An improbable conversation

Jewels of Change

Stars, darkness, a lamp,

a phantom, dew, a bubble;

and a cloud:

Thus should we look upon

the world.

                                                                                    —Vajracchedika, 31 and 32


An improbable conversation between Joseph Prigione, a character in an obscure modern novel, Jewels of Change, and Lord Byron, Romantic hero-poet of his time, dead for 200 years.


Lord Byron: So, sir, never heard of you. You say you have a question. The only thing more obscure than you is your book. But go ahead, in your century I am as obscure as you, and I have an eternity to reply. Take your time.

Joseph Prigione: I’m honored. You see. I’m in need of a door.

Lord Byron: Are you such a fool? You need a carpenter. I have never touched a nail, except the ones on my fingers.

Joseph Prigione: Well. I’m talking about a portal then.

Lord Byron: Ah. Why didn’t you say so? And to what?

Joseph Prigione: To Part I of my obscure novel, as you put it. I need an entranceway, a kind of introduction so that readers might know what better to expect.

Lord Byron: And what is it you want me to introduce?

Joseph Prigione: Something that neither I nor anyone who reads this truly know. But you have much experience in it. At least 200 years.

Lord Byron: So darkness will be my portal for your readers.

Of death I know well,

Darkness its best door.


Collage Dream


I had a dream, which was not all a dream.

The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars

Did wander darkling in eternal space.

                                                                                    —Lord Byron, “Darkness”


An Excerpt from Part I, “Collage Dream Memories,” Chapter 2, “Book of Terrors”

It was the morning of the funeral.

At 5:30, not yet dawn, the phone rang. Joseph struggled to get out of bed. He made his way past the open bedroom door where a light slightly illuminated the way.

In a few short steps, he was at the foot of the bed. With his right hand he groped behind the door and reached for the phone on the small oak table. By the time he picked it up, it had rung several times.

“Joseph. It’s Julia.”

“How are you?” Joseph asked, trying to sound alert, forcing false joy into a tired voice.

“Joseph,” Julia said, her voice cracking. “Something terrible has happened.”

Joseph froze. Not a sound.

Then he felt something odd, off kilter. He heard as much in the sounds of her voice when he first answered, but sleep disguised its form.

It leaped out at him, dark, savage. He did not know what. But something was there, something behind a wall. The whole thing was rising, immense, powerful. It was in Julia’s voice.

“What?” Joseph asked. His every muscle, every sense poised. All of him focused on her voice. Then he pushed the words out of his mouth, and he could hear the spaces between the sounds of syllables. “Tell … me … Julia.” He heard a great movement coming toward him. “Tell me what’s happened.”

He could not hold it back. It came out. His words called it.

His father’s face faded. Could that be? No. This was different. He could feel it.

The wall cracked. Something powerful was coming through that no one on earth could stop. This thing was formless, timeless, eyeless, toothless, without nail or claw, voiceless, without odor. Silently it moved, faceless.

Julia carried it from far away. He heard as if she stood next to him. Then he heard words in tears never spoken before.

“Emil! Emil’s dead!”

Her tears flooded his. He gripped the phone, strangled, then bashed the plastic form.

It was not too late. It was not too late. He would stop it. He could force the wall together. He would remake the rubble of stone. He would kill it. Leave it behind the wall. Where was his power? Who was he to hear this?

“What!” Not his voice. Another’s.

Victoria shot up. She sat on the bed. Now not a sound. She looked. Could not see for the dark.

“What! What are you telling me!” The voice cracked. The wall opened.

“Emil’s dead. He’s dead. Killed by a drunken driver!”

“By what! What! A drunk driver! A drunk! A drunk!”

It was before him.

“What happened!” Victoria screamed.

“Light!” Joseph shouted.

There was a struggle. Someone found the switch.

“What happened!”

“Emil! Emil’s dead. Killed last night. A drunk driver. He’s dead! He’s dead! My brother is dead!”

Words leaped from his mouth. The words were red, flowing. Something was covered with blood, but could not be seen.

Two frightened bodies, huddled in dawn, screamed Joseph’s brother onto the highway. Hurtling metal. Twisting light. Steel’s screams. The car over and over. Husband. Son. Father. Friend. Lover. Brother. One man … a body of blood.

It moved. Ears burst. A world ended … but why with no nail or claw, why was there so much blood?

and Joseph smelled the terror

and Joseph saw the terror

and Joseph ate the terror

it was the face of God



Why I wrote this book

Why I wrote this book

In the summer of 1988 my father, a physician, was incapacitated with a stroke and placed in intensive care in the Newark, New Jersey hospital with which he was associated. His recovery appeared doubtful due to the severity of the stroke, his age, and previous strokes. My two brothers and myself constantly discussed what to do if our father were to die, particularly about our mother, who was an alcoholic, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and was aged and feeble.

Several days after my father’s hospitalization, a close cousin died of a sudden heart attack. My brothers and I then planned to tell our father of this sudden event. My middle brother, to whom I was very close, was on his way to a shore home to be with his wife and daughter the night before the funeral. It might have been midnight when his car was struck from the rear by a drunk driver. He was killed instantly. A few days after his burial I discovered that he had many dark secrets, among them alcoholism. At the time I was attending Rutgers University on a sabbatical for a second master’s degree. I left the program—Jewels of Change was born.

My wife had a dream in the early 80’s that had a Buddhist theme and rebirth story. Fascinated with it, I wrote it down and a decade later it became the dominant theme, a dream in the guise of reality, in Part III of the book, in the chapter “The Jewel.” This dream is alluded to in Part I, Chapter I, page 4. I knew Jewels of Change had to end with this dream and an allegory, a Buddhist lens through which to see the former sections of the book with a different understanding. The problem for me was how to go from page 4 to the end of the book and expand that dream from the first mention. There was one way and has to do with the geese on the cover, for the wild gander became a transformative agent and my guide throughout the book.

The geese begin their journey on the cover, and move through the entire book. On page 4, paragraph 8, they enter Part I in the following manner: “Far above, he heard their sounds—just her breaths, his, and the sounds of the geese. All flowed in another rhythm. He saw the geese move across the moon.” And again, the whole of paragraph 10, which I’ll quote in part: “…he felt the world not only as it is, but as if it were something else, weaving its ocean of story.” And so the events being told on one level move along on yet another plane, one that a wild gander takes on in its migration and will take the reader to the book’s end, where the “as if it were something else” appears in the weaving of the allegory—that is, all the events in the book summed up in a simple story told to innocent children of an orphanage in an Italian village outside of Rome.

The geese also appear on pages 59, 61, and perhaps hinted in the surreal ending on pages 63-65 of Part I. In “Passion’s Fairy Tale” the geese, transformed, as in the first instance, a duck symbolic of Joseph’s aloneness, a story-telling canary, and crows in a tree mocking the Prigione brothers arguing under an oak. In “Islands” (Part III) the wild gander is exposed and explained in terms of a swastika, a Sanskrit symbol meaning well-being, and in an early artist’s form of a stylized view of this wandering bird.

The next blog: An improbable conversation… Only if crocuses don’t peep out of earth thinking a bit of warm air means Spring along the ocean coast of New Jersey where Sandy left her deadly fingerprints.

Jewels of Change

JewelsIn this paradoxical three-part novel built on dreams, illusions, and reality, Joseph Prigione—whose name means prison in Italian—journeys to free himself from an existence of endless cells. A disruptive family and a brother’s death create the nighttime journey of part one.

But the disappearance of his wife, Victoria, and a dream of a beautiful woman in white lure Joseph to seek the origins of his relationship with Victoria before they were married. What ensues is an erotic fairy tale of passion and humor beginning in the Ironbound section of Newark and ending in a seaside New Jersey town where sex and power amount to disillusion. The couple is swept away to India and to a Tibetan monastery where special monks teach humorous lessons and shed light on Joseph’s unresolved past while giving Victoria a new path. Is there an island of peace where the face of love kisses the face of terror?

Victoria’s dream sweeps them into the truth of a once-fabled land where light and humor take them, not to the end, but to a pause—a book of death, life, and spirit. Jewels of Change tells the story of all of us who are prisoners of existence.