Though there are torturers in this world
There are also musicians
from a poem by Michael Coady
A city that the sun has staked to the ground and dared to survive. A city that hums with the silent impact of thousands of rolling miles of sand waves washing round it.
A poet is woken in a woman’s bed, woken by the sound of her husband crashing his huge body against the door and roaring. The poet leaps from the window and goes flying across rooftops, dancing with laundry and cats. He runs till he can’t and finds himself looking down into a schoolyard.
Children are chasing each other and laughing, and in the centre the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen with his eyes. Her easy grace and light as she minds her charges pluck all his poetry from him like so many glued on feathers and leave him shivering in the noonday heat. He doesn’t know how many days he comes back here until he dares to speak, but when he drops down and approaches her, a cold, mad laughter veils itself over her eyes, and though she smiles and her body arches like a cat loving a mouse, he sees that somewhere she is under lock and key and he apologises without knowing why and stumbles away.
He doesn’t know how many days he comes back and watches, hoping not to believe in that glimpse, but he knows that the love she has for her children is not available to him, or to herself.
He struggles through many nights twisting pens at pages, locksmithery in ink. But he cannot make a key for her. All he makes is cheap fishhooks of verse that he burns each morning.
One day he catches her singing to herself, and her body sways. As he has no voice for music he decides he must find the instrument to play that can capture her light in song and give it back to her. And then learn to play it. He cannot find the instrument in the city and so he travels across the desert and through many sandless deserts after, until one day, half mad with cold and hunger in a land that beds itself with frozen water and hardly knowing why he came he hears a something wail from under a bridge. A saxophone. An angel’s wing in brass.
He comes home with this wing across his back. And she’s still there. And he begins the task of translating her into song, going every morning to soak in her grace and then walk the city half blind in bliss. Playing through the night.
Every night he wrestles the angel’s wing across his roof, trying to breathe the body of a living loving woman through it. Whole nights trying to breathe her smile through the brass feathers, her sway, her hair brushed from her neck.
She never saw him, but she thought of him sometimes, that man who dropped into her schoolyard with a face full of open eyes. She cursed herself for the coldness she had thrown over his love, clawed herself suddenly; in the market, doorways, walking home. Exhausted by the weight of suffocated horizons she carried everywhere. The colour slowly left.
Three years later she was walking when she met her cousin. “Oh, you have to come with me” her cousin said, pulling her. “He’s playing in the slum round the corner.”
“The man with the brass angel’s wing, who else? He’s been gathering devotees on the streets for weeks, the whole city is obsessed.”
“Where have you been cousin?”…
…“If you were to take me hostage in your body” he said, and played. She didn’t recognise him. But every note he played recognised her. Every note that had been hatching in her heart’s dark seclusion for years was given to her, slow aching rivers bruising banks, flooding plains swelling in her skin until she felt stretched into an empty temple, an unused, discarded veil.
As she lay in bed that night her body felt like it was dying, every second of her skin screamed. She could think of nothing but how her mother would find her corpse, and with her last strength she gathered beautiful scrolls of prayers and clever books around her, took a pen and wrote ‘a song for my beautiful mother’ at the top of a page and lay back, content that her mother would find comfort in the way of her passing.
But as the hours flowed to dawn a terrifying thought occurred to her; she wasn’t dying, she was being born. It hurt.
The next day the musician played again. Terrified, humming with joy she hung in the notes that floated through the crowd, and this time she felt a deep love for the bodies around her, their breath, their dance, she wanted to know if they had love and she tried to guess from their faces. The pregnancy and wing of the music was soaring and bruising roots at the same time. And she was filled with a certainty; that that they were all empty, though they smiled, but that their lives, even for this one moment when their limbs carried the current across hundreds of bodies were worth every second of suffering, as the music spilt its roots into the shadowy lap of the night sand and blew brass feathers at the stars, the tears streamed down her cheeks as she realized she had lived her whole life with these people and never felt them like this, but that it wasn’t too late.
Again she died in her sleep.
Her body hummed and curled like steam trapped under a lid all the next day, halfway between suffocation and flight.
On the third night he climbed a wall. The crowd was quiet.
“You have heard two songs” he called out. “The first was my love longing for a woman who couldn’t love me, or herself. It was my obsession, my wounds, my self. It was a year. The next night I played that heart flattening realisation that no one, none of you, had her, that we were united in unknown invisible grief for a worldwoman we did not have. It was a year.
Tonight I play for you my final song; the knowledge that we are all one. That we are never alone except in the self imposed exile of our minds. Everything before that is delusion. I had to write the others before I could see it, I had to chase her dream down every alleyway of myself, had to have her living body in song before I knew that we were never apart.”
And he played the music. And every bruise she’d ever had drew butterfly kisses across her body and her body and every smile every offer of beauty of love from family friends men women the world that she’d ever shut the door on pulled a veil over came back to her like orphan children gifting her motherhood.
That thick pollenous membrane of notes, overlaid octaves, met the latent origami of her heart, waiting, nested, each note unfolding a crease of the most cathedral of oaks, the most angelic ephemeral dart of hummingbird’s wing, the warmest lap of mother, the slightest tributary of song, the fullest most pollen coated lips parting, the cool air drawn over them pooling in the mouth like silk sheets laid over a bed to welcome a new body and her body and her body and as she danced for the first time she felt that the sweat that ran down her thighs was diamonds the light trickling down her the milky glow of stars streaming from black holes. She recognised herself.
And suddenly she recognised him.
The music stopped. The air sang. He spoke.
“That song was my love learning to love herself. It was a lifetime.”
And her horizons cartwheeled her heart become a kite and this incredible man had done this for her, and he was hers, could be hers. And she had all the love he needed, finally.
He went on “In learning this song I never stopped loving her, loving her more, but as my love rose through the notes it came to cover everything, be everything. Until I loved her just as I loved the sea, a leaf, each and every one of you. My heart is no longer tortuous enough to want a woman to keep, to want anything.”
And her horizons shuddered.
“I cannot be in love.” he said, “I am love, as are you. I have seen suns millions of miles wide split open like acorns and grow milky rivers of song spiralling through forty dimensional octaves of black, white, and rainbow and invisible light and every note a leaf and every leaf an angel’s face and every angel’s face a soul cradled in a breathing body. If suns can seedburst so can you, what will you grow into?”
And he was finished.
Soon after he found her shaking.
“What’s wrong?” he asked her, taking her hand.
“I’ve just had some bad news, I think I’ve lost a man I loved. I think I’ve lost a man I think I loved.”
“Oh, that. Well…would you like some good news?”
And he saw that there was a great crowd around them.
“Everyone pull close. This news is for all of you. Can you listen? Can you give me your attention for the moment it takes and not throw questions, not throw yourself away? Can you give me your only possessions, time, attention, intention, for a minute? You may have heard all this a thousand times, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to hear it now. Here is my good news; it is absolutely incredibly unlikely to be alive. But if you’re hearing me you must be. The universe is unknowably vast, made of constantly expanding empty spaces and the expansion is constantly accelerating and the acceleration is constantly expanding the universe is so empty that it barely exists, just like an atom. The places that support breathing life so rare and tiny that they’re hardly here. But you are here and the tiny space of breathing life you happen to inhabit is beautiful. You are beautiful, not just in that general sense that all things are. You, specifically, exactly, are beautiful. No one will ever wear your face again. The stretch of time before you wore this face and the stretch of time to come after are so huge that this face barely exists. But you are here now. And your life will be long to you. No one will ever wear this face again but you will wear many.
And more than that, the universe the sun the earth the sea animals plants family friends strangers will always offer you beauty and love through every avenue of your senses and soul. No matter how many times you squander or ignore those offers they will always be there. All you have to do is recognise them and accept them. Accept what you offer yourself. I don’t end where you begin.
And more than that, your life will be marked by pain and suffering, all lives are. And in every second of suffering you will be offered enlightenment. The lightning that cracks a seedpod open and allows it to grow. And all you have to do is accept it, and the pain will fade into light.”