Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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“If the body’s symptoms are metaphoric, what do the planet’s symptoms tell us? If the rain forests are the lungs, unable to breathe for us? If the ozone layer is our delicate skin? And what of global warming? Our unbridled desire is a fever. Instead of nuclear holocaust, we get to roast on a spit.
I give a ride to a seventy-six-year-old supermarket clerk, whose car has broken down on the side of the road. He says he’s just gone back to work after a heart attack, but still drinks coffee all day and eats nothing but junk food. The doctors have told him to change his diet, stop eating salt. He laughs. The only restaurant food he really likes is barbecue. I ask him if he’s married and he says his wife is in the hospital with Alzheimer’s; she doesn’t recognize him anymore. “But,” he recalls, “what a cook she used to be.”
The day eats its young, the morning sky a crumb on night’s scraggly whiskers.
If I’m naive about what it means to love myself, surely I’ll be naive about God’s love, romanticize God as I romanticize life, insist on a happy ending.
T. scoffs when I tell him I don’t believe in coincidence. No coincidence, no accidents. It’s all part of the lawful unfolding of existence, I tell him. He hates that. He thinks I’m talking about a totally determined universe, which I am, and the absence of freedom, which I’m not. It’s a paradox, I say. You can’t understand it rationally. He sniffs that “paradox” is the refuge of scoundrels, of every new-age huckster who puts a price tag on truth. We circle each other warily, knowing there’s no winner in this argument. Then he starts telling me about his friend M., whom he hasn’t heard from in weeks. A moment later, the phone rings. It’s M. Coincidence? I ask. Coincidence, he insists.
We demand that society change, ignoring how we change individually: with the greatest effort, when there’s no other choice. We change through a lifetime of religious devotion, or years of psychotherapy, or the grinding lessons of raising a family, or a bad marriage or two. It’s tempting to imagine change comes easier — through a weekend workshop, a new piece of legislation.
Shame takes the witness stand. I hang my head.
Not enough time for the poem. But the poem staggers to its feet, wipes its face on the dirty towel, remembers it lives here too, remembers it needs no invitation.
M. laments how much homework she has. I feel sorry for her, so I assure her the work will get easier. Later, I realize I might just have listened, acknowledged her difficulty for what it is, not offered consolation.
My children bigger now than my imagination, big as America.
What a storyteller the world is, holding me spellbound. I know how it will end: great nations will fall; we’ll all grow a little kinder, a little wiser, then we’ll die. Yet I can’t look away.
What if I’ve been completely mistaken? What if everything I know is as facile as a greeting card?
The sentence smiles at me, flashes a glimpse of thigh. Go ahead, it taunts.
J. tells me about his nemesis, a town official who acts as if environmentalism is a Communist plot. The man is so wrong about so many issues that J. gets riled up just thinking about him, and turns his anger into organizing, letter-writing. The two of them face each other at public hearings; their relationship has an odd, passionate intensity. Whenever the official does something right, J. admits he feels disappointed.
In the Chapel Hill Ballet Company’s performance of “Hansel And Gretel,” the wicked stepmother has been written out of the script.
The loneliness that waits for me when N. is away, waits like a huge, shaggy animal who insists on my attention. On the darkest, coldest night, I open the door and there he is, single-minded in his devotion.
Darkness has its place. The sun doesn’t rise at midnight, babbling about its great love.
What does it mean to be against war? I mean the war against self, waged by self for the glory of self.
Let me learn to live for You, think of You day and night the way I’d think of a woman, though never able to earn anything through flattery, never able to touch You or call You my own.
There was a telephone the size of God and I whispered into it.