Staying Power

By Jeanne Murray Walker

In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International Convention of Atheists, 1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts   
outside to the yard and question the sky,   
longing to have the fight settled, thinking   
I can't go on like this, and finally I say   

all right, it is improbable, all right, there   
is no God. And then as if I'm focusing   
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.   
It's the attention, maybe, to what isn't there   

that makes the emptiness flare like a forest fire   
until I have to spend the afternoon dragging   
the hose to put the smoldering thing out.   
Even on an ordinary day when a friend calls,   

tells me they've found melanoma,   
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.   
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.   
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,   

wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,   
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire   
again, which—though they say it doesn't   
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.   

Oh, we have only so many words to think with.   
Say God's not fire, say anything, say God's   
a phone, maybe. You know you didn't order a phone,   
but there it is. It rings. You don't know who it could be.   

You don't want to talk, so you pull out   
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer   
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbery   
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up   

and a voice you love whispers hello.

Source: Poetry (May 2004).

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This poem originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Poetry magazine

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May 2004

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