Friday, March 10, 2023

Book Review - Mary's Confession by Kurt Schauppner


Cholla Needles, 2020
Reviewed by Greg Gilbert

            Mary’s Confession by Kurt Schauppner is a gentle, thoughtful, and frequently witty free verse narration in the voice of Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. The overall musicality of the poetry is pleasingly engaging with succinct lines, each offering its own rhythmic punctuation and message.

                The confession referenced in the title is that of a mother who is timebound and struggles to navigate the dual nature of her son. Though she has been visited by a divine intermediary, an “errand boy,” she has not experienced directly the “terrible, frightening” voice of God. She has found herself married to “an elder carpenter” who was “willing to have” her, and she has been impregnated. A part of her wishes that she had spoken up, “had said something” to God: “If you are going to get me pregnant / You can at least put in an appearance / Zeus did and he did not even exist.”

                Mary’s glibness is never irreverent; rather, it highlights the dual nature that inhabits the entirety of the Christian story, from the original sin to her own view of her son.  While others see her son as a “troublemaker,” “healer,” “leader,” “messiah,” and “god,” she says that “he was ever and always / And never anything other than / My son.” She speaks of having seen her child “. . . chase butterflies and stare, / Bedazzled, at wildflowers.” This duality serves as a rhetorical device throughout the book. Mary’s narration occurs after her own death, from “heaven,” and, thus, provides a “perspective / you had not enjoyed in life.” As such, her story assumes the role of a heavenly intermediary that waivers between an omniscient past-tense perspective and a present-tense voice that is timebound and suffers the confusions and love that accompany her motherhood.

                There is a surreal duality to Mary’s narration as she describes a life where divine interjection becomes the norm, dreams that guide her elderly husband to have them flee into Egypt, and, thus, experience the relief of saving her child while lamenting the slaughter of the innocents, “mothers / Who have been forced to stand / And watch while their children / Were put to the sword.” In such moments, the reader will appreciate that the earthbound and heavenly incarnations of Mary both understand that there will be a horrific reckoning for her own son. “I wept because I knew that / Soon enough / I would know their sorrow.”

                Meanwhile, there is the day-to-day, “The years I spent chasing after / The Savior of the world / Cleaning up his messes.” The “Savior of the world” offers perhaps my favorite example of duality. One can hear the Jewish mother’s tone, not one of outright mockery but instruction, a voice that brings her son back to earth. You can save humanity after you pick up your clothes!

                In another instance, Mary asserts her role and pushes her son to make wine for a wedding. He proves himself “a superior / Sommelier” who goes on to “spread a handful of loaves and fishes / among several thousand.” She sums up these early miracles as only a mother would. “Any caterer who can pull off a trick like that / Has a fine living waiting for him.” As if in answer to any thought of salaried work, Jesus routs the moneychangers, and she concludes, “ . . . my son was never much of a capitalist.”

                There is so much more that could be said about Mary’s Confession, her views on the disciples, on John the Baptist, Lazarus, and the importance of various notable women of scripture, each a manifestation of her own duality and strength, but I’ll leave that to future readers to explore. What should be apparent is my admiration for Kurt Schauppner’s take on her story.

                Interpretations and speculations concerning the life of Mary have become their own genre, some, like the Gospel of Mary that date back to the second century. Various ancient writings conflate Mary, the mother of Jesus, with Mary Magdalene as the first woman apostle, an individual whose intelligence and devotion to Jesus the prophet and man were disavowed by such as Peter, allegedly due to a combination of jealousy and sexism. Of note is that Schauppner’s Mary provides an effective and liturgical leveling of key disciples. Another speculative publication on the mother of Jesus is Colm Tóibín’s 2014 prose novel, The Testament of Mary, which would serve as a good companion piece to Confessions.

                Christianity’s heaven/hell duality offers an extraordinary menu of conflicts for writers and thinkers to explore, from Augustine to Kazantzakis. While one need not be a believer to appreciate such literature, no thoughtful reader should take offense. The blacklisting of such as The Last Temptation of Christ is, in my opinion, small minded. Such speculative works explore the psychological depths involved in principled and self-examined lives. Kurt Schauppner’s Mary’s Confession is a worthy addition. My singular complaint is that it shares space with Mr. Schauppner’s poetry and journal entries. While they are notable in their own right, their presence undermines the singular voice of Mary, which I believe should stand on its own merits.

Click here to purchase on-line ($6)

Also by Kurt Schauppner:

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Greg Gilbert is the author of Afflatus.

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