The curtains were dingy, the floor was slight cracked, visage had faltered unseen and unchecked. Remembrance suffered in daintiness gone, she smiled in the mirror, and moved then along. Sojourn expected she waivered severe, just a thread of the beauty sublime left within.
Her name was Marlene and she lived in a dream that had died in cried room in forsaken hovel to stand alone grim like some forgotten novel.
Her fingers still felt they could wander in beauty, yet beauty abandoned long fled, like a tiresome butterfly caged in a harem, or bleeding false money despair. Yet she took a deep breath to remember some past which she couldn’t accept like a necklace once worn by the one she once suffered forsaken. And she tugged at her stockings to straighten repose. She buttoned her dress and walked out on the street.
The sidewalks were dusky, the streets were obscure, a bar on the corner familiar to her with welcoming handclaps oblique and demure, a smoke-drunken song unnoticed by many reminded her somehow of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny.
She walked in, clicking torn and worn heels, at the bar she sat down and ordered a gin. Straight up. But a cheap cup. And watched the patrons fade like murky shadows in the greasy glass …
Marlene had once dreamed she was Queen of the Clouds. Now she sat on a worn wooden stool in a sullen, sad bar, the murky shadows in her greasy gin glass reminding her somehow of whom she’d once been.
Still the music was fine, yet not long ago, it had been a robust and risque cavalcade, like fresh-laden waterfalls free to please all … now cacophonous misery seeped through the walls.
It seemed she had once been a girl in this bar, but in such a short time, fetid dreadsome attention, she felt rapid-aged, in soul’s light to lessen, or so it now seemed to Marlene. She had almost forgotten her dream.
In vague reverie she could almost thus dream as the gin worked its duty in loosening stream; another would benefit thoughts more serene, so she ordered another and surveyed the scene. Where there once, in this bar, had been burgeoning laughter, and ladies all colorful, flirting a’chatter, and boys in starched uniform, mustaches neat, had slipped into lotten charade, their once heady vision betrayed.
Where there once, on these streets, just outside of this bar, trudged the yellow-starred dirty in sickening gloom, marching dead, marching madness yet faithful in hope that some god of somewhere as written in lore would have mercy and charity forevermore.
And their letters once written in vain supplication to loved ones drip red in the gathering loom, slogged and forgotten in yesterday’s illness, this red-letter day, smothered in blood, awaits unfulfilled in the street and the mud.
Marlene had once dreamed she was Queen of the Stars.
Now she absently turns her greasy gin cup, swirling memories of bar stories lost, she feels sort of lonely, she feels that if she could have done as only God could, as she sits on her barstool, greasy glass beckoning, but the prayers she once prayed aren’t received into Heaven, and she looks ’round for someone with faint recognition, but the flowers inside have died in felled rain, heartlessly tempered by scourge of the faithful. In ruins of the heart lies no sweetness relief.
She remembers her sister, remembers her mother, remembers the stench of her mother’s last lover. He had been such a captain with golden-like ribbons, took her last rumpled chastity ever thus ridden, and the rutting and sweating and pounding he gave her – she thought she had liked it, the roughness, and pale, blonde soft beard against her neck – now she smiled just a lip-turn at fate she had given to this motherless bastard who’d been so secure. To this fatherless rapist she had endured – now she sits with her gin glass as smile creeps upon her, she’s ready for judgement, redemption secure.
Marlene sips her gin, leaving just a swig in the cup bottom, swirling around like a murky reminder of the day that the dust-soaked street whispers had blanked her last vestige of innocence. Those guys in the little kitchen, sitting around mom’s wooden table on the folding chairs, glasses and bottle on the cheap flowered tablecloth, unkempt in their uniforms, bolstered and unshaven, patting their buttoned bellies … and her little sister too.
That had been a bad beginning to a bad day. And she wished she could forget all that. But now as she sits on her worn wooden stool, remembering how she had taken the luger from her mother’s bedside table, and somehow, with some pretty fine aim, blew it all up. And how her mother had just started cleaning the blood and brains off the cheap tablecloth like spilled gravy. And how her little sister had only mouthed “Thanks, Marlene.”
Bodies can be gotten rid of easily enough – the street and the blood and the mud took them in. They were heavy, it was tiring to move them down there, but the neighbors said nothing and the police asked their questions and nobody bothered much more – it was that kind of time in the war.
Marlene looks down to her swirling gin, fingers shaking, perhaps a bit of sweat on her brow, smooths her hair and orders another cup.
Hummingbirds don’t land in every yard, forsaken flowers don’t spring blooms. Where flowers don’t bloom flit no hummingbirds, and life is a saddening, bleakened tomb.
She dreams in soft silver and moonlight reflections … she dreams heretofore of shattered replete as blood-saken memories die at her feet.
Another gin. Same greasy cup. Cheap as it is, she cannot get enough.
They will come for her surely as they once had for the yellow-stars.
Marlene’s hard-fought story is not hard to tell, but the difficult part in her lingering tell is absorbing her feelings and places she walks and the pain she endures and the end that is not how we comfort our children in hope or regret as the noose slowly tightens ’round sweet Marlene’s neck.
Marlene had once dreamed she was Queen of the Stars.
Now she sits on her worn wooden barstool, recovering reverie torn asunder from tangled disturbance within. The music is fine but does not soothe her now and she orders another gin. Night is falling like blackening rainfall, the streetlamps shine their empty scene, she knows she can’t just sit here forever, and yet, her mood has fallen serene, so she sits and drinks and orders another to fall into wakening dream disturbed. And in this torment of blackening rainfall, she dreams as she had not so long ago, when once she had been that little girl.
Marlene of the Stars, Marlene of the Moon. Dreams of naïve abandon. On the streets where they’d trudged on a night such as this, hope cast from eyes left in sightless surrender, and the sneers cast their way, she would always remember, and shuddered inside at this darkening memory, and the laughter at those now abandoned. These had once been her friends yet now heartless and cruel, this had once been her city of breathless passion, now yellow-star surrogates, puppets to lend them sublime and superior, to provide rationale for their worship of godless subservient inverted cross. They jeered unaware that their souls were now dark and none felt ashamed of empathy lost.
These rustling memories, shuttered unnoticed by those sitting ’round her tonight in this bar are disturbed by a rustling of linen beside her, a touch on the sleeve, a whisper soft placed, Marlene looks up at her friend’s worried face although forcing a smile, the words flow in haste, they have gone to your house, and taken your mother, your sister has flown and is searching for you. Do not leave this bar, they search for you too, but the room in the back where we once changed our costumes and the small wooden closet where once we had hidden, go there, Marlene and I’ll return quickly, quietly, darling, don’t make a scene.
And in that moment, kissing her cheek, her friend disappears through the smoke and the laughter. So she orders another cup, and slowly, deliberately, smiles all around, makes her way to the back of the bar, to that dressing room where they’d once played. And almost goes into that little closet, but dark revelation stops her just short. Some intrepid warning, primal and mean flashes through the gin. She’ll be taken there, somehow she knows. And she knows now her mother and sister are lost, and she knows it’s payment for murder delivered as she flies from the bar melting silent in shadow.
Train whistles deepen the city tonight. A siren cries warning, uncomfortably near. Yet its normalcy does nought to shatter what passes for life in these streets near-abandoned in fear. Like the vain serenade of a lover’s lament or a grey, weathered wall pocked with holes and some blood, or a turn of a skirt or the way you once looked, fortune abandons all those within to fate unrepentant in lotten sin.
And the brief, fading moment when hummingbirds flitted on succulent flowers within garden walls is replaced with the tremor of oncoming thunder as Marlene walks silently on. To hide just tonight in the blackening rainfall, to see one more dawn wake this ruined city, to dream one more night as she once had so dreamed, of being the Queen of the Stars.
Marlene had once dreamed she was Queen of the Moon. Now her beloved moonlight shines in reflected window shatters, which seem to be a cellar face. Shatters that call her to break last embrace.
On this cold, rain-black night she breaks into this cellar, slipping into some unimagined room. There are books, oh so many, and knowing some, she mouths their titles in soft-lipped wonder.
The Bible, Old Goriot, Madame Bovary … had she been here before? – she cannot break her stare from this impure collection, hidden in this ruined city.
Like Genesis, the snake rules in unabsolved power … or Balzac, misery’s soul to devour … or Flaubert, where dishonest love breaks torn hearts … as train whistles deepen the night, at least she stands here warm.
And books full of pictures like Troy’s long-lost temple, in her beloved moonlight, and a flash of lightning here and there, she reads as confusion surrounds unaware.
Like some sad pristine art, Marlene studies the pictures. Like a soft maiden torn between dragon and sand. Like a sheik unbetrothed in some forgotten harem or chastised in virginous disdained despair. Simple measures intact of forgotten fodder, as spirit of yesteryear smears in the dust in cannonade levity measured in solitude, Marlene rises up through the tears and the rust of serene repetition repeated forthright, to seek vigil here in beloved moonlight.
An old balding man on a carpet-like wingback chair pours wine in his glass, smiling, perhaps grinning, looks her up and down, sparkling, approving. “I am Franz,” he says softly.
He lifts his glass in besotted salute as Marlene bends her fingers in taut feathered cry like the hummingbird flits from some garden destroyed, or an acorn in falling begs soft to its god.
As cloud dreams aswirl almost dizzy her hands, nodding gently polite, she sits down by this man.
There’s this cat, in this book, he’s golden and grey, and he feeds in a garden of cried disarray and he meets up with no-one in subtle display as an oaken-leaf shed lest in summer. As he feels no real longing, he seeks not a friend in this garden sublime where he always has lived and mature like an ox-driven girl from Peru, he succumbs only seldom to underworld twirl. He walks down a path in imagined control, he is simple, e’er thus, ’neath the trembling thistle.
Carnival circles bluster the breeze, make-believe doll clothes dress quiet in the night, shrugging conundrums speak soft yet in ease at the merciless vision of sweet Marlene’s sight – as blood-soaked redemption allows true allure to steal childish memory alone in this girl.
We have not got much time, Franz says to the girl. I have means to obtain clothing and articles befitting our task. Comfortable leather, and dark it shall be, as dark as our mission, Marlene. As your father once worshiped, you shall now be the snake …
Marlene had once dreamed she was Queen of the Moon – vanquished now in little girl folly. The cat awakened has no patience for little girl things or quiet complacence.
Marlene sleeps for a moment, and dreams once again of being Queen of the Stars. But only for a moment, for as she wakes, her dream has vanished as dreams often do.
In this cellar now warm, she slumps in a soft cushioned chair, weary in almost confused resignation her vision awakens in haven secure. “Great Expectations” lays soft in her lap, the night now forgotten lies pleasant once more. Franz leans toward her, touching her hand, his voice is lyric, a cat’s soft purr.
“Do you remember the days long ago when you danced in the bar as a girl in the show and the music was fine and the talk was of art’s evolution? The theatre then and the glorious plays and the language thus spoken, ah, those were the days.”
He speaks of the fall of Constantinople, the tigers of Rome and the emperors’ crown, the sadness of Shakespeare softens his lips as a hunchback king falls to seer’s lament, Hannibal’s army crosses the mountains as sweet sonatas from Scarlatti’s hands suffer in silence of shifting sands. Death reigns in masque at a royal party as queen’s head looks up from its basket finale, a child begs for soup as yellow stars glow, and sunflowers sway and lizards hold court as goblins and child Christs darken the page.
There is no redemption in forgotten longing, there is no forgiveness in suffered retreat, what is lost ne’er returns to the cat’s yearning garden, and lost knowledge dies on the empty stage.
Yet Marlene hears whispers, her ears perk a bit, her gold-flaxen tresses curl soft ’round her face, awake as she ever has been in this place, demands with her eyebrows for soft explanation, yet somehow she bows to acceptance in grace.
“Come, let me show you.”
The wind blows eerie ambivalent corridors, bathing tongues in reverence lost, undressed madness of sutured encumbrance, belayed shambles in wingless lust, Marlene stares in wonder at life’s bitter cost as yellow-stars hover in saddened chagrin.
And in this cried room, in forsaken hovel, sky-tatters hasten yellow-star fear, beseeching pathos like clouds without summer, mercy has never gained entrance here.
As her mother and sister’s sad memory swells, Marlene takes hands and is soothed by the touch of these few here below still beholden to fate of the one who has hidden them here. And the one with the gold-flaxen hair.
As stars cross one’s path in this gathering gloom or the cat patrols soft in a crumbling garden or madness reigns black on the streets of this city, then someone must rise, if even in vain, to fight for redemption of forgotten longing.
And though she once dreamed she was Queen of the Clouds, she has buried such childish abandons. In this ruined city, if nothing is now, save redemption betrayed in destruction pursued, she has gathered queen’s sight from this basket finale in the clouds and the moon and stars here to rule.
Bleak morn’ awakens this ruined city, as the cat softly prowls his crumbling garden.
Welcome to the Ruined City.
Where the watch never falters and the doors have no hinges.
As day breaks o’er its streets, forsaken cries lie in smothered dismay. Of a king, yet no Solomon, tried then and true as furnaces glow in the cold morning dew.
A doomed place for sure, a place no-one walks without dead-eyed countenance, a place no-one visits – alas, not even the birds sing true, no longer able to breathe or endure.
Marlene stands silent, holding hands, touching forbidden hope, trembling, but slightly, she won’t let them see that; as smile borders ecstasy, she holds her tongue entwined, as madness fingers decay in eyes that cannot hide the fear of faded, lost regret, nor batter dreams of solitude in stars, Marlene shuns hope’s illusion like some queen who never ruled, seeking refuge in a touch, thus seeking something more.
The stories of this room decry the fashion of the moment, the unassuming patriot lies frozen in the yard. The ever-flitting hummingbird lies motionless in thorn. Locusts schedule meetings, and black heart rules the day.
But it had not always been this way.
Once there were spring-wells of gilded distraction, artists and writers held court in the light, magic flew vibrant in silken-star night, supple transitions now lost in some breeze, sickened by torment of darkened disease.
But as day creeps its light into cried room and hovel, she closes this door singing soft-comfort song and sits in her chair as Franz sits beside her, and taking his hand, caresses his held black leather embossed in sickening twist of inverted cross.
“It will fit well enough, and we do have a tailor.”
“We must get them from here,” says Marlene. “Catastrophe beckons its scream.”
They sit in the dark, neither wanting to speak, as day gathers gloom and the wind moans the street.
“Tomorrow, we leave,” Marlene mutters at last, lying head on soft pillow as daylight retreats. “We have wasted this day.”
Border of depression, Marlene has come prepared, this lesson not unshared, in movement inspired by twilight relentless …
As the cat prowls cold the yearning garden, misplaced figurines lie hidden in grass’s trodden path unknown.
Welcome to the Ruined City.
Where the watch never falters and the doors have no hinges.
It’s cold where she lays. Frozen fever twists her into loosening trembles and scarlet reckonings lie unused by better gods. Sensing hands all around and soft, caring voices, whispers of urgency – they are for her.
Sick, she is weakened by unforeseen illness, alertness is vacant unknown to her now, she drifts to charade of her lost sister’s call in gathering gloom sacrosanct in this cellar.
Kingdoms fall vacant in weathering seas as Marlene lies helpless, trying to rise, yet fallen in cloud-covered forgotten moon. Can an eye-flutter chase grasping demons away? – in this gathering madness of lost disarray, her head lies soft pillow in drifting dismay.
“Who is she to us?”
“A path out? – now, perhaps nothing …”
“What do you think, Franz?”
“She is dying.”
Yet the flit of a finger like hummingbird lost, a slight catlike purr from the crumbling garden, a cold caste of misery heralds accord to those paying notice, now all of them here, as breath seems to leave her – but sweet in the air.
She’s the gaggle of the moment, the vanity prize, the embarrassing hair between unshaven thighs, the succulent breasts of sweet maiden prize, replaced by a dwarf who spins bottles on stage on ivory candlesticks. Now all the rage.
A black silhouette.
“Lay upon me my leather with inverted cross,” says Marlene as she rises, arms reaching upward. “I shall not lie here dying without even trying and we shall as one abandon this place.”
And they dress her all in black.
And the stars bring their glow to each of these faces, and still they don’t know what to think or to say.
“There is nothing to say, now just gather yourselves, we shall out in this night and away.”
And thus they do.
A black silhouette with five children behind her abandon this cellar, into the streets of the Ruined City, and into the moonlight of sweet Marlene’s dreams where the doors have no hinges and cannot be closed.
Restless tonight is the Ruined City where the streets pacify feathered silence obscure. Mercy relents to the beating of wings of the birds that will fly here forthwith.
They slip through the street seeking path through the mud, cold now in balance of dripping moonlight; yet away from the crumbling garden, the cat leads silent, purrs finding balance to prowl in the night.
White night parades in this bleakening tunnel, a street without end does not lend subterfuge, a frightening chorus of stricken-down longing cannot shelter kindness or needed refuge. Persuasion is absent where torments surge late like an oft-battered dog underfoot of a saint or a rustling composure mistaken for pity, as Marlene walks soft in the Ruined City.
Classical notes sing a subtle refrain from the doorways marked yellow in snow-melted rain. A somber hope lies in her children’s heartbeats as they bend their way silent through mud in the streets.
There’s this cat in this garden, he walks without fear, it’s his garden to hunt out his prey unaware. It’s his unadorned kingdom where only he rules, it’s the laughter of ages and harbourage of doom for those who would venture inside where he reigns protected by Aegis’s buckle unchained.
Most of us try to transcend unaware from the howling birds sent from righteous good men who have now become lords in some opera absurd – shall mere kings thus here rule in blood-born torrential, as e’er they have done over sheep-like transgression beholden to none as it always was written – or shall empathy send down its blessings from Heaven like untroubled charter from not such kind gods.
Marlene leads them forward as stars light their faces and blackness looms sick in the smallest of places, a shepherd alone truly leads through this night, her flock gathers courage in softened moonlight.
A sharp uniform stands out to hail stop as Marlene steps forward bespoken in dream. The clouds move to cover the moon, the stars recede as if on command, as this soldier steps out with flashlight in hand.
“Who are you and what business do you have in this street?” He lifts his luger then lowers it slowly, for sweet Marlene’s face glowers glaring dark warning, which he cannot fathom; he feels somehow shamed.
“This is my charge. They are bound for their end, a sweet meal indeed for experimental trysts. Pathetic unfortunates captured on streets. Let us pass and continue, alone without trouble.”
And thus they do.
In requited dreams sometimes far from last breath, she gathers her five and makes off in the night. A daydream away from freedom at last, a nightmare away from yesterday’s past, a furtive look here and there tossed to the wind, Marlene guides them forward as if they will dance one last time on some altar of misery past.
Like some helium balloon flying ever and on, the night brings its prescience, eyes opened wonder, yet sleeping alas in forgotten slumber. A hummingbird flits o’er its flower, as the cat prowls his dead, yearning garden.
Twixt the crumbling walls of this now Ruined City, Marlene rises up in the cloud-covered night, and points to the train on the tracks now beside them as train-whistles deepen the night.
“Go there now, get thee free,” as Franz beckons in shadow … and the five, bowing, kissing her leather-gloved hand, mark away in the night to this wooden platform, as Marlene turns her neck around, scouring the scene, like some goddess of clouds in the night left unseen.
“There is one thing to do,” she says to the moon, as she walks down the street in the gathering gloom.
Gloom colors teardrops in yesterday’s rainfall. Phantoms grin lurking from innocent doorways. Shepherds walk stumbles, seeking their flock. Marlene casts eyes forward, wishing misery gone yet disabled resolve renders dreamlike in chasm …
Full circle relents somewhere chaste and obscure in a saddening heartbreak or maddening cure lost in ageless bell tolls from this churchless grim season, as prostitutes wander the streets without reason.
There’s a gathering tonight in the hall by the park, glowing chanted illusion unmeasured in cue of timeless race blunder of father’s dismay, as Marlene slides catlike to check yet this pulse, and water-snakes glow in obscene uniform, as buttercups dance in the heat.
In this gathering frost like some prophet of old or some buttery mold on the table, never shunned quite so much to a poetess touch, Marlene kneels in slick, snowy mud. And some long-lost child Christ cries from his cross. This mud carries need in some Socrates’ creed, as Queen’s head stares blank from her basket.
She can burn all this down. She can thrust some cross-like iron into the doors, trapping this irreverence inside, and delight at frying body screams, leather-clad, kneeling in muddy snow, reveling justice delivered.
But justice delivered to whom, the thousand or so here inside?
Marlene walks on. Here, at this once proud house, now guarded by grinning phantoms, mothers lay their babies down to sleep, sweet as the morning once was.
Marlene walks on.
Where there once was such good in this Ruined City, where there once was a kindness delivered so certain now nurtured by handmaidens trod in the dust of the inverted cross and the glorious lust lay the remnants of hope felled to false-given trust of a creature now legend and ne’er to return, Marlene still walks on in this city now ruined.
Five, she had saved from this darkening death, five, she had only just walked from the city, were there anymore hidden here in its bounds, or were there only now those lost who’d proven their worth, and that worth meant nothing. She turned to a doorway, to sit for a while, “Get out, cursed Phantom!” but said in a whisper, for this phantom reminded her only of self.
Can a phantom remind us of whom we once were? Can a phantom bring jelly and toast to your grandpa, can a phantom stop doorways from being thus entered? – questions lay firm at the entrance to heart, alas unbespoken by biblical riddle, alone like the cat in his crumbling thistle.
She makes her way back to her sad, lonely street, she makes her way back to her bleakened cried room, she makes her way back to her forsaken hovel, and loosens the leather around her at last, for the mirror casts reflections on nobody’s past. She will stay in her city ’til blood drowns in sin, she will go to the bar for a cheap cup of gin. She will sit all alone on her worn wooden seat, as the patrons fade soft in her glass.
As the hummingbird flitters where flowers bloom sweet, she buttons her dress and walks out on the street.
As endings dry fading in silken-sheet softness, abrasive reminders of forsaken tomb, Marlene sings to clouds and to skies without gods shan´t discovered in yesterday’s gloom. In leathered abandon of children outnumbered by reticence held by scorn-rutted kingdoms flit lost whippoorwills still a’dancing in castles as sweet potent oil becomes lost charade.
As she would later be known … yet now she still sits on this stoop all alone.
What music doth strike here within our Marlene? What fever doth pitch out the night left obscene? What fury can gather cannot lie suppressed … Marlene touches furtive on God’s lonely breast.
The wind whips its summons to yesterday’s court as lights flicker gently somewhere on this street, and Marlene gathers summons succumbing of sorts, a relative number of selfless embrace – or a wind-swept lost damage on sweet Marlene’s face.
Empowered – by herself – for herself – to herself. And thus is this self.
As she walks down the streets, the wind parts, as she steps, the streets run blood, as she walks, the wind parts, the streets run blood.
There is no mercy now in the Ruined City – no sutures to ease the bleed, no time left now, for Marlene walks the streets, and misery cries refrain.