I WATCH HER IN THE BLUES CLUB

I see her every night in the blues club

There is where she finds community

Not a drunk, as I was, she is a regular

The bar’s her church she once confessed to me

 

She was dealt a harder deck that I was

Foster homes, running away, the streets

I had advantages of middle-class

Her past defines her life and who she meets

 

She holds out love and acceptance to everyone

It’s a sobering lesson for me

She even asks me weekly for a sermon

And each night demonstrates Christian charity

 

Jesus hung around with disdained people

And reached out with his heart to one and all

The blues club is her church without a steeple

The benefit from our relationship is mutual

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IDENTITIES

We had been noticing them,

Carol and I

The regulars, but who seemed a little off

Dancing—

As if they were balancing on the edge of a cliff

Or swimming, teetering

Dancing in the same places on the floor

Night after night

We guessed about them,

But didn’t talk to them

 

And then I did.

Adoption, foster homes, homeless

High a lot

Flat affect, rarely smiling

Loving

Caring

Biblically literate

An artist

Single parent

Intelligence, intellect

Some talk of Swedenborg

 

I work so hard to attain

Degrees, my condo, car, career, my musical projects

Volunteer commitments

Affections for useful activities

Affections

Sobriety

Effort to learn right and wrong

True and false

And do

 

And yet . . .

The blues bar

Regulars

Night after night

A hang out

A home

Community

Church

THEN I WAS HOME

I didn’t care

About anything

Anything

And I was concerned, a little scared

It is a problem

Not to care about anything

Went out to the casino

The band was faking it, playing behind canned tracks

I even heard a horn section; it wasn’t there, canned tracks

Lost at the roulette wheel

It was that kind of night

Headed to the blues club

A tolerably good band

Crowded dance floor

A funny drunk girl

Decent business guy

Some coffee

Brought me out of it

Of all things

On the way home I thought about

3 AM conversations around the campfire

At church camp

When it all comes out

And there’s just us, talking, looking at the fire

And 3 AM

Then I was home

 

 

 

T S Eliot and the Absolute

In The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock, one theme is the interplay between self and other.  The narrator appears to be overpowered by the social forces with which he interacts.  He is “fixed in a formulated phrase,” “pinned and wriggling on the wall” by others.  His constant refrain–“Do I dare,” “How should I presume?”

But there is more than spinelessness at work here.  The narrator is on the verge of asking, “An overwhelming question.”  Some think that he is going to propose marriage.  But Eliot and the narrator are possessed of greater depth than nervousness about proposing.  The overwhelming question is, in fact, religious.  The fear is of bring up deep matters in a superficial environment.  How should I presume?  The narrator has “wept and fasted, wept and prayed.”  The narrator is about to break the complacency of a tea party,

Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,

Should say: “That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.”

I recently wrote about being true to oneself regardless of social pressures to conform.  But I must confess that there are environments in which a person can’t be oneself, especially when one is particularly spiritual.  When one is in a superficial environment, one can’t really talk on a depth level.  It would not be received.  One would be ridiculed, ignored–as in Eliot’s poem–even be met with anger.  Try being a divinity student in a bar.  The social disjunct, the ridicule, the inappropriate context all make it nearly impossible to be spiritual in a secular environment, a secular world.  How should I presume?

Eliot himself was Prufrock.  He kept his Christianity to himself until his reputation was firmly established.  Then he converted to Anglo-Catholic Christianity publicly and wrote Four Quartets.  At that point his literary career became a bit suspect.  And much of his later work, like The Cocktail Party, is bland to the point of being insufferable.

But I am a fan of Eliot.  And as a Swedenborgian, I know what it is like to have a deep spirituality that one can’t speak of in most public venues.  I have expanded my social network to include an interfaith organization, an interdenominational Christian organization.  And in these environments I can be openly Swedenborgian and be well-received.  But in the blues club, in 12-step organizations, in casual environments I seem to need to keep it all inside.  It isn’t a matter of fear.  It is more a matter of good taste.  I would not abandon my Swedenborgianism, it’s just something others don’t care to hear about, and I respect the others with whom I socialize.  In Jacob’s dream, the angels ascended and descended the ladder–they didn’t stay always at the top.