Wrestling Match

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I’m lost in a pile of morning words, thrashing like a rainbow trout that has taken the bait, uncertain if I am a victim of catch and release or soon to sizzle. The bait? Fame and fortune. Vast influence. The ultimate saving of the planet. Or at least meaning beyond pulling the stubborn cheat grass in the raised beds. The strawberries are in trouble and the chives. Even the mint is being overtaken.

“What if I were the governor or a movie star?” I think to myself.

“You’d still die,” God thinks back.

“What if I were rich beyond measure?” I think to myself.

“You are,” God thinks back.

“But I could be richer,” I counter with narrow eyes.

“Sure, but why? Even the outer limits are limits.”

“I don’t like that.” I shook my head.

“I know.” God smiled.

So apparently this day is going to inch forward and end–like every other day and no other day. It’s hardly begun, but as I argue with God, each moment slips quietly into the past. I watch the wind move the new leaves. They’re relatively secure for the coming season, assuming no tornadoes or killing frosts. What a brilliant celebration of all that is transitory.

“God,” I said, “You are a pain in the butt.”

“So are you,” God said as she sat down in one of the chairs that scratch the floor if you move around very much.

“What if I bought a camper van and drove to DC and parked and protested for the rest of my life? Huh? What then? Would that fix things? What if I piled my possessions on the sidewalk and labeled them ‘FREE’? What if I shaved my head and wore a robe? What if I climbed a tree and sat in the limbs on hunger strike? What if I chained myself to the wall? What if I gave everyone the right kind of light bulb? What if I broke all the glass in sight, shattering everyone’s phony security? What if, God? What if?”

“Sure,” God said. “Those all sound feasible. Which wall and how big of chain?”

I swore and threw my beer bottle at God. God ducked, spun around, and rammed a shoulder into my stomach. We fell like children wrestling in green grass and dandelion fluff. We shouted and shrieked in glee, startling a magpie and the neighbors. Our molecules were drunk on a bacterial invasion that made us come apart. To my surprise, I liked disintegrating. God and me. Me and God. The Great I AM. The Jokester, the Coyote, the Source of All That Is. And me. Me.

“Don’t forget the bacteria,” God said as we lied on our backs, panting. I shrugged.

“You know, God, I’m kind of artistic,” I said.

“True,” God said. “Maybe go with that.”

 

Mercy

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A confused Canadian Muslim wants to go home after veering into a nightmare that hasn’t ended yet. He wandered off to Syria to fight his version of the enemy. We’ve got him now, somewhere off some coast, in solitary confinement. He admitted to having thoughts of suicide.

Soon, if certain people have their way, there will be women in Alabama with unwanted pregnancies. These women, too, will be having thoughts of suicide. And when God was living in our basement, after he started using meth again—I’d be willing to  bet suicide occurred to him as well.

Our house is made mostly of trees that died in a forest fire but were not consumed. We peeled the scorched bark and ran them through a sawmill, creating slabs and beams, trim and studs, enormous posts, and artistic pieces good only for admiring. Our house makes a lot of noise. It cracks and pops like an arthritic skeleton. It scares me. Impermanence. Sounds from the dead as they twist, protesting their static existence. Once they were proud Douglas fir trees, drinking rain, basking in sun, rooted. Now, they hold the frame. They are flammable shelter. They are already dead, but even so, I wonder if they wish for transformation into smoke and ash.

“They do,” God said, confirming what I already knew. “I assure you, they do.”

“Some days, I don’t think I can stand the guilty anymore,” I said, touching one of the larger, smoother posts. God nodded, but said nothing. I blathered on. “Some days, I am afraid of fire. Other days, dry rot. Other days, mold. And I tell myself I deserve whatever happens to this house. This land. This earth.” God listened, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This is always unnerving.

“But no one deserves anything, right God?” I thought of men and women deprived of basic freedom. Their bodies legislated, their mangled souls desperate. Penitent. Defiant. We are all once-burned trees. Waiting. Uncertain of how to go on.

“Walk with me,” God said. “Let’s go to the river.”

We sat on a fallen cottonwood, watching the muddy water. God was quiet for a while, but then said, “You know what you need? You need mercy.” I teared up. God went on. “Mercy is beyond forgiveness. Beyond fairness. Beyond sympathy. Entwined with justice. This is what you need. Mercy.” God paused to make sure I was listening.  “And you know I’m willing. I’m always willing.”

I felt a rush of relief, but it was quickly followed by indignation. I have a house and a truck and a savings account. Mercy? Who wants to be in need of mercy? “You do,” the cottonwood said as it continued its descent. “You do.”

Why You Should Avoid Small Talk with God

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“Hey big fella,” I said, making small talk with my co-author–the entity commonly referred to as God in many parts of the world. “What’s your favorite name for yourself?” At that moment, one of God’s legs was flung across the valley, the other tucked up like a mountain under his stubbly chin. Wild, unruly hair scrambled the stratosphere, sapphire eyes too big for the sky bore into my own.

“Hey yourself, tiny creature,” God said, smiling wide enough to swallow the whole solar system. “You know I’m unnameable, but today, you can call me Dirt.” God paused. “No, wait. Make that Topsoil.”

“Aw, c’mon God,” I protested, but I decided to go with it. “I mean Topsoil. I was hoping you’d say Love. Or Alpha Omega. Or Immanuel. Or People First. Three-In-One, or even Savior.”

“Yeah, I know,” Topsoil said. “I notice you didn’t say Allah. Or Gaia. Or Father.”

I snorted. Topsoil grinned. “I don’t mind being called most things, as long as it isn’t  a trap or an excuse to do harm. I hate exclusivity, and I’m weary of the limits of human imagination.”

“Who’s fault is that?” I asked. “You’re the patent-holder. You could tinker a bit and maybe increase some capacities or something.”

“Oh, I’m tinkering,” Topsoil said. “But remember tiny creature, I invented consciousness and choice. These things take time.”

I knew this was true (as pretty much anything Topsoil says is true), but I felt sad. I don’t have much time left, and I’m worried that even the youngest of my fellow tiny creatures may not have much time left either. We continue to choose disposables and nonrenewable sources of comfort, not realizing that in the great circle of life, we are making ourselves disposable. And I don’t think we represent anything all that renewable.

“Mostly correct, but wrong on one key point,” Topsoil said, invading my head as usual. “You are renewable. It’s always an option.”

“I sincerely doubt that,” I said.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Topsoil said with a laugh. “You wouldn’t believe the miracles I’ve seen.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I wouldn’t. You know that old saying ‘seeing is believing’? Well…”

“Ah, tiny creature,” God said, transforming  from Topsoil into midnight. “Call me Darkest Hour and open your eyes.”

“I can’t open them any further,” I admitted. “I’m too afraid.”

“True that,” Darkest Hour said, rolling the earth into a tight ball. “Your honesty becomes you. I’m going to take a little nap now. Spring is exhausting. So much going on. You can call me Rest if you’d like. ”

“Wait!” I shouted. “No. I’m not calling you that. No. Please. Come back here. Tell me what you want me to do.”

The God of Rest, of Sabbath, of Consciousness and Choice, the God of Letting Go yawned as big as a thousand cyclones and stretched, knocking a few planets out of orbit. “You’ll figure it out, tiny creature,” The Entity said. “I believe in you. And I’m 100% renewable.”

“Nooooo,” I wailed. But God was snoring too loud to even notice.

The God of Paunchy-Bellied Men

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“Hey,” God said, all cheerful and awake, sitting cross-legged in the living room. “I’ve been writing some poetry. Want to hear it?” It was way too early.

“Uh, sure,” I said, groping my way toward coffee. I suspected I’d need my half-beer too. I brought it along and sat down, as polite and attentive as I could be. God seemed a little shy. “It’s entitled Lavender,” he said. He took a breath and read:

I am the God of paunchy-bellied men

with emaciated butts

and their magnificent  

big-thighed women.

 I have gradually loosened my grip

on anything

that isn’t lavender.

God paused and looked at me. “Oh, boy,” I thought. “What do I say to that?” I waited, hoping there was more, but God sat silent, trying to hide his neediness. “Interesting,” I finally said. “Tell me about lavender.”

God crossed his arms. “It’s a poetic ploy.” He shrugged. “I like the sound of lavender…and that part about me losing my grip. Dramatic, right? Me losing my grip?”

“Hmmm. The sound of lavender,” I echoed, worried about where this could go.

“Lavender” God said in a frantic voice. “Budding lilac lavender, warm blanket lavender, baby lavender, calming lavender. Or what about acid lavender, neon lavender, dense, alarming lavender? That lavender on the edge of certain molds. So much to consider about lavender.” God’s breathing was ragged.

My therapist heart kicked in. There was something going on here that scared me, but I had to try and help. “Your grip?” I said gently. “And those paunchy-bellied men?”

Black clouds gathered and cracked. Lightning lit the bones of the room. Sadness flooded through broken windows, thin and murky. The apocryphal gruel they serve in soup lines came to mind. It was hard to think, hard to move. Something awful was afoot. I grabbed God’s hand and we fled out the back, down the alley. Hordes of paunchy-bellied men were strewn about like willow branches after a storm. We leapt over the spent carcasses, scrambling, tripping, picking each other up, laughing and crying hysterically.

The alley dead-ended, and a thousand big-thighed women were waiting, like they always wait. They took us in, no strings attached, and fed us a hearty evening meal. Nothing about any of this was lovely or right. It just was.

Utterly exhausted, I rolled myself under a lilac hedge to sleep, but God stayed up until all hours, chewing the fat with the women, reliving the glory days. Their delight disgusted me. “We’re doomed,” I thought as I dozed off. “We’re all fucking doomed.”

An eternity later, God shook me awake. “Shhh,” he said as he took me in his arms. We flew straight toward the fiery orange sun, rising hot in the delicate lavender sky.

 

What the Worms Know

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Clear sky. Clear blue sky. Warm sun. Dark, wet soil. Worms at work underneath. Fat worms, translucent. Harmless. Grass. Green and growing aggressively. Dandelions with long roots. Grass with longer roots. Mint and iris, competing, roots and bulbs and a very blue sky. Me with a shovel. Me with dirt. Rich dirt, fully alive with whatever creatures live in dirt. Hello, creatures. Hello sun. Hello God. The backyard, dancing a circle dance, hands joined, feet first, collapsing into the arms of spring. Laughing. Not menacing, not hysterical, not messed up. There’s always rain in the forecast, blight on the horizon. But Now is perfect. Cautious, but perfect.

“Not quite,” God said. She was digging. “Drop the caution. Therein lies perfection.”

“Wrong,” I said. “Therein lies foolishness. Therein lies disappointment. Therein is falling on my face. I prefer a bit of caution with my Nowness.”

“Sorry to be insistent,” God said. “But I’m right on this one. Perfection exists only without caution. Let it go.”

“God,” I said. “Look at this worm. Have you ever seen a fatter, happier worm?” I didn’t want to keep arguing. God either wins outright, or my day gets all tangled up. Avoidance is an excellent strategy.

God took the worm in her hands and examined it. “No. Or at least hardly ever.” She gave the worm a holy kiss and ate it. “Thanks,” she said, licking her lips.

“Gross,” I said. “Why do you have to do things like that?”

“Protein,” God said. “Pure protein.”

“Yeah, but why not a nice charbroiled steak?” I said. “Or at least rice and beans? There’s something twisted in you, God. Very twisted.”

“YES!” God said, twirling around the raised beds, her skirt flaring, her eyes flashing fire. “Twisted. I am a twisted, uncautious dude. Therein lies my perfection. C’mon.” She held out her hand.

I was tempted. Sorely tempted. Overly tempted. The dirt was warm and welcoming. The melody, ancient, familiar. I took the hand of God and we joined the circle, dancing like folks at the end of a wake, loosened by liquor, sorrow, and song. It was a wake for all that is dead, all that is dying, all that will be born anew. It was my own wake, and I was dancing. It was a wake for what I’ve known and destroyed. We danced more and more frenetically. God and I. It was beyond. We were somewhere and nowhere. I couldn’t let go. I won’t let go.

“Fall,” God said. “Fall on your face.” I hesitated. She wasn’t taunting. She was serious.

“Okay,” I said. I was delirious. Intoxicated. I fell in the mud, naked and without excuse. I rolled in rotten leaves, ate the bitter buds of dandelions–and I was saved! Just like that. Saved.

 

4 years, 25 days ago

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Surgery today. Awake early and off and on through the night. city noises. Ivan and his lover directly above us having boisterous sex on a squeaky bed, sometime around 4 AM. I think Ivan may weigh a lot. Or maybe his lover. Or both. They walked around.

The garbage trucks and alley noises were random and abrupt. I felt irritated but in a slow-motion, sad kind of way. Like I felt irritated at the rules about not eating and drinking before surgery. Mindless broad application of rules that violate the body’s needs but protect in certain cases for certain reasons. I react irrationally to these things and insist I will eat right up to the last minute, and drink, and use the less invasive enema options. My family rolls their eyes, argues, but they back off and let me meander in my eccentric expressions of rebellion and self-determination.

While John slept, after my foray into food, the first Hibicleanse shower, the first enema, and the last coffee, I laid as still as I could, listening to his various breathing patterns, wondering about the dreams and workings of his mind and body as he comes along on this journey.

I feel a longing to get up and write. This would wake John up. I tell myself the weight of my words or ideas do not stack up against my love for John or my wish for him to grab some kind of rest out of this hostile environment. I watch the light arrive through the cracks in the vertical blinds. I send a loud shout of welcome to the day. Then it occurs to me that I will be losing a part of myself this afternoon. I begin the work of saying good-bye to my uterus and the companion body parts that will soon be disconnected and pushed out of me.

I thank that collection of cells I’ve called “Uterus” all these years. It was the nest from which my daughters flew. It did glorious work. I assure it that it will be joining the larger collection of cells. I tell it that we are all star dust. We are all just momentary compilations of DNA and it is our destiny to rejoin the Creator. I ask it/them to greet my father, and tell him about the children and the grandchildren that have sprung from his seed and the uterus of my mother. I am sad. I tell them not to be afraid.

I talk to the cancer cells. I scold them, but only in an understanding way. They are errant. They need a fresh start. It doesn’t work to be selfish and take things that are not yours. It doesn’t work to replicate oneself over and over again. I speak with them about their fears of diversity. Their arrogance and false assumption of immortality. Their lack of awareness of the greater world and the intricacies of individuality. I listen to John’s breath change. His gentle snoring. The occasional twitch or jerk of his warm body.

He drifts awake, dazed. I leap up to pee, come back to grab my computer and tell him I need to write, not talk. Then I break the rules and read him a loving text from someone. He reads me one that came on his phone and I snap “no talking.” Clearly a double-standard. But I get some latitude today—I’m going in to have some parts of my body removed, and hear how much of it has been tainted by these wrong-headed cancer cells. How many have snuck out and begun to corrupt other parts of me?

Soon, my daughters will arrive and the clamor of family love will overtake my consciousness and I will begin the push-pull, the dance….I will find my way through how much of my own need versus how much of their needs should shape the day, the conversation, the future… The younger daughter is obliviously cheerful; the elder, able and willing to talk about mortality in the tiniest doses. I’m grateful, but I am weary of trying to sort all this out. Oddly, I’m still willing to try. I feel magnanimous. Larger than myself. This brush with reality has broken me open, some of my self-centered, self-defining aspects have at least temporarily disintegrated. Their fleeting integration has given way to a fluid definition. A more universal identity, shared by all the fragments that make up what we think of as the Universe.

I am afraid to stop writing. I’ve lifted my fingers a couple of times—gone back and edited some. I’ve crawled into the words—they are a soft, warm shelter from the harsh hours ahead. Except for the work I have yet to do, and the pain my demise will cause, I wish I were already dead. Dead is the easy part. Living in this unknowing place, aware of the time-limits, wondering when the buzzer will sound, the referee will blow the whistle, the lights will go out—this is hard. Wondering what matters. If I have months or years left, what will they be like? What should I do with them?

I continue to feel humiliated about having cancer. I guess I thought I was unreachable by cancer—I thought our heart problems would get me. I’ve probably held unconscious beliefs that people who get cancer deserve it. Now that’s ugly to admit, but I suspect it’s true. Like all the other awful “isms” we find in ourselves. Hard to admit. Even harder to eradicate.

The other two dominant struggles/reactions are

1) I haven’t lived a good enough life—I’ve squandered what I was given, I haven’t done enough, I was undisciplined and lazy… and

2) I need to protect my loved ones from the pain of my illness, suffering, and death.

Knowing that my pain exacerbates theirs is like being trapped in an impossible and evil echo-chamber. A sadistic twist thrown into the perfectness of love. I’ve known that the Creator lives in this same place. Pain echoes pain. We carry it. It bounces back and forth. It rips things open. It strips away the extraneous. Like many of God’s ways, it seems like a bad design flaw. If I were the Creator, I’m pretty sure I would do away with many of the “ways of nature” and we’d all live on the shores of Hawaii forever. Well, not really that last part, but geez. It seems like She/He could have thought up something less painful and daunting than mortality, starvation, trauma, cruelty, abuse, loneliness, pollution, cancer, car wrecks, and knapweed.

Okay, I’m lifting out now. I can see the flippant side of me returning. I can stop writing now. Thanks, words. Thanks, God. Thanks, loved ones. Thanks, email, cell phones, air planes, sons-in-laws, and other generally blessed parts of my transitory life…I’ll stop now. I’ll be okay.

 

Through the Broken Looking Glass

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It isn’t an easy morning. I’m washing someone else’s dishes, angry at yet more news from the legislature. “I cannot keep trying to love these idiots,” I think to myself. I hate trying to love my enemies. They are many, and loving them is a terrible, horrible, sickening task. They do not deserve it. They deserve to be drawn and quartered, humiliated, silenced, tarred, feathered, squished like the ugly insects and reptiles that they are.

Why didn’t God nip Lucifer in the bud? Of what use are serpents? Tricksters? Mosquitoes? Isis fighters? Greedy, cruel, old white men? There’s something seriously wrong with a God who lets powerful strangers destroy the earth, force unwilling women to stay pregnant, torture fellow humans, kill other species (and each other) for sport, withhold basic shelter, food, and health care to those without resources. Resources. Fuck resources. Who owns anything? I think I’ve earned the things I own, but I don’t think about it for long because I might have to give it all away. To my enemies.

A soapy glass slips from my hands and hits the porcelain sink. I stare at the shards. Glass is a slow moving liquid, but at high enough temperatures, it flows visibly—a scalding stream of unbearable light. The gods made of glass are dangerous, but gods made of greed will eat you and your offspring and their offspring. So many voracious gods crunching through the bones. I am fixated on broken glass. The kitchen blurs.

“Am I invited to this party?” God says, appearing as a vial of nerve gas in the corner. I back away. “Could I have a hug?” God asks, from the mouths of leaders who amass wealth rather than serve. “Kiss me?” God slurs the words before passing out drunk on the floor.

I run to the stinking body and kiss the molten forehead. I empty the vial of nerve gas on my feet, bury my head in my hands, and pray ferociously for a bigger God or an easier way.

Outside, the complex trill of a meadowlark rises, an anthem of defiance. A declaration of independent joy–of pure seduction. I slide my body off the crowded altar, comb the familiar hairs on my head, and cake myself with thick, wet clay.

“Recognize me?” I whisper to the meadowlark who is God who is spring who is not long for this earth. “I’m under here, and I’m okay.”

I am of no use to the meadowlark, but she sings for me anyway. The clay bakes and cracks and falls away, toxins neutralized, abrasions healed. She sings as evening gathers force. The sparks from a burning cathedral light the sky. Reveal the truth. Illuminate the little moment I’ve lived in, with its soft walls and tiny peek-holes.

“I like what you’ve done with this place,” God says. “But you could use a few more windows.”

“I know,” I say. “But there’s a problem with structural integrity.” And I try to believe myself.