Subject: an update for the Pilgrims Guide
When finally we reached the temple we found it collapsing, one brick at a time. Some walls have peeling paint; others have layers and layers of graffiti from years of pilgrims — some disappointed, some angry, some sad, and some clinging to their obsession and leaving flowers, photographs, little handmade cards and books, and more than a few pieces of clothing. Leaving their offerings (and teddy bears. did I mention the number of teddy bears? and the money and bottles of whiskey, which a smiling attendant collects after the pilgrims have finished their tearful or ranting obeisances or their hair-and-clothes-tearing or their hysterical shrieking). Leaving their offerings and maybe their delusions on a concrete platform, its chipped paint as grey as the sky.
We entered the temple and found it stinking. Stale cigarettes, old pizza, last night’s whiskey. The priests were out drinking in a bar down the road, except one who lolled in a back room, half-dead from heroin. When the others returned from their ‘meeting’, they injected him with something to reanimate him so they could continue their parody of the sacred rites.
We had journeyed to the temple, a group of us, full of love or longing or fear or exultation, and a few who came along for the photo-opportunity, full of derision. But when we saw the mess and the useless priests and the grinning, well-fed attendants, even those full of derision became sad, and those full of exultation collapsed on the filthy floor or ran into the littered niches, crying their thunderstorm tears and howling their blue-black howls.
But it was only when we heard the muzak that we began to mutilate ourselves.
(First published in Hamilton Stone Review)