Josephine Mead
a train without stopping


I am on a train without stopping. The carriages have no doors. I am passing through. The sounds are deafening and my breath meets the window in gusts of fog. I am softening the world through the power of my lungs. Blanketing the fields outside in white crystal. Breathing fog onto the window in an effort to settle the sadness. I thought about the decaying lungs in the hospital wards, struggling to breathe. Chronic pain had lead my body to return rapidly to ongoing points of contention and dismay, but my lungs have never failed me. The world moves in cycles and there is space for postulation through prostration – it’s a case of finding the spot to lay down faith eternally. Usually the spot is to be found within the making - within the moving - within the feeling; within the sounds.

To place the body as a gesture. The Greek term pneuma (literally ‘breath’) is ambiguous. It is found in Greek treatises of medicine from antiquity, and subsequently in Plato. Aristotle even makes it the vehicle of the soul […] The pneuma […] is a fluid that encompasses speech, breath, and soul. Here, therefore, sound is a substance, albeit an impalpable one. It is not yet a wave transported through the air. The air does play a fundamental role in the theory of the pneuma, though: it moves along sound. Or rather, breath-sound moves and enters back into the body of the hearer.1 Words enter the body, passing through. Not many stick. It’s the same with images. I look at the image and when I blink it disappears, but the imprint remains behind my eyelids; the colours mark hidden messages down my thighs.

I found two rosellas in love on a tree branch on my walk yesterday afternoon. I was wearing floral pants and a bee landed on me. He was exploring the flowers, finding no nectar in a traditional sense. A reminder that the sweetness is within us. A dog followed me home and tried to shadow me into our apartment. He looked like a barrel. She found a cat dying on the pavement yesterday and picked it up. It bled on her and she sent me a photograph of her soiled clothes. She took the cat to the emergency vet and is still waiting for a call. I wanted to go to her, but quarantine won’t allow for that. How to figure out if I have deep feelings when I can’t see her. If the restrictions carry on, interest might be lost. I continue to breathe. More fogged breath on the glass. Another opportunity shrouded over and forgotten. More billows of white haze. What is over taking me? Without a flash of revelation there is nothing.2

My hands quaver in unison. I move my left hand up and down to control the volume of the external noise – news reports and insignificant concerns. So much talk of money and I feel tired, although I am deep within it, contributing and receiving. The guilt sits in my chest like a weight. My right hand moves in and out, controlling the pitch. I open my fingers slowly. I imagine they are dancing. I imagine that I know the lyrics. I imagine that the melodies will occur naturally within me. In 20 days my Theremin will arrive in the mail.

As the sense-organs reach the limit of their powers, their lights begin to go out 3 I keep pushing, coming up to edges, and dimming rapidly. I am on the precipice, pushing to the next work constantly. I am worried I will be overtaken by it like before. How to release the pressure so that I can resume acts of making? The sense of the image floats above me and I cannot grasp it. It moves like a cloud. It exists somewhere in the fog on the train window. I write my name in it with my finger. This changes its molecular structure and the sense of the image has disappeared. Whenever I try to mark it, it escapes. The images move faster than me. I am reaching the limits of my powers. Will they be inscribed or burnt out within the night?

Buried more deeply in the soil of memory. I’ve spent the week with my aunty who has Down Syndrome. I’ve watched her go through daily motions and can see the stages that her mind works through; processing and adapting. It’s a privilege and her insight extends beyond mine. But things are hard for her. Memory is skewed. Sometimes the recall comes to make a daily task run smoothly, sometimes steps are missing. We get there in the end. I am reminded of when my grandmother’s Alzheimers began. When walking from one surface to the next – carpet to tiles – became frightening. The tiles looked like water and the change of texture was a change of country. The soil of memory contracts and expands and hides things in strange ways. I breathe once more onto the window and my name clouds over. The saddest things are the most fascinating and call for the most examination. I breathe deeply against the glass. My lungs are still working and I have much soil within the memory of my mind.

  1. François J. Bonnet, The Order of Sounds: A Sonorous Archipelago, p.10. 

  2. J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace, p. 21. 

  3. J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace, p. 23.