Apprentice Pillar

“…monotony of green. In my last dream
before waking, …wading through snow.” ~ D. Bonta

For three glorious weeks in ’98, late spring, I lived
at a writer’s retreat in an honest to gosh castle up
in the Midlothian highlands, which Wikipedia describes

as a 15th-century ruin with a 17th-century L-plan house
. In those days not so long ago, the internet
was still a fairly new-fangled thing, so when I called

the retreat administrator’s office to inquire about their
email address, the secretary paused and said, “Ach, dearie,
you’ll find that around here, we still use smoke signals.”

When I finally got there after several long plane rides
(Manila to Seoul, Seoul to Chicago, Chicago to Edinburgh),
of course I made the first mistake that every tourist did:

go around to the right side of the car to pull it open,
only to withdraw in confusion as that is the driver’s side.
My host, who’d come to meet me with a shepherd’s staff

in one hand, slapped his thigh and crowed, Gets them
every time!
We were warned it tended to be cold and damp,
even that late in the season. There was a small

fireplace in every bedroom, and tongs, and an iron
grate. Even so, some nights I had to plead for the use
of one of two electric space heaters in the castle.

I’m from a tropical country, I said
in my defense. Mostly, I didn’t want to wake
chilled to the bone, then find myself face to face

with the ghost of the Lady Fiona, the would-have-been
mistress of the premises and bride to the castle laird,
had she not mysteriously fallen to her death

from the ramparts the night before her wedding.
She was supposed to have been a commoner, a peasant;
while I could relate to that, I still preferred

not to be accosted by her sad and eternally
unhomed shroud. After breakfast, sometimes I’d catch
a bus to the city. Mostly, I’d go walking

along paths bordered by vivid green, fields of mustard
dotted with the obligatory moving clouds of sheep, and wind up
at nearby Rosslyn Chapel. There I’d sit in the cool nave,

staring at the Apprentice Pillar, its sinuous,
braiding lines— stark contrast to everything upright
and correct around it. They told the local legend

of the 18th century master mason, who did not believe
his lowly apprentice could have been visited by sheer
inspiration so that he carved this column,

thereby surpassing his teacher’s previous feats.
For this achievement, the apprentice received
a fatal blow to the head from his jealous

master’s mallet. There is some justice
in the story, if you can call it that–
because supposedly, for punishment,

they had the master mason’s face set into the wall
directly opposite the beautiful column, so he
would have to look at his apprentice’s creation

forever. He obviously lived much too long ago
to have benefited from the sage pronouncement
of the great Jedi master Yoda— How fear

leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, hatred
leads to suffering
— The same dark
green thread that spools under

and into everything we do, so we can’t stop
looking out of the corners of our eyes at what
everyone else is saying, writing, doing.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

2 Replies to “Apprentice Pillar”

  1. are you familiar with René Girard’s mimetic desire? (while i don’t think it can be denied in any of us, you certainly have ears and voice and skills enough to rest a little.)

  2. Erin – read about it a little in anthropology texts many years ago– mostly in explanation of ritual sacrifice and the evolution of social/cultural taboos. Curious about the last part of your comment above and what you mean to say by it…

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