jesus christ means get out of the way* (part II)

first published by great weather for MEDIA


*I was unable to reach God for comment on preferred gender pronoun, so I am using ‘they’


God keeps approaching me: twice in Washington Square Park, on the 4 train toward the Bronx, at the dog park, new doctor’s office while waiting to have my blood and urine evaluated.

God keeps insisting I read their book. Tells me it’s a best seller, but I much prefer the kinds of books no one yet appreciates. I am courteous and never dismissive, but I always explain that though I appreciate God’s conviction, I have a difficult time believing in anything these days.

It’s not that I don’t know what to believe in, it’s how. I don’t know how to believe when there are so many bullet holes and bones around me.

I meet a sailor on a Saturday night and he tells me he prays to the waves of the water. He rubs salt into his skin, as though they are rosaries with tiny prayers sucked into the crystalline. This sailor has eyes bluer than any body of water I have ever seen and I want to dive into them to drown in his dogma. I tell the sailor that when I was a kid, I only believed in God for the desserts. I explained that when I was young, my parents took me to synagogue. While everyone prayed and sang, I braided the fringe on my father’s tallis, waiting for the end where everyone convened toward the giant table with cookies, stale pound cake and Jewish wine (Manischewitz). At that time, to me, God was a pastry. God was a rainbow cookie, which I ate slowly to make it last longer. I didn’t understand the meaning behind the prayers. In Hebrew school, I was restless. I wanted to be a Jehovah’s Witness (because Michael Jackson was). I wanted prayers to emit more miracles.

My mom got sick when I was barely a teenager, and I gave up on God. Desserts still had meaning to me, but were no longer sacred. Just sugar, flour, butter, eggs.

I ingested drugs instead of prayers because they lifted me out of life, into the clouds, out of my body, away from the shrieks of my mind.

I ate books. Hid inside my closet and listened to old radio shows on tapes given to me by my father. I gave up on the word God and no longer frequented buildings where God could be found.

On a different Saturday in Washington Square Park, I sit on a bench, shaded by skyscraping trees, writing a letter to my pen pal in Seattle. Two young ones approach me in crisp white button down shirts, dark pants and name tags. Mormons from the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this park full of humans being human, I feel utterly alone and invisible. Though I don’t quite agree with their word, I listen, telling them how much I appreciate the bravery of their faith. I ask them: Do you ever have doubt? What happens when you just can’t fathom believing anymore. I mention the massacre in Florida. People just trying to celebrate who they were and losing their lives for it. How do you believe after that? I ask.

The youngest one tells me that we are the children of God, but once we are here, it is up to us to make room for everyone. I listen as he tells me that God can’t stop bullets, only we can.

I feel all the salt bubble in me. I ask them how old they are: 18 and 20. I ask what they want to be when they “grow up”.

An entrepreneur , says the 18 year old. 

A husband and father, says the other.

When they walk away, I continue writing my letter, thinking about all the ways in which a body can be depleted, as I frantically search for ways to keep my breaths from dissolving.

what it looks like to believe

Are you Jewish?

A young girl with brown hair gathered into a neatly assembled ponytail asks me this, as I wait for the 4 train on Franklin Avenue.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this. Many times throughout the year, Orthodox men wearing thick beards and dark clothing have come up to me wanting to give me Shabbas candles or call out the songs of the shofar or just simply pray with me.

In the past, I have said yes. But my answer is far more complicated than that. I am not Jewish.

For a long time, I was Agnostic leaning toward Atheist. Perhaps dabbling in yoga has stretched my body out enough to progress my leaning into full-blown Atheist.

It’s not that I don’t believe in anything. I believe in Poetry. I believe in the magic of nutrition and the reward of eating a good meal and my body’s reaction. I believe in gun control. I believe in global warming. I believe in the power of free speech. I believe.

It’s just that I’ve been inside too many rooms where too much has happened for me to still get down on my knees and pray to a / some God.

I wish. And I have thoughts seeped in devoted pleas, but I’m more moved by the strength and rise of the sun, rather than the inscribed stories written in the best-selling book of all time.

In the past, I have said YES to these religious men who have asked me if I were Jewish because it seemed easier to say one word (that they were already expecting) then qualify my atheism. But two weeks into a new year and I guess I just want to stop obliging so much. So, when this young child asked me, I said: No.

Suddenly my body got really, really hot. Granted, I was wearing many layers at the time, but it is Winter and this is the costume we must wear: scarf, several textures of shirts on top of each other and jacket (maybe 2) and heavy socks and hat and gloves and

I was sweating.

Suddenly, the train came and I watched her and her family get on the same car as me, though we were at different ends.

I looked toward her and noticed her notice me.

Then….her father. Right beside me.

“I think you might be Jewish,” he said.

And I couldn’t help but wonder what about me led him to think this. My bright red hair? The curls? Do Jews have dreadlocks? I’m poorly dressed and have been called messy by a number of women. Is that a tip-off? My nose? My thin lips? My dimples?

“I…I don’t practice,” I said.

“Your parents are Jewish. So you are.”

The thing is, I didn’t feel bombarded. I have a bias against men like him: white, middle-aged. But he wasn’t a man standing in front of me, handing me candles for praying and a pamphlet. He was a devout believer. He wasn’t pushy, nor did I feel threatened by his question in any way.

And I wonder. Why don’t we do this more often.

We ask: how are you?
We ask:
what do you do for a living?

But what about:

Are you a Poet?
Are you happy?
What do you believe in?
How do you find a way out of your suffering?
Are you hungry?
What are you reading?
What words stain your wrist?
Where do your tears come from?

These men…this child…they are bold enough…such unwavering believers…that they are fearless. They go up to strangers and ask them this question without any judgement of their answer. Both child and father looked deep into me. My NO did not matter. They saw religion in me. Even if it is the religion of poetry; it is something.

I feel my feet curve from side-to-side in my black boots that are torn and have a not-so-secret hole in the soul sole that invites rainwater in. My migraine is back like a lover that I never loved in the first place. And the pain in my mind tries to take me away from my day. Smothering. Debilitating.

But in the evening, I fall against poets and we pray without finger-clasp. Without stained-glass windows or angels or illuminated memorials. We toast to words and I feel the belief inside them. And I don’t even have to ask. Although…I think I understand the power of hearing one’s answer.

an acceptance speech

Thank you. I mean, I was not expecting this. This comes at such a deep surprise. I am just shocked! I am so, so shocked. Me. You called my name. I was really ready for you to call someone else up here. All those other women/writers/artists/poets/queers/scribes. So talented! They should be up here. Really. Really. I am just blown away. Blown. Away. Shocked. Did I mention how shocked I am?! (beat) What? Oh. This? Well, I happen to have a few notes down. Some names. This piece of paper happened to be in my pocket. I mean, I guess I just carry it around for moments like this. You never know, right? Well, I was nominated. So, I should be prepared a little, right? I’m shocked! I just didn’t expect to…oh, the music is already starting? OK, just…just let me name off some people who you don’t know, people who I barely acknowledge throughout the day. Let me mispronounce my agent’s last name. Give me time to thank people who I have yelled at due to overstress and lack of manners. Can I just thank the person who made today possible? I mean, that person who liked me before my name was in lights, on books, on stages, in auditoriums, followed by four stars and praise? (beat) Oh, umm, I forgot to write that name down. Well, how about I thank my teachers who I never appreciated at the time it mattered most: when I was in their classroom. Wait. I need to thank my parents who I tend to forget about on ordinary days and well, I guess I often use them as fodder for my writing. You know, no good writer had a happy childhood. No one wants to hear about family dinners or a supportive, non-threatening mother. Oh! I should thank my partner. Not the one I’m with now. The one I am really in love with. I’d like to thank the mistresses, the ones who filled my bed when all I wanted was an orgasm without the conversation. Can I thank them too? I’d like to thank all the ones who helped me to workshop this into something so much better. Taking out those semi-colons definitely made a difference! What would I have done without you! I should thank my best friend..umm..well..I guess we don’t really talk much anymore. But…’s just because we are all so busy and. Shocked. I…I am still so shocked. I was not expecting this! (beat) Oh, the music is getting louder now. Well, hold on a minute. I need to thank my publisher. My mentor. My babysitter. Planned Parenthood for sliding the scale down to something I could afford. I’d like to thank my barista. My driver. The 24-hour bodega that always has what I need. So many people to thank! I said my parents, right? And my wife? Well, we will probably separate after this. That always seems to happen, right? Who else? Shocked! (beat) Well, I can barely hear my own voice now. That orchestra is quite loud. I’d like to thank the orchestra. trainer. Thanks for telling me to stop eating. Emaciated looks great on me, don’t you think? Oh! God! I must thank God. None of this would have happened without God. (look up) Forget world peace, a cure to cancer, AIDS, those other diseases. You prioritized. I got this award! Thank God!! Thank God. Bless you all!