The Last Word, or, The Eternal Present Tense

Originally published in Like Water Burning, and can be found here.

Here and there, I am swirling.

The space below where I sit in church and the worn scoop of grass under the swing set is shrinking. I am inside listening to a man at the microphone say, “Christ is the One! He is it!” then I am on the playground feeling the swipe of someone’s small finger slide across my windbreaker, “You’re it! You’re it!” someone yells. I am playing, then I am praying. If I am praying, I could also be playing. I am aging, and I believe. But I am also always doubting. I come to believe that doubting creates belief. I do not know how old I am. In the first sentence I am seven, later, I am closer to now.

Now I am then.

I am a bus boy working a summer job. “Fold these napkins,” Allan tells me.

“All of them?”

“Every last one.”

I want to fold the last one first so that I will be done. Jesus said, “In the kingdom of God, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” I take the green cloths and turn them into a series of triangles until they look like the flag next to a picture of my grandfather. Then I stack them, rotating each one, creating order, making sense of this widespread mess. The stacks get higher and more uneven. I look for where I went wrong. The first one, now the last, is crooked. Soon, this napkin will be shaken out and placed on someone’s lap, getting closer to genitals than is decent for almost everyone in the world. It will be closer to life than to death. Then a stuffed mushroom, or a ketchup-dipped French fry like an unlit matchstick will fall into the napkin. The order I made can begin its death.

I am tired of saying I am. Does that mean I am tired of being?

When Moses asked God’s name, He said, “I Am.” Many interpretations exist as to what this means. Most of them include trying to find a word to finish God’s fragment. They want, “I am something.” They are sated only when God is one thing or another. God thinks, therefore God is. If Descartes asked God’s name, the answer would’ve echoed: existence. I think God is there, and therefore I think God is here.

The space where I am typing and the sloped scenes I am remembering are folding. The man playing Texas Hold ’em on the TV that my father is watching has just folded. “Too risky,” he tells me over the phone. Both of my grandfathers’ funerals ended with a starched man folding a flag. One had taken risks daily, smoking his lungs into a speechless haze of emphysema. He earned his ending. The other—no, I don’t recall him taking the kind of risks that should fold a life into death.

I want my words to end here. That is, I want to be the first to never end.

© Bryan Parys 2009


Click on the image to see Grant Hanna‘s illustrated version:



2 Responses to The Last Word, or, The Eternal Present Tense

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