Five Part Harmony
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
Playing the Fool
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.
Fear of Flying
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 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:
The God of Paunchy-Bellied Men
“Hey,” God said, all cheerful and awake, sitting cross-legged in the living room. “I’ve been writing some poetry. Want to hear it?” It was way too early.
“Uh, sure,” I said, groping my way toward coffee. I suspected I’d need my half-beer too. I brought it along and sat down, as polite and attentive as I could be. God seemed a little shy. “It’s entitled Lavender,” he said. He took a breath and read:
I am the God of paunchy-bellied men
with emaciated butts
and their magnificent
I have gradually loosened my grip
that isn’t lavender.
God paused and looked at me. “Oh, boy,” I thought. “What do I say to that?” I waited, hoping there was more, but God sat silent, trying to hide his neediness. “Interesting,” I finally said. “Tell me about lavender.”
God crossed his arms. “It’s a poetic ploy.” He shrugged. “I like the sound of lavender…and that part about me losing my grip. Dramatic, right? Me losing my grip?”
“Hmmm. The sound of lavender,” I echoed, worried about where this could go.
“Lavender” God said in a frantic voice. “Budding lilac lavender, warm blanket lavender, baby lavender, calming lavender. Or what about acid lavender, neon lavender, dense, alarming lavender? That lavender on the edge of certain molds. So much to consider about lavender.” God’s breathing was ragged.
My therapist heart kicked in. There was something going on here that scared me, but I had to try and help. “Your grip?” I said gently. “And those paunchy-bellied men?”
Black clouds gathered and cracked. Lightning lit the bones of the room. Sadness flooded through broken windows, thin and murky. The apocryphal gruel they serve in soup lines came to mind. It was hard to think, hard to move. Something awful was afoot. I grabbed God’s hand and we fled out the back, down the alley. Hordes of paunchy-bellied men were strewn about like willow branches after a storm. We leapt over the spent carcasses, scrambling, tripping, picking each other up, laughing and crying hysterically.
The alley dead-ended, and a thousand big-thighed women were waiting, like they always wait. They took us in, no strings attached, and fed us a hearty evening meal. Nothing about any of this was lovely or right. It just was.
Utterly exhausted, I rolled myself under a lilac hedge to sleep, but God stayed up until all hours, chewing the fat with the women, reliving the glory days. Their delight disgusted me. “We’re doomed,” I thought as I dozed off. “We’re all fucking doomed.”
An eternity later, God shook me awake. “Shhh,” he said as he took me in his arms. We flew straight toward the fiery orange sun, rising hot in the delicate lavender sky.