Trois Hommes

by dschapman

Call me Daniel, after Daniel in the lion’s den, that is, the interpreter of dreams – he who saved his friends from the flames, white fire, the penance of heat and exhaustion, said nothing, did nothing, alive with the kings in the den of the hungry – Daniel of the double chiasm, chronologically sound. Daniel in the lion’s den had three close friends, and I have three friends, too. They have seen all the flames that did raze me, they have all seen me sleeping with hungering monsters. They have witnessed the visions I dreamt in the night, seeing me spread my visions abroad like pale wash on fresh cotton, admiring. Three friends, with their fires, three people I knew and admired…

Call one of them Luke, after Luke of the good samaritan, Luke of the prodigal son. Luke was the man of humanity, who spoke of the suffering, the outcast of Christ, Luke of compassion, the outcast of Christ. He was handsome, immeasurable, in pain unassured. He tried to say his name aloud, but something callous choked him. Unable to measure himself with the stars, he folded himself up in the deep of his chest and he rested there. unnerving, undying arising from life to its likelessness. Drifting past the river, arriving one night in some dangerous city, with rapists and toothaches and modernist landmarks, a snake in a snowfall in seeming impurity. He suffered from sleep deprivation, close to the chest, cold in his chest, with his eyelids held tight and his fingers like marigolds. He smuggled his truths through to life in his fingers, truths close to the chest so nobody could spy them, defile them, afraid in the den with the suffering lions. Truths too external, too wide and too real, though too did he share them, and play with them, and him in them then did they yet know him, did they yet feel relief; the rise of the thermals arisen, of life and of being in the whirlpool that lost them, lost endings, lost swaggers and stumbles and doorbells, yet ringing. Doorbells broken, broken thumbs. There were many broken thumbs, then, and many broken painters; protected, they gathered together, we painters, and painted in doorways, yet ringing the doorbells; many open mouths a-grinning, widening, eyes outright chiming with cool new indifference, subtle disruptions of faith and of innocence…

Summer glowed coolly like light on wet earth and Luke was a man in a chair leaning over. His fist on his chin and the posture bent over, the paintings in light on the face of the vector, transmitting his constructs and truths, new and voluminous truths, frayed ends unaesthetic, a magnetist. Animal magnetism, striding wide distance in blind imitation, the water left rot in the trough full of hay… Yes, he was a genius then. He stood on the edge of the precipice, laughing, as often were we laughing then. Gently drifting, tides of men, into his hands, into his world and not discreetly, and then to me, and then in me they came again, I realized them, I trembled. There were worlds he could not handle and worlds he left alone, places he slept in with darkness unsourced in the perilous streets, with sheets on the wood and with trains leaving stations, with buses and tickets and money thrown down on the dining room floor. Never a bluff, and never a vain inhibition. Mad inconsequentalism. He slept with dead silence, with curious fear, on floorboards, floating still. He got wild in the heat of the night, in the wilderness, without lions, full of hunger. He emptied out his pockets of gold in the river, quoting Rimbaud, or Newman and Dean, or the tapes that they spun from the handles like cellophane, the murderous midnight belief machines, the beastly and tremulous wild men, the pipes that lay smoking in sand, in bushes, dry bushes caught fire from smoke in the sand, flax baskets, rusted buckets of railroad ties, above rumbling dunes of strange sifting sands, rambling at the gates of dawn, bottles upward…

And although he kept me by his side, and although he told me what love was, I wondered where to go with him, what to do with such villains as these, what cowards and poets and poisoned conquistadors. I tried to outrun him, alive at the sight of him, alive yet in spite of him. I tried to outdo him, doing him in with the wind at his back in the daytime, with the nails in his bed and the shades on the window drawn tight. I came up through the void like a whale from the depths to the surface to breathe, to break up the ships as they spied me my whiteness, my terrible meaningless bouyancy, rising like fire right into the air. And then I was gone, and he farther, and alone in some lonely infinity. We parted our ways, changing our worlds and divining new mystic propensities. I resided at leisure in wardrobes, surrounded by brass and mahogany, stuffing ink into canisters, drinking gin from tin cans. He, meanwhile, traced his name in the ashes, his tongue in the mud and his trousers in pieces. He wandered the earth in inner unfolding mysteries. I gave him new trousers, he tore them to pieces. I smoked and he drank and I played with our people, our world made of earth, a gamble of life in the highs of society. I said, This is the way, and I’ll live with it. But he never gambled his life away. He kept to himself, true innards, true nameless virginities, badness in openness, blue open moons and blue open horizons… but I did not forgot him, nor he ever me. I kept his life in a chest in the hall, every last piece of it. I entered his name in a book full of names, and slipped it back into my pocket. I watched while the planets broke out of alignment, while Saturn kept face and Uranus met Mars. He was nestled in his ether of cold discontent, the spacious unknowingness of primordial eternity, of bottomless life and unfathomed mortality, unrepentant. Love, battered thin into metal, into films that lay furrowed in whims so unmentionable, in desert oases he drank to his death. He was known to the schoolboys for now and antiquity, in vicious dark circles, confused aural furies, blowing the smoke that it rose through our chimneys, spreading new truths and new morbid ferocities, like me, indifferently. Simplified mythologies that couldn’t stand still, beat against cages like rugs against columns, rung against trees like the backs of the dying yet dead, only dying. Though were known together, our edges kept listless in tandem, and though we sat watching the night as it fell to the skyline forever, broken up by the mountains and towers of steel, broken light over constructs that bellow and echoed, though we were endless, everything changed, changes that called for eternity. Skulls rolled in mirth from within living cages, skin stretched like cloth over motion and bone, thin and peeling.

And when we woke up, and when we fell asleep again, and when we ladled the soup out and sipped mellow drinks without speaking, those were the times that I envied him. One time did I find him in the arms of the skeletal monsters, crawling and moaning and birthing the earth. He writhed with the lost and the homeless and his wings beat the air into hurricanes, winds which swept us up like old houses around him and threw us to the ground. But by day he was gentle. By day he was walking down highways, or laying in beds drifting edgeways, water and lilies and passionate thoughts. By day he was living, by nightfall a preacher, and always bound up beyond all understanding, rising past science towards death all descending. I should have given him money – I should have laid down with him in alleys, laid still while the engines came up from their stores, the tracks rattled longways beneath us, the oars fell to snakes in the gravel and mud, while the monsters perused open orphanage, while he sat on the sidewalk with no one beside him and cradled his head in his hands, with his teeth caked in vomit, with coal in his eyes. But that was not the way to do it. It was to be sweeter, deeper than that. It was to be deeply submerged. I hid from him then, in the closets or alleys. I sank in the seats of my car when I passed him. Those were different times… mankind was very different then. Our kind was very different then, and we kept to the shadows, and cowered in bricks, ground up into powder and boiled in spoons… the night was very then… he was beautiful then, when nights permitted such beauty. He was a child, then, when children roamed over the earth. He knew how to see, and he knew how to pray…

Call my other friend John, after John of the Cross, or just John of the old Jordan river – the logos, the word and the word alone yet forsaken, the beginning with the word when the word was of God, or God without virtue, God without victim like worlds without wind. John was an idol, a figure of vigor, but he was also knee-deep in the river, where he was bound to soon drownwith the rest of them. He was close to the plains but his flutter outgrew him, his heartbeat outpaced his new confidence. When he was young, and his port was burning, he was powerful, but his wits were outfitted with negligence, with insolence, one-onwardness and water but hardly a canteen to carry it. He splashed in the water while stars spun around in the ether, while over his head the way was well-lit and the dangers in thunder. Thunder frightens, never kills, rivers rarely drown save the strong currents, save ice in the winter and rocks in the spring. Wood borne up onto walls like a marksman, a trick with some paste, a moment of gold intuition, though stolen, though low. His pen led its way from the shed to the reservoir, where it drowned with him, where it slipped and fell in, and it never got out of the rain. Worlds for young John and a beautiful happening, good tidings that came and new blossoms that grew, indiscreetly, fully, alive and as vibrant. We made it that far, we would take it much farther, weapons behind us, our thoughts in the air. I was in the midst of the ninety-nine when the tremors up-ruptured the numbers and scattered the gold across deserts of gold, where I could not even find it, had nothing to covet, no reason to care. White and pale and clear effervescent, it was simply too much to behold, it was worlds too beholden and raptures too clean. Colors up-ruptured from cleanliness, pulled out of the clefts and stuffed into the flesh wounds, crucified poets and dusty old feathers, tar-babies and fox furs and phone lines left floating overhead. Inhibitions unknown and unchecked, viciousness inner and cyclical. Cold forms cast their shadows in backgrounds, in the mirror panoramic, and lovers grew soft from the soil, status and utmost significance, illusory elusion, barrels of water and bushels of fruit, the present carved into aesthetics, the universe carved up into shapes and relations, colors and concepts and vain limitations. There were worlds that they walked in before us, men with their hands in the heart of the demon itself, men who walked earths and who made up new morals, men as in they who did build these machines, these ovens and guillotines. Steel was thus rolled and trade secrets were printed and shared…. I remember once, I grabbed him by the collar and pulled him in deep, down into the den with the lions and me, and with trembling fingers and sweat on my brow, with sugar in my lungs and wool wrapped around me, I said to him; This is me, this is the lion’s den, this is it and it is awe-inspiring, yes this is happening, and this is a terror, so frail, so believable. “This, then, is me, and I am wonderful; see thee these lions, silenced and mellow.” I made him read books and I told him I was in them, as though I had written them. I made him watch movies and I told him I was in them, as though I were rebels and outlaws with guns. I would not fight and would not argue, but sometimes still I hurt him, and sometimes I looked down on him, like I was some Jesus himself, like I could do better, knew better, like I had lived further and better than he; but I am no Christ! I am a Daniel. Weaving dreams in the depths of the lion den, the lions at bay, timid and starving. My monsters were silenced, timid and starving, but there were other monsters than mine! The monsters of Luke and the monsters of John. Those were the monsters – those were the terrific brutes! The monsters that John could raise up from the river… they were magnificent things. Magnificent cities, dredged up from the seafloor like ships from the wreckage, pulled up from a crevice I never had seen. There were bounties, then, and then harvested. Mountaintops, though they remained in the distance; valleys, though we slept on our sides in them, though we rolled in the grass in them, playing Men in the forest, Men in the hunt with their conquests behind them, visions ahead of them, visits from spirits and gods for to guide them, divine inspiration, sublime intuitions… The sun overhead, the sun’s wonder shining, without cancer or shadow, a fullness unblemished and fabled like ancients once wrote. Cold smells and cold shapes in our lungs, cold promises kept and yet broken. New heels clicking loudly on hardwood, envious scabbards. Marble floors in marble mansions, whores drinking gin on a blanket spread over the cloverbed, singing and kissing in gowns with us men by the apple tree… Ax-handles left in the stump on the hillside. Hot plates, and iron skillets, and secrets of darkness and mystical visions, total and hopeless knowing, glowing. Knowledge, manufactured, spread thin like manure over pastures unbothered. Ice in the streams sometimes breaks upon boulders, sometimes takes shape to the bends of the coastline to capture the edges in stasis. That was not then, though still not is now, but somehow has been, and can never be again. Times already ended, beginnings unended, new endings. Views have been held over cities delinquent, nights have been spent in a sweet dim camaraderie, knives in our belts gleaming steely. Even a fireplace, and even a fence, and even a window unopened. Even a photograph, a reflection, collage. Anything happened, anything good and unmemorable. Nothing but wonder, and thunder unmurderous, goodness spread thinner than froth. And though there atrocities, so too were there explosions, and exaltations, and souls thus exhumed from the soil below us, magic raised up out of musk into dank and to dimlessness. Fabrics unwoven, drawings undrawn, no womb in the birthing thus birthed into magic; video tapes, left taping, left telling the stories of the snow and my life, my life as a boy when I played in the snow, when tales did I tell them, did I lie and I cun and I tumble, unknowing all science, soft leather unpolished, soft cashmere unstretched – good things, clean shaven, good tidings. The kicking horses though rampant would come to our whistles, and so we whistled, and they came to us. And though we are silent now, we were never silent then. We spoke words til our heads hurt, rolling off into baskets. We rode waves til our hearts broke, the waters undrank and receding, lowly, alone. Calm and at drift through the mist of the city, smooth on new roads as we cruised all alone, new in new blackness, the eyes in the mirror unflinching, the reds in the distance unending. Distant reds, distant skylines, shy starlight, shy moonshine… Shopping malls and money spent… anything we wanted. Those were good times, then. Soft, eerie, like gentle pornography, softer than chains, soft like clipped fingernails, like beautiful spinning carousels… bridges, planes, floral decor…

At last, one last friend, call him Brynach, of Brynach the Saint in an island, the wild and the virtuous and the patiently prodigal, the usual man, the ablest man, the man of the amorous morality tale, the man of the fresh and the operatic with a well-dressed new mannequin. He sung us proud songs in his clerical tenor, and he played for us, and we clapped for him. He was a saint, then, and he walked across islands. He walked across water and told a good story, adorned with his easy, pleasing manners, excelling in tokens of virtue and vice, extolling the remnants of life as yet livable. He diffused through him health to the sunset completely, safe in clean rooms without unclean spirits, where clouds always parted and spoons ran away to the looking glass. Life was something special, then, back in the tendrils of winter, solidity. Back to the tea and the tin full of biscuits, back to the sugar and milk. Flour and apples and fresh apple pies, rain in the gutters and rain in our hair; that was what I remember last, that is the tea that we drank in the library, fluids that flew through our ether. Other countries laid in wait, in decency, with hardly a nicety spared. Niches in niches, clever and mean. We laughed in the pool halls while drinking champagne, sakeless and pocketless, up in the lofts with our clothes dry and ironed. There were monsters then too, but they were calm, and I climbed out of the lion’s den and into the castle, where easy people softly spoke and sunlight softly passes. There were curtains in velvet and cinemas grand, and we sat in them, and we watched in them, the constellations softened, so softly. A saint on a mattress alive with delirium, lit up with clear-headedness… The world was very different, then. It is not so different now…

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