Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A hard icon to bear


41



THE BLACK ICON




Chapter Ten



Sophia, now with plenty of money for household expenses and food, decided she'd better go on a vitpust, a pilgrimage to the nearby shrine of the Black Virgin. She put Katerina in charge of the household for the day, and with Genyk in tow, set out towards the shrine, fifteen kilometres away.

Sophia and Genyk walked through the main byway of the village, past rows of thatched, ochre-coloured houses, chickens and pigs snuffling around in picketed front yards; birds twittering in slim, windbreak aspens .

Genyk, dressed up in his knee pants and stiff brown shoes, was all questions. "Why are we going to the shrine, Mother? What is a shrine anyway"

"We are going to make a tribute to the Blessed Virgin to repay God's kindness to us."

"Can't we go see God himself?"

"No what kind of a question is that? God is invisible. He is a spirit."

"Is the Virgin Mary a spirit too?

"Well...yes. I suppose you can say that."

"Well then, how will we be able to see her?"

"We can see her picture. We can see her icon, once we get to the holy place. She left her picture in a high tree after showing herself to a woodcutter while he was drinking water from a spring."

"That's a funny place to leave your picture, " Genyk argued.

"No more questions now," Sophia said, leading the boy out to the dusty, rail - fenced road that led to the shrine.

Genyk was sill curious about the relationship between saints and peope. Were saints like people? Were people like saints?

"Mother...?

"What?" from an impatient Sophia.

"Do saints have a "thing"?

"What do you mean, a 'thing'?"

"You know, like boys and girls.

"Whatever makes you ask a question like that?"

"Well, everytime I draw a picture of a saint or angel on a iece of paper, I always show him having a "thing' between his legs. Katarina always laughs at this. Why?"

A hint of a chuckle appeared on Sopha's fine lips. She finally settled the question in an arbitrary fashion. "Saints and angels don't do what we humans do. They don't need 'things'." And she quickly added, "Come on. No more questions now."

The road cut through a quilwork of bright green fields alternating with squares of black, freshly-plowed loam. White-pantalooned men folowed their tired, saggy horses ploughs cutting rills into the rich earth. Stocky brown women hoed the green areas. Sophia and Genyk shuffled throguh the road's powdery dust, Genyk every so often pausing to wipe his new shoes, surprised at the pristine shine underneath.

The road now led into a woods, and the pilgrims injoyed the cool smell of pine and ancient gun-grey oaks.

Genyk was getting the hunger bites and Sophia led him off the road a bit, towards a tree-covered knoll. They stopped at an Easter-time dugout, many of these around the villages, tables of sod, seats carved into the earth.
Something pagan about these sites, perhaps tribute places to an ancient Orpheus, but in Christian tradition, these were places to eat church-blessed breakfasts in the open air at Easter time, the whole family taking part. The ritual commemorated Christ's rising from the earthen tomb. Genyk recalled plrevious Easters when he and the family ate slpiced eggs and fragrant sausage in dugouts similar to this one.

Sohia and her son now sat in one of these earthen dining spots, the woman opening a kerchiefed bundle, taking out black bread and backfat. They ate quietly and with relish, only the forest sounds adding to their ruminating.
Afterwards, they stretched out for a nap in the clover. Genyk was just drifting off when Sophia took him by the hand, raised him up. "Not too far now. Let's get back on the road."

A metallic sun, burnished by gritty cloud layers, hung high and aloof from the shrine's oniontopped chapel by the time Genyk and Sophia rached the holy place. They stood on the base of the chapel's supporting hill and looked at the impressive litlle edifice: Byzantine, mostly wood, layer upon layer of skirt-like cornices over a square base; gilded belfry spiralling up in a teardrop whorl, the apex topped by a solid, motion-arresting cross.

Along the hill, a little brook trickled its oblique way down to the spot where Sopha and Genyk stood, the "sweet afton" gradually disappearing in a clump of willows and shrubs to the pilgrims' left. Sophia pointed to a square wooden structure to the right, apparently the source of the stream. "That's where it happened, long ago, Genyk. That's where the Virgin Mary showed herself to the holy woodcutter."

Shifting her eyes from the chapel to the shack, Genyk was unimpressed. "It's a funy-shped building," he decided.
It looks just like an outhouse."

Sophia was apalled. She glared at the boy through narrowed eyes and then, almost in an atavistic gesture, hauled her hand back and struck Genyk full in the face. He saw stars.

"You are a dirty little runt to talk like that about a holy place."

Geny, lately prone to saying the wrong thing, no matter how well intentioned, nursed his cheek and held back the tears. Who was this crazy woman who purported to be his mother?

They crossed the brook after Sophia had taken a little of its water in a earthen jar. They made for the chapel.

Inside, it was cool and calm, silence only occasionally broken by the barely -sensed crack of settling hardwood pews Along the walls, intense-eyed icons jealously demanded individual worship, their fine-lined haloed features designed to strike awe and piety into the beholder.
Directly in front of Genyk and Sophia, stood a whie wedding cake of an altar, imposing by itself, but very pale compared to the icons of the Black Madonna over a side altar to the right. Here, the Black Virgin's seemingly mascaraed eyes stared gloomily under a dark, silver-striped cowl. The Virgin cradled a a miniature twelve-year-old in her arms.
To either side of the the two heads, the cyrillic characters MP and XP stood framed by thorn wreaths and instruments of torture, Christ's invevitable fate.

It was the face of the Virgin that held Sophia's attention. Sophia had been to this chapel countless times but she had never seen the Virgin quite so dark, so menacing, so scowling. Candle soot, dust, yes, but there was definitely a scowl on the Virgin's face. Heretofore, the Icon's features had been a pleasant, Mediterranean flesh tone.. But now the Madonna's face seemed so dark that her wide-eyed, cowled features were barely recognizable. Sophia looked up toward the domed ceiling. Maybe the stained glass windows were not letting in enough light.
But no, that couldn't be . A rising, lead-panelled Christ was flooding the chapel with varicoloured rays. Sophia began to feel something like outright dread. There had been talk in Kolomya county that the miracualous Virgin often predicted the times. Once the Madonna's face turned darker than its usual Coptic shade, evil was predicted for the region. It was a grimy, burnt, hell-scorched ehd Madonna. This, of course, was all old wives' talk and superstition, and Sophia tried not to dwell on the point, just to to reassure herself. But the more she stared at the icon, the more frightened she became. She crossed herself, feeling a shudder go through her. She had to pray. And the boy had to pray too.

Sophia cast a glance at Genyk, the boy busy looking around the chapel, taking in the frescoes, tempera work, the age-browned bible illustrations. She tugged at his head to stare at the front and motioned to Genyk that he should follow her example, to begin to pray. Genyk complied, crossing himself three times and reciting a sibilant Hail Mary to the black, scowling Virgin.

Finally, the two fo them moved out into the aisle, bowed low in front of the sacristy, and made for the gright, sunny afternoon.

On the way home, Sophia puzzled Genyk by keeping very near him and telling the boy that whe would aways love him and Katerina no matter what came. And asking him if he understood.

...........end Black Icon, Chapter ten

64 comments:

EA Monroe said...

Good morning, Ivan. Lovely and pastoral yet ominous. Did you visit such holy places when you were young? I always wanted to take a pilgrimage and visit the holy places (I probably wouldn't be allowed to enter though.)

The other day we were discussing with James, how down through the centuries, the ancient holy places were always built atop each other. He found that interesting.

Deloris, who works for Catholic Charities in Tulsa, met Mother Theresa. D said the most remarkable thing about Mother Theresa was how clear and bright her eyes were -- like windows to heaven.

Hope you have a great day.

ivan said...

My mother, once in Canada, took me to the site of the Canadian Martyrs in Midland, Ontario.
that'w where four Jesuit priests were tortured and killed by the Algonquins (Hurons?) nearly 400 years ago. I'm sure the natives had their reasons.
It was also the site of a native martyr Katherine Tetakwitha, over whom Leonard Cohen gets such mileage with his 40-year- old novel, "Beautiful Losers."

There had been something eating away at my poor old mother and she kept going to holy places as if to exorcise herself.
I don't think she ever got rid of her demon.
I am he? LOL.

Josie said...

Hi, guys, I just walked into a room with radioactive material in it, so if you see my blog glowing in the dark, you'll know what happened.

I still have not had the chance to read all the chapters. Is the complete book posted anywhere? I want to read it.

Josie

ivan said...

Hi Josie,
You can get the book on interloan from either the Aurora Public Library, which was its second publisher, or the Newmarket Public library here in Ontario.
Just go to your librarian. She will put you on interloan. It will take time however, about six weeks.
The Black Icon is also in the Toronto Library system, but for reference only. I don't think they'll be able to supply you with text.
Or I could send you a copy, but I only have two left. It will only cost you one million dollars.

Radioactive material?

Yikes, my fellow Ukies in Chernobyl all glow in the dark!

So how come I've got eleven fingers?
Makes it sort of hard to count. I am weak in math.

ivan said...

p.s.:
Josie,
You can check into my archives here, but with the Christmas business, you probably won't have time to sift through for The Black Icon chapters.
The Icon has an ISBN number, 0-9691829-3-7
International Standard Book Number is like Library of Congress Number, but when I tried locating my book that way, I drew a blank.

ivan said...

p.p.s.:

In other words, I flogged the book unil they couldn't ignore me anymore. Heh.
Enfant Terrible Gerard Jones had more or less my luck.
After 50,000 electronic rejections, he finally got in with Monkfish Publishers.
Hic Nobis!
...But then we are two queen bees, always feuding.

EA Monroe said...

Hi Ivan. I bet you asked a ton of questions when you were little!

I found The Black Icon on Amazon, but none were available. The site said, "Check Back." I'll check back. Who knows? Maybe a copy will turn up! Ot maybe there's one on one of the other "book" sites.

ivan said...

Hey,
Amazon. Just the fact they've heard of me is cool.
Thanks, Liz.

EA Monroe said...

I mean or... Mr. Naughty caught up with me. Now I'm glancing over my shoulder wondering if I'll be ambushed! Ha! I'll be shouting, "Hallelujah, Save me!" heehee

ivan said...

p.s. to Liz,

I might just invest a thousand dollars and produce some more copies for Amazon or its like.

BTW: Twenty years ago, there was a bootleg copy of the Black Icon circulating. It had a blue cover.
I wrote Margaret Atwood and she said "first we've got to find the book, then we can prosecute."
I never did find the bootleg copy though friends swear it exists and
they had found it in libraries.
Hm.

ivan said...

Liz,
Funny about my mother.
I was asking questions of her all the time. I felt as a child that my father was the smart one as he was the kind of guy who could set up a business in a concentration camp (swapping radios) and make it work.
Father a practical bourgeois no matter where he was, but when I asked him about the shape of the earth, he conteded it was flatter than a pancake.
But my mother knew: "It is like an apple."
Wonder what "ablate spheroid" is in Ukrainian.
But she knew about ablate spheroids.
She was crazy, but not stupid.

ivan said...

Liz,
Funny about my mother.
I was asking questions of her all the time. I felt as a child that my father was the smart one as he was the kind of guy who could set up a business in a concentration camp (swapping radios) and make it work.
Father a practical bourgeois no matter where he was, but when I asked him about the shape of the earth, he conteded it was flatter than a pancake.
But my mother knew: "It is like an apple."
Wonder what "ablate spheroid" is in Ukrainian.
But she knew about ablate spheroids.
She was crazy, but not stupid.

ivan said...

Crap.
I am double printing again!

ivan said...

Liz,
Ha.
I see Erik (Jesse?) James caught up with you on your blog.
Stay away from that cabin near the gazebo.
He no Henry David Thoreau. He don't make it with muskrats!

ivan said...

AH.
TIME FOR MY TWENTY MILE WALK.
...I CHEATED LAST TIME AND TOOK THE SAME BUS WITH THE SAME BITCHY BUS DRIVER.
THIS TIME I APPLIED MY ANTI-NEUROTIC THEORY. SECOND TIME SHE ASKED TO DOUBLE-CHECK MY TRANSFER, I JUST ASKED HER TO OPEN THE DOOR AND I WALKED OUT.
SAW HER AT DOMINION (WINN-DIXIE) TODAY. HER FACE WAS WORKING, AND SHE SEEMED TOTALLY EFFED- UP.

AH, JUPITER AND SEMELE.

PISSED OFF GOD WILL SET YOU ON FIRE.
THAT, OR SHE WAS NUTS BEFORE I SET
HER ON FIRE.
BUT SHE IS GORGEOUS.
THIS LITTLE SAPHO NO POETESS, THOUGH.
MAYBE I'LL ASK HER TO CHANGE THE MOTOR ON MY CAR. MAY PIQUE HER INTEREST.

Josie said...

Ivan, would your book be in the Vancouver Public Library system? I would love to actually sit down and read it.

Josie

Okay, now they're in the room with a geiger counter, and it's going off the scale.... This is the CDC after all. Russian spies, maybe?

ivan said...

Hi Josie,
No, The Black Icon is not in the Vancouver library system.
But I do believe, that if you talk to a librarian she could direct you to a Canada-wide interloan. The Vancouver library will contact the Newmarket Ontario library for a copy of The Black Icon, by Ivan Prokopchuk.

EA Monroe said...

Oohh, Josie that sounds like an interesting place where you work. My dad had a geiger counter. We never could figure out what he was doing with a geiger counter.

Ivan, you should invite your bus driver to dinner! ;-) How long does it take you to walk 20 miles?

ivan said...

Ah.
Love is trouble.
And being gay is a pain in the a.., they tell me.

EA Monroe said...

Ivan, Josie is Wonder Woman!

ivan said...

"Plane! Bring hasmat unit!"

Josie said...

I just sat down with my cocoa and read the chapters. It's autobiographical, isn't it? Genyk is you? Or sort of you? It's very good. I got really caught up in it.

Can't wait for the next chapter.

Josie

P.S. I'm going to turn off all the lights now and see if I glow in the dark....

ivan said...

"That's totally rad."

ivan said...

Thanks for appreciating the book, Josie.
People of all faiths and creed seem to like it.

ivan said...

Liz,
If I do a fast clip, it should only take two hours to walk 20 miles.
With my Supeman outfit bulging in the middle and my left one hanging a little lower than the right, it takes me four hours.
Frequent stops at phone booths and rest rooms.
(Belch! Faaht.)
Like Hoss Cartwright.

EA Monroe said...

Hey, Ivan. I figured you made plenty of stops along the way. San and I usually take about 30 minutes to stroll through The Hood. We have to stop and check out any possible squirrel sightings along the way, sometimes munchkins, too.

ivan said...

Score sheet.

Squirrel....10
San..........?

Ah well. It's about like my love live.
I can chase them all right.
But they run so fast!
And they are mental!

EA Monroe said...

Good morning, Ivan. Here I am back at work and trying my darndest to stay out of mischief today. I think the Squirrels are winning. On one walk last week, San parked herself under a tree looking for the squirrel. It was the wrong tree, but San didn't believe me.

ivan said...

Doggie-San might be Oriental.

Might be considering, "Grass -Mistress, it's not me and the tree, it's the space between me and the tree.
"Squirrel just there as backdrop."

And:
"Foolish man give wife grand piano.
"Erik Ivan James gives woman stiff, upright ohhgan."

(Sorry Erik.
Jist going by the copy).
Heh.

JM said...

Ivan:

Bootleg novels, eh? Maybe I'll check out my funky record store here in Cracktown and see if The Black Icon's there with the live Led Zepellin and outtakes of Elvis at Sun Studios (which I bought -- and is brilliant).

ivan said...

Hi Jeff,
Most anything by Zeppelin is beautiful.
And Elvis outtakes: I can dig it!
They have been flogging some spirituals by Elvis at PBS, interesting, but it ain't "beam me back, Scotty Moore."
Many, many years ago, I got my hands on some Hank Williams demo tapes. Hank used to play pretty easy in those days, so I've committed the songs to memory--Hey don't knock Hank Williams: Leonard Cohen would walk a thousand miles just to hear The First Fall of Snow again. Or Your Cheating Heart.
And Ray Charles, of course, dug Hank when Ray made the great crossover.
...But how I'd love to get that arpeggio lead- in to "Dead Or Alive", written by Richie Sambora!

Josie said...

Ivan, promise me you will never change to Beta.

BTW, yes, you can send me a new computer... hah!

Josie

ivan said...

Blogger wants me to change to Beta.

So I should have even more problems?

I have contacted the North Pole.

Stassiu Liberty the Polish elf says you will be sent one.

EA Monroe said...

Ivan, it's definitely the new and improved Beta Blogger Blocker that's keeping me out of the comment boxes of those who have made the switcheroo.

If I don't switch, how can I keep up my penchant for mischief?! I may have to join Troublemakers' Anonymous!

~SIGH~

Josie said...

If you guys switch I won't be able to communicate with you anymore. Sniff...

We just had our Christmas luncheon in our department and I spilled cranberry sauce all over my left boob. Now I have to walk around for the rest of the day like this.

Josie

EA Monroe said...

Hey, Josie. You should have spilled more sauce on your right boob. Maybe no one will notice. Well, it's good to know that I'm not the only spiller!

I left you a comment about signing in as "Other" on the beta bloggers comment boxes. Duh.

Josie said...

Liz, I can only imagine if I had spilled it on the other boob as well. You should hear the comments from the doctors.

What a bunch of boobs...

:-)

Josie

ivan said...

Thank you for keeping me abreast of the times.

Josie said...

****chuckle****

ivan said...

We used to have a town councillor here whose name was Mammolito.

I can just imagine!

Josie said...

Ivan, where do you get that stuff? You're too funny.

Oh, lord....

Josie

EA Monroe said...

Ivan, I dropped in to say good night and sweet dreams. ~ Liz

Josie said...

Ohh, Ivan has all the ladies tucking him in... hah. Too funny.

Josie

ivan said...

Oh, am I going to sleep tonight!

Muchas gracias, chiquitas.

A kama.

Unfortunately, not Sutra.

JM said...

Ivan:

Hank Williams makes me laugh; Stan Getz can make me weep. Ray Charles I scream to and Elvis suggests it is permissible to --- everything in sight.
And I like to drink alone with Warren Zevon.

ivan said...

"Carmelita, hold me tighter
I think I'm sinking down
I'm all strung out on heroin
On the outskirts of town."

First time I heard Murray McLughlin do that one, I got a feeling way beyond Whisperin' Rain.

Here was full pathos and realization of pathos. The Devil's poetry. And the Devil is the best poet.
I drink with the Devil too. Devil come to visit Ivan.
Understandable that I take my Warren Devon in small doses.

Hank Williams: Jambolaya can make you laugh and feel good.
But Hank died at 28, just when he was experimenting with a little jazz. But look what he did with his 28 years!
Stan Getz and Charlie Bird can evoke angels. Jazz Samba. Yeah.I caught Charlie Bird in Washington DC on my honeymoon, walking down the street with his two classicals. We talked.
(At least my wife talked to him).
Don't let The Animals pollute House of the Rising Sun for you.
Charlie Bird does it original.
After Baez.
Damn, Jeff, you almost make nme want to play again.
Guitar sitting in its closet, a twang here and there as a string loosens itself.
"If you want to write, give up the violin," and old prof once said to me.
But so much can be said for the violin.
And I'm fast forgetting how to play.
And writin' getting no easier.

JM said...

Ivan:

The new strings I bought a month back for my acoustic remain in the package (which bears an unflattering photo of Eric Clapton) and my Telecaster gently weeps -- out of neglect, rather than despair for the state of the world. Tonight I'm gonna take them strings out and make 'em work (I've got this old Stones tune "Prodigal Son" rattling around in my brain like a tenement squatter -- nothing can evict it; perhaps making it heard will equate to some sort of exorcism rite) and when I fish my hidden mickey of Irish whisky out of the rafters in the garage I will toast you, and me, and Keith Richards, and Jesus Christ Almighty, Charlie Parker. Take that guitar out ofd the closet, man. it's lonesome in there.

ivan said...

Some MoFo stole my good guitar, the one with the cutaway.
Friggin difficult to do Richie Sambora arpeggios. Like in D, way up.

ivan said...

Uh Oh.
Looks like my ladies have left me.
They were asking for more of The Black Icon.
And they know I'm dogging it.

Josie said...

No, we're still here. But they're making us work. Do actualy work....

I need chocolate.

Josie

EA Monroe said...

Hey, I'm trying to keep out of trouble. JM's right, Ivan. Take that guitar out of the closet. Close your eyes and strum us a tune.

ivan said...

Hi Josie.
Hi Liz.

"Oh the horse stood around
With his foot on the ground
The horse stood around
With his foot on the ground
The horse stood around
With his foot on the ground
The horse stood around
With his foot on the ground."

Second verse, same as the first. A little bit louder, a little bit worse.

"Oh the horse stood around
With his foot on the ground
The horse stood around
With his foot on the ground..."

EA Monroe said...

Ivan, Josie. This working business is for the birds! I am falling asleep over here!

Josie said...

I just spitzed my egg nog all over the screen.

At least I got the cranberry sauce out of my sweater.

Sigh.

Can you imagine if we all actually ever met? We would never stop laughing.

Josie

ivan said...

Yea for removing stains.
I've got so many of them on my sinful little soul.
Paul was in charge of Peter for a while, but Peter had no conscience.
Old Jimmie Rogers song: Women make a fool out of me.

Would be funny if we met, Josie.

Like Marie Colette meeting Flaubert for the first time (and I am hardly Flaubert).
I'm not sure which of the two was the first to scream. Ha.

ivan said...

Yeah Liz,
Work cuts in on your time.
Like you could be getting into trouble!

EA Monroe said...

Hi Ivan. I was on a roll for trouble this morning, but things have slacked off since then. I need to take a stroll outside my computer room and see what I can stir up, besides dust. I feel like I'm sitting on a flat tire.

EA Monroe said...

PS. I had to hit the water cooler for a drink. Is it 4:00 yet? I'll meet you and Josie at The Other Place, Ivan!

Our "mark" must be out hunting today, or we could go pester EIJ. Umm, maybe not. He might shoot us -- by mistake.

Josie said...

Well, it must be 5:00 somewhere. Margaritas, anyone?

Anonymous said...

Omigod.
I am back from my walk and it's FN 7:00--Friggin' near seven p.m.
I trust you ladies survived the mines.
I live almost atop the railroad track and the GO-Train will presently remind me that it's seven by having not only my ears but me major aperture re-tuned.
Casey Jones and his mothergrabbin' claxon. Scald the bastard to death in his steam: He knows my apartment is just over him. Blows that thing like a Montreal traffic cop whistling Arret.

Had a black friend over one night.
Friend says "the way Casey was blowing that whistle, I swore he was a q...r."
May he never return, may he never return.

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