[Secretly Canadian/Tri Angle; 2018]
In fifth grade, when I asked my tragically optimistic Catholic school teacher if I could share with our class a story I had written — a conveniently Tolkienesque epic about a unicorn with a magical teleporting necklace — could anybody hear me whisper? There was certainly a lot of muffled snickering and subsequent side-glances when I later chose a set of realistically drawn unicorn stickers as a prize for academic achievement. Of course, Catholic grade school social politics is not reverent. When my class’s porcelain statue of Mary ended up in my half-locker one morning, it was a false idol; there’s nothing hallowed about Catholic school hallways.
Not like Wednesday Morning Mass though; Wednesdays were truly holy. Each Reconciliation Day, I became more and more convinced that Jesus was real-ly present in that Tabernacle, striking fear into bullies, that same fear of not knowing that guided all of their invalidating scoffs and eye rolls. Even if every squirmy body who waited in those serpentine sidelines — sweating in their stiff khakis and fabric store jumpers so that they could eventually exchange fabricated guilt for a prayer or two — went home every night and prayed me away, at least there was peace in that sanctuary.
And music. Truly heavenly music. When our choir director sang solo during Communion, it didn’t matter who she was singing for, even though, if taken literally, or liturgically, it should have been every one:
Gentile or Jew
Servant or free
Woman or man
Even though we have never met, I can sense serpentwithfeet genuflecting in that pew beside me. And even though I couldn’t or didn’t always feel it then, I can feel it now, rippling through each row like waves of Frankincense: love from that space beneath my feet, and beneath that, and beneath that. This is what reconciliation sounds like:
Not all adults are making love,
breaking their backs out of fear
I’m here with you
Not every body in that sanctuary would grow sidewise, bent by dread. I hope that every body in that sanctuary felt love too, radiating from my collarbone for everything I loved about myself, for everything God loved about me. I still wonder: when I whispered “Our Father, Who Art In Heaven,” who among them — entrenched in Calvin and Hobbes books after wracking their brains for venial sins — could hear me? Who could I hear asking for forgiveness for choosing life over darkness? When serpent “quivers” with an entire choir’s vibrato, I can feel devotion radiate my eardrums and it snaps me back into that pew, into that state of awe I have only ever felt on Wednesdays. Despite its associations with inequity, despite how many times I have heard and have been confounded by a Father’s hypocrisy: “wash away my iniquity,” I mourned my mother selling our church pew. It felt like selling God, like gambling in a temple; it was my first inkling of capitalism’s Satanic charm. There’s a trunk that keeps my first handwritten novels:
When I give these books away, will my ink betray me?
Will my stories resist wings and grow feet and convince men that I’m boasting?
Or will my psalms seek the company of lonely breaths?
Will they inspire subtle lovers to kiss with mouths they don’t have yet?
Boy, whoever reads about how much I adore you
I hope my words bring them something new, something new
soil is a crucial psalm; crucial for its queerness, crucial for its catholicism, its pagan roots protruding into sidewalks, crucial for its purity of heart, crucial for how it avoids imperative, softly chiming:
I know you feel too old, but if you whisper, only I can hear you.
I hear you.
There’s a space for you right here in this home.