The options were yes, no, don't know, define 'soul', define 'believe' (my sister saw my poll and rolled her eyes saying, only you would say something like 'define soul').
This is why I asked. And my answer.
Listen, don’t feel sorry for me.
No really, listen.
Don’t feel sorry for me.
Things have been worse.
It’s not a big deal. Practically normal.
Honestly, if I didn’t have these
Every now and then, I’d be more worried.
So listen, don’t.
I get things out of my system this way.
It’s like shitting.
I can never hold my shit.
Always gotta go when I haveta go, or I’ll shit my pants.
Ever since I was a kid.
It’s like a family joke, the way I can’t hold my shit.
When I gotta go, I just gotta go.
One time, it was night, we were walking and I had a cone of Ben & Jerry’s Key Lime Pie ice cream
I don’t remember the key lime pie, but I remember they had some graham cracker crust mixed in
Now my favorite B&J’s is Cherry Garcia, with the whole cherries
But the point is
I got a stomach ache.
It was bad.
I really had to shit.
And I wasn’t even done with my ice cream.
But we were walking, and there weren’t really any bathrooms around
And no convenient bushes—yeah, I’ve done it in the bushes. Four, five times?
Used a leafy leaf to wipe. Beats toilet paper, I swear.
I just gotta do what I gotta do.
I can’t hold my shit.
Anyway, I remember the ice cream, and I remember the stomach ache, but I don’t remember if I shit my pants.
I think I did.
Waddled back, without trying to look like I was waddling because there were people.
Soft, warm shit against my skin.
I get the runs a lot.
Makes it harder to stop once the shit gets going.
So listen, don’t feel sorry for me.
I’m a little melodramatic, I used to fantasize about cutting my wrists
Yeah, I was that kind of kid.
So listen, don’t worry.
Okay. So we’re on the same page.
I used to believe in souls.
The heaven hell eternity Christ God baptism born again kind of believe.
Grew up in it. Not really a choice, though they say it’s always a choice.
Also grew up holding my shit during services.
My mother, she really believes in souls.
She told me that I could be anything, do anything, and she’d be happy
As long as I was saved.
Being saved puts a lot of caveats on what I can be or do.
They used to tell us that God knew our thoughts before we thought them.
It made me a little paranoid
Trying to think of ways to hide my thoughts from God
But he knew my thoughts of hiding my thoughts before I thought them
So I would have to disguise some thoughts under other thoughts but God would know that I was hiding thoughts within thoughts so maybe I should pretend to think only good thoughts for a long time and catch God off guard one day and think what I wanted to think but by the nature of my thinking these thoughts it meant he already knew and had seen them and he’d be on the lookout for those thoughts and the fact that I was allowed to think those thoughts in the first place meant he was letting me know that he’d seen the thoughts because they also said that God could remove our thoughts before we thought them and if he let these slide they were warnings that he was onto my game and I could never escape the thought police
…you get the picture.
Anyway, I used to believe in souls.
I wanted to be saved.
Another thing they tell you is that hell isn’t fire and brimstone and physical pain.
Hell is an eternity without love.
I got these visualizations (courtesy of God, who let me think the thought in the first place)
Of hell as an endless silent cold void.
But not completely alone.
You don’t know you’re alone when you’re really alone.
No, it would be like Tantalus and those torments in the Greek Underworld.
You could see and imagine (courtesy of God) how all those other souls were so loved
And you’d yearn for that love, having known it once (maybe)
Or having had some idea of it (courtesy of God, who gives us thoughts in his mercy. Or torment)
But you’d never be able to have it because you’re in hell.
That was the cost of an unsaved soul.
An eternity of soul-wrenching loneliness.
So I really wanted to be saved.
Because I had the special advantage of knowing not only love (of sorts), but knowing love deliberately withheld.
It wasn’t a good feeling.
So I was going to do everything to be saved.
Keep my soul clean, wash it in lamb’s blood every other night, suppress my thoughts and ignore my desires and put all my hope for happiness in an afterlife.
Hey, it beat an eternity of unending existential conflict.
As the situation at home became increasingly hellish
And I began thinking more complex thoughts (courtesy of God, who grants us free will, in his mercy)
I didn’t give two fucks about my soul.
Let’s not talk about those years.
Fast forward to now
Where my mother still believes in souls
And I stopped.
There was a period in time when I zealously worked to save my soul again
It was like a second rebirth (I was died and reborn as a child, then died and reborn in my late teens, and now I guess I’m dead again)
And fuck did I believe.
I was ready to give up everything and join a religious order.
Devout my life to thoughts about God (God allowing thoughts about himself allowing thoughts about himself allowing thoughts about himself…)
And preach the glories of heaven and love you had to earn.
Some of my other poems
The ones that deal with love and shit—
The concept of love that doesn’t cost anything is absolutely alien to me.
I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist.
I’ve seen it.
But every paradigm of love I’ve been in, love feels like a game
Where it costs me parts of myself (thoughts, nosebleeds, prostration and begging and nickels)
And I always end up getting ripped off.
Or, not every.
But a lot. A whole fucking lot.
The point is
My mother believes in saving souls
I don’t know what I believe
My mother told me God hates gays.
I figure, in some twisted form of logic that if that’s the case, I’ll simply
Get rid of my soul.
I’ll stop believing in souls.
That way, she won’t have to worry about my being saved, because there’s nothing to save in the first place
And God can’t emotionally blackmail me by withholding his love.
There’s nothing to love.
I know this doesn’t make sense when you look at it from any other perspective but my own.
And maybe it still doesn’t make sense
Because why not stop believing in God, or why not convert to something else, or why not stop believing in everything all together?
I have no idea.
For what it’s worth, I haven’t been going to church for a year.
Don’t pray, don’t read the Bible.
Don’t really believe in resurrection and think the Bible is a better reflection of man than God, if he exists.
And I mean man, in the sex and gender sense of the word.
But I like being soulless.
I feel like the power my soul (and all its fucking accessories and clunky doctrines made of leather Bibles) had over me is disappearing.
But I’m worried.
It’s the defense mechanism that they planted inside the beliefs in case anyone strays from the path.
I visualize it as a time bomb.
I’m worried that if I’m soulless, if somehow this is a slippery slope to becoming unnecessarily cruel.
You have to understand that I’ve been taught, from the beginning of my memory, that without God and blood-washing and dying and suppression—
Without that, humans become murderers.
Thieves, adulterers, psychopaths who have sex with corpses and rape small children before eating their toes and coring them like apples at their navel.
Not in so many words or images (God is gracious, God is good, my sins were nailed upon the wood)
I’m not flipping Catholic.
More Puritan. Calvinist.
It’s more psychological (it’s all in my head)
I can’t decide if that’s better or worse.
The flesh is the enemy.
We must kill ourselves, our flesh.
We must empty ourselves to be filled with Christ’s spirit.
We are clay vessels that are unworthy of holding the divine, and every day we must remain soft and moldable to God’s will.
Every. Fucking. Day.
I’ve been dying for a long time.
Killing my thoughts, my desires, my emotions.
For the holy of holies, the divine and God’s love which is so much better than human love (so they say).
Kill and kill and kill myself.
I know that I’m presenting a screwed up version of the faith that I used to believe in so much.
That I used to love sincerely.
That my mother still adheres to.
I used to have conversations with God in my head.
You have no idea what it’s like, because the entire time I was wondering if I was actually talking to God or talking to myself and thinking about thoughts and God filtering thoughts and there’s also this thing where they say the Devil wants to deceive you so I wondered if I was being deceived by the Devil and then I wondered if I was the Devil and round and round in circles while chatting with God about how to deal with the madness of my father and how to soothe the sadness of my mother and how to raise my sister right and struggling with my desires to kill myself…
It’s easier if I don’t have a soul.
Let’s put it that way.
Because I realize that what I associate with soul is not what you associate with souls.
I associate souls with being damned for being gay, being disowned and unacknowledged and causing shame and regret for my parents, being unloved for eternity, being suppressed and censored inside my own head, being not enough for anyone.
Because the thing that gets to me most about my mother’s reaction to my hint that I’m not straight is that
She won’t even try.
She won’t try to rethink her position on this.
She won’t try to consider my feelings, my thoughts, my desires.
I’m not worth it.
It’s not a matter of happiness.
It’s a matter of being saved.
But you know what?
I can live without a soul.
Call it petty, call it immature, but this is my way of winning the game that I was never meant to win.
It’s a temporary solution and a temporary victory, it doesn’t resolve the battle I’ll have to fight later but you need a few victories, however small, if you want to keep waging a war.
I have emotional needs too, damnit.
So maybe it’s not so much that I don’t believe in souls anymore.
But I don’t have a soul anymore.
She can pray for me all she likes.
God can threaten me all he wants.
Try to coax me back with promises of light and warmth and divine happiness.
But I’m a creature of the damned.
I didn’t lose my soul.
I destroyed it.
Try loving that, bitches.
The truth is that there’s another side to faith.
And that God—or belief in that God—helped me put the pieces of myself back together.
That God is an It, neither male or female. Not even human.
It was kind of nebulous.
I wasn’t punished for thoughts.
You have to understand that I’m a very different person now from who I was before
And there is no doubt in my mind that my faith, despite its flaws, helped me during a critical time in my life.
It helped me trust people again.
It was a stable community from which I could find help and strength.
People reached out to me and that—those small gestures—affected me profoundly.
I was literally like a person dying from thirst, and they gave me water.
They were like family.
They were so open and kind in a time when I only knew confusion and guilt and bitterness and hopelessness and helplessness and depression and… a lot of things.
I felt safe and loved, for the first time in…
A long time.
It’s been hard to come to terms with the fact that they have limits on their love too.
I won’t take the risk of exposing myself, only to have them stare at me and treat me like a leper.
But they sustained me, faith and community and God sustained me, long enough for me to find another side of myself.
Long enough for me to lay down a foundation for…
I don’t know what for. I’m still building, I guess.
What I’m trying to say is that I don’t hold my shit very well.
I used to starve myself
Now I eat, but eating means shit
And I’ve never held my shit very well.
Maybe I haven’t given up on faith because I hope someday I’ll be able to go back.
Maybe I haven’t given up on faith because if I give up on that, what do I have left?
In so many ways, I feel like I’ve given up on love
Now I don’t believe in souls
I’ve never been much for beauty, though I appreciate it.
I don’t know where this comes from, probably something I learned as a child, but I’ve always associated God with Truth.
Yes, with a capital T.
Not to say that there’s only one Truth.
But as strange as this may sound, truth’s the thing that keeps me going.
When I write, I write what feels true.
I don’t think about beauty and love and all those other great things.
I try to write what feels true to me. If it doesn’t feel true, I won’t write it. Simple as that.
Because that’s what’s kept me, I suppose.
Faith, that there is something called truth in this subjective world.
Faith that I have a voice, I deserve life, and my words might touch the thread of truth that runs through this universe.
I can live without my soul.
I’ve been scratching out a living gathering scraps of love here, a friendship there. I’ve survived, and I can continue to survive.
I can’t live without the truth.
And what is that truth?
What’s this abstraction that not even mathematics can claim to know, much less history?
I don’t know.
It has something to do with
It has something to do with
And something about
Things that I’ve been fighting for as long as I was aware that I was my self, not an extension of my parents, not an appendage of society.
Does this make any sense to you?
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Because in the end, the message I took away from Christ’s teachings is that
If we could look, and listen to each other
If we could acknowledge our fears and face the potential for evil inside ourselves
If we could reach beyond the borders of our bodies
And know ourselves, and seek to learn others
There might be a little less sorrow in the world
But it’s easier not to look.
Easier not to question, easier not to stare into the mirror and admit things about ourselves.
You don’t understand how much of myself I put into my works
My father is a fervent anti-Semite, who told me at the age of ten that the Jews deserved the Holocaust.
You don’t grow up in a household like that and escape unmarked.
I know exactly how deeply ideas can root themselves, how insidious thoughts can be.
I suspect this search for whatever it is I’m looking for
Will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Coming to terms with yourself is difficult when there are so many around you that disagree.
Who offer you the choice between love and truth.
Who tell you they will love you on the condition that
You betray yourself.
I have never betrayed myself.
And I won’t start now.
I have been confused and conflicted and terrified and angry
I’ve suppressed my feelings and pushed away my desires and denied my thoughts
The fabric of my identity has been contorted and hammered and ripped
And there have been times when I have had to hide myself, conceal myself, and wait.
But I have never betrayed myself.
This is the truth I discover every time.
I have many masks and many faces and different voices and too many games
I get lost in the sea of people and thoughts pressing on me
But at the core, when I go down deep enough, is this one fact:
I have never betrayed myself.
And someday, perhaps I will find someone who will never ask me to betray myself.
I suppose that’s where love comes in.
Love that allows me to keep my integrity as an individual, keep my freedom and my truths
Not demand they be laid down on the altar as a sacrifice.
For some reason, that’s what I thought Christ was teaching.
I thought he died to show me
That I’m worth it.
I thought he came back to life to tell me
Not to be afraid.
And that meant so much to me because
My father used to tell me that he wanted to die because of me
My mother looked at me with fear in her eyes and told me I was becoming my father
I let myself cry only when I was alone in the darkness
And they said this so many times I believed them
And I tried so hard to fix it
Me, them, our house, myself, something
I tried so hard to fix it.
And every day I tell myself that I should be over this, I shouldn’t get so hurt or feel so much or try to remember
I tell myself that I’m different and changed and stronger and wiser
I know better than to respond to my father’s baiting
I can control my emotions
I know better than to tell anything to my mother
I know a lot of things better
I have better control
I have thicker walls
But I don’t know why I’m not over it.
And to be honest, I feel like a fool sometimes, holding out hope for things I will never get
In a lot of ways, I’ve given up on love
You might say that it’s just my parents, but it’s not just my parents
Because even if this poem, this soul shit or whatever seems open, it’s not
There are other people, other experiences that I refuse to share with you
You do not get that kind of leverage over me
You can use this and throw it in my face but I always hold something back
I always have a back door
And if you do use this against me I swear to you I will never forget it.
I’ve got a long memory.
You see how deeply ingrained this paranoia is inside me?
In so many ways I’d given up on love, trust, friendship
But faith let me open myself up again, slowly, cautiously
Made me realize the conditions of my upbringing are not normal by any standard
And people are kind.
People are kind.
Maybe that’s why I’m trying to keep my faith.
Because this family I used to rebuild some of my foundations has been closed off to me
I have to go elsewhere to find a support group
I’ve grown colder again, evaluating things in terms of survival:
What’s the dose of emotion that I need to get by every day?
50 milliliters? 75 grams? Is it a pill? Does it come in gel caps?
Should I go for the 5-a-day Motrin or the 2-a-day Aleve?
How much do I need to talk to people, how much of myself do I reveal to real people that I interact with every day?
I find myself holding back on giving my opinion
Playing to their expectations of who I might be
Creating an elaborate persona for each interaction
It’s not a matter of split personalities, but variations on a theme.
Shattered and rebuilt, shattered and rebuilt.
And in the middle of it all, something continues to survive
The truth that I have never betrayed myself
Whatever that self is or was or will be
I don’t pretend to have set of memories that define me
Core tenets that I’ve always believed
Emotions that are especially meaningful.
I look back at what I’ve written and I don’t recognize the person I was
Though I remember something of it.
There’s only one thing I’ve always known, and it’s that I have never betrayed myself.
It seems that’s enough to keep me going.
I wanted this poem
If you can call it a poem
To have more structure
I like structure
But I suppose it’s because I feel pretty unstructured right now
I met up with an old friend—we had lost touch for two years
It was a little harrowing, talking to him
He was having an HIV scare
Calculating months and boyfriends trying to find the trail of positives and negatives
He’s been out for a few years
Went to Amsterdam on a dime and did a lot of crazy stuff
Conversation consisted of how long HIV can live outside the body
The cost of treatment
Having to hide shit from the insurance companies
Having to tell future partners
Having to change his lifestyle completely because those pills—you have to be militaristically punctual
The thing is, there wasn’t even any penetration involved.
The other guy came, but he didn’t
But he did have a nasty cut and we were trying to figure out over coffee the chances of the virus getting in that way.
He called me a few days later
While I was shopping for groceries and hunting down grapefruit juice
When he asked me point blank if I’m gay
And he looked…relieved.
Or like something had been confirmed?
He told me he sat down one day and tried to figure me out
And realized homosexual fit
He said he wouldn’t have been surprised either way, if I were gay or straight or still closeted
But replaying that conversation in my head, there was definite relief.
We talked about old friends and common acquaintances we had we thought were hawt.
It was kind of silly.
But nice to let that part of me out in the sun.
Oh, I forgot to mention.
He’s half Muslim.
There are gays in my church.
I’ve seen them.
More specifically, I’ve seen him.
To a woman.
I tried not to stare (when I still went to church)
I’ve heard stories
People knew people who were gay
And hid it
Then they couldn’t hide it anymore
And the ministers laid down ultimatums
God, or your lover
Some choose God
Some choose their lover
I’ve talked to people about homosexuality
Pretending that I’m interested purely for the theory of it
They make comparisons
God gives some people mental retardation
God gives some people cancer
God gives some people alcoholism
God gives some people depression
And God gives some people homosexuality
We all have our struggles
God gives us the strength to defeat those struggles
It is his Way.
There’s no hard and fast doctrine, actually
Most people are silent
Most people look away
Why am I writing all this?
Because I could never hold my shit.
It’s written diarrhea.
I know this conflict is something many people have gone through
Continue to go through
Will go through
I respect every person’s experience grappling with their sexual orientation
Maybe just the act of acknowledging you have desires
But I need to write this for myself
I’ve often wished that I could simply download someone else’s experience
And integrate it into my life painlessly
Kind of like bulimia
Except instead of eating and throwing up, the food would just bypass my digestive system
But somehow I’d get the nutrients I needed anyway
That simile fell apart
I can never hold my shit
When I gotta go, I gotta go
Whether I’m shitting my pants right now
Or squeezing one out in the bushes is debatable
But better than keeping it all in, right?
I’ve been keeping a lot of stuff in these past few weeks
And now I can’t do it anymore
So I turn to the thing that’s always let me shit without exploding
Which is this.
This is how I’ve always been able to maintain my integrity as a person
This is how I’ve been able to remember that I want things
This is how I can say that I’ve never betrayed myself.
There’s a story that Anna Akhmatova memorized her poetry
Not all of it, but for a time, it wasn’t safe for her to write it down
I don’t know how she did it
But I think if I ever had to
If my life depended on it, I could do it
I was able to hold my shit during church
I can do it again
It doesn’t last forever
After Stalin died, she wrote down her poetry again
The poems were still censored and modified and bent out of shape
But she could write again
She had always been writing, composing verses in her head
It was just a matter of remembering her voice, her words, until they could be seen again.
No reign of terror lasts forever.
Some people fight and die for their principles
Some people give up their principles and resign themselves altogether
Some people believe in terror.
And some people survive through subversion.
I take a lot from that.
Do I believe in souls?
I have no idea.