Klediments: “More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” Woody Allen.
Interestingly, there has not been much discussion in the election season on concepts like “free will,” “predestination,” “fate,” the “eternal return,” “tzimtzum,” or even “karma” or “kismet.” Seems like all of a sudden at election time everybody determined that their single, statistically insignificant vote is the most potent expression of human agency and power in history and that it’s potential rivals the very supremacy of God!
Well, thankfully we are reaching the end of the election here in the U.S.. So as a final sabbath reflection on the election let us ponder some words from today’s Talmudic reflection that offers some insight into our own indisputable abilities for self deception, selfishness, vanity and idolatry:
Here is a relevant teaching from Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, on the biblical verse Exodus 33.8, “Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise and stand … and gaze after Moses until he went into the Tent.” Rabbi Ber taught, “Everyone sees himself in the righteous one (zaddik or saint) therefore, they suspected Moses was guilty of adultery (since he had separated from his wife). But in fact it was they who were guilty of adultery with the mixed multitude. When they gazed at Moses they saw themselves in the zaddik and thus suspected him.” Rabbi Dov Ber suggests this is the core, and tragedy, of a leader: His selfhood is lost in the aspirations, expectations, and limitations of those “who gaze upon him.”
And even more, what is lost of the “selfhood” of the followers/worshipers of these leaders? Ponder these things sisters and brothers until after the election.
No, that’s not MauMau Obama strangling some white colonist in Kenya, it’s Saint Martin de Porres healing a sick old white dude in Peru (bless you bro!). Nov 3rd is the feast day of Saint Martin, the first black saint and the patron saint of mixed-race people being the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a black former slave (legitimate rape?). As well as caring for the sick and poor, one of his miraculous abilities was bi-location, appearing in many different places at once around the world where needed (sort of like having a Saint Batman app on your smart phone). Saint Martin was also good friends with my third favorite saint, Saint Rose of Lima (more about her later, I have some poetry, the beginnings of a screen-play, and an Icon of her in the works).
legend has it that if you pray to St. Martin and see a mouse in an unusual place on his feast day, you will receive an answer to a prayer. I have saved a mouse in the freezer just for today so if any of you have prayer request let me know. And yeah I know, these catholic super-stitions can really be bizarre, but at least half my friends (both virtual and in the meat world) voted for Romney and have y’all checked out some of the crazy sh%&it them Mormons believe? So don't you go rolling your eyes at me!
In 1962, Pope John XXIII remarked at the canonization of Martin: "He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries, convinced that he deserved much severer punishments on account of his own sins. He tried with all his might to redeem the guilty; lovingly he comforted the sick; he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; he helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves: thus he deserved to be called by the name the people gave him: 'Martin of Charity.'" This election has made me wonder if “racism” in america has become a sin that almost nobody acknowledges and confesses, like pollution or global warming, racism has become a "sin of the world" that is, it’s everybody's responsibility but apparently nobody's fault?
Finally, I was just sitting around watching C-span and reading from Marx’s “The German Ideology” when ZOOMCRACK!!! Obama actually came on the TV and started giving a speech Coincidence???
"One has to "leave philosophy aside” Marx admonished me. “... one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality, for which there exists also an enormous amount of literary material, unknown, of course, to the philosophers. ... Philosophy and the study of the actual world have the same relation to one another as onanism and sexual love" (The German ideology, 259). Hmmm...did Marx just say that all my pseudo-philosophizing here and on facebook was just so much cenobitic malthusianism? (I’ll just let y’all look all that up). Now I could so see one of the apostles (not the big shots like John or Peter but maybe Thaddeus) saying something just like Marx when they were arguing about who gets what from the common purse. But I reckon that all those “free” market Kapitalists can thank the Roman Emperor Tiberius for cracking down on and snuffing out that little cabal of upper-room neo-Marxists before their radical ideas caught on! Alas, like so many other commies, anarchists, and re-distributists, they all spoke in too many “different tongues,” drunk on the Glossolalia of their chichi theories. Later Marx adds: “As individuals express their life, so they are.”
Well, let’s just see if we can tie this all up together with a poem by one of my favorite Nordic poets, Olav H. Hauge:
Don’t Come to Me with the Entire Truth
Don’t come to me with the entire truth.
Don’t bring the ocean when I feel thirsty,
nor heaven if I ask for light;
but bring a hint, some dew, a particle,
as birds carry drops away from a lake,
and the wind a grain of salt.
Blessings and obliged.
(p.s. Zoomcrack is one of many useful neo-logisms created by my good friend Johnny Van Patten, obliged Johnny)
Poem of the week is form Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos:
"Account of the Events"
Today, the sixth day of the month of August
of the year nineteen hundred and seventy-nine
as history forewarned
the coffee bitter,
the tobacco running out,
the afternoon declining
and everything in place for
conspiring against the shadows and darkness
which obscure the world and its sun.
Some of you older folk may remember Subcomandante Marcos, the charismatic poet-warrior leader of the Zapatista’s in Chiapas so many of us radical poseurs were infatuated with (and so many others went to visit/vacation with after Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua got himself de-elected by Ronald Reagan’s falangist contras). Still, they need the money and the media in order to continue to conspire against the “shadows and darkness,” long after our attention has been tweeted elsewhere. Yet there is still something very inspiring and terrifying about a small community of poor campesinos living, struggling, and caring for one another, whose life together is lived out daily in the simple acts of feeding pigs, grinding corn, hauling water, invoking the Virgin and burying one another’s children. From the windows of a moving bus heading through such actually existing communities of hope and desperation one can witness *the blessed poor* we so much like to conjure into our intricate and fantastical theologies. Too much of my own theological ruminations smell more of ivy, new leather, and Starbucks than pigshit, blood, and Ningüijute to be taken seriously by anyone, obligado.
p.s. later in the document Subcomandante Marcos goes on to write to his friend Don Fernando: “Greetings from all the zapatista companeros and companeras and from the indigenous communities in resistance. We hope that you, and all of those working alongside you, are in good health and of good cheer. You, as we know, are working alongside other honest men and women in tending to the memory of our people's struggle.” Then at the end comes this really quite jarring exhortation of commitment to the struggle and to solidarity. The Subcomandante proposes that his followers sign a contract of sorts that bears a frighteningly amount of similarity to the gospel!
“First. - That the below signed renounce their homes, work, family and studies and all the comforts which have been accumulated in the hands of the few upon the misery of the many.
Second. - That the below signed renounce a future, paid on time, of individual enjoyment.
Third. - That the below signed also renounce the shield of indifference in the face of the suffering of others and the vainglory of a place among the powerful.
Fourth. - That the below signed are prepared for all the sacrifices necessary in order to fight silently and without rest in order to make me, the patria, free and true.
Fifth. - That the below signed are prepared to suffer persecution, calumny and torture, and even to die if it is necessary, in order to achieve what was noted in the Fourth point.
Sixth. - That I, the patria, will know to keep your place in history and to watch over your memory as they watch over my life.
Seventh. - That the below signed will leave enough space under their names so that all honest men and women may sign this document, and, when the moment comes, the entire people shall sign it.
There being nothing left to be said, and very much to do, the below signed leave their blood as example and their steps as guide.
Valiantly and Respectfully, Subcomandante Marcos.”
I gotta say that this Evangelium hits me pretty hard. And as you can imagine the list of names of those that signed was pretty short (and always has been). Hasta la victoria siempre, obligado.
‘...after that he determined to only speak in parables.’
i reckon it’s about time I post some of my poetry
see what they look like on a different screen, in other’s eyes
get some things off my mind
you too can lay your burdens down here trusting
no one will ever be any the wiserDisavowal On Saturday the old priest waits alone for their sins to arriveThough he hasn’t spoken directly to god in fifty yearsThat is, used his own words, not language approved by authoritiesNot a soul has stepped inside his dark box for three years
An old women had come in place of her dying husband, an unbelieverShe begged mercy for his sins, wanting to be with him in heavenI can’t forgive the sins of someone who doesn’t ask directly he told herDoes that go for god too she asked him back
The year before that a man brought his children, but not to confess“When I was your age I had to go in there an spew my guts out to a priest”The children gasped, cautiously peeking through the dark curtainWhen the old priest whispered “bless you my children” they ran away screaming
The retired old curate was pressed back into service to fill in for priest-less parishesLack of vocations, declining membership, criminal abuse, all had left vacancies, holesLay people did all the work of running things, keeping the lights on, the money countedHe was just needed to perform certain gestures, without that what use was he?
In 1963 He fell in love with a Sulpician nun, Sister Gemma Calgani, and he knew joyShe loved him too and they made plans to leave holy orders and marryAt the last, Gemma could not forsake her vows, and so god took her backThe old priest too, but he hasn’t spoken to god since
Once in an emergency he was asked to shepherd the ‘teen youth group’He suggested they kneel and say the rosary together, but all they would say was Oh My God!But they knew well enough how to talk with those inhabiting unseen worldsKnew more of the rituals and codes of communicating with the invisible than he did
So mostly now he ministers to the dying in hospital and nursing homesHe is as old as they are, older, so they trust him, more than their childrenThey sense that he too will soon cross over and be held accountable, face to faceThe prayers for the dying are on pages 7 through 34, right in the front of his book
Page eight. “Prayer for a Happy Death.” he knows it by heart:
O my Creator and Father I beg of you the grace of final perseverance and a holy death despite the fact that I have greatly misused the life you have given me grant me the grace to live it well from this moment on and to end it in your holy love Let me die as the holy patriarchs died, leaving this valley of tears without sadness, to go and enjoy eternal rest in my true homeland let me die as did glorious St. Joseph accompanied by Jesus and Mary pronouncing those sweetest of names and in whose company I hope to enjoy for all eternity Let me die as did the Immaculate Virgin in the purest of love and with the desire of uniting myself to You the only object of my love Jesus having accepted death for me, grant me the grace of dying in an act of perfect love for You Holy Mary Mother of God pray for me now and at the hour of my death and protect me from the enemyAmen.
Sometimes during Mass he would unconsciously slip into Latin again, a dead languageCalled so because only the Church still makes use of itHe assured the parish council that the words were still authorized, efficaciousThey wrote the bishop again asking for a replacement
The new priest was from Goa, dark, young, full of exuberance and fresh ideas:Growth, outreach to young people, becoming relevant, modernization, fresh paintThe old priest had seen it all before, said something similar in 1951, 1963, 1980,The new priest spoke with a foreign accent, but no one mentioned it or seemed to mind
As he was packing up news came that Sister Gemma had died, came by e-mailHer real name was Cindy, but no one knew her by that name but him and godHe cried great heaving sobs in front of the computer, none of the staff knew what to doThe new priest said something about sun beams and energy fields, hard to say really
His last service was officiating at something called an ‘ecumenical celebration!’Folks from all kinds of churches coming together, “Unity in Diversity” the banner readHe would have to share the altar with a woman pastor, no Eucharist, just a ‘service’The parish secretary asked if that would be a problem for him, almost hoping it would be
No, the old priest said, I have always loved women
This is my pregnant daughter Alyssa. I posed her in front of my two paintings that were inspired by the discovery of the “God Particle” (or Higgs Bosun field).
Two poems today. The first poem I have been revising for a while. Perhaps I am seeking absolution for spending so much of my life in “resource extraction industries” like King crab fishing in the Bering sea and logging the high country?
There is still work to be done on these words, any criticism would be appreciated, much obliged.
It’s always come easy to me
Thinking about death
I’m every bit afraid as a sinner should be
More than the sky gives me credit for
Part of it is the waiting game
Part is having my number just come up
Whatever can die aught to be called by name
In the vernacular of it’s own life
I would opt for a rapture every Jubilee year
Rather than one big fandango at the end
We need the space and there are people I miss
For some even three days seems an eternity
Mathematically the figures don't add up
We can see to the edge of infinity
Too calculate any farther might be blasphemy
But I’d like to take a crack at it from another angle
The sheer volume of the past is staggering
But the angel of history is not the same as
The angels of death
Only our time-pieces make it seem so
Weary virgins trim their wicks
The watchers seek the sign of Jonas
Far from the sea a pearl comes to light in a plowed field
Vows were made but never kept
We were promised:
‘after the first death there would be no other’
That’s what comes of listening to poets
Without them everything could be what it seems
Instead of all these literalists coming to a tragic end
“The skin of the face is that which stays most naked, most destitute....[T]here is an essential poverty in the face; the proof of this is that one tries to mask this poverty by putting on poses, by taking on a countenance. The face is exposed, menaced....The face speaks. It is in this that it renders possible and begins all discourse.... The first word of the face is the “Thou shalt not kill.” It is an order. There is a commandment in the appearance of the face, as if a master spoke to me.” (Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity 86-89)
I’m home sick and my wonderful wife is taking good care of me. I'm watching the TV show “Criminal Minds,” a group of FBI profilers that track down serial killers. Adam Kotsko over at “An und fur sich” <http://itself.wordpress.com/> wrote a book on why we are fascinated by serial killers, but I haven’t read it. I think I am afraid of what it might discover about myself. This killer removes his victims faces. To solve these crimes constructing intimate profiles of the victims is as important as that of the killer. Why don’t we give people that much care and reverence before they are murdered, while they still have faces? A drone strike from the U.S. killed an innocent family in Yemen yesterday. I wonder what the profile of their killers would reveal? Meanwhile I’m following some interesting facebook discussions. One is on whether there is a hell or not. I don’t think there is a hell, but I haven’t had my face peeled off by anyone yet.
What did sick people do before TV? Well, I just wrote this poem below and posted it over on the Faith and Theology blog <http://www.faith-theology.com/> Seems that interest in poetry is growing again and perhaps my advice will be helpful. Then I put on the movie “Being Flynn” about a failed poet and writer (Robert DeNiro) who (stereotypically) ends up broke, depressed, homeless and living in a shelter without a friend in the world. At least he’s not a serial killer ripping people’s faces off! (although he does say things that hurt other peoples feelings a lot). I reckon my real fear is not failing as an artist or poet, but not failing tragically enough to be noticed or make a difference to anybody. Well, I should get my fever down and then see how this movie ends before I do anything too impulsive or post anymore half-assed poetry or comments around the blogosphere.
Oh, that painting above is a bit of an experiment combining some of my other paintings and icons, I’m not sure what I think about it yet, please offer any criticism. Be well and obliged.
Instructions On How To Read/Write Poetry:
First, do not get a hold of yourself
Accept unsolicited suggestions from strangers
Deny every syllable of immediacy
Whatever you have been running from your whole life
Turn and face it now
Make a pile of all your dictionaries, thesauri, scrabble boards
even your alphabet cereals, soups and crossword puzzles
Burn them, burn them all to ashes before you even start
This is not pointless destruction but an offering. It proves that
You are now ready to take language seriously
Decide if you believe in free will, then
Load your pistol and give it to someone along with your poems
Focus on the most obvious questions imaginable
Do not take a college course in ‘Poetry Appreciation’
Instead study the mysteries of micro-economics and
Become a collector of things made from alligator skins
Do not look outside the text or inside the text, look for magick
If theory will not save you, neither will punctuation
Deny Christ three times in one night, then wait for grace to come
Be always ready to laugh out load, ready to love, to kill
Ever ready to let a poet break your heart, bear witness
Never pay for poetry, it will entangle you in a cycle of gift/debt to
The poet that will only end when one or both of you is dead
Never try to delve below the surface, poetry is all surface
Think of the person you hate most in this world
Then put a curse on them
Imagine that your words have the power to make them suffer
Think of the person you love most in this world
Then pray for them
Imagine that your words have the power to bless them
Now exchange those two people in your mind, in your poem
Know up front that every word has already been spoken for
So you have to seize for yourself every morpheme available
(you should have all you need by age 8)
Do not “borrow” words from other poems, totally consume them
Make it so that no other poet can ever use them again
Poetry can be made out of almost everything, and almost nothing
Using obscure vocabulary, making oblique allusions depreciates poetry
“Hemopoiesis,” (to make) is the root of “hemaTopoiesis” (to bleed)
But etymology is not poetry, neither is tagmemics or taxonomy
(a real poet would know that instinctively by age 8)
Never take any advice on poetry from a poet
They are always out to scam you
When you think you know what poetry “means,”
Then you do, so quit
This painting above is 9 feet wide and 4 feet tall. I wanted to reproduce some of the last surviving words, poetry, names, and art left on the walls of Auschwitz. I Reconstructed it from photos and charcoal rubbings, etc., all the images I gathered together and then painted there are exact replica’s of the originals to the best of my ability. Obliged.
Poem of the week:
A Little Ditty of a poem started in 2006 when we were on our way to Beirut from Haifa. Turns out that the Israeli air force had blown up all the bridges in Southern Lebanon and the car rental place wouldn’t let us take the car over the border. In any event a big chunk of Beirut had been blasted to smithereens. But the great thing about religion, myth, poetry, is that it can take routinized destruction and death and turn it into a mythic story of profound meaning. Like some of the stories in the bible that were shaped and rewritten over hundreds of years, sometimes thousands, before an armistice was agreed upon and one account was declared victorious, for a time. Nowadays, that whole process takes less than a week of television or chatter in the blogosphere, and maybe just a day on facebook? Martyr’s square in central Beirut is a place where one can watch this process unfolding. Locusts, plagues, war, starvation (the end of a world really) killed many Maronite Christians and Muslims as well as a lot of people called “intellectuals.” Then Revolt, counter-revolt, retribution, execution, etc., Ottomans, Brits, French, Jews, Wahabi’s and what not. It’s hard to keep the whole thing straight in our minds. Scripture in the making, but it’s going to take some centuries to hammer the thing into shape. They put up a huge statue of a guy right in the middle of the square to mark the infamous day of slaughter for all eternity but nobody I asked knew who he was or what he did, even wikipedia doesn’t mention who the guy was supposed to be though I can download a picture of the top of his head from outer space. True, his face has been hacked and shot away over the years by just about every political group imaginable but you would think that folks would be curious about a huge chunk of battered bronze plopped down in the middle of their city. We’ll just have to wait I reckon, that statue may have started out as a Marxist Baathist like Zaki ai-Arsuzi, and then wind up being a Catholic saint like alfred Delp! Obliged.
The end of the world is always now somewhereFor some it was friday lastFor others it was 1492 or 1942, whatever,
Still, I’v been to Quitana RooTime itself is not the scandal there it is hereIt’s not a self at all
Time there is tracked, captured, sacrificed, worshiped,Bled-out, never escaping it’s captorsThere are too many traces left in tears and blood
Something’s going to get us for sureEven the ancients knew that much, butNo one has ever won betting against death, not yet
But you don’t make calendars out of piquin chile and chocolateNot if you want to survive to read your own horoscopeAnd avoid becoming the laughing-stock of history
Scratch your questions, prayers, complaintsOnto something concrete and don’t be specificA wise prophet always leaves some wiggle-roomThe “Book of Revelations” is a good example
Deserving has got nothing to do with itIf that means getting what we got coming to usRevenge has never been something to set our watches by The gravity of our blunder beckons the heart of god from heavenIt plunges through the exosphereOn a Collision course with the worldBeautiful and terrifying we can only trace its fiery arcIts downfall
It’s not too late, there is still time to carve a message in stoneBut the coming fire is already hot on our faces Hot enough to melt chocolate
This painting is an older one (48” X 30”). The medium I used is mostly crushed rock, soils, flowers and plants that I collected at Pine Ridge Indian reservation when me and my wife used to visit and work with the elderly there every year. We’d do simple things, like driving grandma to bingo at the Catholic church on wednesday nights and maybe fix up the trailer a bit, nothing much really as these things are reckoned. It was there that I first saw what the Sioux and other plains tribes called a “Winter Count.” It was a history of the years events painted on animal skins (see Colin G. Calloway, “One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark.”). About 100 of these old winter counts still survive, but many native artists are reviving the tradition and the work they do is incredible, and they inspired me to do the painting above. It is interesting to place events recorded in these surviving winter counts, ‘the battle of Little Big Horn,’ for example, in contrast to newspaper reports and the ‘official’ history of the same events.
Then an article by John Crossan got me to thinking about my family’s visit in 1996 to the ‘Altar of Augustan Peace‘ in Rome, another kind of winter count. Tapestries, paintings, bas reliefs, depicting the victories of Caesar Augustus over the enemies of the empire (the Hollywood of it’s time really). It’s how a guy could work himself up to becoming a god back in the day, ‘war, victory, peace; war, victory, peace; repeat as often as needed, a proven recipe for success. Still, among the vanquished, the victims, there are always counter-histories, subversive songs, poems, parables, subtle aposiopesis for those with an ear to hear, spread about by folks labeled rebels or even terrorists. What actually happened, the official story, the Truth, gets all mixed in with the blood and muck and money so sometimes even now we have a hard time getting our stories straight.
Blessed holy days y’all and here’s a little ditty I wrote for Christmas:
Xmas Year Zero
If were just figuring statues and portraits
Jesus is the victor
If it’s the body count that matters
Then It all depends....
Two kinds of coins
Two kinds of kings
Two kinds of gods
It’s a toss up really
We have yet to decide
Between the hand and the heart
There is waiting
And there’s just killing time
Our sympathies are with the straw child of course
The mystic, the martyr, the Jew
The humble one with the unconsolable eyes
But Caesar was a kid once too
‘Novus homo,’ destined for greatness by all accounts
His devout mother was favored by the gods
Guiding his first baby-steps towards divinity
Tested by a serpent in the temple of Apollo
She was marked with a rainbow that never faded
Her womb was assumed into heaven
Signs in the stars confirmed the miracle
Great victories on the battlefields of Thurium
Slaves, peasants, and the enemies of the law crushed
All the testimony is there in the records
The word conceived on parchment and calf-skins
Scripture in the making
But If we’re just adding up kapital
Shopping days and time off from work
The seasonal consumer index
Then the ‘son of god‘ has triumphed
I mean the one from Palestine
If we're just voting with our lips
Not accounting for feet or dollars
Believers and not actual followers
Then the Nazarene wins by a mile
But if it comes down to swords into ploughshares
What is actually rendered unto
Then it all depends...
There’s what we hail as peace, pax, pacem,
And then there’s order, obedience, pacification
Our hearts lie with the lamb
But we bank among the lions
Blessed Holy days all, much obliged.
( the link to the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dominic-crossan/the-challenge-of-christma_b_1129931.html ).
Blessed New Year and let’s continue with more travelogue poetry. I looked through my old inventory and I don’t really have a painting that seems to really resonate with this poem. In any event, I don’t want my painting to function as a pimp to my poetry, or the other way around. So I just took this picture of my back work room where I discard unsatisfactory work, paintings I’m going to paint over or discard, ideas that didn’t pan out. It’s also where I experiment, throw paint around, or melted wax, crayons, plastic. Like that “Pocahontas See N Say” toy on the bottom left. I exchanged the original pictures with photographs from the murdered Lakota at wounded knee. Next I wanted to change the original recordings that said things like “Curious raccoons love to play,” or “Corn, the good earth gives us corn to eat,” or “Grandmother willow is a very wise tree,” with actual Native-American voices offering their own words and explanations about their experience with what we call “nature.” That proved to be too technically difficult for me and so there it sits, still not art, not yet. Next to it on the right is a Coptic angel of death that the squirrels that live in my studio have chewed some of the paint off of. You would think that the sword would have kept them at bay, maybe if I was more of a realist I could have saved her? But I reckon it’s not just painters that have places like this but also writers, poets, sculptors, duck call whittlers, even theologians, and philosophers all have back rooms where poems, theories, dogmas, and screeching duck calls are tossed away and best forgotten. One step away from becoming more of a life's wreckage. Behind my studio is a gully that I’m filling in and where I toss all of my organic and compostable matter. If the squirrels keep at it, that’s where the angel of death is going to end up. Jerusalem, Stalingrad, Warsaw, Rome...
Like ships cities need scuppers
Means for whatever is not city to scuttle free
Holy redoubts where prophets weave our future
Sanctuaries in cliff faces, asylums
Where blood-money has no purchasing power
Vengeance is postponed
In the center of the Holy of holies
The manslaughterer purifies his hands
On the wings of cherubim
Because our name comes after the fact
From someplace outside these broken walls
Mothers keening for their children
Who are sacrificed in the bargain
Just as Shiloh and Sodom lost their glory
A women looks back
Whatever appearance held her gaze
The name of G-d still sleeps un-utterable
Encoded within babbles of consonant acronyms:
Y -- H -- W -- H
Four little peeks under G-d’s skirt
Then the walls were felled by the mean tide
All the guilty are found within--One people finally
For there is no more outside the text
No habitation or vantage to look back at ourselves
Everywhere the center is holding
Virgins were sought, none were found
Who could not be tempted to look back
Anyone with sense could see it
Was a catastrophe in the making
And never one to trust a mob
He preferred his own company and
Selling door to door
Yet after all this time we
Still haven’t given up on messiahs
We’re always searching for just the right kind of
Character, an ‘all things to all’ kind of personage
If there was a contest, a pageant, if there were a vote
At least a majority would have some satisfaction
As it is now no one’s really happy
No one that counts
Looking over the great cities one can imagine
Weeping, but not for the sake of the architecture
Which is all out of proportion to it’s reputation anyway
Stones never stay where you put them
Even when stacked high on the bodies of oracles
Kneel down with a poet’s ear to the mound
The Slightest breath escapes like tears
Between the cracks in the unmortared rubble
The panicked herd worn and exhausted stalls out
They are so beautiful, their lungs
Pumping steam into the cold morning
The lead mare paws the fresh snow, ears pricked
When the frozen trees crack like gun-shots
She bolts leading the murmuration
Instinctively she knows the herd will follow her
All the way to safety or into the abyss
When Jesus Came the Corn Mother’s Went Away
(a post-new-historicist prose-poem by Daniel Imburgia)
"Something has not yet arrived, neither at Christianity nor by means of Christianity. What has not yet arrived at or happened to Christianity is Christianity. Christianity has not yet come to Christianity." (Jaques Derrida, "The Gift of Death." pg.29)
The original Madonna of the Wheat fields, the one I used as a model for my painting, “Madonna of the Corn Fields” above, is a fusioned depiction of The Virgin Mary created in Northern Europe by an unknown artist in the 15th century that I saw and remembered on one of my travels. Her long flaxen hair, gold blouse, and white skin were set against, but also had much correspondence with the background of a harvest yellow wheat field and treeless horizon. She is probably an amalgam of the Germanic goddess Fulla or maybe Hariasa and the Virgin Mary. Such amalgamations are routinely condemned but I think these spiritual miscegenations and the power relations among colonizers and indigenous are often more complex than many more simplistic narratives account for.
One notices though that she is not called the ‘Maddona of the Sacred Forest,’ or ‘The virgin of the Holy Tree’ perhaps because the wounds of the bloody struggle of Christianity against the Norse pagans and their demonic rituals at ‘sacred groves,’ and their idolatrous ‘tree worshipping’ were still too raw. In any event, a compromise allowing the adornment of yule trees into the home once a year coupled up with the birth of the God-man Jesus was worked out and since World War II the Norse pagans, for the time being, seem to be peacefully accepting this arrangement.
Perhaps the greatest account of these recurring myth’s about sacred trees is the one about Yggdrasil. She was an enormous tree located in what they of course called the ‘center of the world,’ she was really thought of as a “World Tree,” as it was sometimes referred to in their worship. One can read about this extraordinary tree in a long prophetic poem called the “Poetic Edda.” Here is just a sampling:
Hearing I ask, from the holy races,
From Heimdall's sons, both high and low;
Thou wilt, Valfather, that well relate
Old tales remember, of men long ago.
I remember yet, the giants of yore,
Who gave me bread, in the days gone by;
Nine worlds I knew, the nine in the tree
With mighty roots, beneath the mold...
An ash I know, Yggdrasil its name,
With water white, is the great tree wet;
Thence come the dews, that fall in the dales,
Green by Urth's well, does it ever grow.
On all sides saw I, Valkyries assemble,
Ready to ride, to the ranks of the gods;
Skuld bore the shield, | and Skogul rode next,
Guth, Hild, Gondul, and Geirskogul.
Of Herjan's maidens, the list have ye heard,
Valkyries ready, to ride o'er the earth.
I saw for Baldr, the bleeding god,
The son of Othin, his destiny set:
Hard is it on earth, | with mighty whoredom;
Axe-time, sword-time, shields are sundered,
Wind-time, wolf-time, ere the world falls;
Nor ever shall men, each other spare.
Fast move the sons, of Mim, and fate
Is heard in the note, of the Gjallarhorn;
Loud blows Heimdall, the horn is aloft,
In fear quake all, who on Hel-roads are.
Yggdrasil shakes, | and shiver on high
The ancient limbs, | and the giant is loose;
To the head of Mim, does Othin give heed,
But the kinsman of Surt, shall slay him soon.
And on it goes for 150 pages or so. Let me give you the short version as I understand it from the Voluspo in the Codex Regius: Top god Othin to avoid the destruction of the world calls Volva the wise woman from the grave who recounts the creation of the world and all the various peoples, dwarves, wanes, the first man and women, etc., and she also cleverly reveals how much smarter and wiser she is than Othin by reading his thoughts and then revealing a prophecy about the final battle and destruction of the gods and the world itself in flood and fire. Pretty standard mythological stuff all in all. Then it recounts how all nine of the gods meet under the great tree “Yggdrasil,” the “World Tree” this mediator between earth and heaven to work out how to save the cosmos. Skipping ahead we meet the Valkyries who bring heroically slain warriors back to Othin to continue to wage the battle. But Othin is killed just the same and so is the bleeding boy-god Baldr and yadda yadda eventually a new and beautiful world rises on the ruins of the old. Anyone who has watched the movies Avatar, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings and seen Wagner’s Goterdammerung (or at least Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) will understand the gist of Norse myth, and some of Christian myth-making as well.
Of course what was missing in the movie Avatar was the on-board chaplain and the blessing of the gun-ships etc.. Although, in 2153 as today, the Chaplin would probably not be a Franciscan friar but an Evangelical/falangist/NRA lieutenant hired by the RDA corporation to provide spiritual guidance to the soldiers and the ship’s crew and assure them that their real mission on Pandora was to save the souls of the tree worshipping Na’vi for Jesus. And if a bit of unobtainium or low sulphur crude oil finds it’s way back to the mother country, well, where’s the harm in that?
Coincidentally, the Poetic Edda leaves off just about the time Saint Boniface, the “Apostle to the Germans” shows up in Germania with his axe and his bible! Boniface made many evangelizing trips to Germania but what he is most remembered for is when he laid his axe to the base of the great oak called “Jove’s Tree” or (Jupiter’s or Donar’s Tree) and with one stroke and some divine intervention the greatest and most sacred tree in Europe came crashing down in the year 754. The pagan witnesses who had been counting on their war-god who sometimes dwelled in the tree to help them kill and drive away the Christian invaders lost all heart and hope and mostly converted en masse to Christianity. The wood was not altogether wasted however, it was sawed up and used to construct a church to commemorate the victory of Jesus over Jupiter! Oh for sure there were a few enraged holdouts against this ‘blasphemy,’ just like there are still some Lakota who are still angry about their most sacred mountain defiled and desecrated by having the gigantic faces of four american president’s of the united states carved into it, and who unblinkingly glare down and remind the natives of their subjugation and oppression. But for the most part the Germans fell into line and started killing in the name of Jesus instead of Thor or Odin or Jupiter, and the borders of civilization and the light of christianity advanced a few more leagues into the dark forests of sin and ignorance (*note, a few of those disgruntled pagans caught up with Boniface some years later and like at the battle of the Little Big Horn at Custer’s last stand, Boniface and 52 monks were killed, that is, “martyred in retaliation for murdering Yggdrasil ).
Now I confess to my devotion to the Mother of God, Virgin Mary, the “Theotokos” or “God-bearer,” and as a Christian I pray to her often. I know this mystifies many of my protestant brothers and sisters (and some family members too LoL). I suspect some of them see me no differently than some tree worshiping Norse pagan and would gleefully take an apocalyptic axe to the root of all my Popish superstitions. I used to discuss this with my wife Lynda’s adopted grandmother Lydia Haas on the Pine Ridge indian reservation when we would visit (she died a year ago at 96 years of age!). She was very understanding because she too had creatively blended her Catholicism, the wisdom of her Lakota religious traditions, and even a bit of protestant evangelicalism into her religious cosmology. It was not unusual for us to be attending a powwow and Grandma Lydia would be praying the rosary to the beat of the drum circle and slapping time on her King James bible annotated by Jimmy Swaggert! In her long life filled with a lot of heartache and suffering she said that she would often call on Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Sister Teresa, as well as the spirit of Crazy Horse to get her through her tribulations. She had attended a severe Catholic school as a child but had also asked Jesus into her heart as her personal savior while listening to the radio around 1956, and she had later also taken a trip to Rome in 1967 with a group of 18 other Roman Catholic Lakota women and Pope Paul VI had given them all a brief private audience and blessing!
So it was in the truly ecumenical spirit of a wise Lakota Grandmother that when I decided to paint my version of the ‘Madonna of the Wheat Fields‘ I gave myself license to make some alterations. As you can see she is dressed more in the style of a Mexican or Central american woman, her hair, skin, and eyes are dark, and the baby Jesus looks less like a bastard of George Armstrong Custer and more like a child of an illegal alien being deported back to Guatemala. This painting was inspired in part after I had read the book “When Jesus Came the Corn Mother’s Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 1500-1846.” By Ramon A. Guitierrez. The book recounts the subjugation, oppression, murder, and conversion of the Pueblo Indians. But it also speaks to their ability to resist and fight back, to force accommodations, and to both subversively and overtly inject and blend some of their profound cosmology into the kind of Imperial Catholicism they encountered. And this struggle still isn’t over, not with the Pueblos or for many other tribes in north american and around the world. The stories and wisdom of colonized peoples are still being told and retold as is the story of the catastrophe of their encounter with “civilization.” There are lots of stories about the Corn Mothers and in many other tribes besides the Pueblo. Here is one history recounted by Guitierrez:
“After the Corn Mothers, Iatiku and Nautsiti, had lived on the earth together for a while they began to quarrel because Nautsiti was selfish and hoarded the things in her basket. Because the sisters constantly argued, Nautsiti decided to leave her sister, taking with her the child she loved and her basket which contained sheep and cattle, wheat and vegetable seeds many metal things and something written. Nautsiti offered to share these things with her sister but Iatiku refused to accept them saying that she “did not want her children to have them.” So Nautsiti departed to the east and promised Iatiku that “in a long time to come we shall meet again and you will be wearing clothes.” A women bearing a likeness to Nautsiti returned to the Puelbos in 1692, just as she said she would Her name was Nuestra Semora del Rosari, La Conquistadora, (Mary Our Lady of the Rosary, Virgin of the Conquest). In one arm she carried her infant son, Jesus Christ, and in the other she carried a rosary. Around her were the things she had brought: Cattle, sheep, vegetables, metal tools, armaments, and writings. Our Lady of Conquest returned to New Mexico on August 21,1692 carried by 60 Spanish soldiers led by Don Diego de Vargas, the reconquerer of New Mexicoas.” (pg 143)
Grandma Lydia had many paintings and statues of the Holy Mother in her apartment, more of her than of Jesus if one were tabulating up that sort of thing, and all of them were as white-skinned and blue eyed (and some were even as blond as) any of the Norse goddesses! Which bugged the crap out of me with all that post-colonial and sub-altern theory under my belt but it didn’t seem to bother her in the least. It was under the supervision of these Nordic Virgin's, and several of Lydia's neighbor women friends who were even older than Lydia, that she cut and sewed by hand for my wife Lynda a complete set of Lakota women’s regalia. It is made from smoked deer hide, glass beads and porcupine quills, etc.. It was a long process and it took them all more than a year. The bead work and sewing would be accompanied by prayers to Jesus and the Virgin Mother as well as to the White Buffalo Calf Woman and God only knows who else! It is probably the most sacred and valuable thing that we own. The picture above was taken 2 years ago by brother Christian Amondson at a powwow in Oregon. It is of my wife Lynda dressed in that regalia. But the only keep-sake I have left frm pine Ridge is a T-shirt from “Big Bats,” the one and only fast food restaurant at Pine Ridge, which seems to be doing it’s best to kill off as many Indians as possible by afflicting them with diabetes. Oh, and I guess that I also have this poem I started back in 2004 at our last visit to see grandmother Lydia. And shortly afterwords Jesus came to take her home and Grandmother Lydia was waiting for him with faith and joy in her heart. But all too often in history a very different Jesus has invaded the lives of indigenous cultures and peoples, and it is that Jesus that Gutierrez records a Pueblo woman lamenting, “when Jesus came the Corn Mothers went away,” and it is that Jesus that this poem is about.
In the Ending Was the Word
When Jesus came the Corn Mothers went away
When Jesus came the people learned to flee in terror
When Jesus came many people were captured and made slaves
When Jesus came Grandmothers were insulted and abused
When Jesus came all the women were forced to wear strange clothes
When Jesus came local women healers were executed as witches
When Jesus came his followers stole all the skins from all the animals
When Jesus came our hunters were made to dig in the barren ground
When Jesus came they burned our village to build an oil pipeline through it
When Jesus came our children were taken and sent away to schools
When Jesus came his ministers and soldiers raped our children
When Jesus came the sacred dwelling places of our Gods were torn down
When Jesus came his soldiers made us worship him at gunpoint
When Jesus came we were forced into prisons, camps, and reservations
When Jesus came we were made sick with diseases that we could not cure
When Jesus came they damned up the rivers and flooded our homes
When Jesus came the waters were polluted and made undrinkable
When Jesus came they would dig away our sacred mountains to find gold
When Jesus came we could not see the stars at night anymore
When Jesus came Earth became void and darkness again covered the deep
The coming of this un-named horror was sometimes spoken of as
The great and awful apocalyptic hurricane of history
All the peoples of the world are caught up in it’s fiery vortex
All their monuments, temples and holy gathering places
Every fruit vine and seed bearing plant that is good and
Even the oldest of the grand-father trees are
Uprooted and flung up into the dark funnel
The rivers are stopped up, swallowed up, and run dry
The great waters are despoiled of life and made unlivable
Brother and sister creatures are swooped up and slaughtered
The great fishes of the sea, the swarms of flying birds
Even the dead are violently snatched from the earth and
Caught up into this desecrating storm
The words and sacred songs of the people become unspeakable
Unheard among the thunderous crushing winds
Exchanged for screeching gutterations of metals and money
No one people can stand alone against the power of this storm
All peoples are taken up and later cast down in strange places
Among unfamiliar lands without homes or sense of direction
And when those lost and struck down people gather together
They ask each other from where did this death-storm come?
And they asked each other what we should name this death-storm?
For none of the peoples had a word for such an alien destructive power
So they were forced to find a word among the language of the destroyers
And the word that they discovered was:
Philosopher Avital Ronell says In the book and movie, The Examined Life, “In regard to film I would say, very provisionally, that what interests me is the medium as something that sustains an ‘interruption of presence’ as it produces the illusion of immediacy and presence. What speaks to me is how film is on the haunted sign of things and the way it participates in a kind of mourning disorder, a failure to mourn, to let go, and is at the same time only ever in mourning over its objects (29).
My question is this: In what way could Ronell’s insight apply to making (writing) icons? In what way is my painting a dis-ordered mourning or an idolatrous, sinful attempt to fill a void (as Simone Weil says, “All sins are attempts to fill voids”). Am I creating illusions of an impossible immediacy springing from a failure to mourn, treating the death of god like an unsolved “cold case” that I refuse to close the book on? I commented on facebook today about Tarkovsky’s movie “Rublev.” I said that I don’t want to be a part of that crude, myopic mob we see trying to keep the balloon on the ground in the opening scenes of the movie, If it comes to it I’d rather be Yefim precariously riding beneath the uncontrollable balloon. But he’s not really ‘riding’ is he, he’s more entangled, bound up in the ropes, almost a prisoner. For sure Yefim sees farther than those on the ground (Tarkovsky really lays the symbolism on thick sometimes) but then he must either go where the wind takes him or else fall and die. Does leaping from the spire represent a (Kantian/Nietzschean?) forsaking of the illusions of the church? of religion? Sure throwing ourselves to the care of the wind (spirit?) is dangerous and frightening, but isn’t the quality of the revelation from heaven’s perspective worth risking one’s life for? Is that what’s going on in this part of the movie? But what about those that leaped from the church and were not caught by the wind? What about those that are thrown?
Later Ronell writes: “Where there's the pretense or claim for ultimate meaning and transparency.... When no one needs to do the anxious guesswork of how to behave or what to do - that's when you are not called upon to be strenuously responsible, because the grammar of being, or the axiom of taking care of the Other, is spelled out for you. According to several registers of traditional ethics, things are pre-scripted, they're prescribed. You know everything that you are supposed to do; it's all more or less mapped out for you. What becomes difficult and terrifying, and what requires infinite translation of a situation or of the distress of the world, is when you don't have those sure markers. You don't have the guarantee of ultimate meaning or the final reward or the last judgement and must enter into unsolvable calculations, searing doubts. Anyone who's sure of themselves, of their morals and intentions, is not truly ethical, is not struggling heroically with the mandate of genuine responsibility. It is impossible ever to be fully responsible enough - you've never given or offered or done enough for those suffering, for the poor, for the hungry. That's a law shared by Dostoyevsky, Levinas, and Derrida: one never meets one's responsible quota, which is set at an infinite bar (hence the invention of the figure of Christ, our infinite creator)” (41).
But are icons of Christ (including the ones on the page, on the tongue, or in the mind) a way of inventing or establishing ‘sure markers’ for a fabricated faith born from the fear of facing our responsibility to Being which is only rewarded with an infinity of deconstructible non-being? Or can icons be understood as provisional markers to remind us of that very responsibility to the Other that Ronell speaks of, remind us of not only “the law” shared by Dostoyevsky, Levinas, and Derrida, but also the word, spirit, and grace shared among Abraham, Moses, and Jesus?
Can icons be a part of the traditional ‘grammar of being,’ but not one that claims to have ‘everything spelled out for us,’ as Ronell rightly warns, but a dynamic relationship among the syntax’s of our broken, half-hearted, failing attempts to live our love for the Other into this world?
The sequence of pictures above is of an icon I destroyed. I painted it some years ago and since then my dissatisfaction has accumulated until a few days ago I found myself unable to abide it’s appearance. I painted it on plaster on weathered board so I had to take a scraper and a hammer and chisel the image off. As I was writing this I realized that unconsciously I destroyed the eyes of Jesus last. And that reminded me of something I wrote on ‘The Meaning of Meaning‘ for another blog a long while ago. I wrote:
“I am an Icon painter myself, and let me remind you that painters are deceivers by trade. And though I have painted the face of Christ many times, I am not always comfortable looking into the eyes of Jesus as I paint. I may work on an Icon for months, even years, and through the whole process the eyes of Jesus seem to continually question me, judge me, call me to examine myself; not condemning me but searching out my vanity, hypocrisy, pride, selfishness. I am sure that some of this experience is caught up in some abnormal psychology resulting form the absent, critical, angry, and abusive father and step-fathers I had growing up. Still, It is often a disturbing and painful experience. Painting an Icon should be a spiritual journey for the artist and when one finishes an Icon the artist should be able to reflect back on what was learned about oneself. It took me some years but eventually I learned to always paint the eyes of Jesus last.”
I will be repainting this icon, I hope. And when I do I will post a photo of it here. In the meantime this seems to be a good season for Russians. The wisdom of Mother Maria Skobtsova, Rowan Williams on Dostoevsky, Kallistos Ware on ‘The Jesus Prayer,’ the poetry of Pasternak, Akhmatova, and Tsvetaeva and the movies Doctor Zhivago, Rublev, and The Island, for the Umpteenth times. So my ‘poem of the week’ is from Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. She was a close friend of both Pasternak and Rilke (I am reading a remarkable book of their letters to one another titled “Letters 1926” and I recommend it to anyone interested in any of those writers). The extraordinary artist Anita Berber wrote just before she died young at 29 that, "a life in the service of poetry is a life not wasted." Maybe that’s true, but a life not wasted does not preclude a great deal of suffering and tragic deaths for both Berber and Tsvetaeva.
In a letter to Rilke just before he died Tsvetaeva wrote to him: “So, dear one, don't be afraid, simply answer yes to every "Give" - a beggar's comfort, innocent, without consequences. Most of the time my begging hand drops away - along with the gift - into the sand. What do I want from you? What I want from all of poetry and from each line of a poem: the truth of this moment. That's as far as truth goes. Never turns to wood - always to ashes. The word, which for me already is the thing, is all I want. Actions? Consequences? I know you, Rainer, as I know myself. The farther from me - the further into me. I live not in myself, but outside myself. I do not live in my lips, and he who kisses me misses me. Marina.”
Tsvetaeva was in Moscow when the Germans assaulted the city. She fled east, but after the arrests and death of most of her friends and some of her family, and her own suffering from sickness, hunger, homelessness, and isolation, she hung herself in 1941. To be a homeless beggar who still answers yes to every ‘give;’ to desire only word and thing and the truth even as your world turns to ashes, couldn’t that also be counted as “a life not wasted?”
The “Ars Amandi” (art of love) the speaker tells us in the poem, “is all the earth.” Can the icon, like the poem, be a “truth of this moment” a truth all of this earth, and at the same time be a truth we may best encounter when we leap from the spires of our illusions and fears even if we lack the faith that the ropes will hold us and the wind will take us?
From “Poem of the End” By Marina Tsvetaeva
The fatal volume
Holds no temptation for
A woman: For a woman
Ars Amandi is all the earth
The heart is the most faithful
Of all loves potions
From her cradle, a women
Is someone’s deadly sin
Ah, the sky is too distant
Lips are closer in the dark
Do not judge, God! You
Were never a woman on earth.
Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
To Let the Poem Be the Saying of Itself
"Fashion has two purposes: comfort and love. Beauty comes when fashion succeeds. Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity." Coco Chanel.
My poem of the week below was written while sitting alone and having lunch at the grocery store pictured above. First I was just eating and reading but then I started watching the other folks around me as they were watching/scrutinizing all the people coming into the store. I started writing something about this when I turned and saw that one of the watchers was watching me watch the other watchers watching. It was all kind of creepy really. These old watchers would often make comments about the appearance of the people that walked by, usually critical comments. And really they were not unlike professional cultural critics writing in scholastic journals about cultural anthropology and critical theory, except that they don’t get paid and they are easier to understand.
"Fashion was never anything other than the parody of the motley cadaver, provocation of death through the woman, and bitter colloquy with decay whispered between shrill bursts of mechanical laughter. That is fashion. And that is why she changes so quickly; she titillates death and is already something different, something new, as he casts about to crush her." (Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, pg 63).
It is common place for critical/cultural theorists and others to draw attention to mundane and banal cultural artifacts, fads, and habits. But surely Walter Benjamin’s “Arcades Project” is among the first and most comprehensive examples of this. I mostly read Walter Benjamin’s Arcades like a daily devotion, and I know several others who do as well. The devotional reading that I do most ever morning has changed slowly and very little over the years, it’s the one time that I like to stick to the familiar and just keep re-reading. For more than 30 years that has included folks like Carlo Caretto, Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Emmanuel Levinas, Rabbi Kalonymus Shapira, Dorothy Day, the usual ones y’all would expect (along with some well known poets etc.). I moved Benjamin into the rotation back in 1999 when the Arcades Project was first translated into English.
Now please understand that that quote above about fashion by Benjamin is not taken out of context, not in the way we usually think of context. And one of the things that Benjamin was challenging is our very idea of context. The whole project is a compilation of quotes, aphorisms, snippets of newspapers, short commentaries, poetry, etc., I reckon lots of younger folks might think that this all seems quite run of the mill. Among our facebook and blogging habits is to come across some interesting quote or picture online and then re-post it, usually with no commentary or explanation, and maybe (or not) get some sort of a conversation going in the comments. But I find that after awhile these corpse-less quotes on FB are quite unsatisfying and are actually getting a bit annoying. But I think that WB would have been interested in this kind of facebooking practice and I wish I knew what he might have written about FB and twitter, etc.. Indeed, my facebook wall is very much like some of the pages in Benjamin’s Arcade Project, but without the cats. Here’s an actual tiny sample of FB posts on my wall today:
2. A photo and a link to an essay by Paul Krugman.
3. Photos and a note from friends visiting Peru.
5. Photo and jokes by George Carlin
8. Mark Zuckerberg himself informs me that he is going to host a fundraiser for New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
9. Two friends post pictures of dogs with witty inscriptions (no cats so far today).
10. Several tirades in support of/against assault rifles.
11. Several friends post music videos of their own or others.
12. Another friend posts his photos from Serbia
13. My own post of a photo and poem about catching the midnight ferry home to the island.
This kind of disjunctive flow of information that Benjamin thought might just help shock us into recognizing some sort of dormant revolutionary potential, mostly functions now as a way for late-modern capitalists to better track and manage our commodity fetishism. Consider this really insightful piece of dialogue from the movie “The Devil Wears Prada.”
Miranda Priestly: [Miranda and some assistants are deciding between two similar belts for an outfit. Andy sniggers because she thinks they look exactly the same] Something funny?
Andy Sachs: No. No, no. Nothing's... You know, it's just that both those belts look exactly the same to me. You know, I'm still learning about all this stuff and, uh...
Miranda Priestly: 'This... stuff'? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select... I don't know... that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent... wasn't it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.
And what if this selection process (rather than ‘choice’) isn’t just about sweaters, sneakers, and snicker bars but also about selecting life partners, having children, going to war, or asking Jesus © into our hearts? Perhaps this is part of the reason why WB spent so much time thinking and writing about “fashion?” Let me offer three more quotes about fashion scattered about the Arcades:
N2a,3: “It’s not that the past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.”
N1a,8: “Method of this project: literary montage. I needn’t say anything. Merely show [zeigen]. I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse — these I will not inventory but allow, in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.” (Zeigen: to show, to exhibit, to indicate, to say by pointing, to silently name.)
N1,10: “This work has to develop to the highest degree the art of citing without quotation marks. Its theory is intimately related to that of montage.”
N1,1: “In the fields with which we are concerned, knowledge comes only in lightning flashes. The text is the long roll of thunder that follows.”
Fashion, WB argues, is one place where we can see the old and new encounter one another and form what he calls elsewhere a “dialectical image.” These images often come to us as just “flashes,” but these flashes may have messianic potential in as much as they combine to form for us new apocalyptic constellations of meaning. This reordering of cultural constellations has liberating potential according to WB, but this same dialectical tension also flashes on the possibilities of life and death inherent in every encounter; that is, fashion can be understood as a parody of life that reveals us to ourselves that we are little more than walking corpses entombed within the manifestations of our varieties of appearing. It is these relationships among Being and appearing to be, and commodity fetishism clashing with or mimicking our repressed utopian desires, that suggested to WB that fashion was one of the more obvious places that we witness this dynamic among inexhaustible signifiers and where we may confront and challenge all the ideologies of progress. (As a side note let me just say that this is part of the reason I started painting Icons more than 25 years ago and why I don’t sell them. I wanted to have one aspect of my own creative potential disengaged--as much as possible, and that ain’t much--from the totalizing meta-narrative of ‘market values.’ When I started painting icons I didn’t know any one else who was painting them. I assumed that I was the only one and I painted them just to look at enjoy my self and maybe my friends and family. But about 10 years later I started finding others who were painting icons too, and then there were people offering classes and ‘how to books.‘ Now copying these old ‘outmoded‘ works of art is flourishing racket in this age of light-speed reproduction, and so I reckon it’s time for me to quit painting icons and try marketing poetry?).
Pictured above is a 20 year old painting of mine that was inspired by reading Benjamin’s “A short history of Photography,” the book I’m quoting from in the painting (if you think that I am pedantic now let me point out that this painting has footnotes on the bottom to faint for you to see in this photo LoL). This is what is printed in the page in the painting:
“The most precise technology can give its products a magical value such as a painted picture can never again have for us. No matter how artful the photographer, no matter how carefully posed his subject, the beholder feels an irresistible urge to search such a picture for the tiny spark of contingency, of the here and now, with which reality has (so to speak) seared the subject, to find the inconspicuous spot where in the immediacy of that long-forgotten moment the future nests so eloquently that we, looking back, may rediscover it. For it is another nature which speaks to the camera rather than to the eye: “other” above all in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious.”
I hope you appreciate this poem and thank you for bearing with me. And may this poem be the saying of itself.
A Working Class guy eating Lunch at Payless Grocery Store Writing a Poem That Might Be Called, “The Tree Of Life,” or “The Dialectics of Perception” (or something better or simpler, I’m open to suggestions).
She has two little blonde kids, blonde like her
But really they could be anybody’s
She stops to disinfect her self and
The one kid makes a break for it
She threatens him with home
That’s enough to coerce both kids back into a
Monstrous shopping cart molded in the shape of a limousine
Why not the shape of a freight train or container ship?
Something big enough to hold everything?
She consults her list and heads off towards the deli
List people have a different relationship to the world than
Those who risk it with their memories and impulses
(interestingly, most serial-killers are list makers)
But I wouldn’t judge without all the facts
Objects in this universe are strategically placed to
Ambush, maximize exposure, ensnare, seduce
Nothing is left to chance
Everything is faced right to the edge
She often holds herself responsible
Her eyes are tired, her whole body sags
Only someone old would still call her young
One kid grabs for the box of “mini donuts”
She slaps his hands and they fall and break open on the floor
The more food that we miniaturize the
Fatter we seem to get
Somebody will have to clean this whole mess up someday
Around me sits the same group of old people who
Meet up here to visit, drink cheap drip and snack on free samples
Abandoned, lonely, fixed income, marginal consumers
It just now occurs to me that they assume that I’m one of them
We silently scrutinize everyone that comes and goes
Powerless to make the least bit of difference
Yet each shopper must pass before our gaze
Look, I see the songwriter T.H. checking out, he doesn’t see me
He’s a poet of sorts too, but it’s me writing this poem
Me with the power to make him into anything at all
I could miniaturize him and who’s to stop me?
I could write any damn thing I want
Later I hear a bottle crash, “courtesy” is called on the loudspeaker
I’m guessing it’s the grabby kid again?
But I shouldn’t judge without all the facts
I get up for another free sample
They have put out “mini muffins”
This will be my third one and the pastry checker gives me a look
I see the kids have been crying when mom returns with a full cart
Shopping traumatizes children who have already grasped
The vital connections between desire, things, and happiness
Yet have no understanding of Capital, currency, or exchange value
The invisible connections really binding us all together
She double checks her list then tosses it in the trash in front of me
Of course I had to look, had to know for sure
I unwad the pink crumpled letter of herself
This tally of everyone’s needs, cravings, addictions
Just as I suspected every word was struck through, crossed off
Oh, now I notice that she has one sparkling zircon pin in her right nostril
The kids are really acting out now, so she switches from threats to bribes
“Be good and take my hand and you’ll get a treat in the car”
Once she had said yes to a bargain just like that one
She left after midnight for Portland with a guy she hardly knew
She got stoned, danced all night, got knocked up, had her nose pierced
And none of that was on any list
Modestly she turns from the doctor
While buttoning her blouse again
The rain has paused but the long walk
To the bus will still be a cold one
“Do I need to sign anything?”
She asks the receptionist on the way out
“No,” she smiles, “we have all your information
You’re good to go”
She pauses at the doors
The street is gray and wet
So indifferent to the lost color
Gone now for many months
She must have moved forward because
The doors sprung open automatically
She worried the receptionist saw her start
She looked back but the desk was empty
Head down into the stinging wind
She merged into the busy sidewalk traffic
No one was expecting her anywhere
Cold tears defended her eyes
As the temperature dropped
Slush formed in the gutters
Her feet slapped at the mire
At the corner she felt lost
One way the same as another
Other walkers brushed past her
Disturbing the strident babbling flow
Signals ordered her body about
Signs commanded her movements
Channeling and quelling natural instincts
False rituals promising modes of survival
Snow fell in every form it needed to
Clouds took their turn in the sky
She only faced the east because
East is the vantage to the infinite sea
(photo taken at double bluff beach here on whidbey island)
|Ewing Road, Whidbey Island|
My poem of the week:Nature/Grace: Under the Influence
The cop pulled me over for erratic driving
Crossing over the center line
I wasn’t drinking or on the phone
I was writing a poem while steering
With one hand
It was a poem about the usual
Sin and suffering, love and death
Nature also and not just the bad kind
The one that is always trying to kill us
The nature of urges and yearning flesh
But the other nature too
While the cop was running my plates
I stopped work on the poem and began
Composing my defense
I lie, we all do, it’s how were wired
But I’m not a natural liar
And this story must be believable
Or it will cost me
It was the morning mist back lit by the rising sun
Threading through the tall firs
That caught my eye and
Compelled me to start writing
And then a coyote loped into the open field
Zig-Zagging after a rabbit or a vole
Using his nose more than his eyes
Following the path in the changing wind
I don’t think anyone will buy that story though
I may have to take what’s coming to me
Like the rabbit or the vole
I have regrets about how all this has worked out
And I'm sorry for my part in it all
Although there are others who should be sorrier
But if the truth
If any of what actually happened comes out
It could cost me more than I can pay
So I am willing to confess everything here
Hope for mercy and forgiveness
But if grace is not granted
If no one speaks up on my behalf
Then this story must be worth it
Even though it costs me everythingKlediments:
***I will go out of my way to drive on Ewing road to get to the Maxwellton valley and beach. That is the setting of this poem and where I took the photo above. This landscape along this road is quite remarkable and a bit peculiar to the island I think. A mixture of woods, wetlands, cow pasture, old barns and chicken sheds, silage and hay fields. There are always eagles and hawks patrolling the fields and estuaries. This landscape could be in a woody part of Northern Ireland, or at the base of the French Pyrenees, even northern Italy (perhaps parts of China too, but I’v never been there so I don’t know). The ‘Long farm’ is on the South-West side of the road. That’s where to buy organic beef bones if you’re wanting to make ‘beef bone broth,’ something I want to perfect as a base for Pho (the availability of good Pho-Saigon in the US is one of the few positive consequences of the Vietnam war).
“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Mathew 6, 26).
“You can only romanticize nature for so long before something gets bludgeoned or eaten” (J.B. MacKinnon).
***Perhaps the same goes for the ‘Cities of Men’ too? Still, “nature” is a very problematic concept, but then what isn’t? Right now I’m looking out my picture windows at the pleasant sight of some big grey squirrels, smaller native brown squirrels and even one of the new, wee, baby chipmunks all peacefully munching on the bird food I put out for them and the birds. Near me is my quite wild Siberian Husky named Tehya glaring hungrily at all the tasty and vulnerable wildlife just on the other side of the glass. Now I’m almost sure that Tehya loves me, but if I was only about a foot tall and she looked at me the same way she looks at those squirrels I think the algorithms that sustain the balance of power in our master/pet dialectic might be insufficient to sustain our current relationship. Meanwhile the big ferrel cat that roams through our neighborhood and probably some coyotes are biding their time just behind the tree line. Overhead eagles lethally glide casting swift threatening shadows. Any rats wisely wait in the ferns for darkness to make their move. As the food in the feeders diminishes tensions grow among all these adorable bushy-tailed critters. I’m hoping to get to the store by tomorrow, but if the bird food runs out before then things could get bloody.
***Interestingly, buying wild bird seed raises one’s credit rating. I heard a report claiming that credit card companies track all of our purchases and rate our credit worthiness according to what we buy. I reckon they figure that folks that feed wild birds are kindhearted and altruistic and more likely to honor their contracts and pay their bills on time. Of course, it also suggests that those that buy wild bird seed also have homes, mortgages, jobs, and are already deeply insinuated into the ideologies of commodity capitalism and have interpolated the precepts of virtuous consumption and monetary atonement. I suspect that some of the people that feed wild birds do so as a substitute for any sort of meaningful resistance to a dehumanizing and unjust economic system.
***What say we end this post by lightening things up with a little humor? Here’s an old joke form the days of the Soviet Union:
Khrushchev was giving a speech denouncing the cult of personality around Stalin.
‘Atrocious crimes took place under Comrade Stalin,’ he said. ‘Many innocent people suffered and there were terrible breaches of socialist legality.’
‘And where were you when all this was going on?‘ A voice from the back asked accusingly.
‘Who said that?’ snapped Khrushchev. And then there was dead silence in the room and you could hear a pin drop.
Khrushchev nodded and said: ‘That’s where I was.‘
|Antonio Ciseri. Ecco Homo.|
I was determined to write 40 poems during lent as a kind of votive reflection and discipline (though this seems more of a burden and sacrifice to anyone who might try and read them then it does to me to write them). I wanted to again use the motif of the “Stations of the Cross” I have used before as a springboard into these poems. I have not completed my own series of paintings on the stations yet so I decided to use some other well known works of art, starting with Antonio Ciseri’s “Ecco Homo.” I got this one poem finished I think, and I have started two or three more. I got ideas for another half a dozen but I’m already running short of time and inspiration and my heart is waning. Again, another lenten commitment I won’t be able to keep and we’re barely 4 days into the season.
First Station of the Cross, Jesus is condemned to death:
I. “In the beginning darkness covered the face of the deep.”
As Ciseri painted it
His robe has been stripped back
Exposing his naked shoulders
Like you might expect at a strip club
Or slave auction
Specimen spectacle spectators
But the way we’re situated
No one meets our eyes
Everyone traces a different vanishing point
As usual his hands are tied behind his back
Lost is any chance to take up the sword
But the seed of temptation to call on Michael’s army
Will soon be sown into his body and
Others will take and eat of it
And they will make the bastards pay
Although compositions like this one have multiple perspectives
Each stroke of the artist effects interpretation
But the Spirit is not in the picture yet
How much else is missing?
II. “And God separated the lights into lesser and greater lights.”
The Roman is as smug as any empire
Sure it all collapses eventually, they all do
Just a matter of running short of capital
Number crunchers misallocating resources
Until then we’re all caught up in this blood feud
But this is not a tale of simple revenge
It’s the story of a family
A drama about the Jews and their God
The rest of us are bit players
Bystanders without any real say
Even Italia’s potentate is a flaccid member
Like you and me
Too much a friend of Caesar
III. “And God separated the light from the darkness
and called it good.”
Sometimes as a necessary expression of democracy
The empire let’s us choose
Which kind of savior we prefer to kill
A decision we celebrate as freedom
The votes for Jesus or Barabbas are harvested like
Ripe grain swaying in the wind
Maybe the smart move was to just kill them both
Wash our hands of the whole affair
But lasting empires need willing executioners
To make sure everybody gets some skin in the game
Each crowd is a peculiar species of organism
But lynch mobs are all pretty much the same
anonymously lethal vigilantes and orgiastic lovers
I have seen an entire nation of ‘civilized’ people
Change into crazy-eyed killers
But they loved this man once didn’t they?
Felt something real for him
Some combination of desire vanity and affection
Mixed in with fantasy fear and hope
Is there another kind of love more real than that
A love that doesn’t eventually end in pain and
Despair descending into anger
Or worse, sentimentality
IIII. “Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”
But as Ciseri painted it
We don’t really see anyone’s face
Except for that one woman
Who has already turned her back on them all
The tableau is so crowded
There’s no easy way to fit our selves into the frame
Ciseri has got us all crowded into the wings
Instead of witnesses
The artist has made us into stage-hands
I wish I knew where we are in this story
Our arrogance convinces us that we are the final act
Faith commands us to abide in expectation
But the road is longer and harder than we prepared for
(Not that we weren’t told)
V. “And there was evening and there was morning of the first day
And God saw what was made and that it was good.”
Maybe death doesn’t get the last word
But who got all those other words between
“In the beginning...” and that last “...amen”
Who's responsible for all those words
That have caused so much confusion and grief
Yes, and the word love too
Whose word is love?
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh. Arles, 28 September 1888
“My Dear Theo....It does me good to do difficult things. It does not prevent me from having a terrible need of, shall I say the word - of religion - then I go outside in the night to paint the stars and I dream ever of a picture like this.”
This poem is the second in a series of lenten reflections. I will leave it to y’all to make any necessary connections. Obliged
Dying For Beginners (a guide from the stars)
Eta Carinae: No. 4U 1037–60 (A 1044–59)
From the catalogue of dying stars
I chose Eta Carinae
To pray for
Experts are predicting her death
Within the next 3 million years
But her core is already collapsing
Ending this cycle of her life’s journey
She is beautiful
I have seen the pictures
It was Rublev the Russian astronomer
(Not Rublev the painter of God’s shadows)
That first described her beauty
Mapped the contours of her body
But also foretold her dissolution
And later reduced her to a numerical coordinate
It is harder to pray for a number
The Chinese once called her “Heaven’s altar”
Noting In the Book of Jin
That she was second in glory only to Sirius
But she was first named
‘The Vermilion bird of the North’
Her changing colors were believed to
Predict the future of our lives
Bandits from the north ringed the city of Jiankang
They demanded gold and young women
Or they would destroy the whole town
As the gate began to fall
And all in the city faced destruction
The brave young woman called Ming-huá:
Chose to sacrifice her life for her people
She Leapt from the high tower over the gate
Stretching wide her arms as she fell
Miraculously they were transformed
Into vermilion wings of fire
All witnessed the blazing flames and fiery embers
Tracing the arc-light of her flight through the night sky
Burning enemies to cinders and ash
Then she soared up into the near-eternal heavens
Nesting in the Northern sky
Where she still watches over her people, for now
There she has birthed her own offspring
A luminous blue variable
Together they dance as they die
Flinging into the cosmos all their matter and light
Giving their masses over to disintegration
A display never seen before by human eyes
Stars spiraling in a magellanic cloud of witnesses
As Sirius weeps for the loss
I am told by the doctors that
When she dies there will be
One magnificent burst of light that
Will outshine the entire galaxy
In that momentary flash
All her energy will dissipate
Transforming again into elementals
What makes stars what they are
It takes 80,000 years
For light to reach us from Eta Carinae
But prayers travel faster than light
We have time to seek divine intervention
Even if what will happen has already happened
Time is no matter for a God
Of colliding galaxies and falling sparrows
It is a great gift and sorrowful burden
To be given a heart
That can mourn the death of stars
Like our own mothers
Note* I am sorry that the word “awesome”
was no longer available for use in this poem
But Like stars words also dissolve and die
Though it may take years for our ears to notice
Later in this same letter Vincent writes: “...The Benedictine father must have been very interesting. What would, according to him, be the future religion? Probably he would always say the same as the past. Victor Hugo says God is an eclipsing lighthouse, and certainly now we are passing through that eclipse. I only wish that someone could prove to us something calming which comforted us, so that we stopped feeling guilty or unhappy and that we could go forward without losing ourselves in the solitude or nothingness, and without having to fear every step, or to nervously calculate the harm we may unintentionally be doing to others. In odd Giotto's biography it said that he was always suffering and always full of ardour and ideas. I would like to arrive at this assurance that makes one happy, cheerful and alive all the time.”
Ever Yours, Vincent."
Up above is my latest painting. It is pretty big at 8 feet by 3 feet (perhaps I should consider selling art by the square foot?). I was inspired by both Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Monk By the Sea,” and Rublev’s, ‘The Trinity,‘ though I aught let others recognize and say that. It was said of Friedrich though that, “Here is a man who has discovered the tragedy of landscape.” I was not trying to evoke tragedy here but I will not deny it if others find it there. I don’t have a title for the painting and I would appreciate suggestions. Ever yours, Daniel and obliged.
|A Psychopomp of Crows, by Daniel Imburgia (after Vincent)|
*** “The church is beautiful but it has it’s dark side....” From an NBC newscaster talking about the Pope’s resignation, sex scandals among Cardinals, child abuse coverups, financial ‘irregularities,’ etc.. It reminds me somewhat of a line from that insidiously anti-semitic movie ‘Schindler’s List.’ Schindler defending Colonel Goeth, the commandante of the concentration camp says to Colonel Goeth’s Jewish house slave Embeth Davidtz, “You have to understand, he’s under a lot pressure. Under normal circumstances Goeth wouldn’t be like this...It’s the war.” Oy Vey!
*** Since I ‘rightly pass’ as a Roman Catholic it seems apropos to keep posting from that great old movie, “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” one of my favorites (although I did just finish watching "The Thorn Birds" recently too). The Shoes is a story about the election of a new Russian Pope in the middle of the anti-communist cold war. The cardinals gather from across the globe for a Conclave, and Cardinal Camerlengo, and Cardinal Leone, meet together to discuss the future of the Church. In a moment of reflection they ask one another what they would do should they have their lives to live over. Cardinal Leone answeres:
Cardinal Leone: “I’ve thought about it often,” said Leone heavily. “If I didn’t marry--and I’m, not sure but that’s what I needed to make me halfway human--I’d be a country priest with just enough theology to hear confession, and just enough Latin to get through Mass and the sacramental formulae. But with heart enough to know what griped in the guts of other men and made them cry into their pillows at night. I’d sit in front of my church on a summer evening and read my office and talk about the weather and the crops, and learn to be gentle to the poor and humble with the unhappy ones… You know what I am now? A walking encyclopaedia of dogma and theological controversy. I can smell out an error faster than a Dominican. And what does it mean? Nothing. Who cares about theology except the theologians? We are necessary, but less important than we think. The Church is Christ--Christ and the people. And all the people want to know is whether or not there is a God, and what is His relation with them, and how they can get back to Him when they stray.”
Kiril Lakota: (Anthony Quinn, the new Russian Pope): “It costs so much to be a full human being… one has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.”
Fr. David Telemond: (the character that plays the censored Teilhard de Chardin ) You know even God has not spoken his last word about his own creation. I believe in a personal god, I believe in Christ, I believe in the spirit, but if by some perilous internal revolution, I lost my faith in god, in Christ and in the spirit, I think I still would believe in the world. Yes I do believe in the world. In the goodness of the world. In the values of the world. That in the final analysis is the first and the last thing in which I believe. This faith I live by, and it is to this faith that; at the moment of death, mastering all doubts, I shall surrender myself. The dying is easy, it is the living which defeats us.”
*** I recently Discovered the word “psychopomp” and I am always seeking just the right time and place to insert it into facebook or blog posts. "Psychopomp" (from the Greek word ψυχοπομπός - pschopompos, literally meaning the "guide of souls") are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage” (safe from what?).
It seems that every culture has psychopomps of a kind that guide souls either to heaven or hell. The Welsh have Gwyn ap Nudd the Inuit speak of Anguta, the Chinese call them Hēi Bái Wú Cháng, the White and Black guards of impermanence. And in the Talmud they are called “Lailah.” Rabbi Hanina writes that Lailah are the angels in charge of conception who take a drop of semen and place it before God, “Lailah chooses an already existing soul from the Garden of Eden and commands it to enter the embryo. Lailah watches over the development in the womb and shows to it the rewards and punishments available to the individual. Then right before birth, Lailah strikes the newborn above the lip making it forget all past knowledge and creates the philtrum [so that’s how that little divot over our lips got there!]. Lailah serves as a guardian angel throughout a person's life, and at death leads the soul into the afterlife.” Generally speaking there is some consensus in the Talmud that God leaves one thing undecided at the birth of a human being, whether that human will be righteous or wicked. God keeps that secret not only from us but form God’s own self (another aspect of tzimtzum I reckon? I wonder how Calvinists explain the purpose of a philtrum?).
*** Among my most expensive books is the three volume complete letters of Vincent Van Gogh that my dear wife bought me many years ago (all available on-line for free now btw!). I read from it almost as devotionally as I do from Benjamin, Mother Teresa, and Rabbi’s Shapira and Sloveitchik. This letter seems to have some resonance with the rest of the post above but I reckon I will let my few dear readers figure out for themselves how all these klediments may fit together.
From Vincent to Theo, form Arles, 9th. July 1888
My Dear Theo
For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it. But to look at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots of a map representing towns and villages. Why, I ask myself, should the shining dots of the sky not be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? If we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. One thing undoubtedly true in this reasoning is this: that while we are alive we cannot get to a star, any more than when we are dead we can take the train.
So it doesn't seem impossible to me that cholera, pleurisy and cancer are the means of celestial locomotion, just as steam-boats, omnibuses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot. Now I am going to bed, because it is late, and I wish you good night and good luck.
A handshake, Yours Vincent
Cancer or heart attack, even a car wreck, or a pistol fired point blank into your gut, may be welcomed by us as psychopomps to the stars. Thank you for that my dear brother Vincent. The painting above is my copy of Van Gogh’s very last painting called “Crows In a Wheat field.” He didn’t call it that or give it any title of course. Every year they have a forgery art show here on the island and a few years ago I chose to copy this one by Vincent. He finished working on it, then set his brushes down and walked out into that very field and shot himself. He died three painful days later. To me that wheat field is like an icon of a crucifix after Christ’s body has been removed. I have thought about painting the wounded, bleeding Vincent into that wheat field, I am still thinking about it....
*** “I leave a piece of paper behind, I go away, I die: it is impossible to escape this structure, it is the un-changing form of my life. Each time I let something go, each time some trace leaves me, proceeds from me, unable to be reappropriated, I live my death in writing” (J Derrida, “Learning To Live Finally” pg. 58). From Derrida’s last interview before cancer carried him away to the stars. Vincent lived his death in his painting, Derrida lived his death in language (I live mine in both words and paint as well as music). And although in Derrida’s writing it may seem that not only the corpse but also the cross is missing, weren’t there always secret traces of psychopomps hovering around his words patiently waiting? Even though he told us often in so many parables that the secret is that there is no secret, can be no secret, no “pure” secret just like there can be no “pure” gift, even of death (see Kierkegaard’s version of Abraham and Isaac for example). But how, as the rabbis tell us, do you keep secrets from yourself if you are God? What does a self-less God sacrifice to keep that “pure” secret, to live a “pure” death? To give a “pure” gift?
Pope Kiril Lakota: How does a man ever know if his actions are for himself or for God?
Cardinal Leone: You don't know. You have a duty to act. But you have no right to expect approval, or even a successful outcome.
Pope Kiril Lakota: So, in the end, my friend, we are alone?
Cardinal Leone: Yes. I have seen three men sit in this room. You are the last I shall see. Each of them, in his turn, came to where you stand now, the moment of solitude. I have to tell you there is no remedy for it. You are here until the day you die. And the longer you live, the lonelier you will become. You will use this man and that for the work of the church. But when the work is done, or the man has proved unequal to it, you will let him go and find another. You want love. You need it, as I do. Even though I am old. You may have it for a little while, but you will lose it again. Like it or not, you are condemned to a solitary pilgrimage, from the day of your election until the day of your death. This is a Calvary, Holiness. And you have just begun to climb.
*** it is hard to tell in Vincent’s (and my own) painting of the wheat fields, if the crows are flying towards us or away from us. Crows act as psychopomps in many cultures and if they are flying away from us then perhaps they are shepherding Vincent’s soul to the stars he painted so often and beautifully. But if they are flying towards us, perhaps coming for us, then we have been caught out in that wheat field with Vincent, and we are just as alone and afraid and as needful of love as he was, and we also do not know if we have the faith to believe in a pure gift.
(p.s. I would not keep this secret from you. But even though I am the creator of those crows in the painting I do not know for sure whether they are coming or leaving).
I’m taking a break from poetry to write a bit about Mother Teresa.
Questioning questioning? There are several articles making the rounds on facebook and blogs etc., questioning, exposing, criticizing, debunking, indicting, Mother Teresa and her 55 years of work with the poor that I find very vexing. I am an ardent admirer of Mother Teresa so to be honest my first reaction is a defensive one. But before considering engaging the accusations I want to offer a passage from Derrida’s last book/interview before he died, “Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live Finally, The Last Interview.” Derrida is being asked by Jean Birnbaum about the university and it’s relationships with the dynamics of ‘knowledge/power’ and the freedom of inquiry within the university system etc., and of course Kant and Heidegger are always lurking in the background behind all of these kinds of questions. Then Birnbaum asked Derrida about “holocaust deniers” and then they explore the limits of questioning itself. Derrida affirms holocaust denier Robert Faurisson’s right to questioning within the university but interestingly not his right to affirm (publish, promote, assert?) conclusions that Derrida says are “unacceptable from the point of view of attested and proven truth” (48). I am a mere Derrida dilettante and not a philosopher but that phrase “attested and proven truth” coming from Derrida really got my attention. Kind of like if Jesus’ last words on the cross were something like ‘my father my father why have you forsaken me.‘
(This is a link to an article that set me to the task of thinking about Mother Teresa
My questions: are there certain questions, events, actualities that have been answered or affirmed so conclusively, like the holocaust event, that their truth should not and can not be un-affirmed? And how does the structural context of such questioning affect the possibility of questioning, of “attesting” (which I think some precocious doctoral student aught to pounce on for a dissertation). Does the life and work of Mother Teresa fit Derrida’s possible criteria that some propositions can be canonized by ‘attested proven truth?‘ (whatever that might be?). And further, can some kinds of testimony become sanctified by their accordance with the Holy Spirit?
The questioning of the article above asks something like: ‘did Mother T’s theology prevent her from alleviating suffering in some significant ways?’ First, for some reason even asking something like ‘what was Mother T’s theology’ strikes me as problematic. I know many of us spend a lot time trying to get words/sentences rightly ordered in appealing ways, or into combinations that make sense to us, or fulfill some perceived need for control or understanding, or structured in such a way that we think will help us make our way in the world, but I don’t think that that those sorts of language exercises really interested Mother T. I have read about everything she ever wrote, but if I had a chance to talk to her it would probably not even occur to me to ask her about her “theology.”
I just now opened up her diaries at a random bookmark. On page 275 she writes “Give Jesus a big smile--each time your nothingness frightens you.” Now I would never say something like that to anybody, and if I did they should punch me in the nose. But when she says to 'smile at Jesus,' those words dialogically hold more power and authority for me and over me. Even reading it again just now, I feel some surgence of faith and hope as if I have been existing in dark room and through the wall a mouse size hole of light has broken in and it beams some small ray of glorious light into my darkness. Remember, Mother Teresa started out by just picking up people who were dying alone in the street, loading them into a wheel barrow, carting them home and washing the shit and street sludge off of them and giving them some cleaner blankets to die in, holding them in her arms, praying for them (and not trying to convert them). And she and just a few others did this for 20 years before anyone even noticed. So when Mother Teresa tells me to smile at Jesus, I try to fu#%king smile at Jesus! I remember when she first gained some celebrity after Muggeridge’s book and movie came out in the early seventies. Lots of “radicals,” christian and otherwise, criticized her for wasting time and energy helping out individual poor people instead of leading a revolution against the oppressive systems causing the poverty and suffering in the first place. I have read and watched many interviews with her where she is asked this same kind of question over and over year after year. She always gave the same answer which was some version of the following, ‘...this is what Jesus has called me to do. You ask Jesus what you should do and go do that.‘ She drove both the ‘vulgar Marxists’ and the fundamentalist conservatives nuts. Here is an example in an interview with her by super-conservative ‘intellectual,’ William Buckley:
Now in this interview Mother Teresa does not say what the article above claims is a quote from her (without any sourcing, and I have not been able to find it anywhere). The article “quotes” Mother Teresa saying: “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.” I don’t think that this quote is from Mother T. I think it is from Christopher Hitchen’s version of his misunderstanding of what Mother Teresa said in this interview. That is, that our suffering allows us to share in the suffering of Christ, as Christ shares in our suffering, and that in that sharing and revealing something beautiful in manifested in the world. These are the words of a mystic and a saint not a theologian or philologist as we usually talk about them, and I know I can’t fully understand what she means. I have tried most of my life to look at the pain and suffering of humanity and those I love as an expression of Christ’s presence in the world and in my life. But it is very hard to sustain and live that kind of belief, an impossible possibility really. William Buckley (like so many of us) can not see, feel, or think, beyond the horizon of his ideological mind-scape and he and Mother Teresa don’t even seem to be inhabiting the same kind of conceptual space in this interview. Like too much derivative philosophy/theology he is trying to play a game of scrabble with her, to score the most bonus points, to win an intellectual game by puzzling together an impressive matrix of inter-connecting lexemes. It becomes just another form of sophisticated fundamentalism that gives us the illusion of control and accomplishment. So when Buckley asks her about all those poor wretches that Mother Teresa *isn’t* helping he thinks he has shown how his pragmatic/libertarian/republicanism has triumphed over her naive and puny efforts at engaging the problems of the ‘real world.” But is Buckley really making any sense either inside or outside of his own logical positivist tautologies?
Mother Teresa just responds by saying that helping the poor is helping Jesus, what else is she going to say, what else does she need to say? Jesus spoke to her many times, she heard his actual voice tell her to go to india and minister to the poorest of the poor, and that attesting voice is what it all comes down to. All of it. Everything, for any of us. We have nothing else to go on in this world, no superior authority, no supra-affirming, ontic, validating source. God said stuff like: “help the poor, love your neighbor and enemies and sluts, move mountains, take up a cross, etc.. But people also believe that God said stuff like: “kill those Hittites, cut off the ends of your pricks, don’t eat bacon, drop atomic bombs on people, fly airplanes into buildings, kill sluts, and don’t touch this, them, or that, oh and I’ll be back from heaven really soon so y’all just wait up on your roof tops....” Push all of those words, commands, and affirmations around a scrabble board all you want to, but the only way off the game board is for the Spirit to snatch you right up into the sky and out of this world and into another one. Sometimes the Spirit puts you back on the board and sometimes She doesn’t (there just may be an outside the text after all!). And that’s what happened to Mother Teresa, and so she became, as she says, “a victim of God’s love.”
I have read Mother Teresa’s diaries and I know how often that she felt God had abandoned her, how many years she heard no voice telling what to do. Is it possible that she got it wrong? And as some of her critics ask, could she have figured out better or more ‘significant ways to alleviate suffering?‘ Should she have led a militant cabal of ninja nuns in her spare time at night and carried out strategic political assassinations of the capitalist pigs? I think if Jesus told her to, she would have done just that. But I know how much self-questioning Mother Teresa went through, and she does she seem self-delusional or psychotic to me, and there does not seem to be deep fissures between what Jesus spoke, what Mother Teresa spoke, what she believed, and what she did. Rather, the deep fissures that I encounter are between the lived faith of this blessed saint and my own pathetic failings and frivolous musings.
Blessings and obliged.
"I still cling to Christ and trust in my doctors and nurses. Ever onward to victory! We will live and overcome!" -- Hugo Chavez's last tweet.
The painting above (40X30 in.) is of the 13 th. Station of the Cross, “Jesus is taken down from the cross.” It it the second piece I have done where I sculpted parts of a body and had them break out of the picture plane.
*** Another of my lenten poems:
We forget that we rose from the dead once already
Through bloody mucus and love cries
That light also brought pain to our eyes
It took years to get on our feet after that
Three days later and
Who would even recognize themselves
That first look on our faces is always so...
Astonished, that’s the word I would choose to call it
Unless you know of a better one
By now the bleeding has stopped
The wounds have closed up, scarred over
Bodies have been cleaned up and dressed
Made ready to meet the whole of the family
So many kinds of things have been forgotten
In the drama of it all. But what’s important
Even if our names were given before we were
The very idea of us is still worth mentioning
**** I wrote a while back about studying a book on Japanese death poetry. The Idea of these poems and poets was to write a poem at the very moment of one’s death, with one foot in each world so to speak, and to possibly leave behind some wisdom to share with the living. The poems are not composed ahead of time but must really be written just as one is in the act of dying (at least that is the theory, I don’t know who polices such things for the Japanese and just where the cut-off points are or the technicalities around suicide). Perhaps the ‘death tweet‘ can become the same sort of thing for the 21 st. century? In the meantime here are some traditional selections:
Sunao’s death poem. He died in 1926.
clears up reality
and dream alike
Ota Dokan (d.1486) was stabbed while taking a bath and spoke this poem:
Has I no known
that I was dead
I would have mourned
my loss of life
The mistreated married woman Oroku (d. 1690?) killed herself and left this poem”
And had my days been longer
still the darkness
would not leave this world--
along death’s path, among the hills
I shall behold the moon
Two poems from the famous monk/poet Basho:
The dying priest
looks as if
he new it all
The last of human desire
he grasps at
During his last moment, Zen master Shisui’s disciples requested that he write a death poem. He grasped his brush, painted a circle, cast the brush aside, and died. The circle— indicating the void, the essence of everything, enlightenment.
Let me end with one by the revered Daido Ichpi (d. 1370).
A tune on non-being
Filling the void
Allow me to add my own little poem about death:
A Little Ditty On Death
(technically, I wrote this while still mostly having both feet in this world, but then often one never really knows, it might end up a death poem, makes me a bit cautious about finishing it).
Death is all around now
(what we call death)
Taking one best friend after another
Grand mothers and still-born sons
Celebrities and nobodies
Whatshisname at the hardware store
Who knew where everything was
But some really important people too
The President of Venezuela and
Jean at church we all called a saint
And that slow waitress at Skippers cafe, Anne
Who was really nice just the same
(no one even guessed she was sick!)
Chicago bluesman Magic Slim died
And Judy Kozak the first playboy bunny
Lots of other good people too
Going then gone
I’m sick to death of it
(what we call death)
**** Third Station Of The Cross: Jesus Falls For The First Time
I haven’t finished my poem for the third station of the cross yet (I am way behind in my commitments) so let me offer this about meaning and prayer that I wrote a while back when my wife and I had some time before dinner on our anniversary Feb.14th. Since the restaurant was nearby we decided to kill some time by stopping by the chapel at Providence hospital in Everett. We wanted to visit the chapel and re-read the prayers that our family have written into the prayer request book over the years. However, our prayers were missing and in their place was a new prayer book that only went back a few months. The Catholic chaplain that I have come to know pretty well over the years popped by and told me that they go through one or two books a year these days so together we went off searching for the old filled up prayer books. After a lot of rummaging around we found all the previous prayer books going all the way back to 1936. Over 70 years of prayers all stacked up on shelves in a dank storage room. In those prayer books there is so much desperate sorrow, shameless pleading, even some anger and hatred, and a lot of tear stained pages. But there is also some joy and thankfulness and a lot of honesty and insight not found often enough in our ordinary lives.
It took awhile but the priest found the book from when my wife had open heart surgery 3 years ago and in it were all the prayers of the children and grandchildren and many friends and all of my own prayers too, answered prayers too as grace would have it. He left me to keep researching by myself and it took awhile but I found the old prayer book form 1982 when one of my daughters had suffered a terrible head injury after falling from our moving car. I had forgotten but over the next few weeks in the hospital I had written about a dozen prayers.
Head injuries are perplexing and hard to diagnose, and for the first few hours after the accident it seemed that my daughter was alright so she was sent home from the doctors office with bruises and with bandaids on scratches. But then about an hour or so later her eyesight in one eye began to fail then her right arm went numb, then she couldn’t walk or even stand up, then a more profound paralysis set in, then it got much worse. Let me say, It’s much harder to go from bad news to good news, and then back to bad news, to even worse news; to go from hearing that “your daughter seems to be fine so just take her home” (thank you, thank you Jesus!) to, “we’re sorry, your daughter is bleeding in her brain and we just can’t stop it ”(No! God No!).
Turns out I am really not a very good prayer after all, I never have been. Most of my prayers were kinda like this one: “Dear Jesus please heal my daughter, please let her live, please let her walk again, don’t let her die, thank you, I’m sorry.” You know, that sort of thing. Really quite simple, ordinary, unsophisticated, like so many of the other prayers written in these prayer books and prayed each moment everywhere in the world. And although I didn’t remember any of my actual prayers, I had never forgotten the fear and the pain. I am almost sure though that God remembers all of our prayers. But if not, I have copies of my prayers on file now. And on the last day when God is finished examining my life and deeds, my words and works, then I can open up my own book and God can watch those prayers fly from the pages again like furious spirits unbound.
|Life size sculpture with my death mask|
Klediments: Popes, Poets, and Poverty.
*** Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. James: 5. v. 4.
*** I Don’t Know What To Say. (by saint Dom Helder Camara).
|Wherever you see poor working you will find angels gathering their sweat and tears like diamonds.|
If I could
I would leave dropping money
in the poor pockets
fallen of fatigue and of hunger
on banks of abandoned gardens.
If I could
I would leave filling of rest and of dreams
the unslept nights of the desperate ones.
If I could
- oh! if I could -
it would drive away of the earth the distrust
that tarnish the clearest glances
and turns cloudy the cleanest horizons...
I don't know what I say, Lord!
If you leave on earth
the poverty, the insomnia and the distrust
it is because they translate a message
ciphered for the men
and they don't enter just by chance
in the life of anybody.
Rio de Janeiro, 04/25/48
I lived half my childhood/teen years doing migrant field and orchard work for minimum wage or less. I don’t idealize poverty or work that grinds down the body and soul. Yet, against all our reckoning, ‘blessed are the poor.’ The 30 year old painting above was inspired by fellow workers in the field North of Los Angeles.
*** Langston Hughes
“Hang yourself poet,
In your own words
Otherwise, you are dead.”
*** Meeting the new Pope (same trailer park, different trailer?).
*hugs* (((THE POOR))) *hugs*
"And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars.... Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we? He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!" Pope Francis.
You know, being poor is something that we (the rich, church) could actually pull off. Of course there’s a lot of sacrifice involved and it will probably hurt like hell, but it isn’t like turning water into wine or walking on water. Getting poor is pretty simple, even for people without any faith. Pope Francis and many others, including many of my ambiguously 'spiritual' leftist friends, seem to sort of wistfully ruminate about "The Poor," as if blessed poverty is some unattainable ideal like world peace, when really it’s as achievable as dolphin-free tuna.
In the book/movie “The Shoes of the Fisherman” the Pope begins the process of really divesting the catholic church of it’s wealth and earthly power to actually feed hungry people (and of course by doing so the church shares more in the power of God which increases through solidarity with the poor. This is why Mother Teresa, and not the Pope, is the most powerful person in the church for me). But it’s not just the vatican’s religious industrial complex that needs divestment, that’s too easy of a target and becomes just another excuse for all the rest of us to do nothing. How many times have I heard/read commentators in the last week saying crap like ‘well, let’s hope Pope Francis lives up to his name sake.‘ WTF? Francis has already taken a vow of poverty, what about the rest of us? Of course there is something we fear even more than sacrificial charity, it is redistributive justice, because sacrifice without love is driven by ego, but just as true, "Love without justice is baloney" (Cardinal Sin of the Philippines). How long will it be before disillusionment begins with this new Pope and we realize that we are just the same old unfaithful, broken, hypocritical people we were before all the white smoke?
I’m also wondering when riding a bus become a new sign of sainthood or a charism of the church? If only the rich young ruler had shown Jesus his bus pass! Maybe he could have hung on to the rest of his investment portfolio. Then again, Oscar Romero, another bus riding bishop once said before he was martyred for actually serving the poor and challenging the rich, “We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can we learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs. Liberation that raises a cry against others is no true liberation. Liberation that means revolutions of hate and violence and takes away lives of others or abases the dignity of others cannot be true liberty. True liberty does violence to self and, like Christ, who disregarded that he was sovereign becomes a slave to serve others.” Is Pope Francis really calling for us to do “violence to ourselves,” to become slaves of others, and to radically dispossess ourselves of our property or is this just fanciful inauguration rhetoric, and all to quickly the “church” will get back to the business of the conformation and maintenance of securing the power of it’s religious super-structure? Our beloved Kabbalist Tzadik Benjamin warned us against this very danger in his sixth thesis on history: “In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist.” Ad maiorem Dei.
*** So that brings us to the next in my lenten poem series. It’s sort of themed around Mardi Gras so I’m about a month late, sorry.Fat Tuesday
Surmounting limitations of poor drainage
New Orleans persistently clings
To it’s Acadian heritage of octaroon of parentage
Situated like an open zipper below the bible belt
New Orleans prospers on the yearly tithes
Of pietist Middle-america
Rome having cut a deal with the devil
Bargained away one week before lent
So that early each spring, like a fat ox
Paraded through the streets of Paris Tuesday
As groundhogs stagger from sodden huts
Dormant sap still frozen in their trunks
That great pulsing artery of river starts pumping
Down to the gulf from distant capillaries
As once it travelled Puritan and Huguenot
Into virgin frontiers today it
Barges oxygen blue zydeco and citronella sweat
Glands budding on danced out pagan skin shines
Swelling from every costume ripped and torn open seams
Come busting out reeling civil servants and ranch hands
Career women counter help feed-store hay-buckers
Combination tractor trailer migrants and junior college deans
Barmaids with chafed elbows and short order cooks
Pumping gas porno star bus driving seed potato plunk-down
Roustabouts and oiled up steel-mill workers
Pentecostal bail bondsmen skinny white boys burning hot
As orange flames for more white powder and all of them just
One mask away from a double vein pop to the farthest shore
And back into the arms of their black mother saviours
Redeeming the son’s and daughter’s of foreign masters
Guelphs, Gibellines, Wallensians and Cathars
Successive waves of covered wagon proxies
Until everything wild is annually subdued
And everyone is back to nicely multiplying
Each according to it’s own nature
Plough-shares cutting deeply into furrowed thighs
Absorbing, swelling with more seed each season the
Tectonic spread zone dangerously expanding
Between available and allowable meanings
The face side and faced side of a carnival mask
Until flowing like liquid magma
Onto those big easy streets
Squandering the harvest of a years virtue
To fall as far as half the angels
And half as far as not returning
On average the city sits 5 feet below the water line
By law burial of the dead occurs above ground
Metaphors of actual burials
Visible genealogies and timely
Reminders of bodily corruption
During great floods buoyant coffins float freely
About the Queen city transgressing all boundaries
Between caste and color, haves and have nots
Signified by Canal street the main binary causeway
In every american city regardless of water where
Life is lived on the dividing line of habitable oppositions
The face side and faced side of this place or any place
East where the Creoles first settled
West where later arriving whites invested
North around horseshoe bend
Where the blacks gave early warning that yellow fever
Was breaking from the Mississippi towards Lake Pontchartrain
Heading towards the peach groves of Lake Shore Vista
And Gentilly Terrace located seven miles and
That many virtues from Gretna, Harvey and Terrytown
Parts of the city you already know without knowing
Without having ever been there or anyone explaining it to you
Gentilly Terrace or Terrytown, you just know
Habitual as boulevards changing costumes
Crossing the canal to Tchouptitoula
Where Royal changes to Saint Charles and then to Basin
Basin becomes Elk place before merging into Loyola then it
Becomes Earhart, for just a dint, before
Promoting itself to Simon Bolivar
Keep and eye on the signs
They tell you where you are
And who you are
Gentilly Terrace or Terrytown
You just know.
Our Lady of Holy Cross
Looks down with affection and care
On Storytown and Jelly-Roll Morton
And all those hookers troiling the Vieux Carre’
The Te Deum rises through the fog of scarlet fever hearts
A music only the instruments themselves understand
A full seventh above the installment card laughter
That evens the pain out over 12 sufferable months
One third of a continent deposits it’s sediment on these streets
From it’s headwaters at Itasca Minnesota
Gathering slag and speed from Minneapolis/St. Paul
Mercury and sulfur from the quad cities
Wit and wisdom from Hannibal Missouri
And just below St. Louis outside of Cape Giardeaux
between Thebes and Ware (pronounced Wahray)
On a gentle bend in the Mississippi
The federal marker commemorating the trail of tears
A destination worth a trip in itself some time
But we’re caught in the current sweeping past Memphis
The water gaining stride on the longest stretch
From Graceland to Vicksburg like many Southern cities
it was starved into surrendering, it’s salvation give over to
General Grant who offered a host of sacrifices to Our Lady
Gathering a great victory of bodies into the river
Floating them down across all dividing lines
As far away from remembrance
As the sins of righteous meeting
The baptized souls of Baton Rouge
Mixing in and carried down, down
Flooding through the delta
Pouring onto the streets of the French quarter
Slushing, oozing, and slurping over
A saline tide seeking it’s own level
Until the cauterizing sun draws up to heaven
All the sinful infected moistures into herself
Forgiveness scorched into the hearts of repentant sinners
Until all that remains is the leaven of the pharisees
Pumped each Easter over the Bonnet Carre spillway
Into the available and infinite sea
|The face of the Virgin Mary after attack in 1972|
*** John 20:17,“Noli me tangere” (touch me not).
Another of my poems for lent. The subject is Michelangelo’s Pieta, one of my favorite sculptures. Unfortunately, after many assaults over the years one has to view this masterpiece from a distance and through protective glass (which may be the way we prefer to encounter Jesus).
The authorities in Rome
Erected a barrier of bullet-proof glass
Around Michelangelo’s Pieta
Still today some become so enraged
At this dead and pierced through little Jew
They try to smash him with hammers and bullets
Even as he lay in his mother’s arms
He can never be be dead enough
To please his enemies, and
Many of his friends
*** Lazlo Toth, a Hungarian living in Australia, is the name of the hammer wielding assailant who attacked the sculpture during Whitsunday Mass in 1972 while yelling out, "I am Jesus Christ risen from the dead.” After several blows, Toth bashed off the Virgin's arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids.
His roommate in Rome, American Danny Bloom, said of him, “He didn't strike me as a Jesus Christ impersonator, and he never talked to me of such things. We spent much of our days drinking coffee, going to parties at night and drinking beer and wine, and Lazlo often played his guitar. He told me was from Hungary, that he was a geologist and that he had spent a long time out in the outback of Australia for his job. He had a goatee, and he looked like a Hungarian poet. Nice guy. Longish hair, as was the style in those days, but not a hippy at all. One thing I remember about Lazlo is that he always carried the Bible with him. We didn't talk about religion very much, other than as people often do, is there a God, what is the meaning of life, stuff like that, late at night, drinking wine at outdoor cafes in Trastevere. I liked him. He was friendly, intelligent, articulate.”
Toth was apprehended and charged with crimes that would have brought a nine-year prison sentence, had he been convicted. In the end the court found him insane. Italian psychiatrists claimed that Toth had the IQ of a genius. His treatment included being subjected to 12 rounds of electro-shock treatment. After two years Toth was deported back to Australia.
*** Jesus: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).
These are some of the most distressing words Jesus ever spoke. Because we just can’t do this thing, love as God loves (except, possibly, for Mother T and Dorothy D). We can sell everything we own, we can turn the other cheek, we can hug lepers (or pay others to hug them for us) all of which may leave our egos in tact, but we can not love as God loves, and sometimes when I read this ‘commandment’ it makes me frustrated or depressed. And sometimes a bit pissed off. Maybe if Jesus would have put it like one of my other teachers, the highly esteemed Kabbalist Baal HaSulam: “Love one another as much as you can, as much as you love yourselves. Sympathize with your friend’s adversity, and rejoice in his joy as much as you can” (Baal HaSulam, Pri Hacham, A Sage’s Fruit, Letters, p. 54.). This is a challenging teaching form HaSulam, but it’s doable. If only Jesus would have been a bit more realistic about our capabilities and cut us some slack.
‘Take up your own cross...as much as you can.’
But no. Jesus sounds a bit like CIA chief Russell Crowe admonishing his agent Leonardo DiCaprio in the middle-east spy thriller “Body of Lies.” DiCaprio seems to be losing focus on the big picture (securing the power of the american empire) and starts allowing his concern for actual human beings to compromise his mission (killing suspected ‘terrorists’ or whoever).
DiCaprio: When they find him, they are gonna torture him and they are gonna kill him.
Crowe: You gotta decide which side of the cross you're on. I need nailers, not hangers.
DiCaprio: Decision's already done. I'm bringing him in.
Crowe: Ain't nobody innocent in this shit. Okay?
Nailers or hangers? Surely there are more options available than that?
*** A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music. People crowd around the poet and say to him: "Sing for us soon again;" that is as much to say, "May new sufferings torment your soul.” Kierkegaard (?).
|Woman of Many Sorrows|
Above is a simple, small (12" X 20") Icon of Mary Magdalene I call “The Woman of Many Sorrows,” that I just completed. It depicts Mary as she weeps at the foot of the cross. Below is perhaps my last lenten poem:
Noli Me Tangere
I. Chorus of Women:
From Eden to Gethsemane we have borne unjust shame
But this time there was no woman in the garden to blame
The serpent silently coiled around the minds of weaker men
The serpents enemies were Mary and Mary from Magdalene
II. Mary Magdalene:
I had tarried on the road from Emmaus to Jerusalem
Got lost on the far side of the valley of tombs
When I was told, when I knew what I had always known
I ran the length from the gate of lions to the place of skulls
But when I found you, you were already spiked to the sky
Where were your brothers, uncles, and sons
Where were your two fathers?
Had I been there in the garden
I would not have slept
I would not have left you alone
I would not have ‘put up’ my sword
I would have destroyed the temple to save you
I would have screamed at those cowards and fools
I would have fought the emperor and his soldiers
I would have blasphemed the fraudulent priests of Hashem
I would have torn down the city of Jerusalem stone by stone
I would have rent the veil and left the sacred places desolate
I would have answered your prayers
I would have have held your bruised face in my hands
I would have wiped the blood and tears from your eyes
I would have given my life for you
But I was not there in the garden that night
There were no mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, grandmothers,
There were no women in the garden that night
And still only the only doubters may touch you