(whelm)

 

 

Falling from the sky the whiteness claims its kingdom

The colour of death bites

And from it emerge the biting spirits: bears and wolves.

 

Orange is the colour of the earth

The fire that keeps us warm

It is the colour of the berries and pumpkins we eat.

 

(Place whiteness over a fire and it runs away, colourless.)

 

Green is the colour of the buds that break the frozen skin

The sign of the deep living force they trigger a partial retreat of the whiteness

And for a while the whiteness only eats our ankles.

 

Green is too divine for our earth body

Eat berries that are still green and you become sick

Burn the tree feathers when they are still green and they spit and smoke you out of your home, into the whiteness.

 

***

 

Pleione looked at this verse with pride and said that in few words and in a new language I had expressed much about our world (I was still favoured back then). An outsider, she felt, would learn something of our tripartite system of values. They would deduce (by means that still seem mystical to me) that instead of oppositions like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ our culture has a different kind of balance.

 

If a child errs (how Pleione liked this analogy) we do not consider them bad. We say that their behaviour reflects a hardship that existed before them and will exist long after them: the eternal “whiteness”. This child should be sheltered (and Pleione still says that in our society there is no reproof, save comfort), nursed by the same feelings one gets from seeing a full larder or a strong glow in the hearth. Those “orange” feelings.

 

And the third “green” element of our worldview?  Pleione thought the closest terms were

“transcendent” and – though distinct in your language – “inspired”. (To take Pleione’s allegorical child once more) we recognise that there is no way of instructing a child how to be inspired. Only through a sense of safety, nurture and play might they come to be inspired by their own sensations. Pleione would say that the “green” people (and writing that as a phrase shows the childishness of my little verse) are blessed. She would argue with me that it is a democratic quality, passed from person to person depending upon the occasion and the particular skills they might bring to it. But for me, for a time (when it seemed I could capture, in words, something of our spirit) I felt that I, perhaps alone, could hold it.

 

When I look back now I wonder at Pleione’s arrogance. How presumptuous she was to think that outsiders would care for our poultry little clan. Outsiders! She may as well have called them goblins or ghosts. Just because she discovered some books frozen in the ice and – in her “green” time – learnt how to read them. But the truth is that we do not know that there is anyone out beyond the white void. In the little we explore there has never been any evidence of other people (Apparently, the only outsider brought into our midst was a dead bear found by the elders. Interestingly the story says that on investigation they found the bear’s fur not to be white, but to be colourless like the liquid that forms near the fire, which you simply call water. They thought it a sign that the bear’s inner fire was strong. But I wonder if there isn’t some other property of colourless things that we have yet to understand.).

 

Still Pleione insists that we should write for outsiders, that we should document ourselves through the eyes of others so that we might see ourselves better. What nonsense! I can feel my teeth clenching. It reminds me of the stirrings of a change in me, those fearful early moments of suspecting everything of being nonsense. I must have suspected then as I suspect now (watching the snow fall so thick that there is scarcely room for air at all) that all we write for is the white void, or what I call, “(whelm)”.

 

Before I lost favour (before the things I wrote were returned with little more than a nod) Pleione had me try my hand as a historian, a common trade in your world. As we have little culture to speak of (and even less to read from) this was not an easy undertaking. Our only inscribed history is (and I suspect you might find this strange) written on our tables. You see, our lives take place within our huts and central to every hut is a table. The table is the largest object each family owns and becomes the heart of our daily routine. So each generation naturally marks or paints on a table so as to accrue a family story. I was fortunate (in my role as historian) that our table is one of the oldest. In fact, Aconite marked it.

 

Aconite (who could be male or female because traditionally we never record gender) was one of the founders of the village and our table was made at the same time as many of the huts. For this reason, each of its corners (it has five) reflects the trial of a different technique for binding wood (one sees the two beams cut to form fingers that embrace one another, with a stake connecting the two hands; another one, one that has to be reset every now and then, is bound by fibres.). Scratched drawings show different ideas for our huts, the successful one being the spire shape that seems so natural to us now. Angled enough so that the snow does not gather upon it and crush it, the shape looks like a steep triangle from the side, which has come to symbolise our tripartite system (Our clothes, fashioned from woven plant sinews are adorned with triangle patterns.).

 

Later, looking more extensively than I ever had at other family tables (we tend to socialise with limited numbers in our small huts) I realised that with the exception of one or two other families our table was the only table that was not triangular. I thought that my great achievement was asking if Aconite’s generation had held different values; could it be that our five-sided table demonstrated that we had lost two crucial thoughts? But, Pleione was no longer listening to me. She said she sensed a bitterness in my soul and (angering me by raising that childish verse again) that I had let “whiteness” into my heart.

 

I was done with Pleione and her ideas, but was still too obedient not to finish my assignment first. So, I climbed right up onto our table to see the paintings near its centre (how clumsy I felt, like an overgrown child) and there discovered something that changed me. A series of beautiful (arguably profound) patterns running around in a semi-circle. And facing this semi-circle, another, like a reflection in water. Whilst the first demonstrated a steady hand and a clear vision, the second was an unsteady replica lacking any formal grace. Fritillaria (there, I’ve finally said her name) painted the first. Then I (as I remembered whist sprawled like giant on the huge table top), some five years older, had attempted to copy it. I realised at that moment (rolling onto my back and laying prone and panting a little) that even then I must have recognised that Fritillaria would easily surpass me. No wonder Pleione spent all her time with my sister given the promise she showed so young. No wonder I was assigned to poultry tasks whilst Fritillaria became something of a figure around the village, taken by Pleione from table to table to speak of her new discoveries within the books.

 

This is why (oh fabled outsider) I had to do something. I had to exact my revenge on Pleione and her teachings because they so deluded everyone and so damaged me. So, I sent the brave and ever trusting Fritillaria out into the “whiteness” to deliver my work to the outsiders. My beautiful, loving sister, sensing my alienation and wanting to show how much value she placed in my work agreed to it readily. And Pleione – well what else could matter but reaching the outsiders? What a display I made of saying, “wouldn’t it be like mercury reaching the gods?” I announced in front of everyone. And Pleione, the one who re-imagined our world by the outsider’s light was silenced at last. I had won because I believed the simple truth that our culture is destined to be submerged, like the culture before us.

 

I feel nothing writing this document, which must (I imagine) reside in a frozen pocket,

nestled into a stiff body that is no longer Fritillaria’s own. She did not go before me in life or in death, because time means nothing in the face of the hermetic I call, “(whelm)”.

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