Body of Silk

We were lying on the grass on a fluffy synthetic maroon blanket, another blanket of red and yellow tartan recycled wool over the top of us. It was a brilliant warm day of sudden hard and fast cold winds. It was like being in bed on high seas. Just above our warm resting bodies an inch of warm still air floated. In a layer just above this warm sleepy layer, rushed a fast cold wind that would severely rumple our hair if our heads were to lift slightly from the ground. Above this, levels of air stacked up over us with increasing wildness and turbulence skyward. I imagined a vast layer of fantastical wildly shaped and tossed air just above the trees, reaching upwards into the sky and raging around the sun. The wind could be heard approaching, beast like, from the bluebell woods, flowing fast across the field, reaching the nearby trees, shaking them slowly but more and more firmly by their trunks, till a hurricane rushed about in their upper leaves. Epic wind-carved monsters ranged about in a bright blue and white sky.

Early summer, so unpredictable and all the flowers were out. We were in the grounds of an old Tudor house. There were not many people about so it felt like it was all ours. We were on a tilting green slope near trees and in the distance were fields and the bluebell woods from where the small storms emerged. I dozed, peacefully still, listening to the roar of an imagined sea and we floated on the tilting raft of green grass, white tree blossoms raining down like the sea foam and pollen shaking out of branches in clouds like sea spray.

I knew I was hiding in that slip of warm air, from all the fantastical terrors of daily life. The fragile frame we had erected around us shuddering and promising to fracture. In an old tale I would weave a new body out of silk thread the colour of faded rose. Embroider a flush on my cheeks and carve my hair out of soft white wood into coils and fronds. A most intricate and delicate lace I would stitch into intimate spaces, and make myself brocade button nipples. Inside my body I would stuff a downy kapok, pearls and sequins, so when I ruptured it would be entrancing.

I had to stop myself dreaming like this. This time I must live a real life, in a real body. Anyway, in this era who could manage the loom? It was as big as a small house. It was a multi-tiered flower tower loom. I would have watched over the threads of my body from the start. I would have supervised the feeding of the white swaying worms with the freshest of mulberry leaves.

I will tell more of my old tale in a while. For now we drink tea in the pavilion by the laurels. I remember the line from a Walter de la Mare poem, ‘Very old are we men, our dreams, are tales told in dim Eden’. Very old are the women with bodies of silk and ornament. Beautiful bodies made over and over. But no one can tell. My companion in this particular life and I, now drink tea and eat crumbly soft cake with that kind of icing that has crystals of sugar trying to escape from it. I can still feel a swaying movement from sleeping on the billows. We sit next to two men. One is quite old, maybe eighty years old. He is of gentle frame and countenance to fit. He wears a very neat, rough woven woollen jacket with large dark brown buttons. A neat hat of similar fabric and colours, woollen blues dark browns with yellow strands – the sort of blues browns yellows that only wool can be, not like silk blues browns and yellows. The hat rests quietly by the master’s teapot. His white beard looks old fashioned and comes to a point in nineteenth century style. Maybe Freud had such a beard. Well, it looks familiar. He is neat in his movements and his nails are very short and clean. I imagine he lives alone as he exudes a kind of neat controlled loneliness, listening to Radio Four, making tea and toast. Wearing very clean old slippers. He talks quietly to the man opposite him. Perhaps this is his son, he is about the right age, fifty maybe. The ‘son’ wears his more modern clothes in the same way somehow and they both talk in the same gentle even tones. They are discussing the coming weekend. The older man will stay over with the younger man and the next day there will be some kind of family gathering. A large meal at a large country house. I imagine wicker chairs and roses. Old rugs. I want to go along. The older man offers to pay money for the meal but this is waved away with a we’ll see and it’s fine and really no need. They leave and I watch a man at a table further away. His mother is at the table in her wheelchair. They are just finishing tea with friends. The son is embarrassed because his elderly mother wants to take the little pats of butter wrapped in gold foil home with her in her handbag. He is a little sharp about it and tells her she must not and laughs nervously looking up at the friends. They all arise from the table. The son goes behind the wheelchair to move his mother off, but not before asking her if she is ready. It makes my heart, my real heart, hurt. It is a formality. She is not allowed to take home the little pats of butter. But such a necessary formality, the semblance of choice, to be wheeled away now or a moment later. Would she like a new silken body, get to choose her lace, her colours, her embroidery?

We now take a walk in the gardens. An old courtyard has a pattern of purple and orange tulips growing across it. I see an old stone water fountain against a wall, with stone steps leading up to it. The water is green, as green as moss, so green it looks surprising in the whitish stone basin. Leaves and petals float on the green liquid and we can see our reflections, whitish and far away. Carved wooden hounds chase across a wooden seat we rest on. I put a pale hand into the green water and think about my silken hand, the one I had before, a long time ago.

Let me say more about this old time, very old time. I was explaining about the loom. To work the loom that weaves the body silk you must learn the songs. The songs contain lines of mnemonics that you must sing over and over and over while working the loom, as these are the patterns and sequences of the knots. They are the patterns of your body. Patterns held inside objects made of sound. You can pay someone to work the loom, but it is best to weave your own silken body, sing the songs yourself. Later you can choose the embroiderers and lace makers and take them the silk threads from the cocoons that you raised. But before this you can spend time having the silk skeins dyed carefully in the shades you would like for the ornamentation of your silk skin. The palest of lavenders, all the possible shades of jades, pinkish stone colours. Shimmering blackish cherry satin threads for darker spaces. Oh, it’s a feast. The metal threads of gold and silver can be mixed with peacock feathers and the embroiderers do wonderful things around the eyes. As for the colour of your body itself, well that depends on the moth partly. The most exquisite pale flesh tone can be found naturally in the cocoons of one kind of the Bombyx. It is rare. Its short-lived body so soft and so white, the cocoons lustrous. Or you can have your silk dyed in the most gradually shifting tones of almost any colour you choose. Ah, to live that life in such a body of ornament. Every touch enhanced. Every feeling magnified through the fibres, stuff, pearls and skeins. Tendrils of thread picking up tremors of sound. The glass eyes, stitched in with a web of silk, can see the most minute light diffractions off the lamellae of butterfly wings, the refraction of light within a liquid drop on a petal, the black wing of the crow is incandescent with fiery brilliance.

Yes, before I forget to tell you, for those with great wealth there is the purchase of secret and ancient weaving songs. These can yield a silken body fabric that is like cloud pattern brocade of such subtle changes in colour and texture that your silken body seems to transcend reality. Light is dappled and altered as it passes over it. Well enough. The world of shimmering iridescent light and trembling sound is closed. It is now, I am here, and the body is flesh and dull. Yet there is comfort in that. Exquisite sensation of the ornamental body is pain, constantly, exquisite pain.

We look around the inside of the old house. The ceiling of the living room is a white iced filigree hanging above the chintz furniture . Every one loves the art deco bathroom and wants to have a bath in the big tub while looking out of wooden shuttered windows at distant fields. On a table I notice a stack of receipts yellow with age and I find that I can read the writing although it is not English. They are receipts for skeins of silk thread, listing colours like jade, stone, kingfisher, silvery pink, pinkish silver, copper pink, sand pink, moon colour, a pair of glass agate coloured eyes, peacock feathers, black silk lace of the finest grade. Gold and silver silk skeins. Kapok stuffing. Pearls. Sequins. Cherry black brocade buttons with a raspberry shape.

Our day is nearly done. We sit on the edge of the gardens overlooking hills. The chestnut trees are giants, their white or blush coloured blooms like so many huge candles on every branch. The sun is sliding away and the lambs are new to the fields. We drink another pot of tea on the grass. Back to work soon. A huge truck or lorry can be seen coming along the road towards the great old house. It seems too huge to come along such a narrow country lane. It pulls up outside the house. A crowd collects. Men start opening the back and taking out barrels and crates. They disappear one by one down the side of the house. People look on. Now a huge crate is being taken out. What is inside such a huge crate asks an onlooker. The removal man nearest says, ‘it’s a loom, you know, for making cloth, a really very, very old one, the woman who bought the house had it sent over from Nanjing in a container on a ship’. A lady nearby laughs, she says she weaves at home and no loom could be that size, it’s the size of a small house. The removal man says, ‘there are all these strange foreign people coming over to work it’.

I laugh inside my head, my real head. We walk back to our big old shiny blue car. There is a fine powder of red dust over it. The door on the driver’s side doesn’t open so the passenger seat has to be clambered over each time. It is hot and still inside the car. Outside a cold wind billows over and shakes the candles in the trees. We are driving home, there is traffic. We will make some supper, drink tea in the garden, get an early night. There is a summer storm that night. The storm comes out of the trees in the park and carves up the clouds into fantastical wild shapes that fly up around the moon.

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