We thought we were the chosen, called to polish the world and leave it golden, but instead we became radical, helpless, holy but alone. Now we gather in the basement of the Episcopalian Church, stir powdered creamer into burnt coffee and talk about our cults.
In the beginning we had UFOs and Jesuses, prophets, and prime movers.
We planned for doomsdays and apocalypses.
Built bunkers, hoarded guns.
Now we circle around the soft-spoken blonde who once led smear campaigns against curious journalists and as she mourns lost sister-wives we applaud and group hug to show her that we care, that we were once mere members of a body, but now we’re a series of individual arms, unentangled, a diversity of helping hands.
We once filled mess halls with savory scents, and now we have leftovers. We beg each other to take home tupperwares of freezerburned stew
During break we discuss Ritual Cleansings over sidewalk cigarettes as cars slush muddy slop onto the sidewalk, as the drains plug with sludge and littered empties, as the puddles still around us and rainbow with oil.
We’ve kissed our leaders’ persecuted feet, erected monoliths, idols, and temples, but none of it worked.
We are here.
Once we cultivated eternal souls but now we wince with back pain, toothaches, at the price of gasoline and milk.
We are here.
We scrape up and stack the chairs.
We end the night with a prayer about the difference between what we can change and cannot, and we step out into the evening’s chill, disintegrate into separate worlds we share with spouses or families that only shake their heads at our traumas and try and fail to fully understand.
If we are lucky we still have families.
If we are lucky we feed our pets, water our plants.
We watch documentaries on Netflix about Heaven’s Gate or Scientology and see ourselves on the screen being interviewed about disconnection, isolation, brainwashing, and ego death. The psychoanalyst says that we were controlled by being broken down and then reformed within the group identity.
The rest of the world asks us why?
What is wrong with us?
And we tell them we were lonely, maybe.
Maybe we felt lost.
We tell them that once we held all the world’s problems in a prayer, but when we opened our eyes the prayers hailed back down on top of us.
We are lucky.
We are here.
Nick Gardner is in recovery from opioids and holds an MFA in fiction from Bowling Green State University. His poetry and fiction has appeared in Epiphany, Atticus Review, Ocean State Review, and other journals. His book of poetry, So Marvelously Far was published in 2019 through Crisis Chronicles Press. He lives in Ohio.