Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Birthright: Chapter Eight

by Francis Scudellari


Cryptically back-lit, the jumbled numbers hovered in the blackness before him. Like glowing glyphs in an endless void, the haloed digits refused Jacob's every attempt at translation. The blurred amalgam of twos, threes, and fives bled into each other; sometimes multiplying, sometimes dividing when Jacob's tired eyes tried to focus in on it.

Unable to decipher the clockwork green figures, Jacob finally turned his head toward the shadowed doorway. His body lay angled on the mattress: his arms spread toward the far top corner, and his legs sprawled over its near bottom edge.

Turning on the faint light of a side lamp, Jacob saw the ceiling, the walls, the floor -- the whole room -- spin wildly. When he closed his eyes, it was Jacob himself who spun, seemingly picking up speed with each passing moment.

Taking a quick peek again, he glimpsed a small, fuzzy shadow move across the vertiginous facing wall. It was probably just Gregor. Then, Jacob pulled shut his bloodshot lids once more, squeezing the surrounding muscles with a force of will to fight the dizziness and slow the uncontrolled spiraling.

The Miles Davis record playing on the phonograph did its part to calm the storm. The throbbing bass, up-bounced down, down-careened up, out-ebbed in, and finally in-faded out of his revolving head. The fluttering piano nestled in one corner of his mind, accompanied by the saxophone's slinky swing and by the drum’s steady pulse.

Over top of it all, the sleek, plaintive trumpet snaked in from the living room and through the hall, before it slipped into the bedroom. It undulated over Jacob and wrapped itself around him. Its cool, soothing scales, coiled tightly about him and up-lifted his frame securely below the rotating ceiling.

One by one the instruments trailed away. Their final notes lapsing into silence, each released its grip on Jacob. Last to go, the trumpet unwound itself and let Jacob drop heavily back onto the bed with a thud -- the record needle rubbing roughly against the label’s edge.

The speakers emitted a circular crackle and hiss, and Jacob had to get up. His stomach howled angrily -- the vengeful rumbling of a wounded beast. It churned violently, rolling the rest of his body off the edge and onto the floor.

Clambering over various strewn shoes and bouncing off half-unpacked boxes, Jacob crawled out from the bedroom on his hands and knees. Reaching the bathroom, he blindly felt for the toilet. With both hands, he gripped the cold porcelain bowl and thrust his mouth into its larger one. His poisoned belly heaved. All of the day’s frustration, bitterness, pizza and gin poured forth, corrupting the clear blue water.

Jacob sat back against the wall. Things were going to get better … they had to. They couldn’t get any worse. Soon, he would find his muse. Soon, he would seduce her to his side. Soon, he would be a writer. “Soon. Soon. Soon.” He repeated the mantra in a slow whisper until he lost consciousness.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Holes, Part III

by Francis Scudellari

Upward falling

De-voided self, focused inward, probing soft-scarred flesh,
Recent-closed holes, raised for healing,
Finger-tilled, rich-soiled
Dark, dense

Unfolding dramas, spot-lit, set on cavernous stage,
Storied structures, decomposed berths,
Consciousness-fed streams
Once again

Monday, January 28, 2008

Holes, Part II

by Francis Scudellari

Level ground

On-minded maps, holes opening
Trap-like, spiraling snares, to/o deep
Wells, once-worn courses drawn away,
Toward secreted recesses

Unlearning played-out words, spoken
Verses of avoidance, leveled
Ahead, neither fall nor rise, growth,
Decay, steeped-in simple being

Holes, Part I

by Francis Scudellari

Downward ascent

Fill up
Landscapes, once-buried
Memories snatched from safe-kept dust,
Spotty dreams interrupted, portraitless frames, no-place held

Wounds, vacuumed
Space outward ceded,
Loose-dirt lipped hollows, bed-barren,
New life supplanted, uprooted to/o empty gardens

Friday, January 25, 2008

Birthright: Chapter Seven

by Francis Scudellari

Edom Visits Jacob

The doorknob smacked into the wall with a dull thud. Edom stood on the landing clad in black. “Hey Jake, aren’t you going to invite me in.” Edom walked in uninvited. “How’s the great American novel coming? Written anything about me yet?”

“Fuck off, Ed. I haven’t written anything about anyone yet. All I’ve done all day is waste paper.”

“Hope you don’t mind if I help myself.” Edom wandered off into the kitchen. The refrigerator door squeaked open and slammed shut. Edom re-emerged with a bottle of beer in one hand and a cold slice of pizza in the other. “Jesus, Jake, you oughta do some dishes some time. It’s pretty gross in there. I’ve never seen so many roaches. You’re violating some major health codes.”

“Lay off the roaches, they’re my pets. That bastard Virgil won’t let me keep a cat or a dog. The fucker won’t even let me buy a goldfish. He says it’s in the lease. The roaches were my only option. I tried to name each of them, but they all look alike, so I just call them all Gregor. They’re easy to take care of. I don’t have to buy them any food or anything. Don’t have to bring them to a vet. They’re not so ugly when you get used to them.”

“Yeah? Well, maybe you can teach them some tricks. Maybe you can teach them how to sweep.” Edom shuffled toward the couch, kicking the balls of paper. “You must have destroyed a couple of forests today. Greenpeace is gonna come after you if you keep this up.” He fell back into the pink and green floral cushions.

“Fuck Greenpeace. I gotta find something to write about. I’m going nuts. I can’t even get started. I’ve tried everything. My head hurts from thinking so much.”

“Maybe it hurts from all the gin and smoke, or from being locked up in this stale apartment all day. You need to get out of here for a while, Jake. Why don’t you come with me to the show tonight? Scour is playing down at the Pit. It should be pretty wild. You could get inspired.”

“I’ve got all the inspiration I need in my jazz and my gin. Besides, I’m not leaving this place until I write something, anything.” Jacob drained his glass.

Edom got up. He finished his beer and tossed the empty bottle on the couch. “Suit yourself. It’s your loss. I’ll let you know what you missed tomorrow.” Edom walked to the door stroking his beard. He grasped the doorknob and turned back toward Jacob.

“Hey, Jacob, do yourself a favor and open a window. This place reeks.” He slammed the door behind him. Footsteps cascaded down the stairwell.

A laundry list of thank-you's (updated)

Often times my debts accumulate like neglectful piles of dirty clothes constantly reminding me of tasks undone as they hide in plain sight. The great gobs of owed gratitude grow ever larger and threaten me with the bodily harm of suffocation if not addressed quickly, until I have to dash them all off in a single doing.

Four of my best blogging friends have graciously bestowed separate recognitions on this site, and I'm going to requite their link love now ... admittedly with lesser aptitude and in woefully delayed fashion. The slowly returned affection isn't due to lack of appreciation, but because my mind is too frequently engaged chasing its time-consuming cyphers.

And now the acknowledgments, in reverse order of date given:

1. Hanna at the multi-lingual and artistically dynamic site Amori, poesie, arte, chat virtuali just now gave me the Blogging Mentor Award. You can read the origins of this prestigiously derived bauble in her post Mentoring Project of Harvard. Hanna is someone who has been very helpful in pushing my creativity lately, so I'm more indebted to her guidance than she mine.

2. Lisa at the always uplifting, inspiring and insightful LifePrints gave me the very much appreciated Thinking Blogger Award. Her post Think, Thank, Thunk thoughtfully lays out the characteristics of a critical thinker, and it's something we should all strive to be. She's certainly met all the requirements at her blog, and I hope to emulate her.

3. JD on his ever well-written site The Uneasy Supplicant (please note the new address) gave me a shout-out for the You Cheer Me Up Award. Always one to creatively administer his memes, JD has written a very intriguing framing post called The Chaos Factor. The positive mood engendering affect definitely goes both ways. JD is one of my writing heroes.

4. Jackie from the beautiful and witty site The Painted Veil has been accumulating many well-deserved honors over the past couple weeks, and she passed on a passel of them to me (too numerous to display here). You can tally up all of the glittering prizes at her post Awards, Awards, and More Awards. Jackie continues to charm the blogosphere , and the awards are still pouring in.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Shedding layers, continued

To/o now shed layers
By Francis Scudellari

To/o now shed layers, made
Rheumy, false skins remove,
Strip bare facades, costumed
Everyday, worn out-
Ward shows, for others (in)
Sane, high-mannered walls raze

To/o simple appearance,
Bearable masked, cast off
Many-faced, surface-cut
Arrangement, untidy
Boxes, open-lid toss
Aside: new lines spoken

To/o plastic smile, attached
Persona peel, (a)way
Leaving only, naked
Put-on amorphous, gray
Shaded come ... placate no
One, else wanting to see

Monday, January 21, 2008

Birthright: Chapter Six

by Francis Scudellari

Jacob Wrestles

The elevated train rushed past Jacob’s window; a periodic and brief mobile earthquake sending tremors through his room. Marking another unproductive twenty minutes gone by, the card table trembled, rattled and coughed beneath the empty bottle of gin and the butt-lipped ashtray. As he had all day, Jacob sat unmoved.

He stared at the blank sheet of paper facing out from the antique typewriter -- his prized find from the local thrift shop. The white leaf was a tabula as rasa as his stubbornly uncooperative mind. Its predecessors, filled with varying degrees of gibberish, lay crumpled at his feet.

A jazz standard favorite, “I’m Old Fashioned,” drifted from the stereo speakers. John Coltrane’s tenor sax crooned softly, painting the room with its blue mood. Despite a track record for becalming his scattered mind, in this current spasmodic fit of blocked writing the music had lost its power to soothe.

Jacob’s fingers hesitated over the keys, unsure which to stroke and in what order. The slender pink digits reached timidly toward the neatly ordered black tiles and stopped. They yearned to caress the smooth square surfaces. They longed to confidently jab at the raised-letter targets and engender the staccato rhythm of creativity. But each time they neared their goal, they were abruptly called back by Jacob’s misguided thoughts.

Half-formed ideas jostled his mind. Opening lines became unctuous demons that taunted and tested him. Like dancing wraiths and piping shadows, they lured him to their lair. As writhing specters, they defied him to clasp their oily hides and wrestle. Vague and vaporous shades, they tempted him to vainly clutch at their gaseous shapes.

Trying to capture some meaning, Jacob fought with the slippery and misshapen demi-phrases. His eyes squeezed shut, with gritted teeth, he figuratively jumped at them. He grasped them only for a moment, and then they dependably broke free from his embrace. His hands were always left groping at the barren air.

The paraded words would not come except costumed in well-worn clichés. Jacob’s mouth fidgeted. His lips sputtered as he tried to sound out a potential starter sentence. “‘The night always scared him.’ No. ‘The rain lashed against the glass.’ Come on. ‘Virgil hated life.’ No. Fuck, no. Dear God, just give me one damned line. I’ll take it from there.”

Jacob waited. His pained eyes turned heavenward. His pliant arms dangled helpless at his side. He pined patiently for the divine muse he'd so long imagined to possess him. He offered himself up to her. He willed her to direct his hands as she saw fit, but she didn't come.

He could see her there, in his mind's eye. Hovering above his head, she smiled. She laughed coyly. She teased him: “Not today, Jacob, but soon. When I choose. Not when you demand it.” Her fiery mantle faded. Her glowing eyes darkened, and then she disappeared.

Jacob ripped yet another stillborn opus from the machine. Cursing, blaming and despising his vision, he crushed the loosed paper into a ball and threw it at the ceiling. The unstained wad bounced off the gleaming white surface. It fell to the floor welcomed by its brothers.

Jacob took a long drag from a fresh tarring cigarette. He breathed deeply the thick black, calming smoke and leaned back in the metal chair. Studying the poster-sized, bulging cheeks of Dizzy Gillespie, he hoped his hero's bent horn might blow him some answers by morning.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Taking a queue from Fellini

As we're all needing a break from my possibly over-indulgent Winter descent into navel gazing, the calendar offers me a double opportunity to mark the birthday of film great Federico Fellini and to engage in some cathartic song and dance. (Image at left adapted from a photo taken in 1965 by Walter Albertin, New York World Telegram staff photographer)

I've always been fond of Fellini's work and, as coincidence would have it, my very first post on this blog was a review of La Dolce Vita. As my 2008 tribute to this maestro di cinema, I present the final scene from Fellini's 8 1/2.

It's one of my favorite film endings, and how I think we should all conclude our life's work. Line up all those who have touched us for good or ill, cue the band, crack the whip and make the memories dance in a wonderful flourish of circus-like showmanship. The fabulous Nino Rota provides the score, as always, and it's a finale that will bring a smile to your face whether you've seen the film or not.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


By Francis Scudellari

My body taut, in full-fingered stretch up
Toward dim-lit corners, raised fore-seeking
Traces of glyphs, "to be" chiseled, unknown
Hands future feeling pulled by ideas
Unnamed, thoughts not yet formed, glistening tips
Craned to hear cryptic words, spoken only
Later, echoed in tomorrow's daydreams,
Hopes etched as memories, not yet lived

My heart beaten, a full-blooded convert
Soaking up foreign energies, red streamed
Emotion pulsing through unseen beds turns
Light to matter, in macabre dance, fluid
Embraces, shadow kissed lips elicit
Bursts of wished-for affection, happiness
Captured in negative, reverse outlines,
A smile-framed photo, not yet developed

My mind undone, to full exposure points
Outward, far reaches traveling essence
Spread thin, unfurling in twisted channels
Still uncut, searches unsightly sources,
Finds perverse illumination
Breathing in notions uncharted, sensing
New life synthesized from untold tales, old
Characters in stories, not yet written

My soul unpaired, in full-throated song calls
Forth partnered static, bellows-like beckons,
Exhaling sparked, spirited barbs meaning
To attract motes floating into beams uncast,
Homeless fellow dust specks wanting rays, paths
Shimmered down earthward, revealing in common
Our fate: heliotropes lacking a sun,
All striving toward starlight, not yet born

Friday, January 18, 2008

Birthright: Chapter Five

Jacob and Edom Arrive

“Almost there. Watch out for the light.” Gripping one end of the mattress, Jacob backed into the living room. “We can just leave it here. I’ll move it into the bedroom later.”

Edom, holding the other end, followed Jacob into the room. Rings of red hair fell over his eyes. Auburn drops cascaded down his back — a lion’s mane. A diabolic goatee framed his mouth, menaced his gentle features, his innocent green eyes.

Jacob and Edom flung the mattress to the floor and collapsed on top of it.

“That’s everything. Where’s my beer?”

"Give me a minute. I gotta catch my breath.” Jacob’s greedy mouth gulped the stale air. His straight chestnut locks dripped salted tears, tangy drops that stung the corners of his muddied eyes. Propped on his elbows, he scanned the box-cluttered living room.

“Man, I’m beat and I’ve still gotta unpack all this shit.” Jacob struggled to his feet, leg-wearied, light-headed. “If you’re hungry, I can order us a pizza. There’s a cool place down the street.” He stumbled into the kitchen.

“Maybe later, I just wanna rest for a few minutes. Why don’t you put on some tunes? Something mellow. Maybe some Sinatra.”

Returning, Jacob handed Edom a beer. Hugging a bottle of gin to his chest, he sat on an overturned crate. He uncapped the glass-encased spirits and took a swig of the captive soul. A grimace softened to a grin. “Can’t play any tunes until I hook up the stereo. If you’re desperate, I can sing to you. I know all the words to ‘New York, New York.’”

Edom closed his eyes. He pulled his hair back from his face. “No, thanks. I’ll never be that desperate. Did you find a gig yet?”

“Yeah, at a bar a few blocks from here. ‘The Green Boar.’ Catchy, huh? It should be perfect. I work nights, four days a week. Eclectic clientèle. I should be able to get lots of material.” Jacob took another shot of gin, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

“What do you mean by 'material'?”

“Material for my stories. I’m gonna milk the customers for ideas. I told you before, I’m gonna be a writer. I’m gonna be famous, Ed, so you better be nice to me. Maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll let you be in my entourage.”

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Faith, Part III

by Francis Scudellari

Love, once missed, understood, cast out
In sanctity's murky waters
Plunged, gleaming surfaces rippled
Longing submerged, assumed sins washed,
Accrued wages wiped clean, raised up
Air taken in, emerges new
Re-versed in belief, awake to/o
Household objects baring cautions
Stilted, once-trite words now stamped on
Ephemera, coaxed back to Faith

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Faith, Part II

by Francis Scudellari

Hope in sincere, glad costume draped,
Gnawing doubt cover-comforted,
Warm well-being falls, hidden charms
Blanketing truth, lending courage
Cloaked in caring, new shod, firmly
Footed on happenstance, I walk
Dressed in gilt robed illusion, glimpse
Gloom-lifting passerby smiles, voiced
Voluminous portents, revealed
Cloud-shift omens, pointed at Love

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Faith, Part I

by Francis Scudellari

Faith in seeming, serene, dipped deep,
Nosing reason over-rising …
Drowned; Apparent chaos ordered,
Nonsense now connected by chance,
Stories to conclusive breadth brought,
Once-upon confusion expelled,
Till time's random digits turn too
In consequence, meaning trebled,
Numerous blinking messages,
Clockwork sign posts, leading to Hope

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sea change: today's doodle

Sometimes I imagine a general form that then takes on a more specific figurative shape as I begin drawing it. The end result can often be a surprise, and it can easily morph into very different objects. For example, the sea creature below evolved from the same visual idea as the tongue of fire in the last post.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Birthright: Chapter Four

By Francis Scudellari

Jacob’s Muse

“I know I got it here somewhere.” Virgil fumbled with a clutch of keys. Singling one out after another, he tried and erred three times to turn the deadbolt barring their entrance. The fourth steel jigsaw piece met its mated hole and the tumbled bar rolled back with a screech. “There she is.” He turned the loose brass knob and pushed open the heavy wood door with a flourish.

Jacob entered first, walking to the center of the uneven, bare floor. His head turned slowly to drink in the room’s battered décor: the broken light fixture, the bent nails projecting from mildewed walls, a bathroom door unhinged.

The apartment was just the sort of dive that Jacob had expected. The perfect down on its luck launching pad his up-coming artist's mind had conjured from the classified.

She was here. Jacob could feel her warmth. His beautiful muse floated about the ceiling. She waited to descend, a tongue of flame to lick, to crackle, to burn in his soul until her blistering breath coursed through his veins, sered his chilled flesh, sparked his inert mind.

Soon, her fervent voice would fill his head. Soon, her ardent song would leap from his mouth. Jacob longed to feel her inside of him. Soon, she would lustily sow a seed and Jacob would give birth. Soon, he would create, undisturbed, absorbed.

Jacob walked toward the front window now tinted by a blush-red sunset. He looked out at the pigeon-dotted tracks, the debris-cluttered alley. This would be his neighborhood. This would be his home. Virgil joined Jacob by the sagging sheets of glass and lowered the jaundiced shades. "Not much of a view, but who cares, right?” Jacob cared. He cherished the view.

Jacob turned around and glimpsed a cockroach scurry out from the kitchen. It paused in the hallway, eyed him, then slipped into a crack in the wall. “Don’t worry about them. We’ll have someone come by and spray the place before ya move in. Whatcha think, kid? We’ll get her cleaned up real good. You gonna take it?”

Virgil stood before Jacob, his lips twisted in a sleepy smile. His seeming tenantless eyes fixed ahead. His drooping body teetered toward Jacob, awaiting a decision. His tar-stained, six-fingered hand scratched the black stubble of his cheek. “Do ya wanna look around s’more. I got time. I got nothin’ but time.”

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Each line limned ...

By Francis Scudellari

Each line limned, mood rounded,
Colored fabric draped on
Nude isms, skeletal
Thought ... Strips off bits of flesh,
Muscle from bone
Leaving …

Each word formed, syllable
Arranged, sight stacked to reach
High truths distant, spotted ...
Deconstructs memories,
Dissects my mind
Leaving …

Each letter inked, fluid
Flowing, point to curve, closed
Circle, drawn essence ... Cuts
Open, bleeds me ever
Black leaches, vain
Leaving …

Nothing just, Ideas

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hibernation: when streams turn cold

As the dead of winter sets in, I'm retreating into a cozy den built of spare words and found images. Hunkered down in this incubating nest, all of my non-essential systems will slow to conserve precious energy. My prosaic breaths will grow shallow and far between, with only a few abstract expressions escaping into the chill air outside my cave.

While slumbering in this self-preserving hibernation, I'll do my best to provide warmth to guests stumbling by from out in the icy far stretches.

Two friends and fellow wayfarers were kind enough to recently lend some light inside my self-imposed retreat and I offer them my thanks now ...

Jackie at The Painted Veil (back and in fine form again) tagged me with the New Year's Resolution or Not meme. Thank you Jackie. To answer the meme without doing it ... not. I try to avoid making promises I can't keep.

Hanna at Amori, poesie, arte, chat virtuali yet again is owed a double "thank you." She tagged me with the 7 Weird or Random Facts About Me meme (I sorta did this one before, here) and very graciously nominated me for Blog of the Day at Santa's aptly named site (feel free to vote me up).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tip toeing on twisted footing

Tip toeing
By Francis Scudellari

Tip toeing a-n
Ever narrow
Edge, long strayed from
Others, main path

Distance reduced,
Pointed to/o vague
Shadows, resolved
Once, finite dot

Teetering on,
Waiting for, in-
Seeming, to fall

But not stopping,
Hoping some (how?),
To sprout wings, find
A new way, Up

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Random Doodling: Hand-eye coordination

Birthright: Chapter Three

By Francis Scudellari

The Light

“Hang on a minute. I’ll give these heads a couple turns.” Virgil paused on the landing; his body folded unevenly to fix the railing.

Jacob straddled the top step and waited; his eyes captivated by a blue light, a flickering wedge that poured from the breached wall ahead. A still life’s dust-dimmed fruit danced within its sparkling kiss. A potted fern’s drooping fronds stiffened, stretched, aroused by its tinted touch. Jacob was also attracted to the cool glow, but before he could reach out to it, Virgil’s voice tugged him back.

“They tell me this area’s becoming sorta trendy. Couple neighborhood joints are real popular …” Virgil's words walked Jacob through the neighborhood; stepping him past the bars, shops, cafes, diners, and churches.

Jacob attended the coarse ramblings at first, but soon lost patience. His ears lost their grip on the hoarse-throated gurgle, and let it amble by into the darkness. His attention refocused on the light emanating from the cracked door. The muted sounds of televised laughter, ritual applause, erupted out into the stairway. Faint, irregular breathing filled the short spasms of silence.

Curious, unable to resist its pull, Jacob craned his neck past the molding. He thrust his head toward the pale rays and pressed his eye into the two-inch gap. It met its veined reflection; its stunned, disembodied twin that floated alone above a steel chain. In an instant, the laughter stopped, the light ceased, the door slammed shut.

“That’s Wilson. You won’t see much of him or his wife. They keep to themselves. They’re a little strange, but harmless. I think he’s, how d’ya say it, you know, a little slow.”

Virgil winked at Jacob, sheathed his tool and continued his ascent. “I gotta get in shape, these stairs are killing me.”

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Poetic license to rationalize

Self justification
By Francis Scudellari

Hands and minds left idle,
They say, do both devil's
Work and play … read mischief

What if for false idols,
Ask I, we busy these
Fleshy, grabby pink mitts …

Or to corrupt ideals,
What then? Now, fingered, I
Pick up pen, draw strange shapes …

Shadow, light, mere idylls

Monday, January 07, 2008

Spellbound, a-musing myself

I could grasp it ...
By Francis Scudellari

I could grasp it,
The nearest twig,
Not to/o long worn
Thin, snap it off;
Whittle it down
Smooth, to a point

I could seek out
Books of spells, casts
Of blessed chants;
Choose one, speak it
Slowly, linger
On cryptic words

I could wave her,
My new-fashioned
Wand, once around,
End where it starts,
Fix this, make all
A-new, at-one

Then un-tranced branch
Broken, I 'd reach
Others in can't;
Connect to be-
Witched, conned join; shake
Free real magic

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Birthright: Chapter Two

by Francis Scudellari

Jacob and Virgil

“Yeah, this railing’s a little loose, but I’ll tighten ’er up, don’t you worry kid.” A hairy hand slapped Jacob's shoulder, jarring him from the vision. Reverie removed, the booming voice disintegrated into a low, gravelly rasp. The pale god-like face melted. It morphed into the dirty, earthy smirk of the landlord.

Jacob squeezed the fat, sweaty palm extended to him.

“How you doin’ kid, I’m Virgil. I talked to ya on the phone yesterday. I live on the first floor right here. I look after the place, make sure everything’s workin’ okay. Y’ever got any problems you just call Virgil and I’ll fix ’em right up. Follow me, I’ll show ya the place.”

A thick cigar pried Virgil’s smile — an unlit prop, a half-smoked pacifier that he chewed between words. The smell of vodka clung to his breath. This morning, every morning, Virgil tapped the bottled vigor. He looked to, through, the cool, clear liquid. It restored his world’s lost sheen. It quickened his sapped strength. It bandaged his proud wounds.

The liquor lent him a mirthful mask, a canned chuckle — saccharine outer garments to cover his bitter heart. The alcohol spread through his soulless shell. It animated his numbed flesh. It made taut the strings that lifted his flabby limbs and walked him through the routine stumble of his day-to-day chores.

Virgil was to be Jacob’s escort up the narrow stairway. Lagging behind, Jacob watched the lump of a man climb. Rusted tools and a shiny flask bobbed in his rear pockets with each step. Jacob tried to dodge the tumbling, thudding words of dull banter that fell to his ears.

“You’ll like it here, kid. Good location. Cheap rent. Quiet neighbors. You’ll get used to the trains.”

The cigar attached itself to Virgil’s hand, a sixth brown stub. Shaking and fluttering, it pointed Jacob’s gaze toward the bent shadows, the cobwebbed corners where sinister spirits sat poised to drop on his guide's haunted shoulders.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Conformist: Grasping at shadows

I just watched Bernardo Bertolucci's stunningly beautiful adaptation of Alberto Moravia's Il Conformista (The Conformist), and was struck by the timeliness and timelessness of its tale — one man's misguided compulsion to fit in and his pursuant descent into the abyss of self-denial.

It's a film that is at once absurdly comical and heartbreakingly resonant. With the help of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci visually captures the dissonance of a man trapped between light and shadow. Released in 1970 and set in 1930s Italy, its themes echo concerns ever current in the writings I encounter in my varied journeys through today's mainstream media and blogosphere.

The story's anti-hero, Marcello Clerici (played perfectly by Jean-Louis Trintignant), is motivated by the guilt of an assumed childhood crime and, more importantly, the need to atone for the self-perceived sin of being "other." His self-inflicted punishment is an embrace of the dominant fascist ideology and the trappings of a "normal" life — religion, marriage and family.

Clerici, ever conflicted, curries favor with murderous masters and takes on an assignment to seek out and destroy a "subversive" former teacher. Professor Quadri's escape to exile in free Paris was a contradictory double betrayal to Clerici — offending the patriotism of his fascist overlords and stoking a sense of abandonment from his idealized past.

Using a non-linear narrative, the film begins with the onset of a final chase that will end with Clerici as trapped spectator to a macabre and horrific climactic scene. He can do nothing but stare stiffly and dispassionately from a car window at the tragedy that unfolds before him.

Between that start and its seemingly inevitable conclusion, we skip along with Clerici through the shadowy memories of the events that lead him down this slippery path. Below I've posted the clip where he first meets Quadri again in Paris and recounts his professor's lecture on Plato's Myth of the Cave. It's one of the film's critical moments and a telling metaphor for our own time.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A serialized killing of time: Introducing my Birthright

I'm going to try something different for the new year and post an old short story of mine in serialized fashion. Several of my favorite blog writers have been doing the same, and I thought I'd take their ingenuity as inspiration for a change in direction and format here.

Of course serial fiction dates back to the novels of Charles Dickens (pictured here perhaps working on one of those stories) and other writers of renown who got their start in periodicals. I think it's fitting that the form be adapted to what's becoming our modern Internet-based equivalent of popular journals: the Web log.

Below you'll find the first chapter of my story Birthright. It was first conceived in the mid-1990s and I've tinkered with the language over the years before settling on this final version. I'll keep an index of the chapters, as their posted, in this blog's sidebar.

Birthright: Chapter One

by Francis Scudellari

Jacob’s Daydream

Jacob’s lips spread slowly, smugly, in a grin. A gleam. A glint. A glimmer flashed in his eyes. The wood, with warped moan, received his weight. A crack. A sharp creak. Shrill cries echoed up the staircase -- musty trumpet blasts to herald Jacob’s arrival.

The beige walls swelled inward to embrace him, to welcome him, as he prepared to mount the knobby spine. The three-story pile of yellow brick whispered to him, promised him shelter, offered him winter-suffocating warmth, summer-shading cool. It longed to nurture him, to rear him through his writer’s infancy.

Jacob’s foot rested on the first step, his ladder’s first rung, anticipating. He trembled, anxious to run ahead, to leap forward into the so certain future. He daydreamed. He saw, thought of a time when college students, tourists, the idle curious, would mimic his journey. He thought, saw the bodies stream up the weed-choked pathway, feed the pool of well-mannered admirers paused at the crumbled, time-neglected, concrete steps.

The front door squeals open; it snaps shut. The hallway spits out one cherubic youth; it ingests another. One by one, they ascend, descend, in perfect balance.

Presiding over it all, a scholar, a guardian, with white bristled chin and all-knowing eyes. His gray, aged voice thunders down through the timbered bowels, it rattles up the fragile bone planks.

“Jacob Bethel scaled this very staircase each day, the images of the street dancing in his head. The faces of beggars, prostitutes, hustlers; the sounds of sirens, gun shots, screeching tires; the smell of urine, vomit and spilled whiskey; all spinning franticly, pounding violently, waiting anxiously for him to give them life -- the eternal life of the written page.

“This railing, this sad ribbon of wood that you use for support, undeserving, felt his firm hand clutch it, rub against it, caress it. Those very hands that hammered out such vivid tales of the city, such passionate portraits of modern pain and isolation, grasped this loose railing.”

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A New Year Artfully Resolved

My comrade in art George Kokines converted his Rogers Park studio into a gallery for a "Works In Progress" show yesterday, and I was lucky enough to be involved in the planning and orchestration. It was his New Year's gift to Chicago, and I thought I'd share some photos from the event.

As you can see, George has quite a wide range of technique, media and inspiration, and there was a great energy in the room as we all kicked 2008 off on an expressive note. George has provided me with much guidance and focus in my creative endeavors the past year, and I hope we'll prod each other toward an even more inventive future.

Fresh starts, new beginnings

New Year's Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I appreciate the spirit of renewal that we celebrate as the calendar flips and the year turns. The starting point may be arbitrary, but there's still significance in beginning again our planetary journey around the sun.

In the midst of winter's cold grip, it's good to warm ourselves with thoughts of reinvention and self improvement. Here on the far north side of Chicago, even the weather cooperated in reaffirming that seasonal metaphor. A fresh blanket of snow fell on the trees and walks, painting the neighborhood in a pristine white as if to symbolize a clean slate.

Personally, I don't have any specific resolutions other than to be better at everything. Nationally, I don't know what the year ahead has in store, but I have a strong feeling it won't be dull. Universally, I wish everyone a happy, peaceful and loving solar spin.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Drawing up a happy new year

I finished another set of drawings for my friend George Kokines. He's going to lock them away in some secret, private art stash, so I thought I better share these photos before they disappear from public viewing.

A wordless panorama, the sketches stretch across the pages reflecting some strange push-pull, socio-religious, techno-sexual contradiction buried deep in my psyche.

I've divided the panels into three overlapping segments for easier viewing. Click on any of the images to see them larger.