Thursday, October 27, 2005


I have been too busy moving into a new apartment to blog, so I'm going to post an old writing exercise from three years ago, dedicated to Imperatrice pulcherrima Africae occidentalis. It's about memory. I refer to Donald Revell, the great poet and teacher with whom I was fortunate enough to take a workshop at the University of Utah.

What I Have Forgotten

For Romell

What I have forgotten… a theme that can’t help begging the question. If I have forgotten it, I can’t possibly state it here. Donald Revell would not approve. He’d say claiming to state, in a poem, something that one has forgotten would be dishonest. So to imagine what one has forgotten one would have to engage in some Zen-like exercise in order to imagine what is not there, to achieve the blankness of lost memory, the pure white cleanliness of the tabula rasa or the lightless black of a totally closed room. It is said the accustomed eye can detect a single photon; we must imagine a room without even a particle of memory. Tough.

Perhaps that’s the wrong approach. Loss of memory leaves at times a track, a sfumato trace that hints at itself without arriving at definition or identity. That maddening feeling that a song title or film director’s name is on the tip of one’s tongue, on the Zeno Express: the train that is coming but never actually arrives at the station. A powerful knowledge of absence with tantalizing hints that are never enough.

Plato, despairing at the impossibility of ever learning something new, at the mind ever apprehending something that was completely unfamiliar but that would eventually fold into its landscape, decided that all knowledge was remembering. Souls would transmigrate, learning was the rediscovery of what one knew in a previous incarnation. It does beg the question, too, of the first bit of knowledge, but still it gives credence to the déjà vu feelings that spark up in everyday life, and when a woman one has just met seems knowable down to the core of her being and one feels also instantly known, it is reassuring to think we are just remembering, that what we are experiencing for the first time, apparently, is just what we have forgotten, rising to the surface of the sea of our existence after so many lifetimes of tired wandering.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Saturday somewhere

Alfonso VI of Leon-Castile, someone I've been spending a lot of time with recently. At least, I've been reading his charters searching for clues to a dissertation topic.

It's been a terribly busy and difficult week for me, my nerves are worn, and my dearest love, Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis, has had to put up with quite a bit of my nonsense. I have a lot of work to do, but one must blog. So, here's a list:

1. The kindness of strangers.
2. Fourteen quail eggs, with a pinch of dust from a cathedral floor.
3. The Rule of St Benedict (more on this later).
4. At this moment: Notre Dame 7, USC 7. Go Irish.
5. A sensation of heavy waxiness in shoulder, accented at times by birdsong and a light feathering of despair.
6. Poet Liam comes out of semi retirement (for links to my poems, check out my website) to opine on the Nobel Prize for literature: Yes, Pinter does deserve it, but will someone please tell the Swedes that Americans write poetry while John Ashbery is still around? Yes, plenty of American writers have won, but none of them have been poets, despite the many brilliant poets that the country has produced, from Anne Bradstreet to Alexandra van de Kamp. Come on, guys, help us out here. If one of us could get the Nobel Prize, maybe Americans would actually start reading poetry.
7. At this moment: Notre Dame 7, USC 14. Damn.
8. Awoken at night by the clanging of metal sheets, I looked out of my window and saw men in robes carrying dark, curious objects down Amsterdam Avenue. Illuminated by flashes of lightning (occasionally) and flashes from paparazzi cameras (more frequently), they emitted small, weak sounds, like the tired bleating of consumptive sheep.
9. They are counting the ballots from this week's election in Liberia. Let us pray for peace, stability, and prosperity for the people of that country who have suffered so much.
10. Good wine, held on the tongue.
11. For a home, Sancte Joseph, ora pro nobis.
12. At times, it's not like that at all. At times desire rears up for its own sake: washed down, beaten back, thrown across the pond like so many shattered watches, it feels the cold light of dawn at precisely the right moment. Or not.
13. Karl Rove, Tom Delay, Bill Frist, moral values.
14. De profundis clamavi ad te Domine.
15. My favorite list: the Chinese encyclopedia of Borges.
16. Another game, final score: Penn 44, Columbia 16. Pathetic and depressing but not unexpected.
17. Storm clouds are gathering again.
18. If only we could snatch it from the air, like a lazy fly. Then there would be much uncorking of bottles and tales of past heroics. But up here the breeze only suggests, and only in its best moments.
19. Touchdown Our Lady. Notre Dame, 14, USC 14. Who will win?
20. Must leave for a prayer and a haircut.

Friday, October 07, 2005

News on Gay Seminarians

St. Francis, one groovy saint, painted by Giotto, one groovy painter.

There's fresh news on the status of gay men in the priesthood. Of course, as usual, the actual document has not been released, and we have to rely on "a Vatican source." Still, the information is very detailed and looks like something that has been intentionally leaked to head off rumors. There is good news, bad news, and good news.

The good news is that there will be no absolute ban on gay men in seminaries. This will be a great relief to gay men who feel they have a vocation to the priesthood, and seminary faculty and administrators whose ministry is to prepare and not exclude those men. It is also good news to the rest of us Catholics, since we do not have to feel that our Church has denied us ministers for bigoted and reactionary reasons.

The bad news is that there are still conditions under which gay men are not to be admitted to seminaries:
  • If candidates have not demonstrated a capacity to live celibate lives for at least three years;
  • If they are part of a "gay culture," for example, attending gay pride rallies (a point, the official said, which applies both to professors at seminaries as well as students);
  • If their homosexual orientation is sufficiently "strong, permanent and univocal" as to make an all-male environment a risk.
Although this is presented more as a guide than a rule, it is still terribly insulting to gay Catholics. It implies that homosexuals are somehow less capable of celibacy then straight men (despite certain scandals). In fact, according to this document, if their orientation is "strong, permanent and univocal" (whatever that means), they can put "an all-male environment" at risk. Has anyone ever suggested that straight priests whose heterosexual orientation is "strong, permanent and univocal" avoid working in all-female environments, such as convents or certain parish offices?

The prohibition of priests participating in "gay culture" is also problematic. While recognizing that certain priests may be gay, they deny they right of these priests to negotiate their identity as gay men in our society and they imply that their identity is something to be hidden away and closeted. It also restricts the ability of priests to participate in their community in areas with a large gay population and thus minister effectively to gay Catholics.

The news on the whole, however, is as good as we can expect from a hierarchy which is this defensive about its power. If the document follows the line described by the Vatican source, it means the most intransigent, homophobic and exclusionary voices in the hierarchy have lost their battle. Although the document may be insulting in the conditions discussed above, it does not take the fatal step of declaring being homosexual as intrinsically sinful, and thus it is a building block upon which to slowly eradicate homophobia from the Church. Also, the document allows a certain about of maneuvering room for seminary officials, saying of the three conditions:
Whether or not these criteria exclude a particular candidate is a judgment that must be made in the context of individual spiritual direction, rather than by applying a rigid litmus test...
As long as there is the space for applying criteria on a case-by-case basis, there is still autonomy for different seminaries and different orders to approach this question in a more sensitive manner, allowing officials to follow their consciences and preventing an exodus of the best seminary officials from the field. If the Vatican document comes out as described by the source, it will be very far from a step forward. It will, however, not be such a step backwards as to cause irreparable damage to the Church.