November 1, 2010

In the Court of the Pumpkin-King


Copyright © 2010 by Robin Artisson

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They have sent me on a journey, but they have not shown me the way; no map have I, no inkling of the landscape beyond the misty border. What I find in me is a voice of silence, in the depths of me, that urges me on, forever on. I came to a township full of men and women, and their frightened children, and when I asked my way, all they could bring forth were crumbling maps, breaking to dust and ash with age. They knew not; I knew not; despite their protestations I had to go on.

Not knowing became my greatest strength; what had bedeviled me with doubt became my surest teacher, as I moved through the shroud of indistinct mist and form. My teacher lectured and taught with leading questions, showed me glories and mayhems, the very best and utter worst that people and things could be, and always left me yearning to hear and see more. I began to realize, as I walked over field after field made quiet by wet and decaying leaves, that I was more than a lost learner; I had another role to play in this strange world.

Somehow, the world needed this long walk through ruined streets, trackless forests, and sweet-rot scented fallow fields. Every now and again, the dark landscape would open, and I would see greenery and smell the scents of herbs, bread baking, and again see the sun. There, arrayed in the midst of all this, was a house, as white as fresh snow, with people and children running and walking to and fro. Each family I met this way was happy to see me, once they got over their wonder at my appearance, and when I left each, I took something away which I could never put to phrase.

I left something, too- no person would walk or run the same way again after my coming and leaving. I would always move on, further into darkness, and soon, I began to hear (as I had heard so often) the moans and pitiful cries of other people, trudging in the waste. I seldom crossed their paths directly, but the few times I did, I saw their ruined bodies, pale skin, and sorrow-overflowing eyes. They wanted the green under the sun, but they had been turned out, as I had been, and sent wandering. They wanted what they couldn't have anymore.

I just stared at the first of these beings that I encountered, somewhat frightened, but after a time, I began to try to console them by telling them to keep walking on- that they had a road, like I did. Sometimes they stared at me with anger or confusion; other times, they just faded away. And I walked on.

Now, the time came when I knew that my journey was a prelude to a celebration. I didn't know why, but the dark land and the hoarse voices of crows in the distance began to seem delightful to me; even though the only towns or villages I came across now had been long abandoned and given over to vines and weeds, I could sense the former joy that had snaked around those walls and windows, everywhere I went. Where had it gone? Where were all the people? They were sent on, like me, but at a much earlier time. The landscape itself was just that, I reasoned- a massive collection of corpses: the corpses of former lives.

The people had left their things to vanish back into the ground; their homes to become skeletons, and their own souls to fall into the deep and into shadow. But shadow was not my foe; in its cool and invigorating embrace, nothing could chase me to my own hurt or harm ever again. To go on was freedom; to be able to find sun-break, green fields, ruined buildings, the face of a broken doll on the ground (once beloved by a young girl much like my own beloved girls) and to watch the moon fly on her great arc every night- it was the essence of poetry spread before me and inside me like the royal cloak of the Gods.

Now, I came into the land of the King of Pumpkins, his knotty and bulging orange head struck up high on a scaffolding of jagged thorn-wood. Around him, the gourd-people lit bonfires of bone- bones collected from ages of the world long past. As each bone burned, it sang a song- more of a groaning noise, I say- and imparted to the king the collected essence of that life, all its wisdom, joy, and sorrow. He became wise on his throne of thorn-wood, and his massive head split down the front, making the smile of all times and places.

The gourd people were happy to see me; they were happy that I could see them. I joined them in many rounds of the drink they distilled out of mud and tears, and listened to many of the bone-songs that the fires made. I heard the voices of men and women who had seen the world change and change again- I heard the voice of the man who first crushed grapes to make the wine that would ease the sadness of those who knew its mystery; I heard the voice of a woman who had collected the knotted umbilical cords of 300 children she had helped to deliver, and wrapped them around a bough of wood- a bough full of life-magic for her ancient people, who were all bones now.

I heard stories that no collection of mythology would ever recount, lost before the first book was ever dreamed of. I heard about how the sky had become a bull and fought a giant with a head of fire for the safety of the alder tree, and after he slew the monster, gave its fire to the tree for safe-keeping. I heard about three stars that came to the earth and convinced the Indweller in the Ground to make the first human children- so that they could hear from above the music that only beings from the ground could make.

The misshapen gourd people were not alone with their grinning king and their muddy, tearful drink; among them strode smooth-limbed women that appeared to be human from the front, but whose backs were hollow, and full of the droning noise of bees and birds. These strange women were wantons, each and every one; they only wanted to love and be loved, for as long as the fires of life burned. And those fires would never stop burning.

I ran over the King Pumpkin's fields, until his fires became like a constellation in the distant darkness, and I went on. I went on, sure that no one had passed this way yet, but I could see faint tracks that told me others had. The only unexplored place, I began to realize, was my own wonder at the strange world. This sense of wonder was the only eternally new thing that existed, or ever would exist, and then, something of the purpose of my long wandering became clear to me.

I figured that one day the gourd people would collect my bones, and burn them for their king's pleasure. I only hoped for one thing- I hoped to the earth and sky that my sense of wonder would go on, beyond my bones. And this blazing hope, this prayer before all powers, provoked a reaction from even further within me. One of the strange beings that I had long forgotten about, but who had been near me before my journey began, appeared.

I thought that this entity was a man at first, but it seemed it had a beauty that only a woman's form could answer for. Then, I realized, that my visitor was not male or female, and it mattered not. A sudden wind stirred up and poured leaves all over my visitor, and then, from the north, a cloud of rooks, all screaming in unison, covered him. When the commotion died down, all that was left was a young boy with a tranquil face who took my hand in his and walked on with me.

"Before you were, wonder was", he said. "It is amazing, profoundly so, and that is all. This wonder has no name; this amazement has no poem that can cope with its strength. It only has life to move through. As it goes, more and more go with it. The infinitude of which I speak is mother to Gods and men, blade of pains and sorrows, healing hand to the same. To this wonder alone belongs religion. There is no end to the shapes it will assume; no end at all. Do not try to enumerate those shapes; you will fail. Succeed instead at celebrating each one that you encounter, and you will know the all. Be blessed to celebrate with all your kin the goodness of it."

And then, he was gone. I too, went onward through the fields of Hallows.