By Robert Polito
If only God would save me,
I would know how to hurt you.
If only God would save me,
I would know who to sell my soul to.
Anything is an autobiography,
but this is a conversation –
William Burroughs insisted
literature lagged 50 years behind painting,
thinking no doubt about abstraction, collage,
fragmentation, his cut-ups.
But whatever that meant (why always 50 years?), or however
he presumed to rile other writers,
poetry probably does lag behind any credible media theory about it –
so that if I put a pine tree
into a poem,
a grove of pine trees
and beyond them the sea,
you'd think it was the same tree Wordsworth put there;
instead of two obligatory centuries of nature studies, all those
Technicolor vistas, torch songs, couples
drifting through leaves in Salem commercials.
Into one life and out another,
the way a junkie playing a writer,
a writer playing a priest,
so that when I finally blurted out,
you assumed the burden of personal urgency,
supposed it was me speaking at the limits of my self-control
and not The Damned Don't Cry,
Temptation, and Leave Her to Heaven.
You open your mouth and a tradition dribbles out.
But that's mimesis –
how almost impossible to avoid mimesis,
anybody's hardest truths prompting the most fractured constructions,
the way to think about God might be
to disobey God,
if only God's wish to remain hidden,
so that if everything is an autobiography,
this is a conversion.
As my lives flash before me,
why must the yearning for God
trump all other yearnings?
You often hear converts confess
the drinking, his pills, her sexual addiction,
concealed inside them a yearning for God –
why not the other way around?
The admission of Jesus into your life
concealing instead the wish, say, a need
to be fucked senseless drunk drugged & screaming
OH GOD! OH GOD! on a hotel bed…
God embraces our yearnings.
That afternoon my father heard his diagnosis of inoperable cancer,
my aunt Barbara demanded we get him to Lourdes.
She demanded this with a glass of vodka in her hand –
she demanded this running her fingers up and down my leg –
she demanded this before she passed out in her car –
In the movie of my life,
my father died
after I forgave him,
& when my secret tormentor said may the ghosts of your dreams
gnaw at your belly like a wolf under your jacket,
did she really want revenge,
or was she just killing time?
For me God is a hair shirt, or he's nothing;
for me God is a pain in the ass;
that's mimesis, again,
this hour I tell you things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I'll tell you.
The world is a road under the wall to the church,
the world is a church, & the world is a road,
& the world is a stone wall.
Still, he wanted her the way the Cardinal wanted the Caravaggio,
& when the ill-advised possessor of the painting resisted –
one night Papal Guards searched his house.
Of course contraband came to light, some illegal rifles,
& when the ill-advised possessor of the painting went to prison –the Cardinal got his Caravaggio.
But I wasn't a Cardinal, nephew to the Pope,
and you –
you were not a Caravaggio.
So I asked you to be in my movie.
I had a wonderful Sunday with my family and Dementordelta, who came up to go with us on the winter Countryside Artisans open house tour and to see Mary Fahl at Jammin' Java. Since we knew we needed to be in Virginia in the early evening, we only went to a few of the studios, starting with the glassblowers at Art of Fire, where Allen Ye Printmaker, Dancing Pig Pottery, and the Celtic artists from Tuatha Gallery were also visiting in the smaller barn. We watched some of the glassblowers at work and played with the cats, then went to Dancing Leaf Farm and trudged through the snow to see the sheep and chickens before going inside to look at yarn and eat cookies. Then we walked across a snowy field to Sugarloaf Studio, where we bought a small print of a watercolor of the Dancing Leaf Farm sheep with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background. To our astonishment, the Redskins were winning as we headed home, but of course they managed to lose to the still-undefeated Saints in overtime. Dementordelta brought me the latest French Barbie and a penguin with body lotion and bath gel as an early birthday present!
We left the boys with my mother and drove into Virginia, where we stopped at The Artisans in McLean because we knew Jody Marshall was going to be playing hammered dulcimer at their open house. I had never been there before and was delighted to see how much jewelry and local crafts were for sale, plus there were snacks including Swedish meatballs, cranberry cream cheese, Christmas cookies, and peppermint bark. Then we went to Jammin' Java, where we had their fabulous chili while waiting for Mary Fahl to come on stage. She played a relatively short set since there was a bluegrass band due on the stage at 9 p.m., but it was still a terrific show -- she opened with "Deep As You Go" and did several new songs, including one that she wrote for her boyfriend's birthday, one that she wrote for a wedding, and one that she wrote about Johnny Cash and June Carter, plus "The Other Side of Time," "Ben Aindi Habibi," "Going Home," "The Dawning of the Day," The Rolling Stones' "As Tears Go By," and "Nessun Dorma" (accompanying herself on the guitar, the first time I've ever heard the aria performed that way). And afterward we all shared yummy chocolate desserts!