“As minhas férias na ilha de Santo Antão,” César Augusto Medina Fortes

Read the English translation here

As aulas terminaram no dia 10 de Junho. E para a nossa alegria, as férias tinham começado. Santo Antão seria o nosso destino.

Saímos de casa bem cedinho, e fomos para o cais de São Vicente. Apanhamos o táxi de nhô Custódio, um Mercedes-Benz, branco, com um cãozinho de plástico no tablier, que mexia cabeça à medida que o carro andava. Era novinho em folha. Todos solicitavam para transportar os noivos. Como podem imaginar, eu estava muito feliz por andar no carro mais bonito da ilha. Durante o trajeto para o caís, eu não parava quieto, observando como nhô Custódio girava o volante e trocava a mudança. Era algo admirável.

Quando chegamos no Porto Grande, tinha uma multidão esperando na fila para entrar no ferry boat “Porto Novo”. O mar estava um pouco revolto. Mesmo assim lá fomos nós. O “ferry boat”, tinha fama que fazia enjoar até as malas. Tinha gente, que só de ouvir o nome do barco já ficava enjoada, como é o caso da Ti Jona. O barco subia e descia as ondas, sem termos certeza se voltava para a superfície outra vez. Pessoas gritavam: “Mar não tem árvores, vamos afundar.”

Mas nós crianças, estávamos animadas para chegar à Santo Antão. Depois de uma hora de viagem turbulenta, chegamos em Santo Antão. O cais de Porto Novo tinha um calor infernal e não tinha nenhum sítio para se esconder do sol abrasador. Era tanta gente que a azáfama era grande. Uns descendo e outros preparavam-se para entrar no barco em direção à São Vicente. O cais era pequeno para tanta gente e tantos carros. Segurando as nossas tralhas, caminhamos em direção ao camião que nos levaria à Chã de Igreja. O Bedford de 1958, de cor verde, que pertencia à nhe Cuca, já estava a nossa espera. Lá iniciamos a viagem de carro que demoraria umas três horas. No cais, víamos pessoas a vender “sucrinha” em forma de cone, marmelo, maçã, queijo e muitas outras coisas tradicionais da ilha. O carro fazia muito fumo que prometia fazer-nos enjoar mais uma vez. Os adultos sentaram nas cadeiras e nós, as crianças sentámos no fundo da caixa, juntamente com as malas. Saímos do cais, fizemos a curva e entramos na estrada principal.

Iniciamos a subida para a zona de Corda.

Chegámos na zona de Delgadinho e de repente o silêncio tomou conta do camião. O lugar mete medo com os precipícios dos dois lados da estrada. Fechamos os olhos e só respiramos depois de termos atravessado aquela parte perigosa da estrada. Na ribeira, o velho Bedford, ia devagar, pois andava em cima de pedregulhos e iria demorar até chegar em Chã de Igreja.

Chã de Igreja é uma pequena e bela vila, mas que parece uma cidade em miniatura. Terra de pessoas educadas, com ruas limpas e organizadas, com muita cana à volta, altos coqueiros, com um cheiro de manga por todo o lado. No centro da vila existe uma bonita igreja, a qual dá o nome à vila de Chã da Igreja.

Chegámos na casa da minha avó Ludovina “Vinha”. Todos os nossos familiares saíram para cumprimentar-nos e ajudar com as malas. A Fátima estava a pentear o cabelo da “Ti Tuda”. Era uma alegria total. Abraçamos toda a gente. Parecia que a nossa família inteira estava em Chã de Igreja. O pequeno-almoço tinha mandioca frita, chá de hortelã, cachupa guisada e omeletes. O cheiro era irresistível.

A casa da minha avozinha tinha muitos animais. No dia seguinte, de manhã cedo, apanhei uma caneca de latão e chamei o Aldevino, meu primo mais velho e pedi-lhe um favor especial:

– “Ó Aldevino, bô podia trazeme um bocadim de leite de burro, de favor?”

Eu, como “boys de Soncente” e na minha santa ignorância, pensava que todos os animais davam leite, até o burro. Mas lá foi o Aldevino e voltando com a caneca cheia de leite. Bebi o leite todo e até fiquei com um bigode de espuma. As férias estavam a começar da melhor forma.

O mês de Outubro chegou ao fim. As férias terminaram. Era tempo de voltar para São Vicente. E nós, na véspera da partida, ficamos até tarde, a falar das maravilhosas férias que tivemos. No dia seguinte, amigos de Chã de Igreja foram nos despedir. Quando o carro já ia dobrar a esquina, voltamos a cara para trás, com um nó na garganta e quase chorando, com a mão bem alto, fizemos adeus para a nossa avó Ludovina, a nossa querida “Vinha”. Ela, com uma cara triste, ficou a acenar-nos até o carro desaparecer no fim da rua.

Dentro do caminhão o cheiro do fumo era intenso. Já com alguns minutos na estrada, começamos a dormir. Quando chegamos no cais do Porto Novo, tinha um calor que parecia que o chão estava pegando fogo. Era uma confusão em cima do cais com o negócio de verduras. E lembrar que íamos no mesmo barco, começávamos a ficar enjoados. Podíamos até vomitar, mas estávamos muito felizes a caminho de São Vicente depois de termos passado umas boas férias.

Só não sabia eu, que a minha mãe nos tinha levado para essas “maravilhosas férias” com o intuito de deixar-nos com a nossa avó e depois partir para a Itália, porque a vida em São Vicente não estava fácil. Anos mais tarde, ela contou-nos toda a história, explicando que desistiu da viagem porque, enquanto de dia, nós ríamos de alegria, ela, à noite, chorava de tristeza de ter que deixar os filhos para trás, para serem criados por outras pessoas. Ela já tinha até o bilhete de passagem comprado, mas sentiu pena de nós e não viajou. Deixou o sonho de ter uma vida melhor para ter a realidade e a alegria de viver com os filhos. Creio que ela não se arrependeu da decisão que tomou naquele dia. Nós agradecemos a nossa mãe por esta sábia decisão até hoje.

Foram as melhores férias da nossa infância.

“The Hills of Heaven” by Scott Hales

Ane Kristine knew Jakob was dead when the moon turn blood red over Utah Lake. Her fear was confirmed the following night when she saw his ghost standing along the creek just outside of camp. He was dressed in the same dark suit and black leather boots he always wore to the stone church in Onsøy. His hair was neatly trimmed and long around the ears. His face was pale.

Pregnant with another man’s child, Ane Kristine almost did not stay to speak to him. She had been married to Abraham for over a year, and she had not written to Jakob about her marriage. His last letter to her had convinced her he was no longer in love and would not follow her to the Valley.

Still, seeing her now, only weeks away from her confinement, would surely confuse him. In life, Jakob had never been a jealous man. But how would he be in death? Had he appeared at the creek to punish her for leaving him? Or did he come seeking forgiveness? Ane Kristine shivered in the warm night air. She wanted to run back to her tent and hide beneath her quilt. But then Jakob called her name.

“Why are you here?” she whispered back. She began walking towards him, almost against her will. Jakob held out his hands, and she reached for them. Her fingers intertwined with his, as they had always done in Norway, but this time she could not feel his touch. Startled, she pulled her hands away and looked into his gray eyes. He had no pupils.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said.

“What happened to you?” Ane Kristine asked.

“I died. After you left, I became sick.”

“Why are you here?”

“I came for you. Come with me.”

“I have a life here,” said Ane Kristine. “I’m going to have a baby.”

“I’ve been to the other side and seen the hills of heaven,” Jacob said. “Nothing here matters.”

“I can’t,” said Ane Kristine. “I won’t.”

“You will,” said Jakob. “Meet me here tomorrow night. I can take you there.”

***

Ane Kristine awoke the next morning to Diana shouting. Ma Smoot had said something to offend her, and now Diana was taking it out on Abraham. Ane Kristine was still in her tent, so she could not see what was happening. But she could hear everyone well enough. The camp was small, the quarters close, and no one in the family but Ane Kristine knew how to be discreet.

“I can’t live here,” Diana cried. “I’m going back to my mother.”

“Your mother won’t take you,” Abraham said, his voice weary. “She knows your home is here.”

“It ain’t my home,” Diana said. “I need—”

“What you need to do is pray,” said Abraham. “The Lord will help you.”

“I’ve tried to pray!” Diana said. “It don’t ever work!”

Ane Kristine heard shuffling outside her tent, and in a moment Diana burst in and sat down on the ground beside her. “Oh, Annie,” she said. “I can’t do it no more. I can’t.”

Ane Kristine placed her hand on Diana’s knee and patted it gently. She and Diana were around the same age, and they had become pregnant around the same time. But Ane Kristine did not have the same tenderness for Diana that she had for Ma Smoot and Emily, Abraham’s other wives. Diana only spoke to her when no one else would listen—and only then because she thought Ane Kristine did not know enough English to scold her.

***

Later that morning, Diana wrapped herself in a shawl and went to her mother’s tent in another part of camp. Ane Kristine remained in her bedroll, feigning sickness. She did not share Diana’s feelings about their husband or his other wives. They had given her a home and family when no one else would take her in. But now that Jakob had promised to bring her to the hills of heaven, she wondered if she too needed to leave. Seeing Jakob standing beside the creek, his face the shade of moonlight, had reminded her of evenings along the river in Onsøy. The memory hung on her like a shroud of gloom, and she felt as if her grave was already dug. She did not regret coming to Zion. But she did regret coming without Jakob.

An hour past sundown, Ane Kristine found Jakob beside the creek. He did not greet her when she approached him. Instead, he pointed to a rope that hung from a tree branch over the creek. Knowing what he wanted her to do, Ane Kristine removed her shoes and began climbing the tree. When she reached the rope, she pulled it up until she held its end in her hands. The rough cord felt as crisp and light as lace.

“What do I do next?” she asked.

“Make a loop,” he said, “and tie a knot.”

“How?”

“Your hands will show you.”

Ane Kristine formed a loop and watched as her hands twisted and pulled the rope into a tight noose.

“Like that?” she said, holding it out to Jakob.

“Yes,” he said. “Now put it around your neck.”

***

When Ane Kristine opened her eyes, she saw Diana kneeling over her, muddy water dripping from her hair and dress. Startled, Ane Kristine turned her face toward the creek. “Where’s Jakob?” she cried.

Diana placed a calloused hand over Ane Kristine’s mouth. “Hush,” she whispered. “I saw what you done, but don’t worry. I won’t tell no one.”

Ane Kristine shook her head. Let me go, she wanted to say. Nothing here matters. But the words felt heavy and shapeless on her tongue.

“I got so afraid when I saw you in that tree,” Diana said. “You’re all I have here, so I just prayed to God to break that branch.” A tear formed on her cheek, and she wiped it away with a filthy sleeve.

“And He heard me, Annie,” she said. “He finally heard me.”

“The Investigator” by Jeanine Bee

The missionaries were on their way to a dinner appointment when they noticed the spacecraft.

In fairness, though, it was hard not to notice the spacecraft. It landed on the highway right in front of them. At first, the roving spotlights and downward gust of desert air led Elder Mulholland to believe that it might be a helicopter. His instinct was to leave his bike and run out into the New Mexico desert, crouching down amongst the sagebrush with his head tucked between his knees and his hands over his neck. But Elder Caldwell was the senior companion, and he just stood in the middle of the road, watching the dome-shaped ship hover over them. So Elder Mulholland did the same. He’d only left the MTC three weeks ago, and for all he knew this was a common experience for the residents of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

The ship lowered itself carefully to the ground, tipping a little to the left, then to the right, before touching down on the road right in front of the two missionaries. Whatever engine was powering the machine cut out and left the two Elders standing in the hot silence of dusk in north-eastern Carlsbad.

Finally, Elder Mulholland spoke.

“Caldwell? What’s going on?”

Elder Caldwell adjusted his belt. “Not really sure, Elder. Looks like a spaceship of some kind, don’t you think?”

Mulholland looked at the spaceship, then back to his companion. “Yeah. I’d say so.” He paused. “Does the mission president have any guidelines for what to do in this situation?”

“Not that I’ve been informed of.”

Mulholland nodded. “Right. So this is new then. Never seen anything like this before?”

Caldwell shook his head slowly.

Mulholland took a sharp breath. “Caldwell, I think we should leave. Now.”

“Hold on, now.” Caldwell pulled a worn handkerchief out of his back pocket and used it to wipe the sweat from his brow. “Weren’t we just praying this morning for guidance as we knocked doors today? For the spirit to lead us to those homes and hearts that were open to the gospel?”

Mulholland felt his jaw drop. “You’re not going to—”

But Caldwell was already walking towards the ship. He looked back and opened his arms wide. “Ask and ye shall receive, Elder! We asked and the Lord delivered the door to us!” He slapped his chest triumphantly. “We can’t say no to this!”

“We can, though.” Mulholland started to jog to his companion, ready to physically drag Caldwell away from the ship. “We can say no!” But before Mulholland could reach him, Caldwell was already knocking on the panel of the ship that he assumed to be the door.

There was a loud click, and the panel began to slide open. As the doorway grew, the missionaries caught their first glimpse of their new investigator. He was lit from behind, and the gloom of dusk obscured the details of his features, but his form looked eerily human, and his bright, gum-drop-shaped eyes stood out from his face in what seemed to be in a state of perpetual amusement.

Caldwell extended his hand. “Hello!” The investigator took a step backwards, and Caldwell raised his hands to show that he meant no offense. He clasped them together respectfully and started again. “Hello. We’re missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Do you have a moment for us to share a message?”

The investigator blinked and tilted his head. Mulholland grabbed his companion by the sleeve and started to pull him away from the door. “Elder, we need to go!” he whispered urgently.

Caldwell smiled at the investigator. “Please, excuse us for just a moment.” Then he turned and scowled at Mulholland. “What is wrong with you? We have an opportunity here!”

“This is not an opportunity, Caldwell. This is an emergency.”

Caldwell rolled his eyes. “You’re too green, Elder. We were called to share the gospel to everyone on this earth.”

“Everyone on this Earth, Caldwell! All the humans! This is not a human. There’s nothing in the handbook about this. Nothing in Preach my Gospel.”

“Elder, this is straight-out-of-the-bible stuff! John 10:16. Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold. It’s our duty to find those sheep and bring them to Christ!”

“It’s not even a sheep.”

“You’re overreacting, Elder. Now, please, join me as we talk to this nice gentleman.”

“Not a man.” Mulholland shook his head. “Not a person!”

But Caldwell was already facing the investigator again. “Do you have a family, sir?”

The investigator just stared, with what Mulholland believed was a look of confusion.

Then Caldwell began to teach the investigator about eternal families, pantomiming the words he was saying with the hope of bridging the language gap. He crouched low for some words and reached up high for others, translating his message into the language of movement. He became an interpretive dancer cloaked in the ethereal glow of the spirit. Mulholland watched with awe, touched by this great work of Caldwell’s faith—a testimony borne without words.

When he had finished, both missionaries looked up at the investigator, Caldwell breathing heavily from the effort and Mulholland breathless in anticipation. The investigator turned back to the interior of the ship and uttered a few sounds in some guttural, clicking language. The engine started back up again.

“Wait!” Caldwell called, reaching into his backpack. He pulled out a Book of Mormon and placed it in the investigator’s hand-like-appendage. “Please, just read it.”

Then the door closed, and the ship was gone.

In the silence the crickets began to chirp again, and Mulholland turned to his companion. “Why did you give him a Book of Mormon? He doesn’t speak English.”

Caldwell’s face shone with giddy exhilaration. He smiled knowingly. “The spirit knows no such boundaries.” Then he picked up his bike and deftly lifted his leg over the frame. “Hop on, Elder. We’re on God’s time, and we’re already late for dinner.”

“The Seven Deadly Housewarmers” by Emily Harris Adams

Gluttony was the first to pay a welcome call. I was in the kitchen sorting the dishes into cabinets when the bell rang. I opened the door to find her holding a pan of cinnamon buns. Glaze dripped onto the carpet as I invited her inside. She stayed about a half an hour, telling me about the local restaurants and grocery stores. Between the two of us, we finished the rolls. I had three. The glaze
left sticky patches on my fingers, lips, and chin. We exchanged numbers and she promised to treat me to coffee sometime.

Pride came a few hours after with the HOA rules and regulations handout. Not the welcome packet. Just the rules and regulations. He also warned me against planting daffodils, calling them, “pedantic, though not forbidden.” Pride is not on the HOA board, I’ve found. However, he has won the neighborhood “Best Yard” award ten years running.

When Lust came a week later, I began to notice the pattern. It was near midnight when I answered the door. Lust was wearing a Speedo and proffering a Bikini. It dangled from his pinky finger. It was a small. I’m a medium, but from the way Lust was looking at me I am pretty sure he’d already guessed that. He told me that he and Envy were having a little hot tub party and I was invited. I declined even after he leaned in close and whispered that he could do things to me that would turn Envy green. He left the Bikini anyway.

The next day Envy came and told me she has dibs on Lust. As she turned to leave, I counted the other homes on my cul-du-sac. There are seven.

Two-weeks later, after a coffee run with Gluttony, I came back to find Greed stealing my garden gnomes. I called out to her as she sprinted away in panic. One of the gnomes slipped from her hands, smashing on the pavement outside Pride’s home. I asked Gluttony how Greed thought she could have gotten away with the theft since she lives just across the street. Gluttony shrugged as she munched on a cheese scone. We all have our blind spots, I suppose. I went inside to get a
broom, but by the time I got the chance to clean up the shattered gnome, Pride had already swept his lawn pristine.

The next day, I received a violation notice from Wrath, the president of the HOA. Garden Gnomes, it seems, may only be displayed at Christmastime due to their overwhelming resemblance to Santa Claus.

I’ve yet to meet Sloth, but I know which house is his. The lawn gives it away. I’m sure it hasn’t been mowed in weeks. Wrath talks to me about it anytime I see him out-and-about with his dog. The worst, Wrath says, is that Sloth’s always late in paying his violation fees. Greed tells me that if I ever want free flowers I can always go to Sloth’s yard and clip some, because he’s too lazy to call the
cops.

Part of me wonders how long I’ll have to live here before I can gather enough equity on the house for moving to make sense. Another part of me is just relieved that, strange as my new neighbors are, they are much better than the four horse ranchers who live near my sister.

“The Casting Out of Spirits” by Jeanine Bee

I don’t know why they’ve asked someone else to play the organ.

I’ve been playing the organ in this ward for forty-eight years. When I first learned to play, I had to pump the air through the pipes with my feet on bellows, up and down, one and then the other. My calves rippled through my stockings like an Olympian. I played when I was placed on modified bed-rest during my pregnancy with Ellie, and George had to push me up to the rostrum in a wheelchair and help me onto the bench. I played at George’s funeral, when my fingers creaked with the beginnings of arthritis and tears blurred the notes on the page. But I walk into church with my book of music, feeling better than I have in years, and what do I see? Little Julie Nielson sitting at the organ, fumbling her notes left and right.

After the initial shock, I decide to sit in the front row so I can lock eyes with the bishop every time the Neilson girl plays a wrong note. But when I reach the pew, I keep walking. Up the steps. To the organ.

I stand behind Julie for a while, watching her play. She isn’t using the foot pedals. Most people don’t these days. But there’s a little button on the right-hand side that says “BASS CUPL,” and if you toggle it, it takes the voice programing from the bass line and plays it in the lower half of the keyboard. So I try to be discreet. I sit down on the bench next to her and whisper, “You need to enable the bass coupler.”

Of course, she can’t hear me—the organ is far too loud for prelude music. So I push the button myself. She looks a little confused at the change, but keeps her eyes on the music. Then, since this is sacrament meeting and not a Janis Joplin concert I lower the volume myself with the foot pedal.

It seems like everything is under control, so I stand up to leave. But then Julie starts playing “Called to Serve.” As prelude music. Can you believe it? With that bass line thumping along. Bum bum bum bum. It’s atrocious. “Be Thou Humble” is a much better prelude hymn. And in the key of C, she’s not likely to miss many notes.

So I turn the page. Julie stops playing and whips her head around.

“What are you—”

She looks confused. Maybe I should be more sympathetic. It’s not her fault that someone asked her to play the organ. So I try to smile. “I’m not here to take over for you. I’m just giving you a few pointers.”

Julie turns back to the hymn book. But she must realize that my song choice is better, because she starts plodding through “Be Thou Humble.”

I’m starting to head down to the pews when Bishop Clements stands up to begin the meeting. Julie stops playing (right in the middle of the verse with no resolution to the musical phrase or anything), so rather than call any undue attention to myself, I sit down in the choir seats next to the organ.

The opening hymn is “The Spirit of God.” I’m quite familiar with the song. I know that it should be played on the ninth preset with the 4’ Clarion and 8’ Dulciana voices added to the Great manual to really give the melody that great ringing emphasis during “We’ll sing, and we’ll shout!” It should feel jubilant! Alive!

When Julie starts playing on the fifth preset—one I use for the quieter sacrament hymns—I audibly groan.

Changing voices in the middle of a verse is not recommended, but I can’t stand to sit through one more measure of this, so I lean over and toggle the ninth preset. The sound blasts from the pipes, and Julie jumps a bit at the change. But everything is fine until she starts to drag. I tap on the bench next to her, hoping to encourage her to play a bit faster. She doesn’t. And I know she can hear me because even the bishop looks back at the sound.

Finally, after four verses (and eight-and-a-half minutes), the song finishes. After the opening prayer, I decide I’m going to take over for Julie. I’m perfectly capable of fulfilling my calling. I slide onto the bench to excuse her, but before I can say anything, the bishop stands up again.

“We have just one item of ward business. We’d like to recognize our new ward organist, Julie Nielson.”

At this I’m so shocked that I stand up right there, my feet on the pedals, sending a great cacophony of bass notes ringing out across the chapel. I gather my wits quickly and sit back down. Bishop looks over his shoulder and Julie shrugs. But of course, I’m shocked! I was never released from this calling. I still have a stewardship over this organ and this congregation—or their ears, at least.

Bishop turns back to the congregation and clears his throat. “And we’d like to make you aware of the passing of Sister Eugenia Gordon. Funeral services will be held Friday.”

I should be playing at that funeral.

“Sister Gordon shared her musical talents with us for the past forty years—”

It was forty-eight.

“—and I know it’s not customary, but I think it would be appropriate for us to offer a vote of release, to thank her for her service on the organ. All those who wish to do so, please show by the uplifted hand.”

The hands are all held high, like the great wall of pipes in the tabernacle. And I feel a smile creep up on me.

Because now I know it’s time for me to leave. Let Julie have a turn on the keys.

But enough about me. Tell me about this place.

Do you need an organist?

“The God I Can Trust” by Gabriel González Núñez

Read the original Spanish version here

According to the prophet, God’s face is brighter than the sun
and His long hair is whiter than snow
and His voice roars like the rushing of a river,
and next to Him man is nothing.

At times I think of these things, early in the morning,
when the sun rises, and my mind is stuck
in dogmas and mysteries which I can hardly understand,
and I can only conclude that man is nothing.

According to the poet, God is greater than the priest imagines,
for His mercy is greater than that of all of beings,
for His light banishes the darkness in those who seek Him,
for man is nothing.

It terrifies me, when I contemplate this life and its toils,
to think that God is so far removed from our ways,
yonder in the distance, that His light might not reach us
and we will continue to grope about, for man is nothing.

According to my brother, God is found in the details,
not so much in the geometry of constellations,
not so much in the blue echo of the fathomless heavens,
and he claims this while knowing that man is nothing.

I confess I do not know whether God dwells in the valleys
or whether He moves about invisibly between dimensions
or whether He is simply our daily breath,
for I understand in defeat that man is nothing.

I wander around dressed in the rags of a roaming man.
I know I am ephemeral, a sighing in the night.

I am crushed as I realize that even I am nothing.
And only then do I fumble my way to a god I can trust.

And only then do I discover the God I can trust.

“Un dios en quien confiar” Gabriel González Núñez

Read the English translation here

Dice el profeta que el rostro de Dios resplandece
más que el sol y que Su larga cabellera es blanca
más que la nieve y que Su voz ruge con estruendo
como de un río, y a Su lado el hombre nada es.

Pienso en estas cosas a veces, cuando amanece,
cuando levanta el sol, y la mente se me estanca
en dogmas y misterios que poco o nada entiendo,
y sólo puedo concluir que el hombre nada es.

Dice el poeta que Dios es más de lo que el cura
opina, que Su piedad supera la de todos
los seres, que Su luz desvanece la penumbra
del hombre que busca perdón, hombre que nada es.

Me aterra, cuando pienso en esta vida y lo dura
que es, que Dios esté tan lejano de nuestros modos,
allá tan distante, que Su luz no nos alumbre
y quedemos a tientas, porque el hombre nada es.

Dice mi hermano que Dios se encuentra en los detalles,
no en la geometría de las constelaciones
ni en el eco azul del insondable firmamento,
y lo asegura sabiendo que el hombre nada es.

Confieso que no sé si Dios habita los valles
o si transita nebuloso las dimensiones
o si es algo tan sencillo como el diario aliento,
porque resignado entiendo que el hombre nada es.

Vistiendo harapos de hombre errante por doquier voy.
Me sé efímero como un nocturno suspirar.

Me aplasta cobrar consciencia de que nada soy.
Y recién así tanteo un dios en quien confiar.

Y recién así descubro al Dios en quien confiar.

“Separation” by Mark Penny

The bridge collapsed, the car fell in the river, the mother unfastened her seat belt and clambered into the backseat to free her five- and three-year-old, and the father rolled down the windows, but a bus slammed on top of the car and crushed the roof. The car filled with water, sank away from the bus, and glided to the silt. The parents gathered their children and each other in their arms, and one by one, eyes wide in the murk, the family breathed, the mother last of all.

***

Waking up was weird. She felt light: limbs, organs, breath, pulse almost nonexistent, like memories after too many drinks. She was floating, but not in water or air. Her senses were empty: no sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. She seemed to be nothing but thought.

This was a relief, as if she’d coughed out a smothering fullness in the lungs and started from the grim end of an inconsistent dream.

***

The pleasure of silence, stillness, and solitude wore off. She felt alone. The loneliness threatened to drown her.

There was someone nearby. A voice: “We can see you now. Keep going.” A touch: on her wrist. “I can feel you now. Try seeing.” Light, shadow, shapes, colors—blurry like through a wet windshield. “Your eyes are open. Now breathe.”

Her lungs—the idea of lungs—opened out. Smells, tastes, the sense of life poured through her mouth and nose. She remembered all, and a shuddering, sobbing blackness took her.

***

“It’s hard,” said the voice—an old woman dressed like an eighty-year-old from ten years before.

The mother looked past the old woman to the fields and trees around her. Everything was beautiful and clean and a little too close to her preferences.

“How long was I hysterical?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t know how long. Time doesn’t chop into bits here. I had a lot of different thoughts about a lot of different things while you fuzzed out.”

“Fuzzed out?”

“Smudged. Swooned. Blanked out. Melted. Phased. Shifted. Deshaped. Dissolved. Diffused. Disintegrated. Pick a synonym. You’ll see when our next tragic arrives.”

“How often do tragics arrive?”

“Too often, poor things. But you mean when will you see one. Too soon. I can’t give you a figure. It’s not like clockwork. It happens when it happens. We seem to be dealing with a new one most of the time. It takes a while for them to adjust. Sometimes there are batches.”

Batches. The others must have survived somehow. She almost fuzzed out again.

***

It maddened her that there was no objective way to tell time. There was a sun in the sky, but it was always where she happened to expect it to be, and there was no night. With effort, she could make a sunrise or sunset, but these were effects only she could see unless she convinced the old woman to share the events with her. Even then, when they compared descriptions, it was plain they were not seeing the same display. Colors, shapes, and locations were always a little bit off. This principle extended to the flora and other elements of the landscape. Representations adjusted as they pointed things out to each other, but each began with her own set of images with their own content.

***

After what must have been days, the mother asked, “Why are there only two of us here?”

The old woman smiled. “There are thousands. You just haven’t been ready to see them.”

“I’m ready now. Where are they?”

“Here, there, and everywhere.”

“When can I see them?”

“They are in plain sight for those who have eyes to see, and in plain hearing for those who have ears to hear.”

“Why are you talking like that? Where are the people?”

“You will see them when your eyes are opened.”

The mother scanned every corner of the meadow she was picturing. She saw nothing but grass and flowers at first, with trees in arcs and circles on the slopes above, beside, and below her. She closed her eyes and tried to be open to seeing, then looked again. Now she saw blurs and shimmers, some near, some far. She repeated the process and began to see faces and physiques, still blurry and featureless, like shadows in frosted glass, but human and individual, many acting in ways incongruent with the environment, responding to their own visions.

“Do you see them now?” asked the old woman.

“Almost. They are unformed.”

“Because you have not met them. When you touch and hear them, you will see them, but not as they are: as they think they are.”

“Will that change?”

“When they change. Most of us see ourselves as we were at death. I walked around in my nightgown for what must have been years.”

“How do I present?”

“As you see yourself. A woman in her early thirties, dripping wet. You drowned, I presume.”

“Yes. With my family: husband, two little ones. Where are they? Are they here? We should have come in the same batch. Unless they survived. We were in our car, at the bottom of the river. We all breathed in. I saw them all breathe in. Where are they?”

“Were you sealed?”

“Sealed?”

“You’ll understand when you get to that lesson.”

“Why can’t I go to them, find them?”

“Look as far as you can. What do you see?”

“An ocean.”

“I see a wall. It surrounds us. My wall and your ocean are the same thing: a barrier we can never pass without submission and sealing. I’m still working on submission. When I succeed, I will go to my family, but there is one I will never see again, one to whom I could never be sealed. I will miss her forever.”

The mother looked down at the ocean, shifting and blue—and vast. She felt a tear, or the idea of a tear, but whether of sorrow or rage, she couldn’t yet tell.

“How Do We Make Sense of What Will Be When We Hold Remnants of What Once Was?” by Steven Peck

A scientific inquiry in three poetic studies

Study I: Job
And the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind . . . Job 38:1

When at last God appeared to
answer Job’s complaint
to address his pain & suffering

What would God say to someone
who lost all that he loves?
All that mattered?

Someone whose wormy
flesh was infected
with boils?

Whose every breath made him
curse the womb from which
he was birthed?

When He arrived,
the Lord did not explain the
nature of suffering.

Nor tell him it would all turn
out for the best, or that heaven
would restore all losses.

God made no move to kiss his
diseased skin to make it
better with his healing lips.

God did not explain
that He too suffers,
nor that God will suffer

in the garden, so that
He might understand
Job’s suffering.

None of these.

Rather, exuberant. Giddy.
God gestures wildly at
whales. Their wonder.

Their beauty!
Like Ahab’s single-
minded attention

to his pale Leviathan,
God delights in
His own.

God speaks of
singing stars,
Points to the Pleiades—

The Seven Sisters
and demands Job
consider Orion’s belt.

Lightning bolts,
snow covered mountains,
the birth of kid goats &

gazelles,
wild ox & asses,
Hippos large and ungainly.

Job bows his head
and relents. Is suffering the
price of beauty, and being?

Study II: Job and Darwin

Job: My youngest daughter? When she was young, during the lambing sea- son, she would come to see me in the grassy pastures with her mother. They would arrive with a large wallet stuffed with strips of dry mutton, dates, grapes, and a loaf of small wheat bread baked in the stone oven near the back of our house. We would sit by the slow-moving river and eat our meal and watch the crocodiles drift like logs, still and peaceful. How slowly they would maneuver to be near the floating Red-necked Phalaropes bobbing fresh from their long flight over the desert! Then, when at just the right distance from the bird, in an explosion of white water, they would snatch one up and in an instant devour it. How my little treasure would scream when the beast would, in roiling commotion and chaos, take its prey. When the great lizard’s lunch was over and the river was calm again and the wind slight, she would ask so many questions as the clouds drifted full and without care across the sky. Why is the dove so sorrowful? Which is older the river or the hills? How do the ants find their way in the darkness of the tunnels? She loved to hold the lambs close, though they were not much smaller than she. As she got older, she would come out to help me break the horses that we would sell to the Egyptians for their war chariots. And when no men were looking, how she loved to ride those wild beasts. I knew of course, but I did not mind. She seemed to fear nothing and those steeds seemed to understand her slightest touch as she rode over the grasses so abundant near our home. She was with my other children when the wind came and brought the house down upon them. They all died that day—when the wind came and the house fell down upon them, from my oldest to my youngest. The wind came up. The wind. Came. Up. And the house fell down upon them. And all my beloved ones. My children. They died.

As did I, in any way that matters. Everything I became after that was no becoming. How could I ’be,’ after what I had ’been?’

Darwin, eyes wet, places his hand on Job’s shoulder.

Darwin: Oh sweet little Annie. Where are you now my poor dear girl? I know. I know…in the ground resting under a tree at the Great Malvern Priory. In the ground … She was the apple of her father’s eye. She was indeed. She would follow me everywhere. She loved to take the Sandwalk with me as I strolled round and round marking the passage of our ellipse by the bump of a foot to the stone, sending it away and in so doing marking our traverse. Often she would assist me in my dissections of barnacles in my study. She loved the pigeons. She would, like old Father Adam, name them: One-eye, Flower Bottom, Captain Angel Beak, Mother’s pie. Even now I smile to think on her and how she was taken too…too young. How could I believe in God after that? Some thought it was my theory that drove me away. But how could such a being maintain a universe where little Annie could be taken away?

Job: I was angry.
Darwin: I was angry.
Both: But we were blessed with a vision of the Creation? Were we not?
Job: The singing whales.
Darwin: And the merry Galapagos finches.
Both: The cost was too high. And I would give it up. All of it, for—
Job: My daughter . . . that the wind took.
Darwin: Little Anne . . . my Annie, who was swept away by incurable coughings.

Study III: Being

Every child knows,
That being comes,
From a becoming,

That every ’is,’
Comes from a ’was,’
On its way to a ’will be.’

That which I am
Was born of chaos,
And from the whirlwind

Out of which God spoke,
And asked, ”Have you seen
my whales?

THE END

“Before the Healing” by Merrijane Rice

Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son:
for he is mine only child.
Luke 9:38

A devil grips my son,
shakes him like a mast
in sudden storm till bones rattle
and head beats the ground.
I cannot tear him free.

He is bruised and scarred,
but not from play.
I once pulled him blistered
from his mother’s cooking fire.
Another day, as I mended nets,
he collapsed in stony shallows.
I ran to hold his head above water,
cradle him till the fit passed.

At night, I wrestle
with his empty future:
He will never learn to sail or sort
a day’s catch on the shore.
He will never read in the synagogue
or keep a feast day in the shadow
of the Lord’s holy house.
He will never marry or worry
over children of his own.

I still believe. I pray.
I plead to know what lack in me
keeps us from compassion,
but scarcely dare to ask again
for what has been withheld.

By early morning, I am wrung out.
Silence hangs like a heavy veil.
I venture one more question,
father to Father:
If you had just one child,
would you do nothing to save him
from being torn in two?