the city beautiful
brian michael barbeito
Every angel is terrifying.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
part one, the rabbit county and the angel that never was
I enter the long winding roads of Prince Edward County. the destination is a house built on the water, industrial chic, and with Art Deco paintings and ornaments. I know I will pen belles lettres at some point, episodic epistolaries about the good and bad, fleshed out from napkin notes and field journals. I have to in order to frame my experience, if even for only myself. it seems that all around are dark brown rabbits. they blend at first with the summer chaparral and the shrubs, the dense thickets and the long adjacent field both. I sometimes slow to a stop for I don’t want to hurt any of them. go rabbit, go, I think and sometimes say, away from the danger of the vehicle. there is no signage and even the locals don’t know about the place. it is only for the elite but I am a guest. a guest in another world. there are eagles that fly around out back because there is a nest. in the county, there are wine vineyards and lots of space. one has to drive everywhere. I am an artist, a creative, a photographer and writer-poet, and wish that I was driven and not having to focus on the driving itself. an impossibly large turkey vulture alights and waits atop an abandoned barn. I stop to take a photograph. there is nothing for miles in every direction. the vulture flies away. they don’t eat rabbits that run through fields. they eat roadkill, dead things. I have a feeling that the county itself is a ruse or racket or empty vision. a bit of a dead thing if something could be a bit dead. but later a driver picks us up and we go for dinner at restored affluent hotel. pickerel. fresh obviously. soft lighting and clinks of glasses. but strange. these for the most part are not my friends and we have little if anything in common. I am as well read as any of them but would rather not say. some of them are bright spiritually, which surprised me, and a few are not and border on darkness. I like the rabbits and the eagles moreso. run rabbit run, i pensively wander in my mind’s eye, and fly eagle fly, over the lake pristine and somehow lonesome, yes the lonely lake in the county. on the way back the moon is shining full and brightly over an old brick movie theatre and lighted marquee, and through a series of clouds that frame it all. mysterious. whimsical. saturnine and sanguine at once. oh moon. more people have been enlightened during the full moon than at any other time. crestfallen seems the day when the night is endowed with its brand of magic. nature’s night anyhow, not the social reality of humans. soon we are travelling and I tell the driver to stop and everybody wonders why. there is a large deer in the road that nobody saw. the driver, a woman, thanks me. ‘You have the keenest of eyes and a quick word,’ says the rich man, and I tell him thanks. the industrial chic house, a mansion, has all the switches and faucets one would think of, but because of the design, everything is hidden. and there is no balcony. I don’t like it. I long for normalcy. it is far past nightfall and the rabbits must move as rabbits do, but under the moon. rabbits watching the witching hour. if there is an angel around the angel is hidden. the angel of place is absent. does not speak to me. in the wind or in the reeds or even through the rabbits. I am stuck. I have missed something or it has missed me. and if the moon knows a secret it keeps it to itself. how lonesome and spiritually vacuous seems the county that I have no affinity for. ~~~
part two, the rich lagoon and the angel that had to leave
outside or the lagoon the roads travel long and straight. the sides are farm fields or forests. fields house clapboard barns atop
concrete forms and most are the foundations for faded wood. what it was like for the generations that farmed there I know little of, but place usually has a spirit and one can sense at the least rough goodness in the terrain and air. whatever is there, good and bad, is not disingenuous but rather wholly confident in itself, in its own being. it is ironic that they say, ‘…salt of the earth,’ when there is not much actual salt around those towns. I can see the old style petroleum stations with faded signs and ways, open but soon to close and be taken over by multi national conglomerates. the two worlds old and new stand in many ways next to one another. Osho said that when it comes to people, centuries live contemporaneously. too true. and also true of places, their mise en scene and their spirit. they might create a mall and subdivisions, urban sprawl, for such things climb out of areas like a cancer spreading and take over healthy pastoral lands. all our cells and bones are susceptible. who cares for instance about the old stone walled church where some priest grey and bent over the lectern gives his exegesis? nowadays it’s the gospel of pure materialism people can only hear. inside the lagoons, past the trains and their tracks, is a large series of waterways built in the 1970’s at the same time I was borne. there can be no basements on a marshland. I used to fish there and live there sometimes. the corner store had friendliness and good prices, and next door to that, an actual ice cream place. I would walk all around with book in hand, Conrad, Heller, Steinbeck, Camus, so on, all the rest, the usual suspects, trying to teach myself. little aluminum vessels bob and away inside the light of day and receive say, the summer robust but also soon the borne autumnal air cool and its leaves orange red yellow brown green fallen but then leavened by the lee of branches over the ground in a dance of unseen but heard and discerned whimsical whistling wind winding like a spectre. phantoms in the courtyard. spirits in the far off ripples on the lake face. I want to know what is all there. too shy to talk to people, I stayed to myself. the affluent houses, some not three but four stories tall, and the sailboats and fifty, sixty foot power boats wait outside. I like instead an army type boat, something boxy and from another generation, maybe like the toys I played with as a child or the ones in comics I read. something. something soulful. rivets exposed and you can see the welds and store strong things. not this sleek fibreglass fakery of the rich. it’s precisely your figurative and literal scar that makes you interesting. show me your cicatrix. oh well. there were more square vessels before. they are disappearing. now they are a lark, ‘…oh look at that isn’t it neat?’ for a while the angel was there, this I know. in and about the books and the sandy shore and even the shore walls inside the lagoon. the goodness of a Saturday afternoon. energy. benevolent Sunday sun. sleeping. walking. reading. fishing. life worked out. but looking around the rope bridge and the canals, I can’t find the angel of place, that old angel that spoke to me in non linguistic ways. I can’t quite catch my stride or find my way. why did the angel leave and where did it go? did I do something wrong? ‘This place has changed,’ I tell the old and sagacious man, ‘you used to be able to go for a walk and buy an ice cream cone or bag of milk, but it’s all closed down due to high rent and has been for a long time now.’ he smiles and says, ‘Don’t you know everything changes? That was a long time ago.’ I just nod. but I don’t like it. maybe he is right. a long time ago it was. and everything changes. but I don’t like his answer. maybe because the simplicity and truth of it hurts somehow. I don’t know for sure, but I want to find the angel. I want to feel how I felt before. yet the angel has left. no note of explanation was provided. I was left alone to figure out what time and change, innocence and maturation, karma and providence and the fates mean. it was a tall order, w/no teacher. and all I had really wanted to do was maybe go for a walk and get an ice cream cone.
part three, the city beautiful and the angel ever present
immediately I can sense the angel. then she shows herself. she is in not one thing or place but in all things. I can smell and taste the Floridian air, the air of my childhood and even beyond. the angel has not left or become coy, been defeated or ignored, but is omnipresent. I look up, and breathe. the sunlight shines upon the parapets and interlock, the cement and the verdant palm leaves that sway a bit for the humid breeze. i am in Orlando. but Orlando is in me also, and that is part of the secret. like a beloved. I never stopped loving her. even when she was far away I held her close. I refused to let her go. pox to those who say let the past be the past. and pox to the entire spiritual canon and all conventional wisdom if need be. i choose only the mystic sensibility, and I love always the angel. she is in the water, for can’t you see the ripples illumined by the bright of day? she is in the conversations of the good hearted and in the dusk when the electrical lights blink on against the stormy mood ridden firmament capricious, unpredictable. what will it do? feel that wind? it is ancient. it is a spirit. it is an angel. the cab driver says, ‘If I can say one thing for sure in fifteen years of doing this, it’s that everyone wants to come here, from all over the world!’ and I nod and say simply ‘Ya.’ soon I walk the lakes and see the flora and fauna, herons and smaller birds, lizards, and even a wild alligator that is fed up with me for trying to take its picture and soon leaves under the water again. the sun warms. I see immense lands of wealth, opulence, even decadence, but that’s not my problem, for it’s the air and sense of nature ancient and hard to name atmospheric sense I am after. and I find it. in the walkways and near the indigenous trees utterly and continently green and thick with leaves that scream health and beauty. in the gates and pool pump motor sound and sometimes smiles of others. at the outdoor stores someone calls me and I turn to see. ‘You. Hey you, come here,’ and the woman looks a bit like a famous singer. ‘Me?’ ‘Ya you, I want to talk to you.’ i go over as told. she has a kiosk. ‘You want a vape?’ I tell her I have one. and cigarettes. lots nicotine. she frowns. ‘Okay then. is that all you smoke, just nicotine?’ ‘Yes.’ She gives the same frown. it’s fun and funny and in jest, telling me I am a bit of a nerd for not smoking anything stronger. she is more down than I am. soon i move on and she keeps waving at me here and there. but it’s a higher angelic presence than woman or drug, than even music or poetic word, that I listen and watch for. and it is there. it is everywhere there. thick grasses and roads and buildings have received the rains. it is hurricane season. wondrous. magical. powerful. insightful. beyond psychological sets. it is mystic. the skies are a major arcana, The Magician, manifesting much,- sun moon storm clarity cloud bird plane hope inspiration danger caution and other and all. and the grounds are wild with love. I breathe. I can breathe again for a bit. I am in the midst of the light. I am in the city beautiful and have returned to where I belonged. see, for better and worse, things are always right, if you are in the presence of the angel.
image by Brian Michael Barbeito