Monday, May 21, 2007

fire above wood, wind.

I press on. The thickness of the forest encloses me. I feel insulated. Now and then I stop to pluck a blackberry from a bramble. Burrs cling to my clothes. Branches spring across my body and face.
Here one is never far from the sea. Even in this forest, behind these mountains, on the shores of this lake, it can be sensed.
Weather changing over oceans. Storms that batter the land in winter. The rocky headlands and sandy dunes; the clumps of stiff sharp grass.

So much time has passed. When I was last in the city it had changed. It had grown. It had been rebuilt and repaired. The damage of the war was covered over in a veneer of modernity. In places it was unrecognisable.

My old life has passed away. My connections have changed. I have shed one skin for another. One life for another. Again I have taken refuge in the mountains. I have retreated into the heart of the forest. Now I live on the northern shore of the lake.

I walk alone. Yet she is with me. I have seen her. I have been with her.
I came to her in front of an old church. In a distant city. Rain fell around us. There was a clinging mist. We knew at once.
She was finely dressed. She stood on the cobblestones of an old quarter. Her life was of elegance, of luxury. 'Yet,' she said to me that evening, 'I am locked in grandeur.'
We walked to her avenue apartment. It overlooked long gardens. The trees all neatly trimmed and in a line. In front of a palace of past royalty. From her bedroom I heard the sound of traffic. It slunk by like an endless procession of mourners.
I took her hand. I caressed her face. Feeling it blindly as though my fingers were eyes. As though her bones, her skin were pages in which were written our past. Age had not come to claim us. We were as young as when we first met. We were as old as the panoply of lives between us.
Again I wanted to see her cotton dress over the back of the chair. I wanted to see her boots on the floor. Once again I wish to sit quietly by the river; to watch it flow over the stones as the silence enveloped us.
We had held each other. I felt the warmth of her breath on my neck. She listened as I whispered in her ear.

I stood by the window, looking to the street below. I watched the figures move over the pavement. I saw the taxis pulling up in front of doorways and hotels. There were buses, cars, youthful faces on motorbikes. The sky turned from rain-grey to orange and blue.

We ate in an old room. It had a high ceiling and long table. The chef brought the dish himself. A silver bowl full of a delicate stew. He set it at the centre of the table. It gleamed in the warm candle light. He asked us to appreciate it. A rich sauce with herbs and the meat of many fish. She opened a bottle of vintage wine. We drank a toast. To time. To its passing, its trajectory. A fire burned in a large hearth at the end of the room. The smell of wood and smoke mixed with the food, the warmth, the kiss of the wine in our throats. A clock ticked reassuringly in the background.

Then we walked on the boulevard. Alive with the night. It was a sea of bodies. Caf├ęs were full and noisy. The hum of metros came from below ground. Light fell in shafts over all. Bright, untouchable, continually moving. At the river we crossed a wide stone bridge. A castle, a prison, rose on the far bank. The sky above us became lost in the glow from the streets. It obscured the blackness of the night. And we went down the steps to the rivers edge. We strolled under the lights of the walkways, strolled along the bank, our bodies reflected on the ripples of the water. The stone, old, smoothed by uncountable feet, felt firm beneath us. We stood under the bridge and watched the moon's glow break and reform.

And the feeling of many lives rose in me again. I felt our souls mix in the run of all our time together. But she put her finger over my mouth and stopped me. Her eyes met mine, held my gaze, and did not look away. The traffic crawled over the bridge above. The water from a passing boat broke and lapped against the stone sides of the river's edge.
I had to accept. I read it in her eyes. This was not the time.
The words that leaped to my lips were held there, unsaid. She looked at me and walked further up the pathway. We would meet later, tomorrow, some other time. Maybe we would wait for another life.

The cool look of her avenue apartment came back at me. Its rococo facade. The great iron gates were silent. I stood and stared as the city rested. I left in the silently spreading dawn.

I found her yet lost her. Parallel lives, time out of synchronisation. Somewhere we crossed over, somewhere we stood in the wrong place and made the wrong connection. Somewhere the time, the date, the arrangement was misunderstood. Two universes side by side, two nuclei spinning in different directions. Night and day. North and south; a breach in the confluence of worlds.

I retreat again to my forest. I have the cabin we once shared. I love the creak of the wooden floor beneath my feet. As before I have sought silence. I produce little work. I prefer to think and contemplate. It as if the inactivity has become a purification, a cleaning out of restlessness, of all the confusion of past lives. The brushes sit by the palette before the window. The canvas is stretched, the paper waiting to be marked.
I still think of her. She is never far from my mind. I still await word saying I should come. It does not. Occasionally there is a message in the small post-office of the village nearby. It always contains some oblique observation, a riddle. I take it greedily and tear it open. I puzzle over it for days. I turn it back and forth in my mind. I have never come to any firm conclusion.
Perhaps she works subtly, changing my perceptions, ideas, without me being acutely aware. Perhaps she is like the wave wearing stone into sand. Perhaps she washes over me as a sea, the ebb and flow of her tides gradually changing me.

They are good to me in the village. I eat there occasionally, work there if I need money. Sometimes when the moon is full and I long for company I drink with the poor, the sad and world weary.
Maybe I shall age here. Perhaps the rest of my life will be spent here. Waiting on her word. Waiting to return to her, to that city, to the wide boulevard, the high apartment.

In my mind I stand in front of the old church and the rain falls silently and continually down. The fish stew is not yet eaten, the vintage wine not yet drunk. The night is still alive, still waiting to be crossed.

Copyright (C) Peter Millington 2006

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