Saturday, August 31, 2013


It was a balmy twilight in Chicago, and we were having Indian food at a sidewalk table on the so-called Magnificent Mile.  Our first vacation undertaking had been an architectural tour of the city from a boat on the dusty green Chicago River. It had set the tone; it had primed us to look up at the glass and steel buildings as they reflected the sky and one another.  

But dinner on the sidewalk brought us face to face with a more intimate enterprise, humans on display amidst the bright enticements of commerce.

Haute couture, haute cuisine, haute haute heels -- it all swirled around me against a backdrop of incitements to desire and valet parking. Costumes had been purchased and were on display; sparks of anxiety flickered across flawless faces: is the dress all right, is the hair all right, is the body all right, am I all right ?

I breathed in booze and perfume, cigarette smoke and motor oil, curry and cologne. I thought (you will not be surprised to hear) -- get me to a monastery -- an atavistic, post-lapsarian thought, but a sincere one.

I had Googled Chicago Episcopal Cathedral before our trip (the Piskie Back-Monkey refuses to let go) and found a slick parade of images of jazz concerts, speakeasy-themed fundraisers, happy, helpful parishioners engaged in all sorts of artistic endeavors and beneficent projects -- exasperated, I quickly gave up the half-formed project of a visit. The polished images stank of marketing, the same shrill manipulation in whose midst I sat on the Magnificent Mile -- snappy slogans, enticing images that feed the ever-hungry secular ego and stoke the insatiable furnace of mimetic desire --

To Chicago I came, burning, burning, burning -- my own initial attraction to the Church was pure mimetic desire -- I wanted (and probably still want) to have what Thomas Merton had, or, better still, to be Merton himself. So who was I to criticize the canny evangelizing images that likely have little to do with the day to day sheep feeding and worship of a parish.  If the website had featured Christus Pantokrator and a haute church swinging thurible, I'd have added the joint to my itinerary in a sacred heartbeat. (Darling, whispers Talullah, at the crossroad of high church and high fashion,  I love your dress, but your purse is on fire.)

Meanwhile, on each and every one of the bridges crossing the dusty green river, sit panhandlers, several to a span, each with his or her ill-lettered cardboard sign bearing a short verse of woe: homeless, jobless, pregnant, help me. It takes a radical reversal of the direction of gaze to notice them -- a forcible wrenching of the eyes downward from the golden rick rack

and the blindingly mirrored towers thrusting upward into God's former celestial digs, heaven,

to the dusty streets under our feet, the true homeland of misery, neglect, abandonment, alienation and, above all, violence. How much holy water would it take to douse the massive, eternally-spewing Satanic volcano of the world ? Or, at least, to redirect my free-floating, metaphysical desire, such as it is, to the heart of the matter ?

Little wonder I sat there before my cooling curry mentally hailing a cab -- no, dialing 911 for an ecclesiastic ambulance -- to transport me, stat with siren blaring, to the nearest monastery, preferably one with an ICU specializing in cure of souls --

where I will thrash, tethered to the tubes and drains of the dark, septic night, until day breaks (when, oh when)  over the frangible glass city.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

That Toddling Town

Magnificat Mile

Here, where vendrenuit stalks vendredi, 
she's on display, skirts all the rage.
The outskirts, half-razed
to lofts and lowing fogbanks,
mix laughter, slaughter,  brand,
and brand.  She totters in her skirts
called by lights,

     You know what you want !

one link in the food chain of desire.

     (Who told you what you want ?)

Her glassy eyes slide up the glassy spikes
into the black-and-blueblood sky
where flightless deco buttresses allude
to nothing that she knows of.

She's starving, stilletoed, damp
as a newborn calf.  Her eyes
dart like shiners; half-
blind, allured and alluring cultivar, hot-
house Rose of Charon, disingenue,

lean on the hog butcher beside you
the bristled one who
is ever sans souci !

The lagoons of his pig paradise drain
into the cash green city ditch of Farm Tech,
where logos ripple backwards among
schoolkids learning

where our meat comes from

(and where it goes) 

She holds her silk purse close. Hermes
psychopompos, hog butcher
of the over- and underworlds,
guides her past the tempting lights,
telling her where to look,

and where not to, down,
to read the crayoned cardboard



and meet the glance where favor, blessing drown.



Saturday, August 17, 2013


I've just crashed over the threshold of vacation, bits of unfinished work still sticking to me; I stare up at the unfamiliar sky -- where's the suspended ceiling ? -- and blink in the glare.  No buzzards circling. Good. Must have survived.

My latest gig-within-a-gig nearly did me in. I'm squatting over the embers of myself, huffing and puffing like mad. Hello, hello -- are you there ? Am I there ? Is there even a there there ? 

Embers. And ashes. There is firewood, and there is ash.

In the midst of it, the phone call comes: a stranger, reporting a death. I was on a list of those to be called in the event of. 

The red, red sea parts for a moment, then crashes down, redder yet. The horse and the rider. Always the horse and the rider, always swept into the sea of someone else's dream.

I met the man whom I have always called the Reverend in 1971. The Rev was a Marxist, an angrily  lapsed Irish Catholic, a man caught between rough-and-tumble working class roots and intellectual aspirations. He was my first lover; we were together for years, misfit clinging to misfit, then drifted apart. I married twice, first badly then amazingly well, and undertook my most uncongenial career. (Vide supra.)

Years passed, marked by an occasional missive, and then, in 1998, the Rev re-appeared in person. We agreed to meet. His life had been hard -- backbreaking work with cruel and brutal coworkers, poverty, isolation, physical illness. But there was more.

In the woods surrounding a Buddhist temple in New York he'd had a vision -- tall white beings had appeared to him, radiating love; there were other experiences, out-of-body, transcendent, numinous, ineffable. He'd been led into a deep exploration of Native American and Celtic spirituality.

Frankly, he scared the shit out of me. And I fled.

We reconnected again in 2010. Packets of books -- Buddhist Sutras, Native American lore --  began to arrive at my workplace, return address indicating they were from a Chief White Feather; there was an odd little blip on my facebook page. Then came the emails -- from public library computers, as he was too poor to own his own.

And for the last three years we conducted the last phase of our lengthy relationship, the epistolary phase. We met once for coffee, but we mainly wrote -- over 400 emails from our correspondence remain in my cluttered inbox.  He became my metaphysical confidant, my spiritual guardian angel, sending me packets of internet printouts -- lectures, retreats, meditation centers -- and engaging us in far ranging explorations how to construe the existential anguish of Being.

Oddly, his visions -- which, to his chagrin, had never recurred -- no longer frightened me. They seemed part of the warp and woof of him. His insistence on JOY -- JOY -- JOY in the midst of his life of truly awful affliction was inspiring; his conviction that letting go was the highest of spiritual attainments was humbling.

Of late his health had worsened. He had developed, on top of debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, an indolent leukemia. He'd always hated the medical establishment. Fortunately, in the last year or so, he'd found some compassionate providers. Toward the end he'd weathered some painful procedures and treatments and seemed to be doing better. He talked about the fall and how we'd both be happier then -- me at the end of this miserable gig-within-a-gig, himself, Goddess willing, restored to better health.

Inundated with work, I replied only briefly to his emails. June bled into July; I noted his silence, wondered, worked -- and then the phone call came.

Shortly after he died, I had a dream.

I was in a library. The librarian told me that the Rev had left a message that, in 4 days, we would meet for a game of twister.

How could that be, I replied. He's dead !

Then I looked out the library window and there was the Reverand, wearing Ray Bans, walking away.


Walking away, rowing away, this broken guardian angel of mine -- he was a grace which, like all graces, was utterly undeserved.

May the earthly wind

and the heavenly stars

sing you to sleep, old pal.