by Robert Kloss
Your wife and son and the butcher and his wife stood before the open grave of your second child when you returned hued with the black of soil. You held your jacket before you, and you could say nothing of your condition. So it was none asked, for when you returned home that morn, all gasped with fright, and all backed away from your eyes, glowing with a lively madness.
And in the first days of what you called your “ministry” you removed a stack of golden plates from beneath your jacket and you set these golden plates into a burlap sack and you tied the sack with twine and you set the sack in the dankest closet in your house and you padlocked the door and about your neck you wore the only key. And there you left those plates to sit and molder. And when your wife asked why you locked the closet you explained “For no reason at all.” And how often you woke to the Almighty’s creature swaying alongside your bed, its wings and the boney hooks protruding from its wings. And when you cried with your hand upraised, “Please, but one more week!” so it was your wife awoke beside you and saw no creature at all, nor did she scent its atmosphere, the faintest lingering of brimstone.
And when you found your boy standing before the closet with wide brown eyes and trembling lips you shouted “Isaac!” and so you seized his arm and swatted him upon the rump and the boy wailed and wept and as he fled the room you called after him to never again stand before the door.
And as you ate, and as you bathed, and as you rode to the butcher shop, and as you sliced fat mottled flesh from bone, and as you laughed at the butcher’s jokes, and as you wrapped the chops and the loins and the ribs and the kidneys like glistening loaves and the livers and the jowls and the noses and the hooves and any other requested cut of meat, and as you wiped the gristle from your hands unto the fly strewn towel, and as you walked the black night, and as you gazed unto the mountain while holding back the sickness, and as you continued into your house and as you removed your clothes and stepped into your flannel pajamas, and as you lowered yourself against your wife, snoring or murmuring of the children she had birthed only to see die, you heard only the hum of those golden plates, the rustling of the Almighty’s creature along your floorboards, and through the blood crashing your ears, the thumping of the veins within your neck, the coarse furious pulse of your heart, you knew Him upon His black mountain, ever and ever again uttering your name into the faint and terrified reaches of your soul: JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH, JOSEPH.
And you have said you knelt in the yard, whispering, “The language is meaningless to me, a mystery” and pleading, “I am not the instrument you seek.” And you have said you soon discovered a pair of wire rim glasses on your night stand. These glasses seemed as ancient as the plates themselves, although they were neither cracked nor dusty and you understood then their purpose and their origin. And to hold them seemed to place your entire figure within a vice.
And when your boy stood in the doorway you saw him through these lenses. There he seemed a bulge of coal or a char or some awful scorched thing. You flung up your hands, crying out, “Be gone, Evil One!”
Soon the morning came when you told your wife the Almighty had finally chained you fast to the wheel of your “terrible duty.” She stared at you from her gown and cap. And you fell to your knees, grabbing her hands and weeping while you said, “His heart is so very full of love” and by this you meant, “Even if we fled He would find us. No corner could seclude us and no fish’s belly could shield us.”
You led her into the room you called your “office.” There your desk stood swept free of debris save a jar of ink, a crow feather quill, and a stack of loose paper. Now you said, “None but I may see these plates” and your wife said, “Plates?” and you said “We must bring His word to the gentiles.” And she watched with wide trembling eyes, neither speaking nor moving even when you bade her sit, and you bade her take up the quill, and you bade her “Listen well” for your ministry depended upon her faithful transcription. And when she did not speak or move you led her by the hand, lowering her to the chair with a gentle pressing of the shoulder while into her hand you thrust the quill. Finally she whispered your name so softly it seemed phrased as “?” and you replied, “I will be nearby” and in the smallest voice she said “Where?” and when you did not answer she asked again “Where will you be?” and now you said “Within the closet.” And so you went.
And you have said that within the darkness was born all the hues of light. And from your lips came the sounds and words of the ministers of the Almighty, the waters they crossed and the lands they pillaged, the paradise they sought, virgin and eternal and opened only to those chosen, and you spoke of the doom they found instead, the quivering of spears, the dead and decaying on the beach, their armored garments rusting and tinted golden under the light of a falling sun, the lapping of water through moldering sockets, the jaws unhinged and loosening with the tide, the lighting of fires along the edges, the motioning of shadows, and the howling of what others have called devils or savages, but now you understood from within their unrefined breasts resided the first impulses of all humanity. And from your lips to your wife’s fingers to the pages before her. How soon her fingers seemed as black as oblivion while the pages of your ministry rose in columns before her. How she wept for her hand, bent and crippled, ever the cracking of knuckles, ever her gasps, soft and terrible, and still you did not pause nor did you retract or retrace your statements, for the language fell continuous and irrepressible once you travelled the depth of the void.
And you continued without respite through the night and the next day, pausing not for food or for drink and when your voice broke and hoarsened, your wife transcribed phrases like “cough” and “wheeze” and “rasping.” And when your boy stood in the doorway wanting his sup, his mother could say only “There are potatoes to be boiled” and “You know what to do with a chicken,” while from the closet came the strangled rasping of his father.
After some fifty pages were translated you emerged, hollow faced and pale, the hair fleeing your skull in wild shocks and your bloodshot eyes rocking back and forth. And you rasped some weary incomprehensible language, gesturing for your wife to lay down her quill. How she gazed at you. And when you had supped and rested you said, “We must bring these pages to the gentiles” and you laid your hand upon your son, saying, “Your father has been called into the ministry” and you said “and so you also have been called into service” and when he asked “By whom?” so it was you answered, “By the Almighty, whose terrible word is all.”
Robert Kloss is the author of How the Days of Love & Diphtheria and The Alligators of Abraham, both from Mud Luscious Press.