After the latest 'Japanese' text from Schlieman (can't avoid a vicarious 'feeling' he really is 'sending' them to me now) I again detected a disturbing need for light ... the walls of the cottage had oppressed me from the first minute of waking. I found myself planning to go into town to buy climbing ropes and a serious pair of metal cutters (as used in Brixton to steal motorbikes) and go back to the gated copper mines. No-one likes to be excluded. Images of a labyrinth of catacombs, the arterial grids of rail tracks bolted into oak sleepers for the ore-full wagons, winding deep into the black black womb of the earth were haunting me. The blinkered horses straining under the whip. Maybe I could hack into the mines and know what was going on there. Now.
But two strong coffees soon liberated me from the unexpected craving. Clearly the caves were now owned by Daumal (or was it Dupin or Duval, I was forgetting), and were gorged with nuclear waste. But no! I have my books to write, better to call for rebellion from behind the barricades on the boulevards (I read a chapter of 'Nora and ... ' on the net last night) rather than from a hospital bed (NHS) dying from an overdose of radiation. Perhaps not? A good image surely of my face looking as if it had been dragged through a burning bush backwards?
Drove instead to Grasmere. Again ... Rydal lake obscured by mist ... did the sightseeing trip and visited Dove Cottage again. Strange how these places pull you back. Once seen, surely that is enough? So petite this cottage, so homely, the ghosts quite tangible. Are the ghosts of poets different, still in contact with their heads? Dove Cottage was built as a public house for travellers, a last staging post for those about to trek over the slopes and beyond, towards the sea. I wondered if there had been girls high on laudanum perched like rag dolls on bar stools, looking for clients. I was alone. Hardly the south side of the Alps where the Oetzi the Iceman was reborn, ("I thought at first it was a doll's head"), it was far too wet and cold for tourists. Later I climbed up the foothills into Easedale again, to looked down over the little town and lake ... trying to imagine what it was like in the old days when Dorothy W. or Sam Coleridge and wife or Thomas de Q walked seven miles through the rain and wind, to collect their mail. A horse would have been useful, unblinkered. Seeing and not seeing ... with light we see, with darkness we think ... or dream.
I bought "The Works of William Wordsworth", The Wordsworth Poetry Library edition, in the second-hand shop with a tatty copy of Dorothy's journals. Company for me on my climb. William's 906 pages. MIND charity shop. 99p each. Hardly a rip off ... sat on a rock Dorothy might well have peeled some lichens off ... and delved into the provocative asides, spawned from so many spoken and shared conversational palimpsests ... poets penetrating each other with words as sharp as scalpels.
October 1800. Monday (6th). A rainy day. Coleridge intending to go but did not get off. We walked after dinner to Rydale. After tea read The Pedlar. Determined not to print Christabel with the L.B. (Lyrical Ballads - growing disenchantment with Coleridge? Should he be in the book at all! The opium and all that ... )
Tuesday (7th) Coleridge left at 11 o'clock ... I was very ill in the evening at the Simpsons - went to bed - supped there. Heavy showers. Found Wm at home. I was still weak and unwell - went to bed immediately.
Wednesday(8th). A threatening bad morning - we dried the Linen frequent threatening of showers. Received a £5 note from Montagu. Wm walked to Rydale. I copied a part of The Beggar - I was not quite well in the evening therefore did not walk - Wm walked. A very mild moonlight night. Glowworms everywhere.
Monday (13th). A grey day. Mists on the hills. We did not walk in the morning. I copied poems on ... the naming of places ... at night. A fair at Ambleside. Walked in the black quarter.
Who did she think she was writing this diary for? Herself, William, history. Us? The wind was quickening, as I sat on the stone left by the glacier's melting feet. Why if the blustering of the wind of the heights is too loud, does it become impossible to read? Was has wind to do with thinking? Words, spirits, gods? Do we need always to hear ourselves thinking, except when we read? With the right eye reading the right side from the centre of the line, the left eye the left?
Flicked the pages in William's book (once owned by Peter Helvellen Bell) to see where it opened naturally, fearing and yet hoping it would be on a page covered in red underling. None! The Prelude. William's Memoirs? Would he have published them on the internet had he been alive today? Would he have sired a daughter when he went to Paris in May 1968 to join the rebellion of the Sorbonne? Might he have fallen for Nora ... chucking cobblestones at the police on their horses. 'Dessus les pavés la plage!' Or would he be, like me today, lamenting a lost world on a wet and windy hillside? Not feeling the sea beneath me ... but a glacier. Copying out some lines from a book of poetry by a poet somewhat out of fashion amongst the masses:
But peace! Enough here to record that I was mounting now to such community with highest truth—A track pursuing, not untrod before, from strict analogies by thought supplied of consciousness not to be subdued. To every natural form, rock, fruit, or flower, even the loose stones that cover the highway, I gave a moral life ... I saw them feel ...
What a bore I don't have an email address for MS! Here I am communicating, yet not, with a guy I have no communication with, yet not. Would love to send him this quote (which I'm sure he know's) and say: or should I not say: 'write': "With you all the way, you old sod!"
Went to the library and looked up the late Cumbrian copper mines. One near Grasmere, three near Coniston. Over the years of productive activity they were mostly owned and exploited by the Dutch and Germans. "A walk up the valley of the Church Beck is instructive in that it is still possible to appreciate the vast scale of the working and perhaps obtain an insight into the character of the industry." How many miles of underground storage space , then, measureless to man? Back in London I would try to find out from the Land Registry who owned the mines near Coniston and Hawkshead. Or would I be onto another 'story' by then?
Later, reconciled again to an evening on my computer (earning a few more bob of Webster's cash, after all) I found the next website without too much effort; MS filling in the empty domains on the branches of his nohzone tree, a new name in one of the previously empty lozenges @:
He wasn't sure if he was awake, sleeping or dead.
... a solo soprano aria above a chattering of plucked violin and cello strings, pitch darkness, the rustling of the tree canopy above, faint glimmer of dawn, warmth, raw energy seeping into his body from the bole of the tree ... the soprano a nightingale assuring his mate there were no dangers before dawnlight ... groping to find her between the sheets. Nothing.
A dim memory returning. The night Maria had nearly frozen him to death in the forest. She was determined to listen to Stravinsky's opera "The Nightingale" in a performance in Russian. She had only known it in French. She had a new CD and two sets of headphones with a signal splitter. It was one of her favourite pieces of music. She had been eagerly looking forward to hearing the real bird singing, and when I told her that the nightingale had never occupied Cumbria she was desolate. As if to reproach me she had bought the CD from Amazon. Her misery reflected my own. As a kid I had gone into the woods time and time again to hear the bird ... even slept out in my sleeping bag ... as now ... not knowing it didn't live there. I had no father by then to tell me such things. I thought they lived everywhere ... Maria telling me the story of the writing of the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Nightingale and the Japanese (and Chinese) Emperors. When he was a young boy Hans had been apprenticed to a weaver but then developed a perfect soprano voice. He was ugly, eyes very close, long nose, not a wow with the girls, he was nicknamed 'The Nightingale'. Years and years later he fell hopelessly in love with Jenny Lind, known as "The Swedish Nightingale". (She was in love with Chopin, ill and dying ... in Paris, love during a time of cholera, she fled and left him to die). With 'the most beautiful soprano voice in the world', she mocked and rejected him, this writer of bleak disturbing fairy tales. So he wrote the story "The Nightingale". For her ... it was said. To exorcise her power over him, in some indirect way. Why did Stravinsky choose the story? Had he also been scorned by a soprano? Or had he fallen to sleep one night in the Forest of Fontainbleu, with a lover, and been woken at dawn by its singing? On Maria's CD the nightingale part was sung by Olga Trifonova. The finest interpreter of the role in the world at the present time. Maria insisted on listening to the whole opera, by which time, leaning stiffly against a beech tree he had fallen asleep and when he woke up he was convinced he was dead; his legs snapped off like icicles. Then in the darkness, her shape emerging, Maria gazing down at him with scorn; she had kicked him with her boot to awaken him, and quoted Christ's words to his sleeping disciples in the garden of Gethsemane ... damn, he couldn't recall them and he'd left his bible in England. Not 'why hast thou forsaken me?' though apt enough.
He was wondering why the forests had been named Fontainbleu. Presumable the spring at its heart, which was so blue it inspiration for its name ... the blue fountain ... la source bleue ... had it erupted from severed veins, deep in the earth, of copper? But when oxidised on the nearby metamorphic rocks, on which the lizards meditated in the sun, it became as green as a lizard's eye?
Groping for the glass of water on the side-table, the sound of breaking glass (a magpie mimicking a picnic)his fingers brushed his notebook on the side-table, the open pages now wet, the hand-made paper ruined, soggy, pitted like a two day-old amanita phalloides mushroom, dying, its two day lifetime done and dusted: beloved of flies momentarily blasé of dung.
He must write his impressions before it was too late, light filtering into his eyes as pernicious as a green laser, light the cruel eraser of memory; especially of a mystic's dreams. Not often you go to the other side and come back, Soma clutched in claws ... images, the girls, a screen, a pine tree, a wall of trees, scarlet leaves falling, a window in the station waiting room, he had just seen her off on the train to London, waiting ever since to discover why he let her go, alone ... he had no choice ... 'Sorry, but you know I must do it alone, I want to see his face as I press the trigger ... his eyes saying , no, wait, not you, no not you, but I loved you, always loved you ... I must become free of my hate ... it is him or me who must die ... ' It was too late, as it was too late now, to bring her back, to bring himself back from the edge of the cliff, the cleft edge of darkness ... propping himself up against the ghastly pink velvet bed-end, brothel kitsch, through which someone had fired a bullet at close range ... he could smell the gunpowder ... black dust on his eyebrows. Maybe she had shot him through the forehead after all. All this restless amendment by words on a page was hearsay ... the bullet by which he had been trepanned, straight between the eyes, opening of a third eye.
The soft light lacking confidence, its self-assurance obscured by clouds, clouds sunk like a lake into a deep ravine, a narrow bonsai rift valley within the shadow of death ... falling like dust from a moth's wing onto the paper, delicate fingers caressing skin the colour of beech wood, the nails as black as her painted teeth ... once she might have been a flower-girl followed by Thomas, the girl (like him) addicted to laudanum, but she to laudanum licorice and sex ... disappointed to find his notebook completely empty. Not a single word. He was sure he'd been writing in the book since his arrival, page upon page of notes about the dreary talks celebrating a writer whose work he could never understand, feel, absorb, or even remotely care about ... the story of his life ... and his dreams of the girl on the train, and now the final cruel visitation (as she had threatened: 'soon I will be free') of the wilful Miyako: 'Just take me, Michael, I'm too drunk to say no, and I don't care a fuck! I just killed a man. Poison. Delicious ... if you feel like it, if it turns you on ... you can murder me. But in hot blood, not cold blood. Is your heart up to it? But prolong it ... nothing flashy. That's why I cultivate older men, they are circumspect and calm ... but please take a photograph of me dying ... an old mirror on which most of the silvering has been bleached away by light in a Vienna cafe frequented by Djuna Barnes ... a foto from a New Orleans brothel ... 1898 ... I want my death to be a work of art!'
Noticing as he put his notebook back on the table, a flash of colour ... as under a white skirt of newly fallen snow an abandoned scarlet satin underskirt ... a subliminal flash, the pages at the end of the book; there was a list of words. Red pen. An index maybe, it seemed odd to have an index in a book empty of words. He turned the book over, upside down, expecting the words to be written from the bottom of each page upwards if only to be perverse, and backwards because time was now going backwards ... neither ... but clearly a perverse kind of remote plagiarism of himself.
A few more shored up fragments:
Birds. Bird men. Yeats wrote of the skill of the Japanese dancer Michio Ito, introduced to him by Ezra Pound, whom he asked to perform the part of the hawk woman in the first production of At the Hawk's Well, in London. He knew nothing about Noh dancing, often wrote that he thought it must be erotic, which was the very last thing it was ...
Years after writing Snow Country Kawabata lived in an old house, alone except for the company of a rowdy flock of living birds, some caged but mostly flying free, eating, dying, moulting, muting; shit and feathers everywhere ... a bridge in his mind to flight presumably or the fall ... somewhere in the house, invisible, unseen, the body of a girl, her wings folded over her breast, an image forever mutating ... into the perfect unsullied virgin ...
Peter Eckermann writing his masterpiece The Conversations in which he wrote down Goethe's "spoken words", but most of them from a dead Goethe still speaking to him from beyond his most recent death. Peter, living in a house full of living birds, one of which he would release back into the Black forest every year on Goethe's birthday ... hearing voices, writing words on the blank page, conversations with the dead.
On the bridge of birds' wings ... the story would unfold ...
Women incubate babies ... men incubate death.
'We know such things here, in the snow country ... ' Miyako had said. 'In the back woods of the north we have goshawks and grey owls gazing inscrutably from the proud trees we love so much, eyeing their prey free of emotion, preparing to kill without guilt, our painters celebrating the subject in lacquer and silk; as the gods look down on us.' What then is emotion? A mere chemical. We must be careful what we eat.
Had she left the book in his room by accident? Yes, surely, he had found it in her satchel. Yes, she had come to him after he arrived back from the old house. She had come to seduce him in the night ... he had dreamt all night he was a bird. She was in her element, he never woke. She left at dawn, forgetting her satchel.
A diary. On the first page (or the last) a title:
MIYAKO: Her Pillow Book
But before he could read it, a dream reclaimed him. The girl from the train behind a wall (he could only see the back of her head) walking away. Japan. He had followed the girl from the train after the old man had died. Moss growing around the roots of a pine tree, purple and sea green, a carpet hiding the underground branches except for occasional knuckles of barkless wood; a huge white bird, its broken wing trailing in the water as it rose flapping into the air for a last brief flight this side of eternity. Before turning and falling to its death. Two limp circles of ineffectual flight and it was gone. It had lain dead in the snow for months. In spring an orchid growing in the wing's wound, a branch stripped bare of bark by a beaver on the run from rivers polluted by nuclear waste and starving, ravenous, a white knotted web of nettle roots in an exposed fracture, the stump of a decomposing tree in a bed of dying leaves, humus rotting under decaying roots, a fox frozen under a persimmon bush its eyes eaten away by ravens, its fur smeared with the juice of fermenting crimson berries gorged up in stinking pellets from the rancorous stomachs of marauding ravens, pips oozed out in mutes as far from the source as possible to seek a new fertile footing, a new purchase, hope, anywhere they could cling ... seeds, like souls, stolen by magpies with any trinket of lost jewellery that shines like silver or gold ... not in the least impressed by lead ... polished stones in the garden, islands in the white gravel snow, the hotel door-man in his braided uniform throwing food to the carp, granite sculptures chiselled by nature, frost, time, perfectly placed monolithic monuments in mimicry of human cosmologies, the heads of lesser gods bruised by brine-saturated wind swept in from the sea over the beach of white stones, the huts of the ama, the diving girls, the pearl fishers they might have been had there been pearls, rotting cedar planks, water water everywhere, flying above the two girls an albatross, two circles on the wind's eddies before lilting, young girls, ama, diving girls, favourite prey of wandering, marauding pilgrims, dying on beaches, black stone bodies floating in milk, frozen swollen feet, mostly unseen as of icebergs ... a bridge woven of black feathers, interwoven wings, to which lovers cling dreaming of passing into foreverness, leaving behind the time we know that is always stolen, to live in one instant of supreme ecstasy, everything in a single day ... trying to wake, not wanting to ... it was probably about four o'clock ... the hour of the wolf, always darkest before the dawn, 'ne me reveillez pas c'est le temps des oiseaux' ... Maria ... the only girl he had ever loved and on the day she was murdered he'd gone to the park, wept, collapsed and a Japanese girl had been kind to him, her red ballet shoes peeping out from her satchel ... a kindness which was the finest expression of unselfish love.
Only with Maria had he ever felt he wanted to create a child.
'It is simple,' Miyako seemed to be saying. 'The performers were the spectators, the spectators the performers, a mystery play in which we have become invisible birds, she has eyes like a hawk, they are always depicted looking down from the roofs of temples, the gods taking photographs for their own amusement ... gossip being their only means of communication ... it is dawn. Wake up! Here in Japan a favourite pastime, we catch singing insects and keep them captive in cages until they die, keep them for their death songs, the most poignant, ecstatic, lyrical, discordant of them all ... an invitation to the final dance. Last dance saloon, you and your dumb stupid wide-eyed dancing girls, I read your trash, admit it you are no better than him whom we have murdered, we who suffered til the end, caged by his money, his worship of reason. His lust for power. Haunted by hormones we must sing until we die, time collapsing upon itself and we are as nothing, not even reflected images in a mirror, entrapped every day by the promises of linear narrative, as of a parent's love, a single thread of yarn stretched between two two-dimensional horizons, a train journey to death.
I have put the music on endless repeat so you can take your time ... as time takes you ... she has consumed the fruit of time, its bloom is on her skin, she is profane and sacred simultaneously, that is her attraction, a beautiful whore, the divine slut, every act a rehearsal, briefed to play the endgame to perfection. An allumeuse ... dancing for Heraclitus or Herostratus, a fly-by-night, a moth having seen itself painted on the pages of books of poetry and imagining itself immortal, she loved to fly too close to the flames ... a deadly sacrament. I gave her to you, the tainted chalice, bathed in the light of the innocence I was denied. I was never innocent ... we are few and far between. We laments. Once we would have been worshipped and only sacrificed at the best of times to a propitious moon: in eclipse. Her beauty etched by moonlight in the plaster cast that moulded her masks ... she has a thousand and one of them, one for every night she wanders the streets of the city, which owns her, the city she thinks foolishly she has made her own ... she knows street names and her away about it at night, but ... which at every corner on every crossroads, where the murderers are buried, as she drifts, the city's heart disowns her ... '
How could she be talking to him in his sleep? Was she reading from her diary, at his side, he still unconscious from the opium, or talking in her own sleep, she too having eaten the forbidden fruit? He could hear her voice as clear as a bell, her body throbbing next to his in his bed, as in the night she had come to him blind drunk ... every single one of these girls plagiarists stealing his stories, denying his attempt to free himself of his clinging, his incestuous love for Maria ... opening his eyes, calling him the blind owl, he saw a huge insect, some kind of fiendish oriental praying mantis emerging (sideways) through a vertical tear in a pure white sheet of hand-made paper imbued with the constancy of shot silk, its wings a watercolour wash, peering down at him as his eyes opened as slowly as those of an overturned baby turtle ... awaiting the first vicious stab of the albatrosses beak ... eyes like those which watch our dreams for us ... its eyes squinting at the sight of his pained face, roseate from having bathed in a pool of acid rain, trapped in a black steel cage. But blinking his own eyes painfully into focus Michael saw that the bars of the prison were his own eyelashes.
... Beyond them a narrow square garden with vines climbing the high walls, a heavy rainstorm, a shape, a silhouette, lashed by light shredded through tapestry woven of translucent skin-coloured satin ... a story that wouldn't stop like the train wouldn't stop after the driver died of a heart attack and fell on the accelerator ... a girl standing before him ... he and Maria had made love the night before she was murdered ... and the day after he'd gone to the park ... No, it was Miyako looking down at him from the temple roof. Had she used the ropes she had tied the girl with to climb there? Was she about to jump or fall? Onto to his face, crushing his head? Her mouth full of blood ... 'Matthew, are you alright?' Her lips as white as snow. She sounded concerned. He was touched.
'Yes, I think so, so many dreams, images, nothing connected as it should be, the images cutting through me seeking explanations, chastising me for not providing a unity I am denying them ... walking in a gallery, stone columns becoming living but sleeping girls, surrealist paintings, Paul Delvaux, a Max Ernst collage, frottage of the heavy grain of dead wood ... The train she would take waiting for her in the distance. She stands all but naked ... veiled only by shadow.
'Why ... Matthew?' The words wouldn't come. A light kiss on his cheek and she was gone.
It took him ages to lift himself up onto the pillow. She was closing the door as he tried to shout out to her; No, wait! There was so much that could not be left unsaid. It was almost dawn. The darkest. There was the smell of her in the bed, the scent trapped in the weave of the pillow. Why had she needed to make love again? Have sex. To reclaim him? But now, again alone, incomplete, the search resuming, the interminable pilgrimage. 'Here in Japan we never trust endings, they threaten us, we avoid them like the plague!' We prefer endless endless repetition ... parallelisms ... we despise the straight line ... nothing ever less than a fugue. His head felt like lead. Yes, lipstick on the pillow.
'Miss Murasame there's a corpse in the porch, which we believe belongs to you.' He touched his anaemic body, taking care his fingers didn't puncture the bruised skin. He was naked. Yes ... there were smudges of lipstick on the pillow and smears of off-white make-up. Bruises on his knees. Lipstick on the inside of his thigh. He dragged himself out of bed and to the bathroom where he found more signs of her presence. Seaweed in the sink. Boll weevils hatching from the cotton towel. Toothpicks to be used as evidence in a case of the mass slaughter of innocent cockroaches, harmless apart from the threat posed tantalisingly by the fact of their miraculously slow yet persistently successful evolution, their millions of years in becoming perfectly adapted for their niche under the sink and plumbing ducts in their world of 'nature': as if we are not part of it. Rotting wood, walls, plumbing. Sewers. How many genes shared with us, received over millennia from eating them, or, more likely, creatures that had eaten them in which they burrowed through stomach linings like helicobacter pylori bacteria and took up residence knowing it was the perfect place to die; enough survivors shat out before rigor mortis set in.
'I'm on opium so I don't need to come ... ' written in blood on the mirror. Bitch! Fucking bitch! All that trouble he'd gone to to entertain the two girls and that was all she could say!
More signs of her. Husks of dragon-fly larvae chewed at the edges floating in the scum in the sink. False eye-lashes. A soiled and abandoned Dutch cap with a tear in it. He'd not seen one of those for thirty years!
He ordered breakfast. The last day of the conference. A flyer on the tray, elegantly textured green rice paper the colour of crushed leaf insects, in the corner a drawing of a Benda mask. That evening, it announced, would be a performance of a Noh play. The troupe had arrived (despite the snow) on their way to Hokkaido for a Drama festival. A special performance in the old cinema in the town, a converted silk-worm breeders's house. A great privilege. Kawabata's favourite Noh play: 'Eguchi'.
That name was familiar. Yes, he'd used the name Eguchi for his protagonist, the dying man in his novel The House of the Sleeping Beauties. In Japanese the title did not include the word 'house'. Just: Sleeping Beauties. Very useful to know. Michael presumed all the actors were male as was the tradition. He wouldn't bother to see it, he had better than that at 'home'. Except she'd just left and he wasn't sure if she would return. Not to be fucked, but to claim she wanted only to be forgiven. She only ever fucked for revenge; it was called the Return of the Abused.
Odd, the lengths the gods went to, surveying all from the rooftops with the birds, to incite us with their love of theatre, to procreate the race.
Where, now, was the girl from the train? Why did he still prefer not to soil her with a name, one that had cropped up like corn circles unweaving his linear narratives. More than anything he must reach her. Speak to her. Hold her hand. Weep into her hair. Crush her to death with sorrow. Say nothing and in saying nothing say everything. Treat her like delicate porcelain, lay his hand gently on her shoulder. Tell her she was beautiful and beauty resided in the domain of the spirit. How, with words, could he ever assure her that the rite, let's call it, Miyako's Noh play (a clever ploy) was not his idea? Tell her what Miyako had said in her own defence, that the author, the director, the prevailing breeder of the local zeitgeist, after all, was the old man. How long had he been there watching him fucking Miyako? Finally, his own rage, yes, nearly murdering her from rage ... maybe he had murdered her. Was it the girl who had come to him! No, no blood ... Any moment a knock on the door. The girl from the train standing there weeping. The police. 'Yes, that is him! He strangled her in a perverse sexual rite! He tried to get me too but I was too clever for him.' The old man's scenario. At death's door there were truths you could no longer deny. The old master, his books never burnt in anger but recycled and consumed in the unquenchable burning house of the world. Books ... at last he was ready to give them up.
He must get out into the fresh air, even if he became blinded by tautological echoing light from the riven snow. Get away from the boring talks of the final day. 'If we must breathe let the air be perfumed by flowers, if we must drink let the water be filtered through the veins of snow-clad mountains, if we must kill let the flight of the heron be magnificent before it is brought down to earth in the bloodied claws of the peregrine falcon ... le pélerin ... the pilgrim hawk.' He remembered now that Miyako had called the old man Eguchi. He must ask her to explain, if he ever saw her again. Imagine if he didn't! In his rage, he had indeed killed her?
Suddenly he noticed a yellow envelope on the table next to his notebook. He tore it open with escalating apprehension ... Damn! It was from Miyako, for a fraction of a second he had been foolish enough to hope it was not. A postcard of a geisha, her naked body half out of her kimono, writing a poem. On the reverse, Miyako's writing:
And thereupon the spirit fades
and is gone ...
Not a flaw there is
On the polished surface
Of the divine glass,
Chaste with flowers of snow.
The phone. 'This is reception Doctor Schlieman, may we confirm you are leaving tomorrow morning, Sir, and arrange your transport to the station?' Tomorrow, the soul sets sail ...
The lecturer was talking about Mishima's suicide: ' ... as suicide, which, alas, we simply cannot ignore, we must confront the ritual as an undeniable fact, consider it part of our highest social ideals and traditions, or symptom of a malaise as Kawabata himself felt strongly despite his stance on traditional values, as we cannot ignore his, Kawabata's own tragic suicide a few years later. It is terrible to say it, and I do so reluctantly, but perhaps Mishima should have performed the act on film. As fiction. As before he had made the short film of the Noh play: Yukoko: Ritual of Love and Death. By killing himself in the cold light of fact, of undeniable truth, he failed ... failed us, his audience, who loved him for his genius, his artifice, for his sublime and tragic faults, his physical beauty, his wonderful poetry, inspirational visionary prose. By a mysteriously perverse irony and alchemy he lost the respect of the very people he had hoped would appreciate his sacrifice. In such a secular climate his act was without authenticity, except to too few. It was a great loss. As Kawabata wrote, a sentiment we all share: There is not a single moment when I am free of the grief and sorrow I feel over Mishima's lamentable death.'
Miyako's Pillow Book. Had she left it on purpose, the way Tanizaki's wife left her diary where her husband could find it. In a locked drawer. Yes, but cunningly, she had also left The Key nearby, very easily found. The book in which she described her passion (a graphic novel) for her young lover, the full extent of their physical exploits in crude detail, no extenuating circumstances, pure savage lust, crude endless fuck fuck fucking ... was it not a great gift, a sacred privilege for him to be shown the servile truth of a woman's sexual fantasies and how, in reality, she realises them? But Tanazaki was a sexual masochist ...
How could he being himself to read Miyako's secret pillow book? Surely an insult not to do so; even if she had left it accidentally, a fraught frank confession, embodiment of guilt, a narcissistic self-clinging anally retentive tract? Was curiosity imagination's daughter or lover?
He needed more light. It was calling out to him. As long as the four horses were pulling a chariot of fire he should go along with it ... he went to the garden. She had given him a paperback copy of a book. 'Don't read it!' He flicked it open near the end:
He could make out two pine breezes, as a matter of fact, a near one and a far one. Just beyond the far breeze he heard faintly the tinkling of a bell. He put his ear to the kettle. Far away, where the bell tinkled on, he suddenly saw Komako's feet, tripping in time with the bell. He drew back. The time had come to leave ... '
'Why this book?' he'd asked her.
'There's a key for that passage in the Noh play Pining Wind. The novel is full of references to it ... the traditional poetic meaning of the split nature of music ... the linear and the vertical rhythms ... two girls represent two possible harmonics, the low string on the lute which is continuous, the other the high which is intermittent. You have to know this inter-textual stuff or the novel is utterly meaningless, every phrase in the deplorable thing has at least two other meanings, two musical tones, the invisible harmonics of the souls of the two girls. Meaningless if you can't read the Japanese language, which of course, crazy crazy, is written with a Chinese script. Bizarre, no? It gives pleasure making invisible connections, to me, but why? Am I so fucked up, so abused, it is the real reason why I can't live in the real world? Fucked up like you, if your books don't lie. Everything seducing everything else, so sexy. Give me polymorphous sexuality any time ... even though I know it will kill me!'
The hotel garden had been designed by a Zen master, she said. The air ice cold ... his brain a kiln, his ear-drum pounding, billions of miles of hard-wired neural networks buckling and melting under the heat of imploding words, their wings on fire, aggressively forging an escape to the ice cold air outside his flesh crucible through a hole opening up on the top of his skull ... trepanned (word derived from the Greek, trupanon, meaning augur, to divine or foretell the future) in a previous life ... his brain a black ash of nigredo smelted by the unwanted burden (unrelenting repetitive chorus dawning upon him) of too much bloody thinking ... beyond his power to avoid, assuage, deny, reject ...
Staggering around the garden he found a place where he could hide, not be overlooked ... (as in left out) ... watched by a voyeur ... gods ... sit on a carved black granite seat under the stone wall. Lifting his face to the sky as the snow fell down on his burning skin, melting instantly on contact, soothing him ... how was he going to get out of this one? 'Sloughing off the old self to allow the new self to emerge ... otherwise you will be blind forever ... the undiscovered country ... but it is painful.' as Maria knew, she'd been there. She who had perfected the art of murder ... murdered her own father whose abuse had destroyed her will to feel ... the wild one, the wild girl in her dreaming of ecstatic flight, leaving the body as a bird, the divinely inspired painful sacrificial pleasure of returning ... Not easy but she did it, never easy to murder the false self, the masked puppet that had stood before her (and between) as her interpreter to the world; guardian and catalyst of her inner void; selling her a counterfeit world of fake objectivity ... incubating deep in herself her own rituals of endless endless cleansing, getting rid of the dirt, seeking her own authentic complôt contre la raison ... but there could never be a good-enough lover to unbind her. An impossible task. Hence the act of murder ...
There was a raven drinking at the edge of the pool, its black feet hidden in the white snow, as if it was standing on small stilts.
He must get back ... legs no longer sending an image into his mind of their shape, their essential themselves ... floating on air over the snow as if on a hovercraft ... drifting back towards the blank side-wall of the hotel he felt a sudden presentiment, a foretelling, a telepathic message ... as if a trephine had been gorged into the top of his skull. Could he now see through walls, all opaque stone become as translucent as crystals of quartz? But he knew it, knew she was there, just beyond the wall ... walking towards ...
... the front door of the hotel, as he was ten yards or so in front of it, still outside the building. No man's land. Self-obsessed, she passed him by, a mere yard away. She didn't actually ignore him. With only a flicker of emotion, barely a single frame, not even one twenty-fifth of a second, a movement whose trace could only be caught in a bubble chamber, she bowed ... the degree of deflection of a lightbeam around an asteroid no larger than the central stone in the hotel's Zen garden; itself a magnetite meteorite. Probably the metamorphic magnetite. Now grounded after its trip round the circumference of its own mini-universe. Ground up, ground down, Shoji Hamada might have transformed it into a sublime pot ... centred on the wheel of human time ... when he got back he would call Christies and ask them for the next catalogue of Oriental pots. He'd always wanted his ashes to be placed in a Hamada pot ... the glaze wouldn't matter that much; the outside, the form, the shape, a strong hint of an hour glass, the body of an Andrea della Robbia Angel ... The ones of Hamada he had (many ones, never twos or threes) he had were cracked. Got them cheap.
She had walked right through him ... One thought thrust into his overlooked being; yes, but it was the perfect image for the ending of the film, music on a koto rather than a zither. Was he not the third? The man.
He went to his room and wept.
The following morning, the last day of conference activities, Michael took a final walk round the lounge and restaurant to see if the girl from the train was there. She wasn't. All in the mind. One of these days he would shave his head as was Japanese custom when reality became too much. Shave his head and (hairless like a priest in Giza) withdraw from the world, wander north like a bird on migration exploiting a passing encompassing wind, like Basho, perfected wanderer with nothing more than a bent stick and satchel following his pathway north (composing haiku day and night, surrendering to tropisme south only in winter) searching for wonder, speaking rapturously to trees, waking early to absorb the wisdom and magic of the birds' dawn symphonies concertos duets quartets songs (multilinear aphasic yet melodic song-lines of the gods) for inspiration ... Eos ... dawn when the lover must leave the bed and body of his other. Who in the night has be made him whole. The two halves of a Plato egg. For the hundredth time ... love the desire for repetition, denial of a one-night stand ...
She had walked through him ... was he the ghost, or her? It was time to leave now, pack his self-image in an imaginary knapsack. One last walk. He set off walking towards the forests in the mountain foothills, (they had feet so couldn't be ghosts) the shrouds of trees in the distance tantalisingly projected there by those avid avoiders of reality, lovers of virtuality, those film-buffs - the gods ... swathed on the slopes like a monstrous goddess's abandoned udobis, floating on tapestry, their washed watercolours the diffused impregnated blue-greens of the diaphanous wings of dragon‑flies. There were cuprous blue and green ink-stains in the snow. Never had the mountains seemed so fractured, so surreal, their heads bleached by boisterous storm clouds, the mass of pine trees reaching up to their feet a deep jade-green sea in which shafts of golden light pierced through as if reflected from gold leaf, layered over the finest Heian paper a prince's money could buy.
Reaching a track into the forest, already indifferently cold in the shade of the trees, he was content to be wearing his cashmere scarf. But he paused. Desire never gave up easily, not only is it the angels that keep their ancient places. Could he not stray just once, once again, from the narrow path ... visit the old house to see if there was any sign there of the girl?
Old habits ... desire is only one way of moving. Not always forward! He had already mourned her, after she had walked past him without a word. Hate threatening ... He must become utterly free of her. They had shared time, a single night, a brief lapse, a harrowing rite, a tortuous disclosure of anguish and terror, that was all the gods had offered him ... to be free he must choose to become free ... climb ... go against gravity's tropism, he was being pulled up up, he could feel it. Suddenly he noticed them, the footsteps in the snow ... ahead of him ... small, a girl's shoe ... Miyako had said the shrine was unreachable in the snow but he would go on until he dropped, like Sisyphus savour the symmetry at the summit, the view to the troubled seas beyond the distant coastline to Sado, after which (only then) he might have the right to return. In climbing he was making a statement the gods could read. Hieroglyphs in the snow from his footloose petulant running away ... from his work, writing, self, forgotten crime or crimes, his absurd craving for names, for images into which lust might be embodied and exorcised ... when he was a kid they'd gone there each year to a small cottage in the hills behind Coniston Water for holidays ... school holidays. Maybe that was the story he ought to tell. Where it all began ... try to describe whatever it was that had made him what he was. Not what he thought he was (in a single word: driven), whatever had wounded him irreparably and despatched him off on his endless journeys, to endless nowheres ... and beyond. Into the nohzone, in a futile search of a soul he had never had the faith by which he might believe in its existence. No wonder men have no word for it, poets call it butterfly, flower, leaf, the nightingale's song. nowhere.net
Cry clutching heaven by the hems, not of Gethsemane, but Thames ... he'd got it wrong. Genese ... the word wouldn't complete itself. Was he having a stroke? Had he lost access to half his brain? Severance, a points failure on the corpus callosum ...
By the time he reached the mauled wooden bench where he and Miyako had sat exchanging gnarled haiku, he was profoundly tired, the bottomless cold of the air tearing at his ailing lungs. He had the book she'd given him saying no to read it ... bitch! No purpose in reading it now, but ... from habit ... he idly scanned the text. The prose was arch, precious, he hated it instantly, Miyako had been right, the little vixen; not his territory at all. In fact nothing could be more alien to his all-too English sensibility, baptised, nourished, polluted by the so-called Romantics. Lush sensualists and non-oxen speaking and dreaming misfits mostly ... those models the Japanese writers at the turn of the century had decided they ought to emulate. He flicked towards the end of the book, surprised to arrive at a paragraph about an old Kyoto kettle and the sound of the wind in the nearby pines ...
In Cumbria it was the rain, in Japan the wind ... and snow.
Such an odd text. A Kyoto kettle and the sound of the wind in the pines murmuring nature's own pure music, subtle and lovely like Miyako's breathing as she slept in his arms after they had first made love ... why couldn't he love her? Why make love to her, and yearn even more for Yoko? He'd used her name, was that a sign he was free of her? Breathing through her hair, head on his pillow, until he parted the tresses, the locks, on the pillow under which was her pillow book with all the links and keys to her secret hidden being were inscribed ... in purple ink ... 'purple is the colour of my aura, a shaman told me!' ... now, free, the girl on the train had walked past him without a word, as if it had been all too-true that he had bought her ... but with what currency? His own pain or Miyako's for having failed in her appalling mission? For one night they had touched without touching, been intimate without intimacy, it would have to be enough for another hundred years. Until the rains ceased.
He noticed a paragraph a few pages later about a fire engine and a fire: such exotic fun in the days when fire engines were wild, dazzling, dramatic, hauled along the cobbled streets by a group of straining firemen, a crowd of arm-waving people rushing in carnival spirit behind it. Kawabata had been a fireman in the war witnessing in virulent close-up his own people killed, his country towns and villages systematically destroyed by American fire bombs; later he too had taken to the art of fire-watching as it was called, eager to give chase to the scene of a good fire. Michael tried to imagine him, a rather more sprightly and younger man than the man he'd seen in the room ... seen? Of course not, the hallucinatory power of opium, but amazing how utterly real and convincing it had seemed. (Seems madam?) The man's face scorched with scars, Miyako licking the make-up off the girl's face touchingly tenderly before her vicious unconsummated crime. He tried to recall the music the girl had danced to. Given the chance he would ask Miyako for a copy of the tape. As he was reading he could hear the bell sounding in the kettle. Quite real, so real he knew the opium was still in his blood stream. Had she tried to kill him with an overdose?
A ringing ... ringing ... in his ears ... drowning out all other sounds. Was this it, vertical simultaneity, death the ultimate synchronous pivot? He closed the book. One more book he could now avoid. The ringing reverberating shrilly inside his skull, oppressing him. Had the migrating swallows arrived back early, taken up domicile in the hermitage of the metal head hanging on the gnarled branch of the tree? The wind was blowing along the track, past him, from the direction of the village, the ringing so sharp and intense by now he was certain it must be the aftermath of the opium, it would take days to be erased from the blood ... and his strained eardrum and stressed cochlea ... no wind could carry such a heavy sound ... but he was trembling, his body's maverick vacillation provoking doubt, the ringing tangibly painful ... mere memory, fiction now, recorded on the myriad open-ended imaginings of his brain's self image, his mind, deep inside his skull? No, it was outside, objective, quite real, sounding like a ceramic bell inside a huge glass bell‑jar, huge, the size of a six‑mat room inside of which a girl was trapped, dancing, the story of another Noh play (ingenious modern version by Mishima) that he'd heard about in the conference, which the girl, Yoko, her name coming to her now despite himself, had danced in Tokyo ... Dójóji the play was called ... a dancing girl is trapped inside a huge bell being dedicated for the temple ... sounded quite appealing.
Compelled by an uncanny hunch, he flicked the book open again and started to read as fast as he could, continuing with the scene with the fire-engine ... Komako and Shimamura running towards a burning building ... a girl, Yoko, dying in the flames as the makeshift cinema was burning down ... the film caught in the gate of the projector probably ... the projectionist not watching, fucking one of the makeshift usherettes behind a huge pile of film cans, black and white movies, many of them lost forever since in the fires of the terrible war which the Emperor bestowed upon the people ... In panic Michael jumped up from the bench, the book falling into the snow, but not caring to pick it up ... how fast must you run to reverse time? Deny a bastard fatherless reincarnation? Even the leaves on the trees had veins in them, nerves which functioned at the speed of light ... if he reached the cinema in time, entering with the audience the final scene before the end titles, could he deny the brutal authoritarian demands of the narrative, refuse it closure, the coda, endless repetition, a story to be read and read over and over again as long as human minds were here to read and were prepared to be haunted. Royalties (from the gods) paid to surviving relatives and offspring ... the endless turning of the cyclic galactic wheel of space, time, and what evolved to become our nature ...
And he ran and ran, ran and ran towards the makeshift cinema, the silk weaver's house, knowing, knowing - no, not knowing - determined to prove the novel wrong, not just the novel but the play and the subsequent seven movies ... was his whole life composed only of such literary veils? How prove that he, the reader in this context, was more powerful than time and the author's cocksure hi-jacking of it? He would have written a different ending. Finally they would have overcome the bitterness, betrayals, loss (it was the nature of nature - nature copulated with nature and produced desire) ... they would have collapsed in each other's arms and made love as if for the first time, as if they were gods. Romantic trash, maybe, but he was in love! Was it not his own novel now?
But then he saw it, the fire-engine lurching across the crossroads, frantically turning, wheels skidding, throwing up lacerated snow like confetti over the row of gawking spectators, before hurtling downhill. He was amazed how sleek was the body of the fire engine, brand new, its paint sparkling as if lacquered with iron rust and gold, in shiny contrast to the faded colours of the old street of shops and the old houses ... no longer the cozy wooden fire engine of the novel pulled by sweating and bleeding hands, not unlike those old railway train engines he'd thrilled to hurtling through the railway station at Carnforth when he was a kid. He went there each evening after school to fetch newspapers for the newsagents shop where he and his mother lived in lodgings ... his father way ... in the desert.
He ran, shouted to the trees as he ran past, a raging pain at knowing the future, unable to change the end of the novel ... bought to book by it ... no reply from the trees, nature remaining inscrutably silent like the gods when it came to human self-inflicted pain. Be grateful for the cure of the opium poppy. He shouted for the birds to hear but they were hiding from the sirens or had migrated south to escape the early snows.
Kawabata exploiting, no more no less, surely, the Buddhist image of the burning house. Turn away then from the material world ... words of Hermes Trismegistus, he of the wings on his feet ... words, leaping off the page transforming past into future, recapturing or reinventing the past with the right codes to infiltrate the paradigmatic web of the collective mind from where ghostly inhabitants emerged through us by way of dreams and coincidences at the crossroads of our other ways and gorged upon us all ... words leaking into his mind from amputated domains ...
He was slipping and slithering in the snow. Was there anything in the novel about the male protagonist falling and hitting his head on a stone pillar and being killed? He slowed down just in case, it was too late knowing he should have read the novel after all, to have become prepared for the horrors unwinding before him, as he should closely have read the Noh play the girls had dramatized. Nowadays it seemed impossible to be free, always living out the stories mediated to us ... He could hardly breathe, his lungs weakening from lack of blood supply from his heart.
Reaching the bend in the road he saw the old house beyond the crowd of bustling onlookers, not the cinema, the kind of crowd that turns up for a cricket match on the village green in Grasmere on Sunday after lunch in the Green Man; even in the rain, or years ago turning out in flocks to watch troupes of strolling players, favoured of the likes of Herr von Hamlet to recreate the murder of his father the Danish king; feckless minstrels (something rotten in their souls) who seduced the girls with songs and poems (and good-enough promises, in truth, of guiltless pleasure); living theatre travellers enacting tales with a start a middle and an end, such as The Conference of Birds.
He and Miyako trapped in unrequited love for the bewitching waif, Yoko ... all this a consequence of his failing to encode a language he was not equipped to read. Beware of entering blind into the contexts of another culture. Miyako telling him of a Noh play Yoko had danced in: Genji Kuo. The tale of Murasaki Shikibu, the adored authoress of The Tale of Genji, who was still trapped in hell, denied access to peace and heaven for having broken the essential Buddhist law: Never to Tell an Untruth. She has admitted that in her fabled narrative of love, Genji, in all its perverse vastness and cruel beauty (the greatest book ever written in the Japanese language - composed by a mere slip of a girl) she has not told the truth; her account of the loves of Genji was often fiction, not so much lies as fanciful embellishments to make it a more enjoyable and inspiring to read. A priest reads a petition begging for her to be given peace. The gods listen, judge, give their verdict. She dances, a reward to the priest for his prayers. She has confessed and been forgiven. The message of the play is that the fictions she wrote were not untruths any more than is life; always as inscrutably true and untrue simultaneously: as is dream. Not the interface between word and image. But the endless gyrating interlocking spheres of the imagination.
Surely no-one had been in the old house? The two girls not playing more games, more see-saw charades, drugged by the demons possessing Miyako? But he saw it immediately. The fire engine had arrived too late. The building had gone, its thickest wall timbers could still be seen, like old broken tide-breakers on Sado beach, or old snow markers on the Haworth moors; the roof collapsed inside them. He tried to walk away, escape back up the road, telling himself again, again, again, that it was only a symbolic sign contrived by the author, a metaphor, a script for a movie.
But then he saw the ambulance arriving and he pushed imperiously and rudely back through the crowd, determined to get to the back of the house where the ambulance had gone through tall gates, now open, which he'd not seen in his previous visit in the dark. But the people wouldn't let him through; a foreigner. Angered, he persisted, pushed arrogantly, edging through from side to side, a double forward movement, shirring through the network of interlocked arms, the woven barricade of bodies, into the dark garden under the smoke, careening his way through them the way a leaf falls on the last breaths of autumn wind; until he was close enough to the doors of the ambulance to see them being opened, a stretcher being raised and placed inside. On it a body under a white sheet. Carrara marble. Black hair falling from the pillow like seaweed. A grounded Ondine. A dredged Ophelia.
A girl standing next to the body, quite still, in a long black leather coat, as serenely and coldly immobile as a statue, watching the doors as they were closed, the ambulance suddenly stirring like a rough beast feet stuck in snow to drive away, grudgingly, sirens howling. A long black leather coat. Miyako's or the girl's? He must always call her Yoko now before it was too late.
But he knew. The standing girl was Miyako, wearing Yoko's coat. As in the rite she had taken his own coat before she stood close before the spectre ... she was into coats ... other's cloaks ... borrowings were endemic in such plagiarised narratives. Michael, unable to move, watching, waiting, petrified as the throng of people surrounding the standing girl, the crowd possessed by a subdued Brownian movement, gradually became less dense, dispersed after an unearthly, unmeasured unmeasurable lapse of time, a few characters leaning against the perimeter wall watching firemen spraying the pile of blazing timbers. Michael wondered if wood burned at the same temperature as books. Fahrenheit 451 degrees. Presumably. And if it mattered, or not.
Miyako, as immobile as a laurel tree; aucuba japonica or Daphne laureola, though the later should have been Yoko's tree.
Finally he shuffled hesitantly towards her, so slow he wasn't sure if he hadn't left himself behind, as if he was carrying the girl's body on his shoulder, bringing her out of the burning house himself; until he stopped silently behind her. This other girl. He was weeping without knowing he was weeping, ignoring the evidence of tears, telling himself it was melting snow on his eyelashes, as he strove desperately to see through his eyelids ... her head twitched slightly, her hair shook from side to side; aware of his presence. That twitch. Was she saying ... 'No! Wait!?'
He touched her on the shoulder but she jerked away, withdrew and contracted as the naked foot reacts to standing on a piece of broken glass, as swift as a dove reacts to seeing a falcon stooping towards it, or an amoeba's pseudopodium withdraws as fast as light from the drop of neat sulphuric acid dropped in its path by blasé scientists researching man's history of his own curiosity ... she seemed to diminish before his eyes as if instantly freezing ... solid ... cold fusion ... he stood firm, prepared to wait, whatever time it took he needed the truth ... eventually, without turning to look at him, she spoke: 'There are questions that can't be asked of our personal lives ...which must remain in the golden domain of silence. He is free. She killed him ... as she had to. Her own father. Our father. Go away now to the world you came from, the world you know, and leave us to our dreadful, hard-won peace.'
She began to walk away from him in a flawlessly drawn straight line, its exactitude mysteriously warning him not to follow. If only she wavered a few feet before she reached the far pavement and the wall, he would consider the possibility of following her. But the line was as straight as the horizon at the brim of the sea which he had failed to witness during his aborted climb; the sea stretching to Sado across troubled waters ... that other place beyond knowing, before that knowing that comes when death opens the third eye, that zone only reached by a bridge made of bird's wings arching over to the Milky Way ... he had not climbed the path towards the shrine, high enough ...
Only at the wall did Miyako need to turn through a few degrees to pass through the gate, before walking on, walking on down the road. Damn it! The perfect image for the final scene of a film.
The snow was still falling, but lightly, intermittently, as he walked away from the old house in which dreams had mocked him but at least seemed to care enough to do so, back up the road to the crossroads, after which he went on, on, up the path through the trees, not seeing much through the spume of his tears except the darkness beyond the avenue of trees ...
She had not said it was the girl ... she was regretting the loss of the old house and all the traditions it had once embodied, and the old man's death, blaming Yoko for it. 'Our father'?
He saw footsteps in the snow. The girl (Yoko he must must now call her by her name to keep her alive) had left the old house and gone for a walk towards the old shrine to listen to the 'sound of the mountains'. Inadvertently he was following her, any minute they would meet on the ancient track between the trees, they would fall into each other's arms, weeping ... laughing.
The body had been that of a maid, come to clean up after their orgy.
Yes, she was there, ahead of him. She had gone alone to the shrine to meditate, eyes fixed on the shimmering silhouette of the island of Sado eighty miles away; best seen in falling light. Today was the one day of the year when the island could be seen, when nature's harmonies were in perfect resonance with human desire. When he reached the summit she would be sitting there on the weathered craggy stones, the remains of the shrine in a sea of pure white snow as fine as the sand in the Zen garden where they had met, or not met ... or the cemetery. He was forgetting. She would be wearing a dark kimono made from the most precious Chimini material on which was a pattern of bird feathers and on the collar crimson autumn leaves circumscribed with gold; a material woven in the mountains by a quiet people who had not dared to notice and so admit that the natural world was dying, the weavers, young girls not yet self-conscious with the torments of puberty for whom the warf and weft and multi-linearity of their traditional plaited tracery patterns were encoded maps of magic ... maps of visionary consciousness ... in which the sacred domains of the past, remained intact. Could be re-conjured in the mind ...
She would not look at him at first but they would be instantly aware of the other's presence. He would walk up behind her, slowly, and stay standing behind her. Her wig would be fastened high on her head as in the old days and decorated with cochineal-red lacquered combs. Suddenly she would lift one of her hands, her long elegant fingers pale comme la mort, her finger‑nails the colour of rowan ash leaves trodden under foot, and he would take her hand into his own hands and kiss the fingers, just once lightly, before noticing the hand was the worn hand of an old woman a hundred years old ... her face a reminder of that of a child born only an hour before, the skin blemished by passage through the birth canal, as later, passage through life's countless canals ... all such canals, some said, leading to Venice.
Or her face the inevitable mask, crazed like Sung porcelain glaze. He had always been fascinated by the subtle 'crazing' on stoneware porcelain ceramics, caused by the glaze cooling at a slower pace than the metamorphic crystalline body clay. A glass palimpsest.
A local girl, she would have been his assistant in the pottery he would have built high in the northen mountains, kneading the clay (and bread), grinding in a pestle and mortar the minerals that would develop into perfectly translucent glazes, subtly coloured by trace minerals like iron or copper, never failing to remind him of the crystal eyes in Egyptian mummies and death masks. Maybe his love of pottery had been always a premonition for death ... as his own eyes and mind glazed over for the last time ... soon he might know.
And here they were together, ill met by accident, time appearing to be irrelevant, they were now beyond it.
In the snow, black footprints ... two birds ... had they been dancing or squabbling? A pattern that reminded him of newly washed hair. The hair! He could see it again as the girl's body was lifted into the ambulance. Yes, he could see the hair, the image imprinted in his mind. Why wear a wig in death? Was it not her? It was the maid, the cook? Was there still hope? In running away now from life was he not forever running away from hope? Or was it someone who they paid to look after the breeding of the silk worms.
Almost as if they willed it, it would start snowing heavily again and they would have to remain quite still without moving fingers or eyelids until they were covered with snowflakes which refused to melt, on her face the crystals exquisitely happy to have fallen into flawless patterns, like crazing on a ceramic Noh mask, in their brief lapse into form. The low sun throwing a coldly crystalline light upon them making the frozen snow on the branches look like the skeletons of jelly fish sticking to the hull of a phantom ghost ship, a spectre floating on the surface of an infertile arctic sea. A lone white bird, it had flown for thousands of miles and hundreds of thousands of years. The last individual, still flying in our time, more beautiful now in its solitariness than all the others that had ever existed, the last one on earth searching for a mate ... never able to know that none still existed. And when its eyes closed, the unique albatross vision of an albatross world parallel to our own would cease to be. Forever.
And when would it be our turn, we who had shot the albatross with our crossed bows ...
It would become so quiet he would hear her mind thinking.
With a lightness in his step now, knowing she would be there awaiting him, he climbed past alternating groves of deciduous and conifer trees grown into each other as if wanting to inter-breed, to copulate and exchange genes, the forest composed not of thousands of isolated trees but of copses within copses, each interweaving subtly into the next, texts into texts, branches entwined like snakes around the staff of Tiresias. The bright crimson leaves bent with snow had the look of soft hands shedding gloves made of silk, decorated with hammered gold and gold enamelling ... He soon passed the tree he had sat against days before, its gnarled roots still showing through the drift of the newly fallen snow.
And he climbed and climbed until he left the path behind. Perhaps he saw the old shrine, perhaps not. There was a pile of boulders with no sign of human trace, more likely to have been flung into this juxtaposition by a retreating glacier, the stones being a modest record (not so much of some preternatural orgy among gods) of a moment of chaos violently metamorphosing the limestone stones, layed by the bowels of dying seas. Not a temple built by man to honour the mystery of the gods but a chance juxtaposition of stones as necessary to be part of this world, as ourselves imagining endless creation and recreation, suffering the escalating entropy of inter-textualising chaos and complexity. Where had it gone, the universe of selfless unity, united by love, as expressed in our world by the multiple verses of poetry?
He could see the perimeter of the trees a quarter of a mile ahead, beyond which point the bare mountain rose sharply. Covered in even thicker snow it gave the appearance of being a deep blue, the colour of cobalt crystals trapped in the interlocking crystal lattices that comprise gneiss, or a molecular iron and copper amalgam trapped interstitially in zircon; the ambience of outer space.
Like a lament, she was calling him.
A thin dead branch sticking horizontally out of the trunk of a pine tree snagged the skin on his face and he felt blood seeping into the corner of his mouth. It seemed appropriate, mingled with tears, and its taste reminded him of her.
But nothing could stop him now. He knew it was getting late in the afternoon. Valuable time had been lost stopping to sit against a tree, eyes closed, trying to meditate ‑ he'd no idea for how long ‑ or even if it had been today - or on what he meditated, images with as much substance as the mists rising from the snow before him as the fading winter sun shone unexpectedly on it ... the lake just beyond the end of the garden ... he'd left the names stuck to the rose-bush thorns in his eagerness to get back to the cottage, escape the sudden torrents of rain ... the ending of another petulant day (the end from his point of view) subverted by the inadvertent start of a false winter, all seasons now become one, as all the girls were one (maybe two, he was so unavoidably split, some would say schizoid), all seasons becoming vertical enduring at best a few days; a chaotic saison-en-enfer, an apocalyptic climactic anarchy fabricated by the malignant hands of 'rational' humanity ... global warming and freezing becoming in a bizarre way simultaneous, synchronous. The dance of death.
When he reached the border where the trees petered out, he rested; it would not be too long before nightfall.
Nearby, a square patch of the mountain, a small plateau which had been cleared of its natural forest, newly planted with trees. A plantation, a wooden sign on a steel post: Grizebeck High Cross. As far as the eyes could see, soldiers on parade, row upon row of newly planted pine trees; future pulp. He lurched on through the snow, slipping and sliding, flung himself down, grabbed two trees, one in each hand and pulled them out ... lifted them up and threw them into the air ... didn't watch to see where they fell behind him ...
Above him, darker clouds again threatening snow. Minutes before there had been sun! Or had it been hours? Or days?
If she was not here, then she had been in the burning house. Had he needed to come here to convince himself that his lie might become the truth? The simplest of all lies, that she was waiting for him, as he had been waiting for her, it was the nature of desire to desire coincidence. Was this merely a story he'd outlived on the starched whiteness of the page? Had he died and wrapped her in the same white sheet? Parthenogenesis, the virgin birth, an immaculate conception ... etching hieroglyphs in stone ...
But everything was suddenly speeding up like film in an editing machine driven by a faulty motor out of control, turning at ten times the normal speed. Or was the fault not in the technology but in himself, his body, it was he who was slowing down, grinding to a halt ... as the wind quickened?
Trudging on and up until he reached the transition, the threshold, the limit of the darkness cast by trees. Ahead of him the untouched snow, a carpet stretching as far as he could see over the moorland on the mountain's lower slopes. More tracks left by fussy birds. He followed the contour line of the terminal trees, not finding a suitable place to continue his climb.
There were the winding tracks of a small animal that had run around in circles in the snow before going back into the haven of the trees where it had its home. He could read tracks, once. As a kid. Did they have squirrels here? Could it be a pine marten? He'd never know. The pull was still there, stronger, refusing to release him.
Where could she be if he hadn't found her at the shrine? Was there a cave somewhere up above him still hidden from view? Hadn't he been here many times in search of other lost, broken girls? Which, in truth, he saw it now, were the mystery he had never been able to resolve; as if they were a part of himself. An essential part. She would laugh, mock him, and say this involute, this recurring dream, was his anima! Why tramp across desolate wastelands, down stinking mean chewing-gum-strewn city streets when it was merely an involute, a fiction, a trace autographed on the neural labyrinth of his mind ... this girl ... or as the romantics might have preferred to say ... of the heart ... a pattern of microscopic arteries on the rippled surface of his beating heart. Only by moving on could he find the hermit's cave.
Was she ahead of him, waiting; he felt it so strongly he could make it come true. Her face was coincidence, premonition its echo. This was madness, he knew it, but it was so precious he didn't want to lose it. He had promised her he would come back, to claim her, to prove his love was real; he saw her now, asleep in his arms ... the night before losing her. Now, no time to tell their story ... Stripped white branches beneath his feet ... His bones aching. If she had died, what was the purpose of beauty but to mock the living?
And when it became dark, completely dark - perhaps he had fallen asleep, reached the ultimate pivot word, the point when he could go no further forwards or backwards - at that point of incandescent magic, the wind mysteriously sweeping away the clouds that had seemed to be piling up in the night sky obscuring everything, suddenly ‑ oh the clarity and crystalline precision of the image spreading out from him as if he was its centre ... the cosmic ejaculate of the milky way towering over him, a single brush stroke of light across the sky from which the birds frantically weaving their bridge of feathers could look down on him in his plight. Splinters of silver piercing his eyes ...
The sublime cleanliness of the stellar image in the chill lucid air was cutting at the flesh in his parched throat and he could taste blood in his mouth as if the light itself had flowed down out of the river of heaven's mouth and deflowered him. He wanted his eyes to brim over with milk, to obscure the truth that he was on the verge, at the edge, and beyond, unable to avoid being sucked out of himself, sucked back into the infinite desolation of his mineral origins into an ocean of stars which he could feel spreading out from the centre of the circle of which he, the centre, was an ego apparently aware of itself, a small oasis of fibre loosening and falling apart, the eye of a whirlpool of feeling over which he was pleased, at last, to lose control ... to lose the plot ... ready to plunge into her ... to take her and be taken ... for all eternity in union with her ... to become the swimmer, the swimming, and the drowned.
If this was the River Styx, where was the hermit's boat and the black swan of Tuonela? One last allusion! Soon, seconds away, to be beyond needing questions that could never be answered. No. Wait. Maybe.
If only she had not moved from her seat in the train to the one opposite where he could see her in the circle of mirror he had demisted in the window with his finger, none of this would have happened.
Unable to go further he let himself fall forwards into the snow, the warmth of his face melting the crystals ... and he drank, as if he had time to care, as if drinking mattered ... desire, unquenchable until the last. But one last fiction ... imagining the taste of milk, not blood, oozing from the corners of his mouth, locked to hers ... her milk ... she would remain with their child, as Yoko had foreseen ... shaman witch that she was ... he had held her in his arms, once, just once, but it had been more than he deserved ... she was with him now, embracing him ... as he dreamed of a new life that was being born. Through her body ... their child. Nature's child.
Unless they had killed her before she could get back to Paris.
The light in his brain fading away even as he was watching her face asleep on the pillow ... her hair wafting in the gentle currents of the pool ... reflecting a shimmering moon ... One last dream.
Before the cold light awakened him ... in his copse. His little copse of trees on the ancient burial mound. Above the copper mines. The first time he'd been drawn into it as if by a huge magnet ... just a kid at the time ... he felt them. Bith. The trees and them. The trees were alive ... roots perhaps still feeding off those buried there. Before Christ. Because the priests had decreed it was a sacred place. The golden bough ... the sacred grove ... the branch of the tree that was the sacred daughter ... to put upon a golden bough ... to sing. And dance. A gift. Beauty. Pleasure. The covenant. A place for sacrifice. Sacro facere ... Where coincidences that couldn't be explained occurred. Dreams that recurred time and time again. Visitations. Story of his life. Even as a kid he felt himself to be communicating there, as nowhere else, in a way he could not explain, exchanging ideas with those in the mound beneath him ... on the edge of which the fox had its den. Shot by a gamekeeper. Lying in the space between the graves he had consecrated there. He was lying on his back. He could hear a nightingale singing ... in his ears. Maria's CD ... lying now between the two graves of the girls. Whose stories he must tell. Love stories. Not his love for them (and he had loved them all in his way), far from it. Their love for something buried deep inside their bodies ... as in an ancient Pagan burial mound. Their certainty that they were here to be priestesses of the goddess. They had been drawn to him ... because he recognised it in them. Now, between their graves ... and the smaller grave in which he had placed the Japanese pot now containing his father's ashes. With a model of an LMS streamlined train engine ... the night express to London (a place he could dream of visiting) that howled through Carnforth station like a dragon on heat (an expression he could not have used at the time) as he waited for the stopping train which followed on which were the newspapers for the shop over which he lived ...
The quaternio was complete. He tried to lift himself up. He must get back to the city. But no ... Suddenly he felt his heart pounding ... he could hear the blood jerking throbbing in his ears ... the quaternio was not the whole story. Why did he always forget? There was another dimension. A fifth. One he had lost contact with ... yet always known was there. Why had he forgotten until now? He had thought of it several times. Fleetingly. The pot with his mother's ashes ... somewhere along the line, recently, around the time of Maria's death ... just after his stint 'teaching' at Belfast University, the odd lecture here and there ... working for MI5 in Northern Ireland ... around that time, he'd changed his flat. The pot had become lost. But if he thought about it strongly enough ... he'd chose a pot next time he was near them ... for his mother's ashes ... that were lost.
He fell. His arms too weak to keep him erect. Wept. Looked up ... a rainbow apparently arched over the tree's canopy. Yes, the dawn light hitting the clouds. God's covenant to man. The sign always to be recognised, recognised, His promise never to wreak destruction ever again, no more threats of a Second Flood that would destroy the natural world as we humans have found it ...
... 'all these legendary flood stories of the universal deluge are built on a common pattern, the basic elements of which are; (a) mankind gravely offending the gods; (b) its punishment in the form of a universal flood to wipe it out; and (c) one just man and his family being spared so as to give birth to a new, better mankind.'
'Yes, the rainbow, that's why we chose the name. You never realized Michael, never made the connection? Hardly a mere coincidence!' Coincidence ... yes. Always his cross! There was no such thing as coincidence. Of course. Because everything is coincidence. Too late now ... Coincidence copulating with coincidence and producing recognition. As there was no coincidence there were no 'things' ... only interference of wave fields ... wave plateaus ... interference between which, like holographic images, Moiré patterns; was God.
God's gift of the rainbow, no longer sign or symbol ... suspected of being (the prevailing zeitgeist) merely light reflected from a translucent non-existent screen, a cloud of spherical raindrops dancing ... each one alone ... the language of such signs forgotten, except by a few, in this brave new world in which so-called magic (that which happens but cannot be explained) has been wantonly and carelessly ignored, no longer be envisioned. Raindrops in which the different wavelengths of the various colours mixed in the void outside them creating the fusion which is white light ... with which we see and think ... are diffracted. Interference patterns ... mathematically ordained and predictable ... not a cosmic serpent after all ... or so they say. God! Here he was pontificating, lecturing to himself even at death's door!
And the next minute ...
... no need to measure its flight
... he was at peace. Dead.
Her looks were tranquil, but with unusual solemnity of expression, and I now gazed upon her with some awe. Suddenly her countenance grew dim; and, turning to the mountains, I perceived vapours rolling between us; in a moment all had vanished; thick darkness came on; and in the twinkling of an eye I was far away from mountains, and by lamp-light in London, walking again with Ann—just as we had walked, when both children, eighteen years before, along the endless terraces of Oxford Street.
Thomas de Quincey
The Confessions ...