The Bag without any Bottom – part 3 of a story by Wayne-Daniel Berard

The Bag without any Bottom 3/3

Wayne-Daniel Berard

To her, the icon resembled Eve, the mother of all and the mother of sorrows. She, too, poured out her heart to the image. She spoke of a parting with her first love, the death of her husband, the departing of her son to find his fortune, a son who had never returned. She wept, and for the first time, Ket’her wept with the penitent.

“What prayer do you say?” asked Ket’her asked her through his tears.

“I have no prayer,” she answered, “but I have a song.” And slowly she began to hum a tune; it had no words, but it seemed to Ket’her that there was a tiny flame in the melody, a flame which glowed like a lamp before an icon of the Virgin.

Gently the woman took the icon from Ket’her’s hands and held it before his gaze. He kissed it tenderly, and she did the same. They then exchanged the kiss of peace upon the forehead, he to hers and she to his. It was at that moment that the Abbot returned to his cell.

The look on his face changed quickly from one of disbelief to one of rage. He opened his mouth to roar and raised his hand as if to strike, but the woman calmly stood and placed herself between the master and his novice. Slowly, the Abbot’s hand dropped; the woman glided from the cell and was gone.

For a moment there was stillness. Then the Abbot came to himself, hmphed and blustered as if he were going to explode, and strode from the cell. A few seconds later, Ket’her heard the Abbey bell tolling furiously, calling all the monks to chapel.

Ket’her dreaded this assembly. He was the last to enter; as he did, a brother pointed toward an empty chair in the center of the nave. Opposite it, before the high altar, sat the Abbot in full vestments.

“You!” he thundered from his wooden throne. “You who are unworthy to bear the name brother — hear the charges against you! We saved your life as you lay dying in the forest. We tended to you and accepted you as one of our order. And how have you repaid our kindness?

“In your vanity, you have taken upon yourself the office of confessor, which one must labor years to obtain, deceiving yourself that it was pity and not pride which motivated you. What is worse, you have desecrated these holy grounds with pagan rites and rituals of the infidels!

“And then — crime of crimes! – you have permitted a woman into our Abbey, into the very cell of the Abbot, where she was witnessed kissing you, a monk consecrated to the life of chastity.

“For any one of these crimes alone you could be banished from this place; for all of them you will be fortunate to escape a fiery death at the stake.

“Speak, then, spawn of ingratitude! Our order’s blessed rule guarantees a defense, even for the likes of you. What have you to say?”

Ket’her at first stood speechless. Then, haltingly, he began,

“Reverend Abbot, brothers of the Abbey, all my life I have sought only one thing: that which is inexhaustible, that pursuit or person or passion which knows no end, and to which one could give his entire life — a bag without any bottom. Many times I thought I had found it . . . in race and culture, in commerce and riches, even in love. But each time the bag, although deep, turned out to be finite. I soon reached the bottom of each experience, the disappointing end of all that it could teach me.

“When you found me and brought me here, I thought that at long last I had found my heart’s desire. But it seems that the faith you practice also has boundaries, limits. Although we speak of compassion, we will only extend it to those of our faith; though we declare that all are children of God, only men as seen as truly worthy.

“I thank you, dear brothers, for saving my life. I thank you for the kindnesses you have showered on me, and for the learning I have gained here. But I cannot repent of the compassion that I, unworthy as I am, have shown to those who came to me uninvited. If there is a god, he alone brought them here, and to him alone will I answer.”

“If?” bellowed the Abbot, rising up enraged. “If there is a God? How dare you blaspheme in this sacred place! By your own words, you show yourself unworthy of God, and of this” — the Abbot pulled Ket’her’s icon from beneath his vestment — “his holy mother, whose image you will never be permitted to desecrate again . . .!”

At this he turned and smashed the icon into splinters on the stone altar behind him. All the assembly gasped.

“Now go, before your life is forfeited! With nothing you entered this place, with nothing shall you depart!”

Ket’her stood up. For a second, he meant sheepishly to withdraw. But then, in his mind’s eye, faces began to appear. He saw the men who had refused him a fair price for his home and his sheep. He saw those in the Great City who had snubbed him in his poverty. He saw the face of Zod, who had pretended to value him, but had stolen his only love from his side. Finally, he saw the face of Abbot Dominus, who had destroyed Ket’her’s only link to his mother.

Lit by a fire within, Ket’her raised dark, smoldering eyes toward the Abbot. Purposefully he strode slowly toward the high altar. The face of the Abbot began to change; Ket’her saw fear twitching at corners of his mouth, and dread fill his eyes like tears. The Abbot began to tremble; every monk was frozen in his place.
Ket’her raised his hand as if to strike the Abbot, but held it in the air. The Abbot, shaking with fright, leaned back in his throne, which toppled sideways down the great steps, leaving the Abbot cringing beneath it, his arm shielding his face as he whimpered.

Ket’her threw off his monk’s habit and walked from the chapel in silence. At the Abbey gatehouse, he exchanged his sandals for a pair of boots, donned a woodsman’s tunic over his breeches and set out once again into the world alone.
He wished to avoid the town, neither did he want to plunge into the forest. He decided to follow the creek that fed the Abbey’s well, to see where it might lead him.

For many days he followed the stream, which soon became a river. Ket’her followed on through flat, muddy bottom land, until at last, forty days later, he and the river reached the sea.

Ket’her had never before seen the sea. To him, it was like the surface of the clouds he had seen when he’d herded his sheep in the high mountains, only the sea was even more vast. It seemed to have no end.

As he walked along the seaside, in the distance he saw figures sitting beside a weathered cabin on a bluff. Ket’her, very tired and hungry, turned toward the cabin.

At the top of the bluff sat a woman, and at her feet a circle of children. She did not seem to notice Ket’her; she was engrossed in a story she was telling.
“Children,” she said in a voice like light, “have you ever heard the story of Solomon and the Demon of a Thousand Names?”

Ket’her stopped short. On her right hand, the woman wore a puppet, made of an upside-down bag. On it she had painted eyes, a nose and a mouth, and around its head she had wrapped red cloth in the shape of a turban . . .

The woman began to tell the tale in a strange voice, a voice that Ket’her recognized as his own. Indeed, she told the story exactly as Ket’her had so often done, with the same inflections and pauses. At first, Ket’her thought that he was being made a fool of, but there was no mockery in the woman’s voice, and the children loved it.

When she had finished, the children applauded, then filed off down the bluff. Only then did the woman turn her face to Ket’her, who knew her immediately. She was the penitent who had come to the door of the Abbot, it seemed a very long time before.

“What is your name?” whispered Ket’her.

“Ket’hera,” answered the woman.

“What is that on your hand, Ket’hera?” asked Ket’her, barely speaking.

“It is the bag without any bottom,” she replied. “Come and see.”

She handed the bag-puppet to Ket’her. He reached in his hand. Inside, he thought he could feel the soft wool of the sheep, just as he had when he was a boy . . .

He dug deeper, and thought that the scent of his mother’s cooking rose from the bag, and that he could feel her long, silky hair brush across his fingertips . . .

He placed both hands into the marvelous bag; his muscles ached as from exertion and work and the making of profit . . .

The bag rose to his shoulders; Ket’her swore he could hear the ancient songs of his people rising from its depths . . .

Finally, he climbed into the sack as into a sleeping bag, for he was very weary. As he held the bag closely to himself, he thought that he could feel Fatyma’s heart beating softly against his own . . .

And still his feet felt no bottom to the bag.

“Life, life itself?” Ket’her murmured sleepily. “Is this the bag I have sought?”
Ket’hera’s quiet laugh was the opposite of disparaging.

“No, life is merely its holder,” she replied. “You, yourself are the bag without any bottom. For your own endlessness was this all created.”

She slid easily into the bag beside him, kissed his forehead and both his sleepy eyes, and rested her head gently upon his chest.

“Tomorrow is another day, Brother Found,” Ket’hera whispered.

 

Wayne-Daniel Berard teaches English and Humanities at Nichols College in Dudley, MA. Wayne-Daniel is a Peace Chaplain, an interfaith clergy person, and a member of B’nai Or of Boston. He has published widely in both poetry and prose, and is the co-founding editor of Soul-Lit, an online journal of spiritual poetry. His latest chapbook is Christine Day, Love Poems. He lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, The Lovely Christine.

The Bag without any Bottom – part 2 of a story by Wayne-Daniel Berard

The Bag Without any Bottom 2/3

Wayne-Daniel Berard

One late summer evening, when the air was heavy and perfumed with jasmine, he went for a walk in his master’s garden. Unnoticed, he came upon Fatyma, now a young woman of shy but glowing loveliness. She was sitting on a stone bench beneath a hanging of wisteria, singing to herself,

“My love, I know
that I am young,
but mine is not
a childish heart.
Your wisdom to
my innocence
should wed,
and never,
ever part.”

Ket’her gazed at Fatyma, radiant beneath the wisteria, and saw her for the first time as a grown woman. He took a step, his foot touched a dry twig and snapped it . . .

In a panic, Fatyma parted the wisteria vines and saw Ket’her standing there. Her heart raced with embarrassment and love, and she lowered her gaze to the ground, crying. Ket’her rushed forward when he saw her tears; tenderly he took the young girl in his arms, then lowered his lips to hers . . .

Never before had Ket’her been in love. Everything else, every joy, every trial he had ever experienced seemed nothing compared to this. He and Fatyma spent every spare moment together, and learned from each other the art and passion of love.

“Surely I have found it now,” Ket’her sighed to himself. “Love! Love is the only true bag without a bottom. No matter how deeply I delve into my love for Fatyma, how often I think of her, or how closely I hold her, I never reach the end of this feeling. Truly love is all.”

One evening, lying secretly in each other’s arms, Ket’her and Fatima vowed to marry as soon as possible. “Tomorrow I will approach your father,” Ket’her said. “He thinks of me as a son. Surely he will welcome our news.”
But that morning, Ket’her’s request was anything but welcomed.

“What? You dog of the streets?!” cried Zod. “You betrayer of trust, perverter of children! Do you think my beautiful daughter is for the likes of you? No, already I have arranged a marriage for her with old Mikla, the vintner. That’s an alliance worthy of this house. When he goes to Paradise, his vineyards and wine presses will come to our family, and I will not only sell the wine, but own its production as well. My daughter will be the wealthiest woman in the City, not the wife of some wandering storyteller from nowhere!” And immediately Zod had Ket’her expelled from his home, and sent his daughter away on a ship, its destination known only to him, where she should stay until her wedding with old Mikla, the City dweller.

Zod’s men hurried Ket’her out of the City, with only a few possessions in a rucksack, and none of his gold. Zod then used his influence with the Lord of the City, who proclaimed Ket’her banished upon pain of death for the crime of seduction of the young.

Ket’her’s heart was a stone in his chest; his spirits were broken. He had lost his love, his countryman, and his fortune all in one day. Aimlessly he wandered from the City into a deep forest that bordered it to the east.

Many days and nights Ket’her roamed the forest, not knowing or caring where he was. He lapped water from the streams like an animal, and ate berries and pig nuts. His clothes hung more and more loosely about him, which thankfully made them easier to wrap around him each night, as he slept in the open air. After a time, Ket’her looked more like a madman escaped from an asylum then a young merchant, teacher, and teller of tales.

The day came when Ket’her could go on no longer; he resolved to lie down in the spot where he was and die. Bitterly he reached down into his bag; all that was left there was the icon of the Virgin that his mother had tended so lovingly. Placing his soul in her hands, Ket’her hugged the icon to his chest, lay down among the pine needles and waited for death.

That was how an old monk, Theophilus the Infirmarian, found him, as he was out gathering medicinal herbs by moonlight. He hurried back to his abbey and called to his brother monks. Soon Ket’her was lying in a bed of clean straw in the abbey infirmary, the kind brother feeding him a little broth with a spoon.

Under the tender care of the monks of the Abbey of the Deep Woods, Ket’her slowly regained his strength. Brother Theophilus asked him no questions, nor did any other brother, although they often stopped to look in on him.

One morning, after lauds had been sung, the Abbot of the monastery came to visit Ket’her. “Brother,” he said, “we know nothing at all about you and need to know nothing. Clearly you are a man of sorrows, but each man here has his own story, which is the past. Here, in the Abbey, we recognize the vanity of worldly things. Each of us has begun life anew within these walls, a life dedicated to simple brotherhood and prayer to our patroness, Our Lady of the Deep Woods.”
At this the Abbot pulled from his great sleeve the icon that Ket’her knew so well.

“This was found with you in the forest; your arms were wrapped so tightly around it that we could hardly relax them. It would seem that you, too, love the Virgin as we do. What say you, brother? Will you turn away from the world that has treated you so harshly, and join us here in our peaceful forest, under the protection of the Virgin?”

Ket’her was moved to tears, both at his own sorrows and the Abbot’s embrace. Readily he said yes, and that very day donned the chestnut-brown habit of a novice, under the name “Brother Found.” As was the custom, he was given a mentor from among the older monks, from whom he would learn the monastic life. Ket’her was very glad when the Abbot himself took him as his pupil and servant.

Another year passed. Ket’her easily joined the life of the monastery, praying at intervals during the day, chopping wood in the forest to sell to the villagers nearby, keeping times of quiet reflection, and serving his master, the Abbot Dominus.

The Abbey of Our Lady of the Deep Woods stood within the far end of the forest; people would venture in to buy wood from the monks (their wood was rumored to burn sweetly, with a slight scent of incense.) Often they would seek advice and solace from the holy brothers. Ket’her’s master, Abbot Dominus, was especially known as a confessor and advisor. When a troubled man would come to the Abbot’s cell, Ket’her would admit him, then scurry away, leaving confessor and penitent their privacy.

Still, Ket’her could not help but hear some of what was said in the adjoining cell; he especially heard his master’s booming voice as he exhorted his listener with great eloquence, sound advice, and quotations from learned books. The penitent always seemed to depart edified.

In the evenings, after Vespers, Abbot Dominus would sit and instruct his novice. Many and deep were the mysteries of this faith, its philosophers, saints and doctrines. Dominus was a dramatic teacher, and the young Brother Found was enthralled.

“This at last is the life I have been seeking,” Ket’her would think to himself as he slipped off to sleep on his cot. “Never have I heard such wisdom and holiness; its depths are fathomless. Religion is the one, true bag without any bottom. If I live a thousand years, I shall never exhaust all the facets of faith . . .”

One day, Abbot Dominus entered into a period of retreat for forty days and nights, as was the custom of abbots in his order. He entered a hermitage on the far side of the monastery grounds and saw no one for all that time. Ket’her was left on his own.

It was only the second day of the Abbot’s retreat when a knock came on the door of his cell, which Ket’her was cleaning. He opened the door and saw a man in a turban much like those he himself had worn in his own home, although the star dangling from his neck marked him as a member of a minority people. He greeted the man in his own language, and the visitor, who had seemed very downcast, immediately looked up, expectantly.

The stranger asked for the Abbot Dominus, but Ket’her told him of his forty-day retreat. The man looked grief-stricken. “I have traveled from our homeland, a great journey as you know, over mountains, through the Great City, across this forest, to seek out the advice of this holy man. I do not even know what faith he professes, only that everywhere men speak of his sage counsel. And now you tell me that he is inaccessible?”

The man sat on the rude bench in the abbot’s cell and put his face in his hands. In a moment, however, he looked up again.

“You,” he said to Ket’her, “you are his assistant, and you are one of my own countrymen. Could you not hear my story and help me, brother?”

Ket’her was shamefaced at the very idea of replacing his master, even for a moment. With stuttering words he explained that he would like to help, but that what the stranger asked was out of the question. Still, the penitent persisted, begging and pleading with the young novice to hear his confession. Finally he said, “If you will not do this for me, do it for your own mother. I know well the cabin in which you once dwelt. If you will help me, I swear by my life that no sabbath will pass without flowers being placed on your mother’s grave. This I will do for the rest of my days, if you will only hear my story, brother.”

This was too much for the young novice to resist. But how was he to hear the man’s confession? He knew nothing of being a confessor, the manner, the prayers . . . ?

“Wait here for a moment,” Ket’her said to his countryman. Quickly he went to his room and returned with his mother’s icon.

“Do you know who this is?” Ket’her asked.

“I do not know for certain,” answered the penitent, “but she is very beautiful. Perhaps she is the Shekinah, the spirit of God who has joined her people in exile in this world. We also call her the Sabbath Queen, the Lady of Peace.”

“Make your confession to her,” whispered Ket’her.

The man began to speak, looking deeply into the eyes of the Virgin. He spoke of his life, his triumphs and tragedies, of a son with whom he had been harsh, and who had run away, never to be found . . . Bitterly, the man wept.

When he had finished, Ket’her knew that he had no words of wisdom to impart to him. Who, after all, was Ket’her to do so? Instead he said to the man, “What is the holiest prayer in your faith?”

“The sacred ‘Shema,’ answered the penitent, “‘Hear, oh Israel, hear! The Lord your God, the Lord is One.’”

“Let us pray it slowly together,” said Ket’her. And they did so.

After that, Ket’her bent forward, gave the man the kiss of peace on his forehead, and bid him goodbye. The man kissed the icon and went on his way.

Two days later, another knock came to the door of the abbot’s cell. Here was another man, clearly a foreigner with cocoa-colored skin and large brown eyes.

“I am sorry, brother,” said Ket’her, but Abbot Dominus is on retreat for thirty-six more days.”

“It is not the Abbot that I seek, honored sir,” answered the man. “I have heard tell as I journeyed through the forest of a young monk who lifted the cares of the troubled without words, but with a beautiful picture and a kiss of peace. Are you that monk?”

Ket’her explained that he was only a novice who had once sought to help a countryman – one time and one time only.

But the new penitent persisted. “Kind sir, I know little of your god or his ways. I have traveled from the other side of the earth, wandering heartbroken and aimless. I was engaged to a beautiful girl, the queen of my heart. But her father broke off our betrothal, to marry her to an old and wealthy man . . .”

Ket’her was beaten. He bid the man be seated, as he sought out his mother’s icon.

“Do you know who this is?” Ket’her asked the stranger.

“I do not know for certain, but she seems to me to be Rega, consort of Lord Krishna, she who brings joy into the hearts of lovers.”

“Tell your cares to her,” whispered the novice.

The young man poured out his heart, weeping all the while. Ket’her said nothing, only held the icon of the Virgin before the penitent’s eyes.
When the young man had finished, Ket’her asked him, “What is the holiest prayer in your tradition?”

“The sacred word ‘Om,’ replied the penitent. “It means ‘The Blessed Oneness of All Things.’ We repeat it, in and out, with our breathing.”
“Let us do so together,” said Ket’her.
And the two breathed deeply the mystic Om before the icon of the Virgin. Then Ket’her kissed the young man on the forehead; he in turn kissed the image before him, and left in peace.

After that, hardly a day passed that someone did not knock on the door. Some saw in the icon the Virgin Mother, others Maya Devi, the mother of the Buddha, others still Fatima of long ago, the best-loved wife of the Prophet (at this, Ket’her’s heart winced a little). Each penitent went away relieved of his burden.
Finally the day came on which the Abbot was to return from his retreat. He entered his cell and warmly greeted his student.

“So, my Brother Found,” he said, “has anything of interest happened in my absence?”

Ket’her was about to lay the entire matter at the feet of his master, when a quiet knock sounded at the door. Motioning with a smile for Ket’her to stay where he was, the Abbot opened the door. He was not surprised to see a penitent standing there, but was taken aback when he asked for Ket’her rather than himself. Puzzled, he silently pointed to his novice, and left the room.

Ket’her was chagrined, but the penitent would speak to no one but him. The little ritual commenced; the man was quite old and belonged to those people of the forest who clung still to the old gods. To him, the icon represented the Earth Mother from whom all life sprang.

After the old man had left, the Abbot, who had waited outside the door, quickly re-entered his cell. In a rush, Ket’her explained what had happened in his absence. The Abbot nodded grimly, but said nothing, except, “Return to your regular duties now, brother.”

Ket’her tried to obey his master, going back to gathering wood and reading books on the monastic life. But whenever he returned from the forest or the Abbey library, there would be one, two, sometimes an entire line of people standing at the Abbot’s door, none of whom wished to see the Abbot. For his part, Dominus neither forbade nor encouraged his student’s actions, but looked sternly at the entire scene on his way out of the door.

About ten days had passed this way. That morning, the Abbot was in another part of the Abbey, and Ket’her was cleaning the cell, when a knock came at the door. Sighing to himself, Ket’her opened it, and saw to his astonishment a woman standing alone there.

“How did you come here?” he asked, looking up and down the corridor fearfully, for women were strictly forbidden from the monastery.

“I followed a narrow path leading from a well in the forest to a small door in the Abbey wall. I entered it and saw no one — the monks are out gathering wood, I think. I wandered these halls until I found the cell with an abbot’s cross on the door. Forgive me, brother, but my needs are great. Are you the one they call Found?”

“You cannot stay here!” the flustered Ket’her pleaded. “It is forbidden!”
“Do not women also have burdens, young brother? Do we not also need to find peace?” And she turned her eyes upward toward him.

She seemed neither old nor young; her eyes were deep and luminous. There was something of his mother in her, and of Fatyma . . . A moment before, he was about to slam the door, but now her eyes had won him over. He stepped aside and she entered.

to be continued

THE BAG WITHOUT ANY BOTTOM – part 1 of a story by Wayne-Daniel Berard

THE BAG WITHOUT ANY BOTTOM 1/3

Wayne-Daniel Berard

Once there was a boy named Ket’her (ket-air). Ket’her lived alone with his mother, a widow, in a tiny village situated where the desert met the mountains. It was a harsh country, and Ket’her and his mother were quite poor, herding a few sheep up and down the mountains in season. In the winter, they would stay at home, and Ket’her’s mother would tell the old stories of their people.

What little money they had, Ket’her’s mother would keep in an old bag behind the icon of the Virgin, before which she kept always burning a lamp of sheep’s lard. Often Ket’her would wake in the night to pray to the Virgin, asking her to change their lot; he would take the bag from behind the icon and reach his hand inside. Sometimes he would find a few pitiful coppers; more often there was nothing. His hand would merely sink to the empty bottom of the bag.

“Someday,” young Ket’her vowed to himself in prayer, “I will find a bag without any bottom, one that will yield good things for me and my mother every day of our lives.”

But for the time being at least, that was not to be. That winter, Ket’her’s mother died; he buried her with much reverence and many tears. Ket’her then sold the sheep and the cabin. Although they did not fetch a great price, it was more money than he had ever seen before. He put the money in a bag along with his other few possessions, slung the bag over his shoulder, and set out for a new life on the other side of the mountains.

Sometimes, when he and his mother had led their sheep to especially high places, Ket’her had caught a glimpse of a distant city. There he now headed, through the trails and passes he knew so well. Soon he began to pass through little villages and larger towns. In each he had to buy food, and often gave alms to those he passed on the roads who were poorer even than himself. The bag he carried, which had once seemed so full, now was nearly empty. Indeed, by the time Ket’her entered the Great City, the bottom of the bag had been reached.

In the town square, Ket’her stopped by a public fountain to rest. His reception in the Great City had not been a warm one. His clothes and his turban marked him as an outsider from the country, in a city increasingly filled with outsiders from the east, west, north, and south — all seeking a better life. The natives of the Great City had begun to resent these newcomers, and there wasn’t enough work for all to do. Ket’her found many of the strangers, including some from his side of the mountain, idling their time away in the square, waiting for someone to hire them.

Ket’her sat down by the fountain and cooled his face. He was not disturbed, for he was used to spending time sitting and watching the sheep for days on end. Beside him sat a father with two little boys, all waiting to be hired. The boys were bored, and began bickering with each other and shoving. The father, who wore a look of hungry worry on his face, seemed about to lash out at the boys, when Ket’her leaned toward them and said, “Have you ever heard the story of how King Solomon tamed the Demon of a Thousand Names?” The boys stopped their fighting and listened; Ket’her was a fine story-teller, at once expressive and deep, so that one felt the heart of the story rising to the surface, enlightening as well as delighting the listener.

Soon the father was leaning-in to listen, and others had gathered round as well. For most of the afternoon, Ket’her told stories and sang a little, too. When the sun began to go down, the people dispersed, thanking him. One man, who had two turnips, gave one to Ket’her and smiled. That night, Ket’her feasted on roasted turnip and fresh water, and slept beneath the stars in a little park near the fountain.

The next day went on much like the day before. Ket’her came to the square hoping to be hired. He told stories most of the day, but this time passers-bye would stop and listen, and throw coins into the bag at his feet. It was not long before Ket’her had become something of an attraction in the city, and the bottom of his bag began to recede further and further beneath a mound of coins.

“This is wonderful,” thought Ket’her to himself. “All along I have been looking for something inexhaustible, something without and end – a bag without any bottom. Now I see that it is stories that make for such a bag. Stories have no end.”

But Ket’her was wrong. It took very little time for other strangers from other regions to also begin telling their stories in the square, hoping for a share of the benefits. People still listened to Ket’her, but he had had his season, and the bottom of his bag became more and more visible. Besides, soon it would be winter, when there would be no more storytelling in the public square.

One day, as fall was approaching, and the leaves began to cover the surface of the fountain’s pool, a wealthy merchant returned from his summer season of buying abroad. He was one of Ket’her’s own people who, many years before, had served as a guide to a merchant in the City. As the years had gone by, he had become more and more involved in the business, until finally he had taken it over upon the death of his master. Now he was one of the town’s most prominent citizens, although many still considered him a foreigner.

Ket’her was telling an old story to a small group of children. The caravan of the merchant, whose name was Zod, stopped to water the camels, and Zod’s young son slipped away from the servants to listen to the storyteller. When the time came to leave, the father was distressed at his son’s absence, but soon found him beside the fountain, listening. Zod was about to pull the boy away and scold him, when his ears caught the sound of the old story Ket’her was telling. He knew it well, for his own mother used to tell it to him when he was a boy. Tears began to fill the merchant’s eyes as he heard the story of his people, the names of the places where they lived, the sound and texture of a life that had been his home — a home he had never found among the people of the City.

Zod and his son listened to several stories, although the camels pawed the ground and spit impatiently. When Ket’her had finished, Zod gave him several coins of gold, and asked him to be a guest in his home that night. Ket’her was a bit startled by this sudden shift in his fortunes, but quickly agreed.

The evening was spent in feasting and merriment. Zod and Ket’her shared memories of their homeland into the wee hours of the morning. The next day at breakfast, Zod asked his guest if he could read and write the language of their people. Ket’her replied that his mother had taken great pains to teach him, even though he was just a shepherd, believing that great opportunities lay ahead for her son.
“Your mother was a wise woman,” said Zod. “The opportunity she foresaw for you is now coming true.” And then he asked Ket’her to stay in his house as a tutor for his son and for his young daughter, Fatyma.

“I do not want them to grow up ignorant of the ways of our people, to become merely one more of these soul-less city-dwellers,” Zod said. He promised to pay Ket’her well, and to feed him and lodge him under his own roof. Stunned at his good fortune, Ket’her agreed to stay.

That night, Ket’her slept in his new room in the estate of Zod the merchant. He had a clean, fresh robe to wear and a pillow beneath his head. A nightingale sang in a citron tree beside his open window.

“Now,” Ket’her thought to himself, “at last I have found the bag without any bottom. It is culture; it is nationality that matters. How deep and vast is the experience of a people — its history, its stories, its language and customs. Race is the one thing that sustains us, the well that never runs dry . . .”
So Ket’her became the teacher of the young ben Zod and of the lovely Fatyma, who was then coming into womanhood. He spent a full year in the house of the merchant, and learned much himself. There was ample time beyond his lessons to observe the workings of Zod in his business. Soon Zod began to include Ket’her in his decision-making and to seek his advice, especially in dealing with people. Money and goods were Zod’s specialties, whereas with people he felt awkward, and therefore could seem harsh and abrasive. Ket’her soon came to be an invaluable part of his business.

As for Ket’her’s teaching, it was only mildly successful. Zod’s son enjoyed the stories well enough, but resisted any attempt to change him from a boy of the City. Fatyma was attentive but quiet, gazing long at Ket’her with huge brown eyes.

Ket’her, for his part, was happy and growing wealthy in his business dealings for Zod, who paid him well. Now he had many sacks filled with coins, too many, it seemed, to ever reach their end.

“Here is the true bag without any bottom,” Ket’her came to believe. “Commerce. Culture is good, but there are only so many stories, and our people are so poor. With commerce, there is no end to the wealth one can make. Perhaps one day I will return to my home and buy back the old cabin and the ground in which my mother lies. I will retire there as a wealthy benefactor for my people . . .” Such were his dreams.

But fate had other plans for Ket’her.

To be continued

My Grandmother’s Crystal – a poem by Cynthia Pitman

My Grandmother’s Crystal

In the evenings, I sip wine
from my grandmother’s crystal.
I tell myself she would like that,
but I know she wouldn’t.
She was staunchly born-again.
Drinking was a sin.

But I’ve committed so many sins,
what’s one more?
Redemption will come.
There’s still time.
Things aren’t entirely hopeless.
Not yet.

I pour the dark red wine of repentance.
I take one sip, then another, then another. . .
As I do, I denounce myself
to atone for daring to live my life.
Redemption will come.
Redemption will come.
Until then, I’ll sin.

 

Cynthia Pitman began writing poetry again this past summer after a 30-year hiatus. She has recently had poetry published in Amethyst ReviewVita BrevisRight Hand PointingEkphrastic ReviewLiterary Yard, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Postcard Poems and Prose, and Leaves of Ink. She has had fiction published in Red Fez and has fiction forthcoming in Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art.

Sequestration – a poem by Sanjeev Sethi

Sequestration

Farouche intensifies the alienation.
Writing fills the vacancy. In hush-
hush I decode my ornaments. They
are different: fewer goldsmiths for
me. Not the usual chandler, my sail
is another sort. Pule from her pillow
disrupts the dream. She fails to read
the query in my eyelet. Obsessive
patterns have an ax to grind: the self.
Lord’s paddlewheel oars even this punt.

 

Sanjeev Sethi is the author of three books of poetry. His poems are in venues around the world:   A Restricted View From Under The Hedge, Pantry Ink, Bonnie’s Crew, Morphrog16, Mad Swirl, The Penwood Review, Faith Hope & Fiction, Communion Arts Journal, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.

A Folding of Light – a poem by John Anthony Fingleton

A Folding of Light

Observed from Cnoc na Péiste,
As clouds brush-stroked the land,
Soft shadows on the corn fields,
Painting forests lakes and strands.

The contours washed in shades of grey,
As light folded softly all around;
A masterpiece of nature’s art,
Both in silence and in sound.

It approached the place where I stood,
Then wrapped me in the scene,
And for a moment I was part of God,
And He was part of me.

 

* Cnoc na Péiste—often anglicised as Knocknapeasta, County Kerry, Ireland, part of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.

 

John Anthony Fingleton: He was born in Cork City, Ireland. Poet of the Year (2016) Destiny Poets International Community. Contributed to four books of poetry for children. Poet of the Month (March 2019) Our Poetry Archive.  First solo collection ´Poems from the Shadowlands´ was published in November 2017, which is available on Amazon.

He says no to déjà vu but I’ve heard it all before – a poem by Kate Garrett

He says no to déjà vu but I’ve heard it all before

Sometimes even when I’ve slept for hours, grey gathers
at the corners of my eyes, a dawn vignette, and you are speaking

everything you say is something I can predict
because I know we talked about this months ago

you tell me again how you don’t believe in déjà vu
because you’ve never felt the fog of it
just like the last time, when you laid out your reality
in these words, in this room

the light played on your cheekbone and chin
as it does today but it was summer then–

now it’s winter, and I know real life is no better than a lucid
dream: I must reach out and make one thing different

I must bend your tongue away from this conversation
to a point when the next step is the first new moment
of the morning

it will taste of breaking free / it will taste like a glitch

freedom is a glitch in a snowstorm, walking a circular
track looping back to find a fork in the heat-smudged road

until it is February again, when the sun has gone cold
but is trying its best to warm us.

 

Kate Garrett writes and edits. She is the author of six pamphlets, and her first full-length collection, The saint of milk and flames, is forthcoming in April 2019 from Rhythm & Bones Press. Kate lives in Sheffield, UK with her husband, five children, and a sleepy cat. www.kategarrettwrites.co.uk / twitter @mskateybelle

Death Contemplation – a poem by Ash Dean

Death Contemplation

Is it dangerous?

..a woman called Kathy asks..in an online forum,
then at 12: 56 AM..zendude..from Albuquerque,

replies..not if you do it right
..followed by a cheerful yellow emoji.

&because….somemornings
when I am walking to work

in the mellow light,
the nutty autumn smellin the air

as I pass a row of ginkgos,
magpies resting in the branches:

I contemplate a universe minus me,
tho it is not the wasting away

of the parts of my body,
the..impermanence..of me

that I..attempt to foresee,
but..it is..Youleft behind—

bathed in a baroque light
that makes..you appear

both alive and permanent.
You are on the first floor

of a modest..but pleasant house.
There is an oak table

a chairand a burgundy sofa,
outside I imagine a slight chill in the air

just to make the home seem more scrutable
I am trying to find a way

to arrive at..an..OK

for me to be gone.

It’s not as if I want to go,
for I cling with all my might:

I’d make any deal to stay here with you
throughjust one more..day

another night,

I make a list:
…….• exercise,
…….• eat right,
…….• no more sugar
…….• or cholesterol:

of course, you never know,
as they say, your time

is your time: for now, I am
here with you together

on this bus as I notice
..how The mountain forms
a deep arcopening to the south

sopassing…….through one tunnel
..the bus is momentarily

in the sunlight
..before it enters another tunnel

here where you make me happy
..like a weekend morning,

A familiar radio voice
..in the..background

..while I am working
on something I never intend

to proclaim is complete:
but the..mind of the universe

is a shuttered building
in the industrial district,

incomprehensible machines,
clattering inside,

the occupants……inattentative
to the lists I might leave behind,

&sobetween
the tunnels

I try to reduce
my list to..what

can be
…..held….between
……………heartbeats

 

 

Ash Dean grew up in Ferguson Missouri. He is a graduate of The International Writing Program at City University of Hong Kong. His work has appeared in Cha, Drunken Boat, Gravel, Ma La, Mason’s Road, Soul-Litand Afterness: Literature from the New Transnational Asia. He is the author of Cardiography from Finishing Line Press.  He lived in Suzhou, China for 6 years. He currently lives in Songdo, South Korea.

Kiddush – a poem by Gershon Ben-Avraham

Kiddush

Every Sabbath, on my way to Morning Prayer,
I pass the tennis courts on Bialik Street. The
Russians are already in the midst of matches.
Before I see them, I hear them, calling to one
another, grunting. Sometimes I stop to watch them.
They play bare-headed, wear white sweatbands on their wrists.

After Prayer, on the shul’s steps, my friend recites
Kiddush. Some Yemenites argue loudly; my friend
arbitrates. After a while, he looks at me and
nods, raises his hand. Time to leave. On our way home,
he wears his prayer shawl draped over his shoulders.
We talk of deep things, of God, prayer, and Torah.

As we pass the tennis courts, I turn my head to
see the men. Their games finished now, they are seated
at tables in the sun, their racquets on the ground
beside them. They are drinking and eating. I love
their laughter, their banter, their camaraderie—
their shul. Must be their kiddush, I say to myself.

Gershon Ben-Avraham lives in Be’er Sheva, Israel. He holds an MA in Philosophy from Temple University. His fiction has appeared in the Big Muddy, Bookends Review, Broad River Review, Crack the Spine, Gravel, and Jewish Fiction.net. His short story “Yoineh Bodek” appeared in Issue No. 96 of Image: Art, Faith, Mystery.

from Pond – a sequence by John L. Stanizzi

12.10.18
6.58 a.m.
20 degrees

Petulant nuthatch cranks at me to fill the feeders.
Open water yesterday is frozen today, and yesterday’s ice is
noticeably thicker this morning. The hoarfrost-landscape is
dull, but the sun has just risen, and soon the dew will glint and then vanish.

 

12.11.18
12.27 p.m.
22 degrees

Pitiless, windless, these days before the solstice,
occurring this year in concert with the full cold moon,
never to happen again until 2094.
Don’t see a single reason to plan for it.

 

12.12.18
12.28 p.m.
28 degrees

Papyral leaves encased in this new ice
on which I stand with caution,
numbly recalling days when a
dropped puck meant slash, clatter, grunt, dusk.

 

12.13.18
1.28 p.m.
32 degrees

Princely flurries that can barely be dubbed squall
obfuscate little in the dead calm.
Nurturant fruits of the labor have woven a
damask shawl gray as the curl of my breath is gray.

 

12.24.18
7.50 a.m.
29 degrees

Pastel grass, white-infused green and brown; the sun winnows through the
overcast sky, and the only movement is the whorl of smoke from Butch’s chimney,
narrow gray spiral in a gray sky. Snow flurries this Christmas Eve morning
deepen the things that weigh on my soul, the losses falling like snow that is barely noticeable.

 

12.25.18
7.35 a.m.
33 degrees

Christmas, 2018

Presents? Twilight. The pond one-third frozen. The sun
overlaying the moon, ornaments in scattered blue light,
notes of Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter there too, though
dawn on the water is the first light of Christmas I see.

 

John L. Stanizzi is author of Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits – Fifty 50-Word Pieces, and Chants.  His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, The New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, The Cortland Review, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Connecticut River Review, and many others.  Stanizzi has been translated into Italian and his poems have  in appeared many journals in Italy.  His translator is Angela D’Ambra.  Stanizzi teaches literature at Manchester Community College in Manchester, Connecticut, and lives with his wife, Carol, in Coventry.