Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ways of Reading the Bible ghazal, by Marie Deer

Marie Deer wrote this ghazal while on a retreat with Women Writing for (a) Change Bloomington, at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana.

Turns out that her father was born in Terre Haute, although she herself had never been there. Instead, as a child, she lived in Congo, where her parents were Baptist missionaries. Marie eventually married a Persian German Jew; we have a mutual friend who (in his doggerel) refers to their two sons as "Congolese Persian Baptist Jews." I like the reminder that identity is recreated with each generation (often in unexpected hybrid ways). I think they might more accurately be called "Hoosier Congolese Persian German Baptist Secular Jews"  – but I might just be getting presumptuous here about other people's identities. (Indeed.)

Marie spent time during her childhood as a scribe for her father, Donald Deer, who was translating the Bible into a Congolese trade language, Kituba, and perhaps other African languages, too (see the comments to this post for more information). Every so often she listened to a favorite family LP of Alice in Wonderland on the phonograph, too. These are the kinds of childhood activities that form the ideal curriculum for an aspiring poet. Marie's father recently celebrated his 8oth birthday.

So, for your pleasure, another wonderful ghazal, along with an image of a hieroglyphic Bible. (Wish I had one of those.)

Ways of reading the Bible ghazal

Under the covers; at breakfast; out loud: so many ways of reading the Bible.
I look back on my childhood: a life full of days of reading the Bible.

In Strasbourg, high in the air in our newly walled-off living room,
I am a ten-year-old girl whose patience frays at reading the Bible.

On the overstuffed green vinyl chairs we inherited from the Danish consul
My family of four takes turns, sings, and prays while reading the Bible.

We are completely conscientious; no verse or naughtiness, no paradox
Or lineage gets skipped. These are the outlines my father obeys in reading the Bible.

After our family has read through the Bible at least twice all together, I take it
Upon myself to read it alone. I dawdle over Revelations in my forays into reading the Bible.

On the hostel bus I argue with the children of fundamentalists. It was inevitable.
In our family we believe that they cheat and skate through the maze of reading the Bible.

It is our daily bread, our morning routine that in that time seemed leisurely
Before catching a seven-ten bus. Just routine. No applause or bouquets for reading the Bible.

A book full of books. A volume of riddles, histories and transformations.
We both revered it more and held it less sacred than others who laze through reading the Bible.

I'm sorry my children have grown without a family reading routine. It wouldn't have hurt.
If I had it to do again, we would, as they nibble, kibbitz and graze while reading the Bible.

The Book of Ruth. The Book of Esther. Lamentations. Some favorites.
I thought it was daily life and not just a phase, this reading the Bible.

My family singing, reading, praying. My family each with a book. Taking turns reading.
This is Marie's ongoing lifetime memory slideshow that plays of reading the Bible.


hoping for better things said...

Ellen, you're a doll. If I just may say something to elucidate about the family background: there were/are 200+ languages in Congo! My father worked leading a team of two or three people at a time, for ten years, on the translation of the New Testament into Kituba, one of the four trade languages (the other 200-some languages are tribal languages; the trade languages are used by people who don't necessarily speak each other's tribal languages to facilitate communication over greater areas - and most people in Congo speak quite a number of languages, starting at about three minimum and going up from there).

Thanks for putting me out there!

- Marie

hoping for better things said...

Oh, and while I'm at it - it was my father, not my grandfather, who was born in Terre Haute! (His father [my grandfather] was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Terre Haute, but they moved away to Michigan when my father was 9 weeks old, so not a lot of memories.)

- Marie

elena said...

Excellent, Marie, and thanks so much for the clarifications! There is a big round circle there – around the Earth to multi-lingual Congo, and then back to the High Ground of Terre Haute's outskirts, Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods.

Maybe a few Kituba words will weave themselves into your poems?