Cosmic Egg: Susan McCaslin’s Jesus

Cosmic Egg: Susan McCaslin’s Jesus

“Who do people say that I am?” Mark 8: 27

for Mark Haddock

By J.S. Porter

For some, Jesus is the Son of God or the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Dividing Line of Time, Saviour, Redeemer, a worker of miracles, a fighter for justice.

For others, he is a teacher, a storyteller, a poet, a revolutionary, a prophet, a sage, a Jewish peasant with a worldwide following.

For Susan McCaslin, in her chapbook Cosmic Egg recently published by the Alfred Gustav Press in North Vancouver, he is a Presence, a central part of her consciousness and imagination, “closer than breath.”

Susan McCaslin is not the first Canadian poet to show interest in a strange figure with the Hebrew name Yeshua.   Jewish Canadian poets—Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen, for instance – have shown a keen interest;  Layton by writing a book, My Brother Jesus, about his on-going dialogue with Jesus, and Cohen by his lifelong conversation with Jesus culminating in his last album “You Want it Darker.”

All through “Suzanne” Cohen references Jesus.

And Jesus was a sailor
When He walked upon the water
And He spent a long time watching
From His lonely wooden tower

And when He knew for certain
Only drowning men could see Him
He said, “All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them”

But He Himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

And you want to travel with Him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you’ll trust Him
For He’s touched your perfect body with his mind

 

McCaslin, too, is touched by the presence of Jesus in her dream life:

 

At night I dream we’re flying through suns and moons

he   mother father brother friend

closer than breath

 

Unbreakable trust               whatever might come

But he’s there not just in dreams; he’s there in her day-to-day struggles for meaning:

High school civics ‘65 an enlightened teacher

opens doors to other tales:  US colonialism   racism    world poverty

Wounded Knee   Christianity’s alliances with corporate capitalism

University: Marx   Tao Te Ching   Asian studies   Vietnam protests
Varieties of Religious Experience

inter-spiritual probings       quit church    held onto Jesus   thanks to

Blake

 

Rebel Jesus /Justice Jesus: flinging the moneychanger’s tables to ground zero

 

After her studies and struggles, McCaslin wakes from one dream and enters another:

Age 30    I wake from a dream into a lucid dream:

Christ shimmers on the wall above my bed

arms outstretched       a Tree of Life

 

head to toes      the vertical plane       arm to arm         the horizonal

No thorny crown        no riven side               no nail marks

fingers unfurling like fern fronds

the Christ chord sounds the marrow of my bones    no choice but to sing

 

She begins her lifelong quest to reconcile a patriarchy-soaked figure and religion with the deep earth-rooted wisdom of the feminine.  Jesus of Nazareth and Mary of Magdala join hands and hearts:

A woman’s gospel                        Mary Magdalene’s

lost and found –

a voice patriarchy dumped

Visionary intuition nixed

for a priesthood of men requiring rules

dogmas              patriarchy          control of women’s bodies

 

Some say she was her teacher’s most advanced learner

No whore rather        a supporter and disciple from Magdala   tower town

In her gospel Peter sneers:

‘Why would the rabbi talk with a woman and prefer her over us?’

Levi defends her as a visionary. It’s clear which view prevailed

She resurrects earth-talk: ‘… all elements of nature are interwoven and united.

All that is composed shall be decomposed

 

Everything returns to its roots.’

 

There are many poems I’m drawn to in this holm called “Cosmic Egg.” McCaslin has made fresh and strange what is so frequently made formulaic and banal.  Her Jesus is continents across, and fathoms down, from the Know-It-All talking heads of televangelists.  Her Jesus challenges, provokes, disturbs; he doesn’t sweeten the sour or reduce the tensions or simplify the complexities.

I’m particularly enamoured of this poem entitled “Garden.”

He couldn’t save the world

yet his work and the great work are one

his eye not the only eye      yet one with the one

that peers through the lens of a homeless fox

curled in a perfect circle

plumed tail flush against her nose

violet tones of morning shy before the crucifixion

storm

 

Susan McCaslin’s chapbook (holm) on Jesus is part of Series Twenty-five along with other works:

Kurt Trzcinski, Sacred Greens
Audrey Shield, In the Skin of Wild

holms:
The Catastrophe of Us by Leona Gom
Megrim by gillian harding-russell
Cosmic Egg by Susan McCaslin

If you’re interested in Susan McCaslin’s poetry be sure to read her selected poems, Into The Open.  Here’s my review:

REVIEW: INTO THE OPEN: POEMS NEW AND SELECTED | BY SUSAN MCCASLIN

Susan is also a subject under discussion in Anne Simpson’s recent Experiments in Distant Influence: Notes & Poems.  Simpson discusses Susan’s successful campaign–the Han Shan Project— to save a forest in Langley, BC.

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