by J. Celan Smith
Images by Melissa D. Johnston
I. Others: with
They are there, with us, creatively marauding our solitude. We carry them like extra hearts or like a bowl of sour fruit. It depends. Yet focus on the precious and everyday. From outside, where they meet us, we absorb them. Their forms, their words. Interiorized. We enter, joining them to our twisted strands. From then on, we are intertwined.
Maybe just an inner blimp of memories, their existence cruises in and out, never leaving our cardial space. Our lake grows full with their water. Not just any other: the important ones. Thin or plump, jocose or reticent, tough or tender. Often we swirl with them, eddies coyly dancing. Gradually, sometimes, they shadow away, tides leaving tiny caves like crab-peck in our sands. Where? We wear their skins as our own, cloak upon cloak of other lives placed in layers around us, whether we love or hate. To ourselves we seem made of this agglomerate, patchworks of influence, variance like stars of different color and size, which we sow as texture together into woven tapestry. Merged with them, we are quilts reflecting some story. As if all, unexpectedly, suddenly, participates in the magnitude that domes us, our carapace, testitudinous and hardened, this world, whose living eaves we try to breath under. The shell does not hold us up like Japanese mist, but, encompasing us, it communes with us. At times, a breeze that barely touches; or inundation, erotic immersion. The strangeness stays. We are exotic as those arenas of ancient beaches we’ve heard about out of which blueberries and mangroves grow. In the distance, a seascape armed with swimming dolphins, drifting islands.
Our territory is elsewhere, isn’t it? Even in the with of another? No surf of sameness, like docetic ideas that refuse to stroke us unless we pay homage to intelligence. But beyond the abstraction and tedium of days, past routine and hours of immutable scenery, something more fluid and special may surprise us. Laved expansive in bursting waters that froth and lose their calm, until we, within the swell of such a miracle, start to gambol like morning ducks in the river’s white rapids.
They encounter us. Bodies that crest against our shores. Interpolations that heave in the static painting. We receive, when thrown back. Modulations that brush our picture. Touchable symbols, enfleshed mysteries. The other approaches from elsewhere, body draped in linen, dripping and singing a stringsome song. The oracle appears in every day. Message shines through eye like light on falcon’s wing in afternoon, afterthought coming through the arched window of some red temple in wilderness. Tokens from faces opaque, not angelic, that spin horribly with tidings we can no longer decipher anymore. Though mostly the other has wiles where play their secrets.
Everything, he says, is matter. Even the intangible, the hidden. Ideas cast smells like clay on a shovel tip. Spirit has its perfume. Not will or power, but heart it is that rushes out to greet the foreign. We have often forgotten. Aren’t we, here, all so much steam and sameness? Driving the same teams of wind? As if it required an opposite of impassible alterity to discern something to praise! The screens teach us what to be, if we let them. We act as if eternal tomorrows will greet our vision. Are we listening with cupped hands to the absolute as it crumbles into ocean? To that cataclysm, the mountain that dreams of drowning? Or an island that wants to be a fish? Are we afraid, so afraid, of the real that we pretend, by virtue of the virtual, to be other than birds who are terrified of air? Or hoping, desperate, as if something might change, do we pray, do we still pray at all? Do we seek the bolt from clear source, levin from vacant blue? Run into summer freak! Tell me if it is incorporeal! That once our sky has unseamed itself for aperture and promises no regression, but passage through. Or once the earth has shattered upwards, that fall into soil’s gape that will take us to the wonderland of the Real.
Together is our desire. A dwelling with, a relation. Far from hermitage, beyond those nooks of seclusion where for a time we gained our strength to know minuteness, our presence, our humble roar. Only we, enthralled to rich pools and practices of protections, unopened until the blackness engulfs us–too dense for the frivolous–we neglect to notice. With daedalian smiles, blind and wicked with mazes, may we rise to the closer thing in our midst. In love to what is worth loving, in a kind of wafted waiting, ceding no place to amusing trickery, we thrive. For it arrives as we stop and stand on the station, the scent of juniper and sage smacking our paused faces, on a platform which moves toward the slow train.
There is no knowing, but travelling headlong into the other’s enigma. Expressions, like the width of unknown galaxies, that are indecipherable. Every favored moment, heightened with elation or dampened with depthsome wail, is a telling of the uncrossable. Let us adventure, nonetheless, across the gap! Let us plunge forward into people we so little grasp, the obsidian scepter of our gestures held as passport and talisman before our chests, one to another, trying to speak with exotic signs. This is what time gives, if anything. Our wisdom should take us to such baptisms by ice and by fire. Through, we draw nigh. Through, and with, gathering our thumbs like thread pushed through a needle, we poke the unillumined space, paradox of shimmering darkness on the other side, and it is our laughter, that may never subside, that carries us in the smoke, wild as mustangs haunted by barn burning images.
I can cross to you, if we aren’t mistaken.
Few survive the atramentous dive it implies. But I am mistaken, always.
Mostly, we wander, uncrucified.
Imagine us: trying to be-with-others. We walk along a ledge at the melting cap, shoed in plastic on margins of ice. Slick ground of rocks glares up, desires so coldly to slip us over. Stable or unstable, relation works in friction beneath the glittering facade. At night, there is always a threat of more snow.
Elsewhere inside this world, a place of real contact. It is sublime or transcendent, both extremes at the intersection with here. A nexus. The meeting point. Between home and exile. Its distance, illusory yet immeasurable as dreams, for seemed difference obscures the real of otherness. You, not you. I, in body or out of body. As if any knew. We feel. There are motions sometimes, and rests. Our senses reach to hold. That is their nature. There is grit in sinews, a nervous shiver within the coils. Are we capable of being-with? Even we, who have “been with” for so long? Can we make the coil safe from unravelling?
I’ve seen colors, as yet nameless, fly out of the hearts of beasts and beauties alike. I’ve heard a rain of sirens from tongues that tried to spit what it was. The moments know no words, just a music of despair or elation, just a silence whether bored or delighted, for to utter what happens is memory, already behind, fleet and gone like a ghoul’s grin when the light snaps on.
So it seems best, mostly, to stay sacred, doesn’t it? To remove, purify, simplify. To eeke out at the borderlands of suspicion and censure, where the weird life can be condemned only from the loud center that needs its noisy judgments. To believe elsewhere, in the real matter, where love is tolerated and poems bloom with seeds of strange insight! To heft the weight off and levitate! Where is this harbor? Where, this carrefour of ships’ encounter at dusk as the owl takes its flight? Innocent, we wonder with unminced gaze, no anger that would burst the quiet incomprehension. We let sacrifice in silence answer the inquest. We can give little more. I’ve taken no bridge from here to there. The chasm requires that wingless leap, unballasted, unstructured, into air. No reverie of thoughtful contemplation, no past-time buried in nostalgia, but the pure canteen of experience nectared into our mouths as the virgin taste that it always is. For it occurs but once, once only. Then somehow, over and over again, drawing soft streams each time from the rock’s authentic eyes.
II. Nature: between
Who knows if owls cross into day when their eyes are more rapt with blindness? Or does the tree provoke winter’s end, that cold wedge, as its roots empounce those stones like a spider’s meal? Nature, the destroyed, destroys with patience. It shreds the bones around softened minds, sensitive sheets plinked to shards like tempered glass clashed against a callous edge. False orchards are built of thinking stone. So let us forget to think and hike! Down tumbles the calamitous veil, made of mineral, pulverized to dust where once it hung, deliberate and inflexible around every still object. We cannot move without its first moving. It must crumble, seducing us to selves that stand in witches’ broom or that laugh like medusa’s feral heads as we collapse madly in an orchid’s violent clasp.
Do my eyes deceive me? Does the river churn around tombstones? Or is it dead already, silent and dried before the bodies of giants were ever buried? Not morose, but splendid! Its face gleams with grandeur as we peer from towers we have not erected. Such vistas take effort to get to. Austerity is a forgotten pattern, except in the strong who venture out, hungry for life. We stepped up ladders formed by labyrinths or rhizomes while a mountain grinned in the distance at our slow progress, its white teeth dangling in wide mouth that as the day grew warm came crashing in shrapnel around its bluffy feet. Nearer, ice onions sprouted, and, inside the walls, frozen tadpoles began to wriggle free of gelid coffins. Upward, we trekked as though ascending pagoda, some built inflorescence on the upper crown of earth’s stalk where sanity is exchanged for sanctity. What worshipped there once, on ground the gods would walk? I heard them, holy yet talking! A chorus of mighty feet! There on the tall ridgeline, summit of enchanted encounter. I saw them among mossy gardens that kiss all stellar nights! Who venerates these totem deities that sway untoppled, apex beyond where wings would be needed to go higher? There where worlds end and begin, interwoven, a bay of crosscurrents to give us intercourse. No wonder the priests made ziggurats. Here, we have our temples already made. Yet have we the courage to climb into suspension, a thin lamina, string of silence swinging us between two spaces? Can we cease to talk and start, in that caesura, to listen? Let us elide ourselves. Let our tongues become dots that signal disappearance, erased from the noisesome fray. Maybe vines will take our judgment, haunted with urban excess, with selves at large, void and vain, taken into verdant lairs where insects sleep majestically, curled like dreaming pixies. Something other than us or than keening erinyes will cause our skin to quiver. Something like a different voice beneath new maps of blood, capturing that frontier “invisible” as we tremble at the gateway, hesitant always, knowing nothing to do.
Beauty and terror go hand in hand, don’t you feel? Whether with us or between nature. Complexly muscled, its sources ripen our human fruit. But we are stricken at what we may lose. To us, the valleys seem as lost rivers branching out, discovered but never understood. Let us hike into the between! Let us go while there remains that mystery of the pristine! Peerless, it does not match our concept. It is impulse, rather, and attraction. The wild things, arcane and fascining, are nature’s wish for visitation.
III. Enigmatic Levity of Laughter
Must we sneak our way into essence? Not ours, but the other’s, if possible? Can we, from essence to essence, puncture the membrane between particle and particular, pulling back the excess like tape? Surface ice, the other is excrescence that grows around us, adhesive body flung at us from objects we flee or swarm. Like bees. Beeswax and honeycomb. The self in its coat made of hives. And with, are we capacious with that width which goes from mind to deeper hosts? I feel you. I “see” you. You are there, specific and glowing with touchable pieces, nothing generalized but distinct, unique with breath of unknown flavor, with soul of mysterious sound. Your aroma, which I inhale, my partner, is the scent of flowing fragmentation. Sympathy is not right. You humble me because you are different. If you thought of me as enigma-breaker, as code-cracker, grant me the status I seek in you. One who has another set of substances, not here, elsewhere, more proud than my lips could manage. Grant a similar lenience, license to explore what the wizards that sing at the fringe of dark forests dance to. Within expands a form too subtle not to make us afraid, too bachanalian not to fascinate with dread thirst as the storm pours forth its slashing rain, strummed against this strangeness where another “I” stands as witness to the natal moment. My ears are listening for an unvirtual hum. My eyes, steadfast, do not sizzle. They are cracked as though blessed by drying wildness. They ache against the space between all things, illegit, imposed, ruthless space, between, where immortal films of added light keep imploding the abyss. Eyes full of fissured recordings like omni-chromed darkness and the stars of illusion within it. With each approximate knockout, the vehement blade of shadow, tenebrous and timid, darkles until the sway of visions returns the sky to its original, tranquil chaos. All things inside are rutilant with brilliance. The breathless breach of reason unknots our laced souls. Let us celebrate what we are unable to admit: between us, a boundary persists.
At best, the curtain parts, ever transient, at points along the way.
Laughter comes, marking this:
With one another, and between nature, we fertilize the helix we must become.
J. Celan Smith is a global nomad whose novels and poetry have been published at Smashwords. He studied psychology, philosophy and religion in graduate school before turning for reasons of truth to poetry, love and beauty. Currently he is working on a non-fiction book about the history of beautiful words. He makes his “living” in landscaping where he can exist outdoors in the fresh air, close to birds and stars. He currently resides in Asheville, North Carolina.