Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

He was always there. The homeless prophet. Waiting patiently to proselytize to the morning rush hour; the human commute up and out of the underground, speeding down the sidewalk, taking exit ramps into various office buildings and ground floor-level store fronts, breaking around him as he stood, a rock worn smooth in the river of humanity. He was always positioned just this side of the Apple Store, on the corner of Stockton and Post.

One morning, Noah had come in to work earlier than usual, and witnessed the opening of the hangar-style doors of the glass-encased tech boutique, the two-story tall panes sliding apart on silent gears. The prophet had situated himself in front, feet in the gutter, holding up both hands, palms facing the flagship store, head thrown back, eyes closed in concentration. The doors opened before him as though he were Moses parting the Red Sea. Passersby were too caught up in the skillful juggling of their Starbucks and smart phones to notice the phenomena, or perhaps most had already borne witness to such a daily miracle, and kept walking past. Noah stopped dead in his tracks and stood mesmerized.

His rapt attention had been noticed, and once the doors were completely open and the diverse blue-shirted employees conformed into identical sales people, the modern day Moses turned to him and shouted, “and maketh the sea become dry ground!”

Of course he recognized the scripture. Exodus 14:21. Robert Young’s literal translation. This gave him pause and he tugged the plastic lid off his Espresso Macchiato extra-shot-please and blew across the top of the hot coffee, considering. He was no theologian, rather a doctor of Literary and Cultural Analysis at the College of Entrepreneurial Thought and Action. But he knew the Bible. As well as he knew Joyce’s Ulysses, could identify literary nationalism and cultural conflict in the age of Poe, speak about formalism, structuralism, poststructuralism, postcolonial criticism, gender studies, and identify seventeen different translations of Dante’s Commedia based on the adjectival choice made in line 1.7 of the Inferno.

As his coffee cooled and he tumbled the different ways in which God was believed to have tested his people over in his mind, one of the Apple technicians came to the edge of the massive doorway and pointed the man away from the opening. He wore a look of pity not piety on his face as he communed silently with the self-proclaimed miracle-worker, and Noah realized this was part of the ritual. The man had begun to speak, making his way to the busy intersection to begin his morning ablutions.

He routinely was garbed in unwashed mechanics coveralls with a name patch over his left breast but his unkempt and very long beard obscured it from legibility. He assumed his regular position in his regular spot, where Noah  and his voice grew louder. This speaking in tongues was what first drew Noah’s attention and how he had first taken real notice of the man.

Wearing his status as Recovered Catholic like a stainless steel devotional scapular down his back, he recognized his ignorance of charismatic Christianity. He wore his Archetypal Comparative Literature education as though a heavy woolen monastic scapular and this limited knowledge was akin to a moth hole, so he had begun to loiter a bit in the mornings, coffee in hand, eyes slightly hooded, listening to the homeless man he had come to refer to as the prophet in his mind. At first, he wanted to know if it was glossolalia or xenolalia. Was it an esoteric human language issuing forth from an universal forgotten tongue or the language of the divine.

The strings and strings of syllables, the pauses, the intonation, it sounded very much like language, words and sentences, he could discern how the longer paragraphical explanations of allegory and scriptural passage were intent on relaying something of the utmost importance. The seriousness with which The Prophet took his morning ablutions, his earnest posture, the deliberate attempt to communicate God’s word with the masses affected Noah in ways that went beyond educated curiosity. He had taken to standing close by and listening intently. At first, for only a few moments while his coffee cooled, then as the weeks went by he stayed longer while sipping before continuing on his way to work, then after a few months he would find he had finished the drink before he arrived at the college, and finally, a year or so after the first time he had actually become aware of the prophet, he found he was standing, drinking his pricey espresso down to the grounds and nodding as he clocked his iWatch and realized he was running behind.

Finally, with no forethought, one morning he had his coffee in one hand and a cup of hot black tea in the other. He offered the tea to the prophet who looked momentarily surprised but took the proferred beverage and held on fast to it while finishing his one-sided dialogue. Noah nodded as he headed off to work, late. And the next morning he was staggered when he understood every word uttered and it took him long, heart-pounding moments before he realized that the man was speaking in English.

“You’ve built another Tower of Babel, you 21st Century heathens. Higher than anything man has ever attempted before. Past the clouds, into space now. How high is that tower, that man-made monstrosity? You’ve housed the earth and yourselves within it. Satellites and computers! Storing, sending, retrieving, manipulating data. You can't outwit the first creator. He sees what you're doing there! God sees you challenging his Heavens, God hears you denigrating his name. He will bring down this Tower of Babel you have created. And scatter you like objects, destroy this false house of worship, reduce you to whence you came. Where will your shared world be then? All of this will stop, rust, and crumble. You will be returned to the way you were before the clouds opened and drowned the world, you cannot protect yourselves against God’s flood. You will be returned to the beginning. You will learn a new language.

This electronic evolution? God sees how you raise yourself above him. He will take you back to a savagery in which you need him. Modern contrivances shall seize and stop running. You will turn your faces up to the sky and weep. All of this - babies in glass vials, global villages, pulling the core of the earth out with your machines, draining the seas, seeding the clouds, piercing the secrets of the cosmos, your bombs, your weaponry, your ballistic missiles and your missile detection - will be rendered useless when God topples this tower you've built. This tower you call technology!”

Noah looked around frantically. No one but him was paying attention. All of them were lock-stepping around him, past the prophet, heads bent in reverence to phones in hand.

He was always there. The homeless bum. Noah walked past, the man smelled decidedly unclean, his voice an irritant, his presence a small aggravation. Noah had his coffee in one hand, his iPhone in the other, he expertly tapped through his day’s calendar with the edge of his thumb, muffling his ears to the sounds of the babbling of human voices. As though evolution had foreseen the need, his radar kept him moving in the sea of humanity effortlessly, detecting shifts in the press of bodies, shoulders bending, hips swaying away. The strange cadence of the homeless man’s voice rising and falling, growing louder as he got nearer, and then fading into the background as Noah's feet carried him forward and away from his broken brethren. His phone vibrated in his grip and he sent the call to voicemail, made a mental note to check that when he got to his office, and returned to the list he had begun to compile while the Bart train rocketed beneath the Bay, titles of obscure literature in which the antagonist is diminished entirely by the end of the story.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 31st, 2016 11:08 pm (UTC)
"and identify seventeen different translations of Dante’s Commedia based on the adjectival choice made in line 1.7 of the Inferno."

Why that line? "Tant’ è amara che poco è più morte" - the only adjective in that is amara, 'bitter'. (Sorry; Dante geek!)

I like this story. Your protagonist intrigues me: "a doctor of Literary and Cultural Analysis at the College of Entrepreneurial Thought and Action" - wait, what? There's a world of back-story in that line alone. And at the end, he's compiling a list, "titles of obscure literature in which the antagonist is diminished entirely by the end of the story." Hauntingly opaque! I want to follow him to work and see what he does there - I've got this nagging feeling that he loathes his job and doesn't even know it.

Transition between the second-to-last and last paragraph is odd and ambiguous. Did Noah actually hear and understand the message, and then - deleted it from his mind? - or did he never give the prophet tea at all, or somehow both? Such a tease! Why is this only a short story, and not a first chapter?!?

*hugs* Awesome work. Did you ever read Darkness Visible by William Golding? Your prophet reminds me a bit of the protagonist.
Jun. 1st, 2016 02:12 pm (UTC)
EEEEE - I LOVE these comments!!! Hahahaha to the Dante. You out-Danted me and I appreciate that! I'll have to snap a pic of my Dante shelf for you....Bit of an exaggerated example there, I should tighten that up. That's what I get for trying to out-pretension my pretentious flawed hero. ;)

He intrigued me, too, at first...and I had oodles of dialogue for him, a sort of Jungian analysis of these modern times during a Saturday morning discussion with his prophet...but it wasn't flowing well...and I think Idol pieces work better if they are compact. I could tease this out longer, definitely! But I want to focus on writing my modern dress Hades/Persephone long this summer. I'll put this speculative piece on ice.

Transition was meant to startle. And sum up in this small piece what he's looking for in other work. He turns away from any prophetic "truth" because, honestly, what difference can he make outside of becoming a survivalist.

I have not heard of that Golding! I will put it in my queue!

Thanks, hon!!! You made my morning contemplative.
Jun. 1st, 2016 06:03 pm (UTC)
You're most welcome! A contemplative morning is always good.

LOL, you set me off on a Dante-geek snipe hunt, because I was, like, "The seventh line of the First Canto has an adjective so obscure that 17 translators have translated it differently, and I never heard of this before...?!?"

"a sort of Jungian analysis of these modern times during a Saturday morning discussion with his prophet"

Ack, no, you were so right to not go there.

My shaman, Mikhail Duvan, used to come to America to teach. He only spoke Ulchi, so we'd ask questions in English, the translator would ask Nadyezhda in Russian; she'd ask Grandfather in Ulchi, and if he thought the question worth answering, he'd reply; Ulchi==> Russian==> English. As you can imagine, this made it pretty difficult to discuss things like Jungian archtypes, but some people would make the attempt anyway.

So, this guy was trying to ask how the Ulchi shamans viewed the Jungian ideas of consciousness, and it was falling so very flat, because Grandfather clearly didn't know what the hell he was talking about. But finally an answer did come back through all the translation, and it was one of the most validating things I ever heard: to the Ulchi shamans, all experience is just experience. They don't chop it up into analytical categories - their language isn't even built to do that; they make no distinction between dream, trance, and what we call 'reality'.

I get the feeling your prophet makes no such distinction either.

"He turns away from any prophetic "truth" because, honestly, what difference can he make outside of becoming a survivalist."

Becoming a survivalist would make no difference. What use would his survival be, even assuming he did survive? (Well, I suppose someone has to preserve Dante for the next generation...) But he's a teacher - of Cultural Analysis, no less! - surely that's a position in which he might make some difference!

I'm still wondering if he ever actually bought the tea, or just imagined doing so. If what we dream is as real as what we do, then is imagining doing something the same thing as doing it? (My untidy kitchen says no.)

Golding is so amazing. I'd love to hear what you think of Darkness Visible after you read it. I just learned yesterday that The Spire is based on actual Salisbury Cathedral. The one of Golding's that I have not read yet, but really want, is The Inheritors.

*hugs* Have a lovely and contemplative day!

Edited at 2016-06-01 06:11 pm (UTC)
Jun. 1st, 2016 05:36 pm (UTC)
I fucking adore the direction you took this. "Babel" was one of my prompts. How smart that you made the tower technological, because that really IS our new idol and rosetta stone and we really are going to be royally fucked when the tech goes wrong. It reminds me of the questions/thoughts/fancies brought up by Station Eleven, where the power is gone and so too are the electronics. There are so many things we take for granted now, and those things have become integrated parts of our lives so QUICKLY, relatively.

Anyway, I love how your book-rich character slowly becomes more and more intrigued by your prophet's ravings until they AREN'T ravings. A really vivid piece. <3

Edited at 2016-06-01 05:36 pm (UTC)
Jun. 2nd, 2016 04:23 pm (UTC)
XO!!! I can't believe Babel was your prompt!

I've been thinking about this for a long time. We get so filled up with our egos, our will to power, our drive for accomplished mastery and we forget that other civilizations have come before us with the same and failed. Look at this announcement that King Tut's ceremonial dagger is made of meteorite!!! And the Egyptians knew this was iron from space!!! I think the parable of the Tower of Babel is about this human need to rise above God, to touch God, and then God destroys and we are back to where we began.

I haven't read Station Eleven! Sounds like I need to, though!

Thanks for this wonderful comment, B! *a thousand kisses*
Jun. 2nd, 2016 03:55 am (UTC)
"...a rock worn smooth in the river of humanity. "


The beauty of your work never fails to move and inspire me.
Jun. 2nd, 2016 03:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you, M! You are a constant source of encouragement! It's very much appreciated. *hugs*
Jun. 3rd, 2016 06:32 am (UTC)
I really like the use of ever-more-hyped technology as the false idol here.

Yes, we are mapping genomes and trying to cure cancer, but mostly we are making fancy cellphones and other electronic toys, and we spend more time focusing on those than on other people. Who would have thought the great advancement of society would stall out over people playing with their darned phones?

There seemed to be two threads here, one in which Noah listened to the prophet/homeless man, and one in which he did not. It may be that, having listened, he realized there was nothing he could do... and so, both paths ended in much the same place.

Jun. 3rd, 2016 02:24 pm (UTC)
Thank you, K!!! Always thrilled to have you reading and commenting. Your insight is sharp-edged!

I agree with you that we could pivot at least slightly towards world hunger, and global warming, and whaling...and yet we are focused on HERE WE ARE NOW ENTERTAIN US!

I also love the Tower of Babel parable for its truthfulness in how easy it is for humanity to get filled up with their own sense of mastering the universe and how easy it is for the universe to tip that balance.
Jun. 3rd, 2016 06:53 pm (UTC)
I love the Tower of Babel parable -- it works so well here! I also loved your description of Noah's "lit crit" background, which was perfect. If only someone would smite Apple for its iphones. We need more biblical wrath.
Jun. 3rd, 2016 10:18 pm (UTC)
He wore his Archetypal Comparative Literature education as though a heavy woolen monastic scapular and this limited knowledge was akin to a moth hole

This line is fabulous. There's a dozen fabulous lines in here. I love how you embraced the joys of language in this piece about language. I also love that this is more about how we miss important information that we don't want to hear. I read the moment that Noah (great name and probably the one survivor after the upcoming Babel II event) started to understand the prophet not so much as a mystical moment but as one where making a simple human connection allowed him to actually hear (as opposed to listen) to what the prophet was saying.

Anyhow, this is a fabulous piece. I also love that you are addressing/employing a Bible story in the way that you've approached other mythic/religious sources this season. Just terrific.

I heard Sigur Ros in my head reading this, particularly at the end:

Sigur Rós - Hoppípolla from sigur rós on Vimeo.

Edited at 2016-06-03 10:19 pm (UTC)
Jul. 11th, 2016 03:29 pm (UTC)
Babel always struck me as being against progress. Don't strive, don't learn other languages, don't build significant structures, don't launch rockets to the moon, be obedient or else. There's always good and bad sides to technology, to all progress and new discoveries. I think the story works well for that reason, you address that in having both the part in which Noah listens and the part in which he doesn't.
Jul. 11th, 2016 03:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks, L! I'm glad you "got" this piece, I know it ended up feeling cryptic because its so unfinished. (I lose my heart at the end of Idol...I've noticed.) I have strong sci-fi type feelings about technology but such a distaste for writing it. Or actually I don't enjoy reading it so my disinterest in writing it follows.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )