Alice George



in literature and remembers Scarry's idea: we obsess
on birds and flowers because they're small,

so easily pulled into our skull, for we are limited
after all in our taste for beauty, so some fit

is required to trigger our lyrical praise.
And yes, yellow-throated warblers,

sprays of lilac do charge her with joy yet
the atheist remembers her college thrill at Sartre's

disgust with trees, the way he stood before nature
unsettled by nausea. The songs about birds bother

her most, the stress on 'wings' and 'little,' as if
we all wore heavy loads, such an urgent need for help,

as if those soft beasts with over-performing
hearts could enter us, could carry.



and plots her lecture to him upon this latest
disappointment, how he'll hang his head

earnestly and vow to work harder.
Then curses herself roundly. Then re-finds

the carefully handwritten instructions
from her sister on meditation, remembers

her one botched attempt, details plucking
like marionette strings at her skin.

Then picks up Hafiz, hoping
the Sufi master will cut her a break:

For a Long time the Universe
has been germinating in your spine.

How can he be so cock-sure
she is fertile, and without end?

The C in French is killing him,
but does he even realize.



to bolster her loyalty to atheism. And finds
exactly what she needs: Spirituality is the human

expressed in terms of the non-human, claims
Dr. David Eller in the American Atheist, and

thus a grand betrayal. The atheist leans into
the screen, hearing her parents, nodding her head.

Dr. E laments the map which western religion
draws of the inner life where the best,

the brightest, most ring-a-ding
moments arrive from beyond our borders.

As if humans couldn't swell with beauty unbidden,
as if our cells weren't splendid enough.

But her lately feeling, this wish to be found?
Or to find, as if hugeness awaited her call?

Perhaps it is sexual, this naming of God,
quite simply, the wish to be entered,

or enter, and lonely, always lonely.
For of course, she is.



They are combining my daughter with one of Bin Laden's men.
The procedure is scientific, sterile, conducted with the highest degree
of intent and severity, yet there is singing going on in the operating room,
someone is singing.

They've pulled back the white linen now so we can observe what
is happening. It is some sort of graft, and I am sure it is one of the dead suicide-
terrorists, but why would they go to this trouble to mix the dead with the living?

I am wrong. He is alive because his flesh is warm now that it's placed onto my
daughter's belly. They must be trying to see if she'll reject his cells but everything
seems fine. The singing

grows louder and everyone around me, all the adults observing, begin to applaud, and
then it crashes over me the happiness shoots into my mouth because now we will
begin to understand them now that my daughter's not really mine. And if you look at
the terrorist, you'll see his metamorphosis, too. He is softening. He is stepping into
my arms.


The atheist poems are from a continuing sequence optimistically titled "The Beautiful Atheist," about 25 poems long right now. Books reffed in two of the poems here include Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and the medieval Persian poet Hafiz, as wonderfully translated by Daniel Ladinsky in The Gift. "The Procedure" was written back in late 2001, when we were desperately looking for Bin Laden.