For Alexander Endymion
Infertile, desolate, and bare ---
The world was like this everywhere;
Its surface, once so pure and fair,
Was stark and unproductive.
The twisters men called Dokeedows
Had split the Earth like giant plows,
And forced the men to low like cows —
The winds were quite destructive.
The land was ravaged far and near.
The people lived in constant fear,
But one small town, not far from here,
Was green and uncorrupted.
In that one spot the grass grew green,
The fruits of harvest men could glean;
The sun still held its lustrous sheen —
No hurt or harm erupted.
There lived a boy they named Aloo,
A child of four, not unlike you,
Whose spirit, unconstrained and true ,
Was always to be trusted.
He learned one day from idle chat,
A Dokeedow was coming that
Would lay his tiny city flat.
The news left him disgusted.
He did not bid his friends farewell,
But left, and no one did he tell
That he was going off to quell
The Dokeedow's destruction.
Knowing not from whence it came,
Nor how he planned to make it tame,
He sauntered off there just the same,
Without any instruction.
He journeyed o'er the fruitful land
Until his tiny toes touched sand;
A desert that he knew now spanned
The Earth in all directions.
The destitution made him weep,
And Aloo promised there to keep
His vow that winds would never sweep
His town without objections.
The boy trudged on for several days,
His body weak; his mind, a daze,
And soon the incandescent haze
Destroyed his brave resolve.
He knelt in anguish in the sand;
A victim of that cruel land,
And knew his death was close at hand,
His flesh would soon dissolve.
Near dead he laid there nigh a week
Until a coarse tongue licked his cheek,
His crusted eyes opened to peek
And spy a camel's face.
He blinked and rubbed his eyes again.
The form grew more distinct and then,
What first appeared to menace him
Seemed not to be the case.
Its visage caused him no alarm,
And finding that it meant no harm,
About its neck he draped an arm
And struggled to his feet.
The camel's parched, hair-stubbled frown
Yelled, "Stand up, boy! Get off the ground!
"Alive or dead, all falling down,
The birds will swoop and eat.
"I'd like to ask you, if I may,
How anyone could lose his way,
And if on purpose, why you'd stray,
And venture so far south?"
The boy could muster no reply;
He muttered but his throat was dry.
He swallowed; blistered lips awry,
And moved his withered mouth.
"I once sought out the Dokeedow —
To slay it, though I know not how,
But things are so much different now;
A cool bed's what I yearn.
"This task demands too much of me!
"I may still die, as you can see.
"Please, point me north so I can flee,
And to my home return!"
The boy it seemed had not been lost,
Nor by disaster there been tossed;
He'd come knowing full well the cost —
The camel stood in awe.
Yet, this did not explain away
This shift from courage to dismay.
The camel could not help but say
This change was but a flaw.
"Did you think it'd be easy, boy?
"Some pleasant thing that you'd enjoy?
"The desert holds nothing of joy.
"You knew that at the start!
"A burden holds nothing so dear
As pain and hardship, death and fear.
"I've paced this waste both far and near,
But one must first have heart.
"Acceptance of both friend and foe
For victory, truth, or just to know
What substance lies within your soul;
You must honor the task."
But all that Aloo knew was plain
Contentment, never strife or pain.
He wanted comfort, ease, refrain,
But still he had to ask:
"So what you say is: I must try
To take this charge though I might die?
"For if I leave and homeward fly,
The battle's left — unfought.
"The key lay not in my success,
But effort under such duress,
And life is lost for all unless
The Dokeedow is sought!"
The camel then knelt in the grit,
Offering his hump on which to sit.
And proving that he would not quit,
Aloo climbed on his back.
He cried out, "Onward, southward, please!"
Then bade the camel's sturdy knees
To rise and face the growing breeze,
And walk the desert track.
Through barren dunes of waste and blight
They struggled forward day and night;
Attacked by gales that blocked the light
Of moon or sun at dawn.
The two fought thoughts of food or thirst,
Their mission's goal loomed always first,
And when the sandstorms reached their worst,
The small child urged them on.
But even camels, coarse and hale,
Must drink or else their bodies fail,
And Aloo's friend, who'd grown quite frail,
Was feverish and ill.
Once sturdy legs had lost their stride;
Their plodding stamina — denied,
But still, the camel gasped with pride,
"We must go southward still."
But soon exhaustion took its toll;
The camel's limbs lost all control,
And pausing on a sandy knoll,
It arched its neck and cried,
"A joyous burden bore we two...
"It claims my life, but still — there's you.
"Please vow to see this duty through..."
With that, the camel died.
And not a tear marred Aloo's stare,
For he was now the camel's heir,
To take the hope and promise there,
And in its death, rejoice.
But now, without his friend as guide,
A twinge of panic grew inside,
And when he turned to run and hide,
There roared a howling voice.
From o'er the knoll there leapt a cat;
A lion; snarling, fierce, and fat,
Who scowled at Aloo, belched and spat,
Then groomed his matted coat.
In terror, but for safety's sake,
Aloo stood fixed and dared not shake.
But though he felt his life at stake,
He bravely cleared his throat.
"I'm Aloo, with a sacred vow..."
Was all his frail voice would allow,
And so performed a timid bow
To please the lion's stare.
The feline though, did not look pleased,
It seemed insulted, not appeased.
"And who's your friend," it rudely teased,
"Who's soundly sleeping there?"
"My friend, the camel, was my guide.
"I rode his back," Aloo replied.
"Our chore, you might call suicide...
"We sought the Dokeedow.
"But just within this hour's last
Few minutes, my dear comrade passed.
"His valiant body breathed its last...
"I'm on my own for now."
The beast could scarce believe its ears;
This child before him shed no tears,
And yet was struggling with his fears,
But bravely standing firm.
The lion purred, "To some degree,
You seem a worthy prodigy
Who's taken on a quality
This camel's helped you learn.
"But you'll need more than sturdy spine
To still the whirling cyclone's whine ...
"In fact, you'll need some help of mine —
And I might not consent.
"I'm king of all that I survey,
And though I might assist today,
It all depends on just which way
My mind and will are bent."
So Aloo tried, "Then do the thing
That strikes the right and regal ring,
So someday saints may write and sing
Their praises unto you!"
The lion bared his steely claw
And growled, "Don't speak to me of law,
Or right and wrong," he flexed his jaw,
"For if you only knew,
You'd realize that I do not will
For other's hopes and dreams, for still
I'm master and do nothing 'til
I will it for myself.
"But mark these words:" the lion said.
"I will not leave you here for dead,
But not in guilt nor conscience' stead,
And not for fame nor wealth.
"I'll help to prove I'm not a slave;
Afraid of life or of the grave,
But free to act as king or knave —
And free to map my path.
"I need not you nor any man
To leash my neck or make my plan,
And no one dares to think he can,
Or else he feels my wrath!"
The lion tossed and shook his mane,
And showing Aloo much disdain,
A sinewed smile he tried to feign
While offering his tail.
The child tugged taut this tuft of hair,
And in a sudden, violent flair,
The lion vaulted here and there
And down the sandy trail.
After five miles, and not much more,
They came to where the desert floor
Was riven by a mass of ore
That jutted two miles high.
The slab was hollowed near its crest
Into a cave that faced the west.
Beneath it there, they took their rest
Under a leaden sky.
"That cave," the lion pointed toward,
"Is where the blade you seek is stored;
A silver, shining battle sword —
The weapon that you'll need."
On hearing this, Aloo grew pale.
He surely did not want to fail,
Yet he knew well the Gongee's tale
Forbidding such a deed.
He now felt forced to break commands
That governed all the Gongee's lands,
And once were scrawled by His own hands,
And could not be dismissed.
"But Gongee says, 'Thou shalt not wield
A sword nor spear, no staff nor shield.'"
The lion laughed and roared and reeled,
"No Gongee does exist!
"You speak of laws and rules once told
By weak men, asinine and old,
Who for their children did unfold
Such tales of superstition.
"If you succumb to fables now,
And prostrate 'fore the Gongee bow,
You'll never kill the Dokeedow,
Nor halt its great attrition.
"A warrior you must ever be,
But not to foster slavery.
"The Gongee's laws are tyranny
To all who seek to live."
But this was not what Aloo'd learned.
He'd once been taught that if he spurned
The Gongee's laws he would be burned,
And evermore would give
His soul up to the Demon Man
Whose scaly horns and vengeful hand
Would grind transgressors into sand
To scatter everywhere.
"Such stories," reared the lion's form,
"Were told to make us all conform!
"You must try to defy the norm,
For if you only dare,
You'll carve out your own destiny —
Forge values that can set you free,
And then in your self-mastery,
Your will shall be its own."
The lion paused; no more to say,
And no ideas left to convey.
The boy would either kneel and pray,
Or let his strength be shown.
Aloo thought long upon this speech,
And found its maxims within reach,
And so decided there to breach
Beliefs he'd held since birth.
"I grasp the truth in what you've said —
If I'm not master — I am dead!
"The path is mine for me to tread,
And find therein its worth.
"It's as you've said, these tales were told
To keep us sheep within a fold;
Tame and helpless, there to mold
By shepherds with their staffs.
"But now my ethic shall be wrought
By relish for each answer sought.
"I must unlearn what I've been taught
By shaman with their crafts!"
Abruptly as he'd left his home,
He started up the rock alone;
Slicing flesh and bruising bone,
To reach the summit's edge.
Not once did he look back at all,
Nor falter with a wish to stall,
But made this long, distressing crawl
His boost to reach the ledge.
At long last then, he pulled himself
Up on the promontory shelf.
With zeal, devoid of fear or stealth,
He crept into the cave.
With each step in the lurid cleft,
His eyes, of light, became bereft,
But groping to the right and left,
He touched the razored glaive.
He took the studded hilt in hand;
The blade from which all men were banned,
And in the darkness there did stand,
And felt its power dawn.
He rushed outside to sport his prize,
But as the bright light touched his eyes,
He stared down in complete surprise
To find the lion gone.
But now, he did not run and hide,
For Aloo did not need a guide,
Nor helpful back on which to ride —
Now had come his hour.
He cared not where the lion went,
Nor that his strength was nearly spent,
Instead, he made a quick descent
With just his will to power.
But when he finally reached the ground,
He heard the tempest's moaning sound,
Soon dust and dirt were blowing round
And blotting out the sky.
Half-blinded, choking, falling back,
Aloo swung wildly in attack,
But neither chop, nor hew, nor hack
Would stop the funnel's cry.
The wind, responding, grew in force,
And churned upon a frenzied course;
It upturned rocks with no remorse,
And twisted toward the lad.
With gritty sand and brown debris,
The storm became an entity
Whose features and intensity
Were fuming, fierce, and mad!
Its eyes were turbulent and black;
Its face lined by each lightning crack;
Its windy jaws blew forth and back
In hunger for the fray.
It circled like a shark, obsessed,
Each revolution closer pressed
Its swirling mouth near to digest
And rip apart its prey.
The fury slowed and spun in place;
Suspended, swirling there in space,
And suddenly there crossed its face
A look of pure surprise.
For Aloo was no older than
A child and still had not yet ran,
But stood there readied with a plan
And bright, determined eyes.
So with a mighty thunderclap,
The Dokeedow inhaled and spat
A rain of hail so forceful that
Aloo fell to the ground.
He landed on his chest and face
And laid there, motionless, in place;
No sign of life, no single trace,
For Aloo made no sound.
The boy, though, got back up again,
Brushed off his clothes and coyly grinned,
Then braced himself against the wind,
And raised his battle sword.
The Dokeedow was shocked to see
A boy wielding such weaponry
Which it knew well was blasphemy
Against the Gongee lord.
"Disarm yourself," the tempest cried.
"And drop that blade there by your side!
"Don't tempt our Gongee with your pride,
Nor break His laws this night!
"You know the first commandment well —
You thrust that blade...you'll ever dwell
Forever, langushing in Hell!
"Now, do that which is right!"
"There is no right!" young Aloo cried.
"Except for things which I decide!
"No longer will I shrink or hide
When my will makes demand!
"For I'm a child, and free to choose!
"Untouched by 'sin' or your taboos!
"In innocence, I'll win and lose,
But always make my stand.
"With pure, childlike forgetfulness,
I'll choose myself which things to bless;
Affirming with a sacred 'Yes!'
My values and creations.
"I shall no longer bow to you,
Or Gongee, but to something new;
A brave new will, robust and true ;
Beyond all estimations!"
With that, young Aloo swung once more,
And cut into the cyclone's core.
It shrieked and gushed forth muddy gore,
And slowly lost its might.
In rivulets its lifemud flowed,
And stumbled now where once it strode,
Then trembled as if to implode
And faltered in the fight.
The maelstrom swiveled, twirled and spun,
But all in vain; its life was done.
For Aloo with no more than one
Brave stroke had quelled the gust.
The vortex spiralled; serpentine,
And issued forth a dying whine,
Then sputtered on its broken spine,
And vaporized to dust.
For hours Aloo sat and thought
About the Dokeedow he'd fought,
And all the lessons he'd been taught
Along his journey's way.
He'd only come to stop the threat
Endangering his town, and yet,
Now with this labour duly met
He felt that he should stay.
He thought about his warm, clean bed;
The pillow where he'd lay his head,
"And though they comfort me," he said,
"It's not the life I seek.
"If I go home, I'll atrophy,
Reclining in complacency;
A veritable travesty
To let my will grow weak.
"These dunes shall be my domicile,
Their chaffing winds will make me smile.
"I'll praise the sunshine all the while
It seres and burns my skin!
"To starve and thirst will make me strong;
Exalting plague and drought with song,
While knowing well that all along
My will shall always win!"
So, Aloo turned, and as before,
Trudged on across the desert floor,
Arms opened wide and singing for
The hardships life could give.
And that is how the boy, Aloo,
Just four years old, not unlike you,
Whose spirit, unconstrained and true ,
Discovered how to live.