Kazimierz wasn’t seventeen by the time he was made to leave his beloved Poland, and wasn’t yet a man before he found himself in a land too young to be called Mother or Father. He moves about lithe drunk through his alien reckonings blind and hardhearted, but resentment can only carry a man as far as his will can take him and when it came time the Lord found him in a place whose name he would one day struggle to remember with no reprieve. He soon found a place of worship where the people spoke his tongue but the ceremony was foreign and tasted sour and he could not help but accuse them of cowards, reformists who sung their songs of Babylon in Babylonian. He did not know why he spoke these words. It wasn’t until he sat down to pen a sermon in his own hand that he realized he had never so much as prayed in Poland, let alone worshiped.
The day he raised his tent (which he would refer to only as his parish and would not recognize it otherwise) was the day that the rain started, and the rain continued through the winter without let but he would not take his parish down for what the Lord wills he may test to his measure as is his want. Each and every week the man would pen his sermons in his own crude hand and on each and every Sunday he would light the votive candles with care and stand afront his pulpit and preach with all the vigor and clarity that he had been blessed and let those words roll hermetic over the rows of empty chairs. Come Spring a couple had poked their heads into the weathered canvas to find the man in the midst of his lonesome sermon, so involved with his words and gestures it was as if he could not see them, a sight which affected them to such an extent one can only assume it was then and there that the rumors of the solitary preacher took root and began to spread.
It wasn’t long after that the man had his audience, and although none seemed to speak his tongue, the audience continued to grow. It was a man named Wojciech who for the first time understood his words and fell to his knees and wept. When the preacher tried to lift him from the floor, Wojciech recoiled. He looked into the preacher’s eyes and begged for his ear in confession for he had an awful guilt upon him which he had determined to take to his grave until this very moment whereupon he was stricken by some power of which he had never felt the likes, but the preacher had no confessional, and so asked him to return that night when the congregation had retired and he would gladly hear whatever sins he had in his heart. When the man returned to the canvas chapel the sun was already setting and the preacher could smell whiskey riding the man’s breath.
“I had once thought that my life was over. Tell me, Father, is there hope for even an irredeemable man like me?”
“Although no man can divine of life’s beginnings nor its ends, it is through this very covenant by which all men are made redeemable.”
The man called Wojciech thought on this for a moment before he spoke. His words were labored and he shook as if his confession were an exorcism, pulling some awful ghost up out through his shuddering throat. He told the preacher all of this. He told the preacher all of this and wept for a long time, and then for a long time more he spoke again. He told the preacher of King Kazimierz the Great, friend of peasant and Jew alike, and his Solomonic wisdom and a voice that became law, and of Saint Kazimierz the three-handed who appeared before the Lithuanian army in waiting, who was said to have sung as beautifully as to bring the seraphs themselves to weep. He told him that the name Kazimierz was one of ambiguous meanings: When read as kaziti mir, it means to destroy the world, but when read as kazati mir, it means the one who reveals the world. The preacher told him Jesus brought a sword for a reason and that revelation comes to be through blood and blood alone and they drank wine and watched the lamp flicker and die, waking late into the morning to continue their reconciliations.
The preacher takes a portion of his treasury and buys a half dozen ells of white cotton and spends the rest of the day fashioning a suitable robe for his initiate. By mid-summer, the tent is stifled and sweltering every Sunday without fail as the preacher cries out the glory of salvation and the mute horrors of judgment in all their incarnations to a congregation enraptured without fail. Only a few spoke the old tongue and understood the true words of his sermon, but many more than that were brought to sobbing by his conviction alone, and by the time the rains started once again the parish seats were full each and every Sunday and those who could not take a seat stood where they may, and all of them silent as mice to bear witness to those words they could feel in a way to which understanding can only point.
Lina wasn’t twelve by the time she learned to wear a lily behind her ear as was the style of the time, and wasn’t yet a woman before she met the preacher they called Kazimierz. Although all spoke of him as a quiet and mannered Christian, she felt a terrible heat in his gaze whenever he came to look upon her with dark and steady eyes which seemed to reach forth and pinch her cheeks red. When she came to see him in the night she could smell the wine on his breath and she held hers in her chest as he took her hand and confessed to her of his infatuation. The words were broken and raspy and smelled of sour grapes. Still, it wasn’t a month before he had her courtship, and she wasn’t yet sixteen by the time they were married in that little canvas tent which by now had begun to rot.
They moved to a real town and bought a real church and there he made his place once again only this time more so, and for a time all was as it was planned and the world seemed a paradise, but as any good Christian knows, all paradise is only defined as such by the fall. She would never quite come to hear the music in the rhythm of his mother tongue, which remained to her abrasive and ponderous, and there came a day one Sunday without ceremony where she did not appear to hear the words of her husband. Although she waited for his condemnation he did not speak a word, for it was that both had come to suppose she would never step foot in that congregation again.
It was a cool gray morning when Kazimierz found what remained of Wojciech at the foot of the steeple, and it would be that he wasn’t twenty-eight before he had buried the only man he had ever considered a friend. When the people asked some an answer in the face of such a terrible and unforeseen tragedy the preacher would say that a man the likes of him is only set to go in violence, no matter his panderings to His Lord, and nothing more of it.
Lina did not appear at Wojciech’s funeral, and, most surprising to all, the preacher did not preside over the happenings, and when it came time for those who were to speak their peace the preacher had no eulogy. He simply stood mute in the gathering and looked to the ground without a trace of impatience and did not look up even to see the coffin lower into the earth. He threw no dirt upon its lid.
As the years pass, Lina blossoms into a woman but her love for the preacher only wilts. His sermons have lost a certain vigor these days, and, in private conversation, you will often hear him say that he is tired.
Lina comes of child, once, but God takes it before they even have time to build the crib. Lina says it was a blessing it didn’t happen any later than it did. Kazimierz says nothing at all. One summer a terrible storm rolls into town and, like a feral cat, she disappears into the rain and does not return for six days. When she does return and the preacher asks where she’s been she only weeps and offers no attempt at explanation nor apology and instead walks into her study and locks the door behind her.
A new year comes, and with a helping of gentle reassurance Lina will leave the room to take her meals sitting at the table rather than take them at the study door like she had wanted to. Neither of them try much to speak at all. One day the preacher whispers that he still loves her and she looks him in the eyes but her glass smile is all too fragile to give comfort to either.
Eventually, the rains come for Lina one last time. She does not weep any more. Instead, she puts on a record quite dear to her heart, one she hasn’t heard in a long time, and spends the morning straightening the study into perfect order in such a way so that anyone to happen upon it might never guess there was ever a Lina who once resided there. At the desk, she pens a note in her gentle hand wishing no one regrets and dictating what few requests she had left. With reverence, she dons her finest silk dress, and puts a lily in her hair, as was the style of her time.
There was a man in a land too young to be called Mother or Father, whose name was Kazimierz; a preacher who lived as the crooked timber he was wrought from, fearful of his God and the evils He created; a husband whose wife asked to be burned and scattered with no funeral nor marker; a son whose father’s father was a saber-rattling Cossack whose ownership over a land he called his own was as imminent as the stamping of his horse’s hooves. It was he who puts his church to the flame and from the ashes at heart of the ruins blackens his face like Job. There is not enough drink in the world for a man the likes of him; the saints wrote not near enough prayers for a man made irredeemable. He won’t be thirty before succumbing to his lament, mouth agape and fever-eyed, asking nurses and orderlies questions they could never answer regardless which tongue he spoke them in. He tries hard to remember his pain, a pain which was once so vibrant it coloured his eyes and bled his stomach, but this too has begun to fade into the temporal mists, as is the fate of any corporeal thing in the Lord’s kingdom. The pain fades, as do the memories, and they leave nothing in their place. It won’t be long now before he goes, and when he does they will scatter his ashes like his people of old scattered the seeds of the poppy upon the breast of Poland.