A Tennessee Passion

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Come you daughters and see; Behold, you fathers of sons.
Fly you unto the mountains, and get unto the hills.
I see! Oh, I see close there two men—no more than boys—
Withering and pretending. What God would smile at this?
See them drive down Clark’s Highway between somewhere and nowhere,
The sixth curve is all. It is Ichabod, Ichabod.

The doors slid open. They ran inside to loud country music and a nod from the girl behind the conveyor belt. It was the same everyday girl. Beneath the frequently stained ceiling tiles, long rows of florescent lights illuminated dusty shelves. They deftly overstepped the dried gray sticky spills. They paid no heed to the woman with unwashed hair yelling into her phone, lollygagging the aisles.

Under the clearance sign, they stood amid hummingbird feeders and small plastic bird fountains painted like grey stone. Cameron picked up one of these and bounced it in his hands before saying, “Well? We got to get a move on.” He looked past James’ shoulder towards the windows beyond.

James lingered.

Too proud to beg, too poor to move: the American price.
Two dollars their souls would soothe, your change could suffice.

A few months ago, James’ aunt told him a story about when her uncles took her brothers from their home late one night. The brothers must have been eight or ten as she was older. Her uncles knocked on the back door. In town, some men were—as she told it to James—“doing funny stuff, you know” down at the bus terminal near the Presbyterian Church. Her uncles wanted to let their nephews see what justice happens on the edge of town when you do this funny stuff. Nobody much cared what happened to those bathroom boys.

Hours passed and car doors slammed her awake. Her brothers entered their shared bedroom. The red taillights through the window illuminated their white, frightened faces. They never told her what happened that night, but she heard them both quietly crying in their beds across the room until they went to school in the morning without a word to each other.

It is I who should atone, bound hand and foot to this hell,
Out on the straight edge of the known. What these men endured I cannot tell.

Decades later, one of those young nephews turned pot-bellied and tired. One night, he came upon moaning from James’ room. He wasn’t with Cameron or another boyfriend, but just a guy from school, a B-squad jock who’d let a faggot suck his dick for cash. He was not homosexual. But James had no excuse when his father caught him in the gayest of positions—the one that cannot be explained away with drink or laughed in the locker room. A position that offered no explanation but shame. He pulled his son from under the B-squad jock, his bedroom and his life. He threw him out.

That November night, James walked miles in flip-flops and gym shorts to the one-level house on Third Avenue. He banged on the door till the no trespassing sign bounced and the dogs yapped inside. He banged and he banged. His aunt opened the door.

Open the gates to me, my protector, lift high the doors and take me in.
See I stand and knock, tired and full of tears,
My face hot with shame. Lift high the doors and take me in.

“Come on, we’ve got to pick something. We’re already running late,” Cameron said. He leaned and looked at the plastic painted stone bird bath in James’ hands. “No,” he said, “no, we can’t do that one—you’re over budget, J.” “I know,” James replied, “I know.” But, he turned and started walking towards the same everyday girl at the register.

Cameron walked in front of him and stopped. He did not look him in the eyes. “J—come on—put that back—we can’t.” James looked away. They were close enough to hear each other breathe, close as they slept at night. James replied, “I know. I know.” Cameron said, “Just put it back. We can’t afford it.” James shook his head. “No, we’re doing it. I’ll eat Goddamn rice and beans all week—she deserves something nice.” And his father would be at his aunt’s birthday party.

“Something nice?” Cameron replied, “Something nice? There’s nothing nice here.” He laughed.

The sacrifices of God are troubled spirits,
And unsure divided minds, and hearts not all at ease;
For those who e’en cannot give from clearance,
And those not willing to live or love or please.
These sacrifices are poured out from unexpiring cups,
Always, resting not night or day, to the God who never hears.

They stood in line behind an elderly black woman talking to the everyday same girl. The girl was telling the woman about her babies. My babies did this. My babies did that. Can you believe what my babies did? Shew, ‘dem babies give you nothing but heartache and trouble. For some time, they went on like this to the arrhythmic beeping of the register.

James opened a magazine from the rack next to the packs of gum. One had a glossy picture of a handsome man with a blindingly white smile and a five o’clock shadow on a cover. The headline of the article read, “Star comes out as gay: why _______ is the sexiest dad!” It was in large print next to a picture of his abs and a picture of a palatial sandy estate where he makes his home with his partner and his three children. They all smiled in a family portrait on the next page. They offered advice to young gay men on staying quote-unquote fabulous.

It was their turn. “How y’all today?” the same everyday girl at the register asked them. “Just fine, thanks,” James said. “We’re in a bit of a rush,” Cameron replied. “No worries,” the young girl said, “it’ll just be seven dollars and sixty-five cents.” James brought out his checkbook and wrote in blue ink with a steady hand, offering a quiet prayer to God that it not clear the bank for three days until his paycheck was deposited. They said thank you to the girl.

The wind clobbered the dangling chimes, the whole line of them outside the store. Most were marked-down four metal tubes under faded garish suns. Cameron and James opened their mouths to fistfuls of gusts carrying the taste of hot, wet pavement. James was nearly intoxicated by it. Fencing Clark’s Highway, the trees turned paler underbellies towards a pregnant sky. “Jesus Christ! It’s bad enough—now we got to drive through all this bullshit,” Cameron huffed. They stood in front of the closed doors and, for a moment, watched the rain blow.

Bear Witness unto the Truth

350px-Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

Close the door. See it rise down the pot-marked alleyway lined with grey snow leftovers and brown cracked ice. See red-bricked and sandstone skin, three stories tall, rise and brood over a neighborhood. Lift up your eyes to the alleyway leading to the front doors, to the tall flag waving with the sound of a clean sheets’ snap on a spring morning. See it rise real from memory’s rubble.

Ascend the marble staircase with chipped edges. Hold the smooth lacquered wood railing. Wind past the noisome cafeteria to the top floor. Follow the hooks for little coats to the wooden doors. Enter the lanky room with barred windows and labeled books. Hear the smart, iridescent hum of fluorescents.

See the boy, red-faced and weeping. Alone.

See the bureaucrat. He sits at a desk with a nameplate. A matted photograph of an eagle with the words, SOAR WITH YOUR DREAMS, hangs behind him. Phone calls made and emails sent. The bureaucrat doesn’t know what to do. The men with beards are demanding blood. They stand outside the door. They crowd the hallway.

See the man in front of the bureaucrat. The men horseback and torch-led by night’s false fire tore him from the woods and bruised him. They argue about his future, their future. Back and forth, back and forth they go until the sky blushes with morning’s pale light.

The bureaucrat questions the man. Manacled to his left hand is a pen. He writes in tight block letters on a legal pad: NOT KING. DENIES KING. He doesn’t understand the bloody man or the men with beards at the door. Exasperated from the early morning, he finally asks, “What hast thou done?”

The man’s tongue was fat from the beating. His words are intentional. His cracked teeth ooze blood down his beard. The man’s words are thick, buttery and slower than shouts. Grumbles follow from the hallway. “Art thou a king then,” the bureaucrat asks. “Thou sayest I am a king,” the man replied with drooping words, “To this end I was born, and for this came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”

The man’s voice becomes the incoherent mumbling of a sleeping lover. The bureaucrat almost heard his wife’s voice in the whispering (there were long nights of disturbed sleep these last weeks). The men with beards made no effort to hear him, but the nameplate and the eagle photo heard the man’s final and careful reply, “Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.”

See the mother. The Hoosier wind tosses her hair and reddens her face. Feel the soft suede of her blue jacket on your cheek and smell comfort. Her arms enfold you. Her shoulders are wet with young dolor. You shudder and gasp emotion. It bursts from behind your face. The boy never knew such tears in a library.

She speaks in his ear, “One day, not long from now, all of this will be memory. Memories are not a thing. They do not exist unless you choose to give them life. Though they lie to you and haunt you and make you hurt yourself, they are just ghosts. Truth has a body. Truth is a body.”

She takes him home. He does not finish the school day.

See the men. See them driving to work. They go for their families, for their wives, for themselves. See them turn up the radio; lift up their coffees; driving up the road, pushing the speed limit and praying for no police. The speed, the coffee, the sounds, the thoughts of family and the kids—keep men from seeing the ghosts attached to the car and floating behind them.

The men do not see the ghostly procession of a thousand hangers-on, a thousand figures clutching onto men’s brains and mufflers. They follow each man throughout the day and into the night. They shout. Through the cracks, the men hear them when they wake in cold sweat and muffled cry. See the men stumble into the bathroom for water. Their wives sleep.

See the men greeting. See their ghosts meet. Their ghosts argue and wrestle to determine which ghost is the strongest, which ghost can affect which man the most. They have eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear. Noses have they, but no smell. The men who really know themselves listen to the ghosts. The greatest predictor of the future, these men say to themselves, is the past. The ghosts are the greatest source of knowledge. Their shouts are wisdom.

See the man. He looks down, catching the drops of blood in his hand before they hit the beige carpet. The bureaucrat asks with a huff, “What is truth?” but does not wait for an answer. He shuts the door and in terse tones discourses with the men with beards. They said the man was no philosopher, no king, no healer, but a demon, a madman. A murder is more deserving of freedom than he. The bureaucrat wipes his hands on his khakis.

The man in the room had no ghosts to argue on his behalf. He had no repeated history. He gives no answer, or riddles or qualifications or carefully crafted explanations.  The ghosts of the bearded men and the bureaucrat said the only way to fix this problem was to kill the man. If it took duplicity and lies from the ghosts in their collective thousand-year stories, then so be it. Whatever they had to do, they would do it. The brains of men will make sane anything.

See the dusty street lined with grey snow and brown-cracked ice. See the man, his breath puffing out before him. His blood steams off his body. His back is deeply slashed. See the man pass through the men and the men with beards and the ghosts of all those lining the street (an untold number including Abraham and Isaac, Romulus and Remus and Jupiter and David and Caesars, et. al.). They lower the cacophony, “We are truth. What has happened will keep happening. Die in the prognosticating past.” They keep shouting even as they enthrone the man with nails on a hill, until, finally, nature shook them to cold silence where they stood in noonday’s night.

See the boy become a man. The ghosts taunt him. See him love and doubt and love and doubt again—always too deeply, too much, too soon. See the ghosts from that bricked school down the alleyway tear and shout and hang on and drag him under. “See,” they seethe in his ear, “we ghosts are real when you’re already dead.” Did a man ever emerge from the past?

See the bureaucrat, the men with beards, and the men of that time and of this time and of all time. See us go about our work, our lives. See us living quiet lies of desperation. Love—even a mother’s love—is no match for reliving, for nostalgia. The men remain their pasts. The man remains the boy in the library alone. The cock crow awakens dawn to nightmares.

“Are You Happy?”

el greco pentecost

You ask me the question over coffee. The waxing winter sun behind me casts kind light your hair. The blonde almost glows. Meanwhile, I look down, divining the sticky froth up the edges of my mug like entrails—looking for some sign, some answer to the question. You wait while I think. From the corner, a man on his cell phone filled the silence. I spat out, “No,” and after a ten minute rambling, I said, “Yes.” Then, I defended the contradiction. “A sign of my humanity,” I said.

I want happiness to define my life. But, if care be not taken, the anxiety of happiness slits my gut with her thousand-needled razors, loitering under early morning stairs, never even leaving at noonday. She haunts every moment, every breath, every kiss, every hug, tear and orgasm. She will knife my back and inflame my brain. I know she will. She’s done it before, demanding I fit her definition.

Every decision comes to an awful judgment seat, “Does this make me happy?” The question slices each moment in half, leaving the intuition’s infinitudes to dissect it convulsing on linoleum, castrated and impotent—all splendor and perdition sucked out, shucked out. And, while we wrestle the albatross of defining happiness by life’s missives, stops and jitters, the moment passes backward, along with innumerable others. If this be happiness, then I don’t want to be.

More than happiness, I want life: sorrow, pain, suffering, laughter, inappropriate jokes, the love of good friends, and a table spread with fine food (or tacos), coffee and erudite conversation and endless arguments over trifles and boredom, while flayed hearts expose demons to the air, including the maddening long nights of know-nothing no thing numbness and the brass door’d heavens shut for no Divine response will be given. This is life, too.

Along with the moments—always such brief moments!—of ecstasy and the feeling that everything will be okay. God is in his heaven and with the Virgin, his mother, and his Son is there on the altar under the form of stale wafers, hidden by incense, crappy sermons and fine hymns. Yes, there is happiness, but there is so much more than happiness. Happiness mingled with death, languishing sorrow, overcoming, transcendence and Opera and cuddling. It is beautiful—all of it, beautiful.

Happiness cannot be divined from froth or dissected by psychology. She can only be kissed with irreverent abandon with rude lusting for more. But, she’ll run through a back door to the next lucky asshole, while we walk in A.M. shame, scratching our heads. Happiness is a whore, but life is our wife.

But, when you asked me the question, did you feel it? Did you sense it in the silence between us, this flame, this perpetual Pentecost of the sizzling seraphic ecstasy when the imago Dei roams the earth, e’en to a coffee shop on the Virginia border? To the discerning ear, the man in the corner on the cell phone was prophesying the gloria Dei (albeit unaware). And the bored barista behind me was burning like shook foil with the Götterfunken (albeit unaware). Even your hair was aflame with sunset. The God of Glory thunders through all sinners, saints and nature. This is not happiness, it is life. And I thirst for it.

Under Hydrangeas

Hyd

When I was a child, there was a hydrangea bush along the side of the house. It was tall enough to hide a sensitive seven year old under her green canopied spring-blossomed arches. My back against the wood siding—uneven, uncomfortable—I lay a towel over the bald earth. That place could become anything: vast interplanetary darkness, the snowy wood of Narnia, the imaginary Terebithian bridge, or an attic castle, among others. Drivers passed unaware of a boy’s sanctuary, while through her drooping blooms, I saw the bricks of the church across the street. I was Lord of that place. Reality bent towards me.

Here, time and place were nimble, supine and hardened by no laws but my own desires. Lightning lit up under her greenly eves and white blossoms shook their petals at summer’s wind. And, flying high—high above, smearing slugpaths across the firmament—were planes in the sky. It was imagination and terror, grandeur and silliness. It was pure childhood. I, the king of this place, could never be overthrown. I could only be convinced to give it away.

After all, I was a child who found paradise. I was a child who stood in front of a loud stereo, waving arms in some form of passionate conducting of Tchaikovsky. I was a child with dreams and visions. I told them to the elders’ amazement. I was a child who fantasized about his own death and funeral and how a casket would be carried into the streets amid the weeping throng, along with a thousand thousand other thoughts of a child dreaming under hydrangeas.

Children have imaginary sanctuaries, of course, but men do not. When I became a man, everything had to be something. Everything was what it was, and what it was is what they told me it to be. A bush of hydrangeas was simply Hydrangea macrophylla. I learned to murder books in dissecting the page’s words. Long daydreams through an afternoon’s clock ticking were replaced by RESPONSIBILITY and ACHIEVEMENT. If I couldn’t do my multiplication tables, I couldn’t get into the advanced classes; if I couldn’t get into the advance classes, I wouldn’t graduate; if I didn’t graduate, I wouldn’t go to college; and no college meant a meaningless life. WORK IS THY SALVATION.

And, yet, in a few years, I gave up my private sanctuary. I became man. I accepted that everything was as it was. And thus it should be forever. I accepted cruel bureaucracy’s whorish machinations. I accepted being led by weak men who clutched whatever little power this reality ascribed them. I accepted the task of proving myself to whichever self-appointed judge sat over me. I slit the child’s throat and left him for dead. While under the hydrangeas, white petals fell and winter descended.

800px-Warren_Township,_Clinton_County,_IndianaWinter is not kind to me. I watch them stalk in the snow with their traps, trying to harness my talents, my creativity like some kind of dumb beast of burden. Once, I had accepted the bit and the bridle and they taught me to exalt everyone else. So, they rode me into Jerusalem, into the cheering throng while I marched on cold snow-dusted jackets. They would beat me in an attempt to clear my head when walking the streets at night. And my own voice they told me not to speak.

I hate this reality where everything has to be something. I hate living in this world of unkind expectations, of the worship of the work of God, of the worship of the getting, the spending. The denial of beauty and poetry in search of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The fact that we can never ever pause and be, lest rolling past us goes the tide of history. I hate myself for jumping higher when it was demanded.

Sometimes, I think the only way to solve it is to end it. Perhaps in the upstairs bathtub or from the big tree or in a blazing automobile accident of one. How useful is a horse when he’s outlived his usefulness? But then, the tears fall and the feeling passes and I sleep. I try to sleep the winter away, but they keep beating me.

Whenever the snow falls and it hurts to breathe, and the expectations begin suffocating, and when I want tragedy’s end, and when I in bed lie in deep contemplation of the ceiling fan, I think about when anything could be anything and I consider the hydrangeas.

You must meet me here at this place for I will no longer go out to you. You must crouch down, though, and you can’t carry much. Your expectations of me you must leave out in the yard. I am not who I was, I am who I am. Here in this place beyond right or wrong, I shall heap treasures upon you. We will lie down on the towel together and pray resurrection over the dead boy’s grave. Meet me here, under the hydrangeas.

Meet me here at this place, just beyond what you know and what is forgotten. Meet me here, where the floor is stars, and the sound is children’s laughter, and a stream slides from the mountains through a mossy wood. All around will be fresh, new. Come into my soul all ye who are disconsolate and I will save you. You will know my voice. We will dream.

THE DIVINE CHICKEN OF GOD

800px-Chicken_-_melbourne_show_2005(Image from here.)

The λόγος kind of flies o’er the world
to-and-fro, to-and-fro,
flapping immense wings and
dragging chicken feet.
She weighs too much,
leaving unsure tracks in dust,
(Get off the ground, λόγος!
get up into the air, silly!)
looking for a tabernacle,
and a mouth to speak.

Eat this Word: eat her fried with
greens; baked or grilled, too.
Eat this Word and ye shall find it
delicious unto yer souls and
Yea, this word (fried or grilled) will sustain
ye, e’en unto McDonald’s.

SQUAK! SQUAK! SQUAK!
over the great-widening earth
Sounds ὁ λόγος (conjugate, fool!)
ridiculous mishmash unheard
gashèd fire of umlauts imprecise
over the great-widening earth.
To my heart,

& through my mouth shall the SQUAK! sound
with light feet (in peace) upon the mountains,
Speaking comfortably shoèd to Sion:
“Behold ye the chicken of God
in awe (raptured)
and approach
in fear (and reverence)
for she SQUAKS above us
bornèd in the egg, eternity—eternally.”

(A fine sermon, worth at least
a day wages’ labor and
the sweat of the brow.)

They come—watch these come—
the born of dirt,
dusty dirt, sandy dirt, dirty dirt,
hungry for a state of non-hunger,
not quite satisfaction, though
something far less (but maybe
more—who can tell?)
They come to not feel hungry:
to not feel hunger in the womb,
to not think distended bellies convex with horror.
Yes, not satisfaction and not hungry,
but a state of non-hunger,
dreaming to be in not being. They grasp the
claws and climb your sides with knives and forks
and myriads of plastic sporks,
biting directly into your feathers
together, all Merriweathers
and Clark, explorers in yer
body do they grab and chortle,
grasp and snortle, and ye
SQUAK! SQUAK! SQUAK!

And here, they sang a Dresden Amen
and went home. Grandma made
carcass stock,
gnawed bones at the bottom
of the cloudy abyss.

Crazy

I was Myshkin, then, not very saintly, but certainly naïve. When your wild days would be over and you would be just a shell of a boy in the body of a man and the realities of life would be deeply grooved and all those laughing clubbing fool friends of yours would leave for fresher pastures, I would be there. I would be there like I always was: holding you, drinking orange juice, watching the moonrise—your deepest friend, you said, the only one to ever really know you.

Yet, I could not divine the signs: the time spent on your smartphone; the hours in the bookstore; the gag joke bowl of condoms; the unanswered questions; the brushing off of concern; and the private jokes with your friends always followed by the “Shush—Andy’s in the next room.” I heard you say that; I heard them laugh. How our friends would set you up with everybody else (I haven’t forgiven many of them for this). How many times, led at night by jaundiced eye, I would drive to all right places to see . . . until I’d laugh myself back. I ignored the writing and stuck to my story. Gomer would home.

For weeks after you left, it was Górecki and dreams. You were driving a car up a tall hill, like the first incline of a roller coaster. We crested, the wheels lost ground contact, and I flew up in the back seat, my stomach into my mouth. I laughed when we landed. You were driving. You said, “Well, Andy, you always did go for the trumpety Jezebels.” You even showed up a few months ago at some kind of garden party and, just like in real life, you flirted with whoever came. I yelled at you. I’d rather you not show up at all, frankly, but there you were.

And here you are: It was deep night, when from my bed, I walked on cold tile and heard the sounds of ecstatic fucking from a far room. At once, I felt it all: shame, betrayal, arousal, disgust. What had long haunted the edges was incarnate reality before me. (How many times had I stood in this non-dream?) Had I been a worthy man, I’d burst in for coitus interruptus, declaring my love. But, good for him, experiencing life and all, I thought. I slowly backed into my bedroom. My bed was wet only with tears that night. I still loved you, even then, until years after, I woke from the nightmare.

Love is insane. Love contradicts. Love rapes all rational thought to explain away her misery, her pain. Love takes all and never gives. Love leaves you. Love smiles to the scaffold. Love bade me welcome and she murdered me on the rack. O daughters of Jerusalem, do not awaken her before she stabs you in the back.

My Blogging Philosophy, Part II

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MY ANSWER
Charles Bukowski

“why does he have to use words like that
in his writing?”

“words like what, mother?”

“well, like ‘motherfucker.’”

“some people talk like that, mother.”

“people he knows?”

“yes.”

“but why does he associate with
people like that?”

because, mother-in-law, if I only associated with
people like you
there’d be nothing to write about that
the motherfuckers would care to
read.

From The Continual Condition: Poems, ed. John Martin (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 64.

(Part I)

Poem for a Ho-hum Tuesday in Advent

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(Image from here.)

Chicago Poem
Lew Welch

I lived here nearly 5 years before I could
meet the middle western day with anything approaching
Dignity. It’s a place that lets you
understand why the Bible is the way it is:
Proud people cannot live here.

The land’s too flat. Ugly sullen and big it
pounds men down past humbleness. They
Stoop at 35 possibly cringing from the heavy and
terrible sky. In country like this there
Can be no God but Jahweh.

In the mills and refineries of its south side Chicago
passes its natural gas in flames
Bouncing like bunsens from stacks a hundred feet high.
The stench stabs at your eyeballs.
The whole sky green and yellow backdrop for the skeleton
steel of a bombed-out town.

Remember the movies in grammar school? The goggled men
doing strong things in
Showers of steel-spark? The dark screen cracking light
and the furnace door opening with a
Blast of orange like a sunset? Or an orange?

It was photographed by a fairy, thrilled as a girl, or
a Nazi who wished there were people
Behind that door (hence the remote beauty), but Sievers,
whose old man spent most of his life in there,
Remembers a “nigger in a red T-shirt pissing into the
black sand.”

It was 5 years until I could afford to recognize the ferocity.
Friends helped me. Then I put some
Love into my house. Finally I found some quiet lakes
and a farm where they let me shoot pheasant.

Standing in the boat one night I watched the lake go
absolutely flat. Smaller than raindrops, and only
Here and there, the feeding rings of fish were visible a hundred
yards away — and the Blue Gill caught that afternoon
Lifted from its northern lake like a tropical! Jewel at its ear
Belly gold so bright you’d swear he had a
Light in there. His color faded with his life. A small
green fish . . .

All things considered, it’s a gentle and undemanding
planet, even here. Far gentler
Here than any of a dozen other places. The trouble is
always and only with what we build on top of it.

There’s nobody else to blame. You can’t fix it and you
can’t make it go away. It does no good appealing
To some ill-invented Thunderer
Brooding above some unimaginable crag . . .

It’s ours. Right down to the last small hinge it
all depends for its existence
Only and utterly upon our sufferance.

Driving back I saw Chicago rising in its gases and I
knew again that never will the
Man be made to stand against this pitiless, unparalleled
monstrocity. It
Snuffles on the beach of its Great Lake like a
blind, red, rhinoceros.
It’s already running us down.

You can’t fix it. You can’t make it go away.
I don’t know what you’re going to do about it,
But I know what I’m going to do about it. I’m just
going to walk away from it. Maybe
A small part of it will die if I’m not around

feeding it anymore.

(From The Beat Book: Writings of the Beat Generation, ed. Anne Waldman. Boston: Shambhala, 2007. 262.)

A Response to #WalmartFights

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Image from here. HuffPost covers my local Walmart.

Wordsworth! Ginsberg! Whitman! We need thee this very hour while, chilled by early winter, lustful fists molest for deals, deals, door-busting deals. Hands working hours, working weeks, working lifetimes for this zippity-do-dah yankee doodle clusterfuck of an enraged morning. Like bombing for oil, the registers beep of Baphomet—yet none recoil.

Greed, violence and work, drive us forward and fly! For your patriotic duty is to buy. Rev the engines of wealth and brighten the shining light of this hill town. Too big to fail, too big to care, a corporate personhood, the priesthood of should, ingenuity of white men and egos, the princes of our time, the power ties, the getting and spending. Chew me, vomit me, ruin, ruin, ruin me. Doubt is thy only salvation. But, our dollar in heaven, hallowed be your smile; old George, help us murder and stay positive all the while.

What will you say when the cold chill of cosmic unimportance whispers on the back of your neck? What will you quantify when nothing is taken from this mortal wreck? What is the 401(k) plan to meet death? When Charon waves, what bargain will you carry across the divide? Crock pots and towels and laptops and tablets, just a bread and circus insurance against the great beyond, the outer grim of unknown.

But, when the system shits us out for doubt, we will rise unto the impenetrable, and flame in the skies, leaving only a beautiful memory of an inconsequential revel of this our only life. They won’t know what happened, but wonder and promptly forget.

An Open Letter To My Goddaughter

seven-sacraments-altarpiece-detail(From Rogier van der Weyden’s Seven Sacraments Altarpiece, 1445-1450.)

My dearest Eleanor Julie,

You were absolutely lovely at your baptism on Sunday. You gave yourself over to the priest with aplomb, as if simply accepting an award from the Rotary Club. You smiled devilishly at the sanctified water. I felt the Spirit brooding over you. You smiled at Her, too.

Moved by your baptism, I told your Godmother that she and me should enter into an ultra-catholic marriage of convenience to produce dozens of children for wet hair at the font. Sounds funny, doesn’t it, my dear? The older I get, though, the more I think bliss is to be shared—at least, I think that’s what I meant when I suggested it to Godmother Jo. She laughed, of course. By the time you’re old enough to read this, you’ll know your Godfather is a silly, silly man. I hope you smile at that, too.

Anyway, there’s a part of the Rite that always makes me giggle. Right after you were wetted and oiled, the congregation welcomes you into the Church to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” Whether you like it or not, my little red-headed bliss-giver, you are a toddler-priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. No takesies-backsies. But, I always wonder at how a baby is supposed to confess and proclaim.

Yet, there is enough praise in your ligaments to silence the cry of any rock; in even your foulest wailing, I hear shades of ecstatic praise; and your baby tomfoolery is the profoundest liturgy. You preach the Gospel simply by being who you are. Consider the trees: they neither study Aquinas, nor were committee-selected, nor sing Gregorian Chant, yet is their praise not perfect? Like them, you preach by being you. Your sermons surpass all.

Much of this will change as you get older, of course. You’ll be pressured to adjust this perfect praise. You’ll be expected to act in certain ways and speak at certain volumes. You’ll have to sit upright, digest facts and learn your multiplication tables (yuck!). On the playground of life, you’ll have your heart broken and you’ll break hearts. The miraculous misery of life will happen to you and you’ll want lose this toddler-priest perfection—I’ll write to you about all this when you’re a little older.

As you probably will in a few years, St. Paul derided childhood. He said he put childish things away when he became a man. My dear, when you grow up, you’ll be able to realize when St. Paul is being an open-soul Christian full of wonder and contradictions, and when he’s being a closed-minded jerk. Jesus—who is always right—said I should become like you because the kingdom of God is yours. St. Paul was wrong.

For now, remain as you are. There is nothing else you can or should be. Hebrews had a puff of cloud by day and shining night fire, but if I had you for my guide, I cannot miss the way. Teach me how to be. A little child shall lead me.

Much love,

AF

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