Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Order of Things - Story III - Conculsion

“Your name means slave in Italian, you must know that?” she said, and although Servi knew full well what his last name meant, he allowed her to believe he was hearing it for the first time.   
What was the harm?  Listening to the cadences of her accented English brought Servi back to his Rome.  Of course he could speak Italian to her, and she would respond, but mostly she wanted to practice English.  But with Servi, she kept sliding into her Italian with ease and suddenly Servi was back in Italy.  She spoke with that peculiar and enchanting trilling of the R’s of a life long resident of Trastervere.  That was enough to stamp, in Servi’s mind, this woman as something far more than a mere female.   
But there was more: it was her very posture, the stance of her body, the imprint of the expressions on her mobile, lively face… she learned it all in a thousand subtle ways from birth in a three thousand year old city, and now expressed them all fluidly, automatically, as a spring oozes water from an ancient hillside.  Even the way she played with the shiny black hair which fell over her forehead evoked, for Servi, an ancestral urge within him akin to a salmon swimming upstream.
            “Slave,” he asked, and she nodded.  “Well, that seems about right,”
            “Yes,” she explained in her overly precise English, as if she was translating word for word in her head.  “Are you Jewish?”  Servi shook his head.  “Well, you have Jewish ancestors somewhere back there.  Servi is an Italian-Jewish name.  The, how do you say,” she snapped her fingers to conjure up the English work, and when that failed, switched to Italian, “legend is that when Titus brought Jewish captives back to Rome from the Jerusalem campaign, he enslaved most of them.  Some of them were forced to take the last name Servus in Latin, Servi in Italian.  You know, Aaron the Slave.  There are a huddle of little Jewish slaves somewhere back in your past.  This explains a great deal.”
            “In what way,” Servi answered in Italian.
            “Well,” she continued, taking her little brown hand out of the sand, where it had just burrowed, “that book you are reading, by Marcus Auerlius, that would be the Italianate portion of your heritage.  Your Stoic ancestors are calling you back to their fold… little grim Romans controlling every facial tick.  Even that beard you sport,” and here she reached out and playfully tugged it. “You look like you should be striding toward the viewer in The School of Athens.  Then there is the Jew in you… or the Hebrew.  Your sense of absolute morality … that is the Jew in you, praying and wailing on the banks of the Tiber, crying for your poor destroyed Temple.”
            “You would be the person to find out,” Servi said in English, and then finished in Italian. “But you paint too exotic a picture of me.  There is not that much here.”
            “Even the humility of the philosopher…” she said in English, and then switched to Italian.  Servi found the back and forth flow of the languages narcotically lulling.  Her voice, and the distant, pounding surf, made him suspect that this was really a dream.  For this kind of graceful ease had not been part of Servi’s life in many months.  
            He had returned to New York from Italy after a year and a half of delusory study.  His father had, during the first six months of his stay, sent half-pleading letters to him to return, after it was apparent to Servi and his father that his journey to Italy had been a mistake.  But Servi would not give up the Latin ghost.  His father prodded him to take a job in a bank in Manhattan, but this prospect only made Servi more intent to remain in Rome, were he could at least stay busy with idleness  There followed six months of icy silence between father and son.  Then, another six months of renewed offensive, of blatant threats from across the Atlantic.  Weakened by poverty, slackened by loneliness, Servi ate his own version of Italian crow when he had to ask his father to wire money for his return flight. 
            As he sat on the Al Italia red eye to JFK, Servi felt very much like his surname: the slave to his father, the slave to his native city, the slave to the tangled destiny which always led him back to New York.  The slave to destiny.  He lived with his father for an unbearable month, and then the couch of his best friend Jack, matriculated at NYU’s law school.  Servi had no real plans for his future.  He felt so hollowed out by the present that it seemed unwise to place hope on such a thin abstraction as the future.  So he began to read the Stoics again, Epictetus, Seneca, but especially Marcus Auerlieus, and depleted time with Jack’s new girlfriend, Francesca, who was, felicitously enough, a native of the city, which had just ejected Servi like Jonah from the belly of the whale. 
            During Jack’s long hours of study, the idle Servi took Francesca to cheap restaurants, a Fellini film festival in the Village, long talks in Washington Square Park.  A friendship developed between them, which, in two single people, is often a presage of love.  But Francesca was smitten by Jack, apparently, even as she was drawn to Servi; even as she spent more time with Servi than Jack, and drew him into her irresistible orbit.   
           If love had not seemed to Servi an entanglement of the basest form, he would have fought to get her.  But why should he want more from her when he had so little to give?  She was right here, after all, spending all her free time with him.  If she spent the night in Jack’s bed, what did Servi care?  He didn’t even own a bed.  Servi would love her with pure love, detached from the body.  He would do Plato proud.
            They had been resting in the sand, which Francesca found endlessly fascinating.  She ran it through her little brown clenched fist, and it fell in a thin stream as in an hour glass. But soon they picked up their bicycles and pointed east.
            “Were do we go?” she asked, her fine brown face illuminated in the bright sun.  Her black hair, with artificial blond highlights, blew about her face and neck, like a black and white pin-wheel. 
            “Oh, let’s go to Kismet.  It is the next town over.  I’ve never been there.  Nothing special there, I suppose.  I think there is a little restaurant with good crab cakes near a marina.”  On hearing this, Francesa waved her hand in a typical Roman gesture of good natured indifference.  Servi knew her experience of America was bracketed between Washington Square Park and the Battery.
            Servi watched her cycle.  Her posture on the bike was casual, but he could sense that pedaling was an exertion.  A small stain of sweat formed on the back of her shirt and he watched her slim hand pull her it away from her skin --- for she detested the plebeian experience of perspiration.  A hint, a mere rumor of a tremble developed in her brown legs.  Her arms had difficulty keeping the bike steady on the sand.  Servi doubted they would reach Kismet.
            She suddenly stopped and got off the bicycle.  Servi pulled alongside and looked at her.  She frowned
“I’m sorry Servi,” she said through down turned lips.  “I haven’t ridden a bicycle since I was a tiny girl,” and then, in Italian, “and this God damned sand.  It’s no good for anything but making glass.”  Servi laughed, and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.  This gesture was enough to trip the wire:  she pushed her lips against his; they were moist and warm.  She grasped him and pulled him forward, almost toppling him from his bike.  For such a petite girl, she was surprisingly fierce in a clinch.  She gripped Servi and kissed him fiercely, more from anger than affection, as if he whole attraction to Servi repelled her, and she wished to concentrate it in a single kiss.  Then she pulled away and cast a hot, liquid gaze at Servi.  Servi got off the bike, striding away.
Servi kept walking, although he could hear her behind him, saying things in rapid fire Italian, mostly in the Roman dialect, as she always did when angry.  She pelted Servi with a mix of sentiments, some loving, but most hurtful and filled with malice, even scorn, for not kissing her back.   
She seemed both affronted by her rash act and hurt that Servi did not fall with her, brazenly, into an abyss.  Servi let her catch up to him.  Where could he go?  They were on an island half a mile at its widest point.  She grasped his arm and was suddenly in front of him.  The fusillade of Roman dialect continued.  She was forming some sort of theory on love which he had heard her, in various versions, formulate before.  He had thought nothing of it, believing it some Latin erotic preoccupation, but now she plugged Jack and Servi into those abstract equations, and it all made sense.  She spoke of gradations of love, and how it was possible to love two men, even three men, in different shades.  There should be more than one word for love.  They should be twenty, to catch the nuances. 
“That’s funny,” Servi answered in Italian. “You seem to think love is something that just litters the streets.  In my experience, most people have problems loving just one person.”
“Maybe you, Servi,” she spat, angry again, her D’s gone in a hail of dialect, “with your cold philosopher’s heart.  You love the form of a woman, but can’t love her body.  It’s sick,” and then her dispensation turned toward the psychological, and she began to speculate on Servi’s psycho-sexual ailments.  Servi listened, enraptured by this version of himself being conjured up before him, like the witch raising Samuel’s reluctant ghost.   
But then she stopped.  They both heard a rustling in a swale of beach grass around the bend.  They took a few tentative steps toward it, and quickly saw a small deer tangled in a bale of wire.  It fought a valiant battle to free itself, but Servi could see that the wire had twisted itself hopelessly around a bud of its antlers.
“What in God’s name is that, Servi?” Francesca asked, drawing near him.
“A deer,” Servi laughed. “Haven’t you ever seen a deer before?”
“It’s the size of a feral dog.  In the Alps, they get as big as bulls.”
“They’re small on this island,” Servi explained.  “There isn’t much food or fresh water.  But people feed them, and now they get into all sorts of mischief, like this.”
“Let’s go back to the car and go back to the city,” Francesca yawned. “This country air is exhausting.”
“We can’t just leave it here.”
“Why not?” she explained wearily.  “Someone else will come along and help.”
“You’re in New York for less than a year and already you are ignoring Kitty Genovese?”
“Who is she?  Your secret girlfriend?  One of those Italian-American bitches from Bayside in their tanks tops and cut off jeans?” she said angrily, but then laughed. “But it can’t be.  As far as I can tell, you don’t even have any friends but Jack.  How do you say, you are a loser.”
“A loner,” Servi corrected, he hoped. “Come on, help,” Servi moved toward the beast, but Francesca stood still.
“I don’t touch animals, Servi,” she explained casually.  “You’ll get, how do you say it in English,” and finding the word lost, found ‘rabies’ in Italian.
Servi began to wrestle with the diminutive deer.  He tried every configuration to free it, turning its head, its body, even lifting it briefly off the ground.   
And this did the trick: the wire snapped, and the deer was free.  Servi continued to hold the animal aloft for a moment, and it seemed to find the hold appealing, as if faced with the possibility of immobility in the wire or in Servi’s arms, it chose the latter.  But Servi let go, and when its feet landed on the sand, the lever of its instincts clicked into place, and it began to leap and bound away, its ass springing forward at strange angles, to thwart some pursuing predator.  Francesca clapped her hands with vigor.
“Bravo! Bravo!” she intoned, and walked up to Servi.  “My American hero.  A true American, a man of action, at home with, how do you say, Mother Nature,” and she pulled Servi up to her, and he did not resist.  She was smaller then him, her head reaching his shoulders, so he lowered his jaw and their lips met.  He felt her tongue, soft and humid, enter his mouth.  The points of her conical breasts, bra-less beneath the sun dress, pressed against his chest like two twin muzzles of some piece of ordinance, ready to discharge.   Servi felt a liquid warmth settle over him, like a molten wave cresting his body. 
When Francesca pulled away, she smiled at him slyly.
“Come on hero,” she smiled, and tugged at his beard.  “Take me back to New York.  You had your chance.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Order of Things - Story II

            “What does Kismet mean, anyway?” Miriam asked as she propped the bicycle against the phone booth.  She was fishing in her shorts for a dime.
            “It means” Servi intoned sagaciously, “fate in Turkish, Urdu, Hindi… but it comes to those languages from the Arabic qisma, who got it from the Persian…”
            “People sure do steal a lot of things… even words.  Do you have a dime Servi?”
             Her tight pockets had produced nothing, and Servi was not surprised.  All her shorts really did was inadequately cover her skin, the contours of which were visible for all to see, even the neat cleft in her crotch.   Her long white hand was now outstretched, and Servi placed a coin in it, left of center, almost dropping it.  Why make it too easy for this beguiling mendicant, Servi pondered, when all the world lay before her… ripe pickings for the Elect.  
            Miriam thanked him and opened the phone booth.  All along the central path in Saltaire, people were jogging, biking, strolling.  The day was overcast, but humid.  Since the morning, the scent of heavy rain lingered on the air, teasing relief which never came.  Every boy and man looked at Miriam in the phone booth, the tight space she inhabited suggestive of other intimacies.  Servi couldn’t blame them, for she was preternaturally comely, high, and tapered as a reed.  
          But as a counterpoint, her hips were pronounced, especially in the tiny shorts, and her small, pert, breasts, were scarcely covered by a white tank top.  Her white shorts came down to mid-thigh, enough to cover and suggest far more than the eye could see.  Men gazed at her on a continuum from rapture to despair.  And after soaking Miriam in, they looked at Servi, and some form of incongruity passed over their features.  If Servi was having sex with her, that look appeared to say, what other imbalance may exist in the cosmos?
            It took sometime to reach Jack on the phone.  Servi sat on a bench and took out Marcus Auerlieus’ Meditations.  He read a passage at random: “Whatever the universal nature assigns to any man at any time is for the good of that man at that time.”
            Servi put the book down.  He had, lately, thought of becoming a Stoic.  At twenty-two, events had converted him to the notion that struggling against the outside world was fruitless and doomed to pitiable failure.   
            Why not just toss it in?  Not suicide, but resignation.  The world was beyond Servi’s control.  Why not find something he could control. “You have power over your mind --- not outside events.  Realize this and you will find your strength,” the Philospher-Emperor wrote nearly two thousand years ago.  
            This was a world weary philosophy, but Servi was weary.  The problem was that just as Servi could certainly not control outside events, he could no more control his mind.  His passions had him in a vice grip.  He gazed at the arch of Miriam’s thigh and felt himself harden.  This was what he had to work with.  He might as well force a compass to point south, as to try to control his impulses around Miriam Henderson.
            “Hello Jack, where have you been?” he heard Miriam finally speaking to Jack in her lovely, smooth-phone-tone.  And it was lovely.  Everything about her was the dead end epitome of loveliness, and an inspiration of lust.  And Jack was not shy about detailing Miriam’s erotic preferences.  Like: she stroked her clitoris while Jack fucked her, all little counter-clockwise motions, and brought herself to climax that way, while Jack just kept probing along.  
         He took great pride that he could come at his leisure.  Servi had to hear it all.  And the fact that he could get up and just walk away while Jack told tales of clitoral self-stimulation and their like, and did not, only disgusted Servi.  Servi wanted to watch Miriam manipulate her clitoris while he was inside her.  He wanted her to get her fill of herself in this ritual of self-satisfaction, in what should be a moment of shared proximity.  Servi knew what it was:  it was the second best thing to being an accidental voyeur.  If one comes across a couple making love, especially friends, best to walk on and pretend nothing was seen.  But to stay and pant along, the third wheel in the erotic juggernaut, passive and pathetic, what would Marcus Auerelius say?
            “Where am I Servi?” Miriam asked.
            “Saltaire,” he answered, and then, playing along with Miriam’s pantomime of ignorance, the dumb blond routine: “Fire Island, New York, Planet Earth.”
            “And where am I going again?”
            “Kismet,” she repeated into the receiver, turning away from Servi and laughing.  “It means destiny in Urdu.”
            She said with irony, for she knew damn well what Urdu was, and who spoke it and where.  One of the more galling aspects of Miriam Henderson was that the surface brilliance of her form was more than mere patina.  She possessed a rare intelligence not overburdened with too much analytical skill; she would never be crippled by anything as specious as excessive thought.  She had a biting wit, the corollary of true intelligence, without an overabundance of meanness.   With her looks, why be mean?  She was casually creative, but she muted this behind the veil of her crushing beauty.  Why work so hard at beautiful things, Servi imagined her reasoning, when this or that will fall in her lap, literally or figuratively, with such well formed and proportioned charms.
            Marcus Auerelus was correct about most things, Servi thought as Miriam emerged from the phone booth.  This life is just a little breath, a fleck of flesh, an interlude of light between two states of darkness.  All that we had was the control of the Mind.  But Servi lacked this mechanism.  He could not reign in a single, errant thought.  His concepts did not deserve the grand capitalizations which Marcus Auerlius’ translators gave to Stoic concepts like Reason and World-Mind.  Servi’s god was flux and change, little ‘f’ and little ‘c’. 
            “Look, the phone gave me back your dime.  What luck!” she said, and Servi felt like she had given him back the deposit on the thoughts he had been thinking for the last five minutes.  “So,” Miriam said, standing in front him eagerly, hopping on both feet, ever so slightly, “show me this destiny of yours.”
            Miriam rode well.  The bicycles slid in the sand, which was constantly blowing in the humid wind over the slats of the broad walk in Saltaire.  Her posture on the seat was a sight to behold.  She held her head high and flush with her spine.  Her buttocksgripped the seat snuggly, like a ball in a socket.  Her shoulder length blond hair blew behind her, like a Germanic after image, a coda of light.  It was only with Saltaire behind them, when they encountered the open country of broken dunes, beach grass, and sandy paths, where Miriam lost her poise.   
           A bar of sand, like a semi-permeable speed bump, had drifted across the trail, and in a moment the bike slid out from beneath her.  Servi watched as she skipped along the sand for a few feet, the bicycle riding along and to the right, as if racing her to a finish line.  There was a moment of silence, the only sound the whipping wind, and then a wail.  Miriam was weeping without control.  Servi leaped from his bike and ran toward her, imagining a broken bone thrusting from that firm, yet maddeningly soft flesh.  But after a quick survey he realized there wasn’t as much as a scratch on her.  Miriam was just sitting there in a little sand filled ditch, crying.  He was about to ask her what was the matter, when she provided the unexpected answer.
            “I cheated on Jack!” her lovely, tear stained face pointed to Servi, her face scored with shame. 
            “Excuse me?”
            “I cheated on Jack.  I’ve been cheating on him,” Miriam raised a hand to her green eyes, shielding them from Servi’s quizzical gaze.  “I know you are his best friend.  I know he tells you everything about me.  But I consider you my friend too.  I have to tell you this.  You’re so kind.  Please, please, please, don’t tell him.  After I tell you this, just forget that I ever said anything…” and Servi knelt down in the sand next to her, feeling it was the only appropriate; he didn’t want to tower over her during something as hallowed as a confession. 
Then he listened once again to the sexual exploits of Miriam Henderson.  But this time, it was not through the refracting lens of Jack’s ego, but in the purview of another man, a man who satisfied her more than Jack.  She could keep her hands to herself, she said, or better yet, on her more masterful partner.  Servi was deeply shocked, even appalled.  He never imagined that such a sublime creature could be so indelibly confused about issues of love and lust.   
He had always imagined the flesh of Miriam Henderson as some how different than the clay of other men, a more subtle substance.  She and Jack, two Nordic Gods, straight, light, resplendent in the glow of perennial spring, always laughing at Servi, the limping Hephaestus, dark, stooped, hirsute, morose.  Jack couldn’t even bring her to orgasm!  But the law student at NYU never failed at this feat.  Miriam was left standing high and dry on the shoals of indecision, between a man she loved and a man who satisfied her lust.  To Servi, it was enviable perch.  Servi imagined the priapic law student bringing Miriam to a shuddering climax, and he sighed:  he was the voyeur in the mental shrubbery, stroking a cock which could never be satisfied, for it existed in his imagination.  He was panting at the window yet again, gazing at life’s feast grunting and groaning on strange sheets.
            “Please don’t tell Jack, Servi,” Miriam pleaded again when she was done, even as she stood up and brushed the layer of sand which covered her fine, compact legs.  “Can you swear?”
            “I swear Miriam,” he answered slowly.  “Don’t worry.”
            “I’ll work it out on my own.  I just needed to get it off my chest.  This kind of thing is hard.  It’s hard sleeping with two men and lying to them about it.  You can’t imagine the things that go through your head when you are naked with one man in the morning and another in the evening…”
            The sun appeared, but only its disk: it was still hiding behind a film of moist clouds, like a silhouette behind a great, gray sheet.
            “Can we head back, Servi,” Miriam said, changing the topic.  “I don’t feel like a bike ride anymore.”
            “Fine with me,” Servi answered, and they picked up the bikes and walked them back to the wooden broad walk which snaked through Saltaire.  
             As they rounded a corner by an L shaped due, a sight revealed itself:  in the dim haze something was struggling by a large pile of wire used to construct erosion fences.  As they got closer, the form shifted into focus: a petite deer had gotten its antlers tangled in the wire.  It was still when they arrived, but on sensing their presence, began to buck wildly and impotently, even kicking its hind legs in the air like an enraged mule.
            “Jesus,” Miriam explained, “what happened?”
            “People feed the deer, and they’ve lost their fear.  They walk though doors of houses, they get caught in fences, and they steal food from picnic baskets.  People have made them nuisances with their misplaced kindness.”
            “Shouldn’t we do something?” Miriam asked, and Servi realized the we meant him.  He approached the animal cautiously.  Fire Island deer were bonsai versions of their brethren on the mainland, but it was still a compact and powerful beast.  When he was a few feet from the deer, its pervading sense of panic leached into him, like the transfer of liquid over a medium. 
             Servi felt the range of its fears: trapped, thrashing, panicked, unsafe.  He was a slave like this animal, to the powerful impulses which swirled and looped about his psyche, battening him down and sweeping him free.  Irritated by this revelation, Servi began to pull the deer’s head, twisting and turning it in novel configurations, anything to free it and get it out of his sight.
            “Be careful,” Miriam warned him, “you’ll get hurt.”
            But it was too late.  Servi freed the deer, and in the same motion, it reared back, throwing him four feet in the air, landing flat on his ass.  The deer, stunned and fazed, ran awkwardly up a dune and into a deep patch of beach grass until it was gone from view.  Servi thought he heard the beast snorting, but then he realized it was Miriam laughing.  
         She laughed without a semblance of control, just as she had cried with an equal lack of control five minutes before.  Servi couldn’t blame her.  Wasn’t this all absurd?  Jack’s misplaced security, the NYU student and his hearty lingam, everyone’s orgasms, a trapped bonsai deer.  Everything had become a spectacle to behold, a circus of perception, and Servi was in the back row: sidelined by a dwarf deer, eunuch to a beautiful girl and unworthy to even be her third, let alone primary lover.  Laugher was a sane reaction to his plight.  Laugher rang out from Olympus like the peel of divine ordinance.
            But Miriam was not unkind in a clinch.  She mistook Servi’s glum acceptance of his lot for hurt, and she approached him on her hands and knees, like some parody of the jungle cat.  She spoke in a strident kind of baby talk, meant to be disarming and arousing, but actually terrifying, as if she held between her teeth a blade whose sole function was castration.   
             She asked for Servi’s forgiveness over and over again in a high, infantile pitch, and came to a halt immediately in front of his face.  Still on all fours, she kissed him.  It lasted for sometime.  Servi did not dare touch her.  Her tongue entered his mouth like an intruder, and caressed his teeth and pallet in stabbing arches.  Then she sat back on her haunches and smiled.  She wiped the salvia from her upper lip with the back of her hand, and looked supremely satisfied.  She had sealed her secret discloser to Servi with a secret action, and now one could not be revealed without the other.  It was a masterful stroke.  Servi could not but be impressed.  Miriam was a genius with such matters.  Servi felt the urge to applaud on his feet as if she had just masterfully sung an aria.
            “We’d better get back, Servi,” she stood up, and pulled her little shorts down.  “No Kismet for you, I’m afraid.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Order of Things - Story I

            Aaron Servi pulled the bicycles from the top rack of the car. 
            This was the last parking lot in Robert Moses State Park.  Beyond the low line of dunes were the slender, sandy paths which lead to the National Seashore.  A few wispy, high clouds, like elongated commas skipped across the clear blue sky.   Servi turned to look at the bathrooms.  She was still in there, so Servi leaned against the car and removed the book from his back pocket and opened it at random: “Adapt yourself to things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall lived.”  Servi laughed aloud: resignation and love, in equal portions.  Weren’t they the same things? 
            Marcus Aurelius was speaking to him over the wavering medium of  two millennium.  And this was proper:  since Servi felt perpetually disappointed, he thought he would become, like the great old Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius, a card carrying Stoic.  This seemed like a wise course of action.  External life, with its dizzying highs and pit deep lows, had proven itself unstable, like relying on a friend with a drinking problem: good days and bad days, and always uncertainty which was coming next.  Things changed too much; life was in constant flux; failure rooted in every burrow and perched on every hilltop.  Better to anchor life on something firm, Servi reasoned: the World-Soul, Reason, the Mind Fire, a Life Lived According to Nature.  Stoic technical terms, all worthy of ponderous capitalization.
            Servi was about to pull another quote out of the book from random, but then she emerged from the bathroom.  She was in the process of pinning her long, brown hair atop her head, a disappointment to Servi.  He had hoped she would wear it loose, and then he could ride behind her, and watch it fall all around her brown shoulders, caressing the skin as a substitute for Servi’s fingers.  He wished to pluck some masochistic joy out of this act, almost like watching her make love to another man.  But she was a practical girl, and hair was pinned up when it could get in the way of a practical pursuit, like riding a bike. 
            She walked up to Servi and stared at him, expectantly, without a trace of guile.  This was what he was to her, a young man she could be truthful to, since they were not sleeping together, and in return, he got the truth reflected back at him, clear and unwavering.  She loved him, he thought, but in a lesser way than his best friend Jack.  Somehow, in the chemistry that created him and his friend, a compound was missing in Servi and present in Jack.  There was no explanation or excuse.  It was nothing Servi had done or not done: it was just the order of things.  It was simply what “destiny had ordained.”
            “Servi, where are we biking today” she asked with genuine expectation.  Servi smiled and sized her up, as if for the first time.  Her neck was long and brown; her eyes, almond shaped, quizzical, slightly sleepy; her body compact, even thick, but marked by a pleasing series of rash curves and unexpected dips.  The trajectory of her lines flared and pinched along her body at appointed places, providing the correct ratios, the most pleasing vistas.  Attractive, soft, heavy, Servi imagined resting in the warm crook her sloping waist, between her jutting hip and the lower edge of her ribs:  Jordan Mandel, his best friend’s girlfriend.
            “I thought Kismet,” Servi answered, slipping Aurelius into his pocket, and taking few steps to the bikes.  They stood and looked at the snaking, yellow path beyond them.  Kismet was the town after Seaview, beyond a field of broken dunes.  Servi could see Jordan weighing the choice in the scales of her mind with a more attainable goal, even glancing down at her legs unconsciously to judge if they were adequate to the task.
            “It’s a bit far, isn’t it?”
            “I suppose,” Servi answered, squinting in the distance.  “We could give it a try, anyway. Bikes can turn around, you know.”  Jordan smiled at him; there was a pleasing, suggestive space between her two front teeth.   
              Servi watched as she threw her leg over the over the seat, pushed off, and began to peddle.  Her back leaned forward; her haunches pulled tight.  Servi, caught up his revelry, found himself significantly behind .  He pushed furiously to catch up, and when he did, he could see how hard she was working.  The path had sandy patches, and she worked hard to keep from skidding.  Servi smiled at her effort.  She was trying to please him.  Reaching Kismet had been some sort of impromptu goal, and she wanted to try and help him fulfill it.  It was a straw man for sex, Servi imagined, sex he would never have with her.
            They passed a booth with a red boom gate and were in the National Seashore.  They rode along the wooden broad walk surrounding the lighthouse with ease.  A few people were standing in the beach grass, feeding some deer from their sandwiches.
            “They shouldn’t do that,” Jordan told Servi softy, so the people wouldn’t hear.
            “Why,” he asked.  “Because they’ll get Lyme Disease?”             “No,” she answered, turning to face Servi, stray wisps of brown hair loose from her bun.  She looked to Servi look a Jewish matron, but her face was preternaturally young.  “They are wild animals.  They shouldn’t grow reliant on people.  It’s no good for them.”
            They rode on.  Seaview, a small collection of bungalows and beach houses tucked between some dunes; paths to the ocean and the bay; then an older couple, out for a stroll, spied both Servi and Jordan and they heard the woman say “What a lovely couple,” and Servi unconsciously looked at Jordan, who blushed to the roots of her hair.  Servi quickly looked away, at once elated and heart-sunk.
            Seaview ended as soon as it began.  The broad, rolling sand dunes and canopy of sky stretched out beyond them.  The bikes skidded in the loose sand.  Jordan quickly fell, and Servi hopped off his bike to her.  He quickly lifted her up by her right elbow.
            “We can turn back,” Servi offered, but Jordan, as she stood up on shaky legs, shook her head.  Her bun was now undone, and she capitulated, letting her long brown hair shake down, framing her round, red face in a curtain of curls.  In the distance, Servi could hear the pounding of the surf.   There was a storm off the coast.
            “No,” she answered, pulling her bike up.  “You always wanted to go to Kismet.  How far is it?”
            “A mile,” Servi answered, and then, to make the trip more unappealing to her: “maybe a mile and a half.”  Servi expected her to take the bait, but instead, she was back on the bike, riding ahead,  pedaling east.  Servi could see the sweat stain rising from the hem of her tank top.  She rode without great care and was soon down again just beyond the bend in the trail.  She let out a little cry and Servi, imagining she was hurt, rushed to her.
            She was seated Indian style in the middle of the trail, her bike on the up swing of a ditch, having mounted the dune which bordered the beach without her, as if to prove that it was capable of far greater feats alone than under her direction.   But Jordan hadn’t cried out because she was hurt, only stunned by what she saw.  A miniature Fire Island deer had tangled its bonsai antlers on a coil of discarded wire twisted to a post.  It kicked and struggled furiously to get free. 
            Servi stood over Jordan and offer her his hand.  She took it and pulled herself up, and once beside him, Servi was surprised that she did not let go.   He felt  a serge of love for this girl.  Each of her gestures made him rear with delight or pitch into grief.  He was starting off on the wrong foot on his career of philosophical detachment.  So far, the life of resigned acceptance and love of Jordan’s form and Jordan’s form alone was a failure.  Watching all her postures and contortions on the bike and on the ground and getting up had aroused him.   
            He imagined Jordan in a bed, in a calliope of positions.  He shifted his body in his shorts, hoping Jordan would not notice.  He felt the heat of her warm hand in his and it magically stirred his penis.  This was all bad.   The deer had quieted down for a bit, but now began a new round of twisting, stomping, pulling and snorting.
            “Are you OK?” Servi asked.
            “Yes,” she answered, all the while gripping Servi’s hand.  “What should we do?”
            Reluctantly, Servi released her hand and stepped closer to the deer.  From a distance it appeared sleek and smooth, but up close Servi saw nearly a dozen blemishes and cuts on its hide, a multitude of ticks and fleas swarming on its surface, especially its twitching, filthy anus.   
             The beast had stopped moving for a moment, and then began to kick its hind legs, as if to compensate the loss of control of his front quarters.  Servi began to roughly guide the antlers through the twisted ball of wire, a move at a time, until, after no more than a few seconds, the deer was free.   
              It simply stood between Servi and Jordan, like a plastic lawn ornament, its large wet eyes void of any discernable emotion, even fear, perhaps wondering why it was so close to these curious bipeds if they were not offering it a sandwich.  Then the spell was broken, and it bolted away, up and over a dune, its hindquarters twitching and swaying from the accumulated exertion of implacable captivity and sudden flight.
            Servi watched the beast run.  A sense of satisfaction pervaded him.  He felt a new emotion, a spark of approval deep in his bowels, as if a new sense of something unnamed, was dancing within him; something unusually fashioned by promise and hope.    But then it was suddenly smothered.  Jordan was in front of him, her lips over his, her tongue probing his mouth, her arms wrapped around his shoulders.  He returned the kiss as best he could, but he could not match the shape of its raw intensity.
            Then suddenly it was over.  She pulled away, her hand over her mouth, as if by physically blocking the offending aperture, she could erase the rash act.   Her hair was in wild disarray.   She looked as if she would be sick.  Servi tried to say something, but she suddenly turned around, picked up her bike, and started west, toward the Robert Moses parking lot; in the near distance, roofs of the houses of Kismet poked above the dunes.  Neither one dared to speak the entire way to the city.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Thankful Line - Poem

My children are bandits
Now, at forty-one, 
Their thievery leads
to a joyful penury
And to the growth of praise
Of those without guile.

Here, a ditty to the patrimony
That I created with a tiny sock
Attached to a spindly leg
The fixation of little beings
Poking about in drawers

This is what we are;
The thankful line of life ever growing.

Eric Maroney 2008, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bald Hill - poem

Bald Hill                                                                      

I speak two languages, that never
Leave my tongue, they fall
Like loose shale, about Bald Hill
What will you be, small flesh?
So much seems over already.
A part, immeasurably old, yearns
To be molded in predestination, but is stuck.

What can I tell you, this half
Of me, when two of my languages
Are unformed -- the steepness of
The hill forbids the telling
The distance between the crest and
The marsh, the deer and the wood, the
Hawk and the high grassy meadow
Are immeasurable.  We stumble in telling.

When I brought you up the hill
I wove a reed mat
That I unstrung coming down
We strung it together, indifferent
But it was really paramount, not
Penultimate, the slipping
Of nativity not measured
In notches of the rotting pine posts
Set up to delineate a farmer's
Forgotten field.  It is over,
The Hill was a ziggurat
My babble of tongues

Eric Maroney  11-04

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sephardic for the Ashkenazim

As a self-proclaimed Hebrew geek, a self-generated Hebraist, it was with great pleasure that I read A New Sound in Hebrew Poetry: poetics, politics and accent, by Miriam Segal. Professor Segal writes about the rise of the so-called Sephardic accent in Hebrew in the late 19th century, to its solidification as the accent for colloquial Hebrew in Palestine by the 1920s.

Professor Segal explores the birth of Ashkenazi accented Hebrew poetry in the late 19th century, by such giants as Bialik.   The stature of Ashkenazi accented Hebrew was so great, that it inhibited the growth of Hebrew in the "new" accent, based on a hybrid of Sephardic and Ashkenazi accent being created in Palestine.

Segal does an excellent job showing how Hebrew education took place on the ground in the early years of the 20th century.  She does an admirable job of illustrating the three available choices for a "Sephardic" accent among the European Jews who wished to use this eastern Hebrew for its air of authenticity as a spoken language.  The koine that developed was a mix of Sephardic and Ashkenazi elements in syntax, grammar, accent and tone.

Segal then goes on to show how new Sephardic Hebrew accented poetry began to take center stage in Palestine, eventually fully supplanting Ashkenazi Hebrew.  Of course, the kicker is that Bialik, considered the father of Israeli poetry, wrote his work in Ashkenazi accented Hebrew. 

Segal explores this paradox to great effect, showing us how nostalgia and longing can play a part even in a self-conscious attempt to divorce a people from its past.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Married Life - David Vogel

A review I wrote a few years ago on David's Vogels Hebrew language novel Married Life:

David Vogel was a Hebrew poet and novelist who died at the hands of the Nazis in 1944. Married Life, his only long work in English translation, chronicles the world which Vogel inhabited, seedy Vienna between the World Wars, a place where marginalization was the norm.

Married Life stands on its own legs, but it is all the more amazing when the reader realizes that this novel was written in Hebrew in Europe, by a man who did not speak Hebrew as his daily language or live in Palestine, which had a population of native Hebrew speakers, in some numbers since the end of the 19th century. 

Vogel inserted his Hebrew into situations where it did not belong, plunging it into the kind of normality it would not receive until the full-flowering of Hebrew in British Mandate Palestine and later the State of Israel. So for this reason, but by no means the only or most important, Vogel's work is significant. He was one of the last secular writers of Hebrew to write outside the land of Israel. 

His poems, novels and novellas stand as interesting testaments to a language and people in transition to their own state and culture and language.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Joy of Etty's Life

This is the second collection of the writings of Etty Hillesum I have read, the first being An Interrupted Life. Etty was a young Jewish woman living in occupied Holland during World War II.  In 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz where she was murdered.  

In this collection of her diaries (and some letters), Etty Hillesum: Essential Writings, editor Annemarie S. Kidder culls passages from Etty’s diaries that fit into a Christian mold.  She divides each set of writings by topic, “The Self”, ‘The World’,  “The Self and the World” moving the diary entries out of chronology order.

This collection, in highlighting Etty’s spiritual struggles, provides a strong dose of her mystical tendencies, which we see growing stronger as she approaches what she knows will be her death.  This is the collection’s strong suite:  the closer Etty gets to death, the more she feels God’s presence within her.  Her union with God is directly related to the suffering and pain she sees around her.  God and death become twin companions, and her prose soars and we, the reader, get the full visceral picture of this woman, her life, and ultimately, her death.  Etty is moving toward a point where she will not return, and her joy in the munificence of the presence of God  within overwhelms her.

The problem with this collection is that it cherry picks from the larger body of the diaries.  From what I have read, Etty was an eclectic searcher; she was Jewish, but had Christian leanings, mainly through the lens of her mentor, Julius Spier, and her reading of Rilke and Jung.  Certainly, those are treated in this volume, but by subdividing them into nearly monastic categories, the impression is given the Etty was something that she was not: a Christian adept.   From my reading, she was spiritual eclectic.

Her voice was unique.  She does not fit into any tradition with any degree of comfort.  Even mystic fails to encapsulate the beauty and truth her diaries convey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Language is the Main Character - The Orchard Keeper Cormac McCarthy

The Orchard Keeper, Cormac McCarthy’s first novel, is more than just a taste of what will come later in his writing career (although there is certainly that element in the novel).  Mainly, the novel features his extremely distinctive prose.  His weird, twisted diction, mixed with Kentucky dialect and strange extinct words brought back to life on the page.
The plot of The Orchard Keeper is hard to follow.  Characters are sometimes not named, and the reader must decipher who is speaking and where and when the action is occurring.  There are several events happening nearly together, and they are tied at the end in a not completely satisfactory way.

The real showcase of this novel is the use of language.  McCarthy shows here that he is not afraid to use language to fit the needs of his art, sometimes nearly twisting it to be breaking point.