The Bone Letters

Alone, the skeleton wandered the earth. The earth was an empty land of bone. The bones of the mountains with their gaping caves, the bones of petrified forests in the deserts, the bones of bison, fish, men and women, individually and in heaps. All of these bones were like letters from time written to time, and they were letters about time. The last man, the boneman, had a backpack and a wooden walking stick. He wore black bermuda shorts with a white tsunami pattern and a white cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a way of preserving his dignity and an attempt to remember flesh, organs and skin. He generally wore boots or sandals made of rubber tires, which could always be found. The spear-lengthed walking stick was made of ash. To pass the time, he had become a naturalist, or as he liked to joke to himself, an unnaturalist. He was fond of examining fossils, whole skeletons of beasts, and gazing at picture books and calendars that had drawings or photographs of the myriad fauna that had once filled the world. One day, he found some medieval bestiaries in an old library, and began to ponder the imaginary and semi-legendary beasts. It seemed that these images of beasts resulted from a combination of factors: poor skill, inadequate knowledge, poor memory, and playful imagination. These four qualities seemed to make the bestiaries a more honest, more realistic picture of nature than the shiny calendars and color plates of encyclopaedias. They possessed more life and reflected his own sense of his relationship to his inner thoughts and the outer world. The skeleton also visited every old cave, every dolmen, every ancient monument, every medieval and renaissance town and every modern, abandoned city he could. This pilgrimage continued for some years. The cave and tomb paintings, the frescos in churches, the postmodern grafitti and pictographs covering walls, bridges and railcars intrigued and puzzled him. The more he thought about the paintings, the more he felt that very little had ever been new. The newness seemed concentrated at the center of time, and the further forward or backward one progressed from that point, the more senility and monotony one encountered. It seemed as if the earth had been born old, belatedly discovered youth, and then retreated in panic back into old age to ossify once more. Most of human life had been simultaneously prehistorical and posthistorical. What generations had perceived as the childlike primitivism of early art, the skeleton saw as the dying expressions of nauseated bodies on the verge of becoming terrified ghosts. While their forms might resemble the drawings of infants at first glance, he quickly sensed the absence of vigor, wonder and hope. Arthritic in execution, jaded in perspective, exhausted in imagination and desire. He frequently took from his backpack a sketchbook that had belonged to a child, to compare the childlike sketches with the cave and tomb paintings. The child had painted the same things as the cave painters: cougars, bison, antelope, swimmers, flying abstractions, celestial bodies, the sun and moon. The moons and cougars still sparkled in silver crayon. The moons and cougars of the caves were as poorly drawn, but they were lifeless and old, as if they had long become a tolerated commonplace of seasons, tasks, rituals and attempts at guessing the course of events to follow. The moons and cougars of silver crayon in the sketchbook were events in themselves, events of wonder, little visions of something beyond themselves. And how deeply did the skeleton miss the little hands that had drawn them.