September 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
The window blew a breathy sigh through the open window and toppled the totemic stack of papers. Its collapse was hushed like a secret kept and as sudden as one told. Loose leaves, lined and unlined, fell together and scattered apart. Handwritten letters, whose tonguey loops lapped up the blanks below and licked down everything left above, bent forward, suffering legibility like a mule its load but unable to bear a breeze, spread across the floor like languages at the razed foot of Babel. What sense could be made of this mess?
May 12, 2014 § 2 Comments
The wind had the effect of making a jumble of things.
Sixes flipped into nines, nines resigned to sixes;
zeroes always the same.
Addresses renumbered or reduced to Cyrillic-seeming gibberish.
What to do when numbers fail us? When jotted notes,
memorials to memories since passed, don’t match the present?
We write these things down for a reason:
because reason survives the breath of thought
easier than the gusts of a gale;
the page endures even when its sense is as scattered
as letters, blown from a desk as correspondence
to the floor as characters.
April 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
Autumn fell into winter quicker than the leaves to the ground,
shaken from trees by a seasonable urgency like few could recall.
Winds that had upturned collars and hiked skirts outside shops
broke branches in the park as a bully might twiggy arms.
A pop overhead, and you had time to run for cover;
a crack, just a moment to curse.
Earth and leaf were chased in circles,
until they mound in heaps along walls and fences.
Office windows shut fast rattled erratically in their frames,
sounding an unscored composition unfit for dance.
But the city, from top to toe,
and the homes,
they moaned and creaked,
like a honeymoon suite.
January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
R. was greeted by S.’s judgment the moment he walked in the office the next day. —Lighten the load on the Right Reverend Taylor in your next one, boy. He asked a lot of his congregants back then, and they were an exceedingly more charitable lot than you’re apt to have today. You’re wise to have cut out the Latin. I didn’t learn that lesson until I was older than you. Different times. This being a Kraut Papist town, it was not as surprising to hear then.
—But the use of Taylor himself is fine?
—Himself? Oh, you mean his words. Of course, quite fine. “The Descending and Entailed Curse Cut off” is a wonderful choice. Fine selection. The same with the Fuller, though I’m not sure Barlow is making the point you seem to imagine. Or perhaps it was misdirection? More than anything, I trust your professor was stung, or perhaps he was simply sleeping, when you unsheathed dear Featley. “Let others go forward as they please. I will stay still at the Cross. I desire no other Pulpit,”—did you slap the wood here, boy—”then that tree. No other Preacher,”—you pointed at the lot of them, surely you did—”than thy crucified body. No other text,”—please tell me you weren’t reading at this point—”than thy death and passion.”
—”No other notes than thy marks. No other points than thy nails. No other book than they opened side.” No, I’ve committed that all to memory. You once said that climaxes should never be read.
—Good, boy. Good. Everything else, yes, may be by the book but that.
[. . .]
—You were concerned I would dislike it?
—The words, sir. Most of them aren’t mine.
—And you thought this would upset me?
—Yes, I suppose I did.
S.’s clinched eyes spread wide, revealing a glassy blue hung above darkness. He collected himself for a moment by collecting the loose leaf pages before him and tapping them straight. —It’s come to this, R. Do they not even teach the gospel at this institution? Is it time to give it back to the drug addicts? [. . .] The gospel is preached, not learned. You’ve heard me say this, but have you ever listened? It is about making words right, R. Can I possibly be more plain than that? [. . .] We haven’t much more time together. The steeple’s shadow hangs over us both. Hear me now if you never have before: the gospel is not a product, potential or potent, of the words. Ah, it is quite the opposite. As with the ones you pastiched at the pulpit the other day, the gospel marks the spot of their failure. [. . .] It cannot be plagiarized, neither kidnapped nor seduced. The gospel can take care of itself. Whether it’s preached by the poetry of Thomas Adams or the clumsy of you and me, it matters not. It works, if ever it does, by grace … not by craft or originality, but in spite of them both. And grace, R., doesn’t give a damn. Why? Are you listening? Because these beloved preachers of ours, S. stood to hand back the sermon, are as damned as we. So by all means, for Christ’s sake, pilfer them all as you please.
January 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
Donne’s repudiated text consumed R. that summer, and he tried repeatedly to write to S. concerning what he thought he understood of it. He signed and folded the first month of the break one letter a week, but tore to pieces each. Nothing he wrote seemed adequate. Repression, he considered, as he learned later Biathanatos had endured from its start, was perhaps appropriate, for Donne’s was a diabolical book made all the more so by ringing of something familiar. Expanding outward, into biblical precedent and social history, its vision of faith made sense of S.’s parting words. By Donne’s reckoning, if the example of Christ behooves his followers live as he, the effect is fatal. The one who needn’t ever die at all, God in the flesh, chose to do so, and in so choosing was not murdered by another. His was, to put it plainly, a suicide. The climax of Donne’s defense is to the point. To die to oneself, and thus as Christ, requires one risk committing the very offense for which there can be no confession. Nevertheless, because so few ever succeed in killing themselves correctly — some sinful residue of the self lingers nearly without fail in the act, whether born in the throes of melancholy or at the sword of martyrdom — it remains good and right for the church and state to stand in the way of righteousness. By pulling back a bit from his defense, consoling the sad-sack suicidal depressive was never his intention, the scandal of Donne’s treatise draws closer. For here, the heights of fidelity became the most malign. R. could not help but wonder, though, if it might be otherwise, and in his final unsent letter concluded: “The life of faith ends not unlike the beginning of the best sermon: as the greatest tragedy. Properly unfulfilled, both.”
January 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
—And your choosing them, your plagiarized words, with your lecherous leers, looking down their shirts and up their skirts, does what then? Aren’t yours the grubby, groping hands of an angry God, deflowering the virginal language of those preachers?
—This is serious …
—Who’s joking? You think I don’t know my religion, but I’ve known you long enough to pick up a few things.
—My choosing them doesn’t change them or what they are. Sinners are indicted in this life … they experience their corruption, know it as something different from everyday self-loathing … they experience the presence of something innocent and uncorrupted … something that maybe doesn’t belong … that crops up where maybe it shouldn’t, or has no reason to. A kind of beauty that’s actually kind of horrific if you think about it.
—I’m sorry, really I am. You would not have called me unless you knew I’d be honest, but I don’t buy this at all. All those words, the ones your wretched eyes are somehow permitted to see and depraved brain is for some reason allowed to choose, are somehow exempt? They get a free pass from, what do you call it, the Fall?
—It’s grace. A gift …
—No, I’m sorry, but your Saint Paul got it wrong. We sin so it abounds. How in Christ would it ever otherwise? Those words you idolize, don’t you understand, they’re as depraved as you. This is what your professor’s been telling you and everybody else for years.
—I don’t think …
——The words must be made right, R., redeemed. And how? Through the sin of my lips and the filth of your tongue.
—I’m hanging up now …
—Your professor is right. Listen to him. What you call grace is the sin, else there’d be no gift at all …
—Being damned’s a beautiful thing, like most of life’s necessities.
January 7, 2014 § 4 Comments
Freed from the conforming influence of a grade, R.’s fancies took flight. Reading aloud to Stein from his curated collected of sermons, none his own, of course, or century, seen by more mites than humans, R. found a kinship he did not share with his fellow students. Or, indeed, with himself. R. inhabited these words not his own, so far from common use or hearing, that often even needed to be translated from older archaic spellings, caressing the curves of the unfamiliar characters, in a natural manner he seldom managed his own skin. These words, R. knew, had been made right. What hope had he that his ever would?
For a single semester he fumbled with the contemporary forms, preaching repentance by deduction and edification in story, but distinguished himself in class only by his voice, which he was told was pulpit perfect. Sonorous and deep, quintessentially masculine, they meant, even if he was scrawny and rarely in need of a shave, his baritone was the envy of many. None commented, however, on the transitions over which he toiled, his telegraphed foreshadowing or cliched simile. No one fretted over his leaky logic, emulating what he thought he understood of Anselm. Who among them, he wondered as they stared ahead at him, and later read their reviews (—What a voice! —Jealous of your voice! —Give me your voice! —You should be in radio with that voice! —Maybe a little loud …), heard a word he said?
So it was, until one day he set aside his prepared exposition of the twenty-third Psalm, and began instead: —The subject of the discourse is man; and the speech of him hath three points in the text. None at first paid note. —I. His comma; II. His colon; III. His period. R., for the first time, felt right behind the pulpit, Thomas Adams on his tongue, Mystical Bedlam on the page. —“Men’s hearts are full of evil”; there is the comma. “Madness is in their hearts while they live;” there is the colon. Whereat not staying, at which point Professor Shannon at least looked up, —“after that they go down to the dead;” and there is their period. R. paused to peered down at the lectern, and gave then full voice to the World of Madmen, —The first begins, the second continues, the third concludes, their sentence.