Monthly Archives: September 2010

Mount Sinai

Do you remember when we walked up Mount Sinai? X asks me. In the middle of the desert? How long ago it seems now. Woken up in the middle of the night by our Bedouin guide who’d forgotten his torch because they can see in the dark? Trudging over desert rubble in the deep black except for the lights dotting the surrounding mountains, which our guide told us were the hermits’ lights? You almost shed a tear, didn’t you? You told me you could have been one of those, and I told you you were an idiot. And then you were bitten by that camel you got too close to in that pitch dark, weren’t you? And I laughed. That was the best part of the whole thing. We stumbled into a group of Bedouins we couldn’t see until we’d bumped into them. Calm people, the Bedouins. Maybe just bored of taking people up and down a big rock day in day out. But they must make many times their average wage, you said. We trudged uphill for hours to get to the top by dawn. No way old Moses could have done this without these paths and steps, you said, this is hard enough, and I laughed at you and told you you were a fool. How old was Moses anyway? you asked, and I said what does it matter, he obviously he never did it. So the whole tribe is waiting for him down there, you said, that must’ve been a bit stressful. You haven’t even read the book, I said, what do you know where they were?  The bald German woman who’d brought her poor uncomplaining little girl and who blanked you when you smiled at her. What kind of help was she expecting at the top? What were you expecting? Some great revelation? No, even you were beyond that by then. What were we then, tourists? I felt ridiculous. I hated you for getting me out of bed, for dragging me into the desert in the first place. I half expected you to start mumbling the Jesus prayer. Christ, I would’ve pushed you down the mountain. People wound their way up the mountain from different directions like streams of ants. Are we all going the same place? you asked. Where did they come from? and I laughed at you. The sky getting lighter as the climb got harder. Strong tea brewed by the Muslim Bedouins at outrageous prices, about the same as Caffe Nero. You started whingeing about vertigo. And when we got up there, do you remember? It was cold and overcast, not much of a sunset. I was bored and cold and tired and hungry. Well just think how those poor people felt walking through the desert, you said. They didn’t, I said, they wouldn’t have survived. Where did all these people come from? you said, and I sniffed. What the fuck am I doing up here with this asshole? I thought. Grey-faced Europeans singing their dreary Protestant hymns, drowned out by a group of exhausted old South American Catholics chanting their erotic prayers and waving their arms about: Abra tu boca, Seňor, dame tu lingua… They’ve probably saved up for this trip for years, you said. A few pale Eastern Europeans leaning on rocks. And the bald grumpy German woman with her child, giving you the evil eye. How you worried about that! And then, in the morning, knackered and dusty, after we’d generously tipped our Bedouin, eating breakfast in the monastery and taking a photo of the burning bush which the Orthodox monks still lovingly tend. Remember? The photo that came out bleached by the scorching sun, which you take everywhere we go? Ah, that was actually moving, wasn’t it, it moved both of us, didn’t it? It moves us both each time we look at it, doesn’t it? he says.


We sit and sip. The moments slip into one another without merging. Can sitting in a room be an ordeal? Answer: if you can’t sit still and stay in the missing moment. And if you can? Then the real ordeal begins.


Mirrors: no one has ever known how
to describe what you are in your inmost realm.
as if filled with nothing but sieve-holes, you
fathomless in-between spaces of time.

– Rilke, from Sonnets to Orpheus, II, 3 (tr. S. Mitchell)

A gust of nothing

I scribble to confirm I have nothing to say. My need for you exceeds itself, and I retreat defeated, scribbling for no one, for nothing, yet still for you. I want to speak to you as though I never had the power to speak for myself. I rush ahead in the only mortal sin: impatience. Yet I’m not afraid to name you, to address you, even I, who barely exists, a dust mote in a shaft of light. Shameless. I silence you by naming you, lose you by addressing you. But not to name and address you would be no less untrue. And still I remain to be seen, to speak and to be heard. Do I know more or less about myself than X does, more or less about you? I don’t know, that too remains to be seen… A gust of nothing, my God.

The sleep of the good

To sleep the sleep of the good… to fall asleep in accord with the sleeping night, to wake in accord with the awakening day. But accord is out of reach, and thus the world corrects itself through the likes of us. We’re a hiccup in your sleep, your yawn as you wake.

A kind of sin

The new leaves still rustle outside: this is both a comfort and an annoyance. I think of the sea, of the incessant waves: this comforts and unnerves me. I delight in falling asleep and slowly waking up, and my delight is a kind of sin, which may be why I deny it to myself. But this denial is itself a sin. Sleep itself, the unknown, is what I long for. Sleepers collaborate with you, just as the dead do. As much as the living? You pull me in and out of sleep at your will, just as you pull me in and out of illness. This night seems endless. I listen to my heart. Is it mine? I stand guard over my heart, I lie awake beside myself. Am I dead or alive? I’m half asleep, I enter and exit sleep, or it enters and exits me. My eyelids drop, we begin to cross into one another. Dawn and birdsong come, bringing sleep, and sin becomes grace. Let morning come to itself as I tumble into sleep. But X rolls over and snorts, and I wake myself up.

Some nights

Some nights I see as clearly as a child being taught a lesson that something’s gone wrong. Or rather, I see something’s gone wrong but I fail to see why. Then I fall asleep, or half asleep, and my dreams come between me and my lesson, or my dreams turn into the lesson that I fail to understand. I sleep and wake up in another sleep. There’s a landscape of sleep through which I roam, with X tugging at my elbow. There are voices, and when the voices cease – they never cease – when the wind carries the voices away they are replaced by a low static, the white noise of the universe. Everything shudders, as when a truck rolls by. My nerves shudder, I shake myself to stop them. They shudder. I don’t sleep, yet I’m sleeping. If I listen closely, the sound of a heartbeat and a strange interior landscape, bubbling and gurgling. I don’t sleep, I slumber in the hollow of the night, trying not to listen to his snores, trying not to smell his bad breath, trying not to think. The insomniac tries to draw everything into himself while everything pushes him away. Even his own weariness disregards him.

Night time

At night I lie awake for a long time. There’s a moment in half-sleep when a voice tells me, You’re insane to live like this! The voice wakes me and brings me back into wakefulness, out of the sleep I love. I hear the shrieks of the young seagulls learning their calls. X snores lightly on the floor. All is still, yet nothing’s ever still: a mystery. All is silent, yet nothing’s ever silent. I hear the tree’s new leaves and branches rustle outside the window. In a strange room, my own, but with him in it. I try to empty myself for sleep. Think of nothing and sleep. What am I then, when I try to think of nothing? And when I do sleep, what am I? When I sleep I’m closest to you. I tried to sleep and when I couldn’t I learned to scribble like this, I learned to address you without expecting an answer. I tell a lie. You taught me to wait, but I’m a poor student. In a strange room, mine, which isn’t even mine. Sleep is where I never was, which is why I fear it. Sleep: the preliminary death I’m afraid to give myself over to, just as I’m afraid to give myself over to you. The fear that I’ll have to pay for the day’s crimes in sleep, not only mine but X’s, on the other side of time, in night time, dream time, planetary time.

The demand

I want to say something, there’s something important I haven’t said and perhaps can never say. Yet the demand to say it grows stronger.

A crime

It’s a crime, I tell X. What we’re doing is a crime. We’re not doing anything, he mumbles, half asleep. Exactly, I say. We need to do something, get a project, do some good in the world, make some money. Do you have a suit? Let me sleep, he says and turns over.