Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Photo Jot

Hi, it's Chase again.  I started a weekly project that involves taking a photograph and then jotting whatever comes to mind in response to the image.  The following is what I saw and jotted down this week.  (by the way, I have a pretty serious writer's crush on Ursula K. Le Guin, I think some of that comes out in this piece)

The chanter stood with his back to the unlit pyre, singing to the unseen gods while the mourners held their places.  Though none of them had ever read the sacred chants, many had heard them enough times to trace the priest's words before he reached them.  Even those too young to know the words sensed the lines that were coming, as they expected the movement of a tree rocking in the breeze.  The song and the sorrow was natural, ancient, and right.

As the sun reached its point above and below the horizon, the chanter slowed his song, offering reverent silence for the unseen gods beneath and the unseen gods above who could now pass between.  In this moment they could be honored and their dead son could join them.  The mourners turned from the sunset to the woman who held the torch before her.  Other women held their arms straight and stiff along their body, holding the torch and death at defiance.  Others balanced the torch and its flames against their open palms, as they did with their children and their offerings.  But this old woman held the flame in front of her, tightly but absently, keeping the coiling, rising flames only a few inches before her face.  The radiant light of the torch against her face in the twilight brought back all the beauty and innocence of her youth, and for a moment, all were too amazed to realize that she remained unmoved.  The moment of her duty had come, yet still she did not rest the torch against the pyre or fold it in the unfeeling hands of her husband, in the place where she had slept and in the place where she had hoped to die.  Concern grew amongst the mourners but all knew their place, even if the widow had forgotten her own.  With great care and child like reverence, the young man beside her slowly brought his arms around the widow, extending his hands to cover the old woman's.  Slowly he brought her forward and slowly he guided her hands to place the torch within the man's embrace.  It had been done, and the straining fire of the torch found new life among the brambles and the broken body of the old man.

All, save for the old woman, turned from the fires surrounding the body to the sun.  Still above and still beneath.  The unseen gods would welcome their son.  The relieved mourners each moved away with the silent chanter as their guide back to the village.  Except for the young man and the old woman.  He stayed with her as she saw the fire flame above and beneath with renewed life and light, while the burden at its hearts remained cold and only grew darker.


  1. Didn't ursula write wizard of earth sea? I kind of get the same feel as earthsea, with your description of the chant and the old woman at the funeral. I'm amazed you were able to come up with that story just from a the picture of burning firewood. I would have liked a little bit of dialogue just to add something to the piece. overall i think it would be a good beginning or an ending to a story. i like the last line the best.

  2. Yep,A Wizard of Earthsea is one of UKL's more popular works. She's also written a lot of science fiction as well. I like all of her work for its awareness of culture and the sinewy nature of her writing.

    And thanks for the thoughts, I completely agree, but I'm curious though how I could break up the lengthy, removed description? Dialogue would certainly work but in this kind of setting, dialogue couldn't come from the characters since the ritual demands silence (they're not unheard gods). I could place something in the thoughts, like a memory, but I'm wondering what might be another way to break up the prose. Any thoughts?

  3. i think it depends on its place in the text
    i mean tolkien is famous for his multiple page descriptions of stuff
    i didn't really feel like this was necessarily to long without a break
    i think in order to sustain and build the imagery, sometimes sections like this are necessary
    i really like the piece
    the only thing i was kind of meh about, (i wouldn't call it something that bugged me, or that i necessarily disliked, but if i had to pick something i didn't like) was that i feel like it takes itself too seriously.
    i felt like i was the only normal person at a meeting where everyone was being super melodramatic and making things awkward
    but i think it was good
    even if i knew the characters really well
    having them speak probably would have ruined the moment
    sort of like those funeral montages in tv shows that rely on music and crying people to create drama
    they don't usually talk in those
    and when they do its something lame like "well that's it" or something