I’m flying over Australia. It is 4pm in Noumea and 7am in France.
Are writing and living really compatible?
Way down below I see four murky-green, oval lakes. A patchwork of enormous fields – brown, green, ochre and purple. Roads criss-crossing as far as the eye can see. The work of Titans: this continent is not of human proportions. The earth is red, ailing, it drags itself crawling towards the ocean, desperately, as if it has been on a long quest:
Drink, I want to drink you, she said, immerse myself in you. Look at me, I am dried up, cracked and broken down languishing here like this. I was a red desert.
I was a sierra divided into squares and triangles. A skeleton carried me.
Finally, I see you. At first you are like a dream, a mirage, a galaxy curled around itself, boiling hot swamp, silver mirror, desert of salt and white mud. I surround you, you act cool, like the sky or a milky way that fell to the ground by mistake: who put you there? And why?
The birds are flying too low, and you are too white!
And these roads are too empty and my destitution is solitary. My children gather together on the lovely coasts, the gulfs and the bays hemmed with foam, from where their sails take off in graceful swarms of butterflies.
They have built proud cities there, at the very doors of my distress.
Sometimes I call out to them: the wind, that red demon, blows from the desert and covers them with a shroud of my colours.
It covers the sun with bloodstained clouds. Then, they think about their land.
When I am alone, I get bored, I take the wind’s quill and I trace hieroglyphics on the sand.
Nobody sees them.
Or else, using the wind’s force, I take the mallet and I sculpt the earth: a phoenix, wings spread, a zebra, head lowered, a grotesque pelican and then, weary of it all, I give up – they no longer have any sense these lines, traits, scarification, the scabs of my heart lying open to the winds…
Death is blinding, like a sun without energy, a liquid sun, an immense ball of mud and salt.
The sun pumps out the last traces of water. Soon, not a single drop will be left. A new desert forever: I love you and I am killing you.
(The temperature is increasing: I feel it through the plane window which is burning to the touch). It is 6pm. We’ve now been flying for two hours.
The magic starts to fade.
This desert is a giant, breathing effigy, an anatomical plate. I see its veins, nerves, diverse humours and circulations, lymph and living flesh with its keloid scars of reddish-brown and other white marks (burns perhaps?). Its imperfections: warts, wrinkles and the bumps and scrapes of our good old earth, seen here as we can never see it anywhere else.
Here, she is naked, skeletal, laid bare.
Here, she survives, solitary, hostile, barren, and all her passions are etched on her skin.
Here are the long, black streaks of her suicide attempts. Here is her hair, dishevelled like that of a bolting thoroughbred mare, spirited, when she dreams of her wild love-making.
(Does the earth dream?)
Here is the embryo, that minuscule dot, that labyrinth of new-life-carrying vessels.
(Does the earth dream too of all the embryos, animal or vegetable, like a woman dreams of the stranger forming [strange mystery, monster or marvel] in her womb?)
Here is the placenta, the irrigated matrix of her dream. Here she is going tirelessly in search of food, the manna of the desert, she is looking by casting out, in all directions, her arteries, veins, arterioles and nerves, as delicate as the finest of leaflets.
Look! An outpost shining unusually brightly: microbes standing guard! (Is this the role of men in the desert?) And, all of the sudden, she casts out again further and further, the smaller river then the long, silver river woven from her demands.
For she is greedy, not for herself but for this gestating dream, a dream that she must carry to term.
She stretches out her legs, rips herself open and scratches around herself to bring back to her belly the substance of her chimeras. By searching so hard and wanting it so much, voilà a watering hole, a tiny one, then another, two, three, four, and then no more.
She sculpts the shapes of her desire and her weariness.
Calm returns. Until a new madness takes hold of her: to give birth to her fantasies. Or else go and drown herself in the other immensity, the Pacific Ocean, another great creator of fantasies.
When the earth cries, traces remain, chiselled on her cheeks and shoulders.
The earth trembles and breaks in two.
At 6.20pm: Uluru.
A crater like a hollow breast (perfect circle, very big), with an erect nipple in the centre. And all around, the earth’s great witching hour – she sends her couples in relief into a frenzied jive.
A man embraces her, she seems pacified. Pause.
Further in the distance: a group of rocks, an enormous flock of stones are grazing in solitude.
The foreground is clear: the first one is a woman lying down, pregnant, waiting for her merciful release with her face lifted toward the sky.
Further away again: men huddled together in the foetal position. Are they awaiting death?
Yet more mountains. A woman, her head raised, her long hair flying in the wind. Or that other woman, with a bird on her head, who is violently attacking a monster or is it a man? With contempt and disdain.
And then more: intertwined paintings and sculptures.
And more again: large canvases, a flight of colours, in matching shades, in a volley, violent slashes of colour or a profusion of pastels.
A dragon lying in a dried-up swamp of fire, another phoenix with a flaming crest, wings spread and the train of its long tail (or is it clutching a snake in its claws?)
And still more: a squad of little clouds of light, the first for hours! They move forward, or rather it’s our plane that is moving away from them, but their shadow remains still.
We’ve now been flying at nine hundred kilometres an hour for two and a half hours over this desert.
She (the earth) tells me her story, she writes it, draws it and sculpts it for me.
And her story is also my story:
When, oh when, poor things of this world, will we reach the sea? The water?
Floating veils of clouds go past, like curtains that we pull.
Like water spreading between these steamy isles… Like fog drowning the valley… And now it’s the sky’s turn to tell me his story, his struggle and his suffering.
A great gust of cloud arrives.
I feel nauseous: it is drizzling outside.
Suddenly, I open my eyes: fantastic scenery!
The earth has become the sky, the bottom is on top, everything has been inverted.
All of this is in me, all of this is mine:
So I throw out my octopus tentacles towards you. On this earth, so many gigantic serpents come slithering out at night and hide in her bowels by day!
Monsters from the dawn of time, they climb out to destroy the creature in the black of night.
As for me, I throw these huge green and black rings out to you, eye of the day.
Suddenly, I tense up, overcome by an icy pain that climbs in a wide, circular motion towards my heart. Once again I have lost trace of you, and my stealthy black chargers break free, dispersing in all directions. A faint light radiates the horizon: could it be You?
My tears of salt and blood have dried on my flat cheeks: where is my splendour?
I am she of wind and fire. My breasts have dried up. My emaciated belly is barren!
And yet I conceal gold and diamonds and the powerful uranium that promotes men to the level of gods and the rarest minerals of all the colours of the rainbow.
My misery and my strength.
My death is rebirth!
Written by Hélène Savoie translated from the French by Karin Speedy
© Karin Speedy 2010
Speedy, Karin and Savoie, Hélène. Les Terres de la demi-lune / Half-Moon Lands. Bilingual edition, Translated and with a Critical Introduction by Karin Speedy. ISBN: 978 2 296 11771 6. L’Harmattan: Paris, 2010. (280 pages)