I Believe In
You left when I was a toddler,
before I could sense your soul
so I’m standing in your last house asking
who you were: are you hiding or trapped behind
the sugar shakers, salt grinders, dried herbs,
all reflecting me, hungry for your touch?
But I believe in resolution.
Dad said you really loved me;
something pitched you over
the edge, into headlong flight.
An apron I’ve never known before
hangs off the door like an insult;
it’s meaningless because I never
saw you wearing it, whipping up a treat
for your next family;
it’s a cloth-closed door.
But I believe in second chances.
Dad holding my hand the day after
you left, putting my shoe back on,
letting me find my own balance.
The smell of rosemary is overpowering,
leads me to a horror in the sink.
Drowned and hanging, I look at it
through blurred eyes,
floored by the torn net:
bouquet garni, used and left behind
in the chasm of your caring.
I’m too savvy to believe in god,
or children’s magic
but I always hoped you’d
come back for me, not leave a mess,
a single note of rosemary,
another botched goodbye.
to sit on steel chairs
that freeze their imprint
deep into the bone through
the roughness of our jeans.
Lost in this sterile desert
where even the walls
stink of perfumed antiseptic
I am holding my breath
as my needles click together.
Somewhere else, you
fade into sleep, drift
away from pain. And I
hold my breath and pray
silent prayers to a God
I am not sure I believe in.
I believe in stardust and starlight
the light's dappled shadows playful.
I believe in snowdrops in springtime
and a lone robin's song in winter.
I believe in laughter and raindrops
and rainbows illuminating grey roads.
I believe in the magic of oceans
waves lapping in ripples on the shore.
I believe in the beauty of form
the shaping of grace into utility.
And I believe your perfectly formed
tiny baby feet were
the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
I believe in my love for my daughter.
My beautiful one. I believe she'll wake up.
First: It is so dark.
The darkness is almost agressive. She tries to blink it back but more is there and she does not know whether this darkness comes from her (an inky liquid spilled from her own eyes like tears) or from the outside.
Her body feels somehow separate from itself, separate from her, from whatever her is.
These sweaty toes, blocks of flesh clinging against the sheet, this shuddering breath, this beating brain, the cheek against the pillow, hair in her mouth, none of it belongs together. None of it belongs together with....
Second: A name.
Her own name un-drowns itself from the darkness, like a luminous ball of blue smoke and she clings to it like a Bible but why does it feel so strange. Why should this mean her? Syllables and letters, sounds cannot hold together a body, words are not three dimensional but this is her label and at least she has that...
She sits up. Haphazard. Slightly sideways in the darkness. Top bunk. Of course. That's why her head grazes the ceiling slightly. Top bunk means there's bottom bunk. Means there's someone asleep below. Means Marie. Of course. Mustn't wake Marie. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
And what happened next on the top bunk of Room B on floor 4 (the floor of the convent reserved for the novices, the sisters who had not yet made their solemn profession of vows)was like the road to Damascus inverted in on itself.
She had never really had a moment of doubt before. People spoke about doubt a lot. People spoke about it and she listened with mild perplexity. 'Doubt brings us closer to God. If we work through doubt we can work through anything. Even Peter doubted. Let our doubt make her faith stronger.'
All very well but it just didn't apply to her.
She had always known that there were people who did not believe in God. And she pitied these people, but she could not understand them. She could not imagine how it felt to be inside their minds. How could they laugh and sing and wake up each morning like anybody else? How could they be so blind?
As a small girl she had once sat at the bottom of their garden in the shaded, slimy area by the potato peelings and grass cuttings and tried imagining herself into atheism by whispering the words: 'There is no God. There is no God.' It hadn't felt like blasphemy because it hadn't felt true. She was acting. Playing a part. But try as she might she couldn't believe it. God was on all sides of her even as she spoke those words.
She did not just believe in God. She knew him.
But suddenly, that night, in her third week at the convent, something was happening. Above her she felt the universe rear its head into infinity, beautiful and horrible and careless. The weight of the world was on her shoulders and no one there to share it with.
Those words 'There is no God'... It did not last long, but for a moment she really felt them, deep within her, she believed them, that she was alone and that her feet were kicking into nothingness and that heavenly light was just stars which died hundreds of years ago and that Jesus was dead and that Moses had been shouting into the desert all along. And although she was terrified, horrified, there was a spark, a wave of something like relief. That at last she knew, at last she could understand what...
'Are you alright?'
Marie. A whisper from below.
A click of the lamp and her face appears- bleary eyed, concerned. She always looks particularly un-nun like in her pyjamas. They have not yet had to give away their worldly possessions and Marie still wears her pyjamas from home. An oversized shirt, pink with some French cartoon character leaping on the front of it. Her her is plaited neatly to one side.
'Are you alright? Did you have a bad dream?'
'Will you say the creed with me?'
Marie nods, motherly, sisterly, climbs up to her bunk and takes her hand. Together these two girls, two spots of light in the darkness, or of darkness in the light, begin to murmur.
' I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth of all that is seen and unseen'
A mantle of calm settles on her shoulders and she recites these words. A nightmare, that was all. Soon it will be morning and the bells will ring for prayer. Ring, ring, right through your skull, cleansing your bones and your blood and your name and your... Just a bad dream.