note: Azazel was the name of the scapegoat the tribes of Israel would transpose all their sins to and drive out into the wilderness once a year. May, at the time of the cleansing of the temples, if I remember correctly. Over the millennia, Azazel was personified into being a Renaissance demon of broad experience and knowledge, master of all evil, and eventually Satan’s standard bearer. Over the last forty years he has come and gone from my poetry as the persona of a kind of anti-self that allows me to address themes on the dark side of my nature with a certain clarity of ironic insight into my own and the human condition that was otherwise unavailable to me. At first encounter dark, troubling, and dangerously clear, after all these years, to use Shakespeare’s phrase, he has become more of an affable familiar to me. And for those of you who are huddled around your night light afraid of things that go bump in the dark, I am no more Satanic, at least to my knowledge, than I am a born again Christian.
The darkness of a child.
The darkness of a child who isn’t old enough
to know what darkness is
yet it clings to his skin
like something that won’t come off.
The darkness that made his childhood seem
like a foregone conclusion
he was fundamentally bad
just like dad
though he never got the chance to call him that.
Flint-knapped like a chip off the old block.
O yeah before I get too confessional
I guess I should mention
the night rain is shedding its scales
like pine cones and snakes
in the tar pits of the mud puddles outside.
Now we descend down into the interior
where the metaphors emerge from back alleys
and flash knives of insight
that seem to move like moonlight on water.
Shark fins waxing romantic about death.
But it keeps your wits sharp.
Danger is an antidote to death.
Danger slides its stone along the blade
of an event horizon
like the wingspan of a sword
and the last word of the cutting edge
is drawn across your throat
to see what you’ve got to say for yourself.
when you’re giddy with insecurity
and all your cornerstones have turned to quicksand
and it’s hard to take your fate seriously
when you can electrically imagine
the page three sluglines you’ll make in the morning
given the immediacy of the moment
as if you’d just found a cobra coiled under your pillow
like a jack-in-the-box serial killer.
Flint-knapped like a chip off the old block
Azazel remembered his father hitting him
and with every blow he was sure his father
was flaking off bits of diamond
from a raw chunk of coal.
Childhood hopes of getting the better of his old man
by his own hand raised to strike
like a psychotic god above him.
A kind of childhood judo that taught him
to use another man’s demonic energies against him
by playing the part of the victim
that ran his abuser to ground
and pulled him down into a darker nightmare
than anything he had the imagination
to wake up from afraid of what he’d become.
Things turn round and round and round
like the little red lighthouses on top of a cop car.
Azazel cultivated his mind like a stolen switchblade
in the waterclock of bedrooms
he kept being poured out of
like a primordial ocean
of experimental life forms
as his single mother moved from house to house.
Each the womb of a different incarnation.
Azazel mastered them all
like the tantric tulpas of a Tibetan rinpoche.
Like the naguals of Yaqui Indians on peyote.
He was the unhinged Janus-faced doorway of both.
He had the mood swings of a chameleon in a paint-store.
He knew how to outdo the Etruscan shape shifters
like a snake pit of kundalini fire.
If this feels strange to you
you can always enquire
but Azazel’s baby teeth
were the calderas of sacred volcanoes
he put like keepsakes under his pillow for the snake fairy
to swallow them whole like the moon.
Azazel in his youth
embodied the shadows of excellence
thinking love and approval might follow their example
and a light would come out of the darkness
and shine kindly down upon him
and everybody would see that he was just a kid
who liked stars because nobody else did.
But he was born on the wrong side of a promise
and no matter how well he kept it
he was mistaken for a threat.
Two cosmic eggs.
One a bird.
The other a reptile with wings.
When he’s hot he’s a dragon.
When he’s not
the earth goes docile
and sinks into a coma
like the Pythian oracle at Delphi
trying to divine the seven kinds of ambiguity
by cutting every one of their hydra-headed prophecies off
with a knife
as if she were gathering flowers
and arranging them into Medusan bouquets.
Too late to accuse.
Too late to convict.
Too late to forgive.
The hour of stone is upon us
like a sundial at the graveside of time.
Azazel woke up from his childhood
like a dream in which he died
and tried to live on the nothing that was left.
The rain outside has stopped.
Just mirages in store-front windowpanes.
The streets belong to the wind
talking to the leaves
as if they’d just had their tongues torn out
like the sacred syllable of the kataba worm
in a tequila bottle that spoke with an accent
but broke just like everyone else
when it was empty
having delivered the message
and there was no money on the return.
Ut pictura poesis.
Azazel always wanted to paint poetry
not photograph it.
Even on the astral plane
you’ve got to have some kind of a likeness
before you begin the search.
Metaphors have always seemed
too fanatical and absolute for his taste
once he understood Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle
was the best alibi at the time the atoms could come up with
to explain their whereabouts.
Similes give you more of a chance.
Cut you a little more slack.
Don’t copulate with equals signs
like parallel lines that never meet.
Metaphors staple wanted posters all over town
among the rusty thorns
and wounded corners of paper
of those that were taken down
like Jesus removed from the cross of a telephone pole
advertising a local play
with dramatic significance
and then making a universal getaway
like too much ado about nothing.
Azazel is inspired to write
obscure occult holy books
people can keep beside the bed
to secure their footing in the dark
like night lights and supernovae.
Sententiae from the dark side
for people living in eclipse.
Azazel has oxymoronic lips
that answer the prayers of broken stone
that have no where else to turn.
He’s no more concerned
about what form is to content
than he is in what ashes are to urns.
Burn he says to the fireflies
if you’re serious
then scatter on the wind like Sufis
in a state of annihilation.
Don’t bring a cult of weathervanes
to the crossroads of creation
to ask them the direction of prayer
when it’s nowhere and everywhere at once.
Ah, Faustus, why this is hell;
nor are we out of it.
No emergency exit.
Just this space dilated like a black hole
in a gravitational eye
that bends the light
to its interpretation
of whatever this might be.
Help yourself to as many thresholds as you need
to build your stairwells up to heaven
like thermals under your wings.
But if you choose to go by ladder
don’t put your full weight
on the burning rungs
for fear of falling through again
every time you get a leg up on your ascension.
Remember when you get to the top
there’s no extension.
People who are religiously inclined
start out with a good beginning
that utterly fails
because they don’t know when to stop.
Get off the celestial omnibus
and whistle the rest of the way home in the dark alone
as if a happy man were impregnable to predators
and a sad one doomed to tragic circumstances
outside the box that we all return to
without a forwarding address
whether we’re cursed or blessed.
Fear can make a coward of a man
but it’s his joy that makes him vulnerable.
A street artist learns to draw
by making chalk outlines
around corpses on the sidewalk
with no regard to composition.
He topples the still lives
and let’s the shell casings fall where they may.
Azazel learned human anatomy the hard way.
Astronomical catastrophes make a big impact.
He saw what happened to his mother.
Women were punching bags and prostitutes.
He knew what happened to himself.
Men were volcanic dissolutes in handcuffs
that tried to forge your cell tissue
into the steel they say it takes to be real
by putting their fist down
like a hammer on the anvil of a mushroom.