Friday, September 14, 2012

Charon / passageways

There is so little space, and so much to pack. Water, and grains, and here, in this corner, the locket you gave me when I promised always to remember. The memories crowd in and around, push to be included, but they can't fit. I've tried, oh, I've tried so very hard to save a little pocket where the memories will fit, but there are dry socks and a wooden spoon and a tin cup and bowl, and water, and grains, and there's only room for the locket left, and everything else I will have to forget.

I will have to leave behind what it felt like to hold your hand, cool and dry, callused and strong. I will have to forget the shape of your eyebrows, hovering in disbelief as I struggled to master all you tried to teach me. I will have to forget the way the deer stood in the garden, watching us, so intently, as we sat on the porch in the evening air. I will have to forget the crispness of the lettuce fresh from the garden and the tang of the first radishes. I will have to forget the melodies of Schubert you hummed and conducted, as if you were the entire orchestra, and with this I will forget not only the look of utter contentment so rare on your face but I will forget music, its ebb and flow and deep emotional churning. I will have to forget sitting quietly, just so, drinking coffee thickened with the reward of a task well done, the sound of ice against glasses, the plate empty of biscuits.

But here, with the water and grains I travel with, I will bake bread, and every time I will be reminded again of the smell of rising yeast, and this will awaken the smell of coffee, the smell of the fire as we played cards late into the night, and I never once won. No one told me, beforehand, that in order to journey into this our future I would have to forsake the skeleton of the past, and now it is too late. Too late.

The saddlebags are full, the canteens the last of this cool constant spring that I will ever taste. My heart was too heavy, it weighed down the horses, it had to be lightened. There, across the sky, watch, look, the first of the migrating geese. They carry less even than nothing, they have utter faith in the future and equanimity in the present. Soaring, darting across the sky, how many miles do they travel per hour, per day, per season, so lightly, so lightly. And then, in the moment of watching the birds, quickly, then, quickly, and I am astride, and we are away.

The air is cold and empty, and before us are footprints, are hoof prints, of horse, mule, cow, dog. We are all leaving: there is nothing left here, nothing remains but the shell of a life once lived, a live lived perhaps too forcefully. Now the bill comes due, our little lease ends, the gasp of a lifetime, the silent emptiness of wastelands ahead, to cross over. We traveled lost in our silences, individuals without society, across earth baked brown and abandoned. We traveled together but told no tales, for our tales were only of the past, and the past was lost. Every day the sun rose later, evening came quickly, dew froze into prismatic droplets in the morning air. The ground grew harder, and then our breaths left ghosts of ourself in the air, and there was ice upon the thin, thin stream that marked the boundary.

Something in my mind made me hesitate, I felt that this stream should be a mighty raging river, but without memory, I knew not why. Abandoned on the shoreline was a shack, nothing more than corrugated metal, a sign: Ferry Crossing, hourly; Price, one coin, no return fares. There was nothing to indicate that the ferry was used any more, for the water, though cold, was neither wide nor deep. A man, once chubby, but now with the excess skin that accompanies unpleasant futures, leaned against an oar in the shadow of the shack.

--There's no more ferry service, you see, but you can hire me on as a guide, if you like, to show you where you're going, he called out to us, but my companions did not listen; they had already forded the stream, and were waiting for me on the other side.

-- No, thank you, not today, I replied, preparing to cross.

-- There'll be no tomorrow, or there'll be only tomorrow, god speed, he cried after me, without anger.

Midway across the stream, my horse fumbled, took a moment to find footing, and in that moment, I turned, and tossed the ferryman my locket. "To remember!" and then we were across, and it was winter.

It was cold, deep winter, the ground frozen for so long that there were no distinct prints along the path, but the path was worn heavily from use, and we knew our way. The breath of the horses grew labored with their efforts, but I no longer left clouds of frozen mist when I breathed. I was lighter, lighter than I had ever been before, my heart was light and my mind was light, and as I cooked my grains in the half-light that never became day, the beauty of the fire was almost overwhelming.

My companions and I had spread out and separated, for although we were all travelers along the same path and going to the same place, we had no need for company, or for the safety of numbers. There was no fear of getting lost, no fear of danger when sleeping unprotected in the open. The air was cold, cold, but still I slept upon the frozen ground, not for long, but deeply, and my dreams were the dreams of the universe. As I slept my mind became part of the clockwork mechanism of the sky, my thoughts were placed among the constellations. When I woke in the mornings, my mind came back from so very far away, from such different lands, it took longer and longer for my brain and my body to synchronize to one another; the horse began to grow impatient.

And so I retrieved my canteen, my grains, and I let the horse go on ahead, at its own pace, as I journeyed barefoot along the trail of the lands where there is so little distinction between night and day, where it is foreign to be awake and natural to be asleep. My supplies are running low, the canteen has almost nothing left in it, but there is no stream, no ice that I can melt over my fire. The handfuls of grains grow smaller and smaller, but I do not despair. There is no call to despair, for many, many others have made this journey before me, and many will come after me, and the journey always succeeds.

We always arrive at that place that is not a place, purged of the distinction between the individual and the universe. There is no way to fail, to become lost, and so I take a sip of water, chew a handful of grains, and walk onward. Although there is no sense of time, time passes. I realize that I have been traveling through a forest once I am no longer in a forest, and realize there are no longer any trees alongside the path.

Ahead is the distant outline of the city, built densely and deeply in this cold land, and as I continue towards it, the city grows larger and takes form. Everything is the gray of slate after a rainfall, and there are tall buildings with pointed roofs, some tiny cottages and some giant complexes. There are no houses along the road, but when I reach the city gates, suddenly, the buildings are there, one against another, and filled, filled with people and animals of all sorts. There are no plants: no geraniums in window boxes, no farmer's market stalls, but it is winter, and there is snow. There was no snow outside the city, it all falls within the city walls, and the noise, the noise is astonishing.

For so long have I traveled in silence that I had forgotten the echoes of cities, ringing footfalls, the songs of commerce. I have forgotten how to speak, I have forgotten how to understand language, and I am amazed. As I make my way to a tower, and up and up the tower steps, all around me are barks and bells and chatter and hoofbeats on the cobblestone streets. Still I continue, up, and up, and up, until the street noises die away, and I hear a lone piano playing Schubert, quite close. The brightness of a moon shines through the open window, and everywhere, across the sky, are the millions and millions of stars. In the room at the top of the tower, the piano continues to play, and there is a plate with biscuits, freshly brewed coffee, and I sit, silent, arrived in a place that I know, unburdened by memory.