Friday, July 9, 2010

July 9: Saint Veronica Giuliani

Since my pastor friend moved away, I know most of you thought Manly Man Poetry Night had gone the way of the Dodo. Well, not quite. Manly Man P. N. has evolved and adapted into a new species, which met for the first time last night. Whoever said Darwin wasn't on to something? You can't keep a mediocre poet down.

Manly Man Poetry Night shall henceforth be known as Gurly Monn Poetry Night, thanks to the attendance of my good friend, Wonder Twin (more on this name in a moment). Wonder Twin has agreed to meet with me once a month to work on poems, discuss life, and eat onion rings at Big Boy. Wonder Twin is one of my closest and dearest friends, and I'm excited to be partaking in fatty, breaded, fried side orders with her.

I've known Wonder Twin for over 14 years. We first met when she took a narrative writing night class I was teaching. We hit it off immediately, mostly because she got my jokes and shared my twisted taste in literature. Through the years, our paths continued to cross until we eventually became coworkers in an outpatient surgery center. We are still coworkers. She still laughs at my jokes, and we still share an affinity for the same depressing books.

But that's not where the closeness of our bond ends. You see, through the course of our friendship, WT and I have become convinced we were separated at birth. We both were in love with same same book as kids, Swan Song by Robert McCammon. We both were addicted to the TV series Lost in Space as children and watched Bill Kennedy at the Movies in the afternoons. We've both struggled with weight and eating issues our whole lives. We are only a few months apart in age (she is older--I have to point out), and we are both products of the '80s big hair band days (she has more hair than me now, although we both sported mullets back in the day). I could continue with the uncanny similarities of our childhoods, down to our love of the Wonder Twins cartoon series (thus the nickname). In adulthood, our life experiences have followed similar trajectories, as well, right down to dealing with close family members who have mental illness and addictions. Spooky. WT also happens to be a member of the same book club that my pastor friend and I were/are in. Surprise, surprise.

That's the background.

We met at Big Boy last night. I had onion rings; she had a chicken Caesar salad. We shared a hot fudge chocolate chip cookie sundae. It was just this side of heaven. After observing a moment of silence for our absent pastor friend, we dove right into normal dinner conversation about bipolar, alcoholism, sexual addiction, and dog shit. Well, it's normal for us, anyway. It was great fun and very cathartic to be sitting across from someone who understands me and my circumstances so thoroughly. Oh, yeah: we also read the poems we had written for our meeting.

Veronica Giuliani, the saint for today, suffered from the wounds of the stigmata, including "the imprint of the crown of thorns" and "the impress of the five sacred wounds." She accepted this suffering with grace, working in her convent as novice-mistress and, eventually, abbess. According to the book, Veronica possessed "a large dosage of common sense and an admirable degree of efficiency." She didn't let the trials of her life slow her down. Instead, she took up her cross and basically rolled up her sleeves and got to work. That's what I admire about her. She may have been toting a whole load of crap, but she still would have shown up for Gurly Monn Poetry Night if she'd been invited. And Veronica would have fit right in with WT and me. We would have sat around, swapping stories, comparing wounds, like that scene on the boat in Jaws.

The poetry exercise we did for last night came from The Practice of Poetry again. It's called "Quilting in the Ditch," and poet/teacher James McKean describes it like this:

Choose a particular item or activity and make that the object of a language search. Find out as much as possible about the language associated with that object, especially active and concrete verbs, the history of the names used for that object, and terminology that seems especially colorful. Then save from your search a list of nouns, a list of verbs, and a list of adjectives. Finally, write a poem using words from these lists, keeping one last criterion in mind--the subject of your poem must be something completely different from the original object of your language search.

So, I chose as the subject of my language search mortuary science. WT was quite jealous for not thinking of my topic before me. She chose wrestling. Now, usually, I hate poems that require footnotes to explain the meaning of the terms and references in the lines. But I'm going to provide a little glossary to explain the more obscure elements of my poem:

cenotaph: an empty tomb or monument erected in memory of a person buried elsewhere.
purge: a discharge from the deceased through the mouth, nose and ears of matter from the stomach and intestine caused by improper or ineffectual embalming, due to putrefaction.
putrefaction: the decomposition of the body upon death which causes discoloration and the formation of a foul smelling product.
catafalque: a stand upon which the casketed remains rest while instate and during the funeral service.
vigil: a Roman Catholic religious service held on the eve of the funeral service.
wake: a watch kept over the deceased, sometimes lasting the entire night preceding the funeral. algor mortis: the cooling of the body immediately after death to room temperature and temporary stiffening of the muscles.
antimony salts: embalming agents used in ancient China.
lividity: unnatural lack of color in the skin.
spiritual banquet: a Roman Catholic practice involving specific prayers, such as Masses and Rosaries offered by an individual or a group for a definite purpose.
cortege: the funeral procession.
door badge: a floral spray placed on the door of a residence wherein death has occurred.
canopy: a roof like structure projecting from the outside wall over the driveway allowing passengers to board and alight from vehicles without being directly exposed to the elements--sometimes construed as a portable canvas shelter used to cover the grave area during committal service.
columbarium: a structure of vaults lined with recesses for urns containing cremated remains.

So now, without further adieu, I give you my inaugural poem for Gurly Monn Poetry Night. Wonder Twin powers activate!:

My daughter wants to call me "dad"
Instead of "daddy," slips it into talk
The way I first used "fuck" as a teen,
As if the word is purge in her mouth,
Putrefaction of the pig-tail girl who sat
On my lap, rested her cheek against
My chest, listened to my heart ebb,
Flow with need for her young needs.
Her legs, tan and scabbed from summer,
Stretch like a catafalque beneath her,
As tall now as her three-year-old
Self, a vigil of womanhood,
Watched over, waked by a father
Unwilling to let algor mortis take hold,
Infant blood replaced by antimony salts,
blush into lividity, the pale of time.
I know there's nothing to do, no
Spiritual banquets to recite, bolstering
The levees against puberty, the cortege
Of her body into the bruising world of adults.
I see the badge on her bedroom door,
Pink, soft petals, so much like the palms
Of her baby hands, delicate as breath,
A ribbon with gold letters: "Beloved Child."
In this almost teen, this in-between
Creature, I mourn for myself, sit
Beneath the canopy, admire her
Monument, all limb and blossom,
Full of promise, the pull for boys, body,
Sweat, want. I stand in this columbarium,
Think I hear my daughter's cry, a small,
Urgent sound for milk, for bottle,
For the solid, holding arms of daddy.

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