by Benny Raymond
I have already written about the linoleum tile in the bedroom. It is of that lovely emerald green color that sometimes is seen today in bowling balls. In 1950 the convent was built here in Weston for the teaching sisters of Our Lady Of Mount Sinai. When it came time to finish the austere chamber of the ordene, this same color was selected for the floor, in a sole concession to beauty. Other than the haggard Velazquez crucifix in bronze which was left behind when the sisters departed for good in 2000, on the eve of an impossible new millenium. I look upon the shadowed Christ from where I lie in bed in the half-light of Christmas and Midsummer’s mornings, early, and I am not abashed; it is fully thirty-four years since I gazed on the face of Jesus, said I would take my own blame and lifted him down from there. He smiled at me in the dream then on Easter morning and the garret of the gay professor of economics on West Lake Harriet Boulevard in Minneapolis, and three years later in the Spring, in Fes, I would make shaHada in the Spanish mosque. Then become muslim, I have never ceased in these studies since. Nor even when I departed in to early-1980’s years-long episodes of cocaine-sniffing and the most orgiastic and vile of southern Minnesota Squawbunion County Republican Party politics.
I see this now.
I am merely another run-of-the-mill dervish, this is not to the credit as a rule of any sort of “sanctity” and my smalltime visions are merely janitorial in terms of the work; whereas it is simply in the nature of the studies after all to see more and more clearly across boundaries as Time goes by. This sort of “insightfulness” is due to no particular moral attainment by the practitioner. Indeed, it is most often the work of the Sufis to buffer and muffle the influx of a still mainly-insane universe. Not for the students alone, but for all of humanity!
And so in the same way on some days in the mornings I see, on first rising, differences in the cream-colored stippling of the malachite tiles. There have been at least thus far but two variations in the diurnal pattern. This has been so as a rule at least until this morning, and on some days (still comfortingly enough on most of them, actually!) kirkle for example is spelt in the usual way. Not so, though, as I write today when kirkle is spelled with C’s; on these days the World all around me is abominable and there was something in it called Auschwitz. You whom I call the “C-people” already know about this hideous fact, and in fact it is so terrifying that not a few of you even deny that it ever happened.
In my K-world, Dr Albert Schweitzer, with whom I share a birthdate, founded his great teaching hospital there and the Pope, Benedict XVI, having professed Islam, is now deemed the Grand Mufti of Rome & Toledo (OH, in the United States). I met a woman actually years ago who had on her own picked up on the fact that she, too, was a dweller in these same two worlds. However, just as I was about to propose some immoral liaison or the other, senior fellows of the Institute intervened and we two quondam lovers were sent packing, she into the occult ecstasies of lesbian separatism; and, I back in to the limiculous filth of south-central Minnesota Republican Party politics. This was in the K-world on the eve of the Karl Rove Bangkok kiddie porn scandals, and where G W Bush never became President.
The Institute fellows, Dr Wayne Allen Kurwen and Psykologist J Kalvin Herd, asserted that Klarity and I were within an ace of setting up an harmonic dis-convergence that would bring earthquakes, oil spills and an incurable sexual pandemic disease; accordingly, quarantine was decreed, I in the horrible ambiguous C-world, my Klarity in the other.
Nor would we ever see one another again.
Although as the grinning skeletal Dr Herd averred, scratching furiously at psoriatic and wet, running, wens and pustules in his soaking scalp, it was all for the best; protective algorithms of loathing composed by the mathematician Skirlet Ball as smoothing variables were in play, and these would assure that if we ever did meet through any accidental lowering of the boundaries, we would detest and curse each other on sight. Operations such as these very often are what underlie the instant likes and dislikes people have for one another on meeting, and are mostly responsible for the whole “love at first sight” business, too. (They also account frequently for the sheer hate-filled poisonousness of both our postcontemporary political and academic disputes, in which really there is otherwise so little anymore at stake today, at the end of Constitution and credentials.)
Needless to say, there is also such a thing as true love and so I have thus never cared to force the matter of any reunions.
So matters have progressed to date; my first teacher of some of the Sufi methods, MaHmoud Nazheem, told me as early as 1979 that I could expect to be troubled at some date by the phenomenon of “the two worlds”. Having given me the Briggs-Meyers test before passing on my expressed desire to become muslim, Nazheem added that a certain visionary “doublemindedness” was a characteristic experience of ENFP’s such as myself. He said that my great bane in life would be the impulse to always keep moving “onto the next thing”.
This indiscipline — usually “diagnosed” in the wholly-inadequate C-world as “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”, or something — would however by a kind of rule of the opposites also be the basis of my visionary skill in ameliorative travel between the worlds, al-‘alaminna.
Nazheem further added that to me, as an extrovert with a definite predisposition to both emotionalism and wishful thinking, he would frankly recommend the smoking of hasheesh and marihuana; these would give me a frame of reference for any imaginal lability; and, so, to outsiders at least I could just blame any excess of “perception” all on to “dope”, if my fancifulness ever became too pesty or caused any sort of social trouble. Outwardly, Nazheem is that most redoubtable of men, a rigorous and devout Sunni muslim, and a koranic literalist of the first water. But, he told me in private, this Shia’a business of taqiyya, of dissembling or just plain lying about my mental motives and activities and purposes, would save me from a whole lot of trouble. (Not a few of the “mentally ill” in the C-world are under this sort of protective guidance.)
This advice of course was certainly enjoyable, at least for many years.
Only now that I have not had any “weed” literally for many more years, suddenly I have noticed the disturbing, in fact terrifying, incursion of a possible third world:
On getting up in the morning today, I thought for a brief panicky moment over my first cup of coffee that only moments before one of my “barometer” tiles in the bedroom had been actually solid green and not figured at all, at all!
My matutinal sense of a yawnsome semi-alarm was, though, cut short by a glance at the clock, and I hurried out of the convent to drive thirty miles to appraise by appointment an alleged library of “Arabic classics”. I was in a still half-awake hurry and noticed only distractedly as I closed the door behind me that I had promised My Dear Partner In Crime, Marty, that I would this very afternoon renew the peeling red paint that has been growing more and more dull for all these years of our long residence together, after as she says she found me “dangling around at loose ends in a Hang Town used bookstore”. And, dozy still fifteen minutes later, it was only after I’d swept across Hangnail County bridge State Of Minnesota number 1564 that I realized something was wrong with the black-and-yellow abutment markers on it!
These are mainly to assure nighttime safe driving on the back roads. They are figured in diagonal stripes that point downward from either side of the road at the ends of the railing; the diagonals converge downward toward the center line in the pavement. The top inner corners and bottom outer corners are black and there are three yellow reflectorized stripes….only not so today!
Now the essence of the sort of training I’d received from MaHmoud Nazheem in his halka, or circle (only in the K-world this is halca and “kirkle”) was based on the practice of what I imagine C-worlders might, on reading this, consider to be an excruciatingly precise intensity of, well, over-observation. So now, only a second or two after passing them, I realized that the abutment markers were somehow “off” and, mentally, I kicked myself for not having spotted it on the instant. And then, as I sped on to my business meeting, I coordinated this bridge-abutment anomaly with the odd experience of a scant two hours before, of having perceived a third color-pattern in the bedroom floor.
You can imagine my shock. Or will at least when once I tell you that the goal of the work as done in my particular “school” of dervishment is to realize the hallowed alchemical tertium non datur. This is in itself but the merest precursor, for it heralds al-akirah (spelled in my preferred world as al-acirah), The Moment Of The End Of The World. Or, rather, worlds…all of them. And, just now, not even a minute before, and after having only just awakened a scant few hours before to sure evidence that I was, for today at least, somehow blundering in a third mysterious world, I had just rushed heedlessly headlong past bridge abutment markers with but two yellow reflectorized stripes and yellow top inner and bottom outer corners!
It is to obliterate this sort of unconsciousness, ghaibat, that is the whole work of the Sufis.
For clearly, That Moment (or, anyway, a moment of some kind) was at hand — and now only a scant dimension or eye-blink, or secretive fart maybe, away! –when “the mountains move like clouds”.
The Public Radio station was no help, full of babble about the inevitable and tiresome BP corporate average outcome and oil-disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and the sheer and equally tiresome insufficiency of “governance” to deal with any of it; and, so, I turned to MPR’s classical frequency; naturally (it is part of the curse, I think sometimes!), they were playing Mahler and so I changed over quickly yet again: to the Polka Beat on KNUJ-860 AM, from out of New Ulm, MN. The orotound sonorities of the tuba and the bawled comic lyrics and howled yodels of the “Riff ” Affolter Goosetown Meisters & The Len “Foxglove” Schalow Quintet, all were reassuring and so I arrived at my appraisal-client’s home in an altogether more businesslike mind-frame.
Only, alas, there was no business to be done.
The “Arabic classics” proved to be two mildewed variant sets of the Arabian Nights, a copy in the original French of Salome and a number of quasi-pornographic confections about imaginary “mahometan” life in Morocco harems, in damp-rippled back numbers of the fantasy magazine, Heavy Metal. These were badly translated from the French. With murmured inconsequentialities I took my leave of the little bespectacled Vermin Center, MN, Unitarian and grinning domine, in his atrocious mat of false hair. He did not press the offer of chilled mineral water, but he positively would not let me go until I’d assured him at least several times that not all “mazlumes” were “terrorists”; and, that some of us at least are positively chummy and sentimental people just stuffed full of regret and best wishes however cloying, for the whole of humanity.
Naturally, on my way home and some easy cash having failed to materialize, that average American antidote to existential dread of every sort, I fell back into meditating on the visionary upheaval of the morning; Mahler was still looming on the radio, and this time I did not switch off. I drove at a steady fifty-seven miles an hour on cruise control and, rather intensely, I wondered what was afoot.
Nazheem of course had taught us that al-akirah has a profoundly existential component; and, that one-by-one as we leave this life we dervishes will take into the Beyond with us on the wings of our individual last breaths the living images of everyone and everything we’ve ever taken into our embodied memories through our five senses, lifelong. The physiological process of dying is elementary, in love lies the whole art of death. To this end for years I’d been holding seances at three in the morning and on the Night of Power, while driving long distances, shoveling snow, whatever; communing with all the faces and figures of all those I’d ever disappointed. To that end I was proud that, at least in my mind, I had excellent relations with everyone in the Beyond and that these were in fact far better than they could ever even hope to be in any shoddy equivalent of “real” life, here. (Leaving a marriage quite a few years into this all proved to be heartbreaking, of course it did and it was, intensely so, but now my ex-wife and I for my part anyway get along wonderfully…elsewhen!)
All that aside — and, in fact, because I do enjoy such good albeit solipsistic relations nowadays with all the living images of everybody I’ve ever “flipped shit on” — now I found I was not quite ready to hare off out of this admittedly annoying C-world, not just yet, not out of this still-unfinished life at least. There were still so many projects, notably buying an old farmplace in which to board stray cats and dogs, and to keep icelandic ponies; a bigger and better telescope; and, finally, learning to really write real good, just like H P Lovecraft or Jack Vance, or somebody….
As I pulled up in front of the convent an hour ago, I saw with relief that MDPIC was away; she does not indulge me much in too much of “all this wild talk”. She is down-to-earth and Swedish and enjoys re-reading the marital meditations of James Thurber, the plays of Ibsen. In a rush I parked and went into the house. I was above all determined to verify that the floor tile in question was still a solid emerald green. On that circumstance would depend everything….
As I mounted the stairs, I remembered with a sort of shiver or spasm of the shoulders one associates with carnival midway haunted houses or particularly soothing urinations that I had positively failed on the way home to even note the “present” state of the Hangnail County bridge State Of Minnesota number 1564 abutment markers. Hence, even more did all depend on the state of the bedroom floor. If all was about to end, I at least needed to know about it in order to try unblinking to face that fact. And, so, you will imagine my momentary but immense, profound relief, when I saw that the individual tile in question had reverted to one of its two usual alternative patterns. The detestable and shitty, low-IQ, C-world one to be sure, but familiar anyway.
And that was, for a few moments anyway, no end comforting!
Now I would not need to explain to my beloved MDPIC, that devoted viewer of Law And Order, the urgent need quick in a hurry, right now, “stop the screwing around”, to shoot her, and the cats and the dog. The end of a whole universe of worlds is a big thing. The sheer scale of it is probably just about tumultuous and I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer the pain and terror of it overlong. Now, though, it seemed I would not have need to face this daunting task: MDPIC would of course argue about it all no end and real strenuously, and she would just talk back, too, and get on my nerves; she would adduce tiresome endless examples from Dateline to “prove” I’d never get away with it; I would grow fatigued and get wore out by all the nonstop jabber; I would walk out of the room of sarcasm; and, so, I would be dissuaded from the needed act of mercy, and pissed off too. It is no way to die, and love in this Abode of Decay is not all ease and blissful accord and macadamia bowlsful, I am sorry to tell you.
Now as I stepped down the stairs, doubly relieved, I fished in my pocket for the car keys. Nazheem had taught us that the work of the Sufis is above all a scientific work in the fullest sense of seeking always to know. It may not be so entirely up to snuff as all that, at least not according to the faux-rigorous standards of the messy C-world’s mass, or university, scientism; but, the sufic intricacies are all the more firmly grounded in empirical study for all of that. Now, I would need to drive the fifteen or so miles back to Hangnail County bridge State Of Minnesota number 1564, to verify the state, for “now” anyway, of the abutment markers. Only the keys were not in my pocket…in my rush back into the house I had left them in the lock of the battered old red front door I had promised just this morning — as it seems now, falsely, another one of love’s endless lies — MDPIC that I would repaint this very afternoon.
Only I am not driving back to the bridge now, and I am, rather decidedly, just plain not up to repainting the old front door. Not in any color. For there is now a sudden dull weakness in my lower back and legs like that felt by Mr Toad when he looked back from the footplate to behold the pursuing locomotive full of detectives and pot-hatted policemen. I have just finished typing this account to this point (to fire off into the distinctly Roman Catholic Limbo of cyberspace) and so there is now no need whatsoever to go back to the bridge and examine any perpatetic abutment markers. So here I sit, all at once all exhausted. For this is what I know now, incontestably, beyond Borges and Strindberg. Namely that my keys still dangle in the front door lock as the baltimore oriole calls from the maple top in the sunlit front yard of the old Our Lady of Mount Sinai convent, and I will not need them now. I will not need them ever again. Not if there is still that coil of clothesline in the cellar I bought earlier in the Spring. Not unless it be for a last quick rush into Wells to buy ammunition for the old Webley. So for now just let them dangle there:
In the lock of the battered old green front door.
[all rights reserved
[7 June 2010]