Fragments, Part 1 — Tony Messenger

“Reading the book, one had the impression for a while that Morelli had hoped that the accumulation of fragments would quickly crystallize into a total reality.” — Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch, trans. Gregory Rabassa


“Fairyland to visit, but a desert to live in.” — Charles Dickens, Bleak House

The are no mirrors here, and when you do come across water holes, they may be crystal clear, but the murky bottom makes a narcissistic viewing not possible, you cannot contemplate yourself. Inside or out. 

Drop an ancient rock, or pebble into the crystalline water and observe the sinking, watch as the ochre dust on the bottom sends up a mushroom cloud, a miniature underwater atomic bomb of uranium and iron-enriched particles.

Contemplation is external, your surroundings, the images picked by your sight, the odour of dry husks, air with no moisture, burning your nostrils and heating your lungs, taste the lime-tainted water, a rust tinge that bites the tongue, hear the birds, the slow creep of padded dingo feet on the sands, the winds playing a symphony through the fibred leaves. Too much is happening around you to contemplate yourself.

Strip down, feel the burning heat on your skin, the pores containing minute specks of body salt, the sweat evaporating before it reaches the skin surface. Plunge into the icy cold waters, permanent sources that magically appear from the bedrock below. Feel the sudden tightening of your muscles as they react to the unexpected change in temperature, relax and breathe slowly and purposefully to relax that tension.

Too much is happening around you to contemplate yourself.

Stand in the water, neck deep, still yourself and wait. Observe the dingoes coming to the water’s edge to replenish their bellies, quench their desert thirsts. You are not here to keep these wild dogs at bay, you are here to observe, to learn, to understand, to know.  


“Paradise must be a desert to her.” — Honoré de Balzac, “The Exiles,” trans. James Waring

The sun hangs low in the afternoon skies, our shadows long, elongated, mingle, however we are not touching, even though our shadows would indicate otherwise. The blending of our beings being a trick of the light. Let us sit and talk. 

This is a tale of a conversation, a musing on the usual subjects:

Her: I have sat here / For forty-four thousand years

Me: I thought you do not like talking about yourself

Her: “Listening” it is a beautiful word 

Me: You prefer to listen?

Her: [Silence]

Me: So, you have listened for forty-four thousand years?

Her: Tonight, I want you to listen deeply

Me: Listen to what?

Her: Everything. Everything speaks in its own voice. Listen

Me: I would rather listen to you, tell me something…anything

Her: Some people talk, some people listen

Me:  Let us talk of ancient times, in short, the usual subjects of conversation between intelligent people

Her: No. “Talk” is such a harsh word, “listening” is a beautiful word. I demand you listen. 

Me: Listen to what?

Her: Everything, just listen

Me: But I want to understand

Her: There’s plenty of time for that, I have sat here / For forty-four thousand years 

Me: What have you witnessed?

Her: Nothing you would understand, I cannot explain


“We’ve found a question. / Can silence also be an answer? // Perhaps at certain heights / questions and answers are exactly the same.”*

Women silenced by their oppressors, as old as time itself. Here I go again, converting Western thought into a foreign world, here there is no time. Of course, it is a concept invented to regulate work. Clock time, 24 hours in a day, when in summer the days are longer, in winter they are shorter, but that’s irrelevant here, women are still silenced by their oppressors, whether the sun is at its highest point on the meridian, or anywhere in between.


* Roberto Juarroz, “Untitled” from Vertical Poetry: Last Poems, trans. Mary Crow


“Long she thus traveiled through deserts wyde,
By which she thought her wandering Knight shold pars.”
— Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene Canto III 10

Let us travel in reverse along this narrator’s path, you, the reader, joined our road almost at conclusion, convention dictates I fill you in, a backstory, something to make you feel less disoriented. 

This narrator sat on the steps, ruminating the concrete structures, the eyesores of urbanity. An introduced species, he contemplated a journey, in his mind’s eye a perfect journey, a journey into the centre. Away from this midden of concrete and stone. 

The steps chiseled from a quarry, far from here, painfully transported, aligned, levelled and left. The years have seen a slight wearing, an erosion of sorts, thousands, possibly millions, pairs of feet slowly, silently eating away at the bluestone. A volcanic basalt that formed over millions of years is gradually being turned into insignificant dust. The impermanence.

This narrator sits, contemplates the stone, the shadows cast by the concrete monoliths that house workers, students, transients. Dull greys, and browns, a replication of the earthy colours of the centre. Here impersonating nature, a hive of mindless activity. Glass, created from sands, reflecting the grey skies, high clouds obscuring the sun. Not enough to camouflage the shadows, a cold soulless heart, a space they call a “City.” The impermanence.    

This narrator must leave this place, journey into the centre, where the natural earthy ochres, red, yellow, white, dance radiantly against the light sapphire blue of the skies. Where the greens of leaves clash violently with the white of the ghost gums. This “space” has ceased to feel real. This “ordinary world” has become a theme park, insincere, cheap, disposable, forgettable.

A space populated with millions of sleeping (even when they are “awake”) souls. Dreaming of a better place.

Not a soulless man-created “centre,” a real centre, one with a soul.

Tony Messenger is an Australian writer, critic and interviewer who has had works published in many places, including Overland Literary Journal, Southerly, Mascara Literary Review, Sublunary Editions in the USA and Burning House Press in the UK. He blogs about translated fiction and interviews Australian poets at Messenger’s Booker.