Unquenchable Fire


“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.”  Mark 9:43

     Erich Klinger fought on the Eastern Front and paid his dues, earning himself an Iron Cross First Class and a Black Badge for the Wounded.  Note the chin, the lower lip: he rarely spoke.  He insisted that he adored the scurrying creatures of the Black Forest as well as the sublime complexity of tornadoes or labyrinths.  Do not be fooled.  I have yet to understand his role in the surgeries: whether he himself injected twins in the eyeballs with methylene blue, extracted their hearts without anesthesia, opened their rib-cages like a cabinet and took the whole organ out entire as if it were sacred like the heart of the Savior.  I asked him about the 5th SS Panzergrenadier Division, how he got promoted to the rank of SS-Haupsturmführer, yet he would not tell me.  All we have of his past is this photograph.  Clad in black from hat to boot, with three pips and two lightning bolts on the unit insignia on his collar, he looks like a Prussian king.

     That first day, one of our nurses checked his vital signs: his pulse was normal, his blood pressure was normal.  They injected a truth-telling serum in his neck, only to discover that he would not reveal to us what had brought him such an odd and awesome power.  For you know his hand has the power to give pleasure, the power to heal.  Do not touch him, I say!  Do not be seduced!  It isn’t an issue as to why he hides his hand in the glove.  He has to eclipse its power, control it; he has to stop himself from babbling about Ultima Thule, capital of ancient Hyperborea, a lost ancient landmass near Greenland or Iceland comparable to the mythic Atlantis.


     It is my memory of Klinger, sitting on a crate before a metal table with a blanket around his shoulders, under the soft light of a dangling bulb, that brings me back to Berlin.  Sweat wiggled down his temples.  I paced back and forth in my boots, stopped, set my rucksack onto the ground, snatched up a rotten apple that had almost rolled away from the others, then held it up in front of him.  “What did you do to the girl?” I said.  Klinger said nothing.  “You’re as silent as you are sick, Kraut!  What did you do to the girl?  She’s hysterical.”  His left hand, at the edge of his glove, emanated the color of lava.  I saw how he massaged his gloved wrist with an opposite hand, as if he were insinuating that he was hurt.  He smirked, so I got up in his face.  “Do you realize what they’re going to do with you?  Explain how you got this power, you son-of-a-bitch!”  Puffing on a Lucky Strike, I glared at him for a moment, saw him staring at the ground despondently, grew frustrated, turned around, marched to the entrance of the tent, parted it open, then peeked outside: women were shoveling rubble off the streets, flinging gravel onto heaps.  Was the war really over?  I drew a deep breath.  Lime trees swayed, riddled with bullet holes.  Pulverized concrete flittered in the air like pollen.  Skinny corpses, like lumber in wheel barrows, turned the city into a desolate lot while white sheets hung down from apartment windows and Soviet troops were marshalling P.O.W’s through the streets to their camps.  It was the second Thursday in May.  To be honest, I felt invincible.

     “Sixteen years old,” I said in German.

     “Yes, it is true,” said Klinger.  “And a Jew!”

     “Did you free her from the experiments?  Is that why she is defending you?”

     “I cannot say.  I am no longer a son of the Fatherland.  I am an angel!”   Klinger rocked forward, backward, nervously.  He then eyed me with hatred.  “And you!  You have oversimplified things!”  He scooted up in the chair.  “I inflicted no harm to the girl!  I barely knew her, had just met her.  I fed her.  I helped her as a best as I could.  I took pity on her, even though I needed to run.  I told her I would only do it if she wanted me to do it!  Yet she kept asking for more and I don’t know why—because she was a Jew.”

     I had already confiscated his Walther P38, though the weapon did not glow like his hand did, nor did it seem like such a threat.  On and on, he kept babbling about the Hotel Vierjahreszeiten, telling me how the Munich Observer became the People’s Observer.  I did not understand his words; they were strange, banal, both.  I gave him an abendbrot consisting of whole grain bread, deli meats and sausages, cheese and a cold drink.  I was trying to butter him up, though knew it would only be a matter of time before I would beat him.  It was apparent to me he had beaten the Jewess, judging by the blood that soaked her skirt.  Hovering over her, perhaps, he felt disgusted with himself—though he did not relent and took off his leather glove and smacked the Jewess, only to discover her strange reaction, holding her cheek, looking at him, was not one of alarm, but of pleasure.

     Why was I assigned to this interrogation?  I had been conscripted to the 42nd Division and had a wife and two boys back home in Minnesota!  Now the war was over.  There was no doubt about it: this was not about Himmler’s vision of biological perfection, nor about the fall of the Third Reich, but about icy blue-eyed Erich Klinger who—as a forgotten rarity born from the conjurations of the Thule Society—saved one Jewish life while buried under a haystack, spooning sixteen-year-old Sonya Cohen, who telepathically begged him for mercy, right before Allied forces broke into the barn and discovered the lovers.


     I did not know what to make of our coordinates (were we lost?): Röhrmoos to the north, Schwabhausen to the northwest, Hebertshausen to the northeast, Bergkirchen to the west, Karlsfeld to the south.  A day before we were moving down along the west side of the camp.  Two SS officers and a Swiss Red Cross nurse who spoke English talked to our commanding officer in front of the camp.  I did not know what they were saying, though later discovered that the SS knew we were coming, so they already prepared the camp for our occupation.  And then, escorted by an American G.I., a man, clad in an old, grimy German soldier’s uniform, and a girl appeared in our midst.  The girl had her arm around the German’s neck and he seemed to be almost dragging her.  I caught sight of her shapely pale legs and thought about my wife: how she would apply lotion to her legs at night right before she would crawl into our bed with me.  “Get down!  Surrender your weapon!”  I was stupefied.  It was Sonya Cohen who was standing in front of him and his body, as if she were willing to be shot in the chest in his place, yet the prospects of that being true were so horrifying that I was nearly immobile.  I looked up at a clear blue sky that did not take pity on the causalities of this war.  I hated the war and wished I hadn’t gone, though another part of me wished to see Europe and rid the world of fascist son-of-bitches like Erich Klinger, who did not think he was evil, though that was evil, at least in my eyes and in the eyes of my men. “Bitte!”  Sonya cried.  “Bitte!”  I had to separate the two of them: Sonya clung to Erich as best as she could, clawing at his shirt collar, her fingertips missing their mark to curl around it, as sweating Erich, hair-matted and glassy-eyed was shocked, it seemed, to find Americans and not Russians in Dachau.

     We then saw what the hand could do.  As my men tried to separate them, Sonya ran towards us, then looked back at Erich Klinger, who extended his hand at her, and she ran back towards him, towards it; and, he clasped her hand in his grip and she fell to the ground, on her knees.  Seconds later, I saw her lying on her back, weeping, convulsing, having what I thought was a seizure.  But it was not.  One by one, we realized she was writhing, not with pain, but with pleasure.  She was panting, glowing.  Looking down at her, we had never seen anything like it.  Amongst my men, there were tears.

     Even after the incident, after we separated them, before the interrogation, still, the mystery remained:  what was the true nature of the hand?  Was Klinger possessed by demons?  Did he make a pact with the Devil?  Was he some freak with a weakness for the plight of the weak?  I could not be sure, though it was true: he cooperated and did everything we told him.  Smirking, he got on his knees, with his hands behind his head, in unconditional surrender.  Something was pure or something was rotten.  It was the way in which Sonya Cohen was pining, how she was looking at him from afar, held in a bear-hug by an American soldier who kept trying to get her to stop kicking and screaming.  “Let him go!  Klinger!  Erich Klinger!” she cried, falling onto the dirt, then resting on her tangled legs.  It was the dirt smudge on the side of her face, the crusted blood on her kneecaps, her ripped stockings, coupled with the mewling that night, that haunts me even to this day; for the ability to see proved to be difficult, yet I saw.  Visibility was shorn to night vision in the mind’s eye.  I saw she had a broken tooth, or a gap between her front teeth.  I wanted to know what happened on their flight that long night, through war-torn Germany, from shack to shack and shrub to shrub, from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Dachau.

     “What is your name?!”  I asked him simple questions in German.  “Regiment?!”
No answer.  Nothing.

     For all I knew, he had done unspeakable things to her, had parted her thighs, in that barn, where we found them, where the light was low and cows were chewing their cud in the stalls and stamping their hooves on the straw-spindled floor.  I could almost see Erich Klinger approaching his female prisoner.  She would not relent.  She would sit on a cube of straw and cover her face with her cupped hands, in shame.  And she, red-faced, would then take him by his forearm and bring his hand to her neck, so he could choke her to death because she thought she wanted to die, to be swept off this mortal coil.  The life that had been given to her had been wilting ever since the SS killed her papa and mama, her two sisters and her only brother, every since she escaped and scrambled into the brush and ran through the darkness like a scurrying creature that needed to live.

     Yet that is not what happened.  There was a child involved.  She was pregnant with a babe, and in middle-class regalia, had her skirt hiked up to her thighs, so that she was partially denuded.  A bouillon of dripping mucous galvanized Klinger’s senses: he heard her footfall; the first sight of her was when her water broke while she stood there waste-length amidst the underbrush.  Their eyes met.  He was bushed; he wished to rest in the arms of Morpheus, yet even more he was roused to find her in that clearing in the forest, for he had run away from the camp where they were doing the surgeries and he did not want to uphold the racial purity laws anymore, and only the primary doctor knew that he had an enchanted, cadaverous hand, plum-colored, which he could extend at a stranger.  He felt inadequate in the situation with the orphan Sonya, and had no food, yet could almost see the Robin’s egg blue place-mats on the kitchen table back at the camp.  The veal cutlets.  The long grain rice.  The fricaseeded beef and potatoes.

     Suddenly it occurred to me that Klinger had not only hypnotized me, but had been speaking to me telepathically.  His life unfurled in my mind’s eye like a negative film reel; it was as if a magnetic beam linked up his frontal and occipital lobe to my own; I could see everything.  He did not want to be a zealot for science.  He wanted the Weimar Republic back.  He thought how about he walked the streets of Berlin when he was still in university and the bar he frequented and the leatherette he sat in when he was dating a girl whose name he could not remember.  He was jostled by some drunk patrons, who wished to sit where he was sitting with his girl.  Back then he did not know what to do.  He had no fight in him.  And what could he do?  Petition?  Make supplications?  What he needed was a goal, a target.  Surely, he could sup with the girl, crave her in silence, covet her flesh, then in a bout of seduction, take her to the pension where he lived, bring her to the bed and say sweet things into her ears, dance with her on the creaky wooden boards in the center of the room, look her into the eyes, and outfox her with roaming fingers, make her yield, latch into her sights, seize her mind, her flesh, move aside the knickers, knead her lipids, her nards.  I can see the girl sporting a Pysche knot, then the ribbon removed.  She would be tousled, hewn, full-mouthed, glorious.  He would pet her.  Jissom would bubble up from his body; he would mount her, swive, defile her.  I considered his volitional and mental activities, whether he felt virile or weak after sleeping for fourteen hours after he brought the girl to the heights of pleasure, if there were positive psycho-physiological changes in his attention, memory, and thinking.  I was inside his mind; he could tell me no lies.  I thought every thought that he was thinking, felt everything he was feeling save what it was like to have the hand of vitality.

     He, at first, could not believe the skin-grafted hand could give pleasure.  He was not born that way.  With thick, curled fingers like the fronds of an aloe plant, behind the glass dome, on some table, as some oddity, it once waited for a recipient.  The hand could and would not rot; it was thought that its creation was the first step in achieving immortality. And then Klinger received it one day after he returned from having evening bread with his cousin who, judging from the diabolical look in his eyes, was in on the conspiracy.  Naturally, or perhaps, preternaturally, there was a scandal in the Department of Racial Hygeine on account of Klinger.  They saw he could be a walking, breathing dispenser of supernatural anesthesia.  Having received the rank of Haupsturmführer (captain), he did little else save see what the hand could do.

     For sure, it could bring life back to where cells had died; it rejuvenated them; and, if it wasn’t because of the stem cells sequences that were acquired through biopsies of fetal tissue during the experimental phase, then there would be reason to believe the whole thing was a matter of fueling the withering body.  Erich, proud, aloof, and however brilliant he was in his medical studies in the past, could only make sense of his gift and its propensity for the affirmation of life by gloving it with leather.  They initially found a way to attach it to him, employing a mechanical engineer, Jürgen Kanst, to construct a machine wrist for him, a metal hinge that was a platform for the attaching of the hand.  In short, he had his God-given hand surgically severed, so he could attach to himself the five-fingered reality of the strange experiment.

      He wielded the hand:  he resurrected small, dead animals with it, and before long learned of its power over human sexuality.  Whenever he touched a girl after bringing her to his room at the pension, she would orgasm—not of the stripe that imploded within the center of the cerebral cortex, but bloomed within the viscera in gentle waves of pleasure that rendered the woman into a state of drooling aphasia.  So happy was he to induce this pleasure in women, he overlooked the influence of the Thule Society: the precursor to the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, or Nazi Party.

     His father was a member.  They had tried to justify the ways of the mystic with the future for the Aryan race—and believed if a good German could have profound religious experiences, the Aryan race would unite with a sacred zeitgeist and gain an impervious view in the workings of nature.  The fractals of atoms could be perceived without the aid of a high-powered telescope.  The sensation of seeing anything would entail a soft veneer of penetrative vision, imbuing back to the brain the cognition of an almost radioactive, hyper-color, as if the doors of perception had been cleansed.

     Even though Klinger was considered a failed experiment, after the initial experiments with his new hand in his youth, the party realized the existence of the hand itself would bring about a radical shift in the way that the master race related to the inferior races, the undesirable races, those that did not help materialize the vision of an optimal future for the Fatherland.  Klinger could become their guru, healer, their own personal savior.  They were working on and creating a Deutsche Reinheit, or Pure German Man, but Klinger was something much more.  He became a failed, fallen god, a literal opiate of the masses.  So his father had been waiting in his study, with his thick books for years, after the censure of the occultist group, hoping for such a thing to transpire.  Klinger’s father died, was spared the drama.  That summer, Klinger cremated him, and took periodic trips to the Department of Racial Hygiene where he was taught Jesus was not a Jew, but an Aryan Amorite, where he was forced to watch the films of Lothar Zotz, with a contraption that pumped amphetamine into his wrist intravenously.  “The guiding principle in Germany must be to emphasize the high cultural level and the cultural self-sufficiency of the Germanic people,” he was told.  He reclined in his chair and just took in the propaganda and did not flinch, but kept wondering what they were going to dish out to him next.

     Everything changed after he went to fight on the Front.  He did not kill people.  He healed countrymen that were siphoned with bullets and as a medic was later introduced to top Nazi scientists.  He met Mengele in Auschwitz-Birkenau, who told him he was going to assist with the experiments.  “Your father was a member of the Thule Society?” asked the doctor, wiping blood from his hands, standing by a metal table where a Jewish twin was laying, immobile, disemboweled and dead.  Medical experiments, incantations.

     “You performed experiments?” I asked Klinger.

     “Nein,” he said, during interrogation.  “As a nurse I checked the vital signs of Jews.”

     Yet Klinger ran away, decided to wander the countryside, evade capture for being a traitor and refusing to do the experiments; and, in the process he met one Sonya Cohen, amidst the massive trees and scent of sap.  She had only known one man: the one who had fathered the child in her womb, who never, like Klinger, saw her come to term and, there in the forest, give birth to a shrieking babe that would come out from between Sonya Cohen’s legs, which would be later given to an old German couple because Sonya Cohen was young; and, she was scared and did not know this man who put his hand on her and brought her pleasure during childbirth, reversed the monolithic pain and brought her to greater ecstasies as she lay there, leaning back against a tree stump, with ripped clothing as rags to soak up the blood, and Klinger running to the river to fetch water and snip the umbilical cord with his teeth, on his knees.

     And he helped her give away the child that night to an old German couple, pleading with them before the open front door of their house; and, he slept her with her that night, in their barn, under the haystack, because there were people in the woods.

     I solemnly told him, “We’re handing you over to the Russians.”  Look:  I have this snap-shot of him, sullen, standing in front of Dachau.  I did not know what else to do.   The war had ended.  I was no longer a boy.  Never in the war, or in my life, had I ever met a man as cursed and blessed as Captain Erich Klinger.

    And years passed.  Lighting, from the heavens, licked the earth like the flicked tongue of a frog.  Thunder clapped.  Klinger, donning his old SS officer uniform, stood before the arched mouth of a labyrinth.  A cool wind rushed out of the rictus where the winding stone path was, as if inviting him in.  He felt he had been there before as if he had already seen the end of history and was yet again about to walk through the entrance into the past.  His cuffs and lapels had been chewed on by a mongoose.  He turned to Sonya Cohen, who stood beside him, shivering in a blanket draped over her white blouse and tan skirt, which drew attention to the blood on her calves.  “Are you ready for nightfall?”  “Yes,” she nodded.  Klinger smirked.  He knew she was an apparition, though remembered her and thought of all the fauna and nymphs scurrying along the banks of the Danube, and thought about Wagner and the Ring Cycle, then about the crags and caves he had seen of Portugal, off the coast.  He thought of Pangaea’s shale, orgeny (formation of mountains by the folding of the Earth’s crust), meridians, red jasper, tourmaline, white sapphire, the gullies and eddies of the sea, and the swash he waddled through, barefoot in youth, while gloaming under the gibbous moon, on the vernal equinox, when the gravitational field of the earth’s satellite was such that he could almost telekinetically make out the ohm resonating in his heart.  And like thus, he snatched a hatchet that was attached to a rope-belt that held up his trousers and now as an old man, thought about all the evil in the world, and the tears, and the trials, and the grief.  Savages, he thought.  Savages.

      And for the last time, he looked at his glowing hand.

*originally published by Danse Macabre du Jour

© 2014 Paul Rogov

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this website, or portions thereof, in any form.

The Serpent and the Dove (excerpt)


I looked over at Sam with insolvent eyes, knowing what I was about to tell him would sting him, for he had already done so much for me, and I thought it would make him cringe inside, if I continued to talk about the abyss. But he did not flinch, nor did he talk, even when I ultimately ended up revealing the reason I stayed in Brighton Beach for those two weeks before Deanna I and I got married. I explained to Sam that I met this cruiserweight named Kobochov, who boxed in the 1988 Seoul Olympics for the Soviet Union (and  Sam said he had heard of him: “I know who you are talking about. He was murdered”, I kept my eyes on the road. Indeed, Sam was right: one guy, from another business, that Misha knew from Leningrad made a phone-call to his New York contacts and said he could find me a job counterfeiting credit cards; but once the group met me, they learned soon that I boxed. They poured me a drink, and I sat down on the white leather couch. Everyone that smoked lit up cigarettes (because Valery Skolkov, their leader, laughed almost with tears in his eyes, for he thought manna from heaven had landed in his lap). He immediately concluded he wanted me to fight another boxer at an undisclosed location for two million dollars (a start, he said).

       First he rubbed his swaddled his hands together in rolling somersaults. He talked.  A lot. As he talked about the details for the prospective fight, he stopped then asked me: “do you know this place? Why it’s called Sheephead’s Bay? Do you want to know? Hmm. Ha. I will tell you.” I had no choice but to listen to him. “Sheephead Bay,” he said. “is a named after a rare, edible fish.  And this fish is often cannibalized by other fish. Ha.”  He clapped once. I feigned a smile then set down my rumka on the glass table, the one once filled with Russian Standard Vodka, and looked at him. Yeah, I understood, yet not from his anecdote. I realized, instead, at the point he, through his gesticulations and mannerisms, he was pushing me into a corner.  I could feel it; I got the metaphor and I knew, but was not smirking. I just nodded. I just wanted a hustle; something that didn’t involve driving; and I had 1.5 million in a large suitcase, which I checked in at the front desk at the Comfort Inn on Butler St. that was put it in a combination safe. My room itself was unsafe, I feel it, at the time, and Deanna was flying into JFK; we were to get to get a room at the Marriot, I told her. I wanted to impress her. And here was this project: the zealous desire by these men to fight Kobochov. They were called “Battalion.” From the sound of their name, I thought they were former-military and I was almost on the verge of asking if that was the case: that is, knowing where everyone had served, but Valery Skolkov and his company were not military. They were three guys who owned their own New York racket and they counterfeited credit cards and roughed people up, if investment  bankers did not cooperate, give them protection money. In short, I was them and they were me. We were just in a different place: New York. It was like I was looking into a mirror. The only thing I had to do was shave.

    And so, the company and I had dinner on Knapp St; Russian place; nice service; they had a show there, too, and I sat mesmerized, eating tushonaya kartoshka and drinking, while dancers came out onto the stage in front the live band and began their rehearsed routine.

    In some senses, the “Battalion” told me a lot about America within a short amount of time. “Don’t mind the smiling. They are either crazy or stupid.” or “Their woman are uptight. They’ll sue you for looking at them.” And my favorite: “don’t ever bring gifts to an American’s person’s house except alcohol; they will find you strange and you’ll make them uncomfortable.”

    I could only guess that I was being prepped to deal with Americans, to understand some of  their customs, which actually in some cases made sense to me—though others not at all. Chivalry were viewed with suspicion. I found that slightly unfortunate because my entire relationship with Deanna, on the phone, resided in precisely that. But Deanna is different.  I knew I couldn’t fight in New York with Deanna coming to meet me. I wanted to and in other circumstances I probably would have agreed long ago. But I felt trapped as if I had been locked up in cage and thrown in the ocean. I felt as if I were a child alone in a room filled with toys, with so many I didn’t know where even to begin to play. My second day in America, I thought. The boss paid for the dinner. I inserted a key on the fourth floor of my room at the Comfort Inn and thought: should I risk it?  I couldn’t. Kobochev was well known; a whole bunch of fighters from the former Soviet bloc had come to America to become fighters in America, namely at Gleason’s Gym. Everyone was being bought, I saw: men and women, children. Women selling their children to Broadway, thinking they would become little actors or actresses.

     There was no end to it.  I didn’t realize the extent to which the émigré community was doing what I was doing Russia. In truth, I was slightly disappointed, but I don’t know why and I don’t want to talk about it, I told Sam, as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, back in San Francisco.

     In the course of an hour of feasting and drinking, on my third day in America, I learned Kobochev, the boxer, began his American career as a bouncer at a restaurant called “Heaven” in Sheepshead Bay. One day, I called what in New York they call “car service”—black cars, tinted windows—and wanted to meet him, to ensure I wasn’t being set up or something, so I went to club “Heaven.” I wanted an explanation, even if Kobochev was supposed to be my potential opponent, on what was going on. He asked who I was; I told him I knew Misha in Leningrad, where Kobochev was from. Kobochev stepped closer to me and then told me it would be best if I left, that is, disappeared without a trace; he told me “the Batallion” had a vision, an entire network working for them in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, even San Francisco.  Some of them were in charge of locating specific boxers and tried to bribe them or entice them with women, even other athletes, wrestlers, to fight each other, so they could make some money off them.  Meanwhile, they roughed people up; they also counterfeited credit cards, accompanied them with peddled Fentanyl patches. For the first time, it struck me like a bolt of indifferent lightning—that there was something in the way I was living, in the way I was moving and thinking was not normal, was not natural, nor even brave.

      As Kobochev explained how he got roughed up at some at some auto-body shop on 15th a few days prior and was set to fight someone else in a couple days, I noticed a little girl across the street, holding a handkerchief.  She was waving it around.  It was off her head, she was waving it.  And she was out of her stroller and she was free. And for that fleeting moment, I saw another dimension: to life that I had not known, nor visited before nor had paid respect to and I continued to talk to Kobochev, a man who came from my homeland, who was my people, that is, part of the people I fought for in the war.

     And I listened, only interrupting him occasionally, seeing as he has to let in some doll-faced lady and her friends into club “Heaven.” With a nod, then a remark like: “you know I love you, Ludya.” he said. “Come, come visit me later. Will you?” I saw the desperation in it all, even as  Lyuda retorted “Alright, I’ll come back,” as she waved back at us, while the four women entered the front door of “Heaven.” Turning towards me, Kobochev acted proudly, as if he had already won something, but by the content of what he was telling me, I just knew right then he would soon end up dead.

      Before I went into semi-permanent detention, just a few days before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security nabbed me because of that fax from Interpol, I, indeed, read Kobochev had been murdered, was found with a broken neck in a shallow grave in some “Battalion” contact’s home, or rather, more accurately, in a some backyard in New Jersey.

    As I conveyed all this to Sam, he said nothing, just clearing his throat when he needed to and nodding in agreement with what I was telling him: He just drove and drove and seemed angry. But who could blame him? The body of one of my business partners, who was paid to put a hit on me, was in a garment bag in the back of Sam’s truck, as we drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, and drove onward towards Marin County, passing the city of San Rafael, getting to the city of Fairfax, where we, too, buried a man in a shallow grave, after climbing a curvy uphill road name Bolinas Road. I lit a cigarette, smoked a puff, snuffed it out. After we were done, I knew I was done. What was I done with? I was done with worshiping death. And we drove back and paid the toll for the Bridge and after Sam dropped me off at the apartment, I got into bed, alone, and I wept—not for myself, nor my life, nor for my compatriots, but for my son, who played with small wooden soldiers—-I knew, from a letter that Vera had written me . And I knew from that letter that I could never be the same man that I was before, with all the things I had done, with the people I had killed, with all the negligence, all the negligence, for this life that I mocked so easily, which was embodied in the future of my only son, my own flesh and blood.

     And that was also the last time I saw Sam Thompson.

© 2014 Paul Rogov

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this website, or portions thereof, in any form.

The Softest Sin


For Oriana De Francesco


‘Lay me down and say goodbye to sorrow’. . .

those were the words she put in her Thought Box before she left America.

She’s be-dangled with mad jewels, authentic and inauthentic,

Glazed-eyed and elaborate, drenched in sweat with a chain-mail soul

Scintillating there, she sits,

with a cool feeling in her mind,

pushing her scapulas into the plush seat of a plane

knowing whatever was gnawing on her had to be love.

She makes unconscious decisions,

In fire, in water, on the earth, in the air,

By the way she once swayed her greased hips

Through the aisles and annuls of literary dust.

She is more than a character, less than a poem.

Supple are her longings, slim her roaming fingers.

Her obsession was not the kind of obsession that made her buy a bunch of books.

It was another kind of obsession,

a better obsession.

The kind of obsession that made her scratch her heart,

wondering what was in there,

wondering if it was really a wound up fist of burlap,

cut out, unraveled,

and made into a sack to hold things.

Listen to the jangle of her bracelets

The ice-cream truck

The scouring of asphalt by the wheels of a skateboard

Where amongst the crew across from the park

curved secrets were known

By discerning distinctions between brother and heiress, sister and villain

The moment and the ticking of time

When a call from a bellowing father

Suspended a contract she made with a boy who seemed freer than others.

She suckles a nut, folds the foil.

She’s over the ocean looking forward, leaning back

Recalling how the tables were turned when she came home

When asparagus were not carrots

Plates were not palates.

VietCONG asides by Papa cut into the uncongealed turpitude of Maman

Where jealousy reigned and redemption was felt

And the cause of the matter sharpened the edge of the guilt

To the soft tempo of clinking and clanking—

Which she conquered when she got back to her room

to craft metallic secrets in the darkness, shaking.

The dark inspirited everything.

Thighs parting, lips parting,

The light film of honey from her coccyx to her smut.

She inhaled the radish-scent of a book

From her will, to her breasts, to her gut.

It was then she found a self that knows richness





Suspicion and passion, poisonings, newness.

And the world she saw, and heard, and touched, or missed

had the patina of evil and the good of a kiss.

Such was the range sprung up by words.

Not poems, not stories, but galaxies of self

Layered like matryoshkas dolls in a pyre of unison futures

With forgotten mistakes, ill-conceived notions,

That with god-like vigor annihilated and aggrandized

The spiral giggles and redness of her truths:

Panties rolled up in a bunch,

Dumb boys with unexpected rides

Treated like roller-coasters

Yet sweet in the mind.

For good books, she thought, were like good lovers

Collected and fierce and fleshy and free

Devoured, consumed, retraced, renewed

Pulling from her a moist melody

There she is: head on a pillow, naked and spread thigh-ed,

In another place, though she is clothed

A pellicle of warm dew lines her flushed chatte.

A scurry from hardness, an escape from the plot


 So she sits in her loftiness

Sipping on something,

Thinking of something,

Parched and well-shocked

With the hope of a lion and the wrath of lamb.

She’s at peace with the covenant

She’s at peace with the sham.

And then she looks back,

Not with her mind, but with her body and soul,

At the battlefield of sparring soldiers

for this Salome—

Unwrought, thought, besought

Trapped in a kingdom of straw

Trying to vanquish the Poet that invades her moments,

Unveils her beauty, pops open the loss of her innocence.


“Freedom,” she cries!

“What do know of it?

Are you smooth or burly?

Are you a man of the Truth?

Have you convinced yourself otherwise

And united the proof?”

Sing! Sing to be, baby!

Sing to me lovely!

Sing to me fairly! Be dynamite, she says.

Be an angel with an eternal fuse

A seraph of summer

A cherub of winter

With a hard cock and velveteen tongue.

Don’t mock me with lavender fire

Taste the blood

Envelop me

Rip me

Show me

Brace me

Come into me

Enter again yet again

Separate my legs,

my bone from my marrow.

Lace me in love.

Whisk me.

Golden are the streaked tresses of her hair on that pillow

Golden like the striped toll of my wants

Do you not see the chestnut brown asteroids freckled on her breastplate?

O, the burning hazel forests of her eyes!

I seek sounds, she says, as much as I seek sight

Or leverage or touch, or scents and delight

Fragrant as Bee Flower,

Viscaria, Dandelion, Rose

Alfalfa Root elixir, the trail of a pose,

For after the brushing of gums,

The tonguing of cheeks

Bouquets of lemongrass grazes fractions of lips

Held in the Broom Hand of the Swishing Master,

Fanning the drilling with this.


Thusly it went:

A toil and a trouble

For the Poet without his Muse

To sit inside her there, the sitter—

On a child-like arc

That is God,

That is art,

Turn her, move her, riff her on with her fingers.

Address the real state of affairs. . .

Knowing his soul, turned inside out, is her instantiated form

made manifest into this rusalka,

A perpetual bridesmaid of glory,

A watery angel covered in cream:

Who slips through my fingers so I can grip harder,

Scaling her skin,

Solving her crimes,

Licking her shut,

Licking her chimes.

Not to save her, but to throw her back,

Dive into the sea, origami heart-attack.

For poets can wonder, giddy with trepidation,

Entering a flat filled with ladders and dreams

How to descend on a sheet and pillow and softness

Plant in a tyrant mild humility.


How long sweet vision!

My sleek seraph, my lioness, my diamond of sin!

How long must you grant me a steady reprieve?

Grant me nothing less touched at, less arrived at.

I have peddled rags for milk

And, with fungused feet, walked up to the fortress of your demands

And I knock

Pull an arrow from my quiver

Dip the point in the well of my flesh

Mix in the earth with the paint of my blood

Then direct that happy dart at you

To the thousand natural shocks your flesh is heir to,

There in your navel,

Up towards your neck,

There in the channel, the pond of your sex.

And those hips which shake and tremble and glow

in any direction they damn well please

Get off the plane

Get off the throne

Let the crown on your head refine you,

define you.

Don’t you know a poet never loses a muse?

That muses are lovers and goddesses?

I thought, at first, it was a trick

That if I trusted eternity, I would turn passionately sick

Yet still I lick you and eat you, quell the fall of your tears

Knowing you are the soul I can touch

That you’re mobile and weary

Doe-eyed and sparkling

A being more precious than loss

Peppered in secrets and funny mistakes Solid and squishy, rightfully so

Thwarting patterns and penetrations

To become a poet herself

Hence we leave it by like passing mortal danger,

I give you words,

Give them away

Give myself away until there is nothing left to give

Through the steppes I walk with thee

Upon the tundra, through the deserts, and the jungles, and the sea,

In flickering hell-fire, embracing, on our knees

With a splinter of Paradise inside us, everything else in between


Come then

Come very slowly

Come very slowly to me like a breeze

Gentle and gliding,

Luscious and pining

To this warrior married only to wisdom

To this oracle that reflects the spark in your eye

To this moon, who with open arms will always be your lover

Sometimes away

Sometimes nearer than near

Something weeping, sometimes hurting with fear.

Yet I press myself upon you

Imprint my noble lust

Boil your metallic blood

And suffer the rust

Which is ancient as we are

In the garden

In the sun

Where we walked by trees and eloped,

Shuffling upon footprints of our sinuous paths

Understanding things better than knowledge, better than fate:

How we ran barefoot together in youth;

And still do, through the power of art;

That you instill in me the softest sin and its weight:

To love you like light loves the universe,

unable to destroy and only create.

© 2014 Paul Rogov

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