NaPoWriMo Day 11 (Day 18 for Everybody Else)

Today’s prompt: “lullaby.”

LULLABY FOR THE OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE

Hush little brain on its hamster wheel,
If the oven’s still on, it’s no big deal.

The doors are locked, the cupboards shut tight
Against worry monsters of the night.

Think of your shoes lined up so tidy;
Don’t let thoughts of bacteria wake your anxiety.

The angel of Lysol will grant protection,
So rest in the cradle of your own perfection.

* * * * * * * *

Sweet dreams, everyone, and thanks for reading!

NaPoWriMo, Day 10 for Me (Day 17 for Everybody Else), Using a Prompt from Day 15 with the Extremely Well Suited Title “Mixed Up”

Thanks once again to Robert Lee Brewer for this prompt– “Mixed Up”–on his blog at Writer’s Digest. It’s the perfect construct for re-creating one of those maddening recurring nonsensical dreams.

[ANY SUGGESTIONS AS TO A TITLE FOR THIS ONE? I HAVE A TERRIBLE TIME COMING UP WITH TITLES.]

In this new dream of my grandmother’s house,
it’s been a couple years since she died
and we’re all gathered for another encore wake.

I am five or forty-seven, and as usual
in big trouble with a randomly assigned patriarch
for bursting in and waking the twin infants,
one of whom is mine; the other, me.

So I descend the stairs to do, as commanded,
more sorting and packing in my grandmother’s
basement store-room. I load one box for her fifties
(tubes of oil paints, big unfinished canvases, modeling clay
in unopened wrappers). Another for her sixties
(alfalfa pills for arthritis, photos of my little brother,
the nylon teepee she’d set up for me to lounge in with Nancy Drew).
Another carton for her seventies (herb seeds from her garden
I helped her harvest and dry, a huge steamer trunk she refinished).

Then it is her nineties and time for me to take her mail to her
in the nursing home, and in trying to find my way upstairs
I discover a basement room I’d never known about.
How can it, too, be lighted from the window
in the room I just came from that has no window?
In this new room are shelves holding my literary theory notebooks
and all my childhood Christmases ruined
by the feuding of adults.

The light, I find, is coming from yet a different room
joined to this one by narrow, steep, mosaic-tiled ramps.
I choose one to climb and am momentarily glad
the sticky airborne grease from my grandmother’s frying pork chops
has made it less slick. From the top I see down, way down
into the next room–a deeper cellar
with bright picture windows and a man
who is an aged Cousin Phil,
but who can’t be Cousin Phil since he’s the miscarried child
of the first wife, who was committed to an asylum
before she could rat on her perjuring ex–

yet that story is from my husband’s side
of the family. Still, here is ancient, impossible Cousin Phil
scrubbing with Ajax and a blue bristle brush
in the basement room that I understand suddenly
is where my grandmother took out everything, viciously,
on her small bewildered son.

And now Cousin Phil is scrubbing away the sticky porkchop grease
from the mosaic-tiled ramp that plummets
to this subterrain, and I begin to slip down it,

sliding at speed,
having exhausted my Freud and half my Jung
digging and sorting and packing and pitching
in this house where I never did live,
this house I will never move out of.

NaPoWriMo Day 7 (Day 12 for Everybody Else), or, Why I’m Suddenly Glad I Don’t Speak Norwegian

Today’s prompt is to make a homophonic “translation” of a poem from a different language. Having enjoyed a similar exercise at a recent workshop with Christopher Howell, I went straight to the Poetry International website, as Maureen Thorson suggests, and browsed around there for a nicely baffling poem. I chose Norwegian poet Oyvind Rimbereid’s poem titled “Kamuflasje” because I had no glimmer what any of the words, other than the title, might mean.

Working with just the first 17 lines of Rimbereid’s poem, I came up with bizarre, nonsensical lines like, “Can Leftist Week have its corn back in a fuselage flash?” and “or therefore algaes can fly if they will.” What I revised this happy mess into is still bizarre and nonsensical, but perhaps slightly  more coherent:

SOMNIA

How to pay for my rest without night
saying “sin” or “Kawasaki”?

Swerve next door to find the heroine
who neighbored in a varying sleep.

Back home, I dream a nasty knife performer
camouflages me; I tell him my eyes

must blink ten serrations before
the sky will forgive him.

Another sunset, I dream Medean cats
that so endrunken the eyes, I am gloomed

totally. Their cryings infiltrate
like soldiers in a short minute.

I counsel half myself to eat corn
while in the other half, I witness blades

punishing flesh. Poor truthteller.
Amnesia drifts me, drops me whole.

Sleep slashes and winds. For any eyes upended,
closing, droning, I will them to rev.

* * * * * * * *

Righto. See you next time, then. Thanks for reading!

Call Me, Ishmael (A Current and Proposed Reading List) (Mythology On, and Off, My Bookshelf, Part 2)

Rembrandt, "Abraham and Isaac," 1634

Lately, I find myself in the familiar territory of Genesis 22.  This is the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac, the beginning point, say theologians, of monotheism.  It’s the story of God “testing” Abraham’s faith by commanding him to make a burnt offering of his beloved son Isaac, and of Abraham obeying. At the last moment, an angel stops Abraham, Isaac is untied, and a ram shows up to be used as an alternative sacrificial victim.

I’ve been obsessed with this story for many years, and for a number of reasons. Most viscerally, it speaks to the small child in me who was sufficiently terrified of her own father’s rage that she feared he would kill her. Intellectually, it makes me burningly curious as to the antecedents of the three major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) whose adherents consider this their foundational narrative. And spiritually, it provides a way of tip-toeing closer to the abhorrent, parallel sacrifice at the heart of Christianity, the one in which the all-powerful Father actually goes through with the sacrifice of his beloved Son.  I suppose that by trying to understand the originating moment of the three Abrahamic faiths, I can gain some understanding of the crucial moment of the particular Abrahamic faith that I camp out in.

In fact, it was these related questions that initially propelled me, starting last year, to begin searching the ancient narratives, and the works of those who study them,  for clues as to…

  • Why God would “test” Abraham by asking him to “make a burnt offering” of Isaac
  • Why Abraham would consent to do so
  • Why Isaac would consent to be killed
  • Why God (or an angel representing Him) would stop Abraham at the last moment
  • Why a sacrificial victim (the ram) was still required to die after Isaac had been unbound
  • Why Scripture records nothing about Abraham or Isaac telling Sarah about this
  • Why Jews (who trace their heritage to Abraham through Isaac) and Muslims (who trace their heritage to Abraham through Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar, Sarah’s servant-woman) dispute which son Abraham actually offered up, competing for the honor of being the first victim sacrificed to The Lord
  • Why any person, ancient or modern, provided with a whole Mediterranean region full of other options, would choose this particular Lord to sacrifice one’s child to
  • Why this Lord must have been considered by some to be an improvement over the other deities already worshiped in the region
  • Why Christian theologians emphasize the many parallels between Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and Jesus’s sacrifice of himself, yet get themselves into astonishing doctrinal contortions attempting to explain why a just, loving God would require such sacrifice in the first place
  • Whether, given His apparently bloodthirsty and volatile nature, I can trust this God character who acts so generously towards me
  • Which of the charges on God’s rap sheet are historically accurate, and which are paranoid projections of human nature, and which are politically motivated alterations to the official record, and how I can tell the difference.

As you can see, I have a lot riding on possible answers to these questions.

As well, I’m eager to write more poetry about this fascinating, disturbing material and my conflicted relationship to it, and I’m looking for a different way in than my usual I-can’t-believe-we-believe-this-stuff approach. I’ve written numerous poems about the story of Abraham and Isaac (and Sarah and Hagar and Ishmael) before, enough to make into a chapbook manuscript a couple of years ago.  This time around, I’m trying for a way to de-familiarize this story that I became so immersed in. Finding out more about what came before Yahweh (and the people who chose, momentously, to follow Him)–the gods and goddesses, their worshipers and their religious practices–is giving me a little bit of insight into the religious impulse in general, and into the specific cultures and beliefs (regarding, for example, sacrifice) that the nascent Abrahamic religions emerged from and reacted against.

I took the first steps in this project last winter, finding preliminary tidbits in Robert Graves’s The White Goddess, which I wrote about here. Now that the holidays are over and my son is back in school, I’m pulling some more myth theorists off my bookshelf (and the bookshelves of some generous friends–you know who you are, and thanks!) and carrying them along as I circle back around through this thicket of questions.  In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be finishing up the three books I’ve been reading since last fall:  Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God, Volume I; Jacques Derrida’s The Gift of Death and Literature in Secret; and Leonard Schlein’s The Alphabet Versus the Goddess:  The Conflict Between Word and Image. I’ll post summaries about my eureka moments and perplexities as I continue reading each one.

If I can possibly restrain myself long enough to complete those three, the next readings I’d like to dig into are a couple of books by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire:  Reflections on Genesis and The Murmuring Deep:  Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious.  Apparently, Zornberg uses psychoanalytic theories, which warm my geek heart and stir my lit-crit soul, to interpret stories from the Hebrew Bible.

Then, I’ll move on to a couple of books I read long ago, Elaine Pagels’s Adam, Eve, and The Serpent and Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, looking at their explanations about the origins of monotheism. (Eventually, I hope to get to Volumes II and III of Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God, though it’s possible I may lose patience with his agenda of universalizing every local myth and practice by the time I reach the end of Volume I).

In the meantime, can you recommend any resources to add to my list? I’ll be grateful for suggestions on any books, articles, commentaries, poems, midrash, etc. you can point me toward that offer further interpretations or perspectives–especially very ancient or very current ones–on these many questions.