Contributor Notes: 11.2
Contributors for Rock & Sling 11.2 reflect on their work from the issue.
An old Zen tale says the relationship between truth and words is like the relationship between the moon and a finger pointing out the moon’s location. I wonder if faith is another pointing digit. I don’t usually think in terms of faith. This stems partly from awareness that literature, faith and fingers can point at objects other and less beautiful than the moon. Or they can point at nothing at all. My reluctance to speak of faith also stems from my preference to think in terms of choice. I choose to pursue, in my wavering, all-too-human way, Gautama’s compassion, Christ’s “seven times seventy,” Saint Paul’s agape. I choose these because I love them — not because I have faith that they are True or that they will ultimately triumph. Is the poem “What We Know” about Dulce’s faith? What can I say about that? I was her English teacher, not her confessor. I would rather say the poem is about the truth that I have strong feelings for Dulce despite the fact that she and I knew little about each other. We interacted, and did so beautifully, in our own little Cloud of the Unknowing. What interests me is how we humans feel and what we do as our lives unfold in the bigger Cloud. Some years after Dylan’s conversion to Christianity, when his creed had become unclear to the public, an interviewer asked him what he believed in. He replied that he believed in the songs. I thought I knew what he meant by that and I thought I agreed with it. As I write this wonderfully unorthodox contributor’s note, it occurs to me that what I really believe in is the singing.
Sarah Fawn Montgomery
Literature is a way to voice the unspeakable, to make the unknowable more concrete. It makes visible those ambiguities that flit at the edge of our understanding, and in doing so allows us to connect with the abstract in tangible ways. These poems are my way of honoring the mysteries of the natural world—weather, geology, our human impermanence—using metaphor and image, rhythm and form to understand our roles in such an intricate system.
As a child I was frightened and confused. After brushing my teeth, after being read to and tucked in and kissed good night, after asking that the door be left ajar and the bathroom light turned on, it was then I’d stare into the dark and cry. Sometimes I was imagining what would happen if I lost both parents. Or what it would be like if, indeed, I “laid me down to sleep” and never woke up.
But, more often than not, I’d cry and not know the reason—there was some presence in my room I could not understand. I didn’t have a vision. I saw nothing. Rather I perceived it–some loving conscious electrical force of an immense pure “Other.” And it terrified me.
When my father would come to my room, as he always did, for one final nighttime check, he’d find my sheets wet with tears. Then he’d gently ask what caused me such anguish.
But I couldn’t speak. I hadn’t yet learned the words for “magnificence” or “holy.” How could I describe the overwhelming presence of the perfect now that filled my room? Or convince him that I knew the difference between it and my usual fears? Could I really say this presence spoke to me without words?
I didn’t understand I’d turn again and again to this presence all the days of my life. As I grew, I would recognize this same presence in myriad forms—in nature, in literature, in people. And this turning toward is what people would call “faith.” Later, I discovered Poetry’s power to speak of this presence, and to it, and with it. Poetry is the only way I know how to crystallize the unseen.