2nd Alphabet of Shadows
Visited in his sickroom by his own unquiet history, William DeVries remembered how, years before in Cirebon, an aboriginal light whose atoms’ origin was the birth of the Hindu gods had fallen like someone exhausted by a journey into a darkened room and with that light were shadows cast by a shadow-master’s puppets (warrants of unseen demons and divinities). A rude soldier, then, sent against the Portuguese, DeVries' only thought had been for a Javanese girl sitting on a jute mat, her head bent as though abashed by the shade of Arjuna, handsome companion to the Lord Krishna. Now in Haarlem, the Dutchman was once again in that theater of shadows. Calling for paper and pen with which to write his testament, he soon lost himself in inky letters like someone who has entered woods emptied of all light.
Alphabet of Negative Numbers
No numbers then to render the day’s unraveling – its green and purple raiment turned to rags of sunset; nor were there integers to register lake water’s amorous chafing against sand, or sand’s noiseless relapse on dunes filigreed by the Gobi moon, or how — on certain nights — a courtesan’s dress would fall in a lamp-lit room above the rice merchant’s in the imperial city of Cháng’ān at the easternmost end of the Silk Road. Not until two centuries before the Common Era (when Qin Shi Huang was entombed with his funerary army of terracotta) did Fou Gin think to ink on bamboo strips negative quantities pungent with desire— an addition to Nine Chapters of the Mathematical Art without which the world thereafter could compute its disintegration as if to a melody played on the pipa (that fretted five-string lute), whose plaintive notes have been left to decay on the autumn evening’s air.
Norman Lock has written novels, short fiction, and stage, radio, and screen plays. He received The Paris Review’s Aga Kahn Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts’ poetry fellowship. His latest books are Pieces for Small Orchestra & Other Fictions (Spuyten Duyvil) and Escher’s Journal (Ravenna Press). website • contact
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