M the Wanderer

I know not how long I wandered in that wilderness.

A persistent impression in my memory is of standing in my soiled night garment before a brutish man at a table. I can see the man's breath when he speaks, but I shiver so violently I cannot hear him.

A scriptor sits beside the man, scribbling ceaselessly in a book, even though I say nothing — I open my mouth to speak, but no sound comes out, no words form in my mind, I cannot comprehend what he is asking me.

What I do understand is that the two guards behind me will wrench off my arms at a mere nod from the man at the table.

I sense that the man does not want answers from me; he is playing with me, like a cat with a bird; he only wants me to know I am wholly at his mercy, and that he has none.

In some way I cannot explain, this is a source of hope.


Later... I stand on a low rise, gazing out across an ocean of tall golden grass. Gradually, far out in the waves that sweep the vast plain, I perceive the soft outlines of long-fallen walls, the stumps of snapped-off posts and roof-beams: the ruins of an ancient settlement, abandoned long ago.

The grass in the valley is half again taller than I, and I know I will lose my bearings nearly at once if I go down into it. But I am drawn to the bones of those ancient buildings, and the next moment I am submerged in the sea of grass. The heat closes over me; I cannot breathe.

The sky above the grasstops is failing. I hear myself say, I am going to die here.

To my surprise, this brings me peace.


And then... I am in a room packed with objects, stacked on shelves that cover the walls, crammed into cases all over the floor. Under high narrow windows in the far wall, two workbenches are placed, long side towards me, one in front of the other, like counters in a shop. Both are piled with hand tools and complex devices whose purpose I cannot guess.

I become aware of a silvery noise: tinkling, whirring, rhythmic ticking and tocking, an occasional quiet thump. Threading through it, the humming of a human voice, riding as it were upon the consort of mechanistical instruments.

A man stands between the two benches, his broad back to me, at work on a project his body obscures from view. His hair and beard are black, his skin swarthy and weathered.

He feels my eyes upon him, and straightens; he looks over his shoulder, then turns full round to face me. His countenance lights up and he opens his arms, as if, though I have never been here before, he has expected my return for years.


Whatever linked these impressions has broken — well, I am their connection, I link them, in this story I am telling now. But the part of myself that actually made the journey from one place to another — as you might say, the part of me that *persists* between departing and arriving — that self has been lost, if it even exists or ever did. My life is like a collection of stepping stones, ripped up from an old path, heaped in the corner of an abandoned yard.

These fragments of memory may have been dreams, or phantasies, or the visions that rise in the mind upon hearing [or reading] a story told by another.

I have, just now, here, made a path for them, by laying them down, one after the other, in the order I have told them — which has seemed, at this moment, and for this purpose, the best arrangement I can make.

But, like the flat stones stacked in the yard, picked one by one and laid down to form a [new] path, they themselves are not changed by being so placed [disposed, positioned]. The story they tell together, however — which is an understanding, of each and of all, is it not? — may not be the same, in a different relation.


One more [vision?], little children... the one that brought me to you....


... uphill and down, over sharp rocks and smooth sand, through the forest, by the sea...


For many days now an evil smell dogs me; even when I cross the river, the reek grows only stronger. At last I reach the top of a long slope; from the peak I look over and behold an immense space, blanketed with the bodies of the dead.

I look from one to the next — women and men, old and young, large and small: some lie peacefully as if asleep — but then I see a crow strut across the chest of a woman nearby; another perches on the forehead of the man next to her, picking at the eye-sockets. Beyond them

a corpse one or two or three days old, swollen up, blue-black, crawling with worms

and further yet

a framework of bones, spattered with blood, held together by fraying sinews[.]

I turn round and round —

bones scattered in all direction[s]; bleached white like shells; raked up and piled together, weathered, crumbl[ing] to dust.

I stop, and see, and then say to myself —

"This body of mine has also this nature, this fate, cannot escape it."

Yet the place is full of living things: tall straight trees with writhen thorny attendants, every hue and shape of flower, bees visiting blossom after blossom, bestowing alms, deep sky arching over us all. And everywhere the noise of birds, the savage cries of carrion-eaters, the delicate trilling of the wren, the sad sentence of the melancholy thrush.

All life is gathered here, settled among the dead, at last safe in harbor with them. As the Remnant say:

... the sailor home from sea,
and the hunter home from the hill.

The charnel ground of the World.

Turning again, I no longer see the way I came; here and there I make out others of my state, who sit, or stand, or slowly move about. They do not look at me, nor do they even seem to know that I am here — and I begin to wonder if I myself am the spirit of one newly died, lingering here for a moment before traveling on...

Then the clouds thicken, and the wind picks up, stirring the putrid air exhaled by so many corpses — and I know I am in the body still.

The sky blackens now, the first drops of rain fall on my upturned face, and a long jag of lightning pierces the horizon. Behind the lightning, a peal of thunder, echoing in my brain like a voice, a single word, over and over: "Beloved. Beloved. Beloved."

Lightning strikes again and again, stepping closer, the rain pelts down now in huge drops that hurt where they hit. Each flash is blinding, but as my eyes adjust, an image emerges in the clouds louring on me: a dark woman, posed as if dancing in the sky, wearing a necklace of skulls, adorned with bones. It is she who is speaking the word in the thunder, saying to me, again and again, "Beloved. Beloved. Beloved."