quest

Purse your lips, as if to blow. But instead suck in. Not with your lungs. Put the back of your tongue at the back of your palate and make a [kw]. Do it quickly, like you are drawing into your mouth the magical smoke of an ancient peace pipe, or the perfumed breath of a lover carried on a breeze. Pull your mouth full open, quickly. Keep doing it, quickly, sharply, until the intake of air produces a short dripping whistle of a sound.

You are drawing in dry air. Once you were an infant, drawing milk with this gesture. Now it quests, it thirsts, it seeks to suck in nourishment but it gets none. A fish feeding this way might catch a morsel floating past, but in this empty atmosphere you are merely saying “Quoi?” “What?” You are not simply requesting, you are demanding, you are gasping, for… what?

And when you see, or when you realize what there is to see, when you fully assess your position, its implications, it rewards, you make a sharp intake of breath. “Sst!” Your tongue controls it, then stops it. The breath is held in suspension as you are held in suspense.

The “what” is first felt, then appreciated: [kw], then [st].

So follows the query of existence, the question, the questing. Not for this the release and dismissal of the [ts] in quits. Here we stay true to the Latin root, quaerere, ‘seek’: quesita ‘sought’ became quest (and that was not quaesitus; what was sought was female), and quaestio ‘a thing sought’ became question. What we require, and what we inquire. The request, and the inquest.

A quest is a monumental thing, epic, legend. We quest for gold, sometimes. But mostly when we speak of a quest it is deeper: it is a spiritual quest, a personal quest, and we quest for truth, knowledge, vision, justice. The quest is what we truly seek, the eternal question. We ask “what” and then we realize the magnitude of what we are asking. For a brief moment the lips push forward to kiss – what? And then it subsides as the question goes enacted but unasked. But if we quest, if we seek without laxing, do we need to ask? Or does our quest embody the question?

And do I need to ask?

Allow me to append a poem I wrote some time ago. It deals with this quest, this question:

The damp flowers

The damp flowers in the bicycle basket
Lie splayed in the dawn as if to say
“If you know the question, I don’t need to ask it.”

The sun crawls out; the fresh mists mask it –
The night leaves blooms to rebuke the day,
The damp flowers in the bicycle basket.

The handlebars and bell in brass kit,
The wheels and seat, came late this way
To seed a question, and not to ask it;

Bereft of box and bows and flask, it
Makes its simple one act play:
The damp, flowers, and a bicycle basket.

But be it barque or be it casket,
It needs the word you won’t betray.
You know. The question. Must I dare ask it?

And so my tulips have one task: it
It is a drawn breath, this bouquet,
The damp flowers in the bicycle basket.
You know the question. I don’t need to ask it.

I thank Eric Démoré for raising this question and for writing about it.

One response to “quest

  1. as a Buddhist, I would say the question is the answer

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