All is suspect, solitary, unappeasable.
The following images were processed with a pin hole camera, the most primitive, analogue form of technological imagery. Photographic paper sits at the back of a black box. Light pierces the pinhole. The image reproduced appears upside down. The edges blur easily. The promise often lies in the visitor refocusing …
When the first cherries appear make sure you pop one into the mouth, then close your eyes. This is how to best understand the taste of the cherry. It seems odd. Only when we close the eyes can we begin to understand more. And as the the moon begins to shift towards its next phase it burns a shape onto the ground in front of the visitor, leaving a massive impression on the rocky ground.
From back then. 1969. Procol Harum with lead singer Gary Brooker sitting behind a Hammond B3 organ. His voice has a salty taste. I’m not harmful, pilgrim, he sings. Let’s put it to the test, says the visitor, it could lead us to a better place. Perhaps we could all surrender by making a map that points towards an exact spot where all those things occur, again, simultaneously.
Illumination can amaze.
When the moon shone through, it glowed onto the map. It said we should go to the mountain next.
Along ancient tracks there were already imprints made by previous visitors – fathers and sons. There were also signs of drag lines where the son had lugged bundles of wood. Other impressions suggested the resting of a tool – perhaps a knife or maybe an axe.
The visitor will learn to love the world again by following these marks.
We set out again towards the mountain.
All along is heard that voice, fixed like a cicada’s in summer;
I’m not harmful, pilgrim.
The same words arose from the footprints in front of us – as always, they were drowned by an eternal cycle of accusations that pass between a father and son. The visitor smiled. Every word heard had been there before in the throat of the father.
Just as there are two kinds of books, there are two kinds of journeys:
there is the book
or the journey.
That much is realistic and straight forward – a guided tour that drops the visitor into the middle of noise and, inevitably, leaves a feeling of emptiness;
and there is the book
or the journey that is capricious and entangled – which leaves the visitor exhilarated because their vision is pitted against the orthodoxy.
Back then, days and nights seemed to move along one after the other more simply than they do now. There was a list of social issues which, we thought, would get better for parents, teachers, and friends. Despite trying, everything appeared frozen, things within us were broken.
It’s hard letting go of things. When looking back, the line of sight is clouded. Moving ahead the alternatives splinter, but how can this happen when it is the father, the mountain, and the moon making the map? Approaching is a place where the crow speaks:
From here I watch the clouds embrace my mountain and I know how much each cloud dreams of being a mountain; and how much my mountain wants to be a cloud.
The father drew a small, tight circle in the ash with his right index finger. The son looks at what he had drawn. The father said, This is what you know and the son seemed unsurprised. The father then drew a larger circle, encompassing the smaller one. Finishing the drawing he said, This is what you know. Left staring at the two circles, a crow split the silence between them. Walking slowly, the crow’s claws softly marked a larger circle dwarfing the first two. The visitor’s feet began to feel sturdier and left a clear impression in the ash. Stopping, the gaze switched between the father and son. The distance was filled with words as deep as the black of the crow’s feathers. And within the circle were the things that neither the father and son knew. Looking towards the east was the sight of the crow heading for the moon.
What the moon will let them see on the journey the crow could not tell them.
A discovery of sea shells, bleached white, made the visitor wonder what might be found at the edges of this path. And there swept out from behind the ridges, a fragment of a song:
I’m not harmful, pilgrim.
When maps unfold, stories stir. They feed on hope as though it were warm bread. Each visitor’s journey is unique but it has sprung from the same source, the need to map the unappeasable.
Despite their mutual dependency, each considers the other’s map as unreliable. Though covering the same ground they cannot share the same perspective.
Between the father and son, truth can only be conjecture, or guesswork …
Only the map knows. At its margins the visitor may see a red arrow pointing to a spot buried in the ground. It is probably here where the most honest custodian of memories lies.
Rather than a reliance on philosophy, or astronomy, or geography, even mathematics, which yield little satisfaction, consider the writing and imagery of an inscription marker appearing among the ashes. Venturing beyond the map becomes more attainable but less certain, ascending towards two points of light.
Sometimes maps are made with cruel brilliance from a lightening flash; at other times ambiguity exercises its influence. On one map there are no shadows, trees are dots like full stops, paths are clearly delineated; while in the other map shadows bump across fields, trees bend in the wind and clouds rest motionless on the horizon. Rested, the father looks at the son’s map and shakes his head. He picks up a twig and makes a child-like markings that he thinks mock the son’s inability to record things as they are.
The only way
dying could be useful
is if you could live through it.
What are the chances?
Ever since day one
death has had no trouble
keeping up with us
lead to places,
It is a place.
Can skin crawl?
How afraid is the visitor?
The son says, In this light I can see the other hundred ways to pray. Soon, even the wind will take on the colour of the ashes. When the wind changes direction, it is time to wrap the coat around the face to avoid breathing in the air. It is then I become tongue-tied and want to obey.
Up ahead, still pointing the visitor in a direction that had not yet been discovered, could be heard the refrain, I’m not harmful, pilgrim. The light of the moon cracked open a pathway to the mountain. God was already exhausted. Who then can dance a solemn dance towards darker lands, while the rain washes the face and cleans the salt of tears from the cheeks?
Following the map towards the mountain, it’s best the moon should be at rest. Forget hope. Hope is what has brought the visitor to this place. Find other thorns to grasp. The visitor stops to write a letter and address an envelope to both the father and his son:
The most generous moons rise from mountains, and unlike those miracle moons which come out of the desert, they don’t drag behind them another theology. The sky around the mountain can appear as breathless blue, transparent tears. So you go on, thinking it’s your strength that keeps you on your feet. But you really can’t tell what it is holding you up. Feeling generous, you acknowledge hope, fate, grace, and love – as if they are responsible for holding you upright – when they are the things which cause a falling to the knees … And there will be nights when you begin to sink. The body twists, the legs kick frantically, the arms thresh about … all the things you had faith in are gone. Standing is no longer simple. Frailty means you can no longer touch bottom. All along, this is one of the things I have kept from you.
Beneath the moon the father and son swapped faces and just like that, each shadow evaporated. So the son said, I’ve listened to a thousand words from you – every one about nothing (and I can do it again). I didn’t know how far away your love would get. I count you and always find some of you missing. He had taken his heart away from me. Why am I so invisible to him? And the father replied; We are on the same road, on the same day, but it doesn’t mean we are in the same century. I’ve listened to thousands of words from you – every one about nothing (and I can do it again). I’ve lived the way I have: it’s too late now to try to catch up with what I could have done.
When the night is reborn it will take its first breaths here – among the cinders and the ashes and the smoke. The years go by and the years follow. By living this way father and son get to be good at something they don’t love. The past is the most strident of speaking wounds. How can a promise be made from the heart, when the heart does not belong to anyone anymore, yet declared out loud for the first time at the foot of the mountain.
All the words spoken were the same, but offered up differently.
They must be gathered now because only their barest and simplest elements will remain: faith, love, regret, betrayal, grace, hope – layer on layer -whirling into a clear, small space.
Otherwise they will slip into the void and be left orphaned again.
Because the stars appear to be so weightless and because they keep so faithfully to their paths, travellers make good companions of them …
A seed knows a life beyond itself. Its journey towards full growth has already been mapped. The same hold true for all visitors.
Beyond the three circles there was a rapid movement, a tiny movement between the ashes.
The visitor lifts up his eyes and offers a toast: here’s to all maps made by men – especially those maps that bring travellers together in fellowship. And here’s to the roads that take travellers away on their own. May each footfall become a new world. And here’s to those paths still waiting to be found. Remember pilgrim, I’m not harmful.
The most beautiful freedom is to go back – with a pirate moon sitting just above the right shoulder – to the place of most happiness … then stop, take it all in again, in a single breath, and close the book. Once again it’s the same story, made from the ashes, dusted from a map.