I was in love with God for one afternoon. Twenty, alone on a beach, I dropped rocks by the edge and watched the ocean wash gray into blue, brown into red. An hour of my crunching steps, the clack of pebbles, the water’s rippling response. Never mind invisibility. We were the only ones, and I so intoxicating—sand-blown hair, denim cut-offs, no reason to believe anyone’s faith could dissolve. My prayers were as certain as the stones I threw, the answers as sure as the cove’s blue floor.
Like the invisible coyotes that streak through the woods to the fringes of our town, a bawling wind of voices. They’ve come too close, the village complains. Perhaps. I’ve heard the squeals of chipmunks caught in the fur-fire. People plug their ears, follow their dogs out at night. But still, I open my window to their shrill, persistent haunting, fall asleep to the blessed assurance of a pulsing, moon-ticked pack loping over the fallen leaves in the darkness, working together for some kind of good.
Twenty-five years after Praying the Prayer, when my new life was supposed to snap in place like elastic, the smell of crisp, store-rack cotton propelling me to run with endurance toward a finish line I could not see,
I lie on the couch with a sour-smelling terrier curled in the crook of my leg. Today I will bathe him, punch through three Keurig cups, run a trumpet book to the grammar school. No martyrdom here, no preaching in the streets, though tomorrow I might plant another bag of daffodils so in April I can kneel in the gold and thank All Things New once more.
But now I turn my eyes to things above in the window, squirrels gibbering in the canopy of my backyard maple. I doze and wake to their claws skittering down the trunk, mentally etch the face of Christ in the bark.
He doesn’t need me. He wants me. Neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, tired nor on fire. I will slip into newness again, fluff the shaking, sodden dog in His name as He drapes me with his soft and silent weaving.
There is no waking without him. The creases in your sheets remind you his job is to mess with your life. He stalks you into the kitchen where the coffee splashes your hand then flings you to the cold baptism of the faucet. No, you will not forget him when he swerves you to the edge of the snow bank and overrides your heartbeat, when he hunts you down with "morning by morning new mercies I see," the rhythm cutting your thoughts like a blender's metallic pulse.
You wish he never knew that sometimes you want to grip a god you can leave behind, the cool bronze calves of a statue you can visit in a temple down the street, a straight-faced fellow happy with an offering of a charred bird or two. You could finally be alone with your luxurious fears, escape into the woods without his breath blowing the leaves into your path, the expectant open fields of his hands waiting for you to swipe in your crumbs.
On the tollway just south of Kenosha spring sets the boarded-up porn store ablaze, topaz dousing the peeling paint, the harp-notes of ice on the gutters. On the embankment home geese gather in the mud-slush. Tractors lift their beams to the rising temple of a new overpass.
I outlasted winter, four months rumpled under snow. On Christmas we woke to a broken furnace, the baby's fingers carrot-stick cold. One night I skidded off the patio steps. Most mornings I stared out the window, wondering how far I'd driven my life in the ground, asking the darkness how much longer.
I kill the radio. Just the hum of the motor, the pitted road, my slow, steady breath like the syllables Yah, weh. I didn't work at this joy. It just appeared in the splash and shine of I-94, as suddenly as these Frisbees and sand buckets in the roadside yards laid bare by the shrinking snow.
We fought for one more sputter of the old life. Even though a breeze passing over your sieve of skin could send you screaming, you muscled up your diaphragm to whisk more air into the fire.
I held my own terrors to my chest: failures and brush-offs, cancers and crashes, all the anxieties I had grown to love heaving and cracking like your ribcage until we both gave out.
Then there was the mess of prying us loose: wailing women and splintered lumber, flesh stubbornly sticking to the nails. But what swift hands, that Joseph of Arimathea, what purposeful footsteps crunching the ground!
He wrapped us in linen and spices. Only the hapless world could think of packing fifty pounds of aloe around a dead man’s wounds. But we drank it in like deserts until finally even the lizards scurried home.
I lay in the cave and wanted to touch you, but my hands were no longer mine. They closed in on themselves like daylilies. The stone rumbled over the window of light, and then our difficult rising began.