And eyes beholding radiance.
And the gnats’ flickering dance.
And the seas’ expanse.
And death, and chance.
— Ursula K le Guin
“There is no such thing as non-fiction,” you said, poking the fire with a long stick and sending a flight of new sparks into the still night. “A friend once told me how, after years in the desert, he learnt that you either have water, or you do not have water.” You held up your hands, elbows balanced on your knees, palms pointing at the stars.
“Between these two things, there is no thirst. There is nothing. You either have water, or you do not have water.” We lapsed into silence as the stoked embers settled once more into a regular rhyme of red and orange. “Follow anything for long enough, truly, and you will come to its opposite.”
The fire murmured its soft agreement as I lay back to watch the past play out. “There is no such thing as non-fiction,” you continued, after some time. “There is only reality, and words. Between these two is nothing. Follow either far enough, though, and you might one day find that first Word which was with God, and was God.”
Your voice played gently with the old idea as if it were a childhood friend. It also sounded, though, something like eternity, as if a great battle were just beginning and it had already cost you everything you were to come back from the frontlines and tell the story of that no-man’s-land. To describe – even for a moment – the territory so that eager cartographers could eavesdrop and try to draw their own crude maps. So that the world could take back, piece by carved up piece, your small offering until no bit of it remained and another would have to go back and find the secret in a line now long forgotten.
We lay there, like so many dreamers have for untold generations, watching the silk flames and singing carbon and distant furnaces of the past above us, strung out in a giant map that somehow holds a hint about what it is to burn up and become again like air and heat and dancing light.
We lay there watching the world turn; an old top – fashioned long ago and with great care – set spinning in endless space, suspended in a sunbeam, as if to remind us that this is the dream. That being here, for even one brief moment, is the greatest piece of fiction we each get to weave.
There is no such thing as non-fiction: only stories which stitch this together, and those that break it open to reveal the bloody heart of the thing, broken and bruised and all the more beautiful because of it, because it somehow refuses to stop beating, even here – at the great world’s end. Still a deep blue at the fire’s centre, if you look at it from this angle, between those two pieces of wood. See? See how colour, too, is simply a composition of heat, or wavelength, or frequency depending on which layer you want to look at.
“The story insists on being told,” you whispered, watching the fire burn down. “And we keeper’s laid out here in the old dark – drawn back by forces we cannot comprehend, bar that they ask for things far beyond our own endurance – bound always to search for the words that will keep this dream top spinning, will keep that star beam focussed here.”
Strange, isn’t it? How much we struggle to find the song we’re each meant to sing and – for those that do – how it almost always ends up being built out of the most simple words. Words like the dust you were, and the dust you’ll be again. Just blowing across that open plain we stumbled over at sunset once, as kids in Africa. Or – if you’re lucky – perhaps the fine sea sand on Cinsta beach, ground down by the endless Indian Ocean since soon after the world began.
We knew – lying there in the pregnant night listening to the slowed-down songs of cicadas hidden in her folds – that now is not a moment in time. Though we are made of time, consumed by time, burnt up by time like smoke from a woody fire – there are riverine dimensions to our being which flow with the benediction of water over all these grainy clicks. Some carried to drift forever across the sands of our Great Face and dance in the brief summer rains, others caught in the rocks and washed in perfect circles for ten thousand lives. Just so that you, walking along the ocean’s edge, might occasionally find an odd gift: all irregular bar a single, straight hole the size of a pencil right through the hard stone’s center.
As if whoever had drawn this world into being had slipped just then, stuck the instrument through the canvas and left a gap wide enough to see through. As if this were the first Word you had ever really found, right here in your palm. Wholly yours, having spent so long swirling in the cracks, carving out a perfect shape with your imperfections.
You chuckled softly, rolling over to gaze back into the fire. “Yes,” you said, looking through the shimmering haze of heat at me, “the greatest stories we can tell are not love stories, though those come close.” I mimicked your movements, digging my hip slightly deeper into the earth to find a more comfortable position.
“The greatest stories are pure celebration.”
“To celebrate the sun is to make it rise again each dawn. To celebrate the moon is to lift a mirror in the darkness every night. To celebrate tragedy, to sing of our own transience, is to know that time doesn’t really pass at all. To celebrate the beating of your heart is to write one, long poem about your life and the love you knew: far more like a cold and broken Hallelujah once all has been lost than those cute self-help books would have you believe.”
Then, the music; better yet than any word. Come back to wash your feet and dip your head in holy oil so that you might wait – again – at the end of that stony garden, beyond the lines of olive trees, and accept with love the beat’s betrayal, because the kingdom is already here.
It always was. It always will be.
Live here. Look!
Take a step or two back
so you see this small lake
in the middle of a city park
holding the half moon in it’s
still hands as the starlings
sing themselves into a sunset
swarm, a swirling murmuration
swelling to meet the music
All this love in endless layers:
so lose your self forever.
Love that feels like light
and lives in darkness.
Love that builds you up
and breaks you, utterly.
Love like life
and well beyond death.
Love as mysterious
and obvious as gravity.
Love like the verb it is.
Love as lyrically
as our first language.
any sound at all.
Love bounded by this one life.
Love so boundless it takes
a stupid poem about the
moon’s reflection and roosting starlings
even to hint at it’s hereness.