Tag Archives: myth

On Holiday

“Let us speak of the revels which are accustomed to be made on St. John’s Eve…”

– the monk of Winchcomb, 13th century

During the summer, the sky swerves and tilts on a new axis. It slides on its equinox like a child sliding down a stairway banister. Summer Solstice, bronzed as any sunbather, lingers high overhead, lingering in Cancer’s Tropic. The shadows of St. John’s Eve leach into the stones of Stonehenge and then are cast across the grasslands of Wiltshire. The stories and thoughts of the prehistoric builders are revealed – but no one has yet been able to read them.

At twilight, the whimsical sky is crowded with revelers. Constellations, long absent from the carnival stage, begin to arrive. A menagerie of holiday visitors – eagles (Aquila), swans (Cygnus), foxes (Vulpecula), horses with starry wingspans (Pegasus) dance an orbit to an astral harp (Lyra). The trace work of their steps pierces the indigo fabric in a metallic frost.

The astrological wheel turns along the summer ecliptics and celestial equators. When it stops, Sagittarius the centaur is rearing against the sky, pocked with nebulae and stars, shouldering his quiver of arrows. Scorpius, bright with novas and poison, waits. Libra, outlined with a distant harvest of blue, orange and red stars, prepares to carry its scales of justice and good behavior during the liveliest of seasons.

Sunsets are very gala. They are the color of sweet cocktails – honey and Benedictine, sangria with plums and nectarines, champagne and peach. They are warm and melting – coating the horizon with an invitation to an evening of celebrations.

During the carnival evenings, planets are eager to crowd into the sky. If the moon is curved into a crescent, they hang from her geometric grace like jewels. If the moon is full, wearing her summer colors – Strawberry, Rose or Red – she casts a cherry-colored cloak across her new neighbors. Mars and Saturn ride lowest on the horizon, drinking in the last of the sunset’s sugared alchemy. But Jupiter is bold and bright, sailing like a radiant ship towards the moon’s blushing presence.

When summer’s hot allure is exhausted, the sky revolves once more to reveal unfamiliar populations and landscapes that bend over a ripe solstice, a golden equinox heavy with crops. Constellations float in the thin, cold air: dolphins (Delphinus), fish (Pisces), whales (Cetus) swim in oceans kept full by the Aquarian water bearer. The full moon dons her working garb: Harvest, Hunter’s.

Breezes as chilly as lace curl like a fichu across the diamante bosom of the modest sky. They kick up gusts of meteors and shooting stars: the Orionids, the Taurids, The Leonids – even the final sweep of the Perseid meteor shower.

Stars that did not take these giddy rides are left behind, glittering and lonely in the cinnamon sky. They are scattered like the ribbons and furbelows of the departed revelers’ indulgences. They were the madcap reminders that tickled the crooked backs of the workers in the fields, the residues of warmth that whispered of the pleasures they had missed.

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Coquilles St. Jacques

 

The scallop flutters through the water like a fan.  Its shell is dappled with coastlines that ripple with earthly colors – russet, gold, ivory and bronze.  It is pleated with ridges and striped with growth lines that mark its childish development.  The scallop also has the curious attribute of 100 blue eyes that are draped along its mantle like a string of Christmas lights.

The scallop’s muscle is a firm propellant, urging the mollusk on its erratic explorations.   It is also delicious, a dense and tender treat, with a sweetness that is tempered with the bite of the ocean.  It is not surprising therefore, that whenever I discover a scallop shell on the beach’s littered table, it always looks to have been licked clean.   On our own tables, under the moniker of Coquilles St. Jacques, it swims in butter and wine and then, with irony, is returned to the shell so recently vacated.

The literal translation of Coquilles St. Jacques is “St. James’ Shells”.  St. James is the patron saint of Spain, though he was born by the Sea of Galilee – site of miracles, sermons and battles. He was beheaded in 44 AD by Herod Agrippa of Judea, possibly the first apostle to be martyred.

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Legend says that his body was then taken by angels and disciples then placed in a rudderless, untended boat.  Its bleak journey came to an end on a coast thick with rock and shale known by the ancient name of Galicia.  The remains were taken inland for burial in Compostela.

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Centuries later the relics were rediscovered, sometime in the early 9th century.  Compostela became known as Santiago de Compostela (from the Latin ‘Sanctus Iacobus’) and as history progressed, would flinch under attacks from raiders that ranged from the Vikings to Napoleon’s armies.  Despite the danger, The Way of St. James became the most famous route of pilgrimage in the Christian world.

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A tangle of paths, worn smooth by the feet of the devout, circulated through Europe to arrive at the gilded heart off the northern coast of Spain.

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For an assortment of reasons, the scallop became a symbol of the saint as well as the journey.  With every step pilgrims rustled with the shells that were stitched onto the hems of their coarse shirts and caps.  The uprooted mollusks dangled from their walking staffs, their frothy outline was embroidered on their pockets.  The pilgrim would also carry a scallop with him – so that on presenting himself at church or castle, farm or shack, any tenant could fill the shell with food or drink without turning him away, sparing him the shame of declaring poverty.

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Yet why the scallop?  Its pretty lines and patterns appear in both myth and symbolism, and explain the scallop’s status as a sacred metaphor. The grooves in the shell, arching from the blinking mantle to meet at the hinge are emblematic of the various pilgrimages that ultimately meet at a single destination:  the tomb of Santiago de Compostela.

Two closely related stories exist as well:  when James’ body was being shipped towards the Iberian Peninsula, the vessel was clouted with a heavy storm and the body was lost to the tall waves and deep troughs.  However, in time it washed ashore undamaged, covered in a protective cloak of scallops.

In another version, as the ship approached land, a wedding was taking place on shore.  The groom (some stories have dubbed him a knight) was on horseback, and on seeing the ship approaching, the animal spooked, plunging into the sea along with its rider.  But again, both emerged from the sea alive, covered in compassionate scallops.

The seashore is its own pilgrimage.  I follow the row of shells rooted in the sand, the cracked ribbon that continues to unwind for as long as the ocean’s generosity endures.  I am not a pilgrim, but many times at the end of my journey my pockets are rattling with shells, as if the Atlantic breaths of Galicia were sighing just around the corner.

 

The Stuff Of Dreams

The pearl is my birthstone. I have always been proud of its history, of its oblique beginnings at the bottom of the sea. I have always been proud of its fame: of La Peregrina (“priceless and incomparable in this world”), La Huerfana, Hope, Arco Valley. They’ve done time hanging from the necks of royalty, aristocrats, and criminals. I’ve seen the pearl featured in paintings: resting against the trussed chests of Isabella of Portugal

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and Mary I;

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hanging from a young woman’s ear in astral splendor in “The Girl With A Pearl Earring”.

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Pearls symbolize innocence and decorate the veils of brides; yet they also decorate the chariot of Neptune, raw and swarthy. Pearls have traditionally symbolized the tear drops of the moon: a delightful thought.

On the other hand, I’ve always had pity for the lapis lazuli birthstone. The name is unwieldy and unpronounceable. Uncomfortably foreign, I was never even sure of its color. It is the birthstone of December, and I have since learned that it isn’t even its primary gem – losing to the turquoise and blue topaz in an azure competition. I knew nothing of its meaning, its worth, its use.

But I know now, and I am somewhat ashamed to have held such a noble stone in contempt for so many years.

First, there is the look of it. Its color is a rich, royal blue; it sparkles with pyrite, giving it a look of a twilight sky dazzled with golden stars. Its color was of such intense opulence and rarity, it was mined as far back as the 7th millennium BC to be used as the finest jewelry. Minutely carved scarabs and beads have been found in Neolithic burials in the Caucasus and Mauritania. The Babylonians and Assyrians used it for jewelry as well, for amulets and cylinder seals, the small engraved cylinders used to roll impressions onto clay. Invented around 3500 BC, they have been found in gravesites, to provide good fortune for the dead.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, from the 17th-18th century BC, is recognized as one of the oldest known works of literature. Many times lapis lazuli is mentioned, the first time, many agree, a precious stone has appeared in a narrative:

From the prologue:
“Pick up the tablet of lapis lazuli and read out
the travels of Gilgamesh, all that he went through…”

Ishtar beseeches Gilgamesh:
“Be you my husband, and I will be your wife.
I will have harnessed for you a chariot of lapis lazuli and gold”

Gilgamesh declares in “The Flood Myth”:
“Ye gods, as surely as I shall not forget this lapis lazuli [amulet] around my neck, I shall be mindful of these days and never forget them!”

It was saved for the most exclusive of adornments. Powdered lapis was used as eyeshadow by Cleopatra. It was used to embellish the funeral mask of Tutankhamun.

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Royal and priestly garments were shamelessly dyed with the mystic blue in order to designate their status as gods. Catherine the Great used lapis lazuli to decorate The Lyons Hall of the Catherine Palace, saturating ceiling and furniture with impenetrable majesty.

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By the end of the Middle Ages, lapis lazuli was being ground into the most valuable of all blue pigments, ultramarine “the most perfect of all colors”. It found its way into lush Baroque skies, Renaissance frescoes; it was an exalted color, used for Annunciations and the Virgin’s cloak. It was even used to color the turban the young woman wore, as thick with light as her celestial earring.

So in history, art and literature the lofty excellence of lapis lazuli has played a significant part. But its fame does not stop there; it has one more role to play: the leading one, the force that drives the tangled mythos of alchemy.

Lapis is the Latin word for “stone”. And every transmutation, equation, calculation and alteration that burns in the alchemical retort is for one purpose: to purify the “dark matter” the earthy “chaos” that had putrefied the four elements since the fall of Adam and to elevate them once more towards the celestial belt, the Elysian “lapis”.

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It is the “lapis philosophorum”, the Philosopher’s Stone, the sun and moon tree, the Treasure-house of Wisdom “from there that wisdom rises” (Umail at-Tamimi, 10th century), and described by Hermes Trismegistus in The Emerald Tablet: “the father of it is the Sun, the mother of it is the Moon; the wind carries it in its belly; the nurse thereof is the Earth”.

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Now, it is true that the surname of ‘Lazuli’ does not appear in these obscure teachings, but the lapis lazuli is universally known to represent truth, enlightenment and inner vision – perhaps a nod and a wink to the twisted logic and bizarre mathematics of its alchemic ancestry.

In “The Tempest”, Shakespeare wrote the words, ‘We are such stuff/As dreams are made on’. They were spoken by the magician Prospero, as he reflected on the similarity between the spiritual and the corporeal, the confrontation between the dreaming and waking states. In very different circumstances, a rumpled cynic contemplated the statue of a dark falcon, naming its strange appeal as ‘the stuff that dreams are made of’ – the futility, the greed, the desperation, the hopeless competitive spirit that keeps people reaching for what they can never grasp.

But I still insist that the stuff of dreams are buried in the earth, that they are swimming beneath the waves. They have complexities of color and shape; they shine in the darkness. And they were born out of the most extraordinary circumstances: from the irritation of a grain of sand to the formative power of sediment, rivers and volcanoes.

But it was the caprice of humanity which gave the gemstones added meaning and value – long after they were pulled out of their earthly homes. But we can’t help it. We will always dream.

The Splintered Target

Morning arrived like a javelin

From a dawn that coiled like muscles

Hurled down from the Olympian sun

Crouching like Helios

Behind his blazing chariot

Pulled by horses raw with fire

It pierced the shadows

And they shattered like glass

Into shards of dusky prisms

They were sliced like diamonds

Into a multi-faceted dawn

With one perfect throw

But in twelve hours the splintered target would become whole again

And the haloed god with a crown blistered with dragons

Would raise his mighty arm once more

The Varied Shadows

“Draw Close The Curtaines”

“When thou goest to thy bed… draw close the curtaines to shut out the Moone-light, which is very offensive and hurtfull to the braine, especially to those that sleepe.”

–   A guide to healthy living, 1621

I did not see the blood moon last week, even though I tried to.  Slightly after midnight  I stood outside – night gowned and barefoot – but all I saw was a dark sky blushing orange, as if the moon was too shy to show herself in her red, blatant flesh.

A blood moon carries with it a weight of myth and symbolism.  Such an anthology of legends is so heavy that it is a wonder that a satellite cloaked so stridently has the strength to rise to its proper lunar height.

The scientific explanation is simple enough.  When the earth is in alignment between the moon and sun, it casts a shadow on the moon, a disc-like fragment obscuring its metallic phase.  That is the eclipse.  But on the other side of the earth, the sleepless sun is casting its rays through the earth’s atmosphere.

Obligingly, the blues and violets – the colors of the daytime sky – are filtered out.  But the furnace-cast of reds and oranges travel through this atmosphere, bent through a prism of dust and ash that extends for thousands of miles.  By the time the color reaches the moon, the palette is arranged for her scarlet, saucy profile; for her misplaced sunset.

But before science took the upper hand, men found other explanations for the tarnished shadow floating above them. A moon running red with blood signified the coming of the end times, of the Bible’s terrible prophecies, of dark suns and the “terrible day of the Lord”.

According to the Ecclesiastical tables this bloody moon was a Paschal (Passover) full moon. As it was the first full moon after the vernal equinox – it was also a herald for Easter, the Sunday immediately following the Paschal Full Moon.

A red moon during the harvest was a sign of the huntsman, of his prey run to ground and his bloody catch. It was a time of feverish activity, when forests rattled with hunter, horse and hound, and a successful outing would guarantee a healthy season of food for all.

Priests, shamans, mystics and story-tellers did their best to explain why the moon burned like a flushed sun in the latest corner of the night, at the very height of her languors.  But it was science that discovered that every few years, when earth, moon and sun were aligned in an astral set dance, the moon was able to experience her own sunset:  a rare closing of bronze and tawny curtains as she begins her nightly, silver vigil.

All of this I missed on that soft night. And it was a shame, really, but since that night I have given the moon and her amours a great deal of thought. And I have found that there are times when memory adheres more firmly to matters of reflection than vision. And that no matter how closely the “curtaines” are drawn, the moon and her stellar court will wait on your drifting contemplation.

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Sleeping Dragons

Tintagel Castle is a hothouse of legend and unlikely histories.  With a silvery childlike name, it stands rooted in the Celtic Sea, close to the curving turquoise grottos and the melting veils of salt.  In winter the waves beat across the tumbled granite like fists; in summer they hiss like dragons, asleep in the hidden, subterranean caves.

Water Fall and Flowers

A gray skeleton crumbling into the grass, its wounded remains shiver in the Cornish air…the noble bones of arches and turrets.   Once it crawled up the coast:   a granite community born in the Dark Ages, when priests made forests into sanctuaries, when serpents patrolled the ends of the oceans – looking for the painted, foolish ships.

Many Storied

Ten miles away from his castle, called Terrabil, there was, in the castle Tintagil Igraine of Cornwall, that King Uther liked and loved well, for she was a good and fair lady, and passing wise.”

During the Middle Ages, myth and fact either fought like two caged lions – or they would curl lovingly about each other to create stories that would last forever.  Between the years of 1135-38, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the “Historia Regum Britanniae”,  which he described as an ‘ancient book in the British language that told in orderly fashion the deeds of all the kings of Britain’.  Included in that pantheon was King Arthur.

Geoffrey wrote of Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon – a cruel name that spoke of an antediluvian world of towering men and hidden women – and his love for Igraine.   His desperation drove him to go to war against Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, and Igraine’s husband.  Before the two armies thundered into each other across the earth that still vibrates with their ferocity, Gorlois placed Igraine within his most secure castle, Tintagel.

Uther was told by a friend that Tintagel was fearless and could not be taken, for ‘it is right by the sea, and surrounded by the sea on all sides; and there is no other way into it, except that provided by a narrow rocky passage–and there, three armed warriors could forbid all entry, even if you took up your stand with the whole of Britain behind you.’ 

The wizard Merlin was summoned to create an alchemy of magic and potions to change Uther’s outward appearance to that of Gorlois’.  Unfairly disguised, he walked up that perilous passage, and ‘in that night was the most famous of men, Arthur, conceived’ – just as Gorlois was killed in the field.

Birth of a Legend

‘Sir,’ said she, ‘the same night my lord was dead, there came into my castle of Tintagel a man like my lord in speech and countenance; and thus, as I shall answer unto God, this child was begotten’.

There is another legend that has filtered through the crushed walls and prehistoric windows:  the complex tragedy of Tristan and Iseult. 

“As King Mark came down to greet Iseult upon the shore, Tristan took her hand and led her to the King and the King took seizin of her, taking her hand. He led her in great pomp to his castle of Tintagel, and as she came in hall amid the vassals her beauty shone so that the walls were lit as they are lit at dawn.”

This story of elixirs, adultery, banishment, blood and beauty weaves through Tintagel like an embroidery of  sorrow.   The castle was the possession of King Mark, the betrothed of Iseult, the Irish princess whose loveliness scintillated the dour walls of his defense by the sea.

But as was the case of many arranged marriages back then, and quite a sensible solution too, actually, a love potion was prepared – to ease the two over the hurdles of pre-nuptial shyness and suspicion.  Mark’s nephew, Tristan, sailed to Ireland to retrieve the future bride.  However, due to circumstances never quite revealed in neither song nor poetry,  Tristan and Iseult accidentally drink the potion and fall dangerously in love.  Their affair ends only when Mark banishes Tristan from Cornwall.

Love Gone Wrong

Some stories say that the two do not meet until Tristan is on his death-bed.  When in Brittany, Tristan suffers a wound that only Iseult, the lady who kept her tonics on ivory shelves laced with ebony, could cure.  But she does not arrive in time; grief-stricken, she collapses by her lover’s side and dies.  Others say that Tristan does return to Cornwall, only to be stabbed in the back by the King when he is found playing a harp outside of Iseult’s bower.   

I visited Tintagel Castle years ago.  I climbed the stairs – 180 steep, panting steps – that Gorlois’ warriors guarded.  I placed my hands on the walls that once blushed at the sight of the most beautiful girl in the world.   I happy tossed the real world over the precipice into the rock-pierced ocean, to be spirited away by the sleeping dragons’ breath.

The Sea On All Sides

Blood And Legend

The unicorns are no longer with us.  They do not graze in chaste splendour in fields glittering with the metallic residue of their golden hooves.  They do not kneel by the sides of maidens, harnessed by their purity and unbound hair.  Their ivory horns, composed from an alchemist’s fantasy of unnamed antidotes and elixirs – the random mysteries of science – have vanished.  Ground into powders that lie forgotten in chemists’ cupboards, or mixed into tinted pastes that still wait on boudoir tables – these symbols of equine mythology are no longer with us.  They have escaped into the elements – blood and legend vanishing into symbols written on a wall:  earth, air, fire and water. 

Beneath our feet, their muscles still ripple – their bones still shape the world.  Continents split as the buried memories grow restless and shake their heads in noble impatience.  The white horses carved into the sides of ancient mountains are paying homage to their improbable ancestors whose nacreous skin once shimmered like a torrent of pearls.  

Curling through the air in vaporous filigrees, thundering down from the clouds in equine gusts, their breath pursues us – tickling our necks, urging us to turn around.  Invisible and companionable, they live in the breezes that circle the earth and gallop above the waves in a salty, ethereal frieze.

They live above the constellations, beyond the moon who rules the sky with her femininity and luminescence.  Prancing above a twilight circus of planets, interstellar dust and clouds of diamante and lavender, they kick with a lunar spirit creating a burst of disturbed, pronged stars.

The Living Sky

Yet as their breathing twists through the air, so do their silhouettes twist in the flames – in the graceful fire that sparks and flashes like hooves on stones.  Their shadows hide in the blaze – their courage and nobility feeds it.  When we stare, hypnotized, into the fires that soar like bronzed wings, it is the unrecognized mythological profile that holds us so tightly.  It is the resting, waiting legend that spellbinds us.    

Long ago, in a perverse reversal of animals escaping from the sea in a triumph of scales and slime, unicorns escaped into the ocean.  They walked through kelp forests, rhythmic inside of turquoise and jade currents, grazing with the fishes in the apricot shadows of coral beds.

But fishing hooks – piercing the water with their unsubtle bait – scarred their skin.  Their legs were caught and broken in the nets that billowed with tremulous danger.  Fishermen pulling up their nets saw the tears and broken bits of horn and thought fabulous thoughts.  And when they returned from the sea, their stories created new legends and fears.

Caught In A Stampede

Within its newest hiding place, the unicorn evolved.  Its legs disappeared; its body became thick and mottled.  Its tail, which was once tended by ladies with diamond and ebony combs, turned into flesh.  Almost unrecognizable, it lives there still.

Surfacing Once More

Summer Serenade

In myth,  men and women are gilded with mysticism.  Their stories glitter with magic, like the metallic thread that roams through a rare fabric.  Their existences are heavy with explanation:  oceans, stars, trees, seasons, winds – all are attached to their fearsome destinies.

In fable, animals face off against each other in stories designed to teach and charm.  Blessed with voices and wit, they live side by side in whimsical pairings awash in humanity’s frailties.  Fox and lion, tortoise and hare, wolf and crane, ant and grasshopper:  their lives are lessons in behavior and etiquette; the gentility of beasts.

In the late 17th century, Jean de la Fontaine continued the tradition of myth and fable.  The story of the ant and grasshopper became a poem about “la cigale et la fourmi”:  the cicada and the ant.   A paen to hard work and dour summers, 

“Cicada, having sung her song
All summer long,
Found herself without a crumb
When winter winds did come.
Not a scrap was there to find
Of fly or earthworm, any kind.”

it continues the theme of humiliation and hunger…

”Hungry, she ran off to cry
To neighbor Ant, and specify:
Asking for a loan of grist,
A seed or two so she’d subsist
Just until the coming spring.
She said, “I’ll pay you everything
Before fall, my word as animal,
Interest and principal.”

…the shame of unbridled joy

“Well, no hasty lender is the Ant;
It’s her finest virtue by a lot.
“And what did you do when it was hot?”
She then asked this mendicant.
“To all comers, night and day,
I sang. I hope you don’t mind.”

 

Winter Calls

La Fontaine’s story was re-written as a comic opera in 1890:  a garish year of painted faces, legendary waists and the half-world that lurked in velvet evenings and on velvet beds.  In “Cigale” the roles changed:  during the course of the entertainment, both characters suffered; both behave shamefully.

But this is Paris and the century exposed its decadence like a pair of feminine ankles:  something that was always there, but always hidden, until the petticoats were pulled up.    “Cigale”, for all of its didactic origins, was full of song and color, performed by actresses whose voices trembled like a bird’s; who wore blissful, feminine costumes.  Their curves winked through the sheer fabrics like wicked invitations.

Pretty Insects

Singing For Her Supper

“Cigale” – and her serenade to the golden, endless season – became another word for irresponsible celebration, an excuse for the song and dance which would prove to be her downfall.  A nightclub, La Cigale, was opened in 1887 – enlarged in 1894 – and would be the center of many stunning evenings and stunned dawns.

A Time To Sing

On the Parisian stage, the cicada was portrayed as a generous woman who takes pity on the “La Pauvrette” (the poor little one – no longer the ant).  After being comforted and fed, “La Pauvrette” became cruel and heartless when the situation was reversed.  Shattered by the north wind, Cigale dies in the snow:   her mandolin – which she played throughout the summer – silent beside her.

Sad Music

Braving centuries and interpretations, Cigale’s fate rode a distant journey back to de la Fontaine’s poem…back to the pitiless winter and the ant’s unwelcome answer to her lamentations:

“You sang?” Why, my joy is unconfined.
Now dance the winter away.”

A Tree Grows In My Apartment

It was given to me as a gift. Fragrant of the forest and Christmas, it was sprinkled with silver glitter – like a handful of stars trapped in a green, earthy sky. I was immediately taken with its symbolism, its mysterious life, its small and delicate perfection.

For weeks I kept it at work: a pretty accompaniment that countered the surrounding electricity and stress with its quiet growth and perennial tranquility. But eventually I felt it was time to bring it home. It is a chilly and dark walk home during those ending months, so I felt obligated to hold it close – this emerald hatchling unused to the provoking cold.

Once home, I placed it by the brightest window, soon noticed that it was leaning away from the light, like a spoiled child turning from a carefully prepared meal. Perhaps the sun was an insult to its shadowy past, a life nestled in the myth and darkness of the woods.

A Bed Of Roses

To add to my little tree’s alarm, I re-potted it. Its roots were balled and tangled like a fist in its old home, and I could hear it knocking to get out. But I fear it went into shock – it started to look gaunt, and began weeping tiny green needles into the brand new soil.

That was about a month ago. The tree maintains its stubborn tiny-ness, despite the somewhat breathless claims on its birth tag that it could very possibly grow to 13 feet tall. It continues to live, without doing anything as vulgar as thrive. Out of politeness, it does not flourish.

But now it’s raining; the raindrops are bouncing off the ground with a quick and liquid velocity. Perhaps my little tree will recognize this dark weather and reach towards the soft, gray air in a sudden burst of sentimentality.

Glitter

A Distant Light

The white columns stretched like pallid arms, muscled with granite, veined with carvings, scented with fear and devotion.  They pressed against the ceiling, fingers splayed into fan vaulting, creating a meadow of curved geometry.  These limbs reached high, balancing the weight of their medieval history on their dusky bones.

The noble appendages rose, met and clasped – arching over a Gothic darkness that was silent and holy.  Pilgrims once navigated this dark, scallops rattling on their hats, to leave gifts at the tomb of a murdered king.  Breathing plague and piety, they laid their ardor at his ivory feet.

A Stygian shade was cast by the cadaverous walls, built out of stolid Anglo-Saxon guilt.  There was a river of black that was cold and dense:  Hades in the interior of a cathedral.  Apse, nave and choir were subdued by a heavy gloom that blotted out the sun like a profane eclipse.

And yet, there was a distant light.  A pool of hope, glowing inside a secluded frame like a liquid, captive sunset.  Colors, rich and warm, the alloys of jewels, shone with an incandescence that blazed like an alchemist's studio.  A window of melted glass, a puzzle of amber, sapphire and ruby, beckoned from the end of a twilight journey.

It has been this way for centuries.  Pale columns braced against an inanimate sky of stone and plaster.  Walls bearing the images of saints inside them like unborn children.  Light that offered the comfort of myth and legend and that still blessed the stale, ancient air.

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