Waverley Writers: Reincarnation Story |
By Peter Y. Chou
Monday, January 25, 2005
After a C. K. Williams Poetry Reading at Stanford's Kresge Auditorium,
I see someone sitting behind me that looked familiar.
I tell him, "You're a poet from Waverley Writers I've met years ago.
I don't remember your name, but I know that you were Gérôme, the
French painter in your past life." His face lit up with surprise
as he shook my hand "I'm Ron LeBlanc, it's amazing you remembered
my reincarnation story." I tell Ron that I've not been to Waverley
Writers for some time. We exchange business cards, and he gives me
a flyer of a Sunday poetry reading he's hosting in a Palo Alto Art
Gallery. He tells me that he's writing several poems a week.
Later I learn that Ron LeBlanc was the first place winner in
the Palo Alto Midtown Poetry Wall Contest with his poem
"A Tree Calls Out". I also find my journal of 15 years ago.
Journal Entry: Tuesday, March 6, 1990
Someone sitting on a bench calls out "Peter" as I walk down University Ave.
I recognize him from Waverley Writers Poetry Reading last Friday. He's
well groomed, impeccably dressed, and reads his poems from a binder.
He tells me that he enjoyed my love poems reading, and introduces
himself "Ron LeBlanc". His business card shows an Ionic column at
the right, "Interior Architecture & Lighting Design" in the center,
and a ray of light at the left shining on his name. When I tell him
about my writing aspirations, Ron says that he's also interested in
bringing spirituality to everyday living. He tells me about the mosaic
in back of Rockefeller Center Building an angel shedding spiritual
light amidst modern science and technology in the heart of New York City.
I mention John D. Rockefeller's Credo plaque by the skating rink, and
Ron says "It's amazing that a titan of business could write such a
beautiful spiritual message."
Ron tells me he's also President of "Rays of Light", an organization which
he founded to spread spiritual awakening. He says to me, "I have a proof
of reincarnation" and tells me how as a boy of 13, he had wandered alone
in the Boston Fine Arts Museum. "I went from one painting to another when
Gérôme's L'Eminence Grise hit me suddenly like a flash
of lightning. I felt a chill along my spine and hairs tingle on my arms and
legs. It dawned upon me that I had done that painting, that I was Gérôme
in a previous lifetime. At the time, I knew nothing about reincarnation.
I thought it was the monk's portrait that moved me, but other paintings
of monks didn't trigger the same response. Later, whenever I saw Gérôme
paintings in other museums, I'll have a similar reaction. They were not as intense
as my childhood experience, since I was more guarded emotionally and not as
innocent and spontaneous as in my youth."
At the Palo Alto Main Library, I learn that
Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris
for 40 years. He painted historical canvases with a precise draftmanship,
great compositional skill and photographic realism. I locate Gérôme's
L'Eminence Grise (1874) in an art book. The Grey Cardinal is François Le Clerc
du Trembly (1577-1638), a Capuchin Friar, known as Père Joseph. He became
Cardinal Richelieu's secretary and assistant, confidant of King Louis XIII,
and shaped French foreign policy that would sow discord through Europe.
After studying the painting and reading about Richelieu and Père Joseph,
this poem comes out:
Gérôme's L'Eminence Grise
Père Joseph maintains his monkish manner,
while colorful courtiers and nobles huddle
to one side to give him unobstructed space
as he descends the grand marbled staircase.
He had his talks with Cardinal Richelieu,
planned escapades of war for the glory
of the French Kingdom. He need not flaunt
his authority. The coat of arms tapestry
on the staircase reminds everyone of his
ecclesiastical and political power.
Like squeamish sheeps, they bow
obsequiously to this crafty fox,
a brown robed, barefooted friar.
He's oblivious to their kowtows,
those icy stone-faced eyes glued
to his dark contemplative manual
as he chants silent secret mantras
to hex and destroy his enemies.
Now I recall an art print that I bought at the Hamburger Kunsthalle in 1976
that resembled Gérôme's style.
After some search, I find it
Gérôme's erotic painting Phryne Before the Judges. I look up Phryne in
Lempriere's Dictionary and compose this poem:
Gérôme's Phryne Before the Judges
It was one of those Aha! moments of history.
So beautiful is this Athenian courtesan
that she modelled for Praxiteles's
"Aphrodite" sculptures and Apelles's
painting "Aphrodite Rising from the Sea".
So rich is her coffers from lovers
that she offered to rebuild Thebes
if they would inscribe on the walls,
"Alexander destroyed these, but
Phryne, the hetaera, rebuilt them."
So revengeful was Euthias when
she asked too high an honorarium
that he sought revenge by indicting
her before a court of elders for impiety,
for profaning the Eleusinian Mysteries.
So eloquent was Hyereides the orator,
a court member, her secret lover who
defended her and when he failed to
persuade them, threw off her tunic,
baring her breasts of globular fruit.
So awed were the judges by her exquisite
body, the sheer beauty of it all, that
they acquitted her amidst huge applause
of the crowd, by whom she was carried
in triumph to the temple of Aphrodite.
I've not seen Gérôme's Phryne for years, yet it invokes the same
satori euphoria upon viewing it in Hamburg fourteen years ago. It's
interesting that Gérôme's Gray Eminence & Phryne the heavily
cloaked monk and the heavenly bared beauty invoke such opposite
emotions in the viewer, fear and pleasure both products of thoughts
occurring in time. Like the rise and fall of ocean waves, so are
thoughts in the mind. But H2O is eternal. When we identify
with our essence instead of form, we are free. We speculate about
reincarnation in the past and future that we fail to incarnate now!
Is the present Ron LeBlance, the former Gérôme in the 19th century?
or perhaps one of those 17th century courtiers? Is the present Peter,
one of Phryne's lovers in 4th century BC Greece, so when I saw her
exposed nude before the judges on that museum canvas, I bought the
art print to relive a past memory? But I also purchased Paul Klee's
Golden Fish at the same time. Could I have been a goldfish
in a previous lifetime? Is it possible that all lifetimes have
already been written in some master cosmic textbook, that in
each life, we play out or act to a previous written script?
Is our body just some VCR playing a film that we plugged in
before we were born and have now forgotten. From what Dream
Archives are our astral bodies flying to at night? And what
about deep dreamless sleep where we see, feel, and think
nothing at all? Or perhaps, it's really "deep timeless wake"
where we are everything, everywhere, everytime the experience
so overwhelming, grandiose, and mind-boggling that we faint
Waverley Writers: Valentine Reading
I thank Mary-Marcia Casoly who sent me an email, snail mail, and a phone
message asking me to contribute to Waverley Writer's 25th Anniversary book:
"We'd like you to write up something perhaps with an enlightened, spiritual
or philosophical angle on poetry and your experience with Waverley."
Luckily, I found my old journal notes and contributed this story.
Some poems read at Waverley Writers are posted on my web site:
Web Linked Version