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September 2008, vol 4 no 3

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Jeffrey Harpeng



Broken Road

The bus could be travelling through the 1930s. It's forty years later. The ceiling curve is a bell jar plateaued out. Nodules of yellow light, spaced out regular as vertebrae, stud the ceiling. The rumbling slowness and the cranky gear changes are heavy as oil and iron. A rock-foamed watercourse flows a wrecking fall below. Sunlight touches the road only at certain turns and aspects. The lighting outside seems about to fade into Kodachrome, into nineteen thirty something.

As much of a fall as there is below, there is a slope above. On the gorge's facing precipice there's a battleship-sized gouge in the breakneck incline. The scar seems fresh as the day, seventy or eighty years ago. The geological deities stomped about in their steel capped slippers, toe tapped a few hillsides. Flora and fauna crumpled together, dropped in a fatal slippery slide of blood and sinew, sap and lumber, to make a grave dam the river rose against and tumbled over.

in the
gap between—precipices
gravity

In a granite-overhang-siding buses change drivers before passing. We passengers go on, to morning tea to lunchtime with half a hillside above us all the way. These tree-cloaked steep-backed myths, these mountains might shake off their birch-green capes, let fall their mantles full of bird song, leaf mould, ferns and orchids smaller than their botanical names.

I daydream into this, this into me. There are no visible lines of cause and effect, just the story getting in to me, in to my waking dreams.

in the bus no sound
of the hawk
high over ridges

...a totemic ancestor...does not manufacture the world—he calls it into existence with songs or poetic verses which are outpourings from the very heart of existence. Each verse he sings is called a tjuringa name and the ancestor is described as projecting such names onto the environment so as to create an indissoluble sentimental bond between himself and the objects around him.*

The bus driver is playing a tape over the PA. Don MacLean sings, "... drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry and good old boys were drinking whiskey and rye, singing this'll be the day that I die, this'll be the day..."

Quietly, to myself I interject, "Rock a bye baby on the cliff face, when the earth quakes the mountain will race." I tell myself into the narrative where the mountain falls. In the rough and stone choke tumble I become crush and crumble; subterranean. I leach into the rocks, become ice melt from the Alps to run underground for fifty years, I become ground-water in a city by the sea, I become as plain as tap water.

...shamans regularly report that at the outset of their careers they have been dismembered and afterward put together again.**

I arrive early. It is a little over ten years later. I am standing in my sister in law's back yard, south east of where I melted. The lazy sprawl of a walnut tree and its time lapse rain of nuts almost bridges the back yard. The sky is twilight blue overhead. In a broad arc from the west to the north the clouds stand off, are heaped like sea-edge cliffs.

I flew south over that abrupt littoral, descended over patchwork fields, squares of crop and pasture, patches tawny and green, crazy quilted. The temperature outside the airport was half a dozen degrees colder than where I left. For the next fifteen years, this is here.

kitchen window—clouds
above hills—I pour a glass
of myself

Water is the death of the soul...and from water comes earth, and earth again water, and from it the soul restored leaps to the aether.***

In the mountains a great green narrative grows to the tree line lost in the misty underbelly of clouds. There are paths through the trees from one named place to another. In the nameless intervals people have been known to step off the track and never be seen again.

lines close up
on the map a blue line
cuts through


* The Heritage of Namitjira
** The Way of the Sacred - Francis Huxley
*** Orphic fragment -- cited in The Shape of Ancient Thought --Thomas McEvilley

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