Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Time-Travel -- and Talk to Whom?

If you could time-travel, who would be your choice for a cozy chat? Being a novelist, mine would probably be Jane Austen, but as a poet, I'd have to have a talk and ramble with Emily Dickinson! With both dogs along, of course, her great big shaggy Carlo, and my dainty, shaggy little Nissa.

In my magical realism novel, The Renaissance Club, characters have those engaging conversation -- though they don't get to choose. A mysterious guide through Italy does the choosing, and some startling revelations are the result. Annoyance and disbelief also factor into the encounters. Here's an excerpt. Let me know if this is the kind of chat you'd like to have with someone from history.


            The guide said, “The Renaissance was also a militant statement, a way that Rome responded to the Protestants. The name of this church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, or Mary of Victory, celebrate Rome’s victory in a battle with Protestant troops. Ironically, this church, dedicated to a battle, wound up enshrining the most feminine of Bernini's works. I think you’ll agree that this sculpture of Teresa is the most feminine and motherly of saints.”
            At this, May felt a shock and then a welter of feelings. No sooner had they surfaced than Teresa's eyes opened. The marble saint turned her head and looked at May--quite a feat, with her head upside down.
            Before May could register disbelief, the saint waved at her and then waved away the angel, who obligingly retreated.
            Teresa sat up and rearranged her habit, covering her feet.
            “So you want to have a child,” she said to May. “Well, I wish I had it as easy. Just one child would be simple. They don't call us Mother Superiors for nothing. I have more girls to look out for than a great-great-great-great grandmother!”
            Teresa raised a hand whose elegance was at odds with her long-nosed,  peasant face. She scratched her nose, and then gave May another little wave that oddly reminded May of Queen Elizabeth.
            “But I'm not going to become a nun!” May said.
            Teresa sighed so loudly she ruffled lace collars in the sculpted gallery of people above her little stage.
            “You are way literal, aren’t you, dear?”
            May retorted, “Why do you sound like a teenager? You’re a peculiar hallucination.”
            Teresa smiled at her.
            “You’re entirely without the gift of metaphor, aren’t you? Things stand in for other things, you see. Don’t take everything at face value. Look at me. I’m a metaphor, aren’t I?”
            “What for?” asked May.
            “For your doubts. Your fears. You want to have a child because you’re so lonely. You’re very young, younger than most of my nuns.”
            “I'm twenty-six!”
            “Oh, that is an advanced age. They must have excellent food in your century. You are I are nearly the same age. Look at me. I look like an elder.”
            “Yes, but you live in a medieval convent. You eat, what, moldy bread?”
            Teresa smiled. Color came into her sculpted face. She pushed her draped veil behind her ears, which May saw were rather large in proportion to her head.
            “Maybe the mold keeps us healthy. We don’t have penicillin yet, you know.”
            “You're just jet-lag,” May said, rudely. “God, I'm not even having this conversation!”
            “Oh, yes, you are. You're having what we call an extended epiphany. We’re outside time. Now don’t argue with me, I know my spiritual states and stages. I wrote a catalog of them, remember? Even God talks to Himself.”
            “That is a peculiar statement. So are we all just God talking to Himself?”
            May pressed the heels of her palms to her eyes. I shouldn't have had the linguine, she thought. The clams tasted¾
            “I am not a clam. Take your hands off your eyes and behave yourself.”      The authority in the saint’s voice reached May. “I’m sorry.”
            “Ssshhh!” hissed Darren next to her.
            “You should be sorry, speaking to a mother that way. You need to think about why you want to be a mother, and what it means. It’s the loneliest job in the world, unless you come to see that to feel loved you have to give it. Look for the mother within. And stop being so literal.”
            “I am not literal!”
            “May, be quiet!” Darren hissed.
            “You are way literal! Becoming pregnant is only one way to be a mother. There are more profound ways, you know. Dear child¾allow me this liberty because you seem so very young¾things stand in for other things. It’s how life works. So be a mother without being a mother!”
            “But how can I have a child without having a child? My husband won’t consider adopting.”
            The saint raised her eyes to heaven. “Dear girl, motherhood is a lifelong career of opening your heart to need. Whether you have a human being in your charge or simply human beings in your life, the truth is that love is what mothering is all about, and you can’t do it unless you find it within.”
            “I don’t want to find it within, unless it’s within my womb.”
            “You are exasperatingly stubborn. A baby is just a prod from God to make you learn the self-sacrifice that He wants from all of us toward each other! Don’t you see? Just skip the step of birthing and start treating everyone as your child.”
            May watched her recline again, as if about to go to sleep, or bliss, or wherever saints went when they weren’t talking to you.
            “I’m stuck,” May said. “Just stuck. I can’t figure out anything.”
            “Oh, really?”
            “Yes, --
            But with a blink, the saint was again imprisoned in her stone ecstasy. May found herself being poked by her husband.
            “You were talking to yourself--loudly!” Darren said.




No comments:

Post a Comment