Thursday, November 16, 2017

tears in our voices

Without a tremble,
Conchita stands up before the judges,
absolutely silent.

Waiting—
for what?
For another seven years of education?
For a better grasp of English?
For the confidence that comes with privilege?

She's waiting
until they look at her.
until they see her.
Until they stop their busy scribbling,
until the the cowboy judge—
"the SOB," who tells the
counties that are straight out of
Hell or High Water:
"why don't you raise the money yourselves?"—

She waits until he stops writing.
Until he looks up embarrassed,
school-boy-sheepish-shame-faced,
Until the entire auditorium is silent,
listening—
to her.

Conchita is calm.
She says:
I have a speech.
She folds it up and slides it underneath the podium.
They know who she is.
Who her community is.
Who they've been ignoring.

They don't need a speech to explain.

Conchita: Our water is dirty,
because our tax money has been sucked dry,
and it's funding projects in other places,
but we need it back.
We need it bad.
We need it just as much as other counties.
Because democracy means that we pay our taxes,
so we have a voice.
Democracy means that happens here,
not just in Houston.
Democracy is important for
Fort Bend County, too.
A pause.
I'm not going home to my
children yet again
and telling them that Democracy and the
United States of America
are God's greatest inventions—
but not for the people of Fort Bend County.
God's greatest inventions can't get us water
that won't make our children sick.
We're not asking for a handout.
We're asking for our tax dollars to be used
in our neighborhood.
Because we're citizens, too.

There are no questions.
How can one question a display of this conviction?

The auditorium parts like the red sea,
the team triumphantly calls home, on a payphone.
Conchita did great. We got the money.

Now, they feast. On rich 'n' hot Tex-Mex,
flavors so thick they fill your mouth for hours.

They drive back home.
It's a long drive back to Fort Bend County.
When they arrive,
their neighborhood is pretty dark.
Cuz there aren't many street lights.

Conchita's street is unpaved and unlit.

As the car turns the corner,
it can't move down the street.
Cuz the street is full of people.
Full of neighbors
Full of mothers who need clean water
Full of citizens of Democracy and United States of America.
The entire neighborhood is out
to greet them when they came home.
And hear Conchita give another speech.
This time, en Español.

She doesn't have to wait this time.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

our joyful duty

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

All throughout Dante's Commedia, even in the Inferno, the fire which fuels this poet is praise. Dante writes to praise the love which harrowed even the deepest depths of hell, to praise the virtuous woman who led Virgil to guide Dante, and to praise for the love which burns with purifying fire in on the mountain of Purgatory. Finally, in the glorious flames of light that is the Paradiso, praise becomes the impetus, material, and form of the poem.

I think, perhaps this is one of the reason Dante's words have such staying power. And, along with Dante, I believe there can be no worthier task for words than to offer them in praise of what we see in creation and the God who is creator. No higher achievement than to offer them in praise to the God whose beauty lies above all our language to express it, and the people who we meet who exemplify that beauty.

Crawford and I are currently on a tear about commitment, and all the dour depictions of marriage perpetrated by ~~the patriarchy~~ and by lots of faulty, fearful theologies. Theologies which seem to think that we are meant to be miserable, and virtue means accepting our miserly misery.
Essentially, we have cocooned ourselves in a happy echo chamber of two Romantics railing against these sort of grin-and-bear-it, "virtue means proving you can endure anything and like it" ideas of matrimony. As though marriage is some sort of military boot camp, where you prove your strength by proving how much hardship you can endure, like a man. Love is for wimps, marriage is for men. For folks whose mental willpower can overcome anything, even mind-numbing boredom and existential despair.

Neither of us have ever been married, so forgive us this day our daily snap judgments and what I am loathe to write off as our youthful idealism. But commitment, I believe, at its root, is simply a commitment to delight. It is a commitment to see the face of God in the other, and to fall deeply in love with the divine beauty that radiates through them.

For if we do not love the brother we can see, how can we love the face of God we do not see? If we do not learn to turn our entire selves into a hymn of love for our human lover, how will we ever learn to become nothing but wonder, love, and praise, for the Divine Lover, our eternity and the fount of all our existence?

Balthasar describes the Father and the Son as eternally surprised at the other. And the best of human loves I have experienced feature this constant surprise. Even as our expectations of the other goes out from our heart in hopes of meeting them, we are consistently surprised by how they are full of a beauty that surprises us. They are what we expect and somehow infinitely beyond it.

It may be that this God who makes each daisy separately each day hopes that we can learn his appetite for wonder. If the world, with its marvelous and endless miracles, its lavish and plentiful species, its ridiculous abundance of roses, strange insects, bizarre rainforest creatures, and waterfalls carved into mountains, reflects in but a small way the creativity and beauty of God, it would seem that it is our vocation as creatures to learn to appreciate each part of it. And by learning to love it, we can learn to love its maker.

Perhaps this is best exemplified in sunsets, which is why they are not a cheap nor meaningless expression of the glory of God or God's beauty. We are meant to have our breath snatched away by their beauty each day; and it is our only duty to never grow tired of doing so. It takes effort, a sublimation of ego, an askesis of attention, to notice the beauty around us and praise it. It is easier to take it for granted and to ignore it. But we are presented each day with an event that demands awe of us.

I would imagine this is also why affirmation ought to flow from us so easily, for that does not cheapen it. It is a terrible side-effect of economic humanity that restricted supply increases demand, driving up price, therefore driving up value (we think). But value is not commodified, and is in no way related to price.

That which is abundant is that which is truly valuable. Affirmation of the beautiful creatures and creation that surround us ought to flow from us like water, we ought to effuse it like light, for is that not our ultimate vocation, is it not? To turn our entire being into praise. Into praise of the creator, yes, and now, in this vale of tears, we cannot see the creator, except via creation.

Next to the Eucharist, Lewis would remind us, the holiest creation which mediates the creator to us is our neighbor. So I would imagine that the best way to practice love of God and the praise of God which will subsume our entire existence after death, is to praise that neighbor. To learn to love our neighbor well, to see beauty even in their difficulty, is this not a school of love which prepares us for the final life of love? Catherine of Siena says that all the way to heaven is heaven. If we learn to give out love and praise to our neighbor so freely, is this not already beginning to sing the final song of praise?

Thus, I would imagine that marriage would be the difficult, challenging, and glorious task of learning to praise the supreme and glorious beauty of another creature each day. A creature to whom you are close enough to see all of their bullshit, their ridiculous posturing, their insecure scheming, and their vulnerabilities.

I imagine marriage is learning to praise them even in their careless cruelty, praise them even in their thoughtless chore-shirking, praise them even in the midst of their selfishness and stubbornness. Praise the goodness present in their small sacrifices, praise the beauty which shines from their eyes each morning, praise the love which flows from them to you, and out into the world. Praise them for the sweet memories, the sad memories, the silly conversations, and the sharing of thoughts, the fights and the kisses. Praise them for the rich tapestry you weave together, building something strong, shining, and eternal, which will itself endure into eternity, and offer itself in love to that love that moves each star and us.

For if we can learn to see the face of God, love it, take deep delight in it and offer it a constant stream of praise, in the hazy thick of daily life, I imagine the result is neither boredom nor monotony, but rather, joy.

Monday, November 13, 2017

what's lacking in Manhattan

the giant cross that hangs over one hunched crying man
and one snotty, sobbing woman.

the clearing of ancient trees,
enchanted in a grey-and-scarlet autumn silence,

the hawk whose tailfeathers match the leaves,
reiging over this quiet kingdom.

the intake of breath that startles the hawk
from his perch,
he glances over his cloaked shoulder, annoyed.



the rain-slicked asphalt of a deserted path
between two lakes, two walls of
shadows of nearly de-leafed November trees.

a cemetery with soft grass, mossy, mildew-ed crosses
washed in cold rain.

standing at the feet (or really six feet above them)
of a mentor or a godfather
or a kindred spirit.

holding you tightly—
for warmth—
is a prayer.


the knock on your door that is
a young woman with the chocolate cake
your grandfather loved.
And you missed him today.

the bite into German-chocolate cake,
laced in buttercream,
washed down with milk almost as thick as cream—

tastes like Gail mixing cake before the funeral,
like birthdays at the kitchen table,
like stealing bites from the refrigerator at the Rancho.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

four cardinal virtues

Lord make me skinny,
but not yet:
common grace before bingeing
(found in The Blue Pieta Prayer Book that Parish Abuelas carry,
page 10,
between the prayer card of Guadalupe and the Pope,)
—pray alone—
before cramming
just one more doughnut
down your throat—
as a yoga housewife
popping valium,
so my heart longs for you,
oh carbs.

Give us this day—the only day there is—
our daily dosage
of the drugs I need to stave off
reality,
intimacy,
vulnerability,
and impending fear of death.
Give me the needed hits;
distract me from incurring debts.

If this is how you treat your friends,
no wonder I don't keep in touch so great,
offering the flaccid niceties
proper to appropriately
insincere adult relationships:
Gotta run, let's get lunch sometime!
is the perfect morning offering.
My evening prayer:
we really should catch up soon!!!

Litany of Satiation:
From the desire of being loved/
From the desire of being extolled/
deliver me/
that I may never experience
disappointment or rejection,
but rather always obtain
what I desire,
in exact proportion to my ego.
Curb my appetites,
that they may never carve
ut ipsi non sculperent
craters in my heart
which you may come to fill.

Friday, November 10, 2017

gesamtkunstwerk

You can't say "Lazarus" without
a little lisp.

Is this why Jesus weeps?

The inescapable "facs"
bring a blush to my cheeks,
and cause color to rise,
creeping like the red creeps through
the veins of a leaf.

There really should be a disclaimer
or a trigger warning: liturgical latin
used throughout.
Repeated facs. You will be fac-ed over.
and over.

The stuffy room feels/is/like one big
corporate, communal, carpeted coffin.

Running into old faces who have gotten older.

These are not called sunflowers because they’re heliotropes
Splitting horticultural hairs,
if you ask me.
But no one does.

But they ask a lot about God.
How can the angels hold their breath,
while awaiting Mary's yes?
How can God not know
the his proposal will be met
with Fiat?

How does the nervous boy,
sweating through his shirt,
wiping his greasy hands,
know with certainty
his lady will nod her head
yes?


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

bleeding atlases

As I scroll across the grey and green map of Upper East side street grids, pins of old places pop onto the map, unbidden, summoned up by the inescapable memory of Google. Our Lady Queen of Angels, The Penrose, St. Vincent Ferrer, Whole Foods on 87th, Cristo Rey New York High School. The memory of staring at this map so many times, as I find directions between my neighborhood and another fills not just my mind, but my arms and legs and eyes and hands. For a moment, I feel that I am back in the grid.

But there's no grid here.

Feeling out of place makes me feel rather snarly, so after unleashing a bit of snarl (which is always, always aggravated and never ameliorated by mid-afternoon-blood-sugar-plummet [why did the desert fathers never write about this?]), I plop my double-bag-load of books and my snarling self on a bench in the midst of God quad in the height of her autumn glory. The air is cold, with a substantial bite even in the warm sunshine (just the way I like it), and the leaves are turning the entire air, trees, and ground golden.

I miss my neighborhood cobbler, across Lexington from El Aguila, Cesar and his cat that sat on the shoes, and picking up another set of fresh heels. I like the cobbler because it's a sign that you have been places. Your shoes are your vehicle to all those places, so you invest in good ones, like a car. And get their soles changed, like tires.

I miss my bedtime routine of last semester, reading through Deutero-Isaiah on the busted futon in my quiet room, lit only by the ridiculous ancient lamp from the nineteen seventies and the lights of Fisher Hall across the tree-filled alley-yard between us. As the sycamore trees sway outside in the spring breeze or violent thunderstorm winds, we are inside, being rebuilt—quietly and slowly.

I miss eating a caramel Magnum bar in Magdala. As I remembered how sweet and good that ice cream was this morning, I realized I never think about Galilee. I think because it was one of the most profoundly uncomfortable experiences I have ever had. I remember being mostly dazed, as I tried to survive on one piece of fish the whole week and a makeshift trail mix on hikes. I remember the terrible, death-like silence and deserted heat of Tzippori, which causes my skin to crawl, even just thinking about it, remembering the feeling of my skin tangibly burning in the sun—no matter how much chalky white sunscreen applied—and a sense of dread creeping behind my ears.
I remember lost of exhaustion in the middle of the day and blistered feet. I remember being lost in Caesarea, among the basalt buildings, looking for a hommus stand. I remember watching the rock hyrax and the lizards scurry around Chorazim. Galilee was a lot of ruins which felt empty, not even haunted by ghosts. Just mostly blank and barren nothing-ness.



But at the same time, it was teeming with life:

The parakeets (or macaws? I never got a good enough look or an accurate enough ornithology guide to tell) which fluttered and squawked in the palm trees along the Jesus trail. Whose beautiful, shining green feathers glistened in the sunbeams streaking through the shade of the trees.

The donkeys that stared me down on my way to Tabgha. I was convinced they were going to murder me. If I'd gotten closer, perhaps they would have. But they were so ridiculous looking, in their skittish little mob, it was hard not to laugh, even if scared for my life.

The overgrown fig tree that covered a solid several yards of the path around Banias. In the vein of Pocahontas' Grandmother Willow, this fig tree exuded maternal spirit. Her supersized fig leaves created a scalloped speckle of light on the dirt path, and covered a hot day with cool shade, and a thick, palpable darkness. Which, unlike a cave or cavern felt unintimidating. Usually low-hanging trees cause me to check superstitiously and anxiously for snakes. But, despite all the other anxieties entertained that week, I never once worried about serpents hanging out in trees. Perhaps that's why Eve was off her guard as well.
Eden's down the road from here

And the sea. The turquoise, marbled, sea, with his churning white surf that bit at the ancient harbor of Caesarea. It was the perfect temperature, the perfect depth, the perfect color. After a long, water-less hike, nothing could feel as paradisiacal.

Minus the ruins, teeming with life



I miss when Blank Space's music video hit the scene like an atom bomb in fall of 2014, and we were Young and Dumb in New York City (the most obnoxious—but irresistibly magical—cultural narrative to live into), the eerie, jam-able heartbeat of Taylor Swift's witchy little ballad pumping through the speaker systems of Macy's bathrooms, our earbuds at work, or our computer speakers at home while cooking.

I missed these fall colors, which are now falling on sidewalks, like someone spilled the red and orange sections of a Crayola 120 box onto the grass. There's a tree that's entirely scarlet in someone's front yard. As I ran by this morning, the leaves were spilling off in a constant staccato stream, like a crimson sprinkler, watering their grass and the concrete where I was running. They took their time appearing this year, but now there is a golden canopy covering the sidewalk by Malloy.

Now there are leaves falling by my bench which are gold, flushed with scarlet. As I breathe in the smell of autumn and cold air deeply, I settle into place, finally feeling at home.

And I know, because this is so beautiful, in a few short months I will miss this bizarre and intemperate autumn in Indiana.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Guide to Physical Intimacy with the Theótokos II

There's grey at his temples,
but he smiled warmly at me today.
As I effused light,
he reflected my glow back to me.

When I speak to him,
share with him small
flashes of grace seen in tombs
or in busy streets,
his eyes ignite with a quiet flame
of understanding.

It's a humid night in Galilee,
dense clouds cover up the stars,
like the quilt that lies at the bottom
of my flour-sack-firm bed.

The moon hangs low over the olive
trees on the edge of the village,
and I pray under it as I walk back
to the small studio house on the edge of town.
Tucked behind lilac branches,
guarded by wild cats.

A small lamp lights the room,
on the bedside table
next to Joseph,
lying in the bed,
staring at the ceiling.

Without moving his eyes,
he watches as
I approach, gingerly,
unsure if his bed is mine, too.
He makes space for me,
without smiling,
his face molded by some deep emotion,
his eyes about to cry.

is it inappropriate for you to sleep here?
he balks at my question,
and bargains with a God whose
presence saturates the room
and the space between us.

The lamp runs out.
In the darkness,
he reaches his arm across
my body until it meets my hand,
which he holds, tightly.

And so we sleep.
The close, humid night
breaks into a storm.
Thunder claps,
I find shelter underneath his arm.

He squeezes my hand,
gently peels it away,
leaves the bed.
To get some water?
pray? or stretch?
I lie stiff, my arm splayed across the mattress,
thinking he is gone.
I lie cold in the sweaty night.
I cannot brook the thought of sleeping the rest of the night alone,
without his arms around me.
But he returns,
oh ye of little faith,
and takes my hand again.

When we awake,
traces of shyness and
rain-light fill the grey sky
which leaks into the room.
But his eyes meet mine—
shining without trepidation.
My hair matted from pillow sweat,
my breath dank with whatever bacteria cause morning
breath—
He kisses me—
as rain falls in a soft staccato
on the eaves beneath which
cats begin to mew in the slow sunrise.