A Stage on the Waters
A flower, two or three grains of sand, and a note of song make an island. Add the splash of a tear for the sea.
But I am more, this island says.
The white-capped blue of moving mountains circles the land, and the isle is still and not still, the praying mantises stirring ever so slowly among the stems and leaves, the day-songs of birds and cicadas and Ariel-the-sprite whirling the clouds and calling to the sun. Then flick, flick, the grasshopper springs in the shore grass. From his cave, the wizard Prospero speaks a word that flashes with lightning. Ruins from the backside of time crumble to shards, held precariously in place by flowering creepers. Motes drift upward, fired to gold by sunlight. Live flesh is stilled, becomes coral at the island’s root. Grit makes pearl. All things are changed, changed!
A place of murmured prompts and story, the island is the theatre of selves. Peer into its realm, and the island will glance back, its eyes radiant with flowers, sun, blood, and thorns, for an isle is a mirror to wizard or fairy, woman or man, hero or clown.
Stare with no regard for manners. Eavesdrop. Tune in to words tossed on breezes combed by the scrub, to the wash and rasp of tide, and to the night-chants of katydids, led by a fey choirmaster.
The island is a concert of Miranda-notes and Caliban-groans, set apart from the world by salt seas and by magic. Teasing as an oracle, the isle whispers what will be.
I must be the first person to bear the name Miranda, for my father made up the name from the Latin word mirandus.
You would think that I would be wonderful with such a name, and so wonderful that I could never be bored. But it is hard to live on an island with no other people but a bearded old man and Caliban, who reveals to me that men are not much to look at, nor terribly well-behaved. I don’t suppose Ariel counts, as sylphs are not men, but he is more pleasant to look on than either my father or Caliban, the child of the Prince of Darkness and the witch, Sycorax.
And I suppose that makes Caliban royalty of a sort, so perhaps I should admire him. I do not. Occasionally he offers me a flower, and I take it, but I am careful, as I believe he would kiss and then eat me if he could, Caliban-cannibal!
I will tell you a secret that nobody but Ariel knows, and that is a great wonder, for my father knows almost everything. His wisdom towers over the island like a thunderhead, packed up with rain that could drown and wash away the world — like a fleck of dirt expelled by tears — if he were only to let it fly at once!
The secret is this: at night when my father pores over the grimoire that is ever-changing, never revealing the same pages, and that displays to him the buried secrets of the round Earth, I swim in the sea. Ariel makes sure that Caliban is far away, luring him to some thicket where berries are plentiful, or else to a brine-pit where he sits and sucks the crystal salts. I float on the ocean, and then for once I am truly wondrous and worthy of my name … pale as a moon under stars, brushed by the silver writhings of mystery, leapt-over by flying fish, kissed by the nibbling damselfish and others than have no names but are broken fragments of a rainbow.
Ariel chases away the pulsing canopies and ruffled trailings of the jellyfishes. He spanks the sharks, and they swerve and bore a way through the cold and dark to where their gladiators fight in underwater coliseums. I have not seen it, but Ariel has dived to the bottom of the sea in a bubble of air, and he has told me how they tear one another to gobbets and shreds and streams of blood in their sport. They, too, are cannibals.
I drink in the moonlight and starlight, become more than I am by day, and feel a longing stir in me like a fish — splashing up diamond drops and swerving into the blue. Ariel tells me that this is the flashing and movement of my soul, a thing he is not troubled by because he has none, being fey. I don’t really know what he means by soul. But the name does not matter, any more than the word Miranda matters when I float on the waves. My light increases and spreads in flakes across the ocean, a moonlit path to my bright nakedness.
Caliban by Starlight
He flies off laughing, the little bastard, and leaves me in the thorn bushes to pluck stickers from my hide — said he would show me something wondrous, but I can see wondrous for myself with no help from a fairy. I suck at my sore fingers and then moan to let off my anger.
It’s a pretty night for moseying around the island….
The stars have come out to pulse and wink at me, and the moon is as round as a sea anemone shell, a white test, all knobbly. If I go by, the cave will be yellow with candlelight, and the wizard will be hunched over his book, muttering. He’ll only curse me if I speak, though he is the one who taught me how to say, how to think. Then I thought too much. And so I have lost his love.
Instead, I go limping off to the beach, rounding the edge of the island, my head bathed in sweet, fishy airs that prickle my nose. Somewhere close by are the voices of angels or sylphs, riding on the wind. Often when I was alone, I hear them sing as if to me.
Then, far out in the waves, I see a something — a fairy or a goddess, naked in the waves. She gleams like the moon, is more beautiful than its white sea-urchin test. I love, I salute, I worship!
Dreams flicker before me, dreams in which I am a lover, dancing with my moon-goddess wife. Dreams in which she loves me, as my dam Sycorax must have loved my father, the Prince of Darkness. The wizard says my father was evil, but I will not believe him. Father! Father! I cry out to him, but no one ever answers.
I see a train of little children walking behind us in the moonlight, each one composed of a dark side and a light like the moon when it is half in shadow. Our children! I name them.
In an instant, a river of dark cloud sweeps over the face of the moon. And when the moon peeps out and then returns, the goddess with her brightness is gone from the sea. The voices are still coasting on the breeze, but they sound sad. I am sad. What is the use of learning words and thoughts without love, without little Calibans to dance in a ring?