Let’s say we believe in something like wandering spirits. Let’s say we believe the soul is a misshapen transference of consciousness and energy—a weightless volume of watts with thoughts.
Let’s say, Christians, that maybe He never existed, that maybe who He was, that who He is, is a bulbous representation of poor communication, that who He is, that who He was, was hibernated enlightenment repurposed into the figure of our en masse selves, the human, the being, the glued-meat-blob, doomed to biological malfunction, its decomposition deemed invested sustenance, dissolved into less than ash, as if, metaphysically, a cure, the memory erasure from the world who birthed it; say, pittance for sins, for moral, global atrocities. The world, the creator, the conceiver, too programed by natural law and routine to learn from her own self-destructive mistakes, produces more—we; we, her mindless bacteria, her fungi. We, the reapers of her oxygen. We her suckling, unappreciative sinecure. Still, she cradles us.
Or, let’s say, sixty to seventy percent of the rest of the world, maybe Jesus really has risen, really hears our prayers, wants us off our knees, says, Stop groveling for My sake, says, I wasn’t put up this high to look down on you, says, Learn beyond what you believe Me to be.
Let’s say, All, we believe. We believe we’re a little more alone, a little more unprotected, a little more adrift than we’d like. Let’s say gravity is the one true law, the one constant presence that has held onto us for so long and for so hard we are numb to its love. Because of this, we are destined for isolation; we are predetermined to misery. What we feel is we deserve more than the miracle of life. What we feel is more and more and more is not enough, and because of this, we cannot realize we are equally beneficial to the Earth, to ourselves, as dust storms are to deserts, as mudslides to rivers. Let’s say we believe, finally, we’re incubated in undefined and muddled truth. Let’s admit we have no control over what cells divide. Let’s admit we know nothing. Let’s admit we are afraid of answers, of knowledge, of being proven against admonishments defined. Admit the flashlight has created more monsters than banished, has lionized the shadows. We outline them. We call them ghosts, observe them as concord, aimless, protectorate. We think we have boxed them, archived and shelved them together in a common room. With a general wave of the hand we say all of this, because of their place behind the door plaque, is one. We have done this with the stars; there, mysteriously incarnate and infinitely numerous, we file it away under Galaxy. We have learned nothing through vapor, through the spaces between molecules, through the held silence of every feared-lonesome day, every self-proclaimed purposeless life. Admit with me, friend, as lonely as humanity feels, solace may be, can be, is, found through the boiling point.
Or, maybe sooner, as long as there’s water, no matter what state, no matter what temperature, even glacial, like ours, friend, stagnant, steady, pooled in its own gouge, the molding of ice-melt that hasn’t warmed since. Here, we find salvation from the smothering summer as we float on our backs, as we bind the limitless horizon, as we remember it is we, the Earth, who moves, that it is we, the buoyant, who feel the pull, that it is we, these minds, who understand and chance the hypothermia, that it is we, these bodies, who shrink, we, these veins, these lungs, who squeeze, expel. This is the reason for leaving the apartment, the brief sensation of being drained of life, to feel alive through its absence.
Also, the night is so fucking hot we cannot sleep.
The shock, the wordless series of ee!, ah!, oh!, oo!, ugheemm!, and all the grating laughter of concealed pain to follow is how, right now, we forget our lake holds more dead than she does the living. This cold-snap stun is how we ignore the never-retrieved bodies, petrified—as in frightened, as in preserved—just under the current, possibly miles away, or, farther still, trapped—as in entombed, as in tucked away, as in home—within their capsized, undiscovered ships. We do not think about their detached souls, do not think we are sought, do not think how they may fuse with our cells in the way of magnetism, a way to relive, through us, the air, the sky, the stars.
You’ve never drowned in a dream, so you’ve never felt the weightless chaos, conceded the quick, specific repentance; you don’t know how, each time, startled awake, the rigor of acceptance mirrors sleep paralysis. You don’t know how familiar those dreams are to my ears below the waterline. You don’t know how grateful I am to not be swallowed by the nothing the drowned had had. Here, I am swaddled by the faded haze and ripple of our ethereal piece of universe. There, I say, emerged, drawing the outline, point-to-point, The ram?
You say you never knew what the stars were until you were prescribed glasses. You’re not wearing them now, not to swim. They’re atop your shirt on the shore, lumped, shadowed like any other beach swale, the lenses picking up the glint from a faraway lamppost. I want to say, Get them.
Over sixty wrecks in this lake. If they hadn’t died then, they’d have died later in ways Gordon Lightfoot would have deemed baladless, too communal, routine, to be interesting, individualistic: love, war, cancer, heart disease, fatigue, a bar fight, something somewhere in the variation between too much life or not enough. Ways diluting the small, needful experiences, ways the drowned had longed for—with ground, with heat, with company.
On this shore, our nerves return, ablaze, pinned and throbbing. How do I say we are the transference of energy, we are the heat? Or do you believe this is not the returning warmth, that this is the retreating cold? Or, what if—what if what we feel is not the cold leaving us, but the segregate gratitude of those who were most recently attached? Only a moment ago, we were cold, lifeless. Or, say, on the outside, we were corpses, blood so deep within our bodies we were translucent in the moonlight. How do I say our lifelessness was tolerable because we were sure our deaths were temporary? How do we, friend, extend this temporary to every second we take from here on?
How do I defend the possibility we were not made into any image of any likeness, that our image is simply the egg? Imagine the possibility that what was intended is not the now, but the form we are meant to revert into—the one true image of creator—the orb, the wave, the breath, the negation, the indiscriminant point of light among so, so, so many others? This is not to say we will become the stars; this is to say we might stay, swim interchangeably between matter and antimatter and aspire to be just as grand, as impossible.
Here, our colors return to an almost-normal pigment we call good enough. Here, we have our chance to leave, to find out what we can do with our lives. Would you be jealous if I could and you could not? What would you do to prolong the harboring? Would you overtake me, make me stay, drain me of what we do not understand, or would you stun me briefly, see what I see until we both must go home?
Here, I have no other choice than to guess, to say, There, that might be the bull.
There, that might be Pisces.
There. That’s the moon—I’m almost certain.
Timston Johnston resides in Marquette, MI, where it snows in October and Stove Top costs $2.19 a box. He has published in DENVER QUARTERLY, WHISKEY PAPER, HOBART, BULL, and other admirable elsewheres. He sometimes tweets candy bar reviews @TimstonJohnston