Monday, May 31, 2004

Earthly Delights 2


Japanese Knotweed

Shepherd's Purse

Bittersweet Nightshade

Sunday, May 30, 2004

And Heartburn.


Green nubs along the saw-toothed leaf-edge seemed
like buds, like leaf from leaf begotten, pure
as parthenogenetics. But she knew
that nature doesn’t improvise. It sticks
to code as if it were a covenant
sap-signed and sealed. This was disease. Squatters
invaded, liked the digs and set up house,
happy as spirits in a pig. The gall.



Transcendental Etude VI

In her spotty and remote religious education there hadn't been a big emphasis on glossolalia. No one ever had, to her recollection, risen from the pews of Andover's West Parish Church and spoken in tongues. It would have been, at the very least, unseemly. In fact, a few years ago, she'd had to look up "Pentecost," completely unclear on its origins and significance. She'd been amused by Peter's rejoinder to the skeptics: They can't be drunk. It's nine o'clock in the morning ! And she'd liked the image of how people of all the disparate languages could understand what was being said -- as if the sign had been short-circuited and pure significance were pouring through, the antithesis of Babel.

She herself was tongue-tied. A quiet child. "Paula should," read all her report cards, "participate more in class." She hated the sound of her voice. Hated social gatherings, and the need to engage in small talk. Maybe that's what attracted her to Merton and the Carthusians -- all that blessed silence.

She'd seen a video of young people speaking in tongues. It had made her vaguely queasy. Like faith healing. Holy swoons. Revivals. Snake handlers.

In her imagination, a blank-eyed face looms: Have YOU accepted CHRIST as your personal savior ?

She sat in her car outside the gray stone church. Main Street, this long holiday weekend, was practically deserted. One block down the slightly dilapidated steeple of the Congregational Church dominated the ecclesiastic skyline of upper Main Street. It was, for the first time in weeks, a beautiful Sunday morning, cloudless, breezy, delightfully cool. She watched as a woman ducked into a basement entrance of a nearby office building. A small sign read Boston Meditation Group. Sunday Morning, indeed.

She took what was becoming her accustomed place in the sparsely populated pews -- right side, back, behind the dark pillar that announced the hymns. At the doorway, the combination of candlesmoke and organ music had given her a little Proustian frisson. A la recherce du Church perdu, indeed. How could she have lost something she'd never truly possessed ? True, she'd been baptized. She even remembered it. She was eight, her brother a toddler. They'd given her a Bible. It was inscribed: June 12, 1960. She still had it. The binding was a little worn, and, in college, she'd scribbled notes throughout Job (she'd written a paper) and doodled an unfortunate bespectacled and berobed preacher at the end of Ecclesiastes, saying "Man is but a vain beast. Vanity of Vanities. Oh my." He was, her label announced, "Koheleth, president of the Alexandria Anti-vivisection league." What was that all about ?

The organist -- she learned later he was a last minute ringer for someone sick -- fumbled his was through the prelude as she arranged her texts -- BCP, hymnal, bulletin -- and tried to compose herself. She felt uneasy. An intruder. An interloper. Conspicuous. Full of bad faith. A poseur. A fake. An imposter. Inauthentic. But she was trying. Sincerely. She'd gotten a book. The Anglican Vision. She'd learned about Vera Scudder, a Wellesley English professor, marxist, social activist, lesbian, devout and contemplative Anglican. An Episcopal Dorothy Day.

"This is impossible," she thought, squirming on the hard pew. "What am I doing here ?"

Sooner or later, she knew, she was going to have to deal with Jesus. She pictured him plopping down on the pew next to her, wearing an "I (Heart) Jesus" billed cap. Grinning at her. Jesus Christ, gadfly.

But for today it was the apostles. And the Holy Spirit. The priest, a wonderful and fluent speaker, precise and clear, gave his sermon from the aisle. He looked impressive in his white beard, white robe and red, pentecostal stole. He talked about the Holy Spirit and oneness. That was fine, practically Buddhist. And then, about mission. Mission ? Was the "E" word about to be spoken again ?

"What am I doing here," she thought again. It was a sincere question.

She entered the queue to communion, still fretting. The tall, stately man with Parkinson's was in front of her again. Plus another man wearing oxygen. She thought about incarnation and affliction. And compassion. Feeling together. Suffering together. God and humans. Humans and Humans. "In" Christ. All part of the Logos.

Suddenly, a seeing eye dog -- a big, quiet, German shepherd in a leather harness -- trotted out of a pew and headed toward the altar. Looking for its master.

She smiled. Could this be a sign ? A sign from dog ?

Someone, something, to evangelize her out of her blindness ?

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Earthly Delights

Spring Wildflowers, Charles River, Waltham, Massachusetts




Cow Vetch


English Plantain

(?) Foamflower ... No ! Laurel !

Grape Hyacinth

Ground Ivy


Little Starwort

Purple Deadnettle


Star of Bethlehem


White Campion

Wild Madder

Yellow Iris

Yellow Rocket

Friday, May 28, 2004

In Praise Of Little Words

I like the idea of baseball more than I do the game itself. I admire how it differs from the sports that are modeled on war and messy battlefield face-offs. It's more like a board game -- Parcheesi or Sorry, to cite two favorite childhood examples -- where the players propel counters around a track in a race to arrive home. Home. The cozy, safe, family-invested hearth. I loved those board games. The bright little game counters seemed like little people, and the home squares their dwellings. It was more like playing house than playing war. The competition seemed almost incidental.

When I opened DeLillo's Underworld some years ago and noticed the first chapter was about baseball, my heart sunk. "Baseball is so BORING," I thought. Within a paragraph, I was hooked, and rushed about for days raving about how I'd just read the best thing I'd ever read, maybe the best thing ever written. Maybe baseball wasn't so boring after all.

No, it is. But maybe that's one of its virtues. It has its own clock. One must adopt its clock, go with its clock, inning by inning. All nine or maybe more of them. Or, further subdividing, half inning by half inning, as in the top of the fifth or the bottom of the ninth. Eighteen, then. As in holes of golf. Baseball's more like golf than like football, except golf's geometry is linear and golf is really boring. The avatar of boredom.

But what I mostly admire about baseball are the words. The curt, punchy little anglo-saxonisms. This, I'll admit, is odd coming from someone who, just yesterday thought, listening to Arvo Part's Summa, Maybe I should memorize the Nicene Creed in Latin ! Or the woman who once wrote a long series of poems based on a list of the most exotic words she could fine in the OED Etymology Dictionary.

Baseball says:

The bag. The mound. Bat, ball, bunt, strike, fly.

But I especially like "The Bag" and "The Mound."

And, of those two, "The Bag" is my favorite. DK think's it's the hard "G." That could be. We won't explore the Freudian angle.

Last Easter my dear mother, looking up from dessert, said:

This is nice pie.

I have spent the past few months trying to figure out what about that phrase is so delicious, so sweetly funny, so pleasantly absurd, so ridiculously endearing.

The word "pie," like the word "spleen," has always seemed to me intrinsically humorous. I've always liked the bit of invective "Shut your pie hole," combining as it does two nifty monosyllables -- pie and hole -- into a totally satisfying and descriptive bit of slang. Cakehole's a little more genteel. Pie, ever so slightly vulgar. Cake, refined. Hole -- well, res ipse loquitur. As one might expect, I also love "pound down" for "eat."

Pound that down your piehole !

"This is," replies my mother, sweetly, "nice pie."


Thursday, May 27, 2004


Today Joan Vennochi, at the end of one of her signature Globe op-ed pieces -- turgidly unreadable prose, phobic avoidance of taking any editorial stand beyond the banal middle-of-the-road, and gratuitous Kerry bashing -- achieves a new rhetorical low in her attempt to smear the Democratic presidential hopeful. Her topic is a press luncheon hosted by Ted Kennedy. After portraying the Kennedy dynasty in a "Whatever happened to Baby Jane" light,

Everything looks the same, but everything is different. A beauteous but creepy movie lot is all that is left of Camelot by the sea.

and making a cheap shop at Kennedy's weight,

...I did not press the Massachusetts senior senator up against the buffet table to interrogate him further...

and expressing her usual horror (be nice ! be NICE !) at the very idea of someone taking a principled stand

On the Senate floor, Kennedy said, "Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management -- US management." Such rhetoric is inflammatory, to say the least.

she concludes

It is delicate politics for Kerry. How do you embrace what is left of the Kennedy magic but escape the Kennedy ghosts from Camelot and Chappaquiddick?

I bet even Karl Rove hadn't thought of pinning Chappaquiddick on John Kerry.


Monday, May 24, 2004

Transcendental Etude V

She was idling at a traffic light on her way home from work. She'd never quite managed to wake up that day, and bedtime was fast approaching. The brief alertness that had followed her third cup of coffee had long since faded, and her brain was idling at an even lower rpm than her Honda. NPR was droning on, washing over her like the rain that had fallen intermittantly all afternoon. Dull, dull, dull. What was the Buddhist phrase ? Sloth and torpor. The hindrance of the hour.

Something, suddenly, caught her eye -- a bumper sticker, plastered below the window of the minivan in front of her. One of those iconic yellow smiley faces -- the perfect circle, the two blank eyes, the broad, lipless grin -- was ogling her through her windshield. Beside the message:

Smile ! God loves you.

She cringed. Was this the wife of I (heart) Jesus man driving the kids to evening Bible study ? She'd had a strange dream the night before: on the high and grimy window sill above her bathtub were two pure white china statues, Christ and Mary, and three white votive candles.

She'd related the dream to her husband.

"I don't know, PT, are you sure you're not going to become born again ?"

"No, of course not."

"You didn't say no quickly enough."

"No ! I can't stand that pentecostal stuff."

"Then some kind of Catholic."

"No. I couldn't be Catholic. I hate their ideas about sex and gender."

"A Jew, then," he persisted, invoking his own never-firmly-embraced and now-long-abandoned tradition.

"Well," she ventured, finding herself in safely hypothetical theological terrain, "What would you do if I did become a Jew ?"

"I'd be weirded out," he replied, chuckling and walking away.

The light changed, and she followed the grinning icon -- :) -- through the intersection. "God loves you" was one of those unassailable theological givens that just did not compute. Never mind the byzantine algebra of "Jesus died for your sins." What was she doing in church anyway when something so basic seemed incomprehensible ?

Was she the apple of His eye ?

Did she live beneath the shadow of His wing ?

She liked the psalmist's metaphors. Apple of His eye: Love as gaze, as distance, as look-but-don't-touch. Not, significantly, apple of His mouth, which, like most terrestrial "love," would simply be a version of hunger. And wing -- hadn't she seen a goose and her brood on the riverbank just days ago, a half dozen yellow downy gosling jostling for space quite literally under her wings ? A different type of terrestrial love. Maternal, altruistic. But still biological. But the psalm reads shadow of His wing -- again, love-at-a-distance.

But, it suddenly struck her, isn't "love" itself, as a characteristic of God, a metaphor ?

And, if so, for what ? She re-read the text.

God loves you.

Metaphor, or, perhaps, simply a part of speech, a bit of grammar. An ambiguous copulative.

The minvan took a right at the next light. She turned left, envisioning a line of purely apophatic theological bumperstickers. Like the one that did and did not grace her own theological bumper.


Sunday, May 23, 2004

The World's Largest Female ... Republican ?

When I read that Japanese Knotweed is the "world's largest female," I felt a proud frisson of sisterhood. Sure, I also read about its aggressive and malignant invasiveness, but still, passing the vast and burgeoning banks of it near the river, I've felt a secret feminist kinship.

When I first began doing the river walk back last fall I admired the ubiquitously pendant golden seeds.

They're pure decoration. All the reproductive action goes on rhizomatously, subversively, underground. When the grim municipal reaper came through late fall and crewcut the luxuriant pathside, he did not spare the knotweed. Its resemblance to bamboo -- its hollow, segmented stems -- became quite apparant.

When the spring floods came, thickly packed flats of knotweed stems logjammed the inlets.

And, when the waters receded, up rushed the season's new crop of knotweed.

Then more.

Then more.

Then more.

I have been admiring the thick, green, red-specked stems, and the crimson veined new leaves, and note that, in the space of one month, many of the plants have grown taller than me. One helluva powerful woman, that knotweed. You go girl !

But Joseph Duemer , whose yard is apparantly menaced by the stuff, politicizes it differently:

... (knotweed) can grow to eight feet tall & is pollinated by flies because the flowers—small, white, sticky clusters—smell like death & defecation. Knotweed is the Bush presidency of invasive species: utterly worthless but inexorable, without even aesthetic value. ...

He's right, of course. I admit it. Knotweed plays havoc with the landscape, overwhelms less assertive species, muscles in everywhere, stinks, encroaches, consumes, overwhelms, pushes itself blindly across the planet playing out its imperial agenda of domination -- much like the non-floral Bush that's doing its political death and defecation thing in the White House.

OK, then. Knotweed, like W. is worthless and inexorable.

But maybe, unlike the president, just a tiny bit beautiful ?


Saturday, May 22, 2004


The end of my favorite limb of the river path comes out across the street from a low, stucco building that formerly housed a company whose name, emblazoned in magnificent 3-D metal caps across its facade, was

Q U E E N S C R E W.

Unfortunately, the business folded before I thought to photograph the wonderful sign. Renovations are underway. The windows are covered in milky plastic, and someone has unfurled a flag in a odd lamination between the panes. It looks incarcerated, suffocated, pinned down like a beautiful, living moth. The pResident's personal lawyer, Mr Gonzales, has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint." The nation recoils in utter horror and dismay at what has been allowed to happen in our name. At what has been done in our name. At the elective war that our unelected leader has undertaken, a war based on lies and wild ideologies and incompetant assumptions. Where are the flowers and the chocolates ? I keep hearing Robert Oppenheimer's lament "I have become death, destroyer of worlds." I keep hearing our pResident's lipsmacking boast, "I am a war president."

DK saw an even better sign on a bike ride yesterday.


All up and down our street small signs have been appearing: Save Sacred Heart Church. The Church of The Holy Armadillo apparantly has its head on the diocesan chopping block.

There's downsizing afoot; the church is selling off properties to pay for fifty years of covering up priestly crimes against children.

Is there a way out of this great darkness

and confusion ?


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Scenes From A Marriage Bunker

Yesterday, according to the Globe, Governor Mitthead once again "kept a low profile."

Let's call it what it is. He's in hiding. Hunkered down in his marriage bunker, the hastily retrofitted MEMA command and control center in Framingham. If this is not a Massachusetts Emergency that needs Managing, what is ? He's been poring over rogue marriage license applications. Plotting his next discriminatory salvo. Injunctions ! Against the clerks ! Because (cue the loathsome spokesperson)

The Governor cannot pick and choose what laws he enforces.

The stench of the 1913 law is overwhelming. A dead fish. An outlandishly over-ripe cheese. A corpse. The Governor has been squirting it with Febreze.

"Can't we keep this thing somewhere else ?"

"No, sir. No one else will have it."

"What about Finneran ? He's strong-arming his boys on the hill to cut its repeal amendment out of the budget bill. Can't he keep it for awhile ?"

"No, sir. Remember your deal ? He makes the repeal go away, you keep custody of the..the..thing. You know."

Mrs. Romney had put her foot down. "Get that unGodly thing out of my house !" He'd stashed it in the Land Rover for a few nights, but the windows had steamed with a greasy yellow miasma whose phosphorescence had prompted a visit from the Belmont neighborhood association.

"I must say, old chap," Arthur Fonebone-Betwixtbetween said, affably, "the Rover's looking a bit peckish."

The Governor's back hurt. He'd slept on a broken army-issue disaster cot. The damned thing had been off-gassing mercilessly all night. The press was nipping at his heels. He needed a haircut. His GI man had tripled the dose of his Little Purple Pill to no avail.

"We need some SUPPORT, here." he whined. "Can't we get that Phelps guy on board ? You know, that nice minister from Topeka ? Make sure you get out there today and issue some statements, something about how I don't have the luxury of picking and choosing what laws I enforce."

"Uh, sir," his spokesman muttered, looking up from his cellphone," we've just received word that there's a crowd of 10,000 people on the statehouse steps."

"Finally ! Decency triumphing at last, Eric ! Marriage is for manly men and womenly women ! I knew they'd come around ! "

"Uh, no sir. It IS a bunch of men and women, married couples, but it appears they're, um, asking to be arrested. Making a mass confession of some sort -- claiming they've all violated Section 34 of Chapter 272 of the General Laws -- they claim they've all committed the abominable and detestable crime against nature ."

"What the heck is that ?"

"Uh, sir..." He whispered in the Governor's ear. The gubernatorial cheeks turned scarlet.

"Omigod, people actually DO that ?"

"Well, sir, remember Bill and Monica ?"

"Well I'll be cornswoggled. So that's what they meant by blow job ! I always thought it was that, um, cigar thing. Say, is that cigar thing legal in Massachusetts ?"

The Governor brightened visibly. There was hope. There was always hope. "Put Tom Reilly on it. Or maybe Finneran can have his boys amend the anti-smoking law..."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I've Installed A Little Spigot On My Left Side Expressly For Splenic Venting

It was hard to hold back the tears when watching the local newscasts yesterday -- happy tears for once -- at the sight of so many long term couples, many with children, finally allowed to wed. How can anyone witnessing such joy possibly continue to object to broadening the right to wed ?

Every time Dubya opens his mouth he brays about people who "hate freedom" -- and yet, paradoxically, here we have a quantum increase in the amount of freedom in the world, and Dubya take sour umbrage.

"Marriage is between a man and a woman," he sniffs. Another one of of his stock phrases, issuing forth in predictable reiteration as from a doll whose string is pulled.

And today the Mitthead has reportedly asked several city clerks to submit to him all the applications they approved yesterday so that he can cull out and void those given to out of state couples. Invoking that nasty little KKK of a law (circa 1913) designed to prevent interracial couples from marrying in Massachusetts when their home states had anti-miscegenation laws. A law so historically odious and repugnant that just the thought of it still being on the books would send any decent Governor to the legislature with a plea that they repeal it immediately as a defilement. But no.

Talk about raining on the parade.

I'm sure one of his loathsome spokespeople are ready to lament how the Guv can't pick and choose which laws he enforces.

I'm still waiting for Gubernatorial Enforcement Squads to show up at Fenway Park and enforce that old statute against dissing the ump. There are plenty of other statutes that aren't enforced becuase they are outmoded, unconstitutional and downright silly. Like the one about contumeniously disrespecting the Holy Ghost. Or having oral sex. Or living together before marriage.

I'm sick of his disingenuous claims about "enforcing the law."

What he's doing is campaigning. Pandering. Sucking up to Dubya and the RNC so blatantly that he's violating all of the remaining anti-sodomy laws at once, oral and anal, not to mention contumeniously disrespecting human love and devotion.

It can't be said too often: Faubus, Wallace, Romney.


Monday, May 17, 2004

Gubernatorial Reflux

This is a joyful, historic morning. A victory for love, commitment and civil rights. Important legal protections will be extended to all families who desire them.

Meanwhile, the governor broods dyspeptically in his manse. His "loathsome $150,000 a year spokesperson" (damn, I love that epithet, RiaF,) pours him another skim milk with Pepto chaser. The governor has agita. Waterbrash. Pyrosis. Serious heartburn. Even the little purple pill whose makers so generouly donate year after year hasn't touched it. This travesty has happened on his watch. Desite his best efforts. Herculanean efforts.

The "loathsome $150,000 a year spokesperson" reassures the Governor that those heroic efforts have not gone unnoticed. Will not go unrewarded. Nor will his own, he hopes aloud. Why just this week he has uttered one of his most brilliantly stirring remarks, the one about what next, will those uppity Provincetown clerks let ten year olds get married ?

It's about time Massachusetts has done something progressive. It's certainly been coasting on its "Massachusetts Liberal" laurels all these past years under the Weld, Cellucci, Swift and Romney administrations. (Weld's liberal stands on gay and lesbian issues were in stark contast with the rest of his cut taxes, screw the poor, teach prisoners the joys of busting rock agenda.)

And schadenfreude is sweet.


Sunday, May 16, 2004

Transcendental Etude IV

The acolyte, a sturdy, blond crewcut boy of about 14, stood in front of the sparsely filled pews and said Look around. There is room for more here. What is the solution ? We must evangelize.

She cringed at the "E" word, associating it with well-fed, over-confident Republicans, and empty eyed doorstep proselytizers asking, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior ?" The last time she'd attended church with any intentional regularity was when she was the boy's age. Her parents had long lapsed, so she'd walked the quarter mile to West Parish each Sunday, Bible in hand, avid for something she could not even articulate to herself. Salvation, resurrection, the Kingdom, the second coming -- it had all seemed impossibly complex and implausible. So she gave up.

It had taken nearly forty years -- a Biblically resonant number -- to get her back inside a church. And then only to perch skittishly on the edge of a side pew, burning with self-consciousness. And things weren't looking good. First, the bishops of this particular denomination had declared they could not permit its priests to solemnize gay marriage, putting the unity of the Church before all else. And now the "E" word. What was she doing there ?

Stay with your own tradition, the wise and kindly Teacher had advised.

But how ? she'd fired back in her imagination, It's so theistic and mediated ! After all, she'd spent her desert time investigating texts and practices that promised experience of the One, the Absolute, and that meticulously deconstructed the illusory and unsatisfactory nature of the phenomenal world. How could she possibly cope with a Trinity ? The old image of the fish on a bicycle kept occurring to her.

The wise and kindly Teacher probably smiled.

On the other hand, even the sparest of the systems she'd admired was rife with ritual and structure: robes, chants, ceremonies, refuges, lineages.

Maybe, she thought , all religions are simply languages, different ways of articulating -- expressing, participating in -- the mystery of being. Christ is, after all, the Word. The Logos. Spoken out of the divine fullness.

She'd tried to explain Christ to her skeptical and dismissive spouse, lapsed from a very different tradition.

Look at Christ as the incarnation -- God taking on suffering flesh -- what a symbol of love and compassion ! -- Christ is the living emblem of how we all participate in the Godhead --

Well, yes, but how many Christians actually see it that way ? Don't they simply want a way not to die ?

He'd be appalled if he knew where she'd snuck off to these past few Sunday mornings. She could hear him now. Church ? You're kidding, right ? Why ?

A very good question, dearest. Why, indeed.

In the resonating wake of the "E" word, she squirmed on the hard pew. She'd awakened that morning hung over with anxiety from the preceeding day. Mundane stuff, nothing mystical or ontological. Worries about her son and husband. About work. Old and new guilts. Her shortcomings: her hardheart. Her irrational resentments. Her selfishness. Her isolation. Her peevishness and childishness. Things she'd dismissed as mental constructs, devoid of intrinsic being. She'd brought it all with her to the dark, chilly sanctuary, and, once again, the morning had darkened, and the rain fell.

Then it struck her. She'd been playing a role. Telling herself a story. She was playing the spiritually sophisticated intellectual condescending to her own tradition. Who could teach those evangelizing, I (heart) Jesusing Christians a thing or two. What arrogance ! She felt ashamed. She sat there humbled in her brokenness, her lostness. She was the pilgrim, the petitioner, the wandering child.

Later, at the church door, the Priest remembered her. She identified herself a little: a visitor, from another denomination. Welcome, he said. Take your time. When you're ready, feel free to call with questions. Come as often as you need to. Find quiet here.

She thanked him, and slipped out into the rain.


Transcendental Etude III

Variants of such moments had come upon her since childhood, moments when the world seemed strange and unfamiliar, a dizzying newborn sensation, an ictus of jamais vu. After awhile she'd come to live with the mild accesses of disorientation. She's come to call them "the strangeness," and found descriptions in psychiatric texts and existential novels that reassured her they were within the continuum of human experience and not some menacing visitation unique to her. Sometimes, still, looking in the bathroom mirror, she is overtaken by the paradoxically familiar strangeness. Who is that ? Who am I ? How peculiar it all is ! How peculiar that the most ordinary thing -- being itself -- should feel so strange !

Life, of course, quickly resumes its ordinary face. She disengages from the gaze in the mirror, washes her hands, and moves on to the next task, blaming her temporal lobe, Sartre, stress, diet, Republicans, whatever post hoc propter hoc excuse seems cogent at the moment.

Who would have thought the strangeness could grow even stranger ?

She was sitting at her desk between patients. It was the depths of Friday afternoon. The afternoon caffeine boost had yet to kick in. Suddenly everything seemed to shift. The focus blurred, the gain was turned down. The digital image fractured, the zoom changed.

Everything seemed equivalent, absolutely fungible. Cut from the same cloth, made of the same stuff: membrane and ion. A diabolical synesthesia. Text reduced to one gutteral syllable of want. It was almost, but not quite, a transparency. More like a threadbaring, a wearing thin at the elbow points of being. Desk, pen, chart; the footfall of the roofers overhead, the slatted sunlight throught the blind; cool breeze and tobacco smoke through the window; boredom, anxiety, irritation; headache, dirty coffee cup; each thought, sensation, perception all the same, undifferentiated brain stuff, from love to terror, from trash to art, from self to beloved.

She covered her face with her hands, covering the world's and her own nakedness in one oddly prayer-like gesture.


Saturday, May 15, 2004

Bag Lady

I was at the river with my plastic bag, picking trash. It was hot and green, almost lushly so. My hands were sweating in my new Walgreen's garden gloves, hideous little contraptions made of some improbable, unpleasantly nubbly plastic. They felt like little ovens.

The path was remarkably clean. That's not to say there were none of the usual artifacts from Dunkin Donuts and Poland Springs. But not too many. Cookie and chip packets, candy wrappers, newspapers, bottle caps, styrofoam peanuts -- I scooped them all up, gazing warily at the burgeoning stands of poison ivy. Surely picking trash earns merit points to keep rhus dermatitis at bay.

With my growing load of detritus, I went down one of the several small paths to a riverbank clearing. There I found a whole case full of empty budweiser bottles, and a field of scattered bud cans. Plus some empty snack food packets, and one pink plastic tampax applicator. Parked neatly in the weeds of the pathside was a shopping cart, freshly pinched from the adjacent mega-grocery store, Little Debbie World, which obviously had been used to transport the brewskies to the party lair.

"Swine," I thought, and tried to find compassion for the drunken litterbugs. It was tough. I imagined scrawling the word in the mud with a stick: S W I N E. "They probably can't even read," continued my brain, deeply enjoying -- in fact wallowing in -- one of its favorite kilesas, aversion.

With its load of empties, my bag was full and heavy. I'd have to turn back. Then there was the matter of the shopping cart. There were three options. I could leave it there, limiting my self-defined mission to picking small trash. Of course, chances are it would end up in the river sooner or later. I could phone up Little Debbie World and try to describe the location of the cart and hope they would send someone to fetch it. Or I could push it out myself. The choice was obvious. Plus, I could use it to transport the heavy bag to my car.

This, of course, gave my brain an even more amusing topic.

Omigod, what if someone sees me pushing the cart, they'll think I'm a bag lady picking up empties for nickels, I really do look like an undernourished derelict in these ratty sneakers and these baggy jeans, they'll think I stole the cart, maybe they'll arrest me, I really do need to buy some new clothes, gawd I hate shopping, oh no look a bicyclist, is that a pitying smile she's giving me, she really does think I'm a homeless derelict pushing my shopping cart through the woods, maybe she'll see the gardening gloves and realize what I've been doing, who am I kidding, what if the cart boy at Little Debbie World thinks I've pinched this cart, if he even dares to suggest that I'll tell him off, yeah, I'll tell him I'll bring the cart back where I found it, how would he like to fetch it from the poison ivy laden riverbank ? I'm no bag lady you little twerp I'm a DOCTOR ! See my Hallmark Health parking sticker ? Wanna see my license ?

And so on and so forth.


Greed, hatred, delusion.

Just pick it up.

Just let them go.


Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I Do Like The Image, Though, Of The Mitthead With A Pink Mustache

On Monday, unless Federal Judge Tauro gives credence to the arguments of some deep south "Liberty Council" homophobes who have slithered into town to try to stop it injunctively, same sex marriage will become legal in Massachusetts.

Governor Mitthead has been swilling Pepto Bismal -- no, I take that back, has been popping the proton pump inhibitor of his and his physician's choice as I'm sure his health plan's one of those Carte Blanche ones -- to quiet the dyspeptic angst he must feel at the prospect of it. Heck, he's had to ratchet up the other two pieces of his platform: his "foolproof" plan for restoring capital punishment to Massachusetts, and (now that the merest glimmer of financial upturn has occurred in the state) cutting taxes. God forbid he should restore services to the poor.

Homophobia, death, and enriching the already rich.

Gives new meaning to the phrase Bush League, eh ?


Transcendental Etude II

When she'd first made the physical leap across the church threshold three weeks past, the first thing she'd encountered beneath the vaulted ceilings and towering stained glass was a violist, beautiful, blond, wearing a severe black dress, and playing the prelude: a Bach solo concerto. It was a breathtaking welcome.

True, in the back of the church the usher and a parishioner had chatted through the whole thing as if elevator muzak, and not the musical translation of the deepest movements of the human spirit filled the air. Nonetheless, she'd found it splendid, and unexpected.

As unexpected (after 19 years of teetotaling) as the fume of communion wine, sipped from the common chalice, on her tongue. This is my blood. It seemed to fill her whole head, volatile, inspiriting, nothing like the Congregational glass thimblesful of Welches grape juice she remembered from her youth. The wafer was familiar from the unleavened oblongs of Lithuanian aplatki her Catholic relatives used to bring to Easter dinner. Yet she'd fumbled, graceless, untutored, getting it from palm to mouth. This is my body .

What does it mean to be part of the mystical body of Christ ?

She chose a different threshold the next time. Not the beautiful, pale stone Cathedral in the neighboring, affluent community, but the dark stone and shingle church in her own hometown, an aging, multicultural, post-industrial city.

The church was dark, a severe and sorrowful dark, and on the empty side; the rainy morning's light barely made it through the stained glass. The sanctuary was chilly, and candle-scented. The prelude was Bach again, on the organ. A toddler fussed incessantly, antiphonal to the prayers and homily. She juggled bulletin, prayerbook and hymnal, a liturgical klutz, watching her annoyance arise and letting it go, a perfect counterpoint to the prayer against a hardened heart .

What is the mystical body of Christ ?

The frail and stooped elder beside her at the altar rail, the gleeful toddler running down the aisle in her stiff Sunday shoes, the minister whose grave eyes sought hers, the smiling woman who extended a hand to her at the exchange of peace, the man who wished her Happy Mother's Day as they filed out.

Ordinary. Extraordinary.


Saturday, May 08, 2004

... a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels...

A cheerful young contactor bought the mouldering duplex nextdoor, gutted and spiffed up the first floor, moved in upstairs, and now seems to be turning his attention to the dilapidated exterior. My study is vis a vis with the second floor and the rotted moulding of the eaves -- ingress for a family of nimble squirrels. I like to imagine their cozy attic den. Easy for me to say. It's not my attic.

Today we woke to a tall ladder propped against the house's side, and a wire cage sitting on the rooftop perpendicular to the eaves. All afternoon squirrels have been sniffing at the cage. They appear agitated, suspicious. Do they sense that an eviction notice has been posted ?


Lumen De Lumine

Suffering, symbolized by the cross, is at the heart of Christianity. Simone Weil calls this penal suffering, suffering inflicted upon one by external force, reducing one to matter. This is a time of penal suffering -- of occupying armies, of militant religions, of spineless and duplicitous politicians, of rabid crowds, of jeering, abusive soldiers. The engine of force grinds on day and night, crushing everything in its path.

Suffering is also the first noble truth of Buddhism. Dukkha: the unsatisfactoriness of conditioned phenomena. Birth, old age, illness, grief, despair, death. The vulnerable, mortal body. What is the origin of suffering ? Craving. Clinging. And cessation ? The eightfold path -- right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.

Christ was the consummate Bodhisattva. One could imagine this, from the Bodhisattva vows, in the Sermon on the Mount: Beings are numberless. I vow to save them. Compassion is at the heart of both religions. We are not separate from one another. We are members of the Body of Christ. How can we, then harm one another ?

Craving. Clinging.

The incarnation. God puts on the humilating mantle of flesh. The latin words from Arvo Part's ravishing setting of the Nicene Creed -- Deo de deum, lumen de lumine, deo vero de deum verum -- run through my head. God from God, light from light, true God from True God. Consubstantial. Incarnation: form and emptiness consubstantial. The incarnate God, tortured. Soldiers jeer. High priests, avid to preserve their authority, call for death. The viceroy washes his hands.


Thursday, May 06, 2004

The Waters Recede

These are last year's knotweed stalks, hollow like bamboo, floating in the mucky river flood of several weeks ago. Japanese knotweed proliferates madly every year. Apparantly, given its botanical druthers, it would take over the earth. It's fully capable of reproducing sexually, in fact produces pretty little white flowers and handsome golden seeds, yet its wild profligacy is apparantly via rhizomes. I have read that, in Great Britain, all knotweed is of a single clone, and some feel that knotweed, taken collectively, is "The World's Largest Female."

You go girl.

I ventured down to the river bank last weekend, through the burgeoning shrus and bushes, to catch a glimpse of the marvelous marriage of nature and artifice that I stumbled across a few months ago -- a tree root grown straight through a jug handle.

It was gone. Buried. The silt from the swift, flooding river had covered it over. Had I been its only witness ? Will there be others who chance upon it after I am long dead ?


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I (heart) Jesus

We -- worldly, skeptical, artistic postmoderns -- were walking down a Manhattan sidewalk on our way to the Chinese restaraunt that Milton Babbit was said to have favored. A middle aged man in a billed cap approached from the other direction.

"Did you see that cap ?" one of our number exclaimed, shaking his head in wonder tinged with scorn. I had. It read "I (heart) Jesus." Above the hat's brim, a red heart icon, valentine bright, proclaimed the bearer's love of the Son of God.

"Yes, I did," I replied. "It's not very sophisticated theology."

I, too, had winced inwardly. For one thing, I loathe billed caps. Their vulgarity, their ubiquity. Their air of sporty, happy peppiness. Of grabbing the gusto. Of swilling gatorade and sweating fluorescent blue. Above one's swooshed Nikes. With one's scrunchied pony-tail bobbing out the back.

I couldn't help picturing a factory somewhere, with multiple hat-laden conveyor belts. Some hats reading "I (heart) Jesus" others reading "I (heart) Poodles" others "I (heart) Brittany." Commercialism at its crassest: its only ideology the bottom line. I couldn't help thinking of Mr Gibson's Authorized Passion of The Christ Crucifixion-Nail Necklaces, for sale on his website (www.S& I couldn't help thinking of moneychangers in the temple. We all knew what the guy on the cap thought of them.

But I could not shake the image of the unassuming passerby in the "I (heart) Jesus" cap. I had a secret. Maybe even a terrible secret. None among my companions could possibly know or even suspect, not even -- especially ? -- my husband. My cheeks burned with it.

The meditation stuff was OK with my husband. Buddhism's part of the cultural Zeitgeist, after all. I managed to squeak into a Cloud of Unknowing lecture and a contemplative prayer seminar at a local Episcopal church riding on Buddha's coattails. Merton also passed cultural muster. Merton was a poet, an intellectual. Had a dalliance with a nurse. Investigated Buddhism. Even my weekend at a monastery for a Merton seminar didn't raise the spousal eyebrows too far. I'd once ventured that I might, someday, like to visit Gethsemeni, Merton's monastery. That came in just above the threshold of acceptability. Then he gave me a "Nuns Having Fun" calendar for my birthday, maybe as a coded message: keep it ironic, baby. Jesus is the mascot of the florid, beef-eating, missionary-positioning Republican right-wing. Gotta steer clear of that dude.

But when I took my camera and went out that Sunday morning several weeks ago muttering something about taking some pictures (I did take some, honest !) did I also mention that I was intending to slip into a back pew of Trinity Episcopal Church, and partake of the Body of Christ ?

Uh, no. I left that part out.

Did I mention that, the next Saturday afternoon, since I was on call on Sunday, I cowered in the back pew of what we (ever ironic) call the Church of the Holy Armadillo and watched, deeply moved, as faithful Catholics took the Eucharist ? Or that, on returning to Boston after our artsy weekend in Manhattan, I planned to attend a late Sunday Mass at Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted ?

No, I left all that unsaid.

And then, like some icon in an indie film, Mr "I (heart) Jesus" appeared on the sidewalk in front of me, drab, inarticulate, faithful, reminding me of something beyond irony, something that plummets straight to the heart of the matter, something that, sooner or later, I will have to say out loud.


Monday, May 03, 2004

Hello We Named Our Cat After Your Opera

When DK said there was a possibility we could meet the marvelous Dutch composer Louis Andriessen after the concert I had an immediate access of angst. After all, I'm just an old sawbones, a recovering poetaster, who may have committed some remote atrocities on the piano and clarinet, but who now finds the circle of fifths even more confusing than the Krebs cycle.

"What would I say to him," I complained," Hi I love your music, we named our cat Rosa after your opera" ?

I was intimidated enough by the thought of hanging out with DK's sophisticated musical buddies -- a couple of excellent and witty composers and professors -- never mind meeting the maestro himself.

We were waiting for an elevator in some part of Julliard, about to take in a pre-concert lecture by Andriessen, when DKs friends grew visibly excited. I looked around. It was the composer himself, heading for the elevator. A tall, white haired, red-cheeked man wearing a light blue nylon shirt with unbuttoned cuffs. I thought of the video of Glenn Gould playing the Goldbergs, cuffs unbuttoned, flapping at his wrists.

"Hi did you know Glenn Gould also wore unbuttoned shirt cuffs and we also named our cat after your opera ?"

I bit my tongue.

As the men made various admiringly acolytish comments to Andriessen, I merely looked. Stared, rather. He looked back for a few seconds. With a rather intense gaze.

The piece was De Materie -- "Of Matter." The American premier. It is remarkable. Andriessen is known for several collaborations (M is for Mozart, Writing to Vermeer, Death of a Composer: Rosa, a Horse Drama) with the film maker Peter Greenaway, whose works (Wife, Thief, Cook, Lover; Pillow Book; Tempest) often deal with text, books, words. De Materie is music and text, some sung some spoken. It has four movements, each 25 minutes long. The first movement juxtaposes three texts -- a declaration of Dutch independence from Spanish monarchy (Andriessen was a Marxist and anarchist in the 60s and 70s) an early treatise (1600s) on the particulate nature of matter, and a shipbuilding instruction manual from 1690. It begins with 144 crashing reiterations of a chord, emblematic of the hammering toil of the ship yard -- a percussive trope that permeates the whole movement. As a tenor sang -- melodically and gorgeously -- the philosophic text, the chorus (4 men, 4 women) sang a long chantlike, percussive list of the physical tools used to build boats. My clumsy description makes it seem like dorky program music. Far from it: it is intricate and profound. The movement's "matter" includes the toiling body, ships, tools, wood. That matter exists in a context of political relations, and philosophical concepts.

The second movement takes as its single text the seventh vision of a 13th Century Dutch mystic, Hadewijch -- a long, intense description of union with the Beloved that is at once spiritual and erotic. The music is spare, almost gauzy, but the violins are intermittantly punctuated by gong-based chords that (we learned in the lecture) are said to represent the pillars of the Reims Cathedral down which the mystic is progressing from vestibule to altar, and there is an intermittant undercurrant of contrabass clarinet -- is there any sound fleshier than it's reedy honking ? Eros and spirit both flow from the material of the body. The singer was spectacular -- emotive, dramatic, subtle, sublime.

The third movement -- Der Stijl, or "style" -- is where Mondrian comes in. We learned in the lecture that Mondrian was actually heavily influenced by some Madame Blavatsky Anthroposophist who had various crackpot theories about mysticism and numbers. The first text in the third movement appears to be a treatise about the mystical significance of circles, lines/rays and crosses, certainly relevant to the intense, meditative geometry of Mondrian's late paintings. Between two excerpts of this text sung by the chorus is a marvelously syncopated and rhythmic chant-like reading of someone's reminscence of Mondrian's peculiar dancing style. It's in English, and here's a bit of it --

After a while, without saying anything, he put out a small gramophone (which stood as a black spot on a small white table under a painting of which it seemed to be the extension) and began quietly and stiffly, with Madam Hoyack, to dance around the atelier.

I love how the gramophone seems an "extension" of the painting.

The music is jazzy, boogie-woogie, with imbedded allusions to rock and funk. Again there is a juxtaposition of the mystical/abstract notions of geometry (which Andriessen pooh-poohed in his lecture, even as he noted it as what gave Mondrian some sort of permission to extend his style) and the concrete primary-color visual realty of Mondrian's works. And what is a more bodily material manifestation of art than dancing ?

The last movement juxtaposes two texts -- parts of a mid 20th century Dutch sonnet about death and love and eternity sung by the chorus, and a beautiful, moving spoken excerpt from Madame Curie's diary in which she writes of her desolation at Pierre's death, the beautiful spring which he will not see, her work as the only thing she can almost but not quite endure since his death. The music was described as a stately "breathing" or bellows-like alteration between two groups of players. Again, matter and spirit. Body and breath. And radium is matter which has a spirit of sorts. Beautiful and deadly.

I am not doing this wonderful work -- or the amazing performance at Lincoln Center Saturday night -- any justice. I am notoriously inept at critical discourse. But I wanted to pay some homage, however inadequate, to the composer who reminded me that, in this dreadful ugly world, art still remains "a way of happening, a mouth" that is essential, and transfiguring.


Saturday, May 01, 2004

I Suppose It Could Be A Typo But Unfortunately I Just Can't Get The Tinfoil Hat Off My Head These Days

I think anyone who heard or read our Dear Leader's Rose Garden comments yesterday defending his flight-suit carrier deck stunt were struck by the searing irony of his boast that, because of the invasion,

"...there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq. "

After all, the awful photographs of American soldiers torturing Iraqi detainees been broadcast just 24 hours prior and were making their way into the world's horrified collective consciousness. One would think the president would want to avoid the phrase "torture chambers" at all cost.

Globe columnist Wayne Washington apparantly agreed, and decided to spare Mr Bush further embarrassment in his column today. He quotes the Dubya:

''A year ago, I did give the speech from the carrier, saying that we had achieved an important objective, that we had accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein," Bush said in the Rose Garden after meeting with Canada's prime minister, Paul Martin. ''And as a result, there are no longer chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq. As a result, a friend of terror has been removed and now sits in jail." (Italics mine.)

Now where is that word, that little word I thought I heard issuing from W's lips on the radio yesterday, I think it began with "T" ...

So what kind of "chambers" are no longer in Iraq ? Bubble chambers ?

One does grow weary of the press cleaning up our Dear Leader's garbled nonsense and otherwise shielding him from his many self-induced embarrassments.

(I wrote the ombudsman. I'll post follow-up as any materializes.)

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by