Pied Beauty

This was a journal entry I wrote after an encounter with a cashier in Northern Michigan. He ran his fingers lightly over the scar on my left forearm, asking wonderingly, "What happened sweetheart?" Thankfully, it has been four years since I last self-harmed. But here is my journal from that time. 

Here, I want to say, here I am.

Not a smooth surface, not pristine. Oh, no. Specked and spotted, crosshatched. Mauve and brown and the raised white on my forearm, the raised white over which the cashier in the grocery store runs his fingers, his voice soft with wonder: “What happened, sweetheart?”

Later, I will think to myself that he was listening to the ways in which my body was hurt, the ways in which it has attempted to knit itself whole again. The ways in which it couldn’t quite manage. He was listening, he was questioning, his voice tender: “What happened?”

I think of the Gerard Manley Hopkins’ line: “Glory be to God for dappled things…”

God calls out to me in the night, His voice the stillness amidst the hiss and screech and scream of my nightmares: “My pied beauty,” He says. “Where are you?”

When I find myself answering, my voice is soft with wonder, with surprise. I am surprised that God is calling me. I am surprised that I am answering.

 “Here I am,” I say. “Here I am, your dappled thing.”


What does it mean to be here? I ask. To be fully present, to sense and feel and think and do and be.

“I love you when I don’t know what to say,” the song goes.

This is me. Profound, this being here. Listening and grace.

Sing over me. Sing over me again, God of Second Chances. Sing over me, God of chances as numerous as the stars in the sky, as the grains of sand on a beach. Sing me to sleep at night. Sing me awake in the morning. Sing me, sing me. Sing me so that I can sing.

Sensory details come so easily to me in writing -- smells and tastes and bright, harsh noises; vicious, raging colors.

“Your writing is so image-driven,” a writing instructor once said to me.

I pay attention in words,  in language and writing. I pay attention to grammar, to whether I have split the infinitive, to modifiers, dangling and otherwise. But I don’t pay attention to music, to the sounds of waves, to the rush of trees or wind, or to the precise shade of blue the sky is today. 

What was the weather like the day before yesterday? Should I wear a jacket this morning? Will it rain? These questions confuse me, confuse me profoundly. I don’t know how to be in a world that is real.

The sky darkens. The clouds hang low. The green of the trees looks vivid and acid, like it would make a bright, tangy streak down your throat if you chewed the leaves. Flaming-green and bright all the way down, the masticated leaves igniting in bright green fire in your belly.

Paying attention. The gospel of attention. Attentiveness. Prayer.

I never listen to my body and I seldom pray.

Is that a stone in my shoe? Should I remove it? How long can I walk on it? Is the pain noticeable or is it just my imagination?

Turn your attention away. Go for a walk in a garden; count numbers; float. This is how it works.

Pain is my master. In pain, I begin and end. In pain, I make my home. Of course, there is also no such thing as pain. It is an illusion, and I have been conscripted as a magician’s assistant. My home is a mirage. But mirage or no, my home will kill me if I dwell in it. To survive, I cannot be at home. You are gone, gone, gone – gone from home. A gone girl.


The man behind the grocery store counter reaches out and touches the raised white scar that runs across my forearm: “What happened, sweetheart?”

I can’t tell you. I can’t speak. I have no words.

And, is there a scar there? There can’t be. That wasn’t real. That didn’t happen.

Of course, you are tempted to say, “Leave me the fuck alone.” And, “Don’t call me ‘sweetheart.’”

Instead, you say something like, “I’d rather not talk about it.” You reach for your change; smile at him; tell him to have a nice day. You walk out into the sun.

Some people have no boundaries, you tell yourself later. It occurs to you that this is rather beautiful: Where do I end and you begin? Aren’t we all in this together? And curiosity – a human condition as well as feline. My cats are curious. Why wouldn’t the cashier be?

It’s an odd moment: A stranger is listening to you, paying attention. A stranger is listening to the stories your body tells. You are real, he is saying. I can see how real you are. I can hear it; I can touch it. Your realness is under my fingertips. 

Of course, he is only curious. But he calls you “sweetheart.” You tell yourself not to be ridiculous, but the throwaway endearment tugs at your heart.

Out there, inside, there is a Greater Listener, a Greater Voice. He, too, calls you “sweetheart.” My sweet, wild heart. Heart of my heart. Beloved.

You can listen to me, He says. Learn how to listen to me, and I will teach you how to listen to yourself.

Yes, LORD, I say. Teach me that. I want to listen. I want to be here.


Years ago, in a high school English class, I listened to a poet, to Gerard Manley Hopkins. I listened to poets then, though I did not listen to myself or my Maker.

Today, my Maker says to me, “I made you to be a pied beauty.”

Hopkins writes,
“All things counter, original, spare, strange:
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.”

 Fickle (oh, yes!), freckled. Swift, slow; sweet, sour. Dim and adazzle.

Scintillating. Scorching. Original. Spare and counter and strange. 

Beauty past change. 

I am here. I will listen.

Praise him. 


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