Chapter 15: Where the Depths Rise Further Than Wordsworth But Not Tennyson
Up until he'd passed by the reception he felt that his life had been drum beats, as if there was only now.
Now, he thought, now he approached a limit where chickens came home to roost.
Felt like the roost never existed before.
And now it did, like a yard with straw and cold beers, clearer and more actual than ever , as something immediate and tangible.
The colours, smells, feelings, surfaces – everything, they seemed to be rising up to meet him for the first time, as if before he had not been anywhere, had not been anything at all. And as he looked around he reckoned nothing was necessary, nothing at all.
To be honest this made him begin to feel a little odd and maybe sorrowful, which can make anyone mentally ill if you’re not careful, like trying to think the thought that is beyond thinking.
You leave there and you leave your name.
Is how he put it to himself on the spur.
‘Come now, how long have you been here? Who saw you last?’
The face leered down, or so it seemed, a great wash-out of a face, too close to his own to be anything but a misunderstanding surely.
‘It’s on my card. I’m waiting most of the morning so far,’ he replied wearily, as if now there were no analogies that stretched far enough.
‘Most of the morning. Well, we’re soon going to be there,’ replied the face cheerfully, as if trying to set up a mutual understanding that he’d name later.
‘Did you have a card from reception?’ the face asked.
‘I have it here in my hand. It says I’m to wait here and then someone will come and take me to the next place. I think the anesthetist,’ he replied, trying to understand two things – why the questions and what their meaning, the one below the surface of the personal, maybe, or the older.
He shut up and waited, holding out his card for inspection. Then the face seemed to shimmer and buzz, a quite horrible and frightening moment bringing about a most unpleasant sensation not identical with the improbable, the unexpected or the unforeseen but a kind of dense layered marvel that he couldn’t solve.
There was an added pathos to his being alone once more, he thought, after all and after all this, sitting in his hospital gown where everything was so quiet that you could hear a grain of salt fall and where its frontier continually arrived, so it seemed, a strange capacity for motion at the limit of absolute difference even where there was no clear distinguishing mark, just the length of the fairly grim corridor and the ceiling that was just a little short of being the right height.
Of course, and he smiled strangely to himself at this so it was lucky there had been no one around to see it, because such peculiarities are rarely lived down if discovered, and you have to move away and start again if they are, but anyway, he thought, everything he had known up to this point was no more use than the knowledge that came from one’s own autopsy, all too late, much too late.
What he had been able to start doing, nevertheless, as he sat there, was to extricate himself to some degree from his own reflections and the temptations that came with that. Reflection and knowledge increase sorrow, he thought, and what he needed was to have something that went no further than his own life and what that expressed, and knowledge, which went further by far, and so too reflection, he wanted them gone.
Well, they had somehow to be put aside and he instead would stand still before the miraculous and the wondrous, those things that no knowledge could grasp, no thought have, no reflection ponder, and then maybe sadness would be the last thing or nothing, and instead eternity would come his way instead.
When there is no next day for you then eternity surely is come and living and dying mix into a further kind of life, everything changing, changed, including who you are and what you want and can do, even if its nothing more than stopping breathing, stopping resiting the forces of time, swept up into the presence of yourself as if everything is just a recollection of the present, a scarcity of the external world, a damned odd thing anyway, a day of less trouble than ever before, where suffering stops dragging on, the derisions go poof and away like in a cloud, or a cast off , old love, flame breech or a suddenly remembered name.
He liked the 'surely is come' which was an antique way of doing things that added to the twist.
To be a contemporary of the infinite, without a care for perishing at that resolution, there being no time being left to fall back and make your apologies and excuses on, well so you become a rogue, with that gleam in your eye as if eternity is dreaming of you, outside of time and has all business in hand at last.
What fortunes come with this, he wondered?
He had these ideas and he realized a lightness came with them and no more travails, no more substance to make him sensible. Occupying himself with eternity was not a matter of being busy but au contraire, au contraire.
And that was a giddy reality written in braille as a huge relief, as if he realized that after everything that had happened, all the cadences of warnings belated and last, judgments screwed and ill, hinged and cardinal, flagged and lapsed, slippery and wet, that he wasn’t guilty, that responsibility wasn’t his and that whoever might come and arrest him would never come, had been retired at that instant, and the charge sheets had been ripped to shreds and thrown on an open fire, to be lost forever.
The finger of the gods had written.
Can an omnipotent God read? Write? There seemed to be contradictions involved.
He shrugged this off.
All the things of his past had their ominous jealousies, ill met and all that, he stumbled.
And there was no one who would ever recall them, no wailing and immovable monotony beating on his heart like a lover at his door at midnight, its knocking noise having only himself to hear it.
He was being dreamt up against that sort of dying fall, dreamt up by eternity without a care in the world, as a reward for being faithful, no matter it being misplaced, like a faith in something without any place for having it.
He became aware of his own self-discipline, and the discipline of everything he had contestsed, faithfully, without knowing who had said the first word, nor what kind of infidelity happens outside of this.
Because when he thought about it, it was this not his faith that had made life seem so horrible and excruciating to him, or had done so before, because he always had faith and its mood where the world is a dream or you’re the world’s dream and there’s no one hounding you for the deadline to be met or the task to be completed or the target hit, which was the ruin of many a poor vagrant, he hummed lamely, mustering a tune that petered out.
And although he sometimes liked to hold his cards close to his chest to stave off boredom, he was also aware of how he hated most of the things he was asked to show, no matter how trivial, because each time seemed to leave him with an anxious mood and a sense of being wronged whilst also, perversely, of being a wrong-doer.
He had always wanted a different mood that was more soothing and impersonal, better, but whenever he looked around to see if he could find this alternative mood so many of the people around him didn’t seem to mind and said things about being busy in love or having a reason to stake everything on suspense, things that made him never want to go back there again.
It was true.
The whole thing seemed to bend his mood out of shape like a Spanish boot, and left little time for imagination in real life.
More, imagination got relegated or pushed into the margins so that it was just a feeble little addendum you could have if you bothered to stay up after everyone else had gone, tainted by a whiff of condensation.
Time and its calculations seemed far away from imagination and also from eternity.
This is what he was thinking, and it wasn’t a thinking that hurt or was strenuous but was more like a mental gliding, unspoiled, unprofaned and holy. Which in itself was a soothing experience made of silver or golden, and a mood he liked to have as largesse.
And it was strange, he thought, that he was feeling like this now because he had been alive for so long and hadn’t ever given himself a chance to feel this mood before, feel it in fluent affluence, full of laced richness and radiant calm and balm, the kind of mindedness that was neither high nor low but was more conjuration than adjuration.
It was as if he had annihilated all his explanations and everything that had repeated him and condemned him to a lower mood than this.
This was definitely an undismayed sort of mood and the whole atmosphere was a thousand miles gorgeous and glowed across what seemed all the classical centuries, as if a pure light coming from the hope of living a truth and living it by someone else, somewhat like in a painting he’d seen by Raphael in a gallery , which had been one of those times when he really became equal to everything he’d ever met before where because he’d never seen anything so lovely, where all that presence of light and strangeness from hundreds of years ago felt as if it was just for him and asked for no explanation, confession, denunciation, test or trace but rather declared something, like it was saying 'move on you drama of life', like a preaching word, or someone becoming invisible in plain sight.
He didn’t really know what to make of any of this because the atmosphere was all around him and mysteriously measuring him out, like a chain from birth to here, a chain not being dragged but just one that he happened to find laid out, so to speak, just lying there from start to finish alongside where he just happened to be walking, as if establishing foundations.
Here he was in the present tense, sitting, and being inwardly quiet and compelled by his own visions inquiring not into the meaning of sacrament but ignoring sacrilege and anything demeaning.
'Distance is proof of immortaility' was a thought that he had at this point, perhaps provoked by the faint sound of a ticking clock from elsewhere, because there was no clock in this particular corridor.
And why would there be a clock in this particular place, at this particular time, where in every sense there was nothing left to be running after and nothing to be done, either on time, in it or whatnot?
And then he thought of white milk pouring over a bowl of Weetabix because what he was feeling at that moment was that importance wasn't what mattered but truth did.
Or vice versa. He couldn't tell.
He almost heard the sound of that catechism of optimism, rather its trace.
It was what cold white milk on Weetabix symbolized for him.
With sugery lunalae mounds on each wheat lozenge, sweet moons of eclipse, and at least four of them in the bowl, and very cold milk cooly plaited into a noose over them, so that their crispness would begin to slip – there was the challenge – you had to start eating whilst they're dubiously crisp full well knowing that there was something happening in the meantime as the milk and the sugar were dissolving and later, on edge and feeling the twist, there's the new experience on your tongue, just as good, but all soggy and mushed up by silver linings, so to speak.
He grinned as he thought of how he was making Weetabix a joke so elaborate and dry tongued he felt like asking for a curtsy.
This playfulness was the best of things and for him, right from childhood it had seemed ever so, but by no means stuck there. It had struck him as a game of optimism. Here it all was coming back to him, as if coming back on track, as if there's no going backwards, as if things coming back are things still moving forward, something changing , starting over, something wanted and free, now erupting as an enclosed insistence.
We all need some of that, was what he thought.
He is the figure in the landscape, shifting perilously from meditative to personal to meditative to landscape once more, not without hope but with puzzles close to being unhinged.
And there was another thing.
The scent of a steam iron at work. That was fortitude, and dignity too, a combination if you like, and that was there too – because it also meant cleanliness and order and everything working out – so it was part of optimism but a side part, not a direct part, but something that accompanied the hope that wishes would, one day, all come true, a simple catechism,, you see, but was something he had always found comforting and safe, as if there was nothing that could go wrong if you had an ironed shirt, say, and that smell of fabric and gentle warmth against the skin, without excuses nor demands, out the door to the street, the dark, the morning and so on.
It's a particular kind of walker who catches the first rays of early morning sunlight on a city building, travelling with an upward mind and most likely a little drunk.
In some sense all this was the best sort of accountancy, and a kind of victory against every kind of mirage.
'I am my own spectral double now, white hot with ever more a life left behind me,' he rused.
There was a good set of ideas here, he thought, and some strong feelings despite the memorabilia form to some of them, as if dredging.
There was striving and passion and liveliness with them too, he thought so that was always good to see. And warmth - that again - which was rare but somehow in a similar style, as if building up out of ruins of whatever had been there before.
A deserted landscape implies at least one figure somewhere, at some time before, once upon a time.
Does an outdoor sound require something stays indoors, some sort of dissociative gulf?
What is out in the open is covert and elusive.
Hidden in all of this is the thought that there is one too many, and 'one too many' is always reprehensible, painful, intolerable and lamentable.
He wondered if the whole performance would not have been better if done in rhyme, couplets harboring memory and hope according to some mustering lingerer on the banks of the Codamine.
His cross-currents would be a source of his own half heard obscurity.
Obscurity denies its conjuring and permanently abjures even whilst true.
To rhyme yourself with yourself is to nullify the very point of rhyme, which must clip together like with unlike, and so might at worst be considered paralysis.
If anyone had seen him sitting there they’d have thought he was a rather forlorn figure but they shouldn’t judge too quickly because who ever knows the full story? In a way there’s a combination of surrealism and documentarism in the scene plus psychology, whereas before it might have been religion.
Maybe it is still religion but when religion is relevant it gets called out as psychology in some circles. Freud and Jung for certain. Maybe even Zizek with his swoons to Lacan sounds inspired on a first pass but is likely just faking it.
The Renaissance updated religion and Bosch did his twisty madness on it, what with all the tree men, owls of anxiety and the lush fruits growing in and out of people, as if religion was finding our poetic struggles, sexy and full of perversions, but touching beyond other poets, asking whether you're ready to die with them all, that sort of quatrain.
Some bad and useless thoughts get lost as memory fades, but even so, when faded eyes lift and no longer see the kingdom it hardly matters if you're crouching in gloom and sorrow, no matter which tranced summer night. Other times, naturally, the blessings of tranquility meet you in moonlight, cyprus groves, the yawning flow of the sea even if there are tears and funeral bells, where the levity comes in on the throes of gravity and the weights that you release yourself from, or are released.
Sometimes you see people just sitting and they’re not just visually striking but quite beautiful in a silent movie way, rehearsing the sorrow that wants to be alone with just their one special other - or a songbird.
Isn't that the kind of alone we can all set out from?
Just staring and blinking in a closed black and white space isn’t glossy and says nothing to lifestyle yearnings but has an appeal like the orchids at dusk, the earth and sky melting flesh and bone, palm trees and poppies, and the groaning slow moving traffic over Hammersmith bridge, the day losing, but so what?
With birds tweeting and maybe a pigeon, because it’s London, and drissle down the middle in sections seemingly stretching on, everything, anyway, that's very soulful and a scene of a small peculiar marvel, even though it seems next in line to processions of madder things, like an annex or anteroom, which lends everything a veneer of anxiety and dread, but low-key, like it is far away or at least overheard from another room we might never go into with a bit of luck.
If his thinking was a miracle then it was a strange, obtuse one, spoken exactly but not felt quite so well.
He thought of the young people he used to know, Black-eyed Susie and all the rest, the blessed ones before he knew better, the ones who he’d not see again and who would never visit him here, part of the what he had been thinking about before when he wished they hadn't been so casual, and so felt relief tinged with sadness and regret, which never gets fixed right.
Black eyed Susie is an old wild west revolver, he seemed to recall.
With her, the slightest turn might end up a killing.
He smiled at the weight of this lightness, like you do when inventing the good ol' days.
He liked their radiating spiritual shallowness and the dramas with their iconic sign-like quality which is what youth has, because everything has that delightful lightness that goes above crying and screaming and fighting and is better because they're goose-feather cool and bland, generalizing at a high speed all the time and picking things up and then putting them down for something else like a magpie with a broach, always changing the tone and the emotions, being up one time and then down, but always with that sense that they’re all the same really, on an equal footing, and sitting around with their drinks and pine needles looking mostly elegant even when a mess, like naked bodies under dark trees.
Of course everything becomes more lush and strangely envigorating the more it comes back as a memory and hope.
Memory recalls the blessings to come.
There are the broad realist styles he likes to think are believable because there’s vigor and broadness and an element of perverseness in them. He thinks in ways that combine self-consciousness with straining and make-believe, which can be off-putting and sexy all at once in an illustrationally kind of manner, so it’s not dumb or if it is it’s getting that dumbness onto a higher plain, even if there isn’t one.
There are some general meanings happening as he sits there, is the point he was driving at.
He recalled Donne's ' ... any man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind...' and he felt that at that level of abstraction and generality there was no denying the masquarade, the thieving, the cuckoo's and thrushes perched like idle tears in the London trees, rising not to the sky but to the heart, to days that are no more.
Perhaps because it’s happening in a hospital what we think is that the meanings and their levels are things only the doctors understand, or else it all strikes us in the way an endless pageant to Hammersmith might, which would be with a bright mood with a sense of distance mixed up, and in the end dark associations and trifles mucking in.
Suddenly, at long last or whatever, he went on.
If you like this you might try these other 3:16 novels: