Watch this storm with me. It rains fists of rock on this comet night, streaked red stardust falling like drops of dew on parched, dead blight, chaos closing the infinities between you and I. In the distance, the wild walls of granite sing, bringing the warmth of ancient, sagebrush nights. In the shadows, the winds whisper a message from the other side – and starlings explode like lightning from the lavender. We are all at once outside of time, no words needed between us as you look, I turn, and the bristle of our sacred flowers reminds us that the universe is one, and of one mind.
Why do I not grow? These leaves stay small and brittle. They do not flair outwards like yours. My bark is still soft, my branches are few.
Ah, said the old tree as it bent over the sapling. Its leaves bristled against the young tree’s bark.
What you describe is not growth.
This is how you really grow. In secret, discontent, discomfort, in ways that you don’t always want to. You grow when your tendrils grow sore and strained, your young shoots get scorched in the sun. You grow under the surface, in the cold, dark, wetness. You will compete with the others for space, you will be assailed by owls and rodents.
You do not grow while thinking about growth. You look back after a long life and notice it.
These leaves? Do not envy them, for they reach their largest and brightest just before their death.
This is what the old tree said to the young sapling before it fell.
On this day years ago he stepped on the stage, armor burnished and gleaming, veins coursing with power.
He felt immortal with youth, he did not feel the weight of the armor.
He crushed his opponent, and threw off his horse. He remembers the crowd gasping at his strength, it is all seared into his brain.
For years afterwards, he has returned to this moment. Every day he reassures himself that he is still the people’s champion.
He looks at the younger knights with a critical eye, judging that their strength is lacking, that they are slow or small. Any battles he has had with them are in his mind, pitting his former self against them.
In so remembering, he has forgotten time. They still cheer his name, remembering him as the knight of old.
No one knows how much time has worn the sinews of his muscles, how it has made him bent and flaccid, with slight aches in his feet and knees in the morning.
See them cheer him on, as he enters the joust, about to ride to his death.
Beware the ghost towns.
Ghost towns are not what they seem. They are not towns of buildings otherwise empty populated with spirits, of things dead and undead. They are not haunted or abandoned. If you end up in one of these towns, simply go the other way. There is nothing there.
Ghost towns are the ones that lure you in. They are full of life, of beautiful men and women. When you grow anxious or discontent, the town will ply you with food and drink and laughter, until it drowns out the simmering of your soul.
These towns are beautiful, fresh, and their primary aim is to help you forget. But do not forget, because once you do, you cannot leave. You will have lost what once tethered you, what was yours and yours alone. Ghost towns turn you into ghosts.
I fear not the raft of styx, messenger of wrath brought quick.
I fear not the battle’s pitch, flood, famine, or pestilence,
Pale osiris, eris, nyx, demon furies, and the succubus.
Give me not nepenthe nor opiates, all they do is enervate.
My will is epic. Bitterness bestows me gruesome strength.
I fear neither death nor judgement, I fear never having lived:
A small room, a mighty chalice. The judge who points and says,
I filled your cup to overfloweth. And all you did was take a sip.
Of all the streets that blur in to the sunset,
There must be one (which, I am not sure)
That I by now have walked for the last time
– Limits, Jorge Luis Borges
It turned out the stories you told yourself spanned several lives, the tram that you would take to the terminus, the fried fish you were going to eat by the bayside, on a sunny day, the stairs you were saving for a more inspired time.
You haven’t seen the museum exhibits, you didn’t read your meditations under the gnarled baobab, you didn’t say hi to the stranger working behind the burger stand.
And those ice cream flavors that made your mouth water – still just pastel hues and the sweet smell of butter, nothing more. There, you were going to take her on a clear day, there, you were going to take the ferry on a free day, ultimately an imaginary day free of the crush of life’s minutiae.
These days have never existed. It has crowded you, it has covered the stuff of life, the strata on which kids and babies joy. For you, the bell rang sooner, the tram arrived and has already left.
Dream big, my daughter, aim higher.
I won’t always be there when you falter,
but still, go boldly farther and further.
Alone you’ll cross the treacherous waters,
alone you’ll face the crowd’s insolent whispers.
You’ll see that before it gets light it gets darker,
and you’ll find, sometimes, that you’re your own savior.
You’ll see that it’s hard to cap your endurance,
and your fears don’t sum to their appearance.
Compared to how you first thought it, the world
is both smaller and larger, and there will
always be more to explore and discover.
Love always, and always with you, your father.
Let us go then, when the evening is spread against the sky like a circus tent blooming orange trees and maples, under this raging blaze to our first stop where we will feast on these victuals: tender steaks, warm crispy bread, heapings of cheese and salad, a pitcher of absinthe, maybe I’ve ordered too much? No, our young hunger is monumental.
Stuffed, we’ll watch the smoke from our pipes curl sinuously indigo, singed by the orange lamps that will light one after another, glowing in adagio. We will wait, counting the bell toll ten times, until the galactic city beneath us starts looking flammable.
Think no longer of the girls speaking pretentiously of Michelangelo, or was it Mario, or Luigi, forget them, because here in our own savage town I bet you’ve never seen the taverns or the speakeasies, set amidst the broken lanes and skewered crossalleys.
Let us go then, because there we will meet your mermaids, lots of them, and you will no longer worry if they come and go or deign to speak to you, for it will be dark and hot and rank with youth, and they will show you matters in which there is no use for so much anxious thinking, much less underwater speaking.
We need not caverns to grow.
We love the dark loam surrounding us with nowhere else to go,
No more than a whisper or a moment’s glance, no more space than a shifting of an elbow,
Inspires us to crack our seeds and grow.
Our Recent Past
They were the days when men lived by the laws of simple love and anger, when they lived in simple fear of the divine, when their hearts coursed blood so thick it drowned out the meek wisdom of their minds,
when they charged gladly into catastrophes for a simple song and slender line; before reason, and language’s casuistries, when they danced freely in the tundra and washed their hair with tar, felling mighty oaks and seeding fields with single phallic strokes!
They grabbed lions by their balls and swam freely with the sharks, and grizzlies fled at the whiff of man’s approaching musk, and for months they debated the origin of a single blade of grass – it was the wind, it was God, no, the leaf does not exist – because their minds could not comprehend two different ideas at the same time!
And then they clubbed and killed each other until only one idea existed.
Then they saw woman, swaying gracefully with floral scent, lithe, a brighter use of space, and they looked into the sky (and eagles fell from it), and there was the world, larger than they had known; there was love and anger, but also death and time, and looking into woman’s eyes, they fathered babes who would live by the laws of simple love and anger, and fear of the divine.