Andrew Fippinger

Ride Into Jerusalem
Andrew Fippinger

Fishes fly, forests walk, figs grow upon thorn.  There is an immortality of
fantasy, a world beyond our world where creatures, created in the minds of men,
survive even their creators.  Only mortal men, however, can bring these
creatures into existence, and, through these creatures, mortal men can achieve
their own immortality.  I write despite all odds.  I write even though I am told
by my closest friends not to write.  I am waiting for that moment when the earth
will divide into a schism, when the moon will be blood, when I myself will fall
through the land and into the night above the sands and sinners on earth.  Then
surely my words will be born into that immortal land, and I with them.
I am a writer by nature, but not by profession.  I am not published; I
do not make a living with my words.  I find other means of income, but I do not
love my work, and I write when I can.  Why can I not write something
publishable, if I love to write so much?  Let me explain, for an explanation is
necessary.  I have read a lot.  I am an intelligent reader, but my extensive
reading has been the downfall of my writing.  A professor once told me that she
never read a single criticism of a book until after she had developed her own
critique.  Once she read other criticisms, she could no longer think of an
original idea.  That is how it is with me.  Now that I am so well read, I find
it impossible to come up with an original story.  Everything I think of has in
some way been used before.  I find myself wishing constantly that I had written
the books that I read.  I become envious of past authors.  This is a terrifying
form of writer’s block; it is semi-permanent, or at least I have not found an
Yet I cling to the hope that I will break free from this monstrous
clutch.  How long can such a force hold a resilient man down?  Forever?  I won’t
believe it.  I have resorted for the time to collecting another’s poetry.  My
father, who was a doctor, loved to write as I do, but was not inclined towards
prose.  He wrote poems constantly and stored them away in his bureau with the
rest of his papers.  He never intended to publish them, but they are quite good.
I only truly discovered them after his death when I began to sort through his
files.  But now, I am quite impressed with these poems, and I intend to collect
them into a publishable volume.  They are certainly adequate for print, really.

A holy theme pervades his poetry.  Although he was not particularly religious,
his father was quite so, and my father was made to attend church and study the
gospels regularly until he was into his college years.  This theme takes a new
twist on Christian lore and does so quite remarkably.  One poem, for instance,
my very favorite one, takes the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday
from the perspective of the ass that Jesus rode in on.  It is entitled, “Palms
Before My Feet,” a stunning piece.  I shall make it the crux of the collection.
As the first poem?  The last?  I do not know, but placement is of the essence;
I think it will be first.
And all the same, the very excitement that I feel collecting my father’s poems
makes me more ashamed of my inability to compose freely.  So I sit here now
creating this brief autobiographical storyÖ what could be more original than an
autobiography?  But where does such a thing start?  I certainly dare not tell my
whole life story, as it is somewhat uninteresting, but I can tell bits and
pieces.  A good writer, my reader, doesn’t come without a plan.  This tedious
deliberation is only for my amusement, and you will soon be caught in the midst
of my story, that stuffed carcass.
My father died one year ago, and his death was long, drawn-out, boring even.  He
was in a nursing home for over a year before he died, and I drove over every
weekend to see him.  As his memory and intelligence slowly failed, he became
less patient and more aggressive.  The most understanding of men began to order
me around; the manliest of men begged for his bottle.  Whine, snort, crawl – a
bulky baby in white sheets.
When I visited him, I often brought a book of some sort, a recommendation if you
will, even though he never read them.  At least I gave off the impression that I
thought of him as completely sound.  In return, he slandered me for not being
able to do what I really wanted to, to write.  Oh, I give false impressions for
sure.  My father and I, despite weaknesses in our relationship, got along
swimmingly.  He called me, I called him, we chatted about Latin and literature.
He made a jokes, and I laughed.  It was a creative process, trying to provide
for the failing man who once provided for me.  Never before or since have I
experienced such fulfillment and yet such agony.  Every day I would pay a new
bill of his that was forwarded in the mail; I would print an ad in the paper to
sell his car.  Anything to get those antiquated possessions off our hands.  But
there was satisfaction in the end to look into his proud eyes as he propped
himself up in his bed at the Maple Leaf nursing home in northern New Jersey.
In the end, even those vibrant eyes began to decay.  His monstrous head, his
sickening cry, his ears like errant wings, even his glazed over visage trumpeted
the infatiguable pains of slow death.  He was a devilish parody on all
two-legged men, the cancerous rabbit caught between starched sheets.
He pulled me aside one day and repeated the ancient paternal wisdom.  “You will
be a greater man that me.  Use your opportunities and take your love of creation
to a greater level.  Work at it until you become the greatest prose composer on
earth.  Someday your name will ring in the ears of students of literatureÖ”
I do not care to remember any more; the sap-stuffed balloon may soon burst above
us.  I remember thinking of Hektor, leader of the Trojans, who carried his son
in his arms for a final farewell before entering battle.  He offered similar
advice to his baby.  His baby soon died in the flames at Troy.
Tattered, crooked-willed, ancient outlaw, my father beat on through the days
suppressing that ghastly shadow that paced about his room each day.  The shadow
starved, scourged, and derided him, but he remained constant.  And I remain
dumb.  One cannot escape a lurking shadow forever.  Alas reader, we knew, as you
know now, that he would die soon.  Every day we guessed it to be the next day.
Never that day, but never the day after next.  When the time did come, it was
least expected.
I am trying to remember now when the last time I saw my father living was.  It
was not a particularly memorable moment, certainly, but I do not even recall
parting words.  I was at a movie one Saturday, and when I returned, I received a
message informing me that my father’s health was failing quickly.  I rushed over
to the Maple Leaf, but when I arrived, the nurse told me that he had passed on.
She gave me a few words of consolation and then allowed me to enter his bedroom
to see him.
What a sight it was!  A once virulent man who lifted me high above his head long
before I could even walk now lay with the force of gravity sucking his cheeks
deep into his skull.  Everything about him seemed shrunken and yellowed.  Even
his eyes, rolled back within his head, appeared yellow against his splotchy
skin.  His arms dangled beyond his waist and trailed off underneath his blanket.
No, he was not resting peacefully, he looked crushed underneath some invisible
negative of himself.  What was once convex was now concave.  I expected
something: a snore, a yawn, anything.  But he let forth no sign of life.  My
father looked like he was hiding a secret, hiding it within a rubber replica of
I ran my hand along his side before sitting down next to him in his faded
armchair.  It did not strike me that I would never speak to my father again, nor
that I was now without parents.  What did run through my mind was a
self-conscious effort to act in a respectable manner.  How does one act when his
father has died?  What would impress you, reader?  Should I have wept?  Should I
have tore him limb from limb in a moment of passionate disbelief?  Regardless, I
sat silently before speaking a few final words to him, words which I no longer
recall, but I imagine that they were some sort of thanks.
He has been gone for nearly a year now, and I sit writing about his death – a
completely uninteresting topic for you, I’m sure – in order to find some sort of
peace with him.  I even find myself collecting his poetry in order to sanctify
his name.  All this while I am unable to get published, such thick irony!  I
feel like that very ass that carried Jesus into Jerusalem in Matthew’s gospel.
How am I to fulfill my father’s wish and become greater than him?  My greatest
attempts, my efforts are fruitless.
“Three and four times blessed were those who died!” cried Aeneas, arms stretched
toward the stars, siderae.  Only in his death will my father become immortalized
in that land beyond the mortal world.  Aeneas himself once traveled to that
place, but I never shall.  To die great magnifies one’s greatness a hundred
times.  Perhaps all I need is to die.  But nothing would live on in my stead.
All my work would disappear with me.  I have no poems for a son to collect and
no son to collect them.  I must press on until I find my own way to cross that
river to the misty, facing shore.
I am George Meredith’s Lucifer, looking upon my life and my efforts and watching
the ranks of unalterable law stand before me, barring my way.  Lucifer, Lucifer
in starlight.  I am unsure of where to go from here.
I want to sing right now.  I want to hit a bat with a tree.  I want
another chance.  I want to have erased these words before I threw myself around
in circles.  I wish I was without what I would have been in timed rhythm when
the orchard leaves where getting stupider and stupider until I can no longer
concentrate because what I am writing is not writing well and where I will take
it once I have realized that I am not who I am is only as far as I can go before
I die.
Stop.  I have reread what I have written so far, and there it is.  Reader,
toolish ogresque reader.  My own life, my own life.  Will anyone notice?  Tell
me if anyone could possibly notice these things.  Every moment is a literary
reference: Homer, Virgil, Matthew, Meredith, Chesterton.  Is it useless to
continue writing?  Even my own life is a composite of other’s fictions.  I must
discontinue my pursuit of writing, when now I have discovered that I cannot even
live unique from what I have read.  Every moment, every action a comparison is
made, and it is set in stone: I am not myself if I cannot free myself from
others.  Crying blood, – forgive me, reader, forgive me and forget me – I am
I have taken this opportunity to scowl at the stupidity of those little leaves
before me.  Nobody has noticed me.  I am safely hidden now, far from the cut of
your mind.  And now when you can’t hurt me, I can speak like the torrential roar
of the firebird’s dripping wings-          Hear this hiss:
FOOLS!  You are fools to believe that I would have given up so easily.
For I will have my hour yet, one far fierce hour with sweetness dripping from
every second of every minute of that fiery hour.  You will find a volume of
poetry on the shelves of every library, every bookseller, every king, a volume
that contains all my father’s poems.  Yes, I will even call that volume “Palms
Before My Feet,” because that poem, that piece of ingenuity and richness, THAT
ONE POEM I composed myself.  It is my own original.  Mine.  And it will be
published along with all my father’s poems.  There will be a shout about my ears
when that volume is received by the public.  Praise for such a lovely
compilation, if only the dead old man was here to see this himself.  I will
forever be immortalized, immortalized as my father.  My writing will live on
under his name.  And yet, it is my writing all the same, name or no name.  My
writing will be on every shelf, and so I too will be there, anonymous with the
sighs of readers, the ink of students, the scrutinous glance of critics.  I will
ride in to Jerusalem, corpse on back, with crowds thronging around me, and palms
before my feet.

The Donkey
G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools!  For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.