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 holey clothes
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 Midsummer Festival,
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 being visible
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 calls,
Like the young sparrows, all mouths on the
The plum tree seeks a full breast.
Rain of our life,
The green apples need their faces washed.
The tired dust whispers for rest,
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 any more.
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 wealthy citizens
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 chosen again.
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 of Song
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 comfortable, will
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 friends.
"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 rite.
"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 sick belief.
"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 and unimportant,
Harvester, the High Councilor, raised his hands for silence. Gradually
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 hills?"
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 purpose. When
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 hear."
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 Peachtree's time.
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 singing?
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 sluice-ways that frees the water to run
into the marsh and to make the world whole.
Marshrat had 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
Peachtree was 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 hills.
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,
Into the grass,
Into our hearts,
Into our songs.
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 each repetition 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, white clothing.
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 rivers. Throughout 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 stopped.
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 came.
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 children home.
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 common.
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
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.
Another taller 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 IS
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 recognize.
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 not breathing.
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 they slept.
Because Marshrat 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 the consequences. And you have made us suffer,
too. There are bruised children in our homes, men with cuts, wives with
"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.
Harvester looked 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 best."
Harvester turned 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, now.
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 truth.
Perhaps Harvester 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 their song.
Thank you companion for singing among us.
Your song is with us.
You are singing our song.
Though your face glows not in the fire,
Though your voice enters not our ears,
Though your hand strikes not the drum,
Though your ears hear us not,
Still we hear you;
Still our hearts hear you.
You are singing in our song.
Your song is with us.
Thank you companion for singing among us.
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 mockery.
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.
Before Harvester 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
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 River.
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.
Marshrat sat 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 spoke.
"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.
"Seeing this 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 death."
"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 are."
30. Peachtree's Path I
From Mother of Song, the holy 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 path, knowing 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.
Marshrat knew 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 own.
Cherry tree, sing with me.
Your sweet fruit pleases me.
Your red fruit pleases me.
Cherry tree, 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 of IS.
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 to know."
And so we talked of IS, the ear and voice of
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 was singing. 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.
Marshrat's burial 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 to her.
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 her.
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 notes continued, 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.
The townsmen 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 hearts hear.
"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.
The festival 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
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
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
After pouring 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 torches brighter.
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 sings it.
This question 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
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 of IS.
33. The Silence
From Arm's Chronicle of IS
We had not yet sung the song of waters enough
when we stopped, in the darkening night 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 itself unbearable, 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 away.
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 emptiness.
Something in 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 nothing.
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 fire.
Eventually we 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 it not.
Suddenly, out 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.
What greater 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 upon it?
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 cracked.
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!"
"His feast!" 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.
But Harvester, 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 the cosmos!"
Others took up the chant, the absolute opposite
of music. "Behold Harvester, eater of the universe! Behold Harvester! Behold
Though there 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.
They struggled, 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
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 Song
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
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
But no! That wasn't the sound the stars made
as they danced in the windless heaven. 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 true voice.
In the morning in the camp, she sang the song
of the stars. This is the song that she sang.
Listen for the rain passing through the air.
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 earth.
Even beneath the river roaring through the gorge,
The rain seeps into the sand to reach pine roots.
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 deer.
Listen to the rain rising and falling in your ear.
The rain carries down the music from the stars;
The song of all echoes always in your ear.
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 afraid.
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 remembered their songs.
35. The Song for Soothing Fearful Children
From Arm's Chronicle of IS
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 song.
The wind roars and tears the trees.
We are together in our hut.
The rain drums upon our roof and beats down
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
Fear not, little one, for we are together
in our hut.
We are together, holding hands.
After repeating 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.
The councilors 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 afternoon, perhaps 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
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 place.
By its silence, IS had shown us what this would
be. Then would come Harvester's madness, a compulsion to swallow even living
people so that we might regain the lost life that, in reality, could never
be recovered without song.
36. A Meeting of the High Council
From Chickadee's Remembering Peachtree,
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.
The councilors 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.
After eating 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 began."
Seeing that soon the council would drift away
without our knowing what would be done about our mission, Peachtree spoke
"High Councilor 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?"
Harvester looked up in wonder, as if he had
never heard or thought of Arm, or of anything Peachtree said.
"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."
Peachtree's face 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 roses."
Peachtree, as 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 the silence."
Harvester replied, "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 together, taking 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 our meal.
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 Pool.
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. Peachtree's sorrow 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.
Marshrat had 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 her path.
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 words.
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 small voices.
What do we see when we take the waterroot in
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
What does this tell us?
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 life.
38. Reflections by Grave and Pool
From Arm's Chronicle of IS
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 eleven days.
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 quietly beneath 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.
Before leaving, I visited the pool again, with
the family of Peachtree.
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,
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 IS
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
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 sent.
When we tell this story, the children always
ask, "But why did Forgetting Murk send so many messages?" Then we sing
our song about messages.
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
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
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
Oh lizard, tell Arn this message I have.
Snake, toad, and lizard came to sit beside
She peeled sun fruit in the shade at midday.
Each showed his tongue and she dropped juice
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
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
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
"Chick, why does roof grass grow so tall."
Chick thought 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 desert?"
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?"
Raisin laughed 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?"
Peachtree replied, "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 butterflies drink 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?"
Chick replied, "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 hair?"
"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 me.
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.
Welcome child of the swamp to the parent's
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.
Welcome child of the swamp to the parent's
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 this way.
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.