Sunday Afternoon

January 12, 2007 at 6:56 pm (Surrealist Anthology)

 Erich Cohn

 

At the beginning there are trains, trains with boxcars of federal eagles, a barn on a hill with open doors, talk oaks bending into air, black crows that become girls in red dresses who step past you as you stumble up the stairs. You turn on the radio but the words run away. Mercury hovers above the traffic. Samurai bedecked with pearls glide past. You glance past the bank urns to see all points of the horizon converge at an immense dead tree. It follows you in a rusted, faceless car until you lose it in the dust. You arrive home to find everyone missing and begin to fast.

As the full moon rises surrounded by haze and conversations about prophecy and sinks into a dark oak, you begin to make lists of symbols, connecting the dots, until a blue heron flies past and snowflakes fall to the ground. A tunnel emerges. You walk slowly through the trees down to a silent pond where black bats dance in the dusk.

You attempt a clear explication, but so much sleep has fallen, so many years of sleep have fallen. In all this time books have become lines, lines words, and words just fragments of ghosts. On abandoned dirt roads, you build perfect houses. Afternoon becomes evening, shadows deepen, displaced spheres succumb to the weight of circles. The door opens. The first numbers are called.

White dove, silver moon, fever of desire. Trains rumble through the window, setting the clouds on fire. She makes an oblique reply, expressing regrets in quarter notes and long-stemmed scripts. We look across the room at the broken window and mentally try to put the pieces together.  Everything passes into profound quintessence, which is taken as a foretaste of the afterlife.

The servant speaks softly, “The window. May I close it now?”

 

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Just the Way You Left It

January 11, 2007 at 1:08 pm (Surrealist Anthology)

I thank everyone for the kind comments I have received on my recent ‘Winter’ series and my account of the ‘Lost Poets’. Recently while browsing my library, I came across this collection of seven short pieces by Erich Cohn that were published in the Surrealist journal Sturmvasser in Vienna in 1937. I have tentatively translated them into English and although more time would allow for a more polished presentation, in light of certain considerations, I decided to bring them to print quickly.
–Von Josti

 

Airplanes descend from the snow mountains of the South. I am walking along the beach looking for a path. There is a loud crash in the distance and the sound of chanting as if remote African tribes were camped just over the next dune. Once I reach the top I see the strewn pieces of glass and metal mixed with pages from unwritten books. There is a white schoolhouse with a young woman inside giving lessons to my grandparents. I would like to bring them the books from the airplane but the pages are all blowing in the wind now, blowing over the cliffs into the lake. Behind me blue ghosts flutter as I walk along the edge between the sand and the water, wind blowing in my face. If I could just reach the schoolhouse which hovers quietly in the distance, fading in and out amid sudden flurries of cold white snow, I would tell her: It’s all there–just the way you left it.

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Lost Poets of the 20th Century

January 4, 2007 at 10:45 am (Borjes Society)

Von Josti

Through the auspices of Grunwald’s Antiquarian Books I was able with great difficulty to obtain a copy of Sonnentraumen, the rare German anthology published in 1937 by Rosenkranz which contains the collected works of the ill-fated circle surrounding the young widow Baronness Sophia.

Her spiritual and literary salon was well attended by many of the young academy graduates in Vienna, and some of their teachers as well. She herself was a spiritualist and preferred all things otherworldly to those of the senses. Her striking personality coupled with a certain gentleness and good humor inspired much serious verse. Berchold reports in his memoir Days in the Garden that “all were in love with her, and yet she moved like a spectre among them, thin and pale, absent even when she was present.”

Rosenkranz’s book contains the works of six of the poets in the group, friends and co-conspirators of Rosenkranz. Although they all share a preoccupation with the invisible, the specific standing each enjoyed in the twilight world varied considerably. Perhaps I would do well to introduce them.

Christina Else-Niesse (1904-1981) was born in Neisse, Silesia, the daughter of a Lutheran minister. She studied Art History and Classical Greek in Munich and Bratslavia. She moved to Vienna in 1931 where she made her living as a teacher and translator. Her shifting intimacies with several of the circle’s members and her role as the “White Princess” and leader of the group’s ill-fated festivals are now legendary. Her writing attempts a balance of the Apollonian and Dionysian elements, but despite certain concessions to restraint, the latter appears to predominate. Escaping Austria in 1938, she lived the remainder of her life in relative obscurity in Switzerland.

Friedrich Gustav Gedantz (1895-1936) was a history teacher at the academy . Son of Pietist parents, he was one of the oldest members of the group. His involvement in certain Gnostic circles and his scorn for organized religion was reflected in much of his work. His publication of some of the first German translations of certain heretical Christian writers in 1935 earned him the enmity of certain highly-placed clerics and provoked several threats on his life. Married with two daughters, he died mysteriously in a train accident shortly before the circle disbanded.

Erich Cohn (1897-1963) was born in Trieste of German-speaking parents. Cohn went to sea at 16 and served in the Austrian army in World War I, when he was wounded. After the war, he spent a number of years in France and then in Haiti. The reason for his presence in Vienna in the 1930’s isn’t quite clear, although it appears he may have had ties to various left-wing political groups. After the circle’s demise in the summer of 1937 he returned to Haiti, where he spent the remainder of his life. Famous early as a war poet, his later work reflects a more than casual involvement with the native Haitian religion.

Else Saint-John (1915-1944) was a native of Salzburg and student at the Athenian Academy there, Else was the youngest member of the circle. A surviving photograph of her shows a pale thin girl with a decidedly dreamy look. She was a student of divination and was popular as a spiritualistic medium. Her brooding, oracular poems were published in several small volumes now lost. She was killed in the allied bombing of Dresden.

Franz Bachman (1901-1973) studied Chinese at the University of Vienna and lived in China for a number of years. Returning to Austria in 1932, he lectured on Chinese and Buddhist Studies at various schools around Vienna. He was introduced to the circle by his former schoolmate Rosenkranz and participated in their activities including the notorious festivals until the group dispersed. He returned to China, and after the collapse of the Nationalist government in 1949, he emigrated to America where he continued to write and teach. Bachman was easily the most optimistic member of the group–his faith no doubt fortified by his long study of Eastern contemplative practices.

Albin Landauer (1911-1940) was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna and studied in at the University there. He was part of the Baronness’s circle when it first began to form in the early 1930’s. Although one of the youngest members of the group, he was perhaps the most gifted. A close friend of Else Saint-John, he went into hiding after the group’s demise and was active in the anti-Nazi resistance until his discovery and execution in February of 1940.

Concerning Rosenkranz himself there is decidedly less information. He is almost invisible as the editor of Sonnentraumen and only a little more revealed in the few pieces of his own work that survived, which consist mostly of philosophical aphorisms. Perhaps the most famous of these is his statement, “It is the text that explicates the dream, and the dream that explicates the text.”

Rosenkranz never claimed to have written anything himself but said that he merely transcribed and alphabetically organized aphorisms he had collected from conversations in various cafes and coffeehouses of Vienna. However, according to the historian Reinmetz, it was a common practice of Rosenkranz’s between 1937and 1938 to sit alone each evening in these smoke-filled cafes and write hurriedly in a blue notebook as if in a trance, totally oblivious to everyone around him.

Reinmetz further notes that Rosenkranz was one of those who indiscriminately studied everything: Greek religious cults, Chinese metaphysics, English alchemy, German romanticism, and Russian devotional texts, to name a few of his interests. His major literary achievement was the publication of Sonnentraumen. He also was believed to be responsible for furthering its translation into English and publication by Berkeley‘s Intertext in 1939. On this I must take Reinmetz’s word, for I myself have not been able to find any mention of this edition nor of Berkeley‘s Intertext in other works I have consulted.

The German edition of Sonnentraumen runs almost 200 pages, which is long for a book of poetry. When I first acquired the work, it was my intention to do a fresh English translation, but as I began my labors I ran into numerous obstacles. There were the normal difficulties of the translation itself. Although I am not without merit as a poet (my first book of poems having received kind notice by the Omaha Arts Bulletin and others) it was hard to do justice to the grace many of these poems have in the original German. Certain allusions are almost impossible to render, and the use of obscure and archaic words, unusual syntax, and the generally oracular and ambiguous tone of many of the works make the task even more difficult. Also, in German the poems have a certain incantational quality which is difficult to capture in English. Perhaps as Rosenkranz himself suggested, they should be read very late at night, preferably in an abandoned churchyard.

It was not the literary obstacles that ultimately prevented my efforts from reaching fruition, however. I found that the book had, shall we say, certain desires of its own. It took me some time to fully realize this. There were the dreams of course–not just my own, but those of my family, which began to be very upsetting. Then there was the waking up at night, the lights, the sounds of voices, footsteps and so forth. All of these events I ascribed merely to my somewhat overwrought imagination. More disturbing was the way the book would move from room to room in the house. Wherever I set it down the night before, it would certainly not be there in the morning.

One night I will not soon forget I woke up in a cold sweat about four in the morning. I had terrible dreams but on waking they dispersed so suddenly that I could not recall a single image. Through the bedroom window I could see the full autumn moon and the room itself was lit in a most unusual way. I got out of bed and went downstairs to the library to read. I read for perhaps an hour and then feeling tired went back upstairs. Just as I reached the landing, I heard a voice in German coming from my young son’s room. Startled, I slowly approached the room and looked in. My son was sitting up in bed with his eyes wide open. He was looking right at me, but I could tell he didn’t see me. Rather, he was looking past me at something else. I turned around but saw nothing. Then he started to speak in perfect Austrian-accented German,

“Lassen uns allein bleiben.”

At that I jumped, for I was quite sure that my son, who was only nine, did not know a single word of German.

Lassen uns allein bleiben!”

He spoke more forcefully and then slumped over, apparently asleep. I rushed to him and woke him immediately.

“There. You were just having a bad dream,” I said to him.

“But I wasn’t dreaming at all,” he replied, confused. There was no point in pushing the matter, so I stayed by his bed until he fell back asleep.

Leave us alone!” Yes, perhaps I should have taken that as a warning, for it was scarcely a week after this when continuing my translation work late at night I felt someone walk up behind me. Before I could turn around, the pen in my hand rose up into the air and flew across the room. Quickly I jumped up, but again I saw no one. This sort of event began to happen more often, yet stubborn to a fault I continued my work. I had perhaps translated about a quarter of the poems in the collection when I noticed that my translations were reverting back into the originals. That is, the notebook that contained my English versions began to show German mixed with the English. At first I thought I had been careless or distracted, even though my method is to keep the translated work quite separate from the original. As the number of lines in German continued to increase, I realized that other forces were at play.

I was at a total loss as to what to do. Obviously, I could not continue with the project. At the same time, having read and reread the original work I was ever more convinced that a translation of it would secure my literary reputation once and for all. Many writers of this period are widely acclaimed, but in my mind, they pale in comparison to the six writers Rosenkranz chose to include in Sonnentraumen. But what use is it to sing their praises, when I cannot provide a single specimen of proof to back up my claim? Completely frustrated, I decided that my only course of action was to reprint the book in the original German. I could prepare a new edition, and no doubt someone less troubled by spirits than myself would convert it to English.

To this end, I arranged a trip to Vienna to talk with several publishers I know there. Unfortunately, even this small initiative proved ill-fated. The agents at the airport had no record of my electronic ticket, and I could not find my confirmation number. On top of that, I discovered that my passport was missing as well. And to add insult to injury, while I was arguing with the airline agents, someone walked off with my laptop computer containing my working copy of the book. I began running through the terminal after them, only to crash into a woman who spilled coffee all over me. When I helped her up, she said only one word to me: “Allein!” I realized then that it was futile to persist and went home.

The book itself I then kept in a very secure safe. This had proved a successful deterrent to its nocturnal wanderings. On arriving home, I checked to see if it was still there–which it was–and then locked the safe again. I was now prepared to give up my efforts toward either translating or reprinting the book. I would have to be content with being one of the few who owned one of the great lost masterpieces of 20th Century literature, even though I could do absolutely nothing with it.

And so it was. I went on to other projects. I wrote a book about Brazilian spiritualist movements and started another on Shinto shamanism. From time to time I would open the safe and take the book out and read some of the poems in it and then carefully put it back again. Years went by, and I had almost forgotten my ambitions and difficulties concerning the book. Then a few months ago I was looking for a lost file on my son’s computer when I discovered, quite by accident, that he had been writing poetry himself. Curious, I began to read his works. You can imagine my great surprise to discover that he had unconsciously composed flawless English versions of many of the Sonnentraumen poems. That night when he got home from high school, I questioned him excitedly about his writing. Unfortunately, he became incensed at the fact that I had read his private works without his permission. No amount of pleading or bribery on my part has since induced him to part with any of them. Not only that, but he now keeps all of his poems on a disk whose hiding place I have yet to uncover.

“They’re quite good poems,” I tell him, “You really should think about publishing them.”

“Dad,” he invariably replies, “Just leave me alone.”

 

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Winter – 6

December 21, 2006 at 4:05 pm (Winter)

 

We forget the earth endures out of inner correction. Perhaps it is not fire we have to fear, but the ice. That is what the old Tibetan glimpsed. He could see the ocean because it was very close to us. The scent of the sea was already in the air.

At some point we went off the calendar, off time into empty space. There are no reference points, nothing familiar to use as a marker. There is nothing to be counted. In the brightness of early afternoon, the Winter sun on the fresh fallen Snow sparkles like diamonds. Thousands of diamonds – all of snow.

So the net has strands that go from jewel to jewel. From here we apparently can go to other places. We can go to wutai just the same way you go to strangercreek. Every town has its own address, just type it in.

What is hidden is apparent and what is apparent is hidden. What is missing and what has never been lost are the same. So many different worlds – all at a fingertip. Which will we choose to inhabit? Which will choose us?

To give such a matter due attention, one must become intoxicated to the point of near-madness. Tonight at the Café we are serving roast goose with red cabbage, strudel, and potato pancakes, with our usual assortment of wines, salads, appetizers and desserts.  After that we open the Woodfords. Fire and Ice – who has courage to mix them?

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Winter – 5

December 19, 2006 at 3:34 pm (Winter)

Von Josti

It is night now and snow is starting to fall. Beautiful white flakes are falling through the clear crisp air. The earth has waited all year for this snow, to be blanketed in snow, to be erased in snow.

I am sitting here at the café alone. It’s late and the town is quite quiet. Melinda has left, all the chairs except one are stacked neatly on the tables, the floor is swept, the counters are clean, everything is in place, ready for the next day. In the arc of the streetlight the snowflakes flutter through the air like tiny feathers.

We need to know when enough is enough. We need to think of what might lie beyond this life. Everything we work so hard for is like working hard for things in a dream. If we don’t start laying in something for the future, we are going to have a hard winter. The apparent has no heart, no soul, no real meaning behind it. But nonetheless, it is in its way quite beautiful, astonishing beautiful at times. It is our heart though that gives it its beauty – it’s our heart that gives everything its luster.

That’s the heart that goes on the scales. Not too far from now. Maybe sooner than we think.Not the heart that is slowly hardening under the weight of too much pastry, rouladen and buttered spaetze, but the other heart, the one that has brought this world into being, and the one that can restore it.

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Winter – 4

December 18, 2006 at 5:02 pm (Winter)

Von Josti

“Phenomena, inexplicable by any known laws, are occurring all over the world and revealing, as their cause, the actions of a free and intelligent force.”

                                                                Kardec, The Spirits’ Book

Intelligence is the boundary of perception. We see only what we have the intelligence to see. Frightened by the indeterminate, we have channeled our curiosity to increasingly narrow strictures. Only when these burst, only when sudden grace unfreezes the kaleidoscope of appearances fixed by our predispositions, only then do new worlds appear. It is easy to exhaust oneself in the horizontal, but appearance added to appearance only produces appearance. It does not reach the inexhaustible splendor of the vertical. To accomplish that, one has to find a different body of sense altogether.

It is our beliefs and perceptions that have frozen appearance. The most interesting fields of inquiry only open up when one removes belief as a constraint. Dissolved into the completeness of the present, everything moves about freely, entirely of its own accord, and new configurations become possible, even as old ones return. Once you’ve put an end to belief, then the ancient body, the one buried at the crossroads comes alive.

We must look for the cause of things in that which is not the work of thought. In this way, absence reveals a deeper presence. The vastness is in the tiniest of particles. First, there is nothing, then everything, then nothing again. Yet nothing ever changes. We are stilled by benevolent mysteries. We begin to speak then find we can’t say anything at all. Everything stays to the left of the equation – the signs are all there, but nothing can be added or subtracted. Plus infinity, minus infinity – it’s all the same.

Of course it takes a long time, a lifetime, to cease believing in things, maybe more than a lifetime. But even now, in our world of dark glass and faint light, we can make a small start, maybe, by each day believing one less thing than we believed the day before.

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Winter – 3

December 17, 2006 at 5:31 pm (Winter)

Von Josti

There are old men who come into the Vienna Café each day for their dark coffee, their papers, and to argue politics and religion. It is for those who have no other occupation, something to get them out of bed, to see what is new, although they more than anyone know that there is very little that is new. But this is good. I, for one, am appreciative of whatever keeps us from falling into despair. For this reason, if no other, I like to keep a clean, well-lit café.

People do not appreciate the dangers of empty space, at least not consciously. Unconsciously of course, we do not allow ourselves much free rein. If we are given too much time alone we often become depressed. Always we must find something to do. One hears of many men who die shortly after retiring. They have reached the finish line and after the initial excitement wears off, they just don’t know what to do with themselves. Everyone around them is still engaged, still preoccupied, fighting the good fight, moving toward that line, that the disengaged know is not a line one ever really crosses.

Of course it is all a matter of perspective. Even unoccupied, the living are still quite active and engaged compared to the dead. In a town like Stranger Creek, where the living and the dead often mix it can be a source of strength to realize that while it becomes harder to strike up friendships with the occupied, there are many fascinating individuals who have a great deal of time on their hands and are eager to converse with whoever wants to converse with them.

Edgar Rice, one of our regulars here, is quite gregarious in this manner, often bringing new customers into the Café with him. I don’t know where he finds all these people. Last week, for example he had lunch with Nagai Kafu. A few weeks before, he brought in Georges Bataille. Of course Jorge Luis Borjes appears so often, we keep a table permanently reserved for him. I only mention the names you might have heard – as you may well imagine, for everyone whose name is well known, there are dozens who are quite without a name at all. I myself am quite curious to find out who the young red-haired girl is that is so fond of the Linzertorte Melinda makes, but Edgar doesn’t let me close to her.

I think Edgar’s popularity is due in some part to his discovery that you don’t have to write for the living, a fickle audience if there ever was one. There is much more satisfaction writing for the dead, who have the leisure and taste to appreciate subtleties that just go past your novelty seeking, celebrity dazed readers of today.

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Winter – 2

December 16, 2006 at 3:05 pm (Winter)

Von Josti

Even though everything is in everything, not everything appears all at once. This is true of revelation as it is with anything else. Certain cities at certain times for certain people become transmission points. Everything comes together. People are seized with certain ideas, certain passions, and a certain resolve to bring these ideas and passions to life. Yet why this happens in such a way is something of a mystery.

History is considerably prejudiced against the invisible. The invisible rarely gets credit for anything. It is always this individual or that individual. In the front lines of history, the daily newspaper, rarely do events get reported without attributing their cause to certain personalities who happen to be in the general location at the time certain things took place. Of course these personalities try to accommodate this myopic view of events by reacting to events with various emotions, discoursing on them at length, claiming or denying responsibility or some other connection to these events, pretending to special knowledge about them, and so forth.

We imagine that individuals create movements when it is clearly movements that are creating individuals. Historians may identify various individuals and their ‘works’, then connect the dots and map out the movements of particular ideas and passions, but unless you a lover of maps, these only offer the most imprecise account of things. For movements are just the flowering of certain lines of imaginative speculation, stars that flare just as they die. Even as they draw attention one way, other lines of speculation flourish without ever being seen.

I have often wondered if the invisible forces that propel events do not cause certain literary and philosophical groups to reincarnate again and again to continue unfinished discussions and unresolved polemics, bringing to bear new arguments and fresh evidence. I have also wondered if certain poets and speculative philosophers have also returned many times as well, gathering at familiar establishments where wine is plentiful and revelations promising, to continue their slow unraveling of eternal mysteries.

If this is so perhaps it is the mystery itself that is the true individual in history, the true force that brings everything to bear in its quest for self-illumination. We are all its agents. And whether our work becomes known or not matters little for the mystery has measures that we can’t even imagine, that do not put much if any weight on human reckoning at all.

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Winter – 1

December 14, 2006 at 1:04 pm (Winter)

Von Josti

“There must be something occult in everyone, something hidden away, a closed and secret signifier, that inhabits the ordinary.”

                                                                           -Mallarme

As the world begins to close in, and the darkness grows stronger, I think of the fabled jeweled net of Indra. I think, although I am here, in just a single place and time, a single city within that space and time, that mysteriously, all places and times, and all cities within space and time are here too. Their moments are our moments and our moments are theirs.

I think this net may be an actual, existing thing. When we talk of the patterns underlying experience, we think we are talking metaphorically.  We don’t think of these patterns as having any physicality, any actual tangibility.  We don’t sense the strings that run from one appearance to another.  The inner world in which they reside is just imagination. Yet perhaps we miss the fact that the medium of our inter-relatedness is inner-relatedness. We are separated in space and time only because there is no separation in space and time.  

But just as all the points on the net reflect each other, just so, there are different luminosities, different intensities, different translucencies appearing and disappearing. The jeweled net is not one of singular uniformity, but of vast spaces and intricate forms, sudden certainties and veiled ambiguities. There is physicality to inner space just as there is physicality to external space.

Looking out we see the lights, sparkling in the darkness.  Lights that rule us in deeper and more intimate ways than our various sciences reveal. But as with all forms of symbolic archeology, the end is in the beginning. Knowing what we want is the way to realizing what we want. It’s all in the strength and clarity of our desire. That is what is so difficult for us–letting our intention bare itself completely.

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The Madness of Kronus: A Solstice Play

December 11, 2006 at 12:32 pm (A Stranger Christmas)

(As Performed by the Stranger Creek Platonic Club at the Oracle Theatre)


Prologue

Beautiful child
Protector of the poor and oppressed
We celebrate your holy birth
As we celebrate our own

Do not disappear in the darkness
But in the darkness be our Sun
For in the play all are saved
And joined to the invisible One
Some through Logos, others through Eros
But the wise through Theurgy
By far the greatest of the three

An old servant enters

Servant:

How did you arrive here? You don’t remember? Don’t worry. Almost no one does. Where will you go once you leave? Hmm, not sure of that either. Well, there is plenty to eat here. So don’t worry.

First, let me introduce you to our host. He has many names as befits a sovereign of his stature. Tonight we will call him King Kronos. There he is at the head of the table. What? You don’t see anyone… He is so still, he is hard to spot. You must take my word for it. He is the master of the dance.

Perhaps you know of him as Kronos, husband of Rhea. You remember don’t you? He’s the one who devoured all his children save Lord Zeus, who brought our age to be. Or as Kronos, Ruler of that Golden Time when gods and men lived in peace and harmony as they yet do on the Isles of the Blest.

Surely, you have glimpsed the Grand Watchmaker who slowly marks the hours and minutes of our short lived days.

Or Father Time who comes withou warning with a sharp scythe ready for the harvest.

Or Minos who sits in judgment at the court of the dead where deeds are weighed against a feather.

Or Saturn, the dark one, with heavy chains who guards the turnstile of eternity.

So many faces, so many forms. And so quickly, one changes to another.

Here, have a seat and help yourself to all that is present. Watch as fortunes get shuffled from top to bottom and from bottom to top as the elements make reparation to each other for all their injustice.

Observe how the numbers intertwine themselves with our destiny. Now one, now two, now one again. See how the dancers shuffle to keep the lightness of the tune. How they stumble, and fall, weary and intoxicated into ever more frenzied steps. But Kronos is patient. After all he is time who can restore it all in just a moment. As if we could see it! No, not even Kronos knows where the spiral leads. And that is the delight of the dance.

Hermes

(As Narrator):

The fire blazes in the huge stone hearth. Around it on three sides are long wooden tables groaning with the weight of food and drink. Here, the musicians never stop playing. Outdoors the night sky is full of stars. There are forests in the distance and nearby, the murmur of a river. Everywhere there is laughter. Yet the king sits quietly on his throne as couriers and attendants flutter with messages that disappear as they are read. The queen dances with one guest after another and the silent clock never strikes an hour. This is the court of the Ancient King, whose charm has swayed us all. Let us join in the feast and see what fortune awaits us.

(Addressing Kronus):

My Lord it doth draw close to midnight on the longest night of the year

Kronus: We shall light candles

Hermes: All the spirits of heaven are flying through the air to present fortunes for the New Year

Ops: We shall light incense

Hecate: Thrice round the juniper tree
Thrice we walk in arms all thre
The thread is spun, the year is done
The earth erupts and bears a Sun

(Morpheus enters)

Kronus: We shall speak of time and the dream

Morpheus: That will be a long discussion. We must have something to sustain us if we are to journey so far

Ops: This ale we brew of elixers rare
Mandrake root and hemlock fair
The golden grain of a dying stem
Stirred by fire till it gains life again

(They drink)

Kronus: Let us raise this toast to philosophy
Which consumes all elixirs cheerfully
Then let us talk of time and the dream
And how things are not what they seem

Morpheus: We are brothers are we not?
And with Hypnos we make three
For what dreams could there possibly be
Without sleep, and death, and time to heed?

We spin no mischief of our own
But let each his deep desire behold
This, mortals call their destiny
But what is destiny in a dream

Kronos: We are brothers it is true
But I am older and preceded you
When the sleepers awake, then where am I?
Only at birth and death do I thrive
As each moment dissolves into sleep
Then everyone is reminded
Of the clock I keep
For only within the rhyme
Does one see the face of time

Ops, Hecate & Hermes: We don’t know about the face of time, but we do know it is time for more food and drink. As long as we are fed time is our friend. We will toast time and whether it stays or goes is all the same with us.

(They drink)

Ops: Gentlemen, your mischief is in thinking
Eternity lies in such unreal things
As time and sleep and circular dreaming
When what exists in abundantly clear
And is falling out of the cornucopia that’s near
Eat and drink and talk no more

Hermes:

Yes, if we are to have any commerce
We must be well fed and amply nourished
But if we are to talk of wonders
And marvelous things

We must not bind ourselves to mere philosophy
When we could free ourselves in theurgy

Hecate:

In the darkness and the weakening of the light
Let us draw closer and find
In the bright fires of well tended hearths
Cheerfulness and joy and mystery
The cool air of darkness is so pristine
What could be fresher than this to drink?
The frozen world is strangely warm
Don’t you wonder how this has come to be?

Hypnos: All of your words make me tired
One must put the mind to sleep
There when everything is clear
Timeless, Dreamless, Deathless
You’ll find the drink you need

Morpheus:

I will toast to that, may you all join me too
For now we part company and return
We to our dream, you to yours
The old dies, the new is born
There is nothing one should mourn
The winter dance now begins
Who will lose and who will win?
Who will rise and who will fall?
Who will never dance at all?

All Exit)

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Christmas Story

December 6, 2006 at 4:35 pm (A Stranger Christmas)

By T. Ryan

 

My first memory of my grandpa was when my parents drove my sister and me out to visit Grandpa and Grandma at their cottage in Montana.  I was quite young at the time and only have one recollection of that trip.  My dad thought it would be “character building” for me to accompany my grandpa when he went out squirrel-hunting one morning.  We trekked across several acres of forest, fall leaves crunching under my small rubber boots, without any sign of squirrels.  I wondered if Grandpa would grow tired from the weight of the rifle slung over his shoulder, but he looked as strong and stoic as ever.  I was just beginning to wonder when we would be heading back when we heard an odd crying sound just over a hill to our right.  Grandpa perked up, looked at me, then gave a small nod of his head towards the direction of the noise, and we headed up the hill.  On the other side of the hill there was a strange scene.  A fluffy white cat lay against some leaves, crying horribly.  Its stomach had been cut open, as if in a scuffle, and its claws were bloodied.  The cat had been trailing blood across the leaves until it had run out of energy and collapsed, crying out pitifully.

 “Dogs,” muttered grandpa, “Wild dogs.”

I started crying.  Grandpa eyed me disdainfully.

“Suck it up boy.  Tears ain’t got no use.”

“Grandpa,” I cried, tugging at his corduroys, “you gotta help it!”

My grandpa shook his head, then unslung the rifle.

“Only one thing you can do,” he said.

I didn’t understand.  Not until grandpa had loaded a bullet into the chamber of the bolt-action .22 and leveled the rifle at the wounded cat.  Suddenly understanding, I screamed out.  Grandpa looked at me.

“If you’re a boy, turn away.  If you’re a man, watch.”

I couldn’t look, and shamefully turned away as the single gunshot rang throughout the forest.  The cat made a gurgling sound then fell silent.

Later, back at the cottage, little Susie and I sat in the kitchen sipping from two big cups of cocoa that my mom had just made us.

 “So Timmy,” my mom asked, “did you and Grandpa have a fun time in the woods?”

Not knowing what to say, I nodded dully.  Just then my dad, decked out in a sharp sweater and ski-jacket, came in from the living room.

“Hey Timster,” he grinned, “what would you think if for your birthday we got you that nice little kitten you always wanted?”

To my relief, I didn’t see Grandpa for several years after that.  Not until my grandma died of cancer and Grandpa sold the cottage and moved in with my family for the winter.  Grandpa mostly kept to himself at the beginning, leaving his room only on short trips to the bathroom or kitchen, mumbling to himself as he went.  Mom and Dad talked about how Grandpa’s “condition” was getting worse, but I didn’t understand what condition that could be, since physically Grandpa looked pretty healthy for his age.

Grandpa had developed one particularly strange habit.  After every dinner, Grandpa would wait until Mom and Dad were out of the kitchen, load up a plate of food as if he were giving himself a second helping, shuffle over to the back door, and toss the entire plate of food into the backyard.  Grandpa might forget where he left his toothbrush, or how many Krauts he killed at Vimmy Ridge, but he never forgot to throw out that last plate of food.

“Grandpa,” Susie asked one day when Grandpa was making the platter, “what are you doing?”

“Givin’ it food!” Grandpa muttered angrily, “how you ‘spect the snow to come if it ain’t got nuthin to eat!”

Susie merely stared at him, then quietly walked away.  Even for her age she was wise enough to avoid further inquiry.

When snow started falling Grandpa wandered around the house with a smug expression on his face.  As if it didn’t matter what those fancy weathermen in their high weather towers said- he knew what brought the snow.  The harsh weather caused Susie and I to stay indoors, so Mom encouraged Grandpa to spend more time with us, and had him tell us bedtime stories.  There stories were invariably about Grandpa’s experiences fighting the Kaiser in the Great War, though Dad told us he never actually went overseas.

Grandpa would continue to throw food out after dinner, sometimes after breakfast too.  There was one particular snow bank in the backyard, next to the tool shed, which Grandpa would toss the food into.  “I’m feedin’ the snow,” he would explain, “else it gets angry.  See how hungry it is?  Watch; it’ll damn near gobble up this muffin!”  Then Grandpa would walk carefully outside and hurl a cinnamon roll into the snowbank.  The cinnamon roll, of course, would disappear in the snow.  “See?” Grandpa would tell Susie, “that’s why you can’t go outside; if you don’t keep the snow happy… lil’ thing like you, it’ll eat ya whole!”

I wasn’t at home when the men in white coats took Grandpa away.  My dad had told my mom to take us Christmas shopping, and when we came back Grandpa was gone.  There weren’t any signs of struggle.  That night over dinner Dad told us about what had happened.

“No, no,” he reassured my mother, “they were very polite.”

“So Henry went willingly?”

My dad nodded, “Yeah, he said he ‘wouldn’t cause no trouble long as ya’ll don’t forget to feed the snow.’  I assured him it would be taken care of.”

At this mom laughed, “Well as long as you don’t feed it the Christmas ham I’m saving you can do whatever you want.”

After dinner I noticed that Mom and Dad weren’t preparing a plate of food for the snow.

“Mommy,” said Susie urgently, “aren’t you gonna feed the snow?”

Mom laughed, “Of course not dear.”

“But… but Grandpa said…”

“Grandpa was crazy dear,” mom said, “and now he’s with all the other crazy people.  Now who wants some apple pie?”

To our surprise, Grandpa was home by Christmas.  Shortly after he left there was a particularly warm spell, and the snow melted away.  The doctors told Dad that Grandpa’s condition had been “in remission” since the snow melted, and to call if Grandpa had another breakdown.  The night that Grandpa came back he started tossing food out again even though Mom had told him not to.  He smiled at Mom smugly when the weatherman said that later on there would be a huge snowstorm.  Dad made a fire that night and we all stayed up late by the Christmas tree.

When we woke up in the morning everything was covered in almost a foot of snow.  Before Mom and Dad woke up I shook Susie awake.

“Timmy!” Susie said excitedly, “I want to sled!”

Susie and I bundled up in our coats and mittens and had just opened the back door when Grandpa stopped us.

“Hey!” he shouted as he came down the stairs, “where ya think yer goin?”

“We’re going sledding,” I said boldly.  Grandpa became wide-eyed and grabbed us both by the ears.

“Don’t you kids listen to a damn thing I say?  That snow’ll eat ya alive!  They damn near killed it when I was at the crazy house and now it ain’t been fed in two weeks!  It’s hungry ‘nough to eat a caribou!”

Susie twisted away from Grandpa and ran towards the open door.

“I don’t have to listen to you!  Mom says your crazy!” 

And with that, she bolted out the door and towards the tool shed where the sled were kept.  She almost made it to she shed when she suddenly fell over, as if she had tripped on something.  She fell face first in the snow, in her overstuffed pink coat.  As she tried to get up she tripped again, this time sliding feet first into the snow bank.  When Susie realized where she was she started screaming and screaming, tears flowing down her face.  She pawed ineffectively at the snow around her with her little mittens, like some rabbit that, seeing itself in the car headlights, is too scared to think and hops directly into the tire.  I wanted to help my sister but my body was immobile with fear.  Tears started flooding down my face.  I noticed Grandpa was gone, and when he came back he was carrying a long canvas bag.

“Grandpa!” I screamed, “Grandpa help!”

Grandpa didn’t say anything at first.  Then, as Susie’s knees disappeared into the snowbank and her wailing became louder, Grandpa turned to me.

“There’s only one thing you can do.  Tim, it’s time ya became a man.”

Then Grandpa pulled his old .22 out of the bag, chambered a bullet, and handed me the rifle.

●●●

“And that,” said Tim, standing in front of his 7th grade English class, “was my worse Christmas ever.”

The class sat in awkward silence.  Some time passed.  The teacher didn’t move.  Then, suddenly, Mr. Bublin, the principal, burst open the door to the classroom and stuck his chubby, grinning face inside.

“Hey kids,” he said excitedly, “it’s snowing!”

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On the Perils of Adolescence

December 5, 2006 at 12:09 pm (Theosophical Museum)

By Professor Rachael Worthington

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Women’s Lodge of the Theosophical Society this morning. I especially appreciate the Apple Strudel that Melinda brought. You really have to give us that recipe. I do not believe it is an Austrian state secret! Today’s talk is on the perils of adolescence. I am sure any of you who have raised adolescents will resonate with some of my observations on this topic.

I have found that children are wonderfully fresh and natural until they reach adolescence. At the onset of puberty however, there is a long period of pseudo-personality acquisition in which they are merely fresh. This period has steadily increased over the last several decades. No doubt this is a global phenomena linked to climate change, rising carbon dioxide levels and various unexplained interstellar phenomena. All of this leads to various chemical and hormonal imbalances. During this period, individuals are generally unstable and prone to moodiness, fits and excitability.

Once individuals regain their balance again, they become useful. This generally occurs sometime in their 20s. If this doesn’t happen by their 30s then they risk ending up as an item in the local section of the newspaper – under some title such as “Women Caught in Convenience Store Robbery with Frozen Penquin.” But most do adapt, and the 30s becomes the great altruistic decade where one can work tirelessly, with steadily increasing responsibility. With confidence and insight gained from this service, they can then assume a position of philosophic leadership during their 40s, and retire in their 50s into the gentle twilight of benign sagehood.

Sagehood is the season of the old dog, the culmination of a long lifetime of faithful service. Content, restful, observant, an old dog gives a home a warm sense of serenity. This is especially true if one owns three or four of them. I used to keep about a dozen venerable basset hounds myself, but the porch began to sag so much that my husband made me get rid of them. There was the matter of the fleas too. He was just jealous though – he wanted the porch himself.

Not everyone follows this path of course. That is because during adolescence they become weakened by fox-spirits. Not a lot has been written in our human development texts about fox-spirits, but those who have studied ancient works such as Tales of a Chinese Studio know that the interaction of the human and the daimonic is quite acute during the late years of adolescence. One can become intimate with someone then suddenly realize the other person isn’t human at all. Although some fox-spirits are quite bewitching, many are harmful, weakening ones’ nervous energies, often to the point of exhaustion.

There are ways of course to avoid fox-spirits. Fox-spirits, not being truly human, but only pretending to be human, tend to be especially prone to pseudo-personalities – all their personality is unreal in fact as being foxes they have no natural human personality at all. But if one is careful to choose one’s friends from among those who are unaffected one is safe. There are also fox powders, such as Fox-Pox, that can be purchased that provide protection.

There are other perils to be sure. ‘Flexing the Lifeline’ is an addiction some adolescents acquire which involves repeated testing how many bad decisions it takes to put oneself in serious difficulty. There is ‘Beheading the Statue’ where lopping off the heads of authority figures becomes so habitual that one is unable to secure any sage advice because no one is left to speak. Then there is the danger of ignoring danger altogether and walking straight over the cliff like the laughing Fool in the tarot deck.

And of course there are the problems of delayed adolescence, second adolescence, continual adolescence, and sudden adolescence syndrome. Adolescents are also prone to a number of special medical conditions such as hardening of the pseudo-personality, rapid linguistic de-evolution, toxic stylistic predispositions, and such.

I have found the best way to avoid these perils is to send the child off to a monastery or convent at the onset of adolescence, and have them raised there under strict religious supervision until which time a suitable arranged marriage can be made. But of course, suitable facilities which will take on this task are increasingly harder to find – one needs something very remote. I do have some addresses for places in Inner Mongolia which have worked for our family which I will be happy to share if anyone is in need.

One could say more, but hopefully these brief remarks will help you understand some of what your adolescent is going through, and inspire thoughts of your own on how to work with children of this age. If so, I am very grateful to have been of service.

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Mystical Atheism and the Absence of God in the Poetry of Ralph David Emerson

December 1, 2006 at 5:09 pm (Blue Kansas, Theosophical Museum)

We are fortunate to be able to share with you a copy of the talk given last night at the Theosophical Museum. -Lynn

Ralph David Emerson mixing the Pina Coladas in Biochem 301

By Reverend Katherine Talisman

I was very sorry to hear of Mr. Emerson’s disappearance, however, as you know, here in Stranger Creek, there is a lot of that kind of coming and going, so I am not especially apprehensive. His absence in fact gives his work a somewhat posthumous aura that I treasure. I do not think many of the local residents realize that there is more to this youthful poetry than is first apparent. I for one find a curious undercurrent of theological suggestion, and a subtle subtext of strange self-effacement, which I will try to convey in my short talk tonight.

As his definitive poem, The New Testament, reveals, Mr. Emerson wants to see “the foundation of the house”. What house could this be, but the House of God? Yet he is not allowed – “That wouldn’t be of any use to you,” the minister tells him. Neither the old nor the new know why they are there, why this opposition must occur. The minister knows there is in fact no foundation to the house. He holds up the weapon of the Church – but he cannot deny the truth of the Spirit, and so must step aside.

“The New Testament, ” I said handing it to him, “You can read it while we look.”
And with that we slid past him and opened the door. He offered no resistance.

What exactly is the New Testament that Mr. Emerson wants to share with us? I do not think it is the one we are familiar with. It is not a form of religious Christianity, rather something akin to mystical atheism. Some of the older residents will remember the few turbulent years when Death of God theology commanded attention. While I do not imagine Mr. Emerson has much knowledge of ancient theology, and in fact appears to be more inclined to a sort of dynamic tribalism, there are undeniable signs in his work, that existentially he has reached the same space.

The ‘Death of God’ theology was many things, but almost always a forceful and sustained attack upon the conceits of religious Christianity – it was a radical Protestantism in every sense. As Thomas Altizer, one of its foremost proponents wrote, in his 1966 work, The Gospel of Christian Atheism, “From the point of radical Christianity, the original heresy was the identification of the Church as the body of Christ.”

In this line of thinking the creation of a universal Church, of any universal Church sets Christ in opposition to humanity, and its spiritual immediacy, and reverses the true freedom Christ offered and revealed in his life. For Emerson the ‘old way’ is symbolized by the minister with the blood-stained and rusted scythe for whom there are no denominations, only the monolithic Christian Church. But the Christian Church, consumed by its will to power, its imperialistic desire to rule the embodied world, binds the spirit, and silences the incarnate Word – a Word that to be true, must be allowed to manifest in all situations, not merely those that are institutionally proscribed.

The old order, crossed and partialized by its fixations, is irrevocably linked with violence and futility:

As we cross the border
Driving north towards the snow
We pass fields of debris
Jetliners torn in pieces
Houses and stores smoldering
Crumbled power lines
Dangling in the trees
Overhead, torn flags
Flutter uselessly
The republic is dead

Progressive spirituality cannot abide in a specific, fixed form. There is a continual descent of the Word into flesh which is a continual breaking of form. The living Christ does not permit solidification. He cannot be fixed into a presumptive role as ‘judge of the living and the dead’. The immediacy and presence of Spirit requires a continual forward movement into fuller and more complete deconstruction of all forms of conceptualized Spirit. The presence of God is only fully realized in the absence of God.

Soon you realize
That there are no roads
No towns no cities no lakes no rivers
Nothing with a name

We continually try to create a home in the homeless. Spirit animates appearances but cannot abide in appearance without denying its freedom, its being as Spirit. There is a suggestion in these poems of a radical ‘priesthood of all believers’, a challenge to become a direct conduit, to become ourselves spirit made flesh. Faith is not dogma, but inner transformation. All externalities have meaning only as symbols of this transformation.

There is no point in driving any further
Everything can be seen from here

But what is seen? Nothing at all. That is the cleansing presence of pure Spirit. It is the imageless that has given the image its face. This has radical implications for our theology. Rather than continually seeking a ‘re-imaging of Christ’ we should perhaps look to the ‘de-imaging of Christ’ as the authentic response to the challenge of the incarnate logos. The radical call is to dismiss all false imaginings in favor a mystical atheism, a theology of absence which contrary to all positivist claims witnesses the profound self-effacement of divine impotence, divine nonintervention and divine indifference.

The shopkeeper is impassive
Seated in the cobra chair
With a bell and rattle in his lap
He could be a thousand years old

Freedom in Christ lifts us up from the bondage of the Law. Not just Hebraic Law but all Law – all fixation, permanency and certainty, all conformity including religious conformity. Christ did not free us from one law to bind us to another, but to ‘judge not’, to put an end to all moral judgment, to suspend belief before the sovereignty of God’s absence. As the prophet Isaiah is told, “Behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and former things should not be remembered or come into mind.”

If we do not understand the freedom that is being offered to us, then all is lost:

When the images erupt
And the numbers reveal themselves
You will want to know
Which road leads where

For those who journey into the nothingness of God, direct experience is the crucial authority, the deciding value, with primacy over both religious myth and religious tradition. The sovereignty of God as a whole cannot permit any partiality, even the partiality of religious affirmation. As the French philosopher Georges Bataille said, “I live by tangible experience, not by logical explanation.”

We walk…
But never arrive
The horizon receding
Further and further away
With each step we take

This path is not a path that yields anything approaching an answer. As the Swiss evangelical Karl Barth said, “Religion is an abyss. It is terror. There demons appear…Religion compels us to the perception that God is not found in religion.” When God commands Adam and Eve not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil it is a command to not make a religion out of Spirit. The religious impulse itself is what has caused us to fall out of paradise.

Rather than forge a religious identity, entering into the nothingness of God requires us to abjure from any identity. As the German theologian Paul Tillich cautions in his 1963 work, The Eternal Now, “You cannot reach God by the work of right thinking, or by a sacrifice of intellect, or by a submission to strange authorities, such as the doctrines of the Church and the Bible. You cannot, and you are not even asked to try it.”

Entering the nothingness of God, one affirms the reality of spiritual presence, but does not claim to know what this presence is. There is nothing to believe nor disbelieve. There is nothing to accept nor reject. We do not need to bind ourselves to any dogmatic formulation, any conceptual idolization at all. Man’s free choice is to dwell in his thoughts or in God, in his preoccupation with religious and spiritual identities or in his empty being, void of all identity. As Bataille says, “I cry out to the sky ‘I know nothing’ and I repeat ‘absolutely nothing’.” Yet:

I know you are real
As real as the voices
That drift across the great sandbanks of dreams
Stretching out endlessly in front of me
As real as the white gulls
Flying overhead
Like angelic birds of prey
Your coy, terrible, and swift
Emissaries

Mystical atheism denies any affirmation of name and quality to God; it doesn’t try to explain away the mystery of our being by resorting to appeals to scriptural authority or churchly tradition. We are given nothing but the immediacy of experience, the Dionysian ecstasy of stillness in which to hear the voiceless voice.

Until you start falling
Into the weightlessness
That is like a dream or like
Any of a thousand other things
Suddenly present
You won’t even have a clue

In his 1943 work, La Somme Athelogique, Bataille posits that inner experience is opposed to action, to project, and to the intricate blend of action, project and discursiveness that animates our lives. In this regard, salvation is just another project, and until we divest ourselves of the idea that we are by virtue of belief, or faith, or religious identity privy to some privileged spiritual access we simply deceive ourselves. In fact, it is because Christianity has turned the living word into a project of scriptural exegesis, real compassion into a project of compassion, and natural grace into a project of salvation it has itself become a non-mystical atheism, by killing the living God it seeks.

As Bataille writes, “Further on, always further on… further on there is sacrifice, madness, the renunciation of all knowledge, the fall into the void, and nothing, neither in the fall not in the void is revealed, for the revelation of the void is but a means of falling further into absence…and above all: no more object.” Or as we read in Emerson:

The images will start to swirl together into a great blur
Of sound and color
And then a warm tunnel of light will open
And you will start to fall and fall and fall and fall
Any direction you take
Will lead to the same destination
No place at all

And yet there is a suggestion, that although inner experience has neither goal nor authority to justify it, that once the discursive is relegated to its proper place, as servant of experience, not its master, that this very ‘not-knowing’ is itself a form of ecstasy. “Inner experience is a conquest for others,” Bataille writes. Or as Emerson says:

Don’t worry
If you exist or not
Or whether
You know anything
Special or useful
Simply float and see
The unimaginable beauty of it all

To experience God as God, we must let God be as she is, in the immaculate sovereignty of her absolute nothingness. We must realize that experience has no categories – it has only immediacy, only Spirit. In this way we do not create a project to escape projects, we do not subscribe to projects at all, but in non-action recover the pure being and unbound freedom that is ours. That journey, the journey into the absence of God is one we must make alone – with nothing but God to guide us.

In the center the virgin smiles
From a faded unframed print
It is not clear what currency
You must use
To make a purchase here
Nor why you would want to go
To this land where the moon rises
From the ground
And the sun disappears
Into red oceans
Something in her eyes perhaps
A thin thread
From before the war, before the peace
Before everything
A thread left dangling
In some impossible wind

I think the closeness of Emerson’s dialectic and that of mystical atheism occurs because mystical atheism is very much a Protestant form of cemetery magic, a reformed cemetery magic. The icons are taken away and just the bare space remains. The parishioner is surrounded by this space, floats in this space, is dissolved in this space. Yet space is also infused with light – the radiant light that lies just off the spectrum of the visible. Everything is alive yet never is the silence broken. The true logos is never spoken at all. It is truly an impossible wind.

 

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The Mirror

November 30, 2006 at 6:09 pm (Borjes Society)

By Edgar Rice

 


In the last few years I have started to collect mirrors. I buy them in antique stores and auctions. I discover them in second-hand furniture shops and rummage sales. Sometimes I find them in junk yards; sometimes friends give them to me. A few I’ve even discovered by accident walking over the three-hundred acres of my hilly, mostly wooded farm. My whole house is filled with mirrors. They are in every room. There are mirrors in the attic and mirrors in the basement and they hang in every hallway. I’ve even begun storing them in the barn, along with the old tools and farm machinery that once was part of my life.

At first I wasn’t sure why I collected mirrors. It just seemed to be something that happened as I grew older. Gradually though I began to realize that my fascination for mirrors comes out of loneliness. Every mirror holds within it the imperceptible images of all the faces it has ever reflected. I can’t see them, but I feel they are there. And somehow they frame my loneliness, keep it from spilling out uncontrolled into the empty expanses of space.

The image I am surrounded by most often is that of my wife. It has been twelve years since she died, yet her presence still hovers in the house and it seems any moment I will feel her touch or hear her voice again. I know that if any image could break loose from the silent depths of the mirrors and float to the surface, it would be hers. I have even tried to call it into view. I took the oldest, most turbulent mirrors with me into the attic, alone, on winter nights when even the slightest sounds were ominously amplified, when it felt as if imminently spirits would rise out of the floor and roof-beams and whisk me away, but I accomplished nothing. In every mirror I saw only my own reflection.

Gradually I came to realize I was approaching the matter in the wrong way. Instead of invoking the dead, l decided to find a mirror that could blur the line between the two worlds enough so that I might pass through and search for her. I found many mirrors that seemed promising, mirrors that did not give an altogether accurate reflection, that distorted the ordinary world in ways which suggested a blurring, and uneasy dissonance, mirrors in which the forms of this world almost broke and washed away, but I could not find one that would erase the line completely.

Then I began to understand that it was my relationship to the mirror which needed to change. I would have to somehow rearrange myself in order to journey from one side of the mirror to the other. I went through the usual ways of altering consciousness but each of these attempts failed too. The one obstacle that stood in the way of his journey always remained. I could not erase my own reflection.

But then one day, I saw, in a clear moment of inspiration, exactly how I should proceed. It was as if having been lost in a forest, I had suddenly uncovered a hidden path. My work became easier and I felt at times as if I were being gently directed by an invisible force inside of me, a force which knew my situation precisely and foresaw the outcome. Still the work went slow and required of me an alertness and concentration I had never before expressed. I could proceed only at night, and not all nights were suitable. There had to be enough moonlight for me to see my own reflection in each of the mirrors I brought one by one up the attic. I knew that only one mirror would give a true reflection; all the others would in one way or another lie. Some would flatter, others mock, some would cast to strong an image, others would be too weak. All of these false mirrors had to be destroyed. And I knew that each false mirror destroyed would bring me closer to attaining my desire.

So I proceeded, slowly and patiently, with my task. Days and months passed until, quite by accident, I discovered the right mirror. It was at twilight on a warm spring evening. I was carrying one of the mirrors from the barn into his house. It was a large, round mirror set in a walnut frame. I remembered it had hung in the bedroom of my house long ago when my wife and I were first married. Seeing the mirror again sparked a chain of memories which slowly wafted into the fragrant spring wind.

Suddenly, I heard a loud screeching in the woods several hundred yards to my left. A few moments later a giant snow owl flew up from the top of the trees and began moving towards me. In his surprise, I dropped the mirror on the grass. The owl swooped around in a circle and then disappeared again into the forest. I gazed after it a few moments then turned to pick up the mirror. A slight tremor shook through me as I found myself staring at an old, wrinkled, slightly quizzical face. It was mine and yet not mine. I knew instantly that I had found the right mirror.

I took the mirror upstairs to the attic. All the other mirrors were forgotten now – there was only this one. I set it down in a corner of the bare, dark room and waited. Gradually the moon rose and I could see my reflection faintly in the glass. I stared at it silently as if in meditation. The hours of the night slowly went by and my gaze grew more and more concentrated. Light and dark began to alternate in the room, but I did not notice. Both the mirror image and my own had somehow separated themselves from the rest of the world and existed in a continual twilight. Other images began to arise in the mirror and mix with ours. I realized that certain moments of my life were being played back as if I were watching a movie. The order was haphazard though. Scenes from my childhood mixed with scenes from when I was older. I felt my wife was somewhere in the flow of images, but I couldn’t distinguish her. It always seemed that I was talking to her as if she were off in another room. Image after image came to life, dances slowly across the silvered glass and dissolved. After awhile I could no longer tell if the images were in the mirror or in my mind. It had all merged together into one stream- bright, glittering, evanescent.

Then gradually I realized that the mirror had become blank. I knew that it must have been blank for some time before I realized it, but I couldn’t remember just when it had changed. Suddenly I understood that the mirror was blank because I was looking at it from the other side- I realized I had crossed over. I stood up and looked around. The attic with its one small window and its dusty beamed roof appeared exactly the same to me. I looked back at the mirror. It was gone. A slight tremor went through me and I hesitated a few moments staring silently into space. Then I went over to the stairs and walked down. It was still twilight. The house was the same house- the hallways, the rooms, the furniture, the cracks in the plaster, the chipped china teapot in the kitchen- all was exactly as I had left it.

I walked outside. A faint crescent moon glowed softly through a thin haze of clouds. Everything was still. Then I noticed a thin, blurred figure standing by the forest a few hundred yards from me. The figure shifted into focus for a moment and I realized that it was my wife. She appeared as she was when I first loved her- she stood tall and straight in a flowing white dress with lace sleeves. Her thick black hair blew in a wind that l could not feel.

I began to run towards her, thinking I would rescue her from the dead as Orpheus. I had almost reached her when suddenly I was stopped by an invisible wall of glass. I began to pound on it but it wouldn’t break. Then I realized my mistake – she wasn’t on this side at all, she had always been on the side I was. Then slowly everything began to blur- the forest was a blur, the night was a blur, my wife was a blur. I imagined that the glass had started dissolving, but actually I was dissolving, dispersing into nothingness, into the blurred, imperceptible recesses of the mirror that was my own death. I called out her name and then everything went blank.

I woke up on the wet grass. It was morning now. I stood up and looked around. Sunlight was pouring over the hill into the house. I walked indoors. Everything was once again as I had left it. I didn’t know which side of the mirror I was on, and now weeks later, I still don’t know. I have gotten rid of all the mirrors though. They wouldn’t be of any more use anyway – whenever I walk by them, I never see an image at all.

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Sand Cliffs

November 29, 2006 at 1:18 pm (Blue Kansas)

 This is the last of Ralph David Emerson’s Blue Kansas series. 

                                                                             -Lynn Alexander 

I move out slowly
Across great fields of drifted sand
To reach the pavilion
Where you calmly sit
In your white dress and white hat
Looking out over the shimmering lake
Which stretches to the horizon
I am not sure if I will reach the edge
Of the cliff before sunset
As the sands draw my feet down
Deeper and deeper
And the thin grass
Becomes even thinner
In the late afternoon wind.
Even your image has become faint
Silhouetted against the sun and the sky
Perhaps you are just a mirage
A translucent fragment of glass
Sparkling briefly at the boundary
Of earth and water
Yet as I draw closer
Almost close enough to see the light
At the edges
I know you are real
As real as the voices
That drift across the great sandbanks of dreams
Stretching out endlessly in front of me
As real as the white gulls
Flying overhead
Like angelic birds of prey
Your coy, terrible, and swift
Emissaries

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Cottonwood Falls

November 28, 2006 at 6:02 pm (Blue Kansas)


 

Driving into wind and rain
Shadows of hills blurring
Into a single main street
Lined with quiet stores
At the end of the block
An immense Victorian courthouse
Rises like the Parthenon
Over the town below
The cemetery is full
The streets are empty
In a tiny museum we look at sepia photographs
In a deserted hotel we drink tea
And watch the grass sway in the wind
As the rain falls harder
We walk up a trail toward a one room schoolhouse
Through a creek thick with willows and cottonwood
We climb and climb through the tall grass
But never arrive
The horizon receding
Further and further away
With each step we take

 

 

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Book of Revelations

November 27, 2006 at 4:41 pm (Blue Kansas)

When the last train
Leaves from the coast
Shortly before the flames come
You will want to read this book
You will want to remember the names
Of all the saints
So that you can pray
You will want to pray
When the images erupt
And the numbers reveal themselves
You will want to know
Which road leads where
When the familiar forms
Are no longer
Within your reach
When you realize everything
Is just dangling on a thread
When the fire of judgment
Singes the ground beneath you
You will especially
Want to remember
What the white angel said
Just before
You plummeted to earth

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The Maps of Kansas

November 26, 2006 at 6:19 pm (Blue Kansas)

The Reverend Talisman has kindly provided us with four additional poems by the recently missing local poet Ralph David Emerson. This is the first of them.

 

The maps of Kansas show roads
As if it were like any other state
But soon you realize
That there are no roads
No towns no cities no lakes no rivers
Nothing with a name
Just vast space
All the roads in
America end here
Somewhere in a wheat field or a prairie
A few make it as far as an abandoned farmhouse
Or a rusted windmill
Then turn into tall grass
It is all unexplored, unclaimed space
To reach
Kansas
Is to have all your thoughts run empty
To open a book
And find all the pages blank
You turn off the car engine
And step out into the sunlight
There is no point in driving any further
Everything can be seen from here
The oaks and the hedgerow
The vacant white church 
The blue hills in the distance
Any direction you take
Will lead to the same destination
No place at all

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Missing Girl – 4

November 20, 2006 at 7:56 pm (Missing Girl)

The door was open and I walked into the house.

“Hello,” I said. There was no answer.

The lamps were lit. It was not bright, but there was enough light to see by – the daylight was disappearing fast.

“Hello,” I said again wandering from the hallway into a large open room covered with mats. In the center was some sort of shrine. Above the shrine was a very large sword.

On a cushion to the right of the shrine was Mr. Chen, sitting perfectly still with his legs crossed and his eyes closed. I walked in and sat down at the back of the room facing him.

After about an hour, Mr. Chen stirred, and his eyes opened.

“Thank you for coming,” he said.

“Your place is so unusual. How did you build all of this,” I asked.

“It is what we call borrowed scenery,” he replied.

There was a long pause. A beautiful oriental woman who I had never met before walked in knelt next to me offered a cup of tea.

As I slowly sipped the tea, Mr. Chen asked, “Have you ever been out of Stranger Creek before?”

“Yes,” I said, “I’ve been to Kansas.”

“There is somewhere you must go,” he said, “It’s not a town in Kansas.”

“You mean somewhere off the grid like we are?” I asked.

“Yes, Stranger Creek is not alone. This town is called Sumida. It is a small village on a mountain called Wutai. It is where I come from. You see, I am something like an emissary. I live here but only as a guest.”

“This other town. What is it like?” I asked

“You will see it very soon.”

I looked up at him, and the room started to swirl. Mr. Chen was smiling. I looked down at my teacup. That’s the last thing I remember.

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Missing Girl – 3

November 19, 2006 at 8:12 pm (Missing Girl)

The next day we went to visit Chen Yet Chen.

I had been on some of the lantern tours before so I knew what the place looked like at twilight and at night, but I hadn’t been there during the day. We went in mid-afternoon, but the day was very dark and overcast, raining off and on.

The garden is unbelievable. Rather than try and describe it, I will show you the pictures I took with Jenny’s camera.  

 

To get to the gardens you have to climb up a long series of steps. 

At the top of the steps, a carriage was waiting for us.

 

The bamboo forest was very dark.

 

We came to a cross in the lane. Left or right, the driver asked. Left, Suzanne answered.

 

The carriage dropped us off at a small cemetery.

 

Nearby was an old pagoda.

 

We  looked inside, but then turned away quickly.

 

We went down some steps and into a blue forest.

 

“There,” Suzanne said, “That’s Chen Yet Chen’s house. I am going to leave you now.”

 

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