It starts with an idea that angels could be dirty little children,
or stones, or spires of cement, or thickets of nettly shrubs, or cats
and dogs. Or the lady standing on a sidewalk in minus five doing her
makeup in a palm-sized mirror. What is special, what makes an angel
an angel, is the grinning joy of reality, the peeking underskirt of
the universe's delight, the spirit-tickle of sanctity, showing through
like a delightful joke. And not the person's joke, not the stone's or
the tree's or the dog's or the child's or the woman's, but the universe's
itself, in such a delightfully unselfconscious way that the only way
one can be an angel is first of all not to be in the slightest bit conscious
of the fact that one is an angel.
And so it was. This idea, you see, did not show up internally first,
as they tend to do. It came in the back way: it was a physical entity
first. It was five grinning children in white cotton nightshirts, standing
barefoot in the snowy ground and lifting their arms in what might have
been an imitation of wings. Five grinning children, not singing glory
to God in the highest but physically manifesting it. Not some stern
glory, either, but a rather wobbly and sometimes distracted one. For
unto us a child is born. A new spirit enters the world, an action waiting
to be seen through to its completion. Some of it for me, some of it
for others. And those five silly grinning kids in the snow, just waiting
for God the almighty to call a juice and cookie break.
* * *
I took my leave of Carrie in the bus station. We sat staring across
steaming coffees at each other, each speaking not a word, wondering
what the other was thinking, thinking it best to say little. How much
can be said? Once there was something between us; now there are thousands
of miles between us. She was leaving to make a new life in another city
with another job, and I was left in a Toronto now wiped clean for me,
empty of family, my rarely-seen acquaintances stale past date. The aftertaste
of yearnings and attachments has an aging sweetness, but the promise
of a fresh slate, a city sparkling in the frozen air like new-fallen
powder, is another sweetness. As Carrie blew on her coffee, an angel
walked behind her, muddy-hemmed white dress sweeping the loose papers
on the floor. Oh, what a city! And then I looked at Carrie and her smudging
lipstick coffee-flavoured and I saw in her hopefulness and her
slightly-used floppiness, in her blue hat and the air about her that
suggested that things and persons would be parted with regretfully but
hopefully I saw the same angel. The angel
of the muddy skirts and the blue hats and the coffee that was proud
of getting to be $1.35 a cup. It was just in that breath, I think, that
I realized that they're all the same angel, there is only one angel,
just as there is only one primary blue, only one 440-hertz A, and every
time you see the one or hear the other, it is the same as always but
also its own instance.
And so there are angels and angels, and angel and angel.
My angel. My fresh, new, empty city. And Carrie's angel, in her wet
I began to walk. I have always walked; I began to walk even more. Motion
was my holy spirit.
* * *
My sense was that the angels were even always are heralding the
advent of some new spirit, some saving light; they were, as I watched
them, the forerunners or fingertips of a miracle, of a divine sneeze.
I was a shepherd, watching my flocks by night. As I stood in the front
of the subway train, seeing through the window the blackening walls
flow past me, every concrete tie whirring beneath me another beat in
the anticipatory drum roll, I felt as though I was being sucked into
the future. Bursting into the light of the platform at Bloor, it was
as though I had made it through the after-death tunnel into the other
world, and the down-coated muesli of passengers edging the yellow line
were heavenly hosts. I would step through the door and it would be Christmas
morning, and the truth would be made known after all our living.
Maybe it was the flowers or the bonsai bushes in the underground mall
or the empty fountain begging me to be its water. Perhaps it was the
thrusting, punching, humping music that followed me from the HMV. All
I know is that somewhere in the Holt Renfrew Centre, as I walked between
the four-foot-high poster heads and headless lingerie mannequins, I
became aware that the one who was to give birth was I. Me. The entire
world had turned into an annunciation for the beauty of God, and I was
the one who was going to have to bring it forth.
Quite naturally, I panicked.
* * *
What did Mary feel? Alone in that room on a bed of straw, only twelve
years old, her life neatly arranged for her, nothing to have to worry
about or think about, what did she feel when an angel appeared? And
how did it appear? Did she roll over and realize the light of God was
emanating from a piece of straw near her eye? Did her vision suddenly
become so acute that every atom, every whirring electron, in the glistening
walls was visible, could she hear it hum the music of the spheres?
Mary gasps as she sits bolt upright, dropping sleep like an iron pot.
Something is stirring inside her. He own body, her own soul-manifested
flesh, is creating God, and it presses the understanding into her mind.
Wherever she looks, she sees angel. Door-shaped angel, ant-shaped angel,
shoe-shaped angel, dog-shaped angel, straw-shaped angel, air-shaped
angel. And she knows what the angel's going to say even before the angel
says it, so the angel doesn't have to say it.
The angel tells Mary Mary knows the angel is telling her not to
be afraid. Don't be afraid: that's a bad sign right from the start.
Like when a person begins with "Don't get angry, but . . ."
So she's pregnant. Bad enough for her. But how can the small, insignificant
girl that she is, engaged to a carpenter at that, how can she be the
mother of the great saviour of Israel? It's not a small responsibility.
Either she's losing her mind, or it's true. Trouble no matter what.
How can she be comfortable, insignificant Mary? How could she ever stand
having her name invoked by hundreds of millions every day, as though
she were some rock star?
I understand Mary now, or so I imagine it. Her predicament. Glad tidings
of great joy? What a crock! Doesn't God know my eating habits?
Depression is my delicacy. I feast on it raw like sushi or ever so
lightly sautéed. That sweet taste of "I can't," the
relaxing reassurance that I'm not worth anything. And when I want some
zip, I pour on liberal dashes of anxiety. Nothing makes me feel more
real than questioning my own existence, attempting negation of everything
that's important to me. I can moan in weakness: "To you do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, moaning
and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate,
your ears of mercy towards us, and after this our exile show unto us
the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O pious, o clement, o sweet virgin
Only she's on my side of the fence. How could she go to the other side
of the equation without losing herself entirely?
Now I walk like a madman up and down my beloved streets, my face twisting
with my inner dialogue. I pound on walls at the slightest noise. I am
unbearable. And I am alone: all my loved ones are in other cities. I
have left them all behind, chasing after the rescue from God like a
dog chases a car. I leave behind me a trail of unfinished friendships.
Now I have caught, or I have been caught.
* * *
In the evening pool I float, eyes to the ceiling, ears tuned to the
clotted sounds of the water. It's still in this room, and the water
is warm. The lifeguard shuffles and kicks, walks this way and that,
nothing to do. I flip over and, expelling air, strive for the tiled
bottom, the amniotic comfort of a watery womb. But I don't stay down.
I can hardly even touch the bottom, though it's only four feet beneath
the surface. I float back up and spew my remaining breath into the air.
My angel is here. I know it. Somewhere between the tiles, somewhere
in the spaces between echoes, in the gap between inhale and exhale,
the tentacle of God slips and sneaks. This calmness is resounding with
the portentous peace. Me, I would hide from my joy. If I were to let
it in I would burst.
My life is a balloon full of blood and the angel is a razor.
* * *
Days go by. Sometimes I feel that I am back to normal living, that
everything is as it used to be and my panic was a passing illusion.
Underneath it, most of the time, is the side-glimpsed sense, like an
itch you can feel but can't find, that the "normal" is the
illusion, and reality awaits through the next door, smoke gently curling
from its green nostrils, its squamous tail coiled, tip tapping. And
at moments I am like one drifting to sleep who suddenly jerks awake
as though sparked by a plug, my gradually accreting sense of existence
scattered. I work and bury myself in yes, no, and projects that I must
do. Then I walk and I am alone, alone with my thoughts and fears, and
from the bricks behind me in the after-work alleyway I think I hear
again the angel breath.
The alleyway is empty. I am empty. I left something behind, I left
somebody behind; I can't find myself now. I've tried on all the definitions
and in frustration I've shredded my persona. I'm like the patch of land
where a building no longer is. If these walls up and down this alley
were to evanesce, what would I see? If the brick structures were gone,
or if I reversed the clock to before they were built, what would come
next? Must something be built at all?
I feel that I will have to build myself a new living space. Right now
I'm a squatter in my body, taking cover in the most ramshackle hut in
a barely sheltered corner of my head, a refrigerator box and a few blankets
perhaps. Has there been a hurricane? Or did I blow the walls down myself?
Were they ever there?
If I turn around and go back, will the alley look the way it used to?
* * *
Mary is the angel, projecting her angel-ness on the whole world. Before
she even knew it, she had manifested God, she had become the miracle
in order to bring forth the miracle. Everything she eats now, all her
blood, her breath, her body, all feeds into this child. The child is
made of Mary just so the child can be apart from her and give back to
her the miracle. Or draw the miracle out from her.
Lightning does not come down from the clouds. It comes up from the
ground. The clouds wait; the earth gives.
* * *
It's like waking up.
I haven't had a coffee in months and still I've been a nervous wreck.
I've cut my sugar intake down to near nil and the walls of my mind are
furrowed with fingernail marks. Finally, finally, after tearing
around the palace of my potential being, I found a familiar sofa to
sit on and feel like myself again. I wasn't lost, I'm not lost.
And now this.
Like someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned and opened my eyes
and realized that I had been dreaming and was now in the world I had
forgotten. Back in Kansas with Toto. And you, Auntie Em. You, my omnipresent
angel. You, my firstborn.
It's like that moment in Tolkien when they realize the password to
Moria had always been right before their eyes, wasn't even intended
to be concealed. Not "speak, friend, and enter," but "speak
'friend' and enter." And you, angels, are my friend.
When I first knew the birth was going to happen, it had already happened.
The angels: they're the miracle. The angel is everything. Everything
is the miracle.
But I already knew that.
* * *
On my way home I pick up a bunch of flowers, limply dripping with the
first mists of artificial hothouse spring. I am the bee. I find the
honey where I flit, or I come home to the honeycomb. What will it be?
It will be a table already set, steam rising from pots. It will be a
kiss in the doorway. It will be a comfort I left behind in search of
the comfort I had left behind. It will be a failed sojourn in another
truth, an abandoned voyage. It will be my return as well as hers.
And yet my comfort is in searching, my place is in walking. I can only
know where I am when I am moving.
The kids are there again, only this time they're five superannuated
T'ai Ch'i practitioners swimming their molasses arcs into the air. The
ground is covered with mud and the black slip-on dollar-forty-nine shoes
of the air painters are already battered with it. They dance their impossibly
slow and smooth abstractions and the mud eats them gradually; they sink
further and further into it, to knees and waists, their motions not
slowing, and they become golden black-and-white-topped windbreaker-
or track-suit-clad flowers, waving in their oblivious spirals a goodbye
from the angels.
I want to look at my bible: did Mary see the angel again afterwards?
Having made the messiah out of her flesh, did she even need to? And
having become separate from her miraculous child, having parted from
her night-tickling angel, did she not spend the rest of eternity dining
on the sorrows and cares of others, becoming in her angel-consciousness
the mirror in which all the other, unconscious angels could look and
see the divine fingertips reflected? What things did she, does she,
see and feel?
I am at the door, quivering flowers in hand, lips prepared. I hold
the key, and she is on the inside. And?