Thursday, September 4, 2014

I'm Just a Hungry Little Gnostic in Need of a Sandwich

Everything's fine. Regular aargh returns soon, or maybe later. I've threatened to give myself days off before, I find that I like them more than I once did: at least for now it doesn't feel like an imposed and involuntary penance. Yes, I've posted this gif before, yes, I've posted this James Tate poem before, and yes, I've grouped the Ralph Myerz and Ivy songs below before, I like them.....


James Tate

And what amazes me is that none of our modern inventions
surprise or interest him, even a little. I tell him
it is time he got his booster shots, but then
I realize I have no power over him whatsoever.
He becomes increasingly light-footed until I lose sight
of him downtown between the federal building and
the post office. A registered nurse is taking her
coffee break. I myself needed a break, so I sat down
next to her at the counter. "Don't mind me," I said,
"I'm just a hungry little Gnostic in need of a sandwich."
(This old line of mine had met with great success
on any number of previous occasions.) I thought,
a deaf, dumb, and blind nurse, sounds ideal!
But then I remembered that some of the earliest
Paleolithic office workers also feigned blindness
when approached by nonoffice workers, so I paid my bill
and disappeared down an alley where I composed myself.
Amidst the piles of outcast citizenry and burning barrels
of waste and rot, the plump rats darting freely,
the havoc of blown newspapers, lay the little shroud
of my lost friend: small and gray and threadbare,
windworn by the ages of scurrying hither and thither,
battered by the avalanches and private tornadoes
of just being a gnome, but surely there were good times, too.
And now, rejuvenated by the wind, the shroud moves forward,
hesitates, dances sideways, brushes my foot as if for a kiss,
and flies upward, whistling a little-known ballad
about the pitiful, raw etiquette of the underworld.


  1. about the title line of today's post, from james tate, it has been written

    The “gnostic” may be a clue to the subversive logic of Tate’s entire canon, for gnostic wisdom is based on intuitive glimpses into mysteries independent of the senses or the logic of empiricism. The gnostic believes in other worlds and their power to merge with our own sensory experience.

    the opinion is that of paul christensen

    it's from a chapter on tate in this book

    Critical Survey of Poetry
    Surrealist Poets
    Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman
    Charleston Southern University
    Salem Press
    A Division of EBSCO Publishing, Ipswich, Massachusetts
    ISBN-10: 1429836547

    Surrealist Poets is a single-volume reference that contains selected essays from Critical Survey of Poetry, Fourth Edition.

    milton dodd has made the book available for free at his site, perhaps with too flexible an interpretation of "fair use", but i'm not complaining

    1. I'd agree with that. The word I've always used in my head when thinking about Tate and his vision is "uncanny."

  2. as i reread tate's poem, it becomes clear to me it is an alternative telling of the ancient gnostic tale 'the hymn of the pearl' - see, e.g.

    a summary and exegesis of this ancient tale from a latter day saints perspective can be seen at

    tate's narrator identifies himself as "a hungry little Gnostic in need of a sandwich", a much-used pickup line that doesn't work on an unresponsive ("deaf, dumb, and blind") nurse at a lunch counter

    unlike the gnome, who presumably slips the bonds of this world, as his shroud definitely does, our narrator still hungers for earthly things (the sandwich, sex with the woman) and remains trapped "here" - depicted as an alleyway with unsavory elements - the "underworld" described in the words of the song the shroud whistles as it flies upwards

    the shroud reminds us of the shroud of turin, of course, but also of the "robe of honor" or "garment of light" in the hymn of the pearl - the rightful garb of the hero, which he follows on his way back to his heavenly home

  3. 1)the tale which tate has reworked in this poem has a wikipedia article

    2)another poem of tate's which i give an anagogic interpretation to is "the promotion" - see

  4. it happens like this :: james tate

    I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
    smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
    It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
    brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
    it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
    what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
    a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
    smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
    I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
    my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
    one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
    I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
    stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
    up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
    everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
    man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
    fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
    “It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
    three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
    The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
    and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
    “Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
    “It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
    and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
    called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
    is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
    and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
    forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
    Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
    anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
    I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
    to wonder where we would spend the night.