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(an Ode Dedicated to the Donetsk People’s Republic, by way of William Blake)


A memorable fancy

Winter roared outside the whitewashed stucco walls and cedar wood beams

Of our meeting place, otherwise silent but for the sighing and groaning of the floorboards

When another friend entered and sat on the wicker chair, the silence of men:

I waited to speak

To be given words by that smokeless fire that burns within all of us

That so long I’d sought like a Sherpa through these winters, a magus in the wilderness.

I swallow my thoughts and let the key fall, fall, fall,

Through my stomach and tumble through the tumblers of the eleven dimensions

To unlock that fragment of Him.

When a canvas of shadow suddenly draped over the congregation

And in the center of the turquoise prayer rug stood a sunburnt warrior

With the face and the mane of a white horse, and featherless wings,

Holding a shepherd’s crook in one hand and the flaming sword of Eden in the other:

An angel of the Lord.

And then I was stabbed, run through by that terrible burning sword,

And as the blood poured from my mouth and pooled like crimson oil on the rug,

The angel shouted, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” then “Behold! Your Father!”

With that the turquoise rug unraveled, its strands levitating as it abandoned its shape,

Forming a new one: a hunchbacked old man, each ridge and crevice of his face traced,

With a white beard like cirrus clouds and dandelion spores,

And with both hands he clung to a rotting pitchfork,

Holding him upright, barely.

With a wind-whispering wheeze, He instructed the angel, “Show him, Maleq,”

Before gasping and collapsing back into the floor.

The horse-man grabbed both my shoulders and pulled me in a downworld spiral

Into an inner earth, empire of volcanos

Maleq boomed, “Behold, that which you see as without is within, and within is without.”

I was surrounded by a sea of panic, naked humans wide-eyed like wounded deer,

Throwing errant fists, scratching blindly, drawing and perspiring blood,

Fleeing but never escaping.

At the edge of the fray stood a clock tower, silver steel, hands unmoving, perpetual midnight.

One by one they caught our scent and marveled, until the hundreds had fixed their glare on us,

Snarling like caged tigers behind invisible bars.

“Do you fear us,” Maleq shouted, “more than you fear each other?”

Soon they fell back on one another, dominos, into their blood-dark sea.

We came next to the holy mount of the self-fulfilling prophets,

They called themselves “the new gods of hellfire,”

Speaking in hydra-headed tongues and waving their Kalashnikovs

As they predicted gunfire

While their servants followed after the snakes,

Collecting their scales and bartering for bread.

From the mouth of that volcano a figure beat its wings and emerged,

A pterodactyl in a balaclava,

And all the prophets bowed down to it:

Each rushed to offer its servants as sacrifices.

And I recognized these men, who had held the blazing sword before my grandparents.

“Is this karma?” I asked.

Maleq closed his eyes and pronounced a corollary commandment:

“Names will lead you to idolatry.”

Thus I understood they were undone by the gears set in place by the nameless:

A fuddy-duddy watchmaker.

Then we came to a plain of war:

Zephyrus led an army of cross-bound hawks at the speed of their screams,

Carried by a furious wind,

And Eurus led his eagles, wings nailed to pinewood beams, against them

Savaging each other with their beaks but flightless by their own power,

Only struggling against the winds and each other.

In the glowing eye of the storm I saw it: a book,

Thick pages like papyrus but gilded, bound in charcoal black leather.

I rushed into the torrent, sure to be torn by the creatures and the winds,

Scattered to the edges of Hell, but I grasped the volume and emerged

On the other side.

I opened the first page and read:

“The New Proverbs of Hell

The sunken treasure ship was once a funeral pyre. And before that, a paradise.

The only greater sin than subverting the will of the people is fulfilling it.

Artemis and Apollo were twins but different as night and day. But Hades was an only child and shares not his birthright.

Wear always the chains of freedom; leave the shackles of history to your children.

The rabbit must eat the mushroom before his sister knows it is poisonous.

Some worship a personal Jesus, but the Devil is public property.

Each star in the sky is a martyr.

A glacier will fit into an hourglass in time.

Salmon swim upstream, and will live forever.

Nothing changes, except the past.

Though the King may die, long live the Kingdom.”

And I saw them wide-eyed gaping at me, standing now near the center of the turquoise prayer rug

Almost toppling out of their wicker chairs at the words I spoke that had seemed to be mine

But were from a fierce, frightful voice from without.




M. E. Lerman is an editor by day, writer by night, amateur musician by turns, and is unnaturally interested in Hell, by most people's estimation. His short story "The Long Hard Road Out of Hell" was featured in the British Fantasy Society Journal, and he has also been published in Poetica Magazine, Poetry Quarterly, and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. His blog can be found at thenewgodofhellfire.wordpress.com.

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