You’re not sorry you’re alive, just embarrassed. Aware of the burden of your body. How often do saltshakers tremble when you cross your unwieldy legs under the table? How many times do you hug an acquaintance too soon and feel their shoulders droop like dead wings?
You don’t want to die. You want everyone to know that. You just want to take a nap for a week and wake up Rip Van Winkled. Hit control-alt-delete.
When you feel this way, people think you’re a jerk. During church greeting time you look down, overcome with the prickly shame of quiet. People think you’re a narcissist for taking selfies at forty-five. But that picture of you with your terrier gives you something to say when you’ve got nothing else: Here I am. Maybe I’m beautiful. Maybe I’m not. Don’t ever forget me–but don’t try to talk to me, either.
There are days when your sadness feels selfish. How dare you stare out the window of your heated home, following the drunken path of a milkweed seed? Who do you think you are, picking at your split ends until your keyboard bristles with dyed-red snippets? Are you not playing dead while the world lurches on its axis in pain?
You don’t know how to pick up your cross. All the crucifying comes from yourself.
The Holy Spirit is inside you. You’ve been taught this but wonder if it’s true. A dove in a dark mental ward, banging its wings against the wall. A fire lighting up the lobby of a dingy old motel where crazy thoughts check in with their duffle bags of memory unraveling.
Sometimes, by a miracle of will, you decide to walk in the woods. You force yourself up from the couch and double-tie your shoes. If I fall, there’ll be no coming back.
The path behind your neighborhood empties into a savannah (milkweed, aster, goldenrod) then meanders into a thickness of buckthorn and oak. You have taught yourself to hate the invasive emerald leaves of buckthorn, but your synapses spark in recognition:
Those berries litter the ground like bullets. They choke the earth with their self-indulgent growth. The mayapples wither. The trillium droop. The buckthorn, God bless it, will kill them all.
But listen to the red-winged blackbirds shrilling there anyway, throwing their wings around those thorny branches.
You walk and talk to yourself. The mud sucks at your heels. Last night’s raindrops speckle from the highest canopy. The wind blows where it pleases, and you breathe.
You talk to yourself, and by the end of the path, you realize you’ve been praying all along.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Tania Runyan
Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections What Will Soon Take Place, Second Sky, A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was the Conference on Christianity and Literature book of the year in 2007. When not writing, she plays fiddle and mandolin, drives kids to appointments, and gets lost in her Midwestern garden.