Collect for Easter Eve

O God, who dost illumine this most holy night with the glory of the Resurrection of the Lord: stir up, we pray thee, in thy Church, the spirit of adoption which thou hast given; that we, being regenerate both in body and soul, may render unto thee a pure service; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Sunset on Yamato

Below is an excerpt from a story I’ve written titled Sunset on Yamato, part of a collection of post-apocalyptic sci-fi shorts that I'm working on. The full story is available to my sponsors on Patreon. (Yamato is an archaic and poetic name for Japan; think of Albion for England. Note that geiko is the preferred, and older, term for geisha in Kyoto, where the story is set. A few of my transliterations from Japanese are also a little idiosyncratic. Also, I don't know why the last paragraph decided to be double-spaced on the blog, since it's not in the original, and I don't know how to correct it.)

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The winter was early that year. Perhaps the migrant waxwings had brought it south with them.
Iriko looked south, over the many streets and the remaining buildings, towards the sea. Ōsakawan lay at the edge of the withered city, reflecting a greyish light from the dull sky like a piece of blue slate. Behind her, Hiei-yama and Minako-yama stood in front of Biwako, shouldering heavy cloaks of snow. The five rooves of Tōji’s pagoda had, so far, received only a dusting; you could still pick out the individual tiles. But the clouds were swollen like pregnant women, and the gloomy rumbling of thunder over the mountains proclaimed their labor pains. It was only mid-morning, but Iriko sighed and began to descend the narrow, aged stairs of the pagoda. Shini had asked her to stop by in any case, and it would be better to gather what food she could before the snows came.
She stepped out of the tower onto a thin coverlet of snow, the lacquered geta she was wearing interposing a thick line of black between white feet and white ground. It was a little more than six kilometers from the shrine complex to Pontochō, or what was left of it, and Iriko was glad to be raised a little above the hoary earth. A large star-like maple leaf had fallen in the snow by her path, brilliant red in color; she paused to look at it.
As she walked by the scarlet walls and stone-grey eaves of the Kitano Tenman-gū, she slowed her pace: it had been a favorite shrine of hers. Most of the lanterns had been pulled down, in a riot not long before the total collapse. She noted with approval that they had let alone the golden ornament on the friezes and the underside of the eaves. She paused, thinking, and went inside.
The furnishings of the shrine were disarranged and dusty, though not greatly disturbed. Iriko went to a little pile of what could have been mistaken for debris, but was in fact a heap of unused ema, the wooden prayer talismans that were offered to the kami in supplication. She sorted through them, pausing now and then to hold one up to the dull light, until she found one that felt right: it depicted the one-legged torii from the Sannō Shrine in Nagasaki, which should have been destroyed by the atomic bomb, but of which one pillar had mysteriously survived.
Sitting close to a window with the ema and a scavenged brush and bottle of ink, she wrote her prayer: the Emperor’s health—the fertility of the fields—victory in wars—prosperity for her family—a husband and children—the favor and blessing of the kami—the honor of the Japanese nation. Using a piece of string, she hung the prayer with others that remained, and slipped a few coins into the donation box. The Emperor was dead; her parents and her brother Noritaka were dead; the fields were a wasteland; there was no one left to fight or to marry or to collect the coins. As far as she knew, Endō Iriko was the last person left alive in the archipelago. She murmured aloud to herself:
Natsukusa ya
tsuwamonodomo ga
yume no ato.
The signs and banners of the Pontochō hanamachi were faded, but recognizable. It had been the first of the city’s geiko districts (so it had claimed), and they had lingered there the longest, too. Expertly rendered calligraphy promised the customer the finest tea, the best sake, the loveliest shamisen playing—executed by the loveliest shamisen players, of course—that mortal eyes, ears, and palates had ever enjoyed. One shop, which had endured longer than the others thanks to the owner’s fanatical devotion to his craft, still displayed a kimono in the window: burgundy silk flowed over the model, dotted with an asymmetrical pattern of white sakura flowers like little spurts of foam, and there, on the left sleeve, a plover in flight. It would have been perfect for a geiko as her April wardrobe, but the last one had died in February, seven months ago now. Iriko knew, as a matter of theory, that some of them might have survived in other places; but she could never have deliberately countenanced the idea that Kyoto should be deprived of geiko while any other city was in possession.
At the northeastern corner of the hanamachi stood a crude shack—the Kyū no Shi Myōji, its owner called it, having a naturally morbid sense of humor. It had been built over the wreckage of a failed bar, but with a smaller footprint, so that broken pieces of metal and wood lay about the walls. Iriko stepped lightly over the debris and came to the shack’s doorway, which was obscured by a length of midnight blue cloth with kanji and kana dyed into it: at the top, a right angle pointing up and to the right, with an upward hook on its lower limb, and crossed on its upper limb by a vertical descender that curved to the left; in the center, a spiral-like kana, opening downward; at the bottom, a closed square, containing another left-curving downstroke and a parallel stroke like a backwards J. Iriko suppressed a shiver and called into the shack.
Shini-sama, ohayō gozaimasu. Iriko desu.’
Ohairi kudasai,’ murmured a deep voice from the rear of the shack. Iriko lifted her hand and pushed the curtain aside, and stepped in.
Two vases stood at either side of the doorway: one mostly held spidery red higambana, the other the palest kiku flowers. Each vase was deftly arranged with a single alien blossom in its center. Among the higambana was a tall, white kānēshon; one crimson tsubaki emerged from among the kikubana like the sun parting a bank of clouds.
The rest of the shack was practically empty, except for a paper lantern suspended from the ceiling. The walls were unadorned, and nothing covered the floor except tatami mats. Iriko slipped off her geta at the doorway and bowed deeply to the man in the rear of the shack, until the sleeves of her haori touched the ground. His kimono was white with a black border, and he wore the right breast over the left, as if he were a corpse. He was not looking at her; he was studying the large iron pot that rested in the ro, the square opening in the floor that served as a kind of hearth, where he appeared to be boiling water. The small collection of items to his left supported this: they included three hand-made chawan, a perfectly cubical black-lacquered usuchaki, and a delicate bamboo whisk whose loops were as fine as hairs.
O-chadō desu ka, Shini-sama?’ she asked.
The man chuckled. ‘Iie, miko-chan. Tan’ni o-cha.’ Not tea ceremony, my dear shamaness; just tea. He lifted the cast-iron tetsubin from the ro and began to prepare the three cups of tea that sat beside him. ‘Suwatte kudasai.’
She knelt and sat back, wondering whom the third cup was for. Shini reached over and opened another wooden box, which contained a few young koi fish; he placed these over the ro to cook.
Phuyu no otozure ga hayaka tsu,’ he remarked.
Hai, ue-sama.’
Anata wa sore ga sukidesu ka?’
Chigau, ue-sama,’ Iriko replied. ‘Natsu ga koishii.’
The man smiled, turning the koi over with a long pair of chopsticks. ‘Mochiron.’ He pushed a steaming bowl of tea towards her. She picked it up, closing her eyes as the heat seeped through the faintly irregular walls of the chawan and into her hands. The reedy-sweet aroma floated over her.
Ohayō gozaimasu,’ came another masculine voice, from outside. The man called Shini did not look up, but he answered: ‘Ohairi kudasai.’
The second guest entered. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with wild hair and bright eyes. A curious fragrance came with him: a blend of ice, earth, wood, and smoke. He too wore kimono, colored deep green like pine needles, and stood on single-toothed tengu-geta that raised him so high above the floor that he had to stoop to pass through the curtain. He slid these off, approached his host, and bowed deeply. ‘Shini-sama.
Wagaya e yōkoso, Ohoyamakui-san,’ replied the other, pushing a chawan toward him. The newcomer knelt and sat back into a half-lotus posture. Picking up his tea, he asked, with a nod toward Iriko, ‘Nanda kore wa, nadeshiko?
Shini said that yes, this was the young woman he had spoken of, and that her name was Endō Iriko.
Hajimemashite,’ the new guest said to her, bowing his head slightly.
The miko tried to smile, and answered politely, ‘Yoroshiku onegai shimasu, Ohoyamakui-san.’ Then Shini handed them each a small plate, bearing one of the steaming hot, slightly burnt koi, and a pair of chopsticks. He waved a generous hand at his two guests, who said ‘Itadakimasu’ and began to eat. Shini drank his tea, but did not eat; Iriko was used to this.
For a few minutes, they ate and drank silently. The koi were followed by small bowls of rice, and again their host did not eat. As she set her bowl down, the young shamaness said, ‘Gochiso sama deshita.’
Jōkyō ka de,’ said the other rudely. Shini merely chuckled.
Iriko spoke again. ‘Kono koto ni tsuite wa nandesu ka?’
Their host explained. Both he and Ohoyamakui were interested in taking Iriko’s hand in marriage. It was admittedly a very long time since either had consorted with anyone; but Iriko was a fine young woman and, when there had been other inhabitants left in Kyoto, had been a wise and benignant miko. Either one of them would be not only happy but proud to wed her.
A little dazed at the idea, she nodded. ‘Watakushi wa kangaeru hitsuyō ga arimasu, arigato.’
Mochiron,’ replied Shini generously. He added that Ohoyamakui would be staying in the remains of the city for a short while—and of course, he was always there—so that she need not feel rushed.
Iriko nodded again and said something, she didn’t know what, and gulped some more tea. The host and the wild man continued talking, but she was carried away in reverie. She herself hardly noticed as, a short time later, she made an automatic yet unexceptionably courteous departure.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Meditations for Holy Week 2017

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Below is my traditional set of meditations for Holy Week; this year I decided to choose them all from among poems. The title of each day is also a link to a passage in the Gospels that gives the day its name and/or recounts what happened on it, and (in my opinion) goes well with the poetic selection.

If you’re in the Baltimore area or willing to be, Mount Calvary (816 North Eutaw Street) will be having Triduum liturgies at 7 pm on Maundy Thursday, 12 noon on Good Friday, and 8.30 pm on Holy Saturday. We’ll also be holding a Tenebræ service on Wednesday evening at 7.30, and our customary Sunday Masses are at 8 am and 10 am, Palm Sunday and Easter included.

As in a fish-pond clear and still, the fish
Draw to some dropped-in morsel as it moves,
Hoping it may provide a dainty dish,
So I saw splendors draw to us in droves,
Full many a thousand, and from each was heard:
‘Lo, here is one that shall increase our loves!’
And every shade approaching us appeared
Glad through and through, so luminously shone
Its flooding joy before it as it neared.1

The Adam in the hollow of Jerusalem respired:
softly their thought twined to its end,
crying: O parent, O forkèd friend,
am I not too long meanly retired
in the poor space of joy’s single dimension?
Does not God vision the principles at war?
Let us grow to the height of God and the Emperor:
Let us gaze, son of man, on the Acts in contention.

The Adam climbed the tree; the boughs
rustled, withered, behind them; they saw
the secluded vision of battle in the law;
they found the terror in the Emperor’s house.

The tree about them died undying,
the good lusted against the good,
the Acts in conflict envenomed the blood,
on the twisted tree hung their body wrying.

Joints cramped; a double entity
spewed and struggled, good against good;
they saw the mind of the Emperor as they could,
his imagination of the wars of identity.

He walked slowly through his habitation
in the night of himself without him; Byzantium slept;
a white pulsing shape behind him crept,
the ejection to the creature of the creature’s rejection of salvation.

Conception without control had the Adam of the error;
stifled over their head, the tree’s bright beam
lost in the sides of the pit its aerial stream;
they had their will; they saw; they were torn in the terror.2

For the Commons convene in the Hall of the Nation; like spirits of fire in the beautiful
Porches of the Sun, to plant beauty in the desart craving abyss, they gleam
On the anxious city; all children new-born first behold them; tears are fled,
And they nestle in earth-breathing bosoms. So the city of Paris, their wives and children,
Look up to the morning Senate, and visions of sorrow leave pensive streets.
But heavy brow’d jealousies lower o’er the Louvre, and terrors of ancient Kings
Descend from the gloom and wander through the palace and weep round the King and his Nobles.
While loud thunders roll, troubling the dead, Kings are sick throughout all the earth,
The voice ceas’d: the Nation sat: and the triple-forged fetters of times were unloos’d.
The voice ceas’d: the Nation sat: but ancient darkness and trembling wander thro’ the palace.3

Here is no continuing city, here is no abiding stay.
Ill the wind, ill the time, uncertain the profit, certain the danger.
O late late late, late is the time, late too late, and rotten the year;
Evil the wind, and bitter the sea, and grey the sky, grey grey grey.
O Thomas, return, Archbishop; return, return to France.
Return. Quickly. Quietly. Leave us to perish in quiet.
You come with applause, you come with rejoicing, but you come bringing death into Canterbury:
A doom on the house, a doom on yourself, a doom on the world.4

Then the gates of his heart were flung open, and his joy flew far over the sea. And he closed his eyes and prayed in the silences of his soul.
But as he descended the hill, a sadness came upon him, and he thought in his heart:
How shall I go in peace and without sorrow? Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city.
Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?
Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.
It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands.
Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst.5

‘Mater Dei
Et mater mei’
Come, let us with the mariners invoke
‘Mater divinae gratiae
Star of the Sea
Santa Maria
Pray for me’

How many times
Has she been summoned by those trusting rhymes?
Did they echo from the porthole
Just above the spray
Where the native sailors sang
At moments through the day
Of their mother
God’s own Mother
Christ their brother?
Did the crying sea-gulls seem to pray
When the ship’s bells rang
A clamorous Angelus
Mingled with the De Profundis too?
And all the bells were ringing to bring help to you

And failed
And the ship sailed
Out into the translucent blue
And you were sinking
Under the green marble mountains
In the bitter sea

And did you think
She would forget you in your loss?—

Mary, who took you to her heart
With Tom, Dick, and Harry
All the sad sons especially
Whom Christ gave her from the start
When He looked from the Cross
At the bars and the bedrooms
And the Devil in the street
When He watched you through the Blood
That poured across His eyes

The bells
The bells had rung in Heaven

There on the absolutely even
Suddenly silent ocean
She stood
And the sea-roses clustered at her feet6

Since I am coming to that Holy roome,
Where, with thy Quire of Saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy Musique; As I come
I tune the Instrument here at the dore,
And what I must doe then, thinke here before.

Whilst my Physitians by their love are growne
Cosmographers, and I their Mapp, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be showne
That this is my South-west discoverie
Per fretum febris, by these streights to die,

I joy, that in these straits, I see my West;
For, though their currants yeeld returne to none,
What shall my West hurt me? As West and East
In all flatt Maps (and I am one) are one,
So death doth touch the Resurrection.

… We thinke that Paradise and Calvarie,
Christs Crosse, and Adams tree, stood in one place;
Looke Lord, and finde both Adams met in me;
As the first Adams sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adams blood my soule embrace.7

Then at the altar We sang in Our office the cycle of names
of their great attributed virtues; the festival of flames
fell from new sky to new earth; the light in bands
of bitter glory renewed the imperial lands.

Then the Byzantine ritual, the Epiclesis, began;
then their voices in Ours invoked the making of man;
petal on petal floated out of the blossom of the Host,
and all ways the Theotokos conceived by the Holy Ghost.

We exposed, We exalted the Unity; prismed shone
web, paths, points; as it was done
the antipodean zones were retrieved round a white rushing deck,
and the Acts of the Emperor took zenith from Caucasia to Carbonek.

Over the altar, flame of anatomized fire,
the High Prince stood, gyre in burning gyre;
day level before him, night massed behind;
the Table ascended; the glories intertwined.

The Table ascended; each in turn lordliest and least—
slave a squire, woman and wizard, poet and priest;
interchanged adoration, interdispersed prayer,
the ruddy pillar of the Infant was the passage of the porphyry stair.8

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1Dante Alighieri, Paradiso V.100-109.
2Charles Williams, Taliessin Through Logres, ‘The Vision of the Empire’ η.
3William Blake, The French Revolution I.54-64.
4T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral.
5Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.
6Dunstan Thompson, The Death of Hart Crane, ll. 9-52.
7John Donne, Hymne to God my God, in my Sicknesse, ll. 1-15, 21-25.
8Charles Williams, Taliessin Through Logres, ‘Taliessin at Lancelot’s Mass’ ll. 25-44.