I am mystic, thief, madman, all that, considerably more, never begging, always taken what is arrayed before me favor curried, passage guaranteed coins gathered, stored so there are none to cover the eyes or pay the ferryman’s wages. I can turn wine to water and hide fish in the midst of loaves, the trick is to distract you so the order is reversed, a sleight unseen. I am truly the prodigal son vaudevillian and fall guy and the spikes are a bitch but the view is something to behold.
Mark your doorpost with the blood of the lamb for this may be the night when God’s emissary arrives for the killing of the first born. Will he be a night bird half raven, half vulture or an aged man concealing his weapon in shabby robes.
Mark your doorpost and check it often for if your neighbor wipes the blood away, you will be visited and no amount of pleading will deter him from his task. There are no interim plagues remaining to buy you time, if he chooses to come tonight.
Put your ear against the window and listen for him. Will he come on cat’s paws or the rasp of lungs slowly drowning?. Will coins jangle in his pocket, to pay your fare to the ferryman?
But if you do not believe, perhaps he will forget to come.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)
I made it past 27, which says I’m either an optimist or have almost no musical talent. When I made it through 54 I knew I’d never get burned buried in Paris, never be mourned as a great talent taken or taking myself too young. Now it’s five years until 72 and I know if I make it, I’ll never have the guts, sense, or stupidity to do myself in, so lets now all lift a glass to Jim and Janice, Robert and Jimmy, and hope they play Kurt and Amy when my ferryman finally arrives.
They clearly don’t get it and odds are they never will. They think perhaps prayer will work or youth will provide some sort of immunity, maybe an executive decree, good luck with that given the swinging there to that old White House, with the ridiculous spiked fence in the middle of an avenue named first state that’s actually a Commonwealth. They can’t imagine I have a list And all I do is make pickups and drop offs, no thinking, no planning just show up, tie up to the pier and then it’s off down and across the River all day and night, in and out for a payment you ‘llonly make begrudgingly, as if I care, for I have a family to feed too, remember.
There is a great deal left to be said, and we assume more than enough time for the task, but the ferryman hews to his own schedule and our plans, intentions, desires are beyond his knowledge or caring. It is best to say what you need before recalling that silence is eternal.
He comes to me in the dead hour of night the old shriveled man poling his poor ferry across the river of my dreams. He comes when the moon has fled and the stars fall mute and he beckons me holding out the copper coins stating his fare.
He comes to me, beckoning, and for his fare I show him the butterfly perched on the window box his wings folded darkly iridescent a tissue paper opal awaiting the first sun.
He comes to me, beckoning and for his fare I hold the rose beneath his nose letting the carmine velvet petals caress his nostrils as he smells the luscious aroma that bathes his face.
He comes to me, beckoning, and for his fare I pass to him the crystal goblet of the sauterne and he sips as it washes over his tongue, tasting of honey and fruit.
He comes to me, beckoning, and for his fare I give him the voice of Wolfgang’s strings of Johann’s harp of Ludwig’s piano of Callas, Pavarotti, the symphony of the rain forest the sonata of the surf.
He comes to me, beckoning, and for his fare I give him a picture of the young child tugging my hand, as he pulls me to see something marvelous he has just discovered, his laughter deafening.
He comes to me in the dead hour of night the old shriveled man poling his poor ferry across the river of my dreams. Each time he retreats, the fragile boat empty his fare uncollected.
In a small storefront, in an older neighborhood of the city, I found it. Sepia coated with a fine sheen of dust and neglect, it lay on the table amid a stack of others, as though a leaf of phyllo in a poorly made stack fresh from the oven. I knew it as I looked at it, touched it gently, that it had once held a magic incantation, that if you allowed it, could take you on a static journey where stillness was infinite. I read it though it was wordless, but clear, it was a map to the country of dreams. Not mine, I knew. Mine had the mundaneness of Chinese menu ordering, column A, column B, or sorting socks still hot from the dryer. I saw in it possibilities, where ties and restraints could have no meaning, where crawling and flying were coequal skills and walking was so evolutionarily regressive. I thought of purchasing it. The price was certainly reasonable. I thought of framing it with archival mats, and encasing it in museum glass, hanging it on a wall, or placing it behind the mattress where it might seep through like a ferryman plying the river of night, never quite touching opposing shores. I left it in the store that day. I haven’t gone back to see if its patina has grown. For me it could only be an artifact. A map is of so little use, if you have no destination.