Stevie, she said she was drowning. Me? I'm too scared to even dip in a toe. I just stand on the shore, watching, waiting. Feeling the cold wind blowing up from the south.
Teacher says, "Burn the words. Concrete boots can be a solution." Teacher, I just want the voices in my head to be silent. I just want them to leave me alone.
When everything's silent, I find myself standing on the shore, concentrating on the ocean. If I stare at the driftwood long enough, deadwood eyes will flicker open. Sometimes I hear them whispering, they're telling me not to look at the ocean, telling me I should be heading back. No! I must concentrate on the ocean, stay looking at the ocean, and don't look back.
I can't remember how long I've been standing here. I remember walking for what seemed like years. Someone must have shifted the world while I wasn't watching, because I never noticed when I stopped, silent, standing on the shore, between the deadwood and the ocean, the southerly chilling me to the core. I remember being warm once, but what is warm anyway?
Teacher says, "Just because you think there's a southerly doesn't mean there is one. Why do anything about something that doesn't exist?" Cogito ergo sum, standing on the shore, staring at the ocean, driftwood eyes and deadwood voices telling me it's time to be heading back.
If I ignore the southerly, will it go away? How do I forget it's there? Occupy my mind with remembering something else. I know about horses. I remember once, when I was young, the doctor telling me to think about horses. He was coming at me with a needle. "Think about horses ", he said. I hate needles. Maybe horses weren't such a good idea.
I could think about music, I haven't thought about music for so long. The symphony in my head was drowned out by the voices. I can't remember when it happened, maybe when I let the driftwood eyes and the deadwood voices tell me to go back. Sometimes, I think I hear music, carried on the wind. Ghosts trying to lure me back; ghosts with deadwood eyes. I'm feeling so tired now, it takes so much from me to concentrate on the ocean. Is the driftwood getting closer? Stop it; you're imagining things, just concentrate on the ocean and don't look back.
How about the sun? I remember once, some words: There's a sunset to ride off into, some poignant words to say it all. Wild horses and needles again, the sun had already died and I couldn't find the words. Words are the enemy, they stick in my throat, and come out through my pen, in the name of art we chisel, hack and saw. "Exaggerated, " teacher says, "the poets exaggerate emotion." Teacher, he says too much sometimes. Caveat Emptor dear reader. This Southerly chills me to the core.
Who said those words? I can't remember. Someone I once knew. Who were they? Was it the kettledrum? Or was it the ghosts? Their deadwood eyes staring back at me. Stop it and just look at the ocean, concentrate on the ocean, stop trying to look back.
The tide is changing now and the ocean's rolling in. I remember wanting to be pushed. How long ago was that? It was before the voices, before the deadwood eyes, it was while the kettledrum rolled triumphant in my head.
I could drown out there. I could be completely still out there, no symphony, driftwood, wind, or breath, completely still. Teacher said, "manana, tal vez, do you speak Spinach by the way? " I laughed then, and wondered about his Hindu. Languages lean on one another. Ah, tomorrow, we fret and strut upon the stage. Stop it, you deadwood eyes, you featureless ghosts, you voices inside my head.
I remember the suns final act, the last line from the actors lips, "Sorry, I couldn't give you what you wanted ". Fading light, actors exit stage right. The words stuck in my throat, you already had, and I the frightened child handed it back, not quite ready to let it go. There was dirt in my cup. The sun had died. You kept looking at something beyond me. Had deadwood eyes already claimed you? The southerly says, "What purpose have these words now?"
"Teacher, what do you say?"
"Only the saddest words. What might have been. "There's no looking back on deadwood eyes and featureless ghosts, there is no going back.
"Teacher what do you think of Christ?"
"Saving the world is not the job for a good Jewish boy. Here let me give you something to think about. God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son. If God so loved the world, why did he stop at one?"
Left in confusion, God can't love; He's left me here standing on the shore between the driftwood and the ocean, the southerly chilling me to the core. I wonder if the Buddhists haven't got it right. "What do you say, my rab?"
"Ma-zot? You really should burn those words, but in the end it is up to you. There are over six- hundred commandments. You can only lead a good life." Works without purpose are dead. The artist kills so much in the process.
"It's never been my intent to hurt."
"No, maybe not. But remember the poets
they exaggerate both pain and love. Every gift comes at a
cost." Screaming at the ocean now as it swirls around
my feet, those deadwood eyes, those featureless ghosts,
you who stole my voice. Please just let me go back to sleep.
© 2002 Alison Neal, all rights reserved
appears here by permission