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on becoming all flame

the story in italics is an adaptation of one of the ‘sayings of the desert fathers’ … the other is a take on the burning bush.

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On Becoming All Flame

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There was a mountain, ages past,

made all of rocks

Which had, themselves, each ,

once,

when the earth was new and heaving,

been a mountain.

(A desert monk, simple and sincere, goes on a pilgrimage into the wilds of a hard-baked badlands. He seeks answers. Or, perhaps, more than answers, the courage to voice a question.)

It slumbered, this mountain,

deeply,

as mountains do

for ages entire;

opening a sleepy eye

every century or so,

to look about him and

Harrumph’ at the world,

and all its driving, fruitless endeavor.

(After months of sojourn, the devout monk finds himself at the door of the hut of Father Joseph. He pauses, considering for some time what he will say. At long last, he lifts his hand to knock, but before his knuckles even graze the wood, the door swings open.)

And so it was with the mountain,

until the day

-one, in his life of multiple millinia-

he felt something.

The mountain stirred in his ageless sleep

and grunted,

but could not rest.

For the something,

that was a kind of burning-

a constant,

deep, abiding, Heat;

building in the agate cavern

of his Heart of Hearts.

(‘Brother Lot!’ exclaims the old mystic, ‘What joy to have here at my threshold, a friend. What is it you seek?’ The monk, -startled perhaps, at not being asked inside, at not being offered the formalities of tea and rest, at being bidden so abruptly, to spill his heart’s burden, there. Just then. Dusty and swollen and hungry and tired, on the smooth sandstone step outside the Father’s house- nonetheless, opens his mouth to speak.)

He opened an eye -but only one-

the gruff mountain,

and saw at first nothing whatever

unusual.

Sundry flocks of goats and sheep,

in no kind of hurry,

grazing and hoofing

his mammoth sides;

a sky of pale, dry blue;

one or two of those

two-legged beasts they called Men,

that the world

seemed so keen on producing.

(The haggard monk opens his voice and there, in the yellow haze of the desert dusk, pours out his need, in low, red notes of despair and deepest yearning.)

And he was on the verge of settling once again

into somnolence,

when -of a sudden-

there was

-seeming from within himself-

a combustion;

a —WOOSH,

and

the distinct wind of thermal lift.

And he opened wide his eyes,

the ancient,

-both eyes, this time-

… never in all his years…

for there,

on his highest peak,

where yesterday had been only

a mediocre scrub of a tree-

nothing but skinny limbs and dull, green listless leaf-

adequate at best-

was a tearing, licking,

                         tower

                of mesmerizing flame.

(‘Father,’ he begins, ‘I do as I ought. I tend my office, I pray, I fast from time to time, I cause not the slightest harm, and offer help as often as I can… and still… all is emptiness. What more can I do?’)

This was no ordinary burning, either.

The flame burnt purple,

                    and orange.

             White. Red. Midnight Blue

                   Ectoplasm Green.

And rivers of sparks slid,

waterfalling,

over the side of the

astonished mountain;

and shot like stars into the blue unplumbed

sea of the sky-

to flare, and pop,

and singe the atmosphere.

A thousand tiny points of lightning.

The mountain caught his timeless breath,

and exhaled in holy wonder.

(Father Joseph, tall and impossibly thin, steps out from the shade of his hut, and the pilgrim monk is forced to take a step back, to avoid collision.)

Thunders shook the mountain

from within his granite bones.

He could not keep his eyes

from the extraordinary

immolation.

And, as he watched its endless,

un-consuming burn,

he began to see things.

At its heart, the flame began to take on shapes.

A small boy, still and smiling, his head resting on the

shoulder of a yellow-eyed tiger;

A strange, unidentifiable, immense bird, who had for wings, mile-high sheets of

tearing turquoise;

a dense, dark forest, and at its center, a door.

and finally,

the mountain saw himself.

His own canyon-walled face, only… different,

new.

Transformed. Alive.

He felt the burning as of his own heart.

(The old mystic, his skin the thin, wrinkled skin of a dried plum, raised his hands to the purple of the sinking desert sun, and Brother Lot was left speechless with awe to see that on the end of each of Father Joseph’s outstretched fingers, danced a tongue of lapping fire. His calloused, dweller’s fingers, ten living lamps. ‘If you will,’ the Father said, speaking to the monk; to the ten million grains of harsh, gold sand; to the whole of the race of men– themselves grains of harsh sand, run through fingers- , ‘you can become all flame.’)

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3 responses to “on becoming all flame

  1. Man, I still love every word of this.

  2. More enchanting than the tale is how it’s told. You break and pause and breathe the life into your words like a mother reading a night time myth to her babe. And we’re the children that receive. Beautiful work, please weave us another.

  3. This may be my favourite favourite of yours, Shawnacy. I cannot read it without the hairs standing up on my head and goosebumps down my arms. This is a profoundly touching vision.

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