|Jul/Aug 2011 Salon|
Photo by Joy Harjo
"Jesus said, 'Become passers-by.'" —The Gospel of Thomas
I was walking down the Plymouth Road with the Rabbi, and he was showing me stuff.
He showed me this homeless guy who lived at the 79th St. Boat Basin. He'd been a boxer. He was a loser. He died of exposure one cold night.
He showed me this old lady living in a luxury apartment on Grand Ave. in Queens. Her husband died. And then her brother died. And then she started to sell her possessions and her fancy clothes. And they evicted her and she went into the shelter system and was just swallowed.
He showed me this woman who had a cyst on her ovary and told this guy she knew that she was going to die and tried to get the guy to adopt her son. And the cyst was benign and she'd been trying to pawn the kid off on anyone she could find. She was done being a mother. The kid set the apartment on fire and died in the flames.
I was walking with the Rabbi and he was showing me stuff.
"Why you got to show me this stuff?" I asked.
He lifted his arm, and with the rustling of the cape, I caught a whiff of a city-run old folks home.
"We're chasing daylight here," he said, "We don't have a lot of time."
"No, seriously. Why do I have to see all this stuff? What about the other stuff?"
"The other stuff? Son, you don't know what you're asking."
"Oh come off it!"
He lifted his other arm, and with the rustling of the cape, I caught a glimpse of the hyena and the gazelle.
"Son, you're not ready."
He lifted his eyes, and what I saw in the twinkling... I was not ready.
I was walking to Plymouth, and I met the Rabbi on the road. He was laughing.
"What are you laughing about?" I asked.
"Check this out," he said and then held up an iPad. "It's a slide show of all your former selves."
I took a look and winced.
"C'mon, you were so cute!"
"You're sick, you know that?" but I was kind of laughing myself.
I lingered over one of the former selves.
"What was I thinking?"
"I know, right?"
"Well," I asked, "are we going to do this thing?"
"Might as well get started."
He pulled out the straight razor and removed my skin. I stood there without my skin.
"It's still not deep enough, is it?" I asked.
"No, it's not."
"Rabbi, may I have my eyebrows back? The sun is so bright, and I need to squint."
He gave me my eyebrows back. I squinted. I felt the wind on my muscles, so raw now without skin.
I walked down the Plymouth Road.
I was walking down the Plymouth Road, and I came upon the devil. He broke my jaw. Just hauled off and busted me in the chops.
"What you want to go and do a thing like that for?" I asked, all blood and outrage.
"You got a big mouth, pilgrim," he said. "I hear you been talking."
"I didn't give nothing away," I pleaded.
He broke my nose.
"Listen bitch, I decide what it means to give something away! You got that?"
"I didn't say nothing! You didn't have to go and do that!"
"You make me sick," he said. "You couldn't keep a secret if your life depended upon it. You're weak. You're a joke. You're NOTHING!"
We both cracked up.
"Jeeze, you didn't have to really break my nose," I cried.
"What about you? 'I must pay the rent! I can't pay the rent!' You're such a diva!"
We sort of collapsed together in hilarity, me and the devil.
After awhile it kind of hurts your stomach to keep laughing.
"You do know that you can break every bone in my body, and I will still find my way home, right?"
"Yeah, I know."
"Then why do you keep ambushing me on the road?"
"It ain't personal kid, it's just business."
"Anyway, I just want you to know I don't hold a grudge."
"Well, that's just fine."
"That's the way the cookie crumbles."
"You're alright, pilgrim."
"You're not so bad yourself."
I stuck him with my knife like a pig.
They got a room where they keep all the sorrow. It looks a lot like a salt barn in the northeast. In any case, it's very easy to get a pass to enter that room. To enter the room of sorrow.
They got another room where they keep all the ecstasy. It looks a lot like a salt barn in the northeast. And you can wait your whole life and never get a pass to enter. To enter the room of ecstasy.
You go down the road long enough, and you realize that it's the same room. The room where they keep all the sorrow and the room where they keep all the ecstasy. It looks a lot like a salt barn in the northeast.
I've been down the road long enough, and I don't really know what to make of that. It's the same room. It's the same frigging room.
I do remember somebody telling me once that I was the salt of the earth. I can't remember if it was the devil or the Rabbi. Truth be told, sometimes they sound a lot like one another. And if you really want to know the truth, sometimes I have a hard time telling them apart.
None of that really matters, though. They give you a pass to enter the room when you're born. It looks a lot like a salt barn in the northeast. What you do with the pass is up to you.
I was further on down the road, and I met the Rabbi. He was waiting for me and said, "I got something you need to see." And he showed me his iPad and there was just nothing on that screen.
"I know what you did," he said.
"I don't even know how to begin to feel guilty," I said.
"I'm not asking you to feel guilty."
"Then what's your point?"
"Once there was a seed," he said, "and it grew large and became a tree, and many birds made their homes in its branches."
"And that tree killed the lawn and was a bit of an eyesore in the neighborhood. What's your point?"
"Yeah, but the birds... they had a place to build their nests."
"So what? The world is full of opportunists."
"Don't give me that. You know what it means to have others depend on you."
"Once I dreamed that all the trees walked about when we were asleep. It was a lie, wasn't it?"
"I'm afraid so, pilgrim."
"Still, it hurts to set roots..."
"...because they will always be pulled up."
"And birds will always need somewhere to nest," he said.
"The birds... You sent them, didn't you?"
"I sent the birds."
"You're welcome. Now hand over that knife. There's been enough killing for the day."
I was walking down the Plymouth road, my feet like roots newly ripped from fertile soil, flinging dirt across the road.
They got the whole deal set up on the Plymouth Road. It's like a spiritual toll system. You want to get from point A to point B? You got to pay the man. At regular intervals you encounter fearsome angels with fiery swords. If you do not have the secret password—the secret name of the angel—why, that angel is just going to cut you down. You will drown on the steps of marble, you will emerge from the orchard a broken man. And worst of all you will not make your connecting flight.
Because after all, it is all about getting home for the holidays.
In any case, on the Plymouth Road, everywhere you look they got fiery chariots ascending and descending. They got prophets on their way up, and they got prophets on their way down. Ascending and descending in fiery chariots. This is all on the Plymouth Road, you understand.
And sometimes the way forward flows from the cracked lips of the prophet on his way up, and other times it flows from the bleeding lips of the prophet who is on his way down. Either way, you've got to maintain your sea legs when the way forward flows.
Yes, indeedy! They got it all worked out on the Plymouth Road. It's where the weight of your life finds the foundation to hold it! Woo doggie!
Listen up, folks! They're going to try and tell you that you're doomed. I mean, on the Plymouth Road. All the demons snapping at your heels. All those demons—they are just forever waiting to tell you that you are doomed. But they're wrong. You're not doomed. You're just not home yet—gotta ways to go yet, that's all. On the Plymouth Road.
Might as well splurge on a brand new pair of shoes when you know you're going to need them. Know what I mean?
I was walking down the Plymouth Road, and the Rabbi was walking, too.
"I guess we're pretty much stuck with one another," I said.
"I guess," he replied.
And then after awhile, I said, "Never mind."
We just walked down the Plymouth Road.
I was walking down the Plymouth Road—it was just me and the Rabbi—and then we came upon Jesus. He was hiding ridiculously behind a potted plant. Invisible in plain sight. We waved at him and called his name, but he just ignored us.
"You know we can see you," I said.
I turned to the Rabbi, but he was no where to be found.
"You're not fooling anyone, behind that potted plant," I said. "In fact, the whole thing is really kind of infantile. We can see you. I'm just saying."
"Maybe he doesn't want to be seen," the Rabbi said, "maybe you should just ignore him."
I turned to say something, but the Rabbi was no where to be found. Jesus peered out from behind the potted plant.
"But I can see you!" I shouted.
"There's no need to get worked up about it," the Rabbi said.
I was starting to get angry. This was just stupid.
"I mean... you're right there!"
"You really need to learn to let it go, pilgrim."
We just kept walking, me and the Rabbi.
"It just chaps my ass..."
"I'm just saying... let it go."
"He was right there."
I got a castle in my soul, and you can't enter into this castle unless you take off your shoes. God lives in the castle in my soul—but when God enters, even the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost wait outside.
(This is true up to the point at which it becomes a lie. It's not like I'm some kind of Unitarian, or something.)
I got a castle in my soul and it only becomes manifest when I build it. My ancestors used to sing a song: "Working on a building, a Holy Ghost building!" This is what they were talking about. There is always something else that we are doing whenever we do what we are doing. I suspect that what the ancestors referred to as "Wisdom" was the ability to see double.
There is a castle in my soul, and the bride and the bridegroom, they enter therein. They close the doors, they draw up the bridge. What goes on between them in the castle in my soul is not for my eyes. But I'd be a fool not to join the party outside the castle walls. I'd be a fool not to dance to such music.
There is a castle in my soul. I've spent half my life besieging it and the other half trying to tear it down from within. It just always stands. It doesn't feel my assaults. It just always stands.
I got a castle in my soul, and the banners that fly from its spires and minarets are spectacular. They just really are something else.
I was walking down the Plymouth Road, and the Rabbi turned to me and said, "You thought it would be different, didn't you?"
"I guess I did."
"You thought maybe by shedding all that skin and cutting all those roots, you'd feel free."
"But all I feel is rootless."
"You thought that you could just throw away everything you didn't need."
"And all I feel is vulnerable."
"It gets better."
"I know. But I'm not as strong as you."
He laughed. "I'm not as strong as me, either."
That cracked me up.
"We walk," he said, "and it's not personal."
"But it's always personal," I said.
"Of course, it is," he said.
"When I was young, I knew joy, and it was something other than where I came from."
"And then you got older and found out that there was no joy worth having if it didn't include where you came from."
"I would miss you if you were gone."
"I'm never here."
"But I'm not alone."
"Just keep walking, pilgrim. Just keep walking."
"I can feel the joy of the man I'm going to become."
"Just keep walking. Just keep walking."