Prose Header


by Clem Griffith

Settlement 1

This is a place of before and after, a start and a finish. There is nothing broken in this place, and nothing to be repaired. Nor can it be improved, the concept of progression being inapplicable to it. Nothing works here, nor does it need to. This place is perfected.

Whoever is in this place knows of death and of life. The knowing is from day to day, moment to moment. This knowing of life and death together is such a close, embracing thing that this is a place of no fear of either. Life and death are full in every moment of this place, yet never intrude upon it. From the perspectives of this place, they seem silly and half-formed conceptions, like the discordant shouting and fighting at a football match that is both over and will never be played.

This place has death as something pointless and life as an interruption. It is a place from which to have the fancy of setting out, if only as a beguiling thought; and it is a place which once arrived at is well worth its privations, which come to have the feel of great luxuries. Curious to tell, in spite of appearances — its drifts of rubbish that move slowly here and there, its everlasting puddles, its lack of amenity, (which becomes a relief and a pleasure) — it is impossible, once existence is accepted in this place, to take any harm here.

The deepest horrors, the highest elations may be known here but without the distasteful recall of actual events or the tedious narratives that hang from them like seaweed straggling from a pier at low tide. In this place, all that has occurred is a mere shrug of the memory, a silence. In this place, there is nothing needing to be said.

If, from no reason, you should wish to follow an old fancy of dying, it is perfectly possible to do so here. You have only to find a day of icy wind, a day when there is no knowledge of you within you or outside of you, no concern for you from any direction, and you may slide away into pneumonia as the freezing gale skirls the puddles, and there is the noise of a passing lorry churning through the mud, and the dust sits on a shelf of broken tools. Without help, you will pass into nonentity. Then, without notice, you will sit up in an old, musty blanket and yawn pleasantly, and without thinking twice take note of the twilight and the buffeting wind and the kettle. Such times and pastimes as these will take away all time from you. You will have no age and be every age.

If it so becomes you, you may come to stay in this place when you are ten or eleven years old. It is then that you will have been most perplexed and nauseated by the ideas of being and non-being, living and dying. Here you will find an enduring respite from creation and conception and purpose and families and lives and gods and all other injurious fantasies. You may escape here from this tacky pantomime, this embarrassing melodrama that so besets what lies outside of this place. Here is one place for you that is amenable to any fancy, yet implying nothing of them. You may come and go from here as much as you need. You will have no obligation to be anywhere else, or anywhere at all.

This place in its trustworthy sameness is here for sane enjoyment. Every discomfort here is harmless, a quiet joke. Every past and future is here, every experience, and as light as a feather if so required. Here, each minute may be known as a season, and a whole year, a whole decade, known in an hour. And here, every event beyond this place, or within it, may be endued with the sense of a great feat, a surpassing, a titanic endurance, or mere piffle. Yet nothing here is required but that it should simply pass by, and all remain as it is.

No one troubles you here. Conversations may take place, but only as murmurous incidents; they commit to nothing. There are no intrusions. In all things, you may begin here and end here, and all in one. This is a fine place for those who would sustain an opaque continuance relative to little else, and are wise enough to know that nothing more is possible. This place makes anywhere and anything else feel unnecessary, life and death included, unless as subjects of innocuous daydreaming, or of quiet and wondering amusement.

What season is it here, what weather? It is a season of lovely grey skies. Here and there are trees with a few leaves, uncommitted to going or coming. There are places of vegetation that has settled into itself. There are broken down cars to sit in and doze. There are reliable puddles to reflect the clouds and the comings and goings of light and wind. Sometimes, morose carts or smoky, old lorries will pass, stirring the puddles. There may be snatches of gales blowing with snow, with the odd figure trudging in the distance. Nothing comes of anything.

Here is a habitation for those who have found more complex diets cruel and farcical. In this settlement, there is always cheese to cut a piece from. There is always bread, tins to open, no housework, nothing to maintain. All of that has gone back into the world of vanity and waste. Here is no fuss, at last.

Settlement 2

With eyes open or shut, you can sleep lightly here. On your face will be the pale sunlight, like a slightly dying fire at the greatest of its comforting. Its steady, patient flames have consumed a world that is memory and warm ashes.

Now the casual winds and the sun are walking in the ruins and bringing them into use, as if these ruins were thoughtfully devised to bring pleasure. How low the wind and sunlight sing, how gently. They move here and there without disturbance, expecting nothing. Everything here has gone past all power to hurt or perplex. A settlement has been arrived at that in itself implies nothing more of incursion or nuisance or urgency.

All of that which may follow here will be arbitrary, in some lovely way to be connected with whim and proclivity and the exquisite taste of phenomena when not degraded by the vicious attributions of cause and effect. There is no dark, feral archaism of belief or system here. Responsibility is abolished.

Here we may sit content and watch the folly of what was in the folly of what will be; and to the before and the after we need only respond with yawns. The pieces of this and that, present and not present, that may be picked up in this place, may be fitted each to each and all to all in numberless configurations, enabling the lighthearted resumption of all activity, all efforts; and all of this only to re-emerge in arrangements of tender fatuity and idleness. Results — the terrible illusions of fulfilled intention — are here abolished.

The spring has been endlessly wound here for the running of immense mechanism, and the action released is ludicrous and utterly harmless. Thereby, all things run softly into these ruins, this place of wonderful completeness and accomplishment.

This morning, this high, quiet day brings the awakening, the surfacing from plans and dim, fated dreams. Here is a landscape between the strange glamours of life and death, and its heart is the easier for carrying neither of them, and is better than both of them in all their pretensions. This place shoos them lightly away to babble inconsequently among the interchangeable nappies and wheelchairs of desire. Here, the temptation to counterfeit deep questions can gain no hold, no credibility, and is abolished.

From this place, this prospect of seeming ruination, leads every hope, mediated by the lightest music whose cadences hold every cheerful reservation, dancing of doubt, promise of rest. Nothing here can embody how things have been. Excuses and justifications are redundant; they are no longer needed. And in their needlessness, they are here abolished.

Arrive here and maintain nothing, pretend nothing: no more aggrandisement — which holds its own mockery; no more longing — which holds a fine laughter at itself; no more great work — which whispers mirthfully of its own disappearance. All of these: work, longing, grandness were excuses not to be here. They were harsh landscapes that only waited for the last proof of their flimsiness. Now there is only the presence of their absence in the pale sunlight falling on the face, the ruins, the soft winds, the arrival in this place of unremarkable success. All other success is here abolished.

Things at their best lead to and from here, yet coming from nowhere else and leading nowhere else. Here is everything that stays. It stays and looks on in quietness; and it looks beyond, needing no journey.

Settlement 3

This is a place for someone who has a residual sense of vocation. Vocation is a capacity for self-excitement through interfering with the world, or rigorously not interfering with it. The first is often offensive, the second realistic. It becomes possible to like someone who supports this infirmity of vocation without having either sort. Such a graceful sense of calling is almost completely exemplified by one who comes to this place. Here is a site for a person who is an adept of faint watchfulness, a light, easy watchfulness for nothing fearsome, nothing spectacular, and for something which may well be neither here nor there, and beyond evaluation. Indeed, the thin aerials out in the field here are the slenderest threads of attachment, yet not outwards to what is past the horizon, the widespread, muddling world, but upwards into mysteries and who-knows-what.

This place furnishes an occupation that comes almost to nothing beyond a bare attendance at this locus. The overwhelming chances are that nothing will happen here, apart from the luxurious enjoyment of this. Yet, for the one who is able to entertain such a fancy, there will be the justification of being that comes in the observance of this non-eventfulness. To be appointed to this post of supine curator of the aerials out in the field is the final promotion that the world can bring to one who has accrued the huge deserving that comes with temporal endurance. Now there is no more of this, for endurance, almost time itself, has ended here. A hint of foreverness has been whispered.

Even so, hereabouts, as if to indicate the very placidity of the central undertaking, events purely incident to the beholding and inspection and observation of the aerials, and being in the presence of the aerials, are without cease.

Days arise and pass away. There are winds mild, winds blustering, winds in long mountainous waves, invisible and portentous. There are little winds that play about like preoccupied toddlers. There are magical calms in which it is possible to hear your every footfall and detail of movement. There are great, harmless turmoils of the atmosphere, sky-riots ending in nothing. There is every sort of clouding and clearness and mist and rain. Squalls advance and break upon the field. Tiny whirlwinds dance and vanish. There come snatches of snow, downpours of hail, lengthy days of drizzle, the drops lovely on the face, yellowy dimness, lightnings and mutters and bangs, as if gods lived upstairs and threw about their furniture; and all of this with nights worm-eaten with stars, shot with meteors, dithering with planets, faintly chalked with comets, or swamped in cloudy dark or flirted by moonshine. There is also sunshine. For the most, the sky sits, slow to move and harmless. This place — its field, its skies, its aerials, its variety in constancy — gives endless diversion, and never grounds for discontent or complaint. The curator knows that everything worth noting is here, and nothing is missing.

The rain patters on the roof of the watch house. It dances a little on the flagged path to the aerials. The strung wires sway slightly in the wind. The sounds of all this are delights. It is impossible to turn away from them, impossible to not to become filled with them and contented, and to join with everything there as it listens to itself with astonishment.

And the air moves over the grass, swishing, softer and louder, falling away. It is part of the continuous radio hiss that sounds forever in the watch house, the voice of the aerials, a low, theatrical sussuration, a hushed stage awaiting an entrance that never comes, and never needs to come.

The watch house is quite large enough for a bed, a small cooker, and so forth. There are hooks for coats, a tall locker, a table for rumination. Once a month, supplies arrive. The seasons turn, fill and fade. Once you have moved in, there is nothing needed but to be here with the field and the aerials. There is nothing to do but to wait and watch in case of something, the chances of whose advent are utterly remote and ever present.

Settlement 4

Never nearer and never more distant — the land over this calm strait sits in the light. No one is seen to move there. No figure is ever walking on the shore. There is never a boat on the water. At times, a few birds bring a cluster of dots to the sky.

Whoever stays here is contentedly preoccupied with leaving this place, and this preoccupation gives meaning to staying here. Yet the leaving is conceived as never more than a crossing of the calm strait to be near to the land opposite. It is almost impossible to think of landing on that beach. The imagination falls away into nothingness at such a prospect. The sea is inviting and endlessly smooth.

Nearby this spot, there is a boat drawn up. It is in perfect order, and only needs the turning of a ratcheted wheel for the vessel to go down gently into the sea alongside a wide jetty.

In the comfortable chalet in which whoever settles here lives, there are powerful binoculars standing on a table, and a wide window looks towards the water. The binoculars have only to be taken from their leather case. Who knows what intriguing details of the land over the strait they might disclose?

There is a shelf of maps, holding the secrets of all that lies beyond the window. They are never unfolded, never laid out on the table.

Is that an island across the placid strait? Or is it a seaward outlier of a larger mass of land, even a glimpse of the edge of a great continent? What are those distant features that bulk vague and low beyond the rocks of the opposite shore? At times, a deep, mauve nimbus gathers upon them, with a high mass of cloud billowing up white into the light. They could be mountains. How far are they in the blue distance? Why is there never a person on the opposite shore? How far removed is this place of idleness from where other human concerns are followed, and life proceeds in other sorts of wishing?

There are no storms or rough weather here. The air is mild, the climate is even. Everything that comes to this place and stands in this place holds a sweetness and tartness in one: the dreams it brings have a frisson, an air of subtle provocation, a quiet neuronic pressure... yet they imply nothing of action, nothing of need. Rather do they tell that if there is longing, it has no answer in doing or going. It has no answer. They tell that anything that can be found in another place from this, anything that may be met with on a journey, will give no more, resolve no more than what is present here in the soft air, the almost soundless lap of the sea, the slight stirs of wind along the shore, the grasses moving and whispering. Everything is of desire here, yet all desire is granted here as well as it could be granted anywhere, even the wish for new desire.

This knowledge lingers the knower endlessly and incurably at the threshold of leaving. The knower is always nodding in this knowledge, and turns back into old dreams and new thoughts of journeys.

There are sometimes days here of glowing speculation, smiling, longing. Yet it is enough to sit in the boat that waits drawn up on the shore, to feel the warm air from the open cabin window, to almost be convinced that there are soft voices, murmurs at the edge of hearing, far from over the placid strait, far from beyond it, perhaps talking in their dreams.

Copyright © 2018 by Clem Griffith

Proceed to Challenge 776...

Home Page