Because He Sees While SleepingOn full moon Anom, the mask maker, keeps alive the tree he'll carve his mask from by sawing out only the briefest chunk of suitable wood from two meters up the trunk. He takes it to the Brahmin priest who blesses it with a sprinkle of water and a wave of fire. He seats himself a few days later crosslegged in the temple and begins. Because his father taught him he knows how to carve. Because he is a dancer he knows the gesture. Because he is a storyteller he knows the proper expression. Because he is a singer he can accurately fashion the mouth. Because he sees even while sleeping he has a knack for the eyes. Because he has patience he coats it with forty paintings of lacquer. He is a teacher and the first thing he reminds his students is: "To make it alive you cannot be taught. You must find it for yourself."
The finished mask is again purified by the priest (it all costs money). After the mask maker's imprint leaves, the gods descend into the mask to empower it. Behind the mask, for an assigned period of time, holy particles are placed: silver, iron, gold, ruby--to assure the presence of the spirit. The mask is stored in the temple depository, taken out only every six months or so, and worn only for those necessary cycle-maintaining ritual dramas.
From Anom's shop I hear the sound of water, the practicing drums of the village gamelan between Bob Marley, Tracy Chapman and UB-40. Anom says "Bali is like a banana" (he holds up a pisang and makes me laugh). He unpeels the banana and makes makes me hungry. He holds the banana like the Statue of Liberty holds her torch--and takes a big bite. "The skin will change but not the taste."
In Anom's immaculately clean workshop, filled with the sound of chisels and perfumed curls of tropical wood, I stare up at the wall behind him. Eyes goggle out at me, Hanuman's crown gleams with burnished gold, Sita and Rama have divinely-inspired smiles..... the wood smells new--but not all the masks are complete. They are raw, evolving, barely formed in beams of morning light slowly advancing through the door. Something else catches my attention, too--
Above the half-carved faces
-Mas, Bali '97
Issue #3, September, 1998 :
Santa Fe Poetry Broadside.