Do we have guardian angels?
Michael is 83, half Caucasian, half Native American. “There’s graffiti in Zion” he says. “There was never graffiti in Zion”. And he pronounces never ne-VE-r the way you’d imagine a teenage girl would. He explains how it took Americans a single summer to wreck the national park. 3 months during which European and Asian tourists couldn’t visit, given the pandemic. America left to its people. Zion unguarded. “Jesus loves you” scratched onto the Zion Canyon Narrows walls.
As a teen, I went to Jesuit school. Was taught to turn the other cheek. Kiss the toes of my enemies. Love their gentle crimes. A paper cut. A gun. Shoot people but with love in your heart. I let my pencils blister my middle finger as jesus – one word, all lowercase – broke into my life. The lord our father my first idea of success, a tap on the shoulder loud like a millennium, his palm on my skullcap places a white zucchetto, his lips against my earlobe whisper my mission: Redeem the world with the gums of your mouth. And I sink in grace like a small animal falling in a trap.
Like jesus, my dad died at 33. And I wake up the morning of my 32nd birthday, pinch the fat inside my bloated belly, squeeze the marbles away from my navel, onto the yoga mat, facing the sunrise, my nostrils gulping the smell of nearby basil. The young man volunteering at the experimental co-living city we’re Airbnb-ing at films the garden plants. As my triceps turn me into the prophetic cobra, I hope the camera captures this pose too. “The money shot” I think.
But all we do is hope is comb the dreading knots out of our hair, drive the ghosts of time away, shush them to the door so the downstairs neighbor doesn’t leave a note tomorrow. But all we do is laundry is witness the drying electric softness of white towels the promise of happiness, cleanliness the possibility of an island. But all these dishes, smooth and glossy clear ceramic, a silent cry for help. Help. I have lined the chapters of my life like the white pickets of a fence, I have ingested Optimism, my daily bread, my prized oppressor. But I have seen rosemary grow in the folds of the foreheads of the Mount Rushmore presidents – one word, all lowercase. And this was never meant to save the world.
Halim Madi is a queer Lebanese poet with work published in Quiet Lightening, The Racket and Lunate. The author of “Flight of the Jaguar” and “In the Name of Scandal”, they write about queerness, plants that make you see colors and the immigrant experience. He currently lives in San Francisco. You can find more of his work on www.halimmadi.com.