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Amber Paulen

Behold! A Pantheon!

The following has been excerpted from the forth-coming first draft of the premier novel entitled The Body’s Long Madness.

Valerie is led blindly. She is sitting in Piazza della Rotonda staring up at that great ancient Pantheon. She singles out her gaze; she focuses it; she cancels out the rest. The facade is a pock-marked triangle supported by sixteen illustrious granite columns. These columns are so tall and so wide that when standing below them one can verify that the ancient world was ruled by giants. The bronze portal to the pagan temple stands in interminable height. To open it requires the strength of ten well-sinewed men or one hand of one giant. Whenever Valerie enters she deliberates with her imagination to bring it back to the way it used to be in Agrippa’s time, before the fire. For now it is just another marbled epithet to the everlasting Catholic church. But back then, in the glory days of paganism, who knows what grandiosity would be capable. Only embedded within, there Valerie holds it all – histories unravel like you would not believe.

Seven gods for seven planets. Venus, with her marbled flesh so white, strikes a pose. In her ear dangles Cleopatra’s own pearl. Mars, Pluto, Neptune are all standing around with nothing better to do; twiddling their thumbs in outlandish contemplation: what came first? the planets or the gods? Directly above, piercing the center is the Sun, the occulus, the Great Eye. Its shaft dancing along the marbled floor with the care and compassion, the superabundant patience of the one deemed the ultimate, the responsible. The vaulted ceiling builds up with simple cornices to this hole. With what labor did this edifice demand? With what foresight did the architect employ?

The seven gods chill leisurely in their orbit, sipping margarita cocktails at every happy hour. The sun is the great provider, bestowing each with light in their turn. Not one garbles impatiently; all good things come to those who wait. Hadrian rebuilt this pantheon with ecumenical ideals. What would he think if he saw it now? Regardless of why, it is the fact that it still is which provokes the state of awe. That this pagan temple stubbornly stands like the negatives of a film strip, an anomaly when faced with time. Who can possibly deny the great import when hovered beneath its gargantuan shadow? Who can possibly shrug and say, “Oh well, it’s merely luck.”? There is some secret housed and locked up in that vaulted ceiling. There is some forsaken mystery built into its very foundation. Perhaps when us dust ridden humans begin to sit back like those seven gods all illustrious knowledge will be revealed. The floors will shake and the bricks will fall and we will be shocked at our own reflections for we will be divined. Whatever hyper-drive society has imposed on us will be diminished, whatever boundaries and limitations we had thought ourselves susceptible to will be properly disposed of. What we will see in the mirror will be a white and blinding light. We will shine like the sun and rise to the cosmos, within orbit and without orbit, somewhere amidst all good, somewhere in communion with the stars. All “progress” will be reversed. The earth will be given freedom from below the claws of tyranny. All things will sing and dance. What a merry lot we’ll be!

Sometimes, staring up at that pockmarked portico, Valerie gets the feeling that those ancients had it all right and us lowlanders have screwed it all up. It was a time when one prayed to the planets and didn’t think twice. A time when one could walk with the gods and it was completely OK. The spice which is celestial seasoning was as common as table salt or so she would like to believe. Evil had been under its original transformation; for that is just how things are. Sin was not a word. It was not wrought before one’s nose as the path to salvation like a carrot on the string that one must not bite. For if one does not repent, the wrath of the Almighty God will come down from the heavens in a bolt of abusive electrification. Perhaps that is where those Guantanamo monsters have derived their techniques. It is the damned Catholics fault. No, it was the Christians who have dug our grave. Nope, the Protestants, the Italians, the Americans, the Germans, the Marxists, the Socialists, the Raw-Foodists, the Atheists, the Communists, Consumerism, Liberalism, Recyclists, Bicyclists. Maybe it was the Jews. If not the Jews then certainly the Mohammedans. What does it matter? Poison is as poison does. Drown ‘em all in the Sargasso Sea!

October 2007
Bracciano Italy


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