A poor man saved up his money to buy a good coat, a black coat with a hood. It was to replace a long dynasty of shabby coats that fell apart. The black coat would take him onto the roads and through the fields into events he had long anticipated. There would be rain and starlight and absolute quiet for miles and miles. When he purchased the coat it fit perfectly, and he felt a freedom and comfort he had not known to be possible. At once, he set out through a light rainfall. And then he noticed in the last glow of twilight that the new coat was already coming apart at the seams. It had not even gathered one straw or fleck of dust, and yet it was tearing. The man stopped and whispered something mournful, for he knew that his soul would live forever, but his story had ended, for the coat was integral to the plot.
The old reaper labors down in narrow valleys of blue lines like irrigation canals and black marks like trees, of fragile golden fields and chalk-white cliffs that rustle like leaves in the evening breeze. The whirlwind of harvests and harrows has aged him, streaked his raven hair with autumns of cloud. A reaper without a scythe, he wanders out along deep furrows flowing with ash and straw. What his hands and the good earth have made he will sometimes survey from the burning fields or from his old wooden chair. Time drains from his darkly stained fingers. The saltwater sky begins to sough. Looking out, he remembers no other voice than the wind that washed through the yellowing leaves.
The western desert sank into darkness. The long twilights made his eyelids heavy. The man had forgotten his fatal, colorful coat and the dust of the well, the golden grain and the great monuments. Alone by the river each night, he remembered the darker and longer evenings of the prison, its solitude, its fragrance of death, its myriad mirrors in diamond dreams—dreams softer than beds of papyrus or petals, dreams deeper and clearer than artesian springs—architectonic, arcane, and aeonian—an underground astronomy of argentum and agate. In those depths rose unknown planets and stars into the limitless labyrinth of one world and one word.
Through curling tunnels of blue-green glass, through curtains of white foam, he moved at breakneck velocity, his feet firm on the board, every muscle alert and receptive to the motion of the breakers. The light and sound coursed around him and through him. Whether he was freefalling sideways or diving upward, the green water followed him and he followed it through depths and heights, always searching, searching the vertigo, the curves and cascades of shimmer and thunder, his body left far behind in sand and sky. The last breaker was the one he had been waiting for. It was high and hard, rising up swiftly, a beast of furious water. And he mounted the beast and soared into the great blue of sea and sky, almost touching the sun. Within seconds, he knew that it would throw him hard, and this certainty lifted his soul through seven heavens of angelic winds. Life was endless. The impact was cruel but not fatal. A stone or brick struck his cheek, and the pavement shredded his legs. For several minutes, he lay on the concrete, just breathing and remembering. The wheels sparkled on the asphalt not far away. All of the abandoned buildings looked like black and white postcards. The skater got up, his mouth full of blood, and walked on air towards the skateboard. The gray pigeons were gathering by a lake of blue spring rain.
One day, a huntress entered an unfamiliar stretch of grassland that rolled in blue and golden waves as far as the eye could see until they dissolved into black mountains of impossibility. Clothed in a striped poncho and dark hat, her rifle always ready, with great caution she walked the unknown. In the twilight, as moon and stars began to rise and the afterglow of the sun still burned its propane flames to her right above the distant highlands, she came to a land of scattered silver ponds, where she encountered the voice of the animal. Who are you? the deep voice demanded. I am a huntress, the young woman replied, her finger caressing the trigger. I know you are, but what am I? She stepped forward, for the animal seemed to have taken on the features of a cougar. You are a cougar! she said. The animal replied, I know you are, but what am I? I am not a cougar, the huntress laughed, but in that instant, she felt that she was no longer walking upright or carrying her gun. Instead, she had limbs of tawny fur, and she cast the reflection of a prowling cougar in the ponds she passed as she tried to follow the creature that had dissolved into darkness. It appeared once again, further south, as a sheep. Who am I? You are a sheep! she bleated out, and immediately noticed that her hooves were stuck in the mud by a pond. The voice withdrew, calling out, I know you are, but what am I? She hobbled foreward, unbearably warm in her thick coat of wool. A strong wind blasted by, bending down all of the blades of grass. You are the wind! she shrieked, suddenly flying high above the plains, rushing through a darkness of swirling stars, remotely glinting ponds, and the bared teeth of the snowy cordillera. She could no longer see the creature anywhere. And the voice thundered throughout the mountains, throughout the grasslands, throughout the abyss within her skull. Who am I? You are nothing, she howled, her heart sinking, her last thought lingering midair for a few more seconds: I should have remained as the wind.
On a wooden sign standing alone in a great prairie far from any railroad, mine or herd, the following notice was scrawled in chalk:
The great horses of the great war are not coming back, whether or not they have actually been or are being shot.
It began as a prayer into the endless spaces. A prayer for wind and rain, for freedom and solitude, for quiet. Through the switchgrass shadows and buffalo moved. The stones were enough, and the contrast of pale sands and dark trees was a gift of clarity. Then clouds of thunder came. And there were horses, horse blankets, steel and smoke. It became a field of blood. And plague. And then it became a traveling show of shotguns and hats. And then it was a motion picture. In the motion pictures, you sometimes saw the pale sands and dark trees, and you could hear the wind and the sound of the great solitude, and sometimes you almost wanted to pray once again.