If being a Christian requires a belief in the supernatural, I am probably not a Christian. I have no mystical experiences to share—or none, at least, that propel me toward belief of a magic man in the sky or a magic hippie wordworker in ancient Palestine who drove demons out of pigs and slummed with whores and tax-collectors. Christianity is not really a pretty story, but the churches tilt toward opulence. I respect the smoke, the glass, the genuflections. I admire the hard-drinking priest.
Most of what I know about Medieval and pre-Medieval Christianity in England, I know through the French, by way of Middle English. The Breton Lays and the Arthurian tales and such—little inventions made to be recited alongside a lute, while ladies dumped chamberpots on the cobbled streets below. We're in the city now, understand, a few centuries past Lancelot and his comrades. They say the idea, the modern idea, of love originated in places like these; a fascinating tale it is and, of course, hogwash. I don't put much faith in truth, though. So perhaps I'm a Christian after all. What I have learned from the Lays, though, is this: if you are a beautiful high-born lass, do not, under any circumstances, take a nap underneath a tree. This I know.
The garden is teeming with cucumbers this year and some very hot chiles that grow upward, pointing at the sky. They are very spicy. The tomatoes are still green. The wildflowers are so wild, they've refused to show their faces. When I survey the backyard I am most afraid that the gigantic oak tree will be wrenched from the ground by an unseasonable gust and smash the shit out of my parents' house, the only house I've ever really been emotionally involved with. Maybe then, post-destruction, I could believe in God. Maybe if the house is smashed, my mother will be forced to re-decorate. I think in a former life I could have been one of those smartly dressed gay men who have home makeover shows on the DIY channel. My own apartment, though, is spartanly decorated. A few pictures of my daughter, a photo of the Clash on the fridge. A small print of a Greek statue of Odysseus' elephantine blue stone ass, placed at eye level next to the toilet.
I believe in poetry at least as much or as little as I believe in God. I don't like poetry that most people are supposed to like. At least not in this part of the forest. I find the idea of “beauty” and the notion of beauty as achievable through language both coarse and arrogant. If I ever have to read another Li-Young Li poem, I'd advise onlookers and passersby to find something to do that involves not being in my presence. Poetry, like God, is best when it is inscrutable. Once, several summers ago, I awoke mid-dream and stumbled out the back door. I was in the country and the sky was inky black. Crickets played their legs in the not-so-distant distance. I stood there for a long time. And then a glow emerged. Faint halos appeared around the oak tree, the rosemary bush, an ancient roto-tiller atop a mound of dirt. Then I turned. It was just the porch light.