In the northern hemisphere Christmas is our counterpunctual holiday. It is an isle of birth amidst a sea of dead tundra. The long night compacts the darkness into an ooze of gloom seeping under the doorway where it is greeted by a festival of lights. It is a holiday of gift giving during a time when fecund nature bestows no gifts. In the rhythm of our culture Christmas is syncopation.
I breathe to stop time. Not death, but the endless compress of decay. Each breath a surge of air pushing against the inevitable. Delaying, denying, demoting, yet never destroying. A diastolic rhythm taking in oxygen and pushing away time. Almost always unnoticed unless exercising, or in the moment of flight, or battle, or when the rain beats a lonesome tattoo on the grotto and there is no one to hear you except you; only the sound of your breathing lets you know you’re alive, fending time.
Not dung, or death, but decay leaves a field in winter barren, snow covered, without crops. The increasing prominence of gray in the hair, the bifocals sliding down the nose, the fading libido; all this and more leads to a failing sense of exemption from the panting cold breath on the nape that prickles the hair. A time, a time older than that of watches or scratches on the cave wall. A rhythm, a rhythm beyond that of one life only, beyond one species only; a rhythm born of lightening in a fetid pool or in a manger in some backwater village; a rhythm of birth and youth and maturity and age and decay.
There is a course a time for the children to leave home. A time to remember with the photograph album, or the home movie, or the newspaper clippings about the award in the spelling contest or taking first place in the foot race. A time to remember the toothaches, the fevers, and a broken bone while leaning towards the dim lamp on a dingy sofa. Then an owl hoots and the widow draws her sweater tight for warmth; an expulsion of breath sweeping through the decades kicking up dust and rattling tin cans in a deserted lot.
In plastic hutches incandescence flickers green blue white. There is music and the sound of childish laughter hidden behind the furniture. The angel nestled in the top of the plastic tree twitters “go go go” while adults seek to unweave, unwind, unravel the future; imagining a voyage without wreckage.
My eyes are strong brown gods. At first a commanding presence, then a sexual attractor, and finally a problem for the ophthalmologist. “Quick” said the children, “find him, find him.” Quickening footsteps, quickening voices cut to the quick. “Find him, find him” whisper the unseen voices, excitedly. Jolly old Saint Nick. The sharp grind of ripping wrapping paper. Mankind cannot bear much reality.
Not particle, wave. Two brown gods sailing on an ocean of light. Dust in the air suspended marks the place where voyage ended. Dust in the air suspended marks the attic where the children pretended. Dust inbreathed was the cross, a crown of thorns, the epic boss. “Quick,” said the children, “find him, find him.” Down the damp road to the junction, past halls of living stone, past the formation grounds and the aerie, into the scrapyard. “Quick,” said the children, “find him.” Pushing through the spark of imagination, breezing through the conservatory of life, with a clash of thunder into the halls of winter. “Quick,” said the children, “find him!” Jolly old Saint Nick. Mankind cannot bear much reality.
In that moment between the intake of breath and its expulsion the agony abides. In the moment between the entering and the passing the agony abides. In the moment between the taking and the giving, the agony abides. There is of course a time for the children to leave home. We call it death.
I recall once hiking on a mountain. At an overlook I paused and seemed to me as if reality ripped, like a movie caught in the machine. Behind that, behind the curtain in the theater, no angels ascending or descending the narrow steps to the stage, but a blank screen, an empty room filled with the faint scent of mascara and rouge.
What then is the cause of this drama, this agony of life. Love. What force is veiling this vale between two eternities. Love. What is this pulse still quickening the pulse, growing closer and stronger. Love. Between a dry September and a windy May, when the boat is in dockage and the seams need caulking. When the rigging is worn and there is too much slack in the tiller. Love.
What fills our halls of reflection. Love. What is the forge of souls. Love. A rose encased in a crown of ice. Love. When lady death whispers in your ear as you sit at the foot of the frozen throne, when what you know is what you do not know and you do not know if it is citadel or cathedral. “Quick,” said the children, “find him!”
Love is the intolerable womb of pain which human flesh can not endure. Of course there is a time for the children to come home. We call this cataclysm birth.
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