My current landlord is an atheist; he rejects outright my theological propositions. He does his best to counter my cosmology, speaking of logical fallacies, and asserts instead a kind of humanist worldview, elevating man alone to creator, redeemer, savior. But he ignores the central matter of faith; his reasoning cannot account for its energizing power. Our arguments lead to nothing: he speaks of mathematics, I speak of meaning. We only talk, and talk some more; the very languages we employ cannot be bridged or translated.

His business partners are much the same, for business is a syntax of economics, and the economist is a grammarian of numbers. We schedule daily debates on these subjects, without significant progress. Our dialogues are ultimately fruitless, but he and his partners persist. They are as much missionaries as any television evangelist, yet they are advocates of the natural, rather than the supernatural. When I am not frustrated by their myopia I am amused; they try so to make the human holy.

What they do not know is that the sacred does not, in the end, crumble under the criticism of common folk. What they do not realize is that I am now aflame with faith, and nothing can quench the raging fire.

 

They want to know, in repeated detail, how my Savior came to me. I oblige them, for I can thereby praise my God. I am a missionary as well, of a God they do not acknowledge. And the name of God? The name of God is simple, composed of Latin syllables, the first sacred tongue. The name of God:

Cestoda.

I write that name with hesitation, the pause that accompanies reverence. One does not scribble the name of the Creator casually. One does not toss about the title of the Segmented Deity without a shuddering respect.

When God came to me, when the true God filled me:

I was eating veal.

 

It is in the nature of genuine religious experience to be veiled, obscured beneath layers of translucent cloth. Often, one does not even know that spiritual transformation has taken place until long after the precipitous event. At first glance the face of God is unrecognizable, only another image in the crowd. Later, while steeped in the green solitude of contemplation, one realizes that one has faced Supreme Being.

Such was my case.

I was eating veal, and that food was contaminated with It. I only knew that I was eating: carving morsels, stabbing them with a fork, placing them in the ready hollow of my mouth, chewing slowly, swallowing. But I was consuming God.

 

Until that moment, mine was not a happy life. Those who had birthed and attempted to raise me disappeared in my crawling days; I was abandoned to others. They sustained me over the years, to be sure, but they did not nurture me, they did not provide any comfort in my gray and grasping moments, they did not celebrate my discoveries and victories. They only babysat. Later, I moved often, and paid my rents to a long series of landlords, each the same, all equally uninterested in my final well-being, in my various excitements and exorcisms. Not that I was displeased with my care; they did their jobs perfunctorily, with the proper attention to detail. But I did not grow because of these experiences.

 

I had thought that God was an Other — distant, hovering, the grand keeper of an impersonal scale that weighed Justice against Malevolence, Right against Wrong. I had thought that God was the external father, dispensing the lessons of ethical behavior; that God was the observing mother, conducting the choruses of love and nurturance. I believed, as did the herd, that God took an active interest in humanity’s fate, the foibles and frustrations of our collective life. I could not have been more mistaken. For now I know: God crawls on the ground. God infests the blood, snakes under the skin. God needs us as much as we need God. God is ecstasy, liberation. God is the one who is segmented, infecting, transfiguring.

 

And they wanted to remove God. Does that make sense? No. Such is the logic of landlords.

 

And so Cestoda entered me through the vehicle of veal. God squirmed in a piece of meat, and plummeted down the shaft of my throat, landing with a splash in the acidic seas of my stomach. But even those waters could not destroy the True God; Cestoda traveled the long journey from my stomach to my intestines, and lodged there. And the lodging became a permanent home, and I was filled with the Spirit and Flesh of It.

That was two years ago. I did not know it then, even as God worked Its way through me. I did not know it until God spit: and I saw things of Heaven, of Hell, and all landscapes between.

 

One does not question the dance of God. One describes the choreography, one studies the steps, one honors the dancer. One derives meaning, one interprets the form; but the form itself is not de-formed, undone. Even common priests, of common denominations, do not demand to know why God dances, or to what rhythm or final result.

My various landlords, in their unique ways, have repeatedly posed such sacrilegious queries; at times the aggression of their questions has rivaled the cruelest inquisition. I have told them that I do not know the mind of God, that impermanent flesh can only glimpse such a thing. I have detailed to them the effects of my God, but not Its cause — for I have neither the eyes nor the tongue that can adequately discern or define something so majestic.

And I have told them that my God spits, so that I might see a part of the whole. They say it is poison, injurious. I no longer reply; I have conceded the futility of further discourse. But what I think, to myself, is this: if it is some brand of poison, if this Holiness is a kind of physical degradation, then I beg nothing less than utter corruption of my flesh.

At home in my intestines, God spins, and spits. The saliva of God is carried on the wings of a million cells, up my spinal column, flying into my brain. And there God speaks:

How is it that I am your God? For I fashioned the world as food; dirt, for My consumption. I made a place rich with soil and the flesh of the dead as My dinner fare. For I made you as a temporary palace in which to live and feed. What other God has such power, to create so much only as meals? What other God of the very many needs you so much as I?

With those words God first spit inside me, and spoke.

You will be shown many things, of life, and of death. You will learn that mud is a sacrament, a holy thing tasted, that promises survival of the spirit. You will know that decay is a constant, the leaven of existence. I will teach you to crawl underground, to seek the silent monasteries of damp dark shelters. I will unveil for you the path of resurrection, the art of rebirth once halved. I will let you glimpse the mind of God; I will show you the Way of the Worm.

 

It was shortly after the ritual of veal, and immediately after I first heard the poetry of God, that I began speaking of my experience. Conversion is the father of untempered zeal; unfortunately, I was no different than any other fevered proselyte. In retrospect, my tongue was too loose. Over the decades I had learned that there are matters about which landlords and baby sitters do not like to hear, but such lessons collapsed in the wake of my encounter with God: I was infused, inflamed, infected, and wanted so badly to witness to others.

My landlord, of course, evicted me. He at least had the decency to refer me to my present home. Here, meals are included in the rent, and there is a color television in the boarders’ lounge. Security is also very effective; to my knowledge, the building has never been burglarized or defaced by vandals.

 

Observers may tend to chime in with the landlords, asking, “How can you be sure that this God, this God of whom you speak, is the true God?”

Such a question is unaccompanied by self-examination. I could just as well reply, “How do you claim, without hesitation, that your God is preeminent among deities?” Indeed — Jesus, or Buddha, or the God of the Jews — by what standards and catalogs have any one of them become the Ruler of Rulers, God’s God? Is Allah the true God by virtue of geography, of national language? Is Torah sacred by virtue of scripted calligraphy, or purported authorship? Is the Eucharist transmutable because of family folklore?

The truth is that there are many true Gods, of endless forms and constructions, of myriad colors, of innumerable voices. God lives in Bethlehem; God lives in my intestines. God is hidden in a scroll; God is hidden in a piece of veal. God bleeds on a cross. God spits.

 

I cannot say, however, that my new proprietors were any kinder, or more imaginative, than their predecessors. The domestic baubles they offered — color television, hot meals, and the like — were intended to soothe and lull their tenants into a colorless complacency, a conformity of conscience. But I was not easily seduced. Despite their regimentation and rules, I did not fall into mental lock step. Not that I resented their efforts; I understood their motives entirely. For I had gathered, in casual conversation with others, that the landlords had been cursed by a long history of rude and irresponsible renters, that their ill luck had reached crisis proportions, and that they had struck back by propagating new edicts and enforcements. I sympathized with the misfortune that had caused their response. I only knew that I was an exception to that cause.

Like all owners of property, they were full of many questions. To say that they grilled me is, in looking back, unfair; I understand that landlords must protect their interests thoroughly, guarding their assets through credit references and background checks. But it seemed that the probings did not abate after my admission. They intensified.

 

And the worm spins, and spits, and speaks:

How does one certify deity? One knows the categories of the Sacred. God is wild wisdom, the genius of the lower genus, the spirit of the subspecies. God is a sleek and sensuous dream, lubricated and lively within the ground of mind. God is the stark and startling simplicity of crawling, eating, crawling, eating. God is the image that hewers in the air between nerves, the vision that shoots up the spine and explodes, violent and cleansing, in the brain.

And do I not qualify? Better even than the bloody carpenter, the full-bellied Buddha, the sanctified cloud mass over Sinai?

 

They began asking questions of a patently theological nature. The nature of God hardly seems appropriate to the profession of real estate management, but such concerns did not affect their lines of inquiry. I did not protest; I replied to the best of my ability, explaining as well as I could the Occupier, the Supreme Invader of the flesh. I mapped out the Intestinal Domain of God, I described the ritual of spit and the crawling prayers. Disturbed as I was by the insensitivity of their requests, I did not hesitate to honor Cestoda, to bear witness to the transformative role It had played in my life. I did not even object when they insisted I tell my tale to a friend of theirs, who turned out to be a physician.

 

And the worm spins, and spits, and speaks:

How is it that I am your God? For I hold your flesh between My jaws, poised — I could stay the bite and you would live; I could chew, sawing My way through your veins, your nerves, your muscle, your tissue, and you would die. Is that not God, that your life is nothing more than food in My mouth?

 

He probed with words and metal strips, pronouncing me infested. I knew already, and could have told him.

He recommended that I consume tablets, a mortal food, to murder God.

 

And the worm spins, and spits, and speaks:

They will reject Me, revile Me. They will crucify My existence on the cross of their loveless logic. They will deny the reality of My sanctity. And they will test you, mocking belief, scorning faith, ridiculing. What will you do then?

 

I refused.

 

And the worm spins, and spits, and speaks:

God loves without boundary the true disciple, the martyr in My name.

 

I did not know that landlords, or their various colleagues, had such latitude to compel the consumption of tableted food. Apparently there is legal license for such action. When my legs and arms were strapped down, however, and the pills were shoved into my mouth, I secreted them under my tongue. For how can the believer poison his Savior?

 

And the worm spins, and spits, and speaks:

For the dwelling of God is in the tissue of millions; one home denied cannot exile Me.

 

The landlords discovered the tricks of tongues. They met, and devised new strategies that might kill the King of Kings.

 

And the worm spins, and spits, and speaks:

I know that these assaults on the foundation of faith are pain for you, what torments and tortures you endure in My name. Know that I love you in a fashion, that your being is food for Me, that your breath sustains God. Know that you are precious to Me, that I wrap your flesh around Me, that because of you and millions, God survives. For I am with you, inseparable, constant, until that day we meet under dirt in coiled embrace.

 

Is there no limit to the rights of landlords?

They adopted a new approach to the maiming of God, one involving electric current. Their misguided rationale was simple: they might shock my God in the mind, so that It might flee.

They strapped me down once again, on an altar of metal and wood. I could not crawl or pray, or even call out to my God, for my mouth was sealed. All the landlords were present and cleanly smocked; they scribbled in their ledgers as I lay bound and gagged.

They placed greased metal disks on the sides of my head. They all stood back, frozen, staring blankly into my eyes. Someone pulled a switch. I fell into a volcano and was consumed.

 

And the worm spins, and spits, and speaks:

My Prince of the Waters is the charged eel, and has taught Me many things: how to eat the electricity of the chimps who walk erect, and use it to My advantage. Is that not God, who is nurtured and nourished by their assaults?

 

The landlords continued their repairs, and I began forgetting things. At first they were minor details, of little consequence. I would report to the dining hall for lunch at 11:30 instead of noon; I temporarily misplaced my favorite shirt; it seemed that it should be Tuesday rather than Friday. The slips were not substantial but they were bothersome: each occasion would induce a fleeting sense of nausea and dizziness, as though the extraction of memory were physical rather than cerebral.

As the weeks passed and the electric repairs became a daily affair, the sharp outlines of recollection grew hazy. I repeatedly forgot my room number, only to be discovered napping in a stranger’s bed, or shaving with another boarder’s razor. Time melted into liquidity, a river changing course, with retrograde undertows. I became younger at times, ancient at others. One morning I found myself staring at my shoes for hours, trying to recall concepts of right-ness and left-ness, overwhelmed by the complex procedure of knotting.

My mind was becoming a blank slate on which to rewrite the name of God.

They tested me daily, of course, anxious for a reply I could not give:

“Who is God?”

Cestoda.”

“No! Think. Who is God?”

Cestoda.”

“There is no God by that name. Who is God?”

CestodaCestodaCestodaCestoda.”

 

The days merged into weeks that melted into months. I could no longer remember how long I had been at my residence, or what homes had come before. The sequences of my history were reordered, like a carefully built house of cards thrown up into the air and scattered across the floor: minutes were days, years were contained in a single heartbeat, moments were perpetual. Memory was a werewolf, the archetypal shape-changer.

Drifting slowly through the labyrinths of reason and recall, I began to understand, however slowly at first, the motives of landlords. When the inquisition had been at its most rapacious, and before the repairs had begun, I had come to resent their intrusions, and lived a quiet seething. It had not ripened into open hatred, but had festered as an even dislike, a distaste for their ethical unmooring. In the beginning I answered their questions readily, even gleefully, for it gave me the opportunity to praise my God. But as my testimonies were met with challenge, even derision, I began to react with silence, stoic and staring. That was not enough for them, of course; they had battered on the basis of my speech, and started pummeling away at my speechlessness. That is when, and why, my resentment surfaced. They would come into my room, or I theirs, for endless dialogues between their barking mouths and my set jaw. I saw it as a high price to pay for stable rent.

But the repairs helped me understand.

 

What is the name of God?

Cestoda?

No. Cestoda is the scientific name for the tapeworm lodged in your intestines. What is the name of God?

Cesto?

No. Cestoda is a parasite. What is the name of God?

Ces?

No. What is the name of God?

I began instead to resent the Worm and Its Ways, for They had caused me so much trouble in my residence. Could it not be that, without the Infecting God, I would have no need for repair? Might I not be freed from the miseries of inquisition if I had not become God’s beloved victim? Was there some truth in the contentions of my many landlords? What manner of God would consign Its apostles to such merciless suffering? These were heretical thoughts, at first barely squirming out from the darkness of my mind, and then wriggling in great number, until the debate between me and my inquisitors became wholly internal. And in those moments when I doubted the deity of Cestoda, I began to grope toward an inverse interpretation: that my landlords might be acting in my own highest interests; their intent might be salvation rather than damnation. In short, I began to believe that they might love me more fully, and selflessly, than the Worm.

 

What is the name of God?

Cistola?

That is nonsense. What is the name of God?

Stolan?

Nonsense. What is the name of God?

Cland?

You are closer. What is the name of God?

 

I began to look forward to repairs, for they calmed the whirlwinds in my brain, they dulled the knives and aching doubt. They no longer needed to strap me down; I buckled the leather harnesses myself, and waited eagerly for them to pull the switch that calmed and healed. I began showing up at the landlord’s office early, dressed and ready. Electricity became the door, opening onto the blue expanse that had no history. Electricity became a kind of prayer, leading to the unity of mindlessness. Electricity became the new sacrament, joyfully swallowed in hopes that I might find God.

 

What is the name of God?

Landlor?

You are very close! What is the name of God?

Landlord?

YesYesYesYesYesYesYes. And what is the name of God?

The Lord is my Landlord and my Landlord is the Lord.

 

On that day when I was shown, and knew, it rained, and yet I was so happy; on that day I embraced Landlord and loved him entire, and there was rain, and I was so happy; and on that day I told my God that his desire was mine, and it was raining, and I was so happy; and on that day I begged him to cut me open, and tear out the masquerading worm-god, and he said he would, right away if I wanted, and it was raining, and I was so very happy; and I said, Yes Yes O Yes, and he led me to the operating room, and it was raining, and I was so so happy; and I stretched out on the metal table, and gazed up at the masked faces floating over me, and I was happy, and it was raining; and I smiled at them, and the plastic came down over my mouth, and I was so happy, and it was raining; and I breathed in, and was happy and happy and happy: sleeping and dreaming on the bed in the room of the house the Lord God Landlord had built for me. And it was raining.

 

And the worm spins, and spits, and speaks:

You and all your kind — you are so spineless and dull; even your dreams are tedious trifles. Perhaps that is why I love you so. You grovel before any recommended deity, and elect the witless as your masters and governors. Perhaps that is why I love you so. You smile and bow for anyone wielding sterile logic or electric current. Perhaps that is why I love you so. You cannot craft the stuff of your own minds, but borrow, and claim as original, the clichés of others. And perhaps that is why I love you so.

Can you not see? I offer a whirling tapestry of visions, the ecstasy of clarity. I give you the rough rites of wriggling, that labor and pain out of which rapture is born. I bring you down the hard road, on which you endure most cruel trials, so that you might swim in the light of the Worm’s eternal peace. I propose the choice of a squirming elegance to chimpanzee clumsiness, the gorgeous slimy sheen to your human disfigurement, sensuous segmentation to your wasting yellowed skin. I show you the subterranean heaven you have never known, the Path of God, the Way of the Worm.

And what do they want of you?

To be a good tenant.

Landlords are not gods; they only photograph the soul. They are professional illusionists who pull your heart and devotion out of a hat. They are well schooled in the artful trickeries of electricity and tableted foods, the lances of one-sided debate. Do not be enamored of their bright and shiny words, for their speeches will become as the dirt under your feet, and the speakers will die.

For you know that I alone am your God, and you are My beloved servant. I precede you and your kind by a million years; I ate of an apple in a garden. And after you are gone, mere dust, food in the soil, I will live on, in another, and another, until time itself stops. Then all that are lowly, all that spin and spit and speak, shall ascend to the throne and rule over the final Parasitic Empire; and I shall be at last anointed:

The Emperor of Worms.

 

And when I woke there was the pain of a surgeon’s spear at my side. But it did not matter. For Worm Words echoed in my brain, and I could see with the clarity of the Worm’s Eye: I had become Godless, empty, for they had ripped out my one true Lord. And the terrible loneliness of chimpanzees swept over me, convulsive and desperate; and I sobbed, a flood of tears flowing from my eyes.

 

It was raining.

 

I crawled out of my bed and wriggled from the room, squirming silently down the hallways, invisible. The doors were all barred and locked, but they could not contain me: I oozed under them, leaving the greasy trail as my only mark. I crept slowly down the stairs, dropping patiently from each one to the next, until I was in the front lobby. I snaked through the front door and, seeing no other chimpanzees or landlords, stood erect, a man.

I was free.

The air was hot and wet; the world was a womb I floated through, searching for my God. The rain had subsided and a fine mist, the temperature of my skin, filtered down from the heavens; it was so delicate that I barely felt it as a falling thing, drops, but rather as fluid I moved through, within, swimming. It caressed my arms, my neck, my face; a million soft, moist fingers.

I took off my shirt and let it fall by the side of the road. As I walked my pace quickened: I was avid for God, the One ripped from me.

And I heard It.

I heard the word of God roaring in my head, calling me home, and I began running, at first in a staggering gait, clumsy, then sprinting, racing. The road was concrete and free of cars; and the running became a hard rhythm, each step a leap, a yearning in itself, straining against physical limits, for I heard my God singing my name, and it was music, and I ran.

I sprang from the road, to the right, and crashed into the thick forest that lined the avenue, for that is where the choruses of God took me. Sweat splashed from my face, streamed down my back and chest, clouding my eves and stinging. Branches tore at my arms, a hundred tiny lacerations that rose up as welts; and then each split open, bleeding. But I did not care, for I was running toward the Song of God. My thighs were burning, my knees snapping, my ankles twisted and swollen; but I did not care, for it was the Way of the Worm.

And I ran for a hundred years.

When at last I broke through that wooded place I found myself standing in an empty parking lot. My chest was heaving, my heart thrashing, and blades of pain pierced my ribs. It was raining, still, gently.

I gazed around me.

God was everywhere.

The many forms of God had crawled up from the earth’s intestines, answering the sacred summons of rain. A million Gods covered the parking lot, twisting, turning, stretching, curling into glorious loops and circles, fashioning themselves into the designs of deity. There were infinite variations of God in white and brown and black, all segmented: and they spun, and spit, and sang. They whispered my name.

I wrenched off my shoes and socks, and threw them into the forest. I tore off my pants and underwear, and cast them to the ground. I was naked.

I lay down on the asphalt, in the company of heaven.

I began squirming, the imitation of Godhood. I felt the touch of God on my bare flesh, as It and Its many forms wormed over me, leaving the slimy marks of grace. God gathered on my chest and stomach, wrapped around my arms and legs. God nestled in the hollow of my open palms, nested in my groin. God oozed into my nostrils and ears; God shielded my eyes. God filled the cavern of my open mouth and wriggled down my throat, spinning and spitting, until It found the heart of me. And God coiled around my soul once again.