Cibola 107

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 106 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (6) (conclusion)

Well, no sense
in testing the patience of my guides
any further. I don’t know
at what distance the Act
would lose its efficacy: from this
promontory I ought to be able
to establish the crown’s claim to all
the souls in three directions.

This looks like a good spot for a cross, plenty
of oblong rocks to pile up. Odd,
though, how some look almost
like animals, six-knobbed–
like this gray-green stone
in my hand: a carver’s
discarded blank, I guess.
I turn it over

& over. These tensed limbs,
if that’s what they are, the low-
slung head & suggestion of a tail
put me in mind
of something swift & strong.
It slips easily
into my lambskin wallet:
a memento to cheer me on the long
road back.

I want to keep this clarity as long as I live.

the Act: I.e., the Act of Possession. See here.

some look almost like animals: the Zuni regard their famed fetish stones more as found objects than works of art; their unfinished appearance is partly what identifies them as raw beings. They are believed to have once been living animals, turned to stone by bolts of lightning from the twin war gods in order to prevent them from ravaging human beings, and to give hunters access to their superior predatory power.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Other cults taught enthusiasm, the possession of a soul by a god. What seems to be original in Orphism is that it interpreted this sudden alteration, this rapture, as an excursion from the body, as a voyage in the other world, rather than as a visitation or a possession. Ecstasy is now seen as manifesting the true nature of the soul, which daily existence hides.
– Paul Ricouer, The Symbolism of Evil (Beacon Press, 1967)

I’ve been reminded recently of a number of notions of Buddhist “pessimism,” & I think the root of all of them is missing an assumption we make: that when you remove the suffering and confusion, what you are left with is bliss. There’s no need to cultivate it or go anywhere to find it. So the process of achieving paradise is an entirely negative one. Delight is the spiritual default.
– Dale

Judaism is not about chasing the next great aesthetic high. It’s not about just having feel-good experiences where the sky opens up and you feel all, like, connected and spiritual. I’ve had them, lots of them, some really big ones. They’re fun. But they are not the point. The point is staying focused and present and connected to God in all the small moments, the hard moments, the drudge moments.
– Jerusalem Syndrome (via Velveteen Rabbi)

The candle is not there to illuminate itself.
– Nawab Jan-Fishan Khan (quoted by Idries Shah in The Way of the Sufi, Dutton, 1970)

Cibola 106

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 105 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (6) (cont’d)

Beyond this bluff they say we’ll get
a view. There

on the plain. Fields
already green, a distant river glinting . . .

See how that hill rears up
like the hull of a capsized galleon!

And floating in its lee, the long-
sought citadel.
From here it looks like four, five,
six–yes, seven layers
mounting up like clouds
swollen with rain,
shot through with light.

I’ve never seen such an absolutely clear,
such a clean air
as this! And it smells
so sweet, simply to breathe
could require a hundred Hail Marys
in penance. It makes
the city seem close, as if I could stretch
out a hand & pinch between finger
& thumb those ant-like figures
swarming up & down the walls–
Lord forgive me.

Was Mexico in its heyday ever
so salubrious, so full of industry?
St. Francis, I give this whole land
thy holy name. Perhaps
through its power these people
can be tempered
like the wolf of Gubbio.
God willing, thy mendicants
can come to all these principalities
& bring them under the gentle
yoke of Christ. Can instruct them
in the holy days & fast days,
the Sabbath, the communion.
Give them better
tools & crops, perhaps
even sheep . . .

Though they may be less
in need of correction than most.
Who can blame them for being hostile?
The Spanish have been in New Spain
for twenty years, they must’ve
heard something.

No doubt the Negro was simply
too bold, too wild. Too free
with the fair sex–though of course
no conquistador. And as much
as he claimed to cure
through faith, he sure
made a show of his prowess
with pagan rattles. It’s not
for me to judge, of course–
& Scripture shows
God sometimes
loves a scoundrel . . .

it smells so sweet: Thanks to the recent thunderstorm. “I don’t know how a person could ever describe that scent. It certainly wasn’t sour, but it wasn’t sweet, either, not like a flower… To my mind it was like nothing so much as a wonderfully clean, scrubbed pine floor.” – Barabara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees

like the wolf of Gubbio: According to legend, St. Francis once tamed a wolf that had been preying on livestock and people around the Italian city of Gubbio, negotiating a peace deal whereby the wolf ceased all predation in return for regular feeding by people.

Via negativa and the road to hell

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Inside the exclosure, a bed of wildflowers. Outside: the deer park. Well-intentioned nature-lovers and humanists of the 19th century won government support for the elimination of all large carnivores from Penn’s Woods.

1. In time, any paradise would grow cloying; one would long for the imperfect and the unpredictable.

2. But paradise by definition is a place uniquely capable of satisfying desire. If it were imperfection and unpredictability the mind craved, it would find them there.

3. Then how does paradise differ from the present world? Solely in the incommensurability between desire and its realization. If only one could learn to learn to desire whatever time and chance send, one would find a paradise in the present.

4. But for that to happen, something would have to change in the way one desires. It could no longer consist of longing for something else, something beyond or outside the present moment.

5. How do we know that the category “desire” is as singular as human languages suggest? A craving for food is very different from a craving for sex, for truth, for music, for possessions, for an addictive drug, for excitement, for the sublime, and so forth. Paradises begin to multiply faster than fruit flies.

6. A whole family of related desires aims at something short of paradise, as traditionally conceived: comfort, security, tranquility. These cannot be trivial, since they seem to be the focus of a great deal of church- and temple-going.

7. “As traditionally conceived”: etymologically, a walled garden. And intrinsic to the idea of paradise, heaven, Buddha-realm, etc. is the notion that it has limits. It cannot be universal. Any attempt to make it so presumes the destruction of the present universe and everything in it. If history teaches anything, it is this: hell hath no fury like a utopian scorned.

8. Augustine thought that the chief joy of souls in heaven would consist in the contemplation of the suffering of the damned below, in hell. From the extremism of his youthful Manichaean beliefs, according to which spirit and matter, saintliness and sinfulness have absolutely nothing in common, he grew to see these things as in some measure symbiotic.

9. Without the possibility of evil, how can the good be good? If one fails to commit evil acts simply because the option is unavailable, how could any action be considered good? Those who long for a universe in which evil would be impossible, and those who fault Whomever for allowing evil to persist: aren’t they simply longing for totalitarianism?

10. Unlimited perfection is a logical impossibility, because for something to be understood as perfect, it must be commensurate with the limited human imagination. No matter how intricate and well working, a machine lacks soul: which is to say, the ability to transcend and defy its apparent purpose. A perfect world, as we understand such a thing, would be devoid of life.

11. At this point, the maze of arguments begins to seem endless. It seems to me that the harder one tries to find a solution that satisfies all cases, the more blind alleys one wanders into. That’s because the very premise of the search is flawed. If life is not machine-like, then it cannot have any comprehensible purpose or meaning.

12. But to stop there and declare that life is meaningless is equally foolish, because it simply reinforces attachment to the feeling that things should have easily comprehensible purposes. Life transcends all considerations of meaning or non-meaning. I could state that existence is inherently mysterious, but at this point, all essentialist statements begin to seem vacuous. Paradox is the only way forward – if forward is indeed where we want to go.

13. This fundamental capacity of nature to elude our grasp is precisely what makes this seemingly archaic notion of paradise or heaven so attractive to me: heaven not as an afterlife destination, but as something basically “at hand,” as Yeshua ben Yosef preached.

14. “Hell is other people,” said Sartre. But suppose one gives oneself up: not as a surrender, but as a conscious gift. This is the bodhisattva’s vow, to forestall one’s own transcendence until all sentient beings have achieved similar transcendence. “For the love of God,” Meister Eckhart advised, “get rid of God.”

15. Paradise is others. Paradise is the world in the midst of creation, which is on-going. The sabbath is not-yet.

16. Only hell is self-sufficient and bounded by walls that cannot be breached: the autonomous ego writ large. To those who inhabit it, it looks very much like paradise. It is safe and tranquil and every bad deed is punished, every good deed rewarded. All hearts beat as one, burning in the fires of unquenchable desire.

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There are no limits to this life.
The cup can be brimming over with pain
but there are always more chalices.

Don’t speak to me of soil when you mean shit.
Don’t exalt sacrifice
in the slaughterhouse.
Speak the truth if you can:
that the gods draw their strength
from the dead alone–like mushrooms,
like mold, like the must
that turns water to wine.

Listen you lovers of youth, an augury
Apollo would have me suppress:
Know others as thyself
if you crave ambrosia.

I leave you
intimate communion
with every breath.

Cibola 105

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 104 of 119 in the series Cibola


Marcos (6)

Spirit, guide me now,
direct my steps.
Out of the thirty elders who joined us
for the last leg of the trip–crossing
this high despoblado lousy
with lightning-scarred little trees
tortured by the wind–
only two have stayed with me.
They scarcely bother to hide
their disgust.
As if I, from a week’s
journey away, could’ve saved
their townsmen from the Cibolans’
clubs & arrows!
Every time I move my lips in prayer
I get black looks. Good thing
that thunderstorm hit when it did,
the downpour turning the embers
of rage to melancholy.

If I die short of completing this mission
& submitting a final report, no matter.
Others will come & see
what I’ve seen–a mission field
fertile beyond belief. I know
my Redeemer liveth . . .

But these poor Indians
so many hundreds of leagues
from their homes–& so far,
yet, from the blessed
assurance of heaven–I can’t
abandon myself to God
while their souls still need my guidance.
Faithful beyond any I’ve
missionized among, these Sonorans.

And when Coronado comes,
he won’t be merciful
if I’m not alive
to stay his hand: so even
these other Indians, little though
they know it, need me,
a living dog.

when Coronado comes: Marcos will in fact accompany the Coronado expedition to Cibola the following year, and will suffer humiliation and ostracism when “Cibola” turns out to hold no treasures whatsoever, contrary to his glowing report. He will, however, help to prevent Coronado from wreaking vengeance on the Ashiwi for their initial resistance to conquest.

a living dog: “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.” Ecclesiastes 9:4.