VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Duane Vorhees

EXCERPTS FROM ABELARD’S NOTEBOOKS

I knew words never demonstrate the truth in things,

they are jut sounds we use for our own convenience,

but when I chose my name with careful confusion,

showing off by punning in Latin, German, and Hebrew

to connote and conflate my noble ability’s (hevel‘s) dance

(ballare) with steadfast vanity (hevel again)

I knew, of course, hevel was doomed Abel’s name

but failed to realize it as cognate to empty, fleeting, breath —

the breath that you, dear Heloise, someday some night

would steal with spices when your lips would split —

failed to appreciate that your apple (another pun, oh dear!),

like that of Eve the mother of that Abel,

would be indeed that tender, blossoming tree

to which (from which) I’d cleave.

And who could know the man who’d write “Dull is the Star”

to you, to you, would (still in misplaced youthful jest)

dub our son Astrolabe in hopes he’d find the cosmos ?

Oh, what was I thinking?

In the words of a wise but misunderstood “heretic,”

logic, it is true, made me hated in the world,

a vagabond and fugitive tormented without end,

a string of calamities unbroken to the present day,

like a fire which fills the hall with smoke but no light,

I suffer more from scandal than from the scar.

I explained to the bleating unheeding tonsured horde

that Doubt begat the Skeptic, and the Skeptic

begat Inquisition, the father of Truth.

Understandings are the offspring of Abstraction,

and Understandings require three qualities:

Sola (alone), separate from the senses,

and Nuda (bare), unadorned by prejudgment,

and Pura, without adulteration.

And thus, God by logic and emotion is known.

But in my pride and zeal I neglected Sola

and married my Pura and my Nuda.

Et mon coq inspecté les oeufs dans ta poulailler,

as I used to say in those less docile days

before the caponization.

We achieve pleasure because God made us in such a way.

Nature has made pleasure a human necessity.

Who can blame a tired hungry monk who lies down

in a soft warm bed that holds a comfortable woman?

We can be compelled to want what we do not want to want

and we must, after all, be judged by intent, not just action.

Although I taught that happiness is a mental tranquility

brought about by attaining grace and virtue,

I confess my own greatest happiness, O Heloise,

was when my priest was in your cloister.

Even a flaccid man may still have a tumescent mind.

I don’t know.

COMMITTED

We’re committed by prayer,

we’re committed by crime,

committed to pursuit

of the blood and the wine.

Some cells are filled with monks,

some cells are filled with cons.

Some of us are lifers

and some just off-and-ons.

THE HARRIDANS COME RIDING

The Harridans come riding,

white silent hair jaggedly,

miming their pennants of lightning.

Beware these bold frenzied hags

when they blow their thunder horns,

when they unfurl their tempest flags.

The Harridans come riding

on black and dreadful stallions,

quick, relentless, lifting, diving.

Boats are swallowed, sailors lost,

eternal coastlines altered,

and turtles, whales, and seagulls tossed.

Brave landlubbers go hiding,

light their candles, say their prayers

when the Harridans come riding.

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