By haphazard, I find them in all weathers — these giant-magnificent eagle feathers — and at all times outdoors I must look exactly where I am going since there is no way of knowing, ever, how or when I will find the next one. Sometime, the rare quills come trundling across bare dirt in the wind; sometimes, wedged — or pinned — they slant in spiked razor grass; or sit still in the close-knit, twig-meshed cage of some dead shrub. Whatever the case, these are the wages paid out at random by mystery, tokens of a rippling altitude that will always seem far beyond me, who am Earth-bound, by nature. Yet, vicariously, I can ripple after a fashion to this exclamation-marked treasure, humbled, astonished, to the pink grave core —in equal measure —
and consequently turned out of this world robuster towards the sun.
Nathan Prayre stares inwards from an odd angle at himself: Who is this stranger stronger in conscious than me? He minds the abrupt unwelcome of all the personality’s lame haberdashery — is this the desert of forty days once so faithfully promised in scripture? Awake by night to a stray patch of phantom glow on his bedroom wall and the work of laboured breath, he prays for tears — or sleep — or comfort in precisely that order, pleading to the active no one in himself for the chance of a trace of a truce with non-human human-being or even some ever-so-slight side-benefit of the doubt.
I stand at the back of the boat, letting the scene do most of the thinking for me. The jagged coast with its rugged panorama won’t let go, but the engines chant only the chance of a wide-opening sea. Absentmindedly I watch waves break on inaccessible shores — over and over — so many waves — and only the one, short, four-letter word, in English, for them all. Particular trees rarely distinguish themselves. What covers these Hong Kong hills is a lush self-centreless green drawing equally from water, land, and sky a sane amalgam, staunch in the name of growth and complemented by rock’s gaunt bone, rich in its way with echoes and undergalaxies of life, but still forever-stranger to this animate animal whirl — look, here it comes now: flat chat billow-bellowing out of Big Indigo with my very own NEXT DEEP BREATH.
In eight months the new house assimilates the jangled stranger.
But, now and then, random olfactory flashbacks come banging down the doors of second nature’s numb fortress.
Forgotten unforgettable conjunctions of brick-, paint-, timber-, cement-, corrugated-iron-, cloth-, soil-, and garden-smells reanimate those early impressionable days of first acquaintance.
How odd to lose touch — thanks to daily close contact — with intense networks of such visceral-physical fact!
Buried memories surface through gaps in inattention to the fanfare of tingling, dumbfounded nerves.
(Awareness in its high-beam headlights gets so easily lost in a tunnel vision’s on-rushing detail . . . )
Fortunately, unnoticed, something sensitive in us registers out of turn the world’s appeal to the body and takes life-pleasure in disrupting by means of involuntary recollection thought’s endless, teeming, habitually dogged ant-lines.
You’re only the spire. You don’t ever touch down right to the foundations. “Upwards” is a word you may often happen to take seriously. The vista seems to shape itself — flawless — all around you, its beauty one unbroken ring. “Centre” and “circumference” inevitably creep into your thoughts as well as values and, on the whole, you can’t help looking down a little. One day, when the physical temple starts to rot, belatedly you will realize just how much extraordinary emptiness exists between you and the actual — neglected — textures of the ground, textures Planet Earth always freely, openly offers.
I filled my pockets with the weight of a day’s long pain and trudged to the edge of a barnacled pier — not to throw myself off but to kill myself thought by thought by thought to the end of time. I failed in the freeze, as the chill sun set, hopelessly unable to see what I meant, and marooned in that zone between iced and unthawed, where all I could do was to find in myself one thought at a time — and thought by thought to the dead-end of time — a single good reason to come back to life once more. I failed, but in the freeze of twilit sea air and in the canvas quiet of so much intricate natural noise I realized, with my hands, that pockets could never be filled by that sort of emptiness, and that dusk in a way can be another kind of dawn — if you’re lucky — and that home, if you want one, must be built out of nothing with hard-heart-felt questions and barn-nail thinking, thought by thought to the end.
You couldn’t stand it ― crawling hour after hour down the famished tunnel of your hunger mostly for a mouthful of dust. At first sight, do I rightly get under that skin you are absolutely certain never to wriggle out of? Legless, lipless, no browed, ruthless ― my denudity creepily never fails to unnerve. Of course, I am poison’s Greatest Living Treasure and venomously adverbs every single move I make to the point where I, alone, am the sinuous hairline crack that fractures and flaws even the most generous “Love of Nature”. Slithering or coiled, I bring you lightning Sudden Death, and am always prepared to pull ― despite decades of cautious caretaking ― just that light from under your feet.
Yes, there’s the pain — sick, illegible — no body ever imagines in advance and the erosion by stealth of all my existence tangled in minute detail. These two, however, are wholly innocent. Not so the agony of what mortifies me now — endless distressful memories of all the life I did wrong: flimsy gestures and each half-hearted “yes”; the self-punishing good that was only drabness; dead reckoning of a day’s long imponderables; harshness when I could have been kind; faces I looked into blankly as I fiddled with my cuff links; words I could never bring myself to believe in fully; mindscapes, landscapes that escaped me forever, marred by chronic inattention . . . It is these I relive with what’s left of my nerve, replays that cut to the quick worse than physical suffering or any blanket dread of death —
I squirm in my seat, convinced I know exactly what to expect: the show starts with a man blowing folk-tunes on a leaf. In her pink, sequinned costume she could have lost heart in this troupe forced on tourists. Not so. I’m forced to sit up in my seat at once by the awareness she projects to the ends of her human body. Not a cell seems to sleep, and when she orbits away from my gaze I still feel the concentration of her face staring at me in her hands, in her feet, in the effortless torsion of her spine:
Watch me if you can thoroughly, she dares. Match me this aliveness with your own!
Even the dismal clapping of the crowd cannot drown her dancing from my nerves.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, an inspiring book for anyone who finds most of their happiness in living comes from trying every day just to make something a little bit beautiful. Her emphasis on discipline and the importance of making art for love rather than money are two aspects that certainly struck a true chord with me . . .
She ends the book with a section entitled “Divinity”, comprising a single anecdote about the sacred temple dances of Bali. The following paragraphs helped me make sense of the incident described in Dancer at Sanya”, in which profane and sacred collide disconcertingly:
They decided that they would make up some new dances that were not sacred, and they would perform only these certified “divinity-free” dances for the tourists at the resorts. The sacred dances would be returned to the temples and would be reserved for religious ceremonies only.
And that is exactly what they did. They did it easily, too, with no drama and no trauma. Adapting gestures and steps from the old sacred dances, they devised what were essentially gibberish dances, and commenced performing these nonsense gyrations at the tourist resorts for money . . .
The thing is, over the next few years, those silly new meaningless dances became increasingly refined. The young boys and girls grew into them, and, working with a new sense of freedom and innovation, they gradually transformed the performances into something quite magnificent. In fact, the dances were becoming rather transcendent. In another example of an inadvertent séance, it appeared that those Balinese dancers — despite all their best efforts to be unspiritual — were unwittingly calling down Big Magic from the heavens, anyhow. Right there by the swimming pool.
There’s actually quite a good deal of material on-line about Balinese dancing. If you’re curious, you can take a look here. And here’s some Gilbert on Big Magic.
Perhaps it’s just that the human mind is incapable of imagining anything that doesn’t begin.
— Diana Athill, “Whistling in the Dark”
He says, “Latch the old door well before we both catch cold, son. . . .” Seated in a square of light spitting image of the frost we watch together through a warped timber window-frame Moon muse in a museum of stars and dark artefacts:
Something beginning with . . .
Somewhere foxes do their rounds regardless, marking with telltale brown turds highlights of the chill territory and hares lope nose down over scent-trails, doubling back where the smell ties itself in knots — no, a hare is never tangled by such tricks. After the moon has gone, the house cracks loudly of its own accord — it doesn’t split our connection with concentration, but it’s hard not to get lost in imaginary after-shocks courtesy of the head’s echo-chamber. I hear him ask me in a hoarse whisper, as he nudges me with a boot, “Hey, you still all there?” The way I say nothing through the air gives him just as good as the answer he expects: