Somewhere in a spectral desert, the love poet Aladdin al-Mutayyam sang —
Reasoned thought is a weighted rope
gnawed by a drunken camel.
This was a veiled image. It did not reveal itself to
me immediately. A thousand years later I could see the length of rope suspended
in an abstract blue space; I could see it pulled taut by an unseen weight;
and I could see the camel’s soggy mouth curled around it. But if the rope
represented thought and if logic is the weight that pulls thought taut
[thought, taut, taught, tot], what is the camel?
I visualized the rope in various ways — tangled,
knotted, coiled in a figure eight and set neatly aside as a ship’s rigger would
do; or twisted into a hangman’s noose. I can never think of rope for long
without thinking of a noose.
Suddenly an image from Phantom Autumn
recurred to me — a woodland road lined with the bodies of outlaws hanging from
tree limbs and makeshift gibbets. Autumn leaves glowed in the mist, gorgeously
indifferent to the dead, each leaf dripping fogdamp from a sharp or rounded
tongue. The woods rattled with the slow, chaotic dripping of the fog — tap — tap
— tap-tap —
here, there, behind my back; my eyes darted nervously, chasing every sound, but
I kept my gaze low, never looking up (except by mischance) at the faces of the
dead, which I will not describe here.
Eyes on the ground, I saw mandrakes and toadstools pushing up through the
fallen leaves under the dangling feet of the hanged men. These might be Robin
Hood’s merry men, strung up in Sherwood Forest, but a voice told me that these
were Fenella’s men, whoever Fenella was.