“Present at the Creation” by Murray Silverstein

Murray Silverstein


Over a dinner to celebrate her thirtieth, and under the heading Life’s Little Mortifications, the youngest tells this tale: I’m in nursery school—so what, four maybe four and a half?—& the teacher is asking one of the kids about his new baby sister, & the kid’s saying he was there at the new kid-sister’s birth. The teacher says wow & asks if anyone else’s been there, seen a brother or sister get born. My hand shoots up, and yes, I’m nodding, I was there! & I’m telling what I saw, how it was, when the teacher interrupts: “—um, er, but Annie,” she says, “isn’t your brother older than you?” & I look at her, annoyed at her for interrupting me, & say, “So?”

Big laugh, but she goes on: & the teacher—the bitch—she just can’t not call me out, “& Sweetie,” she says, “that’s not possible” & so on, & suddenly it dawns on me, oh god, she’s right: TIME! I couldn’t have! & just how crazy stu-pid I must seem. (The laughter stops, becomes the murmur of congregants, but secular—oh, man—a sprinkling of sighs.) Talk about shame. My hand, I remember went up to my mouth, I was so ashamed—I wanted to push the words back in. The voices quiet, the quiet becomes a space: at the temple of our listening we pilgrims had arrived.

Someone said, Reality! Someone said, Present at the creation! Someone was pissed at the teacher and someone said, So? is right! until the youngest she herself began to laugh, her eyes—I mean I was so sure—tearing with laughter—so friggin’ sure! And one who’d tried that morning to wangle himself around in time, thought, SHAME ÷ LAUGHTER = WHAT? and felt a wave of light pass through the cloud of his knowing.

“I was there,” says Dante, home from Paradiso, “in that heaven which receives more of His light. He who comes down from there can neither know nor tell what he has seen, for, drawing near to its desire, so deeply is our intellect immersed that memory cannot follow after.”

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011

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