Our Paradise Lost
Poet Rodger Martin of the faculty at Narragansett Regional High School and Keane State College has been invited by the Chapel Art Center of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. to collaborate with visual artist Adrienne La Vallee to create an installation piece entitled ” Our Paradise Lost.”
The work opened with a reception as part of the faculty exhibit on Thursday, November 6, 1997, from 6 – 9 p.m. in the gallery of the Chapel Art Center.
The work includes poetry, painting, and sculpture that links parallels between the European cultural shock from discovering the new world in the sixteenth century to the American cultural shock of the new worlds discovered as we enter the 21st century.
Sample lines from “Olmec”:
….Eagle corporate papa dogs, director-feathered,
board-room majestic preen in three-piece greed.
Their talons reach even here and turn to snakes
squeezing hearts through the mouths of billions.
Magic brokers, mighty achievers, (like Olmec, like Toltec,
like Mexica they strut before the altar of the bill…
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n
John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, 255-
Autumn’s the strange time. The flick of distant sun
angles dream over the leaf-stirred pond,
and though the sky is ancient blue my bone
age creeps and crawls. A good time to be
lonely, seize that lucid look before gold clamps
the digits and gangrene blackens my springfed eye.
With the dawn of each lesser day, a monk
whispers this dead news gently. The oak
wave their caution, and maple bark out stop,
but like the monk they cannot hide the gold,
so Eagle corporate papa dogs, director-feathered,
board-room majestic, preen in three-piece greed.
Their talons reach even here turning snakes
that squeeze hearts through the mouths of billions.
Magic brokers, mighty achievers, (like Olmec, like Toltec,
like Mexica) they strut before the altar of the bill
and lift toward the sun handfuls of dripping,
beating wealth and bleed themselves horny
while rock-frenzied crowds suck up this fraud
then mosh out the dregs at the foot of this temple.
For me there has come a time of choice,
a final, sole great hour of sharing
like the insistent ring of the phone
or incessant drone of the screen.
Will I reach for the potter’s mug–
a brace of steaming chocolate, palms cupped
about its heat brought slowly to the lips,
sipped, savored then pressed against
a cheek and ignore The New Yorker’s voice:
“Put down” or “Wait for a time of eclipse”?
Or will I come like Cortes in the blue,
thin-aired dawn? Crest a volcanic ridge,
see spread beneath like a bridal cake
a metropolis glisten and float on a lake,
its causeways spidering out empire and god?
Montezuma, supported on the arms of his lords
promising gold, promising silver. . . . And like
Cortes swollen inside his armor say, “I,
Smoking Mirror, Queztalcoatl, strangler of wives,
come from the East to fill this valley with fumes”?
Or will I note Malinche between– her redwood
dugout plying the water of words that separate
gods, this blue inversion of fact and faith? Her child hums
at her nipple. She knows nothing but the children
can be saved so weaves them into feathers
and songs that wrap us still and turn us
away from the glass and stainless steel
and the bullets which ricochet off platinum
in the finest vaults of our city, that mausoleum
of elevated boxes which shelter the brokered genteel.
A survivor must this chill and hung-over morning reel
from this conquest of Manhatten where Cortes swaggers
above the skyline. His helmet gleams in the ozone;
his breastplate mirrors sun, leather breeches taut
above the scrapers. He plants one boot
atop each Twin Tower and with a mailed fist
pushes forward a gold-encrusted cross. Behind him
a mounted officer prances, the flat of his sword
thwacking more conquistadores forward
to pile against the edge. With his other glove Cortes reaches
toward Montezuma tottering atop the lightning rod
of his empire like a Kong swatting flies until both tumble down
the scrapers of empires which cannot balance, neither can art,
that easy melt of chocolate– only pastel of words,
that woman, and her iridescent ruby throats: Their nectar,
the reds, the greens– the language of a garden. These dart
backward, frontward, naked as morning and glory,
cradle the plush pile of growing long, circle her flame,
suckle her milk, and ring out this bursting bell of story.
If Castilians go to heaven, I’d rather spend eternity in hell:
Hatuey, Cuban cacique when asked by a Spanish priest if he would
convert to christianity before his execution in 1511
Bartolome de Las Casas, Historia de las Indies
“As when by night the glass
of Galileo, less assured, observes
Imagined lands and regions in the moon.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost V, 261-263
“The comet,” reads the paper, “will have two tails–”
one of hydrogen, one of dirt; one will fall
toward the sun, one will point away. They say
its head will look like a fuzzy snow ball,
like Frosty Snowman grinning coal smiles
out of the absolute some ten million miles
from anything we say. But Frosty in tails?
Wouldn’t that look more like Clarabell the Clown?
Great shock of hair sprouted from each side of his crown,
seltzer bottle hidden till Buffalo Bob turns his back.
Some Howdy Doody– hairy stars extinguishing the dinosaur,
granting us night skies mostly white dots on black–
And tails? More like horns of brimstone or fire;
a skyshow of unavoidable choices, a Satanic track
here under the Dippers while the Ides of March expire.
Our scientists say this comet is ion gas and dirty ice,
bright as a quarter moon, able to cast shadow from space,
that in 10,000 years it will return just like today, precise
as an eclipse, regular as Halley, comfortable as Twain;
that omens, prophets, shit happens just like pain.
They believe that pi will not repeat like a stencil,
that galaxies are wrinkles on a universal sphere.
But in my fit of darkness, in the underplaces of my pencil,
in the shifts between one and zero, the suds of my beer,
Jesus, Mars, and Jupiter– I know I need something clear.
Prayer, Christmas Eve
O Magnum Mysterium shoulder me lightly
like a clear river carries an autumn leaf
away on a current of harmony, beyond
this concrete bridge of breath where brain
tracks the secrets in this flesh of dog
panting here before me with his three legs
and thumping tail. Too soon his lungs will fail.
Or over there, just beyond the road,
another’s child crushed between the wheel
and the accordian of her auto pressed to bark
of a green tree before gasoline lit all:
a searing ornament to father’s Joyful Season.
Or further down that road a mother, things that made her
cut– a vain attempt to purify for Holiday,
and so she comes to pass this evening
a bag of bones and tumor lying in a bed ,
and all her boy can do is drum this nativity away.
Pray? That she could run, like the dog in his dreams?
What can children do for their mother but live?
Or beneath the midnight star– raw earth silent
after the battle’s pageant– a shrapnel-clad soldier
lies in a crater. A medic kneels over him;
hands pressed against the sucking chest wound.
His eyes search for the angel of any medivac
to appear in the dark above and tally them both
to manger before their gifts change back into ground.
Only wander does wonders to relieve this beauty,
this annual obsession, this thrust to blackness.
Gracious God, arms reaching from beyond the nebula,
cradle me gently, small wren stunned by the window,
through this birth, this season so that I may again walk
the village green at Palgrave and pause by the stone
bench where grandfathers have celebrated solstice
for eight-hundred years and listen to an acapella choir
drift In Dulci Jubilati up the softening evening,
“… Oh that we were there. Oh that we were there.”
“Montezuma, O Nezahualcoyotl,
Thou who destroyest the land,
Angel Maria Garibay, La Poesia Lirica Azteca, 39