A CHRONICLE OF IS

A novel by Terry Heller

Part 1:  Arm's Journey Through the Waste Land



Introduction 

Part 1: Arm's Journey Through the Waste Land

Part 2: In the Land of Marsh River

Part 3: Among the Hills


Part 4: The Festival of Midsummer

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Terry Heller's Home Page

copyright 1991 - 2001







 
Chapter 1. Arm in the Dry Lands


     Arm sat, back to the gritty wind that blew all night across the desert waves. Facing the way he had come, he squinted against the drift, kept his lips tight shut. He was thirsty. The needling current of blown sand wore at him as if he were a soft rock pushed up from the desert floor. Stars, bright in the clear sky, showed his last footprints being erased. He could see growing nearer to him the point at which the traces of his journey were finally erased.


     How long since he had drunk? How far had he yet to go? He thought, not in words, only of these things. So focused on the present - the need to rise and move, how hard that would be - that he hardly thought at all of the object sitting beside him in the flowing dust, the carefully sealed wooden pail, perhaps still half filled with water.


     There was a reason he had to keep this thought at a distance. He had to arrive at the unknown northern land with water in this pail, the pail of IS.


     Otherwise, this suffering now and the tortures of the last days would be futile. To follow the Frog's Eye into the North and come to the promised great river without IS - that would be the same as dying here and leaving the pail to dry slowly into a greenish crust beside his transformed body.


    This was the twelfth night since leaving the Swamp, his beloved Orf, and all the Children of the Swamp, who were his people. He had crossed the land of the cactus that he called pricklies and the land of the stones. In both he had learned to find water, though never enough to replenish the supply with which he had begun. In the beginning, he carried a pack of food on his back and a sealed pail in each hand. Now the pail of IS rode in his pack, and he carried the empty pail from which he had drunk. He was not sure why he carried it; perhaps he still hoped he would fill it at some oasis. Indeed, only two days ago, he had drunk well - though still not enough - from a seep hole found for him by Sand, the small, brown lizard that had befriended him. He was tempted to stay, but there he could not get water as fast as he seemed to need it. He spent all his waking time, collecting and drinking, while his food disappeared and he felt always a little weaker, a little drier, tied to a deceiving trickle of life in a land that could only give him death at last. And so he had come on, with a finger's length of water in his drinking pail. His friend, Sand, rode on his shoulder, then in the pail to lick the last drops from its seams, and now again in his dense, fine hair.


    The night wind began to feel cold, slipping beneath his loose, woven-grass tunic and kilt. Arm stood and turned northward again. Against the hard glow of the desert night sky, he appeared a small man, swarthy, with hair darker than the black sky, long and fine, but stiffly spreading to his shoulders, dusted now with golden desert dust. The dust obscured the golden strands that mingled with his hair so that on his shoulders appeared several narrow yellow stripes that narrowed and gradually disappeared between the ends and roots of his hair. His face was thin and dusty, with eyes that would be dark brown in daylight, but now seemed to be pools of deeper darkness in deep hollows beneath his brow. He kept his lips shut tight, and so they appeared thinner than they were, giving his face the hard look of concentration, of desperation, - of doubt.


    Eyes narrowed against the sand, he found the Frog Eye Star, his guide, and then he hoisted his pack, trying not to hear the faint sloshing of the sealed pail that he had closed further from his desire, inside the smooth-worn fibrous harness that his shoulders had grown used to. He bent his knees, curled his tired fingers around the rope handle of the empty wooden pail, and then started up along the face of the next dune. The cold and warm sand dragged at his bare feet. Perhaps he made no progress, slogging around soft crests and descended with aching knees the solider windward sides. Perhaps he only traveled around and around the same dune. So it seemed, though he followed always the Frog's Eye.

Chapter 2. Arm Hears the Singing of IS
From Arm's Chronicle of IS(In his own words)

     I have been the arm of IS, who has no arms but us. Among people, I have been the voice of IS, who has a thousand voices in all things. This has not made me different from you, my children, except that it has given me this tale to give to you. And so I leave it to you, before I take my rest.

     Before I could write, before words were more than the sounds of my brothers and sisters beside the swamp, I was a child of the swamp, who sang to us and was our parent. What do I remember from that time?

     I remember the singing. By day the swamp would sing with long cries and quick melodies. By night the hopping and swimming animals, the frogs and snakes, would also sing with the swamp. Like the birds, we sang by day and by night. By day as we gathered food or told stories in the shade, by night as we sat around the fire, we would sing the songs of the birds, the frogs, the snakes, and our own songs, too. Our own were the most beautiful, especially at dusk.

     Having gathered at the huts and built our fire, we would watch the sun's glowing hand close and withdraw while the smaller hand of our fire reached out into the growing darkness. And we would sing the songs of the swamp, which to us then, were built of all the songs of life. The songs taught us by our parent we sang, and they were good because they included all songs. We were the children of the swamp.

     In these days, we sing the same songs around the same fire, but now we know that our singing is part of the swamp's singing, too.

     I remember my brothers and sisters as they were. Often I sought food with Orf who became my mate after my journey. I remember her smaller than she is now and with the bright golden hairs that flowed like strips of grass through the dark water of her hair. Now, of course, her hair is all brown, like my own, for we approach the end of our singing. There were others, all my family, most still with us. Born is gone, Burk and Tof sing here no more. Still, now as I look around the circle of the fire at sunset, I sometimes can go back to the time before there was so much light, before I knew so much of the worlds beyond. I am happy in those memories. Though years of living are described in only these few words on this page, their memory is timeless. Though I cannot live again as I lived then, when the singing of evening begins and I look at the faces of my brothers and sisters, I have for a moment, the peace and content of before the great light. And even though that seems the best life, I am not unhappy now. Perhaps I am happier now.

     The great light did come. It happened in this way.

     I walked alone in a shallow bayou, following the current where the bottom was clear. I was looking for new sun fruit in a part of the swamp I had not visited before, further in than we usually went. I came to a very dark place, where trees and ferns arched over a broad dark pool. Only in the center did a shaft of light penetrate the cool dimness. This light made a small round, gold-green spot on the black shadowed surface. The whole pool was filled almost to the surface with a dense growth of waterroot that grows everywhere in the swamp where there is not too much sun and current. It rests lightly on the bottom, but never rises above the surface of the water, changing its shape as it drifts slowly.

     Here the waterroot did not drift at all, for it was packed tightly into the pool into which flowed the little current I had followed. Beyond, I saw another small opening through which the current continued. The pool was beautiful. I saw no sun fruit. It was too shady. But I felt I wanted to stay here forever to look at this dark green pool with its single shaft of light slowly arcing across the surface. Watching the light dip beneath the black surface into depths of green and shadow, the intertwining strands of waterroot, and bathe the green in honey gold, I seemed to look into a great eye, and that eye, in turn, looked deep into me. I do not know how long I stayed, nor can I remember in words what happened.

     As I passed familiar ground coming to the huts, I became aware of a singing in my head. Awakening then, I knew that I had been hearing it since I came upon the pool. It was a song such as I had never heard and such as I will never sing. These words I write remind me of it. Though they are not the song, they come from it, for it is still singing softly in my inner ear.

     And when I became aware of that singing, my heart was filled with such a desire that I felt I would fall into many pieces and scatter into the sky. Darkness was falling, and I wanted to return to the pool. I could not in the night for I would surely be lost. Stretched between fear and desire I was another in the night. It seemed that no one knew me, nor did I know my friends. I sat silent in the singing, hearing only this new unsingable song. I saw not the fire, but only the golden shaft of sun in the pool. I had no desire to eat. There was no rest for me in the night, for the song was becoming a call, a command that I return to the pool.

     With first light I ran from the huts and into the swamp. I knew not where to go or what to do, but my feet followed my inner ear. They ran to the rhythm of the song though I could not sing it. The song directed my body back to the pool. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I ran in the inner singing, seeing only the inner vision, until I came to the place. Then what was before my eyes became what was in my mind. When I stood before the pool again, I felt I was at home.

     How long I stood, merely gazing upon the pool, I know not, for I saw it whether my eyes were opened or closed, whether I slept or waked. As I drank in the vision of that place, I believe it changed, for it seemed to become still. I remember the branches of the tall trees, waving slowly in the breeze, the long ferns nodding, the shadows dancing and the pool of light within the pool of darkness expanding and contracting. But these ceased. The vision in my head and before my eyes became still, without motion or sound. The swamp became a green world, as if I were inside a great green basket. And inside the basket was the black pool, and inside the black pool was the golden eye of the sun. And finally, I was inside all of these.

     After standing forever in silence and stillness, I too became silent and still. There was nothing in me but the motionless, silent pool. All singing had ceased. Out of the silence came a word I knew: "Drink!" And I was thirsty, so I bent to the pool and drank.

     There was a bursting of light and sound as if I looked into the sun and heard it shout. Because the fire was in my head and the roar in my ears, I could not turn away, nor could I bear them. I slept and dreamed. In my dream I saw the stars dancing in a lake of darkness. They seemed to sing to me, and I seemed to sing back to them. They danced in many rings around a golden sun in the center. I seemed to know that the sun was made by their song, that the sun was their singing and that they too were their singing. In my dream, I could bear the light of the sun and the singing of the stars, and I could sing with them.

     The first time I opened my eyes again, I saw only light and heard only sound. Perhaps I was not yet awake. I know not. But the light grew into a dancing of flames, and the shouting grew into the songs of many singers, as when a stranger comes to the huts and all would talk and none may listen. After awhile, I dreamed again of the dancing and singing stars.

     I waked and dreamed many times. Once I saw a fiery fern leaf fly through the dancers. The song it sang was new, for it came from afar. Yet that song was not unknown, for the fire had passed this way long ago, and it remembered the song of the stars. When it passed the sun, the sun began to sing the new song that was partly the old song, and I sang it, too.

     It seemed forever that I lived in the blinding fire and deafening singing, when I knew myself only in my dreams. Once, when I opened my eyes, I saw the pool again suspended in the green of the swamp. Then I heard the breeze and saw the dancing of the shadows in the pool. They were not the same as before though, for now there was always in my mind the vision of light, the many voiced singing, and the dancing and singing of the stars, too. I was in the light which, though it has become ever softer since, has never left me.

     As I looked again at the pool while standing in the light, I heard the singing of the pool anew. I knew it as the singing of the swamp, except now it sang in words that I knew. This is what it sang to me.

     "We will sing of IS. I am IS, and there is a pain in my heart. You must feel my pain, for you are now the Arm of IS. In time you will be my voice.

     "This is what you must do, Arm of IS. You must carry me into a place of silence that it may sing again. Northward across the dry lands you must take me, to a source of my life. This source grows weak, for there is a silence around it.

     "Go and rest now among my children."

     I returned to the huts still in a dream. Orf greeted me with pain in her voice, "Arm! Have you met with the little red biting snake of the swamp? You are not dying!? Do you stay away from us so long without eat or drink? You are not yourself, except your worn face." I could find no right reply. I said only that I had seen no snake and that I was hungry and thirsty. Though it was not yet the time of sharing, she gave me her gathering. I sat before her hut and ate from her basket. She brought me her water pail. When I had eaten, I drank and fell into a dream of the pool. When I awakened, she looked into my eyes and spoke. "What is it, Arm?"

     Still, I could not tell her all that it was. I said I had found a pool. "This pool is the life of the swamp. It speaks to me, telling me I must wander into the dry lands."

     Orf believed I spoke what was not. "Surely Arm, you speak of your dreaming. Only now you sat before me with your eyes closed singing a new song in the languages of birds and snakes. This is your dream which speaks to you."

     "You speak true that I have dreamed. Indeed, I know not when I have waked since I returned to the pool. But waking or dreaming, the voice of the swamp has been constant in my mind. The light I see is."

     "But dear Arm, you have surely eaten toad vine leaves, and they have made you ill. To wander into the dry lands is to die. They do not end. There are no streams to follow. You must lose yourself there, never again to be among us."

     "Again it is true that to wander into dryness is to become lost forever. But the swamp sings that there is a place of water beyond the dry lands. It is there I must go."

     "No!"

     "Yes. It is as I say."

     "You must tell this tale to the children of the swamp."

     We gathered around the fire at dark and sang. I did not sing, though I ate. Orf had filled her basket again, and though I brought nothing, I was welcome, welcome as a stranger after my long absence. I did not sing because I could not. Only the singing of IS was in my ears. Unable to capture that song, I could sing nothing at all. So I listened, like a youngster just beginning to learn.

     When the others had sung the sun into the swamp, Orf spoke to the sisters and brothers. "Arm has been deep in the swamp. He tells me that there he heard IS sing to him. It bids him journey into the dry lands. It says if he travels far into the wilderness, he will come to a place of water where there is a thing for him to do."

     Then I spoke. "The thing to do is to discover the cause of a growing silence. There were once people there, like us, who sang to the earth. Their music came to the swamp through a great stream beneath the ground. Gradually the singing stopped, and now the stream itself grows small. It too may soon stop. When it stops, the life of the swamp will be in danger, for that great river is one of only two streams of life, bringing water and song, to feed the body and the mind of the swamp, our parent. Though the swamp did not sing of this, I suppose it is true that if the swamp weakens and dies, we too will weaken and die, for we are children of the swamp."

     Then Burk spoke, the eldest then of our sisters. "There was a song we sang when I was a learning youngster. It is long forgotten now. Though we still sing something like it, the words are gone from my memory. I remember that the words spoke of brothers and sisters beyond the dry lands, other children, not of the swamp, but of a great river. I remember part of the song said that we were brothers and sisters through the water in the rocks."

     Orf spoke again. "To enter the dry lands is to become dry. Even if there was a place of water beyond them once, it must no longer be there if the stream dies beneath the ground."

     "I must go. The voice of the swamp sings in my head. I feel that it suffers. I cannot remain, hearing the suffering of the swamp and doing nothing."

     But Orf persisted. "You cannot leave us forever because a song is in your head!"

     Burk spoke again. "Oh Orf, it is ever a hurt to bid farewell. We would not willingly let go of any of our brothers and sisters, especially those we think to mate with. But when have we forbidden the desire of one who would go solitary to the swamp to learn a new song?"

     "He goes not to the swamp, but to death in the wilderness."

     Burk replied, "Let me remind you of Wand the Wanderer." This was a signal for silence, for all to listen to the retelling of this familiar story of our great ancestor.

     "Very long ago, we were all as little children. We went out each day from a huddle beneath a great tree and ate all we gathered. In those days there was no sharing except among those who gathered together. There were few of us then, so we always ate well.

     "In the huddle in the dark beneath our tree for that day, we were afraid. What there was to fear, I know not, but still, we were always afraid in the dark. At sunset, all would lament, crying out and whimpering at the loss of the comforting light and warmth. At sunrise, all would rejoice as we found each other and our home again. You see in those days we had only two songs, the lament, which has become our song of parting, and the rejoicing, which is now the song of mating and of welcome to long absent friends.

     "Among us was Wand the Wanderer. She had her name because she would not always return to group at night, but in the dark would roam about. She said she found the swamp another place in the light of the stars. Why she was not afraid, I know not, though it is said she had heard another song. It was not a song, though, that she first brought our people from her wandering in the night. First, she brought us fire.

     "It happened in this way. One night in the cool season, we were piled like sleeping children beneath a great tree. Many of us were cold in the damp night. Then some of us on the outside of the huddle began to feel a pleasant warmth. We opened our tight shut eyes to a golden glow that lit our tree from beneath. When we looked, we saw a small fire in a clear place, and on the other side of it sat Wand, holding out her hands to it. We did not think of our fear of fire nor of how it came to be there, for we were tired, cold, and afraid of the darkness. So, for the first time, we slept in a circle around a fire.

     "Wand taught us how to strike stones and make a spark, how to gather and dry tinder, and to store dead wood. But that was not all, for Wand continued to wander the night.

     "In the night, of which we had been afraid, Wand found many songs for us, and because of her we gather around our fire each dusk to sing the setting sun. Because of her, our fire rises to replace the sun during darkness.

     "Most important, it is because of her that we learned we were children of the swamp. We believe the song of mating comes from Wand the Wanderer.

     Making begins in two.
    Two silver birds meet in the branches.
    Two frogs meet in the pool.
    The sun sings to the shadows of the swamp.

     Making becomes three and many more.
    There is an egg in the nest.
    The tadpoles stir the pool.
    The children of the swamp sing around the fire.

From this song and from the first songs of parting and return come all of our songs. Though we sang as children huddled beneath our tree, we did not know we sang until we knew the mating song and sang it around a fire at dusk. Then we became people and learned to sing our songs all together and not each alone. And when we became people, we knew the swamp was our parent.

     "Had Wand the Wanderer not roamed in the fearful darkness, we would still huddle without real singing, cold beneath the dark trees."

     Then Burk said, "May not there also be a new song in the wilderness?

     "And, is it not true that singing is our life as much as food, water, sun, and fire? When have we not lived in our singing? Who has lived well apart from our parent? Who has laughed while doing other than what we sing?

     "If there is a singing in Arm's head that is the song of our parent, the swamp, then he must live in that singing, or he will be as dead."

     Hearing this, Orf accepted what she knew she would have to accept, despite her misgivings. "You are wise, Sister Burk. Though I fear to lose Arm's singing, I know it is because of our singing that I fear it. We sing of our oneness. To lose a part is to suffer. Arm says that our parent has lost a part and suffers. For our parent, I will suffer the fear of loss. But I will also trust our parent and hope for Arm's return."

     "You are also wise, Orf. You are of us." Burk spoke softly and sadly, her voice blending with the song of the swamp in my head. There was a silence, and we looked into the fire.

     When I had eaten well, I grew stronger again. Growing stronger, I found that I could sing again with the children. Though I sang the old songs and no new ones, they seemed new to me as I began again to sing them. I think now of one of the oldest.

     Our parent's water rises and falls; it rises and falls.
    The grasses and trees drink it in; they drink it in.
    We eat sun fruit and waterroot.
    We eat frog nuts and starflower seeds.
    We make water on grasses and trees.
    The clouds drop water on bushes and ferns, on bushes and ferns.
    The bushes and ferns drink it in; they drink it in.
    Our parent's water rises and falls; it rises and falls.

This old, old song seemed new to me then. It was new because I came to recognize it as one of the parts of the song of the swamp that was always in my ear. I grew able to listen to the song of the swamp, to find parts of it that I could hear. Some of the parts were the songs I had always known, the songs of the children, the songs of the birds and snakes and frogs, the song which we never heard before of the breeze in the ferns on a forest floor.

     When I felt my body strong again, I returned to the pool. This time, there was no pain or confusion. When I came, the swamp seemed to grow silent. Out of the silence came the voice in my head.

     "You must fashion two pails with covers that fit tightly. There must be no holes. These cannot be like the pails in which you carry water from the streams. They quickly become waterlogged if not dried daily, always leak a little and are open to sun and air. You will carry in one of these pails pieces of me, waterroot covered with water. Out of one pail and out of a basket you will carry on your back, you will eat and drink. In the other pail, you must keep me covered with water, for you know that when I become dry, I die, just as you do.

      "A part of me living must accompany you through the dry land. I must then dwell in a pool beyond the dry land, a pool that drains into the great river that feeds the stream which returns to me here in the swamp."

     I thought that this task should not be hard if only it is not too far across the dry lands. The voice spoke to me.

     "For you, it is eleven days of walking across the dry lands, if all goes well. Taking me there is not your whole task, however.

     "By taking me there, you will let me hear. But the further from the swamp that you go, the less will you hear from me. I will hear you once you place me in a pool, but you will not hear me, for I cannot send my own song to human ears beyond the downstream reach of my water. From where there is a piece of me, song can come downstream through the water to the swamp that is my center. Water that enters the clouds is washed in silence, so I cannot send my songs back upstream, except through the birds that fly North in the hot season. Therefore are you now the arm and the voice of IS.

     "Something I know not is happening beyond the wilderness. My source of water becomes less, and I weaken. You will have to do more, but you cannot know what until you come there. I have helped you in two ways. I have taught you all the songs of the earth. These will help you to know what is needed when you see what is. One of these songs is the song of your brothers and sisters beyond the wilderness in the land of the river. Though I hear it no more, I remember it. I have sung it to you."

     I thought, "I shall go prepare now." But a wondering escaped me, one that I thought not to ask of my parent. One's thoughts are not like songs; they sing themselves.

     "Why should I choose you to go on this journey for me? A journey on which you may die, as you rightly fear? I choose you not because you are less or more among my children, but only because you wandered this way to my pool and because of those who wandered, you first heard my calling. I choose you because like all your brothers and sisters, you are of me."

     Orf and the others helped me to make pails, carved from soft wood with knife stones, rather than woven of leaves. They filled my basket with dried berries and nuts they had saved and with fresh food they gathered on the day before I left. I alone returned to the pool to fill my pails, though anyone could have done so at any place in the swamp, for waterroot grows everywhere, and it is all our parent.

     Orf and all of the others held me in their arms, each with pain showing around the eyes. As I set off to northward in midmorning of a day of showers, the children sang me a song of parting. It was the old song of our parent's water, but I heard in it now an older forgotten song, the song of the withdrawing water, a song of loss, however temporary.

3. Question 1

From "The Questions of Raisin and Chick"
in the holy writings of the Cult of Song

Mother, how can we be makers of the song of all? Does it sing us or do we sing it?

     Examine the waterroot my child. Each little sphere intertwines with a few others, but never itself touches all. Each little sphere lives for a season and then dies, making way for another. Each sphere is born from a tiny seed nestling among the myriad leaves of the myriad stalks on the myriad spheres, whether among the scattered fragments or within the vast web of the holy swamp. And each little sphere sings its tiny song that becomes part of the song of IS.

     And what do these spheres sing? 

     They sing everything they hear. Well might one ask then, do the fragments of IS sing themselves or are they sung? Would you not say that each is sung? Their life comes from the waterroot and their songs come from all that surrounds them. So some might say that their singing is like that of the broken branch that squeaks in the wind, a meaningless accident of their nature.

     But harken my children. We have heard the song of IS. Out of all the squeaking of branches in the wind comes a music that fills us, makes us whole, and says to us, "I am IS. I call out to you. I hear your calls to me, and I send them back to you. We are one, you and I, and through me, you sing to the stars."

     To me this means that though any small piece of IS may seem to sleep, IS itself is awake. IS hears us because IS is awake, and we hear IS because we are awake.

     So, the singing of IS is not merely a collection of all the sounds of the world. This is, again, the lesson of Pecan's wordless song, what I learned when she revealed that I could not find Mara's music in a mere collection of all the songs. What after all is the sound of my love for you or of Rye Grass's love for us all?

     It is our nature to be awake. To be awake means choosing how we will be, the shapes our lives will take. For this reason, we are not made wholly by our songs. Insofar as we are awake, we make ourselves by making our songs.


4. The Friendship of Sand

     He awakened suddenly under starlight in the land of stones, and he felt afraid. Listening, he heard only a faint, scraping sound. Next to his feet, on top of his water pails were several lizards, silently scurrying and prying with their noses at the tightly closed edges. They flicked their dark tongues into the cracks. Perhaps they found moisture there. He could barely see their movements, so small and quick they were, the color of sand with brown pebble markings down the backs, becoming smaller and fading at the points of their tails. Their claws seemed so thin and small, and yet they gripped the sides of the pail with apparent ease, their eyes bird-like in watchfulness. He might have watched them thoughtlessly, losing more of the precious cool time of night for walking, but something nagged at his awareness.

     What had awakened him was not the lizards. And then he saw the snake silently slipping its head up the side of the pail of IS. This was a dry lands snake, and he knew nothing of its bite, so he remained still. Its long pale body, marked like the lizards' with darker pebble-shaped blotches, stretched next to his calf, and the head stopped just below the edge of the pail, the forked tongue looking for cracks between lid and pail. One lizard let its tail fall over the edge, near the snake. Too fast for him to see, the snake seized that tail. He saw the lizard's lower body disappear into the snake's gullet, and then the snake retreated quickly into darkness, perhaps behind a stone. Before it was gone, he discovered something else.

     Though all the lizards had disappeared, one had taken refuge beneath his grass kilt and was exploring along his left thigh. Unafraid, welcoming the touch of a small and helpless one, he lay still, but alert to its movements. Though he knew he had slept beyond his time and must hurry, he gave in to his craving for companionship. He had been two days all alone.

     Before long, it came from beneath the kilt, with a body no bigger than his little finger. It climbed over and explored the kilt with curiosity, but little interest. He soon saw it was more interested in his skin. With a light tickle, it found his waist, and slipped among the thin hair of his stomach under his tunic. There he could feel its tongue working quickly, a tiny dry rasping, and he realized it was drinking. For it, his constant perspiration was a source of water. He doubted it would find such drink satisfying because of its saltiness, but perhaps it often lived on such water in the dry lands.

     He moved slowly. Though it stood up and looked about cautiously, it seemed unwilling to flee unless it saw danger. Slowly, he lifted his hand and spat into it. Then he placed his open hand on his kilt. Seeing the movement behind him, the lizard turned toward his hand. He saw its tongue flick out toward it, then faster than he could see, it was in his hand, drinking his saliva.

     When he rose to go at last, it clung to his body. Carefully, he took up his burdens, and it found a place to ride on his shoulder.

     So, he took his way with a small joy, following the Frog Eye star through the dry lands, with Sand on his shoulder.

     Sand taught him how to find moisture in the dry land of stones by scraping lichens from the cool undersides of rocks at dawn. And far into the land of dunes, Sand's sure sense of smell nosed out the seep hole, where a trickle of water came near the surface. Without Sand, Arm would never have completed the trip north with the living waterroot in his pail. And it was not merely the gifts of water that made the journey possible. There was the equally precious gift of companionship too. The Children of the Swamp are a gregarious people, working and playing in groups, rarely spending time alone.

     Arm had no word for loneliness, and so he could not say precisely what it was that oppressed his spirit after he and Orf parted in the land of the pricklies, where she had followed him after persuading him that she could increase the quantity of food and water he would have by going with him for a few days.

     As he had stumbled into the painful land of stones, where, his bare feet burned and bruised, a moment's inattention could lead to a bleeding scrape on his leg or arm from a sharp-edge rock, still his last view of Orf would tug at his memory. He saw her with empty hands, fingers a little bent from carrying his pail, standing wearily on feet as sore as his own. This was a picture he would carry to his last day, of the tired friend who had risked herself to help him on a journey that she feared and that she had wished to prevent, not believing in it herself, not having heard IS sing.

     In that picture, she was as dark as he, her hair much like his own, though she had tied it back with a rough, orange twine that brightened her dusty locks. With the same dark skin and deep brown eyes he had, she could have been his sister, but her face was rounder than his, and fuller, and her eyes were set wide and not so deep. The main difference between them, aside from her being a woman, was their noses; hers was long and straight, rather than round like his, this being the distinctive mark of her family. So he remembered her, looking after him when he first turned back to wave his goodbye. She was only about a hundred paces away, and he could see her clearly against the waste of short cactus and the already hot bright dawn. She looked small, then, and already thirsty.

     He had not been alone for long when he met Sand, but already the solitude and the lingering fear that this memory of Orf would indeed be his last wore at him. He was grateful, then, for Sand, for his gifts of knowledge, of trust, of touch. In his gratitude for these gifts, Arm sang the song of thanks:

The red berry bush drops fruit on the grass.
The orange turtle buries more eggs than she wants.
The thorn bird lays more eggs than she feeds.
The oil nut tree makes more seeds than it needs.
Bush, turtle, bird, and tree,
All are our parents and feed us gladly.
We thank you with our song.

     After Arm sang this song, Sand would look up from his delicate eating and pant a little. Though Arm could not hear his song, he felt they were together. And this feeling sustained his spirit just as the gifts of water sustained his body.

5. The Communion of Water
From Arm's Chronicle of IS

     I think the most wearying part of crossing the dry lands was the quiet. This quiet remains in my memory even now, long after losing my actual memory of the pain of thirst, the soreness of my hands and feet on the stones, and even the more severe suffering that came in the sands. I remember that those things happened, but I do not remember how they felt as I remember the quiet.

     I almost said, "the silence," but there wasn't really silence. The sounds were small, but always present. The waste land also had its songs: that of the wind that sometimes even whistled in the stones, the rattle of dislodged pebbles on a slope, and constant small cracklings day and night as stones heated and cooled. Less foreign to me, though even more quiet was Sand's song. I never heard him make a sound, apart from a very faint rustling in my hair as he climbed on me, and an imaginary rasping sound I felt rather than heard when he licked me.

     Still, our lives center in the singing of the world and my particular life in the songs we sing at our fire. I did not hear our songs in the waste land, and I soon learned not to sing them myself, at first because they came to sound wrong when sung by myself in the wrong place, and then to save my water. And as I heard unfamiliar songs in the dry lands, I only dimly grasped their meanings, learning to pass through safely, but not to live there in spirit or in body.

     The main difference between home songs and dry land music was that these were so quiet, approaching near to silence.

     When I awoke at the edge of the dune country, I felt something was not right. There was too much silence, or perhaps I "heard" something in the sound of the dry lands that I had not heard before. How does one know when something is wrong? My friend Sand clung very quietly to my breast. After I took my drink, he scrambled to my chin and flicked his tongue around my lips, taking up whatever moisture clung there.

     A thought came into my head. In the seven days since entering the wilderness, I had never opened the pail of IS. There were reasons for this, for I often thought of looking. At first, I wanted to avoid accident. To spill that pail by accident would be to make my pains worth nothing. Later, I thought sometimes that perhaps there was more water than necessary there. If I became very thirsty, I could take a drink or two without harming IS. In the land of stones, where carrying two increasingly unbalanced pails, became harder each day, I thought that opening the pail would be to expose it to evaporation. So I kept it always tightly tied and sealed.

     But on this morning, I felt a call to open the pail, a call that came from no need of my own, though my swallow of water had only wet my throat, giving nothing to my great thirst. So, I undid the tight bindings with my sore fingers, and pulled back the lid, held and sealed with gum from the needle tree.

     Perhaps I should have seen my death when I looked into that pail, though as you well know, my death was not there. I think I was too tired and ached too much to despair. I saw with great weariness that the pail was more than half empty. Even though the motion of walking kept all of the waterroot wet, the part that was not under water as it sat during my rests was black rather than green, and parts of the black were white like wood ash. Though the pail was full of waterroot when I departed, the plant was now packed tightly into the bottom, and only a small amount of water sloshed about on top of it, when I whirled it. I watched the water on the side of the pail dry off, and Sand raised his head, pointing toward the opening. Quickly, I closed the lid down tightly and tried to think what I must do.

     It was clear. Before the sun rose, I must give my water to IS. What I would drink then, I knew not. Both the waterroot and I must cross the sand. It would not arrive unless I brought it and for me to arrive without it would be to have come to a strange land with no gift.

     I found a solid place to set the pail and opened it. Carefully, I removed the blackened parts of the root and put the bitter pieces in my mouth quickly to chew them and gain whatever juice they contained. Then, I poured my water with all the care and thoughtfulness I could find in my heart into the pail of waterroot. When all my water was gone, the waterroot floated in a pail about two thirds full. After sealing that pail, I traced the bottom of my pail with my finger, finding the last invisible drops of water I could gain for myself.

     When I sat the empty pail down, Sand scurried in and began his licking. I then put into the pail with him the chewed, dead waterroot, and he feasted. I had thought to leave this pail behind now that I had no need for it, but Sand showed me to think again. For one thing, if there were still moisture there for him, I should save it for him. So I closed the lid down over him, and let him travel there. He would have air, I reasoned, because I would open it when I stopped and because, if so much water could get out of my unopened pail, so much air must also have come in. For another thing, I might just find water somewhere, and then I would want my pail to put it in.

     Though I had no water, I also had a very light pail to carry. Now that thought strikes me as funny, perhaps because it is not really true. I did change my pack, for now there was so little food left that my shoulder basket had room for a pail. The heavy pail went there, and Sand, in the light pail, journeyed in my hand.


6. A Parting

     On the second night after leaving the seep hole, Arm guessed that he had two or perhaps three more days journey ahead of him. IS had spoken to him of eleven days if all went well. Had all gone well? He had spent a whole day and night and another day at the seep hole and he had been ten days on his journey. He saw no more water until he came to the end of the dry lands, but he saw other things that he wished he had not, though finally, at the end of his adventure, what he saw on his darkest night in the dunes served him well, though it was a bitter drink.

     On the twelfth morning his pail was empty again, and Sand licked it dry. By night his mouth and eyes were dry again. Before he started, Sand peeped at him over the rim of the dry pail. They looked at each other long, each in his own way hoping the other knew a place of water. Arm's place of water was only in his memory, for now he thought almost always of the eyelike pool of IS, with a pillar of sunlight flowing into its pupil. That pool was the beginning and the end of his thirst, but his tongue could not drink from it among the dunes, and he could not share it with Sand, or so he thought.

     Through the twelfth night, he staggered across the dunes, concentrating all his energy upon finding the Frog Eye each time he topped a dune and each time he arose after falling.

     At dawn, he dug into a dune for shelter, and lay down his dry and weary bones. When he awoke with the sun blazing into his eyes and crawled slowly over to the northeast side of the dune, the wind was singing a dry song. The sand cut into his eyes until he had taken his new shelter. There it sifted down over him. And as it settled upon him, he felt an absence. Where was Sand?

     He found the little fellow clinging with dry claws to the hair on his neck where he usually rode, but to his fingers, Sand felt too warm, and he did not move. Gently pulling him from his hairs, he peered at the closed bumps of his eyes. He was so small, like a dry leaf in his hand.

     In his heart he sang the thank you song, the song of farewell forever to Sand. He would have sung aloud, in the high and mournful voice of the final parting song, but he had no voice. Nor were there tears, though he wept.


7. Arm and the Mocker
From Arm's Chronicle of IS

     Perhaps the wind sang for me, though to me the wind sounded of emptiness and silence, a song, if it can be called a song, of endless death and dryness.

     I saw as I held his body how the wind seemed to shrink poor Sand, turning him quickly, before my eyes, into mere sand. Surely this was the wind of silence, not quiet, but silence, the absolute end of all singing. Soon it would change me also into sand. And then the pail of waterroot would dry out, and the part of IS would also become sand. There would be no Sand, no Arm, no IS, nothing. All singing would stop and the world would become a great lake of sand, of trackless dunes rolling across the earth before the winds of silence.

     At last I said to myself, why should I not drink the water of IS, and so live to come to the strange land? I might even live silent among strangers rather than die here alone. For a long time, I lay with my eyes closed, seeing the water in the pail of IS. I was for a time no longer the arm of IS.

     So into darkness I came, in body and spirit. I despaired of my journey, and as the stars began to show, I lay silent in my hole, feeling the fine brown dust from the dune top settle over and bury me. I had traveled for twelve days and come to death and burial in a dune on the great waste.

     In my dream the mocker came to me. He arose in the cold night wind, robed and hooded in a dusty halo of drift. His eyes glowed pale and cold like distant stars; his mouth was deep -- the deep blackness that swallows all. And from that bottomless hole came his words.

     "What an absurd beast you are! Did you not leave green and golden being for the endless brown waste? This is the cosmos you look upon, these grains of sand the dead stars drifting in infinite emptiness. Why have you left the one place of life to come to me in this endless emptiness of sand?

     "See yourself leaving water and fruit behind to come to the lands scorched by the dead fire of the sun and made one with it. What possessed you, puny one, to step onto the blazing sand, to sit under the sun with your pack on your head, to bruise your feet on the tumbled rocks, and to bury your frail life here before I required it of you? Surely your mind was tied into a tight knot, and now you see that for all the turnings of the strand, it returns at last to its ending in its beginning. From fiery dust you came, and here you are again."

     You know well that singing does not cease because for awhile grief or despair stops up our ears. When I opened my eyes at last, brushing away some dust from my face, I looked into the eye of the Frog, and the eye looked back into me, not so cold and distant as the starlike eye of the mocker. And when we looked deeply into each other's eyes, my deafness was pierced by a soft tone. That tone became the song of final parting, singing itself deep within me.

     Thank you companion for singing among us.
    Your song is with us.
    You are singing in our song.
    Though your face glows not in the fire,
    Though your voice enters not our ears,
    Though your hand strikes not the drum,
    Though your ears hear us not,
    Still we hear you;
    Still our hearts hear you.
    You are singing in our song.
    Your song is with us.
    Thank you companion for singing among us.

     And after this familiar song, a new chant began in my heart and sang itself to me as I rose from my dusty grave: "You have seen the flowing stream beneath the blowing sand. You drank at the flowing stream beneath the blowing sand."

     I lay Sand in my hole after climbing out, then covered him over with sand. The chant continued in my heart, singing itself, singing to me. I knew that Sand continues to be part of the Song of IS, for the singing does not stop even if I cease to hear it for awhile. The singing only seems to stop for a moment where I am if I do not listen.

     I was young then. I had not lost through death one whom I loved. So, I did not understand then as I do now that death is final. It is the song that remains, the part of the singing woven into the great song because Sand or another sings part of the song. Sand will not return, nor will any of our lost companions, but yet they remain with us forever, as long as the Song persists.

     And because my death is forever, grief and despair are real.

     And because my death is forever, the world's death can also be forever.

     So, though I could not have said this to myself on that night when I got up and walked across the desert as a star sang in my heart, still there must have been a way that I knew it. I knew that even though the singing goes on, we might stop giving to the song here in my world for a long time, perhaps forever, if the arm of IS faltered and the piece of IS never came to the northern land of water.

     I trudged slowly and carefully across the dunes. If there was pain, I have forgotten it. If there was thirst, I have no memory. I must have fallen, but I remember no falls. I must have hungered, but that too has faded. In my mind that last night in the dry lands is only the song singing itself to me and the Frog Eye star to which it sang and which sang to my heart: Thank you, Sand, for your song. You have seen the flowing stream beneath the blowing sand.

     I awakened in a blaze of scorching sun. I lay on my back in the bright day, my pack and pail beside me, where I must have placed them before collapsing onto the hard soil. I threw my arm over my eyes and felt my body, crying in every part, my dry mouth closed so tightly that I wondered if I would ever open it.

     When the sun became too hot to bear, I turned on my side and opened my eyes, hoping to see some shelter. It was then I began to hear a strange sound.

     I saw I lay between two banks, as in a stream bed in the dry season. I raised myself slowly. Becoming dizzy, I only sat up and looked off to the south, where I saw flat hard ground but with many banks like the ones I sat between. They seemed to spread out from where I sat as far as I could see. I had come out of the dunes into a land of dry creeks.

     The sound I heard was familiar, the sucking I remembered of the drinking earth, the quiet soaking of water into the ground, or slow flowing over the soil when the swamp rises over a bank. Then I felt it -- water touching me. I thought perhaps this was a pleasant death, the last dream of water so real that one heard and felt it. But looking down, I also saw it. Foamy water seeped around me and passed me, soaking slowly into the earth ahead of me and spreading down the stream, as if the dry bed were gradually coming to life.

     Turning behind me, I saw little waves of water carrying white ribbons of bubbles, flowing toward me in the shallow stream, and as a wave reached and passed me, I lay my face down to it and drank. It was gritty and steamy from the hot sand, but it quenched.

     As it grew deeper, and I rose to my elbows, I saw it lifting my pail, and soaking around my pack. I arose, and moved them outside the little banks, which I saw now had been dug there. Someone had made this narrow stream. I was at my journey's end.

     Hot though it was, I remained until midday. I drank all I could hold. I ate the last of my food, which was little enough even though I had been unable to eat since leaving the water hole in the dunes. I stood in the water and let it wash around me. Then, I opened the pail of IS to see that though the water had again sunk down to about one third of the pail, beneath it the waterroot was still green. I filled the pail full, placed it in my empty basket, took up my empty pail, and began to follow this stream, to learn where it came from. I found I could not go on for long though; I was very tired still. And so I wandered across the wet field until I came to a dry ditch, and beyond it a field of waist high grass, the waving green of which had called me this way. There the ground was dry and I lay down to sleep.





Introduction 

Part 1: Arm's Journey Through the Waste Land

Part 2: In the Land of Marsh River

Part 3: Among the Hills


Part 4: The Festival of Midsummer

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