I would if
I could if
I wish I could share my art with you
But if I did, yours would disappear.
So you have only my words
– – –
What you will.
I would if
I could if
I wish I could share my art with you
But if I did, yours would disappear.
So you have only my words
– – –
What you will.
The ornately decorated tome is ages old. Only the finest artists across the lands have been allowed to add their wisdom, their art, a little bit of their essence.
The workbench placed in the middle of the wide, vaulted room, is sturdy and heavy. It might’ve been made to hold the book itself on its creation. The room is cased in the finest marble, polished carefully each day. The windows in the walls have been carefully placed to light the tomb, but not touch it. Every tiny piece of the room, the building even, was formulated to take the most care in preserving, protecting, and displaying the tomb.
The workbench it’s placed on is solid, wide, and built to sustain always. It’s surface is stained deeply with the years of ink, blood, and tears that the artists who created the tomb shed onto its course grain. There are scratches in some places, some look almost like doodles, or finely done practices of the cuts or marks left on the tome itself.
The stain of the wood sets a contrast against the clean, careful, shining marble. The rough grains seem unruly against the smooth surfaces in the room, but it demands its space and the respect of the walls, of the light that casts itself so delicately around the tomb and the table. When the light touches the bench it seems to diffuse, as if it’s not worthy of touching the most precious tome of the people. The bench demands respect and deference. The light obliges carefully.
Those who enter the room are struck silent at the deep contrasts and textures so carefully engineered around them.
The cover of the tome is finely tooled leather. It’s soft and supple, but its toughness has withstood countless years and additions. The marks it bears are the signatures of hundreds and thousands of artists determined the most skillful, respected, talented, and cherished of their time. Each twist, sharp stop, and point is purposeful, intentional, and exquisitely planned.
The slightly worn layer of leather placed over the cover that makes up its title is crooked, and scholars have wondered upon their careers and lives why it was chosen to be placed ever so slightly crooked.
The words that roll across the most important book in the world’s cover tell you it is the Legends of Yore.
If you were to turn through the pages, you would find the most exquisite sketches, paintings, writings, and philosophical historic moments captured forever within the crisp thin pages within the tome.
The fantastic beasts of other worlds have been scrolled in precious inks. Forests and flowers and birds and creatures of the sky, land, and sea, have been cataloged here. Music notes have been etched into the corners of poetry and plays that were scripted in exquisite calligraphy. The most important leaders and humanitarians have been frozen in paint that has been finely cracked and faded over the years, only adding to the special scarcity and ethereal beauty.
The Legends of Yore have only been allowed to the unique, perfectly talented, and most precious artists, historians, philosophers, and writers. Only those deemed most worthy have been given the gift of being able to lay their hands on the tome. To lay their hands on the tome and create of art from themselves within its pages, to sign the cover and kiss the spine. It would be their most treasured, most beautiful work of art, their masterpiece, and it would be kept for as long as time would allow.
And if you look very closely on back corner, you can see the notes of artists. Deemed respected, cherished, talented, and precious to the people.
Allowed the gift of adding work to the beautiful tome, to the legends and the history of the best of the best of all.
A few hundred years after this artist’s contribution, a historian will find this note in a barely recognizable, faintly intact piece of a journal in an abandoned city, covers bound in rough leather and scrawled in cheap ink a note from one apparently chosen artist:
I don’t know how they decided on me. Thousands of years they chose only those who deserved it, and they knew who deserved by who cherished the opportunity, neigh the gift. So I don’t know why they chose me. I am ornery and my only wish left in this world is to be left alone with my art. And yet I am burdened now with this responsibility. I have only one recourse, as the frustrated and somehow accidentally revered curmudgeon.
The historian, confused, searched for years, as the journal gave no further clues what was meant by the artist’s words, or what had been contributed. Through the histories of the time, the studies of other’s, the studies of the language and culture, and of all the art held within the book.
Finally, the historian noticed a very tiny mark near the top right corner of the last word of the tomb’s title, etched carefully in the worn leather. After research, it was found to be an asterisk, and thus the historian is credited with finding the single most astounding moment of art in the entire tomb. For inscribed in tiny, perfect letters in the corner of the back cover, amongst the signatures of past artists, is the contribution of the frustrated and somehow accidentally revered curmudgeon, marked by a tiny, matching, asterisk.
The Legends of Yore*
The worn journal in my lap is fat with memories of my first life. Every up and down, every death and pure joy. I’ve carried it since Evan and I rode out in our new cement truck, starting our business.
We open our doors simultaneously and swing into the cab. My grin is huge as I laid my hands on the wheel. “This anticipation is killing me slowly. Ray is spinning me in every direction, making sure things are ready for the baby.”
Evan playfully punches my shoulder. “I’m glad you’re so happy. Don’t forget who gets to be the work uncle.”
I laugh at his phrasing, at the delight of starting the engine. “I’ll never forget, dude. Always the work uncle. Don’t worry, baby’s gonna love you.”
The next months were a blur of baby and Evan constantly pulling my weight in the truck. The first time I was back, Evan wasn’t even annoyed.
I collapse into the passenger seat, knocking the mud and snow off my heavy boots. Evan immediately hands me a cup of coffee. “Good to see ya. Been a while.” his face is so concerned my heart swells. “How are you doing?”
I wrap my hands around the coffee, absorbing its warmth and taking a deep breath to stave off the happy exhausted tears. “My wardrobe has been updated with the new looks of spit up, smushed breakfast, and stealth poo.”
He gives me a look. It felt like the light off the bright snow highlighted every flaw. “Only stealth poo? That’s it?”
His raised eyebrow tone makes me snort, but part of me feels deflated. “It’s been really hard. Ray is needing a lot of support. It’s early to come back, but I can’t afford not to. Ray’s sisters and coworkers are amazing. The baby’s amazing.” I rest my head. “But sweet Jesus it’s hard. It’s exhausting.”
“I’m here if you need someone, Al.”
The warmth in his voice joins the heat from the coffee and the blasting heater, melting my exhaustion away. “You’re a great friend, Ray said to tell you that. Ash loves the octopus you got her.”
Evan didn’t know I heard him, but as I fell asleep he was humming the same lullaby he taught my baby Ash the next weekend.
I trace the notes I’d taken, meant to remind myself it was always getting a little better, going a little smoother.
The first day everything came together perfectly I was dancing haphazardly beside our truck to the music in my head. When I saw Evan approaching, I put a little extra flop in my dance to make him laugh. He laughs out loud, and tells me I look carefree and light, that even the gray in my short hair sparkles.
I tell him to stop being a dull lump and grab his arm to dance him around in a skipping circle. “Look at this sunshine! Look at the way it lights up our new especially lime green logo!”
He bounces, beaming. “On top of the world, are we?”
“Of course we are! We got the contract, my wife is publishing her research, my baby is the most excellent smartest baby in the world, and just for a moment the world glides!”
Evan snorts. “My baby is going to be the smartest and most excellent. I’m sorry but my work niece can only come a close second.”
“They will be perfectly evenly matched. And that’s my final offer. And that’s another thing! You’re having a baby. I’m going to be an aunt. It’s going to be awesome!”
This journal is moments of my Ash’s firsts, the funny things I needed to tell Ray or Evan, notes about the business. It is the tradition of doodles that started when I brought little Ash for her first ride with me, when she drew a fanciful world across several pages. It is more than the simple pages themselves.
My tears soaked its pages when Ray was diagnosed, it held our joy during the year we had left to explore the world and adventure together. It watched over me as Ash grew, when our families were crushed by Evan’s murder and the trial that sentenced his killer. It held the postcards from his wife and daughter when they moved back to her home across the Atlantic.
I’d written down my pride and love for each of Ash’s achievements, when she graduated and traveled. It had comforted me when she was sick in my arms for so many weeks, and it had seen her overcome and succeed.
The last pages were my scrambled, smudged ramblings the counselor suggested I write about my loss. My daughter’s death. But it wasn’t a loss, it was the moment my world ended. Everything now is the closing credits on this life. The day her killer didn’t get arrested, was his end. The day I discovered a note from Ash on the last page, must’ve been while we were traveling with Ray, telling me that she loved me and that we’d been the best moms in the world and she was proud of us, I made my decision. My calm arrived.
I kiss the journal with tear chapped lips and tuck it into its hidden pocket. I grab the pack of rat poison from the floor and swing out of my truck.
I’m surprised this calm doesn’t scare me. My life is ending today, and the only thing I want to take with me is my journal. I drive away in my tattered cement truck, the empty rat poison beside me. I don’t care if I’m arrested or not. It doesn’t matter if they know I killed the man who killed my daughter. I will meet whatever life comes, no matter the consequences. My certainty is a strange faith that my humanity and actions are balanced on the scales of time, or insignificant.
I pull my journal into my lap as I drive, promising I’ll keep my memories.
The audience had left for the night. So had the cast and stagehands. Augie was left alone.
It was quiet and peaceful, calm. Augie felt like he was waiting for something.
He huddled himself in the shadowy curtains, in an exit cubby, tingling chills running up his spine and raising the hairs on his wrists and the back of his neck.
Carved creatures encrusted the walls, the ceiling, lit only dimly from a few little bulbs tucked away. Their shadows are otherworldly and sometimes Augie swore he saw a flicker or a shift in a shadow when there shouldn’t have been.
Something was happening. Something is happening. He can’t believe, but he still shivers. He can’t leave.
The flicker just beyond his peripheral vision moves to the corner of his eye, to the moment he fully focuses on the slowly creeping carved dragon as it unwinds itself from the edge of the doorway. As it moves past the curtain, ruffling the edges, its short, gnarled and scaly feet hitting softly against the thick plush carpet its eyes pass over Augie, missing or dismissing him as nothing, as a shadow, or at least as harmless. Its goal is elsewhere.
All around Augie, the carvings on the walls and ceiling are coming alive. Each creature has a different motion, a different goal. Some chubbier creatures from the ceiling almost float and flounder, but the smaller, scrappier creatures scuttle, scampering around the carved flowers and shapes that begin to bloom and shift into tiny moments of jungle. Most are aimless, only moving in geometric patterns and lounging loops. Others move with a purpose, focused. Some move for the edges of the stage, even to the wings. A few creatures settled themselves languidly over the backs of seats, or wind themselves underneath and between the chairs.
Together, the movement looked choreographed, yet independent. Augie watches them, shrinking back slightly, eagerly widening his eyes, his mouth falling open just slightly with each passing moment.
Those creatures, the dragons and long bodies and sharp points and rounded edges, those creatures that gathered around the stage become still. They look on toward the center of the stage, waiting. Their stillness is almost startling compared to the gentle seething and writhing of the creatures in the audience. Their quiet waiting, their patience, takes Augie’s breath away. Suddenly, it’s more important than ever to stay, to watch, to see what happens.
The creatures don’t notice or don’t care about his presence. It doesn’t make Augie special, so much as make him feel invisible and unimportant to this moment. It isn’t put on for him, and he isn’t the special one who was allowed to visit. He is an afterthought at best, but more likely simply a part of the setting, the background. He had become the carving on the wall as the dragons and scuttling creatures became the world.
There is a palpable energy and tension in the air between. It only takes a moment for Augie to see what they have been waiting for. They were waiting for the memories. Shadowy figures drift downstage. First only a few, but more will come soon. Some aren’t complete memories, with their skirts drifting away behind them, or a piece of their body missing. They are ghostly but Augie knows they aren’t quite ghosts. They were characters, actors, – even stagehands.
They each come from a detail in the theatre, on the stage. From past shows’ little plagues and bricks, from things actors have left behind, from mysterious stains on edges and corners. There’s tiny bits of costumes ripped long ago left in corners, and the blood and tears of frustration and drama, the strongest longing for lost opportunities and missed performances. From each layer of memory, from each piece of person and character that lent flavor to the theater, that built its history, the shadow of a memory appears.
They seem disoriented and confused as they gather in the center of the stage. They look everywhere, sometimes all at once, and they shift and slip away every few moments. Looking for their audience, trying to find their cue, wanting to perform once again.
Augie hears the orchestra. There is no orchestra, but still he can hear it. The music is soft at first, and then it swells, taking hold of his gut and sweeping him up with the hidden stories from long ago, the history of the place. The pitfalls, mistakes, the dramatic entrances and bold scandals. He’s fills with emotion, traveling through the stories again, at once, and with a moment of forever.
The memories on stage shift as a beautiful, complete memory sweeps onto the stage, the train of her glittering evening gown flowing behind her in bursts and waves. Her hair is curled gracefully on top of her head, her curvy body striking a coiling, dangerous power pose, one hand on her hip, one hand shyly covering her mouth. Her luminescent pearls gleam at her throat. Her eyes flash with devious amusement. Every memory falls into the choreography of a century – performance and daring dramatics. Pieces of original shows, gossip of the cast, the anguish and exhaustion of stagehands. The leading woman is stealing away the show, and she knows it.
Augie is enthralled, captured by the majesty and wonder of this private performance. Not a performance for him by any means, but for the memories. The memories’ delight and pleasure, reliving their origins, playing out their lives in the beauty and splendor they are remembered for.
After moments of forever, the leading woman strides down and across with purpose, elegance, finesse, and ferocity. When she reaches her mark, her song reaches its crescendo and she seems to burst with light and energy as she embodies her song, arms embracing her audience, throat tall and graceful as her head is thrown back into her passion.
The crescendo cascades through the room, crashing, crystalline, and cool. The perfect climax.
And in the breath of a moment, all is quiet, all is returned, all is still. The performance is over, and the theatre sighs, relaxing for a while.
The music rings in Augie’s ears as he slowly moves away from his corner curtains, out to the street. Where life goes on.
You write for free
Because you want to
Because you won’t get paid.
You write for free
you write free
that’s off limits
Well you can
but don’t expect it to be . . .
don’t expect it to be easy
We won’t let it be easy.
And don’t write that down,
You can’t leave evidence of
Your writing is free
don’t you remember?
whatever you want
however you want
just remember to
follow the rules and
write for free
Write for Freedom
we’ll take away your pen
just write for free
She ran hard up the steps. It was something to do. One flight, two.
Full out speed. No turning back now. Her muscles strained at the third flight.
Her breath came in pants at the fourth.
Can’t loose momentum, wouldn’t be able to stop. Can’t stop.
Her arms pumped in time with her feet. Air was pulled in through her nose her mouth, her muscles screamed.
Fifth flight! Almost there. Too close to turn back now. There it is, the top step, the odd maroon carpet in the hall. The top floor! She had done it.
She had achieved. It had been something to do. Now she had done it.
A smile splits her face as she breathes for a moment. Then she straightens and sighs.
She lives on the first floor. Now she has to go back down. She looks down the steps and grins. She’s victorious, the downhill journey can’t be that hard. It’ll be easy, after coming up.
Down one flight. Two. Knees complaining. Muscles straining.
The steps seemed to come faster downhill.
Can’t stop, can’t slow, can’t change pace. Can’t loose momentum, can’t trip.
Three flights down.
Barely breathing now, too much to concentrate on, too much rhythm to keep up with.
Four flights down. One more to go!
She can see the bottom. She can see relief and comfort.
Almost there, nearly there, there!
On the carpeted hall again, first floor.
This time when she breathes, her throat feels like fire.
Every breath of air burns down to her lungs, and burns back up.
She winces and chokes out to the girl standing beside her. My throat is on fire. The girl laughs.
You’re a dragon now!
She grins, not having captured enough oxygen fire yet to fuel a laugh. The girl grins back. That’s exactly how physics works, didn’t you know?
She laughs, still feeling the fire deep in her lungs, and nods.
She turns to go to her room, again victorious, smiling to herself. I’m a dragon now. Rawr!
“The sunset is pretty, don’t you think?”
“It looks as if someone set fire to the sky tonight.” the older boy says.
I look up at this boy I’d never met. In my childish mind I could already see the sky burning. I could see a woman in white robes with auburn hair raising a candle above her head and setting fire to a star. “Is it really possible?” I ask the boy, my mind already flooding with images of burning sky.
He looks down at me as if he’d just realized I was there. “Of course not.” he seems to think it’s funny that someone can believe that it would be true. His surprise offends me. But then his smile changes and he leans down to my height. “Even if it can’t happen in this world, there is a world in everyone’s mind where anything is possible. People express these worlds through artwork. Do you want to learn how to make art?”
I’m nodding, even before I understand the words. Though truly understanding these words would take years.