Chiliad: A Meditation - Men and Sin
In my mind, the river flows both ways. Out toward the sea toward futurity; to death, of course; to revelation, perhaps; perhaps to both. And back the way it came, at least at those places where the currents are most perverse; where vortexes appear, and the waters are like foamy skirts on the hips of the rocks. I have made my spying places at those spots. Rough hides on the muddy banks, sometimes nests of sticks and blankets. in the embrace of branches, from which vantage points I can surreptitiously study the river as it contradicts itself, setting the details down in my notebook for subsequent analysis. On occasion I have even ventured into the tumult: once intentionally, once by accident (a branch broke beneath me and I almost drowned, knocked back and forth between the rocks like a shuttlecock). It was far from pleasant, believe me. Don't trust what you may hear from shamans, who tell you, with puffy eyes, how fine it is to bathe in the river. They have their mutability to keep them from harm. The rest of us are much more brittle; more likely to bruise and break in the flood., It is, in truth, vile to be in the midst of such a commanding torrent: not to know if you will be carried back to the womb to the ease of the mother's waters or out into cold father death. To hope one moment, and be in extremis the next; and not to know, half the time, which of the prospects comforts and which arouses fear.
But as long as I am safe on the bank, merely a witness, it is a fine place to meditate. And sometimes the proximity ofthe waters perhaps their spray, which mists the air, perhaps their roar, which makes the heart tremble induces visions.
Once, for instance, sitting in my hide spying on the river, I imagined myself abruptly removed to a hillside. The scene before me was that of a patchwork of fields in which men and women labored. There was much about the sight that put me in mind of a medieval illumination. The backbreaking work of the peasants, the absence of any sign of modernity a vehicle, a telegraph pole but more than these, a flatness about the whole panorama that made the cerulean sky and the rolling horizon and all that waslaid between my hillside and that horizon hedgerows, paths' fields, and cottages appear to lie in the same plane of vision; all in perfect focus, and in perfect relation to one another. It seemed to me that this world existed somewhere between actuality and design. It was part document, part decoration.
My gaze became fixed upon a plowman who was working a little distance from me. He was digging up corpses, I saw; the motion of his spade uncovering the dead, one by one. Was this a cemetery? I wondered. I could see that there were markers in the ground, but they did not resemble gravestones; they were simply stripped twigs, driven into the earth to show the whereabouts of the cadavers, which had been buried at regular intervals all across the field.
And then I realized my error. There was movement among these corpses. They were turning over in their wormy beds so as to look at the sky, stretching their pale, naked limbs like sleepers stirred from slumber. Some were sitting up; standing now, still doubting the reliability of their limbs. They were most of them old: faces wizened, breasts empty, eyes blind, or rheumy. And yet they were, happy in their condition. They capered as they grew to trust their legs and their good fortune, greeting one another with toothless smiles. Then they proceeded to make their way down the much-rutted road to the cluster of huts that lay a little distance from their field, their gait growing steadier as they went. I saw the doors of the huts flung wide, and the dead welcomed over the thresholds as though they were expected. Fires were lit to warm them; stew, bread, and wine were set before them. They ate, they dressed, then they sat and listened to their hosts' children, who talked to them with great gravity, as children do.
After a time, they began to live; to get about the duties of men and women who have purpose and appetite. And as they did so as they thatched and fished and prayed and sat contemplating the sky I saw the toll of years steadily removed. I saw their hair thicken, and their flesh grow ruddier; I saw the women's breasts become lush, and their haggard faces become smooth; I saw the men strengthen, and their gums get teeth, and the sexes turn glittering eyes on one another, and marry.
I understood the vision more clearly now. These were people who were born from the grave, and were living backwards toward the womb. No wonder they'd listened so a attentively to the infants when they'd first returned; they were attending to the wisdom of their elders.
I longed to hear what passed between them: to ask them, if we had a tongue in common, what it felt like to be born from the grave. But that was not to be. The crop of couples I'd seen unearthed by the man in the field was by now reduced to treasured childhood, the oldest of them carried as babes-in-arms, shrinking still, until they were little more than red worms in the palms of their protectors, in which state they were taken back to the ground from which they'd come, and with great irreverence much laughter, much drinking buried. Several of the women stripped naked and danced a stamping dance on the earth to pack it tight upon the heads of these seeds. Then the crowd returned to the village. There it waited for the sun...
Revelations. Copyright © by Douglas E. Winter. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.