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.
On Becoming All Flame
There was a mountain, ages past,
made all of rocks
Which had, themselves, each ,
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,
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
but could not rest.
For the something,
that was a kind of burning-
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
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
when -of a sudden-
-seeming from within himself-
the distinct wind of thermal lift.
And he opened wide his eyes,
-both eyes, this time-
… never in all his years…
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,
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,
White. Red. Midnight Blue
And rivers of sparks slid,
over the side of the
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
And, as he watched its endless,
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
a dense, dark forest, and at its center, a door.
the mountain saw himself.
His own canyon-walled face, only… different,
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.’)