The Ice King – 3: The Thought

I feel the ice melt under my skin, I sense us slip away in the rush of torrents, surging up, then drowning into the depths; my eyes closed, I heave into his brain; where there were colours there is now only green and blue and that purple and the white in the flashes between: I bounce and dissolve, the water rushes through me, the glacier crashes all about us as we tumble down the mountain, turn into a stream – the quicks, the pools, the depths, the shallows and the waterfalls – into the valley, then the river, then the calm. Then the meadows passing and the flowers and the cows on the hill. The trees. Is that a sun in the sky? I haven’t seen one in years. The Ice is gone, the King is no more. What have I done?

I float on the easy current along the stately swans and the comical ducks and I wonder. Was that necessary? Was that emotion? Was that too much? The cloudlets above sing a round that lulls me into a new kind of sleep and I dream that I am already restored to my senses, but senseless in love. I know not what that means; it’s a feeling I have.

As we reach the towns and beyond these the cities, it is more a case of becoming a boat, or a ship, from which to salute the other farers of waterways and nod at them gravely: the river has turned so regal, so slow. I’m not sure I want this. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave him behind or see him head off, onto land, into the streets, the multitudes, to be what, a citizen? Like the others. I cling on to him, but he is no longer there, has he never existed at all?

I refuse to panic and say to myself it’s only a phase, it will pass, it’s all in my imagination, soon I’ll wake up in the glacier, gazing at him by my side, and I’ll marvel at the tone of his skin and the glint in his eye and the nearly smile that says, I nearly get you, you’re not quite alone.

I dream that I’m not alone and for a moment feel warm and the glow that encompasses me is enough for a while to soothe, to restore. We yield into the wide, and buoyed by the salt and cheered by the seagulls we stretch our limbs and with strong strokes make for the open, the free. I half expect a dolphin to greet us but it seems we are heading north, which is just as well. At least we are now at sea.

Soon the seals and the icebergs. I’m not at home here, although the shades are familiar. I feel I have lost myself and I want not to mind. He’s in my head now, I in his body, and against all odds we’re afloat, but are we together? I don’t even know who he is. He is the Ice King, but I’ve turned him into a fish. That is not true, of course, I have turned him into a captain. I have not turned him into anything he’s still the Ice King, but like me he is out of his element now and so he may just be a prawn. He may be a wave or a plastic bottle discarded in Old Amsterdam. He may be a thought or a lover. He may be my nemesis. Can he be my salvation?

I want to say, ‘polar bear, be not afraid’ and mean it. We’re here to help. The Ice King looks at me with compassion now, maybe for the very first time, and thinks a thought of astonishing beauty. This, I know, is the noble mind. And the thought alone that a thought can be beautiful and merely to know that a mind may be noble, that fills me with joy.

100 Practice

Sedartis looks at me sadly.

‘How is it,’ he needs to know, ‘that this man is asking for money.’ I shrug, a little impatient: ‘he doesn’t have any and needs some to buy food or alcohol or cigarettes or drugs or whatever it happens to be that he wants.’

‘Yes I can see that.’

I dread this conversation is going to go some obvious place about social injustice and the unfair distribution of wealth and the absence of life chances for someone like this man, who isn’t young, and who isn’t old, and who isn’t distinct in any great way, other than perhaps that at this moment he has just asked me for money – for change, more precisely – and that I have given him some, partly because I for once happened to have some on me, partly because I felt unease at walking past a human being in need of some charity without giving it in the presence of Sedartis, and partly because I forever and always look at people about me who are skidding on the edge of existence and think ‘there, but for the grace of god, go I,’ not because I have a faith or a belief or a god I can readily defer to but because ‘god’ to me seems as good a shorthand for ‘chance’, or ‘luck’, or ‘circumstance’ or ‘the way the universe has momentarily aligned itself’, or any combination of these, as any.

‘What I need to know,’ I get from Sedartis, ‘is how do you make it so in your world that there are those who have money and keep it and then have to, reluctantly, more often than willingly, give it away, or bestow it; and there are those who do not have it or at any rate not enough, and they have to beg for it or steal it or at the very least work for it; and how do you make it so in your world that purely having money already makes that money increase, whereas purely not having money makes obtaining some harder: surely, but surely it would be much better the other way round: what is money other than a ‘promise to pay’, but how do you pay if not in deed. You cannot pay a person in money: that is just another promise, but the longer that promise is held out and not kept, the weaker it surely becomes, not through ill will, but through the depreciation of any hold that a thing or a person can have over anything else over time (and even you cannot as yet withdraw yourself from time).

‘So if I promise to marry you today, and I marry you not tomorrow, and I marry you not for another day and another, and then not for a week and a month and a year and another year and another, and then five, maybe ten years pass, my promise to marry you becomes weaker and weaker, surely, not because by necessity my intention is less – my intention may still be lasting and good – but think of the potential lovers I meet, think of the glances I exchange, think of the buses I cross in front of, think of the tall trees I walk under: the chances, the probability, of my being able to marry you gets ever less, not through wrongdoing, but because the bond between me and the words I have spoken and the thing or the person that they pertain to gets intermingled with bonds that pertain to other persons or things through other words that I speak.

‘So how is it that in your world you decree that money should increase over time: how most extraordinarily ludicrous an idea that makes people do with money the opposite of what money is for: money is there to circulate as an ever-weaving pattern of promises that are quickly exchanged and kept and renewed and newly directed. You give me a loaf of bread, I give you this promise that I or someone else will soon give you something in exchange for your bread that is worth as much as your bread, no less and no more, for example some honey. This can only be good and proper if the promise is called in soon. If you then stash away this promise because you know that in doing so it will become greater, then you withdraw from circulation all incentive for somebody else to garner the honey that goes with your bread. See you not this is so? Money surely, surely should only decline in value over time so that nobody has any reason to hold on to any of it, but everybody has every reason to constantly keep it in circulation because that is all it is good for, nothing more and nothing less.’

I have no answer to this, but I try to reason: ‘Well, people, they like to save up, for example, for a rainy day, or for their retirement: say if you didn’t pay interest on savings or if you had no return on investments, then people, when they are old, would have no pensions and no savings and then they would end up on the street, like our friendly young beggar just then.’

‘He was not friendly or young.’

I was trying to adopt a whimsical disposition. With Sedartis, this fails.

‘Why would old people not have a pension, and why would they need savings: are you not as a community of people capable of looking after your old and your sick and your needy? Have you not developed the means to gather from each to their ability a contribution to the welfare of all?’

‘We have, we have a complex system of benefits and pensions and tax credits, and then we have private pensions and health insurance and life insurance and obviously also investments and savings.’

‘Do away with investments and savings,’ demands Sedartis: they are what distort your presence today, they are the root of your extraordinary poverty.’

‘We are not that poor, as a country, for example, or as a society, we do rather well; although there are of course inequalities…’

‘You are destitute. You are deprived because you lose, by and by, all sense of worth and all sense of purpose and all sense of care and all sense of freedom and all sense of joy and all sense of being.’

‘But we are highly evolved, and connected; we have ever increasing levels of literacy and make rapid progress in science and medicine, and although our population is growing we still cater for larger proportions of it better each year: we do not fare badly, though granted, perfect we’re not.’

‘Oh yes,’ Sedartis concedes, and I’m glad: ‘you have the power to be magnificent.’

The Snowflake Collector – 10: George


The moment he woke up the next morning, The Snowflake Collector had only one thought: ‘George.’

That was his name. It would have to be. There was no other possibility. If he were still to be there, if the gel into which he had settled had not crushed him, or dried him out, or obliterated him; if he were still to be a snowflake today, then there was a chance – maybe a slim chance only, but a chance – that he would still be a snowflake tomorrow, and if he were to be a snowflake tomorrow, still, there may be a chance that the method had worked, that this gel was the formula that he would need to – be able to, now – apply. But time only would tell. Certainly, if he were to find him still there, where he had left him, on the kitchen table, then that would be a good sign. But it would be no more than that. And surely his name would have to be George.

The Snowflake Collector got up from his narrow hard bed and wandered slowly into the kitchen: a short distance that felt to him this morning eternally long. He did not want to cast his eyes over the table in the dim light that filtered through the small window, but before he could avert them, George had caught them, was calling them over to him: look at me, I am here! The miracle was complete.

Not only was he still there, he seemed to radiate, shine. Now, some fourteen hours after he had come into contact with the peculiar liquid inside the glass cube that had caught him, enveloped him, slowed him and then suspended him just precisely in time before he was able to sink to the bottom or dissolve, he seemed made of crystal indeed: it was quite extraordinary. The Snowflake Collector lifted the cube from the table and held it up against the pale light in which particles of dust engaged in their strangely courteous dance, and a swell of joy welled up in his heart as he saw: George is alive! He was as alive as any snowflake that wasn’t engaged in its own dance still, through the sky toward earth, could possibly be; he was vivid and compelling; he had as much character as any inanimate thing The Snowflake Collector had ever seen, and he knew now, for certain, The Snowflake Collector, that this was not a thing without soul: this was George, the most exquisite snowflake ever formed in the world, perfectly captured, by him.

The gel, overnight, had solidified into a firm but not hard cast that was still absolutely transparent and that seemed to allow George to breathe. Of course, The Snowflake Collector knew, in reality George did not breathe, and the cube was hermetically sealed, but it was a minimal malleability that seemed to keep George animated, if, certainly, no longer free. The Snowflake Collector put George down on the kitchen table and stepped outside his hut and wiped the thin layer of snow from the table that stood out there, and he found, as he knew he would, noted down on it the last set of proportions he had used, and he now copied them onto a piece of wood that he picked up from the ground, and took them inside: this was the key, and it was unique.

Not in the way he had heard on occasion some people call something ‘unique’ when they meant it was simply ‘special’, or ‘well made’, or ‘quite interesting’. This was a thing that was one of a kind: no-one else had found it before him and maybe nobody else ever would, or would want to, again, and it was far from certain that it would stand the test of time that now loomed before it, but for the time-being this was what he himself had achieved, and so far it was good; and if George were still to be there in October, or in November, or even December, whenever next the valley would be covered in snow, then he would apply this same formula to make the gel in which to preserve other snowflakes, and he would store them in a new sturdy case he would build to accommodate the new dimensions of these cubes, and if the following year, and the year after, all these snowflakes, and George, were still there, then he would be who he had decided to be, who he felt in his heart and knew in his mind he needed to be: he would become The Snowflake Collector, and Yanosh would be able to take pictures of these snowflakes with his macro lens that he had bought for his camera, and everything would be just so.

After this short burst of snow in the middle of June, the valley soon reverted to summer, and The Snowflake Collector put George on his own in the new case that he’d built, and occasionally he would take him out to look at him in awe. Yanosh spent some time away as sometimes he did this time of year, but when he came back to The Snowflake Collector’s hut late in August, he found him in a hopeful mood, and in good spirits. George was still there and he hadn’t lost any of his intricate beauty. The gel that had nearly hardened, but not quite, was still exactly as clear and still just a little flexible; it hadn’t hardened any further and nor had it softened, it had simply stayed as it was, neither hard nor soft, neither wet nor dry, neither hot nor cold, but all of these all at once and none of these, all at the same time.

The Snowflake Collector was ecstatic – quietly, inwardly so, as was his wont – at having, it seemed, found a way to preserve his snowflakes in their full three dimensions; but of course he was also worried, and gravely concerned: what about their fourth dimension, he wondered, and fifth? Even as I name these snowflakes and know that they each have a soul, how can I do that soul justice? How can I trap a snowflake and pat myself on the back, when I haven’t but caught it and barely scraped the surface of any understanding of what a snowflake truly is?

Yanosh was unperturbed by all this. ‘You’ll get to know them,’ he said, in his simple, laconic tone that was never agitated, and never bored, ‘and as you get to know them, they will reveal to you their fourth dimension, and fifth, and even, if they have one, their sixth.’ This rang true with The Snowflake Collector, and he held the arm of Yanosh – the first time possibly he had ever done so – and said, ‘thank you, Yanosh. I hope you are right.’

But what if he weren’t right, what if what Yanosh had said was well intentioned, but simply not true? There was no way of knowing, there was no way of anticipating, there was no way of solving this problem now. All The Snowflake Collector could do now, and for the remaining months of the year, until snow returned to the valley, whenever that should happen to be, was to look after George and prepare himself, for winter would come and with it would come the moment of truth and only then, come the moment of truth, could he really commence with his task that was quite immense.

9: So as Not to Chase Away its Wonder <

> 11: He Was, Now More Than Ever, His Own Man

7 The Space Boy

He is a quietly spoken wonder, a boy who has never grown up; a spacealien of the loveliest nature, a Zebedee who has bounced off his Magic Roundabout and somehow found himself in a world full of people: I adore him.

Where Laniakea’s fibrous filaments’ ends disentangle from her neighbour’s, to float, as jellyfish through water, amid dark matter in slow, rhythmic pulses, The Space Boy has sought out a moment of respite for comfort and warmth and sat down with me in a Camden pub with a pint each of ale, autumn time.

I love him, Space Boy, in a way I love few. He’s about to get married. He doesn’t mean to marry; every signal his subconscious mind emits says he doesn’t want to and every action that his conscious mind commands says he must.

He doesn’t send out his invitations, he forgets arrangements, postpones, prevaricates. He talks, on the verge of getting drunk with me, about the revelation his sister-in-law-to-be gave him when she told him it was a continuum, not an either thing or an or, a this thing or that. Clearly he senses himself on that spectrum, somewhere towards the brighter colours, but, that light notwithstanding, he’s lost. Will no-one hie to his rescue?

I can’t. I once nearly did. We’d stood facing each other, our hands on each other’s arms; and our lips almost touched. Then his brother walked in and the moment had gone: the night was spent in separate corners of the universe; I in mine, he in his. With that moment gone, all moments like it were gone, but my affection for him hasn’t waxed or waned like the moon, nor shall it: steady as a star it remains even now that he doesn’t want to and knows he doesn’t want to but knows he is going to tie himself in a knot.

Laniakea drawing away from Perseus-Pisces. I have a feeling this isn’t slow. The more I look at The Space Boy and listen to him expound on the vibrations, on the music of the spheres, on how tuned we are into each other, the more I know that what to us seems imperceptibly slow and unfathomably deep and incomprehensibly vast and impenetrably dark is bursting with energy, is replete with substance, is contained in a thought, and is teeming, teeming with life, and with life comes death and with death comes disintegration and with disintegration comes decomposition and with decomposition come component particles and with component particles come clusters of mass that attract each other and with clusters of mass that attract each other come new constellations and with new constellations come configurations and with configurations come potentialities and with potentialities come energy fields and with energy fields comes communication and with communication comes connection and with connection comes communion and communion is love and love is energy and The Space Boy and I are that energy and our minds are a dance and dancing is joy and joy is the present and the present is now and now is forever and forever is what we want it to be…

The Space Boy and I are lying on our backs on the ground looking up at the sky. The sky is plastered with empty silvery foil sleeves into which he will pour his spirited being. ‘I never want to not hold you dear,’ I whisper and rest my head on his chest looking down into the endlessness that ends where another begins. We are at a synapse in god’s brain and god is our own idea of our meaning: no wonder we sense god’s grace when we feel the pulse of a heart and bathe in the brainwaves of our fellows, our friends.

The Space Boy leaves me to think myself humble and rich. Has not he travelled lightyears to be here, to share one thought with me only? I treasure this thought and keep it inside my head where I know it won’t be contained: once thought, a thought is already encompassed in our common conscious, and he knows and I know and they know and you; we all know:

We all are one.

. . .

The Space Boy was first published in LASSO 7 – The Cosmic Issue