I have killed the thing I loved and seen the beauty of its demise.
His words, not mine. But I understand them well, for I do not kill what I do not love. Look at this creature in my hands – know thou I love it? Broken as it is, its tiny body smashed by my own hand, I love it still and always will. My act was one of mercy. Let me kiss you little sparrow, for you have known life and now you know peace!
I love them, all. I leap from the trees and catch them as they migrate, the swallow and the redbreast, the redstart and the crane, warblers and winchats, pipits and swifts… see them flit, fly, thousands of them rolling by. I wait in the tree til they’re overhead then snatch one from the clouds. Back on my branch, I hold the blessed thing in my hand. Maybe I’ll caress him, sing him a lullaby, hold him and whisper psalms into his ear. Birds know music, even the littlest. They know song.
Sweetly go on the spring-soft wing
How my little birdies fly
Lie with me sweet and with me sing
Let’s float away on a stolen lullaby…
They like to hear me sing. When I open my mouth stars pour out, the music of galaxies. I lull them to sleep with an earful of aether and watch them slumber in my hand. Ever seen a birdie sleep? Likely not. It is the thing of which dreams are born. Which reminds me of a story – the tale of the beginning, if you will. Let me relate it to you.
In the beginning the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep. And in the midst of the sleeping deep a small island lay: barren, uncultivated, lifeless. No living thing had ever encountered that island, or sat on it, or laid eyes upon it. Time did not exist because the sun and moon did not exist, and there was neither coming or going, nor change or becoming. One day a little sparrow alighted on the island after a long and exhausting journey, knowing not the place of his coming nor the wherefore of his being there. The sparrow carried a single seed in his mouth, but seeing the barrenness of the small island, thought, I cannot eat this for I need a place to sleep. Let me plant it instead so I have a place to rest my head. And the sparrow planted it in the ground, and a little sapling grew up into a tiny tree in which the bird made his nest. The little tree in its wisdom thought, But how can I grow if I do not have sun? So the tree whispered to the birdie in his sleep, and the bird dreamed, and the dreaming gave birth to a sun, and the rising and setting of the sun were in him and thus the sun became. The sun nourished the little tree and it grew into big tree, and the bird was safe up high, and soon it had food too. One night the tree whispered to the bird, But imagine how you will dream with a moon in the sky? And the bird dreamed and the moon became, and how the little sparrow dreamed under the moon! He dreamed of the tides and the seas moved, and he dreamed of the coelacanth and the nautilus and the lamprey, and the whale and starfish and manatee, and all the glorious things of the sea he dreamed. And when he was done dreaming of the sea, he dreamed of sand and limestone and quartz, opal and amber, phosphates and the earthworm, and soon he had dreamed up the earth.
God created Earth in seven days. Haha! Earth was created by a single sparrow with a seed. Therein lies the earth’s mystery. All creation from God’s tiniest creature, like this one, cold in my hand.
—Knew ye life? I ask it.
It does not reply. I watched the life go out of it with mine own eyes, robbed of its existence by these very hands. But I know he is not bitter. Still, I wipe a tear from my cheek. Call me not a monster! I weep for this poor bird just as I do for the lost sheep. Was I not all heart once? Aye, a fraction of it remains. I care more for this low creature than for all the Ur-men combined, those wretched rutting animals, like rats they crawl over the flesh of one another then spawn and pollute my creation. Not so this heavenly creature of the sky who dirties not his feet with the soot of the earth. Ye, ye are truly divine! But give these filthy, base rut-monkeys wings and they would still make beasts of themselves. No! Stay in the skies, my beloved.
I stroke his feathers with my blackened thumb. The warmth has left him. I say a prayer for his little soul:
Knew ye that life was good, but that the afterlife in darkness eternal more comfort than all the living.
I kiss him on the mouth.
I leap from the high branches of my tree to my bed which lies below. At the foot of the bed I keep them, my sweet gone loves. I place the sparrow with the rest of them, hundreds, thousands, the passing of their souls a torment every one. Think me mad? Look upon them and see, and tell me how ye would have me be? Life and death at my fingers, change and becoming and ending, all a sleight of my hand. Beauty! The eternal beauty of the dead, the sublimity of their passing, the wretched purity of their nonbeing… How canst one not be mad?
I say all this, perhaps, to explain my true nature just a little more clearly. Much has been said about me, and much of it is untrue. I was a man. A woman too, if we are to elaborate. Many times, in fact. That is merely the corporeal part of the story. Beyond the corporeal, real existence lies. Beyond the corporeal is the ethereal, the transcendental, and what is true here is true across all spheres of being. This is what is true:
I am a searcher. I am a teacher. I am a wandering mendicant and the stranger warming himself by your hearth. I philosophise. I agonise. I am a lover and a being of gentle fury. I weep for the lost lamb of the solitary shepherd, and I smile softly at the cruel torments of loss. I have watched them die, mother and sister, brothers and fathers, and loved them because they had to leave. I sing when I am alone and am silent in company. I dance on empty floors and lie on filthy couches, with no company but the spitsilver moon and the eternal sadness of its light. I die every day. I am born anew each second. I have been murdered, and I too have had murder in my heart. I have had all things in my heart, good and evil alike, for this is the way of being. I have sinned and loved the sin. I have killed the thing that I loved and been destroyed by the beauty of its demise. I know well the agonies of corporeal desire. I have submitted to them all. I loved whores, and love them still. I wept at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, for I saw the light in them even then, the beautiful light eternal. I have eaten the flesh of animals and know that it is good. I have known the absence of humility. All these things and more, I have known and done. But I have never been bought. Never. No man has ever purchased me for silver and never will, for once having embraced the light eternal, a man’s soul can never be corrupted. Even if he may drift, the core remains. That core is ineffable.
The road is long, I tell myself. The road is long, but there’s happiness at the end of it. There’s happiness there to be found, if a man searches. Seek and ye shall find…
And Christ, I’ll find her. I’ll find her and Teodora and take them to California, and we’ll build our house and have our baby boy, and maybe more, cause there’s life for a man there, waiting. This is what I’m thinking as I push east, pushing the horse to its limits, and somewhere in the early morning she gives out and I’m forced to stop and put her to water and go begging for something to feed her. I’ve stopped eating, me. Don’t have the stomach for it, and that’s alright cause the next time I eat I wanna be round the table with my family, breaking bread and drinking milk, and manioc and papaya and corn on the table, us fat and comfortable and happy. I’ll have it. I’ll fucken have it if it kills me, and so hitting noon I’m off chasing again, on the horse and roaring, through jungle and over open field, passing through Cordoba like a fiend possessed, like a devil Jesuit on horseback come to reap havoc over the land.
And as I go, strange thoughts creep in, strange gypsy thoughts flash like salmon roe through the dark pool of my psyche, thoughts unaccounted for by my own desperate desires, frightful thoughts of terrible certainty, Woe the man who makes himself a god, and Step not on hallowed ground with chancred feet, and Feed poison with poison, and other things, mad things, these and many others swim through the dark waters of my poisoned kingdom. It’s the gypsy and I know it, her vines now stretching out through my being, through the vital passages of my body and up into my mind, and soon the coiled veins of her wisdom will hold me, strangle me. I don’t have much time.
I sail on, my horse, too, infected by the gypsy’s voracious power. It’s her the horse feels when I put my hands on his neck and lean in close and whisper in his ear, and I wonder if he can’t understand the very words that drip into him roelike, for surely the gypsy speaks to animals easy as she pours poison into a man. He’s my horse and I go with him, but it’s with her wind in our sails as we gallop, for we turn from the direction of Santa Fe and ride north, and I scream and pull at the horse but he won’t listen, he just ploughs on, heedless of me. And that’s when I hear her for the first time, the gypsy, Manuelita, she rises from her deep jungle abode and speaks into me, a rare echo that invades my being like the dark rumble of thunder in the belly, and that voice is my master, my jailer.
—I have work for you, she says.
And I scream til my lungs bleed, eyes filled with tears, blind to the road and filled with rage. ‘I must see her!’ I cry, a man alone on a horse screaming at the jungle, the country, the whole continent, the ocean beyond, but she will not be overpowered.
—You will forget her, she instructs.
I keep screaming, but even as I do her sweet poisons are filling my veins, and as I struggle to hold onto her, Salome, her face and her hips and the roughness of her hands on my face, and the weight of her thighs and hardness of her calves, and the smokiness of her thick black hair and depths of her eyes, and the moistness between her legs and the scent of milk and papaya, and her cracked lips full in smile, and the laughter of Teodora and the smell of my unborn child’s head, even as I rage and cling to these things I feel them slipping from me, the gypsy’s poisons filling my veins, subverting my purpose, subsuming my being. Soon my face is wet but I know not why, for I’m a man on a horse heading north with a new purpose in his heart, one that eclipses all others, the past a mere lick of a minnow flitting downstream, a strophe in the water, the skirl of the stream – leuleup! – and gone.
So she lifts the pipe, jams in a lump of thick oily tar, and drops in a coal from the brazier and puffs on it til it sparks. She takes a hit then passes it to me, and I take the jade-silver pipe and toke on the thing, her hand on my chest and fire in my lungs, and I set sail, my veins the river and my breath the breeze, the golden breeze, and I sail on it downriver, nothin to see or hear but the golden breeze and the warm whisper of the water, that’s it… I sail on down the river carried by the breeze and the warm kisses of Nubian princesses, princesses who were servant girls but became royalty with a power to make men weep oceans, oceans that carried their funerary pyres on their final night, the pyres lit by the spark of a pipe or the collapse of stars, fierce lucent stars blinded by beauty; those girls that became princesses that became whores, who dictated how men die and leave this earth, and who administered the last rites as bodies burned on golden oceans… whores who sat by Christ and whispered in his ear and found his everlasting love because they bore him, too, that same Christ who married a whore and fathered a whore and who loved them more than all other women, even his own mother.
I saw all this as I was carried out on the golden ocean, even as I heard her whisper in my ear, golden whispers too, for I felt them drip into my ear and into my veins, whispers like honey that took sail through my veins, blown by their own crystal music, she whispered song-like,
Follow me and I’ll show you what became of Helen, and Hephaestus and Apollo, and Manjushri and Avalokitesvara, and Alexander, for he saw it too, Alexander, when he went East and died at thirty-three, but only after he saw Meru and the glass ocean of Mansarovar, and that’s why he had to die…
She whispered this as my boat sailed out onto the crass ocean filled with the tears of men who were not worthy and who burned on those waters, but I sailed right over it, golden whispers carried me over, and I hadn’t the fear of drowning men for I saw my time was not near.
Somewhere out on the ocean I chanced up on an island, an island like an eye where there existed only lepers who lived on a diet of salt water and unripe dates, so I got off the boat and, filled with whispers of golden honey, kissed each of them one after the other, and those missing limbs I healed; those without arms I licked their stumps and their arms grew back, and those without ears or lips I kissed the holes where their appendages had been and soon they were whole again, and like this I cured all those wretches so that they became men and women again. The women gave themselves to me and the men became my acolytes, so that I was revered here and they named the island after me, and it was called Isa. Isa was my home for a century, until even the last died and I was the only one, so I buried my last wife and acolyte and dug out my boat, buried in the sands for a hundred years now, and after a decade’s prayer I put it back on the water.
I left Isa and sailed to the hyperboreal north on the breath of whispers, and this time she said,
This is where you come after it all, this is what’s beyond the glass ocean, dive in and you come up here where all things are remembered and not remembered, and all things are recast in the diamond wind; this is what poured through me in the golden-honeyed breeze of her whispers.
She held me, and I knew she would always hold me, for I was her sacred son, even if I caressed her brown nipples and lapped at the anointed rivers of her cunt, and buried my cock between the earth of her thighs and the oceans of her womb, I was her son and she would hold me for eternity and more. And I knew it and was blessed.
A last whisper blew through me like a soft wind, Come back to me, she said, and so I climbed off the ice and back into my boat, and sailed years back across the ocean of tears, until I felt it, I felt the coffee caress of her body, I felt a hard brown nipple in my mouth, sucking on it like the pipe of the dying I was, and I felt those lips on my neck once more, destroyin me with gentle devastation, and I felt the lips of her cunt ride me slowly, each thrust drawing my boat closer to the shore, pulling me home, and she sucked on my ear and licked at my neck and buried me deep inside her, until the boat hit the shore in a frantic thrust, the waters breaking on the hard land, my boat capsized, me flung onto the earth with a scream… broken, consumed, annihilated.
My prick slipped from the shores of her cunt and I fell into the golden sleep of the immortals.
Ultan Banan started writing as a way of getting his head straight, discovering in the process that staying busy is the only way to stop oneself going insane. He devotes what time he can to writing, doing his best to avoid gainful employment by ever more creative means. He lives on the move but dreams of a small cottage on a foul and inhospitable coast somewhere. Currently in Scotland.