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All he ever wanted was to disappear.
But he kept coming upon himself
as if he were a character in a story who,
despite his best efforts to understand,
remained inscrutable. How he tried
to keep straight the difference between
who the author said he was and who he
thought he was. He told himself again
and again that God was closer to him
than he was to himself. Still, he couldn’t
close the distance. He was always getting
lost in his own plot, going off in all
the wrong directions. His own words
never helped, being always full of
a wild hunger, self-propulsive. Prayer
helped. But even when he heard
a melody not his own, when he’d try
to sing it, what came out of him
was off-key and horribly out of tune.
Each day he went to war against himself,
but he could never disarm himself.
Yet, waking, he’d often relish the new day,
tasting the sweetness of the world
he accepted as an undeserved gift.
And, in its clear and shimmering air,
he’d sometimes see a road that ran straight
to the open door of paradise, though
the moment he started walking,
the day would be diminished by the weight
of clouds that gradually lugged themselves
all the way to the horizon. How
could he not help but think, sure, of course,
just as I expected, just what I deserved?
Once, having travelled farther
from himself than he’d ever been,
he believed he heard God saying, Yes, this way
come ahead, enter, but he was only human,
and thought the voice must be his own.

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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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