The detective has left the building and the world. With a coterie of penguins and axolotls, his client has gone on without him, heading to a post-apocalyptic crystal city. The story began here.
We journey onward to the west, finding
country corners and strangers
who make believe their ordinary lives
have not been lost:
motels with sewing kits and swimming pools for guests,
where the penguins jump and splash,
dance their stately dances,
raise their beaks to the stars
with enthusiastic cries of ‘encore’
from the axolotls.*
The outlines of the cityscape
are unmistakable now,
with slender spires and glass-blown towers,
improbable cathedrals that split
the slanting light prismatically,
proposing beauty over function.
The City is an earthly beachhead from another plane,
but it’s impermanent.
Like thoughts awakening,
still half-asleep, that evaporate too soon,
it follows a diurnal cycle
with sunlit synchronicity.
By the turn of evening, it’s riddled
with a net of fractures,
a mirage of sparking crystal fragments
And the light of every dawn brings coalescence,
its facets reconstruct themselves,
reassert their multi-story reality.
No dowdy human solidity,
the arc of its existence is not assured
by skeletal enforcement; no shell without
or blueprint within.
In the timorous recesses of my mind,
I fear that in its self-annihilation,
the City is refuting itself.
Its alien gods are not yet satisfied,
and its day-to-day unmaking
leaves me restless.
Last night I dreamed with the detective.
He looked up from his cardboard desk
and smiled, inquired after the penguins
and the axolotls.
All were in good spirits, I replied,
and asked a question of my own
with a sprinkling of flattery.
Your book of clues was useless,
but you know more than any living soul,
you’ve reached the obsidian shoreline
of the greater sea.
So tell me, will the Crystal City
offer sanctuary from the bivalves?
Is that place the answer to my quest?
The detective studied his fingernails
metaphysically, and shrugged.
Your ignorance is limitless, unbounded.
What you don’t know stretches
beyond the stars, beyond the soft infinities.
Not knowing a little more
hardly seems to matter.
Just as arrogant as ever,
and as he spoke he faded,
transmuted to a flock of birds
behind a rayon curtain,
finches or perhaps canaries.
You made a promise,
and my generous deposit
will never be refunded.
His head inclined in multiple flutters.
Beneath the curtain and the muffled birdsong,
his voice was clothed insinuation,
What was that? I cannot understand.
Please, you have to tell me.
As I think back
in the woken light of day,
I’m not entirely certain.
But he might have said, miaow, miaow.
*The axolotls continue to evolve in leaps and bounds. It’s possible they’ve gone too far and will be punished by the Goddess of Start Ups.
J G Ballard’s novel, The Crystal World (1966).
osmotic ink, part above