The Sacred Hypertext

Sacred Hyper Image

The complete text of the prose-poem collection by Chris Middleton

 “Track of the haunted, I ran a thousand miles in my sleep…”

(Please see What is The Sacred Hypertext? at the foot of this page for the full story and inspirations behind these pieces, and a detailed explanation of the text.)
Below is the complete, preferred text of a prose-poem collection that Faber were at the point of publishing in the Nineties when the poetry editor moved on from the company. The project was left in limbo, and was later abandoned by Chris who had rejected other publishers’ offers when Faber came onboard. In the late Nineties, as christopher rye, Chris performed these and other pieces in spoken-word shows at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden and the Forge in Denmark Street (forerunner to the 12-Bar Club), accompanied by tape loops and guitar-generated soundscapes. A section from one of these shows, at the Bread and Roses in Clapham in 1999, was broadcast on Radio 1 for National Poetry Day, featuring Chris on multi-layered live guitar.

Navigators 1-5


when the ships are dark
scattering broad backs from the thunder
the lighthouse keeper comes home from the ocean
trailing its stars

an icy hand tight on the back door
to untie stringed fingers

of the heavens there remains a dry stone wall
where the aspen storm stretches downwards
and narrow paths lift wheels into hollows
ending with roads
in God’s truth everything slept but the deep
chasing the deep beyond winter
the last tree etched against a mountain
giving in silence at each exhalation

he had not yet been touched by your eyes
(a gleam on them, falling open to hunters)
while age crackled in his crooked wooden fingers
unravelling thoughts and knotting veins

remembering Hypatia flayed alive
in the libraries of Alexandria
he swims on the surface
where there are no mysteries
not among the gentle, but summoned,
taking deep breaths among morning’s white columns

swept off course by the voyage
night tangled in rigging and sail
he is counted among the stars
where sun and rain sound through twisted timbers

set out with many voices


since my time began
I have troubled your waters returning home

I know the sea flows through every man
I am no different,
only raised up and cast afloat before your eyes
on my observation ship The Bulldog
waiting for slack water in the pits of the sea
where the moon, curled as if unborn,
pushes until her waters break along the shore

in the night I saw your open hand
then in its place a presentiment of sleep
and sitting in my mother’s lap
I winked playfully up
at the round face of the sun

my father was a quiet man
dressed eloquently in thought
(he rose listening intently
and put on his wings
when once he heard the siren singing)

but listen:
here at my breast and beneath my feet
the sea is coming, a murmur among the rocks
where language is the fossil of the thought
and my flint an intimation of death
in the dry hands of a conqueror

by my charts, two thousand years ago
twelve men reached a burning city
speaking in tongues until the dead lay radiant
they crossed the sea with a pack of wolves
windblown and predatory above the night-woven fishes
then in the Spring of ’42
in waters chilled by a searchlight
they recorded glacial cold in the shallow zones
and shrieks and moans in the abyss of Winter

speaking the night language

hydrophones screened out the sound of ships
that swept onto shore to kill by cold
bodies shivered and were borne up on the beach
a million foundered and were broken
with snowflakes curled in their burnt eyelashes

and Thom Gunn high on Sumburgh Head
noted the names and, leaving, said:
“Run out the cable, fear is coming
like a sleepwalker to the bidding of the dead”


the long, slim fish that Owen caught
with beautiful uncertainty:
turning, he said something to the early morning light
and waited for hope to harden his face
while I, untying lovers’ knots,
tinder-box painted a sunset with the sparks of stars
my sense of wonder tempered and reconciled
until I stood with a porthole framing my face
and found sunlight in the pale butterflies


the beautiful lost swimmer is leaving
I hardly heard him go
bending with open eyes
over the shut eyes of sleepers
stepping and stopping quietly as he spoke
he jumped off in the midst of the sea

“I shall leave with the rest,” he said
“now that I see you gather certainty about yourself,
that you are yourself forever”

so good luck, old man,
in the gathering of the waters
where words are but soundings
in the breaking of a wave
yes good luck, old man,
for now begins the downward swing,
measurable only in decades
good luck, old man:
tread lightly on the dead land,
for in all lands we sense
the former presence of the sea

(a breeze gathered my papers,
although the wind was light from the news concerning it)


night enters the sea
rolling all ablaze,
to all that is darkness bringing light

shall we go satellite tracking on Chesapeake Bay,
where shadow kisses shadow at the mountain’s foot?
shall we go satellite tracking on Chesapeake Bay,
where shadows mark the depths but cannot touch
like mariners lost on a lake of forgetting?

I am guided by light
to whatever brings light
believing the joy of darkness
is the flame that breaks it
I touch the wings of angels
in a world without God
where the quest for beauty
is the search for imperfection

(great stood the sea behind him,
waves fearless pressed the stern)

these are the dreams
that are lost on awaking
these are the dreams that are lost
these are the dreams forgotten in sleeping

these are the dreams that are lost.

Moonshine conjecture

her long gown a presage
musty and eternal
where childhood hides
like a thief of lilies and stars

melodies of footprints
climb through the snow
to old songs he covered
on journeys homeward

calling the echo from a tiger-arched bridge
(where lanterns slide across black water)
he forges a coin of quickest silver
wish upon wish to the mother of song.

Bethlehem milepost #6 or #7

when silence itself
commanded all the mountains
they burned the growing fields
communicating by signs
drawing attention to things inanimate…

track 1-0-9, all my stars are out tonight

tin lantern railroad,
bend my humble back
and run to cinders, sleeping

Dear —
I won’t apologise for not having written

seven degrees west
Jonah is every evening alone
splintering against the ship side
a stateroom to himself
to do the people’s work
the last curling lock forbids him
to honour the place,
its only passenger

and so I walk the way for him
ten thousand miles for a significant kiss
Bethlehem milepost six or seven:
your sign is the slab-grey morning
lying brilliant and bled

the delicate, slick-oiled and rusted engineer
picked up this trick
and kissed him late on the lips
then tenderly between brow-bone and cheek
they lay there sleeping in the minds of men
in the engine-black night
a dream of a dream
this will be ours to keep
and the dead railroad
a deep hole in propositioned sleep
he picked up this trick one-ninety to the dollar
by 3am he’s counting time,
his dry hands forgetting the watermark

and bone by bone the watchman’s solitude
rues the money spent on working shoes
while lost boys ride the red caboose
testing the speed of the brakeman

tin lantern railroad,
bend my humble back
and run to cinders, sleeping

4am, chronicles: October in the pool hall
the memories of a poker player
who looked down on good fortune
with paralysed fingers

toothless and elegant, by day unknown,
his bag lies heavy in Idaho
he bent and muttered and wired the union for a dollar
his red eyes on the telegraph road
where the endless find identical expression
He defeated me, he robbed me:
him with his shadow laid to rest at the crossing…

the railroad screams
(your correspondent writes)
and smoke plumes from the land where he was a child
tin stars chiming in the windows, a delicate universe
but how long is the night,
smouldering in the eyes of a man who troubles himself
forsaking home and fire for all that may darken him,
wherein he must burn?

sorrow, the cause of sorrow,
the end of sorrow and the end of sorrow

Bethlehem lit by the back doors open
rain in the gasoline
so many games lost for a few stolen kisses
seeing me complicated in a Third Street alley
he defeated me, he robbed me:
him with his shadow laid to rest at the crossing:
the man whose hand was controlled

above a morning come with oil lamp burning
Jack Frost welcomed the lightning
to a rusty moon in a tinder sky
track 1-0-9
bend my humble back
and run to cinders, sleeping

will I inherit distinction like a king?
(choosing an heir in front of the mirror)
so heavy the earth
sorrow, the cause of sorrow
the end of sorrow and the end of sorrow
will I inherit the earth?

my train rises on a burning field
as I lay this before you, my particular friend
for when you smiled
my flame swirled up to your every breath
and Summer came a scarlet emperor
to court upon a wounded wing
I was too proud for unarguable truth
or voices that laughed with God their witness
but I would love you
even if darkness only were your face
until my eyes were filled with sleeping

a man is not on the path in violent haste
a man is not called wise
but he was sleeping when I found him
a man is not old by fine words in vain

think of him
for he will climb and thus fall
to the world that surrounds him
where the darkest part of the sky is the bluest

oh, say it to him, please
tell him that you love him
for this is the life of those who live
this is the life of those

but he is above sorrow.


Satellite transceiver

if your foreign correspondent
could find the stars above cities
he would count them for you
gently, as if in love

so how can you say he does not love?
when he would lie across an ocean
holding your ship afloat
beneath a clamour of gulls

where twilight hangs from a lamp post
an old, distempered raincoat
he would wear it for you
darkling among the moths
that alight and fall open

so how can you say he does not love?
how can you say it?
his message may come from afar,
from satellites lost over former kingdoms
but he still sends it for you.

Frontier hotel

track of the haunted,
I ran a thousand miles in my sleep
with a passport half open like tiny wings
trapped on the high Central

15 degrees east
Sam Philips crosses the road to Nashua
all dressed up and not any more left
a stone abandoned by railroad sleepers
always he dreamed of you
at a train door in the great, spectral night
happy in love’s manhood

at the piano
he sits rearranged
nominated by the moon
his noisy, wooden hands a flight of birds
but still the Wild One dozes,
at peace in his bike-thin frame,
to hear Radio City slipping away

a Crown Electric Company truck pulls up
on Old Saltillo Road
where the earth runs endless from the fear of water
and Ulysses watched stars cover the rooftops
wheeling thirty miles into the songless hills

enter Elvis, beautiful Sapphist
talking softly to the broken horses
oh, she dreams of setting them free
to the great American desert
setting the broken free
to the cactus cities and wilderness beyond Shakerag

requesting a tune with her lazy hand
Elvis sings into Main Street
of jello, liquor, and the Frisco union
flat-top, four-dollar microphone
eyes fixed on a sweetness beyond Tupelo
where the pylons left her with a lonely face

stiffened and unrolled the bitches stir
as Elvis leans back cool and important
buried deep as a Catholic, lips resting on silver,
a small rosary of memories still occupies her hands
that’s alright, Mama
her finger inscribed with the idea of a ring

from coast to coast
(sea-scent threadbare among the hawsers)
every note hands buoyant from the singer’s hips
until the air awakens with song
fluttering with the sweetness of sleep and its voices

setting the broken free
to the cactus cities
and wilderness beyond Shakerag.

The accidental Londoner

the universe rumbles over Vauxhall Tavern
illuminating boys on the verge of things
watching cloud cover cloud
where no-one has seen them
until solitude, eyeless,
hides the stars with its wings

voices spinning on the edge of airwaves
find taxis idling in Seven Dials
while the accidental Londoner
lives for distraction
turning a trick on the Circle Line

there is silence enshrined in Old Compton Street’s heart
as he leans on the wind, fumbling for a key
the Aztec escalator at Camden Town
leads him to sacrifice all on the bloody streets

here a man stares with fear in his stride
at a queen undone by indiscretion
men shout with laughter, throwing arms round each other
jostling to beat the slow procession

you kiss him in the stillest hour
beneath the portals of Christ, Scientist
then picked up and gently thrown together
by the photographic wind
across Hungerford Bridge

but your names will join unbroken
by Elephant and Castle in the crooked air
’til the old queen smacked out at Cambridge Circus
says “Please to help the Coatians there”

Come, says Pablo,
in a low voice descending
poppers, ketamine, uppers, and E
we are halfway to Heaven
it’s time we were laughing
in the rhythm of dancing where the air-vents meet

thinking There but for the grace of Prada goes God
the accidental Londoner is never alone
siempre te amare
in Hampstead and Clapham
with Pablo asleep on the night bus home.

Walker (a possible movie)

the gambler feels lucky tonight
nerve kicking like a rabbit’s foot
he could recognise a king from his back
as you and I would an old friend
he returns lost at the casino
to pull up his chips and drop them singly in a pile
rattling ice cubes in a dead tumbler

first the road untravelled
and then the road somewhere
then only the roads

[searching for networks: please wait]

he crossed a continent
to Antwerp station
a rusty terminus in a pre-war photograph
to find Europe
where the cars slide backwards on neo-classical highways
and atomic clocks display unimaginable violence
with a book asleep on his knee

this is me:
on the beach
this is me:
near the ice museum
this is me:
at the Hotel Intercontinental
this is me:
by a most historic doorway
I think it was Milan
I really can’t recall…
but I remember taking
the photograph

of first the road untravelled
and then the road somewhere
then only the roads

[searching for networks: please wait]

the gambler, star-fingered,
deals absently with fragments of night
struggling to belong to his long-extinct father
whose small, gaunt image rests above the bed
but being dead they let a man alone?
in the on/off romance of the Pharmacie sign
he finds a cigarette between his lips,
flaring minutely

spilt-ink Thames
where blizzards approach through the snow
Walker, prickly as a water baby,
maps The Cut with untraceable footsteps
and pauses beneath constellations
from Soho to Sogo

My good friend,
can it be so long since last I wrote?
Miranda station, a flight of birds
(sky: early Spring, clear blue,
distant trees not yet in leaf)

w-w-wherewith to know whither
covered in stars, full of rain,
coat rent-heavy with the scent of gin
Jesus, Jesus, and my nostrils black
is this how it starts?

he had walked miles through the sound of bells
before he came to the great silence of the cathedral
climbing the steps he peeled off his spectacles
and blinked happily at the man
whose fingers hummed like dragonflies
about a gently nestled violin
Did you love me? he wondered
when France lay propped on an elbow
and England sat and watched the sea
oh, the light Summer dresses they circled and bobbed
and the hummingbird embroidered a kiss in the lily

this is me
on the beach
where the sand held my feet
in its two wet palms

your foreign correspondent is leaving
to return again by morning
white sheets beating at a window without starlight
so many worlds

he stands for things that are to be destroyed
(these spectacles, this violin)
but with a childish petulance whose light
could not make beautiful his prodigal gifts
these temporary gifts,
these gifts from time

remember him:
from first the road untravelled
and then the road somewhere
then only the roads

the dead, endless roads

[searching for networks:
please wait
please… wait
please…… wait]

he is out there now,
if only you could see him.


What is the Sacred Hypertext?

“Track of the haunted, I ran a thousand miles in my sleep…”

In the early Nineties, a series of significant events in Chris’ life culminated in him traveling alone across Europe, nursing a broken heart and estranged from his parents. On these journeys, he began keeping a journal of unedited thoughts, sights, and impressions that seemed important to him at that time – like a radio tuning between stations in search of a song.

On a slow train through the Pyrenees onto the plain of Spain one evening, Chris found himself alone in an empty carriage. Staring out of the window, he witnessed an extraordinary sunset that lasted for over two hours, turning the sky gold as the train wound its way through the mountains. He saw fields on fire all across the horizon as farmers burned crop stubble after the harvest. Chris recorded these and other sights in his journals, only to throw the notebooks aside in frustration because none of his first-hand accounts came close to capturing what he had thought, or felt.

However, during this period, Chris had begun reading stories of other treks and journeys from throughout history, both real and mythical, and found himself cutting words, phrases, and half-sentences out of old books whenever he found something that felt close to his experience.

Chris soon amassed literally thousands of tiny clippings that he kept pressed between the pages of a large, blank notebook – a technique similar to the cut-up texts of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, but also a form of automatic writing. (Automatic curating, perhaps.)

Then, over a period of a great many months, he sifted through all the fragments and began assembling a master text of cut-ups, fold-ins, and sections of his own journals by pushing the snippets around on his desk, seeing how words, phrases, and stories collided with, and illuminated, each other.

Finally, Chris sat at a computer and wrote, in a single sitting, what became the four main sections of this extended prose poem, ‘Navigators 1-5’, ‘Bethlehem Milepost #6 or #7’, ‘Frontier Hotel’, and ‘Walker’. What he wrote was an entirely new text, inspired by and incorporating his assembly and giving it a quasi-narrative form taken from his own journeys, thoughts, and memories.

The end result can be seen as a Cubist portrait of a single traveller, ‘Walker’, whose journey into himself and across a nocturnal landscape, intersects with the journeys of thousands of other people – including figures from history, legend, and religious texts. But equally it can be seen as something else: a love letter to the unnamed person who broke his heart, a series of confessions, or a waking dream, perhaps – all written in what Chris calls ‘the night language’ (its original working title).

This, then, is ‘The Sacred Hypertext’, a single tale told from a thousand different viewpoints, or a thousand tales told from one; the Dead Sea Links, perhaps, rather than the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Whatever it is and whatever it means, Chris believes it is the only work that he has ever produced in any medium, professionally or otherwise, that has real merit. That it was never published in book form – several publishers competed for it – might be a shame, but it is also fitting that it has been left as a series of fragments.

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Originally published as ‘christopher rye’. Original text © Chris Middleton 1999. An early version is available on The Physik Garden website. This preferred version © Chris Middleton 2015. All rights reserved.