The screen door screeches, a brass section tuning, the rockers form in an oblique brass section awaiting an audience for the symphony of Flannery’s world played to Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s lyrics and music.
I can think of no other case where a poet reflects the soul of another as you’ll find in this collection of verses. The poems collect themselves according to the Liturgy of the Hours, each capturing a snippet from O’Connor’s canon, letters, or talks. You’ll find that each verse also captures the uniqueness of that Hour’s devotion. The overplayed term “channeling” is shamed here by how well Professor Alaimo O’Donnell knows her subject. We read None, not in mid-afternoon as is appropriate, but earlier before Flannery would have finished her morning’s writing or was carted for lunch to The Sanford House.
Pilgrim Cathy and I are not researchers or even instructors any longer. We are only readers and admirers. I confess to being a fanboy. In my hero-worship, I forget that physically, Mary Flannery was flesh and blood, and both species were especially frail in her. Spiritually, she made no claim of being sanctified, speaking only her struggle. On hellish, humid Georgia afternoons after scribbling and a deep-fried lunch chased down with another round of medication, her resolve might wither against None’s heat. It must have been then that Flannery wrote those confessional letters that showed her only-human weaknesses. Scattered among the poems we read were admissions of the foolish pride of a crippled specimen, the viciousness of a cruel race, gluttony, overmatched mother-daughter tussling, vanity over beauty lost, sexual disappointment and revenge.
One poem that seemed most provocative was “Flannery’s Donkey.” It begins…
My Mama’s donkey would be a Catholic./
In this house there’s no other way to be./
Among the mid-afternoon None confessions, this poet paints the peccadillo of Regina’s burro. Ernest balks at the door of the Methodist church rather than participate in that congregation’s Nativity play. This poem, like the others from that Hour of the liturgy, is a diamond. Each prescribed fourteen shallow lines cut with facets that reveal layers of dimension. This one discloses the constancy toward dogma. Regina’s faith showered under baptismal endurance shines a dedication to practice in Ernest’s braying of the rosary and steadfastness in the face of insult– “dumb creature!” But since None is also the Hour of Flannery’s flagging strength, the poem warns of a failure of generosity toward fellow Christians. The Bravura Burro shows an unwillingness to take a bow.
Our Catholic ass just could not feign/
nor hide his scrupulous disdain./
Some say most blood and spittle is sprayed for religious zeal, although we could acknowledge that all are wars of acquisition or revenge. Racial commonalities aside, the Irish and Scot, Jew and Arab, Pakastani and Hindu savor their differences. Some faithful, fervent as Ernest, draw the pre-Ecumenical line on the threshold of their neighbor’s place of worship. Still, there was a time before Catholicism or any Christianity when beasts of burdens were more open-minded.
Another of my favorite poets is Gloria Fuertes. She wrote about a broken-down camel, servant of astrologers and necromancers, who carried a treasure of tribute to The Nativity Child not in a church but a stable. In Fuertes’ version the Child replies:
–I don’t want gold or incense/
or these expensive meaningless gifts,/
I want the camel, that’s what I want,/
I want the camel, the Child repeated/
(from Off the Map, edited and translated by Philip Levine and Ada Long)
Poor Ernest, for the Faith of His Fodder, he forsakes the greatest glory.
Many thanks to Georgia College and State University for its stewardship of Andalusia, to that institution’s Special Collections and faculty for the inspiration nurtured. Thanks also to those who read and treasure the work of Mary Flannery O’Connor. Finally, thanks to the foundations, collections, associations, publications, and institutions that promote her legacy. And thanks to the underappreciated, late Gloria Fuertes. Most of all, thanks to Dr. Angela Alaimo O’Donnell for crafting this wonderful book of poems and for permitting the “sampling” of her perfect phrases.
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