aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 66: In The Forests Of The Night

It’s coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst
Leonard Cohen

Afternoon, May 14, 2017
New York City

Genesis 11:4: “And they said, ‘Come, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth’.” And the LORD waxed wroth, and He cursed them with a confusion of tongues, turned them into the seventy-two nations and scattered them around the world.

Somehow, after thousands of years, the seventy-two nations came together again. Like streams joining into a mighty river, they all flowed together into the same spot. “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.” And when the LORD came to confound their speech a second time, He found that it was already confounded, English-speakers and Yiddish-speakers and Spanish-speakers and Mohawk-speakers, and people who were bilingual in English and Gaelic, and people who only knew Haitian Creole, and people who spoke weird degenerate versions of Portuguese intermixed with extinct aboriginal tongues, and God-only-knows-what else, and all of them were working to build the towers together, communicating through a combination of yelling and frantic hand-gestures. And the LORD said “Whatever,” and He let it pass. Thus rose New York.

The Not A Metaphor rode its unearthly winds into the harbor before lowering its sails, slowing down, and docking at the New York Passenger Ship Terminal on the West Side. “I hope they found us a priest and a placebomancer,” said James, “because we’re on a deadline.” He marched onto shore, promising to be back with the two new crew members in a few minutes.

Ana just stared, examined the fantastic sights around her, compared it to the photographs and movies she had seen in her youth. The most striking difference was the absence of the city’s various bridges, casualties of the war against Thamiel. In their place stood great pillars with the Sea-Parting Name maintaining corridors of dry land between each borough, across which cars drove in defiance of the walls of water ready to crash down on them; the works of Robert Moses supplanted by those of regular Moses. There were a few new fortresses, and the batteries in Battery Park were no longer of historical interest only. A memorial to the Lubavitcher Rebbe dominated the Brooklyn skyline.

And then there was the Statue of Liberty. It was back on its pedestal, and it still “lifted its lamp beside the golden door.”

There’s some interesting kabbalah here. New York Harbor is “the golden door”. San Francisco Harbor is “the golden gate”. Nothing is ever a coincidence. What’s going on?

There’s another Golden Gate, this one in Jerusalem just east of the Temple Mount. According to the prophet Ezekiel, it is the gate through which God and the Messiah will enter the city:

Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. Then said the Lord unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. It is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.

The Ottoman Turks, ever pragmatic, decided that if God and the Messiah entered Jerusalem it would probably cause the Jews to revolt or something, so they bricked up the Golden Gate. You might think this is stupid, but I point out that the Messiah did not, in fact, come and overthrow the Ottoman Turks. Don’t argue with success.

But where were we? Oh, right. Ezekiel said no one could enter through the Golden Gate, because it was only for God and the Messiah. A gate good enough for God and the Messiah is a gate way too cool to let the hoi polloi into. But Emma Lazarus’ Golden Door is the opposite: “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,” cries she, with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

To explain the contradiction, we turn to Matthew 25:40 – “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

In Jerusalem, no one may enter the Golden Gate, because it is reserved for God. In America, everyone may enter the Golden Door, and the poor most of all, because whatsoever is done to the least of the people is done unto God.

Have I mentioned that the name “Emma Lazarus” combines the Germanic “Emma”, meaning “universal”, with the Biblical “Lazarus”, the symbol of salvation? Emma Lazarus means “universal salvation”, the faith that God will help everyone, even the tired and poor, even the wretched refuse. “Send them”, He says, “your homeless, your tempest-tossed, to Me.”

And as Ana beheld the Statue of Liberty flanked by Ellis Island, like Moshiach flanked by Elijah, she realized why it had all had to happen here; the Comet King, the messianic kingdom, the final crusade, why all of the prophecies scheduled for Israel had been transplanted to this strange land across the sea.

The overt meaning of “U.S.” is “Untied States”.

The kabbalistic meaning of “U.S.” is “universal salvation”.

The buzz of the city was palpable, so much so that Ana noticed instantly when it all stopped. The cars slowed to a halt. The neon signs went dim. The animated billboards turned off. A siren briefly started to wail, then went quiet. Huh, she thought to herself, must be a blackout.

Then Amoxiel screamed, and clutched his head, and screamed again. They ran over, but he had shot ten feet into the air and was out of reach. “Woe, woe, woe unto the earth!” he cried before crashing back onto the deck. He was out cold for a second, then suddenly snapped back to wakefulness with a frantic look in his eyes. “Woe, woe, woe to the great city, the mighty city. For in one hour has thy judgment come! Uriel is dead! The machinery of Heaven is broken!” He fell in a heap on the deck.

Several things seemed to happen at once.

Simeon Azore came abovedecks. The Captain followed just behind him. He shouted something incomprehensible, then stepped to the edge of the ship just in time to almost run into James, who was returning with a man in a black robe.

“Father O’Connor,” said James. “Our priest. The placebomancer is missing. I’m going to try to find a replacement. Give me ten minutes.”

“We don’t have ten minutes!” roared the Captain. “The city of New York may not have ten minutes! How are you going to find a placebomancer in ten minutes?”

“Captain,” said James, unflappable, “if a placebomancer is looking for work, and he’s any good at all, he’ll find us.”

The giant man looked at the eastern horizon. Then he looked at the city, which was already starting to flicker with flame. Then he looked at the sky, which seemed to be getting darker by the moment.

“Ten minutes!” he said, his face unreadable behind his dark glasses. “If you’re not back, we leave without you!”

“Ana,” said Simeon, who had just come back up carrying a bag of luggage. He shook her hand. “I’m leaving.”

“What? Why? God’s boat is going to show up in less than two hours! Why would you – ”

“I gambled and I lost,” he said. “When you told me the crew was stonewalling you about the Captain, I thought I’d take things into my own hands. My ticket’s only good till the end of the pursuit tonight, and I can’t very well interrupt the Captain after God’s boat appears, so I tried it as we went into the harbor. I knocked on his door, I went into his cabin, I told him I knew he was the Comet King, told him Uriel’s machine was falling apart and the world needed him. And like I was a damn prophet the machine chose that moment to shatter, and I said if he didn’t take back the throne right now we were all going to die. And you know what he told me? He just told me that the one rule of this ship was not to bother the Captain in his quarters, and I’d broken it, and I’d forfeited my ticket and had to get off immediately.”

“No, I’ll find him, I’ll tell him to change his mind, he needs me, he’ll listen to me.”

“Ana,” Simeon put a hand on her shoulder. “Better idea. Come with me. I’ve got a friend in New York, guy at Goldman-Sachs who thinks the same way I do. He’s got a bunker here. I’m welcome in it. I’m heading there now. You don’t get how bad this is. Think of Uriel as the sun. Now the sun’s gone out and the nighttime’s started. There are night creatures out there who are about to wake up, you’ve studied the kabbalah too, you know this. Only way to survive is to hide under a rock somewhere. You’re welcome to come.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I like you. Your heart’s in the right place, even though your common sense could use a tune-up.” He smiled. “I don’t want anyone to say Simeon Azore left a friend in danger.”

“What about all the other people you’re leaving in danger?” She gestured at all the skyscrapers. Smoke was starting to rise from the tallest towers.

“Same as with the spaceships,” said Simeon. “Wanted to save everybody. Tried. Didn’t work. Not going to stand right in front of the avalanche as a matter of principle just because other people don’t have shelters.”

“We could still save everybody,” said Ana. “There has to be a way.”

“There wasn’t for Noah,” said Simeon. “If he’d told God he wasn’t going to get in that ark until God guaranteed the safety of all of the ark-less masses, the floods would have come anyway and we’d be unpopulated and animal-less. God told Noah that the right thing to do was to get in the damn ark and Noah listened. Do you want to be more virtuous than God?”

Ana thought for a second. “I’m not God,” she said. “I’m American. Universal salvation or bust.”

“You said you studied theodicy! Has that ever worked?”

“I don’t know,” said Ana. “Maybe if we find God off Fire Island I’ll ask Him.”

On a whim, she kissed Simeon on the cheek. “Good luck,” she said. “Tell all your rich friends I think they’re terrible.”

Simeon Azore of Countenance raised an eyebrow. “Good luck, Ana. Tell God the same.”

Then he strode off the boat with the hurried step of a businessman who always has somewhere to be.

A minute later, back came James, half-dragging a figure who looked like he’d seen better days. His clothes were torn, his hair was singed, his face was covered with blood. He limped onto the ship, with some help.

“Who is that?” asked Tomas, who had come to welcome them aboard.

“I told you it would work!” said James. “This guy fell on top of me. Literally fell on top of me! Out of a window! Gentlemen, meet our new placebomancer.”

“I prefer the term ‘ritual magician'” said Mark McCarthy.

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