Those Little Brown Birds

Scott yellow bird

Something scares the little brown birds feasting on the front lawn, and most of them fly to the fence, using precious energy for no cause. This time, there’s no predator, only wind. A few of the dull ones stay behind, calmly pecking at the dirt. Those clad in coats of many colors are male and skittish. They drop back to the dirt, shiny and chagrinned.

But now the orange cat slinks by. All the little birds disperse; this time with good cause. They land on the wires, tailfeathers twitching, reminding me of the ragged and precarious ways I cling to life. Like dry grass in the fall, my longings could be braided into baskets or burned away like chaff.

There’s a shallow ravine I’ve known since I wandered the land as a child. I liked hiding there, lying on my back, sheltered from the winter wind. The long dream will continue in this small and private canyon because there’s so much sky. Sandstone gives way here and there to reveal outcroppings of flint and jasper, agate and granite. Someday, I will feed the wilder animals and join the great upheavals and slow erosions of creation.

For now, my dreams are short and dim. God reaches into them occasionally, and I chase him out with a broom, my hair covered in a kerchief, my voice low and menacing. But God crouches even lower, his tail snaps back and forth, his fangs perfectly white and bared. His amber eyes burn with a question, “Are you sure? Are you sure?”

And I admit I’m not. Not sure. Not solid. Frightened by wind and fire. The long-awaited greening seems as far away as justice. I did not waste my youth, but it has not come with me. Some days, I’m too tired to fly to the fence. How long can I hold these things at bay? God goes belly-up at my feet, the pads of his magnificent paws soft and tender. I see the spot that makes him limp and bandage it with my shirt. He thanks me. We rest.

Feet on the Ground

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“Crowd in here, God,” I said, patting a narrow spot on the couch. It seemed unlikely anyone would notice; there was child-induced mayhem in the air. It involved a lot of bouncing, simultaneous verbalizations some would call clamor, and wonderment in abundance. These energies were sandwiched between adult conversations and consternations. I wasn’t sure which level God would prefer, but I wanted to be hospitable.

“Uh, sure. Thanks,” God said, distracted, like maybe a couple billion others right now. Distracted. Tempted to discount, deny, whine, or freak completely out. Not God, but maybe the rest of us on those last descriptors. “Are you ready to die?” I asked myself. “Of course,” I told myself. And in some ways, this is true. I’ve had an extraordinary life. In no way do I deserve anything further, and in some ways, I don’t want anything further. But then, it isn’t about deserving, is it?

My elbow hurts—the result of ever declining proprioception and the mysterious narrowing of doorways just as I’m squeezing a table through. My sense of importance in the world has suffered, leading to a fair amount of indignation. My little personal values are all askew, and I don’t want to straighten them out. “Lean times,” I whispered to God. “I could use some help getting my feet under me.”

“Fuck that,” God said. Well. This caught me a bit off-guard. God continued, “Your feet are down there where they should be. Mop the floor. Do the dishes. Brush the dog. Observe. Think. Settle.”

“Hey!” I protested God’s language, hoping to ignore the content. “There are children present.”

“They’re busy,” God said, but the room emptied into God and me, perhaps signaling the importance of our conversation. “Your life is a whisper, little one,” God said. “Even the lives you think are big, important…they are flickering flames in a variable wind. Don’t be envious. Sit yourself down when you need to. Observe. Think. Settle.”

“But I want to know I’m loved,” I said. “I want to matter.”

“You are. You do.”

“But I want proof,” I demanded.

“Fuck that,” God said again. “I’ve done all I can on that score.”  This was said without malice. In fact, there was a hint of a chuckle in his voice, and I caught God’s eyes twinkling. From a certain perspective, the absurdity of my fretting was hilarious, and we laughed. Threw back our heads and laughed. Laughed louder than the river, the owls, the barking dogs. We laughed belly laughs until we were crying, and we just kept laughing. I breathed in some ragged air. Clean air, as far as I know.

“Oh, wow,” I said. “I needed that.”

“Yes,” God said. “You did.”

 

 

Why We Sing

“These are rocky times, God,” I said. “Any advice?”

“Let there be music,” God said in a solemn voice. I nodded. God continued.

“Let there be fire. Let there be brilliance, heat, and force that fractures, reveals, cleanses and transforms. Let the light befriend the darkness, making it gentle and soft like velvet. Let darkness drape itself around things meant to be hidden, preserving the safe hollows where foxes are raising their young. Let the light sing in humble harmony while the baritones and basses of nightfall carry the low, familiar melody of the last song—the song that is sung your first night home.

Let there be joy. Let there be solemn rejoicing. Let there be reveling in joy that knows what it costs. Joy that takes up residence in the mutterings and moanings of a species that preys on itself. Let joy bring the cleansing tears that slide down the weathered cheeks of the rancher out helping the calves be born, facing into the howling wind.

Let there be compassion. Let there be kindness. Let there be a willingness to share the load of firewood and stone. Let there be premeditated unions and permissive individuations and searing partings that speak of what’s been shared—the same beating heart, now two. The eyes that see from within. Let things be known that need no speaking.

Let there be beginnings and conclusions—the kind that come from cell divisions, permeable boundaries, long sips of water, honey on the tongue. Let the dust fly, let the storms brew, let the virginal sky slide open, revealing the well-lit path.” God took a breath.

“We can’t find the well-lit path,” I said. “We’re stumbling.”

“Sing,” God said. “Sing.”

(With thanks to the Missoula Children’s Choir)

 

Valentines

broken heart lightened

God has been making fun of me lately, trying to get me to wrestle, insisting I lighten up. I resist because of this sense of impending injury. God doesn’t realize her own strength, and I tend to fight back, even if it’s all in fun. But is it ever all in fun? C’mon, God. Is it?

God pulls her tickle-fingers back and takes a deep breath, accidentally inhaling millions of locusts, eleven planets, and so much disgusting space debris that she sneezes. I grab a well-installed towel rack and hang on.

“Bless you,” I say automatically. What a stupid custom. No demons are going up anyone’s noses, especially God’s. But I say it and mean it for whatever that’s worth in this strange condition of being alive. And I am alive. Alive in sage green, burnt orange, and lavender paint spread over the chalky primer. Alive in the demolition and reconstruction of shelter. Alive like the probiotic bugs I’m sipping to recolonize my ravaged digestive track.

“Bless you again,” I say, as God’s second sneeze rattles the rafters. I add, “I’ve never really thought about you sneezing.” God rubs her nose and wipes her eyes. “Yeah, I’m allergic to some things you’d never guess,” she says. “And besides, you can’t think of everything. Want me to do a little thinking for you?” She grins.

“Oh no.” I say this in a very firm voice. “No. Absolutely not.” I figuratively wrap my arms around my brain and hold my hand up like a guard at a school crossing. “No.”

One thing I’m clear on is this: God’s thoughts are not my thoughts. God’s ways are not my ways. I prefer my own thoughts. Otherwise, what’s the point? God has grown Vulcan ears, and her eyebrows are thick and angular. “Mindmeld, anyone?” she says, clearly having way too much fun. “Oh my God!” I say, starting to laugh despite myself. “Could you just leave it alone?”

“It, or you?” God asks, and adds, “I can drop a subject as quick as anyone, so yes, I can leave it. But you? Sweetheart, you might think you’d like a little distance, but you can’t understand how bad that would be. So, you? Nope, I won’t be leaving you alone. Ever. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but I’m God. I have certain prerogatives.”

My face is stony, but the glare is facetious. I just don’t feel like admitting my relief. Right now, a nap sounds good. “Excellent idea,” God agrees.

“Yes,” I say. “I’m glad I thought of it.” Then with exaggerated dignity, I crawl into her chest cavity, very near her broken heart, and fall asleep.

 

Bubba

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The Honorable Hugeness Beyond Human Comprehension, Sacred Smallness Down Under, Journey That Never Ends, Fairy Dust That Clings. The Ultimate Lover, Thinker, Forgiver, and Doer. The One and Only Silence. Cacophony. Irritating Rash. Soother of Every Fear–God isn’t picky about names or even who believes and who doesn’t. You can’t prove God; you can’t disprove God. A that’s how God likes it—which makes me very crabby sometimes. But I live with it.

This Holy Energy—and the chats we have, the little tricks she plays—at a personal level, these are generally good. The synchronicities and coincidences tickle me. And yes, they also scare the Bejesus out of me. What if, what if, what if? A God so tiny? A God so enormous? A jokester, donkey, poet, physicist, an artist, a hungry dog? A neighbor, an enemy, the blight on the chokecherries? If you could manifest in any form, what would you choose? If you could speak in any voice, how would you speak? Smooth, seductive? Thunderous? Or in the muted voice of the powerless?

“All of the above,” God says. “I love multiple choice exams.”

“Are you ever happy, God?” I ask, changing the subject. “I mean, really happy?”

“Oh, sure,” God says. “How could anyone be God and not be happy? I’m happy a good deal of the time. But then, time is meaningless to me. So, yes. I’d say I’m happy. What would you say?”

This puts me on guard for some reason. I take a swig of my dark beer and consider drinking the whole thing for once. But I don’t.

“Well, Bubba,” I say, “Here’s the deal: Sometimes I think you hitchhike. I think that when mortals manage to be happy, or joyful, you ride the waves. You gobble it up. Expand, magnify, and revel. I think you’re a joy-a-holic.”

“Busted!!” God shouts. “Absolutely. Always. Forever. I loooooove it. Joy-a-holic! Wouldn’t that make a great tattoo? Maybe burned across the sky, hot orange and midnight blue– wide on the electromagnetic spectrum. Sound good?  Yes!” Sometimes God provides his own answers.

I shake my head as the Creator, the Big Belly Bubba Essence takes over the sky. Behind my closed eyes, in a secret place, God is heavily tattooed, circling Saturn, jubilant, erotic, irreverent. God is an untouchable ecstasy. If you’re brave enough to hang around and watch, beads of sweaty joy fall like stars, and you can put them in your pocket and take them home. But beware. They’ll burn through your defenses and put you on the street. They’ll blind you to the small differences between you and anyone else.

What’s left of this morning’s conversation? Three chickadees and a gaggle of ungainly turkeys pecking the soggy ground. They move with deliberation, wary of each other. Wary of the wind. But blissfully unaware of their indwelling grace. I envy their simplicity. They own this moment and nothing else.

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.”