[from Fanny Howe's The Lives of a Spirit & Glasstown: Where Something Got Broken, Nightboat, 2005]
Crosses and Branches
I shall not be married, I suppose. Berry by berry and nut by nut, the tree will grow bare. Like a bird feeding its fledgling, the visionary clasp will first melt, then chill. And stately raindrops will fall on the long lawns, beyond the portions of the poor, myself hutted and hatted, face up.
The service is over. Will he look at me? No, and I grieve. Mute is my mouth, which can only speak the truth, or nothing. Probably I will be an old maid, asking, What was I created for? My children, after all, have grown and are gone. Still I long for something daily, to discover and to know like numbers. A man was never a thing to love, but an experience to have.
I visited its brink one twilight, it was like a certain old thorn, the kind that looks sharp but crumbles between your thumb and forefinger. My black apron was carrying roses toward a glass door. I was told he could never do with a talkative wife. In company he is quiet. It's a poor harbinger of luck who has no knowledge of happiness. I was not pricked.
I paused behind the monuments, and gazed toward the city lights beyond the rectory. If I seem hard to you, while the stars gather and glitter in my eyes, it's because these indefinite abstractions put a shawl over my hopes. G-d of Heaven, be clement! Not often do people test the divine conflicts and come out prevailing in prayer.
See, I've had a suffering night! The whispering of zephyrs, the carol of crickets. I felt I was imprisoned in a drawer between shrouds and sheets, all folded and cold. If there was bread, butter, pastry, and salt on the shelves of my own pantry, none of it could nourish the breath in me. A terrible dream seized me like a tiger trainer.
I was a little girl being shipped from America. We were seated at a table, the food like ashes on each plate, and he puckered his black eyebrows and smote his chest with the force of Demosthenes. The boat rocked to and fro. The elements were in a ferment: tempests and whirlwinds and mountains of waves on either side. The wind came almost wholly from NNE, and the sails were in rags. Oh Papa, save me and leave!
His smutted face engraved itself in my terror, as he thought I was happy! It was then that the water changed color, and apertures in the clouds gave glimpses of writings. My underminded structure sank into childhood. The boat grew wings and was flying like a twin-engine on a runway of sea.
This little girl sat in her chair, strapped, her face pale with suffering. She smoothed her hair under her beret, and gazed steadily through the porthole into the stormy sea. A silk ribbon hung around her neck, and a gold chain -- both in the repository of her jewel casket at home. She carried a little satin bag with a tassel of silver beads, and was the image of polar winter. He handed her a cookie, this man who was dangerous people.
Like the hollow tree or chill cavern, forsaken, lost, wavering, the little girl's expression. Then she bit, as if with the wild beast and bird, as if hunger and cold were her comrades, the green wilderness her mother, and as if she was chewing a juicy berry, or saccharin root and a nut. It was wonderful then to see the ocean turn into mossy banks, soft as pincushions and the pinions of the plane wobble and fly.
She was alone again, and free -- all this expressing the force behind fragility. I woke and woke again, and went out to walk in the designated area. You can't make a diagonal path across any part of the grass here, but must follow the asphalt. Little wire fencing is looped along the borders there, and no signs are unnecessary. When I look at a wire, or a knife, sunk into the earth, I know that one element accepting another is really saying NO.
Yet because I lived here, and had been instructed, I also sensed that this landscape wanted to represent the Messianic age. How? Each path was designed as if the next, at last, would represent progress; and each step was, paradoxically, drenched in the tangle and nostalgia of the old days. There were a good many rules driven toward field and furrow (don't walk on ice, don't stray and get lost) and none of them together has produced perfection of action in one soul. The pleasure of reliving old flaws may be irresistible.
Now when there's only a very small splash of disarray (a bent red tulip, a snap of thorns across the grass) and the rest around remains in order, you imagine that this disarray was meant to be! So, too, the human being is composed of intentional mess, of necessity, and the will. Misreading, buoys the spirit. I think every event is unpredictable.
Papa's rules are innate to his landscape; they force you to think twice. How can I scale that wall, never? If the watchtower man has his back turned, can I make a dive into the flume, and crumpled up, get shot? And it's only when you lie down defeated and dream that you experience a love that is frosted with hot lightning and colors, shapes and textures so transparent, they are apparitions of perfection.
In dreams you see through solids! It's Papa's way of showing you how to know G-d: with all your parts abandoned, cast down, while your spirit is free to move about.
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