Welcome, folks, to our excerpts page! Here we offer snippets of our authors’ work for your enjoyment and reflection. Make sure to check out their featured interviews by clicking on the link below their pic.
Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe del Valle Pojoaque
Washing of feet: twelve people lined behind the church. Three pieces of
plywood, side by side, holes in the center of each for draining. Hose pulled
out, faucet on. Khakis rolled to calves, dresses pressed against thighs.
Socks tucked into boots, lined in the grass like children’s backpacks.
Father Regan in sandals, sleeves pulled back to his elbows. White towels
on both his shoulders. This year there are three women. Father Regan
knew he would have to answer someone, whether it was a side comment or
a direct question: why the females? At first he would answer with a joke
(what man wouldn’t rather see the attractive feet of a woman than the
knobby feet of a man)? He would wash feet, pull his hand along heels,
dribble water along the tips of toes. And then he would claim permission
from the Holy See. Direct permission? Permission is never direct. Not
from God. Would all of us want to believe in so simple a relationship?
From Oblations (Gold Wake Press, 2011)
The Angel with the Broken Wing
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 shadow 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.
From Pity the Beautiful (Graywolf Press, 2012)
From Searching for Bach, at Killing the Buddha, April 18, 2013
…The problem was that trying to live as a classical musician was like deciding you wanted to be an actor and assuming you could play King Lear even though you were a 15-year-old girl. I didn’t have the discipline. I was sloppy and lazy and no matter how much I tried to practice, there was usually something far more interesting to do, like staring out the window. I became an audience.
There was another story, intertwined but separate, one about God and Catholicism, something else I loved and left behind. And classical music was always about God.
Bach was mostly blind by the time he composed the B Minor Mass. One report says his death just a few years later was brought on by the “unhappy consequences” of an “unfortunate eye operation,” but contemporary scholars mostly believe he had a stroke. His much younger wife Anna Magdalena, who had copied down many of his compositions and had sung professionally throughout their marriage, was left destitute with two of her daughters and a stepdaughter when Bach’s sons quarreled over the estate. She was buried in a pauper’s grave, and the graveyard was destroyed during World War II. Jesu Juva.
I’ve listened to a lot of rock music, a lot of hip hop, country and folk and jazz, a lot of blues and roots and music from around the world. And as a person whose mind loves research and learning, I’ve read up on the lives of musicians and composers, read shelves of books and piles of scholarly and popular articles, and no story has ever made me sadder than the story of Bach and his dead children and destitute, gifted widow. Bach is a father figure to any classical musician, but he’s also a father figure to music itself; without him, we wouldn’t be able to do the things we do on instruments.
I lost my own father when I was still a teenager. I lost father figures who cared about the music I played and the things I wrote. And I lost God. But God came back, even when the fathers could not, and Bach came back, even when my prematurely wrecked hands couldn’t play his music any more. The gift of Bach is the gift of becoming an audience: we are witnesses to the motion of Grace, and finally we are all good enough.