Practice: Ray Bradbury’s “From the Dust Returned”
Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Bradbury’s intoxicating “From the Dust Returned.” It is such a pleasure to dip into his candy-vinegar lyrical prose and read it aloud!
Silence. The Egyptian mummy did not twitch. She stood propped in a dark corner like an ancient dried plum tree, or an abandoned and scorched ironing board, her hands and wrists trussed across her dry riverbed bosom, a captive of time, her eyes slits of deep blue lapis lazuli behind thread-sewn lids, a glitter of remembrance as her mouth, with a shriveled tongue wormed in it, whistled and sighed and whispered to recall every hour of every lost night four thousand years back when she was a pharaoh’s daughter dressed in spider linens and warm-breath silks with jewels burning her wrists as she ran in the marble gardens to watch the pyramids erupt in the fiery Egyptian air.
The cat came first, in order to be absolute first. It arrived when all the cribs and closets and cellar bins and attic hang-spaces still needed October wings, autumn breathings, and fiery eyes. When every chandelier was a lodge and every shoe a compartment, when every bed ached to be occupied by strange snows and every banister anticipated the down-slide of creatures more pollen than substance, when every window, warped with ages, distorted faces looking from shadows, when every empty chair seemed occupied by things unseen, when every carpet desired invisible footfalls and the water pump on the back stoop inhaled, sucking vile liquors toward a surface abandoned because of the possible upchuck of nightmares, when all the parquetry planks whined with the oilings of lost souls, and when all the weathercocks on the high roofs gyred in the wind and smiled griffin teeth, while deathwatch beetles ticked behind the walls … Only then did the royal cat named Anuba arrive.
And the wind began. It swarmed the world like a great beast unseen, and the whole world heard it pass in a season of grief and lamentation, a dark celebration of the stuffs it carried to disperse, and all of it funneling upper Illinois. In tidal sweeps and swoons of sound, it robbed the graves of dust from stone angels’ eyes, vacuumed the tombs of spectral flesh, seized funeral flowers with no names, shucked druid trees to toss the leaf-harvest high in a dry downpour, a battalion of shorn skins and fiery eyes that burned crazily in oceans of ravening clouds that tore themselves to flags of welcome to pace the occupants of space as they grew in numbers to sound the sky with such melancholy eruptions of lost years that a million farmyard sleepers waked with tears on their faces wondering if it had rained in the night and no one had foretold, and on the storm-river across the sea which roiled at this gravity of leave-taking and arrival until, with a flurry of leaves and dust commingled, it hovered in circles over the hill and the House and the welcoming party and Cecy above all, who in her attic, a slumberous totem on her sands, beckoned with her mind and breathed permission.
Sunset. Three dozen long, hollow box-lids slammed wide. Three dozen filaments, cobwebs, ectoplasms swarmed up to pulsate and then— become. Three dozen cousins, nephews, aunts, uncles melted themselves from the vibrant air, a nose here, a mouth here, a set of ears, some upraised hands and gesticulant fingers, waiting for legs to extend the feet to extrude, whereupon they stepped out and down on the cellar floor even as the strange casks popped wide to let forth not vintages but autumn leaves like wings and wings like autumn leaves which stormed footless up the stairs, while from down the vacuumed chimney flues blown forth in cindered smokes, tunes sounded from players invisible, and a rodent of incredible size chorded the piano and waited on applause.