Purgatory Chasm

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By Gary J. Whitehead

Now I spelunk through time,
thinking my way between heaves
of doubt, feeling
in the dark for passages
and hints of diffuse illumination,
less sure than when, as a boy,
I slid head-first into that womb
of glacial confusion,
probing with a diminishing
beam slick seams and strange
formations—Corn Crib
and Coffin, Pulpit
and Fat Man’s Misery.
The point then was to slink
as deep as I might, lose myself
in dead-ends and sharp enjambments
until, too tired to move,
penlight dead, I’d lie panting
and panicked in cool blindness
like a wounded mole.
Was this the purgatory
I’d been taught in school,
postmortem lay-over?
Sandwiched in granite,
I loved the not-knowing,
and I still do—the crawl forward,
word after word,
the glimmer on the rockface,
and, finally, the way out
and the white so bright
that my eyes, without
my wanting, must close.

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Striptease

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By  Ron Wallace

When my friend Marty calls up
in the middle of a busy day
as he is wont, sometimes, to do,
and I put him off, if briefly,
with the excuse that I’ve got
my hands full at the moment
(as I do) but I’ll call him back
later, when things are more convenient,
and he says, sure, he’ll await my call,
and I think he’s probably planning
just to shoot the breeze or touch
base, and right now I don’t
have the time of day for him,
though later I look forward to
an uneventful conversation
about volleyball perhaps, or work,
or what movies he has seen of late,
and we are hanging up and I am going on
about my so important business, whatever
it is, and time rolls on as it is wont to do
and later, I almost forget to call him
back, but when I do, he’s un-
characteristically somber, though never-
the-less matter-of-fact when he says
he’s been to the doctor and he has
bladder cancer, an operation
scheduled soon, probably to remove
the bladder, maybe the prostate, he’s
not sure, maybe it’s in the lymph
nodes, maybe the bones, and everything
changes, the business of the day,
the year, the life, the small or
large distractions, the vicissitudes
of dailiness pale, or splay themselves
full frontal on the stage of my expectations
the naked truth dancing there like some
stripper in her awkward first performance.
And what in God’s name are we doing here,
I wonder, two old men tethered to
our phones, holding on for dear life
as if we could keep the music going,
the colorful lights, the raunchy
bump and grind of life’s seductions.
And I don’t want to put down the phone.
And I want to remain on the line.
And I want to stay after everything’s
said and done, and everyone’s gone
from the shabby and gaudy theater.

Revisiting the Brave New (Mystical) World of Sylvia Plath

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By Julia Gordon-Bramer

All I have learned from poetry, I learned from Sylvia Plath. Through her loaded imagery, her doubled meanings and reflective homonyms, and her visceral structures and voice, Plath’s work encompasses the mystical, the historic, the mythological, the celestial, and tributes to other works of art. For instance, the first poem, “Morning Song,” from Plath’s collection Ariel, begins with: “Love set you going like a fat gold watch.” Juxtaposing the date Plath wrote “Morning Song” against her world events, we see the new element Lawrencium was discovered on Valentine’s Day, 1961, using a gold cyclotron, a giant spinning “watch.” Her third line “Took its place among the elements” now has new clarity.
Yet, “Morning Song” is also full of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Huxley’s BraveNew World, titled from a line from The Tempest. The Tempest was the first of Shakespeare’s plays Plath saw as a young girl, and it made a lifelong impact upon her. Likewise, Brave New World was a favorite novel of hers as a teen, read and re-read. The characters of Brave New World seek a Dionysian mindless joy, happily swallowing their dull white pills, as Plath’s line reads, “Whitens and swallows its dull stars.” Too much soma causes respiratory paralysis, Plath’s “slow / Effacement” by wind. Plath’s “I’m no more your mother” becomes Huxley’s Linda character coldly denying her motherhood of John Savage. As beautiful as “Morning Song” is, it never gets soft or too sentimental. The goal is alchemy, the creation of golden perfection seen in Plath’s second line. Brave New World’s genetically-designed citizens are shallow and often stupid, as naïve as The Tempest’s Miranda, and so the government, as Plath’s poem reads, “Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.”
The reader chooses how to read Plath, and too many have closed their minds to interpreting only her autobiography. How tragic. Plath’s staying power is that the work moves us to new levels of understanding, perhaps not even consciously.
In “Morning Song,” Plath manipulates the symbol of soma, good and bad, for literary power. Like the magic potion of “love-in-idleness” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a baby is Oberon and Titania’s focus, with the goal of intoxicating Titania to give it up. The baby is a changeling, another “I’m no more your mother” reference, as Plath’s narrator speaks this to her own child.
Plath likely approached soma’s mystic and historic relevance from her work in Harvard University’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. Behind the “Morning Song” surface story of a gentle mother nursing a baby is the curtain of soma’s enticing spell: golden aspects, hallucinogenic echoes, drafts, milk, distillation, and clarity. Soma was harvested and flattened like Plath’s “flat pink roses” and considered the way to “wake” to understand the world, becoming reborn like a baby. A real-life candidate for the fictional soma is psychoactive mushrooms, found in one of Plath’s favorite botanical books and part of shamanic ritual that obsessed her husband, Ted Hughes.
I could go on. It hit me like a lightning bolt when I first realized, as a tarot card reader myself, that Plath not only read tarot (think of her poem “Daddy,” with her line “And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack,” Taroc being another name for tarot), but had built in tarot symbolism and imagery to every Ariel poem, unlocking its meaning. Tarot scares a lot of people who are too afraid of the weirdness of the occult, and so my work has not been too quickly received, and not always taken seriously. Yet, it’s all there for the readers, as beautiful as “Morning Song,” with its nakedness, elements, and white stars.
Aligned with the tarot, “Morning Song” corresponds to the Fool card, the first tarot card, the beginning of everything, with its number zero as a bag of wind. It represents the newborn baby, innocent and savage, aligned with the Greek god Dionysus. Through the tarot, all of Plath is reinterpreted. Sylvia Plath no longer has to be read as merely that depressive, suicidal, angry woman. There is now great joy to be found, spiritual and intellectual revelation, passion for human rights and environmental preservation, and a knowledge of the oneness of humanity. Those latter qualities, I promise you, are in other Ariel poems. It was as if someone handed me the keys to the kingdom; the soma to awaken. I hope you’ll try it too.

 

The Lord’s Pledge Drive

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By Jonah Winter

You listen to my sermons.
You listen to my words.
Hopefully, the things I say
make your life just a little more meaningful.
Hopefully, my words make a difference.
Well, imagine a world
where the words “love thine enemy”
had never been spoken.
Imagine a world without God.
Imagine reaching to your night stand for the Bible
and finding only a tattered copy of Moby Dick
or maybe just a stack of vintage lesbian pulp novels
in mint condition. Imagine, just imagine,
being surrounded by a gang of 10-foot-tall lesbian cave-dwellers
playing air guitar and tap-dancing in slow motion
while a pink giraffe reads random passages
from an L.L. Bean catalogue – in Spanish.
Imagine a world where Peggy Lee’s recording
of “Is That All There Is?” gets played on an endless tape-loop
constantly – for the rest of All Time.
Well, you have the power
to see that that never happens.
Just pick up the phone
and show me just how much you love me.
You know
how much I love you.
You know the price I was willing to pay
to ensure the salvation of your mortal soul.
Well, what price are you willing to pay
to ensure that I stay on the air?
How much do you value
my presence in your life?
You pay your dentist.
You pay for your groceries.
You pay utility bills.
Do you think I should just
give away my valuable wisdom… for free?
Be a mensch.
Go to your phone right now
and show the world just how much you value
everything I have given you – the wit, the wisdom,
the being crucified to pay for your sins,
the resurrection, of course, and just the many countless things
I do for you JUST by having existed.
I was born, I was a carpenter, I preached,
I turned loaves into fishes,
walked on water, healed the sick,
got crucified, was resurrected,
walked around for a while just randomly dropping in on people during dinner,
disappeared for about 2,000 years,
and now I’m back (!), here with you,
asking for your support:
I’ll take anything you can give –
one dollar, two dollars,
a gold coin,
a whole BAG of gold coins,
30 pieces of silver, whatever!
Whatever you can give,
whatever you can afford to give,
whatever you can find it in your heart to give,
THIS is what you SHOULD give.
You know, deep inside, what’s right
and what’s wrong. You know
because I have taught you,
because I have given you my blood and my body
so that you may have eternal life
in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now it’s YOUR TURN to give back.
Without your support, I cease to exist –
on the air, that is.
Do you really want to see me go back to standing on street corners
with a megaphone?
It’s just not effective.
No one takes me seriously.
No one listens.
They think I’m insane!
They think I’m just some homeless guy,
some out-patient from the local mental hospital.
You want to keep me off the streets?
You want to keep me out of the homeless shelter?
Do you want to keep me out of a straightjacket
in a padded cell deep down in the basement
of some primitive asylum overrun by rats
and other creepy crawly things?
Pledge today!
Give me your money!
It’s the only way you’ll get me to stop
this seemingly endless harangue.
You want me to shut up?
You want me to go back to my usual
“blessed are the poor” sort of thing?
It’s simple: Pick up the phone
and dial this number:
1-800-MY-JESUS.
That’s right: MY JESUS.
Because you know, I am YOUR Jesus.
I belong to you
and you and you!
And I love you.
And I know you love me.
But I need you to show me
exactly how much you love me
by picking up that phone,
dialing 1-800-MY-JESUS
and giving whatever you can give,
right now, this moment,
no matter what you’re doing, because
face it: Is anything more important than this?
My words, my body, my blood, my spirit:
Do they or do they not matter
more than anything else in the world?
All I’m asking for is one dollar,
50 cents, a dime!
It’s really not that much!
Not in comparison with everything I give you
day after day after day after day after DAY!
I died on the cross
so that you may live.
Now it’s your turn to step right up to the plate
and DELIVER – knock this one right out of the park
with whatever you can afford,
even if it’s just a PENNY.
We only have 2 more days to go
before I return to my usual schtick
(which I know you love so much).
Two days. That’s NOTHING
compared to the ETERNITY
of existential meaninglessness
you will no doubt experience
if I go off the air.
You need me.
And I need your money.
It’s that simple.
So.
Pick up the phone.
Get out your credit card
(and yes, I do accept American Express),
and dial: 1-800-MY-JESUS.
That’s 1-800-MY-JESUS.
And as a little token of my appreciation
for a 50-dollar pledge,
I am offering this nifty little MY JESUS water bottle.
It has a little picture of me with the words
“MY JESUS” just so you can show the world
I am your own particular Jesus,
not theirs – they didn’t pledge 50 dollars.
When you drink out of your MY JESUS water bottle,
everyone will know exactly HOW MUCH you love me.
I’ll know. God will know.
Satan will know. And of course
all those deadbeats out there who say they love me
but then are strangely silent during pledge drives…,
THEY’LL know too.
And you’ll know that YOU have done the right thing,
by doing your part to make sure
my voice keeps getting heard.
If you are listening to my voice
right now,
I know
and you know
that you value my voice.
You value my voice so much
that you would sit and listen to me BEGGING
for hours, for days – weeks!
1-800-MY-JESUS.
1-800-MY-JESUS.
If you are listening to my voice,
pick up the phone.
In the name of the Father,
the Son (that’s me!),
and the Holy Ghost,
I say unto you:
PICK UP THE PHONE!

Dad,
is there anything you want to add to that?
No?
Okay!

Raven T’ai Chi

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By Diane Wakoski

Periodically I try to study T’ai Chi, and this poem is a meditation
inspired by another beginning T’ai Chi student whom I watched
one day
 

At each T’ai Chi class,
she comes dressed in
black trousers loose as summer,
black shirt with sleeves as long
as Michigan winters. Soft black
shoes like earth feet. One look and you forget her,
as if she were just a customer in a line at the
grocery store, or a stone that blends into the field, a girl whose
face seems erased,
whose heavy body looks as if the bones weigh a lot.
I call her a girl because I am almost
seventy, but she isn’t
a young girl.

Today, alone,
in the pick-up class, where we each asked the
Master to help with parts of the Form we didn’t remember,
when she stood alone in the grey room,
and began moving with her eyes closed,
I forgot for a moment her
anonymity because
she had become something out of
night-weaving, out of the imagined dark and light that plays us into sleep.

From the ungainly girl, she had moved into a floating
black sketch, a blot of film, a contained
raven with no voice. The Master
helped her with some slow passes of her wrist into Rollback
and then said, “But now, I want you to open your eyes
while you do this.”

It was hard for her,
and I realized that as I had watched her, she had never once opened
her eyes. She learned T’ai Chi in the realm
where she could be as she imagined herself,
the pale visage of Ingmar Bergman’s Death, the black
field, clothed beyond life into a
dreamless dream-sentry, guarding
against intrusion.

The Yang Form, as opposed to Yin, developed with the martial artist’s need,
defensively, to know everything that is happening around oneself. So the
eyes must remain open.
While the gaze is always focused
ahead, somehow the eyes, the senses
must always be casting beyond the circles
of the hands and feet.
But the eyes are only the first
receptors.

Could this girl have jumped ahead, to observe some inner Form that might be a better one
for her to study?

I have no quarrel with the Master. He has
great patience with the untalented, like
myself. And in my own life I, too,
am guilty of pushing students to learn a tradition before
following their own inner voices. So, I silently agreed with him,
as he corrected her Form, but it frightened me a little
that she might lose that surprising beauty
once she opened her eyes.
I was impressed with her knowledge that
her body was something
different than what I, or anyone, saw. It
wasn’t the motions that displayed this, but her
patiently lowered eyelids.

And the Master was kind,
merely suggesting and not pursuing it,
when she once again closed
her eyes.
So, now I know something I didn’t
about the despair I often feel when I am sure I have created beauty
but that no one perceives it.
When you leave your eyes always open,
perhaps you see what others see, but what is this life about
except hidden beauty?

Our Master’s favorite movement is
White Crane Spreads Its Wings, but perhaps this girl has taught me
to recognize a new movement for those of us not comfortable in our bodies:
Raven Balances Herself With Eyes Closed.

Postcard from Home

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By Alice Friman

Cold and fresh as water to a thirst,
the day poured out.

Remember this, I said
when the high heat of Georgia

lays its lion limb against you
and will not move.

Remember this
when the Loblolly explodes,
filling every idle slit with pollen,
clotting sinuses and screens. Remember

this: how one day
the southern hardwoods—napping
through their measly two months
of nakedness—let slip
between their crosshatch of limbs
silhouetted against the sky

a breath of the north—blue
as the wind’s eye—come
to slap your face because it missed you
and wanted to leave a reddening,
a sting.

A reminder of the way
you used to hear it howling
like a grieving thing, swooping down
from Canada, stripping the Indiana fields,
scouring everything in its path
to find you.