Tangency

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I sit under the wide sky this morning,
a dome of dim flame and early blue,
watching silhouettes of coffee plants
blacken against the rising orange disk.

In Indiana, a boy, in the same faith,
watches the sun sink into the black
contours of a corn field.

For an instant, our worlds are tangent
and only the Sun knows of our meeting.

 

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The Room

They walk up the old, dusty stairs in the dim lamplight that filters in from the hushed and modest common room below. Downstairs, the innkeeper’s wife is drying wine glasses and placing them in the antique cabinet beside the window. The old man, upon reaching the upper room, sets down his one suitcase, which is slightly dented on the sides from years of fond use. He thanks the innkeeper, who lights a candle, leaves box of matches in an adjacent wooden bowl, and returns downstairs. Now the old man is left alone to peer through his small, round glasses at the room. Along the back wall there is a desk, obviously let alone for years. To its right is a decently large window, in comparison to the size of the room, and a short nightstand beneath it with a doily and an empty, miniature vase. A bed is pressed against the right wall. Its quilted cover suggests a great age, but the stitches still appear to have strength left in them. There is no wardrobe or cupboard in the room except for a low, wooden trunk for storing a few clothes and other belongings.

The man bends over and picks up his suitcase; it is light considering how far he has travelled and the uncertainty of how long he will stay in that town. He lifts the candle from its place and brings it to the desk. Scratching the bridge of his nose, he places his case on the end of the bed. He looks around at the room, a smile forming on his mouth.

“Sixty years.” The phrase floats in his head maybe twice before he releases it with a sigh from his lips. Even whispered, he struggles to grasp it—sixty years.

A pain lurches into his back and he leans against the wall with one arm, his neck hanging loosely above the trunk. These pains have become so frequent, so routine, it seems that only they are dependable. All else has, in some faint and queer way, been altered, and it is hard for his thoughts to rest on anything that can be deemed familiar. Even the shy objects in the room—the wooden bowl, the candle, the quilted blanket, the curtains—former comforts of the days he spent in that room as a seventeen-year old, do not, with their old voices, quiver with the feel of home he half-expected. As a young man, or boy, he couldn’t remember which he had been, that room had been accompanied by the warmth of untasted dreams, unspent adventures, unlearned love. The room now has a different air: adventures have been adventured, books have been read and re-read, and love, well, it still lingers, but it is not what he thought it would be.  

He lifts the lid of the trunk with difficulty and leans it against the wall. In the trunk are arranged various items: a leather-bound book, a handkerchief with something wrapped inside, an old pair of tap shoes, and a silver ring. He takes out these treasures and carefully lays them on the bed, sitting down next to them. He cannot lift his legs onto the bed to face them but turns his neck and back to look at them. He first picks up the silver ring, now dulled by the years of storage. He slips it onto his finger; it is hugged tighter than it used to be hugged, from the wrinkles that swell around it. He takes the leather bound book, lightly grazing its surface with his fingertips, and opens it to the second page (he always left the first page blank, as a favour to his future self, whom he assumed would disapprove of his handwriting). When he turns to a page of writing he does not notice the handwriting.

The first entry reads: 19 December 2016. We sit by the fire, stoking the coals when flame gets low. Read from chapter book and sing songs—hymns and Christmas songs. We wait for the morning. When we see the East lightening, we run to the coffee fields and watch the sunrise— huge disk of light. The morning has the feeling that we are on a quest, wading through the wilderness.

Another: 2 December (He did not always write in order). We sort books on the library shelves, leaving notes in the front covers for new readers.

He turns the pages and finds a photograph between two pages. It is a photo from the 12th of November, reads his handwritten caption. He was in the centre with two friends on either side. He flips to the next page.

29 April. After striking the set, we walk through the rain to the warm, familiar home. We cry.

That is the word that haunts him—familiar.

22 May. I will be leaving soon. All these people I have known, my home, this room— what will it be like for us to leave it all behind? What will it be like for us to return? and will we?

The end of the written-on pages. He closes the book, sets it back on the bed. He picks up the handkerchief, with something inside it, and unfolds its plainly embroidered edges. Inside is a harmonica, still polished looking (that is because of the handkerchief and other reasons). He drops the handkerchief on top of the book.

What will in be like for us to return? and will we?

“Yes,” he says, placing the harmonica to his lips. He breathes through the instrument and plays into the night.

“And this is what it’s like.”

The Fort

When I saw him first, now seven years ago, he was wearing a grey striped scarf, green pants, and wide red shoes with white laces. He came to our town quietly, slipping into one of the old, gently hidden homes on Dehclayeid Street. You could reach that street from school by crossing the river and following Puleish Road until it morphed slowly into Dehclayeid, where a decent number of families, including my own, had made their home.

Each day, when our afternoon classes ended, he would sling his backpack over his shoulder and start down the path home with his usual, steady pace. Sometimes he would whistle; sometimes he would be meddling with something small and silver in his hands. Being a little slower at collecting myself, I would stroll after him, my magenta tights tucked into boots, a yellow scarf patting against my white tunic as I walked. I would end up several paces behind him, always close enough to hear if he was whistling and far enough to freely wonder what he was thinking. He would faithfully turn off Puleish Road and follow down a thinner path into the wood. From where I walked, I could see diagonally, through a narrow clearing, to a wooden fort of sorts, perched in a wide, low-lying tree. He would step up into it, his feet fixing on the notches of the trunk, unlatch the fort door, and slip inside, concealing himself within the small, boarded shelter. When he turned to close the door, I would look down at my feet, hands in the pockets of my tunic, pretending to be indifferent to him.

After shuffling down the road for a little while longer, kicking stones and leaves with my boots, my home would rise out of the lacing tapestry of houses and trees. The celadon walls were loosely rimmed with a variety of tended flowers and underbrush. I would round the side of the house, come in the glass door, hang my scarf on the hook, where my father’s coat and hat were carefully placed, and plop my boots down in the row of shoes along the wall. A beckoning from my mother and the whistling of the kettle would draw me into the kitchen. After kissing my mother and pouring the tea, I would slip up to my room, a small, plain space with wooden walls and floor panelling, a little bed covered with an old quilt, and a desk just beneath the window. Here was my refuge: I would sit at that desk, my notebook open, its binding fraying at the edges, bouncing a pen between my fingers and staring out the window, waiting for ideas, longing for stories, wondering about the stranger I almost knew.

For seven years I pondered his character, turning over in my fragmented thoughts his steady saunter, the tune he always whistled, the shining object in his hands, vainly endeavouring to understand him. My perpetual ignorance taxed me and I nearly adjusted to the thought of him as one of the characters in my stories: a mysterious image, glancing in and out of my thoughts, too vague to be considered carefully or seen accurately.

He is much taller now, but from beneath the collar of his black leather jacket, I can still see his grey striped sweater sliding across his shoulder in the breeze. In the midst of the deep hues that accompany the transition from late autumn to early winter, his blonde-white hair seems bright and out of place.

I watch as he turns onto his path, which, to me, has always been loneliness. Loneliness has accompanied the unknown for me—the unknown of others’ quiet deliberations, the unknown of my own subconscious. Perhaps it is selfish that I long to understand others’ solitude: I, to be sure, cannot bear the thought of my own solitude being discovered.

The path seemed lonely to me because he was always walked it alone, devoid of the joy and comfort of a companion. It is not that I am oblivious to the treasure of solitude and silence (though I am accustomed to its despairs, I am well aware of its delights). Yet I doubt his true happiness: he never runs with the boys in the street; I do not see him with his father working or playing in the yard. Does his family mind that he is always alone? Why do the neighbour boys not seek him out? And yet, don’t I, too, choose every day to walk by his path and let him be?

The happenstance of me encountering the path looms before me like a subtle invitation. Could he, in the face of contentment, long to be discovered? known? I come up to the path and, my bewilderment of this boy at last fuelling sudden courage, I turn onto his path and steal abruptly to the side, hiding behind a tree.

After hearing him clamber into his fort and shut the door behind him, I leave the covering of the tree and carefully follow the path to the fort, cringing at the dry leaves whenever they crunch beneath my feet. I slip beneath the fort, feeling my heartbeat pulse all throughout my body, and squeeze into the bushes by the tree, my back arching and leaning against the trunk. I try to muffle my embarrassingly hard breathing, burying my face in my scarf.

From the fort above my head, I hear a violin; I never knew he played. My breathing slows and, resting against the tree, I listen to him play. I close my eyes, taking in the music, and fall asleep.

When I awake, the sky is swallowed up in darkness; a curtain of clouds hinders the moonlight and there is no more music. Shivering from the cold of the wet ground, my back stiff, I stand, wrapping my scarf around my shoulders in a vain attempt to brace myself from the night wind. I must have slept for a few hours. From the fort, I hear a gentle rattling, like that of a distant wind chime. I creep around the tree and towards the fort door. I fix my feet on the notches of the trunk, as I have so often seen him do, and reach for the latch of the door. This little piece of metal, which bars me from the fort, is an immense expanse, a gaping void between my trembling fingers and the knowledge I have pined after for so long. Its presence on the door before me is a mockery; it spits at my intrigue and recoils in repugnance at my love. It is every cowardly moment of my passing by the path, every contemplation that retreated into inactivity, molten and fastened to the gate between the boy’s heart and me. I slide it to the side and open the door, carefully, at first, so as to peer inside and ensure that he has gone. Seeing that there is no one, I climb inside.

Through a small opening on the right wall, the moon is casting shifting shapes of dim light across the room. In the corner, his violin is perched against the wall and the bow rests atop a thin green cloth. Hanging from strings fixed to the ceiling are keys, maybe eighty or so, of silver, brass, and bronze. They sway in the breeze, catching and dropping the moonlight, hitting against one another, filling the room with their gentle chiming. I walk beneath them, running my fingers through the cascade of keys and string. I take one in my hands, turning over its small, silver body. On it is written, “R.L. 1972”; I let it go and it swings back into place. Each of the keys, the ninety-seven I count, have so been labeled: “U.L. 1921”, “W.T. 1896”. A gust of wind shakes the fort; the door swings, hits the fort, and swings out again; the keys quake, filling the small space with their haunting, clamouring voices. Leaves of paper blow about the ground; I catch a few and keep them from escaping the fort by holding them to the floor. After a minute of heavy wind, the air stills, the keys are silenced, and papers settle back on the floor. The moonlight softly illuminates them and I stoop down to read them; they are sheets of music, all handwritten with ink and pencil. So he composes. I wonder how many hours he had spent up here, scribbling away, writing and rewriting, playing and fine-tuning.

I know it is late, so I wilfully draw myself away from the fascination of keys and music, slip outside of the door, and slide the latch. It no longer mocks me; I have silenced it. I climb out of the tree and hurry home. Never before has Puleish Road been so enchanting: the moonlight glistens on the wet asphalt; the leaves reflect the glow of the stars, which shine like pinholes into a heavenly realm beyond our skies. I walk home, my face turned up to the distant lights, smiling with the hope of a dream unravelling itself before me.

I slip inside my home and, finding the lights out, I creep upstairs, trying not to make a sound. I climb into bed, leaving my curtains drawn back. I pull the sheets up to my chin and stare out the window, at rest and enveloped in joy.

I awake early the next morning. Mist lingers on the windows and I can hear the voices of the birds outside who, like me, eagerly await the sunrise. I dress for school, pack my bag, leave a note for my parents on the kitchen table, and walk to school. The air is cool and crisp, reddening my nose and cheeks, and the trees shiver slightly and merrily in the breeze.

I sit through my classes though my mind is continually drawn back to the boy and his fort. Would I summon the courage to speak to him today? What if I were to walk down the path with him, ask him about his family, listen to him play music? What if we were to become comrades, learn each other’s laughter, listen to each other’s silence? Or will I draw back and settle into my former facade of disinterest? Will I miss my chances at friendship entirely? My mind flooding with questions, hopes, and apprehensions, I nervously endure the day, my feet tapping whenever I sit and my fingers drumming against my knees.

Thick clouds cluster above the school and forest beyond and penetrating through them comes a heavy, relentless rain. Classes are dismissed and I prepare to hurry off to the road where I would see the boy and—who knows what then—when I am hindered by a mass of people who are avoiding the rain. Finally released, I race to Puleish Road, disregarding the torrents of rain and peals of thunder above. Not finding the boy along the way, I speed down the road, trepidation building in me as I run. The clouds conceal the sun almost entirely, cloaking the earth in a deep shadow. Darkness encompasses me. The rain beats down violently. From the darkness, wide bolts of lightning lick the earth. One, two, three, four—another flash, another deafening crack of thunder. Mother had always said that if I counted to seventeen I was safe. One, two, three—another. Where could the boy be? Had he gone home? Had he gone to his fort in this weather? I had seen him take refuge there from the rain before, but this?

I run and run. Was he safe? I see his pathway in the distance. My feet fly past one another. At the mouth of the pathway, I halt.

From the narrow clearing in the trees, I see his fort: it has collapsed. A giant tree has fallen into the arms of his tree. I run down the path, but my knees buckle and I fall forward into the sloshing mud. My whole body is shaking. I get up and tear forward down the path. I manoeuvre my way between the twigs and broken branches. I find the notches, climb them, and open the fort door.

He is inside. The tree has broken through the roof, landed on his body. On his waist is a loop, the keys all attached to it. The heavy mass of wood has crushed him: his ribs have snapped and crumpled beneath the tree’s weight. I stand and, with all my might, pull and push at the tree. I try to lift it off of him, but of course I can’t. I drop to my hands and knees and crawl over to where his head is. It is turned away from me. He won’t stop bleeding. The wind howls and shakes the entire fort; rain cascades in through the broken roof. I look for his hand. I pry it from the hold of the branches and hold it in mine, squeezing it tightly.

I hear loud voices from outside. In a moment, figures burst through the door, the light from their torches falling upon the broken man, the broken body. I am faint and am carried out of the fort. I see the image of the young man recede from me; the soaked and torn papers, the smashed violin, and the keys around his waist draw away with him. He is removed with great difficulty from beneath the tree. There is blood everywhere. He is taken into the arms of an older man; his body hangs limp like a wilted flower. His scarf is drenched in red. I strain toward him but am pulled back by strong arms.

A familiar voice speaks in my ear through the muffle of the storm, “Are you alright, my daughter? Shh.”

“Yes,” I utter through short stifled breaths, “I’m fine. I… I didn’t know him very well.”

You’ve Learned

Have you ever wandered alone
Into the lightless morning
And tasted the waking water of the heavens?

 
Or perhaps you’ve walked a golden road
Where the sun sighs out of a pocket in the sky
And drinks the sweet silver of the earth.

 
Or maybe you’ve breathed deep and slow
The rich, elusive smoke of a brilliant dance
That heats the earth with its reminiscent steps.

 
And possibly you’ve learned
That both vultures and robins fly through rain
And that the night sings darkness
Over the sleeper and the restless
And that fire both
Embraces the needy and devastates the desperate
And that the God who moulded the morning
Gives life to every one.

When I Read

My mother always scorns me, and all the more when she’s had a long day of washing and ironing. I’ll be up in the tree, the one that looks like the spokes of a crown climb up in all directions from the stump, leaving a dip in the centre that is wide enough to fit me and a tin of walnuts bust small enough to be a hiding place. “Son, there’s no reason why you should sit up in that tree all day with your nose glued in a book,” she’d holler from the patio, where soapy water pooled over the floor and role-played the sky. “You should get down and play with the neighbour boys. Live in the real world for once.”

My mother always thought my reading was making me miss the world. She thought I was letting life pass my by. But I wasn’t. Up in my tree, engrossed in my tale, I could begin to see. I remember noticing one day the neighbour boys in the street. They were a little ways off, but I could see something glinting in the oldest boy’s hand and I could hear bits of their chatter: “burn… hold it this way… the ladybug… it’s just an insect… got it!” Sometimes it made me sick to think about life sizzling on the sidewalk. Today, I looked up from my pages and saw a ladybug, orange with swashes of yellow and black. To me it was not “just an insect”. To me it was Price Carl, come to recruit me for a dangerous mission to save his kingdom. Even if he wasn’t Prince Carl and even if I knew it, at least I saw life—life to be respected and marvelled at.

From my tree, I could see my mother sitting at the small, round table at the kitchen window, dreaming. Her lovely but faced face would be set in her hands, those hands that had scrubbed and wrung and waxed so often that their fingerprints began to desert them. I knew it was not I who let the world pass me by. It was her, gazing out the window, dreaming. The glass would reflect the upper branches of my tree but I knew she did not see the tree or me sitting in it. She would only dream. I guessed she dreamt about Father, those times when I could see her eyes glaze over with salty water, when her cheeks would drop, and when her lips would hint at a smile that quickly turned and was forgotten. Perhaps she dreamt of his hand, broad and strong, touching hers while she was at work. He would have remembered her—returned.

I did not want to be like my mother, days full of tireless empty strain that calloused her hands and made her tough, striking at her tenderness until she guarded it with temper and a rough demeanour. I didn’t want to sit at the drawing of the sun and dream up fancies that would never be real. I wanted to be alive, awake to the ladybugs and the soap puddles. I wanted to learn how to ride off on a quest for Prince Carl, how to fend off a dragon, how to face peril. Maybe then I could be strong in the real world. Maybe then I would not inherit my Father’s weakness and cowardice and my broad, strong hands would be there, not only in dreams.

The Earth Is Yours

Yahweh, our God and our Redeemer–

You’re the God of Afghanistan

You’re the God of Albania

You’re the God of Algeria

You’re the God of Andorra

You’re the God of Angola

You’re the God of Antigua and Barbuda

You’re the God of Argentina

You’re the God of  Armenia

You’re the God of Australia

You’re the God of Austria

You’re the God of Azerbaijan

You’re the God of Bahamas

You’re the God of Bahrain

You’re the God of Bangladesh

You’re the God of Barbados

You’re the God of Belarus

You’re the God of Belgium

You’re the God of Belize

You’re the God of Benin

You’re the God of Bhutan

You’re the God of Bolivia

You’re the God of Bosnia and Herzegovina

You’re the God of Botswana

You’re the God of Brazil

You’re the God of Brunei

You’re the God of Bulgaria

You’re the God of Burkina Faso

You’re the God of Burundi

You’re the God of Cabo Verde

You’re the God of Cambodia

You’re the God of Cameroon

You’re the God of Canada

You’re the God of Central African Republic

You’re the God of Chad

You’re the God of Chile

You’re the God of China

You’re the God of Colombia

You’re the God of Comoros

Congo, Republic of the

You’re the God of the Democratic Republic of Congo

You’re the God of Costa Rica

You’re the God of Cote d’Ivoire

You’re the God of Croatia

You’re the God of Cuba

You’re the God of Cyprus

You’re the God of Czech Republic

You’re the God of Denmark

You’re the God of Djibouti

You’re the God of Dominica

You’re the God of Dominican Republic

You’re the God of Ecuador

You’re the God of Egypt

You’re the God of El Salvador

You’re the God of Equatorial Guinea

You’re the God of Eritrea

You’re the God of Estonia

You’re the God of Ethiopia

You’re the God of Fiji

You’re the God of Finland

You’re the God of France

You’re the God of Gabon

You’re the God of Gambia

You’re the God of Georgia

You’re the God of Germany

You’re the God of Ghana

You’re the God of Greece

You’re the God of Grenada

You’re the God of Guatemala

You’re the God of Guinea

You’re the God of Guinea-Bissau

You’re the God of Guyana

You’re the God of Haiti

You’re the God of Honduras

You’re the God of Hungary

You’re the God of Iceland

You’re the God of India

You’re the God of Indonesia

You’re the God of Iran

You’re the God of Iraq

You’re the God of Ireland

You’re the God of Israel

You’re the God of Italy

You’re the God of Jamaica

You’re the God of Japan

You’re the God of Jordan

You’re the God of Kazakhstan

You’re the God of Kenya

You’re the God of Kiribati

You’re the God of Kosovo

You’re the God of Kuwait

You’re the God of Kyrgyzstan

You’re the God of Laos

You’re the God of Latvia

You’re the God of Lebanon

You’re the God of Lesotho

You’re the God of Liberia

You’re the God of Libya

You’re the God of Liechtenstein

You’re the God of Lithuania

You’re the God of Luxembourg

You’re the God of Macedonia

You’re the God of Madagascar

You’re the God of Malawi

You’re the God of Malaysia

You’re the God of Maldives

You’re the God of Mali

You’re the God of Malta

You’re the God of Marshall Islands

You’re the God of Mauritania

You’re the God of Mauritius

You’re the God of Mexico

You’re the God of Micronesia

You’re the God of Moldova

You’re the God of Monaco

You’re the God of Mongolia

You’re the God of Montenegro

You’re the God of Morocco

You’re the God of Mozambique

You’re the God of Myanmar (Burma)

You’re the God of Namibia

You’re the God of Nauru

You’re the God of Nepal

You’re the God of Netherlands

You’re the God of New Zealand

You’re the God oNicaragua

You’re the God of Niger

You’re the God of Nigeria

You’re the God of North Korea

You’re the God of Norway

You’re the God of Oman

You’re the God of Pakistan

You’re the God of Palau

You’re the God of Palestine

You’re the God of Panama

You’re the God of Papua New Guinea

You’re the God of Paraguay

You’re the God of Peru

You’re the God of Philippines

You’re the God of Poland

You’re the God of Portugal

You’re the God of Qatar

You’re the God of Romania

You’re the God of Russia

You’re the God of Rwanda

You’re the God of St. Kitts and Nevis

You’re the God of St. Lucia

You’re the God of St. Vincent and The Grenadines

You’re the God of Samoa

You’re the God of San Marino

You’re the God of Sao Tome and Principe

You’re the God of Saudi Arabia

You’re the God of Senegal

You’re the God of Serbia

You’re the God of Seychelles

You’re the God of Sierra Leone

You’re the God of Singapore

You’re the God of Slovakia

You’re the God of Slovenia

You’re the God of Solomon Islands

You’re the God of Somalia

You’re the God of South Africa

You’re the God of South Korea

You’re the God of South Sudan

You’re the God of Spain

You’re the God of Sri Lanka

You’re the God of Sudan

You’re the God of Suriname

You’re the God of Swaziland

You’re the God of Sweden

You’re the God of Switzerland

You’re the God of Syria

You’re the God of Taiwan

You’re the God of Tajikistan

You’re the God of Tanzania

You’re the God of Thailand

You’re the God of Timor-Leste

You’re the God of Togo

You’re the God of Tonga

You’re the God of Trinidad and Tobago

You’re the God of Tunisia

You’re the God of Turkey

You’re the God of Turkmenistan

You’re the God of Tuvalu

You’re the God of Uganda

You’re the God of Ukraine

You’re the God of United Arab Emirates

You’re the God of the United Kingdom

You’re the God of the United States of America

You’re the God of Uruguay

You’re the God of Uzbekistan

You’re the God of Vanuatu

You’re the God of Vatican City (Holy See)

You’re the God of Venezuela

You’re the God of Vietnam

You’re the God of Yemen

You’re the God of Zambia

You’re the God of Zimbabwe

You’re the God of the earth.
You’re the God of our lives.
You’re the God of humanity.
You’re the God of beauty, of love, of joy, of trust, of all things good.
Our lives our yours; humanity is yours; the earth is yours.