Mice

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‘Tis the season for the battle between humans seeking untainted cupboards and mice seeking warm, tasty accommodations. Humans have superior fire power. Mice have elastic bones. It’s a version of David and Goliath. And yes. Humans are Goliath. We are big, smart, and temporary. They are small, but they are many. We will eventually lose. But in the meantime the traps are set, ultrasonic sound devices are plugged in, and steel wool is stuffed tight in every conceivable nook and cranny.

Finding their bodies broken and contorted in the snapped traps is distressing, disgusting, and sad, but not as sad as finding their poop turds in our rice or oatmeal or my neatly folded towels. I don’t like war. I don’t like killing. But I draw the line at surrendering to rodents.

The previous owner of our home had given up. Frail and confused, she lived among the mice, littering her leftovers around the house, letting them have the run of the place. I suspect their offspring remember the halcyon days. The remnants of their reign are mostly cleaned and gone now, but just last month in the root cellar I found a long-necked bottle with a perfectly preserved skeleton. Decades ago, the mouse had squeezed itself in, dropped to the bottom, and belatedly discovered there was no way out.

“I remember that little fella,” God says, reading over my shoulder.

“Oh, hi,” I say, in a friendly voice. I wave my hand toward the easy chair. God settles in with a sigh and says, “Thanks. Do you mind if I put my feet up and take a quick nap?”

I shrug and nod, my face conveying fond approval. God’s eyes close. I consider the weight of omnipresence, momentarily glad I did not create the ever-evolving universe. I am not God.

Wind moves warm air across the snow, and an eagle flies by with a fish dangling from its beak. I think of a phrase from a long, sorrowful poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: nature red in tooth and claw… and the line Dorothy Day loved from The Brothers Karamazov: Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.

I have seen the way of a cat with a mouse. I have seen the way of an owl with a kitten. My entire being strives to accept the turning of the seasons, the transformations, the endings with unknowable beginnings, but I can’t quite get there. I am tender with grief.

God dozes while we sit warm in the risen sun. I’m everyone and no one. I’m alone, but I am together. I am the fish and the eagle. I am a mouse in a dark brown bottle. There is no escape, but I’m glad for the company.

DNA

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In many ways God and I have very little in common. The narrow gateway of our commonality is not the DNA I share with other humans, fruit flies, bananas, trees, or goats; not my uncertainties or my short journey in this limited body. And absolutely not my tendency to bite my thumb when I sense God is close. God doesn’t have thumbs. But sometimes, she borrows one and bites it while I write, just to demonstrate her solidarity. It’s a transparent solidarity. I slip my hand through and watch the world turn to fire. I am intrigued by the godness of fire as mass gives way to energy.

Often the godness around me is so dense I can hardly breathe. Billions of people seething and searching for the right ways to live their lives, afraid of all the wrong things. Even the stars are born and die, so what do we have to fear? One form godness takes is joy, a flower with roots that run deep in dark places. Another form of godness is suffering, and it will be with us until the end.

“Yes,” God says, affirming my pondering. “Maybe not DNA, but joy and suffering. Yes, these we have in common.”

“God,” I say. “I don’t always love it when you show up and agree with me.” I turn my gaze inward, where of course, I find God smiling between the strands that define who I think I am. I slide my consciousness back out, trying to think of other things. Deadlines. Vitamins. Bad travel conditions. Entropy. Anything but You-Know-Who.

“Okay,” God says. “Let’s play hide-and-seek. Shall I find you, or do you want to find me?”

“What does it matter?” I say. “It’s one and the same.”

God pretends to ring a bell. “Ding, ding, ding,” she says. “Folks, we have a winner.”

I can’t help but laugh. What a chump. I shrug. “Fine. So you’re here. What’ll it be today? Compassion? Sacrifice? Slippage? The mundane grip of reality? Painting sticks? Rearranging my rock collection? Maybe a small skirmish with the dark forces of hell and selfishness?”

God mimics my shrug. Then she leans over, examines my thumb, and kisses the bite marks away.

“All better,” she says, her voice tender and soothing. I stare at my thumb.

“Maybe,” I say, tears welling up. “But I don’t see the point. You know I’ll bite it again.”

“Exactly,” God says. “Exactly. Maybe that’s why I love you so much.”

Male Enhancement Products

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God and I were driving across town. Traffic slowed in front of the adult fantasy shop, and we noticed a young woman with a pink and black backpack pushing the buzzer so she could go in. Maybe she worked there. Maybe she was on her way to buy a morning orgasm. Who knows? The neon sign scrolled through various messages. One informed us that male enhancement products were on sale. I winked at God and said “Shall I pull over?”

God followed my gaze, read the sign, glanced down at his godly crotch, and started giggling. It was a golden moment. We laughed until tears were running down our faces and I was in danger of wetting my pants. “Oh, man, I needed that,” God said.

“Me, too,” I said. Earlier we’d both been sickened by the news that various “faith” systems had decided to ratchet up their wars on women and those with various sexual identities.

“It sure is easy for your species to hate,” God said. “Pick on the little ones, the different ones. Force women to carry embryos into full baby bodies and give births they don’t want to give. Define those differences as wrong. Declare who’s going to hell.”

“Yeah, I know, God. I know. And even worse, they think they’re doing your work for you.” I paused and added, “Well, at least some of them do.”

“Do they?” God said, shaking his head. “How in the world do they get that idea?”

“Didn’t you program us to reproduce at all costs? So a gay person is defying the plan, right? And a woman who doesn’t want to carry a fertilized egg to full term…she’s not fulfilling her role either. Right? Isn’t it handy how the will of God aligns politically with those seeking domination?” My voice was surly.

“Sarcasm is not going to solve this, sweetie,” God said. Our happy mood was dissipating. God stared out the window as I timed the next green light. Suddenly, God slapped the dashboard. I looked over, startled. His face was a mixture of dark and darker.

“Male enhancement products,” he muttered.

He was rubbing his forehead like a man deep in grief. The pain was palpable.

“What, God?” I said gently. “What’s going on?”

“That’s what’s obliterating…that’s what’s powering this tidal wave of hatred and destruction.”

“What?” I said, not quite following

“Weapons,” God said. “What are they? Male enhancement products. Laws controlling women’s bodies? Male enhancement products. Harsh judgments directed at anyone who’s not heterosexual? Male enhancement products.” God’s voice was grim and firm. “Pull over. I have to go.”

As I searched for a safe place to stop, God melted, and the minute the wheels stopped turning, God poured himself under the car door and became women. Old women, young women, ugly women, bent and hungry, raped, beaten, forsaken, controlled, lied to, shamed, and tricked. Women. I rolled down my window and surveyed the landscape. The crowd swelled as the gays and lesbians, the trans and non-binaries materialized. So defiant. So brave. So fragile. So God.

“God!!” I yelled. “Get back in the car. Stop being those people. You’re going to get hurt.”

“I know, honey,” the Crowd of God roared. “That’s how this works.”

 

Five Part Harmony

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I

Magic is harder to come by as the brain gels and arteries harden. It takes more courage to jump when your bones have webbed, but jumping is required for regrowth. No parachutes. No bungees. No soft landings. Not even cushioned shoes. You owe this to yourself and generations to come. Just jump.

Remember when you were young? Magic lived in your disconnected tissues and made a practice of fooling you all the time. Your tears were sudden, and your laughter rose from the belly of a good and jovial earth. I knew you then. I had a rainbow of toes and fingers and lent them to the sky without a second thought. I knew God then, too. Promises untested and playful, simple to reconfigure–easy as spiders or buttons to swallow.

But now? God woke me this morning, dangling precariously, kicking his legs like a puppet hoping to get away. The gingerbread man. Mary Poppins with a faulty umbrella. Fragile and tattered, ready for anything but breakfast. But breakfast was the only thing I was ready for. Not magic. Not jumping. I sent God away so I could make toast.

II

The human brain is easily seduced by a nice, clean dichotomy; such a delight to be on the right side of wrong, a relief to declare zero tolerance, a comfort to await the final vanquishing of evil.

God glides back in, refuses the offer of toast, and declares, “There are no absolutes.”

“Ha!” I say, having rehearsed this come-back many times. “Are you absolutely sure?”

III

The universe is expanding. Things collide and collapse. They warp and rework themselves. Down under the event horizon, gravitational forces consume the entire electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to ultraviolet. But fear not! God lives in the black holes where captured light awaits definition. General relativity, while offensive and frightening, is the source of all good news. It’s where we find tolerance, forgiveness, and the will to try again.

IV

Space shivers because she wears such thin clothing and like the worthy suitor he is, God wraps his jacket lovingly around her shoulders. They make an adorable couple, God and the space time continuum. God’s mother is proud of the gentleman she’s reared. “I never raised a hand to him,” she says with such love that another planet is spontaneously born. This should humble us all.

As for me, I confess that I’ve raised my hand, formed a fist, shot a gun, drowned some kittens, eaten flesh, picked a fight, and weaponized my words. Sometimes, I’ve tried to befriend zero as if I’m not to blame. As if I need no grace. Rarely have I had the courage to offer my jacket and certainly not my cloak as well.

V

Thousands of starlings take over the sky but not a single starling falls. The perfect snow is scarred in every direction by hungry deer, their heads buried in the failed harvest. When I touch my lips, I can feel the warm truth of this moment, but when I roll them inward, they disappear.

What You Are Now

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Sometimes I pedal around town on my bike meditating. The alleys, the streets, even the funky traffic patterns are as familiar as my hands. I’ve lived in dozens of locations and left my DNA all over the place. It’s my town.

God rides along wearing my memories; scarves and beads, seven chickens, a hundred trees. I try to accept the shocking truth that the world goes on without me, but I resent it. God is relatively gentle about this, pointing out how tall the trees have grown.

“What good are these damn memories?” I ask as they pelt me like sheets of sudden rain. I’m drenched. Shivering. Sad. The bygone days are a howling pack of coyotes; phantoms that leave teeth marks, longings without names.

“Not everything is good in isolation,” God says. “You’re not what you remember.”

“Oh, thanks.” My voice drips with sarcasm. “That helps a lot.”

“It will,” God says. “Give it time.”

I stop the bike and sit on the curb beside a large mound of fallen leaves. I remember crawling under a pile like this. October. Centuries ago. But the sound of the rain on the brittle leaves was yesterday. It occurs to me that I would like to be buried in a pile of leaves, here on a side street, in a ceremony so quiet no one is inconvenienced in the least.

“You already are,” God says. “C’mon. Let’s ride. I’m getting restless.”

“Fine,” I say. We pedal toward a steep hill and begin the climb, me seeking perspective, God enjoying the ride. I’m so easily seduced by the idea of my own importance, sucked into the undertow of imagined glory. The view helps. I watch the little city move itself here and there as I catch my breath. Then I turn the bike around. The downhill stretch is littered with rocks and potholes, but my tires are full and the light is good.

God and I gather speed as we cruise back into the thick of it. I think to myself, it’s probably after 3 already, but I check my watch. It’s nearly 5. Too many young people smile at me. Newer model cars zip by. My brakes squeak, and my resolve weakens, but I find solace in the alleys. Discarded grace, throw rugs, pottery, and a pile of sticks for firewood.

God hops off. A thousand wings begin designing the sunset dipping liberally into orange and magenta. I strap the rugs and pottery on my bike, drape the grace around my shoulders, and make a mental note to pick up the firewood later. I wonder if I’ll remember. I wonder if it matters. I wonder whose elongated evening shadow is peddling ahead of me. It’s vaguely familiar, but God is right; I’m not what I remember.

Nothing Happens for a Reason Other Than the Happening Itself

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“God,” I said. “Are you into cause and effect at all?”
“Hmmm?” God said, raising her eyes from the screen, her fingers politely pausing above her keyboard.
“I mean, like for every action, is there an equal and opposite reaction in your way of seeing things? Do you define force as mass plus…”
“Acceleration?” God filled in the last word before I got to it and added, “Is this about that apple and Newton?”
“No,” I said. “I think it’s actually more about that apple and Eve.”
“Oh, that,” God said. “Pshaw.” It appeared she was done with the conversation.
“Wait,” I pleaded. “Could I get a straight answer before you dive back into your manuscript?”
God sighed and looked at me, fingers still poised to type.
“What I’d like to know is do things happen for a reason, and are you the force behind things happening, or do you just watch?” That last bit might have been said with a slightly nasty tone, but God didn’t rise to the bait. She put her hands in her lap and glanced at her fitbit.
“Want to do a few stairs while we talk?” I asked. She nodded.
As we climbed the first flight, she began. “Nothing happens for a reason other than the happening itself. You make the meaning. You create the reasons. If you create none, there are none.”
“Are you talking about me or the whole human race?” I asked.
“Both,” God said. “The raw material generated by being alive is food for the mind and soul. It exists only to be transformed into meaning. Sometimes individual. Sometimes shared.”
“But do we ever get it right?” I asked.
“Depends on what you mean by right and on who you ask,” God said, surprisingly patient.
“I’m asking you,” I said.
“I know,” God said. “A lot of people make that same mistake.”
So who are we supposed to ask?” I said, frustrated.
“Oh, you can ask but then don’t blame. And remember, you’re asking the me-in-you.”
“Um, God,” I said. “Sometimes it seems like you’ve forgotten who you are. Like you don’t want to face what you’ve put in motion, an experiment veering towards a bad outcome. I feel like you hide when the going gets rough.”
“Sorry you feel that way, bunchy-boo. But it just ain’t true.” God had gone from thoughtful to punchy. I gave her a push, and she rolled down the stairs momentarily acquiescing to the curvature of the space-time continuum.
“See?” she said as she picked herself up. “Now I’ll get more steps in.”
“You make me crazy,” I said.
“Nope,” God said. “You do that yourself.”
“Augh!” I said. “You make me sick.”
“Nope,” God said, eyes crinkled, stunningly luminous.
“You make me happy?” I said with a question mark, trying to get out of this loop.
God beamed and belted out, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray.” She paused. “C’mon, bunchy-boo,” she said. “Sing with me. I’ve got a killer harmony worked out for this one.”

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.