The land lay flat under the weight of the sky, endless, ready to take him anywhere forever—isolating him with its crushing distance, calling him to walk where the sun sinks in to its dusty grave, calling him to a walk he will never finish,

The wind over the fields draws up and drags the fine powdery dust, changing the face of the earth, turning furrowed fields into the shifting

ripples of desert floor. The rabbits wander and seek vegetation still living. Swarms of grasshoppers scatter and cling, crawling over screens and clothes and tall weedstalks swaying in the wind.

There is no rest here.

The nth circle, reserved for murderers, cowards, and incompetent sons.

MOTHER [inside the house, praying scales]: cover this house in the blood make it invisible to the enemy you have no dominion here you must honor the blood of the Lord’s chosen you have destroyed his body and yet he lives [forcing the final words and repeating, all day repeating, seeking and selecting each word, every time]

I am born and no body survives in one piece.

Unclean spirits, cast out, wander the dry and weary land. Now that he has burned almost everything, they are returning, filling the crawlspace, the house itself. Finding no rest, they returned, bringing others stronger than they. They must be cast out of everywhere, everything purified by fire.

Mother’s voice not her voice.

the smell

prayer scales clog the rotten air

love becomes a burning and obedient fire

Kneeling before the crawlspace once again, knowing they are not in there, yet gooseflesh stands his hair from sunburned skin.

whispered sheets muffled by the prayers over the windows

You want me to put my mother in a mental hospital?

This is not her. Mother is not herself.

He lights a match. The weak yellow light darkens more than it illuminates. The flame reaches his fingertips. He drops the match and strikes another. Fresh sweat flows. The smell of stale smoke from his skin almost covers his own stink. Mother calls through the floor. Heat floods his skin. The floor joists run just above his hand. He lifts the flame closer until thin wisps of smoke curl out of the charring wood.

till fire purge all things

imagined so many times that the real thing would feel like a dream: from within the walls came cries of agony and the roar of flames

He flicks the match and goes inside.

MOTHER [with crying in her voice]: Ishmael, don’t you think you’ve suffered enough for your father’s death?

spires of smoke carry her prayers to heaven, her own smokestack steeples rising into the ether; prayer, frankincense, and myrrh, infused with putrefaction and fly smoke; every day she prays the sun from the sky, leaving white-hot embers in a sky scorched black

a burnt offering to the Lord, a sweet aroma

for your father’s death?



this endless funeral pyre

She quit her medication: eyes now made of cracked glass: spirits returned sevenfold.

House becomes a festering womb.

You’re the only one who can do it.

She needs more time.

man’s real desert, for deciding the special eternal penalty

no pleasure in the sweet, sun-gladdened air, carrying in our souls the fumes of sloth.

now we are sullen in this black

inner ring: flaming desert:

He is ruining himself

falling into a deep

place where

the sun is




Blood pumping onto the ground. Chill setting in from somewhere deep. No going back. A fleeting whisper and then gone from the earth forever. Can’t believe it’s really happening. How can there be no going back? This is it. Will all be over soon.

i) being neither finished nor continued

Had I not seen his death in the form of the rising sun everywhere, I might have stayed forever.

His mother holding his father, watching him die

Bleeding out until sleep comes forever beneath the crushing depth of the sky

Dead, but still with us, still with us, but dead.

Lest he break out like fire in the house

and devour it, with no one to quench it

and no survivor shall remain aftertaste of ashes

Mother will not leave the house.

The house is now sickness and disease itself.

that it could only end in flame and fields sown with salt

Taste of tears in pilgrimage toward the soil.

I only desire that life will resume.

What if it all just happens over again?

How long before she sees the demons inside of you?

everything exorcised to ashes

Abraham took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac said, My Father! Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

At what temperature to words burst into flame?

Ashes lifted swirling into the air.

all at once too heavy

All days have fed this one.

He shook off the creature into the fire.

house will burn

b) He will watch the house burn.

c) He will watch the house burn down.

d) He will stand in the yard and watch the house burn.

e) He will splash gasoline around the house. He will set the gas can down, touch flame to fuel and set everything ablaze, step out into the yard, shedding his clothes, and stand naked as he watches the flames climb up the walls and build a spire of comprehensive smoke into the sky.

f) He will tell her. She will cry and say, No. She will not move. She will expect to have time to execute her campaign. She will not see the end—

this end—so near. She will learn, though too late, that time has no dominion here. She will learn that time betrays those who count on it.

g) He will slit her throat and saw off her arms. She will be dead before the flames reach her in the middle of the gutted living room and boil the blood around her chair. He will set fire to the house and watch it burn from the yard. His tears will run streaks down his blood-washed face, his singed and blackened body. Wind-driven dirt will sting his naked skin, fill his western ear. The heat of the feasting flames will swallow and smother the sound of his screaming.

h) He will tie lengths of rope to the legs of her chair and attach each one to an exit. She will ask again what he is doing. He will prop the doors open, letting flies out. She will holler. She will demand to know what he is doing. She will yell about leaving the doors open, about the flies. Don’t worry, he will say. She will argue as he prepares the gasoline—a small flame the color of sunset—the roar and the heat—his nakedness and tears. Then, as he watches from the yard he will see one of the screen doors stretch open and she will emerge, sooty, gagging, and naked too, the chaff of her threadbare nightgown burned up in the purifying fire; she will emerge, let out a scream and keep screaming, hungry for air, starving for life. Together they will be born again.


A version of this was previously published as part of the MLP chapbook series

 Josh Maday

Deus ex Machina | Moralism, Obedience, Desires

Deus ex Machina | Moralism, Obedience, Desires

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