I've been taking the bus to work lately. Mass transit has afforded me some downtime to read more. I just finished reading Bodies In Motion And At Rest: On Metaphor And Mortality, by Thomas Lynch. Margie Haack recommended the book a year or two ago in her winter edition of Notes From Toad Hall. Nothing quite takes the edge off the day like laughter and tears. To hell with the guy sitting next to you!
A funeral director/poet, Lynch puts forth a wonderously unique perspective on life. As a recovering alcoholic and a recovering catholic, his stories are dolloped with a peculiar irreverance. The following is an exceprt from a short essay with a long title, Notes on "A Note on the Rapture to his True Love." It's an essay on a little writing exercise he developed, the only publishable fruit of which was the aforementioned poem.
As for the TV – we'd only just lately gotten cable in Milford, and I was up nights channel-surfing between infomercials and religious broadcasting, especially Jim and Tammy Bakker, Before the Fall, we might say. I never sent money or touched the TV screen for healing, but to say I was transfixed by the sermons would be an understatement. A word Jim Bakker used over and over was a word I loved but did not understand. Rapture, as the concept by which (either pre-Tribulations or post-Tribulations) the saved among us would disappear, assumed into heaven like the BVM, had never been explained to Catholic children until it was too late to be appreciated. No doubt Jewish children were kept similarly in the dark. The idea that you might be sitting in some five-star eatery, sharing crème brûlée and other intimacies with a woman friend only to have her vanish in the moment and twinkling, leaving only the spoon and the bill to be paid, filled me with the sense of the Glory of God.
Little musings like these make me wonder if Lych is poking fun at himself or me. The tension therein offers one liscence to reflect and even poke fun at those things we take so seriously. Lynch puts it this way:
There is nothing like the sight of a dead human body to assist the living in separating the good days from the bad ones. Of this truth I have some experience. Many’s the day I would awaken in gloom—a darkness left over from a dream or the night’s drinking or a dread of the day I was awakening to. The moments spent before the mirror while tending to my toilet did nothing to lessen the lessons that Time is certainly not on our side, nor does it heal more wounds than it opens. The ever-retreating hairline, the whitening of one’s beard and mustache, the bleeding gums, the basal cell carcinomas, the boils, and blisters and bags under the eyes, the belly gone soft, the withering member, the hemorrhoids and hematomas, the varicosities and local edemas, the puff, the paunch, the wrecked version of one’s former self that presents itself most mornings, are enough to render most sane men suicidal…It was there, in the parlors of the funeral home—my daily stations with the local lately dead—that the darkness would often give way to light.
In the spirit of this blog’s subhead (Questions and answers, but mainly questions.) I thought I would post a passage from a favorite poet, Pablo Neruda. The following is from the inside sleeve:
“In The Book of Questions, Pablo Neruda refuses to be corralled by the rational mind. Composed entirely of unanswerable couplets, the poems integrate the wonder of a child with the experiences of an adult. Whether comic, surreal, or Orphic, Neruda’s poignant questions lead the reader beyond reason into realms of sudden intuition and pure imagination.”
There are some fascinatiing elements to this book. For one, on a corporate scale, the questions(only 3-6 couplets per page) play off one another over a span of many pages. Page 10 rings a bit with page 9, and page 17 reminds us of something … what was it (::flipping back::), ah yes – here it is on page 10 – but not so much on 9. Get it?
As a Christian – I also find myself becoming a little unsettled as a I read. Neruda seems to be blasting away some foundations. In other words, I find myself losing my footing a little bit as I contemplate these quetions. Though unanswerable, I am drawn to ponder them. Thinking on this stuff is like drinking that second glass of wine. My heart warms up, converstation starts flowing, but I’m not sure if I’m speaking wisdom or sticking my foot in my mouth. Anyway, I’ll start you off with a tame one and follow it up with a not-so-tame one.
“Tell me, is the rose naked
or is that her only dress?
Why do trees conceal
the splendor of their roots?
Who hears the regrets
of the thieving automobile?
Is there anything in the world sadder
than a train standing in the rain?”
“What forced labor
does Hitler do in hell?
Does he paint walls or cadavers?
Does he sniff the fumes of the dead?
Do they feed him the ashes
of so many burnt children?
Or, since his death, have they given him
blood to drink from a funnel?
Or do they hammer into his mouth
the pulled gold teeth?
Or do they lay him down to sleep
on his barbed wire?
Or are they tattooing his skin
for the lamps in hell?
Or do black mastiffs of flame
bite him without mercy?
Or must he travel without rest,
night and day with his prisoners?
Or must he die without dying
eternally under the gas?”