Author's Notes: The point of alchemical narrative is to code hard won truths from laymen. It would be too easy to simply write "take a pinch of sulfur" when you can figure that sulfur as the sun itself in the context of a narrative. Tropes that have found their way into modern fantasy fiction have roots in alchemical formulas (i.e. the dragon, the unicorn, the castle holding great secrets). Not many realize that the purpose of alchemy (as opposed to archemy) is not to change lead to gold. The transmutation of "lead to gold" is an allegory for spiritual refinement. Alchemy is, in modern terms, a genre of fiction dealing with spiritual concerns. I refer anyone interested to Goethe's "Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily." The model for the alchemical scene below is taken from Paul Celan's "Todesfuge" ("Death Fugue").
Over the river, flowing as a river of smoke above it.
With the uncoffined dead, the unconfined dead, the Succubus flowed in a grave dug in the breezes above the Charles.
The dead were free.
And she partook of their bodies as they floated, completing the pilgrimage of their lives with them as smoke rising from a crematorium.
She drank the black milk, heavy with the taste of Original Sin, of their expiation from Materiality.
Ash and hair.
One with the smoke of sublimation.
Flecks of smoke heavy with memory.
And with the burden of memory inscribed within the substance of flesh, memory dissipated, memory locked and noted within particles of what had been clay invested with Breath.
As a creature of sublimated blood and anima.
She walked through the drifting smoke of the crematorium, and walked through the tangle of memory of those buried in a mass grave held by the sky.
Strings of smoke, impossible to see.
She plays the strings of smoke, stroking them, stroking the memories they hold and weaving of them a tapestry of music as one would stroke the strings of a harp.
She, and her flock, cross over the river dry-shod.
She, and her flock, flow toward the sea.
She guides them toward the hill where she had first heard the voice of the sun...
And partaking of the cold moisture in the air, partaking of the breath of the city...
She made herself and her flock the wet smoke of a grey winter day.
Coagulated, they fall.
Black precipitation, holding the memories of the uncoffined dead, falls.
Alights upon the face and form of a bronze angel who looks down upon passersby who do not see her. Black milk coalesces in humid beads.
Here the dead, who had been interred in the sky, find a new homeland.
Voiceless, the angel upon the rampart cannot guide them.
The angel, darker, who has guided them here, falls away, unwilling to share in this new homeland of soot upon the soiled body of honey-colored metal.
The angel, darker, who has guided them there, leaves behind their jumbled memories, and feels tears of kindness that she does not shed.
She reaches out, unbodied, to the man who sheds them, whom she has touched.
She will find him and heal him, and bring him the light of her terrible Beauty.
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Posted 4/24/98. The text content of this page is copyright © 1998 Michael Marano and is protected under international copyright law. Photo and custom graphics by Yvonne Navarro and Webette Designs. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction without the express written consent of the appropriate party is forbidden. Don't swipe stuff-- it's tacky.