10 July 2007

Richard McCann

[from Richard McCann's "The Universe Concealed," the last chapter of Mother of Sorrows, 2005]

My friend Helen and I are rowing a boat on Eagle Lake. It's almost dusk, but Helen is wearing her swimsuit because she's working on a tan. She has brought along her bottle of Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil and a Panasonic cassette player made of cheap white plastic, like a teenage girl's. As we row, we listen to The Torah Tapes, which Helen has secured from a Hasidic man who runs a shop on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. He also sells special Yahrzeit candles, she says, although she prefers the ordinary kind that come in blue paper wrappers, available in regular grocery stores. She says they remind her of the Dixie cups of ice cream her father bought her when she was a girl in Livington, New Jersey.

"Be neither sad nor regretful," says Rabbi Ezekiel Stollman. Rabbi Stollman's our invisible passenger, the one whose voice we strain to hear when the Panasonic's batteries are running low. On The Torah Tapes, he speaks in a kind of up-and-down chanting. He says that sadness is arrogance and vanity. The things that sadden us are actually blessings, he says, coming to us from a universe that's concealed.

While Rabbi Stollman talks, I feel the rhythm of rowing — the bending forward, and then the long leaning back, pulling the oars through water — as a kind of secret davening. Helen sits across form me, adjusting her swimsuit's straps. "You think I'm getting too much sun?" she asks.

For several days now, since coming to the Eagle Lake Lodge and Cottages, where we plan to spend a week, we've been making a list of the things we would see if the concealed universe were suddenly and astonishingly revealed to us. At the top of the list, we have written "UV rays."

Beneath that we have written "Joshua," the name of Helen's twelve-year-old son, who died a year ago, and then the names of my friends who have died — Jim, Edward Marcellus, Larry, George, Darnell, Allen, Ricardo, Stanley, Paul, Jaime, Billy, Eduardo, and, most recently, Francisco.

Helen says we should make a list of the things we hope will remain concealed forever. At the top of that list, she says, she'll put the cotton prosthesis she was given after her mastectomy, not long before Josh was killed. On a third list, a list of things that are generally concealed but which we believe might be revealed to us with a minimum of effort, if we put our minds to it, we plan to write "penises."

Mother of Sorrows

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