Orpheus Dispersed

 

There upped a tree! O absolute outstripping!
O Orpheus singing! O tall tree in the ear!
And all things hushed. Yet even under cover
came a new start, a sign, a transforming.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus (trans. Martyn Crucefix)

 

 

Characters

CHORUS OF TREES
THE TWITCHER
THE MOON
THE YOUNG WITCH
THE NEW MOTHER
THE DROWNED RIVER
THE FERRYMAN

and ORPHEUS DISPERSED in everything

 
 

Setting

A low-rise block of flats on a floodplain. It’s unusually dry for the time of year, but the waters have risen unexpectedly before. There are trees in the garden and a hand-drawn picture of a rainbow in one window. In another, a government poster reads STAY HOME SAVE LIVES.

 
 

 
 

CHORUS

spring is a time of light, green sings the sun
we the guardians watch the earth’s unruly tenants
and drink their exhalations into the slow growth
of our infinite bodies and listen to the endless
dying whispers of this our shared soil

 

THE TWITCHER at the window

Not out – don’t go out! – but in. In behind the glass and bricks and wires of my three-room flat, here since March, apart from the once-a-week shuffle to the shop. Putting off the outside where the anxiety pushes through the gut, squeezes the chest, my precious lungs that have been through so much – years on the production line and the winter coughs that settle in my oesophagus and a dedication to cigarettes in my youth, when I was a keen sailor and maker of isotopes.

I stay in. Binoculars (bought to check on the neighbours) and walks to the kettle, the brown seep of tea into steaming water my exercise timer. The garden (oh! the garden! not quite mine but I have learned to inhabit a portion of it with my eyes) is a mess. Trees wanting pruning and weeds showing through the paving slabs and brambles clinging to the walls.

But the birds, the birds, they come! And their song has taken root in my ear, and they sing to me while the world settles.

 

CHORUS

sigh and exhale, the activity of greening
falls quiet at night. here comes the moon
stalking on stilts over the marsh!

 

THE MOON with a hard, cracked face

my song is heard by the patient –

The eager will not know it who listen too hard, busily seeking meaning or motion. But the trees hear it and the salty wet seas sing back with a rhythm that is half their own and the blood that pools in the wombs of my daughters. The sick sometimes hear – I see them look up at me with clenched jaw, the ear raised just slightly from the pillow.

my song is heard by the patient –

 

THE YOUNG WITCH holding a pack of tarot cards, ordered online

Boredom: the word swirls round my head, dulling my edges. I lay out the cards and light a candle and touch my lips to a jagged pink crystal that lies by my bedside. Concentrate!

The Fool (again and again) and the Moon (every evening), never the Lovers, never the Two of Cups.

It is hard to be alone. Lay out the cards again and vibrate – the screen, the screen! Blue light on my face brighter than moon-trickle unspooling through the window. What was that? The Tower, reversed or upright? The spread is ruined. Friends and lovers and parents and twenty-five-dollar mystics offering online palmistry consultations –

I only want to find a replacement for capitalism, is it too much to ask?

But the Pentacle turns up wherever I look.

 

CHORUS

all things are shared in the forest
and the wild-neatness of this garden fails
to contain us when the river pushes its
cold fingers into our open veins and
the fungus in our roots pushes us
into kinship with the dandelion and aster

 

BIRDS singing, always singing

There’s that old man, watching us again! The glint of his binoculars makes us jump!

Something’s caught our eye –

Something’s caught our eye –an earthworm! see it curl under the gaze of the early moon!

A fluttering leap, darting eye in a half-turned head, open beak…

– gone, pressed itself back into the fresh soil at the mouth of the vixen’s den, food comes and goes so quickly –

 

THE TWITCHER with tears in his eyes

Who knew that birdsong could move me! Who knew that spring could touch me with its wet-warm beauty! Me here, a tenant with a tarmacked strip for my car by the back door, dragging my plastic-bagged refuse down to the bin by the curb.

I’d forgotten the river, its wintry floodings like the moon-dragged tide. I’d forgotten the birds, the insects that danced on the water until they hazed the vision, the singing of life. It’s all there outside my window! As the sun gives its energy to the trees it generously illuminates their beauty.

Through looking the bystander becomes part of the world!

 

THE BIRDS singing still, of course

– caught! A dragonfly, the film of its wings newly emerged.

They are hatching!

A feast! A feast! Come all to the feast!

A feast! A feast! Come all to the feast!– but leave enough that their eggs will hatch again next year

 

THE NEW MOTHER singing to her child

I keep dreaming in my stolen sleeps. First I’m in a wood where the trees grow too close to admit me and my feet become roots and my hair grows green tendrils. Now I’m a patient on a bed listening to the moon and trying to hum along even as a masked doctor opens my ribs like a cabinet. Later I’m Orpheus’ head, singing still to the baby as I float on the river past dockyards and museums and the overflowing storm drains and my womb is in the singer’s mouth and my lungs run with river water and my child spouts from me like a fountain and rains back on my face at once self and not-self –

This child and I, we’re always eating always cooking (and then the hands plunged elbow-deep in the soapy water and the wiping of chin and collar and plastic tray). Even when I’m sleeping I can hear the tiny white bean-stringer singing in its drawer.

Wakening I hear a cry in the twilight – it comes from my own wet mouth.

 

THE YOUNG WITCH throwing aside her phone

The television glares at me, pale and sick as though it’s about to spew forth its innards of wires and circuit boards and LED cells. My eyes are tired with looking without seeing.

The twitcher next door is watching the birds again, clutching his binoculars as he squints against the glass. What is he seeing? It saddens me that I am easily distracted. I’ll stare instead at the mould that grows under the window ledge. Look! its blue-black furze turns to powder on my fingertip. Its spores enter my lungs and press themselves into my body and join my meditations (bring your awareness back to your breath). Lunar craters in the plaster, birthed by the moisture of living. They say the flats are built on a floodplain, but the river runs deep now.

Give me a couple more years and I’ll have made my name, through the screen whose presence gnaws at my mind even when it’s divorced from my hand.

I’ll just look up my horoscope, some new rituals for lammas, a recipe for dandelion wine, an online tarot session, a forum debating the healing properties of crystals what’s wrong with my bromeliad 10 outsider artists to know what are the medical benefits of sourdough how to cook with turmeric what is candle meditation tips for concentration how to work from home when is mercury next in retrograde when is the best time to plant seed potatoes recipe for vegan dauphinoise how intelligent are dolphins where does omega-3 come from diet deficiency test why am I not sleeping why everyone is having strange dreams how does the lunar cycle affect my hormones…

 

THE MOON kissing the young witch on the forehead

sleep! sleep! my child of the tide – the river will come for you yet, and the mixed-up state of your anatomy will be resolved into a glorious intermingling – and the river will come for you yet.

 

THE DROWNED RIVER from below

Once I ran fleet-footed in the dense air, constantly distracted by a glimpse of the sun as its light broke on my surface, or by the beloved face of the moon with its crinkled reflection on winter afternoons. Then they forced me underground and filled me with rubbish and I rubbed along the banks with glacier-slow motion. They put my fast-flowing freedom away and held me fast with their plans and architects and engineers.

Immured in my own mud-trickling, I slid indifferent past tunnels and sewers and gas pipes and electricity wires and fibre optic cables and the tubes pumping water from far-off reservoirs into taps and baths and kettles and chipped cups held tight in the hands. I learned the in-betweenness of mud sliding (eliding) between liquid and solid. I discovered the pores of chalk and probed the slippages of layered clay.

 

CHORUS a little sadly

we sing for the rising of the river
a world-song for the care of living spirits
in the intermingling of spirit and life
finding the world in the body
to be shared by looking and singing

 

THE DROWNED RIVER

They built on the plain where I used to stretch myself in the mild damp winters. Now I pool myself quietly for a high-tide sleep in the basement ripe with mildew. I visit the trees and push my cold fingers into their open veins and rub myself against the rough roots of the grass and the brambles and the thistles and the fresh green clover. My teeth bite into hard stone, my tongue licks-seeps into plasterwork. I watch a girl stare at flickering lights on a television.

I delve deeper driving dripping tendrils into bedrock. Past blackness and sediment and detritus and sewage and springs and a heap of broken padlocks, there is an opening and then there is another river and a line of pale people waiting to cross on a grey ferry.

 

THE FERRYMAN’S SONG

They all come to me in the end – the kings and the delivery drivers, the agricultural labourers and the artists, the politicians and the refugees

(My old-bones boat has been busy lately with a rush of souls with their hands clutched to their chests and their regret over things left undone)

And though they all come in the end, some come sooner than others – the poor and the not-white and those already used to everyday isolation

And tears from my grey eyes drop into the river like pearls

 

THE TWITCHER as the grey souls of the dead tramp below unobserved

The swifts are returning!

– why does their screaming-singing make me cry?

And I transformed feel myself bird through looking

 

THE YOUNG WITCH

My attention is everywhere, my distraction reaches into the world hesitant

– I cannot stop singing as there is no rest from crying

And I transformed feel myself mould through touching

 

THE NEW MOTHER

My mind is not full but lost in experience

– turning to floridity, my words bursting into leaf as I cry

And I transformed feel myself plant through singing

 

CHORUS with slow sad smiles

dying whispers (listen!) and the slow growth of infinite bodies

watching the earth’s unruly tenants and green singing the sunlight

until the world settles –

until the world settles –and Orpheus dispersed is in everything

 
 

This was originally published by Open Space as part of After Decameron, which invites artists, curators and writers to contribute to the creation of an experimental writing project that questions the positive healing power after the example of Il Decamerone by Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio.

Image credits: Alexander Limarev, Arrhythmia (parts two and three), pixel glitch art, 2019

This is part of RHYTHM, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring rhythm as individual and collective, as poetic and biological, and the ways that rhythm dictates life. RHYTHM is conceived and edited by Rachel Goldblatt.

 
 

 
 

Anna Souter

Anna Souter is an independent writer, editor and curator based in London, with a particular interest in the intersections between contemporary art, nature and the environment. She takes an “ecological” approach to her writing, using the ecosystem as a model for creative thought. Her writing can be found in publications including Artsy, Hyperallergic, Roman Road Journal, Dateagle Art, this is tomorrow and Rucksack Magazine. Her curatorial projects for 2019 include Darlings of the Underground at Subsidiary Projects, and Rewind/Rewild at OmVed Gardens.