Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Angel Gabriel in Miami

It is the time of year where many college English teachers will be able to relate to this aspect of my life:  so much grading to do, so little time.

It's also the time of year when various writers are announcing which works of theirs have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.  I do not have this kind of good news to share.

In fact, I've only had a poem nominated once.  It was for a poem that fits well with this time of the year, in that it's about the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel, updated for our time.

So, let me revisit this process.  It gives me happiness to think about how I came to write this poem.

On a Monday in January of 2015, on Facebook, I saw this image of the Annunciation--what a neat woodcut (linoleum cut, I would find out later):

I went to Beth's site for a fascinating post--with more pictures of the process!--of how she came to create this image.  It was a good reminder that even though a creative project may not come together right away, it doesn't mean we're done with it or it with us.

Later in the morning, a different Facebook friend posted this image, to which she credits L Wallnau:

I thought of the angel Gabriel yet again.  I thought of invitations because my friend wrote this:

Some called to dress the bride
Others to prepare her
while a small company sent out with invitations

I thought of Gabriel as an engraved invitation.  I thought of what it would take to get our attention these days.  Angel choirs might get our attention, if we could hear them.  I think of students on Monday who walked right past me while I asked, "Do you have your schedule?  Check in here please"--their ear buds prevented awareness of all sorts.

Would we follow a star?  Would we study the skies long enough to realize that a new star had appeared?

Yes, I've tilled this ground before--and last night, when I tried to write a poem inspired by these images, I wrote a passable poem, but nothing special.  Still, it's a poem.

I wrote it as I waited in the Registrar's office for students to come pick up schedules or hold sheets.  One of my colleagues saw me in yet a different place and asked, "How many hats are you wearing these days?"  Lots of hats.  Would I rather be wearing a beautiful gown?

Ah, but I am a sturdy sort, running up and down the stairs, trying to help solve a wide variety of problems:  sort of like this image, but not really:

I would need a sturdy gown.  Can one have sturdiness along with swirls?

Suddenly this morning, I had an idea for a poem that might be different:  the angel Gabriel roams a college campus.  But it's not a bucolic campus--no it's a commuter school, people cramming in classes after work, or before working the graveyard shift.  The annunciation, but the Mary figure isn't the traditional beauty--no, she's tired beyond belief, and she can't believe that God would choose her.  Why not go to Harvard to choose a better mother candidate?  Go haunt the halls of privilege!

Of course, my favorite Bible stories show us time and time again that God appears in the midst of the poor and powerless, far from the halls of power and privilege.  But will we have ears and eyes to hear?

I would wrestle with that poem again and again.  And finally, it became this poem, which appeared in the book Annunciation, which led to the nomination for the Pushcart Prize.

A Girl More Worthy

The angel Gabriel rolls his eyes
at his latest assignment:
a virgin in Miami?
Can such a creature exist?

He goes to the beaches, the design
districts, the glittering buildings
at every boundary.
Just to cover all bases, he checks
the churches but finds no
vessels for the holy inside.

He thinks he’s found her in the developer’s
office, when she offers him coffee, a kind
smile, and a square of cake. But then she instructs
him in how to trick the regulatory
authorities, how to make his income and assets
seem bigger so that he can qualify
for a huge mortgage that he can never repay.

On his way out of town, he thinks he spies
John the Baptist under the Interstate
flyway that takes tourists
to the shore. But so many mutter
about broods of vipers and lost
generations that it’s hard to tell
the prophet from the grump,
the lunatic from the T.V. commentator.

Finally, at the commuter college,
that cradle of the community,
he finds her. He no longer hails
moderns with the standard angel
greetings. Unlike the ancients,
they are not afraid, or perhaps, their fears
are just so different now.

The angel Gabriel says a silent benediction
and then outlines God’s plan.
Mary wonders why Gabriel didn’t go
to Harvard where he might find
a girl more worthy. What has she done
to find God’s favor?

She has submitted
to many a will greater than her own.
Despite a lifetime’s experience
of closed doors and the word no,
she says yes.

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