He says he cannot believe in angels because he has never seen one. I do not believe in his sort of angels, but not for lack of visual confirmation, rather that I live in a world that now is so deeply in need, that an angel might be our last, best hope, but the scope of angelic miracles is not likely wide enough to encompass the utter disaster which we have created.
I tell him that I do believe in angels, that I have met several in my life, and scowl when he laughs so that he must consider that I am serious, and then he asks what an angel looks like, so he will recognize one when and if he ever sees one.
I advise him that you don’t have to search all that hard, that you merely need to be aware, and watch the face of the baby when you stop and coo at him or her as they lie in their stroller, staring up at the always welcoming sky.
Ice, he said, is clearly an invention of Satan, the ice cube a scaled down version of that corner of hell of which no one ever speaks, so little known.
And stop and think, we got by well for eons without a cube of ice, unless with blade we chipped it from a nearby glacier or left water out in the dead of winter, which never worked all that well in much of the world.
Whiskey, that was one of our best innovations, one of which we are rightfully proud, one which we have practiced for untold generations. We’ve been sipping it and drinking it from the word go, and each culture has come up with its own version, and it is only recently that the devil gave us the means of denigrating one of God’s greatest gifts to us.
God, mother told us, prefers things neat, as they were intended, so clearly ice is the Devil’s work. Turn away!
Religion, he said, is inherently illogical and the older the religion, the more illogical it becomes, accreting absurdity over time. A corollary of this proposition is that the more organized a religion claims to be, the more its spirituality is buried under rules and regulations which only illustrate the principal proposition set forth above. Humans create religion not to explain the unexplainable but to justify ignorance and their unwillingness to search and risk finding answers that conflict with their desired view of life and decomposition. But, he concluded, do not for a second believe that atheists have it right, for theirs is a religion of utter illogic and rigidity certain of the nonexistence of an idea that they believe they can demonstrate, but have not, and they will be damned if they will stop trying.
As a child I know the winters must have been milder, as it was never too cold to have my parents take is to Sheridan Park where my father would drag the old wooden toboggan up the chute adjacent to the stairs as we ran ahead, and smile as we hurtled down seeing how far we could go across the snow packed runway.
After an hour, when our hands were blue, the mitten clips long since defeated, he would once again smile as we drove to Louie’s for a foot long and a couple of orders of curly fries.
I’m thinking the weather changed right about the time my parents packed off to Florida, as if God had given them some Noah-like warning that winters would soon get ugly, or maybe He was just trying to help Detroit, since my step- siblings had to have certain cars, while I struggled through winter in the north in my leaky, rusting Opel.
I spend considerable time thinking about what it is that I am, what is I, whether Descartes’ God or Spinoza’s could possibly exist, or must if I can have meaning beyond self-reflection, needing a godly mirror, and image reflected. Cogito, on what basis can I draw that conclusion what logical proof, carefully constructed will not fall under the weight of the axiom, cogito cogito but of what? Keys that spit words that fade under a misplaced finger, she caught in the web twisting, unable to pull free, staring at an approaching holiday of praying forgiveness Vidui, as though to posit God is to validate emotions, control impulses which leap synapses and flit and fade, I have sinned and transgressed I have violated laws and statutes and I beg forgiveness that I might live, this I, this cogito who has no external reference save God which makes all things real, all illusion. It is comforting knowing in death the soul is carried on, thought lingers, or does it cease such that I am not for I think not, yet why should I fear, for when it is done, I will not have been save as a reference point, a linchpin from which may hang ornaments of a life, a tidy sum.
Getting a headache, are we? You feel like Schrodinger’s cat. It’s really like asking yourself if the Big Bang was the beginning of everything, what was there in that split second before the Big Bang? If God created everything, what created God? If time begins with the Big Bang, what time was it before there was time? And who are you really, if you know your are merely an illusion created by you? And please tell me, what time is it? Find the black hole, for there is freedom.
Christ and his disciples walk slowly through the lobby en route to the bar, discussing the evil of war and blind obedience. They push three tables together and slowly drain the pitchers of Bud draft, laughing over the sound of the Karaoke. As the evening draws itself into night, he boasts in Aramaic that he has translated more than half of the Bhagavat Gita, although he much prefers the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Satan, he suspects aloud, is still trying fruitlessly to finish Spinoza’s Ethics, but without improved understanding the old devil is doomed to failure. As the night draws on, the hooker hovers ever closer, and for a moment he wonders if she would moan as she feigned orgasm. He lights another Camel and crumples the empty pack and throws it, knowing it will miss the can and roll on the floor under the bar rail, and he curses in the ancient tongue.
Once it was fur hats men on horseback swords and torches our villages casting a faint glow falling into dying embers, here, one whose skull bears the mark of the hoof, there an old one who would go no farther.
Once it was a helmet tanks for horses flames contained in crematoria cities taken for the deserving we, merely ashes shoveled into a pit, here a tooth, its gold torn free and cataloged first the old ones who could go no farther.
And so we have learned, we in our kippot we in our planes and if you do not hear we will give you the holy fires of God you and your villages a faint shadow and so much vapor, so much ash carried on his holy breath for we have learned well and we have fused these words in our minds, never again.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)
Deep in the valley of memory on the altar of Ares we sacrifice them, always young each generation we are Abraham unrestrained, the pardon always moments late. We are Olmecs, relying not on the sun’s passage but on a mainspring tightly wound. Our gods hunger and must be sated lest we lose favor and their image change.
In our boneyard priests and victims slowly decompose fade into earth washed deep by tears of Gods powerless to intervene.
First published in The Peninsula Review, Vol. 5, (1998)
We set out with bold ambition, egos saddled and reined across a landscape left barren by our leaders who saw only carefully stacked boards and beams awaiting the master carpenter, great floral sprays dotting the lobbies of glass and chrome edifices, created in their own images. We ride in search of the promised land, and turn a deaf ear to the windwalkers, to the spirits of the children sitting in the packed dirt streets their bellies distended, crying out for food, for justice as the warlords sit in their cars surveying the invisible parapets of their armed fortresses. We look quickly away from the chindi of the young men who rise from the neatly heaped soil of the common burial mound, who rise up in neat array and perch on the edge of the freshly dug pit waiting for the rat-a-tat rain of death they know await them unrepentant, unwilling to curse Allah, bidding farewell to Tuzla. We pause to chant the blessing way but we have forgotten the words, Arbeit Macht Frei, the gates reduced to rust, the chimneys no longer belching the sweet smell of death into the winter morning. We ride on oblivious to the faint glow from the craters we have torn into the earth, of the clouds that only vaguely recall the mushrooms of our progress. We ride toward the horizon where the great pillars of gold and silver rise up, glinting in the sun that once warmed them before we cast them out into the desert of our lust and craving. We set out with bold ambition but our horses have grown tired, our canteens are empty and the inferno threatens to consume us.
First Appeared in Alchemy, Issue 2, Fall-Winter 1999.