~THE DEMANDS OF AIR
Only wild men walk the western streets, so the story goes.
Wild but not ragged, those loose-limbed men in their stretched and wretched stark, dark coats. Silver buttons like fledgling stars furious sparking in strange constellations. Towering like nightfall these wild men rise with their starched silk hats, tall and dark as chimney stacks. They do not shuffle nor do they creep for sleek, shiny shoes licked with steel click like clocks when twilight walking, deep-night stalking the moonlit ways. Red ruffs at the neck and sleeves like mortal wounds, those wild men of the western streets.
Fierce beings, they say, with thorny hair. Not cruel but twisted, for wild they are. Lithe like water swelling on the moon drawn tides they gather in the evening shallows to wade the limelight, ford the fast night, shoulder to shoulder, thick as thieves. From their glistening lips cool air curls in beckoning swirls its smooth enticement tense and thrilling. So turn away, the tyrants tell us, cover your ears for wild men talk is poisonous vapour, lethal and loathsome as siren song.
Don’t be fooled by their blue-eyed sincerity for earnest smiles are deadly distractions. A feint to expose you to the strangling fingers of blue-veined, tear-stained, deep-pained hands. All must know how wild men whisper, through chiseled, yellow teeth they hiss. But don’t you listen to one weasel word if you care a whit for your salvation; it is well known that wild men of the western streets pray downwards.
Do not go there by night, they wailed. For those of us of the sacred south who strive with backs so straight and true could not tolerate the brazen moonlight that will sweep unchecked into the most secret shadows. Its ruin upon you in a blink of the eye. No sanctuary from the argent swell. No hiding place for honest light. Take to your beds and hide your heads. Conceal your fervour should temptation dance, displaying her warm and urgent flesh, for there is no cleansing for moon-washed hearts.
If you arrive by day, so they say, no man will greet you. That fiends fear for their pallour is common known. Still you will hear their barbarous chants rumbling and rolling through dust-thick chambers then before you know it, the sun has betrayed you and the click-clack… tick-tock…on hard western stones will rattle around you like dry broken bones.
Wild men will emerge, ticking and tocking through the waking of the winding streets. Twitching with anger and pinched with regret, they besiege the stranger in solemn posture like long, ebony birds in judgement robes. Don’t go there, they implored, neither dawn nor dusk, if for one moment you value your soul. For when the west wind blows, malice flows in long, flowing coats and stiff, stern hats.
But the southern streets were such dry excursions, such dull and dreary lines. And we were young, the valiant young, choking on parchment and the dust of old lies.
The southern roads, in complacent white robes, controlled the thoughts and thoroughfares of the compliant with rigorous rage and a righteous rod. Officious sleeves flapped like gulls to reveal fat, pious fingers that accused and abused and contused and refused. Forever pointing out their inevitable displeasure. Frowns and scowls followed your footsteps while the welts of a hundred devout reminders criss-crossed the backs of the irresolute like bloody scripture. These were the smug southern streets where wild was wicked and dreams were smoke.
Stay still, is the message.
Do not aspire.
Your course is charted, your streets go no higher.
Have not a care for the demands of air.
The cloth is your cradle, the cloth is your shroud, feed on the word, stray
not from the crowd.
A dreaded mantra that was so far from reassurance that it sent us like arrows streaking away, hot and desperate into the western sky. Searching and seeking a wild, wild death. Just Lily and me and the hopes of a thousand, we seeped from the press of the southern squeeze into the feral embrace of the rapacious west. Sliding in on an amber sunset, we waited, breathless and still, for the moon and the stars and the ticking streets.
Stealthy as heartbeats they came.
A percussion of distant flamenco that did not pinch us with its furtive approach but instead set our pulses stepping to the smooth rhythms of ancient dusk. Wild men, so the story goes, in lures of black and silver would soon appear like marching wraiths to apply and administer blue murder. Just Lily and me and the fears of a thousand supporting the stars for the closing embrace.
But they had not told us of the music.
Their southern stories so laden with threats, so plump with alarm were the tuneless vacuums of conceited throats laid on tongues as dead as dying. No concept had they of vitality or vigour, the staples of the western streets. Where wild men and women now surfaced, to express their vivacity in sinuous leaps and mellifluous sighs. To a sensuous drum and seductive strings they clicked and tapped in sweeping twirls, plunging and swooping like ancient birds in their black, flowing coats, red-winged and red-throated. Just Lily and me and the songs of a thousand, immersed in a whirlwind, the demands of air.
Then we were away, just Lily and me, dancing and laughing like giddy things under a wide and wonderful moon. We cavorted and capered in stiff-limbed stumbles like newborns abroad in an unsteady world. Our soft, quiet shoes produced no cadence but the swell of our hearts was a fervent tattoo. To our delight as we spun, we rose and grew until the shells of shame and guilt around us burst like blisters about our feet. Then we ascended, broke the surface and learned at last to truly breathe. Insistent air, sweet with promise, so full of urging there seemed no limit to the summoning sky. A lifetime of longing and the lure of liberty hung like hunger from the shimmering stars. We were mad and we were free, wide-eyed with wonder. We were as wild as tomorrow on the western streets.
And then the silver moon deceived us. Allowed the sobering sun to encroach. Yet no innocent morning could extinguish our spirits, not as surely as night follows day. In the first breaking flashes of dawn, we stood quite still, alone and unloved. Just Lily and me and the echoes of wild things. Of wild men who danced and wild women who sang. Of exotic vibrations that had shaken our limbs into exuberant shapes unknown through time. Anathema to the geometry of the staid southern streets. Wandering restless on the empty cobbles, we held hands as tight and bright as night. Then in a moment we fled the stillness and the sadness of the silent stones.
On the journey home through southern lands, just Lily and me and the eyes that beseeched us. So urgent and earnest that we told them tales of the wild men of the western streets. Of the cool winds, the new winds that blew away the painful clouds and they believed us for they are young, the valiant young. From beneath their weights they will rise and surge, simply reckless and full of eager virtue. No regrets or retreats will betray them for they know already the truth that awaits. They will run to join us at the edge of nightfall for who could deny the demands of air.