Tuesday, December 31, 2013


There is a type of grass called bluestem which, in my local experience, is anything but blue --

but there is no doubting the blue of this stem -- Virgo Maria blue, if anything, with a winter born baby bud to boot. 

There is an extravagance to winter, formal, subtle, easy-to-miss,

and its wayfaring tangles lead to where only the most intrepid dare to follow --

the triple signpost of here, before and after.

Who, after all, even remembers the soft, cream-colored cradles of infancy ?

or the cat's-cradle strings and twirling double-dutch ropes of childhood ?

We sweat under layers of a here and now as over-embroidered as a bad Christmas sweater.

Something more inorganic, we plead; we require diamonds, granite countertops, gold-plated bathroom fixtures ! Or, if not that, the interface of water and ice, of light and shadow

which we can, at will, reduce to a palette of black and white and gray.

Glory be to God for dappled things -- said Father Hopkins
-- all things counter, original, spare, strange --

meaning this --

and this --

and this !

Who could ask for a more glamorous demise,

borne off onto a ocean of milky twilight

on a ship of fantastic rigging and gorgeous sail

will a hold crammed with dried berries

adequate for any voyage.

And if a body meet a body coming through the rye, well, all aboard:

it's a passage booked before time began, destination unknown.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Fla la la la la

With the apotheosis of High Secular Xmas immanent, we headed toward the airport.  My long dreaded sojourn in the land of sunlight and palm trees was also immanent, so I was soaking in the last of the gray, cold, soaking wet winter landscape. 

Wrought iron, rotting crab apples --

the Turnpike and a fog-shrouded skyline --

would soon give way to a landscape of palm trees and stucco-and-tile gated condo communities, almost indistinguishable from the stucco-and-tile shopping malls and medical buildings surrounding them,  a land where everything was seemingly built by the same builder about 30 years ago as if from a child's kit.

I was out of my geographic element. A refugee, dislocated, disconcerted. I was in a world of perpetual Fourth-of-July -- billed caps, spandex athletic wear, jogging shoes -- yet with Christmas wreathes and Christmas lights adding a touch of gleeful and surreal incongruity.

I understand that, for many, this is their brainscape -- perpetually green, warm-breeze-tossed, sunlight-bathed --  with baby herons strolling casually across McDonald's parking lot. Life, for them, is a particular kind of beach, the welcoming kind, the kind that whispers frolic, frolic, frolic rather than issuing a long withdrawing melancholy roar with each retreating wave.

It is true that the beachfront mansions of Naples exude the same greenback opulence as those walling off the ocean north of Boston, and that camerawoman (had she brought her Tamron 90mm macro lens rather than the old and unreliable Nikon D70 kit lens zoom) could have found comfort amidst the swampy southern weeds -- at least until the thought of nameless poisonous snakes and hungry alligators arose.

And it is also true that our fellow animals fare as poorly here as back home, with free, licenseless fishing off the long, bird-sanctuary pier

-- where is the fish sanctuary ? One might well ask, and also ask: why, if the area is a bird sanctuary, are pelicans so regularly and predictable snagged

by fish hooks

that dangling off the pier every few feet there are special pelican-retrieval baskets so the snagged bird can be lifted from the sea and manually extricated from the hook ?

(Insert photos of that grisly process that would have occurred had the aforementioned kit lens not merited the afore-employed adjective "unreliable." It's probably just as well.)


But this was Christmas, the point in the wheel of the year when the locked combat of my ecclesiophilia and my  ecclesiophobia is at its most feverish. Christmas Eve at my chorister Paterfamilias' Presbyterian joint was simply weird. Auditorium seating, blinding lights, no kneelers. Sure, there was a "litany" and a "creed" -- both of which seemed to have been written last week by the minister's wife. And, of course, a sermon -- during which the minister (dressed in academic robes) spent an unusual amount of time with his arms upraised. There were fragments of familiarity in the Eucharistic prayer (hearts were lifted up to the Lord on command) but the bread was sweet and leavened and we dunked it, as instructed, into grape juice. And the ghost of John Calvin hovered over everything, reminding us that naughty or nice or even I'm sorry ! held no truck with him: we were damned or saved and we wouldn't know until the final trumpet sounds.

So, the next day, Christmas morning, I dragged Paterfamilias to the nearest Piskie joint, St Monica's. It was dishearteningly stucco and modern appearing, but the sight of a woman in cassock and alb in the parking lot was encouraging. I was looking for asylum -- from gated condo villages, from upscale "multi-use communities", from light-festooned palm tree trunks, from sunlight, swim trunks, collaterally damaged pelicans, from academic-robed pastor dudes stuck in perpetual orans, and, mostly, from myself, stranger in a strange land at no matter what latitude.

As the familiar prayer-book liturgy closed around me, I knew I had found sanctuary, an imperfect one, to be sure, ceiling porous by design to celestial fish-hooks to which even -- especially -- wilderness pelicans are vulnerable.  But that's another story. The words were a very, very, very old house, the house to which I belonged at least a little, and they would have to do until I could fly home

and rejoin

the cold, familiar landscapes of my deepest heart.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Weed of Such Virtue

The shortest day. I crawl ashore after months of being submerged in the vast, cold, murky ocean of work. The switch from gills to lungs is as painful as always, and the stiff flippers resist resuming their earthbound tasks. And there, leering at me from the woods, is the red-clad pedophile, Santa, stroking his vermin-infested, egg-nog clotted beard and beckoning. He's carrying an 80's style boom-box playing an endless tape loop of a country and western version of The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

I worked, yesterday, at the office with the Big Windows.

The day before I'd left the other, rockbound office at 8:45 with supper uneaten and hours of work still undone. My laptop had gone south -- fatal system error, no less -- 10 days prior, Dragon and all, and had been restored to me Dragonless. My typing skills -- a two fingered hunt and peck -- are nonexistent: chopsticks, eyes on the keyboard. I'd been hunting and pecking myself into a stupor for days.

I was also fuming at the practice's consensus that it is perfectly OK to weigh patients in the center of the long, trafficked hallway where the "flow stations" (don't even ask) are. It was all the more surprising to me as the consensus was from a cadre of very young female MDs :  I would have thought them more sensitive to issues of women, body image and weight.

The only other dissenting voice was a woman of my generation: we are relics of the era where corporate efficiency and uniformity did not trump everything.

Hunting, pecking, fuming, sleep-deprived -- I arrived at the office-of-beautiful-windows before sunrise to finish the undone work. The light arrived, yes, and the day got underway but this time it seemed to be sneering at me: this is not for you. Neener neener. Look but don't eat, no matter how famished you might be. This eucharist is not for you. 

But it ended, the day did, the awful work-stretch did;  the Dragon man was summoned to re-install the dictation software and I limped home with only one note left unwritten, hoping to regain some semblance of equanimity in the upcoming two weeks of respite.

But there's Pedophile Santa, begging to differ.  There's Florida, to which I must fly on Monday to visit Paterfamilias who winters there. Has anything good ever come out of Florida ? Florida and Christmas, Florida and winter solstice: antithetical. I am an unapologetic Northerner. The darkness, the bareness, the cold, the snow -- the resonances of my inner and outer landscapes. Palm trees upset me. Truly. Not to mention airports and rent-a-car pavilions. Manatee crossing ? Seriously ?

So I am fortifying myself with weeds and berries, green and red, holly and ivy.

What's the phrase -- shoring something up against my ruin ? Why, then Hieronymus. Why indeed.

I have been dropping by the God joint in recent weeks, drawn in by Advent, candlelight, the old songs, the variegated Body making its way to the rail, the mysterious fume of wine on the tongue. But then there are the the texts, many of which resist mere interrogation, and require waterboarding or extrajudicial assassination, but some of which can stir the heart in ways that only music can, wordless and visceral.

(Meanwhile, Pedophile Santa had donned swim trunks and Hawaiian shirt, and is guzzling Daiquiris on the beach.)

In the shower, today, I had an inner verse of We Three Kings pop into my mind:  Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom. Sorrow, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone cold tomb. 

The moral arc of the universe, I thought, is a sagging flatline, an asystole, a seemingly endless Holy Saturday.  You have to hand it to a religion that has sorrow, sighing, bleeding, dying and a stone cold tomb occulted within the tender body of its newborn, unblemished, enfleshed God   --

-- and then posits the scandalous koan of resurrection for fallen humanity to chew on (like a mouthful of stones) for all of eternity.

Weeds. Humus. Humility. The common grave.

Something that resists and persists despite all the desolations and catastrophes. Even when the decorations on the tree are invasive, lethal and bittersweet.