THE SPIRITUAL WORLD IS DOMINATED

We may well hope our actions carry no moral ambiguity, pretending.
The Devil only serves to push the ambiguities of life into the background:
erasure of trickster figures. Or the unthinking confusion of them
with moral judgement; but the opposite marks an advance in spiritual
consciousness, a finer tuning: a seemingly confused figure actions
all values into being. Both: he possesses no values, moral or social;
his self knows neither good nor evil: he is responsible for “and.”


The negator: he who dupes others and is always duped, trickster is
at one and the same time creator and destroyer, giver. Trickster
usually said of the Christian Devil: “He represents.” Of the paradoxical
category of sacred: “one experience where good and evil are hopelessly
intertwined.” Trickster is amoral not immoral. He embodies and enacts.


Perceive trickster's great ambivalence! “The Devil is an agent of evil,
but confused.” Those who confuse the two do so because they have failed
the trickster. Trickster disappears. Here it is worth pausing to explain
the Devil to a single high god opposed by a single embodiment of evil,
then the ancient complex terrain of polytheism: of “if.”

—flipped migration of Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, p.10

CRESCENDO: EKALAVYA CUTS OFF HIS THUMB

EKALAVYA (ADIVASI, NISHADA HUNTER WHOSE DREAM IS TO BE AN ARCHER):
...because Dronaji asked me to.


DRONA (BRAHMIN, MARTIAL ARTS GURU TO THE KURU PRINCES, WHO REFUSED TO TEACH EKALAVYA):
I claimed his thumb as fee.


ARJUNA (KSHATRIYA, KURU PRINCE, FAVOURITE DEMI-MORTAL TO AN AVATAR OF GOD, DRONA’S MOST FAMOUS AND FAVOURED STUDENT—WHO EKALAVYA EXCELS):
… so I would be the best.


CITY OF HASTINAPUR (THE KURU EMPIRE’S CAPITAL) AND THE ROYAL HUNTING DOG :
I want this thumb within my jaws.


NANAY (ADIVASI, NISHADA HUNTRESS, SEER, BASKETWEAVER):
I gave birth to this thumb.


RIVER:
I washed the thumb. It took my clay.


NANAY:
It gripped my body first. I taught it to grip better.


BOW:
This thumb gripped me more than anything, will close round my body never again.


MAHAL (ADIVASI, NISHADA HUNTRESS, WEAVER OF BOWSTRING):
I will never feel his favourite thumb. I caress my own cheek with the scar of where it left.


JUNGLE:
I am the thumb’s one home.


RECORD KEEPER, IF ONE EXISTS, TO THE GODDESS OF LOST THINGS:
One Thumb.


DRONA STATUE:
This thumb is how I came to be: it gave its shape to my contours one by one.


GODDESS OF LOST THINGS:
Everything this thumb touched, I ever feel.


JACKAL:
Ekalavya’s name has come to mean “one renowned for devotion to their guru,” or “self-learned person.” It breaks down to “one whose finger is to be cut,” or “one who can cut anything with just one [arrow].” I’ve always felt the goddess of lost things should have been a jackal.


RIVER:
Return the thumb to me.

A RIVER SOUND ASLEEP IN ANOTHER RIVER

POET, WHO CAN’T HELP BUT INTERJECT. RIVER, WHO STEALS MY WORDS


Still as jungle as when you left, the water wraps around your waist. Between the coniferous lean of your thighs. Flowing around the grief galore just below your core. Churned from the birdsong in eagle-hatch season pecking at your belly since you left.

 

I skipped the part where you exited—first time—jungle. The encroaching part of any city wall. The palace grounds, their pretend jungle. The princes at archery practice. The way they looked you down as they concentrated on their targets. Your approach at the guru, your ask, the princes’ faces, his refusal, the princes’ faces. The second—much smaller—ask you found
a way to muster.

 

I don’t want that single blessing from Drona to be what keeps you afloat. And this not-wanting is a quicksand, a form of drowning. As you submerge in the river, whatever keeps you from drowning must be something other than not-want. Whenever it’s me in a river like that, I wish I could allow the sharp to climb out through my skin, the perfect sheath of water caress softening the consonants of me into a vowel.

 

Often, I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for another want I couldn’t ask, a want I’m afraid to name. And, who begs for a teacher they know they can make by hand themselves? Many, perhaps most. I have, for sure. There’s an elephant plate from my days at school in India, waiting for me to figure out how to seek the lessons I placed into it. Want or not: adjust, Ekalavya, Drona never says while nudging at your stance, adjust your stance this way. I mean, he turned you away. I’m not sure that he should be the guru your name alludes to. Not all the meanings address anyone but you.

 

It is weeks before you garland the Drona statue you will carve over the next few weeks. You are yet to sculpt the lips, lips—you must believe?—will impart a language of archery. A question I ask the clay while you submerge again. Only you can make the clay speak in your guru’s place, I say, and the clay does not respond. Somehow in this eddy of a moment, you will find the thing you love: inside you, all around, neither Drona nor I is close enough to tell you which.

 

Emerging from the water like a dolphin—though there aren’t any in your river—you look up, squint-stare at sky, tilt your head to the riffle just beyond this pool, cast your eyes down closer, down at your own multi-flourishing reflection. Junglee as you ever were. I smile the word to empty it of my father’s chiding.

 

Beneath your reflection, the clay, river-held for now. Dancing with the junctions of moon- face on the water-face, the statue’s future image crossfades in from yours: now, bearded as Drona’s: hair swept, bunned ascetic: beads to distinguish a guru’s neck. Perhaps, to you, he floats. Toward the shore of your body’s realization: a teacher seated lotus, left backhand resting at knee, fingers gyan mudra. And—like mine, as I breathe into it to describe—other palm cupped and reaching out to touch your chest.

 

All of this vibrates with the tone of soon. Ripples emanating in a circle are a labyrinth. For now, you dip for the first time, toes into the silt, then surface, torso glistening as a lie, a dripping lamentation. Your dream enfolds upon the shore. Pelt, half quiver, blade, bow: distant, small. Shaded from the sun, unproud. How guruless you are gulps at your open mouth.

Belize/Mendocino -  Shelby McAuliffe

Ambergris Caye, Belize and Mendocino, California - Shelby McAuliffe

return to ISSUE THREE