[DROWNING IN THE SEALED CHAMBER for #Thurds,’because’] I don’t know why Zawmb’yee thought it would be a good idea to break into the Ngtqua without permission. Doug describes how he met her there. She thought she had learned everything she needed to know to enter without supervision. Doug:
Trapping Oral History
It was really weird early today when I got a phone call from Zawmb’yee. I mean, I see her in the cave all the time and I didn’t think she even uses a phone. She would seem to pop out of nowhere whenever I wrote at the Nipeiskwari. I guess I’ve always thought of her as a cave person even though Utcoozhoo makes her mingle in the up-top world quite often — it’s just that I’ve never seen her there. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised because she can pass quite well as an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, common gorgeous model. It’s odd though because in the cave world she used to be teased all the time: they used to call her the hairless albino. But that was so ridiculous. She has blond hair, but she’s not albino. Her eyes are blue like the color of the pfambuuisen.
She called to say she wanted to meet me. Zawmb’yee is going to show me a meditation exercise she’s been learning and maybe she’ll reveal some “oral history.” She said to meet her past the glass wall, around the sword of the silver-red stalagmite to the left of the pothole marker, and up the narrow ledge to the ngtqua.
An odd thing though. Before hanging up she said, “I want you to gargle with salt water, and then gargle without water to just make the sound. Then make the ‘ka’ sound first in the back of the throat and then like you’re scraping the roof of your mouth, purse your lips, and add the gargle sound until you sound like a motor forcing air out hard until your whole face, sinuses, and head vibrate. It’ll feel like a face massage.”
She hung up before I could ask a question.
Ever since I almost dropped my notes in the river, I’ve been carrying all my writing paraphernalia with my camera in a waterproof case. Hmm, protecting the notes for this diary — that sort of assumes they might have some importance. I’m not sure I’m even finding this cathartic. It’s only slightly amusing to me when I can imagine a future audience. (I suppose if I were to be writing in the cave and died, someone would take these notes and transcribe them for me, enter them in the computer and continue…I guess they’d be like a ghost writer.) But I can’t see a diary of a boring person as a stage play. I could see Zawmb’yee on the stage or maybe Chloë. I’m probably more like an adequate ‘extra’ who’ll never be an actor.
I’ve had sigh mornings
leaving sighs to mourn
the heave on traipse
on feet’s defeat
a hunched up shoulder,
looking for a walk-on day, say
I could have missed a cue
if you’d not staged a
run in radiance
In the running of my soul
you make me bullish
playing on my horns
Stages of my performance
in the footlights
of your delight
gives me this role
carried away with you
stage right into the wings of love
Well, I’ve practiced Zawmb’yee’s head vibrating sound or mantra or whatever it’s supposed to be. It is a weird sound. I wonder what it will sound like as a duet. Well, I should pack up my stuff and go meet Zawmb’yee at the Ngtqua. (Oh, I just realized there’s another flaw in these entries: I haven’t marked which ones I’ve made here in the apartment and which ones I’ve made in the cave. Actually, this is the first entry I’ve written in my apartment. So it’s a quick turnover to put these handwritten notes into the computer. I hate typing directly — I’m more fluent scribbling than typing. Ah geez — another point-of-view problem.)
Meeting Zawmb’yee at the Ngtqua
There was no comfort in a familiar scene. Many times I had traipsed past every limestone drip in time, every ancient erosion, but as I traversed this common maze to reach my appointed meeting with Zawmb’yee, making my way past familiar speleothems, some loomed like broken talismans. An ominous insight seemed to trickle into my consciousness that some of these formations were not natural. It is said that the Qukwerpfm, the glass wall, once was double silvered to hold the lightning of the Gods. The sword of the silver-red stalagmite spoke to the Gods in heaven, the legend said, and I walked past to the left, up the narrow ledge.
On edge, I hummed a few umm’s as I put foot to each stone, trying to remember the sound I was supposed to make for Zawmb’yee’s incantation.
She waved as I approached the Ngtqua….
She was standing with a Gnolum that she had evidently removed from a wall. I didn’t even know you could do that. I had always just taken the gnolums for granted — common glowing crystal lights that have always been. They were just like streetlights of the cave. Most people don’t ever question how streetlights work — they’re just there.
Zawmb’yee said, “Doug, I’m so excited. But I forgot to tell you, you have to add a deep voicing, like a bass hum, to the ‘ka’ and the gargle, like this…” The whole cave vibrated, a small stalactite fell out of the ceiling, and a stone fell off the ledge. “Except a little deeper … you try…”
I made my whole face vibrate and my eyes shook like little REM’s from a dream. No stones fell.
She said, “Good, perfect. Now we just have to harmonize. OK, now, we stand by the entrance to the Ngtqua. We do the ‘ka’ together, but when I point up, I want you to raise the tone of your voice, and when I point down, I want you to lower the tone with more bass. When we get the beats right, you’ll hear a ‘wah-oh-wah-oh’ sound, but think that you’re focusing your energy at the entrance…”
Somehow, her giddiness just didn’t seem to match the occasion. I said, “Do you know what you’re doing?”
Zawmb’yee said, “Um, well, let’s just do this.”
When we did the sound together the wah-oh was intense. The large square stone pivoted on one edge, opened like a door, but smoothly without creaks. The inner surface of the door was smooth and polished, not at all like a rock, but more like the vault door of a bank.
She said with confidence, “Now, we go in.” We walked into the Ngtqua. The door slammed behind us with the sound of locking bolts. The inner surface glowed red hot for a moment and a frost of rock formed, making the door indistinguishable from the surrounding rock of the chamber. There was a trickle of water on the floor.
Zawmb’yee covered her gnolum with her back pack until it was totally dark. She took my hands in the dark, said, “We are of the universe, the distant stars, we diffuse into a unity of chaos, a smear of light, the glow of love; we are the moment. See the pfambuuwisen, and choose the one that glows the most. Let it expand. Dive into the blue light, and let it expand into a dream. What do you see?”
“I see a woman in a helmet with a spear.”
Zawmb’yee laughed. “Oh sorry, I lost my focus. That’s an opera that I went to. Actually, I should tell you that I saw Chloë at the opera…”
“You know Chloë?”
The trickle of water was increasing and I found myself standing in ankle deep water. “Don’t you think we should go…?”
Drowning in the Sealed Chamber
The water is rising more rapidly by the second. We’re doing the ka wah-oh up and down the scale.
It’s not working — the door is not opening. Zawmb’yee is screaming. I’m telling her that screaming is not the right chant. She’s looking around. She’s running to the back of the chamber where the golden steps are. She’s taking a deep breath, diving underwater, swimming down the stairs.
Returning, gasping, Zawmb’yee says she doesn’t see an exit. She’s screaming at me to stop taking notes. The water is up to my neck. Seems like a rainy day today. I’m putting this in the waterproof case but I’m not going to be able to fix the spelling, and this doesn’t seem complete enough, but I think incoherence is acceptable under these…
We’re floating towards the ceiling. Zawmb’yee has put a sheet of paper on top of her floating backpack, and she’s making notes.
I feel a buzzing panic … thought I’d have a traditional birthday cake this year — maybe this time really have a wish come true when I would blow out the forest of candles. It never seemed to work before. I think I had my first cake with candles when I was three…
The water is still rising. I smile at Zawmb’yee. She is praying. I wonder about the golden steps we were to step down, each one more relaxing, more soothing. We were to reach a plateau, make a bubble of protection, be bathed in white light. I see a glowing blue globe. I remember when I was three. “Uncle Coozie, Uncle Coozie, I’m fwee today.”
“I’m fwee-years-old and I can sing: ‘Haffy Birffy to me/Haffy Birffy to me/Haffy Birffy dear Dougy, haffy birffy to me.’ Uncle Coozie, Mommy chased the angel away — she says ’cause it’s jimagery. Daddy said to hurry up and blow out the damn candles and I forgot to make a wish. Can I still make a wish after everybody’s gone? I made a wish on a teddy bear…”. Zawmb’yee is asking me what we do now. I am saying, “Utcoozhoo says to feel along the beam in the ceiling for a lever.” I am reaching up. There is a beam. The water is only an inch from the ceiling. There is a piece of metal sticking out. I’m pulling it. The water is draining.
The water drained slowly. Treading water wasn’t much fun. My backpack was too heavy — I had brought a picnic blanket, a bottle of that two dollar wine that won a prize from the blindfolded snobs, and blue cheese. I tried to arch my head back to float, but having to do the elementary backstroke to stay afloat, made me crash into a wall. I switched to breaststroke, swimming around Zawmb’yee who was holding onto her floating backpack.
Slowly, as the water drained, we floated down to the floor. Little rivers gurgled down the stairs. The water was gone.
Zawmb’yee was shivering. I took the blanket out — good that it was old, because I could easily tear it in half. I said, “You can use this as a towel to dry off.”
We were soaked and there were breezes leaking in from somewhere. I was getting cold too. I took my wet shirt off.
Zawmb’yee stroked my chest hair, pressed the water out, combed it with her fingers, and handed me the blanket. She tilted her head down, unbuttoned her shirt, said, “Dry me off.”
I took off her wet shirt. The towel carried me into her cleavage, and I wiped her stomach, stroked her face. Her arms were still cold. I massaged away the goose bumps and the water, pulled down her bra straps. She lifted her arms, unbuckled my belt. I felt much warmer. It was to be a fine picnic after-all, as I looked into the blue of her eyes and dried the crest of her globes. In the joy of my breathing, my pants fell off. Floods can be fun when not alone.
“You look cold,” she said, and dried my legs with the tickle of the towel. She saw me bulging. Her fingers pushed under the elastic band, pulled down the briefs, teased the towel around. “I wouldn’t want you to get cold,” she said.
“The heat is on,” I said. “You’ve…” — kissed her lips — “taught me … a lot … today” — caressed — “Can you feel my … thank you?”
Softly a fine slide, a rocking in her spirit, her cuteness, her day this day, her pulse, my heart, a throb, a bob, her joy is my joy. Releasing …
We cuddled and I looked at the wine — we hadn’t needed it. But a little dessert didn’t seem like a bad idea. I opened a plastic bag, took out two cups, poured the wine, put cheese on a cracker.
“I love the salty blue,” she said.
“Yes, the Danish blue cheese is best.”
“Umm. could I ask, where did you learn to open the ngtqua? I thought Utcoozhoo made you turn your back when he did it.”
“Funny thing: When I went to the opera, it was a horrible performance. I thought if it had been Italy, they would have thrown tomatoes, and …”
“I meant to ask you — you said you saw Chloë at the opera?”
“Yeah. She was with Ngheufel. They couldn’t get over the incredible faux pas: one passage was supposed to be a simple running up the classical scale by a soprano, but Ngheufel said there was a flat 3 and a flat 7; 2 and 6 were missing. He said that’s obvious — they lapsed into a pentatonic blues scale. The singers themselves were stunned as if they didn’t know why they did that. During intermission, somehow, I got into a discussion with Ngheufel about tones and codes.”
“Ngheufel was with Chloë?”
“Yeah. He was with Chloë. Chloë sends her regards. She knows you don’t like the opera,” said Zawmb’yee.
I was feeling odd, maybe a little jealous. Chloë did ask me to go to the opera — maybe I should have gone; she said it’s more casual nowadays, but I don’t think I would have fit in. “Ngheufel told you …”
“We got into talking about harmony and we did the sound … that was embarrassing …”
“What do you mean?”
“We put a crack in a wall and security escorted us out. They were going to call the police, but Ngheufel did a weird thing …”
“Well, I don’t know how to explain it exactly … he did a weird humming thing and said ‘don’t you think it’s too nice a day to do that’ or some such, and the staff all started humming and went off into the park. We went back inside. Chloë was upset — she wanted to know why I ran off with Ngheufel. I just told her we were discussing harmony. She was real angry, but the second act of the opera went well.”
“This is incredible,” I said, “Utcoozhoo was worried about Ngheufel making mischief, and this trouble seems deliberate…”
Zawmb’yee turned pale. She said, “He’s always been a prankster — he once tried to tell Utcoozhoo he knew the peace symbol in common vogue, but instead of showing two fingers, he told him that raising the middle finger was a sign of respect. Utcoozhoo gave him the middle finger but in proper context … We could be in trouble, but never mind. Have some more wine.”
We both didn’t want to even contemplate what conspiracy might really be going on. I drifted into something more neutral, “I don’t like opera very much. When it comes to music, I like the blues and improvisation. Utcoozhoo said to do something with that. He wanted me to write something casual in idiomatic English. He’s always saying to master simple poetry before attempting the poetry of the Gods.”
“Yeah. He always makes strange demands. Well, I don’t know, but I thought the poem you wrote on the canvas was pretty good. Are you still keeping your poem diary? ”
“Uh yeah … ”
“Um, and so, you brought wine and cheese for a surprise seduction, and then maybe, I’m thinking you brought your poem book. No?”
“ … Uh, how do you know these things … Well, I’ve got a pretty long one that rambles all over the place. I’m sort of wondering if it’ll pass in the up-top culture. It’s maybe too quirky and …”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re dying to read it. Hey, I’m the one who’s supposed to practice meshing with the mainstream culture. I can take it. You’ve got something better to do? … Have some wine and let’s hear it.”
Our clothes were still too wet to put back on, and needing a diversion from arousal, I thought reading might be a good idea (I vowed never to go to a nudist colony because I’m easily distracted, and I could imagine having a problem constantly being seen…). I fumbled through the plastic bags, opened the book and turned to ‘Sax Piano Bird’
She said, “Well, what are you doing? Let’s hear it.”
“No, I’ve changed my mind, and I think I should stop writing poetry altogether.”
“Well, I’ve a bad feeling that they’re about to outlaw it in the up-top world except for Shakespeare,” I said.
“Why would they do that?”
“Because it’s subversive,” I said.
“But Shakespeare’s subversive.”
“Yeah, but it’s Old English and young people are forgetting how to read it,” I said.
“Well, at least tell me what your subversion is about,” she said.
“Well,” I said, “shall I glorify a paraphrase for love…”
“Well, the now secret title is ‘Sax Piano Bird’… Um, I’ll change it a little.”
“Yes, yes, yes, get on with it — do your best translation on the go.”
“Zawmb’yee dear, if you will play, I will kiss your tune lips, because anything goes when I’m slinking down your keyboard, tickling doleful note doodles, plinking your chords, caressing pianissimo, bopping forte, top a’ ya board, yes indeed, I’m chording love accolades that stay for improvisations when cool mistys get hot, and if you will play, I shall be cool.
I will kiss your tune lips if you will transpose your glory keys to high toned harmony that sees me exposed with whistling kisses blown all sax-ified, but that’ll be after the race. Y’know it was a mystery that birds of a feather could have gotten the winner’s name from the horse’s mouthwash, but I had heard them say that you used to play with your pet cockatoo at the piano bar down by the racetrack at the end of the race, and so I decided to see for myself. When I got to the piano, the bird said, ‘Leave a tip.’
I said, ‘Baby Needs Shoes to win, place, or show me a new tune.’
But as they had said, it was your habit to nag the feathers off it to make it snatch bills out of patrons’ hands.”
“And um, uh…”
“Yes, continue the prose translation. I think you’ve kept most of the poetic spirit in it. So go be subversive. I won’t tell anyone,” Zawmb’yee said.
“Um yes, OK,” I said. “After you had played with your pet cockatoo, I tipped it into a snifter, hoping you’d play with me, because I bet on the nag. But then I had said to you, let’s go to the showers.
I had said that to install the clean in a froth of warmth, above a soapy love, you should join me in the shower stall by the steamy wall where flights of fancy are never scrubbed.
I had said to you that if you will, then I, with fragrant soap, will wash in tribute the toe that tested my waters, will in tribute cleanse the foot feats that two-stepped when I was a mere calf and you were knee high to a love like a soap opera. I had said to sing in the shower from your diaphragm where no melting soap is barred while I swoosh below your breasts with swirling helicopter hands taking off with haste as whirlybirds land on nipple pads.
I had said, if you would say, taxi to the terminal then the refueling hose could dock and the passengers could be served hot blessings, but I said remember: the fifth race is soon, time to place bets by the river on the sailboats, although we could check out the entries swimming in the racing waters where in trepidation you can put a toe in the water of my soul as I kiss it as I would a child’s boo-boo, offering you a future, a splash of my essence; I breathe your perfume, a cherry-flavored love.
You undress in my river and I kiss your thigh in baptism before lips. Like a mallard I swim aside, a breast in hand and hand in bush.
All goes swimmingly, as I reminisce first kisses raising my mast, sailing our ship, and now anything goes, even past the sunset in moonlit tunes splashed across the stars.’ ”
She gave me a sultry look, touched her hips, cocked her head to the side, and hugged herself. She said, “It does sort of ramble, but I like it … I see that your thank you is rising again …”
“Uh, umm, well umm …”
She ran naked down the stairs giggling.
I was still gathering up our stuff when Zawmb’yee came running back up the stairs.
“It’s a miracle,” she said.
“What’s a miracle?”
“The pfayohoqwaahujpi sealed all the doors downstairs during the flood, and …”
“And the bidet is working!”
“Doors? There are rooms?”
“Yeah. Didn’t I tell you? Oh, well … A lot of akwaki are just plain cisterns, but some are qwuakwaki even all the way down here. The Gods were remarkable; weren’t they?”
“Um, isn’t that a little vulgar for ‘Gods’: that they needed flush toilets …”
“Well, maybe, they just built it for us … I mean, they did save all the ice for us when the ice age ended and …”
“I didn’t know about that … is this part of the history Utcoozhoo is teaching you?”
“Yeah. Um, OK, let’s get organized here. I’ll finish cleaning up here … OK, all the doors are open and the lights are on. I think we’re safe for now, but I don’t think we’re going out the front door …”
“Is there a …”
“Go take a shower. I’ll be there in a minute — I have to get my stuff together.”
With all the commotion, I hadn’t even looked at the back of the ngtqua. Maybe if we had gone to the back in the first place, we would have escaped.
Towards the back began a marble floor, a sudden intrusion in the irregular limestone floor that led to the stairs …
I stepped onto the marble floor, and peered down the stairs. The first seven steps were glowing with the colors of the rainbow. An intense red glistened almost like a traffic light, but it was a go signal, a beckoning, not a stopping. My left foot plunged onto the red step. An orange shimmered on the second one. My right was pulled onto the orange slab, and a bright yellow beam forced me to squint. Intense yellow light made me wonder if the third would be hot like the sun. Looking down at the step, I was blinded and couldn’t see the rest of the stairs. I squatted down on the orange slab and reached out with my hand to see if there was any heat coming up from the yellow. Then I reached down, touching the third step with my finger. It was cool.
I stood up. There was a pull like an invisible tide. I was drawn onto a wide green landing with both feet, my legs feeling heavy, wanting to lie down, but I looked carefully, picked up the pace, got into a rhythm: left on blue, right on indigo, left on violet. The slabs became more regular, but now with colors in reverse order.
Running down the stairs, resisting the invisible tide wasn’t possible. Violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and again. Thirty-five steps. Arriving where?
—- END of ” 6. Drowning in the Sealed Chamber ”
7. Captured by the Gods