Saturday, August 13, 2016

Anything Goes


My grandfather used to have a building where he would do weird shit.
The sign above the storefront claimed that they made and sold shoes; this was back when shoes were made with leather and thread and skilled hands. There were generations of knowledge flowing through each decisive movement of those worn and callused fingers. I spent my early years watching them move, a rough ballet that smelled of grease and men and cigarettes. 
Later, as a young man, I tried to capture those hands in drawings and photographs, never quite able to capture the dimly lit afternoons where the light would filter in lazily off the sidewalk surfaces, or the silence that pervaded the space, the reverence they had for what they created.
Those dusty old men working behind the counter were my family, the worktables littered with scraps of pungent leather and metal tools became the fodder of my dreams. The shoe polish-stained fingertips and aprons, rough wrinkled faces that kept their eyes on their work, their tongues relaxed and silent.
My grandfather would give us new boots or dress shoes as birthday presents and he would teach us how to care for them with polish and bristles and tender attention so that they could shine like new.
So I know that sign outside the building was not a lie. They did make shoes in that old place with the brick fa├žade and black wooden door.
But I know they were doing other weird shit in there too. Someone was.


There was a basement in the building.  I was not supposed to go down there, that was always clear. No one ever warned me, not grandfather or any of the other men there, nothing was ever said. It was more of an open understanding. I was not to venture beyond that door.
Although I knew this, I was a curious child, and the forbidden lair had a pull I could not deny. I had learned to blend into the dark shadows of the building, to step in time with the thumping needle of the sewing machine and the sporadic coughs of the men at their benches. I could open the door to the basement silently, and descend down the narrow dark steps into the dark chamber.
There was one tiny window at the top of the wall which faced the street at sidewalk level. Whenever someone would walk by the light inside would dance erratically on the brick walls. I listened intently for the sound of my grandfather’s footsteps.
I went down there only a handful of times in my whole childhood. The memories and sensations from those explorations have sunk to the deepest part of me and colored my vision.
In this forbidden space I once found a tooth.  Another time a red cloth napkin with gold jagged symbols, another time I discovered a small shell and a ball of hair in a little crevasse in the wall where the cement had broken apart between the bricks.


Whatever was happening there, it was not safe. In a dream one time just a few years ago I saw him emerge from the door at the top of the stairs with a bloody mouth. He looked at me. I was sitting in a chair just beside the door. He said, 'anything goes,' as he walked past me, holding up one single finger.
I woke with my hands fluttering, I gazed out the window, remembering the lingering smell of candles and matches on the brick walls. His silence, his deference to a room he never referred to, to a past never revealed but for one word, 'Nantucket.'


Tonight I will go back into the dream and tell him, 'you don't have to hide from me. I cannot be rattled.'


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Twelfth Hour


Void of stars. How can that be?
I search for a reason. I try to trace the lines back in my memory…
what could I have possibly done to turn the sky black?
The trouble is that I can’t remember.
It seems that I fell asleep.

When I was young and the sky was still littered with stars, the Sorcerer came to visit Yantel. He had been seeking a pupil for many years, and no doubt he visited many other villages and hamlets and perhaps even great cities, all to no avail. There were a handful of applicants for the job in my village and a crowd gathered to witness the trial.
The Sorcerer lined the prospective apprentices up. To each one he posed the same question:

“Who is the great magician who makes the sky blue and the grass green?”

“You are, oh great Askander!” one tried and the Sorcerer shook his head and moved on.

“It must be Philoneous the Second, council to the wise King in Arander.” Tried another. Again the sorcerer merely shook his head and continued down the line.

Various mythic Sorcerers and fairytale witches were named. One somber youth suggested it was the King of the Gods, but all were met with a shake of the head.

“No apprentice here.” The sorcerer announced and the crowd sighed with disappointment.

I laughed and the Sorcerer turned and caught my eyes with his. There were stars in his eyes too, if I remember rightly, or at least there was the fire that burns in stars.

“What is your answer?” he asked.

“Mine? I, I’m not an applicant.” I stammered.

“But you think you know the real answer. Tell me.”

I swallowed, slowly recovering myself.

“The answer is me. I am the magician who makes the sky blue and the grass green.”

“Tell me why you think that is the answer.” The magician demanded.

With a shrug I obliged.

“Well, have you ever had a dream? How do you know that this is not a dream? If life is a dream, if I am a dream, then I am also the dreamer, and if so then I am responsible for giving sky and the grass their color.”

“But life is life, it is not a dream.” One of the flustered applicants informed me.

“Then you have not dreamed as I have dreamed. Nor lived life as I have lived it.” I retorted.

The young man began to object again but the Sorcerer waived a dismissive hand at him and said to me,

“Get your things and come with me if you are ready to learn The Terrible Way and one day become a Sorcerer.”

I did not tell my parents I was leaving, they wouldn’t have let me go, and I did not gather my things. I left the village right then with Askander. I left my family’s land and the sheep it was my job to tend and the girl my parents would have wanted me to marry in a few years. I left my brothers and bread baking in the oven and warm sleepy afternoons watching clouds pass over the hillsides. I asked my younger brother to tell our parents goodbye for me.  With Askander leading the way I walked out of the village and along a lonely road and up the mountain path under millions of stars and a new white moon. There were most definitely stars then, and if the sky was a color, then it was indigo.

I spent 12 years in Askander’s tower doing as I was told each day. There were stars in all of that time. Most often I was told not to do this or that. Do not open that book. If a door appears in the west end of the tower, do not open it. If a maiden arrives and begs for help or sanctuary, do not let her in and do not go out. Do not eat garlic. Do not drink wine. Do not touch my hat.

There was so much that I did not do, but there were some things that I did. Mostly sweeping, mopping, cooking, washing, emptying chamber pots, feeding goats and chickens, weeding the garden. Sometimes, however, I was shown how to do something extraordinary, though I think I occasionally failed to notice precisely how extraordinary they were at the time.

I learned how to breathe as the dragons breathe and walk in the shadow land between worlds. The technique for turning lead into gold was revealed to me but I found it hard to master and was stuck in practice each day. I also learned the names of many stars and looked at them through a magickal glass studying their movement across the sky. Thus I know they were there then, for I was a careful observer of all of their habits and color.

I worked from dawn until midnight each day with time split between chores, basic education, and my more obvious magickal studies and practices. There were never enough hours in the day to complete the tasks given me, and I was always tired when it was time to lay my head upon my pillow of straw. Askander himself was tireless. He worked furiously at his alchemical practices all through the morning as I did my chores, saw to my education through the afternoon, resumed his own research in his vast library as I practiced my magickal work, checking in on me from time to time to critique and adjust my practice, and then when I lay down to sleep he continued his own work all through the night, never sleeping a wink.

In 12 years Askander never slept. I would, now and then, awake in the night and tip toeing from my chamber, observe him on the balcony in his study of the night sky with the magickal glass, or find him creating charts of the stars, or maps of the shadows. Some nights I dared not open a closed door, transfixed in terror of the frightful sounds and voices vibrating through the walls. Other nights I would go down to the garden in the walled courtyard to see the sparks of light showering out of the windows of Askander’s chambers at the top of the tower. Most nights I slept, too exhausted to entertain curiosity.

The night came, I remember there were still stars, when Askander told me that he would sleep. I was now told that Askander would at last take his respite for a period of 24 hours. He unveiled for me a device for keeping track of the time. I was charged with remaining awake as he slept, and awakening him by ringing a bell after the 24th hour.

He went into his room and lay down on his much unused mattress. I covered him with the blanket and watched him close his eyes and fall almost instantly asleep. Sitting with him for a while my eyes scanned over the titles upon the spines of the walls of books surrounding us. When I was sure that he was asleep I stood and removed one volume from the shelf and leafed gently through the pages before sliding it softly back into place. Askander was truly deeply asleep. It had certainly been a lonely 12 years, but now for the first time in so long I was actually alone.

I went out on his balcony and beheld the constellations blazing bright. I was struck then, by the certainty that each star was a Sorcerer just as Askander and I, and that we drew power and light from one another. In 12 years I had felt cut off from the world and alone with my teacher who was sometimes my beloved father and sometimes an unbearable tyrant as the situation demanded. Now I saw that I could never be alone, that we were multitude, that I was one of a school of stars populating the great abyss.

Lost in thought I nearly did not hear the soft weeping coming from below, but soon it distracted me from my reverie. Peering down I saw a young woman in a torn dress tapping on the tower door. It seemed clear that she had been through some ordeal, so tattered were her garments, so pale her tear streaked cheeks. I hurried down the spiral staircase. I opened the door.

“Please sir, we were attacked by bandits and my father was killed. I escaped but have been lost in these mountains for days. I am so hungry. Can you not help me?”

I invited her in. She was cold so I clothed her, and hungry so I fed her, or rather I showed her to the kitchen larder and she cooked for us both. I had not enjoyed a meal since beginning my apprenticeship as I was the cook, and not good at it. Full and content I sat next to the hearth with her and asked her name. I do not now recall it. She told me that she had seen a bottle of wine in the larder and went to retrieve it. At first I declined when she offered to fill my cup.

“One drink is not vice.” She said as she filled her own cup. I accepted.

 We sipped our wine and watched the flames dance for a while and she began to sing.

It was a beautiful song. One might say, enchanting. It reminded me first of my youth in Yantel, of being a boy watching the grass of the fields sway in the breeze and wondering about the world and the heavens and myself. Then it carried me away to Arander to the white city walls and blue and gold flags whipped by the wind. A princess stood on the wall looking out over the forest, waiting for her father’s return. Inside the forest a starving Cobbler’s son was hunting a golden stag but when the Cobbler’s son drew his arrow the stag saw him and said,

“Spare my life and I will grant you a wish.”

So the youth asked for the hand of the princess. He let the stag go, not really believing his wish could be fulfilled, and left the forest still hungry, but on the road he saw a man besieged by bandits and once more drew his bow. This time he shot true, killing one bandit so the others fled. The man on the road was the King returning from a pilgrimage to the fountain where he had been praying for a worthy husband for his daughter. He brought the Cobbler’s son back to the castle to wed the princess. At the wedding the princess played her lute and sang to her bridegroom with a voice like golden honey. Thereafter she sat the foot of the bed and played for him each night until he fell asleep. On the twelfth night as he was close to slumber, he opened his eyes and beheld an old woman sitting at the foot of the bed, strumming the loot and singing. She was not the fair beauty he thought he had wed, but a gnarled and bent creature with stringy, greasy grey hair hanging limp under her crown. She leered at him with hallow eyes and grinned with a cavernous mouth lacking many teeth.

That was when I realized that my own eyes had shut. Startled, I opened them and found that I sat alone in the darkness before a cold hearth. I searched clumsily in the darkness for a candle and a match. When it was lit I fumbled in my pocket for the time keeping device. Its many moving parts had stopped and the indicator had frozen upon the twelfth hour. How much time had really passed? Full of dread I raced up the stairs to Askander’s chamber at the top of the tower. He was gone. I called out his name. I found the bell and rang it and called for him before I came here to the balcony and beheld the sky. Void of stars.

How can that be?

Even now that I have remembered so much, I am unsure. When was it that I fell asleep? In the field as a child? Have I only dreamed that I was selected to be a sorcerer’s apprentice? Or am I truly the apprentice that failed his master and let all the stars die? My foolishness, my disobedience, my failure to keep my master’s way as it was taught me resulting in disaster. Perhaps I am the Sorcerer himself who is yet to reach the twelfth hour, quietly dreaming of being my own apprentice, letting the fear that he will fail me take sway.  

Or am I really a Cobbler’s son fallen prey to some plot and wed to a witch? Now she sits at the foot of my bed singing me a nightmare of fallen sorcerers and fallen stars. Are any of these dreams more or less dreams than any of the others? More or less real? I search for a reason. I try to trace the lines back in my memory.

What could I have possibly done to turn the sky black?
It seems that I fell asleep, but when?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

At The End Of The Earth


Upon a large rock, on a yellow, sun-burnt hillside, beside a flock of white sheep and a sleeping shepherd. There, upon the rock, was the book that I had seen. 
It was thick and bound in a reddish hued leather. Although there was a slight breeze, not a page wavered. I had lost count of the days, the moons that had passed as I slowly wandered to this rock, this book. Now I was shy to approach it.  
I sat on the path and rested my head against my hand. The grasses, the tiny white flowers that crowded the book like a garland, the wind, the tree leaves, all of them gently swayed to a slow rhythm. The book held a place in the center. What it was, dream, myth, truth, emptiness, I did not know.

*   *   *

In a tavern at the end of the earth, just past the forest where the thickets grew so dense no light penetrated, beyond the huts where the banished lived and died of loneliness, in a tavern that hosted the wisest of seekers, their hearts blackened by courage. There Josephine sat among the dirty earth scoundrels.
She sat before a mug of mead, the cup so large it mocked others in the cupboard. Her gestures were both calm and wild, a hurricane contained within the confines of a small woman bound in leather and pauper’s armor. 
She turned to me as I entered and watched me approach. I knew we had never met before. But I also knew that the magnetic bands of earth and star had brought me to her feet, had pulled me through the vacant valleys of sand, past the meadows and siren’s songs, through the cities and graveyards and wastelands of the dispossessed, had brought me here, to the end of the earth, where the black hearted sat on wooden stools, watching time unfold and refold, unwind and rewind.
I took in her lips, her pale skin and tousled purple hair. I took in the presence of magnets, wind, stars. I observed how the push and pull of all energy ended and began with her. 
“Would you like a drink?” she asked. 
The mug slid towards me like a comet. I grabbed it easily and brought it to my lips. One taste of her drink shocked me. It burned, and as I swallowed, it moved through me like fire, lighting me from the inside.
I saw myself, sitting there before her, beside the other earth men that had come, the others that would follow the invisible paths for years through sandy valleys and burned grasslands, past the cities and stark villages until they arrived at the end of the earth, at the tavern where all energy began and ended.
“So you see now,” she said.
Her words came from my mouth, from my eyes. There was the large rock on a yellow, sun-burnt hillside. In one second I saw the route, the many moons, the many years, the thousands of steps through valleys and forests, away from the end of the earth and towards the waters, then the seas and rivers, down through the ancient caves. 
There were many scenes at once, one imposed upon the other, each of them changing as easily as water. They arranged themselves in a line, then spherically, then rotated as a series of shapes that touched ends like a mandala.
I looked at her then, on the wooden stool beside the bar, stone walls on all sides, torches lit on the walls flickering, casting their stories along the floors and our faces. She smiled, her dark eyes alight with mischief, with knowledge of earth and wind, happy to share her secrets with me.
We did not talk. We shared the mead and the silence, the visions which allowed us to see one another from the inside. I saw the book on the rock beside the white sheep and the sleeping shepherd. One day I would find it.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Wall Of Words



Spiraling currents and walls of words met us at the other end of the tunnel.
We had walked, walked for so long that I had forgotten there were feet, arms, or thoughts attached to me. There had been darkness for so long that I forgot you were with me, that there was an action called “walking,” a thing such as breathing and experience. We had been in the tunnel for so long that there was no tunnel, no self, no other. 
And then we emerged, and I realized that you were with me, but we were different. Our skin was shiny, with new hands and muscles and thin lines of electricity that voyaged up and down our veins in eternal recurrence.
I could see the purple and yellow pulsing through your skin, through my own. And it went between us too, stopping not at the borders of biology, but traveled through the space between us, changing color. It was not distance between us, because we were connected, both through these colored currents and through the walls of words.
With each new discovery between us the words would slowly fade together, one replacing the other so slowly, so beautifully that I would sometimes get lost in the blurring lines and speckled palettes. We dabbled together, linking minds, smiling, fusing thoughts into cursive patterns.
We arranged our bodies in new ways, imitating the patterns on the chamber walls. I on top of you, you inside of me, connecting and mirroring, shadows becoming dances, a twisted oblique labyrinthine representation of conscious energy.
And the hidden channels, here we dove into them. Nakedness not just unabashed, but sacred. We gave ourselves as gifts. Golden and shiny, wet and smooth, buffered in hair and dancing dreams and shadowy thoughts. I could see the landscapes of purple places, where moons came out to light the way for traveling islands we glimpsed from moving trains.

I was looking away when a girl in a yellow shirt decided to look at me. Then I saw her reflected on your skin, could smell the jasmine and sun of the day in which she appeared. She jumped through a chain of daisies and came to us, bringing more voices and more strange boys and girls who sang in unison. They wore glasses and golden crowns and I could not quite make out their words and instead of singing, made up syllables to the melody and spun in circles.  Black and red birds descended upon the scene, some of them menace makers, adding to the chaos, to the flutter of leaves and eyelashes. They swirled and swooped, brushing some of us with their glitter tipped wings, and I laughed, despite myself.  It was a carnival of lights, a thousand elements blinking, lighting up the night, fireworks bursting, lovers in the bushes, covered in dirt and sticky leaves and kisses.

Spiraling currents, the walls of words held us close, hugged us deeply. I write and re-write, you who read and maybe re-read, we are bound through electric pulsing currents. Together in a sense, apart in yet another sense, I send bursts of this hot energy your way, and you let them come in through the eyes. They come out through your lips and I sense the words once again transformed. Shapes without definition, meaning as slippery as soap and water.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rare Is The Moment




A little piece of paper with a name and a phone number written on it. Such proposals can lead to an unexpected degree of change in the self...

Right before waking I dreamed I heard the doorbell ring and saw her face. It startled me awake and I realized that it had been yet another dream.

What good is it to hold onto ghosts? A surge of light that emerges from the caves and not from the sky, from the depths and not from the heavens?

The old architect upstairs knew that this couldn't be good, but this was what would make her love me in that way that was so rare that I might as well make it happen any time I could.

The first time I saw the time machine I was skeptical.
I remember I asked:
"Does it work?"
and he answered:
"Kind of."

It worked where rare is the moment, where rare is the space, where rare is the mass that falls without making a sound, and rare is the sound itself... so rare that I might as well make it happen any time I could.

This was what would make her love me, the boy that played by himself in a dark garden full of mountains of sand and intricate structures of loose bricks. Elements of ground and blood and stone and wind, elements of word and phrase and symbol, elements of dream and myth and shadows that are only partly seen...
What good is it to hold onto ghosts?

A little piece of paper with a name and a phone number written on it.

The old architect upstairs knew that this couldn't be good. He developed vision complications in the left eye.

There were three circular tunnels that fed into a single cylindrical chamber. It was lined with a reflective silver insulation. The outside was all white plastic. At the top of the cylinder was a magnetic motor which resembled a giant fan with a crank to start it.

Right before waking I dreamed I heard the doorbell ring and saw her face. It startled me awake and I realized that it had been yet another dream. A surge of light that emerges from the caves and not from the sky, from the depths and not from the heavens.

"What if it works?" I asked.
"I don't know..." he confessed.

It worked where rare is the moment, where rare is the space, where rare is the mass that falls without making a sound, and rare is the sound itself... so rare that I might as well make it happen any time I can.

I wake with the lyrics to "You Only Live Twice" in my head, as if a part of me is reciting the words over and over as I sleep, like a mantra to pull me awake again.
I jolt awake and sit up in bed, the feeling that I am supposed to be somewhere else gnawing compellingly at my heart.

A little piece of paper with a name and a phone number written on it.

Such proposals, where rare is the moment, can lead to an unexpected degree of change, where rare is the space. Three circular tunnels, like a mantra, where rare is the mass. A surge of light  that falls without making a sound, elements of dream and myth, and rare is the sound itself...

So rare that I might as well make it happen any time I can.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Battle


The battle for her, for the thousands of infinitesimal parts which combined to make her, was in full swing.  For several weeks she could feel it building, the pressurized energy mounting, doubling on itself in the course of thirty-six hours. The pulsing of her chest was like a metronome with spastic batteries.
She could not remember another time like this, if there had been one it was so long in the past as to make it non-existent. She knew now that she was oscillating between hell and clarity, and hell had a much stronger pull. It was the black hole, sucking her inwards with a relentless drive. Her mind, her limbs, the heart, her smile, her jaw and teeth, every part of her ached. 
Her heart was hard, lifted only momentarily by a soft touch or smile every now and then. Her mind, a constant deluge of thoughts and anxieties, leading her always downwards, further away from the people she almost stopped recognizing.
In the bursts of clarity, she could feel the movement of every muscle. She focused on every step across her kitchen, grabbing a glass of water in her hand, bringing it to her lips with careful slowness. In those moments she remembered what was nearly always in the background, disguised and disfigured by the daily rhythms of work and obligations. Through the fog she could move beautifully through a space, her attention moving both forwards and backwards.
But mostly she tumbled. Out into the black space where not a hand could reach her. Straight-jacketed in her own misery, she watched the passing world though a car window, the flashes of color and shapes, billboards, couples, conversations. As she saw it fade she was barely conscious of her own desperation, just the tears, the sting of heartache that descended quickly, firmly, coating her in its shell, a thick organic membrane that even those who loved her dared not get close, for her misery was transmittable and they knew to stay away, keeping up lively debates as she fell, further and deeper beside them.
She wondered if this was madness, if it was the natural state of her body.  Was she in the deepest hole or were there blacker lands still to find?
Could she climb? Did she want to? She was frightened most by that thought, the simple thought- did she want to make the effort to climb, to push herself upwards? What if she wanted to sink, what then?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Party


It is almost the end of the party. I dream every night about what it was like when the party was young. Everything was fresh and new and full of wonder and hope. Now I look at the balloons sinking to the floor under gravity's cruel embrace and the torn streamers dangling melancholic from the rafters and I am haunted by the memory of what was.
The worst part is knowing that I was annoyed by the noise of the music and the party blowers. I was stressed by the chaos of spilled drinks and chip crumbs ground into the carpet under carefree heels.
While the party was happening I barely enjoyed it, I was so worried over the myriad details and eager for a perfection born of fantasy. I wanted organized games, quiet conversation, careful observance of etiquette. It seemed like the party would go on and on and I wished for the madness to end. I didn't know how to enjoy it, how to throw back my head and laugh with the others or dance the night away in blithe merriment.
It took time for me to see the magic contained within the pandemonium, time for me to let go and join in the festivities. And now that I've learned how to do it, the party's almost over. Everyone's gone or leaving, suddenly as serious as I once was. They've grown older and I've grown younger so that once again there is a gap between us, insurmountable as I sit among discarded party hats and other favors on a layer of sparkling confetti, watching them go.
It was a beautiful party.
I wish that it could have lasted forever.