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  • The Tongues of Angels, and: For My Granddaughter, and: For Remembrance
  • Robert McNamara (bio)

The Tongues of Angels

becalmed near Nanaimo, British Columbia

Now and then a puff, the water riffled,never near or long. Coins of sunlight fellin a cat-footed rain. In a dream,

the current turned, a hawk cried and a flymet water rising up to meet it, sat inripples spreading all the way to China.

For My Granddaughter

Today a smile that isn't gas, a graspedfinger. When you focus your eyes, you seemto catch a soul. They fix on two black platesbeside white napkins (so much depends / upon)as our voice-streams surge and eddy, a rush you'll mimicfirst then parse into saying, asking, denying,reasoning on a page where voice is metonymythinking. Or the voice that reads these wordsinside of you: soon they will be yours.

The sun stumbles over the hill and the lawnseems rolled-out for the occasion. Nearby, what seemsa new barn's frame. The would-behayloft Argus-eyedwith windows denies it: barn is a soothingreference to a work that isn't ours. [End Page 104]

A rabbit freezes. Two goldfinch fly upward,wings batting beak to beak above the heapsof boulders, golf-ball pebbles, sand. The stoneman'swork, pulling levers in his roll cage,unbending a palsied arm to clutch a stonein thick iron fingers, set it, turn it likea puzzle tile, then knuckle it down untilit wouldn't think to move. So tender his firmnudge that could snap a femur like a straw.

Like John Chrysostom, he favors common stuff,the dust that made the beauty of the eyelike simple words picked up and skimmed acrossthe day like a glassy lake, the swelling setsand subsets, Venn diagram of a bounded world.

When the cold war was a kind of permafrostand permafrost not known to be thawing, when onlythe mad walked down the streets speaking tothemselves, and the World Trade Center as architecturewas defended and reviled, my father mighthave typed a letter to your mother, your age,

that his tattooed granddaughter might have opened toPandora on her laptop, cell phone on vibrate,the Berlin Wall knocked down, and the Twin Towers,two new hot wars raging. It's how we're made:not to live easily in the world we makelike this. And yet we do. All's right as rain.

Biology gets the last word: I'll be looking outfor you, a red prehistory our bond. [End Page 105]

Who if not you should we call awake standingtipsily on my stomach, a tetherlessattention flown before your hand can graspthe finger it looked at, nose or barking frog.Even ungrasped they become a part of you,all of Whitman's catalogue becomingpart of you in your going forth, no endin sight, though soon enough you'll wonder ifwe are men and women . . . all flashes and specksand this will be escape to another waking.

It's called the Great Departure, Siddhartharending the palace veil of royal comfortsto see for himself. And thus he saw: the doorlesscage of sickness, old age, and death. Sufferingeverywhere, and the cause? Attachments, steel-strongwebs of desire and aversion. We livein the dark, none of us special, the self illusion.Release is a lifetime's discipline, nearly inhuman.

He was sleeping when I arrived, narcotizedagainst the pain. His daughter chatted with me,then gently took his arm and shook it, saying,Dad, Dad, you have a guest. He stumbled slowlyinto wakefulness, banging chairsin his inner rooms, mumbling, at last arrivingat himself. He talked of China, where he'd beenwhen the cancer in his bones had crippled him,his wit and charm and curiositylight on their feet as ever.

Another has given up on "the meaning of life"and says he's happier than ever. [End Page 106]

            Though I think he meanscontent, the peace after wartime, no land leftto claim. The weight we carried...


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pp. 104-108
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