by: Jason Wyman
Once there was an old, gray Mutt with a large bushy white mustache and black feet named Amar. Amar was floating on a boat made of reeds on a sea of charcoal and ash. He magically appeared there one Friday afternoon after eating some black and white mushrooms that had bright red hairs growing out of its cap. They tasted like the earth and smelled like the morning dew.
He found the mushrooms on the side of the road after roaming in mourning for almost a week. You see, Amar had lost his companion Tally, a runt of a Raccoon, a week ago Thursday night, and he was now the last Animal on earth.
Any other day, Amar would not have eaten those mushrooms, but today he was grief stricken and desperate, so he ate them hoping to forget. Still, as he swallowed he could only think of Tally: the way he clamored up fences, the way he smiled when eating, the way he always had a tale to tell.
Full and exhausted, Amar slept. He woke up floating on the ash and charcoal sea with dreams like white dandelion seeds carried by a breeze dancing above his head. He could not be bothered by those dreams because he knew none of them could come true, for his biggest dream was the return of Animals and his most pressing dream was to bring Tally back to life. Dreaming was hopeless; it meant the impossible. He preferred to sleep.
And, sleep he did. The gentle rocking of the charcoal waves lulled Amar into a deep black slumber. As he rocked in his reed boat, his left paw fell over the side and touched the ash sea. His black slumber erupted with memories of the First Animals.
Diona and Mirwais were the First Animals from which all else were created. Diona was an elephantine ant with a large, extended abdomen, and Mirwais was a monstrous onyx jackal who head was larger than the Sphinx. Diona and Mirwais roamed the earth as it still formed. Magma did not burn them; nitrogen did not freeze them. They were great and more powerful than god, but gods they were not. They were, simply, the First Animals.
With each step they took, mass solidified beneath their feet. They wandered in complete silence until the earth was a large desolate rock. Nothing grew on its surface and its atmosphere was inhospitable to anything or anyone one other than Diona and Mirwais.
Upon seeing the desolation, Diona sighed and created the First Wind. It traveled the world picking up loose debris and dust, the tiny particles not forged in the footprints of the Animals. The debris and dust assaulted the earth forming high mountains and deep canyons.
Mirwais overjoyed by the frenzy of formation laughed boisterously. His laughter morphed into a wild tempest. Blue-gray clouds soon blanketed the earth. Then, lightning lit up the entire sky, which bore thunder. It was the First Music of the world, and it made Diona and Mirwais dance.
As they danced, vast deserts and wide valleys formed. The earth was finally beginning to take shape the way we know it today. Still water and life and language were missing.
Diona and Mirwais danced for what seemed like centuries until they were finally so tired they tumbled to the ground and fell asleep. And they dreamt the First Dream.
Diona was not just an Ant; she was the keeper of all things on and beneath the Earth. Her extended abdomen undulated as if something grew inside her. She was a radiant bronze, glowing like a sun and just as hot. Everything she touched melted until she found herself in the exact center of the Earth.
Mirwais was more than a Jackal; he was the gatekeeper of the borderland between the heavens and Earth. His obsidian fur sparkled like a galaxy. He grew and grew and grew until he completely surrounded the Earth creating the night sky.
Mirwais and Diona had not known loneliness for they had always been together. Now that they were apart it caused the First Sorrow.
The Jackal cried until all his life fell to the Earth as rain. The inconsolable Ant, driven to madness by the separation, tore open her abdomen. Out poured the Second Animals.
The death in their Dream was not a dream. Rather it was their transfiguration, and it became the First Memory.
Amar witnessed it all as he slept in his reed boat, his paw lightly skimming the ash sea. As he slept, he, too, cried. The death of Tally was but an echo of the First Sorrow. It overwhelmed his entire body, and his paw in response slipped deeper into the ash sea.
Another memory flooded Amar.
Mira was a Second Animal, and she looked like a Great Panda except tufts of bright red fur grew between her claws. The tufts looked almost like paintbrushes — some coming to a fine point and others flat and wide.
She spent most of her days quietly chewing bamboo observing the world around her. Mira loved the way the sun, wind, and bamboo brought the forest to life through light and shadow. She loved their dance.
Sometimes, when the wind blew from the east, she heard echoes of the First Memory. She heard it not in words but as the tickling of her bright red tufts. The breeze caught inbetween her toes, and she found herself lifting her front paws to the air. Then, as if someone else took hold, she painted the air and watched the story of Diona and Mirwais unfold before he.
A longing grew deep inside Mira that mirrored the First Sorrow. She wanted a companion. She no longer wanted to be alone.
One lat afternoon when the sun was about to kiss the horizon, the air grew bitter cold and the earth warmed beneath Mira’s paws. And while Mira knew she needed to endlessly chew bamboo for her body demanded its daily nourishment, all she wanted was to hibernate, to curl up in a cave and let winter pass.
The sun went to sleep and the first star appeared. It twinkled bright red the same as the tufts on her paws, and it called to her. She followed it all night across a wide, turbulent river and up a perilous precipice until she was on top of a mountain covered in hard, crisp snow.
Mira had never climbed the mountain though she had seen it many times on the Northern horizon. Now that she was on top she forgot the bright red star and looked out over the valley below. She could barely make out her bamboo home in the distance, and she felt She watched the sun rise turning the black sky a deep violet, then navy then ultramarine and periwinkle until finally the sun was high in the azure sky.
Mira hadn’t noticed her weariness and hunger grow as she followed the bright red star, but in the crispness of day it was impossible to ignore. Her belly rumbled and her eyes itched. There was no bamboo on the top of the mountain, and she hadn’t the strength to climb back down. So she set off to find a place to sleep.
She wandered all day finding nothing. In fact, Mira had tried laying down in the snow, but as she closed her eyes waiting for the final slumber the wind visited her bright red tufts and jostled her awake.
The sun set bringing an even more bitter cold and a more desolate darkness. Mira was no longer wear; she was frantic and desperate. Her head turned furiously hoping to catch a glimpse of the bright red star of some other hope. That is when she noticed a flicker in the north. She ran and ran and ran towards that flicker until she buckled from the weight of her laborious breathing. The cold enwrapped her and turned her bones to ice. As she lifted her head for what she thought was surely her last breath, she saw a glowing cave in front of her.
With every last ounce of life, she crawled into the cave. A fire and bamboo greeted her. Grateful she ate. Then, she slept.
In her dreams, the Ant and the Jackal visited Mira. They showed her in minute detail every moment of their creation and death. What once had been whispers carried on the wind and afterimages painted in the air was no solid and clear. And the First Sorrow, which has only been but a mirror, was now physical and real.
When she woke, the fire still glowed. She watched the shadows dance on the walls, and she longed like she had never longed for the dance of bamboo, sun, and wind. It was then that Mira knew the bamboo forest was her companion, and she also knew she would never see it again. This was the Second Sorrow.
The fire died leaving behind soot and charcoal and one tiny wisp of smoke. The wisp tickled Mira’s bright red tufts and pulled her to the entrance of the cave. There in front of her was a large pool of water, and she knew exactly what to do.
Mire mixed the water and soot making the First Paint. She used her bright red tufts as the brushes she knew they were and painted the walls of the cave with images of the First Memory and the First Sorrow. When all the walls were covered and she had no more life left to give, Mira curled up in the center of the cave and welcomed her final sleep. Thus, from Mira was the First Language born carrying with it all the beauty of the Second Sorrow.
The sorrows poured form Amar’s eyes and formed as a pool in his reed boat. The pool lapped the back of Amar’s paws and woke him. He did not remember where he was or how he got there. He could only think about Mirwais and Diona and Mira. Images and emotions whorled inside him making him dizzy and the rocking of the reed boat was no longer lulling it was nauseating.
It made him sleepy, sleepier than he was before. Amar collapsed over the side of the boat and his front paws fell deep into the ash and charcoal sea. His bushy white mustache skimmed its surface.
Another memory engulfed hum as flames consume gasoline. This time it was not of some distant history. It was of Tally.
Tally traversed a glowing white field of snow towards a looming mountain range in the South as if called by it. His diminutive frame made it seem as if he was floating instead of walking. He didn’t even leave any footprints.
Tally never paused. He did not stop to take in the marvels of the snow-covered land. He did not stop when he wolves howled their hunger nearby. He did not stop when the cold bit his toes and nose causing them to crack. Tally had a singular focus of which nothing could distract: the mountain.
The sun set and rose six times and still Tally pressed onward never eating and never sleeping until finally the steep cliffs rose before him. Then, Tally flew. He flew with the speed of the wind up the mount. At the top, a cave greeted him.
He quietly and quickly entered the cave.
In the middle of the cave grew the most glorious mushrooms. They were black and white with bright red hairs that looked like the bristles of a sable paint brush grew out of its cap. And they emanated the most glorious warming bronze light, which illuminated and brought to life the paintings that decorated the cave walls. Tally was mesmerized.
Before him unfolded the tale of the First Animals and the First Sorrow. Never before had he witnessed the power of the First Language, and it now made all words seem inconsequential and insignificant. It was as if a veil had been lifted from his eyes and he could finally see the world as it is not as it is perceived.
He immediately wanted to share this experience with his companion, Amar. But Amar was a whole world away. Tally knew he could never describe this beauty, this sorrow. It could only be lived.
Then, as if a chorus rode on the wind and rose from the mushrooms, a song filled the cave.
Tally born of the morning dew
the First Memory is shared with you
for as one of the last of our kind
you must preserve it for all time.
We wish not to fade from history
thus, take with you the First Memory.
Tally gathered the mushrooms and held them tight to his chest. The bronze light faded and so too did the First Memory.
Suddenly, Tally was surrounded by a blackness that was more than just the absence of light. IT was a tangible blackness that gripped his heart and cause the deepest sorrow he had ever known. In that despair, he whispered, “Amar, where are you?”
The wind heard his whisper and rushed to his aid. It lifted Tally and carried him back to his home. There it laid him down and Tally slept.
The next morning, Tally was covered in dew still holding the mushrooms close to his chest. He recalled a dream about a mountain and a cave covered in magnificent paintings. There was a story to share, he remembered, a story that must be told, but the details were all so fuzzy.
Groggy and still clutching the mushrooms, he rose. He rushed off to find Amar careless of the world around him. As he crossed a busy street, a silver car struck him dead. His limp body tumbled over itself until it was on the side of the road. His arms still clung to the mushroom, which no were covered by his corpse.
“Noooo!!!” Screamed Amar and he shook himself awake. Gone was the reed boat and charcoal and ash sea. Gone were the dreams dancing like white dandelion seeds on the gentle breeze. Gone was Tally. There was only Amar laying on the side of the road.
Bright red mushroom spores covered Amar’s black paws and looked like a galaxy. As the spores whirled like dervishes each memory that had visited Amar as a dream replayed itself. Mirwais and Diona. Mira. Tally. Over and over and over again. Amar wept.
It was thus that the Third Sorrow was born.
When Amar had shed his final tear, he finally understood who he was. He was the avatar of the First Animals and the herald of the First Memory.
Amar to this day wanders the Earth telling the tales of Diona and Mirwas, of Mira and the Cave, or Tally and the Mushrooms to anyone who will listen. In fact, he shared it with me on the night of the full moon in December 2011. I found a black and white mushroom capped with fine bright red hairs growing in my backyard. It called to be eaten, and eat it I did.
I fell asleep and witnessed the First Memory unfold. The next morning I woke covered in dew.
And this? This is but my humble attempt to put into words, which are so inadequate, the Tale of Amar.
Jason Wyman is a life-long educator, writer, learner and performer. He finds spaces between things and then creates supports between them. He has helped professionalize youth development, created original theater, developed learning models based on peer exchange and shared expertise, written fables inspired by the darkness of fairy tales and fostered community rooted in social justice, creativity, and laughter. He lives in San Francisco with his beautiful husband and precocious cat. You can read more at www.14blackpoppies.com. (Photo by Andreea Cănăvoiu)