“The Exploding Star” and “Strangers at the Gate”: Two Dreams Woven in Ache, by: Bob Rich
Author's Note: See if you can discover Star/Stranger's rhymes, which are not phonetic but designed in other ways.
"The Exploding Star" -- I
In a dream, Pablo and Gabriel stand at the entrance
on either side of a set of gilded double-doors made of gold.
Trusting them, I proceed forward.
Facing each other, grasping the handles, they open the doors
and I glide past them through the doorway
into a warm, dark world.
The night sky above me gets lit with soft constellations of stars
like many hazily hung chandeliers.
I'm in an open field at night, staring up at the night-time sky.
Above the pine trees, the radio towers, and the mountains,
high, high up to where only
glimmering shores of stars can be seen,
the sky-splashed white stars: beached up against the deep, wide mystery
of the cavernous darkness of space,
in the center of the vast starry night, is a single white strongly-lit star
beating in rhythmic pulses like a distant celestial heart,
throbbing in musical white anticipation.
The star slowly grows from pinprick luminosity, becoming mildly larger,
then blossoming into a vibrating far-off sphere of pulsating life.
All the other countless stars are instantly
caught back into the glossy beautiful blackness,
as if thrown back into thousands of glass black hands now keeping
the stars shrouded in gentle black security,
leaving the whole night sky in expectant total darkness,
save for the one bold still transforming star.
For a moment, the entire night sky soundlessly takes a deep breath.
And, at once, the boldly shining remaining star
gets thrown swiftly back into darkness as well.
And, with omnipresent thunder, the one star returns
a hundredfold larger than its original size
a white raging disc of singing light,
as if a solid pillar of light is burning through the dark dome of the sky
from behind the shadowy blackness,
forming an intense disc of molten brightness where once the transforming star had been.
And from the center of the brightness is announced a series of
white incandescent circles, briskly rippling out with swiftly-widening circumferences,
spreading across the entirety of the giant black canvass of the sky,
each white burning circle widening, crackling in fire and light,
hurling itself out in dizzying expanding size,
so that eventually each of the white expanding circles
softly take turns kissing the earth's waiting horizon.
While, there in the center,
the exploding star
burns in flaring white fury,
in ancestral intensity,
its brightness alive in coruscating outward-sung energy
like a new music of weeping, elated astronomy.
And, with gentle vibration,
the whole universe slightly reels and softly quakes in recognition,
woozy in sweetly intoxicated apprehension of the detonating star's long-awaited arrival.
I stagger along with the fleeting tremor that quickly passes like a vapor through all things.
And then all is calm, and I keep watching the unfolding spectacle,
while the white bursting star keeps sending out expanding glowing rings
like slow burning ripples blasted out in shimmering concentric power,
each sky-mounted horizon-bound ring patiently expanding in its sparkling circumference.
"Strangers at the Gate" -- I
I first saw her in the evening at the top floor of the palace.
Her soft laugh was like a seed waiting for parched, dry earth.
If I planted any of her bright, soft laughs into the soil of the earth,
the moisture from her vitality would dampen the ground
and a red Hispanic flower would arise.
Her dark hair spills in risings and fallings like a sea of feminine silk,
while, in effortless gestures, she touches white points of pain
that fall back into darkness.
I bask in the beauty of her face,
the sweet womanly brightness of her luminous eyes.
She and I are together at the gate to the garden at night.
In front of her is a woven wicker basket:
she kneels beside it, reaches in, and holds up a cluster of coffee beans
and cradles it in her hands, pressing the beans against her aching nose
and smells the tearful, warm aroma ~~
a fragrance imbued with heaven's capacity to overthrow death.
She then removes a bottle of champagne from the basket,
and she turns to me with a smile like medicine,
like the burnished glow of a lovers' fireplace.
I see a new color while gazing at her face.
Just as every person's face sends out a signature color of light,
her face does as well,
but, in her face, I feel something like home.
Looking to my right, past the gate and into the garden,
I see a statue of a man and a woman, both facing forward, holding hands.
In front of the statue, a great horse is asleep on the shadowy ground
stretched out, lying flat on the ground,
restless and stirring in sleep.
The sleeping horse is wearing a saddle decorated with jewels.
Above the sleeping horse, I see what looks like a small flickering hovering star in mid-air.
"The Exploding Star" -- II
Staring through a telescope at the shining latticework spreading out from the central bursting star,
I see that the night sky is dense with light.
At the central hub of the burning web, blazing like lava,
is the exploding star in the uncontainable fury of its substance.
Every small portion in the bright, expanding net that I study,
in every portion of the dark night sky which everywhere features the shining web of light,
reveals bright burning globes strung together like fiery pearls on strands of molten rope,
all pushing mightily outward from the volcanic, thrashing center.
The sky is drunk with light.
Just looking at the night sky,
I feel like I have swallowed a tall glass of icy burning heat.
Then I could hear it!
A great, great song.
I hear it, unmistakable and pure.
In the song, there is a description of a great crowd of people,
men and women who have tasted the toxic pangs of sorrow but still choose to live.
I could hear the song of women and men averting their eyes
from circling insatiable vultures,
as the women and men long for a warmer new melody untouched by death.
A song of souls awakened to the awe that has always pulsated
behind the slow mournful molasses pace of daily life.
Some of these men and women had been enemies, but now could co-exist
as they walk en masse in a procession toward the detonating star ahead of us.
I listen to the rustling of the teeming crowd of many people, all around me,
pressing on to the destiny awaiting us, led by the star above us
which is not only exploding but also gracefully, gradually falling down
like a steadily descending nocturnal sun
along the black sheen of the night sky's vast curving slope,
the star guiding us toward some destination as we walk up a darkened road.
I am among a crowd of men and women whose eyes have seen plague, hailstorms,
and the betrayal of souls.
I see women and men who have built villages, raised families, and have witnessed:
thousands of sunrises; inventions born from foaming pillaring geysers of imagination;
sacrifices made from years of toil; and wars that sorrowfully stained the earth
with the wasted blood of decent men.
And all of us now follow the same bursting star up in the sky's vaulted black hemisphere.
The song carries on with a rhythm that stirs animals in the dark beside our path
where the crowd and I walk. And I see two rivers flowing,
one on either side of the great crowd advancing toward the exploding star:
one river stinking of strange vegetation, glowing moss, and murky electrified waters;
the other river clear as polished glass, bustling with nature-painted fish
whose neon scales ignite the dank muddy riverbed in flickers of otherworldly color.
Among the crowd, I see, walking beside me, a woman who used to sit, wrapped in purple cloth,
every Sunday, weeping for a lost love, but who now has a look of contentedness and calm dignity.
And, also walking in the crowd, men who had shown promise,
whose potential in life was realized due to the combined potency
of the morning-sun-glory of their wives' countenances in the early morning
and the strong bright musical chord that vigorously sounded behind their wives' supportive words
whenever the men burst past a personal threshold.
And a young woman whose eyes were forged in the lightning of grief and solitude,
carrying a peacock in her cradling arms,
who, with the intensity of eyes,
had once tamed a flock of ravenous razor-taloned birds of unknown origin
that for years had terrorized a group of local criminals --
men who would shake at the sight
of the riotous birds whose dark rainbow arrays of tail feathers
nearly out-gloried the color-saturated fans of the courtesan Geisha elite in the Orient.
And a young man who for years had spent sleepless nights at the bedside of his dying grandfather,
with a red empty wine bottle serving as a holder for flickering candles
that gave the grandfather light as he read celebrated books during his final hours on earth;
the same young man who spent years in blue-shattered-glass absence from his sister
whose betrayal of him was like a piercing of his heart
with a jagged shard of broken green glass from a wine bottle, which instead
could have been passed hand-to-hand as music and bread got shared at a feast
when his life's work finally got recognition, enabling him to soon travel to a distant land for a new career,
carrying a bronze pen, a writing journal, and an etching of an elk made on a plate of gold.
And, in the crowd, I also see a young woman who had once used fine yarn
to weave a large tapestry of the earth's seven continents,
displaying in visual metaphors over each continent
a pictorial analysis of how the peoples in those countries had used God's gift of music
to overcome disease, depression, and death.
And a man dressed in a red kingly robe, who, for years, had baffled his village
by standing in the town square atop an orange crate,
shouting seemingly meaningless nonsense with inexhausible pride and wide-eyed awe, alone,
until it was discovered that he was reciting the chord changes
to an opera he had long ago composed about the music of the spheres,
which prompted the town to construct a theater house of plaster walls and velvet seats
where his opera, performed weekly for three decades,
reliably evoked feelings of passion and tenderness
to even melt the poisoned hearts of the most cynical grumblers in the village,
so that, by the final aria, men and women were drenched in warm puddles
of shimmering tears, having been changed from jaded nihilists to nostalgic poets.
"Strangers at the Gate" -- II
She stands across from me at the garden gate
in crystalline clarity.
Her figure re-invents the shape of the orchid.
Her hands reveal the hidden language of the feminine.
I see, to my left, in a clearing, two elk who seem, at first, to be fighting,
but are revealed to be male and female,
standing on their hind legs upon damp alluvial soil,
kicking furiously with pain and longing into the air
in the violence of their mutual affections,
their eyes emitting the glow of the music of their sighs.
Turning back to her, I realize that I wish she would speak more.
I could wrap any of her warm sentences like a scarf around my cold face.
Each gentle syllable of her speech is like a silver musical note,
and so her sentences tumble into my hearing
like the chiming innards from a music box spilling into a small velvet treasure chest.
Her clear womanly voice restores the protective paint to the carrying handle of my soul
that for so long had been wind-blasted down to the metal by the elements and the cold.
And then, to my right, inside the garden, near to the horse, I hear a crackling of branches,
a struggle in the surrounding woods, and wolves icily come out from the dark trees.
Two of the creeping creatures emerge on either side of the sleeping horse.
The wolves' eyes shine like cold gleaming metal in the moonlight.
Slowly approaching the horse, the wolves wear chain-like collars around their necks,
with intricate silver keys glistening and dangling from their collars.
The wolves paw forward, coming nearer to the horse,
each of them growling in a low metallic menace like a grinding engine of hate.
Dark angels descend upon the garden statue of the man and the woman,
and the gloomy angels strive to smash the statues with long cold staffs, but cannot.
A loud hum and the dark angels' staffs are covered with sparks
and get thrown back, flung out from the dark angels' dimly-lit hands.
One bright angel descends and places jeweled crowns on the statues,
yet I can see that the statue of the man has a heart pierced by a sword of ice.
"The Exploding Star" -- III
The great crowd walks on, the song strong and clear.
The music forms one soft hand and the words another soft hand,
one hand resting reassuringly on my shoulder,
the other hand pointing in enraptured intention
at the exploding star which guides us, as it drifts softly downward in the night sky.
I realize now that everything has been transformed:
the shapes of common objects have a new aesthetic power;
the glowing faces of the people in the crowd have taken on a new significance
as I see us all as co-receivers of a silver tree-branch delivered by a bird of life;
the tolling of a bell from an unseen church beyond the road
sounds like an angel's plea for humanity to turn from rotting corruption;
and an excited white blurry animal gallops in a nearby darkened field
with what seems to be wings flapping from its back
unless my burning tears are just clouding my vision.
The crowd proceeds on, a mass of determined souls, taking on the road and the unknown night,
flanked by the two rivers as we cross over hills and move down weary mountains in the dark.
I can see more people in the crowd ...
A woman with red hair tied back in orange ribbons, wearing a golden scarf,
who, using chalk and fluorescent dye, invented a new form of art so full of vitality
that it awakened seven people from diabetic comas,
prompting each of the seven to become chefs, trapeze acrobats,
and pioneers in various professions in which they had no prior training.
A man wearing a blue suit with golden cufflinks,
staring along the muddy road where he sees, on a cold river of water,
up-turned curled-up leaves that float emptily by like Venetian rowing boats without lovers,
like all the years that had floated past him,
until, during this walk toward the exploding star,
he looks up to the detonating star itself
and shudders with an electric premonition
that he will soon bring back three beautiful women from the brink of suicide
by virtue of the smouldering afterglow from his sorrowful, gentle kisses
upon their aching necks.
A woman who, through her constant projection of feminine strength into the atmosphere,
once caused a young man to have a recurring dream at night
in which he saw her gorgeous staring face
and, behind her, a white porcelain flower vase falling slowly
until, from below the woman's face, a flying fish lunged up from murky water
to meet the vase in the air and smash it with its tail into a thousand white meteoring pieces.
A young man who, years previously, had carried a heavy box of gold coins for miles
to an orphanage for abandoned children, walking alone at night through a long dark path
of swampy marshes, forgotten roads, and sludgy riverbeds, experiencing a loneliness
so palpable it felt like drinking a chilled and frosted glass of cold milk,
while the stars way up above in the icy night shone
like frozen silvery specks of cold splattered mercury against the dark sky;
but now, while walking with the crowd, he feels such a kinship with everyone
that he forgets the pain from every bitter betrayal he ever received.
An esteemed woman with vibrant red hair and a green shawl who, in the past, occasionally
told her daughters the story of a tired soldier who, after fighting nobly in a war,
wandered off at night to rest and discovered a legendary cove of seven colors
with a waterfall and a pool that was sometimes visited by a mermaid
whose satiny kiss imparted life-long health. The soldier took off his outer jacket,
arrayed with medals, careful not to bend or strain his broken war-injured left hand,
and, with his right hand, he folded his decorated jacket and used it as a pillow to rest his head upon.
When he awoke in the morning, the soldier gazed at himself in the pool
and saw his torn, frayed, blood-stained shirt which was the same as it had been the day before.
He started to un-button his shirt, and then abruptly realized he was handling his shirt
effortlessly with his left hand which was whole and healthy again.
Looking back to his reflection in the water, he saw that his face had been kissed
in three places where the glistening blue lip-gloss of the mermaid was now shining
in the pattern of her enchanted lips on his cheeks and eye-lids.
Awe-struck, the soldier touched one of the blue lip-prints on his cheek,
smudging the mouth-shaped magical trace of blue, and, in his bewildered stupor,
he did not see that, when he reached his hand back to rest against a tree,
he smeared a bit of the blue onto the dried-out desiccated gray-brown roots of a tree
which, upon receiving the blue lip-stick from his hand, regenerated to a livid reddish-brown
and instantly sprouted green leaves with rapidly-blooming white flowers.
The soldier was also too busy repairing his compass to notice,
a little farther downstream, rising up from the water, a white plume of foam
surrounding the graceful silhouette of a twirling sweet woman who, instead of legs,
had the tail of a fish.
And, in the crowd, I see a young woman who had once soaked the shed feathers of sea gulls
in a dish of ocean salt and romantic desire,
and gave them to a young man who was living in an emotional prison and training to be a pilot.
She gave him the earnest promise that the feathers, if fastened to his shirt sleeves while flying,
would break the cold rusted chains off his dead heart.
And a young woman whose searingly-beautiful eyes,
even when half-shut during sleep, would inspire men,
who, seeking the dignity lost from past regrets,
and craving the medicinal elixir only found while glancing at a woman's features,
would travel through the battering waves of storms at sea
to arrive at stations just outside her house
and would peer, with her permission, through telescopes
at her barely visible, magnetic, half-closed dreaming eyes
that, in her slumber, would be watching tigers, armies, and sleds.
An honored woman of dark complexion who, in the past,
displayed such stature of character and warmth of soul,
wearing on her blouse a jeweled pendant of a slain lamb, and with an emerald clip in her hair,
would cause everyone present in room she would enter
to straighten up in their posture and adjust their clothing to a more dignified appearance,
and, as she walked through the room, she would inspire souls who, for long ages,
had trembled and shivered in public for sympathy while wrapped in pale gray woolen blankets
to come to their senses and enjoy life again after a brush with her radiant presenece,
with her shining pendant displaying the compassion of heaven's blood.
I heard in the song descriptions of:
a young man who wrote love letters in purple ink to a woman he had still not met;
a cuckoo clock that would chime like a merciful harpsichord to comfort the brokenhearted;
the explanation of a new science that could cure the common cold as the ailing
grasped onto vibrating piano strings; the recipes needed for surviving in solitude on an island
after a shipwreck by dining on seaweed, love songs, and coconut;
a robot pelican that taught other mechanical birds to love; a man whose accumulated sorrows
physically manifested into a solid sword of blue ice that pierced straight through his heart;
a pirate who searched not for golden currency but for literature potent enough
to revive his dead heart; the lucid remembrance of the synchronicity of events
that brought heads of state together to finally negotiate lasting terms of peace
for a pair of war-bruised nations, ensuring a century without disoriented children,
so that the young could build ornate castles of wet sand at the ocean shore,
making sand castles forever untouched by the lapping waves of the sea;
and poetry about years that driftedly sluggishly by like a river of molten waste,
only to be replaced by a stronger river with crystal waters
upon which huntsmen and women artisans traveled in burnished oak canoes;
and an anecdote about hundred of women and men who survived the aftermath of war
by bathing nightly in the ocean among green, white, and red glowing sea algae
under the flickering balm of the Northern Lights.
The young man, who had cared for his grandfather, looks across the crowd
and sees the sister who betrayed him,
yet they share a brief silent smile together,
with the bursting, falling star in the sky leading them on.
And, along the darkened road, we all walk on,
trees lining the pathway like ancient wooden hands groping toward the sky and
aching for comfort from God, while the exploding star keeps patiently falling
like a flaming eye watching the sorrow and the wonder below.
"Strangers at the Gate" -- III
The woman and I look at each other briefly.
I'm reminded of a dream I once had of the sea,
the wide, open sea with its vanishing mist at sunrise.
Glancing at her mouth, I trace the shape of her lips on a hidden canvass within my soul.
Noticing the symmetry, I draw the outline of the perfect architecture of her lips,
and I feel years of pain dissolving from within my spine
until I can no longer remember the icy visceral splash I endured for years
while I stood underneath a cold waterfall of liquid grief.
With each blink of her eyes, a page turns in a book within my soul,
moving me beyond a chapter on ice and nearer to a chapter on love.
Her eyes have seen a thousand storms.
In her eyes: sadness mixed with fire,
and I see the burning colors of a Colombian sunset,
the accumulating colors of a Chilean sunrise.
Her eyes comfort with the elegiac charge of a first embrace.
While noticing the beauty of her lightly coffee-colored bare feet,
I realize that the curve of her heel was designed by a genius:
yet a chasm separates me from her as if I were a ghost.
To my right, in the garden, the horse stirs in restless sleep,
bristling in anger in the darkness,
snorting ancient steam over the dark ground,
while the wolves have almost reached the sometimes shuddering horse
with the single star still floating above it.
I turn again to my left,
where the male and female elks are now quietly staring at each other and breathing softly,
and, beyond the elks, I see a yellow rose, barely lit,
and a flag gently descending in mournful ripples of green, white, and red,
floating down to the ground in a sad fluttering path through the air.
"The Exploding Star" -- IV
The crowd and I move, at last, over the crest of one last high mountain,
finally approaching the shore of the sea while it is still night,
with the exploding star now resting at the horizon, having completed its downward flight,
still sometimes bursting out rings of light in flaring spirals.
The children among us are so tired that they drift off to sleep in padded blankets.
The exhausted adults set-up tents on the moonlit beach.
A gigantic blanket of fog covers the ocean;
but, those alert enough and aware enough peer deeply into the dark mist over the ocean's waves
to see the faint glowing outline of a giant elaborate city out at sea
with a castle in front of the many buildings,
flags and spires rising up from the castle in quiet glory.
"Strangers at the Gate" -- IV / Final
As I notice that the woman has green, white, and red ribbons spun into a silken bow
that gathers up the dark tresses of her hair,
I know that only God's discipline of beauty can destroy evil.
My eyes tell her, "I need you to gesture me nearer to you,
or I can never cross the chasm between us."
Her eyes reply, "Come to me!"
I move toward her while she takes two steps forward, smiling,
extending her hand in an arc of balletic grace.
As I take her hand, there it is, at last:
infinitely gentle lightning.
The horse is awakened to convulsive emotion,
rising up on its hind legs, neighing and snorting pained blasts of steam,
bucking its forelegs in piston-like attacks at the cold sky,
eyes burning like ignited red coals -- lit-up rubies of furious heat.
The wolves, in shadow, cower and flatten themselves, backing away from the horse,
and all the silver keys are un-latched from the chains around the wolves' necks,
un-fastening and dropping into the damp grass.
The wolves crouch lower still and pace in reverse back toward the forest.
To my left, the elks stare at the horse and cringe, sensing the horse's rage.
To my right, I see, above the horse,
the hovering white star as it rises up and collapses, contracting into itself,
then blooming into a blinding white light.
The white star is a door!
Alive and flaring wildly above the horse,
sounding loudly into the night with a single high musical tone
that fills the garden with the warmth of a sanctuary,
the garden's bright star weeps sparks onto the earth,
sobbing white fire onto the dark wet mud,
crying into the air with white lonely flame.
Its entire celestial appliance is ablaze:
a white wet flower shaking out triangular shards of broken spectrum into the dark night,
an iridescent orchid emerging from a blaring trumpet,
an icy burning eye with white mascara smearing out in dripping, swaying flames.
The musical note ascends higher by an octave
and, above the horse, the erupting white star overflows like a great chalice,
spilling over with uncontainable daytime sky streaming out into the night.
From the center of the star's spilling cup of sky emerges a white bird
that arrives with the brightness of summer cascading out from behind the bird's raging wings,
its eyes, full of heat and purpose, announcing daylight like twin portraits of the un-silenceable sun.
And from the rushing river of light from behind the white bird
follows a dozen more white birds,
and, behind each bird, a dozen more birds,
along with waterfalls of white light falling like mercy everywhere
like un-stopped champagne bottles emptying effervescent daylight in every direction
in the swiftly illuminating garden,
burning the hair of the howling wolves who are scampering out of the garden,
their fur catching fire from the star's gushing bright streams
that soak the air with drizzling white rivers of sun.
High above in the night sky, thousands of stars finally shatter from their dark prisons
and return into view like spikes of whitely hissing applause.
Now, at peace in the woman's embrace,
I can see and smell the fragrant dark forest of her hair,
and, if I look long enough,
perhaps leaves will fall from the trees and drift silently to the ground
while her wondrous perfume eclipses even the delightful scent of the shadowy pine needles.
And, looking at the two statues of the man and woman in the garden,
I see that the sword of ice, that once pierced the man's heart, is melted,
and the statues' crowns are triumphantly ablaze.
"The Exploding Star" -- V / Final
Morning arrives with gentle waves of heat sung out from the sun in the summery daytime sky.
The children stir, and the men and women open wide the doors of their tents upon the shore,
and the city out at sea shines in gold and yellow and white.
The castle at the front of the city bears towering flags
with the insignia of a slain lamb on each flag.
A formation of white birds emerge from behind the city,
led by a bird that draws them all out over toward the crowd of waiting, hopeful souls
as we all step out, rested and astonished, from our tents,
while the drawbridge begins to lower in a grand welcoming gesture from the great castle.
And we know we are home.
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