THOLOS OF ATHENA

Saturday, October 01, 2005

DIARY OF A RAG AND BONE MAN

(THE CONTINUING SAGA OF A HOMELESS MAN AND HIS DOG)

By Jack Rafter

QUIET NIGHTS

It’s been a hot summer in old Sherwood Forest, but the wind and the rain are coming, spillover from the hurricane, so I guess we’re in for it. Hope no logs fall on our heads. Vincent doesn’t mind rain so much, but he tends to take thunder and lightning kind of personal. Well, I told him we’re still better off than a lot of those refugees pouring out of Orleans. At least I’ve already been through losing my home, although it wasn’t exactly a natural disaster that took it. No, it was just a guy in a three-piece suit. But we do have a nice tent, after all.

Now, New Orleans is flooded again, from the latest hurricane. I went over to Johnny Blair’s café the other night and watched the evacuation out of Houston. It looked like a richer grade of people coming out of there, than the ones that got left in New Orleans. Now, the vultures are swarming to the sunny South—-the speculators, the developers, buying up cheap flood land, carving it up. Halliburton is there, too, just like they are in Iraq. The president has suspended a law that would have allowed laborers to be paid $10.40 an hour. Now, contractors are free to hire workers at poverty wages. Business as usual.

* * * *

Sure looks like the world is going to hell. I wonder how many times, in how many places someone has repeated that line—“the world is going to hell”? I wouldn’t know, but I bet it’s a lot. And I suppose people have said it in every age, and every language, as far back as you could go. “The world is going to hell.”

Most summer nights, Vincent and I sleep outside the tent, trying to stay cool. We listen to the groaning of trains in the freight yard, and if the moon’s out, we lie awake watching it. Or at least, I do.

And whenever I watch the moon, it seems like I always think about the same thing: how long it’s been up there; since the beginning of time, since the first stirring of life, the earliest sign of human beings, the moon has been there, a constant companion through every age and epoch of history. And sure, the stars have been there, too, just as constant. But the moon is so close. Our neighbor. The one thing that everyone on earth clear back to the beginning has seen or at least was aware of.

Think of all the people who have paused somewhere in their journey and looked up at the moon. They may have been crossing a desert or an ocean or making their way across the Great Plains. They were ancient Celts or Egyptians. They were Mayan or Aztec or Roman. They were Australian aborigines or they were Sioux Indians. And they all wondered about the moon. They all made up stories about it. And some of them made romance in the presence of its mystic light.

And I suppose, almost without exception, every soldier that ever lived and died, who has been in any war since the first stone axe was thrown, has looked up in the quiet aftermath of fighting and beheld the moon, if only a sliver of silver in the night sky, and thought: What am I doing here?” And “Why are we doing this?” How could they do otherwise in the presence of the moon—an oracle of calm and peace?

I’m thinking now of a battle I read about in some book—about the Civil War. I can’t remember which battle or where it was. But for several hours the battle had raged in a tangle of woods and briars and brush. The sound was terrible—trees ripped apart by shot and shell, along with humans and horses. The woods filled with nightmarish screams. Finally, as darkness came on, the shooting died out, leaving only the sound of men—boys really, always boys—moaning in their pain, crying out for water or food or for their mothers. And as the smoke lifted, and the moon’s light filtered down through splintered branches, a lone voice rose from the darkness—no one knows from which side. But someone began to sing. It was a song no doubt everyone in those woods recognized, no matter which side they were on. The Doxology. And so this anonymous boy began to sing in a clear voice:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow. . . .”

And as he sang, in that moment, other voices joined in, here and there, hunkered down in the thickets and briars, till almost all the soldiers on both sides were singing:

“Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

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