“God-Given” Gifts

He visits museums and art galleries

to see the master works of sculptors and painters

(because they have a God-Given gift, too).

He goes to concert halls, opera houses, jazz clubs,

to hear deft musicians play songs

(because they have a God-Given gift, too).

He attends theaters and goes to the cinemas

to watch brilliant actors become other people

(because they have a God-Given gift, too).

He watches comedy shows and standup routines

to laugh at the witty jokes comedians tell

(because they have a God-Given gift, too).

He looks after the runaways, the prostitutes,

the transvestites and the vulnerable,

enticing them into his car, talking to them like

an old friend, kindly neighbor,

philanthropist in times of need,

taking them

somewhere remote, quiet, and alone,

and he bludgeons them, stabs them,

strangles them, rapes them, kills them,

chops up their bodies, takes

souvenirs

for his own home gallery,

disposes of the remains

and then he calls their relatives on the phone,

mocks them,

tortures them with his firsthand accounts,

relives his depravity through their fresh tears,

and he

leaves complacent clues at the scenes of his crimes

to taunt the cops,

watching the News media

to rejoice in his grand debut,

becoming famous as the anchors

talk him up to

Godzilla proportions of destruction,

and then, satisfied, he

lays low for a year,

waiting,

watching,

returning when the ruckus has subsided,

cultivating his celebrity once again

with a second season of murders,

elated as his alter-ego alias

passes along the lips of those who

pray against his trespasses,

and eventually he

betrays himself,

outs himself so he can be celebrated with

loathing, with infamy,

with international intrigue

through books, movies, cult status,

fan mail, declarations of love,

becoming a cultural phenomenon

as famous as Raphael or Elvis,

and all because

he has a God-Given gift, too.

The Lowly Holy

It is the thought of some people

that the grandest part of a church

is, in fact, the skyward steeple,

that tall symbol which does so perch

to watch over the flock each day

and to remind the flock of the cost

of salvation, and why they pray,

so their souls will not be thus lost;

yet, what would be any building

without support from pagan earth?

What foundation is unyielding

when winds test its structural worth?

Try to build the church upright, strong,

on the steeple so respected

and it tumbles at once, ere long

what little will be erected,

for the bedrock of all belief

(no matter how skyward-gazing)

requires the lowly earth beneath

to support a temple’s raising.

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..

The High Priest

A fly rests on the head of US Vice President Mike Pence as he takes notes during the vice presidential debate against US Democratic vice presidential nominee and Senator from California Kamala Harris in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (Photo by ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Behold! The most high priest
speaking false-tongued fictions
in a sprawl of corpses, a feast
to earn benedictions
from great Beelzebub,
the Hell Prince, Lord of Flies
who blesses maggot, worm, and grub,
and all death-fed likewise.

What They Dare Not Say

How is it that they can say

they believe in God and yet

also claim, “Life is unfair ”?  Nay,

such masochists oft forget

who created this flawed plane

brimming with cruelties so vast

that they dwarf the sins of Cain

and all of Man ’s wicked past.

How do they square the circle

and include the darker points?

Do they grab hold and jerk till

the halo grows and anoints

with its bright geometry

perfected through the numbers —

if so, go see Psalm 0’3

and know the Devil slumbers,

for he never does so much

as he is so often blamed,

nor was it curse, nor so such

why he was thereafter named.

“Life ’s not fair, ” the priest retorts

as if it is an answer

that exonerates in courts

or cures God-given cancer,

but let the twisted sermon

proclaim the truth unspoken,

let us find the whole worm in

the Fruit of Knowledge, woken;

let us speak the perfect truth

and say what fraud refuses

and know it as its own proof:

“Unfair is He who chooses.”

Strands

A religion clings like fine threads

from spiderwebs about our heads,

and though we fight to free the mind

from fears of spiders, we may find

that we still search with frenzied hands

to clear away remaining strands;

that we flinch, tremble, shake, and pray

long after the webs fall away,

for winds may tickle fearful ears

and spiders haunt our later years.

Sweet Blasphemies

“O, you are the Devil, ”

you always say with a smile

while I lick your navel till

you croon, moan, gyrate.  Meanwhile

I say, ”Babe, you pray more

now, when we are making love,

than you do kneeling on the floor. ”

And with a pull, and a shove,

you are Lilith of old,

in Biblical times, in times gone,

and you straddle me, overbold —

demon riding, on and on.

Possessed, you rock yet more,

the paroxysms not yet done,

and you crash, like waves on a shore

beneath a hot, heaving sun.

Panting, sweating, a gasp

expelled, you rake your sharp claws,

Cleopatra clutching her asp

according to Heathen laws.

Galilee ebbs and flows

while old Babylon crumbles,

but listen to Ishtar —she knows

why a lonely god grumbles.

Passion and respect, both,

find a home in the other,

equal in both, and so Love ’s oath

is to joy in one ’s lover.

The first wrong done by Man

was not letting Woman find

in him equality, Woman

denied in body and mind,

and so, my sweet Lilith,

let us take turns in rhythm

and harmonize in breaths till myth

harmonizes within them.

Whosoever atop,

the rhythm remains, a song

of respect, of desire, nonstop;

passion was never a wrong,

and I would gladly flee

the comforts of Eden’s lies,

with you, to be in harmony

with the passion in your eyes.

Simple Life, Sinful Death

The monk had come to greatly savor the simple things in life.  The wind ’s music through the mountain ’s maple trees.  The trickle of creek water sweeping lazily between the mossy stones.  The fine taste of hot green tea with ginger and the soup made of onions, seaweed, soybeans and radishes.  Simple things expanded his awareness of larger things —of greater things.  And so he was contented.  His days spent serving the old temple alone in the mountains consisted of sweeping the old wooden floor, tending to his bulbs of onions and ginger roots like chicken feet, long walks down to the sea to harvest seaweed, and the long walks up the mountain, harvesting mushrooms from the woods.

 And, of course, he spent many hours in prayer and meditation.

 As the sun set in the West he would pray to Buddha in thanks and admire the warm glare of the setting sun peeking through the windows of the temple, touching warmly the sleepy face of the Buddha ’s statue at he head of the temple.  Often the monk longed to fall asleep likewise, and often did, maintaining his cross-legged position throughout the night.  He woke in the morning stiff and aching, for he was very old, and sometimes he regretted waking in such pain.  Yet, he rose, as always, and set about his usual day, listening to the wind ’s music and drinking his simple tea and eating his simple soup, doing his simple chores, and finding simple contentment once again in his long day of peaceful isolation.

 But the years dragged on and the monk felt the dead weight of them growing heavier, like decades of fallen leaves bundled atop his shoulders.  He did not walk so well in the morning, even after sleeping on his simple straw mat.  He had to lean on his hoe intermittently when tending to his garden.  When walking up and down the mountain he had to rest on a log, here and there, taking much more time each day to accomplish his foraging.  He began to forego such strenuous trips, venturing every other day, and only once each day rather than the many trips he once dared.

 And his mind began to fail him.  He would boil tea over his fire pit, then forget about it until the leaves had burned.  Sometimes he would pick an onion from his garden, eagerly peeling it only to find that he had once before picked an onion for soup that week.

 And then the shadows began to come to him.

 They came at sunset while the monk was beginning his prayer.  They enumerated around the room as the sun ’s rays touched the brow of the Buddha statue.  The figures crouched in the dark corners of the small temple, away from the statue.  The monk watched them sometimes as they loped about, or somersaulted, tumbling end over end in mischievous mirth.  The shadows were small at first, but lengthened as they sun waned, drawing themselves upward with the weak light of the monk ’s single candle.

 The monk was never upset or unsettled by the shadows, no matter how stranger their shapes and movements.  He observed the shadows impassively, much the same as when observing swallows darting about the cliffs of the mountain, or foxes flitting through the bushes.  He knew that his mind was a thing of the material world, and so fickle and prone to wits that would fade in time, bringing with their weakness the phantasms of an unbridled imagination.  He accepted this fate calmly, and so let the shadows do as they willed while he prayed impassively, grateful that the Buddha should allow him the wherewithal to understand the looseness of his mind and, therefore, resist its indulgent fancies as the hallucinations grew more vivid.

 But then came a nightfall when the shadows ceased their jovial prancing and devilish tumbling.  They stood around the monk, arrayed along the temple ’s old walls, flickering as the single candle flickered, and staring.

 Simply staring.

 And then they stepped forward from the shrouds of their shadows, the figures manifesting at last in corporeal form.  They were now flesh and blood —or so near as yokai might have been —and the old monk could smell them, could see them clearly, and, had he dared, could have reached out and touched them.

 Yet, the old monk was not perturbed.

 Foremost among these demonic figures was a creature very much like the monk himself.  He had a bald head, prayer beads around one wrist, an old stained robe as modest as the old monk ’s, and a wrinkled brow.  Had the monk owned a mirror to know what he, himself, looked like now, after years of isolation, he would have known that this creature was the perfect reflection of himself.  That is to say, the perfect reflection except for the third eye embedded in the creature ’s forehead.  It was a mockery of the Mind ’s Eye, its pupil slitted like a serpent ’s.

  “You poor wretch of a monk, ” the three-eyed monk said.   “For decades you have served the Buddha, and for what reward?  Aches and pains and old age. ”

 The old monk responded with a level voice.   “Humility comes by many means, ” he said, “and is its own reward. ”

 The three-eyed monk shook his head in mock-pity.   “And yet you have not achieved Satori.  So much sacrifice —decades of one ’s life in lonely wilderness —and all for the profligacies of a deaf-mute statue. ”

 Again the old monk replied with a level voice.   “Buddha speaks and hears as he ought, ” he said.   “If I utter a prayer, and it is unheard, then it is still heard by the Buddha within me. ”

 The three-eyed monk laughed, his dusty cackles echoing in the dark, candlelit silence of the temple.   “We shall see what answers you when given temptations.  Yes!  Then shall we know how true a Buddhist life you lead, for anyone may be a Buddhist monk who hasn ’t the temptations to lead him astray from the Path. ”

 The three-eyed monk clapped his hands and a figure stepped forward among the grotesque throng.  It was a voluptuous woman in a silken gown.  No, two women!  They shared the same kimono, and then, letting it slip to the floor, they revealed that they shared the same body, conjoined so that there were two heads, two arms, two legs, and three breasts between them.  They were beautiful, their womanhood glistening wantonly in the candlelight.  They beckoned to the old monk and moaned, kissing one another as they batted their long eyelashes at him, fondling their breasts and caressing their womanhood with their hands.  Their twinned voices rang out in ecstacy.  The three-eyed monk leered at them, and leered at the old monk.

  “You have been celibate your whole life, ” the three-eyed creature said.   “Be embraced by Desire itself, before it is too late and you vanish into the unfeeling shadows once and for all. ”

 The old monk trembled slightly, in desire and in repulsion at his own desire.  Yet, he remained cross-legged upon the floor.

  “No, ” he said, his voice quivering.   “The kiss of the wind on my brow is more than I ever needed. ”

 Other demons among the throng readily took hold of the voluptuously twinned wanton and drew her in amongst themselves, pleasing her and themselves as was their wont.  The three-eyed looked on a while, grinning, then gestured to another creature.

 There came flowing out from among the demons a long serpentine dragon that glittered brightly.  Its scales were of gold and jewels, and these treasures rained down upon the temple floor as the dragon streamed and bent and twisted about the temple.  Clutched in its clawed hands were large pearls wherein reflected the old monk ’s face.

  “You have been poor your whole life, ” the three-eyed monk said.   “Take of these precious treasures and buy a kingdom!  Buy two!  You would live in comfort and . ”

 The old monk could see himself in the pearl, carried around in a palanquin by strong young men through a palace hung with silk and ornate with golden statues of Bodhisattvas grinning vastly.  Young women in lovely kimonos served him fruits and played music for him as he lounged among them, reclining among pillows stuffed with peacock feathers.

 Seeing himself luxuriate brought to mind the aches in his lower back, and in his hips, and in his knees and bones all over.  He trembled to think how wonderful such comforts might have been.  But he felt shame.

  “A roof above my head to keep out the rain, and a small fire to fend off the chill…that was always wealth enough for me, unmatched by any other earthly treasures.  Wealth is the reward from the work of others, heaped unjustly upon one ’s lap.  Why would I debase others, and myself, by encumbering them with my earthly burdens.  Our chains are ours alone to bear, and easy chains of jewels and coin bind us all the more strongly. ”

 The figures among the throng laughed as they scrambled to scoop up the wealth shed by the golden dragon.  The three-eyed monk watched them with great pleasure at their haste and havoc, especially as they fought over the jewels and swore and grappled.  After a time, he clapped his hands and the yokai retreated, their arms and tentacles and appendages encoiling great wealth.  The three-eyed monk grinned, beckoning forward another among the grotesqueries gathered there.

 Coming forward with a clumsy, ponderous step was a Tanuki.  It ’s large eyes gleamed beneath its straw hat, its bulbous belly (and sack) bouncing together as it stepped forward, carrying in its hairy arms a large cauldron.  The cauldron steamed fragrantly, redolent with meats of every kind; of ox and fish and chicken, all flavored with spices from the West and the tastiest vegetables the old monk had ever seen.  Heaving the cauldron up, the Tanuki slammed it down, sloshing the delicious broth and shaking the temple to its withered timbers.

 The Buddha statue, however, remained unmoved.

  “You have abstained from flavor your whole life, ” the three-eyed monk said.   “So feast, now, and know the true bounty of the earth in all its splendor. ”

 The monk opened his mouth —but whether because of hunger or refusal, even he did not know.  His stomach gurgled at the spicy flavors that tantalized him as they breathed fulsome in the small, crowded temple.  The monk moaned silently, but did not move.  At length, he spoke, though speaking was made more difficult by the salivating of his mouth.

  “A simple soup and tea nourished my body, mind, and soul unto great satisfaction, and I neither wanted or needed more. ”

 The three-eyed monk squinted suspiciously.  Shrugging, he waved a hand at the throng gathered, and they all converged upon the cauldron, scalding themselves unmindfully as they scooped out the delicious food and gobbled it down.  Not even a droplet of broth remained after they emptied the cauldron.

  “So much you have abstained from, ” the three-eyed monk remarked.   “And yet, so much could return to you at a word. ”

 He raised his hands and clapped them yet again, the candlelight flickering as if struck by a shearing gust of wind.  When the shadows around the temple wobbled back into a steady candlelight, all which the old monk had denied himself was once again before him: the conjoined wanton and her three breasts, the golden dragon and its visions of luxury and comfort, and the Tanuki ’s cauldron, brimming with succulent meats and spices.

  “Now choose, ascetic, ” the three-eyed monk said, gesturing to the temptations arrayed around the old monk.   “Choose to indulge or abstain.  It matters not either way, for upon this final night of your life your deaf-mute god does not care.  No one cares, except yourself. ”

 The old monk looked at the splendor before him, and he looked at the indifferent, graven statue of the Buddha.  With a wheezy voice, the old monk spoke.

 What he said, only his inner Buddha heard.

      ***

 It was many years before another monk was sent to the isolated mountain temple.  When he arrived he found it deserted.  There were swallows in the rafters and the garden had overgrown with weeds.  The Buddha ’s statue sat as it had always sat, his eyes closed in sleepy detachment.  The young monk did much work that day, preparing his home, and much more work the next.  For a week he worked to make the temple habitable again.  He did not remove the swallows, but let them remain, diligently cleaning up after them when they made messes upon the temple floor.  Later, when he lit his candle one evening to finally pray as he knew he should, he saw a shadow flicker from the candle that was not his own.  Whose it was, he did not know.  When he glanced around, he saw no one.  Only he and the Buddha statue occupied the temple.

 For a time.