Sao Paulo, Brazil
"Sao Paulo, Brazil. A city that knows itself well enough to only speak one language." And he clicked his teeth, like playing a comb. "Some places in the world," he hummed again, "spirits walk around bodies. But in Sao Paulo, it’s the people who came over, the people who brought spirits on top of their heads across the ocean. Some spirits are afraid of water, and some live in the water. It’s not unreasonable to think that the spirits who sit on the head are scared of those in the water. Why else climb on a person’s head?"
"In fact," he clicked his teeth again, a merry skip that reminded me of a stone dancing across spirit-teeming waters, "in fact, it’s not unreasonable to believe that the first person stood up for the first time because the spirit that lived in her feet was so scared of a spirit in the water that the spirit in the feet convinced her human to pull herself against the rungs of the sky so she could climb on top of the mountain of her human."
"It was spirits who convinced humans to become mountains," he said, clicking his teeth, "spirits who climbed the mountains they made of humans, and spirits who then forgot how to climb down. Spirits climbed onto people’s heads and then crossed the ocean on the ships of those heads, and it was Spirits who made the feet dance, and when the feet were shackled to spirit filled waters that guaranteed a homesickness so deep it took up two-thirds of the space of the soul, and the soul had to puff itself up big and stretch its skin like a puffer fish or a mushroom to make space for itself alongside with it – when those feet were shackled then it was the spirits who climbed up and throttled the neck and sang songs into the ears. And is it any wonder it is hair that the slavers were afraid of? Is it any wonder that they cut off and shaved and burned hair, since that is where spirits live, the spirits who sing songs in and of the heads they live on? Those who hear the songs never forget who they are. Some spirits smear themselves on the inside, traveling up and down their humans with the intimacy of a long, wet ropey kiss of a slug – a slug being all kiss and no punch, all kiss and no touch. To be kissed by a spirit is like being kissed by a slug, and because the outside of the human bristles at the kiss of a slug, the spirit kisses the inside of the human, where the softness of the human mingles with the softness of the spirit and they don’t mind – no, they like – they like each other."
"In all parts of the world, the spirits come and speak to their humans. To tell a story is to taste futility. To tell a story is to tell futility. Most stories don’t have beginnings or endings, or middles, most stories want to be told to themselves so they can fall in love with themselves. Most stories don’t know themselves. They were never loved by their mother. Their fathers worked long hours in coal mines and came back darkened by soot in dark nights in places where even the moon was a coal miner. The way the stories tell it, the road of the history of the universe cracked the moment people chose to chase food instead of stories. Because stories need to be chased. They know no other way. They know the truth of themselves is in the wind, in the way the wind blows their hair, and the wind only moves to blow their hair in the heat of momentum."
He clicked his teeth. A habit or a refrain, or both (for what are habits but refrains?)
“There are places in the world where people no longer let spirits into their bodies. Those places are strange places, indeed. Places where people no longer let spirits into their bodies are places where people let only illness into their bodies and nothing else. And so stories masquerade as illness. A story that pretends to be an illness is easily recognizable, mostly by the color of the skin. If the skin turns white, blue, black, green, yellow, purple, brown, or red, then the illness is not an illness, but a story wearing a mask."
"In fact – ", he clicked his teeth, not once but twice, " – an illness is not alive without a story. It is stories who carve illness masks for themselves and then hang them over their faces, gleeful at their tricks. The spirits who used to live on top of the head are gone, in these places. They were chased away by chemicals that smell as bad to spirits as dung does to us. And in these places where spirits were chased away from the tops of heads you can always tell, because hair is missing in those places where spirits and stories were clinging with nails tough as dirt. And sometimes the hair never grows back, because stories, so desperately in love with embodiment, clung on and ripped the roots of the hairs in their passing. Sometimes the story is still hanging on by the bald spot, and if you look carefully, you can see people who walk around with headdresses of dead stories sitting on their crowns. Touched, you say I am? I know. I live on the edge of the world. Most people live in the center. I live on the edge. What is it like? My body does not avoid itself, not like in these places. Illness avoids me like the plague. Illness doesn’t like to live on the edge. It likes a nice comfortable center. It likes to settle itself in the center of something solid, like a spider stealing a web from a friend, waiting for flies."
We watch the Ocean. The wind comes again and threads her hand through his hair.
"Sometimes the story leaves wearing its mask, so unwelcome it feels at the center of a life of a human being. But what is most interesting – what is most, most, most interesting, is when those peoples lives who accommodate illness, when their life and their body chase the illness away – what is most interesting is when the story at the center of the world of the human being finally takes off the mask it wears, the mask that makes it seem like an illness – and that is when, that is when (that is when, finally, you see) – the spirits in the feet and the spirits on the head return, and that person is forever, (and ever), forever and ever touched."
He waves his hands over the city, like a grand maestro. The stories clatter and click one after another, like the difference between his teeth - each separate, each living in the same mouth.
"There are dogs that wander the cities, and they are only looking for one person, and you know they are only looking for one person and even they are comfortable knowing that they are only looking for one, one and only person, and if they don’t find them that’s okay too, because it’s the specificity of a life taking on shape and direction that gives it meaning. Does it matter if what we relate to is visible or invisible, an action or a process, a thing or a person? The dog that wanders the streets of the city says no. They are free because they choose what they will recognize as part of their life. Would that we were not so ensnared."
(Would that I not be so ensnared by those things that come to knock at my door. Would that I did not stuff myself to the hilt with all of those things that do not speak to me.)
"Illness and Spirits both need space. This is why praying illness away works sometimes, because prayer also needs space and Spirits like to take up the space taken by the illness. There are spirits of plants and there are other spirits too. There are creatures everywhere, not just deep in the forest. And all people – all people – have stories of great migrations living underneath the bridges of their tongues. But it is hard to taste these stories, because they rarely come out to sit on the tasting part of the tongue. They are like the goats beneath the bridge – thinking only of crossing, but for the most part chewing grass in the dark. The stories that live underneath the bridge of the tongue, they must be wooed. They are usually wooed by space. And if there is no space for them, sometimes they will force their way – sometimes they will force some space into the lives they mean to inhabit."
"They are like songs. You can’t avoid them. You can’t live without them, in fact. The big mistake is thinking that you can. Because it’s those people who think they are alive when they are not, it’s those people who create all of the mishmash of trouble. Like giants rolling down from heaven, too heavy for the angel wings they snipped off of their fellow beings – the angels shooting up into the atmosphere like champagne corks, no wings to temper their flights. Angels have too little mass. Giants have too much. Stories have too little mass. Illness has too much. Angels and Giants met and parted ways. Stories and Illness took to each other, so much so that they created clichés in the process – clichés being the dead and dry husks of story left in the wake of inspiration. Like a cockroach eaten out by ants. Inspiration, the original wind, the one that moves everything. The one that you hear sing when wind comes to move your hair."
"The Music of Inspiration travels everywhere. Music grows everywhere, it is at home everywhere."
"In fact, he clicked his teeth again, "The first immigrant was Music. It was Music that traveled from the depths of the Earth, from the rhythms of leaves blowing in the wind, to the cities. Great Music was born in the cities, you see. Great Music sprung up from people’s bodies and spirits rubbing up against one another like the first two sticks sliding their skin against one another again and again and again, until the first spark was lit. And so people rubbed up against each other again and again and again, until a spark was lit, and in that spark was Music. So, in some ways, it was Music that invented the cities. It was Music that gave cities their energy, and because it was Music that built the cities, it was impossible for people to survive in the cities without Music. They didn’t know this about the cities, the people didn’t. But that was the way it was. That was the way it was. That is the way it is."
"This City is a City built by Music."
He laughs. "Oh, people. They try and try and try to forget all of these things."
(This story is me not wanting to forget.)
((This is the story that finally took off its mask.))