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Getting Real




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 Himmelsglut.'

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 Principle.

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.