Bound by Water
Kindly, Phil whisks the kids away for an hour’s bike ride, away from the Mariposa Festival. I’m free to wander through the music. Though a multitude surround, this is the first time I’ve been alone in months. Forty minutes in the desert. Forty minutes alone; for the first time since Lila was born.
A pair of navy blue clad cops plod by on huge Percherons. Their faces masked by dark glasses, these Centaurs are above our little protest. Nightsticks slung tight along indigo thighs impede my vision. I stare down at feathered white legs and gigantic hooves, at my shawl, its blue fringe draped to bare toes.
Gleaming pop bottles dropped empty on the trodden grass refract the light of the sun, a light that glints off the steel green netting of garbage bins. Alarmed, I fade away through the chimerical carnival. At every step, changing shapes and features call up hobgoblins, dancing and clapping, yipping and singing. Swirling dresses, stomping boots, silver chains on ankles: I don’t want to carry the visual totality around. Awkwardly, I weave past intertwined couples spread out on blankets, the oblivious embrace of limbs, who knows whose. A snake rears its head.
What is this yearning for artistic expression? What am I trying to articulate? I don’t know what I want or how I am going to get it. My music is too connected to my life; it argues for an interior rather than political world. Nothing validates my life as a songwriter. Since Lila’s birth, I’ve been too shy to show my songs to anyone. Maybe I never will. I’ll write and not record. That would be a nice counterpart to all this male bombast.
My life will be the art. What’s greater than creating and nurturing babies? Them, I can hang on to. The children are my art; they are Phil’s. They are the Island’s. Everyone forms them. “The living proof”, indeed. So what if my voice goes unknown? It’s good but not great. I can never be The Voice. As a Catholic, how can I want recognition? I want to be humble. I should want to be humble. I edge through discarded candy wrappers, over cartons of soggy chips bleeding ketchup. Constantly walking on eggshells; that sucks.
On the next stage, a family of chansoniers is harmonizing. A pretty young girl in a pleated skirt jigs her way to the front and twirls while her brothers pick and fiddle. Wouldn’t that be the ticket. I can just imagine Phil up there playing the spoons. The dancer plays out my fantasy. But I’m not up there singing. Mesmerized, I can hardly make her out through the haze. A strange hand reaches over my shoulder and offers me a pipe. “Wanna a toke? This is good shit.” With a sharp intake of breath, I realize the nature of the fog.
Fair game, fair ground. The landscape of appearances is at the centre of perception, as if all here just for my amusement. Forms mill in and out of focus; dots on a flat plane interest me. Arms waving, legs stomping, step-dancing, clogging. A troupe of minstrels, Morris dancers with green and white streamers flying, draw me on into the centre of the labyrinth like Pied Pipers, churning out melodies on their hurdy-gurdies. High-pitched madrigals weave Renaissance airs into the already layered atmosphere. A soprano flaunts her voice to a hammered dulcimer and no one can tell the instruments apart. Oh, it would be foolish not to be happy resting in this total beauty and forget the rest. I can see things as a whole.
Captivated, I pack away my glasses and step into a larger awakening. My mind has left; I can no longer depend on the integrity of articulation. The contract of sympathetic connection with my dead father unravels into peripheral vision. Embodied, I feel the warmth of belly pull intellect down to intuition, consciousness down to pulse. I watch my body swell with rhythm; my stomach undulate, free to move in its own way. Waves start to undulate up my spine like a little dragon come to life. Writhing, the body contorts to the polyphonic strains across the strand. The realm that entices is magic, not history.
Pennants strung from the white tents of Mariposa curve and stream to the same intricate current. The Island dances through me, real and not real, who can differentiate. My feet caper on this frail crust of sand over water, alive to the sphere rolling underfoot, in synch with the seasonal round. Churning white cumuli teach me how to surrender; these shape shifters accept the new configuration of every breeze. Floating, I am transported.
In a swirl of idyllic impression perceived, the carnival becomes a mediaeval pageant. What magic is to be enacted? I think I’m living the dream, time and again. The motley crowd dissolves in a plume of smoke. I am listing from one timeless reality to another through a synaesthesia of music with sweet scent. The indolent air carries more of that redolent balm, wafting over from the cottonwood or the crowd.
Sluggish, somnolent, I spread my shawl under the poplar tree and lean my back against its wide, smooth trunk. Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess opens before me. I’m happy just to be breathing in this lovely, aromatic breeze. Ah Balm of Gilead, be my ambrosia. My nostrils expand. I could live on this sweet, herbal fragrance, like sticky buds at the back of throat. Hands embracing the knobs of root feel what eyes can not see. I turn my head to the tree trunk.
Energy shoots through the crown of my head to the tree. Sap stirs through the green heartwood. I become the rind that wraps it round. My arms wind into branches. Not a cottonwood but a White Pine. I am a cluster of five soft needles, the long green nails of a fairy hand. No longer on Olympia but across the lagoon on Snake Island. No longer here.
But the blue green world is real; the senses are alight and lighting. They multiply into mediaeval tapestry. Figure and ground play against each other, against a complementarity of red, a reversal of the senses. Out of ten thousand potential shapes, one eidolon emerges to swallow the rest of the landscape. Like a blue spark from fire, it burns through all the other potentialities. An ellipsis of light rent from the annunciation of noon, it manifests as a blue-green island of peace, suspended before me, sparkling with flowers. On the oval of island, a unicorn stands dazed, feathered white legs and gigantic hooves almost solid.
Which details are salient among so much information? Blurring at the edges, a corresponding image reaches up and claims me, willing its way to mind, the mind that is now swimming, sinking into green. Out of the wood steps the unicorn.
“La Dame Aux Unicornes” presents a mirror for the beast to see itself. Her hair twists into a kind of complement to his horn. Behind her, roses climb a fence. With her left hand, the lady strokes the horn of the unicorn. She plays a harp-like organ while the unicorn listens with a yearning expression, as if in love. Her companion, perhaps her daughter, offers her candy and then a sparkling necklace from a coffer. A heron floats above her head in a circle of Joy.
The unicorn is forever paired with a lion; they hold their standards high on each side of the lady. The lion and the unicorn each hold open a flap of the blue canopy, an invitation to sacred space. A mon seul désir is embroidered on the banner behind the lady.
And what is my one desire? Plainly, to be present in the moment as counterpoint to mythology. To be with Phil, safely domiciled. The savage beast tamed but no knight in shining armour; steel is hard to breach.
When Sir Nicholas Goldenhead carried off the Lady of the Unicorn, the Knight of the Lion killed Sir Goldenhead’s white dragon and then broke down the bars of her prison to set his true love free and whisk her away.
A wave ripples across the lake, across the air bearing something in its wake like a sea monster. A tree trunk, no doubt, surfacing on the slow, underwater wave of late spring seiches. But in another tale, a white dragon is supposed to emerge out of the lake at the time of a great festival, when all the people are collected on the shore, waiting.
Such confusion of legends cancels out magic like opposing sine waves. I can no longer breathe this rarefied air. Light glints off an ivory horn as it assumes the spiral of pine cone. The unicorn dissolves back into the flickering white bark, into the green pine branches.
The light shivers, slices. The air waits.
The vision coalesces, condensed into a crimson circle like blood before my eyes. It emanates the sweet smell of something past its prime, a pomegranate, a rose?
A sound, untranslatable but familiar, travels into my ear, quivering, from somewhere far away. Astute, not dependable, magic is been my security, lulling me out of reality with its bright illusions. I cannot dwell in that sumptuous beauty. How do I bring the fantasy, which I need to create and then abandon, back to my world? How can I embody direct perception without filter? As insights to acknowledge and move on.
“Mommm!” Josh peers over the rim of my dream and squeals.
“Hiding out, hon?” Phil has returned with the children, creamy rose cherubs sticky with candy.
“Have a toffee apple.”
Out of this vision, I bring one love token. He holds before my blurred eyes the red round I mistake for another order of sweetness.
“What a buzz kill, eh?” He tweaks my long nose. “Pucker up, sweet heart. And Lila climbs into my lap, laying her head against my chest.
Anne Anglin did this painting of me. I love it!
The story was first published on http://www.ascentaspirations.ca/boundbywater.htm.