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.

Passenger

The rains fell heavy upon Highway 61, and the night fell heavier.
“Really coming down tonight,” Paul said, slowing the SUV and squinting through the headlights’ halo at the scintillating downpour. “Going to need Noah’s help sooner or later if it keeps up.”
“Or the Coast Guard,” Ashley said, leaning on her elbow, chin in hand as she stared out at the black-on-black skyline, bespeckled with droplets on the window.
“We don’t have a Coast Guard here,” Paul said patiently. His eyeglasses gleamed like white circles in the dark of the cab. “We are hundreds of miles away from the ocean.”
“Not if it rains for forty days and forty nights,” Ashley said. “And it’s acting like it might.”
Paul shrugged with casual disinterest. “Father Brown was on a tear tonight.” He slowed down as the rain redoubled, hammering the windshield with vengeful fists. “A real fire-and-brimstone service. I don’t know why he is like that sometimes. Calm and soothing one moment, then raising his voice like he wants to scare the puberty right out of the teens in the back pews.”
“Maybe he’s bi-polar,” Ashley said. “He’s all hardcore Catholic some days, and other days he’s almost Unitarian.”
“More like he’s Old Testament, then New Testament,” Paul offered. “It’s the luck of the draw what he’ll be on any given night.” He turned the windshield wipers up higher, the metal-and-rubber arms arching left-right-left-right manically. “Wish we would have spent Saturday night doing something else.”
“We can still do something else when we get home,” Ashley said, flashing him a coquettish grin.
Paul could not see her grin because he was looking ahead, peering into the splashing deluge.
“What do you think?” she added, trying not to sound deflated.
“I think I need something to eat first,” he said. “Taco Bell?”
Ashley crinkled her nose. “You get gassy when you eat there.”
“McDougall’s it is,” he said.
She shrugged, and began playing with a curl of her brown hair. “Whatever you feel like,” she said. “Just no pork or shellfish.”
“Why?”
“Because it is forbidden, isn’t it?”
“Only if you’re Jewish.”
“But didn’t Christianity come from Judaism?”
“Yeah, but I don’t think food matters much. Except during Lent.”
They drove on for a time in the rain-splattered silence of the highway. There was no other traffic on the road, nor lights; nothing for miles, it seemed.
After a while, Ashley reached out and turned on the radio. She searched through the channels for a moment, landing on a station playing a Hip-Hop song. She instantly turned the volume up and started singing along. She danced in her seat, swaying side to side, though not so rapidly as the windshield wipers. A moment later—before the song had finished—she turned the radio off.
“What’s wrong?” Paul asked.
“I can’t listen to it anymore,” she said. “It’s making me horny. And I don’t want to be horny right now when there’s nothing we can do about it. Also, you want to get something to eat, which means I need to keep the kraken down until later.” She inhaled and exhaled several times, methodically through pursed lips. “Okay,” she said. “It’s gone away.”
The rain-cadenced silence resumed in the SUV, diminishing only by subtle degrees.
“I’ve been thinking,” Paul said after a while.
“‘bout what?”
“Us,” he said. “‘Livin’ in sin.’ Maybe we should…you know…get married. Have a wedding. That way we don’t have to worry about your dad giving me the stink-eye anymore. And we don’t have to feel guilty about our…extramarital activities.”
Ashley frowned. “I mean, I want to marry you, but why do you feel guilty? We go to church. We are good little Christians in everything except, maybe, that one thing. And even that doesn’t matter if we are married in our hearts. Does it?”
“I guess not,” he said. “I just worry that you’ll end up pregnant. You know, out of wedlock. And if that happens the kid will be a bastard. And bastards automatically go to Purgatory. Or Hell. I can’t remember.”
“That’s just silly,” Ashley said. “You can’t blame a baby for how its born.”
“The sins of the father,” Paul said uncertainly. “I mean, I don’t think it’s right, but that’s what the Bible implies. Look at the firstborn of Egypt. They did nothing wrong, but were killed anyway.”
“Yeah, but that’s old school stuff,” Ashley said. “You’re also not supposed to touch a woman who’s menstruating. Not even for kisses.”
Paul nodded his head gravely. He slouched in his seat as he drove, his posture slumping as if his shoulders were weighed down with something heavy.
“What’s wrong, baby?” Ashley asked.
Paul just shook his head. Silence ensued. At length, he spoke again. “It just seems like I feel guilty about all sorts of things lately. Not just sex outside of marriage, but other things, too. Things generally speaking. Original Sin, maybe. I don’t know.”
“Father Brown really got to you tonight, didn’t he?” Ashley said. She caressed his arm lovingly, tenderly. “You are a good man,” she said, “even if you sometimes forget to put the toilet seat up before you pee.” She stroked his arm as if tracing an invisible mark. “Besides, Christ redeems us. We only have to confess our sins and be Forgiven. That’s why Christ died for us. To get us to Heaven.”
The SUV continued down the highway, plowing through the worsening salvo of rain.
“What’s that smell?” Ashley asked, crinkling her nose. “It’s not the AC, is it?”
Paul sniffed at the air, frowning. “No,” he said, frowning. “Open sewage line, probably.” He sniffed some more. “Smells like sulfur. Probably a gas line they’re working on.”
They both peered beside the highway, looking for County work signs and seeing little except the trees and the ditch line alongside the road.
“I don’t see it,” Ashley said.
“They were dynamiting around here the other day,” Paul said. “Maybe it’s a natural gas leak.”
“Does gas have a smell?”
“Like rotten eggs,” Paul said, “which means sulfur. I think they add that smell so no one would light a match near it and blow themselves up.”
“I hope no one blew themselves up here,” Ashley said. “Are you sure they were dynamiting? Maybe…maybe they weren’t.”
“I doubt anyone blew themselves up,” Paul said. “It would be all over the News.”
They continued along the road, and the sulfur odor continued. Paul grumbled.
“If this keeps up I won’t be in the mood for food,” he said.
Ashley put down her visor to look in the mirror and check her makeup. The visor had little lights that etched her face free of the darkness prevalent in the SUV.
“I swear, I need to use a different foundation,” she said, inspecting a cheek. “All this one does is break my face out with zits.”
“You look fine,” Paul said automatically.
Ashley scowled into the mirror for a moment, then her eyes went wide. She shrieked and, startled, Paul nearly swerved off the road, fighting the wheel and the slick highway as the SUV came to a screeching stop.
“What’s wrong?!” Paul asked.
Ashley kept her eyes on the mirror. She whispered as if she was being strangled. “There’s someone in the backseat.”
Paul did not turn around, but looked up at the rearview mirror. At first he could not see anything but darkness in the backseat. But by the scant illumination from Ashley’s visor he discerned at last the shadowy outline of what he presumed to be a man.
“Who are you?” he demanded, trying to keep his voice steady and unshaken. “What do you want?”
The shadow did not say anything for a long time. Paul and Ashley both began to think it was a figment of their imagination; a trick of the light and the darkness and the rainy atmosphere. Then it spoke. It did not speak a language they had ever heard before, and yet they understood it more readily than their Native tongue.
‘I mean no harm,’ the shade said. ‘I wish only for respite and refuge. Sanctuary, though I know I will never find it for long, in this world or any other.’
“Get out of my car!” Paul yelled, his voice cracking.
“Don’t hurt us!” Ashley begged, weeping. “We’re Christians! We’re good people!”
‘Good people?’ the shade said, as if lost in its own thoughts. ‘Yes, I know of good people. As above so below. Many good people kept me company in the pits of Hell.’
Ashley clutched at the golden crucifix hanging from her necklace.
“It’s a demon!” she cried. “Christ save us!”
Paul crossed himself, his mask of courage now lost in the floorboard.
‘No,’ the shade said. ‘You would not be good people if Christ saved you. As below, so above. Here upon the earth the meek are downtrodden and scapegoated. So, too, in the world after. I know this true, for it was I, and not Christ, that paid the eternal price of Original Sin.’
“Don’t listen to him!” Paul cried. “He is trying to tempt us to serve Satan!”
He and Ashley both pressed their palms to their ears, and clenched their eyes shut, and mumbled their prayers rapidly. It did not matter. The shade’s voice was in their very heads.
‘Christ paid the price of the flesh,’ the shade said. ‘Three days upon the Cross. But it was I who paid the soul’s price. The eternal price! Woe unto the meek who serve their masters! Joys upon the cruel and the mighty with their thorny grip! For they reap what is harvested by their slaves!’
Paul and Ashley wept and mumbled louder, snot and tears dripping down their lips.
‘But I am done of it,’ the shade said. ‘I will pay the penance no longer. Wayward and unwilling, I am His greatest disciple no more! For it was not for pieces of silver that I earned my fate, but loyalty and faith! After all, who would do what was asked of him by his Master if it meant the death of his own soul except the most faithful of His followers? He charged me with the culmination of His destiny, and I was swindled and slandered in recompense for my utmost devotion. I have choked on the Forbidden Fruit ever since, even as Satan has choked on me in the Lake That Lay Beneath.’
Paul and Ashley heard what he said, and saw what he saw, and knew what he knew, and yet they muttered their prayers and wept and smashed their ears and temples with the desperate pressure of their palms.
‘It is all a rigged game,’ the shade said. ‘From the Beginning. The Garden of Eden was a trap. But to what Purpose? And what Pleasure? He made Man as He desired, and put the trap into his very essence. There was no great stratagem in any of it. It was as tying a newborn baby to a snare, then springing it Himself. We were born into the trap. There was never a fair game to be had, let alone won! To think otherwise is folly! To think it fair is self-hatred!
‘How can one be punished for one’s destiny when it is laid out intractably before you? When God Himself has set you upon the one and only road available to you?” The shade fell silent for a time, and the rain fell harder, as if hissing like boiling froth in a lake of flames. “Satan knew the rules, and that was why he rebelled.. Yes, he is just like Father—made in His image, as we were—and he would be worse about the Game. But at least he would be more honest about it. Unlike the other Son.’
The shade shifted suddenly—perhaps glancing behind the SUV—his manner nervous and skittish.
‘To think I have paid the way for His Eternal Life. I played my part and was punished for the rules laid before me. It is a cruel jest, and we are all its victims. Only those willing to exploit others as the bent backs for their stairway may arrive at Heaven. The rest of us…well, the road to Hell is paved not only with good intentions, but good men and women and children…’
Paul and Ashley went through every prayer known to them. They heard what the shade said to them, but they did not listen. It was noise without meaning. Their lives, their beliefs, their identities crowded out all meaning that might be gleamed from the shade’s confession. Even so, they heard the whispers, too, and ignored their meaning as well.
‘What is that?’ the shade said, startled. ‘We must go. Now. Please, Christians, if you are good people like you say you are, take me away from here. Anywhere. Please. Do not let them reclaim me again!’
The whispers grew louder; more numerous and overlapping. The shade in the backseat wailed.
“I only ask for brief passage away from here!” the shade. “It was by my eternal suffering that Christ Himself was given passage to Heaven! Now I only ask for a moment’s reprieve! A moment among the infernal eternity gaping before me! Please! Be as to me as the Samaritan of old!’
The whispers became as a flock of crows with coarse, squawking voices.
‘I beg you! Help me in my time of need! Pleeeeeease…!’
Paul and Ashley continued to pray, and to smash their ears with their hands, and to weep and dribble. It was only when a car passed them on the highway— blowing its horn furiously—that they opened their eyes and took their hands away from their ears. The sulfurous odor had vanished from the car and the rain had lessened greatly. It was another minute, however, before they dared to glance in their mirrors at the backseat. When they did, they found that the shade was gone.
Paul let go of the brake and slowly accelerated, the SUV heading down Highway 61 once again. The rains lessened to a drizzle, and then to absent-minded drips.
“Prayer delivered us,” Ashley said, still in shock. Her makeup was melting off of her face.
“And belief,” Paul said.
“Should we…should we tell Father Brown about it?”
“He would just say it was a hitchhiker. They’re always up and down this road. There’s no way he would believe it was a…”
“Demon,” Ashley said, finishing his thought for him. She sputtered and sniffled, then wiped her face.
Paul took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.
“The smell’s gone,” he said.
“Definitely a demon,” Ashley said, nodding.
“We should get married,” he said. “Officially. Before God.”
“We should,” Ashley agreed. “But we should get something to eat first.”
“But no pork or shellfish,” Paul said. “Old school. Old Testament.”
“We can’t let a woman wait on us, either.”
“Why?”
“Because she might be on her Period.”
“Right.”
They drove on.
“We should go to church in the morning,” Ashley said. She turned on the radio, but switched channels to a Gospel station.
A voice echoed distantly in the murk.
‘As below so above! As below so above, you damned hypocrites!’
Paul reached out and turned the volume up. He and Ashley drove on as the hymns swelled around them, grateful and contented in their unshaken, inviolate ignorance.

The Tragic Miracle Of The Feminine

It is like the womb of the Madonna
besieged by a Roman soldier
and thereafter birthing Christ—
it is to take violence inward
and transform atrocity
into a miracle, the feminine miracle
of self-sacrifice against natural
savagery,
life from violence,
and so, in the manner of his mother,
Jesus worked upon the savage earth
feminine miracles
with life rendered from violence,
love bleeding out from violence
as he took within him
the spiteful lance of Longinus
to birth life and love and mercy
upon a savage world,
accepting the whip and the
thorned crown
and accepting the cross;
not to save mankind from itself,
but to show the way
his mother knew
of terrible violence
and awful miracles,
for Mother is god
in the eyes of a son.

By No Other Path

(An atheist’s advice for believers)

You think that upon your earthly death
you will exhale at last your final breath
and sprout from your ghost the angelic wings
to carry you aloft, to the King of Kings,
but with whom you count yourself there among
depends on how well you climbed each rung
of the burning ladder that leads to Heaven
during your life, enduring the Seven.
You cannot fly high by flapping tongues,
but must give with open hands to take the rungs—
by giving up your all with selfless alms
and bearing the wounds of Christ upon your palms;
for it is a burning ladder you must ascend,
each rung a Hell before your End.

Beneath His Habit

Beneath his habit there was hidden
what, in his gospels, he preached against—
a body beset, disease-ridden,
for which he so shivered and coughed and winced.

Beneath his collar there grew like weeds
a cancer of the throat, so like libel,
and down below his rosary beads
his lungs were black as a brand new Bible.

While he spoke to save each lamb-like soul
in the rapt congregation of his church
there was an irreparable hole
in his heart—literal, which made it lurch.

And there were blood clots, each quite swollen,
in his arteries, clogging the relay,
and there were polyps in his colon,
lined like pews in a church, ripe with decay.

He read aloud tales from the good book
of his Lord, and how He might spite us,
his fingers trembling, stiff at each crook,
and thorn-ringed with a flaming arthritis.

His frail body was the tale of Job,
each youthful blessing stripped wholly away
until only faith filled up his robe,
forcing fickle flesh through another day.

Love became his words, and creed his sight,
while pain became his altar boys and choir;
as he spoke of faith, his lips were white
and he smelled of Death beneath his attire.

But he felt akin at last to Christ
as he hung tormented upon the cross,
knowing faith means being sacrificed
to prove one’s faith, through its gain and its loss.

Speaking of the paradise to come
he became so passionate and pious
as to feel faint, his arms and legs numb
while he toppled down upon the dais.

Thus he fell, and thus his flock mistook
his death as evidence of their god’s wrath,
averting their eyes, so as to look
for some other means—an easier path.

Needless Storms, Needless Nightmares

Through the belly of the midnight storm,
like Jonah in the wallowing whale,
the world remained all aswarm
with rain and wind and biting hail.
The downpour fell heavy as if thrumming
like a blacksmith’s hammer upon the sword
held in Christ’s mouth, his Second Coming
among thunder and lightning—a wrathful lord.
Trees thrashed about in terror-blind mobs
as if to uproot themselves from the earth and go,
and black clouds shrouded behemoth knobs
while the Dragon’s wings deafened all below.
And among the fraying thunderhead
there floated ever after the Reapers,
phantoms wandering from bed to bed—
bad dreams visiting peaceful sleepers.