Saturday, October 21, 2006

Lanford Wilson, "Eggs"

A guy the other day – I eat at this cafeteria, I talk to a lot of nutty guys – This guy told me we were eggs. All people. He said people are eggs. Said we had to be careful not to bang up against each other too hard. Crack our shells, never be any use again. aid we were eggs. Individuals. We had to keep separate, private. He was very protective of his shell.

He said nobody ever knows what the other guy is thinking. We all got about ten tracks going at onece, nobody every knows what's going down any given track at any given moment. So we never can really communicate. As I'm talking to you on track number three, over on track five I might be thinking about… Oh, any number of things. And when I think you're listening to me, what are you really thinking?

I told him he's paranoid. Ought not to worry too much about being understood. Ought to work at it. We… Got our work cut out for us, don't we? It's all right there in his analogy, ain't it? What good is an egg? Gotta be hatched or boiled or beat up into something like a lot of other eggs. Then you're cookin'.

I told him he ought not to be too afraid of getting' his yolk broke.

from "Talley's Folly"
by Lanford Wilson

Monday, October 16, 2006

Diane Tucker, "The Low Gate" & "Flood Report"

The Low Gate

Woe be unto them who disdain to humble themselves willingly
with little children; because the low gate of the Kingdom of Heaven
will not give them entrance.
Thomas À Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Who needs the stuff from the top shelf of anything?
Who wants to drag the stupid step stool out
one more time? Keep all that’s best and precious
in the bottom of the closet, a nested corner, blankets,
teddies, cars, the doll and all her clothes,
a cup of grape juice and a plate of crackers.

All you need is down there, knee high,
forest floor high, where all the leaves fall anyway,
when they’re reddest and goldest and crispiest;

snowman high, sled high, high as a lap, as the space
under a glittering tree, as a lamb and a hungry donkey
and the box beside them with the hay in it;

tidepool high, with all the little crabs
who pinch your finger but it doesn’t hurt,
high as your toes with black sand squished between them,
as the seaweed, shining the best green in the sunlight,
as beach glass blue and white, that you can hold
as hard as you can and it will never cut you;

park bench high, grass high, dandelion high,
high as the gravel path, the teeter-totter, the swings,
the slide you can climb to through its perfect little door,
no higher than the big hand let down for you to hold.

Diane Tucker


Flood report

“What matters is how fast the rain falls and how fast the ground can soak it up.”
- from a Vancouver radio weather forecast, January 13, 2006

What matters is what comes down on us, how much and how quickly, and can we swallow it all before we drown?

What matters is the endless downpour that we can’t absorb, that overflows and escapes, that threatens to bear us away.

What matters is the water, all the beautiful water, this thing we need that can kill us with its bountiful love — like King Kong, with a dreamy slip of its baby finger.

What matters is that we not fall off the hill, that roots stay rooted, that floodwaters be directed down harmless and acceptable channels, that everyone stay warm and safe and dry.

What matters are our feet on firm earth; no shifting; no concession to gravity.

What matters is the horizonless expanse of iron cloud.

What matters about what matters is what we know already: fingers will slip. Shoes will be submerged. We will be slivers of old soap, washed and washed until nothing is left of us.

We’ll be silt then, a few handfuls of dust rushing down the mountain in the flood, hoping that somewhere along the way we’ll catch on something solid, a stone or root, long enough to let the ground soak us up.

Diane Tucker

Sunday, October 15, 2006

William Carlos Williams, "This Is Just To Say"

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

Herb Gardner, "General-All-Purpose Apology"

I shall now leave you breathless with the strange and wondrous tale of this sturdy lad's adventures today in downtown Oz.

Picture, if you will, me. I am walking on East Fifty-first Street an hour ago and I decided to construct and develop a really decorative, general-all-purpose Apology. Not complicated, just the words "I am sorry" said with a little style.

Sorry for what? Anything. For being late, early, stupid, asleep, silly, alive--

Well, y'know when you're walking down the street talking to yourself how sometimes you suddenly say a coupla words out loud? So I said "I'm sorry," and this fellah, complete stranger, he looks up a second and says "That's all right, Mac," and goes on.

He automatically forgave me.

I communicated. Five o'clock rush hour in midtown you could say "Sir, I believe your hair is on fire," and they wouldn't hear you. So I decided to test the whole thing out scientifically, I stayed right there on the corner of Fifty-first and Lex for a while, just saying "I'm sorry" to everybody that went by. "Oh, I'm so sorry, sir..." "I'm terribly sorry, madam..." "Say there, Miss, I'm sorry."

Of course, some people just gave me a funny look, but I swear, seventy-five percent of them forgave me! "Forget it, buddy." "That's O.K. really." Two ladies forgave me in unison, one fellah forgave me from a passing car, and one guy forgave me for his dog. "Poofer forgives the nice man, don't you, Poofer?"

It was fabulous. I had tapped some vast reservoir. Something had happened to all of them for which they felt somebody should apologize. If you went up to people on the street and offered them money, they'd refuse it. But everybody accepts apology immediately. It is the most negotiable currency. I said to them "I am sorry," and they were all so generous, so kind. You could give 'em love and it wouldn't be accepted half as graciously, as unquestioningly.

I could run up on the roof right now and holler "I am sorry," and half a million people would holler right back, "That's O.K., just see that you don't do it again!"

That's the most you should expect from life, a really good apology.

from "A Thousand Clowns" by Herb Gardner
Available from Samuel French

Henri Nouwen, "The Elder Son"

Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. The servant told him, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the calf we had been fattening because he has got him back safe and sound." He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out and began to urge him to come in; but he retorted to his father, "All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this sone of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his loose women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.

Long years of university teaching and the intense involvement in South and Central American affairs had left me feeling quite lost. I had wandered far and wide, met people with all sorts of life-styles and convictions, and become part of many movements. But at the end of it all, I felt homeless and very tired. I was the lost son and wanted to return, as he did, to be embraced as he was. For a long time I thought of myself as the prodigal son on his way home, anticipating the moment of being welcomed by my Father.

Then, quite unexpectedly, something in my perspective shifted.

One evening while talking about Rembrandt's painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son" with Bart Gavigan, a friend from England who had come to know me quite intimately during the past year, I explained how strongly I had been able to identify with the younger son. He looked at me quite intently and said, "I wonder if you are not more like the elder son."

Frankly, I had never thought of myself as the elder son, but once Bart confronted me with that possibility, countless ideas started running through my head. Beginning with the simple fact that I am, indeed , the eldest child in my own family, I came to see how I had lived a quite dutiful life. When I was six years old, I already wanted to become a priest and never changed my mind. I was born, baptized, confirmed, and ordained in the same church and had always been obedient to my parents, my teachers, my bishops, and my God. I had never run away from home, never wasted my time and money on sensual pursuits, and had never gotten lost in debauchery and drunkenness. For my entire life I had been quite responsible, traditional, and homebound.

But, with all of that, I may, in fact, have been just as lost as the younger son.

I suddenly saw myself in a completely new way. I saw my jealousy, my anger, my touchiness, doggedness and sullennness, and, most of all, my subtle self-righteousness. I saw how much of a complainer I was and how much of my thinking and feeling was ridden with resentment. For a time it became impossible to see how I could ever have thought of myself as the younger son. I was the elder son for sure, but just as lost as his younger brother, even though I had stayed home all my life.

I had been working very hard on my father's farm, but had never fully tasted the joy of being at home. Instead of being grateful for all the privileges I had received, I had become a very resentful person: jealous of my younger brothers and sisters who had taken so many risks and were so warmly welcomed back.


Elder sons want to live up to the expectations of their parents and be considered obedient and dutiful. They often want to please. They often fear being a disappointment to their parents. but they often also experience, quite early in life, a certain envy toward their younger borthers and sisters, who seem to be less concerned about pleasing and much freer in "doing their own thing." For me, this certainly was the case. And all my life I have harbored a strange curiosity for the disobedient life that I myself didn't dare to live, but which I saw being lived by many around me.

The obedient and dutiful life of which I am proud or for which I am praised feels, sometimes, like a burden that was laid on my shoulders and continues to oppress me, even when I have accepted it to such a degree that I cannot throw it off. I have no difficulty identifying with the elder son of the parable who complained: "All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends."

"I tried so hard, worked so long, did so much, and still I have not received what others get so easily. Why do people not thank me, not invite me, not play with me, not honor me, while they pay so much attention to those who take life so easily and so casually?"


I recognize the elder son in me. Often I catch myself complaining about little rejections, little impolitenesses, little negligences. Time and again I discover within me that murmuring, whining, grumbling, lamenting, and griping that go on and on even against my will. The more I dwell on th ematters in question, the worse my state becomes. The more I analyze it, the more reason I see for complaint. And the more deeply I enter it, the more complicated it gets. There is an enormous, dark drawing power to this inner complaint. Cdondemnation of others and self-condemnation, self-righteousness and self-rejection keep reinforcing each other in an ever more more vicious way. Every time I allow myself to be seduced by it, it spins me down in an endless spiral of self-rejection. I becdome more and more lost untilil, in the end, I feel myself to be the most misunderstood, rejected, neglected person in the world.


Can the elder son come home? Can I be found as the younger son was found? How can I return when I am lost in resentment, when I am caught in jealousy, when I am imprisoned in obedience and duty lived out as slavery? It is clear that alone, by myself, I cannot find myself. Something has to happen that I myself cannot cause to happen. I have tried so hard in the past to heal myself from my complaints and failed . . . and failed . . . and failed, until I came to the edge of complete emotional collapse and even physical exhaustion.

I can only be healed from above.

With God, everything is possible.

from The Return Of The Prodigal

C.S. Lewis, "As The Ruin Falls"

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love – a scholar's parrot may talk Greek –
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Lucy Grealy, "The Gospel According To Andrew Lloyd Webber"

My early religious education, to the age of six, consisted of memorizing all the words to the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Actually, I did more than memorize them, I acted out the whole album, my own private version of the London musical, which opened earlier than the American. I combined my passion for this album with my crush on Mr. Ed, the talking horse. I had one of those innocent crushes that couldn't distinguish between loving Mr. Ed and wanting to be Mr. Ed, and I'd re-create the entire drama of Jesus and Judas and the other apostles as a talking horse. All this took place on a large yellow Chinese carpet that lay in front of the stereo in the living room. Each part of the carpet signified a character, and I would canter on my hands and knees from corner to corner to mouth each part as it came up. My knees carpet-burning into a vivid red, I performed the entire drama single-handedly.

For the big chorus parts, I would mount my Hippity-Hop, a sort of big red rubber ball on which you could sit an propel yourself by holding onto a half-circle handle and bouncing. I'd race round the room, imagining that I was riding in complicated formation, banners flapping, as the apostles wondered what was happening, as the beggars and lepers overtook Jesus, as the crowd jeered, in harmony, for his crucifixion. The only drawback to the choruses was that my bouncing about often made the needle skip on the record, but it was also necessary, as it gave my knees a short rest. It wasn't the performance that made me love the album; that had to do with my courthsip of the strong, safe, gleamingly visceral world of Mr. Ed. The music itself had an uncanny hold on me; the sways and turns of the emotional narrative entranced me, even, and maybe especially, when I didn't understand them. The Pharisees were my favorites because their voices were so exotically varied, plus they all seemed so confused and put-upon, which, even at six, was a state I identified with. I had to hold my ears during the scene in which Jesus was whipped by the forty-nine lashes, not because I felt bad for him, but because the music itself seemed so dreadful.


Not surprisingly, for the rest of my childhood I held a rather liberal take on the New Testament. Jesus obviously possessed quite a number of very human failings, and though I knew from other sources, such as early morning television, that he was a very kind person, he seemed fairly preoccupied a lot of the time in the gospel according to Andrew Lloyd Webber. I liked Judas far better and felt very sorry when he killed himself: in truth, he seemed like the only one with any deep feelings at all, and I thought he'd been unjustly set up. He also had a much better singing voice. This was all I knew, and even this I kept to myself. Religion, in my family, was regarded as a highly specialized form of stupidity.


And yet I still longed desperately to believe. How could I cross that line? Did God exist? I conducted experiments in my room. Sitting Indian style on my carpet, I'd not so much ask as announce, "God, if you exist, prove it to me." Sometimes I'd qualify this, suggesting he (and it was always a he) do something like perhaps change the color of the carpet, or maybe make the family dog, who'd recently died, appear panting and wagging in front of me. I wanted the resounding silence following my questions to be the answer, the proof that I didn't have to waste my time wondering about such things anymore. Yet I also wanted to badly all that peace, all that joy and love.

from "My God" in Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited, edited by Rick Moody and Darcey Steinke
Highly recommended

Annie Dillard, "Church"

The higher Christian churches - where, if anywhere, I belong - come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom.


It is the second Sunday in Advent. For a year I have been attending Mass at this Catholic church. Every Sunday for a year I have run away from home and joined the circus as a dancing bear. We dancing bears have dressed ourselves in buttoned clothes; we mince around the rings on two feet. Today we were restless; we kept dropping onto our forepaws.

No one, least of all the organist, could find the opening hymn. Then no one knew it. Then no one could sing anyway.

There was no sermon, only announcements.

The priest proudly introduced the rascally acolyte who was going to light the two Advent candles. As we all could plainly see, the rascally acolyte had already lighted them.


There is a singing group in this Catholic church today, a singing group which calls itself "Wildflowers." The lead is a tall, square-jawed teen-aged boy, buoyant and glad to be here. He carries a guitar; he plucks out a little bluesy riff and hits some chords. With him are the rest of the Wildflowers. There is an old woman, wonderfully determined; she has long orange hair and is dressed country-and-western style. A long embroidered strap around her neck slings a big western guitar low over her pelvis. Beside her stands a frail, withdrawn fourteen-year-old boy, and a large Chinese man in his twenties who seems to want to enjoy himself but is not quite sure how to. He looks around wildly as he sings, and shuffles his feet. There is also a very tall teen-aged girl, presumably the lead singer's girl friend; she is delicate of feature, half serene and half petrified, a wispy soprano. They straggle out in front of the altar and teach us a brand-new hymn.

It all seems a pity at first, for I have overcome a fiercely anti-Catholic upbringing in order to attend Mass simply and solely to escape Protestant guitars. Why am I here? Who gave these nice Catholics guitars? Why are they not mumbling in Latin and performing superstitious rituals? What is the Pope thinking of?


During communion, the priest handed me a wafer which proved to be stuck to five other wafers. I waited while he tore the clump into rags of wafer, resisting the impulse to help. Directly to my left, and all through the communion, a woman was banging out the theme from The Sound Of Music on a piano.


A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens.

Who can believe it?


Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?

The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship, correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen, noting weather reports radioed in from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things. Alas, among the tourists on Deck C, drinking coffee and eating donuts, we find the captain, and all the ship's officers, and all the ship's crew.

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.

from Holy The Firm and Teaching A Stone To Talk

Friday, October 13, 2006

Kim Wozencraft, "Jesus Was A Convict"

Judas was the snitch in the government's case against Jesus, though his motive was vague. Others, perhaps only caught up in the spirit of the thing, gave false testimony against him. Soldiers carried out the sentence: they nailed him to the cross. His disciples had let him down every hour on the hour until Judas showed with the law – chief priests, scribes, and elders – and a crowd wielding swords and clubs. Then they abandoned him.

Every Sunday, from a time before I can remember until I was around eighteen years old, I knelt in a pew and was assaulted with a life-size statue of Christ on the cross hanging above the altar. Crowned with thorns. Blood dripping down one side of his face. A gash in the skin stretched tight over his agonized ribs, blood dripping; more blood trickling from the nail holse in his hands and feet. The weeks of Lent were a blessed relief, as they covered the statues with purple satin.

Perhaps the Catholic Church is onto something in its official condemnation of the death penalty. Its own saviour was a victim of capital punishment.

Jesus was a convict.

I know; he was betrayed. Most people who wind up in prison are. But the powers that were saw Jesus as guilty of insurrection, of treason, of attempting to overthrow the government. Serious charges, especially in the political tumult of the times. He was establishing a loyal following. They were scared of him.


When I think about what would happen if Jesus showed up next Tuesday – not riding down from heaven on a cloud with trumpet fanfare blasting, but the way the Bible says he did it the first time, human born, I cannot help but feel certain that he'd wind up on death row, probably in Texas. This would, of course, be after he graduated from harvard at thirteen and got fed into the media machine, made the rounds in TV land: Oprah, Good Morning America, maybe even Geraldo. Larry King Live would be a great venue for Jesus. We could call in. We could ask why there are tornadoes, why AIDS, why war. We could ask if the Western psychiatric establishment is part of the solution or part of the problem. And there would no doubt be numerous documentaries and a feature film, first rumored to be starring Tom Cruise, but in the end Brad Pitt would have to get the part.

Then everything would sour, and something would get whispered in a hallway somewhere in D.C. – This guy is bigger than Michael Jackson and Madonna put together, and he's still gathering momentum – and next thing you know, Jesus would be arrested. Betrayed again, no doubt. And instead of trying to post his bail, Hollywood – his production company, his agent, his lawyers, his publicist – would just bail out on him, as would most all of his other followers, except perhaps a loose, anonymous following on the Internet or maybe the odd militiaman who'd be willing to hole up in the name of Jesus and exchange fire with the feds.


Christ is on the cross, nails through his hands and feet, a thief hanging on either side of him. One thief makes fun of him. The other asks forgiveness. And, in what is the only instance in the entire New Testament of Christ actually promising heaven to anyone, Jesus says to the thief, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Of course, these days, we don't crucify. These days, executions are a bit more civilized. They should be. After all, it's Christians who are carrying them out.


Excerpted from the essay published in
Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited, edited by Rick Moody and Darcey Steinke
Highly recommended