01 May 2011

Kathleen Graber

[from Kathleen Graber's The Eternal City, Princeton, 2010]

The Third Day

        And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb
        yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his
        kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was
        so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding
        seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed
        was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
        And the evening and the morning were the third day.

        – Genesis 1:11-13

This morning I locked myself out again, realizing just
as the door of the complex's communal laundry clicked shut
behind me that my keys were still atop the triple loader.
I'd been thinking about the senator I'd seen last night on television
& the language – terroristic, Islamo-fascist enemies of freedom
he'd used to describe those whose ideologies conflict so starkly
with his own. And Augustine's question: is evil a thing in itself,
or merely, as he came to argue in the end, the absence of good.
Later, when I finally find a neighbor – glad she's home,
glad she is willing to lend me her keys so I can retrieve mine –
we stand a few minutes chatting. She's from Minnesota
& dislikes the winters here. Her eyes rest on a plastic toboggan
& the bicycle beside it, training wheels rusting in three inches
of mud. It's February & we've had rain all week. The temperature
is already above fifty & although the limb-whips of the willow
are bare, its trunk is splotched & spongy with pale green moss.
I can see that the kids who like to roughhouse after school
have shattered someone's terra cotta planters & a small holly –
its roots dressed now in only their own black ball of dirt,
its carnelian beads aglitter – has been tossed out onto the walk.

Augustine was haunted by his gang's adolescent theft of pears,
a transgression nearly without motive: the pears were so hard
& so ugly, inedible, in fact, that he knew, even as he took them,
that there were better ones at home. It's difficult to say
what he means by unmaking, but this is what sin is & does,
he warns, as we stray disordered, away from the perfection
which made us toward the nothing from which we are made.

By late afternoon, the sky brightens & they are all at it again,
using slingshots made from forked twigs & rubber bands
to pelt one another with the sharp pods of the sycamores.
What would we do without our fellows? Adam,
the Saint argues, took the apple even though he knew
the serpent had deceived her, for he could not bear imagining
Eve lost in the wilderness alone. A small child is beating a tree
with a baseball bat trying to knock more ammunition loose,
& the prickly spheres, which horticulturalists call fruit,
dance & dangle – like the thurible the Monsignor swung
sometimes at mass. I sat in the pew beside my grandmother.
The words being spoken were Latin. I studied the bright cloaks
in the windows & the scuffs on my shiny black shoes.
Across the open field, a beagle, caught up too tightly
in the rope which has been used to tether him to a porch,
starts to howl & the squirrels scatter. And an old nest, dull
& high up – still holding only a few fists of air – begins to quake.

Kathleen Graber

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