The Haunted Circus
A surrealist, quasi-religious piece of plasmophilosophy.
"But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the
"In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day
of the month, someone who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and
said, 'The city has fallen.' Now the hand of the LORD had been upon me
the evening before the fugitive came; but he had opened my mouth by the
time the fugitive came to me in the morning; so my mouth was opened, and
I was no longer unable to speak."
It began perhaps not so innocently. There were precedents, my friend--such precedents! But I cannot say the outcome was premeditated--nor anticipated. There are places--well surveyed, though on no map--where, what can only be described as fate, shares a berth with the immaculate conception of the moment. Spontaneity! God works both ends.
So bend over.
C'mon now, my reverend friend, don't pretend to be shocked, I know you're smiling. As you well know, there are entire instances in which we all might be found to admit that we are fucked from the get go. But they pass, my friend, they pass. Some things die hard--and other things, not at all--laughter, among them.
In any case, since you requested a full account of "my adventures", as you so aptly put it, I won't deny you. And since you ask, I'm doing just fine. The bandages have come off. The scarring is permanent, but then again, anything of value is. Do you remember our late night talks in seminary? I use to say then that when I made it to the other side I wanted gray hair and enough stripes to prove that I'd really lived. Well, I expect I got my wish.
Hey you. Come here a sec. I got something I want to ask you. Chill out. No one's looking. And besides this is the last place they would ever expect to find you.
Tell me, what does it mean when a secret is revealed? A fact divulged? A smoking gun produced? The crime confessed? And nothing at all whatsoever happens? The earth does not open to swallow you whole. The heavens do not rain fire. And stars do not fall like ripe figs. Can you tell me what that means?
I have always played the clown in my life--and I know the reason why. And yet, I'm still playing the clown. I'm still here. Nothing has happened. These scars don't change a thing.
I think someone's coming. You'd better go. Just remember what I said. Just remember what I asked.
Watch your back.
I have always played the clown.
As you will remember, my training was in the Arts--(the Theater to be precise). Which is to say, like many, having no real talent in this area, I was trained in the ways of unfulfilled aspirations, artifice--the finer points of derision--and, oh yes, wit.
My father, who never spoke an articulate sentence of any but the most potent and sensible Americanese used to say, "Never trust a man who talks above an eighth-grade reading level" (the level at which all mass-marketing is aimed). Grasping immediately the good sense of this maxim, I listened and learned and quickly became mildly famous for, if not my Art, then certainly the afore-mentioned wit--(which seemed to amount to gleefully floating insinuating remarks at parties, dripping with allusions, that could be neither confidently understood nor safely unapplauded). Keep one foot in the obscure. It's amazing what the bon mot can do.
I expect what I was really famous for, all said and done, was my penchant for pointed and pointless contradictions--the badge of the true clown. It seems that the moment I established a pattern of recognizable behavior I was compelled to find a way to slip a whoopee cushion onto the seat of persona.
Tell me what you think. With my Lord Byron haircut, my imported cigarettes, my black turtlenecks, tastefully suggestive of Sartre and berets and yet always fashionable--and my designer-brand-look-alike blue jeans--three sizes too short in the leg--thus highlighting the wonderfully absurd intersection of black sock and blue-white hairy shin--could I have fooled anyone concerning the earnestness of my latter-day Oscar Wilde impersonation?
But then again--Mr. Wilde knew a thing or two about playing the clown as well. It's all in the presentation. Making one's theatricality so obvious--being ridiculous--done artfully, of course, my friend--can itself become a kind of brilliance, in which the wink of honesty becomes one more prop, pointing, sadly, not to the poignancy of our need for costumes, but to the artful presentation of the poignancy of our need for costumes.
You can't win. Make the machinations behind the magic obvious and you create a new magic. I think much present-day advertising proceeds, to much effect, on this principal.
Make no mistake--you've got to work hard for your honesty these days.
The scars on my back, my arms, my hands--the faint discoloration on my cheeks--(which I am told will fade away in time--but now leaving the impression of a smile that is perhaps just beginning or still lingering--but nevertheless always in transit)--my marks bring me back again and again to the same place.
Did I love them? Did I hate them? I watched them. They watched me--messengers, who could only be fully experienced as pairs of blinking black eyes--doors to be opened or portals before which to stand aware of oneself at the moment of hesitation before opening. It was not that I saw an unusual number of crows--(and let's be clear, I have always seen crows)--but rather that I saw them.
Early on, they brought me to the great swampland between cities near which I lived as a child--not very far from where the great machines were parked and the as-of-yet unfinished great sculptures of raw concrete stood, which one day would become the exit and the entrance ramps to the new highway connecting the two cities across a swatch of land neither awake nor asleep--but redolent of many twilights.
And in the very center of one patch of this land, slightly elevated, and bordered on four sides by: a creek--an old barn, abandoned now and waiting only for the high-tide development to reach it--a line of thick underbrush--and a plain, open like a mouth, of brittle-in-the-fall meadow grass--and in the very center of this place was a tree. The tree. Gnarled. Dead. Hollow. Vertical driftwood. Center of whirling universes. Tree of life in the garden gone bad. And it was here that the crows lived. And I was drawn to them and they seemed to expect me.
Show to all and sundry that you are a fake--and know it--and fakery becomes something else. Was this the truth that led me to seminary? It was, at the very least, the perversity that made the idea of seminary to me, a woefully religious man, enchanting--more than palatable--seriously funny. In any case, as you will remember, I "did not go gently into that dark night"--but instead chose to make ironic and comic opera of my "conversion" (I, of course, had always been a believer). My friends who knew me before from cafes and readings and happenings--and above all the Theater (where I was currently appearing in a particularly precious pantomime version of Ubu Roi)--were delighted, as well--though perhaps for different reasons. And for those who were more spiritually-minded, it came as no surprise, but indeed deeper confirmation that Art, itself, is a way of communing with God. Such knowing smiles. Such understanding. I was quite popular at parties.
But what was not clear--what was not made obvious to all and sundry--though you recognized it, my friend, like a sensible cat will prefer a stale puddle to a freshly-washed water dish because of the lingering perfume of dish-washing liquid--was the horrible (and let's face it, mundane), sincerity of it all. Something was indeed intruding upon my performance--above and beyond my own proclivities toward foolishness. I believe you saw that.
Did I love you for it? Did I resent you? It drew me to you. Rightfully or wrongfully, I saw a fellow traveler. In my own way, I trusted you.
So silent they would stand--blinking. What is a crow? I think that this one word covered a multiple of different birds. Sometimes they were huge, more raven than not. Other times they were smaller, oily-headed, mottled and shaggy--all wicked yellow beak--and still other times they were simply black birds of no real description. But always they were watching and blinking.
I did not want to come to the tree alone--it seemed to be full of whispering--and it woke up something in me that I compared to the tingling deep in the belly two seconds before jumping off the garage roof. Joy and dread. So I brought a friend. Not yet a close friend. Friendship takes a long time--mysterious other--though he did have a sense of adventure--my strange doppelganger--did not want merely to play football, or ride bikes or build forts in someone's back yard--but wanted also to play ding dong ditch, and smash pumpkins late at night and light fires. In him I seemed to see the whole of me.
And we came upon the tree--and, I kid you not--he laughed. We quarreled. And he hated me. Oh it was an ancient struggle. Blood lusts from days gone by. I hated him.
And this tree. Not from around here either. Looking so sad. My one last hope. My one true self. My last best hope to slay giants and return home with the treasure. Jack of Diamonds.
And with a great suddenness and cruelty he began to kick at the tree--thud thud thud--violent ugly scourge with robes of purple--stupid shoes--and I was confused and struck--my beautiful tree--and then with a mighty push he tried to topple the tree-tower--and I told him to stop because it had once been living and it was hurting me and it was hurting--and then with a run for momentum he created a harsh, cracking, up-rooting--and the tree exhaled a great rotting and mildew--the air dusty and damp at the same time--and I begged him to stop again--tree of life standing in the garden guarded at the gates with fiery swords--and with one more push the dead tree snapped and was frozen in the perfect center of neither standing nor falling--trapped in time--as if lightening were to strike and remain. Stop.
And I too snapped and was frozen between neither rising nor falling--neither upright nor lost--and the crows screeched--and the moon ran red--and I was lost in something bigger than me--as if something had been released in me--and the veil was rent and the side pierced--and I was swallowed and I was and I was--so enraged I wanted to beat the shit out of my friend until real blood spattered his nose and face--and my fists hurt even the next day--and I was too tired to keep swinging--and maybe then, maybe then, could finally sleep.
But I could not find him.
I did not tell you all in those late night talks. I told you much, but what really scared me I never divulged. I'm not altogether certain that I held-back for any other reason than I knew the words I had were not the right ones. You will, of course, understand this immediately. What happens to us, what we experience qua experience, in terms of expression, is sometimes a matter of cutting our losses--though we very often refuse to admit it.
We preachers will seize upon an image or a story and madly insist--not unlike a very contrary child--that it point exclusively to that which couldn't possibly be expressed in words, while all the while big, bad, juicy and quite unpredictable associations are being promulgated like bunnies in heat. One can't dictate where words will take us. (I heard you preach once, and I know you know what I am talking about).
And yet, we can hardly do otherwise. An ambiguous and poorly drawn map is better than no map at all. Still, it is kind of funny. One ends up in the most remarkable places with bad directions.
My reverend colleague, such monstrosities we create in attempting to articulate True things! Such faith! Such buffoonery. As the Apostle says in his first letter to the Corinthians, "We are fools for Christ's sake...."
All joking aside. Let me tell you now what I did not tell you then, my friend. I was playing the clown. I pushed him. We were seven years old. Me and Tommy. He fell and hit his head on the side of the drainage pipe. The blood expanded in the water like an army of red locusts across a green field. And he died.
My brother. Swallowed. They never found the body. And the crows came and perhaps bore him away like Elijah upon wings of black fire and a chariot of cawing. And they never found the body.
This sincerity--so horrible to me--so dangerous--so moving in like old coffee spilled on a table full of valuable books and papers--so heavy and viscous--so without consequence--I could not even admit it to myself--at least, not without staging it in three acts and historically accurate costumes.
I had this problem even as a child. I distinctly remember once calling my entire family together, declaring that I had said a bad word--though no one was there to hear it except Jesus--and inviting them to watch as I washed my own mouth out with the pink deodorant soap from the bath tub--and then after doing so, taking a bow.
Now, I know I was playing the fool and all but winking (I'm quite sure I didn't know how at the time or most probably would have)--but at the same time I was seriously disturbed by my own actions. I honestly did not want to talk ugly--you know, there really are so many lovely words to say--and yet, I could not seem to make myself stop. There are deeper currents in our acts, our routines.
In any case, I was an incurable liar as a child. I would lie about anything. Even things I didn't have to lie about. I would tell my mother that the reason my pants were ripped was because I had slipped and fallen on the sidewalk running home, when actually I had ripped them playing football at lunch hour.
But sometimes my lies verged on the creative--I went extra-curricular. I told my Sunday School teacher once that my mother was incontinent and had to wear diapers all the time and if she ever smelled something funny around her the whole family would appreciate it if she would just pretend not to notice.
I don't think my mother ever understood why Ms. Henderson always looked so understandingly at her. And God knows what smells Ms. Henderson was imagining she was smelling because, whenever we met her, along with compassion, she always had a strained look on her face like she was trying to remember to breathe through her mouth.
Did I take particular delight in these things? Well, yes, I did. Even now, I find myself chuckling. Of course, I understand that there was something cruel in this--but perhaps the alternative was worse.
Tommy was not talented. Tommy was not smart. He was smaller than me and he was my twin brother. And yet in him, I seemed to see the whole of me. When he was gone. When he was suddenly not there. We. They. Went on. Almost as if he had never been there from the beginning. Tommy. You took away my tree of life. Like a question forever and imperatively asked--with the verb swallowed.
I have always been the favored son. Fast? I could run like nobody's business in my new PF Fliers. Talented? I wore a bowler I improbably found in an attic closet in my Grandmother's house and learned to walk like Charlie Chaplin. I was the wonder of the neighborhood--famous among seven and seventy year olds.
I could do no wrong. It was not my fault. They never found his body. Sucked off somewhere into the swamp by the lake or into some underground stream to find its way to sea. Gone.
How do you repent of a crime never committed? How do you respond to a question never asked?
My routines got louder.
There is a tree that is really a wall and on one side is a thin, chain-smoking and mocking clergy-man holding two stone tablets, with wicked nicotine stains on his fingers and a hair lip. Let's call him, John Calvin. (You will appreciate that, my Lutheran friend.) He is sneering. He is mocking. Oh--he knows me well. And on the other side of the wall is.....what? My God, that's a huge, beautiful, smiling-like-an-idiot-hydrocephalic-looking Buddha. And he is growing. He is growing until he dwarfs everything, including the tree-wall, itself. Smile, Buddha, smile! Jesus Christ! He's getting so fat there's hardly room for the rest of us! We might get swallowed. Might get drowned. It's all a big fat illusion. A funny bubble. Maya giggle. It's all a great joke. It's all a sorrowful-joyous laugh. Rejoice. Smile. There is something obscene in that smile--to be so irrevocably not here--not present and accounted for. Jumping Jack Flash, it's a gas, gas, gas....
But what's this? I'm climbing the tree-wall. Trying to go AWOL. I'm scaling incredible heights. I'm outta here, mister. Find my way to something solid and yet not petrifying.
"I know who you are!" Rev. Calvin Deformed Lip is shouting, like he thinks he's in the Wizard of Oz, "I know where you live....." and he's got my trousers in his teeth and he's making weird animal noises and snapping menacingly at my quite exposed buttocks as I scramble like holy hell up the side of the ever growing tree-wall--You'll never take Toto while I'm alive!--and he's laughing--just like some evil Daddy who knows you will never measure up and never never walk this earth in shoes he did not make for you with his own callused hands--and surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life....
And the house comes down and kills the wrong witch.
It got so I could hardly believe it was true. We never mentioned Tommy. My twin. Was it to spare my feelings? We moved to a different state. Without so much water. A more cut and dry land. A place without whispers or natural growth trees. Pre-fab track house. All but double wide--all but wheels to keep moving in this America.
When they want to see if you have a cancer in your body they pump you full of a dye to see the invisible. Loud. Garish. My costumes. My routines. My X-ray screams.
Hey you. You came back, did you? I thought you might. Watch it! You want that nurse to see you? Jesus! What do you think this is? Some kind of cakewalk? You gotta be careful around here. It's circus time. Circus come to town.
Did you get the information I wanted?
Yeah, well....keep working on it. It's important. It's gotta mean something. Everything means something. That's the problem. People talk about there being no meaning in life--and moaning about it and shit. Don't buy it. There's too much meaning. That's the real problem. Everything signifies. Everything.
Alright. Leave me alone now, would you? I've got stuff to do. Leave it! That's my tape recorder. That's my instrument. I'm going to talk and talk until this fucking smile burnt on my face heals--either that or decides to become permanent--and then I'm not going to say another Goddamn thing for the rest of my life. I've had it with words. Silence is where it's at, man. Silence.
You think that's funny? Boy, you don't know nothing about humor. Silence is a privilege that very few achieve--are given--gifted--whatever. Silence. It's for the few. Only the best clowns get to be quiet. Everybody else--they're just going to talk themselves to death. Me? I'm shooting for the moon. Silence.
Silence. Man. Silence.
Well, as you were, no doubt, made to understand at the time, I was, from the beginning, a good preacher. Not a great preacher. But, then again, not merely serviceable either. If nothing else, I have always been a performer.
What was truly remarkable, however, was the response. My God! Those people positively egged me on. Laughter rang on Sunday mornings. It welled in eyes. It rose and fell like high seas, licking at the stained glass windows, foaming at the pulpit, refreshing and saturating the crystal light shows on the wall attendant upon morning's reflection upon my big silver cross. We were having fun--me and those truly fun-loving upstate farm and factory people of God.
Oh I tried to be serious--I tried to keep it in hand--but it was like trying to keep a yellow balloon underwater. We were a little out of control. I'm telling you my friend--it was them--they drew it out of me--they conjured it and nurtured it--and no matter what came forth, they wanted more.
And what was most disconcerting, they got it. When I wasn't looking, strange things began to happen. They began to happen outside and apart from my artfulness. Yes, I'll admit--that was there too. I courted particular effects in pacing and posture and earnestness. But what was added to my antics was far and away more than I had bargained for.
On the first Sunday in Lent three lilies sprouted in the baptismal font just as I was proclaiming the Assurance of Pardon.
On the twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time a duck waddled down the west aisle in perfect step to "Onward Christian Soldiers".
On Pentecost the speakers began to murmur with static during the Pastoral Prayer and then gave way to Johnny Cash singing, "Ring of Fire".
On Easter Sunday the wine from the pitcher poured out into the chalice during Communion for a full half-hour and was never exhausted until the cup overflowed suddenly and splashed all over the white table cloth making us all very hungry.
And on Christmas Eve we sat transfixed at midnight as a beautiful spider descended slowly from the chandelier on chains of liquid air.
And, my friend, we laughed. We laughed. We laughed.
And was I happy? I most certainly was not. In fact, with each day, I was growing more and more piqued--P.O.ed-- peevish. Our circus is haunted, my friend. There is someone else behind all this laughing--and I guess, I would have to admit, at that point in my life--I wasn't so certain I wanted to share the bill.
Which is not to say, of course, that I wasn't in all reality experiencing a deepening of a profound and joyous faith--yea, even a sense of a larger communion with the God I served and who so generously provided for me. These things are complicated--and the world would be a whole lot better off if we would just not get our pants in a bunch and learn to live with the contradictions. My friend, as I have already opined to you, not yet a few times, the one true blasphemy is reduction--though, of course, even this has it's charms.
In any case, I fumed and fussed--took everything personal. I sulked and pouted--and still they laughed. Seems they couldn't get enough of laughing. It's not that the sheer gratuity of our God's presence--its rippling graciousness--wasn't liberatingly funny anymore. It's not that it was no longer an occasion for the forever-newly-found freedom of this Holy Hilarity--indeed, I was perhaps closer to the reality of authenticity--sheer gratitude--than I had ever been before--it was my damnable contrariness.
That's right--I just couldn't take the overt fitness of it all. Some people are called to the ministry of being backwards. When all are up, they are down--and when all are outside they are inside. At a certain point true laughter can only be expressed in tears.
There is a statute that is really a tree. It stands on the landing of a great stone staircase. Don't look back. It's face does not face front. Hands out stretched--and face looking over shoulder. I have crawled on hands and knees--bloody now from the rocks and gravel and broken glass. Around and around the great staircase. Thirty three times. Only now do I dare ascend the steps. Only now my body raw enough to transmit my need.
Throw myself at the feet of the stone. Wait for stone to bleed. Wait for Lot's wife to come home--lithe, willowy--grass in a stream--like Ophelia's hair.
Mother Mary not looking. Mother Mary not looking at me. She's looking back at whatever was but is no more.
Pick myself up and go home. Statue not looking. Just pick up my pallet and walk on home--no one even notices--past the hundred thousand eunuch priests of Isis, beating tambourines and chanting hymns. Just walk on home.
Hard as hell being a cripple with no lameness. With no affliction.
"Is that you, Louis?"
I'm back in high school. I'm back where I was before I am where I am. In our new home. In a new state.
"What are you doing home, baby?"
Already she's bustling her way in. Mama doesn't move but bustle. "Oh my God! You're sick! You're burning up!"
"I'm just tired, Mama."
"Oh baby, come here tell Mama all about it."
She's coming in for the swoop.
"Really, it's nothing. I just want to lie down for a little bit."
"Tell Mama all about it."
She's embracing me. Swallowing me. Concern on her face now like a greedy mouth.
"Oh my Baby--oh my Baby--Oh my Baby" She's rocking me now. Cradle me. Mama protect me. Mama imprison me. Mama.
"Let me go!"
It is not kind. I am screeching. Like Crows. Like black wings of fire and chariot of cawing. Raven feed my Elijah in the wilderness.
"Get the fuck off me!"
Her face. Her face does not change. Her face accepts. Her face understands and pities. Her face. Fuck her face.
"Mama, I'm sorry...."
"Baby don't you worry about a thing. Your Daddy and me are so proud of you. Gonna be a minister one day. We're just so proud."
Daddy got eyes like Tommy--and Tommy never existed. Made him up. Never had a twin at all. That's right. Made it all up. Never killed my brother by accident. Never was an accident.
Crows. Crows. Coming in. All directions.
The call from the hospital came in the afternoon. I did not want to go. She was 97, was currently in coronary arrest, though originally she had been hospitalized two days prior for falling and breaking her hip--and this, itself--(not yet even taking into account the fact that she was now having a heart-attack)--was complicated by the incontinence, the cataracts, the diabetes, the kidney trouble, the several opportunistic infections and the cancer which had only recently been diagnosed and was most likely inoperable.
Among other factors contributing to my reluctance to go were: (1.) the second floor apartment with an uncommonly steep staircase to which one day she would have to return in her present 97-year-old, broken-hipped, hobbled, condition, if she, in fact, survived the current seizing of her heart--and (2.) the daughter, who lived with her and was, herself, languishing in her latter seventies, never married--(not altogether happy about that)--never lived apart from her mother--and was now facing an empty home and wondering--amidst the olfactory confusion of dusty tubes and boxes of odoriferous ointments, lineaments and suppositories stacked in their forlorn bathroom--if she'd wasted her life--and who had (3.) a dentured aunt for whom she also felt responsible, who lived in the downstairs apartment and had lost her husband a year earlier, at about the same time as the diabetes got her leg--and was not yet, herself (the aunt), well-reconciled to her present reality--and so was able to find much needed relief from her bouts of loud grief and rage concerning her recently departed husband--(who, (4.) it seems, had secretly stashed away several thousands of dollars of unexplained income, leaving too many unanswerable questions and suppositions)--and so, like I said, was able (the aunt) to find much relief in criticizing her niece and tormenting her about a life wasted in fear and caution and never once having known a man.
It was, on the whole, a fairly routine visit.
Let's face it. He was jealous. Tommy was jealous--with all the hatred of a child just old enough and deep enough to sense all that he wasn't. And me? At seven? I needed him to know I was still here. He was my audience.
My friend, we were down by the lake--by where the creek running behind the houses met that huge drainage pipe around which we were forbidden to play. Water met water and went out to the lake--impossibly deep. They sent some kind of scientific equipment down there once and detected the movements of creatures unspeakably large. Held a trout derby every year. But there were beasties at the bottom of that lake that lived and died and never ever surfaced. Whole lives lived out beneath the surface. And the currents were strange.
So we'd been fighting. I don't even remember what about. But the fighting stopped when we came to the drainage pipe. A whole flock of sea gulls--white--or not really white--gray--guarded the entrance--and, my friend, I remember in particular just how beautiful they were. Strange vision of whiteness--or rather the whiteness that only exists by association--the purity that is only hinted at in the not-quite white but gray of some of God's good creatures--and yet, is all the more present by way of approximation.
Tommy could tell that something was up with me--my twin--he knew I was seeing something he wasn't. Scare the birds. Tommy waving arms--leaping at them with great movie-man roars and karate kicks from re-runs of Kato on "The Green Hornet". And I'm pissed. Shatter the vision--bring white to gray--always always white to mere gray. And me? What am I thinking? What deep doors are opening like storm cellars in tornado prone regions?
Look at Tommy. He's waving his butt and slapping it with great slaps--all the derision and mockery a seven-year-old can muster. "You're a butt!" He's yelling at me? At birds? "You're a big poopy butt!" And laughing his laugh like when we've gotten all wound up, overtired, and its bedtime and Mama telling us we're being pills and saying how she doesn't like it when we use that voice. And me? You know it's just about all I can stand. It is an affront. And Tommy. Tommy, he's playing the clown. And perverse imitation. See the image in the mirror. And it is not him--oh no my friend--it is not him I am hating. That cruel taunt--that defilement of everything we keep safe and maybe only really take out to look at when lights are out and so wonderfully warm and safe and ready to slip off to sleep--and Tommy's there in the next bed--all is right in the world. The sullying. The soiling. The dragging through the mud--whip the horse, Mister Nietzsche's carriage driver on the street--Mister peasant man in Raskilnikov's dream--beat the beauty--mock my savior Lord--spavined stallions--all my brave heroes shot in the back--Dirty Little Coward Shot Mr. Howard--flail--flail--fists--fight strike out--And They Laid Jesse James in His Grave--give Tommy a knuckle sandwich if you don't stop--but I never hit him never hit him push fall Tommy fall ashes ashes we all Tommy fall--bam--bang--splash--pocketful of posies set adrift on such unstill pools--and he is still so still only for a moment and then caught in terrible swift current through down in the pipe and gone forever crows come take my Tommy away on wings of black fire and chariots of cawing.
They never recovered the body.
I would not talk. Would not say a word. Would not speak a serious word of import serious word of sincerity after the empty coffin funeral for seven plus seven years.
And Mama and Daddy.
And Mama and Daddy.
So you see, my friend, how remarkable it was that I came to seminary. Came to speaking. Came to preaching. I was a prodigy. Lazarus returned from the grave. Of course, I came by way of the theater. You met some members of my troupe, I believe. You did not like them. Many of them lived in the city where we studied Holy Scripture and became intoxicated on the mad mad poetry of Isaiah. I spoke first in the theater. Spoke my resurrection speech on stage. I was not good. I was earnest. First step. But the troupe--so stoked up on Artaud and Theater of Cruelty ideas--and maybe something about Guerrilla Theater from the sixties--though I really can't recall at the moment--actors. Performers. We lived like bulging veins--so fucking loud. And me with my costumes. My routines. My wit. All made sense with my actors. My loud suburban children. All a greater irony--push through to purity in the scream--but trapped. Like lightening strike and then remain. Stop. A frozen howl. A blow never delivered. A beating never given. A body never found.
Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord. Yes that was the reason. Psalm 130. A need to cry. Repent of a crime never committed. My original sin. Jonah in the belly of the whale--never once having run from what never caused flight.
Hey you. What are you hanging around here for? Want to get yourself killed.
Yeah. That's good. Blue smoke. Why do you suppose the smoke is blue? Got a smoking gun here, son. Smoking gun.
I done it.
Feel like Bob and Charlie Ford. Know who Bob and Charlie Ford were?
Yeah. Well you're just a dumb shit. Anyway.
Everything means something. Blue smoke. Blue for a reason.
Sweet Mother of God. Sweet Mother of God.
Give me my tape recorder. I'm storing up treasure in Silence.
And they laughed. Seemed like they couldn't get enough of laughing. But it was hard bringing the laughter to the hospital and I was feeling a little put upon if you want to know the truth. I know, my friend, you never really minded visitation. I've always hated that part. I enjoy the distance of the pulpit. Nobody ever sits in the first pew. And you've seen our pulpit, right? It's one of those old fashioned, tall--almost spiral-staircased--jobs. Stand up and look over the congregation like one of those wooden figures on a whaling ship jutting out over the sea. It's comfortable. I belong there. But the hospital. It all gets to be a little much, sometimes.
I went anyway, of course. We almost always do, don't we? Eventually. But this time there was no putting it off. She was having a heart attack even as we speak.
When I got there her daughter was in the waiting room. No blood in her face. No expression at all. Eyes like already looking at something that hasn't happened yet.
"She's in 245. They didn't have time to move her to Cardiac Care. She's not doing well. Doctor's with her now."
She returned to whatever she'd been doing like Odysseus' shades, the draught of blood waning--the cup emptied, and no more to say.
And then, the curious isolation of the elevator. Reading the occupancy limit and inspection reports. Short ride. Sharp ding. Out the door and into the hall and around the corner and into the.
It was an explosion of activity. No that's not right. It was like an explosion if you could freeze it. It was really very still. And yet, even before I entered the room I could feel the impact. She was surrounded by doctors and nurses and there were machines and tubes and as if in a ballet--the most achingly beautiful choreography--the doctors and nurses parted for me--and I took my place at her side. Her eyes. That's where the explosion was, my friend. Her eyes were whole births of new stars and the death-agony of sea-monsters at the bottom of the ocean. Her mouth was covered with a breathing mask attached to an orange-yellow rubber bag--which, in turn, was attached to an oxygen machine--and there was a nurse slowly squeezing the contents of the inflating bag into her inflating lungs--and then again. She could not breathe on her own. And the eyes were black holes drawing all into warping and reshaping all into her heavy gravity--and I came as bid and locked onto her eyes like bound to wild horses Brahma Bull riding--and took her hand--and--no, she took mine--and she was hanging on--clutching--skin of her teeth--hanging on--sing: Throw Out the Lifeline! sing: Throw Out the Lifeline!--I am witness to a fierce and noble savagery--I am standing like last fast rope from the boat to the anchor and the sea so hungry tonight--snatch away all sailors home--and I know she needs me in order to be alive at this very moment. I am her Pastor. And it has nothing to do with me at all whatsoever. She is hanging on she is hanging on and yet now--I am hanging on I am hanging on--Don't go down--don't go down that maelstrom--into great white night--I am hooked and being reeled in--my leviathan snagged on the cross-hook--out of the depths I come up to thee--my fish. My fish. My Tommy--oh my twin--you now dredged up from the murky murky Davy Jones locker--I am so sorry. I never meant for you to--and now there is a subtle change like weather about to break and she will live or she will die now and her eyes are loosening their grip and then they are not her eyes at all--or maybe they are her eyes--it's the mouth that must not be hers--because now there is no oxygen mask at all but just lips mouthing words--and I alone can hear them--brother-lips mouthing words:
"The city has fallen."
And she is still and she will live. And her heart is strong. And the doctors and nurses applaud--they applaud. They applaud.
And my friend, I returned to the church--astounded, enchanted--transfigured. I had seen Laughter. And stone statues were extruded into fluid motion--and the ripping and stretching of dry and brittle stone.
When I arrived they were waiting for me and they had already lit the candles on the Communion Table. I ascended the pulpit--and my friend, I wept--and in weeping I was falling from the pulpit--and in falling I was vomiting--deep deep out of the depths I cry to Thee O LORD--and in vomiting I was burning--the great black wings of my clerical robe now become, in the flames from the Communion Table candles, wings of black fire and my retching, chariots of cawing. Out of my heaving--like drawing up nets from the depths--came a single perfect, unscathed, beautiful fish.
And as I watched the crows greedily gobble it up I was put in mind of another meal on another seashore at another break of day, when fishermen were greeted with a breakfast of grilled fish and bread and there was a charcoal fire. And the patron of all poor clowns said, "Come and have breakfast".
So there you have it, my friend--my "adventures". It's about as good as I can get it. You know they still can't figure out how I got these burns. They found me out there in the field next to a dead tree. No sign of fire anywhere. And, of course, the church is fine. There was no fire. And yet, these burns on my body are real. Third-degree burns. You figure it out. I'm telling you, our circus is haunted.
In the meantime, while I'm recovering, I've been amusing myself with this tape recorder--recording this letter for you--(my hands are still too tender to hold a pen)--and tormenting the orderlies. They all think I'm crazy.
Yeah. Crazy like a clown.
P.S. I miss you. And please. Don't judge me too harshly. God loves a fool. And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
So watch it.
Stanley Jenkins lives and works in Queens, New York.