Mona Van Duyn
A Relative and an Absolute
"It has been cool so far for December, but of course the cold doesn't last long down here. The Bible is being fulfilled so rapidly that it looks like it won't be long until Jesus will come in the air, with a shout, and all those who have accepted Jesus as their own personal Saviour will be caught up to meet him and then that terrible war will be on earth. The battle of Armageddon. And all the unsaved people will have to go through the great tribulation. Hope you are both well. Bye,"
My aunt, my down-to-earth father's sibling, went to stay
in Texas, and had to continue by mail, still thanklessly,
her spiritual supervision of the family.
Texas orchards are fruitful. A card that would portray
this fact in green and orange, and even more colorfully say
on its back that Doom is nearly upon us, came regularly
at birthday, Easter and Christmas - and sometimes between the three.
That the days passed, and the years, never bothered her prophecy;
she restressed, renewed and remailed its imminence faithfully.
Most preaching was wrong, she felt, but found for her kin on Sunday
in one voice on one radio station, one truth for all to obey.
Salvation being thus limited, it seemed to me
there was something unpleasant about that calm tenacity
of belief that so many others would suffer catastrophe
at any moment. She seemed too smug a protegee.
Otherwise, I rather liked her. Exchanging a recipe
or comparing winters with neighbors, she took life quietly
in a stuffy bungalow, among doilies of tatting and crochet.
She had married late, and enjoyed the chance to baby
a husband, to simmer the wholesome vegetables and see
that vitamins squeezed from his fruit were drunk without delay.
Though she warned of cities and churches and germs, some modesty
or decorum, when face to face with us, wouldn't let her convey
her vision of Armageddon. But the postcards set it free.
It was hovering over the orange groves, she need only lay
her sewing aside, and the grandeur and rhythm of its poetry
came down and poured in her ear, her pencil moved eloquently.
She wrote it and wrote it. She will be "caught up," set free from her clay
as Christ comes "with a shout in the air" and trumpeting angels play,
and "the terrible war will be on earth" on that judgment Day,
expecting all those years her extinction of body would be
attended by every creature, wrapped 'round in the tragedy
of the world, in its pandemonium and ecstasy.
When she died last winter, several relatives wrote to say
a kidney stone "as big as a peach pit" took her away.
Reading the letters, I thought, first of all, of the irony,
then, that I myself, though prepared to a certain degree,
will undoubtedly feel, when I lie there, as lonesome in death as she
and just as surprised at its trivial, domestic imagery.