Monday, December 27, 2010

Mary Christine Brockert (March 5, 1956 - December 26, 2010)

What a season to go. I've chronicled this diva's voice here many times, my early days ridiculous dismissal (early days) of her, my epiphany at the gas pump on the Austin Highway, hours spent at the old downtown Starbucks hEARmusic kiosks, filling it up with the endless database that was and is the glorious Lady T. What a treasure has left us, and what a treasure she has left behind.

I love all of these, but if I could only take one to the islands, this would probably be the one:


Sunday, December 26, 2010

poem: picture pay no

slithey twins
gaslight variations
ambled the halls in
winsome glory

the anonymity of passion

transfixed by turtle
punctuations, i
came this
to choosing,
in the world wars of
the vision quest
turns all
twiggy on you,
calling out
the names
of all
your last
if you take,
by all means
till the drooping hens
gather your tiny
for all the bands
to see. i
vary the reasons

i missed that call,
the pages turned,
the love & perfection,

concoctions of the netherworlds,

you best leave
that one
in the pandora
she be
tittering little thang
take the rest of you
boogie round
the palace
with missy's tidiest
of tidies,
her gave
at the office,
prime time

major motion picture

pay no attention
to the golden woks
the shaolin footsies
all they
amply riddled,




Saturday, December 25, 2010

poem: plenty was / slices of you

lay down the sensible dinnerware
prime the portals
vagrant day demands

chillier vocals
a dream
in the five-time

of whimsied vagaries

I could ask for
more than fancy
fairy queens,
if the bees
murmur, cane them
seek the past tense

the miniature orbits

bring them &

the feeling's back

that was song for love

simplified access

to sliced milky
down the
the golden wheys
tittering on the dismal

this venture
the yammering
it was all
so isosceles
the triangular days
we feast-festering

lingering in tangents gold

the simple line of a back
in the merry woods

the cut back

to partially civilized
inferences splayed
desire & wonder

you in your &
eye in mine
silvering languor

under pines

beds of plenty

was in the roses

we found the stain

of mirrored days

the wisping names of
who you were then
we are now

why we will



My favorite carol:

Cassandra weighs in with her own Joni:

Something to calm the restless babes:

Merry Christmas, one and all . . .


Friday, December 24, 2010

poem: Pink Ladies

Santa Baby kringles his way—
Not the least bit krissly, we can assure—

Into your nights,

Offering the tenderest of mercies

Best left unsaid:

Avalanche of silent review

Essaying all the tender

Dews of nights before,

Whispering the wicks

Of candles burned

Down leagues of midnights,

Herald of ancient cries,

Infinite laughter as

You wish your way

Into futures of the

Vagabond hearts:

Mapping the appled days,

Charting the gathered

Ways we dance

When the calling wild

Visions plenty. Steal

Away into all the nights

Fore and aft,

Urgent messengers will

Affirm the need

For this to be that,

X to by Y, calends

Of the sun to weigh

In with mighty laughter,

Ubiquitous trickster

Of the irreverently holy—

And wholly irreverent—


v. Bow of the Ox

My skin burning like wildfire, the thought of the sea's brine was torture. All I could think of were the cooling waters at the foot of the carnelian stairway, so I headed south, back into the Rif. The sun was unbearable upon the travesty of my body, so I traveled at night, using the white robe as shade from the pounding sun during the day. The cloth was too oppressive to wear, so I traveled naked once the sun had set.

I felt myself a walking lamentation, wailing at the walls of my own pain and disarray. There was not prayer enough within me for gratitude, all was desolation, all the sweet fields of me burned to black. Lying beneath the white robe in the noonday sun, I felt swaddled for death and well nigh welcoming its embrace. At night, under the sharp blade of a crescent moon, I felt as if I were walking the killing fields of death's harvest.

Climbing into the Rif, I lost myself in a dark canyon I had not seen on our journey north. Ghostly silence surrounded me, a breathing abscess of emptiness. In the deepest, darkest part of the night, feeling my way through the vile labyrinth, I felt a rush of fetid air that knocked me to my knees. So sulfurous was the air, my head reeled from the noxious fumes. Nausea sapped my ability to walk on; wrapping the robe about my head, I lay down in mud that felt oddly comforting to my burning skin. Despite the reeking stench of the air, I rolled around in the mud until sleep finally claimed me.

I woke to a holocaust: a small oxbow lake, a stinking mausoleum: skeletal trees decked with black vultures stood upon the embankment that sloped to a vile green water. Rotting fish and animal corpses were strewn about the scene; my head lay not five feet from the ghost of a calf upon whose entrails a chorus of flies was feasting. As I took in the horror around me, a shadow passed across my body. A naked, one-eyed child stood above me; his eye appeared to have been gouged from its socket, as if he had been assaulted by one of the funereal birds praying in the trees to their demonic lord. In his right hand, the nimble child held a sturdy spear, with a stout though rusted blade. With its flat side, he prodded me to my feet and then indicated that I should follow him.

We walked to a cave dug into the embankment on the opposite side of the oxbow. In the doorway stood a man I first took to be Ra, though he stood crouched over a stout limb from one of the spectral trees. As I walked up to him, he first bowed low to me and then stood and bludgeoned the side of my body with the limb. As I fell, the boy was immediately upon me, with his rusted blade at my throat.

They spoke in no language I had ever heard, clearly disappointed that there was no treasure beneath my robe. With his blade, the boy shredded the white cloth; with disgust, the man threw my sandals into the fetid waters of the lake, shoving me in after them. Though the mud had been a balm to my skin the night before, the water felt corrosive on me now. I came raging out of its fire, only to be tripped by the shaft of the boy's spear. The man was upon me quickly, grabbing my wrists and raising them above my head; he stood on my hands, as the boy raised his spear and plunged it into my right armpit. I lost consciousness to the sound of my own screams for death's embrace.

I'm not sure where or how I traveled, but travel I did. I would have said on the wings of an angel, but I feel sure no angel would have entered the hell in which I lay. Still, somewhere in a memory I have no memory of, I feel sure that I was carried. The stolidity of the body carrying me suggests that it was Ra, but I doubt his capacity for such compassion. This was much more than mere rescue; it was, in its own way, a resurrection, a raising of a man leagues beyond death.

When I finally awoke, truly awoke, I was indeed at the foot of the carnelian stairway. In the slightest of breezes, I was sure I heard the sound of a distant flute playing, but there was no one to be seen. Crawling, for crawling was all I felt capable of doing, I took my battered soul and body and slipped into the healing pool. As before, I drifted off into a sleep beyond sleep.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Shirleys Have It: Fun and Passion

Ms. Bassey:

Party girl:

Diamond girl:

The sublime Ms. Horn:


fiddly ways

lydia and her fashion blisters
down the groovy

passion line

caterwauling up & down

the Palestine

it was growth fed

her gravy trains

ever slipping the downs

the slimgrooves

the orangey filigree

casually is never


it was lodey town

we met

shaped the shimmy

groove, appled our

way downtown

capital planning it

was the undertow

in the mighty mighty

chain reactions

of all the ways

we imagine

summers rising

echoing pleasures found

by the roadside

in the kiln

in every punchline

of the randy

moves. fitting rooms

call the numbers

severing the holy days

from reaping




wariness in the nesty

nestiness, the golden


yemaya holds in her

glorious spray. sing, babies,

sing the dross

the mossy finish

the samsonite

fiddly, it was

every way

the nose knew

the groove was

sculpting, strange attractors

in love with

viability on the slimshadiest

of ladies' dimes.


The Pink Moon

(Departure from the questing travelers. While in Jacksonmississississississippi, niece Hannah reminded me of this story I wrote for her eleven years ago.)

Hannah Hill was a beautiful young girl who lived in the country with her mother, father, two brothers, younger sister, and their wizard dog Tessa. Very few people knew that Tessa was in fact a wizard, but Hannah did. Mainly because Tessa had told her so. Now, Tessa had actually told everyone in the family that she was a wizard, but Hannah Hill was the only one in the Hill Household who spoke Dog. Woof!

Because of her name, it should come as no surprise to you that Hannah and her family lived high on top of a hill that let you see for miles around—all the way to the blue herons on the lake, all the way to the mountains of Tennessee (on a clear day, mind you), and even half way to the planet where the wizard Tessa came from. Or so Tessa said. When Hannah told her mom, Mother Julee was not so sure.

“You know Tessa,” said Mother Julee, rolling her eyes at the thought that a dog of hers could talk. That she came from another planet was something Mother Julee had known all along. Oh, had she known it!

Beside the beautiful country home in which they lived was a forest of lovely tall pine trees that would whisper to Hannah every night as she was going to bed.

“Did you do your homework tonight, Hannah?” Mildred would say, a thin tree who wore tiny glasses. Mildred felt very strongly about education. She needn’t have worried. Hannah ALWAYS did her homework, without anyone even asking!

“Brush your teeth tonight?” That would be Elbert, a very smelly old tree who, oddly enough, looked an awful lot like Hannah’s dentist Mr. BoomBoom. Though Hannah was always very nice to Mr. BoomBoom, she did not really like going to see him. For a dentist, he had very bad breath, not unlike smelly old Elbert. Hannah always made sure she brushed her teeth, the better to stay away from Mr. BoomBoom!

Well, anyway, you get the picture. There were lots of chatty trees whispering in through the window every night, asking Hannah if she had done her chores, put out her clothes, cleaned up after her sister, turned off the TV, fed the goldfish (she didn’t even have goldfish!!), put the top back on her fingernail polishes . . . Sometimes, Hannah wondered if Mother Julee and Father Billy didn’t pay the trees to keep after her about all the chatty little nonsense.

But, it really didn’t matter, because of one very important thing.

Every night, just as the curtains of her eyelids were almost all the way down, Hannah would hear a very magical whisper that she knew was talking to her, but try as she might, she could never quite hear what this magical voice had to say.

Until the night of her 7th birthday. Then, the voice came to her loud and clear.

“What a beautiful pink moon there is out tonight, Hannah Hill!” said the magical voice.

Now, you have to understand one thing about Hannah Hill. She was a very bright girl, and as we know from her talks with the wizard Tessa, she was also a bit of a magician herself. So, she knew a lot of things that other people didn’t know, because she had very special eyes and ears.

BUT: she also knew this: THERE WAS NO SUCH THING AS A PINK MOON. As she very firmly told the silvery voice outside her window.

“There is no such thing as a pink moon,” said Hannah Hill, in a voice she would hear her mother use whenever the wizard Tessa decided it was time to redecorate the kitchen.“I beg your pardon, Hannah Hill,” said the voice outside the window, “but, if you would just take a look –"

“I don’t have to take a look, because there is no such thing as a pink moon.” This time Hannah used the voice her mother used whenever her sister Karen was climbing the shelves inside her closet.

“Well, if you insist,” said the magical voice, a bit sadly. There were no more words after that, just a great many titterings and whisperings and then SUDDENLY A HUGE PINK GLOW LIT UP HANNAH’S ROOM AND BEFORE YOU KNEW IT A GIANT PINK MOON FILLED HER ENTIRE WINDOW!!!

"Oh, my!!” said Hannah Hill. She looked over at Karen’s bed to see if her sister was seeing the same thing, but Karen was just snoring away like always."

"Where did you come from?,” asked Hannah, very politely now, as she could see that the pink moon was smiling and very friendly.

The pink moon glowed and smiled even more at the young girl’s question. “Why, from your dreams, little one,” said the moon in a voice very like the one her mother had used when she sang to her in the dark as a baby.

“But, I’ve been dreaming of you since I was very little,” said Hannah. “Why come to me now?”

“The answer to that is very simple, my dear. Because now you are 7. You know, Hannah, the world is full of magic. You and Tessa know this more than many people. But, sadly, many children your age begin to forget about the magic when they turn 7. I am the fairies’ gift to you because you remember. If ever you find yourself doubting the magic, just look outside your window: I will always be there for you. Now, come, my child and give me a kiss: I must return to the sky for all those other children that know me.”

Hannah felt a very big heart thumping in her chest as she slipped out of bed and walked to the window. Her whole body turned warm and pink in the midnight glow of the moon. As she kissed the moon, she felt her heart grow twice as big and she heard a whole choir of fairies singing in her ear.

The pink moon smiled her beautiful angel smile into the night sky as she began to lift up like the giant balloons on the Fourth of July. Hannah felt a sadness in her heart and tears in the corners of her eyes.

“No need for tears or sadness,” called the pink moon across the sky. “I, like Tessa, will always be with you, my dear. Just look for me, on even the cloudiest of nights.”


Like any person who has had a new and wonderful experience, Hannah Hill woke up the next morning wanting to talk about what she had seen. She felt sure all the others in her family would have seen the pink moon, too. All except snoring Karen, but Hannah was pretty sure Karen would have seen the pink moon at some point in her life.

Mother Julee was in the living room doing a double reversed upside down triangle yoga pose when Hannah walked in to talk. The wizard Tessa was supervising.

“Mom,” said Hannah, “you’ve seen the pink moon at night, right?”

“Ahhh,” said Mother Julee. She felt her wings about ready to take flight. Everything was lining up nicely and she was still standing! “What was that, Hannah?”

“The pink moon, Mom. You’ve seen it at night, right?”

A tiny little frown began to form in the middle of Mother Julee’s forehead. She also began to feel like she was about to – OOPS!!!

Mother Julee was now sitting on the living room floor.

“Hannah Hill, I have 15 more poses to learn before my next yoga class. I can assure you that pink moon pose is not one of them.”

“But, Mom, the pink moon isn’t –“

“Hannah Catherine, another time, dear. You can show me pink moon pose after lunch.” This was said as Mother Julee nimbly put herself into a pineapple upside down cake caterpillar pose.

The wizard Tessa gave Hannah a knowing look.

“Go see your Dad, honey,” said Tessa under her breath. “Your Mom’s just a little busy right now.”

Father Billy was out in the back yard singing to the birds with his new guitar. His face broke into a big smile when he saw his daughter’s approach.”

“Hey, Baby! Wassup!”

Hannah smiled back. It was hard not to when her Dad was strumming his guitar.

“Daddy, do you know the pink moon that shines at night?”

Father Billy stopped his strumming for a moment. He, too, got a few lines in the middle of his forehead – not a frown exactly. He liked to call them his thinking lines. He used them for concentrating.

“Hmmm,” he said. “‘The Pink Moon That Shines At Night.’” He strummed a few times on his guitar and then stopped. This time he had 6 thinking lines in the middle of his forehead. “You know, Hannah, I think I used to know that song, but I seem to have completely forgotten it. Could you hum a few bars?”

“Daddy!!!! It’s not a song, it’s a real—”

“You know, sweet Baby, I’m going to have to go look through all my old sheet music and see if I can find that song. It’s a good one, I remember that.”

And with that, Father Billy walked off to his office, slowly singing the words, “Oh, the pink moon that shines at midnight / always came and gave my sister a terrible fright…”

“Hrrumph,” said Hannah Hill.

The screen door slammed behind her.

“Try Dustin,” said the wizard, licking her hand. A most unwizardly thing to do. Sometimes Tessa forgot and actually thought she was a dog. Like when she redecorated Mother Julee’s kitchen. That was no wizard job. Indeed not.

“Dustin?” said Hannah. “Are you kidding? All he thinks of these days is girls!”

“Exactly,” replied the wizard. “He’s always MOONING around in front of the mirror, right?”

“Good point, wizard!” said Hannah, her smile coming back. With that, she was off to knock on the door of what was known around the house as Dustin’s Dungeon. He liked to keep it dark in there. For the dragon he kept to nibble on nosey little sisters, he said. Little did he know that Hannah and Karen fed his dragon, and had even named her Muriel. Muriel had forgotten to inform Dustin that she was not a he.

To Hannah’s surprise, all the lights were on in Dustin’s room when she knocked and went in. He was in front of his mirror, right up close to it, brushing his hair back and forth across the top of his head.

Oh good, thought Hannah. He’s mooning all over himself again. Now’s my chance!

“Dustin, I was wondering, have you –”

“Well?” said Dustin, stepping back from the mirror.

“Well what?” said Hannah.

"Which do you like?”

“Which WHAT do I like?”

“Which part, Hannah. I’m trying to figure out which way to part my hair for the dance this Friday. So, which do you like best: right or left?”

“Well, to tell you the truth—”

“Yes. Please do.”

“Well, to really tell you the truth, I didn’t come in here to give out fashion tips. But, I’d keep it in the middle, if I were you.”

“I haven’t parted it in the middle since –“

“Since Rebecca,” said Hannah. “I know. And you haven’t had a steady girlfriend since Rebecca either.”

Dustin stared back into the mirror, a little embarrassed. He’d wanted fashion tips, not TRUTH.

Reading her older brother’s mind, as both she and the wizard Tessa were capable of doing, Hannah said, “Sometimes truth is a fashion tip, Dustin.”

Even the wizard Tessa would be shocked by what followed next. Dustin sat down on his bed and roughed up his hair just like he used to in the old daze. The old Rebecca daze, thought Hannah. Using her long sight, she could see another girlfriend just around the corner.

Hannah wasn’t sure just how long the golden glow in her brother's face would last, so she quickly shifted back to the topic at hand.

“Dustin,” she said, “have you ever seen the pink moon—”

Brother Dustin’s face broke into a big bright sun. “Pink Moon! Oh, they are THE COOLEST BAND!!! Meredith’s got all their videos on tape! I think my favorite – wait, Hannah, where are you going???”

Hannah gently closed her brother’s bedroom door and sat down in the cool dark hallway. Tessa was already there waiting.

“I don’t think I want to hear it, Tessa,” said Hannah, somewhat sadly, and just a little angry, too.

Tessa just stared into her fellow wizard’s face.

“Don’t lick me, Tessa. When you stare like that, you usually forget you’re not a dog.”

Tessa pulled her tongue back into her mouth and kept staring.

“Brandon, right? Go ask Brandon. Is that your wizardly advice? Oh, for heaven’s sake, Tessa, stop wagging your tail. You look just like a dog. It isn’t dignified.”

Hannah wasn’t happy with what she was about to do, but she couldn’t come up with a better idea, so she went to talk to Brandon’s ankles. If you wanted to talk to Brandon, you had to talk to his ankles, because the rest of him was always up under one of the family cars.

In her more amused moments, Hannah always painted little smiley faces on each of her brother’s ankles when she talked to him. Needless to say, she did not feel like painting today.

“Is that you, Mom?” said Brandon from under the car. He liked to think he could always tell who someone was just by the sound of their footsteps. In four years of car repair, he’d not guessed right yet.

“No,” said Hannah.

“Dustin?” You’d think the voice would give it away. In Brandon’s case, it didn’t.


“Do I sound like Billy?” said Hannah, not the least bit amused now.

“Oh, Tessa! What can I do for you?”

Hannah very calmly kneeled down and tied her brother’s two shoes together and then left.

“Tessa? Tessa?”

“Don’t follow me,” said Hannah to Tessa as she started to do so.

It was three hours later when Karen found her big sister sitting way up on the topmost part of their hill, so high a cloud was covering up part of her body.

Karen shooed the cloud away and sat down next to Hannah.

“They don’t know any better,” said Karen to Hannah’s wet face. She wasn’t sure the wetness was from tears or the cloud she just sent away.

“And I suppose you do,” said Hannah in a very snippy voice. She was not exactly happy to be entertaining guests on top of the hill. Poor thing. She’d had a rough day. She didn’t think her little sister could make it any better.

"What are you getting your feathers all ruffled for, Sis? She told you very few people still see her.”

“She? She who? Tessa? Tessa said no such—”

“Tessa?” said Karen. “That foolish thing? Oh my dear, no. No, no, no, no, no. Not Tessa. The moon, Hannah.”

As we’ve already said, Hannah Hill had had a very rough day. She just stared at her little sister. She wasn’t going to say it for her.

Karen smiled her big smile. “The pink moon, Hannah.”

Hannah just kept staring. It could, after all, just be another trick of the wizard Tessa’s. Give baby sister a quarter –

“Believe me, Hannah, it’d cost that foolish dog a lot more than a quarter to get me to play a trick for her,” said Karen. Apparently Hannah was not the only Hill who could read people’s minds.

Karen continued. “That’s right, Hannah. The pink moon. The one that’s been following you around ever since last night. The one that’s right behind your head right now.”

Hannah Hill whirled around and nearly bumped noses with the glowing moon.

“You mean? But, how come? If you were right there in the room with me, how come they couldn’t—”

The pink moon smiled most lovingly upon her young friend. “I know, Hannah. It is sad. But, that’s why Karen sent me to you.”

“Karen? Sent? You to me?” Hannah Hill was clearly flustered. She looked at her sister. “Since when have you—”

The pink moon stepped in for Karen. “Dear Hannah,” she said, “your sister has seen us ever since she was born.”

“Us?” said Hannah.

“Why, all of us. There are hundreds of moons, all different colors. As a present to you, Karen wanted to start you out with pink because she knew it was your favorite color. But, if you want to, you’re welcome to see us all.”

With that, Karen began spinning round and round like a top. Out of her spinning hands flew hundreds of moons filling the entire afternoon sky.

Hannah’s heart filled with joy. But, she was just a little bit sad, too. “If I can see you, why can’t—”

“All in good time, my dear,” said the pink moon as she began to rise up into the sky with all her sister moons. “That’s why Karen needed a sister’s help. She’ll tell you the rest of the plan. Bye now.”

Hannah looked over at her sister, all crazysilly from spinning. Her face was bright and shiny and her eyes were filled with stars. Little did Hannah know that hers were, too.

“So, what’s next?” said Hannah.

There were shooting stars in Karen’s eyes now. She snapped her fingers and two magic wands appeared. “One for me and one for you,” she said. “Now, listen. This is what we do . . .”

And with that, the two little wizards went off into the REST of the story.

Well, almost the rest: Tessa wanted to know where her magic wand was.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

iv. Black Stones

I looked back over at Ra thrashing in the foam, and then turned back to the woman.

"Thank you," I said.

She pierced me with her black eyes. "Your brother is not the problem," she said.

"He's not my -"

"You are."


"You and all you have driven away. Your brother is just one." Raising the bowl of black stones, she added, "These are all the rest." Before I could respond, she stood and walked away, heading east into the morning sun; I quickly followed. A few hundred yards up the beach, I saw Fas pitching a blue tent in the breeze. I had no idea where he had got it; it was too large for the ragged bag he'd been carrying all these days.

The woman bowed to Fas when we reached the tent, after which he knelt and kissed her feet. There was a deep familiarity in the looks they exchanged with each other. She glanced at me and nodded to Fas, and then sat down in front of the tent, facing the sea. Fas gently took me by the arm and guided me to the green water. At the water's edge, he stripped down to his underclothes and bid me do the same. There was none of the forcefulness of Ra or the woman in his look, but I felt incapable of contradicting him. The strength of his compassion with me during our journey contravened any timidity I felt about the woman's presence.

Stripped, we walked out into the cold waters, far enough to let them tumble us. As the sea picked us up again and again, I caught glimpses of Ra farther to the west, still tumbling himself. Tumbling under, the sun's light shattered into diamonds, I felt a buzzing in my head, as if I were vibrating to a larger pulse.

After fifteen minutes or so, Fas walked out of the water to his clothes, ran his hands through his hair and beard to smooth the water out. Leaving his clothes at the water's edge, I followed suit. The water seemed to have tumbled all timidity out of me about the woman.

Still seated in the sand, she nodded to Fas again as he walked up. He opened the flap to the tent and bade me enter. The inside of the tent was the size of a small room, carpeted with a thin yellow rug upon which lay a single orange pillow, barely large enough for one's head. He did not have to ask me to lie down. My body seemed to know what was called for before my mind intervened. I felt as if I were lying down in a field the color of sunflowers, looking up into the blue sky of the tent. Fas nodded to me and left. A moment later, the woman entered the tent; she'd stripped down to a simple white tunic. She knelt at my side with the black bowl of stones. Quietly and carefully, she took each stone in the bowl and gently placed them all over my body. At first they felt as cool as river stones, but as she neared the end of them, they began to burn against my skin.

After placing the stones, she placed one hand on my belly and the other on my forehead. She intoned a sound that seemed to join up with the buzzing in my head. I closed my eyes and felt myself in the center of a giant hive.

Minutes passed and then all was silent, even the sound in my head. It seemed the entire world slept, both in and outside the tent. No sound of wind; remarkably, no sound of water, either. Such was the woman's power, I wondered if we were even near the sea at all anymore.

She lifted her hand from my forehead and slowly passed it, inches above my skin, down to the hand at my belly. Once there, she passed the other hand slowly down to my feet; at that point, she shifted around, knelt at my feet, and placed the palms of her hands against the soles of my feet. I felt warm fire flowing through her hands and up my body to the back of my head.

"They are all the dreams you have abandoned, all the children you have left in the street."

The stones. All of the stones.

I felt a wave of sadness wash through me.

She passed a long exhalation through her lips. I felt her breath on the tops of my feet.

"Ra is not your devil. You are."

I was pinioned by her voice, just as Ra had been by her strong grasp.

We continued on in silence for what seemed hours; I have no idea if indeed it was. At one point, I must have fallen asleep. When I awoke, everything was gone - the woman, the stones, tent and carpet, Fas, even Ra, for all I could tell. At my side, neatly folded, was a white robe and a pair of light sandals.

Where the stones had laid, my body was covered in boils.


Monday, December 13, 2010

iii. The Hinder Sea

They said they they pulled me from the water when I began to sink. I'd been out for three days, more dead than alive. I woke to a brilliant blue out the sky hole of the canyon. Ra was succinct in his compassion: "No way we were carrying your dead weight out. We were a day short from leaving you to the jackals."

Silently, I questioned that
we, glancing over towards Fas.

"I wouldn't count on it, if I were you," said Ra, reading my thoughts.

Another day of rest and we walked back up the carnelian stairway. I was all for heading back south, but in my lingering weakness, I was in no position to complain as Ra pushed us on north. He had a need for the sea that I had entirely lost. I couldn't say what it I was I needed to the south, but something was pulling me back into the sands.

"You'll burn forever yet," said Ra. "You won't need the practice. Plenty to go around."

I'd lost even the will to hate him. I felt myself gathering him in, as I did the children that topped every rise in my mind's eye. They pulled at my legs, climbed up my back. I staggered under their weight, their importuning. It was a hollow gathering, as if trying to fill the emptiness in my chest. I was sure my heart had dropped like a stone into the pool. Vampire-like, I gathered blood to me, devouring it in my haste to remain - at least on the face of it - human.

Fas was having nothing of it. "We go back. Something you have left down the stairs. I will dive in the water for you."

To my surprise, I felt a desire to kick him. Ra's gleaming smile told me he felt the shifting wind. He relished the impurity of it all, the conquering beast.

The sea was within sight when we saw the woman.

She appeared first as a blue mirage, shimmering in the sea wind. Closing in, her blue robe flapped briskly in the winds, flag to my dying hopes. I had thought not to see such color again. In Chaouen, in my youth, I had walked its streets, dazed by the blue
hammams, an entire city radiant in its azure call to my heart, Miriam's blue. I had walked Chaouen's blue arched tunnels, feeling as if I were walking not just the city's veins, but mine as well. I felt Miriam rising in my heart. As with the gathering children, I wondered where that youth had strayed, with his gloom, yes, but it was a gloom borne of what had not been there: there was no malice in the boy's sinking heart, and innocence enough still to weep as he walked his first tunnel, hands caressing the blue walls , right and left. Whether right to accord her this or not, the woman in the distance seemed to embody the Chaouen still dormant within me. My rising pulse reassured me that nothing had been left at the bottom of the stairway pool.

My vile twin tuned to my thoughts: "The woman is trash. But, as you are, too, may you both be happy in your eternal doom. Death has many racks upon which to count."

I found myself running to her, Ra's derisive laughter in the wind behind me. Once, I looked back for Fas, nowhere to be seen.

As I closed in on her for the last hundred yards, I felt sure that I knew her, a madness gripping me as I reached for her shoulder from behind. My hands felt as if I were gripping stone. There was such weight in her, she was impossible to turn.

I knelt before her, as she was seated in the sand. Eyes closed, her face completely uncovered. A straight-lined scar ran diagonally across her brown face, from brow to eyelid and on down across the bridge of her proud nose and her left cheek. So old a scar it now seemed an ornament, the story of the blade that carved it long lost. Or so I hoped.

So still was she that I feverishly wondered if she might be in Ra's clutches already, but then I saw the slightest movement of her nostrils breathing in and slowly breathing out. She paid me no mind whatsoever, deep within her meditations, he face tilted slightly. Bare feet, a small black bowl in the sand before her. Filled with small black stones.

I turned and faced the water. Minutes passed before Ra's stench filled the air behind me. I turned back as he reached for the black bowl. Viper-like, a brown hand shot out and pinioned his thick wrist; she pulled him flat to the ground between us.

"Sister," said Ra, behind his gleaming teeth.

Not a word in reply. Eyes still closed, she did not let go of his wrist.

I tried to seize the hand that raised his scythe-like blade, but filled with fear of the man still, I was too slow. She was not. Black eyes opened as if greeting the dawn - so calmly - as her other hand reached out and seized the blade from his. She tossed the weapon into the sands to her right.

"I beseech you, Sister." Was that fear in his throat?

She stood, seized him by his greasy, matted hair and pulled him to the water. Flung him into its waves.

I looked for her smile, but there was none. She sat back down in front of me, lifted her bowl of stones, and said, "I am mother to them all."


Sunday, December 12, 2010

ii. The Tazan Pass

There was screaming in the valley, as we entered the Tazan Pass.

Fas paid it no mind whatsoever, while Ra the Diamond Man positively reveled in it. I heard it as a baby whimpering into the long dark night.

"Release the past," whispered Fas, as I slept fitfully through the waking nightmare. I had no idea what he meant, took no comfort in his words, felt my skin crawling with the flames of a thousand fires.

"It's in the burning," he said. "The truth will cool you."

Ra kicked he side of his head, sent him reeling.

"I wouldn't," he said to me, as I reached for my knife. He placed his own scythe-like blade at my throat.

"Calm yourself," he said. His smile gleamed in the firelight. "You've only just begun."

I weathered that night and three others, wending our way through the pass: grottoes of stone filled our days, turning sentinel in the night. Our fires lit the caverns, as my shame grew to fill the empty spaces about me. I took the hand of the whimpering child, gathered him to my bosom. I could feel his head nestled against my heart. His tiny hand burrowed inside my chest, seemed to gather the strings of my heart. I had not known such yearning since . . . I could not remember when. A plaintive yearning. I shed tears lodged deep within the cataclysm of my dying youth.

Ra kicked at the child, and I had not thought I had such rage within me, as I grabbed and beat him within inches of what was left of his life. All the while, his smile gleamed in the night's fire, his eyes with a sense of recognition in them. I saw something like forgiveness in those black pools, compassion, a sense of
I will take this for you. I could not look at him the next morning.

"You needn't worry," he said. "I sent him on his way."

I looked over at Fas, kneeling in morning prayer.

"Not the pest," said Ra. "The child."

It took a moment for me to realize the dreamchild was gone. One of the strings of my heart felt torn, a throbbing in my chest.

"I cut him loose," said Ra. There seemed no pleasure in his demeanor. "Better he than you."

I had no idea how to respond. I had not questioned the child's appearance in the night, but simply gathered him in. His disappearance seemed as one with his straining against my chest in the dark.

"He's not the last," said Ra. "Prepare yourself."

I did not take comfort from the statement. Perhaps anticipating my feelings, he handed me my staff, and shouldered my pack - pushed my hand away as I reached for it.

"Skunk," he said, kicking dust in the face of kneeling Fas, "we leave now."

He took us down a winding stairway of carnelian stone. The rocks were slick; both Fas and I slipped and stumbled our ways to the bottom, while Ra nimbly made his descent. At the bottom of the stairs was a clear pool of water. Fully clothed, my pack still on his back, he jumped into the water and sank deep before rising calmly out of its depths.

"Strip," he said to me, as I walked up to the water's edge. He lifted himself out of the pool, set my pack down beside him.

He could see that I had no intention of following his command. He looked over his shoulder and with a withering look forbade Fas to approach any closer. Looking back at me, he said - again, not without an echo of compassion - "You will burn as long as you resist."

Until that moment, I had felt nothing, but with his pronouncement, I felt fire raging, licking the sides of my body, burning deep in the pit of me.

"That is not me," he whispered, an unaccountable gentleness in his voice. "That is what is left of you. Take it in."

My mind had no idea what he meant, but I felt my body instinctively breathe the fire in. I felt myself melting into a deeper core, a molten core. I had not known such a place existed within me.

"Do not rest. Your days are numbered. Gather them as pearls."

I balked at such advice. Ra looked back over his shoulder and motioned for Fas to join us. "Take the fool's clothes off his back. The child must live."

Fas gently reached for me, but I stood and pulled away. The fire was raging across my body, burning away the last of my resistance. I took off my clothes and slipped into the coolness of the water.

"Lie on your back," said Ra. As the fire began to pass, I did as I was told.

He took a vial from within his own pack, poured a blue liquid into the water. I felt dreams begin to flash as the blue mixed with the water. Shadows filled my eyes. The child sat at the water's edge. I reached for him, but Ra's foot intervened.

"He is mine."

I felt something within me ripped and taken up. I floated away into darkness.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

i. Taza

(Lodged in the fading paragraphs of one of my seventh graders' stories was the first line of this story. We all liked it so much, we used it as a prompt for a whole series of stories, most of us incorporating it as our first line. A few, wonderfully, used it as their first and last lines. I didn't get a chance to play with it in class, but here's my take. Just a beginning; it ain't done.)

Heroically, they wandered off into the desert, wary of the unseen dangers of the terrain.

There were three of us. The man with the diamond eye, the beggar, and me. At times I felt them close by, at times I felt them as part of me; other times I felt the raging pain in my head as distance beyond compare.

We cared for each other: tended morning fires, listened for wind, caressed memories from depths long thought dead.

In this desert, to our surprise, there was no dead. The tangle was all ours, striated within our granite skulls.

I left to tend the wind. There were none who would find me. Those I left entirely. The ghosts of machines gone bad. Wisdom is disarray, my heart was challenged to return and exhume the rest.

The beggar lay face down in the sands. A crooked soul, ghastly beyond reason, positively radiant in his desolation. He offered the bread in his hand, as if I were the vagrant soul in our midst.

“What is food to me?” he said.

I had no answer.

Without invitation, he picked up his load and followed me. First at a distance, then the stench of him walked boldly beside me. He seemed oblivious to his hideousness.

In this, he was a thing—a man—of beauty.

The diamond was just that. The first time I met the other, he pulled it from his socket and handed it right to me. Bid me take it, keep it, even, though there was not the heart in me to keep another man’s treasure.

“More’s the pity,” he said. “What do I need of it?”

“And what need I?” I replied.

“It isn’t obvious to you?”

I felt a crawling in my gut, thinking,
Please don’t tell me

He showed me, instead. Early morning, leagues outside Taza, the Rif staggering in the morning light, I thought myself in the presence of All That is Holy. He laughed and stomped off into the dunes, kicked the beggar out of his meditations and ablutions. His was a cruelty not spared on either of us. He was not without compassion, but he seemed bent on passionate ridicule. I felt sure Life would harm him soon, if not either of us.

My mendicant was far more patient than I; in truth, it was only I raging: Fas—for that was his name—took his abuse in stride, as if the Diamond Man’s blows landed on an entirely different body, if any body at all.

I woke another morning with him seated on my chest. He stank of days without bathing, though we had in fact bathed just the day before.

“You dream of nothing,” he said. Spat the words out.

“I have not dreamt for years. They do not hold.”

“The sweet earth is wasted on you.”

“For this you sit on me, to stink into my morning light?”

"I sit on you, because you are rubbish.”

Days of this, ritual desecration. I was reduced to ashes, as daily he piled the brands upon me, burning through to my mind’s crust. In time, I could not lift myself beyond despair. This is when he laughed loudest, crushing in his derision.

“There is . . . no . . . beauty in you.”

“Why do you stay?”

“Foolish man.”


“I am your Angel of Death.”