For Earth Day …

Even though it’s getting late in the day, I find myself thinking about my new series of watercolors about feeling our connections with the natural/organic world we live in.

These are watercolors on a gessoed surface, painted with brushes, fingers, rags, Q-tips, whatever is at hand. The images are based on drawing sessions in several locations over past years, on some sketches made outdoors, on the organic qualities of the fiber sculptures I’ve worked with over a long period of time, and on the experience of simply living in the world.

Pat

The Cleansing (Holy Monday) — a short play

Characters:

Mary and Martha
Jesus
Judah Ben-Hur

The scene is the Mount of Olives; Jesus sits on a stone bench staring forward; Mary enters, followed by Martha.

MARY (to MARTHA).
I’ve found him.

MARTHA.
Where?

MARY.
Sitting right here like nothing happened.

MARTHA (to JESUS).
What do you think you’re doing?

JESUS.
Watching.

MARY.
For what?

Jerus-n4i

Temple of Herod, Holyland Model of Jerusalem.

JESUS (pointing).
The Temple is about to fall; soon
not one stone will be left upon another.
Watch here and see for yourself.

MARTHA.
Nonsense.

MARY.
Let’s run.
Your disciples have fled already.

JESUS.
Why run? What’s the danger?

MARY.
After what you did just now?

MARTHA.
You’re joking!

MARY.
The Temple guards—
they’ll find you here and take you!

JESUS.
No. Not today. My betrayal is still
four days away—I’m safe till then.
Do you know how my Father makes figs?

MARY.
No parables, please!

MARTHA.
Not right now!
Let’s hurry home to Bethany
where we will all be safe
and you can tell your stories
and I can make you dinner
while she sits at your feet
doing nothing as usual.

Jacopo_Tintoretto_008-2

Tintoretto: Jesus at the Home of Martha and Mary.

JESUS.
Since you’re curious, I’ll tell you.
My Father sinks his mighty hand
into a soft shaft of sunlight
as if it were riverbank clay—
like this, you see? And he seizes
a warm, pliant fistful of it
and squeezes it tight—like this.
See how the yellow light
oozes out between my fingers?
He holds the sunlight fast
a little while—just like this—
then slowly loosens his grip
to reveal a ripe and luscious fig
that tastes just like the sun.

(JESUS opens his hand to reveal a coin)

MARTHA.
But I don’t see a fig.

MARY.
I see a coin with Caesar’s face on it.

(JUDAH BEN-HUR enters.)

Denarius_of_Tiberius_(YORYM_2000_1953)_obverse

Denarius of Tiberius, known as the tribute penny.

MARY (to JUDAH).
Go away!

MARTHA.
He’s innocent!

MARY (to JUDAH).
You’ve got the wrong man!

JUDAH.
Foolish women—what do I look like?
A priest, a Temple guard, a stooge
of Herod or Pilate, either one?

MARTHA.
Who are you, then?

JESUS.
I’ll tell you.
His name is Judah, a son of Hur—
an angry soul, filled with hate.
The friend he most loved in his youth
betrayed him into Roman slavery;
he was chained for three years
to a galley’s oar; but he won freedom
and became a Roman citizen;
yet still he remains a Jew—
the most bitter Jew in Israel.

MARY.
You’re bitter yourself today.

Miracleofthefig

Byzantine icon of Jesus cursing the fig tree.

JESUS.
So I am. I wish I knew why.
(to JUDAH)
I killed a tree this morning
an innocent fig tree just outside
the city gates. A strange thing to do.

MARY.
It bore no figs.

MARTHA.
It’s not the season.

JUDAH.
You’re a carpenter, and a carpenter’s son;
that wasn’t the first tree you’ve killed.
Learn to kill men, my Lord.
It’s the one thing I have to teach you.

JESUS.
Can you teach me to kill men without rage,
the way a carpenter kills a tree?

JUDAH.
What you did just now at the Temple—

1024px-El_Greco_13

El Greco: Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple.

JESUS (interrupting).
A mistake. The Temple now
belongs to Caesar, not my Father.
I had no business there at all.
Its time is over—in moments now
a breath of icy love will send it
crashing under its own weight,
the weight of this world’s greed.

JUDAH.
The Temple won’t fall—not till
you bring it down yourself.
The moment is now—you mustn’t wait!
The money changers’ backs are stinging
from the whippings you gave them,
and they scuttle about like scorpions,
grubbing up the coins you spilt
when you overturned their tables—
denarii, drachmas, darics, shekels,
the currencies of all the world
jumbled in gibbering heaps,
worth nothing until they’re sorted
and weighed anew. All commerce
is suspended—and all authority,
the power of priests and Rome alike.
The time is here—this very moment—
to cast off the yoke of Rome,
to lift up the poor and crush the rich,
and make of Israel the Kingdom
that you yourself have promised.

JESUS.
And you’ve raised three legions
to bring me victory. Right now
they mingle like cutpurses among
these millions who have come
to Jerusalem to celebrate
the Passover.

JUDAH.
How did you know?

ramon novarro-1

Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur, 1925.

JESUS.
Three years you followed me
with thousands of men with knives
in their belts. I wasn’t supposed
to notice? While I sought farmers
and fishermen and tax collectors
and mothers, wives, and harlots,
you gathered soldiers. You trained them
in the lava beds—to guard and strike
with their fists, to cut and thrust
with javelins and swords,
an army of Galileans styled
like Romans to destroy the Romans.

JUDAH.
Your army—the Kingdom’s army.

JESUS.
Are you sure they are enough?
Do they have spears that hurl themselves
from tunnels forged from iron
and tear men’s bodies to pieces?
Do they ride winged chariots
that drop fire from the sky,
consuming cities faster than thought?
Can you make the winds themselves
breathe writhing and devouring death
into your enemies’ bones?
Can you unleash the power of the sun?
Do you have an arm like God?

JUDAH.
Rabbi, why all these riddles?
Why do you brood and wait?
Rome’s power is puny beside yours.
Rise up now, work miracles
to liberate Israel—the kind
I’ve seen you work a hundred times.

JESUS.
Miracles? What miracles? Tell me.

JUDAH.
You’ve healed the sick and lame,
the palsied and the paralyzed,
cast out devils, made blind men see;
you cured and cleansed my own
dear mother and sister of leprosy;
and Lazarus, these women’s brother—
he died, you gave him life again;
and when a multitude was hungry
you fed them, all of them.

200px-FeedingMultitudes_Bernardo

Bernardo Strozzi: Feeding the Multitudes.

JESUS.
Wait—I fed a multitude, you say?

MARY.
Of course you did.

MARTHA.
You know you did.

JESUS (to JUDAH).
Were you there?

JUDAH.
Right near you, yes.

JESUS.
So tell me—how did I do it?

JUDAH.
My Lord, everyone knows—

JESUS.
No—not what you’ve heard,
but what you saw and felt and did.
I want to hear it.

JUDAH.
Five thousand gathered by the sea
to hear you speak—but where
was food enough for them to eat?
Two hundred denarii would not buy
enough bread for that multitude.

JESUS.
And you—did you lack food as well?

JUDAH.
No. I’d brought bread of my own,
and so had others, but not most;
thousands more were waiting, hungry.
Then Andrew found a boy who’d brought
five loaves of barley and two fishes.
You told the multitude to sit
and gave thanks to your Father;
you broke the bread and gave it to some,
and you gave away the fishes,
and then … Oh, Lord, I am ashamed.

JESUS.
Tell me.

JUDAH.
I’d had no wine, and yet
I became drunk—drunk and hungry.
I tore my own bread, stuffed my mouth,
and then …

JESUS.
Tell me.

JUDAH.
The old man next to me—
his hunger became mine,
his wrinkled lips, his aching belly,
I felt his craving as my own.
And on my other side, a mother
unfed, her baby at her breast—
I became her too, I felt the grip
of her baby’s gums pulling her dug,
felt the dryness inside her.
And then … Oh, Lord …

JESUS.
Tell me.

JUDAH.
I rose stark mad to my feet, reeling
with bounty and munificence,
and tore my bread and crammed
some in the old man’s hand, then
in the mother’s too, and staggered
giving amid the multitude
while others, as drunk with love as I,
reeled all around me, giving
and receiving much, much more
than all their fill. And then—
and then when it was all done …

MARY.
Twelve baskets were left brimming
with bread and fishes …

MARTHA.
… the leavings after
the five thousand were sated.

JUDAH.
But I … Oh, Lord …

JESUS.
Tell me.

JUDAH.
Such horror of great brightness!
I was sick to my soul, lost to myself—
lost, all lost, the son of Hur,
his lonely desire, the solitary
warrior thirsty for vengeance,
all gone, my precious life was gone.
I ran down to the Galilean shore
and retched up all I’d eaten until
I was alone in my own skin
and not filled with a multitude
made drunk with lovingkindness.

(JUDAH is weeping.)

JESUS.
Leave me now, Judah—go.
You have chosen another way.

JUDAH.
How can you be so indifferent?

JESUS.
What do you think I am?

JUDAH.
You are my King, Israel’s King,
much mightier than Caesar,
more splendid even than Solomon—
a king to rule the world forever.

JESUS.
I am a door. A door is indifferent;
it makes way to everyone.

(MARY and MARTHA begin to reel about, as if drunken.)

MARY.
What’s this?

MARTHA.
What’s happening?

MARY.
The ground—it rolls and shakes.

MARTHA.
I can’t stay on my feet.

MARY.
I can’t either.

(JESUS and JUDAH seem undisturbed by the forces felt by MARY and MARTHA.)

JESUS.
Dance, then.

MARTHA.
Yes!

MARY.
If we can’t stand, we’ll dance!

(MARTHA and MARY dance wildly to silent music.)

Wallace_Ben-Hur_cover

Original edition of Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace

JESUS (to JUDAH).
All love is cold and open.
I am the open door of love;
to pass through, open yourself,
go naked through the cold,
or else consign yourself forever
to the Kingdom of Caesar.

JUDAH.
Forever?

JESUS.
Each moment is forever;
the Temple is always standing;
the Temple is always falling.

MARY (pointing).
Look!

MARTHA (pointing).
Look there!

MARY.
The Temple!

MARTHA.
It’s dancing too!

MARY.
No, it’s falling!

MARTHA.
Its white stone frowning faces,
its porticoes, pinnacles, ramparts …

MARY.
… all breaking, breaking
like twigs in children’s hands!

MARTHA.
The sacred veil tears clean in two …

MARY.
… the Holy of Holies now
stands revealed …

MARTHA.
… now disappears
into the vaults below …

MARY.
… and dust clouds billow skyward!

MARTHA.
The air rings with falling stone …

MARY.
… the thunder and music of love!

MARY.
Let’s go there—before the dust settles!

MARTHA.
Yes, we’ll dance among the clouds!

(MARY and MARTHA hurry away.)

JESUS (to JUDAH).
Hatred is soft and sweet;
love is hard and bitter.
My time in this place is done.
The friend I love most of all
will soon betray me out of love—
cold and indifferent love,
strong and unyielding love,
the biting kiss of love.

(JESUS leaves; JUDAH stands alone, facing forward.)

JUDAH.
But the Temple—it still stands!

END OF PLAY.

—Wim

Weaponized Love

From I.O.U., Wim’s new book of poems, available at Amazon.com.

We’re told it’s only been unleashed one time
by a lone fanatical guerrilla sent
by some silent foreign power. People talk
about him all the time, but most don’t dare
say too much about his self-immolation—
how he cold-bloodedly provoked the fury
of priests and prefect to detonate
the deadly charge of love strapped to his heart,
damn near putting an end to everything.

Even now we don’t know the whole scary truth
of what happened after that conflagration,
those three dark days verging on apocalypse,
how close we came again to shapelessness and void
and darkness upon the face of the deep—
and without doubt it’s just as well. The wise
illuminati who rule from shadows might
someday make public those seven files sealed up
some two thousand years ago, but only
when we’re ready for the truth—and frankly,
I wouldn’t hold my breath for that fine day.

The vestiges of ruin lie all around us.
We’re damaged, too, in our guts and in our souls.
Nobody could foresee back when it happened
the terrible genetic consequences
such an indiscriminate weapon would wreak
on generations yet unborn—the seizures,
the boils, the lesions, the burning eruptions
of morality and justice, pandemic
outbreaks of conscience and goodwill,
and worst of all, the mutant and grotesque
progeny too crippled and misshapen by
compassion for the cruel works of a sound
and robust functioning society.

But by the skin of our teeth, as they say,
humanity pulled through, and here we are
today, a heartier species than ever.

There’s no denying, though, we have been lucky.
The role of diplomacy has, I think,
been overstated. Scant progress has been made
by sovereign global powers to dismantle
their silos and armories, their insanely
massive stockpiles of lethal lovingkindness.
(So weird, all this frenzied hoarding of something
too terrible to contemplate its use!)
Worse, attempts to halt the proliferation
of agape have been a laughingstock—
the same with eros, philia, and storge.
Would-be Jesuses find such materials
in their kitchens, and instructions and designs
are available on the Darkest Web.

As the experts say, it’s not a matter of if,
but of when, and we are long overdue.
This time if one lone zealot sets off the spark,
the critical mass of deadly altruism
will be more than sufficient to destroy
civilization several times over,
leaving nothing but the naked infrastructure
of human bodies, guileless and zombified,
baffled by purposes and meanings you
and I take for granted—the pedagogic
utility of sweatshops; the culinary
smorgasbords of mass assembly lines;
the pious, sweet indentured duties of
the supermarket aisle; office cubicles
where we roam at liberty in our endangered
tameness as if in our natural habitat …

What use are these, our mindless heirs will ask,
their limbs and gazes alike entangled in throes
of folly, now that we have fallen in love?

Appeared in Tuck Magazine, April 27, 2019.

American Recessional

From I.O.U., Wim’s new book of poems, available on Amazon.com.

For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!
—Rudyard Kipling

The City on the Hill is turning out its lights
and closing up for a long, long night.
Heroes are cast out of their Valhalla;
the halls ring with a clamor of cowards.

Closed up for a long, long night
of drunken revels in the dark,
the halls ring with a clamor of cowards
gloating in the exile of heroes.

Their drunken revels befit the dark;
it was false morning in America too long.
Those who gloat in the exile of heroes 
believed in a painted dawn, a sun that never rose.

The heroes, after mourning America too long,
retreat across the frozen bridge
yearning for a warming dawn, a sun to rise,
their bleeding feet wrapped up in rags.

Retreating across the frozen bridge,
the general reads a pamphlet to troops
whose feet are numb in icy rags:
“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

The general shivers as he reads to his troops
about summer soldiers and sunshine patriots:
“These are the times that try men’s souls.”
A woman with a face of iron and coal

leads freezing slaves and snowblind refugees
across the bridge toward freedom and new life.
Her posted face of iron and coal
offers tens of thousands in reward for her.

“Cross the bridge to freedom or you die,”
she says, threatening a lead ball from her flintlock.
“Don’t make me lag, there’s a reward for me.
Keep up, keep walking, or I’ll put an end to you.”

The choice is freedom or a lead ball from her flintlock.
Does safety lie behind them in the darkened hall?
They keep walking toward some doubtful end.
Only cowards mistake puniness for greatness;

safety is a lie told in their darkened hall
where thieves thieve all innocence away
and cowards take their puniness for greatness
and lies are held for truest scripture.

How can thieves thieve when no one left is innocent,
when everything is stolen, nothing earned,
and nothing is true and lies are scripture?
Surely thieves must then turn into cannibals.

When everything is stolen, nothing earned,
sacrifice is the sole obscenity.
When all thieves turn into cannibals,
they have no one to devour but one another.

“Sacrifice is the sole necessity;
the want of one is the want of all,”
say those who cling fast and dear to one another;
beyond the bridge’s end lies only darkness.

The suffering one, the suffering all,
cast one last glance back at their Valhalla,
then plunge into the darkness beyond the bridge;
they’ll light another City on another Hill.

Appeared in Tuck Magazine, April 27, 2019.

Three Double Takes

From Wim’s new book of poems, available on Amazon.com.

Double Takes are perhaps a less baleful way of looking back on 2020. Happy New Year to All!

*

Three Double Takes

1 andante

A zebra with a party
horn and hat has crashed
your thirtieth. This
creature was your friend
when you were three
and lived beneath the
checkered tablecloth
and would come up
from time to time
to munch with you on
globes of milk-drenched
Too-Sweets, but this
was not to be expected.

Hear the horn &
knit your brow &
turn & see &
nod as if you
understand &
turn away.
Your eyes pop out,
you turn right back
& stare amazed.

*

2 allegretto

Her husband has
come back again
as you were raising
up your glasses
in a toast to
one another
naked in white
sparkling wine
swapping an
indecent ripe
Greek olive
faintly tinged
with feta. He
called her from
Tibet an hour ago.
This was not
to be expected.

Hear & turn.
Look & nod.
Turn away.
Beat. Beat.
Face react.
Turn again.
Stare afraid.
Beat. Beat.

*

3 vivace

Death
has come
in a fake
tuxedo
t-shirt
with a
chainsaw
while you
were adding
a rhythm
section to
St. Matthew’s
Passion.
He calls
you by
a name
you can’t
pronounce.
This
was not
to be
expected.

Hear. Turn.
Look. Nod.
Turn. Six.
Seven. Eight.
Eyes pop.
Turn. Gape.
Stare. Six.
Seven.

*

Appeared in Open Arts Forum, February 15, 2020.