Vol. 1, Branded Souls, Chapter 1: The Dragon (Pt. 2)

(Read pt. 1 here)

Hart tried to rouse from a hypnotic state. He felt it as a dream that he could not return from without a fight. With his eyes closed, He drifted around a field of death as the mighty dragon itself. Watching from a sky to ground perspective, he saw men as carrion or prey. He was unable to express his emotions and felt like a corked bottle under pressure- he saw colors and felt burning through his veins as the a volley of arrows tried to curb him.

The dragon is on the hunt!” cried the friar from his belfry. The blacksmith screamed, “Get to shelter!” The friar churned the bells again with a long rope. People had all but fled the fields, leaving farm equipment and sheaves of wheat. Hart had no appetite for the town’s folk- the contents within the castle is what he pined for. A delicate voice clung to his mortal fiber and cried, “Save me,” from some dark recess.

It drove him mad- he was unable to think clearly and he was acting from an involuntary aggression. He sprayed fire into the archer slots carved into the castle; people could be heard screaming inside. An explosion blinded him temporarily and drilled a percussive ringing into his brain.

He slammed himself into the bulwark and dug his claws into the stone while repeatedly smashing his weight into the impregnable defense. The clang of alarm was heard and all had fled into their homes or into the castle. The army had regrouped and began packing explosives for another searing shower. He took to his wings, damaged and bleeding, roaring in defiance as he retreated to the opposite mountains.

Harts thoughts drifted as he distanced himself from the fire and frenzy. His sharp vision as a beast of preternatural ability waned and grew blurry. Hart felt disembodied.

His thought moved upwards as the dragon disappeared into the hills and grey mountains. His perspective moved still upwards and away from the village it centered the castle in his direct vision, he saw the battlefield fading and the dragon departing. The scene was no more and the boiling in his veins slackened; upwards he went towards the infinite depths of the cosmos.

Some gravity of another, beckoned him to reenter a sharp precept but he resisted for a time by keeping his eyelids closed momentarily; reds and blacks that painted the inside drew a somber canvas. Hart considered his increased strangeness and morbidity as his conscious floated in meditation. A gnashing darkness and gore-filled destruction sickened his thoughts and tolled heavily on his, willfully simple nature.

He yawned aloud and stretched his arms aloft. He moved his shoulders in a rolling fashion, flexing and hunching his shoulders intermittently. “Damn that bench is a tough bastard.” After stretching out his rotator cuff and shaking the numbness out of his arms, he began the method again with his legs. Stiffening and pulling his legs in front then together, he raised his feet from the grass. His quadriceps bulged like knots of thick ropes. He then gently rolled his ankles in his hands then let out a gush of air from his mouth, “Whew, can’t handle much more of those kind of naps…” Hart blinked and rubbed his eyes he knew it wasn’t just the medium he slept on that made him sedate, “What a curious dream,” He contended in an attempt to dispel the hanging haze.

At the far end of the bench, a squirrel was busying itself by digging out a patch of turf around a tree. The black critter ceased it’s labor, sniffed the air then drew a brown acorn from his hoard and set about to lunch; it cracked open the acorn with skilled digits. The innards of the acorn became reduced to crumbs at its dexterity; the husk was all that remained. When it finished one, it decided that its hunger was great and began this exercise once more. Hart looked upwards. It was a bright day but westward, distant, brooding storm clouds were on the horizon.

A beautiful poplar with its white and orange blossoms shaded him. That familiar tranquil breeze that rustled its leaves also stirred an imperceptible and undefined heartache; it froze up any fire of sudden activity that he may have wanted to do on this fine day. He fell back into a lazy stupor at the sweet smell of the flowers on the wind. He was ensorcelled by a memory that clung more dear to him than his very life but it was a memory that he could barely recall, a memory that came to him in fragments, like a hurtful puzzle that was relentless with its entreaties and its infinite madness.

“I loved her…I loved something.”

He placed his hands on the back of his head and slipped into an exceedingly casual position on the bench. He recalled a faint wisp; a lost, similar spring afternoon; it came floating back to him on the wings of the scented wind.

A soft and warm breeze tangled her locks of blonde in a playful caress. Wavy strands of gold fell across her brow. He saw a longing gaze; a half covered, sparkling green eye-

He felt a pang in his chest. He troubled himself willingly and tried to ignore this natural thing that feels like loss and weighs like stones in a heart. He attempted to ignore the pain of emotion because he wanted more. He wanted to find her, this woman who had been haunting his daydreams, nightmares and waking days. He wanted to answer why a memory was lashing from the depths of his mind and raking old coals.

Hart searched. First he searched in his mind. He cast a line of inquisition into its depths: He drew a net like a fisherman but at each stroke in these swirling waters, he missed his target. “It had been so very long.” As he thought hard on the emotion and power she conjured within him, he sat up as a man suddenly struck on that head. The net seemed to grapple something and this powerful something flailed hard in his eager clutch; an image sprang forth from across the sands of time:

Here came an impish grin and a childish titter lifted like a chorus by rosy cheeks. He recognized her and another. It was a stranger, himself, as recognizable as any but a stranger. This stranger was swathed in a forgetful cloud, holding some goblet as he whispered into the young woman’s ear. She beamed so bright that it illuminated the memory around her like a candle held to a dusty photo album.

She had rouge on. “No.” he sighed to his recognition, a deep scarlet blush. She was seated, facing towards him but her gaze was now bashfully away, towards the ground. She absently plucked petals from flowers, smiling all the while. The stranger’s thoughts then whispered into Harts mind:

…Perpetual innocence, kindness and truth…” It picked up and trailed off into a murmur.  This is, he thought, is the way he’d known her. Her smile faded to an outstretched, delicate hand wrapped in the lace of white silk, offering to him a ring of purple and yellow flowers. He reached for the bouquet but it was snatched away by a foul gust, the wind kicked up and a strong piercing rain sprang from dark clouds. The young women stood as if a forced puppet and floated backwards into a dark fog that grew around her. Her eyes pleaded though her facial expression was mute. Her hand remained outstretched as if trying to hold on to something. He struggled to grasp her precious white hand but the force of the storm pressed on him so violently that he was rooted. She grew into the blackness then the scene was blackness itself; he had lost her once more.

(Continued here: pt. 3)

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Middle East FS

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Botticelli’s Primavera, and Lucretius’ De Natura Rerum

Botticelli's Primavera painting, close-up, Flora of the Meadows.

Botticelli’s Primavera painting, close-up, Flora of the Meadows.

“Spring comes, and Venus,
And Venus’ winged courier, Cupid runs in front.
And all along the path they will tread,
Dame Flora carpets the trail of Zephyr with a wealth of blossoms,
Exquisite in hue and fragrance.
So throughout seas and uplands,
Rushing torrents, verdurous meadows and leafy shelter of birds,
Into the breasts of one and all you instill alluring love,
so that with passionate longing they produce their several breeds.
Since you alone are the guiding power of the universe,
And without you, nothing emerges into the shining, sunlit world,
To grow in joy and loveliness.”
-Lucretius, De natura rerum

Botticelli's, interpretation of spring, Venus and Cupid in the center.

Botticelli’s, interpretation of spring, Venus and Cupid in the center.

Prose and Commentary Response: Thoughts of M. Aurelius

Stoicism:

Marble Bust, photographed by Pierre- Selim

Marble Bust, photographed by Pierre- Selim

“The quality or behavior of a person who accepts what happens without complaining or showing emotion.” -Merriam Webster

Lets shed some light on the philosophy of stoicism and one of it’s greatest proponents, the ancient Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, whose published meditations and thoughts offered his perspective on the matter. I’ll analyze some of his main points and offer a few contrary arguments as we lightly discuss some of the more relevant elements listed therein:

When I read the Thoughts of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, (121-180 AD) I am immediately impressed by his use of nature and consideration of the natural; equally, his distinct opposition towards pleasure. These points stands out as a major under-pinning to his credo of, ‘stoicism’. It would seem that he moved or strived for a life free from distraction and the perturbations that come with the territory of being a human in his high station. Aurelius tell us that, “(the)…soul is dyed by thoughts.”(P.28 Book V) He is inferring to his meditation that to be swayed from your primary focus is to create unbalance and superfluity within yourself. “…to be vexed at anything which happens is a separation of ourselves from nature.” (P.9 Book II) He goes on to explain his position on matters such as pleasure, honor, death and simple, effective living.

Foremost, I partially disagree with stoicism to the extent that, by it’s adherence of extracting oneself from pleasure, one can live a more powerful and meaningful existence; pleasure should not be wholly demonized. An indulgence in the arts can provide a fundamental brick of ones life in and of itself. See for instance a great artist who has no other medium to communicate to society other than by the medium of paint; his traditional faculties of communication are wanting. By indulging in art, his ability to perform social acts are improved. Even Marcus Aurelius explains how in life there are but two most important fundamentals: “…a pious disposition and social acts.” (P. 36 Book VI) The artist who indulges in pleasure is providing a social act, in and of his power allotted to his own station. However, I concur with the Emperor willingly to, “…let thy principles be brief and fundamental.” (P.17 Book IV) Furthermore, “…expecting nothing, fear nothing, but satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word.” (P.14 Book III) This is the stuff of an honorable life well-spent that mingles fluidly with the definition of stoicism.

I maintain most of his meditations to be honorable and rather timeless in the scope of humankind, despite his admonition that we are all to die and be forgotten, sooner rather than later. “…Short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.” (P.13 Book III) On the contrary, I believe a mans work is his eternal echo and gift to the descendants of man; it is parceled from generation to generation depending on its quality and strengthened by the bond of time. It is true that the whole scope of human existence is small but Marcus Aurelius’s view on this subject seems to want to step aside and let come what may. Aurelius explains, “For it is in our power, as I said, to get out of the way, and have no suspicion nor hatred.” (P.35 Book VI)
Stoicism is simple and uncomplicated: keep calm, maintain composure, use the power of rationality and abstain from pleasure. However, I’ve neither known nor have read of an uncomplicated human even in the most pious and socially benevolent. Chaos and confusion plays a rule in human life insomuch that methinks, it is a mans appointment to struggle. How difficult must this stoicism be to follow when it presents itself so unnaturally to a human? I digress. The thoughts of Aurelius may or may not agree but he’d understand that nature orchestrates something tumultuous, something foreign and wild while reason, like a heart-beat attempts a steady percussion to match. “Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice, and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts.” (P.7 Book II)

Aurelius tell us that we are born to die and our nature is unpreventable and by careful management we can stride proudly into graves as gracefully as any dead and dusty hero. “Show these qualities then which are altogether in thy power, sincerity, gravity, endurance of labor, aversion to pleasure, contentment with thy portion and with few things benevolence, frankness and no love of superfluity…” (P.25 Book V) This he believed, will make even the most fearful mortal have the conviction stand to nature and her allotment despite any injury or mutilation that befall.
He evinced a calm and poise as he would describe a river that by nature knows no limitations or time but it has a focus and ultimately achieves its end. “For substance is like a river in a continual flow…” (P. 29 Book V) Like atoms in the universe who fill a role, though obscure and a minutia, so too are men who are all afforded a class of soul-nobility if they so choose. “…man’s duty to comfort himself, and to wait for the natural dissolution, and not to be vexed at the delay…” (P.27 Book V)
To be unsettled is useless. He believed that being irrational was to be a wild animal with no sense, though he considers all humans as animals; some are given awareness which divides them from the heard. “One thing here is worth a great deal, to pass thy life in truth and justice with a benevolent disposition even to liars and unjust men.” (P.39 Book VI)
Emperor Marcus Aurelius was schooled by teachers like Diognetus with Grecian discipline, Rusticus who planted in him a mistrust in sophists, and a strength of discipline, Sextus, a benevolent disposition, Alexander the Grammarian, to not find fault in the solecistic* speech of others, and many other great minds that did not implicitly teach Stoicism.** The combined result of his education and experiences afforded him the vantage point of a stoic mind that emphasized nature, rationality, the forbearance of emotion and the refusal of pleasure. For what it is worth and what has been mentioned, wether we agree or not, his thoughts and meditation put this leader in good stead with his peers and countrymen. That much is true. In later history books, he is considered the last of the 5 great Emperors of the Roman Empire because he won the cooperation of the senate a feat which the previous generations of Caesars failed to achieve.


Poison and Panacea by J. Foley

The rogue Shepard,
He in tall towers,
Hath led his lambs,
To wolves of avarice,
To ravenous, bloodied wolves,
Intent on rending soul from self,
Arm yourself well against,
Their tearing teeth,
With compassion-
Indulge in art,
And things that ought not matter,
Bait cannot tempt,
Those free from want.


“Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.”
Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

 


Bibliography:

  • Aurelius, Marcus. The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Trans. George Long. Ed. Edwin Ginn. Boston: Ginn, 1893. Kindle.
  • “Stoicism.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 May 2014

Footnotes:

*Solecism is a mistake in speech, a blunder or a deviation from the normal.

**See the opening pages of, The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius for a list of his teachers and their contributions. 


 

Middle East FS

Vol. 1, Branded Souls, Chapter 2: The Beautiful, The Awkward

She pointed her thoughts towards the many visitors while she unwrapped her Italian hoagie sandwich from its white deli paper. Lest, she be absorbed in her own thoughts she mused for a time at the awkward ensemble of typical tourists ambling about; waist packs, visors, too much sun screen, brightly colored city shirts and aggressively styled hiking boots. It was drizzling outside but still, the sun shined. The light rain speckled the dusty foot lanes. The tourists walking here on the National Mall’s strip of turf and gravel lanes were prepared as such. Many paused for photographs, a few jogged by fresh from a business meeting across the bridge, several sat leisurely pointing and striking up conversations while children went on laughing and chasing about to the tune of dogs barking and pigeons softly pecking at crumbs.

To her left was the Capitol building and its reflection pool that had been drained for renovation and to the right was the National Monument, as white and phallic as ever. She gave little thought to her left and right for what she held in her hands was an excellent creation of man and it was lunch time. She looked down at the baguette; it was a freshly baked hard-roll and it was stuffed with all the traditional fixings that encompassed an Italian sub sandwich: Capicola ham, Genoa salami, Provolone, hot peppers, sun dried tomatoes and thinly sliced red onions- to her great satisfaction that little Sicilian sub shop in Cleveland Park always topped their creations with a healthy amount of virgin olive oil, barrel aged wine vinegar and oregano.

She had to restrain herself, she was famished. The Italian sub sandwich was halfway finished before she could even take her eyes off the thing. She paused and dabbed her mouth with a napkin and resumed the airs of that dainty beautiful thing that had not missed breakfast and lunch. The sun was sinking low and in the setting sun, the monuments glowed regally. “This is what spring is all about- the sunsets, the smells and tastes and equally the distractions.” She lovingly thought but a shadow darkened her brow. “It had been a long winter with little income and heaps of depression-all that is beyond me now and what lay ahead, I will greet with open arms.” Seeing so many bright, optimistic faces on a satisfied though very full stomach rejuvenated her.

She laughed to herself at a group of Segway motorist whirring by with guarded self-importance. “What a peculiar site.” She took the last bite of her sub and was pleased as always with the sheer brilliancy of her favorite meal. She smiled at herself through a pocket sized cosmetics mirror and touched up her foundation, checked her teeth and applied red lipstick. She glanced at her watch and snapped from a food induced daydream. It was just reaching 5:45 in the evening. “I’m late for the group meeting tonight.” She let out an audible breathe, stood, brushed some crumbs of her skirt and departed.  Pulling a cigarette from her purse, she pressed it to her lips, lit it with a match that was fired after a quick strike from a matchbook and walked across Constitution Avenue.

“What is wrong with me?”

“No, nothing…” He stopped himself. “…still, I cannot get a grip on my unorganized, scattered thoughts.” “They seem to come from everywhere…not to mention those urgent and pressing, flights of fancy.” He toyed with that peculiar word and thought about how much he wanted to prove himself, to show everybody- to be capable. He pushed along these self-deprecating thoughts that were picking at him like a cloud of gnats.

“The doctors said, that drugs would help, those calming blues, and perky reds but I doubt that likely.” Scowling, a mistrust of society and authority sat on his chest. He was running his hands through his hair, twirling black tight locks around his finger. “I’m not so different than any others in my grade, I’m sure of it.” He wasn’t sure of it. The skinny teenager paused his thought, than inwardly expelled the rest. “I believe that throughout the whole bleeding history of humanity, everybody who had once crawled then walked has felt the slights and vexations that come from, ‘having to conform’- to fit accordingly.” “I’m not alone and this is natural, right?” He sat shaking his head. Why have I always felt confused and uncertain? He began to shout at his reflection in an advertisement framed in glass under a bus shelter.

I can never explain myself-even to myself!”

A gray wolf spider moved across the carpet into a ventilation system that lined the Metro cabin. His eyes absently followed it. “It’s a shame, a damn shame that ease of mind cannot be found in the young, let alone me.” He drummed the backs of his long, boney fingers on the window and tried to still his ceaseless mind. “Alas, question marks dot my life, that’s just the nature of things, I suppose.” Pillon Rehavya continued but this time, voiced himself with the ink of a pen. He thumbed through a cloth journal that he retrieved from a cargo pocket in his shorts and began to write:

I am no exception. Within the cogs of time and the machinations of men and all that is esteemed of sex and desire- I am no exception.” “Desperation and confusion have played as a rule in my life.” He mumbled as he wrote. “Wouldn’t it be great to masquerade about with such a mask of opulent confidence!” He peered over at the seat to his left. “Look at that guy, look at his coiffed hair, his 5 o’clock shadow and look how comfortable that girl who sits with him is.” He sighed shallowly as the girl of 20 or so wrapped a caressing and affectionate arm around her intimate. Pillon’s rambling broke off into another tangent “Wishes seldom come true and success is subjective but who gives a shit about a wish?” He tried to reassure himself that this was a temporary reality. He ruffled his black curly hair with a loose hand and scratched at an itch on his nose with the open palm of the other. His blue clothed journal remained balanced on his lap and the ordinary black pen with a chewed end rested in the center of the binding.

He stretched his fingers and thought dejectedly of all the beautiful women that would be destined to pass him by if he could not find resolution within himself.

I’d love to be romantic, and heck, If I could just relax.” His hands began to shake and his heart grew tremulous at the mere suggestion he had made. “These notions wouldn’t have to just remain in dreams but wrapped in the silk of sheets.” He wrote that down and shut the journal and returned it to his backpack at his feet. He put the pen behind his ear.

His eyes darted around him; he could have sworn someone was looking over his shoulder and reading along but that some shadow had retreated.  He looked out the window breathing a momentary fog onto the pane. As he readjusted his glasses, he sat longingly anticipating his first girlfriend.

He leaned his head against the window and gazed out at the gray rainy day. “During my slumber and during late, listless evenings, I see a deep, life affirming truth.” He tried to describe this glowing vision to himself, to put it to pen but he failed. He reached for the journal once more but stopped himself. It weren’t a goal or a path but some shining golden thing akin to the warmth of the sun. “To find and have a single truth and depend on and toil all of my days in its peace, watching its growth; the sprouting of a stem, the unfurling of a new tender leaf…” “That is my desire…with this, I imagine, everything else would fall into place.” He was worried and weary. He glanced over his shoulder once more then slouched on the bench and extended his feet in front of him.

His feet had felt heavy, but now rested and near the end of his excursion, they felt much lighter. He wanted to go for a walk. Deliberately, his shoes crossed. The scuffed brown leather that canvassed his feet began to wag to an unheard tempo. They continued in this fashion intermittently.

Strangely, Pillon felt the carpet shrug. It drew his attention downwards. The thin covering of the Metro cabin floor was indifferent to the abuse it was subjected to and consequently, designed to handle. Through its dereliction it seemed to tell an interesting story, a hazy recollection of itself and all its abusers. The pink-orange, faded and striped floor was pretty beat up. There were spots of gum, the guts of a cheap cigar, half eaten animal crackers, black scuffs and a variety of strange and sordid stains. The floor, with all of its proof, had a sort of indemnity against those who have crushed its dubious youthful beauty. Pillon could’ve sworn he heard it sigh.

“It is decidedly odd to have this connection with an inanimate object.” Pillon agreed to himself as oft times he had when an object decided to reveal itself to him. He concentrated on looking out the window of the cabin though a black tunnel with service lights illuminating dirty subterranean tracks were all he could see. Details wanted to speak to him at times, like some strange fever that came on- an irrational fit or stress based anxiety he concluded, parroting the thoughts of his psychiatrist and mother. He had an oddity that he couldn’t quite understand or get his mind around. It felt more or less normal to him though he was used to fighting it with trained mental exercises. What resulted was a view of life from very peculiar perspectives. Descriptions came like narratives from all manner of inexpressible things at what could be guessed, random times. For Pillon, it was almost a normal occurrence, an occurrence that professionals had recommended a cocktail of strong pills.

He pushed the stories and tedious analysis that plagued his beleaguered mind past and into the back of his mind. Eventually, the clamor of what was around him died away. Pillon could almost forget the situation until he chanced the next fever and the next shouting park bench or down-and-out crumpled tin can would command his attention.

The train had stopped at Metro Center and the normal rush of people surged on board. He was still to himself and his thoughts and declared aloud,

If there were powers beyond mortal ability, then I was given the damnedest and most frustrating!

He drew glances from the stranger that just alighted and a passenger to his nearest left who, perturbed, shifted uncomfortably giving Pillon the sanity check, that is, eyeing him discreetly. His extreme youth was a saving grace. As the metro car lined up at the next platform it lurched forward, rattled a moment then stopped abruptly with a squealing sound of grinding brakes.

A beautiful woman grabbed Pillon’s attention as she stepped from the grey marbled platform into the cabin. Her presence just socked him in the face and his mind reeled from the concussive force of the strike. Her stunning presence crossed the threshold of the two sliding doors and moved towards him and the open seat adjacent to him. She seemed to float over the filth of the floor that seemed all together silenced. She calmly sat down in the seat next to his.

Pillon’s mind raced. He could feel himself sweating like an awkward Robert Crumb sketch but a black and white cartoon this was not. The Metro cab jerked forward and began to speed along towards the next stop. He felt his heart beating like a hammer and was convinced that everyone could hear it. Perspiration built on his forehead and his cheeks turned red. “It feels like bombs are going off inside me, this is way too much!” He was frozen in anxiety.

As does a person who is on fire, Pillon jumped from one place to another, in his mind that is. “She doesn’t notice or doesn’t care; is it relief that she doesn’t notice or is it dread to think that I’m not even a blip on her radar!” He turned his head mechanically towards her and flashed a toothy smile but he couldn’t sustain anything more than that. Before she could reward the gesture with the brilliance of her own pearls, the dimples on her cheeks and the gold of her sparkling eyes, Pillon shot his eyes towards the floor. It laughed at him. That piteous carpet with such a sardonic attitude lay as smirking witness to his frustrations. Pillon drove the heel of his foot into the floor.

I’m drowning on land!” He yelled inside his head.

After practiced breathing exercises a strange quietness came over him. He took several more deep breathes to control himself; to wash away this biting and harassing anxiety. He managed to get his heart rate down from an Allegro to Moderato; Damned if it didn’t feel like thunder and damned if ol’ John Henry weren’t tearing up a mountain with a hammer inside his chest.

She was wearing a silk and cotton sundress that seemed to shimmer about her. Her black hair hung loosely about her shoulders, it radiated and filled the air with the aroma of honey and oranges. Her waist was slim and her legs were long dressed in black stockings. Pillon gawked as he hadn’t an inkling of subtlety; obviously she noticed. Smiling to herself she scanned the current issue of the Gazette newspaper. She flipped open the style section with a routine precision. Her skin was of fine alabaster, not in paleness but of a pure, blue-veined whiteness. She appeared as the ivory statue of Pygmalion but keen, modern and chic.

In his naiveté and hot-blooded excitement, Pillon gave birth to a half-baked epiphany:

“This woman is a walking testament that real beauty is truth!” He brightly concluded this idea in his head that, “It’s alive, wild and loose in the women who pass alongside mortals.” He divined her goddess of truth and love-insomuch as Pillon had ever known. He suddenly knew what he needed to do in order to battle and contest his dramatic and youthful outpourings. His ramblings formed new meanings and clarity came to him as if amidst a natural clearing. What he had to do was simply to speak but alas, his courage skittered in retreated back into the woods.

Doors opening, this is Farragut North” a tired, heavily colloquial voice buzzed in from a speaker above him. He drew his eyes away from the hypnotic trance of the woman. He gathered his coat and stood quickly but he lost his footing. The snickering floor broke his fall. He jumped to his feet once more before the train stopped and it threw him violently again but this time, against the metal bracing pole. “Fuck!” He grabbed his face in pain and his eyes darted around the train.

To Pillon time had completely stopped and for him the worst thing that could have happened came to pass: everyone was staring at him. After what had felt like a lifetime of embarrassment and pain the car halted. The doors slid open and he hurled himself of the train and onto the platform, cursing himself all the while.

His heart was about to leap out of his throat and blood was streaming out of his nose. He sat down on a gray stone step, removed a handkerchief from his coat and held it to his face. Onlookers smirked or shook their head as they remarked to one another. He muttered profanely to himself for a few minutes before standing upright on the platform. He collected himself and exited the underground station. A sad inspiration came to him and he pulled a scrap of paper from his journal and jotted down his thoughts:

“Emerging from that dark tunnel,
To be defeated by this evening mist,
The clouds are too heavy
The clouds are too low,
Moving upwards,
Slowly forwards,
The escalator screams nonsense,
Car exhaust meets burning rubber,
Crisp and clean as it may seem,
That while these people beam,
I stand here and bleed,
…Bloody obscene.”

“Oh, you never cease to amaze me…” He sighed dejectedly. Unsatisfied, he folded the paper into his pocket and stepped off the escalator.

Vol. 1, Branded Souls, Chapter 2: The Beautiful, The Awkward

She pointed her thoughts towards the many visitors while she unwrapped her Italian hoagie sandwich from its white deli paper. Lest, she be absorbed in her own thoughts she mused for a time at the awkward ensemble of typical tourists ambling about; waist packs, visors, too much sun screen, brightly colored city shirts and aggressively styled hiking boots. It was drizzling outside but still, the sun shined. The light rain speckled the dusty foot lanes. The tourists walking here on the National Mall’s strip of turf and gravel lanes were prepared as such. Many paused for photographs, a few jogged by fresh from a business meeting across the bridge, several sat leisurely pointing and striking up conversations while children went on laughing and chasing about to the tune of dogs barking and pigeons softly pecking at crumbs.

To her left was the Capitol building and its reflection pool that had been drained for renovation and to the right was the National Monument, as white and phallic as ever. She gave little thought to her left and right for what she held in her hands was an excellent creation of man and it was lunch time. She looked down at the baguette; it was a freshly baked hard-roll and it was stuffed with all the traditional fixings that encompassed an Italian sub sandwich: Capicola ham, Genoa salami, Provolone, hot peppers, sun dried tomatoes and thinly sliced red onions- to her great satisfaction that little Sicilian sub shop in Cleveland Park always topped their creations with a healthy amount of virgin olive oil, barrel aged wine vinegar and oregano.

She had to restrain herself, she was famished. The Italian sub sandwich was halfway finished before she could even take her eyes off the thing. She paused and dabbed her mouth with a napkin and resumed the airs of that dainty beautiful thing that had not missed breakfast and lunch. The sun was sinking low and in the setting sun, the monuments glowed regally. “This is what spring is all about- the sunsets, the smells and tastes and equally the distractions.” She lovingly thought but a shadow darkened her brow. “It had been a long winter with little income and heaps of depression-all that is beyond me now and what lay ahead, I will greet with open arms.” Seeing so many bright, optimistic faces on a satisfied though very full stomach rejuvenated her.

She laughed to herself at a group of Segway motorist whirring by with guarded self-importance. “What a peculiar site.” She took the last bite of her sub and was pleased as always with the sheer brilliancy of her favorite meal. She smiled at herself through a pocket sized cosmetics mirror and touched up her foundation, checked her teeth and applied red lipstick. She glanced at her watch and snapped from a food induced daydream. It was just reaching 5:45 in the evening. “I’m late for the group meeting tonight.” She let out an audible breathe, stood, brushed some crumbs of her skirt and departed.  Pulling a cigarette from her purse, she pressed it to her lips, lit it with a match that was fired after a quick strike from a matchbook and walked across Constitution Avenue.

“What is wrong with me?”

“No, nothing…” He stopped himself. “…still, I cannot get a grip on my unorganized, scattered thoughts.” “They seem to come from everywhere…not to mention those urgent and pressing, flights of fancy.” He toyed with that peculiar word and thought about how much he wanted to prove himself, to show everybody- to be capable. He pushed along these self-deprecating thoughts that were picking at him like a cloud of gnats.

“The doctors said, that drugs would help, those calming blues, and perky reds but I doubt that likely.” Scowling, a mistrust of society and authority sat on his chest. He was running his hands through his hair, twirling black tight locks around his finger. “I’m not so different than any others in my grade, I’m sure of it.” He wasn’t sure of it. The skinny teenager paused his thought, than inwardly expelled the rest. “I believe that throughout the whole bleeding history of humanity, everybody who had once crawled then walked has felt the slights and vexations that come from, ‘having to conform’- to fit accordingly.” “I’m not alone and this is natural, right?” He sat shaking his head. Why have I always felt confused and uncertain? He began to shout at his reflection in an advertisement framed in glass under a bus shelter.

I can never explain myself-even to myself!”

A gray wolf spider moved across the carpet into a ventilation system that lined the Metro cabin. His eyes absently followed it. “It’s a shame, a damn shame that ease of mind cannot be found in the young, let alone me.” He drummed the backs of his long, boney fingers on the window and tried to still his ceaseless mind. “Alas, question marks dot my life, that’s just the nature of things, I suppose.” Pillon Rehavya continued but this time, voiced himself with the ink of a pen. He thumbed through a cloth journal that he retrieved from a cargo pocket in his shorts and began to write:

I am no exception. Within the cogs of time and the machinations of men and all that is esteemed of sex and desire- I am no exception.” “Desperation and confusion have played as a rule in my life.” He mumbled as he wrote. “Wouldn’t it be great to masquerade about with such a mask of opulent confidence!” He peered over at the seat to his left. “Look at that guy, look at his coiffed hair, his 5 o’clock shadow and look how comfortable that girl who sits with him is.” He sighed shallowly as the girl of 20 or so wrapped a caressing and affectionate arm around her intimate. Pillon’s rambling broke off into another tangent “Wishes seldom come true and success is subjective but who gives a shit about a wish?” He tried to reassure himself that this was a temporary reality. He ruffled his black curly hair with a loose hand and scratched at an itch on his nose with the open palm of the other. His blue clothed journal remained balanced on his lap and the ordinary black pen with a chewed end rested in the center of the binding.

He stretched his fingers and thought dejectedly of all the beautiful women that would be destined to pass him by if he could not find resolution within himself.

I’d love to be romantic, and heck, If I could just relax.” His hands began to shake and his heart grew tremulous at the mere suggestion he had made. “These notions wouldn’t have to just remain in dreams but wrapped in the silk of sheets.” He wrote that down and shut the journal and returned it to his backpack at his feet. He put the pen behind his ear.

His eyes darted around him; he could have sworn someone was looking over his shoulder and reading along but that some shadow had retreated.  He looked out the window breathing a momentary fog onto the pane. As he readjusted his glasses, he sat longingly anticipating his first girlfriend.

He leaned his head against the window and gazed out at the gray rainy day. “During my slumber and during late, listless evenings, I see a deep, life affirming truth.” He tried to describe this glowing vision to himself, to put it to pen but he failed. He reached for the journal once more but stopped himself. It weren’t a goal or a path but some shining golden thing akin to the warmth of the sun. “To find and have a single truth and depend on and toil all of my days in its peace, watching its growth; the sprouting of a stem, the unfurling of a new tender leaf…” “That is my desire…with this, I imagine, everything else would fall into place.” He was worried and weary. He glanced over his shoulder once more then slouched on the bench and extended his feet in front of him.

His feet had felt heavy, but now rested and near the end of his excursion, they felt much lighter. He wanted to go for a walk. Deliberately, his shoes crossed. The scuffed brown leather that canvassed his feet began to wag to an unheard tempo. They continued in this fashion intermittently.

Strangely, Pillon felt the carpet shrug. It drew his attention downwards. The thin covering of the Metro cabin floor was indifferent to the abuse it was subjected to and consequently, designed to handle. Through its dereliction it seemed to tell an interesting story, a hazy recollection of itself and all its abusers. The pink-orange, faded and striped floor was pretty beat up. There were spots of gum, the guts of a cheap cigar, half eaten animal crackers, black scuffs and a variety of strange and sordid stains. The floor, with all of its proof, had a sort of indemnity against those who have crushed its dubious youthful beauty. Pillon could’ve sworn he heard it sigh.

“It is decidedly odd to have this connection with an inanimate object.” Pillon agreed to himself as oft times he had when an object decided to reveal itself to him. He concentrated on looking out the window of the cabin though a black tunnel with service lights illuminating dirty subterranean tracks were all he could see. Details wanted to speak to him at times, like some strange fever that came on- an irrational fit or stress based anxiety he concluded, parroting the thoughts of his psychiatrist and mother. He had an oddity that he couldn’t quite understand or get his mind around. It felt more or less normal to him though he was used to fighting it with trained mental exercises. What resulted was a view of life from very peculiar perspectives. Descriptions came like narratives from all manner of inexpressible things at what could be guessed, random times. For Pillon, it was almost a normal occurrence, an occurrence that professionals had recommended a cocktail of strong pills.

He pushed the stories and tedious analysis that plagued his beleaguered mind past and into the back of his mind. Eventually, the clamor of what was around him died away. Pillon could almost forget the situation until he chanced the next fever and the next shouting park bench or down-and-out crumpled tin can would command his attention.

The train had stopped at Metro Center and the normal rush of people surged on board. He was still to himself and his thoughts and declared aloud,

If there were powers beyond mortal ability, then I was given the damnedest and most frustrating!

He drew glances from the stranger that just alighted and a passenger to his nearest left who, perturbed, shifted uncomfortably giving Pillon the sanity check, that is, eyeing him discreetly. His extreme youth was a saving grace. As the metro car lined up at the next platform it lurched forward, rattled a moment then stopped abruptly with a squealing sound of grinding brakes.

A beautiful woman grabbed Pillon’s attention as she stepped from the grey marbled platform into the cabin. Her presence just socked him in the face and his mind reeled from the concussive force of the strike. Her stunning presence crossed the threshold of the two sliding doors and moved towards him and the open seat adjacent to him. She seemed to float over the filth of the floor that seemed all together silenced. She calmly sat down in the seat next to his.

Pillon’s mind raced. He could feel himself sweating like an awkward Robert Crumb sketch but a black and white cartoon this was not. The Metro cab jerked forward and began to speed along towards the next stop. He felt his heart beating like a hammer and was convinced that everyone could hear it. Perspiration built on his forehead and his cheeks turned red. “It feels like bombs are going off inside me, this is way too much!” He was frozen in anxiety.

As does a person who is on fire, Pillon jumped from one place to another, in his mind that is. “She doesn’t notice or doesn’t care; is it relief that she doesn’t notice or is it dread to think that I’m not even a blip on her radar!” He turned his head mechanically towards her and flashed a toothy smile but he couldn’t sustain anything more than that. Before she could reward the gesture with the brilliance of her own pearls, the dimples on her cheeks and the gold of her sparkling eyes, Pillon shot his eyes towards the floor. It laughed at him. That piteous carpet with such a sardonic attitude lay as smirking witness to his frustrations. Pillon drove the heel of his foot into the floor.

I’m drowning on land!” He yelled inside his head.

After practiced breathing exercises a strange quietness came over him. He took several more deep breathes to control himself; to wash away this biting and harassing anxiety. He managed to get his heart rate down from an Allegro to Moderato; Damned if it didn’t feel like thunder and damned if ol’ John Henry weren’t tearing up a mountain with a hammer inside his chest.

She was wearing a silk and cotton sundress that seemed to shimmer about her. Her black hair hung loosely about her shoulders, it radiated and filled the air with the aroma of honey and oranges. Her waist was slim and her legs were long dressed in black stockings. Pillon gawked as he hadn’t an inkling of subtlety; obviously she noticed. Smiling to herself she scanned the current issue of the Gazette newspaper. She flipped open the style section with a routine precision. Her skin was of fine alabaster, not in paleness but of a pure, blue-veined whiteness. She appeared as the ivory statue of Pygmalion but keen, modern and chic.

In his naiveté and hot-blooded excitement, Pillon gave birth to a half-baked epiphany:

“This woman is a walking testament that real beauty is truth!” He brightly concluded this idea in his head that, “It’s alive, wild and loose in the women who pass alongside mortals.” He divined her goddess of truth and love-insomuch as Pillon had ever known. He suddenly knew what he needed to do in order to battle and contest his dramatic and youthful outpourings. His ramblings formed new meanings and clarity came to him as if amidst a natural clearing. What he had to do was simply to speak but alas, his courage skittered in retreated back into the woods.

Doors opening, this is Farragut North” a tired, heavily colloquial voice buzzed in from a speaker above him. He drew his eyes away from the hypnotic trance of the woman. He gathered his coat and stood quickly but he lost his footing. The snickering floor broke his fall. He jumped to his feet once more before the train stopped and it threw him violently again but this time, against the metal bracing pole. “Fuck!” He grabbed his face in pain and his eyes darted around the train.

To Pillon time had completely stopped and for him the worst thing that could have happened came to pass: everyone was staring at him. After what had felt like a lifetime of embarrassment and pain the car halted. The doors slid open and he hurled himself of the train and onto the platform, cursing himself all the while.

His heart was about to leap out of his throat and blood was streaming out of his nose. He sat down on a gray stone step, removed a handkerchief from his coat and held it to his face. Onlookers smirked or shook their head as they remarked to one another. He muttered profanely to himself for a few minutes before standing upright on the platform. He collected himself and exited the underground station. A sad inspiration came to him and he pulled a scrap of paper from his journal and jotted down his thoughts:

“Emerging from that dark tunnel,
To be defeated by this evening mist,
The clouds are too heavy
The clouds are too low,
Moving upwards,
Slowly forwards,
The escalator screams nonsense,
Car exhaust meets burning rubber,
Crisp and clean as it may seem,
That while these people beam,
I stand here and bleed,
…Bloody obscene.”

“Oh, you never cease to amaze me…” He sighed dejectedly. Unsatisfied, he folded the paper into his pocket and stepped off the escalator.