twin flame 孪焰

you can live a dream for awhile. i guess i just thought it would last forever. but here we are. you surrounded by armour, me under lit pagodas. the guizhou mountains laid with lights, blinking like my eyes in the authenticity of this pain.

cast-open wood windows, let in the scent of jasmine and the smell of the cesuo on a coming summer night; the wuyang waters glimmering like liquid crystal in shades of LED. people are ants, cells, tiny on a riverside footpath eating their suanla yutang out of simmering street pots.

all the advice says my heart shouldn’t be broken right now:

get up soldier.

stand and be a goddess.

own your power, love.

you are a being of light.

i came from the pleiades, andromeda – indigo girl in three dimensions, alien, healer, yinyang.

you came from the dog star – indigo boy in three dimensions, druid, mystic, green man.

somewhere behind the swaying red lanterns and near-distant pitch of street karaoke, a train rattles on raised tracks. and there, the universe always brings you back to me. escape, purge, go to the far side of the world. it’s still you on my astral plane.

i drink wine and channel li bai under the pink moon. so many before, maybe they come after, and we put this cycle on repeat until we get it right.

love, endlessly.

compassion, limitlessly.

amazement, perennially.

twin flame; exquisite inseparability. you knew me forever, i know you always.

and now lightning – silent over the tea horse road, flashing the souls of qing officials and tang poets. and us, in this everlasting dance.

oh how the quiet breeze brings me to life in this body; again.

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annabel

overcoming the voices in you that tell you you aren’t good enough. that you are terrible. where do these voices come from? childhood wounds. something someone said once. can i learn to harmonise? i asked, age 8ish. no, you can’t even sing. what did she say? you need to be able to at least sing before you harmonise. all i wanted was for the song to come out of me. to sing. to harmonise. to feel those vibrations. to give out from my gut into the universe. you can’t sing, she said.

fast forward 30 years. this lingers. i can’t sing. i weep in front of an open guitar case. annabel, my blue, thin body ibanez acoustic has been with me since 1997.

in 1988, all i wanted to listen to, sing, be, was amy grant. i know, i know. but, at 7, my exposure was limited to what was allowed by my very conservative mother. amy grant was acceptable, and god did amy make me feel. she sang about real things, some of them were acceptable within the church environment i was surrounded by at school and on sundays.

but there was a spark to amy. she was also full of things to say and learn and feel. she…wasn’t going to be limited, and it turned out later she wasn’t when she publicly left the label of ‘christian music’ and ended up having a public affair and being shunned and generally following her heart. woman after my own tiny heart. saved by love, alright.

in 1997, i’d finished high school in the oddest of ways (pulled out after 3 years and had to take the test for kids who are dropouts, except a year younger than my graduating class), and was living with my grandparents, caring for my ailing grandmother and watching, but not understanding, as my grandfather tried to run from all of that. my grandmother was an alcoholic, or so they said, who knows.

years earlier, i was there, too. i was 7. she stayed home all day. watched soaps in her robe. to me, she was elegant. she had a tray of perfumes with vintage hand-squeeze bubble spray bottles. i wanted to use them all, preferably while wearing her costume jewellery and holding her purses and wearing furs.

it was part of our family lore that she’d played violin, but i never saw her pick up a violin and have no idea about the truth in any of that.

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there was a steinway baby grand piano in my grandparents’ living room. i spent all my summers there. every afternoon, too. my mom worked. dad worked. they both ran their own businesses. i was always at mamalea and papa’s house, as we called them. the baby grand was there only as a piece of decor, but i started playing it. who cared? i couldn’t play, but i just bashed away. my grandmother endured this as long as she could and finally decided i needed lessons (enough with the vintage silent night sheet music that i had no idea how to interpret).

for two years i went to the house of a lady on canyon road in santa fe. how funny i can’t even remember her name now? two years! i learned treble clef, then tried base clef. i was terrible at reading music. mom and dad bought an upright electric piano for me. this was the height of 90s sophistication, and they were about to divorce, so everything was doable to keep us happy at that time.

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i still listened to amy. at some point later, i put her away and left her forever. then we went to live in texas, and high school happened, and my crush played guitar and suddenly i had to learn guitar. that’s when i started.

my dad, the sort of musical hero you could never even hope to be incarnated as the offspring of, got me nicholas. a black gibson everly brothers flattop with stars inlaid down the fretboard. i learned all the things i should learn about guitar on him. the chords of D and G and E Minor. all the important chords. though none of the amy songs.

in the summer of 1997, my mom had moved us back from texas to new mexico and i hadn’t been given the chance to graduate with my year, i had to ‘graduate early’ which meant taking that weird test, waving goodbye to my friends in lubbock, and going to live with my grandparents back in new mexico while my mom lived across the street with my stepdad. god, when i think about it now, wasn’t it all super fucked up?

mamalea, for all her faults or whatever anyone else said about her, seemed to understand this was a fucked up time for me, as a grandmother should. the only thing i really loved was singing and guitar and even back then i wasn’t confident or very objectively good at it, but it was something that always came out of me, just like it had on the baby grand 10 years earlier and like it did in my flat on carlingford road in dublin in 2008 and like it does tonight in SE23 london in 2019.

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i saw annabel in a guitar shop on cerrillos road in santa fe in 1997 and frankly wanted her because she was blue, like my heart was at 16 and still is at nearing-38. mamalea said get her, and gave me the money, so i drove in and bought her and didn’t even care what kind of look i got from the dude in the shop or anything else, about my choice of an ibanez thin-body acoustic guitar because she was, in my mind, perfect and she still is.

It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
   Coveted her and me.

she’s been with me longer than anybody. literally. we wrote teenage songs that should never see the light of day, the first of which was about the scarlet letter for my sophomore english class, and even played 20-something gigs in austin and houston. and i stood on stage with her in zhejiang and she dutifully accompanied me while i belted out ‘my heart will go on’ badly for hundreds of chinese students.

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and she was there, when i left her to lie dormant. when my heart loved and was broken by a man and another man, and really broken by myself. i put her away and stopped thinking about things of the heart, because they seemed like too much, too hard, too complicated, too many shadows and wounds to face and all i wanted was simple and married and life solved and to be done with all that. i wanted emotions gone.

in the end, emotions aren’t gone, they are just shoved away until they aren’t and then they come bursting out and you have to weep over the guitar you’ve let sit in her case for years because you were too afraid to face yourself and all the shadows lurking.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we—
   Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
   Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee

ode to sirius

if i could chance to pluck a star
and place it on your desk
i’d wrangle down cool sirius
– he’s brighter than the rest.

i should really like to gather
venus from the sky
not for all time, but just a night
to read you stories by.

we might go wading in the thames upstream
when dusk has turned from noon
and when the sun is finally set
we’d swim under the moon.

or rise at dawn to catch the light
of jupiter and mars.
we’d nab them both like lightning bugs
kept captured in glass jars.

we’d listen to the perfect songs
as the ecliptic rotates ’round
and ponder what the ancients saw
from atop some mystic mound.

and dearest, in your hand, you’d find that
sirius is really two.
double stars can’t be unmatched:
their gravity is true.

the road to angel fire

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angel fire. that kind of albuquerque morning where the sky is ablaze. magenta, cerise, amaranth, crimson.

6am, sad news reaches me on a day already planned to be in the car for eight hours to colorado, my sister, eventually london. I-25 seems too businesslike for all the many things in my heart this day, and when i pull into santa fe just before 7am, i know i’ll go off-course.

i consider the high road to taos and after a brief consultation of google maps in the alberston’s parking lot on cerrillos road, i realise i actually don’t know what the high road to taos even is.

we always took the low road. the two-laner carving its way along the reticent rio grande through the gorge, past embudo, the rafting center, then pilar. NM highway 68.

the high road goes through truchas, an unincorporated village with an adobe church. it set the scene for the 1988 film the milagro beanfield war, which, if you haven’t seen it, is worth a watch, if for nothing else than to understand rural northern new mexico (which is in fairness a skill probably of use to few not actively raised here). state road 76, up past chimayo and the santuario with its holy well and the good red chile stands; all the cañadas and miles of hand-dug acequias.

it was cold last night, a hard frost, and the 8000-foot altitude of the high road could mean ice. i’m in the mood for exploration, but not for off-roading particularly, and so set out on the well-trodden low road. this feels fitting – a road i’ve driven many times in my life, both in the back seat as a child for weekends visiting taos pueblo or tagging along to gigs my dad was playing at the sagebrush inn with bill & bonnie hearne, and then behind the wheel as an adult driving to and from something i seem to be revisiting in more ways than one, this trip home, this year.

it’s early and i make an unsuccessful stop at walmart in española to buy a six-pack of local marble red beer for my sister and to bring back to london. everyone present in walmart española at 8am on the monday after thanksgiving is either driving a mobility scooter and perusing ugly christmas sweaters or gossiping in norteño spanish or both.

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at the embudo station restaurant, i want to pause but forget where the turn-off is, and being tailgated by an impatient electrician’s truck, i push on. we used to make trips just to eat at embudo station, crossing the rio grande via a small bridge and settling onto a table under cottonwood trees, always shaded by the canyon walls which begin to climb here and higher as you go northwards toward agua caliente.

maybe the last time i drove this road was 2004, could that be right? on the way to and from the kind of last-hurrah tryst that signals the real and final end to a love affair you will never forget. three quiet nights in taos savouring all that, a glass of wine, things you’d rather not say, hot tears as you pull away from it and back down the canyon, not knowing where life will take you.

IMG_7262.JPGin taos, i pause at a blake’s lotaburger for one more green chile breakfast burrito. it’s a typical 1950s-styled white stucco fast-food joint with hard plastic red-and-white umbrellas shading hard plastic picnic tables no one ever uses out the front, and big letters spelling LOTABURGER in flintstones-esque font across the front. inside, a lady in a hair net takes my order from behind a red vinyl countertop and when i ask for the burrito ‘green’ she queries: ‘chile or sauce?’ i baulk here: how can i have been out of new mexico for so long as to be confronted with a chile-ordering question i’ve never heard. well…chile then, if there’s a difference?

from here, i follow the little 585 bypass across southern taos shortcutting to US highway 64, falling back into old habits. adjusting the music selection and steering with my knee while i unpeel the aluminium foil from around the egg-hashbrown-chile-filled burrito. there are no spillages, and no accidents – i’m still a new mexican after all.

US highway 64 is tremendously long. it goes right the way from the new mexico-arizona border to the whalebone junction at cape hatteras in north carolina – literally, as far east as you can go to the atlantic. i am at the western end of it and, out here, it’s just a tiny two-lane mountain byway that doesn’t feel like it would go anywhere at all except up over remote palo flechado pass and into angel fire and eagle nest. and in reality, that is all this highway does out here.

these places were the stuff of dreams on the evening weather report when i was a child. first of all, they have magical names that seemed even more magical as a kid. second of all, they were always forecast to get snow in the winter and for that i was constantly wishing to go to them.

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the high alpine deserts of southern colorado and northern new mexico were home to the muache, a southern tribe of the ute people, who came here specifically to perform fall ancestral ceremonies to the great spirit. they were the first here, and the first to notice the evening alpenglow that seemed to pulsate in blazing colours around a peak that later came to be known in spanish as agua fria: cold water peak. they called this glow the fire of the gods, and later in the 1780s, franciscan friars altered the semantics, poetically giving us angel fire. indeed, it was because of this burning colour that the spanish called the entire mountain range sangre de cristo: the blood of christ.

though it’s now just a ski resort (and a blissfully hidden-away one at that), angel fire is the sort of place where you feel in a bit of a dream. weaving my way down a gently switchbacking road through pine forest that had climbed to nearly 9100 feet at palo flechado pass a few miles ago, here opens an expansive, treeless brown valley surrounded on all sides by lumbering, dark-green peaks. swathes of this pasturous flatland are still covered in a snow that fell over the weekend.

there is not a single car heading northeast with me, so i pull off, roll down the driver’s side window, and begin snapping pictures of ‎13,167ft wheeler peak, the state’s highest mountain. though i know it’s treacherous, from here, it looks tame and seems almost ordinary compared with the mountains of similar altitude i crossed in tibet a few months ago.

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eagle nest – a resort village of under 300 – is next, and its lake is already partially frozen despite the white november sun that has come out and is bleaching everything in my windshield into a washed-out instagram filter. effectively it’s a one-street town lined with mining-style clapboard buildings. nothing is open. i pause briefly at a pull-out with a bathroom just past the village limit and spend a few minutes gazing at the lake until my eyes can’t take the sun glare anymore. then back into the camry, belle & sebastian getting me through new mexico like they did tibet, too.

minutes pass like hours for the rest of the 35 miles to cimarron, turning from high heaven to hell, as the road winds into a landscape of charred pine trees and burnt earth. it sometimes takes years for an arid landscape to recover from a forest fire in the southwest, and i mentally scan my memory for a fire that might’ve caused this devastation when i was younger. later, i read the damage was far more recent: in june this year, the ute park wildfire devastated nearly 37,000 acres right here and i am driving through ground zero of the aftermath. homes gone, animals lost, memories vanished in seconds, minutes, long and tortorous singeing days. and a few short months later, cars so casually zipping through a place that was literally engulfed in flame.

how long i will have to wait to drive this road again to see things growing?

the land flattens off at cimarron – another place-name-of-dreams (it could mean ‘where the wild things are’) – an all-but-forgotten town that once was a centre of trade for wagon trains and coal miners – at this point, US 64 is now following the course of the santa fe trail. a few signs posted along the highway through town denote outlaws and miners and fur trappers that once made this place busy, now a dusty memory in roadside black-and-white.

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after this, you wave goodbye to the mountains for good. to the son of god peaks, the rockies, to the pine trees, to any trees at all. from a 10,000ft apex less than 50 miles west, here is the flat desert, occasionally dotted with far-off buttes and blue mesas, eventually to give way to the kansas prairie.

before that, i’ll reach I-25 and then turn north to colorado and a plane home.

but i’ll go with new mexico – with angel fire – in my chest.

two poems from 2004

last week, a trip back to new mexico unearthed many memories, feelings, a person from a lifetime ago, and a journal from my first trip to china. these are two poems written during that summer, which the universe seems to have circled back on now, 14 years later.

‘poem from a nanjing evening’ – 30 july, 2004

feels like lightning
he says
running through my veins
every time i look at you.
but you’re not seen now
away from eyes
out of brain.
your magnificent
disinterest,
the brownness of your skin
in shallow muddy waters,
hardly compare
to the frail moon
frosting monsoon mountains
and walkway lamps
in a rippling reflection here.

i know how i’m not yet beyond you.
not beyond
the melody of your finger whispering
songs along my spine.
but this night is simmering with
the brew of farewell.

 

‘untitled’ – 19 july, 2004

here is rest
and china makes
him matter less
or not at all.
makes his scent
evaporate into
the smallness of my
memory and
bigness of the heat
and water
on the far side of the world.
all the soreness
of shoulders laden
down with anxiety
or hope for the hopeless
is carried away across the
pond
on a breeze that smells
like ginger
and humid haze.

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the bund, shanghai, a july night, 2004.

poem of two autumns

we got (un)lost
somewhere between a september gone
and now.
i went to the silk road
the tien shan
the himalaya.

tea on kaohsiung sand
with the sun setting auburn
over ships in the taiwan strait.
doors frozen over on the
train to lhasa
like us trying to silence
hearts hell-bent
on happy.

like winter rivers in russia
where my marrow refused to ice
last christmas;
a moscow december couldn’t darken
such starlight love

– we’ll walk these pathways
ticking off the map
while planets whirl past
a patient lesson
to be what we are,
and when it’s done
all that spirits will still
entangle us,

for these lifetimes
those universes
to come.

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paths i’ve walked before

walking along a portion of the north downs way, unexplainable experiences. i’ve never walked here before. otherwise known as the pilgrims way in reference to the fact that pilgrims have come here to walk along the route that st augustine (of canterbury) trod from lyons and rome to canterbury in the late 500s.

the sun is bright and high and a light breeze notes it’s now the first of september and i can feel the beginnings of the end of the year on the air. sunflowers point their faces southward toward the star, now starting to make its own pilgrimage south from this high latitude for the winter. a magpie hops in his tuxedo colours along the path ahead. everything is still in late summer heat, then leaves rustle. the dry chalk path is lined with a gentle layer of dust and small white stones not unlike many trails i’ve walked in the desert.

when did i start believing in signs? maybe i always did. doesn’t the modern world we’ve made teach us to put aside the things we feel but cannot see?

augustine was not the first person to walk here – trading trackways from folkestone to stonehenge followed these chalk hills as early as 1800 bce. after augustine died, canterbury became a pilgrimage site and several centuries later, this formed part of the epic road, the via francingena, along which christians travelled to and from the holy see.  later still, thomas becket became a figure of great veneration after he was slain in 1170 by four of henry II’s knights on the stairs to the crypt inside canterbury cathedral. canterbury’s status as a destination of pilgrimage was solidified, though the modern-day trackway that one walks through southeast england now was lost for at least two centuries and rediscovered in the 1970s.

the day wears on, the trail winds between the tunnelling green of holloways and out on chalk downs with views to yellowed hayfields already harvested and gone stalky for the autumn. i take my lunch on a bench at the lenham war memorial below a giant white cross carved into the hill.

later, past lenham, then harrietsham. more holloways, more fields, more hillsides, northwest forever. the path is straight and unwavering with few ups or downs and virtually no turns. just before hollingbourne, where i’d planned a refreshment at the 13th century coaching inn (and aptly named) the dirty habit, the path opens and the air stalls and becomes almost unbreathable. the whole world goes quiet.

i couldn’t say how long ago i dreamed of this exact spot on this exact path. several years, perhaps. the dream had lain dormant in my subconscious until the moment i arrived on the path and remembered it completely. in the dream, the sky had been covered in thick, grey cloud and the atmosphere was foreboding. nothing further happened in the dream, beyond my presence on that path. i stood for many minutes, staring at the ground ahead, trying to convince myself this deja vu was some trick of memory i’d already walked somewhere else, but the thick air remained and my soul knew for sure this path was the path of my dream.

what are dreams? the feelings of having been somewhere before. the sense you’ve met in some other lifetime. or that you can talk to someone on some other vibration. that your soul knows something your 3D body can’t quite define.

empaths, seers, mystics, those who can sense. we are told that this is nonsense. in different ages, these people have been cast away, hanged, tried by court, locked into prisons or mental asylums, burned at the stake, until science found some explanation for their feelings.

in the 17th century, galileo knew that the earth revolved around the sun. he could feel it. he could even observe it through his telescope, but he couldn’t prove it in a way that the ruling people of the day would make sense of. society blocked the idea as being unbiblical and galileo was put under house arrest, where he died.

the world is flat. the earth is the centre of the universe. there are no such things as other galaxies. the atom can’t be split. it is only ‘natural’ for humans to behave this way or that, until some other social norm replaces it, and we’ve completely lost track of the unseen world, our intuitions, what feels right. these days, most of us can’t even see the night sky, let alone work out what it means to follow our souls in the face of social onslaught.

let’s not be afraid of the magic, the unseeable, the things that move us which we cannot explain, the love we feel that seems contrary to what is acceptable. let’s recognise the paths we’ve walked in our dreams. let’s look for the signs and follow them. let’s love.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 
1 Corinthians 13: 12-13