Volume 1 Number 4


Autumn 2003

Atlas Restrained

Asher Black

Jasmine tea. She offered me jasmine tea.

My knees pushed into the grime. My back arched with the effort. My shoulders throbbed with the weight. The skin on my hands was tearing.

And she offered me jasmine tea, like a slap.

Like the cold, clean slap of someone calming a hysterical girl. Like smelling salts. Like potpourri in a prison.

I tried not to even wince. To ignore her. It stung, but... and then I smiled. The world was so much more than her.

The world. I did not increase my effort. Did not let go. I continued, holding it up, refusing to be moved. Refusing to pretend it wasn't everything.

And I thought of Christ, offered bitter gall.

"I was only trying to help."

I laughed. Trying to help, I thought. I will not be placated.

And then I slid. Damn it! And I felt salt tears, and tried to hide them. Have you ever tried to dry your own tears with just your mind, and no free hand to do it? And though she probably thinks these are tears of self-pity, they're tears of effort. When something breaks, it is usually that dam of pain that gives way first.

I don't want to be watched. If this is it--this is my suffering--then I want it alone, because it really is alone. These are my shoulders, my arms being crushed, my veins bulging, my heart struggling to beat out another hour, my back trying not to let me fall.

And they all left me here to this and to her. Deserted me. Turned their backs and went into the world, adding to the weight. And some even laughed when they did so. "When will he learn?"

And who is this person. Who is it that can bear to stand here, alone with he who must be alone. Must be alone so that all else can hold together? First she invades my privacy, then offers me tea, and then... watching.

She's turned her back now. Maybe she'll go away.

But it's a song.

I can't control what my heart's doing. I can't control it. I have everything else to hold up. All of reality, all of this world of suffering and ugliness and despair. But I can't hold up the song. And I can't keep my heart from running to freedom.

I can't let go of the world.

The song. Tendrils of it touching me everywhere. Pushing in along bones and behind teeth and over muscles, along the chords and sinews, and against the soft, pliant places.

She's there. And I can't help what I feel.

"I wanted you to know it's like this. That I mean it. And this is the only way."

She has stayed here with me, high above all places, swept with biting wind under the stars. Luna. She has told me her name. And she faces me now, and I meet her eyes, her gaze -- her song, which never seems to waver. I live, now, in her seeing me.

Every day close to an ending. Each moment under a weight. The most solitary, holding up all else in solitude, but not alone. Holding up that fundamental, unbreached distance between each person and all others.

Ironic since, for us, the distance is there, but the paths have met. And when the exertion and the weariness and the agony cause my eyes to cloud over, she begins the radiant song again. She touches me.

I bear the burden. No one else can. But she sings, sitting cross-legged before me, and tells me stories, and the planet seems lighter.

It isn't, of course. And it doesn't make it less difficult, less painful, less... conscientiously tragic.

It makes it so I survive, even broken, crushed, slipping, inexorably over time. A little more each year now. But I survive. And sometimes I manage to delay the end. Now and then. Taking the hurt, so I can feel her in it.

I push upward. I reach one knee again. And when she smiles back at me, I heave a great sigh of breath, and I listen to her singing the song of heroes.

Perhaps she's right. I just know I'll never let go. And I'm not alone, because neither will she.