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More truly and more strange. October 8, 2013

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Tea at the Palaz of Hoon
by Wallace Stevens

Not less because in purple I descended
The western day through what you called
The loneliest air, not less was I myself.

What was the ointment sprinkled on my beard?
What were the hymns that buzzed beside my ears?
What was the sea whose tide swept through me there?

Out of my mind the golden ointment rained,
And my ears made the blowing hymns they heard.
I was myself the compass of that sea:

I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not but from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

The Haiku Lesson December 18, 2012

Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Haiku Lesson No. 1: Daffodils

Cloud-lonely journey.
A sudden daffodil host
banishes all gloom.

Haiku Lesson No. 2: The Waste Land

Tomb-builders erect
concrete monuments. We are
all hollow with death.

Haiku Lesson No. 3: Anecdote of the Jar

In Tennessee I
placed a jar upon a hill,
subduing mountains.

Red Loves Kitt December 12, 2010

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Sunday morning nothing to say blues. This has been rattling around in my Drafts box for a while since I discovered the uncollected poems of Wallace Stevens scattered around the Intertubes. This one was likely kept unpublished so as not to advertise to the world his long and faithful but unhappy marriage. I find Stevens endlessly fascinating because he took great pleasure in his job as insurance executive even as he wrote some of the post powerful poetry of the 20th Century. I have read his collected poems over and over and some of his critical work but never a biography. I have a dozen books scattered around the place in various stages of being read (or ignored) so the last thing I need is another book, but that one needs to get moved up on the bucket list.

It is Connecticut cold outside and blowing like Fargo in March, so it seems like a good morning to huddle around the cracking CRT and warm oneself with words on fire. Did I mention there are crows involved? Of course there are crows involved.

From Uncollected Poems Of Wallace Stevens

RED LOVES KIT

Your yes her no, your no her yes. The words
Make little difference, for being wrong
And wronging her, if only as she thinks,
You never can be right. You are the man.
You brought the incredible calm of ecstasy,
Which, like a virgin visionary spent
In this spent world, she must possess. The gift
Came not from you. Shall the world be spent again,
Wasted in what would be an ultimate waste,
A deprivation muffled in eclipse,
The final theft? That you are innocent
And love her still, still leaves you in the wrong.
Where is that calm and where that ecstasy?
Her words accuse you of adulteries
That sack the sun, though metaphysical.

II
A beautiful thing, milord, is beautiful
Not only in itself but in the things
Around it. Thus it has a large expanse,
As the moon has in its moonlight, worlds away,
As the sea has in its coastal clamorings.
So she, when in her mystic aureole
She walks, triumphing humbly, should express
Her beauty in your love. She should reflect
Her glory in your passion and be proud.
Her music should repeat itself in you,
Impelled by a compulsive harmony.
Milord, I ask you, though you will to sing,
Does she will to be proud? True, you may love
And she have beauty of a kind, but such
Unhappy love reveals vast blemishes.

III
Rest, crows, upon the edges of the moon,
Cover the golden altar deepest black,
Fly upward thick in numbers, fly across
The blueness of the half-night, fill the air
And darken it, make an unbroken mat
Out of the whirl and denseness of your wings,
Spread over heaven shutting out the light.
Then turn your heads and let your spiral eyes
And move the night by their intelligent motes.
Make a sidereal splendor as you fly.
And you, good galliard, to enchant black thoughts
Beseech them for an overwhelming gloom.
It will be fecund in rapt curios.

That water without sound November 30, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.”
Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens

Has the War on Christmas already begun, and no one told me? The holidays are a difficult time for the unchurched or those of no particular dogma, confronted by those who try (in the best American commercial fashion) to establish an exclusive franchise for their church. Their efforts to make of us A Christian Nation are at least a part of the problem I have with organized religion.

I was raised Catholic, like so many in New Orleans, just old enough to be the among the last who made First Communion in Latin. Outside of a brief episode resulting from watching The Robe with a high fever, which lead to a week of attending daily 6 a.m. Mass and my mother’s fervent hope that she had spawned a priest, I started drifting away in my teens. It was not just the idle rebellion of the young, who preferred to spend an hour Sunday morning lounging about with cigarettes while our parents thought us at Mass. The literature I read in the 1970s was at least partly to blame: a Baghivad Gita from a begging Krishna, all of Carlos Castaneda, the Zen and Buddhist obsessions of the Beats, Joseph Campbell: it seemed a thousand doors opened into the same space. How could only one be right?

Decades later the Catholic Church shows the same conservative face that banished the Liberation Theologists decades ago and claims a prominent place at the head of the homophobic parade running campaigns to Ban Gay Marriage. Those effort’s sole purpose is to advance the election of factions I oppose with my entire heart and soul, and the Church’s embrace of the proto-fascist edge of conservative America was just another nail driven in.

Just last week the Church announced it was dropping funding of Acorn, and the loud boors on NOLA.Com hooted and stamped their feet in agreement. I found myself researching once again the grounds for excommunication. It seems only appropriate that if I wish to formally sever any ties to such a large, persistent organization with a thousand years of closely-kept records, I should have an embossed piece of paper to file with my baptism and confirmation certificates to close the deal, once and for all.

But it’s too much damned trouble, and as one rational commenter on NOLA.Com pointed out on the discussions of the Acorn funding decision, if you’re as far down the road as researching the rules on excommunication, you’re already there. (There are some rational people on NOLA.Com, and I like to think WetBankGuy is one of them. Why are we there? Someone has to stand against the darkness). Instead of reading up on excommunication, I go read Wallace Stevens epic celebration of the question of unbelief, Sunday Morning.

In truth I can never completely sever my Catholic identify (even if I cannot recite the Nicene Creed with a straight face and an honest heart) unless I am willing to sever my head in the bargain. I was married in the Church, and carried the day with the monsignor who interviewed us for our pre-Cannan conference. With twelve years of Catholic school under my belt (stop snickering, Peter), I quickly knew the answers to all the right questions. It helped immensely when he learned I was from New Orleans. He had shared a room for a while at seminary with former Archbishop Phillip Hannan, and our interview quickly turned into old home week.

To be raised Catholic in this city is to be deeply imprinted not only with a faith but by a complex culture that goes with it. The idea of a secular Jew, someone raised in the faith and its observances who no longer follows them, is well accepted. This city is full of people like me who are indelibly marked by our faith if no longer observant: secular Catholics.

Even as I struggle with how to handle the holidays from now through Christmas–I must go to Mass, of course, for my wife is still a Good Catholic in so many ways even if only a Holy Day of Obligation–it is a time of year when my Catholic identify is reinforced not by the Church but by my family. My visiting father-in-law wanted Mass on Thanksgiving, so I got on the phone and found one not too early, then charged my daughter (who seems to be traveling the same path I did at her age, and does not go happily to church) to take him to St. Anthony of Padua on Canal Street.

The choice of church led by dinner time to a long conversation with my mother as well. St. Anthony was “her church” growing up in Mid-City, and I heard a new story, which is always a treat when sitting with older family members. The church was built by Spanish Dominican fathers, and she is a Dominican girl through and through–high school, college, the alumni association. To this day she is among the last of her circle of confirmed Dominican girls who several times a year break break with the remaining nuns of Dominican College, and if any opening to the subject comes up I will hear how this or that sister is doing. My daughter has a Dominican nun doll dressed in full habit, a gift of her grandmother, and I am sure my mom is disappointed that my daughter is at Ben Franklin and not at Dominican High School.

She told me of the young priests who staffed it in her girl hood were a handsome lot who made the hearts of young Catholic girls flutter. All those young men, she told me, were all sent to the Phillipines in the late 1930s, and were murdered by the Japanese. I don’t remember hearing of girls being enamored of priests when I was young, but perhaps that is a guilty secret they only share among themselves until it is a distant memory of youth and a story to tell the family so that it is remembered. Perhaps it is like our own adolescent discussions of whose mother was “hot”, a hermetic ritual of adolescent boys before our popular culture reached the point where MILF is a common word with no trace of indecency.

New Orleans is inseparable from its churches. Jackson Square is a typical colonial plaza, with St. Louis Cathedral central on one side, flanked by what were once official colonial which are now museums. St. Mary’s just a few blocks away was an 1845 addition to the Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter, the oldest building in the district. The Ursulines were the first women’s order to arrive in New Orleans, and their story is deeply entangled in the story of New Orleans. The tale of their prayers for victory before the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor persist to to this day and a mass is still said yearly to commemorate the event.

Every wave of Immigrants from the Catholic countries of southern Europe built their church in their neighborhood, and people are still fiercely loyal to their local. When the current leadership announced the closure of the historically prominent St. Augustine in Treme, the first parish built by and serving African-Americans in the city, led to a raucous confrontation with the Church authorities after the Archbishop’s chief henchman, the unpopular Rev. William Maestri showed up with a police escort to confront the protesters. And the more recent announcement of the closure of several healthy, active parishes in the Uptown area has lead to members occupying the deconsecrated buildings and suing in the cannon courts of Rome to have the decision overturned.

I am not fond of Maestri (if the use of the term henchman did not give this away) for his role as the Archbishops right hand man after the storm, particularly his role in the destruction of Cabrini Catholic Church. Whenever his name comes up (and as the spokesman of the Archdiocese and it’s chief enforcer, it frequently did over the last several years) she would always tell me how wildly unpopular he was when Maestri was assigned to the parish I grew up in, St. Pius X on the Lakefront.

Scratch any Orleanian and you will quickly uncover their own stories of their church. We are not so different that anyone else in this regard, but I have a hard time imagining the members of churches I knew in Minnesota or North Dakota rising up against their own Bishop to save their parish. It’s been done in Boston, but there is something temperamental to the MidWest that would likely prevent it. And living in a place that was still frontier just over a century ago, they don’t have the deep ties to a particular parish and building of people whose family has attended the same church for 150 years or longer.

I remain unchurched for the first time since I met that good Catholic girl from North Dakota. St. Anthony would be my parish were we to present ourselves and sign the register, and I will set foot in it for the first time this week when I no doubt find myself accompanying father-in-law and family to Mass. Once again I will struggle with how to respond, and find myself falling into the ritual and its recitations, but will stand silent for the Nicene Creed. It is a far cry from my mother’s wish to have from her two sons a doctor and priest.

To be unchurched–“unsponsored, free” in the words of Stevens–is not to be militantly atheist or a non-committal agnostic. One old friend detects currents in my life that lead her to invite me to join her at Samhain. I still pick up the old texts of Tao, Buddhism and Zen. The words of Jesus still stir me as they did Thomas Jefferson. It is more complex than that.

And so I will go to communion because it is expected and not out of any sense of communion, and without fear that I commit some heinous sin by taking it. It is not for me the transubstantiated flesh and blood simply because I do not believe. Whatever about the Nicene Creed or the political foibles of bad bishops troubles my mind and soul, the familiar space of Mass is something as comfortable as my own skin, and as easily taken up as required as a spoonful of gumbo. The kind teacher of love with the Sacred Heart is an image as powerful today as when it was first imagined. I will just try to let myself surrender to the moment because it is–not simply as I almost said but in a complex way–an ineradicable part of who I am.

But first, a reading for the First Sunday of Advent in anticipation of the Yule.

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy November 14, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Words fail me sometimes. One night’s worth of sleep in the last two days courtesy of the Counting House. Some days I am not sure if a better use of the newspaper is to read, or to wrap a lead pipe and beat my head with. The latter would sometimes be less painful. Maybe I should get a job with one of the city’s sanitation vendors, and let the robotic arms do all the heavy work.

Thankfully others have words for me when I have none. If this poem doesn’t cheer you up, I recommend sitting on the porch reading Bukowski and drinking absinthe until you can just make it in to set the alarm and collapse into bed. Sadly, I’ll probably be shepherding another technical conference call from hell tonight instead. We can all rest in the grave.

Dry Loaf
By Wallace Stevens

It is equal to living in a tragic land
To live in a tragic time.
Regard now the sloping, mountainous rocks
And the river that batters its way over stones,
Regard the hovels of those that live in this land.

That was what I painted behind the loaf,
The rocks not even touched by snow,
The pines along the river, and the dry men blown
Brown as the bread, thinking of birds
Flying from burning countries and brown sand shores

Birds that came like dirty water in waves
Flowing over the rocks, flowing over the sky,
As if the sky was a current that bore then along,
Spreading them as waves spread flat on the shore,
One after another washing the mountains bare.

It was the battering of drums I heard
It was hunger, it was the hungry that cried
And the waves, the waves were soldiers moving
Marching and marching in a tragic time
Below me, on the asphalt, under the trees.

It was solders went marching over the rocks
And still the birds came, came in watery flocks,
Because it was spring and the birds had to come.
No doubt that solders had to be marching
and that drums had to be rolling, rolling, rolling.

Red Weather September 7, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“Only, here and there, an old sailor,
Drunk and asleep in his boots,
Catches Tigers
In red weather.”
–Disillusionment of 10 O’Clock
By Wallace Stevens

The houses are not haunted, as the opening of Steven’s poem says. Our’s is not the haunting of an ancient house or a lonely crossroads. The haunting is not out there somewhere in the dark. It is somewhere in here, in the dark, inside of us.

In August and September of 2005, something died deep inside of everyone who lived in or cared about New Orleans. It was an uneasy passing, like the troubled death of a suicide or a tragic young death. Some call this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but it is not. There is no “post”, no after. We watch the pictures from Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish. We hear the stories of people abandoned, of promised aid gone awry. We see the houses collapsed or washed by the flood and we remember. The ghosts we keep trying to put away wake up and grab us by the heart.

I heard those ghosts, a low sound like a tone of voice, when the evacuees spoke of their grueling journey to safety, when they called this “their last hurricane”. I hear it in the voices of my friends in the NOLA Blogger community and my older cohort of Orleanians, the people I grew up with who sat out Betsy and sweated Camille. The rest of the country has moved on once the dramatic pictures of the floodwalls overwashed were replaced by something new. New Orleans, America thinks, has once again dodged the bullet: the city did not flood.

The floodwalls of concrete and steel held, but others did not. The chaos of evacuation, our leaders panicking on TV the night before many left; the pictures of water driven to the very top of the walls while ships and barges tore loose again in the canal; and now the chaos of the return, the stories from the towns at the end of the roads along the coast, the relief supplies promised but never delivered: all of this has breached through the scar tissue, the slow rebuilding we have all gone through deep inside. Down there, where the ghosts live, we are awash.

Homecoming should be a relief but it is not. There is too much residual anger at the politicians (we can’t call them leaders) in City Hall, in Baton Rouge and in Washington for their continuing ineptitude. There is too much damage to the east and south, and we must watch our neighbors painful re-enactment of the old story daily, perhaps for the months it will take just to restore them to some semblance of normal life. And now the weather forecasters tell us another storm is pointed at New Orleans.

We cannot know precisely what the poet meant by “red weather”. It is a perfect example of poetic language, something perfectly appropriate to the sound or stanza and to the image, and yet it is not like common language. That phrase is not a brick in the construction of a mundane paragraph. Instead those words are a door into the poem: we must find ourselves what precisely is meant by red weather to gain entry into the poetic moment.

The old saying goes both ways: red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailor’s take warning. Because the sailor “Catches Tigers in red weather”, I have always taken it to stand for both danger and excitement. Now that I live beneath the red and black hurricane flags, this poem and the phrase “red weather” comes back to me. I thought of it sitting on my porch in the calm of the evening, contemplating another storm, another evacuation. And for me, at least, it became clear.

Here on the hurricane coast, when the storms stir up the ghosts of the flood, we live in red weather.

Two Landscapes December 8, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Fargo, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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I have known both these places, have walked in emptiness and felt that which fills the emptiness like water rushing into a bowl. In some places we call this god, and in others we call this ghosts. At the dark of the year, I struggle to see the difference.

1) I have heard the inevitable noise in the signal called silence, the crisp, static rustle of snow falling upon itself in perfect stillness far below zero.

2) I have seen what some call ghosts, the emptiness that outlines the shapes that make a place in a landscape, the space without which there is no form. I have felt the haunting when there is nothing in the landscape but the shape of a place and its essential emptiness.

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