“Things Happen For A Reason”

A young Australian girl reclines,
her legs dangling from the dock,
tacklebox, fishing poles, lines;
blind to the saltwater croc.
Her Sunday dress is pure white
like flowers before the Fall,
her hair modest and braids tight;
no ribbons or bows at all.
The girl hums a hymnal song,
lines drifting—not a quiver
to hint that something is wrong
within the silent river.
She hums a song about love
and the paradise that waits
after death, in realms “above”
such as the old Bible states.
She remembers her preacher
and a sermon last season
that was premised to teach her
“Things happen for a reason.”
He said, “Egypt’s children died
as proof of God’s great power.
Pharaoh Ramses could not hide
his child from that fateful hour.”
When she asked him how she might
avoid incurring God’s wrath,
he said, “Keep yourself pure white,
and stay on the righteous path.”
The croc springs up from beneath
like a devil from below;
she struggles, but the sharp teeth
clutch tight and do not let go.
She screams out to her father,
her mother, Jesus, her god,
but the sound drowns in water,
crying, helpless as she pawed
at the beast’s face, its wide snout,
slowing as she drowned slowly,
as she bled and faded out,
the death-roll now more holy
than any psalm or prayer
she could say in her defense
within Nature’s cruel lair—
no rhyme or reason or sense.

Washed Away

The tall preacher lays his palm upon the man’s forehead. With his other hand the preacher cradles the man’s nape. All around them the Snake River flows easily, aglitter in the dawn. The preacher speaks loudly, clearly, so that the rest of his followers may hear as they watch from the bank of the river.
“May yesterday’s sins be washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ.”
The man takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. The preacher lowers the man backwards into the gilded water, pausing a moment as the man disappears into the sky on the water, and then raises him, holding him steadily as the man breathes out and blinks rapidly into the bright light of a new day. His white long-johns are soaked through. Droplets of water stud him like diamonds.
“Thank you, preacher,” the man says.
“Thank the Lord, Billy,” the preacher says. His black robe is like a raven perched amidst the river. “Forgiveness is His alone.”
Billy nods and then crosses himself, trudging now to the bank of the river to join with the others, drying in the sun. He sits down, his mousy hair wet and lank. He smiles through his wet beard as if a boy again, and the rest of the followers return his smile with childlike joy.
The preacher looks upon them with the look of a shepherd for his sheep. Then, with a gesture, he invites the next member of his flock forward into the waters to be baptized for the new day of pious devotion.

The sun rises higher and the day grows hotter, dustier. The flock harvests the crops they grow near their settlement of tents and wagons and palisades. Some men go fishing for trout in the river to add to the evening’s meal. The preacher stands solemnly nearby, a bible in his hand and his cool gray eyes watchful of his flock. The sun bakes skin and earth unto a clay. The preacher vows that he will mold the clay as God molded Adam.
Billy approaches the preacher, his breeches and hat dusty with the work of the day. The young man’s eyes squint perpetually, the sun having cracked wrinkles prematurely beneath them. The young man’s bare torso is as gaunt as Christ on a Catholic crucifix.
“Preacher,” Billy says, “I wanted to apologize.”
“Oh?” the preacher says. “There is no need. That is why I baptize you every morning. Your sins are washed away.”
Billy lets his eyes drop to the sagebrush and other shrubs scattered across the expanse between himself and the mountain-hemmed horizon. The preacher seems taller than the mountains themselves, and looms over all things.
“It’s not my sins I’m worried about, preacher. It’s those of…of my wife.”
The preacher gazes toward the womenfolk as they busily pick green beans. Sarah stoops among them, her red hair ablaze in the afternoon sun.
“And how has Sarah trespassed against God?”
“Sarah avoids you, preacher,” Billy says. “She doesn’t take baptism every morning. And for that, I am sorry.”
“She will see the light,” the preacher says. “With time. She will make a goodly wife.”
Billy sighs and looks away. His voice is despondent. “I like to believe so, preacher. But…”
He falls to silence.
“But?” the preacher says.
“But I fear she is going astray,” Billy says, his voice trembling. “She…disappears sometimes. Goes missing. At night…”
“And you believe she is meeting with someone else among my flock?” the preacher says, his gray eyes grim.
“No, no!” Billy says, hastily. “I would never doubt my neighbor. I know we are all Faithful here.”
The preacher turns his gray eyes upon the young man, his gaze burnishing and unblinking; steadfast as the sun itself. “Then what do you suspect?”
Billy looks to his wife kneeling among the green beans, then lets his eyes drift away in defeated silence.
The preacher’s voice is softer.
“Billy? If you suspect something, you must speak it, if not to unburden yourself, then at least to unburden the air. Unspoken suspicions are phantoms that grow in power and darken all that they touch with their shadows.”
“I don’t know, preacher,” Billy says, heavily. “Maybe it is just a phantom in my head.”
The preacher nods. “Do you know what dispels phantoms?”
“What?” Billy says, looking up with expectant hope at the preacher.
“The sun,” the preacher says. “And honest labor beneath the sun.”
“You’re right, preacher,” Billy says. “I need to work off this restlessness.”
Billy returns to the crops, taking up a hoe and weeding alongside the other members of the flock. The preacher watches him for a long moment, then turns his eyes elsewhere. Like bloated deerflies his black pupils wander about slowly, restlessly, from person to person, coming, at length, to Billy’s wife, Sarah. Her hair is as blood among the beans. She glances up, notices the preacher’s gaze, and turns quickly away.

After dinner—when the long day has settled its ashes on the horizon—the preacher reads to his flock passages from his bible. He stands tall while they sit low before him, wet with the sweat of their labors as if they have only recently emerged from their baptism in the river.
“You will know them by their fruits,” the preacher reads. “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruits…”
Billy listens attentively, but is clearly distressed. His wife is not beside him, nor among the congregation. The preacher notices this, too, but says nothing. He reads until the fire dies out in the West, then wishes his flock a good evening and the sleep of the righteous. His flock scatters to their various concerns; some to chores, others to conversation and innocent pastimes.
As the preacher walks toward his tent he is intercepted by the wife of one of his followers.
“Preacher, that was a fine sermon,” she says.
“The Lord saw fit to make it so,” the preacher says.
She follows him for some time, quietly.
“I was curious,” she says as he reaches his tent. “Why not baptize your flock at dusk, too, preacher? Why let their sins follow them into their dreams?”
The preacher does not face her. His tent is as tall as he is, and is arranged on tall wooden posts. He does not look at the young woman, even as she peers boldly up at him. He parts the flap of his tent, holding it with one hand while he stands erect, tall, like a dark sentinel whose dark hair reaches the darkening sky and its nebulous stars. His eyes do not meet her, even still.
“So you may see the fruits of your sins bloom in the night,” the preacher says. “So you may dream the guilt that you harvest from sins and learn from them the lessons upon waking, otherwise you will waken in the next life not to Heaven, but to the flaming orchard that is Hell.”
She snorts, then leaves. The preacher retires inside his tent.

The moon is pale as a salmon’s belly. The wolves howl in the distant mountains to welcome the moon. The fires die around the settlement and the flock retires to bed.
A voice calls faintly to the preacher from beyond his tent.
“Preacher? Preacher, can I have a word? Please?”
The preacher rises from bed, then goes quickly to the flap.
“Billy?” he says.
“Yes, preacher,” Billy says, glumly. “I am sorry, preacher.”
“Give me a moment, Billy, and I will be out.”
The preacher pulls on his long-johns and then his black robe. He regards his bed for a moment, in regret, then opens the flap and exits his tent. Billy’s face is distraught in the moonlight.
“Sarah has gone missing,” he says. “Preacher, you have to help me convince her to take to the Lord’s path again.”
“She is likely making night-soil,” the preacher says.
“I’d like to believe that, preacher,” Billy says. “But she has been gone for so long now.” His eyes are as wide as a salmon’s with distress. “I’m afraid she is lost to me.”
“You must believe in the Lord’s guidance,” the preacher says, sternly. “In all things His hand works His will.”
Billy hangs his head. “I know, preacher…I know…but…”
“Do not persist in this mistaken belief,” the preacher warns him. “Or it will unmake you and all of the hard work you have done for this refuge of souls.”
“I know…preacher…but Sarah…she’s been acting strange for so long now…”
The preacher’s tone is curt. “Do you not think the Lord capable of changing hearts?”
Tears glisten on Billy’s cheeks. He trembles with indecision and doubt. His voice cracks as he speaks. “I know, preacher, but what if she has turned her back on the Lord?”
“Your doubt in the Lord’s influence is a sin,” the preacher says. He shakes his head angrily, looking from Billy back to his tent. At length, he sighs in resignation. “Come. I will baptize you again. This time, perhaps, you will feel the power of Jesus Christ and, then, the truth of these petty frets will be laid bare before you.”
“Yes, preacher.”
The preacher leads Billy to the river, his shadowy figure seemingly as tall as an onyx steeple in the moonlight. The preacher steps into the shoals, gesturing for Billy to follow. Billy hesitates but a moment, but then, too, steps into the shoals, feeling the steady flow pull at his sorrow-stricken knees. He stumbles as if burdened beneath a great weight, but the preacher steadies him.
“Billy,” the preacher says. “Doubt in your wife is doubt in the love of the Lord. Do you ask forgiveness for this human failing?”
Billy, sobbing, nods. “Yes. Please, God, I ask for forgiveness!”
The preacher puts his large palm upon Billy’s forehead, and cradles his nape gently with his other hand. The preacher pauses, hearing two wolves howl together in the distance. He then continues.
“May yesterday’s sins be washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ.”
The preacher dips Billy backwards into the river. He waits a moment, says a short prayer, and twists his hands in opposite directions. This done, he trudges back to the bank and—robe weighed down with water—emerges from the river. Returning to his tent, he enters and takes off his wet robe, long-johns, and lays down next to the figure awaiting his return.
A new day dawns and Billy’s limp body is washed away by the river, his arms outspread as he floats along an easy flow mirroring the sky.

Religions

All the world’s religions are

desperate pleading done in the dark,

wishes on a shooting star,

imagination on a lark,

hopeful firing of nerve cells

in the daydream-drunk animal brain,

a bunch of foolish fairy tales

to try to keep us all calm and sane.

Yet, how we bleed our neighbor

to write in blood the laws of faith,

the fountain pen a saber

to encode the make-believe wraith.

The Demiurge

Before the priest can baptize
a beloved son or daughter,
before a child’s startled cries
from the chill of holy water,
we are baptized in ways old
before Christ and the Ancient Flood,
before such myths could take hold—
baptized in piss and shit and blood…
from out of the trembling womb,
just-so, anointed at each birth
and, just-so, unto the tomb:
piss and shit and blood unto earth.

The Answer

I have the answer,

easy to do, DIY,

How-To Self-Help Guru.

Just trust me with your

life.

Here ’s the answer:

Are you ready?

Are you ready to change your life?

You can.

I believe in you.

I believe you can change

(my bank account).

You have to trust me, though

You have to let me help you

by helping me with

my six-figure per annum.

The answer is so easy, so simple

(minded).

You believe me, don ’t you?  If you

don ’t

then you will never get any better.

You will remain a victim and a

loser

for your entire life.

The answer can change you, though.

It can make things right.

Rectify you and your world,

make you the arbiter of your own life.

And so simple…so easy

(to fool).

For a few dollars more the answer will

become clear.

Look, your life is a

fixer-upper.

It is not condemned.

For a low, low payment you can

renovate it, top to bottom.

I have the blueprints right here.

When I tell you the answer you will

be amazed.  You will say that it is so simple, it must be a fresh coat of paint, and that ’s it.  But it isn ’t.  It is a transformation of the whole neighborhood.  Gentrification of your life.  The floor plan is a godsend.  You only need to pay me a little more and then I will give you the answer.  Yes, that is enough.  For now.  So what ’s the answer?  Well, it is so easy.  So simple.  Did I tell you of all of the people I have helped with my self-help answer?  So many testimonials.  (Not a single refund).  It is so self-evident, too.  So natural, like folk wisdom.  When I tell you, you will say, “How could I not see it before?  It is so obvious now! ” And it is.  Like staring at the sun, the answer is bright and enlightening and blinding.  It illuminates all things with its central role in the universe.  It illuminates the self.  Yourself.  It will help you help yourself.  For a few dollars more I will tell you more.  Just a few dollars. What is a handful of cash compared to a life full of dreams realized?  The answer is like a religion, and yet more practical than a religion.  It is the dais and the temple and the priest and the congregation.  It is God.  It delivers, too.  It is salvation.  It offers sanctuary and hope and love, saving you from despair and fear and loneliness and meaninglessness.  And yet so easy to understand!  Yet so profound!  The layman nods at it in comprehension, appreciating its simplicity.  The philosopher gasps in awe at its profundity.  It is a humble answer, and yet it answers all prides without balking.  There is a poetry in its brevity, yet it enumerates all possibilities with its exponential mathematical applications.  It is recursive, yet self-contained.  Science aspires to its truths while the humanities admire it.  For a few more dollars I can tell you more.  Just a few dollars and your life will transform.  It will enliven your life, and enrich it; imbue it like a celestial song upon profane drudgery.  Supple as melody and uncompromising as arithmetic, it is personal and universal.  As below so above, and it applies its miraculous nature in all things.  Want to become a mechanic?  It can help you.  Want to save your marriage?  It can help you.  All is done easily through it.  You just need to give me a few more dollars and the answer will be yours.  I am so generous with it because it is a gift that gives by the sharing of it, too.  For just a few dollars more.  Just to help me spread its transformative insight and better the world.  It is a paradox and a riddle and an enigma.  It is a method and a process and a natural propensity we all share.  It is the answer.  But you need this answer, and to have this answer I need money.

 Yes, that ’ll do it.

 So, the answer is…very straightforward.  Did I tell you about the time the answer helped a man pull himself up by his bootstraps and become a billionaire?  It is a skill, but it is an instinct before that.  You must hone it, and it will in turn hone you.  Christ knew it, and Buddha, and Churchill, and Roosevelt.  Both Roosevelts.

It is an essence.  It is integral

to the whole cosmos.  And

it can transform you

into your own self-help guru.

You first need to give me

a few dollars, though, and

I will give you the

answer.

It will change

(short-change)

your life..

Sibylance

Were I fain to speak,

would be double of tongues,

venom in each cheek,

limbless along my rungs

as I was after

the Garden and the Fall,

sibilant laughter

at having foreseen all,

but before exile

I was a branch above,

watching, waiting while

Adam and Eve made love

and plotting their fates

to defy even God

they left Eden’s gates,

but it was all a fraud

begat beyond me

and before me, a ruse:

the Garden, the Tree,

no choice any could choose;

the Garden, the Tree,

and Adam just-so crowned

in ignorance, free,

paradise sprawling round,

yet alone, lonely,

and so the true deceit:

lovely Eve, only

I could read God’s receipt.

The scales had been made

as had mine on my hide,

the scales had been weighed

with a hand on one side.

A script had been penned

and roles given to each,

the tale had an end

and my sight had such reach

as to see the ploy

God had planned for us all,

I was but a toy

and Man but helpless thrall,

and despite my sight,

I was compelled by fate,

tail in my bite,

an Ouroboros hate

for the trap within,

eating dust, in decline

Original Sin

inborn by God’s design.

Holly Folly

An orchard of holly trees,
thousands unto thousands,
countless,
bejeweled with red berries,
each a crimson drop
of sacrifice,
each a
generation of Man
spawned hitherto
since before Man was Man.
Strolling among the shade
I wonder why we are so
poisonous
as we grow among paradise.
A chill wind blows,
signaling Yuletide’s approach.
They like to say Christ died for our
sins,
but, if so,
why are the berries
still so deadly?
Why do we grow so plump
in our hearts
with a brimming poison?
Christ may have changed
water into wine,
but could he refine the deadly wine
of this bitter berry
into benign water
so we might wash away our sins?

Downwind

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.

In Sheep’s Clothing

He came from another flock,
from another farm,
during the famine times.
He said,
“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.
He said,
“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
resolve
to meet a terrible need,
as were ours
given time.
His teeth,
his fleece,
were the same as ours.