Adapted from an image © YinYang
The Terrace Steps
The rest of the story shall go unexplained, but the steps were the first token of my affection for the birds, and we shall end there. They became Being. Nothing else really mattered at the time, and the steps were the most beautiful rocks I could find in the quarries of the imagination, the shapes being suggestive of alterations in the seamless. The rocks never spoke to me directly, but they called to me in another time, and often their names were apparent in a kind of transparent, liquid sensation that would take me over each time I discovered a name I couldn’t understand in words.
But the circling of the rock, the lifting of it, the carrying of it, step by step, my legs moving past each other with a whish of magnetics was a way of saying their names back to them in greeting. The placing of them in the line of steps along the terraces was a way of them saying my name, as they locked into place, and they felt the strength of my name. It is a name of tradition, masculine, solid, like the sound of a rock falling into place for good. They will always be there in the terraces, surrounded by the green moss, and I will always be named Arturio.
The birds have their own names, but they exchange them back and forth with each other sometimes as they fly. I want to do that someday, be always named Arturio but still, exchange it back and forth with people named Angel, Julio, Antonia, and Marcus. I’d like to fly with them while we do it, over the terraces, seeing the green of them as we swoop over them, the green glowing richly. When we fly together at night sometimes, we almost exchange names like the birds, but I have not yet learned their secrets for how they do that. When I do, then, I would have to teach my friends, and they are perhaps too traditional to learn new things of that nature.
The steps have become the project of my middle age, and when I am through with them, I will know I have started my old age. I am not ready for that to happen as yet, but my old age does beckon to me from the well. I feel it sing to me when I pull up the water, see my reflection with my face hanging over it, gravity and reflection, the time below the earth, and the time on the surface of the earth. They are different, you know. The time below the surface of the earth is my secret, but I will explain it to you, for now.
In the future, you will forget it, in the past you have forgotten it, so I know the secret will be safe if I keep it in the present. The present will enfold it and keep it mine, and yet I can revel in the telling of it. Under the surface of the earth, my old age sings and I am beginning to learn the songs from the well. The well is made from stones like mine, but I never knew their names, as they were locked into place when I was a boy, by my grandfather.
Perhaps they told him, but he never told me about such things. My grandfather was alive when he was alive, and has remained so while he has been dead, because he was in the habit of it so strongly. He still sits at the table and eats with us, passing the bread more slowly, but breaking it with gusto, and no one has been able to notice much more difference than that slowness with the circling of the plate of bread. More crumbs seem to stick in his beard now than before he died. More birds of prey circle overhead when he goes outside and works in the garden. But he never speaks of it. No one in the village ever asks about it. We just know he has always been so strong, he always will be, but the days are overlapping now more and more since the day he died.
Sometimes I fear they will overlap so much things will start to seem the same, but they never do. My life is rich with detail, glowing greens of the grass and the moss, the browns of the stones, the beige of the bread, and the deep reddish color of the table the bread sits on, with all of us around it.
The glint of my grandfather’s eyes lights up his eyes’ tiny corners and the wrinkles that extend out from them, my favorite part of his face. The candles light up the table and bring out the table’s reds, deep inside the wax. Layer upon layer of wax, holding the light, glowing, like the well. The greens of the hillsides vary with the shadows, and the time of year, but this time of year, they glow more than ever, and are set off so well by the stones in straight lines that segment the green and make patterns through it, keeping us from taking it for granted.
My grandmother loves the steps, but never walks them any more, just sits and stares at them from the porch. I think she is getting too old, especially since grandfather died. Somehow, it takes her strength to keep him alive, and she hums now, over her muffins, over her sewing, over her washing, and as she does so, the air around her becomes more granular it seems, more thick and foggy, but very subtly. And grandfather smiles when she does that, sits back and smiles, taking it in.
I think that feeds him in some way, and he is content with that. Her muffins, crusty and full of heavy, rough grain, don’t seem to be enough for him any more now that he is dead. He needs something more ephemeral, more like rains that come before you notice they are gone, misting the air, glinting the beard, lifting the eyes to see if it is snow or fine rain, and then, the day turns. And she is happy to give off the ephemeral, especially as her vision is now clouding more, her eyes becoming slightly whitened, the blue of her irises more icy, her eyes more often turned upwards. Her face is becoming more white, and her shoes are becoming more dusty, and to me, she looks so beautiful next to the black birds now.
I love it when they pass by her, or come in front of her to listen to her sing. At least I think they listen. They are never quiet, themselves, but they do cock their heads and walk more slowly when she hums. Their feathers take on a blue sheen sometimes in the sunlight, which goes so well with the green of the terraces. I think her humming is about that sometimes. She doesn’t hum in words, but I think I know what she means sometimes anyway. I think there is some other clue about what is on her mind that I don’t always understand. But when I cock my head like the birds and walk slowly around her while she hums, I feel I almost know what she is singing to herself, and when I see grandfather smile sometimes just at the same time I do, I think maybe he knows too. That makes me smile more.
The birds are the enemies of sleep, when we take our naps in the heat, and I once threw rocks at them when I was a boy. They flew at me and shattered my sense of myself, and I have never been the same. I have never thrown rocks at any living thing since that time. Instead, I have learned that rocks are living things, grass is a living thing, my dead grandfather is a living thing, and that is what allowed me to first start flying, myself. I began by flying at myself, shattering what I once knew, and no one seemed to mind. Uh, they said. Looks like Arturios flying again. And they’d go back to work. I wanted them to care. I wanted them to notice. None of them flew, except my grandmother once when the muffins were done and the birds were starting to come to the window and peck at them.
She flew at the birds to stop them, and just kept flying; she chased them away, but learned the beauties of flight. She followed them as they flew, and ended up at my aunt’s house, and flew into her window for some tea and some muffins. My aunt made muffins just like my grandmother’s. Funny looking things, really. Lumpy, with little berries in them that get a little burned when they stick out the edges. My grandmother never flew after that, never seemed to mind one way or another.
But I was fascinated with the birds ever since, and as I flew with them, I saw the way the ground could be made into a picture book, and began wanting to use something to make it into pictures ever since. When I took on a position of authority in my family, and could take the initiative, I began the project of the stone steps along the terraces.
Only my friends who fly with me see the project from above, and they don’t do it enough. They generally have something else to do. They want to play with their children, or eat more dessert. They want to play the tickets, go climbing in the mountains, or chase the goats out of the gardens. They want to make love with their wives, or drink chocolate with hot pepper. I don’t blame them.
But when we do fly, I always look at them to remind them how good it feels so they will remember. We never make plans for it ahead of time, and that’s what I would like to do sometime.
Do it in a more organized fashion. One day, when I have more authority in the village. Our village is slow to change, doing things for the most part as we have always done it. They condone my steps, thousands of them as there are, though that has never been done in this way before. They don’t come to walk them, they ignore them for the most part, but the children sometimes come out at night in the fog and play among them, laughing.
They seem to disappear in the fog, as most things do, and then another glimpse is seen along the terraces, as the wisps of moisture move away, and they will go try to find the spots they see appearing, blindly following the steps that wind so erratically, or so it seems from the vantage point of the ground.
They say our ancestors once flew over us and watched the patterns form. They say they do that still, and I know they must see the code in the steps if they do. I have never seen them. I believe in them, along with the older folks in our village. The children no longer seem to.
The ancestors were part bird, part lizard, part politician. They formed the cities but the villages formed themselves, later. We never go to the cities, so we don’t know. We are so backwards sometimes it pains me. But then I go to the vineyards and pick the grapes, so luscious in their violet colors and so alive within the palms of my hands, and I am very happy I am not a city dweller. I am happy our village was able to grow without the control of the ancestors. Because we are more free. We think for ourselves. We weave our own blanket designs, make our own patterns in the tops of the muffins, sing our own songs, crisscrossing our words with each other, crisscrossing the knives into the muffins, crisscrossing the thread in the blankets. The birds crisscross their names for each other, and I think that is our next step. But we will see.
So far, my voice becomes lost in the council meetings. Once the steps take on more power, my voice will remain in the air longer, and people will turn their heads to notice what I just said. It will have time to sink in. They will remember what I said. And they will try my ideas.
Now, I just wait, and make my steps, drink my wine from the grapes, pour some out onto the well for my future. It laughs when I do that, and the water sparkles more when I bring it up to my lips, and that makes me laugh with it. I have learned to laugh more, make my own wrinkles form in the corners of my eyes. I am enjoying my middle age. I am wearing more red. I am laughing more heartily. I am flying more vividly. I am picking up heavier rocks with more gusto. I am becoming an ancestor to my old age. I am becoming a song that sings itself, laughing, lilting, running over the steps of the terraces in the shapes of singing. In the shapes of flying, of laughing, of wine, of fog, of living after dying.
The different shapes mean much on their own, but when they are intertwined in these steps, the patterns of the green exchanging with each other, they make more sense to each other. They are weaving themselves like blankets and keeping each other warm, no longer so alone. They are seeing that they are really siblings. They are understanding their differences but also their similarities. They are exchanging their names through the patterns of the stones. When the ancestors fly over, if they ever do, they may not understand it. But it is not for them. It is for the shapes themselves. They love it, and they love me for doing it. The shapes of dying, the shapes of living. They weave together like singers on a boat. The shapes of water itself, the shapes of shattering oneself forever. The shapes of going out through a window and never coming back through it, but walking through a door instead, incomprehensibly. Why she would have returned to the world of walking, forever, I don’t know. Why would anyone do that if they had a choice? But here, some things are done too traditionally to suit my standards. Still, I weave that shape of tradition into my patterns of steps along the terraces.
I love to walk up the terraces, growing higher, seeing more, feeling like I am making love, going higher into the tiers of those beautiful feelings. I am making love with the levels of the terraces, with the levels of the patterns exchanging, with the levels of myself. I feel the air more potently when I do that. It is moist against my skin.
One day, I took off all my clothing when I reached the top of the terraces, carrying a stone for the step. The birds were there. They are my heroes. They whisper about the patterns of the stones with the sound of their wings. They took off their names. The stones took off their history. My old age took off its tinge of fear of death. My mouth took off everything but laughter. My eyes took off everything but the glint at the corners of the wrinkles. My terraces took off everything but the exchanges of patterns of forms of everything I love but don’t always understand. I could hear things beginning to buzz.
There is only being, no ups no downs like terraces any more, no curve of my story to you, just the top of the terraces that is the bottom of the terraces, the end that is the beginning. I took off my clothes again, without putting them back on. I kept taking them off, more and more, and I turned my eyes up to the sky like my grandmother does, and put my head back and opened my mouth. I took off myself.
Copyright © 2008 by Tantra Bensko