"I still cling to Christ and trust in my doctors and nurses. Ever onward to victory! We will live and overcome!" -- Hugo Chavez's last tweet.
The painting above (40X30 in.) is of the 13 th. Station of the Cross, “Jesus is taken down from the cross.” It it the second piece I have done where I sculpted parts of a body and had them break out of the picture plane.
*** Another of my lenten poems:
We forget that we rose from the dead once already
Through bloody mucus and love cries
That light also brought pain to our eyes
It took years to get on our feet after that
Three days later and
Who would even recognize themselves
That first look on our faces is always so...
Astonished, that’s the word I would choose to call it
Unless you know of a better one
By now the bleeding has stopped
The wounds have closed up, scarred over
Bodies have been cleaned up and dressed
Made ready to meet the whole of the family
So many kinds of things have been forgotten
In the drama of it all. But what’s important
Even if our names were given before we were
The very idea of us is still worth mentioning
**** I wrote a while back about studying a book on Japanese death poetry. The Idea of these poems and poets was to write a poem at the very moment of one’s death, with one foot in each world so to speak, and to possibly leave behind some wisdom to share with the living. The poems are not composed ahead of time but must really be written just as one is in the act of dying (at least that is the theory, I don’t know who polices such things for the Japanese and just where the cut-off points are or the technicalities around suicide). Perhaps the ‘death tweet‘ can become the same sort of thing for the 21 st. century? In the meantime here are some traditional selections:
Sunao’s death poem. He died in 1926.
clears up reality
and dream alike
Ota Dokan (d.1486) was stabbed while taking a bath and spoke this poem:
Has I no known
that I was dead
I would have mourned
my loss of life
The mistreated married woman Oroku (d. 1690?) killed herself and left this poem”
And had my days been longer
still the darkness
would not leave this world--
along death’s path, among the hills
I shall behold the moon
Two poems from the famous monk/poet Basho:
The dying priest
looks as if
he new it all
The last of human desire
he grasps at
During his last moment, Zen master Shisui’s disciples requested that he write a death poem. He grasped his brush, painted a circle, cast the brush aside, and died. The circle— indicating the void, the essence of everything, enlightenment.
Let me end with one by the revered Daido Ichpi (d. 1370).
A tune on non-being
Filling the void
Allow me to add my own little poem about death:
A Little Ditty On Death
(technically, I wrote this while still mostly having both feet in this world, but then often one never really knows, it might end up a death poem, makes me a bit cautious about finishing it).
Death is all around now
(what we call death)
Taking one best friend after another
Grand mothers and still-born sons
Celebrities and nobodies
Whatshisname at the hardware store
Who knew where everything was
But some really important people too
The President of Venezuela and
Jean at church we all called a saint
And that slow waitress at Skippers cafe, Anne
Who was really nice just the same
(no one even guessed she was sick!)
Chicago bluesman Magic Slim died
And Judy Kozak the first playboy bunny
Lots of other good people too
Going then gone
I’m sick to death of it
(what we call death)
**** Third Station Of The Cross: Jesus Falls For The First Time
I haven’t finished my poem for the third station of the cross yet (I am way behind in my commitments) so let me offer this about meaning and prayer that I wrote a while back when my wife and I had some time before dinner on our anniversary Feb.14th. Since the restaurant was nearby we decided to kill some time by stopping by the chapel at Providence hospital in Everett. We wanted to visit the chapel and re-read the prayers that our family have written into the prayer request book over the years. However, our prayers were missing and in their place was a new prayer book that only went back a few months. The Catholic chaplain that I have come to know pretty well over the years popped by and told me that they go through one or two books a year these days so together we went off searching for the old filled up prayer books. After a lot of rummaging around we found all the previous prayer books going all the way back to 1936. Over 70 years of prayers all stacked up on shelves in a dank storage room. In those prayer books there is so much desperate sorrow, shameless pleading, even some anger and hatred, and a lot of tear stained pages. But there is also some joy and thankfulness and a lot of honesty and insight not found often enough in our ordinary lives.
It took awhile but the priest found the book from when my wife had open heart surgery 3 years ago and in it were all the prayers of the children and grandchildren and many friends and all of my own prayers too, answered prayers too as grace would have it. He left me to keep researching by myself and it took awhile but I found the old prayer book form 1982 when one of my daughters had suffered a terrible head injury after falling from our moving car. I had forgotten but over the next few weeks in the hospital I had written about a dozen prayers.
Head injuries are perplexing and hard to diagnose, and for the first few hours after the accident it seemed that my daughter was alright so she was sent home from the doctors office with bruises and with bandaids on scratches. But then about an hour or so later her eyesight in one eye began to fail then her right arm went numb, then she couldn’t walk or even stand up, then a more profound paralysis set in, then it got much worse. Let me say, It’s much harder to go from bad news to good news, and then back to bad news, to even worse news; to go from hearing that “your daughter seems to be fine so just take her home” (thank you, thank you Jesus!) to, “we’re sorry, your daughter is bleeding in her brain and we just can’t stop it ”(No! God No!).
Turns out I am really not a very good prayer after all, I never have been. Most of my prayers were kinda like this one: “Dear Jesus please heal my daughter, please let her live, please let her walk again, don’t let her die, thank you, I’m sorry.” You know, that sort of thing. Really quite simple, ordinary, unsophisticated, like so many of the other prayers written in these prayer books and prayed each moment everywhere in the world. And although I didn’t remember any of my actual prayers, I had never forgotten the fear and the pain. I am almost sure though that God remembers all of our prayers. But if not, I have copies of my prayers on file now. And on the last day when God is finished examining my life and deeds, my words and works, then I can open up my own book and God can watch those prayers fly from the pages again like furious spirits unbound.