You were the universe atomised;
an infinity in the palm of my hand,
broken into playthings
for the godhood of my youth,
there to be broken apart
on a whim –
your fates written in my own hand,
your selves built in the image
of whichever divine desire
took hold of my heart.
But now I am a man,
and I have put away my childish things,
for new toys to pull apart,
and new fates to rewrite
like so many Lego pieces
in my far-reaching hands.
You were the universe atomised;
The man who ran to the end of the Earth
All know of Archimedes, of course, and what he found in the bath – but Archimedes is not the only brilliant man to ever live, nor the only one to ever take a bath. This, then, is the story of another such brilliant bather.
It came to pass one day that this man, having finished his bath, noticed that a great deal of time had passed while he bathed – it was as though time had slowed for him, whilst it continued to rush by like a surging torrent in the world around him.
Many have noticed this of course, but few ever think much of it. This man, however, was an inquisitive sort, and set out to understand it better. He set up timepieces and took bath after bath, carefully testing different temperatures, and types of bath, and soaps, and bath salts, and everything he could think of.
And lo and behold, he discovered that time did indeed pass more slowly within a bath. Try though he might, he could not explain this with science or mathematics, but it was an unquestionable truth that time in his bathtub passed slower than it did in the outside world.
This startling revelation was just the first step on a journey that would take him to the end of the world.
For if time passes slower when one is in a bath, what happens when one is in a bath that is itself in a bath? Setting his inquisitive mind to the task, he discovered that this made time pass even more slowly – and so on for each successive bath-within-a-bath. But there were constraints to this; the water within each tub must be of a perfectly warm temperature, or else it would not work.
So the man built a set of dozens and dozens of baths, each just a little larger than the next, one resting inside the next, like a collection of nesting dolls. To these he connected a great and complex machine that heated the water that filled each bath, and kept it warm, and around all this he built a great iron shell that would protect the baths and the machine and himself from the ravages of time.
And in this great bath-chamber he intended to visit the future. And so he held a dinner, and bade fond farewell to all his friends and loved ones, who he would never see again, for he knew of no way to reverse the flow of time (an experiment with cold showers had proven that he could slow time significantly, but not stop it in its tracks, nor send it back from whence it came.) but he accepted this price, for he was an inquisitive soul, and was eager to see the wonders of the future.
And when he had fare-welled all whom he loved, he entered his great iron chamber, and sealed the door, and set the heating machine to work. And when all the tubs were filled with hot (but not overly so) water, he clambered in to the innermost tub, and turned over his minute-glass, and when all the grains of sand had fallen, reluctantly pulled himself from the warm water. Although only a minute had passed for him, when he opened the door to his chamber, true to his calculations, he found the world a century older than he had left it.
And there, waiting for him, were the great-great-grandchildren of his friends, for they had told their children of the man travelling in the great iron chamber, who had told their children, and so on, and so they had come to greet him on his arrival. And they showed him the world, and he saw the tombs of his long-dead friends, and was sad, and he saw all the beautiful and wondrous things that had been created in the meantime, and he was pleased, and for a time he explored this wondrous future, and delighted in it, but soon his curiosity grew once more, and he could not help but wonder what another century might bring, and so once again he bade farewell to his new friends, the great-great-grandchildren, and sealed himself within his chamber, and climbed into his tub, and a minute later once more reluctantly pulled himself from the warm embrace of the water and opened the door to a strange new world. And once again he was greeted, this time by the great-great-grandchildren of the great-great-grandchildren of his friends.
And again they showed him all that had changed, and he saw much that pleased him, for life had become easier, and many beautiful works of art and literature had been created, and the families of his friends had grown and prospered, and he was happy. And so he lived there for a time, but eventually he found the itch of curiosity grew stronger and stronger, and soon enough he sealed himself once more within his creation, and dipped once more into its warm waters.
And when he emerged once more, the great-great-grandchildren of the great-great-grandchildren of the great-great-grandchildren of his friends were waiting for him, for the story of his travels had continued to be passed down through the generations, and they welcomed him like family, and showed him all the new wonders of the world.
And truly, things were greater and more wondrous than they had ever been. And the families of what had once been a collection of just a dozen friends had grown to the size of an entire town, and the stories of their lives and their happiness filled him with great joy. And the town in which he lived had grown into a great city, with vast glittering spires that reached towards the heavens, and for a time he was happy there.
But soon enough curiosity drove him once more into his chamber, where he stoked the fires of his mighty machine and slipped once more into his great bath, and as he lay back in the warm, comforting embrace of the waters in the dark, silent chamber he felt a calm slipping over him, and his eyelids drooped, and he fell into a slumber that lasted ten-thousand years.
When he woke in the darkness, he knew not how much time had passed, but he felt the wrinkles upon his fingertips with a great shock, and knew that it had been a long time indeed. He clambered out of the bath, and dried himself, and with a great heave he forced the door open, which was quite stuck, for time had not been kind to its hinges, and it had been a long time since the descendants of his friends had come to oil them, and when he stepped outside he beheld a vast desert that stretched endlessly in all directions. The great and magnificent city that had once stood there was completely gone, and there was nought but sun-baked sand as far as the eye could see.
And so he walked for days, until he came to the mountains, and he climbed them, higher and higher and higher, until at the very peak he beheld as much of the world as the human eye can ever hope to see, and he saw that in all directions there was nought but featureless desert, stretching in all directions, and his mighty time-chamber was but a tiny black speck in that sand, the only sign of humanity at all.
And so he scrambled back down the mountain, and he trudged back through the hot sand to his chamber, and the sun beat down mercilessly on him, and his feet burned, and his throat parched, and his eyes stung, and when he stumbled through the door of the chamber into the shadows, he felt as though the very life had been dried out from him. And he dragged his weary body to the tub, and he drank.
And he drank, and he drank.
Maybe you’re stuck in my head
like a song,
and I can’t decide if I need to hear you
again and again –
or drown you out with different melodies,
until the silence of my mind
is the requiem for our love.
The doctor gives it to him straight.
“Your heart’s shot. You’ll be lucky to get another month out of it.”
This is no great problem, of course. Replacing a heart is a relatively straight-forward affair. They can grow a new one for him from some DNA taken from a skin sample in just a few days. Robotically-assisted surgery has a higher than 99% success rate. The thing is, though, it’s really not worth it.
“Sure, we can replace your heart… but the rest of you… well, you’re getting on now. We put a new heart in you and you’ll just be back in a year for a new set of kidneys, or new eyes, or… it’ll just be one thing after another. It really makes a lot more sense to transfer you into a new body, fresh grown. No more aching knees or weak eyes. We can even iron out this genetic heart defect. In the long run, it’s a far better course of action.”
He looks down at his hands, the lines of 80 years etched into them. These hands that held his son for the first time. He raises them to his lips, these lips that his wife kissed for the last time. He remembers debating the Grandfather’s Axe with her back in their university days, the thought brings a lump to his throat. Immortality, he’s learnt, is more letting go than hanging on.
can you just, like, chill out?
Seriously, you used to be cool,
back in the days of Empire,
you were like our older brother
that left home at fifteen,
joined a rock band,
and sent us post-cards from Vietnam
(before it was a popular tourist destination)
but now you’re just a middle-aged economist
who cares way too much about petrol prices
and not enough about Rock ‘n Roll
The hall of biographies is a great and terrible thing. It exists outside of time and space, never and forever. All its works written at the dawn of time, and yet there on the shelf sits your own life; complete in two-hundred slightly dusty pages. The hall receives few visitors; your life fewer still – but there it is in your hands; laid out a chapter at a time.
Not all of it of course – but all of it that matters. You skim through, finding incidents from your past you are surprised to see included. Surprised, that is, until you see the way the future unfolds – then the narrative arcs of your life become clear. Those seemingly meaningless moments stand as portents, foundations for the significances to come.
And you know, then, what you are supposed to do, what you are supposed to become, what is supposed to be. And you live your life with this knowledge, and it colours your every action, your every choice. And not once do you stop to consider that the flow your biography was dictated not by importance, or significance, but by the rules of narrative that have stood largely unchanged for thousands of years. You discard sub-plots and complexities that could not fit in 200 pages, without ever really knowing why.
And you never question how it could be that your story was already written before it even began.
Fine. I’ll write a poem that’s not erotic.
I’ll write about potatoes,
plain old potatoes,
rough, dirty potatoes,
hard, dirty potatoes,
dirty, dirty potatoes,
with their smooth curves
that so perfectly fill the hand,
You read biographies and the accounts of palliative care nurses. You talk to your grandparents, and their friends, and your parents, and their friends, and old people at the bus stop, and basically anyone who looks like they’ve not got much time left.
You fill a book with their regrets. You carry it everywhere. You know the most common off by heart. So you studiously keep in touch with old friends. You turn down promotions for more time off. You savour the little things. You have ‘no regrets’ tattooed on the back of your hand, so you’ll never forget.
You do regret that one sometimes… but only sometimes.
You make it your life’s mission to foil regret. To ensure that you die with a smile on your lips. Your life is satisfying, and full, and when the time comes, you are surrounded by loved ones.
You open your lips for the last time, and sigh out ‘I regret… not making more cat macros.’
Everything starts to go dim, just as a last thought passes through your mind.
Damn. ‘Puns’ would have been much better.
I could write
about the impossible aquamarine
of your eyes,
about the supernovas in my chest
every time I see you,
about the tender touch
of your breath on my ear,
but let’s be frank.
I have lips,
you have lips,
everything thing else is incidental.
What can one say about the potato king, really? Well, he’s the king of potatoes, obviously. And he doesn’t like it if you pronounce it poh-TAH-toh. “It’s tae as in hay, not tah as in far…” the court liaison advises you before your audience with the king. There are many rules for meeting the king, of course – some may sneer at the kingdom of potatoes, but in the end, he is still a king, and a king must have etiquette and ceremony. Most of these rules seem arbitrary and unnatural, but that, ultimately, is the point. Etiquette, after all, was invented to distinguish the gentry from the nouveau riche; what better way to achieve that than with rules that make no sense?
And as creators of nonsensical rules go, the potato king is unquestionably a master.
It takes all your concentration to keep the spoon balanced on your nose as you curtsey to the king. You worry that you wobbled too much on the way back up, but the king seems satisfied.
Sure, some people call him crazy. But you just curtseyed to a man who declares himself king of all potatoes, so who are you to judge?