Excerpt from my novel Magnetic Midnight:
1: Bittersweet, You and I
Let us start from before the beginning, with a thought: how free would I be if she were to die.
For so long I have believed myself the catalyst of her demise. As if a mere thought was sufficient to manipulate the will of fate. All I have ever done throughout my whole life is love her. But even that – and what more could I have done? – was not enough to save her. My Ava. Ava Fay Westfield. The Crown of Innocence. The sins of the past are not so easily forgotten, even when a near eternity is spent in repenting.
And whilst I admit there were times when I treated her badly, it was nothing compared to the hardship she had to endure at the hands of fate. She was dealt a bad hand, over and over again, and I thought I could be her saving grace. But even I had let her down. I too had allowed myself to fall prey to the obsessions of the imprisoned. I’m a caged animal, too. I’m no different to all those others she so feared. And when her stroke struck like a thunderclap, the veil was lifted from her sight, and she came to see me for what I truly was. And when such a mirror is held up before you, you either despair or repent. Somehow, I succeeded in achieving both.
But I know that you are not here to for redemption. You, necessary reader, addicted to flashing red Breaking News, consumers of videos that peddle Petty Tragedy and devourers of worm-infested gossip – you are here to read about Chaos, the downfall of my pure Ava, to weep over her final image. But wait. I don’t want to remember her as she had become. Though her beauty never dimmed she had become possessed by something other, something hell-bent on taking away my gentle Ava from me. I want to go back back back, to reverse the arrow of time, to see her as she once was, before the whip of tragedy struck our streams of love.
For Chaos to admit it’s true nature it must admit the existence, the truth, of Order – its twin, its chiaroscuro, the sweetness required for the bitter aftertaste. And so I shall begin these memoirs with the songs of Order.
The land is cold. Thawing from the last bitter winter. There are herds of bison roaming the ochre stretch of wilderness. The snow-capped mountains scrape their backs before they ascend to the night skies. And there, in the pristine blackness, are the dancing cobwebs: the Northern Lights. Their frantic flickering is a message to me, like the dance of the honey-bees: a message without meaning, pregnant with purest Beauty. Do I need to say more?
That’s not heaven to me. Heaven to me is when you and I were young, together.
Come with me, won’t you, let’s share it, just you and I.
I don’t believe in heaven. Heaven is us.
You’re talking about the past again. The past is dead. We are dead. All I want is the future. I want my Aurora.
(What about my future?)
It was a cold night leading up to New Year’s Eve, I walked through herds of girls disinterested in me, pulling down their leather skirts to cover their chastity, on my way to meeting Jamie. I was feeling guilty about going out because I didn’t feel like it. But he had asked me enough times, and I turned him down twice that much – I didn’t want him to see me as I saw myself. I adored being on my own, but back then I had this superstitious, un-voicable fear that keeping people away too incessantly would lead to something like a family feud. And I didn’t want anyone to hate me just as much as I didn’t care if anyone liked me. And after all, I thought as I navigated the streets full of night, decadence over-spilling even at ten o’clock; I am curious. I wanted to see the Opulence of our Times first hand, for this was a time that would never be re-lived. I saw it on the faces of everyone I passed by; their bright make-up drowned out by neon tattoos could not hide the euphoria they felt. There were boys loitering on nightclub steps, their white underpants glistening unashamedly bright – what were they doing? Nothing, nothing at all; just being there. When you rubbed up against some girl in the dictatorial crowd, feeling the pointed absence of a bra, she would look at you, chew some gum in your face, and smile a smile that said; ‘I know, isn’t it just great?’ I was frightened by it. I couldn’t understand it. But I was driven by an illicit, well-armoured curiosity: there has to be something to it!
I wasn’t going there with any expectations. I just wanted to be there, too. She was there as well. She had to be. She was eighteen, where else would she be? Thus, it was perhaps likely, something like ten-to-one odds-on that we would meet. And that doesn’t at all diminish it. Our later love was not based on the miraculousness of our encounter. It was based on fact. Based on us. Nothing more. Ours was the least superstitious of romances ever known. We were lovers for the millennium.
But that night; that night we were just bored.
“Vincent, this is Ava, Ava Vincent.” Avavincent. Vinceva. Avent. Whichever way you put it, it sounded right. I looked at her, as I shook her meek hand, and stared into her bowed eyes, looking to see if she were thinking the same thing. But all she wanted to do was look away from me. Look down. To the side. Above. Why was it so difficult for her to meet my gaze?
“I like your leather jacket.” That was the first thing I ever said to her. She looked tentatively at her oversized jacket, smirked and attempted a languid smile. (How was it that I could see myself beside her as she set her eyes on the leather jacket for the first time… there I am, writing a poem I could barely decipher; isn’t her present presence enough?)
“I don’t. But it’s from Cairo. So it’s exotic, I guess.” Her laborious voice matched her indifferent face. She wore a melancholy frown which coupled her serpentine eyes. She was an animal trapped in a girl’s body. I picked up on that – it was difficult not to. But I was drawn to it.
“Ava is a painter. She loves to paint -”
“The exotic?” I interrupted our mutual friend, our deluded archangel, nerdy, semi-hippy Jamie. He taught me one thing my classical readings never could: the agents of Fate are oftentimes drab and insignificant. They are seldom angels or divinities. Just Jamies.
I looked to Ava, smiling, anxious to see if I got it right. Anxious: what would happen if I got it wrong? Her gaze made me feel like a school-child in the headmistress’ office. “Anything but this.” She said, her body leaning on her right arm where she held a glass of vodka-coke, as black as her jacket. By this, she meant the bar we were in. A student bar par excellence. Red plaster bleeding off its walls, plastic tables colonized by millenial colonies of bacterium, unisex toilets still reeling from some adolescent Hiroshima; and students, naturally. Students with dreadlocks like a dumping ground of dead cobwebs, wearing sardonic t-shirts and drinking Bear Beer which only their trend-starved intestinal system could bear.
“Don’t like it here?” I asked.
“Why would I?” Why wouldn’t I; her voice echoed inside my head from the time she received the leather jacket. And like a bat’s sonar illuminating the darkness, her echoing voice shed light on the poem I was writing then, beside her, in my absent presence. I could just see the first line: Nothing exists where existence exists.
“Why are you here then?” Jamie asked, smiling from behind his unfinished beard.
“Where else can I go?” She shrugged. Her shoulders in her leather jacket seemed like separate entities; overblown caricatures. Nothing at all like the rest of her demure, peahen body.
“Cairo?” I joked hesitantly. She smiled reluctantly and took a sip from her vodka-coke, the glass momentarily obscuring her face with its neon refractions.
“Should you be drinking on such a tiny stomach?” Jamie asked, looking at her with the neotenic expression of a grown-up conscientiously acting like a child.
“Fuck off.” A hint of a smile appeared at the tail-end of her grim performance. Encore! – I thought to myself. More more – che rabbia!
“Leave her alone, Jamie.” I briefly decided to play the gentleman. Then again, she’s a fighter, I thought, she would probably be offended. So I: “It’s not her fault she’s a dainty little flower.”
The slap she gave me then was the first time I felt the warmth of her compact, un-porous skin on my face. Her wide open palm, petite like a duck’s tail, swiped the side of my face, trailing a path of sensuous curiosity. And I could see clearly then, the poem I started writing before I even knew her, finished with a few prescient lines, the day I stopped knowing her: The painter is writing on the steeple’s canvas. What manner of poem was it, how can one dissect a poem that could never have been written?
“Fuckin’ hell love!” I said as I comically checked my lips for the red stuff.
“Don’t.” She smiled, winking, a furious tiger after a kill. Meow!
“I wasn’t going to.” I laughed, looking at Jamie. He wore an expression similar to mine; don’t mess about with her. “But I will say.” I paused for dramatic effect. Building expectation – I learnt that trick from poetry. And masturbation: delayed gratification. I paused to think, as well. Don’t mess about with her. She doesn’t want people to like her, does she? She wants to keep everyone away. Well tough, love, I do like you. For I am like you. And furthermore, I have a niggling suspicion that you might just be a genius. “I was going to buy you another drink.”
“Go on then.” She said surprised, meek. What are you?
“How observant.” She mock-curtsied, the length of her oversized leather jacket doubling up as a skirt.
So I went to hunt for her vodka-coke. The bar counter was drowning with parched hermetic surfers, their long hair wiping the black surface; destroying, if only for a few micro-centuries, the bacterium’s Roman empires. I pushed in. Smelt their sweat which overrode even their expensive perfumes. Is this what students were made to be these days, I thought to myself? Actors trying desperately to mask their wealth by any means necessary: scruffiness, idleness, buffoonery. They were acting like the working classes they had so long despised. And still despised, just in a more PC way. Well I’m working-class, I thought as I ordered a pint and a vodka-coke, and I don’t care for all your games. I don’t understand them. And you know what, neither does she.
“Here you go. Where’s Jamie gone?” I said, returning to the broken circle stood in the bar’s corridor.
“Friends. Over there.” She pointed to a clique outside, smoking, leaning over chairs, thinking beard-aloud.
“Nice of him to say.”
“There are five people there and two here. What’d you expect?”
“Fuck that.” She said raising her drink to me, thanking me, reinforcing her point. I had never seen someone being so polite whilst saying fuck at the same time.
“I don’t trust people without manners. They can’t be good people.”
“You must not trust me, then.” She dusted something off her leather shoulders. She hated the jacket, but she took care of it with grandmotherly tenderness.
“Why, because you slapped me? That wasn’t rude, that was – I don’t know what that was.”
“Don’t worry about it. That was about the most exciting thing you could do around here.”
“That or go insane.”
“We’ve been there, haven’t we.” She nodded, drank, and looked around from behind her gently sapphire eye-lids. She parted her black fringe revealing a forehead like a broken-off constellation and looked around some more. Even then, she appeared to me like a cage trapped in a bird. A cage trapped in a bird…
“So, what do you do?” Her words struck me with the startling splendour of insight. That poem that I saw written in her past and her future, it’s purpose divulged itself on my lips, like a eureka drenched in synaesthesia! It was a poem about her. A poem I had been writing to her since before I knew her, and that I would finish when… where was she…?
“I’m a writer.”
“So… a journalist?”
“No. I write poetry.”
“And that makes you a living?”
“No. It keeps me alive.”
“I see. And, that’s it?”
“I’m also doing a B. Ed at University. But that’s boring.”
“Why do it then?” She asked looking around for an empty booth.
“What else is there to do?”
“Get away from here. That’s something to do.” She eyed a group of people going outside, opening up a booth. She walked towards it. I noticed and laid claim to the table, like a male lion taking over a pride. I replaced the empty glasses with my own – the Infanticide.
“Anywhere, really.” She shrugged away all the things she had to say. Why – what was she holding back? I changed the subject.
“What do you paint?” It was a clichéd thing-to-say-on-a-date. And I realized then we were on a kind of date. That was why Jamie had left us alone. What was his game? Who did he think he was manipulating my love-life? I punished him later on by making him my best-man.
“Anything, really. Nature and things like that.” If she, my Ava, had ever needed to use her body to make some extra, urgent cash; she would have been a stripper, never a whore!
“Nature, wonderful. You’re not a Romanticist, are you?” Everyone was a Romanticist those days. Even the hippies. Even the industrialists. They all had to romanticize something. Why not just sing the Truth – when did that stop being enough?
“No. More abstract.” Do I have to pay you to talk, I huffed to myself? Fine. Here. Strip for me.
I cannot much recall the rest of our conversation that night. I don’t blame memory. I confess, I wasn’t listening to her with the doted attention an empathetic gentleman ought to bestow upon the gentle sex. Instead, I was watching her. Watching her and hunting. I was a leopard stalking the tall grass, hiding myself, not wanting to be seen (to be seen was to show intent). I was waiting for a lull, a gap in the relentless heat of the conversation. I was waiting for an opportunity; a diving-board, a sudden rush of bravery. I kept distracting myself, watching dishevelled couples coming out of the toilets, their lips pale their eyes bright; in the smoking area at the back there were goths illuminating the darkness with the wicks of cheap lighters, the smoke from their thin cigarettes ascending to the stratosphere, until the earth’s borders reeked of tobacco.
Then Jamie returned. He asked us what we had been talking about.
“Boredom.” We replied in tandem. Jinx, make a – I have been making a wish all night.
It was two o’clock in the morning when Jamie asked her if she wanted to split a taxi. Him and a few others lived close to her. She assented. She got up to go. A heart-attack gripped me, paralyzed me – worse than a heart-attack, for my entire body was in agony. She can’t go. Not yet. But still she got up to go. Every movement was so reluctant. I thought optimistically that she didn’t want to go because she was enjoying my company. But I know better now. Her every move was strained. It was rape for her just being out – a prison sentence talking to people. She was an auto-abductee. And that convinced me all the more she was a genius. And I was a shallow Poet back then. Being a genius was enough.
And I wasn’t at all wrong.
“It was nice meeting you, Vincent.” Manners – what a flower in the grey.
“Same here.” I smiled dramatically, trying to force myself to wink. I couldn’t do even that. And the wink was meant to be a replacement, a substitution, for the simple phrase I could not bring myself to utter: can we meet again? I was tongue-tied. And she left, unceremoniously, escorted by her group of friends-jailers. She stood on the threshold of the bar for a minute, searching her small black handbag for her purse. All of life, all the vice of the night passed her by. The girls acting like boys and the boys still acting like boys. And she stood there: chiaro to all the oscuro. Her frame was insignificant, she was tiny, vulnerable – she was the very incarnation of innocence. She wouldn’t have been offended, would not have slapped me, if I had told her that. For she had made Innocence her theology. I would soon find out. My cowardice that night would not defeat me.
For – for better or worse – we were children of the millennium.
Look at that child in the playground. Doesn’t she look like me? Let’s follow her. Her mother’s there, she’s so chiselled, like she’s made of limestone. There’s soft blonde down on her shoulder, it’s like lichen eating away her youth. She’ll be dead before you know it. Then she’ll be like her daughter. Free, liberated. But that poor thing, she’ll have to watch her mother die; Oh, let’s kidnap her. Lock her up so the only death she’ll see is her own. Maybe, me and her, we’ll die together.
Please change the channel.
You feel like you’ve been abducted, don’t you, by me?
I just wish we can go outside. The sun is so vibrant, we could go to the Gardens, there’ll be dandelions floating everywhere, we could blow them to the winds, watch them fill the air like pregnant snow.
You go, I’ll put on the Nature Channel, that’s fine by me.
I can’t go. If I go, I don’t know if I would find you here when I come back.
* * *
From my poetry collection The Human Comedy:
Poetry and science are brothers that have never before met, until now. It is ironic that in the past the best poets have been described as scientific in their searing insights, and the best scientists have been described as poetic in the beauty of their descriptions. Yet seldom, if ever, have the two distinct rivers met, meandering instead in the abyss of time.
The only time history has allowed for such a marriage was during the Arabic Golden Age of the Middle Ages, in places like Al-Andalus and Baghdad. This was when polymaths were as numerous as grains of sand in the Sahara. Uniting philosophy, biology, astronomy, botany, medicine with works of poetry and literature. No one was closer than polymaths such as Averroes in unearthing the true essence of human nature.
Science is cold. Poetry is childish. These are two wondrous facts. Wondrous, yet lonely. Individually they have failed to provide us with answers we can live with. Science has provided answers, poetry has provided lifestyles. But only once the two have been married can they produce true answers that themselves provide lifestyles.
Poets of old have offered consolation, entertainment, inspiration and even desolation to humanity. Poetry touches the innocence of man. Science, on the other hand, touches the mature, serious, truth-seeking nature of man. What this tells me is that joined together they can teach man how to be live up to his humanity, genuinely, whilst enjoying, and living it to the full.
To be a poet of science, or a scientific poet (who cares about these phony titles?) the poet must be a polymath. A poet never specializes in singularity. His mind is open, free, hungry. He must know science enough to not be a scientist at all. The keen mind of the poet can translate the truths of science into the human voice. He can turn the origin of religion, into the fulfillment of religion, he can turn the genetic code, into the drunkenness of the genetic code, or convert the earth’s four billion year history into a dream worth four billion years!
No one can understand the essence of humanity, for there is no such thing. No can even interpret it, for to interpret it is to lionize it with bias. What the poet can do, unlike no other, is invent the essence of humanity, with the insightful mind of the child, on the basis of truth.
The Myth Of Being:
Perhaps the earliest forms of art known to man was that known as representational art. This mean art created not for the sake of artistic or aesthetic pleasure, but as a representation of some supernatural, or magical being. Usually it is done as a prayer. This is probably what motivated the cave art of Lascaux, Altamira, etc, the animals, rather un-artistically drawn, are prayers to those animals so that they may be abundant and fertile. The Amur shamans wear clothes with images of mythological figures, childishly drawn, but symbolically important. Huichol Indians in Mexico weave a rag with the image of a particular deity, as a prayer to him, and attach it to an arrow. In these examples very little attention to realism was given, but rather on symbolic meaning.
From a street crowded with mutes
A blind Apollo rises to it’s skyline:
Horizon of papal steeples and Visigothic towers,
It greets the white sun with gleaming clouds.
Greatness belongs to Roman facades,
Of which the streets are excessively pregnant.
Their lily-skin windows hide all decay,
Decay is manifested in tears left undecorated.
When it weeps clouds gather
Depriving the breeze of its musical gift.
O inside-out city, where is your past?
In purgatory it prays for your present.
I know too well even Orpheus stole his lyre,
Your sincerity is an Orient without a silk road,
Your splendour all your own
And your solitude only painfully true.
Ponds are dried of the daffodil’s seed
Just as Venus veils her glistening sex,
It is not your sin, but your being a being
Within time, that ages you so madly.
The hands that crafted your stone and steel
Were hands laden with the youth of the sun,
Your celebrations were games of adolescence
But take my word and it’s kiss: nothing endures.
Surely this you know in your palm-leaf soul?
When you look at beauteous cities emerging
From the womb of the desert sands,
Do you weep for their future or your past?
Is your past as glorious as you believe?
Was the drunkenness in your streets
The songs of Dionysus, or the wailing
Of unwitting passers-by?
Sappho’s cherry verse never adorned your roads,
But do not be afraid of it all:
You were merely young when life itself was a toddler.
Now you find yourself old in a world of youth.
Cry not like the crow in the shepard’s fields,
Let not your sorrow echo, a trumpet in Hades.
Cry a little softer, your grief is one of un-lived yesterdays,
Do not disturb the music of the pulsating life of today.
The Naked Totem
The smile and the frown, two of our most important facial gestures, may have arisen through facial expressions used during conflict. When we frown we lower our eyebrows, this is so we can protect our eyes from attack. We also adopt an unblinking stare, originally used to intimidate our opponents. The smile, on the other hand, the gesture that pulls back the corners of our mouth to reveal our teeth, evolved as a gesture of submission after a conflict. This ‘fear face’ suggests to an opponent that we pose no threat. The smile, a uniquely human gesture, evolved from this submissive mechanism.
My principle is my totem.
To mimic a smile
To a man respectable
In a branch of society
Segregated from my own
Is like murder of innocence.
Like any true totem
Mine is inherited maternally.
The zoo with the spired skyline
Is but a church with veneered saints.
Men have forgotten their self.
Men are a parody
Of their rehearsed reflection.
Careful when you turn your back
To a smiling man,
The truth about you might come out
In rococco expressions.
To see the woman betrayed
By the warm lips of the cold neighbour
Is to me the end of an unequal hunt,
The newborn gazelle pierced
By the spears of protected tribesmen.
Gaping pride reigns over teeth,
Never seen sinking into crimson meat
Kept clean for their chameleon’s existence
A camouflage that devours rank and wealth.
They have learned too well.
What is needed is lessons in un-learning.
The smile sold among strangers
Is the frown cherished among friends.
But what do gestures have to offer us?
They are the threshold sulking
At the doorstep of intent.
But the crocodile’s smile
Hides itself in a shallow pool
Of murky water, ready to pounce
With the agility of creation.
Ah how quickly we learned
To wear masks!
The only masked primate in nature,
Interaction is a theatre
Whose actors act merely
To please their own obscure aesthetics.
The audience is there to be fooled.
O but I, I could never betray my totem.
Mine is a face inherited through generations
That acted drunk only when drunk,
Generations as bereft of actors as of wealth:
Generations still lurking in the lagoons
They built for themselves in my dimples.
To disrupt their games, without due cause,
Is to incur their wrath, or worse,
To risk their abandonment.
If you want to know what you are
Look not in your home-made mirror,
Look only to my expression;
I am what you dared to forget,
What you hid in plain view.
The Prenatal Imprint
Around 80% of mothers carry their newborns and infants on the left-hand side of their bodies. This statistic even counts for women who are right-handed, so the idea that mothers do so to keep their favoured arm free for other activities is not favoured. What it is most probably linked is the fact that the human heart is on the left side of the body. Mothers have subconsciously discovered that their babies are soothed and calmed by the mother’s heart-beat. The same heart-beat they were so accustomed to in the womb. Experiments have all but proved this theory right. What implications could this have on the rest of our lives? The next time you see a nervous person, notice them tapping their feet, their hands, or even their body, to try and calm their nerves. This is to replicate the calming beat and pulse of the heart. It could also have originated the age-old concept that the heart is the seat of love.
Body, supple body, as old as the salt in the sea,
Headress of some un-named deity, let your name soar
Into the highest heaven and transcend the deepest hell.
A sea feeds our naked skin, whenever a mother’s heart beats.
Mother, name embedded in every love that bonds,
Emblazoned upon the banner of the skies we hunger for;
There is no hymn whose melody comes close,
No angels whose lyre is so sweet
No truth that echoes so truly.
Imprinted on the rest of your life is the cozy shelter
Of the womb that curled around you like a swan’s neck.
Whenever you dream of your Olympian home in the hills
And see your crown placed on its silken double-bed
Don’t forget your first kingdom, surrounded by water and flesh
Created by a love you can never consciously comprehend.
Hold a wounded sparrow in the palm of your hand,
And understand my words. Feel its quivering innocence,
Its whistling calls to a mother long lost,
Spread open its wings watch the sword-like feathers hang
As if they were a vulture’s, an eagle’s, or a saw:
There are no words to describe what you feel
Yet you just know you are feeling.
The only being that can compose a symphony
For those grammar-less feelings is the heart that beats
On the western reaches of your body’s Africa.
It beats red, echoes blue, sometimes aches crimson,
A rainbow you still remember from your mother’s bosom.
No different to the wounded sparrow in your hands
Your heart, your sensations, are united in life.
Life, disgusting life, that throws shit at its brothers…
O life, glistening life, that thrusts the Angel’s waterfalls
Into the veins of the eternal Amazon.
Love of the mother, burning, flesh-soil, that is
The missing link to the rest of the blue planet.
The earth can be lonesome in its abstract vastness.
Belonging to the all is to be a gypsy nothing.
But the rhythm in your anxious feet, and swaying shoulder-blades,
Are constant reminders of your embryonic imprinting:
Homeward bound animal, find a home,
Even if it be in the scrotum of the world
Make your nest, surround it with the souvenirs of love
Return to its dark walls whenever life drives your feet mad.
Such is your imprint, such is your fate.
The Piraha, a tribe of around 700 living in the Amazon, are one of the few tribes who have an anumeric language. This means they do not have words for numbers. A study with the Piraha showed that as a result, they were incapable of doing even the most basic mathematical calculations. “One test involved 14 adults in one village that were presented with lines of spools of thread and were asked to create a matching line of empty rubber balloons. The people were not able to do the one-to-one correspondence, when the numbers were greater than two or three. “ Studies such as this indicate that language is a key component in the process of the mind and evidently one’s language impacts on the way you think.
“Hello”, how are you kind neighbour?
“Aw!” what do you want?
Speciation at the tip of the tongue.
The family breathes confidence.
The cold aunts create coyness.
Language raised in heat
Childhood of warmth and sweat,
Leads to a sun-filled adulthood.
Even when new, cold languages
Are spoken, the tongue never forgets
The vowels of sunlight bouncing off
The waves napping at Pretty Bay.
Mothers and fathers of such vocabulary,
Can they ever dream of northern peaks,
Or paint the aurora borealis?
Harsh ‘H’ leads to ambitions
To reach the HHHotest corner of the Sahara.
The explosion of summer
Explodes in loud tones
That greet life
Like the hot noon greets
Refugee northern winds.
Semitic numbers, Semitic mathematics,
Semitic economics: Semitic politics.
Latin families, Latin offspring,
Latin friends of friends: Latin careers.
Our evolution’s favourite nursery rhyme.
“Ux” as indifferent as siestas,
And “uff” as warm as August heatwaves,
A mother’s pigeonhole.
Careful what you say,
You might expose your secret.
Even more careful, how you say it,
You might reveal your Fate.
Carves you in its image.
The God whose name you flagellate
Is the God who tried to
Claim you in his own name.
No wonder your language
Retaliates, and makes you
“Haqq” down his name
In between every comma.
Race of religious peasants,
Ill-prepared for your long-ago imposed
Religiosity, you are exposed
As a prisoner behind blindfolds.
Fossils from two caves in south-west China has opened up a new chapter on the human colonization of Asia. The fossils represent a new, undiscovered stone-age people, named the Red-Deer Cave people, due to the fact that they cooked and ate red-deer. Dated to just 14,500 to 11,500 years old, these people show features of both modern homo sapiens anatomy and also archaic, some of them even novel characteristics. When they were alive Asia was already peopled and agriculture was beginning. The peopling of Asia doesn’t seem to be as straightforward as previously thought. Were these a group of homo sapiens that left Africa earlier and settled in Asia before the ancestors of modern Asians, but left no genetic trace? Or could they have been a separate hominid group, such as Neanderthals or homo ergaster that lived side by side with homo sapiens? Previously the youngest fossils found in the region dated to around 100,000 years ago, thus these new fossils shed new light on the peopling of Asia, revealing a greater hominid diversity there, as much as in Europe and Africa.
Side by side: where are our lost brothers?
Youthful Asia, land of tropical quarries
Peopled by the smiles of the rising sun:
A new promise dawns in your midst.
Teeming cities and haunted steppes
Pagodas like longhouses with a dragon’s tail,
Is the future taking us towards new minds?
Across the five continents man reigns,
A grand carnival of coloured masks.
Is this a first step, taken long ago?
In nature, when species are separated
By natural islands that breed diversification,
Superficial changes take place
That signal a novel segregation
Key to the new names of the morrow.
Flight has not bridged
The oceans between you.
Mankind, side by side,
So far apart, is evolution
Taking you further away?
Will we awake one day
And find we are unable to breed
With our kin across the archipelago?
What parliament can shout yay or nay!
The climate of the unseen is a fog of war.
O Asia, you have joined in the rainbow cries
Of the rest of the world, hope awaits
Like a snake watching the breeze in its canopy.
If man dares calls a distant brother
By some other name, be it out of cruelty
Or out of truth, co-habitation is too genetic
To be overthrown!
Empathy, messianic precursor
Of all humanity might encounter,
Your halo rises brighter than the sun’s
As all mankind’s eyes gaze upwards,
Looking up at the sun, we are universal.
After all, even your faceless neighbours
Are as strange as separate species:
Yet you are inclined to smile at their shadow,
Wave over their shoulders,
Not a mere thought of blood-lust.
Even war is kindness:
Golden dragons sprinkle sperm and silver
Over unseen skyscrapers, under velvet clouds.
So kindly they fly over our skyline of steeples.
Human, All Too Wonderfully Human
In an effort to prove that the estrus was not lost during human evolution, as most researchers claimed, a group of evolutionary psychologists from the University of New Mexico carried out a study with lap dancers in America. Estrus is a phase of increased female receptivity, proceptivity, selectivity and attractiveness. A study that involved around 5,300 dancers showed an interaction between cycle phase and hormonal contraception use. Normally cycling women earned around 335 US dollars in tips per shift during estrus, 220 US dollars during the luteal phase, and 185 US dollars during menstruation. Lap dancers using contraceptive pills showed no peak during estrus. This study showed that men and women interact intimately over the course of several minutes through conversation and body language, women signal cues of their fertility status and these cues influence spending patterns by male clients.
Joie de vivre restored as the night
Was threatened by the ulcers of ennui.
Inside there is sanctuary,
A neon savannah where leopards stalk
Nirvana’s first floor.
A disarming smile caresses,
Rips veils away from the moonlight.
Climb the spiraling staircase,
Holding hands with that moment in time
That refused to die.
The smile grows to consume the entire body
Oblivious to its birth in the
Constellations of reproduction.
Sunrise over the bar,
A hand on a naked knee;
The diction of life somehow
Charm tinged with
The primordial stew of life
…Why did it choose me?
It chooses those who dare seek.
Her body must be awake
And dreaming of the future:
At this moment in time
I am the only platform of her future.
Words are thrown without meaning
Armed with swords to the naked heart.
O what fun!
The desert is alive!
Every grain of sand dances in the heat,
Every single one animated
By a soul ready to impregnate
The most underrated nights.
Arms released from the cross
Remove the clothing of the pageant
To melt away every other breathing image.
Voluptuousness like some mortal Nazca lines,
All of life converted into sex
In a way no Hindu temple could comprehend.
Her body chooses me and with an arrow through my eye
I return the favour.
I would worship her as a machine
Constructed by life’s atoms
If her wonderfully human movements
(Swaying like golden rivers in Tartarus)
Didn’t make me feel as if I were touched
By some martyr laid bare.
For a martyr she truly was.
What cause is it dying to save
The souls of man?
She chooses to sacrifice her own body’s mothering call
To save the passions of man.
Touching the breast of St. Agatha would be
Touching a severed star laid waste.
Touching the breast of a true martyr is
Touching the breast of smiling humanity.
* * *
Excerpt from my novel The Pale Dove
Do the angels not see they are leading the cherub down the path of devildom?
In the early August days of that increasingly tiring summer that phrase hounded Hudson’s insomniac, unbearably humid nights like a green fly hovering around the manure of the savannah. It seemed the entire world was in on a conspiracy to not only take his Livia away but to transform him – who had tried to make her a writer and a heroine – into an antiquarian cradle-snatcher in her eyes, the only eyes that mattered.
Even switching on the television, the act of a desperate man, was opening a zoo full of caged animals ready to be let loose upon his butterfly, to tear her apart wing from wing, his poor innocent whatever. Automatically his hand ordered the remote to change the channel to MTV whereupon the gravity of his malady became appallingly clear (except to the eyes of the inflicted): Hudson felt stomach-churning jealousy for the stars he saw writhing and sexing in the Bunuel/Pasolini freakshows they call music videos. The Rihannas, the Gagas, the Cyruses, even the benign, but inexcirably banal LMFAO and misogynistic Pitbull – all these names she had had scribbled on her notebook, which had notes Hudson had given her about Wilfred Owen, Shakespeare and Tennyson. All those names had crossed her lips in the presence of her friends, making them more electrically charged and excited than his own lips could ever make them. Those names were in league with Temi, James, Sophie, Maroun, and who knows how many others. They were all trying to take Livia away from him.
The green malady that castrated the writer of all his words – he refused to write under the influence of hatred, it would be too pedestrian for his liking – may seem abstract and like a rainbow without a terrestrial source. Even he began to think so. It’s not that bad. I should get some sleep. Children are not monogamous by nature. Not even in their friendships. It will be fine. And after meeting with her a couple of times mid-August, once to a drug-infested (unbeknownst to cultured Hudson and naïve Livia) after-party that carried on from a religious feast in a southern town and the other when they went for a quick swim up in Mellieha (it was quick for they ran into some distant relatives of Livia forcing Hudson into a discreet escape). See, she’s still mine, and there is no more intelligent, no sweeter little angel on this island than my own.
But the brief honeymoon was ended by the introduction of a new orgy that August. It wasn’t a physical or an even remotely sexual orgy, but merely a wingless allegory of the copulation between deified smut and the possessive lust of buttoned-up men – a copulation Hudson’s heart most feared, yet his sleep-deprived mind could not put it into words, not even subconscious ones.
A few days after the swim at Mellieha Hudson remembered that the next day was the day the Francis Ebejer awards were being held. This was a highly prestigious award whose prestige was matched only by the contempt Hudson felt towards it, the black snake. It was an award for script writers whose work would invigorate and ameliorate Maltese Theatre. For Hudson the label Maltese Theatre brought to mind Shakespeare drunk, toffee-nosed actors with as much talent for acting as they had for drinking and part-time playwrights always donning the white knight philanthropic suit with a Super-likeable-dark-party-animal costume underneath. Of course an interpreter even superficially versed in psychoanalysis would understand that this bitterness was only a symptom of his jealous-stricken personality. Hudson of course was rationally ignorant of the jealous root of his cynical jibes – an indication, dear students, of his obsessive make-up. But let us not flounder.
Hudson invited Livia to the awards ceremony which was being held in the courtyard of the Manoel Theatre. That theatre, one of the oldest working theatres in Europe, elicited a principle-betraying awe from Hudson. He wished that that magnificent edifice fit for Hapsburgs and Nabokovs alike, with its golden balconies, painted ceilings and Baroque ambiance, could be used for something grander than theatre. He had been there to see operas before – he took pride in saying he saw a fledgling Joseph Calleja perform there before he went international. He always went alone, no one wanted to go to see opera, not even Carmen, his favourite. But he felt a benevolent superiority at bravely, exclusively attending that apex of Western civilization whilst his chums visited the latest five-star restaurant (never Michelin, never Malta) or the most avant-garde re-hashing of some Brechtian play in the St. James Cavalier. Whenever he reclined in his box, which was once used as a shelter for the homeless, he reeled at the idea of acoustic concerts by the latest Maltese flop, or a Shakespeare play in Maltese defiling that sacred Manoel stage – what an apt metaphor for what Livia was going through; if only he was as lucid in his emotions as he was in his aesthetics.
Livia jumped at the chance of going to the awards, she even called Kirsty and screamed with hysterical, much-too-easily-reciprocated excitement at going to such a big thing. The biggest thing of the summer in fact, she reasoned to Kirsty. All the best actors will be there, you know, Kirsty replied. I wonder if that guy that did that film will be there. What film? You know the one with the car chases. Oh I know. Never mind him. Imagine if the actors from The Group will be there! Don’t go there, Kirsty, omg!
On her way to Hudson’s house Livia skipped along the cracked pavements and dangled on the sharp edges as if they were end of the world precipices, the way she had done all her life. She flicked her hair back with the yawning daylight shining on her elbow, her other arm holding an evening purse made of mock crocodile skin. She studied the purse and its black greens and green yellows and thought “what a shame that us artists can never be non-artists: we can never look at a piece of art through the eyes of a layman. Everything has to have standards.” This wasn’t her talking, even the diction and the coherence was borrowed from something she never knew existed in her subconscious. This was an unexpectedly sophisticated Livia, a real star, confirmed in her grandeur by her up-scale, nascent lifestyle. She was tabloid Livia, tab Liv, and the pride she felt in her beatified self left no room in her hall of fame for the man she was walking towards as she skipped over the cracks in the pavement.
She rang the doorbell. Hudson was late in answering. Was still putting on his slender black tie. Jogged downstairs with the tie still half-done, a mongrel of a tie and bow-tie. He answered the door. He saw Livia. Something had come to an end.
“Ta-da!” The nymph-on-a-crucifix declared to an aghast Hudson.
“What, Liv, ah…” Hudson couldn’t finish his overheating train of thought so he hastily grabbed Livia by the arm and pulled her inside, closing the door behind Dolores and the peeping eyes of slumbering St. Jude’s.
Once inside he could look at her more thoroughly. Livia, if that was still her name, was wearing a shear, barely there black dress that was long alright, down to the knees, and even had sleeves halfway down the arm. She wore a large, octopus-like silver bracelet and an Egyptian style necklace that was the trend with kids at the time. Beneath the necklace Hudson, as well as every other DNA-based living being she walked past on her way there, could see the breasts he loved so well, the pink areolas and tubular nipples poking through the see-through top. The dress was clearly meant to be worn with a top or something underneath – a bra at the very least (Hudson had noticed before how she seemed to have boycotted bras as if she were some guileless, clueless hippie). She was wearing underwear, but when Livia walked past Hudson to go into his living room he could see as clear and as enticing as day, the slender, pubescent hills of her buttocks cleft in twain solely by a thin, black g-string that coiled itself around her parted sex like a python snuggling around its burst prey.
“Well, don’t just stand there.” She said tilting her head to the side, placing a peacock’s arm over her hip.
“I’m speechless, really. Tell me. Were your parents home when you left the house?”
“Thought as much.” Hudson put his finger to his chin and walked towards the sofa, leaning one arm on its muscular back. “There was no way they would have let you gone out like that. My God, Livia.”
“I know. Sexy, yeah?”
“Disgusting more like. What on earth do you think you’re pulling?”
“You’re not that thick are you? You know what’s up. You can’t tell me that’s normal.” Hudson stared with malicious yet hungering intent at her blossoming breasts, which seemed to him slightly fleshier than when he first knew them.
“It’s not normal. But I don’t do normal, like. It’s just a dress after all.”
“You’re naked Livia, for fucksake!”
“Pff, as if, get over it. And even if I was. What’s the harm? I’m confident with my body. To be confident with your naked body is to be confident about everything.”
“What mongrel pop star told you that?”
“Rihanna, if you must know. But it’s true anyway.” Livia spoke with a carefully considered tone and a high-pitched, calm voice whose assuredness upset Hudson. “I’m an independent, successful woman with nothing to hide.”
“Grow up, Livia.” Hudson always wanted to say that to Livia, indeed to most girls he taught. It struck to the heart of what she wanted to be, it tore down her walls and revealed her inner child, making her vulnerable and cornered.
“Oh my God you’re such a hypocrite Gerry! You don’t mind seeing me naked and you certainly don’t mind it when I do all those things for you in bed, but now because everyone can see me like this you get jealous. You’re pathetic!”
“You’re a child Livia, damn it, no child should go out dressed like that!” Hudson raised his voice the way his PGCSE had taught him so crassly.
“If I’m a child than you’re a sick pervert, Gerry.” She pointed at him, raising her voice, arching her back. “I can’t believe you have the nerve to tell me off for this – after all you’ve done!”
“That’s different. That was done in private. And I would watch how you speak to me. You may think you’re something just because you have your tits out but you’re still a little girl!”
“Get over yourself – sir! You’re such a stuffy old loser. You grow up! You’re such a relic. You think this is shocking? What the fuck do you know? You’re just bitter at everything and everyone. You have no idea how to live and you’re happy just criticizing everyone because they don’t meet your stuffy standards. I mean look around you, seriously. You like live in a castle – no wonder you’re shocked. Whatever, Gerry, whatever.”
“Don’t you take the piss out of me, Livia.” Hudson growled as he rushed closer to her so that she could feel his toothpaste breath on her nose. “You wouldn’t be anything without me – anything! If it weren’t for me you’d still be a retarded school girl wasting her life and her parent’s money. Without me you’d be just another slut.”
“A slut that everyone likes, Gerry – unlike you! You’re just jealous.” She walked away from his point blank gaze and stood at the door of the living room, her arm leaning against the cold stone wall. “I’d much rather be a successful slut than a wasted failure like you.” She made for the front door but Hudson pounced and intercepted her with the agility of a leopard. He was now stood in front of her, blocking her way to the front door.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to the awards, duh!”
“Not dressed like that you’re not. Go home and get changed. Otherwise you’re not going anywhere. Ever.”
“Yeah right. I got news for you, Gerry. I don’t need you anymore. I can go to the awards with or without you. And even a failure like you can figure out which one I’m choosing now.” Livia pushed Hudson aside with surprising strength and Hudson, although overwhelmed by an upset anger so intense he could have beaten her three times over, moved aside and let her get away. She had too much on him. She had him by the proverbial balls and held all the cards. He watched her storm out of his house, her naked backside tantalizing him into bitter lust even in that fading light. She struggled to walk too quickly in her high heels, her arm swinging vehemently like a pendulum to help her balance – she is going, isn’t she?
Hudson slammed the door behind him after she disappeared from sight, into the pine-sheltered road on her way to the bus stop opposite the view of northern fields now barren and harsh. He reclined against his heavy front door and banged the back of his head against it, making a thump that drummed on his rabid nerves. He walked into the living room, sat on the cream sofa which, to his dissipated mind still smelt of her naked, cherry fragrance, turned on the television and planned out his incarcerated night that must be spent under the limelight of rebellion. She was foolish to think she didn’t need him. She had another thing coming if she thought she’d be let into the Manoel – that shrine of decency and etiquette – without him. In an hour’s time she would come crawling back to him. Maybe she wouldn’t come back to his house but she would message him, surely. She would say something like, “damn retards didn’t let me in”, acknowledging his point without admitting she was wrong. And he would accept that. He would accept any kind of message from her. For, as the night aged and the minutes passed in quarters and halves, his bullish anger had transformed into a desperate longing.
A longing to have things as they once were, when they were sweet Livy and gentle Gerry, to be lovers enthralled by literature and fantastic living. Perhaps not too much living. That always complicates things. Introducing other people into one’s Shangri-La seldom failed to lead to a path of internal combustion. No, keep outsiders out of the relationship. Build walls, walls around golden fields. Run amongst flowers, soak in the wine of unobtrusive vineyards and embrace in the waves of neverdom. Don’t make that mistake again, Hudson. Appease the little slut. Don’t aggravate her further. Live to fight another day. Win back her trust before it’s too late. And then do things differently. Keep her to yourself. Guard her meticulously and gear her life towards you entirely. Make it so she needs you, make yourself the monumental fulcrum of her life. That sounds right, doesn’t it?
As the night grew the moonlit wings of morning – one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock – Hudson, now lying in his bed with his noisy fan on full, bleakly flicking through his television, the desperate longing matured, without losing any hint of longing’s sweetness, into ghostly worry and fright. A two-headed snake with a pregnant body slithered up Hudson’s naked, spindly legs all the way up his crotch (she’s cheating on me she has to be; why would she be so adamant on dressing like a slut otherwise? Oh God what would I do if I found out? Her fine-spun lips could right now be rent apart by the slobbering tongue of some old better-than-me. She could be in bed with him! My body, her body, defiled by some unspeakable girth and her moaning voice could be serenading dangling, elephantine ears.) then climbing up to his stomach (What if she was in an accident? Maybe she got a lift from someone who had a bit too much to drink and they’ve crashed somewhere. No one would tell me, would they, they would tell her family! Or what if she was raped as she made her own way home. No, rapes seldom happen in Malta – Oh but they do sometimes, what if this was one of those times?). In the end, as the snake reached Hudson’s heart, he decided to send his beloved a message asking her, courteously, if she was having a good time. She didn’t reply. She didn’t reply all night – and why would she? Hudson, you know very little about women, don’t you? Even less about girls.
Strangely, by four in the morning, his month old insomnia decided to surrender and Hudson slept, albeit for a few hours, dreaming of the cosmos moving on.
Making amends when both parties are in the wrong is a politically wrought affair that smacks of Israel – Palestine. It was especially harder when only one of the injured parties was interested in making amends – the other wasn’t averse to it, just indifferent to the possibility. He loved her with his entire body, just as a nun was meant to love God. And he wanted her back at all costs; back? Had he lost her? He had to know and she would tell him simply by the way she answered his message the next day.
“Do you want to come over today I’ll cook us some lunch then we go to Hugo’s?”
“Ok be der in 30mins.” The reply came instantly. Had she forgotten last night? Had she realized her wrong? Hudson panicked like a mother expecting her son’s guests, he had nothing to cook, the offer was only a shot in the dark. He left the menagerie of his inhospitable bed, got dressed and ran down to Scotts in what he realized was a heatwave at 38 degrees. The tarmac was hallucinating in infra-red waves and the panorama of Attard seemed Saharan and blurry. At eleven in the morning the only people to be seen were old women doing their shopping, breaking out their new red hair dye, and tall men in impossibly short shorts walking their Labradors. The supermarket was quiet but not quiet enough for Hudson’s haste. Start with some bruschetta for starters. Maltese bread. Tomatoes – lots of them. Garlic. Cheddar. Parsley. Make her a grand seafood pasta dish; she loves seafood, its rich enough for her taste and salty enough to please the youthful craving that addicted her peers to junk food.
When he got back, sweating and palpitating, he took off his shirt, switched on the air-condition and went into the kitchen. He opened a bottle of wine and put on the oven to start the bruschetta. How Maltese of him to think that appeasing a raging lover with food and wine would suffice – what a traitor he was to his paternal faith in tea and its cornucopia powers. As he waited for the oven to heat up, the bruschetta toppings chopped and ready, drinking a glass of wine, he relaxed and exhaled a sigh of accumulated relief. In the cold light of the day he realized how badly he had overreacted last night. Not only with Livia but with himself. She wouldn’t cheat on him, of course not, no matter their ups and downs she still…felt something for him, surely, otherwise she wouldn’t have been so eager to turn up here today, would she? You’ve still got it, Gerry old boy. And, it seems, you still have Livia.
But don’t forget what you promised yourself yesterday. You have to start afresh. Give the innocuous darling everything she wants. Give her the life she so craves – just mind who she mixes with. You have to do your part as well. Start writing again, it will help her to take you more seriously. Start participating in readings, dominate other writers, impress her as you did almost a year ago. Show her what you always believed, that you are the best writer on the island. It’s all you need to do. Then she’s yours. Only yours.
As he thought through the three-course feast he was treating her to he saw a vacuum of desserts, a black-hole that could mean the ruination of his enamoured soul. The bell suddenly rang making flustered Hudson leap nervously like an abused Chihuahua – he could have gotten her Baci! She loved the stuff and the cheesy messages could have served a useful ice-breaker, or even a platform to a delirium of much desired passion. He ran to the door and as he opened it saw his apologetic Livia, dressed in a summery dress that revealed no cleavage and exuded sensuality only in Hudson’s starved mind.
“I’ll be right back, I have to run to the store. Make yourself at home. There’s wine.” Hudson ran off back to Scotts leaving Livia behind, confused, to wander around the house.
Finding herself in the entrance where she had seen Hudson the night before, she sighed eclectically and wondered where she and Gerry stood. She didn’t know where she wanted to stand; girls are marvelously apt at going with the flow – that was why they went for the flow-creating male type. Walking past the photographs that she fell in love with on her first visit to that consequential house she studied once more the photograph of Brussels with its great Gothic cathedral and the anthill of cafe tables that festooned the whimsical square. She wondered what her grandmother was doing now and what life must be like in such splendour. Why Brussels? She thought to herself as she looked around the corridor. New York is a cliché, Amsterdam I can understand, Paris is a must for any artist – but why would he have a picture of Brussels hanging so prominently in his corridor? He never mentioned any particular fondness for it, I don’t even think he’s ever been there. The only time he ever mentioned Brussels was on that first day. Oh well, best have some wine.
She poured herself a glass of wine and, still inundated with curiosity, proceeded to roam around the house, sniffing around for clues – curiosity is a girl’s favourite drug and Livia had a hound’s nose for it. She went upstairs, up his marble stairs, decorated with inconspicuous paintings of still-life flowers framed in old-gold frames. The upstairs corridor was shorter and less pompous. A great bulky mirror stood beside the door to the bathroom and a long-legged side-table was surmounted by a black-and-white photograph of another Gothic church and its square. It wasn’t Brussels. Where is that? She looked carefully, still holding her wine glass as if she were an art critic studying her prey at an exhibition. Wait, those flags look familiar, as do those flowerbeds: that’s St. Peter’s church in Leuven! That’s where my grandmother lives! How the hell could he have known that?
Struck by a medley of fear and insatiable curiosity Livia put down the wine glass on the wooden top of the side-table and jogged into Hudson’s studio. The room was well-lit by the balcony and Livia looked around not knowing what she was hunting for. She went to his desk and opened its bumpy drawers. She found notebooks filled with poems and loose foolscaps with scribbled notes and scenes for novels. In the bottom drawer she found postcards from England and Scotland, of castles and the London Eye. On the back of them were written small prose passages set in the postcard’s location. Nothing of interest.
She scoured his palatial bookshelf – still not knowing even the outlines of her quarry – tapping on books organized by author. She took out works by Fitzgerald, Updike, Dos Passos, Austen, Eliot, Lawrence, Wilde, McEwan; all at random, looking for something hidden, or a clue in some title. My God this guy has OCD! The organization and the cleanliness are un-thought of for a man. This made the bookshelf stand out, fueling her subliminal hunch that something of importance was hidden there. Hold on, what’s that, behind the fat copy of Juliette? Livia noticed a brown A3 notebook. She took it out with the caution of a tomb raider, dusted it off to reveal the Da Vinci-like designs that elaborated the cover and ran her hand through it as if it were the book of destiny. A small buckle held closed its elusive pages – but it was unlocked. Livia moved the buckle aside as if she were undoing a man’s belt. She opened the notebook on the first page and saw written, in Hudson’s familiar, italicized handwriting: The Life Of Livia Schubert.