Essay, guns, literature, nonfiction, prose, religion, Truth, violence, writing

At war with the blind

Turns out the election of 2016 was a declaration of war. America is at war with itself and it’s not clear who is winning. We Americans didn’t recognize it for war at the time, but it’s clear now and clearer every day—with each childish act, each transgression by the populist president and the blind allegiance to him by those who turn the cheek to his lies, indecency, and hypocrisy. They’d rather not see the truth. It doesn’t conform to the reality they’ve invented.

Instead, they make excuses. They claim that journalism is their enemy; and in a way, they are right. Journalism is a purveyor of news—news is the running narrative of the current state of the world. Most news organizations rely on facts and truth to inform the public, to check authority and keep it from running wild with abandon. But these people are not concerned with facts and truth. Perhaps they never were.

They converse in small circles of their own, unable to communicate beyond their self-imposed borders. Their ideas are small; their speech hateful. To them, the mind is not a tool or weapon, but a liability. Their weapons of warfare: guns and faith in a god that would not recognize their warped idea of that god’s intended purpose or morality. Somewhere along the way, they decided their god had a white face and carried an assault rifle.

The religious right got the president they think is a crusader for their religion. But he’s not—he’s lying about being a practicing Christian just as he lies about everything else. The Christians think they have god on their side. I am a reformed Christian, so I know their sad story well. It’s a story in which they have owned the last two thousand years. Yet history is not on their side.

God and guns are their hallmarks, despite their lord and savior’s abhorrence to violence. If their Jesus were alive today they would not recognize him. They would ridicule him, persecute him, expel him, torture him, imprison him, murder him. Those on the Christian Right have deluded themselves. They look out at the world through veiled eyes and do everything possible to avoid seeing what’s really, truly there. They have the vision of a bat—their eyes do not work, and noise guides their focus. But whereas bats were cursed by nature with lack of eyesight, the blindness of the Christian Right is self-imposed.

The two sides prepare for battle in opposite ways. I prepare by improving my eyesight—by reading the sages, by keeping myself informed through reliable, proven news sources (not commentary). Most importantly, I prepare by thinking. As a journalist, I feel the declaration of war more intimately or personally than most. This is a war on truth and decency. The president and his blind followers bring their guns, their anger, their certainty that they are right to the battlefield. Where I come from, only people who couldn’t fight carried guns.

I bring the lessons of history and the sages who have lived through such battles and emerged victorious. Wisdom and open mindedness will always prevail against lies, intolerance, false patriotism, hypocrisy, violence, and indecency. I study the lessons of the past and sharpen my sword by lamplight every night. I urge you to do the same, and above all to participate in the civic discussion by spreading the truth you see all around you.

—Your brother and rebel for truth.

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Fiction, Fire, guns, love, philosophy, postmodernism, religion, spirituality, Truth, violence

verve/violence/virtue

The young man dismounted his horse in the mad clatter of battle and forgot about his life, the unwritten codes and reverence of the land and deep honored traditions. He forgot about his young wife and the lump in her belly and he moved swiftly through the fog of rifle smoke trailed by his own long braids and the mad shrieks of wounded men. He approached the white man with red hair lying supine and staring at him from the mud. There were men upon wild horses weaving incoherently through the smoke with their guns or war clubs raised and there were fleeting visions of other men riding boldly and bareback but long ago killed on the battlefield and a small white sun directly overhead trembled each time the white men in blue coats fired their wagon-gun.

The young man stepped over the men strewn across the sodden prairie field and unsheathed his bowie and crouched down next to the white man. He took a handful of the man’s red hair and looked into his eyes. A bullet whistled over the young man’s head and another screamed by his left ear and he sliced the white man’s forehead from temple to temple and said to him quietly in Lakota, “The wind does not cry for you.”

Then he stood and tore the scalp from the white man’s skull and held it up to the sky and screamed while the white man in his final moments of life watched his own blood drip down the young man’s arm, his torso, lean and brown and heaving muscle in the gray light.

That night the young man sat alone in his tipi and thought about the mystery of battle, the subtle violent leanings of men and the power to forget one’s self amid the jolts of heightened awareness. Outside, the red fire glowed bestial and the hypnotic throb of victory drums brought to life the dancing ghosts of many dead men both white and red and the young man agreed with the ageless wisdom of his ancestors that warfare was indeed more spiritual than physical, that courage was an extension of the self but that acting upon that courage according to honor and principle was integrally selfless.

The young man reclined onto his blankets and listened to the chanting of his people and breathed deeply to remove the walls of his mind. He remembered what he had said to the white man with red hair and he reminded himself that the wind cried for no man, especially not the man who honored and defended it with his own life.

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Crime, Fiction, guns, philosophy, religion, Truth, violence, writing

We communicate

He had to remind himself to breathe.

Sitting there in the truck, liquid daylight leaking into the city, he couldn’t breathe unless he thought about it. Counting backwards from thirty. He reached forward to the radio and turned the station. He turned again, and then again, trying to find a balance, something to soothe him.

“Hey asshole. Stop with the radio.”

“I’m a little on edge, is all.”

“Yeah, me too. Before I break it.”

“All right, jesus.” He reached forward and turned the radio off. “That better?”

The driver didn’t say anything. He leaned his head back on the headrest and closed his eyes.

The guy in the passenger seat looked out the window. He didn’t care to watch the dark monotony of night slip away to another day’s luminous truth. He didn’t notice the ravens swirling stark in the rectangle of sky above the alley. He could have rolled down his window and focused his attention on the sound of morning, the crisp regeneration and cool yawning concrete. That might have calmed him. He picked up his Walther instead, slipped out the magazine and then clicked it back in. Out and in. Down and up. Click, click. Click, click. The smell of the city never changes overnight and for some men the sound and feel of a loaded gun is worth a thousand dawns.

“You know what I was thinking?” the driver said.

“You were thinking.”

“We’re isolating ourselves.”

The guy in the passenger seat stopped playing with the Walther.

“I mean, not like, you and me. I mean all of us. The world. Americans.”

“How’s that?” Click, click.

“The technologically advanced.”

“Please elaborate.”

“There is movement toward isolation in the wake of technological advancement. This happens on a personal level, but also culturally. People shrinking from each other. Less face-to-face contact. The more technologically advanced a culture becomes, the more its parameters of communication shift. The modes change shape with each new wave of progress. Think about it.”

“The Internet.”

“Think about the language. Dialects. Think about means of expression. The invention of words and terms.”

“You’re thinking about the Internet. People shop for anything from home. They don’t need to go out, spend hours in the bookstore or trying on a pair of pants.” Click, click. “They don’t have to go to the bar or to church to find a date, to sample the talent.”

“Notice how almost everyone has a mobile phone now,” the driver said, lifting his up and looking at it. “We use these phones to communicate in a myriad of ways.”

“Less standing in line. The Internet has made standing in line an endangered species.”

“Text and e-mail. Voice. Video, photo. Imagine if we could see the streams of communication going on all around us. Even right now, at this hour. Imagine all the invisible voices and coded language, all the hidden data. Slender rhythm of radio and television waves. Digital binary information, little ones and zeros dictating the pulse and flow of all the world’s knowledge.”

“The prayers.” Click, click. “Imagine if we could see all the prayers.”

“I wonder what it would look like, if each mode of communication was a different color.”

They looked through the windows to the alley set in cool morning shadow, the chinked and stained concrete, old brick facades of buildings left to derelicts and huddled runaways. Dumpsters ahead and behind them filled with waste matter. The driver looked up through the windshield to the sky, a snatch of cloudless pale blue emerging stridently to claim another awed human rumination.

“The change is so gradual that we can hardly scrutinize it,” the driver said. “I mean, we go from a megabyte of technology to a gigabyte. We go from cordless phones to cellular phones.”

“From Playstation 2 to Playstation 3.”

“We don’t graduate straight to high-def television from shortwave radio.”

“Self-deification takes patience.” Click, click.

“Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the transformation is dense and tangible enough to observe and study, maybe even to manipulate. Maybe this is what the guys in lab coats and power suits are thinking of next. Clustered in places called Washington. New York. Los Angeles. Cairo.”

“Las Vegas.”

“Sitting around a table, men wearing gleaming white ghoutras and women dressed in paramilitary fatigues, guerrilla-clad luminaries with mysterious backgrounds and red smiling faces.”

“Calculating the science of communication in order to control it.”

The guy in the passenger seat clicked the magazine free of the gun and clicked it back into place and he looked down to it black and reassuring in his hands and he imagined how he would react if the people in the bank mutinied or if the cops came in with their guns aloft and he tried to imagine pointing the Walther at one of them and pulling the trigger and he told himself he could do it if he had to but he wasn’t convinced. He pictured his wife of twenty-four and in his mind he saw their son with his mother’s curly blond hair and his father’s stone gray eyes and he tried to imagine how his family would survive if the action this morning went south.

“Do they even have record stores anymore?” he said. “Are there such establishments as record stores, and are they operational? Quite frankly I haven’t seen one in at least a year.”

“People on the subway. Most of them plugged into a music player. The others with their heads buried in a shiny magazine. Maybe there are books. I think people still read books.”

“Nobody burns books anymore.” Click, click.

“Nobody talks about how the ball team is doing. Nobody asks about the wife and kids.”

“The discussion board is the new subway.”

“People assume the wife and kids are fine. The wife and kids are healthy and plentifully drugged.”

“People assume.” Click, click. “People shouldn’t assume.”

The driver reached forward and flipped the radio back on. He changed the station to a news program and the two of them sat listening to the hurried headlines until the sweeping brand of day lit its distinct mark upon the world and the cellular phone buzzed in the driver’s pocket.

“We’re on,” he said, and started the truck.

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Crime, Fiction, guns, madness, philosophy, postmodernism, spirituality, Truth, writing

Vigil

I pulled the car through the winding hillside streets in the evening stillness and I thought it both strange and affecting how in that town one could scarcely peer through the thick shrouding gray to the setting sun beyond. Crooked rows of small one-story frame houses in light pastel colors, the yards manicured into taut pristine statements and the black bay water forever looming immense and threatening in the background. Anonymous joggers of dusk puffing the saline air beneath the watchful eye of antique streetlamps not yet ignited to life there in the grayest of twilight.

I parked in front of a modest green house enclosed by a painted wrought-iron gate with RENNAY engraved into its steel nameplate. The sky sunk from gray to charcoal and I walked through the creaking gate to the house and rapped quietly on the front door and waited for the old woman to answer. It took her several minutes but she finally opened the door and the front room smelled of wilted lilac and dust and candle wax. She didn’t speak but led me to the right through a long hallway and I entered a dark room near the far end of the house where there was no indication of the neighborhood outside nor the secular bay at dusk nor the concept of space or even time as contingent upon men to decipher such things. It was dark in the room and there were jagged shadows dancing on the walls behind the molten arrhythmia of candle flames licking the air.

“Finally you show up in this town and I can’t offer you a drink,” the old man said. He sat staring at me from a rocking chair in the corner of the room, heavy patched blankets covering his body. “I drank the last of the scotch,” he said, holding up an empty tumbler, rolling it slowly around in his thin fingers. “Eighty-four years old.”

I stood and looked from the old man to the candles spread in divine geometric petition throughout the room.

“Come over here and sit,” he said. “What I have isn’t contagious.”

“I’m fine,” I said calmly. “Listen. Some men are on their way here. They’ll be here just before dawn. They have guns. They’ll threaten you and they might even kill you. They’re coming here looking for a box of papers. I believe you know which one.”

The old man looked away from me to a candle at his left, the flame rolling and thrashing in shades of orange and red, his face illumined by the throbbing vigorous glow that had not truly come from within in many years.

“These men,” I said. “I’m the one who sent them.”

I turned my face to the flickering lights and the mad swaying shadows born from them and I told the man to give me the box of papers so that it would not fall into the hands of the men who were coming for it.

The old man was silent for a long time. He looked from the candles to me and then back to the candles, forty or fifty wavering truths whipping loose and radiant about him, little eyes of fire sustaining his brooding contemplations and force-feeding his old heart.

“I spend a lot of time in here staring at these candles,” he said. “Just thinking. Little flames swirling in the air. It comforts me. Colors and privation of colors. All the answers I’ll ever need. One of the things I often think of while sitting here is the queer relationship between time and light.”

He looked up at me again, his dark eyes afire with strands of pooled light, pale and intractable and omniscient.

“We were taught as children that the human brain receives visual information as the cornea intercepts it from the light spectrum. As if the light wasn’t there before. As if it needed the human brain’s sanction to exist at all. We were also taught that the mind assimilates this visual data into assorted modes of scientific and psychological assertion. Cause and effect. Theory. Association. Illusion. The mind thrusts upon itself certain varieties of light as time’s witness, as specific and inalienable proofs of time. Our vision, more than any of our other senses, acts as a placeholder for all the things we experience in this world. It is the supreme catalog of the human condition. Of course, light is synonymous with many things in the human lexicon, but the most pervasive of associations is light with the pairing of our concept of time. For those of us who are not blind, and I imagine even for some of us who are, the visible world is permanently wed to history. We cannot think of the past without trying to see it, trying to visualize it. We can’t possibly comprehend a future without looking for it, trying to see what our world will look like. But light is not time, my friend. Nor does it exist in time. Light creates its own time, it carries its own dimensions, all of which far exceed and outperform our frail human understanding. Time is a human machination, a device of logic and pragmatic substance. But light is meta-human. It operates as an instrument of the gods, as a divine right of privilege, the sole witness of soul transit and multi-dimensional communion in this, an omnisensory universe of mere human speculation.”

He sat silent for a while and then he pointed with a long bony finger to the closet at my right where the box of papers sat small and dusty on the carpet. I looked at the man and picked up the box and began to walk out the door.

“The light of this world does not create shadows,” the old man said to my back.

*

I sat on the pier and watched the gulls float high above the lapping bay tongue, darkened ghosts circling slow and listless in the gray dawn. I checked my watch and turned around just in time to see the clock tower behind me strike the top of the hour and I heard the brawny bell echo throughout the bay town and when I turned back to face the water the gulls were gone. Something was moving about in my pocket and so I pulled out the vibrating cellular phone to answer it.

“Something’s missing.”

“What is it?”

“Looks like records. There’s a dimple in the carpet where a box, maybe a pile of boxes used to be.”

I sat silent, listening to the cold water slap the wood pier at my feet, looking into the murk for some vestige of life in that bleak and dark cold mystery. I watched the foam froth against the wood and fizzle away and then repeat itself again and again as it has for a hundred years, and for another hundred years before that.

“Maybe it means something,” I said. “Maybe it doesn’t.”

“Yes sir.”

“Christian.”

“Yes sir.”

“Let them go.”

“Yes sir.”

I put the little phone in my pocket and saw a steamship crawl across the water way out on the horizon. It was big and black and rumbling in ill spirit of augury and I stood up and listened to my bones creak and I felt the muscles begin their little dance of mutiny and then I turned and walked back to town, the opening of shops and emergence of sleepy-eyed buskers and myriad invisible homeless advancing from the margins of town with their ragged blankets and empty bottles and I walked beneath that old clock tower that had endured windstorm and pestilence and centuries of starless night with nothing to display but its consistent pulsing record of history and its rote totalitarian demands.

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dreams, Fiction, guns, madness, philosophy, postmodernism, religion, spirituality, Truth, violence

Pretender

trident.jpg

I opened the door halfway and peered into the shadowed hallway, rows of closed doors disappearing into the darkness, rain splattering on the roof above. I came to investigate the mysterious scratching noise but it was gone, nothing but silence and dust in the hall and so I closed the door, my back pressed against it. Solid shafts of white moonlight shot through the alley window into my kitchen. My feet were cold on the linoleum. 

Those were the days and nights I pretended at life. I wasn’t actually living. I heard noises that weren’t really there and saw things that were hundreds of miles away or thousands of years in the past. I was a sickly Roman guard in the time of Augustus or I was a truck mechanic in Barstow in the mid-eighties, drinking cheap whiskey and threatening my wife with a butcher knife. I was an apprentice Panther in Chicago the night the cops stormed in and killed Fred Hampton in his sleep. I had all these dreams, I was living vicariously in my sleep, breathing through unfamiliar faces with a stranger’s lungs, seeing things as though I had adopted their histories and experiences and somehow suspended my own. I believed I had control over this. 

I walked to the bathroom and swallowed another pill, water from a glass on the dusty sink. A brief glance in the mirror was all I needed to know I’d rather not see the real man, the real face. 

I went back to the bedroom and slipped in between icy sheets, wincing at the muscular contraction in my back and legs. I settled in and lay on my stomach, the spare pillow tucked tightly in the crook of my arm, rhythm of breath, mouth twisted into a beautiful crescent-shaped lie. I wondered what I was going to be next, where I was going to live, under what circumstances I was going to die. I wondered if I would experience love and what type of woman it would be  and what time would feel like on my skin and I didn’t think about my real life, laden with taciturn responsibility. I ignored the bills that had been collecting for weeks in my real life mailbox and I didn’t care when I had last eaten real life food. What concerned me ultimately was descending back into some parallel existence I could occupy without the needless truths and trivialities of the life I really had but never wanted. 

I had this idea, I told this friend of mine that mental waves are just like radio waves, man, only they travel on a different plane in a separate dimension, all around us. They’re out there. Just like radio and light waves, our thoughts can be intercepted if there is something to receive them. Something that recognizes the data and catches it in flight. I was sure of this. It was my personal scientific experiment. I was the receptor, the gifted one, my life completely fulfilled in subordination to the lives of others. I was the ultimate spiritual medium. I wanted to unstitch time and experience history first hand, catalog the memories, document the universe as the stories were told to me by the people who actually lived them. It would be an endeavor unrivaled in the history of the universe. I told my friend that ever since people had unlocked the mystery of the solar system and defined the hazy and ubiquitous machinery of time, they’d been trying to subvert it. 

This was the premise. All those other lives were so much better than mine. I was enthralled by the magnificent uncertainty of it all. Each time I swallowed another pill and laid to rest I was frightened by the possibility of not knowing what to expect, where I would end up. 

I was just happy because I didn’t have to be me. 

There’s a cock crowing somewhere nearby, darkness, the smell of animals, dirt. Lying on my back, thick hay needles stabbing my ass, my legs. The sound of running water, chill of morning, eyes adjusting to thin beams of light fighting through cracks in the wall. I’m in a barn. I look around, stand up, acknowledge my nakedness, the wide door opens, giant rectangle of sunshine exploding inward, blinding me. 

“Well, well,” a man’s voice says. My hands in front of my face, eyes scrunched to fight off the excruciating light. Large silhouetted figures of people. “If it ain’t the great pre-ten-dor.” 

There is women’s laughter and I feel suddenly vulnerable, exposed. I drop a concealing hand to my manhood but the organ feels too large, it’s humongous, ridiculously grotesque. Violence and death are present in the room, living beings, tangible shadows lurking. 

“Do you think this man went and got a horse’s dick, or this horse went and got a man’s body?” the man asks the women. He’s moving toward me, holding something long, thin. A rifle or shotgun. The women laugh again and there’s an aura of diamond fire about the man’s silhouette. He wields considerable power, celestial power, and I know without seeing him complete that he’s a traveler, he’s a receptor like me, a dreamer but a killer, perhaps something even more grand. Wanton and unscrupulous. 

“Horse-man,” the killer says softly, moving toward me, the giant gun in his hands. I can’t see his face. “You should be fuckin’ horses. Not women in this ‘ere county.” 

He keeps moving toward me and the women loiter in the background, squealing with girl’s delight. The man approaches nearer, nearer, and I’m still standing naked and bare with one hand shielding my eyes and the other hand hovering around my giant snaking sex and I have a sudden lucid understanding of the man’s nature and his influence on history, the spirit of the murder-at-large, transient violence for all occasions and without discrimination, the embodiment of darkness masquerading as brilliantine light. 

“Go on, now,” he says over his shoulder and the women take a final lasting peek at the freak standing naked in the barn. They leave in quiet reluctance, two dark figures shuffling out of the light, out of sight. 

“What are you?” I ask the man, and my voice is something like a man’s but not really. There’s an animal resonance in it, a throaty tin shriek boiling up from my chest, the words barely discernible as they leave my mouth. I realize the sound of running water has stopped.

The man walks in close and his head eclipses the bright light and I can finally see his face and I drop my hand from my eyes. It’s the same face from all dreams, eternal in its youth, a study in perfection, a million arcane and familiar likenesses of everyone that I’ve ever known, the face of those select scenes from all the books ever written in time, the man from the light, the same face that paints every decimated body  hanging on every crucifix in every building and revelation, the same eyes of the glittering mad as they pay reverence to it. 

“Forget it,” I say, and I close my eyes and the man’s light swallows me entire, the life of the transient dream traveler, my real life as it was lived without moderation or truth of spirit.

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