The Foundations of the Earth

 

yes-and-no

The Foundations of the Earth

A girl sat alone on a limestone stack by the lake. Her temples ached from an hour of pinched up eyes and weeping. It was night. She dangled her feet in and felt the cold jolt up her legs. The water was gray and noisy with a skin of foam where it washed onto the square-cut rocks. Sky and lake bled into each other in a black haze in the distance. The city skyline jutted out into ink on the left end of the horizon. A halo of lit fog hung over it. She considered the many particulate lives that were now on the move, coursing down the thoroughfares, going up and down elevators, meeting and parting, picking and dropping, sleeping and waking. These are the satisfying matters of the day, she thought. She must believe that they are satisfying. That will make it easier. Her throat was tight. She looked over the dark flats of water for a light-house she remembered. It was not there, but she did see one well-lighted boat making for the dock. Her old companions, Sic and Non, sprouted out of air.

Sic

Walk into the lake, shed this life. Let the soul vapor up from what is dead in the water. The sad knots in you will unravel and raft away. You will cry out to them like dear friends as they lost on the wave. But they were chains.

Sic

Each day, you wake to an unwholesome pasture, and graze on emptiness. When the light dies by the bed you say: “O Lord, I do not thank you for the food I have received. You pen me up and shear me. You keep my soul furled on a spear.” Let the pent up things wash out.

Sic

You were clothed in this place and time, but the clothes of your true country are celestial. They admit of no place or time. Tear open the chest and pull the spear out. Let go, let go! And rise again. When you are unveiled from the waters, the streams flooding down your shoulders will be a new ecstasy. Not just a patch of happiness to divide up the long roads of hate. That joy will be the final thing. The lasting thing.

Non

Don’t drown. They will not understand why you left them. They will cry when they think about your poor lungs filling with water. And your limbs still in the cold. You will be paper-thin and made of memories.

What the eyes saw

The girl looked on the glimmering carpet which the moon had laid down on the waters. She could feel Leviathan rumbling after a shoal of squid deep below. The eyes of Leviathan are twin torches that fire up the deep. Her tail whips up the currents when she is on the hunt. She reigns over the underbelly and the floor of the sea, but she is heir to the upper waters too. In the Primal Age when she was born, shallow and deep were mixed, and so were night and day, and land and water. One day she will thunder up. Squadrons of Pharaoh’s galleys will not withstand her; they will be smashed into bits of bobbing cedar on the Nile. Icebergs will not cause her to pause; they will be cleaved asunder as her snout pikes out of the North Sea. The land will not wall her out; levees will break and the tide will overflow and swallow many crying innocents. The might of Leviathan is pitiless.

Non

This is a gloomy place and you are lonely. You think that you are nothing at all. Just a wad of uncared-for rubbish. Just a half-formed thing stopping up the normal flow of the Universe. There isn’t a bridge out. All the channels are closed up. But you cut the cords and logged up all the rivers. The dim shapes you see entering and leaving rooms are your kin, your sisters and brothers. You fear them and shut them out, but you don’t know them. You cry: “The one I knew best whipped me so hard and the stripes seem fresh when I wake each day. The shadow of the lash is on every face. It crackles behind every door. I know the way of its arc better than anything that can be known in any life. End these days”. Your fellow creatures are also in a hard struggle and are sometimes crawling. Embrace them. Let your heart be easy with them. Show others a bit of the kindness you have been searching for, and perhaps you will receive some.

Sic

Your heart is yoked under a weight. Cast off and float up. Perch up over the clouds. Time will be a sleeve that can be stretched out or rolled up. One hundred million years could be your minute. Let the rolled up minute unfold. See this lake dry up and the earth bend, fold, crumple and crease like hot plastic. The land below will be sheathed in grass one moment, then ice, then forest, then desert, then molten rock, then water again. There is poetry in geology and the verses are hidden in every bluff, dune, pebble and grain.

Sic

Then nothing will bolt you down. The primate clothes will have dissolved. Wade a few dozen light years out, and you will find a morning where a blue sun peeks over an ocean of roiling methane. As it ascends, it curtains the whole sky in an azure that is cold and electric. Only one human soul has ever laid eyes on a blue so sublime – a pearl diver who, after snagging an oyster on the bottom of the Persian gulf seven hundred years ago, planted his feet on the seabed and turned his face skyward. “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” rang in his heart when he saw what was good and gleaming above. A race of thinking creatures squatted on that planet for a time. Some few hundred thousand of our years. None of them ever saw a yellow sun, but some wondered what one might be like. On the sunrise after the last of them perished, I sat in one of their broken temples and felt it quietly filling with light. There the many strange eyes on their idols were locked in a dead stare. The Koran says that Allah is “Lord of the Worlds”. Is he Lord of this one too? Why did he ennoble these creatures with soul, only to grind them back into the dust? His hand is inscrutable.

Sic

Spring up one arm of the milky way from there. You will find a world where the day is shared by a caravan of three suns in cycle. Sit some eons in that place, and contemplate the finiteness in each star as it ripens, shrivels and dims away When that planet ices up and wheels out into night, launch yourself off with a gentle skip. Some star systems over, you will land on a planet where molten iron rains down from great clouds that girdle the tropics in a belt. When you feel the metal raindrops pattering hot on your cheek and the iron curling down your back and slopping over your breasts, will you still think that the rain of this world is enough, that the sunrise of this place is perfect?

What the eyes saw

She saw the city on fire. Smoking red veins cut up the sides of the black towers. Beneath them rolled a hard plain of flame. So many wails echoed over the sad crackle and through the smoke. She had read books about the how Carthage was burned, Tenochtitlan was raped and Tyre was crucified. She thought about all the city-sackings and tower-burnings that were yet to come. The wrathful one will ride again, with bow in hand and horde in train, intent on stringing towns together in a trail of graves. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes: “What was will be again, what happened will happen again.” The Temple of Solomon was thrown down. Another temple was built on its bones, but it was thrown down too.

Non

The dry desert is not your brother. The gray sun is not your mother. The sad tide is not your father. But they all raised you. Now you must not let them bury you too. Light is a trivial thing to one who has only walked in radiance. One who has been alone for a long time, knows what a warm and wonderful door love is. The long siege has made you fortify the storehouses of hope. And the whip that has taken so much away, has also taught you courage.

What the eyes saw

A straight shot over to the horizon, she saw Jesus addressing a frightened crew. With an upraised hand he quelled both wave and wind. His feet were planted firmly on a base of water and his voice promised a coming kingdom of calm. Now in the sky, she saw Mohammed ascending to the seventh heaven on his horse Buraq, whose skin is shining velvet. Buraq’s hooves strike up sparks as he gallops on air. His neigh is a trumpet blast that sounds from the four corners of the earth. The farmer who hears it lets go of the plow. The fisherwoman who catches it drops her wares. The wicked who know it are gripped in fear. Every frozen star feels like a warm pore through which the soul can pass. She began drying the tears away. Behind her, a great mass of soldiers had gathered. Each with a spear, a shield, a helmet and a bronze chest plate. They had wandered through the Persian desert for so long, but now that they saw the water and a passageway home, they wept for joy. A cry rang out and rebounded in waves: “The Sea! The Sea! The Sea!” they roared. The hot sands and the pursuing enemy had thinned their numbers dearly. But now the trial was over. On an island in a river in Paradise, the Greek who slit the Persian throat, and the Persian who hacked down the Greek, will meet again and embrace and be redeemed. The celebratory banging of spear against shield made her smile. The sun was now climbing up. Millions of tulips bloomed out of every slit in the rocks. The whole coast was coated in purple and white petals.

She let the sea breeze into her lungs and the two companions vanished. Silence had never left those rocks, save for the sound of the beating wave. She knew that the path ahead was forked. She gathered herself and walked on.

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