In the Marvelous Dimension

By Kate Daniels b. 1953 Kate Daniels

Affliction is a marvel of divine technique. It is a simple and ingenious device to introduce into the soul of a finite creature that immensity of force, blind, brutal, and cold. The infinite distance which separates God from the creature is concentrated into a point to transfix the centre of a soul.... In this marvellous dimension, without leaving the time and place to which the body is bound, the soul can traverse the whole of space and time and come into the actual presence of God.
—Simone Weil

(John)

Until then, I’d never liked   
petunias, their heavy stems,   
the peculiar spittooning sound   
of their name. Now I loved   
a petunia for all it was worth
—a purplish blue bloom   
waving in a red clay pot outside   
an office window. My right eye   
could see it through the shattered   
windshield. My left eye had gone   
blank and the roof of the Camaro   
pressed my head flat back on the seat.   
I diminished to my right eye,   
which could only see, past the wreckage,   
that one little flower. I felt myself   
growing smaller, like Alice,   
a trick so I could travel   
out of there, to that ledge   
where a petunia waved in the dust rising   
from a fallen-down freeway.


(Mary)

I picked the kids up   
at 4:45, as usual.   
As usual, they were antsy   
and fighting. Rose tore a hole   
in her new knee socks   
kicking Justin in the backseat.   
Timmy sucked his thumb in the corner.   
Then Justin wailed at another   
abuse from Rose and I was just about
to yell, Goddamnit, shut up for once,
when the whole thing went. I mean   
the whole thing, the whole world,   
I thought. The car tilted, the road   
buckled up and then something was falling   
down on us with a horrible screaming.   
I guess I stopped driving and turned   
to my children with a face of horror.   
I reached past the seatbelt for Timmy,   
my baby, and that’s when it hit us.   
My hand, pressed by the roof, pinned   
his leg to the seat and he screamed.   
Blood flowed down. Rose, my sweet   
little Rose, was already gone.   
I couldn’t find her beneath   
the bulged-down roof. Justin and Timmy,   
they looked to me. They didn’t understand   
I was not in charge. I’d always been   
their only God. They looked to me.   
They wanted me to lift them up   
and wipe them clean, to mend   
with tenderness their shattered bodies.   
But I was pinned in place. Blood   
started seeping from Justin’s   
mouth. Timmy never spoke again.   
And then I knew everything: how we   
were going to die and how it didn’t   
really matter in the scheme of things.   
My babies’ suffering wouldn’t matter.   
It was a board game of gigantic   
proportions. Our tokens   
had been shaken out on the playing board   
at 5:04 P.M. on the 17th of October   
in the year of our Lord, 1989.


(Jane)

I must have been unconscious.   
Even now, I can’t remember   
anything about what happened   
until that arm   
reached in the broken window   
of the passenger seat.   
It was just an arm, a black   
person’s arm, very strong   
looking with fine hairs   
all over it. The fingers   
moved on my face, felt   
my mouth, and then I heard   
a voice shouting, Someone’s   
alive here, breathing.
I knew then it was me.   
I was alive but I must be   
in trouble. My body   
returned to me slowly.   
I was laid out flat on my back.   
The roof of the car seemed   
to be on top of me.   
I couldn’t feel anything   
but my face where the arm   
had touched me. I couldn’t help   
thinking about sardines   
in their little oily cans,   
how, in college, I ate them   
on saltines, to save money.


(John)

Years ago, on a lark,   
I learned transcendental   
meditation. Now I focused   
on the blue petunia and slowed   
my breathing as I began to understand,   
I thought, what had happened.   
The whole fucking thing fell down.   
I can’t begin to explain   
that terror. I’ve put it   
in a little box in my brain   
and I’m afraid of the day   
it will emerge again. That petunia   
saved me. Now I have   
a whole garden of them   
and when I wake at night   
with the shits and the sweats   
I go out there and lie down   
among them, blooming or not,   
cold or hot, and I weep long   
and deep into the earth.


(Mary)

My baby was the last
one to go. And the last
shall be first. I hope   
it’s true. My children   
dead around me, I couldn’t   
think of anything to do   
but sing the lullabies I sang   
when they were infants in their cradles   
and I was sending them away   
to oblivion for the night.


(Jane)

When I meet people   
now, I look at their hands.   
I know I’m looking for that
hand, that arm, the one   
that told the world   
I lived, that proclaimed me   
worth saving. My own hands   
lie on the arms of the metal   
chair, useless and heavy.   
One finger on each has enough   
strength left to press these buttons,   
moving me forward, moving me   
back. I don’t think   
it would matter, anyway, to still have   
the use of my body. It’s only hands   
I care about, my mouth that still   
loves. Even in sleep, I feel   
his fingers reading my terrified face,   
tracing my lips like a patient lover.   
He found my breath. You bastards   
can have my body.

         *

                           I couldn’t believe it   
                           when I heard this little voice   
                           singing We Are Three Little Lambs.
                           I thought it had already   
                           gotten to me, like in ’Nam,   
                           when I freaked out   
                           on patrol before anything   
                           had happened. But the voice   
                           was real, coming from a dark blue   
                           Toyota squashed almost flat.
                           When I shone the flash over it,   
                           I could see the dark pool of blood   
                           beneath. In the dark, I could   
                           smell it. I yelled out, Ma’am—
                           I’m here to help you, and the song   
                           stopped for a moment. Then a voice,   
                           not little at all, harder than any   
                           I’ve ever heard, said from deep in the wreck,   
                           You might as well go away. Nobody   
                           can ever help me again.


(Mary)

People have actually asked me   
what I thought about in there,   
if I figured I would get out,   
if I knew the children were dead.   
The answer is: when I knew   
the children were dead, I didn’t want   
to get out, couldn’t get out   
anyway. I was in there   
forever with my three little lambs,   
the smell of their blood,   
and their dead faces, filled with questions,   
looking at me.


(John)

When I do die, give me nothing   
but petunias. Pots and pots   
of them with their unpretentious   
blossoms and their lack of smell.


(John, Mary, Jane)

It suddenly struck me   
that I believed   
the unbelievable.


(Mary)

The freeway had apparently   
fallen down on top of us.   
My children were dead   
and dying. My head was locked   
into position to watch that.   
The only way to not see   
was to close my eyes.   
But my baby lived   
a long time, I think.   
I had to look at him   
as long as he survived,   
to say those things that mothers   
say, It’s OK, Mama’s here, it will be   
all right. All the while   
I was not exactly remembering   
my past, but feeling   
the future. It had a shape now.   
I knew what I was doing   
and what I believed.   
I was watching   
all three of my children   
die. More than ever   
before I believed   
in God. He was there   
in that car. He caused
it, He saw it. And when   
it was over, He’d gotten   
what He wanted.   
One more fearful   
citizen bowed down   
and kissed His feet.   
And then, goddamnit,   
I led my babies right up.   
I put their little hands   
in His, and delivered them over   
for eternity to Him.

         *

                           I was shaving at the sink   
                           and drinking my second cup   
                           of coffee when the story   
                           about that woman and her three   
                           dead children came on the news.   
                           I’m a man, but I screamed   
                           when I heard it, the saw   
                           and all. How they had to   
                           blindfold her, what they told her   
                           they were doing. I’m a man   
                           but I screamed about this world   
                           men built.


(Mary)

I never went to college   
but I know now there’s something   
more than this world we see.   
Trapped in that car, I felt it   
when Timmy, Rose, and Justin
expired. They just left, and for awhile   
I went with them. We eased   
right out of that wreck   
and floated in a void   
—a marvelous dimension—
like big flecks of ash   
freed from a fire.   
That’s why it didn’t matter   
when they took their bodies.   
They had left them already,   
and were part of me again, as they were   
to begin with, making me bigger.


(John)

I’m lucky, I guess.   
That petunia got me   
through it. I came out   
with fear and a limp.   
Not like that poor woman   
who lost her kids or the quadriplegic   
in the car near mine.   
The magazines all want to know   
what it’s like, but who could describe   
your whole world reduced   
to the size of a washer,   
your body twisted   
around the spindle, fear   
churning through, and nothing   
to help but your brain. I was in there   
for three hours and forty-eight   
minutes, thinking clearly every second,   
reckoning nonstop. Oh, yeah,   
I prayed, and I believed. I saw
my life. It had a shape
at last and I wasn’t ashamed.   
I knew if I made it, I would worship   
the planet, the natural   
world, eschew concrete,   
deny the cities. I would plant   
petunias, groom evergreen trees. In short,   
I would worship the earth,   
not men.


(Mary)

Their father came over   
from the city for the funeral.   
He was drunk and terrified   
to look at me. I wasn’t drunk   
and I wasn’t scared. People looked   
at me like I was a monster—dry   
eyed and calm. But if they’d   
touched me, they would have known:   
hard as metal on the outside, empty   
as a suit of armor within.


(Jane)

The most intense feeling   
I’ve ever had was that man   
touching my face. Even now,   
when I can get   
someone to do it,   
I almost swoon with the shivering,   
the delicious sensation   
ascending my face.   
I’m being born
again, being pulled   
from my mother.

And a second chance is offering   
itself in the form   
of a hand,   
             a simple   
                        proffered   
                                  human hand.

         *

                           I can’t imagine   
                           going through that.   
                           Can you? Watching   
                           your own kids die.   
                           Or coming out paralyzed   
                           or soft in the head   
                           forever. Thank God   
                           it wasn’t us. Life   
                           could never be the same,   
                           could it? How   
                           could you bear it? How   
                           could you live?


(Mary)

I live somewhere else   
now. With them. It’s not   
in space, not   
in time. It’s pure   
feeling, spread out   
like jelly on a warm piece   
of bread, sinking down
out of sight, the sweetness   
still there, sodden   
and hidden.


(Jane)

I used to look at cripples   
and wonder how   
they stood it.   
I never could, I thought.   
Now I thank God every   
day I’m alive and a crip.   
I laugh with pleasure   
and get the nurse   
to run her fingers   
on my lip.

         *

                           Those motherfucker newscasters   
                           stood in front of the freeway   
                           and broadcast their pithy little   
                           stories every evening while people   
                           were dying inside. Now that’s
                           my definition of indecent.


(Mary)

A preacher came to see me afterwards.   
He asked me not to be   
so angry, to forgive God,   
to try to see it as part
of a plan I could not understand.   
I just looked at him and he saw something   
in my eyes that scared him: those three   
little babies, frightened as bunnies. I can’t imagine   
your pain, he finally said. I wouldn’t try to.   
Can your affliction bring you closer   
to Christ? Can you be with Him   
in your suffering? And then I did something   
I’ll never regret: I laughed   
in his face, I brayed like a donkey.

         *

                           She just kept   
                           weeping for her babies   
                           and he was raving   
                           on and on about some   
                           flower in a pot. The paralyzed   
                           one had a beautiful smile   
                           on her beautiful face. I don’t think   
                           she could feel   
                           a thing.


(Jane)

When they pulled me out,   
my body was dead   
already but it didn’t   
matter. I felt the best   
I’ve ever felt. That one hand   
gave me hope. Other hands   
pulled me back   
into life. I wouldn’t let   
myself begin to believe
until I saw the sky   
again. Widening and   
widening, it revealed itself   
in the shape of a lip   
curved up.

         *

                           Like everyone else, I watched it   
                           on television for three straight days.   
                           There was nothing a person like me   
                           could do. The twentieth century   
                           caved in finally. The earth   
                           taught cement a permanent   
                           lesson. Now, it’s not   
                           that I’m phobic. It’s just   
                           that I’ve seen postmodern light.   
                           We’re all insane   
                           to live this way.


                                       ?

                                       The earth settled.   
                                       The waters calmed.   
                                       The planet twirled   
                                       in the heavens   
                                       unconcernedly   
                                       again.


(Mary)

When the priest raises
the pale white Host
something really does   
happen if you want   
to believe. If you don’t,   
it might still happen   
anyway. Right?   
Your past wiped out   
by the force of the mystery.   
The future emerging   
from one huge moment ...

Once, at a student play   
in seventh grade,   
the whole backdrop collapsed   
with the wheezy singing   
of nails being forced   
from cheap wood. Frayed ropes   
dangling like live snakes   
and sawdust rising in a smoky haze.
When the scene settled,
Reality was where   
it had always been:   
right there, lurking
behind the drapes:   
a cinderblock wall   
painted pale green and a red door
marked Emergency Exit chained shut.   
For once, nothing   
but an empty stage separated   
me from It. I was
It, and It was this:   
several million tons of concrete roadway   
and steel beams smashed   
down on top of   
approximately 274 live human beings   
when the San Andreas Fault flexed a tiny muscle.   
39 died, including my children. I   
survived. Hundreds
took part in the rescue effort.   
The rest of you—Christ   
have mercy—watched on TV.


(John, Mary, Jane)

The red door   
was chained shut.   
We went through it   
anyway.
for Janet May

Kate Daniels, “In the Marvelous Dimension” from Four Testimonies. Copyright © 1998 by Kate Daniels. Used by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: Four Testimonies (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)

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Poet Kate Daniels b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Sorrow & Grieving, Faith & Doubt, Living, Religion, Christianity, Death, God & the Divine

Biography

Poet and editor Kate Daniels was born in Richmond, Virginia. The first in her family to graduate from college, Daniels earned a BA and an MA from the University of Virginia and an MFA from Columbia University. She converted to Catholicism as an adult, and her often lengthy, narrative poems engage engages themes of working class experience, family, trauma, racism, and Southern culture. Daniels has published several collections . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Sorrow & Grieving, Faith & Doubt, Living, Religion, Christianity, Death, God & the Divine

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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