A morning recently, I watched this tiny spider at the creation of her beautiful, new web. It was an act of great careful order, with certain stages of the web already laid out, cornerstones, so she could weave back and forth between them with the heddle of her perfect body. I always get a bit overwhelmed, choked up with beauty, when I see spiders at their webs; it feels like watching the creation of a universe and its myriad stars. How, how, I always wonder desperately, full of some kind of unnameable longing (the kind Rumi is always speaking of), does that silk emerge, and how does she know the way?
"The stars come up spinning
every night, bewildered in love.
They’d grow tired
with that revolving, if they weren’t.
“How long do we have to do this!”
God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain.
Remember the lips
where the wind-breath originated,
and let your note be clear.
Don’t try to end it.
Be your note.
I’ll show you how it’s enough.
Go up on the roof at night
in this city of the soul.
Let everyone climb on their roofs
and sing their notes!
- Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks), from Each Note
I've been returning to this poem recently, standing atop some ancient rooftop in my mind, the sort I imagine Rumi would have known, sandstone, the heat of summer evenings and big indigo blue skies above, whistling and singing out to the stars, the whole spin of galaxy, spider-made, each strand a bit of love-longing.
|Old fort rooftop, Malta|
Something about the idea of the rooftop, looking out over some old city, the supposed "pinnacle" of human progress, (which really seem to impede our view of the skies with all those tall structures and all that light pollution!) and singing until everybody else is on their roofs too, above the fray, praising with love the stars and the night and the moon and the wildness, the true life-source, in each heart—this really gets me.
When I was younger I loved climbing to the roof of our house with my brother and my dad, making sure he always held the ladder tight for me because I didn't like going down backwards, or that lip as you clambered away from the rungs and onto the shingles. But once up there, with cups of tea balanced carefully, we all got swept up in the sky. The rooftops, the whole neighborhood, looked like a different landscape entirely, the shingles like scales, all the houses capable of suddenly turning into great beasts and lumbering off with lanterns for eyes and music playing from their stove-top hearts. It was like you'd walked up into a different part of the same place, a doorway through the everyday and into the sublime: back to shingles, nothing else between you and the stars.
May we all climb to the spider-web rooftops of ourselves and sing and get everybody else itching to clamber up there too, whistling for the things we love.
All of this rambling about spider-webs, about rooftops, about the sublime, reminded me of a piece of the book-project I've been working on with the truly wondrous Rima Staines. More on that later—in brief it is a novel in pieces based each on her paintings, which themselves each are Doorways into the Other just through the thicket, just atop your very roof. I am very excited about its soon-to-be finished state. One of the tales, based on the painting below, has much to do with spiders, magic, and otherness.
For indeed, "there is no excellent beauty that hath not strangeness in the proportion"—I believe it is through the strange edges of the world, the ragged rooftops where madwomen sing and the loose-stone cracks in our hearts, that our brightest souls dwell.
|Leg-Wheel and Jew Harp, by Rima Staines|