A linguist told me that the word “endless” is an example of a geminate; its ending sound carries on and can be sustained as long as one has the breath to press the hiss between the teeth. Now, that is how I think of the sky, as an absence of hard stops, as a presence limitless in scope. In a canoe on a Maine lake we lifted our paddles sometimes just to drift in a warm wind below an immense azure sky. On Tunk Mountain the ocean traced its blue line on the eastern horizon. Looking out from up there, the world seemed newly imagined, that priceless lie we only half believe — that the opening sky has revealed to us a world full and unfurling as long as we might sustain the breath to cross over to whatever it seems to promise.
On Saturday I attended the funeral service of another high school classmate taken suddenly and well before his time. He was buried in the same cemetery as my father. After the service I made my way to my father’s grave. For years, it has been easier to feel at peace out of doors. This was a good morning to be alive and able to walk out in the sun and feel lucky for a while longer. In all animals “everything strains to be inevitable.”* I rested my hand on his headstone as if I could touch his arm.
I wondered about placing him beneath the ground. He too loved to walk, to play golf, to work on chores that required him to be out from under a roof. The Sioux did it right. They erected burial platforms on the prairie, covered the dead with a buffalo robe, and camped by the body for a few days keeping watch, sharing a suspension of time with their friend or family member, eating, remembering. Then they left him or her to the elements.
There are too many of us to do this in the constriction of our cities, but still, my father, splendid in his gray uniform, Sam Brown belt cinched, Smokey the Bear hat at ease on his chest, black shoes shining, roofed only by his State Police blanket, the wind adrift in his white hair — he would have liked that. He forever dreaded confinement. Hades and Olympus, Hell and Heaven — they make sense to me more than ever. Caged and smothered or released and climbing. Who would not choose to climb?
Stevens tells us that “death is the mother of beauty.”** Especially in the calm of early morning I think, my God, what a beautiful land, what extravagant light, what a grace of silence. If we were immortal, we would be as dull as stones and the world as flat and bereft of enchantment as a sheet of glass. Therefore, I tell myself, in the sun, above my father, act inside the time remaining, go out beneath the welcoming sky, sustain the breath in the lungs so that you may cross over here and now.
**from Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens
photograph by Tammie Dooley from Solo Road Trip