Not with a bang, nor with a whimper
But a sneeze, Mr Eliot
Or gushing bowels, or vomit
Or blood from every aperture
With our children asking “Why?”
That changes the day’s mood somewhat.
The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot
Mistah Kurtz-he dead
A penny for the Old Guy
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
They are strange creatures. I have studied them for some time, and still find their behaviour inexplicable. Despite almost constantly killing each other in various Skirmishes, battles and wars, anywhere, and at any time, around their planet, they rarely eat each other, even after mating. They don’t even eat their own young, although they can catch them easily.
Their genetic code differs greatly from ours. I have been unable to learn anything from those I have eaten. Thus I must learn from studying their behaviour, a task that seems dauntingly difficult.
They have no claws or ovipositors, but have developed an astonishing array of synthetic weapons with which to attack each other. So far I have not determined the criteria on which they base their decision to attack, nor on their choice of weapon, which ranges from sharpened objects of various types and hand held projectile throwers, to extremely large mobile devices, having cooperative crews of many individuals and capable of throwing projectiles and explosive devices over a great distance.
This interesting social construct of cooperative communities is a most alien concept, difficult to grasp. It consists of numbers of individuals, from small groups to large area-wide populations, and of any gender working together to construct habitats and also to craft these various devices with which to attack each other. In some areas, these attacks are ritual in nature, and death rarely results. In other areas whole communities attack and slaughter other communities, with devices designed to make holes in vital organs, or to disintegrate them entirely.
How they learn the skills required without eating each other I have yet to discover.
How individuals decide to cooperate with some, yet attack and destroy other groups, I have been unable to determine. It may involve territoriality. There appears to be some form of genetically coded ritual involved. They may not be able to consciously choose, despite the appearance of rational behaviour on occasion.
A difficult ritual to understand, from my perspective, takes place on designated pathways where individuals or small cooperative groups enter various forms of mobile device and ritually pass each other at high speed, apparently seeking suitable prey. These pathways cover most of the land mass where terrain permits and cross territorial boundaries.
At seemingly random intervals, somewhere along these paths one device will crash into another, or into some feature of the environment. This may result in injury or death of some or all participants. For some reason, survivors rarely attempt to finish off and eat any others still alive. In fact they cooperate to ensure any injured or damaged individuals are taken away to places where they can be repaired.
It is this custom of repairing themselves that I find the most inexplicable of all. After doing their best to kill and maim each other, they then go to great lengths to to repair damaged individual survivors, rather than eat them. Without that, how do they learn from each other?
How the individuals who carry out the repairs are able to restrain themselves from eating those damaged ones needs to be studied further. Perhaps they use some form of inhibitor to suppress the natural cannibal instinct. They may be a separate sub-species genetically primed to repair rather than attack. If their genes have somehow combined with those of the general population, it may explain the strange dichotomy of behaviour planetwide. How it helps with the continuation of the species will take considerable further study. I may be witnessing some new evolution of the Survival Directive.
I shall not return to mate and be eaten until I have incorporated a satisfactory explanation of the above phenomena into my matrix.
He sits in the dark cave of his cabin, with curtained windows. He is surround by artefacts and nick-nacks collected over eighty nine years.
The only light in the room comes through the doorway where I am standing. It is late afternoon and the sky outside is heavily overcast. I can barely see him, seated in an ancient Lazyboy chair behind a coffee table piled with the detritus of a man who does not move about much.
I knocked twice on his open door. “How are doing mate?” I asked.
He has suffered several strokes. His speech is slow and slurred from myotonic dystrophy. But I could understand him clearly.
He looked at me with clouded eyes, as if he did not recognise me.
“I know why you have come” he said. “You are seeking something you can never regain”.
I sat down on a rickety chair. It creaked under my weight.
“You cannot put the smoke back into the cigarette” he said. As if to accentuate his point, he drew a long drag on a thin, hand rolled cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke into the air. He coughed for a few moments then continued.
“Every experience is a new one. Even if you are doing the same thing again. The Laws of Entropy and Enthalpy will ensure that nothing will ever be the same. If you go back, you will be disappointed until you accept that you must go forward. If you buy a boat, you may enjoy the pleasant experiences it will provide you, but you must understand these are not the experiences of your youthful memory. Those have been guilded by time and fondness until in your mind they are no longer anything like what you really experienced. Go forward. Enjoy new sensations.
The molecules of air the breeze blows to touch your face are all new to you, and you will probably never encounter any one of them again. They will go on to touch other faces, to combust in a cigarette or a bushfire, or perhaps to combine with metal as rust, or be inhaled by someone and incorporated in their body, to be released as something new in the crematorium. They carry no memory of you. You, however, can carry a memory of them. That is your task. To experience, enjoy, and remember.”
He took another drag on his fag and had another coughing fit.
His eyes cleared. He looked at me with surprise as I proffered him my offering.
“G’day! How’re ya doin’?”
“G’day to you, O wise one. I thought you might like some of this spaghetti Bolognese I made. It’s low salt. You may want to add some. ”.
I handed him a fork. He started to eat.
“But I’ve been thinking, I live on an island and I should buy a boat”.
“Nah, he said, a strand of spaghetti suspended from the corner of his mouth. “Don’t like boats, rocking and splashing. Don’t even like fishing. Can’t stand the smell. Until they are cooked, with chips”.
He sucked on his cigarette while still chewing Bolognese. When he coughed, a bit shot on to the coffee table. He wiped it up with his handkerchief.
The Seer had retired. The old man was dining.
The old man turned on his television with the remote, and leaned back to watch the football. He had forgotten I was there. He burped contentedly, drew on his smoke and coughed.
I left quietly. As I did, “Buy the boat” he said.
I don’t know which of him said that.
Time for a bit more feckin’ culture, mate.
Robert Browning (1812–89)
MY first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that purs’d and scor’d
Its edge, at one more victim gain’d thereby.
What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guess’d what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch ’gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,
If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.
For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out thro’ years, my hope
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,—
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.
As when a sick man very near to death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside, (“since all is o’er,” he saith,
“And the blow fallen no grieving can amend;”)
While some discuss if near the other graves
Be room enough for this, and when a day
Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
With care about the banners, scarves and staves,
And still the man hears all, and only craves
He may not shame such tender love and stay.
Thus, I had so long suffer’d, in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among “The Band”—to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower’s search address’d
Their steps—that just to fail as they, seem’d best.
And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?
So, quiet as despair, I turn’d from him,
That hateful cripple, out of his highway
Into the path the pointed. All the day
Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.
For mark! no sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
Than, pausing to throw backward a last view
O’er the safe road, ’t was gone; gray plain all round:
Nothing but plain to the horizon’s bound.
I might go on; nought else remain’d to do.
So, on I went. I think I never saw
Such starv’d ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You ’d think; a burr had been a treasure trove.
No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In the strange sort, were the land’s portion. “See
Or shut your eyes,” said Nature peevishly,
“It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
’T is the Last Judgment’s fire must cure this place,
Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.”
If there push’d any ragged thistle=stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopp’d; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock’s harsh swarth leaves, bruis’d as to baulk
All hope of greenness? ’T is a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute’s intents.
As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades prick’d the mud
Which underneath look’d kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil’s stud!
Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
With that red, gaunt and collop’d neck a-strain,
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.
I shut my eyes and turn’d them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I ask’d one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards—the soldier’s art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.
Not it! I fancied Cuthbert’s reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm in mine to fix me to the place,
That way he us’d. Alas, one night’s disgrace!
Out went my heart’s new fire and left it cold.
Giles then, the soul of honor—there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good—but the scene shifts—faugh! what hangman hands
Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands
Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!
Better this present than a past like that;
Back therefore to my darkening path again!
No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
Will the night send a howlet of a bat?
I asked: when something on the dismal flat
Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.
A sudden little river cross’d my path
As unexpected as a serpent comes.
No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
This, as it froth’d by, might have been a bath
For the fiend’s glowing hoof—to see the wrath
Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.
So petty yet so spiteful All along,
Low scrubby alders kneel’d down over it;
Drench’d willows flung them headlong in a fit
Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:
The river which had done them all the wrong,
Whate’er that was, roll’d by, deterr’d no whit.
Which, while I forded,—good saints, how I fear’d
To set my foot upon a dead man’s cheek,
Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
—It may have been a water-rat I spear’d,
But, ugh! it sounded like a baby’s shriek.
Glad was I when I reach’d the other bank.
Now for a better country. Vain presage!
Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank
Soil to a plash? Toads in a poison’d tank,
Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage—
The fight must so have seem’d in that fell cirque.
What penn’d them there, with all the plain to choose?
No foot-print leading to that horrid mews,
None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.
And more than that—a furlong on—why, there!
What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
Or brake, not wheel—that harrow fit to reel
Men’s bodies out like silk? with all the air
Of Tophet’s tool, on earth left unaware,
Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.
Then came a bit of stubb’d ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood—
Bog, clay, and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.
Now blotches rankling, color’d gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil’s
Broke into moss or substances like thus;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.
And just as far as ever from the end,
Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
To point my footstep further! At the thought,
A great black bird, Apollyon’s bosom-friend,
Sail’d past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penn’d
That brush’d my cap—perchance the guide I sought.
For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
All round to mountains—with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
How thus they had surpris’d me,—solve it, you!
How to get from them was no clearer case.
Yet half I seem’d to recognize some trick
Of mischief happen’d to me, God knows when—
In a bad perhaps. Here ended, then,
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts—you ’re inside the den.
Burningly it came on me all at once,
This was the place! those two hills on the right,
Couch’d like two bulls lock’d horn in horn in fight,
While, to the left, a tall scalp’d mountain … Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
After a life spent training for the sight!
What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool’s heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counter-part
In the whole world. The tempest’s mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.
Not see? because of night perhaps?—Why, day
Came back again for that! before it left,
The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,—
“Now stab and end the creature—to the heft!”
Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it toll’d
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers my peers,—
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knell’d the woe of years.
There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.”
Laundry day is also the day I do the routine maintenance and hygiene tasks associated with Caer Ibormeith , my CPAP goddess of sleep, who gently breathes nightly into my nostrils. You know you are an eccentric when your appliances and vehicles have names – and you talk to them.
I gently changed her air filter, cleaned out her humidifier tank, and washed her hose and nasal pillows, telling her as I did how very much I appreciate her company and support. Today she spoke back. On her little screen where a smiley face usually assures me all is well, was a dire message.
I rang my service provider, Andrea, in Albany, WA. I told her of this ominous message. I asked what I should do.
“You now have a piece of string. We don’t know how long it is. Keep using it, but it could fail at any time. Then you’ll need to look for a new one.”
“Can’t I send her somewhere to be serviced?”
“No. They are not built to be serviced. That would cost more than replacing it.”
“When did you get it?” She consulted her computer. “2013. It’s lasted you well. “
“She has. I’ve had marriages that didn’t last that long.”
“I remember you now – You joker”.
“Yeah, that’s me. Thanks for the advice, Andrea. I appreciate it. I hope she lasts me a while longer. I guess I can find a local supplier when the time comes. Bye.” I hung up.
It’s just a thing. It can’t love me. But I feel as if she does. I was in pretty bad shape before we met.
The first step towards getting well is admitting you have a problem. Since I recognised my condition, I have striven to overcome it with alcohol, drugs, and mindless activity. But I must always be alert, because the golden retriever of cheerfulness can sneak up on one at any time and inevitably leads to serious disruptions of normality.
It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder…..https://jme.bmj.com/content/medethics/18/2/94.full.pdf
A foray into a new genre. I don’t know what it is.
Sometimes, when you are dead, you just don’t know it. Your mind continues to believe in your life, despite the irrefutable proof lying in a wreck on the roadside. You ignore the clues, carry on in a dazed trance, doing work that does not need doing, and which is never noticed. You raise imaginary dahlias and runner beans and children. You still believe in Love, Family, Friends. Hope. You believe in Truth and Balance and Justice. They are ideal, because they are not real. You take foolish risks for their sake, not realising it matters nought. For you have nothing to lose that is not already lost.© S.P. Nov, 2019
You edge sometimes towards an unwilling awareness of your sad condition, this seemingly human condition. When you do, you seek diversion. You lose yourself in fiction, for deep inside you know that only in the imagination is found the Happy Ending. Every book you think you read, is one you write yourself. Every movie you watch is no more than your own reimagining of all you missed while you were still alive. Your own mind sometimes produces that rare masterpiece, a dream so moving, so sweeping, with such an epic, tragic, sad or bitter-sweet finale, that you weep. You weep. You feel. Because despite being dead, on some unconscious level of your non-existential soul you are aware you have just realised the Truth.
Entropy rules. Decay. That is how you should know you are dead. There is no other condition.
And the only question for you, Zombie, is “When was it that you died?”
There, perversely, paradoxically, is your true immortality.
You were, you are, you shall be – always – nothing more – and nothing less – than a skin cell shed from the Universe as it searches for meaning.
Found in Woolworths. I bought it all. There were only six cans left. There must be a few kiwis here.
For those of us who grew up in NZ in the sixties it is a little can of nostalgia, and it still evokes happy beach memories, despite no longer being bottled in Paeroa, and despite the ghastly new can design.
It was on the Asian foods shelf, beside the Wattie’s tomato sauce, which I also snapped up.
Another crowded morning at the pool. Now the weather is hot, I think I shall swim in the sea on the weekends, and visit the pool weekday mornings only. I cut my swim short this morning after only 75 minutes, due to high demand. Three to a lane gets tricky. Instead I went for another long ride, which is how I ended up in Woolworths looking for kitchen tidy bags and green curry paste.
The second activity passion of my life, after SCUBA diving, is one I have not enjoyed since the eighties, apart from a brief spell as half-owner of a cabin cruiser for a time in 2000. And my kayak in Fiji.
Boats. Especially the simply messing about in part.
From 1978 to the eighties, I had a Shearwater catamaran that I rebuilt from a wreck purchased in Napier for very few dollars. I had no idea how to rig it.
There was no manual, I could find nothing in the Library and of course there was no Internet. So I improvised and seemed to get it mostly right, because she sailed like a speedboat in a good breeze. I measured my time between the marker buoys on the Pania reef on one good sailing day, and later calculated that Peter Cox and I had taken her over 20 knots with Peter at the helm and me, the heavier one, stacking out in a harness.
I say I rigged her mostly right, because she had one characteristic that was not at all right. If one let go all the sheets while sailing with the wind, instead of luffing up and stalling like an obedient yacht, she would turn downwind and sail like billy-o. This became a problem one afternoon when I was sailing in Hawkes Bay out past the Esk river. I don’t recall exactly how, but I fell overboard.
My worthy vessel turned downwind and sailed away. The wind was onshore, so she headed for the beach. So did I, but more slowly. By the time I caught her she was washing around in the shingle with broken dagger boards. Which made sailing home to Ahuriri a difficult task.
In the early eighties I sailed her round the Hauraki Gulf, and one glorious summer took her to Bay of Islands, where Rob, a friend, and I camped out and swam and fished for a week. I even sailed her through the Hole in the Rock at Cape Brett.
Then in 1984 I went to Solomon Islands, where I worked as a volunteer with the Rural Water Supply, building water supplies in remote villages. I found myself skipper of a 20 foot glass canoe named Lady Allison after Allison Holst, a NZ TV cooking personality who did a fundraiser with the Lower Hutt Lions to purchase it.
I also bought a dugout which was a great deal of fun. I really regretted leaving it behind when I returned to NZ.
It was thinking about all this while I swam yesterday. I’m thinking I am getting fit enough to take to the water again in a small boat. I rather liked that glass canoe and wondered if I could find one here. It seems not. But one could buy one from Honiara for around $34,000 SBD which is just over $6,000 AUD. But then there would be shipping, import duty, an outboard, and safety gear. So probably not.
With my financial state I think I should consider, if anything, an aluminium dinghy, known here as a tinny.
Something to think about.