14.8.06

Poem: "St. Roch"

St. Roch

Your ancestors are buried here,
she said,
pointing to the fuzzy monitor;
my roots displayed
as if someone had known all along
that francis killman is my Great Grandfather,
a tattoo of a woman sewn on his thigh
that I have never seen before,
never knew him before,
gets kinda excited
decomposed into a puddle
at St. Roch
his ashes are —
I presume, , ,
but I can never find him,
passing the chapel,
Cubicle “A-2-Z” is absent,
a square window penciled in on the side,
and peering in like Scrooge on Christmas day —
I see there are crutches, braces, wooden canes,
old socks
s t r e w n
on rocks carved, “Thank you to a saint”
LEFT BY KIERKEGAARD’S FAITHFUL
and we are changed
the peeled off pavement
of Holy Trinity walk
and Saint Irenaeus lane
suffer … drop a penny, sink a ship, sailor blue leaning against the wall, washed out from the lake pontchartrain after the storm
Three Boys at the Pantheon

1.8.06

Eulogy for My Dog Maggie: 1990-2006

Dog walks on a gravel road
Maggie on a walk
When my dog Maggie died, I wrote her eulogy.
     When a girl reaches that age of sweet sixteen uncertainty, my girl has reached the age of mortal certainty, her skeleton worn out from a teenaged span of use, her gauzy eyes barely seeing, her ears clotted with wind, her matted hair uncombable  she sits in the living room panting, refusing water, wagging her tail nevertheless.
     She was a Humane Society special. $50. That’s what she cost. Including her shots. Nick was 9. I was 11. Brad was like 16. Brad, Nick and I picked her from a mixed bitch’s litter, the babies all scrunched up beneath her teets, we picked the one  eyes still kinda closed  who had the personality we were looking for, independent but lovable.  Mom was concerned, “How big is she going to get?”  The vet assured us this dog could be a house dog (She ended up being an outside/inside dog).  She was a Springer Spaniel mix; we didn’t meet the father. And the mother is a strange memory -- because why would I remember her, the dog who bore my baby when I myself and my family would become a mother to this mutt? Maggie is the name we gave her after severe brainstorm in the living room.  We called her many titles over the years.  Fat girl, we called her. Pretty girl. Morga. Maggie. Morgus. Thing. Baby. Hey, baby. Mooga. Maggie Roselli. Maggie the Magnificent.
     Her first night we were afraid she would shit all over the house, so we put her in the bathroom and shut the door. She cried all night. I slept in the top bunk, being older  and Nick slept on the bottom. Both of us heard Maggie’s cries. She hated being by herself. Even till the end. She hated it. She would prove to be a dog who followed you wherever you went. Just to be with you. So she wouldn’t be alone.
     She would get on a kneeboard in the Tchefuncte river just so she would not have to wait alone in the boat. She followed Nick and I to the bus stop  and sometimes attempted to get on the bus!  She went with me into the woods and we got lost a few times.  We were off the beaten path; we had gone into the woods to eat blackberries; I turned to her  as lost as she was  “Maggie, where are we?” She just looked at me, crushed chlorophyll frescoed into her face.
     We finally got out of the woods, onto a country road a few miles from the house.  She didn’t complain.  And just a few years ago  in her later years  she followed Zack and I to town.  It’s a long walk to town but Maggie insisted she come along.  When we got to the river she walked down the algae-covered concrete steps and got soaked; she loved it.  But when we got to the hamburger shop near the main drag and I tried to get Maggie some water from the clerk, Maggie wanted to get inside into the Air Conditioning.  Her tongue was panting so painfully, that it almost reached the ground.  But I wouldn’t let her.  She looked like a sea hag come from her morning bath.   She waited behind the paned glass door and at the first moment she got she squeezed past a customer and showed up by my side.  She scared a lady exiting the restaurant. “Get that thing away from me!”  I have to admit, inadvertently, Maggie looked menacing.  I pretended she wasn’t my dog, but when the owner asked whose dog it was, Zach turned me in, “It’s his dog,” pointing directly at me.  I picked up Maggie and cradled her sloppy wetness to my dry shirt and walked out.  We called a cab; they charged a canine tax.  Bastards.  Zach loved it.  So did Maggie.  I don’t think I let Maggie follow me on my walks ever again.

10.5.06

John Milton on Adversity

    Adversity breeds life.
An Etching of Samson, from an 1882 German Bible  source: wikimedia
 Milton liked to write about adversity because he saw it in the paradox of Christian life. Jesus died so we might have life.  “They also serve who only stand and wait” is the last line of Milton’s sonnet on blindness.  And in the Areopagitica he writes, “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.”  We go searching for death, and life springs up again, as usual, to quote Virginia Woolf. Actually what she really wrote was I meant to write about death only life came breaking in as usual. It is funny how one remembers quotes incorrectly.  Adversity is something I intuit in my own life; I have an intimate impulse, like Samson, but I also scheme and think too much like Satan in Paradise Regained, storing it up for later. Why, just yesterday somebody tried my patience and I just pretended to wait, not like Jesus, “The time prefixed I waited,” (PR 1.269) as if waiting for God’s prefixed time, but rather a time when I could get back at someone and use their words against them.
    No one likes to wait yet we sense and intuit that patience and waiting are good things.  I wish I could wait and serve like Samson and Jesus but Satan's jittery insistence to outwit God (again) seems awfully childish but worth the effort -- especially those times when you feel like Samson, blind and shorn.  In this paper I am going to talk about this adversarial jig-a-lig between waiting and serving and scheming insistence and how it plays itself out in both poems, “insistence” in Paradise Regained and “waiting” in Samson Agonistes.
    In Paradise Regained the Adversary (1.33) is determined to dupe God by insisting on sabotaging Jesus, God’s Messiah, the guy who waits and waits, calm and demur as a cat in the hot sun with his belly bare.  Jesus makes himself vulnerable by exposing himself to the desert.  Samson is vulnerable and is humbled by his weakness in the prison in Gaza, captured by the Philistines after Dalila, his wife, dupes him.  In Paradise Regained, Jesus’s mode of operation is just to sit there and take it.  The adversary, "roving still about the world" (1.34-35) finds Jesus in the desert and appears to him disguised as an old man, but Jesus is not convinced by this quick ploy to deceive him with wise words.  “Why dost thou then suggest to me distrust, knowing who I am, as I know who thou art?” (1.356). The archfiend now undisguised is first shorn of his appearance, revealed as superficial and a fake.  He is “dissembled, inly stung with anger and disdain,” not a Samson, shorn and blind, still believing in God.  Satan's insistence is "inly stung" (1.466). Satan gets so pissed off at his inability to fool Jesus with his cool words that he disappears as quickly as he had come by the end of Book one.  Satan tries to convince Jesus that truth is hard to achieve, Satan argues, and it is a bummer to have to wait for it.  Those atheistic priests who mumble prayers but do not believe are not any better, Satan contends.  Satan pulls out the lowly and woe is me card and pleads to Jesus as a supplicant, “Thou art placed above me, thou art Lord” (1.475) which gives Satan an excuse to dismiss God’s law because his not as equipped with God power, so, he reasons, he’ll fail.
    Unlike Satan, Samson knows his mission (although he question’s God ways), so when his father Manoah insists on ransoming him from Gaza and taking him home, Samson desists, saying it is impossible; he has been such a wretch, having succumbed to Dalila’s shears and is a disgrace to his country.  Samson’s only response is to sit idle on the feast of Daigon, waiting, seemly doing nothing.  “Here rather let me drudge and earn my bread, till vermin or the draff of servile food consume me, and oft-invocated death hasten the welcome end of all my pains” (573-576).  Samson has consigned himself to waiting, like the newly baptized in Paradise Regained who cry to God for a Messiah.  Samson is plagued with the Job-like questions of, ‘why is this happening to me’? Why did he lose his strength to a concubine and why is God doing this to him, the strongest and greatest warrior in the country?  Samson is similar to Satan in this grapple with truth but the difference is in how both deal with the adversity.
    Satan knows his insistence to deceive Jesus is unfortunate but he clings to the liberty "to round this globe of earth," although he curiously prefaces it with the word "prison," even though Samson is the real one in prison, "Life in captivity, among inhuman foes" (108-9).  As in Paradise Lost, Satan’s prison is psychological and tormented, “inly racked” (PR 3.203).  He is the classic psychotic.  Satan does not trust God, does not see in adversity salvation and creates castles in the sky, scheming to destroy God’s work.  Samson’s distrust is human distrust, while Satan is hardwired in distrust and anger that ends up confounding him in the end.  Both poems use this image of the prison, the desert, a place of exile, to tease out the struggle between waiting and action, freedom and bondage. 
    In book three, Satan directly challenges waiting, when he asks Jesus, “Why move thy feet so slow to what is best? …. Perhaps thou linger’st in deep thoughts detained” (3.224; 227).  In other words, Satan is telling Jesus, that compared to him, who is already damned to hell – I have nothing to lose – but you, who are the son of God, why don’t you just do something?  Satan mentions that Jesus’s entire life has been private, unlived, “What of perfection can in man be found?” (3.230) as he tries to convince the son of God to put away his meek life and conquer the world and all it holds.  Jesus merely replies that God has his due time and we must trust his providence.  This really gets Satan rolling with anger and the rest of the poem is a crescendo to the denouement of the fall where the title, “O patient son of God” is a curse and Satan disturbs Jesus’s with thunderbolts and rain.  Satan is the inverse of patience: a troubling wandering and stewing that mocks patience in its waiting but serves only to erupt at any moment.  Satan has watched Jesus from a far ever since he heard that this might be the Messiah, but it is not the same moral waiting imbued to Mary and John the Baptist.
    In Samson Agonistes, after Samson and his father speak, Dalila enters, the second person to tempt Samson to depart Gaza and give up on the prophecy that Samson will be great.  Dalila and Satan are structured with this same deceptive insistence to get what they want at any cost and in any rhetorical guise.  Samson yells, albeit oxymoronically, “My wife, My traitress!  Let her not come to me,” (725) she comes anyway, disrespecting boundaries.  For Dalila, her insistence to see Samson is fueled by conjugal desire which “prevailing over fear and timorous doubt, hath led me on, desirous to behold once more thy face …” (739-40).  Dalila wants to see Samson because of sexual desire but it is not because she really is afraid of rejection or anything; she is not as meek as that.  She wants fame is jealous of Samson’s fame – she is timorous of the prophecy and fears she will end up an unknown Philistine.  Like Satan, Dalila speaks in half-truths and justifies her insistence with false alloy.  She seems to seek forgiveness from Samson but Samson is loath to grant her such pleasure.  Dalila comes professing love and justification for her actions, and like Manoah, tells him, “… I may fetch thee from forth this loathsome prison-house, to abide with me …” (921-22).  Like Satan, Dalila is tempting Samson out of the desert of Gaza.  But also like Satan, Dalila will not win.  Samson dismisses her insistent flattery and says, “This jail I count the house of liberty to thine, whose doors my feet shall never enter.” (949-50).  When she approaches him to touch his hand Samson tells her to go away and find fame in her “hastened widowhood.”
    It is also interesting how others perceive Samson and Christ.  They do not respect their insistence to wait and serve God.  People wonder where Jesus has gone to for such a long time; why is he not here?  They think Jesus has deserted him, like the way Mary, his mother and Joseph felt when he was lost in the Temple, waiting on the sacred teachers in the Temple.  The crowd in Samson Agonistes is adverse to Samson too, stupid in their perception of why Samson will not act.  So it is not only an inner struggle of adversity of waiting pinned against acting, but also the social awareness and perception of the people around both Jesus and Samson and how they are complicit in the temptation to give up on God’s mandate.  Mary says of her son, “Private, unactive, calm, contemplative, little suspicious to any king.”  In other words, it seems like she is saying, how can this guy be a king – he does not have the public attitude, the active and moving force of a king.  It is like the crowds in Samson Agonistes when they say, “Can this be he, that heroic, that renowned, irresistible Samson” (124-26) who killed thousands of Philistines with the jaw of an ass?  Can this be he, who is now “in slavish habit, ill fitted weeds o’er worn and spoiled” (122-23)?  But Mary does wait for her son, “But I to wait with patience am inured” (PR 1.102) like Samson in that she does not understand God’s law, yet still she waits in patience.
    But what is the end result in the adversarial conflict in both poems?  How does waiting and action resolve itself?  Waiting and serving turn out well for Jesus.  He confounds Satan with his virtuous patience and steadfastness.  Satan is confounded.  Milton uses a long epic simile to describe Satan’s fall that is really cool.  We hear of Samson’s triumph from a messenger who tells us that Samson implodes the temple walls in on himself and is crushed to death by the pillars.  In a weird way, he becomes a hero.  But it is still sad.  Samson’s waiting is tinged with self-doubt and shame; he more than anyone in either of the poem comes closest to the struggle with good and evil, patience and waiting that Milton sought in his interpretation of Christian paradox.  In this way, Samson Agonistes is a very difficult poem but the most Miltonic of the two. Paradise Regained tidies up the problem quite nicely with Satan on his knees and Jesus triumphant.  My head hurts from all this thinking.  I think I am going to post now.

8.5.06

Book Review: Body, Pain, Torture and the Cogito - Unmaking and Making of the World in Anil’s Ghost


Image result for anil ghost novelIn a civilization preoccupied with images, information, speed and efficiency, a wash of “words, words, words” there is still an origin of knowledge in the body itself that is vastly under attack to such an extent that it has lost its voice, exacerbated by the inability of language to express bodily, “the body in pain,” especially, the body tortured and mutilated, left to die.
     The body is constantly barraged with images, perceived by the image, informed by the image, speaks through the image and the text; the body has knowledge that language cannot express. The fallacy of torture is that it seeks from the body knowledge that the body cannot give. In an image-saturated society, the problem of the cogito, both the Cartesian indubitable certainty of mind and the split between mind and body fostered by the Enlightenment and onwards, has erroneously bifurcated the body and the mind, has wedged the two apart by scientific discourse; the mind has become privileged thus being subsumed under the subtitle of peripheral concern.  The body, therefore, has become unnoticed, not a substantial claim to certainty, not given a voice in the political realm and not perceived holistically as an agent of viable literary discourse. Nietzsche and Schopenhauer understood this dynamic of pain needing a way to express itself; Nietzsche, forever the romantic, embraces pains because it gives him knowledge, it does not confine him to an unalive corner, but rather, pain, is an expression of life and living dangerously.
     So in an effort to give the body back to poetry, the body, corporeal and enfleshed is a text and the contemporary novel is a place of transformation where this body can speak above the technological, 21st-century din and the political discourse that govern legislation, human rights action, and world-systems.  The body haunts the text in which the cogito, the voice of reason, the privileged discourse of reason holds sway; because of this privileging of mind, “the body in pain” is unmade by the cogito – not into a real, tortured person, but rather a body politic, a set of nations pinned against one another on the global stage, a specter.
     An ethical response that is genuine is lost by the cogito because of its insistence to bifurcate and divide, giving literary discourse an emphasis on mind instead of the body.
     An agency of language for the body is uncertain in a tyranny of the cogito.  “The body in pain” is subsumed by the cogito, the logical slice of reason; it is easier to think about the conflicts of nations instead of the real human beings involved in suffering, torture, and war, thus a feeling emerges that says there is no need for an ethical response to the real suffering of the other.
     Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje is an example of the novel being able to give a voice to the pain in the body, speaking in the corners of literary texts, where a single line is enough to expose “the body in pain,” the body mutilated, the body abused (Scarry 11).  Ondaatje’s novel is about torture and political violence set in the contemporary sphere of globalization that assumes different approaches to “the body in pain”.  Elaine Scarry writes,  “Physical pain does not merely resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is heard” (4).  The voice of the tortured body, the mutilated body is destroyed by pain, reverted back to a state a priori to language; this is cause for ethical response, a giving back of a voice, The body interrogated, mutilated, evaporated is silenced, made obliterated of content (Scarry 33). The body in pain loses its voice in these novels giving rise to an ethical call to action not written by the cogito which either makes or unmakes the world via a two-pronged model: a creation of the world with Gamini Diaysena, an emergency room doctor and Ananda Udugama, an artist who reconstructs the face of the dead, or an unmaking of the world with the cold, slicing knife of Western reason symbolized by Anil Tissera, a UN forensic anthropologist.

4.5.06

Movie Review: Imaginary Heroes (2004)

In this blog post, I write a movie review about the angsty indie film Imaginary Heroes starring Emile Hirsch.
Emile Hirsch is an actor in Dan Harris's film Imaginary Heroes
It may seem redundant that there is another film out there about the dark underbelly of suburbia, but Dan Harris (who wrote and directed the film at the age of 24) proves that you cannot get too much of a good thing with the independent film, Imaginary Heroes.

1.4.06

Poem: Riding MARTA on a Business Trip

MARTA train arrives in Atlanta's airport photograph: visitingdc
Faces I saw on the train from the airport,

twin faces painstakingly exact,
except for a
birthmark on one of their chins,
dressed in a gray hooded pullover,
one blue, one grey, a branded name, the same,

stood on their seats with a cousin or friend,
lions and lionesses
guarding
a traveling father and mother
planning, checking the stops …
don’t want to miss it …

going to the zoo, a little vacation
with the kids

said the papa

sitting right next to me

and as the train ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhed by,
a twin’s tooth came loose in the aisle seat,
between Civic Center and Peachtree.

Showcasing the discarded flesh to his brother as if
rejoicing in his difference,

jostling up to his twin, eagerly sharing his tooth,
snuggling up to him, intimacy,
the entire family of the car noticed
and sighed a collective ahhhhhhhh of parental instinct,
distracted from reading, staring out the window,
getting off, getting on,
the gapless gemini grinning
his roman face leonine, as I have said,

and switching places with his father, to calm him down,
to displace him from his brother,
he glowered in the seat, never quite glowing,
or sharing his tooth,
stowed probably in his pocket.

When the train had stopped and they had gone.
I didn’t see them again; I had turned my head and when I had looked
back,
where the twin had sat, there was an empty space,
an orange-tinted plastic seat
"Lady" © 2006 by Greig Roselli