The Litany

I fear not the raft of styx, messenger of wrath brought quick.
I fear not the battle’s pitch, flood, famine, or pestilence,
Pale osiris, eris, nyx, demon furies, and the succubus.

Give me not nepenthe nor opiates, all they do is enervate.
My will is epic.  Bitterness bestows me gruesome strength.

I fear neither death nor judgement, I fear never having lived:
A small room, a mighty chalice.  The judge who points and says,
I filled your cup to overfloweth.  And all you did was take a sip.

Farewells

Of all the streets that blur in to the sunset,
There must be one (which, I am not sure)
That I by now have walked for the last time

Limits, Jorge Luis Borges

It turned out the stories you told yourself spanned several lives, the tram that you would take to the terminus, the fried fish you were going to eat by the bayside, on a sunny day, the stairs you were saving for a more inspired time.

You haven’t seen the museum exhibits, you didn’t read your meditations under the gnarled baobab, you didn’t say hi to the stranger working behind the burger stand.

And those ice cream flavors that made your mouth water – still just pastel hues and the sweet smell of butter, nothing more.  There, you were going to take her on a clear day, there, you were going to take the ferry on a free day, ultimately an imaginary day free of the crush of life’s minutiae.

These days have never existed.  It has crowded you, it has covered the stuff of life, the strata on which kids and babies joy.  For you, the bell rang sooner, the tram arrived and has already left.

To My Bold Girl

Dream big, my daughter, aim higher.

I won’t always be there when you falter,
but still, go boldly farther and further.
Alone you’ll cross the treacherous waters,
alone you’ll face the crowd’s insolent whispers.

You’ll see that before it gets light it gets darker,
and you’ll find, sometimes, that you’re your own savior.

You’ll see that it’s hard to cap your endurance,
and that your fears don’t sum to their appearance.

Compared to how you first thought it, the world
is both smaller and larger, and there will
always be more to explore and discover.

Love always, and always with you, your father.

Prufrock’s Bad Friend

Let us go then, when the evening is spread against the sky like a circus tent blooming orange trees and maples, under this raging blaze to our first stop where we will feast on these victuals: tender steaks, warm crispy bread, heapings of cheese and salad, a pitcher of absinthe, maybe I’ve ordered too much?  No, our young hunger is monumental.

Stuffed, we’ll watch the smoke from our pipes curl sinuously indigo, singed by the orange lamps that will light one after another, glowing in adagio.  We will wait, counting the bell toll ten times, until the galactic city beneath us starts looking flammable.

Think no longer of the girls speaking pretentiously of Michelangelo, or was it Mario, or Luigi, forget them, because here in our own savage town I bet you’ve never seen the taverns or the speakeasies, set amidst the broken lanes and skewered crossalleys.

Let us go then, because there we will meet your mermaids, lots of them, and you will no longer worry if they come and go or deign to speak to you, for it will be dark and hot and rank with youth, and they will show you matters in which there is no use for so much anxious thinking, much less underwater speaking.

Germination

We need not caverns to grow.

We love the dark loam surrounding us with nowhere else to go,

No more than a whisper or a moment’s glance, no more space than a shifting of an elbow,

Inspires us to crack our seeds and grow.

My Guide My Soul My Shepherd

The moon is my guide my soul my shepherd.

The air was thin and cold, my heart was big and bold, when I packed my bags to leave my home.

I followed the spring, a brush and tumble with love, and wet with the taste, thought it was all and it was all enough.

Staking it all, I lost it all, and I took what I could to hit the road, dreaming about the warm lights and hearths of home.  There the lights would glow, just like the moon I know, my guide my soul my shepherd.

Under the torrid sun, and endless din of work, I lost my youth but gained a place, for I shared bread with princes, merchants, and rogues.

My bags grew heavy as I grew old, my legs grew weak and slow.  I paused a while, and it was quiet dark, and cold.

I emptied my bags by the light of the moon, my guide my soul my shepherd.

To whom do I owe these memories of laughter, love, and life?  To whom do I owe the ones of shame, regret, and bile?

Do I need these things, these things that compose the measure of my being?  These stories of evil and schemery, these stories of strength and hope?

I took them out and chose, and chose to leave some there, under the light of the moon, next to my glowing home, by the side of a snowy road.

I chose to explore, under the light of the moon, my guide my soul my shepherd.

The Adventurer

When he left the city, he thought it would be loyal.

So he set off across the plains, over the mountains, and tumbled through the treacherous seas.

He thought the city would wait for him – that the people would keep celebrating his memory, that the dusty streets and buildings would stay as they were, pointed in the same direction, casting a familiar shadow.

He thought the old hill that led to the places of his great fears and torment, and place from which his story began, would stay the same.

And he treasured the city in his mind, for its loyalty and faith.  In his mind, the city never changed, it was always the same, with the same cast of characters, the same friends, and shopkeeps, and little children playing in the streets.

In his memory, it was home.

When he returned across the plains, the mountains, and the treacherous seas, he found that the city had completely changed.  He found no familiar faces, and new contraptions filled the streets.

A city doesn’t wait.

In confusion he walked to where the old hill had been, which was covered completely in large buildings of terrifying height, formidable now in strangeness, and asked a kid where his old home had been.  He described it as he remembered it.

The kid shrugged and ran away, smiling.  An old woman tottering by looked at him, squinting.

There was a building that you speak of, she said.  It stood where you now stand.

It was strange, the feeling he now felt.  Untethered, like he no longer had a home.

The Retired Warrior

He is sitting in the park.

The memories of shells and mortar explosions, firefights in the mud, blown-off fingers, ugly faces of abject terror in the face of the angels of death – these are all gone now.

He liked taking walks in this park, looking up at the gently undulating buildings, looking at their mix of easy, geometric shapes.

Nothing flew in the air.  He liked it that way.  The sky was always the same color of blue.

He liked it that way.

He spent hours following the outlines of the buildings, which were spaced apart at predictable intervals, and there were no alleyways or long shadows where assassins might be hiding.  The park burst with colors.  He liked it here.  On sunny days, it gave him hope.

They called it sterile.  And he liked that.

But, sometimes, just sometimes, he would get an itch.  Just once, he thought, he’d like to go berserk again, to be dropped in that frenzy of primary fear and violence, the attenuated consciousness of just his breath and pounding heart the only thing he could sense as he unleashed on those around him.

No, he told himself, no.  I like this.  I like this park, he told himself.

Fog

The deepest fog enraptured the land, where there was no sun.

Not meaning that it wasn’t bright, just meaning that there was no concept of a sun, with clearly delineated borders, distinct in the sky.  The only thing they could tell of it was that the fog’s color alternated between bright white and dark grey, thick mist.

They had numerous names for the fog, but usually they just called it fog.  Visitors who made it out of the town remarked on the low, almost whispered language used by the people of the town.

It was a very intimate language, a language you would use with everyone if you were perpetually in the dark and could not see them.  It had no barriers, no false cheer.  Instead it was a whispered thing, a language almost of lovers.

The fog itself was not poisonous.  A lot of stories circulated amongst the visitors about the nature of this fog.  Was it poisonous?  Was it some kind of omen or curse?  In reality, it was very simple.

The fog was just that: fog.  It was moisture.  But through some quirk in topology and moisture, the fog hung perpetually over the town.

Because of the fog, it meant that they could easily overlook things.  Responsibilities.  Because they could not see more than 10 feet in front of them, and sometimes not even that, they lived in isolation, and things beyond that distance had no meaning.  They were easily forgotten, relegated to memories and vaguely unpleasant, but distant.

All impressions were, if not forgotten, then lost in the same thick morasses of memory resembling the very thing that surrounded them.  Nothing was vivid, everything was experienced in a blur.

Even when things were happening now, it was as if it was happening in the past, in the same just-darkness as everything else.  There were no past or future tenses in the language, nor markers of time.

Some who lived in the town followed a routine.  Every morning they walked for ten steps in a certain direction, guided only by their memories, until they came to a familiar signpost or patch of intuition, and they turned left or right, often closing their eyes until they came to their destination.

But these people were in the minority, and even among them, the routine lasted only several months or a year at most.  Inevitably things would change.  Inevitably they would make one wrong turn, or too many steps, miscarried by the clouds of their memories and the thick, thick fog.  Other people and other objects would appear before the once-familiar paths, presenting a new signpost or distraction.  The new person would start conversation, and as new memories became formed, the old ones were lost.

Most lived in a state of perpetually shifting priorities.  It was too easy to stumble on a new house, a strange house, and take lodging there, maybe stay there a few more nights, and help tend the farm and raise the nameless, soundless breed of cattle that thrives only in the fog.  It was too easy to walk away from one another during intense arguments, walk into a stranger’s bed, and never see either again.

Sometimes parents lost their children.  And sometimes they took other children in.  It was part of the code of the town.  Hospitality, affability, and a spirit of renewal, exploration.

When they grew tired of one another, they walked into the fog, sometimes for days on end.  There was no right or wrong in that fog.  It was deep, it was thick, and it buried everything.

The gaze you saw in the people’s eyes was not the kind of gaze you saw in the eyes of people who lived by the sea, a faraway gaze.  It was a more intense gaze, a deeper one that was perpetually trying to make out motion and shape and texture in that fog.

The fog absorbed sounds, and it clouded everything.  There was no right or wrong.  And everyone who visited, ended up staying forever.

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