My Kingdom is not of this World (JESUS BHAKTI POEMS (ix))

A poem for Good Friday. (I am living in Greece now, and here Easter is this weekend.)

My kingdom is not of this world,
he said,
the world where might is right.

Daft, they said,
and placed a purple robe upon
the Lord of Night
and a crown of thorns
pressed down upon his head
and knelt to him
and laughed.

from APOLLO’S WOMAN

CLYTEMNESTRA
Did Apollo not know who the boy was?

Cassandra shrugs.

CASSANDRA
I knew. Therefore he knew, one would suppose.
But what if he, like me, gets only glimpses?
Or does he see everything? Had he known all along?
Was he playing with me? Had he been playing with Paris?

CLYTEMNESTRA
With Paris? Then with Helen? Oh, you are mad!
Everything you say is tangled up, in riddles!

CASSANDRA
Am I? Listen. While Paris was yet a child,
concealed from the world, my father ordered that
I be inducted as a priestess. And since I was beautiful –
“the most beautiful of Priam’s daughters” – a prize –
and since my mother had been Apollo’s priestess
and Apollo known to be a god who loves
beauty in maidens almost as much as he loves
the beauty of boys, they decided to consecrate me,
like her, to Apollo. I spent the night locked
in his Temple. It was pitch black, and I still
hardly more than a child. I crouched in a corner,
hardly daring to breathe, for what seemed like
the whole night. Then he appeared. He had
the form of a young man bathed in moonlight.
He said he had been watching me, had watched
as I grew up; that I was like my mother only –
more so; and now, at last, I would be his.
He offered me gifts, one the gift of prophecy,
if I would agree to be his and his alone
for all time, even after he tired of me.
I said I must ask my father. He said no,
I must decide then and there, that night.
He sat and played upon his lyre. I slept.
Then woke and wept. He comforted, caressed me …
and as dawn broke, murmured, ‘Well, Cassandra?
Will you accept my gift?’ ‘Yes, my lord.’
He kissed my lips. His tongue touched my lips.
They parted. His tongue met mine, and suddenly
I saw – could see! I saw at once that I
would never be his! He saw it too, then,
and with a roar, rose up, towering golden above me,
a god now, not a man even in seeming.
He had believed me! How could he have believed me?
He seized me by my hair and held me up
before his face which shone now like the sun,
and went to kiss me again. Again my lips parted –
but this time, instead of kissing me,
he spat – spat into my mouth. And by
so doing transformed the gift into a curse.
I would foresee, but no one would believe.

CLYTEMNESTRA
Hm. Though it is true that Great Apollo
has little luck with women. I remember
the nymph Castalia fled from him and dived
into the river at Delphi where she drowned.

CASSANDRA
And Marpessa, who, offered the chance to choose,
chose Idas, and when Idas died, killed herself
rather than ever be Apollo’s.

CLYTEMNESTRA
And poor Daphne,
who preferred to be changed into a tree
rather than submit to his so smooth embrace –

CASSANDRA
Smooth, yes! Silky smooth. He has no hair
on his chin – no hair anywhere –

CLYTEMNESTRA
Save on his head, those flowing, golden locks.
But how do you know …? Did you perhaps do more
than simply kiss, ere you rejected him?

CASSANDRA
No! It was just that you could tell. You could!

CLYTEMNESTRA
Apollo is a man’s boy, a boy’s
man, as cold at heart towards women as
his sister is to men. And like her
you probably had – you still have – a certain
boyishness about you. It must infuriate him.

CASSANDRA
Oh, it did! Yet I did not reject him!
I simply knew that I would never be his,
that I would be Athena’s priestess, not his,
that it was all – pre-ordained – fated;
that Paris – yes! It was in that mind-searing moment
when time stopped that I first saw Paris,
knew that he lived!

Even an Anarchist Must Eat (Even a Poet!) (JESUS BHAKTI POEMS (vi))

You think I understand?
What if I understand
when it is not what is in my head that counts
but what is in my hand?

You think I don’t want that house?
You think I don’t fancy that yacht?
I know what the fuss is about.
I need more, not less, than I’ve got.

You say I know, in my heart?
What if I know in my heart?
It is not what is in my heart that counts
but what is in my hand.

Ask me:
Do I want the one pearl within,
O Lord of the Night,
or the many without?

XII – The Hanged Man

Nine minutes, okay.
But can you go nine hours –
nine days! –
without the instant gratification
that is our way
of living in this world –
never a second without input –
our way
of forgetting that the grave,
the great silence,
looms ever closer?

Nine hours or nine days
hanging upside down from the tau-cross.
Nine hours or nine days
buried face down in a dark and silent grave.
Nine hours
face to face with infinity.
Nine days
a part of the infinite.

After nine hours, the initiate
is taken down from the cross,
lifted up out of the grave.

After nine days, it is a god
comes down from the cross,
a god that rises up out of the grave.

THE SEVENTH SEAL (Film Review)

The Seventh Seal is, without any Hollywood hyperbole, one of the most memorable and shocking films ever made. It was shot in black and white on a real shoestring budget (Bergman predictably could not find backers for his marvellous script), yet it managed to win the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1957 and has been acclaimed as a cinematic masterpiece ever since.

A knight, played to perfection by Max von Sydow, returns from the Crusades to find Death stalking the land. The opening scene of the film, dawn on a bare northern beach, reveals the knight and his squire sleeping on the pebbles while their horses wait patiently at the water’s edge. They do not appear to have been shipwrecked. Presumably they were put ashore there during the night. The knight wakes, washes his face in the sea, kneels and prays.

Then turns to see Death standing behind him. “Who are you?” “I am Death … I have walked long at your side.” “That I know.” The knight proposes a game of chess. Death accepts and the game proceeds, giving the knight a respite during which he can save at least some of the small group of helpless people who collect around him.

Bergman tells us he was inspired by the Carmina Burana, the songs of the wanderers, the homeless, the seekers, during the 13th and 14th centuries, the time of wars and famines and plague, of the Great Mortality and the Dance of Death. He was also certainly inspired by the passage in the Book of Revelations from which he took his title, Revelations chapter 8. Read it. The knight’s wife does so, aloud and at length, during supper when he arrives home towards the end of the film. She has been awaiting him all these years and now they are finally reunited in death.

It is a cross between a Morality Play, with allegorical figures and events, and a novel, with tragedy and humour intermingled, scenes memorable for their realism, their happiness and love (the dreamy and lovable wandering player, of and his beautiful wife and perfect baby, symbol of a future which looks in grave doubt), their horror (the procession of self-flagellating penitents stumbling through the villages, the girl burnt as a witch before our eyes), and their sheer timelessness (Death with his string of captives in silhouette dancing off on the horizon at the end of the film).

Bergman said of it that it was one of the films closest to his heart. It is now one of the films closest to mine.

 

In My Last Life I Was A Woman

 

In my last life I was a woman.
I lived in India. Uttar Pradesh.

Sometimes I still feel like
a woman who lives in Uttar Pradesh

speaks Hindi, worships Siva
and the local goddess, Lalita as Candika.

Her man went to the city, never came back.
My man. He died. No one told her but she knew.

Her two sons followed him. My sons. Me,
I never left the village. Hardly ever left

that little yard where I squatted in the dust
and ground the meal, thrusting away the hen –

The lurki – the name comes back –
that I would never kill. I never saw traffic, not like now, here,

crowded streets, traffic lights, people thrusting and swirling,
clucking like a thousand greedy hens

pouring down into the underground and onto the train
locked in and rocketing beneath the city like in a submarine.

I want to get out. I want to get back to
my Indian roots. Or my submarine roots.

I never saw the sea then, either,
except in my dreams. In my dreams

I was a fish.

JOSÉ LUIS HIDALGO: Death – and My Response To His Poem

 

(from the Spanish of José Luis Hidalgo)

Sir: you have everything; one world of darkness
and another of light, bright, sky-blue.
But tell me: those who have died,
is it the night or the day that they inherit?

We are your children, those you bore,
those who, naked in their human flesh,
offer ourselves like barren fields
to the hatred or love of your two claws.

We live with the clamour of war
sounding darkly deep down inside us; for it is there
that you fight without ever defeating yourself,
and leave us the blood-soaked terrain.

So tell me, tell me, Sir: Why us?
Why choose us for your battle-field?
And after it all, in death, what reward can we expect?
Eternal peace or eternal strife?

I do not agree at all with Luis Hidalgo. This my response:

The God you, like Hopkins, cringe and cry to
suffers from multiple personality disorder,
one hand doing good, the other evil,
and letting not his left hand know what his right hand doeth.

Do you not see that the problem with your ONE God
is that in the unending battle between good and evil
you have God fighting on both sides. And as Jesus observed,
If Satan cast out Satan, how shall his kingdom stand?

God is good. God is of the light, not the dark.
Those who follow him are Children of Light.
Those who follow the enemy are Children of Darkness.
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

It breaks my heart to hear good, pious, men
blame God for the evil that befalls man.
Blame God for the death camps and Hitler becomes
God incarnate, not Jesus. God is love.

Starving children are not starved by God.
Trembling animals in vivisection centres
are not – The Devil is god of this world and good
men by definition dissidents and rebels.