Downwind Thinking himself quite tall and claiming the high ground, he loomed over them all from atop a dung mound. “You’re beneath me,” he said, “and you always will be.” Bible in hand, he read from Deuteronomy. “So circumcise your heart,” he said, “and be not...stiff...” then choked on the next part, getting too big a whiff of the shit neath his shoes, as did his would-be flock who left, as so behooves those sickened by shit talk. “Wait!” he cried, but then coughed at the odor blowing with the wind, now aloft, and the heat now glowing amidst the Summer sky beaming with its full fire, bringing tears to each eye and worse than any mire. “By God!,” the man exclaimed, “and by Moses and Christ, and all who yet be named, this is a true shite-geist!” He wavered a moment, feeling faint at the smell, but rallied as he went though the smell did but swell. “Yet, I shall reprimand this age of foulest souls and purge this goodly land until the church bell tolls to declare all so pure as a Godly town might...” He gagged as the manure stank in the hot sunlight. Rallying once again from atop his dais, he preached against all sin, saying, “Lord God, stay us from temptation, from lust, from envy and from wrath, show us works we will trust and show us the right path.” Then pointing at a boy passing by with a book, he vowed then to destroy all sinners with a look should they read any tome that was not the Bible, but the boy went on home and cared not of “high bull”. A girl then passed in grace with ribbons fine and fair and the preacher’s green face burned bright red with a glare. “Vanity is thy name! Forsake earthly treasures or it will be thy shame in Heaven, these pleasures!” The girl pinched her nose and gave him a wide berth, fearing to ruin clothes more than her soul on earth. The preacher loathed the cloth of her pink dress as well, saying “Beware the moth that nibbles souls in Hell!” The girl did not glance back, but hastened to the downs, keen to practice her knack for sewing pretty gowns. And many a more soul did the preacher condemn, the world together, whole— leaf and bloom, root and stem. “Foul! Foul! So foul indeed! This world stretched beneath me! An iniquitous seed felled from the Fruitful Tree!” He stomped deep in the mound as if ‘twas what he scorned, kicking filth all around like a bullshitter, horned. “As a Joshua tree will my belief so grow from this filth beneath me and the faith that I show!” All day he preached thereon till sun slept and moon fell, and though he bathed till dawn he could not shake the smell. “The iniquities last, ever without reprieve as shadows from the past cast by Adam and Eve.” He thought it a trial from which others might learn, yet his wife thought it vile— a circumstance to spurn. “If you are so holy,” she said, “be a saint no more roly-poly. Wash away your foul taint!” “Tis the taint of the world!” he said, “and follows thus!” She screamed at him, then hurled a pan, raising a fuss. “Out! Out!” she cried, “Out, swine! I cannot endure you! Were I not wedded thine I would marry anew!” The preacher fled thither, backside aching from blows, and felt his heart wither, as did his crinkling nose. “The stench persists,” he said, walking the country lane, knowing not where to head while stench brimmed in his brain. “Now I am an exile from out my own good home, prey to some devil’s wile and forever to roam!” Angrier than before, the preacher returned now to the high mound once more with a complacent brow. “Still do your sins smell!” he proclaimed, hands aloft. “And will thus unto Hell when sulphur and fire waft! Raise your heads up to me, and know the higher ground, for I stand above thee, a sermon on the mound!” For the rest of his days the mad preacher lectured, decrying the world’s ways while retching on each word.
He came from another flock,
from another farm,
during the famine times.
“I will teach you how to survive
when the the soil
and the Shepherd
have abandoned you.”
His fleece was much the same as ours,
except shamelessly splashed
with streaks of crimson.
“Bring unto me your littlest lamb
and I will show you the way.”
I thought the horror would be to see
wolf fangs when he parted his lips,
but his teeth were the same as ours
and, with some effort,
he tore open the lamb’s throat
to lap blood with a quivering tongue.
We knew not what to say
to protest the hunger in our bellies.
His teeth were the same teeth as ours
when grazing upon the barren hillsides,
now repurposed with a terrible
to meet a terrible need,
as were ours
were the same as ours.
There was a Priest who lived in a town— a town very much like any in Colonial America. His favorite refrain was “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, and so he often exhorted his flock to bathe at least once every three days for healthiness of body and soul. These ablutions were not so well-received by the townsfolk. They resented taking baths, and they resented the Priest’s ideals concerning cleanliness, and often laughed about their pigs wistfully and how they wallowed so happily in their own filth.
One day a pig farmer asked the priest a question.
“If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then you, being a priest, should be able to clean a pig and keep it clean, shouldn’t you?”
The Priest took the challenge to heart and, so, proclaimed he would clean a pig of his own and keep it clean in the pews of the church henceforth. The farmer was so pleased by this bit of mirth-and-merry that he volunteered his own hog to the Priest; a hog whom he had named Donald.
Donald was a large, fat hog with quivering jowls and quick bowels. It was said the farmer had never planned to butcher Donald because his meat would have been too befouled to eat. Donald also made the farmer— and his neighbors—laugh due to his devil-may-care antics of befouling himself and wallowing in it and shaking it about himself in every direction. Seeing the hog, the Priest was dismayed. But he was not deterred. He took charge of the hog and brought Donald home, immediately setting about cleaning the beast with rituals of ablution. Everyday the Priest undertook this Herculean labor, and every day Donald would be clean for a brief time during Mass. Not long later, however, Donald would be covered in his own filth, and so, too, the church pews. Conversely, the Priest spent so much time and effort trying to clean the pig that he, himself, became soiled and sullied as well. Day to day, his holy garbs were ruined by the hog’s disgusting habits, predilections, and impulses.
In time, the townsfolk began to scorn the Priest and his dirty condition. They stopped listening to the Priest while in church, and forewent their own ablutions. Simultaneously, they looked upon Donald fondly and praised him, adulating his cleanliness, even as he spoiled the pews between which he passed, the Priest following behind him to clean away the filth in Donald’s wake.
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” they said, remembering the Priest’s refrain. And so they shunned the befouled priest and made Donald the new leader in their church. The Priest despaired at this, and became angry.
“Have you no sense?” he said. “It was by my labors that your pagan idol became as though clean!”
His former flock ignored him, sitting in the pews and listening raptly to Donald’s grunts and oinks and squeals. The Priest raged, vowing never to clean Donald again. Within the same service of Mass the hog had befouled himself, flies swarming him in the hot Summer air while he wallowed upon the dais and squealed. The townsfolk looked on approvingly, yet the Priest attempted to triumph in this revelation before them.
“See you now the iniquity of this squalid beast?!” he cried. “See you now how sullied you yourselves are made with false worship of a glutton and putrid profligate? A creature of basest instincts and inane proclamations?”
The flock was sprayed with filth from Donald as he rolled in his own expulsions, and yet the flock was not so filthy as their new idol.
“But he is a pig,” they said. “Of course he is filthy. And that is why we love him. For he is what he is, and makes us feel better about ourselves. And he makes you angry when all you do is make us feel wanting. You only chastised us to improve ourselves. But we do not need to improve ourselves with Donald leading us. We are cleaner when beneath him than we were when beneath you, for if Donald is closer to God when he is so filthy, why, we must be very close to God right now. Closer than we ever could be with you talking down to us.”
“But it is a god of filth that you aspire to,” the Priest said. “It is a god of baseness to whom you lower yourselves in prostration!”
The flock tried to say more, but Donald’s filth rained downed upon them in a great shower. They praised him as one voice, then cast the Priest out of the town, exiling him to the wilderness as if he was an unclean leper among them.
The American townsfolk lived as pigs, shamelessly, to the end of their days.
The townsfolk worried when the river would crest,
knowing it would flood their precious farmlands
and ruin crops before the Summer harvest,
all so fearful it was out of their hands—
that is, all except Donnie, the local fool
who lived in a white house all fading fast
and didn’t know how to discern a plain mule
from a jackass, or from a looking glass.
Anyhow, Donnie had it in his dense head
that he would save the town from the great flood.
“Give me all your buckets,” Donnie loudly said,
“and I will reduce that river to mud.”
Townsfolk thought this a hell of a hoot, all right,
and so they gave him every bucket,
and so Donnie took them to pail, day and night,
at the river, walking far to chuck it
away from the river, out toward the swamp,
where he fancied he made a difference,
even as the locals would laugh and would stomp
to see him so taken with such nonsense.
By and by, the river crested and then ebbed
as the floodwaters flowed farther on South
to the tributaries, watersheds, all webbed
until the river ran dry at the mouth.
The townsfolk were amazed to see such a thing
and praised Donnie for his supposed feat.
“If you are so grateful,” he said, “make me king!”
The townsfolk all knelt down to kiss his feet.
Thereafter Donnie saw to the floodwaters
whenever the rains fell in a torrent,
and he had much to eat, and many daughters
from the townsfolk, though it was abhorrent.
Each year the river rose, Donnie would bear it
with buckets, scooping it by the liters
as proof of his practice and pledge and merit
as the river rose, or fell, by meters.
But then came a year with such heavy rains
that they feared a forty-day flood was nigh
while the river swelled and broke over the plains,
the current swift, the whitewater crest high.
“Donnie! King! Save us!” they all cried out in woe.
Donnie scoffed at the river, wide and vast.
“I’ll right it,” he said, his orange cheeks aglow.
“You just wait and you’ll see! I’ll fix it fast!”
And so he took up his bucket, and his crown,
and he went to the rabid riverside
where he dipped his big, greedy buckets down
into that roaring, racing river tide.
For days he bailed at the river, growing tired,
yet the river only swelled larger still,
the farmlands and the town becoming but mired
in the bloat of that Leviathan swill.
“You are a fraud!” the townsfolk said to their king,
but he never lost faith, too much the fool
to ever doubt himself in any one thing
as he sought to solidify his rule.
And so Donnie worked at his usual pace,
which is to say, slow…lazy…no swifter
than the Hare when sleeping in the fabled race
against the tortoise, that steady drifter.
But the river was both the tortoise and hare,
for it ran swift while staying in its bed,
or else moved steadily outward, here and there;
whichever way its swelling excess led.
And Donnie waded out in the deep, thinking
he needed to get to the river’s heart
to pail out the most, although he was sinking
to his neck—yet still thinking himself smart.
“You won’t ever beat me, river,” Donnie yelled,
choking on whitewater as it tumbled
like the frothy fury of millions that swelled
until Donnie tripped and gagged and fumbled.
And, at a blink, Donnie was swallowed from sight
beneath the currents he thought he mastered—
his crown and buckets were found the next night:
the river will always have the last word.
The banker tired of the noisy geese in his lake, so he ordered his groundskeeper to scatter poisoned bread bits among the shoals. He then waited inside his mansion, occasionally glancing at his silver pocketwatch and enjoying his weekend leisure time. The next day the geese were all dead, their bodies floating lifeless upon the water. Satisfied, he strolled around the lake, breathing in the fresh Alpine air as it rebuffed the stench of the dead geese. Suddenly, another flock of geese came swooping down and settled upon the lake, ignoring the limp bodies as they relaxed upon the water. Seeing this, the banker laughed, shrugged, and fingered his silver pocketwatch. The glass face of the watch shimmered like the face of the lake. The watch was of German make, dated to 1939. A Star of David was inscribed on the inside of the cover. The Swiss banker was not Jewish. He turned to his groundskeeper and gestured toward the living geese floating undisturbed among the dead ones.
“How alike we are,” he said. “They never overlook an opportunity.”
He was a dragonslayer, born and bred
to hunt and kill those hot-blooded lizards
with spear and shield and a plume upon his head,
and without the aid of ballistas or armies or wizards.
His kingdom flew proud banners at high mast
with vibrant colors arrayed in blue, red, and white
and held a celebration for him to thereby cast
him forth from the castle with love and delight.
Yet, the only person who set forth with him
upon the long journey into faraway foreign lands
was his squire, Verus, for whom the apparent whim
was a means of funding life’s necessary demands.
Rumor told that there was a new dragon, very strong
and more snake in make than the previous drakes,
its eye shrewd, its fangs sharp and its coils long
so that its constant burrowing caused great earthquakes.
Where the dragon flew, acid rain fell in its wake
as it snorted coal-black smoke and ashen death
to poison every creek, river, and freshwater lake
that it touched with its sooty shadow and putrid breath.
This new dragon was, in fact, quite old
and had bided its time with patient care,
taking land and tribute, but not being too overbold:
remaining quiet as its coils expanded in its lair.
The knight knew he needed to slay it soon
ere it became too big in its massive size,
but there were things to curtail the dragon’s fortune—
natural impediments to its scaly enterprise.
To the Southwest lay a mountain range, tall and wide,
and just on the other side many foes did roam:
large Bengal tigers who hatefully eyed
the dragon as it grew close to their beloved home.
To the North spread a bleak reach of ice and snow
where there slept a bear, brooding in his cold war cave,
and to the East a sea of hostile depths, its uneasy flow
rife with sea serpents that vowed to protect their enclave.
As for the knight, he knew the perilous path
and ventured forth boldly, fancying the quest
a fairytale story, full of valor and courage and wrath,
never doubting that he was the best of the best.
He glanced upon the terrain where the dragon dwelled
and bethought himself more than ready for the fight,
even as his squire told him to wait, lest he be felled
by overconfidence and the want of keener insight.
But the knight was bold, impatient, in want of war,
riding into the rice paddies with his spear raised high
and charging at the dragon with the intent to gore
the serpent as it slept beneath its smoggy sky.
Imagine the knight’s surprise when his brand new spear
suddenly snapped like the thin twig of an elm tree
as it struck the giant dragon’s hide from the rear
and bent and broke into pieces of two and then three.
Astounded, the knight could only blink in dismay
as the dragon began its terrible counterattack.
The knight was thrown from his horse, falling to lay
sprawled out, spreadeagled, on his aching back.
His armor fell apart with each undercutting slash
and so the desperate knight called out to his squire
as his breastplate melted in a blinding white flash
from the serpent’s breath of industrial fire.
“Wherefore mine armor thus fail?”
he demanded, retreating from the beast,
fleeing as if followed by the flames of Hell
and fearing to be the main course in a feast.
“It was cheaply made by the dragon himself,”
the squire said. “And so is cheap attire, to tell truth.”
The knight exclaimed, “T’were better some witless elf
made it in mirth and mischief! Forsooth! Forsooth!”
After having retreated to a distance, the knight
stripped down to his cloth, then cast aside his spear,
and looked about for a way whereby he might
win the day, and not submit to despair and fear.
The squire, being a curious boy, climbed a nearby rock
and watched the dragon as it coiled inside its cave.
He said to the knight, “I think you should try to talk!”
to which the knight replied, “You are a silly knave!”
But then the dragon gestured toward the knight
as if he did, in fact, wish to speak of treaty terms,
and the knight, having already lost the good fight,
thought it prudent to speak with this king among wyrms.
So the knight followed the dragon inside his den,
finding, to his surprise, golden coins of all types,
including a lot of gold coin from his own kin
and his own house, inlaid with stars and stripes.
“You make such cheap things, dragon,” the knight said,
“and I do not believe any of us should pay more.”
He then crossed his arms and ruefully shook his head,
to which the dragon replied, “You get what you pay for.”
The knight blinked at this, then suddenly laughed out loud,
and so, too, did the dragon, each one eyeing the other
with an uneasy sneer as they laughed, too proud
to admit aloud that they truly needed one another.
“But what of my people?” the knight said at last,
thinking of his kingdom and what they might think.
“If I do not kill you I will be exiled, an outcast!”
The dragon told him he could kill him, with a wink.
The knight, thereafter, returned home to his people
with a cheap, fabricated dragon’s skull
which he paraded through town, and beneath the steeple,
before putting it in his house’s bank, now not half so full.
As for Verus, the squire, he stayed with the dragon
to learn what he could from that poisonous beast,
and learn much he did, though he was not one to brag on
how much he knew, for that was not wise in the least.
The dragon, himself, grew larger, spreading to the savanna
where lions and elephants pledged that they, too would be loyal
and to give him tributes of labor and land and mana,
much as the knight did, gripped in each tightening coil.