Saturday, February 21, 2009

Offering at the altar

We went to see Endre Farkas's Haunted House, his biographical play about A.M. Klein. It's worth seeing. The set is particularly good and the actor playing Klein very strong. Pat Donnelly got it right in The Gazette. But there are a couple of important omissions, one inexplicable; Klein's two sons are shown, Sandor and Colman, but not his daughter who tragically committed suicide.

The piece below was originally published in September of 2002 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of A.M. Klein's death. It was, in fact, my first attempt at fiction, written in the imagined voice of Klein moments after he completed the manuscript of his novel The Second Scroll (published in 1951) - which would prove to be his last published work before a prolonged silence ending in his death in August 1972. I reproduce the piece as an offering on his centenary. I was quite amazed to see how Farkas in his play picked up many of the themes I touch on in my piece. A testament to how the figure of the poet, his words, and ultimate silence still resonate.

Unwriting Myself: From the Imagined Journal of A.M. Klein

August 1950

“To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee
And not be silent,
O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever.”

What more is there to say, and where exactly have I arrived? To praise God, is that the only thing to do? Then what of this scroll unrolled, come to an end, a stop, a period – truth be told – an emptiness, a silence. Worse still, a question: Either God is or is not. And not another praise, nor curse, nor word, nor punctuation will suffice to conjure His presence.

Bessie is in the living room typing the last of it. Her tac-tac-tacking behind the wall insults the quiet. It intrudes as a Morse Code of desperation and helplessness, fills the cold night air along Querbes Avenue with the insistent SOSing of a sinking ship. Faces appear out of the bookshelf. I hear the quickly fading cries of ice-filled lungs, tongues swollen stiff. God, when will You arrive to save us? How shall we open our blue lips to sing Your praise?

What praise will do? I brought you music and poetry. Danced before you like King David turning shame to honour in Your name. Debased myself in some eyes, feeling lifted aloft on wings of Divine egolessness. As I write this Jerusalem quakes and the Ark of Your new-old State totters, as it always has. I will not try to right it. Refuse to repeat well-known mistakes. How can I go on stumbling toward Your dream like a biblical ox?

I did Your bidding. Cursed the community its golden calves. Now I am weary, my mind is shattered like Your famous Ten Words. My hiding place has always been the rock, a craggy formation of words. I have seen You pass, the back of Your head. But it is not enough right now. O God reveal Yourself. Show Yourself, full-faced, panim el-panim, let me know the secrets behind the words. Those secrets for which Akiva was martyred, stripped of his skin, layer from layer, his insides become outsides, the outer his inner-being, and he was indistinguishable from meaning itself, from Torah, from pure spirit. His torture was his liberation. You revealed Yourself to my predecessor, that master of letters, and now I ask the same for me. Even as we speak I can feel the parchment of myself peeling away, unscrolling, twisting to the floor.

I must admit that the glory I sought all along was not Yours but mine. The song was for myself, my own edification. The beauty I pursued was an investment on which I expected a respectable return. To see my words make a difference, to hear the hosannahs of my peers, my community. Thus was Your name made profane.

Words are false, even the choicest, sweetest ones, mere illusions, constructions of how we want to appear, the mark we want to leave. But these can not matter. Only You are eternal. You stunned Job into silent awe contrasting the narrow boundaries of his mortal existence with the limitlessness of Creation. Suddenly he realized that the indivisible, unfathomable laws which govern the movements of nature are also sovereign over the individual. Reality is not the content of tiny personal claims. It is a sweeping continuum, undeniable as it is unchangeable, fluid and shifting as tidal consciousness. What are we? Long extinguished stars that appear as luminous traces of our own deaths. The ghost writer is ghost. The poet is landscape.

If life is form then death is content. Could this be Your secret? The one exposed with the great Akiva’s final revelation, his body opening like a many-petaled flower for the morning sun? Every creative act is simultaneously a death sentence. The artist seeks but one thing, the perfect unison of form and content. Enraptured by the sounds, smells, tastes and visions of the world, he delights in his corporeal being. He thinks corporeality equivalent to reality, ultimate being, and thereby idolizes the material. But no incarnation of the material can fuse form with content in an unending embrace of humankind and Divinity. Only in the denial of the material, of materiality and corporeality, can essence surface like a submerged bathescope. Only in the liquid buoyancy of transparent selflessness can the pure self rise to You in wholeness.

And so every word I write and ever wrote is leaden, sinking – an ombrous stain, every letter, a shadow footprint on a snowy page. I have espoused, opined, editorialized, rhapsodized, mused, debated and analyzed with only one goal in mind; to shape a self, a Somebody. But arguments are a wardrobe for fools. To think that one can create oneself from the costumes of idea and utterance. At their best, words are amusements, avoidances, diversions from the singular truth. These repulsive skins I have grown must go, must be shed. These disguises of selfhood I’ve spent a lifetime concocting and justifying with cleverness and craft must be effaced. There is only one question, one formulation, one equation:

Either God is
or is not.
I am not God.
God is.
And so
I am

The bureau is swept clean. Two erasers sit on the corner like pebbles on a hardly visited headstone. There is also a tea cup and saucer. Below the cup’s rim, a thin golden line, like a horizon. Fingers reach for the handle's seraphic curl, a letter flourish, an ear’s outer curve. The hand and cup do not meet. They are held in time and space between being and not being. And this is where God sees fit to leave them. Suspended in grace.

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