Babel Rising: 4 – At 4:00 am


Graphics is a mashup by SSJ from pictures contributed by xreschPublicDomainPictures,  cocoparisienne and Marisa04

4 – At 4:00 am

At 4:00 am, Salm woke up with the ethereal feeling that the whole night sky was shining through the window. His tabletop, tilted 110to face his bed, was glowing softly. It was strange that his favorite pillow was almost inaudibly but repeatedly playing one of his mother’s favorite classics, Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. He had expected to be roused up later in the morning by some strong vocals sung a cappella, as that was what the agent was bringing him for several mornings now. It must be one of those times when the agent was playfully glitchy and did not exactly do what it was supposed to do, or, Salm wondered, did Mother mess around with my agent?

On the dimly glowing tabletop, below the small headings on ownership copyrights, bibliographical information, addresses and all that legal speak, Salm read the following:

Author: Hans Acadiane

Title: the edge of a continent is…

the edge of a continent is
a lonely place to lie in wait
for the closing of the distance
or the heaving
heaving of the heart
where white stallions
burdened by their manes
fling themselves upon the shore
fading fading like cirrus clouds
in supreme sacrifice
my heart clings to the sand
as the distance slips back
into the horizon
i see your face gently
gently breaking into a smile
and a fluttering like
the mane of white stallions
gasping rushing at the edge
of a continent
a lonely place a lovely place
to lie in wait for the stallions’ crests
race up to the shore
to kiss the land
and praise the sky
with playful wings or burdened chests
and the softly howling wind will tell
will tell of a lonely place
a lovely place
where your morning hair
is like the silky breeze
that fondles
fondles for evermore
the heaving troughs the restless crests
the twisting clouds
of the edges
the edges
of a continent

Salm read and re-read and pondered on the poem. By the time he decided that the poem carried just about the weight of longing and emotion he wished to send to Anis, his curiosity was at a crescendo, How could such a haunting poem be written? by whom and for whom? what motivated the author? would it be justice to corrupt it into something else? Maybe, Salm thought, I could simply get Hans Acadiane’s permission for me to send the poem to Anis, unchanged. Maybe, he could even ask Hans Acadiane a brief explanation about the piece. That could provide him with more insight as to how to handle Anis herself, who, he was certain, will know that the poem is not his original and would probably ask him more questions than he could answer.

Hi, Hans, my name is Salm, I am 16…, he fired up his standard opening e-mail lines as he had done many times before when he was meeting new people on the Net. I came across your poem, ‘the edge of a continent’, and I was wondering if you can allow me to send this, unchanged and with your byline, to a girl that I like very much. If you do not mind, I would also appreciate if you can tell me more about the circumstances behind the writing of this poem. I’d like to be a friend, so please feel free to tell me about your self. I also hope you are not going to charge me for the use of the poem, I’m just a high schooler.

The reply was instant, and almost seemed to make that same whoosh-and-thump sound that startled him at the Office Wall with his father the day before, Hi Salm. It is nice to know that someone fancies my poem. I am honored. Not that I write very well. But it can really get lonely out here.

The celeste had stopped playing and only the distant waves were breaking the silence of a rising dawn. The chat service had turned on automatically.

Where are you, Hans? Who are you?

Out here, in the most forsaken place you can imagine. I am a member of an international peacekeeping mission that tries to disengage people from killing each other. The mission is presently posted in Angola.

Cool! Do you actually carry a gun?

No, not me. I am a linguist, and I am mainly around to help offer an insight into the people we are dealing with and sometimes help with the translation services. As in Kosovo several years back, I never did carry a gun, although there were times when I wished I had one. I would however prefer any day with my mobile communicator over a blazing rifle. Aside from recording my diary, I could do wonders with the communicator, programming, experimenting, juggling, you know, stuff like trying to solve the conundrum of the Tower of Babel.

Angola! Kosovo! You certainly are traveling places. Like my father. But I thought these conflicts have already been resolved?

You don’t seem to keep up with your news readings. Of course these stories don’t make the front pages anymore, more so when people personalize their news bulletins and prefer to skim over these stories. But really, this grim business is not going to end any time soon. Analyze any history database about any region on Earth, this stuff has been going on for ages, in cycles and trends, again and again and again. Like waves racing to the shore, they almost always bring froth and scum. Even when, sometimes, they can be cleansing.

Have you engaged in actual combat? How is it like?

Not often. Once in Kosovo, our verification team was trapped in between the Serbian Army and a civilian community, which was being pounded with tank guns. Without munitions, we felt so helpless. While some people told me later that being unarmed was probably what saved us at that time, it nevertheless did not save the unarmed men, women and children of the village. Can you explain that to me?

Explain what?

I still cannot fathom humanity. That was a horrible, horrible period. All the while, in the words of Pablo Neruda: like an eyelid held open hideously, we were just watching.

Let us change topic. Who is she?

Who is she, who??

The lady you wrote the poem to.

O, she is my wife, Nely.

You write with such rhythm or depth, or something.

You think so? When you go through hell almost every day and see the one-eyed monster through its iris and there is nowhere to turn to except the sea and your gray matter, you can write with interlaced agony on almost anything.

It does not strike me that your poem was about agony.

It really is an attempt to connect the small pockets in between the sea of agonies.

What did your wife say about the poem?

There was a brief delay in the reply.

Come to think of it, she did not reply at all on that poem. According to my records, it was delivered to her e-mail inbox shortly before last New Year’s day, that time of the year when people reflect on a lot of things and, with more enormity, write things like a poem or a resolution or a testament.

That’s over six months ago. She must have said something.

I recall that was also the time when the fighting was unusually heavy in Angola and our unit was, for several days, marooned with our back to the sea. It seems that the closing of a year can also bring in more resolve for people to go on a binge. Much like fierce salesmen haggling and negotiating to meet or exceed their annual quota.

And your wife did not say anything about the poem? Did she read it at all?

O yes, I got her return receipt, properly time-stamped and authenticated, just moments before our mission boarded the mercy flight bound for Cabinda. She had sent, on a separate packet, a New Year’s greeting at about the same time, but that was it.

I hope my girl would be more appreciative of your poem when I send it to her.

Try it. It is always a challenge figuring out what’s coming from the other end of a connection.

It is already 7 am. I promised Mother to catch her some sea urchins for breakfast today. I’ll get back to you later, Hans. Thank you so much. Say, what time is it there with you now?

It is 07:01:1.15. What a nice day, Salm! Ciao.

Funny, Salm wanted to type some more into the chat channel, that we are in the same time zone, I thought you were in Africa. But the channel was already disconnected. There lingered only the low static humming of the tabletop and the distant sound of waves outside Salm’s window.

Salm went back to his e-mail and quickly attached the poem to his previously prepared message for Anis. Below the attachment icon, he added a short note: Anis, I hope you like this poem. It is written by one Hans Acadiane for his wife. Interesting fellow, I met him on the Net this morning. Like me, Hans is far away from his loved one and misses her very much. This sincerely comes from the depth of our hearts. Then with a click and a prayer, Salm sent the e-mail to Anis.

Other parts, here:

Babel Rising: 1 – In a time and place 

Babel Rising: 2 – Now that he was growing

Babel Rising: 3 – There were days when

Babel Rising: 5 – In the evening

A Companion Reader to Babel Rising: Augmented Eternity

© Said Sadain, Jr. 1999


Graphics is a mashup by SSJ from pictures contributed by geraltPublicDomainPictures and xresch.

[“Babel Rising” first saw print in Bugs and Bytes, In Bigger Prints, a book written and desktop-published by Said Sadain, Jr., Manila, 1999, and is anthologized in The Many Ways of Being Muslim: Fiction by Muslim Filipinos, edited by Coeli Barry (Ithaca, US: Cornell University Press, Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2008 / Manila, Philippines: Anvil Publishing, Inc, 2008)]

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wild reader. writer in the wild. technologist at work. not necessarily in that order.
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7 Responses to Babel Rising: 4 – At 4:00 am

  1. Pingback: Babel Rising: 3 – There were days when | from sand to stars

  2. Pingback: Babel Rising: 2 – Now that he was growing | from sand to stars

  3. Pingback: Babel Rising: 1 – In a time and place | from sand to stars

  4. Very clever, Said, I like the love/war contrast, and continues to show how well you predicted the future. 😃 I’m still discussing questions of what AI can and can’t do with some artists I work with in the so-called “real” world, and it’s been fueled in part by your fiction and comments, our earlier discussion, so thanks for your help. 😃

    • Thank you, Steve, and you’re welcome. I hope the discussions are being productive, not in the sense that we expect to be able to invent things ourselves, but that as writers and artists, we can be able to provide or provoke better insights at how these technologies, whether still emergent or already ubiquitous, could be changing and molding behaviors of individuals and societies going into the future.

  5. Pingback: Babel Rising: 5 – In the evening | from sand to stars

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