We retired the same year, we signed the same forms
for the “Voluntary Relinquishment of Tenure,”
but he retired because he was dying, and that last year
I’d drive out to his farm to bring him Communion.
When the word has been conveyed to you,
St. Augustine says, does not the sound seem to say,
the word ought to grow, and I should diminish?
It was a small farm, with a few horses and a garden.
We’d sit by the woodstove and talk about our lives
as we always had. There was a sweetness about him
and a faith, a calm, and sometimes a silence
would happen in the air of the room and I’d become
aware of the door, and the window, and the chair
in their silences, they were real, I knew they were
there, and I’d believe, too. I wouldn’t be afraid.
Gradually, as the tumor grew larger in his brain,
the silences grew longer, until by the end
he couldn’t speak at all. It was ironic.
He was a professor of speech, a lover of words—
and he had an actor’s voice, rich and deep—
but I never heard any bitterness from him.
One day not long before he died, after
I’d given him the Body of Christ, as we sat there
watching the flames, he took my hand, put it
to his lips, kissed it, and put it back again.
The sound of his voice had made itself heard,
and then had gone away, Augustine says,
as though it were saying, my joy is complete.
Love Calls Us Here
We spent the day at the beach and went out to eat,
but the restaurant was crowded and they had to seat us
at the bar, and as we waited we watched the bartender,
a young woman, running back and forth trying
to keep up with her orders. And there was a man
at the bar, an old man, drinking by himself, and when
she asked as she hurried by how he was doing, he said,
this was the day his wife had died, the year before,
and this was her favorite place. And I remember now
how the bartender turned, and put down her tray,
and went over and talked with that old man
for a moment, how she listened, and in my mind
her kindness and the old man’s grief and the mystery
of death and all the stories and the sadness in that
crowded place seem to rise up and come together,
and it’s a warm summer night, and the sun is setting
on the water, and the bright waves are coming in
and going out, darkening as they break.
Cover image by Dylan Luder.