I’m pleased here to present the first few pages of Steven Heighton’s new novel Every Lost Country, published just yesterday (really! May 4) by Random House in Canada. Many Numéro Cinq readers will already be familiar with Steven, having read his poem “Herself, Revised” published here a couple of weeks ago. The poem is from his recently published collection Patient Frame. It is not my intention to flood the market with Steven Heighton prose and poetry, but the man is a walking definition of the word “prolific” and ambidextrous and a compatriot and his words are good companions in the long summer evenings.
from Every Lost Country
Air this thin turns anyone into a mystic. Dulling the mind, it dulls distinctions, slurs the border between abstractions—right and wrong—or apparent opposites—dead and alive, past and present, you and him. The brain, rationing oxygen, quiets to a murmur, like a fine-print clause or codicil. You’re at high altitude for the first time and this mental twilight is a surprise as rewarding as the scenery. This recess from judgement, sedation of the conscience. How your sleep here seems too shallow for the nightmares that await you at a certain depth. You and the rest of the party are basically drunk. Till now you’ve had to treat others for minor problems only, small cuts and contusions, headaches, insomnia, so this intoxication remains a luxury, not a medical challenge. Or a moral one.
To you, right and wrong are not abstractions.
Still, think of the freedom of those summit squads dreamily bypassing climbers fallen in the Death Zone—the strange luxury of that. What Lawson himself has done. You might have thought twice about joining his expedition as doctor, and bringing along your daughter, if you’d known his story when you signed the contract. But at this altitude your numbed mind has to wonder. Camp One. Put yourself in his boots if you can. Now say for certain what you’d have done, or will do.
September 20, 2006, 4: 17 p.m.
She sees the trouble coming because she knows her father.
Sophie sits where she has sat for the last few afternoons, on the flat top of a concrete cylinder rebarred into the glacier, her backside in Nepal and her boots in China—Tibet. The seat of her favourite ripped jeans covers the line of Chinese characters inscribed in the concrete. Beside her stands a lightweight aluminum flagpole not much taller than she is and skewed some degrees off vertical. The breeze cooling her back can’t stir the small Chinese flag, because monsoon winds or, more likely, mischievous Sherpas like Kaljang and Tashi have spooled and tangled the flag tightly to the pole. Come to think of it—and the notion pleases her on a number of grounds, playful, political—she is likely seated a dozen steps or more inside China now. Chinese border patrols have to hike up the glacier and adjust the markers from time to time. A week ago, she and her father and Kaljang and Amaris stood at the edge of base camp and watched the Chinese set up a device on a tripod and take readings and untangle and lower the flag and remove the flagstaff and pry out the marker and roll it laboriously upslope and core new holes in the ice and slot it in. Some of the men were in blue coveralls and black toques like a SWAT team, others in olive down vests over camouflage gear. They trudged from chore to chore and said little. They ignored their audience, though one of the men in camouflage, maybe eighteen or so, waved shyly and blew kisses to her and Amaris. Amaris ignored him. Sophie waved back. Beside her, Kaljang’s eyes narrowed merrily in his brown face and he showed his nicotine teeth. She snuck a glance at her father on her other side, but he too seemed tickled by the scene, rubbing his salt and pepper stubble, shaking his head affably. He seemed almost himself again up here.
Read the rest!