Faster Than Human Life Can Endure
He dreamt that he wrote the same poem over and over, word repeating word, sentence mirroring sentence, and that he did so for years… only realizing when it was much too late, and far too much effort, to erase the incriminating evidence.
And then he woke sitting in an armchair at the beginning of his sixtieth year. His dreamscape was more than five decades old, the books on his shelf up to four decades. Time stretched out behind him, replete with tendrils of information that coiled at the back of his head.
‘The landlocked mariner’ he wrote, as if to explain his perplexity… ‘The landlocked mariner looked out to sea and it had turned to stone’. How can anyone sail on stone? He couldn’t imagine setting sail in any case. Some of his shipmates had already dropped down dead and others were contentedly ashore.
There were tales that he’d thought that he wanted to tell, but what did they add to the meme-hoard? One hundred thousand publishable poems a year were written in England, he estimated, all of them swimming in the noosphere like plankton. He thought of the box-filed evidence, the curdled megalomania of his younger years.
‘Suddenly you reach sixty’ he thought, ‘and what did it all amount to?’ Information – knowledge – the contents of a sponge-sized organ, the bulk of which would vanish with him. At least to any human audience.
‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe’ was, in this case, something of an exaggeration. He hadn’t lived, he decided, but merely sampled life – taken a scoop and inspected it under the bleary light of his all-too-human intellect.
How then could he write a different poem, at this stage of his life? And how could he not write that poem again, and again, until his powers declined and the imbecilic silence of death came over him?
Perhaps to write superior versions of the same poem would be a more remarkable achievement. He thought of Cezanne and the mountain. He thought of his heart and sweated. Of swirling galaxies forever out of reach, and freedom that could only derive from utter insignificance.
‘I was never… important’ he recited. There was no need to resort to torture, or a martyr’s death. He would be scattered in time, blown back if fortunate into the face of the future.
Once more, I take my place. It’s already dark, and a damsel with a dulcimer across the harbour is regaling the customers of the Bar Rakuda with a wispy rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time. A week from the equinox, the darkness is beginning to thicken and the water seems more solid than in July. I chance the removal of my coat and find that it is stickily mild. All the other customers are inside. A member of the bar staff glances at me quizzically as she collects glasses. The fishing boats to my left display their glyphs of origin. The Summer Triangle ascends to the zenith.
My beer lasts thirty minutes and no-one else appears. Cars and taxis come and go sporadically. The music from opposite mingles with snatches of other sounds, from the revving of engines to the whimpering of seagulls. I occupy Table 12 like the summit of an imaginary mountain, planting the flag of my hands on the thin metal surface… as if holding out against the nights to come. And I think ahead to a time when this might be a distant memory of a faraway place, or no memory at all… no exactitude remaining, just the sketch of a reality brusquely recorded.
Finishing my beer at precisely ten o’clock, I move to the other side of the table and look down at the water. I hadn’t realized that the railings are only a foot or so high. The water suggests a surface to be walked upon - by flesh-and-blood humans as well as by ghosts - but I know how cold and deep it would be to a non-swimmer, in his late fifties, with two pints of beer inside him and no-one about.
I am Trocchi’s creation Joe, who looks down in horror as Cathy slips into the Clyde… and then I am Cathy, silenced in mid-phrase as the world is abolished with a splash. In turn, I am the author of their misfortunes and the reader of that author. Never has my existence seemed so thin, so arbitrary. It’s time to return from Table 12 to a world of reassuring walls.
My life’s in one place, my mind in another. Once more, I face the music that pours in through headphones to remind me of a vast and golden land that I may never visit. For it becomes less safe to do so by the year. Those who would do me harm have appropriated almost every sand-grain... each burning rock, each lizard and gazelle, and its brilliantly streaming skies.
My life runs its course in a single region of the world. Yes, I could break out briefly with my two-weeks-at-a-time vacations, but what would that mean? Better to let the wider world flood into my mind, to be part of that world wherever I am. Even if this means that I am half-oblivious to my actual surroundings... and still more reluctant to devote the entirety of my writing to them.
To the south, the desert night displays its infinite plumage - a great wing of stars curves overhead and smothers the dunes. I imagine my enemies - although it is nothing personal - around a campfire, or turning their prayer-mats to the Source. An unbeliever insinuates himself amongst them as he sits in a room in a land of 'immorality and iniquity‘, wondering how the map of the world will look at the hour of his death.
So he reaches out for bread that is passed from hand to hand... but, of course, it eludes him. He watches tea poured into a glass, as if from a waterfall's height, from which he can only drink with his imagination. He measures the space and, as ever, the stars look down on believer and unbeliever alike... on those who thirst for paradise and those who go in fear of eternal sleep.
It is an average star in an average corner of the galaxy, he thinks, that roasts these warriors during the day and - perhaps - bestows on them their obsession with God. He contemplates his disappearance with a calm that suggests that he has already disappeared.
Copyright © Norman Jope, 2021