MYSTICISM: Fifteen Ways of Seeing the Light — (1) Talisman, by Peter Friederici

From the Georgia Review

 . . . the natural limitation so flight sempiternally deny the satisfaction of desire.  For this is the inherent irony of vision, that it reveals to us the space beyond our bodies, and the shortness of our grasp.  Visual perception makes it possible for us to grasp for what is beyond, and, at the same time, to realize that we cannot reach it.”
—    F. Gonzalez-Crussi, The Five Senses

A small rounded stone in my pocket: dark brown, no larger than a half-dollar.  It looks quite the same as approximately 1,600,000,000 other stones that you could pick up for free in the southwestern quarter of Arizona.  I carry it with me.

Here.  Hold it in the light.  See the rich brown coating of desert varnish, almost black, that glazes its surface, baked and bronzed by the centuries and millennia of undiluted sun.  See how it glints and gleams, lustrous as if coated with a thin sheen of oil, glossy as skin glistening with sweat.  See how the light reflects and shimmers and seems almost to break into its prismatic components.

The stone is worn as smooth as if it had been thumbed by dozens of worried generations.  I finger it as I walk, a desert rosary.  Maybe it is cold outside and I am walking to an office, but in my mind I see the desert sun glinting off of thousands, millions, of stones like this.  They cover the rounded, finger-shaped berms between the narrow washes that run green with low shrubs, stunted paloverde trees, and a few scattered and ancient ironwood trees.  The ironwoods, huge and scruffy, are beginning to bloom in delicate lavender; the bees gather ‘round.  In the distance, ragged mountains, hard and timeless.  My mind stretches but fails to comprehend that all this expanse of stones has been worn from those mountains over the eons.

The desert varnish itself has perhaps taken thousands of years to form, built up of the slow metabolism of bacteria that live on the rock surface and that over uncounted generations cement a fine coating of manganese and other minerals above themselves — perhaps for protection from the ferocious light, a natural sunscreen.  The varnish throws back the sun, and collectively the stones throw back the heat.  On a late spring day, with the ironwood blooming in the washes, walking on the desert pavement feels like taking a stroll on a griddle, all heat and light.

I don’t much go out of my way for rock but this one I carry as a talisman.  It glints and glimmers and even in a dim room, even in winter, reminds me of the places where I used to work, reminds me of sun on my face, silence, sparseness and fullness, the glare of side spaces, distant mountains painted with light.

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