Mexico (in two stanzas)

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I

COFFEE

In Mexico, watching a purple bus drift by, I am expansive. I could break into a million pieces of particularity. My coffee is covered against the sparrow droppings, tiny feathers driven down by the trickster wind swirling around me. Moments ago, it grabbed my pesos and I had to kneel in the street to retrieve them.

With these words, I issue a summons to you, God of bent umbrellas, of fuscia bougainvillea, God of soft round buttocks wobbling along the narrow streets. People, larger and smaller than you intended, unaware of their great beauty. I summon you because I do not speak this language. I want to tell them I love them. And they frighten me.

The cobblestone streets have pools of muddy water where the image of God is repeatedly distorted.

God slides into a chair beside me. “Bend,” he says with a heavy Spanish accent.

I am bent.

“Look within.”

I look. There it is. The belly, the underbelly, the future and the past. I’m not among the young, nor the fragile. I’m pale and bewildered. I wonder if something, somewhere, might nourish my roots or clarify the shadows lurking on the horizon. The pathetic little cactus in the door is dead.

God holds the sky. With as much dignity as I can muster, I pay the check and step into the downpour.

II

MASSAGE

It was a nice massage until God showed up. She changed the music to random cosmic sounds and began slinging my head around like a bowling ball, doing long probing strokes down both sides of my neck. Sometimes, God doesn’t know her own strength.

I groaned involuntarily. God said something in Spanish.

“No habla Espanol,” I said, my voice mingled with indignation and shame. This was not news to God, but I wasn’t sure what else to say.

I’ve seen God lurking in the streets here in San Miguel de Allende since that first morning, but until the massage, we’d not had much contact. The colors are distractingly vibrant here; the traffic, the people constant and close. And bells. So many bells calling everyone to Mass. In India, the calls to prayer were just as insistent. I wonder if God attends now and then. Usually, I think she just sits on the side of the road, hand extended, eyes shaded. This is where the devil sits too. No wonder they ring so many bells.

God’s elbow dug into my trapezius muscle on the right. It’s always sore there. I winced. What could I possibly say to defend myself? God was energized, almost giddy. The musical tones and rhythms were accelerating. God’s talons circled my middle, I softened to feathers, and we soared skyward until earth blurred to a massive indistinction, like the abstract art at the Institute, suggesting–but not insisting–on life.

Attacking the morning

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I’ve attacked the morning, vacillating between quiet desperation and grim  determination. God stopped by numerous times yesterday, causing internal turmoil and external chaos. Things went wrong. The septic system backed up, the radios all stopped broadcasting, the window coverings failed, the befuddlement of age scrambled my thoughts. I said sarcastic things, and was almost mean—okay, maybe full-on mean–thus failing the most elementary of God’s little exams. Oh feeble creature that I am. Yes, I can hear the fundamentalist among us quoting Romans to me. Fine. But are you aware that God is both the heckler and the heckled? The wound and the balm? God’s the hot dogs and beer–and God’s the hangover. God’s the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon with a side of caviar, and the species endangered by such excess. God is the manna, and the little organism that made the manna rot.

Here’s what I say to myself: Get real. Get humble. Get over yourself. Get going.

And God, what do you say?

The alfalfa is vibrant; the sky, hazy. The river runs clear, the turkey vultures eat carrion. All the while, the sun grows more brutal and insistent. God is late. She has that prerogative, but I find it nearly intolerable. In my impatience, I run my hand over my face and half of it falls off. Then the other half. My worst fears explode. I am faceless. Nameless. Alone. An old fool, thinking that I matter in some unique way. Thinking I’m something other than ordinary.

My grandmother once told me I was plain. She met my glare directly, squared her shoulders and added, “But you have piercing eyes, and I like the way you see the world.”

My eyes are still in my head, God. But the world looks jagged. My ears hear sabers rattling. My heart is blunted, predicting disaster, doing nothing. I’m glad my face fell off. I don’t want it anymore.

But the potter has finally arrived. With strong, sure fingers, she takes thick clay soil from an undisturbed spot in the garden and recreates the face I will continue to inhabit. It has loose, permissive skin. She calms my soul and kisses the top of my head. “Take heart,” she says. And I know I will try.

We sit down together on a pallet filled with rusted metal I’ve collected. Survey the stones I’ve gathered. It is the sixth day. “It’s good,” she says, finally. “Very good.” And then she is gone.

No Worries

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God and I were talking about how much blame she endures. And flat-out rejection. I told her I felt bad about that. “No worries,” God said. “Rejection is my middle name.”

This was strangely reassuring. Sometimes, I feel defensive for God, and try to run interference. Not because God asked me to, but because I think everyone would be happier if some kind of meaning or hope descended along with the greedy abyss of the evening news. Hope and Meaning are some of God’s first names.

“So it doesn’t bother you at all?” I said.

“Nope,” she answered, but her voice had a slight catch in it.

I took her at her word. God rarely lies to me. “Okay, then,” I said. “But could you try a little harder to be visible? That would help.”

“Nope,” God said, an evil little smile curling her lips. “I’ve gone as far down that road as I’m going to go for now.”

I could see God had slipped into one of her moods. Arms crossed, she towered over me.

“Listen, God. This is not okay with me,” I said in a firm, parental voice. “You have no reason to be so stingy. You’re very, very lucky to be God, and even though we need help, you can be proud of what you’ve accomplished here, with us humans, I mean.”

The room darkened. I gulped but held on. “No. Seriously, you might not be aware of how much prodding and coddling and proof we need,” I said. “You may assume we’ve got it together, but basically, we still don’t.”

God’s eyes burned neon orange through the blackened air. “In no way do I assume humans have it together,” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Okay, then,” I said, still confident I knew who I was dealing with. “You need to make more of an effort to let people know.”

“Know what, exactly?”

I could see this was going nowhere fast. Why couldn’t I argue with God and get results like Moses? I shrugged and backed away.

God got bigger. “Let me tell you something,” she said. “There’s nothing you can know in the way you wish you could know.”

“Why not?” I said, as loudly as I dared. “Why not? What would it hurt for you to prove yourself once in a while?”

“Oh. My. God.” God said. “I could ask you the same thing. Could you just look around? Do you have a clue what I mean when I say I AM?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Well, maybe. But I have to endure a little nausea when my mind opens up that wide. And it gets lonely.”

God gentled down and gave me a knowing look. Layers and layers of skin dropped from her face. “Delight is temporary,” she said, her voice clear and inviting. “So is death.”

We were suddenly at the river. Her bones softened, her hair turned magenta and blew upward in the rising wind. Her body spread across the expanse, a sunset that welcomed the coming night. Oh, how I wanted something to grab onto. Something to own. Something to know. But what I had was water and sky, hunger and soul.

 

At the Hyatt, hiding out

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I’m hiding inside the jagged womb of the Hyatt along the Riverwalk in San Antonio and I happen to be in a very bad mood. Not one to leave me alone for long, God casually dropped a Wall Street Journal on the badly-veneered coffee table and took flight. I peruse the unsettling headlines. A choir of angels wait in line for Starbucks, their badges hanging proudly from their elegant necks. The cacophony of praise frightens me. I wish God had stuck around for a few minutes. And the Wall Street Journal? C’mon God. I toss it aside.

People, so thin, so fat, so empty, so full, so pregnant, so barren, so tattered, so fancy. Bearded, buttoned, long and short. A stooped woman in turquoise joins a youngster in yellow slacks; they dance their way to the river and disappear. I search myself, inside and out, for some indication that I care about any of these people. Most likely, I do not. As a whole, they are mildly revolting, strolling by in their vast imperfections and badly-chosen coverings. They are orbs of self-absorption, sipping and snarking, limping and lying. Filling their mouths, licking their fingers, while I sit and watch from this sagging orange couch, isolated from the masses by my computer screen and the glare on my face.

A man named Mo sits himself down across from me. Clean-cut. Gray. Do I love Mo? No. Emmett? The thin Japanese woman named Janice? Stacey with the suitcase? No. No. No. But what if they were hungry? Would I feed them? What if they were bleeding? Would I dress their wounds? What would I risk to ease their pain? Would I die for them? Each of them? All of them?

God has come back without warning and all the people have now become trees. Willows. Cottonwoods. Oak, maple, poplar. Their limbs, filled with birds and grace, roots exposed, beautiful. As they walk slowly around the lobby, a holy breeze rustles their leaves, subduing the harsh light. The gnarly truth is no longer so repulsive. A merciful perfection has settled over us, and I realize all I have to lose are these few coins in my pocket that were never mine to begin with. I borrowed this life, these coins, this rarified air, and I have mostly forgotten why. William Butler Yeats wrote:

Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun,
Now may I wither into the truth.

Yes, there is a chance I would willingly die for them. In fact, I might’ve already done so. I’m unbearably connected. Suspended in the clarity of oblivion, I realize the choices I can still make.

Everything depends on the fleeting moment and the unguarded soul. Everything.

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The Value of Hate

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I stayed in the city last night. Slept in my favorite closet at my daughter’s little place. This morning, as anticipated, the woman who purports to hate her dog was up early, screaming obscenities through the thin walls. The dog is a little Corgi with the requisite liquid brown eyes, short fat legs, and wagging tail. It has no apparent way to defend itself.

According to other neighbors, the verbal assaults have been steady for the past five years, and include constant haranguing about the dog’s inadequacies and sins: stupidity, hair shedding, eating, drinking, looking, lying down, getting up, needing to go outside, and, well, being a dog. Strangely, I’ve rare even heard it bark.

The few times I’ve seen them outside, the woman walks close to the dog, yelling in an ugly voice. She openly declares her hatred for the dog, as if this will garner sympathy, connection, or even affection from her neighbors or passers-by. The dog looks innocent, but her ranting suggests such horrid behavior that even the most sincere dog lover might wonder about the incorrigible nature of this awful little dog.

So my daughter has orchestrated a rescue. She found someone willing to adopt the dog, and I helped her negotiate all the strange requirements necessary for the dog to move to a happy place. She chats up the neighbor most days now, tries to set a date, listens with patience and empathy, and waits for the dog to be handed over. She waits, and chats. And waits.

My daughter is too young to realize the enormous value of having something to hate.