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.

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.”

Playing the Fool

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It’s been reported that God has a special fondness for fallen sparrows, fools, and small children which may be why he gets such a kick out of startling me. This morning, he arose in a ghostly puff of sawdust from the bottom of the woodpile and like a gleeful child, said “Boo.”

“NOT FUNNY,” I yelled, jumping back.

“Wrong. Very funny,” God replied, giggling. “You’re so easy to surprise. You forget where to look. You let your guard down. You have God cataracts. Gotta shake you up, wake you up, scare the dickens out of you.”

I sighed. “I’m not bringing you coffee until you settle down.”

“No need,” God said, quivering with energy. “Today, I am coffee. Black coffee and donuts. And firewood. I’m pure sugar, perfectly-aged bourbon, a romp in the hay. I’m a pulled tooth, the tooth fairy, the pillow and the sleeping child. I’m a hundred dollar bill flying by in the wind. You can catch me.”

“I don’t want to,” I said.

“That’s not the point,” God said. “What you want is not important. What you’ve been, what you will be, not important.”

Sometimes God acts like this—as if I’m not important—but I know I am. It’s a trick. “Define important,” I said, defiant and a little scornful.

God threw back his head, laughing. “Ha ha ha! Define important!” he wheezed. He slapped my back. “Good one.”

I tried to walk away, but he hopped in front of me on a pogo stick. “Look at me, look at me,” he shouted, filled with joy. I turned away. He turned with me. I back up. He backed up. The melting began—I cracked a small smile. What an idiot. Who can resist such a God?

“Walk like a turkey,” he said. “Or an Egyptian. Flap your arms. Eat bugs. Drink wine. Swivel your hips. Shake your bootie.” God was somehow doing all these things at once while I looked on, trying not to reward such goofiness. I shook a finger at him. “You’re a stubborn old coot,” I said. “Irresponsible, offensive, demanding, foolish…”

“Oh, you are so, so wrong,” God said. “I’m your youngest idea. Your most avid fan. Your faithful servant.” He paused. “Okay. Yeah. That demanding thing is true. I ask a lot of myself.”

My finger was still waggling at him, trying to induce shame, but he grabbed my hand, bowed low, and kissed my palm. “We are both of royal lineage,” he said. I pulled back, but he held on. “Not so fast!” He balanced himself on a large stump and proclaimed, “Poetry slam!” With a kind of gusto only God possesses, he read:

You cannot help but exist among us;
beer-drinkers, side-winders, men with big mouths;
wise-crackers, homemakers, coyotes, and cougars.
Miners, majors, midgets, and moles—
shame-laden fools and the overly proud.
Soul sisters, blood brothers, the quick and the dead.
All are long lost, and continually found.

With a flourish and bow, he shouted “Amen,” and began to fade. The kiss of God burned in the palm of my holy hand. I thought of applauding, but instead, I let the wonder dissipate and brought in a load of fragrant but imperfect wood.

 

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.

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.”

Earwax

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“God,” I said, irritable and tired from a long day of petty frustrations. “Did you listen to a lot of heavy metal when you were young? Or maybe you need to clean your ears. Your hearing has gotten pretty bad. In fact, some people say you’re deaf.”

“Yeah, and some people say I’m dying of skin cancer. Too much exposure while I was building the solar system,” God said, giving me a friendly shoulder punch. “But people love to gossip. I’m more interested in what you say.”

“The weeds in my iris bed have gone to seed, and I’m sick of fighting back,” I said. I didn’t want to talk galaxies or my ongoing disappointments with my co-author. I wanted wisdom, peace, and an easier life. God likes lilies and irises, and mine are choking in big autumn weeds and native grasses. I’m not sure they’ll even come up next spring. Seems like an easy problem for God. Just smite the invaders, right?

And to make matters worse, I’ve noticed my cruel and vicious impulses have gained ground lately. People would be astonished to know how many times a day my mind whispers “Oh fuck.” Sometimes, I go beyond the F-word. It’s more of a primal scream. My innards seethe at the utter stupidity of humankind. But I breathe and wait. Breathe and wait. Usually, my demands to be special, perfect, noticed, or loved give way to the nearly inaudible whimper of surrender. I realize can’t fix much of anything. All I can do is go about the business of being alive. And I can try to be kind.

I offered God my bowl of chips and salsa. “Thanks,” God said in that still, small voice. “I’ve heard it all, you know. The clang and clatter, the gun shots and bombs, the sobs and screams and slimy claims, the pontifications and pathetic justifications, the pleas and praise. Machinery. Magpies. The making of love. First gasps of air, last exhales. I’ve heard it from the beginning. And I will hear it all forever.”

I leaned forward, pointing my finger. “Then why don’t you pull the weeds? Uncreate. End the cacophony of greed and moral failings. Why don’t you make it all music and joy?” I was so exasperated. “You don’t know the least bit about self-care, do you?”

“Sure I do,” God said. “Here I am, hanging out with you. Chewing the fat. Watching the day draw to a close. What more could I ask?”

The F-word leapt to mind. The scream began. I coiled like a rattler. Clawed at my limitations. It was worse than being alone. “What more could you ask?” I yelled. “I can’t begin to answer that. Can’t even begin.”

“I know,” God said. “But it’s an excellent question, isn’t it?”

Fear of Flying

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God and I usually visit rather informally, but today, inspired by silence and a Guinness Extra Stout, I’m trying a different voice. I’m thinking God will recognize it anyway. Here goes…

YOU

 You who are beyond pronouns, do you hear me?
Energy expressed as love, do you hear me?
Creativity unbounded, horses galloping, do you hear me?
Paradoxical forces pushing outward, do you hear me?
Dialectical trickster pushing inward, do you hear me?

(I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be irrelevant. I don’t want to be nice to idiots.)

You who are able to blink away galaxies, do you hear me?
You who make the sky burst into laughter, do you hear me?
You who die every time anyone dies, do you hear me?
God of the rattlesnake, mosquito, quicksand, and lightening, do you hear me?
Silent stalker, raucous rioter, author of all disappearances, do you hear me?

(I need, I need, I need.   I want, I want, I want.   Do not give me what I deserve.)

 Embodied myth, homeless beggar, wearer of the purple robe, do you hear me?
Neighbor, knower, patient old auntie, slayer of falsehoods, do you hear me?
Pure white, thick black, coffin-builder, source of thinning bones, do you hear me?
Gravel road, narrow path, first breath, bargain basement, do you hear me?
You who write the storyline, you who refuse conclusions, do you hear me?

(I can see my way around you, through you, beside you. Let’s run away.)

 You are said to feed on worship, gorge yourself on praise. I don’t believe it.
They claim you have a magic formula for being saved. This is silliness.
We try to define the undefinable, cater to our narcissism, and say it’s you.
The great regression has begun. We are returning to our hatreds. We are coming undone.
I cannot imagine your suffering, but I am trying. Do you hear me?
 

(If it fits the plan at all, I would like to die into gentleness.)

My lungs collapsed as the savage Self of God blew through the valley. It whispered:

You’ve always wanted to learn to fly.
And you will.

And I said:
Amen.