The Feet of Duende
Duende in the Dark Times

Excerpts from the recent series: Fear and Beauty in the Heart of America in a rhapsody on the creative energy deep in the earth which connects to the spirit of longing in the human soul.

In Spain they say, one is not truly living unless one is dying. Only in dying again and again, do we truly inhabit the Earth. Only in learning to die do we learn to fully live. Each life a journey of many steps and each step the journey between life and death. Each moment a living and a dying away, so subtle it makes things appear constant.

Meanwhile, we walk the roads and work amongst those who knowingly and unknowingly craft the shapes that life will inhabit in the future. The philosopher Unamuno insisted that without the Tragic Sense that knows the secret conversation between life and death, we become simply visitors, passers-by who slow occasionally down to look on when accidents reveal the close presence of death. Those lives lack enduring meaning, are not fully lived into, like shoes worn for a while, then tossed aside as time marches on. This is the “common tragedy,” the dull preoccupation that finds only the open earth at the end.

Unless we “... act in such a way as to make our annihilation an injustice. In such a way as to make our brothers... and our brother’s sons and daughters, feel that we ought not to have died.” Unless we “...perpetuate ourselves in them, in their children... this is the perform our occupations passionately, tragically if you like.” To occupy our lives fully, to perpetuate life within the tragedy of being, to walk the entire road with the feet of the soul, that makes the life a work, an art, an opus.

In Spain, where they make shoes of Spanish leather, they say there are three kinds of shoemakers. The first kind makes shoes in order to make a living and they make good shoes. The second kind of shoemaker toils on a higher plane, making shoes for the art of it; making the best, most beautiful shoes that can possibly be made, all the while knowing they will be worn to tatters.

The third kind of shoemaker works on an altogether different level. That one aspires to become, for his friends and for his fellow humans an altogether, indispensable, irreplaceable maker of shoes. That one fashions shoes that connect people’s feet to the goat’s earth and reminds them of the dance of life. That one has Flamenco in mind while making shoes, crafting shapes from the memories and messages rising darkly from the earth itself.

This third maker, works the leather with a passionate spirit that tries to sing its way into the world through the feet of each human soul. That one makes shoes for dancing, for weddings and funerals, for sacrifices that lift the blood-dark dreams that ever whisper in the human heart. That one crafts shoes that remember where the soul has been. That one fashions memories that lift the foot knowingly from the past, through the arch of the present toward the startling ground of the future.

When that maker dies, people will feel he ought not to have died. For, he inspired them to contemplate deeper truths found only in the long corridors of the soul. People will try to keep his memory alive, for he shod them for the love of them, for the love of god in them, for the love of the dark spirit of the earth speaking through them. He shod them in the skin of life itself. He shod them religiously, spiritually, devotionally, in the spirit of living and dying, and in the knowledge that on the road where death awaits them, their feet will go and their legs will carry them.

When that shoemaker enters the door of death, no one will fill the life-long shoes he leaves. For, this is the way that death is defeated, by dying into our own lives and thus continuing to live. Death defeated by being embraced, by being sewn into the shapes of life. Life and death woven so closely that the two embrace and the footprints of the soul mark the road of time for those who follow. For then, others will pick up the shape and direction sewn into their lives and begin to walk the “way soul could walk before time began.”

This is the road of Duende made of moments where the knowing spirit rises from the Dark Earth and enters the feet, like dreams pouring through the sleeper’s mind. The feet feeling their way between waking and sleeping, slowly becoming indispensable to the life given and available to the darker knowledge that it carries. Thus, we begin to die in ways that make new forms arise; not the simple changes of fashion, but the fashioning of shapes that carry life on.

Life and death being crafted again and again from the skin of living, from the scrape of close calls, from the willingness not simply to try, nor even bravely to fall, but awkwardly to arise and dance when the blood-dark spirit aggravates the marrow from within. For, Duende is Culture in the Blood, the marrow memories singing passionately within the bones.

Duende is anything that knows earth, that has black sounds, anything that has enough shadow and blue descending to black. Pena Negra, the black sounds that rise from the mystery of “the root fastened in the mire…the fertile soil that gives us the very substance of art.” The mysterious sense of life wound around death speaking dark sounds into the ear of memory, whispering where the breath of day gathers in the blind recesses of the soul.

Duende is power, not simply work and not only thought, but a struggle with spirit in the blood. Not a question simply of talent given or skill earned, but an issue of genius entering life at the moment of birth and continuing to whisper dark notes to the mind and the heart. More a matter of true living style, of style written in the soul and born anew each time the self is willing to die again.

Duende is the power that compels us to sing the song within despite and because we are torn apart by living. It is a sacrifice growing within, a tragedy pursed at the edge of knowing, a little dance with death that make life more than simple possibility.

Spontaneous creation, that’s what it is; the unique motions of creation rising from the earth, penetrating the soles of the feet, cracking open the unseen seeds that inspire the mind and awaken the heart, crafting bits of eternity into time making us indispensable to the waiting bride of the future.

In the ancient ground, where blood is made, the Duende boils with an exact knowledge of who we are and what we are meant to be. It intones messages that we ignore at our own peril. For, we have come here to perpetuate that hidden fever, to die into the notes of the inner song, to dance into the knowledge carried in our own blood.

Duende is the wound-womb we cannot hide and only suffer more each time we try to cover it over. The wound burdened with its songs and mysteries, always on the verge of reopening, perpetuating the specifics of sorrow, drawing us to its dark waters, creating out of painful necessity all the arts of healing.

Without the wound and the struggle to heal, we would all disappear without a trace, mere vapors unable to hold to the dark earth, unable to generate children or put shoes on their feet. For, duende finds in each moment a rebirth of the wound and its healing; knowing that all inventions occur at the rim of the wound, near the dark sounds of blood pouring both life and death into the world; each giving birth to the other, making the world over again from the same tragic substance.

The real dilemmas of life are never solved; the darkness between notes is never relieved, for each art and each life arises from that ancient ground- the mud of all creation, inviting us into the fervid dance that eschews progress in favor of being. The deeper song of life and death intoned again through us; the requirement that those who receive the gift of breath fashion the world over again.

In Spain they say, the heart is an endless road, an ancient path trodden with the feet of the soul, stained with the grape-crushing feet of dark gods. In the distant-down murmurings where the roots of speech ever persist, we know again the language of suffering and healing, the criss-crossing of swollen feet in the night of the heart where we learn again the tragic sense that life and love require.

Dying while continuing to live, walking the pathless paths, finding and losing again the shoes of redemption. Shoes that can only be made by shoemakers of the higher order who willingly bend to the deeper ground.

Death only comes as a total surprise to those who fought the wrong battles in life. For, in the fight with our own spirit we lose properly and die frequently enough that death becomes us. In the end, there is no consolation; only the necessary annihilation that began in blood and bone and tried to sing from behind the first breath to the last words.

© Michael Meade