Friday, October 06, 2006

Ross's Riddle

Ross’s Riddle

It was past the last station on the line
Where philosophers go to perpetrate
The overthrow by positive virtue
Of amorphousness and indifference,

In the ruins of a Norman castle.
A fine rain fell the day I walked up there,
Making the trees and vegetation drip –
As if dipped in an Existential ocean:

The records of our world were washed away.
Engaged yet uninvolved, energised and yet
Laid back, I headed for the old stone walls
Which would have been deserted, save for Ross

Who’d worked his primus up to brew some tea.
We stood under the partly crumbled arch
With our enamel mugs, unsmilingly
Discussing the cycle of lake, heat & rain.

“Look, Trellisand, it’s like your bath –
Evaporation and condensation
Make water run in droplets down your walls
It’s simple really – that’s what rain is, see.”

Naturally, I didn’t quite see, provoked
And grumbled, “The lake’s not boiling, is it?
So how can it make steam, evaporate?”
“Your bath’s not boiling either, mate. It’s heat

It takes and just the change in temperature
In water, air and upper air to make
The droplets form and fall as bloody rain!
What nature takes out, nature puts back in.”

To fend him off, I nodded and agreed,
Taking a rich tea biscuit from the plate,
Which presented miraculously dry.
The tea at least made sense and quenched my thirst.

His close-cropped reddish hair, and beard,
A little more unkempt, conspired to make
His thin face seem perpetually strained
As if from touring in a Hillman Imp.

And still it rained whitening the green landscape
Veiling near trees and distant houses, both,
In its approaching, disappearing mist.
My question came from deep down, welling up:

“There’s something I have come to ask you, Ross.”
He tapped his mug against a stone to get
The tea leaves out, rinsed, then sighing
Stood straight, “Well, Robert, spit it out – all ears.”

“What I’d like to ask is this,” I started,
“Would I, if I had done things differently,
Be better off than I am now? That’s it.”
His face seemed more inanimate than rock

Or stone – metallic, his eyes looked past me
Diffused and distant as the hills they scanned
Time had not stopped. I felt a heavy and
Cumbersome frame pass too close for comfort.

Then Ross began to speak. The spell was lifted
“Done things differently? I’ll say you have –
Differently from me and from all men.
What you mean, chum, is different from different

Ly. But, had you done things “differently”
They would not, then, be different – nor the same.
The difference that you ask about can be
Between universes only, you see..”

He trailed off in rasping cackles, showed
An unfamiliar set of tea-stained teeth,
And then, once more composed, restarted: “Rob,
The past has gone – alright, chum – quite gone!

Don’t dwell on it. Read the philosophers
And read the actual words they’ve written down
And look at knowledge and the verb to know;
In silence find the word you cannot hear.”

Down through the dripping meadows, having thanked
My man, I headed for the station, wrapped
In my own thoughts, replaying Ross’s riddle
In my head – noticed the trees looked greener –

The rain had stopped & a bird perched
On the station fence, grey and white plumage
Sharply etched, seeming too to take me in
Before it flew: “Now”, now the answer came.