We humans have re-created the surface of our planet in our own image. Then, for control of the masses by a few, we have constructed multiple realities of what it means to be a human. To further manipulate and distort facts and reality, we have entered what some regard as “the post-truth age.” With the aid of algorithms, disinformation whips across social media networks like hurricane force winds, rupturing human interactions within the physical spaces we share. For how much longer can our communities withstand this mounting chaos without implosion?
My Poetry Corner September 2021 features the poem “That Moment an Enormous Tail” (Um Enorme Rabo de Baleia) from the poetry collection Tail of the Whale (Rabo de Baleia) by Brazilian poet Alice Sant’Anna. Born in 1988 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Alice grew up in a very artistic home: Her father was a photographer; her mother was a fashion producer. As a child, she learned to play several musical instruments. Then, at fifteen years old, her artistic future veered toward poetry. Such was the impact after she read the poetry of Brazil’s “marginal generation” poet Ana Cristina César (1952-1983).
During the 1970s the “marginal generation” poets published their books independently, earning the title “marginal.” Following the oral tradition, their poetry used a colloquial and informal style.
Sant’Anna credits her experience of studying abroad in learning “how to be alone, in silence,” critical for her creative process. Her first trip abroad was to New Zealand where she spent a semester as a sixteen-year-old high school student. There, she began writing poetry while adapting to life in a very small town.
As a twenty-year-old undergraduate in journalism at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) of Rio de Janeiro, Sant’Anna published her first book of poetry. In 2009, a year before her graduation, she went to Paris for a semester, providing an impetus for working on her second book, Tail of the Whale (Rabo de Baleia).
In 2013, the year she earned her Masters’ Degree in Literature and Culture at PUC, Sant’Anna’s poetry collection was published to great acclaim, winning the APCA Poetry Prize from the São Paulo Art Critics Association. The collection was published in English in 2016 with translation by Tiffany Higgins, an award-winning American poet and translator.
Breaking free from the Roman Catholic Church did not happen overnight. The fear of Hell, embedded since childhood, is a powerful force. I began questioning the Church’s religious teachings and practices during my seven years in the convent. A beginners’ course in Anthropology, taken as a final year university undergraduate, led me to reconsider the nature of being human and our roles as male and female. I recall having an epiphany about the need to change the rules regarding the Church’s Sacrament of Matrimony that was out of touch with our times.
After leaving the convent, I began exploring other religions and spiritual teachings in search of a more expansive vision of The Divine. Having grown up among Hindus, I was aware that they believe in reincarnation after death. The Buddhists, too, I discovered, also embrace reincarnation. The thought of being born again in what I’ve experienced as a violent and unjust world did not appeal to me.
During the year I worked at the University of Guyana Library, a librarian recommended that I read Reincarnation & Karma by Edgar Cayce (1877-1945). The American psychic struck me as authentic. Instead of condemnation to Hell for eternity, reincarnation gives our soul several chances to make up for mistakes made, wrongs committed. Justice beyond the grave. I began looking at my life and our world with different lenses. Who did I wrong or hurt in past lives?
I was pregnant with our second child when my husband and I joined the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Since receiving my mantra from our certified Guyanese TM teacher, I continue to practice the daily mantra meditation. With varying degrees of success over the years, I have used the technique not only as a form of awareness and stress relief, but also to access a higher state of consciousness.
My break with the Catholic Church occurred about a year and a half after we migrated to Brazil. That’s about ten years after leaving the convent. South America’s largest country and economy also held the top-ranking position as the country with the world’s largest Catholic population. The poverty I witnessed every day on the streets of Fortaleza, capital of the Northeastern State of Ceará, shocked me. Though Guyana was numbered among the poorest countries on the continent, I had never seen hordes of children, including toddlers, roaming the streets in search of food. Where was the Catholic Church? What were they doing to address the poverty and destitution in their midst?
Read Rosaliene Bacchus’ second novel The Twisted Circle when you have a completely free weekend, because you may not be able to put it down. Set in a tropical Guyana, South America, the story based on the country’s history follows a Catholic nun about to take her vows who teaches in a rural school. The […]
While The Twisted Circle is a work of fiction, it has been inspired by real events that occurred during my final year in a Catholic convent in my native land of Guyana. This presented a challenge when creating unique characters who did not mirror the true-life individuals. To distance myself from the protagonist, Sister Barbara Lovell, I made her a dougla—a person of African and East Indian ancestry, the country’s two major racial and ethnic populations. With a family background much different from mine, her journey led to its own resolution for the character.
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1 when readers first meet Sister Barbara:
SISTER BARBARA LOVELL’S life was unraveling like the thread in the hem of her habit. Seated under the mid-morning September sky at the passengers’ waiting area at the Ogle Airstrip, she squeezed her thighs together and adjusted her habit hanging over her knees.
What had she done for Father Andrew Peterson to make his hands fast with her? She was just a plain dougla woman—a mixture of African and East Indian, descendants of slaves and indentured laborers fighting each other for supremacy in Guyana. Their thirteen-year-old independent nation still suffered from the hangover of British colonial rule.
Father Peterson, her parish priest and local-born son of a former British sugar plantation owner, was pale skinned like cow’s milk and tough like cane stalk. Her family had raised her to revere white priests like him.
Her Vow of Chastity was a personal choice. Perhaps, the same was not true for Father Peterson. Catholic Church law dictated that clergymen practice celibacy, yet the law did not stop him from forcing himself on her.
She tucked her sandaled feet beneath the three-seat wooden bench. Beside her on the left, Sister Angela, who had insisted on driving her to Ogle, chatted with a buxom, black woman. From snippets of their conversation, Barbara learned that the woman’s seventeen-year-old daughter had run off with a married man.
In her late forties, the white American nun had been her favorite teacher at St. John’s Catholic High School for girls. Those were the days before the government took over the church-run schools and turned them into co-ed public schools.
As a twelve-year-old in Form One, Barbara had difficulty understanding Sister Angela’s fast-spoken American English, different from British English. In the years that followed, the nun’s firm but kind and generous personality attracted her to joining the Religious Sisters of Christ the Redeemer—an American order with its Provincialate in Cleveland, Ohio.
Though Angela had become her religious mentor and friend, Barbara did not tell Angela what had driven her to move to their isolated sister-convent in Guyana’s North West District. Angela worshipped Father Peterson.
Only Hazel knew.
Seven years ago, in January 1972, she and Hazel, three years older, had entered the convent together. Hazel, too, had grown up in the countryside along the East Coast Demerara where sugarcane and rice lands jostled for sunshine and rain. As a black woman, Hazel understood how intimidating it was for Barbara to confront a white priest—and an older man at that.
Barbara wanted to report the incident to the Bishop; Hazel had disagreed.
“Anybody see him grab you?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Then is his word against yours. And you know, in this country, the white man tongue never lie, much less a priest.”
This book, The Twisted Circle, is an amazing heartfelt journey of a young devout sister, Barbara, in Guyana. She begins her chosen path pure in her faith and devotion. She is immediately sexually harassed by her first priest and in escaping him, she transfers to a remote school that devours her with its own demented jealousies and hidden abusive practices. Her struggle, like all of our struggles, is goodness trying to move forward despite serious roadblocks and the ill will of those who can only express pain and destruction. Her story shows what bravery can look like when faced by insurmountable odds. A misogynistic church run by men and women who have sold their souls to keep the old ways in place offers her no help or protection. This is a place where children are hurt.
Losing becomes swift and heartless. And it does not differentiate between the good and the evil. Barbara must face the reality of what her world has become. You will come away with a marvelous memory of characters that breathe off the page and true heroism that lives on after all is lost.
~ AMAZON REVIEW, AUGUST 29, 2021, BY DAN McNAY, AMERICAN AUTHOR OF FIVE NOVELS. DAN LIVES IN LOS ANGELES, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, USA.