They said she was stuck
as though she was a nine-pound human fork
pronged in the dishwasher,
an umbrella that wouldn’t fold to size.
I pushed until I thought I’d turn inside out
and yet she sat in my cervix for hours,
as the contractions collapsed on me
as they talked about the knife.
Second time round, the sour sensation
of complete idiocy
for willing this pain again, going through it,
risking so much for someone
who remained at the fringes of knowing,
ghosted by awful wisdom
that birth isn’t the end of it, nor the worst –
episiotomy; infections; afterpains; breastfeeding.
But my body remembered,
it took the first shunt of his head, yawned, then
toboganned him out in a gush of brine,
red as a crab. I remember his arms
like socks full of eggs, muscular, fists bunched,
as though he’d been prepared to fight.
The desert he rode was red and red the dust he raised, the small dust that powdered the legs of the horse he rode, the horse he led.
EXPERIENCE in carpenter work need not be extensive in order to build an open-front poultry house. Anyone who has any aptness for learning how to handle tools can soon master the essentials of house building—and will not find the work of construction very difficult.
Right here, in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, two city girls have started in the “poultry business and are making a success of it. They had had no experience with poultry or in carpenter work, but they determined to build their own poultry houses and they did it and did it well. If two inexperienced city girls can frame, board in, and shingle a building and make a good job of it, others can certainly learn to do it and the man or well grown boy who thinks that he can’t, ought to brace up and try.
Pardon me for being so reactionary, but religion itself was never as shaming nor as degrading as this society we’ve built for ourselves. At least the Christian religion (in its original form) had a mechanism to cope with these pressures; you speak to a priest, you confess your sins, you do penance and are forgiven of those sins so that you may live your life. But nowadays we’re not just asked to be our own priests; we’re told implicitly by society that if we do anything wrong whatsoever, we’d better damned well keep it a secret, because if the public finds out, we will be forced into a kind of shame and self-loathing that will make life so unbearable that death will seem preferable. And every single person we know, everyone we meet, everyone we see will encourage this perception of ourselves. We tell ourselves that we’ve freed ourselves from morality and moralism, that we’re no longer held hostage by those ideas from the past; what we’ve really freed ourselves from is mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love. And disturbs me in a way that I have trouble adequately expressing.
It happened one day when we was coming on to some holy feast or other. I was in the kitchen yard helping cut up a pig they’d slaughtered for it the day before. I’d been there for the slaughtering as well, catching the blood in a pail for black pudding when they shoved a knife in its throat and helping drag it over to the pile of straw where they got twists for singeing off the bristle. We poured water on the carcase and scraped it and singed it again and finally with a gambrel between the hind legs hoisted it up to a crossbeam. Then a monk with yellow braids sliced open its belly and groping around up to his elbows delivered it of a steaming tubful of pink slippery insides I carted off to the kitchen in my two arms. They left it hanging overnight to cool with a sack wrapped around its long snout to keep the cats from it and the next day after matins the yellow-braid monk and I set to cutting it up, Ita being at her quern across the yard from us. Hams, trotters, eyepieces, ears for making brawn with, brains, chops—we was laying it all out in the straw when Ita come over and drew me aside to where we kept a black stone on the wall for whetting. She told me with Jarlath’s leave she wanted me to go with Brendan though she didn’t so much as know my name then.
“It’s a smirchy sort of business you’re at with that pig, some would say,” she said. “There’s many a monkish boy either he’d beg out of it or turn green as a toad doing it. But it’s neither of those with you, I see. You could be laying the holy table for mass the way you set those cuttings out. That’s the deep truth of things no matter or not if you know it.”
Ita’s eyes disappeared entirely when she smiled.
“Smirchy and holy is all one, my dear,” she said. “I doubt Jarlath has taught you that. Monks think holiness is monkishness only. But somewheres you’ve learned the truth anyhow. You can squeeze into Heaven reeking of pig blood as well as clad in the whitest fair linen in the land.”
From Frederick Buechner, Brendan, pages 34-35.
Smirchy and holy is all one, my dear.
I’m made for this summer logging," said Arn Peeples. "You Minnesota fellers might like to complain about it. I don’t get my gears turning smooth till it’s over a hundred. I worked on a peak outside Bisbee, Arizona, where we were only eleven or twelve miles from the sun. It was a hundred and sixteen degrees on the thermometer, and every degree was a foot long. And that was in the shade. And there wasn’t no shade.
I hefted the chain and swung it at the table like a biker taking out an unsuspecting member of a rival gang. It rattled across the surface and the nails and chainsaw pieces bit fast into the wood. Extracting the weapon, I examined my work. In just three seconds I had added forty years’ worth of hard-won experience and poignant memories to about two square feet of the tabletop. The center board had a terrific gouge from where a chainsaw tooth had torn up a chunk of pine from around a nail hole.