So today was fun. I was up in the morning for a change. I got to speak in a creative writing class. I think I might have made a little sense here and there. OK…on to epic excerpt time!
In the past several posts I’ve posted (or linked to) the prologue (with the little girl and the ash phantom), an Interlude or two, and the beginning of “Book One” the first of the poetic chapters – wherein Mama Nancy (the voodoo priestess) contacts a mischievous and dark spirit, Crow, to be her Muse. I didn’t post much of the chapter…but suffice it to say, she eventually gets Crow to reluctantly help out (after a major sacrifice on her part).
Then there are some more of the prose interlude chapters. Including this one…
Interlude: Spirals and Echoes
“Who will teach the young
the names of the ancient ones?”
-Johnny Clegg, “African Dream”
The shape of the universe is the spiral.
Time and space curve inward, forming spirals; spirals combine, forming larger spirals, and combine, forming larger spirals until imperceptible. The collage of creation.
Patterns echo. All things echo. Patterns, events, figures rise and fall, rise and fall, again and again, from the dark water. Greater splash, greater ripples. New forms, new names, but the patterns remain and echo like bat screams. Patterns echo and spiral, curve inward and echo, repeat and vary, repeat and combine, forming larger spirals, until they become imperceptible. The collage of creation.
Eternity would have to squint to see the bigger picture.
Nature pulses with patterns. The veldt, the hunting ground, echoes across creation, different forms and different names, but the pattern and the rules remain.
Now see the hunting ground. See the veldt. See the occasional tree, thorns tearing the wind. See the sweeping burn of yellow grass, the smell of the waterhole, the sun, shadows. Always, there are prey, prancing or stomping through the brush, bright eyes unaware of danger and death.
A jackal, all cagey and gaunt, shivers in the shadows, eyeing the prey hungrily, flinching at every hyena laugh and howl.
A leopard, lean and lithe, lopes out of the dark. The jackal flees. Eyeing the prey, the leopard licking his lips, shows his white teeth.
A lion, sinewy and strong, stalks out of the dark. From the collective pool of instinct and the memory of his fathers, the leopard recalls, the lion is bigger, the lion is stronger, the lion is death. The leopard flees. Eyeing the prey, with hungers to slake, the lion stalks boldly; he’s pissed on the rocks; he’s marked his territory.
The jackal flees the leopard.
The leopard flees the lion.
The lion rarely flees.
All claws and fangs and hunger, the lion stalks towards the prey . . .
A bat scream echoes off a cave wall.
Now see the hunting ground. See the city. See the towering buildings, lightning rods giving storm clouds the finger. See the sweeping grid of gray, the smell of mingling ethnic foods, the lights, shadows. A pack of children prance and stomp through the sprawl, the night after Halloween, the Day of the Dead, smashing pumpkins and eating sugar-skulls, bright eyes unaware of danger and death.
A crack-fiend, all cagey and gaunt, shivers in the shadows, eyeing the children hungrily, flinching at every car horn and inner-demon howl.
A pedophile, lean and lithe, lopes out of the alley in a yellow van. The crack-fiend flees. Eyeing the children, the pedophile licks his lips, shows his white teeth.
A gang-banger, sinewy and strong, stalks out of the alley. The instincts and memories of the pedophile shriek, bigger, stronger, death. The pedophile flees. Eyeing the children, with drugs to sell, the gang-banger stalks boldly; he’s painted the walls; he’s marked his territory.
The crack-fiend flees the pedophile.
The pedophile flees the gang-banger.
The gang-banger rarely flees.
All bullets and chemicals and hate, the gang-banger stalks towards the children . . .
But here, the bat echo splits off the time-wall, diverges, varies.
The gang-banger freezes. Manifested, behind the children, in the shadows of the opposing alley, stands Mama Nancy – tall, thin form wrapped in home-woven clothes – head topped in wide-brimmed hat, transfixed with a silver-skull pin – shock of white, webby hair, distending from the back of the dark hat – long, spindly fingers dancing at her sides – mocha skin two shades darker in the shadows of hat and alley. No one is really sure how old the hoodoo woman is.
The gang-banger stands reflected in the impenetrable purple shades. The shades mark her station – priestess of the streets. Mama Nancy shakes her head.
The gang-banger’s lips curl in a snarl, gold-plated fangs gleam. His hand dips into his jacket, eyes promising artillery and noisy death.
Mama Nancy’s lips curl in a grin. Her right hand dips into her coat, pulling out a nondescript, red cloth doll, the purple shades promising things unspeakable.
The gang-banger advances, clicking off the safety.
Mama Nancy’s left hand pulls out a lighter and clicks it, child safety already broken off, the flames dance high, threatening to lick the doll.
The children turn back and forth, back and forth, eyes now aware of danger and death.
The gang-banger pauses. From the collective pool of memory and urban mythos, he recalls, Mama Nancy uses the right hand and the left. As a child, his mother told him, I hear she talks to spiders. Once, a derelict, dying under his knife gasped, they say Mama Nancy speaks to the dead – they say Mama Nancy speaks for the dead – and sometimes, they say, the dead walk for her. They still whisper stories about what she did to Alley-Cat Jack.
The gang-banger flees. The gang-banger rarely flees.
The children greet Mama Nancy, for she is feared and she is loved, and she stays with them, eyeing the shadows.
“Tell us a story,” says the youngest girl, Tamara.
“I tell you a story about story. Do you children know what today is?”
A boy, Miguel, nods, his mouth still full of sugar-skulls, “Day of the Dead.”
“Yes. It’s also Papa Ghede’s day. He’s the saint, the spirit of graveyards. Today I lit a candle for him. In Haiti, in Vodou, we pray to him to get our stories.”
Tamara scrunches her nose, “From a dead guy?”
The purple shades point down, reflecting the little scrunched face. “Papa Ghede is the Loa of death, but he’s also a jokester. He likes to laugh. He say bad words, but he’s not mean. He loves everybody. He loves the ladies and he’s a sexy man. He loves children and he protects children. Ghede hates to take little girls and boys. When little ones sick, that’s his job, to help. We also pray to Ghede for stories, because he talks to our ancestors. He speaks in the voice of all Fathers and sings the song of all Mothers, all the way back to Eve and Adam. In Haiti, in Vodou, that’s how we get our history. We hear a story, word-of-mouth, as many times as possible, from as many people as possible. Word-of-mouth – again and again.”
“That’s history?” says Edward, the oldest, “What about facts? What about statistics?”
Mama Nancy spits on the pavement and the children all jump as if she’s thrown lightning. “Boy, in this life there are three kinds of lies: little lies, big lies, and statistics.”
The street priestess paces, throwing her arms up to the building tops. “In this place, history is a thin, straight line, drawn by victors. Facts can lie, Boy. You want truths.”
“But . . . stories can lie,” whines Edward.
“That’s right child. But if you hear a story, enough times, from enough folk, you start to get the truth, in little bites. You’ll know the sound, in the ear. A big story is too big to hear once. You have to hear it again and again, from as many perspectives as possible. Lots of little stories combine to make a big story. You tell it, not in straight lines, but in spirals.”
And Mama Nancy tells the children stories, all the while, listening to the rhythms of the city, the hunting ground, alert for ominous vibrations on the thin, silken strands of sound.
Eventually, mothers call out, and the children disperse, one by one. The last one finally leaves the hunting ground and only then does Mama Nancy wander back into the alleys and the dark.
“I have a story to tell,” she mutters, even though she’s alone, save a spider hanging at eye level. “I have a story to make. Not in straight lines . . . in spirals.”
It is the shape of DNA, the double-helix. The ayahuasca vine of South America grows in a spiral and induces hallucinations of twin serpents coiling around each other. Shaman understood these to be the basis of physical existence, long before scientists discovered the gene. Paintings on cave walls show the twin snakes, one black and one white, the active and the passive, twisting in a double-helix. They call it the sky ladder.
The cosmic serpent spirals through space.
The shape of life and molecules, snail shells, hurricanes and galaxies rotating in the void. The flight path of a carrion bird, circling over the dead. Spirals combine, forming larger spirals until imperceptible.
The shape of the universe is the spiral.