CALEB JOSEPH WARNER
O Lord, God of my salvation, you and I both know that I have cried out day and night for you and have cried your name when I felt like you couldn’t hear it. I have spent hours lying in bed, you know, feeling like I will not make it to the morning and have thought that maybe it would not be such a bad thing that I might slip away inch by inch beyond my own body, my soul or maybe just my perception creeping into the wall. First the phantom of my head punctures the drywall, then my arms flat against my sides without the blanket to cover me break into the ground outside and the darkling beetles crawl across my chest and the worms wrangle between my toes and finally the dirt falls into my rib cage, because the tension of my skin against the bone could hold no longer hold it out. My skin is like wet, wrinkled paper and dirt clods fall in to the cavity, fall into my veins, make my heart black as the earth you have made.
Let my prayer come before you, incline your ear to my cry! I know you can hear me, so come out of your hiding place. Why would you hide your face from me? Why would you not listen? Is it because I’m dirty? Well, you were the one who declared that I am clean, you were the one who said I could come here and make these petitions. God, when did I start having to call them petitions when all they were in the first place was a GAH?! A GAH at life, a GAH at my own inadequacy, a GAH at the repetitions that exhaust me. Sleep at night is not enough to restore my energy, food is not enough to give my eyes light, friends are not enough to cut through the fog of confusion I have been left with as my own and only companion. The fog is like a heavy mist and it pores into me through the nostrils and parted lips, it clings to my skin, it moistens my eyes and I feel they are swollen, swollen and bloodshot with lack of sleep. I can never get enough sleep and because my eyes feel like this, I am prone to cry easily, cry because I don’t know what in your name I am doing anymore. And the mist has seeped into my ears like a poison when I have my head against the pillow—is that maybe why I can’t hear you? My ears and cranium are full of poison and there is no room left in my humid skull for messages of hope, or even just a single good word.
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. Sooner or later, there is a darkness that comes and closes all our eyelids, when this absurdity of striving to remember and striving to remember what we are to be comes to a steaming halt. God, those coals on my tongue have turned to ash in my mouth and all I taste now is the hot smoke of fires extinguished, of passions that no longer keep me motivated, of a life-force and a spirit and a soul that has lost its source of oxygen, its source of rekindling. Sooner or later, Father, I will lose what rekindles me and keeps me going day to day. Have I invested in the wrong thing? My very own soul, that burning hot engine that churns out steam underneath my skin to travel along the femur, up and down, up and down with the natural cooling that comes from my toes exposed to the frozen air, to come back to my heart and soul and to be reheated again, sooner or later, my heart and soul will break up the logs and wood you’ve put there. But thank you for the time enough to withstand a few moments of this entropy, thank you for the kindling, the chopped trees, the dry leaves, and all my passions and desires that keep me roaring in spite of the troubles that will someday break everything down inside me. My body will not go on forever, it will stop and with it my soul.
Because I am counted among those who go down to the pit and I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. And why is it that they are slain? Isn’t it for the same reasons that now pummel me, now stone me? But a little bit of happiness here and there in my day, a little bit of joy, the ability to see through the troubles inherent to my being that youth and passions hold back like a levee for a moment. I hear a fine melody on the piano and the steam of the coffee and the angle of the light is just right that I can convince myself to not be troubled for one or two moments, moments that justify me feeling like I too am slipping down into the pit, moments that prove I have no strength, because they would not be such fine moments if I did not have a memory of other moments, moments of other people’s pain. God you know I have lived my life without much pain, but God you and I know what pain others have lived through. How on earth do you justify yourself?
Maybe you and I justify ourselves by heaven. I try to do as you do, so I will remain silent after I speak or else the silence will mean nothing.
I have been tortured with even passing stories of other people’s deaths. Even the death of a stranger is enough to shut shades over my day with its stupid pretty angles of light. This is why those moments of steam rising from a cup of coffee make me say, “Yes, but what is this? I will die tomorrow. And if I don’t die, they will.” I am set loose among the dead and with this empathy guiding me to their graves, I cannot in my right mind enjoy anything here as the source of my lasting comfort. God, I fear that you will someday forget me. And someday even I might forget myself. The pain of forgetting myself would be the greatest pain. After I had felt the pain of others like I do now, where would I escape to? Let me not forget myself, or at least, keep some place ready for me to come back to at the end of a long, dark day…
But you take even that away from me. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me and you overwhelm me with all your waves. God and I know why! Promise after promise that I have made vainly to you not to destroy your delicately tamed garden. You are not angry because I am dirty, but because I am clean and keep sticking mud and leaves on my face. But you’re not a doting mother who wants me to keep my Sunday best clean, you’re not a stern father who wants me to not pick my nose at the dinner table (though it shouldn’t take sternness to nip that habit in the bud). What have I done that has made you so angry? You know! I have simply believed lies. I have believed the very lie that has made you out to be a doting mother, a stern father. But I have forgotten my crime and in the process have demanded sympathy from you to understand where I am coming from. But if we were in court, let’s have the jury see the pictures of what I’ve done. Show the jury the pictures taken at the scene. Take them out of the manila folder, do it! Then the lawyers and the ties can wonder why it is you are angry with me. Pretty words come from the tie’s mouth, pretty words to please the abstract intellect about the masticated craniums of those I have murdered and destroyed. “I am totally harmless,” I say, “I wouldn’t even step on a frog—” and the whole world lies dead in its graves.
You have caused my companions to shun me, you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape, my eye grows dim through sorrow. Day by day, I spend roving around in my apartment, lost in my own thought. And though I can take a friend by the shoulders and try to plead with them simply with my telling eyes, I cannot break through. It is as though you have put me in a glass box and everywhere I go, I bring with myself a small exhibit on emotional distance with a bronze plaque that reads, “Here you can see the finest specimen of what you feel like when the conversation does not reach that pitch perfect note of having discovered someone else, and the conversations continue to lack that discovery for years—but oh! Not just the discovery and not just the conversations. Here you see what it looks like to be the last man alive and the last man to remember and believe that it is worth it to remember at all the promises when the days have grown dark and the friends have all died and everyone has forgotten themselves and lost the sense of wonder about the world, an illusion pitifully created by possibilities not yet acted on early in life, an illusion of wonder shattered as soon as the ball of action starts rolling and misses, and misses, and misses again, and external circumstances crush designs, and money is pilfered and houses burn down and ideas lose their shine and fame never comes to throw its warm blanket of temporary adoration over you.”
Strangers used to look like people I could get to know, friends of friends would come to me, friends would share with me the inner workings of their life, and I believed for too many stupid moments that other people could never be understood, could never be seen through, could remain mysteries closely held to the chest. I am saddened to see younger strangers following the patterns of discovery I once followed. I know the disappointment they don’t yet know, the disappointment they will carry by themselves in the dark hours before falling asleep. And though the essence of other people has not changed, my ability to receive them into myself has, because I have lost hope. Because I have lost hope, I am a horror. I am shut in, because there is nowhere for me to go that could be deep enough to feel like I have gotten to know a stranger completely. No one has access to that knowledge when they are living under the hands of wrath. Even if I got married, what would I be but a stranger? And even the people I have kept close to me all my years, these people fill me with sorrow because I see them aging, I see how things move along, the shuffling of cards and the rotation of posts. And to catch a glimmer of the daily lives of family even reveals to me the distance I have from them, even them. If I can not count even my brother or mother among those shut into the house with me, then I how will I be able to escape from this solitude? I don’t know who to call my brothers and who to call my mother.
But every day I call upon you, o Lord, I spread out my hands to you!
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do you really, do you?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Does this literally happen?
Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? What would this even look like?
Are your wonders known in the darkness? Why should I believe you?
Is your righteousness known in the land of forgetfulness? Who remembers you anymore?
But I, o Lord, cry to you! In the morning my prayer comes before you. O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors, I am helpless. Youth is not enough to keep me from feeling and knowing deep inside myself that we are dying. It is this very fact that has oppressed my spirit, has made my heart weaken and the cough emerge, made me gag on nothing and vomit out air, made me feel like all I can do is lie in bed, prevented me from having any energy at all. I have literally grown faint as a result of being close to death from my youth. I am afflicted with what has not yet afflicted me. But these are your terrors, they are of your invention. You invented these feelings. You invented the claustrophobia I have felt on airplanes, gliding towards death, an absolute shut in, unable to go anywhere or do anything, but sit carefully, lest I disturb the symptoms sitting close by my side on the couch, smiling. A chilly arm rests along my shoulders.
Your wrath has swept over me, your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long, they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me, my companions have become impermeable darkness.