The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns, or buy gold leaf and stained-glass windows. It won’t insist you fast or twist the shape of your sexual hunger. There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it. You don’t have to veil your face for it or bloody your knees. You don’t have to sing.
The plums that bloom extravagantly, the dolphins that stitch sky to sea, each pebble and fern, pond and fish are yours whether or not you believe.
When fog is ripped away just as a rust red thumb slides across the moon, the god of atheists isn’t rewarding you for waking up in the middle of the night and shivering barefoot in the field.
This god is not moved by the musk of incense or bowls of oranges, the mask brushed with cochineal, polished rib of the lion. Eat the macerated leaves of the sacred plant. Dance till the stars blur to a spangly river. Rain, if it comes, will come. This god loves the virus as much as the child.
I like to take the same walk down the wide expanse of Woodrow to the ocean and most days I turn left toward the lighthouse. The sea is always different. Some days dreamy, waves hardly waves, just a broad undulation in no hurry to arrive. Other days the surf’s drunk, crashing into the cliffs like a car wreck. And when I get home I like the same dishes stacked in the same cupboards and then unstacked and then stacked again. And the rhododendron, spring after spring, blossoming its pink ceremony. I could dwell in the kingdom of Coltrane, the friction of air through his horn as he forms each syllable of Lush Life over and over until I die. Once I was afraid of this, opening the curtains every morning, only to close them again each night. You could despair in the fixed town of your own life. But when I wake up to pee, I’m grateful the toilet’s in its usual place, the sink with its gift of water. I look out at the street, the halos of lampposts in the fog or the moon rinsing the parked cars. When I get back in bed I find the woman who’s been sleeping there each night for thirty years, only she’s not the same, her body more naked in its aging, its disorder. Though I still come to her like a beggar. One morning one of us will rise bewildered without the other and open the curtains. There will be the same shaggy redwood in the neighbor’s yard and the faultless stars going out one by one into the day.
Fallen leaves will climb back into trees. Shards of the shattered vase will rise and reassemble on the table. Plastic raincoats will refold into their flat envelopes. The egg, bald yolk and its transparent halo, slide back in the thin, calcium shell. Curses will pour back into mouths, letters un-write themselves, words siphoned up into the pen. My gray hair will darken and become the feathers of a black swan. Bullets will snap back into their chambers, the powder tamped tight in brass casings. Borders will disappear from maps. Rust revert to oxygen and time. The fire return to the log, the log to the tree, the white root curled up in the un-split seed. Birdsong will fly into the lark’s lungs, answers become questions again. When you return, sweaters will unravel and wool grow on the sheep. Rock will go home to mountain, gold to vein. Wine crushed into the grape, oil pressed into the olive. Silk reeled in to the spider’s belly. Night moths tucked close into cocoons, ink drained from the indigo tattoo. Diamonds will be returned to coal, coal to rotting ferns, rain to clouds, light to stars sucked back and back into one timeless point, the way it was before the world was born, that fresh, that whole, nothing broken, nothing torn apart.
Bad things are going to happen. Your tomatoes will grow a fungus and your cat will get run over. Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream melting in the car and throw your blue cashmere sweater in the drier. Your husband will sleep with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling out of her blouse. Or your wife will remember she’s a lesbian and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat– the one you never really liked–will contract a disease that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth every four hours. Your parents will die. No matter how many vitamins you take, how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys, your hair and your memory. If your daughter doesn’t plug her heart into every live socket she passes, you’ll come home to find your son has emptied the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb, and called the used appliance store for a pick up–drug money. There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger. When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below. And two mice–one white, one black–scurry out and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice. She looks up, down, at the mice. Then she eats the strawberry. So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat, slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely. Oh taste how sweet and tart the red juice is, how the tiny seeds crunch between your teeth.