Friday, June 30, 2017

47 minutes

She wants to be an album in his vinyl collection
which he will play on a rainy Friday night
and remember her,
present in the velvet rain outside,
at the bottom of the tumbler,
in the last drop of bourbon—
a consumable experience of a person—
which will eat away at him,
contained in 47 minutes on a rainy Friday,
grating like a needle in the grooves.
He'll fall into bourbon sleep.
She'll be gone (again) before breakfast
leaving a slight hangover of memory
leaking off the________,
as the needle slips off polyvinyl chloride
and raindrops slowly leak off the leaves of trees,
shaking off that last bit of storm.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

pearls before homesick swine

After Lot had parted from him, the LORD said to Abram: Look about you, and from where you are, gaze to the north and south, east and west; all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever. I will make your descendants like the dust of the earth; if anyone could count the dust of the earth, your descendants too might be counted.
(Genesis 13:14-16)

I am from this dirt.
Speeding through the green of the Bavarian summer landscape, I suddenly felt in my heart a powerful twinge of homecoming. This land is in my blood, I thought. Or rather those words thought me. The idea struck me from the outside, rising up out of the fresh earth and grabbing me through the windows of the Deutsche Bahn. These hills housed my ancestors, this is the dust that formed the bodies of the bodies of the bodies from whom I have been formed.

I think I finally felt an inkling of what all the hoards of Irish-American classmates felt when they returned to the homeland. I know why they raved about that Emerald Isle eternally; because this sort of instinct demands a rant of love.

Surprised at how strongly home eked out of the earth here, I pulled my gaze away from the window and into my cranium (or navel). Do I, I wondered, have a right to feel this way about this land? I had just come from land colonized by a people who have felt the dust of desert and rolling scrubby hills sing to their hearts, and it has caused endless chaos, perpetually swirling violence. This land, they feel, runs through their blood. They are a part of this land, and it is part of them.

So, too, do the native peoples who live there and will not depart from it. So many are refugees, strangers, displaced in their own home. The doors of their family homes are torn away, long-ago destroyed, but they retain the key. Because home can not be wrung from our hearts so easily.

And perhaps, I think, hearing the reading at mass, this promise of Yahweh—that mysterious, ineffable, unsearchable God—to Abram makes sacred that very claim. Land holds onto us. If we are made of carbon, if our bones are made of the common building blocks of life, then how can we help but feel a part of that particular land we are made of? Perhaps this dialogue of God and human, this bequeathing of the land to Abram as divine gift, blesses that sacred claim of land upon the human. No longer does land pull us from the vertical, that call of land to our hearts does not flatten our horizon. Rather, that call of homecoming opens us up to the Divine. God has entered into our temporal love-affair with land.

Perhaps God enters into this very human enterprise to break it open, shatter its small, measly limits we impose upon it. If land is no longer Ours, but Ours-from-God, that ought to (Oughts too rarely become Is's) shatter our human conceptions of ownership. The land is not property, it never has been. The land is gift. To see land as gift as well as home ought (again the insistent ought) to break open our mean tribalism, our petty possessiveness, and lead us to rejoice in the bounty of a land that holds us.

Perhaps this is what these promises mean. Perhaps they have these universal bents. But the universal is only at first accessible through the particular; the particular experience of a unique land, a unique place: the swath of stars overhead, the dust that sticks to our feet, the smell of straw and olive trees. It is a singular gift for a singular people, and nothing about that blessing is exclusive.

Perhaps that is why walking up Tantur's gravel drive, winding like the snakes I fear are hiding in the terraced olive groves, and gazing into the cup of land which holds Bethlehem and Beit Jala also feels like home. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

lo, the swaddled lettuce wilts

Akedah, she is easy.
Her yoke it is not that one which is heavy
and her many suitcases, dark they ain't.

We stop mid laugh and I think
but do not put to voice
the question from
an other Friday bed-
time ritual revamped.
But her answer sings
in the wind that blows
my napkin off the table--
twice--that hums beneath
the melody
harmonized in laughs between
our twin blue eyes.

Two souls, one body, Dr. Aristotle
scribbles on prescription pad
you are indelibly inscribed,
conscripted, even
into constellation Philia,
ancient, riddled with
supernovas perpetually
composing new suns from their dust.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dick Bewegung

My mother only loves me when I'm skinny: a love song
for a woman
who can only bear to see her bone—my bone—
flesh of her flesh—
when it is sparse and spare;
form attenuated,
physique trimmed
into sleek, sugar-free shapes.
My fat, spilling out of bony boundaries,
repulsive reminder of appetites pushing over inherited limits,
demands shutters: "keep it outside in the garage.
Don't drag your dirty toys into the house."
Keep your plurals singular
life will live you into the accusative.

But she has loved me into plenty,
to be a woman who is all plurals,
who really can't eat, love, or be
just one.
Who wraps life in the genitive,
loves with strong suppressed strings of affection
that cannot bind a body like
a foot, to collapse it into its own
black hole of appetite.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

I don't know any of those words

Keen injustice: sitting in a Debart classroom
plastic chair
on a bright June morning as the glorious summer sky
rolls by outside.

I keep sneaking poetry into the margins
of a notebook which should be
solely German grammar.

I keep sneaking glances out
a window into fluffy-clouded-summer-sky
New mottled clouds are portraited in the window
sculpted beauties in a
sky blue Louvre,
fresh galleries appear with each stolen gaze,
pushed across my tiny window-frame of
by mighty Midwestern winds.

Small molded clouds of
soft dove grays,
blanched and feathery,
chase mammoth cliffs of shapely water vapor.

You keep sneaking back
into a life that has no room for you.
I make space:
in the margins
in my grammar.
We can share this syntax.
Just for today.

Monday, June 19, 2017

swimming in grace

My shoes and feet and everything are tired of running. My fractured toe needs rest, and my knee protests another trail. So I dive into the pool and backstroke, staring at the uninspiring ceiling. I suppose the view from most lap lanes could never truly be called a vista, but these beige tiles seem particularly and spitefully bland. I think of old Roman baths with their ever-enduring mosaics, Turkish baths with their colorful domes, and I can't help but feel that contemporary America should up our gym ceiling game a bit.

Indicative of the population in the pool, Frank Sinatra is playing. I am miserable and my heart is heavier than a stone, which makes Sinatra sting like saltwater in a hangnail, and reminds my heavy legs, by contrast, of how poor chlorine is for buoying up one's spirit or its shell. As I watch my legs kick up a miniature wake, my toes just barely cresting the surface of the water, I think of how my legs floated on the surface of the Dead Sea. I smile (and swallow pool water accidentally) as I remember how the one-third salt water lifted up my legs so that they couldn't even kick. They would just splash impotently on the surface of the smooth sea. I remember my laughter as the water would roll me around and around, keeping me afloat, dependent on its mercy, despite my own attempts to stand. The Dead Sea feels like providence, and I was just rolling around in it.

I think of my last swim, in the Mediterranean, its marble blue-green waters rolling in thick, undulating waves. There, the piercing blue sky was the ceiling, and the lap lanes determined by the sharp spurs of rock, intermittent with the silky white sand floor. I dove under the waves, rolling around in the surf, glorying in the quiet, expansive intimacy of sea and sky. Experiencing myself as single, lone creature but not lonely, swallowed up in an infinite field of glory and wet, wild beauty.


Today, I ran again, my feet exploring the unbroken reaches of new running shoes, and the familiar, broken-in paths of familiar running trails.

But the sky was a sheer and startling blue, interrupted by molded white clouds, reflecting the golden radiance of the sun, perfectly gilded and shaded on their ruffled underbellies. The hot gold light burns my skin more lightly here. But the heavy air holds solar heat more permanently than the desert of Judea. I am landlocked, far from the sea. But, in the damp clashes of cold and hot storm fronts, I am still swimming in a wild sea of weather and grace.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

die stadt der schönen Freude

Full of uncomfortably undeniable hurt feelings, I make a winding way towards Washington Square Park, the gift of broken phones reaping slices of unexpected solitude. I alight from the F train at West Fourth Street and am greeted not by the discombobulating vague wash of nondescript dives and storefronts on the shifting streets of Penn Station/Port Authority’s neighboring avenues, but by the IFC center’s friendly façade, as familiar to last winter as Fred Armisen’s face. I smile and the combined force of that smile, that storefront, and the mismatched cluster of tourists outside the garish hookah window display of the neon smoke shop remind me why I love this city.

I love it for the slap slap slap of sandals moving over the sidewalk.
I love it for the swing in my hips as I traverse it with a freedom I no longer take for granted.
I love the woman eating pricy sushi on the pavement with her weird yuppie bar crawl crew, complete with lanyards ‘round their necks, smiling so joyfully and authentically with her friends. I love the Japanese fashionista with her thick orange eyeliner. The bent old priest rejuvenated, walks upright.

I walk up 6th avenue to St. Joseph’s church, so I can pray where Dorothy (Day, not Gale) once use to offer her own words of praise and hurt and thanks. I walk the path her feet have tread and think: this is holy ground. I walk into the blank white church. It’s newly renovated now, no longer filled with workmen and scaffolding. I see so clearly the altarpiece which was obscured before—Transfiguration. 

This is my holy city, my Jerusalem. And she is comfortingly the same. The cab driver takes me through Central Park—my park, where I have run through so many heartbreaks and heart aches and hurts like this—one thinks one would outgrow these things, that growing as actually left a mark of maturity, but here we are, back again, at the same old emotional junction, so run, run, run all the way around the bridle path, every single Saturday—he takes me past St. Ignatius—the translucent stone and stained glass shine like home—and up Park Avenue, which means I retrace my walks to and from that church, greeting each brick I've memorized on each penthouse corner. He takes me past Gourmet Garage—the scaffolding finally gone!—He takes me past Casa Blanca—its patio still dilapidated, its backyard tree in full leafy bloom. It has fancy new address numbers on the front. It has a new coat of paint. but it’s still mine. I am a part of its story and its mice, mold, and morning sunlight through my window are part of mine. To briefly greet that old friend once again is worth the $17.76.

But the city has grown and changed, too. Nothing living stagnates, this place least of all. The new high rise being built along my old walk to work is steadily rising. There is a new bar I meet the Cristo Rey contingent at. This city has grown and changed, even as it hums along its daily rhythm. Can this city, I wonder, ever exhaust my thirst for exploration? It swells always outwards. We shall not cease from exploration/And the goal of all our journeying will to be arrive right here, in There are other cities. The goal of our journeying is ever to arrive right here. Back at St. Joseph's Church in Greenwich Village and to finally see the altarpiece for that first time. To walk Through the unknown, unremembered gate/ of new adventures, and find that the last bit of ground we have left to discover is actually the Eden from which all our restless wanderings originated. It is that which was the beginning/the trees waving in the summer wind, the voices of the street performers in the sun, the children splashing in the fountain, clearly marked: no swimming.

This city's beauty blazes like tongues of flames in-folded into the utter ordinary, the voices of ex-pats, tourists, college students, into one glorious crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

the healing kind of the sickness

Hayley said this place gets under your skin, which sounds slightly pathogenic (yet true).
Raanan said that there's a name for it—they call it Tanturitis.
This place is not heaven on earth, but it's got a magic that's just a few shades short of eschaton.

The magic of Tantur Ecumenical Institute is not easily diagnosed or dissected. Its inescapable presence yet ineffable origin make Tantur's atmosphere endlessly enticing. Tantur is a place which feels larger on the inside, because of the abundance of mystery within its walls, beckoning to be plumbed.

In part, I believe, the magic of Tantur springs from the immense right which every person possess in being here: the elderly couple, the pastors on sabbatical, the visiting scholars, the rabbinic student, the group of undergrads, the staff members of various organizations housed here at Tantur itself, the fourth grader practicing piano: each of them belongs here just as much as the other. There is a deep and gracious humility in recognizing the sacredness of each encounter with every community member. Any person can sit down next to you at a meal, and your conversation feels completely horizontal, there is no slant of inequality, even with the ten-year-old. This sort of humility is rare, yet is endemic to Tantur, providing the bedrock for its seemingly innate radical inclusion.

Tantur is, of course, not perfect. There is disagreement, there is not one single vision always. But, at least I have found here, divisions do not overwhelm the experience of the unity. There is still union, even in discord, and there is still acceptance, and more than a facile acceptance—celebration—of difference. (Not perfectly, however. We are so trained to disagree with difference its difficult sometimes to celebrate it. But perhaps this is only one of many occupational hazards for people trafficking in Ultimate Concern.)  Fellow pilgrims can easily annoy you; you tire of them, they are irked by you. But you still walk together. I think that is what Church means.

The magic of Tantur—which, perhaps I should more accurately name grace—is precisely in this miraculous journeying together. Tantur is a diverse collections of pilgrims, each with very different roads and a variety of maps and atlases by which they navigate. But the mystery of this ever-expanding space seems to upholds all of them. There is enough support to go around, enough room for all to meet.

I cannot help but contrast Tantur with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is a poignant architectural incarnation of the bitter and oh-so-human divisions which mark this human institution which springs from faith's central mystery. It is a church with hermetically sealed traditions, which only meet when shooing the others—made into very much Other—off their turf. It is a portrait of the Church which hurts to see, but it rings true. So much of my time here, I have been reflecting on our need for the real, for the genuine. Pilgrims come to the Holy Land with the simple question: Is this all true? Did this really happen? and the land meets them with a yes: this did happen. It happened here. The yes just doesn't always look the way we want or imagine.

So for all the dis-ease the Church of the Holy Sepulchre raises within me—annoyance at the boys' club pissing contests, great sadness for the scandal of Christian division—I find its mystery draws me back and back again, because something about that church rings true. Perhaps it is not as it ought to be: that church needs cleaning, repair, and some single, unifying and ordering principle; but its messy, piecemeal blend of traditions, architecture, and weird cavernous spaces sings a broken psalm of praise to the God who sustains it even in its human messiness. It is not right and just, but it is accurate and inescapably real. And I am here not for the reality I want to see, but things as they are. Even if they hurt to look at.

Tantur's grace feels like a salve for that hurt. Indeed, there is a balm in Tantur, a particular grace that answers the Holy Sepulchre's hurt—the grace of community. That's the sort of grace which is infectious, which gets under your skin, which pulls at your heart, demanding you leave your tent pitched here, right here. This must be the sort of grace which ought to fill our Eucharists and Sunday services. Perhaps this is a grace of unity which is the briefest appetizer—a stuttering, stammering, abbreviated articulation—of that final unity when Christ is all-in-all and all are finally, truly one in Christ. Perhaps if the global Church felt this unity, this is what our churches would feel like—we would never want to leave them.