I am from first impressions as shaky feet grip unstable rock. The path winds endlessly in front of you with unsure direction. Moss devours the cool, ancient limestone. A satisfying crunch echos with each determined footstep over dried and fallen leaves. Sometimes not knowing where you are headed leads to the best destinations.
I am from beauty everywhere. For what is not beautiful in it’s own dilapidated way? Certainly the sun, setting over silent waters in a rainbow of peaches and soft yellows, is astonishing. But is not the misshapen tree, aged and withered with time, as pleasing to the eyes? Time has beaten and bruised it, and it still stands proudly, bearing every single perfect imperfection, for the world to see.
I am from adventure. Standing somewhere that no one has stood. Seeing something that no one has seen. Living something that no one, not a single person, has lived before you.
I am from a rocky cliff face. With water slowly deteriorating nature’s well-seen splendor. It seems that too many have made their way into the daunting dark cave, squealing with childish delight as they fly off the unsteady ledges. Yet every time you see it, it manages to feel like you are the first one who has ever set foot in that cool sea-cave.
I am from blend out, not in.
I am from water and time carved boulders. Not one the same as the next. Beaten by the endless undulating waves from an ever-full lake. Each one has a story a few million years long. Each fracture, crack, hole, scratch and blemish is just another page to a book still being written.
I am from what is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary? That little extra.
I am from that little extra.
I am from a warm spring night. Just listen. Can you hear it? Every lonely frog croaking, every peanut guzzling blue jay singing, every leaf dancing in the tender breeze has a story. Every footstep, every tree, every rock, every grain of sand, every soft wind has a story.
I am from I never want to put down this book.
Yesterday I walked to the end of Filey Brigg
The sea was brown to landward blue to seaward
The tide was coming in as I reached the end
The two seas sloshed at each other across the limestone slabs
Yesterday I walked on a long curving stretch of beach
The sand was almost dry under my walking boots
The tide had left a golden arc for kite-running children
The sea was a patchwork of shadows flecked white in the wind
Yesterday I sat in the sun and briefly sketched
The sky was a vast armada of clouds sailing the troposphere
The sun primed their canvas sails every shade of white
The wind rose and fell in waves of moor-scented air
Yesterday I brought my lover here through time and space
The woldland was every green in Hockney's paint box
The trees stood in distant lines still waiting for their leaves
The breeze ruffled her delicate hair kissed her freckled cheek
When Zuo Fen woke day was well advanced into the Horse hour. In her darkened room a frame of the brightest light pulsed around the shuttered window. A breeze of scents from her herb garden brought sage, motherwort and lovage to cleanse the confined air, what remained of his visit, those rare aromatic oils from a body freed from its robes. Turning her head into the pillow that odour of him embraced her once more as in the deepest and most prolonged kiss , when with no space to breathe passion displaces reason in the mind.
The goat cart had brought him silently to her court in the Tiger hour, as was his custom in these summer days when, tired of his women’s attention, he seeks her company. In the vestibule her maid leaves a bowl of fresh water scented with lemon juice, a towel, her late uncle’s comb, a salve for his hands. Without removing his shoes, an Emperor’s privilege, he enters her study pausing momentarily while Xi-Lu removes himself from the exalted presence, his long tail erect, his walk provocative, dismissive. Zuo Fen is at her desk, brush in hand she finishes a copy of ‘A Rhapsody for my Lord’. She has submitted herself to enter yet again that persona of the young concubine taken from her family to serve that community from which there seems no escape.
I was born in a humble, isolated, thatched house,
And was never well-versed in writing.
I never saw the marvellous pictures of books,
Nor had I heard of the classics of ancient sages.
I am dim-witted, humble and ignorant,
But was mistakenly placed in the Purple Palace . . .
He loves to hear her read such words, to imagine this fragile girl, and see her life at court described in the poet’s elegant characters. Zuo Fen’s scrolls lie on his second desk. Touching them, as he does frequently, is to touch her, is to feel mystery of her long body with its disregard of the courtly customs of his many, many women; the soft hair on her legs, the deep forest guarding her hidden sex, her peasant feet, her long fingers with their scent of ink and herbs.
He kneels beside her, gradually opening his ringed hand wide on her gowned thigh, then closing, then opening. A habit: an affectation. His head is bent in an obeisance he has no need to make, only, as he desires her he does this, so she knows this is so. She is prepared, as always, to act the part, or be this self she has opened to him, in all innocence at first, then in quiet delight that this is so and no more.
‘A rhapsody for me perhaps?’
‘What does Liu Xie say? The rhapsody is a fork in the road . . .
‘ . . . a different line’, he interrupts and quotes,’ it describes people and objects. It pictures appearance with a brilliance akin to sculpture or painting.’
‘What is clogged and confined it invariably opens. It depicts the commonplace with unbounded charm.’
‘But the goal of the form is beauty well-ordered . . . . as you are, dearest poet.’
‘You spoilt the richness of Lui Xie’s ending . . .’
‘I would rather speak of your beauty than Xie’s talk of gardening.’
‘Weeding is not gardening my Lord.’
And with that he summons her to read her rhapsody whilst his hands part her gown . . .
Over the years since he took her maidenhead, brusquely, with the impatience of his station, and she, on their second encounter deflowered him in turn with her poem about the pleasure due to woman, they had become as one branch on the same tree. She sought to be, and was, his equal in the prowess of scholastic memory. She had honed such facility with the word: years of training from her father in the palace archives and later in the mind games invented by and played with her brother. Then, as she entered womanhood and feared oblivion in an arranged marriage, she invented the persona of the pale girl, a fiction, who, with great gentleness and poetry, guided the male reader into the secrets of a woman’s sexual pleasure and fulfilment. In disguise, and with her brother’s help, she had sought those outside concubinage - for whom the congress of the male and female is rarely negotiable. She listened and transcribed, then gradually drew the Emperor into a web of new experience to which he readily succumbed, and the like of which he could have hardly imagined. He wished to promote her to the first lady of his Purple Chamber. She declined, insisting he provide her with a court distant from his palace rooms, yet close to the Zu-lin gardens, a place of quiet, meditation and the study of astronomy.
But today, this hot summer’s day, she had reckoned to be her birthday. She expected due recognition for one whose days moved closer to that age when a birthday is traditionally and lavishly celebrated. Her maid Mei-Lim would have already prepared the egg dishes associated with this special day. Her brother Zuo-Si may have penned a celebratory ode, and later would visit her with his lute to caress his subtle words of invention.
Your green eyes reflect a world apart
Where into silence words are formed dew-like,
Glistening as the sun rises on this precious day.
As a stony spring washes over precious jade,
delicate fishes swim in its depths
dancing to your reflection on the cool surface.
No need of strings, or bamboo instruments
When mountains and waters give forth their pure notes . . .
Her lord had left on her desk his own Confucian-led offering, in brushstrokes of his time-stretched hand, but his own hand nevertheless, and then in salutation the flower-like character leh (joy)
‘Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart’.
Meanwhile Xi-Lu stirred on the coverlet reminding Zuo Fen that the day was advancing and he had received no attention or conversation. It was whispered abroad that this lady spoke with her cat whom each afternoon would accompany his mistress on a walk through the adjacent gardens. It was true, Zuo Fen had taught Xi-Lu to converse in the dialect of her late mother’s province, but that is another story.
Lying on her back, eyes firmly shut, Zuo Fen surveyed the past year, a year of her brother’s pilgrimage to the Tai Mountains, his subsequent disappearance at the onset of winter, her Lord’s anger then indulgence as he allowed her to seek Zuo Si’s whereabouts. She thought of her sojourn in Ryzoki, the village of stone, where she discovered the blind servant girl who had revealed not only her brother’s whereabouts but her undying love for this strange, ungainly, uncomfortably ugly man who, with the experience gained from his sister’s persistent research had finally learned to love and be loved in equal measure for his gentle and tender actions. And together, their triumph: in ‘summoning the recluse’, and not one alone but a community of five living harmoniously in caves of the limestone heights. Now returned they had worked in ever secret ways to serve their Emperor in his conflict against the war-lord Tang.
She now resolved to take a brief holiday from this espionage, her stroking of the Emperor’s mind and body, and those caring sisterly duties she so readily performed. She would remove herself and her maid to a forest cabin: to lie in the dry mottled grass of summer and listen to the rustle of leaves, the chatter of birds, the sounds of insects and the creak-crack of the forest in the summer heat. She would plan a new chapter in her work as a poet and writer: she would be the pale girl no longer but a woman of strength and confidence made beautiful by good fortune, wise management and a generosity of spirit. She needed to prepare herself for her Lord’s demise, when their joyful hours living the lives of Prince and Lady of Xiang, he with his stallion gathering galingales, she with her dreams of an underwater house, would no longer be. She would study the ways of the old. She would seek to learn how peace and serenity might overcome those afflictions of age and circumstance, and when it is said that love’s chemistry distils pure joy through the intense refinement of memory.
Sometimes poetry doesn’t happen. One needs more space to work things out, to play around with what you’ve got until you know it well, have felt its worth, weighed it up and reckoned it.
You go somewhere a little known. The location is not a complete surprise, but time and circumstance newly fashion its affect. Is it really eight years since last you were here? Then it was late autumn, now it’s summer’s end.
It’s sad my driving worries you. You drive with me, in a state of constant anticipation, making sure the speed is legal, the line of car to the road is straight. Often, your left hand reaches involuntarily for the door-handle restraint. The more I try to be steady, the worse it seems to become. But today I hand you the keys before you can ask: so that we may start this journey well. Since early morning the sun has shone, and as we head north the clouds assume great floating forms, magisterial, ermine-cloaked.
I like to watch you when you drive. I think it’s the pleasing proportion of your seated self, the body and limbs often motionless in their purposeful position. I look at your profile, the flow of your hair hiding your ears, the cleft and point of your chin, your nose I love to stroke with my nose, the wide mouth whose lips don’t fit my lips when we kiss, and this morning a warm glow on your left cheek.
We have become so careful you and I, with what we say and the way we say it. Politeness, attention to detail, purposeful decision-making, we both make allowances, keeping the conversation airborne, the tone steady, the content ‘of interest’.
After ninety miles it’s good to get out the car, good to get out in a village now bypassed by the main road, a quiet place. A church rises above the village and like a former coaching inn next to its gates faces down a wide street of 18C houses. Scattered variously there are a few unusual shops – wooden toys and metalled stoves. Here we prepare for the next stage of this journeying. On bicycles we’ll take minor roads to the coast.
At the top, after a steep climb out of the village, there it is: the sea. Since childhood that sighting moment has remained special. There’s a lifting of the spirit. The day remains fine, but a cool wind from the land is soon at our backs (you take care not to be cold and wear a scarf around your neck and ears). After just a few miles, we turn gratefully onto a very minor road where cycling becomes a pleasure. Passing vehicles are occasional and we are not continually pressed hard to the kerbside by speeding traffic. We could ride companionably side-by-side, but we don’t.
There is time to look about, to take in the dip and fold of fields and hedges, the punctuating farms and their ribbons of road. A fine manor house rises out of a forest of trees climbing in coniferous ranks to a limestone escarpment. On the breast of a hill we come upon a tapering stone tower that assumes the point from which the rolling landscape’s perspective flows. There’s a combine at the edge of a field and later its grain ‘tender’ heavy-laden meets us on a narrow bend. At a former mill a weir, where the greenest of green shade over water is too vivid not to photograph. Passing a row of cottages an elderly couple, sitting on their front porch, smile at our friendly wave. Above, swallows dart and spin.
A main road interrupts this idyll, and after a long straight ride with the sea a distant backdrop, we arrive at a coastal village overwhelmed by its recumbent castle. Lunch is eaten in a quiet corner of an ancient churchyard. Crows gather on the stubble in an adjacent field. We sit on a bench in the sunshine, though a cloudy afternoon beckons in the west. Later inside the church, where one of the northern saints is laid to rest, an unsteady light plays variously across the stone statues of the sanctuary.
Distance and a head wind begin to strain the calm confidence of the morning. Perhaps we have come too far and expect too much of ourselves? It is cheering though to beat the rain back to the car six miles hence.
Ten miles further up the coast the tide has retreated across a horizon-reaching expanse of sand and mud; it leaves a narrow causeway to an island beyond. It is a long way to its disappointing village full of car-borne visitors, attendant dogs and tired children. There, a little apart from these tourists, we sit to look out upon a further but tiny island where another northern saint found solitude. Wading into the cold sea he would face the setting sun as it fell into the folds of distant hills: to pray until dawn.
You are so tired when we reach the hotel. You are so tired. Our en suite room holds an enormous bed and a large long bath. From its window just a slice of sea can be seen in a gap between houses. I insist, for your sake, on immediate food and soon the strain on your pale, day-worn face begins to disappear and some colour returns as you eat. I catch your eyes smiling – for a brief moment. Oh, your green eyes, my undoing, so full of a sadness I have never fathomed. How often my memory returns to another room where one afternoon, newly married, we were the dearest lovers. In its strange half-light I caressed your long nakedness over and over, my hands and body visiting every part of you – and your dear face full of peace and joy.
As dusk falls we walk down the village’s only street to view the sand and sea. Then to bed and hardly a page turned before you seek the sleep you need. I soak gratefully in the large bath. After engaging in a ‘difficult’ book for a few minutes, I soon turn off my light. But I am restless and the bed is hard. So I begin to reassemble the day moment-by-moment, later to dream strangely and sporadically until dawn breaks.
I climb the limestone stairs
through an arch in rock,
into the earth’s womb,
pass through to a surprise:
George loves Lisa painted on a wall.
I wonder, did he ever tell her?
Did she ever know or think of him,
raise a brood of screaming children?
Did they kiss near wild ginger
above the stony apse?
Did lady’s slipper orchids
adorn their meeting place
where deer drink from rocky cisterns?
Did their love wither like maidenhair fern,
delicate as English Lace?
The symbols have outlived the moment.
There is only today, only
the murmur of water underground,
my finding one trickle into a pool.
I never knew this George or Lisa.
The rock bears their names in silence,
names the stream forgot long ago.
Alone on a crisp limestone cliff
Howling at the creamy drooped-eyelid
Sitting their in the sky
His eyes are closed, he is blind
His voice is pure, and a slow vibrato
Tells His story
Black fur, barely visible against
His oppressive night
And a chain around His neck, a hole in his chest
An empty latch on the chain, as though it once held a Precious thing
The hole is where a long dead heart once rested
But now its in too many pieces and places.
The stars - those omniscient Gods - laugh at Him
Fate is their puppet and by extension
He is as well
A toy to use and destroy as they
The wolf is like rusted steel
Once impossibly strong
AN EXOTIC JOURNEY TO THE
By Raj Nandy
“When spring-time flushes the desert grass,
Our caravan wind through the Khyber Pass.
Lean are the camels but fat the frails,
Lighter the purses but heavy the bales!
As the snowbound trade of the North comes down,
To the market square of Peshawar town.”
- Rudyard Kipling (Dec1865- Jan 1936).
Those immortal lines of Kipling had enticed me,
To delve into famous Khyber’s exotic History ;
And today I narrate its wondrous story!
THE KHYBER PASS:
Steeped in adventure, bloodshed and mystery,
The Khyber remains the doorway of History!
Winston Churchill, then a young newspaper
correspondent in 18 97 had said, -
‘Each rock and hill along the pass had a story
to tell! ’
Cutting across the limestone cliffs more than
thousand feet high,
This narrow winding path of 45 km’s stretch,
Cuts through the Hindu Kush mountain range!
Forming a part of the ancient Silk Route between
Central and South Asia;
Linking Kabul with Peshawar town during those
early days of Pre-Independent India!
The area is inhabited by fierce Pashtun tribesmen,
who live by their ancient Honor Code;
They value their land and liberty, and their winding
mountain roads !
They can be the greatest of friends and deadliest
And as the saying goes, for a friend a Pashtun
can even give up his life;
But he never forgets a wrong or when rubbed on
the wrong side !
He always avenges a wrong deed done, -
Even after decades, through his sons!
The indigenous tribes living along the pass,
Regard this area as their sole preserve!
They have levied a toll on all travelers from
the earliest days,
For their safe conduct and passage through the
Khyber, - as Historians say!
HISTORIC INVASIONS THROUGH KHYBER:
At its highest point the Khyber is 3500 ft in height,
But its strategic importance can never be denied!
Around 2000 BC came the Indo-Aryan tribes
from Central Asia,
Migrating to the rich fertile plains of Ancient India!
In 326 BC, the great Alexander came through,
By bribing the local tribes to gain their favour,
To defeat King Porus on the banks of Jhelum River;
And set up his short-lived Bactrian Empire!
In 1192 AD Afghan warlord Mohammad Ghori, -
Invaded India to set up The Sultanate at Delhi!
In 1220 Genghis Khan with his Mongol hordes
came through the Khyber;
With the help of local tribesmen to plunder the
ruling Arab Empire!
In 1380 through this pass came Timur Lane,
To wreck and destroy the Delhi Sultanate!
And finally from Kabul through the Khyber path,
Came Babur to establish the Mogul Empire with
his victory at Panipath!
From 1839 till 1919, here the British had fought,
- three bloody Anglo-Afghan Wars!
And before retreating, drew the famous Durand
Line to ally fears;
But this Line is now the cause of bickering and
THE BRITISH KHYBER RAILWAY:
At Jamrud Cantonment town 17 km west of
Lies the doorway to the historic Khyber!
The track passes through a breath-taking rugged
mountainous terrain, -
Through 34 tunnels, over 92 bridges, a 42 kilometer’s
of winding stretch!
A five hour’s journey at Laudi Kotal gets complete;
The line stands as a tribute to British Engineering
The legendary Khyber Rifles had guarded the
western flanks of the British Empire,
With garrisoned troops guarding this route entire! @
Since 1990 this train is run by a private enterprise, #
With local tribesmen always taking a free joy ride!
Recent Taliban attacks made Pakistan to close
the Khyber Pass,
An uneasy truce prevails, only God knows how
long it will last ?!
But with that Durand Line of 1893 demarcated,
Forty million Pashtuns today stand divided, -
Between Pakistan and Afghanistan!
With hopes, aspirations and dreams of becoming
- Raj Nandy
New Delhi .
Battle Of Panipath, April 1526, where Babur defeated numerically
superior forces of Ibrahim Lodhi; thereby establishing the Moghul
Empire in India!
On 04Nov1925, the British inaugurated the Khyber Railway to carry
troops up to Laudi Kotal on the other end, short of the Afghan border
to guard the western flanks of the British Empire!
@KHYBER RIFLES: - Raised in early1880s with HQs at Laudi Kotal,
& garrison troops manning the Forts at Ali Masjid near the
mid-way point of the Pass, and also at Fort Maud to the east of the
KHYBER RAILWAYS: With 75 seats, a kitchenette, and two toilets;
pulled by two old Lancashire engines of 1920 vintage! It cuts across
Peshwar Airport under Air Traffic Control! It was stopped in 1982, as
economically not viable! Started again by a Private Enterprise
in 1990, in collaboration with the Pak Railway! After the Partition of
India in 1947, the Khyber is under the Federal Administered Tribal
Area of Pakistan! A difficult and a volatile region to govern! The
Khyber now remains closed due political reasons! Thanks for
* ALL COPYRIGHTS ARE WITH RAJ NANDY*
i have no eyes to see nor ears to hear,
no speech beyond my teeth or any breath,
i'm dumb for lack of thought in front or rear,
and paralyzed to stillness in my death,
so by enchantment i am moved to ask,
do ever you adorn my stone with wreath?
or is even a wreath a burdened task--
a limestone needing pulleys to bequeath?
and if no wreath, are you yet moved to haunt
this resting place to whisper to my mound?
or does this too remain a task that daunts
you to refrain from passing by around?
i often wonder if my plot still yields
a headstone or the mark of potters field
(C)2012, Christos Rigakos