“Since most poets have abandoned metrical language and now, instead of verses, use free rhythms and floating lines arranged in stanzas, here and there a misunderstanding has arisen that any text consisting of floating lines, ie, lines of unequal length, is poetry. That is incorrect. A floating line – or better: a flying line – is free and does not belong to poets alone.”
Resurrection in Kham.
Eastern Tibet, twenty-first century.
six thousand, eight hundred and forty metres above sea level
on the fourth of May in the Year of the Horse.
lay at the foot of an ice-armoured needle of rock
in whose lee I had survived the night.
The air temperature at the time of my death
was minus 30 degrees Celsius
and I saw the moisture
of my final breath crystallize
and disperse like smoke into the light of dawn.
I felt no cold. I was in no pain.
The pulsing of the wound in my left hand
was strangely dulled.
Through the bottomless chasms at my feet
fists of cloud came drifting from the south-east.
The ridge leading from my shelter up and up
to the pyramidal peak
was lost in driving banners of ice,
but the sky above the highest heights
remained so deep a blue
that in it I thought I could make out the constellations
of Boötes, Serpens and Scorpio.
Neither did the stars vanish
when the sun rose over the plumes of ice
and sealed my eyes,
but appeared in my blindness,
even against the red of my closed lids,
as white pulsating sparks.
The readings on the altimeter,
which had somehow slipped
from my frozen glove
and bounced away into the clouds below,
were still branded on my retina:
atmospheric pressure, altitude, degrees Celsius...
the lost instrument’s every measurement
a burning number.
Only when these numbers
and then the stars melted away
and finally vanished did I hear the sea.
I died high above the clouds
and heard the breakers,
thought I could feel the surf
foaming up out of the deep towards me,
carrying me once more up to the peak –
just a snow-covered rock on the beach
before it sank.
The crashing of the hail of stones
that had pulverised my hand,
the hissing of the wind, the beating of my heart –
all were drowned out by the tide.
Was I on the seabed?
Or at the summit?
In a painless peace,
which I know now
was indeed the end, my death,
and not mere exhaustion,
high-altitude hallucinations or a blackout,
I heard a voice, a laugh:
It was my brother’s voice.
We had lost each other
the previous night as the temperature plummeted.
I was dead.
He had found me.
I opened my eyes. He was kneeling by my side.
Holding me in his arms. I was alive.
My pulse was raging where the stones had crushed
my hand; my heart.
when she spelt out the name of a plant
into my ear.
Her plaited hair smelt of yak wool
and smoke, and as she spoke
she would sometimes draw
swift, fleeting figures with her index finger
on my arm or the back of my hand –
spirals, wavy lines, circles.
I had lost my brother’s tracks
in a blizzard
when the moon vanished,
as if doused by a wave of black water.
The storm had torn us apart
and driven me on through the darkness,
in which the beam of my headlamp,
splintered by crystals of ice, was the only light,
into the shelter of a rocky pinnacle.
There I survived until sunrise.
My brother was kneeling beside me.
Holding me in his arms.
Then rose as if borne down by a leaden weight
and tried to drag me up with him.
Swore in helpless rage.
His face, his balaclava,
an icy grimace.
How much time had passed since we were separated?
The sun was riding high over the ridge to the peak.
The sky – cloudless.
And in the lee of the rocky needle,
in my leeward shelter – no breath of wind.
I was alive.
It was snowing.
shredded paper from an invisible fire,
black flakes came tumbling
out of the cloudless sky.
But when one of these flakes
settled on my brother’s
another on his shoulder,
on my chest, my forehead,
I saw antennae!
I saw insects’ threadlike legs,
wings. Encased in hoar frost
that exaggerated and magnified
their compound eyes, proboscises and wing scales,
dead butterflies rained down
on me and my brother –
first one at a time, then in their hundreds,
and finally in a whirling swarm
that darkened the sky.
Many of these filigree corpses
appeared to shatter
as they struck my chest,
my brother’s glove,
and I thought I heard a tinkling.
No, there was silence.
Out of a sky that at its zenith
seemed already to take on the blackness of space
fell frozen butterflies, Apollo butterflies,
like those we had seen weeks earlier in the valleys of Kham,
circling in huge swarms
above the prayer flags festooning
a ruined monastery,
above a glacier lake,
a rhododendron forest.
I was weary, unspeakably weary.
Yearned to lie there.
Lie there, sleep.
My brother pulled and hauled me up,
sank back into the snow with me.
And I huddled in his arms,
six thousand, eight hundred and forty metres above the sea,
and stared through a thick flurry of flakes
at the plumes of ice above Phur-Ri,
at the dazzling peak of the Flying Mountain,
where I had carved
our names in the snow
with the handle of my ice-pick.
I was alive.
Excerpted with permission from The Flying Mountain, Christoph Ransmayr, translated from the German by Simon Pare, Seagull Books.