The possibilities of language

… They’re perhaps not suited to our kind of publication, with its emphasis on exploring the possibilities of language.

A rejection slip sent to a young writer

He explores the possibilities. Regularly. In this regard, at least, he is very regular. Someone said once that nobody ever had a really good idea while writing in a large room — so he is exploring the possibilities of proving this theory correct while seated in the smallest room of his house. There are many ways of approaching the problem. He thinks. Should he at any time in the near future begin to have a large idea, what then should he do with it? If it is a specially large idea, it may demand taking to a slightly larger room, to give it space to develop and mature. This is interesting. He thinks about John Milton. If John Milton were with him the room would not be big enough for both of them. John Milton was not a big man, but he had big ideas. John Milton wrote about god. There is no way anyone could fit John Milton and God in the same, small room. He decided to start with something smaller and see how far the thing will grow before he has to move to a larger room. He thinks about Babel, because he is thinking about language. He thinks about God, but only for a moment. Ideas like that are difficult to sustain. He thinks about bananas, because the room he is in reminds him of bananas. It is a purple room. He thinks about Babel again, and then he thinks about bananas, because they sound good together. Like peaches and cream. Suddenly, a scenario evolves in his head. There is a man. The man is in a car. It is a small car. No. He starts again. The man is in a banana. The man is in a large banana, eating a car. It is still a small car. The man is munching away on his ripe, yellow car and quite happily enjoying the scenery. John Milton knocks on the window of the man’s four-wheel-drive banana and says, “Ah … hello. My name’s John Milton. I was wondering if you’d like to spend some time discussing the possibilities of language with me?” The man thinks for a while, takes another bite off his car, and says, “John, I’d really like that, but I don’t think this banana is big enough for both of us.” “Well,” says John, realising that this is a valid problem, “I have a large peach parked across the road. I’m sure that it would be large enough to accommodate our ideas, at least to begin with.” The man says, “OK,” and gets out of his banana. He looks across the road and sees the peach. It’s enormous. An American peach with mag wheels and GT stripes along the side. Even more incredible is the fruit which it is towing. The man stops, amazed, and stares. “It’s so big!?” he says. “Oh, yes,” says John, “peaches are just fine for love poetry, but for God I need a watermelon.” The man and John enter the peach. They talk about love. They talk about peaches. They talk about love, again. Which leads them to politics. Which leads them to Marx. Yes, they even talk about Marx, and they are still quite comfortable in the peach. The peach is large. Marx is not large enough. Marx was a big man, but his ideas were smaller than a peach. Their conversation comes to a natural pause, which is what often happens to conversations about Marx, and John looks at the man, and the man looks at John, and John looks back at the man and asks, “By the way, my good man, what is your name?” The man begins to panic. He thinks way back to his childhood. There is nothing there. “I don’t know,” he says. “For as long as I can remember I have always been called The Man.” “But if you are The Man,” says John, “then you must be the Son of God!” The peach seems altogether far too small. They are standing at the door of the watermelon. John opens the door. Inside the watermelon is red and juicy. John looks in through the door and says, “It is sad, isn’t it? I have been eating this watermelon for 300 years and it is still not finished. I sometimes think that I will be eating it forever. Almost every afternoon I come in here to eat and let the juice run down my neck. I work at it very hard. Whenever I find a pip I write an epic poem and I think about God when I spit it out.” John reaches inside the door of the watermelon and pulls out a box. It is full of pips. “What I really want to know is, will you help me eat the watermelon? I think that it is nearly half eaten, so that if we work very hard we could be finished in a hundred years. By that time we will have written a thousand epic poems and there will be enough space in here to consider the universe. What do you say?” The Man looks into the watermelon and He is hungry, so they start to eat. They eat for a hundred years or so. The juice runs down their necks. The juice is everywhere. They write epic poems and consider the possibilities of God. They spit the pips into the box. When they have finally finished eating the watermelon, they consider the universe. And they think it is sad. But determined that 400 years of writing epic poems and thinking about God will not go to waste, they bundle the pips into the back of the peach and drive to Milton’s farm in the country where they plant the pips in the ground and grow watermelons. But John and the Man have had their fill of the red, juicy universe, so they decide to eat nuts instead. They sell the watermelons to other people who wish, against their best advice, to explore the possibilities of infinite things.

This work was first published by Writers’ Radio, 5UV (Adelaide), in 1984.
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