Mistaken Identity at City Brew

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There’s one vacant seat, and I ease into it without spilling. Two women to the right share a long forced laugh that ends in an awkward sob. One of them is trying to absorb what it means to have a dead husband. The other one is helping, such as she can. Not long ago, her husband died too.

The man directly in front of me is typing, fast and loud. A swarm of words hovers above his keyboard, landing occasionally on his glasses. He has to wipe the lenses. I’m not sure if it’s words or tears and I don’t want to look too closely.

Sticky muffins punctuate the shiny table, and an older woman, her skin, deep purple, is texting and sipping from a tall black cup while a younger woman sighs, making her way through a stack of bills, paying with her phone. The devil is in the details. But if that’s where the devil is, where’s God? Where are you? Do you hang out in the details too?

Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve dropped a lot of hints about this over the eons, but remember how dense we are, how sheltered, avoidant, afraid. Have mercy, Royal Master of the Known and Unknown. Peek out at me. Wave or wink so I can get my bearings. Who should get the lion’s share of my love and attention? Is there anyone here I could scorn, just a little? I need to scorn someone right now. Oh, how I need to scorn.

A train rolls by. The conductor waves, the whistle blows, I stare out the icy window and then refocus back in the cozy room. Halleluia! There you are! I jump up to offer you the last muffin. I’m a dog, licking your wounds. I’m a bird, nesting in your hair, I’m an apple, a warm coat, a shiny red car. God, do you want a ride? Can I give you a lift? Where shall we go? C’mon God. I need outta here, outta here, outta here.

Oh, no! Not God? Oh my. Excuse me. I mistook you for an old friend of mine. Very sorry.

I’ve caused a ruckus. I’ve been asked to leave. God is laughing from the belly of a very pregnant woman. She shouldn’t be drinking coffee anyway. How could I have known? I cross the street, dazed. I hear the caw of a crow. The twisted feet of a hundred homeless people have frozen to the sidewalk. They can’t move. I can’t move. We will wait for the sun together. I am at peace.

 

Comfort Ye My People

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Can this be happening? An inauguration like no other. With millions of citizens in the United States, as well as perhaps billions across the globe, I keep waiting to wake up from this nightmare. Hate was elected. Hard work was scorned. Lies were elevated to truth. Honesty was ridiculed. People voted against their own best interests. Deception and selfishness won. Fear won. Love lost.

But….It appears I’m awake, and slowly, I realize I’m not alone. God has ridden into the room on waves of heat rising from the wood stove. She’s materializing slowly. I see the luminous eyes first.

Right now, I’m happy to see God, no matter what the agenda or guise might be, but I’m especially overjoyed to see that She’s materializing as the large Black woman I’ve come to love so much. I know that soft lap and those protective arms. For the briefest moment, I think she’s here to comfort me in my abject despair, and I’m so relieved. I want to be her favorite. While I sit in her presence, I want her to stroke my hair and fix all the brokenness–mine and the world’s.

Usually, I snuggle right up. But as I take in the whole scene, there’s no way I’m crawling in, or anywhere near that Holiness. God hasn’t come alone. Squeezed in beside her on the couch, there’s a writhing snake, a belligerent bully, a snapping turtle, a stalking tiger, and she’s situated a frightened little boy on that lovely ample lap. She’s got a whole crowd of greedy, demanding brats stomping on her toes, a rat’s nest in her hair, and vultures circling. She has nails in her palms and a noose around her neck. The crowd is shouting that she should go back to wherever the hell she came from. They want a different God.

“Hello, God,” I whisper, trying to remember my manners despite the terror rising in my throat. “Do you want some tea or something?”

“That would be nice,” she says. “And bring a cup for the new president.” Though I would rather do almost anything else in the entire world, I know she means it. I am utterly enraged. I feel like joining the group near the fireplace chanting “Lock her up.” But I’m trapped in God’s gaze. This gaze is like nothing else. It is pure love. I bring two cups of tea, fighting the urge to put rat poison in one of them, and with a dramatic flair, I set them on the coffee table, spilling a little. I break off eye contact, back my way out of the room, up the stairs, and into bed. I get under the covers and sob until mercifully, I fall asleep and sink deep into the sleep of the dead.

When I awake, the world is trying its best to be beautiful, but I will have none of it. Both cups are empty, the room a wasteland. I clean up the chaos such as I can, but the stains on the new rug are better left alone. I tried bleach on one of them, but it left a thin white spot, devoid of color. It looked far worse than the bright red blood.

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Fire

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Before the snow came, I burned rotten, misshapen wood. Dirty wood, not even worth cutting up for the woodstove. Wood filled with unremovable, wayward screws. Such fires are my last resort.

Enduring the scorn of my carpenters, I save every scrap of wood—wood that was once a seed that grew into a tree that was felled, milled, planed, dried, sawn, hammered, and then, in this case, tossed aside as remnant. I am a gatherer of remnants. I restore things. But there’s a limit, and sometimes, fire is the answer. It burned ferocious and unfettered.

Evening came, the fire died down. I went in to watch gratuitous violence on TV and eat fish wrapped in freezer-burned tortillas. Long after dark, I looked out the upstairs window. Of course, the flames were gone, but to my consternation, the embers were visible. The air was still, but I know well the nature of wind—it can blow up sudden and savage. Not long ago, our neighbor’s smoldering garbage nearly burned our house down. My fire wasn’t dead enough.

Boots, flashlight, rake, shovel, I trudged across the uneven ground to assess the cinders. Things were hotter than I’d thought they’d be. I found a long hose and hooked it up to the hydrant. Water hit and hissed. I put the hose down and stirred the steaming mound. Embers, given a last gasp of air, burst into flame. I let them burn themselves down, down, down, littering the night with airborne sparks. Hose at hand, I admired the blaze for a while. Then I broke the fire apart. Flame fell back to glowing embers. I raked a perfect circle of pulsating orange heat and stared into the hypnotic beauty.

The circle glowed vibrant and seductive. I imagined screams of agony, should I walk across these coals, or sink down through the intense heat to the inverse world below. The vision was potent enough that I turned the hose on full force. Fire, water, earth, and air. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It took a while, but finally, I could put my hands anywhere in the gray soup. It was over.

I walked slowly back to the house, a somber carbon-based lifeform, caught in the trappings of a long-dead Deity. I glanced up. Dark sky came to life. My eyes adjusted to billions of stars, mirroring my true, living image back to me. Minuscule. Vulnerable and magnificent. Stardust, spit, and ash. Ragged, weary, incomplete.

I knew I would be what was left after the fire. And I wasn’t afraid. I tucked myself into the womb of the ever-birthing, ever-blazing God.

Facing into the Wind

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I’m in Chicago, visiting. Bad things have happened in the world. Very bad. A young father, wrapped in his black widow hoodie, hovers over a brand-named stroller. He’s at Starbucks. He is white. His child is rose petal pink. He will order the same drink his entire life, which will be neither as long nor as easy as one might guess. This much I know on my own.

Then, the heavens open, and four horsemen descend. Even before they hit their stride, most of the world bows down. A few try to hide. I casually throw my coat over the child, looking down and away. She’s remained quiet, playing with her hands, which are turning to long green vines. Beautiful strands of ivy. So tender they make me cry. I wish she were turning to stone instead. I wish I were turning to stone, but I’m not. I’m seething, disoriented, weak to the point of water.

God is glaring from every corner, fretting at the customers, darkening the sky. Hurrying the line along. The horsemen dismount, elbow forward, and place their orders. It’s clear they’re not going to pay. They slug each other’s shoulders and point lewdly at younger women. They’re eyeing the baby, making repulsive gestures. As they stroke their filthy beards and move closer, I gag in fear, and vomit. They back up, disgusted, and leave, whipping their horses and shouting joyful obscenities as they disappear over the horizon.

God brings a mop and bucket, and without a word, cleans up my mess. I touch my face. The child. The window. I take her outside and she puts down roots.

Even with the sky black and foreboding, I realize I’ve been saved.

But to what end? I feel an urgent need to know.

I go back inside the Starbucks and summons the courage to tug on the frayed sleeve of God’s flannel shirt. “Why did you save me?” I ask.

“What can I get for you?” God answers. “Wait, let me guess. Split-shot latte with two percent.”

I nod, and accept the foamy drink. “Why did you save me?” I ask again, this time a little louder.

God sighs and gently takes my face in those warm, strong coffee-scented hands. I want to look away, but it’s too late. The eyes have me completely in their spell. “Why did you come back inside?”

Monday

2014-08-29_12-50-26_254-2It’s a good thing someone invented the idea of Monday. Monday forces the issue, kicking the workaday week into reality, another heave-ho, away we go. Monday. Named, it is harder to avoid, even when days march along like soldiers in identical fatigues, lock-stepped, shoulder to shoulder, with only sundown and sleep as divisions.

Hello, Monday. Here I sit, awake, wording-up like a good verbal cowgirl, waiting for the frost to melt and the clouds to lift so I can escape myself. I’m certain I’ll strain my back in the process. My thoughts drift to God, who isn’t welcome right now. I redirect my brain to my lists. Better. But not enough.

I open my favorite breakfast beer. God wants a sip. No. Not welcome. You are not bread. You are not wine. You are not beer. You are a whiny bully who won’t stand up to cancer, or evil, or aging, or even, apparently, untimely death. In fact, you pal around with Death. Yesterday wasn’t funny, God. And today promises to be all bent out of shape because of how you invited Death to stroll along the Stillwater and view the fall colors with you and me. I’ll admit, the colors are spectacular this year, and yes, Death gets some artistic credit. Don’t think that makes up for anything. The beauty is almost incidental this morning. All that matters are my lists.

Leave me alone. I have leftovers to eat, floors to mop, gates to build, boards to move, tools to organize, piles of rotten wood to burn, and burn, and burn. A newly fallen cottonwood offers me shelter, and I’m tempted. I could curl like a fox in the snarl of the uprooted base and sleep in the deep dark nest of decomposed leaves and thereby join the circle on my own terms. Oh, I know I’m being dramatic, but I need some space, God. Leave me alone, okay? Please. Just leave me alone. Your chatter and apologies, your jokes and invitations. I can’t deal with you today. Maybe later, you can help me shed some of these uncomfortable clothes, but for now, I need the layers. In my mind, they are keeping me warm.

Along the Stillwater, Late August

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It seemed like a good afternoon to seek enlightenment, so I asked myself where to turn.

“Turn toward that which brings you joy,” Self said. So I went to the river, not for the water, but for the stones. I knew who’d find me there, but I wasn’t trying to hide. God always follows me around when there’s any chance I’m going to be happy.

It was a difficult visit.

I did find joy. And silliness. Orange rocks with flecks of gold–fool’s gold. I’ve always been fond of fool’s gold. It masquerades, unashamed, as a precious metal, all the while aware of its ordinariness, cheerful and shiny in its temporary stone abode. I considered the eons that will go by before the river rolls this stone enough to free these flecks into sparkling sand. I realized my bones would be dust long before, and I sat down and cried.

Enlightenment. Illumination. Detachment. I wanted to fill up my soul for whatever lies ahead. That’s what I was doing and I wanted to do it by myself.

God knew this and came by anyway. And not only did God come by, She brought a friend. I did a double-take. Death had tagged along. I tried to be polite, but Death could tell I didn’t want to visit, and discretely moved a little ways away.

“I know I’m being rude,” I said to God. She was decked out in river regalia, gray eyebrows and wrinkly tan skin. Kindness twinkled in the bright blue eyes that held me in their piercing gaze.

“Yes,” God agreed. “But you know what you know, don’t you?”

All day, I’d been trying not to know what I knew. “You mean?” I said, quaking inside.

“Yes.”

“How soon?”

“Sooner than later. Later than sooner.” God threw her flabby old arms around me. Clearly, God had gotten too much sun as a youngster. “Mortality is a lifestyle, honey. Not a destination. The event isn’t that important.”

“Then what is important?” I said, angrily. I was troubled. Shaken. Sad. Those arms were not attractive. The day had come apart.

“Come on over here,” God said to Death, who was still keeping a respectful distance, watching the water flow by. “We go way back, don’t we, Sonny?”

Death smiled and nodded, dark hair fluid on his shoulders. God turned back to me.

“What’s important is making the acquaintance,” God said. “Ironic, isn’t it? Knowing the dark lightens things up. It’s better to be ready. Aware.” Death nodded again.

“I am,” I said reluctantly. And I tried to be. I said hello to Death. I didn’t look away.

They both left. I sat on the river bank and watched as the sun colored the sky behind the cottonwoods. There were black spiders everywhere. The stones were crawling with them.  They like it along the river. I don’t know why.

Rhubarb

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I was in the garden on the third day, fighting weeds and despair. A couple sauntered up, arms around each other’s waists. They looked familiar, but I couldn’t place them until they let themselves in the gate and got within a few feet of where I was kneeling. I shaded my eyes and stood with some difficulty. My knees aren’t the best.

“God?” I said, astonished. “Yes,” they said, smiling. They were married, of course. Would God choose to live together without the benefits of matrimony? That’s a question for the theologians. These two were absolutely married, beyond any shadow of a doubt. Beyond marriage, beyond romance. They were joined, as one.

The woman said to me, “Don’t garden in your church clothes, silly.”

He nodded in agreement and pulled her close for a little kiss. “Isn’t she the best?” he said. Then he took a bright yellow bandana out of his pocket and blew his nose.  “I’ll leave you gals to visit.” He squeezed her shoulder, walked to a large stone, and sat with his back to the sun.

She stayed beside me, her shadow rippling over the deep green zucchini leaves. She fingered a strand of wooden beads around her neck. I had more questions than she had beads. They lined up in my head, but I didn’t speak them out loud.

Who are you? What do you want from me? Why am I here? Why do I even exist? When will I no longer exist? Isn’t it a waste of good consciousness, to just let it flicker and go out, like an unfed fire? Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? How would I know?

I could taste the remnants of coffee in the back of my throat, and knew myself to be alive. I smelled like the dirt under my fingernails. Thick clay soil, rich with worms. Clinging. Tight. In need of sand from the river, old stones ground down. In need of humus. Organic matter, ready to give itself to the cause of robust growth, to begin again.

She was watching, silent and calm, her face open, filled with approval. The late morning sun was hot. Dazzling. Dangerous. There I was, no hat. No sunglasses. Skin exposed. Soul exposed.

Suddenly, I remembered the wilting rhubarb I’d picked an hour ago, but hadn’t taken to the house. It wasn’t too late, but I had to excuse myself and dash away. The harvest was scant this year. I didn’t want my rhubarb to go to waste. I felt guilty. It would have been more polite to stay in the garden and visit—offer lemonade. I put the rhubarb in icy water and watched God stroll arm-in-arm upward into cloud and sky, a flimsy apparition of perfection. I wanted to drop everything and join them. But I stood firm, the rhubarb in my hands, tart and iridescent red.