Metamorphoses, as mapped to Mahler's 9th

How am I to love you, wax? I know what they've done to you. I know that your jaw is sewn shut and your eyes capped.

Metamorphoses, as mapped to Mahler's 9th
Photo by Alberto Bigoni / Unsplash

If I were sixteen or seventeen years old and had to listen to that, or read things like that, I would want to give up listening and reading. I would begin thinking up new kinds of sounds, different from any music heard before, and I would be twisting and turning to rid myself of human language. --Lewis Thomas, on Mahler's 9th

1st movement: Andante comodo


How am I to love you, wax? I know what they've done to you. I know that your jaw is sewn shut and your eyes capped. How did they plump your cheeks? They are pink like apples. Not like the last time I saw you. You were sunken and very white, then. I came in – it was gone eleven – and there you were, your mouth doing this unnatural thing, a kind of black gape, like there was nothing left inside you. I didn't know what to do. The rosary was being mumbled like a rumour and the room smelled sweet. I did not want to come to you, but I did want to. I did not want to touch you, but I did want you. The candle by your bed, wax: a softening of aspect. Your face, too: wax. The candle, hot – I felt it as I leaned over – but kissing you, that was a different kind of coldness, not an earthly coldness but something beyond what I knew then, or know now, or will ever know. My lips have held your coldness; you live there now. Stepping back, you enswirled, white on white on white, a vanishing point, bed-becoming, the sheets lapping around you as if burying you at sea. All white, save the big gape of your mouth (taking a little pipette that one time, squeezing it, dabbing your lips with water, and as I did so watching for any movement, ideomotor, anything, the raw dull mad hope you'd speak again) but now, snap to real, now just a line, and I know they've sewn it shut; I know someone has taken surgical thread to you. You are life in imitation. You are a parody of yourself. Mockery, foolishness, embalmed denial of all that is, must be.

Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine ...

I carry you.

Wax, I carry you. I was glad when they placed the lid over your face. I did not recognise you. I had not been able to recognise you for a long time. You see, I clung onto your hand. Everything became about that hand in the end. It was the only thing you could move. You would look at me with your filmy eyes (at me? Past me? Inside me?) and I would hold your hand and squeeze it and not know what to say, so I would tell you banalities about my day, because anything real seemed even more trivial somehow. I felt I was insulting you just by being able to choose to be here, when all choice had been taken from you long ago.

I place you down. I have to remember that it's you. I have to associated the box and its heft with a man. And I have to remember that the man was you. A man, not wax. But melted down, yes, shapeless and white, yes, and now snuffed out, yes.

The smoke curls blindly heavenward and is cut by a sunshaft. I close my eyes.

Dona nobis pacem.

2nd movement: Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers. Etwas täppisch und sehr derb

And Now For A Grotesque Parody Of The Wedding Dance

As they spin, her dress fans outwards, breathing with the music, and they whirl as though weightless. Her dress is white and glows like the hands of a priest. He is stately, even-postured, the brute lines of manhood softened by the suit; he is tamed by fabric and the mastery of this flying form. Spotlight. Unspooling light.

They cut quite the circle. Nobody comes in. They're enraptured. Nobody could compete, anyhow, with the gorgeousness of this. This is dance as apotheosis. Their bodies map to music on some higher plane. Tap two three tap two three. Swirl, whirl, duck.

And the dress fans ever outwards.

It is – yes! – eyes do not deceive! – it is expanding outwards. It is filling up more and more space as they whirl, eyes locked on eyes, hands clamped, feet synchronous. And as time slows down, see the thread. The thread from her dress. It is coming loose. And it is getting longer and longer. The dress blooms outwards, but it has reached critical mass and now it is starting to unravel.

Does she notice? She doesn't appear to. The skirts shrink to nothing. Then the bodice. Are they scandalised? Who knows? Who cares? This is all about them. He doesn't flinch as the thread catches at his cuff, as his clothes start to uncoil, until these two are two perfect nudes, spinning, spinning.

But there is still more thread.

Watch as her skin and his skin unspools in pink ribbons. See the latticework underneath. Flesh of my flesh. Even as they are invisibly flayed, as their ribboned tissue piles up in seeping heaps, they spin and spin. Soon, they are two disintegrating skeletons; soon, they are dust.

And someone has to clean this up.

3rd movement: Rondo-Burleske: Allegro assai. Sehr trotzig

Please Don't Die



"Are you awake?"

"Humh? Ghh."



"I'm sorry for waking you."

"It's okay."



"Well, what?"

"Well, why did you wake me up?"

"I – ah. Erm. I'm sorry. It doesn't matter. Go back to sleep. I'm sorry."

"Bloody hell. But you ... come on. What is it?"

"No, it's just that ..."


"Well, I was lying here, thinking about you, and I realised you were going to die."

"Huh. Yeah, well. Humans have a habit of doing that."

"I know, I know. But ... you're going to die, one day."

"Yeah. Sucks."


"Is that it."

"Yeah ... well ... it was just ..."


"Please ... Please don't die."

Fourth movement: Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend


I did not want to die.

I did not want to die.

I did not want to die.

I did not want to die.

I did not want to die.

I did not want to die

(I saw the stone rolled away)

I did not want to die

(And I did want to believe)

I did not want to die

(But when I approached the tomb)

I did not want to die

(There was nothing there)

I did not want to die

(I do not mean nothing, really)

I did not want to die

(But the faith you said I would have to hold me)

I did not want to die

(Did not press on my hand)

I did not want to die

(And its eyes were blind and white)

I did not want to die

(And all I saw was myself, whitely reflected)

I did not want to die

(In the waxen white I was preserved)

I did not want to die

(No screams, just silence)

I did not want to die

(And so I stepped away)

I did not want to

(Slowly, the thread unspools)

I did not want

(Run it through your ribboned fingers)

I did not

(Feel the threads of me one last time)

I did

(And do not breathe me out a third time, please)