As He Prepares to Joust

On this day years ago he stepped on the stage, armor burnished and gleaming, veins coursing with power.

He felt immortal with youth, he did not feel the weight of the armor.

He crushed his opponent, and threw off his horse.  He remembers the crowd gasping at his strength, it is all seared into his brain.

For years afterwards, he has returned to this moment.  Every day he reassures himself that he is still the people’s champion.

He looks at the younger knights with a critical eye, judging that their strength is lacking, that they are slow or small.  Any battles he has had with them are in his mind, pitting his former self against them.

In so remembering, he has forgotten time.  They still cheer his name, remembering him as the knight of old.

No one knows how much time has worn the sinews of his muscles, how it has made him bent and flaccid, with slight aches in his feet and knees in the morning.

See them cheer him on, as he enters the joust, about to ride to his death.

Ghost Towns

Beware the ghost towns.

Ghost towns are not what they seem.  They are not towns of buildings otherwise empty populated with spirits, of things dead and undead.  They are not haunted or abandoned.  If you end up in one of these towns, simply go the other way.  There is nothing there.

Ghost towns are the ones that lure you in.  They are full of life, of beautiful men and women.  When you grow anxious or discontent, the town will ply you with food and drink and laughter, until it drowns out the simmering of your soul.

These towns are beautiful, fresh, and their primary aim is to help you forget.  But do not forget, because once you do, you cannot leave.  You will have lost what once tethered you, what was yours and yours alone.  Ghost towns turn you into ghosts.

The Pursuit

At night, you look up at the sky.  Your heart leaps out and back into your chest, aflame above the simmering, ever-present burn in your stomach.  I’m so hungry, you think.  This hunger will not let me rest.  In the glittering sky, the stars look like jewels strewn on and over an undulating plain.  There is something there on the other side, and you hear its faint whispers in the wind.  

The village wise man says, there is a legend of a treasure that will cure your hunger, a fruit that will make you never again hunger, this discontent by another name.  

It is in the lands far away.  No one has ever seen it, no one has ever ventured so far.  All those who have left the village have never been heard from again.  It will be foolhardy and brash.  It will be unheard of and rash to go. 

But you go anyway.  

You are on the road, leaving everything you’ve ever known.  Along the way, there is scarce nourishment.  You eat the barks off trees and live on dew.  There are roots that pulse with something deep beneath the earth, which are filling when you can find them.  In your mind, you dream of the fruit that will make you never hungry again.  It spurs you forward. 

Around the bend you startle, because before you on the bridge is a demon, the most terrifying monster you’ve ever seen, a wolf, ogre, succubus.  A patrol on the bridge that you must cross.  It reeks of blood and death.  For a moment you startle and hesitate, your mind flickers and pulls against your heart and hunger.  You’ll be torn to pieces.  

And yet.  What fate is worse than starving slowly to death?  You will wither away, you think.  Instead, you stand up straight, and in that moment’s courage the demon sees you standing there, erect.  You have one way to go, and you stride with purpose, and seeing you, the demon’s menace drains.  You stare it in the eyes, and it looks away and you cross the bridge unscathed. 

You are growing famished and drag your feet.  But ahead are the spires of a mountain city, a more glorious sight than you have ever seen.  It looks prosperous and full, and surely you will find some food and shelter there.  Your heart leaps in joy and your hunger is suppressed for now. 

But this is not a city of warm hearths and friends.  This is a city that has grown old and fat in their own abundance, and you hear insolent whispers about your skeletal appearance.  Their bellies cascade with rolls as they sit around, their servants and slaves more plump than you.  You, whose skin has been stretched across your jaws and your fingers, realize now that they are shaming your name, that this is a city where you will not stop, where you will not find rest or drink or shelter, that stopping here will cause you to also grow old and fat and live out the rest of your days. 

Confidently now you stride, your hunger so deafening you do not hear the crowds’ titters and trifling nothings.  My hunger cripples me, but it also leads the way, you think. 

The city opens up to a mountain pass, bleak and forbidding.  The clouds are clenched and on the verge of being black.  You look up to an explosion as a storm begins to roil.  With neither mercy nor malice, the winds shriek like banshees, battering you off the path, almost to your death below.  You clutch yourself and crawl forward by inches.  Then the hail comes, battering your head.  The storm will not relent, it is terrible in its apathy, in its pure indifference, and you look back and see a sunny meadow in the distance. 

You think, will I roll with these waves of indifference?  Do I turn back now, because the way forward is more difficult and forbidding than I ever imagined?  I will surely be forgiven, for I have proceeded further than I ever believed possible. 

Or will my heart beat and hunger be the crosswise force, the thing unlike the others, the beating heart in the midst of these winds, cold and dead and terrible?

Then in the midst of the storm, another rumbling. 

But you realize this is the sound of your hunger.  And it, only it, spurs you forward, because you will not accept your fate.

Now your steps quicken because you see the peak, where the treasure lies.  You expected angels and light, but instead it is dark and unassuming, craggy peaks with withered trees. 

Could it be? 

There, in the distance, you see little drops of what look like light hanging from the wizened branches.  This is it. 

In your excitement you do not see until you almost stumble over him, a man who sits beside the pass. 

Where are you going, he asks. 

You look at him, this strange man.  He looks young, but his eyes shine a strange light, and his body is feeble as he leans against the rocks. 

I’m going to eat this fruit, this treasure that makes you never hungry again. 

The man gives you a weak smile.  I recommend against it.  

Thinking this is some sort of test, your mind races.  If this is one of the challenges, it is the most confusing one yet. 

I must.  My hunger is deathly, it causes me to suffocate. 

He is short of breath.  You came across the plains, did you not? 

Yes, I did. 

You terrified the demons with your strength. 

I did. 

You passed through the village without dying there. 

I did. 

You made it through the storm. 

I did. 

How? 

How? 

How. 

Because I sought the fruit.  To never be hungry again. 

The man shakes his head. 

You get impatient and take a step forward as he speaks again.  The treasure you sought, did you ever have it? 

The fruit?  No.  It’s there.  You begin to scowl.   

No, he shakes his head.  What helped you get here was your hunger.  Your hunger is the gift.  It’s the treasure.  Why would you want to get rid of it? 

He slumps back, as if from the effort.  It’s better to be hungry than full.  Take it from me, he says feebly again.  

You look at him.  You blink and hear the abrasive winds.  You look back down the mountain.  You have faced your demons, you have forded wild streams, you have faced down the insolent mob of strangers, the shrieking hue and cry.  You have been bold and with conviction, you have defeated plights that would cause others to succumb. 

You have overcome. 

Suddenly the hunger flares up again within you.  It feels warm, and fills you with light.  There is a path that leads past the grove and into the wider world, one you have never explored. 

That’s right, you think.  Your hunger is your strength.  That is the gift. 

I Am

I am the cosmos, the cosmos inside me, I am the benevolence of history, I am the warmth and love of billions and souls, of an endless stream of mothers cuddling their babies on land and sea and stream, I am the product of violence and chaos, I am the swirling in the chaos, I am the baby and the womb, I am the silent whisper between lovers, the tilting, undulating breeze that brings memories of places never been, I am the cosmos that stretches with yearning, encompassing all within its arms, I am the planet, the stars, the bond that links every thing with everything, I am the seaside taste of home, the soft bosomed light, the miracles, the hand pushing you from beyond, the spirit who moves you from within you, the love that can only come from being open to great mystery, the gecko on the ceiling, the dim roar of distant waves, the streaking light, clairvoyance and conviction from the universe’s arms.  I am.  I will.  I see.  I will be.

Nomad Feet

Cinch the reins, calm him down,
Knot tight the bags that hold my things,
Throw the grass to test the breeze,
First gently trot to test his knees,
swift,
Borne of wind and of the wind, no regrets no memories,
No time to think, no backwards glance, no heed to rain or snow or sleet,
Frost of dawn on barren towns, diving hawk, tempest blast on fallen crowns,
Banner flies, shadow of the peregrines – as children of the wind we move to live.

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 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.