Poetry is not only the most sublimely difficult but the most deeply personal of all word-arts. This collection comes close to being my spiritual autobiography.
“Poetry,” a friend once wrote, “leads us past the indescribable and submerges us in the experience.” Just as the mountaintop has a natural affinity for the sky it cannot touch, so poetry, as the highest form of word-art, has a natural affinity for that which is beyond words: beauty, horror, love, the sacred, and so on.
Poetry improves with age and repeated appreciation, like a fine wine or a well-made violin: the more one reads a good poem the more insight it provides to the reader; indeed, more than any other word-art, it draws us back repeatedly to read it, to read it aloud, to linger yet again before its beauty and marvel at its wisdom.
And, finally, as someone (it might have been me) said, “Poetry is the art of breaking words across the silence without disturbing it.” Good poetry – unlike prose, which tends to revel in its own loquacity – economizes to the point that what little is said does not describe, as does prose, but points to, just as a finger points at the moon; … for silence is as asymptotically close as we humans can get to the perfect truth.
–from the Preface
Behold the ordinary world from the wrong side and nightmares and visions appear. These are strange, unquiet short fictions from the author of RATS LIVE ON NO EVIL STAR and THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.
A stripper loves a swinging lightbulb. An explorer encounters the Face of God in a mountain pool. The accidental inventor of streaking. Children dig a hole to China. After his death a father’s storytelling talent is discovered. A soldier at the front writes an absolutely perfect poem. A Sultán who despairs of finding the woman he desires in his well-stocked harem. A woman is haunted by her own reflection. A dying man feels ever so much better when his family has gone. An explorer changes the name of a village in rural Asia – and changes history. A couple who have the perfect relationship, by never divulging any personal information to each other. A government agent finds a hill on which he may face death if he crosses it. A father carries his dead child through the village to the sacred mountain.
These and more strange stories come from the off-kilter imagination of James David Audlin.
Poetically frightening, filled with nebbishy gods and endearing demons, set everywhere from Beldonooza to the back porch, here are short fictions from James David Audlin.
A boy turns into an orange to escape his tormentors. A planet with a million gods and only one human. A little deal with the Devil. Shadows haunt a traveller’s night. A young girl whose dolls are alive. The room that shouldn’t be there, beyond the bedroom wall. A living boy rides with the Caravan of the Dead. Someone who remembers only the future, not the past. A battle of wills between character and author. In the most ancient times, someone invents hills, but forgets to invent “down the other side”. The City of Mists, from which no one ever returns. A freak who is a little too real, even for the travelling circus. The letter “W” is banned from being spoken or written. A struggling author meets his own unfinished story. Some kind of kid named Weisenheimer brings a god to life in the barn.
The author of “Rats Live on no Evil Star” and “The Circle of Life” arranges a bizarre bouquet of strange blooms, most of them based on his own dreams and nightmares.
Reader beware: These are not the kind of stories the title may suggest. They are disturbing, sometimes even frightening. The author says in his introduction:
“I think the time has come to embalm these stories and commit them to the museum of the written word.
“I beg you, though, to bear in mind that these stories are meant not at all to be read silently. Try reading them aloud, especially before a good campfire, and see if the mummies do not escape their wrappings and walk about in the firelight, as strange and beautiful as when first they came to me.
“These stories frequently border on the improbable, if not the outright fantastic; I have been lifelong a writer of stories that leave behind the mundane, ordinary, ‘realistic’ world of our everyday experience, and I believe that such stories can pull our minds out of the ruts of culturally conditioned thinking and propel us into new ways of understanding and perhaps even of being.
“The common theme, I believe, is the idea of sainthood. But a saint, to me, is the same as a bodhisattva or a medicine man or woman – such a person is not necessarily associated with a certain particular religious tradition, or any at all. Such a person, rather, is one who knows how to walk the ‘pathless path’ and guides others on it. A saint is one who has left behind the sound and fury of this physical world, who has transcended self entirely, and who thus can guide others on the path to transcendence.
“The stories herein partake of motifs from several spiritual traditions, however I do not mean any of them to be representative, or even evocative, of any particular tradition, but rather of the universal theme of transcendence that is found at the deepest level in all traditions, at the level where particularities of creed and dogma are left far behind and one approaches the unspeakable Truth that underlies all being.
“I mean this collection to resemble somewhat, and to serve as my humble bouquet offered to, those wonderful Mediæval ‘Lives of the Saints’, and similar fantastic gatherings of tales found in sacred traditions worldwide, as well as the parables of Jesus and others, and traditional Talmudic, Sufi, Taoist, Native African, and Native American stories.
“As Gautama Buddha said, ‘To reach a destination you have never found, you must take a path you do not know.'”
A novelist whose works are often based on dreams here provides vivid dreams from over a lifetime that not only inspired a number of literary works, but are artistic creations themselves.
“Dreams are essential to me. I do my best to pay attention to them. Not only do I often write them down, but I think about them for years afterwards. It is occasionally made clear to me that they are meant to be turned into stories or poems or plays, or even songs. …
Dreams can be funny, irritating, frightening, profound, exciting, and everything else – but always sacred. Some of these dreams have been clearly prophetic, some came at significant moments in my life, and all of them are moving. …
If nothing else, I hope you will find these dreams entertaining. More than that, you might appreciate this window into the craft of a writer. Best of all, perhaps you will sense through them how sacred and powerful the voice of Spirit is and be encouraged to listen for that voice yourself.
For these dreams are not mine, in the possessive sense; they are all of ours; they are Spirit’s.”
–from the Preface
Sure, God is capable of everything. But it wouldn’t do for the Creator of the Universe to break the same rules that all Creatures of the Universe are expected to obey. That just wouldn’t be cricket. So, when God takes a vacation, just like everybody else God has to make a reservation on the phone (okay, the phone miraculously appears in Heaven just in time to make the call, but who’s to care; these days you’re lucky to get a phone installer out to Yonkers, let alone to park his van in front of the Pearly Gates) … and winds up at a seedy hotel in Cancún known as the Hotel La Sien Áquali, better known in English as the Lousy and Ugly.
But that’s just the start. How does the Creator of the Universe manifest in human form? As a nebbishy Jewish guy? Can’t get no respect from the hotel staff. As a tall, gorgeous Black woman? What, and get hit on by Her own Creatures?
Later on, God somehow winds up playing a card game in which the stakes are control of the universe.
Nor is that all. When promoters turn the vacation paradise into a DFZ, a Deity Free Zone, even Satan shows up on the scene, deeply perturbed. Can they work together to get this nonsense straightened out?
Then there’s the guy who tries to smuggle in a planeload of contraband Tuesdays. God only knows, literally, that there’s going to be a lot of unhappy Creatures if they wake up every morning and it’s Tuesday yet again.
Well, you get the idea. Picaresque adventures that maybe will blow away the dust from your theology texts with a delightfully ill wind of heresy.
Several stories have already been composed toward a new collection of bizarre short fiction – including a very long tale about a princess escaping the castle during a revolution and trying to hide in the midst of the mob responsible, another about a young couple only able to succeed erotically in a department store window, and one based on Chekhov’s famous advice to authors about introducing a gun into their fiction.
Also completed: Among a people who cannot turn their heads and look behind them, one man learns how to do the unthinkably horrifying. A couple have a strange conversation through their clasped hands. Peter Piper brings his hot ham pies to town, and all the children follow his truck.
And soon to be written: Someone buried up to the neck in sand on a deserted beach, watching the tide coming in. A man loses his keys and is arrested for breaking into his own house. A visit to a farmer whose home is in the outskirts of Hell. A couple experiencing marital difficulties are given strange and conflicting instructions by their marriage counsellor. A young man goes into the Shadowlands – where humans are cast along the surface of the earth and go wherever their Shadows take them – to bring back his abducted sweetheart.
The theme, as this anthology takes shape, is that of evanescence. Nothing lasts forever, including this description of the anthology’s contents.
and Other Plays
A collection of theatrical works to be produced on stage or in the imagination of the reader. All but one early play are exact reconstructions of dreams. These plays stretch the limits of what is acceptable as proper theatre, and challenge both performers and audience to engage in matters often left unspoken. Two of these plays have been produced to uniformly positive reviews, and one is an award-winner.