KADDISH CHALLENGE

September 22, 2010

Think about your own cultural and or religious belief system. Then, in response to your relationship to someone real or imagined, living or dead (or to Allen and Naomi’s relationship if you like), What would your version of the Kaddish look like?

The following is my seizured attempt at the Irish Catholic version of the Kaddish.
You may notice that my Elegiac Epistle varies somewhat from Ginsberg’s Kadddish, in that, it, for the most part, abandons the repetition of the recipient’s name. That is because we (Irish) invented the understood pronoun – and frankly, it doesn’t matter whether it is understood or not, because it only lends to the circuitous nature of the traditional Irish art of story-telling; however, for the sake of those who are not Irish, I will try not to lose you in confusion.

Last Epistle to Robbie
June 14, 1963 – June 26, 1978
Carried on the wings of doves
accompanied by the cries of vultures into eternity

I

My mind wanders back – to a warm June evening – the last time we were together.
The light turns green, we wait to cross –
wait for the traffic to slowly inch forward-
wait – until the bottleneck clears
and the cars start moving faster,
wait – for just the right moment.
Then we enter our dance with eternity,
laughing and running, we jump and dodge
in-and-out of speeding cars,
daring God to take us.
But He refuses to answer.

We run into Highs flush with adrenaline,
confident in our invincibility.
You offer to spend your last dollar
on a candy bar for us to share.
Waiting to pay – someone calls out a question
from somewhere in the back of the store.
The clerk looks away
for only a second.
I lift a pack of Marlboros from the counter,
put them in my pocket – You pay.
We go out into the night.

We walk next door to the coin laundry.
We’re alone – we’re broke –
You busy yourself with a coat hanger
trying to jimmy the coin slots.
I thumb through the Children’s Illustrated Bible,
a free sample with mail-in postcards in the back,
left on a table in a dimly lit corner
by some lonesome evangelical salesman,
who chose this place –
because it was safe – an easy sale;
no attendant to ask for permission.

I wonder how he stumbled into this place – whether he got lost in his travels.
If he had to forge some paperwork –
Was God happy? Did God smile?
I ask you if you believe,
God has a sense of humor. You say ‘Yes.”
Just then your body shutters all over;
the shock tosses You across the room.
I scramble to retrieve seven coins
scattered across the floor.
I place them in your hand, but you hand them back.
You say you’re ready to go now.

Outside, you hand me a golf ball
and save two for yourself.
We heave them wildly into the vast emptiness.
From out of the darkness – the sound of shattering glass –
wild cries; we run for ourlives , feeling
the breath of our unknown pursuer,
his steps at our backs, as we flee into the night
laughing and shrieking for joy amidst cries of foul.
The unseen stranger, intent on retribution, stumbles
and we are saved by a root springing up from the darkness.
The chase ends in silence.

II

I got the call from your sister three days ago –
She said they found you dead,
crushed under the weight of your Grandfather’s favorite tractor.
I think back to our elaborate dances – taking chances with God
and daring him to answer.
It seems funny, now, how God made the call
when You were doing nothing at all wrong this time.

I remember you telling me once about your parents being deaf
and how it was like you and your sister had your own secret code;
You could speak and your parents couldn’t understand.
You even said you shared a private language, like twin-speak;
only you weren’t really twins, just Irish –
ten months of separation – I thought of her then,
making all of the calls and funeral preparations.

III

I stand at the threshold of the dimly lit parlor,
peering in. A wooden memory pressed tightly in my hand.
I linger- a moment more, outside the door,
staring lovingly at the cross that has left
its imprint upon my hand,
unsure whether I want to part
with this symbol of our relationship
but I know that you, Robbie, would want it.

Looking down into my sweaty palm,
I see –
its just a plain wooden cross, upon a leather strap-
No Jesus hanging – No crown of thorns –
Just a memory.

Wordlessly, your sister waves me in
and I make my meager offering.
She speaks to your parents, silent words
flowing effortlessly from her fingertips.

Your parents, standing on opposite sides of the room,
erupt in angry gestures,
arguing, over the closed lid of your casket.
They grind out guttural utterances.
I imagine that I understand.
Your mother’s hands wave emphatically
through the air, and the frown on her face
shows her displeasure.

Even without words I understand,
her answer is no; but, Robbie, your father
unleashes a crescendo of words.
They dance silently from his lips and body
his eyes pleading for understanding.
Finally, your sister asks me to leave
your cross with her. Your parents will decide
the final disposition of my gift.

As I turn to go, the priest enters
offering little words of comfort
your parents don’t hear.
Discerning his somber black mantle
and escarpment boasting a simple cross,
I wonder –
If he really has faith
in the power of exorcism.

He catches my eyes,
looks in piercingly –
I stare back at an edifice rended.
Peering into the precipice
I see –
You and I dancing into eternity.
The priest, his conversation ended,
turns away.

Homily

Blessed be the Lord, our God, the one true
God who goes before us to make a place
at the table of his father, with all
the Saints who go before him.

Oh Hosanna on highest, in your mercy
all praise and glory are yours forever.

Blessed be the child who goes before us.
Blessed be his father and his mother;
grace to his parents left in their sorrows
to carry on without his cherub face.

Oh Hosanna on highest, in your mercy
all praise and glory are yours forever.

Blessed be the mourners who remember
the loss of his tomorrows. Peace to those
who gather here to say farewell
to this tiny fallen angel of God.

Oh Hosanna on highest, in your mercy
all praise and glory are yours forever.

Blessed be the one son of God who died,
was buried, and rose again to atone
for the sins of all who have fallen short
throughout eternity. Peace be with them.

Oh Hosanna on highest, in your mercy
all praise and glory are yours forever.

Amen. Forever and ever. Amen.
Go now, my brothers in eternal peace
The Lamb of God be with you forever.
Amen – Clink, Clank, Scatter rosary beads.
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Thoughts on Kaddish

September 16, 2010

After class today I was stuck on that final image in Naomi’s letter to Ginsberg: the key being in the bars of the window. I felt like there was something else that I wanted to articulate about it, but I didn’t necessarily know what that was or why I thought so. Later this afternoon, I was talking to a friend on the phone about a class on Beat poetry she is taking at the Yale Divinity School. Currently they are reading Burroughs, and she quoted this to me:

“A man who doesn’t know he’s in prison can never escape. As soon as you realise the planet and your body constitute an almost escape-proof jail, as soon as you know you are in prison – you have a possibility to escape.”

William S. Burroughs

So, feedback  time: do you guys think this is what Naomi was trying to say in her letter? Can we see her bars as manifestations of body and earth, or is that taking it too far? Or can we ever take the Beats, interpretively, too far?

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