Jean, Jean, What Do You Mean?
By Jean Waggoner

A call came for “Herr Wagner” –
no person there, in that fine room
looking out on Pilatus and Lake Lucerne,
among Catholics in a reformist land,
fellows in culture, if not in faith.
“Stupid Americans!” I could hear the
banker complain, on my friend’s mother’s
news that Jean was, in fact, a fraulein.
“Can’t spell – or don’t know their sons
from their daughters,” he’d say.
Never mind his mispronunciation
of my Celtic forbearer’s surname;
Jeanne d’Arc is not a John on the Continent.

Neither is Jeanne my patron saint, I say,
though I’d love her steely will, for arms
are things I, Carmel’s heir, will not wield,
but yield, soft and welcoming, as a lover,
into the mystic, as it happens, trance prone,
no pretzel-twisted yogi nor vine-ripened grape,
no voignier of vintners in Mt. Carmel, CA
or trending New York artist, but a distant,
contemplative sort, as suits one Christened after
a Catholic nun named after male St. Jean Carmel,
named after the cross (AKA John of said) and the
Carmelites, a monastic order or priestly caste of
thorough sublimation – oh, holy burden!

“Are you Jewish?” people sometimes ask, and I might
point to my man, Juan de Yepes Álvarez (1542-1591)
a converso (from Judaism or Islam, who can say?), my
spiritual guide, if such be possible, a teacher from
Galicia, Andalucia, Fontiveros (old Castile), and
more than that, a poet likened to the ecstatic —
so nearly erotic – fellow mystic, Theresa of Avila,
yet a chastened heir to the Spanish Inquisition, as
well as a leader of the Counter-Reformation.

Like his, my soul knocks at heaven’s gate through art.
Yes, I’ll stand in the likes of the Baroque church
of Auerbach, and no, I don’t care to see the famous
Wurtenburg Door, though I’ll tag along in Bavaria for
politeness to our German friend and the Lutherans’
sense to hold onto music. I’ll take the art, the
incense, the chanting and the mystery – all the
sumptuous excess – of the old church, and you can have
your hard pews, your bare walls and all the puritanical
damning precursors to Witch Hunts – and let them wither
your plain church soul, Herr Deterministic Banker!

Ah yes, my seldom acknowledged patron saint, your fight,
your Canticle and your Dark Night of the Soul are in my
spiritual veins…and that converso compromise has sent
me to the ends of the earth and the extremes of culture.
Was your song from Solomon or Rumi? I still seek mine.

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: “Ascetic Selfie” taken in 1990 at the home of Linda Kiger in San Francisco, California. (I don’t look so anorexic anymore.)

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This prose poem surprised me, partly because I hadn’t associated my “Jean,” St. Jean Carmel with his more familiar name, St. John of the Cross, before doing research for this submission. I was an asthmatic child with grand mal seizures, so the trance-like state of an ascetic is not foreign to me, and I’ve done some reading in spirituality and mysticism. I bailed out of practicing Catholicism at the point of the folk Mass and dreadfully translated prayers that followed Vatican II, so my cultural fellows are more properly “fallen” Catholics, not saints of the Counter Reformation. Though my mother chose a severe saint to name me after, she called me “Jeanie, String Beanie” in my childhood – and it was really her favorite teacher she had named me for. My dad loved El Greco’s elongated saints, admired Thomas Merton, and favored the writing of Juan Dos Passos and Kazantzakis, so I came by mystical stuff through early influence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jean Waggoner is a community college English and ESL teacher and part-time faculty activist in Riverside County, California, where she co-leads the Idyllwild Inlandia Writing workshop. Her writing includes poetry, stories, essays, and fine arts reviews and has appeared in on-line and print publications, including the National Poetry Anthology, the University of Montana’s Cedilla, Phantom Seed, and various blogs, newspapers, and Inlandia Institute publications. Jean co-authored The Freeway Flier and the Life of the Mind with Douglas Snow in 2011, and was the American Editor for a 2014 issue of Rosetta World Literatura’s journal from Istanbul, Turkey.