To Tolstoy

Happy families aren’t all alike. My wife’s, for instance, buoyant with self-confidence—a father playing ping-pong left-handed, brothers practicing piano and the unicycle, sisters who counted cattails, a mother whose prayers God answered as if she’d taken the next word off His lips. These children read real books—yours included, Leo Nikolayevich—a penny a page. They learned the names of sparrows. They memorized scripture verses, firmly, as sailors cinch the working ends of knots.

As for my parents, they left slack in the line. They let me be in my bedroom with a black and white tv and a dial that made the antenna turn. Nightly I aimed it to avoid the afterglow of God and received what I could in the static: that none of us is up to His redundancies. That as long as Jesus tarries, it’s nothing but a folly of near misses and serial moments on snowy train station platforms—the braying whistle of the oncoming locomotive and the stricken lover’s last gesture, that you only, you tell yourself, alone in your room, have noticed.

Bird Report

One robin on the topmost branch of the tallest cottonwood. Eighty feet in the air? Its tailfeathers twitch like its system is failing. It leaves. A second robin lands a branch or two lower. This one stays so long that I give up watching. I leave it there in the sun, catching its rays in the upper deck.