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
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.
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
"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."
"Yes. It is as I say."
"You must tell this tale to the children of
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
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
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
"Had Wand the Wanderer not roamed in the fearful
darkness, we would still huddle without real singing, cold beneath the
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
"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
The grasses and trees drink it in; they drink
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
Our parent's water rises and falls; it rises
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,
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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.