I Can Move the Iris

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A lot of people like autumn. I don’t. Sure, autumn lovers have their reasons, and I have mine. Not worth a debate, except maybe internally, as yet again, I find myself inspecting my belly button. “Why do you not like autumn, Rita?” I ask myself. “Too much death. Too many endings. Too much work. Things to put to bed. The threats. The oncoming winter,” I answer. But I’ve now distracted myself. The mention of belly button has flipped me out of my autumn reveries to my memories of my actual belly button. With both pregnancies, it popped out of its usual spiral, protruding like a small boy’s misplaced penis. No smooth, picturesque baby bump for me.

People conscious of appearances tried to shame me into wearing looser tunics or thicker tops. They suggested bandaids or an inner body wrap to push that thing back in. I resisted, trying to be comfortable with all aspects of the cataclysmic set of bodily accommodations entailed in pregnancy. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? Or as Popeye asserts, “I yam what I yam.” I didn’t pop my belly button out on purpose. It was just part of the process. But I remember the shame. Waves of shame for both my lack of perfection and my refusal to disguise that disappointing imperfection.

God and I frequently tangle around these issues. Pregnancy and childbirth; these are not walks in the park. Of course, neither are knee replacements, starvation, braces, kidney stones, or war. Some suffering is voluntary. Some suffering has a purpose, a desired outcome. But some suffering seems pointless and avoidable. And the little ones, the powerless ones, the poor—these always suffer first and most. These are God’s peeps. If God has gone missing, this is where you’ll find her, suffering alongside. I don’t like this. I like this far less than autumn. I could endure endless autumn if God would just step up and end the vast and unjust suffering of innocent, powerless people.

And of course, I just lied.

Two years ago, I planted the iris bulbs in an unfortunate location. The weeds and native grasses have completely overtaken them, giving me a daily view of negligence and defeat. I wasn’t thoughtful. I wasn’t perfect. I acted expediently instead of wisely. Oh God, I need to save one hungry child, one mangled family, one small patch of soil. I’ve got to get something right before I die. Please. I’m begging here. Please.

The arms of God are crossed. The eyes of God are piercing. The heart of God is coursing the blood of God through the arteries of my over-exposed existence. “You can move the iris bulbs,” she says. “This would be the time.”

As I mentioned, I don’t like autumn. It’s nearly too much for me.

Vindication

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Big God is in rare form this morning. She’s on her fourth cup of coffee, rambling about my wayward neighbors and friends and how I might be as wrong as they are and how perfection is in the eye of the beholder so no one will ever be perfect or imperfect or right or wrong, but how in microcosms, beauty happens, and how fear is the human fault line she designed in to slow us down. What? I decide it’s time to slow her down. Caffeine-induced mania can lead to things being said that are best left unsaid. God should know this already.

“Fault line?” I say.

“Look it up,” she says.

I paraphrase from Wikipedia, “a fault line is a fracture or discontinuity in a volume of rock across which there’s been significant displacement as a result of rock-mass movement. Large faults within the Earth’s crust result from the action of tectonic forces… Energy release from rapid movement on active faults is the cause of most earthquakes… Faults do not usually consist of a single, clean fracture…rather, complex deformation.”

Fear. Fractures and complex deformations. Designed in? Big God nods her huge brown head, smug. Scores of wild turkeys are feasting on the winter wheat we planted as ground cover in our conflict-laden garden. I wish them dead. I wish them well. I wish them fat and harvested. I don’t know what I wish anymore. Big God is making me crazy. How can I not be right about things? How can God be the author of fear? I want to live unafraid. I need to live as though I’m right.

“Did I say you weren’t right?” asks the God of Tectonic Force. “You just need to get the fear situated comfortably. Then you’ll be as right as you are wrong.”

“But I want to be right,” I insist. “And when it’s all over, I want everyone to know I was right. I want to be vindicated.” I’m acutely aware of my active fault lines: my fears of irrelevance, conflict, and imperfection. I fired a semi-automatic once. It was like a toy, light as a feather. Fast and easy. The dark energy released when we act in fear is addictive. Hungry. Fast and easy.

“When the time comes for vindication, you will walk away,” Big God says.

I give her a quizzical look. “No, I won’t. I’ll relish it.”

“I don’t think so,” God says. “I think you’ll prefer forgiveness.”

“Are they mutually exclusive?” I say, in a taunting voice. “Are you endorsing a duality?”

“Google it,” Big God says. “And can I borrow this cup? I need to hit the road, but that’s damn good coffee you made this morning.” Big God is growing visibly bigger. “Merci, ma chérie,” she adds and bends to kiss my cheek. She has to turn sideways to fit out the door, and by the time she’s lumbered to the garden, her body is blocking the sun.

Rodeo

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Some days, I plague myself and anyone nearby with questions and hypotheses about the human condition. Why the pervasive sadness? Why the slow-burn rage? Why the pitiful denials, the hedonistic greed, and addictions to substances and behaviors that produce a temporary, phony nirvana? Why hoard, hide, and lie? Why hate?

If no one is around to answer, I remind myself that evolving is hard work: Containing and orchestrating our predatory nature (eyes pointed forward), our drive to mate and produce as many offspring as possible (those selfish genes), our instinctual avoidance of pain and death (neurologically hardwired)…

Trudging forward is no small task for the average human. We are also relatively communal—a blessing and a curse–a survival-based attribute (strength in numbers) that goes beyond survival. It’s one of God’s favorite evolutionary tools for prodding us forward (as the prophet Rodney King once said, “People…can we all get along?). Sadly, the answer remains no.

I also remind myself that we’re all mortal. Ironically, this is a relief. We give life our best shot, and then we’re gone: Blips on the screen, leaves in the wind, a brief twinkle in the eye of God. Our evolving and digressing is both individual and cosmic; I acknowledge the death within me, and I honor the dead among us who may yet find life. I hate that I will never have all the little answers. The big answer is love. The lesser ones remain to be worked out.

Snow falls, passions blaze, and the prey lurk meekly around the edges of light, testing the perimeters of the fence. For thousands of generations, we’ve made tools and told stories. Isn’t that remarkable? We’ve built fences, torn them down, and built them again. The earth recycles our bodies and our worst ideas. Broken down–broken way, way down–we are minerals and fragments of hope.

Sometimes God plays the straight man to my darkest humor or the fool to my imagined wisdom. Sometimes, the bad cop, sometimes, the good. There are forces at play I know nothing about; artists at work I have yet to meet. Yes. This is my first rodeo. My only rodeo. God pulls back the curtain, and behold! There’s an entire cheering section rooting for me. I’m riding wild bulls, roping steers, spurring a bucking bronco, and racing to the next barrel, where I’ll circle back around before I head to the finish line, a few strides away.

The party is almost over, but it has yet to begin. The heavens are filled with revelers: chanting monks, croaking frogs, liberated soldiers, plump children, sobbing men, and whirling women. Ah, the beautiful whirling women. Their skirts spin wide as they orbit, as colorful and defiant as umbrellas in Hong Kong. And the tears of the sobbing men; so much to regret. So much to restore. So many fires to gently put to sleep.

Plumbing

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In the wee hours this morning, God shook me half-awake and said in a swaggering voice, “You want a piece of me?” and from a place howling with threats of winter, I heard myself yell, “NO! Go away.” But my words were garbled. Embryonic. I didn’t think they’d made it to full expression. I assumed my body reabsorbed them like it reabsorbs so many of my ill-conceived notions and radical impulses. By the time I was eating toast, the wind had died down, and the day looked like it would roll out ordinary.

“Well, what would a piece of you look like?” I asked God in a conciliatory tone.

“Obviously, that depends on which piece,” God said in a chilly voice. Maybe my words had hit the mark after all. It was clear I’d hurt her feelings, but what’d she expect? It was night. She’d snuck up on me. God is quite reactive sometimes. I fought an urge to be cold back and instead, took a breath and forced the door to my soul open just a crack. It was early, but I thought I could handle a little exposure.

“What piece did you have in mind when you woke me up?” I asked sweetly. Okay. Maybe not that sweetly. I knew I was being passive-aggressive, and I knew this was a stupid way to be with God, but I couldn’t help myself. Being dependent runs against my grain—especially being dependent on a God like God—She He It They—defenseless child, free-range parent, doting auntie, stalking lion, friend and foe. Who can blame me? Any piece of God is bound to be hot.

“Well, for one, I can blame you,” God said. “But I don’t.”

“Right,” I said. “Exactly. This is the crux of the matter, God. Any piece of you is going to illuminate my pitiful little life, and my eyes are going to sting from trying to adjust, and the gloom will seem preferable, and I’ll know it’s not, but I’ll long for it anyway, and then, another day will have come and gone, and I won’t have saved the world, or myself, or even the rhubarb.

“Too bad,” God said. “But there’s not much I can do about that.”

“Yes, there is.” I glared. “For instance, if you’d stop letting pipes and valves corrode, break, freeze up. and flood the barn, I could devote more time to helping others.” This was feeble, but I was really, really tired of the mundane, thankless tasks of the average homeowner in the average community in the average scene in my average world. Wasn’t I destined for greater things?

God shrugged and grinned. “Dream on,” she said, and handed me a short-handled shovel. She looked determined. Pleased with herself. Ready for action. “Today is for digging,” she declared. “And if we find the leak, so much the better.”

Envisioned but Unexpressed

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I have a lot of sway-backed shelves sagging under the weight of my various anxieties and accumulated supplies–tins of sardines, bags of rice, quinoa, pasta, and popcorn. My internal ambiance closely resembles my outer surroundings—disorganized abundance within and without. For instance, you would not believe my hoard of art supplies. Found objects. Brushes. Half-used, mostly dried paint and ink. Reclamations and creations at the ready; envisioned, but unexpressed.

“Nice,” God says as she surveys the scene. “Envisioned but unexpressed. I like that.”

“I don’t,” I say. “How many recycled canvases, wooden boxes, odd-shaped bottles, and smooth rocks do I need? What I need is time. Inspiration. Discipline. Not more words, and definitely not more clutter.”

“You sound like your own mother,” God says. “I’m a little jealous. Isn’t that my job?”

“Maybe,” I say, in breezy tone. “But I don’t mind. I’m highly skilled at self-denigration and shallow despair.”

“Oh good grief,” God says. “Some days I don’t think you’ve even made my acquaintance. Shut up already.”

I’m a little startled. Who wouldn’t be? But after I get over my surprise, I feel honored. How many people does God tell to shut up? Maybe I’m special. I wait, respectfully silent. Expectant. Ready to hang on every word.

And…you guessed it. Silence. Utter silence. The kind of silence that waits on the other side of the mirror. If you’re brave enough to hold your own stare, you’ll learn a great deal from the pigment in your irises and your soulful black pupils steadily pulling the outer light in. We’re momentary shades of inherited longing, hoping for an impossible permanence.

Oh so gently, God takes away the mirrors and windows. The shelves and drawers are bare. No canned milk, no lentils, no cereal, no chocolate. My closet echoes in its emptiness. My art supplies are gone. I have nothing left. Even the walls are gone. I stand stark naked, unable to move or see.

“God,” I whisper. “What color am I now?”

“Baby blue,” God whispers back. I can see it in my mind; the delicate color of untouched sky.

“And God,” I add. “Are there any words left?”

“One,” God says. “There’s one. There’s only ever been one.”

“It’s my name, isn’t it?” I ask, stricken. Terrified. It’s the name I can’t remember. God shakes her head.

“Not now, sweet thing,” she says, handing me my T-shirt and jeans. “But someday. And when the time is right, you’ll remember.”

Slutty Shoes

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Sometimes, life-on-earth sashays by in slutty shoes, feigning a seductive innocence. She beckons with a bend of her little finger and whispers. “Come here, you sexy thing. I want you.” But the delicacy is an illusion, the promise of eternal youth, false. Life-on-earth has muscular legs and sturdy ankles. A swift kick can leave bruises. Break bones. And then, who’s to blame? The idea of God is an easy target; I confess to using it myself on occasion. But the real God runs away from simplicity like a wild-eyed colt. The real God crawls onto your lap like an old dog. The real God knows what happened on Mars and is already aware of the first name of the last child. God can perfectly enact the mating dance of the Sandhill crane and knows how to apply a tourniquet to stanch the flow of blood.

I know this because the faint smell of wet dog often lingers on my clothes (and we don’t have a dog). I know this because I’m relieved that the Martians (and all our kinfolk from other planets) are loved, have been loved, will be loved. The Sandhill cranes glide by in pairs, the name of the last child will be as holy as the first, and when it’s chilly, I pull a patchwork quilt of tourniquets around my shoulders.

But none of this stops me from flirting shamelessly with life-on-earth, hoping to get more than my share. She’s so dazzling, so tasty. My DNA matters, doesn’t it? My ideas? Don’t I deserve second helpings and the rapt attention of those around me?

God floats into the room, shaped like lips, shimmering crimson. The lips pucker up.

“Unpucker,” I say, and sit up straight and tall. “Not ready.”

The lips relax into a goofy grin. “I know,” they say. “But don’t you love this shade of red? It’s called Kiss of Death.”

“Funny,” I say. “Very funny.” God and I have a good laugh. The luscious lips frame God’s open mouth, teeth like mountains, ribbons of saliva catching the light.

Life-on-earth sits down beside me. She’s grown pale in comparison to the glorious mouth of God. She’s wearing sensible shoes. “Shall we go?” I ask. She nods, looking a little worse for the wear. I pat her shoulder and add, “But let’s keep it honest. I like you as a friend, but it can never be anything more.”

She nods again, crying a little, but handling it. I cry a little too. The sadness is unavoidable, but there’s a lot to do today. We need to get on with it.

“You’re just a short-term expression of something much bigger,” I explain to her as we get in the pick-up and drive across the field.

“Yeah, I guess,” she says. “But so are you.”

“Oh, I know,” I say. I slow down so we can hold hands and watch the eagles circling the river. Majestic and hungry.

Sometimes God is known as Eddy

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Sometimes God is known as Eddy, and he drives an older Oldsmobile. He dates an Asian lady who sells apples off her tree. Perfect crimson apples, cheap and crisp. Everyone admires their simplicity. The union of the holy and profane.

Sometimes God is known as Wonder. It’s lonely at the top, lonely on the edges, lonely in the alleys, lonely deep inside. But Wonder turns the tables and leaves a giant tip. Wonder drinks bad wine with relish and greets the coming storm. Wonder drops all pretense and bares its glistening soul.

Sometimes God is known as Bastard, parentage unknown. A conception so spectacular it must forever go unseen. Protested, but unseen. Tortured, but unseen. Orgasmic, but unseen. Left flailing in a dumpster, flushed in desperation, wrapped and suffocating in discarded plastic bags. So much blood. So much blood.

Sometimes God is known as Alpha, other times Omega. Still other times a word of praise will drop him to his knees. He has no knees. He has no wallet, has no reason, has no home and no idea. If you find him close to midnight, he’ll be sober. You’ll be drunk.

Sometimes God is known as Nothing. Sometimes known as Gone. Fallen through a fracture, inhaled as poison smoke, a dream that turns to nightmare, a promise come undone. Don’t pretend this isn’t true. The slaughter of the innocents is common, like falling off a horse. Falling off a horse.

Out of nowhere comes the rainbow, out of broken comes the whole. Sometimes God wears hyacinths and gains the upper hand. The fragrance overwhelms you and drops you to your knees. You do have knees. You have your reasons. You have wallets and ideas. Sometimes what you know is God. Sometimes, not.

Dismembering is easy with the ligaments of love, your muscles and your tendons giving way. But God braids these threads like water in her ever-flowing hair. The strands you think you’re made of are called Hyacinths. Or Eddy. And the only way you’ll ever make it home is come apart. Just come apart.