the detective 7: reality and cyclicity


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,
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

33 thoughts on “the detective 7: reality and cyclicity

    • Thanks Daniel. I’m trying to keep it realistic. 😸 I think it might be a good spot for a hiatus. (You know, plenty of sunlight and the rent’s reasonable.) The future is uncertain although I’m hoping the sun will rise tomorrow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That old chaos of the sun is never far away in our concerns.
        A hiatus is always helpful to recharge. Ever since mine i have been hyper-productive & don’t see an end in sight for a while now. i can’t process the stuff fast enough, which is great. But i know when it slows, what i just need to do is step back & maybe do something else. But for now.. “Go on high ship…”

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve heard that Zen masters often give their students koans to turn their reality upside down, loosen them up. Your work reminds me of that. It’s like trying to crack a puzzle you know the answer to, but you can’t access the answer with your intellect. I could try and analyze it, butI’d be in over my head and I think that would take away from it. It’s beautiful and enigmatic and just beyond reach. “I cannot understand. Please, you have to tell me.” Miaow. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean, like the sound of one hand clapping (on anything handy), or why flammable and inflammable mean the same thing, or what’s caught in the vacuum cleaner–the secret of the universe or a sock?

      These are mysteries better left unsolved. Although the sock might be handy if the other one hasn’t already been sucked up. Also there are no cats. Cats are of the mind, so you don’t need cat food, you need mind cat food. And no socks either. Except you don’t feed them. Hope that’s clear.

      Thanks BG, loved your feedback. 😸


  2. i have a theory and am laughed at constantly but i don’t really care as i am thick skinned by maturity….cats are from a different planet, i have evidence supporting this. you take me down the rabbit hole gasping for air and all i breathe is axolotls poo!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Another fantastic instalment – some lovely imagery – it’s been ages since I stayed at a hotel with a complementary sewing kit – or pool full of penguins :-). Ballard’s Crystal world is full of this circumlocution – a detective who never really gets there – constantly diverted and distracted. It also reminds me a little of Cordwainer’s Alpha Alpha Boulevard – in the abandoned city – and then cats right at the end. Marvellous mysterious stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peter. Me too, and it was in Japan. The penguins at Osaka Aquarium are impressive as well, although I’ve never actually slept there, and being a 20% engineer, the cooling system’s fascinating.

      I never get side-tracked or lose the plot myself, the detective’s based on someone else. Haven’t read the Cordwainer (yet 😃). And thanks again, I really appreciate your thoughts.


  4. Penguins jumping, splashing, and lifting their beaks to the stars … such joie de vivre! Really enjoyed the witty contrast here: “Your book of clues was useless, but you know more than any living soul.” (When giving criticism, make sure to balance it out with an equal dose of praise. ;-)) Your use of “dreaming WITH”, instead of “dreaming OF”, jumped out at me. Does it have anything to do with the Portuguese language (“sonhar COM alguém”)?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Magarisa, I was particularly happy with the penguin dance. Now you mention it 😃 … I didn’t realize, but yes, “with” sounds normal to me, same as Portuguese, just as normal as “of”. I looked at some other work and apparently I choose by meaning intended. I guess a slight disadvantage of “with” is that it might mean in the real world rather than the dreamscape. (As you can no doubt tell, I don’t actually think about this stuff when I write. 😃) Thanks again for noticing that, interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve always wondered how one can write ‘without thinking’. I believe it means that one is writing in a stream-of-consciousness manner, without reflecting on what comes out. After all, language use requires thinking (damage to certain parts of the brain disrupt speech/language comprehension). What’s your view on writing ‘without thinking’?

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s a big question. Yes, I agree with the stream of consciousness. I sometimes think of “saying the first thing that comes into your head” (which has got me into a bit of trouble in technical areas 😜).

          I think the subconscious is doing the heavy lifting anyway, including rhythms, harmonies etc in poetry. Thought bubbles rise from the subconscious sea and they can be captured, even the thoughts that come before “the first thing.” I use dreams as well when I can, and no doubt the division into conscious and subconscious is an oversimplification. Anyway maybe that’s enough delving into that particular can of worms. 😃

          Liked by 1 person

        • Haha – I believe most of us would get into trouble if we said the first thing that popped into our heads some of the time, let alone all the time. 😁
          Thanks for the thought provoking explanation, Steve. I put too much pressure on my conscious mind, and not enough faith in my subconscious/unconscious.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. the axolotls i hope
    in their further evolution
    with a trick and a dance
    may be able to regen
    the detective back
    no matter how unyielding
    his miaows might be
    (if only for the refund)

    thanks for this enjoyable series, Steve! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • My pleasure and thank you Said, very amusing. 😄 Anything is possible in fantasy and the axolotls are the wild card in the deck. My only concern is that they might evolve to become like another unfortunate species that is destroying the planet. Hope that doesn’t happen. 😃

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome! Come to think of it, the axolotls can already regenerate their brains, it shouldn’t take much more leap of evolution before they can also grow their brains huge enough for them to figure out how to overcome the vicious Tides of Copenhagen Formulation 🙂 Well, that unfortunate species could have been one of their past mistakes, like a cancer mutation they did not intend to happen! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha, you can’t be late to a penguin party, they are 24/7. The Sydney skyline the way I would like it to be–I have a total fascination with shiny glass and crystal structures, it’s as if I’m some sort of magpie.

      Some penguins meow, some speak in Latin, and some write poetry in Latin while they meow. Thank you, Annie. 😃

      Liked by 1 person

      • She does rock spectacular view, especially seen from within a steel bird approaching around the harbor. I understand why maggies love her shine—I never get tired of it.

        You’re welcome. 😁

        Liked by 1 person

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