Once upon time, stories always began with an old man and an old woman, possibly as a way of honoring the first parents, who were the first to sacrifice for their children and the first to experience mortality in all of its sadness. This story begins with an old beggar, however, for the earth is old and bankrupt, and everyone is either an orphan or pretending to be one. The old beggar lived on the streets of a vibrant city of bridges and bell towers, lovely trees and arabesques, churches, shops and plazas of cobblestone. The beggar was highly regarded by both the aristocrats and the low lifes. One day, he fell to weeping. A friar came over to see him and comfort him. Perhaps the time was near. Would you like to confess? the friar asked. I would, said the old beggar, but I do not know how. I do not remember my life. The low lifes say that I was once a master assassin, a thief, and a womanizer, and that I continue to rule every gang from where I sit on the street, whispering orders and advice while begging. The nobles praise my devout and pure life and recite the prayers I once taught them. I remember none of this—not one voluptuous body, not one corpse, not one sacred prayer, not one moment from earlier in the day. I cannot even confess my name. Please help me. I beg of you. The friar wanted to laugh and weep. My child, he said, you have been damned in this life. Nobody is more open to grace than you. Please absolve me. The old beggar stood up, briefly embraced the friar, and after rolling up his bedding, took it and started to walk. The old beggar strolled the length of the city, passed through the city gates, and then walked out into the endless countryside.
The workers were very kind and gentle to the skeleton they had unearthed by accident, one which had been walled up in the catacombs below a wine cellar for over a hundred years. They draped a coat around his shoulders and offered him a cigarette, which he looked at hesitantly, and then began to smoke. It made him cough at first, but it seemed to calm him down. They asked him what he had thought about all these years. It was hard to say, the skeleton reflected. At first, it was a desire for revenge. Then, there was contrition and doubt, followed by seasons of madness and forgetfulness. In the end, he only thought of three things. The desire for the moist mouth of a girl he had once kissed on a bridge, his desire to converse and confess to a priest, and the desire to walk in the countryside—there was a place where lavender, chamomile and verbena grew that he really missed. The workers wondered if he would like a drink. They wanted to cheer him up. Such a remarkable event required something expensive and good. They could bring him cognac, brandy, a good wine, or some sherry. The skeleton coughed up some smoke, and shook its head sadly and slowly. Only table wine or water for him.
The angel brought the blindfolded doctor into the shade where the dark woods began. This is the border, said the angel. I will escort you into the darkness in a moment before leaving you. What is this place? The doctor trembled, feeling the cold hyrcanian air blowing through black needles and dripping undergrowth. It is the silent wood, also known as the forest of suicides. When someone wants to die, they lose themselves in its depths, walking for days until hunger, exhaustion, hypothermia, wolves or bears finish him off. Then I am to be murdered? Not at all, the angel laughed. You are a man of skills; it will be much easier for you to survive. It is more of a contemplative retreat offered freely. The doctor inhaled the fresh, ozonous air and wanted to believe the angel. Why this punishment or this forest? Some revenge for a tragedy long ago, a malpractice case? Not quite, the angel sighed. They say there are some 164,000,000 life forms in this particular forest. It is the perfect place for you to contemplate the 164,000,000 deaths that will occur in the next ten years from unnecessary or adverse medical interventions—and that is a conservative number. It is also the tonnage of waste your hospitals produce throughout seven countries in only one year. Sadly, the amount of debt created, money wasted or stolen, and the poverty figures far exceeded anything we could dream up in a practical manner—there was no forest big enough to match your needs in that respect, but this one will suffice to give you a general idea. They say that the silence and darkness have a calming, soporific effect, and nothing is better for beginning pure contemplation, confession and penance than a good night’s rest.
One manuscript turned up in a desert well. Although the language was scriptural, and could have been classified as philosophy or wisdom literature, the text was a long vulgate poem of lectures about harvests and departures, addressing all of the great questions of the soul. The second manuscript was found buried along the great highway. It was clear that the second manuscript was an imitation of the first. It suffered from poor grammar and pointless meditations, but the fictional framework of this second text was just as intriguing and appealing: the discourse of a stranger in a city on the verge of destruction. Ashes are more appetizing than grain, as the ancient proverb says. The man who found the manuscripts read both again and again over the course of the day, in the empty fields of scattered trees. The man came to know the texts well, the sources of their genius, the unrealized heights of expression possible, the unreached horizons of thought and dream that had been left behind. It were as though the very minimal and mediocre seeds of these texts suggested an invisible and imaginary harvest somewhere else, in some other unwritten text. It was clear that both texts were imitations of earlier works, in a tradition that saw the fading of form and depth with each successive edition, but perhaps they were not. Perhaps every text is the same as another, a futile attempt of one person to become an author, to become a text, in a time when all authors are already dead, when all souls are as readable or as burnable as texts, when all texts are as stable as the papyrus that turns to dust in fresh air and bright sun. To write is to die, and to live. Returning to his home, the man began to pen his own manuscript, to stretch for the landscapes missing from the other texts. It occured to him that he was a mere copyist, but it became unclear as to who or what he would be copying–the first manuscript, the second manuscript, their unknown sources, or the imaginary texts they had failed to write? The man wrote his own manuscript anyway. It was a text of winters, departures, and long abandoned cities. An assassin was the main speaker. There was almost nobody worthwhile there to listen. The assassin’s discourse would be the itinerary of a soul addressed to stray cats, thieves, and the thirty-two winds. They would ask and he would answer. Or perhaps he would ask and they would answer. Someone would say, Speak of confession, of contagion, of deterioration, of migration, of depression, of contemplation, of ingression, of resurrection, of origination, of convolution, of radiation.