Becoming a Ghost: Seeing God

-- photo by Adam Burke
“Wider than this embrace are her wings whose span exceeds the length of her body and which remain cocked at an unsettling angle…” — photo by Adam Burke

‘Seeing God’ is the twelfth and final installment in Daniel Boscaljon’s literary nonfiction series Becoming A Ghost. The previous installments can be found here.

I enter through the gate, its cold irons bound to deter all but the most melancholy. The place is crowded with the thick silence of the dead. Their bodies, encased in caskets, cannot create sounds capable of penetrating the surface. The muffled buzz of their muted thoughts, too deep for me to fathom, weigh in the air like an insensible fog. They saturate the gravity of the place.

I see the reflection of old light on old stone. She and I had walked among the dead during a sunny summer morning. Few mourners had emerged that day: a solitary man with a bald head and a handful of flowers sat with his head trembling above the sod as a woman led two children, filled with youthful disinterest, past a monolith marking a place they never knew. The other gravestones did not seem lonely without the living. I doubted that they missed the departed mourners who were, at best, welcomed intruders. At the time, she and I walked without a destination here. We listened as the insects, lovers of humid heat, droned heavily through the grass and clover. They beat their fragile wings as though their winds would wound death’s attempts to still their inner heat. But their struggles, at most, delayed their entrance into that solemn community into which all will pass, equal at last.

A white obelisk dimly reflects the sun of a late summer day, a second date when she and I had found each other among the dead. An old man with a red cap had straddled a lawn mower and buzzed between the rows of graves for a final time. The leaves and grass were churned indiscriminately into the machine, which exhaled them in a smoke of detritus. The September grass had already lost its verdant aroma: the undiscriminating cuts released a faint fragrance easily overwhelmed by the engine’s odors. Her fingers felt smooth against the rough edges of my own flesh. “I love you,” she said as her smile fought through doubts and terrors. “Do you think that our love is stronger than death?” Although the strength of the summer sun had already begun to wane, its lingering influence still caused my t-shirt to cling against my back. I loved her. “Yes. Our love will never die.” I smile, remembering. Lovers say many things.

I see darkness and shadows of darkness. No sun shines and the silent moon is powerless against the clouds that herald tomorrow’s storm. Even the streetlights, content to be interrupted, enter the inhabitation of the dead through the interposition of tree limbs who stretch shadows forth like so many fingers that blacken the dying grass. The fingers caress me with a final touch, no longer needing to grasp after me. I do not sense unkindness in the cold, gentle touch. All is dim. Our brief visits sparked too few memories left to see among the stones. But I think of the puppy I passed in the alley and know that I have found my home.

I look up and see that my feet have traced their way to her. All paths lead to her. She towers over the tombs of women and sons, keeping watch over them with downturned face and ever-opened eyes. She is vigilant! Nothing escapes her! Her firm mouth depicts a pitiless love, a merciless compassion, something short of the mercy that tempts us to soft justice. Her stony love never fails, flowing from her inhuman heart. Her love demands equality, an equality imposed upon all who sleep in her care. She makes time for us all, but this time passes differently. Her beds are filled by those full with histories and thus left futureproof. Every choice has been met and accounted for—and yet they remain beneath the weight of her scrutiny. When judgment comes, she can attest to their good behavior: “Blessed are those dead who sleep without dreams, for they slumber like the gods!”

Her unyielding body remains suspended in a horizon undersky and overground that persists as a peculiar purgatory. No light shines from her shadowed form, but I recognize it anyway. She is close to what is human and also near to the inhuman remains of the people whose lives became casket-size and buried beyond memory. We have distinct pasts, but our futures—resting beneath her towering and inflexible care—are identical. Her arms extend wide, bridging the gap between earth and sky in the space of her own body. Wider than this embrace are her wings whose span exceeds the length of her body and which remain cocked at an unsettling angle. I cannot tell if she is alighting from the ground or making her home here, close to the earth and its inhabitants (some decayed, some chemically preserved for all eternity).

The darkness behind me makes a sound like the groan of earth settling, and I notice how similar its unlight is to the black angel standing before me. Its inhumanity nonetheless feels familiar to me, a home I had never known to seek. I wonder about her hospitality: would this cold heart be more dependable than the tumultuous woman that I had trusted? I can still picture her delightful smile, the joy of greeting her eyes communicated when my visits momentarily displaced the world’s strangeness. I inhale and smell her hair, taste the coffee that had danced between my lips and her tongue, sipped moments before we had kissed and embraced. Her delight remains remembered on my tongue, imprinted with permanence beyond teeth on flesh. Her laugh still dances dimly in my ears, but it has become a dead thing that I can recall but not inspire. It is a laugh whose future rests as an echo within me; her new laughter erupts for other ears now. Her sly smile is a secret for other eyes to translate. This truth of my love, like every truth and every love, visits with the tenacious irregularity of mendicants and comets. I cannot seize it; it will not be mine.

I want to close my eyes, but I feel the pressure of her stare, stern and stark. She stares at the ground below her feet, and I know that the truth of that truth is past. Like all stories, it is a history that can interrupt the present but never unite with it. The only eternal love is her love: stony and inviolable, impartial and inflexible, colorless and blind. My lover had been prodded by her possessive joy into impulsive impatience, but the sexless figure before me stands still, utterly unhurried. She has all the time in the universe and needs not even bid me to accept the non-existence intended for me. She remains indifferent to my desire to wander, to rest, to sleep, to dream. She knows that I shall honor her claim on me. With her, I shall be complete and know no nothingness anymore.

This is truth: all lives bend toward her unflinching horizon in the end.

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