The Departures

There was a city on the cliffs of time, well ordered and wealthy. Beyond the cliffs, the whirling darkness stretched, only barely illuminated by uncertain stars. One day, the mechanic who lived there had to go on a long journey to purchase matter for making new things. While he was away, the scholars and magistrates organized and held the great event. It was awaited with great expectation by some, and met with an almost confusing ecstasy by others. The great event took place right on the cliffs. The music played. The cobbler was the first to leap off the cliff. He became a butterfly. The midwife danced over the edge. She turned into a salamander. The wet nurse, the doctor, the librarian, the lawyer, the schoolmaster, the banker, the sheriff, the mason, the tailor, the grocer, the whore and the priest all flew off into various transfigurations. All who remained were amazed and expected more events and more departures. Not long after, the mechanic attempted to return home. On the way, he was beaten, robbed and left for dead. The barefoot mechanic awoke by the roadside in pain, but being a patient and strong man, continued on his way. When he arrived at the city on the cliffs of time, they told him about the miraculous event, the transformations and the departures. That’s wonderful, the mechanic sighed. Who then will make me a pair of boots?

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The Mathematician

Nobody knew where he came from, if that was even the right way of wording it. One day they noticed him, living in an abandoned park on the outskirts of the city. The wonderful park had hillocks, widely spaced trees of silver and golden leaves, abstract and natural sculptures, shallow streams of crystal, and an assortment of gates, blackboards and machinery. The mathematician wandered around, opening and closing gates, writing with chalk on the blackboards and building, mending and rebuilding his machinery. The mathematician loved to speak of the chalk, its powdery white atoms, the way chalk adhered to the board one minute or would blow off into the wind the next, the way the chalk held together to make each integer and formula, or how it fused into a thin film when brushed. On certain days, they came to see him write on a great blackboard. Whenever he wrote on it, fireworks and magic lanterns revolved around him, words and numbers burned in the air and diffused into their faces with an affectionate warmth, and everyone went home afterwards, filled, peaceful and whole. For years, the mathematician taught the children, especially the poor ones, how to add, subtract, divide, multiply, how to factor, use decimals and find roots. Through logic, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, statistics and even physics, they wandered on a magic journey with him, through the known and unknown that only grew in both distance, wholeness, and intimacy. Engineers, carpenters, cobblers and blacksmiths came to him for advice. Even scholars, philosophers and doctors from the city and other cities learned some of his secrets, although most were too vast to take in. The mathematician helped them keep their books, maintain records, draw plans for building walls or bridges, and charted stars and maps for them. The city grew wealthy. One day, the mathematician vanished. Some say he was murdered; some say he escaped; some say he was exiled. Many accused him of all manner of crimes, while stripping the park of his blackboards and machinery. Those machines that were too mysterious or too great to haul were robbed of parts or vandalized. Most of what they took home they did not know how to use. They were able to reproduce some fireworks and build other kinds of machinery, but after a while the blackboards and machines were returned to the abandoned park, where they began to rust. A legend grew up that the mathematician was only a dream sent by some diabolical magic or plague. The citizens concocted various theories to rationalize the leftover machinery. Some even tried to burn blackboards or melt down gears to destroy the relics. Time passed. The children would go to the abandoned park to play. They built their own machines from scraps and tried to learn from the machines that were more or less intact. They whispered and wrote on blackboards, and some even claimed to have seen magic lanterns, fireworks and the ghost of the mathematician return, walking from blackboard to blackboard, opening and closing gates, blowing enchanted chalk dust from his hands into the north wind.

The Lioness

Once upon time, there was a lioness who was most skilled at cuisine, and loved to offer herself as a rich banquet she would prepare most carefully for others. It was well known in that land and at that time that the corpse of a lioness was forever the most delicious feast to be had. The lioness was puzzled and distressed, however, because it was difficult to understand the hunger of others, for she did not seem to have the same hunger. Whenever she held a banquet, there would be different kinds of eaters. Some would devour the body completely and suck the bones, filled but not afraid to dream of the next banquet. The blood and sinews of the lion were good for life–one could neither grow lean nor fat on them, no matter how much or how often one ate of them. One only got healthier from such repasts. Others would pick at the food and complain of its herbs, spices and even how the flesh was cut and plated. Some would eat, but loudly complained that her meat did not taste like roasted heifer, camel, gazelle, reindeer, pork, goat, fish or even vegetables, and they wished to eat such things while eating her without tasting or smelling too much of her. Still others would only eat blood, or sinews, or one organ, or just the skin, holding other body parts in contempt. Some wanted a sumptuous, elaborate commentary and ritual performed with the meal–it seemed tasteless without it. Some wanted to devour all of the meal, but seemed confused what to eat first or last; they wanted to consume her all at once, especially the heart and lungs, and would demand more heart and lungs. Sadly, the lioness only had one heart to give and one pair of lungs at a time. While these last eaters would get some nourishment, they found themselves unhappily hungry, wishing the lioness would give them an endless heart to suck on for hours at a time without interruption. On occasions when the lioness attempted to offer a bigger heart, the eaters felt cheated and suspected that the gift was given begrudgingly and still in too small a portion. They would turn to offal and eat it in a most vulgar fashion, or even beg the lioness to eat them, so that they would not have to chase after deer and so that they would never feel this painful hunger again. It is difficult to eat and to be eaten, and beyond the colonnades and arches, there are certain qualities of light and shadow in the hippodrome, the circus and the arena that are unfathomable and impossible to stomach.

The Pilgrim

In the realm of colophons, a young pilgrim became lost. She was making her journey into the great moment, but found herself lost in labyrinths of other momenta. What she found most difficult was the number of crossroads, the mimics among the trees, and the changing weather and seasons. A rainfall of whispers could follow a drought of intonations. There were nonlandscapes that bled through landscapes; quanta and qualia would throw their lights and shadows upon eachother. A tree of ink could dissolve into water. A stone could dissolve into the wind. There were vast wastes littered with fishbones and chariot wheels where there had never been seas or highways. She lost her parasol and blindfolds, her prayer beads and her cup, her coins and bone dice, her compass, astrolabe and telescope, her map and her almanac, and even her horse. It was hard to walk alone among the phantoms, chimaeras and mirages. Once, she stopped to ask for directions. She wanted to know if the orb of hydrogen was shining, or if it was the sun, or if it was a vision of the sun, a lion, a coded replica, a magic lantern trick, or some twisted combination of several or all of those possibilities. The passersby assaulted her skull and left her for dead. Almost naked, she staggered onward, fixing her hair into a classic chignon to remind herself that her body and heart and mind and spirit could still be real and beautiful. Symbols were bleeding from her and leaving tangible bloodstains, like dark burns or holes in the universe, upon the dust of the road. Sometimes she almost fell into them–how vast and bottomless they seemed. Now and then, she encountered other victims whose skulls had been rocked, sucked, cracked, probed, trepanned, hollowed out, stuffed with straw or used for libations. Most were beyond healing. It was often difficult to tell if the others on the road were statues, automatons, shadows, or real bodies, walking the earth, their footsteps almost making the same rhythm as her own. And yet, there were so few footprints in those glorious wastes, so rare that one would wish to kiss them or suck the rainwater from them. Wandering through one spiralling chronotope after another, she fell in love. The man was ancient and youthful. She found him writing in the sand surrounded by a circle of bones. Out of his hands and skull flowed a silent light. She fell facedown in the sand upon seeing him. When she awoke, he was carrying her in his arms. Now and then they rested on the glory of snowed mountains. Though he seemed to be mute, she read his radiant footprints that were mirrors of the world, of his soul and her soul. Whenever he held her head, kissed her, brushed sand from her brow, or held her hand, her skull and heart would fill with purity, and the chronotopes, the planets, the symbols and colophons melted into silence and into light.

The Dramatists

For several days each year, the citizens would come to watch plays acted out in the amphitheatre built into the mountains with a view of the sea. There were no playwrights anymore, as they had all been banished. Tropes, scripts and personae should not be written in stone. There were no tragedies or comedies, either, for these were too restrictive. Instead, the actors worked with stagehands to improvise new stories. It was to be a communal effort that included the audience, but attendance was poor and it is not certain that the viewers really understood the language, symbolism or disjointed plots, nor were they often called on to contribute to the speech acts and performances of art. The laws of the drama were strict. The actors could only discuss what was on the stage or visible to the audience and to themselves. One could not launch into a soliloquy about owls and olive trees if there were no owls or olive trees in the amphitheatre or on stage. Actors departed or entered in two ways–they were summoned or dismissed by those on stage, or they entered and departed if they felt like it. Sometimes, this resulted in live combat–but that was also part of the narrative. The same rule applied to stage hands bringing in props. The great drama was thus a typhon of amphorae, masks, mobile trees, cosmological tapestries, swords, spears, smoke, incense, magic lanterns, drums, faces of pain and ecstasy, and clouds of battle. Most of the time, the plays were quite slow and difficult to remember, although the viewers would occasionally recall strange details during their day to day activities, such as the time a mobile tree caught fire, the time an actress dressed as a spearman from a phalanx gutted another actress that the stage hands had to drag off, her body leaving a thick stain and musky scent of blood and essences on the stones. There was also the seven hour monologue on the nature of stars and wet chitons–accompanied by various actresses, asleep and awake, in wet chitons and surrounded by discarded chitons. In the end, an expensive translucent chiton was ripped to shreds by the fatigued and dying actor, pale in the blue dawn, at the climax of the monologue. One day, an inspired actor, having banished all other actors and props from the stage, looked around at the audience. It was impossible to celebrate the event, he said, when obstacles to pure transience and openness remained. It was clear to him that something would have to be done about the viewers, the mountains, the sea and the stars. They should be summoned and dismissed at the whim of an actor in accordance with the needs of the momenta. For now, he intoned, he would dispatch himself in the only possible momentum to return to impermanence. And with these words, the dramatist impaled himself, falling upon his spear.

The Horseman

In the dark ages, a horseman was dispatched from the old capital to bring important news to a faraway country. Every hundred miles, the horseman briefly rested at the post station, mounted a fresh horse, and dashed off into the openness of the highway. All of the horses were beautiful and galloped well, despite their differences in age, height, and coloring. As the horseman traveled, he viewed a thousand landscapes, learned the migration routes of words and beasts, and dreamed of his country–its stone bridges, lampposts, libraries, teahouses and museums. After crossing the frontier on his last horse, he passed through the twilight lands of shapeshifting trees and dissolving beasts. There were sleepwalkers abroad in the land, gathering stones and collecting dead leaves. At last, he arrived at his destination–the cities of mist and sleep. The sleepwalkers lived in great mansions and ate well, but they never got angry; they never smiled or laughed, either. They amassed heaps of broken stones and dead leaves, storing them in their museums, teahouses, and under their bridges. In the halls of the diplomats, the horseman was received with a mixture of courtesy, suspicion and puzzlement. On a great round table, they unrolled the scroll of their official map, which they updated every fortnight. They pointed to the document, and explained that they could not figure out where the horseman had come from. None of the countries he had passed through, not even the old capital where his journey began, existed. The message he delivered–while understandable in its essentials–was incomprehensible, like the relic of some ancient and indecipherable script from an abandoned and forgotten civilization. They offered him sanctuary in their city. Otherwise, they feared he would gallop back into the nothing. The horseman gratefully and politely declined, setting off at once to return to the old capital. At first, it seemed as if the map had been right. The horseman recognized none of the landscapes along the highway, although he saw sleepwalkers raking leaves and hauling broken stones here and there. The frontier seemed lost. Despairing of ever finding his way home, he continued to ride. One day, only a few miles after seeing a band of sleepwalkers inspecting a stretch of dead trees, he came upon a land he remembered, a land far past the frontier in the heart of the empire. It was twilight, and the horse breathed with great difficulty. The old capital was still far, far away.

The Embassy

The ambassador was brought in chains before the emperor. The royal phalanx lined both sides of the great courtyard. The emperor sat in his chair, absent-mindedly swatting flies and staring into the dancing light of the pluvium. The foreign minister, the master of horse, the cupbearer, the dragoman and the scribes had carefully coached the ambassador in the etiquette, laws, and idioms of the empire. After bowing before the emperor, the ambassador awaited the signal. A woman with a lyre struck three chords. The ambassador spoke. At some indefinite time in the past, an event may or may not have occurred that may or may not affect your realm and may or may not bring salvation. That was well said, a royal guard remarked. The master of horse stroked his clean-shaven cheek in deep thought, perhaps even fear. The musician, dragoman, cupbearer, and the scribes shook their heads with deep disapproval. The emperor watched the pluvium. A goldfish swirled around in waves of pale blue and white light.