Archive for December, 2012

The Prodigal

FROM far away, from the other end of the inverted telescope of slow forgetting, her native place begins to take on a ritual, hieratic choreography. There, in the place she has left, she sees people moving towards hanging things on the far, parched horizon. Something is sought out there, with open eyes, then with closed. Are they sideshow trifles, condemned collaborators, strange fruits of the earth that hover above the line beyond which things lose all definition?

Yet things unseen, undreamt can always be imagined, we are told by the bus-stop prophets, talk-show hosts, the weekend newspapers. There is a soundtrack to every revolution, to send it on its way, which can be ordered on request. The people move, again, two steps forward, then one back. A cautious, but steady progress. It is possible to venture into the unknown, dip the toes in the waters to be found there, before returning to the safety-zone of home territory. In her telescope-view, though, the hanging things (of Babylon? the charnel-house? the Gates of Eden? she still can’t tell) beckon them onward, and no-one blocks their nose or shields their eyes out of fear or disgust of what might be there. There have been wars before, and massacres, even the occasional desert kidnapping, and young bodies found slashed to pieces in a dry gully, or not found at all, in all the thousands of dry river-beds of the wild country.

Her oneiry though suggests a modest redemption: taste of these fruits and you shall receive knowledge, in these strung-up angel wings hides the wisdom of the ages. They might be wings, she sees, thickly feathered, growing mouldy and foul under the rain and the sun. When the historians and anthropologists come to claim them it won’t be an easy thing to ready them for the museum or the government-sponsored cultural exposition. These large and ludicrous relics of an unearthly visitation will be full of ants and maggots, new live things breeding in the irrelevance of the old.

Such things are redundant, that much is clear, even in the economy of her daydream. The country she sees now only in these images of doubt (the people still walk across the ground, aching with questions) has spent its whole life in a dogged pilgrimage toward its own vast horizons, without being sure of what it has found there. Walking past the most rare of its treasures in the half-light of centuries of dusk. That is what a destiny is: to pursue a journey without knowing what has been lost and gained on the way, and to not know the destination at which you arrive.

She sees them, the pilgrims of doubt, hears the tracklist as they move: an old-time waltz in three-four time, the Internationale, accordion confections, folk-rock anthems, house-music beats that twang and thud into ventureless aeons of the sky where they are transformed into sub-acoustic skeins of delirium, of delight. If they are wings strung up there, they must belong to emus or vultures, or they’re versions of Mussolini and his mistress, her make-up kit slipping out of her handbag hanging upside down. They are enormous wasp hives, one labyrinth built onto another like post-apocalyptic cities, insect Metropoli, whose inhabitants think in five dimensions but dream outside them. They are apostle lovers who twirl and plunge in mid-air, hanging in space, hanging onto eachothers’ robes in that well-known Renaissance defiance of gravity.

As they move, she sees some of the people drop out of the race. They stumble to their knees, gasp in the dust and fall by the wayside. For many it is too much to keep moving toward whimsical uncertainties. If it is necessary to entertain hope, it is reasonable to ask what hope would hope for. These people are considerately collected by governmental health-workers and led to waiting mobile health-units, put inside sterile interiors and never seen again. They might die in there, or simply be taken away to subsist in a more or less dependent state. Those who keep walking are growing hungry, their bones beginning to show. It is still a long way to walk, though loudspeakers punctuate the air with general directions, but it is up to the ones gifted with a radar-like sense, those small-bodied female pilgrims with desert-fox ears, to know which is the right way to go. There are no signs in the ground, and the paths are vanished by wind, rain and rare floodwater. Even the animals have resisted this particular search, and stay in the shade, for rest.

The more she witnesses this vision of the ages, the more the prodigal realises she has seen it before. The procession has always been moving; with distance she is able to pay more attention to it. She would like to reverse the telescope of her inner-eye and focus on the clusters of mystery beyond it. Astronomers will in a similar way recognise galaxies within nebulae that suggest still more fractal diminutions of rediscovery, though the end point of rest is never quite reached. As a child she only grew impatient with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, after testing it out a number of times: it was only another mythology, like so many discoveries as the age of reason dawns. Is this just another? But she watches, closer, zooms further in to the tribe of her own people, some now clutching their own arms, their faces falling in an abysmal recognition, some openly collapsing as something grows inexorably clear to them. She can’t see what it is – the telescope is still reversed, she is still caught in an archaic technology. The further they move from her the smaller grow their objects of revelation. What do they see there? What are the hanging goods that meet them at this crossroads?

She sees their impersonal sky splintering a shower of inorganic circuitry, the surface of its habitual yawning blue fragmented into a disinvestiture of space under which the last of the wanderers look up and open their eyes, granted a view into something she cannot see. They move still, doggedly, almost automata, into the horizon of hanging things, and she can see no separation, there is a failure of distance between the horizontal and vertical planes, each figure walks into its dreams, and its horror, the submerged, the resurrected, the extinct, the half-alive, all infinitesimally crowding into her view.

She sees them, the explorers and the black children leading them, the massacred and the massacrers, the outlaw and his nemesis laughing in trees, the reconaissance parties camped under stringybarks, dying of starvation, the gold and the blood that drains out of sifting pans and back into the blood-red and brown indifference of the landscape. There is an epochal wind, opening and shutting the flaps of the sky, a transparent curtain of lazy time, beaches and sea-coasts echoing with lies and night-songs under its casual aspirations, whole vowels and syllables of history swallowed in an azure gaze of retreat and approach, random comings and goings of ant-colonies, cattle-trains, motorcades of transport-trucks and military convoys blistering at metallic seams under a peristaltic, heaving sun, satellite and space-stations absorbed into its sheer magnesium glow, and the expanding chorus of hanging things, of half-beings, bardo realms of ghosts and aborted genealogies moving into and through the rift of sky and space, outside of time but deep inside the place of dreaming, the place of return, the place of no-returning.

The prodigal knows she both goes with them, into their history, and flies far beyond it. Their perseverence train trails still further away, like all human trajectories, into terrains and projection-screens of imagining she will never know. As she watches them move into the unknown, she only wants to follow, and not let them go – the sympathetic resonance still vibrates in her inner-ear, as she tries to decipher the path before her.

They are already gone, and the hanging things in front of them. The dead, the forgotten, unseen and forsaken. She will go with them into a new pursuit, speaking a language none of them have heard before. The epidermis of the earth still hangs there, golden and crusting as it seeps through the entrance in the sky, the abysm of time swinging and shutting, opening and closing the moveable door of memory, absently moving back and forth in the wind that is her own breath, the canopy and portal to the country of her mind, past which new denizens emerge, waltz, drop, fade away into dunes and long nights of spinifex. There is a shift in her view, the light in abeyance, the rent sky closing before motion begins, the miniature nomad colony moving once again. A faint sound of the sea or desert, held still in amniosis. There is no separation, no arrival, in the going, in those who move, and those who have never departed.

Paris, 2006

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