The Superlative Horse

I began reading the stories of J.D. Salinger when I was about 14 years old.  I suspect that I started with “Nine Stories” as around that time my creative writing teacher had read to us “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”.  The book delighted me and I worked my way through the Salinger canon with great speed.

I remember every detail, every word…but I also recall another story. Or perhaps it was a legend, or a myth, or history.  Or maybe it was a fable – for the reading of it taught me a lesson which stays with me today.  The story was called ‘The Superlative Horse’.  It was used at the beginning of ‘Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour:  An Introduction.”

It begins with Duke Mu of Chin commenting to Po Lo, “You are now advanced in years. Is there any Member of your family whom I could employ to look for horses in your stead?”   The answer he receives is in the negative; but he has a friend, who can procure for the Duke a truly superlative horse “one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks”.  The judgment of his sons lies on a far different, inferior plane.  The friend, “a hawker of fuel and vegetables” is dispatched on his quest.  Eventually word gets back to the Duke that his horse has been found, a dun-colored mare.

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But when the animal is sent for, it turned out to be a stallion – as black as coal.

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In a fury, the Duke sends for Po Lo to complain of the friend’s ineptitude.  On hearing this Po Lo, responds, “There is no comparison between us. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external.”  And when the horse finally arrived, “it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal”. It is a strangely moving text: a few paragraphs of prose that softly tread the fragrant waters of poetry.  The arrangement is silken, and before you are even aware, it has been committed to memory.

What Salinger had done was take nearly word for word, with a few variations, a work from “The Huainanzi”, a compilation of Chinese philosophical essays from the 2nd century BC.  It was an anthology of learned debates between the Prince of Huainan and the guests and scholars of his court.  Elegant reprimands, gentle reminders, evocative lessons, all paced as delicately as a ballet.  And the story of the depthless superlative horse contained each graceful virtue.

Emperors, Kings, Sultans, Caliphs…all men with a penchant for power and beauty at one time or another sought for themselves a superlative horse.  Before he became a weighty torment to the backs of his draft horses and Friesians, Henry VIII was one of the most polished and exquisite riders of his generation.

He was considered one of the most beautiful and accomplished princes in Europe.  He had spent his childhood sequestered with books and now this slim, long-limbed king only wanted to dance, sing, hunt, wrestle…and ride.  One man who saw him on horseback described him as “Saint George in person”. It quickly became known amongst foreign ambassadors currying favor for their masters that the quickest way to earn the love of the new king was to bring him a gift of a superlative horse.

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His stables were populated with the sleek, muscular breeds of Europe and the desert: barbs, neopolitans, jennets, andalusians.  Every new creature was fawned over:  noble profiles praised as effusively as the marble busts of philosophers. Even the sickle of white that showed in impatient eyes was a sign of spirit – a mount fit for a king.

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Henry was skilled in the art of dressage, a classical – and highly rarefied – art of riding, in which the steps had the contained grace achieved by only the most robust of pairings.   He took his horses through the capriole, regarded as one of the most difficult of the “airs above the ground”, in which the horse jumps straight into the air, kicking out with its hind legs, before landing on all four legs at the same time. It is difficult to imagine the traditional image of Henry VIII – crude, monstrous – once possessing the intuition and soft hands necessary for such a delicate sport.   There are reports from witnesses of kingly rider and mount performing this art for more than two hours.  And when one horse was exhausted, Henry would send for another.

He recruited the finest riding masters: from Naples, Ferrara and Mantua. He followed the Italian practice of training a horse to seek the rider’s “cherishing”, rather than fearing his spurs. To correct, Henry would exclaim, “Ha traitor! Ha villain!”. To praise he would say, sotto voce, “Holla, holla, so boy, there boy”, stroking their necks with fingers that had not yet become uncouth or pudgy.

In 1514, the Marquis of Mantua sent Henry a gift of horses, among them a shining, strapping bay named Governatore. Momentarily stunned by the animal’s magnificence, he touched the bay’s lissome neck, murmuring, “So ho, my minion”. He asked its trainer, “Is not this the best horse?”

And somewhere amongst the clouds, in a blissful firmament of dreams and wisdom, Duke Mu agreed that it was a superlative horse indeed.

 

 

After The Ball

“After the ball is over,/ After the break of morn –/ After the dancers’ leaving; /After the stars are gone…”

The Gilded Age was a golden age of the dance.   Society’s dance, the dance of facades, with its tortuous and subtle steps: the twisted rules of a class that has spent too long looking at its own reflection.

Each movement was as ethereal and intricate as frosting on a cake:  dainty, melting and ultimately of little significance. The etiquette of leaving a calling card.  Five changes of dress each day.  “Training” corsets.  Even sitting down was made into a dancer’s sensitive art:  a lady must sit with a slight twist of her hips, so her skirt would twirl about her like a silken froth, instead of crumpling beneath her in a confusion of fabric.

A girl would dance for her life:  for a life away from her parents, for her life as a grown woman, for her married life, for a life in her own home.  The opening strains were heard within the dictates of society, its expectations, the lessons of behavior and beauty.  The complexities of the polite world pushed her onto the dance floor, and it felt as firm beneath her feet as an acreage of marble saturated with light and music.

But it was in the ballroom where her dreams of womanly success were tried. Thrilled and excited, the graduate – her hair coiled, her waist in pain – was wrapped in bobbin lace and diamante, with a dance card dangling from her wrist, its weight a tiny burden of unfilled promises. Seated with the other students in a bubble of whispers and petticoats, she would wait for an extended hand, for the polite pressure on her gloved arm – for the carefully shielded admiration.

Every girl yearned to go to the ball. Her hopes, her desires, her frivolous ambitions ran through her gilded blood, and that starry event was their testing ground. Some would experience it, but others could only imagine it.

But this girl, this girl…what of her? The grand balls of the era – Devonshire, Londonderry – attracted journalists, photographers and gossips like any red carpet event would today. And the morning after the ball, their speculations and pictures appeared in newspapers in every city for winsome, forlorn girls to pore over.

After The Ball

This girl, her sheets a curving, graceful reflection of the gown she didn’t own, reads an account of the ball she didn’t attend. Her eyes are half closed as she merges fact with her fancies. She wanted to see her name amongst the attendees, to read a stranger’s description of her dress, a cloud of nacreous taffeta that sparkled with galaxies of sequins, designed by…Worth? Doucet? Paguin? Redfern? Whom had she always wanted to wear? Her dreams would follow her like a shadow throughout her tightly laced day, as she helped the maid clear the table, as she trimmed the sandwiches for her mother’s tea.

But could there be another explanation? Her hair is still wrapped in a fashionable coil, and her shoulders lean at an exhausted, languid tilt. Perhaps she has had only a few hours’ sleep – her journey home lit by the pastel light of a rising dawn. Her shoes pinched, but they hummed with the delicate steps of the waltz, the most desired of all dances. She still felt her partner’s predatory fingers on her waist, as they tried to feel the curves beneath the whalebone and velvet.

As she reads the paper, still warm from the iron, she looks for any mention of her:  her lithe dancing, her glistening yellow hair, her tiny waist that swooned into the maze of skirts, the richness of her gown – its cloudy depths.  In a hidden corner of her lace-garlanded room there could be a nest of silver.  Curved with accidental folds, a sculpture of discarded bones and prism-like silk threads, her gown lies where she struggled out of it, chastened by a too-early sun. Did she tear it?  Perhaps.  The maid will deal with it.

What type of girl is she? What are her hopes – do they have a chance of fulfillment? Is she reading about her success – or of someone else’s? What does her future hold? It is hard to say. Some girls are just better dancers than others.

“Many a heart is aching,/ If you could read them all;/ Many the hopes that have vanished/ After the ball.”

Spring’s Ahead

In Palos Verdes, the cliffs overlook the assortment of beaches and coves like a weaving terrace of basalt and shale, layered with skeletons – the
strata of prehistory.

Climbing out of those towering deserts are bushes and trees.  Dry, salt-ridden and barbed, they harbor living creatures above the ocean, for all their inhospitality.

Not long ago I was watching the sea, standing by the cliffs, when I heard a bird singing close by.  It was balanced on a gorse bush; singing with such passion, with such blithe intensity that it didn’t notice how close I really was.  I was near enough to see the muscles of its throat fluttering, to see the small, sharp beak open to release the notes into the air.  I was able to visualize the music, tiny filigrees and arabesques twisting in an invisible fabric:  lilting and lowering, as the bird saw fit, to suit the musicale its joyous blood would dictate.

In the city, where I live, I have been hearing music too.  Pale and plaintive, it rises with the morning, a lavender echo of breaking clouds and a sunrise swathed in watercolor.  A mourning dove – always alone – rests on a telephone wire, its sadness filling the air.  All I see is the dark silhouette, but I know well the prism of its feathers:  mauve, grey and lilac:  the accepted dress colors for Victorian ladies in half-mourning.  Though there is only one, its mate is undoubtedly nearby.  Whether they are collecting materials for their nest, or scouting for new real estate, their impatient DNA urges them on.

Spring is coming.

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The Brightest Star

Some weekends ago, I attended an exhibit of 19th century wedding gowns, feeling like an invitee to these departed ladies’ proudest day.  It was a small gallery, in a room filled with sepia and satin, rich with the promise and limitations of a woman’s future.  She had grown from a child to a teenager, from a teenager to a debutante, from a debutante to a bride delicately leaning on her groom’s arm.  And after marriage she grew no more.

There were slightly more than a dozen mannequins – manicured and white; their faces blank like a perpetual lowering of eyes and silence of thoughts.  Wrists were arched at painful angles, fingers curved but empty:  waiting for a bouquet, a scrap of lace, a pair of gloves that fit like a second skin – a closeness which rendered them unsuitable to be worn a second time.

The exhibit was without color, save for the splash of a bouquet or the tip of a velvet shoe twinkling from beneath a hem.  But the impression was unforgettable – the imprint of expensive fabric, rows of glass beads that rippled like rivers in the sun, voluminous skirts and sleeves, corsets and petticoats that carved the bride into a woman’s shape.

The gowns spanned the entire century.  The earliest was from 1802:  a simple column of linen finely embroidered with a trellis of flowers. Its rich simplicity was a throwback to Marie Antoinette and her milkmaid reveries at the Hameau de la Reine.

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In 30 years the wedding gown had become a flurry of satin and bows – figured jacquard and lace, tiers of ruffles and ribbons on the sleeves and an ornamented bodice fitted at the waist which was newly ‘found’ and beginning its descent to its natural place.

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Mid-century and the gowns featured deep, scooped 17th century necklines – the lines that swooned with sentimentality at the vision of a lady’s pure and pale shoulders.  Skirts were bell-shaped and layered with decoration – buoyed with petticoats, they bobbed gently as she walked, shocking onlookers with glimpses of pretty ankles and pumps with curved embroidered heels.

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Towards the end of the century complex bustles were introduced, taped and sewn into a maze of folds and pleats.  This labyrinth pulled the fabric of the skirt towards the back until the front was smooth and fitted.  So to preserve the diminutive waist, femininity’s silent cry for attention, tight-lacing entered a particularly brutal phase.  Stiff and doll-like, the bride would walk to meet her groom, already imprisoned – a penitentiary that was edged with lace, embroidered with colored silk, wreathed with tiny bows and that cut into her skin like a thousand exquisite thorns.

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The room shone with the subtle warmth of thick satins, flaxen lace, pearls and glass beads.   Light honored the fabric with a heightening of textures, with radiant molecules that descended on patterns like sequins.  This was a history of the fashion of the wedding:  where there was much change; and the history of the bride:  where there was very little.  The exhibit was called ‘Bliss’ – and for that one blissful moment when she entered the church all eyes would be on her.  And they would follow her like flowers billowing towards the sun.  On that most singular, proudest, day she would be their brightest star.

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Dorothy, 1923

The photograph itself is cut at different angles, faceted like a diamond.  Inside that diamond is its jewel, a girl who is poised like a bird, its wings demure and folded.  At the back of the photograph, in a hobbled, feminine script with deep scrolls and loops as tight as unopened flowers is written:  ‘Dorothy, 1923’.  It is a year that is advanced enough to both remember the past decade and to suspect what lies ahead as each year becomes faster and louder.

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There were brocaded memories of the Ballet Russes, of Bakst’s untamed color and Nijinsky’s sublime scandal. The Russians inspired a fascination for exotic allure and colors that blossomed from the passionate bowers of their Oriental sunsets.  Hypnotized  ladies walked the streets, wearing velvet turbans and lassoed in ropes of pearls like untutored empresses.  Then there was a War.  And as the decade ended, men and women on three continents still endured nightmares of the bloody earth and the scythe-like barbed wire.

But in 1923 there came a distant agitation.  Girls dreamt of feverish nights, bare shoulders, silk kimonos and fringed hems that tickled their knees.  Fast asleep, they searched for clubs buried in cities like bunkers; passwords jingling like keys in their pockets.  Freedom was a coin they tossed in the air:   revolving in the light, each side was illuminated:  the freedom of youth, the freedom of their sex.  And their liberation would remain in play while it continued to spin beyond the clutches of gravity.

Dorothy is balanced between these two decades that beckon to her, that whisper in her curled and dainty ear.  Her eyelids, weighed down with kohl and Vaseline, are dark and feral – the suffering eyes of Theda Bara that she remembered from her girlhood.  Her headband is as rich as a Russian diadem, peppered with sequins and glittering across her forehead like a belt of stars.    There is a part of her that aspires to the velvet seductions of the temptress.  It is possible that as soon as the photographer departed Dorothy leaned back on her leopard divan and picked up her cigarette holder – raising her dusky lids only to peer through the arabesques of lilac-scented smoke.

And yet perhaps not.  Dorothy has bobbed her hair – not a common style in the early 1920’s – a single acquiescent curl is all that remains of a childhood spent in ringlets, pigtails and tangles.  She is not wrapped in tinted velvets or shining brocades – nor is she decorated with gilded tassels or garlanded with furbelows:  the ornamentation of fashion’s garish past.  Dorothy wears a simple – albeit richly patterned – jacket; beneath it is a chemise unimpeded by twisting corsets:  its simple silk lying against her skin in androgynous comfort.

Dorothy is a member of ‘The Lost Generation’ – those that came of age during World War I.  The term would become popular with its use in The Sun Also Rises, published only three years after Dorothy sat for this portrait.  Her downcast eyes are eloquent; dwelling perhaps on memories of newspaper columns listing the war dead, of maps of Ypres, Gallipoli, the Piave River:  faraway places, but none with the alien glamour of her youthful dreams.  Lightly eccentric, her youth tarred with grief, Dorothy is young enough to see no sin in forgetting; but old enough to know what she dares to lose.  Dorothy has witnessed history:  the Gilded Age imploding upon itself in wasteful decadence, The Great War and the end of society’s innocence and petty deceits.    She is poised to take part in more:  the Jazz Age, the Bright Young Things and their subsequent tarnish, the Crash, the Depression.

But when Dorothy grows older hopefully she will accept the wisdom of history and remember these times.  Hopefully she will observe and learn, and not fall into the pit of Santayana’s warning, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Her Neck

It is a small picture, full of small incidents:  fragrant of pastel and powder; a vessel of delicacy and uselessness.  Chaotic yet elegant, secretive yet coyly voyeuristic it is a view into a lady’s room as she prepares to spend her day as decoration and distraction.   Part salon, part dressing room, part breakfast room, part bedroom, it is where she concocts her toilette:  and indeed, that is the name of the painting, ‘La Toilette’.

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Painted by Francois Boucher – no stranger to illustrating the foibles of pretty ladies – in 1742, it is a reflection of French society within the warmth of a lady’s aristocratic home.  It was a time of Louis XV and Pompadour, Lyons silk and red heels, Voltaire and Versailles:  a time of languid enlightenment and sleepy elegance.  Clocks, fountains and fireplaces were carved into masses of baroque coils that seemed to writhe and curl despite their foundations of wood and stone.  And the dainty chaos of a lady’s dressing room was a fit subject for an artist’s roving eye.

‘La Toilette’ lets us view this aristocratic anarchy.  Everything here is of the finest quality:  pink silk ribbons, china tea settings, velvet chairs, a carved and gilded fireplace, a painted screen.  But all is in disarray:  the ribbons are tangled, tea is ignored, chairs are covered by fur-lined cloaks, the fire is smoking and the painted eyes of a saucy youth peer over the screen.

There is a charming disorder to the lady herself:  she has not yet finished tying the garter around her knee; her skirts surround her in a blue labyrinth, her bodice is unlaced – referencing perhaps to the unused ribbon tantalizingly draped across the fireplace.  Her flawlessly painted face, accented by the patch tickling the corner of her eye (in the language of 18th century fashion, a patch placed thus indicates the wearer’s status as ‘mistress’), turns to her maid to inspect a cap she has brought her.

Yet amidst the indolence and confusion, there is a still center within this feminine storm.  And to discover it we too look to the maidservant, but it is not to pass judgement on a scrap of linen and its garland of silk.  She provides us with the painting’s saving grace:  its lonely composure.  Like any condemned prisoner, she gives us her neck.

From her slender shoulders, it rises like an ivory column in a slow, gentle curve.  Poised and serene, its motion is quieter by far than the maniacal rococo decorations that fill the room.  It is a stance out of ballet – echoed by the placement of her dainty feet, making her mistress look almost slovenly.

Her lightly powdered hair is pulled up; extending the delicate sweep that began with the tiny, fluttering muscles of shoulders and neck.   Curls that have escaped the comb lie along the neck’s subtle twist, further highlighting its sculptural movement.

We don’t see her face – only a tantalizing glimpse of a rouged cheek, the drapery of her Robe à la française and the curved neck that brings the dizzying room to a standstill.  As dainty as a minuet, it is the oblique step between the straight line of the shoulders and the coy tilt of the head.   With the serene bend of her neck, it is the lady’s maid who brings refinement to the noise and lavish temptation of La Toilette:  its quiet, silken focus – its genteel heart.

The Countess’ Chamber

The Countess’ chamber had four walls, a floor and a ceiling.  Yet it extended into the far corners of the world.  If she had chosen to stay within that room for the rest of her days, she would have all the earthly knowledge compiled by man to keep her company.

Tapestries roared with history and battles, her thoughtful bed was decorated with philosophy, flowers, herbs and all medicinal skills.  Above her head painted constellations and their mathematical voyages arched, below her feet continents and seas divided the surface into hemispheres, longitudes and latitudes.

Adela of Normandy was born in 1067, a time so distant and shadowy one cannot believe that a sun did shine above England’s primeval forests.  Her father was William the Conqueror; her brother was King Henry I:  dark, rough-hewn and unpleasant, the “beauclerk” who considered her his favorite sister.  She married when she was about 15 years old and would bear eight children.

One of the few portraits of Adele portrays a heart-shaped face wrapped in a nun-like wimple, although through that discreet drapery a suggestion of a smile flickers.

Adela

One of the chroniclers of the day, Orderic Vitalis, described her as a “wise and spirited woman”.  She was educated and strong-willed.  She had the type of will that would send her husband back to the Crusades when he had returned before, in her opinion, fulfilling his crusader vow to forge a path to Jerusalem.  He left in 1101 and died in battle the next year.

A poet, Abbot Baudri of Bourgueil, wrote of her excellent qualities:

“She has the gifts to attract suitors, but not the desire. He has seen her, but was unable to look at her; she has the brilliance of a goddess, the power of a Gorgon or a Circe.”

He also wrote of her chamber:

“The walls are covered with tapestries, woven according to her design, and all seem alive: on one wall, creation, the fall and fratricide, the flood with fish on mountain tops and lions in the sea…On the ceiling, the sky with its constellations, the signs of the zodiac, the stars and planets described in detail. On the floor, a map of the world with its seas, rivers, and mountains, named along with their creatures, and the cities on the land masses of Asia, Europe, and Africa.

By the sweat of my brow, Adela, I have trifled to describe in verse a beautiful chamber.”

Breezes that trickled in through windows that knew no glass caused the tapestries to ripple with woven currents.  Silver thread glittered, horses and knights seemed to move, free of their embroidery.  Stars and planets glowed at night.  She walked through foreign lands by day.  She woke and slept in a room festooned with knowledge.

So she must have dreamed as well.  In her dreams the chamber would be transformed into a living thing.  When she stepped out of bed she would notice that the hem of her gown became damp with the oceans stirring beneath the pearls and satin edging.  Her feet would feel the glitter of teeth as she stepped around the sea monsters that proclaimed the sea’s terror and wonder.

Outraged physetera, krakenicthyocentaurs, serpents and twisting leviathans snapped at and minced her pretty slippers into shreds of silk and shining threads.  She walked across continents and returned with the dirt of distant lands on the soles of her feet.  The fragrance of deserts and forests, heat and ice, salt and spices clung to her.

From the walls of her chamber came sound and movement.  Voices, flight, blood, speech and argument ran through the tapestries, bringing them life-like synapses firing muscle into mad, kinetic movement.  Knights clung to their draft horses weighed down with carved leather saddles and arras-hung reins.  She heard them gallop into the distance and the sudden clash of pike and arrow; the piercing discord of battle.  The conquest of England, Hastings, the death of the King repeated itself again and again.

Gods and myth, swathed with cloud and thunder, came alive in the Countess’ chamber:  Phaeton, driving his burning chariot, Cadmus and the dragon’s teeth, alluring Orpheus…documented miracles challenged fact and erupted from the cold paint and plaster.  The four elements were born, and she felt her senses respond with the message of each one’s creation.

Her bed was decorated with symbols of the arts; of music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy.  She heard the carvings stir with the sound of harp and lute, with the purity of plainsong.  The symmetry of the planets created slender melodies that spun like gossamer silk around Adela’s fingers are she touched the delicate lines.

At the foot of the bed were the ciphers of Galen and Hippocrates, and the sweet pungent smell of medicines and herbs.  Cinnamon, rosemary, violets, pomegranate; balms of honey and wine, turmeric and vinegar swept across the sheets like perfumed breezes.

She lay on her complex bed and looked up into the sky, at the stars and planets living and dying against the twilight planes.  She saw Ptolomy’s 48 constellations – Andromeda, Canis Major, Cygnus, Pegasus – draped like garlands and twisted around evening’s distant bowers.  Symbols of the zodiac, their silhouettes pricked with the edging of stars, were rooted within the celestial sphere – balanced on the moon’s curving longitude.  The countess grew weary of the dazzling sight.  She closed her eyes.

When she opened them, she was lying once more within the still world.  Throughout the day she would think of the night and its convoy of fantasies.  She would wait for evening to arrive again, and so continue her journeys – as far as the world could take her, as far as human knowledge would allow.

Her Beautiful Shape

Not long ago, I was at the beach, balanced on a perch of rocks and seaweed.  It was just at that compassionate part of the morning when the marine layer decides to relax its grip on the coast and recede back to its home in the salty sky.

I was watching the surfers who were facing the horizon, waiting for wind and energy to knit together and blanket the water with a line of rideable waves.  I was watching the birds that had come to visit me:  to keep me company – for it was a dreary, long watch – to congratulate me on my patience or to investigate the rocks and pools for a late breakfast.  An egret standing in the blue shadows practically disappeared against its marine background.  It stood like an aquatic ghost, evaporating into the pellucid air and water whenever it stood still.

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A group of turnstones ran chattering and scattering with each incoming wave – perhaps discussing the wisdom of choosing the beach as a hunting ground.  Seagulls, their wings a mass of bone and muscle fine-tuned to navigate the air, sacrificed their nobility once they became earthbound.

Some yards away, a wedding party had assembled on the field of shells and rocks.  They were too far away for me to discern bride and groom; the group  was only a gathering of varied textures, heights and depths.  But one thing became clear – a crystal thread spinning through the air, trembling as the muscular breezes flexed and turned.  It was a woman’s voice.  She was singing; the sound creating a beautiful, invisible shape.

But as the lady – the source – was invisible to me, it seemed as if her music could be emerging from anywhere; a living thing that had decided to come out of hiding.  It seemed to have risen out of the ocean, echoing from the entrances of iridescent grottos and the mouths of sirens wreathed about submerged temples.  It traveled across the sky, riding on the backs of birds, tumbling off their shoulders to glisten in the foam before evaporating in the salt and the breath of fishes.

The experience was ethereal – not of this world.  Yet it was earthly, too:  mingling with air, water, animals, the rocky expanse of the shoreline.  It enveloped all senses, this music that was complete, yet unknown.  And I was able to feel it melt into my skin and sparkle in my hair, before it finally disappeared altogether.

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A Final Wish

They are waiting:  in alleys, in gutters, on sidewalks.  They are stripped of baubles, of their ropes of stars, of their silver splendor.  All gaiety is left behind; the elegant magic of the 12 day holiday has been dispersed, like lingering schoolchildren.  Perhaps their forest color and fragrance lingers in the deserted living rooms; but for now, they wait.

Nothing lies ahead for them but landfills, wood chippers, mulches and composts:  the humiliation of decay.  Faded symbols of winter’s highlights, weeping a lamentation of needles, they create an abashed and patient woodland.

But at night, the moon, reclining as softly as an empress on her wine-colored throne, will take pity on the groves mourning beneath her.  Extending her white arms, she gathers the light of the constellations, of the planets that spin about her, of the stars that dazzle from her wrists and forehead – and sends it to the lonely trees.

And suddenly wizened branches glow with the tinsel of a finished holiday, with the icicles of a distant hinterland.  They live once again, basking in the radiance of a goddess’ compassion.  Like a smile that is tremulous with a memory that is about to be forgotten, the light is a delicate reminder, the granting of a final wish, before all nostalgia is spent.

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The Pause That Refreshes

Before going any further, I would like to warn my readers of the gentlemen persuasion that this post will deal with Lady Issues.  Don’t be ashamed;  trust me, Boyfriend runs away screaming whenever I bring them up.

When I was ten years old, I received a gift.  A surprise, to be more accurate.  At first I didn’t know what it was;  I knew, however, that it was unwelcome, rather awful, embarrassing and really, what the hell was going on anyway.

My parents were out of town, so mother was not available to clear things up for me.  I was staying with my aunt and uncle, so it was left to my aunt to  explain this ugly onset to me.  When she had paused, I did the only thing a ten-year old girl would do under the circumstances.  I burst into tears.  And for the next 45 years, every month, I’ve done the same thing.

Then, for the past 12 months, things seemed to have stopped.  It was delightful.    But clearly this was something my Lady-Issues Doctor – or my G-Man as I call him - should know.  And this past November, after a blood test, he called me in to inform me that my hormones – those little messengers of hysteria – had basically dried up.  The well was officially empty.

So now I’m taking pills for Hormone Replacement Therapy, because I don’t want to be all brittle and stuff.  I always knew that I would age ungracefully, and with Extreme Prejudice, but this would be the delightful á la mode on life’s dessert tray.  So it’s HRT for me.

So is this Age’s red flag?  Am I enjoying the ironical use of the bloodiest of colors?  Perhaps.  Hence one must take care.  The body has accumulated many epochs, and is therefore tempted to flutter a regretful handkerchief at youth, as our ship slips through the waves, and the child we embraced for so long remains on the dock, waving goodbye.

Oh, twaddle.

The physicality of Age cannot be denied.  It manifests itself in a legion of unwanted ways…and in one way that is welcome.  Hi, Menopause.  I’ve been waiting four decades to make your acquaintance. Want to play fast and loose with my hormone levels?  I have a little pink pill and a little brown one that will set that right.

However, my age does not determine my behavior.  It never has; and it definitely never will.  I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I think it bears repeating, that I will give you my burgundy lipstick when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Because it is called Change of Life; not end of life.

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