Ode to the Bennu Bird – Michael Savignano
December 4, 2020
Strung out prayer, mine among the death-obsessed Millerites, and the firepillaring sermons of the old blackbacked baptist upon his treestump altar, yea, yea, yea, hollow out the inn of the soul, all awash in Valentinian light. Take view of the trials and sorrows of this disappointing human life and behold the wombing misery of man! And where, oh where upon Vermont’s green-capped peaks or Ol’ Jedediah’s fogging forests, oh where will He first come?
It was when I began to breathe in throughout that I discovered each syllable was only desperate prayer, sick words of those called to the mad horror, to the unblinking eyes of the spirit. It’s all prayer, a plea destined for dust, a chorus of words taking flight in all directions only to mock the sprites and masters of old. You’re left with noise, Alice, the drama of the mind, a self-defying and unshackling thirst to turn word into thing. But oh foolish golem-raiser! your sanity is forfeit. You are warring with yourself, a great man-o-fiddling-war, a true American archetype, a Yankee blood prophet. Alice, we will never outpace our own shadow, this horror conjured in our mind by this long march of wounded syllables, we will never breach the wombwall. We are coffined by the shape of things. We are specter-haunted, abandoned to the eternal Cain-wander of words. Above us is a cloud without water, beside us a tree of stolen fruit. Look, the mirror shows only the shimmering surface of the saxon sibyl ghosts, gaunt and languished forms struggling to hold fast the loose dirt, to unearth the sunken flesh, lost wraiths living in the quarry echos, and the scytheman’s sound is all around you, swooshing souling song and the ripped roots with the earthworms screaming in your redpale fist. But perhaps buried there, Alice, under the piling music of shuffling dirt is a harmony entombed, a vibrancy of the lushest green. Is this the empyrean order that can’t be seen? and did you see the children running naked to the forest pools, nose plugged as they slowfall into the crystal blue and emerald green? Perhaps not. Alice, is this all stolentelling, all that is to come, all that takes shape in long-aped words, all the guilty trembling of a thief’s refrain, a false truth as light as air? Beyond your vision and beyond your reverie there lies a grinning demon-statue in his crypt of tonguing lies, demon-wailing and marble-carved by the Ophites, Alice, are we among the minions of the moon? Look up to the lawless powers above.
And in the middle air we find ourselves, welded to the iron rails of the inappreciable. ‘Time is a lord’s word,’ at least that’s what the sibyl says with an oracle’s tunelessness. She does not finish the prophecy. The old choleric hag just trails off mumbling something about the flour-barrels of time and eternity. But it makes you think of the dementia of each moment, the entropy dictated in sandlines and sandfalls. Watch as the needle bends second after second and all falls away. Time’s slow decay. But you asked. Didn’t you ask? is it all beyond our grasp, this Vision of things? The necessity of the fall? Have you hammered the dogspike? Is the body fastened to the sunbrown rails? Is the train car set to crash? Is this the holocaust of our last life? But Alice, your question reminded me, that’s right, do you remember the rippling flame of a letter once written for love lost to the woods, now crumpled and tossed into the pit, now ash? When we were young. Do you remember? Did you witness its ashen form? Put it together again. Rise, he said, you must, didn’t he? Who needs the black ash? What is it for? Fall if you but will. Can you make use of the enshrined remains? On the pale tree beside the bonfire, a circle was drawn from the corpse of our smoldering lovescrawl. A circle. It was quite beautiful to behold the blackened particles taking shape, spirited once more in lampless night. A circle. Was it a symbol of the calamity that awaits? Did it recognize itself sculpted serpentine upon the dead tree? The circuit, the circuit I tell you. And, Alice, enraptured by the rivering words of its mother-tongue, did it know itself as itself?
No. No. No.
You’re right. Again, you’re right. You saw with those reed-masked eyes, you saw. Let us look to the letter’s prophecy: “The pilgrims camped on the outskirts of the dog-carved temple. In the daylight nothing of the godhouse’s secrets were manifest and its priests slumbered in the unforgiving desert heat. These faithless flamens drowsed about in unbeatifying disenchantment and the liturgy of light was carried out as a tedious chore. But the pilgrims were undeterred. They had traveled far and were devout seekers of truth. With obedience to the text, they were certain that their pilgrimage would not be in vain. Before them, it was written, would appear the desert-spun illumination: a vision of the Serpent gleaming with its many-eyed mystery, and it would arrive by the sunriver rays and, in Ophidian song, engrave the sky in the manifold Divine Numbers, leaving a great maze with its reptile body. Cold flames of gold would flicker in the hallucinated sky, playacts of divine pageantry and puzzling masques above, an imbroglio of fading air-images, distant sun and curling moon, all textures of a first undying illumination. Certainly it would come! They made camp beside the temple, and listened with quiet breath to the hyena howls and machete wind. ‘If transcendent truth is to be felt, it must be here, near the home of all knowledge.’ ‘And what is truth,’ one pilgrim said to the other, ‘but the hind legs of the catamount disappearing into the thicket?’ ‘Indeed. Upon this foundation it all rests. The very summit of knowing is the dark escape of the hind legs, and beauty, it is said, is the thicket-dance of the great beast departing.’ And did they even see it in the first place, the icon of the hallowed seraph-soul vanishing into the woods? Wipe your sandblind eyes, pilgrims, was it the mind’s curiosity playing its usual tricks? Yes, it is beautiful and yes indeed it is hideous, a cruel love, the law of this split world. How magnificent, the temple of Set shadows forth, setdown the sundown, and how obscure it all seems in the blacking dark. Before long, the god-drunk pilgrims began to orate aimlessly upon the nature and the coincidence of opposites. ‘You’re right. Again, you’re right. Even the perverse is ordered to this law.’ The good of thieves, the frothing thothing white wind and the fire embers after conflagration, a city razed leaving only a flower-adorned catafalque. Can reason make it all take shape? Asleep, dear pilgrim, find your rest. O God – Ogdoad! The coffin-carriers with animal heads approach from the horizon. ‘Ibis take flight! Hecate stirs the cauldron leaving the air with a smell of juniper.’ The dream will show it again to your bewilderment. The words as ashstain.” The letter dissolved in that old hearth of cindering memory. Remember, Alice? What revelation! Here again, in your dream’s mind: the circle. The Faith Key. The prayerful code. It’s traced upon the pale tree. It must simply be drawn. Have courage, pilgrim. This is just the haunting spell of the ink-script caught in the smoke and the smother! It’s a flame that gives no light, not even a glimmer. Faith, my friend. Follow the flitting remains, the crumpled paper escaping to the trumpet-soaked heavens. Do not reason or compare, but rather stamp round the anvil like an unenslaved man. Sing of this eternal strife. The wind-flushed words will do their own work. Follow the order of things, the tune of things, yes even the odor of things. The bugle calls on the silent battlefield. War Eternal! Temple of coals! A circular order is taking shape. Remember these things when you awake. Do not weary yourself with reasons, but imagine it all forming upon the bend of your tongue. Awaken and behold the impressing image of the oceanic sky. It quivers formlessly. And all the beasts beneath tremble at the horror above, a sky of just birthed creatures, breaking the walls of the womb, those half-born in aborted act and those rushing to the old ruined gates, and those… dark flood of the unenslaved mind, fetters shattered and the broken shackles made into mountains. What terrifying parade before the firestorm. But the Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain. There is no half measure among the flames. Now though Alice, the dark is total.
But you were just a child.
“It is indeed too late, thought I, the soul is dead within him!” Hawthorne wrote in his fabling way. But as child I would awake among the redwoods and there – only there – my body would follow the motions of my soul in worship-wander beneath the towering canopy of old growths, and I would inhale that green-scented mystery mossing in the grey mists of a cloud-colonized summer. Each night a holy ambiguity would conquer the forest, and I, too, would move with the fog as it dissolved everything in its unquestioned sovereignty. And perhaps I’d think the world was just an image made in air. Oh, that beauty is a fog-prayer and a fog-fever, a single voice and many. In the forest we were among holy ruins, with kid-necks craning in sheer awe of the forever upward, and the redwood trunks towering beyond the firmament. The great steeples watched over us with governing and prudential silence, colossus guards to the gate of the Old City, land of the silent sun. Have you heard the lovefeast that shouts in joyous song and the phantom whispers as these treegods creak and bellow their windworn hymns? What loving discernment! And I would hear the other children laughing in the ringed cathedral to fairy-danced song, giant fallen branches made for jousting knights and the pharaoh’s was-sceptre in imperial march, each strike a thunderquake of clashing treelimbs. The dust kicked up in mornings when the river nymphs scurried to the woods and murmured their old poems through whistling ferns, and the shrieking laughs as the kids threw dirt clumps and licked the yellow slugs by the cutfaced creeks of Mountain Charlie, and I would eye Alice or at least her rivering visage with a child’s adoration, a stumbling naive desire, not yet molded into that harsh, erotic, and unbeautiful gaze. And the forest would fill with those reverberating steps, and I still cannot believe how many years of the world are in this place! the lightheaded lushness of expectancy echoing throughout, celestial strings of some forming world soul. Alice and I would gather kindling from the thicket and build a fugitive fire away from the crowd, and we’d hold talismans of tindersticks and straw above the flame, tracing the mystery of the billowing smoke. We’d conjure a black void above us, an empty circle animated from the floating ash, unknown and beautiful, the unseen source and symbol of our common mind. Could the idea condescend into the sensible? Her eyes would gleam with the emerald oddity of a glassy-eyed enchantress, and we would tackle each other in the rolling dirt and then rock to sleep in the wavesong of the riverbank, but not before she told me of her great-great-great-great grandfather who led a caravan out west and was surrounded by the warcry of marching indians somewhere out in the Utah desert, Zion undiscovered, and she told me how he had the god-lit idea to charge with merciless courage at the enemy, and the indian circle broke, the circle broke, and he was lauded a hero, Christ of the Caravan, Breaker of the Circle, and then ordained Shaman-Priest of the Sunscorched Frontier by his followers. She said he lived and preached his millenarianism to his adoring followers and later died, a blessed embodiment of the multitude, accompanied by the long-mourning procession of his devoted cult of indian-haters and circle-breakers, and later I would read of Melville’s Moredock, and the dark horror of the world where men died under great tombs of singing rocks, with gunpowder stain and great gaping wounds of spilt blood, linen tourniquets brushed by the old masters in red strokes of irony paint, muses of the endless bloodwar, and they’d carve their loved ones into words upon the mammoth mountain gravestone in that unknown and undug wild, and the circling vultures waiting for an early feast in the oceans of chaparral. And even now I think back to Alice’s words and her ancestral vision. Those late-night mumbling words were a riverstory. But she spoke like a girl prematurely forlorn and the fire had her looking like a shadow, soot-covered and smoke-smelling, and I worried for her, so I made her promise upon the inviolable pact of the campfire to seek the Good, to seek the middle air, the balance of things, and she agreed, maybe reluctantly, sitting on the felled bough of the redwood’s corpsebody, just a visitor to the centuries long decay. I made you promise Alice, upon the hewn totem, and maybe I was just a child, but I think that was at least the texture of something I could later call love.
Ah, that’s it then? That’s what words are worth?
What does it represent? What does it symbolize? What does it express? Three distinctions all circumambulating the fact that the body is a dark cave with turgid organs and syrupy blood, with the spirit scratching at the hard stone wall in maddening scrawl, ink and dye to paint the chaosmos, a frantic dance to capture the air beyond the body. Can you escape these earthly syllables, this heavy form? I don’t know. Oh, but is not the struggle something? Does it not imbue a fervent love, a desire to continue on, oh pilgrims by setdumb sundown? Oh Alice. All these distinctions fall into each other, such is the cloud of the Idea. So the earth shakes all around you and you fall to prayer, fall to your knees in fear. And you no longer hear the scythesong or the inkflood, but instead a great wall of static and electrodes, cathode-rays and rabbit ears with odd men barking at you on the tv or timejumping and dreamstamping through circuits of history and flashing lights, J R’s blizzard of noise and the asset-stripping, stockpiling, beauty-hating world made heavy under the pen of Gaddis, and the lost footage too, with its phantom streaks, a film reel haunted by ghosts of escaping light, hell spun streaks on the daguerreotypes. Is this Carlyle’s air-image, the naked Spirit stripped of matter’s fabric, the fire pillar down to the rocky ever-echoing ballast of black abyss? It’s all fabricated, all fabulated. It seemed so fast then, but they knew little of speed. They were only witnesses to the first sermons of the transistor, like a humming altar churning out a great festival of symbols. The fallen tyranny of the eye. And at the bottom of it fear. And at the bottom of that love. What a chaotic path to beatitude! And I must admit, it’s hard to see through all this electricity. The motion of the mind and time like a river in unseeing flow. Do we fall to the mud in animal death, following the sermonic melancholy of the descendentalists, or is that blinding light the face of Alice, a god approaching? Is the final silence dumb or does it pulse with intelligence?
The redwood reaches beyond these clouds of blackened mist, as does the smoke from the fire. Each purifies as each ascends.
At last, fly away! bennu bird, the fire-red ring is in middle air, you see? ash and mourning.
Is this what keeps you up at night? Is this what weaves the terrorshrieking dark? And have you forgotten those eyes like abraxas gemstones? You were wrapped in lamb’s wool, I tell you, lovingly embraced, scratching at the wombwall and again drawing your stag’s head in ink and dye, again the blood and amniotic fluid, green pools in the mountain caves with the elixirs drawn from the fountainhead. The antlers looked just like the real thing, just like it. Filling your cups in the passing river, in this childhood of life. Summer nights under twin stars, washed over in dignity and calm. Needn’t think of what fire is as it flees to the settling sky, you’d just appreciate the warmth of it, a child overjoyed at its formbreaking movements. Off to where? What? The Bounty of Being. Young eyes that draw you forth in a longing spell, contours of memories dreamt. These golden and these hellish times, always followed by the odium of waking, the recognition that the airy vision is churned into hard concrete. A single history, and an ugly one at that, and all you’re left with is the cracked ideas, and how maddening is it? as those transfixing eyes slip away into the mists of their occulted birth! Waking world, yes it’s a soul harshly governed. Stamping round the flame like a wild tribe. We were, weren’t we? Wild. Ah, in the grand old days of sleep. But now the hammer falls to iron laws, among the heavy clangs and the resounding sizzle of the burnwater. Tik, tak! hic, hac! It must be remembered, it must, that there was a moment in-between, a moment when the two spheres eclipsed, where the solid was englobed by the fluid. Death in life and the ashen circle in maddening dance, with a child’s fuliginous face in the flame’s hallowed center, adorned in the warpaint of dying light, a winged visitor from the marble-carved terrace sent to end God’s long ban. It must be remembered that there was a moment in-between. It must.
Dig beneath the infertile dirt. Dig. It’s a difficult thing to reason, to trespass beneath the loose earth, and still do you hear the lyre-song of the poetprophet? O Yes. All is revealed beneath the glow of Golgotha. O Yes. Wake now though. Arise. Search for Eden’s other entrance. You’ll sink and suffocate beneath the gravel. I know. Embrace the inanition. It must be done. There’s no reconciliation, the single voice is but the howling of many starved dogs. O Yes, it is time for the hearing, for the farseeing. We must go where the common souls never go. In the rhodora-strewn meadow you’ll see a honeyed light in three points. Approach! It’s all so clumsy, all so bodily, all so beaten, all so thin, all so empty, all so fettered, all so foolish beneath this obscuring cold. I know. Go down and weep with Him. Forage for food in this unearthed land. Although it is quite barren, the flowers are painted in a most peculiar way.