Monday, November 14, 2011

Beautiful Beautiful, Shy Shy

Brother Andre's Heart: Montreal, 2003
by J.L. Conrad

In 1973, the heart gone, pilgrims
climb the stairs on knees to eye

the heartless man in his hollow chamber.
Memory's plumbline laid from there to here

on limestone. The mountain around which the city.
Yes, I remember. A new opening

through which the body remade itself.
Rocks knocked from mountainsides

brought here to bear weight upward until
even the impression of weight lifts off into

the recessed darkness pooled beneath the roof.
We stand in the votive chapel six days married.

A bank of candles: whipstitch of lights
sealing the wound. Columns bristle

with rows of crutches. We do not yet know
how bodies cave, how bones surface. We take

no pictures. No, that's not true.
We take two: one into the washed-out summer

sky. Me wearing sunglasses, the carved
angel rising behind my shoulder. And another

on surfacing from the crypt, sun breaking
into pieces, rimming each edge with light.

See how clouds cut into the sky.
See how the geese are black slashes

unstitching the firmament. Beyond
the open door, the heart lies suspended

in a jar, bathed in a red heatlamped glow.
The papers reported it found

in an empty apartment locked in a box
inside another box. How they must

have wrenched it from the body.
You've remembered it wrong

all these years: the jagged undoing,
snipping each stitch so the wound gapes open

again. Today, pilgrims file past the vault
in silence: my body parched, yours

stationed there beside me,
on the near side of desire. Holy water laid

between us. In what voice do I
call out? A brittle light, hearts sundered.

We can't be blamed if things come apart.
We can scarcely be accused of theft. What we take

we take from each other. Our dreams wearing horns
like sacrificial rams. We know in our bones,

which is to say our deepest selves, the world
thrown open, the veil torn, seeded fields ungrown

at last. It falls to us to shovel dirt over the flames.
Sometimes, they say, the heart still beats.

We did not ask for this. The one day a year
wine becomes unsettled, remembering.

Last weekend, while writing an article for a local yoga magazine, I discovered why my article sucked.  I was trying to talk about rediscovering Jesus (yes, that Jesus) in my thirty-third year of life, and all that has meant to me and my yoga practice.  The problem was, I didn't want to say anything.  Not really, anyway.  I was trying to write an article about the magnetic pull that Jesus has on my life right now, without confessing that pictures of him draw me in with the same velocity that cupcakes do, or that I now understand why that Bible story about Peter denying his faith three times before the rooster crowed is so valuable, and compelling.  I wanted to write a simple little summary of the holy buildings I've been in, without revealing my changing relationships to them.

Then I read this passage in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird.  This passage is for real, yo.  Take heed:

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.  We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.  Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little.  But we do.  We have so much we want to say and figure out.  Year after year my students are bursting with stories to tell, and they start writing projects with excitement and maybe even joy - finally their voices will be heard, and they are going to get to devote themselves to this one thing they've longed to do since childhood.  But after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be about as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat.

It's true. I was keen to avoid writing the truth in my article.  First, there was the difficulty of even understanding the truth--what has been going on in my psyche, my spiritual self, under all the layers of years.  But the real difficulty lay in sticking to that truth--spitting on my hand, clasping that of truth's, and looking into her eyes, pledging, "Me and you, Truth.  To the bitter end!" It was very tempting to just pat Truth on her behind (because she has such a nice behind, doesn't she?) and then duck and run when she turned to see who likes her. 

Searching tonight for a quote in a notebook I keep, where I copy favorite passages and poems and then let them gather dust, my eyes fell upon something I clipped from The Oxford American once upon a time.  I had read a bunch of small tributes which Barry Hannah's students had written about him, and grown smitten with one of the pieces.  Now, I have no earthly relation to Barry Hannah, or even an intellectual one.  I do know that smart people have nice things to say about his writing.  That's great.  What I love about Barry Hannah right now is this description of his behavior:

I never knew the old Barry, only the Second Coming of Barry, when he no longer seemed tormented, and instead was so comfortable with releasing his sweetness into the world.  I had heard most of the old stories and shuddered at their boldness as well s the anguish they bespoke - the unsustainable amplitudes of howling rage - or fear - and joy.  But I only knew the Good Barry - the one who evidently one day had gotten such an extra dose of courage that he shelved all the old stuff and decided to carry forward only the sweetness.  His yellow legal-pad letters arriving in the mailbox - the sentences written in a scrawl one had to sometimes divine or intuit rather than read - gave their recipients a courage that lasted and lingered for days: testimonies from a man who had decided to one day embrace and celebrate the world's imperfections.  A man who had outlived his demons.

He could still skewer a rat.  But all I ever knew of him was his new calling, the one where he told his friends, at every opportunity, how much he loved them.
I think you know where this is going, but allow me to bang us all over the head:  I want that extra dose of courage the writer speaks of!  I want the courage to tell my best friends that I love them, defenseless, raw, and true.  I want to cozy up to acquaintances who inspire me and dare to start a friendship.  I want the courage to live so fully in my heart that nothing stands between my experience of love and my expression of it. 

Do you think things could get dangerous, quickly?  I do.  And it could be really fun.

I am currently in a drawn-out conversation with a best bud about whether or not you can really be sexy and sweet at the same time.  I say, why not?  I say the most profound experience of love can also be the most erotic one.  And the most erotic experience can be so foundational because it has pulled back the societal curtains of what you think should or ought happen, to reveal the beating animal heart of what really turns you on, to find out why we are really all here: which is to experience, taste, dance and divine. 

If by sweet, you think, pleasing all people and being all things to everyone, then yes, I do not think you can be sexy and sweet at the same time.  But if by sweet, you mean, so deeply in your heart that you are like a bad ass backer of Truth and her band, then hell yes.  I know of nothing sweeter, nothing hotter.  And I say, go on and rock them both.

Therefore, whatever your truth, and wherever she is hiding (or wherever you are hiding from her), may you go to her and take that hot lady's hand, and together knock back a few shots of courage tonight.

With love and November's skittering mischief,
As always & most sincerely,