THE RUIN JT Welsch has published four pamphlets of poetry, including Orchids (Salt) and Waterloo (Like This). His poems have also appeared in 3AM, Blackbox Manifold, Boston Review, Manchester Review, PN Review, VLAK, and other magazines and anthologies. He lives with his partner and dog in York, where he is lecturer in Creative Writing and English Literature at York St John University.
Published by annexe All rights reserved © J.T. Welsch Typeset in Linux Libertine Typesetting by Nick Murray This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to provisions of relevant collective licencing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Claire Trévien and J.T. Welsch First published 2015 Printed in the United Kingdom by ######. ISBN ######## This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
CONTENTS The Pilgrim The White The Trains
10 12 13
The House The Sea The Desert
15 16 17
The City The Village The Trains The Great Mosque
19 20 21 22
The Leg of Hare The Sport The Market The Wilderness
24 25 26 27
The Canyon The Trains The Blue The Cemetery
29 31 32 33
The Ghost The Story The Ruins
36 37 38
The Ruin 7
They say Tunisia is nothing but ruins. (Tunisian Tourism Board advertisement, June 2011)
The Pilgrim The sun has dark power. The clarity of the shore is full of promise. We shall work well here. And when I say we, I mean, of course, the universal traveller keeping this whole thing more or less afloat: whole chartered planeloads; the look on many men already side by side in red plastic chairs at seven as our fat coach passes, like a piggy bank on wheelsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; if only a hammer. Earlier still, watching half a dozen rake the beach next door, where someone exploded themselves the other year, I have reason to believe we all will be received, and you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t need to see our identification. Let my moleskine be my passport, having checked my privilege like so much luggage. I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t mind being that guy if it makes you think, or draws attention, as Goethe says, to a place from which we have received such greatness, beauty, and, uh, goodness for centuries. The uncouth shell shall sing again. Don Juan will don his turban to beat the Turks. What do I know? 10
Rome is no longer Rome. We mustn’t feel disappointed when, like Kandinsky, we fail to experience foreignness as an event, but, rather, a way of seeing. Years may pass between the impression and the work. Parts of several impressions in altered combination might be rejected, or older impressions awakened by more recent ones after a latent period.
The White Pollença, 2013 The village is besieged. No pothole unturned, no street safe from two-wheeled Bavarian overlords, who pay, so must be served. You will know them by their Lycra. You will cry out at two when Windy Mt. contrives by various leaks to slam a door in a villa of doors. An all-hour cockerel, for it is Easter, and a dog first thought blind will meet your stone-white gaze, hefting his chain back up the hot tub. We feel inferior. We are inferior. No carrots for the foal. Storm off by Mississippis. We watch with hot dogs, spoils of shame. But it don’t take. I literally shit myself on the road to the store, where new arrivals, louder, more British than the last, than us, can’t get enough of your sundress – I almost wrote sadness – at the automatic door.
The Trains (I) A. taxi pour la gare pour Tunis 7 dinar & an hr early another walk toward the medina no tourists yet, different kind of street, local shopping, you thought, more authentic, no one hassling, though the same tat / discussion about how much sales or income tax is actually paid watching station fill from shade across, under tree w cat everyone laughing at the old man whipping his Indiana Jones belt whatever the guy had done (is there much difference b/w half-finished & halfundone? of course there is)
The country is better preserved and more contented than any other of the French possessions.
The French have wisely left the natives to govern themselves, at least in appearance. Even if the Bey has little power, his presence on the throne is guarantee to the Mussulman population that their prejudices are represented.
B. crowded to Tunis, baby staring the whole 2 hrs mothers budged up, big brother in backward ball cap eating fries so early / whether we were obliged to take interest w the only other white person in the car, until she pulled a big fantasy novel from her Eastpak, but in French
The natives eat freely of the prickly pear and cattle are fed on raquettes.
The House No one you know has lived there in fifteen years and still you, still compiling these bits of dead code, expect to be home soon. You’ll now be able to appreciate the time you-know-who spent working out which linen would save the most morning light of the solarium in that vast sectional. Even when the others had gone, as now, except to bed in all those quirky rooms, the latent glow, like a memory, could not be entirely accounted for by the girl. What did the distressed key rack in the shabby chic boutique say – the only thing in the place without a heart? Or was it some shit your sister tagged you in, or the joke surfacing too late when he asked if you’d pay for the carpet today? Control. You must learn control. This desert is REAL. The light is real. The driver who looks like a pirate is REAL. The fata morgana making the little igloo from La Guerre des étoiles (as the concierge said, arranging the driver) look like an island in a vast salt lake is REAL. The vast salt lake is REAL, but dry. Your tears are REAL on seeing it.
The Sea Probable baptist, hard a-starboard. German laughter on your six. I knew there was a word for it. Who knows where our noses would be if your man had meant us to swim? Red port isn’t right for children. If the tide had been rough that night, fully dressed and up to the neck… But he didn’t have the guts. Given a choice between your hand and an eternal youth of rarely satisfying winks, I can’t say I’d do different. It was freezing, but I didn’t feel the cold. Something held me back. I think probably it was the future.
The Desert The desert is in the heart of your brother. Your brother doesn’t even read poetry, but keeps the desert’s book, with that dumb title, where you’ll see when you next scrounge dinner. But the desert’s just one of these kids who make bad jokes at a poem’s expense, you say. Your brother sticks the receipt at one about being tagged in people’s photos of their dessert. The desert’s big secret is that it has no secrets. Anything you’ve learned to admire in art and life, the desert infers. The desert can afford irony. You should see the desert’s parents’ records. While you were pouring out your teenage soul, the desert was becoming the sort of desert people might not want to live with, but relate to. Your students still talk about the desert’s visit. The desert only worries about what all deserts worry about. The desert certainly doesn’t lie here wondering if craft is a kind of entitlement, or if his ruin will just prove the system works.
The City A completely different atmosphere dominates Market in Tunis II (fig. p. 60). There is no brilliant yellow. A pale brightness arises out of gradations of purple, blue, and brownâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; actually dark colours, though here, so thinly applied that they merge smoothly into whitish buildings in the upper half. One hardly notices two figures at the lower edge, facing away, amid fragile hues and a whispery sense of space. â&#x20AC;&#x192;
The Village how even now the boy the desert fox the father even the wind draws even round lone and levelling sands how even now who will come if even if now by coming we do harm the wind even now destroying will preserve what even is a dune except what chases as he chases a village quietly sinking a half sunk visage even now where no one even lived but where even now he chases off its lead like a little scene what even is a scene except what chases quietly singing round a hollow half sung village and even now the hollow wreck a desert in hollow longing knows almost sea even now how slowly he looks back now dreaming tidy oedipal structures now even driving others out dreaming inescapable sequels where even now he gestures over lone and level sands he knows how almost a village almost a boy who even now his little fox his father now
The Trains (II) A. no one terribly scandalised by the propping open of doors on the jampacked light rail as soon as left the station, for the kid who made it his job on one side, in his Chicago Bulls t-shirt (Chicago Bull in shades & headphones) glanced back defiantly as I watched him crumple a stick of gum into his mouth like Wrigleyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s commercials in the 80s
The Arabs are a nomad race, living in tents and moving from place to place, their only occupation being agriculture and raising sheep. With some splendid exceptions, they are generally of medium stature â&#x20AC;&#x201C; face long and firm, complexion pale.
B. waiting at Carthage station a bag of chips like little poppadums or like really good Pringles, w less salt or that chemical flavour, we ate the whole bag easily waiting w the 2 or 3 others who reassured us, same as anywhere / the fear of getting it wrong & how would you know or when would it be clear
The Great Mosque Today’s waiting room is blue with babies: chairs, baby, carpets, baby, blue. Note the noticeboards, blue baby flyers, then a print, maybe print-out, baby— August Macke’s Kairouan II, faded blue. Too soon, a man’s head calls a name no man has called you since you were one. How does that feel? The spine, alas, with its kinks round L1 and T12, is old as gold, and young as erosions in a fishless sea. Your tricorne camels are on the move. Don’t worry, little August, big Alice will be just another planet soon enough. Soon, let’s have a look will be all it takes. Note the blue tower in the distance. Soon enough, he’s petty, then curious about the chiro. Is it true, he asks, they have some kind of gun? I should make furniture. Who will buy it? The quilted columns are as old as empire. Can I tell people you’re dead in five months? We’re getting movement. It just wants educating.
The Leg of Hare Perfect. Is it on their list? What list? Early Christian mosaic is bang on trend. What’s it say? Good luck. Anything but virility. Are you going to be like that? I’m fine. I mean there. I haven’t decided. What about these drunk old women? Wrong sister. Right, this is the one with a sense of… Hummus, yes.
The Sport It’s like a game, but not a game, since all adults must be accompanied by an adult, and there are none. Is there anything you love so much? He asks while I’m in the can. What would it be? These are the actual tunnels. Where would you go? These are where they kept the dudes. They’re all ooh, get me, arching my back under this arch. The thumb thing is an inside joke. Maybe you get it. You go for Annie Hall, but it’s basically just New York. It looks just like it. The lighting’s fantastic. Imagine all that ruin-proof data. One day, all of Ben A Vie’s stooges will be gone. But you won’t outlive them.
The Market Thank god, the past is free from commodity, free to occupy more reliable abstractions. O, to be a tourist of one’s own life, a gift shop full of all the things I always deserved as a child: the graphic novel of my Punic Wars. What could they ask that wouldn’t still be cheaper than experience, and wouldn’t still put interiority on every relic? Somewhere: my pony tail and other grotesque trophies of mere survival. Losing our luggage was the best thing that could have happened. I hardly remember burying it.
The Wilderness Tell these stones to make like bread. Tell the driver I need to make water. I need to leap from the top, but not die. Can you ask him to change the station? My soul has enemies. Three, to be exact. It depends how literally you take this. Tell the driver now. Tell the men (all men) outside the little café in the little town: I don’t mind being stared at. In fact… workshop, I mean, worship me for all the world. Ask the man for the key. Tell him these coins are for… No? Then I have yet to be tested, yet to be tempted by my own power.
â&#x20AC;&#x192; The Trains (III) A. on the way back, seats, at least, facing a man leant on the door w badly thrombotic legs & a bag covered w LONDON. Had he been? Does he wish to go? Does the word hold kind of magic, another city built on ruins pushing its ruins ever outward?
The Berbers and Kabyles are usually tall and well built; high necks and broad shoulders; complexions dark and foreheads square; occupations, farmers and mechanics.
(There will always be inequality, European Jews dress like other which alone drives us to be Europeans; native Jews much better than first of all ourselvesâ&#x20AC;Ś) like Mussulmans. B. shadows down the left side as we bopped back down coast (Soltane) kids playing in aisle, altogether more pleasant cohort, off to Sousse for the weekend, but only the weekend doors wide again as we rocked & the next car bucked or either door flew wild & any minute either the guy shutting his eyes from dust would again misstep or the little boy 29
making faces would lose his mother forever but maybe return some shopping
Married women wear painted headdresses to conceal their hair, but their faces are exposed. After marriage, the ladies mostly acquire formidable not to say ungainly proportions.
The Canyon This is the canyon. This I enter, diminished by awe, now shaking, but unshaken by the force of expectation. And what if we should call this a holy place? Here, after all, the sacred images were raised. Here, the visible and invisible meet in His temple —a long time ago, and oh, so far away. On the Jundland Wastes, I can connect nothing with 3G and forget myself in the quiet. Do not belittle. To mock, I whisper, is a kind of faith. This! This is the rock, cool to touch in morning shadows. The altar will not wear. I enter. This is the canyon, yea— canon, absolute. Let this be the version in which the walls won’t echo, in which the path of the relic turns the ankle, and return I do not. 31
The Blue At B & Q, she slips the lid under a small machine, which tells a bigger machine what to put in the mix. Fix it in the mix, yells the engineer. It used to be you would describe things by comparison. These days, everyone knows everything. Every room has one dark wall, she says, waiting while a third machine, like a wine fridge that swallowed a tumble dryer, mixes the mix. Mine’s across from my bed, she says. I test things there. Another man passes, dripping wet. Colour possesses me— OK, but 2.5 litres still cost 30 quid. Easter morning was so humid, the magic came off on her fingers. Colour and I are one, but… Is it raining? Am I a painter? Is it time for my big breakthrough? I see what’s wrong now, and look forward to the years it will take to fix.
The Cemetery for Paul Klee 1. in the desert | hillside | park | small harbour | windows and palms | southern garden | flora of the dunes | carpet of memory | camel and donkey | with two camels and one donkey | study of an aged dromedary | red and white domes | red and yellow houses in Tunis 2. street in Tunis | street cafĂŠ in Tunis | in front of a mosque in Tunis | St. Germain, near Tunis | St. Germain near Tunis (inland) | view of St. Germain | garden in St. Germain, the European quarter of Tunis | bathing beach at St. Germain, near Tunis | in the house of St. Germain | St. Germain (with the young palm tree) 3. Hammamet | motif from Hammamet | abstraction of a motif from Hammamet | view towards the harbour of Hammamet | Hammamet with the mosque 4. Kairuoan | view of Kairuoan | scene from Kairuoan | sketch from Kairuoan | street sketch from Kairuoan | Kairuoan, before the gates | Kairuoan, before the gates (after a sketch from 1914) | before the gates of Kairuoan | in the Kairuoan style, transposed into the moderate | scene a from Kairuoan (after a drawing from 1914) | scene b from Kairuoan (after a drawing from 1914) 33
â&#x20AC;&#x192; 5. sandwiches and selfies for girls | at the tomb of le combattant suprĂŞme | you snap | a digger with the plain | graves outside | and again, | to catch him in full swing | only | failure will not ruin 6. Tunisian sketch | after a Tunisian note of 1914 | two oriental watercolours | oriental experience | untitled | untitled | untitled (composition) | abstract, coloured circles linked with coloured bands | to the man in guten a big? â&#x20AC;&#x192;
The Ghost Is this how who felt, in some cases literally sick to their stomachs? All those stomachs. I’m a stomach guy. I dig the concrete image of spiritual death. Lean the camels and fat the tails. It’s not the crushing, but how crushable one makes oneself, like a hotel, like a living thing. Then fall for the fake coin on boardwalk. A desert is a desert, if the money’s right. I have half-seen The Shining. Even if your tank top were made of actual tanks and actual barbed wire, and you were at it all night in a scary tongue, they couldn’t stay me. Not their worst dot trip dot ever, and I wish I could give no stars. I catch you reading your phone on the other sofa and want to tear my windows out. Never again. Again. Every room includes a North-South divide. Just look at the thousand and one holes where a thousand and one beds and toilets shine on.
The Story Back to Useless Island. Aunt Julie remembers the Great Leaving. On hotel stationary, she underlines: Idea for a Movie (from a Dream). He wakes to taps. Goes out. No footprints. Near-miss icicle! Poem called ‘Notes on Bliss’, she writes. Yewberry’s seminal Mirror with a Thousand Trees gave Stray Dog proprietor Boris Pronoun the template. Basically, in very different places, at very different times, people tell the same story, which is always boring. Humans, they begin, were bipedal beings with a bilateral symmetry, having a front and back end, as well as an up and down side. The pattern is replicated in film after film, like Maid in Manhattan; book after book, like The Lord of the Rings Complete Visual Companion; and religion after religion, including Feminism. At any rate (they stage-sigh to keep themselves awake) most Humans still died in their early hundreds, unless they could afford the ‘15 Damaging Myths’.
The Ruins Peu de gens devineront combien il a fallu être triste pour ressusciter Carthage. —Flaubert essay in ruins essay on ruins on Carthage somebody made a defrag simulator all these humans building beautiful stupid funny things for me to click on bless them maybe you don’t know what a defragger does being born when you were born and not a moment before it’s hard to explain that’s what they pay me for a new hard drive is literally a blank slate not so different from vinyl except 4200 or so not 33 1/3 RPM and a magnet not a needle big difference is it’s nonlinear like you’re following this line like a stylus follows an orbit ever outward but look at what I wrote below about cyclical time voila you’re a hard drive actually you’re always skipping around like that or your eyes are it’s called saccades literally little jerks it only looks like you’re looking at all of anything at once and syntax is famously nonlinear over time things famously go to shit why you ask well my partner is now stood here explaining entropy 38
because I asked because she’s published articles and a whole book about how dudes like Yeats and Eliot dealt with it this is all a setup by the way I’m literally topping up the hot water of my bath as she leans on the radiator saying there’s a video of Brian Cox the TV physicist I used to see on the platform when I lived in Manchester and always wanted to ask about what Einstein said about trains rather than the sandcastle he uses and you use to break it to students about our certain decay which Yeats assumed would end with the century then became more and more formal and what about classicism I say turning things back to Eliot who I know better though still not like she knows Yeats but can at least say things like how does he get from an entropic to cyclical understanding is that the word read my paper she says but what about the end of Hollow Men is the prayer supposed to stop but she’s on Pynchon now which she knows I’ve not read and every time
she mentions The Time Machine as an example of popular science I just picture the film mostly Yvette Mimieux is this for your hard drive poem she asks having assured me these are good questions in the shower this morning I went on about how they might be the last moving part of a virtual world about huge IBM ones in the 60s and she didn’t even realise she doesn’t have one in her MacBook or phone I said soon no one will movement is a liability Yeats’ poems become like buildings she says like the sandcastle like on Grand Designs when they build those super eco houses what are they trying to conserve she’s literally boiling the kettle as I shout this down to our new kitchen I’m bathing again because her parents were here for Sunday she thinks her retired dad likes working on the new house with me and I feel bad that if I ever think of my ex’s dad I wonder if he’s alive but I only rented with her I’ve never gone so long without things going to shit or even me getting sick of endless stories about a time
when things made sense as if youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d really sit and watch the defragger for hours for reassurance each little blue square in its place which had literally nothing to do with the frantic finger searching in there in the darkness to the point youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d think there was something with the fan really how did any of them last so long
Notes The Pilgrim Certain lines adapted from The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918. Klee visited Tunisia from April 7th to 19th, 1914, with August Macke and Louis Moilliet. The Trains Margin comments from The Traveller’s Handbook to Algeria and Tunisia, Thomas Cook (London, 1926). The House The Lars Homestead exterior set in the Chott El-Djerid, near Nefta, was built in 1976, re-built in 2000, and restored by fans in 2012. The Sea After an interview with Emily Brothers, ‘Labour’s first transgender candidate’ (Guardian, January 2015). The Desert First line from T.S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock (1934). The City After a description in Erich Franz, ‘August Macke’s Tunisia Watercolors’ in The Journey to Tunisia, 1914: Paul Klee, August Macke, Louis Moilliet (Hatje Cantz, 2014). The Village The Mos Espa set, eleven miles north of Nefta, was built in 1997, and will shortly be buried by a migrating sand dune. Pictured in Proof. The Leg of Hare Mosaic, Musée Archéologique de Sousse. 43
The Sport Roman amphitheatre at El Djem. Pictured in Shoot. The Canyon Sidi Bouhlel, near Tozeur. Pictured in Selfie. The Blue Certain lines adapted from The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918. The Cemetery Compiled from an index in The Journey to Tunisia, 1914. The Story Borrows from Rev. Cindy Worthington-Berry’s sermon, ‘The Gospel According to Star Wars’ (2014), the ‘Human’ entry on Wookieepedia, and Elyse Gorman’s Notes on Bliss: Your Guide to Happiness and Creating a Beautiful Life. The Ruins Epigraph from Gustave Flaubert’s letter to Ernest Feydeau, 29-30 November 1859: ‘Few will be able to guess how sad one had to be in order to resuscitate Carthage.’ Quoted in Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940).