I take the pack of index cards out of my shirt pocket, slide the rubber band off, and lay them on the table. Hafiz has prepared a few placards and set them up at credible intervals. They read, “No Way, José,” “I Sure Hope Not,” “Why, Of Course!” “Prepare Yourself For Tears,” and “Jesus Christ!”
I take a breath and shuffle the cards. Place them in a neat pile on the table.
The first card I flip says, You are a thinking being. I hum appreciatively– a safe and wholesome opening– and show my card to Hafiz, who nods. It’s a nod like I just told him the out of doors is often filled with weather, or horses have teeth also. I slide the card over to “Why, Of Course!”
I draw again.
Everything you desire, as well as what you need, must be earned.
I hum again, this time in acknowledgment of our little game’s escalation. Bit of tricky business, this… I hesitate. “I Sure Hope Not” is looking like the one, but there’s more to it. It’s definitely not all that I really feel about this card. There’s something else and I’m trying not to look it in the eye. I’m about to get tired. I’m about to suggest we watch a Seinfeld episode. “Prepare Yourself For Tears” is looking like a dark horse candidate.
How could I not know how I really feel?
“How ’bout a two-fer?” I ask.
Hafiz nods. Yes, a two-fer. Yes, the sky is often populated by clouds. Yes, the table before us is made from the flesh of trees. Yes, a thinking being can be confused, but it doesn’t change the fact that the spring follows the winter.
I turn over the next one.
Creation is joy extending forever, without limit or interruption or discontinuity. There is nothing outside of it, and nowhere it is not.
I’m starting to sweat. I may as well be reading machine language. The words are standing politely on the other side of a cosmic pane of glass. Over there. Not here. They’re there, and I’m here. I can hardly read my own writing. Joy? I must have written this one down during the ecstatic consummation of a rocket launch, or while I was hanging off the back of a jet ski outrunning a wave as high as a small city. The letters look like a seismograph recording of the day that asteroid hit the earth– yes, that one, when the dinosaurs succumbed to a wave of very bad feelings. What if this card had been pulled on that day?
I start to hurt. They’re there, and I’m here. I wrote this down once so I’d remember, and now it is waving at me and I don’t feel a thing. My faculties are on pause. I don’t know a single thing. This table is made of wood but what the hell is wood. I feel trapped. Just three cards in and I’m done. Weren’t pterodactyls Creation, too?
I smile to Hafiz wanly and lift my hands from the table, palms facing the cards. I slide back my chair. I surrender.
“Write that down,” Hafiz says. He slides me a blank index card and a pen.
I take the pen. It is hard to use because it has a bouquet of mismatched feathers sticking out of it– turkey, toucan, chickadee, heron, eagle, chicken, probably a raven– and it seems prepared to dust off the whole world. They’re tickling my nose while I write. Why would you mix an eagle feather and a chicken feather?
I don’t know how I truly feel. I surrender.
My uncertainty dissolves in the presence of such honesty. The room of my heart expands.
“Want to give me one of those other ones?” he asks.
I flip through the deck.
I find the one I’m looking for. I can figure this out myself. I pass it over. Hafiz folds it into the shape of a paper airplane, pours lighter fluid down the center crease, lights the nose, and lofts it gently through the open window. We watch together as the flames slide sideways through the night.
I’m thinking about ordering take-out. Thinking about that Thai place we went to once. I’m so relieved about my new card I’m breathing like a morning mist and tasting coconut soup and my eyes are clouding with tears.
And Hafiz is chuckling.
Yes. Yes the sky will sometimes fill with flames.