Our coreligionist Dana Gioia — ex-General Foods executive, ex-NEA chairman, really good essayist/critic, pretty good poet — has a book due out next Tuesday, the 8th of May: Pity the Beautiful. Here’s one of the poems, which, though not one of his very best, takes a feeling I’ve felt while browsing through liturgical art in museums, and gives it an extra twist. I bet at least one or two of you out there can sympathize:
I am the Angel with the Broken Wing,
The one large statue in this quiet room.
The staff finds me too fierce, and so they shut
Faith’s ardor in this air-conditioned tomb.
The docents praise my elegant design
Above the chatter of the gallery.
Perhaps I am a masterpiece of sorts—
The perfect emblem of futility.
Mendoza carved me for a country church.
(His name’s forgotten now except by me.)
I stood beside a gilded altar where
The hopeless offered God their misery.
I heard their women whispering at my feet—
Prayers for the lost, the dying, and the dead.
Their candles stretched my shadows up the wall,
And I became the hunger that they fed.
I broke my left wing in the Revolution
(Even a saint can savor irony)
When troops were sent to vandalize the chapel.
They hit me once—almost apologetically.
For even the godless feel something in a church,
A twinge of hope, fear? Who knows what it is?
A trembling unaccounted by their laws,
An ancient memory they can’t dismiss.
There are so many things I must tell God!
The howling of the dammed can’t reach so high.
But I stand like a dead thing nailed to a perch,
A crippled saint against a painted sky.
Gioia’s also done a double-triolet, if you can believe that.
His interviews are always worth reading, and the ideas he expresses seem quite kongenial to Korrektiv. He knows a thing or two about trying to arrange marriages between money and art, and about cultivating patronage. He is a member of two groups — believing/practicing Catholics, and cultural Catholics (he’s of Sicilian and Mexican descent), and envisions a Catholic presence in American arts and letters that includes both groups. We might say he is interested not only in Catholic writers, but in Catholicish writers. JOB’s writing on Seamus Heaney has a similar spirit.
Here’s a short and pointed poem to punctuate this rambling post.
So much of what we live goes on inside–
The diaries of grief, the tongue-tied aches
Of unacknowledged love are no less real
For having passed unsaid. What we conceal
Is always more than what we dare confide.
Think of the letters that we write our dead.