Pain and Music

December 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Libation Scene, courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Pain–pain and music.  They take their course.  All through the night we’d stayed awake and toasted, in clear cool invisible wine, our lives, and how they hurt–and how.

Why was the wine invisible?  The room was dark.  The music was quiet.  Sleep was a laugh.  I was in pain–I’d fallen.  My husband had called me the night before.  I’d been in the middle of a dream, performing a Schubert impromptu onstage, naked, because all performance, really, is naked, whether you’re conscious, or not.  To cut a long story short, I’d forgotten I was in a loft bed.  And so when I leaped up and out from the stage, into the silent crowd, still playing, I was leaping out into real air.  Dark air.  I was in fact about to land on my knees in the dark, and to break one.

Far away, my husband had also been having problems–who didn’t?–and bad, sad dreams.  And ringing in the ears.  And a hammering, nagging something, between the brown, liquid eyes he’d been trying so hard to keep closed.  Who didn’t have pain?  Who couldn’t?  Who’s able to sleep?  Who cares?

So that’s why we were drinking.  In cold, cumulative sips.  One bright sip after another, all night long.  Finishing each glass, and then pouring once again.

Before we drank each glass, we spilled a little on the floor.  Someone had been reading about the ancient Greeks, and that’s what we were doing, being ancient, and Greek.  It was something to be, although we don’t believe in the gods.  And it was something to do–libation.  An offering to the dead.  Although more people live now, than have ever died.  Maybe it’s the dead who should be pouring themselves out, to us.  Especially as the population is exploding, and will grow more.

And we were discussing old things.  Ceremonies.  And distant places.  Places separated from us by time, or space.  My friends were speaking.  The sweetness of their imagination was oxidizing as it hit the dark night air.  One of the men, who had gastric issues, was belching.  Garlic is disgusting if you’re in pain; when it’s already been ingested by another, then returned to you, it’s worse.

Someone put Brahms on.  One of the friends had brought a record player.  They’d been buying up all the dead folks’ records, in Amoeba.  When a record changes hands, what happens to all the old listening?  Does attention leave a track for those inclined to follow?

To take my mind off my knee, my friends tried to entertain me.  They struck up an argument about refugees.  Cambodians, mainly.  Why Cambodians?  Because they were in the news that day.  Several Pol Pot officials had finally been brought to what they call justice, and an article about them, in this day’s LA Times, had been read by all.  Of course, the officials were now 86, 79 and 94 years old.  One of my friends argued that a pathetic old man can’t remember what he did in the years of his strength.  Is the old man responsible for the young man’s actions?

Another friend, a woman in her 50s, told me about some Cambodian people she’d met, long ago, in New York.  One man, a prince, hadn’t been able make his living princing, and had to become a taxi driver.  The head of the national dance company worked as a janitor.  A young secretary–they still had secretaries then–had been so starved that she looked like a 12 year old boy (she must be in her 40s now), had three bullets still embedded in her slender right thigh, years after she’d gotten away.

Why hadn’t they been removed?  another friend asked.

Who was going to take them out?  was the answer.

The bullets had been there for seven years.  “I have wounds all over my body,” my friend remembered the young secretary saying.  “I was in a suicide squad from 1970 to 1975.  I would crawl around with the other kids, on missions.  We wandered through the jungle, looking for Communists to blow up.  They Communists were blowing up our families, too.  But it wasn’t that simple.  Some of the Communists were actually from these families.  Some of the suicide children were our brothers and sisters.  But then the problems of my squad, these family arguments, were simply resolved.”

How?  another friend asked.

The Communists blew them up, was the answer.

“Here was this woman, gripping my hand so hard, one rainy day.  And she was so strong she broke my finger and I had to tape it up.”

What had the woman done between 1975 and the time you met her?

What did you do between the time of libations, and today?

Forget about Cambodians, said a third friend.  Think about the children’s army in Somalia.

My boss, who went around the world last summer, said a fourth friend, was almost captured by Somali pirates.  Those pirates were in their teens, and they’re still around.

Way to ruin a story, said the first friend.

Fuck you.

In the pain from my knee, listening to Brahms, I began to dream I was seeing a blue light.  It was like the light from the street lamp I could usually clearly see, though not tonight, through the window across the room from our wine and music and pain and shadow-soaked rug.  Though we’d pulled down the shades tonight, the light was leaking in, bright around the blackness of the rectangles.  The light, half present, half seen in my dream, cast long, wavery shadows through the room, like the currents of a river.

Copyright 2011 by Jacqueline Austin.  All rights reserved.

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