(Draft) The King’s Image

This morning made something like a house of cards
out of the garden. Snowberries and dew
hung from twigs among the half-tamed shrubs
quivering as if they might be scattered by a breath,
clear and delicate as the king’s image,
with the slightest suggestion of tears,
so ripe, I thought, that if they dropped,
all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
couldn’t put him together again.

But the instant the thought condensed
two hummingbirds burst from the blue,
one and on its tail another
zipped down in hot pursuit.
Breathing hard, the taunting purple-throated balladeer
rattled off a ballad. I pegged him for a Cavalier.
The other, a Roundhead, of course,
flew into a rage, and resumed the furious fray.

The king’s image I saw in dew was gone, I think
though the snowberries remained – and the birds –
no, I must have Charles on the brain.

Recommended: “Konkin”

I don’t like short stories for two reasons. The first is that it has been conventional to end a short story with an unexpected twist. One therefore looks with all one’s might and main for the first signs of the twist – why, I don’t know, but one does, and the twist discovered prematurely is hardly a twist at all. Twist. Twist. Say it out loud. You’ll soon discover you don’t even recognize the word.

The second reason is that I can’t write a short story to save my life.

But this? This is a good one. Enter Isaac Babel’s story “Konkin”, from the Red Cavalry collection. It’s told from the p.o.v. of the colourful cossack Konkin. Check out the brilliant colloquialism of the opening paragraph (and two others):

“So there we were making mincemeat of the Poles at Belaya Tserkov. So much so that the trees were rattling. I’d been hit in the morning, but managed to keep on buzzing, more or less. The day, from what I remember, was toppling toward evening. I got cut off from the brigade commander, and was left with only a bunch of five proletarian Cossacks tagging along after me. All around me everyone’s hugging each other with hatchets, like priests from two villages, the sap’s slowly trickling out of me, my horse has pissed all over itself. Need I say more?”

(A few paragraphs later, he takes on the enemy general…)

“I got my wheels rolling and put two bullets in his horse. I felt bad about the horse. What a Bolshevik of a stallion, a true Bolshevik! Copper-brown like a coin, tail like a bullet, leg like a bowstring. I wanted to present him alive to Lenin, but nothing came of it. I liquidated that sweet little horse.”

(…who refuses to surrender.)

“And he’s against the wall, panting with his whole chest, rubbing his forehead with a red finger.
‘I can’t,’ he says. ‘Kill me, I will only hand my saber to Budyonny!’
He wants me to bring him Budyonny! [Profanity]! And I can tell the old man’s on his last legs.
Pan!‘ I shout at him, sobbing and gnashing my teeth. ‘On my proletarian honor, I myself am the commander-in-chief. Don’t go looking for embroidery on me, but the title’s mine. You want my title? I am the musical eccentric and salon ventriloquist of Nizhny… Nizhny, a town on the Volga!'”

Sketch of a Conversation on the Ferry

It is Sunday, January the 4th, last day before classes begin. In the cafeteria on the ferry to Swartz Bay, it is very crowded. I join the line anyway. Once I secure a tray of food, I scan the area for likely looking seats. There are none, so I settle for a spot by an angry lookin’ dude and an older lady. I eat burger and fries. As I finish last mouth-watering bite of burger, angry dude leaves without explanation for departure or contortions of his brows. Older lady looks at me from neighboring seat. Not knowing what to say, I look away. Youngish guy – I guess 18 – sits down across from lady. I find out via eavesdropping that he’s her son. He gives her a tea. She murmurs something I can’t hear. Having done justice to my remaining fries, I sip coke as discreetly as I can. Like most everyone in the cafeteria, I avoid eye contact and the effort of making small talk with the people nearby.

After a while, the lady says to no one in particular, “This is a nice tea.” No one in particular pays attention. A little later she says to someone, I don’t see who, “You are a beautiful boy,” or something like that. Her son says, “Mom…” “What?” she says, as if she’s been hoping he would say that, and I glance at her to see if she’s teasing. She is. Her son says, “Mom, just let people go on with their things,” in the tone of one who is half embarassed and half amused at his charge. “Why?” she asks. “Those were nice eyes.” “It’s embarassing,” he says, and out of the corner of my eye I see him glance at me. Then I realize his mom knows I am eavesdropping and I can’t help smiling back when she says, looking directly at me, “Maybe it’s embarassing for you, but not for me! It’s not embarassing for me.” Now I am embarassed. The son gives me a mildy mortified smile and shakes his head.

It is quiet for a while. As I finish the dregs of my coke, the lady looks out the window at the ocean and says, “Son, I have a feeling about this ferry. I have a feeling it is going too slow.” Now I really can’t help smiling. As I get up and go, I hear him say, “Mom… it… the ferry is fine. It’s going fine. It just looks like it’s going slow.”

Jeremiah 29 is for You

This is a reaction to one Facebook post linking to Relevant magazine’s article, “Stop Taking Jeremiah 29:11 Out of Context,” and a few conversations with friends on the same topic. I have the sense that the article expresses a view that’s gaining traction, or regaining it, in circles I’m familiar with. It’s only a few conversations (2) and the recent FB post that caught my attention though, so I’m not absolutely certain that it’s a significant trend. I just have a hunch.

First, the verse, with a bit of context: “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.” — Jeremiah 29:10-12. ESV.

The article in Relevant complains that this verse (11) is too often applied to individuals (struggling to make life decisions). The passage clearly refers primarily to Israel in exile, not to any one of us in our individual situations.

Granted. Now what? That was an interesting piece of history, but apparently it doesn’t directly apply to you. Moving on, now. After all, you’re still looking for guidance, or comfort, if you’re trying to deal with trouble that overwhelms you. What about God’s encouragement to Joshua when he had to shoulder the massive responsibility of leading Israel into Canaan? Obviously meant for Joshua, not you. Next. God rescuing Israel through Judges when they cried out to him in their misery? Nope. Meant for a group, aimed at Israel, not you. Israel delivered at the Red Sea? God’s promise to David? The promise given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

There are plenty more examples. If thinking redemptive history applies to your situation is misusing the text, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that the Bible isn’t for you. It’s true that the Bible points to Christ, and that the gospel is for a whole group, not just you. You are for the gospel, is more like it. You are for God. The article I’m responding to says all that, more or less. Still, if you believe it, the gospel is for you. It’s for you as someone who matters to God as an individual and as a member of his Church (not that you can be either one without being the other at the same time). So Jeremiah 29 should be a source of comfort to you. No, as Relevant rightly points out, it doesn’t mean that God plans for your new business to be wildly successful. But I suspect you already knew that.

Given the way God dealt with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I’d say God cares quite a lot about your specific situation now, and as often as you cross paths with Jeremiah, I bet there’s a reason you’re being reminded of God’s plans to prosper the exiles. As you know, it’s not that you too will get rich or married or healthy soon because you read the verse. It might be God saying, deliberately, to you, “Focus. See how I was good to Israel. Trust me,” in that way he has of being terrifyingly stern and impossibly gentle both at once.