[An old bitch dog of Hieve al Agua, Oaxaca, Mexico. She begged scraps, would eat anything given and "dogged" heels thereafter, perhaps Thompson's "Hound of Heaven." Photo by Maria Cipriani.]
Good to hear from you. Oh to be with you and F. now upstate on the mountain by the stream in this hottest of months. Ugh. I usually am in Mexico at this time to avoid the heat here...it's rainy season there, Mexico's Springtime...the deserts are verdant, the mountains flushed with green, the rivers, the streams full of chattering water which revitalizes the land, cleans farmers hands happily stooped to wash off the dirt, the manure, assured of a full rich growing season. The milpas (cornfields) rattle tassels and sheaths in wind, wonderful aromas of corn pervading the valleys and plains. All are out working, harvesting, goodly busy and gone to market their fresh fruit, vegetables, spring animals, a bustling time.
The chapels and Cathedrals, the tiniest roadside shrines high enough for kneeling at the lintels, are people full with festivals spilling over processionally into the plazas and streets as some saint or other, or Our Lady, or Hammered Jesus or Radiantly Risen, are carried through the everyday "calles", a rag tag band in tow, marvelously off key and out of kilter timing-wise but lends a beguiling aura over all the town within ears.
Even the dogs which go on and on and on all day and especially all night cease their collective bark and howl. They hover in doorways or at a distant corner, or behind fences, a wary knowing look in their eyes that something unusual, some eventing proceeds which is about the Shining Stranger of Emmaus happily entering into the little lives of people, the doorways and corners, and ears so distracted outwardly most of the time...I'm certainly a Catholic in Mexico!! Something, too, about the poor, the extremely poor, and the hard working folks taking it all to heart and body, integrating the Shining Stranger and the Attendant ones into daily lives which still remain wrecked with all the human stuff (how could it be otherwise but for Strange Graces bestowed). Your poem, Liturgy, attests to this.
Ah. I've made myself homesick for Mexico and God!! but try like poet John Berryman and the many processional paupers of the pueblos, their shoulders weighted with an altar, a saint or image of God Full Weight, and Berryman the hard press of his addiction and the poetic gift of tonnage words, the rag tag bands still blowing and standing at dawn after literally marching slowly through the town all night with the Presence, I try to remember and regather this Presence; and many in the noisiness of holy night "peregrinos" (pilgrimages, purposeful "lost" wanderings in order that one may be discovered, found) must be forgiven, at least I must be, for mumbling curses into my tiny room flying out the window not escaping good Catholic restraining, censorious curtains; such curses are usually reserved for the all night dog "bands" howling off-key, barking canine choruses growling down the moon (that other Shining Stranger which drives dogs mad with predatory shadows, dogs wired to bark at strangers and defend their turf), distant stars defying the smoking volcano hovering over the town'.
I, the unfaithful or overly weary, try to sleep in the din toward the gathering weight and cares that daylight brings yet again. Begins the morning antiphonal bells and also antiphonal insistent roosters starting up the engines of commerce. Thus I relent usually, abandon my pillows stained with curses; I lumber sleepily onto the cobbled street and silently take the last echoing pew of the church redolent with candle smoke, incense and the sweated prayers of the all night mendicants returning their Holy Burden to Its Chapel/Crypt piled with colored ribbons and roses, other flowers bright and aromatic.
The priest is familiar with this gringo who shows up usually around the same time every year, takes his "reserved" seat in the back, for hoverers, God shy or wounded by the "godly" sneaking peeks at Deity but not quite shaking hands, O Michelangelo. One morning after mass, I never partake of the Eucharist literally, he shook my hand, winked and said, "In God's mind there is no first or last pew. Grace is even throughout, never lessened, but is increased upon kneeling. Knees are the greatest pews which are always first and last. Good News is this, that God reveals Himself with knees such are these." He points to mine, not dirty. His, dirty. Smiles. "Si. Si." I say, "Tis a mystery profound. Perhaps why my knees hurt so much, God's way of calling, "Here. Here. Here I am. So close." We nod. I leave.
All this I miss from Mexico's bounty to me but I have it here in my own August way on the top floor, roof dweller, recalling. Simply bending the knee implies also bending the heart. The head resists but melts with years and tears, the Shining Stranger sitting patiently, friendly, understanding how difficult it all is, this care of days, the din of hounds and brass horns of processional nights, the press of continual departures.
Your poem speaks of this, this Liturgy formal or informal bestowing vestments of night sky, or dawn flares lashing out, or harsh noon's Blinding Light having the last word. Simply one must show up as you do faithfully to daily Mass. De Chardin proclaims the Mass of the World, Blinding Light, Shining Stranger pleased with daily knees and all our sneezing allergies that all life has to Life. Keep at the words as they come and care not for meters, rhymes, let come what may. I am, perhaps, a cup too full from a life too long alone but leaves me all the more vacant for infilling. But a cup is promiscuous, takes whatever pours in, the occupational hazard of cups. There are such brews herein. Bitter. Dark. But one drinks on his knees. At least, is best to do so.
Speaking of which. I have spent the morning and some of the afternoon here and back to some new poems I have written and then to some cups and spoons, the literal ones, which needed washing. Another espresso brews hissingly loud to my curtains closed to day, its heat. I should go eat something.
Below is poem from Lent/Easter this year saturated with Berryman's poetry, his run-on drunken argument with God, and often enough "god-drunk (Dionysus)", inebriated with the Word/Logos. These days I try to orient myself now thankfully out of the fluff of New Age belief system I wasted way too much time in chasing after childish magic tugging at skirts of self appointed high priestesses, mostly air and anorexia of soul. Now I rediscover the real meat and drink of historical religion with weight, gravitas. Such realism of body and soul to my great relief to be human again, one more unassuming, spiritually consumptive stray dog hanging on the edge of the rag tag peregrinos of Mexico, reaching out in vain to grab Berryman as he leapt to his death from the Minneapolis bridge...
Kind regards to F.
Now to the bitter brew!
Bare To Such Luscence - A Catfish Mass
for John Berryman, his Bones, Confessed
The original fault
Will not be undone by fire.
The original fault was whether wickedness
Was soluble in art. History says it is,
Jacques Maritain says it is,
- John Berryman, from 'Sonnet ix'
Introit then Lauds:
hosanna of rivers
or without gills...
I could not make it there,
that 'pointed conjunction',
nor up to air. I, Catfish,
soft sift bottom mud, give up
on purity, on flitting civilizations
lifted or pressed between
surface and aspirant spaces.
Done with all that, some
have had no choice.
Catfish choices differ
from those of the 'Windhover' Christ,
'dappled, dawn drawn' though they be
(Hopkins implicate flights of resurrection) .
'Stead, Berryman, without art or Maritain,
out leapt his sonnets from sonic
height-bridge to river-fells and missed,
the fool, one last scansion - dirty trick -
'hisself, too, hit, Bones sans pomes,
hard mud, perhaps one foot or his
beard delicately dipped
in paginated river'.
Witless old mud spawn, widest mouth,
no lips to speak of, pulled greedily from
black water to shore, there's a bark in
air that old Catfish makes in punctuated
protest at too much light or is it, rather,
ecstasy, final vision gasped dimly seen
in depths, hinted upon surfaces,
Platonic shadow plays portending?
Is it the latter, sparks of praise to what
is finally seen at the end, a life mucked
and mired in obfuscated fundaments?
Fate, then, heavy in a boy's hand
hoists dead weight to a nail on a tree.
His knife scores firm flesh yielding
beneath freshly limp gills - there is an
instrument made just for this, pincher-pliers
for catfish skin - he grips and tears,
uses his weight down-stripping smoothly
bare to such luscence little ribs of roseate
Only the overly large head, the ugly face
whiskered within gilded monstrance,
remain pure to form, thin-lipped and
mocking, restrained by depth pressures,
sustained on surface trash, dead things
that sink down it's treasures.
Tenderly sing, then, to a nail,
to a boy's blood catechism -
hands, minds, are meant
to be stained, mercy's quality
unstrained neither by will nor gill.
Scavenging flocks gladly fill their
gullets inhaling entrails tossed
in supplicant bins.
In unison Gregorian they scream:
There is a nail for me
plain, a chorus of barks** -
glossolalia of rivers
now given weight.
One can only will
praise to 'The End',
and spill, post-pliers,
one's silken guts in offering.
**A catfish when brought to shore barks, a rasping, barking discharge of air.
[The poet's brief commentary about 'Bare To Such Luscence - A Catfish Mass':
Thought one might be informed of my inner dispositions, theologically and 'Other-wise', by this piece in progress...it refers to John Berryman, one of my poetic masters who, brilliant, alcoholic, tried Grace and tried out Grace - Grace never tires though we do and sometimes expire seeking for it - took a leap off a boozy bridge, a true 'whiskey priest' to Poesy and That which he praised and bruised to purple if not completed purpose...the Catfish is referent to my southern roots and the Fundamentalist 'perch' (stance and fish!) which can n'ere be rooted out of me no matter the plier-pinchers...
Also, poem refers to Gerard Manley Hopkins, his poem, 'The Windhover' which is one of his most praised...a phrase, 'dappled dawn drawn Falcon', of course inflates me, Falcon, to the elegant and predator Christ he sings hymns to, 'Windhover -Wingedhunger' for souls if not for bodies which Lord Death takes good care of.
...I've learned to be brutal in editing my poems but, alas, not my sins and both deserve further 'edits' now and to come...thus the universe will spill my guts in the end from slimy rooftop perches of enthroned roof dwellers.
In spite of guilt I still praise...]