Sunday, September 27, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 18

Tonight I rode into the dark. I have been staying for a few months on the surface here in Otoyk. Living on the surface we are constantly reminded of loss, and I was tired of it. I had been alerted to the fact that this small piece of Otoyk would soon be obliterated. I tried to retain what was here, but bound in my own contracts and relationships I can only pull so many strings before my own web begins to unravel. I must choose wisely and the stress had me frustrated.

I set out. Gliding by vast rumbling cargo vessels, gliding by brightly lit bubble stores, I came near the night side of a planet. I hovered above the surface for a while, just a few meters up above the forest canopy. I could hear chirping crickets and wind rustling the foliage below.

Then off again, through the dark. I saw a cluster of bubbles in the distance. They were houses, a small orbiting space station. What they were orbiting I couldn't tell, so I rode closer. I squeezed by bubbles and capsules. Nestled there is a small globe, a small patch of earth. It is bordered by a gate, tall, broad, granite, and hung with white paper tassels.

I parked, hopped off my vehicle, and walked through the gate. Several ancient trees tower, their roots holding the soil. Built on the land between them, an old wooden stage stands. In the distance, under a floating florescent lantern two youths rested. One balanced on his vehicle while the other sat on a bench, his head was in his hands. This place is a shrine. At its center is an enclosed granary, a box of spirit. This granary is raised just off the ground and hidden behind trees and veils. I approached the inner shrine and looked through the fence. Light filtered through illuminating white streaks in the thick mat of leaves on the ground. Standing there I looked up. All around this little bit of earth, houses rise up, tightly clustered like barnacles.

I had arrived here randomly, cutting through the silent darkness. But the roots of the trees go deep, they are timeless. This timelessness makes this place a center, the center of its own world. It gives it gravity.

I decided I had better take off, so I departed. Leaving a center is disorienting and I mixed up my directions. What I thought was East was South and what I thought was South was West. I tried to go home but I flew in circles. Passing floating restaurants and shops, brightly lit and flashing neon in the dark, I wanted to land. I saw people inside big fish bowl windows laughing, eating, drinking. Momentarily I wished I never knew what it was like to live on a planet, I wished I didn't know the sadness of passing wisdom, obliterated. Finally, seeing big floating metal signs, I found my way.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 17

It was evening when we arrived at Imihsuf. The road from the station goes past small shops, now closed, and snakes up the mountain towards the Great Shrine.

Here they worship the fox. And here, at the great gate, there are a two foxes that keep watch. Sitting on their haunches they stand taller than a grown man. One holds the jewel of wisdom encircled by his fangs. In the jaws of the other is the scroll that contains the secret to his teachings.

Foxes are not dogs and they don't easily give their treasure away. It must be bought or earned. And so the businesses of Otoyk pay handsomely. For each, there is a red gate erected on the mountain. The gates, built of hopes and dreams, create paths and tunnels that wind up to the summit.

As night fell, we dove through the gates, climbing the mountain. We numbered 8 and for a while I walked by a friend named "Wishes-come-true."

There are many stories of the mountain, stories of fox's tricks, stories of men and women possessed who tell fortunes, and stories of those who seeking possessions.

We reached a clearing in the trail. Looking out beyond the trees, the darkness of sky met the darkness of earth. The fox was playing a trick. What was once earth, dark and silent, was filled with lights like stars. What was once a sky bright with moving celestial bodies was now only a paste of pale grey black.

We summited, entering a small shrine with a small mirror high in the boughs of the roof, paid our respects, and descended. We descended into space, black and filled with burning globes, satellites, and buzzing rockets.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 16

Sometimes I don't know if I am in space, or on on the surface of a world. Space elevators, stations, capsules, and pods rise in chains through the stratosphere and deep into the black beyond. Likewise, spindly towers, orbiting platforms and airships float above and below.

Sometimes I reach what appears to be a solid patch of earth. Park like, grassy fields, stately trees, all quiet and serene. I might wander here for a while. To my surprise, I suddenly come to the edge. It was not the surface of a globe, but only a wide veranda on a high tower.

I might find myself in a grove of trees indistinguishable from the neck of a vast forest. Then, jetting away, I see the grove from a new angle. It was only a ball of mud and stones cradled in wire suspended by vast metallic cables hooked to sky scrapers.

In search of the planet below I descend- into clouds, smog, past rainbows of technicolored vehicles. I land on numerous floating islands along the way.

On one, by a strip of sycamores and junipers, I take a bit of soil in my hand, a few twigs, flowers. By pulling up these weeds, have I just created one more separation? One more island? Or, by touching these beings and directing them, do I build a conscious bridge from one ledge to another?

Perhaps there is no planet at all, I wonder. Just swirling sky, above and below.

But time still passes. Each day the clouds pinken and the sky darkens. I can only go so far in each day. I measure islands in days and stories.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 15

Walking in the forest as a child I longed to be able to read - to read meadows, grasses, trees, bark, footprints, moss. Many years of coming to the surface of the planet Dumbe gave me a keen sense of recognition. I could walk in the forest without being bitten by insects or breaking out in a rash. From time to time, I even ate a few plants by the path, fellow space travelers scattered from the other side of the galaxy.

I knew the characters of the forest, I listened to their songs, but I could not read their story. I did not know their drama. Here in Otoyk, I am learning to read and the write, learning to compose.

I live and work in the home of my teacher, a famous artist. This weekend, I went to a show of her work. It was a fantastic exhibition of botanical arrangement housed on the sixth floor of the Great Circle, in the heart of the commercial district.

Artists from across the city attempted to tell a story with nature. Some works were glamorous, others outlandish. Some harnessed the wildest and weirdest creatures of the forest for display.

My teacher's work was a small globe sitting in a dark wicker vase. Reading from left to right, it told a tale of summer and fall, with hints of other seasons to come, a story made of wispy dreams blowing away and delicious temptations, ripe for taking. It began with translucent dandelion puffs on graceful stems rising out of a sphere of dense green clover. This became punctuated by rough green leaves that, reading further, burned yellow, red, finally jutting confidently into the air. These ardent branches revealed gobs of juicy red berries. The work was assembled from seemingly ordinary creatures and would have seemed quite natural in the woods.

My teacher used the language of nature, the language of these particular beings as they express themselves, in order to to write the story.

So I study the characters, I learn their drama, and eventually, I hope, I too will learn to write a play complete with a chorus of voices.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 14

While floating in space, there is an inclination to "plug in." Without bindings, there are no strings to strum and devices deliver music to our ears.

Sealed in ship, pod, or the velvet silence of the space walk, humans desire a bit of entertainment. With the click of a button, music flows into our ears. It comes from artists across the galaxy, "superstars" mostly. With a potential audience of billions, artists rise and fall with their country's economic and political tide.

Drifting in the void, with no fellow traveler, blaring the seductive tones of a superstar deep into our eardrums makes perfect sense. Yet, even on the planet's surface, even when surrounded by buzzing strings and singing choirs, I sometimes "plug in." For the space traveler, the voice of a distant star is comfort.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 13


In this perfect early fall cool with soft chirping of crickets and night clouds above, I can almost hear the faint echo of high platform shoes clicking on the stone cobble lanes.


-The sound of the tayu as she carefully steps. My neighbor, now an old woman, is a tayu.

The dark slats on on my own house tell a story, as they do on Sumiya banquet hall, or Wachigaya, where the rings overlap as two umbrellas might, for a moment, in the rain. To some, these slats were bindings.

There are many bindings in this world. The reeds are bound into the mats under my feet. The blinds are grasses bound with strings. This room is bound with beams of lumber doubly bound in plaster. The picture is bound in a frame. Even the hanging scroll, delicate, is bound in silk. The garden fence, bound spicebush, came undone long ago, its reeds tatters now. When the bindings of this house are finally undone, it too will crumble.

What are my bindings, I wonder? Those who worked here years ago were bound almost in cages. Beautiful things pacing behind bars, like tigers, or laughing, fanning themselves, like monkeys. The flowers in the vase too, cut and bound, bloom fantastically and then wither.

Space is supposed to rid us of bindings. An endless void, natural, beautiful. From space, our planet is a flawless blue-jade sphere.

We brought our human ways into space: families and passions, but the void always calls from beyond big glass windows in plastic frames- "Run! You can be free! Depart!" And so many make their lives on distant planets, distant cities, and distant space stations. The price we pay, of course, is risk of a kind of space-sickness.

The tayu here on this planet represent a refined aesthetic. They have the beauty of nature, but it is prepared as entertainment, suitable for human tastes. They manifest the other world of ecology, of mysterious happenings, of spontaneous blossoms, encounters, and they present it, to be consumed.

In space there is a similar practice, one no longer attached to place and season. Girls gather in fancy space age bars, dim blue light, plastic tables, seats, glistening ice in cylindrical glasses, over which delicious liquors are poured. Customers come because they suffer from space-sickness.

In this sickness they have not dreamed in weeks. If they do dream, their dreams are lost on the long commute to the space station, or they dry out in the void, just before waking, never pooling in the mind like morning dew.

Those with space-sickness seek a friend, a conversation, anything. The girls serve a concoction of make up, primped dresses, and giggles. In return, they make more money in a month than they would in a year, and they only work nights.

With this money and time they can fall through space, weightless, floating... The black depths with pinhole stars swaddle them, or swallow them. This darkness might come to resemble bars, black slats, like the ones here in this old neighborhood, on this planet.

There is a story of two lovers who free themselves from such a prison. I saw it in a film called "Sakuran." At the end of the film, when the fox god's old cherry tree finally blooms two small white blossoms, the heroine and hero escape. They were bound in beauty. She was a worker who started low, but became a high tayu. He was the son of the company owners, just as much a slave to the industry. They found freedom in love, unbinding.

So in an old house, still bound and intact, in an old neighborhood, its streets tied as ribbons between black tiled houses, I hear the click clack of high platform shoes on stone cobbles, binding and unbinding in autumn air-