Along the Stillwater, Late August


It seemed like a good afternoon to seek enlightenment, so I asked myself where to turn.

“Turn toward that which brings you joy,” Self said. So I went to the river, not for the water, but for the stones. I knew who’d find me there, but I wasn’t trying to hide. God always follows me around when there’s any chance I’m going to be happy.

It was a difficult visit.

I did find joy. And silliness. Orange rocks with flecks of gold–fool’s gold. I’ve always been fond of fool’s gold. It masquerades, unashamed, as a precious metal, all the while aware of its ordinariness, cheerful and shiny in its temporary stone abode. I considered the eons that will go by before the river rolls this stone enough to free these flecks into sparkling sand. I realized my bones would be dust long before, and I sat down and cried.

Enlightenment. Illumination. Detachment. I wanted to fill up my soul for whatever lies ahead. That’s what I was doing and I wanted to do it by myself.

God knew this and came by anyway. And not only did God come by, She brought a friend. I did a double-take. Death had tagged along. I tried to be polite, but Death could tell I didn’t want to visit, and discretely moved a little ways away.

“I know I’m being rude,” I said to God. She was decked out in river regalia, gray eyebrows and wrinkly tan skin. Kindness twinkled in the bright blue eyes that held me in their piercing gaze.

“Yes,” God agreed. “But you know what you know, don’t you?”

All day, I’d been trying not to know what I knew. “You mean?” I said, quaking inside.


“How soon?”

“Sooner than later. Later than sooner.” God threw her flabby old arms around me. Clearly, God had gotten too much sun as a youngster. “Mortality is a lifestyle, honey. Not a destination. The event isn’t that important.”

“Then what is important?” I said, angrily. I was troubled. Shaken. Sad. Those arms were not attractive. The day had come apart.

“Come on over here,” God said to Death, who was still keeping a respectful distance, watching the water flow by. “We go way back, don’t we, Sonny?”

Death smiled and nodded, dark hair fluid on his shoulders. God turned back to me.

“What’s important is making the acquaintance,” God said. “Ironic, isn’t it? Knowing the dark lightens things up. It’s better to be ready. Aware.” Death nodded again.

“I am,” I said reluctantly. And I tried to be. I said hello to Death. I didn’t look away.

They both left. I sat on the river bank and watched as the sun colored the sky behind the cottonwoods. There were black spiders everywhere. The stones were crawling with them.  They like it along the river. I don’t know why.



I was in the garden on the third day, fighting weeds and despair. A couple sauntered up, arms around each other’s waists. They looked familiar, but I couldn’t place them until they let themselves in the gate and got within a few feet of where I was kneeling. I shaded my eyes and stood with some difficulty. My knees aren’t the best.

“God?” I said, astonished. “Yes,” they said, smiling. They were married, of course. Would God choose to live together without the benefits of matrimony? That’s a question for the theologians. These two were absolutely married, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Beyond marriage, beyond romance. They were joined, as one.

The woman said to me, “Don’t garden in your church clothes, silly.”

He nodded in agreement and pulled her close for a little kiss. “Isn’t she the best?” he said. Then he took a bright yellow bandana out of his pocket and blew his nose.  “I’ll leave you gals to visit.” He squeezed her shoulder, walked to a large stone, and sat with his back to the sun.

She stayed beside me, her shadow rippling over the deep green zucchini leaves. She fingered a strand of wooden beads around her neck. I had more questions than she had beads. They lined up in my head, but I didn’t speak them out loud.

Who are you? What do you want from me? Why am I here? Why do I even exist? When will I no longer exist? Isn’t it a waste of good consciousness, to just let it flicker and go out, like an unfed fire? Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? How would I know?

I could taste the remnants of coffee in the back of my throat, and knew myself to be alive. I smelled like the dirt under my fingernails. Thick clay soil, rich with worms. Clinging. Tight. In need of sand from the river, old stones ground down. In need of humus. Organic matter, ready to give itself to the cause of robust growth, to begin again.

She was watching, silent and calm, her face open, filled with approval. The late morning sun was hot. Dazzling. Dangerous. There I was, no hat. No sunglasses. Skin exposed. Soul exposed.

Suddenly, I remembered the wilting rhubarb I’d picked an hour ago, but hadn’t taken to the house. It wasn’t too late, but I had to excuse myself and dash away. The harvest was scant this year. I didn’t want my rhubarb to go to waste. I felt guilty. It would have been more polite to stay in the garden and visit—offer lemonade. I put the rhubarb in icy water and watched God stroll arm-in-arm upward into cloud and sky, a flimsy apparition of perfection. I wanted to drop everything and join them. But I stood firm, the rhubarb in my hands, tart and iridescent red.

How God Got Co-Authorship


In Missoula some weeks ago, I stopped for a quick lunch while running errands. I’m not in the city often anymore, so Asian food sounded great. God wasn’t invited, but that never matters.

“Your work isn’t finished, you know,” She said, helping Herself to my Pad Thai.

I sipped my tea. “Oh, I know,” I said. “I’m always busy.” My tone was dismissive. The past two years had been rough. Maybe God was trying to comfort me, but I wasn’t in the mood.

Undeterred, She gave me a toothy smile. “You won’t like what I’m about to say.”

I hate that lead-in. I rallied my defenses, though I knew it was futile. God and I have an arrangement, and it’s not about going to heaven when I die. It’s about peace in my remaining days. If I don’t listen, my soul gets prickly and confused, and I tend to drink too much.

God of the toothy smile continued. “The house looks nice. The children are grown and lovely. I enjoy your little poems. But you’ve been hiding. Playing it safe. You need to find more driftwood and shards of colored glass. Step a little further into the abyss.”

I put my cup down angrily, spilling a little tea. God paused, gazed out the window, and faded. But like the grin of the Cheshire cat, the toothy smile faded last.

Lunch was over. I rode my bike into the afternoon, pot holes rattling my bones. I thought of places I like to hide. Caves and hollow logs, small dark closets, little shiny houses with hidden doors, big houses, subdued by a certain humility, spaces under bridges, nests in trees. I know about hiding. I know about shelter. I’ve used sticks and stones, glass and granite, spit and dirt.

God caught up with me. “I want co-authorship,” She said bluntly.

I stalled. This was not going well. “But I, um. Well, you’re never entirely coherent.”

“Coherence is overrated,” God said.  “I’ll have my attorney draw up the papers. There’ll have to be some deadlines.”

Fuck, I thought. I bet She’ll have a penalty clause too. I was upset. Frightened.

“Of course I will,” God said, from inside my head. “If you want an advance, you’ve got to get real. You can’t have forever. And to tell you the truth—which I pretty much always do–you wouldn’t want forever, honey. It’s a burden you’re not ready for.”

Resigned, defeated, I mumbled an apology for my language and rode on home in the gathering dusk. I paced, ranted, fasted, ate, and hid. I sang off-key, fell on the ice while stomping, fed the chickens, contemplated an early death, and generally came apart. Came utterly apart.

Those who’ll put me back together have begun a slow procession across the bridge. They’ll come down the alley and settle into the open-faced sheds they helped me build, politely waiting. Like God, like me, most have been broken. Discarded. Some will die. But they will be of great help. I’ve known this my whole life. Trash and transformation—a holy circularity. God incarnate, God in the mirror, God in the people, God at the bottom of the heap. This is where we should look. This is where life itself hides out.