Madison Morrison’s Web / Sentence of the Gods / Magic


Madison Morrison

Asclepius: The incorporeal then, what is it?
Hermes: Mind and reason, whole out of whole, comprehending itself; free from all body, inerrant, impassible from body, intangible itself, stablished in itself, having capacity for all things, and conservative of the Entities, of which are, as it were, rays, the Good, the Truth, the archetype Light, the archetype of the soul.
Asclepius: The God then, what is He?
Hermes: He subsisting One, not of these things, but being also cause to these things that they are, as well as to all, and to each one of the Entities.


I am fourteen. A Hymn of Praise to Ra when he riseth in the Eastern part of Heaven. I swim in the pool of the Boat Club beside the Detroit River. Behold Osiris Ani the scribe who recordeth the holy offerings of all the gods, who saith: “Homage to thee, O thou who hast come as Khepera, Khepera, the creator of the gods.” I play for the Yankees in The Babe Ruth League. “Thou risest, thou shinest, making bright thy mother, crowned king of the gods.” The Boat Club is the oldest club on the river. “Mother Nut doeth homage unto thee with both her hands.” The Babe Ruth League plays its games in Grosse Pointe Farms. “The land of Manu receiveth thee with content, and the goddess Maat embraceth thee at the two seasons.”

“May he give splendor, and power, and triumph, and a coming-forth as a living soul to see Horus of the two horizons to the ka of Osiris, the scribe Ani, triumphant before Osiris, who saith: HAIL ALL YE GODS OF THE TEMPLE OF THE SOUL, WHO WEIGH HEAVEN AND EARTH IN THE BALANCE, WHO PROVIDE FOOD AND ABUNDANCE OF MEAT.”

I take the Jefferson Avenue bus to the Boat Club, descend at the Belle Isle bridge, walk across the river, past the guard and out onto the deck surrounding the pool. “Hail Tatunen, One, creator of mankind, and of the substance of the gods of the south, of the north, of the west, of the east.” It is a fifty-meter regulation pool, built for the ’32 Olympics. “Ascribe ye praise unto Ra, the lord of heaven, the Prince, Life, Health, and Strength, the Creator of the gods.” I suit up for my mid-morning lesson with Bill Reame, the squat, hairy-chested, middle-aged coach of the Boat Club team. “And adore ye him in his beautiful Presence as he riseth in the atet boat.” He teaches me to “reach” with each stroke.

They who dwell in the heights and they who dwell in the depths worship thee. By lunchtime friends have arrived: Freddy MacMillan, Stuart Dow. “Thoth and Maat both are thy recorders.” We play touch football on the grass – in and out of flower beds. “Thine enemy is given to the fire, the evil one hath fallen; his arms are bound, his legs hath Ra taken from him.” Then our expensive lunches: two, three, four hamburgers, French fries for Freddy, with whom I share a mad routine. “The children of impotent revolt shall never rise up again.”

“The House of the Prince keepeth festival, and the sound of those who rejoice is in the mighty dwelling.” Later in the season we watch as the roostertails of the racing boats drift over the Boat Club dock. “The gods are glad, they see Ra in his rising, his beams flood the world with light.”

I am catching Babe Ruth baseball again, this time first string. “The majesty of the god, who is to be feared, setteth forth and cometh unto the land of Manu.” Our new uniforms shine with the shield of a local merchant. “He maketh bright the earth at his birth each day; he cometh unto the place where he was yesterday.” Baseball is a difficult game to master. “O mayest thou be at peace with me; may I behold thy beauties.” Someone asks me, “How’s your throw to second?” Jerry Lynch has started as our catcher, but his silly switch-hitting and throws into center field have taken him out of the line-up. “May I advance upon the earth; may I smite the Ass; may I crush the evil one; may I destroy Apep in his hour; may I see the abtu fish at the time of his creation, the ant fish in his creation, the ant boat in its lake.” Given the chance to play, I prove myself.

At fourteen I wear my father’s old shirts, too loose and baggy for me. “May I see Horus in charge of the rudder, with Thoth and Maat beside him; may I grasp the bows of the sektet boat, and the stern of the atet boat.” What is wrong with my parents? “May he grant unto the ka of Osiris Ani to behold the disk of the Sun and to see the Moon-god without ceasing, every day.” Why must they be so parsimonious? “And may my soul come forth and walk hither and thither and whithersoever it pleaseth.” Everything done must have its profit.

In school I’ve done a report on Hitler’s rise to power. “May my name be proclaimed when it is found upon the board of the table of offerings.” Taking an article from Life magazine, I cut out the pictures and steal the captions, putting them into my paper as though they were mine. “May offerings be made unto me in my presence, even as they are unto the followers of Horus.”

“May there be prepared for me a seat in the boat of the Sun on the day of the going forth of the god.” I am lovesick for Dee Ann, the school’s jazz trumpeter’s girlfriend. “And may I be received into the presence of Osiris in the land of triumph!”

I am in tenth grade. It is 1954. I do poorly in geometry. My teacher, Mr. Bauer, isn’t much help. Mickey Caulkins has left for Choate, where my parents, distressed at my academic decline – from all A’s to a sprinkling of B’s – will send me next year. In the spring we tour the schools – Deerfield (emphasis on distant ancestors we share with headmaster), Choate (emphasis on acquaintance with Mickey’s parents), Taft. At Choate it is Mr. Pierce we see. As director of admissions, he gives me an aptitude test, asking that I read a paragraph of prose, then quizzing me on vocabulary: palette (in the sense of bed); an adjective, which I miss.


That summer – after admission – hectic Latin tutoring (it is decided I shouldn’t attempt Cicero, will begin French instead). Then math with Mrs. Vieweg, a Germanic Ph.D. and friend of my mother’s – through AAUW.

“Eldest son of the womb of Nut.”

My mother’s desk crammed with projects, professional duties. One year, local president of the American Association of University Women. The next, chairman of the citizen’s committee for the new educational television station. Endless telephone calls, handwritten letters. Menopause. More endless telephone calls. Hysterectomy. Embarrassingly intimate accounts.

“Engendered by Seb the Erpat, lord of the crowns of the North and South, lord of the lofty white crown.”

My father, aloof; off to work at 6:00 or – nights of insomnia – earlier; returning at 6:30. He sleeps – has long slept – in the den downstairs. One year, as a “present” to my mother, he recites from memory one of the Gospels. His bookshelf is lined with Reader’s Digest annuals. Nightlong he listens to the radio.

I am adolescent. “As Prince of gods and of men he hath received the crook and the flail and the dignity of his divine fathers.” My days of youthful popularity are past. “Thy body is of gold, thy head is of azure, and emerald light encircleth thee.” I have neither amorous relations nor intellectual interests but continue to play in the orchestra, to sing in the church choir. I cannot make the school baseball or basketball teams. “O An of millions of years, all-pervading with thy body and beautiful in countenance in Ta-sert.” I must be very unhappy. “May there be given unto me loaves of bread in the house of coolness, offerings of food in Annu, a homestead for ever in Sekhet-Arut with wheat and barley therefor.”

The grounds of Grosse Pointe High School a faux-paradis, its emerald sward stretching from Grosse Pointe Boulevard to Kercheval. In between: baseball diamond, cindery track, tennis courts with backboards. Here I console myself. Late in summer, after dinner, golfers practice approach shots in the long alley of grass. In the fall, after school, instead of returning home, I linger to watch football practice, invigorated by the crunch of sweaty pads, by my knowledge of tactics.

At home, always the chores. Osiris, the scribe Ani, saith: “My heart my mother, my heart my mother.” I have, since I can remember, had to wash the kitchen floor. To this day I look for praise when I have cleaned something up. “May there be nothing to resist me at my judgment.” I do it on my hands and knees: first, soapy water; then rinse cloths; then waxing. I am frequently asked to vacuum clean as well. “May there be no opposition to me.” In the summer I paint the enormous picket fence – two times before I’m fifteen. “May there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of him who keepeth the scales!” I console myself – with basketball backboard and basket, practicing free throws, till I get pretty good (I will one day hold the Yale record). “Thou are my ka within my body which knitteth and strengtheneth my limbs. Mayest thou come forth to the place of happiness to which I am advancing.”

I begin to attend debutante parties at the plush Country Club, at the Grosse Pointe Club, at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club. Dressed in tuxedo, I drink expensive scotch. Thoth, the righteous judge of the great company in the presence of Osiris, saith, “Hear ye this judgment. The heart of Osiris hath in very truth been weighed, and his soul hath stood as a witness for him; it hath been found true by trial in the Great Balance.”

Our Grosse Pointe house is at 66 Hall Place, the development a part of the ancient Dodge estate. A great company of the gods reply to Thoth: “Meat-offerings and entrance into the presence of the god Osiris shall be granted unto him, together with a homestead for ever in Sekhet-hetepu.” Surveyors discover across the street remnants of a private racing track. Asparagus still grows in our back yard (site of the vegetable garden). In excavating for basements a tunnel is unearthed, its eight-foot ceiling tiled, its hundred-yard length lit by gas lamps. Its purpose: to allow the Dodges access to the lake during inclement weather. The family yacht still docks at lakeside, half a mile away. “The Delphine,” rumor has it, requires a crew of forty, ten of them permanent. Landlocked, it can only sail on the Great Lakes.

“I have come unto thee, O Un-nefer,” saith Horus, son of Isis, “I have brought the Osiris Ani unto thee.” For all but two or three months of the year a string of ore boats plies the lake – Lake St. Clair. “His heart is found righteous coming forth from the balance, it hath sinned against neither god nor goddess.” Heading north, they ride high out of water; returning, waves wash over their decks. “And Thoth hath weighed it according to the decree uttered unto him by the company of the gods; and it is very true and righteous.”


At about this time with a friend, whose name is lost, I make a trip to the Old Club. A fabulous establishment at the northernmost reach of Lake St. Clair, its central clubhouse sits on the mainland, its member’s summer houses on individual islands offshore. Behold, Osiris Ani saith: “O Lord of Amentet (the underworld), I am in thy presence.” Arising at dawn, we travel by boat, up and across the lake. “There is no sin in me, I have not lied wittingly, nor have I done aught with a false heart.” My friend’s older brother, who steers the craft, has lost an eye and arm in a car accident. Another brother, met upon arrival, has recently had to marry, his sixteen-year-old bride presently appearing, babe in arms. “Grant that I may be like unto those favored round about thee, that I may be an Osiris, greatly favored of the beautiful god, beloved of the lord of the world, I the royal scribe indeed, who loveth him.” That night, lights out, my friend and I lie awake, repeating an inane phrase – “and Joli sniffed the air,” “Joli” the name of the family dog asleep in our room.

HERE BEGIN THE CHAPTERS OF COMING FORTH BY DAY. My first girlfriend. OF THE SONGS OF PRAISE. Her name: Joanne Sweet. OF COMING FORTH FROM AND GOING INTO THE GLORIOUS NETHER-KHERT. End of the summer. IN THE BEAUTIFUL AMENTA. Bill Reame’s son (he a Boat Club life guard) and I arrange a double date (at 16 or 17 he has a car). The four of us to a drive-in, where we lower the seats of his Nash, making a double bed. Hugging, jokes, beer perhaps. Movie over, after Bill’s son has dropped off his girl, we take Joanne home. Here I plan to leave her at the front door, still in sight of the car. But she manufactures a story – about the house key, guiding me instead, to the back door. My first kiss. And Osiris saith: “Homage to thee, O bull of Amenta.” Incredibly sweet, so sweet I cannot believe it. “Thoth the king of eternity is with me.” More talk. Another kiss. Now, from above, the voice of Joanne’s mother, awakened by our talk. “Come in, Joanne, it’s midnight.” Together we enter the house, stand in the hallway, pitch black. “I, the great god in the boat of the Sun, have fought for thee.” Another kiss, Joanne’s arms about me. And Osiris spake again: “I AM WITH HORUS ON THE DAY OF THE OPENING OF THE STORE-HOUSE OF WATER, THE GOD’S PURIFICATION WHOSE HEART MOVETH NOT, THE UNBOLTING OF THE DOOR OF CONCEALED THINGS.” Joanne, also fourteen, weighs about 87 pounds, I, probably 120.

I return to the car. “And I go into and come out from the divine flames on the day of the destruction of the fields in Sekhem.” I am overwhelmed by what has happened. “I read from the book of the festival of the Soul. I am the Sem priest, I perform his course, I am the chief of the work.” I must talk about it. “O ye who make perfected souls to enter into the Hall, may ye cause the perfected soul of the scribe Ani, victorious in the Hall of Double Truth, to enter with you into the house of Osiris.” I tell Bill Reame’s son what has happened. “May he hear as ye hear; may he see as ye see. May he enter in with a bold heart, may he come forth in peace from the house of Osiris.” He understands.

Throughout the year many phone calls, many dates, all inconvenienced by my lack of a car. “May he not be rejected, may he not be turned back.” My mother must drive us wherever we go, Joanne and I in the back seat. “May he enter in as he pleaseth, may he come forth as he desireth.” My mother complains of this. “May he be victorious.” Together we watch her in the rear view mirror. “May his bidding be done in the house of Osiris.” Once, having come to pick us up at a movie, my mother enters the theater, finds us, me with my arm about Joanne’s shoulder. Afterwards she makes fun of me for this.

Later, in the winter, Joanne and her girlfriend Sue decide they will have me over for dinner. “And may he be a glorified soul along with you.” Much prevarication: that Joanne’s parents are not at home must not be revealed. Finally, arrangements made, I arrive, driven by my mother. Joanne at the door. Sue, cooking in the kitchen, leaves us alone to neck in the living room. Food ready, I can barely eat (I have just the day before had my wisdom teeth out), drink Pepsi instead. Together, the three of us laugh and joke. Later, great concern from my mother to find we had been alone. “He hath not been found wanting there, and the Balance is rid of his trial.”


“I rise out of the egg in the hidden land.” I am thirteen. “May my mouth be given unto me.” It is my first year in Babe Ruth League baseball. “That I may speak with it before the great god, the lord of the underworld.” I have never caught before but nonetheless try out for catcher. “May my hand and my arm not be forced back by the holy minister of the gods.” When I win the position, my parents must buy me a $32 catcher’s glove. “I, Osiris, the lord of the mouth of the tomb.”

Our team is abysmal. “According to the desire of my heart, I have come from the Pool of Fire and have quenched it.” We lose our first twelve games. “Homage to thee, O lord of brightness, thou who art at the head of the Great House, who dwellest in night, in thick darkness.” We are the Cleveland Indians. It is the first year of The Babe Ruth League’s existence. After the season begins, a termagant arrives, an older boy, emotionally unstable. “I have come unto thee.” Assigned to our team, he hits a home run; then applauds himself. “I am glorious, I am pure; my arms support thee.” George Phillips, a mild-mannered boy, best athlete on our team, also hits a home run – with two men on base. “Thy portion is with those who have gone before.” We win the game, our first, and are taken to an ice cream parlor to celebrate. “O grant unto me my mouth that I may speak therewith.” Whereupon we instantly begin a new losing streak. “That I may follow my heart when it passeth through the fire and darkness.”

I am in Dewey Kaloger’s ninth grade homeroom. A transplanted Bostonian (“Beantown,” he calls it), he’s an intense Red Sox fan (brings pennants to class, argues Ted Williams’ superiority to Joe Dimaggio). One day he almost gets in a fight with a wise-ass student. Mr. Kaloger, who teaches civics with a passion, wears a gabardine suit so worn it has sewn-up holes in the seat of the pants.


It is, I believe, this year that I learn about rubbers. I’m mystified by someone describing them as “like balloons.” This suggests to me that they must be blown up, a phrase which conflates in my mind with that other mysterious matter: the blow job. Finally, one day in shop class, I ask Bob, a quiet but knowledgeable friend. He explains rubbers, having no doubt learned from his older brother.

A sensitive, pleasant person, he is the son of a Country Club employee. One day Mickey Caulkins invites me to go bowling after school at the Country Club. We take the Grosse Pointe Boulevard bus. Bob, on his way home, is riding with us; Mickey invites him to come on in for a game. Afterwards, Mickey and I have club sandwiches, alone in the dark paneled lounge, seated in leather chairs. Within two years Bob has died of a blood disease.


I sing in the Junior Choir at the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church. Having seniority, along with Douglas Searles, I lead the procession. At the Easter Service this means leading the whole procession: Junior Choir, Senior Choir, Chancel Choir, ministers. The Junior Choir is attired in black, floor-length vestments, over which white surplices are worn. To this is added a starched collar and black bow. The Senior Choir wears wine-colored robes, the ministers, black – with extras, to distinguish Dr. Fitts (#1) from Dr. Ketchum (#2).

The week before the Easter Service Miss Curtis, the choir director, cannot be present for rehearsal. So the organ master takes over. We, Douglas and I, take this as occasion for a holiday. We become “discipline problems,” and our conduct is “reported.”

Come the Easter Service, everyone is gowned, lined up halfway around the church (outside), the congregation full, all about to begin. Douglas and I lead the procession down the center aisle to a very slow hymn. At the chancel we make our customary turn to the right. (When the Junior Choir sings alone, it sits in the right balcony; today it must occupy the left, giving way to the Senior Choir.) Halfway around we realize our mistake. Sickness, fear, nausea. Passing the balcony entrance, we continue on to the narthex, hoping we can turn left this time around. Before long we catch up with the end of the procession still entering the church. Behind us the Senior Choir leaders have turned left. Now we have no choice but to lead the Junior Choir into the right balcony. The total process takes ten verses of the hymn. Once settled, Miss C. takes the first opportunity to remove us into the hallway, where we are severely “lectured.” After the service, in an upstairs room, Douglas and I cry together.

Two years later, riding the Jefferson Avenue bus, I notice Douglas get on. He sees me but averts his gaze.

Who then is this? It is Ra, the creator of the names of his limbs, which came into being in the form of the gods in the train of Ra.

“I am he who is not driven back among the gods.”


Who then is this? It is Tmu in his disk, it is Ra in his rising in the eastern horizon of heaven.


66 Hall Place: an idyllic setting, the grass green in memory, trim freshly painted, awnings new. Who then is this? The house just built, it stands among empty lots, which gradually fill. Yesterday is Osiris, and Tomorrow is Ra, on the day when he shall destroy the enemies of Neb-er-tcher, when he shall stablish as prince and ruler his son Horus. Across the street – the Benthams, with their older, Irish, red-haired daughter who, with her boyfriends, disdained me. What then is this? To the north of us, rich people who had their lawn cut by a crew of men. It is Amentet, the creation of the souls of the gods when Osiris was leader. To the south, the Cavanaughs – more later.

Who then is this? OSIRIS, or (as others say), RA (the self-created).

Even in winter the idyll continues: soft-falling snow, snowplows shoveling the sidewalks. “I am the bennu bird which is in Annu, I am the keeper of the volume of the book of things which are and of things which shall be.” At 6:00 am the tracks of the newsboy on the porch, having left the Detroit Free Press inside the front storm door. Who then is this? It is Osiris, or (as others say), it is his dead body, or (as others say), it is his filth. The things which are and the things which shall be are his dead body; or (as others say), they are eternity and everlastingness. Up early Saturday morning, I inch the front door open, pour over the Red Wings’ score. Eternity is the day, everlastingness the night.

Inside the door the grey carpeted vestibule, grey carpeted stair, grey carpeted living and dining room. On the wall of the stair: large ’40s garish flowers. My mother’s pride: her “Chinese red” kitchen, red linoleum counters, U-shaped workspace, doo-dads. “I am the god Amsu in his coming-forth; may his two plumes be set upon my head.” The downstairs powder room, on whose sink I sat for hours “roaching” my hair, where my father sat in the dark, chewing toilet paper. Who then is this? Amsu is Horus, the avenger of his father. His coming-forth is his birth, his eyes Isis and Nephthys, plumes on his head where they set themselves, his protectors.


Life on the Detroit River. What then is this? The purification of Osiris on the day of his birth. In addition to the Boat Club, Belle Isle harbored the Detroit Yacht Club. Much larger than the Boat Club, it was also less exclusive, had many nouveaux riches, more expensive boats, much more drinking. What then is this? “Millions of Years” the name of the one nest, “Green Lake” the name of the other; a pool of natron, a pool of nitre. The Yacht Club’s swimming team the terror of the league. (We had the Roneys, they the Kennerys – all Catholic, kids crossing themselves on the starting blocks.)

The plush Yacht Club also had an indoor pool. “I pass over the way, I know the head of the Pool of Maata.” One night, drunk, carousing with teammates, the toughest defensive halfback on the Grosse Pointe High football team broke into the Yacht Club pool, stripped to his shorts, and dove from the balcony. No water. “O ye gods in the presence of Osiris, grant me your arms, for I am the god who shall come into being among you.” Landing on two raised drainpipes, he fractured a wrist, broke his back, split his skull. Within several weeks he was up and about.


On the other side of the river, across from Belle Isle, lay Indian Village, an old residential neighborhood (then only just invaded by blacks), where lived the Roneys, Kennerys, Smylys, MacMillans, Dows.

The Smylys had a large house but periodically moved out to an apartment building overlooking the river (they always moved back). Mr. and Mrs. Smyly were sympathetic people, and close friends of my parents. My father sailed with Jack; my mother rehearsed her grievances with Mrs. S. Susie for a while was my girlfriend (prepubescent). Her older sister dated Freddy MacMillan’s older brother, who once took pictures of her sitting in the back seat of the car, smiling, naked from the waist up.


And what then is this? It is the right eye of Ra, which raged against the eye alive, and whole, and sound, without defect to its lord; or (as others say), it is the eye of Ra when it is sick, when it weepeth for its fellow eye; then Thoth standeth up to cleanse it. And he saith:


Highlight of the summer’s week: the open house. What then is this? It is the water of heaven, or (as others say), it is the image of the eye of Ra, in the morning, at his daily birth. Therefore Osiris, the scribe Ani, triumphant, is great among the gods in the train of Horus.

The open house was paradise – especially when the party took place at the home of someone from another club. An open house in Indian Village was interesting: from there, in one of our parents’ cars, Freddy, Stu Dow and I would cruise the black gleaming streets of Detroit River Detroit. An open house in Grosse Pointe was posh: white carpets in the living room (from which the kids were barred), glassed-in den from which the shrieks and horse laughs of adults issued, as the swimmers, bronzed, stood about on the patio, girls in dresses, boys in identical seersucker jackets, white Bermuda shorts, penny loafers. (What then is this? The male cat is Ra himself, or – as others say, it is Shu who maketh over the possessions of Seb to Osiris. As to the fight by the Persea tree hard by, in Annu, it concerneth the children of impotent revolt when justice is wrought on them for what they have done.) But an open house at the Dearborn Country Club was adventure, the house opening onto Gatsby’s sward, which in turn merged into the rough of the golf course behind.

“O thou who art in the egg, who shinest from thy disk and risest in thy horizon and dost shine like gold above the sky, like unto whom there is no other among the gods, deliver the faithful worshippers from the god whose forms are hidden, whose eyebrows are like unto the two arms of the balance on the night of the reckoning of destruction.”

Thus spake the god Sa concerning him.


Home Saturday mornings (after choir and swimming), usually alone, I would fix myself a hamburger, pouring ketchup into the frying pan. As concerning “that night of the reckoning of destruction,” it is the night of the burning of the damned, the ousting of the wicked, the slaughter of souls. Then I would set up a tray in the living room and watch “The Big Top” on TV, dreading my mother’s return (that meant work – or at least an end to freedom).

Who then is this? Nemu, the headsman of Osiris; or (as others say), Apep when he riseth up with one head bearing maat or (as others say), Horus when he riseth up with two heads, whereof the one beareth maat, the other, wickedness. On other Saturday mornings, sometimes late because of choir practice, I would arrive at the school gym for the church league basketball game. “Deliver me from the Watchers who bear slaughtering knives. May they never overcome me, may I never fall under their knives.” Each church had junior and senior teams, GPMC the league leader, with lithe, sharp-shooting Bill Hotchkiss gunning down opponents for the senior team. What then is this? It is Anubis and Horus in the form of Khent-en-maa, the Divine Rulers who thwart the works of their weapons. Eventually I play on the senior team, the red white blue and yellow uniforms marvelously garish. “May their knives never achieve mastery.” I once score seventeen points before they double-team me. “May I never fall under their instruments.” For me the radical disorganization of basketball as unnerving as the primitive confrontation of baseball. “May I be strong upon the earth before Ra, may I come into heaven in the presence of Osiris.”

The games were played on the High School varsity Court – but with no fans, only a desk with timing clock, league officials, a referee (once Don Lund, the Tigers right fielder, working in off-season). “Let not your offerings be hurtful to me, ye who preside over your altars, for I am among those who follow after Neb-er-tcher, according to the writings of Khepera.” Our coach, a second-string varsity player, teaches the complicated, inappropriate offense of the High School team.

This year, at twelve, I’m still in the Boy Scouts. In fact, this is the year I receive my Eagle. “O Ra-Tmu, lord of the Great House, deliver thou me from the god whose face is like unto that of a dog, whose brows are as those of a man, who feedeth upon the dead.” At the banquet my sponsor is Pete Monaghan, head of the Boy Scout Council. Who then is this? The guardian of the Bight of Amenta. Mr. Monaghan is chief partner of a prominent Detroit law firm. (Having expressed my interest in law, I’ve been assigned to him.) Together we spend the afternoon at his office, leaving early for the Detroit Athletic Club and the award ceremonies. He that was bidden to rule among the gods, Horus son of Isis, who was appointed to rule in the place of his father Osiris. On the dais I sit beside Mr. Monaghan. I am the youngest of fifty-two Eagle scouts. As to the day of the union, it is the mingling of earth with earth in the coffin of Osiris, the Soul that liveth in Suten-henen, the giver of meat and drink, the destroyer of wrong, the guide of the everlasting paths. All is due to my mother, who has organized the pursuit of merit badges like homework. Object: the Christmas card photo, Madison dressed in full regalia. Who then is this? It is Ra himself. Of all the merit badges, most difficult to acquire in humid Detroit is the camping badge, one of whose requirements: to start a fire with flint. After I’ve tried unsuccessfully for several hours, Mother puts the tinder in the oven, heats it to the combustion point, removes it for the spark.

This is also the year of my trip, with Mickey Caulkins and his parents, to Florida. “Hail, Khepera in thy boat, the twofold company of the gods is thy body.” Mickey’s father owns a small steel company. The family lives several blocks from us, in a well-established neighborhood. (I recall especially the darkness of the large stone house, its coolness, its well-polished floors.) “Deliver thou Osiris Ani, triumphant, from the Watchers who give judgment, appointed by Neb-er-tcher to protect him and to fasten the fetters on his foes.” Mickey and I are the smartest kids in the class (we do our homework together over the phone). “May they never stab me with their knives, may I never fall helpless in their chambers of torture.” We are also the smallest kids in the class – hence the camaraderie. “Never have the things which the gods hate been done by me, for I am pure within the Mesquet.”

The plan is to fly to Ft. Lauderdale, where the Caulkinses are members in a private club. “Cakes of saffron are delivered unto him in Tanenet.” Mickey, somewhat ostentatiously, presents me with the plan in art class, drawing maps of the club, enumerating things we can do. “He to whom saffron cakes have been delivered in Tanenet is Osiris; or (as others say), they are Shu, strengthener of the two lands in Suten-henen.” We will leave for Tampa the day after Christmas. (The saffron cakes are the eye of Horus; Tanenet, the grave of Osiris.)

Who then is this? It is Khepera in his boat. And so we arrive. It is Ra himself. But the weather is lousy. The things which the gods hate are wickedness and falsehood. Unable to go to the beach, Mickey and I kick a football back and forth all day. And he who passeth through the place of purification is Anubis, seated behind the chest which holdeth the inner parts of Osiris. Three times a day we all eat together in a fancy dining room. I remember Mr. Caulkins’ displeasure at bits of food in my water glass that had stuck to my braces and washed off.

One of the reasons for going to Ft. Lauderdale is to join Mickey’s cousin, aunt and uncle there. His cousin, seventeen or eighteen, is very laid back, has his own record player, access to the family car. Together, he, Mickey and I escape the adults to cruise the local drive-in restaurant. Tmu hath built thy house; the two-fold Lion-god hath founded thy habitation; lo! drugs are brought. “Frappes,” says an entry on the large outdoor menu; this is something we have never heard of. Horus purifieth. “Free rapes,” we interpret it. Set strengtheneth.

Nothing to do in Ft. Lauderdale – so bad the adults even take up my suggestion that we all play Monopoly (in preference to canasta). “The scribe Ani, triumphant before Osiris, hath come into the land, hath possessed it with his feet.” So, we hit the Tamiami Trail, in a rented car. Arriving at Biscayne Bay, we settle in at an outrageously expensive hotel. “For he is Tmu, he is in the city.”

Back home in Grosse Pointe, I talk about my vacation with the family dentist, telling him where we stayed. I mention having done so to my mother. Tremendous apprehension: knowing I’ve been there with Mickey, what will he charge?

This also the year of my terrible crush on Marty Hubbard. “Turn thou back, O Rehu, whose mouth shineth, whose head moveth, turn thou back from before his strength.” I’m in eighth grade, she’s in tenth. Small – about the height of my mother, she also has the same first name. There the resemblance stops. “Turn thou back from him who keepeth watch and is unseen.” I am utterly smitten – my first brush with Aphrodite. Glimpsing the merest sleeve or cuff of her blouse, glimpsing the fleeting profile as she turns a corner, books to her breast, I swoon. My legs go weak. “She is Isis, and is found with her hair spread over him.”

And, I go crazy, memorize her phone number, secretly walk past her house at night. “I shake it out over his brow.” Finally, I carry it one step too far. In printing class I print up cards with her name – perhaps even her phone number. Then I give them out. “For he was conceived in Isis.” Marty is reported to be furious. “He was begotten in Nephthys.” My mother gets wind of it, tells me to give the rest of the cards to Marty. This I do by pushing them inside her locker through the air vent. “And they cut off from him the things which should be cut off.”

Two years later we meet at a church function – our first conversation. Having graduated, Marty is off to Smith. With kind, animated eyes she looks at me and smiles. She is still beautiful – but no longer a goddess.

I am taking second-year Latin from a young chiquita whose specialty is Spanish. Fear followeth after thee. Dick Chamberlain and I memorize vocabulary together, sitting in a window overlooking construction of the new gymnasium. Terror is upon thine arms. Vestigium, -i n., footprints.

The second semester shop class is taken up with printing. In addition to my Marty Hubbard calling cards I print other cards. One of these, set in my favorite Bodoni Bold, reads “Meet me at The Gaiety at 12:00 sharp” – the establishment in question The Gaiety Burlesque, on Jefferson, not too far from Woodward. Thou hast created that which is in Kheraba, and that which is in Annu. I am found out by the shop teacher, who presents the card before the assembled class, for identification, then public castigation. Every god feareth thee, for thou art exceeding great and terrible. Afterwards, privately, he tells me he’s surprised that I would do such a thing. Thou avengest every god on the man that curseth him, thou shootest out arrows. In the first semester of shop we do (a) plastics, (b) electricity. I fashion an ashtray that I’m rather proud of. Thou livest according to thy will. I get a B+ for my effort. Thou art Uatchit, Lady of Flame. I’m afraid that I’ll get a B for the course – but then do well in electricity, which I don’t especially like. Evil cometh among those who set themselves up against thee.

About this time I have my first drink – at a Boat Club party. It’s an afternoon, early evening reception. I have several glasses of champagne. Nancy Smyly’s there with Freddy MacMillan’s older brother. We’re all sitting together, I on a couch next to Nancy. After flirting awhile we lean toward each other. Much to my surprise Nancy envelops me with an open-mouth kiss. Thou smitest down the mediators of thy foes; thou seizest the arms of the powers of darkness; the two sisters are given thee for thy delight.

Instead of walking to school, as I had in the past, I now ride my bike. Down Hall Place to Grosse Pointe Boulevard, on toward Fisher road. First I pass Freddy Baker’s street, then Handy Place – John Taylor’s street. Then the older street where Jimmy Eaton lives. On past the Grosse Pointe Episcopal Church, with its higher tone, its Gothic facade. Then the Country Day School, uncomfortably adjacent to the more egalitarian High School itself. Once past the Day School it’s up the drive, where I park my bike – behind the High School locker rooms. It’s here we once try to peek into the girl’s locker room – between the frame and frosted pane of an open window.

It is here too that I return, one afternoon, to find my bicycle light blown off. Hoods have been setting off firecrackers in kid’s bikes. What then is this? Annoyed, I head straight for the principal’s office, leaving the hoods behind. The hidden in form, granted of Menhu, is the name of the tomb. Called in next day, they wait till after school to accost me. He seeth what is in his hand is the name of the shrine, the name of the block. Intimidated, I report this time to my mother. She suggests I call the big athletes I know (I am almost the school mascot). Now he whose mouth shineth, whose head moveth, is a limb of Osiris, or (as others say), of Ra. They promptly inform the hoods that if anything happens to me they’ll get the shit knocked out of them.

The BMOC (big man on campus), school president, football, basketball, track star, is Jerry Goebel (he later plays for Michigan). Despite its affluence (school teams are known in the press as the “cake-eaters”), Grosse Pointe is a big power. One year varsity football goes undefeated, unscored upon. Little Madison knows all the players. “I fly as a hawk.” In mock interviews I talk strategy with the quarterbacks, Jim Lineberger (first string) revealing who his favorite receiver is. Fullback Bob Prince, in his blue-and-gold letter sweater, greets me between classes. “I cackle as a goose.” Even scatbacks Johnny Dicicco and Don Eugenio nod in the hall (both are from working class families). Coach Steady Eddy Wernet, with his gold tooth and brushcut, squints a friendly glance.

The basketball team is not so impressive (we can’t deal with Highland Park, whose 6’ 5” George Lee can dunk the ball with two hands). At one away game a GPHS football player is stabbed after the game. “I ever slay, even as the serpent goddess Nehebka.” At home I sit next to an HP fan who tallies George Lee’s points with a knife on the gym floor.


Words to be spoken when Osiris cometh to the first Arit in Amenta. I am eleven. “I am the mighty one who createth his own light.” In the summer, to help with the flower beds, my mother hires a two-hundred-eighty-pound defensive lineman from the High School football team. “I have come unto thee, O Osiris, and, purified from that which defileth thee, I adore thee.” He digs in two hours what would have taken my father a day. “Lead on.” Midway through the morning he asks for a drink of water. “Name not the name of Re-stau unto me.” My mother brings him a glass. “Homage to thee, O Osiris, in thy might and in thy strength in Re-stau.” He sends her back for a two-quart jar.

“Rise up and conquer, O Osiris, in Abtu.” This summer, the second of two, is spent – four weeks of it – at Camp Nissikone, in the upper part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. “Thou goest round about heaven, thou sailest in the presence of Ra, thou seest all the beings who have knowledge.” In mid-winter we meet – campers and their dads – at a downtown Detroit hotel, for a banquet. There Van Patrick – the voice of the Lions – entertains us by doing his broadcast routines. “Hail Ra, who circlest in the sky.” These father-son affairs are generally rather desolate for me.

“Verily, I say unto thee, O Osiris, I am a godlike ruler.” At camp I have moved up three or four cabins from my first year. “Let me not be driven hence nor from the wall of burning coals.” One morning I’m awakened, by agreement, at the incredible hour of 5:00 am – for a nature walk. “I have opened the way in Re-stau.” The counselor who conducts the hike has a limp. I have eased the pain of Osiris. He knows the flora and fauna of the region by heart. “I have embraced that which the balance hath weighed.” Together the group pauses on the sandy pine floors of the wood to listen to a warbler, identify a shrub. “I have made a path for him in the great valley, and he maketh a path.” It is a magical experience. “Osiris shineth.”

Camp Nissikone sits beside a lake twenty or thirty miles inland from Lake Huron. Saith Osiris Ani, when he cometh unto the second Arit. This is my first escape from the tyranny of parental authority. “He sitteth to do his heart’s desire, and he weigheth words as the second of Thoth.” Nonetheless, I yearn to return. “The strength of Thoth humbleth the hidden Maata gods who feed upon Maat throughout the years of their lives.” There is an emptiness in the cool, early summer air. I make offerings at the moment when he passeth on his way. The strangeness of new faces, new places, routines, a foreboding of adult life. “I pass on and enter the way.” Chapel, dining hall, woods: I am nowhere at home. “Grant thou that I may pass through, together with those who make offerings, and gain sight of Ra.”

This year I’m in seventh grade, my first at Brownell Junior High, which is housed in the same building with Grosse Pointe High School. And, arriving at the third Arit, Osiris speaketh again. My homeroom teacher is Ralph N. Deal, an old bisexual, whose signature I immediately learn to forge. “I am hidden in the great deep, I am the judge of the Rehui (Horus and Set).” He is one of those professionals of good reputation: thick glasses – plastic frames; chiding but encouraging manner; slightly manic. “I have done Osiris business in Abtu, I have opened the way in Re-stau, I have eased the pain that was in Osiris.” His passion for serious music translates into curricular innovation (a course in music appreciation). “I have made his path, he shineth in Re-stau.”

Bob Rein, my close friend, is also in the homeroom, which in fact is made up entirely of Richard School classmates. He cometh to the fourth Arit: “I am the mighty bull, son of the ancestress of Osiris.” Bob has a crush on Orinda Koeplin – unrequited. He writes her name, her initials, on all his books and notebooks. “Grant ye that his father may bear witness for him.” Some boy’s voices have begun to change. “Here the guilty are weighed in judgment.” The most advanced boy – we observe during swimming class – has begun to acquire pubic hair. In general, however, a boys-against-girls atmosphere still prevails.

“I have brought unto his nostrils eternal life.” Little Maddy, star student, seventh grade representative on the student council, is still a golden boy. “I am the son of Osiris, I have made the way.” One night at the end of the fall semester, following a basketball game, I peek into the darkened homeroom. In preparation for the next morning Mr. Deal has written on the blackboard the names of the honor roll students. “I have passed thereover into Neter-Khert.” My name heads the list: Morrison, M. 4.00. I walk home under starlit skies, up Grosse Pointe Boulevard. In the chill night air I leap upward, touching the branch of a tree.

The fifth Arit, guarded by three gods. In seventh grade I publish my first poem – in the school literary magazine. The first with the head of a hawk, the second the head of a man. It’s about an all-American football player. Also in the magazine is a story about a girl who, while swimming, swallows an egg. The third, the head of a snake. The egg hatches into a snake, which proceeds to strangle her. Each holds a knife.

The sixth Arit, guarded by three gods. Grandmother Brown comes to visit. The first with the head of a jackal. On these occasions we follow a different regimen. The second and third with the head of a dog. One Sunday morning I sit on the living room floor doing a puzzle map. Grandmother, up before my mother, enters the room. Observing my activity, she protests: there should be no play on Sunday.

Another day, Grandmother asks me to sit down and talk to her. My mother is away. In the course of the conversation the subject of my parent’s mode of entertaining customers arises. I let slip – perhaps knowingly introduce – the fact that my mother sometimes takes a drink. Grandmother in tears.

The great event of her week: Sunday church service. Full of assured comment concerning the sermon, she also remarks, of the church’s stone pavement, that it is very unusual. My mother corrects her with a reference to the cathedrals of Europe, Grandmother’s experience of churches limited to rural Cleveland County, North Carolina.

Occasionally my father’s sisters and brothers visit, though rarely. They too, for the most part, live in the south – Richmond and Houston. When Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill visit, I give my cousin Billy the city mouse’s tour for the country mouse. I am incredibly full of nonsense.

Only once do Grandfather and Grandmother Morrison visit. He is always referred to as “an inventive genius” – a reference to his seventeen patents. After leaving Richmond during the depression, he founded a new family business in Houston. It was his “amnesia” following the stock market crash that led to my father’s departure from home. At sixteen, he was the eldest of seven children. My Grandmother Morrison, last among my grandparents to die, plucky and kind, sweet, but a little distant.

In 1951 my father is forty-five years old. “I have come daily,” saith Osiris, the scribe Ani, “I have come daily.” For five years now he has been Sales Manager of National Tube Company’s Detroit office, the company a subsidiary of United States Steel. “I have made the way.” He seems to be an effective businessman. “I have passed along that which was created by Anubis.” He enjoys work, if only as escape from a loveless marriage, an otherwise uneventful life. “I am the lord of the urerit crown . . . magical words.” A chronic insomniac, he is often still awake at 5:00 am, sometimes leaving for the office before anyone else awakens. “I, the avenger of right and truth, have avenged his eye.”

His motto: “You must sell yourself.” Life is a con game. Another familiar chestnut: “Some of our best friends are customers.” The Christmas card list includes four hundred names, kept on index cards, on which are recorded cards received as well as cards sent. “I have swathed the eye of Osiris, I have made the Way.” No wonder in later life I have never been interested in sending or receiving Christmas cards. “Osiris Ani hath passed along it with you.”

In 1951 my mother is forty-four. The seventh Arit guarded by three gods: the first with the head of a hare, the second the head of a lion, the third the head of a man. Though not asexual, she has never in my memory had a sexual bearing about her. The first and second hold a knife, the third an ear of corn. She does flirt with men, but in an asinine way. Saith Osiris, the scribe Ani, when he cometh to this Arit: “I have come unto thee, O great Osiris, who art cleansed of thine impurities.” Her sexuality has somehow been linked with – or sublimated into – hysteria.

She also has a strong penchant for sadistic punishment. For example, she likes to make me stand in the kitchen while she goes outside to get a switch, stripping the little branch of its leaves as she returns, then using it on the back of my legs. “Thou goest round about heaven, thou seest Ra, thou seest the beings who have knowledge.” No wonder in later life I feel no affection for her. She has reaped what she has sown.

Though my parents have an obsessive attachment to one another, there is in the household no sense of free play, no involuntary love, no spontaneous affection.

My happiest memories of this period center about sports – not my participation in them but my spectatorship. As with football idols, so with basketball and baseball idols. The night of the basketball game! Only One! behold, thou art in the sektet boat, He goeth round the horizon of heaven. Arriving early, always alone, I find my spot in the balcony of the gym, next to the rail, in the aisle between two seats. There I spread my jacket on the floor and settle in for pre-game warm-ups. This for me was almost a secret pleasure. Having watched the players practice all week long in their ratty gym clothes, the sight of them in their game uniforms – blue and gold, with satin warm-up jackets – is dazzling. The players emerge from the locker room – to cheers from the assembling fans. They line up for lay-ups, for pre-game shooting. Finally, only the starting five remain. Nerves in the air, for they are excited too. Then the game itself – almost too much to bear.

Swimming meets were also extraordinary events. Several hundred spectators jammed into a tiny room that held a 20-yard pool. The temperature, even in mid-winter, tropical, humidity 99 per cent. In addition to the swimming events – swum to the deafening screams of the crowd – the diving! Silence. Approach to the end of the squeaky board. Leap, thump, the board’s ricochet. Amateurish splash of the diver. Applause. Silence. The judge’s hand-held numeral. More applause.

In the spring, three sports: baseball, track and tennis. On the whole the best baseball players were also basketball and football players. By comparison with baseball, track was not so intense. But tennis! Grosse Pointe High, with its country club students, always ranked in the state’s top five.

The stars and their girlfriends, an Olympiad of gods and goddesses. “I speak what I will unto his body; it waxeth strong, it cometh to life.” And the love of parties, drinking, cars, sex. John Taylor telling a younger varsity basketball player that fucking was going to weaken him, sap his strength. “Thou turnest back his face.” He, the other player, reported to have stripped down to his shorts, drunk, at a party and fought someone outside in the mud. “Prosper thou for me all the ways which lead unto thee!”


Ani and his wife Thuthu, with hands raised in adoration, approaching the first Sebkhet or Pylon, which is guarded by a bird-headed deity with a disk on his head. I am ten years old, in my last year at Père Gabriel Richard School, whose name suggests the Frenchness of Grosse Pointe. Words to be spoken when Ani cometh unto the first Pylon. Streets like Kercheval (Breton?), Charlevoix (Charles way?). “Lo, the lady of terrors, with lofty walls.” The school an immense (child’s perspective) French provincial building – slate roof, mansard windows. “The sovereign lady, the mistress of destruction, who delivereth from destruction him that traveleth the way.” It sits across from the High School grounds, bounded on three sides by residential streets (Bob Rein’s house directly opposite on the south side). The second Pylon, which is guarded by a lion-headed deity seated in a shrine, atop which a serpent. Its playgrounds also immense in memory – solid gravel, enclosed by high chain-link fences, a wall on the northern side – because of the slope. The windows on the eastern side of the school have heavy gratings to protect against playground missiles. Saith Osiris, the scribe Ani, triumphant: “Lo, the lady of heaven, the mistress of the world, who devoureth with fire, the lady of mortals; how much greater is she than all men.”

Inside: school smell, a compound of kids, school supplies (paste, crayons, chalk) and the green oily stuff the janitor sprinkles on the floor to pick up the dust. The third Pylon, which is guarded by a man-headed deity seated in a shrine, the upper part of which ornamented with two utchats, with the emblem of the orbit of sun and water. Darkness: entrance to the dungeon after the blazing playground light, halls barely lit. Saith the scribe Ani, triumphant:

“Lo, the lady of the altar, mighty one to whom offerings are made, beloved of every god, who saileth up to Abtu.” The gym: its auditorium stage, curtains, machinery for primitive plays; flags and flag stands; exercise equipment: rings, horses, mats.

The fourth Pylon, guarded by a cow-headed deity. School colors – flags, uniforms, pom-poms, identities. “Lo, she who prevaileth with knives, mistress of the world, destroyer of the foes of the Still-Heart.” Richard School blandly blue and white. “I have made the way. I am Amsu-Horus, have come and overthrown all foes of my father Osiris.” Brownell Junior High, with its blue and gold. “I rise up in order that my soul may be made wholly one.” Grosse Pointe High, with its blue and gold (see Michigan’s maize and blue). “In the boat I have set forth upon the lake.” Grosse Pointe’s Blue Devils. “I have made those who stand against Ra to be still. I have made him victorious. I have come as a scribe, I have made all things plain.” Arriving at Choate I find its colors are blue and gold.

“I have hidden myself and found the way. I have clothed him who was naked, received the crown at my rising.” Like Richard School, Yale’s colors are blue and white. “My mouth uttereth words with right and truth.” Then, at twenty-one, I enter the world of crimson. “I have come into the great hall which giveth strength unto the limbs. I have entered the house of Astes, have arrived as a favored one in Tattu.”

The great event of ten years old: stealing from the Punch and Judy store and getting caught. “The Punch,” as we call it, is a kid’s store – toys, knick-knacks, comics, candy, bubblegum especially bubblegum – with baseball cards, with the license plates of all the states, etc. The fifth Pylon, guarded by the hippopotamus deity, with her forefeet resting upon the buckle, emblem of protection.

I’m at the pier swimming. My mother, sitting on the beach, overhears a conversation. One woman has pointed me out to another as one of two boys known to have stolen from the Punch, Bob Rein the other one mentioned. Without speaking of this to me, my mother returns home, contacts Bob Rein’s mother, arranges a joint meeting – both boys, both mothers – for accusation, confession, expiation. The cornice is ornamented with fire.

It is early one afternoon. I am breezing along in a state of innocence, playing outdoors. Suddenly, I am called in. The charges are leveled, the inquisition begins. I confess. I have stolen bubblegum cards from the Punch and Judy. I have done this with Bob Rein, and also with Billy Cavanaugh. This is the plum my mother had not even hoped for: now I can be banned from visiting the working class Irish Catholic home of the Cavanaughs next door.

For the moment, though, more high drama: into the car for a long, hysterical drive about town. What else have I been doing? Who else has been involved? Nothing. So, inquisition over, I must kneel and pray in the front seat of the car. Then, to the Reins, for the scheduled meeting, Bob and I both reduced to tears.

Afterwards, the capstone: my father, apprised at work, returns home and, under Mother’s supervision, spanks me in my room. “Lo, the flame, the lady of breath for nostrils; one may not advance to entreat her.”

Ten also my first year at Camp Nissikone, a YMCA camp. I am driven up from Detroit by my mother and father, situated along with my single trunk in a cabin on the west side of the round. The cabins progress about the circle according to the campers’ ages. The sixth Pylon, guarded by a deity in the form of a man holding a knife and a besom.

This is my first time spent away from home. The seventh Pylon guarded by a ram-headed deity. It is, on the whole, a most enjoyable experience. The eighth Pylon, guarded by a hawk, wearing the crowns of North and South, seated on a sepulchral chest. Above the shrine, two human-headed hawks, emblems of the Souls of Ra and Osiris, along with two emblems of life. There are, of course, letters from home; there is a counselor; it is only a month. But I nonetheless am on my own. Quickly I establish a friendship with Peter Quint, a bright cabin mate – who later turns up briefly at Harvard. I am on good terms with the other boys in the cabin and am something of a favorite with Bill Fitch, our basketball-star counselor from Alma, Michigan.


Out behind our cabin lie the tennis courts, on which basketball backboards too. Idyllic times: after dinner playing H-O-R-S-E with Bill and other boys.

Bill has been a counselor for several years. On the lookout tower there’s a plaque commemorating the death in an auto accident of one of the camp’s counselors, a year or two past. I ask Bill about this – whether he had known the person in question. He had. He does not wish to speak about it much. I am puzzled by his reticence. Words to be spoken when Ani cometh unto the ninth Pylon:

“Lo, she who is chiefest, the lady of strength, who giveth quiet of heart to her lord. Her girth is three hundred and fifty measures; she is clothed in mother-of-emerald of the south; and she raiseth up the godlike form and clotheth the feeble one.”

Camp Nissikone is a Christian camp: church services, blessings, vespers. The Sunday morning regimen: reveille, as usual, though perhaps an hour later. This time, however, we must all dress in white, turn out for inspection: hair, teeth, fingernails, shoe polish, smile. The tenth Pylon, guarded by a ram-headed deity wearing the atef crown. This reminds me of another camp experience, some two or three years later. This camp, a church camp, is wholly amateur; the cabins, named for the principal Presbyterian seminaries, are supervised by ministers. How absolutely god awful the whole experience: prayers on rising, grace at table, exhortation, blandishment, sanctimonious piety. Study groups, woodsy retreats. “Lo, she who is loud of voice, who causeth those to cry who entreat her, the fearful one, who feareth none that are therein.” It was hard even to find time for swimming.

The one bright spot: companionship of two mildly cynical, lively girls from Grosse Pointe, a couple of years older than I. As others prayed, these girls checked out the studs. 11: “Lo, she who repeateth slaughter, the burner up of fiends, she who is terrible at every gateway, who rejoiceth on the day of darkness.” On the way back home, after a week or two, the three of us sitting in the back seat together, with me in the middle (one of the girl’s parents driving). 12: “Lo, the invoker of the two lands, who destroyeth with fire those who come.” After a lot of talk and pretend necking, one of those sweet girls falls asleep with her head on my shoulder. 13: “Lo, Isis, who hath stretched forth her hands and arms and hath made Hapi to shine in his hidden place.”

And so we say farewell to camp. 14: “Lo, the lady of the knife, who danceth in blood.” The high point of Nissikone the evening movies, World Series films. 15: “Lo, the Bloody Soul, who searcheth out and putteth to the test, who doth fetter the Fiend in his lair.” Even here I recall being interrupted by a phone call from home, to discuss nothing. “May her hands be given to the Still-Heart in his hour, may she make him to advance and come forth unto her.”

In my last year at Richard I have a homeroom teacher who is rather nondescript. 16: “Lo, the Terrible one, the lady of the rain storm, who planteth ruin in the souls of men.” Our room, a small one, faces onto the playground and has a view of the High School beyond. Reference made out this window to our next year – Junior High; to the greater maturity which that experience will require. 17: “Lo, the Hewer-in-pieces in blood, the lady of flame.” I recall only one incident. Having heard my parents berate Harry Truman for something or other, I repeat their opinion in class – only to discover the question has two sides. 18: “Lo, the Lover of fire, the purifier of sinners, the lover of slaughter, the chief of those who adore, the lady of the temple, slaughterer of the fiends in the night.”

My final Richard School thrill: by sixth grade I’ve become a safety patrol captain, with underlings. It is not the authority but the status I love. 19: “Lo, the Dispenser of light while she liveth.” There was a lovely ritual of rolling up one’s safety patrol belt, in a tricky way, and wearing it attached to one’s regular belt. “The mistress of flames, the lady of strength, of the writings of Ptah himself.” Also, the exhilarating freedom: dismissed five minutes early, we strolled alone to our posts. These were located, first, directly at the school’s front entrance (rather boring); second, at the end of the school yard (where passing motorists could see you); but the best was at the corner of Kercheval and Fisher, by the drugstore, a busy intersection. This post required judgment and provided even higher exposure. 20: “Lo, she who is within the cavern of her lord, Clother is her name; she hideth what she hath made, she carrieth away hearts and greedily drinketh water.”

Across the street from there stood the new municipal library, its Alexander Calder mobile admiringly spoken of as costing more than a car. 21: “Lo, the knife, which cutteth when its name is uttered, slayeth those who advance toward its flames. It hath secret plots and counsels.”


This chapter being recited, the deceased shall come forth by day, purified after death. Fifth grade: our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Merritt, an insecure, death-like woman. If this chapter be recited, he shall come forth upon earth. On April Fool’s day we put a thumbtack on her chair. And he shall escape from every fire. When it’s discovered, we are lectured on how that’s a very sensitive part of one’s body and could be injured. And none of the foul things appertaining unto him shall encompass him for everlasting. Among ourselves we allow as how Mrs. Merritt’s girdle was pretty good protection.

The chief activity this year was “goosing,” whereby one kid grabs another in the genitals. This goes on at every opportunity: in the classroom, in the hallway, in the john. “May Ptah open my mouth, and may the god of my town loose the swathings, even the swathings over my mouth,” One day, goosing in the hall, we are shocked to hear the principal, passing by, tell us, “Cut out the goosing.” We hadn’t suspected he knew our terminology. “Moreover, may Thoth, being filled and furnished with charms, come and loose the bandages of Set which fetter my mouth.” One defense against being goosed is to clasp the genitals with both hands, the right hand reaching in from the back, left hand from the front. “May the god Tmu hurl them at those who would fetter me with them, and drive them back.”

Fifth grade also the year we studied Michigan. “May my mouth be opened by Shu with his iron knife, wherewith he openeth the mouth of the gods.” My limited talent for draftsmanship having emerged, I was called upon to do the large outline map of the state, which others then filled in: with cities; minerals and produce; pictures of Indians and French settlers. We also built a large replica of Fort Cadillac, painting its cardboard palisades with poster paint.

The instrumental music teacher, shared by several schools, was ferocious, “dedicated,” eccentric. A fifty-year-old woman, she rode a bicycle from one school to another, thereby subjecting herself to ridicule. “For I am Sekhet and sit on the great western side of heaven.” It was with her that I learned to play the violin, first in school, then at home, where my parents commissioned lessons. “I am the great goddess Sah among the souls of Annu.”

The third floor sessions at school were always exciting: much discipline, much extraneous moral discussion. Judy Diekoff, a cellist, the star pupil: serious and sober, hair flopping across her face as she pulled the heavily rosined bow screechingly over the strings, white socks having already fallen down over the tops of her brown Oxfords.

“Now, as concerning every charm and the words spoken against me, may the gods resist them.” Dimly I recall an incident in which Miss Whatever-her-name-was reduced me to tears, then cleared the room and rocked me on her lap. “I am Tmu-Khepera, who gave birth unto himself upon the thigh of his divine mother.”

She, along with others, was often invited, Sunday afternoons, to play at the Vosslers’. “Those in Nu are made wolves, and those among the godlike rulers are become hyenas.” The Vosslers were first generation German immigrants, their son Bert a friend of Mickey Caulkins. The father, a successful doctor, had recreated a bourgeois German household in Grosse Pointe Farms. “Behold, I gather together the charm from every place, swifter than greyhounds and fleeter than light.” Because I played the violin and was a friend of Bert’s (who of course also played the violin), I too was invited. I had no way of appreciating the privilege, for the dozen or so people assembled must have represented the high intelligentsia/kook population of Grosse Pointe: other German doctors, other émigrés, classical music buffs, and so on. The sight-reading we did was far over my head, the sessions hot, stuffy, and interminable. After music: Küchen, tarts, tea, and a private tour of Bert’s woodworking shop in the basement.

Speaking of the intelligentsia, there was a curious boy, a year or two older than I, who lived on Fisher road, opposite the High School. “Hail thou who towest along the makhent boat of Ra, the stays of thy sails and thy rudder are taut in the wind as thou sailest over the Lake of Fire.” He had, as I remember, thick glasses, did not bathe, and read all sorts of books I had never heard of. “Behold, thou gatherest together the charm from every man which createth the forms of existence from thy mother’s thigh and createth the gods in silence, which giveth the heat of life unto the gods.” An enthusiast of Mahler, he would take me to the public library (corner of Fisher and Kercheval), sit me down, strap me into headphones and make me listen to a dreary movement or two on a scratchy 78. “Behold, the charm is given unto me from wheresoever it is.” He had also read Freud and kept a notebook beside his bed, in which he recorded all his dreams.

But my principal mentor in these years – as much later in college – was John Taylor. “May my heart be with me in the House of Hearts.” John, son of Alfred Taylor and Mary Bell McConkey (information I gleaned from my mother’s AAUW membership book), was four years older than I. “May my heart be with me, and may it rest in me, or I shall not eat of the cakes of Osiris on the eastern side of the Lake of Flowers.” His mother and mine had been classmates at Agnes Scott, a small women’s college in Atlanta. “Neither shall I have a boat wherein to go down the Nile.” Now the two families lived in the same subdivision, only two blocks apart.

Because of the age differential, there were periods when John and I were incompatible. “May my mouth be given unto me that I may speak it, and my feet to walk withal, and my hands and arms to overthrow my foe.” I remember, for example, in his big shot phase, at about thirteen, he would tool around on his bike, mildly harassing us younger kids. “O, Anubis, may my legs firm that I may stand upon them. May the goddess Sekhet make me rise so that I may ascend unto heaven, and there may that be done which I command in the House of the ka of Ptah.” At this point, as I recall, he wanted us to call him “Tay,” at least for a day. At another point he came over to our house and played the piano too loud.

“I know my heart. I have mastery over my heart, over my hands and arms.” John was always reading, always introducing me to something. “I have the mastery over my feet, I have gained the power to do whatsoever my ka pleaseth.” The poetry of T.S. Eliot (along with elaborate glosses); minor English novelists; slow jazz; fancy drinks. “My soul shall not be shut off from my body at the gates of the underworld.” John was the most stylish dresser in Grosse Pointe. “But I shall enter in peace, I shall come forth in peace.”

Occasionally, during these years, my mother would accompany my father on a business trip, leaving me behind with friends of theirs. Once I stayed with the Taylors – though this perhaps much later, after John had left for college, for I don’t recall his presence. THE CHAPTER OF NOT LETTING THE HEART OF OSIRIS, THE SCRIBE OF THE SACRED OFFERINGS, ANI TRIUMPHANT, BE DRIVEN FROM HIM IN THE UNDERWORLD.

At any rate, I remember Mary Bell’s solicitude, so different from my mother’s forms of concern. Serene, intellectually curious, she always seemed to be interested in all the minutiae of one’s life. Alfred was also cool and calm, masculine, making no demands. CHAPTER OF NOT LETTING THE SOUL OF A MAN BE TAKEN AWAY FROM HIM. It was at the Taylor’s house the neighborhood’s first basketball backboard was put up. Next door lived Patrick Duffy, who later (unsuccessfully) courted Charlotte Ford. His little sister died of leukemia, her funeral my first experience of death.

CHAPTER OF DRINKING WATER IN THE UNDERWORLD. Another stay away from home – again, a business trip – occurred at the Merrills’, on Stanton Lane (the street between the Taylors’ and ours), where I slept in the daughter’s room, she being off at college. “I, even I, am he who cometh forth from Seb. The flood hath been given unto him, and he hath gotten power over it as Hapi.” I recall being fascinated to find a box of Tampax in her drawer. “I, even I, open the two doors of heaven: the two doors of the watery abyss have been opened unto me by Thoth, mighty in splendors.” I loved the semi-perfumed sheets, the throw rug slippery on well-polished floor. “O grant that I may gain power over the water, even as Set overcame his foes on the day when he terrified the world.” Though this stay, too, must have been much later – in eighth grade, say, for I also remember having to read the paper each evening, so as to follow the progress of selected stocks, which I then kept a graph of. Such the education of young Grosse Pointers.


I am eight. “Hail, thou god Annitu! Hail, O Runner, dwelling in thy hall!” Our fourth grade teacher is Mrs. Stringer, a big old broad with a fat can. “Let not Osiris Ani lie down in death in Annu.” At least she’s a distinct personality, a teacher in that phase of her career where she calls members of our class by the names of the older brothers and sisters whom she’s also had in class. “My soul doth bear away with it my victorious spirit.” In the afternoons she reads The Hardy Boys to us for forty-five minutes. This causes a flap among the mothers, one of whom complains her son can’t get to sleep at night.

“If it would tarry, grant thou that my soul may look upon my body.” In the classroom we, the boys, sit with concealed pocket mirrors, catching the sun and throwing it on the walls. “If thou should find me, O Eye of Horus, make thou me to stand up like unto those.” I have a crush on the girl who sits behind me. Though I can’t remember her name, I do recall she had a younger sister, who, like herself, was demure, petite, and pure of complexion. “Hail, ye gods, who row in the boat of the lord of millions of years.” One day, at Halloween, I accidentally burst a syrup-filled wax candy on her blouse. “Who tow it above the underworld.” This is taken much more seriously than need be. “Who make it to pass over the ways of Nu.” I am “told on,” then reprimanded by Mrs. Stringer. “Who make souls to enter into their glorified bodies.” Next day, news of the mother’s response: the syrup has left an indelible spot. This year, in the spring, I fall behind in my workbook – my first difficulty with schoolwork. “The boat of the Sun rejoiceth, and the great god advanceth in peace.” Sick at home for several days, I try to prolong the stay. My mother, sensing the problem, takes my workbook and finishes the exercises herself. “Behold ye gods, grant that this soul of Osiris Ani may come forth triumphant before the gods.” I wake up next morning and find the completed homework on the back of the toilet.

This is the year of my sister’s birth. To be said over a golden soul inlaid with precious stones, placed on the neck of Osiris. My mother at the hospital, I stay elsewhere. One evening, my father picks me up. We return to the house together. Ani’s soul, as a human-headed bird, standing in front of a pylon. I notice nothing out of order. If this chapter be known, Ani shall become like a being in the underworld, fully equipped. The next day, Christmas, off to Sunday School, where my friends – Dennis Hykes in particular – ask me about my house having been robbed. He shall not be stopped at any door in the underworld from going in and coming out millions of times. “It wasn’t robbed,” I say. “Oh yes it was,” they reply. “We read about it in the paper.” Only afterwards does my father explain it all. Ani standing at the doorway of the tomb. I guess I had scarcely noticed the paucity of Christmas presents (“THIEVES TAKE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS FROM UNDER TREE,” the headline read). Ani’s shadow accompanied by his soul. My mother lost her beaver coat (uninsured), a great status symbol. Otherwise, not much was stolen. A couple of days later, Bob Taylor, one of my father’s customers, takes me Christmas shopping, where I stock up on six-shooters and other forbidden fruits.

Martha K. had been born the 22nd of December. Saith Osiris Ani: “Open to me! Tell me who thou art and whither dost thou fare? I am one of you.” Back from the hospital, my mother immediately sets about harassing the police over the burglary. “Who is with thee?” No results. “It is Merti.” Within a year, however, she has another $1000 beaver coat.

Martha K. is lodged in the former guest room, where she sleeps with her black nurse. “Separate thou from him, each from each, when thou enterest the Mesquen.” I recall the paraphernalia: diapers, bottles, bassinet. “He letteth me sail to the temple of the divine beings, who have found their faces.” One day, six months after my sister’s arrival, I’m in the bathroom, sitting on the floor. My mother enters and takes a pee. Looking down, she accuses me of having sneaked a look at her genitals. “The name of the boat is ‘Assembler of Souls.’” Despite my protestations, she seizes the opportunity for some formal sex education, using as her model my little sister, lying nearby on the bassinet. “The name of the oars is ‘Making the hair to stand on end’; the name of the hold is ‘Good.’”

Rubric: If this chapter be known by Ani he shall go in after having come forth from the underworld.

In the summer of 1948 my mother takes her long-awaited European trip. A HYMN OF PRAISE TO RA WHEN HE RISETH UPON THE HORIZON, WHEN HE SETTETH IN THE LAND OF LIFE. She will not deny herself simply because she has recently had a child (whose purpose, she later admits, was to provide a hedge against childlessness – in the event something should happen to me). Though my father is reluctant, though I am only eight, we nonetheless will all go together, leaving Martha K. behind with a nurse. “Homage to thee, O Ra, thou risest as Tmu-Heru-khuti (Harmachis).”

With much preparation (educational and social, as well as practical), we sail from New York, on the Nieuw Amsterdam. “Thou art adored when thy beauties are before mine eyes, when thy shining rays fall upon my body.” Movie camera, guidebooks, diary at hand, as though this were to be the last opportunity ever (the War having, for six years, heightened my mother’s frustration). “Thou goest forth in peace in the Sektet boat with fair winds, and thy heart is glad.” The crossing – one of the crossings – is rough, but Mother is in heaven. “Thou stridest over the heavens in peace, and thy foes are cast down.” Every meal at table in the opulent dining room; waiters, busboys; coiffeuses, stewards. “The never-resting stars sing hymns of praise unto thee. The stars which never set glorify thee as thou sinkest in the horizon of Manu. O thou art beautiful in the two parts of heaven, thou lord who livest and art established.”

I enjoy the trip myself: the splendid boat, with its eight decks, its swimming pools, etc. “Homage to thee, O thou who art Ra when thou risest, and Tmu when thou settest in beauty.” I get some rough education at the hands of two sophisticate teenagers from New York City. “Thou risest and shinest upon the back of thy mother, O thou who art crowned king of the gods.” One of them, a Yankee fan, makes me, a Tiger fan, feel insufferably provincial. “Nut doth homage unto thee, and everlasting and never-changing order embraceth thee at morn and at eve.” “Phil Rizzutto,” he tells me, “catches pop flies on the first-base side of second base.” What, I wonder, is wrong with the Yankee second baseman? I say nothing, though, since he’s fourteen. “Thou stridest over the heaven, being glad of heart, and the Lake Testes is at peace.”

Finally we arrive – in Rotterdam. “The Fiend hath fallen to the ground.” Hulks of ships – in the famous retellings – still dot the harbor. “His arms and hands have been hewn off.” Though the energetic people of Holland have cleared the rubble – piling the bricks in tidy stacks. “And the knife hath severed the joints of his body.” We pass time in Holland – Rotterdam and Amsterdam – with a sister of Emmy Hüber, who is to be our Swiss hostess.

But enough official narrative. “Ra hath a fair wind.” The day I best recall is spent on the train returning from Amsterdam with a shy girl of eight or nine who speaks no English. I point out the window at a cow and, asking for the Dutch word, am rewarded. “The Sektet boat goeth forth and, sailing along, it cometh into port.”

From Holland on to Paris, which I only vaguely recall. “The gods of the south and the north, of the west and the east praise thee, from whom all forms of life came into being.” Photograph of Madison, skinny legs, awkward shorts, standing in front of Versailles, on the cobblestones of the main courtyard. “Thou sendest forth the word, and the earth is flooded with silence, O thou only One, who livedst in heaven before ever the earth and the mountains were made.” (Paris in the retelling: We stayed in a hotel just off the Champs-Elysées, whose beds the occupying Germans must have bounced on.) I recall, very very vaguely, standing across from the Louvre to have a photo taken. “O Runner, Lord, only One, thou maker of things which are.” But we must have seen the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre. What else, I don’t know. “Thou hast moulded the tongue of the company of the gods.”

Then, on to the centerpiece: Switzerland. “Thou hast drawn forth whatsoever cometh from the waters.” Here the stay in Zürich with the Hübers, Dr. Hüber the chemist – owner of a large artificial sweets factory; dear, dear Emmy – mother’s friend from Atlanta; Lloyd and Willie, one a little older, one a little younger than I. Tours through the countryside, a picnic by the lake. But again, that’s the official account.

“Thou springest up from them over the flooded land of the Lake of Horus.” My first day in Küsnacht. “Make me to sniff the air which cometh from thy nostrils, and the north wind which cometh forth from thy mother, the sky.” It is mid-morning. I am standing outside in the street. “Make thou glorious my shining form.” Two kids are playing soccer. “O Osiris, make thou strong my soul.” Do they notice me? Yes. I wish to make contact, but know no word of German. “Thou art worshipped in peace, O lord of the gods.” I am deeply impressed by the fraîcheur of the Swiss ambiance: the clarity of the air, the enormous houses, the strangeness. “Thou art exalted by reason of thy wondrous works.”

For breakfast: yogurt, Butterbrot sprinkled with chocolate, raw milk. Where are my eggs and bacon? Finally, a boiled egg is produced. Later, that afternoon, I vomit in bed against the wall – from the strange food and excitement. Next day, at the park, on the day of Swiss independence, a boisterous atmosphere: soccer, water polo, the babble of Schweizerdeutsch. I recall watching older boys play at foosball on outdoor tables. I ask what is the word for “Help,” should I need it while swimming. We linger at the park after dinner, for fireworks, on into the night. “Shine with thy rays of light upon my body day by day, upon me, O Osiris, teller of divine offerings of the gods, overseer of the granary of the lords of Abydos, in truth the royal scribe, who loveth Ra; Ani, triumphant in peace.”

And so, on to Italy – Milan only; the south of France – Cannes, the fabulous Riviera – not Arles, not Avignon. Then to London, where my father flies back early, his vacation time up. London with my mother: a seizure of “attractions”: Westminster Abbey, the changing of the guard, the crown jewels. I want a comic book. It costs ten cents. I’m denied it. Mother and I take a train to Edinburgh, where she finds the cheapest room possible, a bed for her, a cot for me. The highlight of the stay a festival, including bagpipes and, of all things, outdoor ballet. Cold, it begins to rain. We don’t know anyone in Edinburgh. Why have we come? This is the home of John Knox, the reformer, ancestor of Mary Knox Brown, my mother’s mother.


Vignette: Ra seated in a boat, sailing across the sky toward the star-studded heaven. Images of sun, warmth, light: Mt. Ulla, my grandmother’s home. Rubric: These words to be recited over a boat seven cubits in length and painted green for the god-like rulers. It is Summer 1947. I lie in the front parlor, febrile with chicken pox. Behold, thou shalt make an image of Ra upon a table of stone painted yellow, and it shall be placed in the fore-part of the boat. It is ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit. Behold, thou shalt make an image of the dead man whom thou wilt make perfect in strength in the boat. Thou shalt make it to travel in the divine boat of Ra, and Ra himself will look upon it. I recall nothing but blinding light and heat. Thou shalt show it to no man but thyself, or to thy father, or to thy son. Let them watch with their faces, and he shall be seen in the underworld as a messenger of Ra.

Mt. Ulla has a population of eighty-six, is little more than a flour mill beside the railroad tracks, the railroad whose train – in the retelling – killed my deaf great-grandfather on the eve of my mother’s wedding, the train itself bearing the wedding invitations. Besides the flour mill, a post office/grocery store; an all-purpose store – hardware, feed and seed; half a dozen houses. Then, highway in both directions.

At center stage, “The Maples,” built in 1915 by a grandfather who died the year before my birth: large, commodious, handsome, fit to raise a family of one daughter, four sons, a wife and mother. A country doctor known for his generosity. His widow, in 1947, a Scotch-Presbyterian matriarch. Osiris, the scribe Ani, triumphant, declareth his praise of thee when thou shinest.

Mother and Grandmother entertain callers, sitting under the porch’s sky-blue ceiling. On a wicker table, polished rocks. When thou risest at dawn he crieth in his joy at thy birth. Nearby in the yard I play on the old millstone, at the center of a circular drive. “Thou art crowned with the majesty of thy beauties; thou mouldest thy limbs as thou dost advance, thou bringest them forth without birth-pangs in the form of Ra, as thou dost climb up into the upper air.” Grandmother’s new post-war Chevy is parked under the portico, where red dirt stains the first few steps to the porch. “Grant thou that I may come unto the heaven, which is everlasting, unto the mountain, where dwell thy favoured ones.” The talk goes on and on. I shy from introductions, wandering instead into the front yard, where I climb one of the huge magnolia trees. “May I be joined unto those shining beings, holy and perfect, of the underworld; may I come forth with them to behold thy beauties, thou who shinest at eventide on the way to thy mother Nut.”

It is late afternoon. I have wandered next door. My Uncle Alex, amid great clatter, arrives on his tractor, pulling a wagon, on which sits an old black man. Uncle Alex stops the motor, descends. “Hello, Madison, how’s the little Yankee? Here,” he adds, noticing my baseball glove and ball, “let me see that.” Lightly I loft the ball across the yard. Catching it, Uncle Alex returns it. “Harder,” he says. This time I throw it overhand. “Harder, son.” I burn it in with all my seven-year-old intensity. Uncle Alex catches it easily in his calloused hands. He is a lion of a man, well over two hundred pounds, his shirt and upper trousers drenched in sweat from an afternoon of plowing. Now he enters the barn for another three or four hours work milking the cows. He has sent the black man down into the pasture to fetch them.

The cows begin to straggle in. To a city boy, the smell of manure in the cow barn is overwhelming. “Thou dost place thy disk in the west, and my two hands are raised in adoration.” A white kid arrives to help with the milking. Alex abuses him for some minor offense. “Behold, thou art the maker of eternity.” The cows, slapped into the stalls, are strapped about their middles with automatic milkers. “Thou art adored when thou settest in the heavens.” Dusk approaching, I continue to watch, as Alex empties milk into the cooler, his helper hosing pies of soupy cowshit out of the barn.

Within ten years Uncle Alex will have quit the farm, taken a job working on road machines and had a ghastly accident. As he works inside a Caterpillar, someone starts it up, breaking his pelvis and ripping his knees apart. Now he sits, half-blind, drugged, misanthropic, confined to a wheelchair for life. “I have given my heart unto thee without wavering, O thou who art mightier than the gods.”

Alex is the baby of the family. Wilson, next youngest, is a man who has always been kind to me. Pillar of the community (church elder, dairy co-op president), he suffers a fate like Uncle Alex’s. One day, not long after his brother’s accident, repairing a tractor, he lies down in front of the back wheel. He has failed to put the safety brake on. The tractor rolls over him, snapping his hip joint. Many operations later, he walks with a cane. “A hymn of praise to thee, O thou who risest like unto gold, who flood the world with light on the day of thy birth.”

My Uncle George at this time runs a small airport in Salisbury, North Carolina. My earliest memories are of plane rides, afternoons spent in the hangar, or dawdling about the office, hoping someone will give me a Nab from the large hexagonal jar. Meals at the airport are made of Nabs and Cokes. Behind the desk, behind the swinging gate, stands Polly: impassive, eyes obscured behind dark glasses, the first woman I’ve ever seen in pants. The airport’s clientele is sparse, mostly people having repairs done. Though there are lessons as well, and, upstairs, a model plane with moveable parts, remnant of wartime classes. “Thy mother giveth thee birth upon her hand, and thou dost give light unto the course of the Disk.”

It is here too, on the apron in front of the hangar, that I have my first driving lesson. Mechanically expert and a car buff, Uncle George at this time owns a Crosley, the smallest automobile made. I am put in the car alone, the wheel turned as far as it will go, and allowed to drive around in a circle, while my father films the event.

At the back of the hangar I explore the mechanic’s room. Filled with tools, with spray-painting equipment, its walls are literally covered with nude pin-ups, my first encounter with the form. “Thou art glorious by reason of thy splendours, and thou makest strong thy ka with hu and tchefau foods.”

Uncle Steve, my avunculus, the only uncle with whom I have maintained close relations, lives in Dallas. Each summer he arrives by car with his two boys (and without his wife). “O thou mighty Light, who shinest in the heavens, thou dost strengthen the generations of men with the Nile-flood, dost cause gladness in all lands, in all cities, and in all the temples.”



I’ve been forced into second grade by my reading proficiency and have now been in three different schools this year: one in Pittsburgh, one on the west side of Detroit, and Père Gabriel Richard. THE CHANGING INTO A SWALLOW. At Richard my initiation takes the customary form: fights in the gravelly playground. But with an added touch: half the kids have ringworm and wear stockings on their heads. “I am the swallow, I am the swallow,” saith Osiris Ani triumphant. I cry at having been touched by someone with ringworm. “I am the scorpion, the daughter of Ra.”

In the last stage of the construction of our Grosse Pointe house we move to Grosse Pointe Park, where we live in a single room – “twelve feet square,” my mother is fond of saying. One day, with the owner away, she reads to me on the stair from Sir Walter Scott. CHAPTER OF CHANGING INTO A GOLDEN HAWK. It is at this address that I get my first bike, which I learn to ride alone – no help from my father. Instead, I stand it against a tree, push off and peddle into the void. Saith Osiris Ani: “May I, even I, arise in the seshet chamber, like unto a hawk of gold coming forth from his egg. May I fly and may I hover as a hawk, with a back seven cubits wide, with wings made of emeralds of the South.” It is here too that I pen my first published work – an entry in our second grade class newspaper, a story about the robins who have moved into our new house before we do. “May I rise, may I gather myself together, a golden hawk with the head of a bennu bird.” As work progresses on the house, it is my mother who supervises everything. I do not see my father taking any hand in this. “May I enter into the presence of Ra daily to hear his words, may I sit down with the mighty gods of Nut.” He is off at the office; on weekends he sleeps, exhausted.

Our rented house on the west side of Detroit has a number in the 10,000s. THE CHAPTER OF CHANGING INTO A SACRED HAWK. In its small, archwayed dining room there’s a switch to turn on the hot water heater – when the water is hot, a bulb glows red. “Hail, thou mighty one, come unto Tattu. Make thou my paths, and let me pass round to visit my thrones. Make me to renew myself and to wax strong.”

I remember the depth of the winter here, darkness engulfing everything. It is also very cold. I walk home from school, or am picked up by my mother, the light already beginning to fail. Even before dinner it is pitch black. “May the gods of the underworld fear me, may they fight for me in their habitations.” I sit or lie on the floor, listening to the radio. “Let me walk through the house of darkness.” Superman, followed by Captain Marvel, The Green Hornet, Sky King. “Hail ye gods who hear my speech! Hail ye rulers among Osiris’s followers.” For weeks that winter, captured by criminals, Superman is held in chains, progressively weakened by the presence of a chunk of ill-gotten Kryptonite. “May the gods of the underworld fear me, may they fight for me in their habitations.” Each day the criminals shoot him with machine gun bullets – to test his waning strength. I can’t remember how he engineered his escape.

Captain Marvell I recall more vividly from the comics. “Grant that I may pass on my way with the godlike ones who rise up.” I especially admired his “Shazam,” the way in which others in the family had different magic words. “May I be set upon my resting-place as the Lord of Life; may I be joined unto Isis, the divine Lady.” The Green Hornet was “brought to you by Ovaltine.” (The commercial worked: I can remember getting my mother to buy some.) “May the gods make me strong against them that do harm unto me, may no one come to see me fall helpless.” In one episode the G.H. was involved in a high-speed nationwide chase – cars that traveled 800 miles per hour. “May I pass over the paths, may I come into the farthermost parts of heaven.” At the episode’s conclusion, in which the cars had fallen into the wrong hands, the hero wisely remarked that the time for such cars had not yet come.

The move from Pittsburgh to Grosse Pointe involved several steps. THE CHAPTER OF CHANGING INTO SETA. I begin, in the record, standing beside our Pontiac on Anawanda Avenue, in a posed photograph (later to be captioned by my mother, “Detroit, here I come”). “I am the serpent Seta, whose years are many. I lie down, I am born day by day. I lie down, I renew myself, I grow young day by day.”

The first stop is downtown Detroit, a single hotel room where we stay while finding the rental house. THE CHAPTER OF CHANGING INTO A CROCODILE. My mother cooks breakfast in the kitchenette, before my father leaves for work. Then, at six years old, I am asked by my mother to dry the dishes. “I am the crocodile which dwelleth in terror.” Reaching up on the sink, I pick up a pot full of hot coffee. Out it pours, scalding me. “I am the sacred crocodile and I cause destruction.” I recall a reprimand for having picked up the pot.

Thence to the west side of Detroit. THE CHAPTER OF CHANGING INTO PTAH. For the first time I now attend school on a regular basis. Saith Osiris Ani, triumphant: “I eat bread, I drink ale, I put on apparel.” I recall the first day – the enormous school forbidding, safety patrols aligned outside its symmetrical entrance. “I fly like a hawk.” I recall a vague terror of displacement. “I cackle like a goose.” I recall the dreary Detroit days, drenched in cold winter rain. “I alight upon the path hard by the hill of the dead on the festival of the great Being.” But I survive. “That which is abominable have I not eaten; that which is foul have I not swallowed. That which my ka doth abominate hath not entered into my body.”

One day, on being picked up at school with a friend, I notice that my mother’s face is covered with grease. THE CHAPTER OF CHANGING INTO THE SOUL OF TMU. I ask if I can go over to the friend’s house. Saith Osiris Ani, triumphant: “I have not entered into the house of destruction; I have not been brought to naught, I have not known decay.” No. We drop off the friend and return home. “I am Ra, come forth from the divine Soul Nu, creator of his own limbs.” In the car my mother tells me when she lit the oven it exploded in her face, singeing her eyebrows. “Sin is an abomination unto me, I look not thereon; I cry not out against right and truth, but I have my being therein.”

THE CHAPTER OF CHANGING INTO A HERON. When I arrive in second grade at Richard School, I meet the classmates who are to be my friends for the next eight years. “I know Heka, I have heard his words.” Bob Rein, Dick Chamberlain, Bert Vossler and Mickey Caulkins; George Duncan, Charles Mahalik, Frank Girardin, Richie Mylock. “I am the red calf which is limned with the pen.” With the exception of Mickey, all are bigger than I. When they hear my words, the gods say: “Let us bow down our faces, let him come unto us; the light shineth beyond you.” I must prove myself, and do so by wrestling Dick Chamberlain to a draw. “My hour is within my body.” Graciously he compliments me, thereby raising me in the eyes of others. “I am the girdle of the robe of Nu, which shineth and sheddeth light, which abideth in his presence and sendeth forth light into the darkness, which knitteth together the two fighters who live in my body through the mighty spell of the words of my mouth, which raiseth up him that hath fallen – for he who was with him in the valley of Abtu hath fallen – and I rest.”

“I have not spoken evil in the place of right and truth. Not only am I weak, I am slow of foot.” But I am the brightest kid in the class. “Each day I advance in right and truth.” But neither are the other kids dumb. “I have pacified the heart of the gods who follow after him. Behold, I am exalted upon my throne.” Mickey eventually goes on to Choate and Yale. “I am the god Shu who sprang from unformed matter. My soul is god; my soul is eternity.” Bob Rein makes it into M.I.T. “I am the prince of eternity, the exalted one in Nebu.”

Other important friends arrive later. “I grow young in my city, I grow young in my homestead.” One of these, Dennis Hykes, comes from Indiana (his father had gone to Purdue). “My name is ‘Never-failing.’” He is a pleasant companion. “My name is ‘Soul, Creator of Nu,’ who maketh his abode in the underworld.” His mother is so young and beautiful she seems to belong to a different world. “I am the lady who sheddeth light in darkness. I have come to give forth light in darkness. Lo! it is lightened and made bright.” I’m amazed, I recall, to think what life would be with a mother like that. “I have illumined the blackness, overthrown the destroyers.” She tells Dennis to be nice to me: some day I’ll be president and perhaps make him postmaster general. “I have made obeisance unto those in darkness, I have raised up those who wept.”


I am five. I am back in Pittsburgh, in our second dwelling, the duplex on Anawanda. The Hall of Double Right and Truth. Here Ani addresses the forty-two gods. It is my first day at nursery school. Beside the altar stands a balance, one of whose receptacles holds the heart of Ani. I have a sense of having been dropped, discarded. The other holds an emblem of Right and Truth. A similar memory: I’m at a barbershop, where my mother has left me. The barbers tease, threaten to give me a shave. When my mother returns, I have no way of communicating my fears. Only now do I realize that the barbers teased me in part because of my mother. Beside the balance, the tri-formed monster Amemit. Back at the nursery school: it is mid-day. I was either to have brought my lunch or to have paid for the hot lunch. I have done neither. What am I to do? The others begin eating. I sit to one side, on a stair separating two rooms. Thoth, ibis-headed, sits on a pylon-shaped pedestal, painting a large feather of Maat. Finally, someone takes pity, offers me a bowl of soup.

I’m still five. It is later in the year. I’m at public school now, at the top of the hill. The kindergarten is full of light, we sit in a circle. I seem to recall having come late, brought by my mother. Later, I enter a room filled with rows of desks. (Arrangements have been made for me to sit in on first grade penmanship.) This time I am early, the kids are still coloring, I take a seat. The teacher begins the lesson, but I, oblivious, continue to color. Soon the time comes to turn in the exercise. I have only the picture I’ve been coloring.

THE NEGATIVE CONFESSION. This is my first year of sexual curiosity. “Hail, thou whose strides are long, who comest forth from Annu, I have not done iniquity.” I ask my parents about the facts of life and am told probably in too great detail. There is, at any rate, the proffer of much terminology. “Hail, thou embraced by flame, who comest forth from Kheraba, I have not robbed with violence.” Promptly I impart my newly acquired knowledge to the kid next door. “Hail, Fentiu, who comest forth from Khemennu, I have not stolen.” I do this as the two of us sit on the front stoop between the entrances to the two halves of the duplex. “Hail, thou whose eyes are of fire, who comest forth from Saut, I have not plundered the god.” I am in the midst of explaining that your balls are in what is called your scrotum, when the door to our house suddenly opens. “Hail, thou Flame, I have spoken no lies.” I am beckoned in. “Hail, thou crusher of bones, who comest forth from Suten-Henen, I have snatched away no food.” My parents, who have overheard the conversation, severely reprimand me. “Hail, thou who shootest forth the Flame, who comest forth from Het-Ptah-ka, I have not caused pain.” When I protest that this is merely the information already imparted to me, I am told that my conversation could have been the source of great embarrassment. “Hail, thou who comest forth from Amentet, I have committed no fornication.” What if the neighbors had heard? “Hail, Bast, who comest forth from the secret place, I have not dealt deceitfully.” What if my friend had gone and told his parents? “Hail, thou whose legs are of fire, who comest forth out of darkness, I have not transgressed.”

Anawanda Avenue. The man in the duplex next to ours is working on a retaining wall. Having dug out the space, he now makes a wooden form, into which, before pouring the concrete, he places iron rods. I stand nearby and watch. Stopping briefly, he blows his nose – without using a handkerchief. I am deeply impressed.

Down the hill, at the bottom of our street, is a mysterious building, reputed to be a home for delinquent children – or perhaps an orphanage. I wonder what the kids there must be like.

I have little recall of this year’s day-to-day activity, but I do remember the year’s big incident: a little girl, two houses up, takes down her pants out on the sidewalk. Our principal concern: what punishment she’d get.

And I do remember the War (it is 1945). We have blackout curtains in our living room, must use them during alerts.

Before we leave Pittsburgh, my father makes a home movie of the city. I recall shooting a sequence down by the Allegheny River. It is a poor section of town. Urchins emerge from a shanty to observe us. “Would you like to be in a picture show?” my father inquires. “You bet!” they reply, envisioning themselves on the screen of the local theater.


THE CHAPTER OF DRIVING BACK SLAUGHTER IN SUTEN-HENEN. I am four and living on Lawnview. “O Land of the Sceptre! O holy resting place! O white crown of the form divine!” Ned Thornton is my next door neighbor. “I am the Child.”

It is winter. Hail, thou goddess Aburt, who sayest daily, “The slaughter block is ready, thou who wert mighty hast been brought to decay.” From the dining room window I watch as the yard fills up with snow. “I am the knot within the tamarisk, more beautiful in brightness than yesterday.” Later in the day I will ride my sled downhill. “My hair is the hair of Nu; my face, the face of Ra; mine eyes, the eyes of Hathor.”

It is summer. “My neck is the neck of Isis.” Together with the Thorntons we raise a Victory Garden. “My backbone, the backbone of Sut.” It fills most of the Thornton’s back yard. “My privy member, that of Osiris.” Ned and I win a prize for an enormous pumpkin. “My breast, the breast of the awful One.” Because the two families collaborate, there’s also a profusion of unthinkable vegetables: Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, cauliflower. “My belly is the belly of Sekhet. My buttocks, the buttocks of the eye of Horus.”

The interior of the house on Lawnview looms with clarity and shadow. “Thoth shieldeth my body, I am like unto Ra every day.” My own room is rather vague. “None shall seize me by mine arms.” But I do remember my crib. “None shall drag me away by my hand.” I am lying down. Having not yet fallen asleep, I am looking through the slats. Out the window I can see a distant house. “And there shall do me hurt neither men nor gods, neither the sainted dead nor they who have perished.” I imagine that I know someone who lives there. “I come forth and advance, and my name is known.”

“I am Yesterday, seer of millions of years.” I fall asleep. “I travel, I travel along the path of Horus the Judge.” I awaken. “The lord of eternity, I feel, I have power to perceive.” I stand up in my crib. “I am the lord of the red crown, the Sun’s eye. Yea, I am in my egg, it is granted unto me to live therewith.” I hold the slats of my crib. “I am the Sun’s eye when it closeth, I live by the strength thereof.” Shaking them back and forth, I rattle the bed. “Come forth and shine, come to life, enter in.” I look about the dawn-filled room. “Within the eye of Ra, my seat is a throne, I sit thereon.” I call for someone to come. “It is Horus who passes through millions of years.” I’m ready to get up. “I have governed my throne by the words of my mouth. Whether I speak or keep silent, the balance is even. I have given new birth to myself.” At long last someone opens the door. “It is I who make you strong.” My mother appears, my father following close behind. “Fear of me is in your hearts.” Pausing at my bed, they ascertain first whether or not I’ve wet my pants. “For I am the pure one who dwelleth within the sacred eye. I shall never die again. I am the unveiled One. My hour may rest with you, but my forms are in my dwelling-place.” My pajamas removed, my parents chant, “Dry pants! Dry pants!” The reward: a dozen War Bond stamps! “I am not known but am he who knoweth thee. I cannot be held, but am he who holdeth thee in his hand. Hail, O Egg! It is I, Horus, whose flame blazeth in your hearts.” Slowly, the bonds accumulate. Within twelve years, on the eve of my entrance to Yale, they are cashed to pay tuition.

Ned and I are pals. THE CHAPTER OF A TET OF GOLD. On one occasion my parents come over to the Thortons’ to spend an evening. Because Ned and I won’t go to sleep, I am put in the Thornton’s bed. THE CHAPTER OF A HEART OF CARNELIAN. I remember the cool sheets, their special perfume, the alarm clock’s glow beside the bed. THE CHAPTER OF THE PILLOW PLACED UNDER THE HEAD OF ANT, TO WARD OFF WOES.

One afternoon I recall my father sitting with Mr. Thornton drinking ale. “Blood of Isis, charm of Isis, power of Isis.” It’s the first time I’ve seen my father drink. “They are protection unto me, they crush what I abhor.” Later, that afternoon, I recall a footrace, Ned’s father winning, his white ducks flapping against the green of the lawn. (To be said over a buckle of red jasper, dipped in the water of ankham flowers, inlaid in sycamore wood, and placed on the neck of the shining one. If it be inscribed thereon, it shall become the power of Isis and protect him. Horus, the son of Isis, shall rejoice when he seeth it.)

The major event of the year is my accident. Isis: “I have come to be protectress unto thee.” Distracted by company assembled on the back porch, my mother allows me to play with a medicine bottle. “I have made thee like unto a god.” I take the bottle inside, rush back out onto the porch, tripping on the lintel. “Thine enemies have fallen beneath thy feet.” The bottle shatters in my hand, slicing my wrist open. Saith Isis: “Thou art victorious in Nut, thou art mighty to prevail.”

Panicking, my parents wrap me up in a sheet and race to the hospital, horn honking. Nephthys: “Brother Osiris, I have gone round about to protect thee. I too have come to be protectress unto thee.”

I still recall lying on the emergency room table. “My strength shall be behind thee, for ever.” Ether, twenty-six stitches, a plaster cast. “Ra hath heard thy cry, the gods have granted thee victory.” I almost die. “Thou art raised up over that which hath been done unto thee. Ptah hath vanquished thy foes, thou art Horus, son of Hathor.”


It is at this stage, in my Aunt Gladys’ story, that I make a trip south to visit my grandmother. She (my aunt Gladys) enters a restaurant, where she sees a woman seated at the counter, on which she has placed a young child. The woman is hectoring the child, making it count to twenty, or whatever. Only when Aunt Gladys reaches Mt. Ulla does she meet the woman and child and discover who they are: her sister-in-law and nephew.

I am three years old. The Sekhet-hetepet or “Fields of Peace,” surrounded and intersected by streams. I arrive at Lawnview when it is still summer. My father is away – visiting munitions plants, making good the claims against U.S. Steel. Freshened with breezes. I am napping in a room with a dormered window. Thoth, scribe of the gods, holding pen and palette, introduces Ani. As I lie, awake now, I hear a car mounting the hill, shifting its gears from first to second. Thoth makes an offering to the god with the head of a hare, to the god with the head of a serpent, to the god with the head of a bull. The car continues, grinding up the hill. Ani depicted reaping wheat. Is this my mother’s car? A boat bearing a flight of steps, floating on a stream. Has she left me alone?

“Homage to thee, O thou lord of Right and Truth,” saith Osiris Ani. I am two. I have just arrived at Elwood City, Pennsylvania. “The One, the lord of eternity.” I play outdoors in a playpen. “O my lord Ra, I have come to thee.” Night falls. I am fed with a bottle. “I have made meat offerings unto the seven kine and unto their bull.” I am my mother’s possession, her child, but not her baby. “O ye who give cakes and ale to the shining ones, grant ye my soul to be with you.” She puts me in bed and carefully tiptoes out of the room. “May Osiris Ani, triumphant, be born upon your thighs.” Instead of leaving a shaft of light, she shuts the door completely, plunging me into darkness. “May he be like unto you for ever, may he become a glorious being in the beautiful Amenta.”

“Hail, thou beautiful Power.” I am one. “Thou beautiful rudder of the northern heaven.” This is Birmingham, Alabama; I’m alive in the Deep South. “Hail thou pilot of the world, thou rudder of the western heaven.” My mother is striving for social status, having recently emerged from the nightmare of The Great Depression. “Hail, thou shining one, who livest in the temple, thou rudder of the eastern heaven.” My father, in white pants, woven shoes, panama hat, is a genteel go-getter, a cracker, a homeless wanderer. “Hail, thou who dwellest in the temple of the bright-faced ones, thou rudder of the southern heaven.” Together the two of them regard their infant. “Hail, ye gods above the earth, ye pilots of the underworld, in the House of Osiris. Hail, ye gods, ye pilots of Ta-sert, above the earth, ye pilots of the underworld.”

It is June 28, 1941, my first birthday celebration. Ani stands before a table of offerings, both hands raised in adoration. Before me sits a birthday cake on the highchair tray, its single candle gleaming with fire. Behind him is his wife, a lotus-flower upon her head. “Madison, blow it out,” the saccharine, steely voice commands.

A HYMN OF PRAISE TO OSIRIS, DWELLER IN AMENTET, UN-NEFER WITHIN ABTU. I am less than one. White, gauze-like curtains blow in the window. “Hail, O lord, who crosseth eternity, thou whose existence endureth for ever.” Hungry, I wake and begin to cry. “Thou Lord of Lords, thou King of Kings, thou God of Gods.” Light enters the room. “May no delay arise for me in Ta-mera.” Above my crib hovers a large form. “Grant that they all may come unto me, great and small.” It is my black mammy: a hand appears, two arms, a bosom. “Grant unto the ka of Osiris Ani that he may go into, that he may come forth from, the world of Amenta. Suffer him not to be driven back at the gates of the Tuat.” I rest upon a firm shoulder, the large dark hand upon my back.

Vignette: a shrine. It is now much earlier. Seker-Osiris, the great god, the lord of the underworld. I have just been born. Hathor, in the form of a hippopotamus, a disk and horns upon her head. I lie on a table. Something has struck my back. In her right hand the goddess holds an unknown object, in her left, the emblem of life. The light is all-pervasive.

At the foot of the mountain, a tomb. I float, am large, am not so large. In the foreground a group of flowering plants. Hathor, lady of Amenta, dweller in the land of Urt. I move my flippers, I am barely alive, there is nothing to see. The Dweller in his Brow, the Eye of Ra. A fish, a tadpole, I scarcely exist. The Beautiful Face. I have not begun to move. The Boat of Millions of Years . . . I don’t yet exist.


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