Sergius and Bacchus

Every Valentine’s day I think about the saints Sergius and Bacchus. Their feast is actually October 7th but the general feeling of the day reminds me of their story, one that is unique in martyrology:

According to the Greek text The Passion of Sergius and Bachus, Sergius and Bacchus were Roman citizens and high-ranking officers of the Roman Army but their conversion to Christianity was found out when they attempted to avoid accompanying a Roman official into a pagan temple. They refused to make sacrifices to Jupiter and were publicly humiliated by being chained, dressed in women’s clothing and paraded around town. Bacchus was beaten to death, but the next day his spirit appeared to Sergius and encouraged him to remain strong so they could be together forever. Over the coming days, Sergius was brutally tortured and executed, and his death was marked by miraculous happenings.

Sergius and Bacchus’s relationship can be understood as having a romantic dimension, and the oldest text of their martyrology describes them as erastai, which can be translated as “lovers.” Some scholars believe that the two were even united in a rite known as adelphopoiesis (brother-making), a lost remnant some scholars believe indicates early Christianity’s more tolerant views of homosexuality.

Don’t forget them.

The Devil and The Artist

 

It was on a cool winter day

when the wind shifted blue and swift,

that I met a man who said he knew my name

shivering cold in a bus stop kiosk.

This man, in tattered suit and tie

pressed his hand to my shoulder,

and pleaded I show him the place that I live,

as he shook like the revelation.

In a moment of weakness, I took his hand

and led him to the small place I stayed at,

with it’s dingy curtains, my little home,

my little ray of sun in which to rest.

He moved, not rude, to the room

where stood there a half done woman

smooth bare flesh, icy limbs, stoney breast

the beginning of a hand at the end of a wrist.

He slinked like a spider to a couch and sat

and said nothing. I tried to tell what it was

that made me let him in, but instead

I went

to work

again

And talked of this great shining world inside me

threatening to burst from under my skin

if I should let it stand like water

If I did not let it free

and he talked

Of the silence inside him

his blackened inside from freezing snow

of his scraping hollow fingerbones

of the hunger of his slowly starving heart

and I cut the stone of her flesh and listened

as he told me of things no one could know

of the cutting fall and the urn of his belly

like a sieve filling up and leaking

shaking and spraying

all who stood near.

So we did not eat, and, when the sun went down

I gave in a place on the couch

where I knew he would not be

in the morning.

Weaver and Potter

Playing her loom like an organ

the weaver now wonders aloud

how different am I from any god that exists

but the tapestry never makes sound

Her candles, they always need lighting

no matter how frequently done

the warmth never stays as long as she needs

and the night always catches the sun

when her husband the potter is spinning

and the kiln is baking his clay

it never stands up and bows at his feet

but in exchange it cannot disobey

and when the two have their first child

every creature’s already be named

all of the wolves in the world have already been taught

that wild’s no better than tame

And the stumbling son of the mold they come from

will still wander the world with his curse

and the blood of his brother will still cry aloud

from the fallow fields of the old earth

and potter and weaver together will sigh

for they think they are masters of craft

but in the end they’re alone with their flesh and their bones

shackled by future and past

So god bless the weaver and potter

and potter bless weaver as well

and weaver bless potter and god and the warp

as the loom and the wheel work their spells.

On The Flight of Starlings

On The Flight of Starlings

A murmuration of starlings,

now eastward bound,

clip like little ships

through the frail and distant clouds.

From my window, they are silent,

A moody black shape

that forms and disintegrates

like ash on the winter wind.

Though their litany is mute to me,

I know that in their midst

reigns cacophany;

a thousand little voices or more

swept up in countless conversations:

“where are we going hey whats your name

are we still planning on going that way?”

And each one navigates not only the wind,

but their place in the crowd,

feathers attuned to subtle shifts in the breeze

caused by the passing

of each member of their flock.

They must feel the sky

like a bed of nails rolling beneath them,

a million pins indicating

which tiny twitch of the wing is needed

which little tip of the head will prevent

and aerial collision, a misnegotiation

that could bring the whole shape down.

They must share some biological radio,

some instinctive group soul,

whose frequency will always be

a mystery to me.

And from my distant perch

I can see no reason or purpose

to their erratic flight plan,

and they can see no purpose in mine.

In The Wake of Revolution

“All hail king sparrow” quake the eagles who must now cleave to their nests, a people dethroned by the new monarch of the Seed. Vassaled into subservience by the small beaked army, the raptors cling to their aeries in docile clouds and broken-spirited flocks. They whisper to their eaglets of the time the wicked sparrow came and with great numbers swarmed the rocky precipices that once enshrined the noble parapets of order and truth. Justice, they say, and the right of the high-borne predator were both overwhelmed in the mutterings of ten thousand soft sparrow warsongs.

Now the once mighty linger at the edge of the avian kingdom and wonder when the revolution’s tide will shift. When will the great horde take flight and depose the false deity of the small-winged and small beaked?

“Never,” cry the sparrows in terrible union in their parliaments secreted in the groves — never again the tyranny of the mighty over the will of the many.

“Each sparrow a flock unto themselves, a free bird, never to be caged by man or beast or swift-taloned harrier again.” This doctrine unwavering, this song forever lusty and spoken from fluted breast and golden beak unto eternity and beyond.

Below, the pigeons watched the shift in the winds with the mute disinterest they always possessed. It mattered not who claimed the mighty mountains or sacred groves, for the urbane pigeons knew that where men coalesced was where true power lay. There, fat and happy, the pigeons watched the teeming mass of the sparrow insurgency with a mix of disdain and disinterest.

“Let them take the ashen seeds and vertigo places of the world,” they cooed. “The bread is forever ours.”

Let this as a lesson stand to us all- better to be the dove that clings to the rock than the eagle or sparrow at war.

“Expatriate!” the murmur goes out to all our brothers in grey. “Take to the land of cats and cars and trash and boots and live as pauper kings free of the turmoil known to those who fly in the harsh softness of the unforgiving clouds. Stand with us on asphalt and concrete as secret gods and mad saints with scraps in our mouths and all the world of glass and steel as our nest!”

The Master Thief

The Master Thief

Based on a Russian Folk Story

Written by Kevin M. Flanagan

2013

CHARACTERS

VARVARA: The master thief. Has nice boots.

HERDSMAN: Once had an ox, but it was stolen. Rather simple.

TEAMSTER: Once had an ox as well, but it was stolen. Rather simple.

DROVER: Also once had an ox, but it was stolen. Rather simple.

OXEN 1, 2 and 3: 3 Oxen, stolen by robbers. They don’t speak “people.”

ROBBER: One of the three thieves.

HIGHWAYMAN: One of the three thieves.

BANDIT: One of the three thieves.

PROPS

LOOT SACKS: 3 sacks of “loot.”

APPLES: At least two.

WINE: A wineskin, bottle, or goblet should suffice.

3 CLUBS: For clubbing.

3 KNIVES: For knifing.

THE MASTER THIEF requires a few simple scene changes, from the VILLAGE to the CAMP to the VILLAGE again. How these occur, what the sets entail, and so forth, are open to interpretation.

SCENE 1

(IN DARKNESS ENTER VILLAGERS STAGE RIGHT, ENTER VARVARA STAGE LEFT. SPOTLIGHT on VARVARA)

VARVARA (addressing audience)

There once was a time when cleverness and guile were treasured so much that we told our children stories of those heroes possessed of both deviousness and cunning. I am one such story, for I am Varvara, the master thief. My story began long ago, but tonight is the night that it ends, here in this scenic little village of Kanash.

(LIGHTS UP on VILLAGERS. The VILLAGE of Kanash is not particularly scenic.)

HERDSMAN

Oh! Lament!

TEAMSTER

Oh! Sorrow!

DROVER

Oh! Devastation! Kanash is ruined!

HERDSMAN

Ruined!

TEAMSTER

Ruined!

VARVARA

I had come a long way, through endless storm and forest, having crossed wits with vodyanoy and leshy, rusalka and vila. Ruined little Kanash was a warm hearth in a cold blizzard. You might think I plan to rob these poor souls, but you’d be wrong.

DROVER

OH! Emaciation!

TEAMSTER

OH! Famine!

HERDSMAN

OH! Starvation! Kanash is destroyed!

DROVER

Destroyed!

TEAMSTER

Destroyed!

VARVARA

Hearing the subtle pleas of the people of Kanash, I came out from the woods to see what help I could offer. Also, it was very cold.

(VARVARA approaches the VILLAGERS)

VARVARA

Hail, good people of warm, inviting Kanash!

HERDSMAN

TREACHERY!

DROVER

CHICANERY!

TEAMSTER

THIEVERY! KANASH IS OBLITERATED!

HERDSMAN

OBLITERATED!

DROVER

OBLITERATED!

VARVARA

You seem uneasy, good friends. Is something the matter?

HERDSMAN

We are poor, we have no mayor, and our oxen have been stolen!

TEAMSTER

Stolen by thieves this very night!

DROVER

If we had seen then, we would have stopped them. With clubs.

HERDSMAN

Oh, yes.

TEAMSTER

Quite.

VARVARA

Indeed. Stolen, you say?

ALL VILLAGERS

STOLEN!

VARVARA

I see. You wouldn’t happen to be offering a reward for their safe return? (Next line as aside) Altruism lacks the kind of cunning good stories oft require.

HERDSMAN

I’ve naught but my ox to plow my fields, and a bushel of apples to my name.

TEAMSTER

I’ve naught but my ox to pull my cart, and a barrel of wine to my name.

DROVER

I’ve naught but my ox to grind my mill, and a warm hearth to my name.

VARVARA

All fair offers for a simple task. I shall recover your oxen, you graceful, quiet people of Kanash, before this night is through. (to audience) You might think such a paltry sum would tempt me to theft, but you’d be wrong. For I am Varvara, the master thief, and a bigger heist I’ve hatched.

DROVER

The camp of thieves is just to the north, where they plot their next pillage.

TEAMSTER

You’ll find them there planning murders and legerdemain, I’d wager.

HERDSMAN

Such dishonest folk, who know not the sweat of a day’s hard work.

VARVARA

Heathens and roustabouts, no doubt. Have no fear, sweet, honest, defenseless people of Kanash! For I am Varvara, the master…collector. I shall go.

(Lights down, VILLAGERS exit)

SCENE 2

(VARVARA in SPOTLIGHT CENTER STAGE.)

VARVARA

(to audience) You might think I planned to stumble clumsily through the moonlit forest to the camp of cutthroats and simply lead the oxen back by their collective noses, but you’d be wrong. For I, as I have mentioned, am Varvara, the master thief, and a plan I’ve already woven.

(Enter OXEN, THIEVES. OXEN are “tied” to a post STAGE LEFT. THIEVES are huddled by a CAMPFIRE STAGE RIGHT.)

VARVARA

Common thieves are an unsubtle rabble, and their camp was not hard to find.

(LIGHTS UP on THIEVES)

BANDIT

Murder.

HIGHWAYMAN

Theft.

ROBBER

Treason.

(THIEVES nod in agreement. LIGHTS UP on OXEN)

VARVARA

Just out of earshot from the sinister yet agreeable camp of thieves, the oxen were tied, mooing and simple.

Ox 1

Does this yoke make my butt look big?

Ox 2

Do you ever think about, I dunno, like, life, man?

Ox 3

Ugh, oral story traditions are so over.

VARVARA

You see, long ago in another story, I stole the gift of animal speech from Indrik, The King of All Animals. I have regretted it ever since.

Ox 3

I mean, seriously. Folklore is all the same, it’s never new.

Ox 2

Maybe there’s like, you know, a kind of collective unconscious of mankind, man.

Ox 1

Should I keep this nose piercing? Is it working for me?

VARVARA

So many regrets- such is the life of a master thief. I crept through the woods to where the oxen were kept.

(VARVARA creeps over to the OXEN, addresses them)

VARVARA

Psst! Cows.

ALL OXEN

WHOA.

VARVARA

I know, I speak ox- it’s unfathomable but in this case quite true. I am Varvara, the master…herder. I’ve come to take you back to your owners.

Ox 2

Dude, so uncool. Not happening, bro.

Ox 3

Okay, first: It’s “oxen,” as in plural ox. Additionally, I’m not going anywhere.

Ox 1

Ohmigod, I love your little boots. Also, no.

VARVARA

What do you mean, moo moo moo moo moo?

Ox 1

I’m NEVER going back there. All that guy ever feeds me in boring grain and grass. I’m a fabulous ox- I need something fabulous to eat.

Ox 2

All my owner ever gives me to drink is boring water. That’s animal cruelty- I want something new to drink.

Ox3

Dude, he makes me sleep outside in a barn. A barn, man. How am I supposed to get my cozy on in a barn?

BANDIT

I’m going to murder those oxen.

HIGHWAYMAN

Not to be disagreeable, but I think the word is slaughter.

ROBBER

Yes, let’s slaughter and eat them. Yey, teamwork!

(THIEVES all “high-five”)

Ox 3

I mean, these guys are like, totally chill. They just let us stand around, no work or nothing.

Ox 2

Clearly, these are progressive, forward thinking people who’ve cast off the shackles of “work.”

Ox 1

I kind of love it here- and have you seen their little hoods? Adorbs.

VARVARA

Look, I know you guys don’t speak people, but I’m almost certain those three guys intend to brutally kill you and then eat you. If you head back home, I can promise you a bushel of apples, a barrel of wine, and a nice warm fire to sleep by.

Ox 1

A bushel of apples? Oh, delish. I’m in.

Ox 2

A barrel of wine? Do you know the vintage?

Ox 3

A warm fire to sleep by? Oh, blaze it up, bro.

VARVARA

(cuts them free) Now go- I’ll deal with the thieves.

(The OXEN EXIT, talking amongst themselves)

BANDIT

You know what I’m not sick of at all? All these bags of stolen loot.

HIGHWAYMAN

I agree, my friend. I’m quite pleased with our many spoils.

ROBBER

Moral implications aside, the life of a murderous bandit is the life for me!

BANDIT

Truly, we are friends for life.

HIGHWAYMAN

Here, here!

ROBBER

Who says there is no honor among thieves?

VARVARA

You might think I intend to steal their sacks of gold and jewels, but you’d be wrong. For I am Varvara, master thief, and I intend to steal an even rarer treasure.

(VARVARA creeps towards the campfire, then calls out)

VARVARA

Hail, friends! Is there room for another at your campfire?

BANDIT

Well, that depends.

HIGHWAYMAN

On several factors, actually.

ROBBER

How do you feel about being brutally murdered and robbed?

VARVARA

I’m actually quite a fan of the whole “what’s-yours-is-mine” ethos. I myself am a miscreant and criminal.

BANDIT

You don’t say? You wouldn’t happen to be carrying a large amount of gold?

HIGHWAYMAN

This is, of course, a totally hypothetical question.

ROBBER

It doesn’t have to be a “large” amount, either. Any amount of gold is an acceptable quantity to prompt an answer of “yes.”

BANDIT and HIGHWAYMAN

True, True.

VARVARA

No, sadly, I currently carry no gold, in amounts great or small, on my person.

BANDIT

Drat, that’s really too bad.

HIGHWAYMAN

A shame, really, as we intend to kill you anyway.

ROBBER

It’s really nothing personal. I do hope you understand.

(THIEVES stand and draw knives)

VARVARA

Wait a moment! I have neglected to mention something important. You see, I am Varvara, the master thief. I’ve come with a wager.

BANDIT

That’s quite a title.

HIGHWAYMAN

Strange we’ve never heard of you.

ROBBER

Indeed, most strange, considering our familiarity with the whole thieving industry. What kind of wager?

VARVARA

I am such an expert thief, you see, that I’ve stolen the oxen you three kept just outside your camp.

BANDIT

I’m not only unimpressed, but somewhat miffed.

HIGHWAYMAN

Master thief, maybe. Master negotiator, definitely not.

ROBBER

You’re not really progressing this discussion towards a “not murdering you” compromise.

(THIEVES seize VARVARA in as friendly a manner as they are capable)

VARVARA

Now, let’s not be hasty! I wager that I’ve stolen something even greater tonight, without even being there personally to steal it.

(THIEVES pause)

BANDIT

That seems entirely unlikely.

HIGHWAYMAN

It would take a particularly talented thief to perform such an act of banditry.

ROBBER

I must say, my curiosity is piqued. Where is this great treasure?

VARVARA

If you only come with me, I can show it to you. I wager your sacks of gold it’s a fairer prize than what you have there.

BANDIT

I’m game.

HIGHWAYMAN

I don’t see the harm in it.

ROBBER

My greed overrides my better sense.

(THIEVES release VARVARA)

VARVARA

Then come with me!

(VARVARA EXITS. THIEVES delay)

BANDIT

We do intend to kill this “master thief” for the treasure, right?

HIGHWAYMAN

Oh, most certainly.

ROBBER

I assumed that was a given.

(THIEVES EXIT, LIGHTS DOWN)

SCENE 3

(OXEN and VILLAGERS ENTER, STAGE RIGHT, LIGHTS UP)

VARVARA

(from offstage) It’s right this way, my friends!

THIEVES

Slow down! Stop running so far ahead! (etc)

(ENTER VARVARA, a little breathless)

HERDSMAN

Varvara returns! You saved our oxen!

TEAMSTER

Joy of joys! We are not ruined!

DROVER

We owe you our lives!

Ox 1

These apples are a delight, I must say.

Ox 2

This wine! I detect a faint raspberry flavor.

Ox 3

Dude, so toasty right now.

VARVARA

Then I come to collect on that debt and offer you a prize. Those very thieves that stole your oxen come this way now!

HERDSMAN

No! Our precious oxen!

TEAMSTER

They’ll not take what’s ours again!

DROVER

Clubs! The clubs!

(The VILLAGERS brandish clubs. The OXEN preen. The THIEVES rush in)

BANDIT

What’s this? The village?

HIGHWAYMAN

We’ve already robbed this place blind!

ROBBER

I am starting to think we’ve won this wager.

(VILLAGERS howl and club the THIEVES to death. This should take some time. While the CLUBBING occurs, VARVARA speaks)

VARVARA

That’s where you are wrong, my friends. You’ve lost your wager, and not just because of the vicious clubbing you are currently undergoing. For, in fact, there is a great treasure here, one I stole with only the most miniscule of efforts.

(The CLUBBING ends. The THIEVES are dead. The VILLAGERS go through the THIEVES loot sacks)

HERDSMAN

So much gold! Our village is wealthy!

TEAMSTER

Varvara has saved us all!

DROVER

Varvara for mayor! Who votes yey?

HERDSMAN

Yey!

TEAMSTER

Yey!

DROVER

Yey!

Ox 1

Yey!

Ox 2

Yey!

Ox 3

Yey!

HERDSMAN

That’s three “Yeys” and three “moos.”

TEAMSTER

A unanimous decision!

DROVER

Varvara, will you take the now-wealthy town of Kanash as your home?

VARVARA

Of course.

(The VILLAGERS and OXEN cheer and parade about in joy. VARVARA steps forward to address the audience)

VARVARA

You may have thought I intended to rob the lot of them, but you would have been wrong. The treasure I stole was the hearts of these simple people, a treasure lost on more common thieves. It takes a cunning eye to find the truest prize, and to gain it with as little work as possible. Such a treasure was not lost to me, for I am Varvara, the master thief, and mayor of Kanash.