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.
A cold wind. Standing ovation in the trees — Autumn’s moon-dry rustle of leaf on leaf on leaf. Thunder in the chill brick bridge when trains pass larger than life overhead, white-hot catenary sparks sizzling fresh air with the stink of electric scorch. Then pin-drop quiet, plump as moss, and moss universally shock-absorbing all than could never be green back into greenest tactile patch-working clumps.
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.
A hovering wasp rippling fine grains of dust with the fierce fan-force of its wings precisely zooms into land by what’s left of a smash-wrecked moth: one large upper flight-panel dappled with antique swirl. Further off, yet another flat piece of debris footnotes blank brick where a post-mortem sun shines on. The wasp now wrestles with its unwieldy catch. Using forelegs and jaws, it bends the sheet neatly in two, all the better to airlift it back home to base, intact — whole hangars there stockpiled with similar, edible, loot.
I feel the new moon long before I see its light scar; hushed is the healing in live air; hope grows its young skin tender within me. I am animal again, the faint stir; the beginning has its unexpected start in me again; I am borrowed by the lush understatement of a Spring instinct; this raining in the blood lives so vividly on my side now.
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.