Sunday, December 11, 2016

The mist has lifted

Phil Burpee 

   The mist has lifted. The Seven Sisters hang as close as fiery birds flocking against the zillion fathoms of the night’s inky sea. This air pries open my lungs with icy fingers such that surely even the blood in there becomes a momentary slush as it rushes past to snatch the enabling oxygen. I render my own small mist as I breathe, a quickly-cooling cloud that rises into transparency even as it too becomes this very night. Sound itself seems an imposition, and struggles to make its way amongst the heavy molecules so strict and uncooperative, as though the very idea of vibration is somehow an affront to the bright, crisp stillness and serenity. Yet this is an illusion, for from afar, so far afar, comes the coyote’s call – ululating soprano so pure and so high. My eardrum thrums and I turn my head towards the voice. But now it comes from elsewhere and I turn again, only to turn again as the song spirals and corkscrews from anywhere/nowhere and belies the very notion of direction. Quantum howling – no source and every source, no time and all time, challenging the void to explain itself as though emptiness is really just a slander, and the serenade of the little wolf swells to become the very music of the spheres, easily filling the vaulted limitless with a rich and living suchness.

   Such it is. I shift my weight and my boots crunch crunchily in the dry snow. A return to silence leaves my ears humming in teetery, baited anticipation of any new offering. How silent can the silence be? Perhaps only a notion. Perhaps listening is the problem. Perhaps hearing is what happens when we put listening aside. Perhaps seeing is what happens when we put looking aside. Perhaps feeling is what happens when we put supposing aside. Ah, but there is my pulse in my ears – I hear it. Ah, but here is my breath billowing slowly in and out – I feel it. Ah, but there is a shooting star slashing an incandescence across the sky – I see it, I see it! It is there and it is gone – much faster than a thought. All of Time since the time before Time has prepared the canvas upon which this flaming brushstroke is carved…… ‘Art is long, and Time is fleeting……’. Surely it is so. Coyote’s call and this fiery slit across the night’s face – the stuff of being. Grasp it, for it will not come again. How shall an entire lifetime be anything other than a bright flash across a featureless, implacable backdrop of mute expectation? No above and no below. The end of the beginning at once the beginning of the end. Any claim to eternity a fatuous nonsense. Briefly my mind reels, then settles like an old fish-tailing car as its rubber finds again the comfort of the steady road.

   This is, then, the politics of mind. Orwell had it thus – “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Indeed, we are victims not only of our own self-perception, but likewise unable to separate ourselves from the twin tyrannies of yesterday and tomorrow. The present is abandoned in favour of the more palatable analgesics known as would, could and should, or would’ve, could’ve and should’ve. This is life played out in the conditional verb form. Being is squeezed out. The ‘here’ and ‘now’ is sacrificed to the ‘there’ and ‘then’, wherever or whenever it may occur or have occurred. Memory is brazenly extrapolated into a mortgaged future, and the moment is squandered accordingly. What a waste. But wait.......crack!..... the ice on the pond is speaking. This sound I experience at the base of my jaw, resonating on the instant into my skull and only then into my ears. I am reminded of the old quip about how the Universe has a crack in it – that’s how the light gets in. It makes sense to me. Just as in the summertime it is the ripples of the tossed pebble that best define the water – the idea of surface and motion and refraction and action/reaction. It is in the small that the big is made manifest, if the senses, that is, are alive to it. As William Blake had it: -

“To see the world in a grain of sand,
and a heaven in a wild flower;
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
and eternity in an hour……”

   What an astonishing thing it is. We are born into consciousness in this vast and violent Cosmos, thrown together as a marvellous, ridiculously unlikely, seething amalgam of trillions and quadrillions of atoms, themselves undying energized particles as ancient as the very Cosmos itself, obligingly forming themselves into self-replicating molecules and chains and masses and cells and organs and growing, flowing systems and neuronal exchanges and interchanges which in turn give rise to awareness and mind and love and realization of the sheer wonder of such happenstance – and then it is all undone and these same atoms dissociate and allow themselves to be flung far and wide by the laws of physics and chemistry to take up some new temporary role as rock or water or leaf or moon or single malt or star or coyote or flashing meteor. The exquisite beauty, the poignancy of all this lies in its evanescent nature – its coming into form and then its shambling, wanton dissolution. The most precious of things is that which cannot be grasped. We imagine living beyond our dying and even in so doing forget the most basic of lessons given to us by Life – that it is its ending which supplies it with meaning. Why indeed are all things formed into circles and spirals in the Universe? – even Time itself? There are no lines – there is nothing straight, least of all a persisting ego-consciousness. It is only the child’s fright at the prospect of the darkness that gives rise to clutching visions of evermore and a denial of Death’s entirely non-partisan pronouncement - blink - lights out. Death shall indeed have dominion, for it is written in the very stars themselves which ignite, live, burn, shine, and then burst in mighty fireballs, only to spew out from their thermo-nuclear hearts the complex molecules that in turn give rise to the very stuff of our own being. Here is truly cause for wonder and a sober, numinous reverence. Here is no room for petulant deities – for desperate bargains. It is all down to caprice and a fabulous, roiling turmoil. You just have to shake your head and give credit where credit is due. Sometimes we roll double sixes in the Big Crapshoot – and sometimes snake-eyes. All the more reason to celebrate the crazy fact of this starry night, our presence beneath it, and these long-journeyed messages in their bobbing bottles.

   I am a heathen in a heathen Universe. It suits me well. For the greatest beauty is that snatched from the rushing winds of Time. I will not be sitting on a cloud for the next ten billion years twanging on a harp and chugging popcorn and alcohol-free beer whilst looking down on the hot torments of the squealing sinners below. This sorry fate I will leave to the pious. Oh, no – I will have long since become the haunting howl, the bright streak, the icy air, the bird, the pebble, the wind in some lovely girl’s hair. Not for me the numbing, vapid curse of living and living - and living yet some more. When my circle is fully drawn I will say that I have done my best, then rise like the mist and dissipate, so to join the scintillating starfield which is the true home of the true believer. Yes, the mist has lifted. My eyes are open. The Seven Sisters are dancing and swishing their sylphen veils. The little wolf sings and confirms the fact. All’s right with the world.

Phil Burpee
- one December night -

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