Featured

Life as Motion

Essay on Dante’s Inferno Canto XIII

Now in this forest we found there were many trees, with many branches each, without flower, bud, green or leaf. Dante led me through, stepping carefully, for there was no path at all. The woods were sharp as flint.

I heard many cries. But I couldn’t a single person see. Though the cries were so close. Before I could ask about this, Dante stopped, and bent his ear East. Then we heard a sound, not groan but melody, as of a Japanese flute – piping from so very far away.

Dante turned and carefully made his way in that direction – so I followed.

The sound grew louder and louder, and it was right in front of me, and I saw that it was coming from one of these trees. And Dante told me to look very carefully on it. And, as constellation may itself reveal in the night, so did the tree: It was the shape of a man, sitting cross-legged, and playing the flute – which was a broken branch.

Now the sound could only come through that instrument when the foul winds blew; there were no lungs but that. And so the song was quite cut. Its player most patient. To wait for wind to flow his notes – but was this indeed a man?

As if answering, Dante broke off a branch, which looked like a toe, so near the root it was, and shaped so, and when the sprig was cracked off, a bloody sap and air flowed out – and this was the sound:

– Why mangle me?

The words barely discernible, as though a play of the ear. I was terribly startled, and startled I fell back onto another tree and cracked three branches and from them, like air whistling out of a cylinder, were quite concerned cries:

– Stooooop!

These trees were people, or these people were trees. We asked the flute player how he had here arrived, and through that flute, which I saw was his right arm detached and hollowed out, he answered:

– By the butchering of my body I am ever to body bound. Seppuku – I killed me. I’d failed my Lord. So as answer for my error, error eternal I made.

So he sang, his flute his arm his voice, until the air-blood staunched, and the valve was again closed.

– Through this wood I’ve walked many times. Said Dante. In contemplation of this sin, its consequence, its tempt. Melancholy’s my often way. But never I’d heard a song here. Never anywhere in hell. Would you show us how?

The flute-player, with an exercise of will unimaginable, a sound of bending branches, stretched out his finger onto his broken off arm, puncturing the holes, releasing the air, and played again the song of the flute.

– It must have taken centuries to even get into the position to play. Said I. To break off the arm, to fashion it inside and out, to hold it so with the other, and then with one’s own blood unlet for the winds of Hell to flow a’Heaven.

The flute-player seemed pleased with my praise, for frequently now he wounded himself, and played the song all the way through as we stood and listened. Then he stopped. Perhaps, from great exhaustion.

– Now why do the suicides trees become? Dante asked.

– Self slaughter’s a slow sediment. Said I. Some sins, that to suicide lead, calcify, scale, and burn a crust upon all the soul’s skin. The soul, which is the body’s appearance, depresses to torpidity. And makes slightest motion an agony. For to move’s to live. To live to move. Note the tree that by a bark soft bends in dance slow on the airy cliff, and like the sea it long overlooks, shapes to all the flows of the wind’ing air – there’s the vital sign – a softness of earth, a wood like water.

– Then this bark of self-broken man’s the end of a hardening? Dante asked sagely.

– Yes.

– And these trees not be dead or alive, in Hell or Heaven, but are images of them thereof?

– Indeed.

– Then this song’s but the stretching of him again to life?

– The song’s the stretching itself.

– And stretching is a motion?

– Yes.

– And motion often makes motion?

– Right.

– And life, as you said, is motion?

– Yes, indeed.

– Then this song is life itself?

– Yes. And his life’s a stretching, which reaches out to us, and lends life to us.

– So we were caught by the ear, and led in by the ear, and led out by the ear, from the forest of suicides… We left the forest. The flute-player played his goodbye.

Featured

Anger’s Slough

An Essay on Dante’s Inferno

Canto VIII

Illustration by Gustave Dore

We’d waited upon the shore of the deep slough for a long time, standing in darkness, hearing the water’s low lap and the distant groans of souls. And I was both in dread and bored. Dante did not speak, so I didn’t either.

At last, two spotlights shone out from far away, pointing up at the sky – like the kinds one might see in Hollywood, or a WW2 bombing – they were shutting off, and turning on, as though signaling to each other.

As if in sequence of this signal, there came to us over the waters a little dingy – its motor’s gentle purr seemed a loud noise in all the quiet – an old woman was its pilot.

– Now art thou arrived, fell soul? She asked us as she landed her boat on the bank.

– A boating for two across the slough. Said Dante, handing her, as payment, a poppy.

We boarded. The boat sank a little with my weight. We took off, the motor making its gentle push. I was rather curious about this old woman, who seemed so frail and small and bent, but guided the dingy with the confidence of habit.

– What is your name, mam? Asked I.

– The widow of wars. Said she as she stuffed the flower petals up into her nose.

Now our boat’s journey across the slough, or swamp, had become very bumpy, and I thought that perhaps some rocks our path obstructed. But looking down taught the truth: Our boat bounced along shields, swords, bullets, wings, bursting flak, fishhooks, beartraps, all the weapons of man, and worst of all, men and women, of all kinds, warring in the water.

Now as we went across the figures did not see our boat above them – and the widow was careful to steer around and between the struggles – but I recognized one man in the swamp, and he recognized me, and lifted himself (on two clashing heads) halfway out of it and looked at me.

Joel. He had not even died yet, and yet here he already was. If you knew him too you knew why. I’d met him in Boston. A dead city. He’d fought his way through it, for the last of us.

– Criminals and kings be caught in swamp! The mire is our own make. And monster’s me, under a face of fungi, or in a cloud of spores, behind the shambler’s click’s a sound worse, a Man’s raging curse. Said Joel.

Now the widow did not needs push him away from our boat, for the others in the slough, hearing his words, swarmed him, and brought him down again to be be-mired in the melee, the wrestle, the tooth and nail.

In the swamp, he struggled as before. And I felt very sorry for him. I wondered, had I not gained safety from his fight? For I’d gotten through the dead city. For had he not killed all those evil things that were in our way? And what about all those other strugglers’ struggles? Here were Axis and Allies, comrades and villains, patriots and partisans – who’s half was my side?

I conveyed these questions to Dante and the old woman.

– Such is the widow’s window to war. Said she, simply.

And she looked down on all her sons, and daughters, and departed husbands as over their anger’s slough she oared her higher course. She steered around them. She didn’t touch them, but put another petal up her nose.

Dante said nothing, but seemed to enjoy the view – I think he felt he was above it all.

And so again I was left to think on the sight by myself.

I came to no certain conclusions, but the boat brought us to the shore, and the Metropolis of Hell, formerly known as the City Diss, now rebranded as:

Los Angeles Caidos

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

Featured

Sonnet III

Saint John the Baptist by Leonardo Da Vinci

In aspen woods there is a sacred space,

Which by the Bones I think the Crow had roost,

And there I took my craft: needle, thread, and lace,

And sewed Love’s idol. But not Cupid I’produced,

Not that casual boy, of the blind arrow,

But someone with a honey jar, sweets plenty,

And without wings, but an earthy barrow,

Where no eros fly, but grow in years many,

I sewed a Man’s great arms, love must lift much,

Above a Woman’s hands, must tender bruise,

Under Child’s eyes, love sees with tender touch,

With Lion’s grin, for you I’d much bemuse,

So what then was the figure I had sown?

Naught but this one, which now to you I’ve shown.


Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

Featured

A Game of Change

An Essay on Dante’s Inferno Canto VII

Illustration by Gustave Dore

Now as we journeyed further through Hell, Dante and I, we came upon a man squat on a rock. His back turned to us, I could not recognize him. He was muttering something, and so we approached close enough to hear:

– Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe…

And so he repeated until he noticed us:

– Oh! Hello there! Welcome, welcome, we are very open!

He made a motion as though to open a door and led us through a doorframe that we could not see, and he showed us around his shop only he could see.

– Everything must go! These sales are to die for! It’s an all-year Holiday hot sale!

He then mimed, as though taking things off the top shelf, and held both his hands out to us, showing something, I don’t know what, but it seemed very heavy.

– This would make a fine gift, its full of special and thrift, here’s a heavy sign, that show’s you’ve lot to recline, have a handle on it, but don’t ever drop it.

Dante sneered at this, but I decided to humor this man, and so I reached my hand out and ‘took it’ – I felt nothing of course – and held it and pretended to inspect it.

– That will be one denarius. Said he.

– We need that for the river man. Said Dante.

– We’ve got enough for him. Said I, handing over one denarius to the man (I always keep ancient coins on my person, just for such circumstances).

As soon as he took it, I was in real trouble. As soon as he took it, there appeared in my hand a large and heavy bag of change – quarters, nickels, pennies, dimes, and other ancient coins – so heavy my shoulders slumped forward, and strained I was to keep my head up. There around me also appeared, the largest shopping mall I’d ever seen – all got up in Christmas stars glaring down – and crowds of shoppers squinting forward, they also carried the same bags as I, but much bigger, so much so they rolled them about the endless promenades.

I tried to drop the bag of change, but it was tied to me with a Gordian knot.

– Well now you’ve done it. Said Dante.

The bag was growing with change. It was getting so heavy I could not hold it, but could only roll it about, like the others, to get to where I was going – I was heading towards the exit, straining against the weight of the insane purse.

The people around me, seeing my maneuver, rolled their bags towards me, and towards me and towards each other, made gestures towards their own bags, goading each other to admire each other’s lot. The bragging became so immense, that I couldn’t even see the exit, so many were the fools.

And I the foolest of fools!

But I had an idea. I opened my bag – inside were all the coins – and I scooped them up in my hands and began to throw them out. The people around me scrambled for it, and I cleared a way to the exit. But still I could not reach it, the bag was filling faster than I could throw the change out.

– Free money! Here! I shouted, displaying my bag.

Now this was a dangerous thing, for all the mall now to me rolled and swelled and grabbed, tearing at my bag and me – shoveling the change as fast as shoppers could shovel – indeed this was faster than the bag could of itself re-fill, and soon the amount dwindled, dwindled, to a single coin, which I threw out, which dispelled the illusion, and I was back in Hell.

The coin struck the trickster man on the head.

– Ow! He said, running away, and shutting himself in his broom closet, which only he could see, and so he looked rather sad and cowardly, crouched a few feet away from us, like a child poorly playing hide and seek, covering his eyes.

He went back to his indecipherable muttering:

– Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe…

Dante asked me if I’d learned anything, and I felt that I had, but I said nothing and moved along, eager to get away.

I don’t like malls.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

Featured

Nativity

Sonnet II

El Greco’s The Adoration of the Shepherds

This trough, or manger, was itself the grave

Of the Bethlemite, bier’d umbilical,

Let down by navel string, into this cave,

This world within womb, apocalyptical

Trumpets, tambors and symbols blare his ministry,

In lowing of cattle, fire’s crack, and the infant cries,

If we’d have ears to hear we’d muse divinity,

In every birth, every act of his babbling guise,

And ask shall this new born babe himself decay,

When his Parable’s stretched to the very rack,

When on some tree he shall himself re-lay

To die the innumerable death, still on his back?

Or shall we shout his resurrect on every third day,

When out some womb he does himself display?


Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

Featured

Adam’s Story

A Guest Story by PD Lorenz

Michelangelo’s Adam

“God called to the Man: ‘Where are you?” Genesis 3:9

I was there when it was all brand new. I saw the works of the Creator with my very own eyes. I saw the canvass when it was fresh, eternal, and unbroken. The trees were so alive, their leaves responding to each movement of the gentle breeze as if they were dancing to unheard harmonies. The flowers and grasses even sang with delight; responding to the slightest movement of the wind of God. It truly was heaven upon the earth. 

But alas, I was also there when it all fell apart and broke into pieces… 

It was a feeling that neither of us had felt before. The only way I can describe what we were feeling is to say that something was being stripped away from us like a tree that loses its bark, or a lamb that is stripped of its wool. Only for us, we were losing life itself and it was leaking right out of our pores as if we were sweating to death. 

And yet, we were cold; oh, we were so very very cold.

As the life was leaking from our very beings, something like a dark cloud was replacing it and coming down upon us. I have come to know that it was a thing called shame. Yes, that seemed to be a good name for it, for it was as heavy as the force of the atmosphere itself. It began to push downward upon us like it was trying to pound us back into the soil from which we were created. All of this happened in a moment of time and when it was over, we realized that we were unclothed. 

In a mad scramble, we collected fig leaves to try to sew for ourselves some sort of clothing, but it was a fruitless attempt at a makeshift covering. We both knew that we had lost something very precious, but we didn’t know quite what we had lost until we heard the sound of Him. It was our Creator, and He was quickly approaching our position. 

Together, we scrambled for the shade of some bushes within a bramble of trees. I can still sense that strange and awful moment. (It’s funny what stands out in the memory.) I remember being huddled together waiting for the inevitable, that is, the presence of the Creator to come near us.

The surrounding forest looked so green and lush and yet, we were still shivering together. Worse than that however, was the feeling that my wife didn’t quite “fit” into my arms like she used to. I instantly remembered the wonderful times that we had had in that garden of God. Oh, the incredible discoveries we had made together, the wonderful wonders of that wondrous place! But, it was fleeting.

It’s hard to explain, but the moment we took the bite of the forbidden fruit, that is, the moment we felt the life leave us, some kind of rift occurred… Some sort of separation took place. But I digress, for that sensation was merely the backdrop to the drama that was really unfolding before our eyes. I’ll try to recall it to the best of my ability…

As the Creator approached our rather pitiful place of concealment, I watched Him, mesmerized by what He was doing. And then I realized that I hadn’t seen Him in quite awhile.  To be quite honest with you, I hadn’t taken the time to search for Him. I had gotten so caught up in the wonderful time that the woman and I were having, that I had simply forgotten Him. 

For you see, we used to love to play hide and seek!  It was like… like when I first fell in love with my Creator.  A pang of guilt rose up within me and only then did I realize how much I had missed Him; how much I had missed His closeness; His laughter, His warmth and His love. 

I was simply awestruck in that bush as I continued to watch Him.  Awestruck by the fact the even though we had directly disobeyed His command by eating from the fruit of the Tree of Life, which He had told us not to eat from, He had actually come looking for us!  I know that we were a wretched sight with the “life” simply dripping off of us like skin melting in a fire.  

Kneeling down, and only a few yards away, He continued working with His hands. Even then, even when we had more or less removed ourselves from His eternal goodness and were worth less than nothing to Him… Even then, He started to heal us. 

Simply enough, He began by taking a lamb and killing it right before our eyes. I had never seen shed blood before in our domain and as the steam from it’s contents rose from the flint knife that the Creator held in His very own hand, my wife turned away and snuggled into my chest. Strangely, a warm sensation instantly washed over the both of us like a blanket on a cold winter’s night. In it was a hint of something quite different. 

It’s hard to explain, but it was like catching a glimpse into some distant future; a future when our drama would be completed and it brought with it… Well, it brought hope. However, the feeling passed over us quickly and as I continued to watch, I noticed a tear that began to gather in the corner of Creator’s eye.  In the next moment, I realized what sin had done.  It had separated me from my loving Creator and our time together, our closeness, had been cut-off. 

I wanted, with every fiber of my being, to run to Him and to embrace Him but I knew that I could not.  He was too…  Too pure!  All I could do was silently weep as I continued to watch Him make “proper” clothing for us to wear. He then spoke for the first time and it came in the form of a question.  When He asked, He asked without looking in our direction… And that hurt my heart even more than before.

“Where are you?” He inquired, even though I knew that He knew exactly where I was. Needless to say, it was a loaded question dripping with subtext. I hate to admit it, and I’m quite embarrassed to say, I gave Him an answer that He was not looking for.

I don’t know why I said it the way I said it. I guess it was the disobedience that had suddenly found a home within my nature. Bumbling, I replied with a rather pathetic reply. 

“I, I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid.”

God said, “Who told you you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?”

Another almost uncontrollable excuse tumbled from my lips. I said, “The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me the fruit from the tree, and, yes, yes I ate it,” I said as I stamped my foot and felt more like a child than a man. 

God then turned to my wife and asked her a similar question. “What is this that you’ve done?”

“The serpent seduced me,” she said, “and I ate.”

Somehow, I knew the excuses that we gave Him were not the answers that He was looking for. After that, a pause…  Have you ever heard someone say that their whole life flashed before their eyes right before they died?  Well, in that pause; and it was only a moment, I say not only my life but the life of all of mankind…  And it was all downhill… An endless descent…  

Then, everything happened so quickly like a lightning bolt from the sky.  His judgement came swiftly and severely and there was nothing we could do about it. Before we even had time to digest what had just happened, we were thrown out of the garden that we had created so many memories within, our home,  and as we were leaving arm in arm, I looked back to see if I could see the One who had made me; the One who breathed into my nostrils giving me the breath of life, the one I had laughed with, but all I could see was fire. 

Fire, as the wonderful heavenly creatures guarding the gate swung swords so fast that they glowed white with heat and off of them, sparks and flame flew in various directions.  It was a fire that forever separated me from my true home, our true home.

Over the years, that is, the many many years that have passed I have often searched for my homeland. Even as I have been telling you this story, I have been looking for those gates, but my eyes have grown so very dim. I am now at the end of my life, and I know it.

It’s been some 930 years and the mortal cut to my originally created immortal being has finally come to full fruition. Oh, if I could only find those gates once again… If I could only look into the face of My Creator, I would answer His question so very differently.

Not that my answer would have made a difference, mind you. I, I just wish to tell Him how much I have missed Him. Oh, to just look Him in the face once again… Just one more time. Perhaps, just perhaps, One day I will!


Thank you for reading this story by PD Lorenz. Cheers to your Sunday Morning.

JCL


PD Lorenz is a skilled and gifted writer, and lieutenant in the Summit County Fire Service, in Colorado. He is the author of several books, including the Fantasy/YA series, ‘The Shadow Scrolls’, and an Illustrated Children’s Book series, ‘Sally Sandy Sees Something’, which follows the adventures of an always curious Golden Retriever. Links to his books can be found here:

Featured

Black Coffee with Jesse James

Part 1&2

Upon the frontier, which is a wild and dangerous land, it is not uncommon to request rest and vigor at the first home one may stumble upon. Such was it like back then. Such was the Nature of the wildland, and the scarcity of Man’s works yet there.

So was I marching my way through what is now called Alma Colorado, under the shadow of the mountain which is now called Mt. Lincoln.

It was dusk and the light was losing so I set my feet towards a light upon a hill which was of a log cabin, chimney a’puffing stove a’glowing, daring the Fall to outdo it.

Knocking on the door I made my polite pleas to its occupant, an old widow, some 70 years young, who had come to this place long ago, who I’d heard of rumor to be named Miss Mapple, and suspected of witchery by the nearest enlightened townsfolk.

The only spell was her generous hospitality. For I warmed my feet by the enchanted fire, my stomach by the enchanted biscuit, my heart with talk.

But soon enough another knock rapped against the door.

Enter, Jesse James, followed by his brother, Frank James.

They tipped their hats as I’d done, and spoke honeyly, and entreated and were granted, the leave that I now enjoyed – their feet by the fire, their mouths to the biscuit, Frank gave me a hard eye, mutelike, but Jesse he just jawed and jawed at the widow and me.

We had black coffee the widow gave us. Which was thick like mud. She had served her most in the cup. I think she knew it was he, and was frightened of he, as any reasonable widow would be. Jesse asked me all about who I was and where I’d come from. I lied and yarned well. Perhaps he saw through that like a cut, for he looked at me for a straight minute and said real slow:

 Jesse James

Are thee my foe or friend? I ask you this.

Myself

I am a friend to friends, mister.

Jesse James

Do you suggest that yer friendship has a demarcatin’ ?

Myself

Aye, as all do so. Reason with me in this

Way sir, if I a friend to you am and

You to myself are not, then there unbalance

Does tip from throw to throw overboard.

You see, mister, friendship has parts two.

Jesse James

Which be what, sir?

Myself

Why, the friend and the ship!

Jesse James

Ha ha ha ha !

Jesse clapped me on the back as he guffawed and I spilt quite a bit of the mud on the rug. Frank James did not jaw nor laugh with us but spat upon his occasion into the fire – the black plugs hissin and sputterin and smelling something awful. Then I noticed the widow was weeping.

Myself

Madam! I feel awful bad about

the spilt coffee on your fine fur rug.

(Jesse was eying me madly now I thought he’d shoot me right there)

Please don’t weep it’s a sin to do something

Bad enough and a-make a widow weep…

Jesse James

Whatcha crying about now ol’ darling?

Widow

Oh it aint the coffee sir it aint that.

(Now Jesse had taken his hand of his piece and he winked at me like a friend)

Jesse James

What be your weepin’ for then my mama-near?

(Strange talk he had this outlaw jawer)

Widow

Fifteen real rough years its done been since I

Have had a single man in this log cabin.

Not word or talk or laugh or smirk then since…

Jesse James

Haha… old dear that’s a sad story…

But now I need ya to me tell the real

Reason for your weeping and wailing true.

The fire crackled quiet now. Like it wanted to listen in too. Even Frank stopped hockin his plugs.

Widow

This home I’ve opened to y’all fine gentlemen

I do not yet full own, no bank mortgage

I’ve yet satisfied. It aint as easy to pay

A bank as tis to feed a gentleman,

At my old age sir it is impossible.

Jesse James now grinned wide his white wolfish teeth. Frank went back to pluggin.

Jesse James

Do you know who I am old mama-near?

Widow

Yes s-sir, I suspect I-I do

Jesse James

You do?

Widow

Yes so.

Jesse James

            Say so. Say so then my name I do have.

Widow

Jesse James.

Now his face was real hard like mean flint. It was never wise to name an outlaw. No matter one’s station. The pitcher of the coffee in her hand did tremble and tip. I feared for us all.


We’d hid ourselves in the sagebrush. They covered the plain like silver hills. They covered our black-garbed bodies. Jesse James, and Frank James, and me myself. We were watching the road, and we’d been watching the road for some hours four. We were waiting for the Man we meant to rob. The Colorado sagebrush has a strong scent. It lulled me. I remembered.

There Jesse was in the kitchen with the Widow. She was standing just by the knife, and I think she meant to raise it should he move in bad manner. I remember Jesse’s words.

Jesse James

I mean to fix you reasonably mam.

And then the fireplace had cracked and James had spat and the Widow she gulped the frog deep down her throat and asked, so pityingly:

The Widow

Of what do’ya mean to fix of me Jesse James?

He smiled and from his back pocket pulled a wide wad of greenback bills, the quantity a robbery would get you, and no good deed would never get you. And he unloosed the strong band from them and counted them upon his licked finger, counting some five hundred dollars, a sum that seemed so small to the quantity he held.

Jesse James

Now this I offer is a sum rich in green,

A power in paper, got in arm and powder,

In blood of ill folk and White folk, from

Indian and Amerikan, from Slave and Widow

Too; yes, indeed I done that deed, mama-near.

And now I mean to give this grafted gift to

You if you would but pluck the greenback…

He held it out to her. And she, trembling, pale before that gift that was not such a gift, raising her arm, reaching her hand, out, and further out beyond the knife, she plucked, she take.

Then Jesse James smiled wide and white and let that of himself go to her and he doffed his hat and tipped it and walked to the door where Frank was who’d plucked me up from where I’d sat and took me out the door and I heard Jesse say one thing more.

Jesse James

With this the gift of me myself I’d have

You pay what you owe, and as justice to

The me you’ve took you’ll tell, of no blemish

Nor blur nor besmirched portrait of him

The man you owe this of me to; his hat,

His color flesh, his horse and carriage, his

Force of arms or fists or quirting whip,

His boot and print, his talk and tongue and place

Of rest, of business, of love and life

You’ll tell to the devil of prairie and plain,

Of mountain and river, you’ll talk to Jesse James

These things of Man to whom you owe and will

Not long owe, everything of he I mean to know.

The Widow

Of bond, then, I see I’ve lost yet got; of gift,

I’ve gained a home, and lost the heart within,

As though the fire from its place is plucked…

I’ll tell you all of him.

And so we waited for him to cross the road, I enlisted to this wicked task, on account of chance, and no more. I did not know how long I’d had then to live, but, I suspected, twas still more than the man in the white hat which now ascended the rib of the road, heading heedless into the crosshairs of Jesse James.

The picture of Him, talked of by the Widow, did this unassuming and gentle man match. For upon his bosom he’d perched the creamy larkspur, new plucked fresh as the morning and precious its life in this the Fall, the coming white Winter.

These were not his only signs of his Peace. He rode also upon a gentle Donkey, humble, his back bowed by bags. The man was in good spirits. He whistled a happy tune.

Frank James’ rifle rang out, and its bullet cracked into the Donkey – its frightened whiney was its last sound, it toppled to the ground, pinning and breaking the man’s leg underneath, He whose song had ceased, on the cold earth he moaned and weeped.

Jesse James

Manalive! He’ll smell brimstone through a nailhole!

So he said, racing to the fallen man, whipping him with the butt of his gun to silence. Searching the saddlebags of the dead Donkey, he finds gold rocks, some jewels and effects, and the Widow’s cash.

Jesse James

Flamdoozledum! This fallen patroon

Has pelfs a’plenty! A crack pottin swinks much

Doesn’t it Frank? Sooth what a site! Sooth!

Frank of course the quiet man said nothing, but pulled the dead donkey off the fallen man, continuing to search Him, and finding personal effects – a letter to his loving wife, a doll made of flour sack and straw, a red apple, a bouquet of flowers of the mountain, a silver locket, a patched child’s shoe.

The fallen man groaned, red bubbles and tooth shatters seeped up out of his caved mouth, he clutched and tore the greying grass under him, he opened his eyes and saw his Life-Taker there jawing and laughing above him, and He saw me now by my watching, just as in league.

The Man

Who are you, sir?

Jesse James

I’m the catamount, the lariat, the pizen

That burns through the skin of yer toddy,

I am the fust that turns all food a’mold,

The crimp that takes the child from hearth of home,

The treacherous massasauga that slithers

In sage for heel of Man in His walk creative,

And upon that heel I latch my venom and vile

Fang.

Putting his gun upon the lip of the Victim, his hammer readies a’click.

Jesse James

I am he, outlaw, the Jesse James.

The Man

I know you, I wasn’t asking you, I asked him.

For He was looking on me and did not a-take his gaze away a moment.

Before I could answer there was a bang, and his face was gone from me forever.

Jesse James

That’ll teach you not to steal from Widows, husher.

Then Jesse and Frank, their stolen good upon their shoulders, turned their guns on me.

Jesse James

Now that you’ve known my real name, I’ve made

My plans for you, and you will see them now

In fruit, for a fellow you’ve been to me in this

The clipping of the white gull I’ve swived.

So as accomplice I’d indite you well

As you in me. For you did fear your Life

To lose, for in brotherhood we’ve been,

And in brotherhood will always be.

Me Myself

I’d like to bury him, Jesse, that an

Go on my way away from you and Frank.

He smiled and left the silver locket with me as a chipping. I buried the man. His donkey beside him. I erected a cross from lightning struck wood, in the Christian manner, though I did not know if he was so, for no answer I could make to him but now upon his grave. Which I proceeded to do in this manner:

My Myself

I eulogy for fallen Man I could

Not answer, I monody a song for Stranger,

I bury you under the Earth and the sage,

Under the greying grass, the mountains I love,

Under all creatures and the created stage,

I bury you in the Fall of Colorado,

Beneath the Aspen’s retreat of its power,

The closing of the bird song and the flower,

I cover you in the blanket of the Earth, to keep

You warm under the white fallings of the sky,

I bury You for You to die.

I long for Spring, I weep, and remember,

And burn my fire and stoke, restoke, my ember,

I race my hands, one palm upon the other palm,

And flow my breath to them, and give my heat

To them, O’ were they your hands I’d sigh, and sigh

Long and lend what breath I had to warm

Them, those cold palms, for them with my breath warm

I’d sing!

And warm all Winter into Man’s creative Spring!

A wind picked up from the West. This wind was cold, and it chilled me. So I turned and left.

From the locket I saw his daughter, and their address, and to them I turned with this sentiment, and souvenir of their father, and make clear my apologies and amends.

I kept the larkspur upon my own breast, it was creamy white with stained red , painted in the color of Colorado Fall.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

J Christian

Featured

The Time Travelling Poet

Sonnet 1

Photo by makamuki0, Pompeii, Italy

To earth asleep my song arouse afar,

As a birth does bring a wake in ear itself,

And shakes the leaves and shakes down the stars,

So my call can call Pegasus off his shelf,

For my life hath in this line some interest,

Some color conscience garden growth and bud,

Here’s a hilly furrow, a seed’s address,

Now hear a black vine, it’s pushed by blood;

Or if tis fallen on rocky soil, to choke,

To straggle or swone, and tide what betide,

Then as a branch awaits the lightning its bolt,

I’d hold this wand high and boldly abide,

No matter Time, to wait with a weary arm

In arm, so this of me will make or mar.


A Sonnet is a poetic form, wherein the meter is Iambic Pentameter, the stanza 14 lines, the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. This form finds its perfection in the works of W.S. and John Donne. It should be noted that, as the stereotypical form of the ‘Love Poem’ in English, the Sonnet will typically address his/her work to his/her Lover, or to Love herself.

I don’t indeed know who wrote this Sonnet. For this particular etching was found in the gutter of Pompeii, crystallized. And so I began to investigate it.

The Poem seems to be addressed to itself, thus making an idol of Love’s idol. Whether this is an improvement upon the glorification of a Person, or an Abstraction, as in Donne’s ‘Holy Sonnets’, remains to the judgements of the remembrance of things past.

I performed a simple scansion of the above lines, I found standard iambics in most, elisions in some, trochees in others, spondees, mid-line breaks, all maintained and sustained by the single ‘sentence’ which maintains itself quite interestingly until the interesting exclamation point which does exclaim itself.

The couplet upon the tail has its simplicity, not without its irony, as the action it implies – holding one’s arms up to be struck by lightning – is also disrupted by the lack of a perfect rhyme, a slant to anagram the endings, so I find it interesting and suggestive of a partial failure of the desire, perhaps.

I would encourage the Reader to perform his/her own scansion for here the meter is the meaning, the meaning the meter – as in the best it is.

Considering this, and the English, I do not think the author a Pompeian, but a rather heart-broken Time Traveler, who intentionally scatters his/her verses among the timeline, as Orlando upon the Arden trees, with an object of wooing not a rosy Paramour, but rather, that rarest of all things, an Audience.

And so I wish him/her earnest luck in his/her endeavor.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

J Christian

Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.

A New Essay Every Sunday!

Featured

A Hermit Crab Gave Me a Pen

A Short Story by Rachel Johns

Photo by Rachel Johns – Dry Tortugas National Park

A hermit crab gave me a pen.

He held it tight in his pinchers, crawling homeward across sand, dragging the end along behind. He was making quite slow time, so I asked what he intended to do with his new treasure. He said he meant to decorate his shell nest with it and some half-rotted sea grape leaves.

Sea grape leaves are large and beautiful enough (when not half-rotted) to be written upon and mailed as postcards. He was very excited when I told him this and mentioned he’d always wanted to learn how to write, for while many hermits are avid readers, there aren’t many decent writers in existence.

I offered to teach him to write.

He gave me the pen. It felt oily and salty, much as one would expect. I took out a small sheet of paper and wrote HELLO. He asked me to write something else because hermits hardly ever use greetings, if indeed they ever arrive.

I wrote HERMIT CRAB. But he said that was too complex, to pick something simple to start.

I wrote SEA. He liked that.

I handed back the pen, which he gently took so as to not pinch my fingers, and I held down the slip of paper so he could easily see and it wouldn’t breeze away. He didn’t hold the pen properly upright. Again, he dragged it along behind. But that worked perfectly. He could walk the letters through in sand, tracing words among leaf debris.

He was moving slowly again, shuffle-scuttling the swoop of the S. It was a very large S. In fact, here at the first side curve it looked as if he may run out of room and walk into this sea grape tree… He disappeared with the pen among the lowest branches, a large swoop left in sand behind him.

I’d forgotten that hermits think goodbyes are hard to say, so they often leave, no goodbye. I smiled, unoffended. He had written his first word in a way.

It was unusually done, but there in sand on the beach before me was a large C.

The End.

From J Christian: Rachel Johns is a highly gifted Marine Biologist, Team Leader, and Diver for the Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. Dry Tortugas National Park is at the southernmost point of Florida’s Coral Reef, which is North America’s only barrier reef. Rachel, along with her Team, work every day to preserve this natural treasure for its natural beauty, inhabitants, tourists, and all those that appreciate Nature’s great creations.

If you like, you can visit the website for the Park here:

https://www.nps.gov/drto/index.htm

Thank you for reading my friend’s wonderful story.

Cheers to your Sunday,

J Christian

Featured

Limbo Philosophers

An Essay on Dante’s Inferno Canto IV

I woke up with someone clapping their hands in my face. It was Mr. Dante. We were still on the Steamboat, slowly chugging its way down – ferrying the dead.

I sighed and got up and we wandered the decks, Dante talking and talking away, I listening, passing through the crowds of ghosts gambling at the slots where nothing there was to win.

The Steamer stopped for us.

I was let out and Mr. Dante led me through a blank shore, a wide hill, and a great forest to a castle glowing like a candle on a hill upon the night. We reached its gate.

Mr. Dante knock knocked.

– Who’s there? A voice asked from within.

– Dante.

– Dante who?

– Dante Alighieri!

No response. No opening.

Frustrated, Mr. Dante again knock knocked.

– Who’s there?? A voice asked from within.

– Dante!

– Dante who?

– Dante Alighieri sir and I demand you open this door!

– That’s not the password! Said the voice.

-What password!? Demanded Mr. Dante.

No response. Mr. Dante sat down to think, but no password could he retrieve to his head, so much he tried. After a minute, having an idea, I ‘knock knocked’.

– Who’s there?

– Beelzebub.

–  Beelzebub who?

– You’ll ‘Beelz-be’ opening the door, bub!

The gate opened.

– That nonsense worked? Asked Mr. Dante

– Yes of course…

– How did you know?

– I recognized the voice…

Diogenes was there on the other side. That clever crazy cook. Half-naked he lay in his barrel by the gate. He smiled as I went over to him.

– What are you in for, Diogenes?

– You yourself might know. Said he. You guessed Ali Baba’s grinning gate, and the name of this nameless thing now named. Said he, tapping his head.

– Surely a man of vision would be in heaven? Asked I.

– Not when I’d mind to man the grinning gate. Said he, laughing.

– Let us move on. Said Mr. Dante angrily. This man is not so wise as he’d pretend to be. I know of a man farther ahead who can more delight the mind than tickle the liver.

– I did no such tickling Mr. Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri! Shouted Diogenes laughing. Here, bring this ‘man’ to the man you pine to see. Said he, handing me, of all things, a plucked and shivering chicken, which I put under my hoody.

We moved up through the ward of the castle and into the keep. There was a fine and shady garden in its midst. Where men and women were arranged about, lounging on the green, with faces somber and voices quiet – sad and longing in soft cold light.

I could hardly believe my eyes for there was Cicero and Aurelius, Hippolyta and Theseus, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Hypatia. Grand men and women of philosophy all. They were all of them centered around the one in their center – he who composed on his papyrus what he’d have them all speak – actors for his dialogs, talkers to his tendentious Vision.

– You know this one in the center? Asked Mr. Dante.

– Yes. Said I, approaching, listening.

– Now you must say this better. Said Plato, grabbing poor Epicurus by his toga, and shaking him. You must say, ‘Does Love desire that of which it is the love, or not?’ And then we all must raise our hands, as though holding goblets of fine wine, and tilt it back unto our heads, as though in drinking this question, there flowed, into our heating brains, my implication’s simmer, and then you, Aristotle, you must nod like a cork on sea…

He stopped, for he had seen us watching him.

– All honor be to the pre-eminent Poet; his shade returns again, that was departed… Said he, sarcastically, raising his hands in welcome to Mr. Dante.

Who walked forward to him and introduced me, and told him of my quest. After saying hello, I showed him the plucked chicken, saying Diogenes had asked me to give this to him.

On seeing this, Plato’s whole face turned purple in rage; he flapped his arms like that chicken and shouted at me, demanding I leave, saying he did not want to see me here again, that this was a place for noble philosophers and not comics, and that I was unworthy of philosophy and his plays, and that I should go to Hell.

– Well as I said that’s indeed where I’m going. Said I wryly, turning away and moving off, Mr. Dante, very embarrassed, following me through.

I did not know why he had such an intense and unmannerly reaction to the chicken, the featherless bipedal ‘man’. But I suspect some prank of Diogenes had returned unto Plato and taken all the wind out his curtains. I thought then that it might be rather dull to spend eternity with him. And I thought that his Muse of Memory did not like to remember Diogenes.

– You’ll be stuck here forever! Shouted Plato.

– I’ll be moving forward. Muttered I.

None of them were moving anywhere at all. They went back to their play – to retell it again and again and again.

We left the castle and came to a place where nothing shines.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

J Christian

Featured

The Phantom Train of Marshall Pass

An Amerikan Ghost Story

– All Amerika is a haunted ground. Said that Miner man that sat alone in the corner of the open-air car.

Why did he sit out there in the cold of the October night? His breath, steaming in lantern light, showed me he was there, told me he was talking. I did not yet go out to him. We was on the train Shavano, moving West over Marshal Pass.

Marshall Pass, 10,842 ft. high, was the first railroad ever to cross that Colorado continental divide and this was it. This country’s older than we’d guess. There was roughly five cars on this black train – the last of which was an observer booth – to breathe the air – but this was one meanin cold October night.

No no it was all deep somber upon the canyon tonight – No wind did murmur in the dying leaves of aspen, nor coyotes yip, nor owls hoot on the evergreens. Nor could stars be seen sown widely in the sky. Nor ther was no moon bobbing afloat there. Naw, all was quiet and ahush – but for that Miner man chanting in the corner of the car open to the cold.

I went out to him – maybe to smoke (common at that time) – but really to listen.

– All Amerika is haunted ground. Said he, in chant. Walk and She walks with you. She is older than you can ear. See for Her under your boot soles. Heel to heel. Feet meet in stamp.

A long life of Prospectin will crack a Coloradan’s face. Such was his. The pinching eyes, the hounding nose. His grey hair and shocky beard seemed to strive to escapin’ from him. A mining pan he wore on his head, like some Quixotic yokel – a silver bullet he clasped in his hand he shook like a papsist’s rosary. He had three teeth. And three Indian ears on wire.

Strange. A light of another Train appeared, grey but bright on the track behind us. Coming up from the Amerikan East.

– I chant of Time forgot! Shouted the Miner, standing up now – his arms rolling like a wave towards the East. I chaunt of Time untock! Chug steam and chugga dream! Choooo!

That grey Train behind us was moving fast. So very fast. Wanting to ram us. Frightened, I rang a bell beside the bannister – and the conductor of us poked his head out the engine car – and saw that grey Train pressing on us. Full speed ahead! Our car outran it as best she could we raced dangerously around bend and bend – where the canyon yawn’d on either side its black mouthin’ end!

At this point I done hunkered myself down, grasping the rail like is was my momma’s skirt. Wind quirtin’ my face. The scream of iron on iron rocked my eartams. The chant of the Miner man was now a loud viking yawp! – I saw summoning he was the strange grey Train – closer, closer.

– The tide is a-coming high! The breaks are bringin’ nigh! Chugga chugga choo choo ! He yelped like a wolf at the moon.

By now, the grey light of the Train was so close it overwhelmed all my eye. There was no warmth from it but a cold like driving me to somewhere. In my mind, ther was made the content of the Cars: Rottin men and women of the first civilization upon this divided continent. But now moonborn fresh as babes they wore furs and bones and jangling ornaments of earth make. They piped on flutes their breath the marrow of shins and thighs of buffalo and elk and eld animals I knew not their names. Giants. They wore horns and braids of owl-feather. They danced on their knees. The Miner man chanted the grey Train faster, faster, closer, closer.

Some made gentle invites to their square dance.

Some coldly accused.

They sat in the luxury car and swallowed greedily whipped black tea.

Nay they donned tall hats and raced wicker hoops about the hall.

Naw I saw they broke stones against the window, stones against the, trying to breathe out.

I knew these faces that changed. They changed into faces I knew. There was an ancestor seen in an old photograph. There was an Uncle. There, a Grandfather. Hiding under a chair was a youngon face I was yet to meet.

– The silver is passed! Through fields of underseen grass! I’d meet all in car at junction! I’d meld one in all in a black pipe of steam!

What was behind was now on the very verge of me. I would not let it touch me. A scream in the bright grey light. The trains rounded a bend. Ours almost tipped – the Miner man well he fell out he hurtled into canyon singing his summoning chants still! The Grey train, nigh enveloping– of a sudden sunk over rail and sailed into black abyss!

We heard the thunder crash of metal – but no moaning sound of Man…  We slowed. We stopped. There was total quiet.

We did search with lanterns the site of the wreck – nothin. As though all was a vanity.

I boarded again the Train. We set off West. But on the bench where that Miner man had sat, I saw these words done scrawled by dull knife:

‘A frate train was recked as yu saw. Yu saw wat yu will all ways see. If yu ever run on this redd again yu will be recked ded.’

Beside this was a single sprig of aspen, which I keep in my pocket to this very day to remember always what’d I done done, and the song I’d sung – the Train I’d summoned.

Happy Halloween!

J Christian

Featured

The Necessity of Journey

An Essay on Dante’s Inferno Canto I/III

Illustration by Gustave Dore

I had been feeling frightfully aimless. I felt a need to wander far fields, or knock the hats off those that still wore them, or to flee to the sea. While debating which of these to undertake, I had been wandering through the public park next to my home. Suddenly, a great cluster of trees surrounded me – I’d never seen them before.

Soon I was lost among their branch and bramble, their shade and frightful shadow.

No path there found my feet. But they crushed the thorns. And were cut by the thorns . Pits did imperil. Carefully I trod through that coughing ground, ere the slope of a mountainside I found.

The trees disappeared above the line of a thin, high air.

Grey rocks in upward slope. Up I walked. Up there were stars.

But a mountain lion was behind a grey rock. It stood out in front of my way, and would not move nor allow no matter my maneuver up. Its eyes shone with hellish gold. Spots, like spinning looms of Time, speckled its fur. It frightened me back down to the dark trees and the thorns that pierce and rend.

The lion stalked me, even into the deepest dark.

A man was under the moon, I called to him for help. Mr. Dante! an old friend, was wandering there. I hailed him. And he me.

I pointed out to him the lion, whose eyes glowed up in a tree. Mr. Dante nodded and said:

– That lion has a hunger insatiable. If you want to climb the mountain you cannot pass him here, but must take the other road, the longer road, which goes through Hell to Heaven. Journey is necessary. I can show you that way.

I sighed. There I was to go through Hell again. Had I not seen enough of that dull place? But some urge prods me up the mountain, up to Arthur’s bosom, or Abraham’s, or whoever’s chest it is that on the mountaintop, falls and rises and heaves. In beatific slumber.

He led me through the dark forest by some path he recalled, but that I could not see.

– Mr. Dante, why is it that you insist on walking the ways through Hell? What is there for you, or for me for that matter? Perhaps I have not the mettle for it ?

– The lady here might assuage thy cowardice. Said he, as always, dramatically.

Indeed, there was a lady there before us. The forest had led us out to a wide cliff. There were the stars, the moon, the whole horizon of the night’s vault we could breathe, and before this commodious expanse, the lady stood.

I’d met her once before on a vacation. We’d said hello. And she’d leapt into water, lithe like a nymph, swimming out to sandbar, just across the inlet of the ocean, yet farther than I’d dare swim – afraid as I was of water.

–  I am Julia. She said, primly dressed, dark eyes glowing like the Cosmos.

– I know. I remember.  Said I.

Illustration by Gustave Dore

– I’m here from where I would return. Said Julia. I bid thee go. Meet me upon the mountaintop. For I care for you and your presence I long for as a home long missed. Mr. Dante will be thy guide. Be strong and courageous. I bid thee go.

A halo was around her head. This light she turned into, but not before I could notice the tears that her dark eyes carried like shining jewels I would not possess but gently erase. I felt courage. She was gone like a breath in cold air. All was as it was before.

Mr. Dante tapped me on the shoulder, and we went on the precarious path down over the cliff, into a ravine, a funnel, a cave, where a gross smoke emanated.

‘Through me the way is to the city dolent; through me the way is to eternal dole; through me the way among the people lost. Justice incited my sublime Creator; created me divine Omnipotence, the highest Wisdom and the primal Love. Before me there were no created things, only eterne, and I eternal last. All hope abandon, ye who enter in!’

Thus said the etching above the door of Hell. Which Mr. Dante was so fond of citing. Yet I noticed that the etching was eroded almost completely away, as though it had been thousands of years, or more, since last I’d seen it – though only a few weeks ago I’d seen it!

All Hell had changed. I did not recognize it. Where there once was a great black plain, now was all twisting tunnels! Purple moss overgrew the roof and walls. And men and women slumped along the walls, dejected, as though unaware of our passing.

– What did these do, Mr. Dante? Asked I.

– Nothing. Said he.

– Nothing?

– Nothing.

– I’d thought nothing would come of nothing. What then is nothing’s punishment?

– It is not punishment. It is nothing. Nothing of nothing indeed.

We walked and walked. My head felt too large for the tunnels. They cramped me in.

The people were everywhere slumped on the ground. I could bear it no longer. I stooped and asked one of the men – who was very plain and dull – what he’d done. He only sighed. I asked another, a woman – also unremarkable – and again I heard no word.

I tripped over one of them and fell on my face. I fell face to face with one of these men – who I saw was awake – we met each other’s eyes directly. He blinked once then said:

– I did not trip you.

– Yes, I’m afraid you did. Said I, sitting up.

– I won’t help you up. Said he, sighing and rolling over.

He picked up a rock and looked at it, and poked at it, as though it was more interesting to him than any visitor. He squinted at it. And scrolled.

– What’d you do to get put here?

– Nothing. Said he, sighing again, poking his rock.

– That’s not true. Said a woman next to him, poking his head.

– I would prefer you not do that. Said the man.

– What, this? Asked the woman, poking him.

– Yes. I would prefer you not do that.

– Do something about it. Said she.

– I will do nothing about it. Said the man, sighing, putting his filthy feet up on another man’s face, who was greatly displeased, but said nothing.

– You should not put your feet on him. Said the woman to the man she was poking.

– I would prefer to do that.

– You should not.

– Do something about it. Said he.

– I will do nothing about it. Said the woman, sighing, and continuing to poke his head.

As I looked around the tunnel, I saw that everyone there was in fact greatly annoying each other, and each was complaining to the other regarding these annoyances, yet each was refusing to do anything about it whatsoever.

I wanted nothing to do with them. They were too mean for Heaven, too dull for Hell – not a remark made by them was worth mine – and I’ll say not a word more of them.

I wanted to continue the Journey, and quickly.

We came to the end of the boring tunnel. There was a marsh there, which we crossed to a great river. I saw a great white and red Missouri Steamboat was paddling over to us. A fat, carnival man was waving us to its deck. Grimly, I boarded the vessel.

He took us downriver.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

Featured

A Haltless Mind

An Essay on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65

I received a letter in the mail today from a Mr. WS. It seems he had heard of the predicament of Life I’d found myself in, and so sent me a Sonnet as consolation. Poetry often serves to calm what is a troubled soul of mine.

Though this Sonnet he’d sent did not calm my storm. No not a bit. Or so I’d at first felt. I’ll explain what I mean. First, you may read it if you’d like:

“Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,

But sad mortality o’ersways their power,

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,

Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

Or how shall sweet summer’s honey breath hold out

Against the wrackful siege of battering days,

When rocks impregnable are not so stout

Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?

O fearful meditation; where, alack,

Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?

Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,

Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?

O none, unless this miracle have might,

That in black ink my love might still shine bright.”

            What was I to make of this truthful rag? This eloquent accusal? This harrowing surprise?

I immediately took it as a personal affront.

What else could I do? This to comfort me; to console; to soften a scorning life or caress the bruises left in blue? Brass statues corrode and crack. Stones moss like the old, are attention’s lost. An abundant earth withers. Boundless sea mounts my city.

This was an attack.

            Gates are waved in and there the breach of Time harries what I’d held out. He more than sweeps, but the ravage there.

            Oh troubling thought.

            Oh burst of the fear fused. The treasure’s chest, o’ how unlike Pandora’s fate, never opens again but all boxing evil hounds me closed from rest. Overtakes. I hold my hand to cover my face. Feet are kicking. I forbid with breath feeble the fume on my face. The exhale of graves.

Troubling thought!

            And yet there is an ease after a declame. Like the shock after a shout. I stop on that pause. And I say to myself what I’ve said, turning its sign, pasted on a board, left for the empty air to mind.

            I passed it by on the way back. And catch a gleam again in my eye. How hath letter so black have might? There’s the miracle, that black ink might shine so bright.

Is this a memory or a Sight?

I say this, and Time runs on as words in a halt-less mind.

What a strange thing it is to be sent a poem from WS.

William, Shakespeare. The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems. 2. New York: Oxford World’s Classics, 2008. Print.

Featured

Darius the Great

An Essay on Forgiveness

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran#/media/File:Medes_and_Persians_at_eastern_stairs_of_the_Apadana,_Persepolis.JPG

I realized one day that it was very difficult for me to remain angry at anyone. Concerned by this, I immediately examined the cause of my agreeability, and arrived at several theories:

My memory is very poor, or my nature is very amenable, or conflict I disdain. Therefore a wrong I have suffered remains not long in my heart. Often the offender is startled to find my returning to them, in all good graces, as though the offense had not been, bringing happy greetings and gifts to boot.

Of course I was aghast at this amenable quality of my Self! I’d therefore resolved to alter it. I would be a grudge-bearer! But life, as often happens, has other plans. As an old knight once said to me:

‘It is a good thing for a man to bear himself with equanimity, for one is constantly keeping appointments one never made.’

In this spirit I set out for the court of King Darius the Great. I’d heard from my friend, Michel de Montaigne, of a practice this King employed by which He held onto his grudges. I knew not the method. I was intent to find out.

Getting there was quite simple: Another friend of mine, Herodotus, was on intimate terms with one Durias, a cupbearer to the King. I was to be snuck into the court, under wine-jugs, in a wicker basket, which Durias offered to do if I gave him three aspirin, his job being, it would seem, prone to headaches.

Well of course that was no trouble to me, as I carry several with me at a time (for I often read political news). I arrived at the Court of the King of Kings that very night.

How strange and mystic was that Tacharan sight, where Zoroastrian chimeras bannered above the dais, and cherubim winged the royal faces and the court like stars on a cloudy night covered in silks and silver and lapis in shimmer.

Tall white hats, masted above pleated silks of many colors, sailed through the incensed hall, through stately door and glory gate, like perfume rivers to waterfall. Instruments – harps and drums and fluting sorna – like the seawinds – moved these barques all the Court afloat around crowned islands of Satraps and Dancers Sárapis and the bounteous table of the Old King.

For a time I could not measure I forgot me my mission, and was lost in the procession of lotus fevers of my mind awed by the court of the King of Kings.

Reader, pity me, for there I was aslumber when I should have been angry!

I floated to the table of the King. I took the first open seat. The King sat at the head of the table. I studied him closely. Seeing Him, I remembered myself.

For He looked like a very old King, and quite tired of it too. He dipped his food in wine to soften it. He talked to none but was talked to by everyone. Servants brought Him food and gifts and gossip and a head of an unheard enemy.

One servant whispered in His waxy grey ear a sentence repeated thrice. What did he say? After each, the King would slam His old ruling claw down on the table, scattering plate and prickett and morsels to the dogs at his feet. Next, He’d mutter and frown a dreary face. Lastly, into his goblet He’d hollowly sigh.

I inquired of the Satrap next to me the meaning of these Kingly gestures. From my incomplete understanding of Ariya, I understood the following:

The servant was tasked with stating to the King thrice each night: ‘King, O King, the Athenians, remember the Athenians…’

The Athenians. That rather learned group of Greeks had defeated the King at Marathon. Darius had sworn revenge but was yet to fulfill. To remember His anger, He had tasked the servant to restoke it, like a billows, long into the night, each night, until His anger might be consummated with a martial nuptial.

Here was the method I was seeking! Now, at last, I could hold a grudge!

I approached the servant and told him of my dilemma, how I could not remain angry with an offense, and asked him to work for me.

– Oh sir, no wise man would want such a burden as I must bring. Said the servant, in a Persian manner. I’d rather drink a poisoned cup of the King than deliver such deadly ire, to stoke and re-stoke such dry old fire!

– Why is this, servant?

– Look upon my burnt out King! Could age alone have withered His greatness? Nightly thrice I pass the bitter cup of memory unto Him. And like the greedy bark beetle in vulnerable pine, the venom gnaws and feeds upon the soft phloem of this stoutest Tree, Falling fruit and flaking bark, making Him the King all a husk. The Tree does not fall yet still it dies! Our Tree of Trees is Dead!

That rather articulate fellow then fled from me, fading back into the haze of the Court… I could not find him again. Nor, I suspect, could I afford him… Dejected, I left the palace of that sad and frowning and wrinkling old king.

And I went on forgiving everyone of everything. 

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

~J Christian Lawrence

Herodotus Hist.. V, cv.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, ‘The Knight’s Tale’

Featured

Mon Cafe with Andre

An Essay on Andrei Tarkovsky

– Art knows. He said, with emphasis, steadying his hand from spilling the black coffee. The effect is expressed as shock, as catharsis. From the very moment when Eve ate the apple from the tree of knowledge, mankind was doomed to strive endlessly after the truth.

He lay on the hospital bed. In the cramped, dirty hospital. A thin blue blanket covered his thin skin covered his jutting bones, like a thin-stretched tent. The cancer had him, and it did not have him. Andrei Tarkovsky. Russian filmmaker. In exile.

I’d travelled to Paris to see him – he’d told me he was dying.

He’d fled his home country long ago. They wouldn’t let him film there not in the way he really wanted to, needed to.

He dozed off. So I sat by him and thought about his films. I drank my own black coffee and thought.

His movies had been a mystery to me. They were almost silent, perfectly capable of image sustained alone. Stalker especially. What sounds he’d have were of mud and fire, and rain in wells, and bombs and an old organ and metal on metal clanking, steam and muttered Russian poetry. What was I to make of that? Was I too to doze of?

I recall a time I’d stolen into a third-rate theatre in Petersburg to watch Andre Rublev his great film the Sovs had marked ‘third-rate’ because of its perfect religion. The Communists had recoiled like a bull and stamped the movie into the dirt. And that meant the film got no money and could only play in the cheapest of theatres and I was in one to watch it with the frayed screen the unclean projector the dim light the burnt popcorn the stained carpet the gummy torn seats sticky with spat plugs of tobacco and the clung dirt and lung-matter of cigarettes.

Maybe three people were with me? I don’t remember.

But the fat muzhchina who’d slumped into the seat next to me (why the one next to me??) had fallen asleep right at the part with the boy making the brass Church bell (at risk of his own life), the best part of the picture.

Should I have also slept?

– Faith, faith, faith. Ephebe, perish utterly. Muttered Andrei, half alive and clinging.

I think he was poisoned by the Sov’s because he’d made films abroad and they couldn’t stamp that out – they hated that their best wasn’t them, not really. Not in the way that Totalitarianism wanted.

Totalitarianism wanted to finish once and for all the neutrality of cinema. All films for the Party. All for the Big Lie that everyone told.

But Andrei had made a movie called Nostalghia in Italy and in it a man walked a candle from one end of a ruined, Roman, waterless bath to the other and it was one take (one shot) and it took twelve minutes because the candle kept snuffing, and he had to keep starting over at the beginning but finally he got to the end. He got frustrated but he kept going. There was a spot of white in his black hair.

– With man’s help the Creator comes to know himself. Said Andrei, sipping his coffee which pained him. The aim of art is to prepare a person for death. To plough and harrow his soul, rendering it capable of turning to good.

– Of course, Andrei, that’s very good. I said sadly, not really listening but thinking about the movies.

Ah the movies! The movies! Could our frenzied minds but still and sit! How much we might learn! Were we not so pushed to tap our fingers, flick our eyes, stamp our feet and distract, distract ourselves from our own pulse. What purchase there might be for us on our weary climbs.

The Sacrifice: The nuclear war is nigh. The family man makes a bargain to God; I will sacrifice, and You will delay the apocalypse. He burns his house down. The bombs do not fall.

Stalker: The three men steal into the forbidden Zone, a place where tanks rust mid-fire, and water flows everywhere, and a wrong step means…

Ivan’s Childhood: The Russian Boy goes behind the German lines, again, and again, and again – he remembers a well where his mother reflected.

The Mirror: The house burns a-flame under rain. The poet is dying of disease on the bed. He holds a sparrow in his hand, yet to release.

Andrei Rublev: The boy’s bell is cast. Its ring is loud and clear and true. Andrei embraces him. Andrei paints we see his paintings in bright color and harmony.

– The thought is brief. The image, absolute. Said Andrei Tarkovsky, as he dies on the hospital bed.

The World goes with him. I drank the rest of my coffee and rented The Mirror on the way home and I watched it with a friend and it kept us awake.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

Courtesy of the ‘Movies in 5 Minutes’ YT Channel

Andrei, Tarkovsky and Kitty Hunter-Blair. Sculpting in Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. Print.

Featured

At the Tombs of Heretics

An Essay on Dante’s Inferno Canto X

Illustration by Gustave Dore – Dante’s Inferno Canto x

Friday morning, I received an invitation in the mail to join one of my friends for a leisurely stroll through hell. Of course, I would not have accepted this had it not come from Mr. Dante himself, whom I knew to be quite familiar with the region – its persons, its local customs, its tourist traps. Agreeing to join him, I set out for the nearest Walmart.

There are in fact many entrances to hell in America.

One need not clamor up mountains, or down doleful ravines, to stumble upon one. Almost every retail outlet in America has an entrance– usually somewhere near the employee timecard. In fact, on difficult days, entrances to hell pocket our ground like so many mole-holes. Some larger than others.

Curiously, I once found an entrance between a telephone and its app – about the size of a thimble – through which I could not fall but could certainly smell.

I also know for a fact that our Capitol building is not only an entrance but is an entire wing of the Infernal itself. Though I’m not sure whether the occupants there are the devils or the damned.

Anyways, I slipped my way into a crevice inside the Walmart (this was just between the denim jeans and the dollar books), crawled downwards into darkness for at least one hour, slid, fell, tumbled, tambored, and at last arrived.

Mr. Dante was there waiting for me – holding a raised blazing torch.

He told me:

– Through me the way is to the city dolent; through me the way is to eternal dole; through me the way among the people lost. Justice incited my sublime Creator; created me divine Omnipotence, the highest Wisdom and the primal Love. Before me there were no created things, only eterne, and I eternal last. All hope abandon, ye who enter in!

– Yes of course, of course. Said I, dusting myself off. You’ve explained that many times, Mr. Dante. Now what is it you wanted me to see?

Dramatically, he turned and led me forward with the torch. Through the hot air we went, and the sound of cursing tongues diverse, and hallowing shouts, and horrors I mention not.

We came to a field of small sepulchers and open tombs littering the ground, their slabs not yet shut, their falls open to us, where fires burned at bottom.

I looked down into one of these open graves – a thousand or more persons there writhed within.

– What’d they do? I asked simply, familiar with such sights as these.

– Heretics. Said Mr. Dante. This is my lesson to you. These, who believed the soul existed only with the body, now suffer the permanence of the soul. They be, and be, and be. Death not ends to be.

– All harm from a thought-of unthought. Said I, pitying, and (quite selfishly) prizing my stance above them. A round goes around, a wheel turns, nothing reels the rest, nausea spokes the best…

– An American! Shouted a voice.

We found a man had hauled himself, by his fingertips, to the lip of one of these flaming crowded cluttered graves. He hanged there as over a precipice and peered up at Mr. Dante and I. I thought then I knew him.

He seemed old, white yet burnt, in tattered suit yet dignified, burning yet positive.

– American! Said he, smiling. I want you to deal with your problems by becoming rich!

– A rich soul was this one once, though not rich in soul. Said Mr. Dante.

– Were you rich, oh poor soul? Asked I.

– I’m still rich! Said he, laughing as though unaware of his condition. My bank account looks like my phone number! Hanging by my knees is this year’s swimsuit model! What year is it anyway? Hello! Who’s there? Tell me something son, how much do you make a year? Right here right now tell me.

He seemed to drift in and out of a clear thought and place. At times he spoke it seemed a speech, at another, to cry out to some intimate friend a despair. He asked me again how much money I had. Embarrassed, I told him the figure.

– Listen to me, if money isn’t everything, then go work at McDonalds. You have to unlearn all the thoughts that were making you poor and replace them with new thoughts – rich thoughts. He said happily, shining bright teeth above the flames, with the flames.

– You seem to know not where you are, in what condition we find you… Said Mr. Dante.

– If the circumstances around me suck I change them. Said he earnestly, erratically. Or I change me. Said he, looking about himself, then becoming silent, as though he dare not risk more argument, and realize.

We left him hanging there. We wandered back earthwards, Mr. Dante talking aloud endlessly, myself lost in thought, leaving with more question than answer. I parted ways with Mr. Dante, thanking him for the trip, and returned again to Walmart.

 As I passed the perfume aisle, I thought of myself as caught onto a turning burning wheel; perhaps it was a carousel.

Cheers to your Sunday morning…

JCL

Dante, Alighieri. “Canto X.” Dante’s Inferno. London: Arctus Publishing Limited, 2018. 60 – 62. Print.

Belfort, Jordan. The Wolf of Wall Street. Bantam Doubleday Dell, 2007.