Nelson Bentley 1918-1990
Summer solstice of Year One of the Great Panjandrumpf
I was lounging just beyond the breakers’ reach
– Whiskeyless, alas – at Whiskey Creek,
Gazing through pink clouds at
Across the Strait and pondering expats,
When the shriek of a passing gull reminded me
That only a month ago I was in
Furthermore, afloat, helplessly so,
Dead Sea hunkered in
I’d met my long-lost cousin in
Another and her son in Tel Aviv –
Enabled only recently by my
Discovery of my great-grandfather’s diary
(Which led to
In 1864, and then from there
To the family of his mother, Lena Klatsow,
Most of whom were murdered in The War
but a few’d escaped in time to
But as long as I was there in
– and Nicholas, my son, camera in hand –
Dead Sea drew us to us
to its banks
And into its famous buoyant soup.
I’d bobbed and roly-polyed, unable to relax,
Trying to keep the muddy, saline liquid
From my eyes but unable to stand upright,
Feet suspended above the salt lake’s floor
Despite its being only three feet down.
Afloat in poison of a humorous sort,
Just out of reach of healing mud,
Floundering just above large, sharpish rocks...
A shadow flitted close above my sun hat.
I glanced up at the baking cloudless sky
To see a softly flaming desert ibex,
Hovering on 44 wings, sharp-horned, sharp-hooved,
Like a massive, bearded, slightly ornery hummingbird.
It asked me, in a slightly nasal drawl,
“Excuse me, bub, could you be Mr. Beast?”
My trilby nearly flew right off my head.
Had I hair, it would have stood straight up.
“I’ve been called by many names,” I sputtered,
“but Mr. Beast, I’m glad to say, has stuck.
And who are you,” I added, refastening my hat
And rolling counter-clockwise ten degrees.
“I am the true Spirit of America,” quoth he,
In, dare I say it, a Biblical tone of voice.
My left hand holding fast my hat, I croaked,
“And how do you know who I am? And what
Are you doing 8000 miles from home?
And why?” The ibex gave a gimlet stare
And mooed “I might ask the same of you!”
“Fair enough,” I said, rolling clockwise,
“but I asked first!” I yawed and pitched.
His wings stuttered for a long second.
“Your father sent me,” was all that he said.
“I am,” he continued, after twiddling his hooves,
“here because it’s too damn hot for Moose!”
He waited for me, knowing I’d catch his drift.
“You may have noticed,” the antelope opined,
“Moose wrote no ‘W. Apocalypse’ –
though one was sorely needed, maybe two.
None for Clinton or Obama, merely blips –
Moose was way too busy catching up
With Auden, Roethke, Wordsworth, and the Bard –
But faced with the Great Panjandrumpf, Nelson found
That keeping mum was, at long last, just too hard.
He’s sent me here to give you a small push.
I’m sorry if I caught you off your guard!”
“So,” I managed, “I need to step in?
Drumpf – hell, I hardly know where to begin!”
His tail pointed down toward the water.
“Do you see this mucky brine?” he asked.
“See it? I’m soaking in it!” I blurted out.
“Dead!” the ibex snorted. “Lifeless! Saline
As the salt mines of
Dead as a doornail!
(What is a doornail, just what does that mean?)”
I said, “You sound a bit like W.C. Fields.”
“You got me there,” he neighed, “Buster Keaton
Was tied up this time – tied to a railroad track!
Anyway, I’m here to draw your attention
To the metaphor you’re floating in right now.”
“Somewhat uncomfortably,” I protested. ”Can I leave?”
“Not till I point out all those sharp rocks.
What do they remind you of?” he huffed.
“Well, they’re rather like the rocky shoals
That one must navigate to achieve democracy.”
“Pedantic,” he said, “but heading in the left direction.”
“You mean the right direction?” I corrected.
“Definitely left,” he whickered, wings atwitch,
“The sea?” I guessed. “It’s dead?”
“Dead as the soul of Donald Drumpf! Good guess.
(Dead as all the world’s seas might be
If his climate change ignorance prevails...).”
“...And here I am, unable to find my footing
Struggling in a murky political soup!”
“Use your head and extricate yourself,”
The ibex instructed, and behold! I complied.
He pointed with his left hoof up the shore.
A neon sign proclaimed “The Lowest Bar
On Earth.” “Grab a brew and ponder that!”
I did just that.
“Lowest bar,” he snorted,
“The GOP has set the bar so low...”
“”Yes? How low?” I gamely parried,
Sipping an Israeli Gold Star lager.
“Lower than the
saith the ibex.
“Hop on my back,” he said, “Don’t mind the wings.”
I found a spot and held my trilby fast
As we sped south, toward the Jordanian border.
“Your timing is impeccable,” the ibex spoke,
“Your Drumpf was just here too, I’m sure you know.”
“He’s not MY Drumpf,” I said, and kicked his flank.
“He put on quite a show of faith,
Kissing the Western Wall and all that.
But he wouldn’t visit the sacred site
As he couldn’t land his helicopter there!”
“Keep your eyes on the road,” I urged, as date palms loomed.
“You see those dates?” the ibex queried.
“I do,” I said, “and your point is what?”
“Figs,” he intoned, “Does that ring a bell?”
“Naughty figs?” I guessed.
“You got it, bub.
Beware, lest four more years of naughty figs!
Your Muse – I mean the Moose – said ‘Pass it on!’
Do you recall Leo the Lion, the frycook bigwig?”
“The greasy spoon on
Where sometimes we would eat when I was young?”
“The very one,” he affirmed, “Do you recall
“The little jukeboxes there in every booth?”
“Yes! I wanted to cue up Barry McGuire,
But Nelson – should I call him Moose, or Dad? –
Held back the quarter when I named the song.
‘”Eve of Destruction”?’ he said. ‘Too depressing!’”
“Precisely,” said the flaming ungulate, “and what
Do you suppose flows into the
Jordan River has
“Indeed,” the ibex said, “What else comes to mind?”
“’The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace’?”
“’Hate your next-door neighbor
But don’t forget to say grace!”
He interrupted, “look at that oasis.
Water from barren cliffs, like Moses’ rod
Had brought it into being from the desert.
Moose would have had a field day here, by God.”
“The Cataract of Ein Gedi!” I cried, sweating.
“Keep that vision in mind,” said the ibex.
“Gushing and flushing, spattering and splattering,” he added,
“Like nectar from a desiccated rind!”
I noticed, perched shyly near a pool
A red-white-and-blue rock hyrax,
A miniature Segway strapped to each foot.
“And what, pray tell, are you?” I put to him.
“The rock hyrax of the high road,” he replied.
“My job here’s done,” the ibex said, “hop off,
I’ll see you in back in old
His 44 wings commenced to whir
And he flew off while I saddled up the hyrax.
“I’ll never take the low road,” the rodent assured,
“unlike those double-dealing elephants.”
At that, we scooted uphill toward the west.
“Is it true you thought your grampa was born in
“I’m embarrassed to say yes,” I quavered.
“My Jewish heritage had never quite been explicated.”
“Silly boy,” the hyrax clucked furrily,
“Your gramps was from the Great State of Minnesota,
Home of the walleye and a thousand lakes.
All his life, he said, he’d never voted!”
“Yes,” I explained, “Because ‘they’re all the same!’”
“Forgive me, but I really have to mention,
I see where you get your silliness from,” he chirped.
“Your grampa simply wasn’t paying attention!”
The four Segways whirred us through the
“I have to ask,” he squeaked, “You’re called The Beast?”
“They call me MISTER Beast,” I obscurely quipped.
“So, not Beast of the Apocalypse?”
“No,” I said, “no. It’s a long story.”
“Good,” he grimly chuckled, “then I’m right.
Donald Drumpf’s the Beast of the Apocalypse –
The Orange-Faced Fiend of the alt-right.”
I believe it,” I said, dismounting the creature
Since we’d rolled to a stop at the Damascus Gate,
“but have you all the evidence you need?”
He shook his fuzzy head, disencumbered.
“Look around,” he sputtered, “What do you see?”
“About a hundred thousand excited Jews,”
I ventured, scanning the scene, “celebrating
50 years since the Six Day War.”
“What are those they’re waving?” asked the hyrax.
“Star of David flags and, good grief, signs:
“’Drumpf Will Make
Israel Great Again.’
The hyrax’s tiny hackles rose.
“Note, this is the gate to the Muslim Quarter!
Drumpf is all for banning Mexicans and Muslims too,
Just as these nationalists would the Palestinians.
He and his toadies claim Christianity up the wazoo,
But he’d move against the old and ill, the poor.
He leads the moneylenders and the rich,
And you can bet your bottom dollar, bub,
That would-be emperor doesn’t wear a stitch.
You’ll sooner see a camel thread a needle
Or climb a tree of Israeli dates
Than meet the Great and Terrible Panjandrumpf
By Peter’s side at the pearly gates.
And that plague of hedgehogs!” he exclaimed,
“An army of the thorny little things,
Fed with hedge funds by the ton,
Oblivious to the chaos their feeding brings.
The twit is worse than Herod, with his sycophants.
They simply disregard the lies and cheats!
No one cares the room is full of elephants!
The rabble is all a-twitter for his tweets!”
“How’s your numerology?” He caught my eye.
“Not so good,” I said, “Why do you ask?”
“Take the fellow’s surname then: Drumpf.
First, assign the alphabetic numbers:
4, 18, 21, 13, 16,
and a final 6 for good measure.
Add them up: 78, old bean.
7 plus 8 equals 15, right?
1 plus 5 equals 6, yes?”
“OK,” I said, “you’re left with six. Go on.”
“Not left, far-right,” he calmly corrected.
“4, 18, 21, 13, 16,
and a final 6 for good measure.
Multiply 4 by 18, see,
21 by 13, and 16 by 6.
Then multiply the results, you follow me?
Seventy-two by two-hundred-seventy-three...”
“By ninety-six,” I said, “What do you get?”
“117,000,” the hyrax yelled,
“and 936! Get this:
Eleven by seventy-nine-thirty six
Those digits all add up to 39.
And 9 minus 3 equals?”
I growled, “Another six, OK.”
I growled, “Another six, OK.”
“Now,” the hyrax said, as the crowds parted
Around us, staring at the four-wheeled rodent,
“Remember seventy-two, two-seventy-three,
“Yes,” I groaned, smelling felafel.
“Add those digits, and what do you get?”
“Four-forty-one,” I hungrily replied.
“And 4 plus 4 plus 1 is 9...” he said.
“Fine,” I said, “do you smell felafel?”
“And what is 9 upside down?” he asked.
“Six,” I said, drooling slightly,
“As Jimi Hendrix once pointed out.”
“Yes! So, six-six-six! I rest my case!
Drumpf is the Apocalyptic Beast, the cur!”
At that, the hyrax revved his Segways and vamoosed
While I walked woozily through Damascus Gate
In search of felafel, olives, and hummus.
I ate it slowly meandering the Via Dolorosa,
And emerged sticky-fingered at the Holy Sepulchre.
Loitering in the piazza was the flaming ibex,
Wings aflutter like a flock of massive Monarchs,
And glowing slightly orange around the ears.
“Shalom, Mr. Beast,” he baaed at me.
“Pax vobiscum,” I retorted, smacking my lips.
“Everything your father knew about the Bible
Surrounds you here,” the ibex gestured ‘round.
“New Testament and Torah! History! Myth!”
“Sorry,” I said, “I’m well and truly lapsed,
I’m neither here nor there.”
“No problem,” the sizzling antelope allowed,
Pointing his left-front hoof at someone’s T-shirt,
“I’ll just point out that Budweiser label writ in Hebrew!”
“Capitalism at its finest,” I agreed.
From Moose!” he bellowed, flapping 22 left wings
Twice as fast as the right-hand 44.
“We have an awful lot of work to do.”
“Awful,” I nodded, slightly ill,
“I felafel. It must be the olive oil.”
I fainted in the ancient cobbled street.
“Courage!” snorted the ibex, adroitly pouring
A handy Gold Star ale over my head.
“Drink up! Gird thy loins! and...VOTE!”
I sat up with a shiver, and groggily quoted
alone won’t bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin’.”
“No, but it doesn’t hurt,” replied the ibex.
“Now I must be off. ‘I must be going.
I cannot stay, I came to say I must be going.’”
“Wait,” I said, “that’s Groucho, not W.C.”
“And who did your grampa Singer look like?”
“I take your point,” I said, “I think. Or not.”
“Between marches, comedy, and art,” the ibex quoth,
“You’ll keep the Beast at bay.”
“Watch it,” I said.
With that, his 44 wings flapped in concert
With a sound like a hundred decks of cards
In the spokes of a hundred Schwinn bicycles,
And bleating “Vote!” while tossing his long horns.
I watched him flame up into the blue sky,
Over cathedral, synagogue, and mosque,
Desert, and river, and thus I found myself
Back in the
floating weightless, wondering
If I’d packed enough notepaper to write this down.
Ibex and hyrax photos by Riley Pearce