Excerpt from my novel, “The Burning Garden”

A short excerpt from the novel I’ve written, The Burning Garden. Let me know what you think.

– – –

There was a long line at the bodega’s checkout counter. Outside, it began to drizzle. The rain arrived sooner than I expected.

The woman two spots ahead struggled at the register with her card. I think it was declined. I wasn’t upset. I was sleepy, a small bit drowsy. My eyes were fixated on the television behind the Yemeni clerk’s head. A newsreel about the airstrike on Syria showed infrared footage of a few bombs dropped on tiny rectangles. They were airplane hangars, if we’re to trust the talking heads and unnamed analysts telling us so.

The clips of bombs, troops marching, and vehicle convoys played one after another. The collage became the visual spirit of war itself. I found myself entranced by the violence.

Any five-second footage recorded in the Middle East within the last fifteen years resembles the perpetual strife plaguing the region where tears and rivers alike have dried away, leaving behind a jagged foundation of rubble where only predation itself can survive in the mad dance. The actors have different names: Al Baghdadi. Morsi. Bin Laden. Yet the performance remains the same, the lines and roles unchanged, the score played by the same tired strings-and-woodwind section that calls the orchestral pit home.

Barbarism at last. All of history has but one page. Our grandparents’ Europe has seen the tracers of Hell streaking across an ancient sky while the fires scorched her soil and the smoke disemboweled the spirit of her children. Mao’s China ate its own. The Bear was Red with the blood and innards of anyone trampled underneath his claws. Is the world dying? Perhaps it is, in the same way an infant crawls towards inevitable death upon departing from the womb. In life, death approaches, but there was once a time when we were careful not to drink from the mythical river Lethe, a stagnant stream which induces forgetfulness and delirium. Long, almost boastful sips of the water we now take, confident that the plastic wealth which fortifies our free-range prisons will impart on us eternal life. Spirit is left to languish as immortality is pursued through the hoarding of trinkets and distractions; we inadvertently furnish our own tombs with earthly goods decades before our passing. Are we already dead? If the question must be asked, the unheard answer is a resounding ‘yes’. What is dead was once alive. The question, then, becomes not an inquiry if the world is dying, but how — why — it’s passing echoes through our time.

Yes — what is alive will one day die. Shrapnel doesn’t tear through the guts of pedestrians pacing the avenues. The roar of gunshots rips not through their eardrums. One day, war may very well swallow this city, but as I look up and down the ever-busy Manhattan streets, I don’t see faces twisted in pain or fear. In fact, I don’t see much of anything at all. Tabulae rasa, blank slates onto which their podcasts and professors and crap-artists will hungrily write what once was written on them, with maybe a phrase or two changed for the appearance of originality, not for the exploration of real substance begging to be discovered. This isn’t life. This is wanton God-playing, invoking social mutations “just to see what happens” and letting the product march in victory down Times Square in the name of celebrating the resulting incongruities of spirit and cohesion as “diversity.”

Once upon a time, our world wasn’t an experiment. Life ceases in experimentation.

Our world is dead, for once upon a time, it was alive.

“Sir. Sir?”

The trance was broken. The two people ahead of me had already left the store, and the cashier stood there with impatient confusion. I paid for my lunch and walked back to the apartment.

 

Anti Antifa

We know flags mean much to you,
for you wave them in our face,
but tear and burn our own, you do,
and somehow, you avoid disgrace.

Codified is your doctrine,
despite others’ naive claims.
Beliefs defined as our opposition
is how you play this deadly game.

Unified are your resources,
for, where there’s smoke, there’s mirrors;
revealed are your donors and sources
whom fuel your reign of terror.

You preach “No KKK, No Fascist USA”,
but bruise those who nurse mild qualms.
You screech Marx and sing May Day
but beat those who dare cite the Psalms.

Your curses on the boys in green —
second to those on the boys in blue,
even as the latter is seen,
while you protest, protecting you.

But, truly, I say with heavy heart and sadness,
you shall rue the day when you get what you want:
two side orders of lead and madness
as patience wanes and restraint turns gaunt.
For whom the gods wish to destroy, they impassion, and make mad,
and rabid raiders at the gates, are your financiers and comrades;
Read the writing on the walls of the country, villages, and towns —
Heed this warning while you can: Stand down, stand down, stand down!

Moments dropped

I saw a statue weeping
at the ruins of Penn Plaza.

He fell to his knees.
Cursed fate for his demise.
Evaporated into a
minimalist mist.

———

Form is an eternity’s final moment,
the hand on the doorknob,
weak legs standing
at the ledge

and

we are busy destroying beauty,
building filth,
throwing our sons to the dogs.
We lament the tiny letters,
we despair the harsh sentence,
but the gentle Word
is dust.

———

I walked through the sorry vapor,
and, somehow —

spiegel im spiegel

Our crosses are broken,
Our chops are well busted,
but the Lord strikes the keys
and plays a melody.

My head thinks its funny
to play pranks on my heart,
which loses its temper
and throws a glass on the floor
which shatters into a thousand regrets,
but the Lord strikes the keys
and plays a melody.

Our nations are dens of knaves.
To the dogs, our fathers, they gave.
We are being replaced.
The arches bear weight no more,
but the Lord strikes the keys,
and plays a melody.

Atlas retires with a broken back.
Disc herniation at L5-S1.
Spinal Osteoarthritis.
A knot at the nape of his neck,
a crick in his jaw,
but the Lord strikes the keys,
and plays a melody.

My grandmother’s birthday was today.
For every year gained,
five pounds are lost.
Not enough strength to open
the peanut butter jar,
but the Lord strikes the keys
and plays a melody.

The West crumbles.
I fight writer’s block.
Imposters of each other.
But if you listen,
you clearly hear

the Lord striking the keys,
and playing a melody.

Mootopia

Eat, drink from the Rivers of Cream.
Contention expressed:
excess body mass index. Laziness?
No — retention, say the biologists.
Base forms stomping a primitive path,
watchmen forbidden from expressing their wrath.
From the codices of life, hidden, is inequality,
and Christian restriction is preached in the face of savagery.
“Are we the Abyss?”, for they have become it,
coloring their eyes, trading wool for silk,
as they curse from the cow but drink the milk.

Sunday Night forecast; September 2017

Human hearts hang from wires.
Weak knees sway and bend in strange winds
from abroad.

A man told me that Man is bankrupt.
He drove an old Porsche,
original upholstery, rebuilt engine,
passion-red paint now faded,
built in a land of autumn protracted.

Why do they prepare not for winter?

Travel guides for avenues lost
litter the shed of the huntsman,
fiery in youth, thirsty, far from the water.
Yet he knows a river frozen
was once a river flowing,
and the valleys shake with anticipation.

“Benzene! Benzene!”, the Merchant chants.
Some wait not for Spring. They bathe in gasoline,
some catch fire, worship flames, burn out,

but the heat unfreezes not the river.

Winter in Summer. Frostbite at sunrise.
Human hearts hang from wires,
Weak knees sway and bend in strange winds
from abroad.

Saltwater

I’ve been told
that Columbus never discovered America,
that the accolade belongs to the indigenous,
to the Vikings, to Zheng He.

Yet the impassioned Genovese
who knew America since birth,
since childhood, through every failure
and sickness,

who knew without knowing,

didn’t allow the dream to die
in the hearts of men sacrificed,
in shabby trading posts,
or in the footnote of a forgotten map.

No.

Children frolic.
Men challenge the horizon.

Colombo of Genoa
knew America before America knew America,
before he knew he.

It filled his eyes and stomach,
gripped his strained heart,
beleaguered his ships,
clouded his intellect,
weakened his knees
as it’s unsung song
rung in his ears,
while men heard only the whistle of wind
passing through torn sails.

Find something in this life
and let it own you.
Let it save you,
kill you.

Colombo of Genoa discovered America,
for America owned him,
America saved him,
and, before summoning his silent resurrection,
America killed him.

He wasn’t the first
to know of soil beyond the Atlantic,
to know of cities with temples and greed,
to know of the tribes and their tangles of strife,
but Colombo of Genoa
discovered America
for Colombo of Genoa
fell madly in love.

Pagliacci

My own take on the Western myth of “Clown goes to Doctor”

 

The doctor gazed into the mirror at the man he no longer knew. Splashing ice-water onto his face reminded him, though, that his feet were still planted on firm ground. He could practically smell the funeral in his breath, but that fateful day was still months away.

“It’s damn aggressive, Thomas. It’s metastasized beyond your lungs and liver, and even if we were to . . .”

The messenger’s voice grew small. Insignificant. Once more, Thomas was a young boy, holding his grandmother’s hand as they walked through the garden of marigolds and primrose, laughing at the clumsy bumblebees, listening to the old woman’s lullaby.

 

I’m just a kid again,
doing what I did again . . .

 

He grew impatient holding his hands under the air dryer. Wiping them against his corduroy pants, the doctor left the bathroom to see the very last patient of his thirty-nine-year career.

He knocked twice on the door and entered.

“Joseph Tristero? I’m Doctor Mortimer,” he said, extending his arm for a handshake. “Nice to meet you.”

“Oh . . . hi. Nice to meet you.”

“What brings you in today? I’m seeing here . . . fatigue?” The doctor sat on the rolling chair, flipping through the pages of Mr. Tristero’s medical history.

“Yeah, Doc. I just . . . always feel sick. Everything looks gray. I ache all over . . . sometimes, it’s difficult to speak . . .”

“How long have these symptoms been present?”

“Months, Doc.”

“Alright. Fever? Cough? Chills?”

“No, none of those.”

The doctor wasn’t a psychologist. Many years ago, when he began his studies, he saw the Woodstock crowd flocking to Psychology in droves. Before his mentors’ eyes, the discipline became a pseudoscience begging to be rendered obsolete. Sure, he had considered it. To cure invisible ailments which cripple the mind, he thought, is a remarkable thing. Yet, a general practitioner of medicine he became, relegating the shrinks to a lonely corner of absurdity as age stalked him in the dark.

“OK. No vitamin D deficiency? I’m not seeing anything like that here . . .”

“No. Not that I know of.”

“Alright. That very well could be the issue here. Winter is right around the corner. We’ll take a blood sample, and send —”

Tristero shook his head. “No needles.”

“Oh, the staff here is experienced, and you won’t feel —”

“No needles. It isn’t Vitamin D, Doc . . .”

Somehow, as if the entire world was suspicious with therapists’ peculiar remedies and the cleanliness of the leather couches which furnish their offices, Dr. Mortimer received patients, almost daily, whom required psychological counseling. He learned to shut up, check for vitamin deficiencies, and take their co-pay. This Tristero, though — he was the last patient the doctor would ever see before the sandy Long Island dirt was thrown on top of his pine coffin. Mortimer had no children, no wife. His marriage lasted three years. Beth cheated. Twice. They sought counseling, but she was gone six months later. He didn’t cry. He signed the papers, watched television, and went to bed. Yet his interaction with Tristero had weight. It had purpose, although it could’ve been anybody sitting on the treatment table. In this respect, he was connected more to a total stranger than his own wife. Death is a strange matchmaker.

He gingerly set the medical records aside, next to the sink, below the cabinets.

“It’s rough, kid.”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s rough out there. Especially for you young guys. The world isn’t the same . . .”

“. . .”

“I don’t have the tools to properly diagnose you. But I don’t want to send you elsewhere. Do you have a wife? Kids?”

“No.”

“Well . . . regardless, it’s a beautiful night. I suggest you get outside. Go to the boardwalk. See the carnival lights. Maybe the ocean is still warm at this time of the year. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t swam in ages. Eat a hot dog. In fact . . . what’s his name? The great Pagliacci, ‘the Teller of Jokes, the Merrymaker of Men’. That’s his stage name, at least. Last of his kind. Fantastic comedian. He’ll be performing at eight o’clock, on the dot, in the circus tent. It’s late in the year, but they still have it up. I think I’ll be there tonight. You may enjoy the show. Maybe you’ll meet a young woman. Join me, if you like. I could use the company.”

“But, Doctor,” Tristero confessed, “I am the great Pagliacci, the Teller of Jokes, the Merrymaker of Men.”

The Westernmost Colonies

“ALL aboard, fill the decks:
on full steam we cruise the seas;
Sorrows, hardship left behind . . .”

Two Muslim girls walk side by side, the
winds caressing not their hijabs. Starched,
heavy cloth irritates the skin, covers the ears.
Schoolgirls. Giggling, parents arguing,
sending money back home. Patchwork Paki-flags
sewed onto backpacks.

On the Williamsburg once —
day laborers lamenting Friday’s curse,
the pickpocket of the worker.
Spanish between the bridge’s beams —
torn between music & drink,
or sending money back home.

They met up near Clinton,
for a Honduran-day parade.

Kings without scepters or subjects
are overthrown by the laborer,
river-crosser, ferrier,
sun-baked farmer of fallow futures.

Money is time, time is blood:
all three, the Imperial sends back home.
Colonials keep their tongue, fly their flag,
harvest the land for the campaigns planned.

A Torn Envelope, No Return Address

The amphitheater’s crowd draws a silenced anger
as tragedy and comedy the cast and crew confuse.
All the world’s a stage for the revenge-exacting fools,
but when the scripts are scrubbed clean, who controls who?
Some from the audience up and leave,
to mourn the fallen Muse, laid to eternal rest;
those who stay settle in and loiter
awaiting the leery Host’s marching orders.
Expression became control in these United States:
the dialectic’s culture-war became our fate.
Washington surrendered upon Horkheimer’s advance
as decorum languished and hedonism grew great.