To The United Airlines Signalman Silently Reading The New Testament In An Alcove Under The Extendable Jetway At Gate C-9 In Chicago On A Morning In April
Sir, that book has absorbed me also, riveted me utterly sometimes,
And I am never sure where exactly to rank it among literary glories.
On the one hand you can with wry confidence say that it’s the most
Influential collection of stories ever published, more so maybe than
The prequel, though the First Book appeared long before the sequel,
But on the other hand you could with the same inarguable assurance
Say that it has caused a million murders and been the proximate spark
Of battles, arguments, debates, tortures, crusades, and other such sins
Uncountable except by the Mercy to whom it is assuredly dedicated.
In a sense it is a quest narrative, the tale of a young man on the road,
Always walking, answering questions with questions, a gnomic guy,
Fond of odd metaphors, losing His temper here and there, a parablist,
Accompanied by what you have to admit is a real chaotic entourage,
Fishermen, tax-collectors, tent-makers, roadies, a few brave women
Who paid for things and made arrangements, and the crowds — man,
You wouldn’t believe the bustle and burble of folks massing against
The fence to catch a glimpse of the guy, to hear a snatch of what He
Had to say. Remember Zacchaeus hoisting himself into the sycamore
Tree? There must have been hundreds of people like old Zacchaeus,
Catching a shred of that voice at the edge of the crowd, going home
Wondering. And they told someone else, who told someone, and he
Wrote it down a little, that third man, and somewhere along the line
Someone brilliant and intent, and perhaps inspired by a music we do
Not have words for, sat down and stitched all those stories together,
And then persuaded his sister or his cousin to write a copy or seven,
And those were copied, and because they thought Luke or Matthew
A saintly guy they named a book after him, and there were debates
And fistfights and worse about which books were formally inspired,
And eventually there came to be a book which a thin man is reading
Under the jetway in Chicago. We talked for a moment, the lean man
And me, about this remarkable book. I read it each and every day,
He said, smiling, and afterwards I thought not only how terrifying it
Is that a book like this or the Qur’an can lead to the murder of kids,
But how astonishing it is, how truly unbelievable, that a book can be
Alive after all these years, can have in its fragile pages that one man,
Dusty and complicated, tart and testy, tired and afraid, unforgettable.
In His Wallet After The Terrorist Bombing
Three library cards, all tattered — college, city, county.
Driver’s license in which he looks about ten years old.
Grocery-store club membership cards, all bright colors.
Photograph of his three children when they were small.
Photo of his wife, which he liked for her exuberant grin
But she hated because the blue dress made her look fat.
Blood-donation card. Eleven donations in a single year
And then nothing for seven years. Man, there’s a story.
Gym membership card, never used, clearly promotion.
Major credit card with a piece of white athletic tape on
It on which someone, presumably him, has written, DO
NOT USE! A gift card — long expired — for a bookstore.
The invaluable American Automobile Association card.
A warranty for the septal occluder implanted in his son.
Why he would carry around a warranty card no one can
Explain, says his wife, but that’s exactly his personality.
Not one but three gift cards to expensive men’s clothing
Stores, which the fact that they were not used also says
A lot about him, says his wife. I bet they’re all expired.
A total of eight insurance cards for the two family cars.
He never, and I mean never, threw away any insurance
Item whatsoever, says his wife, and not because he was
Meticulous but the complete reverse, total manic fright
That he would throw a card or a receipt away and then
He would suddenly be liable for seven million dollars.
A complete and utter financial paranoiac. On the other
Hand he never did miss a payment over all these years.
A video-store card for a chain that went bust several
Years ago; he thought it might be resurrected, so there
You go, he’d be ready. This was also what he was like.
Medical and dental insurance cards for all the children.
Organ-donation card on which he had written, The brain
Goes to the Republican Party, distribute as necessary.
A scrap of red paper with the kids’ cellphone numbers.
Three blank checks. A scrap of paper with his wedding
Vows in bold type, underlined by hand. A set of tickets
To a concert two months from now. A brief e-mail from
A woman in another country, responding to something
He had written after September 11, and this note, from
A Muslim woman, is worth quoting. The terrorists did
A wrong despicable thing, never would any of Muslim
Ever think of harming another human being. This isn’t
Nor will it ever be a part of Muslim. I vow this is truth.