Thursday, May 03, 2007


The boat sways gently on the water. Its side scrapes the quay. In the movement of the water, I hear an echo of the journey I have just made. Three days travelling through rain and sun, three days of a train journey. My jacket hangs limply from my shoulders, creased where it should not be. I have not shaved. The stubble on my chin feels something like a trophy, a confirmation of the experience. And the early morning sun is bright, is already climbing up over the city. It stings my eyes, makes them contract and squint.

I cannot quite believe I am here. Why I should be here I do not know. A destination half chosen, pointing a finger to a spot on a map. Pointing in a kind of dream, hearing my voice say the name.

Somehow the distance, the distance between where I travelled from to here, is irrelevant. What is important is the step, the feeling that I have engaged, have connected with something. The feeling that something has altered in my life and that the alteration is irrevocable.
All the way north, I have been haunted by a sense of repetition. As if encountering something I encountered before, but passed over, something I must encounter again. It is illogical. This is the first time I have made this trip, the first time I have followed this route, made these choices. Each stop, each stay, was arbitrarily chosen, or so it seemed. Yet, somehow the plan appeared to be formed by some rationale of its own.

Of the cities I passed through, only some had I ever been in before. Though this time they seemed all the closer, bruised and numinescent as if their light was my light and somehow I was infused with them, somehow they drifted through me like continuous cloud. Every step appeared to be leading somewhere, offering me a glimpse behind a curtain, teasing me with the intricacies of some hidden riddle, the complexity of a mathematical puzzle.

I cannot remember exactly where it first became obvious. Maybe in Paris. Perhaps that hotel near Clichy, the window looking out onto the rail lines winding into St.Lazare. Under the night air they seemed to gleam quietly and shimmer, seemed to displace time, to drag me into a multifarious world. I felt in them a density, as if other lives or existences were converging in their stillness. Other choices, opportunities were being offered.
And she was there. Sitting on the bed, half dressed, combing her hair. Each movement of her arm, its action, the unaffectedness of what she was doing seeming to say that it had always been so. That I had seen this many times before. It was as if removing a layer, peeling away a level of mystery only to reveal another.

In the dark the moon shot through the shadows of the room, the paleness of her skin all the more persuading in the summer night, our arms wrapped about each other as we slept.
Every morning as we went down to the cafe to drink our coffee, I would smell her on my skin. Her perfume of skin and rosewater.
Or perhaps it was during that train journey. Passing through mountains by night.
In the small compartment we sat next to each other. The sky hung above the train's twisting energy speckled like a bird's egg with stars. Old women in black, selling fruit, appeared at every station as if guardians of some older world, their sad faces creased in impenetrable smiles. And her small scream when the man sitting across from us produced a gun and in a moment of recklessness, laughing hoarsely, his face flushed from the wine he had been drinking, pulled back the catch, waved the silver barrel carelessly in the air. The light of the carriage burned and her face suddenly appeared tight, anxious, for an instant its frozen laughter touched with the possibility of death.

I do not know. Already the edges of the days seem to have lost their sharpness, to have blurred into one another. Coming north, I wonder if I have left something of her behind, left her in the foliage of avenidas or boulevards. If something of her is only to be found in the roots, in the already forming memories of that world.
In the movement of the water, I sense the definition of our relationship. Swaying against the quay, the boat rocks gently and the sunlight intensifies. In a moment I will step off the cement and onto the narrow gangway..."

The light now over the water is grey. It is not a hard grey, but soft, almost a silver grey. I stand here, but the quay is empty. The boat has long ago disappeared. Only a large floating hotel remains. Its impersonality, its vulgarity speaks of an increasing narrowing of choice. The silence of this quay, a quay that once spoke assuredly, that once echoed with laughter, is deafening.

The words above, I wrote twelve years ago. Now, the speed, the impact of time, leaves me flailing. In the intervening years, I have felt some of those moments of happiness, those moments of naturalness in the world, wither, die, the way the leaves on the trees in an orchard or along the side of a roadway, die each autumn.
Sometimes it seems like nothing has happened at all, and yet, everything has changed.

I have learned that if love is a fruit, it is a strange fruit. It is closer to the pomegranate than the apple. There is something in it of death as well as life. Despite its sweetness, it contains pain. The swallowing of light, a curious sense of power wounded. As if sadness, disappointment were the ever present companions of pleasure or desire.
It leaves its seeds in you, never completely lets you go again. Ensnared in each action, held in life, encountering each moment in its entirety. And in each of those moments, each instant, each micro instant, there is the whole span of light and dark.

A light and dark that leave you open, leave you naked and uncertain in the world.

The rain begins to fall lightly. I put up my umbrella, turn and start to walk into the city.

Copyright (C) Peter Millington. November 1998.

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