Prado’s Ex-Voto: Dumbfounded By Mystics and Clothing Stores

What might it be like to truly live with God?

Not in the way I usually think I do: sitting twice a day for my regular prayer times, speaking words of praise and thanks while my mind wanders to my to-do list.

No, it might be like this:

An ant stops me in my tracks,
“What’s your hurry, miscreant, no time to help me?”
But it’s not her voice, it’s His…

Or this:

Airplanes are scary
because God is in them.
Embrace me, God, with Your flesh and blood arm.

Or this:

The One who gave me these words is writing this,
with my hand.

These lines on God’s companionship are Brazilian poet Adelia Prado’s, from Ex-Voto, a new English translation of her poems published by Tupelo Press.

Sleeping, waking, grocery shopping, going naked, even urinating, Adelia Prado’s consciousness is intertwined with God, so much so that sometimes she can’t tell the difference between the two of them:

He wants water, I drink,
He needs to pee, I get up

Prado is a lifelong, practicing Catholic, but she rejects traditional Catholicism’s denigration of the body. In “God Does Not Reject the Work of His Hands”:

The body has no black holes,
only innocence and beauty,
so much so that God imitates us
and wants to marry His church…

And in “Object of Affection”:

What I have to tell you
is of such high order and so precious
that if I kept it to myself
it would feel like stealing:
the asshole is beautiful!

I would like to feel, with Prado, that everything — yes everything — is beautiful, is holy, because it is God’s creation. Oh, I say I believe this, and I do believe it. But do I truly live it?

I whine when the weather is chilly and grey day after day.

I mash ants to death on my kitchen counter instead of listening to them.

I walk to the other side of the street when I see coming a neighbor who bores me. (Oh, dear. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.)

It isn’t that Prado considers herself free from sin. It’s that she can’t help celebrating all the nitty-gritty of life. I like best the comic touch in her celebration:

Meat lockers are horrible
but it’s my job to poeticize them,
nothing is to escape redemption…

Or (maybe my all-time favorite poetic couplet):

I’m equally dumbfounded by mystics
and by clothing stores with their prices

I want to be equally dumbfounded by everything: by the luscious fresh melon and the bruised rotten peach; by the butterfly in my garden and the bat in my attic; by the neighbor who spontaneously mows my lawn for me and that neighbor who bores me; by the politician who voices my concerns and the politician who opposes everything I believe in; by days when I’m zinging with energy and days when I’m droopy and sluggish.

I want to share Adelia Prado’s sense that there is nothing that God does not enliven, her sense that what we call “inanimate” is actually animated by divine life. This is also the sensibility of Hasidic (mystical) Judaism, as well as of Buddhism in its own way. Prado’s way is to enact this sensibility in a poem like “Domus,” one of my favorites in this collection:

Eyes set into the ridgepole,
the house peers down at the man.
Such sensitive, discerning walls,
now and then its ears tremble:
love one minute,
invective the next,
then fist-pounding panic.
God is touched
by the house the man has made
God whose eyes peer down
from the ridgepole of the world.
The house begs mercy for its owner
and his fantasies of good fortune.
It seems impassive, but suffers.
The house is alive and speaks.

Reading this poem, I know that my house is trying to speak to me. Can I quiet my mind long enough to listen?

About Peggy Rosenthal

I'm a writer of prose about poetry. I'm interested in all the arts, in how creativity informs our lives. But most of my published books help readers to read poetry in a meditative way. I teach an online course on this at Image Journal.


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