Frankish Visions VI: Aachen

Sometime.

 

1996.

 

I woke up with her name upon my lips; such a pleasant feeling, that becomes fleeting and distant like the sound of shifting aether upon a harp. I am young, and though my room is dark, it is lit by a soft glow that comes from nowhere, but just is. The staccato ceiling reminds me of stalactites, and the shadows on the wall could be the afterglow of fairies and goblins running away and back to their holes when they saw me stirring, the sun rising, forcing them to end their midnight orgies and balls. Somewhere in the distance, I hear a windchime loudly ring off in the quiet suburban block, but next to me in the same little bed I sleep in my younger brother snores softly, unaware of anything, dreaming sweet dreams, I hope.

I have to leave this place. There is something that must be done.

I kiss the child’s brow then leave the warmth of the blankets; I am wearing a silly dinosaur shirt and blue pajama pants, and I am barefoot. I step lightly, leaving my room, and running down a long, dark hall with a wooden floor and more white walls lit by small lanterns on their tops, holding meek, silent candles. It is the kind of hall angels carry coffins of their loved ones through, when their faces cannot be seen by white hoods, and the coffin itself is a large, somber beast.

I am in the living room; there is a grungy carpet now, as well as an ugly couch, a TV and VCR on top of it, as well as a tall grandfather clock in the corner, which suddenly booms loudly. I stare at the clock and shudder for some reason before darting to the front door, and looking back one last time to the end of the living room where I know my parents slumber. They are so young, so sweet at this time, and though I’m sure I will be safe, I’m not entirely sure I will return to them the same, so I whisper to them a soft goodbye, then turn and escape through the door and into the brisk night air.

It is a Summer night, and the stars have pierced through the shroud of polluted air, and are beautiful. I look around and see no cars or people, so I step off the cement step and onto cool, wet grass, which feels pleasant, and I miss the feeling as I soon run off of our lawn and onto the jagged, sharp asphalt of the street we live on, still warm from the heat of the day. I move quickly, through streets and sidewalks, around the backyards of giant, sentinel like red apartment buildings. Lampposts illuminate everything, and if someone were to look out of there window, they might have seen me, a small, scrawny creature, pale and with bright blond hair. But I pay no heed to any of it; I am following an invisible path.

Soon, I escape the confines of the 90’s suburban world and after climbing a high fence, find myself along the banks of a chill creek. Pieces of ice float on the surface, but I know that it is shallow and not very wide, so I take off my pants, holding them above my head, grit my teeth, and quickly run through the freezing water. When I get to the other shore, I let out a small cry of pain, and clutch my numb legs, and I begin to rub them to try and bring heat back to them.

Once they feel fine again, I collect my emotions, put my jammers back on and take in my current surroundings. I’m sure the trees weren’t as tall as I remember them, but at the time, they appeared to tower over me, watching over me like giants. Fierabras. I eyed them warily, took a deep breath, and stepped into their realm, the forest, the moon lighting my path.

I wrapped my arms around myself, continuing to walk, scared by the sounds of things chirping, rustling, fluttering. Immense shadows crisscrossed around me like a sea of swords that I was stepping on the surface of. Old America and it’s spirits were still potent then, back when old timers still wandered with a singular ounce of remaining dried out, bitter, fleeting youth.

At one moment I had to stop as a band of spirits crossed my path and I could find no tree to hide behind, forcing me to stay as still as possible: perhaps fourteen see-through men in old, raggedy suits, with top hats and big, bushy mustaches suddenly wandered into the clearing. They carried with them a diverse collection of old-fashioned instruments, from guitars and mandolins to accordians, and most were smoking thick cigars but a few also held small candles in their hands. They also had opened flasks and were singing happy, old-fashioned songs but in ghostly, indefinable voices. One large fellow stepped to the side and I could see behind him was a small boy about my age, aglow with spiritual fire. The boy held a candle of his own, was wearing silk, black pants with suspenders over a white button-up shirt, and he had black hair in accompaniment with happy, sweet orange eyes. He turned his head, and saw me; I felt a shiver of fear run up my spine. But the boy simply smiled at me, waved, and continued with his merriment, along with the rest of the old time spirits as they left the path and continued on their way through the forest. But I still didn’t move, for I couldn’t get over the mark I had seen that had been carved onto the boys hand; the bloody image of a house on fire.

I heaved a heavy sigh; I only had to stop once more, as a second series of ancient things crossed my path, the great golden, glowing spirits of bizarre animals, with heads like that of lions, bodies of dolphins and the wings of moths. I was so terrified, I had to close my eyes, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and I must say, it’s such a bizarre feeling to forget how to breathe for a moment; you focus on the thing that is stopping you from moving your chest, and it fills your eyes, but your eyes and lungs are suddenly one yet you can move neither for a second but that second feels like an eternity and then you jarringly regain the knowledge that you have lost, and there is this bizarre, triumphant feeling as you take in air again, as if you won a battle that you didn’t know you were going to fight and what you see in your eyes and lungs is suddenly before you, but there are no distractions and there is a moment of clarity. I had this feeling, staring into the bodies of those terrifying things that exist above and across, and I knew it was a sign that I was close to my destination.

After what felt like hours, where my feet were made cold from dirt that has been too long in shadow, I finally found a circular, round clearing, free of the presence of both titans and nephilim. Once upon a time, a theater, and in the center of the stage was a shadowy being, barely discernible in the illumination that came from nowhere but the hallowed Earth itself. I called to him, a pathetic mewl, but there was no response, just a soft, gentle ‘shooshing’ noise, like the sound of a breeze stepping upon cold, trickling river stones.

I ran my small hands through my hair, moving golden bangs, and bit my lips, wrapping my arms around myself. I stepped into the circle, very cautiously, until the figure was more defined; he wore a brilliant, bright green mask that fit his face, and this mask was made out of a multitude of green leaves that fell down his face as a green beard. Dark, black hair that was straight fell to his shoulders, and his hair matched the color of his eyes, of which no reflection of light could be seen in their black voids. He was wearing dark, loose robes, and the scent of strange but sweet spices could be smelled. He was sitting in the zen position, legs crisscrossed, and his dark, tan palms were resting on his knees. Sometime earlier he he must have set a fire, for smoke drifted up from the ground in front of him.

When I was closer, I jumped slightly, for though he had been motionless, his right hand was suddenly raised, for a pause, but then he brought the rest of his right arm, still held aloft to the right side of his body. He stood, and then turned his whole body to the right, like how when you push the left-side door of a building to let yourself in. He was looking at me while I did this, before making a slight bow. My hazel-green eyes grew wide with understanding; he wanted me to keep walking forward.

Before I did though, I darted to the firepit and grabbed two pieces of still smokey but strong twigs. I took a rubber band that I still had in my pocket and wrapped it where I had them meet, forming a tiny but perfect enough cross. I didn’t necessarily think it would help me, but I felt better with it. Then, having made it, I looked at my guide, who was still waiting for me patiently. I hadn’t noticed before, but little white flowers were growing out of his verdant, mossy beard, and he wore a golden shirt underneath his robes that was inlaid with shining jewels.

With all distractions taken care of, I inhaled, held it in, slowly let it out and began walking forward, the spirit of the forest following a few steps behind me.

It didn’t take long before I was at the place I needed to be; a huge, black oak tree, massive and intimidating, with branches that seemed to be slashing out at the darkness of space itself, and surrounding it’s surface entirely was cool, white fire, playful, seeming to dance like a million white butterflies. It suddenly came out of the path in front of me, this burning tree, as if waiting for this moment as well, and together, I had to gasp, for the tree and the fire were both just so beautiful together, intense but comforting. I stood there watching and stayed that way for what felt like many very long hours, just staring at this beauty of an angel that was before me, feeling the warmth emanating from the two of them together, for the fire never seemed to grow small and the tree never seemed to burn. I oohed and awed, in giggling, childish amazement at such a wonderful, gorgeous and sublimely celestial and beautiful sight. My eyes were wide with such joy, and let this be known, that that brief second I had with that fire and that tree is and always will be the greatest second of my life.

But it was a moment not meant to last.

A cold wind, unnoticeable at first, began to blow. Firstly, it was at the bottom of my feet, but it blew up, rustling fallen leaves, and the fire began to shiver and the oak began to moan in pain. I saw this, and my cheerful expression began to change into something more dour, as I saw the evil that was at work begin to unfold.

From the fire, I saw flashes of things sick and solid; flecks of ice. At first the pieces were small and unnoticeable, but soon they reached out, becoming bigger, taking up more of the fire’s place, consuming the flames, which began retreating inwards. The flames, in turn, tried to take a bit more fuel from the tree to combat the coldness. And here’s the part that kills me, that makes my gut wrench, because no matter how the fire tried to spread, the tree beneath it wouldn’t burn. But the branches of the tree were suffering from the cold too, and were themselves beginning to freeze, and the once mighty oak tree began to shrink in size as well.

I couldn’t stand-by for another second. I tried to look around on the ground for a rock, or something I could use as a tool or for a hammer. At that moment, I looked up to see the man with the leaf mask shudder violently, and the once splendid leaves upon his face began to yellow and fly away en masse.

No!,” I screamed! Unable to find anything of use, I remembered the little cross I had in my hands. I eyed it; so small, gentle, but it looked so strong. It would have to do.

As I turned and ran to the tree, I saw the forest spirit out of the corner of my eye suddenly burst into a cloud of yellow leaves, his robes unwinding themselves into thread as they all hit the ground without sound. I was sad, but turned forward again to face the tree and fire, which were quickly becoming more and more like a glacier and ran toward it as fast as I could.

Finally, when I was at the skin of the ice, I took my tiny cross and with all my strength, tried to begin chipping away at the beast while dried, dead leaves stormed around my head like a tornado. And indeed, drops of ice were struck off, hitting my face with coldness that felt like bullets, hurting me, but alas, my efforts were miniscule and not nearly enough to slow the doom down.

I screamed no! continuously, constantly, until my voice and throat were raw and sore, but soon, the tree, fire and ice were all but one block that was smaller than the entirety of me; the oak tree itself looked not unlike a sapling, that was constantly growing smaller.

Giving up, I dropped the little cross I had made and began sobbing vehemently, wrapping my arms around what remained of it all, desperately trying to use my own heat to melt away the ice, but to no avail, only growing intensely numb in coldness as well. When I hugged the ice, I was resting on my knees, but soon, I was laying on the ground, face in the mud, not knowing what had happened. I just lay there, crying.

Tears still streaming down my sorrow contorted face, I pushed myself up after what felt like a million eternities of nothing but sadness, to see that my arms, body and clothes were all extremely muddy, and I was staring into a puddle that showed only my own heartbroken visage. I reached into the puddle with my fingers to see that my hands were covered in nothing but wet, cold ash.

I took my hands, my whole body shaking, and rubbed them against my face, feeling the shape of my nose, cheeks and little lips. And then I ran my hands through my hair, darkening the strands. Soon, my face was so dark, it was unrecognizable.

I screamed one final time again, up at the sky, alone, muddy, at midnight, in the forest of spirits.

And I knew I would be alone as such for the rest of my life.

Frankish Vision IV: Fantôme

There is a ghost in this house

There is a ghost in this castle

It can be heard when no one opens their mouth

It can be felt when no one speaks at the dinner table

There is a haunting presence

It is felt in the blooming flowers of the printemps

It is felt in the miserable, burning été, without stop

It is felt in the splendour of l’automne

But it is especially felt in l’hiver, when you thought it was gone

It does not want vengeance

I see her sitting on the empty chair

In the kitchen, I see her fretting with her hair

I see her playing with her childern, the memory

Through the fields and streets, I feel the lingering energy

She wants justice, closure

That you will never give her

So I am haunted, in your stead

And so shall I be, to this injustice,

wed

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Frankish Vision III: Clothilda

This moment is her glory

She shines bright in the morning

Giving arms to the radiance around her

Giving alms to the daughters that found her

For seven years, she has worked to destroy

The shadow tower you tried to build over her joy

Every brick a cruelty, every wall, lain with her stress

And yet now she stands before you in golden dress

An address;

The tower has been illumined away

The knowledge and prosperity made the mortar sway

Until all your groomed evil’s weight collapsed

You cannot escape from your new Tolbiacs

Yet, still she comes to you and raises an offering, open hand

And you remember the moment’s stare, in distant land

When the both of you sat across from each other

And pleadingly, she sought truth you would not offer

Please, please be my lover;

It was difficult, to escape the lie of your wing

To unchain herself from your taunts and stings

But she persevered against your relentless sneer

All the courage of the archangels to free from fear

And yet, she understands the power of forgiveness

And for those she shelters, a light through the mists

You kneel to her now, as all will at St. Genevive

Married now to a new, beautiful light and eve

She is the bride of courageous peace

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Frankish Vision II: Hiver

What constellation, draped softly over form

What distant cries of magi, drifting and worn

‘Neath wolf and bearskin rugs, comfortable and warm

Yet in memorance, tidings forlorn

In Aachen, in moonlight shorne as the palace doth tremble

In Martinopolis, river sigh as chants bore from chalice wrought treble

In the borderlands, frost pretty upon the ancient Goth temple

Yet in preparence, bindings forewarned

Forget the sweeping rain, child has passed

Forget the need for soup, uncle has passed

Forget the beauty, I above have fast

But entwined with thine, I love and laugh

And so, I cannot forget what nigh relapse

For in this sea of beauty, I have completed many laps

And the oaks are my anchors, ice & sharp pine the frame

Hiver has come, soothe is thy name

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen

Selections: Jars of Clay

Introduction:

The early 1990s was one of the most productive, wonderful periods for the Christian arts. While Christian music is still produced and is powerful, it is but a mere echo of what was happening twenty-something years ago, when Christian acts were putting out songs that were somehow ending up on the greater pop music stations (Sixpence None The Richer comes immediately to mind). In retrospect, it may even be described as a golden age or renaissance-but this is not a historical analysis. This is a highlight of a specific album, from a specific band, one that may even have truly been at the forefront of this rebirth.

That band was Jars of Clay and this is about their first album.

What it is:

Jars of Clay was a band coming out of Nashville, Tennessee, having met in college in Greenville, Illinois during the early 1990s. For the most part, they have kept the same lineup and have continued to put out albums, the latest being 2013’s Inland. Their first, self-titled album, which came out in 1995, is my favorite album of theirs and also the point of this selection, though I also like Much Afraid and The Eleventh Hour.

How it Relates to the Hearth:

Now, I know that everyone’s hearth is unique unto themselves, but when I think of a soundtrack to go with the formation of your interpretation of the hearth, I can’t think of a better place to begin than here with the first Jars of Clay album. The music presented here, especially on the songs Boy On A String, Flood, and Blind is such a rich, warm, acoustic sound, full of stringed instruments and deep, sober ambiance. And despite what you may have gathered from my opening paragraph, this type of music wasn’t found solely in the Christian music scene; in fact, it was greatly shown off to the world via M-TV’s Unplugged series of performances, such as Alice In Chains, The Cranberries, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Nirvana, et cetera. The fact that this music blossomed during the post-grunge period is probably not a coincidence either. But what’s weird is this type of music really didn’t carry on too much longer past the mid-nineties, and as far as I can tell, it wasn’t prevalent during the 1980s either. Not even Jars of Clay really continued this style past their early albums, which is why I’m solely talking about this first album (though to their credit, it still shows up here and there). Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the power of this first album. I want to highlight the song Blind in particular; recall my statement that the hearth is a realm of both darkness and light (point seven, specifically). This is the defining song for that point in the Manifesto, the prime melody for that mood of both light and dark. Nay, in full disclosure, I believe I wrote the Manifesto of the Hearth while listening to that song and the entirety of this album itself.

Another important aspect as to why this is the quintessential hearth sound relates to the apparent beliefs of the band itself. In a later interview with NPR, which I remember hearing on it’s original air date, the band spoke of how they choose subtlety in expressing their Christian beliefs in order to make their music more accessible. I think this directly relates to my belief that the hearth shouldn’t be constricted by the ideals of dogma, that the hearth should be an inviting, neutral place in order to foster personal relationship, faith and the producing of art.

If all of this interests you, then turn off the lights, light some candles, grab some wine and go listen to Jars of Clay.

Fun Fact:

The band takes it’s name from the Bible verse 2 Corinthians 4:7:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Frankish Vision I: Liutgard

Against my brow, upon ground now long hallowed

My heart beats in tandem with the drinks of wine bottles so shallowed

I hear calls from beyond bar door frames yelling “hall’o!”

Yet on this dark road I, myself shall not allow

For instead I feel hollow upon ground long lay fallow

By constricting knives of asphalt and concrete

I know deep beneath lie ancient seeds to flowers sweet

Of a land where life is good and love is as strong mead

But instead I carry on to my abode, alone

I tarry to kitchen, alone, to couch, alone, to bed, so alone

“This does not bode well,” I intone in my temple

Once upon a time, I remember a friend, with laugh fair and smile gentle

Who held my hand in hers-but now she is gone and my heart doth tremble

Yet no one is to blame, just the passing of re’membrance

Remove the ghostly hands to forget thine distant embrace

Run my hands through my locks and against my face

As I sit at my wine stained table and close my eyes

I close my eyes and comfort myself in dimming shroud

My breath slows and the cars and random club songs become not so loud

A darkening cloth of rest, conscious, no longer at test

The melting of the walls and bookshelves

As the walls to my mansion erase themselves

And replace, with forests mighty and castles great

I stand up and partake in the sights of ancient length

Not far is a glowing ocean, vast, and adroit, a gold tower of sublime make

Upon a mountain, towering with mist, rain and fortitude

Towards it I go, with no intention of intrude

With confidence, I walk with sword, shoes, and cloak of blue

With intense, I fight and defeat routiers and wolves

And without incensed sense, I pass time with elks but not with drunken fools

As I ascend, walking past mud and stone

To the shining door, I reach, alone-always alone

And into a hall, long and made with diamond

Around me, sweet sounding, bells that are chiming

Lily and rose petals start falling as I begin climbing

Distant memories of love, endless, unbounding

Begin resounding

In an empty hearth where my heart’s

Fire was lit, rebounding light to tear the darkness apart

And reforge the shards of my quintessence

I remember my mother’s guiding lessons

My mind is calm, prepared for any and all repentance

As I push open a final, silver door-lavender scents

And music fills the air, as there, not far and against a window

Stands a maiden fair overlooking the crescending meadows

She is tall, her hair bright like a spindle

She puts down on a nearby bench, a fiddle

She shines, especially in the midnight moon’s light

Her hair falls down the span of her pale back

In artisan-like, royal elegance-braided with excellence and delight

I approach, slowly and cautiously, no course to retrack

When at last I am by her side, I announce my gentle tidings

And to my surprise, she turns and wraps her arms around me in kindness

Shock gives way to tears in my eyes, yes

As she calmly reassures me that all will be well,

To trust and love with God, and the loneliness in my soul will not dwell

Undo the bindings of resentment entrenched in my matter, get up from where you fell

Live life as the story you wish to tell

And to make no sell of character that would unseam

And I embrace her tightly, this forgiving queen

In this palace room, grand and clean

Like the Aachen air, warm as that of steam

And to be in the arms of a woman again, fills my heart with joy

And to hold her in mine fills my marrow with joy

And for a moment we sway in the calm breeze, not alone

Like the meeting of the  Isère and Rhone

Holding each other, feeling sincere, not alone

I hold her dear

But then I turn to gaze at her features

And I find that I cannot see the grace of her features

Even in fine starlight I cannot find her face

In this shining, immaculate place

“My love, why can I not see you clearly,” I ask

And she told me, “My love, your heart is kind and can make the task,

But how can you profess to call me love

When you have yet to know that which is?”

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn

Amen