Sunset -- or is Lucifer falling,
best loved of the Most High, the most beautiful, whose name bears light,
plummeting through time? My friends and I are high on 'awa root, a traditional
intoxicant in this part of the world. We've been drinking for hours, and
the walk down Kapahulu Avenue is mythic, the sky a rip-slash of red clouds,
green air and high volcanic haze of parrot feathers, heaven in a gold cage.
This visionary evening inspires me to talk about metaphor. The old guys
I'm with are convinced I was born crazy, "fizzy in the head,"
they say, and their stony faces break with laughter as I quote Goethe's
Faust, Part One ('Marthens Garten'), 'Name ist Schall und Rauch, umnebelnd
The five elderly men, as one,
begin making guttural sounds, choking and gagging. "Names are noise
and smoke, obscuring heaven's light," I translate. This makes sense
to them, and we continue on our way in silence. When we come to the sea,
there is the bearer of light, gigantic and red on the horizon, a single
heartbeat. Down and down, this puzzle of fire, atom by atom smashing into
light, falls into darkness. What the day has left touches the old men, and
they begin to speak in metaphor, reciting lines from the opening passage
of the Kumulipo, an ancient Hawaiian chant on the origin of life: "Night
gives birth. Darkness born of darkness. Born to darkness are the eternal
spirits. Night is the womb."
In logic, metaphor is "contradictio
in adiecto," a contradiction in terms, a semiotic provocation of reason
and convention. "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women
merely players," says the Bard in "As You Like It." Then
-- who is the audience?
You who are who, the who that
whispers near me as the glass doors of the sky open to the stars, do you
realize, and if so why did you cast us to realize, that our humanity itself
is metaphor? We are creaturely spirits, physical dreams, noetic actors of
biophysical programs staged in the dimly-lit theater of the Uncertainty
Metaphor is self-expression
that checks the validity of our own paradoxical existence. That is why we
tell stories, that is why the white whale, the Bible salesman who steals
the gimp's wooden leg, the king who finds the elixir of immortality and
loses it to a sea monster -- the more outrageous the better to justify with
poetic reverence this larger narrative of the brightest and most beautiful
fallen into darkness.