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Damascus
Tania Runyan (bio)
1.

This is not a sin-tacular story
of stumbling up the steps to the heroin clinic
prostituting my way through prom night
or mangling my children in the slot machine.

This is a silent road to Damascus,
a pin-hole light through a curtain,
a glaucomatous cloud
that no Ananias would heal.
My persecution was too weary
for fame, a low-grade virus burying God
under the sweaty blankets of winter.

2.

When you slog a muddy path
through the woods and denounce the rain,
you blaspheme him. When the blackbird
shrills outside your window at five a.m.
and you count each shrill as a strike
against you, you drag him to jail.
When you curse the train-track suicide
for making you late, you swing the scourge
of stones above your head.

3.

And all the while he had me figured out.
Infuriating to think of it— how he followed
my bike down the riverbed to the beach,
knowing my arms would blister
as I lay there seeking faith
in my body; how he watched me
count free throws, eight out of ten times
the ball banking off the edge or swirling around the rim
like a dog turning into his sick bed. I wasted hours
on the blacktop with no poetry or prayer.
He knew I would come.
He knew if I stood long enough
in the chain-link echoes of miss and miss,
I would let the ball roll into the roses to stay.

4.

Some say Saul had a grand mal seizure
in the middle of the road—falling sickness,
they called it then—the temporal lobes tenderized
to the flashing lights and sounds of God,
then the transient blindness. There you have it:
a world institution born of a disorder in the brain.
It makes sense now, my pregnancies
driving me to pray over the toilet bowl,
night sweats stirring up heavenly visions,
the swollen nodule bringing me to weep for mercy.
It was in the imagination of my body all along,
this diagnosis of faith, the spirit’s feverish work.

5.

In sixth grade I started to fear the end of things.
The planets will align, the news said.
The sun’s imbalance will churn the atmosphere,
set the Earth off-kilter and shift the plates
like boards in a speeding hatchback.
So instead of conjugating Spanish verbs
I stared at the deceitful sky. Unfair
that my braces had yet to shift my woodchuck
bite, that my violining languished in a first-position
Ode to Joy. No boobs. No boys.
No high school science labs with lime-green tubes
or a college freezer full of Klondike bars.
I had no choice but to lay it down.
My voice, my flash of light
the silver marble of Jupiter smoldering
before dawn, rolling closer to my window.

6.

I have sinned, I said. I
want eternal life, I said.
That was the moment.
I wanted nothing but God.
I wanted a milkshake.
I wanted nothing at all.
Finally, I wanted it settled.
I folded my hands and spoke
to the carpet. I folded my hands
and spoke to the Lord.
I woke up and felt no different.
I woke up and my life
came to an end.

7.

Saul lay blind for a few days.
Then the scales fell from his eyes
and he started proclaiming his name.

I still have the scales, God,
my eyes a salmon’s skin:
green and lavender sunrise
on a thousand mottled hilltops.
The salmon fling themselves
upstream, shaking their bodies
free of rainbow specks,
losing the promise
in the flood. I’m trying to see,
God, trying to break through
this shine of darkness.
Each day another scale falls,
and another draws over my eye.

8.

If only it could be as easy as Paul,
to curse one day and bless
the next, repent and change direction
for good. Not this cycling of faith:
a little light in the morning, lifting a hand
in prayer, then dozing to the bore
of the spirit. My body doesn’t cling
to Philippian prison bars,
doesn’t huddle under a Shanghai table
but saunters through the valley
of the shadow of ease. God saved
the Corinthians from their temple orgies,
rescued serial killers from their incinerated
hearts. Can he save me again,
a woman too laggard to lose any hope,
too blind to collapse in a flash of light?

 

 

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