Who said that Easter is about pastel flowers, cute rabbits that lay eggs and are made of chocolate, and fluffy dresses with matching hats? Medieval sculptors, carving the emaciated body of Christ, covered with realistic wounds and blood droplets, had an entirely different vision. Mary of Magdalen had a vision, too: the gardener, she thought, but it was He, and she realized her mistake only when He said, "Noli me tangere..." - "Do not touch me..."
Our love wants to be physical, fluffy, tangible, warm, sensuous. It is very hard to imagine a different kind of love, something greater, unique and universal, human and divine, always the same and always new. The true colors of Easter are the intense reds of the blood spilled on the Cross; the intense purples of coagulated droplets and the sorrow of Good Friday, a day of absence; the dazzling gold shine of flames of a new fire during Easter Vigil; and the brilliance of Easter bells ringing, ringing up to Heaven on that astounding, joyous morning, when all, finally, is well, once for all.
Instead of Easter wishes this year, I wrote a poem about the end of the world. It is really Harry Mulisch's fault. He should not have written that novel about the Discovery of Heaven, which is, actually, about the Discovery of Hell - unseen and distant God takes His Commandments back from the unfaithful, sinful humanity, leaving the traitors to their chosen fate in the Kingdom of Satan. That's what Mulisch's imagined and convincingly described. In the novel, the astronomer who finally discovered Heaven is killed by angels with a meteorite, so he fails to share the secret.
His son becomes the new Messiah, finds the stone tablets, as blue as the lapis-lazuli of his eyes, and takes them up to Heaven, floating in the air, surrounded by a whirlwind of Hebrew letters detached from the holy precepts that were ignored and disobeyed for far too long.
Here's my "Easter Apocalypsis" illustrated, appropriately, with a fading, dying rose.
~ After "The Discovery of Heaven" by Harry Mulisch
It is coming. The angels know.
They dwell in their Piranesi castles,
twisted spaces where outside
is inside. They are not indifferent.
Not too smart for their own good.
Not cruel. They don’t tell us.
The end is coming, it is near.
Not death, mind you, not that
Ugly spinster without its twin.
No. The end of the end. Finis.
The satin fabric of a wedding dress
Trails behind the steps of a beauty
Gliding towards her beloved.
The river’s end tastes of salt
In its own mouth, opened widely
Into the waves of the ocean. Nothing
we can do will stop it. Just stretch
Your tired fingers, let the water
Cool your skin.
Why resist? Heraclitus
Dipped his toes in this river.
Shape-note singers praised it.
Saints dove in and swam around,
Luxuriating in incandescent glories
That passed us by.
The end is coming,
Flowing down the slopes.
Let’s sit on the porch, doze off
In honeyed sunlight, before it
Let us believe there will be
Light, enough light inside us
- That kindling of kindness,
A half-forgotten smile -
To keep us afloat in the final flood
Coming, coming to erase the world
And remake it, anew, bejeweled.
Now, it would not be fair to all the chocolate lovers out there, if my Easter wishes were limited to this brief vision of the end of the end, a cosmic catastrophe that we will survive only if we allow ourselves to focus on the unbearable lightness of being, the heart of the heart. That happens when we awaken from non-being to an awareness that only what's within truly lasts, that the least tangible of our possessions - a fleeting moment of kindness, a gesture of compassion and comfort - is an eternal treasure, a sapphire hidden in ashes and dust.
I found a treasure this year, I found a friend. I also found a poem in a painting by another friend - a painting I like so much I would love to find myself inside it. Susan Dobay, a Hungarian artist is both spiritual and earthly, a hostess who laughs with her guests and feeds them regional specialties, but scolds them for being too loud when a poet reads something she'd like everyone to pay attention to (even if she is sometimes too busy making sure they listen, to do it herself).
~ after a painting “City Whispers” by Susan Dobay
First to wake: the maple tree.
Up and up, sprouting from a seedling.
With a crown of burnished gold, white
diamond crystals for winter –
It slept through blizzards to flourish
dressed in pinks and celadons.
Second awake: the girl.
Watching the trees from her bed
Or her wheelchair. She cannot go far
Into the streets, filled with noise.
Protected by smooth glass panes
She sees the buds on each twig
Fill out until they burst
Into carmine, wrinkled bows
Small and shiny, maturing
As they change into the green.
The third: a robin calling out
To his friends, dispelling darkness
With his shrill fluted motives.
The spring is woven from his calls,
Warmed up in red feathers on his chest.
He came late to scratch the ground
For a worm to peck, a beetle.
The looping birdsong measures
The coming of days. It floats up and up,
Above the rooftops.
The girl touches her curly blond hair
Growing longer, straighter
As the nurse braids it each morning.
The life, the light, she wishes
For this power to come in.
Make her walk, yes, make her walk.
She stretches up and up.
Outside, city whispers.
It was a distinct pleasure to read this poem while being accompanied on a flute by Rick Wilson: his music rose up and up in the middle two stanzas, appearing after a silence and allowing the tranquility of the sick girl's room to speak for itself at the end. In some way, it was my best reading with music. Rick was truly inspired. Susan Dobay and Mira Mataric said they identified with that handicapped girl, whose longing for wholeness and health is our longing, at other times expressed in the search for perfectly decorated chocolate eggs, tulips and the new spring dress for Easter.
In Poland, we used to say "Wesolego Jajka!" as if an Egg could actually be Joyous. Maybe we have to return "ab ovo" - to the beginning and start anew, with a rediscovered capacity to experience real joy? Before God takes his Commandments back and leaves us all to the dreadful fate of non-existence, without the source of all being? You know, that one: Beauty, Goodness, Truth.
Let the Easter bells ring, ring, and ring.
Alleluia! Pangue lingua gloriosi...
Pangue lingua sung by Coro de Cámara Abadía
Photographs of flowers (C) 2010 by Maja Trochimczyk
Susan Dobay's Painting "City Whispers" - the poem "Awakenings" is a part of Kath Abela Wilson's poetry book project dedicated to the art of Susan Dobay.
Two recordings of bells from Il Duomo (Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence, Italy. From YouTube.com.