Thursday, December 01, 2016

Atternen Ju: altered states

The time is about 1170CE. The place is north of Damascus. Our hero and his wife are making their way to Khazaria or Poland, or who-knows-where, and lo, before them, the Euphrates...

Here's a prose, standard English version of their trip.

Here on these shores we eat the last of Sheik Sinon’s hashish cakes. As we climb aboard a rottin’ boat, our ferryman, Urshinnab, assures,
“Yea, I’ll take you’s all the way up this Euphrates to its source, even to that other world, that Aden where these shores end.”
Anyways, that’s the claim he makes. Batkol frowns and looks around. Marsh and silence. We slip from shore.

Languid ripples bend away. Reeds and muddy shoals and cranes. A breeze. The willows tremble and sigh, wavin’ their arms, ‘Come here. Forget.’ Beneath them, the women washin’ clothes see us and wave and begin to dance, swayin’ hips and sway of arms. And now the plane trees murmur dreams. The rustle of leaves like brushes on drums, and the birds in a chorus, warble refrains as the women bow to the ferry boat,
“Hail, ye holy spirits. Ascend.”
The birds take flight to accompany us; angels and egrets alight on our boat as the River Redemption flows to its source.

We lie on the prow. The azure sky descends. I touch it. It ripples and bends like water, zigzag arcs shoot out in a spray of color wherever I touch, as I dissolve in the liquid air. Our little ferry stretches out, and with it, like rubber, we elong into giants sailin’ an island upstream.

We pass beneath a willow tree into a masjid*, tiny and cool, with an intricate dome of inlaid tiles, polished sapphire, jade, and gold. What artist drew such a perfect design? The dome echoes a choir in song; must be a thousand angels of praise. Sudden the dome in a thunder explodes. Birds, leaves, branches, sky. A flock of warblers scatter away and a rain of leaves flutter down....
* a little mosque

I wake from a dream. Astonished, I blink. I wake again and the world is new. I am in a boat. What river is this? I wake again. I am in a boat. From far away a woman stares. I know her face. I wake again. Heavy breathin’. I am in a boat. Far away... I wake again. A woman sittin’ far away. She speaks. Her words a waterfall, a low rumble. I wake from a dream. I am in a boat. Music echoes from far away.
“You are Butkoel,"
I think I say. Am I dreamin’? I wake again. She murmurs, but all her words are garbled. I try to explain... She bursts into laughter. I wake from a dream. I am laughing. I close my eyes and see rivers that ripple into words down a page, mosques built in an arbor of trees.

I wake from a dream of rivers and boats. The world is a boat. It rocks on waves, and sooner or later what is standing, falls. It make me dizzy. So that is wy.... 

I wake from a dream. But am I awake? Do I hear singin’ or Batkols voice? She stops laughin’. I listen close.

Splish... Splish... Gurgle ... Splish. The world empties of sight and sound. Just a vast mosaic of blue sky. The splish and gurgle and the ferryman’s wheeze. And then in the silence I hear it again what I’ve heard many times, I don’t know when -- a sigh, a whisper, a word, a phrase that comes like shadow dance on the waves; a voice on the river or a Voice of the Lor singin’ itself, faint as a breeze, singin’ itself through the ages of me. Verses that slowly remember themselves. Mysterious lyrics. What do they mean?
‘In symmetry of love and decay...
‘Hear me; touch me.
‘I care not what is true.
‘And I betray what is coy.
‘I’ll lead you where you want to go,
‘And leave you, cold, alone...’

Who is this woman? Potiphar’s* wife? Or Lilith callin’ from the farther shore? How do I know her temptin’ song? Again and again, but now it transforms,
‘In some, the degrees of love...
‘Come, hurry, touch me carnally.
‘Refuse echoes.
‘Cling to what is ekht...
‘Redeeming you who are called, alone.’
* Beraysheet/Genesis 39:1-20

“Batkol, do you hear her luring me?”
“I hear a khazzen* blessin’ us
“That we might flourish in our new land...
“‘*Et semmukh Duvveed uvdekhah...*’”
* cantor; prayer leader
*-* 15th blessing of the Sh'monah Esray

Comes twilight and towerin’ palisades rise with mysterious patterns in the rock.
“Glyphs writ before Noah’s time.”
“Genealogies and weird tales?”
“No one can read it,”
Urshinnub says. For a moment they all read themselves, like the earth revealing her secret life,
“Bow to me you little men and I will uncloak myself for you...”
Strange, her language rumbles and booms across the water;
“Be dismayed by your abashment lickin’ my dust*.”
Then silence. There on the highest ridge where the sun is sinkin’ into the haze, a fortress.
“That is Rumkale**, abandoned since the time of Job. We’ll stay the night as its royal guests.”
Our ferryman beaches the tiny skiff. Exhausted, we climb to her who calls.
* others say: crack
** pronounced ‘roomkallay’, the ‘oo’ like’book’

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