Home-State Poetry Reading

by Tom Wolpert on February 24, 2022

I arrive at the coffee house early and enter to secure my dose of caffeine. The manager, Jen, is working alone behind the counter.

“Hi – supermax coffee, room for cream.” She nods at this familiar order. “And is it okay if I assemble a few chairs? I want to read some poetry.”

“Are you expecting anyone?” she replies, with her back to me to fill the order.

“No, not really. I want to read some poetry to empty chairs.”

“How many chairs?” she asks, turning her head.

“Four or five,” I suggest.

“How many poems?” she asks, perhaps smiling slightly, although she has available a pretty dead-pan sort of face, which she employs now.

“One or two. Maybe a couple.” I reply, guarded.

“And if we have some paying customers come?” she asks. “Who might want some chairs?”

“I promise to surrender them – upon demand – implied or explicit,” I acknowledge.

“You’re not going to hurt them, are you?” Jen asks, now not bothering to contain her amusement. “We value them, you know. Our customers, and our chairs.” She put back on her dead-pan expression.

“Who has ever been harmed by poetry?” I reply, with the wounded expression of every misunderstood artiste who has ever lived.

“Here’s your coffee. And okay as to the chairs, until more customers come. Use the back area,” she permitted. She paused, then offered, “If I have a minute, maybe I’ll stop back there to listen.”

“Poetry is like God’s grace. There for all who wish to partake,” I announce, noting that her dead-pan expression had softened, perhaps an inch.


A Poised and Muted Home-State Morning

When I’m not hopelessly preoccupied, the miscellany of this state
interests me – Wawa gas stations, nurseries, flagmen stopping traffic,
empty brown fields showing evidence of abandoned construction projects,
a collapsed sign for a home church, the Schuylkill River bridge between
Spring City and Royersford. The auto parts store.

And trees. Everywhere, trees – pines, spruce, walnuts, ashes, oaks, beeches,
maples, birch, hickories, willows – the deciduous, February naked.
Erupting from brown alluvial Pennsylvania mud. No one says anything –
the old breed won’t tip their hand – but the trees and the mud appear to be
card-counting friends with this murky river – and that, for a long time.

The mobile home park is vibrant with foot traffic, poised at the traffic signal
and the bus stop, buttoned for the weather. There are ghost houses too,
stately mansions in the throes of conspicuous, flaunting dilapidation.
Here, where William Penn once made self-conscious treaties with Indian
tribes, the living and the dead engage in daily turf war.

The iron-stove past evaporates as I cross the railroad tracks, where 100-car
trains of boxcars still rumble, to reach the fourth traffic light, across from
the diner and the thrift store. Clients require attention. I will need coffee,
cream and sugar, a salty hard-boiled egg, but duties are not unwelcome.
My office is home, a mighty fortress to answer riddles in pandemic-bent law.

I draw breath on God’s muted winter day. He too responds with a daily
explanation, written across the face of this sylvania. Here is his answer-
look for his words, where deer multiply madly, leaving a sporadic roadside
carcass or two; reminders of that war which is ever waged between
pilgrim-change and cold-taloned paralysis. The living package is the gift.

Opaque in blanketing shades of grey are ill-defined clouds,
backscreens for purposeful geese, flocks of robins skittering
up-and-down on fields, glide-menacing hawks. Deeper, schist,
sandstone, shale and unseen bedrock are marked, admitted
as Genesis-exhibits to his slow-moving quaker judgments,
upon which I run, light-traveling and exhilarated, but briefly.


Washington’s Arch at Valley Forge

Inner loop, cobblestone entry, concrete-etched lines:
naked and starving, incomparable-patience.
Arches and symbols, commissioned in another war year,
that tribulation now known by Wilson, 14 Points, Balfour.
Red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, squirrels, brides-to-be
jostle with tourists, photographers, wedding parties, cyclists.
Its approaching path named for a teenage soldier, who fought at
Brooklyn, White Plains, Fort Mifflin, Monmouth, Yorktown.

Joseph Plumb Martin, 89 years old, was buried
in 1850 next to his wife, Lucy, who bore him
five children. They rest at Sandy Point Cemetery
in Maine. His war-diary has earned him renown.

Whosever will, come.
Whosever is elect, greetings.
Scars invisible, muffled past,
a victory arch, immovable.

O, arch – Titus’ model, Washington’s victory,
King George’s surrender, preterist’s error.
When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,
you will know its desolation is near.
Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Jesus’ warning – about a day closing

Tribulations there are and unquiet spirits.
Pools of renegade emotion lay covered,
drain slowly. But deer and sparrows gather
under the arch, troubled not –
and we are worth many sparrows.
The peace of the arch,
the victory of fidelity,
runs deep.

From the arch, much is visible.
From the heart’s arch, much more.
Lift up your head, o ye gates,
Your redemption is drawing nigh.
So take heart. I have overcome the world.


Mr. Putin, the Prophet Daniel, and the Naval Air Development Center
at Warminster

A few years after becoming a Christian, in 1985
I was hired as a technical writer for Sperry’s software-
producing branch office in Trevose. They wanted me
to write proposals, but they needed me on a project;
so they assigned me to the S-3 project, a carrier-
based anti-submarine warfare aircraft. I needed a
security clearance. Not the usual topic for poetry.

We serviced the Naval Air Development Center in
Warminster. Acronyms like FLIR and MAD were my
daily fare, distressing for an ex-hippy who once
marched against war. Getting a clearance past
the Defense Investigative Service (DIS) took six months,
since written questions about my past on a clearance
application elicited disquieting answers, no matter how
general and upbeat I spun my Christian responses.

After enough time, and a lengthy personal interview
with a DIS interviewer who fired questions at me for two
hours, I was cleared for Secret. After some time dealing
with military contracting, I was cleared for Ridiculous –
but that’s an inside joke. I was an honorary Old Crow.

They put me on North Warning System (NWS) and on
CV-ASWM, Carrier-based Anti-Submarine Warfare
Module. I did my job, led a lunchtime Bible study,
made friends and wrote proposals that were at least
somewhat improved in writing style. We took lunchtime
walks in a nearby Jewish cemetery, which had at least one
set of Wolperts. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and
I was already on my way to law school, so one would think,
what’s done is done.

But Vladimir Putin, East German KGB officer, apparently
did not take kindly to the gestalt of the Soviet Union’s
collapse. I suppose if I had met him on the Fishtown streets
of Philadelphia, I could have asked him, Philly-style, “What’s
it to ya, pal?” But he wouldn’t have answered. Today, in
2022, they’re fighting on the streets in the Ukraine. Heavy
Russian main battle tanks, T-88s, T-90s, are taking the highway
toward the border, right under the nose of the CNN cameraman.
That happened last night. So I guess I’ve got my answer.

Poets write about hummingbirds, or orchids, or lost love-affairs,
or death. Louise Gluck wrote about a lost passport, and it was
an impressive poem. The Naval Air Development Center has been
shuttered and its operations moved, but what goes around
comes around. I don’t know how to write a poem about a Russian
battle tank. I could write about the Ukrainian people, but I think
they have poets who will do that better than I. What can
I offer? Perhaps Daniel will help us understand Mr. Putin:

But tidings from the east and the north shall alarm him,
and he shall go forth with great fury to exterminate and
utterly destroy many. And he shall pitch his palatial tents
between the sea and the glorious holy mountain: yet he
shall come to his end, with none to help him.



Dialogue with an Atlas Cedar

After all, you and I are both things, replied a great Shrine Oak to
master carpenter Shi in a dream, at least as Chuang-Tzu told the
tale. O, who are you to size me up, restless mortal? Hello, then,
towering Atlas Cedar at Longwood Gardens, grass-sandwiched on a
strip-precipice, parking lot bystander, greeter for unloading buses.

Some branches are lopped, I announce to the cedar. Do you mind?
I am constrained, the tree replied, but without harm. Like a tiger
in its walk. Here, I command. You’re not in the mountains of Morocco
now, I remind the cedar. You are surrounded by an arboretum-kingdom
in my state – yet shunned. People see me first, said the cedar. As did you.

I am here, where I am. Stranded, perhaps defiant – and you, also.
Planted, hemmed – not into gardens, tended, not always comfortably.
You came to write a poem, but not to me. I thought to find a great
vocal sycamore on Brandywine Battlefield. Redirected by winter fences,
here am I. Foolish man – war and peace are wherever you find them.

Are you proud of being here displayed, jammed between asphalt islands,
breathing fumes? A woody tiger butterfly-mounted on a grassy cage?
I was here when Quakers moved night-escaping men to these long woods.
Where were you when this was a few ragged farms? Do I owe you a song?
No – I haven’t your markers. Your obligations are to One who created us both.

If you have more, I will listen. Atlas Cedar, your aloof-spread dignity stands.
But you draw sustenance from our soil here; the Brandywine nourishes you,
flowing down from Amish Honeybrook. Either we are both guests here –
or neither. Know that I outlast you. Perhaps, yet I have a promise you do
not. Do I not come into a new heaven, and a new earth – a new garden?

You may speak further, old man. I will humor you. Fair enough, Cedar.
Be jubilant – and everything within you! Sing for joy before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth, to judge my state! He comes to tend
the gardens, and the inhabitants therein. We will rejoice in God, who
comes for judgment on all the earth, and all that dwells therein.


A Brief Disruption in the Machineries of Joy

Sometimes, I can think tight, disciplined thoughts.
There are times, however, like the anti-hero in a Fellini film,
I drive in aimless, vacant circles,
with spraying words and symbols rattling in my head.

And then, like the elderly, dissembling to their adult children,
I may remember abruptly what I Ieft home for,
what essential errand I was going to run –
what prescription to fetch.

Momentarily, I hope to regain my orientation.
The local highways of West Chester will reappear
in their familiar mental geometry, each axis pure,
vectors of time and purpose tacked to them again.

Friendly, familiar Route 202 leads this way,
The exit for proud Westtown goes there.
I am quite determined: I will not do as I have done,
drive miles down to the horrid intersection of Route 1,

before I am sure, absolutely sure, that
I have gone too far,
and must return.


Seven Postcards from Philadelphia

1.  Roxborough

Eisenhower was President then. My father would take us to visit Uncle Norman’s
corner bar in Roxborough.  Taproom’s mysterious incenses: local brew & bottled beer;
Schlitz, Ballantine, Pabst, or as the ad jingle had it: ‘Mabel – Black Label;’ stale-
spilled beer on the black linoleum floor; grilled hamburgers with onions; whisky in
shot glasses; pinball machines and bowling arcade-game sawdust. We had bottomless
soda from the barroom tap. Working men on bar stools; my father and Norman talked.

Norman never went to college; the other four did. Grandmother Sarah raised five
children with that desperate determination of single mothers; every household bill
was the dragon-enemy, a mountain to climb. When my wife first met my father, they
shared a landscape. Edna’s daughter knew dragon-bills, those cliffs. The candy store,
where the children worked because that’s what you did, was Sarah’s non-stop story.
It was no disgrace – in the 1930’s everybody in Roxborough was poor; Jew or Gentile.

In the 1950’s, prosperity rolled in. My father was busy practicing dentistry in Lansdale.
Norman, once B-17 co-pilot (Lucky Patch), 379th Group, married Eleanor, did well too.
Mildred ran a local liquor store with Marty in Pleasantville. Harry was so smart, married
Blanche, lived in Wilmington, president of his company. Evelyn married lawyer Dan,
who never stopped working. American-Jewish families ascended, arrived. The corner
taproom was sold – the crisp purpose of the climb diluted, the incense-hops gone.

2.   School House Lane, Germantown

Aged 12, at Germantown Academy, coming out of gym class, crossing the parking
lot, my Welsh friend told me that the President had been assassinated. I wanted to
correct him – not with facts, I had none – but rather, because it was inconceivable
the President was dead. Welsh-friend wasn’t using the word ‘assassinated’ right – it was
my duty to correct, to be the sergeant-at-arms of words. Climbing stairs of a tired building
to class; our math teacher, dead-sober, grim, crowded us into his office to hear the radio.

America wounded, grief-stricken, conducted its solemn ceremonies while a three-year
old saluted. Seventh grade went on; 1963 turned into 1964. The streetcar from Reading’s
train station at Wayne Junction bounced to leafy, brick-sidewalk School House Lane where
once patriot bullets flew. Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston; a military coup in South Vietnam.
Unknown to us, my parents were preparing to divorce. The 1960s were proceeding, but there
was a pause, a diver flexing on a cliff’s edge overlooking dark blue waters many yards down.

The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. Germantown, anti-slavery from 1688, Washington’s
refuge from yellow fever, was on hold – private schools there held neighborhoods in place.
I could explore, walk light-hearted on Germantown Avenue to buy gum. If stern young men
wearing bow ties sold Muhammad Speaks, they didn’t bother young whites. Blockbusting,
white flight were en route. Gathered in Episcopal chapel each morning to dignify the day.
Ivy League, old money Philadelphia cast hopefully across our future by ambitious parents.

3.   15th & Spruce – the Irish Bar

Irish Bar, neighborhood no-frills, near Center City, convenient to the dilapidated high-rise
– such vivid, emotional memories of you – but you hardly know me. Finishing work,
my mother camped on your bar stool at the darkling back, by the kitchen window opening.
In those years, when I wanted to see her, to introduce a girl, I found Jimmy at Irish Bar.
Lumbering through – the place so dark, mother’s eyes filmy, I would startle her approaching.
There was a Villanova-met girl, Occhi Scuri, more Catholic than a Pope, I wanted her to meet.

When I brought O-S, it was early afternoon on a Saturday – it was not her first beer, but my
mother was decently sober. I was a new Christian, enthralled by this new faith. O-S was the
most religious girl I had ever met. I was converted reading Luther, she worked at a Catholic
book/memorabilia store – but difficulties invisibly dim, like the interior decor of Irish Bar.
The conversation was pleasant, polite. Later, when I asked an impression, my mother replied
she wore “sensible shoes.” I took that for my mother’s approval; in hindsight, rather vague.

But O-S’ slender, nervous equilibrium collapsed – she was committed into psychiatric care.
I was the stressor. When our relationship imploded, O-S was not happy, but her dutiful,
Catholic equanimity in this world’s vale of tears would recover. The ceiling of my mother’s
apartment at the high-rise was collapsing; her bathroom was so befouled – heavy drinkers
careless of toilet hygiene – it would take Erma and I hours to clean. My mother found a co-
op, at 21st & Walnut, and put herself on the waiting list. I stopped back at Irish Bar, once.

4.   West Philly, then Hunting Park

In West Philadelphia, we met in the early stages of a Prison Fellowship support group at
different locations, one small church or another, changing members. West Philly, one block
a well-tended neighborhood – urban planner’s green dream – one block over, science fiction
movie – warring neon-gangs laid waste to trash-devastated landscape, post-nuclear war.
Christians from Romania, once Communist-imprisoned, said that incarceration wasn’t bad –
all the best people were in jail. A woman told me of her angelic rescue from street violence.

Watched cop enter a home on a domestic – his expression, blended: officer’s calm-routine
business, and eternity-watchful in perhaps last mortal seconds before an exploding-ambush.
West Philly, safe as a baby; around a corner, a crack house. When the group dwindled & I
arrived first at whichever church, left open the doors. Passing boy and father – boy asked
what is he doing? His father answered – the man is praying. Our name, Philemon Group –
Prison Fellowship found us a home-base meeting church at 9th & Lycoming, Hunting Park.

Hunting Park housed a fearful drug market – same rules – stay on a block you know, corner
you know. The church was stately, once the First German Baptist Church, like the Brethren,
then passed through many hands, many ministries: Fleischman Memorial, Embracing Truth,
Harvest Time, New Thankful Baptist Church. Thursday meetings, then Roosevelt Boulevard
to Cottman, Frankford, Rhawn – Philly’s Northeast – arrive at Holmesburg Prison for 9 pm
gymnasium service in stone-dungeon-fortress of pain & hope – the Church behind the Wall.

5.   An Upper Floor on Two Logan Square

Post-law school, arrived at Philadelphia center-city branch of Pittsburgh-based Big Law Firm.
Commercial real estate group. Long hours, first-year associate’s life. Christmas approached,
5-year old son asked if I was going to be home that day. Slept on my mother’s couch at 21st
& Walnut, rather than take 11 pm train home to Exton. Learned the underground concourse
around Suburban Station. Morning bear-claws Au Bon Pain; Caesar salads for dinner. Four
young children would stay up until I came home from work; Erma at wit’s end with bedtime.

Not melding in well; too old for a junior associate, socially awkward. Due diligence review of
secured lenders’ multi-parcel real estate financing. Wandered off to 2nd floor gym at 18th
& Chestnut, Reading Terminal Market for lunch – bright flashes in a glaring, difficult world.
Center City can present much; but I was a hooked fish, twirling on a line, gasping – in my
birth-city, not in my element. Empty pew-sat for refuge at Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul.
Profound saint-silence different in tone and key than a wary silence at narrow desk at BLF.

Commercial real estate slowed down; my low-level associate’s hours written off in billing.
Bean-counters in Pittsburgh reasoned I did nothing productive at all, despite long hours.
Darryl Blackwell contacted me; began hours of pro bono work for 49-page, sincere but
unsuccessful post-conviction appeal. Recorded hours of paralegal work (nothing else to do),
inciting Exalted Senior Partner to Pittsburgh-call & chastise me directly. My doom, sealed.
Partner Being Groomed flew in for my execution: nothing personal – just BLF business.

6.   A Funeral at 21st and Chestnut

My mother’s funeral, Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion. Day pouring rain, but Irish
say that’s a good sign – her soul was welcomed into heaven. While I was at law school, she
became so ill I expected the end; but my mother was resilient. After years of escorting her
to various churches, grace appeared at Beth Y’Shua – Friday Shabbat, Jews-for-Jesus service
on City Line Ave. While congregants were dancing, she abruptly turned, fell onto her knees
and folded her hands in head-bowed shocked fear of the One Lord, God Almighty of Israel.

Jimmy would find a church where she could ask a thousand questions without irritating the
pastor. She invited me over for a meal – she had been a masterful cook – my mother, sober
and motivated enough to prepare a complete dinner was like a resurrection from the dead. If
great angels had appeared, I could not have been more astonished. The eulogy was tender
and affectionate; she had weekly folded church bulletins – the pastor knew her well. Weather
kept some away, but Jewish cousins appeared in full numbers for Aunt Jimmy. Toda Raba.

The walls of her co-op apartment were covered with paintings and artwork, overlaying
a plaster of caked cigarette smoke.  Some art was created by friends, met when we lived on
Betsy Lane in Ambler. Linda-M & Sue-H had been friend-artists-to-be attending Wissahickon
High School. They gathered on our back screened porch to smoke cigarettes, tease me and
discuss the chief questions of life – Jimmy’s favorite topic. Philadelphia, my mother’s retreat
when life collapsed in Ambler. At the co-op, at Holy Communion, Jimmy stood her ground.

7.   Urban Neighborhood Study, Set Near Stars

There is another Philadelphia neighborhood of which I write, another local church to visit.
To the angel of the church in Philadelphia, write: These are the words of Him who is holy
and true, who holds David’s key. What He opens none shut; what He shuts, none open.
I know your story. I’ve opened a door for you. I know you’re weak. But you’ve kept my
words – you haven’t denied me. You’ve had sharp disputes. Your adversaries will surrender
to you & admit I love you. Keep going. Worldwide tests are coming. You will surely pass.

I am returning and will return, in more ways than you understand. Stand firm. Your faith
is real – hold it. No one will take your crown. You’re going to overcome your adversaries,
the coming trials, your doubts and your fears. You’re going to be Philadelphia – one of the
supporting pillars, one of the high-rises, one of the neighborhoods, one of the gathering-
places. You won’t leave Philadelphia because you are the Church-in-Philadelphia. This is
the Philadelphia of God – everlasting.  Revealed here, on this corner. Forever – Unmoved.

Look around, City. The Name of God will be soul-etched on you. The name Philadelphia will
be Spirit-written on you – never to be erased. This neighborhood is permanent.  Coming
down from heaven, God will enscribe you: your name is on this Church’s foundation stone.
Listen and hear. The Spirit of God speaks. Friends, believe these words – holy and true.
Our atoning-ascending Savior, God’s Son, is gathering us, loving us, to bring us with him.
Death is the overwhelming enemy. Christ Jesus, raised to life, the overwhelming answer.

Brothers, sisters, accept the key – welcome to our Philadelphia-resurrection neighborhood.


Testimonies in State Court

I was called.  Moved, I heard and looked – heaven’s door stood open.
They were words for me, appointed to a court: Come up here, and I will
show you what must take place after this. They are Spirit-words for us.
I will open a case – I will call homely eye-witnesses to give the testimony.
Pennsylvania, attend. Your attention is required. The door opens for you,
you will be examined in response. Rivers, step forward – you first will
open the ears of this jury. Delaware and Susquehanna, broad waters,
be seated, take the oath. The Ohio, headwaters; the Schuylkill, coal-carrier,
whitewater Lehigh, and Allegheny; city-seeker Monongahela, meeting two
sisters and the Clarion. Pennsylvania rivers, forest-dividers, flowing into
a crystal sea, lace draped across our land, stairsteps to a holy throne – testify.

My witness list is long, not always the great or celebrated or powerful.
Highway weeds, come to court, step forward to testify! Speak your names:
Johnsongrass, purple loosestrife, giant hogweed, multiflora rosa, honeysuckle,
poison ivy, oriental bittersweet, Canada thistle, boxelder Maple, jimsonweed –
You noxious weeds, come forward!  Musk thistle, poison Hemlock, kudzu, goatsrue,
wild parsnip, bull thistles, crown vetch, common purslane, crabgrass and foxtail.
Quack grass, ragweed, we see you everywhere but never see you at all. Bamboo,
tough, unyielding, never giving an inch. Highways are spread with your glory.
Step forward! The glory of the Lord our God, the glory of His Throne, celebrated
by golden-crowned elders, by great, miraculous, six-winged, seeing, speaking
angelic beings – the glory of God is conferred on you also, on your existence.

O, Pennsylvania, so preoccupied, I will bring these testimonies to your door.
The glory of being, of existence, the glory of an ontological blaze of fantastic life,
given by God, is presented by many witnesses.  The roadside weeds will testify
under oath that the Lord our God is holy.  Even the Johnsongrass will say of
Him, that He Was, and Is, and is to Come.  If the highway weeds know this,
O Pennsylvania, why don’t you? It is a clarion call to you, home-state brethren,
to know your God, to praise your Creator. Perhaps, if we do not know Him,
must I not say of us, that we are wretches – pitiful, poor, blind and stark naked?
Did we think we were rich with coal? Did we believe we had salve for the eyes?
See, citizen-friends, the door standing open, see Him, who is to come. The
risen Christ will enter our door, sit and eat fish in our presence – so we know.

If our rivers know it, and our weeds know it, then surely we must be
in possession of this knowledge too. We may be guided by angels.
We will not be embarrassed or humiliated, to praise the God who made us –
Holy is the Lord God Almighty. We have flashing, bejeweled, golden
crowns – the rivers have majestic, flowing crowns, the highway weeds,
the lantern flies, have crowns – crowns of being, of existence, of being
called and created out of nothing-void. Even a scampering insect, a
thousand-legger may sing, whose life in our sink where it startles my
wife is measured in draining seconds, may join in creation to being-sing:
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory, honor and power.
You created all things – by your will we are created and have our being.

Sing with me, Pennsylvanians, obsessing over baubles, chasing trinkets.
You measure out empty to pour foundations of nothing, erect illusion walls
and roofs of broken shatter. What do you have that will stand – on the
day our Lord returns? Where will you hide, where will your spirit go,
when the earth moves and the stars fall? How will you answer Will Penn,
who will ask you, Did I not begin with a religious vision? Did I not
confer a great gift? What have you done with my land grant? I had it
from a king. Indeed, Pennsylvanians, we do have it from a King.
Sing to the Lord our God, who hath made us, and given us this, our
home state, with its rivers, its forests, its weeds and insects, its monuments,
and all that they contain to give us a state, a world in which to live.


Clearbrook Road Poet-Pilgrim

There is enormous poetry, enough for any pilgrim,
in the New Testament, dearly beloved, holy and true –
every etched page, every parable-mystery, each sign and symbol,
its gracious mercy!miracles, every quarrel and angry, mocking debate.
Human experience explodes here, unveiled prophecies are more
than demonstration-experiments in systems or theology,
as proof-correct, as geometrically precise as that theology may be.

Our Savior’s whole Book is a love poem, a fireworks display,
a sonnet of pain and joy for the living, we runaway beatnik-pilgrims.
A flight of impossible fancy for pirates and wandering knights-errant,
a butterfly escaping the flames, its wings beating wildly, like its heart.
A city of sobbing grief, lost, suffering amidst the exploding artillery,
turned into a kingdom of verse, pouring down in hurricanes of peace,
and wild celebrations recognizing no limit, no end.

Wrenched Visions for a Purchased Scroll

A depressed vision, nightmare-cascading, feeding on itself.
Our state’s acts, recorded solemnly in books, sternly sealed –
vandalized, shredded by an insolent miscreant, a thief in time-
travel, breaking in for malice and mockery, provoking night-
emotions in devised counter-factuals, wrenching out dream tears.

William Penn found a lavish lifestyle in London suited him well.
He asked no land grant, just ready cash to settle a king’s debt.
He ran through lucre with the eager zeal of a drunken gambler.
Lands across an ocean, religious visions, holy experiments, held
no fascination for him. His only pledges, to strumpets. So I wept.

In Philadelphia, around fireplaces the British danced gleeful minuets –
they toasted their king with victory wine, giddy with martial triumphs.
At Valley Forge, our army starved, collapsed, dissolved, deserted.
Lafayette basked in Paris salons. Von Steuben sailed back to Germany.
Our cause was only tawdry rebellion, unworthy of success. So I wept.

Washington, cursing his fate, cast himself into the frozen Schuylkill.
There were no debating assemblies, no proclamations, no governing
constitutions from Philadelphia. No bold declarations of independent
anything. Congress was sullen, silent, divided, soon dissolved. Our
hopes were childish, impossible – our ideals self-serving. So I wept.

At Gettysburg, the battle was lost here, defeated, the seminary closed.
No Presidential speeches were given, no somber pronouncements
of larger national purpose were heard. Lincoln left office for Illinois.
Cattle wandered about the town, aimless and lost. Things broke apart.
Two nations, then later, three. Bloody sacrifices, useless. So I wept.

I woke from my visions, emotional, defensive, grasping for replies.
Worthy came to mind – such an odd word, banished, useless, inadequate.
It touched on slender answers to time-vandals. Words, moral judgments –
Really? Such a word is like holding a museum piece, an archaic pistol –
Penn. Washington. Lincoln. Histories only matter if worthy matters.

I wept and wept because no one was found to be worthy, wrote John.
Even a holy experiment may find that it has been taken into captivity.
Even a commonwealth may find defiled consciences, hopeless resignation,
obliterated purposes, quarrels over tarnished trophies, bitter captivity.
The holy experiment has been captured, dragged-blind into servitude.

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals. With your blood
you purchased men for God. Wait, please tell – to whom was the purchase
price paid? Does the purchase satisfy God’s justice? Fulfill the last jot,
tittle of the Law? Does this purchase quiet uncalm conscience? Silence
Satan’s accusations – leveled endlessly against the meek and hopeful?

Determine-demons, debt-collectors of sin, shadow-casting a grim future,
reside inside. Mocking-accountants, they hiss and giggle with what we owe,
indict who, what we are, screwed darkly onto our barstools – where it ends
sloshing drainwater. Steep, the redemption price – paid by a worthy One.
Worthy-alone, Lion-Lamb, to open, to redeem addict-predestined scrolls.

My mother was fated to end her life on a barstool – so was my brother,
and so was I. Our souls required a full satisfaction price; our natures hope-
less without redemption and payment for who and what we were. To breathe,
nothing less – the purifying blood of a holy Lamb. All else, trinkets. Atoning
Spirit-conviction, not a penny less to satisfy the sad Cassandra-curse within.

Our scrolls redeemed by the One who received the Holy Scroll, entire, two-
sided, with all knowledge, all power. Pennsylvania, even an inner light needs
purification, atonement: One, worthy – to free us from forces, curses beyond
our natures to resist the Babylonian captivity. Penn’s revived Holy Experiment,
renewed on firmer, eternal footings. Purchased by his blood, home state, so we
may be kings and priests of the Lamb, Christ Jesus, praised on our land, here.

Horses and a Rider on 113

On a cloudy day, I saw five horses in a field; four were together,
by the fence near the road. The fifth horse was near the back.
The corralled horses were bareback; there were no riders in sight.
Multi-colored, unconcerned, they champed, stood, grazed.

A limping man, wearing white, appeared to open the western gate.
He carried a riding saddle and hunting bow. He approached the white
horse in the group of four and said, “Very good.” Dropping the bow, he
commenced to fastening the saddle. “Your turn now,” he said. “Only fair.”

The morning sun appeared, cutting through the clouds, knife-bright,
blazing. It lit up the horses, the man and his saddle, turkey vultures in
the field, the stable with lumber strewn about for repairs-in-progress.
The abrupt sunlight made a universal spotlight, illuminating, warming.

Another man appeared, from behind the stable. He ambled lightly down
to the limping man. “Here’s your helmet,” he announced, handing over an
equestrian’s helmet to the limping man who had appeared disadvantaged,
and odd with his bow – but now, helmet on head, looked regal, military.

“My children will ride,” said the limping man, “when they come back
from the doctor.” The other man nodded, looked at the stables, shook
his head.  The sun disappeared. “It’ll clear up,” shouted the limping man.
The other man made no answer, disappeared back behind a dark shed.

The other three horses, ears upright, moved away like shadows, observing.
The saddled horse and the distant white horse appeared to acknowledge
each other, but neither moved. The man mounted, bow back in hand.
“Soon,” said the rider, to no one in particular, adjusting his helmet.
His horse reared eagerly. “Soon.”

Not the Distance You’d Expect

One neighbor went by terrorists.
One neighbor went by his brother.
Two neighbors went by their son.
The son went by the police.

O, Red Rider, your sword is long indeed.
One would think our little village
would be beneath your gaze,
unworthy of your attention.

But not so. Not so.
The path of your travels,
the fiery rage you exhale,
takes peace away, even here.

Her Tears Make Bail

And the war drags on.
Longer than anyone thought,
longer than anyone could believe.
Every town harbors guerrillas, irregulars.
Nimble wives and children are far away.
Towns are pummeled with artillery.

Ghastly corpses, drenched pale with concrete and mortar dust,
uncovered, self-present from the rubble.
Some have their limbs askew, neck muscles twisted.
Some have their hands neatly folded, like silent children.
First responders observe a moment of silence.
They dig, pass back shards of broken concrete,
sweep aside shattered glass, toss aside stray shoes,
a picture frame, a child’s doll, pass forward a body bag.

The ruler’s patience was exhausted, his political capital eroding.
Like the Babylonians who went before him, he became bitter, hasty.
Tactical nuclear devices would end this quicker, be merciful, he reasoned.
They never said what the kiloton-yield was, or why this particular place.
The ground measurements after the blast were noted. The blast-
fireball was about fifty yards in radius, dead center of town. The device was
apparently detonated just above ground level. Everything and everybody
inside the fireball was vaporized. The crater was eloquent.
You didn’t need measurements for that.

There was heavy blast damage for about 150-200 yards. All the concrete
and stone buildings were severely damaged or turned into tottering
rubble with open walls, making visible the interiors of devastated offices.
Fires broke out. Most everybody within 150 yards died – maybe 500 or so.
Desks, chairs, filing cabinets, bookcases, desktop computers, seared, scrambled.
Wall artwork, laptops, cell phones, lamps, framed photos, tossed, scattered.
A certain style of interior design could be noted, modern post-blast,
decorated in a macabre-style by their sprawled bodies.
Inexplicably, someone’s coffee cup retained its position atop
a scorched desk that had twisted around 180 degrees.

For about 300-400 yards, there was moderate (?!) blast damage.
The well-kept townhouses and workaday rowhomes collapsed.
Lots of people had already left; half the residents remaining were injured,
about half killed. Probably about 1,000 to 2,000. It was hard to say.
Good statistics are challenging to develop in such circumstances.

People died as a result of the multiple fires which the blast started.
Within the same radius from the blast, 300-400 yards, third degree burns
were commonplace. Skin bubbled, scars were deep, would last long indeed.
The military effort was pretty successful though, in getting the guerrillas
and irregulars. The bomb didn’t exactly land on headquarters, but close
enough. Problem solved. It didn’t take weeks of artillery shelling either –
a big improvement in efficiency.

There was intense radiation within 700-800 yards. Within a few months
another six or seven hundred sickened and died from that. Some cancers
are expected to result among future generations. Not all wives and children
had exited. Medical personnel are monitoring.

Within 1,000-1,500 yards, glass windows facing town center were blown in.
Some people were injured by the exploding glass shards; eye injuries mostly.
Living rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, looked manically vandalized.
Experts noted that such damage is categorized, for purposes of study, as
light damage.

Many people saw the flash of the explosion and came to a window,
which precipitously unleashed a pressure-blast erupting in their faces.
One man reported that as he came to the window he saw outlined a
red horse and rider in the flash-blast, but he was an old man anyway,
not quite right in the head.

A significant group of citizens of the invader, including some generals,
took offense at their own use of nuclear weapons. They became
grumpy with their leader and in return he became irritated with them.
Soon the generals discharged some of their low-level, low-yield nuclear
devices at troops loyal to the great leader. The loyal troops discharged
their low-level, low-yield tactical nuclear devices back at the generals
and their troops. Tit-for-tat.

Clearly, tempers were frayed and people said things they probably
didn’t mean. Anyway, after about half-a-dozen such exchanges,
the great leader took time off for a well-deserved, albeit solitary, vacation.
Apart from floating clouds of radioactive debris, and many thousand
bodies to bury, peace reigned in both countries involved.

Radioactive debris, transient-drifting on nomad-winds, was tough on wheat
farmers in both countries. Radioactive dust clouds suspended overhead
tend to reduce the yield on grain crops. Worse, agriculture workers
found the whole sequence of events discouraging, kind of a bummer.
The invisible hand of the market, bringing together farmers, agricultural
workers, mechanized producers, truck drivers, bulk warehousers, freight
transporters, merchants, wholesale buyers, bakers, consumer outlets and
retail consumers, just collapsed in both countries. Bread wasn’t available
at any price.

In both countries, people wandered away from their jobs, stayed home,
went into parks. They became disheveled mobs of drug users, alcoholics,
living in tents. Not everybody was high, but most people didn’t feel like
going to work or cooperating to do any job. Some were ill, some became
recluse-survivalists, some emigrated, some took their own lives, some just
sat in parks, on sidewalks, by the side of roads and highways, doing nothing.
Whole societies just meandered in empty circles, started crying for no reason,
gave up. Some people went to churches to pray and maintained some
composure there, but they couldn’t load grain from a church narthex.

Agri-businesses in the west, who had ample storage silos of wheat,
cashed in big-time. The price of bread, pasta, crackers, anything made
with wheat, doubled, then tripled. Anybody who had wheat or rye
or barley or any grain to sell, or who could speculate, was raking in dollars.
Commodity traders bought some very large houses; you could see pictures
on the internet.

This created a certain sense of resentment among agricultural workers and
truck drivers in western countries, including a wonderful country featuring
amber waves of grain. Feeling that they weren’t being cut in on the bonanza,
these workers and drivers took to wildcat strikes, work stoppages, blocking
highways and bridges with their tractor-trailers, blocking warehouse entrances
and exits, freight train terminals and, deplorably, even sabotaging train tracks.
It was most unruly.

If the supply chain was in a stressed condition before, it went altogether
into catatonic paralysis. The price of wheat products, rye, barley, oatmeal
quintupled. Hedge funds, commodity traders, sports gamblers, crypto
speculators, jumped into the grain-futures market. Prices fireworks-exploded.
A loaf of bread cost three figures and counting. Two figures for a box of pasta.
For those people not wired in, this created some inconvenience. 

If you had money, it was okay – there was still good chardonnay available.
You could saute hard-shell crabs in olive oil imported from abroad.
People learned to bake bread – it became a wide-spread cottage industry.
Big box stores began selling wheat grain in bulk, measured out on
large digital scales from 200-pound containers on pallets into sacks.

Such prices did not sit well with the poet’s wife. Venturing into a
big box store to purchase wheat, there was a contretemps at the
purchase point. Either she alleged the scale was wrong, or her
purchase was not correctly weighed – or something happened.
The problem was an emotional reaction to stratospheric prices.
A shrill and accusatory argument ensued. Who started it or why –

The result was that the poet’s wife left with no purchase, in a state of
distressed anger, old fears, desperate emotions unwinding.
These emotions negatively affected her attentiveness in the parking lot.
Since she had left the store with some attention focused on her, the
fender-bender in the parking lot was observed also, along with her tags.

The poet’s wife arrived at home, through the kitchen back door, almost
simultaneously with the telephone call from the local police department.
When the poet answered the phone, the poet’s wife simply collapsed on the
kitchen floor, wailing, leaning against the kitchen door through which she had
just entered. Some time elapsed to unscramble the reason for the call from
the officer, the causes for the wailing and the underlying event. The officer
appeared at the door soon thereafter, a pleasant, businesslike young man.

Notwithstanding that the poet’s wife had done some real damage and
driven away, her tears were a sufficient bail – the officer said he would think
about whether to write up a citation. If he did so, it would arrive in the mail.
The poet went out to look at their vehicle. Insurance was notified.
The explanation of why the poet’s wife didn’t think her collision was really
a collision (despite unavoidable crunching noises) was touching, but not
terribly persuasive. As it so happened, it didn’t matter. The mails were quiet.
No citation ever appeared.

There are scales in her heart, measuring, measuring, how much
a loaf of bread costs. Weighing, if it costs so much, how much does
that leave? Is there enough for the oil or wine? In a still-haunted background,
unmeasured emotional distances – impressed upon her young soul by the
humiliation of counting, of her mother stuffing dollars in necessary envelopes,
a black horse glares. Thereon a ravenous, calculating, merchant-rider sits,
who is yet her jailer. The bail required to win release from that will wait
for her life in the world to come.

Pale Horse, Pale Rider

1. Opening Trot in a Western City

Sometime in the late 1960’s, aged 16 or 18, I encountered a transsexual
in a men’s room in Panhandle park in San Francisco. Perhaps I was crossing
the park to catch a bus, coming from smoking dope in a spacious flat on
Fell Street, where a group of hippies had digs. I was the messenger –
arranger for the purchase of a kilo of marijuana, for $120, that ultimately
never arrived.

The Fell Street hippies didn’t mind me showing up every couple of days and
wandering in to ask the news. They would be passing around joints, playing
music, so I sat down at each visit, stayed as long as I wanted, smoked whatever
was being passed, left when I pleased. No one asked how long I was staying or
why. It was very hip, very psychedelic.

Or perhaps it was that summer I was just wandering around the City, after
some negative experiences on acid, trying to put my head together, struggling
with every manner of interior devil, and happened on that particular men’s
room on that particular day.

I walked up to the urinal attached to the wall. Next to me someone was
standing. Men’s room etiquette suggests you don’t look over to stare,
but this person had breasts, round, attractive breasts. Which were displayed.
My attention being captured, the individual was friendly, obviously happy
to have some attention. He was probably about 30, had longish blonde hair –
at the time, then didn’t signal anything unusual. But his breasts were nicely
rounded. He pulled down his tank-top, which I saw was the top of a dress,
to show me.

He started a conversation, talked briefly about his breasts. I complimented
them. He may have told me how or where or when. He complimented my penis.
But he made no sexual overture – indeed, did not seem sexually motivated at all,
in the sense of wanting to approach me.

He just wanted someone to notice. Since I did, he smiled, talked pleasantly,
and was content. That was why he was in the men’s room. Our interaction lasted
no longer than two or three minutes – someone noticed, saw him, saw his
pretty breasts with women’s nipples.

In its own way, it was similar to another interaction I had when hitch-hiking,
when an ex-con invited me into his little back-porch lean-to in northern
California to take shelter from a storm, who also just wanted some company.
Even the most marginalized, perhaps especially the most marginalized, need
another human face.

2. Spiritual Canter on another Plane

But now older, instructed, I see with spiritual eyes. There is another participant
in our Panhandle tete-a-tete. While I converse in the men’s room, one might
look down the length of the Panhandle. There appears what looks at first to be a
mounted San Francisco police officer, riding his steed alone, up along the narrow
paths of that narrow park, coming from the direction of Golden Gate Park.

But as the horse and rider approach, which happens with surprising speed,
no ordinary policeman is presenting – this rider and mount were called.
This rider is pale, and his horse is pale. Their aura is unworldly, disturbing,
He dismounts; he need not tie up this horse, it appears to linger patiently
at its post, startling as trees behind it are visible.

The rider is pale indeed, but otherwise, rather ordinary, commonplace.
Not so much like a police officer. Perhaps like a loan officer, discussing
the terms of credit, and repayment. He sits down on a bench. He takes
out a little notebook, a short pencil. Without any sense of urgency, rather
casually, he looks over his little notebook. It has lists of names. He writes
down two more. One name is that of my transsexual acquaintance;
the other name is mine.

Next to the name of this transsexual man, haunting an urban park’s men’s
room for attention, in firm-handed pencil, Death studiously writes down-
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, 1981-2. He nods confidently.

Next to my name Death pauses to think, tilts his head, puzzles, then writes-
Suicide, Golden Gate Bridge, mid 1980’s. Death reviews his words, like a poet.
Satisfied that he has added thoughtfully, presciently, to his appointment book –
with hollow eyes, the pale rider pockets his book, rises to stretch his legs.

There are other appointments; he will attend to other meetings. Death gives
no hints – perhaps an appointment in Samarra. The Pale Rider, concluding
his opening argument, mounts his well-trained, ghastly horse to disappear.

3. Closing Gallop and a Judgment Delivered in my Home State

Brother Suicide, it is necessary to hem you in, bind you,
as you are introduced. Impassable boundaries, effective restraints,
an iron- sober spiritual prison cell, are called for.

Other poets have addressed you, who are sympathetic to you, inviting,
enabling – but I have a bad attitude toward you, Brother Suicide.
The incarceration I impose is no trivial confinement, no flimsy enclosure.

Let us start with the floor, the area, the geography you inhabit:

Death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.
This is the second death.

Brother Suicide, this is most pertinent, a revelation-judgment to you,
hurtful spirit. You seek and have sought to surround and overwhelm
many, including me, but this lake surrounds and submerges you.

Yet I am a conscientious warden, one who tests diligently, judging spirits.
I will add to your sentence, a wall of Spirit-words, from our Lord.

If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that
is thrown away and withers.  Such branches are picked up,
thrown into the fire and burned.

Brother Suicide, the severity of my measures, the sentence I impose,
is proportional to the incorrigible risk you threaten, you insinuate.
Let us add another wall, from the Apostle Paul, for more security:

This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in
blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who
do not know God.

Brother Suicide, it would be fair to say, you do not remain in Jesus.
It would be just to say, you do not know God. Like a judge hearing
an extreme case, I will use the most extreme words.

The Apostle Peter grew to be a calm man, whose writings reflect maturity.
So I will conclude the construction of your prison, Brother Suicide,
your final Spirit-wall and ceiling, my word-judgment, with his help:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them
to hell, then the Lord knows how to hold the unrighteous for
the day of judgment.

Finally, as Peter explains for you, Brother Suicide:

By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved
for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of
ungodly men.

Brother Suicide, whether you are demon or man or psychosis,
or temptation, doppelganger or spirit, or fallen angel, or drug trip,
neurosis or evil twin, I will entertain no argument on your evasions.

I race, I gallop, to invoke sober, powerful scriptures to keep you in check.
And if more are needed, I’ll find those too. 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider, I cannot alter or constrain the power that you have,
over a fourth of the earth. Not all have faith. Not all repent, not all fear
the Lord God Almighty – or love our Savior. But as to the battles I am given
to fight, I have studied spiritual war, I have been armed well by my God.

Holy and Righteous, the God I worship has rendered a judgment –
of life. I am glad to have this life. I rejoice in the gift of God.
So I have made a judgment about you, Brother Suicide.

Move on, Death, go to your tasks elsewhere.
I look forward to the day we can take your appointment book
and burn it.

Yes, The Saints of the Fifth Seal Have Many Questions – but First

When the soul awakens to God,
It is like the eyes of an infant,
a child’s first opening to the world.
When the soul perceives God announcing His blessing,
It is like the resounding first hospital-cry of the newborn,
‘Here I am!’ Hey!  Hello!  Here am I!

The soul is touched – enlivened by the Spirit of God who once hovered over the
formless void to create – and perceives his eternal life, perceives her own perception,
then there is rejoicing, deep and powerful rejoicing.  There is a soul-roar of triumphant being,
like a young man striding across distances before drowsing dawn, crossing ghost-steel
railroad tracks, feeling his muscular power on silent streets, finding his entrance to take up
 his task to empty spur-sided boxcars, knowing his strength – throwing over boxes like toys.

Every act, an act of power, of life, of the majesty of existence, of self-awareness, of eternity
captured, because the soul has been made alive.  Royal acts of Jesus, King, High Priest –
forever in God, whose majestic Word breathes life, silently soaks us with eyelid-opening life.
Cascading life tumbling from streams tumbling over rocks of life, overflowing fountains
over-spilling life to make more over-spilling fountains still, all from God-incarnate mystery,
veiled in triple-holiness, whose gifts and calling to his children are without repentance.

My soul touched by God, mystery to mystery, touch to touch and in that touch,
life everlasting, precious gift from the Precious Giver – hope and prayer of prophets past.
Atonement made for us without ending or limit, purification effected by the Savior’s blood,
the Son of God, making himself known, revealed riding a donkey no less, allowing indignities.
The Messiah, anointed in holiness, making this world his temple out of love, mystery indeed!
And me, one of his, even a priest, a king, once only a depressed, wandering, intoxicated child.

My soul helpless as a nursing infant child, as dependent as a swaddled newborn, reaching,
stretching back, suckling, new muscle for curling arms and legs, hands grasp to sense.
Awake my soul!  All our souls, to which the Lord Jesus by his Word, the incarnate Word,
upon which men live, upon which we rely for our deepest foundations – has said to me
and to us most patiently – Lazarus, come out!  Take off the windings, remove death’s brand!
Be alive to God!  Indeed, to Him, all are alive.  I as well – also to proclaim, and not alone.

There is no night in my life with God. The despairing, resigned graveclothes are off forever.
My soul will never be defeat-wrapped in them again.  What once held me in bondage
is now mere fetish-wear, easily discarded.  I have a life with God, appointed, elected;  today,
tomorrow, always.  We have this life, we are given this gift.  From Christ’s breast it flows. 
The Word pours forth, the saints rejoice in their assembled armies, their battalions.
We surround the Throne of God, our praise carries it with joy – banners flying ever.

My body deteriorates, may sleep, my mind may ramble, may dream, may fall and rise.
But my soul rejoices in life – always now forever in Christ Jesus, who has touched me
with his finger, purified me, paid the full blood-price, vindicated all Law with his death,
justifying a judgment of acquittal before a holy God with his resurrection by the Spirit of
Holiness, Spirit of Power, Spirit of Grace. This resurrection is announced, angel-trumpeted,
spread abroad, is made known to those near, to distant, to those unknown to me.

My soul shouts with joy, with unbounded exultation – alive! Alive-O!  I have words!
Those who look – look and live! said Moses – to the Lord are radiant, radiant like the sun.  
May the friends of my soul shout with joy and gladness!  The First-Born has many brethren.
And I will shout for joy for you!  I will sing of your salvation!  The city given us is large,
spacious indeed. Our shouts ring across many continents, years, ages, families, borders,
checkpoints, fences, languages, peoples, many differences of tradition, viewpoint, opinion. 

Mysteries and Questions Abounding

A mystery springing of mysteries.  Daub minty toothpaste.
Interrogatories, served single-spaced.  Shower, coconut-aroma soap.
Gnawing hunger, insistent for answers.  Shave with Occam’s triple-razor.
Fixed stares, wait for clouds to thin.  Q-tips to check white-creamed ears.
Injustice spilled as wine, spreading across my digital tablecloth.  
Strife in a thief-masked world.  Insolent – clever.  Somewhere, somewhere?
Conflict, violence abounds.  The cover story bland, plausible.  The smiling clown –
mocking, plausible.  Truth, perverted brazenly?  Does my shirt match?
I brew coffee, check the headlines – truth – but whose? 
Rambled thoughts constrained, fitted into their cocoon.
Is this, my cubed day, the only answer?  

Martyred saints, suffering, inquire justly. 
Souls cry out while being robed in white –
we are all robed in white, imputed by faith.
To pose such questions, questions so serious,
one must be alive.
The church has questions – how long, O Lord?  So ask we, all inquisitors. 
Will not the Judge of the whole world be just?  Why does the Almighty not
set times to judge – in righteousness?  Holy One of Israel, will you
judge the nations with equity?  So inquires Job, the psalmists.
Will God trample the naked, restless seas?  Churn deep waters birthing our favorable
judgments?  Will the day of vindication never come?  My questions, too?

Rejoice in the life we have, secured near His hand – to speak also of judgment.
Life will proceed – will confer to us, by grace, answers to our questions –
none ignored.   Probe, unseal – how long until this takes place? 
Why are they empowered?  Will lawlessness cease? What about them,
so destructive?  So much ruin, so much waste? How could we be treated so? 
Smirking nonsense for explanation – but not forever.
Infants in the nursery opening our eyes, darting about, loving faces,
moving lips to be nourished, giving space to the upward thrust
of life.  The Lord’s breath, and with it his Mind, his Spirit.
We wake gradually.  Milk, then solid food –  the Lord is, we are.
Children reach an age when there are answers.

My list of questions, minted over time, so long, impatient, indignant  –
will be answered.   I will be showered with answers.
Discipled in the perfect Law of the Lord, shaved simplest,
reviving my soul, light to eyes, answers to waiting ears.  Clouds part. 
Disciples pose questions for Him who gathers, restores, cleanses all.
My soul unmuffled, never blindfolded, here and now, not wrapped in
hateful silence of death.  My soul receives, speaks out in love, in life,
in peace, gathered by a Throne.  Our Father has created, adopted us. 
I stand with many who learn to speak in love, who have questions
of their own.  They are an answer to some of my questions –
I am an answer to some of theirs.


Pandemonium at the Planetarium

For appearances might well be so constituted that
the understanding should not find them to be conforming to the conditions of its unity,
and all might then be in such confusion that, for instance, nothing would present itself
in the succession of appearances which would supply a rule of synthesis
and thus correspond to the concept of cause and effect,
so that this concept would then be quite empty, null and meaningless.” –
Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B123, A90-91. 

It was a long time ago and has nothing to do with us – but the story is
that in a certain city, the planetarium situated next to the natural history
museum became famous, or notorious, for hosting a Saturday midnight
planetarium show, attended by hippy-afficionados who came dressed in
outrageous costumes. They arrived suitably high on various hallucinogens,
trooped in to enjoy the celestial light show, their costumed peers and the
spectacle – amplified by contraband pharmaceuticals to bend reality.

The planetarium did a robust business, sold out every Saturday midnight show,
and so turned a blind eye to the various goings-on by their hip clientele, who
were highly intoxicated but generally peaceful. There were 400 cushioned reclining,
jet black theater seats in the amphitheater. Tables and chairs were placed in
circular fashion around the interior, against the walls, for promotional display of
pamphlets and CDs of the thunderous apocalypse-now music raging fashionable,
played during the midnight shows. Two adjoining front doors were used for admission
from outside, reached by an entrance walk shared with the history museum. There
were four additional single doors for emergency exit scattered at the four corners
of the auditorium.

The celestial displays on the overhead black-painted dome were projected with
breathtaking fully 3D, virtual-reality digital technology. The master of this system
was known to all as Alan – it was enough to say his first name. Like Ken Kesey of the old
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Alan was the tripmaster – he required no further identifying
nomenclature – was himself, the draw.  It was a head trip, an experience every Saturday
night.  The audience got more than a display of galaxies, moving stars, constellations,
planets, simulated interplanetary travel projected on an overhead dome with a boring
announcer sounding like a 7th grade science teacher – they got Alan’s creative genius, his
cryptic, strangely calm declarations delivered by overhead speakers at rockstar volume.

For purposes of the next experience, six hippies decided to dress like munchkins for the 
evening.  They had already take Oz-like names in their commune: Robby, Frosty, Hammy,
Vermy, Weezy and G-Lucky.  Weezy was somewhat on the autism spectrum, sensitive to
excessive stimuli, but determined to be, and very much, part of the group.  She had
acquired a comfort dog, a well-trained German shepherd named Zoe. The six munchkin-
hippies consumed most of their edible hallucinogens prior to the show – with Zoe for
comfort, made their way through the garden-bordered park to the planetarium.

Another group of miscreants was also planning a planetarium escapade. Members of a
motorcycle club, the Demon Riders, also liked getting high and tripping on Alan’s show.
Being the mischievous fellows that they were, they decided that very evening to spice
up the entertainment. So they dressed like police officers and acquired heavy-duty black-
market fireworks – Jack Flash M-80’s, some with single fuses and some strung together with
a common fuse, and smoke bombs in black, red, blue, yellow, green. “We’ll make it rock!”
they exclaimed with considerable and fiendish glee.  About a dozen Riders, with assorted
domestic partners, recent girlfriends, friends of friends, assembled.

Their plan for surprise fun occasioned some discussion. “What about the security guys at the
show?” One of the Riders asked. As it turned out, the security guards at the midnight show
were known to and friends with the Riders. “These guys ride with us!” A Rider assured
his inquirers. “They’re hip. They’ll be cool.” The Riders, spiffy in their police regalia, although
their uniforms were not exactly uniform, also consumed various sensory enhancements,
packed their intended toys, confident in an evening of unhindered enjoyments, and so
rode noisily, flamboyantly and armed with purpose to their destination.

The stream of hippies, bikers, thrill-seekers, the curious, the bored, wandered along the lush
park paths on the cool summer evening, costumed in green, orange, neon-pink, teal, cyan,
and flaming magenta, glowing munchkins, cops, witches, sailors, clowns, wizards, elves,
gnomes, orcs, Broadway Cats, tie-dyed flower children, saffron-robed monks, etc.  They were
motley dressed, spandexed, torn-dressed, undressed, cross-dressed, hairy, silver-studded,
face-painted, lavishly tattooed and pierced, body parts displayed like flying-flags, black
lipstick, cherry lipstick, three-inch nails, in black leather and hanging chains for wallets and
keys, burning incense, smoking intoxicants in corncob pipes, cigarettes, bongs, water-pipes.

A garish meandering parade in patent-leather boots, sandals, flipflops, barefoot, they
wandered and staggered through the park to the auditorium doors, settled into their seats,
reclined while the music piped across the circular, slightly backward- sloping floor, facing
upward toward the dome. They tilted back their black-velvet cushioned seats. The title of the
evening’s planetarium program, advertised as one of Alan’s special creations and displayed
on oversized posters – Wham! Bam! The Freaking End of the World!!!!  The evening’s
poster logos were various fluorescent skulls in the appearance of multiple colliding planets.

At midnight the lights dimmed on our seated munchkins, not yet totally high, but
getting there. With various fragrances wafting through the air, they leaned back to look
upward. Alan’s somber voice rang out in a pre-recorded message, welcoming the audience,
announcing a few preliminary rules to which no one paid attention and the title of this
evening’s planetarium show. The solar system appeared on the display ceiling, as it would
appear without interference from nearby urban, artificial lights.  Zoe disregarded Alan’s
instructions (as did everyone else) and the display, but otherwise was settled by the feet of
Weezy at the end of the row.

“Coming on now,” Robby murmured to himself, yet audibly, giving permission, sounding the
starting gun, as the munchkin clan sat patiently,

momentarily satisfied, waiting

for their psychedelics to take full! effec t.  Robby monologuing – 

”  T  i   m            e   –    a    n               d   

                  s                 p                                   a                                           c

                                                                                s p   a  c e    s    –    .  .     .

          t h e                         s  p  a   c  e   s    –       .     .          .           >                   >

                                         .         .               .                .                    ,

   a little messed up.     

    .                       > >                   >          >                     >                 T h  e    y ‘   
r   e     

 s e     p>



                a  t i      n  g.           

                                                     T  h   


u    n i 


                                                   <                                                         i       s   ,  ,     ,     ,   

 ,          ,

                      g  o  i   

                                              n        g    .   .     .    ”                   .                                      .        .            ,

,              ,                                            .                             ,     >                                     

 .    > < >    <

.   >         >               <

                .      >          <

                                                   .                        >

                                                                                                              . .


Time has come today,” Frosty sang softly in group affinity,
young hearts must go their way,” echoed G-Lucky,
Can’t put it off another day,”  added Vermy,
“Time has come today,” Hammy concluded their fragmentary, let’s go kick-off
signal, a playful house-song.  “Eat Up!”  And so they did.

“Nothing in the universe last forever,” Alan’s voice shortly announced. “Nothing. One day our
sun will die! It will begin to die by ejecting unimaginably gargantuan portions of its mass,
mostly hydrogen gas.” The overhead display depicted pieces of a displayed sun, as large as
the dome could show, with pieces achingly slowly, gracefully ,breaking apart as if some slow-
motion celestial ballet. The crowd ooh-ed and aaahh-ed. “Like, wow, man,” commented
Hammy, irritating G-Lucky.  The voice of Alan boomed: “As huge chunks of the sun
disassociate, the gravity waves and disruption on earth will be unimaginable.”

The overhead display depicted the amoeba-slow movement of masses of congealed hydrogen,
superimposed on disaster-movie graphics of various cities on earth. “The effect on the moon’s
orbit will be enormous,” announced the loudspeaker. “Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions
will engulf the atmosphere and fill it with particulate matter. In fact,” intoned Alan, “it is
entirely possible that changes in the atmosphere caused by fierce volcanic activity will first
darken the entire planet for months or years. When that recedes, the effect may redden the
entire sky. With such a sky, we could be called the Red Planet. But first – the Volcanoes!
Particulates!  Volcanic ash and dust! Dark!  Dark!”

The overhead display showed the sun turning pitch black, the atmosphere black.   The entire
planetarium dome turned black, as if every ray of sunlight was blotted out by particulate
matter. Then gradually a slow red glow emerged, as sunlight backlit, then cut gradually into
the settling particulates, which finally displayed the moon, turned blood red.

“The gravitational effects will be unstoppably severe – causing brutal movements in the tectonic plates here on earth. The planet will experience a whole series of extreme, violent earthquakes.” Alan’s voice-over trailed off to allow the audience to view such earthquakes, buildings collapsing, in a split-screen format with the depiction of the night sky. One of the Demon Riders took the opportunity to set off one of his Jack Flash M-80 fireworks along with a red smoke bomb.

BOOM-BANGBOOMBANG! The explosion from the M-80, inside the closed auditorium was ear-splitting, colossal, heart-stopping, reverberating, echoing. There was a distinct shock-wave, rocking the auditorium. “It’s shooting!” Someone screamed – in an instant, people were scrambling onto the floor, hippies, munchkins, sailors, monks, tattooed leather-clad gypsies. The screaming was overwhelming for thirty seconds, lasting a minute, with an enormous racket of 400 people all trying to hide under or at least behind recliner theater seats. “It’s a fire!!” people screamed, getting up to head to the exits.  Someone snapped on a flashlight, which lit up the smoke from the smoke bomb to enhance the general eeriness of the scene.

The mischievous Rider stood up, dressed as a policeman, gesturing with his hand for his like-dressed Riders to stand. “It’s okay,” he shouted loudly. “It’s okay! It’s all part of the show!” The security officers who were standing near the front doors stood as well. “Ask them,” the Rider shouted. “All part of the show.” People looked up and the planetarium show was, indeed, continuing. No one appeared injured.

“There will be terrible earthquakes, smoke, disaster, catastrophe, as pieces of the sun break away and drift toward Earth,” Alan announced. “Of these events we can be sure,” the voice announced. “But because of the complexity, it’s impossible to make predictions past certain timescales. Beyond five to 10 million years, certainty flies right out the window.”  The audience continued to stir restlessly.

One of the security guards announced loudly, “It’s alright! Please be seated! This is part of the show!” He winked broadly to the Rider, but in the dark, their spontaneous conspiracy was their secret. The munchkins looked over to Robby, to see what he was going to do – he was the oldest. Weezy had curled up in a ball, while Zoe tried to nuzzle her.

Robby, 6’ 4,” prematurely gray at the temples, pretty high, spatially and otherwise, thought to himself – what would I do, if I were sober? He decided that one event was not enough to panic – when you’re high, always be smooth, project calm, be in control, never act abruptly. The higher you are, the more you follow the rule. Stoned to gills, yet still no-drama-Obama, ever the intellectual director, even dressed like a munchkin, rather incongruous because of his height. He joined his hands to meet in front of his face, contemplatively, each finger separated and touching its mirror finger on the other hand to make visible a kind of tepee of Robby’s thought. But he didn’t leave his reclining chair, instead slid back a touch further.

Frosty, lithe, vivacious, had a lock of silver-white hair, very munchkin-like, and silvery yoga pants, green pull-over, her sleeves rolled to slender elbows. She and Robby had lived together years previous – after some more years, were friends. She read his face, a habit of hers, whether up or down, high or sober. He didn’t look like he was going anywhere, at least not yet. Apart from hallucinogens, she did some drinking too and had two hands wrapped around a supersize plastic cup of Kahlua and cream, accessed by a giant straw through a secure lid. There was no chance Frosty was going to break off from the group alone. Whatever they did, she did. She was thinking, murkily, this was going to be the subject of her next short film, something she did for personal satisfaction, outside her work in adult films. She looked over first to Robby, then to Hammy, then to the group, to get any further cues.

Hammy was occupied with the acoustics of reverberating sound after the M-80 exploded, and the visuals of the smoke. He was the youngest, often oblivious and preoccupied, lost to his surroundings except that particular point of personal interest obsessing him at the moment. He was seeking out something in himself, or somewhere. An avid reader – in the midst of Hammy’s hallucinogen-inspired, internally cycling-obsessive thoughts, lines from a long-dead French novelist, Stendahl, floated across his brain, with which he began to play mentally, as he often did with words, as if they were toys: I involve my characters in the consequences of their own stupidity, and then I give them brains, so they can suffer.

Vermy, a psychologist in a dark-blonde handle-bar mustache, marijuana researcher, taut
marathon-runner, played fairy chess and kriegspiel, composed ornate chess problems
published in obscure journals – he dreamed of exotic escapes to remote villages in Ireland,
Indonesia, the Seychelles. He would provide sober, sensible answers to Hammy on the topic
of schizophrenia while both were tripping.  Vermy was temporarily separated from his partner due to an indiscretion, but all expected them to re-unite.  How do you experience reality?  Is the self the relationship to the self? were questions he could spend hours answering, discussing, exploring.  Vermy was observing how others reacted to the M-80 explosion, which included observing how he was reacting, even observing how he was self-observing.  Vermy was  perpetually the chief lab animal of his own experiments, his mind picturing Escher-graphics of optical illusions viewed by illusionists who were optical illusions themselves.

Weezy, brunette and freckled, barely 5’ 2,” deep into yoga, ashrams, Eastern religion,
astrology, the I Ching, had been a published short-story writer, had a doctorate in literature
from a prestigious university, had been a professor, had suffered abuse in a marriage, and
thrown it all over to work in a coffee house. Weezy was usually reserved, though Hammy
had watched Weezy approach a stranger playing guitar at a café and ask him if he were a
Libra – which he was. Relentlessly vegetarian, the thought of eating any animal whose last
emotions were of death-panic made her gag.  She had no expectation of any relationship
lasting. Her chief emotional attachment was Zoe. After the M-80 went off Weezy had curled
her arm around Zoe, dutifully unruffled by loud noises, whose calm demeanor comforted

G-Lucky, red-haired in multiple shades, freckled, entomologist, science-writer, fierce
defender of insect-life in any form, libidinous, prowling for partners as voraciously as any
praying mantis, was known to like two kinds of men – those with mustaches and
those without. Her parents had been politically far-left; she had been raised a red-diaper
baby and only gradually separated herself from their worldview. Scientific, calm – except on
the topic of insecticides, intellectual, disciplined, sparing with her words, keenly observant,
statuesque, wore blue-jeans to every event, formal or informal (had located green blue-jeans
for her munchkin outfit), except nude beaches, of which she was fond. G-Lucky was fond also
of intoxicants – generously but carefully measured out.

As announced, the planetarium show continued, displaying the sun ejecting massed
quantities of hydrogen gas, swelling into a red giant, then shrinking into a white dwarf.
The floating balls of hydrogen upset the orbits of the planets, which began drifting erratically,
in elongated elliptical orbits, with their planetary atmospheres fiercely trailing behind
creating immense planetary winds.  Alan explained, “It’s like coffee rocking in a coffee cup
hand-held in a car taking a curve at high speed. The coffee spills.” The auditorium smelled
of marijuana, smoke, incense, ordinary human sweat – and that peculiar sour aroma which
people emit when using drugs, impossible to describe but familiar to those ‘on the hip,’ as
the old opium-smokers used to say.

The overhead dome showed glowing, belching, smashing, drifting, rotating, wildly spinning
hunks of gas and planets, to ooohs and aaaahs and far-outs and wow-mans and similar
expressions of hippie wonder. The viewpoint shifted back to planet Earth, depicting the sun
turning glow-red, then white-hot, then black.  The moon turned red.  The stars appeared to
fall or scramble all over the sky and disappear behind the horizon, as if they had spilled out
of a basket
. It was a magnificent show, all narrated by Alan’s authoritative voice-over,
explaining with barely-camouflaged delight each planetary disaster lighting up the dome,
the inexorable consequences of each gargantuan cataclysm, masked by the tone of his sure,
pseudo-scientific authority.

The dome depicted the atmosphere disappearing, the sky rolling up like an unraveling rug. 
Earthquakes shuddered, shook the earth, with vivid, fluorescent colors rolling through the
Earth’s thinning atmosphere. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune were depicted breaking
free of their orbits, passing through blizzards of interplanetary floating debris, into the void
of interstellar space. It was wildly psychedelic – the munchkins were round-eyed and
gaping with amplified awe.

At the next mention of earthquakes, BANG!-BOOMBANGBOOM!, one of the Riders set off
another M-80. Like the previous explosion, the noise-blast echoed back and forth across
the auditorium, overwhelming, deafening, heart-stopping, reverberating, terrifying.
The Riders released more colored smoke bombs. People screamed, dove onto the floor,
clutched each other, held their ears, panicked, looked to the exits. It wasn’t likely any
reassuring announcement was going to work to calm things down.

But the Demon Riders weren’t mischievous fellows for nothing – promptly, on signal,
in the dark and smoke looking very official as police officers, they marched to the two
front doors and four around the sides of the auditorium and stood guard to prevent
any exit. As far as the Riders were concerned, the fun was just beginning.

“No one leave!” the lead Rider shouted. “It’s all part of the show! The doors are
blocked for your safety! We don’t want any panic!” He could hardly get his last phrase
out of his mouth without an evil grin, visible in the dark and audible, caustic laughter.
“Oh, no,” he repeated loudly. “There shouldn’t be any panic!” He drew the last word out
at sarcastic length. Then another smoke bomb came from somewhere in the Rider group,
followed by another M-80. BOOM! The auditorium shook. Screaming was everywhere –
and shouting, “The doors!  The doors!”

The two security guards stood up. “It’s all alright!” One shouted. “It’s all part of
the experience!”  In the smoke and the dark, with the overhead displays of planetary
disaster still being projected, people began scrambling away from the seats –
turned away from the exit doors, they began hiding under the display tables and
pulling the chairs onto their heads for protection – against what – they were not sure.
Fear and confusion rippled through the crowd like visible waves.  “The Experience!”
The guard repeated loudly.  To really know!

At just about that time, Alan’s voice over continued in booming fashion. “This is it! This is
how the world ends!” Alan displayed across the dome in huge fashion an image of Christ,
Pantocrator, looking stern, taken from the monastery in Monreale in Palermo, Sicily.
“The end of the world!” The display of Christ, stern in his visage, took up the entire area
of the overhead dome. “A day of wrath!” Alan announced gleefully.  “Wrath!”

Someone must have called the police. In two or three minutes, there was loud knocking
and two local policemen came into the darkened auditorium, breaking through the
resistance of the Demon Riders stationed at the front doors. For the entering police,
it was a blind scene, between the auditorium dark and smoke, so they flicked on their
flashlights. Almost immediately they encountered the security guards standing among
the Riders.

“There’s no problem here,” one of the guards asserted to the police. “All part of the show.”
The smoke, and the sounds of a few people screaming or crying still, made that an
unlikely proposition. But the Demon Riders were psyched up for bigger, funnier games.
“You guys, you’re under arrest!” One of the Riders ordered fiercely. “You’ve been setting off
fireworks! Drop your weapons! Up against the wall!”

“Who are you?” asked one of the police. At that point, one of Alan’s loud, booming narrative
voice-overs sounded out, explaining some cosmic phenomena. “What was that?”
asked the startled policeman. “A voice from heaven?”

“There are no voices from heaven around here, Jack,” replied the caustic Rider.

An escalating argument followed between the Riders, claiming to be real police arresting
the police, the police asking for identification and threatening to arrest the Riders,
and the security guards assuring the police that the Riders really were an intended
part of show. The security guards suggested that the fireworks were a big surprise thrill
for the hippie audience, who expected bedlam at the planetarium and paid for the show’s
weird unpredictability. “It’s freedom, man!” Explained the security guard, who was inventive
indeed. “You know –  Free doom! Free will!” Had he been able to suppress a grin, it might
have been persuasive.

The two police whipped their flashlights around from face to face. Taken aback by the
security guards’ spontaneous deceit, the police weren’t sure who or what to believe.
For several minutes the two police, the Riders and the security guards yelled at each other
with no one hearing anyone, while the show continued.

Alan narrated more celestial disaster without interruption. The auditorium air was filled with
the aroma of marijuana, flash powder and smoke. Now the dome displayed stars in countless
number. Intermixed with the still-screaming of the crowds and the shouting of the police,
Riders and security guards, Alan’s voice boomed out over the speakers.

“Two billion years from now, the Milky Way and Andromeda, our closest neighboring galaxy,
will begin to fuse into one giant football-shaped galaxy. The gigantic merger will relocate
our solar system and thereby change forever the appearance of the constellations.”
Now on the dome overhead were stars moving at blinding speed, fusing together. 
The stars collided together at irresistible speeds. The overhead dome showed Earth’s
oceans boiling off. Even the arguing group of police, Riders and security guards stopped
to look upward gaping.

“All the galaxies will fall together and stick,” Alan’s voice explained. “There will be vast comet
shows,” which were suitably depicted. “Dark matter will begin to emerge as an ever-greater
force in the cosmos. An unstoppable force.  Irresistible, sweeping everything into its
gravitational powers
.”  The overhead dome went pitch black. “Everything – absorbed
into dark matter!
”  Alan’s voice was the epitome of sweet reason, scientific rationality. 

The Riders exploded another Jack Flash M-80. BANG!!! Bangbangbang went the echos.
More smoke, this time green. Robby had enough – the munchkins had enough.
Robby stood up. Now another group of police arrived, three this time, shouldering
through the front doors. The Riders objected.  Soon all were involved in a serious
face-to-face shouting and shoving match with the Riders and the security guards.
“Scene’s over.” Frosty announced, seeing Robby stand. “It’s a wrap – get dressed.
Film’s in the can.  Let’s go!”

Meanwhile, a large group of the crowd, dressed as pixies, sailors, cats, etc. had crowded
around the shoving argument and were shoving themselves, wanting to leave.
The other four emergency doors out were still blocked by the assigned Riders, whose
discipline to their task was as unexpected as it was ironically dutiful. People were screaming,
crying, hiding under the tables and chairs, becoming delirious and unhinged. No one could
tell who the real police were. The police conduct was so belligerent it was easy to believe
they were on drugs too – quite possibly, an accurate assessment. Or they were just mean.

The security guards tried to arrest the police, who resisted. For fun, the Riders asserted
that both the guards and the police were hippie imposters in costume, and tried to
arrest both groups. The security guards grew angry at this betrayal, and attempted to
tell the police that the Riders were really the imposters. It didn’t matter, the policemen
weren’t believing anything the security guards said anyway. In the dark and smoke, the first
two police did not recognize the three later-arriving police. The two policemen first
through the doors surmised the second group of three were more costumed hippies.
So they attempted to arrest them, adding to the chaos, if such were possible.
People were screaming – “Fire!” People were answering, “Yeah, right! Right on!”
An off-duty detective made his way in who was drinking nearby when he picked up
the dispatcher calls.  His drunken demands and self-pronouncements fit right in.

While all this was going on, drugs were being passed around in and through the crowd.
This fact was positively noted in the group surrounding the arguing police, so the group
stopped to partake. This was also noted favorably by the police. Police, Riders, security
guards stopped screaming long enough to snort or smoke whatever was passed to them –
generally, the theory being, if things suck anyway, might as well get high.  Then
they continued the argument, their volume increasing proportionately to the state of each
speaker’s deluded beliefs. The munchkins, stalled in their intended exit, joined
in with further intoxicants – even intellectual Robby buying into the general theory.

A group of three EMTs arrived in their white uniforms, wandering in across the arguing
groups. The dark and confusion was challenging for them also, but they wandered
conscientiously across the rows of chairs, looking people who were overdosed. People
were trembling with fear, gasping for breath, so the EMTS stood ready to administer
medications and treatments to those who were in need. It proved to be a difficult sell,
however, as several people they encountered didn’t want to come down from their high.
People who were deliriously stoned still resisted any remedy – and did so rather vocally.
Several others, who were huddling under tables and chairs, were convinced that the EMTs
were simply more costumed hippies and declined assistance on that basis.  They had no
intention of abandoning their slender defenses. The EMTs continued circulating, but in
the knifing, crossing rays of flashlights, appeared not certain of whom to treat, or why.

The chief Rider decided the time had come for the climax and readied new strings
of toys.  Overhead on the dome, a new scene was presented – Alan felt no obligation
to present events in any chronological order – the stars were depicted falling, the planets
dissolving, the oceans boiling. Alan was narrating the end of the galaxies and the end
of time.  Alan lectured sincerely over an intercom intended for calm, scientific explanations
of a dignified planetarium show – possibly as a result of his own indiscriminate use of
hallucinogens, declared – “It’s the end of the world! Time’s up, dudes!  It’s the end
of time. The end of the world!” 
Multiple images cascaded in fractions of seconds.

At that point a group of six firefighters arrived. They at least were used to smoke,
confusion, noise, and managed to retain their discipline and purpose. They began
circulating across the perimeter of the auditorium looking for signs of actual fire. Most
people they encountered were unwilling to move about or take any orders, assuming that
the firefighters were more costumed hippies. Two of the firefighters made their way around
the crowd in front, where the munchkins were loitering, more or less camped. They 
encountered Robby, who was completely dismissive of them. “It’s cool,” he explained.
“There’s no fire. We’re splitting now. Anyway, we can see your costumes aren’t real.”

The firemen were annoyed by Robby’s comment and made a rude reply.  “It’s only
real, what you experience as real,” retorted Vermy, which helped not at all.  Pushing
developed between Vermy and Hammy and the firefighters.  The firemen grudgingly
moved on. “Come back,” G-Lucky called out to the retreating firemen, “if you want a date!”
Frosty giggled, put her hands over her head, still holding her Kahlua and cream, and
gave them a last burlesque-bump with her hips. “Last chance!” the salacious
munchkin-entomologist shouted to the backs of their helmets as they slid along the
edge of the crowd.  Zoe remained unruffled, standing guard for Weezy, calm but
watchful toward the firefighters, police, security guards and Riders. 

The chief Rider set off his first climax string of half a dozen M-80’s
BANGBOOMBANGBOOMBANGBOOM!!!!!! Bangboombangboom echoed in
exploding, deafening fashion. The audience-hippies rocked or fell to the floor
fear.  Anyone armed with a weapon unholstered it reflexively. The booming bangboom
echo sound was almost as loud as the original explosions.  The knees of the munchkins
buckled, making it appear as if the shock wave traveled up and down vertically
across their green-clad bodies.

“GUNS! GUNS!” “There are guns!” – more screaming. “RUN!” People were running in
every direction, tripping over each other, but unable to exit. Robby took off on his own,
heading away from the front doors, deciding that the furthest door was the one he would
choose for exit if he were sober. As soon as he bolted, Frosty took off after him.

“Take me!” “Take me!” she shouted at Robby. “I love you! Robby! Don’t leave me!” Robby
turned his head back briefly, but didn’t lose a step – nor did Frosty, who was nimble and
quick.  Following him, she maneuvered around and through the crowd and the intervening
bodies and auditorium seats easily as fast as Robby.  Still clinging to her drink, she called out
plaintively, “Robby!” Her voice trailed off into a kind of slurred, teary wail – Robbbyyyyy. 
Amazingly though, her balance was surprisingly stable. Robby could hop-stride over the seats
easily, but nearing the far exit he stepped on someone in the dark as his foot came down,
causing him to lose his balance. When Frosty caught up to him, she tried to help him up,
finally putting down her drink to do so.  He shrugged her off, but then, frustrated with his
own lack of coordination, gave up and sat. “Clumsy. This fall, man, it’s the effect.  But what is
the cause?” Robby asked rhetorically, folding his legs to bring them closer to his body.

“All part of the show!” One of the Riders yelled out. “It’s all cool!  Very cool!”

Now all the police and the security guards started echoing the same comfort:
“They’re only fireworks!  Stay calm!”  Screaming at people to stay calm is just about
as productive as you might imagine.

“It’s the show! The fireworks you want!” More colored smoke bombs were set off,
but at least part of the crowd hesitated. Vermy noted that Robby’s conduct decided the
munchkins’ perceptions – if he were running with naked fear, they caught his fear.

Vermy saw Frosty take off, skipping around rows of auditorium seats. “Wait!” He shouted.
“Frosty, wait!” He observed himself chasing Frosty over the auditorium seats in the dark.
“We can touch! I’ve wanted you for a long time! Haven’t you seen it?  If it ends, let’s be
together!” Frosty turned her head in only moderate surprise. The sly, distant attention of
Vermy hadn’t been altogether lost on her. “See me!” Vermy repeated, “see my love! So real! 
Real for you!  We’re the forbidden fruit!  Explore with me!  My Lady Chatterley!”

Without another thought, Frosty resumed chasing Robby, declaring her undying love to
the cinema director of her lost youth, who had no immediate interest in anything except
an available exit.  Vermy, briefly touching with his fingertips to make sure his mustache was
well-groomed, self-analyzed as he followed her, thoughts indiscriminately tumbling into a
rouge-pastel haze of fishnet fantasy, pining for leathery, off-planet escapism and female
reproductive organs decorated with flowers.  He trailed nubile Frosty across the maze of
people and seats – provocative, inviting by her very being – yet apparently elusive as reality
itself, while random flashlights crisscrossed the auditorium. 

G-Lucky saw Vermy taking off. “Let’s do it, one more time,” she offered to Vermy and his
sexy handlebar mustache, “right before the end!” G-Lucky made loud offers as she ran,
shouting that she always wanted to have relations at the end of the world (I have
paraphrased her more vernacular language). It wasn’t clear whether G-Lucky really thought
there was shooting going on – or really thought death or the end was nigh – or that it just
didn’t matter to her as long as one more roll in the hay was available. “I can do nice things!”
G-Lucky shouted. “Wait!” She chased after Vermy.  G-Lucky explained loudly in rather
graphic detail what might be possible between them, even in an auditorium. The prospect of
being viewed by others in these intimate arrangements did not seem to dissuade G-Lucky
at all. But Vermy was off chasing Frosty, so G-Lucky followed Vermy, his firm marathon
posterior and his mustache.

Hammy had long ached for G-Lucky, who found him juvenile.  Seeing the chase, Hammy
arose mentally from his preoccupations. “G-Lucky,” he shouted. “G-Lucky!” He thought
of something compelling to say as he followed. He decided to recite Satan’s lines from
Milton’s Paradise Lost. It made no great sense under the circumstances  – but given the
general state of things in the auditorium, that appeared no impediment.  Hammy’s poetry
recital was chosen for the lovelorn. “Farewell happy fields, where joy forever dwells!” he
shouted. “G-Lucky! Hail, horrors, hail! Infernal world, and thou, profoundest hell – receive
thy new possessor
! One who brings a mind not to be changed by place or time! G-Lucky,
wait! For the mind is its own place, and of itself, can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of
” Although her heart was situated in a frame deeply attractive to Hammy, it did not
appear this recitation of poetry won G-Lucky’s heart, if she listened at all.  G-Lucky kept
chasing Vermy – chasing Frosty – chasing Robby.  Hammy commenced stepping over
auditorium chairs in the smoke and dark and flashing lights to chase G-Lucky. “It’s all
in our heads!  We can make it what we want!” he shouted, but G-Lucky was intent on
pursuing her own agenda.

Weezy saw this parade of her compatriot-escapees leaving and commenced to follow.
Zoe went with her, leading her along the aisles, gingerly around the people cowering
behind the cushioned reclining seats.  Another string of M-80s exploded.
BANGBANGBANGBANGBANG. BANGbangbanbbangbang. bngbngbngbngbng.

Weezy caught up to Hammy, who had caught up to the other munchkins. They were
huddled behind a crowd also trying to use the far exit door.  People had stopped
believing that the Riders stationed there were police, but still hadn’t broken through.
Weezy put her arms around Hammy from behind, hugging him, a gesture he recognized.
Then Weezy began to sob uncontrollably.  “Why are you crying?” Hammy asked, without
hearing or expecting any immediate answer.

“Why are we running?” Vermy asked of anyone, circling in place to looked around at
the panic. “Because we’re users.  And we’re guilty,” Robby answered in a burst of
seated, defiant coherence. By this time, another group of four police had entered, to
join the seemingly endless argument by the front doors.

Another series of M-80’s exploded. BangBangBang. Heads dropped, bodies ducked
to the floor. Alan was narrating the end of the world and the collapse of all alternate
universes into an endless series of alternate-universe black holes, depicted on the
overhead dome.  He elaborated on string and chaos theory and the enormous
landscape of possible universes, all of which he explained would be collapsing. The
depiction was of total flashing followed by total dark following by total flashing at
high speed on the overhead dome, intended by Alan to instigate epileptic reactions. 
“The absolute end of the universe- inconvenient, unavoidable.  Collapsed back into
nothing. Final.”  Alan intoned ponderously.

“We’re small,” G-Lucky replied to anyone listening. Robby was staring off blankly.
“Insects, in this universe.  Short-timers.  May flies.” Vermy was self-observing.  Frosty
picked up her drink cup. Hammy turned around to hug Weezy, who was being
attended by Zoe.

“Afraid,” Weezy answered. “Afraid.” Even Zoe seemed to feel this moment of
compassion, in the midst of the group hallucinogenic fog.  The shepherd nuzzled
against Weezy. The group appeared to retreat into itself, almost visibly shrink.
Weezy, in a deep stretch for composure, for rationality, unexpectedly found some
words to softly recite which must have attached to her before her headlong
plunge into Eastern religion. Waking on a morn – to find that what one waked for,
inhales a different dawn. 
Hammy thought he recognized the lines from Emily
Dickinson. For whatever reason, the noise from all sources appeared to quiet
briefly, allowing Weezy to be heard.

For the munchkins, any moments of contemplation or sobriety were doomed
to be short-lived, their hallucinogens being rather insistent. “Like, wow, man, the
whole human race – it’s like – vulnerable, dude,” said Robby, who finally was too
stoned to be calm or rational anymore.  Weezy resumed crying. The whole group
began crying with Weezy, as if uncontrollably sobbing in fear was an unavoidable,
contagious disease.

Maudlin, hallucinogen-enhanced, hard to take completely seriously, like a drunk’s
self-pity, the munchkins sat in a circle, consumed with fear, overwhelmed, none
more so than Weezy. Even in his own intoxicated state, Hammy felt badly for her,
then for the whole group and tried to say something, but it was incoherent. He couldn’t
be heard anyway, the momentary pause in the surrounding din was over. Zoe tried
to comfort Weezy. It was too much even for Zoe’s comfort, and the mood-altering
chemicals were kicking in harder.

The group sobbed. Their chests heaved, like a hockey team of drunks abandoned on
Jack Daniels highway. They started babbling, repeating one another’s words, falling all
over each other with heavy-handed comforting hugs. I love you man. Like, wow, man,
fear is a heavy trip. Man, what’s inside you – sooner or later, it comes out. Like on the
astral plane, what will be, already is. Heavy – carry the love. We’re pretty vulnerable,
man, in the universe and all, when you think about it. Nothing but a bag of bones and
organs, held together with some skin. Kind of scary. Are we going to get busted
It was quite a crying jag, participated in by all, clad in their munchkin green, even cool-
hand Robby – except for Zoe, who stood guard vigilantly throughout the episode.

After some undetermined period of time, all the auditorium lights came on. Some sort of
order was restored. People stood up, unburdened themselves of the chairs and tables
which they had pulled onto their own heads. Large numbers of real police who were not
impersonating anyone managed to separate and identify themselves to each other and
directed out or led out the crowds.

The munchkins made their way out unsteadily, Robby leading in his no-drama,
director’s director sort of way, which he had more-or-less regained.  Form the concept,
he thought to himself, mechanically, like a man flying by instruments, his concept being
an orderly exit, involving aisles, crowds, doors, guiding exit signs, directing police, looking
back to count noses of his green-clad people.  Attach familiar perceptions.  Take controlled,
intuitive steps. Walk with balance. Present a calm expression.  Don’t overreact to what you
observe – space and time are not swirling as you perceive, but stable as you remember. 
Your legs are not longer than usual. 
Your feet, your coffee hands are not larger, not further
away.  Assemble your many thoughts.  Stay cool, stay collected, ego – I am. 
Zoe followed
closely with Weezy.

Some of the Demon Riders were given citations for disturbing the peace, which they
promptly tore into shreds. The Riders were threatened with misdemeanors and felonies for
impersonating police officers, but no one expected much to come from that. The charging
officers were smoking, drinking and snorting the same kool-aid as the crowd. That would
not be a good look on cross-examination in a courtroom trial conducted by aggressive
defense attorneys, not to mention the wide-spread identification problems which the crime
scene posed.

Understandably, management suspended the Saturday night planetarium show
until further notice.  Alan’s artistry, squashed.  Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

Later that night an emergency police crew was working outside, sealing each of the
planetarium doors for a further investigation. They were occupied with stringing
around yellow warning tape and placing locks and cable on the doors themselves.
One of the officers looked up, noticed a shooting star, a real one, and commented on
how spectacular it was, jetting through the night sky to the horizon line.


First Intermission

“You listened to me read some poems?” I asked Jen, the coffee house manager.

“Some. I was serving people at tables nearby. I liked the one about your mother. And about the rider and the white horse. I didn’t listen too long to the one about the planetarium.”

“Yes, I liked the one about my mother, too.  There wasn’t much redeeming about the one in the planetarium. Except maybe for Zoe.”

“- One of God’s creatures too -” she interjected.

“But to listen to me read that much, that took more than a few minutes.”

“Well, I’m very efficient,” she smiled, scampering off – my entire audience.

My Granddaughter Gets a New Name

My daughter, Laurie, converted to
the Orthodox faith. She married Matt.
They had a baby, named Lily Rose.

At the baptismal ceremony, the Priest explained
that the Orthodox give children being baptized new names.
Lily’s baptismal name was Mary.

This gave me pause.
Mary’s argument isn’t
‘Pray to me.’

Mary’s argument is
‘I’m small, completely vulnerable.
Hold me in your arms.’

Hammy’s Dream

Perhaps late at night, or perhaps early in the morning,
Hammy was dreaming – talking to a pine tree in his garden.
Storm-scarred, tall and sturdy, the pine tree said,
“An angel will rise from first light to seal you.
I will go when you are sealed –
the wind will take me away.”

“Why is that?” Hammy inquired.
“What have you done?”
“I will go with the others,” the pine tree answered.
“The ark, the temple, the cross were made from us.
We will be uprooted and swept away, root and branch.
After these things, new trees will come.”

“I do not like this wind,”  Hammy replied.
“This wind that takes you away.”
“The wind is held back for you,”
the dream tree assured Hammy.
“Listen patiently in the clinging mist.
A word speaks clearly, loudly, for you.”

“I have a question for you,” said the pine tree.
“When being and un-being go to war, 
how do they fight?  Who wins?”
“I don’t understand your questions
and I do not like this war,”  Hammy answered.
“Who am I, to have such questions posed to me?”

“Other angels enter,” the pine tree answered,
“while you ripen, to act in concert with
our grace-light angel, sealing his chosen fruits.
Some to judge in termination, one to save –
until the garden and everything in it is renewed,
including you, and not you only.”

Jacob’s Ladder in the World

On my way to the symphony in Philadelphia
a Jewish man from a small sect, bearded,
with a round, brimmed black felt hat, spotted me.
He wanted to give me a little card,
advising of a Rebbe for his sect.

When I told him I wasn’t Jewish,
he asked, “Is your mother Jewish?”
I shook my head no. “Your father?”
I nodded affirmatively, “Yes.”
He was satisfied, and handed me his card.

The Rebbe’s card presented
eight directives for a good life,
a civil society, a kind of covenant
based on Noah and good government,
while waiting for the Mashiach to arrive.

Jacob’s Ladder in the Heart

The last time I saw my father, he was laying
in a hospital bed in the cardiac critical care unit
of Hahnemann Hospital, itself heading for dissolution.
It was his 50th day there, after all-night emergency
surgery to repair a dissection of the upper aorta.
He was still 5’ 7,” but bloated; half of each of his feet
were missing from surgical amputations, which a surgeon
had misleadlingly described as an amputation of his toes.

As I turned to leave, a male nurse was trying to force
a long slender device down his throat to clear phlegm.
He was nearly comatose, but he lifted his
hand to ward off the pain of the insertion.
His death left me with some questions.

Born in Roxborough, Isadore Jacob Wolpert –
had no use for any name other than Jack.
After his father left the family, Jack resented Judaism.
He was bored with any brief synagogue encounter,
angry at being fatherless, angry at the walls of life.

Jack failed 1st grade, did not tell anyone he could not see the
chalkboard from the ‘W’ row.  With glasses, now named four-eyes.
Silent child of narrow paths, closed doors, older siblings, running
errands, counting candy-store pennies for his burdened mother Sarah.

Yearning for escape, discovered he could do schoolwork.
Being a dentist was a ‘good profession; went to Temple.
WWII meant dentists were inducted on graduation.
Jack was assigned to ride troop ships across the Atlantic,
the shipboard dentist – who had little dentistry to perform
but time to look out over the broad ocean and bright
star-lit night sky, thoughts broken free of Roxborough.

After the war, more confident, an officer on duty in Minneapolis,
met my mother on a blind date. Jimmy, good-looking, not Jewish,
ready to break out of her life too. My father spoke well, he understood
an escapee, whose father had absconded, who lived in her dreamy corners.

My mother responded to this trim Jewish well-spoken military-
medical man, whose intelligence called to her.  Married in Wisconsin,
they traveled in Europe, saw much – but no cathedrals, nor any
synagogues or concentration camps.  Paris and Rome were on the agenda.

Set up in tough, blue-collar Fishtown, but difficulty starting his practice.
They had a son, given his name, Gay, from the maternal side.  No need
for any Jewish connections. In 1951, re-enlisted in the army as a captain.

Had a second son, Lynn, at a rural army base in West Germany.
Frustrated again, blew up his army career, set up in Montgomery County,
Main and Broad in Lansdale, where prosperity was beginning to roll in
like the tide under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson.

His sons were sent to private Quaker school,  Quaker sobriety
having made its way successfully into Pennsylvania education; and
education was everything to Jack – he had no interest in Judaism,
but what is more Jewish than that?

Beyond nominal salutes to conformity, vague religious stirrings were quickly
dispelled.  On vacation at a beach house, he found a book –
“The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed’ – a mass market paperback.
It seemed to interest him, he took it with us when we left.
Boyishly, I asked him about taking a book not his
and he explained that when people left books
at a beach house, they didn’t mind if someone took them.
But I never saw the book around the house again.
He rooted against Notre Dame, not because it was
Catholic, because it was religious.

Then came the deterioration of his marriage, separation, divorce.
Jimmy & the boys move to Ambler, but this did not work out well.
Lynn returned to Lansdale, distressed. My mother was sinking.
I returned to Lansdale and my father’s house as well.
In a year, I was hitchhiking to the Haight-Ashbury, with no opposition
from him – as if we happened to be roommates, nothing more.  After my arrest,
Jack paid the plane ticket for my return from adventure, otherwise said nothing.
He often made dinner for his sons and silently washed the dishes, alone
with his own thoughts. At 18, I headed west again to start over.

Jack re-married a patient, non-Jewish, a local teacher 15 years younger.
My brother had drug problems, big-time, introduced to this nether world by 
circumstances, by the 60’s, but above all by me.  Lynn’s high-school girlfriend
Carol told Jack.  Our father bore with Lynn and his addictions; in time seemed
to work the problem. Lynn was off to college, clean, to be an art history major.

My Christian conversion came at Villanova. A long-dead German
came out of the Catholic Church to write, to tell me I might be,
could only be, justified by faith – in God the Son, the cross-bearer.
My father’s reaction to my conversion to Christianity was that
“Someone got to you.” I resented his observation at the time,
but in retrospect, I have reconsidered and concluded he was right.

My new-found faith was too noisy for my father, a faith naive,
argumentative, met with his brothers’ and sisters’ disapproval.
Gradually Jack accommodated to my faith as a kind of civil
accoutrement to life. My father became mildly condescending
about my faith, but willing, able to speak positively about God.
The religious debate stalemated, but Jack generously loved – me, Erma,
our children, Lynn, his wife and daughter. Proselytizing efforts quieted.

Then Lynn died from a drug overdose, furtively acquired, applied.
Family met at the emergency room, saw his corpse on a gurney.
His youngest son’s death shocked, assaulted my father’s heart.
He was changed in the way that great grief changes people.

Later, I asked him rhetorically, referencing my brother,
what would have been the harm, whether it would have been
good, if Lynn had converted to Christianity. The debate that
had been stilled, was reprised briefly, grief-sharpened from both
sides. But there could be no answer.

The difference between a gullible son who recklessly deserted the
family values of Jewish secularism and education-above-all,
for some simple-minded Bible-Christian religious faith –
and a son who was not moving from a gravesite in Montgomery
County, who at 34 left a wife and two-year old, another Sara,
(a younger son who had clung closely to his father ever since his
recovery from high-school heroin addiction before that cursed relapse) –
was too stark, too grievous, for any discussion or debate.

The sands were running through the hour-glass now.

Jack was practicing dentistry two days after his 70th birthday,
when his upper aorta began to unravel.  His heart was still pumping,
but his blood wasn’t going anywhere except diffusing.
Jack’s patients were his friends – nicely noted later in a warm
obituary published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Jack’s medical distress
met with his patient’s immediate action.

Jack was sent by helicopter from the Lansdale hospital where
Lynn had been pronounced dead to Hahnemann Hospital, tops in
the area for cardiac procedures.  The surgeon, a well-spoken man
from Africa, operated on him in an all-night procedure. The procedure
repaired the shredded aorta, but the rest of his body went into shock from
the blood loss, for which there is no surgical cure, no infallible pill.

So Jack’s wife and I were his regular visitors. After the first week,
when it became evident things were not getting better, discussions
began about his future prospects, which did not yield agreement.
Determined as I was for a miracle, and given that no two doctors
appeared to have the same opinion or prognosis two days running,
things settled into a visitation pattern – alternating evenings between
his wife and me.

He appeared to be reacting at times; he appeared to have some
functionality at times. Mostly he simply lay there, about halfway
up the Glasgow Coma Scale. I was praying passionately. Frequently
various medical professionals tactfully suggested that I might be
overestimating the significance of his responses. Several nurses tried to
gently steer me toward more realistic expectations. His wife had a cool,
clear-eyed picture of what his prospects were, so our perspectives differed.

But Jack persevered, albeit bloated, day after day, week after week,
held, as it were, by angels to keep the winds of his illness and
injuries from overpowering him. In his feet, necrosis set in.  But
with help, he sat up one day in a wheel chair.  The next day, one of
the endless stream of doctors who trooped by refused to believe that
such a thing was possible. His wife, not greatly impressed by such
endurance, was engaged in more practical considerations, which included
a lawyer visit to dot some testamentary i’s and cross some codicil-legal t’s.

As time passed, on visits I sang to him, witnessed to him, presented
the gospel to his impassive ears. Previous years’ discussions gave way to
that blank expression of someone who may or may not be hearing, or
listening, or considering – but then again, perhaps he was. Facial expressions,
hand movements, a turning of the head – all these exhibit some degree of
human life.  These little evidences, so commonplace to medical professionals and
routinely discounted, all so new to me, such fertile ground for exuberant, untethered
hope. It was my turn for that filmy, soap-bubble of insistent belief – stone-deaf to
wiser medical guidance – my turn for stubborn, bedside-desperado hope.

One night he apparently responded to my delivery and explanation of the
gospel. It appeared he was nodding his head to my invitation. A son will cling
to a slender reed, when there is no other.  If Jack was sealed, the sealing was
stern. But what is hope for, but to hope my father will be numbered with one
of the tribes of Jacob, his namesake, and not the tribe of Dan, left out in that
startling list of tribes found in the scroll of Revelation.  Such hope generates
fervent questions – whose answers must wait.

The connection between a father and his son is deep indeed –
it flows broadly, powerfully, like one of the great rivers of this planet.
Such love carries that which is tender and stern – events, gifts, disciplines,
words, lectures, comforts, touches and times – these footholds, these
handholds accumulate, spread themselves, appear like rungs in a ladder,
leading to a place we cannot articulate.

Jacob’s Ladder in my Mind

Jacob’s Ladder is good for angels.
Sometimes the ladder is challenging,
for those a little lower than the angels,
Whose path is lit by intellect, but
Not by revelation, or even tradition.

Let us measure some rungs:
A Jewish boy from Roxborough in the Depression;
a young officer-dentist on a troop ship out on the Atlantic;
a groom for a Midwestern Gentile beauty;
a prosperous Pennsylvania dentist raising his family;
a silent, introverted man contemplating his life
alone raising teenage boys;
a middle-aged dentist remarrying to start again;
a grieving father confronting a grief, an evil
which would grow to a tidal wave years later;
a man whose aorta had stopped carrying blood
to the rest of his body, laying in a hospital bed;
while another son sang gospel songs and delivered
little gospel messages because he didn’t know what
else to do and what can you do in such a room
at such a time?

The lost years of Jesus will be revealed,
on a ladder reaching from Roxborough
to Hahnemann, because the Mashiach has
come from Zion, after all, to
turn godlessness away from you,
O Jack.

Loved on account of patriarchs
you did not seek, given pep talks of
Christian evangelism from a son you
did not understand, whom you loved and
who loved you for reasons that began
so early I have no recollection of them,
because God has determined in his own counsel,
that his gifts and call are irrevocable.

One of 12,000, that mystery-number of
symbol and promise, sealed from twelve tribes of Israel,
144,000 in all, a mystery multiplied by mystery,
wrapped in a symbol, gift-wrapped and
son-delivered for you. This I hope.

Let us suppose, for purposes of introspection, that
the real Jew is inwardly a Jew,
and the real circumcision is in the heart,
something not of the letter,
but of the spirit.
If this were a matter of personal volition,
the religious-choice volition
of a man in a near-coma state,
encouraged or presented by his son
at his hospital bedside,
then it misses the nature of sealing,
an act of angels,
directed by God.

Father, circumcision of the heart, seems to me
to require that we stop asking ourselves
what we think, what we want, what decisions
we have made – and start asking questions
about God’s will, God’s decisions, God’s election. 
Isaiah’s sundial appears to be running in reverse here –
in this hospital room, Jack, I am presenting the 
hard questions, all the life-determining questions,
here at the end.

God decreed before they were born,
before either had done good or evil,
that Esau, the elder, would serve
Jacob, the younger,
In order that God’s purpose in election
might stand.
In an alternate universe, father, that
might initiate a thoughtful, serious conversation
between us – and you might disagree
with the Apostle Paul.  Others have.

But who are you, Jack Wolpert,
to make a reply to God?
My father, formed by God, would you ask
“Why did you make me like this?”
And would not that question imply, in this making of you,
your gifts, your intelligence, your speech, your heritage,
your education, your marriage, your family, as well as your life
from Roxborough to Hahnemann?

We need to go back to that first question,
‘Who are you, Jack Wolpert?’ The question
implies much about Jack Wolpert, but much
also about God, God’s plans, God’s will,
God’s judgment, God’s wisdom, God’s
salvation, and a lonely Mashiach who had
no friends once, nailed to a tough place, 
as hard as your hospital bed,
but who has been accumulating friends
ever since.

Who are these people, who are we,
hated Jews, blind, self-absorbed,
who dragged Christ out to Pilate,
for that tragic death-interview, a
travesty of justice and good government.
Perhaps, like Daniel, I should just record
a lengthy prayer of repentance and remorse.

But we Jews have suffered,
like Jack in the hospital,
suffered long in the world and
suffered long in the spirit,
lacking blood to our spiritual organs,
in a state of spiritual numbness.

We have made ourselves the target
of haters and fools. Monuments are planted
in this world to commemorate (is this repentance,
or bragging?) the truly staggering numbers of Jews
who can be murdered in a short period of time,
if a capable government really puts their mind to it.
Yet, like cockroaches, we scamper out of our
hiding places to mock our antagonists –
‘nanny nanny boo boo – you didn’t get us all.’
It is our antagonists who are being dragged away.

And at the very end, 144,000 thousand of us, that
number of symbols multiplied by a symbol, from
twelve tribes of Israel, are sealed for salvation.
So nanny nanny boo boo to all our enemies, Jack –
salvation is of the Jews, and we will see who
drinks wine in the Kingdom, and who does not.

The real circumcision is still in the heart;
something of the Holy Spirit.
A Jew like that may not be praised by man,
but he will be praised by God.

Do poems or bed-side invitations advance or arrest
God’s mysterious election?  Angels are commissioned
to seal souls among the twelve Revelation-tribes of Jacob,
that strange list which is almost a complete roster
of Jacob’s sons, but quite conspicuously,
not entirely.

My mind climbs a ladder
to understand the mysterious interplay
between man’s will and God’s will,
but has far to reach the top.
Who resists His will, you would ask?
No resistance was left, father.
Not from that hospital bed.
We will be Jews, father, after all – we will
rejoice in the mysterious will of God.

He’ll be Leaving the Restaurant, with Her

A young man and his companion, a great beauty, were
ushered to their table by the maître d. She wondered why
he had had brought her there. As they sat he began to praise
her beauty, her long jet-black hair, her eyes with long lashes, her smile.
She was pleased with his attentions but puzzled. What is going on?
Where is this going? He could be complementary, had been so before,
but he was also a businesslike young man.

The conversation shifted – he was talking about people,
people he had recently met, someone he had recently met.
He mentioned a girl who did not have neat, long beautiful hair.
Her hair was disheveled. Her teeth were not beautifully straight.
She had a crooked smile. He did not give her name.
The expression on the great beauty’s face changed abruptly.

Her young man continued to describe this girl who did not know
how to dress, who did not know how to comport herself in elegant
restaurants. The great beauty, who had enjoyed her exclusive
relationship with the young man for an extended period,
looked around the restaurant with piercing, probing eyes.

There indeed was the disheveled, pirate-smiling, crooked-teeth,
cheaply dressed young woman. She was sitting by herself; she was
sitting nearby. As the young man resumed praising the looks
of the great beauty, beauty’s face was transformed by tears forming.
Wet tears – fully-formed copious tears began running down from the
eyes, from the long eyelashes of the great beauty.

The disheveled girl grinned from ear to ear. The young man continued
finding fault with the unnamed disheveled girl sitting nearby. The more
impolite and unflattering the remarks made by the young man about the
disheveled girl, the more she grinned. It was as if he could not say enough
bad things about the disheveled girl or enough good things about the
great beauty – it didn’t matter.

The great beauty was weeping, the disheveled girl was grinning –
because they both knew at that point why they were there, with whom the
young man was going to be leaving, who would pick at her food in silence.
“You can keep the ring,” he said to the great beauty. With that, he left the
first table and seated himself at the second. The disheveled young woman’s
face practically broke in two, she was grinning so broadly.

Jesus went up to the region of Tyre and Sidon dragging along the disciples.
What was he doing up there? It was crowded, overflowing with Gentiles, Canaanites.
What could be the point of that? Plus, given Jesus’ reputation for healing, wasn’t it
all too predictable, they would be whining, crying, over some illness or another?
What was Jesus thinking?

A Canaanite woman appeared – not much of a surprise. She cried out for her
daughter, demon-possessed. Naturally, Jesus ignored her. Her repeated cries
and wailing were too much. The disciples were irritated, not sure why they
were there either among the heathen, the unbelievers, the uncircumcised.
Jesus provided exactly the expected answer to this wailing Canaanite woman:

I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

There you have it, what could be more plain, more decisive, than that?
The stubborn, irrepressible Canaanite woman did not know how to take a
hint. Lord, help me! She pleaded loudly. Obviously, not a good listener.

Jesus looked at her squarely and said plainly.
It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.
He said it so bluntly no one could miss its meaning.

Look – he was even insulting her. That should put her in her place.
But oddly, Jesus did not move away from her. He did not turn his face away.
He appeared to be waiting for some response from this Canaanite woman,
some response he was anticipating. The expression on Jesus’ face was not
the expression of someone who has delivered an insult. Rather, it was the
expression of a teacher who has posed a challenging question.

The Canaanite woman had a moment of enormous religious inspiration.
In one instant, she got what Jesus was doing – she got it. She and Jesus
were the only two people in the world who understood what was going on.
The Canaanite woman understood what the conversation was all about,
why Jesus was up there anyway with all these heathen Canaanites.
She and Jesus were in a conversation with no one else interfering.

“Yes, Lord,” she answered. “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their
Masters’ table.” The Canaanite woman hit that one out of the park.  The
Canaanite woman wasn’t insulted; she was thrilled. It was the greatest day of
her life – for herself and her daughter.  No onlooker could understand as the
Canaanite woman grasped and understood. When the word of God falls from
the table, it turns the dogs into children, outsiders to insiders. It was only the
word of God which made the children, children in the first place.

Jesus left the table of the Jews at that instant and went to sit at the table
with the Canaanite woman, with her disheveled hair, crooked pirate smile
and uneven teeth. They had the Law, the prophets; they could keep the ring.
The exclusive was over.

Woman, Jesus told her, You have great faith. Your request is granted.

The Canaanite woman’s daughter was healed from that very hour. The Canaanite
woman trundled off into Salvation history.  Her moment of genius, of inspiration, 
recorded forever in a glorious exchange with Jesus. 

The dogs under the table had just become children – the children of God, children
of the Covenant, by faith. The Law, the promises, the point of the temple worship,
the purification and the atonement, were coming to the crazy Canaanites now too –
to the loud Canaanite lady with her noisy faith and to the rest of the world.  The
uncircumcised were being invited in.

The disciples didn’t get it. The exchange eluded them. They would ask later
Lord, are you now going to return the Kingdom to Israel?   The Apostle Paul
would unravel how and why the exclusive was over.  The hour appointed
for the beauty’s tears had come, because she would be able to continue
her relationship with the young man, but not in the way it had been before.  

Young People, in Motion

Two very young people, teenagers,
sit together on a park bench at night.
They have taken a walk together
under the trees, the stars.

They sit quietly, close, but not touching.
The silence stretches out. They are both shy.
Finally she turns to him and asks,
“Well – are you going to kiss me? Or not?”

We sit on a park bench with God.
He created us. We are young,
we are shy. We are close to God
but not yet touching.

The silence stretches out.
Finally we turn, turn to the Lord our God.
We must ask, no other question has occurred
to us for many minutes, for a long time.

“Lord, holy Lord – are you going to kiss us?  Soon?”
Perhaps we know that to receive this kiss will change us –
will move us in one direction and away from another.
We will tender some hello’s, some goodbye’s.

But isn’t that true also of our teenage girl?
Doesn’t she also know that if the teenage boy decides
that he wants to kiss her, moves closer still, does awkwardly
kiss her, boyishly at first, then with rising passion,

that such a kiss, maturing as it continues,
is going to change them? That such a kiss will
move them in one direction in their lives
and away from another?

Drunk at the Bucket of Blood, Dunked at the Del Coronado

1. The Catcher in the Rye

In Reno one year, a summer conference was convened for beginning poets,
seeking guidance and outlet for their first efforts. Hopscotch lectures and
flowing discussions were lively, animated with youthful passions. In one such
group, Bill W, poet and professor of San Francisco State, offered that all fiction
presented conflict, a conflict between good and evil.

This observation occasioned heated discussion. The young writers present
took such an assertion seriously and at least some disputed it vigorously.
The debate gradually centered on the 1950’s novel Catcher in the Rye.
A challenge was issued that it was about the coming of age of Holden Caulfield,
not about a conflict between good and evil, not a narrative like King Lear.

Bill W asserted that it was such a conflict, a conflict between Holden and
a corrupt society, between his innocence and the surrounding decadence.
No resolution being had in the lecture hall, a group of young poets retired
to a local establishment, the Bucket of Blood, for refreshments and further
trenchant observations on the nature of poetry, art, society and life itself.

While waiting for their first pitcher of beer, the group of four poets, debated
whether Sylvia Plath was better than Allen Ginsburg. Maggie and Choc introduced
themselves, sister and brother, both writers, from Los Angeles. “Born right
on Mulholland Drive,” they announced proudly. They were trim, blonde twins
fond of inside jokes which they were willing to share but passed quickly.

“I’m Lenny,” their third member introduced himself, obviously not long out of
high school, “from Cornfield, Ohio.” Lenny was also blonde, earnest in speech,
youthful, blue-eyed and baby-faced, hoping to be accepted socially as much as
creatively. Lenny had flown to the conference, his first plane flight and first foray
into the serious business of poetry. “I have joints we can smoke,” he said proudly.

“I’m Quasimodo,” said the fourth member of their group. “From Buzzard’s Breath,
Wyoming.” Quasimodo was older, dark-haired, with amused, flashing eyes behind
his glasses, as slender as Iago. “Why don’t you start us out with the first joint,” he
suggested. The first pitcher of beer arrived. “Drink up,” Quasimodo encouraged.
“We’ll howl. Then we’ll know what poetry is.” “To poetry,” four poets toasted.

Naturally the first pitcher of beer led to a second, the first joint led to another.
Lenny was determined to prove he was tough, ready for the rough-and-tumble of
real art. At some point beer was spilled across the table, occasioning hilarity
and a call for the waitress to take some cell-phone pictures of the group, who
had become bosom buddies in their intoxicated haze and literary-allusion jokes.

As the group got more stoned, Maggie and Choc’s relationship became more clear.
Choc followed Maggie; she was the pair’s leader. When she was drinking, so was he.
When she stopped, he did too. Maggie issued one or two see-me-later signals to
to Quasimodo – but she was never out of control and reflected an interior sense of
something, sobriety, perhaps simply the expectation the sun would rise tomorrow.

Maggie directed a mock question at Lenny, so anesthetized with intoxicants he could
not be offended. “Are you looking for a job? I have an opening – an ex oppy to be an
exec assis!” That gave rise to a rapid-fire exchange of 1000 Clowns humor between
Maggie and Choc, not meant meanly, inviting Lenny and Quasimodo to join in. Lenny
belched. “Sprouting froth defiance to the skies,” Maggie replied, quoting Moby Dick.

With Quasimodo’s tacit approval, nothing was stopping Lenny. Even sitting, he wobbled.
Quasimodo saw Maggie’s signals without signaling back. He was a mischievous fellow and
liked getting high, liked it a lot. The waitress could not walk past the table without getting
a call from Quasimodo for another pitcher of ale. “Look,” Quasimodo said to Lenny,
“when you smoke a joint, you have to hold it in deeply – keep it in your lungs, like this.”

As the evening wore on they began drinking Bombay kamikazes. They sang at the top
of their lungs – Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London and Roland the Headless Thompson
. When the song got to the line, he found him in a barroom in Mombasa, drinking
gin, everyone screamed in unison and took a big slug. They sang Excitable Boy and
Nighttime in the Switching Yard. They went wild with Send Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Although Lenny tried to follow Quasimodo’s tutorials on ever-increasing intoxication,
after some time he ceased being responsive. Finally Maggie decided she and Choc had
had enough fun for the evening – she paid their bill and they bid their friends adieu. Choc
had been a mystery man during the evening – he let Maggie take the lead, responded to 
jokes with literary allusions, sang along, but shielded his interior persona from view.

“Nobody here is Holden Caulfield,” Maggie announced as the twins left.
None of her compatriots found reason to disagree.

2. The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Left to their own devices at the Bucket of Blood, Quasimodo had an idea. “Let’s roll,” he
said to Lenny. “I just got this Karmann Ghia.” Lenny, in no condition to debate, dutifully
followed. Soon they were tooling west in a bright yellow sports car on Route 80. “I used
to live in the City,” Quasimodo told Lenny, barely awake. “Near a Vietnamese restaurant –
Lady Nhu’s Con-Ma Vietnamese Restaurant. Great food. Out by the Great Highway.”

Lenny was snoring. Quasimodo took a couple of bennies for energy, to make San Francisco
in three hours flat. As he drove highway hypnosis set in. Mere minutes, as it were – they were
passing over the Bay Bridge.  Lenny was still snoring, motionless. Let’s really have some fun,
Quasimodo said to himself, who was no small student of the occult, Nostradamus, Madame
Blavatsky, Yeats, Ted Hughes, the Golden Bough.  San Francisco welcomed her old friend.

Quasimodo passed Lady Nhu’s, parked at Great Highway. It was about 3 am.  They were
surrounded by the customary fog of the Outer Sunset district at the water’s edge. He dragged
Lenny out the car, uncomprehending, toward the Pacific. They crossed sand dunes, the
two-lane highway, crossed the next set of sand dunes to the slope down toward the beach. As
they neared the water, Lenny arose from his stupor, a sleepy mouse in the jaws of a cat.

“What?” he asked numbly, repeated, “what?” Quasimodo composed himself to set his bait.
“I’m sorry,” Quasimodo explained to Lenny, summoning all his portentous, solemn tones.
“We were driving to San Francisco. We had an accident. There was a crash. On a hill, a curve.
We’re dead.” “What?” Lenny mumbled. “What?” We’re in the afterlife. Out of our bodies
now. We’ve
passed to the astral plane,  Quasimodo announced, somber, straight-faced.

A true artist throws himself into his role. This is it. The world beyond. We’re moving now.
“Why?” Lenny asked. We’re together. I’ve studied this. Listen to me, Quasimodo answered.
They were almost down to the water’s edge, Lenny stumbling, Quasimodo leading him on.
Can you see your double? Quasimodo asked. We’re at the edge now. Can you see yourself,
like you’re floating above yourself? “I think I can,” slurred Lenny. “I think I can see myself.

“It’s like I can see my body and I’m above it, looking down.” That’s right. It may even look
like someone else. But it’s you. You hit your head on the windshield. I was driving too fast.
You won’t be sure yet, whether this is a dream, or reality. I can see you, but no one else can.
Lenny peered into the first edges of the dark flowing surf, looking for his body. “Is that it?”
he asked of vague shapes. The edges of their adidas were washed with slight surf ripples.

Tell me if your senses are greater now, more acute. Can you see more, hear more? Is your
memory of the accident better now? “I think so,” Lenny answered, his voice recovering a
little clarity. “I think I remember. We were on the highway – going down a hill. It was steep.
I told you to slow down. At least I think I told you. Then it all went black.” Quasimodo was
delighted. He had the fish on the line now.
You’re not feeling any pain now though, are you?

“No,” answered Lenny truthfully. “I’m not feeling any pain now.”  Your body is secondary. 
An empty shell. You’ve left the material world.
Quasimodo moved Lenny deeper into the
water, up to their ankles.
You’re having sensations of the next world. It’s almost liquid, like
water, isn’t it?
Lenny had to agree. There’s a dank, salt smell – the smell of the astral plane.
Quasimodo began to wax eloquent. Look Lenny! Out to the horizon- O, can you see them?

The mountains. The snows of Kilimanjaro. We’re beginning to climb. It’s as if we’re in a
storm. Soon we’ll see the sun. Shining down on the mountain – shining on the peaks of
Kilimanjaro. There, ahead of us! It’s going to come with the sun.
Quasimodo was pointing
out to Lenny a mountain no one could ever see. It’s so unbelievably white in the sun – the
square top of Kilimanjaro. That’s where we go.
We have to – always had to go there.

Lenny strived hard to see the invisible. Quasimodo led him in the cool water to the knees.
Have you made peace with your past life? Are you ready to start another? Lenny had to
ponder this. “I think I have,” he conceded. “I was young. But I think I’m ready. To start a new
spiritual life.” How do you feel about the people you knew in the past, in your past life?
“I still love them,” Lenny answered. “But it’s from a distance.  They’re so far away now.”

They’ll miss you, won’t they? At this, Lenny began to consider his family, his lost life and
began to sob quietly. They would miss him and Lenny would miss them. Separation was hard.
Quasimodo drew Lenny a little deeper into the water, mid-thigh.  Waves lapped against them
in slow, San Francisco rhythm. A few gulls were squawking in the distance. Can you see the
tunnel?  T
he light?  We’re passing into the tunnel.  Soon we’ll see the light up ahead.

Lenny squinted to look into the dark ocean fog hovering around them. “Are we going there?”
Lenny asked. Yes, we have to go there. Through the tunnel, toward the light. This world is a
dark place – now we’re going to the light.
Lenny nodded, was led on. They were up to their
waists. Even as stoned as they were, it was beginning to be uncomfortable. Quasimodo
had a few more cards to play but wondered what to do for a finale, a spectacular exit.

There’s going to be a review, a judgment. It’s not anybody else’s judgment, Lenny. It’s your
judgment, made by
you. That’s what judgment is – what it’s always been. Only that counts.
Your own judgment.  Because we make reality for ourselves.
Lenny reached a serious
moment. “I see myself floating – my whole life. I’m ashamed. Things I thought were right –
they were hurtful. I did hurt other people. Everything is clear now – it’s recorded, all of it.

“What we do matters.” Lenny’s speech touched Quasimodo. Be at peace now, Lenny. Don’t
be ashamed. All is forgiven.
“I want to do something right. Something good for other people.
I’m sorry – all I ever thought about was myself. I want to start a new life.” You’re going to a
new world now, Lenny . Everything will change there. All is forgiven. Quasimodo led him
further into the cold waves, soaking them to the waist.  It’s only karma, Lenny – your karma.

Quasimodo was on a roll. Your soul is going to meet new people. Can you see the people you
knew, coming toward you?
A wave soaked shoulder-high. Lenny looked into the fog, saw
nothing. You don’t have to talk in words.  Communicate with thoughts.  I can read your
thoughts. We’re coming to the boundary now. Shut y
our eyes. You’re out of your body now.
It’s a lifeless corpse, back by the highway.  The body was never important anyway.

You’re spirit. You see what the wise men saw – what’s always been there.  What they’ve
always known. You’re with true masters now, those with knowledge – to be a realized
yourself.  Quasimodo paused for effect, to savor the last few fog-soaked minutes.
O, Lenny. It’s time for the return.  We have to go back. It isn’t your time yet, after all.
Quasimodo turned Lenny around to lead him, still docile-drunk, out of the chilly waves.

When they got back to the beach, Quasimodo led Lenny to the car. “Was that cool, or what?”
Quasimodo asked. “Wasn’t it a trip?”

3. Off with the Windings

Quasimodo and Lenny stayed in touch after the conference. Quasimodo began to question
his derivative poetry, his esoteric studies, his itinerant life, its failed direction or purpose.
He moved to Wyoming, three towns in succession – Mountain View, Medicine Bow, Laramie,
then San Diego. Quasimodo continued to stay in touch with Lenny, never leaving Cornfield. 
Quasimodo announced to Lenny that he had been recently baptized.  They began long
exchanges, Lenny’s questions swirling.  He noted Quasimodo’s sobriety, his steady witness.

Lenny visited Quasimodo in San Diego. “My church has an Affirmation of Baptism ceremony
every August,” Quasimodo offered. “We dress in white robes, carry palm fronds and wade
out into the ocean in front of the Del Coronado hotel. People who want to be baptized get
baptized in the ocean. Everybody’s standing there, waving palms. It’s pretty cool. Then we dry
off and have this big brunch at the hotel. Food’s great. You’d be a guest so it’s free.”

“So you’re asking me if I want to wade in the water?” Lenny replied. “Yes, I’d like that.
And you’re asking me if I’d like to be baptized at your church?” Lenny paused for a
moment. “It’s your decision,” Quasimodo replied, “but you’re right, I’m asking that too.”
“Yes, I want to do that.” Lenny responded.  Quasimodo smiled, uncharacteristically wordless.
“We’ve been talking for a couple of years. It’s time,” Lenny affirmed. “Yes, it is.”

So early on a warm morning in the middle of August, a crowd of people gathered on a
beach in San Diego and disrobed to their swimsuits underneath. Tables were set up to
hand out white robes and palm fronds. The pastor led the congregation out into the water
up to their knees and then moved with some assistants further out, to mid-thigh. A crowd
formed a ragged semi-circle, waving their fronds, enjoying the warm California sun.

“Is there anyone here who wishes to be baptized?” The pastor asked. In slow, stately fashion
people stepped through the waves, led by assistants. A six-year old boy stepped forward,
a grandmother stepped forward. Baby-boomers, gen-Xers, pre-teen girls, old hippies,
suburban moms, tattooed men, men with Afros, shaved heads, women with body piercings,
one with missing limbs, made their way forward to assemble and approach the pastor.

“Why do you want to be baptized?” the pastor asked each in turn. The answers were as
varied as the people. Because they’d been thinking it over for years; because they wanted
to show the world they loved Jesus; because they’d gone through a difficult time and the
Lord had brought them through; because they felt the movement of the Spirit; because
they wanted to acknowledge the Truth; because they felt a conflict with the world.

Speaking – they believed in God; they wanted to re-affirm something important that
had been done as an infant, but the time had come to make the statement of an adult,
the profession of a Christian. No two answers were identical, answering voices ranged from
soft to loud, from soprano to bass, some accented, one southern drawl – the surrounding
congregation solemn, joyful, making rhythmic movements of the palms to ocean waves.

I baptize you in the name of the Father, said the pastor, a white-haired man of 70,
dunking the acolyte-disciple, each shutting his or her eyes and holding noses as they were
immersed, falling backward into the ocean, held in the arms of the pastor. I baptize you
in the name of the Son, he announced loudly, dunking each person again. I baptize you in
the name of the Holy Spirit, dunking each person for the third time to bring them up rapidly.

Lenny took his turn as well. Asked why he wanted to be baptized, Lenny replied
into the hand-held, cellophane-covered microphone, “I’ve been thinking about this
for a long time. A friend has been witnessing to me. But I had to think for myself. To
say that I believe in God. To say it in public.” Quasimodo, quietly beaming, held their
palm fronds until Lenny, toweling his face, neck and hair, returned, glistening, joyful.

“I’ve never said much to you about that first night in Reno,” Quasimodo said after a
few minutes. They were standing knee deep in the Pacific, gentle, warm waves
lapping. “And that manic ride out to the ocean. I want to apologize. Now’s the time
for me to speak too. I was wrong – to get you stoned – to play with your head. I
could see you wanted to belong. I was wrong with that out-of-body afterlife stuff.

“I was obsessed – in love with death.  I made you a toy, a plaything for my hobby-horse,
my morbid curiosity.” Quasimodo unburdened his heart. “It was wrong.  I was allured.
Death was the invincible card-player raking in every chip at the end of the night.
I was going to pay bribes, make secret friends with death. I was wrong in ways I don’t
even want to speak of now. I want to say it plainly to you. Now I’ve said so – I’m sorry.”

Lenny’s facial expression changed, became more somber. “You took me out to the Pacific
in the middle of the night. Here, we’re in the bright sun of day. We were lost in 3 am fog,
could hardly see five feet ahead. Here, I can see to the horizon line. You took me to a
beach with no one around. I was a crash-test dummy for afterlife stories about the tunnel
and the light. I was so dead drunk, so smashed, I believed you or wanted to believe you.

“Here, we’re surrounded by sober joyful believers. Tribes, languages, peoples surround
us. You tried to make me see a mountain that didn’t exist except in your imagination.
Here I see the gathered saints before God.  Those waters were cold.  We couldn’t stay
there long. Here, these waters are warm. We have standing here, being – for hours if we
want. When that was over, you had to tell me it wasn’t real – a joke, a farce, a stage-play.

“We don’t have to walk this day back – don’t have to apologize for the trick or explain.
This stays real forever. We won’t leave here talking about a freaky, drunken thrill ride.
We have lives God gave us.  In this world, in the next world, in every world to come.
I don’t know whether some of those out-of-body experiences are true or not. But ten
minutes or two hours on the astral plane is not what I have in mind anyway.”

Quasimodo’s face fell, more than a trifle abashed. “I forgive you,” Lenny said. “You
helped bring me to both places. I owe you an apology too. You’re right – all I wanted in
Reno that night was to belong, to be accepted. God gave me a brain, but I didn’t want to
use it – I was ready to trade it in, if only some older writers would like me. It was your sin
to trick me. It was my sin not to think for myself when God gave me a useful mind.

“It’s been a tribulation. Maybe not the Tribulation, but a tribulation. We’ve both been
through it. It’s mortal life. When Jesus wept, it wasn’t because of the anti-Christ. He
wept because two pretty normal women, ordinary people, lost their brother Lazarus, an
ordinary person, to an ordinary disease. And Lazarus died an ordinary death. It wasn’t
anything exceptional. It was just the normal troubles of life. Clothing, shelter, bills to pay.

“Hangovers to sober up from,” Lenny continued. “The sun beating down on your head. 
Ordinary death, ordinary grief.  Jesus wept for it. Before he ever got to prophecies about the
end. Then he raised Lazarus – dead to alive. The windings came off.” Quasimodo thought
this over. “It’s hard pulling away from death,” he suggested. “When I was tricking you, I
thought you’d never believe me.  It was easy – easy to fool you into thinking we were dead.”

“Well, we’re friends now – we stand before God forever.  This is our out-of-body experience.
This is life and afterlife – never ending, clothed in purified robes.  Forever.  The snows of
Kilimanjaro are icy cold, dead and empty.  Kiss ‘em goodbye, Quasi.  God gives life –
in this world and the next. In the body or out of the body.  For endless ages.  The Bread
of Life.  Better than tricks on the astral plane and the cosmic tunnel masters of whatever.”

Quasimodo thought this over. “So Len, what do you think you’re going to have for brunch?
This hotel does it right,” he assured. The San Diego sun was warming the back of their necks
as it rose higher in the morning sky. A squad of marines was running in disciplined formation
along the beach. Surfers were trailing on waves along the edges of the crowd. A mother and
child picked up shells on the shore. “Go for the abalone salad, buddy – it’s to die for.”

The Angel Eulogia

Word-established, surrounded by every tongue, tribe, language and family.
An angel stood near, white-robed, shimmering, in appearance a young man –
beardless, curled hair in ringlets, beautiful, benign, peaceful, purposeful, calm,
determined, mild. Terrifying also – the locus peaceful where Jesus is hailed Lord –
yet a man is not accustomed to shimmering, translucent spiritual beings.

The angel’s robe white yet reflecting a spectrum of color, shifting subtly.
Others stood around us but none interrupted. I looked to read the angel’s eyes
where even celestial thoughts might be disclosed. Those eyes were shining,
filled with knowledge, warm and blazing, perceiving me too directly for
that to succeed. The angel radiated emotions but none I could articulate.

It was necessary for me to lower my gaze at a being mysterious, intimidating,
a holy curiosity, a sacred puzzle of being, will and mind beyond my experience.
The angel fell down on his face to worship God. He worshiped God this way
three times, falling on his face. The angel subtly moved back to allow me to
approach the Throne more closely. I worshiped God, holy and righteous, as well.

I waited patiently until he arose. He appeared to me about six feet tall, but I
had the distinct impression this was only appearance for my sake – he could have
looked three feet tall if he wanted – a cute little cherub – or appeared to look thirty
feet tall if he chose to, a terrifying spiritual giant. Every movement of his feet,
his hands, the flutter of his eyelids, the movement of his pupils, radiated purpose.

As the angel moved slightly in my direction, I could smell sandalwood incense, frankincense,
and myrrh. But those were not the only sense-enhanced fragrances. Roses, honeysuckle, a
mother’s milk, a baby’s breath, the smell of rain, the smell of the ocean at dusk, the smell of
my grandmother’s matzoh ball soup, the smell of a bowling alley, the smell of train-tracks,
the smell of a small, white-walled country church in Pennsylvania.

Respectfully, may I inquire as to your name?

Greetings, Eulogia, angel of God! Blessing to you!
Greetings. Blessing to you also.

Eulogia’s voice sounded as a carillon of bells, liturgical hours and chimes.
Music was everywhere. More subdued but still audible was the sound of
pealing bells, small choirs and larger chorale groups, symphonic overtures,
folk guitars, sitars, drums, percussion, instruments of uncertain source.
I had some observations and some questions. In fact, many questions.

Would it be possible to converse?
Yes, Christian, as you wish, Eulogia answered.

You were there, at the time of creation?
Yes, when the angels shouted for joy.

You are named among the Elohim, the sons of God?
Yes, we are so called.

And you, individually, may be referred to as “El?”
Use that title for the One God.

The Elohim are ancient, powerful, known to the Hebrews, before Moses?
Yes. We were created before the beginning.

Even before Abraham? Or Noah, or Adam? May I tender my respect?
A man like myself does not have such a history, such a resume.
Your respect is directed to the One God, Holy and Righteous.

You surround the throne of God to offer an ‘amen’ to our prayers,
to repeat, to magnify, our praise of salvation to Christ our King?

Yes, we fall on our faces before God, to reverence in awe and humility.
We worship God and offer up praises for these untellable years.
We tremble, praise and fear God who created us, each one, severally,
In the council of the holy ones, our God is greatly feared.

We offer our blessings – to render unto God His glory, His wisdom.
Our thanks with no end, honor and power beyond measure, 
To sing of His strength – in praise of the Lord, his unparalleled kingdom.
Our God and your God, who has and will reign, our Treasure forever –

Child of Man, stretch your thoughts to grasp – Eons unto
Eons. Unto

Indeed, I am challenged.  I am capable of thinking in pieces of time,
but not time unlimited – Eulogia, my mind will not wrap that far. 
Still, bright angels and holy siblings join together in a blended ‘amen’ to that?
Yes. We worship together, sing together, your praise with ours.

The grace of God is glorious –
Because it is never exhausted, Eulogia peaceably interrupted.

The blessing of God is without pauper’s constraint or miser’s ceiling.
God’s glory is glorious – it flows as a miraculous flashing, living river.
His Word, His wisdom is a fathomless ocean of roaring joy, teeming.
We thank and worship him for creating us, acts volcanic, ex nihilo,
Numquam terminabitur, we vibrate, we worship for sustaining us in vita
perpetua –
God, triplex omnipotens, conferring aeterno Dei beautido!

God, glorious in holiness, beyond any poet’s words in this, our ethereal world, 
beyond your world. Beyond the imagination of stern angels or gladly-baffled men.
We honor God, Creator of angels – the Lord Almighty, crushing Satan yet wrestling
Jacob, s
teeped in unfathomable depths of holiness before all creation. The Holy One-
Mysterious in his Being, benign in His patience, unlimited in His love, compassionate
in tenderness, F
ountain of justice, Source of hope, Wellspring of mercy, Author of all life.

Well, thank you, Eulogia! I thought I was going to be required
to draw out your speech with questions!
That is not necessary, Christian. We are fluent in many tongues.

And I won’t be describing any scars on you, will I, Eulogia?
No – that would not be possible.

But the scars I have unite me with many others, don’t you think?
Yes, many.  Including One whose scars have a profound importance.

Indeed. The angels who are going to act in judgment, of which I read
in the Book of Revelation – they are also here, standing before the
Throne, worshiping and praising God?
Yes. We are here together in praise and awe of God.

But when they begin to act in judgment, it’s not going to be quite
as mild, quite as peaceable on earth?
We act in obedient service to God.

There are fearful judgments coming, are there not? I’m not mistaken
about that, am I?
There are.

And you angels execute those judgment, like sheriffs carrying out
Court orders?
Yes. We bring messages, we sound warnings, we execute judgments.

Trumpet warnings, bowls of woes? Judgments of great wrath?
Yes, those judgments are part of God’s holy plan and holy will.

These judgments – should I understand them as taking place presently,
or in the future only – or both?

Worship God. The Word of God sits centered on the Throne –
The Holy Lamb, before whom none stand in opposition or defiance.

I noted the earthquakes – the devastations on land and on sea, on
the fresh waters and the stars.
The natural order has a determined end, planned by the Lord.

Even situated here brought safely to heaven, I will learn of the fear
of God as I observe the judgments of the Lord?
You will see with your own eyes. All creation will.
We angels will see as well. All nations will mourn because of Him.
Our God is a Righteous King and Judge – El Shaddai –
who was, and is, and is to come, the Almighty.

We also have conflict, as you have.
And you are led by the Archangel Michael in this conflict?

Yes, we are. But you need only serve Christ Jesus, the Lamb.
Not more, not less. The Lamb himself will determine your part
in this conflict, as necessary as the trumpets or bowls of wrath.
Be at peace. Your salvation was secured at great price. Your
faith is worth more than much gold or silver. Guard it.

Eulogia, I have another question – do you read poetry? I don’t mean
just know what’s in a poem – I mean, do you read poetry?
Go in peace, Christian. The grace of God be with you.

Thank you, Eulogia. May the grace of God be with you also.
Your name means blessing or praise, does it not?

May the blessings of God Almighty and Jesus our Lord, be with you!
For ages of ages, eons unto eons. Did I get that right?
And blessings with you, Christian, also. For eons unto eons.

Eulogia!” I called as the beautiful, enigmatic angel of great age and
youthful appearance was disappearing, receding by degrees from my sight.
“I look forward to the day when you are not so distant – when dignity and
respect are still characteristics you require, but not the only ones.”
Eulogia was gone. Evanescent, ineffable as a child’s first memory –

wrapped in an old man’s dream – now gone. But I continued to speak anyway,
confident Eulogia heard me. “I look forward to that day when there is no longer
warfare on earth or in the heavens – when all our spears are beaten into plowshares.
When I can throw a baseball to you – and you will catch it and throw it back.”
My amen is with you, a voice replied whose speaker was invisible.

A Gracious Directive from Madrid

In 1982 I took a vacation to Madrid with two friends, Burt and Dave, all three of us
members of the same men’s bible study, associated with a larger mixed Christian singles
group, organized out of the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli. It was a one-week
vacation which I initiated, having been previously in Monaco, which they readily joined.  
Prices were good, even at a nice hotel; this was before the Euro or the European Union.  

Burt (imagine an elf with a mustache) was a technical support specialist for a computer
instrumentation company; Dave, with very direct, sensitive eyes, held a PhD in chemistry,
and worked for an oil company. Ultimately Dave would go to seminary and become an
Episcopal priest. I was working as free-lance writer selling short magazine pieces, mostly
about business, investment or computer topics, since they were the easiest to sell.

Our hotel was near the spacious, dramatic El Retiro Park, various traffic circles and along
Calle de Alcala. We arrived in October – there had been some political disturbance
shortly before – some major intersections were guarded by a few soldiers armed with
submachine guns.  Otherwise, Madrid was peaceful, beautiful, vibrant with life. Mornings
there was cafe con leche, flavored somehow with the vague memory of Generalissimo Franco.

We did what tourists typically do – took bus excursions to cultural and historic sites in
Madrid and surrounding areas.  Being Christians, of course we went to cathedrals, but the
country has an enormous history – poignant and dramatic. At night we found a place to eat
and explored Madrid.  Generally, Burt and Dave let me lead, although once I irritated
them endlessly searching on foot for a particular Tapas bar which had piqued my curiosity.

I was distracted. One morning Dave had to pull me back on the sidewalk out of the way
of an oncoming bus. Dave found the young women of Madrid so attractive that when his
contact lenses irritated him, he was concerned it might be punishment from God for
excessive staring. Burt, a little older, calm and more settled, was already seeing Christy and
probably making plans for their lives, as she was undoubtedly as well.

At about eleven we would return to our hotel.  My friends would retire but I would return
to the streets of Madrid to walk for hours. I was a fairly new Christian and full of pent-up
energy. The residents of Madrid were out in force up until about 11 – they enjoy their
evening paseo – but by midnight or 1 am Madrid was very quiet indeed. I walked past long
rows of residential apartment buildings presenting facades entirely silent, minimally lit.

I had been a Christian about two years. Given the undisciplined nature of my previous life,
I was feeling the restraints, the limitations on my conduct, that being a Christian imposed.
My bursting energy radiated onto the street – and the streets of Madrid, like any city street
anywhere – radiated back to me.  I was living a different kind of life – but the old impulses,
the old energy, the tension of constraint, was strong enough to send me walking for hours.  

So I walked late into the night while others slept. I remember empty blocks where I might
see no one but a man, out at 2 or 3 am, washing down his sidewalk with a hose. One night
I walked past a Catholic, Christian bookstore. It was closed, but the interior had on a few
lights, including one shining on a rotating carousel to display paperback religious books for
the Catholic clientele of Madrid.  In the background typical Catholic statuary was visible.

The cover of one book was visible on the display – it had a display of the face of Jesus,
a very common and familiar depiction of Jesus, somewhat in profile, with long hair very
neatly combed and washed, gentle, masculine expression, beard neatly trimmed, eyes
looking up. An internet search today presents similar images in abundance.  I don’t
remember any title on the cover, but that would have been in unfamiliar Spanish.

I stopped in front of the display window, temporarily fixated, immobile. Jesus was on
one side of the store-window display glass. I was on the other. The barrier between us
was impenetrable. He was there, close, visible, the store had some lighting, but he was
on the other side – some place I could see, but not reach or ever get to. I could walk the
streets for hours, but I was still on the street – not where he was, near but untouchable.

The moment didn’t last long – a minute, perhaps two?  My emotions were vivid –
but there I was – there Jesus was – and what could you do? – I walked on and returned
to our hotel. I was sharing a room with Burt so I undressed quietly and got into my bed
with little disturbance. I began to pray silently the Lord’s prayer. I was half-way through
the prayer when I was interrupted.

“Ask me, Tom,” the Lord said from above. I heard his words clearly in my mind.
Ask you what, Lord?” I replied almost instantly, spontaneously looking up.  The tone
and inflection of my sub-vocalized voice rose quickly at the end of my responding
question – my word “what” ending in a higher pitch, evidencing immediate genuine
puzzlement (what does He mean?) and then surprise (the Lord is talking to me!)

The Lord didn’t speak or answer further – at least not in that way, the way
He just had. The silence following was unmistakable, as vivid as the words.  The 
seconds marched into a minute as I waited for more, minutes marched to more
minutes still, as I waited, looking upward in the dim of a nightlight.

The silence was immediately enigmatic – a conspicuous silence. This happened in the
days I was in a charismatically-oriented prayer group and a word from the Lord wasn’t
that shocking – it was reported from time to time.  I lay in a hotel bed in Madrid, Spain,
looking upward, waiting for more words, more conversation from the Lord who had just
spoken to me. And I waited. But the Lord didn’t speak or answer more.

Forty years have passed since that short directive from the Lord, delivered in a distant
city after a late, very long walk. He has never added to his words in any way that I could
put quote marks around, as I just did in the paragraph above. I have spent many years
thinking about what he said, and thinking also about the silence which followed, which was
as pregnant with meaning as the words themselves.

For some time I considered that this short dialogue might have been an event created
in my mind, perhaps as I was falling asleep. But my given birthname was ‘Gay’ – it wasn’t
until I was 18 years old that I began to use my middle name, ‘Thomas’ or ‘Tom’ as my
first name. At that time I asked the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles to
reverse the order of the names on my driver’s license. Since these things weren’t so sensitive
then, they simply obliged, and I have been ‘Tom’ ever since. But in an interior monologue,
I never refer to myself or talk to myself using any name – and, awake or asleep, I don’t
self-address as ‘Tom.’

Over time, I began to consider more deeply what the Lord was saying – and what
meaning his subsequent silence conveyed. That night in Madrid there were many
questions rolling around inside me – questions that I never articulated, not even to
myself, that I was not aware that I really had. But the most central question I had,
completely unarticulated, was I think the question the Lord was most directly
answering. Will I be able to live this Christian life?

I think that was my real question. That question wasn’t expressing a doubt about God –
it was expressing a well-grounded, well-founded doubt about myself. My history
wasn’t good. My family history wasn’t good. The street, whether it was the streets of
Madrid, or the streets of any city, exerted a strong, real pull on my being, my psyche.

‘Street life’ is a term of art – it’s more than just sin, more than just self-indulgence or
substance abuse. When I was in the Haight-Ashbury in 1967 there was a record album
cover I noticed in a local store. It was an album by the group called Cat Mother and the
All-Night Newsboys. On the back of the album cover, on liner notes, there was a phrase
written – The Street Giveth, and the Street Taketh Away – referring indirectly to the Book
of Job. Yes, in those days, it did.  You can leave the street, but it’s hard to leave the Street.

Street life – its self-willed, perpetual readiness to go whichever way the wind blows –
to taste whatever drug is in the candyman’s bag that day, to admit of any impulse except
the impulse of self-control – to never let anything interfere with freedom.  Freedom being
understood as the absence of all restraints, the absence even of forethought – just
spontaneous disobedience to anything, for the sake of being spontaneous, self-indulgence for
its own sake, being frivolous, being whimsically self-destructive – being free, always roaming
free – exerted a very powerful influence and pull over me.

So the interior question, Will I be able to live this Christian life? – was no small, no idle
question, expressed or unexpressed. Whatever I knew or didn’t know about Christ,
I knew myself all too well.

Will I be able to live this Christian life? Forty years have passed and by the grace and
kindness of God, I have maintained my Christian faith. I have a better answer to my own
question now.  The Lord’s gracious directive to me makes a great deal of sense.  So does
his silence thereafter. Christ directed me to himself. The issue wasn’t what I could do, how
I could fail, how I most certainly would fail. The focus had to change and then the answer to
my interior question would be yes – because it didn’t, couldn’t depend on me at all. I’m not
the focus. We already know who I am. The question is, who God is.

The Apostle Paul had a question too, on the Damascus Road –
Who are you, Lord? And the Lord answered him directly – I am Jesus.

Ask me, Tom, the Lord said. It was a gracious directive, indeed. The barrier between me
and a stock picture of Jesus, printed on a book-cover and displayed behind the glass window
of a closed bookstore in Madrid was pierced, the way opened. I wasn’t looking at a Savior
who was a painted picture. So I think I can be satisfied my question has been answered now –
Ask you what, Lord? – because the God who loves me has indeed answered.  He has been
answering for forty years.

There was a practical, tangentially-related outcome to my trip to Madrid – it was in
Madrid that I decided I wanted to marry Erma, whom I had been dating for a few months. 
It would be four months more, in Banning Park, outside Wilmington, before I even brought
the subject up for discussion, but it was in Madrid that I decided I wanted to marry her. 
There is a purpose for a Christian singles group, after all.

To Wipe Away Every Tear

Hammy, Quasimodo, Lenny and Jen were assembled before the Throne
to serve God in his Temple. Their service on this day was to act as witnesses.
A Korean-American woman named Juen, a victim of homicide, was to appear
before the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ was to lead her to springs of living water,
to wipe away every tear from her eye. Juen was accompanied by her family.

Juen was a spiritual being; the witnesses could see her – not only as the young
woman she was at the time of her death – but they saw her spiritually – a teenager,
a pre-teen, a young girl, an infant in her mother’s arms, a developing child in the
womb. She was the daughter of her mother and father, granddaughter to her
grandmother, sister to her siblings, niece to her aunt & uncle, cousin to her cousins.

Juen wore her hair long, straight, dark. She was dressed in a shimmering white robe.
She wore a golden crown on her head and was quietly beautiful. Around the Throne
and the witnesses, the crystal sea surrounded, its own witness. Her mother and father
were also dressed in white robes as were her siblings and cousins. Her uncle Ji-hoon
escorted Juen on her left. Her grandmother Mae, crowned, robed escorted on her right.

Juen had nicknames, known as Kiyomi, Yeobo, or Gongjunim to her family – those names
were visible on her as well. Beyond her immediate family was a community, many Korean-
Americans, but also others who had known Juen.  Juen’s family moved as a spiritual group, 
as if they were a family on distant vacation, enchanted, but most comfortable staying
together. Angels were in glittering attendance, including Eulogia, Doxa, Sophia, Eucharistia.

Beyond the immediate group, there was the radiating presence of many heavenly witnesses.
Quasimodo looked around, commenting, “There are many here. It is no small event.”
Lenny agreed, “Her cries – their tears – were not a small event.” “Her death was not a
small event,” affirmed Hammy. “We will see an answer now,” Jen observed. “That’s why
we’re here.” As Juen was led closer to the Throne, her face radiated anticipation, serenity.

Springs of living water appeared to flow more quickly, more visibly, circling around
the Throne. The Tree of Life stood as a backdrop to the Throne.  Angels appeared near
the throne singing softly in angelic tongues, in Korean, in English, chants sounding in
variations on the phrase “holy, holy, holy,” accompanied for the senses with incense.
A shepherd’s staff appeared overhead – Juen moved with the stately rhythm of a holy bride.

The Lord Jesus appeared on the Throne, the Son of Man. He was dressed in a robe
reaching down to his feet. There was a golden sash around his chest. His head and
hair were pure unwordly white, as white as snow, as white as wool. The eyes of the
Lord were blazing like fire. His feet were visible beneath the hem of his robe. They
glowed like bronze being heated in a furnace. Juen, he said tenderly –  Come forward.

The Lord’s voice was like the sound of flood waters, of oceans, of great rivers, if
such can be gentle, kind while simultaneously conveying such gathered power. In his
right hand he held seven stars, shining with the white, mysterious-enigmatic heavenly
light. His tongue was a conundrum; it was both a double-edged sword and an instrument
of ceremony, of peace, of mercy, of love. His face was as the noon sun, blinding brilliant.

Juen came forward, accompanied by her grandmother and uncle. Jesus reached out
his right hand to her, the stars shifting effortlessly to surround his shoulders like the
outlines of a cape. Juen reached up and toward the Lord Jesus. As she did so, the
Lord changed in visage and appearance instantaneously. He no longer appeared the King
of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Son of God who ordered his universe with absolute authority.

He rose from the Throne – he was our Jesus, crucified prophet of a coming Kingdom.
Jesus displayed nothing but the undergarments in which he was crucified. His wounds,
on his hands, on his side were conspicuous. Put your finger here, he said to Juen. See my
hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side
. The angels lowered their eyes. It was
shocking, even for the four witnesses. It is shocking – to see him – the Suffering Servant.

Juen did as Jesus directed. A wave, a tide of shared compassion, mercy, love, grace,
fellowship, flowed from the Lord Jesus, through his wounds, into Juen and into her
hands, her fingertips. Her face changed as a kaleidoscope, mirroring this flowing infusion
of the milk of human kindness, compassion, shared suffering. Juen, the Lord Jesus said,
tell me what happened. As he spoke, she maintained her hands touching his wounds.

“Lord,” Juen answered. “I was seeing this boy, Joein. He was a neighborhood boy. He
was a nice Korean boy. His family was big – and they were so nice. I moved to the
neighborhood to live with my uncle Ji. I had a job in the city and my grandmother lived
with him. Joein seemed to have something special. He had some problems, but there
was something about him. He spoke so well. He was sensitive. We started dating.

“After a few months I realized he had drug problems. It was hard to accept. His family
was so religious, so kind. His father bought old houses and fixed them up to sell. His
mother made a beautiful home. But I started to see, he had problems. I knew I had to
break things off, to end things. So I told him. Then he told me he owed me some money –
money, that was one of his problems – and wanted me to come over, to pay me back.

“I just didn’t think. I didn’t know. I was so young. He was so smart, could be so sweet.
So I believed him. I went to one of the houses his father bought. It was right on the
block. He was the only one living there – his father was going to fix it up to sell. I
asked for the money. He changed the subject. He didn’t want us to break up. He
told me he had all these feelings. He couldn’t take it, if we broke up. We argued.

“The argument went on. It got intense. He was screaming at me. I just wanted to
leave. The he hit me. He hit me so hard it knocked me down. It practically knocked
me out. I was seeing stars – I didn’t know where I was. One minute I was standing up –
the next minute, I was on the floor. I had been looking at his face. It was all contorted
with anger. Next, I was looking at his shoes, his sneakers. The laces weren’t tied.

“Joein had a golf club in his hand. He was threatening to kill me. He was screaming.
He got some electrical cord. It was around the room to do the repairs. He tied
me up, tied my hands. Then he raped me – on the bed in the room. I was hysterical.
I was crying – I couldn’t stop crying. He was doing it to me and saying terrible
things to me. I could hardly hear him anyway. I was uncontrollable. Sobbing.

“When it was over, he let me up. I was crying so hard I don’t even remember
what he said – whether I said anything at all. I left and went home. I only lived
a few houses down. My uncle saw me. My grandmother saw me. When they
calmed me down, I explained what happened. My uncle was furious. He called
the police. The police came. They interviewed me, they took a statement.

“The police came and arrested Joein. They put him in jail. The police told me to move
out of the neighborhood for a while, asked if I had someplace else to go. I really
didn’t have another place to go. My family lived in New Jersey – I had a job. So
I called a friend from work and she let me stay at her apartment. I was sleeping
on the couch. But it wasn’t a good situation. I missed my family. I missed Mae.

“So after about two weeks, I came back home. I went back and forth to work. It
seemed like everything was okay. But I didn’t realize Joein was out on bail. One
morning I was leaving home to go to work. He was sitting on the porch of his father’s
home on the block. He came down, started arguing with me. Started screaming at me.
Wanted me to drop all the charges. I hardly said anything. He didn’t make sense.

“He pulled out a gun. I was terrified. I started to run and ran onto my uncle’s porch.
He followed me there. I was trapped. I turned around. He was shooting me. Shooting
his gun – Bang! Bang! Bang! So fast! In two seconds! I put my hands up. The bullets
hit my hands. He shot me in the head. I fell down on the porch. He ran away. Someone
called for help. An ambulance came – took me away. Joein ran up into his father’s house.

“I was in the hospital. I had been shot in the head. They injected me with epinephrine
to prevent seizures. They did surgery, took out the bullets. I was in the hospital for
about a week, then they let me go home. Joein was in jail and now he was not getting
out. So I went back home and went back to work. But I was allergic to epinephrine. My
liver went into failure. They took me back to the hospital, but I died there of liver failure.

“I never saw my wedding day. I never held my own baby in my arms to nurse her or
change her diaper. I never saw a son crawl or go off to first grade.  I never saw my daughter
graduate. I never held my grandchild in my arms. I never said good-bye to my parents or
my grandmother. I never went back to Korea with my husband to see the old homeland,
where our family came from. What did I do wrong, Lord? What? If I knew, I would be sorry.”

During this entire account tears were flowing from Juen’s eyes. Juen had not stopped
touching Jesus’ wounds. Jesus, the Son of God, held her hand at the point of his wounds.
At some point he switched hands. Using his left hand, he continued to hold her hand
to his wounds. Using his right hand, Jesus reached out, touched her face, her cheek and
dried her eyes. When he touched her face, her tears were mysteriously dry and visible.

The witnesses and the angels sighed, as people must have sighed when they saw the
feeding of the five thousand, when they saw the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear.
Hammy, Quasimodo, Lenny, Jen, even the angel Eulogia, all gave out these deep sighs.
It is breathtaking, wonderous, poignant-inexplicable-awe-inspiring, when the King acts
in love. It moves us at levels of our being with which we are not in daily, mundane contact.

After Jesus’ touch dried her tears, Juen’s face lit up like a summer dawn over the Pacific
ocean shining across blue water to the pine trees of Big Sur. Enormous peace, tranquility, joy,
interplayed in her eyes, in her smile.  This happened in a time-stopping moment – perhaps
longer. During Juen’s account, her grandmother and uncle had also been weeping. Juen
stepped back slightly, released her hand from Jesus. Jesus motioned Mae to step forward.

A Korean woman, face shining, perhaps 5 feet tall, wearing a hanbok with chima in
shimmering scarlet and white silk brocade, her hair in a formal bunch, touched Juen’s elbow
lightly, stepped forward. Living water from the springs of life swirled around her delicate feet
and ankles as if she floated. Mae, tell me what happened, Jesus said gently, speaking in
Korean, as did she.  The Holy Spirit put the understanding of tongues in observing minds.

Jesus took her hand to ease her shyness. “My granddaughter. My Jagiya. She came to live
with us. I loved her so much. I was so proud – she was so smart. She had a good job. She was
full of love in her heart. We were not rich – we were not poor. We worked. We lived in a
neighborhood where people worked. She met a boy. He seemed so nice. His father worked.
His family was religious. His mother kept a beautiful home. I had great-grandbaby dreams.

“It started meosjin, joh-eun. But then, the troubles.  Juen was crying sometime. She was
angry sometime. Sometimes, confused. “I didn’t pry.” With these words, tears began to run
copiously down Mae’s cheeks.  Jesus continued holding her hand, but did nothing at first
about her tears. His wounds seemed to connect to her tears, although in what manner, none
could say. Mae composed herself and continued to speak as her tears continued to flow. 

“What do I know? I’m an old woman. We didn’t do it this way in Korea. But we were
in a new country – America. Whatever it was, I was sure Juen would do the right thing.
She had so much love in her heart. How could anything bad happen to someone like that?
She told me – there’s something special about him. Something daleun about Joein. When
she came back into our home in tears, hysterical, I nearly died from grief then and there.

“My son Ji called the police. They came, they asked all these questions. Juen answered.
Ji answered. They left and we sat with her that night. She cried the whole evening.
Just cried in her room. We sat nearby and listened to her crying, for hours. But the
next morning we found out – it was all over the neighborhood – Joein was in jail. It
seemed like it was terrible, but we could go on. We’re from Korea – we’re not babies.

“The police told Juen to go somewhere so she did. But she came back. Because her
heart was full of love. My Jagiya was back. We didn’t know that Joein got out of jail.
No one told us. Juen was going to work in the mornings. Then I heard screaming from
the street. I heard him screaming, out on the street. I could hardly hear her. Maybe a few
words. It was all Joein, screaming. Screaming at my Jagiya. Then shots. Bang! Bang! Bang!

“It was all so fast. Juen was on our porch, bleeding. Joein had run off. We called for
help. There were sirens. Screaming sirens – so loud it made you deaf. The ambulance
came. There were police cars, just down the street. The street was sealed off so fast, but
they let the ambulance through. The ambulance with my Jagiya, my baby. We followed
to the hospital. We were there for hours. But the doctors came out, said it looked better.

The witnesses were transfixed – even the angels were transfixed – while this elderly
Korean woman talked to the Lord Jesus Christ, who was holding her hand.  He had
moved himself from his Throne to stand so near to her.  Heaven stood stock still.  “She
has a story too,” Quasimodo whispered, “death plays on many hearts.” “Yes, sin does,”
Lenny added. Mae moved forward, forgetting her audience or being shy, seeing only Jesus.

“So we visited Juen every day. And after a while we got her back. Back at home. Back
at work. And this time we asked – the police told us – Joein was in prison. Real prison.
He was in and not getting out. Not anytime soon. We went on – we soldiered on. But
then Juen got sick. Her color changed. Her clear, beautiful eyes turned a sick yellow shade.
She wasn’t well. Could hardly climb the stairs. She had to go back, back to the hospital.

“Then she died. My Jagiya – she died in the hospital. It would have been good for me
to die then too. A sword pierced my heart – cut it into pieces. And every piece was
wrapped in grief. My Juen – they said her liver failed. They called my son to tell us.
I don’t want to talk anymore.” Then, with her tears now running like a pair of faucets,
Lord Jesus  – raised from the dead, glorious – moved very close to touch Mae’s cheeks.

Mae’s tears were dried. Like her granddaughter’s, they were inexplicably both dry and
yet still visible. Her face beamed, radiated love.  God’s love touched her – healing her,
comforting her, with the power that created galaxies at a word.  Jesus tenderly touched
her cheeks, each one, dried away the tears, tenderly held her other hand. Mae’s face was
as one who has moved to a new state of existence. Visibly, her heart lifted and soared.

Then the four angels, Eulogia, Doxa, Sophia, Eucharistia did something surprising even
to Hammy who was well-read, surprising to Quasimodo with spiritual knowledge, surprising
to Lenny who thought deeply, to Jen who had some angelic gifts herself. The four angels
saluted the Lord with crisp military vigor, standing straight at attention. Each angel cried out
in turn: “Holy!”  Each angel shouted in turn: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!”

That was the scene, Jesus touching Mae, Mae beaming, the angels saluting and crying
Hosanna!, Four witnesses who may have thought they knew something, decided that perhaps
they didn’t – and were glad. When Jesus moves in compassion to address human suffering –
it is holy. The King was acting with a power not equal to that which created planets but with
a power greater than that. Our Redeemer God, the Anointed Messiah, bared his holy arm.

Jesus allowed Mae to retreat gracefully in a floating motion across the Living Waters
still swirling at her feet, to stand near to Juen. Ji-Hoon, the Lord said, come forward.
You would like to speak words from your heart. I would hear you.  Ji-Hoon stepped
forward. Ji-hoon was about middle-aged, of average height, strong build. He looked to be
a man who spent his life working without complaint. Juen and Mae stood at his elbows.

“My niece was murdered,” Ji-Hoon began. “It broke my heart. She was a beautiful girl.
When she died, it broke my mother’s heart. My mother was never the same. She cried
for a year and then she died too. How does this happen? Where is there any justice in this?”
Ji-hoon paused, then gathered his strength to speak frankly. “Forgive me for being blunt.
Lord, what were you doing? How could you let it happen? Why didn’t you intervene?”

The questions were indeed blunt. “The two women he is complaining about are standing at
his elbows, looking as raptured as any two human beings could ever be,” Quasimodo
observed.  “They are most definitely alive. They’re not crying tears anymore.” “Questions of
justice are always serious.” Lenny observed. “But Ji-hoon’s are not really questions of
justice,” replied Hammy. “They’re questions of God’s will, His distressing patience with evil.”

“Perhaps if we are patient – ” Jen suggested, making her point without finishing her
thought. Then the Lord spoke. Ji-hoon, were there not two men on the road to Emmaus? 
Did they not have questions like yours? Did not Christ have to suffer before
entering his
glory? Ji-hoon, would you deny these women you love their deep communion with me?
Jesus changed appearance – to an anonymous traveler in ordinary, nondescript clothes.

Ji-hoon’s face changed as well. Jesus spoke again. Everything will be fulfilled, all that is
written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms about me. Ji-hoon’s mind was
opened to understand. He turned to see his niece and his mother, radiant. Ji-hoon was
radiant too – something was understood that had been like an immovable obstacle to him.
A flame appeared above his head – the gift of understanding – even for a tragic ‘why?’

Jesus’ appearance changed again. His eyes were blazing fire. He was riding a white horse.
On his head were many crowns. He had a name written on his thigh, but none could read it,
not even in heaven. He was dressed in a robe dipped in blood. His name was blazoned –
The Word of God. Armies surrounded the throne. Jesus’ appearance changed again, to the
plain prophet of Galilee. Juen, family and friends, receded with the angels and robed throng.

Hammy, Quasimodo, Lenny and Jen remained, considering their next movements.
“I think our work in the Temple is done for the day,” Quasimodo suggested.
“We serve in various ways,” Lenny added. “Not the least of which would be to think
about what we have seen.”
“Do we ever leave?” Jen asked. “Aren’t our hearts always in service?”
Hammy nodded in agreement.  “Wherever the High Priest is, there is the Temple.”
“Well, it’s nice work if you can get it,” Quasimodo concluded.
“And you can get it, if you try,” Jen replied. “From the heart.”

Amber Waves of Grain

Amber waves of full-headed grain stretched like a drumhead.
Riverboat card games on drowsy, muggy Magnolia afternoons.
Cattle drives across dry gulches, arroyos,  Cotton fields spreading.
Health exams on Ellis Island.  Thumping drums on the bandwagon.

Church steeples arising in every colonial city, every cornfield town.
Vermont leaves, maples, apple trees adorn the shaded lanes.
Higgins boats circling to assemble in the Normandy waves.
B-24s come off assembly lines in the Pacific Northwest.

Somewhere we left, a long, tender funeral for a quiet, dignified queen.
From where Puritans brought their Bibles and a covenant.
On the plains, Apaches – in Philadelphia, in Boston, in Virginia,
men who drank down the Enlightenment to fire a new musket.

America, the porkbelly shouting, the collegiate hoo-rahing, the deal-making,
Harlan coal mines, Southern lumber yards, etched rail lines, the all-aboards,
decisive proclamations and even pillow-talk whispers, are not quite what you think.
Because the dialogue is not always about America.

The poet-hobos are riding their visionary boxcars, but not even they know.
The Pilgrim’s Progress started somewhere else, a deeper place, and will
end somewhere else – the Nantucket sleigh ride finds Moby Dick,
but the whale has an appointment with a prophet.

The speakeasy trumpeter has a few of his favorite things to play in ragtime,
Washed-out burglars sell silence; crooked pols trade in enveloped hush-money.
But there are other trumpeters, untouchable – and setting up Presidents,
or even knocking them down, journalist-hunted, still misses the point.

America, laughing husky brawler, hog-butcher, crashing in your velocity –
who can look at you and not breathlessly love? Whose heart can beat without feeling
your astonished bombs bursting in air?  America, so stars-and-stripes distracting – who
that Egypt, monumented with pyramids, looked beautiful to the Pharoah?

Yes, yes, I love my country too. I took a calm, sober oath to uphold the Constitution;
Every lawyer does. Valley Forge America – you are more than a Rogue’s Gallery –
there are heroes, there are saints, there is grace. Pioneers circled the wagons against
fierce Commanches – I can sing a brave melody for both, for many spirits rising or falling.

But with all that – even after all that, America, there is higher ground somewhere else.
I want you to join me, a heartfelt invitation for a road trip.  I’m going one way or the other –
because Christ has called, exerting his power. There is an eternal life in an eternal City
with an eternal Savior who has eternal love and eternal knowledge.

That love, that knowledge, that life, is even better than homesteader-America.
I love you, grand-canyoned America – majestic, poignant, powerful.  I hope you follow.
But the God who flame-appeared to Moses in the desert appeared to me too and
there is no longer a debate about where I am going.

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