And There, I Look and Remember

I took a priest's word once.  At the edge of a jungle, beautiful and dark, I had been standing and wondering which paths to take and which to abandon, how to navigate the dark and dreadful in order to walk in the light and majesty of this wild.  The priest walked passed me and stopped, turning back.  May I direct you, he asked, I see what god had seen for lifetimes and my ways are good.  I'll divide, for you, the light from the dark and let you live in the jungle.  But you have to follow me, to trust the sight god gave me.

He was kind and his eyes were soft, not the hard glance of extortionists and liars.  He was ready to give me some of his own good.

Alright, I conceded. Part the light and the dark, priest, so I may finally stop this dreadful looking and move. He nodded and led me to the oceanside, offering me a seat in his raft.  The craft was worn and worthy, knotty and cracked, a vessel of slivers a carpenter might keep.  The priest walked the boat off the sand and the ocean wet his cloak above the knee.  The rope around his waist floated imperfectly, nestled beneath the surface it waved like a flag in a slow wind.  I gripped the paddle and found that it felt like bark.  There were darkened spots on it, one in the middle and one on the butt, smeared with old blood and dirt, ground into the grain.  I pulled the paddle back in a broken rhythm, while the priest clammored in to help push us over the small breakers.  We rowed eastward. 


The sign of the cross was slow and routine above the coarse, half loaf he held in his lap.  The sun wondered why we lingered way out there, with an unimaginable abyss on either side.  A man is a fool to fear heights and yet not the crater stretched beneath us, I thought.  All the beauty of the land could be lost just beneath our boat.  Out there, one can hear the conversations that go on with or without humans. We shared communion.


On the morning of the second day an island beaded up from the horizon and we saw the beach by sundown.  The priest and I stepped up the sand toward the thickets beyond the shore.  As he led me, I sensed the blood in my fingers rush back upward, knuckle to knuckle and then above my wrist.  The wrinkles around my eyes deepend for the finding of their cause and I let the wild run around me.  When it struck me I was not surprised, it had the same taste on the wind, filled my chest as full as on the edge of my jungle, and I knew my company anticipated its presence. The cold and dreadful that makes a twisted embrace with the light and easy-lived on this island had come to greet us as we traversed the beach.  There is scandal and knowing in the shadow on the beach the same as in the curves of the jungle and this priest had discovered both.  And he smiled for it.  He led me on a dirt path through a thin underbrush until the forest grew taller and our trail drew us upward.

We came to a house, perched a hundred feet above us past little boulders and grass, small and apparently abandoned.  It was not alarming; I had no negative intution toward it.  It was humble but unbroken.  I thought, naturally, there may be a keeper for the island.  We wound the trail up the rock slope and crossed the small grassy yard to the door.

Above the entry, in the crossbeam, someone had neatly carved a small phrase.  I face the sea to remember.  The priest welcomed me through the unlocked door.  Inside were contents fitting of the home's place and stature.  Books and blankets, a fire pit with a crude chimney, an old table.  It was one small room, divided into spaces.  A sleeping pad was rolled up and laid by one wall, a small pile of books and journals beside it.  A violin leaned against a chair near the fire pit, its body stressed almost white at the edges.  The seaward side of the house was nearly all windows.  None were anywhere else. 

The priest strolled to the middle window and looked out, well past the simple drapes and his small yard, down the slope and over the beach beyond the surf and the breakers, somewhere far out perhaps where he'd been some day, some time before.  He was softly lit by the sun, and the breeze came to help the curtains reach for him.  He looked gently.  Living on the window sills were ceramic crocks, large and small, capped with a canvas sheet like the head of a drum.  There were less than a dozen, all told.  They looked outward also, far out, right along with the priest.

You have to keep it here, he said to me, it will be safe and you can return for it, someday. I watched him warily.  The light told me to fear him, the dark told me to befriend him.  I stood, like I often do, in the middle, and I listened.

The jungle is clearer this way, now crossing the room toward me slowly, you will rest in the knowing that your own stillness has passed, that now you can commit to your path and step into it all.

He raised an arm and traced a small cross on the shirt over my left breast.  Reaching into his robe he produced a small blade and, moving slowly, raised it to my chest.  He pressed through my shirt, into my skin, slow and firm, till a trickle of blood ran to the floor. 

His work was steady, firm, and I was unflinching as I watched him work.  A resolute twisting of his knife broke my rib and he lifted it away.  He pushed aside muscle and fiber and folded his hands to enter the space between my lungs.  He coaxed the pumping organ from its place, routing the vessels elsewhere, resolved to maintain the circles that spin inside of me.  He was diligent in the healing.  He meld the rib back in, a practiced smear of his thumb joined bone to bone.  He whipped blood to tissue and packed my wound with the goodness he promised he himself had been given.  Sand from the beach and the skin of these trees will heal tough to the touch, he warned, but you'll never mind carrying it.

The priest lifted one of a collection of empty crocks from the wall and placed my heart inside it.  He pinched the spine of his blade between his thumb and forefinger.  Spinning the ceramic he scraped out a trough beneath the rim, a bed for the leather thread.  The priest inverted his knife and, cradling the middle of my jar, took up a small fury.  He was intentional in the use of a tool unfit for the task.  He began carving. 

If ever you return for it, he lectured, you must return wholely, unburdened by your doubts.

His hand dug back and forth in the stone, the dust matting in his beard and his cloak.  If you return, then you crush this vessel and the memory of your time without it. The words were lifting from the stone.  But don't look toward it too often, he continued, it's a weight you haven't known yet. I WI was visible in the side of the crock. If you look for reasons to come then you will not keep to your beaches for long.  The priest was out of breath.  Try the jungle now, friend, try it and see what I've promised you. I WILL WAI.  You look to the sea to remember.  I WILL WAIT.  And if the remembering becomes too much, I WILL WAIT FO, then you swim the ocean and crawl the beach, you climb the hill and find it.

The priest pushed hard into his last strokes, not a mind for his weariness, and he stood up straight.  The priest placed a limp canvas sheet across the opening and wound a thin leather strip about the rim, sealing my heart inside.  The priest paused and looked at the dusty stone in his hands.

If you come back, come storming.  With that the breathless priest placed the jar at the window's edge with the others, faced seaward.  I WILL WAIT FOR YOU.

Now to the jungle.


The priest and I ran aground and I awoke from stupid slumber.  I'd kept closed my eyes the entire trip, turned my head to the boat's bottom and made the paddle pull us forward without a thought for the sun or sea. 

I remained seated, holding the now useless oar, looking at a beach that could not be my own.  I was startled, confused, and afraid.  Come home now, said the priest, standing.  Past the sand in the distance was golden grass and gentle wind, shadowless. 

It is not mine, I promised, I don't know such a place.

But you can, the priest insisted.


Finding no shadow in the grass, no break in the gold or hanging leer from the moon, I couldn't find my feet.  It was true enough, what the priest had promised.  The paths were clear.  For miles I could see the journey.  And these fields are full, flocked to in thousands.  The priest had delivered a smile to many that he'd still not captured for himself.  And in the space I ran, I threw up my arms and joined the others.  I laughed with them, the jungle cleared from our eyes, no roots to trip, no night to deceive.  But I felt the impressions left on this light from the embrace with the dark and dreadful.  I stood up the light in front of me and put my fingers in the divots, I dragged my hands over the bend where scandal and wonder had hugged lightness tightly, and I felt the void wanting.  We never feel the cold here, we never spend the night set to shivering beneath the sparser trees, loving our hunger, smiling at our circling despair.  The priest, the surgeon, made my path certain and safe.  And according to the priest, too often I unclench the hands of these neighbors, the happily spinning and smiling, quietly so as not to worry them.  I go away, and try to make night for myself,  I dig in the field, make my best attempt to exhume a jungle that I buried somewhere here.  I want for the sight that was born to me in the darkness.

I make my way to the sea, I close my eyes to find the dark.  The priest was right about the weight.  The sand of the beach and the skin of these trees hang heavy in his chest too, I think.  I make my way to the sea and I stand there looking, looking to the sea, and I remember.  And I wonder, priest, I look and remember and I wonder, could the sea stop my storming today? 

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