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.
The first time I heard Mozart, I swore I was in a biblical garden and I was content to sit and listen for eternity. The serpent came along, as they do in such gardens, as I recall, with the face of Beethoven, though now I am convinced it was just Mahler trying to pass. I still stop and eat from the fruit of Mozart on occasion, but once the food was there for the taking, but now it has to be purchased, and even here you pay and never know until you bite into it just how fresh and juicy it might be. And lately, so much has been overpowering that I cannot digest it, and my growing deafness makes each purchase agonizing, even though I know if I went without, I wouldn’t starve, save for my soul.
Krevchinsky froze his ass off on the Siberian plain. The gray concrete box was traded for concrete gray skies, the whistle of the truncheon gives way to winter’s blasts. It was in many ways easier when the beatings came neatly marking the days dividing days between pain and exhaustion, all under the watchful eye of the meek incandescent sun dangling from the ceiling. In the camp day and night are reflections of an unseen clock, seasons slide from discontent to depression. The prison of the body is finite built block on block, the prison of the soul is vast, empty, dissipating life.
First appeared in HazMat Review, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1996) and later in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 30, Nos. 1-2 (2006).
Much as every person is a Buddha every guitar can play a simple song. Some will lay it badly, some will break a string, some will play with an unspoken regret, but all have the capacity, recognized or not, to create a moment of memory. On this night there are two, both skilled, honed of fine wood, carefully strung, a purity of tone, and you know neither will fail to honor the song they play. But while one shows its mastery, intricacy of notes dancing from the soundhole, while the other sets a gentle rhythm, it is when the other takes up the song, that you realize it is playing it with a depth of soul that you will not soon forget.
He captured the stray beams of light in a small amber bottle and tucked it into a dark corner of a shelf in his basement. He canned a small bit of the sky, sealed it carefully, placing it in his pantry, for posterity. He stored his collection of dawns in and old cedar chest in the attic amid moth-eaten blankets. He had a bookshelf of genomes, arranged alphabetically next to Mason jars filled with the ashes of victims of each of the genocides of the last five centuries. It was the Greek amphora perched on the mantle that he most prized, waiting for the day when he could look within it and bid good morning to his soul.
His brother said that if you left the windows open at night, the ghosts would come in and might steal your soul. He didn’t care, he wanted to hear the song the stars sang every night, to see them come down and move in pairs across the mesa, for stars, he knew turned orange when they left their celestial perch, and would certainly keep the ghosts away, for ghosts were like rabbits and hid when the stars came near, and once in a while, if a ghost moved too slowly he would hear its cry as it was captured by a star. And, he was certain, ghosts preferred doors, and they kept theirs tightly locked, for you never knew what you’d find out on the mesa.
The hardest part of getting old isn’t the near constant aches and pains but the senses that slip away, replaced by an ever deeper truth. She says to really play the blues on piano you must have Seoul and listening to her, you agree, although you aren’t sure if hers is Gangnam-gu or Jung-gu, but the distinction is a fine one, and she plays with a heart and voice that you could only hope to find in Insa-dong, recalling history and hardship in each note, each run. It is only later you realize she said soul, but hers was forged in Seoul, so it is really a difference without meaning.
An evening: spring retreating in the face of summer, two garnacha, a piano, standup bass, drums, her voice lifts the weight of the sky and we float up on a melody, unchained. In heaven George and Ira smile and we, here, smile with them.