¬ w a s t e l a n d # 1
During the second world war,
countless manuscripts - diaries, memoirs, eyewitness accounts - were lost
Time is a blind guide.
We brought nothing into this world.
It is freezing, an extraordinary -18°C, and it's snowing, big weightless
cyistals falling in stacks and covering the ground with a layer of pulverised
We live in the white cells. But I don't feel the cold. The war must have
been going on for a long time: my pillow was wet, very very wet.
The darkness shattered around me like a great black plate. For the rest
of the world it was one of the most unimportant nights of the war.
One fall day it wouldn't stop
raining: By two in the afternoon it was already dark.
The next morning, after I had drunk some coffee I sat for an hour with
the first suggestions of boredom.
The snow gradually disappeared from under the trees, leaving wet shadows.
Cold as wet sand.
I hesitated at the door for
My sister had long outgrown the hiding place.
"Please come in", said a voice in English. How did you end up
The memories we elude catch up to us, overtake us like a shadow. They
stared and waited, mute. It was my responsibility to imagine who they
Filled with her silence, I had no choice but to imagine her face. We stand
up. We haven't touched our cups. The tea has grown cold.
A minute later
long dancing fingernails of sunshine probed into the wood from the horizon.
The flame throwers fastened the nozzles back on the steel canisters, and
someone lowered the sky and stepped down with black clouds underfoot and
placed hands over the curch and silenced the shouts and the flames and
It was as if he had been waiting there for me all my life.
In this way he gets the last word. You can't win them all.
He looks as if he's in his late
forties, but he's twenty years older.
What can you do? he said, it's war. It was as if he had handed me a blank
canvas that each subsequent day filled in, brushstroke by brushstroke.
Often I would simply lie awake, thinking that the air I was breathing
was the air he just exhaled.
Gradually a kind of peace comes over me. Finally it's enough that I can
fall asleep. According to a certain scientific theory, you can only be
sure of what you yourself have experienced.
After the last two hours I wake
up more tense, more physically depleted than if I had kept myself awake.
It's dark outside.
Moments and impressions from this great desert of time remain with me
but I have long forgotten in which part of it they occured.
Certain types of sleep are worse than no sleep at all. But I didn't care.
I have a fair hope that tonight the dog will leave me in peace. This is
the start of the finish, which willl happen sometime soon. Withdrawal
is the kind of thing you like a little warning of.
Then I was sucked into the sour sticky blackness of the bog. There are
teeth at the edges of the void left by peace. I fell asleep.
write fully about the years that followed.
And always, inside and outside people dreamt about the end of the war.
I spent the day writing my letter to the dead and was answered at night
in my sleep.
They waited until I was asleep, then roused themselves, exhausted as swimmers,
grey between the empty trees.
The night forest is incomprehensible:
repulsice and endless, jutting bones and sticky hair, slime and jellied
smells, shallow roots like ropy veins.
A body of water pulling under the moon.
Now I'm not afraid harvesting the darkness.
The humidity is a dense current; slow as dream time.
Though I was awake for most of the next two days I never completely shook
off sleep. There are mornings when it feels as if you rise up to the surface
through a mud bath.
A grey fall
day. The sky is a glass.
The shadow past is shaped by everything that never happened. Invisible,
it melds the present like rain through karst. A biography of longing.
How often it must have become reality.
Across the hills, music from town spun through the air as a distant radio.
Think what it's going to be
like this summer.
The present, like a landscape, is only a small part of a mysterious narrative.
All his stories went wrong halfway through, and reminded us of the sea.
Wind and currents that stir up underwater creatures, bioluminescent gardens
that guide birds to shore.
One incident stands out like
an oasis in the desert, fresh and clear and, by contrast with the surrounding
time, magic and unnatural.
"Yes," he said, "in the dark."
The shaking, huddled mass of people cringed and moaned with every fluttering
whistle of the incoming mortars.
One can look deeply for meaning or one can invent it.
Each morning I write these words for you all.
We got to know the fat young
man quite well during the next 24 hours.
Night after night, his vivid hallucinogen dripped into my imagination,
But by the end of the war I was alive and he was dead. Sometimes now it
feels that I killed him.
What is a man who has no landscape? Nothing but mirrors and tides.
It is impossible to reach the
emptyness in each cell. His death was quiet; rain on the sea.
Sometimes the body experiences a revelation because it has abandoned every
Sometimes even human hope would flicker for a moment in their sunken glassy
It quickly became difficult to remember on what day such and such an incident
At night, lying in bed unable
to sleep, my body pointed painfully towards its great ignorance.
I learned the power we give to stones to hold human time.
Through the rustling darkness of the fields, late night voices:
Unfortunate errors have, no doubt, occured...
Not in my wildest dreams I could have perceived this.
It's a clear October day. The
wind scatters bright leaves against the blue opalescence of air. But there's
I tried to grasp the fact that life after the war was now a real possibility,
but I found myself numb and unresponsive.
But winter came and wih it the dark indoor afternoons and the snow, and
we were still there. Too many like me, threw themselves into the waves
and never looked back until the undertow kicked in. The day had broken
and I was completely exhaustedby the time we finally set off, shambling
through the snow.
But the efffect of starting at last was stimulating.
It was from the east that the
real change came.
At first I heard them from a distance, an incomprehensible murmur as Iay
face down on the rug, anxious or despodent in the long afternoons.
I was trying to sleep, swinging in and out of half-consciousness, too
tired to open my eyes but too tense to let go.
When I wake in the morning, I am still fully dressed.
I imagined their last hours
in that cramped space.
To survive was to escape fate. But if you escape your fate, whose life
do you then step into?
Back in the room the chaos was terrifying. Food, clothes, books and cigarettes
were scattered thickly over the floor, the table and the beds.
It was a chaotic site from which a variety of objects could be excavated.
And then the world fell silent. Again I was standing under water, my boots
locked in mud.
I had my duties.
Walk at night. In the morning dig my bed. Eat anything. A straight broad
street led off into the city.
S. had a luminous compass and we started to walk north-east in the direction
of the railway. I did not know the details but decided to go there.
S. and me went back to the station. We arrived as the station clock struck
a quarter to ten.
The more people we saw the more confident we became, for no-one paid any
attention to us. When the train drew into Hanover it was almost dark.
The express came in slowly but powerfully. But the effect of morning sunshine
on the roofs of a terrorized city was much the same and even to us sitting
in the train it seemed very good to be alive.
I was silent
for the journey back.
We were moving with the train towards the end of it all.
A day of bumping. And squeaking to a standstill after a view hours. And
bumping on again.
In some ways we all get what we want. I have so few regrets, even now.
War bills. I wonder who's paid for it.
releases the dreamer; not death in the dream, not waking.
I pulled the book from my pocket and dropped it onto the ground.
Then it was trampled out of sight by the boots of the man behind us.
made with beginnings and ends of chapters from the following authors:
Kee, Robert A Crowd is not a Company Phoenix Press, London, 2000
Michaels, Ann Fugitive Pieces Bloomsbury, London, 1997
Hoeg, Peter Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow The Harvill Press, London,
Kopperud, Gunnar The Time of Light Bloomsbury, London, 2000
Loyd, Anthony My War gone by, I miss it so Transworld Publishers, London,
max ensslin ~:) 03.1.03 2nd draft