It was late in the era, the interminable dusk of the war, stronghold after stronghold falling. Did the young know? They were restive, teeming through the streets, running on a purer current of electricity than we could access; and yet, alas, they didn’t know. They were doomed to their innocence, as we were doomed to our knowledge, such as it was.

The summer trees, too, were filled with a certain electricity.

In her arms, I found a degree of peace. We had our hideaway. Many of my colleagues would have called it an indulgence. The politics of that time were more abrasive, less was certain. Perhaps it’s foolish to mourn the loss of a volatile, strife-filled atmosphere, when breathing was combat, the slightest blasé remark could ignite a violent quarrel? All the same, the constant clashes were tiring. Today, it is consensus that smothers and enervates, the growing moraine of the status quo. Perhaps we did feel a little guilt, loving each other in that way. “Bourgeois”. And it was wearying, for a poet, to have maintain the structure of the reasonable and the irrational: to be served with moulds, and expected to flow into them. Obedience at the fundamental level: obedience before any choice could be made. Thus nuance and subtlety were redacted from our debates, we edited ourselves, censored our desires: like the dictionary in 1984, words were taken out, not added in, and the vocabulary grew shorter. And yet I knew, beyond the dictates of the theory. I knew: I could feel differently. So, I continued to write, although less often, and with less hope. Still, I knew. The snow fell very lightly. Because I was near to her, I was near to the mines, and to the snow: the snow grew a new edge, so that I might take hold of it.

I imagined sailors from an opera, in white; they were butterflies, the shipwreck their cocoon.

She told me about her dream. It was winter (as it was in New Haven). People had gathered in a vast cave of ice, a cathedral, or the hold of a gigantic vessel, the belly of a mythical sea creature. They were dressed in furs. They removed from inside their bodies intricate, key-like structures of bone. These they spent their time polishing. The “keys” were, to her, objects of great delicacy and beauty. However, the obsessive polishing started to wear them away. They began to grow translucent, unbearably brittle. She went from person to person, distraught, warning them: the keys were too frail, and would only be damaged and diminished through polishing. No one heeded her advice: they were intent on making the keys shine, determined on improving them. When each key, polished to the point of catastrophic fragility, shattered, at that moment, the owner faded out of existence. It was harrowing for her: no matter how patiently she explained, and no matter how carefully and attentively people followed what she was saying, they always returned to their former activity. Thus, one by one, the people went out, like lights. Eventually, she was left alone, standing on a carpet of glittering fragments, in the cave of ice, which sparkled all around her. Only when she was entirely alone did she reach inside herself and draw out her own key. The dream ended as she began to polish the key. She now understood everything.

Later, the campus was occupied. Lectures were suspended. There was tear gas, rubber bullets, live rounds. The workers struck. We fled to the coast. It didn’t matter: certain things, we couldn’t flee. We lived long enough to see the passing of the ideas on which we had built our whole careers. People treated me with such disrespect, in print and in person, after all I had achieved. I realised, very late, that yesterday had always been waiting for me. One evening, a violent storm was forecast: as I walked home, the trees were being swayed and thrashed around by strong gusts of wind. I heard, beneath the tumult, a sinister sound – the sound of new books coming.

 


from the series construct (2012–present, ongoing)

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