(This was written as part of an installation piece for work that Joan Anderson has made to invoke the vast, implacable and timeless world of fallen soldiers. Reading through section VII accompanies the installation of two large image/effigies. At that point alcohol and meat are shared with the audience. The reading resumes with the last verses of section VI.
In the first performance, Barbara Dilley choreographed the installation; Mark Miller played Soprano Saxophone; I and Robert Spellman were readers, all under Joan's overall direction)
Heaven divides the world:
In dark and light,
In night and day,
In the living and the dead.
Only in the movement of sun, moon and stars
Do we know ourselves.
We know ourselves only as movements of fleeting clouds.
Beneath the vast bright sky,
The living dwell in their villages and homes.
In fathomless shadow,
The dead inhabit their silent towns.
Now the living surround the Eastern capital.
Now the dead surround the Western hills.
The living and the dead
No longer know each other.
In moments of joy,
They do not remember the other,
They do not long for one another. (1)
The cold passes reluctantly from the earth and the retreating mists reveal an army stretched out for miles on the hills, asleep. A watery sun rises slowly and the landscape changes from pale gray to green. The army stirs. It trembles at the whispers of rumor. It casts its eyes upon the roads. (2)
With a groan, I start from sleep.
All the earth is on the march to war.
The rulers have commanded it. (3)
Heaven is high and far away.
The king’s business never ends.
I cannot stay to plant my crops
How will my parents and my children live?
Heaven is high and far away.
The earth below must always march to war.
When will it end? (4)
We pray for a sovereign.
We pray the sacrifices he commands
Yet we long for home.
In what month will we return? (6)
No breeze stirs.
We must wait.
I look down the highway
And my heart is blank. (7)
Oh bright Heaven high above,
Shining on the earth below,
How our westward march
Has brought us to the empty plains
We have suffered cold and heat.
Oh the aching of an empty heart
Oh the poisons of bitterness.
Thinking of the ones who raised us,
My tears fall like rain in the sadness of my heart.
Though I long for life and home,
I cannot turn back.
Warfare drags me on. (12)
The sweat of waiting, even in the silent cold, each frozen in his own thoughts, even those who make jokes and can’t stop talking, the rank smell of fear and dust, choking.
At the shout of command, there is no longer any time. Doubts dissolve in the sheer mass charge: arms taut, weapons held in front. legs pumping, screaming war cries. And then, charging, scrambling wildly down the hillside, amid the hail of arrows and bullets, there is a sudden moment where the clear bitter smell of crushed leaves, the exhilaration of running, and cold air pouring through nostrils is desperately alive, and it is impossible to imagine life will ever end. The enemies rise up like weeds before us. They are cut down. The work of killing begins.
Like a slowly moving flood gate,
Iron scraping iron,
The great hinge of battle opens.
A bow string snaps,
And there is silence.
Now time stops.
The white disc of a single cloud
Hovers in the pale sky.
Flocks of sparrows rise and wheel.
Red, yellow and black banners flutter.
On steel blades and spear points.
Sword arms raised, mouths gaping,
An arrow stops in mid flight.
Shining like diamonds in the air
The gods of war
Descend in a circle of hard light:
Seated on their steeds of wind,
Indifferent to all obstacles and enemies.
They do not move.
Everything around them now erupts.
Soldiers forgetting all their names or home,
Charge forward as if there were no death.
They hurl themselves onto the iron teeth of war.
Wildly, they shout:
Seu Lhawang Damsang ride with me
Seu Thuchen Mongpa guide my arm
Tungsen Karma do not let me fall
Nyengen Deva deliver me.
Shinje Chogyal take me through the terrors of this world.
Now the living and the dead
The world of the dead falls into the black earth.
The world of the living bursts into flower.
Soon behind us,
They rest in the soft earth on the hills
They, in tens of thousands,
The victors and the vanquished.
They have entered the dark world.
They are cut off from the living,
The tomb is sealed.
In their joy, they do not remember one another,
In their bitterness they do not long for one another.
The war gods have returned to their abodes.
The earth is gray.
Climbing to the ridge of a high mountain
I now look down on the capital,
Now lonely, and how still.
Palaces and houses burnt to ash.
Walls and fences broken, fallen down,
The royal names effaced from looted tombs,
Family gravestones crumble
As thorns and brambles clamber towards the sky.
I do not see old men or youths.
I turn aside: no straight road to walk
Through wasted fields.
I have been away so long.
I do not recognize the paths
Amid abandoned pasture lands.
A thousand miles without chimney smoke.
Thinking of the house I lived in all my life
I turn inward.
Alive or dead,
I cannot speak.
In the torrent of existing,
The fires of endless war,
We have touched
The all- consuming heart.
The blazing sky touches this dark earth.
Our eyes are scorched.
Words have no meaning.
The living and the dead
Hold the secret of fleeting love.
They do not know peace.
(1) Mark Edward Lewis- The Creation of Space in Early China; SUNY 2007- p.123)(2) Stephen Crane- The Red Badge of Courage Chapter1, p.1)
(3)Arthur Waley tr. The Book of Songs:Grove Press:1301;(4)#152;(5)#151;(6)#150;(7)#149;(8)#139;(9)#133;(10)#148;(11)#146;(12)#143;(13)#141;(14)#130-1(15) Lewis- supra, p. 123(16) Cao Zhi, son of Cao Cao- Lewis, supra.-p.188
This fragment of Ariane Mnouchkine's splendor and intensity is part of the conscience of the above
Theatre du Sloeil- Les Atreides