In the dark place

蔵焼けて

障るものなき

月見哉

 

my barn has burnt down;
now I have a better view
of the rising moon
– Mizuta Masahide

 

December 22. Nothing but ravens in the sky. The winter solstice, my second of the year, is drawing us into the heart of a great mist. Two winters, like two long swimming pools. Not quite interminable, but there is a moment midway when the flags are lost, and there is a panicked intake of breath as the feet try for the bottom but the lungs know they won’t reach.

Summer in Melbourne is at its fullest, ripest swell. Here, in the west of Japan, night closes like a fist at five pm. The sun rises at seven, barely. In this unnerving mist it is a dim facsimile of dawn, only the birds can tell. We are up two hours earlier for the morning zazen, folded inside our blankets, breath hovering like apparitions before the mouth of a cave.

Sometimes I think I came to Japan because, like me, the place seems earnest, sensitive. In love with beauty and melancholy. Its traditions bear the traces of a spiritual wellness that stirs in me a special kind of hunger, as if I knew it in a previous lifetime. I am thinking in particular of the sensibilities, closely tethered to the principles of Japanese Buddhism, that have long been central to Japanese poetics and aesthetics. Mono no aware, sometimes described as ‘the pathos of things,’ a concept illustrated by countless lines in Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji (‘The autumn flowers are gone’) or Bashō’s poems (‘A cicada’s shell / It sang itself / Utterly away’). The monochrome secrets of yūgen, a knowing gesture towards the dark grace and mystery of the universe (Zeami Motokiyo: ‘To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return’) and the highest ideal of Nō drama. Wabi and sabi: simplicity, austerity, quietude, singularity, the exquisite patina of age. (In an essay titled ‘In Praise of Shadows’, the novelist Tanizaki Jun’ichirō immortalises the wabi of a simple tea house alcove: ‘when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquillity holds sway.’)

What is it I hope to find in the tea house, in the forest, in the meditation hall? In my most quiet and honest moments, I understand that I came to Japan to look for death. I am pulled to death, like the negative of a moth pulled to a flame.

Japan is a place perched at the lip of death. Few countries in the world are so menaced by their own geography. Situated on top of two so-called ‘triple junctions’ – points at which three of the Earth’s tectonic plates grind together like cosmic teeth – the Japanese archipelago is home to ten percent of the world’s active volcanoes and weathers a yearly onslaught of earthquakes, typhoons and mudslides. The last mega-tsunami, which devastated northern Japan in 2011, killed 18,500 people, washing through towns that had never glimpsed the ocean. The Kanto plain, on which the cities of Tokyo, Yokohama and Kawasaki have fused into one immeasurable megalopolis, is overdue for an earthquake of epic proportions; when it strikes, the tremor is projected to take more than 323,000 lives.
Then there are the acts of violence or misfortune, the mass-destruction routinely wrought by civilisation. Visit magnificent Kanazawa Castle, for example, and you will read the list of great fires – some accidental, others ignited in battle – that burnt the place to the ground over the centuries: in 1602, 1631, 1759, 1881. After each conflagration the castle was carefully reconstructed, its sprawling gardens replanted. Then, unimaginably: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Okinawa. Cities that are all too real, all too living, despite their fields of wandering ghosts and the deep, thick ropes of scar tissue that twine them.

In a book from 1985 titled Tokyo: The City at the End of the World, the Irish journalist Peter Popham postured that an ‘acute awareness’ of their deadly landscape lends the lives of the Japanese ‘tone and brio’; their daily existence is spiked with an ‘almost erotic twist’ by the fact that their entire, magnificent civilisation is ‘poised over an abyss.’ The image recalls one of Italo Calvino’s città invisibili – Octavia, the spider-web city. Strung across the yawning precipice between two steep mountains, Octavia is bound together by an intricate system of ‘ropes and chains and catwalks.’ Suspended thus, hanging like a cherry in the mouth of the chasm, ‘the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities,’ for they know the net will only last so long.

Tokyo, and Japan itself, is, in Popham’s words, ‘helpless to save itself, and reconciled at some quite deep level to destruction and loss of life beyond all but the nuclear nightmares of other cities.’ Even this nuclear nightmare is realer, there, than anywhere else. It follows, then, that the Japanese must be spiritually prepared for death at any moment. In any Japanese city you will find wooden temple gates nestled among the urban undergrowth like so many benevolent mushrooms. Rituals, ancestors; invisible threads that stitch the meaningless everyday to some meaningful beyond.

But here’s the thing: we are all Octavians, in the end. Each one of us faces a mysterious personal apocalypse that could call us into its dark gut at any moment. How to live with this fact? Can it be learned, or is it the kind of thing that grows into us as our bones do, imperceptibly?

Long before I visited Japan, I was versed in its morbid imagery: the hungry ghosts, the shinigami, the fierce samurai and their four-tatami-matted hara-kiri chambers. I admired what seemed, from a distance, to be a distinctly Japanese way of living side-by-side with death, almost a fetishisation of it. There was no shying away. This forthrightness: this was what I was seeking in Japan, if travellers can rightly be called ‘seekers’ (perhaps, after all, I was just looking).

Lately, I have a problem with death. I am not afraid of it. I think about it all the time. I have an opened box of escitalopram – a commonly prescribed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor – hiding like a curse in my dresser drawer. I took it for a week, but stopped because the drug made my brain run blue with nervous energy. The instruction leaflet warns: ‘People taking escitalopram may be more likely to think about killing themselves or actually trying to do so, especially when escitalopram is first started or the dose is changed.’ Please speak to your doctor, the piece of paper beseeches me, ‘if you have thoughts about killing yourself or if you are close to or care for someone using escitalopram who talks about or shows signs of killing him or herself. All mentions of suicide or violence must be taken seriously.’

I know many death-related facts about Japan. For example: Japan is one of only two developed countries – the other is the United States of America – that maintain the death penalty (the method of execution is hanging). Conversely: Okinawa, in Japan’s subtropical south, has the longest life expectancy and the highest concentration of centenarians in the world (Confucianism and a sensible diet are to blame).

Japan has also been known for its suicide problem.

Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that Japan’s suicide rate is slowly improving, though it remains among the highest in the industrialised world. In 2016, the national rate of suicide stood at 20.5 deaths per 100,000 people (to compare, Australia’s rate was 17.4 deaths per 100,000 people). By Japanese standards, though, the 2016 rate was cause for celebration. The total number of suicides in Japan has been falling gradually since 2009, though not across all demographics. Suicide rates among middle-aged men and the elderly, in particular, are in decline, but among young people the figures are still disturbingly high, and edging higher.

The National Police Agency states that a quarter of all Japanese suicides are financially motivated, with a large number of deaths every year described as inseki-jisatsu, or ‘responsibility-driven’ suicides. This is not a trend exclusive to Japan. Everywhere, debt, foreclosure and unemployment are implicated in suicide; in November 2018, The Economist reported that unemployed people kill themselves at a rate 2.5 times higher than those in work. Too little work (or too little money) is deadly, but so is too much work. Though it may sound cartoonishly macabre, the Japanese phenomenon of karoshi – ‘death by overwork’ – is a real symptom of the late capitalist nightmare. Since the middle of the last century, when, in the aftermath of the Second World War, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida introduced the ‘jobs-for-life’ pact that would see to the reconstruction of his devastated nation’s economy, Japanese workers have been ending their own lives (or else suffering strokes and heart failure, working and starving themselves sick) in response to intolerable burdens of stress and sleep deprivation.

When I read about suicide, I always baulk at the depression statistics. Two thirds of suicides suffer from depression. The terminology is vague and repetitive: Clinical Depression; Undiagnosed Depression; Major Depressive Disorders. Actually, I’m still not sure what depression is. I hear it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. But our poor brains are so sensitive, aren’t they? So thoroughly formed and influenced by the data fed to them from the ‘outside world’ as to be inextricable from it. Brains are plastic. To what extent is blaming depression for our suicide problem just another way of shifting the focus away from the actual circumstances people live in – whether those be crushing poverty (79 percent of suicides take place in poor and developing countries) or medicated, middle-class dystopia – and onto the chemical processes taking place inside the brains of suicidal people?

Our suicide problem; yes, because Australia, too, has a suicide problem. Globally, suicide has declined by almost 30 percent since the turn of the twenty-first century, but data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that, in 2017, our national suicide rate was the highest it had been in ten years. In 2018, 3,046 Australians took their own life. These deaths included 169 suicides of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, up from 165 the year before.

If suicide is a global problem, suicide among First Nations people is a national emergency. Though precise figures are difficult to come by, it is estimated that rates of suicide in First Nations communities are twice the national average. As Colin Tatz put it: ‘Suicide is suicide, but Aboriginal suicide is different.’ The violent and methodical destruction of Aboriginal ways of life, and the loss of structure, cohesion and meaning that has been felt in First Nations communities since colonisation, is incomparable. The deep-set disadvantages installed by White Australia have not been remedied: First Nations people are by far the worst-off in terms of health, incarceration, unemployment and household income. In the First Nations case, it seems obvious that suicide rates should be wedded to social context: both are deplorable, both require immediate redress. A strange rift, though, begins to appear in the discourse around suicide when the social context can no longer be unanimously and unequivocally denounced. This is the point at which mental illness often enters the conversation.

Tatz writes: ‘I believe that much of Aboriginal suicide is, broadly speaking, a Camus-type ending of the meaninglessness, or a Frankl-type lack of purposefulness, which has nothing to do with mental illness.’ Victor Frankl survived a holocaust; so did First Nations people everywhere. Albert Camus was a white man who grew up in colonised Algeria. He inhabited a different kind of hell: a ‘middle-class hell’, as the narrator of The Fall terms it, ‘peopled with bad dreams’ – a place built on the burial grounds of the dispossessed and the persecuted, on the sites of some of ‘the greatest crimes in history’.

Viktor Frankl wrote better than nearly anyone on the theme of misery. In Man’s Search for Meaning he describes the condition of ‘existential frustration’ as, in itself, ‘neither pathological nor pathogenic’; in other words, distress or despair over the questions and trials of our existence does not necessarily signal ‘a mental disease’. (I would add that, on the contrary, it signals a painful kind of awareness, the acceptance of a large and permanent burden.) Frankl continues: ‘It may well be that interpreting the first [existential malaise] in terms of the latter [mental disease] motivates a doctor to bury his patient’s existential despair under a heap of tranquillising drugs. It is his task, rather, to pilot the patient through his existential crisis of growth and development.’

We live in a world that has consumed and excreted Foucault’s archaeology of psychiatric nosology and (mis)treatment a million times over; yet the medicalisation of sadness has never been more widespread. At last, 400 years after Descartes, it seems we have cleanly separated the head from the body.

The Austrian-British neurologist and psychoanalyst Erwin Stengel wrote that suicide prevention begins ‘at birth, and even earlier’ – that is, through the construction of whole, healthy and well-serviced communities. I’m not sure if such communities exist anywhere, these days. The task of constructing and maintaining them, even theoretically, is too enormous to fathom. Practically impossible. In her book Axiomatic, Maria Tumarkin notes that the problem of suicide ‘becomes almost unmanageable’ when it is stretched to encompass ‘culture, chemistry, disease, meaning, soul’. Mental health, she adds, ‘is people’s way of holding the conversation down like an animal’.
‘I don’t feel mentally ill,’ I recall telling my psychologist. ‘I feel tired. I’ll keep playing along if I have to – apparently it’s unacceptable to do otherwise. But I’d just as soon forfeit the game, and rest forever.’

Could it be that suicide isn’t always a kind of madness, or the logical result of objectively desperate circumstances, but an act akin to over-sleeping; an eventual giving-in to some unshakeable tiredness?(What’s that Bukowski poem? The one about ‘the tired sunsets and the tired / people’?)

Ah, but we must learn to carry that burden! Don’t think about the burden. Don’t let it wear you down. You are right to see it. You do well to carry it. But it will kill you, if you let it.

When I arrive at the temple in the west of Japan, my room is furnished with a small Buddhist altar, an unmade futon, and two books. One is Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar; the other is a weighty blue tome entitled Zen Sand, a compendium of verses used for kōan meditation.
In the silence between dinner and bedtime – which, like the darkness, come early here – I devour Plath. The book, this strange karmic talisman of mine, is a yellowed-fringed paperback from 1999. It smells damp, ancient, though it is ten years my junior. I remember, with a mild feeling of panic, that Plath took her own life at the age of thirty. She had two children by that age, and was married to a philandering poet.

Like most melancholics, I read The Bell Jar (along with Plath’s poetry) in my early twenties. I discovered it all just a few years before the birth of Instagram, which loved and multiplied and grievously misattributed young Sylvia’s face and words, and gorged on her sadness. I remember dreaming of Sylvia one night, years ago now; a terrible and vivid dream with the quality and longevity of a memory. She and I were speaking, maybe we were friends. She was sixteen years old, and she told me (with a certain disdain) about all the universities that were wooing her. Then she told me about a carnival accident in which many children fell from a swing and died. I looked up, and saw a man hanging from the very highest branches of a tall, bare tree. He had clambered up there to die.

On my third night in the temple, I finish The Bell Jar. I copy the line about the Weeping Scholar Tree (Esther’s favourite) into the Notes app on my phone, and remind myself to google those trees in the morning (after zazen and soji and tea). There’s a chance it could be the tree from my dream.

The Weeping Scholar Tree, also known as the Japanese Pagoda tree, or Sophora japonica, is a gnarled and enchanted creature – in winter, when the dark trunk and long fingers are exposed, she looks like something from a fairy tale. Surprisingly, she is a member of the pea family. According to one horticultural website, she is ‘a medium to tall tree with a fountain-like framework of twisted and arching stems’, famous for her thick blanket of ‘large, mildly fragranced, creamy white to yellow-green inflorescences’ that are borne ‘in late summer, after most other trees have long finished flowering’. The pea pods that succeed the flowers are like strings of beads: ‘pendulous bean-like fruits (with the seeds bulging beneath the pods) hanging profusely from the tree and at times weighting down the thin stems’. The fruits ripen in the autumn, sometimes persisting into the first month of winter, ‘with the seeds being readily devoured by the birds’. Her intricate foliage comprises nine to thirteen ovate leaflets, which fade to chartreuse in the autumn. She will often drop ‘a slow but continuous stream of leaflets, rachises and leaves from mid-summer through to early autumn (before the advent of normal autumn leaf abscission)’. She casts a light, dappled shade in her youth, which thickens with age. She is susceptible to a number of diseases, ‘including trunk canker and twig blight’, and at least one potential pest: ‘the potato leaf hopper, which kills the new growth, leading to the resultant regrowth as witches’ brooms.’

In the temple we eat grated daikon (raw), pulled that morning from the soft garden. We eat tender brown slabs of squash, and supermarket tofu, and canned mackerel. One morning, I take a halved pomegranate into the courtyard and pop the gemstones from the cartilage, one by one, with a teaspoon. Each seed is a small, sour epiphany.

I take to googling Sylvia Plath’s life and death. I want to know how closely the shadows of poor Esther Greenwood align with those of her maker. All of it, all the delicate flesh and sadness of it, is there: the scholarships, the electroconvulsive therapy, the sleeping pills in the crawl space, each episode an irreversible movement towards that final, awful legacy.

I learn that Plath’s eventual method of suicide (head in oven) was more or less replicated six years later by Assia Wevill, the woman Plath’s husband abandoned her for. Wevill, who reluctantly raised Plath’s two children after the death of their mother, killed herself and her own four-year-old daughter by administering a nice big dose of sleeping pills and laying both bodies down to rest on a mattress in the kitchen, gas oven gaping and turned up high.

I try to identify with Sylvia, but we are not the same: her world is more overtly sexist than mine, her mind infinitely more brilliant. Still, there are similarities. One line in particular, from The Bell Jar, feels like a flower from my own garden: ‘Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.’

It’s unfortunate that suicide is so often a violent, gruesome affair. The vast majority of suicidal people want nothing more than to dissipate gently, like the seed head of a dandelion, with a minimum of fuss. Pain or discomfort of any kind, for themselves or others, is a regrettable side effect. And yet, cruelly, suicide (when it works – the vast majority of suicide attempts are unsuccessful) is the most painful, the most unbearable thing of all. Both for the body, which, against all odds, and to the very last, cleaves desperately to life, and for our communities, our families, our societies. Suicide is the saddest hypocrisy imaginable.

In a poem called ‘The Offers’, Ted Hughes writes of a series of dream-meetings with his dead wife (Plath), in which she appears like a ‘hallucination’, or a ‘migraine image’. In the first dream he sees Sylvia on a train. She is still, impassive. ‘You only shuddered slightly,’ he writes, ‘as the carriage / Bored through the earth Northward.’

In a story called ‘The Departure of the Train’ (A Partida do Trem), by Clarice Lispector, a woman named Angela sits on a train and thinks about the lover she has just abandoned. The lover (Eduardo) ‘had transformed her; he’d made her have eyes on the inside. But now she was looking outward. Through the window she saw the breasts of the land, in mountains. Little birds exist, Eduardo! clouds exist, Eduardo! a whole world of stallions and mares and cows exists, Eduardo, and when I was a little girl I would gallop on a bare horse, without a saddle! I’m fleeing my suicide, Eduardo. I’m sorry, Eduardo, but I don’t want to die. I want to be fresh and rare like a pomegranate.’
               (não quero morrer. Quero ser fresca e rara como uma romã.)

In Japan I feel like a transgression, and a trespasser. I keep stumbling upon cemeteries. They are the only place where I come close to being alone – there are no living people around, but plenty of placid ghosts. The accidental cemeteries soon become my favourite spots; I feel less lonely among the dead than among the living. I think about Japan’s reverence for its dead. I wonder if one day the entire Japanese archipelago will be covered in gravesites, one immense granite tombstone edging into the mountainsides and the foaming hem of the sea, waiting to be swallowed up by the next superwave.

On my fourth day in the temple I take a long walk in the rain, to the coast. At some point in my journey the sun sets – in secret, without colours. The beach is a gloomy strip of grey, pebbly sandy flanked by two cement piers like the arms of some hostile, ersatz mother. I return to the temple in the dark, guided by the light of my phone.

‘The question,’ I text later into my Notes app, ‘is how to be with the pain, but not in the pain? How to live beside death, but not linger in it?’

My mother told me that, during her pregnancy with me, she was often overcome with an intolerable sadness. She described it to me as the feeling of trying to hold an enormous, heavy thing with no corners and no edges, which might have been all the misery and all the injustices of the world. When I was born – in March 1989 – I was silent and blue, adorned with the too-tight necklace of my mother’s umbilical cord. Dr Smith revived me. My mother tells me she held her breath the entire time, waiting to hear me scream.

In March 2009 Nicholas Hughes, the son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes – the child whose eyes his mother once described as ‘wet jewels / The hardest substance of the purest pain’ – hanged himself in his Alaska home. He was remembered as a quiet man, and a nature lover. In a memorial published by his place of work, one acquaintance recalled how he would often ‘seek out a larch tree in a forest of spruce’.

‘Sons of suicides,’ Kurt Vonnegut wrote (he, too, had personal experience in the matter), ‘seldom do well. Characteristically, they find life lacking a certain zing. They tend to feel more rootless than most, even in a notoriously rootless nation. They are squeamishly incurious about the past and numbly certain about the future to this grisly extent: they suspect that they, too, will kill themselves.’
Already, after five days in the temple, the changes in diet and routine begin to affect me physically. A layer of soft fat, the texture of mochi, forms at my abdomen. I can find no love for it, no compassion.

It’s a bad time to read David Foster Wallace, but I feel a morbid itch coming over me; I feel like feasting on melancholia. I want to know more about the dark metamorphosis, the one that goes from sadness to death.

Foster Wallace called depression ‘the Bad Thing’. It is you, he wrote; ‘you are the sickness yourself.’ When the surface of the water seals above you like a window; when your nose hits the glass of the bell jar and you realise there’s no escaping it; ‘that’s when the Bad Thing just absolutely eats you up, or rather when you just eat yourself up.’ Suicide as autosarcophagy.

Paging through Zen Sand after dinner, I come across a kōan about a nun named Chiyono, who studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku. Chiyono (the translation tells me) was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time, until ‘at last, one moonlit night, she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free.’ To mark the moment of her enlightenment, Chiyono wrote a poem: ‘In this way and that I tried to save the old pail / Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about / to break / Until at last the bottom fell out. / No more water in the pail! / No more moon in the water!’

Suddenly, the winter solstice is upon us. As usual, we are up long before dawn, sitting zazen in the freezing meditation hall. The day feels gentle, subdued. It passes quickly, and without incident. I can almost hear the darkness closing in: at four thirty, it arrives. For the first time in many nights, the sky is clear. The moon is shockingly full. The moon is enormous. The moon could hold a foetus inside it, or a sarcoma.

I wonder, ignorantly, if every solstice falls on a full moon. I google it and learn that, in the northern hemisphere, the full moon of December is called the ‘cold moon’ or the ‘long nights moon’, and no, it doesn’t always occur on the night of the winter solstice. Google tells me that, on the contrary, this is something of a special night, astronomically speaking; the December solstice last coincided with a full moon in 2010, and it won’t happen again until 2029.

It feels somehow auspicious that I should be here, in this cold place, enveloped in winter darkness, with this moon. Back home, in the southern hemisphere, we are excluded from the awestruck moon-naming ceremonies, just as we are excluded from Christmas snow and Easter blossom. Is the full moon also rising over Australia’s fattest, longest day? (The answer is yes). I know so little about the moons and their waxings and wanings. With the thought my throat locks up like a bad knee, watery and painful. But still, there is the moon, a great Buddha pushing the clouds aside with her light. Is she blessing me? A line from a Rilke poem keeps playing in my mind: How we squander our hours of pain. How we squander our hours. How we squander.

I might also have thought of Tanizaki: ‘If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.’

The next day, December 23, is my last in the temple. I will fly home to Melbourne on Christmas Day. At eight in the morning, when my flight lands, the city will already be bathed in hot light, baking in it, everything from the skyline to the waterline one great, dry oven.
I board several fast trains. One stops in Hiroshima. I take half a day to visit the memorial park and museum. The city feels thick, tumescent with grief. Or is it just me?

I look on the white bones of the a-bomb dome, helmeted with pink iron, the metal crown somehow ghoulish, like Pinhead’s skull. Dozens of small birds alight on it. (When the bomb went off, birds burst into flames in mid-air.) The bare trees hand out their final winter bouquets of brown leaves, dark metatarsals supplicating the low-hanging clouds, but their trunks are already alive with green springtime moss.

I leave the memorial park and cross the Aioi bridge, whose unmistakable crucifix was the official target for the pilot who dropped Little Boy. After all that shattered concrete, it is a relief to see the green skin of the water, the fat thighs of the river.

The bomb over Hiroshima melted metal and glass. People died from their burns, losing consciousness overnight, or days later. Others died trapped under blasted debris – ‘the place where mother and younger brother were pinned under alive / also was engulfed in flames’ (Tōge Sankichi) – or pierced by shards of bullet-like glass. Many more died years later, from the poisoned cells inside them, from leukaemia and tumours.

In the late afternoon I board another train, this one bound for Tokyo. I watch on my phone as the blue dot of my location moves across the beige-and-green map and out of the city. Viewed from above, Hiroshima is shaped like the palm of a hand, surrounded by mountains to the north, with delicate fingers formed by the Tenma, Moto, Motoyasu and Enko rivers dipping into Hiroshima bay. Next to the dribbling, overdrawn waterways of Kyoto and Kanazawa, the rivers of Hiroshima seem engorged, succulent, terrifying.
Soon the train is going so fast that, even when I concentrate, I catch only brief smudges of the world as we hurtle through it. A small, flooded plot of vegetables. A wild kitten. A grove of persimmon trees, stark branches bearing handfuls of bright orange orbs, Prometheus-like. Each image lasts a fraction of a second. The carriage lists to the right as we round a curve. From any window, I watch the landscape until darkness dislimns it.

 

 

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Alice Whitmore is a Melbourne-based writer and academic. She is the translator of Guillermo Fadanelli and Mariana Dimópulos, and an editor at Cordite Poetry Review.

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