Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kirill's Story

Adoption networks, please share this story of a family whose adoption of a little Russian boy with Down Syndrome was denied by a Russian judge, who thought the boy was "not socially adaptable" and best suited to life in an institution.  Readers, please pray that Kirill will be able to come home to live with his waiting family.

H/T:  Sally at Castle in the Sea.

Music and Memory, Part 20: The Matrix

Last weekend I had a visit from A.B. -- my former mentor, the most important voice teacher I've ever had, and the generous donor of my autoharp -- because he happened to have business in a Northern Appalachian town not too far from here.  We went to a hippie café that is often frequented by my family because of its surprisingly good draft beer selection and the cheerful tolerance of the staff toward little children.  Although our pupil-teacher relationship ended badly in the mid-nineties (he ordered me out of his studio one day when I told him his instructions were confusing me, which was really only the culmination of many months of growing tension), after a few years passed we were friends again.  In my doctoral program, I studied voice with his best friend, who was on the faculty, and A.B. was a frequent audience member at my New York-area performances, as well as a thoughtful and provocative critic.

At the hippie café, I showed him the repertoire for a concert I have coming up, and we talked about it. The concert's theme is childhood, and the music includes, among other things, pieces by Charles Ives and the three "Heimweh" settings of Johannes Brahms, one of which, A.B. opined, was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful songs ever written.  A.B. is one of the most brilliant musicians I know, one of the rare souls who deeply understand the elusive language of music and are able to interpret it in subtle, powerful, and nuanced ways, and, when I have the opportunity to talk music with someone like that, I'm in my supreme happy place: the place where -- to quote Brahms himself, out of context and with inappropriate self-aggrandizement -- I start to feel as if "straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God."  And this makes me wonder.

It makes me wonder, because my supreme happy place -- the nirvana achieved through strenuous periods of talking about music, performing music, researching music, studying music, reading about music, teaching music -- was all I ever wanted, from childhood onward.  Once I discovered classical music, it was as if a series of doors opened one upon another, and kept opening in my mind, and as if something shifted into place in my being with a loud sort of thunk.  I was about eleven at the time, and from that point, the everyday, experiential world became like a dream to me.  Music was what I wanted, music was my real world, and everything else was the Matrix. I think the reason I was so happy in graduate school was that the time I got to spend in Musicland exceeded the time I spent in the Matrix, and everything that I did in the Matrix served what I was striving for in Musicland.

But we are all cast out of Paradise at some point; for some of us it happens sooner, for others later.  I think a clear-eyed observer of my life would see an overly-sensitive and romantic girl, who, perhaps not atypically, found a form of escape from an unstable home situation and the anxieties of daily life, in a neurotic striving toward a Bacchic transcendence that can be gained only through an Apollonian rigor.  Indeed, my self-imposed work ethic superseded that of practically any singer I've ever known, but the oblivion I found in practice and study was topped by the bliss I found in being able, after many years of hard work, to make music say what I wanted, and use it to express the deepest emotions of my soul.

And of course, my allegiance to this striving, this oblivion, and this bliss turned everything else around me to shit.  I can only credit the mercy of God with the fact that I'm still standing, still able to have relationships, still able to function with some degree of effectiveness as an adult.  But I'm rarely, these days, in my supreme happy place, the lost paradise that Brahms's "Heimweh" songs are all about. The most beautiful and most famous of these songs, the one that A.B. praised, is the first song in the video below.  The great scholar of German Lieder Eric Sams has written that in this song, called "Heimwh I" or "O wüsst ich doch den Weg züruck," Brahms "is overcome by a personal feeling that goes far deeper than the regretful words, into real tragedy."

(The text is a poem by Klaus Groth, translated here by Leonard Lehrman:

Oh, if I only knew the road back,
The dear road to childhood's land!
Oh, why did I search for happiness
And leave my mother's hand?

Oh, how I long to be at rest,
Not to be awakened by anything,
To shut my weary eyes,
With love gently surrounding!

And nothing to search for, nothing to beware of,
Only dreams, sweet and mild;
Not to notice the changes of time,
To be once more a child!

Oh, do show me the road back,
The dear road to childhood's land!
In vain I search for happiness,
Around me naught but deserted beach and sand!)

I spend most of my time in Matrixland now, where I feel like a stranger who hasn't mastered the language, and I wonder if I ever will.  And what Telly notes mournfully after this classic performance with Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street -- that it will never happen again -- is true not just of all musical performance, but also, of course, of all human endeavor, and is the final response to Brahms in his fruitless quest to return to Kinderland.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Poetry Friday: This Dewdrop World

This dewdrop world
It is but a dewdrop
And yet – and yet

 -- Issa 

More Poetry Friday at A Year of Reading.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Litany for Japan

I've been saying this litany to the Japanese martyrs, and wanted to invite readers to join me. 

Our Lady of Akita, pray for us.
St. Peter Baptist, martyr and patron of Japan, pray for us.
St. Francis Xavier, patron of Japan, pray for us.
St. Paul Miki, martyr, pray for us.
St. Anthony Dainan, martyr, pray for us.
St. Anthony Ishida, martyr, pray for us.
St. Francis Nagasaki, martyr, pray for us.
St. Francis of St. Bonaventure, martyr, pray for us.
St. Gabriel Jusuke, martyr, pray for us.
St. Gaius Francis, martyr, pray for us.
St. James Kisai, martyr, pray for us.
St. Joachim Sakachibara, martyr, pray for us.
St. John Kokumbuku, martyr, pray for us.
St. John Soan de Goto, martyr, pray for us.
St. Leonard Kimura, martyr, pray for us.
St. Leo Tanaka, martyr, pray for us.
St. Louis Ibachi, martyr, pray for us.
St. Louise of Omura, martyr, pray for us.
St. Matthias of Meako, martyr, pray for us.
St. Michael Kozaki, martyr, pray for us.
St. Paul Aybara, martyr, pray for us.
St. Peter Shukeshiko, martyr, pray for us.
St. Romanus Aybara, martyr, pray for us.
St. Thomas Danki, martyr, pray for us.
St. Thomas Kozaki, martyr, pray for us.
St. Vincent Kaun, martyr, pray for us.
Holy Martyrs of Japan, pray for us.

God our Father,
you guide everything in wisdom and love.
Accept the prayers we offer for the nation of Japan;
by the wisdom of their leaders and integrity of their citizens,
may their suffering be lessened,
may harmony and justice be restored
and may there be lasting prosperity and peace.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Short Testament

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
 If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I've destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death's bare branches.

"A Short Testament" by Anne Porter, from Living Things. © Zoland Books.
(H/T:  Karen Edmisten)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Holy Family

Sally has a post up for Saint Joseph's Day that blew me away.  It's always good to be reminded that broken vessels can, and do, carry and pour forth a surprising abundance of grace.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Love and Death in Bohemia

When I heard last month that Suze Rotolo (above, with one-time boyfriend Bob Dylan) had died, I thought of her autobiography, A Freewheelin' Time, which I read a year or two ago.  In it, she writes about the difficult and painful years of her affair with Dylan, and, almost in passing, about having an illegal abortion in the early 1960s, which nailed the coffin on their already-foundering relationship. While Rotolo writes about sinking into a depression afterward (a state of mind which she does not directly attribute to the experience), she asserts in the book that she considers abortion a right.

I will read and love just about any memoir of Bohemian New York in the 1950s and 1960s written by a woman (though, having already read several in this rather narrow and self-limiting genre, I have to admit that they all start to run together after a while in a monotonous wash of sex and narcissism).   Rotolo's death sent me to the library in search of another Bohemian New York memoir that I'd read several years before, Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years, by the beat poet Diane Di Prima, because I recalled that Di Prima had had an abortion around the same time, but had written about the experience in a much different way.  As I recalled, her description of the abortion and the circumstances surrounding it was not only detailed, but also tormented, even raw, a cri-de-coeur against abortion itself emanating from an unexpected quarter.
Diane Di Prima and LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) at the Cedar Tavern, Greenwich Village, early 1960s

Di Prima, a refugee from a repressive Brooklyn Italian girlhood, was living on the Lower East Side, and was already the single mother of one daughter when she became pregnant by the poet LeRoi Jones.  Jones, who was married, insisted upon an abortion.  As Di Prima tells it, 

I was torn apart.  Though intellectually I had always held firmly there was nothing wrong with abortion, as woman I felt myself so much the channel of new life, the door into the world; as budding Hindu or Buddhist, I saw all life as so sacred; as the artist I was I felt so deeply that whatever happens has its reasons . . . that there was no way my having an abortion made sense.  And too, as lover, everything in me screamed that I wanted this baby, wanted something of this man to keep, to love and live with [in spite of the fact that] I had already given up the notion that we would ever "be together," [as] it was bitterly clear to me that that was not what Roi wanted. . . . [Yet] for me it was all the more reason to want this child.

Di Prima writes wrenchingly about upholding the "code" of the illicit lover, which dovetailed quite neatly with the code of femaleness she'd learned growing up: 

The reason not to have the baby was simple:  Roi didn't want it. . . . Since Roi didn't want the child, I felt that if I loved him, it was incumbent upon me to have an abortion . . . To show the extent of my love by doing what I felt in fact was wrong.  To commit what for me was tantamount to a crime, simply because the man I loved willed it so.  And I would take the blame, the consequences, the blood on my hands.  And not say anything about it.

It was, after all, the code I had learned, the code of the Italian woman: to do what he wanted and take the consequences.

Later, after traveling by bus alone to western Pennsylvania for the procedure and then back to New York,  Di Prima writes about the 

Pain in my heart far worse than the cramps.  I was writing, persistently writing to the child I had killed. . . . I filled page after page . . . Some kind of ritual goodbye:

"Dear fish, I hope you swim
In some other river . . . "

This heartbreaking passage stands in stark contrast to the self-justifying ethos of individually determined morality that permeates most of Di Prima's long and interesting (if, like me, you like this sort of thing) memoir.  It stands in contrast, too, to Di Prima's own earlier description of abortion as "simply women's business. Something you didn't talk about, didn't 'lay on' anyone else, especially not the men. One of the unsung, unspoken ways women risked their lives [for the men they loved]."  For Di Prima calls her abortion a "crime," asserts that she killed her child --not exactly what one would expect from one of the ur-mothers of Bohemia, the most visible woman on New York's avant-garde scene in the 1950s and early 1960s, someone who writes quite freely, and with a hint of self-congratulation, about performing all kinds of other transgressive behaviors.

Though Di Prima stops short of calling every abortion a crime -- oh, that women would begin to realize that what sucks for one of us truly sucks for all of us! -- it's a short walk to that conclusion, and her honesty is a far cry from Suze Rotolo's sanitized, oblique account, which strives to uphold the supremacy of "choice."  Bohemians and would-be Bohemians, listen up.

Poetry Friday: It Is March

  It is March and black dust falls out of the books
Soon I will be gone
The tall spirit who lodged here has
Left already
On the avenues the colorless thread lies under
Old prices

When you look back there is always the past
Even when it has vanished
But when you look forward
With your dirty knuckles and the wingless
Bird on your shoulder
What can you write

The bitterness is still rising in the old mines
The fist is coming out of the egg
The thermometers out of the mouths of the corpses

At a certain height
The tails of the kites for a moment are
Covered with footsteps

Whatever I have to do has not yet begun 

-- W.S. Merwin

Above:  Landscape with Bare Trees and Coastline, 1862, by John LaFarge. 

More Poetry Friday at a wrung sponge. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I arise today through a mighty strength

This is the complete version of Saint Patrick's Breastplate, of which the penultimate strophe is the best-known.  It's a beautiful invocation of the Trinity against danger of every kind, though to the rigid modern mind it treads a little close to paganism; I'm not sure, for instance, what dangers were posed by smiths.
I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity, through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with his Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial,
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven;
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendor of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils,
against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature,
against everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that
may oppose my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry, against false laws of heretics,
against craft of idolatry,
against spells of witches, smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.
Christ to protect me today against poisoning,
against burning, against drowning, against wounding,
so that there may come abundance in reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ in breadth,
Christ in length,
Christ in height,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
through belief in the Threeness,
through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ.
May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

"A nuclear error, but I have no fear . . . "

When I think about the horror in Japan, this song is the soundtrack playing in my mind.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Black Sonnet

NO worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,   
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.   
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?   
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?   
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief           
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing-   
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-   
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief'.   

  O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall   
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap           
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small   
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,   
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all   
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

May God show His mercy to the suffering people of Japan.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Purple Flowers for Katya

People, I'm telling you, we serve an AWESOME GOD who CARES ABOUT ORPHANS. He has commanded us to CARE FOR THEM--and HIS ARM IS NOT SHORTENED. He can take a church-mouse-poor family (us) and help them (us) complete an adoption debt-free when it cost sums of money that were totally unimaginable to them (us).  We had NO CLUE when we started out how we could ever complete Kristina's adoption. We just knew we HAD to obey the call God had given us. Our (Christian) social worker told us at the start -- when we asked her, "Are we totally insane trying to do this when we are so poor?" -- "I have never seen a family yet that was unable to complete their adoption due to lack of funds when it was a family who was adopting a child in answer to God's call. They are often on their knees clear up to the last minute praying for funds, but the funds DO come."

These are the words of Hope Anne, an Ohio mother of four biological and adopted children, who is in the process of adopting a special-needs child from Eastern Europe.  Hope Anne and her family came to my attention through my friend Ex-New Yorker, who often posts in the comboxes here.  The family had been coordinating care for little Katya, above, who has been diagnosed with Crouzon Syndrome caused by birth trauma -- and for other children in the same orphanage -- through a medical mission that they founded after adopting their daughter Kristina from Russia.  After a visit to Katya in the orphanage, and many subsequent months of prayer, Hope Anne and her husband knew that God was calling them to be Katya's mother and father.

The family, like so many adoptive families, has had an uphill road to climb, but they are very close to receiving a travel date that will allow them to bring Katya home.  They remain, however, in need of funds to complete this very costly process.  Hope Anne and her friends and family are offering various lovely homemade goods for sale to help them in this endeavor.  One friend has made prints of this beautiful painting available, with all proceeds going into Katya's adoption fund.  I love the Lenten-purple flowers.
For more information about Katya and her waiting family, and for other ways to help, see Katya's page  on the Reece's Rainbow site, or go to Hope Anne's blog Bringing Katya Home.  

The family is throwing themselves on the mercy of God to complete Katya's adoption.  As Hope Anne says, "The Love of God propels us forward, in spite of our fears about the severity of her needs, and in spite of any concerns about funds and finances and paperwork."  If you can help with even the smallest of donations, it would be a fantastic way to fulfill the Lenten exhortation to give alms.  May God reward you for your charity!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday: "Deeply Bowed Down and Full of Remorse"

The aria "Tief gebückt und voller Reue," from Bach's Cantata BWV 199, Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut (My Heart Swims in Blood), sung by mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Shrove Tuesday: Good Morning, Heartache

I have been one acquainted with the night.  -- Robert Frost

Hello darkness, my old friend.  -- Paul Simon

Today, as I learned from Elena Maria Vidal, is the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. instituted in 1958 by Pope Pius XII.  One of the Mass readings for this feast is Isaiah 53:3, the prophecy of Christ as the Suffering Servant.  Reading it today, I was struck by the words:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

These words are deeply familiar to me not only as a Christian, but also as a mezzo-soprano, and yet I felt today as if I were reading them for the first time.

Like Charlotte Hellekant's interpretation above of the Handel aria, Isaiah's description of Christ as "acquainted with grief" is delicate and restrained, and at the same time arresting and almost startling.  It occurred to me, reading the familiar text today, that Isaiah is making obvious reference not only to Christ's suffering in the Passion, but to something else beside -- to a profound, protracted intimacy with grief, with loneliness, with humiliation, with what Richard Wilbur calls "the punctual rape of every blessèd day."  Suffering -- the long, broad, dull, leaden waves of it that break on our hearts, eroding them, in the midst of the rush of life -- was His familiar.  Perhaps He even regarded His grief tenderly, with a kind of resigned affection, in the way that Billie Holiday conveys so touchingly in the song "Good Morning, Heartache."

Perhaps Our Lord's acquaintance with grief was more than that; was, in fact, more of a friendship with grief.  Not only was He despised and rejected, after all; He loved those who were despised and rejected too, sought them out like a suitor would.  Why would He then seek to avoid the grief of daily life, His grief infinitely compounded by the long griefs of those He loved and still continues to love?

Monday, March 7, 2011

More on the Catholic Left and Right

This is not to say that the two parties are identical. Democrats, for the most part, exclude pro-life Americans, while Republicans merely treat them with disdain and contempt until just before each major election. Republicans favor preemptive war with any nation that has threateningly large amounts of oil, while Democrats would prefer to stick to their oddly successful tactic of sending Jimmy Carter around the world to become the focal point of the world's anger, taking the heat off of the rest of us. Democrats are in favor of gay marriage, while Republicans are in favor of not being asked questions about that issue, which they invariably answer with mumblings about civil unions that don't fool anybody. Republicans are in favor of closing our borders, unless doing so would adversely affect the bottom line of any of the ginormous corporations who have rewarded Republicans for their loyalty; Democrats are in favor of securing the border, so long as that translates to "making the border safer for future Democrat voters to sneak across."

Strong words from Erin Manning.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Quick Takes, March Madness Edition

1.  I can't help it.  This is the time of year that makes me miss my old place, and my old place in the world, more than I do at most other times.  The grayness, the bleakness of late winter, punctuated occasionally by the nearly-forgotten sound of bird-cries, the dirty patches of snow at the curb, the wind that rages and at the same time brings the barest hint of cleansing freshness with it -- all of these make me recall New York at this time of year, and walking through it, walking for miles, which is one of the most wonderful things one does there.  Today in my mind I am walking and walking in the neighborhood Madeleine L'Engle described in my favorite of her YA novels, The Young Unicorns.  I'm walking up Riverside Drive along the edge of the park as the wind whips the bare trees and the river sits like a dull strip of lead down below.  If you're a poetically-inclined young girl on this walk, the wind whipping your coat and hair around you will evoke all the sorts of things you long for, even though most of them are things with no names, but after the walk you will go to the Hungarian Pastry Shop (whose facade is pictured above) and have something hot to drink and write, no doubt, in your journal.

2. Nonetheless, I have it on good authority that the present moment is the one in which God dwells, and that to allow yourself to sink into the hot bath of the past -- one of those baths that feel heavenly at first, but soon grow ice cold, but you fear you'll be even colder if get out and dry off -- is to turn your back on God, to deny Him the gratitude that's His due for the abundance He's pouring into your life right now.  This is probably true.  And yet, I am thinking right now of all those dirty patches of snow by the curb and that biting wind, which seemed, in my beautiful former city, to presage so much more than their counterparts, here in Northern Appalachia, seem to do.

3.  I wonder to what extent I'm a prisoner of my past, and to what extent this is neurotic and unhealthy.  There is something perverse, perhaps even decadent, in constantly turning your mind to something that's gone, even if it was where all the excitement was, and where all the beauty seemed to be.

4.  I'm glad that Lent and Easter come so late this year.  As usual, I don't feel ready for spring at all.  If snow, to paraphrase of the great Tommy Wolf-Fran Landesman song "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," will not be returning to hide the clover, at least penance will keep me from overweening lightheartedness at this time of year.

(By the way, I recently found out that "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" is from a forgotten musical about beatniks, The Nervous Set.  Here is the show's poster, designed by legendary cartoonist Jules Feiffer.)

5.  March can really hang me up the most.  I'm usually a stressed-out nervous wreck this month, for no reason in particular.  Though it's true that two dear friends of mine died in March, a year apart, and that the year the second dear friend died, I had a painful and difficult pregnancy loss a few days later.  And I just realized the other day, after many years of mistakenly assuming that it would have been in April, that my first, lost child would have been born in March, twenty years ago.

6.  Here is a sad song which some of you may recognize, and which I don't dare post until February is past.  No matter how bleak and saddening March can be, perhaps it's not quite so much so as February.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Poetry Friday: "Un edificio, di notte"

un edificio, di notte
improvvisamente in una stanza si accende una luce.
dopo qualche minuto, si spegne

(a building, at night
suddenly a light appears in one of the rooms.
after a few minutes, it goes out)

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook wall.  She claims it is by the legendary Italian avant-garde composer and pianist Giancarlo Cardini, but I have been unable to verify its authorship or its provenance.  I loved it, though.
UPDATE: It is indeed by Cardini, from his collection of micro-poems and verbal scores Bolle di sapone (Soap Bubbles).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Censorship in the Most Tolerant of Cities

Even the head of the New York Civil Liberties Union is against the city's recent removal of this startling advertisement.

(In New York City, 41% of all unborn babies were aborted in 2009, and 60% of unborn black babies.)