This is a short abstract story I wrote in response to this poem. It’s a beautiful poem, and I hope you enjoy the story.
41. No worst, there is none
“No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.”
~Gerard Manley Hopkins
To begin with, the landscape here is very wild. Well, it seems to be at first glance. That is to say, I’m not really sure. Nothing is very certain here. One day it may seem as friendly and passable as can be, and the next moment it will throw an errant hillock or dark, impenetrable bit of woods in your way and you can’t tell at all where to go.
I see birds too, all the time. Chirruping and tweeting, cawing and making the most raucous noises. It quite drives me mad, and I try to throw rocks at the loudest, but they just laugh their horrid bird laughs and fly about, blanking out the entire sky sometimes. Swirling and diving, landing in great droves only to rise in a mass again at the slightest provocation. Why can’t one keep a bird pinned down? Why do they insist on flying about all the time, never quite staying the same shape? Flitting in and out of the open sky; I suppose one can’t help but have birds. Oftentimes they’re too quick even to see what they are.
Once I tried to walk to the edge of this land, but it goes on forever, I think. I couldn’t ever see the edge, and it just kept on changing as I went further. In places, there were patches of great nothingness. Just spots where nothing was. I couldn’t fall in or anything: you couldn’t really do anything at all in the nothing. I didn’t like to dwell on it though; it gave me a funny feeling in my stomach, like when you look down from a great height.
Night never comes here. The only darkness is from the storms or great cloud cover. These weather phenomena are extremely irritating. They come without warning, usually, and stay forever when they stay at all.
When I first came, I didn’t wander much. I stayed in one little cave, fearful, I suppose, of what lay outside. But aside from the birds there are no animals. Anyway, eventually I learned to go outside and started exploring. I can’t remember very clearly, but there were definitely no mountains in those days. Small hills, yes, but never these tall, imposing sentinels breaking into the ground. Grand heights, snowcapped and misty, frame the sky beyond now. And, funnily enough, my treks towards them have never brought them closer to my reach. They’re always the same vast distance away from me.
I did find a sea once. Coming over one of the smaller hillocks, I looked out upon a vast, boiling, madly churning sea with great black rocks scattered around, and smaller black pebbles on the shore. It was very violent, crashing and rolling upon the shoreline with a real vengeance. I didn’t get too close, afraid it would drag me under. But it was really breathtaking, in a way, to sit and watch its feverish motion.
I tried to find it again, but it seems to move away too, appearing when I least expect it over some rise of ground, nearly catching me in its waves often enough. I lost it completely for a while, but that was the day I found the canyons, so I was too distracted to notice the missing ocean. The canyons are huge. They were definitely not there to begin with either. In the first few years of my being here, the land, apart from the hills and that indomitable sea, was very flat. A bit boring, actually. I mean, it had its bits of forest and a few streams and such, but it looked like any other country, all green and tidy and same.
Then, after I noticed the hills growing taller and the sea getting wilder, I found the valleys and canyons. Deep fissures spawned around the forests, near the tallest and oldest trees. They cut deep into the earth, with jagged edges that looked razor sharp. I often lost things down those fissures. I didn’t dare go after them, for fear of cutting myself. They seemed to appear more often as the mountains grew. The hills bubbled and rose, shaking the ground around them and toppling trees as they stretched to the sky. Some peaks I can’t even see, so shrouded are they in misty swaths of cloud.
It was after several more years, when the land had been very well behaved and stayed mostly put for a time, that the disasters started. Rattling earthquakes shook my house all to pieces more times than I can remember, and storms came that lasted for months. The rains flooded everything, and I was soggy all the time. Even the sky looked different. All greens and eerie purples, like a bad sunset. Shadows appeared too, creeping out of the fissures and chasing after me in the forests. I hid under leaves mostly, and birds circled comfortingly enough, squawking away as usual. It was a bad time. I didn’t explore, and that made the land sink away, I think, because when it was over, there was less of it. Some of the hills had gone away completely, swallowed up in more canyons, and the rains had washed away a lot of the flowers that covered the ground. The mountains still stood, but they sagged and leaned, looking sickly. Water dripped off everything, taking the bright colors with it, leaving behind only the taupey, greyish colors of dull.
I saw the magma during this time too. It lives under the surface, and ruptures out of the fissures at random intervals. I’m rather fascinated by these outbursts. They never look like flame or liquid squirting, but more like smoke billowing around, making squiggly shapes in the air. Perhaps this moving lava is the soul of this land, and shifts it and shapes it, because it’s very reclusive, and I can’t ever quite look at it directly. My eyes just slip away from it. Whatever it is, it hasn’t gone away completely even now, but still squiggles out of the remaining fissures.
It’s still a mystery to me how and why the storms stopped. It must have been a slow process, because I didn’t just wake up one morning and the clouds were gone, but it had to have been fairly quickly, because I remember thinking about it in terms of weeks. And then too, that I hadn’t done anything at all confused me. It was nice though, to see the sun shining so brilliantly down on the land again. The mountains stood taller than ever, and seemed to gleam so proudly in their snowy shrouds. The trees had gotten much, much older in that time, and some of their leaves were golden. The fissures took longer to right themselves out. They had spread and cracked along so much of the ground that it looked like veins. But eventually they began to shrink again, and no longer sent shadows sneaking out to catch me.
The landscape now is similar to what it was before, but more complex. Streams break away from where fissures were, mingling with the magma, and there are some waterfalls whose source I can’t find; they deluge the trees and turn some areas frankly tropical. The hills round about stand as cairns or graves to something lost in those storms. But flowers grow there again, and it’s quite peaceful to lie on my back in the midst of them and stare up at the cloudless sky. The mountains stare down at me, smiling their cheeky rock smiles. They stand as barriers to whatever lies behind: I really have no idea.
I will never travel as far as this land stretches, never know the deepest secrets of it, never know what it can give me. But I will keep trying, keep digging, keep exploring and pursuing its hidden wonders, chasing after the magma. Maybe one day I’ll conquer it. I doubt it though.