How do we come home after the world ends? How do we return to the company of strangers with whom we did not share a collective communion of orgasmic joy as the moon slid in front of the sun and evening-dark descended upon our expectant upturned faces? How do we put up again the walls around our souls so that we may engage in daily interaction when our hearts are broken open to everyone and everything?
(You can build the walls and halls that keep you/ and tear them down)
Singing together is the most sacred communion I can imagine. It’s like riding a bicycle on an old familiar path through the woods you used to know, coasting downhill with your eyes closed, coming home again. The song becomes a physical space, as tangible as a mansion you constructed in a dream, and the turns and stairs just as predictable once you understand the walls and the rooms. You might stumble and lose your way but the path remains, the walls remain. When you sing the same note together the sound whirls around your head like a bolo swung above you, the vibrato of your voice drowned out by the wheel of your voices joined, swinging in orbit up there just above your head where there resides the part of your soul that lives outside your physical body. When you find the harmony it’s a well-worn groove, a comfortable glove, a warm embrace.
(You can drink the water/ and sanctify your mouth)
It’s been years since we’ve sat beside each other to sing. There is an ease and clarity, and I want to remember that I am capable of feeling this way. I am afraid of forgetting how it feels to sit beside the fire through these nights in our pilgrim village, leaning into his voice, holding a note through the dissonance in his music, dissonance that resolves into harmony if you will just hold on. There is an occasional intentional dissonance that scratches against the melody, creating narrative tension, throwing you slightly off balance the way good art does, giving the song teeth behind it’s smile. This establishes a contrast to the simple pleasure of harmonic predictability, because how do we know joy if not for sorrow?
(With my memory erased, I might mistake you/ for an old friend…)
It’s been three years or more and I still know his songs.
We talk about the stories that fed the lyrics, and I collapse into laughter at one particular revelation. “I’ve been singing this with you for how many years and I had no idea?!”
We sit beside a campfire the night after the world ends, and we are again old friends, the way we’ve nearly always been, hands in pockets easy, and it could well be years before I see him again, and maybe it’s only easy to me and not to him, how would I know, how can you tell what you see in someone’s face isn’t just your own reflection, and suddenly there are tears, because this moment will pass and it will be years before I see him again and in the years between I forget that anything can ever be this simple and generous and kind. I find myself crying often through the weekend at the pilgrim village of eclipse tents, sometimes when he’s right beside me, sometimes alone. I’m fine, there’s just water coming from my eye holes.
(You can take the fever / and let it out)
Before the moon has fully left the sun I am sitting by the shore of the lake in the strange sharp-shadowed light, the wrong light, the light of the world ending, and I am in a black mood. We have returned to the beach from our wild drift across the lake, the moment of communion in collective orgasmic joy has passed, and I do not trust myself to remember how it feels. He sits beside me and we talk the way we sometimes talk, indirectly around a subject, because it feels as if we are not discussing a thought that one of us has, but instead as if we are having the same shared thought and then talking around it. As if a moment of telepathy occurred as a mental veil dropped, but briefly, and then we are separate again – the way all of us in shouting distance joined together in a shared moment of psychadelic cosmic communion during the moment of totality, and then we turned away, back to our own solitary experience of the world, the soul which had upjumped to the big togetherness in the sky has now dropped back down to reside behind our eyes, and we are again alone, and the moment has passed.
I tell him that I am afraid to forget how it felt out there on the water, all of us together. I tell him that has been my struggle for years, to come to terms with uncertainty, recognizing the way memory differs from experience and is less trustworthy, accepting not knowing what comes after. I am far from a practitioner of any meditative discipline, I am but an egg, but I do intensely practice presence and detachment in the form of “fuck it”. I have a habit of pushing myself through difficult experiences to prove that I need not fear them. I am more even-keeled and calm now than I was for much of my life. But in this moment, there on the shore of the lake, knowing that the moment has passed and will never come again and all I have left are the stories I tell myself to make myself remember, only the words and not the shape of the thing, this is the hardest part.
He says something about how it’s all lessons and I am sharp in my reply. I do not want a platitude, I do not want to be placated, I do not want to resolve this discomfort with the peaceful knowledge that all events are lessons and all things must pass, because sometimes it just fucking hurts and you just have to sit with it. He agrees. The sunlight softens, brightens, and the waves recede from the shore. Later, on the drive home, I remember something he had said the night before.
(If I were just my heart)
I walked past as he was telling his friend about a zen koan, something about how eventually you’re going to drop that glass you’re drinking from and you’ll break it, someday, and you can avoid disappointment when it breaks by recognizing that right now in this moment as you are drinking from it, the glass is already broken, making each moment that remains that much more precious.
When we are returned to camp the night after the world ends, I tell him, “The glass is already broken.”
(Inside of you/ is the very light to/ which my soul flies)
During the eclipse we are adrift in the middle of a lake, four of us beloved, laying on a barely-afloat air mattress emblazoned with unheeded warnings, THIS IS NOT A FLOTATION DEVICE, and we have a box of wine (equivalent to four whole bottles of wine), merlot, blood-dark, and we have a ziploc bag full of eclipse glasses that has been brought to the center of the lake held aloft by my arm like a liberty torch as we kicked our feet and inched against the current, and we are surrounded by our children and their friends all in floats, one kid wedged into an inflatable basketball goal around his head like a corona, and my son, the youngest, travels in our wake in a life vest, seated in an inner-tube which is tied to my ankle so he doesn’t drift away. We four nearly finish the box of wine before the eclipse begins, before we have reached the center of the lake, and we begin to sing.
We sing “You Are My Sunshine” in four-part harmony. We sing “Amazing Grace”, because he and I slide into those acapella harmonies with haunting clarity and confidence. We sing everything we can think of about the sun and the sky, and the one among us who does not think herself a singer is moved by the spirit, becomes a vessel for the collective unconscious, and she sings out a verse about the sun. He and I repeat it back as a four-bar blues song, I’m singing the harmony above him while the song is birthed, and the world around us begins to go dark, and we are singing this spontaneous canticle, and none of us will remember the words when this is over, it’s gone to the ether, it belongs to the eclipse and to no one.
The crickets rise, the clouds around the horizon are the color of sunset, but in the wrong place, because the sun is above us and the shadows fall below us but are not long as in the evening. We are wine drunk and ecstatic, lying across one another on this inflated camping mattress as it floats several inches below the surface, but we are aloft, and we hush our children amid a sputter of hilarious fart noises and “yo mama” but then they are silent, and I begin to quietly “ommmmmmm” and then he’s singing a Sanskrit mantra and the rest of us join, ommm, quiet, quiet, as quiet as the crickets and singing in the same key, as the moon breaks through the shell of the sun and we rip off our damp cardboard glasses and shining away in the west is an evening star and we are screaming, screaming, all of us, a roar gone up from the crowd on the shore and I hear my dog back there barking, howling, and we are shrieking in a collective orgasm of joy and communion and we lay tangled, supported in the water, quiet again, the sun just a thin crown around the moon, and the world has ended and we are holding each other, keeping ourselves afloat, nobody knows whose elbow is slid through yours, whose thigh you’re squeezing, whose head rests on your hip. Our souls have taken flight, circling around the moon, way up there in the sky.
As the dawn breaks again from the center of the sky we kick into the water and push the boat over to an island where we dicsreetly squat to piss like nobody’s watching (as if we and everyone in shouting distance are floating in post-coital bliss, where there is no shame or fear, we’ve gone uncivilized out there on the water) and we pass around the remnants of the boxed wine to the strangers standing on the island, but the cardboard has disintegrated and been shoved in pieces into the ziploc bag (don’t litter), so we pass around a transparent skein of blood with these strangers who have been standing on the island, and someone passes us a cigar, and we laugh together, and we say “This is my blood given to you” and we say “Thou art god” and we say “Thank you.”
Again in the water we push the boat over to a closer shore, singing that spontaneous canticle, but the lyrics have changed, and again our harmony is telepathic and we each know the words in a direct transmission from the big God Radio up in the sky, and again we will not remember the words when we arrive at the shore. My son and I actually scramble up the hillside to the road and walk along the road and down again to the beach, a shortcut, as the rest of us push away back into the lake and paddle the bed again through the cove to the shore. The teenagers have made a fire and are cooking the food we brought, everyone is cooking here.
(You know the wind will bear you up / and the earth will bear you down)
When we arrived in the morning to the beach there was a family packing up their tents and setting up their camera. They are from Alabama but before that they are from Czechoslovakia, and they have traveled here to be in the totality zone, to see the full eclipse. We are soon joined by families from the far Eastern part of our state, by families from Mexico, and we are surrounded by more languages than we can count, someone’s speaking Arabic, and when the fires are lit after the eclipse many people come to ask “Can I share your fire?” And a gift economy springs up here at the beach where we are all soaked with joy.
The same gift economy has sprouted at the pilgrim village of tent-campers when we return in the evening. We and dozens of strangers have gathered here to spend the days before the eclipse: off-grid, with no phone signal or power or running water or toilets, together to watch the sun. We borrow knives and towels and pass around the food we don’t need.
(I would make sense of / all these petty thoughts and fears)
When our pilgrim village is packed away the morning after the world ends, and he is leaving, and I can’t stand there with my arm around his waist all day because we have to go home, I remember that the glass is already broken, and I tell him this again. I go home with his songs and the echo of our voices rattling through my head. There will be another full eclipse in seven years, I hear, visible on our continent, and I hope that we will all go.