Oh evening shade in your embrace I am only a subtle glace
Yet this arcane environ of the night feels so much like home
A gasping breath is drawn like an arrow in daylight
Yet in shadows panic has no accusation it calls unto itself
Worse still is the more fragile tension behind an expression
Only alone can it break and set free the long trapped sigh
I made my foray into Russian novels with Sholokhov’s “And quietly flows the Don”, far from the usual settings of Imperial Russia and a little too close to the modern world. I grimaced in anticipation of my mind sifting through every word and implication for political agreement as anyone who’s politics has been shaped by too much time online is wont to do.
Yet even the most irritating of internet tendencies stood no chance against Sholokhov’s masterful writing. It’s no surprise he was awarded a Nobel prize, awards like those need to affix themselves to worthwhile writers so that the other slop they push has some credibility.
Sholokhov takes an impressive approach to the Russian revolution where the vast plains of the steppe and the Don river flow with as much beauty and significance as the world changing events transpiring around them. In fact the beauty with which Sholokhov describes his homeland makes you wonder if he cares for the landscape more than the characters.
This is not to say the characters aren’t up to snuff, in typical Russian fashion we get a lengthy genealogy of a long and growing list of characters who are never anxious to present themselves till the war itself is ready to receive them. There is a certain resignation to the many trials and torments the characters suffer, a kind of apolitical eye examining the ups and downs of the war, never judging anyone for the shifting alliance and swaying tides of the war. Given that this was written after the war and by a communist, this is an intensely “realist” approach that gives the characters a great deal of room to change their minds and struggle against the tide of history.
In the hands of a lesser writer this searing focus on big men from small villages, the tragedy conveyed by their ignominious deaths in the Great War, the Civil War, German occupation and their obliviousness to what comes next might seem bitter. Yet in the able hands of Sholokhov, it is rather matter of fact, beautify but embodying a kind of indifferent and constant push onward much like a quiet river.
WordPress asks me what new skills I learnt recently as the text cursor waits for me expectantly. Well I learnt nothing and why it’s important. For a long time now I’ve been scouring various theogonies and mythologies from the Mediterranean to the Steppe. Nothing seemed to resonate till I returned to the one tradition that provoke the most resistance in me, Daoism. Of course the inscrutable I Ching was the least comforting guide in an urgent but dreadfully prolonged search for meaning. Yet the Tao says that a vessel is only useful because of the emptiness inside. Somehow I am a broken bell that now rings and I have been having the most pleasant dreams of the last few years. I’ve been mixing a little bit of Jung’s active imagination to the mix and yesterday I saw a forest in the fall, leaves brown and sweeping downwards, the forest floor aching for someone to trod on the leaves that yearn to crack and offer music to the scene. Nature is indeed a teacher as the Tao says, but I also saw a guide in black robes, face obscured with a dry leaf, beacon me closer into the dark of the dry forest – as though the season and the empty world beneath the canopies yearned to be filled by my curiosity. Nature is indeed a teacher and my master wields a leaf.
I feel like I have walked into a clear stream with mud covering my feet. As I look down to really see how I got here, I wish I had seen what my journey was really like. I’ve been blogging and writing for a long time, so long that I thought I was over it. The more discomforting truth is that I’ve lost my own voice with all this writing. I could turn to the well everyday and draw up something to write about, I could read or hear something that might taste like water to the dry pallet I had for inspiration. Long into the process it was all inspiration reaching into an empty well. Much of what I’ve written is just echoes of better work and of what I liked. So much so that repetition and rephrasing became the meat on my bones, I’ve been creating an assortment of platypus like creatures just to keep publishing and farming readership for nothing of value. So after this brief reprieve, I’m going to go back to writing but actually reach for the water. I’d rather write to hear my own voice than continue with the same old nothing. I’m tempted to discard everything I’ve written so far if I’m being very honest but I haven’t taken that decision yet. For now I will rest and get a taste of my own voice.
Every sunset when the light grows faint behind the Peepul tree, I notice a mundane miracle of little note that repeats its defiant cause on the electric lines. A branch from a now dead cactus plant was drawn in by some unknown wind and carried unambitiously to the electric wire by my balcony. Long and alone in as much as a year the branch has kept alive, with green leaves and purple flowers crowing its upward grasp, the branch has lived past its parent, hanging on by only a twig. How among the endless lines crossing the streets and the loud lives of everyone here does this little stem keep still on its tight rope? It must be akin to holding your breath and keeping a low profile, if the branch ever grew bigger or expanded in any direction, it’s fragile balance would be lost and the mundane act of survival would soon decay among all the leaves and swept up refuse on the streets.
I live a strange world where the earth itself seems to disappear. Now and then I hear a bird call, a song that only birds of the Monsoon Jungles sing.
I look about for this phantom and realise that tree lines themselves are hard to find. Now and then my attention surfaces like driftwood on the night sea when I see the damp edges of world. Frogs waylay my path refusing to move out of the way of my scooter, giant snails appear in strange places – absurdly delicate targets in a precarious world.
The only conscious glimpses I steal are on rare days when I’m over the crowded lines of buildings; terraces only intrude on neighbours in this city. On rare rooftops visits I look for the moon. They say that in old Sumerian myths Nanna, the Moon God was the one who birthed the Sun God, Shamash. The reason for this unusual pre-eminence was that in the old days on the Mesopotamian marshes hunter-gathers looked to the Moon more often than they did to the Sun. It was only with sedentary lives that the Sun grew more important.
I think of how wondrously different it must have been to live your life by the Moon, to wander along the Mountain ranges and river banks of the Tigris with Moonlight as a calendar, compass and God. Often I look up in surprised to see that the moon isn’t there, that it has slipped by so quickly while city life seems so frozen in concrete sameness. These years have all felt the same, lost in the slow stream of my own thoughts and the city, I can hardly imagine the Moon transforming so quickly.
In the empty liberation that builds cities there are no more butterflies for caterpillars to turn into, perhaps no cocoons either. No wonder then that the ever changing Moon is difficult to see when the sky is overcast and blotted out. With no cycles of the Moon to sway the tide there is only still water.
I heard a bird of the sea, so far inland
A bird of the mountains has followed me
To this desolate mainland, where we live
As though lost to islands deep in the Ocean
On the day of the lunar eclipse a morning bird
Called to me in the evening, but was nowhere
Lost to the sight as it sang it’s song of delight
Over the black Pontic sea the waves rolled without purpose, pushing in every direction like the chaotic hair of a fallen God – his face serene in death and his expression offering no notes on his death. A current pushes in a sinister direction, blood emanating from this Northern Colossus.
Under a bloody sunset there were a few witnesses, all quiet before the sight of a raging sea so sudden from the peaceful shore. Darkness was soon upon the scattered figures, soon only shadows in the moonlight swaying gently fearful of even a word but too subdued to turn away, to turn together. Among the ruins of a great death they were lost to any time, only shepherds without their flocks anxious and dwarfed by trees, intruders among bushes.
The face of the Colossus drew no breath but the raging sea drew gasps so deep the earth might give away. In the storm noise the quiet thoughts of the witnesses gathered on the Titan who had dealt the killing blow, the great axe that struck it, the hand that still quivered as it readied the next draw, as the drums of war carried across the steppe. The emerging Gigantomachy drew battle-lines across mountains, the earth roaring as her Children arose to over-throw the old order. The earth hungers for blood as the new dawn, a crimson dawn, is birthed under the cover of night, its champions are hungry and aged, monstrously shaped and many horned but so often wronged by the smooth marble of the old order.
The sunken stream lays across the land like a trench
In my dreams I see it, the old snail’s den zigzaging
Beneath the treeline there is only throttled sunlight
Sometimes the tadpoles and coin sized fish see snakes
And the rusty riverbed holds roting mangoes and red seeds
On it’s fringes weeds and moss are quartered
All year round the tree trunks and river side drip water
Sweating in the heat, living, breathing, calling in my dreams
From the long, long river, a world of struggle
From falling deep into the bitterest insomnia my words all muddled
Empty was the hazy night and the water in one long line
Empty of all life, the biting pain of the metal was all mine
In my palm was the skeleton key
In earshot was the rhyme of honeybees
Why would they call so deep into the night
Why did I not know to ask, as I walked into the archaic rite
Upon me befell the lurking beast common to all labyrinths
Upon me feel the fate of all tragedies, heroic strength
Caste aside by fate’s many threads
Caste blind into the silence of the many pathway’s of the afterlife – dead.