The Decemberists at the Wiltern, 10/21/06
Here I Dreamt We Were an Audience
The Crane Wife
I cracked open the binding and flipped past the title page, landing squarely upon the first page of the first chapter and began to read the starkly beautiful and tragic folk tale of the sail maker and his beloved. Osamu’s sad tale had barely begun when I looked up to see eight bright red lanterns suspended in a false sky. Behind them was a large woodcut printed on laid cotton paper with dark India ink. The image evoked Osamu’s home, perched high above the sea, serene and still, and it remained so as other images swirled in and out of the foreground. I was inside the story, but which one? Was this Osamu’s tale or another, taken from a different place and time? It wasn’t clear, but there was no time to question the images, for they would come and go like the sweetest of pop songs, and they compelled me forward.
A bird, regal, aloof, alone, flew slowly toward me through a reddened sky. She extended her neck, as if in search of a lost chance, then flew away, off toward the nearby ocean. Far from the mainland, she flew until, not without a perch, she alit on an undeserted isle. She seemed to beckon me with her wings, her song, the wind softly sifting her feathers and her watery call. Her song made heavy my weary eyes, the gentle lull of the lapping waves sending me to sleep. Then a thumping sound surrounded us and the daughter of the island began to rise, at first soft with sleep, then fierce in her resolve. I sank below the waterline, no breath, no voice, but the voices from the deep called to me in my silence, the strumming of wires, the gentle reeds, and the steady blare of a conch-shell horn. All the while, the red lanterns burned.
I saw you across the room, but the wind swept us up and blew us to the cliff edge and a moment later we were holding hands, laughing and running from path to precipice and back again. We were wrong, all wrong, it was all I could hear, my ears filled with nays, but your eyes glowed as bright as red lanterns, with a certainty I wasn’t sure I possessed. I looked at you and knew we’d jump, hand-in-hand, into the mother sea. Water engulfed the shore and us with it, our engines burning still, our lives traced in the gouged lines of a woodblock, black and penetrating.
Others had caught up to us, successful scoundrels who’d gotten away with it all, fearless and cruel, perfect in their diabolic thieving of chattel and soul. I lost my footing, the notes swirling before me, but you grabbed my arm and we fell to the endless dunes, no direction but undulating sands, with nothing but a uniform of dusty pride. The dunes burned away when I caught your eye through diffused light, and a tumultuous city rose from the grains at our feet. We ran down paved streets, amidst vertical geometries, but I could see it falling around us by the light of eight red lanterns.
Had I been sleeping? The calm heat of a sunny day belied scorched earth surrounding us, the detritus of paradise, laid bare beneath the dangling legs of the striped and twisted songstress. Debris turned to letters, letters to atoms, and the music pulsed ever on, so we moved forward again, from the broad metropolis to the one of steel in air. The others had found us again, their wrath the beating of drums. We jumped onto the strings lined with pencils, which moved along the skyway, transforming into knives, bright with the red of reflected lights.
We stopped, transfixed by the dancer’s frenzied steps toward freedom, drunk on sour cherries and moonlight. The bird flew back, her long wingspan the first movement we could see on the horizon, but she was moving faster than ever now, emulating the dancer’s urgency. We danced too, but we couldn’t keep up, the dancer and the bird are too swift for our mortal feet. An expectant sound burst from behind walls of thin metal, the snowfall turning to cinnamon and cloves as it hit our tongues. And out of the accordion’s arching bellows sprung more birds, long and lean, with eight beaks that held orbs of crimson glowing within.
The Culling of the Fold
I woke with a start, Osamu’s story fallen at my feet. I hear ringing in my ears, but no music, words, or beats. I rub my eyes and look around, but there’s no sign of you or the bird, the room empty of cities, dancers, and dunes. The ringing continues until modern life hits me and I answer the phone. Did you see what I saw? Did you hear any of those songs? Did the bird abandon you, like she did Osamu and me? “Yes,” you say, you saw it all too. You lost the bird like I did, but you begin to hum the songs that won’t leave our heads. I sing along, our voices louder with each note. It was a wonderful show.
Picture shamelessly lifted from jumpsodablog’s flickr. Thanks!