READING THE ENTRAILS [continued from page
Okay, so Nahara then. Nahara was born into this
community during a fairly peaceful and bountiful period, but it
was no renaissance, let me tell you. She was the third child in
a family with five children, all daughters. As this community was
a standard patrilineal sort of society and adhered to a dowry system,
five daughters were a bit of strain, financially-speaking, and it
was decided early on that Nahara would be the spiritual beacon of
the family and they would send her off to the contemplative life
at the local temple, where she would be set for life. They decided
on Nahara because she was kind of quiet, and it just seemed to make
So, when Nahara was in the throes of puberty and,
thus, of proper age, they held a large banquet and kissed her many
times, and the next day, took her to the Temple doorsteps and offered
her up to the Priests.
Now, you may question why I am offering this kind
of story to Edgar Allan Poe, an acclaimed master of horror and terror,
and I tell you this is a horror story. This is a horror parable.
Nahara's story, which really begins with her life in this temple,
was painted in blood on the walls of the altar room, and her story
became sacred lore thereafter and pilgrims would come to this altar
room to meditate on the bloody glyphs, symbols, and words Nahara
had painted there in blood one day. More often than not, they usually
exaggerated or misinterpreted their meaning. Some temples use really
pretty pictures fashioned in stained glass to illustrate their mythos.
This temple had bloody graffiti on a wall. You work with what you
"This is strange. I am in control again,
and I will fuck it up if I don't pay attention, which is my favorite
trick. Why is everything so bloody surreal? Better, I think, to
think about these things than grocery lists. I'd rather live with
my emotions than with my laundry." - 1986 journal
"I assume, sometimes, that there is nothing
left to learn, but I am just lacking too much. These days I think
about suicide with about the same enthusiasm I have for grocery
lists, which is to say, a lot, but always keeping aware that it's
trivial." - ibid.
"Such darkness became warm." -
Stories told in blood seem to hold more significance.
It's like the time a few years back when I was walking down California
Street and saw, painted in blood: "YOU HAVE TAKEN MY HEART
AND SOUL - ONE." These were big letters, about a foot high
(that's a lot of blood!), and the phrase was painted outside an
apartment building, facing the door, so whomever they were intended
for, I guess, would have to see them anytime they left their apartment.
Now, there's someone who would probably have been better off living
with their laundry instead of their emotions. Too bad I didn't have
the patience to hang out in front of that apartment, see if I could
see the dramatists behind those words, and find out what that story
was, because chances are, it was a horror story, too, and I could
be telling you that one instead.
"I have my mother's blood. To me, love means other things -
not having to cry at the dinner table. Not having to fight for peace."
- 1986 journal.
Nahara's teachers taught her prayers, invocations,
and torment. She had come to the temple with a blush of ignorance
and hope, which often amount to the same thing, and began to wear
bells on her ankles to affirm her existence. She listened to her
teachers, extracting from their pious words the foundation for her
own piety, which her youth and ignorance (and hope) twisted around
her like the stranglehold of a vine, mutating into a base of self-loathing
and doubt. Sacrifice became a key word for her, something she felt
she had never had done. She had endured no hardship. She hadn't
suffered enough in her life. She was unworthy in the eyes of her
gods, she assumed, because she had made herself unworthy in her
"If only I could suffer," she lamented.
For years, for years, she lamented this thing and
tormented herself mercilessly. The priests encouraged this and,
even in the depth of this suffering, did not stop her, but instead
agreed she had never suffered in her life. Weaving the hairshirt
of fortune, she lamented her lack of misfortunes.
And, in this, forgot to live.
One day, in the Temple, she was alone, sweeping
the front steps when a blind man with one leg came up to the steps.
So pleased was she with the sublime misfortunate man, she bade him
to sit down on the steps and fetched him breadcakes and wine. To
ply him with these would lessen her own fortune, her unconscious
The blind man said, "Isn't the sun beautiful?"
And Nahara looked into the sky and said, "Yes,"
although she did not know what beauty was.
After the blind man had eaten her food and drunk
her wine, he bade her good-bye and wandered off. She watched him
hobble away with his walking stick. Seized with a sudden curiosity,
she chased him.
"Pardon me, good sir, but may I ask you something?"
"Yes? What is it?"
"I mean no disrespect, but how did you come
to be the way you are?"
"I was born," he replied.
"You were born that way?"
"Blind and one-legged?"
"Oh, that," he said. "I thought you
asked how I came to be the way I am."
"But that is the way you are."
"I don't notice it anymore. Just like you don't
notice your misfortunes."
"My misfortunes? Why, I have none!"
"But you do, my dear. You are not present on
this earth. You wear bells to affirm your existence. Without them,
no one would know you were here."
Nahara fell silent, wondering whether to be awed
by his commentary or insulted by it. But as she'd insulted herself
all her life, she was barely able to have the capability of being
insulted by another. Instead, she fell into silence. The man laughed
"Do not believe anyone else. Your soul needs
to be polished." And with that, he walked off, and Nahara let
A hollow metal instrument that rings when struck. 2.
Something shaped like a bell. 3.
Naut. a. A stroke on a bell to mark the
hour. b. The time indicated by the striking of a bell.
This incident plagued Nahara henceforth. Everything
she had learned came into question, and she became so afraid, she
put more bells on her ankles. "I am here, I am here, I am here,"
she chanted to herself during prayer time, but repetition did not
make a believer of her.
She became despondent and stopped eating.
Malnutrition soon overtook her, and she caught a
fever. Delirium racked her. When she recovered, she shook from anger
at the suffering of her life, at the suffering of never living.
She shook her fists at the priests and refused to pray.
She said to them: "I suffer from the bondage
of not knowing how to say what I mean, and the madness of meaning
what I don't know."
She decided it was time to make a real sacrifice.
She brought a calf to the Temple's altar room and slit open its
throat. She dabbled her fingers in the warm blood and began to write
on the walls. With its blood, this is what she wrote:
Afterwards, she cut off her feet, so the
bells would fall off, and subsequently bled to death.
That is Nahara's story. Unriddled with unmeaning,
it just was. Twisted as the stranglehold of a vine. You work with
what you get.
My hands slit open the throats of ghosts.
Written in Nightbreak, a bar on Haight Street:
"My eye is trembling - this anxiety is getting to me. I can't
scream. I can't move. I sit alone among FISHCAKES! AND?!? My feet
are falling asleep." - 1986 journal.
"I lived someone else's life once - a movie
- someone else's movie - and this is bad, this time, and I can't
know what I am doing because that would be taking control and someone
should slap me, but not Lorrainne." - ibid.
"In some ways, everything is easy. It's
just a matter of where you put your feet. But I am quiet and hesitant."
The guts do not move much anymore. But I think they
are beautiful. I am not Nahara, and I still have feet.
ritual that's been going on in the cemetery where Edgar Allan Poe
is buried for years now. Generations even. On his birthday, every
year, a cloaked figure arrives in the morning and lays upon his
grave a rose and a bottle of cognac. As this has been going on for
much longer than one human lifespan, the theory is that this ritual
was passed down through a generation or two. No one (as of yet)
has approached to the cloaked figure to ask. I consider it miraculous
that no one has interfered in these individuals' special ritual,
and I hope they never do.
I have never seen Edgar Allan Poe's grave, but since
I was 14 (the same age Nahara was when she entered the temple),
I have celebrated Edgar Allan Poe's birthday. As I'm 34 now, this
means it's been twenty years. I try to write him a tribute every
year, and this is this year's offering. My journal from 1986 got
involved as I came across it in a drawer when I was looking for
the photographs from a previous year's Poe party. Thus, ipso facto,
it became a part of the augur. You work with what you get.
And, now, at last, I can tell you the moral of this
parable, which I also found in the entrails of my 1986 journal:
"I speak in three tongues. All
of them say the same thing: 'I'm hungry. I'm cold. I want a drink.'"
A drink. To Edgar, with love and horror.
This story originally appeared in Issue #13, 1996.
Sins of Coffee ©1996-2002. All rights reserved
by the artists.