Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 38(December 1993)
He saw twelve cellos once in silent choir,
like bathers poised and dripping by the wall
to leap beyond a lifeguard’s beckoning.
The shop was open: RENTAL & REPAIR
OF DOUBLE-BASSES, CELLOS, VIO-
LINS BY EXPERT. Bows and strings.
One oscillating wave . . . the moving air
submerged him in its tide. The full
room’s "hummm" refracted, flooding
through the prism of his ear;
one tone widened to display all
tones. The spectrum of all things
a man could speak and hear
rainbowed in his mind and he must kneel:
the umber trees with burnt-sienna sheen
reveal their music in a prayer
that he can learn and tell
in praise that these carved woods will sing.
His knowing shifted when he saw her turn—
when with the cautious sliding of his eye
he caught the fatal movement. . .silent lifting
. . .slight, and slow, and strangely automated
turning of that proud, familiar chin
She had never thought to question.
As he asked, she’d fixed the sudden guests
a feast. She’d baked the bread and brought the men
their wine and kept her silence as they made
Perhaps he should have told her more
or held her for a moment as he said,
"It’s time to go. Collect the girls and don’t
look back." If only he had told her then
what he knew now: that there was nothing like
the steady comfort of her dusky flesh.
If he had given her just time enough
to say goodbye a woman’s way; to pray
with her instead of simply passing on
God’s man-to-man demand. . .she might have
made it through without that nagging need
to look once more, that lovely human gesture
of regret that left two fragile, willful
daughters motherless and him with only
this white trophy mocking his obedience.
---Mary M. Brown
Last Christmastide the angel came at six
fifteen. While volunteers began to poke
the guests awake, collect the mats, and fix
the coffee for the breakfast line, the smoke
rose from first cigarettes, and one large man
groaned off the floor, breath harsh, a map of beet-
red lines high on his cheeks—he strains but can
not bend enough to reach his feet.
The angel teaches art design, his hair
is gray, he’s fifty odd. Straightway he goes
down on his knees, does not recoil from hot
dry skin, begins to tug one of a pair
of stained white socks around those death-puffed toes
and nonchalantly smiles and says "fear not."
---Mark A. Noll
Biting bits of skin from my chapped lips
looking for a place to park, I stop
behind the gift shop near the graveyard where
we buried you on a day like this.
This is another season you won’t miss—
you, who have become a part of me
I tell (the clerk what Mary wants)
to no one now.
And in a lot behind a superette
I choose a tree, then stop and sniff,
consult my list, and go,
with nothing on it left to get,
home to wrap her present, cut the wrapping
paper short, tape scraps on gaps,
come finally to the bow and call for help.
she puts her finger on the knot
and speaks of you—a girl we used to know,
who knew the people that we used to be.
No present waits for them beneath this tree.
They’ve changed, like you—almost beyond belief.
There’s nothing left of you for us to see
But look how little others see of us
who see each other every day
now and then.
Mary plugs the lights in
then directs me from afar,
saying what I’m too close to see
As I adjust the star.