What's In A Book? Everything Imaginable! The Plum Tree Book Forum
Dark Ramblings of the Phoenix by J.D. Stockholm
Publisher: The Cave
Dream scholar Patricia Garfield, writing about symbols in children’s dreams, says, “black is saturated with meaning. . . . it’s often linked to evil or tied to negative experiences, such as depression and mourning. Often chasers in nightmares . . . ambiguous, dark, threatening. . . mysterious.” In our reiteration, these adjectives will also be branded by a desultory style. Phoenix, itself a powerful symbol of death and resurrection, will share its thoughts much like the Roman desultors – horsemen skilled at changing steeds at full throttle, in a random fashion. (emphasis mine)
Stockholm, in a rare autobiographical revelation, demonstrates a helpful and kind bent, giving his readers ‘clues’ to his ‘mystery’ at the outset. We learn that these words “were written when I got too deep into myself or woke from a bad dream. . . they are as I wrote them; with the pain that fuelled them. ” And although an all-too-carelessly-squandered element in this book, there is a ‘prescriptive nuance’, to wit, “My Journey is not yet done.” My review, therefore, is also a deviation from form but an honest dialogue with the work which wrote itself as I read.
Written as it is, meaning surfaces in an interpolated fashion. Imagine a visual rhythm strip of your heartbeats, a generally regular string of pumps – beat, rest, beat, rest – but, upon closer examination, you see little renegade beats, slipping (interpolating) in between. Rhythm is not disrupted, such is their subtlety, but when extracted in order, you have an independent string, a syncopated rhythm. They each tell its story; in combination, their stories are related and the whole is the ‘script’ of our protagonist – boy’s – experience.
I’ll not dwell on the minutiae of it. This choice is hardly intended to render its significance de minimus. Rather, the opposite prevails. For boy recounts, re-lives, reveals a childhood that would be the pride of Marat de Sade-in-high-form. The intensity of the physical and emotional abuse can only terminate life. Physically, the heart, intended to beat normally, is instead beaten and bruised, bisected into shards. Dysfunctional detritus. The soul, its spirit strong, endures repeatedly vile transgressions, its strength sapped, scarred, hardened – stone-like – to an eviscerated fossil of pulp.
The reader, like boy’s wallpaper, can only witness, cursed with impotence, condemned to participate mutely. Boy’s invasions – frequent, marked by stealth and deception – seem to reach an nth degree of debauchery but, with the consummate demon’s acumen, manage yet more intense, higher degrees of manic mutilation. The fear, constant companion, never dulls. The bags of trickery are bottomless – ejecting the familiar (Ah, here’s Mom/Witch/Betrayer; Is that little brother? Please put him back. Won’t fit? Must play?; And Dad/Matinee Idol/Hero/Co-Conspirator/Conductor. Dad’s the ‘man’, the teacher. The ‘torch’ in Torture; then the Faceless, the Nameless, the Strangers – all with entrée to boy. They toy with boy; Finally, the Archetypes, diaphanous but available. Do/will they hear? Help? Care?)
Like boy, reader begins to pray for death. There is no end, no escape. Can we just dissolve to “Blackout” – THE END? Music Man has failed boy. He could not play these notes. Only boy can play these vicious notes, the somber sound made from his own red blood as it poured from his arm, his skin and formed his ”Flesh-Made Violin” played with a stiletto blade to an empty house. (Ms. Garfield allows as “red is a bright, intense color; it can be associated with extreme emotion, such as anger and passion, as well as fires. It’s also associated with blood.”) There are no applause in black solitude. No one will see/appreciate blade’s thrust into an already shattered target. The effect is no effect.
The heinous acts accelerate, expanding in evil and breadth. Boy renders himself blind to the cold of bare flesh, to the pain of the endless barrage of pummels and thrusts, to the shame of his own stupidity, fooled again and again (Ah, a giant toy horse. Do let him in. What’s this? An army attacking?) Or when Mom and Dad, playful tonight, beckon him to join them. Boy snuggles down and, still giggling at the joke only boy now enjoys, he once again becomes the lead in the horror show of ugly, evil, animal performing. And the perpetrators? Familiar and strange alike see boy as just a prop, a pawn, an object of carnal manipulation.
Ultimately, boy succumbs to evil; lives silently, paralyzed in death. He defends evil, protects the essence of it – their degrading, hateful crimes fuelled by the bubbling lava from hell’s cauldrons. This because boy is no more. Ravaged, his soul excised, he contains nothing – a vessel without filling; a flesh-pelted, empty vessel that is no longer ‘whole’ boy, but boy macerated, devoid of all good. Good finally fled, is free. The villains have only shards of putrefied epidermis with which to play. Now they perform for the dirty; the farce macabre masked in smiles. The nameless, empty “Boy Show” – hottest show in town. Cleansed by apathy, boy’s notebook he locks.
The record of Hell intact; but boy – fragmented, ethereal, clutches warmth in his now pure arms – holding Teddy. The book slams shut, sealing the scum of their sins within. Boy lives his lie. But his lie is his reality. Banishing the womb that poured him out into waiting black goblets forged by the fires of hell to hold the hottest, molten slivers of eternal darkness. Boy knew the womb had to be abandoned in kind. She is a contaminant. And Dad? You gave me life. My puppeteer. Take it and all of its adornments. You walk proudly, a real smile on your face. This because you believe the image, the narcissistic reflection staring back at you – seeming to be my face, your creation, smiling. That is your illusion of life, Dad.
Later, when boy is finally alone, he will silently ooze the ugly out. No one will be privy lest it infest. Once cleansed, bowels evacuated of Hell’s detritus, boy will smile – the pure, good, innocent, shouting cry of ‘newborn’ boy. Then, behind and far away, the toys of evil, finally, thankfully, still – broken dolls – useless. They will try once again, the agents of ‘the reprise’. Curtain call! Wild applause. Boy’s show is back by popular demand. It closes in ignominy. Boy, shamed, resolves to perform no more. But, can a vacuum perform?
When Ferryman comes, boy opts for his company, welcomes the devil to (new)boy’s table. “Oh, there are no fruits in that bowl.” There is nothing here to help YOU grow. No nourishment to keep you alive. I have only ‘dry’ tears of my emotions. And at this mourning table, groaning in sorrow, darkness, sadness – all that serve as the eyes to my soul, I ask one thing of you, Ferryman. I want a ticket to ride, to take my final journey to the death that ends this illusion of life.
The painting is finished. This game we played – “Illusion of Father and Son” – is over. I am nothing more than a mirror for you to gaze at your perfection, a façade that. Rather the reflection is your fantasy, the illusion of your existence. I wish I could show you the pain in my eyes, the tainted colors of my soul, the shattered pieces I carried inside – no glue to bind me. But my purging – complete and solitary – leaves only ‘Fantasy Boy’ for your inspection. Love, not its illusion, has made me whole.
Now boy strives for self awareness without which he cannot potentiate. He must suspend judgment and evaluation while developing an intuitive awareness. He must venerate the importance of letting go of past attachments and future projections. He must learn to live in the present. It has been said that many of the constraints and limitations in one’s life can be attributed to a lack of imagination. I can think of at least six million Jews who would argue this point. Boy has suffered at the hands of imagination and fantasy. Boy has earned his honest goodness, innate and precious. Boy rejects illusion, embraces his reality. And his “journey is not yet done.”
“Bidden or not bidden, God is here.” C.G. Jung. Here to help boy recover his life. Bon chance, Boy.
Reviewer: Lorane Leavy
Born in 1945 Brooklyn, NY, I attended parochial elementary and high schools then vowed to see ‘beyond New York’. This trek landed me in Washington, DC and Georgetown University where I graduated with a BS in Nursing and an ‘MRS’ proposal which, after acceptance, led to some 44 years and counting of wedded adventure to Philip G. Leavy, Jr, MD. We have three children and six grands. Matriculating while gestating, I followed my original writing dream post partum and parenting – with a seven-year hitch as a litigation attorney. Family and ‘authoring’ remain my blessed Karma. Visit Lorane at her blog.