by Hailey Bishop
Hailey Bishop is originally from Louisville, KY. Now based in Cincinnati, OH, she is a student at the University of Cincinnati, studying Political Science and Environmental Studies.
Author's Note: This essay contains variations on lines from the following four texts: Green Wood by Allison Cobb; The Environmental Humanities by Robert S. Emmett and David E. Nye; American Harvest: God, Country and Farming in the Heartland by Marie Mutsuki Mockett; and By Night in Chile by Roberto Bilaño, as well as an excerpt from the Hebrew Names Bible.
If She Were a God, It Would've Been Praying
I read Saint Augustine. He used to have sex and grovel with the sinners on door steps. He was wicked, proud, worldly. Rolling in the muds of his sins; filthy. They say he was an inspiration to the sinners. I was thinking about how in Ecclesiastes it says that crying is better than laughing for the soul. I must be a sinner.
I read Saint Thomas too; his sexual loathing, his blinding celibacy. When he grew up, he refused to speak. He drove the prostitute from his house with a fire iron. He wouldn’t even touch her. I wondered how he found a way to live without touching, without speaking; if he spit on the mating mayflies with envy rooted resentment and stepped over the blasphemous brook with a self righteous dignity. He won’t even touch it. I was thinking about the part in Luke where Jesus says we can’t run from suffering. Even the Saints are sinners.
* * *
Only Mother Nature knows. She saw us watch her untouched, virgin body and knew we would commend her abstinence as we stripped her to her bones. She looked into our eyes and saw the bloodlust that would paint her red with infidelity. Only Mother Nature knows. If there is a god, he is a man because only a man would sculpt mouths that touch what they please and hands that take like she is theirs. What godforsaken place is this? Where we have divided up our prairies and written our names on the slaughtered trunks of trees, where we’ve purchased the stars and drawn the lines of our boundaries in blood.
I know that she knows. I can feel her in my bones. She saw him look at my body and she saw him spit on the mating mayflies, cursing their impurity, while he stripped me to my bones. She looked into my eyes and told me crying is better than laughing for the soul. She would know. If there is a god he is a god of the damned because he created man. What godforsaken place is this? Where adulterous hands draw blood while claiming passion and the bodies attached to them are pardoned by the men who taught them how to touch the untouchable.
* * *
What would Mother Mary say? But, your Mother Mary does not speak, she only listens. Your Mother Mary is an obedient servant. Your Mother Mary is an acquiescent virgin. Modest, compliant, silent. At the Second Vatican Council in 1962, they debated her place in the Catholic Church and it’s documented teachings. No women were present. She watched us turn the story of her child’s birth into a false paradigm of virginity. I can imagine by now she would have a lot to say.
I know what Eve would say; the first sinner, the liable offender. Wicked, proud, worldly. A threat to the celibate man? Maybe. But in Eden, her body breathed untainted by Adam’s sanctimonious god. In Eden, she laid naked under swarms of mating mayflies and bathed in the brooks. An inspiration to the sinners. I’ve heard that Eve is part of all women; our nucleus of evil, temptation, and desire. That she manifests in us and that we are all of her and I am okay with that.
* * *
I read Saint Francis of Assisi. He was named the patron Saint of ecology; blessed with visions and endowed in emotional euphoria. He fell to his knees in the forest and praised god for the trees he had erected there. Saint Francis must have forgotten. Our Mother’s blood courses through the roots under his feet and leaks like sap from the bark. In cathedrals, they bless animals in his name. They must have forgotten. Saint Francis did not live naked among them in Eden, the mayflies did not brush his bare limbs, and the flowers did not cradle his undressed body while he slept.
Eve, meaning life, stems from the Latin: Eva, the living one. In Hebrew; Chavah, meaning living. She fell to her knees in the Garden of Eden and thanked her Mother for the rivers she cried life into. God drove her from the Garden with a fire iron. He wouldn’t even touch her. He must have forgotten; this garden is not his. “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you will bring forth children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” He must have forgotten; she is not his either.
* * *
He will not touch me, but he will take from me. She will let him take and watch him burn himself in the fire he started. He will burn and thank god the whole time. If there is a god, then he will watch.
He will not touch her blasphemous brooks, but he will take their waters to put out the fire he started. She will let him take and watch him drown himself from gluttony. He will drown and curse god. If there is a god, then he will watch.
He will not touch the mating mayflies, but he will take their vulnerability. She will let him take and watch the flies swarm his decomposing body. His body will rot, and his soul will search for god. Mother Nature will laugh.
He will not touch me, but he will take from me. She will watch him take and enumerate his debts. He will long for something sacred. He will not find a god, no saints, his faith wasted and nothing left to be taken.
The men who have taken from our bodies; my Mother’s and mine. The Saints who repented for the wrong sins; rape, not sex, was the crime. The god who has reveled in misattributed credit. The man who swears by the bible but hasn’t read it.
I almost forgot these limbs were my own and that you’re supposed to listen when I say no. I almost forgot that where your idols have been erected, her flowers used to grow. I have tried to see your side and pressed my foot deep into the soles of your shoes. You take like we’re ahead but this world was not designed for you to lose.
* * *
I pleaded with Saint Augustine. I bled in the church pews and cried in cathedrals: no god, no saints.
I reasoned with Saint Thomas. I prayed for a sign and begged for an answer: nothing devout, no one sinless.
I exhorted Saint Francis. I asked to understand: nothing sacred and nothing left to be taken.
Last night while I laid in bed, I talked to Mother Nature. If she were a god, it would've been praying. I begged her to regrow the shedded skin on the dead birch trees, said that this time our greedy fingertips would not peel it off. She looked into my eyes and told me crying is better than laughing for the soul. She would know.
In my mother’s silence, I hear Mary. And in my head, I am urging her to speak. I can imagine by now she would have a lot to say. I am telling her to cry and asking her to hold me while I do. In my weeping, I tell her how they hush her voice in the sacristies of cathedrals. I know that she already knows.
Sometimes, in the mirror in my hallway, I see Eve. I cannot always tell her eyes from mine. Wicked, proud, worldly. Mayflies swarm around her body, and the waters of the rivers she cried life into fall from her eyes. An inspiration to the sinners. She was the first person to tell me it wasn’t my fault. She reminded me in the Garden of Eden our bodies lay untouched.
She forgot: Eden has been bought.