The Changeling

Through wide, barren spaces, a dry wind casts
A sandy, ever-shifting cloud
That smokes beneath the burning day
And whispers from its dusty shroud

At night for all the silent stars
That sit in judgment in their shrines
And for the cold, conniving moon
That from her musty divan pines:

"Whissah! Flissah! Now hear my tale.
I am the bastard child of earth
And air. I am the changeling. Hear
The doom laid on me from my birth.

No man may carve his form of me
For all my substance is dispersed.
I am all things that are and none:
The shape of freedom, yet I thirst

For bondage to some sacred stone
Or to a mountain, high and proud,
That men should sing their praise to me
Or stand in awe as I look down.

But what is worse, my freedom is
A false, cruel thing, a lie, in truth.
I am the subject of the whims
Of every wind that passes through

This desert wasteland, so I roam
Through dune and valley, here, now there,
And when I think to cast myself
Into some verdant spring, I hear

The clink of riders at my back
And turn and see them drawing near:
Despair and Restlessness dismount
To proffer me their message drear:

That all that glitters there is dust
Trumped up by heat. That sheen of blue
That beckons is a trick of light
That vanishes on closer view.

And so I ride the next fair wind,
A restless wraith of dust and dreams,
To far off lands, where often-times
I pause and wonder at what seems

To be a rise to mountainous climes,
Or a pleasant slope which gently coasts
Down into some green, fertile valley
Half a league away at most.

Alas, as I approach this crest
Or that sweet valley, the land reveals
More drifting, hot brown aridness
And in the heat, my spirit reels

And swims and voices from the sun
Are calling me in varied tones
To go this way… No that way! Here!
No there! And other voices drone

Their promises, their threats, their lies.
I sit in mute paralysis
And listen to their hum and din
And sort their truths and fallacies

Until the wind takes up again
And at its call, I take my flight
To travel to some distant dune
Or to some city lost in night.

I'm like the man who has the keys
To all that city's dwelling places
But cannot find the only key
To his home, and in the dark retraces

Streets unending in their length
Yet can't remember which contains
That home. So many keys, so many
Houses! So the man remains

Bewildered, wandering through the streets,
And passersby just shake their heads
As they go home to wife and children
And the comfort of their beds.

I've taken many shapes of late:
A lofty spire, a sprawling sheet,
A swirling cyclone or thin mist,
But all of dust. My phantom feet

Have trodden many lands, and each
Has left its colors and its scents
Inside me, yet in all these lands
My passing leaves scant evidence.

I drink of all things that I pass,
Yet those I'd love care not to slake
Their thirst on dust and air, and so
I leave with silence in my wake.

Yet I, the changeling, will press on!
Nomadic rider of the winds,
Though I wander a thousand years or more
Not knowing where my feet will land.

What shall I seek? The holiness
Of residence within an urn
Or amulet, prize of a goddess
Lost like me? Or shall I burn

Like sulfur in the maw of mountains?
Shall I cool in mists of blue
That waft from gentle, temperate climes
And dissipate in dreams of dew?

Or shall I carve my name in snow
Upon a high peak where the wise
May go and contemplate Deep Truth
And read my tale with knowing sighs?"

Prose Version / Notes

Through wide, barren lands a dry wind passes, casting about itself a cloak of dust. It shifts and smokes beneath the burning day, and at night shimmers in a twinkling haze. As it passes in deep night, it speaks to the silent stars, as they sit in their far-off shrines, judging all of man with cool, remote indifference. And to the moon--that cold, conniving countess that pines from her musty, black divan in the dark ruin of her ancient court-to the moon, especially, it whispers in a voice half-dead, half-living:

"Whissa! Flissa! Now hear my tale! It is I, the bastard child of earth and air, that speaks unto you in your high halls. I am the changeling: curse-laden wanderer born to wear my restlessness as a hermit's habit. I am air and earth and suffer the worst of both elements.

"No man could carve an effigy from me, for I am like mist: always whole, yet divided always, together and yet scattered and dispersed. I am truly free of form. I am all things and none, whatever you may fancy and different things at different moments. Free, and yet I thirst, somehow, for bondage: bondage to some sacred stone or pillar where men might sing their praises to me; or bondage to some high, broad mountain where I could peer down and see the eyes of men lifted in awe towards me.

"Yet my freedom does not allow this. Worse, it is a lie, a false, shabby sham, a trick of chaos and movement. I am, in truth, the subject of the whims of every wind that blows across this desert wasteland. And so, I roam through dune and valley, here and there, through the parching heat of day, and the numbing chill of night: a dry, thirsting shadow seeking an oasis, or a river valley just over the horizon. And when I see the hint of green, and seek to cast myself in some verdant spring, I often hear behind me the sullen clink of reins and as I turn I see two riders, Despair and Restlessness, dismount and motion me to heed their ill tidings. Ever wise to the ways of these lands, they inform me that all I see is vain, and that all that glitters here is dust: dust trumped up by the heat of midday until it shines with the false sheen of blue promise.

"As they turn and ride off into the twilight, I turn and see the truth in their words, and I am caught up in the next wind blowing overland. With grim zeal I pass on my way, a gleaming phantom of dust seeking new sights and new wisdom. It seems that I arrive in far-off lands, sometimes. Sometimes the flat waste seems to give way to higher ground or dips as if to caress a distant shoreline. But over the crest of each hill, and down the slopes of each hollow, the sand stretches far over the horizon, and I become the subject of new mirages and illusions. I hear voices in the sun-drenched haze telling me to seek out my fortune, my comfort, my Messiah. And I often listen to those voices and add my own to the din. I am like the man who holds all of the keys to a city, and can't find the key to his home. It is there in the jangling tumult of the others, but which one it is is not clear. Nor is it clear where exactly my home is, so I wander through the streets, trying various keys on various doors, not even knowing which door holds the sanctuary I seek.

"As I wander, I shape myself in subtle ways differently: here a tall, thin pillar; there a low, stout billow. Yet everywhere I pass through all I touch taking some of its essence with me, leaving but faint traces of my own.

"And what is the end I seek? Perhaps it is to be holy, to fill the urn or amulet of some lost goddess who is, like me, a restless traveler and a dreamer seeking some semblance of the real and undying. Perhaps it is to dissipate myself in cooler climes where the winds disperse my essence forever in cool rain. Perhaps it is see leave some carving behind on a snow-capped mountain where men might go in reflection and read the inscriptions there: I am the changeling. I have worn many guises, and seen all that I have desired to see. Now I sleep with fond memories and new worlds rise up and caress me in my dreaming."

George Chadderdon © 2001