I want to love you Midwestern,
prosaic, every goddamn morning
with your coffee and toast.
In blizzards, across cornfields,
like my great-great-grandmother
filling up the empty prairie.
Oh, to love you Northwestern,
through cold and damp with our socks on,
rocking the whole Pacific Ocean.
In a tree or a library,
feet planted on the San Andreas Fault
daring the world to wake up and break.
I want to love you all Southern,
slow and sticky with cups of sweet tea,
in every greasy spoon on the highway.
I want to love you deserted,
living on cacti and canteen water,
watching the sun fall out of the sky.
I want to love you long-distance,
with postcards, the faintest of phone calls,
hoarding the scent of your skin on my sweater.
I’d love you lost, finding my way
by the stars and the moss.
But you want me to love you nowhere.
You drive me from this lonely country.
I seek your equal on Mars, in Heaven,
at the bottom of bottles, in other people’s mouths.
Without you with me, the world may do its best
but it is not my permanent address.
It may be holy, but it is not home.
* * * * *
I wrote the poem above exactly six years ago, as luck would have it, on a sunny Sunday between chores and cooking brunch, with the Minnesota sun making the snow dazzle. My college years are chronicled in quite a few poems, and most echo this one with themes of loneliness, of searching. “This is the time of migration,” begins another, “of always being halfway home.” Having moved to the snowy Midwest from the desert, flying south in the winter for Christmas, I did start to feel like a migratory bird. In my free time I rambled from one coast to another, even continent-hopped, but I desperately wanted a place to weight me down, a place to put in bookshelves and settle down, but even more, a person with whom to weather the years.
I sent this poem to a good friend of mine shortly after I wrote it. “I like it,” she wrote back. “Is it about God?”
“No,” I replied, frustrated and amused in equal parts that she could misunderstand such a simple thing. As far as I was concerned, this poem was about nothing more than my train-hopping heart, searching and searching for a person who could love me, a person I was not sure existed.
That good friend turned out to herself be the love of my life, which is a different story. She was right about the poem, as she’s been about many things since. Aside from my feelings of romantic hopelessness, it turned out to also be about God.
Jesus asked his would-be students to follow him, not merely to sit at his feet and learn from him, but to follow him. They were on the move to a mysterious place called the Kingdom of God, which existed among them and yet was not a physical place as they could comprehend it. I was right all along to feel like a nomad, a migratory bird, when none of this was ever meant to satisfy me. This world is holy, but it is not my home. Not that I’m waiting for death to transport me to some alien world where I’ll instantly know how to play a harp. The Kingdom of God is among us, although it hasn’t completely catalyzed just yet, and there are glimpses of the eternal in the temporal, in sharing bread with friends, in lifting our eyes to the stars.
My poems used to be my prayers, prayers that God would satisfy me, take away my hunger for love forever. Now I pray God will increase my hunger, give me more questions without answers, show me more things I don’t yet understand. As theologian and mensch Karl Rahner said it, “Mystery is not merely a way of saying that reason has not yet completed its victory. It is the goal where reason arrives when it attains its perfection by becoming love.” As I say it, in my mortal life, with my puny understanding, I’m not meant to truly come home, but I am meant to enjoy the wild road trip I’m on, unsure of the detours I’ll take tomorrow, but sure that mystery will keep unfolding with every sunrise.