A Few of Our Favorite Things

Me:      Sticks, stones, and silence. Dark beer, mirrors, paint, and blackberries.

(God, you know I’d name you, but you’re not a thing.

You’re a puzzle I will never solve.)

God:    Feathers and fur. Fire and ice. Darkness and light when they shatter.

(I would say sacrifice, but you always get that wrong, so never mind.

It’s a thing, though. I assure you, it’s a thing.)

Me:      Clean floors and bike rides. Threatening skies. Gnarled trees. Honesty.

(I don’t mind a little sacrifice, here and there. It adds texture.

It helps me see you. That might be good.)

God:    Dogs. Horses. Cats. Earthworms. Birds. All birds. I love birds.

Birds eat earthworms. Cats eat birds. It’s all so tragically beautiful.

And chickens eat anything—even weaker chickens.

Me:      Oh my God! Why do you always ruin things?

This isn’t fun. I don’t want to play anymore. You’re disgusting.

(God lets out a loud guffaw. Tears run down the wizened cheeks.)

God:    Bone of my bone. Flesh of my flesh. The earth is my body, broken.

Like I said, you get a lot of things wrong. Especially sacrifice. And loss.

Hunger has a purpose, darling. Your uneasiness is holy.

Me:      If holiness exists, it’s overrated. I don’t want to be holy.

You make me question everything all the time.

So, either it’s all holy or nothing is.

God:    Agreed. Now, let’s get back to our favorite things.

Me:      There’s no going back.

God:    Chubby babies. Comets. Black people swimming in blue water. You.

Our eyes lock. I’m injured. Healed. Hungry and full. Something, nothing, holy, profane, resplendent with promise, soon to die. I throw my arm over God’s burly shoulder. We walk upright, eyes forward, leaning into the wind. A lot of our favorite things are blowing by.

Me:      Not a big fan of wind.

God:    Not sure which things to chase after?

Me:      Exactly.

Road Rage

When I’m driving around, sometimes a line pops into my head and I think it deserves a whole poem. Like this little phrase earlier today: The exquisite pain of knowing… The chances of remembering it for long were slim, so as I negotiated the traffic, I repeated it over and over, even though I didn’t think I was in pain. I was, instead, enraged.

The roads were terrible; people were driving stupid. It’s election day and as usual, my beloved state has gone to the highest bidders. Good, honest people ran against paranoia and lost. I knew I was angry, but when God tapped me on the shoulder I jerked the wheel and yelled, “Fuck you, God.” This surprised us both.

I’m home now but there’s no poem waiting for me. God made a hasty exit at a red light. Fine with me. Who needs any kind of God riding along, let alone a misrepresented, passive one?

To ward off a potential return, I put my fingers in my ears and sing la la la la la. I think of people who don’t love me and hate them for it. And then I retract the hate because I don’t want to be loved anyway. I’m weary of it all. I make herbal tea and wait for the end.

“Finished?” God asks, in a quiet, almost tender voice.

“Yeah,” I say. “You?”

“Oh, I’ve been finished for a very long time.”

“Did you quit or were you fired?” I’m still feeling a little hostile, but I push a slice of sourdough toast toward God. Breaking bread together might help.

“Technically, I was finished before I started,” God says, and takes a bite of the toast.

I make a face, hoping to signal that I don’t like these cryptic answers.

God also makes a face. “There’s something wrong with this toast. It’s bitter.”

“Well, why don’t you whip out your magic wand and fix it?”

God smiles. “Because as I said, I’m done. I turned in my wand so we could be friends. Maybe you should feed this to your pigs.”

“We’re going to eat those pigs someday,” I say.

“I doubt it,” God says. “But good on you for trying.”

The snow continues, and visibility is limited. There will be anger, anxiety, and accidents throughout the day. Night will fall and bring a temporary peace. This moment will be the last for some. The first for others.

God remains soft and circular. I am linear and limited, and I realize that this is the knowing that brings the exquisite pain.

No worries, I whisper to myself. You’re tough. And you can always make more bread. This isn’t true, but God doesn’t contradict me. For that, I am grateful.

It’s What’s for Dinner

Yesterday, I borrowed my sister’s horse trailer to salvage some old lumber, but things did not go smoothly, and the trailer arrived home well after dark. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it’s shipping season; she needed to haul calves bright and early today. We unloaded recycled boards with flashlights, and at dawn, I went back to use a magnet to search for rusty nails in the crusted manure. I didn’t want a distressed calf to end up with a nail in a hoof.

When I sit down with my co-author to await the alchemy that produces words, I’m often pulled toward thousands of unnecessary things to do, but picking up loose nails was necessary—an effort to avoid small suffering in the face of huge suffering. Even though it meant facing a cold morning, I’m glad I found and removed those nails.

But that was that. Now it’s time to write, and the familiar battle is on. Mind and body at war: Mind wants to settle and focus, but body gets up, stares at the baked goods, waters the spider plant, paws through the fridge for a corked half-beer, and meanders back outside to check the temperature and admire the sunrise. The bawling of distraught cattle is thick in the air.

I come back in and sit. A housefly buzzes the coffee table, executing dives and turns that I admire, even as I hate and detest the fly. I start to chew my thumb for inspiration, but the odor of cow poop stops me cold. I’d forgotten to wash my hands. At the kitchen sink, I find last night’s dishes, so I scrub a few of the pans. I grab a fly swatter on my way back. Of course, the fly disappears.

I sit again. My mind is calm. I am not moving. I accept the lowing of bereft cows and the frantic calls of their disoriented calves, destined to be fattened, slaughtered, and eaten. I live in this particular world. I accept my role in the brokenness.

When the followers of Chuang Tzu asked him how he’d like his body disposed of, he replied it mattered not: Eaten by the birds of the air or by worms in the soil. Such is the journey of the body. In the grand scheme, we eat and are eaten.

“True,” God agrees, joining my thoughts, hands folded in his lap, large and calloused. “But I must say, some of your fellow beings get a lot fatter and sassier than others. And unlike the endings brought about by hunter or slaughterhouse, many deaths are neither swift nor humane.”

I nod. One of the most haunting images on the nightly news is the emaciated woman, nursing a stick-thin infant. She sits listless, her eyes and the baby’s eyes dull, unregistered. Neither will ever be fat.

With clean hands, I offer God a croissant. He declines.

Trees Walking

“God,” I said, after a hot, dry afternoon of good and bad happenings. “How are you different than coincidences or things we can’t explain?”

“I’m not,” God said. “In other dimensions, they don’t even call me God.”

I’ve always known that had to be the case, but knowing hasn’t reduced my longing for a provable formula, a reliably vengeful God, a certain ally, or an intelligent designer with some degree of accountability.

I sighed and asked politely, “What do they call you, then?”

God smiled. “Ah, let’s see. If I put the terms in English for you, I’m sometimes called Attribution, Allah, Beelzebub and Baby’s Breath, Creator, Calamity, Dalliance, Dendroid, Emmanuel, Ego…” She paused and smiled. “Shall I go on?”

“Well, the ABCs are a little boring,” I said. “How about a different alphabet? Or the language of a neighboring planetary system?”

This was perhaps an unwise request from an older soul like myself. God grabbed the brittle corners of my imagination and shook the filmy cataracts loose. My eyes beheld a night sky so dense with possibilities that it almost instantly blinded me. The names of God were a thousand suns, unleashed. God waved her baton; the symphony of all her names was deafening. I intended for my tongue to move, but it would not. With great effort, I raised my finger to signal for help.

“Enough?” God asked.

“Too much,” I said, as I tried to gather what was left of my sensibilities.

“Hand them over,” God said.

“No,” I said. “They’re mine.”

God shook her mane, waved her appendages, leathered up, and roared around in circles on a ruby red Harley. Followers stampeded behind, raising clouds of luminescence. A cacophony of unearthly mirth blew through the trees and with help from a gifted artist, they were transformed into maniacal silver laughter. I couldn’t hold on.

“Uncle,” I shouted.

“Good one,” God shouted back.

“No, I mean I give up,” I said.

“I know what Uncle means,” God said as she put me back together, muttering to herself in languages from beyond and beneath. “There.” She patted my head which felt slightly askew. “That’ll do for now.” She started to walk away but then gave me a second glance. “You’re getting a little tired of the circularity, aren’t you, honey?”

“No!” I lied. “No, not at all.” With the few shreds of pride still at my disposal, I stood erect. “You have a nice day, God” I said. Then I turned my back, rolled under the nearest pile of dead branches, and held very still. As my eyes adjusted, I could see that I was not alone. So many sentient beings, so many innocent souls hiding from the birds of prey.

Maybe God was right. Maybe I am a little tired. This will be an excellent place to rest.

NYT2009
(One of Roxy Paine’s amazing creations)

Year End Report

Early Margaret damaged picture 001 (3)

On December 18th, 2016, God and I posted our first godblog. We’ve written 170-some of these parabolic missives, and here we are, 2020–still speaking to each other, which is noteworthy for such a mismatched pair. Me, human, fallible, aging less than gracefully, root-bound, forgetful, trying hard, falling short. God, falling long. God neither human nor fallible, forgetting nothing, forgiving everything. God, erudite, defenseless, foolish. Me, wrapped in paper-thin pride with touches of temporary blue in my hair. God, humble, wearing the entire iridescent sky.

“Parabolic?” God asks.

I laugh. A chance to show off. “Well, I meant to say parable-like, but then the word parabolic got in my head. A parabola is a sort of U-shape line that’s mirror-symmetrical. It’s the path a projectile takes when it attempts to escape but instead, is subject to gravity and falls back. It’s not a circle. It’s more like a shape made in protest.”

God looks at me like “Duh” and I get defensive. “Fine. Sometimes, you just sit there and make me feel stupid.”

“True,” God says, with patient look. “I’m glad you’re so frank with me. But you could be nicer sometimes.”

“Sorry,” I say. “I’ll try.”

We sit for a while, me mulling what it means to be nice to God, and God knitting an afghan. He’s been working on it off and on for a long time. It stretches for miles–up, down, east, west, north, south, and around. And it includes every color ever seen or imagined. I suspect it’s a gift for someone in another galaxy, but I haven’t inquired, and God hasn’t said a word. For some reason, that damn afghan frightens me.

“I understand that,” God says.

“What?” I say, but in my bones, I know. He always gets in my head.

“It frightens everyone,” God says. He holds it up and blocks the sun. “It’s a shroud.”

“For someone—or something—very large,” I say, making my shaky voice as kind and approving as I can.

“Indeed,” God says. “From your perspective, very, very large.”

“And from yours?” I ask.

God smiles gently and opens the front of his jacket. Strands of yarn flow like brilliant rivers of color from the essence of his being. God is making his shroud out of himself. This realization upsets me to the point of nausea.

“Ah, sweetheart,” God says. “Don’t be sad. It is as it has been and will be. There’s no promise better than the rainbow, nothing more perfect than a circle.”

“But God,” I protest. “I’m linear. Monochromatic. Vanishing.”

God shakes his shroud like a rug. The whiplash at the end dislodges the stars, and planets roll like bowling balls, and all the music there has ever been plays at once, and I drop and curl to prevent subatomic dissipation.

“Hold that pose,” God says. He shapes himself around me and begins to snap selfies; me and God, entwined like twins, the shroud a roiling ocean behind us. A sudden wind lifts the shroud. God grabs hold, and they rise like a kite. It’s a very strong wind.

I hold myself tight with the earth, grateful for gravity. Coiled inward like that, I can see what appears to be the beginning and the end, but for the life of me, I can’t tell them apart.