Friday, May 29, 2009

Fairfield, Connecticut 5.6.92: Urban Decay and Mythic Village Greens

In Fairfield, Connecticut. Drove here yesterday from Boston. Today beastly—coldish, and rain all day, and I with beginnings of a sore throat, itching in my left ear (which stays more or less stopped up), sneezing, congestion.

The last day in Boston we spent with Chuck, going to lunch in Chinatown, then desultory and unsuccessful shopping for a night shirt at Filene’s and Marshall Field’s, then to Harvard Square. It was a nice day, and a nice evening. Chuck took us to a restaurant in Boston’s South End, where I had a really wonderful grilled halibut, baby eggplant, and sundried tomatoes.

Chuck, who’s a marvelous mimic, told a very amusing story of his days as a gigolo. When he was at BC, he went to see John M. to discuss his homosexuality. John M. introduced Chuck to Tim, a marathon swimmer.

Tim lived in a building in which the daughter of Mrs. S. lived. One evening, Daughter came into Tim’s apartment as Chuck and Tim were rolling on the floor. Rather, they had time to compose themselves, barely.

Tim was taking Mrs. S., an elderly, mostly blind, millionaire from Minnesota married to Mr. S., a wealthy Cuban, to dinner at the Ritz Carlton once a week. For this he was paid $50.00 and the meal.

Daughter liked Chuck—“a nice young man”—and asked if he could replace Tim in this duty, since Tim was moving. So, at least weekly, Chuck would pick Mrs. S. up at a home smelling of urine and dominated by gibbering elderly people in wheelchairs. She would be in sunglasses (at night) and a wheelchair herself. From week to week, she forgot who Chuck was, but had a wily way of ignoring questions that would betray her lapses of memory, till she had heard information to clue her in.

Chuck would then escort her to the Ritz. When he arrived, “Yes, Mrs. S., of course, Mrs. S.” doormen would meet the little Honda among the Rolls Royces, and she would be shown to her accustomed place, where she would be brought french fries, asparagus, and several bottles of wine. The food she would overlook; not the wine. Chuck would coax her to eat, to which she would respond, “Oh, have they brought my asparagus?”

What conversation there was would be punctuated by her signature laugh, “Ah ha!” with a rising inflection on the second syllable, or by an “Oh, really?” with the second syllable strongly, emphatically stressed.

On the way home, Chuck would note Fenway Park as they passed, and would engage Mrs. S. in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Park,” deleting words to get her to join in in a wine-stuporous croak. On one return drive, she commented on the ugly large teeth of the first lady. This was fifty years after FDR’s presidency.

One evening, Mrs. S. became angry at all the loud chatter around her and began to shout, “Shut up!” as she insisted it had never been this way in the past. An accomplice, Mrs. B., who came up to the table each evening, vowed to bring a whistle and blow it if the talk continued to be clamorous. And did so a few evenings later. At which Mrs. S. lifted her glass of wine and cried out, “That a girl!”

I wish I could tell the story with half the inflections and wittiness of Chuck.

Fairfield: not much. The old part of town is pretty, and the beach, but food uniformly abominable, and a sense of cultural tightness and dog-eat-dog money interests everywhere. We drove to an arts and crafts festival on the town green in Milford, nearby, but the rain had more or less closed the event. Then we returned on the old post road via Stratford and Bridgeport, where the urban decay and poverty were quite frightening, a stark antithesis to the mythic village greens with their pretty, stately New England houses.

Then in Fairfield, we went to the town historical society’s museum, which was unprepossessing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Boston 2.6.92: Decaying Mansions and the Puritan Conscience

At Chuck F.’s now, in Boston, on a very posh street full of forlorn old mansions, but many of them still lived in by wealthy families. Something New England about it all: big late-nineteenth century mansions surrounded by hedges of lilac and yew extending to the sidewalk, which is brick, and none well-tended. The yards full of such oddities as a car with tiny plastic statues pasted in designs all over it: the ostentation of culture, of the preeminence of thought and conscience over such vain fripperies as mere beauty and decorum. The Puritan conscience, vivante encore.

Chuck lives in an old mansion now badly hacked up into apartments, but betraying its glorious origins, a dark cavernous butler’s pantry now a kitchen here, an inbuilt marble pastry board there, carved mantles everywhere.

What all this makes me think of is not the abuse of our buildings, but of our people—the rabbiting of students into warrens of human making, so that (in the case of Chuck’s house) a psychiatrist couple can have a loft apartment in Manhattan, while umpteen students occupy the rooms of their much-neglected mansion in Boston, paying big bucks to do so, racking up debts, and working at exploitative service-sector jobs to make ends meet.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Montréal, Québec, Canada 31.5.92: Churches and Walks in the Rain

A gray and drizzly Montréal day. We got up early and went to La Prairie to church, a church typically Québecoise. Then Stephen S. and Hillary C. came over for lunch, and after that, Steve and I walked up Côte St. Luc past the Oratory to Côte des Neiges, down Côte des Neiges a ways, back to Côte St. Luc and up to the Oratory, and then home. Two young men, both in their 20s apparently, accosted us separately to beg.

Got soaked coming back, as it began to rain again. Now waiting for supper, which Gregory is cooking—sweet-sour pork chops and red cabbage.

Tired. Did not sleep well last night, my stomach doing its old song and dance. Great emotional turmoil.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Montréal, Québec, Canada 30.5.92: Tons of Nuns and Old Farmhouses

Still in Montréal. A morning of sightseeing, in which we saw the old city and the McCord Museum of Canadian History (not impressive), and had lunch at an outdoor restaurant—viandes fumées (a chicken sandwich). Gregory and Shirley B., with whom we’re staying, very kind.

Just before we drove back to their apartment (where we are now) for a rest, we went over the Victoria Bridge to a working-class area of the city and a 17th-century farmhouse (1698) that had, I think the sign said, come to Marguerite Bourgeoys from Maisonneuve. But as 150 nuns were imminently expected, we didn’t stay to tour.

Emotionally, I’m a wreck—or dead inside would say it more accurately. . . . This feels like such a dreadful time for me, my heart swaddled in gray cotton wool. I feel I’ve lost all friends and family with what Belmont Abbey is doing to me—something brought home to me as I think of sending postcards—and have no real feeling about that loss, about touring, or about anything much, except a wish for it (or me) just to vanish.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Montréal, Québec, Canada 29.5.92: Giant Hot Dogs and Outmoded Ambulances for Sale

Left Boston at before noon, entered Québec about 4:30 after driving through New Hampshire and Vermont.

We’re now some 15 or 20 miles out of Montréal, and all is still that mix of little villages—all St. Périphérie de Chicamungee—and flat farmland with not much yet growing. The exuberance—and tawdriness—of it all. Just passed a giant statue of a man in a red shirt, COKE on his back, holding an enormous red phallic hot dog. Just down the road an ambulance from the 1950s seemingly, red light and all, by the side of the road, an à vendre sign in its front window.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Boston 28.5.92: Apples and War, Peace and Sex

Impressionist room, Boston Museum of Fine Arts: great art is not clever, but almost subliminal in its power, because it deals in commonplace themes. Gaugin’s Tahitian paintings: apples, war, peace, sex. To have the courage to keep working at the simple, make it yield more and more meaning, like Hopkins’ pressed oil—that’s the gift of the great artist. Which is the ability to believe that what one sees, what has happened to one, is worth saying. And all this with the Nietzchean seriousness of a child at play. Surely when Monet painted the façade of the Rouen cathedral twice in different lights, he did so because it was play for him to do so.

Janet Fish, “Spring Party”: a poster I liked at BMFA.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Purdue, Indiana 4.4.92: Big Men and Illusions of Control

At the Purdue Conference. . . . The response to my paper was muted, cautious, hostile. What strikes me is how different was the reception of the AAR Religion and Literature group to a trial version of the same paper. At the phrase “wall-to-wall discourse,” the latter group laughed. Yesterday, icy, uncomprehending silence. As I read the paper, a row of glowering big men sat at the head of the audience, snickering to each other when something struck them as worth laughing at, but otherwise maintaining a united front of hostile refusal to hear and engage my points—only to combat them, and to show me that I did not belong.

This is, of course, partly due to sociological factors. There are more women in literature than in theology. Theology and religious studies are still the domain of privileged, older, sober men. This incident itself in some ways demonstrates the validity of the very sociology of knowledge critique that the men in theology combat. . . . .

I see more and more the male cast of the fear of “undisciplined” discourse. It has everything to do with hierarchy and male bonding. Men are pack animals, always sniffing to see how they’re doing in the order of the pack. Male life is—and thus much social life is—bounded by hidden rubrics that privilege the pack and its leader, who is invariably the biggest, loudest, most aggressive male. . . .

A masculine, control-oriented theology must make each person declare his stance, mentor, school. Ostensibly, this is to offset subjectivity, to discipline, to assure that all players operate under rubrics that control the conversation and keep it fair and objective. Actually, it is about gaining control—when I know where you come from, I can pull out my stock arguments/weapons for those of your school and combat you.

The response to Janet Fishburn’s paper was vehement. The old boys simply refuse to permit any uncontrolled (by them) discussion of homosexuality, because this discussion touches too abrasively on the central male power symbols, has too much potential to expose them as cultural constructs and not the little gods of objectivity they imagine themselves to be.

Art: in its male control game, theology excludes art, relegates it to the feminine side of the ledger. One may cite a verse of poetry here and there as ornament or decoration, but the artistic must never be granted theoretical power, because it channels the dark, numinous, messy, uncontrollable. Much of the contemporary battle is vs. letting esthetic criteria enter theology. By declaring that art is frill and foppery, by feminizing it, male theology keeps its disruptive potential at a distance.

Ultimately, the cultural universe in which male theologians intent on dominating live rules out the religious itself, since religion is born of the same impulse that gives rise to art.

And, of course, it didn’t escape the attention of several of us giving papers that the conference was set up deliberately to assure that we ran the gauntlet of male control. The papers selected for presentation were, on the whole, leaning to the left end of the political and religious spectrum.

After we had read our papers, a respondent—always from the hard right—took them apart, and we were given no chance to respond. And all this was to the clear delight of the big men who dominated the audience, and sat sneering through each paper, and guffawing with delight at the response.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Boston 27.5.1992: Pisarro Corrected and Dark Passages

In Boston (Watertown, actually) staying with Ellen F. We arrived yesterday afternoon, had dinner at a restaurant called La Piccola Venezia (not memorable) in the North End, and then came back to her townhouse to drink a glass of wine and chat.

+ + + + +

Now sitting in a coffee shop on Mass. Ave. We both had to use the bathroom so badly, and couldn’t find one. Fearing we’d not be allowed unless we bought coffee, we’re now having some.

Spent the morning in desultory shopping at Harvard Square, going to Wordsworth Books, where I found inter alia a John Berger book, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, that looks wonderful. Then went to the Fogg Museum, which now houses the Busch-Reisinger, which is what I really wanted to see.

I wasn’t bowled over by much—all was very helter-skelter. I noticed that the little wall sign for one Pisarro painting, which had said, “Danish, worked in France,” had all but “France” scratched out, and no one seemed to want to fix it. Boston the high, Boston the mighty, goes the way of all flesh?

Then a walk down (up?) Broadway to Portland to a Japanese noodle house for lunch. As we got up Broadway, I began to see more and more black faces. Then I saw a barbershop called Le Bon Samaritain, and realized we were in a Haitian restaurant.

Lunch good—soba and fishcake with fried soybean curd and snowpeas. I hotted mine up considerably. But how loud people are in the Northeast. A woman next to me in a sometimes Buffalo, sometimes New York accent, talking (towkink) about how all families are dysfunctional. And here a ponytailed man loudly making a business deal and spouting psychobabble.

I’m no prize, I reckon: ever the grouch.

Bought two nice Käthe Kollwitz prints, matted, at Harvard Coop—a mother and child, and two men embracing. Is nice a word one can apply to Käthe Kollwitz?

And through it all, such a sense of finality, of loss, of keen sharp pangs that I’m in a dark passage and won’t return—at least unscathed, unchanged. A month ago, 28th April, someone stuffed all the faculty mailboxes at Belmont Abbey with right-wing tripe, a magazine that I suspect may even be paid for by government money—an in-your-face warning that this school belongs and will continue to belong to the hard right. I continue to feel totally unwelcome there.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Glendale Springs, North Carolina, Blue Ridge Parkway 8.8.92: Mist and Green

It’s a mist-shrouded day. Literally so—we’re at H.’s cabin near Glendale Springs off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and all drippy, almost cold, so green the green hurts, with wreaths of mist over all, wisps, whirls. I came in from a walk today to find each hair extruding from the combed mass of the whole beaded by tiny beads of water—the gray ones as though frosted.

And we sad and discontent with each other's company.

Monday, May 18, 2009

New Orleans 12.7.92: New Saints and Mottled Buddhas

In some journal entry some time back, I recall writing that “things happen” to me. I don’t solicit them; they’re as gnomic as scribbles of cloud across a high blue sky. But happen they do.

To wit: several days ago, we were at River Road flea market, and I saw a china Buddha that I wanted. I wanted it with an urge of the bowels that made it painful not to buy it when I saw it cost $60. And it’s one of the few things I’ve wanted for a long time.

Why, I don’t know. I haven’t been thinking about Buddha much at all. In fact, as I think about it, I know next to nothing about Buddha. But it was as if the laughing china figurine simply called out to me.

I mentioned this to Steve, and he was occupied thinking re: something else and didn’t hear. Then I thought I’d simply not say anything again and wait. If I were meant to have a Buddha, then a Buddha would come to me.

Yesterday, after Steve finished his teaching, we went out to shop. As we drove towards the French Quarter, I said, “I really want something, but won’t say what.” Steve begged me to tell, and I finally said a Buddha. I said, “I think this is to be the Buddha phase of my life.” Steve said, “Well, we’ll ask Bruce to find one for you.” (In Bruce’s funeral Mass, Fr. Henry had encouraged his family and friends to pray to him as a new saint.) I said, joking—because I have shelved Bruce as a saint for my aches and pains—“What would Bruce have to do with a Buddha?” Steve replied, “You might be surprised.”

We then drove to the French Market flea market, and Steve stopped the car for me to run to a stall I thought would be there, to see if it had pralines to bring back to Tom G. in North Carolina. I did so, and en route saw a table of gewgaws that looked interesting. Well, I felt flatly nudged to go by it. There on the table was a small gold Buddha which I bought for $3. It’s blotched and seems to have been coated with several coats of different-colored paints, which have worn through here and there so that the figurine has a mottled appearance. It’s lovely. Last night, we had supper at Al A.’s, and his wife (who’s Filipina and collects Buddhas) told me it’s a good-luck Buddha. One rubs his stomach for luck.

A Bruce Buddha: the Bruce Buddha.

Friday, May 15, 2009

New Orleans 7.7.92: Friends' Deaths and Life Callings

Bruce Bascle died last night at 11 P.M. Steve and I had gone to see him yesterday afternoon and I felt he would die that day: he could barely look at us, keep his eyes open. He weighed about 60 pounds and was jaundiced.

At 9 P.M., I asked Steve to call Lazarus House and see how Bruce was. He got Barry, who said he felt Bruce would die that night, and that he would call us. At 11:15, Barry called to say Bruce had died.

I find it hard to write now. I’m so tired and slept so little last night. But I had an experience on hearing of Bruce’s death similar to that I felt (funny how that word recurs: I’m feeling again!) when Simpson died. It was an experience of the floor dropping away, and I still stood, as on those centrifugal-force carnival rides. I stood—I saw that there is no floor, yet we stand.

It’s the paschal mystery. That’s all I ever know much about. To meet Bruce 20 years ago; to have our lives intertwined; to be here when he died, as I think he wanted. It’s the paschal mystery, and I haven’t a clue what it means. It’s just in my life: it is my life; it is in and it is every life.

At a level deeper than I can name, Bruce’s death is all about my own calling and ministry and struggle. Steve and I talked about this last night. These weeks in New Orleans have been incredibly rich, grace-filled ones. I can say that even in the face of a friend’s death. C.J. McNaspy has been unutterably kind, renewing my faith in the Jesuit charism. Bernard L. has, as well. We’ve been wined and dined and fêted, all very quietly, but with great support.

And I don’t know what it means, except that somehow my life belongs . . . not to me, but to a mystery greater than myself, in which I walk, and in which I am connected to, belong to, others. I don’t know how, or how much, but I know that in my theologizing, I do belong to Bruce, Simpson, many pain-filled Others.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Orleans 4.7.92: Purple Martins and Balmy Sunsets

Last night, C.J. McNaspy wanted to go and see the purple martins roost at sunset under the causeway. I knew nothing of this, but apparently from Jan.-June and July, hundreds of thousands of purple martins settle at the west end of the causeway, in their journey from Canada to Latin America.

We got there before 7, because C.J. was under the mistaken impression that sunset was at 7, whereas 8 was more like it. Just as sun began to set, out of nowhere, seemingly, birds began to congregate. At first they were high, assiduous in their search for mosquitoes and other flying insects, something like the chorus beginning the play. They tended to gather, fly in swoops around each other, and move to this side or that of the causeway.

But gradually they gathered in such numbers that the sky was full of them, and began to circle, spin, lower, lower, till they were right above us. Then they entered their nests, and true night began to fall, as a sliver of moon rose higher and higher in the sky.

Aububon apparently remarked on this show as early as 1801, but it seems New Orleanians have not paid attention to it till recently. Maybe the birds haven’t appeared in such numbers for a time. A man named Carlyle Rogillo has “discovered” the birds and has made their preservation his grand cause, so that now a sign tells all about their lives—and migration cycles—and the city has put benches out for people to watch. There were some 30 out last night.

I wish I had felt more as I watched, other than fatigue and the damp heat. As with everything lately, nothing holds or satisfies.

But one interesting breakthrough in family research: I went to the city library yesterday and leafed through obituaries published in the Homer, Louisiana, daily paper, only to discover one for my great-great grandmother Mary Ann Harrison Lindsey. A Benjamin D. Harrison who is, I have always felt certain, her brother, founded the paper and it was he who published the obituary in it—though Mary Ann and her husband Mark J. Lindsey lived several parishes south in Natchitoches Psh. I know so little about this mysterious ancestor who died rather young (a fever, the obituary says), that it’s delightful to find some trace of her life now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New Orleans 2.7.92: Outré Characters and Church Chat

A hot New Orleans afternoon. Have been here since Sunday the 28th June to teach two weeks.

A sense of the place: heat so palpable that it reaches for one’s limbs, to lap them with a soft wet tongue, one that doesn’t stimulate, but enfolds. Senescence, decadence, sheer lunacy: flaking paint on white-columned mansions surrounded by detritus, needles, other drug paraphernalia, used condoms. People as characters: a café au lait black man in a suburban supermarket, in a lime-green polyester body suit, with a flowered apron over it, from shoulders to knees. Thin, very odorous with stale perspiration, but lithe and proud and self-aware. His hair is pulled into a top-knot tied with a black ribbon. One wouldn’t know he was a man, maybe, except for his neatly trimmed little Hitler mustachio.

Fat people everywhere, on bicycles that allow rolls and sheets of fat to flow down over the bicycle seat, stuffed into bright synthetic pantsuits, eating furiously, devotedly, waving their crab claws, talking at the tops of their voices, dragging on cigarettes between bites.

Only in New Orleans. Today we stopped a while at Catholic Bookstore and talked to Mignon W. She grabs one by the arm and pulls one close, talking a mile a minute as her eyes dance. “Can you believe that? Can you believe it? A book to give retreats?”—this in response to a priest, Carl D., who wanted a guide for a retreat he’s to give. He’s the seminary formation director. All this she’s saying as he stands a foot away, then on to another nearby priest who’s buying rosaries. “He celebrates weddings, and look what he gives!”—sick-call crucifixes, rosaries, bibles.

But the worst is reserved for Harold C., who comes in to buy one or two pre-selected books, and practices custody of the eyes meanwhile, won’t look at any other sections of the store. “Dear, he calls me dear, can you believe it?” And Sister Veronica M., who is escorted in a limousine to the door, hops out to grab one or two pre-selected items, and runs to the counter ahead of all others in line: “Can you ring these up? I have to run to give a talk. God bless you.” Mignon says she thinks to herself, “And are all the people in line dead?”

We go outside, and talk under the red awning, and Reso’s funeral procession passes by, as Mignon makes emphatic, precise ejaculations, “Oh, my God, can you believe it? My dear Jesus, oh, it’s so sad.” Then a large young gay priest in a blue and green horizontally striped boatneck shirt, something H., comes in and talks to Steve in a saccharine Cajun accent.

New Orleans. New Orleans. Last night dinner at Bernard L.’s on Carrollton, with a brother in the house who’s acting director of religious ed for the diocese. Schulte appoints anyone only to acting positions until they’ve proven their absolute fidelity. Lots and lots of that ecclesiastical gossip New Orleans generates, rife with corruption, the phosphorescent stench of decay. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially as we were a warm circle of outsiders, shuddering with frissons of horror at the deliciously outré culture we inhabit—from San Antonio, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Little Rock, northern Minnesota.

Tonight we drive across the lake for dinner with Dean R. at a Chinese restaurant there. Tomorrow lunch with C.J. McNaspy, dessert in the evening with Karen C., Saturday lunch with Chan N., supper with Diane. Mother comes Sunday, and another week of class, with a visit by Aunt Helen and Uncle Lee on Monday and Tuesday, and dinner with Stanley K., Al A., Peggy and Errol L., and who knows who else.

This is all pretty silly, isn’t it? My usual travelogue. But why do I feel introspection is real life?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ozarks 15.6.03: Whippoorwill Calls and Rock-Walking

Here I am, beside a swift stream in the Ozarks, turgid from yesterday’s rain. A spider, gold and fat, plays games in a web at my feet. Overhead a green canopy stirred by the breeze that’s clearing the rain, a cool northerly one rather than the sultry Southern one replete with Gulf moisture from yesterday.

Green: for some, the world begins with water or wind (And the Spirit/ruah of God moved upon the face of the waters). But for me, it begins (and ends) in green, the green of all the wildness I’ve ever known.

The whippoorwill that has sounded above the cabin on the east our last two visits called loud and clear last night about 8 and again at dawn. It brought back a memory. I’m 3. It’s Mississippi. Across the railroad track from our house are cotton fields. At the verge of the woods surrounding them a whippoorwill calls at dusk.

Daddy stops and tells us to listen. He explains that the bird is calling, “Whip poor Will!” a song I take rather personally, since I’m a Will once removed.

Only someone like God has mercy enough to figure out how all the disparate strands of our lives—anyone’s life—fit together into one tapestry. I can’t with my own life. Why have I had so little mercy on my father in my memories of him?

+ + + + +

There’s an art to walking barefoot on stones, a practice Steve doesn’t appreciate or approve. I’ve just walked down to the creek barefoot and down the rock basin.

To get there, you walk across a carpet of bright green moss more luxuriously thick than any man-made fabric. The toes sink with delight into it.

Then you rock-walk, one by one, choosing the largest (and, you hope, the most stable) you can find. This is tricky. The lichen can slip and send you for a tumble.

Once on the solid rock bed of the creek, cold water lapping your ankles, you walk a bit like an ice skater, unconsciously pushing your body’s center of graving as low as possible, for fear of a fall. The solid sandstone streambed is so smooth and continuous in spots, it is very much like skating along, with the lichenous or algae growth covering it—I suspect the latter, though it’s brown.

I wonder if my joy at barefoot rock-walking is a throwback to ancestral pilgrimages to Celtic holy mountains such as Patrick’s purgatory . . . .

Rumi (Maryam Mafi’s translation): “That’s why when the dervish withdraws/from the world he covers all the cracks in the wall,/so the outside light cannot come through./He knows only that the inner light illuminates his world.”
+ + + + +

Lace-cap hydrangeas, white, in bloom all beside the stream now, with black-eyed Susan and a lilac-colored bergamot, huge clumps of it among Queen Anne’s lace as we drove in. I also picked a beautiful wild petunia, purple, cup-shaped.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Santa Fe 3.6.03: Postmodern Santos and Sneaky Coyotes

Kate’s graduation day. I’ve written nothing for a few days because I feel emotionally turbulent. Being in the car with six other people driving to Santa Fe and with five back (Luke flew on Sunday to New Orleans); the two younger boys complaining and sassing as we drove back; simply making conversation and interacting with all these strong and needful personalities: each human contact is like an electric charge that takes power from me.

Santa Fe itself was that way—electric charge and discharge. Not the touristy, kitschy Santa Fe of guidebooks and that oxymoron, art businesses. But the Santa Fe of artists and seekers and that high, arid, dolorous Spanish Catholicism underneath it all: it pulls . . . .

At the flea market on Saturday, a Corsican artist, flaming short red hair, kept looking at me intensely, uncomfortably. I wandered into her booth, not knowing it was hers. Her male partner began to show me her sneaky coyote series. What interested me instead were her icons, which take the santos tradition and ring changes on it that both cheek it and keep it alive in a new and reverent form.

As I looked, she came up and began talking. We talked about the icons and she seemed dumbfounded I got them—observed to her partner that no one else seemed to do so. Maybe she tells all the boys this to make them buy, but . . . .

What was interesting was, she seemed to home right in on people’s true nature. She looked at Patrick and said, “This one is full of fire and passion. He needs to be a soldier to use all that energy.” And Colin: “This one is sharp. He see both sides. He’s a diplomat. Send that one to the army and this one to be a diplomat who will stop the war.”

Friday, May 8, 2009

El Paso 28.5.03: Red Wheelbarrows and Sophia

Joseph Wechsberg (Prague: The Mystical City [NY: Macmillan, 1971]) speaks of “the earthless, weeping dream light of the early day”—a line he implies is from a poem of Franz Werfel’s (p. 199). The line moved me almost to tears when I read it.

I think of it again as day gives way to night, we sitting in the Dallas airport waiting for our flight to El Paso. That vast Texas sky that doesn’t so much change color in the interstitial moments as fade, imperceptibly but decisively from light to dark, blue to black.

The dying sun peers like a surprise through windows of the terminal across the way. A mystical moment—one that happens morning and night, every day, and we so seldom ponder it. . . .

To meet Sophia places a demand on one’s life. It’s a sign one’s “ready,” has made it up the undulating stairway (a version of which we saw—a moving sculpture—on the SMU campus when Jeff graduated).

But such an end is a beginning (or such a beginning is an end). It hit me as I walked, stark Western sunlight striping a bright red trashcan like William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow: I have stories to tell. Now may be the time to begin telling them. That would necessitate a life change.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ozarks 25.5.03: Goldfinches and Capering Goats

Woods full of birds as I sit on a rock watching the waterfall empty over the lip into the . . . can one say “mere”? Katesmere? The pool is the main feature of this place, where one gazes to find oneself, but which is never still.

Memorial Day. Jeff S. graduated Saturday amidst pomp, circumstance, more boredom.

Were it not for the noise of the water, the woods would be full of birdsong. Only birds I can see, atop a dead tree and in the sunlight, very vivacious, appear to be goldfinches.

+ + + + +

Dark, bitter, rich coffee: I inhale its aroma, sip its complex nectar, here by the stream, tasting it as I never do in the everyday. Thinking how this one cup connects me to an entire world: the Middle East and north Africa, where it’s said goatherds discovered its potency when they saw their goats eat the berries and caper (charming myth); the European epicenter of old coffee-drinking rituals—the Austro-Hungarian empire; Latin America, where our coffee’s grown at such cost to so many, so I can sip this luxury in the Ozarks.

+ + + + +

Flowers today: Coreopsis lanceolata, Rudbeckia hirta, Potentilla simplex (or is it Oenothera biennis?), Erigeron prunus, Baptisia leucophaea (moving to the end of its bloom), and two I can’t identify—Sphenoclea zeylandica and some kind of penstemon?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dallas 23.5.03: Spirituals and Noonday Devils

It’s been said before often enough, but a recognition of middle age: you can’t be everything. I’ll never be handsome, never be famous (though infamous?). And I’m not holy.

Listening to Chanticleer sing “Lord, I Want to Be a Christian” as we drive to Dallas. That line, “Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart,” seems like a foreign language. What does it mean to be holy? More loving, more like Jesus: those resonate readily. But holiness has never been my thing. I don’t even know what it means.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ozarks 11.5.03: Young Eagles and Wild Roses

Just back from a long (3 hours) walk in the country at our cabin. Few wildflowers still in bloom—a bit of penstemon, potato or false dandelion, and the phlox that just won’t quit.

But the big find: up right as we reached the chimney rocks, a crop of wild roses, faint pink, single, and very fragrant. White rose on Mother’s Day if your mother has died, red if she’s alive. These are more white than red.

And, curiously, when we got back and I opened my computer case, there was my mother’s obituary, laminated, with the prayer of St. Francis on it. Don’t know where it comes from or how it happens to be there. May she rest in God’s merciful arms.

But strangest of all, as we got to the chimney rocks, we overheard three eagles, young but nearing full growth, riding the drifts of wind on this beautiful late-spring day as if it were a game. They were so golden, with their wings spread, and magnificent enough to strike just a bit of terror into me. I wonder if they’re the same three we saw on our first visit here, younger then?

This is a place for the spirit to soar, given to us by Kat and perhaps by my mother. Kat’s Three Eagles?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Little Rock, Arkansas 10.5.03: Dog Prayers and Scarlet Pomegranate Bloom

Breezy today, warm, humid bursts of air out of the south, sending scudding dark clouds overhead. Through them now and again I can see patches of blue, illuminated white cumulus clouds. There’s a rotation pattern to the winds, occasional puffs from west and north, that portends bad weather in this spring that won’t stop bringing storm upon storm to us.

The moist hot air is redolent of hedge, honeysuckle, and the late-blooming moss rose. In the far corner of the garden, yellow Louisiana iris blooms against scarlet pomegranate. The white yarrow is now in bloom beside the pink primrose (Oenothera).

Brassie has joined me to meditate, and is perched silent—uncommon for her—on the steps, peering at the garden through the iron railings. How does a dog pray? Just by being and watching, I reckon.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ozarks 4.5.03: Riots of Wildflowers and Embattled Heart

Flowers that have come to bloom this week at the cabin—fire pink, phlox, wild geranium, crested iris, wood betony, horsemint (Monarda russelliana), and foxglove beard-tongue (Penstemon digitalis). Along the roadside, I saw a beautiful grancy graybeard/fringe tree (Chionanthus virg.) and red buckeye that seems past its prime. And oh yes, tradescantia. Didn’t see it up close, but seems to be Ohiensis. We’ll have to walk and see.

It’s good to be here, a misty cool green day. We’ve just arrived. Steve’s made coffee, all windows and the glass door open, the waterfall emptying euphoniously over its lip of rock crowned in wildflowers. My soul rests, even if this is a day trip. A respite from the illness that won’t seem to leave us—my persisting sore throat, which Steve also now has, the persistent ear infection, the cough. It’s a hard time, one of feeling embattled on all sides. . . .

This morning, an encouraging email from someone with inside information about the diocese of Charlotte. And one from a former Belmont Abbey monk, with truly horrifying information re: Abbot O.’s rageaholic tendencies, corroborating much I had forgotten, adding to it: C.’s constant presence in the dorms, his bad-boy behavior always excused by the monks, the firing of A.W. because of her lesbianism.

To tell the reporter or not? At this point, what’s to lose?