On the Way

Marco Romano
On the Way
It was July, the full moon of the raspberry season. In a field they had pitched the tent and set up the totem pole. Two fires were burning, as were the first of the visions. The blankets were spread on the grass, their eyes blazed red, and the carafes of wine were already empty. They are surrounded by circles of fir trees and crowns of beeches and peaks striped with snow. The campsite is silent now, but throughout the night, right up until dawn in fact, the movement of bodies and the banging of drums could be heard. Excited, they had ripped open a burning tent, and he had slept under the stars and the peaks. Now it’s dawn and he’s away, ready as always to get lost on paths as yet untrodden.
He shoves the sweater he’s had since his twenties into his rucksack and he’s off, one foot in front of the other, the air biting at his face and hands. The drums and the energy from the night before still pound in his stomach. He breathes in echoes of the flood, lets his senses expand, and feels himself melt in the first rays of the sun.
He slips into the woods like a black stag. He climbs up steps formed from roots that cling to rocks disgorged from the belly of the mountain. The shadowy flight of an eagle owl. Blazing eyes seek out the blueberries, the last to fall prey to the clutches of the night. Soon Mithra’s shield will put the owl to sleep and give the little birds of the forest cause to rejoice, and the morning will burst onto rotten leaves. And he gasps.
Listening to the pounding of his heart and his long, deep breaths, he climbs further up the unrelenting path. His stomach and chest pound just like the beating of the drum which pummeled him through the night and extinguished his thoughts.
He passes rocky pinnacles, burned by sun and wind, and rubble of rock and sand. Tantalising chasms and mountains chained together by undulations and passes, by gullies and ravines, by corroded amphitheatres and debris. Waterfalls dripping with larch.
A black spectre disappears in a puff of mist rising up from a swamp. The squawk of a coral cuts through the wind. Here are the purple helmets of the wolfsbane that can distort your vision and stop your heart and freeze your breath. Here’s the mezereum that will make you delirious. It has been hours since he has eaten, and he finds physical strength he didn’t know he had. As he walks he bores into the granite inside him. He crosses the bowels of a cracked mountain, where shrubs grow, grey and twisted, scratched at by the cliffs. He’s a tree in a sandy desert. He’s a crevice crawling with snakes and famished wasps. He contemplates the bare peaks, the bitter basins cracked with misery.
He closes his eyes as he comes upon a clearing of moss and overhanging larch branches. He meditates like a lotus flower. He breathes. Breathes. He opens his eyes and a roe is watching him. They feel, smell the moss, maybe they even reflect a while. A human being who doesn’t brandish a shotgun or clanking traps smeared with blood. Two living things that feed on grass and dew.
Lapilli and haphazard boulders adorned with lichen and swirls so small and grey that they look like dust. An acid bog where spiders and black and white salamanders go to die.
Patches of rhododendrons that look like flaming carpets. He wishes the earth would envelop him in this fire of flowers, absorb him, and eventually decompose him. He wishes he could disappear, only to be born again in a flowering bush.
Between the mountains and the pinnacles lies a moonlit valley that swaddles him and hides him from the world. Everything evaporates and dissolves. Silence. The mountain looms above him, and from some remote cavern the ice runs black. When he gets there, he stays nestled in the crevice where leaden clouds swirl amongst the pinnacles and the ghosts, blades of rock lashed by screaming hurricanes.
In a lunar valley lives Parvati, Lady of the Mountain and wife of Shiva. She bursts forth, disturbs, peels and dismembers. She destroys and creates anew. He wishes that some celestial crackling or a jurassic rumbling would bury him under earth and boulders, and that one day a red, blooming sempervivum would sprout on that mound of the dolomites.
He is hit by the memory of a storm, of many storms. Losing his way on the night road winding along the edge of a ravine, the flashes of black, the snow licking at his heart: hands purple from frozen blood.
Two human beings look at him like he’s crazy. His pupils are dilated and he wears face paint. He has eagle feathers in his hair. He flies on, and sees how Parvati begets fifty chamois that dance on chasms and abysses. They defy the murderous void, darting across precipices and jumping over rocks that come crashing down to shatter and crush. They are familiar with the world’s gravity. The human flock spent a long time speculating: feeling its way, finally it came up with asphalt. And that satisfies it.
It’s time to turn back, to listen to the drums of night and hunger. Going back along the paths, he studies and admires that which he cannot see. Finally, beyond the unspeakable, he can make out a field and tents. Another nine thousand moments of journey annihilate him and expand his consciousness. He is a god-fashioned animal, swallowed by and reborn from the mountain maelstroms. He finds his root in a larch, he turns to stone in a dihedron. He flows from the earth like a spring of water born from the ice. A marmot, frightened by a shadow, flees to its den.
It’s time to leave behind those visions of truth. It’s time to return to the tribe. Maybe the others have passed beyond as well, discovering unexplored microcosms both within and outside of themselves.
He will continue to fly between mountains and woods for years. But worlds collided, contorting his heart and his stomach. He needed to integrate them, placate them, make them co-exist somehow. He needed years and a guide to discover that the light is in the blackness of crevices. In the flowing of one season into another. In balancing like a chamois. In confronting your own shadows, like an owl. And in confronting others.
But for now he’s still here, and from his slither of hill he can make out puffs of smoke on the prairie. When he gets there he is exhausted from the crag and the fast.
The golden grains of polenta in the pot dance like crystals of light, imbued with the mushroom flesh of the gods, and the free-flowing wine is a vegetable ambrosia.
At dusk, beyond the chalices raised to the pantheon of the Alps, beyond the arrows of fir trees hurled amongst purple clouds, there’s a huge circle of farewell. There’s a golden eagle.
Translation by Rosanna Forte

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