Saturday, August 30, 2008

(Part 1), The Pruning - A Work In Progress

Rachel had a bad night, sleeping in snatches, the intervals charged with the residue of nightmare visions. Now, lying in bed, she chases the fragments of her last dream, doing everything she can to salvage the pieces. She keeps her eyes closed. She lay, as still possible. She even focuses on one image at a time, hoping it will be the link by which the whole chain of the narrative can be retrieved. But, despite her best efforts , all she is able to retain is the abridged, but vivid memory of a single episode. In it, she accompanies a friend to the house of a poet, a woman who Rachel guesses to be about twenty years her senior. Although she feels as if she is only tagging along, when they arrive, it is Rachel who enters first, and her friend, whose identity she no longer recalls, disappears.

Before they even speak to one another, Rachel feels the poet and she will make an important connection. The older woman looks at her knowingly, and from their silent communication, Rachel senses that this person has divined some special use for her. Eccentric in appearance, the poet is like a carry-over from the avante-garde of Berlin in the 1930's. Her hair, which is swept around to one side, is cut in a bizarre Sassoon-like wedge, with a pointy tip that stabs the air when she moves. She speaks to her at length, but Rachel has no sense of what is being said. She only knows that there is something Germanic about her, a certain brusqueness of manner, tempered by a studied graciousness. And, though she is cultured in an Old World style, her body suggests peasant stock.

The word 'art-struck' springs to Rachel's mind as she enters the house. Every wall and bit of floor is adorned with paintings and sculpture, mostly European, from the 19th and early 20th centuries. All of the pieces are first rate, but owing to its placement the most prominent of the decorations is a potted tree. It is an exotic genus resembling a Mimosa, and stands almost in the middle of the main entrance, allowing only a minimun of space to walk around it. The entire length of the tree's slender trunk is pruned clean, except at the top, which is heavy with pendulous foliage, that reaches just below the lintel of the doorway.

The unidentified writer points to a strange crucifix hanging in the vestibule opposite the tree. Remarkably intricate, it is made of finely wrought silver threads in a folkstyle of indeterminate ethnicity. When Rachel approaches the cross, it begins to undergo a series of subtle transformations. The traverse beam moves down to the center of the upright, and the upright shortens until all four arms are of uniform size. Then the arms become the petals of a flower. The petals, in turn, become the blades of a pinwheel. Still another mutation can be seen morphing up through the surface of the pinwheel . . . a more skeletal form that seems reluctant to emerge.

As the rest of the dream slips back into the fertile void, Rachel opens her eyes, only to find an after-image of the eccentric poet floating in the air before her. It lingers for an instant then disappears as her blonde coiffure melts upward into the white expanse of the ceiling.

Baffled by the dream, Rachel thinks about its meaning. The fact that both the older woman and she are poets seems significant, and she wonders if the dream contains a message about her writing. Although her poetry has been well received, secretly, Rachel feels like an imposter. The cerebral quality of her poems belies the depth of emotion that fuels her creativity. She longs to break through the smart surface of her work, and expose the anonymous source of her passion, but a wall stands between her conciousness, and a mysterious self that seems, forever, to elude her. Unwilling to imitate what she has already written, she has been unable to complete a single line of poetry in months.

Still tired, Rachel contemplates getting out of bed. It is the start of a tug-of-war, a daily ritual in which guilt, and vague threats to her security - should she give up vigilance for sleep - win out. So she gets up, pretending that wakefulness is her personal choice, and that she is free from the dictates of nameless fears.

Her feet hitting the cool floor is a cue that sets her on automatic pilot, and she beats a path to the kitchen to boil water for coffee. The clock over the sink reads 6:37 a.m. She thinks,

How will I weather this day, with so many hours ahead of me, and feeling so ragged?

Waiting for the water to boil, she empties the dishwasher, then wanders outside on the lawn. A line of trees wearing the pale leaves of early spring, screen the house from the busy street. Sleek black crows sweep through the green. One calls out. She counts the caws: one, two, three, four. In her personal system of numerology, it is a warning about the day. It suggests that she should turn inward, and shun the world, and its business. If she does , there is the promise that something of consequence will occur.

To be continued.

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