Eden Peak

          I worked down in the tunnels, in a room
illuminated by pale yellow tubes,
arranging folders alphabetically
in metal cabinets, filing the sheets
that had been stapled to each folder’s front
and writing down their numbers, and the date.
The other workers there, effeminate
or female, shrivelled, drooping, or obese,
resented my occasional remarks,
and soon the manager would call me in
and tell me that I’d have to go away.
Then I would wander through the maze of tubes
until I finally found another job
exactly like the one that I’d just left,
uncertain that I’d find one, wondering
how people who can’t hold a job at all
begin receiving their electrical
procurement-credits from the government
so that when they hold their Devices out
in front of a Detector at a store
the clerks can see that they’re allowed to take
possession of a certain quantity
of stuff of certain kinds back home with them.
What did these people give up in exchange,
I wondered.  Vital energy, perhaps?
They did seem listless.  Would I be like that
eventually, when I couldn’t find
another job, or could no longer bear
the dismal searching for another job,
or had at last become unhirable?
          I’d shared a domicile with a wife
for several years until she was convinced
that I’d remain a negligible man
forever, and she made me go away.
On weekends I would take care of our son.
His name was ‘Wolfling’; I would bring up
out of the tunnel-system where we lived
to crowded little parks, where he would play
with other kids as much as possible,
although they spoke another dialect 
and they would frequently behave in ways
that Wolfling found incomprehensible,
enraging him – but when this wasn’t so,
and he was carried comfortably along
within the current of their play, I’d watch
and feel that it would be okay to stand
beneath the sun and sky forever in the park,
observing Wolfling as he ran around
and climbed among the other children there.
          I took him to a tower for a change –
an elevator carrying us up
a hundred floors.  I noticed, as we rode
the elevator upward, side by side,
that he was taller than the shortest man
and half the women who rode up with us.
He held his new Device in his left hand
and pressed its keyboard with his hovering
right index-finger, peering through the screen
into a fantasy-environment.
It was a birthday-gift that he’d received
from my ex-wife a few weeks earlier.
It was a bigger, fancier Device
than mine, which I used only as a phone
and for procuring items from a store;
a kind of nausea prevented me
from using it to enter cyberspace
to look things up, or watch a video,
or play a game (of course; I hated games.)
          At last we reached the observation-deck.
Beyond the balcony, the city spread
for many miles, like a sentient
self-nauseated fungus, quivering,
secreting toxins in a vain attempt
to kill itself.  We gazed out toward the west
and saw three hills.  The nearest of the three
was low and broad and rounded at the top,
where several little buildings were arranged.
The second hill was rocky, steep, and tall,
its apex, cloaked in mist, appeared to rise
beyond the altitude at which we stood.
The third hill, shorter than the second one,
but taller than the first, its rocky sides
extremely steep, almost cylindrical
was crowned by trees.  Surrounding it, below,
there was a park much larger than the ones
with which we were familiar.  On the plaque
before the railing these three hills were named:
Mount Convocation, Mount Intelligence,
and Eden Peak; the park was Freedom Park.
          “I’ve never heard of any of those three
high places,” I said, “or of Freedom Park.”
My son said – looking into his Device –
“According to this site I’m looking at,
Mount Convocation is inhabited
by a Heraclean community
that’s funded by a Davos billionaire.
For forty dollars, visitors can stay
there for the night and see what it’s about.
Now let me look up Mount Intelligence.
This says that numerous philosophers
reside there in small caves.  They call themselves
‘the Philosophical Society
of Mount Intelligence’.  They’re funded by
California tech-tycoon.  Again,
for forty dollars, you can spend the night
up there to, quote unquote, ‘enjoy a taste
of mental freedom.’  Okay, Eden Peak –
there’s nothing here.  That’s strange.  I wonder why.
Wow, Freedom Park’s apparently a place
where kids like me who like to play good games
on their Devices meet up in real life
to talk about their favorite games, and sit
together under trees and play their games.
I want to go there.  Can we go there, Dad?”
“Okay,” I said, “but I would kind of like
to visit those two hills along the way.  
We’ll need a three-day weekend for the trip;
I’ll have to ask my boss to let me have
a Monday off, and we will have to get
permission from your mother too, of course.
I wonder whether there’s a subway-line
that runs in that direction, or a bus.”
          “You take the X-train to its final stop,”
said Wolfling, looking into his Device,
at Vernim Boulevard, and then you ride
a bus, the B167, out along
the Boulevard.  Extension Avenue,
which runs alongside both hills and the Park,
runs parallel to Vernim Boulevard,
three blocks away.  We’d walk those last three blocks.”
          I told my manager, “I’d like to have
next Monday off, if that’s okay with you.”
She glanced up at me briefly and replied,
“It’s borderline-okay with me, I guess,
but let’s not make a habit of this kind
of thing, please; we’ve got lots of work to do,
and, frankly, you’ve been slacking off too much.
I’ve seen you taking out a little pad
and writing in it; sometimes this goes on
for several minutes.  That belongs at home.
This is an office, not a living room.”
          My ex-wife told me that she was depressed
and could no longer take care of our son.
She said that she had heard that Freedom Park
was hiring trash-collectors.  I said, “Thanks;
I hope the application-process there
is fairly simple; if it’s difficult
I won’t be able to go through it.”
“Yes, I know, you’re a loser,” she replied,
“but that’s okay, that’s just the way you are.”
          I packed some extra tee-shirts, underwear
and socks into my bag for both of us,
along with toothbrushes, deodorant,
and chargers for my phone and his Device.
I picked my son up from his mother’s room
a mile down the tunnel from my own.
I noticed that his head had reached my chin,
and that his upper lip was dimly fuzzed.
his face was bent toward the seething screen
of his Device; his finger pressed its keys.
“Hi, Wolfling,” I said.  “Hey,” he mumbled back.
          We waited on the platform, where the air
is dark and slimy, and beneath the tracks
a mat of rotting garbage swarms with rats.
Dim human figures peered with lowered heads
down into their Devices – Wolfling peered
with lowered head as well into his own.
Eleven minutes – then the train arrived,
and human figures scurried from within
its chilly brightness, into which we passed.
There wasn’t any place for us to sit.
The people who surrounded us conversed
in several different foreign languages,
their faces alien, their gestures strange.
          We rode past twenty-seven subway stops, 
until two hours later, our train reached
the line’s end, and emerging, we passed through
a crowded concourse, people hurrying
in both directions.  We climbed several flights
of stairs, each landing occupied by men
who looked like bags of shit and smelled like shit,
until we reached the avenue above –
Congested blaring metal crawled between
corroded buildings housing discount-stores,
the sidewalks treeless, littered with the trash
of flaccid, blank-eyed proletarians.
A photocopied sign was packing-taped
across the bus-stop’s information-post,
informing us that our bus wouldn’t run
along this route until a month from now
because of “unforeseen contingencies.”
          My son, consulting his Device, had said
that we’d get off the bus at Warren Street,
which, ending at Extension Avenue,
leads toward Mount Convocation.  “Can you check
how far away we are from Warren Street?”
I asked him now.  “I wouldn’t mind a walk.”
He answered, “two point seven miles.  Sure,
let’s walk; we have no choice, in any case,
unless we want to take the train back home.”
          We started walking up the Boulevard,
each block of it exactly like the last – 
a bright, loud, overcrowded emptiness –
without conversing; nothing came to mind,
nor was there any mind in which a thought
might have emerged, nor was there anything
to notice even in a silently
attentive way.  An hour of this – then
“There’s Warren Street,” said Wolfling, pointing toward
the street-sign.  We turned left on Warren Street;
Mount Convocation lay ahead of us.
          We walked past single, separated homes,
with several churches spaced along the way.
Upon the stairs and porches of some homes
sat families, children playing on the lawns –
Perhaps two out of ten on every block.
On other porches, ancient couples sat;
an old man raised his beer-can as we passed,
saluting us; I smiled, waving back.
          We reached and crossed Extension Avenue.
An iron railing topped by curving spikes
prevented anybody so inclined
from walking up the hillside through the woods
that covered it, except along the path
beginning past an ornamental arch
beside which sat a guard in riot-gear,
who, scanning our Devices with his own,
said “Have a pleasant day” and let us through.
          We headed up the path; the massive trees
that overarched us with crisscrossing limbs
seemed tranquilly congenial; I erased
the scurrying of my own mental speech
and listened to the intercourse of birds
of several different kinds both overhead
and deeper in the woods through which we climbed.
          We reached the summit – gardens were arranged
around low buildings, these in turn arranged
around a grassy lawn where lots of kids
were throwing balls and frisbees back and forth.
A fountain in the middle of the lawn
continually gushed its water high
above the heads of people orbiting
the pool from which it sprang; they danced and sang –
an inner ring of women whose white skirts
descended, swirling, almost to their feet,
danced counter-clockwise, and an outer right 
of white-pajama-clad long-bearded men
danced clockwise.  Others stood observing them,
rocked rhythmically, and clapped, and sang along.
“Wow, they’re a chearful bunch,” my son remarked.
A teenage girl invited him to join 
her frisbee-tossing group.  He bashfully
agreed to join them, and I stood alone
until a woman came to speak to me.
          She said, “Will you be staying for the night?”
“Yes,” I replied; “Is there an office here
where I should register?”  “Oh no,” she laughed,
“We have no use for those formalities.
My I ask why you chose to visit us?”
I said, “My son and I were heading out
to Freedom Park, but it was getting late
so we decided that we’d spend the night
in your community.  The sign down there
said “forty dollars” – is there someone here
in charge of taking payments?  “No,” she said;
“When we assemble for our evening meal
you’ll see a bowl positioned on the floor
before the hearth.  Just throw your bills in there
if you’re inclined to do so; otherwise
there’s no necessity; it’s up to you.
“That’s nice of you,” I said.  “I certainly
intend to pay you for allowing us
to spend the night here in this pleasant place.”
          “That’s’s very nice of you,” the woman said.
“It really is a very pleasant place.
We’re all so happy to be living here.
My name is ‘Laura’, by the way – what’s yours?”
I told her.  “Oh, I like your name!” she said.
“Excuse me if I seem inquisitive –
I’m wondering where your son’s mother is.”
“At home,” I said.  “Not my home – we’re divorced.”
          “Oh, that’s so sad,” said Laura.  “So am I.
My ex decided that he’d rather live
down in the city; he’s a bureaucrat.
I need a husband.  Will you marry me?”
Although she was approaching middle age
she wasn’t there yet; she was fairly slim
and moved her lips and eyes expressively
as she continued: “You feel right to me;
I’m sure that we would get along quite well,
especially with all of the support
that we’d be getting from the people here.
Your son would have a lot of gentle friends
and everyone would make him feel at home.”
“You’re serious?”  I said.  “Okay, I will.”
          She said, “That’s wonderful!  I’m very glad.
Together, we’ll believe in Heracles,
the son of God, who fought the psychic foes
of mankind, waging spiritual war
against the fiends that weaken and derange
humanity, and died in pain for us
so that we may arise with him, conjoined
in sympathy, and live eternally
with him in an imaginary world.”
          I said, “I think that there’s an inner truth
to what you’re saying, but I can’t pretend
that I see this as literally true.”
“We all start out pretending,” she replied,
“And then along the way we more and more
dive down into the story and believe,
until we see it as historical
reality.  That’s how faith works, you know.”
          “If only this were possible for me,”
I answered, “but I can’t pretend at all,
when something this important is at stake.
I’m sorry, but that’s just the way I am.”
          “I’m sorry too,” she said; “I would have liked
to marry you and live with you in faith,
but I guess Heracles has other plans
for both of us.  I hope you find a way
to live your life with God – your son as well.”
          She pointed to a bench.  “Perhaps you’d like
to go and rest there and take in the scene
until it’s time for us to go inside
and eat together.”  Waving, she walked off,
and I went over to the bench and sat.
I thought that I’d be bored, but, sitting there
and watching as the people sang and danced
around the fountain, I felt tranquilized,
and everything appeared to glide through time
until the call came – “Time for dinner, folks!”
          Long tables – Wolfling ate with other kids
not far away.  My neighbors mainly talked
about the misery of their past lives
down in the city and how glad they were
to have abandoned that and come up here
to live together in simplicity
and love, devoted to the son of God.
When  I informed them that my son and I
would leave tomorrow morning, they seemed sad.
“Not everyone receives the gift of faith,”
said one of them.  “You’re on another path.”
          The meal was followed by a lot of hymns
led by musician with stringed instruments
of several kinds, who sat upon a stage
above the tables.  Wolfling came to me
and said, “I’m bored.  Can we go to our room?
I’d rather play some games on my Device
than listen to these weird religious songs.”
“I don’t know where our room is yet,” I said.
“When this song finishes, I’ll ask someone.”
          The man beside me told me that our room.
was right upstairs – he pointed toward the steps.
“Goodnight,” he said.  “We’ll gather here again
for breakfast, after our first song and dance
around the fountain.  Then some gardening –
but I guess you won’t stick around for that.”
          Upstairs, as we lay on our separate beds,
my son attending to the challenges
of an environment beyond the screen
of his Device while I wrote down some words
that seemed impressive but were meaningless
upon a pad and tried not to recall
a hundred shameful scenes and vicious deeds.
I told him that if I had not refused
to marry Laura, we could have remained
here on Mount Convocation, and I hoped
that my decision was alright with him.
          “Yes, I don’t want to stay here,” Wolfling said.
“These kids are boring, even though they’re nice.”
          Midmorning we descended to the street
along the path, my gloomy sense of loss
somewhat alleviated by the trees.
The street led us past vast facilities,
along high chainlink fences, parking lots
corroded, almost empty; now and then
a truck passed – otherwise, we were alone.
Beyond these features, Mount Intelligence
loomed ever-higher, like a witch’s hat.
          “Do you believe in God?” I asked my son.
He answered, “That depends on what you mean
by ‘God’.  If you mean someone who takes care
of everything and makes things A-Okay
eventually, then I guess I don’t;
if you mean ultimate reality,
whatever it consists in, then of course;
there has to be some kind of ultimate
reality, or nothing would make sense.”
          “That answer wouldn’t satisfy our hosts
up on Mount Convocation,” I observed.
          “So what?” he said.  “They’re boring.  I’ll bet God
would like it better if they had some doubts
and thought things through a bit more carefully.”
          We walked for forty minutes, probably –
a two-mile walk.  At last we reached the base
of Mount Intelligence.  A metal door
was set into a fifteen-foot-high cliff;,
it bore the yellow-painted label “Staff”.
A few yards further on, a path began;
a wooden arrow-sign upon a post
read “Others”.  There two crew-cut female guards
with pepper stray and tasers on their belts
scanned our Devices, said “You’re good to go,”
and waved us through.  The pathway spiralled up
around the slope of Mount Intelligence
with not much of a rocky parapet
between us and the steeply angled drop,
the city sinking downward as we climbed.
I pointed out the tower where we’d stood
a week again, projecting from a group
of lesser towers very far away
from our position near the city’s edge.
Approximately halfway to the top
we started passing caves; their openings
were veiled with dangling strings of wooden beads.
A man thrust out his head and said, “Hello,
come in; let’s talk about reality.”
          Within, there was a mattress on the floor,
a folding table with a pad and pen,
some stacks of books, and several upturned crates
toward which he gestured, saying “Please sit down.”
His beard and hair were several inches long
and stuck straight outward; baggy overalls
were his sole garment.  He sat down with us
and said, “There must be something that just is
exactly what it is, of which all things
that change, all of these ordinary things
that we can sense-perceive, are images.
We must be mentally aware of it
as having to an infinite degree
all of the qualities that we perceive
sensorily in ordinary things
as never there to any fixed extent
and always to a limited degree –
how else could we make sense of anything
around us, classifying entities
by shape, mass, volume, and solidity,
and, if they’re selves, by kinds of feeling-state?
No self down here in this environment
is infinitely cheerful, sad, in love,
or angry, but we recognize
each other’s feeling-states as of these kinds
because that primally real entity
is always infinitely in these states.
And how do we perceive this entity
that always is exactly what it is
completely in all possible respects?
I’ll tell you: we look inward and we see
that it is us, that we’re this entity –
from which it follows that we’re all one self,
primordial: I’m you and you are me.”
          My son said, “Just by using these two words
‘I’ ‘you’, you show us that you don’t believe
in what you’re saying.  And aside from that,
if my assumption that I’m only me,
not you, is false, and I in fact am you,
then I somehow believe that I’m not me,
which seems a little bit impossible.”
          The man said, “From our human point of view
it seems impossible, but if you try
to see things from the primal point of view
in which all finite egos are dissolved
then it won’t seem impossible to you.”
          “You keep on saying ‘you’,” my son replied,
“which tells me that you don’t believe this crap.”
          As they continued arguing, my son
became increasingly belligerent,
and I was worried that he might offend
and irritate or even scare the man,
but it became apparent that the man
enjoyed the verbal conflict, smiling
and nodding vigorously, saying, “Good –
but have you taken this into account?”
and then delivering a confident
and almost overpowering response.
          Eventually, I said, “What’s your name?”
          “Oh, sorry,” said the man; “my name is – wait,
what is my name? – oh, I remember now,
it’s Martin Thomas Ness, but call me “M”,
it’s easier, and names don’t matter much
if there aren’t really any local selves.”
          I told M what our names were, even though
he hadn’t asked and didn’t seem to care.
I said, “I’d like to finish our ascent
before too long, M, if you wouldnt mind.”
          He said, “Sure thing.  I’ll head on up with you.
A lot of others will be heading up as well,
to hear Ignatius Norance summarize
his view of things and try to justify
that way of looking at reality.
I’m pretty sure you’ll find him interesting,
although his theory is completely false.
At any rate, you will enjoy the show.”
          He led us back out through the veil of beads,
and we resumed our upward spiralling.
My son and M continued arguing
as we ascended.  Other sages came
out of their caves above us and below,
in overalls and bearded, just like M. 
Those who were just emerging through the beads
that veiled their caves as we passing by
exchanged brief thumbs-up signs and nods with M
and greeted us with “Hi”, “Hello”, or “Hey”.
          There was a sort of amphitheater
upon the summit, its long benches carved
out of the rock.  Already several men
were sitting there.  We joined them.  Others came,
emerging from the stairwell after us.
We were above the tower now, I saw –
above the city, every bit of it.
          Ignatius Norance stood in front of us;
he made some sort of comical remark
that people found amusing, and began:
“It’s meaningless to speak of anything
as being other than it seems to be,
from it follows that no entity
exists when no one is aware of it.
Moreover, as we don’t experience
ourselves as entities that are distinct
from our perceptual activity,
and can’t distinguish this activity
from its own objects, such as that cloud there
from which I am supposedly distinct,
and as these objects constantly transform,
it follows that the reality consists
of independent streams of consciousness.
These streams emerge from nothingness, and then
dissolve back into nothingness again.
A self is just a stream of consciousness,
from which it follows that it can’t persist
beyond a blackout-state, if those occur.
If dreamless sleep entails a total loss
of consciousness, then self is destroyed,
another generated later on.
And it’s impossible for anyone
to be aware of A, B, C, and then
no longer so and instantly aware
of D, E, F instead; what happens then
is that the first self vanishes, replaced
by an entirely new second self.”
          “This guy is full of shit,” my son observed.
“As soon as you speak of an ‘anyone’ 
who’s conscious of an A or B or C,
you’re already assuming that a self
is something different from the entities
of which it is aware, and you assume
that its awareness is a kind of bridge
relating it to what it’s conscious of.”
          Eventually all the sages stood
and started arguing in little groups.
A sage who was exceptionally large,
with orange beard and hair, came shambling
in our direction, grinning, giving us
a double thumbs-up sign.  “Ah, visitors!”
he bellowed in a resonant deep voice;
“superb!  We need fresh energy up here!
These fellows are too smart for their own good;
they’ve all lost touch with ordinary life,
forgetting that they live within a world
of bodies, most of which are unaware,
but some of which, including us, can feel
and see and know and can direct
each others’ consciousness toward things and scenes
of which they are aware by means of sounds
that they make by expelling puffs of air
or scratching little marks on surfaces.”
          “You’re sure that selves are bodies, then?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said.  “What else could people be?”
“We might be souls,” I said; “that’s what a lot
of ordinary people think we are.”
“They only think that now and then,” he said,
“when they stop interacting with the things
around them, losing touch and fading out
into passivity and impotence,
a kind of momentary nausea
that healthy human beings should despise.”
          “I like your way of thinking,” said my son,
“but if that’s how you see things, why are you
up here instead of down there in the world?”
          “Because I taken it upon myself
to save these sickened men if possible,
or at the very least sustain a spark
of health in them by mockingly
reminding them of how things really are.”
          “Don’t you get tired of that?” Wolfling asked.
          “I feel the burden of my mission, yes,”
the sage replied, “and sometimes I regret
not living in an ordinary way
with wife and kids, a useful job, and friends
who aren’t just people that one argues with
about the theories that they generate
from misused words and mental images,
but this is what I’ve chosen for myself,
and freedom for us lies in saying ‘Yes!’
to our commitments, striding boldly on
instead of stumbling along life’s path.”
          He seemed in need of reassurance.  “That’s
an admirable attitude,” I said.
“We plan to stay the night here, by the way.
Is there someone officially in charge
of those arrangements, to whom we should speak?”
          “Yes,” said the sage; “you see that opening?”
He pointed toward the summit’s central point.
“That’s where the stairs are.  Go two level down,
to room sixteen, and talk to Mrs. Frogg.
She’s our administrator; she takes care
of all of our annoying background needs.
          My son remained above, involved in arguments
while I descended.  One flight down I passed
a door whose sign read “Food/facilities”.
Below that level was another door
whose sign read “Enter Only If You Must”.
I entered, since I had to, and I walked
passed fifteen doors – and there was Mrs. Frogg
beyond the sixteenth door, old and obese,
with yellow skin and painted fingernails.
She grumpily said, “Yes, what do you need? …
All right, put forty dollars in the jar.”
She pointed at some boxes by the wall.
“Dig out two folding tents and sleeping bags
and take them back up to the top with you.
The two of you will spend the night up there;
our caves are only for philosophers.”
          I asked, “Are you the only woman here?
I mean, aside from those two female guards
down there at the beginning of the path?
          She said, “No, are you kidding?  I can’t tend
to all of these big babies by myself.
I’ve got a staff of seventy-odd girls
who feed them, keep them clean, prescribe their pills,
and keep them sexually satisfied.
You won’t be seeing any of these girls,
however; they perform all of their tasks
discretely.  Only highly-trained professionals
with graduate degrees are hired here.”
          “Oh, really?”  I said.  “And the plumbing, and the gas
and wiring for electricity –
is all that stuff maintained by those same girls?”
          “No, obviously, not,” said Mrs. Frogg.
“Our maintenance-technicians stay below
in their facility, far underground,
except when there’s a problem; then they come
at 1 or 2 A.M. to deal with it,
so that we never have to notice them.
Excuse me; I’ve got lots of work to do,
so if you wouldn’t mind … good afternoon.”
          That night, as we set up our folding tents,
I asked my son if he thought he’d enjoy
residing here.  “No, not at all,” he said;
“these people don’t play games; they just discuss
ideas, most of which are ludicrous.
Beyond that, there’s a basic wrongness, too,
a weirdness that I can’t quite put in weirds,
although I feel it.  Something’s off about this place.”
          “No females,” I suggested, “and no kids?”
“It turns out that they do have females here,
however, although they stay out of sight.”
I told him what I’d learned from Mrs. Frogg
about the range of services performed
by Mount Intelligences’ employees.
He was indignant: “That’s extremely wrong!”
“I don’t think that it’s more than slightly wrong,”
I said, “but we’ll agree to disagree.”
          We started down along the spiral path
at 6 AM; by 10 we’d reached the street.
We walked alongside auto-dealerships,
repair-garages, and a Trader Joe’s,
more dealerships, a Whole Foods/Amazon,
a tenth or seventeenth repair-garage,
a Toys R Us, Home Depot, DMV,
an indeterminate facility,
a Barnes & Noble, and a dealership.
As we proceeded, Eden Peak loomed up
with ever-greater height and clarity.
At last, we saw the edge of Freedom Park
beyond IKEA and a dealership.
          Enormous trees of several different kinds –
I don’t know what most of the kinds are called;
some trunks were mainly straight while others curved,
some had a few main separated limbs
while others had a maze of mingle limbs;
some had smooth elephant-skin bark,
so smooth but patchy bark, some flaky bark,
some ridged and channeled bark – so on, so forth.
Of course, their leaves were variously shaped,
but leaves are over-emphasized, I think,
so I won’t offer leaf-descriptions here.
Among these trees were areas of grass
on which sat groups of teenagers; they gazed
down into their Devices, commenting
to one another on the things they saw
beyond the screens.  We headed further in.
A girl who sat within one of the groups
called to my son, “Come join us – here’s a space!”
I told him, “Go ahead; I’ll look around
and try to find an office to apply
for work here, picking up the bits of trash
that kids like you toss carelessly around.”
In fact there were some wrappers, paper plates,
and plastic bottles lying on the ground
in various locations, and I saw
a trash-collectors ambling around
with garbage-bag and grabbing-implement
some thirty yards away, past several trees.
“Okay,” he said; “I guess I’ll probably
be in this general vicinity
when you think that it’s time for us to go,
but if I’m not, make use of your Device
by sending me a text – you’ve heard of those? –
and we’ll try to arrange a meeting-place.”
          I asked the trash-collector where to go;
he said “a half a mile further in”
so I kept walking underneath the trees
past groups seated kids until I saw
a cottage made of stone, in front of which
a fat old man, his beard down to his waist
was sitting on a stool.  “Hello,” I said,
“I’d like to be employed here, picking up
the garbage.  Are their any openings?”
          “There are indeed,” he said, “if you don’t mind
a wage of six an hour, which won’t pay
the rent or buy you much of anything,
but you won’t need the credits if you’re fine
with sleeping in a tent among the trees
and wearing nothing but the coveralls
and tennis shoes that we’ll provide you with,
and showering with water from a hose.
It’s live-in work; that’s how we do it here.”
          I said, “I think I’d love to live that way.
Unfortunately, I don’t see a way
to make it happen.  I’m responsible
for my son Wolfling; he can’t live out here;
he wouldn’t want to, even if he could.
He’d want to sleep indoors, upon a bed.
I’m sure he’d like to spend his days here though.
He’s back there sitting with some kids right now –
I guess they’re probably a lot like him,
more into alternate realities
that their Devices give them access to
this real, mostly miserable, world.”
          The man said, “Ah, the government wants kids
like your son Wolfling for the special school
located over there beyond the Park.
In fact, those kids that Wolfling’s sitting with
right now, as well as all the other kids
that sit with their Devices all day long
among the trees are students in this school,
which is a boarding-school for training spies
to make sure all the citizens comply
with any mandates that might come along.
This school is free for kids who qualify.
Their website’s governmentspyschool(dot)gov.
He’ll find the application at that site;
He should be able to complete the thing
and send it off in thirty minutes flat.”
          “Wow, that sounds great,” I said.  “I’ll call him now.”
I didn’t want to waste time texting him
and waiting for an answer.  Wolfling said,
“Is this so urgent that it justifies
a phonecall?  Haven’t I said many times
that I’d prefer it if you sent me texts?”
I said, “I know, I’m sorry; listen, though:
Apparently, the kids that you’re with now
are all enrolled as students in a school
run by the government, for training spies.
If you’d like to apply, go to their site –”
          “They’ve already accepted me,” he said.
“I’ve been assigned a dormitory-room
so I guess you’ll be heading home alone.”
          “That’s swell!” I said.  “It’s very possible
that I’ll be working here collecting trash,
so I’ll be seeing you from time to time.
I’m proud of you; enjoy the afternoon. …
          “Okay,” I told the man, “that’s sorted out.
Can I start here today, by any chance?”
          “Sure thing,” he said, “but first you have to go
get authorized up there on Eden Peak.
When you get authorized, come back to me
and show me your credentials; then you get
your bag and grabber, coveralls, and tent.”
I walked another half a mile in –
there were no longer any teenagers
among the trees – and came to Eden Peak.
Its rocky flank was almost vertical,
but after I had walked along this flank
for several hundred yards I came upon
a cave-like opening from which effused
a luminous green flower-scented haze.
I entered there, and found ascending stairs,
carved from the rock within a passageway
that spiralled upward, filled with that green haze.
I climbed, and as I climbed I seemed to see
translucent humanoid divinities,
both male and female, gazing down at me
from stairs above, some sympathetically,
some challengingly, gazes mild, keen,
inspecting, tender, threatening, amused;
they didn’t speak, but voices in the haze
addressed me, male and female – spoke my name,
and told me that I wasn’t wanted here
and that I was a long-awaited guest,
that I was hideous, despicable,
delightful, splendid, boring, wonderful.
The phantasms were ever-more intense,
more vividly presented, or perhaps
presenting themselves yet more vividly 
as I passed through them, climbing on and up,
the voices ever-louder, more distinct.
My legs ached; I was panting; I could feel
the pounding of my heart.  An orange ray
came slanting downward toward me through the haze
and I emerged into a wilderness
of trees like those below, but towering
far higher, with less intervening ground,
an intervening ground that was replete
with flowers-bushes, flowers on long stalks
and short ones – many colors, many kinds.
Slim pathways led between these blossom-banks,
among the giant trees.  Thin orange rays,
and pink and purple ones came lancing down
like lingering soft lightning through the leaves,
illumating everything they touched
with varying degrees of emphasis.
          I walked along the path in front of me,
and when it branched, I always chose the branch
the veered less widely to the left or right.
A towering blue man stepped into view
and stood beside a tree, his head inclined
down toward me; shadows hid his eyes and groin.
Although I couldn’t see the blue man’s eyes
I felt his tranquil, friendly attitude,
his recognition.  Raising up one arm
he pointed down the path in front of me
and slightly nodded.  There in front of me
a red man in a long red sleeveless robe,
a golden crown upon his bald red head,
perhaps three-quarters of the blue man’s height,
awaited me with outstretched tense red arms,
a golden dagger clutched in each red fist.
His daggers stabbed me as I walked within 
the range of his long arms; I felt the pain
that you would also feel if you’d been stabbed.
My face passed through  his chest; the pain was gone.
          Before me, further on along the path,
a woman loomed – green, with long dark-green hair.
Her green dress left her arms and shoulders bare.
At first she was much taller than my friend
the blue man, but she shrank as I drew near
until, as I stopped just in front of her,
the angle of her gaze into my eyes
was slightly upward.  We stood face to face:
she said, “I’ve always loved you, and she raised
her index finger – touched my forehead, pressed
her index finger through my skull, until
its tip was in my brain, where it remained
as she addressed me (and I felt no pain;
I felt a rapidly expanding surge
of gentle warmth and luminosity):
“I’m authorizing you to live and work 
down there in Freedom Park, collecting trash.
You’ll live an uneventful, happy life,
and when it’s over, you will join me here –”
And as she said that last word “here” I saw
the universe from every point of view
at once, and knew that this was she,
extending endlessly throughout a space
that shimmered everywhere, in love with her
as I was – but the space was God, not me,
continually generating her.
          I found myself alone among the trees,
yet not alone; I felt her everywhere
around me – and the blue man, and the red.
I turned and walked back toward the stairs; I knew
which way to go, which branching path to take.
Soon I was in the stairwell, heading down
through luminous green haze – no specters now,
or voices, but a sense of company
above me and below me, all around,
all of those former phantoms’ attitudes
harmoniously blended yet distinct.
          Back at the cottage-door the man still sat,
now drinking from a bottle of red wine;
he glanced up at my forehead, grinned and said,
“You’re hired” – I had felt the constant ray
emerging from my forehead as I walked
and, evidently, he saw what I felt.
He asked me what my name was, shook my hand,
and said, “Well, I’m Sylvester Ennis, kid,
but you can call me ‘Syl’.  I’ll be your boss
until the day you die – an easy boss,
a mentor, if you will.  As for your son –
you’ll see him every day here in the Park
until he graduates and starts to do
his secret spy-work for the government.
Say ‘hi’ to him and he’ll say ‘hi’ to you ,
and this will work out well for both of you,
but if you try to speak at length with him
he’ll feel as though his Dad is squashing him
back into childhood, so keep it brief –
that’s my advice, and I’m a wise old man.”
He pointed past his shoulder at the door
behind him.  “Go on in and get your gear.
There’s ginger ale and pizza in the fridge 
if you need lunch.  It’s only two o’clock,
so you’ll make eighteen bucks today, tax-free.”