Ben Berman Ghan
The New Gods of the House
For Jack Kirby
Once, there were old gods sleeping in the house:
Waking, drinking, fighting, fingers dragging
into the flesh of our backyard of drought —
Molding clay faces, baby maws hatching
From garden into labyrinth: we were born.
Those old kings, such plans they had for the hearth —
To drop us, fresh animals, to blow our horns.
Sad songs of life, trapped in the castle’s dark,
Architectures of lovely suffering.
Drinking down their pets’ tears as sweet prayers,
Basking in sad syllabes ciphering —
Into the throats of eternity, snared
Then something crooked made its way hereby
And in the house at twilight the old gods died.
But there were futures festering in these
Old oak foundations beneath the floorboards,
Waiting for the blood to seep down into trees,
To take form and color from dead warlords.
New deities, daffodils in the minds —
Bright, techno-colored venomous cancers
Unspooling before us, who cheered in kind
Eating the corpses of their ancestors.
Of a new age, a new day, an answer
To imaginations of modernity.
They spread through rooms, repainting, bright dancers.
We clay men fearing new eternities
Cried for fearful mythologies to save us
But the intruders only laughed, spreading fingers
And said: “There are new gods now.”
“Love us,” they said, dangling above us,
“and we’ll build a fourth floor of the house,
an attic for the house, where you can break
all the old rules like so much bone marrow.”
So we did.
We, tumbling bodies,
Running through the house
With our new gods.
We, bombastic forms,
Spilling war across the kitchen,
Blossoming thought into furniture
To carry into the bedroom of our
Four-floored house. Making love,
Trading wisdoms, breeding hatred,
Trading love away.
We, reveling in our new gods of escape
and perseverance. Gods of AI computer
programs and synthetic cigarettes. Deities of combustion
engines and nuclear fusion and knowledge and late
night TV. Gods of violence, of innovation
and evil, too. Though we did not see.
And as the gods changed
and at first, we didn’t even notice.
We lost the rhythms of our early lives; we lost the structure.
What purpose did each room in the house serve, with its equipment
of dusty appliances and specific furniture?
We could not remember.
The gods plotted in their secret rooms as we tore
through the house, ripping out faucets, tearing down wallpapers,
breaking through the walls and taking what lay behind at the source.
In an astonishment birth
returned to the house and the gods’ sons
wailed and we discovered individual I .
In the wreckage of the player piano that the old gods left behind
there was I ,
fondling the white keys. In the attic bedrooms peeping out
at the magnolia trees of the garden, the babies of the gods
made war before their parents.
And as the we becoming I
began to fight,
began to struggle as individuality stripped punctuation away
and dissolution came to what remained of our organization.
The gods began to brew violence
as their ancestors had brewed war before them,
for what is a god if they are not laying claim to all they see?
War up above, strange fathers trading sons.
War shaking ceilings, their screams become us.
A war in attic but nobody won.
A war in our attic, our trembling pulse.
The relief of some normalcy returns
Not as strong as before, not as strict, but
Enough to remind us where to eat,
Where we sleep, where we play, the walls of the
House restructuring around our broken
Divinities. We see the attic still, a genesis
Of bird nests and forgotten picture books
(Pictures of whom? Before old gods, or new?)
And hopeful representations. All smiles.
And then we looked down and saw at last the
Basement, where the other gods glared upwards,
And it became of leaky damp apocalypse,
For the god who is, inside us, waiting.
And those spaces in between, those messy
Floors devastated by the confusion
Of that emergent I, became our Earth
Where we looked up at the attic heaven,
Crying out for the rainbows to love us
But knowing in our hearts that, below,
He is waiting and he is not finished.
And they walk among us, those swapped babies!
Half-brothers, grinning, flying, unshackling,
Bringing our prayers out of the dim of the
Bedroom and into the light of the den.
Balancing on the balcony, bringing
Heat to the stove. And we gave them our hearts,
Forgetting that once they were gods instead,
Painting age of heroes on their faces,
Bringing funky conmen and giant girls
Out into the playpen of the hallways
To clash and shout and hide their shoes with ours
And make all this housework seem like a game
At least for a little while.
Until he is.
And hunter sons
are falling down the stairs.
And we, knowing again what it is to be I,
See that nobody gets away scot-free.
Because there’s been a war in the attic.
And evil won.
I watch them scheme and fall and fight and live
In us, until our songs leave them no room.
And I — we turn on them, and none survive.
We take new gods, above, below. Costumed
In ugly glory we tear the attic
From the foundations of our paradise
And the basement floods with clay fanatics.
Among them, I charge that god of evil.
And though yes, he is, I am so much more.
So, the new gods did die just like the old.
And for the first time we were all alone
In the house where we lived. Our house now.
Without the rigidity of the old
Or the chaos of the new.
And no new imaginings grew
In our hearts. No more new gods
Took root. All remained quiet.
All except me.
So I, alone, stopped my singing.
I, alone, walked where they had walked
And woke, and drank, and fought. And
I, without them springing from my heart
To stop me, reached out, unlocked the door
And, finally, we left the house of the gods.
Ben Berman Ghan is a queer Jewish writer, editor, and scholar based as a settler in Tkaronto/Toronto, site of Treaty 13 and Williams Treaty territory. his poetry has been published in Deathcap Magazine, The UC Review, The Trinity Review, and the Cypress Poetry Journal. His novel What We See in the Smoke was published in 2019 with Crowsnest Books, and his novella Visitation Seeds with 845 Press in 2020. You can find him @inkstainedwreck or inkstainedwreck.ca
Author’s Comments: “The House of The Gods” was conceived during research into Jewish writers of speculative fiction that I was pursuing in spring of 2021, as homage to the comic book writer and artist Jack “The King” Kirby. Having read the entirety of his “The Fourth World” saga for DC Comics and his return to Marvel Comics with “The Eternals,” I was struck by the size and scale of Kirby’s New Gods, and the beauty of a world in which ordinary people clash with ancient and cruel creatures that they do not understand. I am fascinated by stories of strange temptations, and evolutions, and the beautifully strange ways in which a people can change overtime.
Editor’s Notes: “This narrative poem pays homage to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Saga, following the mortal residence of a house built by a pantheon of gods, and the chaos that unfolds when the original gods of the house die, and are replaced by new gods.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_World_(comics)
Image Credit: Image of futuristic data god (ctovision) is superimposed by the Parthenon (imgbin png)—colorized white.