As the Funerals Continue

Today, as the funerals continue, I think of the first time I heard the song Suo Gan, sung by a very young Christian Bale in Spielberg’s heart-rending 1987 film Empire of the Sun.

It’s an Old Welsh lullaby, always sung in Welsh and the translation of one verse goes like this:

To my lullaby surrender, Warm and tender is my breast
Mother’s arms with love caressing Lay their blessing on your rest
Nothing shall tonight alarm you, None shall harm you, have no fear
Lie contented, calmly slumber On your mother’s breast…

I won’t say more now but only offer for us all imperishable music,  the lullaby itself,  from the throats of these youth:

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First the Mourning. Then, the Work

from a window's upper sash

When I wake mornings, I look out the window and across the street at ‘my’ trees first, which are not mine at all except in the sense that we come to think of as ours all  the things we truly love. I see them bare and bony right now, though they toss with buds in spring, and are all ruddy at the top, like kitchen matches, in the fall.

Watching them yesterday as the sun edged up over the horizon, I saw something I had not noticed before: cast into perfect silhouette by the horizontal rays of its rising light the familiar peaks and gables of my own house, sewn like Peter Pan’s shadow onto their barky breasts.

It startled me, as a reflection caught and given back to us in passing shop windows startles; and it reminded me of something, elusive at first, but then coming clear: Old photographs taken at the dawn of my life, in those dear quiet days of the corduroy overalls and the very-early suppers.

I have these photos, as everyone else does, piled in a shoebox, recording us children costumed for some school play, or rosy-cheeked in snow. And in many of them, more than our photographer-grownups ever intended, appear, lying in the foreground across the swath of green lawn or white snow, the shadows of the grownups themselves, with the hairdos and hats of another era, heads inclined and shoulders hunched in concentration over the small magic boxes of their cameras.

They thought to record us. I see now with keener eyes that they also recorded themselves.

Thus do we sense the light press of our presence in the world, I thought yesterday when I woke: intermittently, and almost by accident.

But we are in the world, and we can do more than we think.

Watching the outpouring of emotions here on the internet stands as testimony: we can rid our society of gun violence. We can make the world safer. Think of the saying widely attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

This next week: the mourning. Then, the work.

Peeping Tom Reclining

I know they say the stars are so far away that the light from them left before the birth of Jesus; before the dinosaurs were even in middle school but still. When you look up at them they seem so present and benevolent, bending over out little cradle here.

Say you’re having one of those nights when you’re making twisted ropes of the bedsheets with all your tossing and turning, and adrenalin shot of anxiety keep jolting through your body.

Desperate, you get up and begin touring the house in your insomnia, straightening the pictures and talking to the chairs. You drink some water, not too much. Maybe you take a hot bath, hoping to stun yourself sleepy that way. Then, at the end of all that, just as you’re crawling back into the rope-nest of disordered sheets your eyes travel to the window and there on the other side of it is… Orion, big as life and back for the winter.

Even schoolchildren know Orion on sight, even on his back like this with his belt in its perfect three-star line-up, his dagger attached, his upraised arm and those wide, wide shoulders.

There were meteor showers over the weekend and you tried to see the 15 shooting stars an hour that were said to be visible. Alas clouds had rolled in by then and anyway you couldn’t stay awake.

There are no clouds this night and no meteor showers either but awake you are and glad to see this old gladiator lying on his side, leaning on one elbow and looking in at you as if to say “Hey.” You smile and turn away from him and are sleeping within 30 seconds.