The only thoughts that enter my mind
when I don’t know where we are
are of whores & roses.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath & tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
& yet the menace of the years
Finds, & shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
~by Wm. Ernest Henley
A veteran of the war called Life, she sat with her feet crossed quietly watching the setting sun. A sharp whistle pierced the air, signaling the arrival of a violent calm. An old Mexican played a weathered guitar to his own rhythm & the breeze, & the tumbleweeds blowing through my mind began to dance. I moved closer & she fed me a handful of fresh rainwater flavored with melancholy out of a rusty tin can; then, I began my confession:
“I am tired of flying; I’m tired of being strong. I need to rest. I’m being a superman to one half of my world, while the other half doesn’t even know I exist. Half the time I’m seeing red, & the rest of the time I’m blue. I need a day off; I hope nobody calls my name. Anyway, sometimes I actually like to let the cockroaches & spiders live, because I don’t believe they want to hurt me. They remind me of the old days—my dead grandfather’s living room; a brown couch made of cracked leather; the first time I heard a Lady sing the blues. They deserve something for that, don’t they? But, I don’t blame you if you don’t understand me; I stay too close to ghosts to feel entertained, & I rarely come out of their shadows.” The old woman nodded, blessed me, &, with sadness in her eyes, got up & headed on her way as I read on her mind, “Is there no mercy for a widow’s son?”
I am a lone lion leading my pride of nobodies & nothings, whom I amuse by performing magic tricks for castaways. When we pass through the streets, all eyes fall on us. The alley cats stare defiantly, but they bow down nonetheless, as if they can sense what will happen if they test us. It’s like they can hear our guns sighing from boredom, provoking us to make summer happen tonight. The cool autumn air feels good, though, so I chill as a restful, easy breeze blows against my single-breasted wool suit, ostrich shoes, & cashmere sweater. I look like a model— Citizen, that is. I like to be sharp when I walk with my sword.
During times like these, I feel that I belong nowhere & to no one. I’m all alone in a crowded room—a family man with no home, a soldier without a war. I’m an outdated relic of ancient times, or an oddity of a too-far future; who will befriend me? I am but a silhouette, silently fading in-&-out of light beams, searching for serenity. When I yell in my solitary forest, there is no one to hear me; will they hear me when I fall; will I even fall at all? Ah, but no matter. I suppose the loneliness may be worth getting used to; I will have my peace, even if I must lay waste to every living soul to get it.
Love me or fear me: I will leave the process of choosing to whoever can get near me. I choose the rockiest road I can find as I make preparation to trample all of Earth—which makes it difficult to walk a mile in my shoes, even if one were to try very hard. I attempt to avoid the broken glass, but then I end up walking across shattered dreams; it seems that I can’t win. My companions remain silent, trusting in my fierce leadership (they bear witness that I speak fire that could melt them, but that my words are light that will help them). In the midst of our ambling, my mind wanders to the dead Snake I left lying on the road a quarter-mile back. I direct my army to silently mourn; a moment later I stop them so that we can take time to smell the last of the dying roses. Here we are—the last of a dying breed, wondering how we have all held on for so long; but, the smell of death is bittersweet, & we have no trouble moving on.
As I watch the cloudy night sky, I wonder who is plotting to blow my high. I reflect on the years of tears, & I arrive at the same conclusion that I did long ago: for every time I’ve cried, somebody’s got to die. I’ve shed so much saltwater that I’ve learned how to live off of it—water, water everywhere, & every drop I drink. These oceans renew me, & I find comfort in knowing that I will decide how & when I will ascend—as The Sun Risen & Not Hidden, that Ancient King.
I stop to lean on the wind as I listen to the lonely women who are calling out, wanting someone to hold them. I always try to fight the temptation, knowing that once they find their strength, they will practice their strangleholds on me; sometimes I give in, but only when it suits me. I’m a sucker for pretty women, crying babies, luxury cars, stimulating works of music, elegant architecture, robust wines, & uniquely expressive books that use rare words & phrases. I am a man who blesses his food by eating, chewing with thankful teeth; built of the staunchest faith, I dive right in—come walking or whales. I think on all of these things as I sip on this weed cloud that’s getting heavy with blood, merlot, & crocodile tears, & I just keep staring at the sky, trying to remember how to fly.
I hear The Pride starting to move. It’s growing restless. One keeps asking me how we even got here in the first place—this lush planet Who is light-years from anyOne familiar. I get a serious look on my face & suggest that he stop asking stupid questions. I urge him to focus on the pain (the only thing that’s real), & then I threaten to whip him with Orion’s belt if he won’t take silence because I’m still letting out smoke, blowing off steam, trying to remember how to work the clouds.
Then, while all of this is going down, we reach a crossroads & I let go of the last bit of smoke as I get ready to blaze at the hellhounds that have been dogging our trail all night. As I ready my gun, I dispatch a vow over my shoulder to one of the young women as she wipes her eyes with the back of her sleeve: “Make me smile & I’ll make you lose your religion; make me fall in love, & I’ll make of you a muse.”