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)
The path meandered more than he remembered but he was the first to admit his memory was never his strongest suit. It didn’t help that he had consumed two margaritas at lunch, and even he didn’t believe the excuse that this was a slow day for him, still sober at two in the afternoon. But he wandered the path, for that is what paths were there for he was certain. He had no idea where he was going, and realized that he would have no idea when he got there. Still he had great faith in mathematics, that was his training, his brilliance,such as it was, and he knew that if he merely wandered aimlessly without thinking, he would eventually cross his own path, bump into his former self and they, together, could devise a plan to find their way precisely they were intended to be.
I always imagined it would somehow be romantic, not in the Hollywood sort of way, but in an idyllic, picturesque manner, even if that denied basic reality. Reality, when it comes to origins discovered is overrated, for the normal percolation time is denied, and the impact is sudden with no restraints to temper the blow. Way back when, you learned by stories told by the elders, who know, or led you to believe they did without question, who painted word pictures, drew out fading photographs that barely seemed real. You believed them because they knew, knowledge directly proportional to their age. For me it was the inside of my cheek, a wait, and an email, and then news, place names barren of detail, Lithuania. Later, village names, and only then visions of pogroms, of flight, of a desperate search for freedom and West Virginia. Details were added, but the picture was monochrome, a barren, wordless palette and no brush to be found.
One of these days soon the sun will again get angry, will blow off steam and all manner of signals will get the message loud if not clearly. The sun can get away with it and we accept it, if not willingly but begrudgingly. When we blow off such steam cities melt, and the angry one is condemned for crimes against humanity or avoiding greater loss. In the final analysis, however, it is probably better to simply be a star where fits of pique are expected and tolerated.
Humor is highly subjective and what will make you laugh is just as likely to elicit a groan, or worse, from me. Things I find funny you are likely to think absurd or foolish. It has always been this way and this is how it will likely continue, so funny will remain the final proof of Einstein’s general theory and rest assured, he’s laughing in his grave.
As 33,000 feet, you want the smoothness that experience tells you, the sky will once again deny. Strapped in, you contemplate cursing the gods of travel, but no, they are simply meeting your expectations. Getting this close to heaven was once, she says, a mystical and spiritual experience, but then we transcended all of that with the first step on the lunar surface, overall a small step from one man and a crushing of dreams for all but the great religious cynics of mankind. With clouds below obscuring all you know the sun is mocking, surrounding your dark mood, painting it darker and you begin to hope that the thunderstorm that will greet your arrival can somehow wash away the hesitation of an eternity trapped in a seat on the lowest margins of heaven.
The truly sad thing is not that billions were spent on the voyage to our most distant planet only to discover, on arrival it wasn’t a planet at all, merely a dwarf, a near planet and yet there was no rebate for the downgrade. Life is too often like that, you want a mulligan and all they say is “no returns, no refunds.” No one asked Charon what he thought watching it all as he wandered about knowing he will remain moon for so long as there is someone, somewhere assigning names, unless he grows bored, breaks free and wanders off into being a dwarf planet all his own, after all it’s not like Styx would give a damn – better to be a moon of the first order finally and as for those billions, if you can’t leave the solar system every now and again there’s not much purpose in escaping the atmosphere.
I could never understand as a child why the moon was female, the sun always male, and most stars but ours had Arabic names. Now makes much more sense to me, the moon is never one to hog the sky and even when she commands more than her usual space, you only want to stare at her in rapture, while the sun is so vain you can stare only briefly and must look away, and he is as likely to hide or flee when he is most wanted, as a calming, steady presence. As for the names of all the others, they don’t sound like ours, and so we cast them off as aliens to our small, smug world