Gilead: Nothing is Small

Yesterday, we sat with friends on the expansive sun-filled patio at Big Lick Brewing Company (biglickbrewingco.com), which is not the worst craft brewery in Roanoke. Tuco’s (tucostaqueria.com), which is not the worst taco joint in Roanoke, is across the street, and we had ordered take-out; sat at one of the tables on the patio; and ate savory food and drank golden beer. It was a gorgeous autumn day, and the mountains ringing this small city were blue. This is Roanoke at its wondrous best.

In Gilead, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Marilynne Robinson explores the tempestuous beauty of life. And it is wondrous. Gilead is a fictional small town in Iowa. However, it is small in the same sense that Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County is small – in the same sense that the universe is small. Similarly, Faulkner’s admonishment about the past not being dead or even the the past is equally apt here. And like Faulkner, Robinson does not traffic in trivialities. She draws water from the well’s deepest depths.

The story is a letter from an elderly father, John Ames, to his young son. Ames rightly believes the letter is necessary because he will not live long enough for his son to really know him. Ames has lived his entire life in Gilead and has never desired to live anywhere else. He understands that nothing in life is small – regardless of where you live. Speaking of Gilead, Ames declares “[i]n eternity this world will be Troy . . . and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.” The people living in Gilead are ordinary, which Robinson understands to mean they are extraordinary. “There have been heroes here, and saints and martyrs.” There have also been villains and lost souls desperately seeking redemption. Relationships are rich and at times fraught. Thoughts are deep. Answers are complicated, if they exist at all.

While the novel’s conceit is a letter, it is really an extended meditation on religion and spirituality. Ames is the son and the grandson of preachers. His best friend is (yes, you guessed it) a preacher. But a life dictated by Christian norms and tenets has not made Ames a lazy thinker, so do not expect to find anything glib, easy, or trite here. Ames states “[i]n the matter of belief, I have always found that defenses have the same irrelevance about them as the criticisms they are meant to answer. I think the attempt to defend belief can unsettle it, in fact, because there is always an inadequacy in argument about ultimate things.” The meaning of life cannot be known. However, regardless of its occasional pettiness and torment, life is miraculous. We can not match the spare beauty of Robinson’s prose on this (or any) topic, so we will give her the last word. We need to “acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Ms. Breathless Responds to Donne (Exclusive)

As mentioned in our last post, Raven Breathless (formerly known as Death) gave Pungent Sound her response to the Haughty John Donne and asked (told) us to publish it. Now some may wonder why it took Ms. Breathless 400 years to respond. As Neil Gaiman (who is not the worst writer we’ve read) points out in his stunning graphic novel, The Sandman, Death is one of the Endless. Time is an entirely different concept when you are Endless so really 400 years is a pretty quick response. Plus, she has been dreadfully busy over the last 400 years.

To our knowledge, this is the first time in the epoch of life that Ms. Breathless has responded in writing to anyone or anything, so this is quite a coup for Pungent Sound – similar to when we discovered Shakespeare’s lost play As You Lick It. Please enjoy.

Death Responds to Mr. Donne

I have heard many silly taunts
in my extensive time,
and they are never more clever
just because they rhyme.
Ignorance should whisper
like a muffled chime.

I am not proud
though you are too proud to see
that when the Grand Bungler
created you it also created me.

I am not mighty or dreadful.
I do not overthrow.
Those are your birthmarks.
You are your foe.

Poison, war are a scaly brood
for which I have no need.
They hatched in the nest with you,
and you are the fodder on which they feed.

Chance is a monkey
whose mischief ends at the tomb.
Fate and sickness are encrypted
when you are in the womb.

You are the slave 
of desperate men and kings,
who look like lice to me -
or other insects without wings.

I am a lantern at the end of day.
I am not the Magnificent Fumbler,
who gave you feeble DNA.

I bring peace after you have done your worst,
and while I may eventually die,
you will die first.

Raven Breathless, Chief Contributing Editor-in-Chief.

First Published in Parody.

John Donne – Brilliant Poet / Foolish Man

Hello! History is full of artists who were brilliant in the impractical world of art, yet they were idiots in the practical world of living. Take the haughty John Donne. He wrote Death, Be Not Proud – one of the most famous poems (a sonnet no less) in the English language. In doing that, he needlessly pissed off Death (who has changed her name to Raven Breathless). Guess what. He died. Spoiler Alert.

So the clear lesson is DON’T TAUNT DEATH, OR YOU WILL DIE. Ms. Breathless snuck up behind Professor Prig (Donne’s nickname), clutched his heart in her fabulously manicured hand, whispered “Who’s dead now, bitch?” and twisted her bejeweled wrist.

You should not mock Ms. Breathless even if she is proud. She won’t change just because you want her to. And, candidly, if you look at her success rate, she has every reason to be proud. Instead, we advise you to sit on The National’s porch (which is not the worst place to have a cocktail). Admire the harbor view on a Block Island day full of indulgence and gentle blues. Try not to think of anything that Ms. Breathless may construe as an insult, maybe she will ignore you for a while.

Incredibly, Raven Breathless has decided to respond to Reverend Fussbudget (that’s what Donne’s wife called him), and she has chosen Pungent Sound to publish her response. We are both honored to do so and petrified not to do so. That will be our next post, so look for it because it’s what Raven Breathless wants. Your life may depend upon it.

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Professor for Student Loans

Let’s Talk About Us – But Really Just Me

Hello! I am consistently amazed at the number of modern poets who can’t get published. Mostly, however, I am amazed that I can’t get published.

That’s why we started the Pungent Sound Journal of Pulp Poetry – to celebrate great poets whose greatness (for some stupid reason) has not been recognized by . . . anyone. So let’s start celebrating by reading one of my poems.

Each Spring Beckons Me Out the Door

A fuzzy pink sweater adorns the cherry tree
and all the ladies half my age are smiling at me.

Or so it seems -
maybe they're just smiling near me.
It's hard to see with such watery eyes,
as if I'm looking through melting ice.

Each spring beckons me out the door,
but I'm moving slower than the year before
and can't keep up as the ladies walk past.
When did these women get so fast?

Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Richard Python and Gravity’s Rainbow

We recently read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  The book is considered one of the GREATEST AMERICAN NOVELS EVER WRITTEN SO HELP ME GOD (20th Century Category).  Thousands of people say they have read it; hundreds of people have actually read it; and 4 people have enjoyed it. 

No one has understood it – making it the quintessential modern (or is it post-modern – we get confused) novel.   The story (if you can call it that) is like gentrification in your major cities:  New York, LA, Roanoke, New Shoreham.  It’s sprawling but it’s also dense.  It is literary and sophomoric and occasionally pornographic – just like Block Island.

Assuming he is still alive, Mr. Pynchon is a remarkable person.  We say “assuming” because he is a recluse, and no one actually knows if he is still alive.  There are very few pictures of him, and even slimy celebrity “journalists” have been unable to hack into his computer and steal all the naked selfies he has undoubtedly taken.  That alone is remarkable.   

The most interesting thing about the book (and Pynchon) is this.  In 1974 Gravity’s Rainbow won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.  Actually, it shared that honor with another book no one reads.  Instead of attending the ceremony, Mr. Pynchon authorized a comedian to go in his place.  The comedian accepted the award on behalf of Richard Python and then gave a bizarre and funny acceptance speech.  In this era of attention seeking, I cannot imagine anyone (other than perhaps Bob Dylan) doing that. 

As for my comments on Gravity’s Rainbow, we didn’t actually read it.  We only said we read it.

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

Vatican Reports on Sexual Abuse Scandal (Exclusive)

The Vatican was appalled to learn recently that some of its priests have been accused of sexually abusing children. Just in the last week it issued a report on former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who rose through the church’s hierarchy despite repeated allegations of sexual misconduct. We are assured in the report that his rise to power had nothing to do with his phenomenal fundraising skills.

McCarrick was expelled from the priesthood in 2019 after a Vatican investigation found him guilty of abuse of power and sexual crimes against minors and adults. Fortunately, his crimes and abuses only spanned a handful of decades, so no one can accuse the Vatican of failing to act promptly.

Here at Pungent Sound our very own Father Orifice (pronounced Orifeechee) has asked to explain the Vatican’s reasonable and measured actions. Because we believe that even the powerful should be given a chance to be heard and because Father Orifice is a pretty proficient fundraiser himself, we immediately agreed. Take it away, Father Orifice.

Bishop’s Hole

Oh, the games we played in Bishop's Hole,
but the foul winds have begun to blow
so once again it's time to go.

Even though it's hard,
I must leave this behind.
That's what the rector said,
and he does have a good head.
Granted, this happens all the time.
It's why we installed a pipeline,
which can send me anywhere
because Bishop Hole's are everywhere.

But still it's hard
and I'm leaving quite a mess,
but reputations must be protected,
so there's nothing here to confess.
When I think about the good we inflict
this only gives my conscience a tiny prick.

We lie in the shadow of the Cross,
so there isn't anything we can't lick.
            *          *          *
O.K.  That's enough with the juvenile jabs.
I've had my fun, and it's cruel to taunt.
Let's get serious for a moment.

We told you that we would fix things,
and you had faith.
Then you learned that we continued 
to rape your children and cover it up.
You even found our pedophile pipeline.

That was awkward for us.

So we promised to stop for real.
And you believed us, but we lied.  Again.
No rational person should have believed us.
But you did.

You continued to give us your children,
and we continued to prey.
You trusted us - the black vultures you should have feared.
And we never did a single thing to earn your trust.

After all that, shouldn't you be the ones condemned?
            *          *          *
Have you noticed how we love gold veneer?
It's everywhere, and it's immaculate
as long as you don't stand too near.

We've made the luster last all these years,
because we polish the gold with your children's tears.
Those tears run like torrents between the pews.
It's like Noah's Flood.

And there's nothing else we will do. 

Father Orifice, Chaplain of Pungent Sound Technical College of Technology.

Breaking News

Hello! Here at Pungent Sound we love the news. It does not matter what kind: TV news, internet news, radio news, podcasts, twitter, gossip, and analysis. It’s all the same, and it’s all fantastic.

We appreciate the thoughtfulness. The measured tones. The respect these outlets have for their readers, viewers, and listeners. Most of all, we appreciate the accuracy. And there is no doubt that competition and variety have elevated social discourse and enlightened the public. With all this in mind, I wrote the following poetic tribute.

Breaking News

   A cow covered with hundreds
   of mouth-like lesions
   each containing a tongue
   that lovingly licks my ear -
   tells me all the black lies
   I desperately want to hear;
   a massive udder with hundreds
   of mottled leathery teats -
   and I suck the sour milk.

   Luvgood Carp, Editor-in-Chief and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans

First Published in Ariel Chart.

Nobel Prize Winner Has a Foot Fetish

Part-time writer and full-time foot fetishist, Olga Tokarczuk, won the Nobel Prize for Literature (Silly Languages Category) in 2018. Having never heard of her (and unable to find anything about her on TMZ.com), we concluded she does not exist.

However, we stumbled across her book, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones, in Book No Further, which is not the worst book shop in Roanoke. According to the book’s cover, Ms. Tokarczuk is from Poland and inexplicably writes in Polish, which explains why we and TMZ never heard of her. As an aside, writing in Polish seems to be a poor marketing decision – one that she should reconsider if she hopes to have any success.

As made clear in Drive Your Plow, Ms. Tokarczuk loves feet and William Blake – for many of the same reasons. Early on the narrator confesses that she must wash her feet thoroughly before going to bed. Perhaps this is because “[i]t is in the feet that all knowledge of Mankind lies hidden; the body sends them a weighty sense of who we really are and how we relate to the earth.” But if you need more proof of her fanaticism for feet, Big Foot is the name of the first character to die in this fantastical murder mystery. (Spoiler alert).

So according to Ms. Tokarczuk (and by extension, all of Poland), feet are not weird and disgusting. What is weird and disgusting is our concept of reality. The narrator argues that humans are programmed to reject reality; that the “human psyche evolved in order to defend us against seeing the truth . . . The psyche is our defense system – it makes sure we’ll never understand what’s going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even though the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering.” Major theme alert: don’t trust your brain, trust your feet. So that’s weird.

Drive Your Plow is a wonderfully unusual murder mystery. At times the reader is swept away with philosophical discussions on animal rights, astrology, feet, Blake’s poetry, and feet. Then the reader remembers that the body count is now up to three and each death has been grisly. According to the narrator, an older woman who lives alone, free will does not exist. Instead, our lives are controlled by the stars and planets, with the most powerful being Uranus. And this is undoubtedly true – just think of how you fear the whims of Uranus every single day.

For this odd and unreliable narrator, human rights and animal rights are indistinguishable. In fact, animals may have the better claim to Earth. Certainly the Polish winter in this book would be cruel and inhospitable to any person, as we are not born with any practical protections against its harshness. Accordingly, we are fools to believe this world was created for us – so perhaps it was created for the animals. This strident belief drives the narrator and the entire story to a conclusion that probably will not surprise the observant reader. But the joy is in the travel, and at the end the reader is thankful for the Czech Republic. Name one other instance when that has ever happened.

A final word about William Blake. At one time people apparently read him. Ms. Tokarczuk is the only person who still does. There are wonderful quotes and references to Blake throughout the story, and they enrich it. Ms. Tokarczuk is so enthralled with Blake that she compels one of her characters to become a translator of Blake’s poetry into Polish – thereby condemning him to a life of poverty, futility, and anonymity. In a book crammed with horrors, this may be the most horrific of all.

Alison Wonderland, Chief Editor and Adjunct Professor for Student Loans