16 Mar 2015

The Waiting Room

My hands are still
as humanity slips,
falling away
out of reach.
The water forks as
silhouetted hills
rise all around, and I know
a river does not undo its course.

Transmissions once clear
are now hollow, decayed
into a static I will miss
when silence comes.
The last song begins
as my heart, knowing,
pounds a drumbeat
that fills my ears.

They take me to where
they watch, faceless,
the loss of what remained.
Dark space, bright light—
white burns, return to black.
There is only me here now,
but I am not.
I am not.

Plunged
into a waterless ice bath,
I feel the sharp edge of reality
and a dawn that shouldn't be.
Questions
find no ears. Sometimes
truth does not belong
to those it concerns.

Once I laughed
at the idea, even hoped for it, but
now the image in my mind
terrifies me like a child
facing the wide world, the cold world.
Keep me from the sleepers
in their silent steel tombs. Please
keep me away.

It is birth without womb, lifeless
and mothered by apathy. Nothing
has changed except me, but still
I am not.
I grabbed the threshold,
the brink of the nothing I sought but
never reached, and so
I am left in the waiting room.

Thinking of Zebras

My girlfriend is anxious.

'I just... What now? What are we going to do now?'

We're climbing a hill and have been for a while now. I'm a bit worn out, partly by the hill, partly by her. I'm not as concerned about it all as she is, and I'll be in trouble for that soon enough.

'It doesn't just involve us, and that bothers me too,' she continues. 'I feel responsible. I know it's silly of me but I do. You know that happens.'

My girlfriend is often anxious. I'm not really one to talk. I'm not thirty yet but the frown lines creasing my forehead would tell you otherwise.

We reach the mostly flat saddle of the hill. The peak is straight ahead, not far at all. There are a few groups of others around.

'And for it to just happen li—'

'Look,' I say, holding her arm and turning her with me to look back down the hill and out over the fields.

Spread out in front of us are the zebras. There are thousands of them, all galloping as if away from something, kicking up dust in their wake.

'You know that saying, “When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras”?'

'Yeah...' she says.

'It's been a strange day.'

The wave comes from off to the right. Even from up here the impossible wall of water is huge, rushing over the land below.

It reaches the hill, lapping up against the grass and rock below as it begins to settle. It was never supposed to come this high. The horizon is no longer a green expanse, but a grey line that blurs into the deceptively clear sky. We don't talk about the zebras after that.

I'm not altogether surprised to find that a number of politicians have survived, but I wonder why they chose this hill. There's a fair selection on display—the nationalists, liberal democrats and conservatives are all represented—but it's the independents that really surprise me. They already have a booth set up, banner, flyers, smug expression and all. The fall of civilisation won't halt the elections, irony be damned. I'm not sure if it's any better than feudal lords and roving barbarians, but no doubt that's a question that's been asked of politics before.

I turn to the other politicians.

'Shame on you,' I tell them. 'I know it's the bloody apocalypse, but no one gets beaten to the punch by the independence party.'

Of course, the flood is just the beginning. It's still too soon for anyone to have to think about what happens next, although my girlfriend knows it means having children. Soon I'll see the glint in her eye telling me she knows I know. All it took was for the world to end.

Accidental Prophets

The man attended a weekly gathering of poets and writers. The group would share their works in progress and discuss art in varying terms. Among them were the amateurs seeking publication, the little-known local authors, the casually underground and the obligatory dilettante or two.

The man, who could not easily be described as any of these, was polite enough, unassuming and outwardly unremarkable. His work did, however, capture the attention of the rest of the group, which found his pieces strangely mundane yet fulfilling in a way that was hard to describe. His delivery was perfunctory, quietly confident, and somehow so honest and grounded that he seemed to bridge the gap between art and life, a gap that some would argue does not exist.

The man, naturally one of habit, suddenly stopped turning up to the gatherings after some seven months. This was cause for concern enough for one of the group that he looked up the man's address. On no less than three occasions he went there to check on the man, and on no less than three occasions no one answered the door. When he then called the police to explain the story, two officers went there the next day, eventually forcing open the door.

The man was slumped over his desk, pale and dead-eyed under a lamp that was still on. The subsequent autopsy quickly concluded that a brain aneurysm was the cause of death. Finding no next of kin, the police allowed the insistent member of the group who had called them to claim the mass of loose papers, dog-eared notepads and a number of Moleskines the man had left behind.

The man had been working on a new poem before collapsing on it. When it reached the group, the news was in equal parts upsetting and inspiring. To them he had died trying furiously to express something, but it was indecipherable, almost ineffable in the disarrayed words left to their interpretation, scribbled compulsively and pencilled over and struck out and written out again. The group, now changed, stopped meeting.

The man, as we have called him, became more than just that.

A strange sort of legend was born as copies of the man's work were circulated like religious tracts. In particular he wrote almost ecstatically about the written word. He described metal meeting ink and kissing the leaf. Information was free now, he celebrated, while lamenting that every word and symbol ran through channels of light as cold binary. Publishers would print less and less until they stopped altogether and made the smell of the fresh page a memory, the bookshop a museum. Then something would happen: people would begin to print words themselves, reviving an art and falling into obsession. The book would once again be created, passed around, fingertips admiring new pages, eyes drinking up their letters. It was to be the culture of the illuminated manuscript in the digital age.

The death was not tragic irony so much as a part of a piece. To a few, everything that the man had done was to be seen as part of a greater whole. He had made his own life, his entire self, an artwork—but whether as a Sisyphean tale of futility, a sweeping exercise in absurdity or another thing entirely, they could not agree on. Sceptics scoffed. Essays were written. People asked simply what the point of it all was. Nothing, others responded, or rather nothing that could or was ever meant to be known. The man, like poetry, was not something that required explanation. He was the answer to a question no one had asked.

Autumn Is a Girl on the Train

You sit opposite me on the other side of the aisle. I'd been gazing emptily out my window at the vaguely pleasant landscape when the ticket inspector walked back down the train and distracted me.

A shard of sunshine falls on you, illuminating your thick red hair. It reminds me of autumn, and like autumn it makes me slow down and think. You catch my glance and I smile reflexively, awkwardly, as do you.

You're reading House of Leaves. I remember what it is to feel despair and quickly return my focus to examine the commercial estate passing by outside.

No, wait—

You wear a beige jumper. In the sun your body looks so warm, your round face so soft. I imagine what it would be like to have se—

You're reading House of Leaves. I ask if you're lost in it yet. You don't get it and shift somewhat uneasily. I give up sooner rather than later.

No, wait—

I ask if you're lost in it yet. You let out a sound, almost a giggle. I smile again. I say I hope you enjoy the rest of it. You get off two stops later. The exchange is of the sort that brightens the day a little.

No, wait—

I ask if we can meet again. We do, and then again, and again. We laugh and love—well, for a time. It reminds me of autumn, because like autumn it was meant to decay and fall into coldness. It wouldn't have worked anyway, since you never could accept that Camus just didn't do it for me.

No, no, wait—
 
Actually, never mind. Your hair looks brown after all.