“The most tangible of all visible mysteries, fire” – Leigh Hunt
I dreamt once of coming to a large pile of dry timber arranged in “teepee” fashion for a fire. The butts of the timbers were wedged against a circle of large stones already scored with the heat from previous fires. The chamber the cone of timbers made was large enough for me to walk in, but there wasn’t enough room between the timbers for me to squeeze in. Still. In the chamber was all manner of tinder and shavings – perfect to start the fire. I walked around the pyre with one of those jerry cans that have a little pump and spray nozzle and emptied it onto the tinder and shavings and onto the timbers themselves. With the jerry can empty I took a blowtorch and lit it with a flint striker. I lit the pyre with the blowtorch. It flared up into the night like the jet of a rocket seeking the moon. The light of the fire washed out the stars and the heat of it, even in my dream, seared my face and I can smell my own burning hair. How often do dreams have odors? Never.
The ceremony done the ritual begins and two men I do not know step into the circle of orange light and strip to the waist. They are going to fight. Witches come, las brujas, two sisters, and make mudras with their hands and gesture for me to leave. The men begin to fight, grasping each other about their waists. They are already slick with sweat from the heat of the fire and they fasten and refasten their grips and drive with their legs and the air smells of their animal rage and seeping fear along with the purity of the great fire. Las brujas, the sisters, watch and sway.
The last time she hit me was in an IKEA, believe it or not.
“Did you just do that?’ I said.
“Don’t you ever walk away from me, dumbass” she said.
The first time had been at an auction. Always in public. Go figure. Why did I put up with it? Because I have been lonely too. Not because I was dumb.
Sins of excess, like wrath, can be washed away with water. Sins of deficiency, like loneliness, must be purged by fire.
After we broke up I went home to sit on the couch and watch TV as night goes by. A man is making a kitchen knife from a meteorite.
“Steel,” he says, “Is ninety-nine percent iron and one percent carbon.”
He tells how the Japanese smiths who forged samurai swords would wait for an auspicious day, usually a moonless night, before tempering the blade. He heats the blade to fifteen-hundred degrees Fahrenheit before he withdraws it from the kiln and in the dark, in the blade glowing red hot and silent, you can see the carbon moving through the blade like a shadow.
“There,” he says, “there is the soul of the blade, the carbon, moving through the steel. You see it in utero, you see it being born.”
The blade is made and after a time he sharpens the blade on a stone, very carefully, and notes how it will draw cut, but not press cut, after the stone. He demonstrates this by cutting a piece of paper. He then takes the knife and rubs it over a soft piece of leather laid over a wooden block. He does this very gently, talking about why he is doing this, teaching, explaining. I think it some sort of a magic spell, although he might not say so. I remember that once someone sang to me and that it too was a spell, but I can’t remember her. He brings the knife up from the leather and takes the sheet of paper and now it press cuts just as easily as it draw cuts.
His knives sell for thousands of dollars.
I fall asleep on the couch sitting up and dreaming of the incantations and artifice that puts a soul into a steel knife born of fire fallen from the sky. I get up and run outside, run across the street and into the desert in the dark of the moon, away from the city lights. Strange shapes loom in the darkest dark and I run scared, but my legs are heavy with sleep and I can’t catch my breath. Beneath my feet I can hear the lizards moving in quick three-movement rushes. Here, here, here – then they stop to listen. When they stop I can hear the roadrunners and the strange helicopter beat of their running steps as they chase after the lizards. Coyotes bark sharply here and there in the gloom. All of them – All – The lizards, the flightless birds hunting them and the coyotes hunting the birds and stranger things unseen run in the same direction. There is no moon and the stars are so bright and evenly distributed that I cannot see any known constellations in them. I am lost in the unfamiliar of the dreamscape and the tumult at my feet. I stop and wait for the end.
It is out there, on my knees in the desert that I think of the shadow of the carbon moving through the red-hot knife bringing it to life and with the logic of dreams I think of the knife-maker watching the new soul imbue the knife in the darkness of his forge. I stand up and look up at the dream-sky and pray:
“Knife-maker, save me. Save me and teach me the secret of forging a soul.”
No one answers, but when I look down from the stars I see a glow way off in the desert, embers from a distant fire not unlike the master’s forge. I walk there and as I get closer the fury of animals at my feet wanes and I am able to walk faster, my legs not so heavy now. Once within the light of the fire I fall to my knees again. Two Indians are there, men in jeans and cowboy boots and leather vests with no shirts. They have bandanas on too. They wear bolo ties with silver clasps and turquoise rings on their fingers. A third man is with them but I cannot see his face because he turns to face me with his back to their fire and he is almost invisible in his own shadow – a shadow so long it reaches out into the night and to the lizards.
“Knife-Maker, is that you?” I ask.
“No man, my name’s Mike. We have some Coors. It’s cold.”
I stand up. His name is Mike. For Michael. He and the other Indians welcome me. Their fire is in an old oil drum like what people used to burn their trash in many years ago. I see they have a jerry can of gasoline and some old wood cut into foot-and-a-half lengths. They have a flint striker and a blowtorch. They have a cooler full of beer too. The doors to their truck are open and I can see into the interior and see that the lights for the radio are on. I can hear music, rock and roll music, a song I have at home on a vinyl record purchased years ago.
The older of the two Indians points at the stars and says simply: “The Ocean.”
I shake my head, I do not understand.
“The lizards and the roadrunners,” he says, “They all go to the ocean. They came from there. We all came from there. Someday, we will all go back.”
I wake up then, still sitting on my couch and I marvel, not for the lizards and roadrunners, or the Indians, but for the fires, the fire I lit for las brujas and the fire the Indians lit for me. All fires since the very first one carry the seed of that first real fire, the one true fire that lights all the others. I have forgotten the girl who struck me in dreams of fire. I know too, the sea from whence we came and to which we will return, when the last fire is extinguished and when the seed from the first fire from which all other fires came is gone forever.
Steve Passey is currently working on a literary ‘cover’ of Dio-era Black Sabbath’s ‘Neon Knights’. He has no special permissions to do so. None.