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By David Joel Friedman
University of Illinois PressCopyright © 2006 David Joel Friedman
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Chapter OneWhirlwind The whirlwind came and carried away his trees and bushes and plants. It carried away his roof, and the roof of his silo. It carried away the mailman at his appointed rounds, and distributed the mail haphazardly. It looked to be an extended whirlwind, for its energy toiled at the fields and uprooted the sycamores and scarecrows. The whirlwind engaged him at the intellectual level, for it fostered the philosophy of whirlwinds, wherein the rake and the hoe and other farm implements are carried up into the sky, where they might toil at the fields of the sky, and be judged. His house moreover was banished, and his dreams. His aspiration to be a corsair of the fields. His fortitude in the midst of snake-like enchantment. This was the chiefest of his virtues: wherein he plied the same field as the whirlwind, and coughed up the acidic phlegm of the roughneck storm. Remote, this storm, from the scalawags, and from the fields, defenseless. Dreamer The green bear was settled in for the winter. His cave was as warm as his haunches. He rested his head on his paws and slept, and began to dream. In the first dream, thegreen bear slew his enemies without mercy. In the second dream he was besieged, and barricaded against the knighthood. The last dream was a dream of madness: the green bear bastioned against the elements, and a fiery tombstone. The green bear wrote down all his dreams on birchbark. In the spring, he went to an analyst. He told her the three dreams. She said, "Sir, you are rumored to be one of the bear family. Pray, tell me, how did you become so green?" "I became green when a scion was cut from older stock and the cottage trade took hold. Green is the color of the Adirondack, and life," he said, "is a blitzkrieg." "Then," said she, "allow me to interpret your dreams. In the first dream, you fear a bugbear. In the second dream, you have not properly washed. And in the third dream, nature remonstrates you for being singular. You would do well to close the gap between you and your forefathers." The green bear paid the analyst for the nifty interpretations, then went about his business. He was glad he had not discussed his amours. A voice at the back of his head told him to rise and shine. Flugelhorn Zero, said the deadlock. Habeas corpus, said the matter-of-fact. Old, said the tin pan alley. With this in mind the sawyer blew out the candle and in the dark rubbed elbows with the carboniferous. And by a shoestring guise he awakened the sentiment of the old confabulator. Please, said the touchstone, touch me. Please, said the touch, a plea. An apple if you will, sir, said the halibut. Until at last it was one fish talking to another, and the bubbles rose to the surface. And the flood huddled in the wings, where the trap was, pulled by horses, spun in a genuine conglomerate of seed; like the scree of a metaphor, when you have hugged and pinched it. Like a flugelhorn. The Green Bear Shanghaied The green bear was in the back seat of a car, sandwiched between two goons. He said, "What is this? Where are you taking me? And why?" A goon in the front seat turned around and said, "Not so fast, green guy. You know why you're here. You have the designs for the new Superpistol, and we want them." The green bear objected. "Sirs, I am only a middleman. These paws have never touched a Superpistol. The man you want isn't a bear at all, he's a man." All the goons were listening. The green bear continued, "If I ever had the Superpistol I don't have it anymore. The prototype is in the hands of the law. Laugh it up, gentlemen." They drove to a deserted farmhouse, where they chained the green bear to a wall and began torturing him. The first torture was rootlessness: the green bear cut off from his ancestors. The second torture was denigration: his art maligned. And for a third torture they offered him fresh strawberry pancakes, with butter and syrup, then withdrew the offer at the last minute. This last was the worst indignity. The green bear tore and tore at his chains until the farmhouse came crashing down, burying all the goons. The green bear, unlike Samson, survived, and made his way back to civilization, dragging bits and pieces of the farmhouse. He learned that in his absence Congress had forbidden the construction of the Superpistol as a weapon too horrible to imagine. He was enjoined from further research into the making of the Superpistol. The green bear found the woman who betrayed him, and plugged her. He continued his adventures. Altimeter What is the altimeter of your excellence? Wherein are you childlike, from hunger? Edify yourself; branch out; flow like the cormorant through many weathers. Build a roof over your defile, and shadow-forth your excellence. In a finale, plump for the arcane. So that your five-years' demon descends, to haunt your affect; so that you put no lid on your challenge, but ledger your penmanship. Arise, and sun-bake your poetry; with a push/pull pen, for excellence; in a fusillade, for endeavor. The Past I am the past. Stepchild of the future. How is this so? Feed the flames of my youth, and I will tell. Once upon a time I was once upon a time. Now I am always. The disasters of my life burn like watchfires in the night, lighting my way, giving sporadic warmth. Mama Bear and Papa Bear are no more. Now am I a child of the sun and the moon, and surrogate of the possessed. Affirm my textures; light my cadres; squire my breviaries. Thus and so I foretell: the past as predator; the present as nemesis; the future as foothold, victory. Chef So the chef concocted this wondrous dish with apples and cherries and sandpipers. So he struggled with the ingredients-to keep it light but substantial. So he tore down the old and upraised the new; crafted his syllogism; and earmarked his transubstantiation. And then he tried it out. The first customer was a lumberjack. The lumberjack said, "I cannot eat this. This is made of apples and cherries and confections." A fireman said, "I cannot eat this; this dish is made with sandpipers." Finally he asked an old sailor to try it. "Hmm," said Odysseus, "just like home. Now I will bring you with me as my personal chef." And that is how Odysseus and his men survived their voyage. They fetched the chef each day and demanded only the best. The chef, unfettered, concocted many other rare dishes, which won Penelope over too on the day of reckoning. Here's to chefs! And especially, here's to sandpipers! Magda The choirmaster attended the deathbed of one "Charles," who asked for, and got, the choirmaster's blessing. Then the choirmaster went for a drink. He had a slug of this and a slug of that. He remembered Charles in his youth. He remembered too a woman named Magda, who had loved both of them years apart. Then he headed for home. Suddenly he stopped. For there before him on the pathway ahead was Magda, with her dark eyes and raven hair, looking lovelier than ever. After all these years they had forgotten nothing, and they relived the joys of their youth. Months went by. Until at last winter came, with its snowy blasts, and the choirmaster assembled his friends. He told them: "Friends, it is deafening to be here so quickly. I admire all of you, and admonish the rest: mistake me not. I mean to make Magda my lawful wedded wife." So the wintry cold came and went, and the choirmaster and Magda donned wet suits and married underwater. But if the tale were truly told, you would wake up one morning with a terrible headache, and your mother, or someone like her, would say, "Blame it all on Magda. Or on Magda and Charles. Or on the witch." My tale is done. May the snowy blasts of winter prevent trespass, and protect this house. Heliotrope Don't wend that way, Mr. Peppercorn; that way is steep. Beware the icicles, Mr. Peppercorn. Now there came into the possession of Mr. Peppercorn a heliotrope; and he did not know what that was, or what to do with it. So, to seem perspicacious, as well as virile, he enscrolled a pepperbox with the theme of the first icicle, and the theme of the second, and the third, and so on. He beclouded the scene with surface tension, and clenched his teeth like a clavichord. It was audacious, it was hail-fellow-well-met, for Mr. P., a polyglot, wise but obstreperous in his many years.
Excerpted from The Welcome by David Joel Friedman Copyright © 2006 by David Joel Friedman. Excerpted by permission.
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