This excerpt follows Louise, a young woman who chooses to reinvent herself as a beggar after hearing about the Esanashamiti, a book of rules for Jain wandering monks. Travelling from city to city, she follows these rules, which specify six geometric patterns through which the mendicant can approach the houses in a village for begging. Fantasy narratives evoked by city spaces are the alms she extracts from each place. On the map of Kyoto, she has drawn a square.
EXCERPT from MENDICANT EROTICS
Kokedera (Saihoji Temple)
One step up, and over, folding in on herself, into the room of liquid voice. Fragments of architecture, a framed doorway, merge with her body. She steps over the threshold. Her body is a secret chamber filled with screaming. Nothing happens. Exactly 10 am.
Delirious, unspeakable panting, wall of pines, the sound of a body falling. The sun is high. The sound of sobbing. She adores the white bone under the flesh. Slanted tiled roof.
On her skin, excited surfaces, tender spots, wordless anomolies. She takes off her shoes at the temple door. The fall of a body, the sudden impact, splash of water, the chaotic mess of torn flesh falling into water. She waits, soft backless shoes dangling on her feet. The room is filled with grunting, moaning, other sounds without names.
Over the threshold of flesh, into a room, an enigma, finds a seat, touches the objects to quell the shouting. Paper, can’t read Japanese, map of the gardens, small wooden stick, writing brush, ink stone, dish of water, slice of light that streaks across the bottom of the wall. She prefers to think of danger.
The monk leans over her: “Write your name, your address on one side, your wish on the other.” He picks up the stick, hands it to her. She feels his skin scrape the stick as her skin scrapes it. Slivers of wood embed themselves between the possibility of touch. She’s nostalgic for the edge of sense, the transgressions that she used to engineer. Here she feels unmoored, as though the square she drew gives motion to the map, a dead thing, flat and saturated with longing.
“Louise Montel.” It’s awkward to write the letters with the brush. She turns the stick over, writes “erotic” on the other side. A shaft of space is opened with the word. “Sensual,” “voluptuous,” “carnal” – perfect examples, organized geometries.
She’s turning the stick over and over in her hand, looking at her words. On the side with her name, in place of an address, she writes “water.” She’s turning the stick over and over, reading her name and the word “water” and the word “erotic.” The sun hits the ink stone of the man on her right with such force – it blinds her. She turns away, and turns the stick over and over in her hand. On the side with the word “erotic” she adds the word “edge.” All that’s left is the wish for sleep.
The sound of a gong, a body falling. She touches the text on her desk, feels the paper push back at her. Everything she touches moves against her in this way. The screaming never stops, ambitious to get out of her mouth. The chanting voices, filtered and unstable. Everything is wet. A room of water, falling into water. That’s good. She stands between the world of solid sound and the vast cacophony of the sea.
The sea is able to embrace her, to give support. She crouches in the house, afraid to go out. Wandering ascetics hesitate at the door, begging bowls held out in wordless supplication. She joins the line. One by one they place their sticks in a shallow bowl on the floor. The sound of a whip cracking through the air. They clap their hands three times.
The little that she knows about the tiger enters her mind. She’s putting her stick on the pile: “Louise Montel” and “water.” Anyone who can portray an animal can drive the screaming out. She takes a knife to slice their flesh.
Leaving by another door, not the door that she entered, she steps over the threshold into the bright sunshine, shades her eyes with her hand. She walks around to the place where she left her shoes. Sitting on the ground, one shoe already on her right foot, the other shoe in her left hand, she moves it slowly toward her left foot, distracted by the sound of Japanese and a silver patch of light.
Forgetting for a moment that she hasn’t put on her left shoe, looking at the map of the Moss Garden, she lets the shoe dangle in her left hand, like a sign or finger that wants to point to something. On the map is the first barrier, a flower-like monstrosity.
She’s sitting alone in front of the main temple, putting her left shoe on slowly, thinking about moss, a tiny garden with 120 kinds of moss. A garden that she can hold in her hands, a box in which a garden grows. Or a garden made from shadows, leaves and twigs on the wall, kneel and touch the velvety moss. She’s thinking of a small rock garden with yellow and green moss growing around and on the rocks. A miniature garden whose poetic scenery is in itself the harbinger of an erotic event. She’s thinking that things seen from far away look small, that she can’t tell the size of things at all.
Rising from the front step of the temple, she’s looking around for other people. They seem to disappear, turning a corner in the road to the left. Moss. The word is liquid on her tongue. She walks along the path. As though she’s stepped over a threshold into another plane of existence, she’s entering a vast landscape, soft colors, damp air. A floor of moss, undulating, pink and yellow and pale green.
The beautiful architecture of rays sends its roots into shifting fields of moss; small flecks of light touch the tops of the leaves of a bent tree. She’s walking in this garden with the moisty smell of green earth filling her nostrils. Wet air rises up from the ground, grazes the hair on her arms. Standing in the moss garden, she looks out over a bamboo forest. Things seen at a distance look pale; water fills the air.
Moss clumps around the trees. She’s standing very still, both hands in her pockets, feeling the folded map of the moss garden in one pocket, staring at a large basket that sits at an angle in the space between four trees. The basket, woven of slats of bamboo, leans back on three legs; the fourth leg sticks up an inch or two from the ground. On top of the basket, someone has carefully placed another woven object, a rectangular scoop. On top of the scoop, there’s a broom.
Cries of ecstasy take place in the shadows. She is proud to be a torturer. Her instruments hang at her waist, waiting for the kiss of flesh. She’s standing above a shallow pond that holds an arrangement of rocks. Her arms are resting at her sides. Each rock bristles with the textures of moss. All these hands, mouths, breasts and all this living flesh. The rocks are tiny islands; from several of them, trees grow asymetrically, leaning down over the water and over the reflections of trees and rocks in the water. Hungry and fierce and dragging their bodies, her victims stream across the bridge. A small bridge, covered with moss and slime. They lose their footing and slide into the pond.
There are stray leaves scattered around the gardens, but no bit of dead or dry plant material blocks her path. Each time a plant drops a bit of itself, that bit waits at the threshold of utter cleanliness, a kind of purity of vision that both allows nature to take its course and that utterly controls it. She can hear the dry leaves moving in the basket as it hits rhythmically against her back. On the side of the basket is a double rope which is used to carry it, by draping each part of the rope over each shoulder, letting the weight of the basket fall loosely onto the sweeper’s back.
Looking down into the water, she crosses the threshold. Into the room of delicate flesh, right into the center of the screaming. Reflections of trees and plants appear like a photograph. She’s standing, bending over, one hand reaching out while the other helps her to balance, precarious, precise. She hears herself gasping for breath, splashing and struggling, sees her lurching body. She wants to join them in the chaos of their drowning.
In the photograph that sits on top of the pond, there’s a space between some trees. A bright pale yellow light. She’s standing bolt upright, her arms folded over her chest, hardly breathing. In her mind, she’s already in the water.
Feeling in her pocket for the piece of paper, she walks in the garden. As she nears the exit, she finds the pond shaped like the Chinese character Xin. She’s covered in the blood of someone’s heart. She walks out, crosses the threshold into traffic and noise, not noticing where she’s going, not caring where she’s about to go.