by Mike Baldwin
The sticker on the bumper ahead says
“Time is God’s way of keeping
everything from happening at once.”
But it seems to me that events clump
up in our lives like punctuated
equilibrium in the theory of evolution.
When the sacred pierces
the envelope of our ordinary perspective,
it does so strangely and unexpectedly.
Watching the mystery of water lilies
becoming luminous beneath
a Great Blue Heron blinks
into existence, enormous on the stones
encircling our little garden pond.
His beak becomes an angel’s sword
hovering above trembling water.
Gaunt, grim, gray-blue feathers,
rough as a beggar’s blanket,
yet haughty as a samurai,
his fierce eye pierces with the same power
his beak can strike a fish.
He contemplates the worried water
Intently as a fortune-teller’s crystal,
then, disdainfully, with a last warning glance,
skies himself with a single heave of wing.
Somnambulating toward the hospital,
I wonder if, just before the giant eye
was razer-sliced in La Chien d’Andalou,
it saw the truth of everything
with the amazing clarity of finality.
I think, too, of how trillions of neutrinos
are streaming through us and everything
every moment, invisibly, utterly unnoticed,
containing, perhaps, like receiverless radio waves,
vital information we have not learned to listen for.
Crossing the street to the hospital,
a scrap of dirty paper I step on
resolves into a days-old dead toad, squished
flat as steamrollered cartoon character.
Then, a wimpled nun leads a single file
of same-skirted little school girls,
the middle one of whom smiles slyly at me
and levitates in a perfect ballet jetté.
My father lies absent-eyed, within
his death-womb, sprouting plastic umbilicals
from every body part except his navel.
Bones seem desperate to burst through
the shrinking membrane of his skin.
All the leaking energy of his weakening
exerted only to produce nose hair and phlegm.
Mom pulls back the sheet to massage
his legs, once athlete’s legs,
now thin as the heron’s.
I would have sought the hallway
to leave them to themselves,
but his finger beckons, his eye now
fierce with effort, his gaze focused
through me, beyond me,
Having lost his swallow reflex, he can only
whisper, which is a blessing,
his mind having been unclear for several days.
(He insisted the doctor is a communist
serial killer and we must call the FBI.
I assured him the doctor is a confirmed
capitalist who will try to keep him alive
as long as the insurance holds out.)
But now his eyes do not beseech.
I put my ear to his hard lips
and he whispers slow and calm and clear:
“It’s so easy to fly when you detach the load.”
Perhaps he was referring in some hallucinatory way
to his career as an aircraft engineer, but--
that night my father’s scarred soul
skied with a single heave of heart.