Not So Hard Pressed To Follow Suit

It is a steam-pressed sort of
Sunday morning,
the sun gliding low upon the
damp horizon
like a clothes-iron burning
the mists up from a
washed-out blue suit sky,
and the church bells ring
within the bright white steam
that deepens in the valley
while the fussy, prim flocks
crowd the purblind roads
and sit, stiff-collared, in the stuffy pews,
uncomfortable in their starched
creed,
hoping to keep their proper suits from
burning
in the
Devil’s laundromat;
whereas I lay out
relaxed,
naked to the skin in the nave
beneath your steepled legs,
lounging among wrinkled sheets,
sleeping in with you
while easy breezes billow
playfully against the
ghosts
on the laundry line,
knowing myself to be
folded neatly
in this cozy spread of
Heaven.

 

(Dedicated to my fiancee, Falon, with whom I wish to spend every such Sunday.)

A Short (A)Morality Tale

Justin Faire was a godly, fair-minded man. He whipped his kids no more than they deserved, went to church every Sunday, paid his taxes on time, and worked hard upon his farmlands, earning a comfortable living for his grateful family. He gave alms to the poor, and every year hosted a generous feast for his neighbors and fellow churchgoers. When a neighbor’s crop was lacking, he supplemented his neighbor’s stores with the abundance from his own. As a father, he was loving, but firm. As a husband he was devoted and very satisfying to his wife. As a neighbor he was friendly and inspired good will in all that he did. His only vice was his virtue: he believed in fairness and order and an ideal sense of the cosmos.
“You reap what you sow,” he often said.
And what was more, he believed it. He believed that if a man worked hard and was morally righteous in his leisure time then God would treat him well in return. That was the one true covenant between Man and the Cosmos, according to Justin Faire.
Justin Faire had a bountiful life in many ways. Not only were his fields fertile, but so too was his marriage bed. His beloved wife bore him four children: two daughters, lovely as their mother, and two sons, strong as their father. All of his children were upright in all that they did, following the straight and narrow path that their father and mother walked every day of their lives. Their children adored their parents, honoring them in all they did. As a consequence, the Faire family was much lauded among the county, and no gossip ever followed them but praise without even a hint of resentment, even if rife with envy.
Many respected the Faire family, especially its patriarch. Justin would have been a chieftain in ancient times, wherever and whenever he might have been planted. He was strong, wise, handsome, and just, always encouraging his neighbors to be better men. Had he the desire, he could have ran for mayor of the county, governor of the state, president of the nation. Yet, Justin Faire solely wished to farm and earn his bread through soil, seed, and sweat, like any righteous, Godfearing man should.

Just down the road from Justin’s farm, however, there was another family that was the abject reverse of the Faires. This family, whom no one spoke of except with a disapproving shake of the head, had earned a nasty reputation throughout the decades. Terrible things were said of them, and more terrible things were true of them. They earned their ill-repute each day of their lives in honest recompense, for they were overfond of cheating and lying and stealing and trespassing their way into infamy. Consequently, no one wished to speak to them, much less do business with them or marry into their family. The patriarch of that family had been warned against breeding his wife at her age. And though he often scoffed at any sort of advice— including a doctor’s advice—he heeded this advice and took it to heart.
He bred his daughter instead, or so his neighbor claimed.
The malformed boy borne from this grotesque union was named Joshua, though most people called him “Mongo” behind his back, for he was, without a doubt, the largest, most ornery Mongoloid anyone had ever seen. Mongo heard this name sometimes, but was partially deaf, and slurred as if he was always drunk, and so he spoke of himself using this name, but mispronounced it as Mondo whenever he spoke. For Mondo spoke of himself in third-person whenever a thought crossed his lopsided brain.
Eventually his name went from Joshua to Mongo to Mondo, and it remained there. Mondo was well known throughout the county. Women and children were admonished to avoid him. Even men feared being near him alone. The towering creature scared everyone. He was a large man-child, an idiot, with a high voice that slurred as if he was always drunk, even when he wasn’t. And he was strong, despite his laziness, and could hurt someone if he was of a mind to. Eventually, Mondo’s father died, and his sister-mother had fled not long after he was born, and so no one remained to take care of him. The people of the county did not know what to do with him. He was a middle-aged man who could not take care of himself. The Bible offered no specifics concerning such a peculiar predicament.
And so Justin Faire— sensing the injustice of the predicament—stepped forward and offered to take Mondo onto his farm as a farmhand. Mondo greeted this offer indifferently, shuffling away with Justin Faire with an impassive blandness on his malformed face. Justin took Mondo to his home. Justin and his sons then built a small shack with nothing more than wood, nails, and a sense of duty to their fellow Man.
“This is your new home, Joshua,” Justin said, for he despised when other people called the imbecile Mondo.
Mondo stared at the edifice indifferently, his gaze wandering toward Justin’s two daughters and his wife.

Over the next month or so Mondo stayed with the Faire family. He did little work on the farm, sitting around and idling by himself. Sometimes he harassed the cows. Sometimes he killed chickens for no reason. And sometimes Mondo eyed Mrs. Faire in a way she did not like, and the daughters, too, but Justin dismissed their concerns, saying, “Charity unburdens the heart, and heavy hearts sink like anchors into the Lake of Fire.”
Mondo had no heavy heart, for he regretted nothing. When Samson, the farm’s dog, ran up to him in an excited state, Mondo kicked the dog so hard that the amiable mutt tumbled over backwards like a wheel and struck the side of the barn. The dog was insensate for a while, but gradually stood and limped away. It took three weeks for Samson to heal. Mondo never did apologize or pet the dog. Instead, whenever he saw the dog his booted foot dug into the ground as if ready to kick the wary mutt again.
Whereas Mondo contributed nothing to the farm, he ate in outsized proportions compared to anyone else, including Justin Faire. The large imbecile could and often did eat a whole chicken by himself. When Justin’s two sons complained, Justin admonished them toward patience.
“He takes much, it is true,” he said, “but he will provide us strong labor when he overcomes the grief of losing his family.”
Justin’s sons were not convinced, nor were his daughters. Mondo sometimes stared up at their window at night, watching them lay down for bed. Justin’s daughters said he never prayed, but only stared at the house like a cat staring at a mouse in the field. Nor did Mondo pray in church with them. He sat in the back pews, or simply walked out during the sermons, preoccupying himself by throwing rocks at birds in the trees near the graveyard. One day Justin discovered Mondo turning over headstones, and knocking them down. Justin chastised him, but Mondo turned an indifferent shoulder to him.
At last, Justin Faire tired of Mondo’s laziness and petulance, realizing that it stemmed not from mourning, but from a lack of regard and a lack of shame. Thus, he doffed his belt and went to take it to Mondo’s backside, hoping that a few lashes with leather would soften the man-child’s contrariness where the lashes of a tongue would not.
Mondo was sitting in the barn, as he often did when he wanted to avoid farm work. He had the farm cat in his arms, and was tightening his arms around the tabby. The cat screeched and clawed to no avail, soon smothered in the Mongoloid’s unfeeling arms.
“I will put the fear of God into you, Joshua!” Justin yelled, at last losing his temper and coming after the idiot like a spirit of vengeance.
Mondo greeted Justin Faire’s wrath as he greeted any other thing done by Man. He ignored it. When the belt came down against his backside he did not flinch, nor cry out in pain, but dropped the dead cat and looked impassively at his caretaker. Standing, he took hold of Justin’s wrist in his fat hands and twisted it until there was a terrible sound like an oak branch breaking. Justin Faire squawked and dropped to his knees. When he tried to free his broken arm from Mondo’s merciless grip, Mondo took hold of that other wrist and broke it as easily as the first. Justin was a strong man, but this pain was severe. He tried to remain conscious, but the agony proved too great. He fainted within moments.

When Justin Faire woke later he staggered out of the barn, sweating and groaning as he staggered over the field toward the house. He came upon the bodies of his two sons— limp and pale upon the ground. Choking back tears, Justin Faire hurried around the house. His two daughters sat together, agog with horror and clutching one another in their trembling arms. Justin saw Mondo atop his wife, rutting like a beast while the latter screamed in terror.
Howling like a wounded wolf, Justin leapt atop Mondo, striking him with his elbows. The imbecile did not grunt or groan or even sigh, but grabbed Justin Faire and wretched him down to his knees, clutching the patriarch’s head between his arms as a man might a sheep soon to be shorn.
Justin wept and raged and fought in utter futility against the fat, unwavering arms of the idiot.
“Why would you do this?!” he cried between clenched teeth. “We took you in! Gave you a home! Food! Clothes! We were as charitable as anyone could be, and now look what you’ve done to us!”
“It ain’t about you,” the idiot said. “Nothing ever was.”
Mondo snapped Justin Faire’s neck and let him fall to the heedless brow of the imbecilic earth.

Wicked World

The moon was a skull in the sky, dark clouds laying over it like a torn curtain. The man sat in a black SUV, the engine off and the window partially down. Fog rolled off of the graveyard hilltop on which he was parked, his cigarette smoke blending into it. The graveyard was small and old, overtopping a rural road rarely visited by anyone except raccoons, opossums, and the occasional deer. The loved ones who once knew those buried here were by now buried too, but elsewhere, in more modern graveyards where flowers were still arranged in futile gestures of love and longing. The road was as dead as the hilltop. No one passed here at this time. It had been raining all week, ceasing just after midnight, and the fog rose like ghosts from the burial plots.
The man in the driver’s seat preferred backroads and scenic routes when driving to a job. He smoked his cigarette and stared out into the darkness absently. He would eventually take a nap, if he could, shrouded in the anonymous murk of this backwoods county.
The man was as unremarkable as his SUV. He did not wear a black suit like they often did in the movies. He wore a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and a John Deere hat over his bald head. Tomorrow, when he would arrive in Florida, he would shed this outfit for a button-up shirt, khakis, and maybe sandals— if the weather permitted. What he wore changed drastically from day to day. Shoes, shirts, pants, glasses, wigs. Sometimes he would actually wear a black suit, if the nature of the job required it. Sometimes he wore a white suit. When a job was completed he often wore three different styles of clothes from day to day, and bought some clothes along the way— paid in cash only—to improvise according to what was needed to safely cross state lines without drawing attention to himself. He kept his clothes within the hidden floorboard of his SUV, alongside the other tools of his trade.
His type of cigarettes changed, too. It was his only addiction because he knew that addictions, in his profession, could be deadly. The deadliest addiction was the one known as complacency. Living day to day caused complacency. Not dying caused complacency. People were so successful in living day to day— in waking up alive for the majority of their lives—that they were often surprised when they suddenly failed at it. Life was a gamble, from moment to moment, and the man in the driver’s seat knew that truth better than most since he was something of an assistant to the debt collector at the end of everyone’s gamble. It was a rigged gamble, much like in any casino. Everyone eventually lost the bet. That was why he was not addicted to his complacency. People risked everything, from moment to moment, and risked it all…with or without their consent. The universe did not care about consent, and never would. The cosmos were a cannibal mother, birthing and then devouring its young over the duration of a lifetime, particle by particle, memory by memory, until each child was once again but electrons conjoined in the nebulous expanse of Void. Ash to ash, dust to dust.
The man in the driver’s seat tapped the ashes into his ash tray, then took a pensive drag on the half-burnt cigarette. His eyes were not reptilian or empty of what some people generically labeled a “soul”. He could emote. He could do Shakespeare with such rapturous expression that Hamlet’s father would have clapped as if brought back to life by the riveting performance. Emoting was one of his many talents; one of his many skills in his needful toolbox required by his jobs. Not only could he slip in and out of his disguises like a chameleon its colors, but he could color that plain face of his with whatever tangential expression suited his circumstantial disguise. And it was all genuine, too, as he ingratiated himself or made banter or courted hearts— genuine until the moment when the lights were flipped off of that grand production and the curtains were closed.
Yes, every instant was a gamble and a game. Whether it was cosmic debris colliding with earth or the microbes in a man’s body destroying him with disease from within, the gamble played out without favorites, and with utter disregard for mankind’s delusion of importance. Even a man’s own genes foretold that he was doomed, breeding cancer to devour him with the very cells that manifested him. It was inevitable. The stage would be silenced and the spotlights extinguished. For most people there would not even come the forethought of taking a bow before the end.
“Yes,” said his passenger. “But why did you have to help it along? Why did you have to shoot me in the back of the head while I was taking a piss?”
It had been the right tactic, and the right pay. Leo Romanoff. Age 53. 5’10”. 198 lbs. Money launderer for a Russian oligarch. Went into a public restroom while his two bodyguards stood watch. Pistol and silencer for the two bodyguards, then Romanoff himself. His two bodyguards sat in the backseats of the SUV, their faces veiled in shadow just like Romanoff himself.
“You could have talked first,” Romanoff said. “We could have come to a financial arrangement. But you didn’t. You didn’t want to talk. You just had a job to do, didn’t you?”
The man in the driver’s seat never wanted to talk. He never spoke to them when they came to him like this. He would have never listened to them at all if their voices did not seem to come from inside his head. They acted like the job was personal. But the job was never personal.
“Even when you loved me?” she said, sitting in the passenger seat. Her blonde hair was luminous like moonlight, but her face was black within the halo; a solar eclipse. “You cried when you killed me in our bed. Why so many tears for a job that was not personal?”
Natalya Heidmann. Age 34. 5′ 9″. 120 lbs. Wealthy widow of a hedge fund manager. Her husband’s daughter resented the money her deceased father had willed to his third wife. She wanted Natalya to love the man who killed her, so he comforted the widow and slowly seduced her over the course of a few months. Three months into their relationship stepdaughter told him to kill Natalya. So he kissed her upon her lips and slit her throat while her eyes were closed. A jealous ex-boyfriend was used as the patsy. But it was not personal. Nothing was personal.
The universe did not care about love, family, society, ideals. Such things were as inconsequential as dew upon a headstone, and as meaningless as a headstone upon a mass grave. The worms worked their magic regardless of human pretenses, recycling flesh into forgetful soil. The mindless earth rolled on, like a ball on a roulette wheel. Eventually its luck would run out. It was a mirthless game where everybody eventually lost. It was the only game in town.
“I liked games,” the little girl said to the man in the driver’s seat. “I used to, I mean. And you played them with me when you were our butler. I would play hide and seek with you a lot, until the night you were no longer playing. You found me and I didn’t even scream for help. Who could have helped me?”
Anna Maria Gurlukovich. Age 7. 4’3″. 54 lbs. Daughter to an Pro-Russian politician in Ukraine. He had poisoned her parents’ tea and then strangled her when she tried to hide. It was a politically-related job. Afterwards he was relocated to the United States with the help of the CIA.
“You treated me like I was your daughter,” she said. “And then you killed me.”
So, too, did the universe. He may have been the man in the driver’s seat, but he was also a passenger. He did not drive any of them to their final destinations. He was not the arbiter. He was just another puppet upon a string. He chose nothing. Their deaths were never his to decide, nor the particulars. He had been chosen, but anything else could have easily accomplished the same result, and would have, given time.
He shifted in the driver’s seat, trying to make himself comfortable for a nap. He snuffed the cigarette butt in the ash tray, then tried to extinguish himself with sleep for a while. His brain did not obey, however. It began to wander. The passengers in the SUV murmured in discontentment. He did not know what else they could want. More time? What good would it have done them? The same result; nothing more. He had scoured the philosophies of the world— from Greek Rationalists to the Asian Harmonialists to the German Mechanists and the French Absurdists—and he could only confidently summarize the meaning of Life as thus: Shit happened and then you died.
His eyelids began to close, drawing themselves down so that the outer night would be welcomed inward. But then he saw a herd of deer pass through the graveyard. His eyelids jerked open and he roused, sighing. He watched the deer. Their ears sensed him, lifting alertly, but their empty, imbecilic eyes skimmed over him without further concern. Occasionally they hopped along, as if ready to flee, only to stop and graze once more upon the grass, steadfast in their own complacency. He could have shot any of them and they would have tumbled over, surprised by Death as if it had not been staring them in the face all along.
Fireflies drew his attention from the deer. They blinked in and out of the darkness. People blinked in and out of that darkness, too. The darkness did not care. One moment they were alive, the next moment they were not. Nor did he think himself a spider capturing the fireflies, like so many in his profession did. If he was a spider then he was a spider trapped in the same web as the fireflies. He held no pretenses sacred— only the moment that followed the previous. And he knew it was only sacred to him because it was all that he had…until he lost the ongoing gamble. All he could hope for in life was the occasional contentment of small, temporary victories because all humans were engaged in an existential war for which they would inevitably suffer a final defeat, given time.
Time.
It was time to move again. He had dawdled too long. Movement was crucial for his job. Always be moving and never be restless. Movement meant peace of mind and relaxation. It was only when he stopped to rest that he became restless and fretful and was visited. He could settle down when he was dead, and that was inevitable. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but eventually. Until then there was no rest for the wicked. And so the world never rested, because it never stopped its one-sided gamble, no matter how many it raised and buried from moment to moment to fleeting moment.
He obeyed all rules of the road, as he obeyed all rules within society. Except for the one, and that was because a greater Law held precedence over that arbitrary one. Obeying the other rules helped him serve that greater Law. After all, that one Law trumped all others. The rules of civilization bowed to it as well, civilization itself made manifest from the fear of that Law, and the promise of that Law, and thus was never immune to it. That Law was Death, and everyone obeyed it. When his time came the man in the driver’s seat would bow his head in resignation to it. There had been times when Death taunted him. He had scars to attest to the playfulness of Death. A scar just above his heart. A scar along his left temple. Several scars from knives up and down his back. But they were mere reminders of the Law, and so he saw them as heralds of things inevitable; post-it notes he could not throw away.
He came to a bridge, and the bridge was closed. Headlights flashed back at him from the orange sign that warned against attempting the bridge. It began to rain again. It was a downpour. Through the heavy hammering he could hear his fellow passengers murmuring with unrest. When lightning flashed he could see them in his rearview, though their faces were still eclipsed by Death. When your life centered on the end of other lives you were keenly aware of the destination. It was easily traversed, but never returned from. There were no refunds for the ferryman’s crossing. The river could not be forded but one way.
The rain had filled the river to teeming, the overflow flooding out his planned route. It might delay his job for a few days— maybe even a few weeks. No matter. Everything in its own time. He turned around and followed Fate’s path, as he had always done. However it determined him to go, he went. The particulars did not matter. The end result was the same.

Mystics

I have been lost in a labyrinth without walls,
following the footprints of Borges, the blind;
I have paced up and down the stairwell-linked halls
of Emerson, transcending the mortal mind;

I have strolled around many oasis fountains,
listening to Rumi’s inward-outward fugue;
I have climbed dizzying summits of mountains
to become a monk in the caves of Lao Tzu;

I have willfully retreated from my prison
to seek the insights found in a foreign soul,
and thus died only to find myself risen
within myself once more—now greater than the whole.

The Sword And The Sheath

In times of war I should like a viking
to fight on behalf of my beloved people,
but in times of peace Christ could be my king
to forbid blades beneath a beckoning steeple.

In times of vengeance I should like a knight
felling an evil man given to wicked acts,
but in times of justice I wish the right
to a lawyer and jury to hear out the facts.

In times of defense I want samurais
to stand as one, together, their katanas drawn,
but in times of calm we would be quite wise
to heed the Buddha with every rising dawn.

Know that I do not seek to draw a blade
from out its soothing, silent, sleepy sheath,
no more than I wish anyone be bade
to lay upon a coffin a funeral wreath.

Nor am I a man of contrary minds,
contradicting himself with his convenient turns.
Of necessities there are many kinds:
those of peace, war, mercy, and death, or so one learns.

The Wu Wei Weird Way

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Like a slowly winding waterwheel
that rolls with the river’s easy flow
without trying to grind the grainy meal,
this is the way I wish to know.

Like the moon which lights the nocturnal sky
with the gaze of the far-sunken sun
and pulls the tides from low to high,
I want to do as if not having done.

Like a bird that flies North to South
at the breeze of embittering seasons
and sings songs with an unfaltering mouth,
I wish to do without thinking of reasons.

Like a seed asleep in fertile soil
and drinking deep with its roots
while rain slakes the thirst of its slumbrous toil,
I yearn to grow my own unselfconscious shoots.

And yet in wanting to do as such
I know I will never achieve that state of mind
nor the “non-doing” that achieves so much
by leaving the ego, the self, the “I” behind.