Death & Prayer : Dickinson & Doran

I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod.
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels — twice descending
Reimbursed my store –
Burglar! Banker — Father!
I am poor once more!

-Emily Dickinson

One of the reasons Dickinson is so imminently readable is her simple plaintive poems that call up the deep experiences of life. The poem above depicts a prayerful struggle with God over death of a third child.  Twice before the speaker of the poem has lost as much, each time angels descend to give reimbursement, recalling the annunciation, and now the speaker calls on God again, but in a mixture of anger and love, “Burglar! Banker” with piety triumphing in the end “Father!”.  Few poems of such economy do as much.

I was recently reminded of this poem after rereading “Hurry the Iowa Cornfields” by Geri Doran (from her excellent award winning debut Resin):

Hurry the Iowa Cornfields

Harder to live a life than cross a field.
–Russian Proverb

Twice now in the declining light
I’ve carried my prayer to the field,
the flashlight’s fluttering oval

like lamplight in a library not yet dark–
a shield of the wary
against inescapable consequences.

And though I make my bid
in a field of near-ripe corn
my floundering god refuses me,

leaves me the rattle of stalks,
the shapes of my desires
numerous and thin.

Here it is nothing to remember
the purblind shriek of the bird,
domestic and white,

sensing hawk–nothing
to remember its idiot call,
here I am, caged.

If caged, you dare not call.
Yet to a field of corn I cannot cross
I come at dusk to stand in the rows,

rummaging in inadequate light
for gold silk turned to brown,
for ripeness, answering.

“Twice now” is the first clue that harkens to Dickinson’s poem, but both are prayers and deal with death. Death imagery stems from the attention to darkness: “declining light”, “not yet dark”, “dusk” and “inadequate light”. Just as the seasons are a common metaphor for birth, maturation, and death, so too is a day a picture of life. The speaker carries a flashlight as “a shield…against inescapable consequences” something that isn’t true of darkness, darkness can be escaped from, but Death cannot be.

But more than this is the section toward the end of the bird startled from the field. To understand this image we must know that birds shriek in danger (“sensing hawk”) to draw attention to themselves thereby drawing danger away from their nest. For the bird to call out “here I am, caged” but to be caged would be foolish (“you dare not call”); the bird only calls to attract attention away from her young. The speaker in a poem comes to a field to struggle with god, her floundering god. Like Job the speaker is bold to lay charges against this power and demands an answer.

The answer given is oblique. The poem ends with the speaker rummaging for ripeness in a near-ripe cornfield. It is the end of summer, near harvest, the corn stalks are dying, the gold silk turning brown, and once brown the corn will be ready to harvest. This cornfield, near death, is answering the speaker’s “idiot call”, the “purblind shriek” that hopes to draw off the stumbling god who uses death so inescapably. The only answer for a question of such pain and sorrow (Why death? Burglar! floundering god!) could only be answered by an uncrossable field.

90 Unused Posters for Malick’s The Tree of Life

Filmstage has compiled 90 unused posters for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. There are many that are bad, boring and worse, but here are six that I hate and two that I love:bad1

Certainly the two above aren’t the worst in the history of posters, both are visually striking, but both are flawed. The first commits the sin of the second light source. In an age of photoshopped onesheets you get this all the time, sun behind the characters, sunlight on the face. Also you have questions like “What is Pitt looking at?” and “Why is Sean Penn giving the stinkeye to that kid?”

The second is a dark picture of a dead tree in a movie called Tree of Life. It misses on the tone of the film, for one, but more than that it is a little too on the nose regarding the whole tree business. It’s not actually about a tree, you know.

bad2

Now we’re getting into the truly egregious posters. The first one, I just, I can’t. Those, those faces… Part of me, however, would like to see a film in which Penn’s morose face lives on Brad Pitt’s left pectoral.

It’s hard to imagine a parody of The Tree of Life wanting a better poster than the second one. Pitt and Penn butting heads over a scene from the Walking Dead. Also we have to have a tree on the poster because Literally…

bad3

The first one I honestly think is a leftover from Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. I’m thinking the movie with this poster is about a sentient tree that fights crime in space. Which I would almost definitely watch.

The second one…WOW. It’s like an M.C. Escher pic. The hand is inside the house, but, but then there’s the hunched over old man being reflected off the window in which he is looking outside, but, but he’s inside. Ack, and I thought the movie made my head hurt.

good

Okay, here are two I actually like. The first one, admittedly is hastily shopped with color coding problems, and the corresponding face to Pitt’s should be Chastain’s (but she isn’t the big name so she can’t have the big face, ya see?) and Penn’s face should be above Chastain with his younger self on the otherside with the younger brother in the middle. Okay, so it’s not perfect, but I love the fracturing of the family and I love tree motif slipped into the negative space. Tres cool.

The second one is a striking visual. We get life and death from it, there’s an upward pull to it and perhaps its greatest accomplishment: no floating faces!

good2These are the two posters that saw the light of day. The first is great, the second one is an admission that the movie is all over the place and posters are hard. Ah well.

The Sermon to the Sharks in Moby Dick

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There are those sharks now over the side, don’t you see they prefer it tough and rare? What a shindy they are kicking up! Cook, go and talk to ’em; tell ’em they are welcome to help themselves civilly, and in moderation, but they must keep quiet. Blast me, if I can hear my own voice. Away, cook, and deliver my message. Here, take this lantern,” snatching one from his sideboard; “now then, go and preach to them!”

Sullenly taking the offered lantern, old Fleece limped across the deck to the bulwarks; and then, with one hand drooping his light low over the sea, so as to get a good view of his congregation, with the other hand he solemnly flourished his tongs, and leaning far over the side in a mumbling voice began addressing the sharks, while Stubb, softly crawling behind, overheard all that was said.

“Fellow-critters: I’se ordered here to say dat you must stop dat dam noise dare. You hear? Stop dat dam smackin’ ob de lips! Massa Stubb say dat you can fill your dam bellies up to de hatchings, but by Gor! you must stop dat dam racket!”

“Cook,” here interposed Stubb, accompanying the word with a sudden slap on the shoulder,– “Cook! why, damn your eyes, you mustn’t swear that way when you’re preaching. That’s no way to convert sinners, Cook!”

“Who dat? Den preach to him yourself,” sullenly turning to go.

“No, Cook; go on, go on.”

“Well, den, Belubed fellow-critters:”–

“Right!” exclaimed Stubb, approvingly, “coax ’em to it, try that,” and Fleece continued.

“Do you is all sharks, and by natur wery woracious, yet I zay to you, fellow-critters, dat dat woraciousness–‘top dat dam slappin’ ob de tail! How you tink to hear, ‘spose you keep up such a dam slapping and bitin’ dare?”

“Cook,” cried Stubb, collaring him, “I won’t have that swearing. Talk to ’em gentlemanly.”

Once more the sermon proceeded.

“Your woraciousness, fellow-critters. I don’t blame ye so much for; dat is natur, and can’t be helped; but to gobern dat wicked natur, dat is de pint. You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned. Now, look here, bred’ren, just try wonst to be cibil, a helping yourselbs from dat whale. Don’t be tearin’ de blubber out your neighbour’s mout, I say. Is not one shark dood right as toder to dat whale? And, by Gor, none on you has de right to dat whale; dat whale belong to some one else. I know some o’ you has berry brig mout, brigger dan oders; but den de brig mouts sometimes has de small bellies; so dat de brigness of de mout is not to swallar wid, but to bit off de blubber for de small fry ob sharks, dat can’t get into de scrouge to help demselves.”

“Well done, old Fleece!” cried Stubb, “that’s Christianity; go on.”

“No use goin’ on; de dam willains will keep a scrougin’ and slappin’ each oder, Massa Stubb; dey don’t hear one word; no use a-preaching to such dam g’uttons as you call ’em, till dare bellies is full, and dare bellies is bottomless; and when dey do get ’em full, dey wont hear you den; for den dey sink in de sea, go fast to sleep on de coral, and can’t hear noting at all, no more, for eber and eber.”

“Upon my soul, I am about of the same opinion; so give the benediction, Fleece, and I’ll away to my supper.”

Upon this, Fleece, holding both hands over the fishy mob, raised his shrill voice, and cried–

“Cussed fellow-critters! Kick up de damndest row as ever you can; fill your dam bellies ’till dey bust–and den die!”

Haikusday Tuesday : Winter Moonlight

Winter moonlight;
the shadow of the stone pagoda,
the shadow of the pine tree.

-Shiki

I don’t want to get into the habit of “explaining” poetry. Typically we tend to value poetry only for the “point” and cannot appreciate it unless it is understood, but once a poem is “understood” we tend to leave it behind. Rather, we should enjoy the act of reflection.

With this in mind consider the ephemeral “images” given: moonlight, a shadow, a shadow. Consider the difference between a pagoda and a pine tree, consider their similarities…

Click here to read more haiku.

Dragons and the Difficulty Level

In the creation account God creates seven categories of creatures, the fish, the birds, dragons (tanniyn), cattle, creepies, beasts, and man.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

In the first declaration of the Dominion mandate mankind is put over: 1.Fish 2.Fowl 3.Cattle 4.All the Earth 5.Creepies: you’ll notice that Dragons are missing as well as Beasts of the earth. Then in Gen 1.28 God says:

“and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

1.Fish 2.Fowl 3.Living Things Upon the Earth. The last category would include Beasts of the earth, but it is curious that they aren’t mention explicitly. Dragons are left off the list again. I think beasts are not explicitly mentioned because to tame a lion is much more difficult than to tame a cow. Dominion is always a work in progress, but some things come farther down the line than others. Both the beasts and particularly the dragons are at a different level of difficulty. You’ll notice that both Dragons and Beasts are centered:

v.20,21: Fish>Fowl>Dragons<Fish<Fowl

v.24,25: Cattle>Creepies>Beasts:Beasts<Cattle<Creepies

The next step in the story comes at Noah. Gen 9.2:

“And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.”

Presumably, cattle is left off the list because they’re domesticated already, but Dragons are still left off the list. The beasts of the earth have been explicitly mentioned under this covenant, which wasn’t the case in Gen 1.28.

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A curious event happens in Exodus that needs to be considered. In Ex.4 God tells Moses to cast his rod down and it becomes a serpent (nachash). In Ex.7 in the showdown with Pharaoh and his magicmen Moses tells Aaron to throw down his rod and it becomes a dragon (tanniyn), though your Bible may translate it serpent. Pharaoh’s men cast their rods down and they too become tanniyn, but we know they are smaller because Aaron’s rod swallows them. I like to think they were baby crocs and Aaron’s is a big croc.

Dragons seem to be beyond man’s ability to deal with. God asks Job (ch.41) if he can handle the Leviathan, the great sea-beast, and the answer is pretty clearly no. But in Psalm 74 we learn that Yahweh breaks the dragons and feeds us Leviathan meat. Plus there are hints that things will change. Ps.91 says: “Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.” While this primarily refers to Christ we no doubt partake of this in him.

Psalm 8 says speaking of man, “Thou made him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou has put all things under his feet: sheep and oxen, all, and beasts of the field; the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and [whatsoever passes] through the paths of the seas.”

“Beasts of the field” seems to be a generic “things that live on the land” (see Gen 2.19 as opposed to “beasts of the earth” in Gen 1), so it highlights two sacrificial animals and then the generic term for the other cattle, beasts of the earth, and the creepies. Next it mentions fowl and fish and if we take the brackets as an accurate translation then the “whatsoever” would include the tanniyn. Though part of me wants to translate it as “the fish of the sea, passing in the paths of the sea” which would exclude the tanniyn. Either way, David is looking ahead to the time when dragons are under man’s feet.

The verse that connects serpent to dragon is Is. 27.1 where the Leviathan is described as a serpent:

“In that day Yahweh will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, with his fierce and great and mighty sword, even Leviathan the twisted serpent; and he will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.”

So as we learn from the Greek testament, Satan is the serpent of old and the dragon of later. In the Hebrew testament even though serpents are afflictions they are under man’s feet, but man doesn’t mess with dragons until Jesus comes. To go from serpent to dragon also means a change in tactics. The serpent seeks to win through deceit, but the dragon through violence. The serpent lies at first, but then it grows; the serpent increases becoming a dragon and the dragon devours.

.   .   .

Mark 9: 21-29

And he asked his father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?”

And he said, :Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”

Jesus said unto him, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.” And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could not we cast him out?”

And he said unto them, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”

Stuart Firestein : On Facts

“As I began to think about it, I realized that, contrary to popular view, scientists don’t really care that much about facts. We recognize that facts are the most unreliable part of the whole operation. They don’t last, they’re always under revision. Whatever fact you seemed to have uncovered is likely to be revised by the next generation. That’s the difference between science and many other endeavors.  Science revels in revision. For science, revision is a victory. In religion, or astrology, or any other belief system, revision is a kind of defeat. You were supposed to have known the answer to this. But the joy of science is that it’s about revision.”

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Coffee and Sobriety

“Remember — until the mid-seventeenth century, most people in England were either slightly — or very — drunk all of the time. Drink London’s fetid river water at your own peril; most people wisely favoured watered-down ale or beer (“small beer”). The arrival of coffee, then, triggered a dawn of sobriety that laid the foundations for truly spectacular economic growth in the decades that followed as people thought clearly for the first time. The stock exchange, insurance industry, and auctioneering: all burst into life in 17th-century coffeehouses — in Jonathan’s, Lloyd’s, and Garraway’s — spawning the credit, security, and markets that facilitated the dramatic expansion of Britain’s network of global trade in Asia, Africa and America.”

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