Ying and Yang

Europe_a_Prophecy_copy_K_plate_01

William Blake’s “Ancient of Days” from Europe a Prophecy (1794).

“Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day : the darkness and light to thee are both alike.” Psalm 139:11

It begins with Philip K. Dick. My brother recommended The Man in the High Castle (1962) to me. Throughout the novel, the characters consult the ancient Chinese divination method, the I Ching, to discover they live in a false reality. Interested, I purchase a copy of the the respected Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching (1950). Carl Jung—yes, that Carl Jung—gives the introduction. Jung used it not for fortune-telling, but as a kind of literary Rorschach test. He felt the ahistorical and seemingly primordial language taps into the unconsciousness. My own I Ching experiences are for this end. I discover Jung’s hypothesis is true. After reading all the other commentaries and essays in the volume, Taoism intoxicates me. I quickly purchase copies of Alan Watts, the Tao te Ching and the Chuang-tzu. I read.

As I understand it, Taoism focuses on the Tao, the creative force of the universe. Famously, the Tao te Ching says, “The Tao that can be described is not the Tao.” Alan Watts points out that this is a mucky translation. “The Tao that is Tao-ed is not the Tao” is closer to the original Chinese. Extremely helpful, right? Any definition of the Tao will fall short of describing the Tao. However, early missionaries to China translated John’s λόγος as Tao. But, as far as I can tell, Tao is not God, at least not how Christians conceive of God. After all, the Tao undulates, but Christ is constant. Ultimately, though, both are unknowable.

When we confront something new—we frightened humans huddled around our sectarian fires, warmed against the freezing nothingness—our first inclination is making an other. We know those around us; we know what we believe. They are not with us; they do not believe. This accentuates the differences. Among those of us who do not have a fully developed humanity, this other is threatening. That I have used the I Ching makes several of you extremely nervous. They, after all, are not like us. Who knows what demons lie waiting in such mischief?

When something new confronts us— we frightened humans huddled around our sectarian fires, warmed against the freezing absurdity—our second inclination is to synthesize. This highlights the similarities. It is what the educated do. They take a thesis and an antithesis. They compare and contrast. Then, adapt a new paradigm. Many blend a little bit of Buddhism, a little bit of Taoism with a bit of Christianity until they make a mishmashed claptrap. This does no honor to Buddhism, Taoism or Christianity and overlooks serious differences between them. Thus, they force two paper triangles to fit a sphere. Yet, this pleases some to no end. I blink.

medieval-virgin-mary-fabric-1.jpgIn the last six months, I left the parish in which I was confirmed and a very active member. I dropped out of singing in another choir. It has been very healing for me to go to an Episcopal Church up the street where nothing is expected of me after being burned (and burned out) for so long. I sit in the congregation. I sing in the choir usually. I sleep in sometimes. I travel around to other churches. I’ve picked up the practice of centering prayer that I let go of years ago. I have theological conversations without getting nauseous. In short, I’m saving my soul.

What amazes me in all my years—yes, years—of doubting God, the Church and myself is I never doubted these things two: the bread and wine are Christ’s actual body and blood; and Our Lady is God’s mother. It is fun to try to understand the last one! In days when despair devastated me, I’d still say Ave Maria to the woman whose son I had such trouble believing is God. I believe she prays for me, especially when I doubt her son.

Through this, I learned to let faith be faith, and doubt be doubt. Faith would surge and overwhelm me, before retreating into doubt. Then, doubt would rise from the back and wash over me before dissipating into faith. Doubt was a terror to me for the first three years. For the next three years, I tried holding doubt and faith together, making a synthesis of both. This just made me tired, angry. After all, I cannot comprehend what the mystics say should be self-evident. If all things are truly one, human hands cannot force them to become that.

Whenever a new way of seeing looks us in the eye—we frightened humans huddled around our sectarian fires, warmed against the freezing loneliness—our third inclination is let things remain as they are. I’m not frightened of Taoism. I don’t want to amalgamate Christianity and Taoism. I’m not interested in becoming a Taoist (for that matter, can one become a Taoist?) I’m happy to learn about a new system that is completely different from anything I’ve ever known. I’ll re-embrace the contemplative and apophatic practices within my own Christian tradition. I’ll let them remain just as they are. I’ll listen to both.

They say it is nearly impossible to hold two opposite ideas at once. But, this is the job of a writer. Indeed, I have done this my whole life: gay and christian; faith and doubt; fiction and non-fiction. I accept both as true, not bending them to fit a newer understanding, but holding both equally within my person. My soul is expansive, enlarged by suffering. So, I can look out with different sets of eyes. Some days I nearly think I can fit the whole world within me. Ideas swirl, but I think them. Faith and doubt ebb and flow, yet I remain. I remain.

The Varieties of Religious Blogging

Meh

We here at A Red State Mystic* believe in taking the work out of blogging. Sure, you could still aggregate and like Facebook pages and follow on Twitter, but you don’t have time for that. You’re busy writing a screenplay. Being a mother. You know, stuff. We understand. That’s why we’ve decided to boil down ninety-five percent of contemporary religious blogging into five categories. Now you can go back to doing the important stuff, like not caring when internet people internet. Hashtag: urwelcome.

The Let’s Get Real, Guys:
Exemplar: Rachel Held Evans.

Let’s face it. A lot of Evangelicals think x. I’m tired of arguing about x. Forty years ago, everybody else decided was okay. I might feel better if I just let it go. But, I won’t. I won’t even. I won’t even stop writing simple sentences. I won’t even stop bolding the important ones so you can skim. I won’t even stop until I get another book deal. I’ll keep writing until every Evangelical realizes how radical is. Because I’m so radical. Look how radical we Jesus followers are with our radical opinions. Here’s the Sunday Superlatives. They all sound like me, too.

The Consider the Brocade:
Exemplar: The New Liturgical Movement.

Behold pictures of a Pontifical Solemn High Vespers from a Cistercian Monastery in the Austrian Alps. Contemplate this medieval cope with a jasper morse. Consider these swaths of Latin poetry. Corpus Christi porn! Calligraphy? You better believe they’ve got Calligraphy. That’s right. Fuck you, 1970s, they do what they want! Never—I repeat—never read it for the articles. If you do, you’ll end up a misogynistic anti-Semite, say things like “It’s the rupture of hermeneutic continuity!” and will grow to doubt the Holocaust. Since the departure of Benedict XVI, you might end up believing the Sedevacantists had some interesting ideas. NO MANIPLE, NO MASS might become your motto.

The Painfully Self-Aware Secular Tie-In:
Exemplar: Mockingbird.

I like “The Game of Thrones” and crappy Indie bands you’ve never heard of and cartoons from The New Yorker and Kanye West and Louis CK and David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers and we totally liked Blue Like Jazz before it became a thing and sports—yeah, bro, we’re totally into sports—and pastors with sleeve tats. Here’s what all this stuff can teach us about Jesus. Because, you know, we’re hip. Like, yeah. Culture. (I can never tell if they’re trying to get me saved or convince me how cool they are.)

Engage the Rage, Ye Shills!
Exemplar: Every Christian on Twitter.

The Rage Machine is well-oiled and primed. I’m still convinced that in 2012 when Chick-Fil-A’s Truett Cathy went on record (yet again) of being against gay marriage, he knew that it would engage the rage. Predictably, the gays called for a (continued) boycott. A week later, Mike Huckabee encouraged Conservatives to engage their supposed free speech rage with a “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day.” It was Chik-Fil-A’s single biggest day of business ever. The Police had to be called to the Johnson City store to direct traffic. So, whenever the Rage Machine is activated, always—always!—follow the money. Remember that social media is all free advertising and there is no such thing as bad advertising. If you’ve engaged the rage, most likely you’ve been an unwitting pawn in someone else’s war. Think before you share.

The OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE:
Exemplar: The Episcopal Café.

If we don’t sell our buildings and radically change SHIT WILL HIT THE FAN. Look at every congregation’s falling average Sunday attendance. Look at it. Do not look away. Christendom is dying. We are doing nothing to stop it. Lucky for you, this priest from Montana wrote five hundred words how you will reverse the death rattle by revising the prayerbook, divesting from Israel and inviting more transsexual lesbians of minority races to sit in the House of Deputies. And don’t even get her started on bishops. A few days later, a priest in South Dakota responds. At first reading, it will appear to be mostly in agreement, but the tone makes you think they vehemently disagree. Turns out they do. Unintentional hilarity from misguided passions ensues in the comments. “You can pry Wonder, Love and Praise from my cold, dead hands!”

_______
*: By “we”, we mean “me”, of course.

Everybody Minds Their Business

THE GODFATHER, from left: Al Pacino, Sterling Hayden, Al Lettieri, 1972

Like many things, it is best described by “The Godfather”. Recall the scene where the Corleones conspire to murder Sallazzo and McClusky in an Italian restaurant. The only one familiar with the place is Tessio. He describes it, “It’s perfect for us. A small family place with big booths where people can talk in private. Good food. Everybody minds their business. Perfect.” This Italian joint near my house could be described much the same way.

About a year ago, I decided to make this restaurant my usual Sunday night place. Sometimes, I’d share the booth with a friend, sometimes with a book. It was always late, and, for some reason, it was usually raining. I sit at my usual table in the corner. The lights are unusually low for a restaurant.

A few months ago, it was just me, the rain and Sinatra. Like most Sunday nights, I was tired. I’d just gotten out of a two-and-a-half hour rehearsal. I sigh and run my fingers through my hair. I examine the table of contents for tonight’s companion, my New Yorker open in front of me in the gloom. I scoot the candle closer until the words become visible. The waiter takes my drink order and I ask for the tomato bisque. Truly, this is the best tomato bisque I’ve ever had. A lot of the times—especially on dark, wet nights like these—it’s all I will eat.

Laughter from a distant room. I hear him. In fact, I hear him long before I see him. Like a pig in slop, his words slur and tumble at a volume neither indoor-appropriate nor library-sanctioned, the unmistakable timbre of a one-legged waltz of dragging a pollen-covered club foot through daises. Even though we were separated by twenty feet, a wall and his intoxication, I understood every word that jumbled from his lips.

He said he owned his own design company, something where they make and design cards and shirts and banners—“Really,” he slurred, “Anything you want.” (I imagine his breath reeks of wet peppermints and vodka). He started his business right after being the first one in his family to go to college, although his father worked very hard for the family, ole’ drunky was the first to graduate and make something of himself. “I could, if I wanted,” he said, “hitch up all my relative’s homes to my three-fifty out there and drop them in Boone Lake.” His laugh reached all the way to the kitchen. I could hear a few other uncomfortable chuckles.

(A brief aside, if you please: The nouveau riche of our day are much different than those who arose out of the middle class in the eighties. They do not flaunt their wealth in a Bret Easton Ellis orgy of designer names. They are earnest in pretending class doesn’t exist. They are the kind to still go to all their old haunts and say to their old equals, “Zo-My God! Isn’t this wonderful? Look at my pictures from my trip to the Caribbean.” Dolly “it takes a lot of money to look this cheap” Parton is their patroness.)

I am not content to hear this man. I must see him. His voice gave away much and revealed too much. This loud intoxicated usurper violated this quiet, big-boothed usual place of mine. I get up and turn the corner towards the bathrooms.

us_tnvols2He stands little over six-feet tall, wide shouldered in the ubiquitous Tennessee orange polo. His pleated khakis are cinched around his abdominus waist. A hint of gold catches the eye amid his gesticulations. It’s a large class ring from the University of Tennessee, naturally. Like a diadem, his sunglasses sat atop his head and the cords draped down his back.

Standing at the bar, he held court. Next to him was his pretty and attentive wife who—up to this point—said nothing, but drank her martini. She looked a few years younger than he. Leaning against the other side of the bar was a waiter. You might do well to describe his slouching posture as “hipster”. Although, let’s be honest, that word has no meaning anymore. It’s the kind of word used by the nouveau riche to describe any sort of creative type, anyone who doesn’t want to play by the rules. But, for maybe the second time in his life, the hipster looked vaguely interested in something.

It’s gone from a constant drizzle to a downpour outside, now. Like a bitter wind, I pass by unnoticed to the bathroom. Sadly, there is no gun taped behind the toilet, like Tessio guaranteed. I returned to my seat. The candle at my table flickers light across the page.

“I’ll tell you—I’ll tell you what you’ve got to do,” the blitzed man says, “once you finish your degree—how, how much time do you have left?—once you finish your degree, you should come work for us—”

His wife interrupts, “Yes, oh yes! That would be wonderful!”

But he continues without stopping, “I’m serious! A whole lotta guys got their start with me and go on to do bigger and better things. What are you getting your degree in again?”

“Art and graphic design,” the Hipster replies in a voice that, comparatively, sounded chapel worthy.

She says, “That’s so great!”

But, he continues, “I’d drop the art major and change to business. That way, you can open your own shop, be your own boss, you know, answer to no one but yourself. It’s really the way to go, man. If you want to make it, dude, it’s the way to be. It really is.”

“Thanks for your advice,” the Hipster says without note, “I’ll keep that in mind.” I turn a page in my New Yorker.

“Plus,” the one (not on his wagon) continues, “If you were to go to a company like ours with a business degree, too, you’d practically be a shoe-in—”

She interrupts with nodding, “Yes, you would be!”

But, he continues without stopping, “With those design chops of yours, you’d be unstoppable once you learned the business end of it. Just imagine how much money you could make. Imagine the cheddar!”

The hipster makes excuses. Says he needs to go to the kitchen. There is silence. A long wonderful silence. In the gloomy quiet, I realize something I’ve known my entire life, but could not put into words. Watch a straight man (preferably married and a former jock) and you’ll see a man without guile, without irony. He is a prince for we have made him so. From age twelve, he’s never been forced to doubt his existence. He never doubts why he is alive. You can see it in how he walks, how he carries himself.

Why wouldn’t he give advice, this man with his glittering class ring and sunglasses? The world—this world, this part of Tennessee—belongs to him, it bends towards him as he passes. Why wouldn’t he survey his land, this wife of his, this waiter of his and discern what is needed? Is he not the bliss-giver, the king-maker, the wisdom-giver? The world is as he sees it, for he has made it and so it is. Would that we all hitch our trailers up to his glory and be fed from the charitable crumbs wiped from his most gracious table. It never enters into his mind that this is not so, for he is prince of what he sees, his table is spread and his wife agrees. What more could a man need? It is a terrible hell to get what you want, to become what everyone expects you to be.

So, the rest of us make excuses and flee to the kitchen with the Hipster. We flee to our art. We put down our spoons and leave the big booths where people talk in private and we go back to minding our own business. After all, only assholes think everybody wants to be just like them. We walk out the door. The rain hits our faces.

Why Are These Doors Everlasting?

kievgatepainting

(Viktor Hartmann’s design for the Great Gate of Kiev. The inspiration to the final movement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.)

My love—

Have you ever been loved like this? My love for you is like the freezing burn of ice, like the hot wet streak left when it slides out of your hands onto the linoleum. It is a gallon of ice cream shoved to the back of the cold casket when the hills and hollars made by last month’s spoon shimmer with crystals. It is like eating straight from the carton. But first, you must wrap it in a dirty kitchen towel to keep the winter from burning your hands.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock, knocking on the door of the soul (The pulpit man asks if I will let you in). I say, “Sure, be ye then lifted up, ye everlasting doors. Of course. But why are these doors everlasting?” I haven’t had doors in years, just rusted hinges scraping the wind. These walls of mine crumble like wet cardboard. My soul’s causeway is open wide as a grass-covered void. The band is waiting your arrival. Will you enter me? Take possession of what is yours.

The wind blows your voice over the mountains, down from the cell phone towers blinking in the dark distance. It is all I can see, taunting us just beyond the fire. When I turn my head to the left, I hear your voice in the television and in the seven day forecast and the echoes of distant laptops. You haunt me from that beyond. Possess me.

For you, in strange arms do I wait. All of them are strange smiling fools, lesser men with little sad plastic souls. Imposters, really. This fire you started in me warms them. We used the doors for firewood. They play their games around it. I laugh, but they will never know the blessing of my tears. My blessing tears almost crushed you once, even as you held me, but the benediction was on your cheek and I cannot take it back. All they get is a crooked smile, but you—you!—come in, come in!

Come in and let us leave our bodies. Let’s unzip our flesh and wiggle out like newborns of the night. Ascending like children, we will run our fingers through the milk of the sky and watch ripples scatter and splatter to distant galaxies. Let us leave these silly fires, these sad souls, these sane minds for I am a mad man. Yes, I am quite insane, but scorching hoarfrost maketh such. This madness destroys me. Thus, the two are devoured, but the one remaining smiles to greet the dawn. Under his head, he adjusts the pillow at the first blush of morning, before sleeping in until noon. The snore is a sweeter sonnet.

The People’s Sky

r1-07010-0002.jpgWhat did the sky look like before it became man’s domain? This sky, I mean, the one that is stretched a taught blue over this open field. How did it appear before the contrails and the satellites and the pajama-clad passengers in a drug-induced doze cut through the firmament? Generations ago, what did they see on a cold May morning when mountains towered small on the horizon? Did anyone think to photograph it, something as dumb as a man-less sky? (Or record the sound of a quiet café on a street when a long evening’s conversation was entertainment? Or the creak of the front-porch swing and the mindless chatter of a boy as his grandmother listens?) The sky belonged to the gods in those days and the imagination. Now, it is the people’s sky.

Have you ever seen a bird fly? This bird, I mean, the red-chested proud bird sitting high on this chain-link fence. He stopped and whistled for me. We gaze at each other for some time. His whole little body shudders when he sings and his head darts in nervous, paranoid jitters. The Cherokee tell of a time when men understood the animals. I hear a lot, but I don’t understand the bird. Now, he flies away. His flight is a dappled thing, worthy of praise. He will tell me his secret wisdom some other time, maybe.

Have you ever seen the muscles on a jogger? This jogger, I mean, the one who just passed me with his toned arms jutting out from his tank-top, glistening. He gave me a sideways look and furrowed brow. Was I talking to myself, I mean, was I talking out loud to myself? I do that occasionally, just for the pleasure of hearing the words roll in my mouth. Did you notice how attractive he was? (I’m sure you did, you perverts.) I can hear the bad dubstep in his ears. In these days, in this domain of man, nature is the people’s workplace. They never take their shoes off.

He runs past me, probably annoyed that I’m standing still in the middle of the trail, looking up at—well, hell, I don’t know what the fuck I’m looking at anymore. Did he?

A Tennessee Passion

bwv248_example1

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, but 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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers