One cannot be many, the king insisted, his eyes brimming with tears of frustration. The old blind seer knelt into the wind and sand and drew a chariot wheel with twelve spokes.
On a street of copenhagen and prussian blue, a lawyer walked briskly, followed by a doctor, coroner, judge, pastor, chemist, philosopher, landlord, coachman, and numerous other shadows and trades. Some were carrying crosses, some not. What is that—a pilgrimage? asked a foreign visitor. No, said the lamplighter, that’s a man. The lamplighter thought about it for a moment, and added that with the current inflation and depression, it was actually one third of a man, possibly even a fourth or fifth. The foreigner shook his head sadly. After some moments, the street was empty and quiet for a while until a soft glow emerged from behind a tall, narrow building. It was a tall man in a black coat with a head and face resembling a round of camembert and the eyes of a byzantine icon. Now who is that? asked the foreigner. Having lit his last lamp, the lamplighter looked back at the street and laughed gently. That’s the moon in the man, he said. They watched the moon pass down the street and take the same left turn the first procession had taken. The lampposts were beautiful.
The man who was tired stopped before her threshold. Once again, he could not enter, for again he had arrived with all the wrong questions. The ciphers she would strip from her dark hair were a down-splashing rain through a voice like a sieve. Many cigarettes later, he then realized and determined not to venture back into her five-cornered street, not to get lost and wander her seven bridges. The formulas she had folded and those she had torn were thrown a great distance beyond shadows and unknowns. And his shadow was sleeping, regardless of time, blurring into a whisper of sickness and death. An obsolete silence struck his analog head. Then one night, he went out, shaved and dressed for a wake. And to the darkness he whispered. My cold fingers twine an abacus without beads and hold a cheap cigarette lighter with one single flame.
The mound of sand rose pale and smoky in the blue night of great stars as a light breeze constantly added and subtracted grains of sand to and from its mass. The lost assassin thus perceived the merciless impossibility of death, the momentous eternity, the shattering and reassembling of numbers and words, and the distance of distance.
They looked at their blackboards, machine consoles, charts and notes covered with formulas. They had come further than ever before to mapping the edges of things, times, planets, and atoms. Words and numbers had been sliced as thin as potato chips and were ready for crunching. The blackboards sparkled. One of the youngest physicists, a prodigy that even the older ones respected, a humble youth who feared his own electric fingers, said that it was all nothing more than a bottle of vinegar. What one needed now was a bottle of red cabbage water, which he did not possess.
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.