Friday, April 20, 2007

As beautiful as the names of goddesses

A few line from a poem of Erica Funkhouser:
Still, my father taught us to worship facts.
The very words cotyledon and feldspar were enough
to bring him to his feet with praise.
He found them as beautiful as the names of goddesses...
My own father had a reverence for facts -- stark facts, simple facts. They did not have to mean anything or be part of some big beautiful theory. They just had to have a firmness, like a tool that one could hold in the hand, a hammer, perhaps, with which to knock some sense into the world. He loved facts that he could plot on tissue-paper-thin K&E graph paper, see the rise and fall of neatly penciled lines. With his precise hand he labeled each data point with a name. I never heard him utter an abstraction. He liked words that were attached to things.

Meanwhile, in church and parochial school we were learning litanies, long devotional lists of essentially meaningless words:
Mirror of justice, pray for us.
Seat of wisdom, pray for us.
Cause of our joy, pray for us.
Spiritual vessel, pray for us.
Vessel of honor, pray for us.
Singular vessel of devotion, pray for us.
Mystical rose, pray for us.
Tower of David, pray for us.
Tower of ivory, pray for us.
House of gold, pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Morning star, pray for us
I still say litanies, but now the words are attached to things -- things that beat and breathe and weave and wave and splash and have weight in the hand -- and for that I thank my father. How about a dragonfly litany?
River jewelwing, pray for us.
Smoky rubyspot, pray for us.
Aurora damsel, pray for us.
Powdered dancer, pray for us.
Fawn darner, pray for us.
Flame skimmer, pray for us.
Little blue dragonlet, pray for us.
Calico pennant, pray for us.
Etc.
Amen.