chanting into the cave
my darling friend jenna was crushed under a truck. I went to the funeral home. we signed the guest book, lit candles, laid white roses over her casket. we stood in line to hug her widower florian, who was trembling and sweating. I took him aside to give him coffee. he gazed at the gathering from the ecstatic threshold of presence and absence.
someone asked a woman to chant in sanskrit, and then me in latin. no-one understood the words, which was appropriate. florian sat on the carpet with little lucas. when there was silence, florian stood up and stepped slowly to the dais and the coffin. he placed his moist hands on the oak, bent down to touch the wood with his forehead, and started to moan.
mm turned into o, and o elided back to mm, and everyone tensed for a moment, alien to ritual, now reminded of ritual, reminded that it was possible to be fatally lost in ritual, in something most fully done when one is at a loss for what to do. he has a big voice, and low. his nostrils flare as he breathes. he gets really loud. o to mm and back again.
lucas, five years old, gazes up at dad like this amorphous guttural chant is the most natural thing in the world to do and why is everyone around not joining in? but slowly, we did. I think I heard myself and the other men join him first. this was good: that the grandest, lowest sound of grief pulled the other lowest sounds out and up.
I understood virility. heroism is aroused by absence: the fold in time that is being lost and is already lost and will be lost. the voice sounds into the fold of time, the feminine, more concealed than revealed, the inner space, the pitch-black womb of what has disappeared, what consumes you, of what has died, of what will be born and will die, the cave of hope to call into. the beauty that draws you out and then disappears. slowly or quickly: it is still time, and you are always melting into her.
florian performed the finest ritual by improvising. the impossibly strong women who had from the moment of jenna’s death leapt into high-functioning caregiving seemed to tremble at the sound as it tore at the fragile net. several reached their arms out to console and nurture him. one reached for lucas to cover his ears but he pulled away and grabbed his father’s sleeve more tightly. most men stayed put, paralyzed between helplessness and a call to recognition. we chanted into the hole. we chanted into the whole. virility can gleam because of existential shadow.
florian’s chant revealed a kind of manhood I almost never see. before it the obvious boyishness of our generation glimmers wan and pale. for the most part, women have been holding our communal flesh together since the industrial age, while our bodies have become ungrounded and unnecessary amidst masturbatory technology and abstract economics.
he chanted into the absence of a woman who had moistened his solitude, who helped to knit together his works, days, and meanings. he chanted into an empty space. I heard work, loss, perseverance, usefulness, and fertility. the chant sounded through the right brain: I know I’m alive, I know I’m here, and things pass away, but I am alive now, and I commit, until the very end of this breath, and then I’ll inhale again. the chant withered all cynicism.
we must become our own fathers. chanting into the caves, sounding out the darkened ones where they have walked, from whence they have emerged, where they hide in the dual seductions of intimacy and passing time, where they wait, smiling, for what we have to offer.