Hell is a place where what you least desire becomes eternally yours, or so we were told as children, well not us, not the Jewish kids, for us Hell was our mothers’ finding that copy of Playboy we stole from our father’s stash our mother didn’t know about, and which he would deny, throwing us under the bus or any large vehicle she found
If we buy into Hell, and given that ours is an aging population, many of whom have landed in Florida and Arizona to avoid the winters that are hell on the ubiquitous arthritis, and all those who have joyously consumed the evangelical Kool-Aid, when the final bell rings, they may be surprised to discover there is far, far more of a chance of a snowball in Hell.
Night has swallowed the city and in the laundromat, dryer 42 decries her loose drive belt. The young girl turns, “can you see it the Virgin Mary, in the glass porthole”. No, I think, only white cotton panties and several pair of jeans in endless rotation. “She speaks to me, asking for my forgiveness for the burden she has delivered to us and though I try to give her absolution she will not listen. Talk to her, maybe it is a male voice she needs to ease her mourning.” I stare fixedly at the washer as the light for final rinse snaps on, “she knows you, she is waiting, so talk into the camera, that one with the red light, and tell her that you forgive, as your forgave the other Mary, who you redeemed.” The dryer slowly grinds to a halt and the young girl grimaces, “she is gone, so perhaps she heard what I could not, and I thank you”. She wanders out onto the street and fades into the shadow outside the penumbra of the streetlight.
First published in Prairie Winds (1999)
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He will tell you he’s agnostic, once he would’ve set atheist, but put to the test, he knows he couldn’t disprove the existence of that which could not be seen. He believes it will, must, get better eventually, he has infinite faith that it will, he says to anyone who will listen, in faith is something, he notes, you
cannot ever have in overabundance. It does not strike him in the least bit odd that a man of no belief in God places his future in the hands of faith, although he would tell you he has no idea what it is, exactly, he has faith in.
Go into the hills an bring back logs, straight, peel the bark and smooth them satin fibers, the main pole at least eight arms the cross no less than six. Lash them well so they will not yield under the weight of the body where you might hang. Do not speak to the shepherd, he will tell tales of what he claims he has seen on the hill but he cannot be trusted and speaks of his dreams of centurions standing over the freshly dug graves.
First appeared in Rain Dog Review Vol. 1, No. 4 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum Vol 32, No. 1 (2008)
We bow our heads and utter words not to the cicada speaking through a spring night or the beetle crawling slowly across the leaf searching for the edge. We bid the crow silent, the cat mewling his hunger, just to crawl under a porch awaiting morning, the child to sleep. The stream flows slowly by, carrying a blade of grass and the early fallen leaf.
The night is that bitter cold that slices easily through nylon and Polartec, makes child’s play of fleece and denim. The small rooms glow in the dim radiance of propane lights and heaters as the silver is carefully packed away in plastic tool boxes. The pinyon wood is neatly stacked in forty pyres, some little taller than the white children clinging to their parents’ legs, some reaching twenty-five feet, frozen sentinels against the star gorged sky. The fires are slowly lighted from the top, the green wood slowly creeps to flame as its sap drips fire until the pile is consumed. Half frozen we step away from the sudden oven heat. The smoke climbs obliterating the stars as the procession snakes from the small, adobe church, the men at its head firing rifles into the scowling smoke cloud. A sheet is draped over the four poles a chupah over the statue of the Virgin Mother remarried to her people. She weaves through the crowd, gringos, Indians, looking always upward, beyond the smoke the clouds against which it nestles, beyond all, for another faint glimpse of her Son.
As a child, a Jewish child no less, December was always a bit difficult. We had Channukah, which no Jew would dare claim grew solely to compete with Christmas, although we all knew that was precisely what had happened.
The problem was Christmas, but had nothing to do with Jesus, or the church or even its historical teachings about the supposed role we Jews played in that story, a role for which we had been paying for two millennia.
The problem was far more basic, and all you needed to do was drive down virtually any street in any city and it would be at once apparent. Christmas-celebrating homes were decked out in all colors of lights, while Jewish homes, those few who competed, were left with a palate of white and blue, or up to nine candles, and that was a guaranteed for sure last place finish in the December game.
It is the wet season when the rains wash the village carrying off the detritus of poverty. On the adobe wall of the ancient town hall some villagers say a face appeared one morning. To some it was the face of Christ to others that of an old man a former mayor, perhaps, to most of the tourists from the nearby resort no more than random discoloration of the aging plaster that clung to the beams by the force of will. They arrived by bus and rusting pick ups, bowed to the wall and reached out gingerly like children touching the flame of a candle. To the mason it was a job that would feed his family for another week.
First appeared in Erothanatos, Vol. 3, No. 3 July 2019, Pg. 40
It is almost Pesach, early this year so I will get a birthday cake not the rubbery sponge cake of matzoh meal, eggs and ginger ale, covered in fruit. We are peeling the applies and chopping them for the charoset for the communal seder most to be thrown away along with the paper plates and chicken bones, and shards of matzoh, dry as the winds of the desert, the memory we drag out each year as the last snow fades slowly from the streets and trees. My friend enters the church as he does each holy week and stops at each station of the cross, imagining what it must have been like to carry the great cross up the hill, knowing that atop the centurions stood with spikes in hand waiting to pierce his wrists and ankles, ready to watch him droop against the wood as the heat licked between his toes. I imagine what it was like pushing the stones up the ramp the taste of sand and the whip burning my tongue. In ten days we can again eat sweet and sour pork and shrimp in lobster sauce and wait another year for the bits of horseradish, and he will imagine the fires of hell as he slips the five into the waistband of her G-string.
First Appeared in Kimera, Vol. 3, No.2, Winter, 1998. Reprinted in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005
Today’s prayer shall be recited in silence total, not even the breath indicating a longing for action. Nor will it invoke a holy spirit without us for it is we we must inveigh to attain the desired actions for which we seek holy intervention, casting off free will, an accreting poor decisions, a goat where where seek scape and atonement for the sins of all the others. Today’s prayer shall not be recited at all, but it is this prayer in which we find absolution.