As with love, also the bellows.
Calavera*, the Future stands
hand to mouth, fingers to forehead
unfolding before still instatic shapes.
Hold desperately to frames before
these quaking perceptions.
She could not stop there,
had to flare out, dry paint,
and the dryer flesh peel down
to bone, a sexless esqueleto**,
skull no longer mustached,
a calavera, nothing more,
curved calcium reliant forever
upon canvas, what is congealed
there to fan and burn,
a "cauda pavonis"***.
- the author, from the text below
***Peacock's Tail (an image in alchemy).
"Poetry such as this attempts not just a new syntax of the word. Its revolution is aimed at the syntax of the mind itself. Its structuring of experience is purposive, not dreamlike. We are dealing with a self-induced, or naturally or mysteriously come by, creative state from which two of the most fundamental human activities diverge, the aesthetic and the mystic act. The creative matrix is the same in both, and it is that state of being that is most peculiarly and characteristically human, as the resulting aesthetic and mystic experience is the purist form of human act. There is a great deal of overlapping, today especially, when art is all the religion most people have and when they demand of it experiences that few people of the past demanded of religion....A visionary poem is not a vision. The religious experience is necessitated and ultimate." - Kenneth Rexroth, World Outside the Window, the Selected Essays of Kenneth Rexroth, pg. 255-256
Rexroth's words are pertinent to the images used in this essay, Kahlo's painting above is visionary, Grunewald's are religious, and several photos are both, and all are "aimed at the syntax of the mind itself.. Its restructuring of experience is purposive, not dreamlike." The images included in this essay, which is more a prose poem than regular prose, are meant to convey equally or more, at least as as much as, the words in their incantatory formations which may induce entrance into 'imaginal' spaces where word and image meet in a practical magic, inspire a felt understanding and perhaps gain a view or actual entrance into what ecstatic poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, calls "the Greater Relation."
I've decided to publish this piece-in-progress as it unwinds in spirals "aimed at the syntax of the mind itself...its restructuring of experience" with the understanding that it may later appear in greatly altered form. In a real sense this writing writes itself; I try to heed, copy, then hone to the bone what might be wanting to be sung, for what is below, and often what I write, is more akin to music, a vocal/verbal lilt beyond a particular solid tilt of view of a world absolute, static logos.
Heraclitus noted thousands of years ago, "All is flux."
To this I would only add, and perhaps this is what all of my writing amounts to,
"All is reflux."
Many who know me know that I am passionate about Mexico, my love for the land, the people, the history and culture. Mexico embodies an ongoingly dramatic and profound conflict of body and soul in land and people. There, both pre-Christian religion and Catholic Christianity still strive with each other, traumatically rumble and stumble together a vibrant mix of dynamic images and energies, literal active volcanoes and temblores (earthquakes) add concrete umphasis to what noble telluric forces are seeking to be expressed in manifest people and geography; both the old (pre-Columbian) and the new (to the continent Christian) religions with their tectonic gods and cosmologies enamored/riveted to Star-and-Sky with their calculable notions, mathematics greater than ourselves, abstractions of once solid exigencies greater still, are compensations for blood-, earth-, carbon-, metal- deities. Incorporating the Sky, an edible notion, the more potent sacraments of plants - fungus, febrile root, vine, leaf, pulp, spore, entire chemical choirs of angels gather in a chew or brew, a puff and spew, fiber and fever swallows which lead to being swallowed by raw Existence unmasked revealing infinity forever turning in upon itself, an Uroboric Fractal to which we are not inclined in spite of religious wars to give ourselves consciously, utterly. Given this parity of storming exacting deities, revealed in their own inexorable mathematics calculated in plucked hearts and heads rolled, it is no wonder that the imagery and message of Christianity would strongly resonate in Aztecan and other indigenous psyches of Mexico.
Enter Frieda Kahlo, code in part for me, of Mexico and the maelstrom of the Twentieth century, of modernism, of vibrant culture and of passionate human suffering and creativity. Kahlo's paintings partake of this iconoclastic encounter of catastrophic theologies formed around and within the mouths/bellies of gods of trauma seeking to relieve that trauma by blood requirements either enacted ritually/symbolically in religious rituals or in literal violence acted out in unconscious identity with these instinctual gods, usually both; Carl Jung once said that "god is a most shocking problem...god is a trauma."
Each viewing of a Kahlo painting is a viewing of her life, body and soul, its alluded metal serpents, cyclopic hulking male tyros (Rivera, Trotsky, to name only two), volcanic, engorged Titans of Malinche, chingares (goring ones as the bull gores hungrily) swallowed, too, hoping both to remain and to break free of Her, the Great Saurian Mother, Plumed Serpent, Quetzalcoatl, inherited deities extracting from Kahlo and Mexico literal blood, for paint is blood, too, gashes in brush strokes she could never quite conceal/congeal (and thus her paintings turn hemorrhage to good purposes), becoming herself the clot, her flesh an unwitting tattoo of existence's beautiful and terrible forms. A life with needles, stitched, she pitched repeatedly into the long throat of the Alimentary Great Mother, Uruboros tail in mouth, recreating Her self by hard passages, throat to anus to birth canal and cave, galactic center point waiting perhaps at the other (no) end, carbon jesters, angels teeming on Quetzal quill tips, twinkling fires in the pitch, sometimes called stars, or ravens, black heralds of colors yet to brilliantly come.
Her chosen medium of paint scores the story of soul wrenched from the body in a terrible accident, personal FATE of archetypal proportions lending images to a human century soon to be overly wed to, dependent upon, and controlled by its machines, the soul's uneasy return to a life on earth, mechanics of body, mechanics of the Twentieth century god, Pragmatics, fed by workers' blood, soul's body's become none other than alchemy's 'Cauda Pavonis', the peacock's tail, or the peacock itself, enduring a magnificent ecstasy/agony, an 'in between' phase in which many colors appear, splendid iridescence, midway point, a false conclusion, merely a digestion of polarities of the black and white flaring in brilliant tints upon glinting metal gears, upon human workers glistening sweat - all light is a glancing blow - to be further transformed not only into spiritual tinctures but into spinal ones as well in which she dips brushes, fingertips in finality no longer lingering; she pours salt into what is left of a self, a wound imaged, lived, no longer intuited, recognized as sacred for a scar is not an idol but a deity hard won.
Kahlo's images are soul trying to scry the "tragic side of life", the careening streetcar of the Future repeatedly crashing into the always pedestrian bus of Now, forever-world yet changed by the same themes such are archetypes extending at least for a life span which envisions, enlarge, into the next few centuries.
As with love, also the bellows.
Try as I may to render Kahlo as noun and verb, as event still venting from grave mouths such are canvases, my attempts fail to distill, to come to terms with what happened to her at 16 years of age, piercing metal violated flesh newly woman, which turned her into something completely utterly astonished, livid and unforgiving pain burning her to vapor, yet, still, each canvas she is ever falling back within the cruel alchemical vas, glass splinters into unrelenting nerves, encased steel-plated Virgin taking a cyclops for lover.
Love inherent in Kahlo's work is all the more Love amidst the ruins disguised as progress. Kahlo's Christ-self in thorn necklace, hummingbird in shape of the Cross, at times her eyebrows, is the "more real" to me than any I have been so far tendered but for Grunewald's painting of the Isenheim Christ (imaged just below) for the sanatorium altarpiece, a diseased Christ on the Cross covered with syphilitic sores showing "the strange beauty shining through the disgust and unbearable pain of disease" (text from the back cover of Evil, Sexuality, and Disease in Grunewald's , by Eugene Monick). I now run from any "offering" of Deity which drives me further away from my humanity, all of it, by which no god or gods are deposed but, rather, exposed in the fleeing to be all the more gathered, and all the more weathered, endured.
I dwell more in Kahlo's world and long to someday live in her Mexico which to diminishing degree still exists, which does not refuse the comfort of iron nor of Grace, always a surprise, placed and displaced at once in the scarring conjunction of flesh and spirit, human/divine images prominent in Christianity, a dismembered and devoured Christ as only incarnation allows, insistent autonomy arguing autonomy, rough acceptance, Grunewald's unique One, especially the One with shades appealing eternity, beheld for a sickly yet shining fractured and much, much loved, begotten world.
Christianity, not the Christ, exchanged images for words, images within them breaking to openness into and beyond that mortal sign bursting still into the still more open "Word" which, too, in spite of Churchly preventions and stops, breaks free of doctrine-adequately-flavored but seeks perhaps secretly to be undone, "the bells, I say, the bells break down their towers" (Hart Crane, "The Broken Tower").
In reaction to images and imaginations leaping out of the word/Word, breaking free even within the Church, "heresies" so called, the Official Church poured concrete into molds (and pouring more still), congregations hardened to prevent further conjugations of Imagination within the Words, the Magisterial Delirium of Word/God ensnared - "once reified deified" - yet insists upon only those sanctioned shapes, and in so doing much of its soul and body wanders, strays, lost in the exchange of image/imagination for said concretions, un-altared sentences weathering in now acid rains. Granted, logos, word, needed to be cultivated in order to extend human consciousness into the past 2000 years, but words and Word ARE images in abstract, compacted, myriad "angels of the face" (a phrase in Shi'ite (mystical) Islam for the appearance of that "Other, Truer World" revealed in myriad manifest "faces/images" apparently eternally unfolding in space and time); all these it is supposed was/is compressed into a Word, "the Word made flesh which dwelt", and dwells still, "among us" donning disguises, for eyes, even God's, want to see newly through the darkening glass that always optically teases Imagination from it's coyness.
Still, such timidity ends in engorged blood, meat requirements, rendering vaporous sublimity too thin for fingers, why forks were invented. If modernity, it's forks and faxes, returns anything of value to us stretching into denial which is all our futurity, it is the return of images, official and unofficial, which return us in turn to our official and unofficial selves, limping shod or un-, ens-not-Ens (being-not-Being) as we are chafed to particular part-selves multipli-imaged as they want or dream to be - Who are we?
Frieda with her Twentieth century stifles a yawn and "stuffs the universe into her eyes" (a line from a poem by zen poet, Shinkichi Takahashi).
My words here are not intended, nor are they able, to exclude what Word-oriented, revealed religions of "the Book" have brought to us and advanced, but now, next 2000 years, the creative struggle will be to conjoin meaningfully polygamous images of psyche into compressions (es-pressions, as in espresso) and ex-pressions (pressed out) by and with word and Word which have tendencies toward monotheism, one true meaning only, which results therefore, can't be avoided, into a heavy-handedness in terms of a perceived/derived one and only Absolute. Ironically, the Arabs discovery of always heavy Zero - which, to me, is the only Absolute of merit - gave birth to a multiplicity, diverse, perverse, all the more irascible yet embraceable, maddeningly erasable, while growing arms beyond counting, the better to carry the unforgiving densities.Count them (or try) we must; for congenital compulsions such are calcifications - spirit, soul, life in the body - are gripped in the teeth of the world; beatific, we perceive ourselves to be in the image of deity. Still, we can believe we are "safe"within these calcified "absolutes" - o here is the "burning bush" - or we can risk the profligate ramble which is consciousness, a fire still burning, an intuition in each image that there is more here than meets the eye or thigh or deities as imaged. We all look, or try, beneath the skin of things - under what is presented, or within it - for that half-guessed/hinted at and/or "felt sense" that there is MORE beyond the barred nerve, more and "other-than" the shock of a chrome, bumper-bent world careening, aware that within all is here a Presence, all images and words assuming that Presence - Arab's gift of the non-alloyed Zero unmeasured by mass, a better name for god depending on thermal history's twisting vector, ghostly mirage, if any are to be had - the base in spite of or within the Metallic Matrix of the blacksmith heart hammering verdigris, chambers, ventricles, into shape, Newton's grave conjugations, living time solidified, hardened, stiffening Presence into dilute renderings of base metal, and chaste Frieda, her canvases chasing plutonium wire unaware, bears the blunt end of Presence at the end of the Aeon of the Fishes still barely beyond Bronze Age's just sharpened edges fluted, pre-Christian Mexico preferring obsidian ones hacked, chipped, scraped upon hard flint. Frieda, volcano born, turns into conjugal vessel, Quetzal plume conjoined to Serpent skin rebirthing extensions of crash, a returning God, boat and horse delivered from the red beard of the bloated sea confronting yet one more deity requiring blood.
Viewing Kahlo's paintings, which she came to embody, and they her, even those images and words sought which seek expression upon human tongue in human eye, still seek to deny or decry that Presence, Dark Night in broad day, all appearance, a drift beyond meaning, only a swaying bus careening yet again, repeating collision of the Virgin's hymen, amniotic Host forever a Lover divided yet again, Crepuscular Christi, all this in Kahlo, revered now, cultic, for she is Woman Christ multipli-imaged Suffering One with breasts, concealed antlered uterus wincing at anviled annunciations verified only in wavering beliefs such are weeping statues and surreal apparitions strung out on coniunctio, Gethsemani Girl seen, no longer concealed at all or hidden in plain sight, Christ-o-form agony, isolate, angry, raging, bereft human confusion, "despised and rejected", the meanness within ourselves destined to see our deities through to the end though beyond capacity to smell necrosis, to see the exit wounds of soul coagulating disguised as skin, muscle, sinew.
But it is we who are seen and thus the imperative mercy and compassion, o endlessly, endlessly, for existence as it is and the miracle of that Shining Stranger encountered on all our Emmaus road all the more Real-ing. Lest the bread be broken by that Stranger our eyes cannot see, cannot taste the Thou in existence extending Himself, or Herself as Kahlo-Christ, into our reaching hands and mouths to take, eat all of it. We take when we can see it what is offered by that Shining Stranger who returns us to that "Thou dimension", all our suffering then contained, held, though never satisfactorily explained so easily reduced to formulaic glibness as so much theology past and presently done to this day.
The Shining Stranger knows a rod rammed in - o touch his hands and feet, his bleeding side, his weeping womb - and knows Miraculous Dimensions within the apparently real, discovers that very self to be a Miraculous Dimension, an experience, not a Word, nor an image, for both words and images do stumble punch drunk on the once-was-new Wine and Word, those paper scraps unnoticed, unseen, unread, unheeded, or if heeded are only Its, objects devoid of meaning, and not Thous, just another "drunk singing in a midnight choir" (Leonard Cohen).
Emmaus is the road I walk. I pray still. A kind of swoon. I do not balk at strangers encountered there, shining or not. When words are put to "Thou" purposes as the Shining Stranger did at the camp's cook-fire on the Emmaus road then at some point, when bread is broken eyes are opened, a whole loaf now rent into edible pieces rendering wholeness mouth by mouth, once teased ears suddenly recognize sense in sounding voice, that Meaning Itself is before them, feeding, teaching, reaching to touch our own wounded hands and feet, the bleeding sides. All is changed and yet we are returned to life again as it is, but now having heard, seen and tasted ever "Christ-haunted" for such Grace lingers in aftertaste-yet-a-foretaste, o Gloria, to say the least, even this lingering grace is a feast, a proffered shining hand remaindering our own shine dim in comparison but loved all the more by "the Face", It's "angels" shining.
Christ the Bread, also the Confounding Stone upon which all our glibness breaks.