From the heart of the inferno Dante and Lucifer grow bored waiting, waiting for the ferry while Charon stops for lunch yet again at a Greek diner in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. They take up a game of catch tossing Molotov cocktails, raining fire onto the brimstone, setting the Styx ablaze. Each knows this is not necessary, for necessity is a creature of heaven and there is no room for the extraneous here in the realm of forgotten souls. We watch from deep within a nightmare of our darkest memories, certain that heaven must await us, or purgatory if that is how our fate is to finally be written. The angels dance on the ceiling waiting for the precise moment to break Morpheus’ grasp and drag us back to our reality, to continue our dance between heaven and hell.
You came, Harlan, to Rochester somewhere in an endless winter, “Ellison in Tundraland” you said. We all chuckled approvingly.
You said a short prayer climbing into the rusting Opel, sliding on the edge of oblivion, and the approaching snowplow.
You stood, hoarse, smelling of Borkum Riff and English Leather, a tweed jacket over a polo shirt and thinning jeans and told us of the insanity of television, a medium pandering to idiots. We nodded, hoping you would finish before the Star Trek rerun.
We sat in Pat and Sandy’s as you consumed two orders of fries, and a dwindling bowl of ketchup. Later we sat in the Rat, staring at the empty bottles of Boone’s Farm until you took pity and ordered two pitchers. You were our patron saint.
Solzynitsyn was exiled to a cabin in Vermont, staring as the leaves greened and fell under winter. You served your banishment in the land of lost souls, miles from any reality.
First published in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2000)
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?
What I most want to do now, locked in by something unseen, is to wander the streets of cities here, Europe, it hardly matters, and find statues whose plaques are worn away or gone missing, now nameless souls of once lesser fame meriting a bronze or of such ego as donating their own image to the town.
They are forgotten souls, often rightfully so no doubt, but even the forgotten deserve a name merit a history and higher purpose, and I would offer those, with Banksy-like labels, this old bearded man, now Ignatius Fatuus, best remembered for inventing the pyramidal bread pan, where each loaf is uniformly burned on top, and there Shoshanna Chesed, who pointed out that if we were created in God’s image, it is likely God is a woman given the planet’s gender distribution, before the zealots stone her for blasphemy, insuring their own ultimate, eventual ticket to hell.
But perhaps the virus will grow tired of us, mutate, and go after one of the myriads more intelligent species we have not yet foolishly or greedily rendered extinct.
First appeared in The Poet: A New World, Autumn 2020
They lie in the field uprooted slowly desicating in the harsh sun, the fruit they might have borne trapped in the dying flower, the seed of another generation denied. It was not supposed to be like this, the sun should have fed them, the soil nourished their souls, their stalks growing thicker, drawing ever more life from the earth.. But here they now lie, torn away left to wither, and we mourn them, and the loss of what might have been. The question how we or those like us could so callously disregard life, and know that this part of our nature will never be easily overcome.