apartment: one who had endured in hope.
“Please, tell me your name.”
Is it that he wouldn’t tell you, Israel? Grappling with you at the ford when you were left alone, holding you—but only to wrench bones from their joints, unsteadying your walk forever—then, when you clung to him and clawed at him until dawn, and somehow by your desperation overcame his strength, did he keep back the prize?
Or was the name given in the wound he left you, was your limp the prayer he taught? Was that ache a burning of the unconsuming fire in your limbs, and what it meant for you to be renamed by him?
As for you, slowcomer: we are trying to keep our eyes clear; we are rubbing condensation from the windows, scraping off frost; changing postures to feel for a wait that’s more than vacated time, where trust meets death, and parts with it again.
The blind man at Beth-zatha, the one who waited thirty-eight years—he was not told a name, either. For him, the healing was name enough.
I have my worries and my happinesses—this can always be said. But it is not always worth saying, least of all now that the kingdom has changed hands, and the term papers, the bank accounts, the career prospects of this world have become those of our God and of his Christ. Now let those who rejoice live as if they were not rejoicing; those who mourn, as if they were not in mourning. Those who boast and those who weep, as if they were only unworthy servants, and all things were theirs.
A chocolate-colored puppy nosed up to my bike while I waited at a traffic light. It was as if the franchise manager of sweetness and light, seeing how busy I was, sent out to me a roller-skating waitress balancing a platter of rest.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. If I give them time, if I go slow and remain deliberate and predictable in my movements, they may even catch up to me.
The hair in my nose froze together and my chin numbed to the air’s sharpness. Kip the dog clip-clopped over shoveled sidewalks in his little red booties, shod against the cold and salt. Houses nodded to us as we passed, shaking snow from their laden roofs. Perched on a million capillary branches to the west, tender, pink, the sky exhaled its daily breath.
We turned onto the last, familiar block, warm breath pluming off us. It might have been an owl I found abruptly in the air ahead, launched noiseless from a tree across the street—an owl or a hawk (both alike, for me), a sweep of angular white past telephone wires and deep-furrowed trunks into the next copse, only visible in flight.