West Of The Moon

West of the Moon is the unofficial, temporary meeting ground for the members of Christendom's Guild of the Cross and the Quill. Sadly West of the Moon won't be in our future permanent web URL because a number of other selfish people already registered all permutations of the URL years ago without even consulting me. For that they shall pay.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The End of the World

I wrote this poem at the end of last year, in sort of a hurry to get it in to Dr. Townsend. It was an extra credit for Astronomy and must have helped, since I got a B- for the class. The thing is, I like it and would like to know what else i could add on to it.

The End of the World
By Matthew B. Rose

The time it took was seven minutes
The time from start to end
None could know the end of time
was just around the bend.

Not all the people cared for things
that would save them from strife
Now their horrible apathy
will cost them their life.

It grew very large over time
slowly gaining space.
The silent beast made no sound
as it quickened its pace.
It grew very large, for a moment,
then began to expand rapidly
towards that place of life and blessing,
destroying all things quickly.

Here we did not see it start
when it did for reason's known
for it takes light seven minutes
to get from there to our zone.
Therefore, we went about our lives
not worrying about the future.
We spent our final minutes
living life like a creature,
our horrible habits, our daunting
vices shown like a star:
this was the group of men
who could not sense a car
coming down the road at speeds
of 60 miles or more,
for all we paid attention to
was the life we longed for
We cared not for the glories of love,
nor the worship of any such God
that would put a hamper on our life
Satan was our twin in the pod.
For this was our fate,
to be engulfed in a wave
of heat and light, and radiation
from which none were saved.
Our star itself exploded then,
when we were not looking.
The time was only seven minutes
before we started cooking.

Elizabeth Jones walked her dog
down the street of 4th and Main.
She looked at the different houses
and gave people looks of disdain,
for she had no blood love lost
over any of her common man.
They were nothing for her,
like liquid soup in a can.
She did not see them as equals,
she did not see them as friends
she merely saw them as obstacles
to achieving her own ends.
When the seven minutes was up
she would cry aloud
for her hate for all mankind
would give her a crowd
of angry, hot, and pushy neighbors
who shared her same beliefs.
They would be her only company
for eternity is not so brief.

The light and heat, radiation too,
expanded, engulfing the messenger
that small, hot and rocky mass
that never showed any danger.

Fr. Francis Prose, saint of men,
prayed for his mere soul,
and bowed before the altar.
Dipping his fingers in the bowel
he prepares for the high feast
of a lamb he cannot yet see,
of a Lord he will one day
worship for all eternity.
Here he cleanses his fingers and soul,
preparing for the greatest gift of all.
He gently turns to the congregation,
shifting the position of the pall.
His piety and love of all the good,
all that his God has made for him,
leads him to meet his master,
for now his soul is free from sin.

The giant spread across the space,
Morning Star is swallowed up
that inspiration of poets of old,
now drinks from an empty cup.

What none of these people knew
was that another power was at play.
For here was the work of the Lord
His glory manifests itself that day.
For this day of destruction and death
was ordained since the beginning.
This time of death that approached
was simply the suffering coming.

The pressure was too much for the star.
It could no longer hold it's power.
It expelled its strength, its energy,
in one oppressive final shower.
The seven minutes passed by quickly;
all who saw it knew its purpose.
Some who prayed were saved that day;
Others, who did not, never surfaced.

Miss Jones turned on the TV.
She sat on her favorite chair.
Her dog hopped onto her lap.
How on earth could she care?
The screen was blank, a black stare.
She paused 'fore pressing "Off"
She rose, but couldn't turn on the radio.
for then, she started to cough.

Fr. Prose looked down at the open book;
he stated quietly those holy words.
Then lifting the simple cup and his eyes,
he brought the prayers heavenward.
He had done the ultimate act of a man:
He had succeeded where others would fail
And as he set down that holy chalice,
all the temperatures all slipped off scale.

The world was engulfed in a wave,
unsurpassed in the history of time.
The ancient start of ours, older than us,
older than life, older than time,
could not contain the mass of its life.
our existence, our planet, wiped away
in the span of seconds. The holy of
God were saved; the rest were erased.

Such is the way of the end of man
For theirs is below heaven's Hosts,
yet higher than the beasts of the field.
Such is the way of these new ghosts.

For be it the irony of Adam, Job, and Christ
that all we have received from God strife.
For the Lord gave and took away, our of love.
The Creator is the one who removes life.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Laughter And My Generation

Laughter And My Generation
By John Jalsevac

Tonight I sat at my computer and read endless, endless numbers of news articles; and as I did I happened to stumble upon a certain essay. It was written during the Cold War and I read it with increasing trepidation. It is a famous essay, a devastating essay, and I believe is still often read for having given a potent written form to the apocalyptic mind of the Cold-War generations.

On the news that night, said the essayist, the respectable-looking, facts-at-his-fingertips newsman said that with proper preparation maybe the Soviet Union could only kill 40 million Americans with their nuclear bombs. They could kill only 40 million instead of, say 80 million, if Americans were only prepared to flee out of the cities to the countryside in time, and then there would be enough Americans left to retaliate, enough, perhaps to annihilate the Soviets.

“If I were sixteen or seventeen,” said the essayist as the mournful beauty of the essay reached its despairing crescendo, “and I had to listen to that, or read things like that, I would want to give up listening and reading. I would begin thinking up new kinds of sounds, different from any music heard before, and I would be twisting and turning to rid myself of human language.”

But I don’t think he went far enough; I think he stopped short of what he should have said. I think what he should have said is that if he were sixteen or seventeen he would be twisting and turning to rid himself not only of language but of thought altogether; of the very ability to think. I desperately believe that to be most accurate he really should have said that he would be twisting and turning to squeeze out of the tight, claustrophobic scales of his self-awareness, if he was sixteen or seventeen and had to read and listen to things like that.

I myself was reading the news tonight. “Al-Quaida nukes already in United States,” said the headline. “Bin Laden's goal,” said the news, “is to kill at least 4 million Americans, 2 million of whom must be children. Only then, bin Laden has said, would the crimes committed by America on the Arab and Muslim world be avenged.”

“China is prepared to use nuclear weapons against the US if it is attacked by Washington during a confrontation over Taiwan,” said the news tonight. “China now has the full capacity to strike the United States with missiles with nuclear warheads.”

“At least 50 people have been killed in suicide bombings in London,” read another headline. “The West is on high alert with information that there will be more attempts in the coming weeks.”

Some short time ago as I neared the end of a mildly tumultuous teenage-hood and I thought things over I decided that instead of the anger or melancholy of my adolescence I was going to make the laughter of my childhood my new creed. Chesterton made me do it. After frantically imbibing as much of Chesterton as even the strongest disposition can handle, I realized that his was the ethos of laughter. I also concluded that the ethos of laughter is the one that holds the greatest power and is the most reasonable in a world infected with fear; in many ways Chesterton himself, I realized, was the embodied words of St. Francis, who Chesterton quotes in The Meaning of Crusade. "Shall I, the gnat that dances in Thy ray, dare to be reverent?" Personally I have come to consider this one of the most insightful things said by a man. So, I decided that the greatest thing that I could offer the world, and what would be the greatest praise I could offer my God, would be to be cheerfully and lovingly and humbly irreverent; I would laugh.

But now, as this long, long, hot summer progresses towards its end something has changed. It has become a part of my job as a journalist to be well informed. Every day it is part of my job to read dozens and dozens of news articles; this was never the case before. I have never been ‘well informed’, at least in contemporary events, before.

I don’t have to speculate like the cold-war essayist did. I don’t have to say, “If I was sixteen or seventeen.” I am twenty. There is so little difference between twenty and sixteen or seventeen. I adequately represent the youth of generation ‘X’, and even some of the next generation below mine.

As my mind and my store of experiences grows I find my tenuous personal peace being repeatedly shattered by the force of crashing revelations that I wouldn’t ever have expected to have. This summer--with information and events throughout the world constantly pouring into my mind--has been rammed with such intrusive revelations. I, just like the rest of my generation, am undergoing the difficult process of gradually growing into and coming to grips with the inexplicable world and the particularly inexplicable historical age into which I have been abruptly placed and ordered to get along in. But, though I desperately want to live the ethos of laughter that I once professed, instead to my chagrin I am now gripped by the ethos of fear. I find this a curious and terrible thing; because I thought that Chesterton and the saints had finally taught me the greatest and most enduring lesson of my life. I thought that maybe nothing in the world could make me stop laughing, not even death. And if I have stopped laughing, how much more so the rest of my poor, disillusioned generation?

Sometimes now when I read the news I find myself twisting and turning to shake off thought; tonight is one of those nights. Tonight I see the bombs strapped to the bodies of strong, young Arab men, and I see Chinese and American and British missiles peacefully slicing through the air hundreds of miles above the earth; I see terrifying explosions in New York, in London, in Beijing, in Paris, in Paris, in Paris. In Washington, in Moscow, in Los Angeles. And sometimes I am hit with the temptation to consume bottles of pills; I think that maybe I should be smoking up; shooting juice into my thirsty veins and gasping brain; indiscriminately folding myself into the ecstatic pleasure of others’ bodies; losing myself in the non-intelligence of sensual ecstasy through whatever means available—just like the rest of my generation is doing. I think that I should be squeezing out of thought altogether, not just reading and listening; that I want to squeeze out of thinking, to shed that rotten skin.

A number of weeks ago I attended a large party; in the midst of the natural intoxication of that sweet summer night a dozen boys and girls of about my age sat around a table and passed around a large, potent Marijuana joint. And they drank, they drank with a curious, ravenous desperation, lifting the bottle to their lips as though every sip of its contents was vital to their continued existence at that precise moment. I was sitting on the subway a few days ago on my way to work and I heard a group of students of about my age discussing the various anti-depressants and drugs that have been prescribed to them. A news article from several days ago said that stats show there is an increasing and disturbing trend of so called pharma-parties, where teens are getting together and exchanging various legal prescription drugs with one another and experimenting with them.

This is my generation. My generation twists, and they turn and they squirm; they’re not listening, and they’re certainly not reading and most of the time, if they can help it, they’re not even thinking.

The night of that party I listened to the hollow, hyenic laughter of the drug stuffed scarecrows that sat around that table and its sadness made me want to weep. “They have made laughter lonelier than tears.” How do you reach that? What can you say to them to make them think that maybe thought can show them a far deeper and more fundamental joy than their false and empty ecstasy?

Laughter must be the answer. It occurred to me that night that perhaps, even as my friends were lost within their languishing drug-induced trance, maybe if they heard the deep, welling, joyous, consciousness-smashing laughter of a saint, perhaps that would serve to cut through the layers upon layers of walls that they have constructed around their minds. Perhaps, just perhaps, that kind of a true thing crashing into their world of illusions would collapse their house of cards; perhaps it would startle them and make them stop and listen for even just a moment; perhaps then they would know the hollowness of their own attempts at laughter and would catch a vital glimpse of the deep joy of the saint.

A true laugh may be the world’s quickest theological lesson. Unless we learn the joy of our faith then we are good for nothing. I tell you that my generation no longer wants to listen or read, or think. It is squirming and twisting and turning to stop itself from thinking. It wants nothing to do with thought; it looks on thought as an enemy. The true laugh may be the only theological lesson that this desperate generation will listen to; it may be the only theological lesson that can be delivered and listened to in the simplicity of their own language. And for this reason I will soon learn to laugh again.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Et Ex Copiis Domini

I wrote this one or two years ago. I was very much in tune with Tolkien's style at the time, so this poem bears some resemblance to the Lay of Luthien in The Fellowship of the Ring. I was concerned that verse 5 was far too simliar to verse 6 of the Lay of Luthien, and that I shouldn't have used the glimmering;shimmering rhyme scheme(I got it from the Lay, wherein it is used at least twice), or the word 'sorrowless', as I got that from the Lay too. Please let me know what you think regarding these concerns - if you get the chance , please compare this to the Lay in order to verify my concerns. Thank you!

Et Ex Copiis Domini

The world was black, the days were dark,
The sun no more to fall,
When mounted I my steed of grace
To reign the wind to Yahweh’s hall.
The helm of justice on my face,
The seal of the call,
And flying by my side the lark
Of wisdom, never deign to fall.

From north to south and back again
The cavalry did fly,
The soldiers, east to west, and thence,
To rally to the Captain’s cry.
The army by the Kingdom’s fence
Was ready not to die,
For when we marched into the fen,
The clouds were black within the sky.

The ancient hills were darkening,
When marched we to our fate,
The shadowed ones were waiting there,
With damning mace and axe of hate.
The banners of the Lord stood fair,
The evil to abate,
We fought, to lark-songs harkening,
When eve and night were falling late.

The arrows unhatefulness
In quivers bound with grace,
Were singing through the dark of night
From bows of faith and virtue’s lace.
The traitors swarmed upon the fight,
The righteous to disgrace,
With daggers of unfaithfulness
And blinding death upon their face.

It fell aback, and forth it laid,
When looked we to the King,
Like rising sun, and rolling sea,
And stars of diamond glimmering.
His brow was shining by the Tree
That stood, and towering,
And by Him rode the Armor-Maid,
Like moon on ocean shimmering.

Our hearts were strong, and soon they came
With seething, striking breath.
“No more, I said, shall darkness slay
And bring its claws and teeth of death.
We swore our oath to ever stay
From now to Ever-rest!
So come in pride, and flee in shame,
Ye heralds now of fear and death.”

The stars were resting, fair and bold,
Upon our ready sword,
Into a darkened eye to thrust
Behind the standards of the Lord.
Their eyes were red with bloody lust
Into our ranks they poured,
And with them took our tears unrolled
Like cloud and wave they roared.

On and on the battle weaved,
When falling from the moon,
The stars upon the sullied ground
With lone despair and darkness strewn.
The hawk of death and Hades’ hound
Were raging, and the moon,
Was weeping, when our soldiers grieved
For comrades lost, in shadows hewn.

The tides of earth were stained with blood
And from the crimson shore,
I looked to where my comrades fought,
But near to me they fought no more.
Their valiance was come to naught,
Their shields nevermore,
To shine in sun, and quell the flood,
Now cold they lay upon the shore.

‘O God above, and here below,
Upon the ruddy sand,
Where have my brothers fled today
And from this cursed mortal land?
My shield arm and swords were they,
We shared a common brand!
They left me under trees of woe
In darkling plain, a skyless land.’

I fell upon my wounded hands,
And cried across the sea,
And with my voice the raging sound
Of fierce, unharried villainy.
Their hoards rejoiced, and marched around
The dune ensnaring me,
And came their numbers on the sands
In triumphing and treachery.

‘You there who sit not sorrowless,
Where is your bravery?
I saw you once with fire-eyes
And free from yoke of slavery.
But now I see you’ve told Him lies
And, too, your bravery,
For here you kneel arrowless
As if you still loved slavery.’

Their voices grated in my mind
As sentencing a curse,
Before I heard another one,
From falling stars a stronger verse.
‘Despair and grief take heed to shun,
If better comes to worse!’
The Armor-Maiden, strong and kind
Was looking on my fated curse.

“I too,” she said, “was watching you,
And ere your fellows slept,
Your bow was keen, your heart was strong,
A secret evermore unkept.
So rise, I say, and take the throng,
That ‘round you here has crept,
Now take your sword and run them through!
Enough today has valor slept.”

I leapt without an idle thought
And threw my waiting knife,
Into the hoard that near me raged,
And in the heart of faithless strife.
A shriek arose that thence was caged,
And cloven by a knife,
A creature that the ones had brought
Who valued honor less than life.

His wings were wrought of adamant,
His eyes were gilded gold,
His scourge was carved of shadow-flame,
And chilling, burning, icy cold.
A tripled figure spelled his name,
Engraved in emerald,
And in the folds of bright raiment,
There glittered pearls and pyrite gold.

“Ah ha!” I cried in daunting tone,
“You thought that I was yours!
Not so, while still my Lady stands
Upon the winds of languid shores.
Now go back to your shadow-lands,
Where peaceless evil roars,”
I said, but not my voice alone,
For others were upon the shores.

Their swords with evil blood were black,
Their faces lined with pain,
But now again their hearts were light,
Like streams of sun amidst the rain.
I knew they fought throughout the night,
As I was fraught with pain,
They scoffed the noose and bloody rack
As now their arrows flew again.

To mouth of snake and heart of lie
Our bows were aimed, and taut;
The dragon fell in ignorance
Of with what pride our troops had fought.
We gazed in awe, as in a trance
On what our strength had wrought,
For nevermore were they to fly,
Their pride in shame we crushed to naught.

Our eyes then looked upon the King,
And on his hallowed sword,
He raised it high above our eyes
Beside the standards of the Lord.
He said, ‘O friends, from heaven’s skies
Receive your just reward!
You fought for Me in tears to bring
Before My Feet a faithful sword.’

Then sang of Him my Lady Grace
A-glimmer, by the Tree,
We followed where her chanting led
And to the dawn above the lee.
The cries of battle long had fled
Through earth and sky and sea,
Defeated, flew they from His Face
Et ex copiis Domini.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Hitchhiker

When i first posted this story, completed two days ago, on the 8 O'clock Chaplet blog, it got good reviews. When i let my mom read it, she went through and suggested re-writes to my many mistakes, most of which were stupidly obvious ones. So "I preesent for the approval, of the Midnight Society..." (Are You Afraid of the Dark, for all you sheltered people) my adaption of another older story. It may or may not be based off of a Flannery O'Conner story (that's the writer, not the dancer), but it is older. Please give me feed back.

The Hitchhiker
By Matthew B. Rose

Ian looked out the window of the house. What had once been a cloudless, sunny day had turned into a stormy, rainy night. It was a night for sitting at home and reading. It was a night for sipping hot coco, not for being out, and definitely not for driving. Ian wished that he were home. He wished he did not have to go out and drive on a night like this.
Why did he agree to come to the party?
Sandy walked over to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked at her.
“Are you sure you want to go out on a night like this? Peter and I always have an extra bed for you. You know that.”
“I know, I know. Your husband already said something to me. I can’t tonight.”
Peter walked up behind them.
“Why not, old pal? You too busy to hang out with your old friend for a night?”
“No, it’s not that. It’s just, I have to hurry home. I have a big interview tomorrow. It’s for the job at…”
Sandy interrupted: “You mentioned it. You want to teach at that college in God knows where.”
“It’s just over in the mountains for crying out loud.”
Peter jumped in: “Yeah, well, you should stay here and leave in the morning.”
“Can’t do that. I would have to wake up and go back home, pick up my papers, then drive to the college. Staying here would, no offense, take up too much time.”
The married pair stared at their friend. Peter put his hand on Ian’s arm.
“Look, if you’ve really got to leave, by all means, leave. Don’t let us stop you.”
Ian moved his hand and grabbed Peter’s. They shook hands.
“Thanks man. I knew you would understand.”
The three of them broke apart. Sandy went to the back of the house, towards the closet. Peter and Ian walked towards the door. Peter patted Ian on the back.
“Hey listen, if you can, call us when you get home.”
“Who are you, my mother?”
“Yes. Now brush behind your ears young man.”
They laughed until Sandy arrived with Ian’s coat. After the hands were shook and cheeks were kissed, Ian opened the door and stepped out onto the front step. Peter stood in the doorway.
Ian turned to look.
“Drive carefully. Too many accidents happen out there on nights like this.”
“Yeah I know. I will.”
“Take care. Pray for me.”
“Will do. You for me, ok?”
“Always do.”
Ian walked quickly down the walkway to his car. The rain was harder than it seemed. He fumbled around in his pockets, trying to find the keys. He drew them forth and opened the car. He settled down into the driver seat, put the key in the ignition, and turned it to start the engine.
Nothing happened. The car would not start. Ian tried again, holding his breath. It started. Ian sighed and pulled out of the driveway.
* * *

The rain was really pouring now. Ian could not see out the window, even with the wipers going at full speed. The forest surrounding the road seemed dark, like the night rain itself. Ian squinted to see the signs on the road, each one seeming harder to read.
It took him awhile to realize that he had no idea where he was. He suspected it when the road he had been driving on grew narrow. Yet, he did not know it for sure. That is why the sign took him by surprise.
Ian slammed on the breaks, swearing. He rolled back, looking closer at the sign he had passed. He checked his watch: it was 20 minutes until twelve. He swore again and fiddled in his pocket, pulling out his cell phone. He scrolled through his list and dialed. The phone on the other line rang twice.
“Hey Peter, its Ian.”
“Hey Ian. What happened? I thought you would be home by now.”
“Yeah, well, I got lost. Can ya help me?”
“Of course.”
“The sign here says that I’m 20 miles from Charlottesville. I’m surrounded by woods.”
“Oh, hey. I know where you are. Keep going that way for about 15 miles, then get on the highway. You should be ok after that.”
“Alright. Thanks. I owe you one.”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“I mean it this time, ok?”
“Yeah, alright.”
“Thanks man.”
“Yeah, sure. Call if you get lost again.”
“I won’t get lost again.”
“Sure, sure.”
“Alright. Bye.”
“Bye. Good luck tomorrow.”
Ian hung up the phone and put it back in his pocket. He turned the key and started the car, pulling onto the road. The rain continued to fall hard, pounding on the windshield.
* * *
The rain fell at a different pace. Before the drops had pounded Ian’s car so hard that he wondered if there were dents in the hood. Now there seemed only to be a misting drizzle. Still, the outside world seemed miserable, as if the whole world was crying.
Ian had his high beams shining on the road ahead, showing everything. Everywhere there were trees: trees on the left and trees on the right. His eyes were beginning to tire, burning under the stress of the drive. He glanced again at the clock, trying to focus his eyes: 11:59. He needed to get home. If he hurried, he could still get six hours of sleep. As long as nothing else stopped him, he would be fine.
With that thought in his head, he slammed on his breaks, skidding forward another ten feet.
“What the...?”
He looked out the rear window. He saw a heart wrenching sight. There was a girl, no more than 15 years old, standing on the side of the road. She wore only shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. Her hair was matted against her head, which never tilted up from its downward glance. Had she even seen him drive by, Ian wondered to himself. He put the car in reverse and drove back until the car was parallel with the drenched girl. Ian opened the door.
“Hey, do you need a ride?”
The girl tilted her head up, slowly brushing aside some of the soaked hair that covered her face. Her eyes were dark blue, darker than any Ian had seen. She seemed pale and shivered involuntarily as she stared. Ian suddenly felt a shiver down his back. His neck tingled as the tiny hairs rose slightly. He felt an urge just to drive away, leave this creepy girl. He was in a hurry anyway.
“Here,” Ian got out when he gathered himself. “Get in. I’ll drive you.”
The girl slowly climbed into the car, dripping water on the seat. Ian got out and closed the door behind her. He scurried behind the wheel and started the car, pulling it back onto the road.
Ian looked over at his new passenger. She seemed to shiver less but was still pale. She held her hands in her lap and did not look up.
“So, where exactly am I taking you?”
The girl looked up and pulled back her hair, which had fallen again into her face.
“I, I live on Maine Street.”
“Well, that’s a start. Do you have an address?”
“3545. It’s a big house with a blue door. There’s a rose garden in the front, but one of the roses won’t bloom.”
“Hey, you live close to where I live. I know your house. I used to bike by it every day.”
“Sure, I guess.”
The girl turned her head back towards the front of the car. She looked out the window in a blank gaze, never blinking. Ian had not noticed that she wasn’t blinking until just then. He had figured that she was blinking, but he just never noticed because he was driving. Puzzled, Ian spoke again to the girl.
“I hate to interrupt your deep thought, but what’s your name? You do have a name, right?”
“Colleen. Colleen Heart.”
“That’s a very pretty name.”
“Are you named after a relative?”
“Oh. Okay then.”
Ian looked over and noticed the girl rubbing her shoulders. She gave a shiver and wiped her nose. She did not sniff though; she just wiped her nose with her finger.
“You look cold. Here, take my jacket.”
Colleen looked up and took the jacket from Ian. She put it on her shoulders and wrapped it around her arms. She then looked out the window.
“Thank you.”
They drove on in silence. Ian checked her every few moments, just to see if she was warming up. He even turned up the heater. He body had stopped shivering and her voice had become less weak. However, her face and hands were still pale. Ian did not ask any questions about this, just questions about her family, school, and interests. This in turn was followed by a period of silence, broken only one minute into its stretch. The silence was broken not by a question of Ian’s but one from Colleen.
“Do you ever think about death?”
“What? Death?”
“Yeah. Do you ever wonder what happens when you die?”
“I guess you go to Heaven if you’re good, Hell if you’re bad.”
“Are you Catholic?”
“Yes. Well, I kinda haven’t been into it as much as I used to. I still go to Mass and Confession, if that’s what you mean.”
“I was wondering because you forgot to mention Purgatory.”
“Purga... Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I remember learning about that in school. It’s the place for cleaning, right?”
“Yes. I learned about it in class this year. It’s where the souls who are good but not ready for heaven go.”
“So they say.”
“That got me thinking about ghosts.”
”Oh ghosts. Ghosts don’t exist. They’re just stories told to frighten people or get money. Nothing more.”
“No. I think that there are different types of ghosts. One type is unable to do anything: they just appear and repeat their death. They died horrible quick deaths. Thus they are unable to prepare for Heaven; that is their Purgatory, to revisit their death over and over again.”
“What about the ghosts that hurt people?”
“They are demons and evil spirits, trying to drive their victims away from God. If they provoke fear into their victims’ hearts, the soul hardly recovers. They draw in the living person by a tale that seems innocent and harmless. Then they attack.”
“That’s a pleasant thought. But what about the ghosts that don’t hurt people, but do things, like move chairs and stuff.”
“They’re ghosts that are trying to communicate to the living people in the house. They usually are from heaven and are trying to lead the living back to God, since they have turned away.”
“Um, ok.”
“And there is one more type of ghost. That type interacts with people. These spirits are always from heaven and try to lead the living back to God. More often than not, they are saints, and therefore register as visions from Heaven. But sometimes the spirit is not recognized as a saint; therefore the communication is not looked fairly upon.”
“Wow, you know what you’re talking about. You sound very adult.”
“Thank you.”
“So that’s what you think ghosts are.”
Colleen looked at him closely and nodded.
“I’m positive.”
* * *
The car pulled up to the house on the street. The house was exactly as Colleen described it, down to the rose without a blossom. The night sky was clearing up and the moon was peaking through the thinning clouds. Colleen looked up at the sky through the window.
“I guess you should get going,” Ian mumbled. Colleen nodded and opened the door. She began to get out of the car but then stopped and started to take off the jacket.
“No, no,” Ian said. “You can keep it. You still look cold.”
Colleen smiled at him. She had a beautiful smile, like the moon that shined above them. Ian could not help but smile back. He felt calm, certain that, whatever he had to do, he would succeed.
“Thank you.”
“No problem. I’ll pick it up tomorrow.”
She got out of the car and went up the walkway to the front door. She rang the doorbell and waited. Ian did not watch her go in; he pulled away onto the long road towards his house.
* * *
The dawn broke, spilling its yolk-colored sun through the windows of the apartment. The alarm clock sounded through the room. It could not echo, for the mess scattered around on the floor and on the furniture absorbed the sound. The body in the bed shifted and reached for the buzzing annoyance. It fell to the floor. Grumbling, the man got out of the bed and turned off the alarm. He stretched and looked at the time.
“Oh shoot!”
Ian threw the clock aside and hurried into the bathroom. He showered, brushed his teeth and hair, and ran into the bedroom. He threw on the suit he had picked out and ran to the kitchen, grabbing an apple. He ran down the flights of stairs to the main lobby, exiting through the double doors. It was then, as he stood outside in the cold morning air, that he realized that he had forgotten something.
He almost turned and went back into the complex when he remembered the previous night. He remembered giving the jacket to the girl and saying that he would pick it up in the morning.
Shaking his head, murmuring to himself something about Christian charity, he entered his car and closed the door.
* * *
The house looked different than it did when Ian had driven by it last night. Of course, it could have been that last night was dark and there was not enough light to see the true details of the house. Something, however, just did not seem the same. The house looked different, almost sadder. The flowerbed was in shambles; even the roses were wilted, except for the one with no blossom; that alone stood tall. The paint looked faded, and the house itself looked like all hope, all life therein, had drained away.
Ian walked up the walk to the door. He looked for a doorbell but could not find one. He turned his head and raised his fist to knock when he noticed the knocker on the door. Shrugging his shoulders, he knocked. A few seconds later, as he stood outside, he heard the shuffle of feet coming towards the door. He straightened up and fixed his tie.
The door opened a crack, and an eye looked out at him.
“Yes.” It was a woman’s voice. It sounded younger, not too many years older than Ian himself, but felt worn, as if the voice itself had been tortured for some unknown sin.
“Mrs. Heart?”
“Yes? What is it?”
“I’m here to get something from your daughter. I’m the one who brought her home last night.”
For a moment, the woman looked up at him through that crack in the door. Slowly she opened the door. Ian looked at her. She was still in her nightgown. Her eyes were red and wide open, swollen with tears that seemed to threaten to deluge forth at any second. She did only look about 35, but she had wrinkles on her face that made her seem to be twenty years older. Ian started to speak but couldn’t.
“My, my daughter?” The woman’s eyes began to water. She looked up at Ian, her mouth agape.
“Yes. I believe her name was Colleen.”
“Oh Sweet Jesus.”
The woman slid down to the floor in the doorway. Ian moved quickly to help her. He moved her into the kitchen and searched for a glass of water. She cried constantly, so loudly that Ian was sure that she would pass out if she did not stop. He brought her the glass as she struggled to control herself. She sipped the water, and then looked up at Ian.
“Colleen was my daughter.”
“She died three years ago. No, more like four. Yes, four. She was riding home with a friend in a car. It was raining and the driver was young. The police said that there was alcohol in his blood. He was 17; she was just 15. I always thought she was too young for him. Anyway, we got in a fight and she stormed out. I was still angry at her when I got the call.”
She sniffed and wiped her nose.
“We buried her in her graduation gown. She was so happy that day, her graduation. She had the biggest smile.”
Her words trailed off into another stream of tears. Ian stiffly patted her on her shoulder.
“I had a dream last night that she came back, that she stood over my bed. I dreamt that she said goodnight, like she did when she was little. I could have sworn she sat down and hugged me. She looked terrible, as if she had been through a storm, yet looked so happy. She practically glowed.”
She cried again. Finally she began to compose herself, wiping the tears from her damp eyes.
“I’m sorry for this show I’m putting on. I must look horrible. I’m sorry, but there is no way you could have seen Colleen last night. You must have been mistaken. Maybe you dreamed it or something like that.”
Ian was quiet. He stood up as the woman began to rise.
“Thank you for helping me. Sorry for the um...”
“It’s no problem, really.”
She led Ian to the door, seeming to have recovered herself. As he walked out the door, Ian turned.
“What cemetery was she buried in?”
“St. James’, down by the church. It was our parish.”
“Oh. Thanks.”
With that, Ian walked back to his car. He opened the door and entered as in a trance, slowly closing the door and, finally, driving away.
* * *
The sun did not shine, for a cloud had covered it. It was not abnormal, but unique, since it was the only cloud in the sky that day. It hung over the cemetery, never blowing away, never releasing the rays of the sun down upon that place of rest. Elsewhere in the world, even in different parts of the town, the sun shone as normal, even, as some commented, brighter than normal. Then, as strangely as the cloud appeared, it faded away, showing the life-giving rays of the sun onto the desolate bed of the empty shells resting in peace.
Ian’s car pulled up in the driveway of the cemetery, the only movement as far as the eye could see. He was struck not just by the lack of sunshine, something he had just been riding against in the early morning, but the complete and utter lack of sound. There was not even a cricket chirping in the silent realm of the dead. Ian rubbed his eyes as he exited the car. When the door closed, the echo of the slam carried off into the wind.
Ian had rescheduled the interview in the car, on his way to the cemetery. The revelation that Colleen had been dead was almost too much for him. He had called the school and regretfully said that he would not be able to come that day; it was rescheduled for the following day. So now, Ian was here to visit the forgotten, the abandoned dead, the loved ones who were loved no more.
Each grave was solemn. Ian read the names and dates, touching the stones, saying silent prayers for those who had no one to pray for them. He noticed that many had holders for flowers, but the flowers had long ago withered away. The holders themselves had crumbled, until only the bare rusty wire remained. Everything was gray or brown; the colors of warmth had faded with the flowers.
It was then that he saw the grave. It was obviously newer than the surrounding inhabitants, those silent residents, yet seemed already worn, abandoned. The name was the same and the date was correct, showing that this fair maiden had died only four years before. The epitaph simply said “Only the good die young.”
He saw none of this. He could not take his gaze from the ground in front of the headstone, the ground only so far above the decayed body beneath. His face lost only a little color at first, but soon became pale, almost translucent. He started shaking, as his body became suddenly cold: he could feel the warmth leaving him. He lifted his hand to his face, scarcely believing that he could be awake. Then he bent over and touched the burst of color that shone like the missing sun through an overcast sky. He then held the color close to his heart, feeling it, surprised by its dryness and warmth. He then began the long walk back to the car. Only this time he wore a wide smile. This time his mind was not troubled but triumphant. This time the sun shone down upon him as the strange cloud drifted apart.
This time he carried his jacket in his arms.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I wrote this last semester, and I just tried revising it tonight. I'd love some outside criticism. Rip away.
by Adrienne Alessandro

She had wanted to be a nun when she had been little, but her father had not cared for the idea of his child going to Africa and harboring her virginity in the jungle heat. “Stay in the village and be a mother,” he said, as he sat on the dusty doorstep in their Mediterranean village. He rubbed his grizzled beard slowly and squinted his eyes. “You can do more with your life here than you could ever do there.” He looked up at her while the street leading up to the village church was swirling with golden dust, kicked up by the worn soles of the women working in the village. The ancient sun threw its light onto the yellow sandstone buildings and cast itself on the figure of Giovanna, standing before her father in the circles of dust. She looked up the street and down to her father, and said, “You don’t understand, papa. But I will listen to you and stay here if you want me to.” She had gone inside and held back her tears until she went to bed that night. She had listened, but she did not agree.

The nuns at the school always had always told Giovanna that she was smart. That idea had never really soaked into her in the same way that the Shakespeare words and the Italian songs and the love for silence had melded themselves into her bones, but she stored the statement in the back of her mind and kept it there to remind herself someday. She liked to go down to the garden by the harbor, guarded high by the strong block walls that had kept back the invasions and the sea for hundreds of years. This sea whipped out from her like a taunt blue rug that was being dusted by the wind. She looked down at the blue and thought about the motion, the waves, and the wash that crashed against the wall. She would sometimes look down at that water until the rhythm of the waves would creep into her body and she could feel their motion moving through her lungs, mind, and soul. It stayed with her as she walked through the streets of the city afterwards, onto the bus and back to her school.

Sometimes she brought a schoolbook to the garden, but mostly she sat and watched the people go by. Some of them had children in carriages, others had suitors to walk with. The rich ladies had hats that floated above them and set their own rhythm. Giovanna watched them all with a pencil in her hand, and sketched out the people in a gold book . It was the one beautiful object she owned, that she won at school for a sketch she made of her father. Giovanna loved the embossed swirls that traveled down over the stiff board cover. She traced them with her fingers while she daydreamed and let the people pass before her eyes.

Afternoons spent away from the noisy boarding school were Giovanna happiest moments. When she came back to the college on those days she still had the sea’s blue in her body, and others could tell that there was something different about her. Some had suggestions.

“You daydream too much, Giovanna,” Sister Nicoletta said primly, acidly. The nun’s words flooded over Giovanna thick and heavy, drowning out the voice in her head and the rhythm in her soul. “You do well in school, but your head is in the clouds. Your mind is in that gold book. Look down and see the work in front of you. Be smart about life. Be like Michealina,” she said approvingly. “She knows what the world is.” Giovanna looked out the window to see the glorious Michaelina, blooming for the moment, pointed out to her, and she saw the woman that her father wanted her to be. Michaelina was the kind that would eventually be ground into the yellow dust with the spilled baking flour and the dirty washing water. She was full of hard wide bones and coy looks for the sailors who dropped by the harbor on leave. The only dreams Michaelina made were the ones of boys who twirled her for a week in the dances and left her to spin on her own. Giovanna had looked at Sister Nicoletta with her steady green eyes that showed no fear. Her words came out coolly, decidedly. “I can only be like Michaelina if I keep the Giovanna that’s in me.” She turned and quickly walked away as the nun disapprovingly watched her retreating figure.

Giovanna laughed about it later, when she sketched out Sister’s expression in her book. It was not that Giovanna was afraid of work and the dirty dishwater. When she went home on the weekends, she got down on her hands and knees on Saturday morning and washed the stone floor that her family walked on all week, and the next Saturday she went back and washed the dust off again. That was part of the life of a girl in her village, and she participated in it with energy and love. Giovanna would do her share of work with the rest of the women. But she would not give up her afternoons and soft twilights in the garden by the sea, feeling the salt breeze wash over her face, and she would not leave her golden book on the shelf for as long as she had something to draw to herself. No, she thought to herself, she would not be like Michaelina in that way. Giovanna would stay light and fierce and dance hard in the light and draw her sketches by the sea.

* * * *

Four years passed and Giovanna’s hair was down and whipping across her face on the gray blue day when she first met Francis. The wind was coming in spurts, jumping over the old walls and catching the pages of her gilded book playfully until the pretty teacher finally smiled and closed the cover. She looked up and there he was.

He was leaning against the wall and looking out to sea, letting his eyes rest on a fisherman who was launching his net-burdened boat into the water. The man’s face had the smile of a person who did not know something yet, but who wanted to know what it was. Giovanna found herself tucking her hair back behind her ear in spite of herself. She was pleased with how the man gazed at the scene she saw below her. Her finger traveled gently over the cover of her book.

“Do you see that picture?” the man said, never taking his eyes from the man in the boat. She knew that he was talking to her. “It’s more than what he’s doing. That fisherman below lives out a whole life on that boat.” His voice was soft and it smiled in the description, making pauses to make sure that she would understand the way his mouth wrapped around the foreign words. “He says goodbye to his wife in the morning, takes the nets, which she probably mended, and steps out onto the water every day, alone.” His voice caught on with the image. The fisherman had now bent himself into the hard row for deeper waters. “He rocks all day with only the sun and the fish for company; but look at him, he loves it. He understands the sea, he knows it.” Giovanna rose and leaned on the wall beside him, looking down to where his finger pointed. She smiled at the picture he had given her, at the sea, at the fisherman’s life. She saw the inkstains on his fingers, the worn leather journal peeking out of his knapsack, and she tugged back on her hair once more. He turned to her and smiled into her eyes. “You must see it every day, but for me it’s the first time. His life makes a beautiful story, doesn’t it?”

* * * *

Six months later, Giovanna ran to her garden by the sea with a sob, repeating to herself that it was alright, that her father just did not understand. She should have expected this; it was like him, she thought bitterly. But this time she was not stepping back, she told herself, choking out the words, she would not change her mind.

He is not one of our people, her father had barked at her. Couldn’t you find a man from our church, our village? Someone who understands you? Someone who knows who you are? Who is this man? Do you know? Can he offer you anything that the village cannot? You do not know, and what’s more, you do not know yourself. Your head is in the clouds, girl, and you need to wake up. Wake up, girl. The words tumbled from her head down her heart and bit her there.

For six sweet months, Giovanna had drawn pictures for the writer and lived with the stories and the pictures that he etched upon her mind. Two nights ago, he asked her to marry him, in the same spot where she now cried out her tears. And she was going to marry Francesco, she whispered to herself, marry him and move away to his home in America. Her father had some truth. Leaving her home, her family, this sea, would rip the bark off of her heart, she knew. But her soul wanted to marry his own soul. She may have thought of many new dreams since that gray blue day in the garden, but she was still Giovanna. Not Michaelina, she whispered to herself. She would not understand, like papa does not understand. But I do, she cried to herself. Oh, I do.

No, she choked to herself, no. I know who I am, and what this village is. I know what I love, and I know the village men. They want women that they can use up like matches, light them up and then throw them out after two seconds, burnt. But I want to love, just to be able to love. And he sees life in pictures.

She looked out to the sea.

He knows the meaning of blue.

She turned her eyes out to shifting peaks that rose towards her, and looked out past the sea.

He writes his beautiful pictures for me, she whispered. He cannot carry the garden here with us to America, but he sees me, he knows me. He draws me for myself in his eyes and on the page.

She lifted her eyes up to the sky, and in the distance, she saw the glow from the church in her old village, calling her back. She had cried long enough. Giovanna rose and turned her steps towards home. Her golden book with the finger-worn cover was in her right hand, tight, and her mind already flew across what intended for the last page. When she came home in the twilight to face her father on the step, she held no fear. His last words to her, “Is there nothing here for you to stay for?” brought no tears.

Giovanna stepped into the house, took a thick red ribbon and tied it around her golden book, and placed it deep in her suitcase with some crushed rose petals from the garden by the sea. As she came out the door, she looked up the street, past the settled dust, on to the lights of village church and nodded her head. Then she took Francesco’s hand and walked away.

* * * *

Thirty years later, a woman with a faded red ribbon around her salted hair leaned against the sea wall in the Farrugha Gardens by the harbor. Her dim eyes knew the spot well. In her hand she carried two books which she placed on the ledge beside her. The first one was cracked at the seams, but traces of gold were still caught in between the embossed swirls that had been wiped clean by the fingers of time. She opened it to the last page, where there was a bold sketch of a man looking out to sea with a woman standing strongly by his side. Giovanna looked up, and took a sigh that found its depths in three decades of longing and love. Scattered tears fell quickly to the sea as the woman lifted the book to her lips, giving it a gentle kiss.

When she took her seat in the garden, she reached over to the other book that had a cover of cracked brown leather. It fell open to the picture of a man who had a ring on his left hand, looking out with a look that knew. The woman reached out to touch his smile. But the pages flipped to a charcoal scene of trees that starkly surrounded a cold stone rectangle in the ground. A woman shown ten years older than the page before bent over in grief and clutched at her womb and heart. The letter from her father that year had been cruel. What has this man, who took you all the way over there, given to you? Why won’t you come back here where you fit? he stabbed. She had burned that letter and thrown the ashes to the wind.

One page later, there was a kinder letter tucked within the leaves. It was written by the hand that her eyes used to rest on, following its motion as it sprawled out black words upon white paper. “My Beautiful,” it said, “when I must leave you, I want you to remember and glance back, to see and sense again the love that we have with us now. There is a new joy to our lives now, which you alone will fully know . . .” But it was not necessary to read any more; the words were already written on her heart. She folded the pages of the letter and turned instead to the last page of the book. Upon it was a soft picture done in black ink with gold paint and light blue chalk. She gently traced the yellow curls of the figure with her fingertip until she thought to look up.

A thin American girl holding a pastitzzi and a glass bottle of soda stood before her. Giovanna thought to herself how young the girl looked in this setting of old stones and heartaches, joys and memories. Maria’s mouth twisted as she took a sip out of a bottle of Kenny, but smiled at the sea as her sandy blonde curls fell over sharp blue eyes; eyes that knew. “Is this the place that you told me about in all the old stories?” Giovanna smiled and nodded to her daughter. Maria leaned over the wall and grinned dizzily at the drop. “No wonder you love it so much.” She cozied up to her mother and wrapped her arms around her slight figure.. After a little while, she asked softly, “What did you lose, mother, when you left here? Do you have any regrets?”

Giovanna turned to her daughter, grabbed her hand and gave her a strong kiss. She looked deep into Maria’s eyes and said, “No. None at all. I gained much more than I could ever have had.” Her worn eyes ran across her daughter’s face, and both knew. Then the woman gently closed the brown leather book and placed it on top of the book with the worn gold cover, tying them both with a turquoise ribbon. She dropped her arm around the waist of her precious girl with the golden curls, and both of them looked out with gratitude and wonder at the ascending blue sea.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Paradise Found

Paradise Found

"The sage wears rough clothing, but carries the jewel in his heart."
- Lao Tzu

...Being was - to start
And all was Unified
Not one adjunct component -
A Circle, round and Wide
Never ending, Never starting, Never slowing down,
But moving all the time

And then there came the Light (yellow-bright)
And Water, clear and blue
That separated - Piece by piece
And split the earth in two

And from the sea emerged the land -
Red with rocky soil
Where Man and fateful Choice were made
Where lurked therein Death's coil -

It was a Paradise, they say,
So green and lush and wild -
Where lived this man with Diamond in his head
As simple as a child

His paradise was Beautiful -
Many pieces, yet one whole
But never so pristine could be
A place Dim Pride and Fear cajole

For a little string of black snaked there
Temptation - in a Tree
That tugged and pulled
Magnanimous - Safety

The man turned Back
The Jewel went Black
And Tumbling, tumbling Fell - All
But Pieces of his Paradise
Amidst the blinding Gall -

It didn't hurt too much (thou thereafter he no color saw)
Man awoke with separate Eyes -
Half-sight, half-taste, half-life was his
Absurd and homely prize

His Separateness was evident
His loneliness unquelled
A Stranger he became - a Bug
Indifferent, repelled

In Blandness he Existed bleak
For sands and sands of Time
As broken dusty sadness speaks
In bells that never chime

"Innocent" he became -
The treachery all "forgot"
Until from Prophecy arose -
Redemption he'd not sought

Salvation was a Pain - so Great
A tender, loving Sore
That throbbed and with it's Opening
Didst shake Man at his core

It jumbled him, and loosed the chips
That Death had Hardly froze
Like needles pinching Numbness
That's settled in one's toes

"Everything dead that's coming back
Must hurt like Hell and Fire,"
For Love, that Diamond Paradise forgot
Is Death in shy Disguise -

Their Difference is like White and Black
No difference almost
But that White is all colors
And Black naught but their host

(Love) - the Bridge that bonds those rainbow gem-shards -
Once borken Stupidly
One must Die to climb -
To Exist eternally

That Death of Death is what Love is
And of Absurdity
For after Death's dark, Spring's color comes
- Returns to Unity...

Mahler's Ninth

Mahler's Ninth
by Jennifer P.

Posted by Shadows and Dust on behalf of Jenn.

He sat alone in the tiny, darkened garret, alone save an ancient, dusty trunk. An old trunk and so very many memories. The clasps were rusted and stiff, but he managed to crack the lid, after some effort, then sat motionless, afraid to open it any farther. He was loath to disturb something within, something which he would rather lay still and undisturbed as it had for so many years. Secrets? Perhaps. The trunk rested, still and silent, though he watched it steadily as if were a live thing. Finally, he opened it and the air became charged with a thousand specters of things long past, dead and buried long ago.

There was a moment’s pause, then he began tearing through the items in the trunk, tossing them right and left, or into the small brazier that sat as his feet—a futile means to stave off the bitter cold which enveloped him and the little room. Dissatisfied with life, with death, and with everything. He tore through letters, dried flowers from a long-forgotten party, concert programs, souvenirs…vestiges of his life before all had gone bitterly wrong. Nothing would remain! That life was gone, and he determinedly burned everything that brought back those times.

Suddenly, in the midst of his rampage upon the past, a photograph caught his eye. He paused, and picked it up by the cracked and faded edge. Now, new memories came flooding back, of someone he had long ago forgotten. Cherished beyond words, she had been, now lost forever. He sat with the photograph in his limp fingers, allowing the images and feelings from the past wash over him. He remembered her dancing, gracefully floating across the floor, so very like the cloud the poets spoke of. He remembered her smiling at him, sweetly yet sad. There had always been that wall between them, a part of him he was never able to communicate to her, and it was his music. There was a place she never saw into, a small wedge in his mind that eventually drove them apart. However, that was all later. There was a time when that didn’t matter. A time when they sat and talked, or simply sat and listened, to his playing, to her singing. He drifted slowly among pictures of her folding her hands in her lap when he began a lecture, or of her stamping her little foot in frustration with his oddities and habits.

Of course, those were the good times, he though. His inability to communicate, her inability to understand were more than could be overcome. He pictured her one last time, saddened but angry, standing in the doorway. Then, she was gone. He slammed the lid of the of the trunk shut with vehemence, tossing the photograph into the fire and watching the edges curl up agonizingly, tortured. He stared, broodingly, into the flame, then began throwing the remaining items after it in rapid succession. There was nothing left to remember. There was nothing left to do. He stood and left, leaving the room dark, and colder than it had been before.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

When The End Is Near

(Note: As per previous post, if possible please print the story to read. I firmly believe that literature is not meant to be read on-screen. Also, this is little more than a rough draft. Please feel free--indeed, I encourage you to--criticize or otherwise disparage this piece of work.)

When The End Is Near

By John Jalsevac

With the relish of a born country boy raised in the big city, contrary to what he was dimly aware were his deepest yearnings, Davie leaned back against the gunnel of the aluminum rowboat and smoothly swung over the release on the fishing reel. It fell into place with a distinctive click. Long ago the boy had learned to associate that sound with infrequent communes with the dawn and the dusk, precious sunrises and sunsets, and a silence of soul and mind so tenuous that he dared not think on it lest he break its spell. So he didn’t think on it; he enjoyed it.

The quiet, purposeful click of the reel releasing the tension of the line fell like a stray raindrop plopping itself on the bottom of the aluminum rowboat; it might have been a mechanical sound, but it was nothing like the industrial din of the big city. It was as much a natural sound as the crisp swish of a canoe oar slicing through the northern water.

Lightly pressing the line to the rod with the index finger of the same hand that had pulled the release, he fluidly swung the rod back over his right shoulder, and with a flick of the wrist sent the bass lure whizzing over the dark, shimmering water. It broke the surface with a quiet plunk. No other sound broke the heavy stillness but for his quiet breathing; after two months of harassment the frantic swarms of mosquitoes had disappeared into nothingness as quickly as they had arrived from nothingness. The motions and the pleasures of fishing were like those of breathing to Davie, except better. A quick half spin on the handle and the release fell back into place with another click that was quickly lost in the thick fog that further deepened the heavy and expectant darkness of the early morning hour. Nothing at all was visible but for a few feet of unmoving water around the sides of the boat, and at first Davie had had to strain to pick out the tackle box and net and chain lying on the floor of the boat. But now his eyes were accustomed to the dimness. He gave the rod a series of swift tugs, then reeled in a little ways; then repeated the same motion again.

A small perch broke the surface a few feet away and concentric rings expanded across the surface of the small lake, like visible sound waves.

“I can’t remember much these days. Can’t much say if any of the things I think about really happened. And the thing is, that there just isn’t anyone left now who can tell me if they did. There’s nobody left at all.”

Pops gazed across from the stern of the small row boat at the outline of his grandson who reclined with a cushion against the fore gunnel. The curly-haired boy looked younger and fresher and happier than he ever remembered feeling when he was the same age. Wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, his thick, sun-burnt arms gave some idea of the power of his body, and a defiant, knowing confidence swimming barely beneath the surface of his eyes, apparent even in the darkness, gave some sense of the power of his mind. Warily extending his memory, stretching it out into the hazy past, Pops couldn’t recall ever having the confidence that his grandson demonstrated.

But then, when he was the same age the old man had already fought the devil with nothing more than a rifle, a bayonet, and a few hand grenades. That’s exactly the sort of thing that’ll shave a few years off of a man’s boyhood, he thought.

The old man leaned the rod against the edge of the boat, half sitting on the butt; that way the rod wouldn’t flip overboard if he got a bite; his line trolled lazily in the water behind as the boat floated almost imperceptibly with the slow current through the thick soup. He sighed. He was too old and too tired to keep casting and reeling and casting and reeling; his line was baited with a fresh, squirming leech and a red and white bobber lolled peaceably in the water fifteen feet off, a vague stab of crimson through the black and gray of the water and the heavy ceiling of mist that whirled in slow and graceful circles overhead; he always had more success with fresh bait anyway. His body ached; he slowly repositioned the cushion he sat on, painfully crossing his right leg over his left with a grunt.

“Ah Davie,” he said abstractly, his voice low and quiet and thoughtful so as not to disturb the heavy silence, but so as to meld into it, to become a part of it. A click, then a swish, the hiss of fishing line, and then a quiet splash as Davie cast deep into the mist.

“We used to have such a family Davie, like you wouldn’t believe. This was before you were even born. The times we had...We used to have huge family reunions with hundreds of people. And now I can’t remember half of them, not even half; they’re all gone this way or that; a lot of them are dead now I suppose. I don’t know what happened, but it’s all gone now. I can’t remember so much about those days now. I try hard to remember some of these things, to think back, and sometimes I don’t even know if they happened, or if they’re just a pipe dream. And there isn’t anyone left now who can tell me if they really did happen.”

Pops felt like talking. But a part of him couldn’t believe that he was talking to his grandson. Since when, he asked himself, had this grandson of his, this child, grown such that he could understand?; when had he gained enough experience and wisdom to understand the thoughts and reminisces of his elderly grandfather, who had seen the world several times over, and whose life spanned over four times the number of years? When had a bridge been built between the two which could be crossed without fear of its disappearing or breaking?

But the last two days of fishing and sitting for long and peaceful hours on the sprawling veranda of the Northern cottage the family owned, doing nothing more than watching the cool breeze laughing through the massive swaying pines that made the cottage seem a mere island of civilization in an endless wilderness of lakes and hills and cliffs, and smoking, and sometimes reading, and sometimes talking had caused the old man to begrudgingly accept that his grandson was knowledgeable, and even wise; sometimes he feared that the boy might be wiser than he himself was, and that thought caused him confusion.

Over the last week Pops had been thoroughly puzzled to see his grandson wake up early each morning, sometimes before sunrise, or when the first virginal rays had only begun to transform the Northern sky into a deep, rich tapestry of sea-blue. Wrapping himself in a blanket David would sit down by the shore on a rock, or at the edge of the dock, with his feet trailing in the water, a black, still silhouette stark against the giant silver mirror of the water, staring out over the lake as though, in some sense, he understood it. What did he think about during those early hours of solitude; what did a boy his age have to think about so deeply? At first Pops thought it must be a girl, a blonde beauty whose face haunted the boy in the early morning, as the faces and the rippling laughter of the untouched and unconquered beauties from his own youth had unexpectedly begun to haunt his dreams in the last few years; but now he wasn’t so sure. Something about the boy forbade simple lovesickness. So, if not a girl, what did the boy think about? Before Pops had even had a chance to accept his manhood he had wrestled with the devil with nothing more than a gun, a bayonet, and a few hand grenades; he sure had a lot to think about when he was that age. But what about this boy, who had never left the cradle and the comfort of his own mother’s arms and his own home?

But perhaps, he thought wearily, the boy had fought with the devil with his particular array of weapons. And perhaps, just perhaps the boy hadn’t lost the battle, as he had.

Pops felt like talking.

“What is it you can’t remember Pops? The war?” asked Davie. He leaned forward a little, his ruddy sunburnt face genuinely interested. Long, dark locks of hair fell around his eager eyes. He wanted to hear about the war; that’s why he asked the question like that.

No one had listened for a long time. The boy listened. He asked questions.

“About most everything. Can’t remember anything really. It’s all a fog now.”

“Where’d you fight Pops?”

“All over the place. They just kept you moving the whole time. Half the time I didn’t know where the hell I was. It was all a blur, even then Davie.

“They first shipped me over to Belgium,” he continued slowly, addressing the shifting and oppressive cloud that had squatted over the whole lake, swallowing his voice. He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it with a practiced, but trembling hand. The match flared out in the gloom, casting deep, flickering shadows on the old man’s drawn and pale face and on the bottom of the boat. It hissed when he flicked it into the water. “That’s where I started fighting. Moved around a lot after that; don’t remember half the places I was. Don’t remember most of the guys I was with either. When I was first sent over I had a few buddies; but after that you just can’t keep ‘em for long. One day they’re there, and the next they’re gone. You want a cigarette?”

Davie shook his head no.

“You know, “ said Pops, “I quit these damned things for twenty years. I only started back about five years ago; twenty years and I never lost the taste for ‘em. I craved a smoke every day for twenty years, and after a time you can’t but wonder what’s the point of not having one. I couldn’t seem to answer that question, so I started back.”

Pops slowly reeled in his line, checked that the leech was still firmly hooked. It was. He ponderously cast about fifteen feet behind the boat and settled the rod in between his knees. He wore an old red truckers cap, with the bill as straight and rigid as when it came out of the factory.

“I remember I had one buddy” he continued, “Johnny something or other. I don’t have any idea what ever happened to him; but still I’ll always remember him. He was a little crazy; that’s why I remember him I guess. There was one day we were walking along, God knows where; I think it was in France. Well, the Germans, you know, they used to set booby traps everywhere. You had to keep a close eye for them. Me and Johnny were walking along—I think it was near a farmhouse—and there was a wire along the ground. We couldn’t see what it was attached to. And Johnny, he was going to pull it. Well, I called him a son of a…puppy—I called him something worse than that—but he woulda pulled it, he really would’ve if I hadn’tve socked him one. That damned wire would’ve been attached to a bomb and we both would’ve been blown to pieces. He was crazy like that.

“And there was another fellow I remember. A young kid; he was scared as hell the whole time I knew him. A rocket took his head clean off. I’ve never been able to figure out why it didn’t blow up right then and there. But instead it just plum took his head off as if that’s what the blasted thing was made for, as though that were it’s only purpose.”

He exhaled a cloud of thin cigarette smoke that swirled up about his head. Davie loved his grandfather, mostly, he thought, because his grandfather had the most genial smile of anyone he knew. He didn’t know anything about his grandfather, or at least very little, and most of Pops’ kids couldn’t stand him or grandma, including David’s own father. Going by their example David would have thought the old man wasn’t worth exchanging words with, and for years growing up he hadn’t. It wasn’t out of malice; it just hadn’t ever occurred to him that maybe his grandfather had something to say. But Davie had learned much in the last few years and informed by the optimism of youth he just couldn’t believe that a man with a smile that ignited his eyes into dancing crystals, that erased all sense of age from his creased and leathered face, could be as bad as that.

The boy had decided that he wanted to know his grandfather before he died. And he knew now that with every passing day his grandfather was getting closer and closer to that great and final battle which every man must lose. Out here, drifting in the rowboat, floating in the midst of this gentle and hazy dream of water softly lapping the side of the boat, and the silence of the early morning breeze through the ghostly pines, and the luminescence of the new born light diffusing through the drifting fog, Davie felt drawn to the gentle old man who had suffered more than Davie could understand. He listened carefully to each word and tried to imprint it on his memory; he thought that perhaps when the old man died he might be able to give him a fitting eulogy, while his own kids couldn’t because of old and unforgiven bitternesses. For most of his life the boy had believed his grandfather to be a very simple man, without a whole lot to say about much of anything; but now he had the suspicion that something deep within the elderly and broken soldier was causing him pain and Davie wanted to find it out. And further, he felt that the old man wanted to be found out.

“I don’t like to remember these things Davie. I don’t like to remember them in some ways; and yet, sometimes I still try to remember. I don’t know why I try to remember. War does things to a man Davie. That’s why I threw away my gun when it was all over. As soon as the war was over, I threw it overboard the boat that was taking me home. I was afraid that if somebody said something to me, I’d blast ‘em to hell. I hated that gun.”

“Did you ever kill anyone Pops?” As a child Davie was told that his grandfather had been a foot soldier in the great war. But the idea that those firm, calloused hands, accustomed to the heavy manual labour by which honest work he had fed his family for decades, had ever been used to spill human blood wasn’t reconcilable in his mind; even if all they ever did was pull a trigger and let a flying bullet do the worst part, it was still too much. In his dreams David had often seen his grandfather running in flat open battlefields with thousands of other soldiers running along beside him and hundreds of rumbling tanks; always running, and running, just running, never shooting. As a child there had never once been an enemy in David’s visions of the war, and his grandfather never even once pulled the trigger on the rifle he carried in the dreams. But since then David had seen the movies, and he knew in his heart that his grandfather had to be a killer; if he wasn’t he wouldn’t still be alive.

“I don’t know Davie. I don’t ever like to think about it. I had a machine gun, just like everybody else. I pointed it and I fired just like everybody else; and maybe I killed somebody, and maybe I didn’t. I don’t like to think about it. Some of those boys I fought with, they were real murderers you know. They might have been fighting on the right side, but it didn’t matter. Together we might have fought for what was right, but individually…”

“They enjoyed killing?”

“Yes. That’s right. That’s exactly it. They enjoyed it; they wanted more of it; they got a thrill out of it. But as for me…I’ve never really been able to handle going to the Legion with all the other guys. I’ve never wanted to tell those war stories—I killed such and such, and so many, and all that—and I’ve never ever liked listening to them either; I really can’t stand listening to the stories the ol’ boys tells. It’s nothing to be proud of, what we did. We did what we had to do, but as soon as you start enjoying it, you’re little better than a common murderer. It’s a terrible thing…what we did…

“There was one time Davie…” He paused and looked out over the water; the cigarette dangled between his fingers, the red tip smouldering into gray ash. “I was behind the lines. I was shell-shocked. I was pretty screwed up, and I hadn’t fought for a few days; nothing in the world could have made me voluntarily go back to the frontlines. Anyway, I guess they wanted to get me back into feeling like a soldier. I think that was the idea. The commanding officer told me to get on a lorry that was going out there; I was heading to the front, he told me, to pick up paper. To pick up paper. Hell, Davie, I sure as hell wasn’t gonna go. There was no way. But the sergeant major, he got two guys, Canadian soldiers, to point their guns at me. Imagine that, your own boys pointing their guns at you. I still see that every day. Every day Davie. And every time I see it I get madder ‘n hell.

“Sometimes I’m pretty confused about these things…” He fell into a brooding silence.

There it was. The boy caught sight of the gleam of the piece of shrapnel that remained lodged in the old man’s heart. He quietly reeled in, jerking the rod now and again; the line silently spun onto the spool and cool water dripped on Davie’s fingertips. A blue-green minnow shot into sight, sliding gracefully just beneath the surface of the water, slender and swift; Davie gave one last jerk and the minnow leap through the air and then dangled miraculously a foot off the water, dripping. Metal hooks protruded through the belly and a piece of green muddy seaweed clung to it. Leaning out Davie grasped the line, glistening like a sunrise spider web in his hand and guided the minnow-lure into the boat. Carefully he unclipped the snap and slid the lure off. Leaning down he rummaged about in the tackle box and selected a floating lure, threading it onto the snap. A light wind floated in from the South. The fog was mostly dispersed and the shore was visible now. To the east, against a black silhouetted hill of waving pines, the sky turned imperceptibly lighter, a deep, mournful sea blue, with no hint of the harsh light that would soon break across the horizon.

“Let’s try a new spot Pops. The fish here are too smart for us. That or we’ve caught them all already.”

“Caught them all? We haven’t gotten a damned bite all morning.”

“I guess it’s just not our day.”

“Nothing doing. We’re too early. The fish aren’t even jumping yet. Give it ten minutes and they’ll be biting like they haven’t eaten in years.”

“We ought to get one of those new-fangled fish finders they sell these days.”

“And take all the fun out of it?”

The boy stuck the hook through one of the loops on his rod, then reeled in until it was firmly fastened. Leaning the rod against the bench he gently stood up; the boat swayed. For a moment he just stood and breathed deeply. The air was perfumed with the heavy sent of pine. A light smell of smoke mingled delicately with the thousand other earthy smells that quietly assaulted the senses. David loved this place.

“It’s one heck of a morning Pops.” The boy felt so alive he thought he would burst.

“Sure is. Now get rowing before I take the oars and show you how it’s done. We got fish to catch. Your mom wants something to fry for breakfast. No man wants to disappoint his mom.”

“Sure thing Pops.”

He seated himself on the middle bench and grasped the oar handles in his palms, curling his fingers tightly around the rough wood. As he lifted the oars from inside the boat into the water, they gave a loud groan and a splash; Davie leaned back, pulling his shoulder blades together. Aware of and reveling in the power of the muscles of his broad back, he pulled hard on the oars and the boat picked up speed. He quickly fell into a rhythm—leaning far forward and then pulling back—and the heavy aluminum row boat shot across the lake on the tips of the tiny waves, cutting a clean path. Sweat formed on his brow and he felt the newborn heat of the morning sun on his neck. With every passing minute the light grew more and more intense.

“How about we try the swamps Pops?” He said in between breaths.

“Sounds good Davie.”

Pops was right. Fishing was in the old man’s blood; Davie was only pretending for a few days. Maybe a few months of this kind of life and it’d seep into his bloodstream too, until his veins and arteries themselves whispered the secrets of the wind and the moon and the stars to him. All around the boat fish were breaking the surface in search of their morning meal, gliding out from cool underwater refuges; water-spiders leapt across the glittering surface, their little splashes like raindrops falling all across the lake. A huge dragonfly silently hovered over Davie’s head and inspected the metal craft; satisfied he floated off as silently as he had come.

“I’m a confused man, Davie…” Pops said as the boat glided in towards the bulrushes that grew at the western end of the small lake. A great blue heron took a few nervous steps back and flapped his massive wings, before settling back into his tedious contemplation of the water that swirled about his feet.

A year ago Pops had been forced to see a psychiatrist.

At first he swore he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Davie knew this because he had heard his aunt talking about it. “I ain’t seein no shrink,” he had protested with the stubbornness of the eldest generation who believes that anything invented after they’re born doesn’t apply. “I don’t care how much I’ll get from him. I ain’t seein’ no shrink.”

But he did care how much he got from him. He had to because he had just finished scraping the bottom of his pocket and there wasn’t anything left to scrape; and all his family and his kids were just as poor as he was. So he went. He hated it, or so he told everyone. He told everyone that he hated the probing, personal questions asked him by the kindly faced, bespeckled shrink. Who did he think he was anyway? But the truth was that it was the first time he had talked in years, the first time the important questions had been asked of him in decades. And a man’s gotta talk every now and then. The toughest man in the world needs to talk every now and then, to tell someone what’s on his mind. Apparently Pops had a lot on his mind because he talked, for hours. And the shrink listened—because it was his job, Pops reminded himself; but even so, the shrink was good at his job, and Pops believed he cared about what he talking about. That was all it took; that’s all he needed. So he talked.

“You’ve got war trauma,” said the psychiatrist after the required number of sessions. “You’ve had it ever since the war. There’s no doubt in my mind I can recommend you be put on pension. I’d be glad to do that for you.”

War trauma. Well, that’s what it was then. When the young psychiatrist said it, it sounded right. It felt nice to give it a new name. Before then it had always had a different name: fear.

Anyway, the pension was nice. Though it wasn’t nearly as much as he knew he deserved. He should have been wealthy…after all that he’d been through. He felt that God owed it to him. That’s why he gambled.

“God won’t let me win the lottery,” Pops said, slowly and painfully pulling his arm back, lifting over the release on the reel, and lobbing the bobber and line ten feet from where the bulrushes grew. “but he’ll let me suffer. I just keep on suffering, and I don’t know why, and I get pretty angry about it sometimes.

“Do you know what a V-2 is Davie?”

“Sure Pops. It was the rocket that the Germans used near the end of the war. Could’ve tipped the scales if they’d gotten it sooner.”

“Well, there was one day I was lying there with a few of the guys, and one of the damned things lands right next to me. They were huge Davie. If you could hear them coming you were alright, because it meant the rocket was still firing and it’d fly right by you; but if you couldn’t hear ‘em, you were screwed. One of ‘em landed right next to me in the muck, and it didn’t go off. It could’ve killed fifteen of us right there. It just stuck right there, half buried in the mud.

“All I can think is that God must’ve had a plan for me. Otherwise…I once walked away after ten of my buddies got torn to bits by another rocket, right there in front of my eyes…

“He must’ve had a plan…but instead all I do is suffer, and suffer…and I can’t make any sense of it at all…”

“Pops,” said David quietly, “Pops, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”

The old man was staring with all his might at the red and white bobber; it was ducking up and down wildly as somewhere below the surface a fish nibbled away at the leech. And then it disappeared altogether, as the fish, caught in the frenzy of pain and fear of being caught tried to free himself from the hook that pierced his mouth. But Pops didn’t yank the line as he ought to have, didn’t react at all, didn’t even see, didn’t feel the tension on the rod, didn’t move a muscle. A glittering tear squeezed out from his reddened eyes, and then coursed a twisting path down the wrinkled and leathered face of the old man.

“I’m so confused…” he whispered.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you Pops,” Davie earnestly repeated, scared; scared to see his grandfather cry, and scared to hear an eighty year old man admit confusion, admit failure…admit despair.

And still his grandfather didn’t say anything.

David thought that he understood.

“I’m sorry, Davie” Pops seemed to say. “I’m sorry that you too will spend your life searching for what cannot be found, as I have. I’m sorry that I caused you that pain by pointlessly defying the thousands of bullets and bombs with my name on them. I’m sorry that some great, cosmic accident spared me, while so many others died. So many children were never born, never conceived, because their fathers did not live to love their mothers; those children were the fortunate majority, who never had to wrestle with the as devil I have wrestled for over eighty years, who never had to know the exhaustion, the soulless tiredness that dogs me as I trod towards the inevitable grave that will open its yawning mouth to me before I ever know why.”

David’s impulse was to embrace his grandfather, but did not know how. Instead he swung over the release on rod that had sat limply in his hand, forgotten; it fell into place with a gentle click, and with a gentle swish he carefully cast into the bulrushes.

“I’m sorry Davie,” Pops said as they dragged the boat onto the shore later and unloaded their gear. “I talk too much.”

“No Pops,” said David. “You don’t talk enough.”