We practiced at “The Decontam”— clumsy name for an ugly place—bare concrete rooms buried beneath a protective pyramid mound of soil, turf, and God knows what, designated sanctuary nonetheless for any unlucky enough “in the event of nuclear attack” to survive the initial blast and burn to reach this subterranean space of hollow refuge. The Station Decontamination Centre—to rhyme the place in full, an—as yet—unfrequented location (praises be . . .) where, Tuesday nights, an ill-assorted crew of horns and woodwinds—sackbuts, cornets, clarinets, even the occasional bassoon—would fumble-stumble along through “Colonel Bogey,” “The RAF March Past,” old favorites from Gilbert and Sullivan, “Chu Chin Chow,” and Noel Coward, rehearsing for the CO’s garden party, full-dress dinner evenings at the Mess. They echoed so, those naked rooms and sounding corridors, as if our music might drown out—yes, decontaminate—the cold, blind fury cradled tight beneath the wings of our sleek avenging bombers; full squadrons perched above in laden readiness, paying no heed to our hapless melodies and marches.
This soot-dark smear across the brow, between the eyes, will lead you, if the way be clear, through all the endless winter of our year, toward an elemental table, the tears and savage hubbub of that agonizing garden, the treacherous courtyard, hilltop, nails and spear, the cry, the dark descending fear, and then another garden with a cave and such an austere emptiness will fill the rest of history with clear resounding alleluias.
I’m still looking, scanning, skipping right to the end at times, or settling for the gist on the first page, reading—more selectively across the years— but reading just the same, in the news and novels, articles and extracts, poems even . . . searching for the one, the word, the sentence that can tell me what it’s all about, why I’m here, will not be here much longer, where this morning’s golden-leaving autumn beauty comes from, why, and what it’s for, who thought this whole thing called existence up and maybe has a clue about its shape and size and possible duration. While all the time, beneath, behind, beyond the endless pages, the unrelenting streaming of the words, it unquestionably happens, keeps on happening, without any hope or need for explanation, moving on, while I stand wordless, gasping in its tumbling wake.