BY DONALD RYBURN
A LONGING FOR STONES
"…and that constellation would be like an ardent sex…." Xavier Villaurrutia, Nocturno De Los Angeles
Night's stones fell from formless constellations,
Shadows of photographs,
Tiny voices down long corridors,
There is something akin to sweetness.
And her lover, a quick-silvered Evil,
In the sound of the skimmer,
On a lake of mirrors,
I take these sounds, these shadows, these voices,
Take them down darkling passages,
Where other phantoms think, fast and wait,
Awaken covered with silver-gray feathers of Merl swans,
Discover, dense, indefinable shapes,
The ghosts of dervishes,
An earth flush with brilliant white stones,
Emblazoned with the symbols and blue letters,
Of the High Watch
Stone became sheltered,
With black swans,
And futures unlearned,
Stone fell fifteen stories,
Imagined itself alive,
Among the frogs and ferns,
Salamanders of desire,
Stone became crushed,
Beneath caravans to Texas,
In endless black rains,
Became wet sand,
Squished through webbed fingers,
Love songs to St. Valentyne.
THE DEATH OF STONES
With what ardor shall these stones perish?
Shall they be reborn as a Zoroastrian myth or as an Essene mystic,
Creating a new gnosis in which to bloody the earth,
To make dead fools of children's children's children?
Shall they become mute and unmoving in the perception of minds,
Denied admittance to the universal consciousness?
Ascetic stones wandering in cypress swamps with only the hungry panther as companions?
Perhaps they could be honored by being crushed into weapons,
Hurled into the bodies of an unafraid race,
These stones who have sought only love,
Could walk backwards as a Hopi contrary,
Wear a clown face and sing arias from Vivaldi's La Griselda,
Become the hot and the cold of Donne's Holy Sonnet XIX,
Know not only hells but heavens, discover the Truth hidden beneath ancestral lies,
These stones do not know they are dying,
Blindly follow Campbell's bliss to oblivion,
Whilst emerging from the stony trenches the Blackwatch, the ladies from hell,
Arise into the fog as phantoms,
Eerie bagpipes playing Amazing Grace.
URSULA IN MONTEPULCIANO
Ursula, I remember the velvet pepper
Of Montepulciano wine
On my tongue
As I drank from the precious stones of your navel
Ursula, I remember these stones held images
Of ancient Germany
As if insects in amber
Ursula, we were not in Turkmenistan
Where no one is allowed to grow old
Or the black woods of your homeland
We were in Georgia
A place where diamonds mutated to steel
And love transcended distance
Became lost and afraid
Ursula, I remember the shadows,
Ghosts of true human love
That lived in your beautiful, pale eyes
Ursula, I remember you said,
"Salamanders demanded the areolas of my breasts as last rites"
Before the firing squads of your father
Ursula, I remember the shower
Of bullets at dawn
The sounds of exploded flesh
Ursula, I remember a final unworthy breath
THE STORY OF ROLAND
"Understand, ye sons of the wise, what this exceedingly precious stone proclaims….'And my light conquers every light, and my virtues are more excellent than all virtues….I begat the light, but the darkness too is of my nature….'" Hermes in Rosarium
Roland reflected on the frijoles negros and arroz amarrillo on his plate. They refused to yield to analysis, to become particle and wave. The energy that he consumed. Roland became a salamander. He sought back doors of bars, broken stones that whispered his name in immense, empty deserts.
Roland regretted leaving Lyotard's La Condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savior, a gift from Alexandra, where Rachel would discover it. Alexandra had inscribed the book, "Non plus papilloner, mon Destiné". A prophecy come true.
Roland's existence as a sphere of knowledge, now redundant. He understood the irony of the futility of intellect. He recognized loss as an absent god's cosmic joke. He reached with disgust for a spoon as Alyssa, his waitress whose shining, black curls demanded to be caressed at midnight, brought his check.
Alyssa, indifferent in black slacks, white blouse and yellow apron asked the strange man who ordered food but never ate, "Would you like a to-go box?"
Roland slowly placed the spoon back on the table, sought the dark stones of Alyssa's eyes with the liquid hazel of his own. A yellow jaguar with black rosette spots sprung from the tablecloth. The jaguar severed Roland's head with one swipe of its claw.
Alyssa turned and walked away leaving Roland's bleeding corpse to the curious kitchen dog's black tongue. She had witnessed this scene time and again and learned it is best to just walk away. Her shift would be over soon. Oddly, Alyssa was suddenly sure of how she would kill her incestuous father. She would murder him tonight. Tonight.
Roland's body would be dragged out into the alley by the maitre de where octogenarian men with digital cameras on short tripods would take pictures of his decaying body as it transformed into a salamander and slithered away. The photos would be posted on internet literary journal web sites within the hour. Alyssa never visited those sites. She preferred metaphysical chat rooms instead, where she posed as a male tantric massage therapist who specialized in energy work.
Roland's transition to a salamander this time was brief, interrupted by a knock on his door. The proprietor of his hotel demanding the rent. He also demanded Roland pay for the damage Rachel had done to the hotel with the Lalique glassware they had brought back from St. Julia, Andorra. She had broken the vases and figurines of angels against the hallway walls and doors to other rooms, causing great damage. Roland missed Rachel.
He had been naïve, he had thought Rachel was being concrete when she had said, "Good-bye". But Rachel was being semiotically real. Her body now a remote absence, her jasmine-scented, waist-length cranberry-tinted hair still filled his hands, his mouth. The soft undersides of her knees still quivered and yielded to the tongues of ten salamanders. Her breath still a crowned dragon forever circling the labyrinth of Roland's ribs, the webbing of his limbs. Roland now knew the sol niger, the dark night of Monogenes. He now knew what Rachel had meant when she had spoken to no one, "Venus said, "I begat the light, and the darkness is not of my nature….""
Roland had first appeared to Rachel as a ghost carrying a jade axe entwined with three sweet alyssum leaves. She spurned the handful of grain he offered. She said, "It is only real when it is known." He later became the seeds of a sunflower in an abandoned garden of a cloister where Rachel would sit in the wild grasses and read The Song of Roland in the original French. He adored her as the wind caused him to sway and spread out into the garden.
Rachel believed she was a chance child of nature, a seven-petal rose that blossomed aimlessly along a well-trodden path of lapis and gold. Rachel believed her answers would be found in the Song of Roland, in the treatises of Hermes Tristamegistus and in Zoroasterian texts. She grew variegated red and white roses, sapphire blue flowers in a quadrangular garden near a domed temple of palms.
She did not know that Roland would one day appear to her as a man. A man who would destroy her view of reality, cause her unconscious mind to rebel, to achieve dominance. A man she would desire, a man she would run away from in terror because she knew she loved him.
Roland said he had never experienced reason, that he had never been lost in chaos. He claimed a mediocre existence. He said he was a bubble in a fifth dimension. An entity with no goals, a sine qua non. Ezekial had known him as four living creatures. Alexandra, his lover in one of his other existences, knew him as tangential, a dream she was not sure occurred. He loved to sweep the garage of his home in Joplin, Missouri where he lived with his wife of twenty years, Angie. To the enlightened he appeared as a ghost offering grain, as silver spheres falling from the sky.
Roland knew that the dismal fate of Zagreus was reserved for him. He had walked away from the walls of culture. He had faced the Wheel of Fortune card backwards on his mirror. Roland now recognized the meaninglessness of the apotropaic words "occult" and "mystic'. He had believed that Rachel, more than anyone, would understand that he did not exist. That he was at this very moment in Holland with Alexandra making love at midnight on the grave of the still living Cees Nooteboom, that he was also whistling the aria, "Dove il valor combatte" from Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso, while sweeping a garage floor in Joplin, Missouri. He had wrongly believed that Rachel would covet the idea of his true life of God living as a dreaming salamander.
Rachel had recently said to no one, "All things must be ruled by the light.". Roland had thought the detached Rachel was simply saying, "Good-bye" in another of her subtle ways of saying it.. He now knew she had said "Good-bye" long ago, when they first embraced. She had kissed him once on each cheek, her small, firm breasts pressed against him. His eyes closed, he did not see her moss-laden eyes wander toward the back door. He remembered that she had whispered to no one, "Darkness is the absence of light, I do not feel a magic spark."
Roland achieved illuminatio. He had desperately tried to forget having ever read Nietzsche. He had seen tiny golden snakes proscribing magic circles in the dark wood of an ordinary walnut bar where Rachel had first served him Guiness Stout. Rachel with her one silent act of wiping the magic circles away with a pure, white cloth had caused him to know existence, to know love. That one act had revealed the secrets of the Sphinx, had shown him the exact center of the world at Harney Peak. Roland realized this wound was so deep it would never heal. He wept. Rachel pretended not to notice. She pulled the handle of the tap down, her eyes measuring the foam in the glass, watching the serrated spoon sifting the malt to make the liquid creamy and smooth while forming a celtic cross in the foam. Satisfied, she placed the glass in front of Roland, said, "This one's on me."
This was all past now. The landlord, using his pass key, opened the door to the crazy couple's room. A salamander crawled silently across the windowsill and out the gap of the slightly opened window. Looking around the landlord saw no sign of anyone having even been in the room. Confused and suddenly overcome with desire, he left the room and went downstairs in search of his daughter, Alyssa. "Just one more time", he thought. "Just once more."
'Blue hummingbirds, in slow motion,
Nurtured themselves at Alexandra's
Small breasts, feathered nectar, nipples
Rested impossible wings on tiny hills
Blue hummingbirds became delirious,
Had visions of Allah in honey,
No longer created crosses with their wings,
In ecstatic reverie they flew west,
To an island where mediocrity is venerated,
Where chickens are Brahmans.
Blue hummingbirds were sent back to sea,
By immigration officers,
They were not allowed,
To touch the earth.'