The Last of the Brooding Miserables
by Mary Karr
Lord, you maybe know me best
by my odd laments: My friend
drew the garage door tight,
lay flat on the cold cement, then
sucked off the family muffler
to stop the voices in his head.
And Logan stabbed in a fight, and Coleman shot,
and the bright girl who pulled a blade
the width of her own soft throat,
and Tom from the virus and Dad
from drink–Lord, the many-headed
hurts I mind.
I study each death
hard that death not catch me
unprepared. For help I read Aurelius,
that Stoic emperor who composed
fine Meditations in his battle tent.
Surely he overheard at night
the surgeons chopping through his wounded soldiers’ bones
and shovels of earth flung down
on blue faces, and near dawn,
the barbarian horses athunder.
Still, he judged the young man’s death
no worse than the old’s: each losing
just one breath. I would have waded
the death pits wailing
till I ruined good boots with lime–
a vulture for my dead too long,
or half a corpse myself.
Lord, let me enter now
your world, my face,
dig deep in the gloves
of these hands formed
to sow or reap or stroke
a living face. Let me rise
to your unfamiliar light,
love, without which the dying wouldn’t bother me one whit.
Please, if you will, bless also
this thick head I finally bow. In thanks.
for James Laughlin
-Mary Karr, from Viper Rum, Penguin Poets, 1994
“Today we think about Jesus lying dead in the tomb. His bruised and lacerated body, hastily wrapped, rests on a stone slab, cold and stiff in the darkness. Correspondingly, our hearts remain quiet. Yet in the spiritual realm, all is not quiet. A doctrinal tradition going back to the earliest era of the church declares that Christ, in the time between his death and his resurrection, descended to the dead, that is, to the precints of hell itself, in order to liberate a throng of people. The “harrowing of hell,’ it is sometimes called. This doctrine is stated in the creeds–”He descended into hell”–and depicted in icons. Many Protestants dispute or downplay it because of the ambiguity of the scriptural texts. But whether Christ “recaptures” captives (see Eph 4:7-10) or simply proclaims the victory of the cross, some momentous event in the grand drama of God’s redemption takes place on this holy sabbath. Christ’s redemptive power plumbs the darkest depths before ascending to the brightest heighs. Holy Saturday recognizes this wondrous mystery and invites us, quietly, to enter it.”
-Bobby Gross, Living the Christian Year (182)
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord,
On Holy Saturday, I walk up the hill to the cemetery and I meet old Fr. Gall walking stiffly toward me, dressed in a black suit, a narrow, European cut decades out of fashion. He twirls his walking stick and says, brightly, “Ah, you have come to visit those who are in heaven? You have come to seek the living among the dead!” The air is full of the anticipation of snow, a howling wind. Words will not let me be: In cold and silence you are born, from the womb of earth, the cloud of snow yet to fall. And from somewhere in the liturgy: What has been prepared for me?
From The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris (181)
“In the end, no white light shines out from the wounds of Christ to bathe me in His glory. Faith is a choice like any other. If you’re picking a career or a husband–or deciding whether to have a baby–there are feelings and reasons pro and con out the wazzoo. But thinking it through is–at the final hour–horse dookey. You can only try it out. Not choosing baptism would make me feel half-assed somehow, like a dilettante–scared to commit to praising a force I do feel is divine–a reluctance grown from pride or because the mysteries are too unfathomable.
In the back of a dark church on Holy Saturday, I sit between Dev and Toby. In the pews, everybody holds an unlit candle, and the priest comes in with the altar’s mega-candle. Stopping at the back row, he touches its taper to the charred filament on either side of the aisle. The flame’s passed one to another until we’re all holding fire in our hands.”
From Lit by Mary Karr, HarperCollins, 2010 (351)