Poetry for Southern California
THE MYSTICAL PRISM OF BEING
CD & Booklet by Brian Michael Tracy
Reviewed by G. Murray Thomas
On The Mystical Prism of Being, Brian Michael Tracy uses a combination of poetry and song to explore the mystical aspects of the Christ story, from the virgin birth to the ascension. It does not retell or explain the story; rather Tracy uses the story as inspiration for poems, following wherever his muse takes him. The poems range from descriptive to mystical to love poems. In the end we find him grappling with his faith, trying to make sense of the story.
Some of the poems take a straight forward approach to the subject. The setting of the crucifixion is presented in both “Calvary” (“When I first saw this place/ it had the look of an open grave --/ scarred, impatient/ waiting only for the remains of flesh.”) and “Faith” (“in the end only flesh and bone/ not a soul left on the landscape/ just the pungent odor of god and smoke/ exhausting itself, rising above the trees”).
Others only use the story as a leaping off point, landing in much more personal territory. “Our Last Supper” tells a story of personal betrayal. “Original Sin” is a sensual love poem: “There is something about the light/ across your face, your hips and breasts/ lucent in the early calm of morning/ when there is only the color of skin/ that I wake to...”). “A Virgin Birth” uses the language of sensuality (“beneath your dress, behind/ the veil of you chiffon, now lifted/ I saw the moon.”), but tells a much different story – that of death during a miraculous childbirth. Just as that poem connects to the story of Jesus' birth, without telling it, poems such as “Dark Star” and the title poem tackle the mysteries of life and death without actually including Christianity or Christ in their visions.
But the most powerful poems are those which directly tackle the questions of faith inherent in the Christ story. In many of the poem, Tracy struggles with what he should believe. “Do not go in search of me thinking/ that I might be found, covered in stone/ in some cold corner of this earth” he writes in “Reliquary.” “Ascension” reads, in whole:
when I turn to look for you
where I though you were
where you last revealed yourself to me
as a part of me
and that part of me cannot be found
I close my eyes and see you
on your knees, beside an altar
painting, on polished stones
the scenes of your escape.
The true story, and the realities behind it, remain elusive. Elusiveness is a theme throughout the work, Tracy rarely reaches solid conclusions. Unluckily, that elusiveness often slips into the poetry itself. Lines like “a word being/ in a word becoming/ as a kiss/ and the moment after” (“The Mystical Prism of Being”) and
the only light is the light
from the snow falling immortal
dissolving as it reaches your heart
and you, standing at your gate
are nothing more or less than its story.
– “The Story of Light”
sound like they must mean something, but resist interpretation, slip away from our understanding.
The music, performed by Renee, Andy Hill, Marty Rifkin, and Edoardo Tancredi, is melded into the poetry, often alternating verses of the songs with stanzas of poetry. The songs are mostly from musicians also known for their questing, questioning approach to faith, including Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Van Morrison. They provide a setting for the poems, at times even commenting on them. The Beatles' “Across the Universe” opens the CD with a message of universality. “A Virgin Birth” (with its moon imagery discussed above) is backed up by Sting's “Sister Moon.” Dylan's “Every Grain of Sand” is matched with “A Sermon Almost Delivered,” which questions the concept of one God (“there is only one everlasting soul/ which we can all touch.”). The songs support the poems, but the poems do not need them, they stand on their own (although in those times when the poems become too elusive, the music gives us a grounding to hold onto).
In my opinion, all poetry (all art, in fact) needs to be open to interpretation. That is how we bring our own experiences to the poetry, and engage with it emotionally as well as intellectually. I don't know if it was his intention, but in The Mystical Prism of Being, Tracy presents several lessons in interpretation. He takes a familiar story and finds a variety of other stories, and meanings, within it. Further, his poems remain open themselves, providing opportunities for our own interpretations. This makes this a valuable recording beyond the quality of the poetry.
Reviews 12 /15