Bethlehem Steal (A Fire of the Mind)
Man the beast stands uncertainly on his back legs, drunk in his homocentric stupor and wipes away the greed with the back of his hand. Not knowing when to kneel or salute, when to whisper or shout, when to plunder or cower, he takes the crazy path back to his cave.
But even the womb is unrecognizable now.
There is nothing but desert in Bethlehem. In Galilee. In Nazareth and Nevada.
No Oasis. No water in Las Vegas, only blood and wine.
Brass bells ring but the coffers stay empty. Night brings the hard, cold, artificial light, spinning diamonds of light from the one-armed bandits. Everything flashes, even when the gamblers close their eyes.
SIGNS AND WONDERS... SIGNS AND WONDERS…SIGNS AND WONDERS.
No Abrahams now, no Isaacs, no Jacobs. Only Wayne Newtons.
No fig Newtons, only fig leafs. To cover the naked. Because not only is there nudity now, but burlesque and porn and red light districts.
“You've got to show the honey before you can draw the flies."
Only the hippies believe in free sex…the pros can charge their price and get it.
And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked?
Joe DiMaggio and Jimmy Stewart would have told you…the desert is no fit climate for a savior....
Real heroes then, no makeup/free agent/spin-off/clothing line and closing time and scenes and be seen and end-zone dances and girly men in their tattoos and earrings and anorexic junkie dolls with blissed-out eyes and worthless jewels and all the hopes of a jaded small-town fade...near distance everywhere, trapped in the endless suburbs trying to find parking while jabbering into cell phones, hard in line with the garish and the compromised, talk shows on road rage and what it all doesn't mean.
And blame it on anything but the death of the spirit, the squelched light, the muffled song, the stilled tongue, the stifled prayer, missing Frost and Sandburg, snowy silent nights, days that made sense, farms that worked the earth and gave it all back and gentle sunsets smoothing out the wrinkled brow… knowing grass from steel, work from pain, joy from apathy, not motions at all but routine just the same, comfort in a good car on a smooth road, a fed baby, a soft poem on a harsh day, an old pair of broken shoes, a great catch in shallow left.
But man knows not the difference. Still can't read the wind or avoid the traffic or grasp the moment.... no recognition, no sense of the season ...broken journeys and unlit eyes, minds the texture of currency, mouths agape, the dumb ox dull stab bruise scrape crawl and drool. The hoarse bellow of the blasphemy, the deadness of the days.
Not one a true fisher of men, not one willing enough, strong enough, humble enough to be wrong and still forgive....platitudes for balm, sloganeering for ministry, brittle bones instead of haloes, rotting flesh instead of beating wings, on the way out, not up.
From the bowels of the bowery, the song of the sirens rang out a requiem for the haunted and the helpless. Uptown. Downtown. The transient souls of transient men, caught like rats in a rotating maze, their lives the steady sound of falling.
There was a hole in the world that matched the chasm deep in the trunk of a man, much brooding and contemplation, a certain claustrophobia, a fear of stagnation, missed sunsets and misspent youth. Deep in our bones and the backs of our brains was the frustration of helplessness, the nuclear angst, the disquieting realization that our lives, like our houses, could go up in flames like so much matchwood. Our quantum anxieties were measured in megatons.
Dance tonight, burn tomorrow. It could all be over soon.
The fixed grins, laughter too loud, lost in the maddening crush where shame was an antidote to pride, booze the backstreet anesthesia, cheap courage to fight the melancholia in places where suicide was preferable.
The measured moods in milligrams, the deathbed sheets and narcotic slaves. The whores and the poets, the death-trippers and the joyriders, the hard-luck losers and the dead-end drunks, their tired minds had seldom seen the light of day.
High in the hollow night they were all pulled, as if by huge magnets, to their fatal attractions. Death was a darkened doorway. Death was the last game in town. They clutched the splintered line and waited…
From the flophouses to the jails, an ocean of angry faces, halfway to nowhere, burning down the weekend, simmering with resentments, running from the guilty past, looking for a way out, screaming for release.
There was not one among them who didn't feel the pull of the coming darkness. Some fingered weapons, others crucifixes, but in these places nothing was holy, and the bums and the beggars were dressed in the likeness of Christ. The rich man and the ditch man, chasing different versions of storybook endings, going to their graves together, falling hand in hand, vowing that they would not go down alone, to the Devil with firecracker wings.
On the corners and in the coffee shops the old men waited for their Savior. JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. The young girls, who always have the most to save, didn't want to be saved. They hunted the smokehouses and sweatshops for hard-bodied husbands whose hearts might last as long as the mortgage.
WE SHALL OVERCOME.
Their mothers, the housewives in slacks and simple blouses, waited patiently for the new Millenium, the true Promised Land, the spotless sparkling future days on endless avenues under sunny skies…
Somewhere in Mesopotamia, the press corps, like a modern locust, are descending on the naked, shameful couple. Microphones like spears, stabbing the air.
"Eve…what did the apple taste like?"
"Adam…did you eat the whole thing, or just a bite?"
"Was it out of this world?"
"Was it the best fruit in the history of time?"
"WAS THE FRUIT WORTH IT??"
Neither can answer, because their mouths are too full.
© 2009 K.L. Stover