Sunday, November 23, 2014

Vayaytsay: An Angelic Escort, as Jacob Pulls a Duddy Kravitz Move on Brother Esav and Absconds 'Til the Heat is Off


Jacob had a dream: a ladder was set into the ground; its top reached up to the Heavens, and there were Angels of God going Up and Down on it (Gen. 28:12)

            Call me Ketaniel, the “Wee One of God.” I’m a little angel, not even a Cherub yet—not a pink-cheeked, bewinged fat boy on a Valentine (that’s not Jewish, anyway), but a rip-snorting, eagle-winged, lion-clawed, woman-faced Chimera. I am not that. No. I’m just a tiny fella, newly-born of Heavenly Aether. You don’t get born as an Angel, either; you just kind of pop into Existence, and you live for as long as your Mission takes—
            So there I am, one of a Coming of Angels, all of us moving up-and-down a Ladder, fast as we can—I’m going down, it seems. I want to stop, take a Look around—never been in this Place before; Heavens, I’ve never been Anyplace before—but there’s no time to waste; as soon as I dawdle, the Seraph-Flame above scorches me, and the Ophan—that is, Divine-Chariot-Wheel— below, tries to run over my fingers—
            “Move, can’t you, youngster?” asks the Ophan, twirling and whirling—that’s all those Heavenly Wheels can do; they spin so fast that Divine Sparks fly in all directions, but they get precious little done, and they go nowhere; they just make a Blessed Holy Racket doing it—
            “Down! Be climbing down with you!” crackles the Seraph, all-aflame with Sacred Fire, “Else I’ll be toasting your wing-tips, see if I don’t!”
            --So I keep on climbing down—falling down, really, and a good thing it is that my Newly-Fledged Wings are working, or I’d’ve tumbled straight down, sure—instead, to escape my climbing-partners, I let go the Ladder, and float-fall-freely down, to Jacob himself, right where he’s standing, all Center of Attention, he, Young Prince-Master Jakey. He can’t see me—he’s not on a High Enough Plane of Prophecy as yet, but I can take a good look at him—
            He favors his Mother Rebekah, that I can tell: he has her high brow, grey eyes, and he’s blinking up at the Sky, where the Ladder-Top disappears into the Cloud-Bank; it’s night-time, but he’s shading his forehead, and squinting those Shepherd’s eyes of his, to see where it goes—but of course, he can’t see into Heaven; he’s mere Mortal, he. We angel-folk are all around him, but we might as well be moths on a summer’s eve, for all he’s not seeing us, our being mostly invisible—but then, as we’re flittering and fluttering away, up, down, and about, all like a bunch of lightning-bugs on a hot August Eve, the ground shakes, and the heavens turn darker still, considering that it’s Night, and we hear the Voice, the Voice that can only be—
            God’s. And God says, in a Still Small Voice, but still rumbly enough so that only Jacob can hear, for the First Time (but certainly not the Last) in his Life:
            “I am the Lord your God, Jacob. You do not, as yet, know Me, but I am God to you, as I was to your Grandfather Abraham, and your Father Isaac. I will reveal My Self to you in due time. This land that you lie upon—cherish it; it is Holy Ground, which your ancestors will possess, but only if they are worthy of it, and agree to live upon it in Peace.”
            Jacob steps back, all-trembly-like, and puts his hand on that little knife he carries—the selfsame one his mama gave him—not to protect himself—poor, lost, friendless Boy, out in the World alone, for the first time in his life!—but to cut his bread and meat. He is no Warrior, this one: he must live by his wits. But then, God continues:
            “And to protect you, as you go off to the Land of Aram, to be with your Family—and I warn you, my Son, My Jacob, that you be careful! For, though they be Family, there will be those who love you, those who desire you, and those who will fear and hate you—so, be wary. I am with you, but you will need some closer help, some bodyguard, a little Divine Cherub to be with you, always—and let that be—let Me see—hm….
            One would not think that a God so Mighty would have to think, but then, this is a God of Old, and sometimes forgetful; it’s understandable; He’s got a lot to remember, after all—the heavens stopt in their tracks; the stars ceased to spin; the rushing waters some distance away ended their babbling—and then, God spoke again:
            “As you are new and entering into the World, so do I have a new Guard for you, and he will dedicate his protection to you: my Cherub-in-training to watch you—let it be Ketaniel; let him fly forward.”
And God smiled upon me: nothing anyone could see with their eyes, but I could feel it—a warmth in my Angelic Innards, of Divine Approbation and Approval. One never knows when it will come, but all of us, Angel or Mortal, have their Time and their Place; we must be always ready for the Summons from the Holy One.
And then, Jacob spoke: “Surely, then, is the Lord God in this Place?”
And I answered him, in his Mind, “If God is here, this place is awesome, indeed.”
He trembled again, and said, “How full of awe is this Place! This cannot be anything less than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven.”
And before I could get out of the way, that silly sot had popped a cork and poured olive oil on my angelic head. Did he not know, not realize, that God wants the heart—God wants deeds of lovingkindness, not mere outward show? But then, what he said next—you must understand, he’s just a Boy, this Jacob—truly bothered me:
He got a look in his eye—a look I did not like. It was—it was a mixture of fear, but some of the Old Jacob beneath it: the same, tricky fellow who had stolen the Birthright from his clumsy, foolish Brother Esau, who had wrapt goatskin about his arms and fooled his own Father Isaac (granted, at his Mother’s suggestion, but still), and who was off to impress the Distant Relatives with his Shepherding Erudition.
“If God will favor me, and protect me, and prosper me—why then, I will worship God. And if He returns me safely home to my Mother and Father, why then, I will give Him a portion of my goods.”
It was a Young Man’s Prayer, an Innocent’s Prayer, a Prayer of Nerve and Chutzpah; but Fate, and Sad Experience, and Family (both Good and Evil) would turn the Prayer Upside Down, and soon enough…
My work as Guardian Angel, I could see,

Young Jacob’s Prayer had quickly cut out for me.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Toledote: An Interview with Isaac the Blind: The Burden of Being a Son of Abraham


Scene: The inner tent of Isaac, husband of Rebekah, father of “twins” Esau and Jacob, only son of Abraham and Sarah, the late founders of Judaism. The Second Patriarch of the Faith lies on a cushioned mat in a richly caparisoned corner of his tent, with a food dish containing raisins and almonds within easy reach, as well as a wooden beaker containing fruit juice mixt with well water. He is blind with cataracts, but is able to feel his way over the bedclothes to shake hands with you, the visitor, having an instinct sure as sight. You ask him about his health, and then, out of curiosity, about his Family History. He smiles and responds, in a quiet, gentle voice, appropriate to his retiring nature:
I really don’t mind all the time that I spend in bed, nowadays. Rebekah is my Rock; she learned the Cattle Business, almost from the day she arrived here in Canaan, and I was able to rest easy. Sharp girl, she was, sizing me up from the time I was wandering in the fields, awaiting the arrival of the “beautiful girl” that Papa had promised me would arrive soon from Aram-Naharaim, his old home village. Mama Sarah was already gone, and Papa, after a later twilight romance with that wild-eyed concubine, Keturah, was also gathered to his ancestors. And now? My eyesight is going, and my hearing has never been very good, but it is cool here in the tent, and I get whatever I wish to eat, so Life is basically easy….
My childhood? You ask me about it? Well, I never realized my parents were different from those of other children until I got a little older, went out into the World, and made friends—some of those Hittite and Canaanite boys, and then, of course, there was my half-brother, Ishmael—at least, until my mother Sarah went all apopleptic about his mother Hagar’s special relationship with Papa Abraham, and Mama felt it best if “That Egyptish Wench and her half-breed brat” were sent off packing, with just a tiny leatherskin of water to keep them alive in the desert heat. Luckily, the Lord God, Papa’s God, kept an eye out, and sent an angel to rescue them. Angels? Do I believe in them? Well, why not?….
            But all was fine, growing up, though it was more like having grandparents for parents, do you understand me? They gave me all I wanted, spoiled me even; it was a fine thing, being the Ben Z’kunim, the Son of Their Old Age—all, all except for Papa’s Moodiness, his “Spells”….
            That was what Mama called it, when Papa would take Long Walks Alone in the Desert, late in the Afternoon, when the sun was off to the side of the horizon, not overhead, so the air was not quite so baking hot—
“So I can be alone with my thoughts,” he used to smile at me as he parted the tent-flap with his walking-stick, and I would smile back;
What was the harm, after all? He was an Old Man; he needed to stretch his limbs and walk, from time to time….
            But that One Time, when he came back from Two Days and a Night Alone with His God, with that strange, Musty Misty Mystical Light in his eyes, as though there were a Fire Burning Back of His Brain, and he grabbed me by the arm after bustling about, snatching up wood and fire and tinder and reins for the donkey, along with ordering Ishmael to chop wood and load it on the beast—all the necessities for a Burnt-Offering, just as I’d seen him do a thousand thousand times, out there in the Hinterlands, far from our Home Tent; nothing odd about that, save the One Little Missing Absent Thing:
            No Lamb for the Offering; no lambsheepgoatcow—Nothing. And, once we left the Donkey and Ish-my-Brother at the Mountain’s Foot, that tall Dark-Capped Forbidding Mountain—
            We climbed together, in Silence, I but a little child, playing, hopping from Rock to Branch to Boulder, happy to be with My Papa, delighted with Any Adventure; Papa, Poor Fellow, full of his Dark Thoughts, clutching the Big Knife in his hand like a talisman—until my Curiosity got the better of me, and I queried him:
“Papa,” I said
            “Yes, my Son?” he asked, and his Voice sounded strange: that rough burr beneath his fatherly tones; different, somehow, from how I’d ever heard him speak, Before….
            “Here they are,” I said, sweeping my arm, to include the Sun & Mountain & Sky & Clouds, the Knife in his Great Right Hand & the Flint & Steel & Wood & Donkey & Rope; lots of Rope….
”But where is the Lamb, Papa, the Lamb for the Burnt-Offering?”
            He stopt walking, rubbed his eyes, squinted into the Sun, as though reading it; lookt about, into the Clouds, felt for the Wind (there was none); pulled at his beard, all Tangled and Grey, and said, looking away from me, in a half-sobbing-voice—what was it, what could it be, in Heaven and Earth, to make my Father so Sad, so Grieving?
            “God—the Lord God—will provide Himself the Lamb for the Offering, my Son, my Son….”
 –and blindly, he stuck out, reached out, his hand to mine—
            And the two of us, walkt on, Together….
            And so, is it any Surprise, that Now, (here, he suddenly grows serious, cold, leaning forward, squinting those clouded-over, misty-blue, sightless Eyes in the direction of his Visitor) I should favor Esau, that Hunter, that Tramper-through-the-Woods, that Master of Nature, that Big-Bellied-Red-Headed, Fear-Nothing, Can-Do-It-All Son-of-Mine, rather than Jacob?
            I favor Esau, because, because—Jacob, Jacob is weak! That Dweller-in-Tents, that Heel-Clutcher, Trickster, Smooth-skinned and Smooth-tongued, Live-by-your-wits-Jacob—No; if you please, I favor Esau, because—I favor his strength, his daring, his courage; besides—
            Jacob reminds Me of Me.
            And I—I do not like myself—

            Something of Me died, and was burnt, upon that Mountain….

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chayay Sarah: Eliezer's Visit Back to Abraham's Old Neighborhood

Chayay Sarah

Scene: c. 1400 BCE, give or take a century. A mud-and-straw house in Aram-Naharaim, or “Aram on the [bend of the Euphrates] River,” known to its inhabitants as Mitanni, the hometown of Bethuel, the nephew of Abraham the Hebrew. Bethuel is seated on a cushioned divan near the fire, holding a cup of watered date-wine; opposite him is Eliezer, chief servant to Abraham. Off to the side is a servant-boy, named Artama, holding a clay pitcher, which he uses to fill the cups. Outside, the night-wind howls, and jackals cry to the moon.

Bethuel: So, Eliezer, servant to my Uncle Avraham, tell me: what happened on the Mountain called Moriah? You were just in the middle of the story. I do love a good story; we Hurrians have many. Do you know the one where Gilgamesh, the mighty hero, visits with the sailor who built an ark to survive the world-flood? His name—the sailor’s, that is—was Ut—Utna—I forget. Boy! Artama—what’s-your-face!—more date-wine. (Artama complies, filling his cup.) Shame about my poor old Auntie Sarah, though—(lifting his cup) To Aunty Sarah! May her soul repose beneath the wings of the goddess Inanna, and may we know no more sorrow.

Eliezer: Amen. (To the boy, waving off the proffered jug) None for me, thanks. I have a long camel-caravan ride tomorrow, and I must tell my boys that we’re saddling up before crack of dawn.

Bethuel: Why leave so fast? I can entertain you and your men for days, yet. We so rarely get family visitors. I will miss my little baby Rebekah, but—perhaps you would like a bride, too? I have some new female slaves from Kizzuwadna, near the coast. They are built very powerfully—Ha! You know what I mean. Many babies.

Eliezer: Master Bethuel, you have been very good to me and my men, with your hospitality, but may I ask you a question?

Bethuel: Ask, ask, Servant Eliezer! Any servant of my uncle is a—no, that’s not right. Well, ask anyway….(He blinks, and rubs his eyes, in a vain attempt to clear his head)

Eliezer: Why did you never come to visit my master, Lord Abraham? Or even to stay in touch?

Bethuel: Oh. That. Well, there were—there were—issues.

Eliezer: Issues? Perhaps it’s better for me not to query—I am but a humble servant, you know—

Bethuel: No, it’s a perfectly fair question; family matters, after all, and you’ve been servant, man and boy, to my uncle; I consider you family, too, Elly—do you mind if I call you Elly? (drinks deeply; smacks lips) Ah! That’s good; deep and sweet. Well, let me tell you. Years ago, back in Ur, that Mighty City, before he and Aunty Sarah left, when my Uncle Abie started having his fits—his deep-dark-silences, y’know—

Eliezer: Fits? What fits?

Bethuel: Well, all of that—that—God-talk, of his. Talking about an “invisible god.” The neighbors, the authorities, got to talking amongst themselves. An invisible god? Ridiculous! How could there be a god whom one couldn’t see, or feel, or touch, or sense? Never happened before, you know. People felt uncomfortable around him. And some were making fun of him, behind his back. I felt embarrassed; bad for our family cattle business. Our whole tribe was getting a bad name, I thought. And so, it was time to put some distance between us. I never meant it to go so far, but what is a man to do, when one’s relatives kind of go off the deep end, you know? Elly?

Eliezer (with fervor): The God of my Master is great; He alone made the Heaven and the Earth, and is Greatly Exalted; He maketh the sea roar, and the mountains to dance; He—

Bethuel (as if soothing a religious fanatic): Yes, yes; I have no doubt. But you know, try to downplay that God-talk here in Mitanni. We don’t want to excite the neighbors. They pray to whomever they pray to. We don’t make a big deal about it. And the king likes it all to be quiet, and for folks to get along; he expects to be prayed to, as well. Nothing wrong with a little, occasional dove sacrificed on His Majesty’s behalf. To get along, one goes along; that’s my motto. And now (stretches and yawns) perhaps it’s time to get some shut-eye—particularly since you and your people can’t stay; it’s all for the good in the end; all for the good….

(Enter Laban, a sharp-eyed, sharp-eared young rascal of nearly twenty; he is breathing heavily, and trembling with eagerness about Something Suspicious)

Bethuel: What, Laban, you hyena’s whelp! Where have you been, out in the desert so late, in the dark, in the blackness? Were you not told to go abed, not three-four hours ago?

Laban: Yes, Papa, but the camels—all their baggage, Papa, all the golden wonderment of a caravan, such as I never saw in my life!

Eliezer: Well, My Lord Bethuel, I am happy that your son admires all the riches my Master has sent to adorn Your Daughter Rebekah, who is to be My Mistress, when she marries my Young Master, Isaac.

Laban (hesitantly): Um, y-yes, that is what I have been doing: admiring, admiring… (he accidentally walks into the wall, and a bag slung from his belt jingles)

Bethuel: Been saving up that copper-coin allowance I give you, hey?

Laban: Yes, Papa; every groat of it, so I do; well, Good Night, Gentlemen…. (he leaves, quickly)

Eliezer: That was a pretty heavy mass of copper he was carrying there. Hm. (He stands, gazing thoughtfully after Laban, tapping his dagger hilt)

Bethuel (standing and stretching): Well, a good night to you, Eliezer. You are a good man, and, doubtless, a good servant to my uncle, Baal bless him.

Eliezer (taking his hand): And you, Master Bethuel. May the God Most High bless your work and your field, your family and table. Good night.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Vayeira: Where Angels Fear to Tread

Vayeira: Where Angels Fear to Tread

            Call me Matspuniel—a long enough name for an Archangel, but I am a recent Creation of the Lord; my name means “Conscience of God,” and it is my duty to flit betwixt Heaven and Earth and report on the doings of creatures celestial and earthly, both; all creatures, great and small. I serve only at God’s direction; there are times when I am busy—United Nations investigations, World Court Proceedings, Supreme Court deliberations of matters relating to birth choice—but, on other occasions, I am idle. It’s a job, after all, not unlike that of Raphael, who heals, or Gabriel, who defends the lowly and weak, with mixed results. Angels cannot overcome Humanity’s Free Will; it’s all built into the System, you know.
            My downtime I spend in the Angels’ Bar—no place of ill repute, but simply a gathering-club where we quaff asphodel-wine, sort of like earthly cotton-candy, but less substantial, and we talk; Heavens, how we talk! Eternity is a moment to us, living both In and Out of Time, and the Cherubim—both the chubby baby sort, and the more ancient breed, those built like Sphinxes, compete in games of darts, with real darts—the time passes, Celestial time….
            Until the Three Archangels came in—that is, the Three who visited Abraham and Sarah. What, a long time ago? Don’t forget—we are Out of Earthly Time, in our Dimension. They had spent a long time on Earth, and were full of stories; a large Coming of Angels, great and small, gathered around them; I crept close to hear, as well. It’s my job, being Conscience, and having to report to the Boss, though He would certainly know, certainly have heard by the time I brought the Tidings by. Omniscience has its perks.
            “All things considered, our visit went well,” said the First. He was a youngish Seraph, one of the Holy Flames, who had been Humanized for the Mission, but his Sky-Flickers were beginning to poke through his hair as he spoke; indeed, they waved and undulated in a manner alarming to the younger cherubim around him, “They were happy; Lord knows. They had waited for so many years for a child! Of course, we said nothing about the Sacrifice to come; let them find out, when it is time.”
            “Sacrifice?” peeped a tiny Cherub, down below the table, “I heard nothing about that.”
            “Never mind, Little One,” said Angel Two. He was an Ophan, and had the Chariot-Wheel-like quality of that breed; though humanized like his comrade, he was beginning to revert to his former Shape, as well: his eyes moved all around the chamber as he spoke, and his hands never stopped moving, around and around and around, illustrating all his words. “I went down with One and Three, to rain down sulphur, meteors, and fire from Heaven onto the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It pained me to do so—we Angels are nothing if not merciful—but, Heavens! What a sight it was! I’m glad we were able to save—“
            “—Lot and his family, in any case,” took up Angel Three, a stoutish Chaya Ha-Kodesh, or Holy Beast; he was a Gryphon, all lion-claws, eagle-feathers, and sharp-eyed, with a croaking tone to his voice, and the wings were his, not stamped on his back, as with the other Two. “That Mrs. Lot should not have looked back; we knew she would—that Human Free Will is a Tricky Business, no error. But there was that One Thing that disturbed us all—“
            Disturbed an Angel? This was my cue, as Angelic, and Godly, Conscience-Bearer. I pushed to the front of the crowd; no one resisted me; they knew my Name, my Rank, my Function and Purpose: that of conveying Matters of Conscience, both Celestial and Earthly, before the Throne of Mercy and Judgment.
            “What was it, Gryphon, Seraph, Ophan? Speak!” I demanded, so commandingly, with all the Authority in my Power, that the entire Coming shrank back.
            “It was—it was—simply, this,” said the Gryphon, his outspread feathers withering a bit, beneath my Steely Gaze, “Was it not the Purpose of Abraham, the Friend of God, the Conscience of Humanity, as you, Matspuniel, are Conscience of Heaven and the Almighty—to go and find the Righteous People of Sodom and Gomorrah, after he bargained with God? Instead—and I say this with fullest Eagle-heart, and all the Courage I can muster, for I am but Angel, and you may reduce me to Atoms of Ether if you wish—he said Nothing. Here are the Torah’s very words:
            “And God answered Abraham, ‘I will not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, for the sake of the ten righteous that you may find there.’
            “When the Lord had finished speaking to Abraham, the Lord departed; and Abraham returned to his place” (Genesis 18:32-33).
            The Gryphon called to the Barkeep, Mashkiel, for three tall glasses of Asphodel; the Three took their pewter mugs, slid into a side booth of seats, and would say no more.
            As for me, I returned to my corner seat, trembling: what was there to report to God? What was there to say to, or about, Abraham? When the Righteous cannot find other Righteous, when Humanity gives up on Itself, what else is there left for Conscience to do? Only to watch it be destroyed: and that, tragically, is what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, and, it goes on, yet today…Have we not yet found Ten Righteous Human Beings, in all the World Around? I will finish my Drink, and begin my Search….


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lech-Lecha: Avram's War of the 4 Kings Against the 5--Can There Ever Be Peace?

Lech-Lecha: The War of the Four Kings Against the Five
(Loosely Based on Gen. 14)

            I am Eliezer, Chief Steward to my Master, Avram ben Terach, follower of the Invisible God. My Master is a good man—most of the time, that is: sometimes, he has what my Mistress Sarah calls his “moods”—when he must be alone; that is, when we know to leave him be, and the other servants come to me (and not to him) for directions: what to do, where to go. It is not hard work, shepherding; I have been doing it all my life. We are up with the dawn—with the livestock, that is, and we alternate staying awake all night, armed with stout sticks and slingshots to ward off any wolves, hyenas, or even the lions we have seen prowling about.
            But this is the Wilderness, which belongs to All, and to None; that is what my Master Avram says; it is where his God speaks to him, out there, in the Lonely Places. Sometimes, he will take a few pieces of matzo in his leathern pouch; perhaps some cheese, if Mistress Sarah can prevail upon him, and a bottle of water—water, only, for my Master never drinks wine; he says that it clouds his Vision. Mistress Sarah will plead that he not go out alone, that the Desert is dangerous, but he will shout against her fretting, and stamp out in anger—
            But then, my Mistress, who raised me from boyhood, who was almost a Mother to me, will beckon, and say, “Go, go, my Eliezer—go and follow your Master Avi, lest he do something harmful, something foolish, all alone, out there in the Darksome Night—“
            --And I will smile, and nod, and put my hood upon my head, take my oaken staff, and follow—but at a distance. I am My Lord Avram’s Protector; let no one come near him, for he is a Follower of the Invisible God, and I—I follow—him.
            That was fine; that was all well and good. But our little family—and here, I include my Master’s Concubine, Hagar the Egyptian—she and Mistress never did get along, with that wild little boy, that hellion Ishmael, who was full of tricks and jokes from his day of Birth, it seemed, and could never hold still long enough to learn the God-Wisdom his Father Avram had to teach—though he took greater interest in my showing him the life of a Shepherd, ‘til he grew old enough to know his own mind better, and chose to hunt, instead—I say, the Outside World crept in—
            For the Four—or is it Five, or Six?—Kings—Chedorlaomer, he of the unpronounceable name, and the massive Girth, and a Sow’s-Belly that could hold fifty se’ahs of barley beer (for I visited him once, in his war-tent, with a massive peace-offering of fine fat sheep and goats, a tun of beer, and a salutation from my Master, that His Exalted Majesty might please leave Avram’s kin alone from his depredations)—and all the others Kings—their names I do not know, nor do I care; we wish only, our Avram-Clan, to live in Peace—
            --But Lote, the Nephew of my Master, foolishly chose to live in Sodom and Gomorrah; or, should I say, his Wife—what was her name?—did the choosing for him; “City Living is the best!” I recall her saying, while I bowed, and scraped, and kept the beer and wine and food-platters full to the brimming before my Master’s guests, that Harvest-Feast, when Lote and his Family deigned to visit us—but, see now! What his lazy urban way-of-life has gotten him! For, caught between the warring forces, Lote’s been kidnapped!
            Which is why we, my Master, and our men—three-hundred-eighteen be our number, a band of fighters skilled, tough, and deadly, yeomen strong and loyal to our Master and his God—were encamped here, beneath the Stars, and waiting, ‘til the Battle-Won Victory Caravan from King C’dor, and Tid’ahl, Am’raf’el—and—I cannot remember their names—but on they came, laden heavily with booty, with prisoners, women, children, beaten down—including Lote, his wife, and his two daughters, ragged, filthy, bloody, crying, wailing—we watched as the long parade passed by, in the Siddim Valley below, carefully skirting the tar-pits there, and, when the armed warriors in the front passed by, we fell upon the rear, surprising them, garroting sentries, beheading spearmen, stealing war-mules, smote them, hip-and-thigh—
            And freed the Captives, hurrying off, into the Night. We were not there to defeat a major Force of Rebel Kings, y’see: we were there to free our kin, our Lote, and his family. Mission accomplished!
            When we returned, much joy! For Mistress Sarah, Hagar the Concubine, and all the Womenfolk turned out, and made a Victory Celebration—with a Surprise Guest: one Melchizedek, a Priest of El-Elyon, who blessed our Master, “Blessed be Avram of God-Most-High,” he said, while we all bowed. And then, the drinking began! Health! Freedom! L’chaim!

            And now, our swords are sheathed, our shields are stacked, and we repose from battle. May El-Elyon, God-Most-High of Avram and Melchizedek, ensure that Eternal Peace reign o’er this Land, that Battle Not Be Heard Herein, Forevermore! Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Noah & The Neighbors: A Late-Night Neighborhood Watch


“Noah—oh, for the love of Ishtar—Noah! Wake up!”
I had been walking in a sunny vale, chasing after yellow-golden butterflies; I could not catch them, though I swear, my feet felt as light as when I was a little boy: the breeze ruffled my hair, I heard birds singing sweetly; not too far-off, there, amid the trees, there was a little mountain stream—perhaps I could take off my broken sandals, and bathe my poor, aching feet in it. Ah, what bliss! I—
I woke, pulling my beard out of my night-sleeping- mouth, to see Xantippe, my wife of—forty? Fifty? Years, her hair done up in those—those—ribbon-things, she puts on every night; they make her look like a startled mugwump. The breezes and birds flew away, and I squinted at her in the half-darkness; she didn’t look happy. I tried to smile through my foggy-headedness, trying to speak without mumbling; she hates when I mumble—
“Yes, my dear?”
“It’s those people.”
“Yes, across the way. Loud, they are. Always fighting, drinking, complaining. Now GO, Noah. Tell them you can’t sleep. Go, and tell them. Now.” She flounced back down, under the eiderdown, there in the black Nippurian night, leaving me in my stocking feet, hunting for my robe, scratching, half-awake, and thinking: O no, my girl, my lovely onetime love, it’s not you can’t sleep; it’s me now, and that’s what I was doing—sleeping, I was, that is….
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
“Waiting, my dear?”
“Yes, yes, go and tell them!”
And so, I sighed, got up, wrapped my shawl around me, took my stout, knotty terebinthy-wooden walking-stick—who can tell what manner of man or beast one meets at night here in Nippur, with the king’s guards all abed? And as I creaked along, knees and elbows crackling, I heard Him talking to me—He talks best at night, He does:
Noah,” He said, and I replied, “Yes, Lord?” for that’s how He likes to be addressed, He does. No one can hear Him but me, and He told me that’s how He prefers it; He says I’m the only one who deserves to be spoken to, anyway….
Noah,” He said again, and, as I opened the door, trying not to make it creak—the Boys—my Sons, that is—and their wives all live with us, now, on the ground floor—couldn’t make it in the Big World, apparently, and have all come home, with their wives and kiddies, all moved in with us—
Noah, you must build an Ark; for such is My command.”
This was something big; He had never asked me to build anything before. Build what? How? Before, all He’d done was complain to me: bellyaching about the neighbors, the government, stuff such as I could agree with. Yes, the neighborhood has gotten worse; that’s true. But it wasn’t always that way. When Xannie and I moved in, years ago, people were friendlier; they said hello. But now, people don’t even care where their dog makes dirt. It’s just too bad.
As I left our door, and went across to—what’s his name? Amibaal the cobbler, I believe; we met last month at the big autumnal orgy, the one where Xannie warned me not to join in; I could watch, but mostly make sure that everyone there had a taste of her potato salad—they did seem to like it, there amid everything else they were doing—and I knocked on Amibaal’s door. There were musicians there; I could hear them, and some young girl’s voice, going on and on, starting off low, and then louder and louder—perhaps a song; perhaps she was just very happy about something: I couldn’t make it out. Screaming, yelling. It’s all the same to me; I’m just an old man needs his rest is all.
The door opened. Face with a beard. Smell of barley beer.
“Hm?” the voice.
“Hello there,” I began, in my most neighborly tones, “I’m Noah, live across the way. I believe we met, last month. Are you Amibaal?”
“His son. Help you?”
Man of few words, that one. Someone’s hands around his neck: too dark to see. Candles in back, there, with the music. Incense-smell. Meat roasting, barbecue. Made my mouth water.
“Yes, well. Think you can keep it down a bit, folks can sleep? Work in the morning, and all….”
The door was already closing.
As I turned to cross over to my side, I almost tripped over a cat. Poor thing: I bent over and picked it up. Scrawny little beastie. I tried to stroke its fur, calm it down; I could feel its tiny heart beating, beating. And I heard His Voice again.
You see, Noah? That is not how neighbors should behave. Its reek has reached Me, yea, to My nostrils is the stench therefrom; I  think, therefore, that I should wreck it, upset it, end it all, start over.”
I was petting the poor little thing, didn’t quite hear Him. Hard to pay attention all the time.
“Say again, Lord?”
A flood.  Big rain. No invading armies, no host of Babylon, no enemy sweeping down like a beast on the fold. Leave no mess to pick up. Your thoughts?
“Kind of drastic, no?” I was opening my door. There was Cham—fine boy, that one—and his wife—what was her name?—snoring away in the corner. I covered them up; too much of them was showing. I wish they could afford their own place, but this Nippurian recession is killing—
That’s it. That’s what I’ll do.”
“What, Lord?”
End them all. And start over with you.”
“Shouldn’t we talk about this some more?”
I held the kitty under one arm, went to the pantry—didn’t Xantippe have some goat’s-milk there? Poor beast was meowing so loudly, and trying to scratch at my shawl—and then, Himself kept talking, talking there in my ear:
            “No help for it; no help at all. You must save—two—no, seven. Seven is My Command. Of the unclean beasts. No, the clean; yes, that way you can make offerings to Me afterward….”
            “Will there be an Afterward, Lord? What with this flood-thing, and all—“
            He was off again, silent; thinking, I suppose.
            Back to the bedroom—I realized how bone-tired I was, and had to get up early the next morning; off to that construction site: Prince Nimrod wanted that tower built—big ‘un, too. Wouldn’t tell me what for. Ne’er mind; he paid on time, and that was the important thing. Imp(yawn)tant thing. Stretch out—arms crackling, again—so tired!—im—por—tant—thing. Ah,z-z-z….
            “Yes, Lord?”
            “Lord? Who’s that? That tall drink of water in your office? I swear by Ishtar, Noah, if you ever—“
            “Oh, Xannie—no, I was just thinking—of course—not of her, my dear—what, my love?”
            “Did you talk to Amibaal?”
            “He wasn’t home—his son was.”
            “And I asked him to keep it down.”
            “Hmph,” she said, and turned over, and moved away from me. I shrugged—it was late—we could certainly settle this in the morning which, judging from the early-light-rays coming in under the windowshade, wasn’t that far off….
            Blessed Marduk! Will this night never end?—“Yes, Lord?”
            “That will be—I’ve decided—seven clean beasts, and two unclean.”

            “I’ll write it down. Soon.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Teaching English, Smiting Dragons: Daydream Flash Fiction

Teaching Daydream Flash Fiction

By David Hartley Mark

            “Mr. Mark?”
            The words floated into his ears, and eased slowly into his mind, as if from afar.
He had been brandishing his vorpal broadsword, twirling it in the bright noonday sun, while his knightly comrade, Sir Galahad, called to him, “Come, Sir David! Come, and we will conquer the Castle Perilous!”
            “Mr. Mark? Can you help me here, please?”
            He opened his eyes—that is, his eyes were already opened, only focused within—but Galahad had thundered off, castle-bound, leaving him forlorn. The student—she of the thick glasses and thicker ankles—was calling to him, staring at him, puzzled, blinking, owl-like, poor thing.
            “I don’t understand this writing exercise—what’s the difference between connote and denote?”
            He sighed, and pushed away from his desk. Galahad was gone. He stood, turned, and walked over to the hapless young woman.
Denote is what the word means,” he said to her and the class, slowly, “Connote is the mood it creates: ‘I defeated my enemy,’ is one way to denote a victory, but ‘I smote the dragon, fang and claw,’ is a better way to connote it.”
            The girl listened, thought, and nodded, knitting her brows. She picked up her pen, and bent her head down over the book, beginning to write.

            Far far away, off in Faeryland, Sir Galahad was smiling