Poetry News

Like a Prayer: Evan Kennedy's Ecstatic Stigmatic

By Harriet Staff


A stunning essay by poet Evan Kennedy is up at Queer City. Using St. Francis of Assisi as a frame to talk of suffering through gay bashing, Kennedy knocks into all of us who are up against non-gentleness. "Prettied by split lips, I aspire to triumph within this confraternity of the beaten-up and ass-kicked. Treat me gently now or not –". More:

It is difficult for me to talk about the religious without using terms of trajectories and bodies in space: “Evil, scattered around him, was automatically concentrated upon him in the form of suffering” (Simone Weil).

It’s the same one like the next and another one, who when afflicted becomes a trashcan for animosity, or magnet irresistible to fists and kicks — and tires them out, eventually. The fields wherein these violences perform rely on the magnetism of easy and frail subjects, and darkness swarms upon them like the toy with tiny metal filings pulled across a cartoon man’s hairless face to create a mustache or beard.

(It’s tempting to seek machismo in one’s bruises like the scruff grown nearly thick on a boy’s cheeks — isn’t it still butch to look beaten up no matter how many, if any, punches one throws back — but I want to level this inquiry toward a genderless declaration concerning the toughness of the marginalized, who are possessed by the terrific inability to get out of the way.)

To keep one’s ground, and thus get pounded into it –

There is a matter of what a victim’s body does after absorbing force and emptying, like a reluctant instantaneous vacuum, the air for a time and stilling it. I actually mean, what happens to the evil and where does it go.

And isn’t there a lovely symmetry of opposition between a barrel-chested aggressor and someone much lighter with one of those come-at-me-motherfucker looks, which doesn’t necessarily appear retaliatory but could be as benevolent and serene as a monk’s.

I want to derive a near-palpable affirmation through Francis of Assisi, who suggests that getting beaten up should remind me of bodily frailty within a world and law that’s best to despise (and by despise, he means leave toward arrival elsewhere): ”If we bear such great wrong and such cruelty and such rebuffs without disquieting ourselves and without murmuring against him and think humbly and charitably that he really believes us to be what he has called us and that God makes him speak against us, write that here is perfect joy” (Little Flowers).

Being reviled, they rejoiced — God’s standards are not my own, but I want to apply Francis’ to my present community now coming through.

A scene in the film adaptation of “Little Flowers” (dir. Rossellini, 1950): Travelling alone, a minor friar named Juniper enters an encampment of rowdy warriors. It is soon understood he’s not welcome. They are wrestling, punching each other in the face, and placing bets as to whether their comrade’s bleeding nose can fill his cup. Juniper intervenes: “I talk and talk yet accomplish little.” The goons begin tossing around the monk, using him for a jump rope, after which he concludes that “it’s by example souls are won” and faceplants from a gallows into the dirt pleasing everybody. Raising a monument of stupidity, the composure of the monk’s body alternates between limpness and rigidity hinting toward a tumbler, scapegoat, bound livestock, or holy fool (though I have been called worse). Rigidity to support the pull, limpness to accept the push, the bleeding monk, it’s decided, is to be put to death by getting bashed over the head. (In the end, he lives, but it’s his idiot charm that saves him.)

Read the full piece here. Photo from Open Space.

Originally Published: June 28th, 2013