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Bend

You are on a train. The train is slow, it is not the sort that makes the exterior blur and the interior strangely still.

The train is old enough that one is able to open the windows,  to breathe in the salted air, to smell the tall cypress, and to hear wheels lulling the senses to the necessary and the immediate. Some people describe this experience as hypnotic; I think of it more as release. Perhaps the two words point to the same message.

The ground is steady, but the tracks have been dug by miraculous engineering into the side of a cliff. It is interesting to pause your journey here, and to think of those curled muscular hands, burnt-brown forearms, and exhausted shoulders that built the track, two pieces of iron stitched to the earth, crosshatch of wood laid over them in a pattern without end. Do you wonder what time felt like, as the impenetrable cliff gave way, inch by inch, to strength and will?

The train curls tight round this hill that seems at moments to lean into empty space. To your right are the blinding bright crests of the restive tide, on your left the long thin cypress shaded by a late afternoon sun. Suddenly an awareness, like an arrow, makes you shift and grow taller in the cabin’s well worn seat. Across the aisle, your attention is caught by an old woman fast asleep, ill and tiny as a child. She wheezes in her slumber, her clothes are the worn black of a widow, and yet there lies around her an unsettled beauty, one you are sure has not been recognized for years, for decades. From seat to seat, you look: the child whose miniature feet do not yet reach the floor, his young mother dozing with a book. A middle-aged man, brows furrowed, leans over a glowing phone in secret dialogue. Next to him slouches a large woman with an old purse, continuously sighing some secret and ancient complaint.

Walk to the back of the car. Out of the window, what do you see? The sea, again, the cypress once more, darker this time, like the moody mud greens of Cezanne. The tracks create an inverted frame. The momentum of the train pierces what is ahead, but distance quickly swallows what is passed through and left behind. There is in you a mild but rising panic, a displacement that leads first to loneliness and then to a passing despair: what did you see, how did you see it, the landscape that was just a moment ago beside you, now gone?

Can you remember? If you remember, is the memory more of a wish, a picture, or a solid form that now sits, rather like a monument, to the experience of this day, now rapidly receding from view?