Dante: Abortion

This was an exercise that I did for a college classics class. I wrote it in imitation of the terza rima invented and employed by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy. The rhyme scheme is thus ABA BCB CDC and so on. I also attempted to copy the poet’s device of contrapasso, in which a sinner’s eternal punishment in hell is suited to his crime.

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And when I woke we stood upon a cliff’s edge
With nothing standing between us and the brink.
Down we slid, the doctor and I, ‘til the ledge

Was behind our hasty descent. And the stink
Of a boiling blood-lake assailed our senses
And red-raw grieving wails. My heart starts to sink.

The good doctor at my side quickly commences
To explain the dismayed sounds that fill my ears:
“The hidden massacre, of all offences

Most bloody, yet most beloved; childhood years
Cut short for convenience: abortion’s guilt
Drags here both women and men; boiling blood sears

Those who seared their conscience with infant blood, built
Lives off murder invisible. But the infants
Themselves, through God’s mercy, although their blood’s spilt

Before their time, live in His presence triumphant
But only if the parents belonged to God.
This lake holds also the small shades of those sent

By unbelieving families, an ephod
Weighing down their killers. Such is their reward.”
At this he stopped, as on the shore we now trod.

Another question came to me. “What award
Do those reap who perform this task for payment?”
The man from Intosh’s family answered

“Each lies on a scalpel blade for his torment,
Writhing over the tool of his trade, the weight
Of his bloody gold tied to his limbs, ‘til rent

In half, his flesh falls on either side, but fate
Decrees that shall happen for eternity.
His body whole once more, freshly cruciate

He’s on the blade.” We leave, circles new to see.

Palouse

I

On a dry road,
Moving between beauty and beauty,
The road itself beautiful in the light of the near and better things.
My journey is named by the name of Home,
And yet this road is homeward, to, from, away, and nowhere
To many people.
The pages of my story unscroll between Heaven,
And Heaven-yearning hills, and the ancient, secret earth,
Immovable under our light and mortal touch.

 

II

How can my soul wrestle the beauty of truth onto a page?
I see, after all, with only my eyes:
Vision intermediaried by nerve, retina, pupil,
And my own clouded perception.
I cannot write what I know, for I only see what I do not know,
Not knowing what my sight sees:
Least of all known things my reflected self, pensive and silent between nature and story.
Perhaps it is better silent.
Perhaps I will learn to hear as well.

Conan the Barberarian

I eyed the hairdresser with a foreboding lurking in the back of my mind. She was large, and her arms and hands told of no little strength. Even more unnerving was that she was a student of hair design. If she had not yet learned the fine and gentle art of cutting hair, I was in for an experience. Cheap prices had lured me, a relatively poor college student, to the dirty and disorganized school of hair design nestled next to the tattoo parlor. The state of her own hair was no testament of consolation, either. The back of her head was bleach blonde, and the front hemisphere was her natural hispanic black. As I sat in the swiveling chair, she swathed me in a white tissue neckwrap and a black sheet, making me look like some sort of priest. At least, I was praying. Her meaty hand engulfed the clippers. She selected a garishly coloured blade guard and went for the kill.

The points of the guard clawed into my scalp. Escape was impossible, one powerful hand driving her shearing machine and the other clamped inexorably on my head, keeping it still. It wouldn’t have changed anything, though, even if I had broken her grip and wriggled free: her slash and burn method of cutting my hair laid waste to my follicles like Attila’s armies, no doubt, had razed the villages of Europe. Presumably the peasants were as piqued as I was. A biblical passage came floating by in my motionless misery. “My enemies have plowed upon my back: they make long their furrows…” If the Psalmist had only said ‘scalp,’ it would have been nearly right. The scalping stopped for a moment while she selected another garish blade guard. This time, she ground the clippers against my head, giving it enthusiastic amounts of wrist and muscle. It was as if she thought she could frighten the hair back under the skin, chase it away rather than cut it.

Finally, satisfied with my hair’s unconditional surrender and full retreat, Attila retired from the field in triumph. I looked in the mirror at my surprisingly bloodless hairdo, and the new and apparently permanent pained facial contortion that came as a free extra. Unswathed from my cleric’s garb (much sanctuary that brought me), I tottered to the front desk to pay. She swiped my card and then looked up at me expectantly. “And will you be leaving a tip today?”

I paused, and repressed some proletariat sentences vying for freedom of speech.

“No,” I said. “No, I don’t think so.”

Storytelling about Telling Stories

Storytelling has always fascinated me. It recently came to my attention that my favourite movies are all stories about stories being told. Three that come to my mind are The Princess Bride, The Fall, and Big Fish.

The Princess Bride is about a grandfather telling a story to his sick grandson, the same story that his father had read to him when he was sick, and the same story he had read to his son: and now he tells it to his grandson. The story is one that assembles all the fantastic and marvelous elements of fairy tales: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles. In this tale about a fairy tale, we find ourselves constantly presented with the small private smile of a storyteller who realizes that his tale is childish and yet will never apologize for it. The young boy at first disregards the tale, thinking it silly: to him, it’s just a “kissing” book. And yet by the end of the story, he finds himself gripped by this self-aware tale. He wants to hear how true love wins. The story, told by a loving grandfather, has changed the boy he told it to.

The Fall is another tale about an adult telling a story to a child. A young girl with a broken arm is in the hospital, and meets a man with a broken back. The man begins to tell her the most marvelous adventures about a group of men who swear to revenge themselves upon the evil Count Odious. The main character in these tales is played by the man himself. But while the girl listens to the tales, she is unaware that, in the tales, the man is justifying both his desire to commit suicide and his bitterness against those he perceives as his enemies. He attempts to manipulate her into getting him the means to commit suicide by refusing to tell her the end of the stories unless she does things for him. But when she gets further injured and nearly dies during one of her unwitting missions of his suicide, he is broken by grief and begins weaving the tales into death and destruction, killing off all the characters you’ve come to know and sympathize with over the course of the movie. She begins crying inconsolably when he does so, and begs him not to tell the story that way, pleading that the story wasn’t right, that this is not how you tell stories. To comfort her, he changes the story. He finishes with forgiveness, not death, and here’s the best part: in doing this, in changing the story to the way it should be told, he finds himself letting go of his bitterness, and finding comfort despite his losses. By telling the right story, he himself has been changed.

The third movie that follows this pattern is Big Fish. I initially avoided it, since it was a Tim Burton movie. I had come to view his stories as the products of a dark and warped imagination. But this movie proved me at least partially wrong. We see a son and father estranged, never speaking to one another, because the son has become fed up with the fantastic tall tales his father told him about himself. He is angry that his father only tells him these palpably false lies instead of the truth about his history. But when his father begins to die, he sees the need for ultimate reconciliation, and goes to talk to his father. To help us understand his father, he tells the story of his father’s life to us as it was told to him. We find a tale about a man constantly thrust into the most improbable situations, yet always coming out victorious and heading into further victories. He seemed “meant for bigger things.” Closely twined with his life story is the story of his pursuit of a single woman whom he falls in love with. He works seven years just to be told her name, like Jacob and Laban. When he finally catches her, he compares it to landing a big fish, the kind that no one has caught before. Through the rest of the movie, we are constantly presented with examples of his love for and faithfulness to his wife. But still the son does not believe the stories. He begins investigating his father’s past life for himself, and meets one of the characters from his stories. She tells him the truth, and it is a story that is remarkably similar to his father’s stories. Finally compelled to believe, he returns home, only to find his father in the hospital on the brink of death, in a coma. His father, late that night, wakes one last time, and asks his son to tell him a story. Drawing on everything he has learned from his father’s tales, he weaves a final story about his father escaping the hospital and going down to the river, miraculously cured, seeing every person he ever met during his life, every character he told of in his stories, all smiling, all happy. And at the funeral, miraculously, he sees his own story come true. Every person his father ever knew or told about has come to the funeral, and all are happy, all telling stories the way his father did. He finally realizes that his father was always exactly who he said he was: a person who mattered – a big fish. The son, again, has been shaped and changed by his father’s stories.

Each of these tales appeals to me because I firmly believe that the world itself is living out a story right now, and telling the right story, telling a story that follows the way the world really works is one of the most powerful experiences we can expose ourselves or our children to. Stories that show us stories being told are a great tutorial in how to live aright.

So go, put a once on a time, and weave a true story for someone.