Tag Archives: allegory

al-kimiya

Of all the alchemists, I make the strongest pharmakon.  Sacrament remedy poison talisman cosmetic perfume intoxicant cure.  Cure for what ails you.  Drink it to die.  Drink it to live.  It will rip its way through the center of you like a column of fire.  There is no other who can brew one like mine.  Ask all the peasants and they will point to my hut while averting their faces.  They are afraid of me.  But at night they crawl to me like supplicants and offer me coin to give them what they need.

I don’t need your coin.  I am the alchemist.  I turn pain into coin, and there is plenty of that everywhere.  I don’t need your coin.  The way your eyes widen when you swallow what I have to give is payment enough.

Even if I were to give you a list of all the ingredients of my pharmakon and all their measures, you could not make it.  You would scream when the ball of fire rose from the cauldron.  Your blood is not strong enough for it.  Only I can stand there in the center of the flame.  Only I can burn and burn and burn and not be consumed.

You get the leavings, the ashen scrapings of the cataclysm, and you are grateful for that.  Tell me what you would risk for the tang of me on your tongue.  Tell me all of what you are and maybe I will devise a special concoction just for you, one that will destroy the whole world and birth it anew in your searing eyes. Pharmakeia pharmakon pharmakeus, can you tell me what is inside and what is outside?  Can you tell me what is body and what is soul?  Can you tell me what is present and what is absent?  Tell me, if you have the brain the spine the heart the stomach for it.  Tell me.  If you can speak through the burn you may be strong enough to study my discipline.

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The Malebolge

It must have been I am here because I have asked to see this place.  When did I ask?  I cannot remember and my guide will not tell me.  What strikes me as I travel down the circles is how scarcely populated they seem to be.  I had expected more people.  Are they all in Heaven?  The virtuous pagans cluster around small fires in the vast emptiness where they dwell, a place that must have been constructed for a much larger population.  At the second circle where the wind picks up and flings those who could not deny their bodies’ need to give themselves up, my guide gestures at all the damned carried by cold gusts and says, “You.”

“Yeah, I know,” I say.  “I thought there would be more of us.”

On through the icy rain, past all the ones who could never have enough, those who push and pull weights against each other, past all the ones who gurgle in impotent fury in their mire, we come to the flaming tombs of the heretics.  “Hey,” I touch my guide on the shoulder, “there’s nobody here.  The tombs are burning nothing.”  “Well,” he says, “turns out God doesn’t care as much about heresy as He used to.  But here, there are more people in the three rings of the seventh circle, look at all the violent.”

Here they are all boiling in a river of blood, those who destroyed things and hurt others.  I look over the screaming multitudes, and note, “Yeah, there are a lot, but you know, for the whole history of the world, it seems like less than I would expect.”  My guide shrugs and leads me on through the forest of the suicides.  I look at the gnarled branches on the squat little trees.  I do not have the stomach to snap off a twig to listen to one of the shrubs sing its story in blood.  “Seems you do not have any quips or questions,” my guide observes.  “You were almost here.”  “I may be yet,” I answer.  “Well, try not to be,” my guide says.  It’s not pleasant.”

Past the trees is a flaming desert with flakes of fire wafting slowly down from the sky.  There is no one and nothing.  “Who used to be here?” I ask.  “Blasphemers and sodomites.”  “I’m guessing, God doesn’t care for them as he used to?”  “It is so.  He is very busy, you see–with them.  With Fraud,” he says, as he gestures to what comes beyond the narrow desert.  The eighth circle, the place for all the liars, built in stone ditches.  The Bolgie.  They are packed, so that the damned cannot move, so tightly are they pressed together–down as far as they eye can see, waning off into the blackness.  I cannot find the outer rim of the center circle, the place where Hell freezes over.  It looks as if this Malebolge goes on forever.  Nearly all the souls that I can see are covered in human waste, and sealed into lead cloaks gilded on the outside.  “Wait,” I say, “this is not what it’s supposed to look like.”  “It didn’t use to look like this,” my guide explained, “but due to the sheer number of the incoming, we did not have the resources to determine which is the liars were guilty more of hypocrisy, which more of flattery.  So we took them all and gave them the punishment for both.  More efficient, and apt, if you ask me.  You see this infinity of false humanity?  This is where almost all of you end up.  Packed here.   There is no one in Heaven.”

I watch in horrified silence.  Where is the end of this place?  It seems there is none.  “How far is the ninth circle?” I ask.  “It no longer exists,” explains my guide, “the heat from all Fraud’s bodies melted all the ice.  And Satan is dead.  Only us now.”

Among the shit-covered, lead-cowled penitent, a solitary woman stumbles backward, naked and groaning, her neck wrenched to that her head faces the back of her body, fat tears rolling off her face and onto her back.  “A false diviner?” I ask.  “Yes.  If you make yourself too much of what you already are, you could be one of those.  Which is a kind of honor, very few of the false are something else than plain flattering hypocrites.  Good luck finding a simoniac.  They’re in there somewhere.  If you would like to visit a few of your nation’s presidents, I could take you to the lake of pitch where the barrators still drown.”

I would answer my guide, except I am mute with distress–for here you are.  Yes, you.  I’d recognize your blank eyes and your pretty mouth no matter how much shit covered your face.  Can you see me, or are you too preoccupied by the weight of your leaden priestly robe?  Seeing you here with all the others, my flesh turns into pain, and I fear I will not be able to escape my own hand.  You, and everyone–liars.  Is that not enough to tear myself out of my body and turn myself into a tree?  Look up, darling, on the Day of Judgement, into the forest of those who have killed themselves, and you will see me, my corpse finally returned to me, its limbs tangled in my branches.  When you see me, I will know, and I will quake to make my body shiver for you as it used to when I was alive.  When I was in it.  When you were in it.  And maybe, if God is watching, He will laugh.

Is this about sex or is this about writing? Sometimes I can’t tell.

There are not many women out there in the wild country.  It is not particularly sane for me to go, but it seems I simply can’t help myself.  The ones I leave behind chide me for my restlessness but it only makes me laugh.  I can feel from the hum of the train that the furnace is full up on coal, the engine so hot that the metal swells against its fittings.  I sit looking out the window wondering where you are.  Are you having doubts?  Did you get held up on some last minute errand?  Did the horse pulling your carriage to the station have a heart attack in the middle of the street?

My heart thrums against the restriction of my corset, my legs sweltering in all their petticoats.  The bustle, the little black leather boots primly laced over the ankles, the white gloves buttoned over the wrists, the collar keeping my throat in its airless grip.  I am pretty good at wearing the garments of my civilization, but I am even better at being divested of them.  I will ride this train all the way to its terminus, all the way to where the Chinamen have not yet laid tracks.  Alone if I have to, but I’d much rather you came with me.  I very much hope the top hat I see moving swiftly through the crowd out on the platform is yours.  Catch this train; it’s going somewhere good.

A jolt shudders through the length of the entire machine–oh is there anything like the feel of imminent departure?  Is there any sound more stridently arousing than the steamy wail of that whistle?

All aboard.  Last call.

Allegory Explosion

You guys!  There is.  A lot of stuff.  Going on.

I was on live radio Monday of last week.  It was a bit intimidating but pretty fun.  The best part was when I flustered the hell out of my husband, who came with me because it was President’s Day so he had off work.  The host, Denny Smithson, asked me something about who I was writing the book to and I said my husband.  Denny observed that he was in the studio with me, and I pointed the mike at him and said, “wanna say hi?”  My poor baby just about died. Turned a high shade of crimson and shook his head no.  Who knew he was this shy?

Then I had a couple of readings, one on home turf at Davis and a luncheon thingy in Pleasanton.  Both were thoroughly awesome and made me miss teaching terribly.  (When I mentioned how much I missed teaching, a friend who is currently eyeball-deep in a pile of grading asked me what the hell is wrong with you? It’s true, I don’t miss the grading part.  I just miss goofing around with a bunch of curious young sparks chatting about books and how irredeemably fucked up human nature is.)  I have another reading tomorrow night!  It’s at 7 at Diesel Bookstore in Oakland.  Come say hi if you’re around.

I’ve also been busy collating the collective unconscious for In the Red.  It’s just been me blasting my neurons with Romanian history and folk tales.  So, in the past week, I have pumped a few rounds into Nicolae Ceaucescu’s chest as he sang L’Internationale and I whacked a wood nymph who dared give a prince “a flower from her girdle” (wink wink nudge nudge) and I galloped across a snowy wasteland with an exiled Phanariot voivode and I had Dracula drink blood from one of his impaled victims in what was basically the Holy Grail and it’s all been very busy in my braincase lately.  It’s just been Allegory Explosion around here.  Last night I had this incredibly vivid dream about a dark pond filled with alligators over which fluttered a big cluster of panicked parakeets.  I remember so well the flapping sounds of their tiny wings and all the pretty jewel tones of their varied plumage.  The ridges of hard, wet, gleaming scales on the long sinewy backs of the alligators.  How fast they were when they lunged out of the water for the parakeets and snap–one swift bite and a bird was gone.  The birds being swallowed one by one out of the air before even having a chance to squeak–I woke up totally traumatized.  Poor little birdies!

Then I got up and wrote about trees haunted by the restless spirits of murdered babies.  Really.

Also, somebody reached my blog today by googling “what does a cheez doodle look like.”  Here, let me help you out: