Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rain and Tonic

This piece was written during a literary dry spell, one that Soul Food has helped to dispell.

For days I have been wrapped in oppressive Midwest heat and smothered by a depression that draws me close and whispers hotly in my ear, “Who are you kidding?” I am stifled, immobile, stuck at my monitor with nothing flowing mind to hand to screen. The weather pattern that descended on the prairie presses my body to the scorching earth, all sense of story and rhyme driven from my head in the blasting white heat of the plains. My imagination is bone-dry, bleached like a skull in the pasture. By some miracle I rouse myself from my bed this morning at 6 a.m. and set off with my dog Katy for a walk in the neighborhood.

As I pass beneath the silver maple that stands guard by my door, I inhale a warm wet smell, rising from the steaming earth like incense. In an olfactory rush instantaneous and complex associations create the impression of “green.” I look around, surprised. A rain had come, finally. In my death-sleep I had missed the heat-turning-to-rain lightning, the slow rumble of thunder, the answering sigh of the prairie arching up to receive. The asphalt gleams under the streetlights, puddles collecting at the end of the drive. Katy struggles ahead, eager to explore the newly uncovered smells. As we walk, she buries her nose in the shimmering grass, slowing our progress from time to time with her Newtonian tricks, becoming immovable for moments on end, offering me an opportunity to spy the trumpets of wild Missouri roses, their tender white throats open to the precious moisture.

We turn the corner. The wind lifts the brim of my cap as my skin registers the first drops of rain, fat and slightly cool. I shiver at the rare chill of the moment. The streets are quiet and my ears, clear of the heat and emotion of the previous two weeks, are keen. A loose chain rings musically against a fencepost, water drips from a downspout, wet dust grinds beneath my shoe. We pass a Bradford pear tree, alive with hidden starlings sharing morning gossip. Katy rushes the trunk, and they rise with a jarring thrum, flowing west toward the park in a single fluid current.

My skin drinks in the moisture, even as Katy shakes it off. Each fleeting drop is like a current, scintillating my deadened nerves. I quicken my pace. Katy senses my urgency and surges ahead. My mind begins to clear as I register the jingling of dog tags, the hum of air conditioners, the scent of wet cedar mulch, the spray of purple dianthus at the fence. Color creeps through the gray light of pre-dawn, infusing the day. We see no one, save a few quiet cars, headed to early shifts at factories and hospitals. It is a private world, fresh and clean as new broomstraw. My heart opens and releases the stale hot air trapped by the summer and my own fear. Each viscous hollow of my body registers the change as the prairie wind gathers strength, scudding dark clouds across a sky that just yesterday was a blank white bowl. The bright damp air rushes into the vacuum as the dullness seeps from my eyes. The rain breaks over me, rinsing me clean.

Friday, September 16, 2005

My catechism

Sometimes I run across things. Virgin of Guadalupe cards, St. Jude, St. Francis of Assisi. My rosary, tucked away in a jewelry box, lying silent in a soft leather purse. I hold it to the light. Deep red stones, drops of blood flow across my palm like stigmata. I rub my hand against gold-leafed picture frames and enter soaring dark spaces, quiet flames of intention. I touch the hem of Mary’s blue gown resting on her sandaled foot in the sacristy. My house is a reliquary of broken shards and slivers. A certificate of baptism, a photo of a tender 7-year-old bride of Christ, a name—Therese—written in a looping, curvy 14-year-old hand, above the signature of the bishop.

I left the church long ago, for a marriage that eventually ended. The lessons etched into me by the catechism at Sacred Heart Catholic Church have been washed away over time, leaving a clean smooth place. They have been replaced by a catechism of my own making, one that has evolved over time, unlike the ancient and enduring mythos of the church. But I confess that I still have a bit of a connection left, still a tiny bit of religious umbilical cord. It’s triggered when I see a bit of gilt, or a votive bearing the image of a saint. I am drawn to it as surely as I was once drawn toward the altar, mouth open like a baby bird for the body of Christ. I run across these items in lots of places, but none more than a local Catholic bookstore. Every so often when someone I know requires a holy medal or a christening gift, I browse a little. I am distracted and then angered by what I see as propaganda—brochures about abstinence that are patently shaming to women, booklets about “The American Holocaust” of abortion, which insults both the victims of the Jewish Holocaust and the women who struggle with this decision. But then my gaze finds something, and I touch it, handle it with tenderness and a quick intake of breath. The holiness is still there, present in the simple beauty rather than the message. And, I still love the saints—that array of gracious and concerned helpers. St. Anthony’s my main man, keeping his eyes peeled for my car keys, a bracelet, a favorite book. I turn each totem this way and that, weighing its aesthetic appeal against my disputes with the Pope. Sometimes I buy, taking home a tiny piece of my childhood in a crinkly paper sack. These items are Sanctus ornamentum; items I first associated with a state of grace.

My ornamentum is now much more diverse—trees, warm skin, flowing water, smooth stones, faint moonlight, pen and paper, rising bread, a furry black dog, the scream of a kestrel in the pasture outside of town. These things are my holy trappings now. But there is a satisfaction to creating my own holy place, a place that has just a hint of Sacred Heart. Sadly, there are no vaulted ceilings, no marble floors; but on the other hand, no hard wooden pews either. The closest thing to a confessional is my bathtub, where I make long-distance revelations to my sister or mother. Lying in the steamy water, I dissect my transgressions and triumphs—the latter, sadly, are left unexplored in the dark recesses of the church’s confessional. And then I wash away my sins. And oh!—the resurrection of the body.

I have left it all behind, mostly: the incense, the chanting, the myopic patriarchal dogma. But there’s nothing like a little gilt to catch the eye of an old Catholic girl.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Please enter my humble shop...

The Story of HandMaid

As I have grown older, I have come to the realization that I am merely a handmaid for the creative energy of the universe, a midwife of sorts, if you will. My task is to allow this energy to flow through my hands and into others, which is why I am here at Soul Food. I have entered this community to pick up, set down, transform, share and absorb the creative energies of those who gather in the name of art.

It is my hope that by offering these items for your perusal, you will once again claim that spark within yourself. Make your purchases wisely or rashly, whatever takes your fancy. For when you buy something from me, you don’t buy the thing—you buy the dream. Please, step inside and look around. I’ll just be here in the back opening myself to the creative energy of the universe.

image by Michael Green