“The Book Pitch” by Joan Murray

Joan Murray


I told her the first part, just like I’m telling you now,
how it came to me out of the darkness:
the water trickling and the candles whispering 
like God was asleep with his head on my pillow. 
And after shaking me awake, how someone handed me 
my faith and a mouthful of prayers and a list of commandments,
and I stuffed them in my pockets like a scarf and matching gloves 
for whatever weather might be coming. 

And then they handed me a catechism with lots and lots 
of questions, and every question had its answer hand in hand, 
and every answer had to be learned word for word
and had to be given back, to prove that I got it,
’cause only then would I get to tell my sins
inside a dark box. Only then would I get to swallow God
and wear a white dress. Only then, would my forehead
be anointed and my face slapped.

Then I told her the second part. The part where I lost it— 
not bit by bit like when you wear a hole through your sock,
but suddenly—like when you leave your scarf on a bus 
or drop a glove off your lap when you step out of a car.
And it wasn’t because of my drinking days with my sassy friends, 
or my backseat nights with the high school boys, 
because none of that could put a crack in it, all of that 
was only noise outside the soundproof room— 

the room that was God and his voice that was 
silence, and the catechism on his lap so no unauthorized 
question could get in—unless, and he wasn’t
expecting this—unless someone threw one in when he 
wasn’t looking: a question through his window, a question 
wrapped around a stone, a question like a storm that could 
blow out all the pages of his book, while I raced 
around the room, wondering, where did I lose my scarf?
My question wasn’t anything profound—it was only surprising
it hadn’t occurred to me sooner, it was: How can it be someone’s time? 
I mean, how does he make it so someone will die?
I mean, if he was in the room with me, how could he be so busily
arranging to have some family driving down the highway 
and some drunk guy crossing the divide at the exact same moment,
just to make it someone’s time for the whole bunch of them?—
Unless he was a mad man. Or a lie. 

That’s when I told him he had to go. And take everything with him—
my faith and his catechism and the list of commandments—
just as if it were his time. And when I told her that,
she said, “This would make a terrific book, the kind we really
like to publish. The kind people are always looking for.
Go on,” she said. And I said, “Go on with what?” And she said,
“The third part. The part everyone wants. The part where
you find something better than God. Go on. Go on.

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020


Joan Murray: “As I’ve always done, I write to discover what I know and feel and believe. Lately, I’ve been pushing these explorations beyond the boundaries of self-censorship. For example, I wondered if I could write an honest poem about my childhood religious faith—the subject I’ve long avoided for fear of being labeled or dismissed. I drew on an actual incident. It was a self-affirming challenge.” (web)

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