Releasing the Moon
by Kyle E. Miller, October 10th 2022
A lover who had never heard the story about the nun Chiyono who studied under Bukko of Engaku sat under a willow tree waiting for his lover's reply. He formed a tableau with the willow and the pond nearby popping with frog song and the sheep clumped far away in the hills, a pastoral frieze painted below the crown molding of an Arcadian temple to Pan, an old god named not, as many are led to believe, after all--though he encompasses quite a lot in his way--but rather after the pastures he protected, paean. Our lover busied his mind with a fantasia of scenarios: his beloved had been accosted on the road to work by bandits who forced themselves upon him and made him suck their toes; he rescued his lover like a shepherd saving a lamb from a passing eagle; they met in secret on a bridge arcing delicately over a stream still singing the hymn taught to it long ago by a boy playing pipes fashioned from a reed that had once been a woman.
Our lover's reverie was soon interrupted by a woman that had once been a reed, and she said, "Your lover is in great danger, but by the time you arrive it will be too late." To which our lover leaped to his feet and replied, "What if I leave now?" And she said, "But you won't." She piped upon the thin flutes of her fingers and turned him into a swamp marigold to brighten the pond nearby. And like all those who in their adolescent wisdom can't yet gather from the depths of reality the loose fragments and frayed ends of experience that contribute to their present circumstances and combine them into understanding, our lover wondered if he ought to blame Fate or Folly for his new form. But the engine of heaven recognizes neither of these as gods; it's pure mystery even to itself. Not long after his transformation, a bumblebee landed in the middle of his face and gathered as much pollen as he could, so much in fact that it amounted to over half of our lover's total mass. According to the laws of our science, he was transferred to the bee, which he experienced as a brief flash of schizophrenia, and he knew there were few fates worse than facing the raw matter of consciousness without a barrier between.
Without quite knowing (or needing to know) whether he was controlling the bee or the bee was controlling him, they flew across a meadow where a hungry cormorant searching for his lost flock was just then passing through. He ate the bumblebee, and our lover became a bird. Like all birds, he was smarter and yet somehow also more idiotic than other animals, and so when he saw a bald eagle hovering above his own path of flight, he fell in love with its false majesty immediately, and because lovers mirror the objects of their love, the cormorant believed he was an eagle and swooped down to pick up a lamb below. Neither knew the lamb had just been saved from slaughter, escaping its fate to be sliced thinly and laid in the manger of a folded pita, covered in a white blanket of tzatziki and devoured on a Sunday morning. The lamb, frightened yet full of awe, struck, as it seemed to the lamb, by the hand of God Himself, fell a little bit in love with the cormorant, a delirious love, the love of the zealot and the terrorist. The lamb kissed the hand of the cormorant, moving him to mercy: he dropped the lamb and flew away hungry. A little stunned, the lamb wandered into a glade and fell asleep in the shadow of a walnut tree without the knowledge that walnuts poison the ground beneath them, and the lamb never woke up, leaking its blood and humors into the soil beneath. A colony of maggots soon unzipped the luggage of its earthly journey, and the lamb went the way of all things. One of the maggots grew into a corpulent bluebottle and employed its nature in the ritual irritation of a traveling one-man band who needed both of his hands to play his sundry instruments. He couldn't spare a hand to swat a fly, and yet he couldn't bear another bite behind his ear or on his eyelid or on the flesh between his fingers. During his performance at the rustic Willowe's Stage in Cleveland, Ohio he finally dropped his flute and swatted his forehead, a little overzealously he later admitted, his temper abandoned in the face of the fly's supernatural persistence. He struck with the force of a rock slung by the arm of a mountain, knocking himself unconscious in the middle of his cover of an ancient hymn to a Pictish shire. The fly flew away. The audience gasped and went silent. Someone called 911; someone pretended to be a doctor; someone cheered for the fly; and a small boy with a dark aspect and pointed ears rushed to the stage, took the musician's guitar, and finished the hymn, having written it in the first place long ago.
At this point our lover was beginning to lose track of himself. When he came to, he found himself cradled between the strange boy's fingers, a millimeter of air cushioning him on either side. Had they touched, our lover may have become synonymous with the phantom Pict, giving us a glimpse into the forbidden guts of time, but as it was, our lover stayed, the Pict disappeared in the confusion, and the concussed musician was carried away, leaving his guitar pick behind, discarded on the poorly joined boards of the wooden stage. A wild pig passing through that night stepped on the pick, sliding it just enough with her hoof that it fell through the boards and into the space beneath where the players of a local troupe had abandoned their props and costumes after a failed performance of Euripides' The Bacchae. Our lover fell into Dionysus' horned shoe and remained there in the misery of darkness for longer than he imagined. And because he was too young to understand that time heals even the greatest wounds, when he transformed back into a human, he didn't know whether to thank Fate or Virtue. It took him some time to realize he was still in the shoe and would have to climb out, his full height now measuring just under four centimeters, some confusion having been wrought in the machinery of heaven. An angel distracted by thoughts of immanence made sloppy work that day in translating heavenly missives into their earthly manifestations. Our lover escaped his confines and wandered down to a pond ringed with swamp marigolds attracted by the promise of a drink of water.
Seeing the marigold's jolly petals reminded him of his lover, who always wore them in his hair, and how he had waited patiently for his reply under a willow tree not long ago. He made a raft from cut reeds and rode the current. He hitchhiked on the back of a limping dog. He traveled in a pail of milk and climbed out white, all this being in the direction of the place he had last seen his lover, deep in the post-industrial Midwest, a defunct automotive factory at which he arrived at last, and there was his lover, mangled in the turning gears of the last working machine, devoured by the corpse of industry, this its final breath. Our lover tried to pull him out from the corpse's teeth, but he began to come apart in his hands, and he despaired and fled blindly into the world, wracked by grief and no longer able to control his own will. He woke exhausted in a dead garden and, seeing no hope, joined a procession of lovers so long it had been backed up from the gate for years--heartbroken Valkyries sitting suspended in the air, their charges draped over the golden horns of their saddles, waiting for their turn to enter the Hall--by ending his life with a noose draped over the bough of a bonsai tree.
You can see now how a story can save a life, how our lover might still be alive if he had listened when the story was being told, the story of the nun Chiyono who achieved enlightenment when the water fell out of the bottom of her broken pail, the water along with the moon.