working man's paradise

More's Utopia was on an island hacked off of its peninsula; here in the working man's paradise they have reversed the process, reattaching the island to the main via a long causeway. It was built by convicts and took thirty-eight years to complete: they worked night and day, in all weathers, and many were lost to the sea. I leave the Amethyst Room with the sound of the lamentation of the Trojan women still beating in my ears and go down the steep streets to the railway station, tripping on the same loose stone outside the Philosophical Institute as I did yesterday. There is an hour to wait before the train leaves so I decide to walk out along that causeway past the lighthouse and the weather station to its end. Although it is still early in the morning, the day is hot and will get hotter so I amble, taking my time. In the working man's paradise women and children go out to collect for charity in the blinding sunlight. Some on bicycles, some walking, some in wheelchairs or other contrivances. On this occasion the cause is diabetes and the uniform a canary yellow edged with bilious green. In the shade of an open tent a man lounges about the vast somnolence of his belly. Officers of St. John in their crisp black and white check the contents of their mendicant suitcases. Hedonists oil the skin of each other's backs. Behind, the city piles up on the hill like an unfinished monument to Moloch. I'm not far past the lighthouse when I see the first of the inscriptions carved into a massive cube of concrete. It is a declaration of love. The arduous labour of making it belied by the lucent simplicity of the message. As I go on I see more and more of these writings: many, indeed most, are philosophical, proclaiming the sanctity of freedom against the terror of the state, extolling the rights of man, praising the animals or denying god. It is like walking through a library of antiquity. Now I begin to see the reliefs, of ships and whales, of goddesses and demon lovers, of cities on hills and cities under water ... it is strange to think how these hieroglyphs were made, since it is clear enough that they are illicit and that the civic authorities would never countenance, not even in a working man's paradise, their anarchic inscription. These men and boys - I do not think many women or girls wrote here - must have been out at night with their lights and their tools, they must have heard the muttering of ocean and the crying of gulls as they tapped away with chisels and awls. Some of the more reckless have gone right down into the maw of the sea to chip their missives on sides falling almost perpendicular into the blue dark water below. Naturally they become more interesting the further out along the causeway I go but it is longer than I thought, my ambling start has cost me and now I do not know if I can get back to the station in time to catch my train. I reach the end, far out in the blue, and there are boys climbing down the rocks into the surf, calling out their daring in high clear voices. I round the curve and start back. The hieroglyphs blur, the letters writhe, they detonate under the hammer of the sun into siglas and vocables, occulted by the transfiguring light into mystery ... and then I see that the working man's paradise is not built in that baleful brick and sandstone pile up on the hill but out here among the tumbled rocks and concrete blocks, repossessed in the secret writing of the dispossessed, a template for another kind of city made over into dreams that will endure long after the walls and the towers have fallen, perhaps outlasting the lamentation of the women of Troy.


Elisabeth said...

You make the ordinary, extraordinary, Martin, and in so doing reconfigure the world for us. The ordinary, everyday world becomes a strange, past or future place that I have not seen before, although in an uncanny way I recognise it as I read.
This little piece stands alone, so beautifully, whether or not it's part of a larger work, I love it.

Martin Edmond said...

... you are too kind, Lis.