Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quote du Jour: So, you think you can write?

The stars were shining like distant balls of gas, and you could see the janitors sitting on the roof of the library, sharing a cigarette. It was all very peaceful and beautiful with the janitors talking in Spanish and the imported words floating on top of our heads.

XXXX~ Music Through the Floor, "Essay #3: Leda and the Swan" - Eric Puchner

Reportage: Murphy's Law

"He felt like Murphy was so powerful that he couldn't do anything," she said.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reflections: The Terrorists Have Already Won

“He is our priest, our parish priest, and whatever he’s done, we should support him and give him the opportunity to redeem himself,” one middle-aged woman said, declining to give her name.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rodak's Writings: A Consideration of Pride


As with cops
and cholesterol
there are two kinds—

The bad one runs in herds.

All that huddled bleating
and conspicuous grazing
clogs the arteries of the soul—

Pride of place; pride of plaque.

The good kind—

though identified
and labeled
in its ostentatious paucity
by the defensive
of the ubiquitous without—

having broken free, flows
straight to the heart—

essence identical
with purpose—

quietly unmoved
by its crisis-provoking

Readings: One More Poem

Here is another poem from the same Kay Ryan collection as is the one below. I find it to be, sadly enough, an apt gloss on my previous post:


All but saints
and hermits
mean to paint
toward an exit

leaving a
pleasant ocean
of azure or jonquil
ending neatly
at the doorsill.

But sometimes
something happens:

a minor dislocation
by which the doors
and windows
undergo a
small rotation
to the left a little

--but repeatedly.
It isn’t
obvious immediately.

Only toward evening
and from the
farthest corners
of the houses
of the painters

comes a chorus
of individual keening
as of kenneled dogs
someone is mistreating.

Reflections: Bring Your Own Brush

Here's a little pot of hot tar. Smear it where you will:

If they knew what was going on, they are criminally corrupt. If they did not know, they are just one more set of incompetent bureaucrats, dressed in red.

In either case, the glue now holding their gig together is called "plausible deniability."

Readings: A Poem

Here is a poem that I read on my recent trip:


Great thoughts
do not nourish
small thoughts
as parents do children.

Like the eucalyptus,
they make the soil
beneath them barren.

Standing in a
grove of them
is hideous.

~ Kay Ryan

So...any thoughts?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Readings: Kinda Sorta Fun

I've been reading Robert Stone's current collection of stories Fun With Problems. As Stone has been one of my favorite writers of literary fiction since I first read his novel A Hall of Mirrors back in that dim corridor of the past known as my youth, I hold him to a very high standard. This collection does not quite make it over the bar. That said, Stone is a master, and the book has its moments. The excerpt below is from the collection's penultimate offering, "High Wire" and features the kind of hard-hitting, truth-dealing prose for which I have kept going back to Stone over the years:

Back home it was cold, and Jennifer grew suspicious and discontent. When she was angry her mild, educated Anglo-southern tones could tighten and faintly echo the speech of her ancestors in the Dust Bowl. Sometimes her vowels would twist themselves into the sorrowful whine of pious stump farmers abandoned by Jesus in the bottomland. You had to listen closely to detect it. I had never heard the word "honey" sound so leaden until Jennifer smacked me in the mouth with it. She could do the same thing with "dear." Dust bowl, I thought, was by then a useful metaphor for our married state.

If you can feel the clout of that, and particularly if you haven't previously read Robert Stone, don't hesitate, based on my lukewarm reaction, to check out this collection. It definitely has its moments.

Religion: Enuff is Enuff


As the child--the victim of abuse--might have entreated the pope: "Hey, papa!"


Friday, March 19, 2010

R 'n' R


I've decided to take a few days off.

No posting, no tweeting, no bullshit.

Call it a Lenten offering. Or call it a fit of pique.

Call it an act of nihilistic rebellion.

Or call it a desperate cry for help.

It is what it is.

I'll be back in a week, give or take day, or two--

tan, rested and ready to rumble.

Talk amongst yourselves.


Speak not in the ears of a fool:

for he will despise

the wisdom of thy words.

~ Proverbs 23:9

Review: Model Home by Eric Puchner

What follows is my impressionistic review of the source of yesterday's Quote du Jour:

We know Model Home to be authentic and true because it prominently features an aged dog, a beloved mutt, who sings to rocks. This we recognize as exactly the type of amazing creature one actually encounters in this wonderful world.

In this novel, Murphy’s Law is in full effect: if it can go horribly wrong, it almost immediately does so. The portraits of the characters—each of the survivors—are so authentically drawn that one is compelled to love each of them, while perhaps liking none of them. This also rings true. It rings true, at least, as the potential saving grace of our own flawed lives—as that toward which we should be constantly aspiring.

Another such message is delivered by our understanding of the character Kenny, who is imagined as a “professional Jesus impersonator.” His is the vocation which we should all be setting our sights upon.

In Model Home we have a narrative which, if it cannot be said to remain at all times within the boundaries of probability, nonetheless never strays far from God’s own Truth. It is a valuable book, replete with lessons that we need to learn.

It is a book that encourages its readers, by showing how even the losers can help each other simply by going on with it; breathing in, and breathing out:

Curled inside the mailbox, sandwiched between the phone bill and a Sharper Image catalog, was an eleven-by-fourteen envelope. Warren opened the envelope and pulled out a glossy photograph of Jesus Christ in a hooded robe, clutching a shepherd’s staff and staring majestically into the distance, presumably at His flock. It took Warren a second to recognize the face. At the bottom, just above Christ’s bold and splashy signature, were the words Keep on keepin’ on. Warren laughed. He started to throw the picture in the trash can, but some unnegotiable force caused him to hold on to it.

Get it and read it. It couldn't hurt.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quote du Jour: From a Literary Gem

Here is a quote from the best new novel I've read in a long, long time. Warren is a man in great distress. Kenny is a professional Jesus impersonator, and the brother of a woman with whom Warren has been having an extramarital affair. Warren's twelve-year old son, Jonas, has run away from home:

xx"Would you like to pray for your son?"
xx"I don't believe in God," Warren said.
xx"That's okay. I work for myself."
xxWarren looked at him. He seemed to be serious. Kenny knelt in front of him and laid a hand on Warren's head. His sunglasses reflected Warren's face, turning it moosey and distorted. Warren closed his eyes. He did not know how to ration his prayer. There were so many things he could ask forgiveness for: for loving Jonas least of his children; for giving up on life; for being here at all, in grease-stained khakis, at a strange woman's trailer. Once, as a boy, Warren had asked his mother if animals ever prayed to God; she'd told him that they didn't need to, that God heard them through their suffering."

I recommend the novel highly. I got turned on to it here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Remembrances: Portrait of Dorian, Gray

That was then:

Iggy Pop

I saw him self-described
as an elderly man
of means

I remember him
as a ninth-grader
with a big dick
and matching soft eyes
in the boy’s locker room
helping a weeping classmate
untie a tough knot
in the chin strap
of his scuffed leather football helmet

And I remember him
in khakis and cardigan wool
reciting his poem
about hedgehogs
in AP English class

I remember him next
like me arrived early
waiting in the lobby of
the undergraduate library
for the doors to open:

just back from Chicago
his summer invested
in the blues -
he wore western boots and
his hair was long:

So what do you call yourself now –
I asked – a hippie?

Still kind, he
quietly untied the square knot
in my question:

I’m hip –
he said – but I’m not a hippie.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Readings: Swich Licour


Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
When Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye
That sleepen al the night with open yë--
So priketh hem Nature in hir corages--
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimmages...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Religion: Earth Angels

When I got home from work last night, my wife, who had gotten there before me, called me into the kitchen. Listen to this, she said, and pushed the button on our old wood-burning answering machine that sits next to the fridge.

My name is Erica, said the voice that emerged from the static. Erica went on, without providing any additional personal information, to encourage us to go to our Bible and read Revelations 21: 3-4. We would profit, she said, from the hope it would provide in these trying times.

Strange, I said to my wife, and turned to go. Wait, she said, there’s another one. The second messenger identified herself as Helen. Her message was similar in content to that of her predecessor. But while Erica had been well-spoken, and probably African American, Helen spoke rather haltingly, in distinctly White Appalachian cadences, and wandered around a bit in getting to her point. The scripture that she was promoting was Psalm 37:10-11.

Play it again, I said to my wife. What for? she asked. I said that I wanted to write the citations down, so that I could go look them up in one of my Bibles. You’re kidding, she said. I’m not, said I. (Who’s that giggling?!) So I went down to my “den” in the basement and grabbed the first Bible at hand, which happened to be the NIV. The verses below, however, are clipped from an online KJV that I have bookmarked.

Erica’s verses are:

Revelations 21:3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

And Helen ‘s message is contained in:

Psalm 37:10 For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
11 But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.

Helen’s prefatory remarks had left little doubt that it is the recent devastating earthquakes, and the global financial crisis, combined with the wars and rumors of war, that have given rise to this campaign of telephonic evangelism. I would be lying if I didn't admit that the same thing had crossed my mind. (Stop that snickering, dammit-all!) I had not, however, generally been left with the feeling of hope brought to me by these two messengers, the first representing the New Testament, and the second, the Old. Thank you, Erica. God bless you, Helen.

(Go ahead and laugh, you sophisticated bastards. I guess you’re pretty sure that you know what an angel would sound like on the telephone, huh?)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Religion: Amongst the Cities of the Plain

I am now in the closing section of the book—mentioned below—that has lately been my 4:00 a.m. reading: Sze-kar Wan’s, Power in Weakness, the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. In a subsection entitled “Paul Lays Down the Gauntlet: 10:1-16” Wan quotes the following passages from the first letter to the Corinthians:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1:18-19 NRSV)


We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1:23-24 NRSV)

Leading up to the next subsection, entitled “Attacks on the Super-Apostles: 10:7-11:15” Wan writes (again quoting Paul):

The power of God is capable of destroying all human wisdom, all “strongholds…reasonings and every haughtiness raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:4-5).

And Wan goes on in the next paragraph to cite the authority of Philo (fighting philosophical fire with fire) as perhaps having influenced Paul’s choice of words:

The first-century writer Philo used the term “stronghold” to mean an argumentative edifice constructed out of empty speeches and human reasonings which at the end diverts one from honoring God. It was the favorite technique of the Sophists and flashy orators, according to Philo, to hide their vacuous thoughts behind flowery words and trickeries. These arguments may seem, on the surface, impervious to attacks, but in reality are only empty talk that does not probe the reality of God’s true character. By using this same criticism, equating “strongholds” to “reasonings,” Paul presents his opponents as cunning orators and sophistic chatterers who have erected an empty edifice that cannot withstand divine attack…

Finally, in the closing paragraph of this subsection, Wan writes:

With this, the battle lines are drawn. On one side are the flashy talkers prone to using eloquent words to persuade the world. On the other side stands Paul, a weak and unimpressive figure. But he makes clear that he stands for the power of God which comes through the meekness and gentleness of Christ. The Corinthians will now have to choose between these two camps.

In traveling through the Christian blogosphere, I find the elaborate edifices of many of such rhetorical “strongholds” standing along the way like cities of the plain. Within those gates, should one try to cut through the Aristotelian sophistry with the keen edge of a simple Bible verse, one is almost assured of being accused of resorting to the tactic of “dueling scriptures.” One soon discovers that his interlocutors are the theological-tactical equivalents of the neocon sloganeers who make their pitch on the cable TV talk shows: every response comes tagged with a mass-marketed bumper sticker. Hard on the heels of “dueling scriptures”—should one persist in citing the words of God to present one’s understanding of the Christian project—is the label sola scriptura. Ah, those Latinisms: the dagger’s thrust must go straight to the heart, if presented in the dead language of dead scholiasts. Amo, amas—say what?

In the service of what ends is this obfuscating language deployed? The only conclusion that can be drawn by stepping back and considering the phenomenon objectively is that the end—as in Paul’s day and age—is power. The “super-apostles” of the contemporary blogosphere are not different in kind from the overbearing “Three Pillars” with whom Paul had to contend in order to disseminate his personal revelation. And since their gig is, and was, a power-trip, the simple statement of one’s own beliefs can be seen by them only as an attack on theirs. Here again we see that they ape the paranoia of the neocon contingent with whom they most naturally tend to ally themselves as citizens and voters.

But one soldiers on. What else is a boy to do?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Quote du Jour: (Ya Just Gotta Luv Them Texans, Jim)

Lessee, now. According to Dan Rather:

Barack Obama couldn't sell watermelons at an African Baptist picnic.

(Or something like that...?)

Btw, to his credit, Chris Matthews rather deftly cut the fool off as soon as he could see where it was heading. But, geez... is this what it's coming to?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Readings: ECON 103, 102, 101...

Property down the ages (and the Great Chain of Being):

The Egalitarian Economic Policy of the Great God Yahweh:

Exodus 16:15 As soon as the Israelites saw [the manna], they said to one another, 'What is that ?' not knowing what it was. 'That', Moses told them, 'is the food which Yahweh has given you to eat.
16 These are Yahweh's orders: Each of you must collect as much as he needs to eat -- a homer per head for each person in his tent.'
17 The Israelites did this. They collected it, some more, some less.
18 When they measured out what they had collected by the homer, no one who had collected more had too much, no one who had collected less had too little. Each had collected as much as he needed to eat.

The Communistic Economic Policy of the Apostolic Primitive Church:

Acts of the Apostles 4:32 The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, as everything they owned was held in common.
33 The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all accorded great respect.
34 None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from the sale of them,
35 to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any who might be in need.

The Meritocratic Economic Policy of the American Christian Conservative:

In your heart you know it's mine! I earned it and I deserve it. It's mine, goddamn it! And you can't have any of it!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Remembrances: Icons

Below are two images that I tore out of magazines back in the mid-Sixties and have managed to hold onto ever since:

" Steal a little
and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot
and they make you king"

"There's room at the top
they are telling you still
But first you must learn
how to smile as you kill"

Rants: Mary sí, Calvin no!

At last look, an informal poll of the interests of readers at Vox Nova – Catholic Perspectives on Culture, Society and Politics, based on a tally of comments registered on concurrently active topics, renders these scores:

Transubstantiation: 13
Demonology: 20
Torture: 5
Gay Marriage: 106

The attitude of the Vox Nova readership towards demons is relatively laissez-faire (20); and more so for torturers (5). What, exactly, takes place with the Eucharist (it seems to be substantially a series of accidents) is mildly interesting (13). But a sizable percentage of them are damned-good-and-sure (106) that they don’t want those queers marrying and fucking up what has been, until now, a pristine-perfect institution. After all, what does the word “marriage” even mean, if it doesn’t mean compulsory breeding?

But what becomes apparent in an analysis the discussions cited above is that these folks generally don’t know what they mean. For example, the term “transubstantiation” dates from the 11th century and is still under dispute. The problem seems to be that Catholics are so good at scholastic finagling that they just can’t agree on the proper definition of any term: Bread? Wine? Body? Blood? Torture? Marriage? WTF?

That said, while it is quite clear that many of them are not too sure just exactly what they mean when they hold forth, many of them do know what they like. Or don’t like. (Mary , Calvin no!) Okay, then—whatever. Y’know?
UPDATE: For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that when I first wrote this piece I had apparently misread the total number of comments on Demonology as "2" when it had actually been--at that point--"20". Thus, uranists and demons have been firmly established as the Number One and (distant) Number Two category of critters preoccupying the minds of the interactive portion of the Vox Nova readership.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Readings: No Exit

The failure to love can only be my bad. That's the way it's constructed. And in this respect it is not written that it's one man's job to make it easy for another to love him. But, still...


Imagine if suffering were real.
Imagine if those old people were afraid of death.
What if the midget or the girl with one arm
really felt pain? Imagine how impossible it would be
to live if some people were
alone and afraid all their lives.

~ Jack Gilbert, Monolithos

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Reflections: Music of the Blogosphere

I have recently been visiting the blog of a woman who has evidently encountered in her life (about which I actually know almost nothing) personal trials that might be filed under some of the same headings as a sampling of my own. My visits to her site have been productive, already having resulted in a couple of new poems. These you can find linked in the sidebar, under Rodak’s Writings.

What follows here is an excerpt from a book that I am currently reading, followed by a Simone Weil quote which I have cited before, but never tire of contemplating. Each of these seems--in my mind anyway--to relate to the thoughts and feelings which visiting the blog mentioned above has given rise to:

The idea of God reconciling the world to God’s self represents a departure from the prevailing understanding of reconciliation in Hellenistic-Judaism. There the standard interpretation was that the fall and the subsequent human sin has so angered God that God must be appeased. The human sinners must therefore take steps to reconcile themselves to God and to propitiate God’s anger. Against this background, the Christian creedal formula reversed the roles and understood God to be initiating this cosmic reconciliation. Furthermore, the Christian formula suggests that God effected reconciliation by “not reckoning [humanity’s] trespasses against them,” thereby canceling the debts of moral depravity humanity has piled up in God’s ledger.
~ Power in Weakness: the Second Letter of Paul to the Corninthians by Sze-kar Wan, Associate Professor of New Testament, Andover Newton Theological School

Wan elaborates on this point by quoting verse 18: “All things come from God who has reconciled us to himself through Christ." Recalling his earlier discussion that Christ had died for all (5:14-15), Paul reformulates the role of Christ as effecting the cancellation of the sinners’ debts by means of his dying on their behalf.

Simone Weil, by contrast, sees this reconciliation not as an outright gift, or as an end-in-itself, but rather as an opportunity. We are given the Cross; but then we must--of our own volition--take it up:

God wears himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it. If it allows a pure and utter consent (though brief as a lightening flash) to be torn from it, then God conquers that soul. And when it has come entirely his he abandons it. He leaves it completely alone and it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it. And that is the cross.

Or, we could just oil the pocket of our baseball glove and bitch about paying taxes. It is March, after all.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Readings: Sadly True

Here, in its entirety, is a poem by Jack Gilbert, from his collection, Monolithos:


Woke up suddenly thinking I heard crying.
Rushed through the dark house.
Stopped, remembering. Stood looking
out at the bright moonlight on concrete.

Says it all.