A Window, but Tinted

Pain purifies. Pain cleanses. Pain is proof of god in the body—the stigmata written in blood. The bruises become holy; the artifacts live forever in a museum, online: the knotted rope, the iron scourge.


Pain, the greatest teacher, knows that magic is
dangerous art, a poisonous plant that softens stone,
the mage is a perfumed Easterner, sweaty as
Nova Scotia’s roads are salty, wintry as a
rusted Celebrity stalling outside Economy, dependent entirely on
the charity of strangers, a hairy fable trafficking
in tragic tales, so many near-misses, so much
potential, incapable of making it, and weak, or
making it a week without reeking of nameless
love, feeding off loans and their lenders’ latent
anger, fending off its dangers, an orphaned son
eclipsing his ancestors out-of-sight, rewriting their legacy as
a plagiarized personal history, passing off as biography


a composite sketch of mythic men whose characteristically
anti-heroic pathos renders them almost unrelatable as individuals,
since each seems simply, unfulfillingly, a re-reading of
what their predecessors endured previously, a prodigy out-of-sync
with an ancient prophecy, indebted entirely to another
era’s conception of sorcery, anachronism fights with aching
and ageless fists against centuries of only ever
only just barely getting it right, to walk
the mystical path with practical feet is difficult
where different ways cross and divergent fates meet,
neither hooves nor horns, but the common fame
of a witch waiting at the gate, at
the end of this street is a moat,


not a ditch, an inscrutable façade gasconading behind
its endless expanse, its flesh of stone, an
impenetrable interior castle, a spiritual fortress, not a
single-family detached executive dream-home with a pool or
a garage, all the curb-appeal of a palace
at a steal, worth all the trouble of
a deal with the devil, no, no bridge
to cross into what draws visitors it does
not want, its boundaries marked off, delimited by
primitive primal powers the properties of which are
invisible to all but him who lives there,
his neighbours unaware he is unaffected by their
malice, counteracts it with attacks of anonymous kindness,


this magician who through a window, but tinted,
has no care for offers of second chances
at better lives, yet lives with the wisdom
of several already lived and gives lepers their
cure as if the world let her soul
go impure enough, her heart sour to the
tartness of a bitter fruit’s stone pit she
quarries, so that no other doctor but a
metaphysician could touch your own when it stopped
giving, bleating to life again with a piercing
start the entire flock wants, if only to
know that this is how far it must
go to get back in tune with being


human, to pay its due to him with
a view to killing off those feelings that
have too often inured us against feeling anything
at all, healing this indifference to living which
is the reason for us to call on
so distinguished and misunderstood, so informed and silent
a thinker, whose charm is his talismanic striving
beyond strife which is a catalyst driving us
all wild to want to become something other
than drones and automatons, so to his cabin,
his rundown hermitage in the East we run
on, wings of wax dripping with snow before
dropping to the ground, surrounding it when downed,


we have come, seeking to meet with one
who has at his feet a circle drawn
into which no evil thing can wander, pilgrims
under the spell of something better’s influence, summoning
our psychopomp, addressing him as Rabbi, Teacher, Father,
I was never closer to the truth, and
farther from being another marauder among the throng,
when we found our Selves confounded at the
quandary of having to cross over that watery
abyss separating by a veil of mist one
existence from The Other, the æther partitioning eternity
from the deceit of insincere people, those fiends
thieving for a taste of the immortal, ignoring


a glimpse of the origin of all things,
its hint disappearing in an instant if not
properly appreciated, alone in his presence, the one
disciple who managed to get in and get
it while the bothers bickered over the cost
of admission, idiots missing the point that sweat
is the price of genius, effort an end
in itself, without guilt I said to him,
‘Master, what is the meaning of disaster if
tragedy manages to accomplish in private the solitudes
and sufferings of the multitude, the destruction of
whom it broadcasts in some circumstances and not
in others? Did I have to go through


this just to get close enough to its
meaning? That we can die from bleeding, or
even just needing to, is too much, this
being human has me seeing in nothing that
for once I belong to something,’ to which
he replied by saying what I could only
hear by feeling it from inside, while denying
my eyes the source of his voice, faceless
as the void whose precipice widened as a
smile does, lips crescenting to a coil when
his mouth whispered a secret the meaning of
which I thought I had missed until I
awoke and opened my veins to write this.

1Larissa Pham, “The Art of the Bruise” in her monthly column “Devil in the Details” of the online edition of The Paris Review, published at New York by The Paris Review on February 1, 2019; link.