Monday, January 16, 2012

(Excerpt from "Before the Gates")

The Master
K. Zeth Ozbirn

(From Before the Gates, available on Amazon Kindle,

I know that this ink is vitriol.  Almost tasting of anisette, it numbs the tongue and the throat on the way down.  The bouquet could be confused for fennel. 
There is that burning.  It is inescapable, always there, the coal swallowed from the brazier, smoky and glowing from my abdomen.  I sit here and think, scratching through its bastard light in the darkness. 
Not alone, I can hear the dreaming murmurs and breath from my bed beside this chair.  Wrapped in white marble, facing away from my burning lamp, shadow dancing upon the wall in its unsteady light, there is the contentment in the stillness of night.  An acceptance of the void and the threatening, a submission made of the corners of the mind grown weak from fright. 
It rolls its dice.  It awakes in the morning light, always, but not for this false dawn of my petty scratches and throat clearing.
Which is the greater shame?  By sleeping, that this one misses the sepia of the candle’s flame, I miss the understanding of so many scribbles; or that I watch, unable affect this other passed beyond before me to the service of the Oneiroi?

I am humbled by my weakness.  I think of my humility often, and wish for its return. 

When they lead me, grey with wisdom, through their tall courts, I can feel the blood, ankle deep, my sodden shoes pumping with each step.  The echo of my heartbeat reverberates through hallways gilded by burning lamps hanging from the walls. 
Here in the widening chambre sits the Duke.  The room reeks of copper. 
The Table is laid.  The utensils are silver, but the cups are all gold, filled with a wine that never empties, but is ladled from the floor and blessed through the acts of a tight-eyed old priest by the doorway, his robes match both the wine and the blood through which we all wade.  The wine tastes like battle and youth.  It has an undertone of fear and vainglory.
I listen to their plans, drink, and wonder when the money will come.  They have plans, plots, greater conquests.  Smiles are wolves in the grass winking at me over their own cleverness.  They wait for my glass to be filled. 
We are on stage for the servants.  The timing must be perfect.  Possibly this display is even for me, but I doubt it.  I am simply another ornament.  The spheres and heavens spin around us.
First, there will be a horse.  There must always be a horse.  I’ve modeled so many damnable horses that I feel more like a common husband fresh from the stables with dung on his boots.  I can remember still, in Milan, that paradise of days when I held command over the planets in their spheres; the stars coming to light, the scent of the court bathed in color among lira and song.  It was and it is a time which has gone. 
While this Duke may be in charge of events, the program and pace, I am still the one who makes the stage.  In this we have our game of scacchi, always.  I set the board and the pieces.  The first move is his.
Their dreams and their damned horses; they used Sforza’s for target practice in the smoke, after he was in chains and the fires cooled.  I agree to make a fabulous horse for this one, out of many tons of bronze. 
“It is true that I make everything.”
He smiles.  We move on.  The pedone advances.  This borghese smiles now, but will join me in the same box in the end. 
We must take the machines out of the garage, of course.  Plans are unraveled and spread across the table by the servants.  They are impressed.  There will be flames and men screaming.  Wood will burn and the trebuchets will set the hills to flight.  Walls will buckle to crush the populace beneath heavy stones they once thought permanent and divine.  There will be plenty of wine for us all.
Il suo vizier has come into play early.  He is eager.
It is always the same.  They are simply the new face with the same story, always the same words.  Their money was the same money, and has been the same money, melted time and again like the ice in the Alps.
I will be part of the killing.  My hands will not see blood, but there is enough on the floor for all of us.  It soaks into your skin.  It stains your clothes.  I will make the thoughts for the killing.  I will bring men barrels of misery, enough to choke and drown them.  My vintage is an older evil, true enough, but any evil will do, it seems. 
I bring forth il mio cavallo.  I do not fear i suoi alfieri
“Hannibal ad portas,” I say and smile.
We drink more wine.  Valentino is more proud of his cleverness.  The conversation becomes unimportant. 
When the line breaks, I am pleasant in my defeat.  He has taken to my left flank, an open space, di pedoniIl Re Blanco hides in the farthest corner.  Un pedone falls da suo cavallo, and his eyes broaden as my hand slides il vizier across and into his lines.  La Torre follows, Via del Corso, and there are no more moves to be made. 
I feign humility and pantomime acquiescence.  My performance is flawless.  I’d have been an actor, if only there was money in it. 
He sits back in his chair, his sleeves hanging upon the rests.  This Duke discusses the details of our finance.  He is princely; I will not starve once again. 
Ite, missa est.

I write in the brass light from the lamp.  The body on the bed has rolled over, and I can see the flesh in the gentle shade glow like the sun at dusk.  My hand searches for words, the stylus spearing them as they swim in the ink. 
Here is the bag, res deposito.  It sits heavy, a trickle trailing from the seam and off the table.  My eyes hold on the bag and the thin dark weeping that spreads from my drawing board to the floor. 
Lifting the bag with one hand, I watch the drops leave as it chimes and settles with a swing.  The floor will be covered by morning. 
There is nothing that can be done, now.  Solely a game, it is never a game.  The pieces move.  The hands which touch them need not be kind.  There is only one acceptable end.  The rest is simply revista.
“’Tutto รจ permesso’.  Nitimur in vetitum semper cupimusque negata—”
It is late.  I feel Him in the silence as the bag settles.  The loneliness, the watching, the knowing.  I lick the tip of my stylus and scratch more, listening to the noise of the paper and the mice in the hall.

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