Alice In Flatland

© 1992 by Jim Andrews

Chapter 1: The Tree's Boundaries

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Scroll to top Draw a circle mark the center
mark the point where Alice enters.

She looks around left and right--
there is no sky there is no height.

Alice now in Flatland is.
But she's a trouper it's her biz

to find herself without notice
dropped into worlds remotest.

"That lovely demented man
who takes my picture when he can

told me of this world one day
and of how there is no way

for me to reach its end despite
it's just a circle rather finite.

I shrink by half each step I take
toward the edge so cannot make

the end of this strange world. Well let's
just see," she said, and took a step.

Nothing happened nothing changed--
smaller bigger--all the same.

"What's this?" she gasped, "I'm still the same,
just like the world from which I came."

"But this is not that world," she cried,
"that's for sure--there is no sky

and all the world looks like a line
in front, beside me and behind."

But then she thought (by now a pro
at such riddles and how they go),

"It's not just me that shrinks or grows
but everything everywhere I go.

And in a way that I can't see
the change in size, the change in me.

Why should I think I shrink or grow?
Because the Riddler tells me so?

It doesn't matter to me, then,
that this world's small but does not end:

shrink or grow, I cannot see it.
This world's width could be infinite."

So off she went, Flatland to see
and came across a talking Tree.


TOP OF SCROLL "Alice!" the Tree said, calling her,
"What are you doing here little girl?"

"I came here from a world beyond.
I once knew height but now it's gone."

"Height!" the Tree said with a frown,
"I've heard of that--like 'up' or 'down'?"

"Yes," she said, "how could you know when
you are flat and live in Flatland?"

"I read a bit and do some thinking.
I read today the world is winking.

I read before that time grows old,
can't remember what it's told.

I read that you were coming here.
I read between the lines, my dear."

"So are you wise, Tree?" Alice asked him.
If they brag, this unmasks them.

"That's not for me to say," said he
"I'm just a humble Tree."

He smiled. "But what I know I'll share
with you if you will too. That's fair."

He was lonely you could tell
he hadn't talked for quite a while.

Alice paused then asked him, "Tell me
what you know of 'up' and 'down' Tree."

"Here we have just 'length' and 'width'.
And live inside a radius.

But in your world there's 'up' and 'down'
and Trees that grow into the ground.

Still, it may be that you too
shrink or grow just as we do

when you move and in such a way
that you cannot notice the change.

Your universe may be this way.
I do not know. Who is to say?"

Alice had had for some time
a certain question on her mind:

"There's a question you seem to hide:
what is on the other side?"


TOP OF SCROLL He cleared his throat. His five red eyes
roamed about looking quite unwise.

"Look," he said, "I'm sick of all this rhyme.
It turns my mind into a spline.

It gives me willies. It makes it look
like we're inside some kind of book.

I reserve the right not to rhyme.
Or not to do it right on time.

I have my pride. I'm not a shnook.
I hate to play it by the book."

Alice gasped. Hadn't heard the style.
Glimpsed in horror she was on file

on some 386 some place with
Word for Windows deep in cyberspace.

"Shrink or grow I cannot see it.
This world's width could be infinite,"

she thought. Then, with no self-pity
she said, with quiet dignity,

"I may be bound in how I speak.
I may be bound just like Newsweek.

All the same, there is me.
I am.
Remember this, Tree."

"Right on, Alice!" said the Tree, "We
have individuality.

Or so it seems. We are free.
To be a stupid rhyming Tree--nah.

I am bound here like a Tree.
I sing in chains just like the sea.

I heard a song the other day
sung by seven men in chains.

The chains were used as kinds of drums.
That was their percussion.

When they'd finished they were led
back inside their cell again

and sang supremely, it's reported,
seven ditties unrecorded

better than the first, it seems,
because these were their private dreams.

When they're freed, will they still sing
just as before or will it ring

untrue to them and will they do
something else that's just as true?

Let's hope that they can chuck the chains
but that the links between remain

and that they sing with full delight
a song to cure the parasites!

But let's get back to what you asked.
Cosmology's a slippery task.

I don't really mean to hide
from what is on the other side.

If we say the All has no shape
it seems we need not hide another side.

But wait! We have our cake and eat it too:
an All is one collected whole;

if you make an All you make
a kind of cake--a thing at any rate;

then you gobble up its shape
and tell me that there's still a cake!

I didn't see you at it but, dear Alice,
there is icing on your lips and on your fingertips."

Alice's lips were smooth and sweet,
her fingertips an extra treat.

She was so pleased the sweets to taste
she smiled, laughed, looked in his face

and said, "But Tree, you make fun of me!
Thanks for the sweets, they were lovely.

All the same, I think it is you
who wants the cake and eats it too."

"What cake? What ices?" He grinned. "So you
see to make an All with no shape
is just very cleverly to
hide another side.

So what to do? Say it's boundless?
But what's the 'it'? We're in a mess!

I conclude we hide or not
another side. We will be caught

in our denying if we hide it.
Fool's paradise. So why fight it?

There's always another side that we don't see.
What we make is incomplete.

Let me, Alice, extemporize.
Infinity may go on before our eyes

but I doubt it.

All the same, I wonder how the ideal
comes to seem so real,

as though we have it in us
through an act of the mind
to make an All without another side,

to catch it all.


TOP OF SCROLL But I seem to have argued it away.
I should try another day.

Don't get me wrong--
that we can have it all's a bozo's song

sung out of denial of the price we pay
for even the best things we do or say.

There is winning. There is losing.
But which is which is confusing.

I thought my love was a magician.
She left me for a statistician.

I thought that I had lost the world.
Around that thought my limbs were burled.

But in the burls grew five red eyes
some day, I hope, I may grow wise.

I sometimes think she gave me sight.
What a trade for our delight.

You win/you lose--they're in disguise.
Now I see with five red eyes.

Choice excludes. What to do? Choose your
way awake. But we sleep before

we wake and wake before we sleep.
If I am not among the sheep

I count before I sleep, I sleep
well! Otherwise, I'm getting fleeced!

Time for the sheep to grow some teeth
and put the shearer underneath.

Anyway, I mean to recall
just that we cannot have it all.

And anyone who says so
has hidden shears and is a bozo.

Gawd, I talk too much.
But it's been such a long time
since I had anyone to talk to.
That's all I have to say.
You've been very kind, my sweet."


TOP OF SCROLL "Not at all Tree. Your company
is better than Humpty Dumpty's."

"Isn't he the egg who said
"When I say a word it means
exactly what I say it means?""

"Not quite. Amusing all the same.
You mean that you have heard his name?"

"Oh yes. And yours. You're famous.
I thought your books hilarious."

"My books? Why thank you, I think," she said.
"You mean that they are widely read?"

"The Riddler wrote of you in Wonderland.
Kids and adults read you if they can."

By now Alice knew she led
a secret life that others read

a sort of star who never saw
what she had made for one and all

but knew it happened, all the same,
real-world girl of fictive fame.

"Yes. I have had some hint of this.
My life's a book I sometimes miss.

All the same, you know, I feel free.
Does that make some sense to you, Tree?

I doubt the writer knows what's next.
He needs me to write his text."

"You mean to say you don't recall
Alice in Wonderland at all?"

"Not the book. I know who wrote it.
Perhaps I could even quote it

as I recall my travels there.
That beats the book. I guess that's fair.

I don't really mean to moan
even though I'm far from home,

my little house on the west coast
and absent from my teaching post.

This happens every now and then--
I'm plopped down in a foreign land.

So far so good. I'm not dead.
And you're not screaming for my head.

All in all, yes, it could be worse.
I don't even mind the verse."

The Tree began a bit to shake,
full grown Alice too much to take.

She didn't notice right away.
She had something else to say:

"'Air' has no shape. It has a name
which, I suppose, could be a frame

in some sense but it seems it's free
of shape. Do you agree with me?

Names do not force the things to take
in any way at all a shape."

"Alice! You didn't talk like this
in any of your books. What gives?

I guess you've grown. My dear, I'm stunned!
Why look--you're a full grown woman!"

"Yes, well, what did you expect? That
I be the girl you recollect?"

"Pardon me, I'm such a fan
of Alice, dear, from Wonderland."

"Thanks," said Alice and saw some tears
from five red eyes stream to his ears.

"Don't cry, poor Tree,"
she said, "It's me.

I'm much the same
though I have changed."

"That's what they all say!" wept the Tree.
"You are old--no longer free!"

"Really, Tree, sometimes I think you weep and rhyme
simply just to pass the time.

No longer free--it sounds like you
have watched too much T.V."

"T.V.? T.V.?" screamed the Tree,
"I have never heard of T.V.!"

"Why Tree, I'm surprised. I thought you read a lot.
So you've never caught

The Ninja Turtles, Starsky and Hutch,
Nintendo games and The Brady Bunch?"

"AH! AH! STOP IT! STOP IT! SPARE ME
FROM THE DETAILS OF INSANITY!"

Alice was aghast she'd hurt the Tree
in his hyper-sensitivity.

"I'm sorry. Sorry Tree!
How inconsiderate of me."

Then Alice too began to cry
when she saw his five red eyes

were weeping for the time between,
crying for the girl she'd been.

"Sometimes we think we're growing bold
when in fact we're growing cold.

It's cruel of me to egg you on
with T.V. and its dismal songs.

But you must let me be myself.
I'm not the girl on your bookshelf.

The little girl's alive and fine
inside the book. Inside your mind.

But Time's a river nothing stanches.
I'll just have to take my chances.

I wouldn't rather be the girl.
The world's an oyster, I'm the pearl."


TOP OF SCROLL "I suppose. It might be true.
I wouldn't disillusion you.

You're not a yuppie, are you, Alice?
Trendy, vapid, quite unconscious?"

"My, but you're suspicious.
Are you always this vicious?

I'm a refugee from Wonderland!
I try to do the best I can!

Have you heard of McDonalds
and its leading bozo Ronald?"

"No I haven't," said the Tree,
"it sounds like a big company."

"Yes," said Alice smiling thinly,
"they are making lots of money.

I wonder what the price will be
for constant pablum fantasy?

It lacks vision. It's just for sales.
It's not even a fairytale.

They sell a dream that's black and white.
Go get your burger--there's your delight.

But really, fast food joints are not
what's got my goat... just that we ought

know imagination's bigger shake
where what's to get is not to take.

I'm from a mindscape eating buns
full of crap that feeds no one.

I try to do the best I can
with fellow refugees from Wonderland.

I'm better off than most, I see,
what do you want? My poverty?

My ambition's not for a car.
The spirit's roaming near and far.

What is Wonderland to me?
It is a place of poetry.

Not escape from what is real
but locked into the cosmic wheels.

You question me harshly, Tree,
but you're not from the same world as me."


TOP OF SCROLL "The world does its winking act
just like the Riddler's Cheshire Cat.

I surely do not know the plan
but catch it, Alice, if you can.

I'm sorry I called you nasty names.
I have grown suspicious in my age.

But I see you need a hide that's thick
to manage in the world you've picked.

Who all is eating whom and how
when we're inside the womb of All

and thank you for the All again
perhaps some day we'll apprehend

the All in All, the All is one
the "golden apples of the sun"

I think of trees in the world you're from
and how they stretch toward the sun

my roots are in the past and grow
the future is the air I know.

But you'll excuse me I must sleep,
appointments in some dreams to keep,

and by the way I have a name
it's much too long for me to say

(I add a letter with each year
I say it when I'm feeling queer)

I'm flattered, though, you'd call me 'Tree',
we're rather short here as you see."

"Oh Tree! Can I ask you
a question before you sleep?"

The Tree was drowsing, falling off
but woke up some and said, "Shoot, boss."

"What's the book you said you read
that said that I'd be here?"

"I should let you guess at that
the answer might appear."

Alice didn't need much time
she thought she knew already:

"It's Alice in Flatland, isn't it,"
she said, and felt a little heady.

"Yes," he said. "Predictable.
Let's hope it's not too boring.

I read it such a long time ago
I've
      forgotten
                    all
                        of the story."


TOP OF SCROLL His five red eyes began to stray,
loll and flutter, misbehave.

And soon was snoring fitfully
no trace of his garrulity.

"Sweet dreams, sweet Tree," Alice crooned,
"You sing your love a happy tune.

I hope you don't live in the past
And that you find your love at last.

What if the past is yet to come
And the future is already done?

Who is she
who opened time for you to see?

Mother? Wife? Lover? Friend?
O Tree, is everything all at once, in the end?

What kind of wheel is that? And yet,
I see that even you forget, perhaps thankfully,
cannot see it all.

Still, we established
that it may not be impossible!

We do not know, do we, Tree?

And perhaps you are not so different from me.

And for all your age
you're still quite wild.
In fact you sometimes act
a rather bratty
little child!"

"Thank you," said Alice to the Tree, bowed
as well as Flatland will allow,

and wandered off       more of it to see.


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Jim Andrews
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Last Modified: May 1999