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The Zebratta Poems


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published by
Threshold Publishing Company
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
  • Introduction: The Visionary Landscape
  • Trial in Zebratta
  • Inquiries Upon the Zauberberg
  • The Salted Men of Carthage
  • Eyes of Blackened Flame
  • Hurting Wants its Hurting
  • The Dragon-Crowded Vision
  • Caldera Inferna
  • The Canticle for the Sun
  • How Many Hells? Ordeal in Agenor
  • Summa Regrade
  • Retrograde Motion
  • Mission
  • Appendix: Symbols in the Epistle
  • Introduction:  the Visionary Landscape


    This book is a work of visionary allegory.  Visionary allegory has been described, most recently and eloquently, by Paul Piehler in his scholastic work, “The Visionary Landscape.”  His thesis is that visionary allegory, the dominant mode of medieval literature, describes psychic events, and that such literature serves a purpose of soul healing.

    Such is the nature of this work.  I have gathered a series of poems I penned between December 1990 and May, 1991, and in collaboration with painter Jen Hart, have distilled from my first published volume, “Epistle to the North Americans” the visionary allegory of Zebratta.

    The chronology of the poems has been preserved:  the paintings have a different chronology, which is noted on the plates.

    Zebratta, I have come to understand, represents not so much a private landscape of my own psyche, but something larger, the presentation of a modern visionary allegory, with its own symbology.  In the medieval visionary allegory, the city represented  the rational conscious process.  In the modern language of allegory, however, the city is no longer a rational nor conscious landscape but rather, like Milton’s Hell, an edifice of peculiar intent, with its own rationality, sprung from an unruly will and left to grow according the particular logic of its inhabitants; in the words of Milton’s Satan:  “The mind its its own place, and in it self/ Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.” (Paradise Lost, I.)  There is an intimate relationship between the modern city of Zebratta, and Milton’s Hell; and like Hell, is a landscape that is traversed only by the mind, a mind ‘not to be chang’d by Place or Time.’ (idem)

    E. L. Van Hine
    December, 1999

     

    Trial in Zebratta

    Cold from winds on Evan plains
    I sought the woods of Lynn
    And there I found Zebratta's shades
    And disappeared within.

    How often did I wink
    When I beheld his ravening smile?
    We crouched upon a catwalk
    Overlooking Lynn
    And we spoke in crowding whispers
    Of my agonizing trial
    Which would begin in earnest
    in Zebratta's gloomy heights
    We strategized in secret
    As we gazed upon the lights

    I winked and turned away
    When I beheld his ravening smile
    And did not see

    The promise of a pointless
    Endless trial
    So eloquently spoken
    In that cruel and broken smile.

    - for Franz Kafka

    12/7/90
     

     Inquiries Upon the Zauberberg

    Glossary:

    Nuremberg (Germany): The scene of the famous telecast trials of the surviving Nazi leaders found responsible for the genocide of the Jews.

    "Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen": "I cannot understand you."

    Heidelberg: A university city in Germany.

    Zauberberg: The Magic Mountain, a novel by Thomas Mann about a mountain resort for consumption (tuberculosis) sufferers.

    Shade: (archaic) Ghost. "Riddle shade" a ghost or spirit of uncertain identity.

    Zebratta: A mythical place of symbolizing suffering and torment.

    Lynn: A mythical woodland symbolizing a condition of confusion and transition.

    Spire: A constructed feature of uncertain geographical importance in the city of Zebratta or near its periphery which the narrator appears to have to scale in order to enter the city.

    You bade me stop amid our flight
    On sails of gold and wings of white

    And came upon a haunted wood
    Near a mountain carved from night.

    And you said go and scale its height
    And once within
    You should inquire.

    Don't leave me, Numen!
    As I climb Zebratta's gasping spire

    But you departed while I stood
    In Lynn's beshadowed, haunted wood

    And there, inquired
    As you said
    To find that riddle shade
    And I approached on foot
    Alone

    And they stopped and frowned at me
    Like killer-thieves at Nuremberg
    Dismissing with their Gothic words
    "Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen."

    I stood within the haunted wood.

    Sustain me now! don't leave me
    In Zebratta's bloody heart!

    But you kept peace as I advanced
    With frozen blood and fear that lanced

    And there, inquired
    Hope on dread
    To spy that ravening smile

    And they paused and glared at me
    Like graduates at Heidelberg
    Repelling with their Gothic words
    "Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen."

    I walked the city's bloody heart.

    Return me now! to life outside
    Zebratta's smoky dens

    But you were silent as I spoke
    In taverns full of reddened smoke

    And there, inquired
    Of the dead
    Or only lost and mourned.

    And they turned and peered at me
    Like invalids on Zauberberg
    Who rasped consumptive Gothic words
    "Ich kann Sie nicht verstehen."

    I left the tavern red with smoke.

    I joined you then, beyond the gate
    Descending from the spire

    And we were weeping, hands to face
    As we forsook that bleeding place

    Where I inquired
    Hope on dread

    Where I had walked
    Among the dead

    Where I had sought him
    Where you led

    And where they gazed on me
    And said

    In rasping words of Gothic strain
    "Ich kann sie nicht verstehen,"

    Where then we met
    And then we fled

    The Zauberberg at night

    And with opened wings aloft
    Began our outward flight.

    - for Mann and Kafka and a few others

    12-10-90

    Carthage: African stronghold of Phoenicia, defeated and obliterated by the Athenians under Cato during the First Punic War.

    The Salted Men of Carthage

    They huddled in the streets agape
    In view of our Empyrium
    And I beheld their beating fear
    As I paused and gazed at them.

    And I spoke in Gothic clear
    "Verstehen Sie, unfreulich Herr?"
    And they recoiled and withdrew
    And then I saw them;
    Then I knew
    That I beheld no Goth in face
    No dweller in my native place
    But refugees of Carthage.

    I first approached a saddened man
    Who seemed entranced with Himmel's grace
    I tapped him gently on the arm
    To try and help him understand.

    But he drew back with great alarm
    When he saw my golden hair
    Perhaps he thought I meant him harm
    A native of this strangeling land.

    And when I spoke and said to him
    "Verstehen Sie, unfreulich Herr?"

    He quivered then in blinded fear
    For he had come across the sea
    Cringing as he fled from me
    His ruined sword within his hand
    With downcast eyes, a broken man
    A refugee of Carthage.

    And not a woman could I see
    Among these broken lives
    For all had seen their children bought
    And all had lost their wives
    None could stay and then rebuild
    Among the saline rot
    For they were lost when Cato fought
    And won the shores of Carthage.

    How could my laughing eyes deflect
    Their vision of the deathless fire
    Razing all their life to death?

    How could Himmel's light reflect
    The beauty of its angel choir
    When smoke choked out their very breath
    Crouching cold beneath her spire?

    For when I sang a hymn to them
    And bid them enter Himmel's cheer

    They decamped and drew away
    Ignoring as I called them near
    They could not speak
    They could not hear
    For they were caught in nets of fear

    When they had fled, I said a prayer
    For I had seen that aching day
    In raging of the deathless fire
    The vision bidding them to stay
    Within its hungry, reddened ire
    The salted men of Carthage.

    12-11, 12-12-90

    Eyes of Blackened Flame

    I was all and darkness led
    Before the Numen came
    I lay upon the nether lake
    With eyes of blackened flame.

    Never had a voice so sweet
    Resounded in that place
    When Numen woke me from my sleep
    And turned my eyes toward space.

    He wakened me from deep within
    A mad and frozen sleep
    He gave the mystic stone to me
    And mystic jewel to keep.

    There is gratitude for living
    Among those who now draw breath;
    But it always runs most deeply
    Within those who wake from death.

    12-20-90

     

    Hurting Wants its Hurting


    If I would be a servant
    Then I would better heed
    Taking guidance from the Cosmic
    I would live a simple creed.

    I would not ask the pain to stay
    From masochists in need
    Their freshened blood will rinse away
    If I would let them bleed.

    For hurting wants its hurting
    Within those shame-filled hearts
    While minions of Zebratta
    Work to tear the world apart.

    They would seek to draw me in
    And whisper easy lies
    And I would be misled by them
    And I would be their prize.

    They would have me heal the scars
    Inflicted by themselves
    I would return to prison bars
    Within their bitter hell.

    I will not be the chattel prize
    So easily won with wrath
    I would rather don my mantle
    And pursue the Golden Path.

    12-21-90

     

    The Dragon-Crowded Vision
    Dragons poised atop the churches
    Fanning green and garish wings
    Hear below, the Latin dirges
    Rise above their murmurings.

    They await their human charges
    To emerge from Christian toil
    Load them on Zebratta's barges
    To be tossed into the boil.

    And there fulfill their vision
    Of a fire-breathing Man
    Who consumes all in derision
    Who defile his Holy Land.

    But that is not religion
    Which I seek on bended knee
    Not the dragon-crowded vision
    Of a crazed divinity;

    But softly spoken radiance
    A halo of that higher love
    Which speaks in great benevolence
    And shines its single Star above.

    Millions in Zebratta cry
    To witness for the wrathful Son
    Who pierces with his baleful Eye
    The sinning mortals, one by one.

    Himmel has no King of Hate
    No Jehovah wielding flame
    All seekers know its shining gate
    Beyond the crowded lands of shame.

    So ignore the dragons grinning
    As they wait on churchhouse spires
    Coarsely humming as the sinning
    Seek eternal raging fires.

    Seek the silence of the deep
    Simple prayer will speak to Him
    Love awakes from inner sleep
    Love will draw the Angels in.

    I have seen the single Star
    Riding bright in Heaven's cart
    And I am carried fast and far
    To dwell in God's immortal heart.

    12-21-90

     
    Caldera Inferna
    Ah, the minions raise their wthey discuss my fate
    Awakened by their scratching at my grate
    Alarmed, I see the black and gleaming eyes
    Mirroring the pride I now despise.

    Oh Zebratta will you ever come to me
    As tangles grow in brambles endlessly
    And send my foes to sing their wicked song
    And spirit me from earth where I belong?

    Will I ever fall to sink so low
    And allow the tangled lying brambles grow
    And take from me my candle's holy spark
    And cast me, blind again, into the dark?
    Justice will be served if I will kneel
    Releasing from my soul the deadened steel
    Of power that was never mine to take

    And flee the mists that rise
    Like the pride I now despise

    From the demon-glowing eyes
    Of wraiths in flowing mist
    From hot Zebratta's boiling lake.

    12-29-90
     
     

    The Canticle for the Sun

    And so I leave Zebratta's blackened shores
    Where rusty leaves are swept into the bay
    The tired faces fade from red to gray
    And fruits conceal their wormy, rotted cores.

    I saw Helios rise into the Sun

    What rare and perfect canticle
    Could I give the rising of the Sun?
    As I departed ruined shores
    And ripened fruit with rotted cores

    I left the ship and walked the pier
    And listened to the Sun
    It played on strings within my ears
    And Sun and Song were one.

    What sad, lamenting canticle
    Could I give the setting of the Sun
    As it snuffed Zebratta's candle brief
    Stilled to silent grief?

    I climbed the hill and heard the call
    Which echoed from my Song
    And there I watched Zebratta fall
    Until its shore was gone.

    12-30-90
     

    How Many Hells?
    Ordeal in Agenor

    He leaves me at the border
    As we descend from space
    It is the realm of Agenor
    Zebratta's hidden place.

    I must traverse this hell alone
    Ordeal of soul by night
    Furthest reaches seek in blindness
    For my only source of light.

    It is as cold as evil
    Shadows loom as black as ink
    I cast about for Numen's light
    And there, perhaps, a wink.

    Is there a wink on the horizon?
    Is there a harbor light?
    Will something shine and land here?
    Will something come tonight?

    The druids stand in ragged ranks
    They scan the naked shore
    Their faces stare in eyeless blanks
    The damned of Agenor.

    How many hells have they traversed
    To find this endless beach?
    How many demons heard they curse
    A mad and mindless screech?

    Is there a wink on the horizon?
    Perhaps the Numen lights.
    Will something shine and land here?
    Will Numen come tonight?

    How many hells have I traversed
    To find the druids blind?
    How many deaths have I rehearsed
    In terror in my mind?

    Lift me out of Agenor!
    I cry to Himmel's height
    Bring me from this boundless shore
    Of dark and hateful night!

    The lizards shift their ponderous weight
    Upon their basking rocks
    Their scales knock on the steaming slate
    Like madly ticking clocks.

    Is there a blink on the horizon?
    The hooded blind men stare
    Will something shine and land here?
    And drive them from its glare?
    The gaping reptiles gulp and grin
    Cold beasts of Agenor
    They watch me struggle with my sin
    Upon their starving shore.

    How many hells have I now dreamed
    In naked frozen fear?
    How many demons fought and schemed
    Within my ringing ears?

    I beg relief with empty hands
    I cry out for my soul
    To free me from this sterile land
    Release me well and whole!

    There is a light on the horizon
    Casting all in shadows stark
    When the Numen comes to take me
    Druids fade into the dark.

    How many hells did I traverse
    Upon that horrid shore?
    How many hatreds did I shed
    When I left Agenor?

    And shorn I come, and humbled
    To the gate which borders Dyne
    All my pride within me crumbles
    While I drink the Numen's wine.

    How many hells have passed beneath me
    Now I see with opened eyes
    How much gold they have bequeathed me
    As I stand on Himmel's rise.

    And all the priests are chanting
    For salvation of the One
    While the druids start their ranting
    In the depths below the sun.

    There is a sun on the horizon
    Rising bright on every shore
    And every priest in Dyne is praying
    For the damned in Agenor.

    1-12-91
     

    Summa Regrade

    Greying dark aloft from Himmel
    To hear an Angel on the wing
    Thence to send an army back
    Across the borderland of night
    Into ships of wood and iron
    After days of hasty flight;

    Sailing swift through bitter waters
    To the necromancer's pool;
    Gathering thorns in hidden caverns
    Where human souls await the scale...
    Regrade shadow blacks to ink
    As wretched druids wail.

    2-22-91

     

     
    Retrograde Motion

    1. Breaking Out of Time

    There is no time. So they write: Time is the greatest illusion
    of physical life. Those who refuse to bow to the tyrannies of
    time have torn away the thickest veil of illusion which
    hypnotizes humanity and immediately enter a state of greater
    spiritual receptivity.

    The hierophants of Dyne speak in detail of the evolutionary
    process, its gradual ascent to perfection, the meaninglessness of
    time:

    Numen, could the time not matter
    Within the gates of Dyne?
    Could I ascend that ladder
    And be free of tyrant Time?

    For as they say:
    All time is an illusion
    If I remain within its grasp
    I live in a delusion.

    Free me from Zebratta's hand
    And lift me out of time
    They gave me, poet, all those keys
    But I can't find that land.

    2. Unbound from Spells

    I have gone back to all I have written in the past year of
    poetry. I have written a thousand thousand pages, it would seem,
    some of them brilliant and shining, guided by the hand of the
    Numen, and some slack and dull,

    I cannot say the spell I seek
    It comes from realms beyond
    The old familiar hells

    Shadows edge the forest ponds
    Reflections cast those spells.

    3. Handel's Birthday

    Dactylic Baroque, majestic music soars
    Chamber music, from my chamber freed
    Iambic for my ears, to fill poetic need.

    How luckily for me
    Was Handel born today
    For rhythm beckons bodily
    And now Baroque holds sway.

    Lento, lento violin
    Draw my taut emotion in
    Then pluck a lone viola string
    To keep its tone encouraging.

    4. I sang a prayse

    I sang a prayse to God and wept
    And while he listened
    Deep I slept
    He answered full my lengthy prayer
    And spread his Glory through the aire.

    For though I believe it every day and say it, and live it, do I
    really know that no matter how far I go there is further to go,
    that no matter how many lives are lived, there is more life and
    yet more life? Isn't this what I always wanted to know? Do I
    listen, do they really tell me that partialness will become
    wholeness without my trying?

    5. Take Me to the Heights

    And while the violin
    Sings beauty out of noisy din
    I will seek the Numen
    In the deep and empty mines
    Finding light in tunnels
    Along the channeled serpentines.

    Do we have world enough and time
    To give this land a pleasant clime?
    Is this our burden to bestow
    To send our love to earth below?

    Ah, Numen, sometimes I feel so lost along the corridors of time,
    and weary soon of this steep climb.

    Take me with you to the heights
    Where I can glimpse at last the might
    Of Himmel in its radiant noon
    A hundred suns, a thousand moons!

    Bring me to the inner keep
    Where mystic nests of serpents sleep
    Among their golden ornaments
    Redolent with frankincense

    Bring me, Numen, to the Star
    And heal at last my wicked scar
    Take me with you to the heights
    And show me all of heaven's sights!

    6. Flags of Iron

    Will we go? when will we go?
    When all the time is lost
    When all my hope is gone
    And all my loves are weather-torn?

    And where will love remain?
    When all the soil blows to sand
    And flags of iron wave in sheets
    Above the wasted land?

    That was Agenor.
    The deepest well I ever had explored.
    I walked among its living dead
    And scanned its naked shore.

    I left a penny for the dead
    Who lived along the beach
    And never glanced behind for dread
    Or peer into its breach.

    Ah, that was Agenor.
    The blood I lost was poured into the winy sea.
    I ne'er looked back, for I refused to be
    Chained again, Promethean
    Dying piece by piece upon the blackened rock
    In haunted dreams of madly ticking clocks.

    The serpents drew their flattened heads aside
    And calmly grinned as they observed the tide
    It rose in waves and lapped upon my feet
    While they awaited meals of salt-fresh meat.

    But that was over, so I thought
    And all the nightmares fell to rot
    Until the dark descended on the sky
    And once again I heard the ragged cry.

    And then the rain began.
    And all the colors bled and ran.
    Wooden planks were soaked with salt and brine
    Drawing blood into the sea like wine.

    And that was Agenor.
    The place from which I thought I had escaped.
    I stood on sand and watched as lizards gaped.
    And waited death upon the hated shore.

    And it ended once again.
    The rain had danced like slivers on my skin
    And was no more
    And all the mists retreated from the shore
    And all the land was gone
    And beams of colored light created dawn.
    It was no more.

    I could not decide:
    Between the light above me
    And below, the bloody tide.

    6. Will We Live Forever

    Will we live forever in this wise
    And wait between our nightmares
    For hope again to rise?

    For I waited out the morning
    For the sea to wash to sand
    I sought the far horizon
    Of a cold and futile land.

    7. The Devil's Maze

    I gave the Lord a song of prayse
    And slept within a devil's maze
    But soon He stopped the bloody play
    And answered full my prayer this day.

    For so the voices speak from Dyne:

    The experience of pain should be welcomed as confirmation that
    the nervous system works properly and is not numbed by anger.

    2-23-91

     

    Mission

    The Numen sent me on a mission to the fire
    Which shines unholy red upon Zebratta's spire
    Where I abandoned once the child I had borne
    When he had helped me flee the city's hail of scorn
    Escaping from the darkened wood to refuge on the plains.

    The haunted wood of Lynn remains
    Like pillars girded fast with chains
    I saw it clearly from the heights
    And I took leave of Numen's flight
    To bring the child of Zebratta home.

    I felt the hatred of the city in my bones
    I heard the mutters, and the whispers, and the groans
    And the hissing of the seven-headed dog
    As he reared in anguished fever from his bog
    When I erased the shadows and revealed the hidden child.

    I walked again among the fallen and defiled
    They clutched at me with cold cupidity and smiled
    The fallen empress fleeing like a thief, alone
    But undeterred, I sought the place of weeping stone
    Where she awaited rescue from the enemies of light.

    Zebratta's prison towers shine at night
    With reddened ire, maddeningly bright
    And the torture fires glow
    As we rejoin the Numen on his flight.

    5-16-91

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