Since we’re posting favorites and all…

Here’s a contemporary poem by Franz Wright that I really enjoy:

Church of the Strangers

We were wandering
the vast church—
Our Lady of the Strangers
No audience, and
no magician in sight.
Watching the one trick he knows every day
must get boring.
I have an idea.
What if you were faced every morning
with taking
from the golden chalice
a sip of the real
thing, the black throat-gripping
tear-savor raised
to its intended purpose
here, nausea
and panic of abandonment
by the world, your own friend,
flowing into, joining
and haunting your blood.
Because no symbol’s going to help us.
I mean it,
really gagging it down
if you dared to pity
the ones being tortured right about now
and experience, not your own pain for a change,
but your helpless desire to assist them.
Who knows? You might get around to it
someday, that is
at least admit that you believe in their existence:
this shouldn’t be so hard. Remember?
Once you believed in some bearded son-of-a-bitch
who looked just like your grandpa,
the one who stuffed his baggy pockets
with quarters to get you to reach for his dick.
Millions of people grew up believing in him
so this won’t be too hard. We have to live
in the dark ages now, and I use that term
literally– the last one
was a carnival. There are no symbols
with the efficacy we require.
Blood, baby. This
might be worth showing up for.
No more secret contempt
for this childishly earnest
abracadabra by which wine is turned into wine,
while half the planet’s getting crucified
and nobody notices. Yeah–
downed in a straight shot of blood till you puke
might get your attention at least.
But I’d bet pretty damned few
would be able
to make it,
even Sundays. Hell,
no one comes as it is; only
you and me, trespassing
during the off hours…
Just wandering through the vast
void, with its dark
golden light from noplace, breathing in
the illuminated motes
of dust and incense–
you and me, characteristically
lost somewhere off in our own
spooky corners
daydreaming, too far away
to whisper the name
of the other, alone, maybe
meeting each other by accident
as everyone must do.


I’ve looked at this poem quite a few times, and I’m still not so sure about the Santa part, but the rest of it is great. The only thing I can kind of decipher with that is the thought that maybe the line “not your own pain for a change” somehow ties to the quarters in Santa’s pocket.

Anyhow, the image of actual blood instead of wine for communion is great. Just great. It makes a great comment on how strange it is that (symbolically) eating the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ is now part of a pleasant, expected, nonchallenging Church experience. Eat a wafer and sip some grape juice. It’s normal. But what it represents is so far from normal. Cannibalism? That’s about as far from socially acceptable as it gets. So the poem begs the question: How has this Symbolic Cannibalism of the Son of God become an everyday, hum-drum affair? And if the shock of the reality of that event really hit people, would they be so ready to accept such a ritual?

It’s very much what Noam Chomsky talks about as the purpose of poetry–taking something we’re trained to see as normal and revitalizing it by decontextualizing it. I knew that linguistics class would be good for something…

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