POEM: For the Antinoopolitan Lovers

Brothers, they said, these men must be brothers,
they said of two men standing so close together,
together in life, together in death, brothers, though
they look nothing alike, except they’re both men,
brothers, surely, with their arms around each other,
at least comrades in arms, devoted friends,
like Gilgamesh and Enkidu, or Holmes and Watson,
or Kirk and Spock, or Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes.


In the city of Antinoopolis, perhaps this was
not brotherhood but friendship; perhaps friendship
is love; perhaps love belongs to men with men
and women with women as well as women with men,
perhaps Eros blesses all bonds of love and friendship,
perhaps two people could stand up with dignity and say,
We are friends, we are lovers, we are partners,
we have chosen one another, and people do stand up,
people say this, people are living this way
in the Antinoopolis we are building, today,
in our words, our lives, our hearts.


In honor of John Donne

Donne is a saint in the Anglican tradition, not a Sanctus of Antinous, but he is always going to be a revered ancestor for me. I was introduced to his poetry when I was fourteen and a precocious early college student, and his blend of wit, eroticism, spirituality, and angst made perfect sense to me even then. Today is the date of his death, so I’m going to share one of my favorite of his poems, one of the Holy Sonnets.

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Feast of St. Aelred of Rievaulx

Lentz, AelredPour into our hearts, O God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love, that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant Aelred draw many to your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

POEM: Nineteenth-Century Reality TV, or, a Rose for the Little Flower

Your sisters sat around and watched you suffer,
writing down the words you gasped in pain
like the seven last words of Jesus (culled
from four different sources). You pulled
the petals off flowers and threw them
to Jesus, to the faces of saints you loved.
Their faces are forgotten now, but yours
was captured forever, the first saint to bless
the technology of photography. I push aside
the plaster statues, the colored and retouched
images, the photoshopping of your day,
and look into those photographs. Cool, calm,
challenging, and stubborn, you gaze out
in black and white, and I know there are thorns
in the roses you are so sweetly holding.
Even the roses of heaven, you seem to say,
are set with thorns, for that is the nature of roses.
Yet they are so beautiful, so fragrant, that one cannot
help but approach them, even if the thorns
are many, and make the fingers bleed. Send me
a rose from the heavenly garden, says the
old prayer, as a message of love: Send me
the blood-red flower that will intoxicate me
with its odor and make me suffer with its thorns,
O Little Flower of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

Two wallets, a prayer book, and some photographs

I don’t like being called “Generation X”. Most people who were born between 1966 and 1976 probably had parents who were born during World War Two, parents who listened to rock ‘n’ roll, moms who had jobs outside the home. I was born at the very beginning of that period, in January 1966, to parents who were born in the 1920s, married in the ’40s, and had their first child in 1955. I think of myself as the Schoolhouse Rock Generation. Remember Schoolhouse Rock, those little animated shorts in between the commercials on Saturday mornings? “I’m Just A Bill”? I know you know the words to “Conjunction Junction”.

I’m the late-life child of Greatest Generation parents. My Aunt Margaret, whom I think I have mentioned here, was actually my great-aunt, born around 1918; her brother, my grandfather, was born in the 19th century, as was my grandmother, his wife, Mom. I joke sometimes to fellow fans of the Marvel Captain America movies that my parents knew Steve Rogers; the music of my childhood, the music my parents played, was Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, the glory of the big band era.

On my shrine right now, I have a photograph of my grandmother. She’s wearing a pearl necklace and earrings and a black feather boa. I remember that this shot was taken at her hairdresser’s, or the beauty parlor, as we called it then. (She had a standing appointment every Wednesday.) The jewelry was lent for the photo; what looks like a black dress trimmed with feathers was a swatch of black fabric thrown over her breast and a boa, carefully arranged. She was around eighty years old at the time.

Next to that is a photograph from my older sister’s first wedding, around 1973. Mom stands tall and dignified beside a shorter woman wearing a lace chapel cap: The groom’s grandmother, a first-generation Polish immigrant whose English was still poor. Everyone called her “Boosha”. I remember talking to her a bit at the reception and liking her although she was hard to understand. I’m not sure anyone didn’t like Boosha.

In the same frame, there is a Polaroid of my Aunt Margaret. She is sitting, as she always did, on a small wooden chair, and leaning forward to pet our dog, Pippin, who is leaning against her legs with his head nearly in his lap. Born with one hip out of the socket, Aunt Margaret plodded through life with a steel brace on one leg and a cane in her hand. This did not prevent her from marrying, divorcing, holding down a job, living on her own, and travelling. I have other photographs where she and Mom and Pop (my grandfather) are in New York; she told me proudly that she had seen Robert Preston on Broadway in The Music Man. There’s a photo I treasure from a nightclub they visited: I realized one day, looking closely at the line of chorus girls onstage, that they were all men. My grandparents and my great-aunt went to a drag club.

On the table before the photographs there are two wallets and a small black book. The black wallet belonged to my father and contains his driver’s license and my mother’s, along with other cards that were in it at the time of his death. The monogrammed aqua blue wallet was Mom’s. Amongst her cards there is a newspaper clipping giving the date of Opening Day for our local baseball team.

The prayer book is a very old-fashioned Roman Catholic book of private devotions, with dreadful artwork. I am pretty sure it belonged to my grandfather, who was German. On top of it sits a tiny crystal skull.

Like a lot of polytheists, I consider ancestor worship to be a proper part of my religion. I honor the dead: My own family, known and unknown; those who are spiritual or creative ancestors for me, such as the sancti of the Ekklesia, some Christian saints, and famous writers and musicians; and on some occasions, the dead in general, or a specific category of them. I honor soldiers who died in war, even though there is no one close to me who died that way; I honor transgender folks who were murdered, in reparation for the manner of their deaths.

In all honesty, I have never had any kind of contact with my family dead, unless you count dreaming of them. In my dreams I sometimes still live with my dad in my childhood home, or with Aunt Margaret, who lived around the corner from us and ate dinner with us every night, or I travel with Mom the way we used to when I was a kid. But I’ve never experienced any kind of presence, and I’m not sure I need to. I have a general sense that they care, but they were Methodists in life and a bit confused by being prayed at.

I have, in the past, had contact with someone who was a very ancient ancestress of mine and possibly also myself in a former life, if that makes sense. I have not sought her out for some time, and I’m not sure what the status of my relationship with her is. I have not felt any drive to communicate with her, nor any lack in not doing so. I think that while I will always honor the dead, and the spirits, as well, my most important cultus is going to be for the gods.

But those photographs are staying on or near my shrine, whatever form it takes, along with a wallet containing two expired driver’s licenses, and another containing a newspaper clipping that’s thirty years out of date, and a prayer book for a religion I never practiced. And a tiny crystal skull.

Candles and incense

The Episcopal church I went to as a child was a small building with a small congregation, but it was irrepressibly High Church. We had the Eucharist every week, long before that became standard practice for Episcopalians, and we called it “Mass”, which is still a Roman Catholic designation. Our rector wore damask chasubles in green or purple, red or white with gold; we had a tiny chapel dedicated to Our Lady; we included a good deal of Gregorian chant in our services. As a child, I was fascinated and awed by the space inside the communion rail, where Father celebrated the Mass. We had the consecrated Bread, the Blessed Sacrament, kept in a tabernacle on the altar, which required everyone to genuflect when we passed in front of it. I attribute the crap condition of my knees today at least partially to a devout High Anglican childhood.

It wasn’t lost on me even as a kid that while only Father went into that special sacred space right in front of the altar and its tabernacle and celebrated the Mass, the altar guild ladies routinely went there every Saturday to clean and prepare for the Sunday liturgy. I saw them on Saturdays in Lent when I went round to church for Stations of the Cross. I think those Saturday morning Stations were held mainly for the benefit of the elderly ladies who didn’t want to be out late on Wednesday evenings, when our main Lenten services were held, but they attracted a small group of kids, too. Except for me, most of those kids had grandmothers in the altar guild, but it was actually a social thing for us, and a religious thing, too. We liked our Stations of the Cross.

Nowadays you couldn’t get me to sit through a service of Stations, let alone stand or walk in procession and genuflect when you’re supposed to. But I have never lost my feeling for having sacred space. What a sacred space looks and feels like, for me, has a lot more to do with my childhood church than with casting a circle. You must light candles. You must burn incense. You must have images of sacred things and prayers that you say regularly before those images.

Having a shrine to the holy powers in my home was not an idea I learned from paganism. I did it spontaneously as a teenager, without any particular example of it in my tradition. I had a statue of Kuan Yin doubling as the Virgin Mary, a plain cross, a candle to light. I sat in bed and said the Daily Office morning and evening facing that very simple shrine. It was not a hard transition from icons of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints to print-outs of pictures of Antinoan statues, and images of gods and ancestors.

My shrine occupies the mantel of the fireplace in my apartment and the far end of my dining table, which is lined up underneath the mantel. It includes, among other things, a thangka of the Medicine Buddha, holy cards of Jesus and Julian of Norwich, several buddha statues, the six-pointed star symbol of the Tetrad++, and a triptych of Antinous that I made myself with my dormant art skills, such as they are. On the lower level are pictures of my grandmother and great-aunt, rocks, feathers, and seashells, my lararium plaque, a blue scarab from the museum store. Here I light candles, burn incense, say prayers, and make offerings of milk, water, wine, hot tea, and food. Sometimes I light a candle before Antinous and let it burn through the night, so that if I wake up, I see his face illuminated and remember his presence.

A poem for Julian

Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich. Although she was never canonized by Rome, Anglican churches around the world revere her as a saint and celebrate her on this date–not the day of her death, as is usual for Christian saints, but the day on which, after a week of severe illness, she received the revelations which became the basis of her book.

I originally wrote this poem in 1999, when I was an Associate of the Order of Julian of Norwich, a monastic order of men and women in the Episcopal Church, USA.

The Last Revelation of Julian of Norwich

And he showed me a little thing, a book,
scarce larger than the span of my hand,
and it was all I had writ.
My great book of his Showings,
wrote by me with so much labour,
lo, it was gone, as if it had never been.
And our Lord said,
Fret not, for I shall put you away like wine;
I shall hide you in my cellar; I shall keep you
even until last, until your even-Christians
be never so thirsty. And then
I will pour you out, I will crack open
the little hazelnut, and many shall drink
from your book, a multitude shall feast
on the meat of the nut. Wilt thou wait?
Yea, Lord, said I,
if such be thy will, then will I wait,
and all be well.

And I closed my eyes, which had gazed so long
on his blessed image, and stepped through
his wounded side into paradise.