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Rupert and the Thimble Warriors: A Tale of the Famous Rabbit of Uncommonly Good Sense

By Matthew Wallace

ory and Dory tiptoed down the hall, sneaking past the pantry on their way to the rectory library. Ms. Finkelbaum, the girls’ matron and the reason for their visit, was in town shopping, but the twins were always cautious.

“Look at the pictures.” Dory pointed up at the series of pedestrian landscapes that lined the hallway walls.

“You always point those out,” Mory said. “Always.”

“Well, they’re pretty. And when are we ever going to get to see places like that?”

Mory wasn’t sure they were seeing them now. All the landscapes looked alike to her, and she wasn’t sure any of them looked like actual places in the world. Besides, she had to keep her button eyes open, not only for Ms. Finkelbaum but also Jasmine the cat. “Any sign of the demon seed?”

“Nope,” Dory said. “Unless you think those pawprints over there are fresh.”

Mory dashed over toward where Dory was pointing. But before she quite got there, Dory started laughing.

“Quit it, Dory,” Mory said. “We have things we need to do.”

Dory smiled, shaking her head. “How on earth do people confuse us? You’re always so serious.”

“About being eaten by a cat? Yes, I don’t really like to joke about that.”

Dory walked over, smiling a shy smile. “Sorry, Mory, I will try and be more serious.” Mory smiled, shrugging. She never could stay mad at her sister for very long.

“Let’s go,” Dory said. “The rectory library is right around the corner.”

* * *

Mory and Dory slipped through the barely cracked door into the light. The room was lit here and there by small lamps with green glass shades, each one illuminating a long row of high shelves. In the center of the room was a massive desk covered in papers and books. A larger, green-shaded light created a yellow circle in the center of the desk. Mory and Dory looked up and could see an open copy of a book and, just peeking over the top, a quill pen dancing back and forth. They could hear the scratching of quill pen to paper.

“Is that he?” Mory whispered. The pen stopped. A pure-white head peeked over the book, looking down. His eyes were sharp black lines that missed nothing.

“Ladies, how may I assist you?”

* * *

Rupert put the quill down and slid his notepaper aside. The Parson never missed the paper that Rupert used, and Rupert always refilled the inkwells. Rupert had moved into the rectory library several years ago, mostly because he found the quiet and calm to be much to his liking, and only discovered later that it was a convenient place from which to help people.

He looked down at the rag dolls and smiled. The parsonage library was a long way from the orphanage—nearly two blocks—and they would only come if it was a problem of great import.

“Well…we have a problem,” Mory said. Rupert recalled that she was the one with the red button eyes. The serious one.

Rupert held up one paw. “Just a second, please.” He placed his quill pen in its holder, marked his place in Newton’s Principia, and, with a single bound, leapt off the desk and landed, composed, next to Mory and Dory. “Would you join me for a cup of tea, and we can discuss your problems?”

* * *

Mory and Dory followed Rupert to a small corner of the massive fireplace. In no time at all, he had pulled out a small table and laid out a nice spread of cheeses and biscuits. He pushed a small kettle on a swinging rod just over the edge in the fire. They chatted and ate. Dory laughed as Rupert kept raising one of his long ears to hear if the water was boiling.

Mory elbowed her. “Be nice.”

“Nice? I think he’s delightful.”

Rupert adjusted his place settings and turned, smiling. “Thank you, ladies. The tea is almost ready, I believe.”

Mory stood. “Mr. Rupert, sir. All of us girls drew straws, and well, frankly, we lost and had to risk Jasmine to come visit you to ask for your help.”

“My door is always open to the Thimble Warriors. What troubles you so?”

Rupert cocked his ear as the water came to a boil. He held up one paw and went to remove the kettle and fill the pot.

Mory looked over and saw that Dory had already consumed a whole collection of biscuits, her cloth face plastered with crumbs and bits of raspberry jam. Before she could say anything, Rupert had produced a napkin and was wiping her messy face. He was at ease with the world around him and that helped Mory relax.

“Now, what is so important to be worth the risk of coming here?” he said.

“We are all made by the children of the ward,” Mory said.

“And that’s great, we love our girls,” Dory said.

Rupert nodded, pouring them all a cup of tea, and sat back to listen.

* * *

The story the twins told was grim. The Thimble Warriors were a large group of dolls sewn from cloth scraps and leftover buttons by the girls of the school. Each of the Thimble Warriors was a unique creation of love made by hand—Mory and Dory were the only twins. Many of the Thimble Warriors were sold at craft fairs and became toys for children all over the region. The rest attached themselves to children at the orphanage. The ones who were sold weren’t saddened to leave since they got to spread happiness far and wide.

“You know how much we want to go abroad in the world,” Dory said, “but there is something wrong now, Mr. Rupert.”

“It’s Finkelbaum,” Mory said. “She knows how hard the children work, and knows how much love goes out to make us, but she doesn’t care. She’s not doing her part.”

Finkelbaum had always struck Rupert as a source of trouble, so he wasn’t surprised to hear that the trouble was now arising. “How is she not doing her part?”

“Before, when we were sold,” Mory said, “she would collect the money and use it to buy more thread, more stuffing, button eyes and stuff. But now it’s all different. We have a number of our Thimble Warrior sisters that we can’t finish because they’re missing parts. They stumble around blind or without mouths—it’s painful to watch.”

Rupert scratched down notes and stared at them. He had a feeling he knew what was going on. The question was what to do about it, and how? He scribbled a few more notes.

The two warriors stayed quiet, munching biscuits.

“I think I have an idea,” Rupert said. “Maybe we can find a way to deal with Ms. Finkelbaum.” Dory snickered.

* * *

The fire had burned down to embers when Rupert finished laying out his plans to help the Thimble Warriors. Mory and Dory had long ago headed back to their dorm, and Rupert sat alone in quiet contemplation, sipping a renewed cup of tea. He had warned them again about Jasmine the wild cat—his old nemesis—but he felt confident that the ladies would make it back to the orphanage.

The fire had burned down to red embers by the time Rupert had finished writing out the last note. He wrote in a beautifully long hand, his letters formed with precision. He had scribed many such notes for the Parson, often reminding him of things he had forgotten to do. Over time his handwriting and the Parson’s Old English script had become indistinguishable. Rupert had recopied many of the Parson’s notes, with minor emendations, to help keep the parsonage and orphanage running at top efficiency. No humans noticed and simply ascribed the elegant script to the Parson’s gentle hand.

Rupert rubbed his eyes and read over his last letter, to the Parsonage Secretary. “Mrs. Merryweather: Please collect Rupert the stuffed rabbit from Ms. Finkelbaum’s office. I had it repaired and it needs to be returned to the library with all haste. With God’s blessings.”

Folding the note over, creasing the paper with care, sliding it into the envelope, Rupert tucked the letter under his arm. He pulled the chain to cut off the desk light and hopped down. He had to head to the boys’ sleeping quarters before dawn to find a particularly troublesome specimen.

Rupert slipped the note under Mrs. Merryweather’s door, taking care to push it all the way under. He kept his ears and nose open. Jasmine always seemed to be about this time of night, and he had no interest in tangling with that old canny feline. As he moved on down the hall, his ears caught the faint snore of the Parson and the louder, harsher grind of Mrs. Merryweather, the housekeeper.

Down two flights of stairs, across a drafty breezeway, and Rupert came to the boys’ dormitory. Of course he smelled the mixture of dirt, sweat, and bean-saturated farts long before he arrived—the curse of a sensitive nose. The room was dimly lit, and all of the boys were fast asleep. Rupert moved from cot to cot, looking for the just-perfect boy.

He found him in the sleeping Stevie McDougal. A crayon was still clutched in his dirty hand, the half-drawn picture of a large and rather engaging dragon having dropped to the ground next to the cot. With a quick glance Rupert saw that the boy had talent. His color formations were quite delicate, particularly around the belly scales. Not at all what one would expect from the orphanage’s most dedicated hellion.

Rupert hopped up on the cot, looking the young boy in the face. A tight mop of shaggy red hair, freckles, and a missing front tooth created a deceptively cute face. Rupert touched the boy lightly on the cheek, too lightly to be felt but enough to apologize for tomorrow’s lunchtime escapade.

Hopping down, Rupert found the boy’s backpack. He slipped in, burrowed down to near the bottom, curled himself into a tight ball, and went to sleep.

* * *

Rupert stirred when Stevie picked up his backpack. He had to wait for dinner to enact his plan, so he busied himself all morning dodging the debris of an active child. There had been a large, unremarkable clod of earth, the head of a plastic soldier, and even a smelly and quite confused toad (fortunately removed promptly by an instructor). But most of the day was spent in a quiet state as he kept trying to solve, on his own, a question posed by Newton in his book.

Rupert knew the instant he entered the dining hall. Even muffled by the backpack, the place was a riot of sound. He could make out near a dozen separate conversations, not counting the cacophony of screaming kids and disappointed infants that formed a background soundscape. Young Stevie was involved in a high-pitched argument about whether or not the invisible man in H.G. Wells’s novel could see.

“There is no way,” Stevie said. “If he’s invisible, his retinas would be invisible too, and how could an image project onto an invisible surface?”

“Maybe he could see himself?” someone said.

“Nope. If so he would have seen his hand when he held it up in front of his face,” Stevie said. “We are just the sum of our prejudices, like Doctor Butler said. He said the world around us is magical, and we just fail to notice it.”

The argument, with Rupert following it carefully, continued on for some time, long after Rupert felt the backpack drop to the ground beside the lunch table. Once the pack settled, Rupert started to work his way out, trying to avoid the wet spot where the toad had made his mark. He peeked out of the edge of the pack, looking for Ms. Finkelbaum. He spotted her tan hose moving between the rows of community tables.

He slipped out of the pack and took his place on the bench between Stevie and a mysterious pile of goo that may once have been salad. He would have to leave a note, in the Parson’s name, to review the food being served in the dining hall. Rupert was certain that he could find a bit of money in the budget to improve these children’s cuisine.

* * *

The tap of Finkelbaum’s too-practical heels was distinctive. Rupert had no problem following her progress around the hall without looking. Her sharp voice offered rebuke to first one child and then another. Rupert appreciated proper manners as much as the next rabbit, but Finkelbaum used manners as a way to punish. Besides being unfair, it gave manners a bad name.

Rupert sat leaning up against Stevie and waited. Once Finkelbaum saw Rupert in Stevie’s possession, his plan would come together.

But even the most practical rabbit’s best plans can go astray. Finkelbaum walked past Stevie just as she spotted Suzie Murphy chewing with her mouth open. She was so intent on her rebuke that she did not notice Rupert at all.

Rupert glanced around. No one was looking. He squatted on his haunches and launched himself as powerfully as he could at the back of Ms. Finkelbaum’s head. As he flew up toward her, he could see the mismatched collection of pins and clips holding her hair in place. He whipped his arm around, smashing her in the back of the head, crashing into her neck.

He let his body go limp and tumbled all the way to the floor, looking to anyone like a thrown stuffed toy. The hardest part for Rupert was to not wrinkle his nose. Finkelbaum smelled like a rasher of cooked bacon and mothballs.

“Who threw that?” Rupert looked up from the floor as she scowled back and forth, looking around the cafeteria like a searchlight in a prison camp. “Who threw that?”

She bent down and picked Rupert up, her hands tough and iron hard. Holding him up, she repeated the question, her voice getting higher and shriller. Rupert kept his body limp. “This is the Parson’s—not yours. Which of you stole this?” She shook Rupert again, making his eyes rattle in his head. “Which of you?”

Finkelbaum stalked over to Mr. Taylor, the elocution teacher and other lunch monitor. She held up Rupert like evidence in a murder trial. “Mr. Taylor, did you see who?”

Mr. Taylor shook his head and reached out to stroke Rupert but missed when Finkelbaum held him aloft. He smelled of chalk dust and lemons. “Which of you?”

Taylor let her go on for some time and then quietly spoke to her. “Ms. Finkelbaum, most of these children grew up in an orphanage. They know not to speak up. You will never get a confession, I’m afraid.”

With a harsh snort she stepped up on the seat to one of the benches, displacing two orphans. “You people must appreciate other people’s property. Since you don’t, every one of you will write a two-hundred-word essay about how you should not touch other people’s things.” She shook Rupert at them as if he were a whip. “I want them on my desk in the morning.”

The whole room began a resigned muttering. Rupert could hear words like “tyrant” and “queen” and once a faint, whispered “bitch,” but they were rendered too low for Finkelbaum’s all-too-human ears.

“Tomorrow!” With that final shot she stepped down from the bench and charged out of the room with mincing steps, brushing past the elocution teacher. Her iron grip around Rupert tightened as she stormed down the hall toward her office.

* * *

As soon as Finkelbaum turned the key in the door behind her, Rupert sprang to action. He fluffed his fur where the old crone’s iron-hard grip had crushed his plush. The room was small and crowded with a busy life of a spinster house matron. He took a second to look the room over so he could put everything just as it was when he left. It would not do to have his actions discovered before they could take effect.

He tried the old woman’s armchair and then her sewing basket without success. At last, behind a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress on the shelf, he found a stocking that had been repaired so many times that it looked like a collection of mismatched threads. But the sock was stuffed full of small-denomination bank notes and one-pound coins. It added up to a lot of money. It took Rupert four trips to get all of the money onto her desk. He tossed the sock onto the sewing basket.

Rupert busied himself doing a complete count of the money, calculating how to divide the coins and bills. He almost missed the shadow growing larger. At the last moment Rupert sprang away as a massive cat plunged down onto the pile of money, spraying coins and bills all over the floor.

Jasmine.

“Now I have you,” she said. “A little rabbit goulash for supper.”

Rupert slipped under the desk, looking for a way out, his heart thundering in his chest. How could he have been so careless? He knew the transom window was open. He just didn’t think about it.

“Where are you, little rabbit?” Jasmine said. “You can’t hide forever, you know. There is no easy way out of this room except in my stomach. Why don’t we make it easy on you? I will end you quick.”

Rupert saw Jasmine drop off the desk on soundless feet. She was looking around, searching for where Rupert was hiding. He might have explained to her that he was plush, not real, and wouldn’t make a very good meal. But he knew she wouldn’t trust him without trying him herself. And by then it would be too late.

More important, what Jasmine said was true. There was no way out of the room. Rupert could never jump high enough to get out by the transom window, and he was far too well stuffed to slip under the door. He was trapped.

Unless…

He picked up a pound coin that had fallen close by and rolled it across the ground, out away from Jasmine. The instant she sprang for it, Rupert leapt, hopping across the room and into the sewing basket.

Just as he slid into the basket, Jasmine slammed onto the wooden lid, laughing. “You are mine now.”

Rupert grabbed some heavy button thread and quickly tied both ends closed, wrapping the thread around the backside of the handle. He hoped this would give him enough time to complete his escape plan. He began sorting through the scraps of cloth.

Jasmine tried to slip her claws into the lid to hook it open. “Come out, come out, little rabbit.” She pawed at both lids a few more times and then became quiet.

That couldn’t be good.

Rupert found all of the materials he needed and began weaving a cable from the strongest of the thread. Without warning, Jasmine jammed a sharp claw between the woven thatch walls of the basket and deep into Rupert’s leg. Then it was gone again.

Rupert looked at the stuffing leaking from the wound on his leg. Though painful, it would not slow him down. He had to focus and went back to winding the thread into a cable.

“Oh, little one, that is just a taste of what’s to come.”

Rupert could hear her licking the claw, enjoying the taste. He wound the cord tight, knowing his life depended on it.

* * *

Jasmine had fallen off into a light doze, her senses poised for the slightest sound from the sewing basket. She dreamed of rabbit stew, rabbit sandwiches, and rabbit shish-kabobs.

When she heard the faint click of the sewing box lid, Jasmine was instantly awake. She saw the back legs of the rabbit as he squirmed his way out of the sewing box. She did not hesitate but sprang to action, plunging onto the rabbit’s back legs.

There was a moment of confusion as her claws sunk deep, too deep, into the hindquarters and then a shock of confusion as she was pulled into the basket, her claws entangled in something. Glancing up just before she was pulled all the way into the sewing basket, she saw the rabbit pulling with all his strength, his powerful back legs braced against the other end. And she realized what she was tied up in was just bits of plush stuffed with fluff and tied to a cord.

A cord that led up to the rabbit.

And then she was inside. With a heavy thud the lid closed behind her.

* * *

Rupert wound the last of the cable around the knob of the sewing basket, leaning into it, making sure the knot would hold. The basket rocked as Jasmine expressed her fury. When this did not work, Rupert saw her claws flashing out through the weave of the basket.

He hopped off, taking a moment to check the lashings on both ends of the sewing basket.

Jasmine hissed in fury, the basket rocking back and forth and finally tipping onto its side. “Let me out!”

“I’m sure someone will let you out soon enough.” Rupert looked out the window. From the height of the moon, he still had a couple of hours. “But for now, my friend, I have much work to do, and I am quite happy knowing you can sleep the night away in there.”

With a single big bound, Rupert leapt onto the desk and began restacking the pound coins.

* * *

The sun was just starting to rise when Rupert finished addressing the final package in his long, fine hand. Jasmine had long since fallen into a grudging sleep inside her trap. Although he was still trapped in Finkelbaum’s office, he had managed to slide a message to Mory and Dory under the door and made sure they understood their task.

He lay down for a much-needed nap.

Mrs. Merryweather’s key hit the lock of Finkelbaum’s office to pick up the packages. According to the note she got, she had to get them all delivered before breakfast. She clucked her tongue when she saw how many there were, clucking again when she picked up the package addressed to Mr. Taylor and felt how heavy it was. But that was Finkelbaum all over—dumping her work on Mrs. Merryweather’s aging hands and back.

Hours later her tongue clucked a third time when she had to reach into her own pocket to pay for postage to not one but two places. She held her tongue when she saw that one was addressed to the local constabulary. She did not consider why a letter from the Parson would be left in the care of Finkelbaum.

* * *

Mrs. Merryweather dropped Rupert off on the Parson’s desk next to a pile of packages and took time to light a fire for the Parson. She placed Rupert in the armchair, taking care to sit him properly. Without a complaint she moved on to her next task.

Rupert hopped down and stretched his paws toward the fire, enjoying the touch of warmth. So far things seemed to be going well. He let himself doze, waiting for the Thimble Warriors to arrive.

He startled awake when Mory clambered up onto the chair, giggling. Rupert rubbed his eyes and stretched. It seemed it was already evening.

“Mr. Rupert, we found your note. How may we be of service?”

Looking at Mory and Dory and the heavy burden they had to carry, he realized they were not strong enough. “First, I need more than you two. It’s a hard task and requires lots of muscle.”

Dory poked Mory, laughing. Dory attempted a curtsy and managed only to tumble onto her head. She stood back up. “Then it’s a good thing we brought our friends.”

Rupert moved to the edge of the chair and saw a host of Thimble Warriors. He stopped counting at twenty-four.

Mory tapped him on the shoulder. “We are at your service, Rupert.”

Rupert brushed his hair and, taking a post on the edge of the chair, told the Thimble Warriors about their commando mission.

All through the night the Thimble Warriors worked in teams, emptying Rupert’s last heavy package. Just after 3 a.m. on Monday morning, the Warriors reported to Rupert and went off to happy slumber.

* * *

The events of the next week went down in the long history of the orphanage as the most stupendously extraordinary of all.

It started when the orphans, both boys and girls, each discovered a nice, shiny pound coin under his or her pillow, except for little Stevie McDougal. He had two pound coins, a fact that he shared loudly and proudly in between arguments about H.G. Wells and the War of the Worlds.

Then, at lunch, all talk of the sudden wealth ended when the local constable and solicitor general walked into the lunchroom and, without pause, arrested Ms. Finkelbaum.

“By order of Her Majesty’s Solicitor General in London,” the constable let his voice dwell on “London” as if it would convey greater authority, “I am remanding you into custody until suitable bail can be arranged.”

Finkelbaum stammered, her hand grasping the broach on her too-prim housedress as if it blocked the words in her throat. But she found her voice when she saw the manacles in the constable’s hand. “Why? Why? I never…” She pulled back from the constable.

The solicitor grabbed her by the elbow.

“Unhand me, you—you ruffian,” she said.

“Ruffian? It’s not me that got caught with a hand in the till.”

“What?” Finkelbaum’s voice was a high screech, like a fork on a steel plate.

“Don’t you try and deny it. We have all of the records in your own handwriting.”

The constable clapped the woman’s hands in irons. “Well, well,” he said, “it seems you have been a bad girl.”

Until that moment the entire lunchroom had been perfectly silent. No one dared breathe.

It was the long-suffering Mr. Taylor who started. His carefully cultured English reserve collapsed and he started laughing. He laughed so hard that he had to hold onto the table.

The room exploded into laughter and some scattered applause. As Ms. Finkelbaum was led away struggling, the laughter grew to a delighted cacophony.

Only Mr. Taylor had recovered enough to speak. He waved to Finkelbaum. “Good‑bye, Ms. Finkelbaum. Pleasant journey.”

The last surprise took place two days later, when the town’s largest hobby shop delivered parcel after parcel of art supplies, cricket bats, buttons, and thread. There were enough supplies to make many, many dolls, and toy trains, and hundreds of other things that the orphans needed. At first Mrs. Merryweather hesitated, worrying about the cost, but she was delighted to know they had been provided by an anonymous benefactor.

All of these good events led to a turnaround in the morale of the orphanage for both employees and orphans alike. Things got even better when the young Ms. Rachel Summers came to teach the children, but that is a tale for another time.

* * *

Far away in the rectory library, a rabbit of uncommonly good sense worked away on his translated version of Principia. He was lost in the intriguing mysteries of gravity.

But his soul felt lighter than air.

 

——————–

A lover of fantastic words and worlds, Matthew Wallace is the President and CEO of VRSim, Inc. (a virtual reality company). His work has appear in the Menda City Review. He is currently recording the next adventure of the kind rabbit with uncommonly good sense. Matthew can be reached at matthew.wallace@vrsim.net.

The Golden Sea, and Silver

By J David Liss

I

congregant asked me how I most want to be remembered, as a rabbi or a physicist. “Remembered,” I said, “Why, am I going someplace?”

In truth, for me that question didn’t make sense. I simply answered, “As a husband and a father.”  But I never was one to stick to categories. After my son Mikey died 12 months ago, I started to mix things together even more.

I used to think that the sea was the great body of water that encircled the Earth. As I thought more about the world, I saw the sea as something larger — the atmosphere that contained us all, water and land, living and still. After all, it was deeper than the water and all of us swim through it in one way or another. But now I realize that the true sea is the light that fills all the universe, soaks the spaces between planets. The true sea pours from the sun and all the suns, gold and silver, in all the skies. Molecules of air swim through the sea of light, as do the fractions of water and salt that flow and spray. We are all moving through a sea of light in the high tide of day and low tide of night.

I used to think that God was a being who created the Universe. But the more I studied the equations behind creation, the more I understood the math behind particle physics, I came to understand that God is the Universe. He didn’t create something apart from himself; he is singular, not binary. He cares about us because we are all part of him—all of us—the kings and cats and coelenterates, the vast distances between endless galaxies that move forever from the center yet are still part of the whole, amen.

On Mikey’s last day, we took the long, hard drive to Sloan Kettering. After 15 months, this trip felt a little different. It had taken him two hours to move from his bed to the car in our driveway, he was in that much pain. But he wouldn’t let me call an ambulance. He didn’t want to make a spectacle of his pain.

He didn’t actually pass until the next day. By then, we were all gathered in the hospital. The oncologist showed us the MRI images. We made the decision to end the life support systems that were keeping his heart beating, his lung inflating and sending air to the rest of his body.

The process was quite humane. As they stop the drugs that make his heart work and remove the machine that makes his lungs work, they increase the drugs that suppress pain and anxiety.

His heart stopped and he wasn’t there. But I didn’t see him leave.

How could I have missed it? How could I not see the moment when his soul left, reached my hand out to him, given him my last blessing and received his, tell him that I would see him soon enough, when I joined him in the next life? How would he know what I was feeling?

II

My parents used to gently make fun of me, but with great pride, that I was 37 years old and still in school. Being in the Rabbinate at the same time I was working toward a doctorate in physics took time. But things were on track. Katie and I were married 10 years at that point and both kids were born. Neither Columbia nor Hebrew Union College were charging me tuition, and between Katie’s job, my stipend, and money from our parents we were pretty comfortable.

As I got very close to being both a rabbi and a scientist, my advisors from each program had a heart-to-heart with me that was shockingly similar in a way that still makes me smile. They both said a variation of the same speech.

“Arthur,” said Dr. Smithson, “I couldn’t be more pleased with the final version of your dissertation. The idea of viewing Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, our best evidence of the big bang, through the lens of string theory is daring but has some really interesting points. Your math is good. But, Arty, your descriptive text concerns me. You describe cosmic rays with a prosody that border on poetry, that comes dangerously close to…I’ll just say it, scripture. Frankly, it detracts from the scientific gravitas of your thesis.”

“Ellis, we’ve had this talk before. My rabbinical studies are not getting conflated with my lab work.”

“To me, your thesis reads as if they are.”

“I look at it as if I’m reading two different books at the same time, one poetry, the other prose. I can read two books without confusing them. That’s what I’m doing with my studies.”

“It’s harder to maintain two world views than to read two books.”

“It’s working just fine. My dissertation is good, right?”

“But your future is not clear for me. I don’t believe you’ll ever reach your full potential as a scientist without being fully dedicated to your work. Forgive me for bringing in a reference to the religion I was raised in, but you can’t serve two masters.”

“You can render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto G-d what is his.”

“I should have known better than to quote any religion to you. Okay, I said what was on my chest. I’m going to move your dissertation to the committee.”

“Arthur,” said Rabbi Goldman, “Your thesis is original. I’ve seen close readings of the Genesis creation narratives before, but yours is the first to describe G-d’s creation of the universe as the template for human behavior. It will be controversial but is worth developing. I even like the title, The World to Come from the World that Was. But…

“But?”

“A mathematical approach? I expect to see a well-developed essay and I get tables laid out with phenomena and corresponding consequences.”

“It seemed more efficient to make the point by directly correlating what G-d does on a global level to what the Ethics of the Fathers says is how individuals should behave.”

“And is your job to be efficient, or to be a role model and inspiration for your people?”

“I don’t think those things are incompatible.”

“They’re not, if you don’t make them incompatible. Listen, eventually a committee will have to read your dissertation. Write it in a language they will understand. This is not going to a panel of physicists; it’s going to Rabbis, soon to be your colleagues. Use the language they use out of respect for the job they have to do.”

“That’s a good point.”

“Arty, I’m concerned that you may never reach your full potential as a Rabbi.”

“Why, Steven?”

“Because you have to explain things to yourself before you can explain them to other people, and how you explain things to yourself is inconsistent. You are trying to prove that G-d is true as if he were an equation.”

“I think that things that appear to be contradictory can still be true if we understand the context.”

“You may be right, but we don’t have a view that is big enough to reconcile those contradictions. That’s the role of faith.“

“I don’t think the contradictions run that deep. Sunrise and sunset seem like contradictions. But if you know the world is round, spins, and revolves around the sun, then it isn’t hard to understand that we’re just repeating the same view of the same phenomena.”

“Of course you use a scientific analogy. But there are things that cannot be explained by equations because they are not math problems. But very well, scientist-rabbi, let’s figure out how to change your charts and tables to something people will actually want to read.”

III

How could I not see the moment when his soul left him? How could I not see the moment when Mikey left me?

I believed. I believed he had not left me for good. And I believed that I could see that moment.

I had been following the work of Lene Vestergaard Hau, the Harvard physicist who had frozen rays of light so cold that it turned into matter. She could take light from a given moment and preserve it, release it later to illuminate a point from the past. Like a child capturing a firefly and putting it in a jar, she could hold light in her hand and own it.

It was time for me to leave the holy sanctuary and return to the laboratory. I would capture the light from Mikey’s last hour, in his hospital room at Sloan Kettering. I would analyze every photon of that light, across every spectrum, until I found the shape and shadow of my son’s soul. Then I would freeze that image and know, know beyond doubting, that Mikey’s soul was in the light.

For the senior rabbi of a Manhattan congregation to arrange a six-month leave of absence is usually as complicated as the most difficult physics problem. At least, it is unless the leave involves the loss of a child. Then the rules are suspended. There’s a Yiddish word that transliterates as rachmones, roughly meaning empathy, understanding, sympathy, pity, all rolled up into one. I would sometimes say to my more judgmental congregants, ‘In matters of charity, rachmones over rules.’

Katie was more of a barrier. “Stop it, Arthur. A leave is a good idea for both of us. We need some time to regroup. But you shouldn’t be working this out in the lab. It will only delay getting where we both have to be.”

She was wrong, though. I wasn’t going to move on without doing something. And then I realized she might be right about at least one thing.

I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for by examining Mikey’s hospital room. There was no way that I could recapture the light at the moment he died. That light had left the Earth months ago; it could never be reclaimed.

But I had to do something.

Professor Hau’s work gave me a direction I had not thought of before. I was expert in the field of cosmic rays, but I had not thought to freeze them the way Professor Hau had frozen visible light. If I could stop the motion of ancient cosmic rays, I could convert the microwaves into visible light. If I did that, I would see the universe at the moment of creation. I would see the face of G-d.

Such ancient cosmic rays are not common, but they are ambient throughout the cosmos and can be located. Controlling their speed and shape, their frequency and wavelength, would allow me to manipulate them into visible light.

Why did I want to see the face of G-d?

If I could see his face, I would see reality. Then I would be able to see Mikey again, for he is still here, only someplace that I simply cannot perceive.

Ellis Smithson, now chairman of physics, was thrilled that I was returning to the lab to work with primordial cosmic rays. I was still on the review board for several physics journals and served on a doctoral committee every other year as a favor to Ellis. He had come to Mikey’s funeral. He thought a return to the lab was how I was dealing with the grief, and he was right. He may have believed that I was turning back to science because faith had failed me. Nothing could be further from the truth. I never saw faith and science as incompatible and I finally had a research problem that brought them both together. Partly out of faith in me, and partly out of, well… charity, he absorbed the cost of the research into the departmental budget.

The part that would take the longest was locating the cosmic rays. I had come up with a method for capturing them, using magnetic fields to corral the radiation into the freezing chamber. It was a waiting game.

Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation—cosmic rays—are the oldest thing in the cosmos. The cosmos. The universe. The multiverse. I thought about the languages I knew. Of course, they all had a word that defined the place we exist. But the old words had a common history. The Earth, first just the dirt we scratched for food; then the entire world upon which we walked, and then sailed; then the concept of all that was contained in creation, Ha Olam, in Hebrew. Cosmic rays shone upon it all since the very first day. Interestingly, the oldest word for man in the Hebrew language—Adam—also translates as red clay. Man and his universe are dirt, but filled with the divine light. There is much that seems contradictory; but there are surely no contradictions.

Light as old as the cosmos doesn’t flit in a straight line at 186,000 miles per second. It is subtle. Capturing that old energy would require patience and cunning.

When the sensor alert went off, I knew the capture mechanism had been triggered and walked from our apartment to the lab. Cosmic rays filled the device, which I called the box.

I had to manipulate the magnetic fields to shape the frozen nitrogen atoms that held the cosmic microwaves. I would change their shape and speed to turn them into visible light, and project that light on to a special screen. This was a double challenge. My math had to be perfect. And I had to work the controls of the magnetic field with the precision of a conductor leading an orchestra, the confidence of a flutist charming the python that is inches from his face.

Microwaves aren’t supposed to make a noise. So, what was that sound that I was hearing from inside the box?

It was a single note of music.

I knew it.

It was the first note of the first prayer we sing on the holiest night of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It was the first note of Kol Nidre, All Hear, the deep, soul-stirring moment when we repent and ask for forgiveness.

It’s the prayer we sing to tell all our own failures, our lack of faith and trust and honesty; the prayer that tells all the world we ask to be forgiven and makes clear why we need to be forgiven. This is the sound of a cello in the vacuum of space. I don’t need to be told there is no sound in a vacuum; I’m a physicist. There are more ways of hearing than through the ears. That note sounded from the box, and I knew it had to be my imagination and I thanked G-d for this holy moment in which my mind could meld my sadness and my ambition and my desperate need to see Mikey again.

Forgive me G-d, my ambition.

I shortened the wavelength of the microwaves, speeded up their frequency. My sensors crept to the moment when the cosmic rays reached the status of visible light. Optical fiber connected the box to a liquid crystal screen. The screen began to glow. Light that was 11 billion years old, that illuminated the universe as it was born, flowed over the glass fiber. But somehow, the cosmic rays weren’t projecting on the screen as they were supposed to, but filling the room. It was all around me. The lab was bathed in rich golden light. Shot through the golden light were threads of bright silver. They seemed to move through the gold at different speeds and with slightly different motions. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing, though it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever looked at.

Inexplicably, the silver threads seemed to head toward me, circle me, then swim away and let others take their place. This was electromagnetic energy, yet it seemed to me that the light moved in purposeful ways, particularly the shining silver threads. I never wanted it to stop. The light filled me. I breathed it in and the gold and silver filled my lungs, infused into my blood, entered into my brain. I began to speed up. The universe was rushing away from the center. But the center was everywhere. Everything was exploding away from everything else and I was pushed along with the light, exploding out, becoming the source material for what would evolve into everything. The motion was overwhelming, sickening. I began to scream, but the sound that came out was a single note, the deep, resonant first note of the prayer, All Hear, Kol Nidre. My screaming was the cello that accompanied creation. All hear! The universe has been created and I have sinned. I have sinned the sins of pride and despair. Oh G-d forgive me the search for Mikey’s soul, for your face when you began Time and Space. And as I screamed and prayed in a single note, it seemed to me that one of the silver threads circled my head, entered my left pupil. Vision stopped. Mercy enters through the eyes.

As the radiation left the box, it started to slow down and convert back from visible light to microwave energy. The gold and silver dissipated. I was in the lab. My eyes filled with darkness and I could not see. I feared blindness. I sat for a long time, although I don’t know how long. Eventually I was able to see again, though ever since, my eyes have been very light sensitive and I typically wear sunglasses.

Ellis Smithson was disappointed when I told him I would be returning to my congregation. He had applauded the idea of freezing Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation. Although my experiment hadn’t yielded useful data, he thought that visible light was the wrong conversion unit and that if we focused on generating the extremes of radio waves and gamma rays, we could learn enormous amounts about the big bang. He thought the fact that my eyesight had been affected was scaring me into returning to religion. Again, in a sense he was right.

God may be singular, but the best I can understand is binary. It has to be enough to know there is a sea of light, a sea of gold. And bright beams of silver swim through that golden sea. What it means, I will have to take on faith.

 

——————–

In 1984 J David Liss received an MFA from Brooklyn College. Trained in writing and inclined to politics, he became a speechwriter, then a lobbyist. In the past 30 years, Liss has worked in corporate, academic, and healthcare centers and all his work has been touched by literature (he likes to think). His prose has been published in “Inscape,” “The MacGuffin,” “Lake Effect,” “Between the Lines,” “Adelaide,” and others. He also writes and publishes poetry.

Selected Poems—Fall 2018

By Simon Perchik

*

You are quieted the way this dirt

no longer steps forward

is slipping through as silence

 

though there’s no other side

only these few gravestones

trying to piece the Earth together

 

where the flower between your lips

is heated for the afternoon

not yet the small stones

 

falling into your mouth

as bitter phrases broken apart

to say out loud the word

 

for eating alone :a name

curled up inside and pulls you

under the lettering and your finger.

 

 

 

*

You never get used to it

left and right –moonlight

all that’s left on your grave

 

each night heavier, bitter

with no place to fall

sometimes as snow, sometimes

 

counting on pebbles from others

all night bringing stars

to strike the ground over and over

 

covering you with shadows

and still you’re cold

come here as paths and distances.

 

 

 

*

To live like that, listening

as the sudden dive to the bottom

and though your mouth longs for a sea

 

death happens wherever water goes

–you hear the rain passing by

with shells and salt flaking off

 

from a dress that is still new

covered with moss and grieving

–you slip your hand through

 

as if each sleeve over and over

is filled with moss not yet blossoming

where the branches at the top

 

dig themselves in, opening the Earth

and the small stones that are your lips

filled with falling and thirst.

 

 

 

*

And your throat circles down

the way every kiss is emptied

though not all lips have this power

 

–pressed against a hole in the Earth

you begin where each hillside gets its start

–women know this, decorate their breasts

 

with kisses that never leave

grow those feathers that water from ice

remembers as the sound smoke makes

 

and you sing along till a small bird

flies from your mouth, louder and louder

not yet grass or at your side.

 

 

 

*

What you hear is your chest –with each crackle

more rain tearing holes in the sky

still struggling to open –your heart

 

sloshes around, growing salt from grass

kept wet the way dirt takes the shape

you use for shadows when there’s no water

 

–you stretch out naked as the ocean

on and on without stopping to breathe

or dry or arm over arm become the last

 

the slow climbing turn still missing

circling to calm a nothing beach fire

going mouth to mouth to burn itself out.

 

 

 

*

Slowly the glass, half filled, half

melting down for a slipper

not yet hardened into light

 

is flickering the way a moon

still sets itself on fire

then changes into taking its time

 

and you become an old woman

with a cane, around and around

as if this rim at last remembers

 

overflows and from a single wave

you grasp for air, for a warm hand

and step by step covered with ashes.

 

 

 

*

You feel for corners the way this rug

makes the slow turn into one day more

and though your fingers wander off

 

it’s already flying out your arms

becomes the place that is not a dress

emptied by the dim light from one hand

 

clinging to the other –this worn down rug

has no glow yet, just the darkness

with never enough sky –your each caress

 

lowers the Earth toward you –arm over arm

not yet an afternoon then a night

that lasts a life time side by side as later.

 

 

 

*

You pan for rocks though every breeze

smells from wood lying on its back

and between your fingers a stream

 

ripens as fruits and berries that fall

swallow the Earth hand over hand

the way beginner stones learn to splash

 

so nothing will float free, is melted down

as the darkness you hear spreading out

to dry and further you sift for anchors

 

and all around you the cold ripples

drip into your breath, lay there, whisper

to come up together, say it’s over.

 

 

 

*

Before it could endure its undertow your skull

hardened, was silenced with its marrow

kept calm by the half once seawater

 

and the other taking longer

though everything makes a sound

gathers you in, the way rust on all sides

 

scratches –with both hands you comb your hair

as if it still smells from a gate

that’s no longer iron down the middle

 

and there you listen to it opening

–from both sides reaching out for air

that sounds like shoreline, further and further.

 

 

 

*

Word by word the page clouding over

as if rain would wash the dirt from her face

flower though nothing will change –the sky

 

still covered with fresh dew not yet the stones

that forage forever  as the scent grass gives off

when paper is folded over and over and over

 

and each crease drains, outlasts its emptiness

taking away, making room in the Earth

for this old love note, your forehead.

 

 

 

*

Though she is covered with glass

there is no wind –it’s her sleeve

waving across the way an alpine stream

 

is pulled from a cemetery stone

for the unending free fall

over where a hole should be

 

–you never see the nail

now that the water in the photograph

has darkened, begun to drain

 

make room inside the cold wood frame

for grass, give up, disappear

and under the dust her arm.

 

 

 

*

You didn’t wave back though the leaves

still circle down, spread out, finish

as the sound a train makes waiting to leave

 

–this empty lot is their home, heated

by the scent rising from dirt

getting ready to greet its dead

 

and one by one burn the sky brown

then red then with the same smoke

take away your arms with the pile

 

–it’s a rake you’re holding, the Earth

all day opening its hand

for a cloth dress, a charred house.

 

_____

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by boxofchalk, 2017. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

To view one of his interviews please follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSK774rtfx8

 

Training

By Sarah A. Odishoo

nce you start on a journey, there is no turning back. My brother told me the story years later. Some stories get more real in the telling.

Bryan and Chuck drove off in my brother’s white convertible to Mexico on that winter day because, Chuck said, Bryan wanted warm weather—the sun was too low in the sky in Chicago. Bryan thought he was dying. The only cure—Sun.

They drove straight through, each taking turns behind the wheel, stopping only for food, gas, and pissing. Chuck said wryly later, the whole trip was a piss in the wind. The accident had made Bryan crazy.

When they got to Acapulco, they had one hundred dollars between them, so they had to find a cheap hotel. Bryan’s eyes kept watering, and he kept wiping them with the handkerchief Ma had given him—a yellow silk one—it was so wet by midday, he had to wash it out and leave it on a chair in the sun to dry.

Bryan cried at night, Chuck said. As soon as they got to Acapulco, he wanted to go back home. The room they found was in the poorest section and only prostitutes and the crippled roomed there. But crying at night helped his eyes, watered them, he said, then he could sleep.

 

One eye, his left, had been burned open in the accident, Chuck recalled. That eye open all night spooked him. He thought, “he’s watching me—not just here in this room, but in my thoughts—in my goddam soul.”

Bryan got relief by paying prostitutes to come to the room during the day. Chuck said, “I didn’t care what he did during the day. I left. But I was there at night—I didn’t want any fucking whores in my bed. And he, he couldn’t get to sleep unless he cried and fucked. He missed home.

“Then, one day he brought a goat to the room. It was a kid. He kept it in the room all day as he watched it pace and cry, running into the table next to the window, shoving it with his matted body, looking for its mother, it kept kicking its way into the empty window panes. Bryan lay on the bed drinking Tequila from the bottle, wiping his eye with the stained yellow silk handkerchief, watching the young goat.”

Bryan got the goat for Ziggy, the Arab who lived on the first floor. It was Ramadan, and Ziggy was too poor to get a goat for the dinner celebration. Bryan wanted to test himself.

Bryan hadn’t been in a war, but he had been in the Army. He had been training to go to war. But then the accident happened. His friend, his barracks’ buddy, died in the accident. Bryan thought he was responsible.

Bryan wanted to sacrifice to God, and he didn’t know what to do to make the sacrifice real. When Ziggy talked about Ramadan, Bryan figured if he sacrificed something innocent, it would show God he understood—giving back to the Source what was the Source’s. Then maybe, he thought to himself, he wouldn’t hurt so much.

When Chuck got back that night, Bryan told him what happened.

Ziggy took the kid, grabbing hold of the matted fur at his neck and his backside, and dragged him into the shower. He asked Bryan, “Do you want to cut his throat?” “Yes,” he said, and took the knife as Ziggy held the goat’s head back. Bryan said he tried not to look at the kid’s eyes, full of terror and wet with fear, they rolled wildly back and forth, but Bryan couldn’t help shaking, trying to get his bearings. Bryan cut across the fur, but the goat didn’t die; bleating relentlessly; he struggled against Bryan’s arm, wresting back and forth, biting to get free. Finally, Ziggy, screaming, “kill it, goddam it, kill it,” as he tore the knife out of Bryan’s hand, and ended the goat’s last cry as it went limp in Ziggy’s hand. He dropped the goat in its own pool of blood.

Bryan had started crying at the beginning of the story, and near the end, he couldn’t talk; he was shaking, trembling convulsively, bent over, both hands over his head as if he were being struck.

“I want to go home . . . Take me home.. . . . we have to leave now.”

Chuck said they drove for five days and five nights. Bryan couldn’t drive; his eyes closed blind in pain, while the left one wept involuntarily.

Ziggy and his wife cooked the goat celebrating Ramadan the night Bryan and Chuck started home.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Bryan had been in love with death for as long as I can remember. He loved it like a boxer loves his opponent. He ran until his legs buckled under him, and he’d have to stay off his feet for a week. He’d jump off the highest window ledge of the Rogers Park Bank, the ledge none of us dared. He would walk on the train tracks until the train a few feet away from him would cut us off from him and for seconds all we heard was the whistle howling. When it passed, he would be standing on the other side of the tracks, darkly serious and hardly able to walk back home.

Whenever Chuck would tell the Mexico story, I would feel the same way I did when Bryan would step on the train tracks. My heart would start to pound harder, and trying to stop the inevitable, I would be paralyzed with fear, helplessness, and a terrible fascination. He forced us to watch something we could not stop.

In the story, when Bryan raises the knife, whenever Chuck gets to the part where Bryan raises the knife, I gasp. It is the gasp I hear when the train and Bryan are feet apart; it’s the gasp I hear when I can’t do anything but watch, it’s the gasp—taking my breath away—of impending death. And Bryan trying to get the courage to face it.

When he tried to kill the goat, he saw himself doubled in that baby goat’s eyes, holding the knife and watching the helpless terror and standing it for seconds. He missed. And not being able to kill the goat, he felt something else, something new.

Bryan cried until he got home. Then he stopped. Chuck couldn’t see him after that. He said, for him, Bryan was dead. But he would continue to tell the story as if in the retelling he would get what he couldn’t get when he was there. I suppose it became a prayer.

At first, we saw his displays of fearlessness as a way to mock us, going too far, beating us. But what I have now discovered is that he was too sublime for us to understand. What he did by going too far was a daily unremitting devotion to what he didn’t know—the terrible seeking to know—not just what was humanly knowable, but that boundary line between life and death–the inhumanly knowable. He was called to that fearsome edge, enslaved by it perhaps, but called to act on it nevertheless.

Our minds, it seems, may be nourished and invisibly repaired by a renovating presence, a pattern beyond the world, by which knowledge of that presence is enhanced by our inherent pain. And like passion, that presence struggles to lift us out of ourselves when we think we can control our destiny, and it lets us fall when we need “to see” that which we can’t control.

For me, well, I am still standing at the train tracks, not sure if this time he will suddenly appear on the other side, once the train howls past.

___

Sarah Odishoo is a writer and poet. She has published in a number of small presses, including New Letters and Berkeley Fiction Review. She has also been a finalist in competitions such as Nelson Algren Competition with judges Joyce Carol Oates, James Dickey, and Margaret Atwood. Odishoo was also selected by Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who Among American Teachers (1998–2005).

 

La Petite Morte

By Edward Butscher

Green vase on a white doily

squeezes window light

into lime juice

 

blood of a dinosaur, desert

cheeks like a caked

sea floor, cheese

smiles.

 

An infant’s skull, even if unreal,

can be x-rayed by laser eyes

to unlace a Mississippi’s

imploring

eels.

 

Danger lurks here like a locked

mind in a room that reeks

of empty wine bottles,

lipstick wounds,

perfumed

books.

 

I father an unbearable lightness.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Echoes

By Edward Butscher

If an experiment can be repeated

it proves itself, as may a name sung

by steeple bells in a mind’s Norway.

 

Language and consciousness echo

each another, a scholar reiterated.

 

I think I said I said I think I said I.

 

Edvard Munch’s sequences of lovers

and screams and self-portraits (set

between a clock and Van Gogh’s last

 

bed) retrace his global scream,

ringing out in cartoonish ripples

 

that ululate into a cosmic ocean.

 

Say it again, again and again, knees

exposed to rocks and shame in short

pants, finally shed for knickers, then

 

long pants, and a detached boyhood

of tulip trees and their visible roots

 

clawing at sky and armies of the dead.

 

Ordinary shapes paint in awareness,

walls, doors, women walking away

on high heels, repeatedly framed by

 

long slow days after broken nights

at the far end of an island and a life

 

that replicate what art once saved.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Dementia

By Edward Butscher

Melodic are its three demonic syllables

pried from a deep Roman grave to root

in English hospitals and American labs

or dance like a pranked school skeleton,

serving as a noun escape, an anesthetic

for the last peeled-off sliver of self.

 

Crowned “Nana” by the family and tied

to a window chair by a foreign old age,

she cursed the grown daughters who

mothered her, changing her, feeding her

the Italian treats she loved to break down,

crumbling earth crusts into the silken oil

of remembered olive trees amid sliced

tongues of tomatoes and loud peppers.

 

“Aunt Ida” always, Edith winked coy smiles,

gave a girlish “yes” to whatever was asked,

efficient as ever only in the theatre of her

subway mind, where she wore a Red Cross

cape to tend the crowds of poor strangers,

crawling towards the infant she once was

without seeing the long distance behind.

 

A Polish Jew who fled as a boy to the wall

before settling in a New World and name,

“Yehuda Nir,” swelled by a stuck ego’s war

to save a self, he rose from a lost childhood

to heal fellow survivors, hating the tribe

that had hacked his father from his hand,

unable to forget or forgive or grow old.

 

Under eyelids blacker than any blackness

one can imagine or recall, it means raging

down the mind’s spider-stitched staircase

to a cellar floor where pleasure was simple

as verse, now a night terror, like a Stoic’s

scorned “death,” that can’t sleep or be.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Chaos

By Edward Butscher

I will it still in absentia

with the cowardice of a poet

caged by rag flesh and glass bone

when it scratches a frenzied alphabet

against the porch corner’s cell walls:

 

the final quivers and glazed stare

of a feathered and beaked creature

dumped into this twilight life

from a teacup of darkness

 

only to be slashed back home

without ever growing large

enough to mother another

 

or streak through sun blasts

to snatch a briefer butterfly

from its immense mission.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Caravaggio

By Edward Butscher

Circling tourists, mainly American

and white-haired, are unable to dilute

its spotlight flood, the blood-letting

of a prone John the Baptist occupying

an entire wall in St. John’s Cathedral,

 

his zealot’s head bound for severing

to feed a reckless, feckless beauty—

or to float (strings invisible as shark

atoms) down to that sunless sea

of another poet’s opium dream.

 

A docked white yacht bares masts

tall enough to recall the bristling

forest of Barbarosa’s armadas

when Suleyman the Magnificent

twice gnashed his teeth against

Valletta’s star-stoned bunkers,

awaits our return with champagne

cocktails and glazed tea cakes.

 

The caught faux knight fled Malta

to reclaim Rome’s papal pardon

for his original crime, parading

rough trade across a Biblical stage,

painting the forbidden hidden light,

but he was wounded in the attempt,

fittingly dying of a fever at age 37.

 

Dance with me is the nightly request

as a school of mainly older bodies

surges around a rainbow-lit lounge,

childishly defying pain-jolted bones

and the fecal blackness smeared on

cabin portholes with a blind brush.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Zero

By Edward Butscher

Moses’ eyes concave

into zealot blindness

that makes stone burn,

cold flesh grow green.

 

Serpent as a piece

of red bakery string

dropped on a bed,

 

blinking unblinking

at the sepia smiles

of alien relatives,

 

the old woman’s

cancer-sour tongue

paints her bedroom

the color of corn.

 

This is my crime.

Survival is hers.

 

A robin’s blank eye

mimics a sun nugget

set so still amid vague

fluff carnage of its

wingless remains:

 

the beauty of a thing

that once had breath,

being and beauty

fused into a tear

for cupped hands

to catch intact

 

buffed perfect

between artful lids.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.