Twenty-One Novel Poems

Suzette Haden Elgin

Excerpt from the Readers' Guide....

There is a wonderful book written by David Bodanis, titled The Secret House. If you haven't read it, I urge you to — you won't be sorry. If you're squeamish about all the invisible livestock living out their days and nights in your house, and in and on your body, you can always pretend that the whole thing is a fantasy.

For me, that book was the path to a new way of thinking about the ancient theological conundrum about an all-good and all-powerful God who allows endless misery and suffering and slaughter. I had never before really thought about the possibility that for God a tsunami that kills a hundred thousand people is perhaps equivalent to the tsunami I create inside my mouth every time I brush my teeth, killing many thousands of bacteria. I'm only a human being, and I can easily explain why every day of my life I carry out that slaughter at least twice, usually more than twice. Perhaps God, if we human beings understood God-language, could even more easily explain why tsunamis and plagues and global pandemics are something that has to be done from time to time. Perhaps events like that are an aspect of sacred hygiene.

Ever since I read The Secret House I have regretted the fact that my plan for my own life requires me to slaughter tiny organisms by the millions. Similarly, ever since I read The Secret House I have assumed that God must regret that the divine plan for the entire universe requires similar measures on a very different scale. That doesn't explain the ancient conundrum to me, because an all-powerful God would be able to create a universe in which things aren't that way. But it does give me a drastically different way to think about it, and I'm grateful to David Bodanis for that.

"Psalm to a Higher Power" is just me talking to God about this matter.

Twenty-One Novel Poems Index