for the spirit of Jonathan Harvey


There was a fisherman, who lived in a village on a great bay, into which he and the other fishermen of the village would take their boats out every morning to let fall their nets. The bay was so sheltered, so calm, that the fishermen could call to one another over the water, their voices clear in the damp air, especially on a spring morning such as this was, with white mist hanging over the sea and a faint crescent moon still visible on the wide blue-grey sky.

They had not long been out this morning. Not long at all. Now was no time to be heading home, but he saw them, all the rest, his friends, turn their prows back towards the village. He shouted to them, but received no answer.


Soon he was alone.


On a whim he decided to aim for the other side of the bay from the village, a place where pinewoods came down to the sand.


He landed, pulled his boat up onto the crunching beach and then, when that was done, became aware of music, something between the shimmering chime of small bells and the luminous breath of panpipes. There were also flowers floating down, he could not tell from where, flowers of colours he had never seen before. And there was a growing fragrance, an infinite sweetness.


Then he saw it, iridescent and caught in the branches of one of the trees ahead, undulating in the breeze and turning from gold to ultramarine to purple to deep green. As he walked slowly towards it the scent grew, and after he had reached up and taken it out of the tree he placed it against his face, its exquisite softness, how it seemed to be cool and warm at the same time, how colours slowly moved through it, how it smelt of lavender and oranges and anis and walnut leaves and the neck of his beloved.


Stop, said the spirit-being. That cloak is mine. That feather cloak is mine.


I found it, said the fisherman.


You cannot wear it, said the spirit-being. It will freeze your flesh.


I shall hang it up in my house, then, said the fisherman. It will be a treasure for all to see.


It is mine, said the spirit-being. It is the feather cloak of a celestial.


So much more of a treasure, said the fisherman.


I will not be able to climb the sky without it, said the spirit-being. I will not be able to regain heaven.


What’s that to me? said the fisherman. And anyway, celestials shouldn’t moan.


I am stranded here below, said the spirit-being. Look at my coronet of flowers: see how they wilt and fade.


The sky seems so high, now that I cannot walk there, said the spirit-being. O clouds, do you know how blessed you are? O geese, enjoy your flight! O wind, remember me!


At this outburst the fisherman relented, but had the wits to exact a bargain.


I’ll give you back this feather cloak, he said, but I’ve heard of the dances of heaven. I want to see you dance.


Give me the cloak, said the spirit-being, for I cannot dance without it.


Oh no, said the fisherman, for then you’d be up and away.


The spirit-being looked at him straight, and said: In heaven is no deceit.


Abashed, the fisherman handed back the cloak, which the spirit-being put on.


The fisherman never tried to describe what he then saw, not to his beloved, not to his friends, not, when he was an old man, to the children of the village. He had seen something; that much they all knew. They would look into his eyes, for a trace of it. Of course, there was nothing to be seen.


Something like a rainbow doing cartwheels. Something like lightning jumping from mountaintop to mountaintop. Something like a maze of dolphins. Something like the moon and sun spinning.


And the music. And the fragrance.


It is said that the spirit-being danced for a month, and the fisherman watched the whole while, and watched finally as the feather cloak, flickering in colour, spiralled up high above, until it was a point, until it was nothing at all.


This piece was selected for inclusion in the January 2014 Translation Issue by Daniel Medin, a contributing editor of The White Review. He helps direct the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and is Associate Series Editor of The Cahiers Series.


was born in Wales in 1947 and worked for thirty years as a music critic in London and New York. His books include Modern Music and After and an Oulipian novel, let me tell you. This story is from The Tilted Cup: Noh Stories, No. 22 in The Cahiers Series (Sylph Editions).



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