There are good works and then there is working. I watched as you worked out your salvation with fear and trembling, with grease on your hands, with sweat on your Sunday clothes. The fear was only of God, and it was the beginning of wisdom. But the trembling was like the words to the spiritual: Were you there when He rose up from the grave? It causes me to tremble. At the silent love that filled a universe, a father’s love for his son, the blood a son shares with his father.
It was love that put me there in that room, in that bed, in those borrowed blue sweatpants, my head shaved and pale. Love brought you there to sit with me, holding my mother’s hand. Your face was the color of onions. Your eyes were small drowned mice. You cried and blamed yourself, but this patient and heavy gift was my treasure. It weighted my fingers like slabs of granite. It pulled me down into the rusting heart of hell, the false loneliness that sometimes passes from parent to child.
Even God turned away from His gutted son, hanging in the sky like the flag of a defeated country. You bowed into your hands. You kissed me and prayed. When there is wine to drink, we take turns filling our glasses. If there is a path to find, we walk single file, trusting the ones who came before. Imagine we are standing in the rain together. A train is dragging hundreds of tons of wood and coal across the fields. I am waiting for the right time to throw myself onto the track and unknit that which was fearfully and wonderfully made.
And this other fear was the total collapse of your life into hers, the shudder and the cry, the surrender and the blind mystery of love. But the wonder was that day in October, 1973, when by holding my mother’s hand you set into motion all the days that were ordained for me. Every moment until that moment, when the nurse brought me paper cups full of sleeping pills, and every day after that, when I survived to live with this gift. When I chose to keep these hands and see what they would build.
“You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.”
Steev Baker is a writer from Wisconsin who is often times very sad. His recent works are poems about family history, the legacy of mental illness, and faith. He works at a library, which he loves, and co-hosts the library-centric podcast The Tallest Building in Town, available on Soundcloud and broadcast monthly on 103.5 FM in Sun Prairie.