Geese And Swans
Winning Entry by Mac
It was 4.23am – I was born at 5.45am so you can imagine my shocked response; I mean, too much of a coincidence, right? Eighty-two minutes to go. I was convinced it was going to happen. Right on the button. How neat would that be? I don’t mean in that ridiculous American way – I mean neat and tidy. Oh, the irony if it were to happen.
Anyway, I digress. Where was I? Yes … 4.23am. My toes began to swell. Not my whole foot … just my toes. So bloated, in fact that they seemed to be fusing together. And then, through the glorious fog of delirium, I realised they really were fusing. Into pinched bony intersections between flattened skin – webbed. I could hear and feel the twisting and turning of tiny bones, though thankfully no pain. Even so, the overall sensation made me nauseous. After all, to experience one’s own transmogrification is a unique and, on the whole, unpleasant experience.
Mopoko told me it would be like this last night. She appeared shortly after the night nurse gave me my routine cocktail – better than a coffee Mojito: morphine – she appeared and told me. Watch for the feet. Watch those first. Her warnings needed to be heeded; I just knew. I’d never heard of her until she appeared … shortly before dawn. Mongolian spirit apparently – not quite a deity, more a guide. She was just at the side of my sightline and was ethereal, beautiful; but when I looked straight on she wasn’t there. But I listened. An angelic non-presence going nowhere except into my future moments. I only had moments.
And so it began – thank god for the morphine. I could feel the changes stretching every sinew. My head was swimming. I was back in church, some years ago, on Good Friday listening to the Stainer Crucifixion. David and Michael were there – David: wayward, wanton but beautiful. Those long delicate muscles in the back of his neck. Like a swan! Now there’s a coincidence. And Michael: long-suffering, supportive, paternal even. The old “friend” – nobody would contemplate that they were lovers. Well I did. I knew. The whole congregation knew but they didn’t frighten the horses or upset the vicar’s wife so that was that. Far from being a topic of contention, their age difference simply underlined what a nice chap Michael was, taking an avuncular role to irascible, charming David. Mother Goose!
Mopoko said I’d been chosen – it was largely random. I’d always been a wanderer in life, more feminine than masculine in spirit, quietly tenacious … and a loner. I’d heard of the Ohito Declaration and that was a key factor too – a bringing together of spirituality and ecology and trying to influence world religious leaders to adopt this as a philosophical stance on which to develop their extant beliefs … am I being boring?! So some souls got chosen to spread, not the word, but the spirit. And wanderers transmogrified into geese or swans. Why, I asked. Mythology, she said. Both are legends in numerous civilisations from the Celts to the Egyptians, from the Greeks to the Chinese. Geese do the work of God. Swans are the personification of God.
“Which shall I be?” I asked.
“Luck of the draw!” she answered.
Back in that church on Good Friday, the choir master – actually a woman, so does that make her a choir mistress? It’s confusing. Ok … the choir director had an impossibly high forehead, which would have looked odd on a man. And on a woman it was downright weird. Is that body fascism? Is it discriminatory? Am I simply shallow? Pathetic? Rude? Surely such distractions in church on a Good Friday prove that I am hardly qualified for the choice of … spiritual guardian?! Mopoko has the wrong person. More of that coffee mojito would be good around now. My god, its 5.05am. My feet again. The bones have elongated, the skin has stretched and split, become leathery and webbed. And the knees have reversed! My god, the pain along my arms and my shoulder blades … like knives piercing from the inside out.
“Wings,” she said quietly. You are developing wings. Those needles are the feathers pushing out. Feathers aren’t just those nice fluffy things, you know. Look at the sharp end!”
Mopoko reminded me at this point that article 7 of the Ohito Declaration says “All faiths should fully recognise and promote the role of women in environmental sustainability”. And article 10 emphasises the need, not only for individual action but for community involvement. Why then not take the obvious next step: all genders! Why think of two when clearly that’s a bit iffy, at best. And sexualities. Mopoko simply sighed. “Get focused on women. It’s going to be part of your brief!” And all communities? She sighed. I wept with pain. Do geese and swans get briefs? Don’t they just simply exist and fly? In mythology geese were sex and swans were love. Is that what she means when she says think about women? Is that just vulgarity masquerading as false insight?
I screamed. Quickly and painlessly my fingers had dropped off. They were gone.
That evening back then – Good Friday – listening to Stainer. It dawned on me. God hadn’t sent Jesus to die. He’d sent him to persuade people to change, to perform the occasional miracle to impress and, if necessary, scare the living shit out of them to get them to recognise the terror they’re capable of. Well, I could see that myself, living in the 21st. century. Look at what dominance could do to people. Look what it had done over the previous hundred years. Genocide had become a habit. I thought the problem was power … absolute power. But I realised that afternoon that it wasn’t. It was vanity.
And I realised at the same time that Jesus took it upon himself to get crucified. His own stupid idea.
Oh my god! The pain is in my back now … it’s changing shape to accommodate the wings. My legs are shifting too: shortening and setting further apart in relation to my body. Every muscle in my groin is being torn and Mopoko is simply smiling benignly. Does she think it’s helping? More coffee mojito please. 5.26am. Why am I convinced it’s going to coincide with the moment of my birth?
Power. Vanity. And Jesus making his own decisions about crucifixion - so God was angry. Truly angry. So whenever Jesus’ light and love shine through – in vain, I might add, because some little shit somewhere decides that mass rape, murder, destruction and pollution are going to make him a few extra millions or a hero and – what the hell, the sheer bloody power of it, the casual ability to be able to say “Do it!” – well, all that screws up the light and love, doesn’t it? The ultimate vanity: I replicate Armageddon because I can.
And so God sends another terrible tribulation to test his son and the weakness of his followers. Don’t you see? And when the helpless cower together for comfort, every significant touch that they share encompasses joy, relief, comfort … and pain. To remind them. He was very pissed off by that crucifixion. For He is a vengeful God.
And he’s certainly taking his vengeance out on my cracking bones!
“Not God,” whispered Mopoko. “This is just the process … a series of steps.”
“And I’ll become a goose or a swan?!” I asked.
“Yes … each has a role to play in spreading the divine work of spirituality and ecology.”
“Why can’t I just die, like everyone else? It bloody hurts!”
“Your visions singled you out. These visions now…in your final moments. These are a sign of your connection with earth spirits and universal divinities.”
“Bugger that! It’s too painful. Where’s the coffee mojito? Oh yes … and how does God fit into all that then? And Jesus? Myths about swans and geese … hardly the stuff of Christianity, is it?!”
“They all fit together and you’ll find out the whole truth in the afterlife.”
“This is insane! How can I learn the secrets of eternity and fly around here doing god knows what as a….goose or a swan?! And, while we are on the subject, I’d prefer to be a swan!”
“You get what you’re given … just like in this life.”
It’s 5.44am. Just forty seven seconds to the exact time I was born. My face is distorting, elongating. I fix on my final thought. It links back to that evening listening to Stainer. God. Jesus. My final thought: where does that leave the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit who is always depicted as a dove. I am a swan. Or a goose. All is vanity, in the end.
Waiting, listening, seeing.
Time waits for no girl. All experience this.
And it’s now my time to step away from the ashes of doubt.
I look down
At the lifeless limp limbs.
Shades of rose fragments shed and plummet
Transforming into rough microscopic coals like dominos
Cascading all over my figure, and I cry.
It’s too soon.
Please, not now.
Tomorr- already the grey enflames and stirs.
Ruby and crimson sting, and bursts through the murky grey tufts.
I must let go; let it happen; let it envelop me.
Snow lace curves and
Bends and wraps around each dark crevice,
Ivory plumes usurp,
Gold glimmers, shields against the shadows,
protecting the smooth, silky ice from ruptures.
I look up with two pricks of amber and allow
My majestic wings like feathery sails to broaden and engulf the stars.
Slowly, I swoop and plunge deep
In search for what I need to keep
Close to my breast to be what I must be.
Have I finally turned into the swan?
At dark of Moon they fell from the sky
and sailed the lough,
starched gondolas amongst the reeds.
Lords of slush under the iron stars of winter.
A fusillade of atonal beseechings and
mist thrummed like phlegm in a throat as
prehistory whitened the black water.
An escape and return to court.
A re-establishment of majesty.
No robes of ermine nor chains of office;
nothing to maim this legitimacy of feather.
Born of sleet,
here in the hills,
these diamonds in the night;
these Kings of the North.