The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

By Michael Palmer

In a darkened room they
speak as one against the
religion of the word, against
the prophetic, the sublime, the
orphic call. It is a
strange conversation, coming as it
does after hours of making
love, mid-afternoon till now, at
this their second meeting, shutters
closed to block the lamplight
outside. Seated on the bed,
the curve of her back
toward him, she is smoking.
It is unclear whether they
believe what they are saying.


From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World. "Michael Palmer has been associated with 'non-referential' or 'language-centered' poetry," Pinsky writes saying that such categories neglect too much of what is going on in the poems. In the one above, "The narrative presents its reality as reliable. The poem's final sentence goes so far as to say that the two characters have an inward reality -- the degree of their belief -- that is independent, beyond what the poet who makes the 'study' of the title can say. Or is the study a room: a room containing the author, or containing the couple with their intellectual judgments and lovemaking?

It reminds me in a sad way of Paul Simon's song "The Dangling Conversation" from Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme:

It's a still life water color
Of a now late afternoon,
As the sun shines through the curtained lace
And shadows wash the room.
And we sit and drink our coffee,
Couched in our indifference
Like shells upon the shore,
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
The borders of our lives.

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost,
And we note our place with bookmarkers
That measure what we've lost.
Like a poem poorly written,
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time,
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives.

Yes, we speak of things that matter
With words that must be said:
"Can analysis be worthwhile?"
"Is the theater really dead?"
And how the room is softly faded,
And I only kiss your shadow,
I cannot feel your hand,
You're a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
In the borders of our lives.

I had a perfectly enjoyable child-free Saturday, since my kids are with my in-laws in Pennsylvania and we are not getting them back until we all meet at the Orioles game on Sunday. We went to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, which is across the way from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception so we went there too. The Cultural Center has Marc Chagall's 1957 Bible Series on display, 105 etchings by Chagall (whom the receptionist described to us as a "Jewish gentleman," presuming we were Catholic) based on events and scenes in the Torah and prophetic books of the Bible; a set of pages from the 15th century Borso d'Este illluminated Bible; and a permanent exhibit on the Jewish temples that stood on the site of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (interestingly, American Catholic rhetoric is just as biased if not more so than Jewish rhetoric on the region: for instance, the exhibit claims that "hovels" were torn down where they were blocking views of the Western Wall, rather than that Muslim homes were destroyed, though the press is fond of blaming Israeli Jews for those sorts of statements). There was also a display of holy cards from the sublime to delightfully cheesy baseball-card type images of saints.

The first time I was ever in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I was taking summer theater classes for high school students at adjacent Catholic University's drama department. It was by far the biggest church that I had ever entered and I was absolutely awed. Now I am struck by how much smaller and more modern it seems compared to St. Paul's, Durham Cathedral and York Minster in England, but it is still a magnificent building. There were many candles lit for the victims in London and people crying in the shrines to the various aspects of the Lady. I am incapable of walking into a Catholic church without a deep sense of ambivalence, even a contemporary American one (it was dedicated in 1959) -- the bookstore has a big display of the virulently anti-Semitic book that was Mel Gibson's primary source for The Passion of the Christ, and it felt very strange to be inside a church the same week a leading cardinal declared that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith. This is one of those weeks where I want to take all organized religion and give it to the monkeys -- between allegations of Fundamentalist coercion in the Air Force and signs of religious incompatibility all over the globe causing brutality, it seems worse than useless to me.

Fortunately I had a lovely, relaxing evening of dinner involving crabmeat at Legal Seafood followed by hippie pagan folk music by Jennifer Cutting's Ocean Orchestra, who were playing with Grace Griffith and Lisa Moscatiello at the Lubber Run Amphitheatre in Arlington, Virginia. They call themselves "Celtic music for ancient moderns" and their material includes many of the songs Cutting and Moscatiello sang together when they were in The New St. George as well as a number of absolutely gorgeous "new" (since they're mostly hundreds of years old) songs and arrangements. In addition to "The Mermaid", "Our Captain Cried All Hands" and various other sea-themed folk songs, they did a version of The Shocking Blue's "Venus" which believe me you have never heard until you've heard it with bagpipes, button accordion, pennywhistle and bouzouki. Traditionalists may not approve of their new CD Ocean as it contains arrangements incorporating electric keyboard and bass, a full drum kit and synthesizer sounds, but it's absolutely gorgeous music and quite inspiring to me. Why do hymns feel so different to me performed by a folk group than in a church?

Stupid fannish thought for the day -- okay, actually stupidest thought for the day among many: Someone should do a Snape songvid to Madonna's "Live To Tell." On which subject I would like to announce that I am writing The Sappiest Snape/Lupin Story Ever. I feel that I am entitled, as it is possible after Saturday that I will never write another Snape/Lupin story nor ever want to. If I am wrong about that, I will issue a formal apology in the form of serious snark. *g* In other entertainment news, Michelle Forbes as Commander Cain justifies to myself my ongoing disinterest in watching the new BSG, because while I love Forbes, Lloyd Bridges OWNS that role and I loathe the idea of it "reimagined"! And may I just say that the previews for that new show Prison Break make it look great; I hope it's as good as its trailer.

An illustration of the Earth's creation at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. What amuses me about this is that there are dinosaurs on the right side of the painting, in among the other animals. I also like that in this interpretation, "male and female he created them" rather than Eve coming out of Adam's side.

Looking up at the magnificent ceiling in the sanctuary.

The rose window and organ above the narthex.

Another rose window and another magnificent painting above one of the side chapels.

Ever since I read The Moon Under Her Feet, I cannot look at an artistic image of Mary without seeing all the goddesses who have been represented cloaked in blue and standing on the crescent moon. I've always thought that if I had been raised Catholic, two things would have kept me in the faith: I'm a very touchstone-oriented person, and I love the idea of being able to carry rosaries, saints' medallions, cards with blessings, etc., but even more I love the idea that I could pray to someone indubitably female as others in the faith have been doing for centuries.

The basilica behind the Hartke Theatre, center of Catholic University's drama productions and the site of one of my first onstage performances.

Jennifer Cutting's Ocean Orchestra, who paraded in to bagpipes and carrying a banner featuring the sea.

And yeah, I am totally behind on work and particularly correspondence and comments...robinwest, I swear I have not forgotten you! Next week my children are in camp and I promise to be better. Hope everyone is having a relaxing weekend!
Tags: eastern shore 06

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