Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reflections: Leap Day, 2012

Having not posted anything here for many days, I feel that I cannot in good conscience let a Leap Day pass without being dated by a brief post.

I have felt for several days that radiation from the recent solar storms has been affecting my body chemistry and my brain waves, bringing me strong dreams by night and a sometimes almost unbearable sense of dread in my waking hours. It is not as though real-time circumstances on the ground haven't been sodomizing me for real; but it's been more than that. And I blame the sun and his tantrums for my distress. It helps me to have that target.

Please admire the portrait of this old man, donated to the cause by my Irish FaceBook friend, Fiona Clements, a.k.a. F3. If you want to know why that alias is, you'll have to ask the lady.

Check out this tiny piece by Leonard Cohen from his Book of Longing:


he's going to get sick
and die alone

he is the main character
in my little story called

The House of Prayer

That says it all. Just wait. You'll get old, if you're lucky. Or whatever.

So, it's Leap Day. But I'm afraid of heights, so I'm not jumping into anything. Just waiting.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rants: The Current Rage

The rant below is one of my comments in a thread at Vox Nova concerning the recent controversy over mandated birth control in health insurance coverage provided to employees at Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and universities. I first quote an excerpt from another readers' previous comment, and then launch into my own screed:

@ Henry Karlson

“This is also something constantly forgotten when bringing up religious liberty: it is not just our religious beliefs that are in the nation.”

The fact that you even need to point this out, and the fact that the whole discussion of the issue is entirely pointless without this fact in mind, is precisely indicative of the type of Catholic exclusionary thinking of which I have been complaining with regard to the question of the closed communion.

If it is not possible to be a good Catholic in a secular and pluralistic society, then perhaps this is not the best society for Catholics to inhabit? I say this seriously. This nation was originally founded by Protestants. And the Calvinists (and other Protestants), against whom I continually hear some Catholics railing, founded it in order to be able to live according to their own beliefs.

Maybe the Church should just get out of the hospital business? I’m sure that for-profit corporations will buy them out. Maybe Catholics should not be running colleges and universities if they necessarily need to be employing non-Catholic staff who will want to live according to their own religious beliefs (or lack thereof?) Or maybe they need to shrink to whatever size a fully-Catholic staff will be able to support?

Nobody is asking Catholics to use birth control (although apparently they do so anyway.) Nobody is asking Catholics to have abortions. The idea that it’s fine and dandy to use medieval Scholastic verbal gymnastics such as “material cooperation with evil” to try to control – in very fundamental ways – the lives of non-Catholics, is just wrong. In this country, it’s wrong. And I’m not sure in what country it might be right. Can you think of one?

Rodak's Writings: Poetry Noir

I may be about a quart low on optimism:


If I had a billionaire patron
I could run for president
and make a lot of money.
It’s that trickle-down thing,
that Enlightenment essential
the Founders intended
when they beneficently
condescended to glaze the windows
of their slaves’ cushy cabins.

(Oh, say…can you see?)

I’ve been chasing myself inside out,
looking up into the incomprehensible
face of tomorrow as memory,
dead time punctuated by robocalls.
Junk mail lies unopened, testifies
to the certainty that something is circling,
something that smells death emanating
from my life’s eroded surfaces, wafting
from the crawling crinkles of my skin
on which weird long hairs thrust up
like opportunistic weeds in a fallow field,
like an olfactory signal evaporating
in autopsy hues from the spooky end
of visibility’s snickering spectrum

(By the dawn’s early light)

If only I had a million bucks,
a dirty book and a slave-girl to fuck,
I could at least go out guilty and grinning,
rather than having pointlessly rolled on edge
for a few yards, only to topple flat,
stymied by a fog bank like a wall of stone,
to lie neglected as a fumbled pfennig
not worth the effort of a stooped retrieval.
Anything that hasn’t died on me already
lags behind to mumble gossip at my back.
And old Boogie Street now seems a fading
Hollywood dream, paved with ill-gotten gelt,
littered with the pay-stubs of preening pimps,
as the reel turns mechanically, on and on,
the spent film’s tail flapping in the cold air
like the frayed banner of a dead republic

(What so proudly we hailed)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Readings: A Portrait of the Poet as an Old Man

Considering that I have absolutely revered the man since he came onto the scene back when I was in college, I have written very little about Leonard Cohen on this blog. He ranks near, or at the top, of my personal patheon of  'sixties-era singer-songwriters. His only competition would come from Dylan, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell. Honorable mention goes to Neil Young and Van Morrison. But, no--Cohen is king. There have been several pop stars who have published books of poetry. But I think that Leonard Cohen may be the only one who was a published poet (and novelist) prior to becoming famous in show biz.

For my recent birthday, my daughters gave me a gift certificate to the bookstore that one of them works in. And my father gave me a bit of money. I used some of the money to buy Leonard Cohen's new CD. I used part of the gift certificate to buy his 2006 book of poetry and drawings, Book of Longing. I have been reading in that book this evening.

The birthday was my 65th. Some kind of milestone, I guess. The birthday following which one can no longer deny being old. That being the case, the poem from Cohen's book that I will be sharing below definitely resonates with me tonight. As usual, he says it perfectly. He speaks for "Sixties Survivors" everywhere, I think, in the poem,


I am too old
to learn the names
of the new killers
This one here
looks tired and attractive
devoted, professorial
He looks a lot like me
when I was teaching
a radical form of Buddhism
to the hopelessly insane
In the name of the old
high magic
he commands
families to be burned alive
and children mutilated
He probably knows
a song or two that I wrote
All of them
all the bloody hand bathers
and the chewers of entrails
and the scalp peelers
they all danced
to the music of the Beatles
they worshipped Bob Dylan
Dear friends
there are very few of us left
trembling all the time
hidden among the blood -
stunned fanatics
as we witness to each other
the old atrocity
the old obsolete atrocity
that has driven out
the heart's warm appetite
and humbled evolution
and made a puke of prayer

In case you were wondering, that's exactly how some of us feel when we observe those who are left in power as we Boomers drop off the tree, over ripe; an invitation to bugs, scavaging birds and little furry rodents.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Rodak's Writings: Why Servetus Had to Die

Why Servetus Had to Die

Goddamned reprobate!” Pappy Cal hollers, huffing,
pumping like a preacher, chasing the speckled hen back
towards a damp afternoon in the sweltering tarpaper coop.
Thus is inaugurated the Twelfth Kansas Revival.

Up the hill, in the big house, stacks of saucers
rest dust-free in the gleaming oak breakfront,
their cups, hanging up above on brass hooks,
shiver like silent ranks of martyred heretics.

The saucers wait impatiently for the science fiction fad
that will make headlines of their humble designation,
while Bartholomew -- the one we dubbed “Weasel” -- regards
his broken cap gun and his dead hamster with nostalgic
empathy, and stoically returns to composing his memoir.

But no, that’s too easy. Those saucers wait to be dropped
or thrown -- broken -- for the release of their voices;
for their kiln-hardened bitterness at long last to be spoken;
edgy and cutting; musical, strident, impassioned, verboten.

This was all material for a novel never written
by a woman named Robinson, though its composition
was predestined according to sometimes reliable
communicants of Welch’s and Wonder Bread,
at least one of whom was the humble possessor
of an alliteratively tolling Doctor of Divinity degree.

But that was in Idaho, not this flat Kansan Oz
peopled by Munchkins in faded bib overalls;
not this Ozian Kansas plagued by farmers that fly.
And returning we see Cal has choked that poor chicken,
unable to shove it back in where the eggs all lay nested.
That persnickety hen, although wings were provided,
refused finally to flap them, to soar towards safety.
Thus did she die: a victim of scruples; sacrificed to her pride.

Pappy Cal we now see flinging saucers at Bartholomew,
for the Weasel prefers to make cryptic hen scratches
in his little red notebook -- his stiff pet there for company --
than to scratch in the dust, so to sweat out a livelihood.

The Weasel might well have had Robinson’s sympathy --
but son, this ain’t Idaho. So, Bartholomew tucked and he
squealed as he rolled away, while a flying saucer chorus
in their pieces and shards took up counterpoint harmonies.

After sundown the porcelain was swept up and discarded.
We had a fine supper of roast chicken with gravy.
We then sat in silence and listened most solemnly
while Bartholomew read from his Renaissance diary.

Duty done, Pappy Cal snored like Noah in his library.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Review: A Simone Weil Documentary Film

Mini-Review: An Encounter with Simone Weil, a film by Julia Haslett

I have just finished watching this film, which I loaded into the DVD player with great anticipation. Since Simone Weil has been an important part of my intellectual and spiritual life for over two decades, anything with her name on it is of immediate interest to me. This is a very worthwhile film. I recommend it to anybody, and especially to anybody who is unfamiliar with Simone Weil. It is a good introduction to who she was, why her work is well worth reading in depth, and why her biography is an inspiration to both socio-political activists and to persons interested in the topic of God.

The film is centered around a line of Weil’s which is printed at the top of the front insert of the box the disc is packaged in: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” This line is important to the film’s creator, Julia Haslett, in part because she is the daughter of a suicide--her father; and later, as we learn at the end of the film, the sister of another suicide--her older brother. These meta-narratives skillfully allude to the ambiguous suicide, by self-starvation, of Simone Weil herself.

Another meta-narrative is that of political activism and the possibilities of commitment to a cause. Haslett links the issues of today--particular the wars in the Middle East--with the issues of Simone Weil’s day--the two World Wars, the rise of fascism and the struggles of the workers for justice.

Finally, we have the meta-narrative of the making of the film. Of the attempt by Haslett to train an actress--a Weil look-alike--to (as much as possible) BE Simone Weil, so that Haslett can experience Weil in the flesh. This narrative doesn’t work very well, but not many minutes are spent on it.

What works very well are the interviews conducted with persons in France (and one niece who appears to be American) who actually knew Simone Weil, in locations where she lived and worked.

I would have appreciated less focus on the political and more on the spiritual. I would have preferred less meta-narrative and more of Simone Weil’s own words worked into the script of the film. But that’s me. I’ve read most, or all, of Weil’s works in published English; I own four or five biographies of her, as well as several critical studies of her writings by other intellectuals. For this reason, I’ve developed strong areas of interest that the general viewer would most likely not possess. I strongly recommend the film to anyone. I agree with the opinion of Albert Camus that Simone Weil was the only truly great soul of our time.