Part I: A Meeting at The Edge of War
On a land strewn with the recently dead, I met her. On a high hill looking out over the blood and destruction, I met her. Everywhere was grey and black with edges of dangerous silver. Iron sky arched above and I could feel the weight of its presence. Iron soil sat hard and dangerous under my feet. Iron hearts set their owners against each other for all time. Iron spears pierced iron-covered bodies that fell to earth with a heavy, crashing clang of death arriving too soon. Behind all of this stood a row of kings who would not give themselves to save their people as their fathers had done when needed. Instead, these men gave their people’s lives again and again for reasons only they understood. They were the first of a new family of men who grew powerful by raising themselves up on the bodies of their families, the tears of their grandmothers, and the slag heaps out side the forges that made the iron weapons in their hands.
At the first moment I saw them, this way of being was new. It had not yet taken root in the earth and risen up in the form of a new generation of sons to carry it forward. Then the scene shifted and I was looking out across a field where a battle had just taken place. This was a time after the point where the devastation of battle on wheels had been normalized. The scent of rapidly congealing blood and newly opened earth filled the air. It was powerful and nauseating on this warm summer afternoon. I looked up at the tall trees that surrounded me where I stood at the head of the path that led into the field. As long as I didn’t lower my gaze, the forest appeared healthy and whole. Only the absence of birds and their songs foreshadowed what I would see when I lowered my eyes to see where I was.
My tears fell onto the earth where it had been churned and broken by the iron treads of many wheels. I could see the chariots that had made the track I stood beside broken in the distance. There were pieces of them all over the field. Only their wheels remained undamaged. They stuck out of heaps of splintered wood, dented armor, torn clothing and shredded banners. Everywhere I looked, I saw the swirling, spiraling designs of my ancestors morphing back and forth between animal and plant, human and abstraction. There were dragons and boars, otters and crows, wrens and cranes, men and women, dogs and boats, all combining and re-combining with each other over and over again. All of the items used in this war were covered with these designs, and every dead body had a piece of something decorated like this hanging broken from some part of it. This had been a battle fought between two groups who were so similar in how they chose to adorn the things that they touched that I was unable to see any distinction between the two sides I had assumed would be visible. After all, this was a battle, and a battle implies two sides. But there were no group distinctions between the dead or the things they had fallen next to. Here and there I saw individuals who had some piece of clothing that seemed to be unique or a piece of a trampled banner that looked unlike the one I had seen before. I began to collect the markings and look for a way to tell one group from another. I began to think I had found the key to who had fought who. One sign must be for one group, and another must be for the other group. But then I would find a design I had decided was an emblem of one group on the side of a chariot carved next to one that I had marked as the opponent’s insignia.
I became frustrated and began to feel that these people had been part of one extended family or group who had inexplicably all met here to kill and be killed. Pale skin and long red or golden hair and beards dominated, with a few dark-haired heads sinking into the mud now and them. The bodies all looked similar as well. Most of them were tall, with powerful muscles and weather-tanned skin. Several of them had tattoos that echoed or matched the designs I had been trying to sort out. Some of the chariot pieces held rows of severed heads tied on to the outside of the railings where the drivers placed their hands to steady themselves. The destroyed faces they contained could have been the brothers of the chariot masters I found next to them lying on their backs staring blankly at the sky or collapsed sideways into the wheel rut that had thrown them as they met a spear.
It was maddening, and I didn’t know how to make sense of what I was seeing. I ran out of the field and back towards the place where the road entered between the field. The field was large, and I was out of breath by the time I reached the beginning of the road. I stopped for breath and felt compelled to look back at the field. As I did so, I noticed that I was standing next to a large wooden shield with an image of a bear on it. Behind that was what looked like the left-overs of a collision involving several chariots.
Part of a body hung down from the side of the wheel nearest to me as it rose from the heap of debris that was partially blocking the road into the field in front of me. It was the upper torso of a powerfully-built man wearing a long leather coat of some sort. He had wild red hair pouring out from under his helmet, and a large, fluffy beard. After receiving the blow by a bladed weapon that killed him, he had fallen forward over the wheel of his chariot. I could not see his face under all the hair, only the back of his head. His legs were entirely missing. Blood ran down the spokes of the wheel he had fallen against in a fretful river that clogged black, then broke free and dripped red as it soaked into the earth. One of his arms was thrown forwards and the wheel had run over it, cutting it off at the wrist right before it had stopped turning. I could see the fingers of the hand sticking out of the mud some distance from the arm. They lay on the earth waiting for the ravens to come.
The black feathered cleanup crew had not arrived yet, and the blood was still flowing, so I knew that the battle had just ended. Yet everything was quiet. There were no living people within sight. There were also no visible weapons anywhere. Only the results of the living wielding their iron tools of death were visible.
The only thing on the ground that seemed to have survived intact were the wheels of the chariots. I stared at them in an attempt to look away from the stories that were being told so obviously by the bodies of the dead and their destroyed war vehicles. I tried to hold onto the wheels with my vision to avoid being swept away by the sadness for what had happened here. Everyone who had taken part in the battle had been killed. There were no survivors to bury the dead or to mourn their passing. There would be no stories sung of this conflict because there had been no victory won. Nobody had lived to tell any type of tale about what had happened here. I was in danger of being overcome by the weight of what would not be remembered.
Soon all I could see were wheels. Piles of calendar wheels forgotten and discarded sitting waiting for whatever comes next. Rotating wheels of time intermeshing across vast distances in an inter-dependent series of events. Circular ways of marking a process that repeats and grows. Descriptions of changes that bring new life or much-needed death, over and over again. Cyclical ways of being going around and around as they crashed into each other in the mayhem of the battle whose aftermath I was standing among.
She rose gently above the field across from me. Her form was very present and yet not of this place and not of this death. She was before it and after it, too powerful to be swept away by lance-thrusts or sword-cuts. Too steadfast to give way to ax-blows or javelin-tosses. She rose up many times taller than I was. I saw her hair aflame with the color of her own interior fire. Long tresses of it fell down behind her and over her green cloak that was the only clean thing I could see touching the earth in this place. She was far stronger than this field of horrors and had come in response to what had happened here. Her face shown out to me across the field of destruction and her voice sang with the beauty of the flowing waters that could carry away all of these things I had seen. I stopped and listened to what she wished to share with me.
“I came into being as you see me now because of this. There had to be something more than this. There had to be something better than this, so I came into being. I am the other side of this coin. I am the healer of wounds. I did not need to be born until human hands turned on themselves and broke the trust. But now that I am here, the power to make right is with me. That is why it does not matter how you call me. I am here, and that is what is important.”
She gave the field a long look, then tears started to pour form her eyes in a torrent that seemed impossible. I immediately began to cry uncontrollably. Our tears dropped onto the land. New green shoots sprouted from each place where they fell. The trees next to me seemed to shimmer slightly. Roots reached out, intertwined and brought the dead into the soil. Rust returned the armor to its source. Beetles and grubs ate the wood of the chariots until there were only small patches of earth a little darker than those nearby. The wheels slowly faded away until I could no longer see them. Teardrops without a sound fell over and over until they formed small puddles of mud that fed the roots of the new growth. Fungi spread their subterranean webs through everything and cleansed the soil. Little white mushrooms popped up here and there across the field. She smiled at what was happening and tears no longer fell. Her light was everywhere, and I smiled at her smiling.
Part II: Wheels Drawn in the Mud
Leaving in strands
Like hair they flow and move
the Northeast gate
A circle made of stones
At their side
His beard has been re-grown
Three wheels turn
One thousand stars
A door to open here
Home is close
The tread of muffled feet
A silence passes by
Spears in hands
A giant’s eyes
Are open on their own
Raise and turn
The sky is pouring down
I am alone
A pair of eyes look back
The men in ranks are gone
A builder trapped
Now free to go
A Constellation Man