Today, Nov. 1, is All Saints’ Day in the church calendar, otherwise known as the day after Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve). We saw only a handful of trick-or-treaters last night, but this morning the large container of leftover Mounds and Milky Way minis on our porch had been completely emptied by hungry teenagers or very neat raccoons. If you’d stopped by, you would have seen my husband eating a nutritious dinner of microwave popcorn and bananas while I read to him from Ariana Reines’ new poetry book, Coeur de Lion. (“But the planet, what is it/That assholes speak of saving it/Like they speak of saving Africa/By shopping. Saved./Saved. An agate marble/At the bottom of a toilet.”)
Coeur de Lion is mainly about Ariana’s short-lived affair with a rather banal person named Jake. She is aware that neither the animal heat and messiness of their sex, nor the desperate pretensions of their literary exchanges, really elevate this affair to a grand passion, yet she feels awful nonetheless. She writes candidly about the slippage between the actual and the literary self, using humor as a means to sincerity rather than an evasion of it. However, sometimes the flatness of her mock-Internet-speak grows tiresome, creating an immature voice that doesn’t do justice to the brilliance of her thoughts.
Reines’ first book, The Cow, is so stupefyingly wonderful that I have not yet been able to blog about it. To say that Coeur de Lion is not as good as The Cow is like saying that it is not as good as Shakespeare. Well, of course not.
The Cow restored my sanity last January, or rather gave me permission to go beyond reason, to give unselfconsious voice to what made me insane. Reines bursts out of linear thought patterns and explicable metaphors because she is saying the unsayable, not in the usual anguished self-referential modernist way, but in full surrender of the self, surrender to its incarnate, permeable, consumable and consumed condition. “Alimenting the world perpetuates it. Duh. Plus ‘the world’ itself is a food. We go outside we stay in. I am going to try to be a girl. Try to transcribe bare sustenance.”
The best part of Coeur de Lion was the section about her mentally ill mother, which recaptures some of The Cow‘s urgency and unique associative leaps:
Her mind dips into the agar-agar
The air feels like, her mind dips into
It and sticks. The city’s so general
How can she possibly specifically be.
These people who are going to have a good time
Are everywhere; up
To date. Day of wrath, burn
Me. Burn me. Hildegard,
Make the voices of the women
Soar up so high. I am listening.
The voices carry
Me. The stony heights
Echo the voices, the air
Is being caressed by them.
Something burns in this sound,
The fire’s soft and even
Like the oblong flame of my mommy’s orange wig.
…The recorded sound
Of the psalterion
The women singing enormous vowels
I want to feel them sweep over me
And all of this particularity
Fall away. I think it is possible
To be impersonal without being so general
You’re dead. I do not want
To optimize. I want to kiss you and feel
Sorry and kiss you again while the mommy
Slowly loses her reality, an
Abrasion in the heavy ledgers kept by statisticians
And demographers, a wound that will not
Heal. They are not ledgers. They are
Databases. This is my poem. I wish I wasn’t so
Lonely in this capability of being devastated by
Her. I wish I wasn’t alone in this
Awe of her long errand, even now as it starts
To get dumb, and how unloved
She is, and how broke, opening onto an expanse
Of losses so diverse and endlessly amplifiable
That all narration just congeals. I’m broke
Too. Brokenness is not exactly honesty
But sometimes it gets close.
Somebody stole her computer; when she
Had one dollar she bought with it
An adjustable ring. She is a prizewinning
Medical doctor. The facts suffer,
They suffer and die.
Reines probably doesn’t think of herself as a Christian poet, yet she “gets” the moral and aesthetic implications of incarnation better than a thousand inspirational lyrics about birds and sunshine. “Even I can figure that a body is in a way ultimately an INCENSE.” She is willing to smell and taste the despised flesh of the world–the female genitals, the cow’s carcass–and find holiness in the act of not recoiling, in the act of seeing what is true. From The Cow:
Time is somewhere else.
Don’t they call a body the wound with nine holes. Why cannot a body itself be testimony. Why cannot the fact that the witness is bear the witness. Testimony’s gesture of veracity used to be the laying of a hand upon the genitals. Why cannot being itself bear anything without a proof. FLESH MADE WORD
Constant presence of everything BE MY FRIEND longing.
You have got to goad yourself toward a becoming that is in accordance with what you are innate. You have got to sometimes become the medicine you want to take. You have got to, you have absolutely got to put your face into the gash and sniff and lick. You have got to learn to get sick. You have got to reestablish the integrity of your emotions so that their violence can become a health and so that you can keep on becoming. There is no sacrifice. You have got to want to live. You have got to force yourself to want to.
On a related note, this is the story of my personal favorite saint, St. Dymphna, the patron saint of mental and nervous disorders. From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The earliest historical account of the veneration of St. Dymphna dates from the middle of the thirteenth century. Under Bishop Guy I of Cambrai (1238-47), Pierre, a canon of the church of Saint Aubert at Cambrai, wrote a “Vita” of the saint, from which we learn that she had been venerated for many years in a church at Gheel (province of Antwerp, Belgium), which was devoted to her. The author expressly states that he has drawn his biography from oral tradition.
According to the narrative, Dymphna — the daughter of a pagan king of Ireland — became a Christian and was secretly baptized. After the death of her mother, who was of extraordinary beauty, her father desired to marry his own daughter, who was just as beautiful, but she fled with the priest Gerebernus and landed at Antwerp. Thence they went to the village of Gheel, where there was a chapel of St. Martin, beside which they took up their abode. The messengers of her father however, discovered their whereabouts; the father betook himself thither and renewed his offer. Seeing that all was in vain, he commanded his servants to slay the priest, while he himself struck off the head of his daughter. The corpses were put in sarcophagi and entombed in a cave where they were found later. The body of St. Dymphna was buried in the church of Gheel, and the bones of St. Gerebernus were transferred to Kanten.
The Encyclopedia adds that this story is “without any historical foundation”, but apparently that hasn’t stopped the miracles from occurring.
As Ariana Reines says, “If the style is too much of an achievement then the edifice becomes what it is, alone, marooned inside of the real. You have to fuck with everything.”