Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Gospel According to Claude



Eryops scowled, plucked a wad of tin foil
from his left nostril, squinted at it, flicked it across
the bar. It plopped into Claude’s brackish pint.
Claude started, then turned to look at his purplish,
foul-smelling neighbor. Eryops grinned sheepishly,
shrugged. Claude fished around in his lager,
gradually managing to extract the crinkly orb.
He pinched it, then popped it into his mouth, bit down.
Crunching the metal, rendering the ball
to silvery shards. Eryops shuddered at the sound.
Claude stuck out his tongue. On its tip
stood an exact tin foil replica
of St. Peter’s cathedral. Everyone in the bar
started laughing. Even the bartender snickered
and shook his head. Eryops slunk out, tail tucked
between his flabby legs. He crept back to his pond
and stayed there, hidden in the mud, willing himself
to evolve into something exempt from humiliation.

*

The tinfoil church is lined with stained-glass scenes
That stretch up almost to the curved ceilings.
In one of these Claude rides on the back 
of a large purple amphibian,
whipping it with a rolled-up newspaper and cackling.
St. Claude who tamed the harmless monsters
while the dragons built their nests in the upper stories
of the skyscrapers. Claude whose bad breath
scorched the earth, made the land inhabitable only
by the hardiest insects and scorpions.
There are other scenes of course. Claude leading
a band of tiny creatures across the road
to the safety of a grassy roundabout. Claude parting
the fuchsia sea. Claude getting into a fistfight
with a burning bush. Claude dressed as a bumblebee,
turning water into royal jelly. Claude suckling
the newborn savior at his teat. Claude opening
an umbrella to keep the manna from messing
up his coif. An aluminum foil pipe organ squeals
and screeches Mozart’s Requiem by way of Bartok,
or perhaps John Cage. The choir mumbles. The floor
beneath the pews is covered in taste buds.
Some hippie starts strumming on a tin foil guitar
and they all start to groan.

*

Everyone comes to the church now. Eryops lurks
in his chapel of mud and grumbles. He doesn’t see
what the big deal is. Claude the false prophet,
Claude the virgin motherfucker. Claude the absent father.
 Claude of Arc, Agnes of Claude. Eryops is sick of it,
want to expel the demon from his mouth, spit him out.
The billboards the neon, the sky writing.
The pop up ads, the newspaper inserts.
The late night infomercials.
He’s a hack, yells Eryops, a phony.
A charlatan, a shyster. A snake oil salesman. A huckster
and you’ve all fallen for his pitch. But no one listens,
they’re all crammed into the cathedral, or watching
the service televised on pay per view. Eryops froths
at the mouth from the overturned prune crate
he’s perched upon. He squirms with rage, grits his teeth.
His blood boils heed my words! He spits, but no one does.
Burn in hell, he mutters. Claude’s ear prick up.
And now, he says, his voice booming,
Allow me to read to you the First Letter of Claude
to the Amphibians.
I’ll get that bastard yet, thinks Eryops and creeps away.
He’s suddenly had a plan.

*

This is my chance, thinks Eryops, as he tapes
the explosives to his chest, triple checks the wires.
He pulls on his robes and slips into the crowd,
balancing on his hind legs.
He enters the cathedral, the mosque,
the synagogue, the glorified wigwam, the igloo
of porcelain tiles, the suit of turtle shell armor
etched with the sacred words of His Most Holy Claude.
Incense swirls in front of the stained glass.
In the center of the enormous room, beneath the dome,
stands a six story sculpture of Claude
cast in solid tinfoil. Eryops’ teeth chisel
against one another in rage. He settles into a pew,
as close to the front as the dares. The holy man
lifts his arms. All rise, he intones, and Eryops
reaches into this jacket to press the detonator.
Nothing happens. The celebrants rustle
their hymnals, start to drone. Eryops’ eyes roll,
frantic. He pats himself down. What happened?
He has no idea. Sweat gushes from him,
drenching his clothes, spilling front his cuffs
to puddle on the floor. The old ladies edge
away from him, the chanting rises to a fever pitch.
He sees a white light and passes out.

Meanwhile across town Claude is also
experiencing some unusual sensations.
Seated at the trough of the strip club,
a woman with skin so black it’s almost purple
wraps her body around the gilded pole,
then unpeels herself and undulates in a way
that drives Claude crazy. Her teeth are blinding
in the spotlight. Claude hurls dollar after dollar
at her, the money he’s gathered from the collection baskets.
She picks them up with her toes and stuffs them
deep up inside her. He’s smitten. And then a sudden flash
from between her spread legs, the blink of white
 and Claude is gone, his stool spinning,
a flutter of dollar bills drifting in his wake.

*

Both find themselves standing before God,
these dueling banjoists, those asthmatic adversaries
gasping for breath in the stingy atmosphere of Heaven.
So what’s this all about, asks God, his words
scorching the very air. Eryops feels his warty
skin crackle. Claude’s eyebrows start to smolder. 
Whoops, sorry, forgot, mutters God, taking a step backwards.
He fastens a mask over his mouth, adjusts the elastic.
Better? They nod. Good.
Now, I hear there’s some feud between you boys
that has been disrupting things downstairs.
They both start babbling, each pointing
to the other. All those churches erected
in his name, whines Eryops.
You little snitch, hisses Claude. You and your
pathetic little bombs. Good thing I paid that kid
to sneak into your closet and replace your explosives
with Silly Putty.
Okay, said God, I think I’ve heard enough.
He flicks a switch and the two become fused.
Oh shit, say the newly Siamese twits. I do not fucking like
the looks of this.
The clouds part. The earth floats far below,
its bayous beckoning with their fetid pools
their decrepit shacks, their rusty overturned
canoes. Go home, God says, and gently lifts his boot.

A streak across the sky, a splash.
The two-headed hero is home.
This sucks, mutters Clauderyops. I had it made.
It’s your own damn fault, says Eryopsclaude,
holding his nose and dragging them both
down into the mud.

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