by James Greer
The Light That Draws The Flower
1. p. 34 Naturalism
The light that draws the flower makes a gift of the present. The river stretches drowsy limbs across gray hills, tinged with pink light from dropping sun. Anna walks through a narrow field bordered on all sides by sycamore, oak, maple, honey locust, birch, walnut, white pine, catalpa, tulip poplar, beech, linden. The tops of trees flecked with pale yellow light, but the meadow darkens quickly. Her way is plotted by fireflies, in phosphorescent bunches, dipping below the tall grass, pausing on the stalks, circling, semaphoring secrets. Lampyridae: The firefly light is called a “cold light” because it produces almost no heat. It is produced when oxygen, breathed in through the abdominal trachea, combines with a substance called luciferin in the presence of the enzyme luciferase, in special cells called photocytes. The tall grass parts as she walks, neck bent slightly out of sadness, out of being tired from walking for hours. Heat of day disperses in the grass, in the wildflowers growing in clumps. On the edge of the meadow, where the trees begin, mist pools in the undergrowth. Anna reaches the pooling mist and wades through, unhesitant.
Until I don't know where I am.
Anna threads through the undergrowth: ferns, dead tree parts, bluebells, decaying leaves, jack-in-the-pulpit, mossy stumps, dark stones. A cabbage butterfly arcs across her path, disappears. Fireflies are fewer, less frantic. Through the mist you can see their tiny lanterns bobbing on invisible silk threads.
Step on a twig or stick or dead root: cracks. Cold air swarms behind the mist: with sun gone, temperature cellars. After the fireflies fade Anna stops walking, gathers by feel enough wood for a fire. Clears a circle in the dirt with her feet, lays stones along the edge, piles the wood in the center. Leaves and dry bark for kindling. Produces from a mesh compartment in her backpack a box of wooden matches. The light from a struck match burns blue, then yellow orange, then blue again when applied to the leaves. Bright spurt and a sharp pop as air pockets snap to greet eager flame. She hunches near, tending with a stripped branch. Throws the branch aside, pulls backpack open. Unzips and sorts through contents, pulling out toiletries kit; sifts through kit for compact mirror. Moves strands of hair from face with aid of mirror, reflections of firelight on forehead reflected in mirror.
My face is smudged. I have some tissues, and a thing of water.
Puts away mirror and roots through backpack.
The light from the sun is different from firelight, and yet both are forms of light, and forms of heat. I draw both from both. Fiery sparks leap from the center of the turning world. Some catch on breezes or drafts of heated air and float, dangle, dip, soar, plummet.
“Hello, Anna.” These are words addressed to me. Anna. O Hell. Semi-palindromic is not a thing? Is a thing?
Turns towards the voice. “I'm not alone.”
“Don't count on that, Anna. Why are you here? Why run?”
Past the shapes of positive space grading into negative space. Can't see a bloodless thing. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“I want to help. If you'll let me.”
Leaves wrestle in the dark, a twig's thin limb snaps. Long pause of just the fire noising the night.
“I'm afraid.” Say a thing, it's no longer true.
“Yes. We're both afraid, Anna. What draws me here is fear. Mine and yours.”
“Will you come where I can see you?”
“I could, but I think I won't.”
“If I guess your name will you come near?”
“You can't. Even if you guessed right, I'd change my name before you could say out loud.”
Anna pushes her backpack into position as a pillow, stretches her legs near the fire.
“Go to sleep, Anna. I won't hurt you. I won't even touch you.”
“Not sleeping. Just stretching out.”
“Aren't you tired?”
“Yes. But I have trouble sleeping even at home in bed. Never mind in the forest with an invisible possibly malevolent lurker chatting away.”
“Something's bothering you.”
“You're bothering me. I came here to not talk. And now I'm talking.” Could be a wood sprite or grendel or anything, or nothing.
“Anyway I'm not invisible. I'm hiding. Like you.”
“Why do you say hiding.”
“No one comes to the forest for any other reason.”
She closes her eyes and watches flickers of fire on the inside of vibrating eyelids. Mob of crickets mouthing off in the brush. Owl hoots over the insect din, bass clarinet riding above string section.
Minutes pass in this way.
Boys want to possess. Works out because girls want to be possessed. World goes on, possessed and abandoned and chased and possessed.
“I think that's oversimplifying.”
“The part about the difference between boys and girls. In matters of love, right? I don't think you can generalize like that.”
“How are you able to know thoughts I haven't spoken.”
“You're translucent in that light, Anna. Anyone can see inside your pretty head.”
Fire wants poking.
Fire wants poking. Anna grabs branch, leans towards logs, turns one over so its glowering face shows.
She retracts the branch, its tip charred from flame, sets it next to her. Draws knees up to chin.
“Don't you think you're awfully precocious for a girl your age?”
“I've always been precocious.”
“Always? What do you mean? A person can't always be precocious, unless he's born talking, which has never happened, and therefore can't happen, because it's unrealistic, and animals of the fortress are arriving to devour the mechanical marvels! Lo, the fendes say so! A holly jolly folly molly trolley collie.
Marvelous thing, falling asleep. Surrender to an army of nothing.
2. p. 36 Symbolic Island
Prologue: Bloating through the floodstream. Common Snowberry, Velvetleaf, Yellow Rattlebox, Bush Pea, Oconee Bells, Milkwort, Alumroot, Wood Sorrel. Frostweed, Toadshade, Figwort, Purple Trillium, Rosy Twisted-Stalk, Teasel, Speedwell, Hyacinth, Pickerelweed, Gentian, Foam Flower, Common Moonseed, False Solomon's Seal.
Act I: In back of the deserted manse there grew a tangle of untamed shrubbery (wisteria, lilac, azalea), weeds, wildflowers (snapdragon, tickseed, beebalm, aster, hollyhock, heliotrope, cornflower), and, unexpectedly, roses, among which, according to season, bloomed a Black Jade miniature rose and several rogue Hybrid Teas (Crimson Glory, Double Delight, Fragrant Cloud, Mr. Lincoln) and a cream-white single bloom Sombreauil Tea. The Rose Garden at City Center's Botanical Complex was a desert of thorns next to our backyard's accidental rosaceae.
The property was now held in trust for an absentee owner who was in no apparent hurry to sell. Its last resident -- Oscar Siebenthaler, an old-growth German immigrant -- had been an amateur horticulturist, which explained the proliferation of flora, but in the ten years since his occupation (ended, as with many things, by death) his carefully organized garden had exploded, migrating willy-nilly over the two acres of partially wooded property. In areas thickly shaded by trees, flowers that flourished in shade grew. In sunny spots grew heliophilic things. Where conditions were right (neither too much nor too little sun, for instance up near the house itself) a scumble of colors occurred in Spring, attracting swarms of bees and butterflies -- among these: Silver-spotted Skippers (Epargyreus clarus clarus) and American Coppers (Lycaena phlaes americana) -- in abundance.
No one had an interest in clearing away the dead brush from the back yard or mowing the front or back -- as a result wild grasses flourished, which proved a boon to insects and to the birds who fed on them (Acadian Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Horned Lark, Red-Eyed Vireo, Cedar Waxwing, as well as the usual sparrow, house wren and starling crowd). The unkempt grounds and the general disrepair of the building's facade (paint cracked and flaking, gutters askew, unhinged shingles, broken flagstones on the path leading up to the front porch, which featured a porch swing as rotted and tenuous as the gazebo across from the Belle) kept neighbors tut-tutting and most strangers at bay.
Act II: Glossy grey leaves trilling in stiff pre-thunderstorm gusts. Each tree a book read by a giant, wildly turning pages. The trunk of that old oak supports a fat bestseller. Quercus: A Romance. Anna withdrew from the warehouse of unused memories an image of her mother in a light blue print dress patterned with white-and-yellow daisies, hanging pale green sheets on a clothesline in the morning sun. The scattered flapping sound then was the same feeling as the tendrils of many trees whipped by the wind, now. She walked with hands jammed into the pockets of her jeans, slowly. Open-mouthed street has terrible teeth, crooked, uneven, discolored. Should see a dentist. How administer anesthetic? Road drools.
Act III: In every pair one is one and the other the other. One longs to fly high and the other to plug away, inventing complexities. See those complexities as necessary for sustaining and bearing life. Price for flight always clipped wings, everyone knows this but can't help demandait des ailes. Icarus, the one with the syncopated life.
Act IV: We still say descent of night or nightfall. Thus in Homer: “Bright light of sun sank into the ocean, dragging down dark night.” Thus in Cato: “se nox praecipitat.” In the Book Of the Dead the red of sunset is the blood of Ra as he hastens to his suicide. To the poetic vision of early seers the crimson West seemed ensanguined by some great massacre that had been perpetrated there. Hommel & Hilprecht (Die Insel der Seligen) have identified the gateway through which Gilgamesh (the bright Day-God) had to make his way to the West: “the Twin Peaks” of Central Arabia, the mountain of Sunset, now called Jebel Shammar. Two peaks, Aga and Salama, stand apart confronting each other, and form a sort of natural portal. Egyptian representation of the sky as a great dome resting on two pillars, Shu & Tefnut. Tum-Ra, the evening sun, sets in darkness; he seizes these pillars and overthrows the sky. Aborigines of Australia believe the sky to be supported on props which keep it from falling. (This is an almost perfectly universal idea). “It is these pillars the blinded giant (the dim-grown sun of evening) withdraws when he brings night down upon the world in the final catastrophe which involves his own death.” Smythe-Palmer. Samson, bound between the twin pillars of the temple at Gaza -- enraged, blinded (in actual fact blind only in one eye, although this is not recorded in the Bible but can be demonstrated through myth-redaction -- the sun one eye, the moon in the other) -- shakes the pillars until the roof collapses, killing himself and far more Philistines, in death, than he had ever killed in life. Likewise the Sun God, (Shamesh, Shu, Gilgamesh, etc.), blinded and enfeebled by the encroaching dusk, pulls down the twin towers of the firmament at day's end, and sky collapses into night. The sun sets in the West. Rises in the East.
3. p. 236/7 Apathy in the ranks.
See: condescension, arrogance, life on the mountaintop, airless, sterile, and lonely. See further: snowfall, a small cabin with fireplace, burning, the curl of smoke pearl-gray against the whiter sky, a history book, the end of time.
Now you're agreeing for its own sake. You're trying to pacify me.
You're not even listening.
Hate disease of intuition. Resolution No. 6: If happiness is the goal of living, then we are doomed, because we are not selfish enough by nature.
4. p. 251 Defiance
Matador manhandles minotaur. By the window -- sycamore, sycamore, rock. Praise be to God for addled things, for piebald sodden brains dappled with alcoholic insight. Oh, and the smooth circuitous way she lies. Incunabula of moot resistance. You cant untangle threads of mein herr, nor plum the death of sea's own sad light.
Broken day, sepia-tint. Last falling down myth: sacrament of marriage. Linnaeus caroling through Lapland -- reindeers' balls, hags' pudenda. Sun sags to bed, world-weary, unfortunate. Moves on the face of the waters. Paraclete.
Make lines of light where no face has ever peered, seen, sunk, drooled, wept, wiping tears with hand maid of light, lettered in green ink, shining, like raggened blankets of green rushes, burny, reflex in scratch of optics of glasses.
Twig on this, fragment. You shard of sense. You, shorn pal. Open the dregs to the uni-drunk tri-corn. “I'll have you know. I will.” René Dubois (Jules), bacteriologist. His last girlfriend, in the meaning you mean in the meaning: even, morn, day flouring, on her face and over the dour, everywhour. Travel swell.
O lift us all, hymn.
Philomel. Singer in the eye. Ten vocabularies scumbled inner hello, stippled wit black inc. Octagonal runs to seed or runny plum. Inappropriate name, muser. Inaccurately dressed. Missed her. Moralist anger, more and less, strung along the hinge of reason, blossoms bright in rage. Time sit. Truth ache. Come put her, thousand calculations, thousand ships, face launched, rite in the center.
High and holy hill. On it grows the guts and morning glory.
King Ibn, thin. Littoral translation.
Winter harrows the land, harrowing winds dump hurricane sugar on highlands like croppings of snow. O deer, the beauty and the bees. Notting hear.
Again, aging. Trump.
In the Latin, lads, its ove for egg, in Eytie dove for where, in Angleterre Dover for endall beall. Lovers leap. Lovers leap, lads, and you shall leap.
You shall leap.
5. p. 368 Animal/Man
Ridiculous theories about dancing bees and color vision. Might hoodwink the academy and the Vienna graybeards and Saunders at Princeton (idiot), but I am not misled. His methods are flawed, his conclusions unsupported by a shred of reliable evidence -- and yet the plaudits, the laurels, are his and his alone! That his dance language might be accepted (however temporarily) galls me. Sooner someone destroy my own hives, my tapes, my notes, than see his pseudo-science adopted as doctrine.
The scientific community is often impugned by the public it serves for making of skepticism a religion, but in this case a little attention to creed might have been in order. His eloquence and passion for honors has conquered the better judgment of reasonable men, unprepared for the onslaught of Von Slipp's fierce [The word Kneissl uses is grell, which is more commonly a quality of light, harsh, dazzling. ed.] ambition. The ridiculous photographs of himself he provides the scientific journals to accompany his papers (what vanity!). His profile, his aspect: every inch the profound and respected biologist. Pah! I've never seen these pictures myself, but I've had them well described to me. Meanwhile my own work in the same area molders in neglectful shade, and I can scarcely afford even the rent on this two room shack in the shadow of the Matterhorn. O Fame! O Fortuna!
“How vainly men themselves amaze,” the poet writes [Quotation in English -- from Marvell. ed.]. I have a sufficiency of truth unto myself. Watching this buffoon crowned with honors and riches -- as if he were not already an aristocrat! --grows tiresome, and I am tired, too, of writing letters of protest to the appropriate organs.
“Dear Gentlemen of the Academy, it is my sad duty to bring to your attention the following errors...” “Dear Editor, perhaps it would interest your readers to know that you have printed an article containing lies...” “Dear Professor, I warn you for the last time to stop all this nonsense before the Cause Of Science is irreparably harmed...” Never so much the courtesy of a response. I must look a proper fool [Gimpel, ed.], a country simpleton [Einfaltspinsel, ed.], a stupidhead [Dummkopf, ed.]. I, who: struggled from the day I was born; had to educate myself; was not provided with the privilege accorded a high-born like Von Slipp -- I am the one to be scorned? I should be worshipped for my efforts. I have earned my way by the careful husbandry of what small talent God granted me. Unlike some, I was not able to avoid the rigors of military service, nor the unspeakable horror of two wars, by hiding in a research institute.
As a result -- even now I am ashamed to admit -- I am blind as Von Slipp is rich. The hindrance my disability has presented in my work bothers me less than the burden to my daughter, who has in addition to her own troubles the better part of mine to carry on her frail shoulders. She is only sixteen. Because of me the ordinary delights of a young girl are foregone. Because of me she spends her time attending to an old man's needs instead of attracting a young man's attentions. She is beautiful, and sharp-minded, and graceful in every way, and were she not stuck nursing a cripple in the middle of nowhere suitors would pile up like the drifts of snow under our eaves every fortnight.
We do our best, though. We live. Anna's mother, Hilde, left us when Anna was a baby, not even one year old. Hilde (née Grolsch) had married a reasonably able-bodied university graduate who, before the second war, had a reasonable career as a librarian at the University of Vienna, a fine institution, the oldest University in the German-speaking world, founded in 1365. I worked there happily for twenty years, in the Art and Architecture department, under Dr. Feldman, a wonderful man who went meekly, uncomprehending to the camps and never returned. After the war, everything was different, Vienna no less than my sightless self. I made inquiries at my former office but no one had use for a blind librarian, and I was unwilling to take the position I was offered -- a pathetic sinecure, offered out of pity for a broken war veteran, and hardly enough to support a wife and infant daughter. But I do not blame the University: what else could they do? Likewise I do not blame my wife for leaving: what else could she do? I had returned an invalid, bitter and proud but useless, who had moreover saddled her with a child and no means to feed or clothe her. Anna was conceived during a two-day leave from the Eastern Front in fall of 1944, three months before the grenade blast that robbed me of my eyes.
I was hopeless with guns. In the literal heat of battle -- which is always hot whatever the weather, because the body heats radically in its suit of fear -- huddled at the bottom of a foxhole next to the severed parts of several colleagues, it was much more than I could do to stop my hands shaking long enough to bolt my rifle, which moreover was clotted with mud and ice and grease. Even had I mastered myself sufficiently to climb to the top of my hole and try to shoot, nothing but vague images, shadows, running through the artillery smog, would present themselves as targets. I will tell you now that I shot only once in my military career, and that in so doing I murdered the woolen hat of my sergeant which he had lost leaping into a nearby defilade. By the time the war was over, in May, and I had returned home, guided by a fourteen-year-old Wehrmacht recruit, my wife had remaining less than one month of confinement before giving birth, in late May, to the daughter I have never seen but whose existence has been my only joy. Before the end of the year Hilde was gone, moved back to her mother's in Salzburg and remarried within two years' time to a bricklayer, who naturally prospered in the postwar reconstruction.
Had begun keeping bees before being called away to the war, and when I returned and could not find any real work, the bees were our salvation. Soon learned the layout of my backyard's rows of hives, and could navigate without help their orderly ranks. When she was old enough, little Anna helped carry the dripping combs to the little shack where we scraped them into pans, and then filtered the raw honey into mason jars. I hired a housekeeper when I could afford one, but for the most part we made do for ourselves. I learned to judge locations from intensities of sound. I learned the pattern of echoes from familiar objects, and developed such familiarity with their unseen outlines that I imagined, in my inky cave, that I could see the shadows on the wall, so to speak. At night I had vividly-colored dreams -- my oneiric life was bright, well-sighted, visionary in the truest sense. I often woke up crying.
What is the language of bees? I know, and you know, Anna, my only daughter, my love. We know. The bees speak to you, and you alone understand their honeyed tongue. We discovered your gift by accident, years ago -- you could not have been more than nine -- when you chased a little blue butterfly in the clover between the rows of my hives while I checked the humming honeycombs. Accidentally you knocked into the leg supporting one of the hives and the whole construction toppled over, perilously close to where you frolicked. I could not see this happen, of course; but my memory of the event, stitched together from the evidence of my remaining senses and your own account, has stayed with me as if I had. I shouted an alarm: but you turned and faced the gathering swarm, and spoke several inhuman syllables in a sweet, singing tone that had an immediate calming effect on the bees, who regrouped and returned to their damaged hive -- which I rushed to set right upon receiving assurance that you were unharmed.
“Papa, the bees are sad,” you said to me.
“I know, sweetheart, but we will make them happy again soon. Their house is broken but we will fix it for them. I'm only glad they did not choose to sting you.”
“Oh, but I told them I was sorry.”
“That was surely the right thing to do. But the bees don't speak our language, so they may not have understood you.”
“That's why I used their language, Papa. At first they were angry about the damage to their hive but when I explained that it was an accident and that I was only trying to catch the little butterfly they laughed and warned me to be more careful.”
Naturally I ascribed Anna's story to the invention of a precocious child. Naturally I treated her with the benign condescension of all good parents everywhere. I asked her how she had learned the bees' language, when no one else had even thought the bees might speak. She replied, sensibly, that she did not know, but that she understood everything the bees said and they seemed to understand her as well. I asked her to demonstrate. She did, to my satisfaction (this process took place over several weeks and months, but I am conflating for effect). When she spoke bee-language, Anna's voice took on a pure high tone that her regular speaking voice would not seem capable of producing. Indeed, she told me later, when she was older, that the tones were produced largely in her nasal cavities, and that if I could see her when she spoke bee-language I would laugh, because she had to throw her head back and flare her nostrils to get the right sounds.
Convinced that she was neither inventing nor imagining her ability to converse with bees in their own tongue, I resolved to document her gift, and when I had accumulated sufficient evidence to present to the unsuspecting world the irrefutable secrets of the apis. Who knew what wisdom lay locked in the many-chambered hive?
Then came Von Slipp, with his dancing bees, who direct their colleagues to fruitful pollen sites and back by means of a complex system of wagging and wiggling. He has published articles and books detailing the experiments he has conducted to prove his ideas. Anna has read me these books and articles, and described to me these ludicrous diagrams. She has related to me the derision of the bees themselves when told about Von Slipp's crackpot notions. “Figwort-head” he is called in their language, which is bee-slang for fat-faced and stupid, Anna tells me. But the immediate acceptance by the scientific community of Von Slipp's ideas doomed my own efforts to present the true bee-language with any degree of credulity. I had not his credentials, his connections, his eloquence. I was the crackpot, not he. I dictated letters, I dictated articles, and now I dictate this journal, although no longer to my daughter Anna, sweet amanuensis, qui a disparue [thus in French in the MS. ed.]
Now I tell my tales to the recording machine, as I once recorded the secrets they vouchsafed to you, on spinning reels of magnetic tape, and while you slept in the other room analyzed the patterns buried in the bees' true words. Because the bees do not speak in plain language, but in cryptic phrases that appear nonsensical to those untrained in the apian way. I think that here my blindness made me an advantage: the loss of one sense sharpens the others, it's said -- and truly so. In the phrases Anna spoke into my tape recording device I heard memes of sense, whole threads of meaning, which were left to me to unspool and rewind according to the dictates of reason.
Where I have failed, I alone am to blame. Where succeeded, God [manuscript breaks off].
6. p. 518 Helpless
The pale of settlement. Things that burn (list). Engine of combustion: life. Correspondence. Repetition. Duplication. The light that draws the flower draws you, too.
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This is a song about a Welsh witch.