Thursday, June 22, 2006

I once learned a long word for something I eventually found to be not all that complicated. During the war-torn years of the 19th and 20th centuries, European societies attempted to maintain sanity and some sense of meaning in the face of overwhelming negative stressors, viz. industrialization and imperialism. One of those recovery efforts was eventually labelled "Existentialism" by, I think, the French philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre was an atheist, but the intellectual movement he tagged ran the gamut of religious belief. Anyway, it always seemed to me that the unifying impulse has been an attempt by euro-thinkers to reclaim their humanity by disentangling themselves from a millenium and a half of bible thumping. The abandonment of dogmatic thinking for Europeans has been, in a sense, an attempt to return to paganism and/or heathenism. In that spirit, I have composed the following:

by Don Brennan

Let us raise up an altar
on this space we have
with a nonviolent broom
pointing skyward in a public
place lost in treetops
high as a pyramid’s
fourth tiny eye.

Men of wine breath
crack-eyed girls
relaxed in our shade
will be able to see
the desert in the distance
feel the fine stinging sand
rising up
from undisturbed sleep.

Visiting priestesses
glinting blades in hand
will peel the sheer skin
with erotic glee
from tall sea waves,

cast the drizzle across
the city down Western
Addition streets
to the Tenderloin,

cleanse the towers of
finance, circle out 3rd Street
to heal the pain
of Hunter’s Point,

sprinkling ocean scent upon
sellers of tamales and flowers
down the corners of 24th Street
from Mission to Potrero,

bearing the windless sounds
we all yearn for, plead for
with voices beginning in the bowel,
with rhythms incandescent in our

the way lovers feel
when all reason
is lost in heat

and we are become a grotto
ablaze with sacred candles

an altar to pagan shadows
painted plaster saints
bronze Buddha statues
the spinning arms of Shiva
reaching for us
with the passion of a dervish
offering some shelter
from the cold,

some love
against the loneliness
all around.


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