Vanities and Victories of the Flesh


Freedom is the bottle broken of spirits lying on the splintered hardwood floor of an artist’s studio in 1890s Montmartre, scented with lilies drenched in the coma of melancholia. Liberty blushes in the slapped face of a guillotined Frenchwoman, once fettered to three starving, yelping children who trudge along the blood-spattered cobblestone paths of Terror-stricken Paris alone, their hands and lips begging for bread in the endless season of poverty. Freedom is in the silence that answers a question in the search for truth. Liberty is victorious in the right to free speech denied by the hypocrites meant to uphold and enforce these constitutional rights. Freedom is in the act of martyrdom that leads one to externalize their suffering. It is in the raising and rooting of a rotting crucifix into the earth that one chooses to set aflame and dance around in vulgar ecstasy or to climb upon and cling to, nails rusting in their frail fulsome flesh, and in this ensuing extinction still quiver with ecstasy. The liberated spirit is in the medieval French mystic whose last words, “Hold the cross high so I may see it through the flames,” rose in the plumes of smoke that ascended to the heavens after she was bound to the stake and put on fire.


Freedom is in the scene that Nature, the true artist of the beautiful, paints, when a philosopher-poet falls asleep in wheat fields lapping around him like waves in the wind-rush, and he wakes, having only realized the true meaning of existence in the unconscious abyss of Sleep, the twin brother of Death. An autonomous moment is in the contemplation of a work of art created out of the artist’s own brief moment of self-empowerment when he has permitted himself to bathe and pleasure in the triumph of his seemingly unchristian passions. Liberty blazons in the heart of man when he discovers his solitude in the ancient, ever-enduring struggle of every individual to transcend and conquer forces far greater than his own species throughout the history of the cosmos in its journey toward resolution and dissolution. Freedom comes in the full knowledge of living and breathing the romance that is life.

Personhood asserts itself when one defies convention and the historically engrained biases of gender, race, and sexuality, and walks slowly, steadily, and confidently into the womb of the sea to drown. The ever-revolving wheel of human bondage is shattered when one reaches the moment of enlightenment that echoes, “You are your own messiah.” Freedom, what the religiously minded call salvation or redemption, is in the dying words of the Roman emperor Vespasian, “Woe is me, I think I am becoming a god.” Freedom is in the protection of Death that harmonizes the unshackled soul of the human frame with the eternal spirit of God that the truly wise man knows by the name and doctrine of Love, or self-sacrifice.

Originally published in Carpe Diem Review, an online arts journal, April 2009.

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