Robert Arthur Reeves
June 18, 2017
Not out of his bliss
Springs the stress felt
Nor first from heaven (and few know this)
Swings the stroke dealt—
Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,
That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—
But it rides time like riding a river
(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).
... but in the horrible fact that God, for our sake, was born as a human being and we killed him. The experience of God in nature is not a happy one, though it is capable of erasing our guilt and “melting” the hardest of hearts—but we see it over and over again in history, in the knowledge that we are God-murderers. Even the faithful can’t stand to face this knowledge, and paganism misses it with its fables of a dying god who is only a symbol of the renewal of life in the spring, not the individual incarnate God.
It dates from day
Of his going in Galilee;
Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden’s knee;
The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat:
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
Though felt before, though in high flood yet—
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,
The knowledge that can save us begins with the incarnation (the “going” of Jesus is both his birth and his death—though the death occurred in Judaea, not Galilee: the grey—unfinished?—life of the embryo in the womb is at the same time the grave predestined in being conceived in a human womb). The life of Christ from his birth in a manger to the frightful sweat of his crucifixion, is where we find the most intimate knowledge of God, which is both the knowledge of his complicity in human life and the knowledge that our suffering is deserved. At the times when we are truly desperate, “hard at bay,” we are best fitted to speak this truth:
Is out with it! Oh,
We lash with the best or worst
Word last! How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,
Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,
Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,
To hero of Calvary, Christ’s, feet—
Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.
The “best word” we speak (and bind ourselves to: one meaning of “lash”) is that God became one of us; the “worst word” (with which we “lash” ourselves in the sense of whip) is that we put the innocent God-made-flesh to death. “Last” means “at last”—namely, driven to this confession by the experience of dread and despair: and in an instant, like the instant taste of a fruit, the confession allows grace and salvation to “brim” in us. The believer may be “sour or sweet,” willing or unwilling, driven by fear or by desire—but needs to come to the foot of the Cross—taste suffering and guilt—to be saved.
Be adored among men,
God, three-numberèd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.
Hopkins prays that God, three persons in one deity, will bring us rebellious and malicious sinners to the experience of dread needed to “wring” the confession of faith out of us. The paradox is that God uses “wrecking and storm,” “lightning” and “winter” to show us his Fatherly love: we see his mercy best against the dark experience of guilt.
With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out swéet skíll,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.
Our conversion might be sudden and violent, like Paul’s, or gentle and gradual as Augustine’s, but either way, let God take possession of our souls by revealing to us our need for his mercy. That this need has already been fulfilled in Christ is reason to adore the divine master.
June 4, 2017
W.H. Gardner’s synopsis: “Part the First (Stanzas 1-10): “Meditation on God’s infinite power and masterhood, on the direct mystical ‘stress’ or intuitive knowledge by…
May 21, 2017
Here comes the whole poem for you to read through. See the previous entry for Hopkins’ advice about how to read it, but the main…
May 18, 2017
Our web host moved our sites to new servers, and in the process almost two months of my blogposts were lost. (Sari's is still zir…
More posts by Robert Arthur Reeves
February 13, 2017
Yesterday, on the way to a nonbinary and gender nonconforming art event (where I got to do a bit of art modeling for the first time in 15 years), I had the urge to make an attempt (not my first) to clarify my gender identity and general thoughts on gender/sex in (I hope) simple, direct prose. Later in this post I'll share a new poem and talk about some others that deal with being transgender, and how they do and don't communicate identity.
The most descriptive single word for my gender is "nonbinary." Before I start unpacking that term, l should clarify that I'm speaking of gender as distinct from physiological sex. (The Genderbread Person is still my favorite breakdown of the distinctions between gender identity, gender expression and biological sex.)
Those who've read Courting Hunger will know what reproductive function I've played. Sex can be divided into a binary of "maleness" and "femaleness," but that doesn't mean we're all ones or zeroes (intersex people excepted, or forgotten, or denied). It means we're each composed of both ones and zeroes. Most of us are either a lot of ones and a few zeroes or a lot of zeros and a few ones, but to be something of both is the norm. Most of us don't know exactly what our individual proportions are. We have not, perhaps, tested our chromosomes or hormone levels.
And that ratio of zeroes and ones changes throughout our lives. I have to wonder, does a person really have the same sex before, during and after so dramatic a change as puberty? Is the male/female binary really the most meaningful way to categorize sex? Are the deliberate ways we moderate our sexes less real than the automatic ones? I have taken hormones and had surgery that altered my sexual characteristics because I'm transgender. Others undertake those actions for a variety of reasons—menopause, fertility, sterility, virility, cancer. Does the motivation make the change less meaningful to the person living through it?
However we divide it, physiological sex isn't simple, and neither is gender, with its additional complications of social and personal definition. When I say I'm nonbinary, I mean that I reject the notion that anyone's maleness and femaleness has to define who they are—at least, no more than the many subsets of human physiology by which no one defines their identity—and that I will not passively allow socially defined and enforced gender to determine who I am or how I define others. I also mean I am not a boy or a girl, a woman or a man, a he or a she.
My transgender-related poems tend to focus on specific moments rather than broader questions of identity, and I suspect that might make my gender identity unclear to those who know it only through my poetry.
The only poem in god-chaser that deals with being transgender is "in transit," which tells the story of my quest for testosterone 20 years ago. It is explicitly nonbinary—"I just couldn’t find the none-of-the-above box under 'sex'"—though actually at that time I thought that not being a woman meant being a man (a temporary mistake, like the brief period during adolescence when I tried to be a girl). I added that line to the poem because Bob suggested it ought to be clearer what my present conception of my gender is, and accomplishing that without disrupting the immediacy of the poem was more important to me than historical precision.
Courting Hunger includes several transgender-related poems. "Before I heard of transgender" describes how at age 4, the gender identity declarations of my fellow toddlers prompted me to consider my own gender and to conclude that I wasn't a boy or a girl, though I also knew what others would say I was, and how I tried to find a way to express that. "Compassion," "Rites of Passage," "Original Cum" and "Pinocchio" describe experiences around the time I was taking testosterone. I worry that the lines in "Pinocchio"—"Was that the night I knew / I didn’t want to be a real boy?"—might confuse readers, but I hope it's clear that "real boy" has a narrow contextual meaning. It may not be also clear that the rejection of masculine identity was in addition to, not instead of, the earlier rejection of feminine identity. I hope, at least, that poems appearing later in the book—"Coming out" and "Don't say 'transgender'"—make it clear that "Pinocchio" doesn't signify the end of my transgender identity. "Don't say 'transgender'" gives a conjectural account of my plans for top surgery, based on the sort of hurdles others have had to face, which bears no resemblance to how the actual surgery worked out, which was a good deal better. So far, this new poem is the only one which makes reference to the actual surgery:
The Truth #81
The one who thinks she’s a little girl
confronts me by the sinks
as I close the door on sunlight.
She sets her lips in grim pout, folds slender
arms about her chest, indignant at
the man in the women’s portapotty.
Perhaps seeing the ends of mastectomy
scars snaking from beneath the hems
of an orange tank and under my arms,
her mother apologizes for her. But
the one who thinks she’s a little girl
isn’t wrong about me, and I prefer
the honest asshole a child can be.
I'm trying to hint at "nonbinary" here, but I'm not sure if I've succeeded. "Consumers," appearing in the chapbook Call Me Crazy, also hints. A recent poem included in my last post, "The Welcoming Committee," deals broadly with the idea of gender role enforcement.
The books mentioned here are available through the Books page in print and/or as free ebooks.
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Since moving from sunny Albuquerque to soggy Bremerton, Bob and I found reading we both like quite a bit at the Hugo House in Seattle,…
October 6, 2016
For a while, my standard bio has included "writer, artist, Maude activist and novice game-maker" and omitted the rest of my potential laundry list of…
August 23, 2016
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