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“Sing God a simple song/ Laude Laude/ Make it up as you go along/ God loves all simple things/ For God is the simplest of all.” So begins Leonard Bernstein’s Mass (1971).

These lyrics come to mind while perusing the slim volume of poetry, Coral Castles (2019) composed by Carol Bialock, RSCJ; its simplicity moved me to silence, within which I seek words to compose this blog.

Intimate with the Word and receptive to its imprinting upon her psyche for decades, Sister Carol channels ordinary experiences into poems, replete with metaphors; their simplicity dismantles crusty outcroppings in psyches and brightens skies. One- and two-syllable words couple themselves into indivisible wholes that implode within the reader/listener—like biting into a ripe peach that juices the palate with summer’s color. Single-stroke pen and ink drawings intersperse the pages—again, nothing superfluous—and give needed respite before entering the next poem with its revelation.

What appears so effortlessly composed, however, emanates from the poet’s life-long practice of loving the unlovable around the world: in homeless shelters, prisons, and hospitals, wherever she found them. Indeed, all of creation opens onto the Sacred. Through simple poems, Sister Carol Bialock enriches us by making this connection.

I am deeply glad—So will you if you avail yourself of this treasure, Coral Castles, available on Amazon.

 

 

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Still another version of the life of the nineteenth-century American poet, Emily Dickinson, this time a movie, has been released to theaters around the country. Terrence Davies, screenwriter and director of A Quiet Passion, has been captivated by her enigmatic world since a teenager, one that mirrors his own; its production is the highlight of his long career.

But the question remains—Just who was Emily Dickinson? How account for her extraordinary brilliance, given the late Puritanism in Amherst, Massachusetts, that seeped into the warp and woof of life, against which she stormed?

Among the scholarly studies of this poet, Richard B. Sewall’s The Life of Emily Dickinson (1974) presents a multifaceted perspective and affords readers their own take on this woman. By piecing together her correspondence and poems with those in her immediate world, as well as by substantiating his findings with newspaper articles and public records, he contextualizes her. We hear her voice and wonder at its sagacious humor. Fortunately for us, Emily’s pen was rarely idle and her letters, preserved.

But Sewall’s presentation of Emily’s world is unique: it bears his imprint of having been Professor of English Literature at Yale University for forty-two years. Volume I devotes single chapters to the principal players in Emily’s life: grandparents, parents, siblings Austin and Lavinia, Susan Gilbert, and Mabel Loomis Todd—all in relationship through correspondence. And Volume II contains the life of the poet, even further nuanced.

It has been said that the definitive biography of Emily Dickinson has yet to be written, and it must be done by a woman scholar.

There is hope, as Emily proclaims in poem # 314:

 

“If you love the truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sun will illuminate you in God.” — a trenchant saying attributed to the seventh-century Isaac the Syrian, Bishop, theologian, and monk, and regarded a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Simple words, if pondered, reveal the unseen caught in the flux of time. Key to this process is passion, whose firelight, like the sun, ignites inner worlds. But who cares to go there? To discipline unruly instincts clamoring for expression? That would be like dying. Such flies in the face of our cultural mores, entrapped in denial and rationalization. The predictable is more comfortable, yet soulless.

It does not take much to see who is truly alive among us: their quickening gaze, their resonant voices, their authority, of whatever age. They just seem to know. In my earlier years, I had sought out such teachers.

One of these was Ocie, an elderly hospice patient, a city-dweller. Her seasoned laughter enlivened her cramped bungalow, filled with bookcases of salt and pepper shakers from travels with her deceased husband. Empty birdcages she had used for breeding canaries, stacks of dust-covered photo albums and swatches of samples precluded visits in her living room. Of no importance — her right side shriveled by stroke, her perilous gait, her cropped white hair, her fingernails still dirtied by back-porch gardening. No pretense about her whatsoever. She’d been in the fire and loved to share the story with all who sat around her kitchen table. I was among them.

Unlike the mystic, Simon the Syrian, a desert-prayer, Ocie lived within the rub of uproar and silence, thus mirroring God’s outrageous humor. A senior myself, I still have much to learn. That’s what happens when you sit in the fire.

Available on Amazon

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