Between Scylla and Charybdis they cower amidst the ruins fearful to look skyward lest they encourage the rains of hell.
Now and then they visit the corpses, hastily buried grief drowned by the sound of the laugh of the gunner peering down from the hills. It is always night for the soul and lookout must be kept for Charon, who rides silently along the rivers of blood, that flow through her streets.
In the great halls, far removed from the horror, self-professed wise men exchange maps lines randomly drawn, scythes slicing a people. They trade in lives as chattel, reaping a bitter harvest, praying there may only be but seven lean years.
They offer a sop to Cerberus, three villages straddling the river, but the army of the hills knows they will take that and more and waits patiently for the winter when the odor of sanctity no longer arises out of the city to assail their nostrils and Shadrach is no more than a ghost.
First Appeared in Living Poets (UK), Vol. 2, No. 1, 2000.
We live in the cell phone age and there are hidden advantages that the young, exchanging last year’s model for this, will never fully understand until they, too, are much older.
With the push of a button, held in for five seconds, the phone will go off at night, and since no one any longer has a landline, you are assured that no one will drag you from sleep to announce they are able to extend the warranty on a car you sold two years ago, or to say that a friend or relative has died, and denying death night hours is the closest thing you can do to feel that you are in control of anything.
In my dreams, I have infinte power and a hint of omniscience one minute and am impotent, deaf and dumb the next, and there is no predicting which moment will be which or when a shift will suddenly happen.
I generally stay out of trouble, and when disaster looms, and I am powerless, I can awaken, reset the projector and try again, although I do have a nagging fear that one night I won’t be able to awaken and I will fall fatal victim to the disaster offered up by my own darkest fears
I have yet to wander the medieval battlefields of Europe and it increasingly seems I never will. I have visited my share of castles in Ireland and Scotland, but the acoustics there are not good, and I did not hear the anguished cry of soldiers falling in battle,
I have seen rivers, quiet now, where the blood of the vanquished must have flowed in this war and that, for Europe is a place of wars, the perpetual gameboard for the greedy and those who imagine themselves emperors.
I come from a distant place, where three wars on its soil was deemed sufficient, but who will freely give others the wars they have grown altogether too used to fighting, and we gladly offer up our sons to aid in the combat so long as we only receive their bodies in the dark of night.
And perhaps that is our failing, for we know war well, but we keep ourselves clean, and marvel at the destruction we will never know first hand.
The clouds this evening are the deep gray that so long to be black, but the retreated sun just below the horizon lingers long enough to deny them.
The space, shrinking, between the clouds, is the gray of promise that the night will soon deny, and the birds who take over the preserve, chant their vespers, each in his or her own language, uncommon tongues singing their hymn punctured, punctuated by the flapping of wings, as the night encloses us in a cocoon that will carry us into the coming morning.
The clouds well up over the foothills casting a gray pall, bearing the angry spirits of the chindi who dance amid the scrub juniper. Brother Serra, was this what you found, wandering along the coast, tending the odd sheep, Indian and whatever else crossed your path?
The blue bird hopping across the dried grasses puffing its grey breastplate and cape sitting back, its long tail feathers a perfect counterbalance. It stares at the oppressing clouds and senses the impending rain. The horses wandering the hill pausing to graze on the sparse green grasses. The roan mare stares at the colt dashing among the trees then returns to her meal, awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await the fall of night when they are free to roam and steal other souls. Was your water rite more powerful than the blessing chants? Did you ward off their evil and purify the breeze of the mountains?
On this night he walks silently into her dream uninvited, but she is used to the incursions. On other nights it is she who sidles up to him in the depths of dreaming, each slipping away ahead of dawn. On rare nights each enters the dreams of the other, paths crossing at the synaptic border. On those nights she looks for him, he for her, each grows fearful the he or she will be trapped, alone, when dawn arrives and the body gently wakes, she or he wandering lost in a familiar alien reality.
A single snowy egret sits on the lowest branch of a long barren tree, where hours from now a thousand birds will arrive for still another evening and night.
He stares at me as I am mindfully vacuuming, watching carefully.
I pause and ask if by chance he is a Buddha and he lifts his long neck and peers around in all directions.
I repeat my question, and he lifts one wing, which I know to be his way of saying, “I, like you, am imbued with Buddha nature, and I with mother nature as well, and if you doubt me ask one of the countless Bodhisattvas who will arrive in hours to study the Dharma well into what will be a wet night.
It is the eyes that fall in love, the heart that follows like an always faithful shadow, and the mind and reason that are bound to darkness and silence.
That is what I learned in my dream last night, or my recollection of it, for dreams may fade in the sharp light of morning.
But dreams have a potent magic, a holiness really, for there I can resurrect the dead and if the mood is right, bend back the arrow of time, render it dimensionless, all the while I remain constant, but certain with any luck, in someone else’s dream, I may be a child, a young man, or any of a thousand other roles I cannot imagine.
It is easier to think about death on a wintery evening, when so much of life slips into stasis, and there is nothing to do but concede your mortality, and with good fortune, then slip into sleep before being lost in a sea of depression.
I must be thankful for my dreams for they keep the night from becoming the little death of the ancient philosophers, and on awakening in the morning, the mantle of snow that has painted the world in a glittering white, does not demand the shovel as yet, but celebrates the world’s rebirth, and with a nod to the sun, my own.