Saturday, August 18, 2007

Collage: Blurring the Line Between Memory and Nightmare, I

[Partial explanation: On this day, in 1926, my father was born.]

I remember lighting a candle in the musty darkness and kneeling before an image of a man nailed to a cross. I may have prayed, probably for the cessation of suffering, but not believing in any omnipotent being to hear me. Wearing shorts as always, I remember my bare knees on the icy stone floor. The cold filled my body with a familiar sense of loss.

A few weeks before that night, Pope John Paul II had declared that hell is not a literal place but, rather, a state of being. The first sensible thing I ever remember hearing from the Church. Maybe the Pope had read the Four Noble Truths.

Suffering persists, encoded in my cells, stalking my awareness as a panther stalks its prey. I catch a glimpse of it some mornings, still half asleep. I see it out of the corner of my eye, in the mirror, a shadow I can't escape. There are puppets acting out a macabre scene, as in a nightmare.

I am afraid . . .

Bats fly chaotic patterns in the dusk light. Clouds obscure faint light of stars. When boundaries become blurred, how does one distinguish between memory and nightmares?

It only comes out at night. Or is it they? Fear crawls over my skin as I try to sleep.

I am awakened at 1:11 a.m. by a scream. Mine? A neighbor?

I remember a night when my sister was only three years old, crazed with fever. My parents put her in the bathtub in ice water to cool her body. 106 degrees is what the thermometer read. She was dying.

She said spiders were biting her all over, her little body covered in ice. She screamed over and over again, and I hid beneath my covers, sent back to my room by my father. I heard him praying, even though he never went to church. He cried that night, begging God to spare his adopted child.

I remember the ambulance, the lights and the sirens. The fear. She lived, but from that night on she was his favorite child, his fragile little girl. I hated him for it.

The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall
He went into the room where his sister lived, and...then he
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door...and he looked inside
Father, yes son, I want to kill you

I can't tell you the next like in that verse because, well, like all good little boys (except Oedipus), I have repressed any thought or memory of that desire. Yet I, too, seem to have been blinded. The Gods punish those who do not heed the oracles.

All the women I have ever loved have left me.

Who am I?
I don't know, who are you?
Who said that?
You did.
No, I didn't.

I stopped believing in God the day I killed my father. I broke his heart. It exploded in his chest -- a heart attack they said, but I knew better. I killed him. In my young mind, that was the only truth I could feel. Why else this loss?

Soon, the ravens came. Maybe ten or twenty, perched in the oak trees behind our house. They sat on the bare limbs in silence, but I knew they were my new family.

There was a lot of snow that winter, more than any I could remember. Everything was blanketed in a soothing white, so quiet, so clean. It felt as though all of my life until that day had been washed away, buried in the snow. Finally free of the tribe. An outcast.

The ragged line is even more ragged.
The boundaries cannot hold.

breathe in breathe out
breathe in breathe out
breathe in

deaf dumb and thirty
starting to deserve this
leaning on my conscience wall
blood is like wine
unconscious all the time
if i had it all again
i'd change it all

Who am I?
You are your father's son.
Who are you?
I am your father.
My father is dead.
We are one and the same.

When does it end? When does the past stop echoing through the future?

I remember that old church in Seattle's University District. All stone and shadows. I had long since given up on religion, but still I was drawn that October day to the altar, to the image of the Son of God nailed to a cross. Hanging there, limp, bloody, forsaken.

Stained glass, row after row of votive candles,
some lit, but mostly a musty dimness, and shadowy

scenes engraved in high wood ceilings. Then again,
a silence weighted with prayers never escaping

my lips. A rosary hanging inert, profane. Fingering
smooth beads. Magic of baptismal misplaced

with my faith. Now, kneeling in this cold building,
another handful of empty minutes sinks beneath

the surface, settles to a water-filled cellar the way
a leaf slowly finds its way to dark sediment in a lake,

in October, when willow-scented rains promise healing.
All the drowned minutes knotted in my stomach.

Looking back now, I remember that day was the anniversary of my father's death. All those years ago, and still haunted by the image of the father and the son. Echoes of echoes. Boundaries broken and irreparable.

All the relationships in my life shaped by this loss.

Present moment: I sit here amid candles and incense, typing words into a computer. Not quite sane, not quite insane, somewhere in-between, liminal space. On a threshold, but to what I am not sure. I know that I am of raven blood, not of my father.

Every relationship I have ever known bewildered by this loss. An echo, a memory, a haunting. No woman could ever compete with my demons. I embrace them, entice them, welcome them. I am nothing without the haunting.

Who am I?
You are your father's son.
Who are you?
I am Raven, he who placed the stars in the sky.
Are you my father?
You are my son.
That is enough.

To be continued.

* * * * *

Credits (in order of appearance):
1. Church Image
2. "(-)Ions," Tool, images by the Brothers Quay
3. Dream face
4. "The End," The Doors
5. Who am I?
6. Ravens
7. "Machine Head," Bush
8. Harryman, "returning to the cathedral, after 19 years"
9. "Raven Man," Chris Bennett
10. " Schism," Tool
11. Haida mythology: Raven stole the sun, moon and stars to give to humankind


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this raw and beautiful part of you. It has touched and moved me.

Somewhere out in the anonymous world, your experience resonated with another...

Warm wishes to you.


william harryman said...

Thanks o,

It was cathartic to get that out.