Meet Southern Muse
The sand was cool and gray and wet--a gritty mush under my bare feet; but, as I step onto the shell surface, I feel smooth ridges, and the curved shape of the shell presses into my sole. I feel it's solidity against my soft flesh. I feel the give of my sole against the cool surface, and I spend some time walking about on the outer surface. My hand reaches up to grab unicorned peaks, as I use them to balance, and to pull myself up hills, as of a mountain ridge, to climb to the utmost peak. It is morning, and still a slight chill in the air. I hear gulls and think of them scavenging for bits of fish-smelling flesh. They are not unlike the gulls that scavenge parking lots and garbage dumps; and such things, the clutter of the world, seem always to be intruding themselves upon my mind. I can't let go of it. But I find myself, sweaty but happy, standing on the highest point of the shell. The topmost peak is cracked. There's a small hole in its pinnacle. I reach up to it. The wall of the crevice is smooth, it doesn't cut. It has been washed with salt for many months or decades? I don't know--how long does it take? I peer down into the corridor. There is a chiaroscuro effect--camera obscuro... in the brownness, I see a flicker of white, an image, something, someone, slightly dodge and then disappear--very fleeting. I am curious. Enough of the surface. I slide back down to the sand, and peer, somewhat cautiously, inside. There's a hollow smell. How can I describe it, except hollow? I can't say exactly, it's both ashy and acid; some mineral. Salt, I suppose. It's dank, but not unpleasant. I go in.
The smoothness of the shell emphasizes the grittiness of my feet, and that is not pleasant. The sand on them is starting to dry. But there is a little shell bowl, and it is filled with fresh water and floating petals. I wash my feet--very nice, pleasant. There is a light fragrance of petals. The water is tepid, perfect. I feel refreshed, and I proceed down the corridor.
The feeling of the inner shell surface is not quite what I expected--it is both smooth and rough. It is the smoothness of salt-washed shell, but non-slippery; rough in the way that a smooth pebble is rough. But, oh, the color. The palest of pink and white, translucent. I walk on. The roughness gives up to a smoother, more luxurious shell floor. Here it becomes pure, untouched by salt. There are spots of dappled warmth and a peace-giving light overhead. The sun must be out now, but in here, I am protected from its harsh light, as if I am under a silky curtain.
The place is labyrinthine. Surprising. It didn't look so complex from outside. I see that the maze of passages must exist on a separate plane, as in some parallel existence... it seems to go on and on, just out of reach. I am reminded of clouds and bits of blue sky that float at the most heavenly depth in a shallow mud puddle, and I am like a child again, wading; or of the world inside the looking glass, that seems so deep and strange and inviting--the same, yet oddly different, and always elusive. I hear fresh water falling--how can that be? Like the babble of a clearwater stream. And there are distant flutes. Pan! He must be near. But now, what's this? a mosaic curtain, silk strings, tied with bits of blue-bottle glass and shells and twigs... and leaves! Some real, but some gold-and-silver, the most delicate of metal sculptures. I am reminded of the enchanted forest, in "The Princesses Who Danced Their Shoes To Pieces." And forest-like, it is deep. I can see that it goes well down into the passage, which darkens, and curves around until I can no longer see what's there. But I must follow the music, and I part the strings, which click and tinkle with the most lovely of sounds. Oh, it feels very nice, very sensual, as the curtain taps against my skin. It scrapes slightly, but in a pleasant way. And what is this? I hear a little frog, and the shade of the corridor becomes more pronounced. The flute seems closer. I walk and walk. Clearly this is no ordinary shell. It is infinite. I have discovered some magic door, and I am entering my own "Narnia." I never thought to discover such a thing for ME; and truly, I didn't think one even existed.
I have found the inner chamber. At last, I am there. I am in a woods and there is a clear stream. The water is so pure and the banks are mossy. The little demon-sprite laughs, and he really is just a boy! Pan. The music is lovely now, and he takes such a child-like delight in playing it. Innocent! How could I have said demon? But mischievous, and he darts away now, before I can speak. I can still hear the flute though, and it is sumptuous. Where is Dionysus? I must find him, it is he that I must ask. Notwithstanding Frost's sardonic opinion, I believe that the demiurge will speak to me. I follow the stream.
Here, the ground is shell again, but it is the purest, cool-silk shell, like pink mother-of-pearl. Surely, I have reached the source. He is there. I see him. A being, very real, certainly human-like, yet supernatural. His skin is alabaster, and his brow is wreathed in laurel--real laurel, I do believe. Can it be? His hands are cupped, and in them is a light. Not a lamp, not a lantern, but pure light, like a micro-sun, cupped in his hands.
My mouth opens, and I stutter. My speech is halting, my mind is blank. I want to ask of death and life, and creative thought, and intellect, and love and war and suffering. Every image and scrap of an idea that lurks in every hidden archive of my brain shoves and jostles itself to the surface, like some rude, elbowing crowd, unruly and scuffling. And I am mute.
Dionysus says nothing. He just looks knowing and pleased. Not smug, but pleased, and this irritates me to no end. Is this what the journey comes to?
The music still plays. I see a little figure, all tiny and quick and smooth-skinned, with dark curls and goat legs, darting among the trees, well away. And that beautiful flute. It calls to me. My anger fades.
Now it is woods again, and brittle brown leaves and twigs crunch under my feet. I brush away vines and branches and the occasional sticky briar. I walk slow. I keep my own pace. No use trying to keep up with that mischievous flirt of a boy. A walk in the woods is always nice. There are fresh smells, and woody smells, and sweet smells, and leafy smells. Moss is underfoot and tiny lichen, each its own microcosm of pale, cabbagy, stiff leaves, and minute woody flutes pointed skyward, and the tiniest of toadstools. I can get lost in them, for hours. I can still hear the music of the flute.
Now it comes to me! It's Pan, after all. Not Dionysus. Oh, the god does his share, all right. He is the source, the essence of it, I won't dispute. He and the Muse, they are the source. But I was wrong to force the intercourse of words. It can't be specified, it can't be diagnosed and formulated and standardized. It must remain an essence, unstated.
Pan and his flute do the work. I can only follow where they lead. It might be a path, but I don't think it can be planned. No, the mischief-maker is creativity itself. It darts and zigzags and plays like a child. The Mother Muse and the Father Dionysus are the source only. They gave it life, and now it goes its merry way.
Now how did I learn that? From a shell?
Now I am on a sandy beach. Oh, this one is different.
The sand is white, dazzling. Diamond-like, it sparkles. The sea is turquoise,
bluer and more pure than anything that I've ever seen. It is brilliant.
No doubt, I can look down and see fish of gold and red and blue and yellow,
brilliant with shining scales. But I save that treat for later. For now,
I'll lie on the beach and let the sun warm my skin. This is nice. I won't
think at all...