Thursday, June 21, 2018

At Solstice



From Wallace Stevens, "Sunday Morning"
 

VII

Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Daniel Barkley: The Voyage Onward

 
Embarcation II, 2003

 
The Far Shore II, 2006
 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Original Innocence


I guided a visualization last week that involves a group of men lying on their backs in a circle, nude, with eyes closed. We make an imaginary journey to a Temple of Refuge consecrated to the erotic energy between men. We approach the shrine, enter it, and witness its rituals. We co-create the experience by speaking aloud one by one what rises from the depths of our imaginations. Throughout the exercise, we pass our energy around the circle through continuous heart-centered, non-genital touch.

The exercise turns out very differently every time I lead it. Some men remain reticent; others give free rein and ready voice to their fantasies of what such a Temple would look like, and what would happen there. I have only a vague idea in advance how our visit will end; I follow their lead in guiding our departure and return to the “real” world. The visualization can get pretty juicy, but we agree in advance to clear boundaries, and we end without directly acting on  the detailed sexual scenarios that we’ve sometimes voiced.
Except for last week. Throughout the exercise, the touch around the circle had been sensuous, exploratory, active. As I concluded the visualization and invited everyone to open his eyes, no one seemed ready to relinquish the pleasure of physical contact. Calling a halt to it felt like an intrusion, counter to the clear impulse of everyone present. So it continued, morphing gradually into fluid erotic freeplay, by pairs who’d connected within the larger group, then welcomed a third, then broke apart again into a new configuration. I got up to dim the lights, then returned to my place to cradle the head of a man whose face had relaxed into a moment of surprise and delight.
Looking  back on how the evening unfolded, I still dwell on how easily we all accepted one another’s witnessing presence amidst these intimacies. Derogatory labels of exhibitionism and voyeurism couldn’t begin to capture the unselfconsciousness with which men in the circle allowed themselves to be seen, in trust that we shared a safe, sacred space. We’d established that space together, visualizing the Temple; now it endured, as surely as if we’d built it stone by solid stone. Seeing and being seen was sexy, yes. But more important and enduring, seeing and being seen brought some small healing of the soul, and repair of the world.
When shame and prohibition drop away, it’s possible to glimpse the original innocence of Eden, mirrored in the presence of those who bear witness to it--never destroyed by the eating of an arbitrarily forbidden fruit; unpunished, unrebuked, unafraid, still whole, still available, despite sixty generations of grey old men preaching to the contrary.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Queer Utopia, Concluded: House of Refuge, Chapter 11

11 Firesong

I’m glad to have let go before deep winter.

It’s hard work enough, for body and soul, to dig a brother’s last bed through the Staghorn Lord’s outer roots when the ground isn’t like stone. And I’d been ready for at least a year. At some point, the wisdom of our bodies itself tells us when it’s time--not much differently, it turns out, than our bodies’ wisdom guiding us well all through the journey. Not much differently than a leaf knowing when to drop from a branch of the Tree.

Summerstorm has come every day since he and our brothers laid me to rest here, knelt above me, wept. Much as our Lord knelt above Gil at the very start, before He took root here to embrace His beloved, before His beloved was taken up into the life of our Lord Himself. As I too am being gathered more completely into him, day by day. The seed my brothers offer Him flows down through the soil to bless me as I rest in in His embrace. They’re with me at Full Moon; I’m among them still at Full Moon.

Summerstorm knew all along, from the day he became my companion and helper, that I’d make the passage long before him. His heart will heal. Refuge is a place for the healing of the soul that’s found no true home down country, and for the repair of the world. We’re here to be made whole, to make one another whole, to care for this land. And to bless our brothers and sisters down country as well, offering them what they can’t offer themselves or one another.

I’m still aware of them one by one as they stand or lie above me. I know their voices and their tread. I know the sounds of their Full-Moon ecstasy. Especially of Yarrow and Brightsong; of Arrowshot and Willowwind; of Yarrow’s beloved Yellowwood to whom I watched Brightsong open his heart as well through the warm, green months of summer; and of Amberleaf, who still has so much to learn of himself. May their paths be long and joyful, every one of them. May their sadness, when it comes, unlock deeper treasures of their hearts. May their happiness, when it returns, blossom into gratitude and open them more fully to themselves and to one another. May they merge, long before their own letting go, more and more fully into the Soul of Cernunnos.

Brightsong took Refuge at noon after the Full Moon of Lughnasa. I couldn’t stand through the whole ceremony, but sat in the chair Summerstorm had brought out for me to the Tree as our new brother declared, “I take Refuge in Cernunnos. I take Refuge in the ways of this House. I take Refuge in my brothers.” With that, he tied his new banner into the branches above his head among those of us all. And then the whole brotherhood gathering in around him like bees swarming, toning together, voices becoming one, Summerstorm’s arm supporting me as I rose to join them. The ritual of which men’s Coming-of-Age down country is but a type and shadow. Three dozen men murmuring together, “Twice-begotten, twice-born,” declaring his second birth, as he’d already been twice-begotten the midnight before, anointed with the seed of us all. The light of the late summer sun filtering down through the leaves of the One who receives us here.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Queer Utopia: House of Refuge, Chapter Ten



10 Yellowwood

The sun was already high when I woke.  I felt Brightsong moving, burrowing curled into the curve of Yarrow’s back. A sigh and words spoken softly beyond the curtain told me Willowwind and Arrowshot were stirring as well. Someone else was already up, his footfalls soft on the floor in the passageway. The slow, lazy morning after Full Moon is always sweet and delicious--even more so for the brothers whose beloveds come up country than for the rest of us. These hours before noon of the next day are the bridge back into the daily rhythm of our life, a time when the veil remains thin.

Yarrow reached behind him to bring Brightsong’s arm around his chest, then turned his head to meet the lad’s lips. I moved away as softly as I could to the far edge of the bed. I could have risen and slipped out, but I couldn’t bring myself to forgo the sight of them together--the man I’ve loved since my first days in Refuge, and the man he’s loved and waited for in patient hope, since long before the lad came of age.

I know I’ll never have his heart quite the way Brightsong does. I knew it even then. There’s a sadness in that, but a beauty as well. The freedom I give him is the freedom he gives me; the freedom we all aspire to give one another, though sometimes we fail. I know that Yarrow would lay down his life for me. As I for him. But his love for Brightsong is a mirror of the love of Cernunnos for Gil.  Not just at Full Moon but from day to day, they’re knit together into the Soul of the Staghorn Lord as I’ve rarely seen two men joined.

Yarrow turned to face Brightsong and our eyes met, much as mine had met Brightsong’s at that moment of terrible and beautiful understanding the afternoon before. The moment he knew, as a visitor is required to learn, that he and Yarrow would never be husbands to one another, like men down country to their wives. The moment I knew that the years of our sleeping together alone nearly every night were drawing to a close. The moment that Yarrow had to face the pain of witnessing his lad’s loss of innocence, a new man’s entry into the ways of the twice-begotten and twice-born.

I rose from the bed  as casually as I could manage, stretched, turned, and parted the curtain into the aisle. And then found myself weeping, much as Brightsong had wept the afternoon before, though, I’m thankful to say, more quietly. Some cushions lay piled together just outside the curtain, and I sank down onto them, my forehead pressed to my knees. I found respite in the posture, as though I could comfort myself as I longed for Yarrow to comfort me.

Willowwind found me there when he parted the curtain of the cubicle next to ours. I felt his hand on my shoulder, then clasping my own hand to raise me up into his arms. We said nothing, nor needed to. His embrace was enough, the solace I needed and all the solace I could receive. Finally, “Come to bed,” he whispered, and led me beyond the curtain where Arrowshot lay, who raised the sheet and then drew it over the three of us.

“I’m sorry for the pain of yesterday,” I whispered to them both. 

Arrowshot was quiet for a moment, then turned to me. “It had to happen. And was healed soon enough--“ he paused, smiling, and wiping away the tear running down my cheek, “from what we saw of the three of you together last night.” He paused at the sound of Yarrow moaning in pleasure beyond the curtain. “And from what we can hear right now,” he chuckled, and reached out to tousle Willowwind’s hair. “You wish you were with them, don’t you--just a little?” he asked him.

Willowwind laughed. “You know me very well for a man I only get to see one or two days a month.” He reached across my chest to take his beloved’s other hand. “How couldn’t I fall a little in love with a man who looks so much like you?”

Their clasped hands settled on my chest. Arrowshot nuzzled into my cheek. The brother-down-country of my beloved, the father-down-country of the man he in turn loved. The Soul of Cernunnos was still moving in me, as it still blessedly moves in many of us the morning after Full Moon. I wanted to make love to him and in him to Yarrow and to Brightsong as well. To Arrowshot and Willowwind together and in them both to the whole great chain of my brothers, stretching back to the First Days, and forward to generations of men not yet twice-begotten and twice-born.

The sounds of Yarrow and Brightsong making love just feet away could only be a source of heartache for me, or else of joy, and I chose joy.

I turned and opened my mouth to Arrowshot. Felt Willowwind kissing my chest, then his tongue flickering around my nipple. His fingers beneath my sac, lightly stroking me there at first, then pressing more firmly. His hand rising then to curl around my stand. My breath quickening. Arrowshot rolling onto his side. Straddling me. Pressing his stand against mine, offering us both to Willowwind’s grasp. The two of them kissing deeply.

The melting into One. The Staghorn Lord alive in us. The heart opening to gratitude at the wonder of it, and pouring out Love in morning light as bright as the dawn of the First Days. All of us gathered under the sheltering branches. None of us left alone. Our souls healed. The world repaired. The whole of this grace grounded in our bodies and flowing from them as a spring from its source. Time falling away.

And then awareness of the curtain parted between our bed and the next, clutched in Brightsong’s hand as he stood watching us. Yarrow embracing him from behind, his chin on Brightsong’s shoulder as he whispered encouragement in his new beloved’s ear .

Willowwind turned to meet their gaze and opened his arms. Brightsong hesitated for only a moment, looking to Arrowshot before falling into Willowwind’s embrace. Yarrow followed him into the cubicle, gently kissing the back of his neck,  then raising his eyes to me in invitation. I rose to meet him at the foot of the bed. His skin smelled of wet earth and seedflow and tasted of salt. I sank to my knees in front of him and gazed up into his face as I pressed my tongue into the sweet crease between his balls and his thigh that I know so well and love so dearly. His palm laid to the side of my head was bliss. He gasped, bent down to stroke my shoulders, and then turned to sit on the edge of the bed as I took his stand in my mouth, lapping at the dewdrop that had trickled from its tip.

Further up on the bed, Arrowshot was embracing Willowwind from behind, kissing his neck, the front of his body rolling into his beloved’s back, buttocks, and thighs. Brightsong’s arm had lain on Willowwind’s flank. Now he stretched it forward to stroke his father-down-country’s shoulder.

Yarrow followed my distraction at the sight and turned, pulling me up onto the corner of the bed with him. As I went down on him again, he reached out to trace the line of his brother-down-country’s spine with his fingers before turning back to me, raising my head from his stand and pressing my lips to his.

I lost myself in the kiss, as I’d lost myself in our lovemaking the afternoon before. And then, feeling  hands at my hips, looked down to see Brightsong gazing up at me, couched at the foot of the bed, Arrowshot  beside him kneeling before Yarrow, whose amazement mirrored my own. I couldn’t distinguish the pleasure of Brightsong’s stroke from the pleasure of witnessing Arrowshot’s on Yarrow. It seemed, instead, that the Pleasure was living Itself through us--through Arrowshot to Yarrow, through Yarrow to me in the kiss that we resumed; through me to Brightsong; through the arm slung across his shoulder back again to Arrowshot, for the cycle to begin again.

Sons of the Staghorn Lord, twice-begotten, twice-born. Twice-begetting one another: in the connection flowing among us, one to the next, creating anew the bond that knits men together in love, overcoming enmity and division.

The curtain into the corridor still hung open from when Willowwind had drawn me in after I’d sat weeping outside. Now, just beyond the opening stood Amberleaf, frozen. Watching all of us together, but fixed mostly on the sight of Brightsong kissing and caressing my stand. Willowwind saw him too, from where he crouched by Arrowshot, stroking his beloved’s hair and Yarrow’s chest at the same time. He rose and went through the curtain, where the two talked for a few moments before Willowwind laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder and encouraged him into the cubicle. Everything about his mien made clear both his fascination and his fear.

Yarrow’s breath came now in short gasps that I knew meant he’d reached a point beyond any turning back. All four of us sensed it: Yarrow burying his face in my neck; Arrowshot slowing his stroke and reaching up to rake his brother-down-country’s belly with the fingers of one hand; Brightsong reaching up to clutch Yarrow’s hand in his own just as his Yarrow’s seed arced up to fall pooling on his chest; Willowwind coming forward again from where Amberleaf stood to lay his hands on Brightsong’s and Arrowshot’ shoulders. All of us moaning encouragement and praise. Then Brightsong springing up to kiss the man he adored. Willowwind lapping up the seed from Yarrow’s chest. His eyes locking with Brightsong’s just before they came together in a kiss overflowing with the offering of Yarrow’s body to our Father and Lord.

And then Brightsong turning to me, to share with me in turn the gift of our beloved to us both.

Twice-begotten, twice-born. Twice-begetting one another.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

"Pleasure Heals"

Well, yes it does. And no, it doesn’t.

I hear that slogan tossed around, along with the self-descriptor “pleasure activist.”
Both phrases almost invariably leave me skeptical. Not because healing doesn’t sometimes come through pleasure, but because what brings the healing is lot more complicated and subtle than an experience of feeling good, or great, or even mind-blowingly amazing.
It’s healing to be seen for who you are, honored for who you are, loved and encouraged to be who you are. It’s healing when someone witnesses your longings without judgment. It’s healing to be in the presence of someone who rejoices in the pleasure you’re feeling. It’s healing  when you feel the freedom to rejoice in your own pleasure without self-judgment or self-doubt.  
All this can come with great pleasure. But what heals us is the experience of being held in safety and love. What heals us is being reminded that we live in a web of relations. We need healing in the first place because we fall into believing that we’re alone, that we are only for ourselves, that our lives are not sustained by something bigger in which we live and move and have our being. We need healing because our love and compassion for ourselves has been blocked.
So pleasure, to borrow a Zen phrase, is a finger pointing at the moon. If we get hooked on looking at the finger instead of the moon, we’re missing the main event. If we imagine that pleasure can fix us while we go on feeling profoundly disconnected from others, while we still can’t love ourselves, while we go on believing we’re on our own, then we’re putting the cart before the horse. If pleasure becomes the thing we’re always chasing for its own sake, instead of welcoming it when it comes and accepting its passing as also part of the inevitable cycle of things, then it becomes part of our entrapment rather than a gift of our liberation.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

House of Refuge, Chapter 9


9 Brightsong
We went forth into blackness until my eyes adjusted from the bright light of the hall. I walked by the sound of the footsteps of men around me, and the comfort of Yarrow’s hand in mine. Then pools of light emerged on the ground beneath the Tree, through level after level of branches in new leaf rising above us. The outline of the bowers set up in a circle, each with a lantern set next to its entrance. The banners of Refugetakers tied to the lowest limbs, still invisible but brushing my face as I passed them.

Men removing and folding garments to the side of the walkway. And in the strengthening pale light of the moon, faces nuzzling into necks or laid against chests, hands reaching for rising stands. Men pressing themselves in embrace against the trunk of the Tree. A man leading another by the hand--Willowwind leading Arrowshot, I was sure--toward one of the bowers.

Then Yarrow’s breath on my face. The brush of his stubble against my cheek. Our lips parting. The second time that day, I thought with a moment’s confusion, and the second time in my life, that I’d opened my mouth to the kiss of another man. My hand reaching down to the stand I could already feel pressing against my hip. His laughing encouragement to slow down as I kneaded him desperately.

The awkwardness of feeling the hands of another man caressing our shoulders. Then Yarrow leading me away to a bower, and the flickering play of lanternlight inside the door over the cushions inside as we fell into each other’s arms. Our faint shadows on the walls of the tent.

His weight on top of me, the roll of his belly against mine. My hands on his flanks, and then sliding down to clutch the hard muscles of his buttocks.

Home. Sanctuary. Refuge.

His teeth gently biting at the line of my jaw, the warmth of his tongue against my neck. The sound of my own moans as though they belonged to another man; my disbelief that all this could be happening. My prayer that it would never end.

The moment when we rolled over and I found myself on top of him, now with his face pressed into my chest, as it had been that afternoon into Yellowwood’s. The impossible ecstasy of it, believable because I’d already witnessed it between the two of them. My stand pressed against his belly, slick now with the flow of my arousal, and his against my thigh.

Sanctuary. Refuge. Home.

My gasps quickening.

“Remember what you learned in the Longhouse, Brightsong. Use your breath. You can hold it, you can hold more. Our seedflow belongs to the Staghorn Lord. But not yet, not yet. Stay with me. Hang onto me. Breathe.”

Sitting up together, stand to stand, heart to heart, Not-One-and-Not-Two. Slowing our breath down. Breathing as one. Stillness. Stands cradled in palms almost motionless. Then anointed with oil from a bowl in the corner and stroked so slowly that the rise and fall of our breath was faster than our hands. Time falling away, the very possibility of words falling away. The energy uncoiling up my spine as we’d learned to recognize in the Longhouse.

Refuge. Home. Sanctuary.

The point when I began doing in turn to Yarrow what he’d done to me. The hardness of his nipple against my tongue. The roll of my own body as he lay under me. The moment when his own gasps told me he in his turn was just at the edge of seedflow, and his deep, slow breaths bringing him back, making room within himself for more pleasure.
The memory of his bare skin against mine in the river, years before. The knowledge that I’d wanted this then without knowing what it was I’d wanted. That I’d wanted this as a child of five, sitting on his knee.

Home.
Rolling over again, and his arms sliding down my body in firm embrace. His hair trailing over my chest, the roughness of his chin nuzzling my belly as he kissed me just below the navel. And down again, his hair brushing my thighs. The unimaginable miracle of his mouth for the first time on my stand.

Sanctuary.

Outside our bower, a soft, slow, steady drumbeat. His head rising, his smile just visible in the dim light from the lantern behind him at the door. His hand extended to pull me up and guide me out of the tent back into the company of the others. My arousal evident to every man who looked toward me in the moonlight, as theirs was to me.

Refuge.

The steady drumbeat grew gradually louder. Men stood in pairs, or in knots of three or four or five. Two or three lay face down, spread-eagled and thrusting against the earth.

At the edgeof the circle, alone with his arms crossed, stood Amberheart. I saw nothing of Bowstring and their cousin-down-country among the men close enough to me to make out their faces. The four men who’d walked up country ahead of us stood together in a circle, each with one arm around his neighbour, their heads bowed and their free arms reaching down into their midst in the now-bright moonlight pouring straight down through the tree.

One of the men lying face-down on the ground groaned, cried out “Twice-begotten and twice-born!” and lay still. Another man knelt down to lay a hand between his shoulder blades, then gently stroked his hair, speaking softly to him, all the while continuing to caress his own stand.

Yarrow knelt before me, taking me once more into his mouth. My knees began to buckle. I caught myself on his shoulders, then found myself cradling his head and thrusting my hips forward. Behind him facing me stood Yellowwood, watching but hesitant until I smiled and extended my hand.

Now I can name what was happening to us as I couldn’t have then: the dropping away of the small self, as we merged into the Soul of the Staghorn Lord. Thought no longer preceded, the body no longer followed. Our mouths opened to one another--to Yarrow’s momentary surprise, as he looked up, then turned to take Yellowwood in his mouth as he’d taken me, before Yellowwood himself sank to his knees, the two of them licking at my stand, their hands clasped between them and around my thighs.

The drumbeat louder still, and and with it the moans of a dozen men around the Tree. I heard again, from across the circle, the cry “Twice-begotten and twice-born!”--which one man after another began to echo in quick succession.

“I can’t hold back any longer,” I whimpered.Both men rose.  Yellowwood stepped behind me, his one arm around my chest, pulling me back to lean against him, his other reaching down to cradle my sac. Yarrow’s cheek against mine was bliss. His firm, slow stroke was sweet agony. My seedflow erupted in a moonlit fountain and fell glistening onto the ground at my feet.

“Offer your seed. Declare yourself His son,” Yellowwood whispered into my ear. “Twice-begotten and twice-born.”

“Twice-begotten and twice-born,” I stammered, to hear it repeated around the circle by still more men, before I collapsed entirely into Yarrow’s arms.

I have no recollection of leaving the Tree--none even of Yarrow or Yellowwood offering his seedflow to the roots of the Staghorn Lord. I remember only the door of the dormitory, and moonlight streaming through its high windows onto the curtains around the beds. Falling into one of them, crawling somehow between the sheets, embraced on either side by Yarrow and Yellowwood. Vaguely aware of the voices of Arrowshot and Willowwind murmuring just beyond the curtain in the next cubicle. Sinking at once into the deepest, most fully dreamless sleep I’d known in weeks.

Sanctuary. Refuge.

Home.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

House of Refuge, Chapter 8


8 Yarrow
The beginning of supper was agony for us all.

Space had been set aside for Arrowshot and Brightsong as my visitors, with Willowwind on Arrowshot’s other side as his beloved.  Brightsong refused to sit next to me and took his seat between the other two. Willowwind sat with his hand on Brightsong’s arm. Yellowwood had changed places with Starcourse. I saw misery in his eyes when he looked across to us from where he now sat. “If it could have gone worse, I don’t know how,” I told Arrowshot.

“You could have made it easier on him,” he said, turning towards me and lowering his voice. “He didn’t have to see the two of you carried completely away with each other. Witnessing a little mild affection between the two of you would have taught him the last of what he needed to understand before tonight.” I knew his frustration wasn’t only for Brightsong’s sake. His own Full Moon, and his one day of reunion with Willowwind before heading back down country, were all but certainly ruined.

“We never meant it to go so far,” I said. “It just happened, when you’d barely taken him to Willowwind. And then we lost track of time.”

“Couldn’t the two of you have just given it a rest, for his first Full Moon?” he pressed on. “The lad’s heart was so open. He’s longed for you so desperately.”

He held it in for a moment and then let the rage flow. “It’s times like this I understand why our father came back down country.”

“That’s not fair,” I shot back. “We made a mistake. We never intended to hurt him.

“And maybe you’re forgetting how hard it is for all of us to set aside what our whole life down country led us to expect life would be like here,” I added.

“No,” he said, and turned to see Willowwind still talking to Brightsong, cradling my nephew-down-country’s hand in his. “I think that’s what you’re forgetting. Maybe what everyone who lives up here has forgotten. He saw your tenderness with Yellowwood when we first arrived. He already understood we’ll all be together under the Tree tonight. Isn’t that enough? How much do you expect a newcomer to take in on his first afternoon?”

“Enough that our life here isn’t held hostage to the jealousies men from down below think they’re entitled to when they arrive,” I retorted. “Men coming up here trying to lay claim to one another almost tore Refuge apart before we began showing them our life from the outset. Ask Firesong. He still remembers what it was like when he was young. ’Twice-begotten and twice-born in Cernunnos’: birth isn’t easy, Arrowshot. If it were, the Staghorn Lord himself might never have come up country. A House of Refuge wouldn’t exist at all.

“We’re not one another’s husbands. We’re not one another’s wives. He has to understand that from the beginning.” I wasn’t happy for the severity in my own voice. Perhaps it flowed, at least a little, from what was left of my own regrets in my first days coming here, for what I hoped to find and didn’t--before what I found instead came to seem even richer. And prayed Brightsong was too absorbed with Willowwind to overhear. How could I long for him so deeply, even as I knew that being united with him meant letting him go as well?

I didn’t expect tears streaming down my cheeks. Nor my brother-down-country turning to cradle my face in his hands. Mercifully, there was enough conversation humming in the hall to make them less conspicuous. Others near us looked decorously away, turning to their own talk. Save for Brightsong and Willowwind.

The lad’s eyes melted and welled up as well. He reached across Arrowshot to take my hand. Arrowshot almost immediately moved his stool back from the table, stood up, and laid a hand on his shoulder,  encouraging him to switch places.

“This isn’t the reunion either one of us hoped for,” I said.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Brightsong broke in, and then sobbed, “I just want to be with you. I can’t stand not being with you.”

Yellowwood has told us both that for the rest of supper we looked more like two sixteen-year-olds rutting for each other than a newcomer talking with a man who’d taken Refuge years earlier. I felt more like a sixteen-year-old. My need for him was as strong for him as his for me. Perhaps not as desperate, for my time here. Even so, years of my own desire, mounting ever higher but ever more pent-up as he’d ripened toward manhood, poured out between us in that short space before the end of the meal. We were the last ones to leave the tables when everyone else had withdrawn to the far side of the hall in conversation with a draft of mead and a brazier on which some hemp seeds already smoked to help ease us all out of our small selves and into the Soul of Cernunnos.

I can’t say how much he really understood by the time Full Moon began. It’s one thing to grasp such things with the mind, another to feel them them in the heart, the belly, the loins. It was pointless telling him that my love for Yellowwood could never replace what he meant to me, that it wasn’t a contest for anyone to win or lose. That, and all such truths, can only be lived into. I could only offer a prayer of thanks to the Staghorn Lord that he’d brought my beloved here, and a prayer that His healing power would open his heart to the infinity of love of which we’re capable. If not under the Tree that night, then in the fullness of time.

As we walked down the length of the hall, he released my hand and walked directly up to Yellowwood to lay a hand on his heart. I could see that he’d startled himself no less than Yellowwood. They both stood awkwardly for what felt like a much longer time than it could have been--and then began laughing. Arrowshot saw it, with initial alarm at the thought of what his son-down-country might have intended, approaching the man he saw as a rival, and then with relief.

A little later, the mead and the burning hemp seeds began having their effect on us as they’d already done on the men who’d withdrawn from supper before us. Welling up within me I felt my longing to go the Tree--a desire I saw sweetly mirrored in the gestures of men toward one another all around the hall. Brightsong, unaccustomed either to strong drink or the smoke, hung on my neck like a vine on an elm tree, but watched in fascination to see Arrowshot standing chest to chest with Willowwind, whispering together, their arms around one another’s necks. Yellowwood, bless his dear and generous heart, withdrew to the company of his other closest friends.

And then the moment when so often we move together like a flock of birds, all knowing when to turn as one toward their place of their rest, witness to the Soul of Cernunnos already blossoming within us. Without words, without the bell ringing to summon us, we all flowed from the hall, out along the walkway, around the side of the dormitory to the welcoming darkness of the Great Tree silhouetted by the rising moon.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

House of Refuge, Chapter 7: A Queer Utopia, Continued



7 Brightsong
Inside, light slanted through windows placed high on the walls, offering views into the tops of the trees that flanked the building. On either side of a central aisle, four sets of muslin curtains hung from rods about eight feet above the floor, just below the window sills, dividing spaces that each held a bed, a small table, and some square, open boxes sitting on the floor. My eyes began to adjust from the brilliance of the late afternoon sun outside, and beyond these ten partitioned areas I could make out a Lingam rising in front of another curtain that blocked the view beyond. Outside I'd heard birdsong, and the sounds of men still working in the gardens beyond the inner compound. The stillness in the great room was complete.  As I walked forward, I saw linens carefully smoothed on each bed, and a bowl on every table in which floated a single flower.

The Lingam was a little shorter than the one in the Longhouse. The top came just to my eye level.

Before it stood a sizeable table set with a bowl. As in the alcoves, a flower floated here as well.
I could see clearly now that the surface of the shaft was even more elaborate than the gatepost outside. Here there was no abstract interlace. The figures of men, larger in scale than outside, teemed around its circumference, so densely that it seemed entirely composed of them rather than merely decorated on its surface.  Rather than the chains of figures I'd seen outside, here they piled on top of one another in complex, irregular knots. At the very base, the Staghorn Lord sat in lotus position, his stand jutting from his lap and grasped from either side by an attendant. At the top, two elongated torsos formed the the ridge on the head. Their arms stretched toward the slit carved in the top, which held a deep silver insert borne in their hands. 

From further back, I heard soft laughter that I recognized.

The centre aisle ended behind the Lingam with another curtain stretched across the middle of the room, leaving a wide opening to left and right as far as the outside walls, where tall, narrow weavings hung, one worked in brilliant reds and blues, the other in green and violet. Behind the curtain to the left, I found another single, central row of partitioned spaces. Curtains hung at either side of these, separating them from each aisle, but drawn back partway on the first two I passed. The curtain of the third was almost fully closed, open only an inch or so at the nearer end. I heard a deep sigh, and a whispered, "Oh, yes. There. Right there."

My breath caught. I inched forward to look between the curtains. Two men sat naked on the bed, their legs entwined. Yellowwood was facing me, arched back with his arms braced behind him. His nearer leg sprawled toward me. His fingers curled through Yarrow's unshorn red hair as he pulled my uncle's head to his chest. Yarrow's jaw rolled, and Yellowwood gasped. Between their bellies, their hands lay curled around each other's stands.

"Lord of the Dance!  Please don't stop. Suck it harder," Yellowwood pleaded. Yarrow slid his hands from the younger man's flanks further around his back. The muscles of his shoulders went taut as he pressed his face tighter into Yellowwood's pale flesh.

Then he pulled back, and I heard his soft laugh again. "You really like that, don't you, sweet boy?" he whispered. "I like hearing you beg me to do it." He laid the pad of a thumb against each of Yellowwood's tiny, tight pink nipples, then caught them with a forefinger. "Do you want me to go on?"

Yellowwood collapsed forward, whimpering into Yarrow's shoulder. Yarrow responded by burrowing back into the flesh of his chest. Yarrow's hand flashed into a blur on Yellowwood's stand, stopped abruptly, flashed again, stopped.

"I need it. Please, I need it. I'm so hot for it. Suck on it. I love you, Yarrow, and I want you to please lick it forever. Till I merge into Lord Cernunnos."

My stand rose rock-hard watching them, but despair churned in my chest. I hated my own arousal. I wanted to to tear the curtain apart screaming. I wanted to part it gently, steal upon them and kiss Yarrow on the back of his neck. I wanted to pound my fists into the hunched muscles of his shoulders. I wanted to slap Yellowwood's face. I wanted to be Yellowwood and feel my uncle's mouth on me, as he felt it. I wanted to be Yarrow and feel Yellowwood's hard shaft in my hand. I wanted to be myself and do to Yarrow what he was doing to Yellowwood.

Unconscious of my action, I'd unknotted my lunghi and taken myself in hand. I looked down to see the thin, clear flow of my excitement drooling from the tip onto the floor below, then back up to find Yellowwood's eyes gazing directly into mine. I gasped, and Yarrow turned.

The slap of my shoes echoed from the walls as I ran toward the door. I remembered my nakedness only as I pushed it open into the glare of daylight. A man passing the gate looked across the garden court as I stood on the threshold. In embarassment at what was left of my stand, I slunk back into the dormitory.

Yarrow and Yellowwod stood near the Lingam. Holding the lunghi I'd dropped, Yarrow came toward me as I began to weep.

"Brightsong--"

I jerked away as he reached out to touch my shoulder. I heard my own wailing as if it were coming from outside my own body.

"Brightsong--" he began again, and pulled me into his embrace. He was still naked, as was Yellowwood as he watched from further off. "Oh, Brightsong. My sweet, sweet boy."

"I'm not your sweet boy," I shouted. "That's what you called him." Yellowwood stood looking miserable and helpless without coming forward.

I wanted to push Yarrow away. Instead I collapsed on his shoulder and sobbed.

"So much to take in all at the start," he said, and stroked my hair. "It's all too fast."

"You said you wanted me to come. You said how glad you were I was here." I choked the words out in short gasps.

"It's alright. I meant every word of it," he whispered, and rocked forward and back as he held me. "I love you more than I can tell."

"But it's him you were with like that," I blurted back. "Go back to your sweet boy and finish chewing on him till he sees his god." I regretted the venom in my voice as soon as I spat it out.

He pulled back from me, visibly stung. "Leave Yellowwood out of this," he said, his voice gone cold. "This is about you and me."

"I came here to be with you, and you hardly took your eyes off him to look at me when we met you in the forecourt." I felt sudden humiliation at the thought  of what Willowwind had said he remembered of me with Yarrow. "I'm not a puppy waiting for you to pet him. I'm a man. I don't need you if you're so busy with him."

His eyes blazed at me. "You're not acting like a man. You're acting like a child."
"You never complained about how I acted when we were together all summer."

"Then you were a child."

"And you like your boys grown up."

He slapped my face. I recoiled from the sting of it. "Oh, gods, Brightsong, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he said at once, reaching out to me again.

I grabbed my lunghi from where he'd dropped it at our feet.  In the garden, I sat down weeping into the fountain.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

House of Refuge, Chapter 6



6 Brightsong
From the Great Tree, Willowwind brought me around again past the kitchens by the walkways between the buildings to the forecourt of Refuge.  At everything he’d told me, I felt confusion and excitement inseparably mingled. What he’d said would happen was like the fulfilment of everything I’d half-consciously longed for monthly in the Longhouse between me and the other boys receiving instruction. The thought of it happening in Arrowshot’s presence brought me up short. I understood more completely, now, what he’d meant when he said that in Refuge we were no longer father and son but brothers. I thought too of the love I was beginning to accept flourished between him and this man who was guiding me for the first time through the ways of Refuge. That I would witness whatever passed between them in the shade of the Staghorn Lord’s Great Tree.

That Yarrow too would be there.
And the man to whom he’d showed tenderness on the verandah before he looked up to see us.

I felt my heart reaching out to Willowwind. And saw in his eyes his heart reaching out to me.

The man who was already Arrowshot’s.

Nothing of ways down country had prepared me for this. My soul felt like one of the streams we’d forded on our journey to Refuge--crashing down its watercourse, turned aside this way by one boulder, that way by another.

From the forecourt, we entered the bathouse. Inside the double doors, shoes were lined up to either side. Baskets on shelves held clothing. Beyond the next doors, water poured from spouts on the wall into two steaming pools. In one, three men lay back, their eyes closed, their arms over the lip of the pool. In the other, two men half-sat, half-floated facing one another, their legs entwined as they talked, laughing, their hands cradling one another’s stands. It was less of a shock for having already seen the tenderness between Bowstring and his cousin. I was beginning, already, to understand that we’d left shame behind on the other side of the gate, as well as our down country kinships.

“We need no fuel for the hot water,” Willowwind said. “It comes as up as a blessing from the hills. In days long past, the pools were here before the building.”

In a room still deeper within, we left the steam and heat behind. A man hesitated on the edge of a pool into which two others encouraged him to plunge. Jumping in, he ducked, came up gasping, then relaxed into a motionless float. While Willowwind and I still stood there, all three emerged together and trotted back to the steaming pools behind us.

The hall on the other side of the forecourt, the building on whose verandah Yarrow had stood, was the great room where the brothers spent most of the waking hours they weren’t engaged in labour.

Cushions lay piled into corners and against side walls, where three men sat talking, and another reading. Stools and trestles were stacked against one wall, and wide boards like the ones I’d seen Yarrow and his friend carry in. A cabinet in one corner overflowed with palmleaf books.

The building opposite the entrance to the compound, with its own gate and its own garden court, and over which I’d first seen the crown of the Great Tree, was the sleeping quarters.

We paused by one of the carved gateposts at the entrance to its garden. Willowwind put out his hand to touch it. An intricate, not quite regular interlace pattern twisted around it. His fingers played over the serpentine ribbons of wood. Between them, tiny human figures played among the complex curves. Men stroked themselves, or lay in long chains with faces pressed to one another's groins, hands laid to chests, or fingers inside each other's bungholes.

Everything our classmasters had taught us we could do to pleasure ourselves, these figures were doing to each other. At the top, men danced around a flame that rose to the crown of the post, their hands joined, the muscles of their backs polished by years of touch from the fingers of men passing the gate. I couldn't take my eyes off the carvings. Willowwind's touch was habitual and unselfconscious, but I was also aware that he noticed my fascination and smiled.

"It's amazing, isn't it? It's over a hundred years old. A man named Hawkflower spent most of his life on the  carvings. He died when your kinsman-down-country Firesong was still young. Firesong finished it about twenty years ago." He ran his hand over the men dancing at the crown. "These are his work. And this chain of men sucking each other’s nipples that runs sunwise from here around the back." He put his hand on the small of my back as we leaned over to see the carvings where they twisted up the back of the column. "No one's ever wanted to try matching it on the other post."

He paused, then smiled more broadly. "It moves you, doesn't it?"
I felt my face go red but managed to return his smile. "Yes. Yes it does."

"Look at how perfect the hands are here," he said, pointing to a knot of men whose palms cupped one another's balls. He looked sideways at me and grinned. "But it's what they're holding that I admire most."

I felt a sweetly drunken churning in my chest and groin. My lunghi tented out a handbreadth in front of me. Willowwind's angled out a little less obviously below his flat, hard belly. "Aren't you glad you came to visit?"

"It's the best part of coming of age," I blurted out.

"It was for me too," he said. "I hear people still talk about me taking Refuge two New Moons after I became a man." He laughed.

I giggled. "I remember everyone said your mother kept trying to hold you back till the winter."
"Mother and her best friend made up their minds their children were going to be each other's first when we were still playing with blocks," he grinned. "Skylark and I were both afraid that if I didn't take Refuge right away, they'd push us into the same bed before autumn, and she had as little interest in being with a man as I did being  with a woman." He paused. "She didn't go up country to Women's Haven until the next spring. The pressure was off, once I was out of the running. We’re still close. We try to arrange our trips down country to spend time with one another when we can."

"I think you'll find Yarrow here," he went on, laying hand over heart in the same gesture  that all the men had used in  greeting and farewell, but then reached his fingertips toward my cheek. "May I?" he asked. I started to stammer, then silently reached my own hand out to his face instead. Our lips brushed each other and opened. Our tongues glided gently together like two otters finding each other in a stream. It carried me away, yet I struggled with anxiety--what if Yarrow emerged from the dormitory to find us like this?--and still with resentment over how tender my uncle had been toward Yellowwood. I was surprised to feel Willowwind gently pulling away from me.

"It's sweet to see you again, Brightsong. I remember you as a little boy , how you followed Yarrow alll over town like a puppy. He's been so happy you were coming to see him."

"He seemed busy with Yellowwood when we got here," I said, and then immediately regretted the pout I could hear in my own voice.

"I know for a fact he's been talking about your visit all week." He paused. "Go look for him. Supper's not for an hour." He brushed my cheek with a final peck and turned back toward the workshops.

Inside the gate, water splashed in a fountain I was surprised to find shaped like a woman's yoni. All around its edge someone had strewn flowers. At the end of the fountain nearer the gate, the water spilled from a lip and then into three channels cut into the paving stones. It trickled from there toward the plants that grew beneath the low brick walls around the forecourt.  Behind it, benches of pale grey wood flanked the door, under arbors where wisteria was just coming into bloom. The plain door was made of broad planks and showed no sign of a latch. It swung open silently with a light touch.