In Which I Invoke the Rabbit Goddess Jantí Using a Helpful Amount of Catholic Imagery
Despite the Fact That I’m No Longer a Practicing Christian
I almost didn’t see you there
O Gentle One—you’re lost amongst
the winter grass, your stony darkness
unremarkable as smoke in
the sky. But I found you.
Does your goddess know?
Does Jantí know?
Graciously my head falls to rhythm—
Censer, censer, beast of the winter,
Hot on my breath like sacrament
Whispers, drawing out signs of
Spinneedle whiskers with vapor twirling
Around my fingers. O
Brothers and Sisters, hold out your
Arms that we may lift her
Down from the stars
And into the
Orange street lamp
lit exactly at
My stony friend, your ears unfold as
palm leaves in worship,
your January eyes the surviving stainglass
Puritans never got to. O
Untouchable Thing, ubiquity, I have no proper
titles for you, I have no words
that leave my mouth unashen. All I have
to understanding is a rusting Tabernacle
and the pine wood I feed it, the closest
I’ve come to hearth. All I have are
borrowed sounds and bowing heads,
the space betwixt filled holy.
O Great Starry Pelt! I see your
Magic tread soundless,
I see your will revolve like
Glass constellations, I
Hear my vocation spelled out in
Snowprints, my temple
Of holes dug in the beds—
Jantí, reduce me to
You acknowledge me as best as
Leporidae can, though I understand the
difficulty of language barriers
more than most. Vapor suffices as our
you understand shifting states of matter
more than most.
I walk away and you, ineffable
back into nightness or snow
or an untended fire, embers
incense for none but
the winter stars.
On Jantí, Childhood, and the Tools of Religious Language
Jantí came to me very organically, the awestruck love of animals a very deep well from which a lot of my poems are drawn. My Father, who hunted regularly throughout childhood, would confess he could never shoot a “backyard bunny”—he always liked seeing them, their frenetic urban domesticity, their familiarity. We’d pass them at night and he would cry “Death rabbit! Cover your throat!” while frantically clasping his hands to his throat (in reference to Monty Python & the Holy Grail) to my eternal delight. He still does this, I think, or I do when he doesn’t. It’s an utterance you can’t really get out of your muscle memory once you’ve heard it enough times, the same way I’ll instinctively recite a Catholic hymn or prayer response when correctly prompted. My childhood affection for rabbits also coincided with several of my favorite musical artists referencing leporidae in their songs, namely “Magic Rabbit” by the opera singing / indie-composing talentress Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond. There’s something about the linguistic properties of “rabbit” that caught me, a feeling pinpricked somewhere between archaic and juvenile, and the song’s actual narrative contents (a girl tries to heal her ailing mother through song, which she attributes to magic rabbits) were haunting enough to keep me fixated on magic rabbits throughout high school and college. So when my poetry professor last winter asked the class to write an “animal encounter” poem, that mystical disyllabic creature hopped straight from my mind onto paper without a second thought. It also helped that I’d spent the previous year leaving notes underneath my Residence Advisor’s doorstep about “Jantí, Rabbit of the Stars, Her Pelt Shining Eternal,” accompanied by the occasional vegetable gift. He returned the favor once on Valentine’s Day: I came up to my room to find a whole package of celery and a note declaring “Jantí be praised!” as a sort of odd inside joke, though I’m fairly confident he thought me a druidic missionary subtly preaching the Holy Rabbit Word (or ear, I suppose, or nose twitch) under a vise of social eccentricity. It was fun while it lasted.
The choice in animal is clear, then, steeped in fond childhood memories and well-nurtured affection. The rest of the poem’s construction came from the retooling of a memory poem I did my freshman year, ripe with Catholic imagery for reasons I couldn’t remember. The process was clear—I remember looking through a churchy Wikipedia and miscellaneous clerical articles for strange terms and arcana that fit the poem’s visual and sonic themes—but why? I haven’t gone to church in years, since before high school, and I wasn’t a practicing Catholic, Christian, ‘Pastafarian,’ anything. I can still empathize with the Wonder of it all, and the strangely scientific terms felt strangely delicious in my mouth (tabernacle, transubstantiation, et al). I was especially fascinated with the idea of “holiness” and what it means to be holy, what requirements you must meet in order to achieve the fabled state of Christian nirvana. What did I consider holy in the world? People? Surely not, people can’t be holy. We’re too complicated, too sin-ridden. Objects? Architecture? Sure, a holy place is something I know to exist in both anthrocentric and—what, posthumanist?—terms. The ability to feel out a sacred space is almost a priori, the same inexplicable feeling summoned by a dense wood, or a familiar house, or an inviting streetlight. Then what about animals? Are they holy? Locking eyes with a small brown rabbit one January night, the quad covered in snow, the orange streetlight casting a haloed doxology and realizing with certainty that one of us belonged and one of us didn’t, I declared with certainty that yes, animals surely are the most holy of all. The 25-word train-wreck of a title spells the rest out pretty clearly: when given linguistic tools to aptly describe the wonder and awe, the divinity, the sheer holiness of the world, why not utilize them? Why build a new church from scratch when my childhood chapel has fresh loam?
Rhetorical questions aside, there’s a friction I’ve created between the intensely manmade and the intensely natural. Religion inhabits an odd space here, but from what I remember from my 10 years of Catholic schooling, it’s pretty good at filling in the spaces. Our school’s priest gave a demonstration my 7th grade year during our school’s Wednesday mass, in which (to my delight) he called me up as his assistant. He handed me a large glass jar. “Let’s imagine that these are the time-consuming obligations in your life,” he said, holding up a bag of ping-pong balls, “and this jar is the time you have in a week.” He started dropping ping pong balls in one at a time, calling out examples with each release: “Homework. Sleep. Family. Friends. School. Sports. Shake that up for me, Michael.” He screwed the lid on and I obliged. The balls barely shifted. “This probably how a lot of you feel sometimes. See how full this is? How there isn’t any room left? Ah, but God subverts that. Even when we think we can’t possibly make time for the Lord…” here he pulls out a second bag, filled with sand, and pours it into the jar. He takes it from me and holds it up for the audience to see, the sand barely reaching a third of the jar’s volume. “He finds a way. There is always room for God, even if it’s right before you go to sleep, or in the space between breaths, or the time it takes you to blink your eyes—He will find a way, if you’ll let Him.”
Michael S. E. Wilson is a junior studying English, linguistics, and religious studies.