September 9, 2014
Night of the Harvest Moon
I remembered you as I recited The Apostle’s Creed, past midnight. The moon reigned supreme in a clear sky, not dotting the horizon so much as drawing all attention towards it, like a burlesque star lifting up her skirt, daring us earthlings to confront the frightening directness of its celestial gaze. “Look at me,” it seemed to say, that orchestrator of tidal swells.
You ebbed into my thoughts, like a buoy floating on tempestuous waters, during my performance of that superstitious ritual, as I feigned belief in God, his only Son, the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. When I arrived at the solemn, “Amen,” I had run out of water. The translucent plastic bottle molded in the imagined likeness of the Virgin who appeared at Lourdes had been tapped dry. I was mimicking the gestures my mother taught me to make in times of duress. I was baptizing the territory of my house in a desperate attempt to exorcise whatever dark matter had settled into its corners, resulting in the synaptic failure it had come to represent.
It was no ordinary sequence of events that had forced me to seek recourse in such a counter-intuitive deed, one my rational mind would possibly never forgive. But then vulnerability was a luxury I couldn’t afford. I had expended too much energy dealing with trivial tragedies, first an electrical fire that could have burned down the building, then a potential flood from one particularly furious spell of rain, then a broken pump that heralded a day of drought, then waking up one morning to find the black, leathery remains of a baby bat that had chosen my living room for its suicide, etching an imprint of its dark, crimson blood onto the floor behind my book shelf, like a seal. This synaptic failure was no longer purely residential, the trauma translated into a state of muteness, a literary coma. It wasn’t that I was unable to write or read. I could. But I had, since I first emailed you, not dreamed a single dream, which meant the last dream I could recall was of you. The absence of dreams signals, for me, the death of creativity.
I was sure the dreams would return. What I was contending with was a sense of betrayal because the prophecy made in a dream I dreamed back in January, a day after I finished my book, had not come to pass. I was at Sunday Mass in my parish church in Kurla, Bombay. I was late, as usual, and when the service had ended, was on my way home, when a faceless woman made eye contact with me, then casually said, “This is the beginning of your Paradise.”
If only I could dream again, this situation could perhaps be undone. A correction had to be made, and the “Holy Water” from Lourdes could perhaps be of assistance. That morning, I watched a man walking over another man who had lain face downwards on the roof of one of the slums in the makeshift colony that exists on the other side of the fence separating our residential colony from theirs. As he threaded along his spine from neck to toe, I could sense how the pressure from the weight of his body was possibly smoothening the circulatory knots in the other man’s body. I knew then that I had to undo the synaptic failure that had afflicted my house. A correction was in order.
Faith is merely the suspension of disbelief, so I reasoned with myself. I decided to take my mother’s word for it, believe that the water indeed was holy, that it indeed had miraculous properties. I didn’t, however, need a miracle. I simply wanted a restoration of the order of things. I wanted what Leonard Cohen called “Chromatic Metamorphosis,” when his saintly subject of study, Catherine Tekakwitha, is at a feast after her baptism into the Christian Faith, and, temporarily blinded by the glint of cutlery, spills her glass of wine and the whale-shaped stain begins to discolor extended regions of the virginal tablecloth to the utter dismay and surprise of her guests. Wails and oaths resounded through the purple hall as faces, clothes, tapestries, and furniture displayed the same deep shade. Beyond the high windows there were islands of snow glinting in the moonlight. The entire company, servants and masters, had directed its gaze outside, as if to find beyond the contaminated hall some reassurance of a multicolored universe. Before their eyes these drifts of spring’s snow darkened into shades of spilled wine, and the moon itself absorbed the imperial hue. Catherine knows she is responsible for this unintended consequence of her spilling of the red wine. “I guess I owe you all an apology,” she stands up and slowly says. Cohen’s narrator learns of this undocumented “miracle” through his wife, Edith, a member of the same unnamed tribe as Catherine. He, however, discovers the link only later, when he chances upon the bizarre experiment Edith and his gay lover, F, have been conducting, injecting themselves with half a portion of “Holy Water” from Lourdes and half a portion of water from the spring at Catherine Tekakwitha’s shrine.
As my head touched the pillow that night, after I had composed these notes for you, I confronted the perfect round moon that presented itself at a slant from my window, a white round communion wafer promising deliverance.
I fell asleep, and after weeks of uninterrupted muteness, finally dreamed.