perhaps not. perhaps it is a fool’s dream.
and of course it is unnecessary to say that your fate is decided by the hand you play.
i have come to this place to write the last installment of my story. i had hoped that i might live to tell it all by lamp-light on longer winter evenings, perhaps when time has turned back and plays tricks with memories. but as it turns out there won’t be so many more winter evenings these days. and although i doubt if you’ll like very much of what i have to say, there are times when death gives a story the privilege of truth.
do you understand?
so i have taken, for the last time, a rickety room on the second floor of a rickety house where the wind comes off the sea and the sand drifts against shutters rusted gray like sand-struck barnacles. it’s always windy down on the sea, and all but the hottest days come to something of a chill toward dusk. the sunsets are spectacular. and sitting in my now tolerated darkness, i can watch the little fishing boats coming back, cleaving their long black furrows across the purple haze of twilight. gliding ghosts. last night, at dusk, i watched the fleet slip back into harbor, one after the other, against my grim cigar smoke, two of them bearing between them the carcass of something great. two battles lost, cassius, i remember–
no more. for i can no longer play at prologues. there is no more time. the shore and i will go the same way.
i have spent too many nights, perhaps, in my dreams where the water plays over rocks, strikes me full in the face and makes me laugh because it’s colder than i am. i have sat in the wind too long, perhaps. letting it drag my eyes too deep into the sea. because the sea
under us, you know. she waits only for the decision of men to pull the life out of their bodies into her own. it isn’t a purposeful tyranny, you understand. only the give and take of our breath against her tides and her waves. her inevitability. an ancient tranquility.
these shores are notable for their retreat. the beach shrinks away with every night, it seems. having no defenses of its own, it cannot survive except in the fickle favor of men. sand trickles away; tides rise. most often places like this are built toward the ocean and the ocean then heaves its way toward the houses with a slow and consistent push, pushing them away with the ancient rites of flooding, retreating, and storm.
frothing against marble walls.
fierce at towers’ feet.
foaming among coarse sands.
i sailed seventy weeks with the dragons. their claws dug into the rigs and their shoulders beat against ropes and everyone below trembled in their sweat. pale armadas of islands turned to mirages in the long haze of sun, as if carved from smoke and nothing else, and made ripples across the shimmering water like touches of light from a goddess’s diaphanous sleeve. the living have magic, you know but it is magic of a significantly alligated sort. a dragon made of words should have life enough for magic; be more and less than words, you understand. perhaps that is the difference between the dreaming and waking world. or i’m wrong and the only life is made of words.
the fleet sailed east toward the edge of the world, the edge of villages and the edge of conscious reality where the edge of the map begins (here are dragons, but such was the case for the entire journey). there were signs of land ahead. at first, they were the vague and improbable creatures in the sky who, at sundown, took their dips into the western sea. then there were islands– low mountains several kilometers from shore that slipped past at a distance and concealed behind them sheltered coves like white cradles smiling in the shade of cliffs, palm trees whispering in the breeze, perfect white beaches where no soul should stand, for they had never been touched before, not even to receive or send footprints. and at night, upon each occasion in which the early moon touched his lips to the dark waters and left them clouded with stars, we saw huge and teetering columns of black smoke rise up on the shores we had passed, or perhaps were sailing toward. towers, cassius. implacable towers pinnacing the black brick of these unknown caves that could only have been the manufacture of god’s own breath.
detailed notes of the geography and mineralogy of those pillars i packed into my journals, but the towers themselves, beyond research– beyond the poet’s imagination, perhaps somewhere at the very top of the list of rational whatnots– were far beyond any knowledge that i might preserve or escape. they were hell-black and subtly glowing at the same time, built of a substance that dissolved into smoke even with its merest contact with the atmosphere, as if they were slabs of eternity projected in the reductive glasses of our meager consciousness, unconstrained by the black laws of timespace and the white rooms of the mind where nothing can exist that does not already exist, elsewhere.
we landed on the eastern shores, finally. in a cove that did not breathe or twitch and seemed, palpably, to exist as some kind of eden. the water was still and silver like a mirror; the beaches were white as snow. at the tops of the cliffs we found groves of fruit trees swaying in the breeze, shaken by the songs of a thousand birds, the calls of an unknown flock splashed with scarlet that darted through the branches and threw themselves into the abyss. we pulled wagons of nuts and bananas ashore, lierals and lagers, crates of marijuana. my hands dug beneath the flat leaves of a mature weed. soil was fine, black and rich. it slid between my fingers.
science, there as well. a beautiful and terrible madness, easily the most insane manifestation of the scientific instinct on this side of the wildren and possibly beyond. i always deny that i made the discovery, but you won’t have heard of it anywhere else because i have never shared it and even now i speak of it reluctantly because it implies a vast and fearful truth that demands that we proclaim ourselves all the more fools for remaining silent upon it. anamorphosis, cassius. look up. any direction. at the floor beneath your feet. do you see it?
on these distant beaches stood the foundations of an ancient city. it buried itself beneath the sands like leviathan. but miraculously enough, the past two thousand years or so of stormy weather and general neglect hadn’t so much as scuffed the polished floor. the land may have been eroded away at the edge of existence, but the houses of the dead were still as they had been. they lay in ground untouched like jewelers’ cases of rubies. the dragons knew the symbols carved into the doors, the backs of idols, their histories. a gallery of dead gods nailed to slabs. trophies of limitless seasons breaking over a time before history. myths say that the city was built by pious and insouciant ghosts for no other reason than the sheer and rarified pleasure of death. its height exceeded all measures. its beauty defied the imagination.
we found one of the temples there. we dug it out of the sand. and inside, the dragons discovered relics. we bought these from the dragons, traded spices and alcohol for golden idols and laminated maps poisoned by centuries of decay. all the seas and streets, all the great paths, all the cities with their breath and heartbeat, their sorrows and their plenitudes and their crimes. mythology, cassius. wicked and complicated like all the other branches of creation. its texts were fallible. nonlinear. they veered into meditations on concepts like gnosis and quanta. gaia and pan. i filled my books with theories of their imagery and language, again working with the aid of the incantors and their seer-stones.
the dragons bound these books with black cloth and tied them shut with red threads. they stitched names on their delicate spines, in anduic script like the stars of their savage convictions stretched across the blinding void of night.
birds of legend.
critical examination of the aether.
a travelogue from the island of love.
a history of annihilation.
the sanctum of dark identity.
the great wave.
the year of storm.
the eastern shore occurred to them as a place to spread their wings and be exposed as the children of goddesses, because– on that coastline– they could invent and summon at will. there were dreams to be had, in that frontier of the imagination, dreams whose multiplicity made belief systems out of them and whose weight broke the earth. reality itself died on the ancient shoreline. they claimed they would found a world there in which they could renounce all inhibition, a place where they would revel openly in their fascinations, where they would author their own incommensurable stories, where they would drink the honeysuckle nectar of the mysteries of time and being, lying beside the sea.
we bought their histories. we gave them our writings. they were sure of the science behind our interaction; they were unsure of the mythology. but never unafraid.
not even then.
it was on the beach that night that i first found the footpath. it began in the evening, at a hidden place where the edge of civilization hid itself behind a screen of shifting foliage and the shadows of the jungle’s tall trees, there on the western side of the bay where the sun still played with the shallows. the path wound into the cliffs as if somehow it was the spirit and successor of all paths, you know, in that ancient vine-choked jungle which had already veiled as its own an entire civilization. the dawn always hid in waiting at the end of such a path. but not that night. now, darkness only embraced the jungle where one thousand things would have reached out from the branches of an oak or from beneath a twisted root and curled like vermillion vines through the night.
through the black dream of the night.
but i followed the path. alone, i think because all the others were afraid or superstitious, or did not have the same dream to initiate as i did. and there was another reason as well. one i might not even quite understand myself. one i might not be able to express. fear, perhaps…
fear sometimes fashions faces out of the shadows.
fate plays tricks with memory, you know.
i will tell you what i saw that night, though you might not understand a word of it.
naked pillars loomed above me, blue-white lamps sparkling with verdigris light streaking like ghosts’ eyes through the streets. the air– a long-forgotten sandalwood breeze, vaguely serene, but imbued with dreams. i could hear nothing but its breath in motion. indecipherable symbols traced themselves upon the rocks as if spirits had written them there. wailing, words broke apart against the walls like whispers behind doors or entreaties from the dead. the shadows broke open against the moonlight and rose to become trees and totems, reaching out to veil the ghosts of the world. black smoke curled out of windows half buried in the damp of the soil, the waking consciousness of something humongous and formless. sand trickled beneath my feet.
i stood in a bewildering silence, wonder-struck, my thoughts bent, staggering to the side like a knife-fight. a latticed sky of constellations betrayed an ancient country in the stars’ arcane patterns and the ebon flashes of their silent language. ancient poems– their words hard as diamonds, in shapes like diamonds– spinning out from their timeless definitions from a time before time to teach their truths to men in the sudden spasms of mortification, sorrow, or light. i read them and only later did i recognize them. i merely translated by syllable, as if through long, wet filters. the shadows rose up, encircled and absorbed the words, their voices mingling softly amidst a splendid and fallen architecture. part of my brain had been prepared for this. it is always this way with fear. but i read the words.
the words, damn you the words.
twenty-three archaic symbols arranged themselves along the walls like voices. twenty-three times in their borders of lamps. i read the words. i read their surrounding representations. i recognized them. god bleed avarice of the earth and wave the scepter over all things profane, raise yourself beyond the mariner and the still and wavelet seas, beyond the burning forges of the stars and the gyres of sanctorum and the exalts of prophecy. god eat god black and white in the name of all that ascends. god see god in the blue palm of the sky. god weave the threads upon the loom of being.
it was then that i saw the reality-breaking fracture in the architecture, the too-short steps, the handprints. and the man there atop the steps, his garments as white as salt, a crystal chalice in his hands.
i remember them. i remember the ancient ones. hundreds of eyes now erupted brutally from the sides of the pillars, watching me as if i were a child. towering monuments reared up toward the suddenly twinned moons, black above the clash of the sacred waves. wordlessly and with perverted artistry, the brickwork parsed its passage through the air. all time was crushed into the space of a moment where the earth seemed to move beneath my feet and my eyes saw the epergesis between possibility and reality, threaded like the filaments of an infinite web where only one spreads itself across the nothingness of the sea and waves at the visions of men.
what is the nature of time?
the ancient sages had asked the question, but even in the moments that i spent there face to face with a god and an answer that could destroy the entire superstructure of any reality, i seemed to know without having learned, without having understood that all questions had answers or would have them, sooner or later.
i had come to this ancient shore at the mercy of a lost philosophy which drove me to the very edge of consciousness. men everywhere ask of their gods the same thing over and over again. what is the nature of time? that night, it seemed to me that i stared into an abyss where time existed and yet time did not exist. i seemed to be comprehending the questions posed by my own superstructure, by the complex architecture of the universe, and seeing them unfold here in the shadows of this transcendental shore like a dream spread across the entire cosmos.
time is weight. time is a coin; time unrolling itself into the gold ribbons of the river of eternity, into the ouroborean coils of infinity, into the fabric of the world. an infinite weaving of every possible outcome… every possibility disintegrating in the air of the world. time is nothing. and time is virtually everything.
time plays tricks with memory. time draws the buried things back out of the corners of the world in the same way that it sweeps them away into oblivion. on the cliffs against the western sky where the machine of god rooted itself into the earth and shook the foundations, the comets veer. the tables turn.
but i remember this.
i remember whatever i want because everything is possible and nothing is.