[audience applauds] Alright, uh, I’m a little poetry baby, & I’m just learning to do things out of my brain (laughs) um, instead of off the page. So I’m going to do 1 short 1 which is the 1st 1 that I learned to recite before I… Just to whet my whistle before I go all in on this 5 minute piece. Um, & this is the tough 1 & then after that it’s all just like fun stuff like God & vaginas & my grandma & Georgia O’Keeffe, it’s gonna be good! Okay! my friend came back to our 11th grade
drama class complaining that the boys had to stay an extra 5 minutes so
the vice-principal could remind them not to rape anybody and I remembered but never told him that in 9th grade, the girls gym teacher took
an entire 75 minute period to persuade us to go to the hospital before taking a shower. That’s the whole piece. [audience applauds] I lit my own small fire at Notre Dame which may have been the first Catholic
Church I ever set foot in at 14, beside my Amah, a woman who would tell you it was by faith and she had survived cancer 3 times. plus decent health insurance and a truckload of vitamin capsules loving smuggled down
from Canada by my mother, the youngest of her 4 daughters, who did not always find her the easiest woman to be mothered by but who each found their own ways of caring for her in return, whether from the next room, the next house, the next village, or the next country. & as we sent up our own illuminated prayers, Amah searched the faces of our fellow travellers who may have come in search of
their only healing & wanted me to know that this was part of the deal. She was raised Methodist & married a Quaker farmer with a good nose on purpose because she knew by 19 exactly how she wanted her family to be. and she kept those thees & thys rolling thoughtfully off her tongue ’til the day she sent her soul
home to Jesus & her body to the medical lab at the University of Vermont where the scientists who were about to examine her resilient remains remarked that they had never had a corpse ushered into their sanctuary by a chorus of loved ones singing ‘some bright morning when this life is over…’ But she was never 1 to put all her
spiritual eggs in one basket so sure, a field trip with her best friend to a Brazilian cult icon to shore up that last round of chemo & a mad libs reading of the Dalai Lama & candles at Notre Dame, while we were in the neighborhood, why not? I still add a flame in every
church that presents me with the opportunity — less for the healing & more for her.
Sabbath’s being made for man and all that. I was impressed by the cathedral
although twice that age & then some again I still cannot be sure that they
mean that I mean that in a good way. What I remember most was what I only learned as it burned was called the people’s book: an archway intended to instruct the
illiterate on why to be good. My youthful awe was dogged quickly by frustration as I craned my neck and found that still these intricate carvings were too high above
for me to receive their full glory. We returned home via London.
1 night only in the cozy Quaker hotel where I layered towels on my side of the bed & learned the
true meaning of a prayer trying not to bleed on the sheets. My Amah bonded over Father Ted with the cab driver who brought us there
and called him back the next morning to take us to the airport, where the
conversation turned from TV priests to true belief, as he enquired of Amah what she supposed would happen to her when she died. She must have seemed in
excellent health at the time and he could not have suspected how at home she had made herself in this harsh territory. “I’ll see when I get there.” To me this was a breathtaking glimpse of
True Religion. No boastful prediction of someday inheriting the key to a glittering kingdom on a cloud which could only be diminished by earthbound description of so many by so many cubits with exclusive access granted to just yay many souls.
“I’ll see when I get there,” was all my Amah had to say and the driver who must have been coached to elicit fear with this line of questioning grew silently enraged at the patience and peace that spilled thru his car. All he could do was chuck a
Watchtower magazine at us & hope & pray that we would get around to concerning ourselves with eternal damnation once we reached our gate. My Amah asked me to find a trash bin as he sped away which is how I learned that you do not have to trust an egg to every basket that comes along even if it is carried to you by a lovely man who enjoys the same basketry themed TV shows as you. I left my own spill in the back of that cab.
No great proof of faith. Just the edge of my insides seeped thru the loo roll I had folded in my underwear. The unprompted response of the unwashed, seeking God a little closer to Earth. [audience applauds] I have 1 more & I am going to read this 1. this is another poem about the new moon
thanks to the Georgia O’Keeffe book on the coffee table at my upstairs neighbours’ Xmas party & copies are available over there (laughs) Um… She sneaks the moon in, says Mary
& I warn her I’ll have to write this poem. There are rules, but the canvas is wide.
Things are permitted to change. Here the light is like life, here like the
warped echo of time and knowledge made visible. The moon is the moon. It’s been cast in many pageants since being torn from us before we lived here as a drunk old man, a running woman, a rabbit up to something. Not her moon.
Her moon is a moon. It is enough to be a moon.
It is enough to be a flower. She always denied turning petals into vulvas, & why would she? Plants do genitalia so much better than we do! But time is long.
The moon was once a part of this earth we would some day walk on and then drive cars on roads not built for cars & then build roads not suitable for walking. What I’m saying — what I have no excuse to say except it has occurred to me and maybe I wish it — maybe someday our ovaries will be good
enough to eat and we’ll blossom & fruit painlessly, offering our offspring to the world without fear & maybe I’m not giving plants enough credit here. I don’t know if a tree frets for its apples. It has certain physical limitations, but I of all people should know how wildly it is possible to worry while rooted to the spot. My Syrian students have a lot of questions about the lawn creches we pass on our way to after school school so after after school school I Google “Nativity in Quran” where in Mary is Maryam and Jesus is Isa and the birth is attended only by a date tree which bends to feed the labouring
mother its own children. Another recurring curiousity on our walk is the cross high above the Catholic church. “What’s that?”
“It’s a symbol?”
“For Christianity? kind of like the moon is for Islam?” & this trilingual eight-year-old looks up, & looks at me, puzzled, as well she should be because this is an inscrutable message pinned to the sky,
& the moon is the moon. Everybody knows that.