John Gilmore

Throat Songs

[excerpt from Head of a Man]

Space without sound. Only moving bodies, and darkness between. The savage stillness, the empty spaces, the long elliptical journey. But always back. Around which. Knowing she’s there.

An area of skin delineated. Heightened colour. The effect of precision. (Here and here and here.) The rite prescribed. The sure, before the giving over. Descent into details: parts named, positions held.

(Before. Always before.)

The arched hollow call. The thick, inarticulate tongue. The wind-driven sleet against the pane. She leaned into it. All sidled up, beside. The steaming flank. The twitching. The muscle.

(My will be done.)

Many tongues, many hearts. (Forgotten, the rest.) If I. If all. And ever shall be.

I feel the weight upon me. The lack of a word for it. The feeling that it is all there, waiting to be taken down. The story complete, worked out in detail, ready to be born. The melody ready to be played. But it is my fingers, my clumsy fingers and my thick lulled tongue that cannot form the words and cannot make the sounds.

Her daily rounds, thankfully. Circle of the hours. Fire to ashes to dust.

I dream of a hut I will make, or find abandoned, on the side of a mountain, the dirt floor dry, the thatch still good. The trees overhead sway. (Sometimes violently.) When I need sleep, I will curl on the floor.

A single brown fruit, still on the branch. (Gone. All gone.)

And each time, recollect. A bundle clutched close. Carried long, through cold thickets. Each step breaking through.

Bound. Shouldered. (Wrapped in her arms.) Waiting without end. There is only this waiting. World without end.

This a bowl. This a mound. All these things that cannot be. Wings erupt, then — absence. (My branches for the winter wren.)

I listen into the silence for the sound of breathing. A mounting. An exhalation.

Rings but once. Forever still.

She brought me cakes this morning, on a small tray. Knocked and waited. And on it a cup of steaming water. It was the time I usually go to the kitchen. I haven’t in days. Struggling to reclaim. She said nothing when I opened the door. She smiled quietly and offered the tray up, arms outstretched. I stepped back, receiving it in both hands, inhaling deeply, thanking her. I stepped back further still and turned part way into the room, opening a way for her to pass. She shook her head softly, once. Looking at me all the time. Work, she said, smiling again. Work.

And so began another ritual. The tray brought to the door, with something tiny to nibble, beside the cup. The tray given and received, with tiny imperceptible bows. Intention, more than act. (The need to, acknowledged.) In such a way the room became mine again. I don’t know how much she understood. She didn’t try to look inside. Work. Sometimes I said it before her, and smiled and nodded, like her, and we both laughed, quietly, gentle with each other. She always turned away first. Giving me that much. Sometimes I watched her go, the shape of her body moving under her clothes, her hair lapping against her neck. (Faint lines, crossing sometimes.)

I asked for the straw broom. And then, with bucket and cloth, brought back the gleam of the bare floor, and wiped clean the rings. The forest rose again from the wood. Incense of fecundity. The surface laid bare. The bedcover stretched tight.

I stand beside the bed, ankles together, hands at my side, facing the window. It is night. The shutter is still open. I stand tall but slightly stooped, my head weighted forward. (It has always been this way.) The cold air rushes over my bare legs and my naked loins, and up under my shirt. This is my body.

The power that once flowed through me. A band, a breath, a palm settling. This was story. This was song. Wind cleansing. A ship’s slow roll.

Sometimes it is given to us. One moment of clarity. One word laid down, cold and clattering, beside another. Ribbon of wet stone.

At the bottom of the breath, at the last going out, at the farthest slip back of the sea — a flutter of wings.

If I can be still, and still moving. Over the last rise, through the open reach, toward the rock face and the last high cirque. (Hawks — lifting!)

The travellers gather in. Slow diminuation of their days. The folding in, the circle of voices dimming, turning in. The lost way. In deep darkness, dreams forgotten. (To chambers she led me.)

As it was in the beginning. The sky we are given to lie beneath. These constellations do not reconfigure. Even the bold among us do not lie on the earth at night and imagine new beasts above us. The bear will always watch us. Hunter. And hunted.

Eight cries. Four songs. The embrace all men seek. The daylight falling this way, across the arm of a deep chair. (Her good heart. Her steady days.) The reassurance of one room, closed, and a wood table, before the window. (You see, it’s down there, you must lean out, look down.) These pebbles carried inland from the sea. Comfort of dry stone. We remember, too much, too poorly. We remember, none the less.

One apple, quartered and cored. One piece of cheese, unwrapped. Bread, torn from a loaf. A cup, infusing.

She at the faucet, soft. The water, soft. She there moving, soft. Basin to counter. (To fire.) This the miracle: the late afternoon sunlight: the stillness in her motion. And me listening. Beneath the quilt. Indolent. Redolent. Limbs free. Following the cloche of every hour. Privy to her. How she, what she. (The edges crushed soft.) She here the door open all mine listening. She here the water flowing. She here the song.

Not my shutter but another bangs in the night.

I sit in silence and one word rises, and sometimes another, sometimes in a language I do not know. Latin. Fragments. Rites I have never performed. Patter. Familia. Words rise, as if to say, I am it, I am story, and I take these words that are given (for a while they were given in dreams) and I repeat them and roll them on my tongue and carry them with me. I rub them with my fingertips, accumulations of strange words and strange sounds (because I want to, because I do whatever I want to) but they don’t add up. They don’t make story. They make groans in my chest and tapping on the wall. She is in there, I know, on the other side.

Nothing is moving in the valley. Feast days. Gone to villages, up mountain paths. (Curtains close behind them.) I have provisions. Tea. Chocolate. An extra loaf. I will wait. (A dog howls, below.) She is gone. Another girl, sullen, swabs the shower. Four days. Three nights, maybe four. She said goodbye, asked me if I was staying. Forever, I said. We laughed. I bring fruit. My village. She stood at the open door. She know give you water. I say her. (Then) You no lonely? Long time you stay. (Then) I you friend. (Then, again) I bring fruit. My village. (Then) Gone. I closed the door. The other girl does not sing.

I hear my voice incanting. Words I cannot explain. Catechism. Kyrie. All manner of dead meanings. As if repetition will illuminate something. (Maketh me to lie down.) Déo. Profundus. Long tones lift on a column of air. Throat songs. Prayers. Imploring the grace of language. The words that all men know.

(Cold rain. And hard.)