Winter 2011-2012

Cannon, Tiber, Turtle, Venus

Leland de la Durantaye

This contribution to Cabinet’s “24 Hours” issue was completed in Berlin, Germany, in 23 hours, 18 minutes.


I arrived in the night, dark and warm. I was used to a very different time zone. I had been awake for a number of hours difficult to calculate. I let drop my bags and began to look around. The bookcases were full of treasure. I found framed letters from people dear to me. I spent a long time staring at a drawing of a mysterious person. I took from a shelf a book called What I Saw and Heard in Rome by Ingeborg Bachmann. She said in it lots of things that are lovely and true. That the Tiber is not pretty but its water is, that St. Peter’s seems smaller than its measurements, and yet is too big.

I dreamed that night of a large painting storming with roses, of a turtle, a frog, and a woman turning slowly, her hair wound high on her head. I dreamed that I levitated—not very high, but high enough. I dreamed of sparrows. In my dream I knew that Venus moved about on the wings of sparrows. I wondered what color her eyes were. Ingeborg Bachmann told me that Athena’s were gray—not really gray but glaukos, the matte silver shimmering of light on the leaves of an olive tree. She told me that Juno is ox-eyed and so her eyes must have been brown—deep, fixing, and holding. She spoke as though she knew them personally. She said that Venus’s could only have been blue. She was of the sea, born of it, emerging from it. I began to ask—

I exploded into consciousness, alarmed. I sat up in bed, the sun streaming in, no Ingeborg, no Venus, no turtles. I felt sure that something momentous had awoken me, a shockwave, that something had rippled through the room, the building. I was perfectly still. I listened, but heard only the rumble of distant cars on cobbles, a voice calling out merrily, sparrows.

As I left the building a short while later, the merry voice I had heard in bed called out to me. She was very old. She welcomed me to her city and asked me how I had slept. I did not tell her of turtle, frog, Venus, or Ingeborg. I told her that I had slept so deeply that I had just woken up, with an extreme start, as though—

She nodded. “The cannon.”

How did she know that? Yes, like a cannon. Did she know of the turtles too? “Exactly!” I said. “That’s what it felt like. As though—”

“A cannon.” She really liked this metaphor. And I did too. And yet something was missing.

“Um, ah—”

“Cannon. Cannon.” She mimicked a cannon. Which was strange. “There is always a cannon,” she s

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