Where is the Love?

I remember a night when we walked under the stars. We talked of love. You had been its victim and I was a dreamer seeking adventure. You said that you had parcelled your heart up in a cage, put it on a train and you were running as fast as you could in the opposite direction. You didn’t care where you were heading as long as it was as far as possible from the pain and chaos of love.

I begged you to reconsider.

I told you that love was the most exquisite drug, the only high worth chasing. You said it was like heroine, a temporary fix that would wreck destruction upon my world.

I said love was the air in my lungs and its breath set me free. You replied it was the sickness consuming us from within.

I thought love was the divine spark that set our souls on fire. You told me it was it was an inferno that burnt everyone to ash.

‘That’s your pain talking,’ I whispered. ‘It doesn’t have to end like that.’

‘Love is pain. There is no alternative ending.’

‘I can’t believe that.’

‘You will. One day you will.’

‘Love is worth the sacrifice.’

‘You don’t know what you are talking about.’

‘Then show me’

‘You don’t want that. I don’t want that.’

‘You don’t want me.’

‘You have no idea,’ you sighed.

‘You don’t want to believe that I love you.’

‘You love the idea of love.’

‘You love pushing me away’.

‘I’m saving you from yourself.’

‘I don’t need your protection.’

‘If only that were true.’

‘Why are you being like this?’

‘Love did this. I’m trying to stop it doing the same to you.’

Inferno – Canto V

And now the notes of anguish start to play

upon my ears; and now I find myself

where sounds on sounds of weeping pound at me.

I came to a place where no light shone at all,

bellowing like the sea racked by a tempest,

when warring winds attack it from both sides.

The infernal storm, eternal in its rage,

sweeps and drives the spirits with its blast:

it whirls them, lashing them with punishment.

When they are swept back past their place of judgement,

then come the shrieks, laments, and anguished cries;

there they blaspheme God’s almighty power.

I learned that to this place of punishment

all those who sin in lust have been condemned,

those who make reason slave to appetite;

and as the wings of starlings in the winter

bear them along in wide-spread, crowded flocks,

so does that wind propel the evil spirits:

now here, then there, and up and down, it drives them

with never any hope to comfort them-

hope not of rest but even of suffering less.

 

Dante Alighieri

Lines 25-45.

Translation by Mark Musa

 

Under Egyptian Skies (Part 1)

The priest watched as the sun slowly began its descent into the west bank of the Nile. Ra was entering the underworld. The hour was approaching.

He entered the temple alone. Inside, the camphor lamps were being lit. The sacred hieroglyphs adorning the walls danced in the firelight. On the ceiling silver stars sparkled in a lapis sky. He approached the alter and held a torch flame to the pile of incense that had already been laid out. The air was filled with the magic of frankincense and myrrh. The scene was set. All he had to do was wait.

He crossed to the temple’s far wall and pressed one of the carved symbols, a dot within a circle. A door swung open and he passed into the hidden chamber. He, Djeuti, a boy priest was about to fulfil his destiny and become a god. He let his robe fall to the floor and sunk into the milky waters of his bathing pool. His assistants emerged from the shadows and scrubbed his body with boar hair brushes. His blood tingled beneath his skin and his pulse quickened.

When they had finished, he climbed the steps and stood there naked and dripping whilst he was fanned by fronds of palm until dry. Jars were brought full of fragrant oils which melted easily into his hot skin. When his was fully anointed, his body was dusted with powdered silver and he glowed like a fallen star.

A low chanting began and the ceremonial kilt was brought and fastened around him with protective pins. A beaded belt of jasper and turquoise was knotted over the stiff linen. Bracelets and armlets were closed over his limbs, binding him to the temple and his duty. The sacred mask was carried on a strecher of woven reeds and placed before him. It was shaped like an ibis under a crescent moon. The face of God. Djeuti took it in his hands and gazed long into the hollow sockets. He imagined his eyes, the colour of waxed ultramarine filling their void. He wondered what she would feel when she looked upon them.

A royal mile to the south, the final preparations were made and the princess left her chamber.Her body was weak from fasting and trembled with a mixture of fear and thrill at what was to come. She leaned on her handmaiden for support as she descended the stone steps. Her voice was whisper as she spoke, “You are married Padme. Tell me, will this hurt?”

“It is love that hurts you Princess, not the act of making it,” her servant replied squeezing her hand in reassurance.

The entourage passed through the botanical gardens in silence. The exotic plants were drained of their colour by the twilight, reduced to monochrome shapes rooted in soil far away from their original home. Soon I shall be like them, thought the Princess. A trophy flower displayed to show the might of my King.

They moved into the avenue of sphinxes and she searched their stony gaze for clues to unravel the riddle of her life. They gave her no answer. Too soon the party reached the dock where the royal barge waited upon the water. Torches burned bright along the length of the boat, their fires reflected in the black water below.

She stepped onto the wooden deck and the drummers aboard began beating a slow pulsing rhythmn. The princess took her place on the golden throne, her heart pounding louder in her chest than the men could beat on their stretched drumskins. Padme sat at her feet and the princess leant down to her. “Sing me a song,” she whispered.

“What shall I sing you?”

“The Song of the Raven”

Padme’s voice echoed in the air and as the notes floated higher, the men adjusted their beat to match her rhythmn.

The princess closed her eyes and breathed deep, letting her mind drift away into solitude, carried by the dancing words. She felt the boat move below her as it was cast off from the dock. Oars were slid into the obsidian water and they left the bank and her innocence behind them.

In the darkness of his inner sanctum, the awakening God sat deep in silent meditation. His mind projected out from his body, ascending higher and higher into the sky above. He become a bird circling in the air. He could hear the music carried on the wind and her soul with it. His eyes snapped open. She approaches

He sat motionless as the drums and song grew louder and closer. Now she was alighting the barge and entering the complex itself. He could feel her gentle vibration resounding in the earth beneath him. She was walking between the towering pillars carved to resemble papyrus and lotus blossoms. Her eyes were downcast but he could feel her awe and how her heart marvelled at the temple’s beauty. He could feel something else too: her fear. He could sense it in the hesitation of every step.

His mind stayed with her, unseen and unnoticed until the party stopped before the temple of Al-Khemia. The moon was rising behind her, its silvery light directed through a gap in the outer wall. It was tracing a path along the ground towards her. Soon her feet were bathed in moonshine, then the curve of her ankles. It was time. The ritual was beginning.

Inside the temple, in the place where the boy Djeuti had sat, the god Thoth rose and took his place.

The princess felt the blood rise in her body as the power of the moon goddess, Nut, washed over her skin. The drums and song had stopped. Everything was silent. The night was still as though holding its breath, waiting for events to unfold. The air felt heavy and tight with latent energy. She shivered.

Her entourage had disappeared into the darkness and she stood alone at the entrance to the temple, watching as her shadow grew in the puddle of light. The ethereal silhouette of a slender young woman cast upon the stones. The moon rose above her and the shadow of the princess crossed the sacred threshold. Its head lay upon the feet of the waiting God.

The princess drew a deep breath and held it as her gaze was drawn higher. She saw the glistening skin, the beaded kilt, the honed chest. She wanted not to look but she couldn’t stop herself. Black, braided hair rested on broad shoulders leading to a graceful neck. The face of the ibis shone like a pearl in the moonlight as she looked upon the eternal eyes of God. In them, a distant fire burned bright. Her heart skipped a beat.

“Come Keshet’anan. The time is now”.

Her God knew her secret name and she had no choice but to obey.

Strangelove

Within a mile the town had given way to scattered houses and then nothing but desert. The reservoir that we had seen on the drive down the night before was on the very outskirts of civilisation. It seemed a complete contradiction to find this sprawling expanse of water marking the boundary to the driest place on earth. The terrain was beautiful, we could have easily been driving along the highlands of Scotland beside a loch if it wasn’t for the delicious warmth that was beginning to creep through the morning. And of course all the American power cables. It seemed that no matter how desolate the landscape, how far away civilization seemed, there was always electricity close to hand. The American infrastructure was quite amazing.

We passed a motel on the shore of Lake Isabella and I was pleased that we hadn’t stayed there, even though it and the setting was far more picturesque. Our night in the Isabella motel had been one of the highlights of the trip so far and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Something about it seemed far more Seth and I- waking up and seeing people and mountains and cars and an amazing sunrise- it was though by seeing the world as it really was, it became even more beautiful.

Seth and I didn’t talk much, driving along listening to the greatest hits. Occasionally we would point out something we thought the other hadn’t noticed but mostly we just sat there and enjoyed the moment, one of us singing along to the tunes as the mood took.

“It’s a straight road for ages, mind if I write my diary for a bit?” I asked. “I’m falling behind. Getting too distracted.”

“Go right ahead,” he smiled.

I pulled the black notebook out of my bag with its skull and crossbones pattern and read back over the last thing I had written- Tuesday night’s events. I let out a little sigh, this meant that I was going to have to write about Wednesday and it felt awkward to do so with him beside me.

Its your own fault, Eden, if you had chosen to do something constructive that day instead of lying under the covers, crying and listening to music then you wouldn’t be in this situation now.

There was nothing for it but to start writing and I found that once I did, the words flowed easily. But the energy between us was weird. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was sending it out- something I was making a conscious effort to avoid- or whether Seth could sense what I was writing about; either way there was tension that ebbed and flowed in the air. I tried to ignore it but eventually it became so distracting that I decided to take a break.

“Watcha writing about?” Seth voice was full of curiosity.

“Oh…um…Wednesday.” I said. I hadn’t wanted him to ask in case he thought that I was still upset by the whole thing. “I’ve been trying to keep a day behind but I wrote nothing yesterday so I’m a bit off-schedule. Really need to catch up.”

Out of nerves, I was fiddling with the pages of the diary as I was talking and idly, I glanced down at the page I had stopped on. A word stood out on the page.

“Oh, odd” I said shutting the book and putting it on my bag.

“What’s up?” Seth looked over.

“Nothing, I just happened to open on a page that I had written the title of a song that has just played. Was random that’s all.”

“Which one?” He asked, leaning forward in his seat.

“Strangelove.” I said avoiding his gaze and looking out the side window instead.

“What else is written with it?”

“Good question”.

I didn’t actually know, I had closed the book too quickly to see. Reaching for the diary I knew that there was no way I was going to get away with reading it without telling him what it said. I prayed I wasn’t gushing about him too much and took a deep breath. Its ok, he’s read your diary entries before, he knows what to expect. I thumbed through to the right place and read the whole page first myself, just to check how bad it was. I blushed.

“Well this is one of my typically, incoherent diary entries. Mostly I use this thing like a notebook, ramblings or songs that mean something. I hardly ever write down why though, so often I have a bunch of disjointed information. This page is mostly that type of thing.”

Seth was looking at me like he was expecting me to continue. I sighed, rolled my eyes and began to read.

“Ok, the seventeenth September, The Stars- This Charming Man, Zero 7- Destiny, Al Green- Look What You Have Done For Me, Beyonce- De-ja Vu, Depeche Mode- Strangelove. Can I just say I have no idea why that particular mix? They’re not even songs that I associate with…well… anyway… the next bit says that I dreamt of riding a camel from Dad’s house to Weir cottage three nights earlier- which actually was quite a random dream- and the last bit is me musing about Orpheus and Eurydice and noting that Clair de Lune by Debussy came on shuffle as I was doing that.”

Seth seemed puzzled as though he had missed some connection that he should be aware of and gave me a curious look.

“Its a Twilight thing” I shrugged “The first time Bella gets in Edward’s car it is playing and she names it. He is surprised that they like the same music.”

“Hmm, interesting” he said with a smile. “So you dreamt about Weir cottage?”

“Yeah, can’t get that little place out of my head at the moment. That was one of those strange dreams when you know you are dreaming but it feels real, I could feel the camel rocking and everything.” I said watching the world pass by outside. The whole incident had got me thinking, maybe it wasn’t coincidence that I stopped on that page. I debated internally whether to say anything and then blurted “Do you know the story of Orpheus and Eurydice?”

“I don’t think so. Tell me.”

“Orpheus was a musician, he was either part god or exceptionally talented, Im not sure which. Apollo taught him to play the lyre and his wife was Eurydice. She got taken to the underworld for some reason, either Hades, God of the underworld kidnapped her or she was bitten by a snake. It depends on which version you believe. Basically Orpheus loved her so much that he decided to descend into the afterlife to find her, so he crossed the Styx and walked through hell and his music charmed Hades and Persephone so much that they agreed to her release. The only condition that they made was that Orpheus would not look at her until they were back in the land of the living. So together they walk to freedom, her following him and they get all the way to the exit and he crosses over the threshold and looks back. With that she disappears back into the shadowy depths.”

“And what did you write about it in your diary entry?”

“I was thinking that if he had trusted more in her love for him and not had to reassure himself that she was really following then they would have got away with it.”

“You think that he was uncertain about his love for her?”

“No about her love for him. I don’t think he believed she loved him as much as he did her and that is why he turned around.”

“Interesting perspective.”

“Its so weird, that poem under the subway back home all about Eurydice. It really did feel like a universal message last time I walked past it.”

Seth was silent and I wondered what he was thinking. As the sun crept higher the sky turned the same clear blue as his eyes; the land outside of the jeep had become barren and sandy, only a scattering of scrubby bushes clung to life. Mountains spanned the horizon cradling us like protective guardians, and in their custody, time danced a different tempo. You could feel it slow down, relaxing and savouring the moment along with us.

ENTER

To avoid reality I dream. To reveal the reality of myself I dream.

The sky is indigo. The hour is late. My screen flashes yellow. I scan my fingerprint and it unlocks. A message awaits. It reads – Return to the Labyrinth

We’ve been here before you and I. Centuries ago you would have slipped away from your servitude on the whim of relief. Across the mud and dirt you would have appeared at the threshold of my door. The floor inside strewn with flotsom of a million adventures. The rose petals, the animal skins, blood scattered papyrus, and cracked and tarnished halos.

The sign above my door says ENTER. One simple word. It is a command, an invitation, a challenge. There is no warning. No words could contain the beauty and terror of what lurks within.

Everyone knows that something strange happens here. This is the road that leads to nowhere and everywhere. This is the place that vampires become victims. This is where pilgrims journey looking for saints and leave broken by their sin. Some that travel here never leave at all. Many are lost within these walls.

This is the labyrinth within and without the heart.

Tonight the threshold is the screen and the floor is lines of code. I let the book slide from my lap. ‘The Unfinished Tales of Uqbar’ falls to the ground. The clock on the wall carves out the seconds of this soul asylum but as I open the screen we have already fled. In the virtual arena a few zeroes to the left and our identities are changed. Binary is the mask that disguises us. I begin to type out a world where we belong. The landscape of our escape is the space between words.

Here the present is infinite. The past is nothing more than a fleeting memory. A ghost in a fog of misfiring synapses. The future is the untyped arrangement of endless possibilities. The truth is just a fragment of the whole.

Ever present, it leaks back to us. It leaks back in legends, in myths, in dreams. All we have to do is remember.

We enter the labyrinth as fools seeking paths not yet determined. We find ourselves in dead ends, we catch ourselves in our own traps. When we think it is over, it has only just begun. There is always a new possibility. There is always a hidden door. Take nothing for granted.

What is it I have to remember?

I build this reality.

This is the maze of my imagination.

ENTER

Sonnet 144

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

Which like two spirits do suggest me still

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.

To win me soon to hell, my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.

And, whether that my angel be turn’d fiend,

Suspect I may, yet not directly tell,

But being both from me both to each friend,

I guess one angel in another’s hell.

Yet this shall I ne’er know but live in doubt,

Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

William Shakespeare

The Scientist

Our steps are slower as we return to the station. It is as if we are both walking towards something that we don’t want, but neither of us knows how to stop it. There are a few seconds of silence. The air is heavy with words left unsaid and no time to say them. Both of us are contemplating the thoughts inside our heads. Out of nowhere, a voice in mine urges me not to waste the precious few minutes remaining.

“I was thinking that our book should be a trilogy. All the greatest stories are. Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, The Divine Comedy. Remember I said that I was basing it on Dante’s journey and that Virgil was his guide? Well in Purgatory the reader gets to learn more of Virgil’s story…” I let the words tumble out before i can stop them and wait for you to realise what I am trying to say.

You glance at me with fear in your eyes. “I told you. I can’t write anymore”.

“Can’t or won’t?” Because you should, I feel that so deeply. I know it is the truth. And I think that deep down you do too.”

You are quiet. I don’t want to push you too hard but I feel compelled to tell you this.

Too soon we are stood by the train. There’s still ten minutes before it leaves. The doors are stood open and after the coldness of the night air, it looks warm and inviting.

“Come and sit with me?” I beg, pulling on your arm.

We sit next to each other and I turn towards you trying to catch your eye. You won’t look at me. In deference to your feelings I lower my gaze and focus on your hands. I take them in mine and suddenly everything I have wanted to say comes tumbling out.

“I know that you are scared you will become that person. I know that those memories pain you. But I think that it is hurting you not writing because that is what you are. You are trying to deny your god-given talent, to mask what is underneath, but you should know that you can never find true happiness that way. It took me years to work that out, please believe me. People care about you too much to let you become like that again. I care about you too much…”

Unconsciously I have been stroking the back of your hand with my thumb while I have been talking. It is madness to talk more. I know you don’t want me to. This is not what you want to hear and I don’t want to be the one saying it. I am paining you and that hurts me. But with utter certainty I know that no-one else will say it.

For whatever reason this has fallen at my feet and so I carry on my words regardless.

“Whoever you were back then, I don’t think it was really you. It was just your reaction to a bad situation. You cannot be afraid to love because you have been hurt before. It is not the making of mistakes that is the problem; it is whether we learn from them. Please, at least consider this. Please”

“It might be a little abstract,” you murmur.

I can see my reflection in the tears that glaze your eyes. Tears that you still won’t allow to fall. My heart breaks that I am the one who is forced to cause you this pain. I wish I could take it all back, that I could make you forget that I said it. I want to make it better.

I kiss you.

Without thinking, acting totally on instinct, I kiss your lips. I have waited years for this moment; wanted it so much it hurt. None of that matters now. All I care about is you and trying to fix this wound that I have reopened.

I expect you to push me away, or pull away, as our lips touch but you don’t. For one perfect moment nothing else in the universe exists except us and the love I have for you. It is a love that runs deeper than romance or friendship or anything else in Creation. It is a love that existed before time began and will last until the world fades.

It is a love I try to give you with a kiss.

Our eyes meet as I finally move away from you and I wonder if you felt it too.

“I should go,” you say.

In a flash you are out of the doors and walking through the station. I watch you all the way, longing with every fibre of my being that I could follow you with more than my eyes. You look over at me and raise your hand in goodbye. I smile and wave back and then you are gone.

You are gone.

Girl Comes Incomplete

I dream.

I am running. Trapped in a valley, in the barren winter of my limbo.The disfigured boughs of blackened trees suppress the constellations above, suffocating all light. Beasts chase me and I flee blind. There is no chance of escape. This hunt is familiar and I know how it will end.

I stumble and feel them inch closer, their fiery breath burning hot on my neck.

A star breaks through the branches and hurtles towards me. As it approaches, its shape becomes defined against the darkness. I realise it isn’t a star but a bird. A snow white raven heading straight for me. I have no time to alter course, I know what fate awaits me if I slow my pace for a second. I brace for impact with the bird, but as we collide she alights on my shoulder and croaks directions into my ear. My legs respond of their own accord, her power over me is absolute.

In the distance, I see a patch of milky twilight.

“There,” she caws. “Run. There. Fast”.

My exhausted muscles scream but I dig deep and arrive at a wall of holly. The branches part at my arrival. I step though into a dense fog; the ground feels solid but supple. Pulsing with energy as though alive.

The jagged hedge closes behind me and the beasts cannot follow but still they chase my scent. Their noses sniff the ground, growling and yapping as they track my escape.

I turn to look into the raven’s emerald eyes for the first time. “Who are you?” I ask.

“A friend,” comes the reply.

Supermassive Black Hole

I grinned, “This is turning into a perfect day.”

He turned back to me and took another sip of his wine. His eyes met mine and made me far giddier than all the alcohol I had already consumed that evening. There was a long moment of silence.

I still feel bad I haven’t read the book,” he said finally. “Perhaps we should print it off while you’re here? Maybe you could read it to me on the roadtrip?”.

A rush of adrenaline filled my veins. I didn’t know if i could, some of the things I had said had made me cringe when I was reading them alone, I dreaded to think how embarrassing it would be with him beside me.

“We could but it will cost you a fortune in paper and ink,” I said. “I used a whole ream on my copy”.

“I don’t have a printer, I was thinking that we could break into my office and do it there.”

“Break in? You’re insane.”

“You love it,” he grinned, taking another sip of wine. “So are you game?”

“You know me, you lead and I’ll follow.”