|Table of Contents||Destiny||Here But Not Here||Sleepless Night||It Should Be||Sheer Red Beauty|
"Do you believe in God?” I asked him.|
"Do you believe in life after death?”
"Do you believe in heaven?”
I paused. "What if something really bad happens to a person?”
"Then it was going to happen to them. From the moment they were born it was destined to happen. There was no avoiding it. It was going to happen.”
I crave a kind of clarity about God and death that I don’t have. I always feel lost in the fluidity of being alive, how things are constantly growing and shrinking, inhaling exhaling ingesting digesting spewing forth growing and shedding rebuilding and wearing down, falling and peeping through, growing light then dark then light then dark then light then dark then light then dark then dark again.
When my brother was killed twenty years ago, my sunniest friend who I had known since I was six years old said, "It’s as if you were preparing for this your whole life.” For many years after, I got pissed off whenever I thought of her saying that. Who died and left me the Czar of agony?
I think the leaves are destined to fall until something else happens. I do not think that religion is the opiate of the masses. I think it is harder to believe in something than not to, and certainly harder to admit that you believe in something. I believe the leaves will fall until something else happens.
I believe in God.
I love God. I am just not certain if the feeling is mutual.
My old boyfriend used to say, "Religion is the opiate of the masses.” I think he felt the quote was stylish. He used to say, “I was raised Catholic but I’m an atheist. I’m raising my children Catholic so that they will have something to reject.”
"Do you believe in God?” I asked my husband in the beginning. “I don’t know” he said. When I was pregnant I asked him, "Do you believe in God?” “Yes,” he said “I think I do.”
When my husband was killed my old boyfriend called on the phone to say he was sorry. After I said "thank you for calling” as politely as I could muster, he said, "God give you strength,” and I wondered what that meant, coming from a Catholic atheist.
"Do you believe in God?” a complete stranger asked me one time in a coffee shop. I think she was thinking she could save my soul. "You know, when you ask me that,” I calmly said to her, “I feel like you’re asking me what kind of underwear I’ve got on.” Her face turned red and she walked away. I finished my cup of coffee in peace.
|Like a life captured on film or just a millisecond of that same life that a group of people called 'your-ancestors-to-be’ can sit in a room and watch. It’s like that. Someone turns the reel to reel off and the images start to overlap, what was and will be overlaps, genetically predetermined and never ever the same; so that the person being watched in the film slows down and the viewer’s sense of before and after, father and son, fear and resolution, seed and zygote, overlap, blur the standard five senses so that something else, some other sense, maybe called 'faith’ can develop in order to combat the winding down.
Trying to avoid his nap my son Jacob gets very close to my face and says, "Mama.” I open my eyes. "Yes?” I say. "Your eyes are green,” he says, "and they have circles in them. My eyes are green too.” "No, your eyes are blue,” I tell him. But he is right about my eyes -- they are green and Jacob’s father’s eyes were brown. The blue eyes my son has were a fluke, reminding me that Jacob’s father’s grandfather, who I never met, the only blue-eyed person in three generations, is here. Here but gone. Not here.
"That’s Daddy,” my son says of the father figure in a Disney movie. "That’s Ariel’s Daddy, not yours,” I say. Sometimes I will add, "your daddy is dead, but he loved you very much.” There is no way to explain it to him, so I just observe as step by step he becomes more aware, though he is still several years away from being able to understand what has happened and even more years away from understanding that there is no reason why and no way to really understand it. I don’t say, "Your father is not here but his love for you is” because I don’t know if I believe it -- that love is stronger than death, cannot be destroyed by death. And if I don’t firmly believe it I can’t convince my son of it. So I tell him how much his father loved him and I try to remember how his father held him and specific things his father said and how he looked when he said them, so that my son will know that I’m telling the truth, and will feel how much his father loved him, even though he can’t understand what love is yet, except in a wordless, completely trusting, timeless way. Such are the limitations of childhood.
And I suppose, like my grandmother who I remember, and her mother before her who I never met, I am also here and not here; already faded into what might be but isn’t yet, the reel-to-reel clicking slower as the tape pulls free and the grandchildren and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren sit in the dark listening for the future as the film whirs down to a stop.
P.S. Not long ago I turned off a busy road onto a scenic side street. I rounded a bend, driving too quickly and suddenly came upon a tractor with an old man and a young man riding on it. I didn’t know them but I could see that they were already in the past, that I was seeing them from seventy or eighty years into the future, and that I was part of the same time frame that they were. They looked at me and I looked at them and then I quickly pulled out and passed them, since it was almost dusk and I had to get home.
|My son weaves his way into my room at 3am with his pacifier in his mouth, dragging his blanket, but the pattern has changed slightly. Instead of saying, "Mama, come lay down,” which means he wants me to come sleep in his bed with him the rest of the night, he says, “I want to come up.” He wants to come into my bed. I was so exhausted one night recently that I lifted him up and let him sleep next to me. Oedipus be damned. He grinned with the novelty of it. He laid there giggling for a minute and then quickly fell asleep. I didn’t. I had just barely fallen to sleep, even though I had gone to bed hours earlier.
It was not my thoughts that kept me awake: it was my body, jittery with change, my own physical version of King Lear -- all storm. My thoughts were just an outcome of the storm in my heart. Or my thoughts had become so physical that they were not occurring in my head anymore but were breaking through in the alternate rushes and paralysis, waves of heat, thirst and sadness occurring all at the same time.
This is what it is like to be alive. We start out sleeping completely peacefully curled up next to our mother’s breasts and then end up dreaming wide awake, electropsychosexual currents overloaded, ideas like hail pinging off the walls. And then you have to get up to let the fucking cat out.
I didn’t sleep the night I gave birth and didn’t sleep for 48 hours after that. Finally I said to my husband, "Please, please, stay awake and guard the baby. I’ve got to sleep.” He never questioned the insanity of my request. Guard the healthy wheezing newborn? From what? Choking to death or sudden infant death or getting too cold, I think I imagined at that time. But my husband just said, "okay,” and I could finally sleep. I didn’t sleep the night my cat died, but followed her as she stumbled around the house, walking the perimeters of each room, looking for a place to die and finally doing so at 7 o’clock the next morning just as it was getting light out. I didn’t sleep for two days when my husband was killed. I knew how much it would hurt to wake up. I also remember not sleeping in college in my dorm room with the sink in it and the two story hemlocks and fire escape. Those were my first years in the Hudson Valley and I was discovering how loud the birds are here in the morning.
Daylight is always a relief after these sleepless nights are over because it means that at some point in the not-too-distant future complete exhaustion will set in and I will fall asleep and my body will regain its equilibrium. It’s rather annoying, really. Birth, death, love and sex keep getting in the way of a really good nights’ sleep.
It should match, flatter and enlighten the creator. It should not take more than 3 attempts to understand. It should sing.
It should lessen anxiety, increase pleasure, and leave everybody wealthier, happier, and without disease, neurosis or heartache. It should breathe.
It should not take much time or seem to nor should it interrupt others. It should not be hard to pronounce. It should not wither in the sun like a tomato plant without water, nor jealously take over the woods, creeping across the forest floor and climbing up the trees like poison ivy. It should cool, calm, soothe and renew.
It should, should not, should, should not, should, should not be spoken lest it lose its power. It should spring from the earth, dance awhile then lay down and die. It should salve the thousands of pilgrims walking toward Mecca. Bethlehem, Jerusalem, or Fresno California. It should not in any way shape or form summon the idea of Utah.
It should whisper everything you need to know right before you need to know it and then enable you to forget. In fact it should in the blink of an eye induce deep and thankful forgetfulness. It should not seize and remind.
It should like water seek its level and simultaneously embalm, dampen, coalesce and recreate a single day in anyone’s childhood anywhere at any time and replace that as many times as it takes. It should get green in the summer and be covered with snow in the winter. Speak when spoken to. Provoke the beloved back from the dead. It should but it doesn’t. It would but it can’t. It isn’t going to. At least I don’t think so.
But it might reverberate if played right. Might entomb my turbulent mind and take recourse in the idea of the sea which should be lightly salted, gently sauteed and given a chance to bloom, to bleed, to do what it needs to do in order to become what it needs to become.
It should be simple, to-the-point and not make the reader feel like running out of the room. It should endure. Writhe. Remind. And of course, whenever necessary, be conducive to uncontrollable bouts of laughter and tears.
|Sheer Red Beauty|
I dream of a promised rose,|
the flower of the proletariat
blooming on Mother Theresa’s forehead.
I dream of a thread to the future
woven into time by all the small tasks
I perform day after day
out of necessity
and love for my son.
I imagine the prescient star of humankind
will not always have this python of greed wrapped around it
and that the rose will bloom
and out of its sheer red beauty
free the enslaved.
LYNN BEHRENDT is the author of two chapbooks: The Moon As Chance and Characters. She edited the poetry chapbook series called Lines which published
work by Kimberly Lyons, Mary Egan, H.R. Stoneback and others. Her work has been put to music and performed by the now defunct alternative rock band, The Blind Pilgrims. Ms. Behrendt also wrote the text for the 1998 Ernest Hemingway Cosmic Player Plate at the CBA. She lives in Red Hook, New York with her three year old son Jacob. |
Poet's e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vol. 16 Contents
Main JCBA Plate