This piece, inspired by the painting below (‘Istanbul’ by Garabet Yazmaciyan), was written in response to one of The Ekphrastic Review’s weekly challenges. It turned out a bit druggy!
FOR THE RIDE
You leave the witch adding twigs to her fire – delicately, as though their precise placing were significant – and go out onto the water-balcony as she’s directed. You’re already lightheaded from the sweet smoke inside the room; when you step out through warped wooden doors there’s an effervescence in your lower stomach, and by the time you set both hands on the rail, the night has begun to melt.
You used to know things about this place at the confluence of two seas. You used to know about that city across the water, its bloodstained glittering history, its changing names – Lygos, Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul – but tonight, none of that counts. Here and now – though here and now is ebbing, already insubstantial, and I/me with it – other confluences are softly forming.
You came here expecting symbols, and the night’s replete with them. The full moon, personal favourite of the witch, is for divinity and otherness; the unending dark water is for connection, the unity beneath the surface; the metropolis with its many eyes is for belonging; oh yes,you’re part of humanity even if you deny it! Over there is the caique on which your own hopes have rested. Sometime symbol of departure and crossing, it’s not yet rigged but surely ready; its shadowy pilot waits, who could be Charon or Phlegyas or Urshanabi (from here you can reach east or west across continents, ransack their mythologies at will). And then, drawing the eye, stalling the imagination, the rocky lighthouse-island that stilly, insistently, waits to call you home.
You could draw a constellation, a mandala, heavy with meaning, to join up the symbols. It might even prove to be a roadmap of your spiritual life. Going, staying, family, exile, pagan goddess, reassuring ritual, love of home. You could draw it on parchment, carry it next to your skin, take it out and trace its silvered lines with your finger whenever doubt rises to choke you.
Wait instead. See, first, how the colours begin to run, see how moon-green bleeds into underlit water, how the water rises, overwhelming the caique, creeping up the sides of the lighthouse, flowing towards the quays and jetties of the distant city, swirling in its streets, up against its walls and towers, extinguishing the witchfire, lapping at the balcony where you no longer stand, because you’ve made your choice and are already on your way to the deep places, to the impossible, luminous realm below.
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