Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

This morning I woke from a dream of grief to see the early light coming through my window. The pain of a lost relationship had receded from my daily life. Habits and calendars and patterns of movement shifted.

But in my dream, I still wept. I woke feeling disjointed, as these tears seemed to stain the life I am opening myself to. How am I supposed to live and love and be open to the future when what I have lost still comes to me in dreams?

I let myself sit and watch the freezing rain and listen to the hiss of passing cars. I should simply get on with things, the way my neighbors were busily getting on with another day. I should reject my grief and take up the joy of the morning and move on. Right?

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” Romans 12:15.

Of course not. My grief is not a threat to my joy. The presence of grief does not mark the absence of joy. I am one who rejoices and weeps, all in one morning. Paul’s words in the letter to the Romans are calling me to be present with my grief as much as my joy. I find that the more present I am to my grief, the more ready I am for joy. My grief does not betray my joy. My joy does not betray my grief.

And my neighbors sliding through slush and snow and getting on with their days? They are rejoicing and weeping, too. When I can be present to the grief and joy that are tangled in my heart, I can go to others from the heart, from my mingled heart. I can meet their grief from my place of grief, and I can meet their joy from my place of joy. And they are one place.

 

The Return of Job

by Anna Kamienska

Job didn’t die
didn’t throw himself under a train
didn’t croak in a vacant lot
the chimney didn’t spew him out
despair didn’t finish him off
he arose from everything
from misery dirt
scabs loneliness

How much more authentic a dead Job would be
even after death shaking his fist at the God of pain
But Job survived
washed his body of blood sweat pus
and lay down in his house again
New friends were gathering
a new life was breathing new love into his mouth
new children were growing up with soft hair
for Job to touch with his hands
new sheep donkeys oxen were bellowing
shaking new shackles in the stable
kneeling on straw

But happy Job didn’t have the strength to be happy
afraid he’d betray happiness by a second happiness
afraid he’d betray life by a second life
Wouldn’t it be better for you Job
to remain dirt since you are dirt
The pustules washed off your hands and face
ate through your heart and liver
You will die Job
Wouldn’t it be better for you
to die with the others
in the same pain and mourning
than to depart from this new happiness
You walk in the dark
wrapped in darkness
among new people
useless as a pang of conscience
You suffered through pain
now suffer through happiness

And Job whispered stubbornly Lord Lord

 
 
 
 
 
 
“Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven” is the title of an album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Artwork by Will Schaff.

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An Altar Where No Walls Or Names Exist // Rabia Basri

In
my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church
where I kneel.
Prayer should bring us to an altar
where no walls or names exist.

Is there not a religion of love
where sovereignty is
illumined nothing,
where ecstasy gets poured into itself
And becomes
lost,
where the wing is fully alive
but has no mind
or body?

In
my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque,
a church
that dissolve, that
dissolve in
God.

Trans. Daniel Ladinsky

The Witness // Fanny Howe

Behold the broken
Hearts, backs and parts
Of nature
Evolved to follow
A finite path.

Behold the gray rain
In a house of mirrors.
Oak leaves shining
On glass, two kisses
In one spot exactly.

Behold the scabs and cuts
Of city streets.
Crusts, stones, smoke.
As many people
As nails from a factory.

Behold the space
Between each star
Or a child under nine
Laying her hand
On another’s face.

Behold the foundation
And the secret of it.
Close your eyes
And breathe.
When seized, don’t speak.

Bring Me To The Brink // Osip Mandelstam

Bring me to the brink of mountains, mystic,
Dread, rapture of fear I feel and … fail.
Still: the swallow slicing blue is beautiful.
Still: the cloud-tugged bell tower’s frozen music.

There is in me a man alive, a man alone,
Who, heart-stopped above a deep abyss,
Can hear a snowball grow one snowflake less,
The clock-tick accretions of dust becoming stone.

No. I am not that man, not that sadness
With its precise ice, its exquisite rue.
The pain that sings in me does not sing, and is true.

O whirlwind, O real wind
In which the avalanche is happening,
All my soul is bells, which will not ring.

(1912)

Translated by Christian Wiman

Ecce Homo // Mark Wallinger

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The Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square in central London was left unadorned for 150 years after its construction. In 1999, Mark Wallinger’s “Ecce Homo”, the first of a series of commissioned sculptures, was installed on the plinth. The other plinths feature larger-than-life sculptures of George IV on horseback, General Sir Charles James Napier, and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, while the fourth was intended to support a statue of William IV. Conquerors and kings.

Wallinger’s piece is life-sized, making the bound Christ appear particularly small in a context of exaggerated figures of outrageous men. Even more striking is the quiet, insistent presence of a man condemned to death by Empire standing in the heart of London, one of the great centers of global capitalism.

 

 

 
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Images from “Mark Wallinger”, Thames & Hudson (November 8, 2011)

The following is a brief interview with Wallinger, with footage of the piece, and surprisingly affecting footage of its removal from the plinth in 2000.

Cathedral, Empty // Osip Mandelstam

When light, failing,
Falling

Through stained glass,
Liquifies

The long grass
At the feet of christ,

I crawl diabolical
To the foot of the cross

To sip the infinite
Tenderness

Distilled
From destroyed

Hearts:
An air of thriving

Hopelessness
Like a lone cypress

Holding on
To some airless

Annihilating height.

(1910)
 

 

 

 
Translated by Christian Wiman

Two Poems // Langston Hughes

Who But The Lord?

I looked and I saw
That man they call the Law.
He was coming
Down the street at me!
I had visions in my head
Of being laid out cold and dead,
Or else murdered
By the third degree.

I said, O, Lord, if you can,

Save me from that man!

Don’t let him make a pulp out of me!

But the Lord he was not quick.
The Law raised up his stick
And beat the living hell
Out of me!

Now, I do not understand
Why God don’t protect a man
From police brutality.
Being poor and black,
I’ve no weapon to strike back
So who but the Lord
Can protect me?

We’ll see.


Question and Answer

Durban, Birmingham,
Cape Town, Alabama,
Johannesburg, Watts,
The earth around
Struggling, fighting,
Dying–for what?

A world to gain.

Groping, hoping,
Waiting–for what?

A world to gain.

Dreams kicked asunder,
Why not go under?

There’s a world to gain.

But suppose I don’t want it,
Why take it?

To remake it.

Musee des Beaux Arts // W. H. Auden

Musee des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

 

 

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Night Song // Osip Mandelstam

Night Song

by Osip Mandelstam

 

The bread is blight and the air’s acetylene,

Wounds impossible to doctor.

Joseph, by his own blood bartered

Off to Egypt, grieved for home no harder.

 

Unslaked sky. Sleetlight of stars.

And the stallioned Bedouins, avatars

Of the day’s vagueness, and the pain

Of vagueness, close their eyes and improvise

 

Out of nothing more than the mist

Of events through which they’ve passed:

Coarse wind, a horse traded for grain, small wars

With sand in which an arrow was lost.

 

And if the song’s in search of earth, and if the song’s

Ensouled, then everything vanishes

To void, and the stars by which it’s known,

And the voice that lets it all be and be gone.

 

(1913)

 

 

 

Translated by Christian Wiman

Prie-Dieu // Donald (Grady) Davidson

Prie-Dieu

By Donald (Grady) Davidson

 

Of what sins have you made confession here,
Ardent Cecile? Not passion’s intimacy,
Or tangles of desire that mutineer
A bold way through your maiden ecstasy.
Those are not blamed…the penance not severe!

 

Pray rather, with cool-lidded conscious eyes
For warm juvescence of those ichored limbs,
For laughter checked by no repentant cries,
For lips unstained by pattering of hymns.
Men’s glances have embraced you. They are wise.

 

They have seen you, cumbent by the ruddy fire,
Lending your curves to cushioned wantonness,
Or leaping to the stroke of an earthy lyre
Twanged in the joy of throbbing noon’s excess
And cried no pause for love. You, they require.

 

Of what sins have you made confession here,
Ardent Cecile? The wood receives your knees;
The organ stirs your prayer. Now you revere
The God that made you beautiful among these,
The gnarled and ugly. Your book receives no tear.