Haven’t you grown tired of these walls?
Swimming in the river until the skin drips off of your back,
The hours are endless when there is only love in the air.
You found God inside a steel-toed bathtub, your teeth aching from waking up too soon in the morning. You crossed yourself crudely and breathed in through your nose.
Your breath felt different, holier, as if the archangels were sharing air with you, simply from the act of your giving yourself over to whatever was watching you inside that bathtub. Something asked you, haven’t you grown tired of these walls?
You call your brother on the phone after your bath, ask him if he has been to church recently and what it had done to him. He doesn’t have much to say about it. You cross yourself crudely in the car. Breathe in through your nose. The archangel in the passenger seat sighs and touches your arm.
It’s raining out. Almost completely dark. You want to savage something. Burst through the walls violently, you want to do the signs that you saw in The OA, the ones that will take you to another place once you tear through the very fabric of the air in front of you. That air is taunting you. Begging you to release it. You cry with the wind, because it is making a sound that you have only taught yourself how to listen to very recently. You didn’t cry for five years, after your sister’s death. You know how precious every tear is, now. You force them from your eyes and cry with breathless, ragged emphasis when they will not yield themselves.
You used to dream in cigarette-laced fantasy, waking with the thought that you would win her bed one day. Now, cigarettes hurt your stomach. Cramp your throat. There is nothing romantic about the smell of decay latching itself to your clothing. Now, she is married, or gone, or just doesn’t want to talk to you, or is right in front of you but lives by another name that you don’t know. That you probably never knew, if we’re being honest. Or she is calling you on the phone all of the time, and it was only three years ago that you met, but those three years feel like ten and you want nothing to do with her other than to quell the sick feeling that you get in your gut that she is a key to your past, and therefore your future. But you put the phone down and walk away. There is nothing left for you there.
You only want to be truthful. But how can you be when you can’t even understand how much the truth has shifted? How it changes as often as the breeze, how the truth may be the eye of the sun on a day it is warm and then turn despondent like the cold of a Minnesota wind during nights when it lashes your back. The truth is a young man, diving into the river, letting the skin be ripped from his back as he is taken further and further away from the shore. He dove into the river out of confusion, to make the statement that his manhood would allow him to weather this danger, only to be overwhelmed and forced to reconsider his power. He gasps for air as his ribs are crushed against a protruding branch. The truth is an old woman, setting out meals for her grandchildren, lost in what her purpose is now that the world has gone on without her. The truth is my sister, trapped and murdered in the concave metal front side of a crashed car, her husband gripping her hands in the final moments, moving on then eventually from the death that was his wife. There is her cat waking me up this morning as he nuzzles me with his wet nose, sits himself upon my face, the cat who has grown old with those who love him but not those who’ve raised him. They are both gone. Pictures of a past life crumpled up in the wind. The photographer shot himself with a rusty bullet and died unnoticed by the rest of us.
The truth could be any of that, and we still wouldn’t be able to catch it. Just as we cannot catch and correct our mother’s grief when it flares like the disease it is, crippling her in the daytime. A boy who has grown up forced to watch these subtle moments of agony is a boy who has a great many questions for the truth, and for God. So much to answer for with so little time, says he.
God, are you there? I think that I am ready to bloody my lips for you. Take a communion of my grandfather’s flesh for you, I have done so since I was a child, perhaps it’s time that I meant it. A professor once told me to cut off the excess of my writing like it were dead flesh, to rid myself of the phantom limbs scratching my body. I take a machete to my faith every other day, just to show that I don’t need it, nor you, my God. But perhaps it is time that I did. I am prolific in my love, so why not in my faith as well?
God, if you strip me down past skin and bones, past my eyelids, if you were to rip my tongue from my head and nail it to the wall, you would find my teeth still gleaming defiantly in the darkness. You would find them living on with a heart of their own. Try to add them to your collection and they will snap your hand in two.
God, why do I write you with such malevolence? Was it not just me describing the boy who sought to find you? Naked in his bathtub, the water moving like waves of an ocean over his skin, exposed and on his back, where was his power to fight back? Was he not the one who sought you out, God, and breathed your name through his crude crossing, as if he were paying Charon of the River Styx for a moment of time in your court? He crosses himself again as these words are being written, looking up quickly from his page to see if his gesture has been spotted. He is still safe in disbelief. But he says your name, tenderly like it were truly salvation, a morsel that dangles in the back of his throat. What say you to that, Father? Mother? Sister? God?
Is he not the one who sees headlights so bright in the night coming towards him that he thinks they must be God, herself? He who thinks that God is a she, because God must be a mother if she is anything at all, that much he thinks he knows for sure. But what mother would let this happen? What mother would stand by as the world grew scabbed in flames and screamed with a broken throat a cry that has always been unanswered?
I am old enough now to know my truth when I see it. I have grown proficient in giving away my secrets to the world. Just like that boy, naked in the water, I picture the river every waking moment of the day and how its waters surround me, and I know that I will not be truly free until every secret has been given away. Want to hear another? I was 17 when I first read Siddartha and knelt beside the river. I have never left it, since. And another: I feel a great ache in my chest that I have only recently learned how to soothe with tears. I don’t know how I survived all those years, a stranger, disassociated with my own body. Was I just a guest within it? How did I see suffering, and the beauty, and not shed a tear for it? Where did those tears go within me? My body must have been a salt mine, ready to explode or to be exploited. Bodies have used it too many times to count within these past years, its gate has been open to all. Now, the body trembles when it’s had its use of another, now a soft note rings through the still darkness after completion speaking of a greater malice to come. I pray that the body has found its soul, once again.
I made a promise after I had grown enough to taste the salt of myself again: I would never be a prisoner within four walls again. Even if I was liberated only within myself, I would know freedom. And I would cry whenever it suited me to do so. The tears wouldn’t come this morning as I’d have liked them to, so I took long, heaving breaths that shook my body and made ragged cuts of the air around me, but I allowed myself to be taken by the emotion. I made a promise that I will never deny myself that joy, nor that pain, again.
I’m watching the cream cut deep into the black of this coffee, and I imagine an ocean of salt licking my open wounds. Whether God is on the other side of the water-bound Island in the great distance, I cannot say.
Ian Powell-Palm is a writer, poet, and musician currently living in Bozeman, Montana. You can find out more about his poetry and his future readings at his Facebook page, Powell-Palm Poetry.