Saturday, February 24, 2007

Marcia L. Tatarunis 11.5.26-2.21.07

Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord:
And let light perpetual shine upon her.

May her soul, and the souls of all the departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

--BCP, 486

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Desert Fraction

If landscape were a primary religious category -- like God, love, redemption or mercy -- then I'd have to be a Zen Buddhist. A lifelong New Englander, I resonate with the mountains, valleys, meadows and seasides in Japanese and Chinese paintings and poems. They go straight to my heart, bypassing word and concept, like the sound of a tolling bell or of water running over rock.

The notion of desert is alien. I recoil from the prospect of scorching heat; I shudder at the thought of scorpions. I feel anticipatory vertigo, faced with arid expanses reaching to the utmost horizon, broken only by cacti and the occasional rattlesnake.

It's not simply the desolation. As I've mentioned before, The Idea Of North -- tundra, ice-floe -- forms a big swath of my inner spiritual geography. These are certainly not intimate landscapes of woods and bogs and brooks. They are, for all the ice, as arid and perilous and forbidding as any desert. The word "God-Forsaken" presents itself as a potential descriptor for these empty places. How odd ! Wouldn't forsaken-by-everything-but God be more apt ? Isn't God the endpoint of the apophatic project, just as Buddha nature and emptiness is of Buddhist meditation ?

The season strains toward its apophatic culmination. The roadside weeds are dry and broken, stippled with mold. And yet under the ice there is green and there is flow,

and on top of the ice small seeds lie scattered: there is an ongoing project here, the antithesis of apophatic -- life.

It smolders everywhere, waiting for the kindling breath of lengthening sun. Standing, looking around, alone with the cloud of my own breath, I feel the old joy arise. I am a bent reed, I am a tiny seed on snow, and I brim like a spring stream with gratitude.

Old reeds genuflect,

and bow;

stripped vines entwine and arise.

There are liturgies everywhere,

and crucifixions.

Especially crucifixions.

And hangings. Penal suffering, as Simone Weil aptly noted, is a very specific affliction: One might choose no matter what degree of asceticism or heroism, but not the cross, that is to say, penal suffering.

Penal suffering. Suffering inflicted by God-forsaking power. Twenty six Japanese martyrs -- six Jesuits and twenty Christian converts -- tied to crosses and run through by swords in 1597. In Nagasaki.

Nagasaki. Suffering inflicted by power, by oppressive force. Such a weight of suffering that it collapses into an fused-glass desert of pain: cross, sword, bomb, countless limbs.

Stabat Mater Dolorosa plays in an endless loop; there are Pietas on every street corner.

What, then, shall we do ?

Audite. Listen. The wind whistles through an empty gall,

and across the mouth of an empty tomb; it moves between the trees of the forest sanctuary, and up the throats of the ranked organ pipes of the church sanctuary.

What, then, shall we do ?

In desert silence you can hear sand sifting over sand, a green sprout breach wet humus, or a snowflake melt.

And when, under the weight of snow and ice, a branch cracks in two,

it is with the sound of our own breaking, and the sound of every body broken by us and broken for us. It is the sound of sin and of the forgiveness of sin, of birth and death, of time and eternity,

and of the question, implicit as marrow, occulted in every amen --

What, then, shall we do ?

Friday, February 09, 2007


You laid the foundations of the world
and enclosed the sea when it burst forth from the womb...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Two Paulas

I was messing with my 28mm f/2.8 lens inside today, working up the fortitude to go out into the wind and cold, and found that I'd taken a casual, mirrored self-portrait with Paula Modersohn Becker's self portrait looking over my shoulder. I took a more studied version of it -- and it reminded me of a series of poems I'd written years ago, circa 1999, called "Self-Portrait With Self Portrait." I dredged one out, no mean task as the bulk of my oeuvre (such as it is) was written with a now obsolete word processing program; opening the poems in Microsoft Word tends to create mincemeat, arguably an improvement over my dull iambs and clunking narrative.

So, anyway, the poem's in high confessional mode, N. being the poetic wight who broke my heart in med school, the husband in question being long-shed husband #1, and the occasion is being pregnant during internship.


For somewhere there is an ancient enmity
between our daily life and the great work.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Requiem for A Friend”

Dearest N.,

Today I found your postcard, Picasso’s blue
thin girl scowling under coils of hair.
Scrawled, on the back, This is you. Love, N.

How that astonished me ! I am pink now, and fat.
Becker's Self Portrait is my new lie.

All winter the Angel of Death has dogged me
across the floe, locum tenens for my AWOL muse.
She doodles arcades of moons on my sheets.
An inkspatter spoor leads from porch rail to clothesline,
and a fine, black-tipped down flocks my baseboards.
Annoyed, my husband calls me “glandular.”
For “morbid” he malaprops “moribund,”
for gorge, “gouge.” My alienist diagnosed
nostalgie de boue. My father told me so.

At deathbeds, to keep from sinking,
I stare at teeth. When the nurses turn their backs
I pocket chits of blue code, the torsades
and fibrillations, agonal blips and asystoles
the stylus burned onto the spilling grid,
a fingernail on run-out time.
Beneath the sisters’ rule and tutelage,
my alphabet devolves: Palmer curve,
flatline, dot. Pronunciation: Dead.

As you might expect, I’m drinking again.
Last night, on the bathroom floor, I dreamed
of a mannikin whispering, “Le luth, le luth,”
or it could have been “La lutte, la lutte.”
I woke to a gull stalled in an updraft,
a crooked Casseopeia. The icicles pointed up.
By noon the neighbor’s bullish boys
had trampled the fresh snow to hemoglobin.
My husband turns his eyes from Becker’s breasts,
as I do from mine. Pulpy and moot as glib fruits.

Although unpracticed in Annunciation,
my Angel obliged, grackling off key on a bent horn.
I flubbed my lines. Stumbled at "handmaid"
and improvised Daylight unbinds the darkness
of the world. Turn off the lights so I can see.
There was a jar in Massachu.

I wish you could see the lozenges of light
that quiver on the muddy wallpaper
when ice and glass fracture the afternoon.
They iridesce, spectral fish in shallows.
N., something like them minnows in me now,
a drop of light, subtle, precarious, stained red
by perilous passage. My little light-fish.

You’d redline that. Pisciculus lucis. Any better ?
I remember how you sent me scavenging
for “tittivate.” I scoured my books for days,
neglecting Gray, almost flunking out,
until it winked back from Stevens’ Monocle
You fished “scratched isinglass” out of Bishop in an hour,
then aced the anatomy practicum.
Embryology’s old saw rasps through my head:
ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.
You called it “fishy” and “sentimental,”
like a coincidence of birthdays or given names,
of Februaries, Paulas and conceptions.
A wilderness of sentiment encroaches.
Watch me submit.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Terrorist Sell

Yes, of course, it is amusing in an absurdist way that Boston ground to a halt yesterday when little electronic widgits dispersed around town by a "guerilla marketing" campaign were suspected to be "devices" (as in improvised explosive).

Sure, I'll add my voice to the general quibble, if only to complain about the use of the word "guerilla."

"Guerilla" implies subversion; there's nothing subversive or revolutionary about the Turner Network's marketing effort, young, goateed (and scapegoated) art-school fellows notwithstanding. It's the same stroke-the-ego-of-your-target-demographic advertising technique that's used to sell everything from Hummers to Frosted Flakes. The very use of the word "guerilla" is part of the stroke: makes the target demographic feel edgy, avant garde, special, subversive, in on a quasi-gnostic secret -- not simply the easy-mark, sucker-born-every-minute victim of the latest Madison Ave campaign to extract dollars from purses. Stampede with the herd into your radical individuality ! Wheeee !

Personally, I found the widget campaign to be as transparent and tacky as those laminated signs that sprout up overnight on the all phone poles of one's neighborhood -

Work From Home
Earn $3000 A Month!!!!
Call 1-666-666-6666 !!!!

Stuff like THIS might more accurately merit the term "guerilla," something that truly subverts the prevailing wisdom about the benignity of advertising, that truly subverts the assumption that every surface of the planet, public and private, natural and synthetic, high and low, is a blank slate ripe for marketing messages.

Well, I don't eat drug-rep food or use pens with drug names on them. Ever. My colleagues indulge me: it's Dr. T's freaky eccentricity, a charming quirk, pass the Boniva doughnuts, please. Is that a Viagra pen you've got there ? Sweeeet.

Yeah, I know. I need to relax. To heed the spiritual message on the side of the MBTA bus and "find my Zen."