Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Basket Balls and Holy Bells: Emilie's Re-Poem-Port

Installment 1: A Re-poem-Port inspired by the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, Indiana

Imagine sitting in a huge vaulted marble room, bells, harp and organ slipping around the columns and over the pews like the black and grey seams passing through the white marble. The faith and the marble come from Italy. The hand cut wood pews, with their swirling vegetation come from Germany. An Amen and silence, except for the sound of 15 rubber basketballs reverberating through the crypt, shaking down the silk knee-highs of a little old nun at the noon day prayer. “We would be praying and you’d hear all these balls bouncing.” A high school for girls was located in the crypt below the church. The basketball court was inserted in 4 sections between the stone ground in 8’ sections of 2” shiny wooded floorboards. The black game circles were worn through by the rubber tennis shoes. The girls are gone.

I particularly loved the way the crypt recorded time. The walls were thick at the bottom of the basilica to bare the weight of this religion. Huge cave windows of smooth plaster were cut into the walls, portals into the day and the changing light. The daylight revealed a stratum of memory, first the crypt was a storage space for holy relics, then a basketball court and theater, then a chapel, while the church was being restored, then an art gallery…soon I think a burial ground.

Kate and I frequent gas stations these days. Gas stations are good place to wake up, drink coffee, watch the birds play games on the telephone wires, get directions to places we’ve never been. I love the bright colors, particular the two shades of green used for the BP logo. Gas stations produce allot of disposable energy like candy wrappers, gasoline and Styrofoam cups. We’ve been to stations in Virginia, Kentucky, Indian, Illinois and Missouri. Are these florescent oasis’s non-places? They don’t record memories like the crypt in the church of St. Benedict. They will be bulldozed and flattened, bulldozed and flattened—leaving behind a soda can, trash or artifact? I wonder if people become streamlined like gas stations, hotels, highways, sub-divisions.

We sat in the church during the noon day prayer. All I could hear was the fountain between the almost whispered choruses of nuns chanting the psalms. The sound of a fountain, cool and contained added to the mellow drone. I saw hundreds of rows of pearly white and gold teeth opening and closing. Do not let the enemy in. The wind is blowing, shut all your doors!—open your heart to God…

I was imagining the way the church looked before it was restored in 2005. The Nave peaked in a spine of parachuting canvas and lopsided boards blooming into an upside down forest of horse hair. We would be sitting beneath the great underbelly of a wooly mammoth. I remembered…

…a walk with Will through Gaudi’s still unfinished la Sagrada Familia. The columns like thick milk thistle holding up the sky, creating a space of buoyancy somewhere between gravity and weightlessness. We played hide and seek in this massive fossil, but never found each other because we were always looking up. Later that night, we stumbled down a paved stone alley into a church that held the sound of the wind like a conque shell. Thousands of porticoes, some with wrought iron gates, were flickering little movies. Paintings of weeping women and dying men were glowing above mounds of smoldering red candles. I reached my hand into the smoke, dropping a coin, and lighting a wick for Papa. My grandfather was shipwrecked, on a raft for 48 days. Each day, he lay in the sun and salt eating chocolate, until it ran out. He ate condensed milk, until it ran out. He ate his own daydreams and then he was found. I am looking for milk thistle; it is supposed to remedy the gallbladder.

Kate and I are on our bicycles. We need to make it to Kansas City by Saturday at 2pm for the unveiling of a clay head that looks like my papa--Nathan Stark. Busts have gone out of fashion. It will be strange to look into this new face, especially because my grandfather was always a good four feet taller than me. Yes, it will be strange to look directly into his eyes, a head on top of a pedestal.

The hill was steep. The rain was unrelenting. Agnes Maria Dauby, Assistant director of Vocation Ministries led us through arcades, halls and courtyards to the Monastery’s Swap shop a small room filled with neat rows of pastel shirts, underwear, bras and slacks. Everything was soft and dry. We were quickly transformed and spent the next hour chatting over hot chocolate and glazed cinnamon cake.

“I don’t see how people can make it through life without God.” She was wearing a flower button down blouse. “My parents installed the faith in us.” Agnes Maria’s father worked at an army ammunition plant, driving a forklift. Her mom worked at a plastic factory where they made canisters for bubbles. I’m Imagining a whole factory filled with rotating gears, boiling plastic, and billions of bubbles. She grew up in a house, whose walls were covered in holy pictures. My grandmother on my Dad’s side had a hologram of Jesus’ face outside the bathroom. You’d look at your own face in the mirror, and then open the door and see Jesus. Depending on your point of view sometimes he had a halo and sometimes he had a crown of thorns and blood drops.

A nun in a sparkly gold top gave us a tour of the church. I can’t remember her name. I am trying to remember all the names of the people we have met on this journey. The one that sticks with me right now is AriAnA. She is nine and an expert lemonade entrepreneur. We didn’t actually meet. Her father told us about how he loved her name. “It has three A’s! When you right it out, the A’s become the mountain peaks. You can draw clouds swirling around the peaks.” Kate drew the clouds. We left the drawing on the kitchen counter in a town we might never see again.

Into Missouri and Kate's First Sermon:

Who would have thought that there's a two-hundred and twenty-five mile bike trail running through the middle of America? It's called the Katy Trail, and runs east-west through Missouri along what used to be railroad tracks. There is a freckling of little towns along the Katy trail, most of which seem in varying states of decrepitude and historification. Many were first river towns before a major flood re-routed the Missouri and the railroad came in giving new life to these majestic rural communities. The railroad service stopped in this area in 1986, plans for the trail began shortly after.

On our first day in Missouri we rode west into the headwinds that nearly stopped us in our tracks. The day before on our way to meet our lunch-date at the Lone-Star Steak House, (these men had seen us two days in a row in two different towns and asked us out for lunch West of where we saw them,) we had timed ourselves at 19 mph, but this wind brought us back to maybe 5 mph. We hadn't had breakfast and were expecting an easy 15 mile ride before meeting the head of the trail, but an easy 15 miles turned into a blusterily-tedious 30-plus miles before breakfast. By the time we got to St. Charles we were exhausted and hungry. We ate a full meal, took a nap, played music on the grass and had cannoli and espresso at a little Sicilian bakery in St. Charles before jumping on the trail. We rode beside the river for a while before snaking into a canopy of black walnut, burr oak and long, sturdy vines draping over the limbs of smaller trees. The ride was a nice change from the highways that had brought us from Louisville to the outskirts of St. Louis.

We have been riding since Evansville, IN with a broken camera. We got rained on and somehow, despite the Ziploc bags, it got wet. So bear with our wordy posts while we search for a replacement.

Every place we've been since Virginia the rivers have been low, algae ridden or totally dry, and the city water as a result tastes like algae or sulfur. We met a real nice guy, Dion Peek, who let us sleep in his antique shop, all creaky and dusty and incredibly comfortable, rode a bit the next morning to find breakfast and were turned away from the only place open in town. Stopped outside of a house with a sign that said "Think Peace" to adjust Emilie's tire, and were offered a breakfast of homegrown eggs and whole grain toast. Mmmm. (We'll talk more about that in the Think Peace post). A little later we got our fifth flat tire of the trip and met some nice people who took our picture, and convinced us to spend the night in Herman where we celebrated our almost half-way across the USA, over a glass of wine and some Schnitzel.

Not in Missouri, at least not along the Katy Trail, but everywhere before it seems like people like to burn their trash as much as they like to make biscuits. Seems like every ten miles I smell one or the other, biscuits, trash, biscuits...

Being on the road you have a lot of time to think. I would say that more than anything I think about my country. I think about how dissatisfied I am with the connection between people and their government, and how I want to see that change. The people of this country are as good and generous and kind as it gets, but the government of this country is as aggressive and power-hungry as it gets. I am riding along through this fantastic landscape and thinking to myself, what happened? When did America become a power-hungry, fear infested nation? When did CEO's and the Military become the leaders of our nation? Why has privatization been allowed to transform this generous nation into a wealth-building corporation? We can look back at the transformation- the rape of the land and native people, the settlement of Europeans and the development of Democracy- a great idea with bloody hands shaking guiltless at the signings- the unbridled development of capitalism, the creation of American billionaires and the eventual change. It's quite clear how our country has come to a place of paranoid preemptive terrorism. But we stand at an intersection with two clear paths before us. We can continue, as citizens of this nation, to let the machine of destructive militarism to search and conquer until we are hated and feared by all the nations that were once our allies, or we can create change, massive restructuring of the goals of our government. We can stand-up and refuse this war-hungry administration. I personally accept that I have not done my part in the cause of peace. I have not gone to the marches on Washington, I have not written letters to the president. I have not put aside my personal desire for comfort and safety in order to stand up for what I know is absolutely right.

I want to make this world a less violent place. I want to make this country an admirable place again. It is important to vote. It's important to vote for what you BELIEVE in. We met a man in the bakery in Herman, MO who had fought in the Korean war. He was talking about the newspaper and the History Channel and how the History Channel tells the story as it actually happened, and the newspaper is just politics. He said he was ready for a Third Party. I think that I'm ready for the abolition of the party system. I'm ready to see people declassified, government for the people by the people. Officials who run for the ideas that they stand for, not for a Democratic or Republican modification of such. I'm sick of appeasement. Everyone so eager to please, to feed the cycle. I don't want to see the first woman president of the USA doing the same crooked shit that everyone before her has done. Enough with politics! Can we get our priorities straight? Our country is in a state of financial and spiritual crisis. We don't need God, and we don't need War and we don't need Propaganda and we don't need Credit. What we need is Community. We need each other. We need to restructure our resources. We need to keep our taxes in our homeland and stop paying people to kill other people in countries across the ocean.

In short...we need to stop our government from aggressive actions.
We need to follow our hearts and do what we FEEL is right.
We need to take responsibility for our Nation and the people who run it in our name.
We need to reclaim America and save it from the falls of empire.