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Prix Laurence 2018

Kooy Lukas - Alesia





Context

The battle of Alesia was a battle that took place in 52 B.C.E., when a gallic revolt lead by Vercingetorix took a position in the city of Alesia. The roman forces under Julius Caesar laid siege to the city, constructing a wall all the way around the city. In order to make food supplies last longer, the local tribe expelled about 180,000 citizens incapable of fighting from the city. The romans did not let them past, meaning they were stuck in-between the roman and their own walls. Eventually, gallic reinforcements arrived, however the revolt was crushed. The fate of the citizens is often overshadowed by the larger conflict between Caesar and Vercingetorix, with conflicting information of what happened to the citizens and the exact timeline of events. The fate of the citizens is treated with a single line in Caesar’s commentaries on the gallic wars.

Abandonment

For the first time the city was wide open, the wooden stakes that made up the gates giving way to a flood of inhabitants like teeth give way to one’s insides upon vomiting. Whether they all flowed out voluntarily is unknown. One can only imagine what they may have felt like being forced out, initially for their own good but most of all for the good of the soldiers inhabiting their homes and therefor their leader. The gallic sun seemed to smother them in its heat, punishing them, the citizens, elderly, women and children for their inability to be of use to Vercingetorix.

From inside, an old man gazed upon yet more and more flowing through the massive gates, with a feeling of unadulterated astonishment at the sheer amount of his brethren living in the town. In his whole long life, he never imagined that so many people could live in one place, even if it was his home. He felt as if he was abandoning, leaving something behind. What it was however, he did not know. He had no wife, no children nor any living relatives for that matter. All he had had was his old hut beside the gates, something so pitiful that it wasn’t even worth mourning for. At the back of his mind, lurked the nagging pain of standing on his bad leg, something that he had carried with him for half his life. From his window he observed at first hundreds, then thousands and then tens of thousands, all crowding outside the gates, slowly shifting their way through, their many faces expressing varying emotions. Some seemed angry, others accepting. Some mournful, as if they were attending their own funeral. Others simply sad. Some optimistic, tossing aside thoughts of their dire situation even as it loomed just over the walls they were about to pour through. Others were panicking already, not knowing what they could do to survive or to whom they could go with the loss of their homes and family. It seemed to the old man as he watched these countless faces stream by that they embodied an entire spectrum of diverse human emotion, all drowned out into one brown image that manifested itself in front of him. An image of brown-clad like-minded civilians, all streaming through the same gate, with the same goal of escaping the city, under the same orders given to them by a single man, Vercingetorix.

Eventually, after morning had given in to afternoon, the last citizens treaded down what had once been grass but was now a sunken pathway under a cloud of dust. Among them was the old man, every step sending a puncturing pain up his bad leg, causing him to wince and whine. One of the last to leave, he observed as the gates were shut forever, wondering when it had become Caesar’s and Vercingetorix’s, not the citizens’ will who decided their fate. Sitting down to rest the strain put on his leg, the man looked around. There he was, right in front of the city, in a band of green grass sheltering his eyes from the blazing sun. The band was about a few thousand paces wide, featuring rolling hills surrounding the city, streams flowing up and down them like blood veins and a mass of people. On one side of the green band, lay the wooden palisade of the city, the only place he ever really knew. On the other were walls of freshly cut logs, hanging on the hilltops menacingly around the city like a wolf’s jaw hovering over an unsuspecting hare. There, along and beyond those dreaded walls lay Caesar’s men, trapping him and the gathering of people. The old man watched, as a crowd that gathered in front of Caesar’s gate slowly grew and grew, unable to filter through closed doors. After a while, a wave of excitement, seemed to infest the crowd, shouts and cries from afar growing louder and louder as they slowly rippled across the bright green band of grass, made almost brown by the clothing of the sheer amount of people that were now concentrated in this small area. Eventually, the old man was able to make out what was being said. Caesar’s men would not let them pass. His heart lunged up through his mouth, and violently rising in denial of what he had heard, the old man felt a pang from his leg, a strain that collected in his thigh until he could hold it no more, yelling in excruciating pain.

His cries were drowned out by the screams and gasps emitted by the crowd, which soon began to coalesce in front of the gate they had so recently poured through. This time however, what had once been a mix of individual expressions dotted on their thousand faces had been replaced by a unanimous and unwavering emote of dread and despair. The old man knew without thinking what was about to happen and what he had to do, as more and more began to crowd around the gates. He began to lunge his way through the mass of people, trying to escape what seemed to be becoming a death trap, as the people collected near the gates the way bees collect near a hive. From left, right and ahead of him came elbows, clammy hands and shoulders, all trying to force their way to the gates. He seemed to run, only realizing that he had made no progress as he was propelled backward by the sheer force of thousands upon thousands of citizens, robbed of their homes and now of their lives. He saw a thousand faces and heard a thousand desperate voices, some of which he recognized. Though the voices seemed loud, none were as loud as the pain in his leg, ruthlessly tearing at his weary conscience like a bear lacerating its prey. Soon enough, the force of thousands from ahead was counteracted by the force of thousands from behind, as the people tried to communicate that access was denied, their voices only to be drowned out by the thousands of panicked screams and ignored by the force that was the thousands shoving their way toward the gates, having nothing left to hang on to but the dimming hope that they may be let in. The pain became worse, as the man felt as if his leg was being ripped apart, the agony conjuring up memories of
torn flesh, spewing blood and cracked bone in his mind, contrasting with the brown image of the crowd, the colour of their clothing being indistinguishable from the cloud of dust that rose from their feet and into their eyes and the sight of the once-green ground, the old man often falling upon it only to somehow get up. The dizzying pain mixed with his constant, jerklike movements created not by himself, but the force of the crowd which swooped his body around like a rag doll soon caused him to lose all sense of direction, simply lost in a sea of brown tides, hopelessly crashing into each other and for one final time causing him to fall as brown faded to black.

First Days

Black faded back to brown, as the old man awakened to the sight of the once-grassy ground and dirt emitted by his coughs. Looking around, nothing had seemed to change except for it now seemed to be dawn but the sun still beat down on him, fire-like. The citizens, the great shifting brown mass had dispersed but were still there. Most of them gathered around streams, small veins carved into the hilltop providing the citizens with a slightly elongated life and false hope. Now all had been made clear. Neither Caesar, nor Vercingetorix had the mercy to spare and let them pass. They were imprisoned, between two far reaching walls of towering stakes in a band of green, of streams, some trees and green grass that was rapidly being trampled and torn by the pacing of thousands of troubled souls, losing its lively colour and turning brown. They were starving livestock, abandoned by their farmers and shepherds. The old man had little to fear however. He knew that death’s cold grip could steal little from him, with neither friends nor family and very few years left to him to speak of. He was finished. The crowd was not.

Attempting to sit upright could not have caused him more confusing pain, as his bad leg felt crumpled and crushed under his light weight. Once again surprised, the man let out a cry, this time a faint yelp of someone on an empty stomach with a parched throat. The old man looked around at the thousands, most of which grouped around a small stream wondering just how they could cope knowing what their fate must be. There was still hope that reinforcements would arrive, but it was deceitful. The old man needed to see the faces of the citizens, to see the faces and gestures of the people hanging on to but a faint sliver of hope, knowing all to well that their fate would be starvation and understand. Morbid curiosity and concern got the better of him, making him forget his bad leg as he once again felt it almost crumbling under his weight and once again let out a faint cry as he stood up, trying desperately to balance himself so that he could get to the stream. He was thirsty anyhow.

The stream was being reduced from a pulsating vein to a thin line, slivering its way down from the city and into the roman camp, surrounded by a mass of brown-clad bodies, all huddling and pushing closer to it. The old man from his new vantage point poised on a rock just next to the roman palisade had no chance of getting to the water. He would have to force his way through a huddled mass of starving bodies perhaps ten or twenty people thick at places. All were fighting like animals to get to the water, but not like how fierce wolves or bears may fight but more like stray dogs with their tails between their legs and their heads hung low. Barely any made a sound, and the lack of movements on their faces would crawl under the skin, their lips seemingly stuck in a near-straight line, barely ever changing as if the faces simply didn’t have the energy or motivation to move them. One woman from the crowd approached the old man with a makeshift waterskin and for a brief second seemed to make a slight upward movement with the edge of her lips, before handing it to him with a faint, friendly gesture. No words were exchanged, only indistinct mutters. The old man drank and continued to watch, faces huddling and nudging at each other, all bearing that similar grim look, already half-dead it seemed despite it only having been one night that they were trapped.

At night, sleep wasn’t easy. The old man could not distract himself from the hunger, grumbling and echoing in his stomach, a churning, sickening sensation. So there he lay, eyeing his surroundings in the dark. The night seemed to be lit by an army of troubled eyes, all wishing they could sleep, with but a few lucky souls, mostly children able to find rest. The hunger, the cold, and the thousand worried eyes, all seemingly gazing through him made it impossible for the old man to find his rest. Instead he watched, as some old men tried to exchange what looked like trinkets and heirlooms, bronze and golden broaches, rings and necklaces all delicately fashioned for pitiful amounts of bread that were tossed down from Caesar’s walls as if the old men were animals in a feeding pen. The man spent the hours of the night wondering how the will of Caesar and the will of Vercingetorix could cause all these people to suffer the way they were suffering, how their fate could be up to the whims of just a few men similar to how a shepherd decides the fate of hundreds of sheep. As dawn finally came, the old man knew he couldn’t stay. He couldn’t bear another sleepless night around the others, their gazes although probably not directed at him, seeming to penetrate straight through him like spectral spears. He got up, the bones in his bad leg seeming to grind at each other, causing him to wince and let out a steady whine below his breath. As he left, he saw for one final time the faces of the crowd, once again gathered around the stream. Their eyes seemed to be caved into their faces, dark sinkholes revealing barely any colour. Their faces were pale and unmoving ghosts already half-dead, however unprepared for death they were. He left the stream behind.

With every step the old man felt his leg ready to topple beneath his weight, however after a few thousand steps and a few thousand pain-induced sweat beads that trickled down his grimy face, the old man made it back to the top, outside the walls of the city. There he sat back and looked down at the crowd, noticing how their movements were fewer and slower, like the movements of bees from a sick, decaying hive. The old man too felt as if he was decaying, his insides seeming to churn on their empty selves. His head had begun to suffer from a headache, at first barely noticeable yet slowly and constantly increasing in ferocity, causing him relentless, growing agony. Dizzy as he was from the walk and pain, the man shut his eyes. A noise, breaking the usual pattern of birdsong, wind and faint muttering from the stream forced the man’s eyes open. In front of him he made out what was perhaps a dozen or so people, all attempting to cheer someone on, though the noises they were able to make at this point could barely be described as a cheer. As his sight adjusted, the man noticed what they were muttering indistinct noises at. On the walls of the city hung a little boy, half the size of a man, his skin just as brown as his clothing due to how dirty he had become. There he held on, his feet and hands wedged between the dry logs that made up the wall, tightly hugging it, as if he were hugging on to hope itself. Suddenly, a jerklike movement propelled one of his skeletal limbs upward, the next another. The cheers grew increasingly lively and colourful as a hand and then a foot and then a hand slowly swung their way up, dragging his flimsy body up with it, step by step progressing ever further. The old man found himself for the first time upright, his heart beating with the hearts of the crowd, whose encouraging shouts and cries began to sound almost lifelike. More flocked to watch in the dozens, until the man’s view was obscured. For the first time it seemed, their faces were full of life and their eyes burning with colourful flame. With a brief and confident movement, the boy’s hand grasped on to the top of the wall and the crowd began to truly cheer, smiles illuminating their faces. As the boy began to pull his head over and caught a glimpse of the city, the old man forgot his pain, rising to clap and cheer with the rest of the crowd reminded, that there was still hope at least, that reinforcements would arrive. As he rose, a violent streak of balled up pain shot through his leg, causing him to keel over backward, with but a few brief seconds to view the boy getting shoved off the walls by one of Vercingetorix’s men, toppling over and crashing back down on to his back making a crunch noise like one made by squashing a beetle. A piercing, monotone wail was to be heard, as the crowd that had gathered once again lost its voice. Dizziness took over and once again brown faded to black.

Last Days

The old man hadn’t moved, he lacked the energy and the will. The pain from his leg had long been superseded by the nagging ache from his head, which had steadily grown worse over the past few days. It now felt as if his skull were caving in on itself, bone grating against bone. When he had his eyes open he, with difficulty, observed the band of brown where the band of green had once been, the grass all but trodden down at this point. The old man could pay little attention to the citizens however. He was the only person in the world he felt, the only things he could really notice were the pain from his head and the churning machinations of his gut seeming to twist and turn on itself, with nothing to digest. He felt his head spinning around and around, like the wheels on a cart rolling down a hill constantly accelerating with no clear end in sight. During the day, the heat scorched his blistering skin, now exposed as someone must have stolen his clothes and waterskin. At night, the nagging cold would bite away at him, combined with the protests form his aching head and empty stomach making it impossible for him to sleep. He would sleep, if he could. He would count the days, if he could. He would moan from pain, if he could. He had gone mute, partly from lack of energy, partly due to his dry, burning throat, partly due to his broken will. He was an empty husk, every part of his body beginning to ache, seemingly moaning at him for not finding food. The old man was still alive but slowly rotting. Nothing could reverse what had happened at this point, he was just waiting for the end. His headache intensified, becoming a violently pulsating sensation, his skull seeming to tear itself apart. His parched throat felt less like it contained a burning flame and more like it contained a roaring fire, consuming the man. He felt weaker than ever, with no control and no feeling coming from his limbs, his gut lurching up and down like it was tearing him inside-out. His head still felt like the wheels of a cart rolling down a steep decline, until reaching a cliff, where the cart finally entered freefall. He lost feeling from his insides and then from his head, all pain was now gone. As his eyes shut for the last time, brown faded to black.

 




ageschéckt den: 08:53 Sat, 24 February 2018 vum: Kooy Lukas

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Kleng Lecture, déi Iech vläicht weiderbréngt:


HELMUT BÖTTIGER

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Die Liebesgeschichte zwischen
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DVA, 2017


LIZE SPIT

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Roman, S. Fischer, 2017


JÜRGEN BECKER

-  Graugänse über Toronto
Journalgedicht, Suhrkamp, 2017


LILY BRETT

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insel verlag, 2014


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Suhrkamp, 2016


HAIKU ANTHOLOGIE

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Roman, Rowohlt, 2016

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ISABEL SPIGARELLI

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Roman, éd. Saint-Paul, 2016


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Roman (op lëtz.), Ultimomondo, 2014

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