the skull cathedral
The second time I stood at Calvary, it was literal. I was actually there. I took it all in, the scraggly rock that looked like a skull if you tilted your head to a certain angle. If you suspended your disbelief.
I thought it had likely looked like its namesake, Golgatha, the place of the skull, before 2000 years of greedy pilgrim hands scrabbling stone, pocketing souvenirs of place. I imagined clawing for a slice of rock I could hide in my palm, wearing it against my breast like a scapular, the way other German women had worn the stones that Hitler trod.
I understood the pull of symbolism, the power of a talisman or relic to the human soul’s want for meaning. In the days before he died, when they were falling out like loosened piano keys, I asked my father for his tooth. I wanted that small stone, to bring him to me after he disappeared.
But here at the only place in history that life had victory over death, the legend of it was a hard sell. I’d told Dad once, during the long conversations he took with me patiently in the year after I became an atheist, Pops, I respect the story. I see its mythological value, I see its beauty. Metaphorically, I’m moved.
But I find it a hard pill to swallow, that a man rose from the dead.
My father never got frantic about our salvation, or the even more pressing issues like the addiction that had taken my mind and my soul and my heart, and my husband, too. My father gave me time to heal, and he carried his grief heavy and close to his heart, in secret, like those stones.
It IS difficult to accept, he said, finally. Even so, everyone accepts that 7 billion people rose from the dead, all by themselves, so anything is possible.
This was the conversation I pondered as our tour group to Israel filed into the cavern that had probably been Christ’s tomb. Giant buses roared in and out of the concrete circle that was an ancient site of Roman executions, hissing and heaving through through the heat. My mind wandered to the places of the world where men and women guilty of nothing were still put to death every day. It struck me as I waited my turn to enter that those places were not far away, many just a few miles.
My father stepped inside with Betty, and I lowered my head and went in after them. It was cool and dim and there was nothing to see but yellow and gray stone worn smooth by history. I didn’t know that Daddy did not have three years left to live. No one did.
I couldn’t find my way back to belief in time for the Eucharist in the garden that followed, but I wanted to take part in it anyway, to consume that bread of life and drown out all the death inside of me.
I couldn’t shake the words nailed above the entrance when I emerged back into daylight from the empty earth:
He is not here, He is risen.
Just before he knew he was sick, my father took me to a dinner theatre in a barn to see the Christian Blackwood Brothers do Elvis. The roast beast was blander than British, and the horseradish ran out before I got to the line, but the gospel according to Elvis raised the rafters.
I’d never had a thing for this velvet-throated bird: his pout was pretty but I never was convinced by all those sequins and spangles. Just didn’t feel his soul in all of that. Turned out, that was true, sort of. The pomade and the girls and the bright lights had their allure, but they say all the King really wanted to do was sing about the King. When he did, all that was missing came together. His heart in his voice. All night, just him and his band, when the hordes had gone home.
A woman in the powder room mirror at intermission was fixing her lobster-purple lipstick. She had Indian eyes but her hair was so pale you could see through it. She was talking to a friend in a cubicle that I could only see by some pointy toed boots peeping out and the jeans around her ankles. The disembodied voice from the toilet was saying something about Elvis, about how he once saw Stalin in the clouds, before the apparition turned into Jesus.
“And the good Lord said, Elvis, behold I come to you as living water,” she was saying, and I could almost feel the rush of the rapture in the air with the flushing of the toilet. The sound was like a waterfall in Eden in the small stalled walls.
After my father closed his eyes for the last time, I came across the brochure for the barn show where we’d been. I pictured the bales of hay we rolled past on that blue and shiny day. The river tumbling under the clouds was a black ribbon between sky and earth, like the innards of a cassette tape slinging south through fields and branches. In my memory, I could hear Elvis lowing sweetly from those clouds, saw Daddy ascending through the pick-up truck to run towards him.
Upon Unwrapping a Handmade Stuffed Camel Toy
How do you gracefully unravel candy cane tissue, pry it loose from a crocheted camel? It is Christmas, and our glasses are full of cheer on the corner of a bar. I am wedged in between Karen and her husband. Blessed, with besties. There has been already chocolate, and chocolate tea, and Merlot, pressed back into a gift bag, pushed down with our snowy boots under the counter. Now it is this, a hand-crocheted camel, my favourite of all the beasts. Right here, the knitten dromedary is absurd and beautiful and the best gift I have ever received.
I have built myself into something stronger, I have reached past death and darkness for light and life and I have disposed all those demons that possessed me. But face to face with this bactrian boy, I crumple for a moment into tears. We had emerged, thirty or so moments before, from a candlelit carol service, where I sat dry eyed through two hours of exquisite sonatas celebrating the greatest story ever told. The Magnificat, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the old man in front of me, straight out of Herman, with pop out ears and sparse thick hairs growing from them, singing his heart out far from the key.
Through all this, I held my composure. Oh, yes, I readily confess it, for awhile now, I’ve prided myself on feeling nothing. I have found salvation in negation. But here in my hands is the same love that crocheted a pale blue owl for the baby daughter of a friend who had been estranged. Here is that same nativity story, two millennia after the fact, this toothy, gypsy queen of the desert that carried wiser men and frankincense. The story, knit by Christ and Karen, love manifest without question for a sinner like me.
Lorette C. Luzajic is a Toronto, Canada based visual artist, poet, and founding editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted entirely to writing inspired by art. She has four poetry collections, and has been widely published in print and online journals, including Cultural Weekly, KYSO Flash, Rattle, ArtAscent, Everyday Poetry, Geez Magazine, United Church’s Wonder Cafe, Peacock Journal, and more. Her artwork has been exhibited locally, across the USA, throughout Mexico, and in North Africa. Visit her at www.mixedupmedia.ca.