Sunday, July 22, 2018


Nothing Done, All Resolved

Elizabeth wrote:

Ikkyu's enlightenment came after several years of study with Kaso in his small, rather decrepit temple on the shore of Lake Biwa. As usual, he had awakened just before dawn, the sun a thin orange disk above the distant smudge of hills. He had carried water and gathered kindling, then stripped to his loin cloth and walked purposefully across the pebbly foreshore to the lake. Out he rowed in the little cedar skiff, drifting, watching the sky lighten, just breathing, counting his heart beats, hearing the plunk and splash of the oar blade working, the thin creak of the bronze oarlocks turning on their shaft. He thought of Kaso's admonition: Leave your dreams in the fire pit, sonny, the old man had said. And had cackled and shooed the boy away.

This morning, with the sky just beginning to blue, with the gentle lap of water on wood, the sudden caroak of a crow startled Ikkyu. And all at once he knew, vividly aware of what lay among the ashes of the pit.

Returning to Kaso, he told the old monk what had happened, grinning, dripping, for he had fallen from the boat in his haste to reach his teacher. Kaso said: "So, you have become an arhat. Not yet a master, no. Not yet. Continue. Continue. Go dry yourself." And Ikkyu had replied: "If I am just an arhat, then I am content to be an arhat." Kaso considered him for one long moment. "In that case," the old man said, "you really are a master. I can teach you nothing." He snorted. Nothing done, he said, all resolved. Now go, you're puddling my floor."

Satori, Elizabeth thought. Such a curious business. And arhat: one who has overcome ego, or one who is worthy or one who is perfected. All depends on whom you ask. So how does a master differ?
She had seen Segovia play. A master. Flawless. She had also watched a good deal of Julian Bream performing on videos. Another master? Or perhaps just an arhat? How easily the terms---or certainly master--- carry over into any art or sport or what-have-you.
See had seen Nureyev dance. And loved the old films of Fred Astaire. Preferred Astaire to Gene Kelly. And writers. Joyce, for example. Certainly masterful; but a master? Or teachers. Her mentor, John Sherwood. Certainly a master. And Grace's Jack. "He seems a master, certainly." But masterful?
"And I do have a master's degree," she said. And a Phd. She shook her head. So much paper, she thought. So much pedantry and dogmatism. "To what purpose?"
Elizabeth stood up from her desk, and walked the length of the room to the far window. A landscaper had arrived and was grooming the neighbor's yard. How odd. A warm morning in bright sunshine. Tide at the flood from the sound of it. And where are my ravens today? She turned and walked back to her desk.
Perhaps some sand in my toes to clear my head. The woman cupped a hand behind her frog candle and puffed out the flame. Just the one this morning. Grace always going on about my candles. And these stairs. She gripped the hand rail.
"I'm not that decrepit," she said. Not yet anyway. Not yet.
"Bess," Grace called. "Bess?"
Well, that's a bit frantic. "What is it, dear? I'm coming"
Standing two steps down, Elizabeth heard the clatter of a pot in the sink.
"My tea," she said, and bumped her forehead with her hand.
Grace still stood at the sink running water on her hand when Elizabeth shuffled her way quickly down the hall and into the kitchen. The young woman leaned her hip against the counter, back to the room, shoulders hunched. Two bags of groceries stood on the table, a knit purse spilling its contents across the floor.
"Shimatta," said Elizabeth.
"Is the pot ... "
"And ... "
"I've burned my hand." Grace turned her head. "I was angry and just grabbed." She lowered her head. "Bess, how ... Oh, never mind."
"I'm sorry."
"It is a bit disconcerting."
Grace turned the tap, dried her hand, went to Elizabeth and gave her a hug. "Let me put these things away. We'll take a walk."
The stone path led them through the salal and kinnikinnick to the first of the low swales of sand. A narrow strip of wind blown white sand led off north and south with the darker, firmer, sea packed sand just now appearing, left behind as the tide began its ebb. A wind scurried down from the north ruffling the feathers of a lone gull marching back and forth near a tide pool.
"Which way?" Grace said.
"You pays your money and takes your chances," Elizabeth said. Twain used that line in Huckleberry Finn. But it's British, not American in origin. Does it matter? You pays your monkey, she thought, a wistful, thin smile, a shake of head, and said aloud, "and he do his dances."
"Who do?"
"Micki's line."
"You've left me at the dock, dear." Just her thinking out ...
"'With rue my heart is laden, for golden friends I had ...'", quoted Elizabeth. Past tense. Had. Iambic pentameter. Da dah da dah da dah. Have to read it out loud to get the gist ... 'With roux my stew is thickened,' and Micki's laughter trilled like robin song.
"Damn these ghosts and goblins." Take your walk, old woman. Get on with it.
Taking the older woman's arm, Grace said, "Let's just walk, Bess. No worries."
"Fiddlesticks," Elizabeth said.
They plodded across the soft sand. North or south? East or west? It matters not a twit which direction I go. North or south, up or down. You do the hokey pokey and ... I have the world entire to myself on this fine morning, a good morning. A good morning to shuffle off. I am of an age that teeters on the thin wire of mortality. No matter. I'll live 'till I die and not a moment longer.
Walk, woman. "Do you know the hokey pokey," she said.
"Not off the top, Bessie."
She watched the wind-lifted sand now scouring the beach, just ankle high. Like emotions abrading one's sensibility.
Leave it alone, Bess.
All these years, and the salt still stings.
Leave her be.
Yes. Well, the sensible thing to do is to take a northward heading. Come back with the wind.
Phooey. Why not strip my shirt open and fly south. Strip my britches, too. I could wander about aimlessly, could wander about naked as a jaybird, if I chose, mindless, insensible.
But prudence. Responsibility.
Yes. So fine. I'll keep my clothes on. And beat up the wind. Was that the phrase? We are so nautical these days. Grace and her Bernar-d. Just how she manages her nudity with such aplomb is a wonder.
Standing in the parlour with her morning tea, Elizabeth had watched Grace as the young woman wandered the back yard, nude. Elegant was the word, Elizabeth thought, that best described this lovely creature's form. Not classical, no. Those women tended towards the dumpy; but perhaps that's unjust. We live in an age where skinny is celebrated, but fat proliferates. She's a good deal leaner and, well, svelte. That silly word. Slyphlike a bit clumsy, but descriptive. The faint dimples just below her iliac crest adding a whimsical touch. The dimples of venus they're called. Curious.
Grace held clippers in her right hand and was trimming the two rows of raspberries. The robins had wreaked havoc with the vines that morning, eating the berries, breaking the tender limbs in their frenzy. Juncos twittered about through the shrubbery.
"The gluttons," Elizabeth said. Her small breasts and the silly line about eggs that she had forgotten as quickly as she had heard it. A joke of some sort was it? Pear shaped anyway. Her boyish hips. Not a good sign for maternity. Want those hip bones wide for child bearing. "Probably a myth, that." She sipped her tea. And that slight bend of the spine. Scoliosis is it?
And, as Grace had turned, she had scratched at a thigh, and then at the edge of the rise of her mons pubis. Another mound celebrating Venus. That goddess again. Just a mass of fatty tissue. Pubic hair all neatly trimmed. Some women get waxed, I'm told. However that works. Walks like a red Indian, one foot in front of the other.
As Grace stopped, shielding her eyes with a hand to follow gulls on the wing, she turned to the window, saw Elizabeth, smiled, and gave a parade wave with a lopsided grin.
Elizabeth raised her cup in salute. One would think that nudity would bring vulnerability; but this tall wahine exudes confidence. A satori of sorts, this comfortable movement of hers. She is without ego, certainly that is what allows such self-possession. And that seems a contradiction. To be without egocentricity; but, at the same time, be self-possessed. Like slack water it is. Between the tides there is that calm. And between the horns of life's dilemmas there is always a solution lying waiting to manifest itself. The middle path. No problem insoluble; only intellect, imagination without the wherewithall.
Elizabeth and Grace walked north against the scouring breeze, the wind just strong enough to lift the fine particles of sand and create the illusion of floating. Gulls came whirling overhead. Waves washed overlapping arcs of white foamed water up the beach and then receded.
This is best, she thought. I'll head into this little tempest and have it at my back when homeward bound. She lifted her chin and closed her eyes, caught the tang of salt and sand and sea wrack. The sun warmed her back, the earth spinning it higher and higher, the brightening sky.
They came to the logs encircling a small fire pit. The debris of imbeciles now gone, gathered by those more caring.
"Leave your dreams in the ashes," she said softly.
Mori had left the man who had taken her in without so much as a by-your-leave. Had left him dying in that shabby village. So she said. Or someone said for her. A bit of a quandary, that.
"It needs explaining," Elizabeth said.
"Your antecedent seems to be ambiguous, Professor."
"Mori. She left Ikkyu to die."
Grace, nodding, took up a driftwood stick, stirred the ashes of the firepit, spreading them, mixing sand.
"Perhaps," she said, "she simply left him to his death."

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