And then, at last, they saw the country and the countercountry – because every country, like all things in this world, has its contrary, and that contrary-to-a-country is its countercountry, the forces of darkness that work to ensure that only superficiality and horror endure, that all things noble, beautiful, brave, and life-enhancing – the true country – disappear. The countercountry (the poem somehow revealed this) is monolithic, rigid vulgarity; the country is all that is diverse, luminous, mysterious – and festive. And this revelation, more than the images of all the beautiful things that they had seen, invested the listeners with an identity and a faith. And they realized that they were not alone, because beyond all the horror – including the horror that they themselves exuded – there existed the sheltering presence of a tradition formed of beauty and rebelliousness: a true country.
–Reinaldo Arenas, The Color of Summer, trans. Andrew Hurley
It’s Nablus spring 1989
The intifada is in full bloom
And there’s always something happening in and with and from the resistance
International delegations come and go
10,000 photos are taken of David
(A Palestinian teen-ager with stones)
Squaring off against Goliath
(An Israeli tank)
The leaflets and communiqués everywhere
The women come into public space and assert their voices
And the mighty State of Israel has a major PR problem
Unnoticed is the older man with wavy grey hair
Like so many non-Palestinians, he, too, adopts the kaffiyeh
He studied some Arabic in Beirut and Sāo Paolo
He’d always been thinking of how to make “it” happen
To birth the revolution
Here, there, and everywhere
He wasn’t as talkative as he was in his thirties
He listened far more intently
Suffering can do that to a person
He’d seen so much misery
No, he wasn’t religious at all, but he found himself saying “crucifixion”
A fate he had several times narrowly escaped himself
He arrived with a Brazilian passport: “Joāo Azevedo”
He came on fire for the people living under a dehumanizing system
He came, thinking, once again: If I’m going to go out
(translated: to die)
Better to die in the struggle
Than being interviewed for the 200th time by a cynical, smug journalist whose specialty is retro features
Better to be with the rock throwers than those who blithely and brainlessly pay their taxes to support the occupiers
Better to go and blend in and enjoy every bite of falafel and hummus and
Say “gracias, uh, shukran”
To every Palestinian grandmother, wife, or teenager who offers sustenance
Better to connect the blood red dots once again
From the Guatemalan Highlands to Ramallah
From Santiago to Gaza City
From San Salvador to al-Quds
Better to recognize the Palestinians as sisters and brothers
Compañeros and compañeras
And offer them one’s silence
One’s stories from crisscrossing a planet crucified by capitalism
Better to join the demonstration
Tear gas won’t faze him
Beatings—even at his age (61)—don’t evoke fear
In the afternoon near the sooq
He meets a new resister
(They are everywhere)
The older man extends his hand to the youth,
Smiles and says,
I’ve got some down time over here
I wrote this for your pleasure
Hasta la Intifada Siempre
–from Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine
Having recently perused Jim Forest’s biography and memoir of Dan Berrigan (Playing in the Lions’ Den), I returned to Berrigan’s collection of poems, And the Risen Bread. If I can find five poems in such a collection that speak to me (and which I can pass along), I’m pleased.
The poem that still stands out for me, above all the others, is his “Zen Poem,” which I cannot help but think was influenced by his time with Nhat Hanh in France after the Vietnam War. However many times I read it, it remains fresh, like Book 6 of The Brothers Karamazov.
The early poems in the book are Christocentric, abstract, Latinate. The middle poems are still mostly pre-political. Like Vatican II brought the Church into the modern world, in the Sixties Berrigan, like so many others, finally got with it. “Certain Occult Utterances from the Under Ground and Its Guardian Sphinx” retains its spiritual relevance after fifty years. The Georgetown Series includes “The Trouble with Our State,” which also speaks to what is called the Age of Trump. (It would be pertinent if Ms. Clinton was president.) Read the rest of this entry »
I first learned this Portuguese word from Mev, when she worked in Brazil among so many radical, radiant Christians. Here’s how she defined it in her book, The Struggle Is One: “a disposition of openness in which one is accessible, available and willing to be inconvenienced by the needs or requests of another person or event.”
This came back to mind this morning as I was reading a column by James Mustich, whose recent book, 1000 Books To Read before You Die: A Life-Changing List I browse almost daily. Here’s the pertinent citation he makes from Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café:
In his essay, “On the Ontological Mystery,” written in 1932 and published in the fateful year of 1933, [Gabriel] Marcel wrote of the human tendency to become stuck in habits, received ideas, and a narrow-minded attachment to possessions and familiar scenes. Instead he urged his readers to develop a capacity for remaining “available” to situations as they arise. Similar ideas of disponibilité or availability had been explored by other writers, notably André Gide, but Marcel made it his essential existential imperative. He was aware of how rare and difficult it was. Most people fall into what he calls “crispation”: a tensed, encrusted shape in life — “as though each one of us secreted a kind of shell which gradually hardened and imprisoned him.”
May we daily discover the wonders of being available for others.
Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces
Marginalia and Notes, February 2001
I read this book because, like Arenas’s The Color of Summer, it exemplifies a style and structure that I wish to adapt for my second book: short, compressed, packed chapters, thematically linked over the course of the book by numbers, with ample illustrations, mixing autobiography, journalism, “theology,” history, lyricism.
Addition to Jack Kerouac, shorter, the better. Consider, fracturing further currently long chapters.
A part of me died with him. A part of him lives with me. [What for a dedication page?]
Think of all the words I can include, with examples, in my Lexicon chapters.
Depending on layout and format, consider using little photos (of Mev, even) .
Tell my story; no, tell your story.
Do some chapters, like his The Function of the Reader, on “Reading.”
NB: keep the chapters short. 23
Chapter: Voice. And, Voiceless. Check synonyms. Read the rest of this entry »
Reading about SLU’s receiving of Rex Sinquefield’s fifty million dollars reminded me of a letter Mev Puleo wrote to then SLU President Biondi 25 years ago …
After the exhilarating World Youth Day experience, Mev jumped right into her doctoral program at the GTU in Religion and the Arts. Early on, she became acquainted with Maria Bower, a doctoral student in spirituality, with whom she increasingly spent time. She also continued her Haiti solidarity work with local activists Pierre LaBoussiere and Nancy Laleau. But even as she began her study, her experience earlier in the year in El Salvador was raising all kinds of questions to her about higher education. She dashed off the following letter to St. Louis University President Father Lawrence Biondi.
6 September 1993
Lawrence Biondi, S.J.
St. Louis University
221 North Grand Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63103
Dear Father Biondi,
Greetings from a SLU alumna living in California. I hear good words about you from both my father, Peter Puleo, and from some SLU faculty with whom I keep in touch, such as Sr. Dolores Greeley. Congratulations on your good work.
I am writing in response to the “Campaign for St. Louis University” materials. You and those who worked on this produced a beautiful publication with an attractive layout — which I appreciate as a professional photographer. A while back, when I was heading to El Salvador for a meeting, Fr. McGannon gave me some literature on both the SLU Campaign and for the UCA-El Salvador Campaign. (I imagine you are familiar with that publication as well, put out by the AJCU in D.C.).
As a graduate and great fan of SLU, and as a person who has been active in solidarity work with Central America for more than a decade (which I began during my student years at SLU), I was jarred by looking at the two campaign booklets side by side. I am very impressed with the UCA’s attention to “Social Outreach,” their ongoing analysis of the “national reality,” their attention to institutional violence, defense of human rights, and to bringing together people from across the political spectrum to try to encourage a more just, humane society. They are explicit in their aims to educate the privileged (the literate and college-bound) to lead and serve the needs of the majority of the country. While the SLU booklet mentions community service and scholarship funds, these themes of immersion, analysis and engagement in the local social reality are absent. Read the rest of this entry »