The Final Journals of Dr. Peter Lurneman (Journal III)
By Luke Neima
I felt much better this morning, but still somewhat disoriented. It is as if my perceptions are overdetermined. Each of my senses is greatly intensified: I am seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting and thinking twice, maybe three times as much as usual. A psychological hyperplasia. The amount that I perceive has increased radically, but it all must fit within the same, bounded window of consciousness. It is dizzying.
Nevertheless, I made my way down to the bank of the river and spent all day there in observation. I watched for another specimen of the bird in the hope of identifying the species. I stared straight ahead, focusing on nothing, letting the foreground divide in two, leaving the background hazy and occupying my eyes with a nothing in middle space, waiting for motion. An hour after I arrived I caught the first sign of movement: a vulture, flying high overhead, wings rigid, the telltale white feathers fanning out from the tips, the body rocking left and right, rolling slightly in the current. I kept waiting.
After some time I saw one of the birds alight on a branch of the central tree. Like a woodpecker it made a hollow in the trunk, and nestled inside. By the time I had traversed the river the bird had departed, but I found an egg within the small hole that the bird had made. The tree's branch had already begun to grow around it, and I worried that the egg would be crushed. I considered removing it, but it was too deeply ensconced to move without destroying it. The membrane of the shell was very thin, like mucus, and a light teal. It was still intact when I left the river at dusk.
Another intruder in the grove last night. I awoke quickly and did not lose any time making my way out into the trees. Sure enough, upon rounding back I surprised a man hunched over and fiddling with my rucksack. He looked familiar — almost identical to the man of the other night.
Again it took eleven strokes to remove his head from the body, and again the man did not struggle. He slumped down into the ground and let me do it. It was almost as if he were leaning into the blade of the knife, presenting the nape of his neck to the blade. Afterward, I covered the body with some fallen mistral leaves. I was too tired to dig.
As I approached the banks of the river this afternoon the sound of its ripples sparked a bar of oblivion in my mind. For a minute I was entirely free of myself. For one deep, extended moment, I could perceive all the accumulated knowledge of mankind, and yet this act of perception only occupied a tiny morsel of my attention, the amount that one devotes to making a cup of tea while listening to the radio.
The heat pushed me back into the day; I dipped my hand into the water to wet my neck and made a few more sketches. The five trees have all pushed above the surface of the water and their formation, now, is utterly transfixing.
As I write this, the far reaches of the night sky seem to be filled with minute, glowing words. A phosphenic apparition, I think, but it fills me with foreboding.
This morning I cut away a budding flower from the lower branches of the central tree. I made a transverse section across the lobes of the corolla in the bud to investigate the mode of aestivation — there were, however, no visible stamens. The calyx was deformed and filled with sap. At first I thought the albumen was rotten, but then I realized that what I was looking at was an embryonic membrane.
This flower is, in fact, an egg. I believe it to be that which I saw laid in the branches the other day, symbiotically adapted by the tree. The ovum is somehow being fed by the tree's sap, and I also discovered a seed in the region of the fetal abdomen, which I suspect may belong to the tree itself. I was regrettably forced to halt my examination early as I have been having difficulty with my eyes. My vision has been slightly blurry for days, as if each and every moment was that which follows being shaken out of sleep.
I remember Eileen shaking me awake not long before she died. She looked healthier than usual, even lucid. It was three, maybe four in the morning, and she had not yet slept. She took my hand and led me to the kitchen, where she had finally caught the last of the mice; they were arranged in a row, each of their heads neatly removed. She acted like a cat presenting its master with a gift.
The blurring has intensified — there are auratic pulsings of light around all things. Several hours after midday I observed some kind of parhelion, an enormous halo around the sun, at approximately 20° to each side. There were two more halos at other points, not dissimilar to the Vädersolstavlan recorded by Urban the Painter: three intersecting halos, with the quincunx of river trees framing them. A sublime sight.
I have run out of supplies but I do not worry. I have begun collecting the young shoots of palms and ferns (which are succulent, with their hairs removed), the fruit of the pandanus and of the bromeliad, and slugs and snails, which are readily found in small hollows. Mostly, though, I eat the dorado that abound in the river. This way I can combine my observation with the more banal task of providing for myself. I am thinking of my wife with increasing frequency.
The way I felt today, down by the trees, was like being in love. It reminded me of being a young man, of the first months I spent living with Eileen. I would come back from teaching and we would lie together quietly for hours, saying nothing, both content, getting up only to eat.
I feel something similar as I wade out into the stream, waiting for a bird to blossom. It is as if I am staring into the eyes of my young beloved, her arms around me in a close, post-coital embrace, the two of us as near to one another as possible, and yet each carried away into a private realm of personal satisfaction. The trees, I feel, are mine. They are mine and I am theirs, and love, the infinite gravity of each passing moment, ties us together, makes us one.
I feel that the continuing distortion of my senses — the blurring vision, auditory lapses, and the smell and taste of rubber — is part of some negentropic approach to clarity. Words have begun to take on a reality of their own. I can make them out, everywhere, even when my senses fail me.
When I look at the trees, in the blurred interstices of branchings and blossomings I can read detail, as if off of a page. Impossible to describe. I do not see, but I know the words for what I would see, if I could.
It rains. The rain is a man who has a fringed poncho in which he wraps himself when it rains. He rides about on a mule, his head entirely covered by his poncho, the fringes of which are the rain. When he lifts his poncho to see the way his eyes flash lightning. The thunder is the roll of his drum. He never stops travelling and wherever he is there is rain. Upon his departure from a place the rain ceases. I know that the rain especially dislikes the quebracho tree. But he dares not strike this tree lest his testicles be cut by its fall. His wife alone is entrusted with the destruction of these trees.
As I attempted to study the trees this morning, my reflection distracted me. At first I did not recognize the haggard image constantly being broken and reformed in the current. My body has become brown with sun and mud, my beard long and my pubic hair an unnatural white.
I stretched out my limbs in a Vitruvian stance and studied the central decussation of my body, my pensile garden of Babylon, and I danced, slowly, as I imagine a belly-dancer might. The sight of my own gyrations filled me with an indescribable sensation. This is me intuiting, I thought as I moved. This is my intuition of myself.
As I danced, I saw in my peripheral vision a bird exploding from one of the tree’s blossoms.
Almost every night, now, a man comes. They are all identical. I find each one huddled and fiddling over my rucksack, and as I approach he turns and looks up at me and grins with the night and then leans into my machete. I have lined them up, one at the foot of each mistral. They feel friendly to me; we are like a family. And so I try to keep them clean and proper.
Woke up this morning paralyzed. For several hours I could not move. At the limits of my vision space seemed to coil inwards on itself, a concentric whorl pulling towards the centre of my vision, whilst simultaneously flattening out into a deadened, immaterial negativity.
The different components of my mind are pulling apart. I can feel the sinews connecting thought to feeling to action snapping, one by one. I have long bouts where I cannot think in words, my mind weighed down by shades of emotion that I have never before experienced, subtleties that lack linguistic referent.
My greatest fear is this: that I won’t be able to get them out. Won’t be able to get what I am experiencing and observing out of my head and onto the page, where it can be real. That it’ll remain stuck in my head, and swell and swell, and kill me, like a tumour.