In the morning, the silent one gathered with the others by the gate, to receive a punishment if there was one to be had and to hear instructions and curses. Throughout the day, the slave repaired the carriage wheels, swept out the stables, and was ever ready to be berated or whipped. When the shadows lengthened, he meditated on the laws and the sawdust and the spikes and wounds and the laughter of the laundress. In the evenings, the stars shimmered above the olives and cypresses as he wandered amongst their cool leaves, whispering to himself and the great world exclusively in gerundives.
In the great city of the twin seas, where there were ruined temples and soaring cathedrals, stone towers and elegant ships, seagulls and snowfalls, a poor priest went into a tavern. He prayed at the icon in a corner, sat down, and ordered some plum liquor. A man in religious robes but built like a boxer sat down next to him and ordered coffee. The priest saw that his prayer had been answered, and explained to the rogue monk that his sermons repeatedly failed. He pulled out some parchment and handed it to the monk to read. After reading it and drinking his coffee, the monk said, “This is a beautiful, tenderhearted sermon. There is not a harsh word in it. And did you deliver this sermon in a voice of equal kindness and softness?” The young priest nodded, saying: “I believe so.” The monk laughed, stood up, and began to read the sermon, shouting and screaming the golden, honeyed words of the sermon until every patron, prostitute, barmaid and even the innkeeper were on their knees, weeping and crossing themselves, praying for God’s mercy. The young priest understood. They both reassured the guests, bought them a round of coffee, and told them to take communion the following day. Not long after, the young priest ran into the monk again at the market by the wharf, where crates of beautiful silver fish glinted in the winter sun. The priest was beside himself. For a while, things had worked, but one day the lectionary called for brimstone. He pulled out the parchment on which he had written his sermon, and showed it to the monk. The monk read it quickly. “And did you shout and thunder at them?” he asked. The young priest admitted that he had. The monk began to sing gently and sweetly, in the kindest, most heartfelt tones imaginable, the words of the sermon. In a short time, he was surrounded by kneeling sailors, workers, merchants, and captains, drinking in the words of judgment with tears in their eyes. The monk finished, blessed and dismissed the crowd, and bought some fish for his dinner. The young priest was amazed. The last time they encountered each other, the young priest was gently singing in a square below a great tower overlooking the sea. It was not a sermon, however, but a mere announcement of some historical facts, presumably to explain some recent news or proclamation. In seconds, the crowd was upon him, beating him and cutting him up with their swords. The monk was too late and too outnumbered to save the priest, but this did not hinder him from breaking a few crania and backbones. When he got to the dying priest, he tried to wrap up his wounds, but the poor man was quickly expiring. “What have I done wrong this time?” the dying priest gasped. “Nothing,” the rogue monk sighed. “The sheep are broken and the world is wrong.”
Once in antiquity, a wise and noble judge crossed the great desert in search of an epiphany. Along the way, he lectured the shifting sands, interrogated every mirage, and even thrashed an almost naked apostle. In the end, he came to the great river, dried out and thirsty. Behold, he said to himself, the river is pure and I thirst, but I have nought with which to draw water–neither stone jar, nor earthenware cup, nor glass bottle, nor leather wineskin. And the judge sighed. Not long after, a caravan arrived, glorious and terrible as an army of many banners. One by one, the dromedaries, sheep and traders knelt down to drink, but the naked apostle who had come with them leapt into the great river to swim and drink as his heart desired. The judge eyed such savagery with disgust, and prayed that the whole caravan would drown in the tainted waters. The shadows passed, the clouds and stars passed, the very hawks and kites passed. And the skeleton of the judge passed not, but remained by the edge of the sparkling river, bone-dry.
An old buddha was sitting under a tree staring into the distance and meditating when a swordsman walked by. Surprised by how overweight the saint had become, the swordsman cried out, You look like a hippopotamus! The old buddha smiled and replied, You look like a blue mountain. The swordsman laughed, realizing this was a type of proverb or parable, and walked away, lost in thought. One only sees one’s own inner reality. The old buddha is filled with beautiful landscapes, whereas I am filled with beasts, he reasoned, feeling slightly ashamed. Meanwhile, the old buddha returned to gazing at the blue mountain in the distance.
There was a corrie of stone and ice where the travelers would gather by the light of certain stars, ambiguous solstices and unthought eclipses to pass through time and space and harvest the good light, the good water, the good wind and the good fire, for with these the sons and daughters of men and women were healed and built into great giant cities of stone and strength. One opened the gate through speaking the old language. One traveler loved the language; he loved and spoke all languages and remembered the times, but the old language was best and was like a fountain within his body and soul. They called him the bear, for bears have big jaws and love rivers. As time went by, the bear noticed that fewer and fewer travelers could speak or revere the old language, and took no precautions as they traveled. They brought illness into the corrie and spoke deplorable words. The gate of stars would often not open. Pilgrims who came to the travelers for guidance and healing became increasingly lost and sick. At times it seemed as if the very stones of the corrie were shifting and crumbling. The travelers still came in the seasons of traveling, but instead of speaking the old language, they forbid others to speak it, and sat around discussing the beauty of their sickness as if it were a gift from heaven. They were dying from their deplorable words and killing others as well. One day, the bear fell sick from an ordinary disease, and wandered into the high peaks to cough and sleep in solitude. While convalescing in the high land, he spoke the old language to himself and found himself traveling high roads through stars and black holes he had not thought possible. In those heights and depths he found great worms of stone, oarfish of mists, and krakens of water. There were silver trees of lightning and golden whirlpools of fire. The earth drew light and strength from the heavens, through his body, and he felt well again. On rising, he surveyed the sad earth from which the old words were vanishing, and knew now that every broken stone and dried up river is a forgotten word, an irreverant grammar, a deplorable sentence, a blasphemy. When he went back down to the corrie, he found that more than half of it had crumbled into a glacier, and the other travelers sat oblivious on a shifting precipice, reading their sores and scabs as if practicing divination, and cursing everything above and below heaven. It was then that the bear realized that he had been transformed into a real bear.
It was the twilight of life. The warrior who had written great tragedies lay on his bed dying slowly in the wake of a dramatic and sorrowful event. One servant whispered to another that it was just too tragic. It was strange to hear the servant use that word as an adjective. The warrior mused on his plight and how his life was thought to reflect tragedies he had written, which were thought to reflect real life. What did real life before tragedies reflect?
One of the last paraloi, a magellan, cruised through the remnant of galaxies at the very edge. The magellan inspected her instruments, gazed through the chronoscopes and chorascopes and made calculations with the logic boxes implanted in her abdomen and skull. Omens seemed to swirl about in the melancholy of the stars she observed and the data she analyzed. The blood orange galaxy atomized in her very face, and it was a miracle that her paralus survived. In another galaxy, a ring of pale blue exoplanets began to smoke and blur and then froze, half-smoking, half-distended, half-iced and still crisply round, but at a dead stop in their orbits, their sun seemingly frozen in amber radiation. She drove hard into the next galaxy to see mauve gas clouds experience a rainstorm of silver phaethons and other particles. Something tempted her to return the way she came. The rainstorm of phaethons went into reverse motion and disappeared. She encountered the blood orange galaxy again, alive and well, where it was not supposed to be in space or time. Lastly, she encountered the pale blue exoplanets, intact, rotating and revolving correctly. Driving on, she saw the blood orange galaxy yet again, once more in tact and in its proper place. The cranioscope registered no imbalances or damage to her neurology or psychology. The chronoscope and chorascope revealed nothing anomalous in time or space. Once again, the blood orange galaxy suddenly burst into flames and vanished. The magellan doubted her own health and the integrity of her machinery. Inside her vessel, she watched television from antiquity. One channel was broadcasting a rerun of a classic film, in which a man tampers with a gaslight to trick his wife into believing she is insane so that he can cover up his crimes. The magellan began to realize what was happening in the universe. She fell asleep and dreamed that she was a tree full of white wolves.