Remembering Valentine’s Day


The Wrestling Angel

 

I

Our host lived in a castle

protected like a nest

in a valley between Katmandu and Lhasa

as green as an emerald in summer

when the caravans of scientists

trekked up the mountains

collecting the musk

of Himalayan goats.

Water flowed, birds flew,

people talked within an air so clean

they seemed to move in whispers

at the feet of a giant god

reaching from the earth to the sky

in a majestic shawl of snow

the palace an altar

where people live so close

that privacy gives way

to thoughtless innocence.

Tara was the youngest

of the seven daughters of our host ,

she had grown holding my hand

from a child to a woman

teaching me the names of birds,

how to read the signs in the clouds,

how the people were trained

in the martial arts,

how the shepherdesses in the mountains

could take on any man in a fight

and only surrender to them

if they won, the women never lost,

while I wondered how she had stolen

the emerald green for her eyes,

the softness of lines for her face,

the surging foam of the sky for her soul,

the red flowers for her lips,

the determination of thunder for her will

domesticating the English language

to sound like the breeze.

II

The last time I visited my host

I was on my own,

musk had already been born

in a laboratory,

but it was my habit of summer

and there was Tara,

that summer she was eighteen.

I know altitude makes things look different

but she was the most beautiful woman

I had ever seen even in memory,

(did she have the beauty I missed

in all the other women down below?)

We traveled the same spots of the past,

she did not hold my hand,

she backed me against a cascading river

and ordered me to wrestle her.

She was now a woman, she said,

and I said yes.

She chose the Hall of Mirrors

for the fight,

candles were lit

by servants at the foot of the glass,

the Hall felt as intimate as a giant womb,

the rules were simple,

no blows, no blood, a continuous fight.

The women of the palace accompanied her

dressed in a white kimono

with a sash around her waist,

I wore silk pajamas

her father was my best man.

A gong signaled the start of the fight,

we came to the center of the mat and bowed,

there were no smiles on her face,

we returned to our corners,

a second gong signaled the start,

suddenly I realized where I was,

looked at the candles, the mirrors, too late,

she got hold of my arm,

turned me over her shoulder

and I was on the floor,

there were giggles all around,

I saw a hundred red faces, my own,

staring at me from the walls,

I got up and rushed to her

flailing my arms in the air

to find my body spun around

to the edge of the ring

(I was not ready for her,

she was going to win,

win, lose, was this a game?).

I took a deep breath and waited

for her to come to me,

we stalked each other

and came close enough

to look into each other's eyes,

the whole Hall and the candles

were burning inside,

a split second of distraction

and I was again on the floor,

she was better at reading me

than I at reading her,

I had to concentrate more on the game,

I lowered my eyes, caught her rising leg

and lifted it until she lost her balance

then I moved away,

there was silence,

only the air of our lungs

rushed through the teeth

and the held cry of breath

against the contact on the charge,

I knew I had her now,

I pinned her to the ground

using her clothes as a knot

to cross her arms against the floor,

I began to smile,

She escaped naked from under my hands,

a bundle of clothes,

my eyes bulging out of my head,

her naked body and the thousand reflections

of her on the walls,

she spun around on her left foot

once, twice, three times she slapped

my throat with her right foot,

I stumbled backwards and fell on my back,

she stood on top ready to strike,

I waited for the foot to rise

threw her backwards with a twist,

she hissed, her body arched

and shot herself against me,

her foot found a perfect target

on my chest

she held herself while I found my breath,

she came at me, lifted me by my clothes

and ripped them in one single motion,

as she threw them to the side;

the audience filed out of the Hall

and we were alone.

III

Many candles died

before I learned the game

of neither winning or losing

but concentrating in the play

the way snow plays with rain

and water with the earth

forcing rivers down the mountain

softening the bed of rocks

caressing the foot of trees

climbing the grass to bring life

to the sleeping hills,

riding the length of the earth

the way she rode my flesh

from head to feet with no human stops

or she would push me with her feet

against the wall.

We covered that night

the length of a thousand fields,

climbed the top of the mountain

to the starting gate

and flowed like a stream

down the slopes until the body

became as wide and soft as the sea.

It was then that the seasons

flowed together as one,

spring, summer, autumn, winter,

earth, water, fire, air

fused as one body,

a totality of sensation

that even the earth

has to stagger not to explode,

fire on fire, water on water,

air on air, soil on soil,

water against rock,

heat melting ice at the top

to bring together as one

the cry of victory

and surrender of a man and a woman

at war.

White and green light

made a ladder of flesh

from the heavens to the earth

and back where all ladders start:

in the wrestling game for love

with no goals, no ends.

The sun broke through the window,

outside a red flower had grown

that night over the snow on the mountain,

the eye caught only the red on white,

inside, the Hall's mirrors reflected

the red flower in every wall,

the woman smiled!

(It's that smile I remember.

Have I already lived my life

while plucking flowers

one by one?)

from Of Angels and Women, Mostly,

by

Antonio de Nicolas

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