Five Part Harmony

more cranes

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.

Public Meeting

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Last night God and I attended a public meeting. The images and verbal snippets lodged in my brain and ruined my sleep. Through the night, I wanted to check in with God, but she was slumbering soundly. I had to toss and turn, rage and grieve on my own.

Everyone I know (except God) is the product of sperm and egg, about nine month incubation, and a birthing. But these shared origins guarantee little when it comes to getting along. Are some of us programmed to be mean? Violent? Hateful? Unable or unwilling to be civil? The animosities in the room sharpened the atmosphere until it felt like I was breathing knives.

Those smirking, disrespectful, smug, lie-believing fools were so offensive I had to fight to remember that they are members of my species. Conspiracy theories were in full bloom. There were glib reassurances that the corporations in question care deeply about the earth and are managed with love for all humanity. As if. So much posturing and paranoia. No one should be able to tell anyone else what to do–especially if there’s money to be made. Facts be damned. The common good be damned. We vote and hate. Or don’t vote and hate.

And while we attack each other in our nanoscopic corners, the earth warms its hands over the fire of our denial-fueled rush to extinction, waiting to be rid of us so the healing can begin.

God continued to snooze as I seethed. I gave her a gentle shake. She’s so beautiful at rest, with her feral hair flowing every direction–and much tamer when her eyes are closed. Maybe it’s better to let sleeping Gods sleep, but I couldn’t. I needed perspective. Connection. I shook her shoulder a little harder.

Her eyes flew open. She bolted upright and shouted, “You gotta hit hard and clean. Double-fisted.” She rubbed her forehead. “Egads, what a dream! I was a boxing coach. The little people were in a fight with the Goliaths again. No sling shots in sight.”

“So you had them slugging it out?” I asked.

“Yeah.” She looked a little sheepish.

“We have guns and nuclear bombs now, you know,” I reminded God as I handed her some coffee.

“Mmmm,” God said. “Yeah. Probably not the best idea. But it was only a dream.”

“I wish,” I said, and punched the air. I double-punched a sofa pillow.

“That’s good,” God said. “But move your feet. Fancy little dance steps work the best.”

I shuffled my feet, still focused on my fists.

“No. Dance,” God said again. “I mean it. Dance.”

“I can’t,” I said, ashamed. “There’s no music.”

God gave me a look and dissolved into a chorus of insects and meadowlarks, a string quartet, a crystal-shattering soprano, three warbling old women. The heart of God pounded, waves crashed, wind screamed, billions of people sobbed and laughed. The howler monkey, the cicadas, coyotes, the bullfrogs and molecules, neutrinos and nightmares—an astounding choir.

The Maestro’s baton slashed the air, wild hair snapping in circles around her head. “There you go, love,” she yelled above the din. “I forgive you. Now dance.”

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.

Snowbound

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Two feet of God fell through the night, pure white, yielding and silent–a worthy opponent, this friend of mine. “To what do I owe this honor?” I asked as I shoveled, and tried to mean it. “Nice of you to stop by,” I added, lying. No answer. I went back inside to stoke the fire and stare out the window.

A resolute sun broke through, brief and blinding. I could see nothing. Hear nothing. The tips of my toes and fingers felt nothing. This was the white of beguiling lies, seductive cover-ups. I was out of my depth, but it kept coming down. I’m ill-prepared, I thought. When you consider wind chill, even the burliest humans are easily frozen. The teeth of my cyberworld chattered. How do you love in this bitter cold? we asked each other, not actually wanting to know.

From the security of my couch, I contemplated the fields of deep, deadly white. For my people, black is the color of mourning–the color of absorption. But billions of people mourn in white–the color of reflection. White is what happens when light gathers force: blood red, sky blue, the yellow of fire and sun.

“That’s enough of that,” God said in a gruff, grandfatherly voice. “You’re trying too hard–too full of yourself. How about the red of that little wagon? The yellow of dog pee on snow?”

“But the situation is serious, God,” I said, embarrassed. “And I didn’t know you were listening. Could you knock, or at least make some noise before you barge into my head like that?”

God rolled himself into a single eyeball, a sheen of ice glazed over a deep, dangerous blue. He winked.

“Sorry,” he said. “I know it’s childish, but I love startling people. You thought I was out there, being weather, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “Or maybe not. You tell me, Mr. Know-It-All.”

An avalanche of laughter crashed against my dying world, my endangered species, bathing it in cold comfort, icing away the inflammation of ego and all things unsettled, unfiltered, and unattainable.

“Love can look like this,” God said, pointing at a single ember.

I knew the fire needed more wood, but I was reluctant. Winter isn’t over and the woodpile is precariously low.

Bone Marrow

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“You’ve locked up an astounding number of people,” God said, settling into the sage green recliner. “Expensive choice,” she added. She pushed back to elevate her feet. The news coverage of poorly fed immigrants imprisoned in New Jersey seemed to have stimulated this comment. I nodded politely, but this is not my favorite topic.

“And a few of them are on hunger strike,” God said, shaking her head.

“Do you disapprove?” I asked, confused about where this was going.

“Oh no,” God said. “I’m right there with humans risking their lives for justice.”

“But starving yourself is a form of slow suicide,” I said. Some people think you don’t approve of that. Ever. At all.”

“Ironic” God said. “You have the death penalty and you force tubes down the noses of those willing to die for a cause.” I flashed back to a documentary of prison guards inserting those tubes. It had made me cry. God interrupted my unsettled ruminations. “You remember that Mary Oliver line ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’”

“Of course,” I said. “But she was not writing about hunger strikes.” I looked straight at God. God rolled her eyes, stood, and began pacing.

“I forget how rule-bound and simplistic you humans can be. It’s rare for you to transcend—to realize that you’re only temporarily clad in that one wild and precious life. There are times to let go.”

I looked out the window, wishing for silence, but God didn’t let up. “Thousands of years ago, when the Poet wrote ‘…a time to kill and a time to heal…’ she didn’t mean these actions were preordained. There are times to be born and times to die. Times to reap and times to sow, times to throw stones and times to gather stones together. Each of you has to figure out when.”

I thought of Palestinian youth, throwing stones. Dying. I thought of scorched swaths of earth–reaping and sowing obliterated by climate change, chemicals. The enormity of moral agency chilled my inner being. I wanted a default setting to fall back on.

God read my mind. “No part of you is ever alone,” she said, standing near the fire, rubbing her hands. She reached in her pocket and handed me a shiny business card. It read:

God. Author of Forgiveness.
Source of Wisdom. Definition of Love.
Free Consultations

I felt sick. “No,” I said and threw the card in the fire. “Too subjective. Too permissive. Too precarious. I’d rather have our legislatures just make some laws.”

God laughed. “No you wouldn’t,” she said. She pulled the card back out of the fire. The flames had done no damage. “Your best decisions are based on love. Your worst are made in anger, driven by fear, greed, revenge, or hatred. It is your body–your one wild and precious life. The laws you need are written in the marrow of your bones. Sorry, but that’s just the way I made you.”

“Bones disintegrate,” I said, still hoping for an easy way out.

“I know,” God said. “But the dust you become is light and beautiful, and the Wind is gentler than you can imagine right now.”

Not My Idea

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“You realize America was not my idea, right?” God said. It was more a statement than a question—a comment likely brought on by my sense of alienation and dismay at our current national struggles.

“Duh,” I answered. “That’s painfully clear. I’m not blaming you.” I was washing the dishes with hot, soapy water. “It wasn’t my idea either,” I added.

The radio was on in the background, the ongoing absurdities in the news were ruining my evening. When you’re chatting with God, perspectives shift. The phrase “America First” is revealed for what it is: a puny, frightened declaration of selfishness that flaps defiant and pathetic in the gentle breath of God.

“You know we’re a defective species, right?” I said. I was in a very bad mood.

“Duh,” God answered. “That’s painfully clear.” God began drying the plates with little microbursts of warmth. “And I don’t blame you,” God added. “The blame game is a real dead end. Better to focus on hope.”

“Easy for you to say,” I said. “I got nothing.”

“Well, I think there’s a chance you’ll figure it out,” God said cheerfully. “You people divide yourselves up in the oddest ways. I admire your ingenuity, though it’s tragically misused. The us/them game is far more dangerous than the blame game. But…maybe, maybe. I don’t know. Maybe you’ll realize how damaging these artificial divisions are and stop scaring the pants off yourselves all the time.”

I thought about my fears and my meager progress at overcoming them.

“How’s your throat?” God asked. John and I had just spent six hours driving across the state in the smoke-infused cab of an old box truck we temporarily acquired as an act of charity. Or at least that’s what we think we did.

“Sore,” I answered. This was true. My head hurt and my clothes smelled atrocious.

“Kindness has a price tag,” God said. “Love is messy. Sometimes ugly. Sometimes deadly.”

I’d had enough. “God,” I said in the most patient voice I could muster. “I’m sorry, but I’m not in the mood for this. I’m tired. I feel sorry for myself. It’s cold in here, and I’m homesick for my younger self, when optimism was easier and endings weren’t so often or so clear.”

“I hear you,” God said. “I’m actually not in the mood either. I’m lonely and much older than you can even conjure. Very little agrees with me. Nothing tastes quite right. I’m often as miserable as you are. And for me, there’s no such thing as an ending. Maybe you should be grateful.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “But I’m not.”

We gave each other a halfhearted hug and parted ways–meaning I shut down while God expanded into the ink-black ocean of all that has ever been. I slept soundly in a threadbare hammock suspended between finality and the eternal. Not safe, but somehow, secure.

Up to you

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“Up to you,” God said. This is a lonely answer.

My hot bath had steamed the bathroom mirrors. I was brushing my teeth, contemplating all the irritating, confusing choices humans face. Which main dish to order, which shirt to buy, which route to take, which career to pursue, which allegiances to pledge, which weapons to use, which sacrifices to make, which people to love–how much to eat, when to arrive, when to leave, when to support, when to withhold, when to sing and when to scream–the choice of what to believe, who to trust. Even not choosing is choosing. There’s no way out.

“I know you have opinions,” I said. “Why can’t you be more open about them? Why can’t you be more helpful?”

God snorted.

“I take that to mean I’m supposed to know already,” I said. Like a tired professor, God wrote the words justice, mercy, and humility in the steam on the mirror. “Oh, sure,” I said. “Thanks, Mr. Subtle. I think you left out truth and compassion. Maybe I need a bigger mirror.”

I thought I was being funny. God didn’t laugh.

“You know,” I continued. “Lots of choices are made with no regard for you, one way or the other. You’re a pawn—a lousy excuse or nothing. You’ve tragically over-estimated our capacities. And now? What are you doing? We’re in so much trouble.”

God crossed his arms. Uncrossed his arms. Looked at me. His gaze was steady. I could see through his planetary eyes to the end of creation and back, the path swirling and surging with deceptively simple equations. He was everything. He was nothing. He was of a purity I could not comprehend. He opened his hands, and a thousand knives clattered to the floor. He was bleeding profusely.

“God!” I gasped. It looked like he might lose consciousness. I tried to cushion his fall. I shook him and said, “God. Hang on. Hang on, buddy. Do you hear me? Stay with me, God. Stay with me.”

I shouted for help. There was no one to call 911. There are no ambulances equipped to deal with a hemorrhaging universe and a broken-hearted God. The child at the border, dead. The old woman starving in Syria. The tender earth split open and gutted. God’s creatures eating plastic, God’s body bleeding out. God’s face in my hands.

“This is too hard,” I sobbed, filled with fear and self-pity. “You know it’s too hard.” I started to lay down beside him on the cold tile floor, to give up, to wait for the end in the waning warmth of a dying God. But he was gone.

I opened my inner eyes, still afraid, but the tiniest bit hopeful. Far, far away, I could see him walking with great deliberation in the garden. Small birds were closing his wounds, and color was returning to his cheeks. I knew I was invited. And I knew it was up to me.