still counting down to complacency

March 14, 2004

Who wrote this? Charms and invocations of the most blessed abbot Peter Salanka to all true believers divulged. As good as any other abbot’s charms, as mumbling Joachim’s. Down, baldynoddle, or we’ll wool your wool.

– What are you doing here, Stephen?

Dilly’s high shoulders and shabby dress.

Shut the book quick. Don’t let see.

– What are you doing? Stephen said.

A Stuart face of nonesuch Charles, lank locks falling at its sides. It glowed as she crouched feeding the fire with broken boots. I told her of Paris. Late lieabed under a quilt of old overcoats, fingering a pinchbeck bracelet, Dan Kelly’s token. Nebrakada femininum.

– What have you there? Stephen asked.

– I bought it from the other cart for a penny, Dilly said, laughing nervously. Is it any good?

My eyes they say she has. Do others see me so? Quick, far and daring. Shadow of my mind.

He took the coverless book from her hand. Chardenal’s French primer.

– What did you buy that for? he asked. To learn French?

She nodded, reddening and closing tight her lips.

Show no surprise. Quite natural.

– Here, Stephen said. It’s all right. Mind Maggy doesn’t pawn it on you. I suppose all my books are gone.

– Some, Dilly said. We had to.

She is drowning. Agenbite. Save her. Agenbite. All against us. She will drown me with her, eyes and hair. Lank coils of seaweed hair around me, my heart, my soul. Salt green death.

We.

Agenbite of inwit. Inwit’s agenbite.

Misery! Misery!

96 [89] I asked for so little form life and life denied me even that. A beam of sunlight, a field…some peace and quiet and a mouthful of bread, not to feel the knowledge of my existence weigh too heavily on me, to demand nothing of others and have them demand nothing of me. That was denied me, like someone denying the shadow not out of malice but merely so as not to have to unbutton his jacket […]

Sad, in my quiet room, alone as I have always been and as I always will be, I sit writing. And I wonder if that seemingly feeble thing, my voice, does not perhaps embody the substance of thousands of voices, the hunger to speak out of thousands of lives, the patience of millions of souls who, like me, have submitted in their daily lives to vain dreams and evanescent hopes. In moments like those my heart beats faster simply because I am conscious of it. I live more intensely because I live more fully. I feel in my person a religious force, a form of prayer, something like a clamor of voices. The reaction against myself beings in my intellect…I see myself in the fourth floor room in Rua dos Douradores and feel drowsy; on the half-written page, I observe my useless life devoid of beauty, the cheap cigarette […] on the old blotter. Here I am, in this fourth floor room, demanding answers from life! pronouncing on what other souls feel! writing prose […]

108[120] Whenever, under the influence of my dreams, my ambitions reared up above the daily level of my life and I felt myself riding high for a moment, like a child on a swing, like that child I had always had to swing back down to the municipal gardens and recognize my defeat with neither fluttering banners to carry into battle nor a sword I would have the strength to unsheathe. I would guess – to judge by the silent movements of their lips and the vague indecisiveness in their eyes or the way they raise their voices when they pray together – that most of the people I pass at random in the streets carry within them similar ambitions to wage vain war with just such a bannerless army. And like me, all of them – I turn round to contemplate their vanquished backs – will meet utter and humiliating defeat, miserable and ignorant amongst the slime and the reeds, with no moonlight shining on the banks nor poetry to be found amidst the marshes.

Like me, they all have sad, exalted hearts. I know them well: some work in shops, others in offices, some have small businesses, others are the heroes of cafés and bars, unwittingly glorious in the ecstasy of the egotistical word […] But all of them, poor things, are poets and seem to me (as I must to them) to drag with them the same misery of our common incongruousness. Like me, their future is already in the past.

At this moment, alone and idle in the office now that everyone but me has gone to lunch, I’m peering through the grubby window at the old man tottering slowly down the pavement on the other side of the road. He’s not drunk, just a dreamer. He’s awake to the non-existent; perhaps he still has hopes. The gods, if they are just in their injustice, preserve our dreams for us however impossible and give us good dreams however petty. Today, when I am not yet old, I can dream of South Sea islands and impossible Indias; tomorrow, perhaps the same gods will give me the dream of being the proprietor of a small tobacconist’s, or of retiring to a house in the suburbs. All dreams are the same, because they are dreams. May the gods change my dreams, but not my talent for dreaming.

While thinking this, I forgot about the old man. I can’t see him now, I open the window to try to catch him but he’s out of sigh. He’s gone. For me he performed the function of a visual symbol; once he’d done that, he simply turned the corner. If someone were to tell me that he had turned a corner of the absolute and that he was never even here, I would accept it with the same gesture which now I close the window…

To succeed?…

Poor apprentice demigods who can conquer empires with words and noble intentions but still need money to pay for room and board! They’re like the troops of a deserted army, whose commanders had a dream of glory of which all that remains for these soldiers lost amongst the mud in the marshes is the notion of greatness, the knowledge that they were an army and the emptiness of not even having known what the commander they never saw actually did.

Thus everyone at some time dreams of being the commander of the army from whose rearguard they fled. Thus everyone, amidst the mud on the banks, salutes the victory that no one can enjoy and of which all that remained were the crumbs on a stained tablecloth that no one bothered to shake out. They fill the cracks of daily life the way dust fills the cracks in furniture that doesn’t get dusted properly. In the ordinary light of every day they show up against the red mahogany like grey worms. You can scrape them out with a small nail. But no one’s in any hurry to do that.

My poor companions with their lofty dreams, how I envy and despise them! I’m on the side of the others, the poorest, who have only themselves to tell their dreams to and make of them what would be poems were they to write them down; poor devils, with only the literature of their own souls […] who die suffocated by the mere fact of existing […]

Some are heroes who took on five men at once on yesterday’s street corner. Others are seducers, irresistible even to women who have never existed. They believe it when they say it and they all say it because they believe it. Others […]

Like eels in a bowl they become so entangled with one another that they can never escape. They may occasionally get a mention in the newspapers […] but they never achieve fame.

They are the happy ones because they are given the dream […] of stupidity. But as for those, like me, who have dreams without illusions […]