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.

Tweets

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God tweeted “Not white” and followed that with “Not male.”  Followers gasped and tweeted “Not God.” God laughed and tweeted “Not moon.” And then “Not American,” using gleeful hashtags and emojis. This triggered such a massive unfollowing, Twitter managers pitied God, and granted a stay of execution.

“People.” God shook her massive head as we sat with our feet dangling in the water. “Do you think there’ll come a day when they stop squeezing me into their image?”

“Doubt it,” I said. “I do it all the time, and I know better. You’re impossibly big, and we’ve discovered how vast, how tiny….Um, let’s just say the Known Universe isn’t even known very well. And yes, we did appear to be evolving nicely there for a while, but the wheels have come off. Looks like the retrenchment will be hell to pay.”

God sighed. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Okay,” I said. “Do you know how foolish I feel continuing to hope compassion will overcome hatred?”

“Yup,” God said.

“Or that gratitude will outstrip greed?

“Yup,” God said.

“Well, how about this: I like to imagine you’re going to swoop in and get even with all the bad guys—utterly destroying them. Bam. Humans are really into revenge. Including me. We all hope you are too.”

“I knew that,” God said. “And I’m not.”

I gave up. I wasn’t really trying. We were just making small talk. By the river. On an innocent day. Time enveloped us and came to an end. I slept, body on stone, as the sky thickened, turning the colors of a Navajo blanket. God lifted me in fatherly arms, and I snuggled into that hollow spot where shoulder meets neck. The essential scent of God filled my lungs. I roused myself enough to invite the entire world—no, the entire cosmos–to come sleep there with me. Protected. Somewhere beyond fear or reason.

And God made room. Just in case.

Sun Stroke

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It is early afternoon. God has arrived wrapped in a comfortable silence, a silence more welcome than river or sky. Profound. Eloquent. Invisible. Soothing. I drink in big gulps, aware of how perilously close I was to sun-stroke of the soul. Here, in the shade, the sweet darkness, the shelter of the womb, I am restored. I curl fetal. Passive. Receptive.

“Hello, weakness,” I say. “Hello, futility. Hello, starkly cold breath of God.”

Silence holds me like a baby. I’m a simple puzzle, easily taken apart. The silence doesn’t mind. I’m easily put back together as well. It’s been unbearably hot lately, an unforgiving sun claiming the right of way, scorching anything exposed. Defying the clouds, reducing the breeze to an occasional sigh. The meaningless heat strips my excuses to the bone. Subtleties melt away, dreams forgotten. The God of heat is relentless, deadly. The only way to survive is to find the darkness and repent. Crawl down, dig deep, sink into a place below the surface, where shadow befriends the weary.

God politely waves from a respectful distance, leaving the holy silence unmarred. I wave back. God pulls the silence closer and shakes it a little, like someone fluffing a pillow. God likes it here in this moment. In this nothingness. I’m glad we’re both at ease. I put as much gratitude into my gaze as I possibly can. Then God and I nod off. A little siesta, a full relinquishment of our ambitions and fears. We give up together, letting the afternoon be whatever it might be. We rest.

There’s a dark night just over the horizon, and after that, more sun. I’m vaguely aware of this, but I stake no claim on what might come. God’s breathing has slowed, deepened. Like my own, it rattles a little on the exhale.

Brian Doyle–a tribute

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I almost knew Brian Doyle. It was a near miss, and a loss for me. He died in his sleep yesterday, taken out of his earthly body by a brain tumor discovered last fall, only weeks before we would’ve been introduced. I owe Brian Doyle this blog. I mean the whole enchilada, not just this one measly tribute.

Last summer, as you may remember, God suggested we (God and I) co-author some short pieces, and in a slightly addled state, I agreed. I wrote, and then emailed the pieces to sympathetic friends, acknowledging how strange they were. I usually cried at the end of each one–something that made them seem inexplicably authentic to me. But I wasn’t sure what else to do. Then my friend Marianne, in one of those great round-about ways, showed my work to someone who’d heard of Brian Doyle. This person read a couple of these little pieces, named them “parables,” and thought Brian Doyle, who had actually published such things, and might be a good connection for me–someone who might make me feel less alone.

So I kept writing, bought some Brian Doyle books, and found we were, indeed, soul siblings. He obviously had my same co-author, and an advanced, enviable writing style–endearing honesty, long runs of home-made adjectives, off-beat insights, joy, despair, grace, and goofiness. But it was too late. By the time I’d written a few more, Brian was very ill. I watched and listened from a distance, and decided to create this blog in his honor. I don’t think he ever knew, but I bet he does now, as his spirit-drenched molecules dance unhinged and free from his near-sightedness, bad back, and cancer. His last prayer/letter/poem included asking if God might let him come back as an otter. This is one way Brian and I are different. Coming back as an otter is not among my top ten preferences. But that’s okay. The commonality we likely all share is the sense that being human is a great privilege. Life is short, with sprinklings of wonder. But so much goes unanswered. So much potential, squandered.

It reminds me of the last lines of W.S. Merwin’s poem, Words from a Totem Animal:

Send me out into another life

lord because this one is growing faint

I do not think it goes all the way

Brian, you’ll make an awesome otter, if that’s how it goes. Our co-author may have even more spectacular plans for you, now that you’re floating in the Vast Mercy, wrapped in the Sunrise, swaddled in the Ferocious Lap of Love. I think I see you dazzling into points of light. I think I hear you laughing like a mad man. But for now, in our earthboundness, you’ll be greatly missed—even by strangers.

Not Fair

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My brother loaned me his rototiller and I haven’t returned it. He says he’ll come get it if he needs it. I say well, that’s not really fair. He says whoever said life was fair? I mutter something like well, at least I should try to make it more fair. He just smiles.

“Hey, God,” I yell, after my brother drives away. “Whoever said life was fair?”

“Not I,” says God. “I’m not in charge of that idea. In fact, it’s a childish notion I hope you’ll outgrow someday. Who gets more candy? Who sleeps on the top bunk? This is okay when you’re seven. Tiresome behavior for adults.”

It began to rain. It rained on the river and on the cracked, thirsty garden. It rained on the pavement and on a spring wedding somewhere. The wind picked up and blew so hard I gasped for breath. It blew down a tree, it blew waves in the water, it blew away the simplistic demands we make of our shrink-wrapped God. The rain came sideways and the real God shimmered, at ease in the liquid uncertainty we think of as life.

I started a fire. God shook like a dog and joined me. My fate in the hands of rain. My days in the arms of wind. This chills me to the bone. I rub my stiff hands and sip tea.

“Justice is different than fairness,” God says. “You know that eye for an eye thing?”

I nod, wary.

God continues, patient. “That’s the upward limit. No more than an eye for an eye. But less is better. In fact, I favor forgiveness and compassion. Your species is more likely to survive that way.”

“Duh,” I snap at God. “Justice. Mercy. Compassion. Humility. I get it.” I pause and calm myself. “But I don’t think it’s fair you aren’t helping us more.” I smile. God smiles. It’s good we have these little chats.

My twinkly-eyed friend with his infectious laugh will soon be dead from the cancer he’s carried for decades. I can eat a second or third salted caramel while I write this. When I turn on the news, likely I’ll see a child bloated with hunger, floating on a crowded raft. I won’t gag. Maybe I should. God, should I gag?

The rain pounds down and the river’s rising. No answer. No answer at all.

The Nondominant Hand of God

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Peeling enough old carrots to make carrot soup involves a lot of peeling. As I made my way through the pile, my arm got tired and my fingers ached, so I switched and tried peeling with my left hand. Since I’m right-handed, this required an increased level of mindfulness, which I exerted for the few seconds it takes for my mind to wander off and my hands to surreptitiously switch back to their comfort zone. I caught them doing this three times.

Why do most humans even have a dominant side? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to be equally coordinated on both sides? Dualism bothers me at any level—dominant/nondominant, strong/weak, pretty/ugly…but the shallow assertions of good/bad bother me the most. Context and consciousness exert enormous influence on what is considered good or bad. Maybe this is why my buddy, God, said “judge not, lest ye be judged.” Well. God may or may not have said that exactly, but it’s a good thing to consider. And God went on to imply that we’d be judged by the same standards we use on others. I have a bit of work to do in this area. I cut myself a lot of slack that I don’t necessarily cut others.

For the fourth time, I switch to my nondominant hand. It clumsily scrapes the peel off the carrot, and I try a new tack. “Thanks, Left Hand. Not so easy for you, huh? Hang in there. You might not peel as fast, but you’re important. Look at the relief you’re providing Righty.” I feel a wave of affection for this left hand of mine. My hands don’t try to switch back. Lefty peels valiantly. I admire the tenacity, the humility. My left hand doesn’t aspire to much. It tags along.

Is it possible that God has a nondominant hand? And if so, could God’s nondominant hand be her favorite? The one she used to mold the rolling hills? The one that dispenses gentleness? The one that reminds her of the relativity and circularity she’s set in motion–the stuff we refer to as creation?

These orange carrots. These aged and battered hands. This moment. This body. Breathe in. Breathe out. The oneness and completeness we keep taking apart to examine and label–the fragments and shards that have no home. If time were real, I’d ask God how much longer we’d be living like this. Then I would forgive my enemies. My heart would expand and crack open, and this would be the beginning and the end.