Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Posted by @ 12:08 pm on February 27th, 2012

God and man? But isn’t it searching in a dark bar at three a.m. for a hipster magician that isn’t there? Yes. No. Maybe. If you asked Graham Greene what he would take to the desert island, he would say, “Sunblock, three ribbed condoms, a tube of camouflage, the bible, and Power and the Glory.” It was his favorite book. History lesson: While President Calles is sane on all other matters, he completely loses control of himself when the matter of religion comes up, becomes livid in the face and pounds the table to express his hatred. You can trust God to make allowances, but you can’t trust smallpox, or men. The dentist metaphors are supposed to be about the “teeth” of your beliefs—without them you only eat mush, or a stale BRAT meal: bananas (“ripe, brown, and sodden, tasting of soap”), rice (an annual plant), applesauce (favored by children and criminals), and toast (brimstone bread). Miracles, do you believe in them? Yes, but not for me. In his 111th collection, Graham Greens’s characteristic M.O. is intact: casually enjambed verse-prose stanzas marrying the narrative apotheosis of microfiction to the fatigued hope of a Shakespearean monologue:

I found a married priest in the snow

And not knowing what it was or why it was there, I ate a tart and gutted it
as if a Lieutenant

To me, up to my polished gun holsters in bladder, the brandy was a surprise

I drank it in like the cunning wink of an exploding butterfly

on the lip
of a teacup while God upstairs puts a bag over His head
& gasses the house

& says, “Well if I hated you I wouldn’t want my child to be like you, it makes no sense.”

Enter a shaken rooster of sin.

Opiate of the masses is a clever, if discussing Catholicism. Garrido’s rule, which marked the apogee of Mexican anti-clericalism was supported by Tabasco, though not the hot sauce. Hunter and hunted, the quest and so on, not that Greene has an easy job. I finished the book last night and took a powerful hallucinogenic and spent all night with the most odd, odd dreams, priests and mules riding some sort of air-escalators and tossing and turning and for a moment I thought I would convert right there below a ceiling fan but then the dog shifted in its kennel (really a cage) and I woke up felt like I had been swallowed by a great slug and all day traveling through its slug-a-verse of intestinal slowness. I turned to my sleeping companion (an actual Catholic!) and said, “I had the weirdest dreams, about this book I read. See, the communists wanted to kill the priests, but you could marry and not be killed. You could turn your back on God publicly and say it was all fake. Imagine the situation! To live yet rebuke your God. Or to stay with God and run for your life, run and run, until eventually they find you and line you up and shoot you in a firing squad! I mean what would you do? What would I do?” My sleeping companion said sleepily, “Doesn’t sound like a very fun book.” Jesus. The book moved me slowly that way. A blanket of thinking. Indian says, “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?” Priest: “No, not if you did not know.” Indian: “Then why did you tell me?” The Calles government hoped to use images of the execution of Priests to scare the rebels into surrender, but the photos had the opposite effect. We may not like it here—we may not like ourselves, Greene seems to say.

who is watching (I am watching) a pink or yellow slug slink
(while we walk) keeping pace with us
through the fenestrated walls (shelves?) of

our bodies

These small figures in white have never been born

and so have never died

Gin and tonic?

a ruined house (Oh, this darn writing finger)…

I suppose he means the doodles remake the walls (these line breaks imply) as the pink or yellow slugs vivify both the walls we know and the walk, or stroll, we take within them? (To mix metaphors! [But I don’t give a damn…])The narrator’s hard-won ingenuousness is as hilarious at times (though not ha-ha funny) as it is unflagging. (New Formalists: look elsewhere for your villanelles!) Wow, that ending was optimistic, Mr. Greene. I mean, really? Yes, you of little faith, really. A banana is just a banana, and a man is just a man waiting for the next thing to happen. But a man who expects nothing is a thing of glory.

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