On The Life And Death Of St Teresa

She's become a journey. Her left arm's at Lisbon, fingers of the right hand at Seville, Avila, Paris, Brussels, Rome.

Right foot in Rome, a slice of flesh. One tooth in Venice.

Piacenza boasts of a napkin stained with her blood. Milan keeps a piece of the heart, another tooth. Lump of her flesh in Naples, scapular. Her slippers at Avila, most of the torso at Alva, at Cagliari her veil.

The wooden cross she used to beat the demons sent to try her, at Rome. Also Brussels. Two very large slices of flesh in Krakow.

She lived to keep herself intact.

At the instant of death love tore her to pieces.

The invention of a character like Sister Mary Appassionata lets Citino speak about the present through the filters of history and tradi tion. " 'Catholicism is form,' T.S. Eliot claimed," he says. "I'd want to change that to 'is history.' I'm concerned — often obsessed —with the limitations of our sense of the past. How do we come to believe a thing to be true or untrue? What has taken the place of all the belief we've lost? Can we know any more of what is than we know of what was? Who were we, before we became our parents? When (and how) did we come to love or rail at love in these human ways? What I believe or don't believe today is dependent in great part on what, as a child, I thought possible."

If Citino's perspective is similar to your own, ask yourself these questions:

• What do images or objects associated with my faith symbolize in terms of religious experience?

• How have these symbols influenced my beliefs in the past and how, if at all, do they do so today?

• Do these symbols and what they represent apply only to me or to a group or congregation? (If the former, why do I feel this way about them? If the latter, how have they influenced others or culture?)

Once you have answers to these questions, invent a character to deliver your ideas in an everyday setting. You could reinvent yourself as a child or re-create a person from your past, with whom you associate your spiritual beliefs.

The perspective of Karen Joy Fowler is not associated with commonly held religious beliefs. Fowler, a nationally known science fiction and fantasy writer and poet, says, "I use supernatural or extranatural elements in most of my work, fiction and poetry. I find in the work of many writers the use of extranatural elements to suggest a belief in destiny, or at the very least, a belief in cause and effect." Although such use of the extranatural can result in "a sort of cold justice," Fowler notes, "I feel it has a comfortable rationality to it.

"I have no such beliefs. I see the world as frighteningly random and the extranatural elements in my work are expressions of irrationality, of chance and luck. The world is full of people who mean you ill, or people who mean you well but do you ill, or people who don't give you a thought but harm or save you inadvertently as a part of living their lives. And that's just the people. And that's just you. The world is also full of rocks and trees and bacteria, any one of which may collide with you, or worse, your children unexpectedly."

In this poem, Fowler uses an extranatural theme to explain a scar to her son:


After a shower, the scar surprises you in the mirror, curving from your left armpit to your spine. You were born with one wing —I answer — shaped like a football pennant, covered in fine white feathers. Half an angel. We had it removed, your father and I, afraid it would prove difficult later to fit into t-shirts, to fit in with peers. And, after all, what good is one wing? An appendage so numinous might one day have tempted you beyond yourself. Where is it now? With a hundred other superfluous parts, pickled on some laboratory shelf. The feathers we saved for your pillow. They bring those not-quite-human dreams. Kiss me. I see despite all my persuasion, you would like to have a wing. You think you might have gained a modest height, a little lateral control, done just a bit of hovering.

Though her voice is at times gentle, humorous and witty, at the center of this poem is the perspective of a harsh world requiring surgery for a son and leaving scars (emotional and physical). Her approach is to set the poem in the bathroom after a shower and to expand the angel metaphor to explain, as lovingly as possible, what she calls "irrational" aspects of life.

She notes, however, "This same irrationality adds delight to the world as well as peril. It pleases me that fish occasionally fall from the sky, that the Loch Ness monster continues to be sighted, that a man in India is going into the record books with the world's longest fingernails. As a writer this is the world that attracts me the most. If this is what you write about you can hardly call yourself a realist. You are so barely real. Real, but irrational. And the best way I know to express the irrational in our lives is through the extranatural."

If Fowler's perspective appeals to you, ask yourself these questions to put your own views into context:

• What aspects of life continue to enchant, intrigue or worry me?

• Why do they do so? Did some incident happen to me in the past or did they affect people I care about, dislike or love?

Once you have answers, concentrate on an effective approach. You might want to employ a setting or figure from the extranatural who explains or illustrates the unpredictable aspects of life and/or the emotions they evoke. To help inspire you, I've included a mix of extranatural poems dealing with traditional, nontraditional, sublime, extrater restrial and fantastic themes:

• In "The Papal Saw in a Roman Blind," Colette Inez shows compassion for her Catholic-priest father whose specter has wreaked havoc in her life. Moreover, she sets the scene in her mind and uses symbols to dispatch her father to the afterlife, two elements of the extranatural in a poem that also concerns traditional religious beliefs.

• In "Assuming All Goes Well God Will Say," Eve Shelnutt uses the extranatural to deal with, understand and ultimately accept the dynamics of a relationship.

• In "When Angels Came to Zimmer," Paul Zimmer uses these supernatural beings in a delightful way, proving that extranatural poems can have a sense of humor, too, as they enlighten us about ourselves and our world.

• In "For Roland, Presumed Taken," Jim Barnes alludes to alien abduction. "For a long time I wanted to write a poem with flying saucers in it," he says, "but finally decided I couldn't. This is my 'couldn't' poem." The work also contains images from "The Song of Roland" —(a French epic poem c. 1000) —"the horn, the rocking horse, toy swords, perhaps the setting and certainly the name," he adds. The literary symbols combine with UFO images in a modern-day metaphysical poem.

• In "Miss Intensity Meets the Holy Ghost," Katherine Murphy creates a dream-vision to convey an encounter with a divine entity. "The date in the poem is the date of the actual dream of what I like to believe was a religious experience. I take heat from the feminists when I read this poem because the Holy Ghost is a very male patriarchal figure. The poem is also criticized by the religious for being too sexual, but I think of Miss Intensity as a modern-day Mary Magde-lene." Murphy concludes, "Men have always had female muses. The Holy Ghost is mine."

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