Lee Streiff – The Arrow of Longing (Provincial Review – May 1952)

We spend a lot of time waiting. We wait for the stars to come home, and for spring to come, and for night to come, and for death to come; we are waiting for a lot of things if you only knew it.

We are waiting for love.

The moon is rising in the misty forest, and a shedding star can be seen, falling from lighted arrows, now flung into the sky….

“We feel as though women from downstairs; outside, should come up to us, softly, on sandaled feet, and sit beside us, with their white breasts hanging fully, and clothed in simple skirts that hang straight and pleated from their hips to their calves, and are held by broad leather belts.

“We would take their golden or brown hair in our hands and kiss their lips, and they would stay till night.”

Blunted bubbling and silver strained; and smoke circled, and feinted up.

“And yesterday would have never been; for yesterday we thought spring had come, and we went out to meet it; and found a lot of trees, now leafless in the autumn.”

Dave watched the smoke from his cigarette.

“It is a dream that we will dream always, and never realize.”

“Dreams are never to be realized, Dave,” said Stephen, “for once they are real, then they are no longer dreams; and are no longer of use to us.

“We are never sure of reality; we are always sure of our dreams.”

“And the dream is a dream without love,” said Mary.

“Oh, yes; and love. The earth is a song, and the sky is a song; and love’s sweet voice can sing them.”

And all the things he left unsaid. The thick crunchy, smell and walk of a forest. A love of the smell of fresh earth and rocks; of feeling the cool summer evening on your hands. Of the mid-afternoon sun, and small slivers of brilliant life in the reeds of the shallow water, moving from one cattail to another.

Of all nature; love.

It was long of midnight, and the blue haze filled room sparkled with the flash of glasses, and spoke with many voices. Dim lights were concealed, reflecting the deep green of walls and chairs.

Ann was her name. She was seventeen; and the people were like none she had ever known before, and were so sure of themselves, and each other. They had an awareness.

She heard the names of people she had not known to exist. Names and Ideas, and Names of Ideas. They were moving in shadows that seemed more real than the spoked wheels of the sunlight. They were male and female; with long and short hair; there were full beards, and filleted hair.

She did not know if they thought like she did; or know if the night meant as much to them.

“As a pure idea it has its faults; but it presupposes an idea of things as they really are; a realization of the Universe, a conception of the physiological and psychological factors that influence us…. And a discarding of those supernatural doctrines that are made of words without referents.

“Once we have these, then we can proceed to ‘create ourselves’, but until we have this background, we might as well not bother.”

Don sat on the floor; his black, full beard contrasting with the wall.

“But what about Kierkegaard’s existentialism?” asked Charles.

“Kierkegaard was guilty of wishful thinking,” said Don. “His intelligence told him existentialism; his emotions, religion; his synthesis was not worth the effort. Sartre realized this.”

Mary broke in. “What I feel most wrong with the whole idea, is that you, in avoiding a religion, have made more of a religion out of your ideas than you ever could have done with Kierkegaard’s concept.”

“How?” asked Don.

“The essence of everything is contingent upon the existence of man. By making man something unique in the Universe.”

“Want one?” asked Dave, offering a cigarette.

“Thank you,” said Ann.

He lighted them.

“Do you go to the University?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, feeling the loss of words, which they spoke so easily.

“What do you think of the group?” he asked.

‘Group’; said, almost, like ‘home’.

“It’s hard to tell you,” she said. It is as though I have walked into a room, and have come in time to hear only the echo of the voice that just spoke. We reach back to that time when men heard the voices of their gods in the hills, and slept with their gods, and walked in the silent streets with them.

Ann watched these people.

    “It’s so different from all that I’ve ever known.”

“You are pretty,” he said.

She knew slowness, and night.

“Some things are so beautiful that we think we might die for them, and know we won’t; not ever,” Dave said.

She looked at him; gentle and soft, he was. And she did not stop him when he kissed her.

They opened their eyes, and looked into each other’s.

Ken held his guitar, and touched the strings.

“A chord; and I traced my love in the shining dew; another and I sang of blossom bells, and my true-love’s hair; and finally I sang a song of a starry sky, bright and clear.

“No, forget it; forget and never remember. Forget it now, because I am drunk. Because I have traced a scar, and held a star in my hand, and I have paid for it.”

“Is the wind forever?” Ann asked.

“Perhaps. But how can we know? Whatever forever may be; and whatever we may be; and maybe the wind is forever. Perhaps the wind will blow between the stars when the world is gone.”

Ann and Dave walked hand in hand down the dust turned road. The sky was brilliantly blue with streaks of frost-clouds high, and the golden trees contrasted, and repeated themselves into a forest.

They sat down in the grass, and she smoothed her blue skirt about her hips, and straightened the folds around her legs.

They lay on the soft grass, and gently he curled her ringleted hair with his finger, and the tiny wisps of hair on her neck.

Dave sat up. He pulled his knees up and put his arms around them, and resting his chin on them, he looked out over the hill slope. Ann scratched his back.

He kissed her. So fragile fair, it all is, and fleeting.

“What do lovers talk of?” she said.

Of see of clouds, and feel of hands, and touch of lips, and warmth of tears. Wisps of windblown hair, sadness, and in the heart a hunger. We do remember now….

She closed her eyes, and felt the summer green grasses, turned into autumn.

The blued in evening mistily spread its shapes over the lanes and paths. The birds are taken in flight, or dead.

They stayed in the wood until the sun had begun to set; and the sun moved redly into the trees’ browning branches. And they made their way down the hillside and into the town.

“We know how artificial it is; and yet we make up to it. We entice it and laugh with it.”

It was Stephen, as he sipped Chianti.

“I remember, as though long ago, three crows beating southward against the chill and pale morning sun of a snowless winter day. Calling their harsh calls, they blackly passed.”

His words, to Ann, were words that she had heard before, and words that sometimes seemed so true, but which were not true. Stephen was not real, and he didn’t want to be real; for being real would mean that he would have to live. She did not believe in him.

The room was bright and artificial. A painted room of a painted life. Bright and artificial, just like the people who lived in it, and would die in it.

Dave came up softly behind her.

“What are you thinking?”

“I am remembering,” she replied.

    I am remembering a dream. The sea–the memory of rain falling into water–of fairy horses, riding white on the foaming wave crests–of their hooves pounding up the enchanted littoral sands–the shell scattered beach impressed with the vanishing tread of a transient water bird that has flown far out to sea. Wings rise as webbed feet splash–and wings fall, and it is launched, like an arrow against the moon; a dreadful arrow of longing….

“History is full of dreams,” he said, “And all of mankind’s life has been spotted with men, and their ideas, and what they drempt.

“Binding times past, present, and future, they make a ribbon of dreams, that stretches far across the night.”

Jerry came up to them. He had a glass of wine in one hand, and a cigarette in the other, which he flourished when he spoke.

xxxxx“That last poem of yours was fine, Dave,” he said. “Quite well done; but you know you could have been a little more esoteric. If we don’t watch out the common herd will be understanding poetry some day, and then where will we be?

“The day that art become exoteric, I quit!” he said with a short, nasal laugh, and wandered away to another group.

“Why are you so tied up in art, Dave?” Ann asked.

“Do you want me to be a football player?”

“No, of course not, but isn’t there a middle course?”

Dave smiled. “If you want to experience an emotion, you must do it right. You must subjugate yourself to it. It must be you. You cannot catch a falling star with your eyes; you must catch it in your hands, cupped in the night.”

“That sounds pretty, where did you read it?” she asked.

“What do you mean?” he said.

    “Exactly what I said. I think that all of you people,” indicating those in the room, “have lost your real and true emotions in a lot of nice sounding words. You are tired and sick of yourselves. You hide your sorrow in cynicism that has gone mad.

“Dave, you know that; and yet you sit here with these people. You can free yourself if you want. They have taken art and made of it a thing with which to stimulate their lives to a high point, which falls short of what really waits for us to be felt.

“You have misused art, and made it try and make you experience everything, without the heartbreaks and the joys that really come from living. You have lost yourself in this group, that has lost itself in its own dreams and halting desires.”

“Is that what you believe?” asked Dave, “Am I that wrong?”

“I am in love, because I am alive. I am in love with the universe, because I know it is going to end. The whole thing is here. Why wander the world over trying to find it? It’s here! Around us. It is life and existence! That’s what we’re hunting for.

“Yes, Dave. You have never been in love with anything, not me. When I die, I shall die as myself, and not an imitation of what I wanted to be.

“I believe I am right, and you believe that you are right.

“Good-bye, David.”

And she went into the raining night.

The room was cool and shaded, and David could hear the tinkling bells that dangled from the limbs on trees next door, or down the block, or a thousand miles away.

The soft decadence of night; and the trees, and the rain again returning.

The splattering rain and streets shining.

And so she walked. In the rain, through the cold streets; through the long rows of trees with their dripping branches. She walked; not in space, nor in time. From one dream to another. Through darkened streets, and once, by a street lamp, moving slowly in the wind; its light, holding back the gathered night.

Oh, vanished love. To press warm lips together, and cry because of our love; and know that the world is dead–and the black suns that once shone, are gone.

Where are all the littler gods? Where is the pomp of swaying litters and incense? Of gold and red carpets, and sandaled feet? Of men on a wooded mountain side? A past time of great beauty–

The shapes of familiar things, that rustle in the night–and lightning flashes bright–and skin with its own certain color. The wind has risen, and clouds closed in, and far off I can hear the trees….

A star seen, then gray again. Do we really live here?

by Lee Streiff

A tiny voice of tiny fear,
That did not know the day,
When creatures strange and laughing,
Pranced through woodland chambers,
And passed along their way.

A nostalgic echo of hidden hooves,
Still sings along the way,
Where creatures strong and deathless
Loved and slept and sang their songs
And watched the end of day.

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