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Up in Michigan

How do we know when it’s God?
-- book title by Dan Wakefield

In what way do we encounter the holy?
How do we know it to be genuine?
A friend told me once of being on top
of another man’s wife, and noticing
something cold and sharp set against
the bridge of his nose. Even in the dark
he knew it had the heft of a shotgun.
"Double-barreled, twelve-gauge,"
someone said. Two hammers clicked.
Awaken now, the dream recedes.

A light switched on. When his pupils
adjusted, he could look all the way up
both barrels, as though peering into
two long, metallic tunnels, and see
far away, like stars, the paper wadding
of each shell, bunched up, crimped,
ready to enter his brain. Louder now,
the husband, verging on incoherence,
asking him, over and over again, why?
From a great distance, someone beckons.

I think it would be like that. It could be
no other way. You would know this was
the thing itself. That you were suddenly
in the presence of the ultimate. My friend
explained that he tried to focus on the voice
and its terrible immediacy, but by the smell,
he realized his sphincters had given way,
his bladder had emptied, he had lost control
of everything except this great need to listen.
Come near, I have something to tell you.

Strangely, at that moment, he remembered
his father, dead on the gurney, wrapped in
loose green scrubs, only his face showing,
the vitality gone, the retreat into nothingness
begun – but supremely peaceful, as though
something he had encountered, sacred
and unnamable, all of his life, had finally
revealed itself. As though he had heard
the voice, and at last come face to face.
All that was but prelude to this moment.

And the solution? With no way out,
both barrels pressed between his eyes,
his loins soured by his own excrement,
"somehow I managed to talk to him,"
he told me, years later. "I kept on talking,
until he put it down. He had tossed her
across the room. She got up, made coffee.
We all talked for a while. Then I left.
I never saw either one of them again."
Flat stones skipping across the water.

But he had gone back, once, to the house,
a cabin on a steep bluff, on the west edge
of Torch Lake. It was abandoned, slipped
from its moorings, tilted toward the water.
"There was nothing left. Biker magazines.
Coffeepot. Porcupines find ways to get in.
They need salt, they gnaw anything touched
by humans. Broom handles, wooden spoons,
clothes pins. Chewed down, eaten away."
The widening circles merge, then disappear.