A twentieth century dream

Sixth statement of a survivor

On street corners dried bones of animals
and humans lay in heaps, disintegrating
without a shred of flesh to cover them.
Around the city vacant fields lay charred
and smothered in a wispy veil of ash
that breezes would not sweep, but rilled in waves,
as if a shroud around a shrivelled mummy
had shifted just a little, though no rent
showed through the frizzled but still seamless fabric.

It seemed I held a camera in my hands
and moved behind it, handling its controls
with the easy skill of an experienced driver
guiding a fast car on a motorway,
and yet we drove without a trace of friction
as though we flew or floated, weightlessly –
we being just myself and the machine
pulling me onwards of its own accord
across the panorama that unfolded
soundlessly, like a movie from an archive,
scratched and staccato, often out of focus
yet in elaborate, precise, slow motion.
And so I moved, at once screened off, protected
from what the zoom lens and its monitor
rolled out inexorably before me,
but at the same time subtly glued to it
and dwelling in clinical, cold, clear detail
on every object seen through its viewfinder.

Across this deathscape lurched a single creature
a screeching half-crazed bird, its wings torn out,
long-leggèd, following behind my vehicle,
zigzagging and careering with zany energy,
at times catching up and running parallel.

Whatever had happened here had happened quickly.
Here and there, a twisted pole or pylon,
tangled in aimless wires, perched at an angle
low in the margin of the unscrolled sky,
marring its haze with indecipherable signs
Structures of brick and stone remained intact,
casting long, linear, angular shadows,
their walls and lintels scarcely scratched or pockmarked
by faded remnants of graffiti. Wide
windows emptied of glass hung inwards on
hinges of rusted iron and sallow alloys,
giving on spaces caringly composed
as elegant interiors embodying
privacies and hospitality. Now
handles of twisted brass and aluminium
stretched out at curious angles, as if bidding
a snickered welcome through their draughty sockets
to wafting dust-gauzes, like table-cloths,
elaborately laced and hemmed in ash,
that covered half-glimpsed fragments of smashed furniture,
broken picture frames, crockery, chipped ornaments,
discoloured plaster and cracked floors and ceilings.

Statues of national heroes on their pedestals
stood steadfast in the centres of their squares,
staring, with expressionless composure,
into the further distance, at contorted
skeletons of cars caught in mid-motion,
jettisoned absurdly on slick highways
and desert boulevards bathed in liquid light.
Palms, jacarandas, poplars and acacias
had lined these roadsides, rolling out flamboyant
borders for their traffic-flow, seven lanes
wide in each direction, into the hills
and to the ocean: now wizened and blackened
charcoal trunks. Some skeletal branches clung,
spiderly upwards, webbed on emptiness,
gesturing feeble sketchmarks at the immense
burning deserted ochre of the sky
as if their cross-hatched lines might net a sun.
Dried leather skins of giant cactuses
lay draped on rocks, in whorls and rivulets,
like stony robes on statues, solid puddles,
fossils of shiny lava, honey-marbled.

Scene after scene rolled out like this, unedited,
composed of zooms and panoramic vistas
over my city, emptied in its valley,
and no-one, nothing moved, except myself
and that monstrosity, that wingless bird,
and puffs and gusts of sullen breeze that stirred
ashes and sent tremors through jagged windows.

In the cute unsubtle manner of a dream
the whole city condensed into a blob,
a glue bubble, that lowered over me,
and I was nowhere, absolutely nowhere,
encapsulated in it, trapped inside,
blind, spitting, cursing, and in fury howling.
Then the bubble, as if with a weird logic
and purpose of its own, unfathomable,
hollowed itself, with me inside it, out
and, self-detaching, in a new embodiment,
turned into that same tortured wingless bird
and flew down, first to perch on my right shoulder
and then hopped, clucking, minuscule, pathetic
into my open hands, as if contented. In
the still pool of my palms I watched it shrink
and, why, I don’t know, but I blew on it.
Then, shuddering as it shrivelled, in a wisp
of wind, a pressured clasp of smoke, a fleck
of sun-specked dust, a dazzling glint of flame,
it spiralled into nothingness, was gone,
leaving me only with these puppet images
I had recorded, and now send out here
in all directions, calling Hello Hello
Come in, whoever, if you only would