Elliott Murphy

In The Beginning

Elliott Murphy
Photo: Laurent Cousin

We came down from the high valleys where the mountains sentineled our path into the soft pine forest; spindly legged like spotted fawns, like transfigured doves of peace although we were nothing of the kind. We were poet warriors with long bows and lutes at our side, bound for an existential defeat, leaving a bloody path of discontent in our wake. We were the not quite satisfied, forever drawn inward, always the outcast and the last defenders of a bloated society that would not let us in.

We were Artists, core feeders of the tribe. We nighted among the sweaty rocks and drew cave drawings of film stars and diplomats and extinct breeds of canines, our charcoal sticks guided by Duracell flashlights. We worshiped brands and were afraid of stillness, of brightness, of loneliness. Hopeless at conversation, repeating overheard thoughts, slogans, rumors and lies, the truth did hold interest for us but we had been taught that down that road lay no orgiastic future so we declined for the most part.

The truth was that the truth seemed banal compared to our fantasies, although admittedly beautiful in its own right and so we worshiped impossible fashions, topped off by a quixotic hierarchy of celebrity nobody understood and everybody worshipped or damned. In person we were feckless and ordinary although our inner lives shined and shined on.

Farmers, we assumed, worked the beige surface of the earth, exchanging their effort for primary colors, toiling daily in air conditioned tractors, fueled by a happily growing brood awaiting an early dinner of chops and spuds and green-laced pudding. Sadly and luckily, I could only imagine such a time, pure and repulsive as a baby snake, as these fables had been passed down sixty-seven generations until we collided with them now, like an unwelcome thunder storm. We knew that some day the surface of the earth would be as hard as baked clay and blind holy men would sit in the dried up Ganges waiting for the water to return. In fact, if the playing field was baked clay then we were clay figures some, like Venus, with arms broken off and still beautiful; others with no heads at all and little hope of reunification. We sang the oldest songs we knew, those of the universal consciousness, as we smashed our way through a radioactive field of smashed ATM machines.

And still we danced in stupidity and grace; still we rejoiced the few tender moments; the flight of an unknown or misnamed birdie, for example, that we would never see again. Finally, most animals laughed at us and made us their pets and we submitted gladly. Others were not so forgiving and held fierce grudges. Leash was a dirty word, an insult and a condemnation. Not to be confused with the French word for coward.

Easily, I channeled a stringy haired demon, her voice as courageous as Ulysses, her gate as loping as a mature thoroughbred. We eyed each other as we sat in the back row of a roofless theater and took in the night sky, or what was left of it. Night vision had evolved as myths disappeared, one by one, like vapors in the mist. It was time to begin again from scratch.

Where were we going? I didn't dare ask our so-called leaders for fear of being disappointed, the cruelest emotion of all. The jokes on you sonny boy, I remember thinking, enjoy your delusions and your night sweats or get ready to lose it all. Yes, get ready, but how do you do that? I was only ready for the next kind surprise. Does an Eskimo know snow better then a Bedouin knows sand or modern man knows stress? Skyline was one of my favorite words, delicious in its pronunciation, exact and wide open, multipurpose.

I arrive papoosed on my mother's back, eyes taped shut for good luck, a round peppermint disc melting in my mouth, turning my tongue red with a sharp sweet taste that reached my ears. And then I awoke to a kinder place, where a sort of crude justice prevailed in spite of the blips on the screen, the seasonal storms and occasional fuck-ups. I had a secret name that I would only share on my death bed, my last word, and that was enough to secure my place in this sweet old world. Organization was my only palpable instinct.

Soon enough I learned that life makes promises it just can't keep. Two gulps of cool water and then it's a long way home, Benjamin The pagan, incomplete sentence of a dried sacrificial bone haunted our inner ears like tinnitus. Life delivers chaos and randomness while we dream of order and early enough learn to build whole perfect beatific cities with bright baby building blocks. Do I envy innocence? Or is it a blight to be cured from? What's to be gained from a false start anyway?

Enough philosophy and random thoughts: I dreamt that I spent a pleasant afternoon with William Burroughs, sitting on a second floor plantation terrace, each of us holding oversized tailorís scissors, cutting up a St. James Bible, psalm by psalm. As dusk fell we gathered up the wordy pieces and put them in a wicker basket, our outstretched fingers protecting testaments from the blowing winds. Indoors, a crowd had gathered to witness our magic. At a given sign Burroughs tilted the basket in the direction of a private detective's chrome office fan and the sacred text blew like confetti, like a blizzard of snowy paper, like a whirlwind and we looked at each other and were miraculously transformed into an Eskimo and Bedouin. The crowd gathered every last piece and re-filled the basket and Burroughs squeezed two tubes of crazy glue, one in each hand and recited incantations made up on the spot. And than, page by page, the words found their mates and were in the correct order and Bill pulled out a fragment and read, "In the beginning... "

February 26, 2013

RETURN to archives