Close your eyes and see sun beams make their obeisance before the dais of the eternal conifer king. Open them and see the garish overtures of neon signs slyly winking at those restless souls drifting aimlessly through the night. They shuffle into dim, smoky bars with the air of penitents and lay down their coins on an altar to the banal, a paltry offering in exchange for free-flowing fermented indulgences.
Somewhere, on a dark stage, the entrance of which is hidden by the gaping blackness of a narrow, peeling door that fades into the depths of a narrower, darker alley, a troubadour wields a melody as a cudgel.
“Can’t you see, the horror in eternity,” he sings in a cutting, crystalline tone that acts like a flagellant upon the soul, “To be alone, your soul laid bare. Screaming, writhing, does no one care?”
But as the soft notes float through space they are lost, overpowered by the tinny chords blaring from the speakers atop the cheap plastic big top of a travelling circus across the way.
“Vaudeville for the technological age!” a fluorescent marquee boasts.
“Featuring a sideshow of Flash and Sound!”
“Starring Ability brilliantly costumed and giving the performance of a lifetime as Talent!”
Back on the darkened stage, the troubadour finishes his song and a roaring chorus of silence rises up to greet him. Exhausted, he lets his shoulders slump forward. Locks of baby-fine hair, the color of noontime summer sun reflecting off the pale green underside of young leaves, fall like a curtain across his brow. The black of midnight descends as the two shining spotlights of his eyes are extinguished.
Here, in the lush darkness of his mind, images spring up unbidden. He sees flaming oak leaf missiles plummet from well-stocked arboreal armories. The languid tendrils of a breeze reach out and alter their trajectories. Cicadas sound an alarm while dragonfly generals surveil their carpet-bombing operation, resolute that the denizens of the forest floor will not survive. Stoic sparrow soldiers watch and wait for orders.
Up in the heavens, cloud wraiths howl, throw their grey manes about and strike their chests. The conifer king bows his head solemnly in acknowledgment of the sacrifice his subjects have made. The sea spirits beat a funeral dirge for the fallen upon the unyielding feet of granite cliff giants, whose eternal vigil stymies their campaign to grow their water demesne.
Growth. The minstrel’s eyes spring open and a shimmering pearl drips down the strings of his guitar, sending one high note up into the air, like the chirp of a small bird. It flutters about the ceiling, flapping its wings with increasingly desperate fury, then falls, exhausted, to the ground with an imperceptible downy thud.
Life without impact, death without notice: in the grand temporal scheme, is that an existence? If so, why?
Why—the unanswered question, hidden in plain sight.
Confusion. The artist’s mandate: be singular, have vision, but take from eternity, from the contributions of greatness past. Take. Just another word for thievery. Chew the flesh down until only gristle, and the pit of the soul, remain. But that particular seed is barren. Dropped into a pond, it plummets down to the murky depths frequented only by snaggle-tooth sea monsters, a vestige from time immemorial.
The troubadour’s eyes droop. The shadowy forms of his Eden-like vision coalesce in the twilight of his subconscious. There is peace here. And freedom.
Freedom. A myth? Be an individual. Produce. Create. But for others, under the direction of golden-calf idolaters who sell whatever appeases the hedonistic masses? That wasn’t freedom. That was lockstep, like the foot soldiers of the tide advancing and retreating on the orders a celestial commandant.
He: dictatorial, untouchable and not to be challenged.
They: swollen with the importance of their charge. The advanced line of the reconnaissance parties of dawn’s first light, shining their antiseptic credo only where directed. Lazy and weak, swerving hulking twilight demons whose bastions ringed the territory occupied by culture. Don’t acknowledge these strategic weaknesses; what is ignored cannot be vanquished. Live to fight another day. An easy mantra for a conscripted soldier who can see the pitched field his general has chosen as a battle ground. Impossible for the lone crusader fighting guerilla shadow warriors.