Saturday, October 30, 2010


I blogged about my pink pajamas in early 2004, their decrepitude, their squalor. Now, nearly seven years later, the pajamas have reached crisis level, a defcon 5 of wardrobe malfeasance.

They have reached the point at which DK has begun to object.

I have to admit that, as the waistband increasingly detaches from the legs, the pajamas -- all aesthetics aside -- are approaching non-functional. They have the fabric equivalent of gangrene. So I steeled myself, and in keeping with this decidual season, decided to throw them out.

In fact, I resolved to chuck every bit of clothing that's either too squalid or too creepy to wear. It was time to decimate my wardrobe. So I went through it all and made two piles -- the merely creepy could go to Goodwill, since one woman's creepiness is likely another woman's haute couture. The rest would go to the dump.

My Mother gave me the pink PJ's decades ago. They have sentimental value. But am strong, tough, hard-minded, cold blooded ! Out with them !

The frayed chinos came from Macy's in Belmont maybe a decade ago, on one of my rare forays into a non-discount clothing store. Their last stand was beneath an alb on a stifling Sunday this past summer.

The black PJ's are even more recent, a shoddy and cheap issue of the local purveyor of shoddy and cheap clothing, AJ Wright, whose only virtue is that it is 2 blocks from my house.

Then there was the pile of clothes that simply skeeved me out when I wore them. Depressed me, annoyed me, creeped me out. Hurt me. There was my mother's blue cardigan -- which, even after shoulderpadectomy, was simply too 1980's and too not-me to endure. There was the brown V-neck sweater, rather expensive, that, when I wore it, seemed like a horrifying, alien pelt.

Then there are the eBay Levis that almost fit -- in fact, they probably do fit, technically; but my PT's First Rule of Wardrobe is that one should not FEEL one's clothes pressing on one's body. Hence, in my universe, the incomprehensibility of the "thong," and my disbelief of thong-wearers when they claim they are "sooo comfortable !" Liars. All of them.

And then, sui generis, are the loathsome black LL Bean pants.

I have had a pair of stretchy pull on black pants (Filene's Basement circa 1999) that absolutely, brilliantly fulfill PT's First Law of Wardrobe. Unfortunately, they have been hovering on the brink of the squalor pile for several years. There are odd little horizontal runs in the fabric that I hope are invisible, and I am sure no one has noticed the safety pin that pulls the sprung elastic waistband taut. When I pull them on I still hear my sister-in-law's horrified query of several years back -- you wear those to work ?

My search for a replacement has been futile. It did, however, result in my acquisition of the most evil garment I have ever owned: my LL Bean "Original Perfect Fit Pants," pants so evil that, in 2008, they moved me to do something I almost never do: an online consumer review. I wanted to hurt the pants. I wanted to warn others away from them. I wanted revenge.

I, for some reason, have stubbornly continued to attempt to wear these beastly pants. Their fabric claims to be "88% cotton" and "12% Spandex" but is the consistency of a wet-suit, and the elastic waistband seems to be made of some space-age material that, no matter how much one stretches it, always resumes its vice-like, waist-noosing grip. There is no cotton in these pants. They are rubber pants. Laced with plastic. The "cotton" is a lie.

What is it, anyway, about the recent introduction of spandex into our nation's clothing supply ? Is it a terrorist plot ? Everything seems to be infused with spandex ! My "hip hugger" blue jeans (which very nearly made today's skeeve-me-out pile,) my green "corduroy" dress, my pink summer bathrobe, my socks -- all with an unpleasant, vaguely rubbery and oddly clingy stretchiness.

I am declaring a jihad (or is it a fatwa) against Spandex.

Even polyester blends more discretely with cotton, as in this blinding white turtleneck, which, nonetheless, always caused the "get this thing off me, now !" reflex.

Maybe there is some prescient truth in the Levitcan purity code's prohibition against mixing fabrics: some prophetic previsioning of the advent of Spandex and its spreading taint.

This ancient green tee shirt, often paired with the squalid pink pajama bottoms, is simply depressing. The color, the texture, the smell, the feel, all contribute to its aura of utter sadness and melancholy, of deprivation and hardship. It reeks of heartbreak. Of despair. I can't explain it. Try wearing it (if you dare) and you will know.

There was a talk show host in Boston decades ago, an irritable fellow by the name of Jerry Williams, who apparantly used to issue tee shirts to callers he deemed "not boring." DK managed to score two of these, and bequeathed them to me as nightwear (anything to distract from the pink pajamas, I guess.) For awhile I wore them. They were comfortable enough. It can probably be construed as hip in a retro and ironic sort of way to be sporting a garment that announces "Jerry Williams Says That I'm Not Boring."

But as time went on I realized that these, too, were creeping me out. It was the face. The 70's haircut. You could almost smell the Brilliantine. The five-o'clock shadow, doused in cheap cologne. The gloomy, shadowed eyes, the tight little half-smile, a deranged maniac's smile, a serial killer's smile.

And now what ?

Is there anything left that's not squalid or creepy ?

And once every garment has gone to either one pile or the other, will I have to start in on the old skin bag ?

Relinquishment -- where does it ever end ?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Invalid, Intrinsically Disordered, Absolutely Null and Utterly Void

My office window, high and narrow and stuck shut, looks out upon a rock ledge. Last year, as part of an major drainage project, the hospital did extensive work on the ledge, including removing some of the dwarf trees that had taken root in it. I can still recall the shock and grief I felt when I came in one morning to find the graceful, slender birch that had bisected my rocky view cut down to a stump. The loss was visceral, violent, and it took my breath away. I thought back to the snowy day when three pairs of mourning doves had sheltered under the ledge's outcrops at the foot of the tree. Their, my tree was gone.

I returned from last month's retreat with a similar sense of loss, of having been clearcut down to raw ledge. When people asked me about the retreat I have answered, "It was great. I lost my religion !" "Yeah, sure," they laugh, nervously, only half used to my hyperbole.

But the clearcutting had begun long before Spencer, and by the time I left and made my way back through the dispiriting commercial outskirts of Worcester, it was apparant that my metaphysical landscape had been clearcut down to desert, then paved over into parking lot, a perfect emblem of postmodern acedia.

Now, I have a pretty simplistic notion of religious pluralism: religions are, more or less, languages and grammars that have evolved as means of expressing and participating in matters of ultimate mystery, the big "that there is something rather than nothing" koan. Which one -- if any -- you adopt is a matter of accident of birth, or aesthetic/philosophical taste. The Dalai Lama has suggested that all can function as adequate conduits toward that Ultimate, so why not stick with one's own tradition ?

That's charming, of course; a bracing antidote to the infamous Catholic battle-cry extra ecclesiam nulla salus, softened, to be sure, by Vatican II, but currently wolfishly enjoying its new set of sheeps' clothing invested by the current Pontiff and his notion of non-Catholic denominations not even meriting the designation "church." We all know wherein that precious fullness subsists, baby, and it's not at the local Baptist prayer meeting, or amidst the gay-and-woman-priesting, open-tabling Piskies.

(Did I say I'd made my peace with Leo XIII ? I was lying.)

The politics of religion, from the sorry panoply of church history to today's ugly doctrinal confrontations, are disheartening. Religion insists that I must tolerate those who insist on excluding people from full sacramental inclusion (marriage, holy orders, episcopacy) on the grounds of gender. After all, it is their sincere religious belief, backed by centuries of doctrine and tradition ! Posit the "so was slavery" argument ? Beware, even in progressive environments. You might be called a racist neo-colonialist for suggesting that the struggle for gender equality is analogous to the civil rights movement, followed by a lecture on the exclusive sanctity of very particular tabs belonging in very particular slots and only under very particular and church-sanctioned circumstances, usually resulting in the issue of swarms of offspring.

Now who would even dare to suggest there is an "idolatry of the family" ? (Cue the angry mob with its pitchforks and torches.)

(Excuse me while I shut and lock my office door. You can't be too careful in these polarized times.)

Christianity's unique claim is that we have no access to God (to the divine, to the Incomprehensible Ground of Being) except through Christ, in all his scandalous particularity. He's God's mouthpiece, go-to-guy, celestial doorman, or, as some would have it, bouncer. He is, in fact, God ! Fully God and fully Man, with the accident of gender determining whole swaths of misogynistic metaphorically-based ecclesiology, insisting on the triphallicity of the Trinity even as it posits it as a model for human (heterosexual) marriage.

So is Christ the Way to God or a roadblock on the Way ? God, or an Idol that replaces God ?

Is organized religion a vehicle of liberation, or a barrier to liberation ?

Both and ? Neither nor ? The absolute and relative, fitting like a box and lid ? Two arrows meeting midair ?

And what of solitude and silence ? And standing, as Merton said, on one's own two feet ?

And why do I keep dreaming of the Trinity as a tri-socketed electric lamp from which one might unscrew Jesus and replace him with -- with what ? -- Elvis ? Guan Yin ? Now there's a scandalous particularity for you, and probably an official trinitarian heresy to boot.

Why do core notions such as resurrection, the second coming, intercessory prayer, a personal God, and a God who is Love all elude and exasperate me ?

And why do I -- a quintessential loner -- find myself in a religion that insists that relationship and fellowship are key to Absolutely Everything ? Am I a masochist ? Do I enjoy the experience of falling short, of sinning ? Do I enjoy beating my head against the wall of that-of-which-I-am-constitutionally-incapable ? Is my reclusiveness an official intrinsic disorder ?

This summer the birch stump on the rock ledge outside my window sprouted dozens of long, leafy, upraised arms -- still green even as fall deepens, a round cloud of shivering green proclaiming the only resurrection of the body that I can fathom.

Friday, October 08, 2010


Neither arch- or seraph-,
too old for cherub,
more drone than anything,
you punch the guard clock
of your night watch,
pushing the allowance
of fatigue and indifference,
and haul your yellowing
half-stripped unflappable
scapulae behind you
and over me.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

From the Archives

Piss Verses, or Even You

No, I do understand. Circumstances do lead to conclusions.
To the desire for something episcopal.
One can only take so much of this standing around
before someone finally slams the door.

Take magenta, for example. A photo of a field of ice plants,
just a filler in a medical journal, between the piss jars and porphyrins.
No one would ever let such naked retina into the Paul Revere Room without a member’s pass. Viz., the suspicious rod and cone motif

on the generalissimi’s new wallpaper, those secret wet petals
we once glimpsed, remember, plastered to the Doctor’s watch glass.
We had always regarded the blind as blessed with singular undistraction,
but perhaps we were wrong. Here, Rose Bengal spears the eye

with her precise, medicinal vibration. So you jack up the reverb
until you are filled with so many cadenzas, both homely
and exotic, that you must take out avalanche insurance !
Turn to Loosestrife in your commonplace book, please.

Everything, everything, do you understand me,
is one big flower that is never done unfolding.

1996 or 1997

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

From the Archives


heat/that presses up and blunts/the points of pears


The pear tree behind the poorhouse is so laden
with bottom-heavy volumes
that it seems spattered like a green pane,
with drops more of combustion and gravity
than pure water is -- more like candlewax, or tears,
which are also pyriform,
a fact that distracts
from what the poor eat, out of hand.

In fall, when everything seems weighted
toward the palm,
October unearths a pyre
that calls sundered pairs from the bell ark.
We, I, arrive, lowing,
to the sound of water gathering in the eaves,
preparing the stilletto, the spike
that will also, in time, fall toward the palm.

(When I could no longer see no evil,
I felt dizzy, yet oddly free.)

Yes, I am aware
that beatitude must be misunderstood,
that it hangs in the same darkness as the hand
that hesitates above the smorgasbord,
the hand that obeys the pull of the pear
and falls toward it. But nonetheless
I have found it possible to coexist
in an unexpectedly companionable manner
with the noises behind the wall,
deriving from them a strange comfort
that I am sure is reciprocal.

But what has impressed the wax
into its sensual variation of the conical ?
Even Pythagoras could not find
a hypoteneuse in that mess.
We think the same thumb that kneaded in sex,
has impressed sleeping beauty,
but how, after all, can we be sure ?
I have lost everything in the name game.
It has been time for a long time
to pare prayer. Nothing I know of, not even exegesis,
calls buds from the burned field.