Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Some poems

Picnic's Over - Erica Wagner

After Elaine Fasula

Here is the lesson these travellers took:
a river, a lover, a broken book.
Dressed for the weather, naked as rain,
roped one to the other they set out again.

That one has packed up his tricks for the night:
the jack-knife, the skein, the mariner’s light.
The wren is the gift at the heart of the wood;
her song is washed clean in the travellers’ blood.

This one lays bait for the stars to devour:
a feather, a saltbox, his enemy’s power.
He thought that the sandwiches tasted of shame,
his hunger a dog off the edge of the frame.

I will go with you, the fifth one remarked,
past the bridge over silence and into the dark;
the blade and the seed to temper disaster,
the clatter of horns will carry our laughter.

Here is the lesson these travellers took:
a ladder, a letter, a scarlet book.
Stripped by the rain, worn in the weather,
the lover, the enemy, vanish together.

Torcello - Catherine Sasanov

Offshore, the Apocalypse
stays contained
to one island and its church.

Venice's ruler's out wedding
himself to the ocean

while I'm ankle deep
in the Adriatic,
eyes raised to a book

unencumbered by words: A Bible
that reads from East to West. Guidebooks
want only

to see it as ceiling—the Basilica
San Marco,

where Christ's hands open on wounds
embedded with rubies, and priests

hold back the sea with brooms.
I'm taking on incense,

bowing at altars dragged out
of Constantinople,
sloshing across marble
sacked from Jerusalem.

Offshore, the sea's a bride bought
with a fist full of diamonds
the Doge throws into the deep—

a sign of his true and perpetual dominion.

Then why does walking into this church
mean stepping into the ocean?
The sea is a dog—
Priests throw in bones just to placate it.

The year's nearly 2000,
but the millennium already hit once

on the island Torcello,
a kind of plague the Venetians contained.
999 years,

and the dead still crawl from dirt
towards their radiant bodies,
they still gather up

missing limbs: arms, legs, hands
sharks and beasts keep regurgitating.

We do what we know—
But Christ never wanted to manage
resurrections in Venice.

Underdressed in the flesh
from dead civilizations,
he moves among us in Byzantine skin.

I'm getting close to this God
worshiped only by tourists.

He picks at the wounds
on his crucified body, the injury
scabbed over with jewels.

Priestly Duties: a Poem - Stewart Henderson

What should a priest be?
All things to all
male, female and genderless

What should a priest be?
Reverent and relaxed
vibrant in youth
assured through the middle years
divine sage when ageing

What should a priest be?
Accessible and incorruptible
abstemious, yet full of celebration
informed but not threateningly so
and far above the passing soufflé of fashion

What should a priest be?
An authority on singleness
Solomon-like on the labyrinth of human sexuality
excellent with young marrieds, old marrieds,
were marrieds, never marrieds, shouldn’t have marrieds,
those who live together, those who live apart,
and those who don’t live anywhere
respectfully mindful of senior citizens and war veterans
familiar with the ravages of arthritis,
osteoporrosis, post natal depression, anorexia,
whooping cough and nits.

What should a priest be?
All round family person,
Counsellor, but not officially because of recent changes in legislation,
teacher, expositor, confessor, entertainer, juggler,
good with children, and possibly sea lions,
empathetic towards pressure groups.

What should a priest be?
On nodding terms with Freud, Jung, St John of The Cross,
The Scott Report, The Rave Culture, The Internet,
The Lottery, BSE and Anthea Turner,
pre modern, fairly modern, post modern,
and ideally secondary modern
if called to the inner city.

What should a priest be?
Charismatic, if needs must, but quietly so,
evangelical, and thoroughly
meditative, mystical but not New Age
liberal and so open to other voices
traditionalist, reformer and revolutionary
and hopefully not on medication
unless for an old sporting injury.

Note to congregations: If your priest actually fulfils
all of the above, and then enters the pulpit one Sunday
morning wearing nothing but a shower cap, a fez, and declares
“I’m the King and Queen of Venus, and we shall now sing
the next hymn in Latvian, take your partners, please”. -
let it pass – like you and I they too sew
the thin thread of humanity.
Remember Jesus in the Garden
- beside himself.

What does a priest do?
Mostly stays awake at Deanery synods
tries not to annoy the Bishop too much
visits hospices, administers comfort
conducts weddings, christenings,
not necessarily in that order,
takes funerals
consecrates the elderly to the grave
buries children, and babies
feels completely helpless beside
the swaying family of a suicide,
sometimes is murdered at night, alone.

What does a priest do?
Tries to colour in God
uses words to explain miracles
which is like teaching a centipede to sing
but even more difficult.

What does a priest do?
Answers the phone
when sometimes they’d rather not,
occasionally errs and strays into tabloid titillation
prays for Her Majesty’s Government

What does a priest do?
Tends the flock through time, oil and incense
would secretly like each PCC
to commence with a mud pie making contest
sometimes falls asleep when praying
yearns like us for heart rushing deliverance

What does a priest do?
Has rows with their family
wants to inhale Heaven
stares at bluebells
attempts to convey the mad love of God
would like to ice skate with crocodiles,
and hear the roses when they pray

How should a priest live?
How should we live?
As priests, transformed by the Priest
that death prised open
so that he could be our priest
martyred, diaphanous and matchless priest
What should a priest be?
What should a priest do?
How should a priest live?

Angels Grieving over the Dead Christ - Gjertrud Schnackenberg

From those few famous silkworms smuggled
Into Constantinople in the head of a walking stick
Silk waterfalls
Poured from the ancient bolts

Into now-destitute reservoirs
Of church treasuries in Aachen,
In Liège, in Maastricht, in Sens,
In the Sancta Sanctorum of the Vatican,

Bright rivers seeping past
The age when a teaspoonful of
Silkworm eggs the size of one grain
Could endow a church,

The age when the letters in the words
Of sacred testaments were
Unreeled in the coastal cities of Asia Minor,
When a bookworm conspired

To wrest a maze of empty roads
Through the words My Lord—
That ancient, flickering text
Once permanently affixed

By blind but face-picturing, speechless
But law-breaking wooden shuttles,
Now a heap of gold wires displayed
With a crumbling silk vestment someone

Plucked from a shovelful of dust
During one of those treasure hunts conducted
In the burying grounds, in other eras,
A shovelful of dust

Now blowing into your eyes,
As if a storm wind from Paradise
Blew the rumors of this death
So hard you must cover your eyes

Before the museum case.
The late afternoon tugs
At a gold thread you can hear fraying
When you close your eyes,

A thread you feel your way along,
A thread at which the invisible globe pulls,
Leading you to the end of the world
Where there is a pile of

Clothes stolen from the grave,
Where your fear is relegated
To a masterwork of silk slaves—
That He is dead.

Here death is only a flash of worlds
Unfurled from a rifled
Church treasury, and you are invited
To walk this alluvial wave of gold,

To walk in the labyrinths
Of the angels’ howls,
To run your hands along the walls
Of the silk thread’s passageways,

To feel with your fingers
The angels’ barbaric, stifled,
Glittering vowels
Tightly woven with gold wires.

If you were to tug at one,
Unraveling the angels
Into a vivid labyrinth of thread
From the fourteenth century

Backwards to the scissors blade
A seraph takes to a fragile
Filament of gilt
According to a law still unrevealed,

The shroud would disappear
In the gust of a little breeze
From this door left ajar
Into the next life,

The threshold we cross with closed eyes—
Where angels hide behind their backs
The saws with which they mean
To saw the present from the past,

Oblivious to the scarlet threads
That prove to be hidden among
The filaments, those red rivers
Running through the theme of time

So shockingly—so before you set foot there,
Take heed. This is the work
Of Byzantine silk slaves confined
To the palace grounds at Constantinople,

And you must beware.
There was a way station
On the Silk Road
Where the authorities executed

Traitors in a wooden box
In innumerable, unspeakable ways.
When you touch this shroud from the east
You take that hundred feet of road.

You must walk softly past.
You must try not to look.
The torrent of words—later, later.
Here tongues are cut out,

And that is why the howling
Is mute,
Gilded, herringboned.
Because although this is death,

It is the work of slaves
Whose task was only
To expose the maximum amount of gold thread
To the ceiling price of so many nomismata

Per square inch, in a swift mischief
Of curious knots, of mazes
Flashing past, of straight paths
Made inextricable,

So look again.
The angels wring their hands
Over a statue. They are deranged,
But not by grief. They mourn

Not a body, but a work in bronze.
They do not bring a mortal to the grave.
But we onlookers who grieve and grieve—
We cannot relegate this thought

To a glory woven cryptically
In heavy silks;
We cannot consign it, sweep it off,
For we cannot weigh

In our palms the empty cocoons,
We cannot study
Within the secret workshops
Of the silkworm,

We cannot touch the boiling
Water where the spools whirl,
We cannot learn firsthand
The bleakness of the craft

With which God made the world,
We cannot recount the legend that,
When they met face-to-face, both
God and the worm laughed.

NOTES: The title is from a description of the Thessalonikian epitaphios in Byzantium, by Paul Hetherington and Werner Forman (London: Orbis, 1983). Hetherington proposes that the epitaphios, an Orthodox liturgical length of cloth, was worn, perhaps, over the heads of priests as they approached the altar to celebrate the Eucharist. The epitaphios of Thessaloniki was discovered in 1900.

both/God and the worm laughed: I have not been able to locate the source of this legend.

Gjertrud Schnackenberg, “Angels Grieving Over the Dead Christ” from “Crux of Radiance” from Supernatural Love: Poems


Anonymous Victor said...

(((When they met face-to-face, both
God and the worm laughed.)))

Maybe the worm laughed because "IT" was his/her way of telling U<S (usual sinners) that there is no limit to GOD (Good Old Dad) LOVE? :)

2:58 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor :)

6:59 PM  

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