I am unsure if this poem is personal, political, or allegorical, or if it even matters. It’s full of references and allusions to some of my favourite writers and artists. There’s a touch of Camus, a dash of Kafka, a pinch of Nietzsche, a sprinkling of Ginsberg, a stroke of Von Stuck, a drop of Giger, and a smear of Bosch. The rest is a Gehenna-sized refuse pile of my own pondering. I call it Sisyphus Triumphant(?). It should not be confused with my short story of the same title which touches upon similar themes and ideas, though less lyrically, in prose.
In realms of stagnation, brimming with mold and ashes, steeped in malevolent shadows
There we find ourselves held within vast, cruel cages cast in irony, our fates indisputably dictated
By the golden ones, seated in the higher echelons, silver clouds over the mountaintops
Throwing down their lightning spears and tridents, piercing our lofty illusions of importance, damning our humanity
Raping all vulnerability and transforming us into our very deepest, dreaded monstrosities, deformed reflections of ourselves
We wander still, we wait and wait, we crawl into the stinking depths of the cocoon sarcophagi
We hang from trees of memories and fall into nightmares made flesh-bound reality
And the porous, crimson walls of carnage erected around us are combustible labyrinths of confusion, biological prison cells for the merely mortal
Here no purified doves fly, no martyred palms raised, and no olive branches are offered, not while the warders of dogma carry their flails
Our judges are saints to injustice, prophets of the imbalanced scales, heroes of ugly brutality
Who swiftly send down the arrows of jealous rage, committing patricide and infanticide with impunity
Not stopping to reflect upon the barbaric actions that we deem so fickle and yet are sanctified
While we weep diamonds into the churning fecal rivers of our subjugation and sacrifice, degradation of the highest order, cementing our insignificance
Not one among us a poet or a philosopher enough to justify such calamity, lest intoxication result in revelation, bidding the release of muted war-horses
Breathing in fumes of conquest and immolation, bloodied goats, maidens offered upon the rocks, children in tempest-tossed seas, blasphemers tied to stakes
The stench of decay, of burnt offerings, of golden idols covered in a thick film of dust, of wine-laden vomit, or seminal fluids spilt in ancestral soil
Our excesses, our diversions, asinine addictions, and venereal diseases, symptoms of intolerance and narcissism
Transgressions piled high around us, they bury us in our patented shames, making us ripe for retribution though the implements of our corruption were divine gifts to begin with
Trapped naked, emasculated, sickeningly bloated, locked in the mud as it sucks you down to the bottom
Digging our own unhallowed graves with a sinner’s trowel hands, trying to get out before the trumpet signals doom
Opening old wounds sealed by the passage of time, the sands ever falling, resting in a heap of disappointments at the base
And never healing that which poisons you from within, the splinter of a rose, the dark thorn of reality
Clutching your lies, the broken promises, the empty faith, the partial shelter of dreams, cut off from piety, overflowing with false pardons that cease to hold meaning
We stand alone in the dusk, tearing pages from the book that history bound in the leather of our forefathers’ backs, whispering truths that only madness can tell as the narrative unfolds
Never acknowledged in the grey, disorienting light of morning, where even the worms creep from their hiding places to greet the dawn with tribute
When waking life is stale, stagnant, riddled with pestilence and devoid of potential, the stone is raised high for the killing blow
Where sharpness is dulled like a battle-worn blade and clarity is blurred, the lines become ambiguous and oblique
Wasting away in the incendiary desert of one’s own restless mind, thirsting for attention, dehydrated but for the sweat of one’s brow that runs like a fountain
Swaying side to side, in tree-like folly, while winds rise akin to burning sheepskin blankets and skies fade away into an eternal stream of existence that never reaches its source
And all these hours are spent with your numb fingers groping, your selfish grasp on the nothingness, clinging to superficiality
As your sobs echo and resound though you’ve forgotten that you were even breathing in the dust and gas of creation
Choking back grief that should have subsided long ago when the brittle ages passed and the stars burnt out leaving holes in the dark curtain of the universe
There are aches to be trusted, injuries to be relied upon, scars to be read like sacred passages scrawled hastily in your scrolls and codices, one day to be rediscovered
Just to have some sense of relief and satisfaction, one moment of peace, you reach into a void that swallows you whole, comfort not withstanding
In the glaring light of solitude, in the crushing vacuum of the self, weights descending upon you like oceanic depths, pushing in on your extremities
The walls of the world close in on you, the brightness intensifies, blistering and blinding, but never purifying, gasping for air
Aren’t we all, each of us, frail and impotent in the harsh, blasting sunlight, ripped away piece by piece until we’re rubble and bone, ruinous monuments to the past
To be tied in your places, high upon the hill, the pity of all or the subject of mockery, visages of solemnity, bound to the Earth like fence posts in motionless mourning
We’re all of us bleeding joylessly before the broken altar of penitential misgivings, the fitful shakes of the possessed, the chanted nonsense of the enlightened
Waiting for salvation, waiting for finality, waiting for a god that will never come, that will never descend from the pedestals we’ve built on the foundation of our own misdeeds
Drowning in our self-made sorrows, burdened by cares forced upon us, collapsing into the conflagration that has swept away virtue and necessity
Wordless prayers gag you, sightless visions mislead you, prying you out of the maze and affixing you to the rusted sky
Your heady doubts crippling, while your hopes are perverted under the Sun’s rays, liquefying stability, reinforcing gravity
Dragging you up winding stairs of soaring flight until you’re ready to drop free like a feather, not to float with grace, but to plummet like an anchor into watery trenches
Into the occult valleys below, those ancient galleries without heart, swimming in sweaty ambition, crucified by each holy thought, the nails of acuity
Dreaming of crowded fields where battles were fought, those won and those lost, relics of victory cascading in memories
But what function do they serve in this void, this place of misappropriation, where mutant fables contort and writhe
Where context is stripped away like the shell of a mollusk to leave behind putrescent fruit beneath the hardened surface
And the mirages merge, twisting animals into armoured machines, the organic into the mechanical, vines and woven ropes into scaled serpents that turn you to stone upon glancing
That bind you, burn into your skin while vultures fly above you in perpetuity, feasting on your most desirable entrails, a meal befitting a kingly parasite
The torturous wheel turns you with its each rotation, you never melt on the flames, but the smoke fills you up until your defiance is creosote-like despair
The darkness is suffocating and you asphyxiate for eternity, damned by man-horses and deities alike, and the spitting tongues of fire are destined as your only conversational companion
You starve and you hunger, yearning for a taste of paradise, for what is just out of reach, the soft, fragrant fruit
Turning back you see your great desire withdraw into the fog, your lover returned to the cavernous world beyond, never to be seen again, another dream deserted
If only you could exorcise each contemptuous feeling, damn it to oblivion, forsake human emotion altogether, purge the rewards of experience and observation
Would you, like a primitive surgeon, seek to cut out the corpulent parts of you that capacitate love, that sugary tumor that lulls us into security before annihilating our worth
To rid yourself of these empathic demons, sabotaging self-interest, severing the umbilical cord of Gaea, releasing yourself from her orbit and all that you hold dear
And would you drift blissfully unaware into the ether, the cold silence of space until her galaxy of milk no longer nurses your parched lips, the last of her nutrients suckled dry
Would you sail into the uncharted lands where your gods are exiled to dissipate and die in totality while the world behind is absorbed into chaos, destinies undulating like waves during a storm
Would it be so horrible to just let all of this go forever, to let the pillars be downed, to let the temples burn, to let the shrines be forgotten
Would it be so selfish to put an end to the purgatorial burdens, the futility of being, to let Atlas falter, the sky fall under its own immense volume
To stop dragging the weights and the chains behind you, to loose yourself of their doctrinal lead, the heaviness of alchemical perception
To let go of the aged boulder to which you were mercilessly tethered, and let it roll back down below into unfathomable obscurity, taking you with it into the sweet unknown
John William Waterhouse has long been one of my favorite artists because his paintings are so nuanced and his subject matter so alluring, intellectually as well as aesthetically. It seemed appropriate to revisit his work as one list cannot possibly encompass the extensive catalog of paintings that are his legacy. Following in the footsteps of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, J. W. Waterhouse turned towards classical Graeco-Roman mythology and medieval fables (particularly Arthurian legends which he delved into repeatedly) for his inspiration. This subject matter resulted in images that were not only beautiful, but also infused with the iconic archetypes found in all European lore, giving them a timeless quality that has enabled Waterhouse to grow in popularity over the years. His work was emblematic of the latter Victorian Era, though he was not as widely recognized as other artists during that period that worked in similar movements, and yet today his oeuvre is quite celebrated for its idealized depictions of feminine beauty.
It is in some ways a bit funny that when many of us think of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, we often first recall the works of the latter Pre-Raphaelites and the artists associated with them, rather than the actual Brotherhood that began the movement in the early second half of the 19th Century. Many of the latter-day artists, such as Burne-Jones and Waterhouse, have become as synonymous with the movement as its founders like Rossetti or Millais, and to me that is all the more impressive a testament to their work. Edward Coley Burne-Jones‘ works were more heavily influenced by Medieval legends and ancient myth, and he was not confined to just the medium of paint on canvas, as he explored other venues of expression in painted and stained glass, chintzes and tapestries, and set design and decoration for the stage. As his work matured and he grew artistically, he showed a deep and abiding affinity for narrative art, creating entire series inspired by Sleeping Beauty, Perseus and the Gorgon, and Pygmalion. The darkly sensuous imagery he conjured from his imagination has become as immortal as the myths and legends that he idolized in his youth.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler rose to prominence as an artist during two very popular, very influential, and very different movements in the art world: the movements of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Impressionists. He was a bit of both, in terms of his aesthetics, and yet not really either in terms of his subject matter or his worldview. His paintings, unlike his eccentric and at times combative personality, were subtle and nuanced. Whistler founded a new movement called Tonalism, which featured an emphasis on detailed texture, bold brushstrokes, muted Earth tones, and a soft focus. Many artists, particularly Whistler himself, oscillated between intimate portraiture and moody landscapes. The resultant accumulation of his life’s work is an oeuvre that is imbued with conceptual depth and intellectual thought, but not necessarily wrought with emotion or overt expression of oneself. Whistler’s legacy is not one of sentimental gratification; not for the artist, who strongly believed in art for art’s sake, and not for the viewer, whose eye is caught more by his technique than by his romantic philosophical worldview. Rather, his legacy, as one must assume he would have preferred it, is the art itself.
Drawing inspiration from mid 19th Century art movements like The Pre-Raphaelites, and from late 18th Century Romanticism, John Atkinson Grimshaw created indelible images that are imbued with Victorian Era ideals. Innocence. Romance. Beauty. These simple aesthetic tropes of the times are permeated throughout Grimshaw’s work. Whether depicting Gothic manors or urban streets lit by moonlight, faeries soaring through the night or ships in the harbor, Grimshaw’s paintings are almost photo-realistic and yet simultaneously elevated by his imaginative lighting and saturated by his use of Earth tones. Little is known about Grimshaw as a man, and little more is known about him as an artist, but his work on the other hand is quite recognizable even to those outside the art community. Our modern notion of what Dickensian London was like has been greatly influenced by Grimshaw’s work, which itself is just as timeless and unforgettable as the writings of Dickens.
The Denver Diaries: Chapter 6 – January 2014 through June 2014
My time on Oneida Street came to an end early in 2014. The Winter season had well begun and I was going to need to find a new place to live. Fortunately, someone at the church where I had been volunteering suggested me as a potential roommate and caregiver for one of the congregation members who had terminal cancer. He was an ex-con who had turned his life around and had been a volunteer at the church himself for years. After miraculously recovering from stomach and throat cancer, he had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, and between the excruciating pain that he experienced on a daily basis and the effects of all the medications he was on, he needed someone to help him do shopping, accompany him to medical appointments (including frequent ER visits), and keep his apartment clean. He had turned to art in the last year or two of his life and this provided him not only with a means to pass the time, but also a sense of accomplishment and a way of expressing himself outwardly when he was effectively bed-ridden and unable to socialize. I did my best to provide him with good company and would regularly walk from the apartment to the library to pick up DVDs for him to watch. Sometimes we would watch them together. I introduced him to Game of Thrones, which he became addicted to watching, and we sat through the first three seasons together. We also made a trip out to the Denver Art Museum.
Meanwhile, I continued to look for work and volunteered at the church, but I remained depressed and felt defeated by the lack of response to the now 80 plus applications I had filled out. Adding to this despondency was that my new roommate smoked medical marijuana multiple times on a daily basis. Unknown to me at the time was the fact that I am quite allergic to marijuana smoke, which causes me to become very dehydrated, depressed and lethargic, feverish, and increases my appetite as well as causing me severe headaches and dizziness. Though the first month or two with the roommate went relatively well, things began to fall apart as my health worsened, as his health worsened, and other factors introduced themselves. He had a couple of friends who would come to him and borrow his money or would illegally buy his pain medications to get high. I wasn’t entirely certain how to handle the situation and my one attempt to address this ended rather badly with his friend accusing me of being a freeloader living off of a dying man, which was as far as I could tell hit much closer to the mark of what she was doing. He eventually became more withdrawn and reluctant to go out to the church or on social outings, and then as the chemotherapy decreased his energy and caused him to vomit regularly, made it so that he rarely left his room at all. We stopped watching films and television series together around this time. Then to make matters worse, when we finally did decide to watch Aliens, as I inserted the disc into the DVD player, his flat screen TV, which was balanced on a shoe box and the DVD player, fell on my head shattering the screen and leaving me with a concussion. Fortunately, we were able to get a replacement TV and I offered him my Blu-ray player that I had shipped out from Maine as consolation.
Due to my allergies and general sense of ennui at the small shared apartment, I began to go on frequent long walks, anywhere from four to twelve miles. I would walk from the apartment on Colorado Boulevard down to the Denver Public Library on Broadway or go for walks along the various creeks and bike paths. I took long strolls down 16th Street Mall where I took photos of the holiday decorations, the celebratory flashing lights, and all of the families and happy couples gallivanting through the city. It was bittersweet. On one hand, I felt good being out of the apartment, away from the sickness and despair, but on the other hand, I continued to long for a greater purpose and real connection to someone who might enrich my life. The smiling faces I would see on my walks would only remind me of my own isolation. The other faces I saw were the sunken, pale faces of the homeless, whose ranks I had been a part of and whom I would again be joining before too long. So, it seemed to me at the time, that I saw the future that was denied to me and the future that was inevitable, and those walks ceased to be the respite I needed.
I watched the seasons slowly change outside of the apartment’s ground-level basement window and I watched as my roommate become more and more sick and more and more withdrawn. I felt empathy for him, profoundly so, but I also felt frustration. I watched him consume junk food, smoke marijuana constantly, and then refuse to have visitors or go out all the while complaining of being trapped in his apartment and lonely. My efforts to lift his spirits or to engage him were met with increasing resistance and then finally with indifference altogether. I spent many days just reading, listening to music, sleeping in late, and filling out job applications without hopes or expectations of hearing anything back.
I would stay on Colorado Boulevard for five months before moving on to the next phase of my journey, which took me to yet another precarious living situation with a far more detrimental effect on my emotional health, and then from there I wound up on the streets.
To be continued…