I wrote this in the spring of 1988. Its message of darkness and light still very much applies. Some of the images presented parallel parts of my fable, Love Thief, the Legend of Ixmal the Healer.
As the Chinese proverb says, “there are many roads to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.”
In February, my thoughts came to dwell on the nature of cruelty, heralded by a dream that viewed the world through the eyes of a wolf. I ran with the pack, sniffed the scent of rain and pursued the herd. Then came the kill, warm and glorious! The next night I was a lizard sunning itself on a rock; the following a vulture, then a snake and a hyena; I even took pleasure from the perspective of a scorpion. The dreams were too vivid not to be real! I even awoke one morning with blood on my lips, but whose blood? I could find no wound.
I feared I was losing myself to something far more powerful than I. Yet, I longed for passage into those exotic lands, daring to slip past that grey curtain again and again. Deeper and deeper I penetrated the secrets of creation, till I found myself in the belly of the Beast himself.
I shook myself awake, as I had done as a child when a nightmare crowded into me. Sweat caked my skin. I heard the soft snores of my wife beside me. In the next room my daughters slept in bunk beds. The cat, plump as a goose, lay nestled between my feet, paws raised to the ceiling. Life as it should be.
Yet it failed to dispel my dread. I had penetrated a veil, a shroud. I lay staring into darkness, time punctuated by a passing car or the quarterly chimes from the cathedral. What Pandora’s box had I pried open?
For the remainder of the night, I resisted sleep, yet a part of me, a very strong part, wished to surrender to its possibilities.
I turned in early the next night, too exhausted to care. Again I visited that strange parched land, only this time not as an animal, but under the guise of my own skin. Then a powerful voice called upon me, its source I’ll leave to you. I am but a conduit, not a particularly willing one at that.
I awoke and knew what had to be done. I could not exorcize what I had welcomed into my dreams. I had to confront it, or I would lose my mind. I rose from bed and glanced at the clock, just past midnight. I climbed the stairs to the attic. I pulled a pen from the jar. I implored the Beast to speak.
I prey on those who deny the lotus of being
Who never glimpse beyond sensory realms
Who never consider the possibility of madness
Who feed off their own kind
Scuttling like cockroaches across a linoleum desert
in quest of mirages
A hyacinth girl shimmering from a fathomless pool
Rose petals strewn in her wake.
Salvation lay at the end of a spoon
Scorched by flame, water merging with scarlet
Sweet sirens luring voyeurs to shore
Your soul a crocus greeting a false dawn
Your vessel straddling shoals, splitting the bow
Like Icarus you fall,
A motherless child adrift in a hostile land
Never pulled from the Nile. . . .
Do this in memory of me.
Dare not deny my role
Evil symmetrical with divine
Lest the Word be not flesh
And the Passion not fashioned from scrolls.
Like lambs in the field
Perpetually at peace
You would have grazed
Never knowing the butcher’s blade
But I, the Advocate, planted seeds,
Forcing eyes to open
Tongues to speak;
Much as I, on the eve of my descent,
Strapped my back to the rack
Releasing the beast
The agony of want, of need, of denial
Gifts I bore proudly to the Garden.
And the Redeemer?
Why not I, angel brightest?
Why the lambs? Why such distinction?
The Voice bellowing over River Jordan:
“You are my Son, my Beloved! My Chosen!”
Water dripping from flesh
the carpenter gazing at the face of clouds
He, the Son of Man?
He, hailing from a village of huts?
From envy to exaltation came I
At last the object of my quest!
This slim warrior for Elijah, Moses and Isaiah
A tool from the Watchman’s hands!
In his scan of multitudes
He sensed questions etched
A hunger for deliverance
A thirst for a king
Who dare sate this hydra of need?
So he fled
Beneath a cruel sky I stalked his shadow,
Through a thousand eyes I watched
Cheekbones press against skin;
Serpents and scorpions
Witness groping through sand
No burning bush to brighten this path
No rock to quench this thirst
No staff to part the sea.
“What say ye?”
His shrill voice echoed through alkali
A dusty wind offering no relief
My message like a dagger:
Alone. Abandoned. Betrayed.
I resisted the wish
To reveal my dark splendor,
Fading into starkness
Anticipating this warrior’s weakening
Lest not your shield fail
But there is no need
Trust what must be said
“What say ye?. . .”
Fear oozed on skin
Lizard eyes pierced his armor
A split tongue flicked his chin
Fangs sank into throbbing sweetness
Spake The Tree of Knowledge:
Your father, your Creator,
Distant as the stars
Distant as dreams of fellowship
Orphan in my domain
Possess the lands at my feet
Change rocks into bread, why hunger again?
Set Israel free!
I grant you any wish
If you surrender Heaven
Such is my love
Far deeper than jealousy
A shadowless noon,
His will drained of fortitude
Before men snatched him away,
Immortal, I whispered in the wind
I offer escape from destiny
Comfort and drink
Suckle my breast
Make the Rebellion complete!
And did he listen to the wind?
Surely He saw no need to sit at my feet
Lest a lapse of weakness, a momentary confusion,
Sully his precious divinity!
So beyond temptation was he?
Beyond the seven deadly sins?
A mere fraud with Buddha distance,
Viewing the world through a divine veil
Toying at the human, acting out providence
Secure in knowledge that this girdle of flesh
Would be shed come molting season?
Verily unto you I saw the mirror’s opposite
Lapping up doubts as nectar from Heaven
He did open to the wind!
Mine was the bluff of the ages
Oh I was at my best then!
The universe owes a debt of gratitude
No fear here in grasping those dice
Not after gambling away Heaven’s bliss!
Yet, when I hearkened the voice on the cross,
Crying out for his beloved Father
I knew defeat be my destiny
In the echo of his plea
He did not fly off the cross
He accepted his humanity.
Even I could not resist the sacrifice
So I posed as a sorceress in Judas’s path
A friend with hemp, a way out of the maze
Come ye, suckle black pools of despair . . .
Indeed, I’ve played my role well
Serving as a bit player, opening a scene
Giving a nudge to history
Perhaps as Lear’s fool, a juggler or acrobat
A gladiator making an empress swoon
Once a Polonius, too often an Iago
Injecting poison into willing veins
Adding spice to the swill
Hubris makes a fine soup!
Yet more often than not
I now go my own path
Pausing but now and then
To torture a madman
Presenting a glimpse of what might have been
Forbidden fruit Faust craved
Without my enchantment,
Artists would not welcome obsession
Emulating the Creator,
Mining mysteries separate from perfection.
Knowledge spouts exquisite agony,
Lyrics, notes, and painted ecstasy
Leaps into space defying gravity
The final curtain draws nigh
Men no longer dream,
Choosing to scuttle
Bellies close to the ground
Evil, like pleasure, now mundane,
Helen of Troy a pornographic queen,
Murder packaged for daily consumption,
Frozen patties on the grill . . .
Home delivery at no extra charge.
Defiance? Rebellion? To what end?
This be the ultimate revenge, the terrible irony,
So the wheel turns
I envisioned a land far more grand,
The envy of Michael himself
Not polluted with the blood of Creation.
I seek a place of peace
Release at the end of a spoon
An injection of death
I weary of haunting in rags or silk
Chart your destiny as you please
I descend to sleep in the ninth ring
Perchance to dream of Elysian Fields.
I placed the pen gently onto the oak desk, carved with the initials of my children. Exhaustion seeped into my bones, but also a delicious sense of tranquility. At last the dreams would cease; no more riding the tiger’s back. I stretched like an old hound dog and eased away from the desk, rejoicing in the dawn streaming through the panes. I was reminded of the last scene in Disney’s Fantasia, the sunrise stilling the frenzy, the strains of Ave Maria filling the valley. Why the Angel of Light had selected this particular venue I could not say.
Only Heaven knows.