25. Peachtree's Thought
As midsummer approached,
most of the people
of the back country understood and favored Arm's
mission. This was not
merely because they had little to lose themselves if
farming of the desert
ceased or was reduced. It is true that this work was
of little importance
to them. The growth of Marshtown was a small threat to
them because some
of their families were attracted to the rich and busy
town, and so lost
the life most back country families wished for their
children. But back
country people, on the whole, did not concern
themselves much with Marshtown,
the aqueducts, the reservoir, or the desert fields.
Their life was busy
and full. The town was a place for getting some
special things or for meeting
friends on a trading day.
They favored Arm's mission
because they saw
it was necessary. Truth sang to them in their hearts,
and they wished naturally
to sing with the truth, to say to themselves and to
others what they knew
When the midsummer festival
was seven days
away, a message came to Marshrat, inviting him and Arm
to hear what Peachtree
had thought. They returned to her valley.
At midsummer, the little
creek at Peachtree's
farm was nearly dry, though it did not run dry every
summer, but there
was water still in the family's well that stood just
outside their hut.
Letting down a pail into a stone-lined hole, they
could pull up clear and
cool water to drink. They also watered seedlings they
kept in shady beds
to be set out in open gardens when the rains began.
Aside from watering
the seedlings at dawn and dusk, there was no growing
or gathering to be
done for several weeks. To work in the hot, dusty
gardens would be useless.
So the family sat in the shade of large trees, letting
the breeze cool
them as they worked fibers and repaired clothing.
After midsummer, they
would gather long grass to renew the roof for the
rains. Now was a time
for sitting quietly, working with the hands, and
singing beneath the trees.
Perhaps this was why
Peachtree had her idea.
Marshrat and Arm walked
dusty and tired into
the shade of a great oak, where the tethered goat
cropped short grass and
Peachtree and her daughters separated plant fibers and
wound them into
threads. Rye Grass was mending Chick's or Raisin's
trouser seat, his delicate
movements so quick and sure, he might have been
building a flower. Though
by now Arm had become used to feeling peace and being
at home among these
hill families, there was still a special restfulness
at Peachtree's home.
And on this day, there was an energy of expecting. All
were eager to see
Arm and Marshrat. The girls' eyes said, "Show him now,
Mother!" There was
a kind of eagerness even in Rye Grass's patient smile.
But Peachtree saw how the
heat and dust had
wearied them, so there was an early lunch of cold
water and chilled fruits
and goat's milk, taken on mats beneath the oak. When
the visitors were
refreshed, Peachtree was ready to speak of the thought
that had come to
her while hand weaving on a midsummer morning, but
there was yet one more
thing to do.
"Bring them out, girls."
With glowing smiles, Chick
and Raisin emerged
from the hut bearing fine clothing. Chick bubbled,
"See the shirt and pantaloons
we have made for you, Arm! And the white cloth to tie
over your head and
protect it from the sun!"
"We were sorry for your poor
from the swamp," added Raisin.
The girls tugged at his arms
to get him up
and then pushed him into the hut so he could change
and they could see
him in their handiwork. A few minutes later, he
emerged in white glory,
his shining black skin and exotic hair set off in the
new white cottons.
The girls led him, smiling, to a seat of honor beneath
the tree and studied
him admiringly as Peachtree turned to the main
business that had brought
him here with Marshrat. She spoke slowly and
seriously, the habitual smile
of her face subdued. She had thought carefully about
what she would say.
"Since you have come among
us, Arm, with your
tales of the children of the swamp, of the singing of
IS, and of the end
of the water, the singing of our women has grown. This
is the great reason
we wish to help you.
"You know that we are few
and of little account
in the crowded town. Our voices are not heard there.
Not living as they
do, we are not seen among them. I have thought how we
might become seen.
"Were we all to go to the
even our few would seem great. I have counted us at
more than one hundred.
The town is ten times or more greater in numbers, but
we would be visible
were we all there.
"Still, I do not believe our
would make us seen. But we might become seen if we
reach their ears. A
person can close his ears to words he will not hear,
for he knows those
words by the mouth they come from, and gives them
hearing only if he will.
"But suppose we were all to
sing, to make a
great circle about a fire before the meeting house,
and sing our songs.
Though they might not listen with understanding to our
spoken words, how
might their hearts resist the songs that bind us to
each other and that
have begun to make IS of us?"
Arm's reply was as studied
and formal as her
speech. "Only out of singing together do such ideas
come. I hear in your
voice that this is the way to the hearts of Marshtown,
if there is a way."
So, the message went out.
All would gather
at Marshtown for the five days of the midsummer
festival. They would camp
on the common ground before the meeting house, where
usually there was
a country fair. This year, instead of selling and
trading crafts of the
country, they would rest beneath their lean-tos and
shades in the day,
then gather around a great fire to sing the whole
night. While the families
of Marshtown slept, and while the young men drank
liquor, played loud games,
and sang their songs of eating and drinking in the
night, these visitors
would sing their songs of calm and rest and communion.
Midsummer Festival had
changed greatly in Marshrat's
lifetime. When he was a child and came with his
father, the festival had
included songs and stories that enchanted him. Then,
the people of the
small village gathered with the back country people.
They drank the old
wine together, because it had to be finished before
the new could be made.
They sang because there was no rain and the streams
were dry, as they had
to be before the rain would come again. Midsummer was
the turning of the
year, for though the rains could not really be
expected for another moon
after the drying of the streams, the sun turned back
toward the south in
those days, and would bring the rains back with it,
after following them
to northern lands. One of the songs Marshrat
remembered best was the song
of the returning rain.
Rain of our life,
The grass on shepherd's hill
Like the young sparrows, all
mouths on the
The plum tree seeks a full
Rain of our life,
The green apples need their
The tired dust whispers for
The marsh will open her mouth
when you fall,
Rain of our life.
Now, in Marshtown, it was
never dry, and no
one sang of the marsh. If it did not rain here, it
would rain in the mountains.
The desert fields would bear plenty. The council had
changed the festival.
It opened with a speech by the High Councilor,
reminding Marshtown of its
great accomplishments in building the dam and
aqueducts, praising those
who served the growth of the town, and calling on all
to join in this work.
This speech had never named the back country people as
lazy and selfish,
but this idea was understood. For this reason, the
"marshrats" and other
riff-raff rarely came to the first day of the festival
Then, for the next four
days, there was simply
a holiday, when little work was done. The townspeople
played games or rested
in their homes. Some traded at the country fair. Some
men went hunting
in the hills, though fishing for pleasure in boats on
the reservoir was
a cooler pastime. Much liquor and wine was consumed,
especially by young
men at night. In the ecstasy of this drinking, some
foolish and dangerous
games were played, and sometimes a fellow was carried
home with a broken
bone or a deep cut.
The festival ended on the
fifth day with the
great dinner of the High Council. In the old days, the
council would sit
for a day, and any who wished, might come and speak
about what Marshtown
ought to do in the coming year. It was at such a
meeting that the dam and
the aqueducts were proposed long ago.
This meeting had become a great dinner, to which many
came. These citizens spoke to the council about their
plans and successes.
Councilors who feared they would not be chosen for
another year of service
also spoke, praising their own work and asking to be
What Peachtree had proposed
then was a kind
of restoration, a return to the festivals of old, when
village and country
celebrated their unity and mutual dependence, when
most of those in the
village had farms nearby or were artisans who served
the farmers and depended
upon them. Gradually, the lake and aqueducts had
changed this, so that
many people in the town lived by trade up the Marsh
River, and saw the
farmers, whom they did not know as individuals, as
their servants rather
than their friends.
26. The Dividing of Marshtown
from Chickadee's Remembering Peachtree, Mother
At midmorning, as the sun
began to grow hot,
Harvester appeared in outer balcony of the meeting
hall, with several other
councilors at his side. A shade was set up over them.
He was prepared for
us, and so his speech opened this festival in a way
that frightened us.
He said what was always
said. Marshtown had
added another number of solid citizens since the last
festival. All were
working well, and the fields of the flat land would
yield well. After saying
these usual things, he turned to things that had not
been said before.
"The good citizens of
Marshtown, who have labored
so this year to make our town prosperous, large, and
have noticed that we have outsiders among us today. In
the past, we have
thought of them as guests.
"We have always been willing
to give their
way to those people who were too lazy or who lacked
the ability to live
among the civilized. There is plenty of room in the
back hills where backward
people can live mean and dirty lives if they choose
to. And because they
make quaint curiosities in their huts, we have
welcomed them to our festival
and have generously purchased their wares and shared
our holiday with them.
Some of us who were born in their huts have even
continued to welcome some
of the better of them into our homes as relatives and
"But you all know that they
have now turned
against us. They have gathered around that black beast
they rescued from
the desert, a stray from a primitive tribe somewhere
to the south. They
have made him into the god of a childish and pagan
"You all know they have come
to spoil our holiday
this year, as it is said, to sing songs about how we
have done wrong to
drain the ugly marsh and use the water well to grow
rich crops. Only the
backward and demented could think in such a way. Yet
here, this morning,
in the common, are hundreds who have fallen to this
"To these I say in the name
of our God, the
dreamer who spoke us, and on behalf of all the good
citizens of Marshtown,
take your sickness back into the hills. You are not
part of us. We don't
want you here."
As he said these words,
there was a shout from
the streets behind us, a shout that grew and
eventually became a chant
without music, "We don't want you here!" My mother had
never heard such
a bitter and painful sound, though before the festival
was over, we would
hear worse. It was the shout of an animal in pain,
crying out against its
dying, of a maddened animal that might kill in a
futile attempt not to
die. We cowered beneath our shelters, except for
Marshrat, who got to his
feet from beside Arm and my parents, leaving our
grass-mat shelter and
approaching the great door.
When he stood, seeming small
Harvester, the High Councilor, raised his hands for
the shouting ceased, and then, Harvester spoke again.
"You, Marshrat, are said to
lead these enemies
of our town. Perhaps, now that you know the will of
the town, you will
lead them back to their holes and hovels in the
Standing as he was, on the
level ground and
facing the meeting hall, Marshrat's voice could not
reach beyond the common,
so only we and a few of the townspeople closest to us
probably heard his
words that morning.
"We have no leader,
Harvester. We are moved
here together by the force of life that we share with
you. Perhaps you
think that you can separate yourself from us, and that
because we are the
smaller part, we will die and you will live. But that
is not so. Though
the heart is smaller than the body, you cannot cut it
out without killing
the man. Each of us is the heart of the other.
"We come as your heart to
sing to you, to remake
our wholeness. If you would live truly, join with us
in singing. When you
do, you will come to see how living is possible."
Harvester's lips turned
upward in a scornful
smile, the look of one who sees not to whom he speaks.
"You, who squat
in a hovel by the stinking marsh, eating raw grass and
grubbing seeds and
nuts, you would show us here how to live! You are
diseased. If a man has
an infected cut upon his hand, he will cut off that
hand rather than have
his whole body become diseased and die. So, we cut you
off. Do not stay
to spoil our festival. The good citizens of the great
city of Marshtown
will make our disgust felt if you remain among us."
With these words, Harvester
turned away and,
with his companions, entered the meeting hall. In a
great quiet, the people
of Marshtown returned to their homes, and we huddled
beneath our shades
on the hot common, unwilling to leave the ground we
held. For that day,
we talked little and tried to sleep. In the cool of
evening, we would sing.
We had made no secret of our
all the back country and border people gathered before
the meeting hall
on the first day of the festival, all of Marshtown
knew why we were there.
They knew we had come to sing of the water.
There were signs of the
unusualness of this
event. We had come on the first day, most of us
walking in the cool night,
setting up our tents and shelters before dawn, and
sleeping until midmorning
when the town gathered for Harvester's speech that
would open the festival.
So, when the townspeople began to gather for the
speech, they found the
common already thronged with us. We were more than one
hundred, more than
mother had thought. There were no booths for trading,
only our shelters
and us. The townspeople were perhaps a little
surprised to find the common
not their own, for usually the country people came
late on this day and
opened the fair upon the next. They were not eager to
mingle with so many
who, they thought, had come against them.
At nightfall, we built a
small fire in the
center of the common and gathered around it. The night
was warm, the damp
odor of the reservoir drifting over the dusty paths of
the town. Sometimes
in the quiet between songs, we would hear the shouts
of drinking and gaming
arise from one of the outlying streets. In this way,
said my mother, this
festival was not different from those of the past.
On the second morning,
people came to the common,
perhaps to see whether the trading booths had gone up
and things returned
to the expected. They came and turned away in silence,
finding us quietly
camped and resting after our night of singing. That
night and the next
morning things continued as at previous festivals,
except that on the third
morning, some women and children of the town came to
talk with us.
These were women and
children from the houses
near the common, those who had been able to hear our
singing for two nights.
They were only a few, perhaps a dozen. A young woman
with a freckle-faced
boy just walking spoke hesitatingly for them, while
the others stood behind
her shyly. She was a small woman, her straight
red-brown hair cut off so
it just covered her ears, her brown eyes never looking
quite at any of
us, her face and bare arms covered with freckles as if
shaded by hundreds
of tiny leaves.
"I am Strawberry. I have
heard your singing
together in the night, and it draws me. Robin awakens
and smiles and sings
along with you. And I think I understand his words
though I know they are
"This makes me think you
have not come to harm
us as the men say."
Mother Peachtree came
forward to speak for
us, with little sister Raisin sleepily holding her
hand. "Your hearts sing
rightly to you. There is no harm in us, but only the
desire for unity."
Strawberry continued, with
an unwilling smile.
"Yet Reed, my husband, speaks harshly of you. I would
not dare to approach
you had he not gone early upon the lake, and had we
wives not talked together
agreeing not to tell of meeting you."
Peachtree said, "Do not
anger your men. Perhaps
it will be enough if they can hear our singing, too,
in the night. Surely
they are not deaf, but only confused by the noise of
their talk. If we
continue to sing and they to listen, we hope they will
Strawberry said, "At dawn,
as Reed dressed
and ate, I found myself singing your song of the
water. Without thinking
about it at all, I sang of how we make water on
grasses and trees. Reed
spoke sharply to me, asking what drivel I was singing.
At the moment, I
did not know, for I was just singing, and so I told
him. And he said to
me that this was surely a song of the enemies that had
seeped into our
house in the night. He said that you would have to be
quieted if you would
sing filth in our dreams. He wanted me to sleep in his
mother's house by
the reservoir until after the festival."
Peachtree asked them to stay
and become acquainted
for an hour, but they were afraid and returned to
their homes. Their visit
did not go unnoted in the town. Before dark, Harvester
visited the common,
standing before the great door with several
councilors. He stood for several
moments looking out over our numbers. As he did so,
the streets leading
into the common filled with men. He and his company
carried staffs, those
that hunters carry who make camps deep in the hills.
When he spoke, it
was perhaps more to the men in the streets than to our
people in the common.
"It has reached my ears that
some in the town
have listened to this rabble. We had hoped that if we
left you to yourselves,
you would keep to yourselves, singing your fantastic
ditties, and causing
"But it seems you have
stepped over these boundaries,
corrupting the young and impressionable with words and
ideas that are harmful
to our way of life. It appears your infection will
spread rather than heal.
"Therefore, you must leave.
By tomorrow at
this time, if you remain, we will drive you out."
From the men who surrounded
us, there was a
cruel shout of agreement. I thought perhaps they would
attack us then,
for there was such anger in their voices.
27. The Question of Ruling
From "The Questions of Raisin and Chick"
in the holy writings of the Cult of Song
Next comes the last question
of Raisin. You
will see, sisters, that it differs from the others,
leading some among
us to think that it was written down by another after
Still, we have kept it here because it continues to
seem of a piece with
the wisdom of Peachtree.
Mother, the followers of the martyr say we are but
weak women who seek
by our rites and mysteries to put ourselves above men.
They ask why no
man rules in our chapel.
What does it mean, oh
sisters of the chapel,
for a man to be above a woman or a woman above a man?
This is a way of
seeing that cannot be understood from within the
singing of IS.
And what are rites and
mysteries? These very
words are strange to us, except as describing the
secrets of the cult of
the martyr. We have no secrets. We sing our songs
under the sky, and all
who come to sing with us or to listen are welcome. We
do not close our
gatherings inside a building, unless it be to keep off
the rains of winter.
And we do not forbid anyone among us.
What would it mean for a man
to rule among
us? What would a ruler do? We might as well ask why no
woman rules, or
why no sheep rules. Every being who sings the
awakening song, whose music
of voice and heart blends with the flow of becoming,
adding to its harmony
or varying its flow -- that being is of our chapel.
That being rules insofar
as ruling ever happens.
What does such a one rule?
Why, is it not clear?
That one rules the creation of a thread of the singing
of IS. Such a one
is happy and whole. How can this one keep from
28. The Song of Rivers
A few hours after
Harvester left the common, it was full dark and the
stars shown above the
lanterns in the tents and lean-tos. Though there was
an atmosphere of expectation,
there was also fear. The people did not spontaneously
gather around the
central fire for a third night of singing. Marshrat,
Rye Grass, and Peachtree
finally built a fire of their own, and as it began to
burn, Chick and Raisin,
and Arm joined them. Only six voices wafted lightly
across the common,
a tiny circle of song drifting back from the fire. All
their faces were
visible in the flame. Marshrat's silver hair glowed in
the faint light,
but his mouth was grim, his eyes tired. His new hope
was bending under
the force of the town's anger. It was not anger that
they had hoped for.
As Peachtree had said, they hoped to cleanse ears with
their singing, to
reopen closed hearts, unseal buried love. The songs
were clear in all their
meanings. They were songs of the back country women
and some of the new
songs from the swamp. All were like the opening of the
frees the water to run into the marsh and to make the
lived long in despair, with only the memory of lost
beauty to sustain him,
and then he had known hope in this singing. Now he
sang with an absent
heart, the music flowing from his mouth, but coming
from nowhere and going
nowhere, as if a doll were singing.
different. She and her daughters were the song
they sang. Their
eyes and their skin glowed in the firelight, partaking
of its colors and
of its power to push back darkness with warmth. And
Rye Grass, the quiet
dark man with soft, glowing hair and almost black
eyes, sang with them.
The joy of singing did not show in his voice as in
Peachtree's, but it
showed in his eyes that seemed like little flames
themselves -- reflections
of the fire -- and in his graceful body. He swayed
gently and his delicate
fingers played upon his knees, searching perhaps for a
They began with
the song of rivers, one that Arm learned new in the
Snow River flows
down from the mountains.
Oak River flows
out through the hills.
Marsh River flows
into the marsh.
Marsh vapor rises
into the sky.
All rivers flow
into the trees,
All rivers flow
into the stars.
All rivers flow
out of the stars.
Each time they came to the last lines,
the stars shown in Rye Grass's eyes. All rivers flowed
out of his eyes
and from the tips of his fingers, and then back into
them again. Though
he seemed not in the center of that singing, still he
was its center. All
eyes of the circle were on Peachtree, though, for with
of the song, her voice became stronger, blending with
the higher and smaller
voices of her daughters. Together they swayed with the
rhythm. In truth,
they all were the center of the song. Arm himself was
part of that center,
the exotic tall black man with so much hair, wild and
dark, with those
narrow glints of sun in it. The firelight made him
glow in his still new,
As the song grew
stronger, people began to come together again, in the
darker circles outside
the reach of the fire. As they gathered, the song
became stronger, seeming
to fill the town. It echoed from the distant hills
across the reservoir.
The stronger the song grew, the more alive Marshrat
became, until tears
appeared in his eyes and sweat on his brow. He began
to sway as the voices
broke into harmonies, the many melodies of the song of
the night, they sang just this one song, again and
again, never tiring
of it. Every voice would grow tired after awhile, and
each singer would
stop a moment to listen to the others sing this
simple, beautiful music.
But this fatigue was just of the body, not of the
spirit, of which and
to which the music spoke until the singing was
As the sky began
to brighten after the middle of the night, new people
came to the center
and joined the circle about the fire, Strawberry and
her Robin, and another
woman and her daughter from the town. As light
increased they saw a few
others join them, though it was never clear how many
The morning birds
were joining in the singing, though dawn was still an
hour away, when the
men came with their staffs, to take their women and
There may have
been as many of them as there were of the singers. The
singing from the
outside circles changed into cries of pain and
surprise. Men with staffs
poured into the common from all the surrounding
streets. They ran among
singers, striking all they could reach, grasping those
who belonged to
the town and dragging them, crying, away from the
Perhaps ten men
entered the central circle, spreading out the fire
with their staffs so
that hot coals landed on Peachtree and Raisin. While
Rye Grass and Arm
hurried to help prevent their clothing from burning
and to brush the hot
ashes from them, the townsmen struck at them.
A heavy shirtless
man pulled Strawberry up by her short hair and beat
upon her back with
his staff. She cried out, and little Robin screamed to
see his mother hurt
and find himself out of her arms. Marshrat moved
quickly for an old man,
grasping the husband's staff to prevent more blows,
and trying to free
Strawberry's hair from the attacker's hold.
and heavier man in a skin vest appeared behind
Marshrat with his staff
raised high and struck Marshrat across his left
shoulder. Among all the
screams and moans, the crack of wood and bone as the
staff fell again on
Marshrat's head seemed to produce a silence around it,
marking the instant
out of the swift flow of events during the attack.
The blow dropped
Marshrat hard, face down and spread out upon the
earth, The assailant in
calf skin struck him again and again, on the shoulders
and on his head.
Blood flowed from Marshrat's mouth and from his ears.
Arm could hear
only the sound, that to him meant pain, of that thick
wooden pole, freshly
trimmed, driving down upon Marshrat. Bound up inside
this sound of suffering,
Arm believed that everyone must be watching the murder
of Marshrat. Suddenly,
Arm's world went silent and then black.
29. Marshrat the Martyr
From Arm's Chronicle of
When I awakened
with a whistling whine in my ears, I lay on my back
with the sun boring
into my aching eyes. I heard pain within my head and
all around me the
sounds of hurting, weeping and groans. Chick was
bathing my head with warm
water. She said, "I am glad you are not dead, Arm."
"I think I am
also glad," I replied in a dry voice I did not
She gave me a
sip of water, and I sat up slowly and dizzily. Only
upon sitting up did
I feel the other bruises on my body. I had been hit
many times with sticks,
but though I hurt mightily, I found no broken bones.
Others were less lucky.
Peachtree, with a fierce burn on one cheek, and some
holes in her shirt
and pants, was tending Rye Grass whose left eye was
swollen shut. Raisin
lay asleep on the ground next to him, with several red
blisters on her
shins. All over the common little clumps of battered
people gathered around
those who were more seriously hurt. One young woman
whose child was perhaps
three moons away, let out a series of short screams as
her broken right
arm was being set.
Only in one place was there silence. Next
to the scattered ashes of the fire, spread out on his
back much as I had
been when I awoke, lay Marshrat. His shirt was torn
from his body. His
left shoulder looked crumpled. There was blood on his
face and hands, and
mingled scarlet with the silver of his beard. The
sandals were torn from
his feet, the left foot bruised black, the right with
smashed and bloody
toes. I noticed these things and felt pain for him,
but above and beyond
this pain was the sense of absence. I felt that he was
I looked toward
Peachtree, and then to Chick from whose eyes new tears
followed the ash
strewn trails down her cheeks. Marshrat was dead.
I do not think
we remained on the common that day because of anger.
Nor was our mission
on our minds during the fourth day of the festival.
Quiet descended upon
the common as cries gave way to moans. Small groups
tended their wounded,
comforted them when awake, and slept with them when
had no family, no one gathered around him, except for
me. Besides there
was nothing one could do except to watch beside him
and sometimes chase
away the flies. I propped up his broken lean-to tent
to shade him from
the sun, and sat quietly beside him. I did not think
or remember. My mind
seemed numb, and no thoughts came to it, nor any
songs. Mainly, I felt
an aching emptiness.
In this way,
evening came by surprise. Only when Harvester's voice
suddenly fell upon
us were we aware that the day had passed. He stood
with ten men, all carrying
staffs, before the great door of the meeting house.
"See what you
have brought upon us!" We turned dull eyes upon him as
he waited in silence
to see our reaction. I believe we all gradually
realized that the time
had come when we would be driven out. Perhaps some
were thinking how they
would carry home their injured, who could not yet walk
or who should not
be moved for more days. I began to wonder who would
help me put Marshrat
under the ground. Could I carry him on my back to the
place beside the
pool of IS, where I knew I wished to place him?
Thinking in this
way or not really thinking at all, we did not hear the
meaning of Harvester's
words. That came to us more slowly.
"You have aroused
the righteous anger of our citizens and have suffered
And you have made us suffer, too. There are bruised
children in our homes,
men with cuts, wives with burns.
"This I suppose,
is what you wanted, to provoke us to anger and to
bring suffering upon
us all. What else could you have hoped to gain by
coming in opposition
to our lives and our festival?"
With the other
men close behind and beside him, he strode out into
the common, approaching
the charred wood and circle of stones that had been
our fire, approaching
me. I thought he would talk of me in some way, but
instead, he came to
a sudden stop, looking at Marshrat. I looked at him,
too. His body was
twisted despite my efforts to lay him straight. The
blood had dried to
dark brown, and formed crusts except on his face where
I had been able
to wipe it away. It was plain he had died in great
pain, yet his face was
calm, as if he had relaxed before departing.
upon Marshrat thoughtfully before he spoke. "Now I see
that the greatest
punishment has fallen upon the greatest offender. I am
sorry for it, but
I see it is just. This one led you, using this
ignorant, black savage from
the wilderness here beside him for insane desires. Why
you followed him
I cannot understand. But surely you see now how you
have been misled.
"Return to your
homes and leave us in peace. We will bury the madman.
Some of you may need
help in returning home. We will provide it. We are not
cruel people. You
will continue to be welcome in our town. But do not be
led astray. Do not
think that our ways should be changed. We know what is
from us and returned to the great door. He walked with
dignity and assurance.
He had seen our weakness, our disarray. He saw he
could be kind and lenient,
At the door he
turned to us again. "Last night I told you to be gone
by now. I see that
you are gone in spirit. Your hearts are no
longer opposed to us.
I am sorry this change has come about at such great
suffering to us all.
"As you are gone
in spirit, I will not have you driven away in body. We
have had pain enough.
Care for your wounded and leave when you will. Men
will come in the morning
to help you."
I felt this was
wrong, all wrong. I felt that something of great
importance was being lost,
but I could not struggle through the cobwebs of pain
in body and mind to
the words that would say what it was. There was a
terrifying silence at
the center of my grief that pinned my tongue to my
teeth. And I felt this
in others. We all wanted to speak, but could not
escape from our suffering
to find our ways through the labyrinth of Harvester's
words and speak the
and his men felt it, too, for they looked out over us
as if waiting, as
if they felt in themselves there was something to be
said that had not
been said. Perhaps we know within us when there should
be an answering
voice, when all that truly is has not been spoken. In
Marshtown, what most
often was not spoken was the singing, the knowledge of
music. Out of this
silence came a voice I did not recognize at first. It
was a small voice,
cracked and dry, that might have been of a very old
woman, or even a young
one, thirsty from pain. Looking for the source, I
found it in Rye Grass.
His voice was small, like that of a cricket, yet he
was heard in the quiet
of the common. His song was not one I had ever heard
among the people of
the hills. I did not know they knew it. Afterwards,
some said that they
did not know it until Rye Grass sang it, but then they
remembered it was
Thank you companion
for singing among us.
Your song is
You are singing
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
Still our hearts
You are singing
in our song.
Your song is
Thank you companion
for singing among us.
This was the
song to the dead. I joined Rye Grass as soon as I
understood, and we finished
it once together. Harvester looked upon us, upon Rye
Grass and me, with
the wonder in his eyes that showed me that he knew
this song. But then
I saw the hardness that showed he did not, that he
heard another song,
the one he expected us to sing. He thought we sang the
song directly to
him, that he was the one not of our fire, who neither
joined nor heard
us, but still was heard by us. He heard our song as
When I saw this
confirmed by the blood of anger rising into his face,
I saw that in truth
we had sung the song to him as well as to Marshrat. To
us Harvester was
as dead as Marshrat. Both were lost companions. We
would welcome Harvester's
kindness as compassion rather than as victory.
could arrive at words for his anger, another voice
took up the song, leading
us to repeat it. This voice I recognized as
Peachtree's, and after the
first line, many voices joined. We all sang our song,
mainly for Marshrat
whom we loved, but also for Harvester whom we pitied,
for he walked red
and angry, dead and unknowing among us. When I turned
my eyes from Peachtree's
grim smile to the great door, the councilor was gone.
That night, we
sang the thank you song until dawn. We sang quietly
under the warm stars
and so came together again in suffering and in hope.
No one came from the
town, to join or to hurt us.
In the morning,
some of us wrapped Marshrat in his tent and carried
him to the bank by
the shrinking pool of IS. The ground there was soft,
so we buried him quickly.
Again we sang the thank you song, tossing a little of
the loose soil from
the mound above him into the pool of IS.
The others then
gathered food from his garden and returned to the
town, but I remained
behind awhile to think of my lost friend.
On the evening
before going to the festival, Marshrat and I had sat
by this same pool
of IS on what was the Marsh River. Now no water flowed
through this stream.
Upstream, the spillway of the dam was dry stones,
looking in the scorching
sun as if they had never been damp. The deep pool,
which the waterroot
had expanded to fill, was cut off, now. It would
shrink slowly, like the
water in the pail I carried here, until the rains in
the mountains began
to fill the reservoir again, faster than the water was
needed for the mature
fields. Then, when the first light rains began to fall
here, there would
be harvest, and then more rain throughout the cool
season, and for a short
time, there would be a stream where once was Marsh
There was little
to say that last evening we were alone together. We
could not know then
how our presence at the festival would change things.
It was something
we could do that seemed right.
cross-legged before the pool. The moon shown through
the leaves and into
the pool, so that it glinted softly with golden
fragments above the green
darkness of the waterroot. After a long silence, he
"Your stay among
us, Arm, has opened the world to me. I thought it was
opened before, that
only I and those like me saw it truly. I thought the
big bellies of the
town were eating the world up, making themselves fat
while the world grew
thinner. And this made me feel that the world would
serve them, that it
would become the thin world that made them fat. But
now I see that is not
true. The world will not serve against its own life.
Instead, it will die.
"I see I am not
the only one who will die if the world dies. You and
your friends of the
swamp will die, and then the big bellies too will die.
makes me want to tell them. I find I would not have
even Harvester bring
about his own death. I want him to understand!"
I replied that
my journey across the waste had taught me that every
land creates its ways
of living. "But most of all, I learned that we are
creatures of the water.
Our oldest song in the swamp tells us this, and we all
know it. The dry
lands add to this knowing, for though life is possible
in dryness, it is
a mean life, taken up always with the search for water
and the fear of
"Aye, Arm. It's
a mean life here in Marshtown, too, though they see it
not. The town is
dry as the marsh, for though there is much water,
there is little life.
To live by eating, without singing, is to live in the
dead marsh, on the
edge of the waste land. It is to believe that more
food, more garden, more
house, more neighbors, more power to command will fill
the spirit and increase
the number of one's friends.
"I've hated them
for creating this life and for pushing it on us all
and for branding my
father - and me. But your being here, and hearing
again the songs of the
women with you among them, has changed my hate to
pity. At least I mourn
the passing of the silver egret. Painful as that loss
is, it is a memory
of living. Those who do not miss the swamp birds, have
no memory of the
life they have never lived. They don't know what they
30. Peachtree's Path I
From Mother of Song,
writings of the Cult of Song
I. The Voice of Mother Peachtree.
I will tell you
now of my path to the song of songs. I speak of my
that paths are many. Any way into the one song of all
that is ever singing,
any road, whether of motion or stillness, that at
first or at last joins
the flowing of the many/one that is IS -- that way is
the good way.
When I heard
that a prophet had come from the wilderness warning of
a coming silence,
I did not laugh, for my heart told me it was true the
world was growing
silent. The song our holy Mara heard was one song, but
the songs I heard
were many, mere fragments of the one. Mara had been
called into the night
because her sharp ears had heard the whisperings of
the single eternal
melody of which all our songs are fragments and
harmonies. Perhaps not
all could hear the song of all, but in my life before
the coming of Arm,
no one heard this singing of the many in one. I
collected fragments that
were memories, and for me they remained only memories.
To sing these songs
was both joy and the deepest sorrow.
of my yearning, and soon he brought Arm to me.
This was before
the midsummer festival, when the cherries were ripe.
As we picked our two
trees in the warming morning, two figures descended
into our valley. Though
I did not see them so soon as the sharp eyes of Rye
Grass picked them out
against the western sky before their descent, I felt
something in the air
of that morning. There seemed to be another sound
behind the rustling of
the cherry leaves and the quiet laughter and smacking
lips of my girls
who ate as they picked from the low branches and
washed the cherries in
cool water our little stream. I kept looking up into
the sky and off toward
the hill tops to find the source of this secret
whispering. Though I found
nothing, I felt the nearness of a presence, of
something that wanted to
grow out of me, like the new wood that soon would
sprout from the tree.
I could not help
but sing, and singing eased my uneasiness, so I could
concentrate on picking.
I did not, therefore, notice the visitors until a deep
voice joined my
sing with me.
Your sweet fruit
Your red fruit
sing with me.
How can I convey
the sweetness of that voice? Here was a stranger and a
man, yet he knew
my song and joined with me in singing it. Even more,
my song came alive
to me as never before. While he sang, I felt that the
cherry tree really
did sing with me, and the cherries dropped into my
pail without my needing
to touch them. The branches bent with my body,
reaching down to give me
their rich, red loads. Hardly an instant passed, and
we were all seated
together beneath the tree nearest our home, eating our
lunch and speaking
He said to me
that there were no cherries like these in his home,
that he had never before
sung the cherry song. When I asked how he could know
it, he said:
"I have heard
the one song of all songs that is the song of IS.
Though I may not recall
any fragment of that one song, still the fountain of
all has flowed in
me, and still flows beneath my wakefulness. To hear is
And so we talked
of IS, the ear and voice of our planet.
Like first woman,
I awoke into the true joy of living. The joys of the
wife, the mother,
the planter, the picker, the builder -- none of these
was diminished. From
that moment, whether my voice arose in garden or house
or I wandered silent
in the golden grass, I always sang in my heart. Though
I had not yet, myself,
heard the singing of IS, I knew from that day that IS
The songs I knew were splashings from the great
fountain. A day would come
when I would hear the singing of all.
The next step
on my path was to discover the barriers of words.
II. Peachtree and the Wordless Song
On the day we
buried the Martyr, I found that the song of songs was
not, as I had always
thought, all the songs of the world gathered together
as the streams of
the hills gather into the Marsh River. No, the song of
IS is the fountain,
the one place from which all water comes clear and
pure, like the rain
from the sky.
was on the last day of the midsummer festival, the day
of the council feast.
During that day of mourning and rest, as I cleaned and
bound the wounds
of my friends and neighbors, my ears heard other
sounds, not the groans
of the hurt, not the quiet laughter of the
uncomprehending children, whom
the pleasant weather comforted better than time could
comfort their elders.
I heard a rustling and a whistling as of the wind in
the grass when the
fall rains are announced by distant lightning in north
and by the soft
rumblings of thunder echoing across the hills beneath
the low dark clouds.
We had buried
Marshrat with tears beside the Sacred Pool, though
then it was merely a
deeper, darker hole in the barren trickle of Marsh
River that flowed into
the dead marsh in the middle of the dry season of
those days. The Sacred
Pool protects our fountain of IS, but then it was
merely an endangered
shelter for the small fragment of waterroot that Arm
carried from the Holy
Swamp. It was there that my whispering began, and it
grew within me during
the day. It is not right to say it grew, though that
is how it felt. Rather,
a silence spread in me around that small sound, giving
it room to be heard,
sheltering it as the waterroot was sheltered in a
dying stream, taking
root there, but still held in because the river around
it ran dry.
Around me as
I cared for those in pain, there was another dry
river, the sand flow of
despair. In three nights of singing and one of
suffering, we had produced
no change, though some young women and children of the
town had joined
us. The fifth and last day of the festival had come.
The council would
not meet again for a month. In that time the stream
would dry, and though
we might preserve the waterroot in our homes until the
rainy season, still
we would send dryness and death as our offerings to
the Holy Swamp for
yet another year. By making dryness, Marshtown would
become drier, harder,
more rigid. Who would have an ear unstopped by sand
after another month
or two or ten?
My friends of
the hills were losing their hope, and they made a part
of the silence in
which I could hear the whisperings of the stars. It
was then I understood
that my ears and heart grew more sensitive in this
silence, which is as
we know the central wisdom of my husband, Rye Grass,
the prophet of silence.
Pecan, the sister
of my mother, held her granddaughter on her lap on the
shore of the reservoir,
where I had come to wash myself and gather more water
for those in the
common. Little Plumtree's arm had just been set, and
Pecan had brought
her out of the crowd of pain to the quiet shore of
Marsh Lake, where both
could look across to the southern hills from their
shade beneath a young
maple. Though she cried in pain, little Plumtree would
not drink her soothing
cool, willow bark tea. As I watched, Pecan rocked the
little girl and crooned
I know twenty
songs of comforting, but this was the day I listened
to a song without
words, a little melody of four descending notes that
touched the hurting
arm and turned down the pain like peeling a woolen
blanket from the bed,
as my mother used to do when the night was too hot.
Then I would feel the
delicious coolness slowly descend my skin until even
my toes could touch
the cool air. Plumtree's tears flowed back into her
eyes as she looked
ever more quietly at the almost still leaves above
Then Pecan soaked
a cloth in her tumbler of tea and gave it to Plumtree
to suck. Slowly she
drifted into painless sleep, while the four descending
softly, carrying her into a dream of quiet.
I said to myself
than that I had not known how to listen before,
because I wanted the songs.
I wanted all the songs that women sing, to have them
in my mind, where
I could hold the words, as if the words themselves
were the song. But,
my sisters, we know that the words are not the song.
In the words, we tell
our minds what our hearts hear in the singing that
comes to us. By sharing
the words, we share a part of the song, but not all of
it. Even when we
only hum as Pecan did, we do not say to each other all
that our hearts
hear, though then we share nearly all the
song, joining as fully
as we can together in the flowing of IS,
As we gathered
for our singing on that last great, but short night, I
said to Arm and
the others that perhaps our words made the council
deaf to our songs. How
else can we understand that our songs of loving and
unity evoked hatred
and violence? It must have been that our music never
reached their hearts
because our words were like sand in their ears. We
wanted to pour warm
water into their ears, to wash them and comfort them,
to make a way for
their hearing. Perhaps if we were to sing without
words, to let our pure
melody rain upon the council -- perhaps then their
hearing would awaken
and their hearts yearn toward IS with us, as the new
grass yearns toward
the stars in the warm rains of autumn.
In this way I
learned of the silence that makes room for song.
31. A Song without Words
The sun still
shown hot as the councilors and other leading citizens
gathered for their
feast, which would begin before sunset and would last
nearly until dawn,
ending the midsummer festival. All of the hill people
remained upon the
common. No one had come to help them leave or to make
them leave, either.
Harvester had chosen simply to ignore them. Some who
were unhurt had gone
to the reservoir for water. There was firewood and
fresh food. They ate
well and were refreshed. They felt ready to sing again
tonight, and they
would have the high council as their audience.
skirted around the common, not passing among the
gathered singers, and
entered the opened great door, much as if no one else
were there. They
did not look at the singers, but seemed busy talking
to each other. Or,
if they accidently came without companions, they
studied the smooth, dusty
ground with care.
As they arrived,
Peachtree moved among the tents, and soon, about the
stone circle where
the fire would be, gathered eight strong women, some
with curious, if tired,
children along. Nearly all had bandages or at least
scrapes with a white
balm smeared upon them. Peachtree had another idea.
"We have felt
the contempt of the town, and we see it now. To them
we are invisible.
Yet we know our songs enter their ears. Tonight while
they eat their annual
dinner and plan improvements for the next year, we
will sing to them of
the life of the water. Perhaps our songs will finally
enter their hearts.
"I think this.
Perhaps we have sung too loud and have been heard too
well. Our singing
has words and melody mixed together, the words telling
our minds what our
"We saw yesterday
that the heart of Harvester is deaf and dying. He
hears only with his mind,
thinking we sing to it, when our song is really for
all hearts. I think
we might sing only to the sick hearts of the council
by singing silently.
We will keep the words in our minds, and we will sing
only the melodies.
Let the melodies find the right words in the minds of
the council, just
as they have found those words among us."
Red Thrush from
near the eastern flat land agreed. Her swollen right
ankle was wrapped
with a dusty band, and she had hobbled to the center
with the aid of a
short staff and seated herself among them. Her pain
was not gone. Her little
son had not washed his face yet that day; he lay his
grimy, sleepy head
in her lap as she spoke. The others followed her lead.
They did not
hope much. What would ever awaken the shriveling
hearts of the big bellies?
But after the shock of suffering, the loss of
Marshrat, the blind victory
of Harvester, and the cricket singing of Rye Grass,
they felt one in their
mission again. Peachtree's idea gave them another
thing to try.
was nearly over. People would have to return to their
huts, gardens, and
orchards. Perhaps they would continue to come
together. Perhaps there would
be other and new ways to speak to the hard hearts, but
it seemed that could
only become harder. Arm thought then of how long he
might remain away from
his old friends in the swamp on this mission for IS,
and he too welcomed
another thing to try.
As the sun set
and they lit their fire, they sometimes heard a loud
word or a burst of
laughter from within the meeting house. Torches lit
the building brightly,
so the fire on the common seemed dim by comparison.
When the sun was gone,
they began to sing. According to Peachtree's plan,
they sang no words,
and they sang quietly. Their voices blended into a
great wordless melody
that filled the common and seemed to make the very
stones of the meeting
house sing too.
The stars came
out slowly as the reds and pinks faded in the dusty
west and the reflections
of the reservoir ceased to brighten the town. As the
stars became brighter,
their light seemed to vibrate in unison with the song.
Perhaps they were
singing that very light, receiving it and making it
into song, or perhaps
their singing was that light.
In every singer's
ear the words echoed:
All rivers flow
into the stars.
All rivers flow
out of the stars.
But no words left any mouth, only the
music that sang those words in their hearts.
out the song of rivers long enough, they stopped to
listen. They heard
no sound at all in town or hall. Not even the insects
were singing. There
was a deep silence such as no one had known before
then. It frightened
them a little, but perhaps it meant that all being was
listening to them,
and so they must sing. They began again, softly at
first, humming the song
of the waters. The darkness grew deeper and the
32. Question 6
From "The Questions of
Raisin and Chick" in the holy writings
of the Cult of Song
Mother, you have said my next question
in part. Followers of the martyr say that the songs
should not change.
If IS is eternal, they say, then the words
must be kept always the
same, and the melodies must be written down so all can
play and sing them
the same. Then we can preserve the song perfect as IS
is filled with errors, Raisin, but I know these are
not your errors. Indeed,
I know you ask this question so that we may say
together the truths we
know, and that we may remember them always. It is too
easy to fall into
the error of wanting a father-god like He who Dreams
of the old superstition.
What was the
dreaming god, but a great father/hunter? He made the
world and stopped.
Then out of his substance he fed the world eternally,
denying those who
failed to reverence him or who knew him not, and
fulfilling those who knew
and obeyed him. The dreamer was a god who cared for
his children. His world
was the world of the sleeping.
But, when first
woman awoke, we began to know what the singing of IS
teaches us. Nothing
is eternal, and nothing remains the same. If there is
something, it changes.
Even IS may die. We cannot have a father-god anymore.
When we awakened,
we began to hear the singing of IS and of the stars.
We cannot keep the
songs the same, except by becoming deaf. If we close
our eyes to the world
and our ears to IS, then in the silence of death, we
can sing the same
song eternally. But that song will prove to be
silence. That is the song
after the end of all that is. To sing only the songs
that have been sung
is to pray for silence. This is what Plumtree taught
me, though I knew
it in my heart before Pecan sang to her.
So, the true
song of IS is without words or written melody. Those
are only our ways
of catching and sharing with each other what IS pours
into us. But more
than that they are our ways of living our awakened
nature. For we do more
than just hear and sing the songs of IS. We are makers
of the song
33. The Silence
From Arm's Chronicle of
We had not yet
sung the song of waters enough when we stopped, in the
of the last day of the festival. Something was wrong,
terribly wrong, and
we did not know what it was. I had lost the memory of
the melody, and my
memory of the words. One moment, despite suffering,
grief, and a nagging
voice of despair, I knew who I was and what I was
doing. In the next moment,
there was a great emptiness in my being, a vast
silence without end.
I looked across
the fire to Peachtree's eyes, to Rye Grass, to Red
Thrush. We looked at
each other for a moment of searing vision, seeing
knowledge, terror, shock
in each other's eyes. Then the lights seemed to grow
dim, for I saw no
eyes at all. Instead, I looked inward, searching for
-- for what? I knew
only a great loss, a great absence.
Oh, my children,
this night was the greatest pain I have ever suffered,
and all the people
of the hills suffered it with me. How can I tell you
what it was like,
or how it hurt? There were three great pains, each in
yet less than the next. First, there was the silence.
I could not see
the world: the stars, the eyes, the torches. I only
looked inside myself,
inside my mind. I was like Carlo, the lonely God of
Marsh River, but I
could not create the world by speaking. There was
absolute silence there.
I heard no heartbeat, no slipping of the blood around
my ears, not even
the whine that had not disappeared since the blow on
my head. And as I
could hear nothing there, neither could I see
anything. There was no touch,
no smell, no taste. I floated in darkness, and there
were no stars.
The passing of
time stopped. I ceased to remember when I began to
sense nothing, and I
saw no end to this. I believed that I would float
forever, blind and deaf.
And when I felt that, I saw not with my eyes, but with
my mind's eye, a
great lump of crumbly stone and said to myself, that
is Arm. As I watched,
the stone crumbled away. A piece would slide off and
drift away into darkness.
Then another piece, soundlessly, would tumble along
its surface and slide
I knew this was
indeed my self. Then I saw something else. It was as
if I came very close
to that lump, for I saw that it was made of tiny
grains like sand, and
these grains were blowing up in an invisible and
unfelt wind, and scattering
out into emptiness. I knew I was becoming ever smaller
and ever larger.
Floating forever blind and deaf, I would lose myself
and become nothing
but dust floating in emptiness. I would become
me said this should not be, as if there were a voice,
not my voice, that
said I must desire something, I must want to be. But I
did not feel it.
The idea fell into grains of dust and scattered away
in every direction
at once. I could find no desire, and so I merely
watched as the lump of
grains that was me poured into the vast blank of all.
In the end I was
Then I looked
out upon the world again. I was nothing. All those
about me were nothing.
We looked upon each other as upon strangers, to whom
there was nothing
to say, from whom there was nothing to hear. We sat
motionless around our
noticed the diners wandering out the great door and
milling about in bright
torches. They looked like bubbles in a whirl on the
river, circling about,
or like queer silent insects swirling around the torch
without daring to
approach its heat. Never leaving the circle of light
cast by the torches,
they wandered silently and purposelessly.
This was the
great death we shared, the death of all. What else can
I say? This was
the death of the silence of the stars, the death of
the end of all things.
I do not believe this death will ever come, and yet I
felt that night what
it would be if it did. All of us felt that night the
absolute silence that
could come eventually to the swamp and then to our
world. Then, perhaps,
the stars would sing thank you to us, but we would
hear them not.
The sound that
came after the silence was the second pain, and I
thought it was the greatest
pain of body or soul in my life. For the world sang to
us, and we heard
of the deepest darkness of that night there came a
roar, a roar as of the
greatest storm. There was no wind. The dust did not
stir on the common,
yet I wished to cower as if a flood of dead, dry dust
were rushing out
of the hills to wither me away. The torches continued
to burn, but they
dimmed. Perhaps this was because we had turned toward
dawn, for gradually
a little light appeared at the east rim of the hills.
But that light promised
nothing. It too seemed dim. All I saw was as through a
spider's web or
beneath water. Nothing was clear and easy to see. I
heard cries in the
darkness of animals I did not know. There was a
buzzing of stinging insects.
The dust on my shoulders itched and irritated me.
Children cried in their
sleep. There were shouts of anger in the town.
We did not talk
at all, but sat in numb silence, wondering what this
world was and what
we should do in it.
pain could there be than this, to hear the voices of
being singing about
us and not to hear them? The voices were as the roar
of a storm, threatening
us with pain and death, yet saying nothing. They were
the waters of our
life turned to flowing desert sand, wearing away the
rocks until only sand
would remain. They contained neither words nor melody,
but were only the
sounds of the lumps of being spreading out into the
sands of emptiness.
The stars faded
until the sky was a gray/blue blank. Out of this blank
came the thousand
sounds of meaningless motion, the eddies and swirls of
sand in a land of
dunes, a land unlike the dunes I passed through,
utterly without water
or life. There was no passing through this land. To
enter it was to be
betrayed, to know despair as soon as I understood. All
I could do there
was die, alone and in pain.
And this was
not the greatest suffering we endured. Huddled on the
common, feeling a
dry chill, that pulled us apart and made us wish for
death, we felt ourselves
scattering in the rattling of the morning breeze in
the leaves of the single
oak at the east entrance of the common. I looked
toward that desolate sound
only to hear the sound of deeper death behind me.
From the meeting
house came shouts of anger, cries of madness. The
councilors had gone in,
and now voices of such anguish came from the meeting
house that I felt
my eyes compelled to look. With a will of their own,
my eyes drew my body
after my ears into the meeting hall. Others were drawn
too. It was not
desire or curiosity that pulled us into that room, but
the power of despair
to make us see and know what, if we cared, we would
look on only with the
deepest shame, and would have flown from as from the
spirit of madness
pursuing us. This was a terror upon which no being
would look willingly.
What were we then that we walked calmly into the
meeting hall and gazed
There was a long
table where fifty could sit, filled with fine foods,
fruits of all kinds,
and flowers, of so many colors that my imagination can
always make it beautiful
though my memory is of terror. Of all the colors, red
and white stood out
most, the red of the flesh of melons and of men, the
white of blankness
and of death. I reeled in the vision of cooked flesh
of animals, and the
smell of it, cold and oily, that assailed me as I
stood rapt before the
scene. At the center of the table was the severed head
of a white pig,
all its hair removed, except for delicate pale
eyelashes that I dreaded
would open upon me to reveal the rage beneath that
sleep. In its open mouth
was a bright red fruit, oozing a little where it was
Behind the table
were the councilors. Some were struggling with each
other, their silken
white shirts, red with their own blood. The rest were
shouting and laughing
grimly, pushing each other into the fray, or pulling
each other out.
At the center
of the fight was Harvester. He lifted himself, pushing
away a man who held
his arm, and waved a half eaten calf's thigh at the
others. "This is my
feast, I say." He panted between bursts of words. "My
feast, paid with
my wealth. I'll eat what I will!"
shouted another, rising from the floor where he had
fallen, covered with
some yellow and orange jelly containing small red
fragments of fruit. This
one grasped from the table a plate of meat pudding and
hurled it at Harvester.
It splashed upon them all, only a little reaching him.
replied in a voice that cracked with rage, "Yes,
fools! I have made this
wealth and it is mine!" He brandished his greasy
thigh, trying to reach
those who stood shouting about him, their faces
twisted in anger and mockery.
One of the fattest
men present, his clothes stained in purple wine, his
hair plastered with
pudding, staggered and slipped to the center of the
table. He tried to
raise the platter with the pig's head, but could not
balance it. The head
slipped off the platter and rolled on its side. The
ripe fruit smashed,
smearing the table with yellow seeds and pink flesh.
The man embraced the
head, with its red and yellow mouth, and slipped
across the food strewn
floor toward Harvester, chanting with a clumsy tongue
in a high voice:
"Behold Harvester, our high councilor, the owner of
Others took up
the chant, the absolute opposite of music. "Behold
Harvester, eater of
the universe! Behold Harvester! Behold the universe!"
was laughter, there was no joy. Every man present
laughed in terror, and
in the laughter was only emptiness, for Harvester was
all of them. He was
the universe and the eater of the universe. Their
barkings and roarings
were one with the dead universe roaring into a void,
the grains of sand
swirling in ever wider eddies in a cosmos of waste.
Out of this maddening
roar came the maddened roar of Harvester as he rushed
upon the man with
the pig's head, beating the air, then the pig, and
then the man with his
bone, the remaining pieces of cooked flesh coming
loose, only to stick
to the pair and the pig. Finally, the bone slipped
from his grasp and he,
too, embraced the pig's head, trying to tear it away
from his mocker.
beating and kicking each other, until they fell upon
the fat-slick stones
of the floor, the head rolling away from them. As the
fatter man awkwardly
scrambled to regain the head, Harvester embraced his
knees with slippery
hands, tearing away the delicate fabric of his pants.
Harvester sunk his
teeth into the man's pale and flabby left thigh. As
the man screamed and
rolled away, I saw the blood in Harvester's mouth.
What is worse
than the silence of absolute death? It is worse to
have to live and die
in the roar of sound that promises but never is music.
What is worse than
to live in despair? It is worse to know, to witness,
to be death while
living. This vision of Harvester with another man's
living blood in his
mouth revealed the "song" of living in silence and
despair. This is the
song of unmusic, of unlife, of unmaking. This is the
unsong of eating the
world, of growing fat while others grow weak, of being
dead of heart while
the body moves. This is the unsong Marshtown began to
learn on the day
they thought to keep all of Marsh River to themselves.
34. Mara of the Mountains
A Legend of the Cult of
Mara walked the
mountains in the night, for she was restless. When all
her people were
quiet and the wind in the pass was still in the warm
nights of midsummer,
she would hear a rustling and whistling that seemed to
come from the sky.
Then she would walk out over the trails the shepherds
took by day, passing
the flocks in their pens.
One night she
walked to a clearing to escape even the whispering of
the pines and the
almost silent gnawing of the mice beneath them. There
on the meadow, with
the clear cold sky above, the rustle and whistle
became clearer to her,
and she looked up.
The sky was empty
of birds, and even the insects slept. There was
nothing, not even a moon,
but only the stars, more stars than ever she had seen
at one time, winking
between the spruce and pine around her summer camp or
in the winter forest,
where she seldom saw the stars at all. There were more
stars than sheep
or even trees in all the mountains.
At first she
lost the sounds in her wonder at the vastness of the
stars, and she lay
on the warm grass to look up into them. After she lay
awhile, it came to
seem that the valley was bathed in silver light, that
everything was bright
as day rather than night. And then she saw that the
stars were not still,
that they wheeled and circled against the blue-black
sky. In their wheeling
and circling they made sounds, the sounds of sheep
running in tall grass,
when their hoofs seem never to touch the ground and
there is only the soft
swish of the grass against their wool.
But no! That
wasn't the sound the stars made as they danced in the
The stars made a song, a melody she could make too
with her voice. It said
nothing to her, neither command nor wisdom, neither
love nor anger, and
yet it said all of these things. She felt this was her
In the morning
in the camp, she sang the song of the stars. This is
the song that she
Listen for the rain passing through the
Even behind the roar of the wind and thunder,
The path of the rain in the air is a song.
Listen to the rain passing through the
Even beneath the river roaring through
The rain seeps into the sand to reach
Listen to the rain rising in the pines.
Even when the fire roars through the forest,
The song of the rain pulses in the fleeing
Listen to the rain rising and falling
in your ear.
The rain carries down the music from the
The song of all echoes always in your
The young children
were the first to recognize it, and soon they all sang
the song, but not
the whole song she had learned. Instead, they sang
parts of it: joy when
the milk was brought, sorrow when a sheep was lost,
and fear when the wolf
would sing. Mara said that the wolf sang too, that its
singing was part
of the song of the stars, but the children were still
The women were
the next to learn singing, and whenever they worked
together, they sang
parts of the song of the stars.
The men who must
be silent when they hunt did not take to singing, but
in the evening around
the fire, they would listen with pleasure as the women
35. The Song for Soothing Fearful Children
From Arm's Chronicle of
As I stared in
lonely despair upon the bloody pair, Harvester and the
man who had fought
him for the pig's head, panting in the muck of smashed
food, their torn
clothes slippery with blood and pudding and more,
joining their breathing
to the mocking laughter and the moans of pain, I felt
a change. Looking
up, I saw bars of rose upon the ceiling beams. The sun
had appeared. The
festival of midsummer was over.
Then a new sound
entered my ear. I heard a faint voice, singing a
mournful song, slowly
approaching. A woman entered the meeting hall through
the doors that stood
open to the dawn. She was of the town, with long brown
and gray, untidy
hair and a light colored sleeping gown that trailed on
the spattered stones.
She wore no shoes. She was singing in a broken, sad
melody, untaught by
those of the hills or of the swamp. She said, "The
stars have sung me a
song. Oh, if only I could sing that song to you. They
danced for me like
the jewelled rain of the rainbow, and the melody they
made carried my sad
heart out of this desert into the heart of living.
When I listened I was
alive. If only I could sing that song to you."
I felt someone
grasp my hand. On my right was Peachtree, pale and
tired in the mixed light
of torch and new sun, her burn a fiery red beneath the
smeared balm. My
other hand was taken. There was Rye Grass. Looking
around the room, I saw
that many had been drawn in by the horrors of that
room. Even people from
the town had come. I saw Strawberry and Red Thrush,
and a few children
I knew. In the gallery also people were standing,
looking down upon this
thing that had happened.
Many of us were
taken by the feeling, the need to grasp a hand. And
when we were joined,
we felt rising to our lips a song, one that we all
knew, that was perhaps
one of the earliest songs we remember, the song for
soothing fearful children.
Strawberry joined hands with little Raisin, and Raisin
reached out for
the dangling hand of the strange woman who was
repeating her lament. Raisin
smiled into the lost woman's face as she joined in our
The wind roars
and tears the trees.
We are together
in our hut.
The rain drums
upon our roof and beats down the grass,
But soon the
white starflowers will bloom.
The thunder growls
and cracks the sky,
But the stars
remain, waiting to shine.
Fear not, little
storm, for the world cannot break.
Fear not, little
one, for we are together in our hut.
We are together,
it twice, all in the meeting hall were singing, except
the feasters, even
the people from the town. The eyes of Moon, Ram's
sister, -- for that was
the strange woman with the unsingable song -- lost
their lostness, and
she smiled in recognition of our song. We filled the
hall with our selves,
taking every space except for a circle around the
scattered table. And
we filled the hall with music, the quiet soothing
music that calms us when
fears pursue us.
and guests at the feast became quiet. One by one they
lay their heads in
their hands at the table or dropped to the floor and
fell asleep, like
children tired by a fierce storm or by their own
anger. When all was quiet
and the sun shining brightly through the high windows,
we stopped our song,
feeling it was enough. As we stopped, I heard an echo
outside and realized
that most of the people of the town must have gathered
for this first song
after the silence.
The day after
the midsummer festival was spent in rest. We of the
back hills did not
return to our homes yet, but remained on the common,
sleeping and visiting
a little. In the afternoon, most of us walked down to
the reservoir to
bathe and swim. Many were there. Indeed, during that
every person in the valley washed himself or herself,
or was bathed, in
the new Marsh River lake.
During that day,
as I lay in the grass, looking at the western shore
sometimes, and sometimes
closing my eyes and drifting into a drowse, it came to
me what we had suffered.
IS had chosen
midsummer night, the shortest in the year, to cease
its song. We had felt
what must finally come if, like Harvester and the
councilors of Marshtown,
we found a way to cease our singing and to kill the
swamp. The death of
our world could not be worse.
I suppose in
the endlessness of time, our world might die just as
we do, and all the
things we know here might cease to be. That is an
unimaginable day, but
I can bear to think of it. Unbearable is the thought
that all singing might
stop everywhere, leaving us living beings with hearts
and minds in a dead
By its silence,
IS had shown us what this would be. Then would come
a compulsion to swallow even living people so that we
might regain the
lost life that, in reality, could never be recovered
36. A Meeting of the High Council
From Chickadee's Remembering
Mother of Song
When the afternoon
began to cool, Peachtree's council gathered beneath
the oak on the common
to consider what they must do. All felt that this was
the time to talk
again with the High Council to see what they would say
now to our request.
and other feasters had not left the hall, but had
slept there the day through.
When we entered the hall, they remained sprawled in
disorder as we had
left them in the morning, sleeping quietly. While they
slept, we cleaned
the hall, throwing away the spoiled meats and the
fly-spotted white pig's
head. We gathered the still fresh fruits and raw
vegetables together in
colorful piles on the bare boards of the tables, that
beneath their long
cloth proved to be seven set end to end. On each table
were jugs of wine,
warm but sweet smelling, that remained from the feast.
When all was
orderly and clean, we gently awakened the great ones
of Marshtown and invited
them to join us in a meal. It was truly as wonderful a
meal as ever I have
eaten. The councilors and wealthy citizens of
Marshtown sat among us, ate
quietly, and said little. Had a visitor come to that
banquet, he might
have wondered why some of us were so fat, with fine
but stained and tattered
robes. But nothing else would have separated the great
from the ordinary
at that feast. And girl children of the hills like
myself sat beside the
great men of Marshtown and divided fruits between
them, the fat men cracking
nuts for skinny girls to eat.
their fill, the councilors began to leave one by one,
saying, "My daughter
wishes to go out in a boat upon the lake in the cool
of evening," or saying,
"I am concerned that I have not weeded my beans since
before the festival
Seeing that soon
the council would drift away without our knowing what
would be done about
our mission, Peachtree spoke to Harvester.
Harvester, have you thought again about the mission of
Arm, of the need
for the water of Marsh River in the southern swamp
across the waste land?"
up in wonder, as if he had never heard or thought of
Arm, or of anything
"You are called
Peachtree, are you not? Do you know, Peachtree, that
in my garden is a
rose I call peach, because its color is so pink and
gold. It even smells
to me like the ripest peach. The fragrance of it is so
perfect that I do
not even think of eating when I look upon it and drink
in its odor. Its
being there is enough.
"Would you walk
with me to my garden? I yearn to look upon it. Perhaps
there is still a
blossom I could give you, for you are much like that
blossom. It would
please me to give you a rose."
showed her surprise, both at his kindness and at his
ignoring her question.
"Does this mean, Harvester, that you refuse to think
of Arm's mission?"
"Oh, Arm's mission.
I do not think I know what that is, or what it means.
I am not inclined
to think of it at all. Let us go and look at my
if speaking patiently with a dreamy child, pressed
him. "But High Councilor,
you and the council must consider this matter. We
would not bring back
"I am not the High Councilor. I can find nothing in me
that tells me what
you need or how I can respond. I know only that there
are beings calling
to me. I hear them in my garden, and I must go there."
With these words,
Harvester arose from the table, and made his way
slowly, like a child leaving
his bed, but not quite awake, out of the hall and into
the cooling evening.
In this way we
came to see that there was no longer a high council.
In the days after,
all understood that the councilors and all who
attended the midsummer feast
were no longer the rulers of Marshtown. They thought
no more of progress,
of growing more food and fiber than they could use and
trade among themselves.
They tended their gardens, played with their families,
and concerned themselves
little with the will of the town. Before we left
Marshtown, evening singings
began in the common. The women and children would
bring mats at sunset
and would sing out the stars. The first men to join
them, though they were
never heard to sing themselves, were the men of the
feast. Other men came
and sang too, of course, but the women led, and the
former councilors remained
silent. Though they had learned to listen, they would
be long in finding
the way to sing themselves.
The night after
the dissolution of the high council of Marshtown, we
sang in the meeting
house and on the common. Many of the town came to hear
us, then, and some
joined us as they had when we sang the soothing song
at dawn. We did not
sing the whole night, but only until darkness was
full, as is the custom
with Arm's children of the swamp. Before we parted to
sleep, Mother Peachtree
said that the town would meet there in the morning to
discuss Arm's quest.
In the morning,
many of the people of the town were present. We easily
agreed that the
new south fields would be abandoned now. We walked out
food with us, stopping to rest, and eat, and sing, as
we walked around
the reservoir and across the dam to the west aqueduct.
There, we closed
the water gate. A messenger was sent to Ram and the
other tenders of the
fields, calling them back to the town and to other
work. When we crossed
the dam, returning in late afternoon, we stopped to
watch the water spilling
into the bed of the old Marsh River, flowing to the
marsh as it had not
done in summer for many a year. Many remained to watch
the renewed flow
and to eat our evening meals together.
Below the dam,
I could see the hut of Marshrat, looking uncared for
now, though it was
no more abandoned than any back country hut, left
alone for this long festival.
I went down to Marshrat's grave together with
Peachtree's family after
37. Peachtree's Path II
From Mother of Song, the holy
writings of the Cult of Song
I. At the Sacred Pool
After the Great
Procession and the closing of the West Gate, Rye
Grass, Chick, Raisin,
and Peachtree went with Arm to visit the grave of
Marshrat and the Sacred
We must remember,
sisters, that this was a moment of great sadness to
Peachtree, for though
the followers of Marshrat the Martyr have called us
heretics and persecuted
us, still Marshrat was a great hero of the coming of
Arm. Without his goodness
and his love of the marsh, without his love for the
people of the hills,
and without his sacrifice, we might never have heard
the singing of IS.
So it was in
true sorrow that Peachtree shed tears on the grave of
the martyr. No sister,
resenting the cruelty of the martyr's church, should
breathe pepper and
onions to force her tears to drop in the Sacred Pool.
was that Marshrat should have missed the peace that
she and her friends
had that day. Marshtown had then turned away from
fatness and deafness.
The town had joined the hills in the truth of IS, that
all the world sings
and lives. The water of the Marsh River flowed richly
now past the pool
of IS, and tiny green fragments of waterroot could be
seen leaving the
pool to join the swirls and bubbles that danced toward
the dead marsh.
The river lived and sang again.
never really believed in the living world, though he
loved the world as
few can. Peachtree wept to think that he had never
known the absolute depth
of the silence and the joy of awakening. And as her
tears fell, she looked
down into the Sacred Pool of IS. That was the end of
Hear her words.
When my tears
dropped into the clear, calm pool of IS, my reflection
in the shadows disappeared
in the ripples. I felt I must drink from the pool, and
I did. Then my ears
opened and my eyes truly saw.
What I heard
then, what I saw then, is a mystery beyond words. I
fell into the sharp
lightning and throbbed with the sweet thunder. Who has
followed a path,
who has yearned, who has an ear, let her hear. Come to
the fountain of
joy and drop your tears. There you will drink the
water of life, where
pain and sorrow cease not, but flow into IS who sings
them to the stars
as the dark and stormy sides of our dazzling joys. How
can the rain fall,
sisters, without the splitting of the cloud? How can
the babe cry out without
the thrumming of the womb?
II. The Peachtree Chapel
After Arm walked
away into the dunes, Peachtree became a teacher. First
she taught her daughters,
and then her daughters taught us. So all of us who
follow her ways and
take our brothers with us are sisters of the Peachtree
Chapel. This is
what Peachtree taught her daughters. Harken to her
Examine the waterroot.
Fear not to take a piece from the stream, for it
spreads itself across
the planet as long as we remember that the waterways
belong to IS. As long
as water flows in the way it has of old, through the
Marsh River and into
the living marsh, then IS will live and sing our songs
with the stars and
will mingle the singing of all that is with our own
What do we see
when we take the waterroot in our hands?
It is only a
plant, is it not? See how each piece is a dark green
ball, out of which
radiate many delicate stems with many tiny leaves at
their ends. Arm says
that these stems rise from the ball as do coconut
trees of the Holy Swamp.
And it is my daughter, Chick, who as a child said that
the world would
look so if covered with gigantic coconut trees. But it
was Raisin, younger
and sometimes wiser in her innocence, who replied that
in fact, the waterroot
only looked so when tumbling through the stream
searching for itself. In
the Sacred Pool of IS and in every other place where
waterroot grows as
it wishes, the little tree-covered worlds are
interlinked with each other
like the balls of burrs, only more delicate, as if a
great spider had woven
dandelion heads gone to seed numerous as the stars
into a great multilayered
web, like a bees' nest. The vast web in the holy swamp
is the mind and
heart of IS, the center of this world's singing.
What does this
Is it not easy
to tell that the linking by tender touch of all these
little worlds pictures
the linking by so many threads of love and pain of the
peoples, the ties
of binding song between all living things on IS and
between IS and all
the near orbs of the sky, and between our star and all
the myriad stars
that dance in our sky?
To know this
is to know all that makes us happy in this our short
38. Reflections by Grave and Pool
From Arm's Chronicle of
There is little
more to my story. I bade my friends farewell and came
again across the
dry lands, returning home without accident in only
I lived with
Rye Grass and Peachtree for several days before
turning my face southward
again. Peachtree and the girls prepared food and
containers for my journey,
and I helped Rye Grass gather tall grasses to renew
their roof for the
coming rainy season. On hot dusty afternoons we worked
their shade trees, telling stories of our two lands,
singing songs, and
playing games. For the first time, I was able to tell
all about my journey
through the dry lands. I told about the different
kinds of dry land, about
finding water in pricklies and beneath rocks. I told
of the place where
there was water beneath the sand and about the
friendship of Sand, who
found that water for me. Peachtree's family learned
about Orf and about
all of you, brothers and sisters, who were living then
among our huts.
They asked me again and again to tell about my vision
at the pool of IS,
and it was in those quiet talks that Peachtree told us
of her own vision
at the new pool of IS at Marsh River. In this way, I
learned to tell my
story, which I now do each year in the fat season, as
we rest in our own
shade as we are doing today.
I visited the pool again, with the family of
We stood by Marshrat's
grave, from which new violets were beginning to sprout
and sang again the
song of parting. It was cool and fresh there, in the
deep shade and the
singing water. And I thought of Marshrat, resting here
beneath the grass
near the new pool of IS. If he could hear with his own
ears, he would hear
the water bubbling past, refilling the quiet pool, and
carrying the seeds
of IS into the slowly reawakening marsh and into the
ground on the way
to the swamp. Perhaps he would hear of this change
just the same, in the
singing of IS.
As we sat quietly
by the grave, I wondered how this change had come
about, especially the
change in the hearts of the councilors. It is not what
we would question
here in the swamp, for if a person is ill and becomes
well again, we do
not ask why our friend is well. Instead, we sing our
joy at his return.
But traveling in other lands has shown me there are
other ways to live,
and perhaps there is a land in which the councilors'
way is a good way.
But in what land would one live only for oneself, with
ears closed to the
singing of IS? I think Harvester walked too far down
the road of making
more where there was little, but I am not one to judge
how I would live
in all strange lands.
Chick was gazing
into the pool and, after awhile, she wondered when she
would hear the singing
of IS. I told her, "Little one, you hear the singing
of IS whenever you
sing with another and whenever you remember such
singing. You hear the
singing of IS in all times and all places, when you
listen. There is no
place where IS is not singing, even now."
She looked at
me and at her parents with a smile of knowing. She
pointed to the green-breasted
bird that swooped through the green shadows and said,
"Even swallow's wings
are singing, aren't they?"
39. An Epistle to Marsh River
From Arm's Chronicle of
Dear Friends of Marsh River,
There is a song
about messages that travel across the swamp. Not often
is such a message
necessary. We live quietly here among our friends, and
there is little
need to leave one's group for long.
We have the story
of Forgetting Murk who, on his way to visit a friend
would meet another
coming to the huts. He would say, "I have left behind
my snake grass fan.
Would you ask my mate, Arn, to bring it after me?"
Whenever he met someone
coming to the huts, whether stranger or friend, he
would think of another
thing he had not carried with him on his visit, his
hat, a little basket
of nuts, his gathering knife, the polished stone he
had meant for a gift.
All the day, while he was away, Arn would receive
messages. All who gathered
in one direction and any visitor to our huts would
seek out Arn to tell
her what Forgetting Murk had left behind. Arn, who
remembered very well,
could name everything he had asked for during the day,
but she never followed
him with any of them. The reason she never followed is
that when he returned
home, he would remember none of the messages he had
When we tell
this story, the children always ask, "But why did
Forgetting Murk send
so many messages?" Then we sing our song about
Murk met a toad
on his way to Deep Brook.
Oh toad, tell
Arn a message I have.
I am without
my snake grass fan and it is hot today.
Oh toad, tell
Arn this message I have.
Murk met a snake
on his way to Deep Brook.
Oh snake, tell
Arn a message I have.
I am without
the polished stone, my gift to Torf.
Oh snake, tell
Arn this message I have.
Murk met a lizard
on his way to Deep Brook.
Oh lizard, tell
Arn a message I have.
I am without
my leaf hat and the sun burns my head.
Oh lizard, tell
Arn this message I have.
and lizard came to sit beside Arn.
She peeled sun
fruit in the shade at midday.
Each showed his
tongue and she dropped juice upon it.
Arn ate sun fruit
in the shade at midday.
I see Murk has
spoken to you, said she,
And I know he
is on his journey.
I see Murk has
spoken to you, said she,
And I know he
is on his journey.
A message coming
across the swamp is like the night call of the silver
bird hidden deep
among the reeds. It says only, "I am here! I am here!"
This song enters
my mind now as I write to you at the command of IS. My
friends of the Marsh
River, it has been long since we sang together. I had
thought our lives
had parted in their ways and that only songs and
memories would continue
between us. But now, my son comes to me from deep in
the swamp to say that
he is to carry across the dry lands a message from me.
I am to tell you
the story of my visit to you so many years ago.
I am not accustomed
to writing things down, and not at all in the song of
your speech. Like
Murk's toad, snake, and lizard, I fear I can only hold
out my tongue to
you. I know not why IS asks this of me or of Alf, and
so I know not how
I should tell our story.
I will write
it to you as I tell it to the children of the swamp.
It is a long tale,
one for the fat season when gathering is easy and we
lounge for long afternoons
in the cool shade of a frog nut tree. Then one who
knows the story tells
it for several afternoons, and when he or she comes to
the songs, we all
sing quietly together. It is a good story for times of
plenty. Sun fruit
is juicier when we remember the dry lands, shade
darker in the land of
no shadows. Songs caress the ear when we recall the
silence. And when we
think of being alone, our singing is honey.
I also think
that I no longer know who among my old friends remains
or has departed.
I feel a desire to send you many messages about my Orf
and Alf, about my
children and brothers and sisters. How has it been
with me since we parted?
But I think that all messages sent so far really say
the same thing. I
am here still. Let my story be my message. Let Alf
bring back stories of
you. Then I will know you also are there.
40. Farewell and Welcome
I remember the
game we played on my last day with Peachtree, Rye
Grass, Chick, and Raisin,
in the dry shade before their hut, with a hot wind
rasping my skin that
reminded me of Sand's tiny tongue. Perhaps Rye Grass
noticed I was a little
sad as his hands neatly gathered and held the roof
grass in bundles that
Chick would tie. He began the game of questions.
"Chick, why does
roof grass grow so tall."
only a minute, and then replied, "The roof grass grows
tall because the
little chicks call all summer for a roof from the
rain." She turned to
me and asked, "Arm, why do the dunes blow across the
I answered quickly,
but not so well, for I find this game hard, even now
after teaching it
to my children. "The dunes blow across the desert
because they have no
home and yet are always looking." We all remembered
the Silence then, but
I was anxious to think of home. "Where is the home of
the green pear?"
from joy at her easy answer. "The green pear's home is
in my stomach which
is just its shape and size." She asked Peachtree,
"Mother, why does the
dry wind come before the rains?"
"The dry wind comes before the rains to make the trees
dusty. Then, the
rain feels welcome with a job of washing to do. Why do
at the violets?"
Rye Grass was
admirable as always. "The butterflies drink at violets
to find color for
their tails. Why do cottonwoods send their seeds
sailing across the desert
after the rains?"
"The cottonwoods send their seeds sailing across the
desert after the rains
because they have heard the tiny toads of the swamp
want to stuff their
pillows." When Chick turned to me, I was already lost
in her beautiful
and funny idea. As I imagined toads busily stuffing
pillows under the small
ferns where they hide, I smiled and wandered more in
my mind toward the
swamp. "Why do the children of the swamp have golden
stripes in their hair?"
"There is a story
about our hair."
"No, no, no!"
giggled Chick, and Raisin joined in. "You have left
the game, Arm." Then
Raisin said, "But do tell us. Why are there sunbeams
glowing through your
"The story is
that we are all our parent's children. We come from
the waterroot. One
day before we lived in the swamp, two black and golden
frogs were frightened
and jumped far out into the pool of IS. There they
became entangled in
the waterroot and could not move. As they began to
fear they would drown,
they called out to IS saying, "Do not take our lives
yet, for we have no
children!" Then they began to grow. They grew larger
and larger until they
looked just like my mother and my father. Then the
waterroot that had changed
them released them, and they could walk out of the
pool of IS. And when
they were grown, all that was left of the frogs'
stripes was my parents'
flowing hair. So it is that to this day, we children
of the swamp are born
with hair of gold and black, and like the frog, we
turn brown as we grow
older. Our hair is the sign of the care of IS."
So the game came
to an end in comforting thoughts of home. These
thoughts made me forget
the sadness of death and eased the pain of leaving my
new and lovely friends
by turning my mind to Orf and the others who awaited
The journey was
easier for many reasons. I knew where I was going, and
I knew my way. You
can go into my hut whenever you wish and look upon the
two large clay pots
in which I carried my water, and the eleven very small
ones in which I
carried a paste of milk and honey sealed in beeswax. I
was hungry and thirsty
again in the desert, but never so hungry and thirsty
as when I went to
the river. My water lasted, for I used all I carried
and lost little to
the sun. My food was more nourishing. And I saved the
seeds of the fruits
and vegetables, as well as carrying some with me, so
you now eat some of
the best foods of the hill country.
Most of all,
my journey was easier because I was coming home to
you, to Orf who became
my mate and bore our daughter and son, and to all of
you my sisters, brothers,
and children. The thoughts of coming to you, of
gathering with you in our
green swamp, and of singing with you around our fire
turned my mind and
heart from the suffering of the long journey, and so
it is well forgotten
now. I remember it only as a small silence that
prepared me for the song
of welcome you sang to me upon my return. It was a new
song, though few
songs seem really new to me after my days at the pool
of IS. We really
had no song before for one who returns from a long
journey. We still sing
it only rarely for one who has visited long with
another group. So, it
has its place, here at the end of my story, where we
sing it as part of
the story. When Alf, my son, returns from his journey
to the Marsh River
-- that will be the proper time to sing it again.
of the swamp to the parent's streams.
Come, join again
in the parent's songs.
There is a melody
for your voice.
There is a basket
for your hand.
There is a hut
for your head.
There is a hand
for your heart.
Come, join again
in the parent's songs.
of the swamp to the parent's streams.
Were I telling
this story now to the children, instead of writing it
slowly on these pages,
the children would have stopped me when I spoke of Alf
and began the song.
They would echo little Chick on the day when I broke
the game, "No, no,
no, Father Arm! That is not how the story goes!" For
the song always comes
when the story is done, and the story really ends in
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.
Let us sing, again.