And as she sleeps he talks to himself, that old abiding friendship.
In a brownstone in New York City, he once dreamt that a fairy tale was a kind of breast milk from the earth to us humans. A song-line that pours troublesome nutrition into our pretending-to-be-modern hearts.
So all day long he thinks about this.
That afternoon in Brooklyn it rains so hard you can barely walk upright, so he shelters in the doorway of a dive bar scrawling what he just thought on a napkin. The rain seems to banish a lot of static, and for a few hours he gets just a glimpse of the spirits secreted in lively Iranian hand gestures, sees little furry faces furtively peer up from under a rain mac as Jenny scuttles for the bus.
Just a few miles away, something like the Iliad is erupting within the power squabbles of Wall Street, and a distant relative of Beowulf is wandering Central Park looking for his Grendel.
He watches with his peregrine eyes; seeing knights in panther skin erupt from the subway speaking swiftly in a kind of bardic hip-hop, he spies pummelling battles of seething love almost on the scale of Tristan and Isolde taking place at low volume and high intensity in the dark corner of the coffee shop. You’d have to be mad not to see it. It’s not whole stories he’s beholding but moments, images, something of a frenetic jumble. Not quite a myth, but mythic. Hints really. We have the image but not the narrative. For a myth you’d need a more sophisticated pattern. Something you could build on. Not a leap but a bridge. For a myth you need something more than an entirely human point of view.
As humans we’re not living myth, we’re living myths. Plural. They compete. There are differing stories constantly trying to be told through us, different temples that seek our libation. That send us crazy till we blurt them out. There are perspectives in us that aren’t even human; there are thoughts that swoop wonkily through with the bright flashes of a jungle bird, or are preserved perfectly in peat until we are ready to be thought by them.
Some thinking is very patient. It will wait years for us to catch up. But the hour is getting late now. And when the stories we tell only have a human directive peering back at us we start to get very lost. We hypnotise ourselves with our own gaze. In such a moment it is quite possible to bury your heart under a rock and quite forget where you put it.
But he means what he says: some of the rough gods are still amongst us—and not just the porcelain ones that look a little like us on a good day, but the big bad bunch—the raggle-taggle, rhino-tusked menagerie of the Original Ensemble, the Other Folk, the Gentry, the Benji. He knows you’ve glimpsed them, once or twice.
They are gnawing on the edge of these sentences.
The Otherworld is this one, when it chooses.
It’s a convenience to believe that the Old Gods are leaving. Gives us permission for all kinds of nonsense. That they are sitting in the departure lounge of Heathrow and LAX with hurt feelings, waving old bones about and shaking their heads. Clambering into some metaphysical elevator that’s going to deposit them in a nursing home for Abandoned Primordials on the other side of Pluto. We have to stop saying that they die if we stop thinking about them. That’s a degraded idea.
Yet that’s what so many claim mythology is—us thinking these beings up. But what if they were allowing us to think them? What if we were getting thought? Not as manikin puppets, but as part of a profound conversation we can barely remember the moves for anymore.
If they are fled, we can indulge sentimental feelings about them and not worry a jot about crafting a life beautiful and unexpected enough to make them purr.
If they are fled, then we can start to feel sorry for them. That’s very foolish.
If they are fled, we can’t remember which temple we serve in anymore. And we’re all serving something. One of the canoes they love to travel in is myth. One of the runways they land on is the tongue of the storyteller. That could be you.
Let no one tell you that the old stories don’t work our bones over. That all we have is bled out photocopies and cheques that the soul can’t cash. Whilst that’s occasionally the case, it’s by no means the rule. Take courage.
Magic is simply messier and more agile than that kind of morose timeline. We can’t be telling our kids that.
Trust the bone house of your own body in this regard. When you flush, wince, shriek and swell your heart to a tale well told, there is torchlight on the wall of Chauvet Cave. It’s a form of cruelty to the story to suggest otherwise.
But friend, you have to know that the old stories come with consequence. They will ask they will ask they will ask something of you. They will ask you to change your life.
They are talking to our left brain, right brain, serpent brain, gorilla brain, elegant cloud-over-moisty-hills brain, old brain, new brain, skeptical brain, exhausted parent brain, terrified brain, celibate brain, horny brain, hands extended into the nourishing dark that hangs over a late summer cornfield brain, strategic brain, hang-it-all please god almighty let me taste real love one last time before they throw me in the clay brain. All the brains.
He repeats: the gods haven’t fled, they’re not sulking, but they do want your full attention.