Saturday, April 24, 2010


In our village, evening comes early. The sun is never seen directly, only bathing the trees softly, as if implicitly, all day long. But there are shadows, and sometimes the summer wind tumbles through oaks and elms, moves beneath pines and magnolias, pushing dark green shadows slowly toward the old cemetery.

Down here in the South, the cities are typical, stressful and the towns are full of bitterness. Fortunately, our village – we prefer to so call it – is miles from anywhere. This place is not on any maps. It was built up with pieces left over from broken time. It is somewhere in south Arkansas.

Lonnie is black and drags his left leg. Something is wrong with Lonnie. He works at the Grocery & Gas and says, “Guh-guh-guh-guh,” when he washes your windshield. Marie is very beautiful. She has long black hair and a voice husky for seventeen. She runs the cash register inside, and Lonnie doesn't seem to notice that Marie is very beautiful.

Other small businesses are found on all eight sides of the main cross-streets that form the center of the village. Sleepy lanes lead to neat houses, where azaleas, irises, and climbing roses paint the lawns in summer hues. The school is humble but sufficient, and a small stuccoed bank handles the lazy commerce. Other stores satisfy the basics. And that church down the street? It's not really a church. It's just for show, so questions don't enter the minds of outsiders. It's used for something else. It was built in front of the old cemetery.

Not far from the cross-streets, a forest circles the village. Big hardwood trees grow thick amid the whispering conifers.

* * *

Evening comes early here. Amber bulbs glow from the twenty-eight street lamps. Every night after supper, all villagers gather in the fake church. Excerpts from Emerson and a poem by Poe are usually read. When the moon comes, a procession forms and moves down the street, toward the forest. Everyone is quiet, no one is laughing. Marie walks beside Lonnie, as if protectively. The children, watched over by a few elders, remain behind to play hide-and-seek in the cemetery night.

The tender is at his post each evening, deep in the forest, to make the ritual fire. It will burn in a secret clearing. We will sit cross-legged around the great blaze and watch silently as Lonnie lurches in a perambulation behind us. From a small bag, he removes a pinch of magic substance and places it in each mouth. We know from his relatives, now all dead, that this substance comes from a plant brought over here centuries ago from the Congo. Lonnie's blood-line goes way back. His forbears cultivated this secret plant in the depths of our forest. Only they knew – and only Lonnie now knows – how to recognize the plant and how to obtain its active ingredient, how to make it into a magic powder.

Time will slowly de-cohere and space will become layers of transparent silk. Lonnie will soon begin to whirl around in circles behind us – a limping dance with a complex, stuttered rhythm. Then, we'll hear him begin the song.

Under the influence of the powder and the ancient African melody, we will see things emerge from between the silken spatial layers, in the halo of disconnected time. These images are fragments of an old story. Very old. We have been collecting them in our memories and in our hearts for generations. This is much better, more immediate than dry reading in city books.

The People will begin to appear. They look like us, but different. They laugh, and they mumble. They move, over thousands of years, toward the north. They bring with them effigies of their proto-gods. Ornately decorated, carefully attended. We sway in our circle, in thrall to the drug and melody. But they are not the only reasons for our calm rapture. We are captivated while learning this thing, incrementally: the Story. The Story of stories. And how that theme and those elements of plot have flowed nearly forever. Into all the shorter stories and poems.

It is about going. We and all of creation have been moving toward and ever deeper into the Mystery. Oh, how awful would it be to think we are merely tracing circles! Rather, through the efficacious qualities of powder and tune, we are given evidence that the People (and all the World) are spiraling toward a magnetic pole of yet-unknown significance. How poor a mystery story would be if the solution were too obvious!

* * *

Oh...I said that only Lonnie knows the secrets. But the rumor is that he has been teaching Marie the art of plant and song. We hope the old Story will continue....

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