03 May 2009

LotS: Lives of the Saints

[Photo by Greta Perleberg]

Lives of the Saints

Mango for breakfast, organ-sweet and heavy.
Mountain-posed behind the register, spine
pulling like a plate hanger, bra straps unseen
around my elbows, I await the breath
of a building before entry, the pranayama
of unreasonable questions. While these people are here
I will love them. I will give them knowledge and hope
in pain. And if I roll my eyes after no matter.
At home I thank the veal for its lonely life.
And after, his hand resting on the anvil of my belly,
he tells me they miss me at my old job and I laugh
against his palm. This consciousness, this
wholeness, I think, is what they felt:

The saint is a beggar, living off overstock.
The saint is a scholar, reading in bed past sleep.
The saint is a lover, with God as her skin.
The saint is a storyteller, smoothing down visions.
The saint is a flower, turning her face.
The saint is a warrior, when love draws blood.

LotS: Augury

[Feather, puzzle piece, button, key, screw, paper, Sacred Heart medal]


After church this morning there's a dove
on the rooftip; it flies northeast, and the Romans
would know what that means.

I believe it all, I'm afraid: cast bones,
crossed stars, the litany of saints.
Split me open and read the future.

LotS: I never understood Aquinas

[McDonald's fries container, printed paper]

I never understood Aquinas

I never understood Aquinas
until, reading Dante, I met him
in the laser light show of Paradise,
explaining why he was not wrong
in saying Solomon surpassed all
mortals in wisdom—for wise Christ
himself was mortal for a time, running
thirty-three laps with us before riding out
on the breath of Heaven. The explanation
is unimportant, just Thom’s usual
didactic hedging—"one can be wise
in two ways"—dressed up in terza rima,
a three-strand necklace to brighten the cowl
of a robe black and white as his world.
Here in Heaven, surrounded by God’s glory
like a cloud of pot smoke in a dorm room,
Aquinas resists intoxication and stays
as grounded as his flashbulb soul can be.
Dante and I just smile and keep ascending.

I like to imagine the philosophers at a party,
one of those wine-dark shindigs one sees in Homer.
While Thomas hovers by the spinach puffs, Plato
stakes out his corner early: he knows who
will end up on whose couch, and drinks and jibes
while Dawn, her fingers ketchup-stained,
steals his fries. Aristotle, across the room,
is demonstrating the motion of the spheres
with toothpicks and Dixie cups; his audience
keeps looking around for someone else they know—
"Hey, Xenophon! It’s been a long time, dokei emoige."
Plato holds sarcasm, irony, double entendre
like three aces in a poker hand, while Aristotle
organizes lowest to highest, spades to hearts,
and takes his values from the faces of his kings.
He doesn’t get the jokes.

Aquinas so revered Aristotle he called him The
Philosopher, and spent his life in scribbling
the organization of the deck God dealt,
finding the suits in sin and salvation, on
thousands of pages: the names of God,
the will of God, the eternal Law, in handy
Q&A format, every objection thought out
and blocked beforehand, a quote from Scripture
or the saints unrolling thin as latex between pagan
logic and his own. He’s a bitch to read.

Faith lives in me where logic only visists.
God is gut and the spider on the ceiling.
So I hated Aquinas till I saw him in Heaven,
glowing like a nightlight, discoursing on things
he should know by now don’t matter.
And then I understood. I saw him at the party,
bearing the yoke of being big and looking dumb.
He didn’t get the jokes either.

[Winner, 2002 Walter S. Baird Endowment Prize for Achievement in Fine Arts, St. John's College.]

LotS: The Weeping Madonna Speaks

[Magazine clipping, nail polish]

The Weeping Madonna Speaks

This is not the kind of miracle you ask for.
Still in this statue, pushing blood through wood,
I cannot close my eyes or raise a hand to wipe
the stains from my blue and white. I used to wear
red but you have forgotten my flesh, made me
Artemis, Vesta, Tonatzin. But I bled at his birth,
shed these tears as he dies, displayed--carved from,
crossed onto, a tree. They have cut the lines well:
the nose and hipbones are my boy's, hanging
there still. What you call grace is only grief.

LotS: St. Joan of Arc

[Computer-assembled collage]

St. Joan of Arc's

heart pounds beneath breasts bound flat
by bandages, beneath her horizon blue tunic.
She's not scared. They've told her
the end already, hers and France's--not the generals,
who can only see geometry and despair:
the winged man with his sword and serpent,
the virgin whose skin steams, the woman
with the wheel who whispered the catechism
in her ear during the contest at Sacre-Coeur. Top
of her class, ahead of all the boys, but still
Jacques, Pierre--Pierre who can't tell a bishop
from his balls and prefers the latter anyway--served
the Mass of Thanksgiving when war finally
came that August, breaking out like the sun
from the clouds . . . well, no more. She serves
now with the boys, smoking their tobacco,
chucking dead men's boots at rats, lying awake
in mud while the sky pukes shell. For five months
this same trench, this same bloody river.
This morning, like the rest, they course
over the top like a wave. They flow like blood
across the field, fall where they run like rain,
by bullets like rain. Her chest stains purple but
she doesn't stop, she's almost there, she can see
the German gunner, reach out and touch the hissing gun.
The barrel burns like fire.

St. Joan of Arc (1412-31) began at thirteen to hear the voices of St. Michael, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine of Alexandria; under their counsel she led French armies to defeat the occupying British at Orléans and Reims. Burned as a heretic, she was pardoned twenty-four years later.

LotS: Hildegard of Bingen

[Cut-and-paste Xerox, sharpie, whiteout]

Hildegard of Bingen

creates the role of Lola-Lola in Der Blaue
for von Sternberg in 1930, her lush
Rhinish landscape framed by tawdry lace
scaffolding. She's a hit in the famous halved
hoopskirt, knocking down the chorus girls to fetch
an "errant" handkerchief. Until one rehearsal,
legs V'ed like migrating birds during "Falling
in Love Again," the scissors sudden slacken, her
false lashes become arrows around quivering eyes--

"Aiguonz!" she belts, and crumples like a flung
stocking. Ammonia'd awake, sipping Birnenschnapps,
cheeks colored beyond current cinema, the chanteuse
chatters: she saw light, wings like crescent moons
meeting, the blank benevolent wafer-face of God, who,
she says, speaks neither Latin nor Hebrew but
a razor-edged tongue she now glosses: "Inimoiz--
human. Orzchis--immeasurable." Seeing the director's
sad eyes (Another one lost, he thinks) she offers
onyx on the tongue as a sure-fire pick-me-up. He
gestures to Marlene, the understudy: "Mädchen,
it's up to you." She dons the tux, becomes an icon;
the Sibyl goes back to her Weimar flat, writes
unheeded warning to the war-eyed world. Her visions
of barbed wire and flame do not consent to parable.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), "the Sibyl of the Rhine," influenced politics, composed Gregorian chant without training, and wrote for herself rather than dictate to a secretary. Though her cult is still active, her canonization was never finalized.
[Published in Tiferet, Issue Four.]

LotS: New York: Palm Sunday

[Felt, palm fronds, stickers, MetroCard]

New York: Palm Sunday

Astoria’s Immaculate Conception Church offers
confession in Spanish, Italian, and Maltese; but
this Passion is in three accents of English, with
Peter and Pilate ringing strong boroughs.
The Roman no doubt sounded this urbane to
backwoods Mideast Judea; and the trio
of denials so desperate, vulnerable, pleading with
the Godfather. (On the altar a coat of arms
inlays a swan with three swanlets, an alien
emblem evoking not the Trinity, but Zeus
come back to Leda’s nestlings, after
Helen’s flown the coop.)

The congregation reads the Crowd, and we are
unrelentingly hostile: we shout down
Pilate’s clemency, chorus for crucifixion. It’s
canny casting, the faithful as enemy.
How far a Mass from a mob? Even read
inflectionless the responses shudder stained
glass, howl where were once Hosannas. Not
until after do they pass out palms of welcome.

LotS: novitiate seedbed

[Computer-assembled collage]

novitiate seedbed

She bends over ground as yet
only dark, mealy soil. Here she's
entombed carrots and strawberries,
to munch and try not to think
of sex. The strawberries especially
are temptation: the red juice
sliding down her lips, the cat's-pupil
opening at the core, like her own.
After all, fruits are ovaries, full
of the fertility she is deciding
not to use. The carrots bring back
high school boyfriends for a moment,
before the crunch like crack of bone.
She once got in trouble for using
her teeth, while he drove down
the highway at night. As yet
she doesn't have enough God
to fill the space between her legs,
to close the slit demurely like a cat's eye.
So she busies her hands with manure
and rotten plantflesh, and thinks
of everlasting life.

[One of a series of poems whose titles are spam subject lines, "novitiate seedbed" was published in Mikrokosmos, 2005.]

LotS: St. Thérèse of Lisieux

[Fabric, straight pins, rick rack, patches]

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

arranges flowers
for the table--daisies with
a branch of hawthorn.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-97) became a cloistered Carmelite nun at the age of fifteen. Though she died of tuberculosis nine years later, she is honored as a Doctor of the Church for her "Little Way," a quiet creed of constant small acts of charity and humility.

LotS: St. Teresa of Avila

[Collage: foil, construction paper, stickers, magazine clippings, glitter]

St. Teresa of Avila

at her niece's quinceñera clangs her
habited haunches onto a folding chair, face
flushed from the dance. In her youth she
had Esperanza's black-coffee eyes, sneaking
a peek at Cosmo ("20 Sizzling Sex Secrets--Try
Them Tonight!"), comparing her ass to J.
Lo's in the mirror (favorably, at least in these
jeans). Now they look elsewhere, dilated
by Light more flattering than the housefly
fluorescents here in Cristo Rey's basement
banquet hall. Hips swinging under First
Communion lace, the birthday girl extends
white gloves in invitation; her aunt takes them, says:
"Niña, don't let them tell you you don't know
because you're a woman. Women know. Know
what's right, even when you do wrong." "Si, si,
come dance"; they spin to salsa till the nun's
flats are off the floor, like a little girl borne up
by the feet of her Father.

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-82) founded an impoverished order of nuns for whom she wrote in her vernacular Spanish about prayer, humility and her recurring ecstasies with frankness, practicality, and humor. She is one of three female Doctors of the Catholic Church.

LotS: St. Catherine of Siena

[Ballpoint pen drawing]

St. Catherine of Siena

catnaps on the subway, spine unslumped, rattling
in and out of darkness. Awake she peels
the buntop off her cold Big Mac, brings it to
her nose, inhales pickle (stings) and catsup (sweet),
smacks her lips, recaps the sandwich. A meal
through Tuesday. Low-grade lighting taps
the diamond on the blonde's engagement
finger and unconsciously the saint's vain thumb
twirls her own ring, the dried-apricot prepuce
of the Savior. It's not like being a Navy wife,
waiting; still less Donna Reed with bridge nights
to escape to. After tiffs they're stuck
on the same side of the slammed door, but
the sex is great: her eyes roll like a raver's though
she never hikes her habit. Today she's on her way
to talk the popes out of Avignon again, the soldiers
out of every sandy stalemate; that's the idea, at
least. Nobody sits by her, but when a swayer's
sleeve brushes her hair he calls his mother; when
the girl trips over her foot she drops her stash, can't
find it; when the couple steps aside to let her by
they know they are not meant to be. She stops
to speak Italian to a pizza vendor who knows only
Urdu. He hears her just the same.

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-80), an Italian Mantellate (a nun not confined to a convent), took bodily mortification to great lengths but also wielded temporal power, counseling popes and kings. She is a Doctor of the Catholic Church, one of only three women with the title.

LotS: Prayer, May 12

[Photo by Greta Perleberg, run through an MGI Photosuite filter.]

Prayer, May 12

I felt thee in the storm, Father,
and ran, though it was night,
into Thee, under Thee, through
Thee in the black cloud
and the lightning and the water,
content to be Thy creature
beneath Thy loud dark heavens.

Lives of the Saints

An art book I put together in early 2006. I made it out of a cheap photo album; the art and poems slid into the sleeves. The cover, which wouldn't reproduce well, is knitted and crocheted (black and purple).
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Muse at Highway Speeds by http://museathighwayspeeds.blogspot.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.