Suffer the children
I am talking to the archbishop about the letter he just wrote,
Resigning his seat after fifteen years, a note he had to write,
By canon law, because he grew old in service of the Church,
And I get distracted by a drawing that's right in his sight line
No matter where he turns in his office. You cannot not see it.
It's a drawing of him, by a little kid; the kid was maybe five,
He says, and I think he had just started kindergarten, and we
Met when I came to visit for some reason, and he painted me,
And gave it to me real shy, and something about that kid just
Nailed me. I keep it where I can't miss it. It's about kids. No
Matter what we say it's about, it's about kids. The worst sins
Ever committed are against kids. That will never occur again,
Not here, not if I have anything to do with it. I owe that little
Boy, I guess. That drawing has kept things clear for ten years.
If it's not about kids then it's not first priority. Simple lesson;
But we forgot about it for a long time there. Never again, not
As long as I breathe. There's kids and there's everything else.
In the same way He elevated the cup,
And gave thanks, and gave it to them,
Saying drink ye, all of this, this is Me,
Do you understand what I am saying?
But they did not, nor were they idiots,
Nor are we fools, it's just that the idea
Is huge and new and really hard to eat.
That He would be in us, rather than us
Kneeling and moaning and prostrating
To a Lord, even a lord of the starfields,
This was new and confusing. It still is.
We were used to worshipping the sun,
Then, and a series of bloody overlords,
And various incarnations of not-death,
But the thought that He was in us, was
Us, that we are the shards of His light,
And that the work is to resolder shards
Until they are again His seamless love;
Well, this was revolutionary then, and
Remains so. He was murdered once by
The shock of it, but He's no fool either.
He slipped Himself into every moment,
Every act, every mercy and forgiveness,
Every kindness, and so He grows closer
To being born again, in some confusing
Way; the man is a master of puzzlement.
In dark eras we ask when He will return,
But we already know the thorny answer;
When we have summoned Him with our
Love like an ocean; when He cannot say
No, because we have become as He was.
In the lime quarry on Robben Island
A tall man pauses from the pick and shovel work
And says to his two companions, today let us talk
About Joseph Conrad. It is Friday — literature day.
The three men divvy up the week by subject. One
Acts as questioner. In this way the years pass with
Something fresh as the salt of days otherwise dull;
Although the penguins have returned, and the seals
For whom the island was named. Conrad, working
In an acquired language, is always after hard grace
Set against duress like adamant stone, says the tall
Man — 'harder than flint have I made thy forehead'
As the Prophet Ezekiel says. His companions grin
At this, for their tall friend is as hardheaded a man
As ever walked this dirt, and they often tell him so.
I heard also the noise of wings of creatures, that is
Ezekiel also, says the tall man. As we do. I believe
That if I did not hear the birds we would all be lost.
There are days I believe the birds are sent this way.
Conrad teaches us that we are capable of greatness
Despite our equal and proven talents for weakness.
To set your forehead like a flint against the despair,
To do so daily against all sense and reason or what
Appears to be sense and reason, that is what I draw
From Conrad. But one of his companions is still on
The wild sea of Ezekiel, and suddenly says fear not,
Neither be dismayed at their looks, just as one burly
Guard glares at the three prisoners; and though they
All three want to laugh so hard they weep, they turn
Back to their work, smiling. Tomorrow: philosophy.
In the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain
News item this morning over coffee: a number of parrots in Sydney,
Australia, having escaped their confinement among human creatures
Who taught them to talk, are teaching galahs, cockatoos, and corellas
What they know, such that in the lush Botanic Gardens, for example,
Birds of various species have asked people how you going? and who
Is the pretty boy, then? which is unnerving enough but then the other
Remarks, many of them lewd and vulgar in nature, often about rugby,
And proposing intimacies you would not usually associate with birds,
Also the bevy of political insults and scurrilities, are causing a ruckus.
For one thing the birds are now drawing crowds in the early evenings,
Particularly the parrots, who have it in for the Australian Labor Party;
Park officials who arranged a redistribution of the birds to other parks
So as to break up 'the ringleaders', in one official's phrase, have been
Accused of bias against the Prime Minister and her carbon-tax efforts.
Ornithologists called to the scene were initially puzzled by the galahs'
Seeming obsession with magpies until two parrots were found to have
Been taught to speak by a fan of the Adelaide football club the Crows.
As yet the ability to speak, make lewd propositions, and razz Magpies
Has not apparently spread to the wider avian population, said officials,
Who are watching the situation while attempting to maintain decorum.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the essay collection Grace Notes.