The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
Thar Guth Eigi Gengr
BY Philip Kaveny c. 2015
(This phrase means where God will not walk in Old Norse)
This story comes from the same period of my life as my lost poems. It is a mixture of fact and fiction. But I did sense the unnamed or even unnamable evil across time and over the horizon. Much of the material about my family is real and the part that is not may in fact be real by extension. The double I meet in the story is a tribute to my late half brother Thomas Kaveny (1931-1982). We were raised separately and I only met him once when I was a little boy and he was a soldier in uniform. I was playing and he gave me a box of lead soldiers. I nodded thanks and he left. As a six year old I watched it happen as if to someone else.
Some may find the conclusion of the story unsatisfactory by contemporary standards of political correctness. Yet there is incontestable coprological evidence of Native North American cannibalism. I’ve had one change of heart since I wrote “Thar Guth Eigi Gengr” thirty years ago. If we live to today in a world of unnamed or even unnamable evil, as the mountain of evidence seems to indicate, then perhaps the evidence of our human existence, and the presence of kindness and grace both human and divine, indicates more strongly than any theological or apologetic process the existence of a transcendent countervailing presence.
“Goddamm, I saw it. It was real and I was there. “I must tell my story. Gods be dammed that I do not have the language of a poet to tell it. I must tell my story to you before I go, dear fellow, back to the place that borders death and dreams and madness. It awaits me there and I must go to it. I am no hero chasing my own dark maiden. I am no romantic seeking to waltz with death and then leaving her waiting. I am from a thousand generations of Irish fools who have walked the earth looking for that great moment. We were gamblers waiting for that card so high we need never deal another. I remember how a small, dark woman had reacted to my litany of what we sought after. She looked at me with terror in her eyes and said:
“But that card is death.’
“‘No,’ I said, ‘that is a skinny poet’s way, not that of, of, of…..’
“They must have thought me mad the way I went on about this and yet as I spoke, my life seemed to spread before my mind, and I knew that I was not mad. It was as if I remembered some things that happened long, long before I was born on July 8th, 1944.
“Once on the Christmas before he died, god rest his soul my grandfather said.
“‘We may not look like much, sonny, but once we were kings. We were Normans, Northman you know. We were Irish but we bred with the Vikings. We fought for the Catholic Kings and we lost. Your great-grandfather’s uncle chose Australia instead of the gallows. He was big like you. He probably had your same anger.’ It was almost as if I could see his clear blue eyes, though he was 93 when he died. His mind and eyes were clear to the last.
“Twenty‑five years ago when I was fifteen my grandmother showed me a wooden tablet scored by fire. She spoke to me as if she was in a trance.
“‘They called those lines burned into the wood runes,’ she said.
“‘What are they?’ I asked.
“‘Never ask,’ she whispered, ‘never ask and bless yourself before you go back to that place.’ ‘What are they? How can you read them? What do they say?’
“She looked for an instant like she was twenty not eighty. She had a way about her that said she meant business. She did it with an unblinking look and then she threw the tablet into the cast iron wood stove that her mother had given her as a wedding present in 1906. The tablet turned instantly to gossamer threads of ash and then disappeared as she closed the stove’s isinglass door.
“I remember my grandfather saying, ‘May you be in heaven an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.’ Their beliefs had always seemed quaint and childlike to me.
“Now I know that I was to that place my grandmother told me of, that place where god does not walk. My father took me there when I was a child and I sensed the Evil. I believe in no gods and yet it was a place where gods walked and died. My mind moved freely across the forty‑one years of my life. My mind “‘they are your past and future, your heritage and your destination. Never speak of it again, only know that there are places on this earth where god will not walk. Places where you walk alone. You howled like a wolf when you were a child and I prayed the banshee would not take you. The hooded figure came to take you from us that night but it did not.’ I wondered how she knew that. One night, as I sharply awoke, I saw the hooded faceless specter. I never told anyone and yet she knew.
“My mind seeks an explanation for what I felt. My intellect stumbles with a fool’s language to write what is beyond me, but must be expressed in words. It turns out the old books were wrong. Silas Lap ham made many of his observation out of mid‑air. The 1856 report I held in my hands had had its errors repeated for the next 130 years. And now the civil engineers say that maybe the mounds aligned throughout the Midwest.
“What I felt was this. It takes only about a hundred or so words to tell. I saw across time in 1970 in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. Sometime after midnight I stumbled into the State Park compound that holds Aztalan. Just across the horizon I sensed something that was old and terrible, something that I was both a part of, and yet was across the ocean of time.
“What, what did you see.”
“I didn’t really see it, but I saw it.”
“What were you taking acid, speed, what were you up on?”
“I was not up on anything. I was drunk, I drank a quart but I saw it. And I am not drunk now.
“Listen to me you bastard that was fifteen years ago.
I am a very strong man and I pulled him from his chair like a kitten.
“Let me finish. I saw it and I will try to tell you what I saw fifteen years ago. I am going back because I know that I belong there. I should have gone back the last time. It was like this.
“We were at a party at a farm house east of Madison. We were near Lake Mills Wisconsin. It was close to the summer solstice about an hour after sunset. I walked away from the party because they were making me sick. I used to drink a lot but I never liked drugs.”
“What did the farmhouse look like?”
“Well it was about a hundred years old with mirrors and beautiful woodwork. Do you know how it is when mirrors reflect into others and then into others? Have you seen beveled iridescent glass set into fine white oak? I do not know where that house came from. It seemed to belong to another time. I once checked for the house a few years ago and it was as if it was never there. I have not been able to find it since.
“Well anyway, I got sick of the party and the people. It was the death of the sixties and a dream gone sour.”
“I walk to the edge, I walked to the edge of something, and I walked through the field. I should have been tired for I am large and strong but not in shape and used to walking when I am drunk. Then I walked into some low rolling hills. I think that they call them drumlins. I remember that night there had been a blood red sunset.
“Well anyway I was walking towards the horizon and I felt I saw across the horizon. Godamm I saw across time too. I saw across time and I felt something powerful and terrible. I was part of that. I did not have the courage then to cross as I should have. Now I will cross back and go where I must.”
“You can’t go back,” Steve said. “Don’t you know that time is a one way ratchet, it does not go back? It is a one way ratchet with all weight of every atom pressing it forward.”
“Maybe but perhaps it is like something that does not move with that didactic certainty.”
“How could I go back to the place our physics tells you cannot go back. Time is a one way ratchet powered by all the force of the Universe. How would I go back to that moment fifteen years before and how would I touch what was across the Horizon. Would I stand sober and stupid and wait? Would I invent a time machine? Had I read to much weird fiction? Perhaps my intellect was helping me to see what was locked inside of me . There was a legend about a race of Giants. Slides of inexplicable cave paintings shown by a professor of anthropology seemed to link the site I was drawn to with others through the whole Mississippi River watershed. Shapes repeated themselves from other areas. Cave Paintings the likes of which had not been in the new world told me of a world that was beyond me and a myth that was yet to be unraveled. The myth tells of a race that was greater the Aztecs. A race that the great Montezuma asked leave of to trade obsidian for copper. A race that my ancestors touched.
“I will go back.
“How is that my mind remembers this place is it that my race of fools was here before me? Did they come in monks ships across the Atlantic before the little ice age? We have always been without land and patrimony. Did the fools seek it and die? We have always been part of the cities. The scholars say that there was a great and strange city on this cite. A city which was the outpost of a yet great more evil city. They were linked by rivers to the Aorta of waters. In my mind, it exist as a picture in my mind.”
* * *
It is 10:30 p.m. and I have been walking since sunset. The last fingers of light have died in the sky and it is moonless on June 22, 1985.
The walk is harder now then it was in my madness fifteen or maybe 1000 years ago. The land is the same but I cannot read the plaque which tells about the mystery of who built the works. I remember how I could call and be heard a mile away. I would count the seconds till my voice travelled across space and time and my companion heard my words. In the pale moonlight, as I walk the land, it is as if I am flying. The mounds and the land are deceptive. Strange that it has become a park now. And yet it looks a ruin. The earth works of the ancients remind me of the ocean rolling, perhaps an ocean I sailed across. I climb to the top of what was the altar where they made their unholy sacrifice. The professor had said that the evidence is that they were cannibals. What was the reason? Perhaps something as simple as hunger drove them to eat their neighbors flesh. There is one smaller rolling hill.
Then with a flash I am over it. It is day light and the land looks different. The features of the land seem harsher. Now in that terrible instant it is clear to me that it is not my will that has taken me back across time. I was certain that I was going back, but, now it is clear to me that all this time I was being drawn back. For what? Am I to be another wicker man brought back in time for slaughter…? I hear the noise on the other side of altar. It looks different now. I hear screams and shouting, wails and cries. Am I just some dumb ox lead to the gate to face the butcher’s captive bolt? I am across the horizon and I see a man, large and strong with a red beard, being dragged to an altar by four others. It is not a priest that waits with raised knife at the altar. This is not a secret ritual to some terrible god. Men are hanging gutted and ready like so many deer ready to be cut and butchered. I have been swung by the maelstrom into a pre-Columbian butcher shop. I look at one of the men being dragged to the altar. It is as if they have not yet noticed me. They like their work too much.
I know the face of the one who is about to have his heart ripped out. Why do I know? I know it because it is my own. It is myself that is being led to slaughter. I have been dragged across time to be some small dark haired person’s protein source. Though the battle has been over a long number of hours, somehow I see the sounds and shape of chaos. I hear the soundless echoes of screams. How could we lose? Our weapons are better than theirs: iron broadaxes, spear and arrow heads against their flint and copper. We lost because we were tricked. We drank of the drug that they offered us. We were made to think that we were seeing the face of our god but we were only being fed some
Exquisite opiate. My heart tells me that that must have been what happened.
“We were kings Normans North Men you know.”
“You must not go where god does not walk,” She had told me. “You must not go there.” I have no choice, I am here. In the instant that freezes all time so that it is a point of infinite depth but no breadth, I pick up the broadaxes that lies on the field next to a dead Viking. The axe is three feet long, the kind you could cut a tree or plane a board with. It is the kind of thing you never see in a museum. It is too useful, not some swishing prince’s ornament but a useful tool and now, by Woden’s goats, I will use it. Now they see me. I am like some hulking, lumbering fool, running with heart pressing against sternum towards them. I hold them transfixed just long enough for me to raise the axe. My hands, made soft by too many years of sitting on my ass, are burned with the splinters from the axe handle. I am not certain I can kill them. I am not certain I will reach them. And then I am upon them. I have never swung this axe which can fell a tree or cleave a man. The butcher priest’s motion is halted freeze frame as I cleave him in two.
The others fall like reeds or corn stalks. This terrible thing breaks the spell of the opiate and then the others are free. For an instant I am face to face with my double. He is not me and yet he is what I would have been with his life in this time. Not a king but certainly a robber. He should be astounded by my dress, he is not. He is in coarse cloth and helmet; I look like a fool in Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Our hands touch and eyes meet, the smallest smile is on his face and then time and space are annulled. Time becomes a point with no breadth and infinite depth. It is like a frame frozen on a video screen. Colors turn sepia tones.
The scene looks so much like the tablet that turned gossamer and then to dust in the isinglass window of my grandmother’s stove. First the carnage turns to gossamer, then to dust. My double’s image fades as the tablet’s had. I know somehow that I am back as the ground seems to rise up and snap me in the face. My eyes run and my nose hurts all the way to my sinuses. Then I crawl back to tell what I must.
* * *
“‘A good story’ they said, ‘certainly a yarn that would befit a drunk who took his first drink in fifteen years. Nice images but I’m afraid that if this happens again, you’ll be spending your time in the state hospital a Mendota Shore.’ ”
Steve looked at me with the condescending compassion that we save for the strong fallen into madness. I was back from oblivion and now I must convince my friends that I should not be committed to the insane asylum. The axe was now nothing but a rusted chunk of iron. The lake had risen so it would be impossible to prove the facts of the event. Then I noticed a burning, throbbing pain in my hands. My hands were bloody and torn. I held them out to my friends. “Take your pocket knife and cut out these splinters before I die of infection.” I challenged him with my eyes. “Are you afraid to cut them out?”
There was a momentary hesitation and then he unfolded the shortest, thinnest blade on his Swiss Army Knife. I was not beyond pain. My pain fought against their charge of madness as one by one he cut out the jagged, wooden slivers from my torn flesh. He set them on the table top as we watched. The splinters and my blood first turned sepia in color, then I felt all time gather to a point and freeze. I was no stranger to this experience. Steve was, he looked mad with terror. We seemed again to be looking at the world through an isinglass window. We shared a vision which was filled with perhaps only a second in eternity and yet it was if we saw back past all human time. Then the room was still and where the splinters and my blood had been there was only that same gossamer dust.
He looked at me and said. “You are not mad, you are not drunk. Now never speak of it again.” The room was very still. Time had released us from that point.