of night and pepper

by jim perkinson, on hab 3:1-6, 17-19; mt 5:13-20

note: this spoken word is featured in perkinson’s new publication a secret gift outside the door: poems of resistance and wonder

the gospel says be salt
but i would rather drop
like pepper in this hour
assuring all who taste
do not forget!

shall we be light, unbusheled
in this hour of night and groaning?
the jewish cohen crooner (1)
singing samson’s hallelujah
gets gravelly in his ending
going darker for his lord
and kali is cast in red and gold (2)
on the building of the empire state
avatar of cold extinction
announcing the day as black
and broken, offering comfort
strangely, there, just there
where ways are lost

and in this morning’s reading
habakkuk on tower, watching
the vision slow to come
remembers quakes of old when
rivers raged and mountains writhed
the wild aflame with knowing
yet hoping for harsh trouble
on all invaders heads
and though the fig should fail and
fruit stay locked in seed
and olive fall and field refuse
its harvest and herds all flee the fold
there yet is premonition
that his tread might find its foothold
like a deer on rocky cliff face
secure where scarce can follow
an army or a sword

while we sit still and yawning
in sunday morning pew
with grief like bile still brewing
from latest cast of news

the orange and angry visage
too scalding to dismiss
our bellies broiled with horror
at the fate that closes in
but we are told there’s hope
in things of old and ways once trod
by ancients in their time
the god of waters wearing slowly
the peaks into the valleys
like rainfall was an answer
and tears the stiches in the wound
there is a wisdom of the mists (3)
and a solace of the weak
a table for the poor and mad
a triumph of the meek
a secret grace behind the door
whose opening we wait
we are not called to make it so
but merely be the spice
whether blackened corns
or crystal white, whether loving day or
night, be spice, enlivening even enemy
tongues, like grit in mouth of clam
be spice, be light, be night
the dawn is not yet subject
to the tyrant’s wanton pen —j.p.

(1) This is a reference to Canadian singer, Leonard Cohen, perhaps most famous for his 1984 “Hallelujah” song, who, in his last major release (2016), intoned, “You want it darker, Lord.”

(2) In 2015, the filmmakers of the environmental apocalypse documentary, Racing Extinction, projected an image of the Hind goddess of death, destruction and resurrection, Kali, onto the Empire State Building, as an “avatar of conservation,” provoking creative writer, Vera de Chalambert to pen a column entitled, “This is a sign of the times, Kali takes New York” (http://www.rebellesociety.com/2015/08/07/kali-takes-new-york-sign-of-the-times/). Touting this tenderhearted “defender of truth” a fierce “oracle of holy change,” de Chalambert, a year later, re-invoked the apparition after the Trump election, nodding to Cohen that indeed, we now, as an entire country, head into Her holy darkness, to be tried and sifted, without touch of light or sugar, beyond the glitter of Hollywood or neon help. Standing at Standing Rock, marching with Black Lives Matter, the underworld mistress of medicinal burning counsels harsh self-confrontation, where the “wound is the gift,” and the way forward, a Dantesque trek down and in, to be cooked up into new resolve, or destroyed.

(3) A solace of the hidden dewy wetness that hides—remembered, for instance, in the Gaelic tale of the Táin Bó Cuailnge (the Cattle Raid of Cooley) when young aspirant Muirgen, seeking an east-traveling sage who could teach the entire Táin story, happens on the gravestone of Fergus mac Roich, a hero of the yarn, chants a poem to the rock itself, as if alive, and is suddenly engulfed in an initiatory fog for three days, while the hero indeed appears and regales him with the entire legend. Or even, obliquely, the biblical memory of pastoral nomad Abel, invoked by Jesus as progenitor-prophet (Mt 23:35; Lk 11:51), whose death at the hands of Cain as ancient emblem of expansive Mid-East agriculture, aggressing on its herder outliers and indigenous dwellers on the land, living symbiotically and sustainably with their grazers on the margins of oppressive state-systems, hovers in silent cry over the entire biblical corpus, “speaking” without a word, from Genesis to final invocation in Hebrews (11:4) or even in Revelation’s assertion that Babylon’s ages-ending fall is guaranteed because in its very walls will be found “the blood of the prophets, and all those slain upon earth” (Rev 18:19). Abel’s name means “vapor,” “insubstantial-ness,” akin to a breath like a mist.

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