—a poem by Ellen Bass

The god of atheists won't burn you at the stake
or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you
bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns,
or buy gold leaf and stained-glass windows.
It won't insist you fast or twist
the shape of your sexual hunger.
There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it.
You don't have to veil your face for it
or bloody your knees.
You don't have to sing.

The plums that bloom extravagantly,
the dolphins that stitch sky to sea,
each pebble and fern, pond and fish
are yours whether or not you believe.

When fog is ripped away
just as a rust red thumb slides across the moon,
the god of atheists isn't rewarding you
for waking up in the middle of the night
and shivering barefoot in the field.

This god is not moved by the musk
of incense or bowls of oranges,
the mask brushed with cochineal,
polished rib of the lion.
Eat the macerated leaves
of the sacred plant. Dance
till the stars blur to a spangly river.
Rain, if it comes, will come.
This god loves the virus as much as the child.

* "Ode to the God of Atheists" was originally published by The Sun.

Ellen Bass's poetry books include The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press), named a Notable Book of 2007 by the San Francisco Chronicle and Mules of Love (BOA, 2002), which won the Lambda Literary Award. Her poems have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, The Kenyon Review, American Poetry Review and many other journals. Her non-fiction books include The Courage to Heal and Free Your Mind. She teaches in the MFA program at Pacific University and at conferences and retreats nationally and internationally. (http://www.ellenbass.com/)