Archives for July 2011

In light of Cubeland Mystic’s suggestion that we go back to the desert…

…here (again?) is my proposal for THE CLOISTER.  Think Duvall as the Rector, Malkovich as Tomaso, Kenneth Branagh as McManus.

The “one-strike” policy drafted by the U.S. bishops at their meeting in Dallas has become policy – all cases of sexual abuse by priests are now to be reported to the police.  The police and the courts, for their part, pursue these cases with vigor, and priests begin ending up behind bars.

Once there, they are treated very poorly – even by other sex-offenders.  They are at the very bottom of the prison’s social order, and more than one jailed priest ends up dead.  Nobody is especially upset by this – there is a general sense of justice being served, since the offenders went unpunished for so long.

The protagonist, Father McManus, is a priest in his late-30s who has sought to “hide” in the priesthood.  (As part of a class that never marries, he will never have to resolve any questions he might have about his own sexual leanings, which tend toward other men.)  Though promiscuous in his youth, he has taken his vow of celibacy seriously, and has sought to remain chaste as he serves as pastor in a SoCal parish.  But when a young Hispanic prostitute who has come seeking refuge offers himself in gratitude, the temptation proves too great.  Of course, McManus is caught – he’s one of those people who never gets away with anything – and soon finds himself before the bishop.

The bishop informs him that because there are no outraged parents involved, and because the prostitute is not interested in pressing charges, there may be a way to avoid prison and its attendant evils:  The Cloister.  The Cloister is a monastery in the California desert, long abandoned by the order that built it.  It is not officially inhabited – there is no power to the building, no water, no mail, nothing to place it within the grid.  But the diocese still owns the land, which it quietly acquired from the original order when it disbanded.

Since the adoption of the one-strike policy, the monastery has begun to serve a new purpose:  as an intra-Church correctional facility for sexually-abusive priests.  The bishop, reluctant to send his charges into the prison environment, has begun sending priests there whenever he can prevail upon parents/victims to permit it.  Parents/victims, while not told about The Cloister itself, are given every assurance that the offending priest will not be “shuffled” – sent to simply carry on being bad somewhere else.  Rather, they will be subjected to the Church’s own form of incarceration and rehabilitation – and kept isolated from underage youth – for a minimum of five years.  (If they slip back into their old ways after that, they are duly reported to the police.)

The cloister is run by a throwback – some would say medieval – rector:  a Jesuit who has been allowed by his now-liberal order to go where he pleases, as long as he stays out of their hair.  He is old-school, a big believer in penance, prayer and fasting, a disciplinarian who sees obedience as the first virtue for creatures under God and under him.  He is a tough old bird – he seems to enjoy his repudiation of “niceness” a little too much, and he is stubborn and hot-tempered – but he is not a monster.  He sincerely believes in what he is doing – attempting to get priests to master themselves so as to be better servants of God – and wills the good for those in his care.

Nor is he a hypocrite when he rages against The World, The Flesh and The Devil.  He punishes his flesh in an attempt to curb his temper.  He does not require the inmates to join him for 2 a.m. rosary in the chapel, but he is there every night.  And when a grateful bishop sends him a bottle of good Burgundy, he hesitates only a moment before sending it to the kitchen to be used as cooking wine.  (As for the inevitable charge that he preaches to sexual predators because he himself is sexually repressed, it will go unanswered here.)

The rector’s power comes from the fact that only he can determine that a priest is fit to leave The Cloister.  He is served by a cadre of monks – they wear black robes, as opposed to the gray robes of the inmates – who serve as a sort of prison guard, keeping an eye on things, making sure the life of The Cloister proceeds as it should.

Naturally, his strict discipline and emphasis on striving for old-fashioned holiness make him enemies among the inmates, particularly Father Tomaso, an intelligent old priest who was the rector’s classmate at seminary.  Tomaso’s faith has shriveled; he is a hardened predator who has no hope of ever leaving – he came only to avoid prison.  Another priest, Father Boudreaux, is one of a group that sees celibacy as outdated and damaging, part of an overall failure of the Church to deal properly with sexual matters.  They know they have sinned, but they see themselves as victims of a backwards institution.  They see the rector as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with the Church today, the biggest impediment to its being a true messenger of Christ’s love.  Boudreaux and his friends see themselves as banding together to become a force for change when they get out.

McManus, on the other hand, resents the rector the way a child resents the parent who disciplines him.  He believes the parent is right, but he feels shame at being corrected, and so resents the one doing the correcting.  He is also attracted to the rector (called ‘ the rectum’ by more than one inmate) because the rector is a forceful, confident personality who seems to know something.

One day, waiting in line for mandatory weekly confessions and late for kitchen duty, McManus notices that the line for the rector’s box is all but empty.  When he asks why, his question is met with knowing chuckles.  Unwilling to be cowed, he steps into the box and begins his confession, only to be interrupted by the rector, who lays out the sins of McManus’ life for him.  (It is the rector’s gift to be able to read the souls of other men when they come to him in the confessional.)

The story would spend some time documenting the life of a monastery/prison functioning without any modern amenities, and illustrating the tension between ruler and ruled.  A clipboard hangs next to the bus delivery platform (the bus arrives with necessities once a week); anyone who wishes to leave and face the authorities is free to sign up.  The various factions would be introduced, along with the Cloister policy on sexual congress:  anyone caught having sex spends a week in the caves in the surrounding desert.  (“Nothing between you and God out there except your own ugly self,” comments the rector.)  Basic needs are provided for, and one of the brother-guards visits regularly, but it’s still a harsh experience.

Things begin to go sour when a frail young offender – a weak man like McManus – enters the Cloister. Tomaso immediately seduces him, the two are caught, and both are sent to the caves.  But the frail young man is found dead after only two days – snakebite.  Tomaso seizes the opportunity to foment rebellion against the rector, whose hard policy is surely in some way to blame for the man’s death.

The rector, unnerved by the event, begins to falter, and eventually collapses at Mass.  He leaves McManus – who has become something of a disciple – in charge while he is taken to the hospital to recover.  Once the rector is away, the rebellion gains force.  McManus resists, but eventually wavers out of fear and uncertainty.  By the time the rector returns, there is open revolt:  howls during the consecration at Mass, subtly defaced icons, the meat locker raided on Friday, etc.  Fido, the rector’s dog, is found slaughtered.  None of the rebels seem to care that the rector will never let any of them go – because plans are afoot to eliminate the rector altogether.  (Church officials would have a hard time opening the investigation to the public eye, since The Cloister isn’t supposed to exist.)  Again, McManus wavers, and tries to warn the rector during confession, but the rector will not acknowledge him.  (He knows what is coming – he can read McManus’ sin of intent – but he is ready to let it come because he feels it will expiate for the death of the novice.)

In the end, McManus steps in to thwart the attempt on the rector’s life, draining a consecrated (and poisoned) chalice at Mass before the rector can drink it.  He collapses on the altar, and the rector, after closing McManus’ eyes and saying a prayer, continues with the Mass.  The scene ends with the rector staring out at the congregation and saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are we who are called to his supper.  Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”


Act I:  Introduction to McManus, his fall and introduction to the Cloister

Act II:  Introduction to the life of the Cloister, the factions, and the rector, culminating in the death of the novice.

Act III:  The rebellion, McManus desertion of the rector and subsequent repentance, culminating in his death on the altar.

Heads up.

The kind of Catholic Church bloodletting-style reporting we really ought to be doing on our own.

And here’s a followup.

Rough going.  “An untenable and corrosive hypocrisy” indeed.

Big Poppa E Hugged Me

I went to my cousin Mark’s open mic (called Broken Mic) at Neato Burrito (with the Baby Bar in back) here in Spokane last night and met Big Poppa E. I didn’t know who he was but I do now. He’s a poet of the new breed: slam/comedic/monologue like. As I stood at the microphone, I held a copy of House of Words in my left hand and a beer in my right hand.

“This is my book,” I said, holding the skinny little thing up. “And this …” (raising my glass) “… is my security beer.” Right then Big Poppa E approached and gave me a big hug. It felt vaguely homosexual, but I was alright with it. (I understand now that it was more like wussy-man to wussy-man.) I continued my recitation of the first three poems in the book. It was okay.

Big Poppa E took the mic a few minutes later and was in good form. Here’s a sample:


Tomato water Bloody Mary.  Unbloody Mary?  A White Martyr?

[Drink courtesy of the most excellent Cosgroves of Pasadena.]

Here’s a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins on his birthday …

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather — as skies
Betweenpie mountains — lights a lovely mile.


“We only said good-bye with words…”

Your own breath kept secret records of you
As life drowned under the roof of your name
Because everyone knew and no one knew.

When beauty wounded you, what could you do
But cut your vintage voice on vinyl shame?
For your own breath kept secret records of you.

Your walk in the lime light faded to blue;
Your eyes dove deep in the wreckage of fame
Because no one knew and everyone knew.

With jungle scripture, pronounced in tattoo,
You freed your fury through a camera frame.
But your own breath kept secret records of you.

Mon aimee! Mon chantant aimee! you
Wished for a life so rich and full of blame –
Because everyone knew and no one knew.

And what’s left of you? Silence burning through
Electric feedback; a whispering flame –
Because no one knew and everyone knew
Your own breath kept secret records of you.


Queequeg’s Rising Sun

Queequeg’s Grill and Tavern
1124 Eastlake Ave, Seattle

I was having a beer at Queequeg’s the other evening, and was lucky enough to find Diana, the day bartender, filling in for one of night crew. After watching her muddle up a trayful of fruity-looking concoctions, we started talking about the capricious tastes of the typical sot in Seattle. She’s been at Queequeg’s for about ten years, and has witnessed the rise and fall of many the cocktail: when she started the Alabama Slammer was still in style; five years ago it was the Bushwhacker.

“So what never goes out of style?” I asked, contemplating a shot of Maker’s. Which is about as fancypants a drink as I can stand to be seen with.

“Martinis and Manhattan’s, of course,” said Diana. “Can’t go wrong with one of those.” She hung out a hitchhiker’s thumb towards one of the patrons to my left, and rolled her eyes. “Or several.”

“What about the foofoo stuff?” I asked, shivering at the thought of a perfectly good whiskey, ruined by Vermouth and—Lord, protect me—a maraschino cherry.

“Wellll … You’ve got your Margharita, of course. And the Kamikaze will never go out of style. What’s great about the Kamikaze is that it’s a winner every time, good at all hours of the day. People will order them as a way of celebrating the end of a working day, or even the middle of one. Hell, I’ve had them with breakfast, after going home with one in a cab the night before!”

“Really?” I asked. “Something with limes seems kind of strange for the morning.”

“It doesn’t have to be limes, actually,” said Diana. “There are variations, like the Lemon Drop.”

“Sugar on the rim?” After returning from the bathroom, a former girlfriend had ordered one in lieu of the shot of whiskey I’d ordered for her.

“Right,” said Diana.

“And then there’s my own invention,” she added. “The Rising Sun.”

“It’s like a Kazi?”

“Mostly. Instead of Vodka, I introduced Shochu. It’s a Japanese drink—”

“Like Sake?” I blustered.

“No, not really. Shochu is distilled, and they’ll make it out of anything: sweet potatoes, chestnuts, rice—”

“They have plenty of that.”

“Right,” she said, looking a little irritated. “Anyway, the point was to keep it Japanese…”

She must have registered the blank look in my eyes, as she went on to explain it a little more thoroughly.

“You see, kamikazes were these suicidal Japanese fighter pilots, so I thought I’d make a drink that was also Japanese, and named it for the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’. That’s what the Japanese call their country.”


“Which was perfect, I figured, because I could make it orange and red—like an actual rising sun. So the name dictated the colors, and the colors helped determine the flavor of the drink. Oranges were perfect as a substitute for limes or lemons. The Shochu makes it even more Japanese than a Kamikaze, but I’m happy to use vodka instead. Muddle it up with Triple Sec and add a shot of Campari to give it some red, and you’re good to go.”

“Sounds complicated,” I said.

“It is, actually,” said Diana. “Campari is considered a bitters, so there’s even more going on, taste-wise, than a Kazi. Or the Lemon Drop.”

“Would you like another beer?” She must have noted the confused look on my face at the mention of ‘bitters.’


After pouring me another Slug Bait, she walked over a piece of paper with a dirty piece of scotch tape at the top.

“One of the regulars actually wrote a poem about the drink. He was sweet, and I liked the poem, so I typed it up in the office and taped it up on the Wall of Fame.” She waved that thumb again, back to the left, where postcards, photographs of people partying, and drawings done in crayon were stuck on the mirror.

“It’s basically a drink recipe, if anyone ever needs it. I put another copy in the Drink Guide as well, so you can keep it.”

And I have. Long enough to reproduce here:

The Rising Sun

We’re never more ourselves than when entirely
absorbed in something else, and you’re most yourself,
easily, making your specialty drink, The Rising Sun.
You begin by filling the steel shaker with ice
and several orange slices (hurried, you’ll use juice),
two ounces of Shochu (Stolichnaya on request),
and a splash of triple sec (Grand Marnier for me).
After muddling the mess into an orange mush,
you’ve even shaken it thrice, for good measure, before
straining it into a martini glass, finishing with a sunburst
of Campari, the completed concoction glowing orange
and red as the eastern sky at daybreak. Bestowing
your gift on a serviette, you then stand back, smiling
gladly, your eyes finally seeing what your hands did.

I’m sure it tastes better than it reads. I had another shot of Maker’s. Less poetic, maybe, but it gets the job done.

Impressionist Jim Meskimen Does Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices

This guy does does more impressions than you can shake a spear at, and he does them well. From Captain Kirk to Woody Allen to Robert De Niro, he absolutely nails it. Even more … impressive … is that he somehow looks like each of the celebrities, including Morgan Freeman.

I Harden Myself

We talk, my aunt and I, in our old way of talking, during the pauses in the music. She is playing Chopin. She does not play very well; her fingernails click against the keys. But she is playing one of our favorite pieces, the E flat Etude. In recent years I have become suspicious of music. When she comes to a phrase which once united us in a special bond and to which once I opened myself as meltingly as a young girl, I harden myself. (Walker Percy, The Moviegoer, Part 1, Ch. 5)

“At night yesterday’s nearer than tomorrow…”*

*A curious phenomenon most recently recorded and studied by scientists, resulting in a famous white paper issued by the Nostalgia Heights Observatory located in Memory, New Mexico in the high desert region where the Desire River has vanished into a bed of sun-baked clay and the locals sell roadmaps and Baedekers to Pure Possiblity, the ghost town which abides on the other side of the Beseeming Mountain Range….


Another Curious Convert

Marshall McLuhan’s birthday is noted in today’s Writer’s Almanac. I knew he was a Catholic but I didn’t know, as is pointed out here, that he converted after getting knocked upside the head by the writings of G.K. Chesterton. He also qualifies for our “So Many Children” file.

It’s the birthday of Canadian media theorist and educator Marshall McLuhan (1911) (books by this author), born Herbert Marshall McLuhan in Edmonton, Alberta. He coined the phrases “the global village” and “the medium is the message.” He studied at Cambridge University, and while there, he encountered the writings of G.K. Chesterton, which influenced his conversion to Catholicism; he’d previously been agnostic. He spent most of his professional life working in academia, although he did work in advertising from time to time to support his wife and six children. In the early 1960s, he predicted the eventual decline of the print culture and the rise of “electronic interdependence,” which would bring the world toward a more collective, less fragmented identity. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in the late 1960s; it was treated successfully. Ten years later, he suffered a stroke, from which he never fully recovered, and he died in 1980.

He wrote: “The printing press, the computer, and television are not therefore simply machines which convey information. They are metaphors through which we conceptualize reality in one way or another. They will classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, argue a case for what it is like. Through these media metaphors, we do not see the world as it is. We see it as our coding systems are. Such is the power of the form of information.”

More Malick: Fr. Barron on The Tree of Life

It’s all about Nature and Grace … and the Book of Job … and Genesis … and Brad Pitt.

And Then It Happened, That Queer Sensation

From Bob Dylan’s radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour.

Speaking of Bob Dylan, Korrektiv Press has a novel waiting in the wings, Bird’s Nest in Your Hair, by Brian Jobe, which takes its title from an obscure Dylan song, “Trouble in Mind.” The song appeared on the b-side of the biggest hit single of Bob’s evangelical phase — “Serve Somebody” — and the protagonist of Brian’s novel (well, the primary protagonist, in my opinion — it’s open to debate because there are several protagonists) is a young woman, a bartender named Diana, who loves listening to Dylan songs on the jukebox and is in the tentative, uncertain process of throwing her lot in with the Catholic Church.

An early draft of Bird’s Nest was pseudonymously serialized on Korrektiv some time back, but the author has busted his butt with major revisions, and rendered himself, like Hoagy Carmichael and Bob Dylan, a plaything of the muses. The result is a tome of befuddling beauty and double and triple reflections wherein startling glimpses of star dust intermingle with the dark tangles of the devil who would make a bird’s nest in your hair. Coming soon to a book dealer near you!

NB: There is some name/identity confusion hereabouts, to be sure. Let me help clarify the matter for you. JOB stands for Joseph O’Brien, and his book of poems is next up, after Bird’s Nest, on the Korrektiv Press assembly line. Brian Jobe is a different person, completely distinct from the other JOB (although both JOB and Jobe have suffered some trials like their biblical namesake). Brian writes here on the blog as Quin Finnegan and he has sometimes written under the pseudonym Jeb O’Brian. (See the different spelling from the other aforementioned O’Brien?) JOB lives in idyllic camping country “nestled amid the mytho-geographical possibilities of the Mississippi, Wisconsin and Kickapoo Rivers” (his own words) and is a prodigious father of many children. Jobe is a bachelor (and a highly eligible one, ladies) who resides smack dab in the middle of downtown Seattle and has not, to his knowledge, fathered any children at all. Does that help? Then there are the two Jonathans, also two different fellows. Jonathan Webb is a tall 50-year-old father of four who smokes big cigars, drinks Wild Turkey, and lives in the Tuscany-like environs of the Snohomish River flood plains north of Seattle. Jonathan Potter (i.e. myself, who has sometimes written under the name Rufus McCain) is a medium-size fellow in his late forties, also a father of young-uns, who lives among the rocks and pine trees of Spokane, Washington. Southern Expat is woman of refined sensibility who isn’t sure she should be affiliated with the likes of us — especially the likes of Matthew Lickona, who was almost famous once but opted for a penitential life of toil and pain and obscurity. And that rounds out our ragtag kollektiv. This is the last time I’m going to explain this, so I hope y’all are paying attention. Any questions?

O New Yorker, it’s crazy what you coulda had…

 A short story writer AND cartoonist (hey, we’ve got one of those around here somewhere, don’t we?)?

According to the blabberage of a recent UK Guardian piece – come to our attention via the goodfolk at  Dappled Things, Ms. O’Connor might very well have done landed hesself on the pages of a certain illustriously insular and urbane readery as well known for its cartoned Goofuses as for its fictional Gallants.   A good literary “What if…?” proposition, at any rate.

“The simple gesture casts a cooling shadow…”



Love is found to work  out its perfection
Amid the wasted lands
Where trembling fear demands
A kiss from lips parched to taste salvation.

“Minting hill and field in rarity’s coinage…”

Alas, the poet has but a sow’s ear to all but the sound of coin dropping into his silk purse….

(If this is “heads” – what you wanna bet what “tails” looks like?)


Dante’s Inferno 2.0

How to Harness Your Secret Powers