Feeling Afraid

The mother of invention has forced my hand. This weekʼs been too busy to believe, so hereʼs a post that I have been sitting on for months, trying to get everything right to build up to it instead of just popping it out like this. But I havenʼt even actually been on the computer except for five or ten minutes all week, so hereʼs the long-repressed post. (And inappropriately for the post, the Right has been quiet of late, thankfully. Even the Gun Nuts Protest on April 19 was pretty much a fizzle — rightfully so as the true second amendment supporters are not and should not be loons).

I wrote this back in January (can you spot the paragraph I added recently when I decided to go ahead and post it?), and I find that although I vented at the start of this month to celebrate April Foolʼs Day, I still feel very uncomfortable about the insane falsehoods and distortions radiating from the Uptight Right/Fox News. In reality, it feels that the voices have softened, as Glen Beck tries to sound sage preaching his Cato Budget (yeah, Loon Clown, toss a Roman allusion on everything to make it seem rational) for instance, but the goosestepping still echoes under those pseudo-reasonable words. And I feel afraid…

So stripped of gaudy images today, stark to my original intent, letʼs step back into what could have been a very early post from me for this Friday that ends cruel April.

Politically, I’m a lightweight, which is one reason I try not to let myself get suckered into intense political arguments (the other reason’s because I get angry — as some of us know now). I have permitted myself to reveal some political attitudes already here. However, the only clear position I have taken is that Fox News shouldn’t lie, shouldn’t propagandize, shouldn’t slant and even distort the news (as unquestionably they do); I guess I have also revealed that I don’t much care for the rabid and degenerate rabble-rousing of some of the Fox “pundits.”

Honestly, that would be it: I would promote genuine journalism (the more difficult and challenging choice) over propaganda (clearly easier and available to even the most inadequate minds). Please give me facts rather than lies and evidence over mere opinion.

The fourth estate is valuable in our society not as entertainment (we’ve got multitudinous forms of that, if it entertains you, in spades from all kinds of sources all around us; we don’t need our news reporters to focus primarily on “entertaining” us when it’s actually their job to inform us). Nor should journalism be covertly or overtly biased by agendae (whether political, economic, personal or whatever): good journalism is even-handed, unbiased and fair. Good reporting has to be neutral to be trustworthy, and valid reporters must be wiling to question even their own prejudices, beliefs and preconceptions because some powerful organization or individual is certain to abuse its/his/her power or influence for selfish reasons or gain (witness the self-serving and false “birther” nonissue promoted relentlessly merely to denigrate the current President and raise further to prominence the tinny voices in question, or the nontransparent ”transparency” of some current government disinformation). Good journalists, standing aside from their personal beliefs, should expose the truth of any situation, however mundane, however arcane, however heated by preconceptions and rash judgments.

As for punditry (oh, there’s a word abused and tormented in its adoption into English: our contemporary opinion-mongers are so extremely far from “wise men”), my issue is fear. I am afraid of the direction opinion-expressers in the media are going. Besides espousing nonsense, these blowhards are seeking self-promotion and power. And succeeding. I wish there were voices from the left (besides, perhaps, the wit of Al Franken, who has certainly found power for himself, now legitimized as a Senator) for exemplars, but the hot air is all blowing from the Right, perhaps because those powers-that-would-be feel deprived after the last election, perhaps because of all the corporate money funding such extremism to duck and cover in the face of new government scrutiny (viz. FreedomWorks and their shenanigans).

What we hear today is far too close to the Nazi preachments of the early Thirties (newly minted family values, xenophobic alien prejudice, weak-government name-calling, economic panic-mongering, empty sloganeering…) for comfort. And like the Nazis it’s all New Right rhetoric driving fear and panic deep in the hearts of the followers of such speakers, harshening the divisions of opinion across the country and militarizing the loyalists. Worse is the cult of personality being cultivated by these potential Leaders. Hitler was a funny nut to party outsiders early on, too. Has Glen Beck been taking lessons there?

I know: it’s become a classic of modern discourse to resort to the “Nazi comparison.” The Right has been trying that same debate stunt about their bugaboo of paternalistic big government (which is just what? I wonder). But I begin to feel genuinely afraid, especially as the “opinions” on the Right become ever more strident, ever more fierce, ever more crazed (come on, Teapotties and Beckazoids — Nazis and other fascists were never on the Left) and paranoid (which is, I know, how I am feeling right now—paranoid). But I am not just name-calling here: I dread a too-close historical parallel or repetition.

After all, the great weakness of the Right is its easy inclusion of the rabid, racist and wrong American neo-Nazis within their ranks (including some of those armed loonies at FreedomWorks’ intentionally unruly and therefore media-friendly August ’09 town-meeting explosions). The Left of the Thirties, Forties, Fifties and Sixties had the same problem with the Soviet Union, and the just and honest on the Left should have repudiated communist tyranny, in particular Stalin and his government’s incredible genocide (although too many did not and served blindly or knowingly the Soviet cause). In my youth the New Left did better about such terrors as Mao’s Red Guard and the Khmer Rouge, but frequently not much better. If the Right wants my respect today, they must shed the insane Loonie-Racist Right fringe. But they don’t. Right pundits still defend the gun nuts of the so-called “militia movement” (so transparently ignorant of the second amendment’s vital adjective—“well regulated” and the actual definition of a militia), including namby-pamby drivel about “the forces that drove Timothy McVeigh” to his evidently (to them) “partially justified” act of mass homicide, and the dupes and slaves of that Branch Davidian Fuhrer of Waco. The wacked out crazies preaching hate should not be tolerated or excused, Foxies — not if you donʼt want to be them.

Now the Righties intentionally use gun-language and images (viz. Ms. Palinʼs website) to sow fear in the hearts of their countrymen (thanks, for the quotable allusion, Gandhi) and make themselves feel assertive and strong (I guess) just like their fascist ancestors in Europe during the Thirties. It all just makes me think of the evident godfather of our American Right, the man with the mustache that our Tightie Righties would like to paint on inoffensive do-gooders like our President. Talk about change in terms of guns, and I hear the Stormtroopers raging.

Not being Jewish or (perhaps more relevant for America today) Hispanic or gay or “socialist” or part of other groups being vilified from the Right, I shouldn’t feel this dread, maybe. But I keep thinking of Martin Niemöller’s verse:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out.

I am old and my career is behind me. Perhaps it is my place to speak out, having somewhat less to fear than the younger folks who have full lives ahead…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

A Quick Note

A 16th in G-sharp: LA!

Seriously, just a quick note. I have been training all week. I have had an exhausting but exhilarating time with perhaps the best group of soon-to-be-enumerators I could imagine! Seriously. (Okay so I have said “seriously” two times in one paragraph — oops, now itʼs three.) I donʼt think any of them even know I keep a blog, but I am saying it publicly: my first group of trainees were wonderful people who made the experience wonderful for me. I even think they learned a thing or two and should be ready to undertake the tasks for which they have been hired (now Iʼm starting to sound like the materials we use).

The days have been long (more than ten hours a day so far), and my nearly year-retired legs are finding standing that long wearing (on the first day, with fingerprinting, I stood on my feet for the entire training-session day). But the group has been enthusiastic, interested and helpful. I probably have learned as much as they. And I will get to use that knowledge (hereʼs hoping I remember all the good ideas) because I am going to continue training (which suits this old teacher just fine).

This quick note is also a pre-apology for tomorrowʼs rant, which is resulting from the need for anything to post. I have been withholding something I first typed back in January for, well, months now, and having coined the “FoxHunt Friday” concept, I will post this one then. As you will be able to tell, I was taking myself pretty seriously as the new year was just underway.

Janet and I will be attending the Andrew Spring Play tomorrow night, too. Itʼs going to be The Wizard of Oz at 7:30 PM in the Andrew School Gym. So, since the post for Friday is already in the chute, hereʼs wishing the cast and crews the very best: Break Legs and Drop Props, Everybody!! (And I hope they appreciate what a great teacher and director they have enjoyed this past year, because he has been outstanding in my opinion.)

I have also been humbly pleased at the worldwide reach of the blog (I know, I know: itʼs the internet; it reaches globally). However, mind recent comments from other nations have made me pause about all of the maunderings I have imposed on the digital universe (particularly this excuse for what I had planned as a series of essays intermixed with vari9us bits of creative writing — no essay here, today).

I hope to get caught up with some real posts on Friday and Saturday (still secretly trying to keep an unbroken run going — oops, perhaps not such a secret now). Satueday and Sunday are already covdered with two more piece of the Villon novelʼs beginning. By the way, I thought of a title — Morte Saison — (itʼs a quote from one of his long poems. Good? Bad? Respond.

Have a great day, world-at-large.


Working to be ready for my week as a Census enumerator trainer, I have delved again into the pot of available material already written to develop a post for today. Being consumed by bureaucracy must be stimulating my poetic sensibilities (or else poetry is the best escape) because todayʼs post is another poem. This one, however, may be R-rated. In these modern days I am not quite sure.

I have already embarrassed myself several times by printing here poems that seem too personal and too obvious. Once I even accidentally (was it a Freudian slip?) posted a poem I was only drafting. I have been thinking of posting this one for a while but have hesitated. Clearly it’s a bit too blatant in its subject matter; I’ve done better bowdlerizing these things in other poems and other posts. But like some of the other embarrassing poems I like this one. A lot. Lines and phrases from it have stuck in my memory for decades and may have shaped my thoughts and life, possibly sad to say. This one ties in with other posted verse connected intentionally or unconsciously to The White Goddess, and it comes from that same era when my first serious and important relationship dissolved and I was first teaching school and living as what I believed was an adult.

For the biographically overinterested, the subject is the same person as in my third discovered villanelle. (It is hard to believe that one incident—combined with a chaste, previous traumatic night in Pella—could so dominate my imagination for so long.) This poem is unfortunately more overt than that villanelle. Thus the title for today…

But letʼs provide some interpretation. No, maybe I had better not. The White Goddess link above (although it will include todayʼs post) provides enough interpretation by me. The rest is mere biography.

The Odyssey — both as I imagined it and as it really has become once I have read and reread the epic (annually in Advanced English) — has influenced my imagination for nearly ever. And Circe is a fascinating (and seductive) figure well beyond my own fevered thoughts. I have just applied her name for a Celtic witch, thus welding two concepts together (I wish). I am not trying to cast the speaker as Odysseus, however.

Another influence is the King Crimson Islands album, which owes its own debt to Homer.

Night Eire

I’ve tasted desire on the wet lips of Circe:

a pre-Raphaelite Circe — perfect

and cupped her small breast
in the palm of my hand (nipple
a nut, hard on the moistness
between the lines,
love’s and life)

firm cheeks and thighs slender,
well-muscled, arching her hips
toward me in darkness thick
with confusion. Oh, Circe,
fertile and eager, dark hair
softly selfwilled (in rings and curls,
black foam from cold oceans),
all sleek like an artist’s line,
moaning behind kisses

with deft fingers delicate and
a quickly sly tongue.

Circe makes love like the moon,
polished, passionate,
apocalyptic and pale

like distance flesh firmly denies,
desiring no more
than that animal body’s
womanhard subtle helical embraces.

after a particularly passionate community theater party — with no hope of Neanderthals in the third generation

22 September 1976

The poemʼs title is a pleasant pun. ‘Nuff said, okay?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Neighborhood Envy

Hereʼs another post, like yesterdayʼs, composed while it drizzled on Saturday afternoon and Janet conversed with her sister on the telephone. The downpour was just a light drizzle and even almost nothing through most of the afternoon. I had the window beside the computer open, and the strong breeze wafted not raindrops but the heavy scent of lilac in to me. Our big lilac right there outside the window has leaped about a foot taller, it seems, since last year. All the rest of the plants have done well, too, except for the dogwood, which the rabbits gnawed to shreds except for two stalks that are heavy with leaves now (and the stubs the rodents left are also sprouted lushly). Janet and I put in six new bushes two weekends ago (waiting until Sunday in case the predicted frost Saturday night arrived; it didnʼt). The rotten rabbits got to a tiny sand cherry within forty-eight hours, but Iʼve shrouded it in rabbit fence, and we hope the sticks remaining might recover. Rabbits make me want a gun (although firing arms within the city limits is not permitted) or better yet, an effective slingshot. Whereʼs King David when you need him?

Does anyone know a good rabbit poison?

Anyway, we planted two more lilacs on the east side of the house (raising our lilac count to four), the sand cherry in the northeastern corner as one more contribution to concealing the urban slumland of Gasser True Valueʼs butt-end from view, and three wigelia bushes on the western side of the house where Janet had all previous years planted annual flowers (geraniums and petunias). Like my friend Kevin (and his wife Dawn), I believe I have come to desire my yard to resemble a foresty wonderland. But letʼs preserve the bushes and plantings for a future post.

Right now I expect my neighbors think so, because our grass is long and unkempt …

my own much-abused copy of Burroughsʼs first novel

It rained all weekend, staring about 10:00 AM Friday morning. Both of my neighbors on either side heeded the weather forecasts, getting their butts outdoors to mow their lawns before the deluge. I had hoped to do so Friday morning, but the rain doused that plan (and I really didnʼt mind, I think). However, on Sunday morning, as all those Methodites drove to church, they had to endure the untidy mess of our untended and shaggy greensward (I have loved that word ever since I first encountered it in Edgar Rice Burroughsʼs A Princess of Mars as a preteen in Rock Island, devouring my sisterʼs books; I guess it became common knowledge that I was borrowing and reading and rereading hers so that my maternal grandmother was given the hint to make all eleven Ballantine Barsoom books my Christmas gift our first year in Olivet, Michigan, 1966 [?]. To be honest, I donʼt really know nor can I calculate how many times I must have reread those books and most of the rest of Burroughs — dozen[s].)

But back to the yard…

Taking a break from my work preparations on Saturday to whip out both yesterday and todayʼs posts — feeling uncertain how creative I might be after training days — I felt that with the rain not actually falling, perhaps I should get out and slog through the wet yard with the lawn mower, reducing the overgrowth in the (wait for it: here it comes again) greensward. However, as you can tell by my predicted/now-past perceptions of the churchgoing Methodists (there, this time Iʼll prove that I do know the true name of the religious persuasion into which I was born, baptized and twice confirmed — thereʼs a whole ʼnother post ahead someday on my religious upbringing and experiences), I am not intending to fulfill that guilty obsession.

It is too wet, and even the acquisition of Bingʼs much lighter mower (than our previous duck-taped and otherwise jerry-rigged dinosaur) wonʼt prevent me from making mower-tracks in the wet sod. Even walking around the yard, as Janet and I did returning from lunch/grocery-buying to check on things and acquire some lilac cuttings for her to envase for the living room, put shoe prints some places. No, we really could not mow on Saturday before the churchgoers would pass by.

So the yard remained longhaired and natural rather than civilized and trimmed (that reference is for all fans of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s Wind, Sand and Stars, particularly the brief essay “Oasis” — which I made so many Andrew students read from my very first year in the district, latterly in Advanced English — in which the so-called princess gives her heart, yearning for the dream of near-perfection, to an imbecile “who loves only trim lawns”).

I really should encapsulate all my thoughts on Saint-Exupéry in a lit-crit essay for the blog…

— Maybe I need to create a post on our old lawn mower. It really is quite a wreck that I have wired and taped, twisted and kicked into a kind of functioning order (that scares Janet). It has been interesting, even if only for the first time so far, to have to hold one of those levers again to keep the engine running on Bingʼs machine.

Maybe I need to close this out for today, having wandered my way well past a thousand words. Enjoy your greenswards, one and all!

I said “jerry-rigged” in the post. I believe I have mentioned before that I first met that lovely word/phrase in a childish adventure book about a lone man scaling the Himalayas to avoid evil Chinese communists. Thereʼs a memory I would love to revisit if anyone could suggest what novel that might be… I have more or less decided that the Genghis Khan-and-his-Mongol-hordes book I had read to me in fourth grade might have been one of Harold Lambʼs.

If you try the link on “jerry-rigged,” you will learn what I didnʼt know, that itʼs a bastardized blend of “jury-rigged” and “jerry-built.” I like the triple-combination meaning myself over any of the single ones. I blush that my word is such an illegitimate thing, but I have always felt that “jerry-rigged” carried all three overlapping sets of meanings. (And, if you check back on the Pockets post in which I first discussed both books, the term in the adventure tale was “jerry-can.”)

— I had an idea for my Sepharad story. Søren and Nathan sound too much alike to me. How about Judah (or Yehuda) for my Jewish character? I think that because of his bipolar schizophrenia he will be known as Tahmid (“flame”) or maybe Uryon (“flame” or “light”) as a kind of nickname (much as Conan was called Amra, the Lion, from his pirating days with Bêlit). Reactions?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Monday, Monday

Did anyone enjoy (or even read) the brief selections over the weekend from my barely begun François Villon novel? I kept the items brief in the hope of increasing readership and response. Janet really did mildly criticize those first chapters (more ahead this coming weekend, by the way) as overwritten and excessively literary. But all thatʼs for the past (and future).

Today I am back to the regular world of regular work (albeit, unlike my teaching career, severely limited to only forty hours per week — which should sound like a dream come true after all those  hundred-hour weeks in education, but right now it does not). Itʼs Monday morning, so like the rest of the world, I am off to work …

Even though I donʼt feel any hatred today, as I used a cat for the poetry post last week, hereʼs another for ailurophiles

I am (I hope) out running as this post arrives on the Internet, hoping the leg holds up and that I can get showered, take care of getting us both fed and lunched and Janet out the door, and get myself to the training site at least an hour before itʼs supposed to start at 9:00. I called my people, and all but one are coming, except for the one who never wanted daytime training in the first place (ah, the government in action).

I have my materials, and I hope theyʼre all in the proper places when I will need them this week. I have never before taught entirely from a scripted package (even the latter-day English III materials for career education skills werenʼt strictly by the book, and I got bored with those books pretty quickly anyway). But I will do my best to stick to the script this week, and the scripted presentation provides a certain level of comfort anyway.

Right now — as I write on Saturday — itʼs all in the future. I still have to go over my trainee folders and practice fingerprinting (Janet, my guinea pig for this procedure, may even be getting excited about doing that this afternoon). And itʼs as gray (even darker than I had expected) and rainy as predicted. I guess that Monday isnʼt going to be much better — less rain perhaps, but just as cloudy. so that will/does make it a good day to be inside. As I am going to be. All day.

Unlike my trainees I may not even get much lunch, although I am required and not paid to take that break, as I have to go over their paperwork and fingerprints to have them ready for my courier to FedEx to Cedar Rapids. Just joy upon joy, actually.

I used to think Mondays were fun (once I retired) because they opened a whole new range, a brand-new week, of adventures in composition or whatever other chores or activities lay ahead. Now I wonder just how long I can endure having a real job again. (I started but havenʼt worked far on a post about work being modern slavery — with no slur on those actively captive in genuine slavery around the globe — but also a blessing, as it provides motivation and variety to our lives — okay, a limited variety and lots of motivational stress.)

Mondays are usually my best run of a week, having more or less rested over the weekend. I hope thatʼs true (has already been true?) this morning. My leg has begun to feel better, except first thing in the morning. I want that run to ease my way into this week.

Other than work and running (and I admit again that I am exaggerating my success pounding the asphalt to call it “running”), I donʼt have much to say this morning. So I shall keep to my current conception of these posts and keep it short.

Happy Monday. And have a good work week, everyone!

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Villon I

You got the Prologue yesterday. Hereʼs a chunk of the first chapter (and itʼs a short chapter, actually). Funny. I can remember where and how I wrote a lot of this (but then, even the first words are only about four years old).

I used to always write when opportunity arose. Once I realized that opportunity did not always leave me near a computer, and once I had a good pocket notebook in which to write (I have always carried a little notebook, but the older ones were three-ring binders, and the pages werenʼt well adjusted to writing more than notes of all  kinds, addresses and and ideas, and poetry. Buying the Harrodʼs notebooks while Janet and I were in London in 2002 actually got me to do real writing when I was stranded in a mall waiting for her to have more fun shopping than she would have done if I had wandered into the clothing store(s) with her (and I vividly remember composing a large chunk of “Underground” in the big multifloor downtown mall in Portland, Oregon, several summers ago — with beautiful sun pouring in all around me).

Anyway. A key section of this little reverie in a tavern came out of a community theatre party at which I wasnʼt having the best of times (that was the same night I evenutally walked home from the far edge of Maquoketa and stepped into not-quite-refrozen four-inch-deep puddles on Summit Street), and my own muddled perception at the party helped imagine Françoisʼs own thoughts.

Another untitled work in progress, I just call it The Villon Novel …


The illumination in the Pomme de Pin was never very trustworthy —  a few flambeaux (two by the door, one by the barrels), a couple of candles on the “good” tables, sometimes a twist of oil-soaked grass stuck high in the back corner. The one big fireplace.

Essentially it was pretty dark, and by late evening fairly thick with smoke as well. Ventilation being a poor idea in the winter, holding warmth, even smoke, was a pleasant necessity.

François as a youth had found this dive a racy exhilaration. He failed to perceive that it was a morass from which he would not escape.

A tangled route had brought François to this scummy table in this notorious tavern on this ill-fated winter night. No candle here, far from the dancing brightness of the roaring hearth. No rushlight near either.

All the better. Darkness suited his purpose on this dark night early in a dark year. He heard the rattle of bones in the cup at another table near the farther wall.  François shuddered, drawing his narrow frame closer into the corner his table crowded, ignoring, mostly, the chill of the outdoor air permeating both walls. Coins clinked:  bets placed.

“Ha.” One shout of pleasure amidst indrawn breaths and hisses of dismay. François sniffed in sympathy, willing the gambling sounds away and studiously not looking up at the other table.

The bones had brought him here tonight. The price of the last dark year, his tavern year — long, dark nights huddled around the table. Wine and more wine. The dice — yellow and flashing in the red light. And his coins swiped away, lost. Again and again. Wine and more wine. Losing and losing and losing…

The times he won were bright flashes in his memory. They were bright moments at the time, too. Treasured and warm in his heart and belly.  The look of envy on Colin’s face. Others licking their lips, hiding their dismay with tankards, gulping wine. Flares of anger from Guy Tabarie, who lost oftener than François. Jehan looking sour and raking the dice back angrily. Faces to be savored.

Faces to be met tonight.

Winnings never lasted. Winning  just meant François bought more wine. Wine and dice: money sliding through his fingers onto the wet planks of tavern tables and so seldom ringing any coins back. Requiring more money…

At first that need meant work, tedious time in addition to his tedious studies, copying text for other students, even making illegal copies on Rue de Saint-Jacques sometimes. The work instead of his studies, scraping daylong with his always dull pens, work requiring him to spend money — ink, parchment, pens. Worked extending into the evenings he yearned to be here, drinking wine and gambling. Work that was worse than studying. Work that rewarded his efforts too little and generally too late.

Work which seemed so light when he thought of peasants wrenching rocks from fields or his nakedpate, rackhack-coughing masters shivering in their overworn threadbare patched-on-patches gowns to lecture inattentive allasleep idiots who only arouse to debate insignificant issues of irrelevant side points just to piss the master off, or bone ugly befouled and dirty, pocky, gouty, blear-eyed whores — shivering in worse garments than any master had to suffer — struggling to flaunt their eons-vanished charms to those same self-absorbed, self-importantly witty undergraduates in dark streets, puke-scented, thoroughly and throughly designed to defeat lust and sin (coughing even more than the futile wasting masters).

Still each joint between the elbow and the fingertips snarled and nagged with achepain and in the morning could scarcely twist or bend to grasp a pen. Weary aches that made taking the dicecup or goblet pleasureless effort until more wine and wine made the bones forget…

But those other bones — so carefully enumerated — never remembered and left François stumbling home alone night after night, whoreless in his innocent poverty, striding through black ways unhindered by footpads only too aware of a loser’s stagger. Still he dreaded them, those cutthroats, those alleyway bandits — dreaming of beatings in skullthrobbing notslumber night after night.

All from the dice and the wine. In the taverns. And low women and lower men, cockleshells and cuckoldry, murder and memory. All bringing him here. Tonight.

Thatʼs about half the chapter. Weʼll reserve the rest for Saturday. —Had you noticed I have been using weekends for older (this is actually quite new) writing? It rests the mind and leaves me what time I can muster for writing (now that I am at least temporarily working around having a real job again).

I get to train Census enumerators tomorrow. Wish me luck. Iʼm nervous.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


What miserable weather around here yesterday and today. The rain moved in Friday morning before I was astute enough to get outdoors and mow the yard, and pretty much itʼs been drizzling or pouring ever since. A soggy celebration for poor Will the Bard.

However, Shakespeareʼs birth has put me in a medieval/Renaissance frame of mind, and that made me realize I had a bit of writing about Paris and France from the later middle ages that I have been wanting to share. Itʼs the start of my Villon novel.

François Villon was a minor criminal, probably connected to the organized underworld, living most of his life in Paris in the fifteenth century. He had the good fortune that a benefactor — from whom he took the last name Villon (Françoisʼs actual surname is listed as either Montcorbier or des Loges, both small towns south of Paris from which his family probably came) — educated the boy and sent him on to the University of Paris, from which François Montcorbier acquired his Master of Arts degree. However, within a short time, the young man had committed a fairly major burglary of a church treasury (presumably amidst other crimes) and just previously had killed a priest in a brawl (eventually ruled self-defensive) that sent him into exile outside of the capital. On his return, Villon was caught up in other criminal activity, earning a second exile, during which he spent time in a hideous prison from which he was released only because the new king of France passed through the city (traditionally, the passage of the king was celebrated by a general pardon for prisoners in a community). Back in Paris again, the terribly aged man again got imprisoned on charges connected with the church burglary but again was near-miraculously released only to vanish from any records (presumably he died very soon, just over thirty years old). He lived with whores and crooks and apparently took delight in his wasted life. He was also one of the great poets of the French language, delineating in a rawly realistic style and language the actual life of late-medieval Paris.

I have been intrigued by him since just out of college (in fact a dual-language copy of his poetry attended me over the weekend that Janet and I got married). So it didnʼt surprise me that I started imagining a novel about his life a couple of years ago, which I penned into my little red Harrodʼs notebook as I concluded “Underground.” I worked on it much more last fall, and when Janet and I were headed to Wisconsin to visit her sister before Christmas, I read what I had completed at that time aloud as she drove us toward Dubuque and further.

Disappointingly, she didnʼt react well, finding my prose too literary to hold her interest. That response, of course, gives me excellent reason to inflict the current portion on you, faithful readers, seeking your feelings. The story begins with a Prologue…

Villon Novel, Prologue

The old man sat hunched like a blind miser, hanging his head close over the desk in front of them. But no golden horde lay there, simply parchment, old, abused and much used and reused, barely scraped clean enough to accept the words he was painfully scratching by the dying light of this day in the one room he did not own. He wrote:

“I knew him, this Villon, whose roundelay, still sung these fifty years on, heard by me this morning in the market street, still lingers in my ears.”

He stopped. The song did indeed ring in his aged and enfeebled memory. His dark eyes, crystalline with glaucoma, did not focus on that corner as his nearly toothless mouth moved, lips writhing to the remembered words. He recollected most of them.

His attention turned back to the palimpsest. He shook his head about something and continued.

“Youngsters remember his name — they think, as a rogue and wild man. They are wrong.  He wasn’t a rogue. He knew such men, associated with them, admired some, feared others, feared some he also respected or at least admired. He yearned almightily to be like most of them, to be wild, to live dangerously but free.

“But he could not. Legends flourished once the man is gone, but the truth remains like withered grass in the shade of growing tree: the man was a coward.”

The wrinkled, dry lips hissed a long sigh as the final word was penned. In black — well, thinned as it was, really rather greenish — ink the word stood recorded. Recorded and therefore true?

Coward. François Villon, coward.

And it was true.

The blind eyes felt for a moment a glimpse of light, the smoky illumination of the yellow plaster walls of the Pomme de Pin, that Parisian dive so faraway, opposite the sacred walls of the Madeleine, on the corner of the Rue de Juiverie and the Rue de Lanterne. So far in time as well… Fifty years gone…

Chapter I follows next. But since 900 words for today gives me a decent post, we will save the actual start (and the part Janet thought went on too long) to begin tomorrow.

I feel a bit strange ending on the list of street names (sometimes that old research just overwhelms you when writing), which I think works better as a bit of local color in full context. So of course youʼll want to be back tomorrow to read some of the first chapter.

Any reactions are welcome …

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.