Wednesday Wisdom: Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

“Go for broke. Always try and do too much.
Dispense with safety nets. Take a deep breath
before you begin talking. Aim for the stars.
Keep grinning. Be bloody-minded. Argue with the world.
And never forget that writing is as close as we get
to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things–
childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams,
instants, phrases, parents, loves–
that go on slipping , like sand,
through our fingers.”

~ Salman Rushdie ~

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Dust and Grit

The ancient air-conditioning unit hiccupped and wheezed, puffing in pitiful futility. There was dust everywhere—clinging to the cracked dashboard, clouding the windshield, and coating both driver and passenger alike. Zara shoved her scarf up further across her nose and squinted at the hazy horizon. It was dusty, like everything else. The road was dusty, the mountains were dusty, even the sky had a sullen and dusty tint. There was dust in her hair, dust in her mouth, and dust under her fingernails. An exceptionally large pothole and Zara was airborne for a fraction of an instant, despite her death grip on the bench beneath her. The jeep rattled in perfect time with her teeth.

It was an odd sort of jeep, really, and had quite a lot of personality to it. It was the kind of vehicle that could be kept together relatively easily, given a little tender and loving care. In the jeep’s case, this came in the form of baling wire and prayers. Zara liked to reimagine inanimate objects as people—the jeep was an ancient, grizzled man clad in tattered clothes and armed with a pair of piercing eyes behind a massive (and rather dusty) beard.

The road had had enough of potholes, and decided to try a few hidden rocks instead. Zara almost hit the windshield. “Have you ever considered installing seatbelts?” She hollered.

Janus turned his head for a slivered second, and she caught the gleam of smile-crinkled eyes between scarf and cap. “And spoil all the fun? There’s a roll of baling wire behind,” he jerked his thumb toward the bed of the jeep, “if it gets too horrible, you can always strap yourself down.”

Zara couldn’t decide whether he was joking or serious.

“But really,” Janus continued, “do you know how much work it would be to install seatbelts? Because once I’d got the benches out, I’d be obliged to fix the floor too. And since if the flooring were up, I might as well repaint the whole interior. And if the interior were being repainted, why not detail the outside as well? Nope, adding belts would be too much trouble.”

He yanked the wheel over without warning, and the jeep dove off the main road. Zara dug her booted toes into the warped flooring and gritted her teeth as the world bounced and danced through the windshield. After a time, it regained a state of moderate balance—from what little of it could be seen through the haze. The road began to drop steeply, and high rocky walls rose up on either side. The canyon wasn’t visible from the main road, yet it grew larger and deeper the further they drove. The air was cooler too, and there was something on the breeze… something she remembered but couldn’t quite name. Water. The air was damp. The deeper they went, the more the air smelt of water and green, growing things. The shapes of scraggly plants traced the walls on either side of the road, and they drew closer together and deeper in hue the further down they drove. Janus reached up with one hand and unwound his scarf, releasing a cloud of dust as he did so. The skin beneath was pale by comparison. After another moment or two, Zara did the same.

The light was playing tricks on the road ahead—it glinted and shone, moving in rippling lines. They bumped over a rickety wood bridge, and Zara stared in stupefied wonder at the trickle of water beneath. It bubbled out of the ground on one side of the road, passed under it, and then ran parallel, growing in strength the further it went. Long ago, it must have run where the road did now—some cataclysmic event had sent it spurting out of the lower rock instead.

“Don’t they have water back at Home?” Janus asked, cocking an amused eyebrow at her bulging eyes that were now fixed solely on the stream.

“Yes… but we don’t have rivers.” Zara whispered in hushed awe.

Janus glanced at the sunken creek bed. “Evidently not.”

“Where does it all go?” She inquired.

“To the lake. Must flow underground on the far side though. The lake never stagnates, and there’s always a slight current.”

“You mean it just… sits there? Just a bunch of water all piled up in the same place?”

“You’ve never seen a lake before?”

Silence.

“Is it really so bad back at Home, Zara?” He inquired.

“There are stories, old wives’ tales really, about such things as lakes.” She sidestepped.

“Zara.” Urgency.

She turned with wide eyes, wild and haunted. “There is no water, Janus. There has been no water for over a hundred years.”

There Is an Ocean

Avila Beach, San Louis Obispo, California

Avila Beach, San Louis Obispo, California

There is an ocean

I’m standing on its shore

Without boundary or measure

After time and before

 

The waves lap my feet

And they call out to me

They speak of fathomless love

And undeserved mercy

 

I glance down at my grimy feet

And at my bloodstained hands

I’ve borne these wrongs for so long

Perhaps I should stay on the sand

 

What if the flood isn’t enough

What if the stains remain

How can I ever hope to be clean

Doubt weighs me down iron chains

 

But again lap the waves

Again beckons the flow

Again sings the flood

“Come, be washed pure as snow”

 

And the ocean waves

Are not a watery flood

The are scarlet red

The ocean is waves of blood

 

Can this blood heal my scars

Wash away every stain

Will I rise from the depths

Whole and sound again

 

Still the ocean calls

So I draw a deep breath

I walk down in the waves’ midst

And down to my death

 

For the flood washes me

Of all that is not clean

I died that day

No power—the past but a dream

 

But dear friend

It wasn’t the end

I live again

 

I am complete

No more do I sleep

Not glorified yet

But forever redeemed

The Land of Ravens

Rough sketch of 1-40, headed through New Mexico. Ballpoint pen and plain paper.

Rough sketch of 1-40, headed through New Mexico. Media: ballpoint pen.

Ever onward, the road hums beneath rubber tires, an asphalt ribbon winding its long way over wide plains and through wide valleys twist red rock bluffs. Some might call this wilderness desolate, but it teems with life. Not the moist, gushing, and lush greens that remain more familiar to the traveler’s eye perhaps, but there is life nonetheless. It is life of a hardier sort, life capable of subsisting on minimal water, able to endure scorching heat. Bleached grass clings stubbornly to  rocky soil, and specimens of the larger and shrubbier kind spread pale green leaves to the wide sky. But there are trees, and their dark green leaves speak of live giving water deep in the soil, while battered bark bears testimony to the bite of swirling sand kicked up and tossed about by the dry and gusting wind. This is the land of ravens, dear traveler, and if you look closely, you might catch the glossy flash of blue-black feathers among the broken rocks. And in turn, the tumbled, broken rocks give way to hills. They ripple the landscape, like ocean waves of living stone frozen at their cresting. As if some mighty hand drew its fingers cross the surface of the world, piling earth on earth with no more effort than if it had been a child’s blanket.