“Once upon a time the end.”
The Blackbird Variations, Chapter I
Once upon a time the end.
And because the end, the beginning too—which is how we come to one day…
…a speckled goose landed beside me where I was napping on the shore. Its bill was orange, and serrated around the rim, and used to nip me on the thigh—pinching what I’d been given for walking about, which I’d been neglecting to use.
I leapt to my feet, intending to thwack the bird with my good hand—the one without any markings on it—but before lashing out I gandered my vexation, and soon admitted I needed something hard and willful to wake me from my reverie.
The goose began preening beneath a wing—its neck a coil that could garrote a man should the assassin prefer ornery water fowl to more efficient means of strangulation. And as the bird was busied, I spied a feather on its back that did not belong—for this feather was black, whilst all the others were of brown and pale blue.
I reached for this feather and plucked it from the goose with my bad hand—the one with all these markings on it—dark markings which ran down my wrist, into the feather, until I was leeched of the weight that had me lay out on the shore in the first place.
Thus lightened, I thanked the goose by scattering crumbs across the sand, so that silicate and nutrient were mixed in with one another—a very gritty gift I gave! And then I was off from there, that salty shore—I was free, and so sought myself some company.
I was lucky in that it was night when I arrived over a city. It was night and it was also early spring—the trees pushing green and white futurities from their winter-calloused fingers, dusting the winds with promise, but not so much as to overburden the urban air with vegetal amativity. After so long removed from the net of condensed body and constricting circumstance, I would have to the quick been affixed within their urges of flower and fruit and leaf and root—when what I needed, just then, was a much more tangential form of corporeality.
Luck was with me, furthermore, when I spied a cracked window where a lit candle had been placed. A candle contained in a column of glass on which was printed the image of a holy dame. I made way to this window and peered through the fracture threading through its quartered pane—and there, beyond the candle’s flicker, I spied a boy who was not yet a man, or a man who had yet shed his boyhood, huddled over a board propped up by plastic crates. These crates read Blackbird Creamery, and on the board the manish boy had spread some pages which reminded me very much of my bad hand, which began to ache intensely—
O were I cut wholly from an unadulterated cloth! (I thought.) Were I not so two-sided—but only a little two-sided, so that the war between what of me loves to be new and what in me longs to be known did not drive me always to the lonely mountains, the desolate surf, the untrodden forests, the lightless caves!
I floated across the clear cracked pane from the boyman who looked up, his hand hesitating and his mind reaching, reaching—but reaching after what? I scanned his meagre stack of books, to survey the tenor and direction of his reach, and through these volumes1 I peered again at his reaching, reaching—to renew a knowing or to know a renewing?—and there, just beyond his reach, I spied something midway between a devastation and a renaissance—
It was a myth—a myth! My luck was manifold tonight! For I had stumbled on a mythmaker before he knew himself as such—and there I glimpsed in pages where his inconsistent print was spent a manner of attaining form not heavy hard and irrevocable as was the board ‘pon which he wrote or were the trees what danced the whipping wind but rather fashioned from the dreams of this here young man into whose reach I might amend myself if but I fit myself through crack in glass and phase my way into his ficciones—
On closer viewing of his pages, I saw his composition was directed toward a woman or a girl he wished to woo—and I saw that he, too, was two-sided, not unlike me: his heart reaching after one thing and his mind reaching after something else—and between the want of pulse and wish of pate I sensed a dormant willfulness, yet proven and yet burdened by the proofs that stack up against men inside time.
Here was one with the potential to weather a host mundane agonies and to produce from them exquisite vessels wherein could come to be a subtle company with which I might find respite, if only he were directed away from the pettier inanities of the self and of the flesh—were he lead just a bit from his mundane concerns, he might bring me to a company neither too rooted in the real, nor too unfastened by phantasm—
Thus as he reached, and reached, I ran my fingers recto/verso along the shaft of feather black, causing the flame atop his candle to stutter on the wall before him a tableaux of possible shapes and forms, to see what he would land upon—his heart and mind at their cross purposes wrangling from the shadows something similar to a bird whose flight and call he mistook for that of a crow—but that made little difference, for his pretended shape allowed me passage through the glass—flying and flying and flapping my wings—his letter swerving from longing and confession and inching toward a form that might anchor into substance what he did not yet know he was reaching after—
Before the myth, then, and yet its servant, its preparer, its raving Baptist, comes the fairytale—a speckled goose what wakes the dormant dreamer:
Once upon a time [the boyman penned] there was a story I typed up on my father’s beige computer that got deleted pretty much on accident. I mean, Dad could have deleted it on purpose because, had he read it, he would have found something vulgar and, like your father, only on a slightly different timeline, my dad is a pastor of the Christian faith which is not prudish in principal so much as prudently respectful toward certain aspects of the active life, and so casts the expression of these aspects into categories marked: NOT ALLOWED, or even just NOT ALOUD—and my story had something not allowed aloud in it.
But maybe it was my brother who deleted it in a fit of frustration for me being in his space down here in my parent’s basement that once you almost walked into but stopped upon the threshold of, for it was scary—and yeah sure it is a little scary—it is a basement, after all, and not a “finished” one, at that. Maybe my brother took vengeance on my fiction—for he’d grown used to being the top dog down stairs while I was away at Bible College last year—or maybe it was my sister who just wanted to clean up the documents folder—but even as she is quite freaky in the neatness dept., I don’t think she’s much concerned with virtual spaces, where vacuums and dust pans have none such authority.
Or maybe it was an accident, pure and simple. But now I have to wonder: Is accident ever pure? Is accident ever simple? This question I will place in a jar in the back of my psychic basement, where it will turn into a pickle, tart and cool, for me to crunch on when it’s summer and I’m snacky at the mid of day.
So—by accident or by purpose—and if by purpose then for its being vulgar, or being mine, or being messy—this story Once upon a time got deleted—and I was sad! I was sad purely for selfish reasons, because I had spent my attention on this story, and I thought it was real and good—shiny and bright—maybe even interesting!—and it was lost! It was no more!
Ah—but was it?
Once upon a time, in fact, my story was A-OK. It was healthy and in good spirits, even—it just didn’t have a body anymore—and what did it care about a body anyhow? It really had no use for language—that stuff was all for humans, who would use their words to tug the story apart and make it mean all these things that it really could care less about—if it cared enough to care any less than it did not care already.
And yet, for a moment, my deleted story felt disappointed for not being able to make anyone go ooooo or ahhhh or aww or ah-ah! Though on the other hand, it stood now beyond the circumference of our critical purview.
My story could not be appreciated, nor could it be judged. And all told it thought this was nothing to begrudge. And so, after all its words and 1’s and 0’s and rich text formatting were summarily detached from the file structure of my father’s Window’s 95 OS, it up and walked right out the door of this very house, and became something of a wanderer.
And because my deleted story was a story, and because it was Once upon a time—but no longer any given specific time—once it began wandering, it did not wander so much here and there, as it wandered now and then. It wandered upon time—and not just once, but many times!
And this is how my migrant story found itself somewhere in the middle ages (though isn’t the present by definition positioned perfectly on the margin between the was and the will be—and thus every now is in fact a middle of ages? Another question—another jar—another midsummer nibble!)—but so: somewhere in the middle of that thing called History, my story chanced upon a peculiar liar strumming on a particular lyre—and this lyre strumming liar lived in an age when it was more or less acceptable to address the audience like so:
A blackbird flapped onto my mat
Rousing me from midday nap
Its wings a darkened sigil stowed
Beyond the rings of moon’s pale glow.
From the deep, bedecked by stars,
This sigil came to me: a bard
Drowsy from the tavern’s smoke,
Its heady musk of mead and croak
Of men at cards, and screech of wenches
With dimpled bums indenting benches.
But I, a vagabonding tramp,
Too poor to afford a maid for my lap
I awoke to a flapping on my mat:
A diktat to no more nap—but act!
So I arose, restrung my lute,
And angled gaze across the roofs
With shingles faded by the weathers
And dusted here and there by feathers
Of paltry pigeon and petty finch—
The streets beneath a labyrinth
Churning with the human tide
The comes and goes and lows and highs
Of noblesse and peasant stock—
I knew us then to be a flock
Doomed to market’s peregrinations
And forgetful of our true migration
Unto genius—a blissful state!
A lightning charge run toe to pate
That we’ve reduced into objects owned,
And gold amassed, and puny thrones
Where sit clay pots in the shape of men
Filled with dregs—“Our Lords” called them.
But now, I saw, by sigil woken
That worldly wealth is but a token,
A metaphor for a higher order
Forgot by us, and we the poorer—
But were I to, with song and gesture,
Play the saint, the foil, the jester,
And not by moral pronunciation,
But rather a dance of instantiation
Through a plentitude of forms
And protean voice, and vagarious norms,
Show to you, the many many many me’s,
That change is our reality:
We are the world’s interpreters—
From brittle dirt we spark and spur
With imaginations fanciful.
Our hearts are seas with unguessed depths,
Our minds are mounts that serve as steppes
Unto our own ascendancy—
Neither rabble nor babble I say are we!
But miniature gods, if but we grasped
This changing sigil, this nocturne-black
Sign that would us rise from mats
And create inside time
a timeless variance.
Now, my wandering Story was somehow attracted to this bard—I forgot to tell you he was sitting in a tavern, composing the above, when my Story first fluttered over him—and not only was the Story attracted to him, but he—a slovenly chap too poor to afford not only a lap-girl, but a bathhouse visit too—was attracted also to my Story—for my Story (but I should call it the Story now, for it has by this point escaped beyond my meddlement and command) was unmoored from authorship, from aboutness, from form and judgment too—and this bard, for all his slovency of person and insolvency of pocket, was highly attuned to the potentials emerging in the imaginal field which he had sacrificed so much to not only make a mark upon, but install himself into in a permanent fashion—for this poet—well, let’s just call him the Poet—he would be a great poet—and what he needed in order to ascend that literary Olympus being presently added to by me and you, exchanging these here fluttering lines of shapes and signs—was nothing less than a Gesamtkunstwerk—in this respect, he was just like me, only twice my age, so that really all his lack of greatness did not yawn out before him like a vacuum, sucking him forward (a vulgar phrase but I gotta flip it before I can let it go)—instead, his lack of greatness yawned out behind him, sucking him dry—for the Poet could have made a decent living had he simply reproduced the cultural produce that most people would give meagre coin to mildly enjoy—but he had held out from that!—well, not fully: he had studied his standards, cut his teeth on couplets, was schooled in sonnets, oriented in odes, initiated in elegies, conditioned in cantos, and very familiar with free verse—he had all the forms and tricks and training beneath his belt, up his sleeve, leaking like so many dithyrambic shekels from his threadbare tunic’s pouch—it’s just that he failed at being satisfied with any one of these incidental instances of poesy—he wanted to skip the minor part of becoming a major poet, and for that he had languished in littoral obscurity!
And maybe my Story sensed the peculiar hesitation toward the particular that had caused this twice-score Poet to live a lay-about life of lyre-lacquered lassitude—and maybe the Poet sensed in my Story something greater than a single theme or singularly epic plot—something that might escape beyond those compromises with the audience’s expectations that the Poet refused to barter with or for—and this is the crux of the whole matter—the Poet, in precipitating a Gesamtkunstwerk, necessitated an end of sufficient potency to subsume all forms of poesis within its pursuit—and my Story, pinning as it did its purpose no more upon the Once that substantiates any given time, was perhaps thematically indeterminate enough to tie all times together—thus the Poet, sensing this potentially all-summative Story in his immediate periphery, he began to cajole it from the aether and catch it on the parchment by offering up the first glimmering notion that came to mind, penning:
There was a man, who with deft hand
Drew a square upon the grass.
And in that square (his will declared)
Would amass a thousand paths.
This was the instance the Poet subjected the Story to—the Story, who was intrigued enough by the potential it sensed in “the man with the deft hand” to allow the Poet to draw it further toward a definite story-being, which proceeded metrically like so:
He draped a score upon the air
To call to him a Lady Fair,
A pair of Twins, a Wide-Eyed Lass,
A Centaur whose hooves on the grass
Made many muddy dents. And whence
These diverse four had traveled hence,
The man began with shoulders tense
To build a structure marvelous…
I caused the boyman to pause, to look up at my flitter shadows showering their indefinite shapes against the wall of his tiny basement room, cooing him backward, toward his bed, for I sensed his restlessness and impatience to skip along and cheat me of that company he had just then introduced us to—he not a poet of the middle age, nor me a story upon all times—but through those lenses angled so both he and I hath spied a dawning and a foundation. And were he to rush it, why, my visit with men would be all-too-short-lived.
Go to bed, go to bed, my pallid shadows wavered him, and he scrawled his name upon the page before rising from chair and shuffling down to underthings. And when his skin was blanket-sconced I on his shallow breathing vaulted through the crack in window pane to view the scribbled proper name affixed to tatoo’d paper sheet: Thomas Alexander Winters, it reads, and I was quite happy to have happed on him.
In the meantime, tell your friends!
The Portable Nietzsche trans. Walter Kaufman; The Beat Reader ed. Ann Charters; The Cloud of Unknowing, trans. Clifton Wolters; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Wm. Blake; The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke; and a smattering of genre fiction.