Above and Below
Hole — Etymology: Old English hol (noun), holian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hol (noun) ‘cave,’ (adjective) ‘hollow,’ and German hohl ‘hollow,’ from an Indo-European root meaning ‘cover, conceal.’
— Something light and wispy brushes your face. It feels like Spanish moss. It’s dark out here.
Dusk settles in the mountains as I walk across a large, open field, a dry pasture, right outside of my house. Surrounded by ancient oaks trees, this otherworldly hillside clearance is home to all manners of wildlife — deer, silver fox, squirrels, wild turkeys, hawks, and bees, the list goes on — and my beloved steed. I carry a shovel and an old metal bucket filled with gravel and rocks. Gravity pulls on my arms as if Earth wants to ground me for good.
— As you look up, the old oak tree opens her arms. Her milky-green shrouds sway silently as if to say ‘There, there, sweet child, you’re old and well now.’ No weight, no sound, an owl’s pale wings sweep moonlight’s empty spaces high in the balmy dark.
Every evening, as darkness blankets the hillside, I walk out into the pasture to fill legions of holes in the ground with gravel and stones. The holes vary in size. Some of them might accommodate a baseball, a grapefruit, some may even fit a football or a small, human skull. No matter how many holes I fill each evening, like clockwork, the next day there are many more. Every day Mother Earth seems to inhale copious amounts of soil and debris. A vast sea of tiny craters mirrors the surface of the moon.
— There it is again, the familiar gravitational pull that keeps you from floating up, up and away. The time is different. It’s late, quite late, at night. The moon holds on to your eyes. It has rained, but you’re not sure if the water has come from above or below. It doesn’t matter, it just wants to be noticed. Mud slithers into the cracked boots that have grown into your withered feet. Rootlike extensions curl into the spongy soil where your toenails used to hold you in place.
Another long day comes to an end. I’m tired, but the hungry maws in the pasture won’t let me rest. The thing is, a magic dragon lives with me, a horse so black and beautiful, he takes my breath away, even after all these years. We’ve come a long, rocky way together — stories for another time. Let me just say that magic happens when our energies blend. Riding this horse feels like dancing with something larger than life. Being carried by a creature so exuberant, so willful and strong gives me faith that life itself will never really drop me. Looking into the dark, wise eyes of this ancient spirit makes me forget all my doubts and all my troubles. And hearing this horse greet me with his low rumblings gives me trust, not just in my animal companions, but also in the goodness of people, in fate, and sometimes, surprisingly, in myself.
— The hollows in the ground have filled themselves with black-blue water. The wind has picked up his strings and plays with your silver-green hair. Your hands, you see as you look down, are wilted claws with sepia speckles, your fingers sprouting out like lizards from a beech tree’s branch. What are they doing? Where are they going? Oh, you know…
Perhaps I’m trying to rule what’s not my place to govern, but for my beloved horse, each little hole, each little crater, is like a landmine. A step into an empty space might trap his foot and delay his movement just long enough to snap the bones that make or break his living. We’ve come so far, it makes no sense to give up now, so I keep feeding more gravel to the hungry mouths in the ground. Maybe some day, they’ll leave me alone, or I’ll leave them, but today is not that day.
— The rusty bucket and the well-worn shovel have been your companions for so long now, you can’t remember when it all started. Your sandy lips feel papery. There’s a bit of water running down the side of your chin. It’s hard to say if it’s spittle or water from your eyes. You wipe your face. The wind tastes the involuntary twitchings in the corners of your mouth.
Oh, holy holes, I fill thy emptiness with judgement, with figments holier than thou. Another night, another voice in my head as I follow the call of the pasture. This one sounds familiar. It has been said that she, whose fate and health and age have had their merry ways with her, ought not to have a noble creature, so black and bold, depend on her. ’She needs this horse… like a hole in the head,’ they said. And maybe they’re not so wrong. Maybe I do need a hole in my head. A hole that takes away the judgements, the thoughts of crushing failure, of battered hopes and shameful faults. A hole that says ‘Be gone, you devils, can’t you see? You can’t possess what can’t be owned, just loved and held and cherished. Go, throw your stones, your thorns, your nettles! Your see-through houses may be numb, but not immune, to fires wild and famished. Beware and know, you won’t be safe, or holier, the day love comes for you. Refuse? No chance in hell, you’ll burn and crash, like every star, like lava under water.’ Shoveling. Getting more gravel. Voices ebbing and flowing. Darkness settling. No moon tonight.
— A fossilized turtle face, strangely luminescent, looks back at you as you catch a glimpse of yourself in one of the water-filled crevices. Your eyelids feel like the gates of a drawbridge. You keep them open most of the time now, no need to blink that often anymore.
The holes are the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of industrious, little critters — ground squirrels, gophers and the likes — rodents, one might say, but really, there’s no need to be petty. We’re all god’s creatures, just following our callings, right? No need to go to extremes, the traps, the gas, the poisons. I’m asking, please, oh, pretty please? Can’t we be friends? There’s so much space? Live and let live? But, no, it’s not that easy.
My head plays slide-show now. Look here, my friend, remember these? Endless pictures of broken bones, torn ligaments, shredded tendons, X-rays, MRIs, a plethora of digital scans and live images flash across my mind’s eye, a holographic flip book presenting floods of game changers with devastating clarity. Maybe I’ve seen too many horses on their sides, necks shaved, jugular veins popping, needles going in, pink fluid making space for blood before it drains itself into the stream that takes away the pain before it takes away a life for good. The body shudders, eyes stare blank as spirit leaves, and then it's done. Merciful, true, but not inevitable, if holes are watched and filled with vigor. And yes, my obsession to outsmart fate’s playful ways may prove to be an exercise in futility. But I’ll be damned if I won’t try.
— Faded rags, like tattered sails, hang from the bony structure of your body. How light and free, how wonderful, to be so unencumbered. This aged, this ancient body, it feels like home now. You can’t remember what took you so long to grow into this comfortable receptacle. The childwoman in you always knew. She always felt as old as you have always been.
Another evening filled with holes and my ceaseless efforts to stuff them. I’ve been humming the word ‘Sisyphus’ to the melody of ‘Row, row, row the boat’ as my shovel hits the ground. ‘Sis-sy, Sisyphus, Sis-sy, Sisy-phus.’ Laughter escapes my mouth as I come to the ‘Merrily, merrily’ part that makes my tongue trip over the faster tempo. ‘Sisyphus, Sisyphus, Sisyphus, Sisyphus.’ A little girl is singing. ‘Life is like a dream.’ There goes what’s left of my sanity.
— So much of what is you is wanting to go back to where it came from. Earth to Earth. The wind picks up his strings again. Shiny ripples ride glassy surfaces on tiny seas. You hear the seagulls, the faint smell of drifting algae finds its way into your crusty nostrils. The ocean calls from far above and from deep below. You want to follow, oh, but you’re already there, right here, right now. Look up! You see?
Sisyphus won’t leave me alone. I look him up and find out that ‘In Greek mythology, Sisyphus (…) was the king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth). He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back to hit him, repeating this action for eternity.’ Hm, ok, so my rocks are a lot smaller, but there are similarities, and if life presents us with a continuous row of mirrors, showing us what we can’t see in our blind ways, then what am I to learn here? Where in my life am I self-aggrandizing? Where am I crafty and deceitful?
— High up, climbing across the mountain’s jagged crown, a horse-and-rider’s shadow figure slips in front of the moon and enters your vision. You hear a jingling sound keep rhythm with the horse’s hoof beat. You feel the wind play tangle with his mane and tail. You shiver with the chill that’s sending goosebumps down the rider’s spine. Your chest moves in and out as two breaths become one, or is it three? You taste the broken fragments of salt and air and sea. Earthen skeletons of creatures from below the ocean floor fall free as horse and rider, following the swirling bed of a river, find their way down dusky slopes and brine debris. Pulsating through the rider’s legs you feel the horse’s heartbeat, each step an embrace, a fierce togetherness, a tender union. To live in synchronicity. Such bliss.
Self-aggrandizing. This points to my ego. And hits a nerve. Who, me?! So humble, grounded, and, if nothing else, politely standing back when others take the spotlight? My precious ego-demon laughs, its many voices piercing layers of my not-so-conscious mind. What’s underneath that humble figure? Whose sharpened claws hold tremors of desire and hunger to be seen at bay? Whose earthbound hydra, whose specters of what-might-have-been are fluttering as if there’s hope? Who gives a damn about your thoughts, your dreams, your fears, your struggles? And underneath all that? The playing small, the ‘I need nothing! I need no one!’ — independence? Ha! What’s underneath all that if not the raspy growl of ego’s smallness trying to make someone — anyone! — notice… ME! And all the faded glory, and the talent, oh, and all the love that cannot find a place out there. Too risky, yes, too scary, and too tiresome to try again. You freak, you lazy creep, you! Go fill more holes! Feel independent all you want. There’s no one who will want to know. There’s no one want who will want you! No one, you hear me! NO! ONE!
— Behind the horse, look down, hooked to your saddle, long chains are dragging on the rocky ground. And, tethered to their ends, neck shackles, blood-stained and empty now, add jingles to the rattling sounds. The rusty iron’s clanging cymbals leave trails of fading echos in all the blues of the purple air, like salty crystals dropped in water, their form will change, and yet their presence never will.
Another night of filling holes. This time my mind won’t settle for the usual ‘chop wood and carry water’ routine. I’m shoveling myself into a sweat, gravel is flying, I’m getting hot, my breath is brisk and shallow. I find myself swearing at the miserable, little rat bastards. Terrorists, really, when you think about it. Digging little death traps for my beautiful horse! An image of Elmer Fudd pops up in my head. And then, inevitably, I step into a hole myself. I trip, stumble and fall all over my own two stupid feet. The sudden flash of pain in my ankle collides with the spasms in my back and the heat in my head. DAMN!!! A flood of ugly words comes crashing out into the open, then turns and thrashes bleeding hearts. Water rises in my eyes, freeze-flowing down my cheeks. Gasping, grappling, holding on — to what?! And then, wait, stop! I find the brakes.
— Trailing jingling shadows down the mountain slope, your horse and you, as you come closer, stay translucent and true to your fata morgana ways. Hues of all colors flicker through your blacks on black. Some crusty reds, some bleeding browns are winding their ways around your neck, deep etchings on your skin, scar tissue’s still a long way coming. Off to the sides, your saddle bags are brimming with tied-up bunches of hair, all shades, all lengths, their ends adorned with rubies, or maybe blood clots, quietly dangling from their nooses, still humming songs of woulds and shoulds.
You’ll hold your tongue now, ego-demon! You’ve got to stop and hold your peace. The truth, and yes, sometimes it’s dirty, is that there’s no one left to blame. Not me, not God, nor any others. We’re all just here to play the game. Of truths and wonders we will speak, of grace and mercy, and of love. And that, my friend, is how we’ll live, we’ll heal, and that is how we’ll mend. Goodbye, farewell, you’re free to leave now. And yes, I know, you will be back. Next time, I’ll drive, and you will listen. Back to my holes now, I’ve been chosen, and I choose them, this too shall pass, but never end.
— As you make your way across the lower mountains’ crumbling bones, the river’s bedding stretches out and murmurs, ‘There, there, sweet child, you’re being carried. Trust.’ Chin low, gaze straight, you smile and know. There’s space ahead, and spaciousness, and places wide, and open. You go and fly at your own pace, towards plains, wild woods and oceans. They’re yours to ride, and yours to live, so get on up, follow your bliss, and don’t look back! The moon is coming closer.