Tristan's Lament, a short story by Ron Kempton at

Tristan’s Lament

Tristan’s Lament

written by: Ron Kempton


The white spine of the circular sky pulls like a freight train over the moody earth. Each star peaks through its window spyglass to find the season ripe with motion. Orange cinnamon pastels dance for the women dusting the garden for baskets of trinkets, making tables full with this year’s drama. Pines and poplars greet breezes turning their attention to valleys and churning mountains. Wild grass, wild rivers hungry sunlight – all taking a portion of the misty shadows still sleeping.

I rise to this concert walking among the cattails by a lake, smelling the earth. Home is small in a village past or more like a place someone else knew. I still find myself here, near to the city far from people. Somehow, I feel a fight for truth, in my words, in my art, in the bones that hold the world together. An escape finding my way through pastorals, seascapes, portraits, and the dull singsong of tradition. I turn to Tristan and look for an answer in his art. Then he rips at me from inside and his words fall from my skin like sweat.
Suddenly Dada becomes me, my creed for a moment. What are you doing when you fall into logic as a canvas? What are you saying when you scribble little girls into rhyme? Hold onto the rusting corrosive sickness of politics, rolling in the bed with couplets that poison your mind, trying to cheat death instead of embracing its true nature. Art is dead when you’ve already decided what it is you want to end up with. Life is death when one already knows what you are and where you want to go.

Your predictable color is the vomit of the nothing that surrounds you, what you let corrode you. You write and paint and draw the stupid emptiness of what your bones tell you to write while avoiding the trueness of every act of truth. If Jesus died for a truth, then who understands his art? There is no art if you can’t find it breathing after you experience it. You find it futile and don’t want to waste time on a word that means nothing.

No matter where you go inside your own mist there is no art that is finally and without reservation true. The sunrise is not true when you only see the sun rising. Beauty is not real, only Dada can be who you are when you finally own it. This race has long since faded into blind faith, accepting what they’re told is real and doing what it seems all others do even though the others are doing the same thing. Therefore, the lie is complete. You paint the ocean because you see it, but it isn’t real either. Each one sees what he or she wants to see then the painting dies before it is painted. Life becomes what you’ve painted every day and it is dead before you rise. An endless relative human product made from scraps of nothing.

I truly made an inner pilgrimage to embrace the true nature of Dada.
I divested myself of all art supplies and began using what I could find around the streets of Devon. Down by the waterfront where the sailboats dock. Up and down the streets of Clovelly Village, north and south I roamed picking up pieces of bark, feathers, and odd stones I might come across. Small metal scraps, leaves, and all the berries I could find.

Days passed quickly and seasons hurried on. I continued to collect oddities and use them to paint with. I tried to clear my mind of any preconceived ideas. One day I came across an old clock in a junk shop and brought it back to my studio. I took it apart and gave the parts a new life inside the canvas of my mind. As I came near completion of my Dada art, I noticed time would pass in pictures before me while standing close. When I backed away from the art, time would return to its normal pace. I fell into my own imaginings and ran free inside the working of the giant canvas I had created in the studio, in a creative cell, in the ambient carrousel of a place in my bones.

I stood close to my creation and watched flashes of unchanging blocks of the past, I saw brother destroying brother in fields scared by trenches. I heard a madman shout, “Sic temper Tyrannis.” Then, just as suddenly, there were super-sonic flying machines and trains racing at the speed of sound. I heard women and men struggling for money and power. Then the grey furry of tornado winds boiling the sea.
I jumped away from my creation, soaked with sweat, my heart pounding and my eyes burning. I sat across the room to collect myself as waves of fright and confusion overcame me. What had I created? Am I the only one whom this artwork affected this way? I contacted my creative confidant, Jocquis and pleaded with him to come quickly. “My lord Franklin, it’s four A.M. I’m just now finding my bed,” came his reply.

“Please!” I begged, “It’s more than a request. I need you now more than ever.”

“I’m on my way! You’ll owe me more than a thousand of wine and rare delicacies.” He arrived within the hour. As soon as he walked in, I began to ready him for the strange experience he was about to have. I told him to go stand as close as he could to the large canvas and hold on. He did as I instructed and waited, then he looked back and commented. “Is something supposed to happen?”

“You don’t see anything?” I asked.

“Nothing someone in my position at five in the morning would see otherwise.”

“You don’t see flashes of history and glimpses of the future?”

He stepped back from the giant artwork I had struggled so hard to create and smiled. “Franklin are you in your right mind?” He poured a glass of Burgundy, took a swallow and looked at me. “Hmmm. Well? I wait for your response, dear friend.”

“When I stand close to that work I see pictures and hear sounds of the past and future.”

“You’ve been working yourself sick ol’ boy! It’s time you took a step back and rested some. Don’t you agree?”

“OK, watch,” I said. I positioned myself as close to the work as I could. I stood there and waited. Nothing came to me. There were no images, no flashes of the future or the past.

“Is this why you called me at four thirty in the morning? My stars, Franklin! I do think you’ve gone off. How long are you going to stand spread-eagled in front of that gruesome canvas and wait for..? Can I leave now or is there more of this bourgeois burlesque from your exhausted imagination?”

“Jacques, I swear on my mother’s grave! Before you came, I stood in front of this finished work and my mind became filled with wild hurried images, violent hints of the future, and scenes from the past. I am not mad nor am I playing some elaborate hoax. Please believe me.”

“I believe you saw something. I’m doubting it was because of this atrocious pile of odds and ends causing it.”

“It’s Dada, and I worked on the true nature of what I know to be the nothingness of everything. By starting with no idea at all and just letting myself create from a place I never created before.”

“Dear Franklin, do you hear yourself? I really think you’ve lost the foundation of the beautiful landscapes and city streets you used to create and gone looking for something that you can’t be part of. You’re not that kind of thinker or that kind of artist. Please destroy this creation! Come to my flat and rest up for a while. Clear your mind and start fresh. Won’t you?”

“No, I won’t. You must leave now. I know what I saw and I know what I must do. Please Jacques, leave now and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“I fear that tomorrow might not come, my dear Franklin. I will depart and I will walk the streets of Devon, find my flat and join myself to sleep, but I will not stop worrying for you. I do think you’re playing with fire and you will live to regret your experiment. Good-bye Franklin.”

In the quiet room he left behind, I stood. Dawn was lighting the world outside. I stood there, silent in thought and filled with dreadful curiosity. I approached my Dada artwork and spread my arms as if to hug it. Suddenly the world raced past. Light flashed and the history of mankind filled my eyes. I felt myself falling and when I stepped back, I was four years in the past. I yelled, “I’m Tristan!” Then I moved back into my time portal creation.

Nothing happened. No sound, no flashes of history past or present. I just stood there. Next, I heard the news-boy yelling that Archduke Ferdinand had been assassinated. I knew what I had already seen and what was going to happen. I knew what would take place. As the days passed, I had to re-live the nightmare of machines slaughtering everyone and everything. The four-year war went on just as it had before I stepped into my art work.

When I finally came to the end of the war, I felt a flash, my head almost exploding. Then I stood in my room, stunned and exhausted. I fell back against the wall when I heard the sound of a newsboy yelling “Archduke Ferdinand assassinated!” Oh no! Not again. Could it be true? Was I lost in an unending cycle to repeat over and over the same four years of war that nearly destroyed the world and certainly changed it? I couldn’t change my lot. I created some kind of time warp that kept sending me back to live the same period of human history over and over. There was nothing I could do. It was 1914 and the world was at war for the rest of my life.

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