A Natural History: Gabrielle Calvocoressi


A Natural History of My God

By Gabrielle Calvocoressi

I. Saved me.

A detail of Caravaggio's Sacrifice of Isaac.

fig. 1 A detail of Caravaggio's Sacrifice of Isaac.

Not in the way my mother might have meant by “Saved.” Not in the way the people down at the river’s edge in their white white robes might have meant as they sang and swayed and pushed their voice against the current.

More like the icebreaking ship that made its way past our house at night. The silence and then like a voice the first cracks heard in the distance and then the big opening and the silence again. It’s an old and boring story: Once I was small and someone heard a voice and reached towards me and then stopped short. Took the arm off the record.  Let the horn rest on the knees and stared out the window, already forgetting the song. Or working the one note over.  Once I was the note almost cut short. Once I was the horn and my eyes were the keys covered like milk with their fake mother of pearl. Once I stared at my maker and my eyes filled with rain.

II. Visitation

Fig. 2

fig. 2

At first I thought he spoke to me. At night, when I was small. Every night I’d wake from terrible dreams. And in the darkness I’d hear something I couldn’t make out. I assumed it was his voice, telling me I’d be fine. I talked into the darkness alongside him.

I would like you to look above my voice to this picture (Fig. 2). This is the power plant on the left hand side. This is the river between my childhood home and the power plant. The branch on the left, the highest one, is where my grandfather put the light up and told me it was the North Star and told me about the shepherds and how they followed it to their Savior. I am saying I believed this to be a place of visitation.  I’m saying it was easy to believe God spoke to me in those days. I didn’t need to know what was being said.

Now I know there is a man in one of the towers. Now I know that when you wake up in the night you hear his voice move across the water . It doesn’t matter what he’s saying or how I found out. I know it now. And I don’t live there anymore.

III. Here Comes the Sun. The Covers.

fig. 3

Listen. I heard it. And it wasn’t like this (Fig. 3) at all. It was my mother’s voice as we walked through the empty streets as the sun rose. Me in my footy pajamas and no coat, trying to keep up and her singing and saying the Sun was Him and sometimes that was God and sometimes it was my father. Listen. It wasn’t like this version at all. But it’s beautiful isn’t it? The way his voice gets when he says, It’s been a long cold lonely winter.  Little Darling. It seems like years since I was there.

I remember the sky was pink and orange and then how the orange slowly got brighter and I couldn’t look anymore.  Like a candle or a girl coming toward you, naked and wet from the pool with the sun behind her.

IV. Field Study

fig. 4

fig. 4

Look at the boy in Fig.1. That’s Isaac. I am trying to decide what his eyes are saying. It looks to me like he’s been crying. It would make sense. His eyes will always cause him grief. That will be a story in itself. What happens when you can’t see things for what they are.

One day he’s going to be standing in a field and the light’s going to make everything this deep shade of gold and he’s going to see someone in the distance. Maybe he can’t see her at first. Maybe he’ll squint his eyes a bit or do that thing where he focuses and just breathes a bit and lets the figure come near. Like he does with the leaves on the trees, or at baseball games, waits for things to get clear.

We both got saved.  Each by some man and each by some voice.  For years I couldn’t listen to that song. Look at how bright those candles are (Fig. 4). I lit them outside on a cold night while everyone else was laughing and drinking. I couldn’t see while I walked to that rock and it was icy and I was afraid I might fall. I was an adult and there wasn’t any music except the wind through the bare branches and the prayer I said in a language I don’t even know yet.


Gabrielle Calvocoressi was born in Central Connecticut, and her poem “Jubilee,” from her second collection Apocalyptic Swing, was recently featured on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor .



“A Natural History of My God” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>

Gabrielle Calvocoressi has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including a Stegner fellowship in Poetry, a Jones Lectureship in Poetry at Stanford University and a Rona Jaffe Woman Writers’ Award.  Her poem “Circus Fire, 1944” received The Paris Reviews’ Bernard F. Conners Prize.  Her first collection, The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, was published by Persea Books in 2005 and won the Connecticut Book Award.  She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the MFA program at California College of Arts in San Francisco and in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Warren Wilson College.  Her second collection, Apocalyptic Swing, was recently published by Persea Books.


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