The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:

Proceedings of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living
David J. Keffer
(link to main page of novel)


October 1, 2018
In truth, the imperturbable character of Hong Samud, which we have attempted to convey, was not entirely invulnerable to the mundane trials of daily life. Returned to the portable library, he found himself somewhat out of sorts. The two nights spent in the rain and the week on the mat on Tjilik's floor were not the primary culprits. Rather, the mere absence from the sanctuary of the portable library had worn on Hong Samud.

He knew that the other members of the executive governing committee were waiting on him to complete his next contribution to A Fractured Portrait of Iris. Many days had passed unproductively and yet he still found himself without direction for the task at hand.

He filled his lungs with the luminescence of the library. He emptied his mind and began to wander along the spiraling corridor. Even as he accepted that he had no idea regarding the particulars of what would come, he nevertheless felt the inevitability that the task would be completed and that he would be the one to accomplish it. The discipline, which he had practiced all these years, had not yet abandoned him. Perhaps, one day it would, but not today or tomorrow. It was within this combination of opacity and certainty that Hong Samud routinely dwelt. Rather than cause him uneasiness, he took comfort from the familiar fact that he did not know what he would do.

written while listening to:  Stephan Crump & Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper - Super Eight (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 216, 2013, Switzerland, cd,

October 2, 2018
Once inside the portable library, Hong Samud was in no hurry to identify the text, from which he would extract excerpts. Instead, he luxuriated in the possibilities. He passed a wing full of books containing forgotten secrets of Ayurvedic medicine. He sensed the potential for discovering much about Iris in such texts, but he was not yet ready to commit to a choice. If the idea grew on him, he could always return.

Later he passed several rooms in which were collected tomes on the subject of mineralogy. Again, he felt the many possibilities. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, he had hopefully pursued this option, selecting passages that found in the diversity of atomic structures information that cast light on the nuanced behavior of Iris. However, in this reality, he again did not pause but opted to continue his perusal of the library.

Infinite choices abounded. In the entirety of his life, he would sample but a few. He hoped to make good choices with his finite time, though he realized that there were innumerable choices of equal merit with which he could work.

He arrived at a section of the library devoted to works, scientific and anecdotal, investigating the ways that animals employ medicines in both proactive and reactive health care for themselves, their young and the loved ones in their communities. Hong could not resist the temptation. He ran his finger along many spines, reading the titles. He opened several, scanning the table of contents and flipping to pages to sample an author's sensibilities. Finally, he made his selection. This book, a seminal text in the field, bore the title, Pharmacology Among Non-Human Species of the Animal Kingdom, Seventh Edition.

written while listening to:  Trio 3 - Visiting Texture (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 282, 2017, Switzerland, cd,

October 3, 2018
Geophagia is a term for the practice of eating dirt. Scientists have speculated as to the physiological reasons that various birds, mammals and insects ingest soil. A common explanation that has not entirely held up to quantitative scrutiny suggests that the mineral content in dirt is used as a nutritional supplement, providing chemicals not otherwise present in the diet. Another explanation is that dirt provides roughage useful in the mechanical process of breaking down hard to digest plants. There is increasing evidence for a third argument, namely that the clays in soil function as a detoxifying agent. Plants contain natural pesticides, which can accumulate in the systems of the animals who eat them. Clays, which are indigestible, may bind toxins, transporting them out of the body. This explanation is used to justify why some pregnant animals increase their consumption of dirt; they are eating for two and expose themselves to twice the normal toxin level. Among human cultures, there can also be found traditions of pregnant mothers eating dirt, presumably for a similar reason.

Science also tells us that dirt can contain bacteria, parasites and other microorganisms. The idea that eating dirt can have a cleansing effect may seem counterintuitive, but we are able to temper this conundrum with the suggestion that the inanimate world bears us no more ill will than it does good, offering with one hand poison and the other an antidote. Navigating these choices requires not just good judgment but a healthy perspective, which allows us to recognize in the ambivalence of the inanimate an opportunity to guide and, on occasion, rescue each other.

written while listening to:  Marilyn Crispell & Gerry Hemingway - Affinities (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 177, 2011, Switzerland, cd,

October 4, 2018
There is a plethora of evidence that birds engage in purposeful pharmacology in order to provide healthier environments for their chicks. In an act of preventive care, fragments of green plants are woven with other materials in the construction of nests. The choice of plants is based on naturally occurring biochemical insecticides, which repel fleas, mites and other threats. Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) employ yarrow, hogweed, elder and white willow among others to create a nursery in which their young are less susceptible to the predation of bacteria and blood-sucking mites. Corsica blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus ogliastrae) prefer lavender, mint and aster. The fewer parasites present in the nests of Bonelli's eagles (Aquila fasciata) who use pine boughs result in a higher success rate for fledglings. In urban settings, the addition of cigarette butts by intrepid house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) effectively reduces parasites in their nests. Certainly humans from many cultures follow suit in taking advantage of the natural insect-repellent properties of plants, living and harvested.

To our knowledge, no systematic study of human mothers has been conducted to survey the rationale behind the hanging of sprigs of mint within the house or the placing of a vase of lavender blooms on the dining room table or the cultivation of aster in the flower beds guarding the entrance to the home. Still, there is no compelling reason to take this absence of data as an argument that human mothers are not secretly inviting the collaboration of the plant kingdom in support of their never-ending efforts to raise children well-suited to withstand the challenges of the world lurking outside their door.

written while listening to:  Misha Lobko Sextet - Rituals (Leo Records, LR 141, 1985, United Kingdom, lp,

October 5, 2018
It is well-documented that numerous species of animals ingest a variety of unpalatable plants, which possess no nutritional value of their own. Instead, the plants, often indigestible, travel through the gut, slowly releasing the natural pesticides with which nature has endowed them. These biochemicals prove effective in combating intestinal parasites. Primates, including chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, partake in this practice of self-medication, having learned it from their elders as part of their rearing.

Of the various habits observed in animals, pharmacognosy, or the use of plants for healing, bears the closest resemblance to the medicinal practices of humans, and well it should be so, since there are many instances, ancient and modern, of advancements in medicine, which can be traced to the careful observation of the variation in the eating habits of healthy and sick animals by shepherds, hunters and others who devote much of their attention to beasts, domestic and wild.

The great contrast between the practice of humans and animals is, of course, that animals know what they are doing. Humans, in contrast, are often the subject of deceptive marketing schemes by unscrupulous charlatans who promote wares with no palliative function. It falls, fortunately, to generations of mothers and daughters to see the truth in the care of their husbands and children. That their traditional recipes, many of which have yet to receive scientific endorsement, are not infallible is compensated for by the fact that their ministrations are guided by love.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Oneness, disc 1 (Leo Records, CD LR 823/824/825, 2018, United Kingdom, cdx3,

October 6, 2018
Salves and unguents represent another class of medicines, which are applied to a particular place on the body. A famous, but by no means unique, example of the topical application of a natural pharmaceutical by animals is known as anting and has been observed by humans in over two hundred species of birds. In anting, a bird grasps an ant in its bill and rubs it vigorously through its feathers. The type of ant is selected on the basis of its ability to secrete formic acid or another pungent fluid. Scientists hypothesize that this behavior is a form of defense against ectoparasites.

Of course, humans too apply a myriad of ointments, lotions and perfumes to their bodies to address afflictions of the skin. Some treatments possess a curative effect while others are merely cosmetic. Domesticated animals, who are present during the application of these balms wonder no less as to their purpose than do humans at the practice in other species, especially if the substance possesses menthol or another compound with a strong odor, as is the case with some anti-inflammatory ointments.

Among family members the mere tactile sensation of a mother's hands spreading the ointment onto the skin is thought to activate the release of neurochemicals, which either make the body more physiologically responsive to the treatment or lull the patient into a sense of being well-protected as a secondary, but non-negligible, boon.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Oneness, disc 2 (Leo Records, CD LR 823/824/825, 2018, United Kingdom, cdx3,

October 7, 2018
After committing the passages to memory, Hong Samud left the portable library. He immediately transcribed them. When the nightly meeting of the executive governing committee of the ICEML arrived, he read the excerpts to other members.

None among them had begun the endeavor of constructing a portrait of Iris, which bore any similarity to a photograph. Rather, each had understood that there would be an element of abstract representation in the portrait. Still, Hong Samud's passages gave them pause, for it was not immediately evident how his chosen excerpts contributed to the description of Iris.

Hong, for his part, chose not to defend his work, preferring instead to allow the work to stand on its own. He distributed the document so that the other members might read the words for themselves. Much of the remaining meeting passed in silence.

Poppy too did not defend the subject matter covered in the excerpt, though he found it perfectly fitting. He was in love with Iris. He saw in every wonderful phenomena of the natural world her reflection. Each peculiarity of the world reminded him of his wife because, though it may sound cliché to state it here, Iris was his whole world. Seen from this perspective, Poppy thought the subject of self-medication in the animal kingdom entirely appropriate to the task at hand. He also harbored a keen curiosity as to the nature of the text that Hong Samud would next investigate in his last remaining contribution.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Oneness, disc 3 (Leo Records, CD LR 823/824/825, 2018, United Kingdom, cdx3,

October 8, 2018
At home, Poppy was scolded by Iris for forgetting to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy while he was out. He obediently turned about, got back in the truck and drove the ten minutes to the store. Along the way, he thought nothing of his wife's reprimand. How could anyone be irritated with someone whose virtues were expressed so eloquently in the marvels of zoopharmacognosy? Indeed, he considered himself a singularly lucky husband because he imagined few men could confidently ask the same rhetorical question of their own wives.

When he returned home, his errand complete, he found a car parked on the street in front of the house. Sometimes, people pulled over for a moment to check their phones, but this vehicle was unoccupied. Upon closer inspection, the car bore a rental sticker. While his attention was thus diverted, he did not observe the man standing on his front porch. The knocking drew Poppy's wife to the door at the same time that Poppy approached from the yard.

Thus greeted on two sides by husband and wife the stranger somewhat abashedly introduced himself with a thick accent as a friend of Hebeloma. "My name is Lefteris. I've just arrived from Crete," he said, "to speak with Poppy Hortie."

written while listening to:  Caroline Kraabel with Annie Lewandowski & Susan Alcorn - In The Garden City / Giving Out, disc 1 (Mass Producers, CD02, 2009, United Kingdom, cdx2,

October 9, 2018
Sitting across the kitchen table, Lefteris explained to Poppy and Iris how he had come to cross the ocean in search of Poppy's aid. He was animated in his delivery, with abundant gesticulations and dramatic pauses. When their fifteen-year-old daughter, Sarah, stepped into the kitchen to get a glass of orange juice from the refrigerator, Lefteris paused and rose from his seat. He effusively complimented the girl's parents on such attributes as her posture and the curls in her hair, until the teenager embarrassedly left the room.

"While traveling through unlit catacombs of the minotaur," Lefteris said, "I have lost my heart to the charms of Hebeloma."

Iris nodded her head in sympathy. "I've never met her," she said, "but Poppy here,"--she nudged him somewhat gently in the ribs--"regularly comes home singing her praises to the high heavens."

Poppy frowned hoping to simultaneously proclaim his innocence and apologize.

"I'm glad that someone has fallen in love with Hebeloma," Iris continued in a tone of relief, "and that it wasn't Poppy."

Lefteris scrutinized Poppy, who was taller and heavier than he was, as a potential competitor for the hand of Hebeloma. He decided that it was fortunate that the man across the table was no longer in the running for her affections, because there was something undeniably likable about him.

"But why come here?" asked Poppy. "Hebeloma lives outside Turin. You've come a long way and I'm afraid that I won't be of much help."

Lefteris shook his head. "No," he argued. "That's where you are wrong. There are just five people in the world who can help me and you are the only one I could find."

written while listening to:  Caroline Kraabel with Annie Lewandowski & Susan Alcorn - In The Garden City / Giving Out, disc 2 (Mass Producers, CD02, 2009, United Kingdom, cdx2,

October 10, 2018
Once Lefteris revealed his belief that the way to Hebeloma's heart was through meta-living, Iris excused herself. "That's Poppy's area of expertise," she said with a good-natured roll of her eyes. "I do my best to know as little as possible about it."

Left alone, the two men continued the conversation. Lefteris explained that, to his knowledge, there were no greater authorities on meta-living than the members of the ICEML executive governing committee. In his extensive interaction with Hebeloma on her research into the ancient practices of cleromancy, her role as president of ICEML had come up several times. Lefteris had observed the deference with which Hebeloma spoke of the ICEML and the manner in which its philosophy guided her actions. From there it was short work, to find the composition of the executive governing committee online.

It proved a much more difficult task to determine the location of the members, so that Lefteris might consult with at least one of them in person. One member appeared to have died and had yet to be replaced. Another member lived at some ambiguously defined point on an island in southeast Asia. Yet another member appeared to live as a transient, traveling between North and South America. While there was a recent sighting of her on the Peruvian coast, again no definitive location was identified. That left only two Americans, one secluded in a hermitage in the Rocky Mountains and Poppy. While Lefteris felt a natural attachment to mountains, he was put off by Stuart's association with the American Catholic Atheist Party. He had not unraveled the contradiction. More importantly, Lefteris suspected that neither Catholicism nor Atheism would aid him in his courtship of Hebeloma.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp, William Parker & Bobby Kapp - Heptagon (Leo Records, CD LR 807, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

October 11, 2018
What Lefteris had not expected was to find that Poppy would prove so unhelpful to his cause. He could not conclude with confidence whether this was due to a deliberate reluctance to share the mysteries of meta-living or an unfortunate, inarticulate nature, which left Poppy unable to communicate knowledge which permeated his being.

"But how does meta-living work?" Lefteris asked for what seemed like the tenth time.

Poppy provided the best defense he could for his inutility. "I occupy the parent's seat on the executive committee. Parenting is a practical activity. Nobody parents by theory alone. If you want theoretical insight into meta-living, you should contact the librarian or the priest or maybe even the devil's advocate."

Lefteris slumped back in the kitchen chair. As a guide who often interacted with academicians, he understood the value of both field work and theory. Some philosophical insight into meta-living seemed essential to him if we were to succeed in exercising it in practice. "Poppy, you don't know anything about meta-living?" he asked in a resigned voice.

After an extended pause, Poppy leaned forward conspiratorially and whispered the following secret, which he had not previously shared with anyone. (In this document, we shall only state it once and not revisit it.) "I joined the ICEML because I don't understand. I don't understand anything, not even how to manage my own affairs properly. I have convinced five people who have never met my wife to create an homage to her because I am incapable of doing so. In a better world, I would have done it myself. Hopefully, this is the right thing to do. If you ask me what meta-living is, what can I say except that it's what I am doing right now? I don't know how else to put it. On a daily basis, it helps me feel like I haven't made a terrible mistake of my life or diminished the lives of those who depend on me."

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman, Nate Wooley, Brandon Lopez & Gerald Cleaver - Octagon (Leo Records, CD LR 810, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

October 12, 2018
Lefteris did not want to perceive meta-living in the same light as a Zen koan, a riddle impenetrable to the infiltration of logic. He did not want to be tasked with the contemplation of the balance between living and meta-living for a kalpa until he attained enlightment or expired in the attempt. He did not believe that path led to Hebeloma. Yet, he felt that Poppy's stubborn refusal to provide a straight answer was pushing him in this direction.

He had stayed at the Hortie's household for dinner. Both children had joined them. While Iris had cooked a spicy chicken dish she called dak galbi, he and Poppy had driven out to the liquor store for a bottle of wine to complement the meal. Afterward, perhaps feeling the effects of the wine, he had been tempted to accept Poppy's offer to stretch out on the couch for the night, but he had already reserved a hotel room nearby. So he bid them a warm farewell, not knowing if he would see them again.

At the hotel, with the muffled sound of the television in the adjacent room reverberating through the wall, Lefteris carefully reconsidered Poppy's words. Each notion, taken individually seemed plausible except one thought. He tried to imagine Poppy writing the fractured portrait on his own. He had claimed that in a better world, he would have been able to do it himself. Lefteris could not find truth in this statement. From his point of view, it seemed perfectly clear that, in the better world, he would have found others to help him. Since this is exactly what was happening, it implied that this very world was the better world. Perhaps that, thought Lefteris, growing sleepy, was the gist of meta-living.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp & Nate Wooley - Philosopher's Stone (Leo Records, CD LR 809, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

October 13, 2018
Conceding that he had learned all that Poppy had to offer, Lefteris rescheduled his return flight to leave in the evening. He explored the town on his own on Saturday. He had traveled to America once before, visiting cousins in New York, but this was his first foray into the infamous American south. He found the cultural differences between the few pedestrians on the otherwise deserted streets and the bustle of New York City no greater than that between Athens, with its midnight traffic jams, and the rural countryside beyond which lay the mine, where he had discovered a secret more precious than gold. Still, he felt like a foreigner and he wished for nothing more than to be guiding Hebeloma to a new archeological find--some chiseled pattern in such a poor state of repair that it resembled nothing so much as scratches, a treasure about which no one else in the world could possibly care.

Hebeloma would find in that rubble, a mythical wonder in which the divination of the future had been held. It occurred then to Lefteris that had the youths in the labyrinth successfully employed cleromancy to perceive the future of the chambers in which they were confined, they may very well have peered far ahead into this millennium, to discover the labyrinth all but lost and wandering within it two strangers, themselves not especially well anchored. If Periboea and her company had discovered this much, what else could they have known? The idea that his present situation had been foretold and forgotten disturbed Lefteris momentarily, but the more he considered it, the more he began to appreciate its appeal.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp & Joe Hertenstein - Scalene (Leo Records, CD LR 808, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

October 14, 2018
Hebeloma returned to the mine on her own. As she had departed from her last visit, whence Lefteris had declared his feelings for her, she had been careful to pay attention to the route that led to the unmarked entrances, just in case she needed to return without her guide.

Now, her need was not so much academic--for there was little that subsequent viewing of the same material could elucidate--as it was personal. Hebeloma felt called to revisit the site, though she could not identify exactly the purpose of the pining that drove her. She managed to locate the hidden crevice leading to the primary chamber, which was as far as she dared go. She was no spelunker and she acknowledged that she lacked the expertise to descend through the hole in the ground, which led to Lefteris' most recent find.

She experienced a surge of pride as she entered the chamber alone where the cleromantic pattern was chiseled on the stone ground. With one light on her helmet and a second in hand, she paced about the elliptical engraving several times, giving no thought to the shelves of bone surrounding her. Although she had previously photographed the inscriptions in detail, she did so again, as a sort of superfluous justification for the airfare, rental car and hotel. It was difficult given the two sources of directional and relatively modest illumination to get the camera to cooperate. She passed several hours while generating only a few acceptable images. Of course, her task would have been made easier had a second person, serving as a lighting assistant, been present.

When Hebeloma was done, she selected two stones. She cast them into the pattern. The first stone landed in the polygon associated with Andromache, daughter of Eurymedon, and the second, Menestheus of Sounion, whose lineage had been lost to time. From her pocket, Hebeloma withdrew the ancient coin and flipped it, completing the divination.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman, Matthew Shipp & Jeff Cosgrove - Live in Baltimore (Leo Records, CD LR 806, 2017, United Kingdom, cd,

October 15, 2018
Students of mythology will recognize Andromache as a drama penned by Euripides in the fifth century BC. The protagonist of that tragedy was the daughter of Eetion. One of the virgins offered to the minotaur bore the same name, though she was unrelated, a daughter to a man called Eurymedon. In the former case, it is understandable that a name meaning "man-battle" should be given to a woman treated by men as a spoil of war. In the case of the sacrificial victim, it is less clear what drove her parents to bestow this name upon her. She was destined to die before she knew the touch of any man; certainly the minotaur was a beast who could not be numbered among men.

Sounion is a promontory upon which rested the temple of Poseidon, overlooking the Aegean sea. Menestheus, born to parents of no historical account hailed from this more notable locale. He too was fated to meet his end at the hands of a monster.

Ordered fourth in the ceremonial parade, Menestheus and Andromache marched side by side. Paired only in a procession leading to their shared grave, they were unaware of each other's name. Once they were sealed in the darkness of the labyrinth, they did not immediately seek solace in each other's company, as many of their peers did. Perhaps their reticence sprang from reserved natures, a trait, which, under other circumstances, might be deemed a virtue. In this case, such diffidence only served to isolate them in their final hours. Each strayed from the group, wandering through circuitous passageways alone. Truly, theirs was a courtship consecrated by solitude, alienation and ultimately violence.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Live in Brussels, disc 1 (Leo Records, CD LR 804/805, 2017, United Kingdom, cdx2,

October 16, 2018
Andromache! Andromache! We see her as keenly as if she were our own daughter, stumbling in darkness, pursued by calamity. She approaches a fork in the tunnel. Although there is, ultimately, no way out of the caverns, one path leads to an abrupt dead-end, just around the corner. "Not that way!" we instinctively call out, though she is separated from us by miles and centuries and a barrier the imagination cannot scale. By chance, she chooses the other path, prolonging her terror.

When she tires, the immediacy of her fear subsides a bit. She pauses to catch her breath. The darkness here is no different than the darkness she just left but it feels safer; there are no echoes of footfalls nor any other sound.

In this respite, she wonders if she should have so hastily abandoned the company of the others, forsaking whatever safety in numbers there might have been. She recalls the young man who marched beside her and wonders if he too yet survives. Did he stay with the others? Did he lose his head and flee alone into relentless shadow as she had? She should have asked him his name. In this way, she could have personalized him in the solitary fantasy that plays out in her mind. Might they not, together, discover a sliver of light piercing a crack in the stone, which they might widen, creating a means of egress from the maze? Indeed, it is a fantasy of consolation, but it is upon such unlikely musings that many a bond is formed.

written while listening to:  Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp - Live in Brussels, disc 2 (Leo Records, CD LR 804/805, 2017, United Kingdom, cdx2,

October 17, 2018
The idea, seemingly sprung from the surrounding darkness, came to Andromache that she might elude the doom of the minotaur if she could find the young man before the beast found her. Once the thought occurred to her, it gave her focus and alleviated her fears to an extent by pushing them to the background. She framed her situation as a race. In that case, Andromache needed to quicken her pace. Heedless of the uncertain footing, she swiftly moved along passages. When she reached a juncture, she hastily chose a path, making no attempt to memorize her route. Even running around in circles seemed better than crouching in one place, waiting to be devoured.

She did not call out for the young man, not so much because she feared drawing the attention of the beast, but because she had never asked him his name. We can belatedly call out for her, "Menestheus! Menestheus!" but it does her no good, as her fate has long since been decided.

At one point, she thought that she heard a breathing around one corner of the labyrinth. Her first impulse was to quiet her own breath. Listening intently, she attempted to analyze the frequency and amplitude of the pattern, in order to determine the nature of the creature--man or beast--from whom the sound originated. The telltale signs allowing her to differentiate between the rhythm of salvation and doom should have been obvious. However, much to Andromache's dismay, she could not discern whether she listened to the breathing of the one who, unknown to her, was called Menestheus or the minotaur. She found this ambiguity absurd and attributed it to an intrinsic malevolence of the world at large.

written while listening to:  Masahiko Togashi - Three Masters (Next Wave, 25PJ-1006, 1980, Japan, lp,

October 18, 2018
Andromache crouched in the darkness, one thigh pressed against the cool, stone wall of the tunnel. As she focused on the sound of the regular drawing and releasing of breath, it began to grow louder. At first, she feared that the increase in volume was due to the approach of the source of the breathing. However, the intensity continued to rise until the source must surely be upon her, but nothing appeared. She then suspected that her mind was playing tricks on her, amplifying the sound strictly as a result of her attention to it. Of course, casting fear from her mind was out of the question; her fate was inextricably caught up with that of the breather. Still, she could not discern what should have been unmistakable, whether it was man or beast.

Her mind ventured further into the impossible. Perhaps both man and beast huddled together, hidden by the darkness, plotting how to split the prize, Andromache, a spoil of war as her namesake implied. But there was only one rhythm to the breathing. A single being contemplated her fate.

Perhaps, this being was both man and beast contained within the same body. The processional to the labyrinth, in which young men and maidens were paired side by side, had served as a formal courtship, binding the two. No less had the sealing of the stone entrance bound Andromache to the minotaur, representing a second courtship, indivisible from the first if not wholly indistinguishable. In this observation, Andromache sensed the truth. She was bound equally to man and beast for they were the same entity. It fell to her to preferentially tease the actions and emotions of the man from the amalgam, while offering no provocation to the beast, so that he might dwell silently within her husband.

written while listening to:  Evan Parker - Zanzou (Jazz & Now, 1, 1983, Japan, lp,

October 19, 2018
Eventually, what initially seemed inconceivable, that a beast lurked within her husband, ceased to provide any astonishment whatsoever. That she had ever thought otherwise seemed difficult to understand. Man and beast were one and the same; doom and salvation mirror images of the other. Hers was a courtship to the minotaur. In fact, she extrapolated that this was the substance of all courtships. Within each man lurked a temper. Each beast a proposition to be soothed with gentle words and caresses. Andromache came to realize that she had marched into the labyrinth with the minotaur beside her, though she had not recognized it at the time. Eventually, she came also to affirm an even more unlikely postulate: despite being paired, ostensibly at random, with her partner in the procession, she had exercised free will in the selection of a mate. Indeed, she had chosen the minotaur and, when a life predicated on this choice lay behind her, she could be heard to insist that she would have had it no other way.

written while listening to:  John Escreet - The Unknown (Sunnyside Communications, SSC 1473, 2016, United States, cd,

October 20, 2018
Hebeloma left the divination chamber with the myth of Andromache and Menestheus revealed to her and stored safely, if impermanently, on the hard-drive of her laptop. She stayed for a night at a hotel outside the Heraklion airport before returning home on the following morning. She distributed the passage to the other members of the executive governing committee of the ICEML, an act which was itself a kind of preservation through propagation of copies. Although none of the electronic devices upon which the passage was stored could be expected to last a decade, the duplication of the information meant that the likelihood of the words escaping to other platforms, from which they could migrate forward in time, increased.

She was not especially pleased with the fruit of her first solitary venture into the mine. Nor had she particularly relished being alone in the dark, discovering that she had preferred the experience in Lefteris' company. Still, she had intentionally sought to enter without him, at least once. Having accomplished this task she felt that she need not repeat it. She had produced a work, which one might reasonably claim could only have been achieved through precisely this sort of solitary expedition.

written while listening to:  Pascal Niggenkemper Trio - Pasàpas (Konnex Records, KCD 5214, 2008, Germany, cd,

October 21, 2018
It was at the meeting in which Hebeloma read her penultimate contribution to A Fractured Portrait of Iris that Poppy first betrayed her trust. Although Lefteris had extracted no oath from him, Poppy could not bring himself to speak of the Cretan's visit. In truth, he harbored no ill-intention. To the contrary, Poppy waited for Hebeloma to mention her guide's name, so that he might have an opportunity to say something along the lines of, "Funny you should mention Lefteris. You'll never guess who traveled halfway around the world and showed up unannounced at my doorstep." Predictably, such a favorable opening never presented itself and Poppy was unable to broach the subject. Instead, Hebeloma droned on and on about the comingling of man and beast as represented in the juxtaposition of Menestheus and the minotaur. So absorbed with his own thoughts was Poppy that it did not register with him until after the meeting had adjourned that Hebeloma's ambivalent portrayal of Menestheus could be interpreted as reflecting poorly upon himself. After all, the members of the committee were creating a portrait of his wife. When they described her husband, they could be speaking of no one else but him. Certainly, Poppy was disinclined to think of himself in bestial terms. When he dwelt overlong on his short-comings, he tended to focus on his susceptibility to melancholia or existential inutility or the dangerous extent of his self-medication through alcohol, rather than a volatile temperament. Alas, it caused Poppy no small distress to have the defects of his character so poorly understood.

written while listening to:  Barre Phillips - End To End (ECM Records, ECM 2575, 2018, Germany, lp,

October 22, 2018
The occupant of the so-called priest's chair on the executive governing committee of the ICEML also happened to lead the American Catholic Atheist Party. In these dual roles, Stuart had explored a variety of philosophical sources concerning transparency and the value of having one's flaws well publicized. One important perspective on the subject was presented by Confucius and recorded in The Analects.

The Master said, "Do you think, my disciples, that I have any concealments? I conceal nothing from you. There is nothing which I do that is not shown to you, my disciples; that is my way."

Wu-ma Ch'i reported these remarks, and the Master said, "I am fortunate! If I have any errors, people are sure to know them." *

Although no words were exchanged on the subject, Stuart sensed in the meeting the discomfort of Poppy. Through a combination of observation and mental deduction, Stuart arrived at the conclusion that Poppy held a secret and was disturbed by its keeping. After the meeting, he sent an email containing this message.

That someone had pierced his dilemma, even if it had been two and a half millennia earlier, brought Poppy a certain degree of peace of mind. Despite not having yet resolved a course of action, Poppy sent Stuart a thank-you note.

*Confucius (551-479 BC), The Analects, Section 2, Part 7, translated by James Legge, 1861, full text: The Internet Classics Archive.

written while listening to:  Bobby Naughton, Leo Smith & Perry Robinson - The Haunt (NoBusiness Records, NBCD 105, 2018 (originally recorded 1976), Lithuania, cd,

October 23, 2018
With autumn upon them, Stuart, Equinox and the dogs watched the moisture from their breath condense in the chill of the early morning air. Through this fog, a figure appeared on the horizon. He approached them at a measured pace. Stuart put out breakfast for the horse and completed several other daily chores before the man finally arrived within shouting distance. Even then, he did not shout as he ambled up the drive. The dogs greeted him energetically and he accommodated their frenzy good-naturedly.

The man introduced himself as Gangulphus. Unlike many saints, he was not garbed in the robes of an aesthete. On the contrary, he donned a rather sporting pair of gray hose, a long shirt with a skirt, a rose poncho and ankle-high leather boots, no less fashionable today than they were when he died in 760 A.D. However, the most extraordinary aspect of his appearance was his coiffure and beard. Despite a receding hair-line, Gangulphus managed a short, auburn bob, which was dwarfed by a prodigious beard with a natural cleft, separating into two pendulous bulbs of bushy hair.

"Amazing beard," said Stuart, after introductions had been completed.

Despite his studies of the Christian pantheon, Stuart was not familiar with Saint Gangulphus of Burgundy. "Before we pray together," he invited the saint, "Tell me a little bit about yourself."

written while listening to:  VWCR: Ken Vandermark, Nate Wooley, Sylvie Courvoisier & Tom Rainey - Noise of our Time (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 310, 2018, Switzerland, cd,

October 24, 2018
Of modest disposition, Saint Gangulphus made no fanfare in the retelling of the story of his life and death. He related events in a matter-of-fact tone as if he were an objective biographer or, perhaps, a disinterested student tasked with writing an essay on an unpalatable subject.

"I was born to a family of landed gentry in Burgundy during a tumultuous time in which what would later be known as the Merovingian dynasty (428-751 A.D.) gave way to the Carolingian dynasty (751-987 A.D.). Mine was a cautious family, acknowledging that the great wealth we possessed was not beyond loss through mismanagement or political miscalculation. By the grace of God, it was my good fortune to be born to parents who raised me to exhibit virtue, to be educated so that I might benefit from the reading of sacred works and to be inclined to avoid the company of libertines, where I might have been tempted by dissipation and depravity.

"When I inherited the estate, I provided lands to the church and I ordered my stewards to ensure that the poor who depended upon my good will were cared for in a manner consistent with the instruction of Our Savior Come to Earth, as relayed in the Gospel.

"Alas, what infamy I now have, is not due to these good deeds but to a single error. As it is written in my legend, 'When it came time to marry, Gangulphus chose a woman who did not share his virtues.'"

written while listening to:  Ingrid Laubrock - Who is it? (Candid, CCD 79745, 1999, United Kingdom, cd,

October 25, 2018
It is difficult to ignore the patriarchal conditions of the time in which Gangulphus lived, when one earnestly attempts to understand the causes at the root of his marital unhappiness. To say only that his wife "did not share his virtues" is to omit the fact that she also did not share in the privileges of men in general and particularly of noblemen such as her husband. When he traveled with friends, he left his wife a virtual prisoner within their manor. Can we suppose without reprobation that a husband who neglects his wife increases the probability that she seeks comforts from another? To be fair, such a statement could also be made with the gender of the roles reversed. Regardless, Gangulphus greatly enjoyed his excursions through-out France. On one occasion, as he returned to Burgundy through the region of Bassigny, he purchased a property, over the objections of his traveling companions, based solely upon a stone fountain that resided on the premises. Gangulphus owned many lands and this particular lot of field and forest would be of no historical account except that it led to the only miracle associated with Gangulphus during his lifetime. (Those documented miracles used to buttress his case for canonization were based on posthumously directed prayers.)

Upon his arrival home, a trusted servant conveyed to the master of the house that the mistress had in his absence committed adultery with a local priest. Although she protested her innocence, he relied upon the Lord to reveal the truth of the matter. He plunged a stick into the soil, from which emerged a flowing fountain, identical in all respects to the one on the recently acquired property. Although the water was cool to his touch, when he forced his wife to insert her hand into the stream, she was scalded as if by boiling water. Thus was her guilt established beyond the shadow of mortal doubt.

written while listening to:  Ingrid Laubrock, Miya Masaoka, Dan Peck, Sam Pluta, Tyshawn Sorey, Craig Taborn & Peter Evans - Serpentines (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 272, 2016, Switzerland, cd,

October 26, 2018
In the legend of Saint Gangulphus, his choice of punishment is attributed to his leniency. The priest was re-assigned to a distant parish. His wife was confined to the country manor, never again to know her husband's touch. Gangulphus himself retired to his castle at Avallon, where he dedicated himself to charitable works.

As the saint related this tale to Stuart and his companions, his expression had fallen as he described the scene of his wife's judgment. He seemed reluctant to accept any credit for the so-called leniency for which he was lauded.

Stuart could well understand the saint's sentiment. The miracle he recounted was a strictly a miracle of pain, a phenomena which is routinely accomplished without the need for divine intervention. The two men stood together and privately imagined alternate miracles preferable to their thinking.

"Perhaps the water could have indicated her guilt without inflicting pain," said Stuart. "Maybe it could have changed color to a blood red."

"Yes," Gangulphus nodded. "That would have proven no less decisive." He paused before adding, "Although, over the years, I have entertained a more outlandish possibility."

Stuart waited for the saint to share what seemed a weighty secret.

"I have come to think a greater good could have been accomplished if I had stuck my hand into the miraculous fountain, whether it burned me or changed color or acquired the particular flavor of my regret and shame. Then I should have sentenced my wayward wife to drink from the fountain so that she could taste and better experience all that I could not openly say to her. That," concluded Saint Gangulphus, "would have been quite the miracle!"

written while listening to:  Ingrid Laubrock Octet - Zürich Concert (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 221, 2014, Switzerland, cd,

October 27, 2018
"It seems," said Gangulphus, continuing his tale, "that no one was especially happy with their fates, for Gisela--that was my wife's name--soon conspired to send a message to her lover, calling him back to Burgundy. Together, they plotted my end. The priest, whose name I shall not reveal, stole into the castle during the third watch, murdering the doorman in his quest for stealth. He found me sleeping in my chambers. My end should have come in that moment but a cry roused me for the lifeless body at the castle's gate had been discovered.

"Thus the knife that been poised to slit my throat did not strike true. In the struggle that followed, the priest--I saw his face clearly in the moonlight--stabbed me deeply in the thigh. Fearing capture, he fled before his deed was accomplished. I believe my wife must have shared with him the secret egress from the castle, for the villain was not apprehended that night.

"He returned to Gisela and, together, they fled the country. I saw no reason to pursue them, as I desired nothing more than to be quit of them. That my wife should find in another a happiness I had been unable to provide seemed acceptable to me. However, my biographer saw fit to insert some measure of justice in my lay, recording that they both died not long after their departure, from one of the various illnesses that stalked the continent in medieval times.

"As for myself, despite the ministrations of a talented physician, the wound became infected. I lingered nearly a fortnight. When my death was imminent, the King of the Franks, Pépin le Bref, sent the bishop to bless me before ushering my soul into the everlasting company of our Savior and Lord."

written while listening to:  Ingrid Laubrock - Anti-House (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 173, 2010, Switzerland, cd,

October 28, 2018
Once Saint Gangulphus had finished his biography, Stuart put to the venerable man a question, which he felt to be natural. "Coming as you do from the hereafter, you must possess knowledge beyond the bounds of those of us who yet dwell in the realm of the living. You may know the ultimate disposition of justice regarding those who have come before..."

Gangulphus raised an eyebrow, as if already skeptical of his ability to satisfy Stuart's forthcoming request.

Despite the warning, Stuart proceeded. "Consider your wife, Gisela. Is she numbered among the heavenly host or the ranks of the damned?"

The saint appeared to take a deep breath, though he was incorporeal and had no physiological need to replenish cells with oxygen. "You know, Stuart," he said, "that I am not at liberty to answer such a question. It is not my role to provide certainty in matters which otherwise provide an opportunity for the exercise of faith."

"I thought as much," said Stuart, unable to entirely keep the disappointment from his voice. "So," he added, hesitantly, "the fate of my father is also off limits?"

The saint nodded firmly; on this matter he could show no leniency.

Stuart again was disappointed, for he sometimes dreamt that his father, long dead, lay beneath a cairn of stones along a hot road in a hellish wasteland. He further dreamt that the only way to contact him was to spill his own blood upon the cairn, allowing it to trickle through the gaps between the stones until it settled upon the eyes of his father. "Oh well," said Stuart, pushing aside the digression. "No matter."

He took a genuine deep breath. "I suppose you know why I have called you here?"

"I do," said the saint.

"To pray for a married couple, Poppy and Iris," Stuart confirmed.

"Yes," agreed the saint. "All this was made clear to me long ago, when I was first recognized as the patron saint of difficult marriages."

written while listening to:  Ingrid Laubrock, Liam Noble & Tom Rainey: Sleepthief - The Madness of Crowds (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 189, 2011, Switzerland, cd,

October 29, 2018
Lord, each of us knows the admonition,
"Thou shalt not kill."
It's a commandment not all that hard
to obey in every-day life. It takes
a series of unusually poor choices
or a singular, tragic event to arrive
at an instant in time when obedience
to the rule becomes apropos. Too often,
in the moment of relevance, the mind
is awhirl in a tide of neurochemicals,
directing the body to focus its resources
in directions other than the measured
consideration of right and wrong.

Besieged by the less extraordinary,
daily tribulations of married life,
we are not provoked to contemplate
murder, only irritation, befuddlement,
exhaustion, frustration, resignation
and a host of minor ills too insignificant
to enumerate. Thus, Lord, to make
the best use of your time, we pray
for those couples who figuratively
murder each other just a little bit at a time.

For the wife, subject to the ill-timed
combination of lack of sleep
and a disturbing dream, which rouses
her in the night and prompts her
to rebuke the well-intended query
of her husband, we pray that
the parcel of tenderness extinguished
in that dark moment be preserved
in an other-worldly repository,
so that it may later be resurrected
and applied to mend the temporal
damage done to their imperfect union.

written while listening to:  Tom Rainey Trio with Ingrid Laubrock & Mary Halvorson - Hotel Grief (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 256, 2015, Switzerland, cd,

October 30, 2018
Resurrect, too, the fond memory
murdered when the husband,
amnesiac in a fit of blind rage,
forgets every kindness shown
in the decades separating the couple
from the day in which they vowed
to persist in their union in good
times and in bad, hoping, of course,
when the final tally is rendered,
to have erred on the side of good.

Lord, let all these moments
and recollections, which have
succumbed, in times of doubt,
weakness or poor judgment,
to strangulation, dismemberment,
drowning, immolation, exposure,
and the bluntest of traumas,
be reunited in a second life,
in a world to come, where they
recreate the husband and wife
from whom they were severed.

O Lord, let this pantomime
of tenderness replace the real thing.
When the children of this couple
have children of their own and recall
the memory of their parents to them,
let the words portray a gentle fantasy,
which existed and didn't exist,
simultaneously, a contradictory
ambiguity capable of describing
this dynamic phenomenon that we
have come to know as our marriage.

written while listening to:  Stephan Crump, Ingrid Laubrock & Cory Smythe - Planktonic Finale (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 285, 2017, Switzerland, cd,

October 31, 2018
On the eve of All Saints' Day, Stuart bade Gangulphus farewell. "I would not have written the prayer this way without your intercession," he said to the saint.

The saint nodded, accepting the compliment with a characteristic humility. "It's all part of the job."

"It sounds like a pretty sweet gig," Stuart admitted with a hint of envy.

The saint nodded again. He did not say the words that Stuart was hoping to hear, so Stuart was forced to speak for himself. "Do you think that there can be a patron saint of the American Catholic Atheist Party?"

Where Stuart's previous visitors had shied away from a topic that seemed to invite heterodoxy if not to constitute heresy, Gangulphus threw caution to the wind. He faced Stuart head-on and, making the Sign of the Cross. blessed him. In answer to Stuart's question, he replied confidently, "You already are."

For those who find this exchange to border on the sacrilegious, one need only remind oneself that Saint Gangulphus had, over time, come to the conclusion, embraced by many believers who opt for an outlook on life with an emphasis on mercy, that a body could never fall so far that they lay beyond the reach of the Lord's grace.

written while listening to:  Ingrid Laubrock: Anti-House - Strong Place (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 208, 2013, Switzerland, cd,

previous month

next month

This work is made available to the public, free of charge and on an anonymous basis. However, copyright remains with the author. Reproduction and distribution without the publisher's consent is prohibited. Links to the work should be made to the main page of the novel.