The Coming of the Ice Age: Dreams and Sings the Minotaur in His Man-Made Abode
Cold is seeping deep into the earth. Freezing drafts descend, whistling through pipes and vents. In his prison deep below the ground, there are no longer corners free from chill. His feeling of abandonment swells. The cold is fracturing his mind, his memory. Meaning, like a huge sheet of ice on a lake, is cracking, breaking of its own frozen intensity. Deep in the dark and mad, the Minotaur sings:
Chef barbarismus diety spielt
Dum ter tremendum oni swat
Triumphante imperio divo
On fat roller rubis puis aeternitas
Trashans ter triumphante iti
Mors Habet voluntate final
Entirety ever - me, me, me!
Non postulans mihi hearing end no more
Puisance entiretate mihi
In aeternam eater silence vast sublime.
His arias and recitatives echoing in the ever tighter labyrinth of his prison are the last resistance to frozen abandonment. The mocking light of the pale sun and the chill blue of the full moon fall into his prison through deep shafts. He prefers shadow and its memories. The muffled voices of men and women and children crying, laughing, lying, trickle down through the vents. They are afraid. Their words return to him in dreams. He tells himself stories and he sings.
In the darkness of the night, he performs all the parts, sings all the roles. He repeats his little operas over and over. His bellowing and anguish, so strangled and deep prevent men, women, children from coming near the shafts where he can be heard. Throughout the city his echoes produce unease. The world will turn to ice. These are the songs still throbbing at its core.
The Minotaur knows songs and stories. Whom he learned them from, he cannot recall. He recalls a man's voice telling him a history. To know that his suffering has a history is a consolation. It reminds him that it may therefore, someday, have an end. The Minotaur whispers:
Thousands of years ago, a King, Ashoka, conquered the earth. The memory of betrayals and the absence of love had blackened his heart. Rage fueled his conquest. When all nations lay at his feet, he decided to build a replica of the world he possessed.
He summoned the greatest architects, artists and artisans, stonemasons, joiners, plasterers and painters. He conscripted tens of thousands of laborers. Thus he erected a palace unimaginably lavish and irresistibly beautiful. Its proportions were perfect and harmonious. It had walls of white marble, cinnabar columns, porticoes of multicolored agate, silver doors adorned with emeralds, rubies, sapphires, windows of quartz, and a roof of gold tiles, adorned with spires of alabaster, domes of turquoise, bronze water spouts in the form of dragons, lions, tigers, phoenixes. It had the beauty of the sea at sunset and the mountains at dawn.
But inside the palace, all was shadow, smoke and darkness. It was a labyrinth from which none could escape. Corridors led nowhere, courts were open sewers, nooks were alive with vermin. All who entered found that this palace so outwardly beautiful was actually a vast torture house. The air smelled of blood and excrement. Sobs and muffled screams filled the air. Seeking a way out, they found themselves circling in a maze. They entered huge chambers filled with racks on which people were being pulled apart. Small men used spikes, knives, hammers, saws and every device for inflicting pain on screaming victims tied to posts. Branding irons and red-hot pokers pulled fresh from braziers left no inch of skin unscored. Naked men and women were hurled into cauldrons of boiling water and half-drowned in tanks of freezing water. From the ceiling, bodies still alive hung from chains on razor hooks and nooses. Everywhere bare-chested sweating men in black hoods wielded strange-shaped metal instruments to tear and break the bodies of women, children, old men and young. It was impossible to shut out the smell and the din. The visitors ran from room to room until they too were caught, tortured, killed.
This was King Ashoka's vision of the world where, entranced by beauty, there was no escape from excruciation, madness, and death. He ordered that none who entered could ever leave. He went to inspect his handiwork, stepped through the gates, and the guards, despite his protestations, did not let him leave.
The Minotaur strides past the half frozen vapor in the stone-walled sewers that link the chambers where he rests. He chants in whispered passage, chants to keep some warmth. His singing is grotesque. It is not like the voice of the woman who, he thinks, sang these songs beside a well. Far below, he heard her voice and imagines her elegant face. He sings so he can imagine once again.
Lost in darkening arcs, suspended sky:
Solar momentary gold-reddening light;
Do we leave anything behind?
Who can change pain and puzzle, life and time?
Fire and love may rise above the empty lake,
A mud flat now, bleak absent reflected light
Stretching like an evening without rain
And drying to a pained expanse
Of hard, heart-broken night.
He remembers. He shudders, The Minotaur tries to explain to himself his suffering. He thinks:
Supreme terror and complete annihilation. All resolutions and intentions gone. The antipodes of torment now without meaning. Phenomena appear and disappear. There is no reference point. Nothing binds, no thread, no net. Freezing, There is pain. A rainbow sky of searing intensities without meaning.
The world of the spoken word: memory requires effort, temporary fascination, recalling the useful. Tied in the body's survival. Holding the glory of living. The beauties we have seen, the fear, the splendor, the frozen end.
And so, there are his songs. He tries to sing in the manner of the songs he heard. Tries to remember, but each times he sings, he does not know if they are changing. Even in his prison, there is no stability. He howls out this sonnet:
FIRE OF TORMENT
Experience burns in the neon signs'
Fevered pulses: red, blue and glass encased,
Indifferent promptings; tortures that refine
A rage of unreality and race
Across the black junk heap of disused arts
(Images cut out from Passionate Fame)
Blowing on the streets, where excised of hearts
Crazy-blank angry Heads eyeball a game
Of reality reduced to the edge
Of a stimulated pain; a steel blade
Cuts while coming a nipple in a wedge,
Jamming bliss and suffering to evade
The mocking chrome-lit crying cars
Drugged and remembered in a night of stars.
Shivering, he tries to sleep but even the world of dreams is intolerable, a mirror of the world of those who, dying, dwell above him. Their world is contracting. As cold expands, there is less room for life. They plan, they even joke, but he hears the undertone of terror in their voices. He leaps up. He stands at the bottom of a shaft, looking upward to the cold stars. He thrusts back his giant heavy head. This is his dream. He roars and whispers. He wants to crack the descending dome of cold. He wants to wake the night. He dreams.
He has seen the little girl is walking down the corridor. It is solid and quiet like the hallways in her school, and she pauses at a half-open door. In the dim oblique light, she sees a cement walled room. A woman, middle aged, is strapped to a heavy wooden chair. She is wearing a stained night-gown. The chair is bolted to the floor; the straps are leather, worn. Two sweating men are working on her. They have their backs to the door.
One man lifts a glass gallon bottle of bright red fluid over the woman's head. A black rubber hose is attached to the bottle mouth. The other man, with one hand holds the rubber hose and forces it down the woman's throat. With his other hand, he holds her nose. The red fluid is forced down her throat and into her stomach. She struggles weakly.
The little girl watches from the doorway, but the scene seems very distant. She watches the red water empty from the bottle into the woman in the chair. The little girl can imagine the pain; she can feel the woman's stomach expanding as she swallows rather than drown. Despite the panic, the woman is too exhausted to do more than wiggle a little and moan. Urine spatters on the floor. She has given up hope. There is no answer, no response she can give that will make her torturers give her back her power over herself. She is at the mercy of others. This will not change. She is at the mercy of those who have no mercy.
The little girl stands in the doorway. She clearly imagines the pain, the feeling of utter abandonment, but it is far away. At the far end of the room, she sees a man in a crisp dark suit sitting at a desk quietly taking notes.
The man in the suit looks up. His gaze is curious without emotion. Standing in the doorway, the little girl feels very young. Though what she is watching does not now touch her, she knows, knows absolutely that this can, this will happen to her one day. The man writing it all down has seen her.
Frozen, he curls in a corner, rests his furry horned head on his cold naked knees. Is there, finally, some way to imagine his life of day and night imprisonment, his endless suffering, his endless loneliness, as having any end or meaning? His breath is slowing. He is shivering but his blood is becoming thick with tiny crystals of ice. The treasure of all his sorrows is a story he heard an old man tell a boy many years ago. They were standing by the shaft as the old man recited the tale. Clearly, the man had memorized it, and it was a very old story.
He listened and, though he did not believe the story, he likewise memorized it. It is now his only solace.
THE CONJURED CITY:
The great disciple explained: "My master, the Buddha, knew that those who wished to escape from tormented confusion in this life would have to traverse a steep and treacherous path. On their journey, again and again, they would encounter their own attachments and false beliefs. Constantly they would justify their cowardice and delusion. Seeing there how ingrained was their self-deception, they would become disheartened. They would no longer believe they could free themselves or realize the awakened nature. They could not help but wish to stop on their journey. They would say:
'We cannot go further. There is still such a great distance ahead. We want to turn back.'
"Then the Buddha, a man of many stratagems said: 'Don't be afraid! Soon we will reach a great city where you can stop and rest. Later, when you have the strength, you can continue your journey.' Thus encouraged, they continued.
"Soon a city, with high crimson walls and bronze gates came into view. The exhausted travelers were overjoyed. They pressed forward and entered the city. The residents were spiritual people and welcomed the travelers as kinsmen. Broad airy boulevards led to bountiful markets, quiet gardens, libraries, temples, food stalls. Warm breezes carried the scent of spices, faint perfumes, the faint sounds of chanting. The voyagers rested, studied and meditated in comfort. They cultivated spiritual awakening.
"When the Awakened One saw that his students had regained their strength and confidence, he dissolved this splendid city into thin air. Nothing remained but a cold cloudless blue sky, harsh mountains and a faint rocky pathway. The followers looked around in shock. 'The city was a phantom conjured from your desires. The awakened state is as close as your eyelash to your eye.'"
Roaring, roaring, he cannot stop. He is waiting. He has heard the stories, the consolations, the words. The Minotaur knows the hero with his relentless guile and his frozen steel sword is inside him. Death is the sole deliverance fate will grant him. The Minotaur is immobilized in a story that gave him life. Ice is covering the world. His world is frozen in a single set of possibilities. All else are dreams and songs. The Minotaur is afraid, tormented by the moon, by wishes, by roaring and unending madness, by ice, the songs no one else will know.
writes: "I was a research associate at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, studied and practiced under Tibetan Buddhist teachers for 30 years. I wrote the National Film Board of Canada's prize-winning two part series on the Tibetan Book of the Dead
(Leonard Cohen, narrator) and the libretti for two operas: King Gesar
(Sony CD w/ Ma, Serkin, Ax et. al.) and Ashoka's Dream
(Santa Fe Opera) with composer Peter Lieberson. I received a grant from The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry to write a new rendition the Gesar of Ling
epic. Shorter works have appeared in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Hungary, Pakistan, the Czech Republic, India, Malaysia, France (Parabola, Bombay Gin, Descant, Contrary, Agni, BODY, Cahiers de L'Herne, Hyperallergic, Tricycle
etc.) Short performance pieces have been done in Canada, Israel, Germany, South Africa. My novel about the 3rd Ming Emperor, A Journey of the North Star
is available from Publerati
. My new novel about spiritual adventurers and their disappointments, Dreamers and Their Shadows
, is available from Mountain Treasury Press