Plumbing

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In the wee hours this morning, God shook me half-awake and said in a swaggering voice, “You want a piece of me?” and from a place howling with threats of winter, I heard myself yell, “NO! Go away.” But my words were garbled. Embryonic. I didn’t think they’d made it to full expression. I assumed my body reabsorbed them like it reabsorbs so many of my ill-conceived notions and radical impulses. By the time I was eating toast, the wind had died down, and the day looked like it would roll out ordinary.

“Well, what would a piece of you look like?” I asked God in a conciliatory tone.

“Obviously, that depends on which piece,” God said in a chilly voice. Maybe my words had hit the mark after all. It was clear I’d hurt her feelings, but what’d she expect? It was night. She’d snuck up on me. God is quite reactive sometimes. I fought an urge to be cold back and instead, took a breath and forced the door to my soul open just a crack. It was early, but I thought I could handle a little exposure.

“What piece did you have in mind when you woke me up?” I asked sweetly. Okay. Maybe not that sweetly. I knew I was being passive-aggressive, and I knew this was a stupid way to be with God, but I couldn’t help myself. Being dependent runs against my grain—especially being dependent on a God like God—She He It They—defenseless child, free-range parent, doting auntie, stalking lion, friend and foe. Who can blame me? Any piece of God is bound to be hot.

“Well, for one, I can blame you,” God said. “But I don’t.”

“Right,” I said. “Exactly. This is the crux of the matter, God. Any piece of you is going to illuminate my pitiful little life, and my eyes are going to sting from trying to adjust, and the gloom will seem preferable, and I’ll know it’s not, but I’ll long for it anyway, and then, another day will have come and gone, and I won’t have saved the world, or myself, or even the rhubarb.

“Too bad,” God said. “But there’s not much I can do about that.”

“Yes, there is.” I glared. “For instance, if you’d stop letting pipes and valves corrode, break, freeze up. and flood the barn, I could devote more time to helping others.” This was feeble, but I was really, really tired of the mundane, thankless tasks of the average homeowner in the average community in the average scene in my average world. Wasn’t I destined for greater things?

God shrugged and grinned. “Dream on,” she said, and handed me a short-handled shovel. She looked determined. Pleased with herself. Ready for action. “Today is for digging,” she declared. “And if we find the leak, so much the better.”

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?”

Nada

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God wasn’t present in any noticeable way this morning, but I had that spidey sense she was hovering somewhere close by. I thought maybe a little chatter would draw her out. “God,” I said. “Sometimes you and I have a communication gap. And I can see why. There’s me. An average, timeworn human–two bumpy hands, a couple of creaky knees, an increasingly unreliable memory, sporadic compassion–and then there’s you. From what we’ve observed so far, you seem to have created 10 billion galaxies, each of which averages 100 billion stars—one, (one!) of which is the fiery orb asserting itself in my own little sky right now.” I tried looking deeply impressed. No response.

“You are absurdly, incomprehensibly intangible, nonbodied, nonbound. You are without need for breath. You are breath. You are beyond time. It’s a toy of yours. You have no name and every name. You are the namer. We have little to nothing in common, but here you are, hanging around.” I thought maybe admitting I could sense her would cause a response. Nope.

“God, look,” I said. “You’ve always treated us humans with respect, even when we amputate compassion, act like idiots, and appropriate the idea of you for our own ends. I wish we didn’t do that, but you have to admit you’re difficult, you big old lunk of creativity. You tiny speck, you source of suffering and disaster, comfort and shelter. You ladybug, sea monster, apple fallen close to the tree. You infectious laugher, chill of death, you decomposer. You teller of the final truth. Most of us don’t like the real you very much.

“I know,” God said, finally speaking up. “But I’m grateful when I can absorb even a little bit of liking. I make do with very little.”

“Someday, I won’t exist,” I said. “Then what?”

“Do I exist?” God answered.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Then, darling, we have something in common after all, don’t we?” God took a long swig of an awful tasting green smoothie I’d made and spit it back in the cup.

“Good lord!” she said. “Why in the world do you drink things like this?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “In fact, right now, I know nothing.”

“Excellent answer,” God said. “You’re lying, but that’s okay. It’s an aspirational nothingness. Another thing that we might have in common. Eventually.”

I thought about that for a minute. Yes, I know nothing for certain, but I speculate endlessly, grabbing what appears to be solid, holding on for dear life. We are splintered, me and God. But there’s something. Something. Or maybe I have it wrong. There’s Nothing. A deep, resonant Nothing where our trueness will finally be at peace.

“Could you give me some space?” I asked God. “Today, you’re too much.”

God gave me a regal nod and complied. In the dead silence, I was as bereft as I’ve ever been. And as loved. And as complete.

Hair

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“Hey, God,” I said. “If you waited tables at a pub, and you’d been hired for your beautiful breasts outlined by your tight tank tops, would you shave under your arms or let the delicate curls of dark hair define that space?”

God raised an eyebrow and shifted his weight. He was posing nude for a crazed-looking Italian painter. “Depends,” he said.

“On what?” I said.

“If you were a burly guy would you grow a long beard?” God asked.

I recoiled. I don’t like long beards. “Why is body hair…I mean, why did you even…why do we grow it? Shape it? Color it? Add more? Why do we shave it off?” I wasn’t sure what I was asking exactly. Back when I was a hippie chick, I didn’t shave anywhere. This bothered my family tremendously. I’d jokingly blame God, saying that’s the way we were created. My sister would counter with “And that’s why God gave us razors.”

“Things evolve,” God said. “Your fur used to have a different purpose, but now, with all that creative energy and your nascent consciousness, you play with it. I get a kick out of the wild ways you decorate yourselves.”

I thought about my chemo-baldness and how it felt to have my hair come back. I thought about Afros, Mohawks, gray hair, purple hair, plucking, waxing, chemicals, wigs. Lately, I’ve been favoring blue.

The painter handed God a silk robe and signaled it was time for a break. God sipped his tea and stretched. “Hair is a way you express yourselves. Like art. Like words,” he said. “I haven’t run the stats lately, but I imagine most first-worlders spend more money on their hair than they do on the poor.”

This made me want to gnash my slightly yellowing teeth. God grinned and said “Boom.”

I went outside to pull some weeds, muttering. Like it’s easy to know what to do for the poor? Like it’s easy to find a balance? Go gray? Go bald? Like we can handle the shame society inflicts if we fail to contort our exteriors to look as young, faultless, and beautiful as possible?

After a while God came out and started helping with the weeds. He looked preposterous in his shiny robe, kneeling in the bright sun. I got him a straw hat and said “Do you want some sunblock?”

“You know,” God said, ignoring my question. “I fancy myself up all the time. Blankets of stars, blooming jasmine, burning bushes, spectacular storms that accentuate my cheekbones.” He glanced back at the painter, who was standing in the doorway. “I’m even thinking of cataract surgery so I can see myself more clearly.”

“That’s brave,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to see myself more clearly.”

“Takes practice,” God said. “It helps if you remember who you are.” He patted my shoulder, waved to the painter, and joined a flock of starlings circling overhead. I sat, bleach-blond among the withering weeds, trying hard to remember who I am.

What the Worms Know

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Clear sky. Clear blue sky. Warm sun. Dark, wet soil. Worms at work underneath. Fat worms, translucent. Harmless. Grass. Green and growing aggressively. Dandelions with long roots. Grass with longer roots. Mint and iris, competing, roots and bulbs and a very blue sky. Me with a shovel. Me with dirt. Rich dirt, fully alive with whatever creatures live in dirt. Hello, creatures. Hello sun. Hello God. The backyard, dancing a circle dance, hands joined, feet first, collapsing into the arms of spring. Laughing. Not menacing, not hysterical, not messed up. There’s always rain in the forecast, blight on the horizon. But Now is perfect. Cautious, but perfect.

“Not quite,” God said. She was digging. “Drop the caution. Therein lies perfection.”

“Wrong,” I said. “Therein lies foolishness. Therein lies disappointment. Therein is falling on my face. I prefer a bit of caution with my Nowness.”

“Sorry to be insistent,” God said. “But I’m right on this one. Perfection exists only without caution. Let it go.”

“God,” I said. “Look at this worm. Have you ever seen a fatter, happier worm?” I didn’t want to keep arguing. God either wins outright, or my day gets all tangled up. Avoidance is an excellent strategy.

God took the worm in her hands and examined it. “No. Or at least hardly ever.” She gave the worm a holy kiss and ate it. “Thanks,” she said, licking her lips.

“Gross,” I said. “Why do you have to do things like that?”

“Protein,” God said. “Pure protein.”

“Yeah, but why not a nice charbroiled steak?” I said. “Or at least rice and beans? There’s something twisted in you, God. Very twisted.”

“YES!” God said, twirling around the raised beds, her skirt flaring, her eyes flashing fire. “Twisted. I am a twisted, uncautious dude. Therein lies my perfection. C’mon.” She held out her hand.

I was tempted. Sorely tempted. Overly tempted. The dirt was warm and welcoming. The melody, ancient, familiar. I took the hand of God and we joined the circle, dancing like folks at the end of a wake, loosened by liquor, sorrow, and song. It was a wake for all that is dead, all that is dying, all that will be born anew. It was my own wake, and I was dancing. It was a wake for what I’ve known and destroyed. We danced more and more frenetically. God and I. It was beyond. We were somewhere and nowhere. I couldn’t let go. I won’t let go.

“Fall,” God said. “Fall on your face.” I hesitated. She wasn’t taunting. She was serious.

“Okay,” I said. I was delirious. Intoxicated. I fell in the mud, naked and without excuse. I rolled in rotten leaves, ate the bitter buds of dandelions–and I was saved! Just like that. Saved.

 

Ordinary

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The morning had gone exceptionally well so I took a minute to say thanks. God shrugged and said, “Everything’s not about you, you know.”

This seemed harsh, but yes, I was a little self-focused. From my personal perspective, slightly magical things had been happening. I’d found four of my favorite coffee mugs at Goodwill, as well as decent boots, muffin tins, and a bigger strainer for my kefir projects. Why not give the Universe a hug back?

“Because smooth sailing and blue cups prove nothing,” God said, arms crossed. “Cancer, heart disease, bad breath, and broken hearts mean nothing. They just are. They are neither omens nor proof.”

“I don’t think you understand,” I said. “That’s cruel. You have no idea what it feels like to be chronically grasping at meaning, vacillating between faith and futility. You have yourself with you all the time.”

“You’ve got a point there,” God said. “But I don’t have it all that easy either. I like seeing you happy, but when you get bogged down in misattributions, I feel the need to adjust your sights.”

Now my arms were crossed. “Fine,” I said. “Adjust away.”

Nostrils flared, stars tumbled, oceans flattened, and rudely awakened from geologic slumber, mountains rose angry and jagged. My hair fell out, my eyes rolled, and there was nothing anywhere to hang on to. Nothing but the vague and slippery idea of God. It hardly seemed enough, but it was all there was. Believe me. All there was. No blue cups. No muffin tins. No loving reassurances. No monsters to kill, no diseases to fight, no paths to discern. Nothing but this idea beyond words—this translucent whisper of the only truth, the only source, the only finality.

“Uncle,” I said to God in existential agony. “I give up. You win. It’s all you. I’m sorry I’m so needy and temporary. I know you’re lonely, even though you’re everything. But what can I do? I’m nothing.”

God startled. “Sorry. I may have over-done it. It’s true you’re nothing, but I forgot to show you that you’re also everything.” God started to fill her lungs for another out-breath.

“Stop!” I shouted, hands over ears, eyes tight shut. “Maybe another time.” I didn’t want to be everything. I needed space to pull myself back together. I wanted a kind of coherence that cannot be spoken. I longed to get in my dented old green van and drive beyond the vanishing point, contained, alone, and untouchable.

“Shotgun,” God said, trying to open the door with the broken handle. Laughter burst from the center of my self-aborption. I was delighted that this bumbling, apologetic God was determined to ride along.

“Okay,” I said, and added, “Thanks for those blue mugs, you old scalawag. I’m not as gullible as you think.”

 

Your mama told you there’d be days like this

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In the southeast corner of my life there’s a perfect circle of stone visible to anyone uphill or airborne. The northern boundary is an entirely different story. It’s a river that shapeshifts with the seasons. Water washes over the fallen cottonwood, gouges the mountain, and settles in deadly eddies.

Today, it is all too much, and paradoxically, nothing is ever enough. Not God, not people, not earth, not sky. The small and large injustices plaguing me have metastasized and lit the landscape with a cold, blue fire.

Some small part of me lives in fear. Lives in fear. Lives in fear. I’d like to kill off that part and live with more grace. That part would like to kill me off and reign as a vicious sovereign. Usually, I keep her underground and undernourished. Today, I am sorely tempted to throw her red meat. Why not? The world is awash in sovereigns eating red meat. I myself am mostly red meat.

God is a stretch of long gray sky, atmospherically unstable. Dead in the way of winter. The first signs of spring arrive from the grave—weeds, spiders, mud, and hunger. Mating rituals begin. Some will die showing off their antlers or plumage. Some will be passed over and never bear fruit. So what? That’s what I say. So what?

The gardener has turned the soil. The physician has opened a vein. The old woman is wearing her apron. The migrant has crossed the border. A child has been born. They are all doomed with the dignity of temporary flesh, but as they hold hands, as the world turns, as the rivers flow, as rocks hold firm, as the ozone shreds, as the species evolve, as fatal floods fertilize and recede, a certain and tragic joy remains. I want none of it.

For now I will stubbornly inhabit the illusion of autonomy. God has agreed to stay west of here, busily mixing the colors that will mark the setting of this particular sun. “Thank you,” I murmur, aware of the costs of such holy self-restraint. God nods.

No one goes it alone, but glittering fools pretend otherwise, and sometimes, I join them, peering at the world through my homemade periscope. With carefully-placed mirrors, you can create endless images of the same thing.