Fragments, Part 2 — 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


“…the stripping away of worldly trappings in the nakedness of the desert.”
— Mathias Énard, Compass, trans. Charlotte Mandell

These words are corpses, as soon as I’ve committed these thoughts to paper, they die.

They are meticulously prepared, washed, and tidied. You cannot have unpresentable corpses, even if they are sealed away from inquisitive eyes.

“…silence will say nothing, because that is its proper occupation: saying nothing.”* Why have quotes from a nun who died in the late 1600’s sprung into my mind? Is there an association with Mexico and deserts? Or is it the banishment to a convent, like your banishment here? This is all conjecture, of course, you don’t like talking about yourself, so how do I know you’ve been banished here, maybe it is a journey of choice.

I’d like the kind of relationship with you that I have with nature. 

I’d like the kind of relationship with nature that you have.

I’m silencing you, an oppressor, my loneliness, at the top of this peak, a withdrawal, a contemplation of my actions.

* Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, “Response of the poet to the Very Eminent Sor Filotea de la Cruz,” trans. Edith Grossman


“The desert is beleaguered.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

Thin husks, a dryness calling for death.

The minute inner shell containing an embryo and cotyledons. A hint of moisture, the root emerges, an anchor to the soil, burrowing, searching for succulence. The call for death is deferred.

“There is nothing in the world but desert, stark, infertile desert, what I perceive as pain is nothing more than the bristling of a dust storm, joy, nothing more than finding shade, …… everything is desolate desert.”


“Impulse and counter impulse ooze away as in a desert.”
— Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, trans. Carol Stewart


Terms of endearment are inconsequential, in fact upon your arrival you inquired about a “Welcome to Country,” which was denied, you are not welcome here. Your name is of no account to me. I will refer to you as “poet,” a noun stripped of all connotations and associations. Be grateful I haven’t called you “writer.”

Poet, you arrived here wanting to understand, such arrogance and self-assuredness, you haven’t even touched the surface of knowing about me, and without knowing there can be no understanding.

Poet, can you not hear my breathing? The drawing in of great winds, the retention of moisture, the expelling of heat. Listen…. There is music, my exhalation rubbing leaves together, branches straining their sinews to call out to a neighbour. These symphonic trees, roots drilling deeper and deeper in search of the water table, can you not hear their burrowing? They are not playing a Felix Mendelssohn overture as those Lutheran imposters would make you believe. Listen to the aching of the rocks, their arthritic compounds pulling inwards, resisting the erosion. They’ve called in this manner for millions of years, you smug spec of neutrons.

Poet, feel the sponge underfoot, as the quartzite, granite, limestone, sandstone and siltstone forgive your intrusion and dissolve underfoot, they are merely accepting you, then you become compliant and don’t enquire too much. Poet, taste the river sands, that soft white powder that forms part of the planet’s oldest river system, does it not melt like a méringue? Or the odour of the waterholes, fresh springs dispensing lifeblood, seeping nutrients up to the surface for ancient lifeforms to devour and thrive, does it not smell like a rotting human carcass? Take in the essence of the desert, its pungence, its redolence … oh you vain, imperious humans, such insignificance and such braggadocio.

The call for death is deferred.

Poet, you use translated words from Borges, Énard, Krasznahorkai, Canetti, Vallejo, Hedayat, Proust and Bolaño to describe the desert, such ignorance plagiarizing others who have not felt the stifling heat, the intimidating size, nor viewed these horizons, they come from far off lands and do not know my enigmas.

Poet, you struggle for words because you are blind, your speech is impaired because you are deaf, you use an untrained European colonial eye, you frame everything on your terms, you cannot distort your lens, you cannot release your shackles.

Poet, take your domesticated views and leave, there is nothing for you to learn here, you cannot begin to know the secrets, let alone understand them.

In haste,


“He was empty now, his soul a desert swept by parching winds.”
— Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow, trans. Michael Gallagher

An eagle alights on my tent, it is considered good luck…

This is a trope.

Be wary of tropes….

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.