Late spring in the high desert.
The sands paint themselves up to seduce the sun. Soon, under the torrid love, the face of the desert will lose its roses and purples and grow thin and dusty, in long summer weariness. But now the few sprinklings of rain have wrought florescent wonders. The winds that blow from north and west have still the cool taste of snow on their breath — fresh, strong, clear air that makes the skin lucent and stirs effervescence in the lightened blood. Rubescent skies dome evenings of peace after days of work or riding. It is good to breathe. Stars scintillate, bejeweling the pallid horizon scissored by mountains. One thinks of infinitude. Deeper breaths lift one up. The sky shrinks into one's eyes. Dizziness of beyond. Rolling over the still tepid earth, the sand dribbles into one's clothes. Away with them! Rapt in darkness, the passionate body breathes, loved by myriad-tongued winds.
Late spring in the high desert.
Rania and Johan, alone.
A small wooden cabin and long dreams. Much to be pondered over; much which the heart dares not utter in loud words, yet broods over. Long wanderings through the sullen stillness of nights. The older body was very ill, would never be well again; the younger, strong, fervent, radiant with recovery. But the souls mysterious, unknown; of what strange dreaming, watching, pondering was made their silence?
She nursed him, carefully, tenderly, guiltily; surrounded him with loving-kindness. She looked at him from within some hidden recognition as if the all-important thing could not be told, yet was hovering, hawklike, over the field of live moments to be snatched away into some dark recess of the night of soul.
Rania and Johan alone.
She was restless, filled with the unexpressed.
They rented a horse. She went for long wild rides, saddleless, her strong thighs mastering the raw will of the beast. They flew centaurlike, toward the dry ridges, sharp teeth of defiance baring the fury of the fabulous being with four-footed speed and two-armed power. Then alone against the rocks, black and grey with bleeding veins of metallic ore, she sang. Deep, resonant voice with strained intonations and tones powerful with soul-raving fervor.
She was restless, bursting with songs unsung.
She sang to the desert.
Songs never-written, songs clamored from the life urge, melodies strange with unwestern steps, with glissandos nurtured by Asiatic ecstasy. She was calling for the new races of men, summoning from the deep of unearthly motherhood the god-born heroes of a richer earth. Sands and rocks seemed to swirl to the rhythm of the songs — dust tone-molded into shapes of power. She was straining her soul into the future. Would the fierce dawn break? Power was still burning into her blood-soul. Fate-battered, she was still the rebel, once more stirred by the magnificence of stones.
That was her desert song.
Johan listened to it in wonder.
He could not fully understand this Amazon power. His life was flowing with quieter rhythm, ebbing away now in the burnt offering. Soon he would die. It was well. He had done his work. In a way somewhat dark which he could hardly fathom, he had saved a soul he loved. He had put himself between her and the powers aroused to destruction. They struck at him and he collapsed. And now the freed one was singing, singing, songs vibrant with infinitude, songs hard and raw with elemental strength, magic with powers he could not face. What did it all mean? Songs of triumph born of his own dying? Songs of liberation? Some nights they would soften and caress; his heart would sob away with childlike despair. At dawns they would burst forth with the sun rays. They met the noons like bells clanging, deep-throated, for masses of light as for a ritual never-ending. Rania's songs surrounded him who was dying, and life poured in from very far, unearthly: from what planet, her home?
Johan listened, listened in wonder.
To escape summer heat they drove north.
Through fir-lined ridges, chasms of torn granite, deserts to the right, fruit-laden orchards to the left, they reached Yosemite. High up where one faces the vast display of slate-colored masses towering into glaciers, with precipices gaping, thirsting mouths of stones streaked with foaming rivulets and cataract-thunder, high and clear into the love of skies, they dwelt, souls dilated with infinitude. The awesome silence of mile-deep canyons stilled Rania's songs. She felt a yearning to draw on paper the monumental masses, to extract from the rocks and capture with blacks and whites the thousand faces that stared at her from some heroic past.
Great heroic past of this rugged North!
From sequoias to granite!
The still-beating pulse of titanic ages, when men, beasts, and trees grew up with the insolent strength of elemental youth! Now the earth was old, contented with small parturitions. Then she must have loved fervently some fiercer sun into the birth of those huge lives; red-blooded trees with angular arms, shivaic idols dancing regal rhythms; grey mountains torn by inexorable glaciers, white lava pouring from celestial volcanoes to fulfill the curses of gods.
From sequoias to granite!
She drew them all.
In harsh, cutting strokes she sketched the monstrous shapes, enlivening dead forms into myriads of faces, re-enacting the mystery of creation. The pulse of slow-heaving stones stirred dark masses into consummation of ecstasies that were hardly of the earth. She had captured the elements' dances. Then she would pin the sheets on the log walls, cry triumphantly to Johan to come and see the new birth. More often than not on the next day she would tear them into bits and throw them into the abyss, laughing, a priestess feeding the eternal Moloch with limbs of tortured children. And fire invisible would spout from the monster and seize her and force her to draw again new prodigious scenes of cosmic mysteries.
For weeks and weeks, she drew. Johan's life nearly sank away.
It was too strong, too vehement perhaps this life, this presence of fire burning near him with lionlike tenderness. But he did not care. He was to see it through. As this was the end, he would rather take it gallantly and speed it up into freedom for her. Their money, accumulated during highly paid weeks of studio work would not last forever. They had bought a new car. He would use it to surround his death with speed and new horizons, across mountains and deserts, wanderers feeding on the glorious body of this land of power. So they went back to the desert, and after a few weeks of rest during which he seemed to recover wonderfully, they left for inland canyons, painted deserts and the throbbing rhythms of Indian tom-toms.
Johan's life was ebbing away.
She knew it, but as one who has come back from death.
Death had no terror for her, nor did it arouse any sentimental gushing. It had to be faced, as everything had to be faced. The important thing was to make the most of life, for we meet death with the same strength wherewith we, everyday, are meeting life. Being filled with life she was indifferent to keeping it safe, away from the thieving of death. Her indifference of strength met his indifference of repose. They both knew. Everything was clear and firm between them. Her love was too deep to surround him with a shut-in and invalid death. She rode him to his death with the adventurous joy of lovers escaping toward a new fife. How could one fear who had met death and won?
The willing victim too wins immortality.
Tom-toms beat still in the rock-hearts of stalwart Redmen
through ridges and mesas pungent with brown earth
and green foliage of pinyon trees.
Tom-toms and feet pound silence and soil
fecundating the dumb into the living,
magic forces of will stamping the inert
into the magnificence of corn-growing rain.
Tom-toms beat still in the dark of nights
cold with altitude clear and electric.
If war no longer summons the loud bangs
that once have roused the brave for the battle;
if the Redman has lost his eagle diadems
and parades helplessly for the white shadows;
if trains cut and darken the rigid canyons
chiseled by strokes of divine hammers
where men that knew commanded the thunder
and roused cornbread out of stones;
if children and adults desecrate their past
with the piteous worship of Christian idols;
yet the land of strong men is still power
that beats upon the soil that is daring and strong,
and the earth is still red, blood-bearing and rugged,
and canyons resonate under sun and storms
with the massive fierceness of crystallized thunder.
Huge world-spine bearing strong-spined men,
we may yet discover the mighty currents
that stream up your loins
from pole to pole and from man to god!
Men may know some day the mysterious forces
that make from within the Redmen hard, stoic
through the long communion with the soul of the land,
with the silent awe of men that face power.
Huge world-spine, living fire that may blaze forth
under the magic call of a race of heroes —
great canyons between vertebrae where the force escapes,
torrents that tear vehemently through vitals
of the giant body of the continent —
immense spaces where man knows his measure,
is born god against the vast indifference of the earth. . . .
Tom-toms beat still, rugged and raw,
calling, calling yet from within, the race of heroes
who shall tame the mounts and bear them seeds,
transcendent seeds of regenerate manhood.
Rania lived in the exhilaration of that male power which confronts at every step the traveler across the great plateau. She drank it in with awe, yet jubilation. It was so strong, she was often stunned by the immensity of the experience. The earth opened to her and she experienced the earth. She realized there as never before that great elemental body on which men crawl in soul-intoxicated madness to be more than men. She knew the earth; she knew the stone; she knew it in her body, in strange mystic possessions. The tom-toms beat birth into her, and the rain that fell at the call of the iron feet trampling the sod for endless hours tore through her body in great cataracts of life. She ceased thinking. She lived deeper than thoughts, where the unconscious meets the earth and is made again in its likeness: a rich, hard matrix teeming with unborn. The chants of the brown throats echoed in her own heart. She heard the strident, wild tones of the Navajos, the deeper sun born melodies of the Zunis, the magic chants of white-robed Taos, men who guard jealously the mystery of the sacred mountain where rites take place, hoary with earth-magic.
One day a storm advanced fiercely upon them as they rode through a mesa. The road went uphill and down a number of small arroyos, dry save when the rain would thunder through, rolling huge stones like children's marbles. It came with incredible suddenness. They were riding slowly watching amazing clouds piling up purples over darkened rims. Midway across the arroyo they heard a big crashing noise. Unwary, they stopped. In a second, torrents of water had rolled by the car a foot deep, heavied with mud and stones. The car refused to start. The water streamed up into the engine. They crawled against the wild stream, bruised by stones, wet to the bone. The rain began: a downpour. Johan, who had been bearing bravely against the corrosion of death, fell exhausted, shivering in dripping clothes, fever mounting high while awful coughings shattered his beaten frame. There was little to be done. The car stood in the stream, half under water. No blanket. No dry clothing. Rania decided to walk along the unknown road hoping for a nearby house, fearful as she was to leave Johan alone. After an hour she reached a small Indian pueblo and managed to get some men and a cart to follow her down the road to rescue Johan.
He was breathing heavily, with great pains, coughing blood. They carried him to the pueblo, laid him on rugs near a fire. Strange, dark, impassible faces looked on, surrounding the two whites. Heavy silence broken by the spasms of the dying body. Someone went for a doctor. He lived far. Nothing to do but to try and ease the fading away of life. An old woman made some sort of a plaster which seemed to relieve the pain. The breathing became heavy but more peaceful. The night passed. At dawn the doctor came. It was hopeless. He could but soothe the burning flesh.
Dark, quiet faces looked on as Johan opened his eyes and tried to smile at Rania holding his hands firmly-black, strong eyes, weary of stone-immensities, ravined features ploughed by sun, wind and rain. He, now lying in death-fever, fire mounting up his body to sear the grey substance where the cell multitudes are mastered into the single will of body; she, bent over his body as if to shield it from some power of destruction. Vaguely it recalled to the dying memory that other scene in the little canyon, with the rain also beating against windows, gurgling along the walls; the girl burnt by the strange fire her recklessness had summoned, with dark faces he could sense watching for their prey. . . . He had willed it. It was well. Life streamed before him as he knew it, as he had found strength to live it, with youthful folly and mature acceptance, and the old smile of compassion and indifference. Destiny was rolling back. It had known itself as a human soul. It was free now to move in its realm of wholeness, synthesizing past into future, bringing its small wisdom-gift to the temple of Man, which aeons are building with such gifts as cement.
The body lay still near the fire. Near the fire all bodies have ever grown and died. But some dare enter the fire and be burned. The flame from below means death, for some; from above, rebirth.
Rania looked into the grey eyes in which the mist had risen to the fullness of their orb of vision. There was nothing more to be seen. But now because they were dark they shone like mirrors; and Rania saw herself in them.
She saw herself as she was in him. She saw the many threads of destiny that were he-and-she together. She sensed them as they stretched into far distant eras; she sensed them as they must weave themselves again into the future patterns of lives to come. She realized her debt to life which had been entered into his book of merits. She saw that there was no distinction; that all books were one, perpetually balanced. She sensed the completeness and changelessness of all, while separate selves make patterns, white and black.
She, too, was a maker of patterns. She knew how to make meanings out of whites and blacks. Would she have the power to make meanings also out of her own life — whites and blacks? Time opened. She saw a great figure print a few positives out of old negatives numbered in her book of past. She saw tragic blacks cloud the sensitive paper; streaks of passion, frenzy, huge shadows. The printer threw the paper away on the desk of life. Tomorrow it would appear, confront her. She shuddered a while. The dead body was quiet, restful. Above her an old squaw was looking on expressionlessly; little papooses, awed and silent, bundled up in a corner.
It was all real; all life.
It was well. An artist knows how to deal with shadows, how to lighten them with great glaring lights. She knew that in life's book accounts always balance. She breathed deeply; closed the eyes of the one who needed them no longer to stare at the false without, peopled by strange shadows and deceiving lights. She closed her own eyes. Life beat in her, calm and vast. There was no fear, no passion, no desire. It was all open, all ready for the confrontation, whatever it might be, to whatever path it would lead. For one moment, she forgot all, in the completeness of remembering all. She felt then that Johan's soul had finished the ultimate review from the grandstand of death. The mob of lives dispersed. The day was over. It was time for her to go. It was one more chapter closed. It was well.
Johan's body was buried deep down the mesa as he had wished. Rania left the battered car and rode in the fast train to Hollywood. He had willed her all he had. She returned to the house in the canyon. She was facing new life, alone.
She kept jealously alone.
She had decided to give a year to intense work, drawing, studying anatomy, technique, the history of art, fitting herself for creation. There was too much life in her not to create. It had to out-flow, else the body would burn in self-destruction. Power must be used, to build bodies, or selves, or magic forms, masses or tones. She felt overwhelmed by her own power. It coursed through her. It cried aloud, insistently, to be reckoned with, to be fed with more power. Often her body ached throughout, vitality pounding from within, dilating blood vessels, organs unused, swelling tide of imprisoned lives. Something had to be done. She was too proud for an easy release. She would dam in the flow and create from within, fashioner of shades and lights, arouser of visions that would carry outward the power to men.
She kept jealously alone.
The past was forgotten.
She had an incredible sense of forgetting the past. Her mind remembered, extracted meanings, drew comparisons, analyzed cycles and the rhythm of destiny. This past was all in the present; but the present was free of it, always virgin, like beaches made anew every dawn by tides, with the same freshness of immemorial beginnings. She was filled with her own living. Yet it was not selfishness, for she was thoroughly generous, considerate of others, sinking herself in souls encountered to feel their needs and give accordingly. She felt alive to all pains and all wants. Her motherhood longed to nurse poor aimless souls into warmth and love. She had no closed gates to keep away beggars. Her pride was of a more regal kind. It was the pride of one who is power and cannot help dispensing it; of one who is great horizon and cannot help encompassing all men in her light-gift. Not selfishness, but intense, overwhelming selfhood, concentrated energy flashing through a little channel — the soul into a machine — the body generating fire and power inexhaustible.
The past was forgotten.
But the present was not yet the eternal.
Her dynamic intensity shut her soul out from the repose of being destiny. After Johan's death, as something in her communed with the ultimate peace of death, she had sensed for a few moments the pure impersonal peace of the beyond of self, the poise of ever-balancing forces. But she could not recapture the calm, the childlike wonderment of the moment. Blood was singing too loudly in her ears songs of gestation and glorification. She would have to lose much blood, be broken up perhaps, battered by greater powers, ere she could forget present as well as past, and be eternity. Too much light in the life-drawing; more shadows were needed to rest the vision of the beholding soul and release deeper meanings, deeper rhythms, all absorbed now by the glaring whiteness of the molten life.
The present had to die into the eternal.