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Body Parts

October 28, 2011 by Reader's Connection

The official dates for this year´s Spirit & Place Festival are November 4th through November 13th, but there seems to be a program next Tuesday, November 1st, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The festival´s theme is “The Body,”and the IMA´s kick-off program, entitled “Dressing Indianapolis,” explores “the parallels and intersection between urban design and fashion design.” You can click on the Red Window to retrieve the schedule of events.

I’m busy reading works by those authors participating in the closing event. On Sunday, November 13th, after two weeks of bodily programs all over town, the theme will be visited in a Public Conversation at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, and Spirit & Place has gathered three fascinating guest participants: an undertaker, a basketball star (and coach), and the author of a bestselling novel involving the bodily practices of women featured (or unmentioned) in the book of Genesis.


Apparition & Late Fictions : A Novella and Stories

Apparition & Late Fictions : A Novella and StoriesPoet Thomas Lynch first came to my attention as the author of The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, a 1997 essay collection that dealt with his career as an undertaker in Milford, Michigan.

This first fiction collection (4 stories and a novella) appeared in 2010. Only one story features a funeral director, and only one features a casket salesman, but all five tales are shot through with the mystery that awaits us at life’s end. You can take the writer out of the funeral parlor, but you can’t take the mortality out of his writing.

Don’t panic and run, though. One story involves a sordid murder, but there’s a surprising sense of peace at another character’s passing; and another fellow’s spreading of his father’s ashes allows Lynch to give readers a wonderful sense of place, which is something you’ll find in all the stories. (The story set on Mackinac Island isn’t a Chamber of Commerce publication, but it still makes me want to get up there and stay in the Grand Hotel. Even if that’s a bad idea.)   


A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apache

A Season on the ReservationIn October of 1998, Ex-Los Angeles Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar drove to Arizona for a season and helped coach a team of Apache high schoolers. Even though I’m not a basketball fan or a basketball reader, I’m all hopped up about the Alchesay Falcons.

The Apaches on the reservation have a lot of problems and not much to celebrate, so the the Falcons are important to everyone. The reader may think that’s sad, or ridiculous. But when the team plays and the fans start cheering, this reader got caught up in the game. The cheering crowds seemed appropriate.

“Apache basketball” is fast-paced mayhem, a game all its own, and assistant coach Abdul-Jabbar wants to teach these kids some basics. I’m only halfway through the book, at the moment, and I don’t know if he ever succeeds in getting them to play as a team.                               


The Red Tent

The Red TentIn the book of Genesis, Jacob had twelve sons and one daughter, Dinah, who never had a tribe of Israel named after her, and whose supposed rape gave some of her brothers an excuse to execute a bloody revenge.

Novelist Anita Diamant allows Dinah to tell her own story, and the story of Jacob’s wives and sons. Much of the tale takes place in the red tent, where women go when their bodies are doing womanly things. (Should I have been allowed to read this book? Only one male character enters the red tent in the course of the novel, and he leaves humiliated and god-forsaken.)

All the familiar characters are changed in Dinah’s telling. She becomes a much sought-after midwife. Her brother Joseph, after he has come to power in Egypt, is a chilling figure; and Jacob’s mother Rebecca is a forbidding priestess. This is  a wonderful read, and will be on my mind when I next look at Genesis.


 And now some body parts:


The UndertakingFrom Lynch’s earlier title, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade:
There’s this “just a shell” theory of how we ought to relate to dead bodies. You hear a lot of it from young clergy, old family friends, well-intentioned in-laws–folks who are unsettled by the fresh grief of others. You hear it when you bring a mother and a father in for the first sight of their dead daughter, killed in a car wreck or left out to rot by some mannish violence. It is proffered as comfort in the teeth of what is a comfortless situation, consolation to the unconsolable. Right between the inhale and the exhale of the bonewracking sob such hurts produce, some frightened and well-meaning ignoramus is bound to give out with, “It’s OK, that’s not her, it’s just a shell.” I once saw an Episcopalian deacon nearly decked by the swift slap of the mother of a teenager, dead of leukemia, to whom he’d tendered this counsel. “I’ll tell you when it’s ‘just a shell,'” the woman said. “From now and until I tell you otherwise, she’s my daughter.”

A Season in the ReservationFrom A Season on the Reservation:
Another tall youngster who could play center, Willie Zagotah, was starting to grab more of my time. No one had said much about Willie to me, but my eyes kept returning to him during practice. He was long and lanky, but had some muscle on his frame and some spring in his legs. He was the only player on the team who enjoyed mixing it up under the basket. He wasn’t afraid to use his body or put his hands on other players or move them out of the way. (I once asked Loren Lupe to reach out and put his fingers on the waist of the kid he was guarding, in the time-honored defensive move known as “hand-checking.” Usually Loren gave no indication of his feelings, but this time his face flushed and doubt came into his eyes; he stopped playing and gazed at me as though I’d told him to go in the locker room and put on lipstick.)


The Red TentFrom The Red Tent 
“Leah’s first birth was not especially difficult,” said Rachel. By the time she told me the story of Reuben’s arrival, my aunt had seen hundreds of babies born. And though Rachel would forget where she put her spindle the moment she put it down, she remembered the details of every birth she ever witnessed.
She told me that even though Leah’s travail began before sunset and did not end until daylight, it was a straight path. His head was down and her hips were wide enough. Still, the heat of that summer night in the red tent was stifling, and none of the sisters had ever seen a birth. Truly Leah suffered most because of her sisters’ fear.

I’m primed for the Public Conversation. I hope you can make it out to some of the Spirit & Place events.


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