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Sive's Vision

By John W. Sexton

It was on the morning of her fifty-second birthday that Sive saw the angel, standing by the washing line. The angel was looking toward the ground, and Sive, from her place at the window, also looked down, to see a blackbird impaling the soft earth with its beak, flicking out worms from their tangled lodgings beneath the roots of grasses and weeds. The blackbird's startling yellow beak was smeared with mud, which it cleaned with quick thrusts into damp moss. How beautiful, thought Sive. She glanced up then to share her joy with the angel, but the angel was gone.

Sive turned from the window, went over to the tall dresser and took down a sharp pencil and her notebook. The last entry was: dreamjournal wednesday night / thursday morning...i fell out of a dark cupboard, a wardrobe… i had. heard someone loosening the catch from the outside…stumbled into a garden, landed amongst roses… the branches tore my face, i could feel thorns embedded in my skin...i began to cry, lifting my hands to my face…my hands covered in blood, my hair and clothes and the ground littered with rose petals... then i awoke.

Sive drew a bold line underneath this dream to denote a new entry, but as she did so the point of the pencil snapped off. She rubbed the tiny spattering of graphite from the page, and with the neutered, jagged remains of the pencil-tip, began to write in the book:

standing in the bee-frenzied garden,
a stranger with a body of trembling light
observes a blackbird stabbing a worm,
this feathered one's countenance as dark as night

Sive hesitated, doodling a faint zigzag absent-mindedly at the edge of the page. For a moment a thought stood in her mind, unformed, like a shadow, teasing her into guessing its substance, but the effort eluded her and she closed the notebook. She opened a drawer in the dresser, sliding in the book, and as she did so noticed a loose sheaf of her drawings. As she withdrew them, examining them one by one as if for the first time, she smiled to see that some were of angels. None of them, however, looked like the one she had just seen, and for a moment she considered sketching it, but as she focused she could not completely recall its features. She returned the papers to the dresser, closing the drawer.

Better get dressed , she thought, and went through the hall to her bedroom. She slipped the long nightdress over her head, peeling herself like a fruit, until she stood naked before the bedroom mirror. With a glance she took in the wheels of fat about her waist and hips. Happy birthday, Sive, she said to herself.

Once dressed, and back in the kitchen, she began to prepare breakfast. As she poured cornflakes into a bowl she shot a look through the window, and was taken aback by the sight of the angel once more, this time standing up to his waist in the shrubs. Sive let the cereal box fall to the table and ran out into the garden. The angel was still there, and he had the spire from a rosemary bush pulled toward him, and was gazing past it at a clump of Montbretia at his feet. The angel bowed nearer to the green swathes, and Sive saw that he was looking at a snail. The snail, with its shell slung at an angle across its back, was slithering slowly down the length of a Montbretia blade. Sive called out to the angel, Hey, hey, and felt immediately stupid. However, the angel merely ignored her, so she decided to force her way through the shrubs so that she could stand before him face to face. But as soon as she had reached the place where he had stood, pushing aside the tops of the rosemary, he had once more disappeared. She lingered awhile though, studying the snail's descent down the green stem, its four antlers quivering as it moved.

Returning to the kitchen she went straight for her notebook. Quickly she wrote down

the snail’s sucking trumpet of a mouth
declares the demise of leaves

but stopped, some vague metaphor for an angel, sounding his trumpet over the abyss, wavering in her thoughts. But she could not connect all of this together, so she put the notebook away, leaving the entry unfinished.

She poured some milk into the cornflakes, abstractedly, but she did not sit down to eat, for she was suddenly put in mind of something she had been writing the day before, and she went urgently into her study. She sat at her desk and began reading through the chapter she had been working on the previous day, The Reintegration Of Mary With The Holy Spirit, which postulated her theory that Mary the mother of Jesus was the third person of the Holy Trinity, and that the Catholic doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception were examples of the Spirit inseminating this fact into the mind of its Church. However, she could not concentrate on what she was reading, so she put the manuscript to one side. Instead she began to draft a new version of the Hail Mary, which had been in her mind for the past few days.

Hail Mary, full of Grace,
O blessed art Thou amongst women:
Womb of Light, Womb of God;
God within God, Unending God, Resounding God;
Merciful, Compassionate, All Suffering One.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, Our Mother,
pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.

After she had finished she read through it, but out loud, over and over, chanting the rhythmic lists until they began to replicate themselves in her memory. She was quite pleased with her prayer, feeling that it captured her idea of the juxtaposition of male and female in the Godhead, of the physical suffering of Jesus and the physiological motherhood of Mary.

Back in the kitchen Sive found that the cornflakes had soaked up the milk, and were a sodden, yellow mess. She ate a few spoonfuls, but the milk had become warm, and the whole thing was quite distasteful. Leaving the cornflakes on the table she began to go through the house, gathering up discarded clothes from the previous few days, and when she had enough she bundled them all into the washing machine, added powder into the tray and switched it on. As the machine started its cycle, Sive took the uneaten cornflakes out into the garden and poured them into the cat's bowl.

On returning to the house she once more saw the angel, standing amongst the roses looking at a thrush. As Sive moved closer, being very careful to disturb neither the thrush nor the angel, she noticed that two pencil-beams of light were pouring from the angel's eyes. As these hit the thrush it became transparent, like a living x-ray, and Sive could see its innards and skeleton. The thrush seemed unshaken by this, and after a moment the angel lifted his gaze. But the light pouring from his eyes increased in volume until Sive began to drown in it. As she looked down at herself she could see that like the thrush she had been tranformed into a vessel of glass. And then, as suddenly as this phenomenon had started, it stopped. Sive looked up, but once more the angel had gone.

Overcome with a feeling of dizziness, Sive stumbled to the ground, her arms and face brushing against the roses. The thorns punctured her skin, but she struggled to her knees. She shut her eyes tightly, not wanting to see what she knew, that the angel was gone and that she was covered in bloody scratches. And she began to pray, her own prayer, the new one that she had devised that morning.

A ladybird alighted on her lip, but Sive did not notice. It climbed into the runnel beneath Sive's nose, entangling itself in the down that grew there, the delicate hairs falling into the gaps between its wings and its outer shell. But this drama was non-existent to Sive, mesmerized with the fever of prayer. As she continued to pray she was unaware of the ladybird, of herself, of the buzzing vocabulary of the insects that surrounded her, was unaware of everything, oblivious to what had gone before and what was to come, for in that brief moment everything was suspended but that brief moment; everything suspended, frozen for eternity, the blackbird tugging ropes of worms from the ground, the snail expanding its body from its shell, the tumbling rush of cornflakes from their box, the nightdress slipping from her body, the sterile womb of the washing machine harboring bodiless clothes, the thrush pouring forth with light. And in that instant everything became a crashing epiphany, a poem, a song of which she was both the singer and the sung.

 

John W. Sexton (Republic of Ireland) is a poet, short-story writer, dramatist, children’s novelist, radio scriptwriter, and broadcaster. He is the author of three collections of poetry, The Prince’s Brief Career (Cairn Mountain Press, 1995); Shadows Bloom / Scáthanna Faoi Bhláth, a book of haiku with translations into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock; and, most recently, Vortex (Doghouse, 2005). He also created and wrote The Ivory Tower for RTE radio, which ran to over one hundred half-hour episodes. His novels based on this series, The Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed are both published by The O’Brien Press, and have been translated into Italian and Serbian. Under the ironic pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons Of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records.

John also has contributed short works of fiction to VerbSap.

 

Photo "Dreaming" Yew Leong, Selangor, Malaysia.

 

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