Monday, April 19, 2010

Words and the Call of the Birds

A lifetime without understanding.
Understanding. A simple word. As though words were simple. As though a mere string of letters could ever begin to describe the shifting of something so subtle. Uttered, spoken, shouted with disgust, thought of with envy.
A word. The simple word. The complex word.
The question remains: what is it?
Careful study has only given me more questions. The statements, the answers, the thoughts, the ideas…they have all fallen, one by one. 2,4 ,6, 12, 16…the understanding has fallen.
Or maybe there never was an understanding, just the knee-jerk recollection of letters and words and sentences. And if that is all there has been, what else is there? What else could there be?

"Play with us," the birds cry in their own language. High coos and flittering decibels of deeper chords, they sing with the fluidity of the ocean. How was my ear tuned to their sound? Earlier encounters with their larger friends prepared me somewhat for their visits.

How many more words are there? How many more ideas…how many more things that are stored up with no real study, with no real questioning?
A lifetime of rusty accumulation.
A lifetime of words, a lifetime of supposed understanding and usage.
I ride the wheel and I am left holding an empty bag. The wind blows and I hear an echo. I truly don’t know. I have never known. Each thought is an elusive grasp into an endless fog of ephemeral truth.

One day I sat, watching the green grass grow, feeling an ant discovering the soft valleys of my body. It was then, when I rested my attention on the almost silent world that moves and shifts beneath my inattentive gaze, it was then, under the loyal sun, that glows and beams so often in this land dotted with hills and wooded valleys, here, while the clouds moved lazily by my dot of a body, while the earth continued to tilt and turn, while the frenzied activity and buzz of human life whirled by at a sorry pace. It was here when, to me, the birds came.

What is truth? What is understanding? What is power? Traces run along the ground, I run my fingers along their trail. But where do they come from and where do they go? I look forwards, backwards, I call to my friend…
“Where are you?”
There is no answer, just another gust of wind.

Their brethren told them of my wishes, of my desires. How the first ones could read my thoughts, I will never know. But they knew. And they spoke to me as only small winged and feathered creatures can. They dropped their long feathers for me to gather. They gave me material for costumes and sacred dances. "Here," they said, "have us, take us and plant us in the ground."

One day, I looked over at the little boy sitting next to me on the couch. I saw his little tan hands with palms facing up. In the middle of his little round face was a place of complex beauty. I recognized it. It was the realm of the subtle and the vague. The softer spectrum of watercolor hues where many things can exist at once, where all possibilities can coexist in an orgy of thought and emerging possibilities and wonder.

I have been listening to the sound of the wind, the sound of dust hitting a window over and over. I have listened to its bell for three decades. I have called to it, played with it, danced with it…but I have never known it. I have never looked beneath that skirt, never studied the shape of the long first letter, the curve of the last. And I haven’t looked in. I haven’t felt the muddled ball that whirls in a fog of letters and symbols and blue and black. I think I see traces, I think I can poke it…and maybe, maybe…but I look into the distance with squinted eyes. I look out and know that the earth is covered in fog and letters dance in the wind and my fingers are covered in slime and my mind is coated in an even thicker sludge.

One feather stands now, by the Phalaris. I have watched it grow, watched it feed on the food of water and minerals. I planted all the feathers. I hung them from mirrors and strung them around my neck. They decorated my ears and tickled my lover’s nose. Their gifts showered on me like golden rain, and I opened my self to accept their offerings. They discovered me, they came from shadow worlds with trees made of puppets and people made of snow. I envied their journey, their ability to move and shift, voyaging from one landscape to another without losing sight of their goal.

I need to scrape the green ooze off. I need to sit with the stillness, the evaporated shapes, the missing thoughts. This is not ignorance, this is the understanding that I have never held between my fingers, this is that ephemeral thought that has no content, that sound that has no meaning, that concept composed only of the void.

I see a girl dancing. There are two walls made of bricks. They are miles apart, but they are so tall that their sheer height makes them always present. The pretty girl is in the field, among the gently sloping grass of yellow and green. Her skirt of layered gray chiffon moves like clouds tethered to her waist. She moves around trees and skips over sleeping foxes. She is in the gap. The huge space in the middle.

"Bring me back!"
I wanted to shout, but I could only smile, moving slowly and smiling shyly as they dropped their coverings and became naked. Beneath their quills, I saw emblems and symbols. Etched in glittering raised lines made of blood and gold, their markings were clear, containing a mystery beyond my imagination. I stared, in utter confusion, in awe, in wonderment. These markings, lacking verbal clarity, yet shining with the magnificence of other worlds; of teachings that cannot be explained.
My mind screamed for explanation, but my heart kept me still, my mouth remained shut while my words were shoved into my deepest inner caves. I was not allowed to ask. They were not allowed to tell. Only the mystery made itself clear, and I drank its beauty. My mouth open, my chin wet, I lapped at the beauty of the Other, I cried for the clear revelation of the utterly strange.

It is the middle which I push away with extreme thought. Either being happy or sad. Jealous or content in the slimy gloss of lovemaking. Two extremes, side by side. And always together. There will never be space for another possibility. Pushed together there can be no room for something new to flower. Without the gap, there can be no room for surprise.

"Yes," they said, with wordless cries and soundless laughter, "let yourself feel, there is no answer…only eternal questions, questions that float aimlessly forever, without ever finding a place to rest…"

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