I know it— you’re going to skip over this part and go straight for the juicy bits… This journal aims to bridge the gap between academia and creative expression, and further expand the dialogue between innovation and criticism. Dear Reader, hear me. See me. Touch me. Feel me. This is a conglomeration of radical, freethinking modes and anti-modes of expression, inclusion, and representation in textual form that transgress and renegotiate the rules and format of the canon. Or, maybe not. Spread my pages. Run your fingertips over my inked skin. Tickle. Tease. Feel my lithe spine. Anything goes. FU Review is a call to arms; it is a space for challenging mainstream notions of prose, poetry, and other forms of writing. It is the intersection between language and location, a dialectic space for experimentation. If I had a word for every time a literary journal called itself experimental or as challenging the mainstream anything, I’d be fatter than “War and Peace.” This journal is a literary tug-of-war between the normative and the abstract, between the collective voice and the individual. This is the beginning of a conversation. More like a shouting match. Either way, be very careful. 1
IMPROVISATION IN YELLOW - 4 Jordan Lee Schnee THE MERITS OF COBWEBS - 6 Cathy Bijur MULTIPLES 3 - 9 Jo Northey Iâ€™M ALWAYS LATE - 10 Reanna Esmail METH HEAD - 12 Fritzroy Austin Sterling THE GRAND GRANADA SKY - 14 Charles Simmonds OCCASIONS FOR BEING ALONE - 16 Sean Lynch FUR FALL - 24 Georg Trakl, transcreated by Stella Huger
THE OCEANIC SANATORIUM FOR HAY FEVER: A NOVELETTE IN TELEGRAMS - 26 Paul Scheerbart, translated by Dr. Erik Born PERICLES IN EXILE - 38 Priyam Goswami-Choudhury GREEK OLIVES - 40 Bella Peacock TO REMEMBER YOU, PALE BLUE - 44 Kevin Kildare THE PRESENCE - 46 Emilia Stebulyanina PSEUDOLOGY - 50 Mitchell Wolfmueller ONE HUNDRED - 52 Huw Nesbitt ISSUE ART, CENTERFOLD Christian Gaffney
one eyed Jackie lies in wait crouched behind the kitchen door with banjo string garrote trying to breathe noiselessly into paisley bandanna and sipping hot whiskey out of employee of the year diamond-patterned hip flask emblazoned:
MURDER SHE WROTE INC.
count on dust and noise her teacher had told her every kill is an improvisation bone saw in his hand gold teeth flashing white under the sodium lights of their hide-out the door opens comes the moment surprise! thinks Jackie one two one two! the banjo string goes snick snick snack around the neckflesh and the gooseflesh moment is through
and now the soft psychomagic of a fresh wig swish swish cut from the head: honey blonde 5
At age 5 my mother declared herself alone. She’d spent all of her time on raising me, she said. It wasn’t my fault, I said. Daddy? She bowed her head and reached for the tissues. At age 10 my mother declared herself bankrupt. She had spent all of her money on buying me shoes, she said. It wasn’t my fault, I said, that my feet were always too big for my britches. She chuckled at my confusion and we walked back to our shabby little house. At age 15 my mother declared herself insane. She had spent too much time looking at my fidgeting legs, she said. It wasn’t my fault, I said, that my legs didn’t listen when I told them to calm down. She rolled her eyes and chased me all around our dusty yard. At age 20 my mother declared herself deceased. She had spent too much time trying to keep me grounded, she said. It wasn’t my fault, I said, that I was more interested in the sky. She closed her eyes and moved on. And so did I. I put on the 47th pair of shoes I’d ever owned and set out to find thicker soles, tranquility, and common sense. I walked all the way through town and on, towards the city. When I got there it was almost time for my 48th pair, but I settled for a cup of coffee in a diner instead. 7
I drank a total of 49 cups of coffee in that same diner during my 48 lunch breaks, and then walked right out the front door. I didn’t even turn around to check if I’d properly shut it. I walked my way to 50 more diners in 50 more cities, but it was all the same. Maybe my legs were ready to settle down, but I’m sure the cups of coffee didn’t help with that. One day, a man about my age walked into the diner. He was wearing all black, carrying a book, and had big feet too. You know what they say about big feet, I said, and shrunk back into the kitchen to hide my red cheeks. He glanced up and stared before returning to his book. He came back in for the next 51 days. We talked sometimes. First about food, then books, then the merits of cobwebs, the smell of fall, the strangest looking vegetable, and what shadows look like in the dark. Eventually we said we were dating and went on walks. We held hands and darted through the bustling crowds of people around us. We went to films and gently kissed one another in the theatre. We told each other secrets when it was windy outside and wrote each other poems in the fog. Sometimes a person feels like home. It wasn’t until I found myself alone, holding a pair of his outgrown shoes, that I realized that he wasn’t mine.
My mother used to say that timeliness was next to godliness. “God is always on time!” she would exclaim while pulling my hair into a tight French braid because appearances were also important. When I was 13, I told my mother I did not believe in God, and her good Christian heart swelled with disappointment. “Maybe this is why you are always late,” I imagined her saying. The words falling from her lips, stained in a constant shade of immaculate red. But instead she only scoffed as she rushed me to the sink to wash off the filth of my words. Pressing my soapy palms together as if asking God for forgiveness, she rubbed with such fervor that the skin became dry and wrinkled. At 17, her pastor’s son asked to kiss my lips and I let him because there was something about his eyes that was waning. Glossy and somewhat unattainable. He peeled me open, like the way you peel the pith from an orange because its bitterness ruins the taste. As he thrust into me, I could feel myself shrinking smaller and smaller until I was whispering, “Don’t stop, don’t stop.” My period was late and I wondered what her God had to do with this. I imagined my fingers bloating, my palms too round to press together. I thought of my belly ballooning with it all. And I wondered why this is called a miracle because there was nothing beautiful to me about two bodies clumsily pressed together. I excused myself from her Sunday supper, when the space between my legs suddenly felt wet and slippery. And when I peeled off my panties, there it was - that immaculate shade. 11
Darwinâ€™s fingers trail over my skin like the overused towel used to sop up replicas of ourselves we so profusely secreted he punctured his flesh and a potent supply paved the path to his heart with crystals then he kissed me to extinction from a glass flute he blew luminous clouds and sat behind the billow veiling himself from the struggle to stay fit or death by survival see he said as if his poinT lived and breathed itâ€™s all futile, man, fucking futile naturally I selected to stay and adapt to his kisses
As the clouds calmly mimic the mountain The current of sky Washing my vaporous jelly mind The dancing night The huge chasms full of goings on Voodoo mile high ancient priests Torn canvases across the curve of space The fantastic bygone stars Are swapping seats Ludicrous primordial secrets and magic I do not understand All this A brilliant matrix Of endless complexity
I Books don’t pack well, and invoking the dilemma facing any person who has accumulated a significant load of paperbacks and hardcovers, who has chosen to or been made to move, is, of course, a trope best avoided. Looked at the other way around, books do travel well: as a technology, they need no cables, outlets, syncing, or updates; no special facility or savviness besides literacy and interest are required. There are no manuals for books, if there are still manuals. Surveying the books I wanted to bring with me to Berlin, I felt the booklover’s dilemma and the attendant pang of embarrassment at how cliché and old-fogeyish this anxiety was. My books all seemed suddenly indispensable: the few mass market paperbacks, usually gifts; the obscure philosophy treatises that made me feel simultaneously smart and stupid; the experimental novels in which the future was always unseasonably warm, the prose excruciatingly aware; and the classics. My books could all fit on an iPhone if I’d wanted them to. I’d packed and unpacked several small-sized U-Haul boxes, changing my mind just before taping them shut, shuttling back and forth between the yes-pile and the no-pile standing stoicly in the middle of the musty room.. I could image a future in which I would need exactly every one of these books, browsable in physical form on a bookshelf I might build myself, notes and marginalia there for contemplation, these sponges of personal history. A friend who’d recently moved to a new apartment and was in a cold war with her Internet provider told me that, after having lived a number of days without Wi-Fi in her new apartment, having to travel to the public library to check e-mail and Facebook, she felt as if a limb had been amputated. She was cut off, and something was cut off from her. The vicious images of an amputation seemed perfectly apropos all of a sudden, standing there among my boxes of books, sweating in the postmodernly warm Maine September afternoon.
Of the thirty or so books that travelled with me to Berlin—a load that accounted for an obscene amount of my checked bags’ 32-kg allowance—one that that provokes my wondering why I included it at all is a large illustrated guide to forests: Meetings with Remarkable Trees, by Thomas Pakenham. Really heavy. The glossy cover photograph shows a man looking up into the reaches of a giant oak, ochre and pale green and rust-colored leaves divinely arranged around the base, its branches drooping like powerful arms scooping up a tired infant. What a curious way for Pakenham to think about encountering trees—as meetings, as communications or exchanges. The book infuses me with a kind of nascent awareness of and awe for the presence of trees even though I know no Latinate terminology, no rules for cataloguing or identification. What the prose does is illumines the stuff of experience and the particulars of the murky background of humdrum everydayness—a place in which trees reside in my mind. This is, of course, the contradiction all nature-writers negotiate: how to portray the beauty of the natural world, invite appreciation, while keeping the reader planted in his chair. My language on nature is stiff and ineloquent, my knowledge embarrassingly common, but I want to write a thing on trees. Did Thoreau feel this, sitting there on his doorstep, observing the world from Walden Pond? Of course not. He lived deliberately but not too far from home, couldn’t begin to grasp the notion of fraudulence. I was told that two grandparents walked around the pond in Concord every Sunday, as a kind of ritual, a way of being by themselves and away from five children. Where did those children spend Sundays by themselves? I wonder now. Wherefore was my mother ever lonely?
From airplane windows, I can’t help but see forests as oceans of nodding green heads in the wind looking up at me looking down at them, the same simultaneous mystery as flocks of starlings swirling at twilight, or a ripple of joy snapping across a human face. Every individual motion coordinated, the same instant felt by all. (My father the pilot knows this somewhere inside himself, I think.) How intricate the functions of the visible and invisible parts, the vast networks of roots—I see these in capillaries, in the hidden pathways connecting the stars in the sky, in a river delta’s reach for the sea, in a microbe’s invisible structure. If a tree falls in the forest with nobody around….If a skyscraper absorbs a jetliner through osmosis, soundless…. The trees near my home sponge up an eternity’s worth of carbon dioxide, holding my splitting histories in their leaves, and we raze entire communities—by necessity, it’s said—shearing away millions of limbs. II In Wittenbergplatz, dusk falls blue over a galactic busyness. Grocery markets and currywurst huts and the KaDeWe’s spotlighted enticements. Glinting threads of traffic peeling around the islanded U-Bahn station, flowing in opposite directions that could be imagined as an abstract line-drawing of a yin-yang, or a transit authority’s logo meant to invoke calm and order amidst the chaos of urban commuting. A small effluence of citizens emerging every 90 seconds up through the doors. Bag-laden shoppers becoming uncanny bundles of darkness. Everyone shuffling everywhere all the time— one continuous pant-legged weet-wish, weet-wish. The time of evening when if you’re sitting still thoughts loosen, becomes elastic, mutable, seem actually to rise. From the northwest, a nuptial motorcade honking down Kufurstendamm, irritating pedestrians back into clothing shops. Döner men in shacks slicing mince from a spit all day every day. The only air in there coming through a gap in a window you can’t even see through because of the grease, embedded in hair and pores, whomever they go home to years beyond mentioning the stink. A mother shushing a crying girl against her collar, the child’s bitty ungloved hand reaching back for a dropped square of chocolate on the sidewalk, a serrated half-moon bitten into one quadrant. Throaty, gray-breasted crows hopping two-footed, merely eyeballing 19
anxious pigeons before they relinquish a precious husk. All this. Somewhere farther off, domed from the total noise, quiet, along the banks of the Tiergarten’s snaking tributaries, a blue heron high-stepping through the reeds, quiet, hitching one leg underneath her and holding dead still, watching for another moving thing in this world. Quiet. Silence so total it swaddles you, wanting nothing. Back in the square now, a young man’s voice rises high above everyone: Allahu Akbar! A determined shout, a ringing cry, a takbir. This seems both true and untrue, the words bounded so tightly to context. Less than a month ago, the attacks in Paris flayed the nerves of people across Europe: Be careful, avoid crowds, if you see something, say something. Language created out of fear, to evoke safety, uttered by a mouthless device to an ever-frightened populace. A few people glance nervously around over their shoulders, unbelieving, renouncing this disruption in their psyches. Or am I injecting this nervousness into their glances? Am I the only one who doesn’t crane his neck? I don’t look across the square, wanting to censor the wash of images in the mind of my dreaming self, wanting now to restrain a sudden gush of bodily panic. An expanding tightness works its way from my knees to my chest, warming my skin. How quickly soma knows what to do. Before I realize what I’m looking for, my feet have found it: a way out, a route that takes me very far away from here. Everyone insistently keeps walking and looking shoe-ward, the wooom of passing cars blankets everything, snuffs out any real fear. My mind conjures very unimaginative sights, sounds, smells—a pastiche of Internet videos and bystander photographs and a newscaster’s studied, plaintive tone. Nothing happens. How might one respond to a world that is fast becoming unrecognizable? What kind of terror grips an individual psyche 20
that cannot but repeatedly murmur to itself that these are very bad times, that the world is not heading in a pleasant direction? What course of action is one inclined to take? But this is the effect of public and private terror, I think: the imagination shrinks, becomes numb and repetitive, the individual’s ability to be surprised and surprising is foreclosed upon, borders (personal, national) are shut, and with them the capacity to be other than how we are immediately perceived, observed, registered. This draws the world with a blunt pencil, produces a sad predictable sketch. III Dad writes me an early morning e-mail after some attacks in Paris, days before I walk through Tiergarten and Wittenbergplatz: “Be extra cautious,” he says. “It’s highly unlikely, but if anything happens in Berlin let us know you’re ok as soon as you can.” I can feel his anxiety everywhere, find it feckless somehow, especially that qualifying phrase, it’s highly unlikely (Does he really think so? Do Berliners believe this?), as if being extra cautious is akin to preparing for a natural disaster. Nature isn’t menacing. But unlike nature, a human wanting to harm another human is not everywhere; 21
terrorism is in one specific crossstitch of time and place (space). Just as a human wanting to protect another human is particularâ€”one father worrying across an ocean, caring, up late sending a message. And why not take advice from the trees instead, unmoving and vulnerable beings, sensitive to the benevolence and harshness of their environment? The two poles of terror and caution leave no place for metaphor, for sentences that sling more than simple bite-sized information. This way of thinking flattens and literalizes, and to our detriment we raze trust and vulnerability only to replace them with arid strength and license. Fronting this, the seeming omnipresence of technology and terror, I feel just as inarticulate as I do thinking about forests.
IV This is written in Berlin, where what remains and what falls away has become apparent. The possessions, the piles of books, the simple patterns of habit and convenience, scrims for deeper structures of being, are either with me or not. In my last weeks in Maine my experiences took on an added density of meaning, the trite shock of time’s fleeting nature hitting me as I appraised my bookshelf and looked out windows at which I’d never stand again, hugged friends I’d see only pixelated versions of for the coming months—years, maybe. The night before I moved, I slept in a sleeping bag laid out on the hardwood floor, a rolled up sweatshirt for a pillow, my backpack and two duffel bags piled against the opposite wall. Everything was gone. All weightlessness, all motion, utter lack.
Da macht ein Hauch mich von Verfall erzittern. Die Amsel klagt in den entlaubten Zweigen. Es schwankt der rote Wein an rostigen Gittern, Indes wie blasser Kinder Todesreigen Um dunkle Brunnenränder, die verwittern, Im Wind sich fröstelnd blaue Astern neigen.
Damaged I know Mitch fun fur fall earth intern. Deem sell clock tinder and lobe tense why gen. Ash won’t dare road to wine unroasty ken kitten,
Industry blah sir kin dare toad as rye ken. Ohm dunk LeBron inrun dirty forfeit turn, Him wind Sikh frost talent blowy ah stern icon.
Georg Trakl (1912)
Hinwandelnd durch den dämmervollen Garten Träum ich nach ihren helleren Geschicken Und fühl der Stunden Weiser kaum mehr rücken. So folg ich über Wolken ihren Fahrten.
Chin wanted ditch den damn err fallen garden, Troy Mitch Nashi ran hell lure in gash ick in Unfeel destine den wiser comb ‘merican. So folkish Uber Vulcan earring farting.
Am Abend, wenn die Glocken Frieden läuten, Folg ich der Vögel wundervollen Flügen, Die lang geschart, gleich frommen Pilgerzügen, Entschwinden in den herbstlich klaren Weiten.
I’m a bend, Wendy glow can free den Lloyd in. Folkish dare vogue elvin devil in flu kin. Deal anguish art, glitch from men pill kir zoo can. And swindle nun deign herbs lick claw ran whiten.
originally published in 1912 as “Das Ozeanssanatorium für Heukranke” in Der Sturm, the text is in the public domain and can be found using the world wide web
To Lika Lee San Fransisco Horrible hay fever again here. Can’t get rid of the sneezing and sniffles. Doctors say, “Go where the grass doesn’t grow.” Easy for doctors to say! Should we spend the summer at the North Pole or the South Pole? Send me a telegram if you think of any good advice. I have to sneeze this one out again. Best Regards, Lisa Thackeray Chicago
May 2, 1910 To Lisa Thackeray Chicago In the thick of hay fever here too. But we’re one step ahead of the world. Squirrel, you have no clue about the world. Where doesn’t the grass grow? In the middle of the ocean. Grass doesn’t grow there. The pollen can’t make it. So, let’s plunge into the ocean. That’ll get the better of hay fever. Squirrel, be smart. We’ll take a trip together. Want to? Lika 27
May 2, 1910 To Lika Lee San Francisco You want me to be bored on an ocean liner for three months? Eat myself to death there? Dachshund, you’re crazy. What do you mean by plunge into the ocean? Don’t be so mysterious. I’d be glad to take the trip with you. I can do what I want with Papa. He hands out banknotes by the sack. Just not for a threemonth boat trip with seasickness and eternal hunger pangs and the prison of cabins. Dachshund, you can’t be serious. You’re keeping a secret from me, your most trusted friend. Open up! Reveal yourself! Why should you be further along in the world than Squirrel? That’s what I don’t understand, like so much else. I don’t make a show of learning, eating wisdom by the spoonful. That’ll make you fat. Now make up your mind and reveal your secret. Otherwise, I’ll be mad at you forever. Your Curious Squirrel Sneezing With Hay Fever
May 3, 1910 To Lisa Thackeray Chicago Dear Squirrel, you’re not as dumb as you look. You always notice something right away. You know, of course, that I’m still digesting the prospect of those cells on a ship, though they do offer so many pleasures for the tummy. In short, a great society is being created. They want to build floating islands with breezy, colorful glass pavilions. Papa is very interested—so are many glass companies. There will be floating cities with grass tennis courts, sea terraces, and many other things. What do I know? I can’t follow the head architect very well. I’m not terribly learned. Otherwise, I’d be fatter. My clever uncles sure are. They always want to teach me something, only I’m slow to catch on. But we’ll get a glass pavilion of the highest quality with double glass walls and an observation tower. It’ll be a nice affair, tugboats pulling our island. The problem of hay fever is solved. I’m off now, on the verge of rapture and remain. Your Faithful Dachshund
May 7, 1910 To Mr. Thackeray Chicago You have been misinformed by various parties. This is not a fantastical undertaking. There’s a very healthy basis for it. Everyone in America is plagued by hay fever. Pollen blooms, whose seeds fly for miles, spread a poison that first causes sniffles and then asthmatic troubles. It must be combatted. Flowering grasses grow everywhere, on dry land and on every island. So, during the flowering season, we’ll have to live in the middle of the ocean. That would take care of everything. Our Oceanic Sanatorium Society for Hay Fever has found just the right thing: floating islands that will always drift hundreds of miles away from dry land and natural islands. On our islands, dirt will be nonexistent. Only in this way can we get the better of hay fever. Of course, if you want to get the better of hay fever, you need to have bushels of money to burn. This is why we are turning to you, Mr. Thackeray. There needs to be something distinctive about a floating island of roughly two kilometers in size. That’s why we’re in favor of glass architecture. In addition, we could also use a glass substitute—a glob of gelatin, stretched along a wire, so that it’s transparent and leather-like. You can always patch it, and it takes up any color. A good ubstitute. We sincerely ask for a prompt reply about your interest. Your daughter, Miss Lisa Thackeray, is also enthusiastic about this sanatorium. We can count on hundreds of thousands of the richest visitors. The undertaking has a very healthy foundation and makes people healthy in turn. Yours Faithfully, Turk, Chief Architect San Francisco
May 8, 1910 To Mr. Turk San Francisco Do you think that I’m not familiar with building? You’re very mistaken there. You’re a dreamer. I don’t have anything against floating sanatoriums, and will gladly invest in the Society. But what’s the point of using glass? That’s a really heavy idea. On floating islands, we’ll have to use lightweight buildings. And we can’t forget a couple of flower arrangements. But no dirt? Nonsense—glassy, transparent bullshit. So, don’t be so fantastical and don’t try to kill too many birds with one stone, or else you won’t catch any of them. I’m quite familiar with that glass substitute made out of gelatin. It’s a decoy, plain and simple. Later on, you’ll create the glass factories anyway, and they’ll produce so much glass that all our money will go to them. That’s something I cannot allow.
Yours Faithfully, Thackeray Chicago
May 8, 1910 To Mr. Thackeray Chicago Dirt and flower arrangements—not feasible. Doctors say, if we do that we’ll be bringing hay fever along with us. Just consider the matter: dirt and flowers in a hay fever sanatorium are the most absurd things in the history of the world. Still, we need to have a substitute for flowers. You must see that. And—what’s the substitute? It can only be stained glass. Don’t be so angry at the glass factories. We’ll create some ourselves. And then you can invest in our glass factories too. Leave the difficulties to us. I was serious about the glass substitute. But we need something that’ll appeal to the eye as well. We can’t attract rich people with cheap arrangements. I won’t build the island without glass. I don’t feel like ruining myself with cheapness. If you’re convinced, I request your reply. I’m also currently sending a telegram to Miss Lisa Thackeray. Yours Faithfully, Turk San Francisco
May 9, 1910 To Miss Lee San Francisco Your father is complicated. Forgive me for saying without further ado: May I ask for your hand in marriage? If you become my wife, I can come to the aid of the Sanatorium Society with millions of dollars. Please let me know your decision within three days. Yours Faithfully, Borromaeus, Glass Factory Owner Milwaukee 34
May 9, 1910 To Mr. Turk San Francisco This business about cheapness is truly illuminating. Okay! My old family doctor who has a good understanding of hay fever says, flowers are no good. Glass as a substitute for the flowers—stained glass, like the glass windows in European cathedrals—not bad at all. But the costs are considerable. Don’t forget that we’d need double glass walls everywhere. And they’d need to be held together inside and out using multicolored ornaments with the best lead lining. Plus, strong steel frames. The heating and cooling apparatuses would also need to be placed between the walls. Plus, electric lights. Sir, sir, sir, this requires money! Bushels of money to burn like hay. Like hay! Doesn’t it make your head spin? A ballroom in the middle and large sea terraces. The opportunity to bathe or swim in special bathhouses. Make them out of stained glass too, for all I care! Stained glass is no longer seethrough inside a double wall. In this world made out of planks there’ll need to be automobiles as well. And then we’ll have no alternative but to create entire avenues lined with paper lanterns. But the costs! My fortune…. Well, all the same, just do it quick. Marry my Lisa—that Squirrel. Then we can talk more about the matter. Regards, Thackeray Chicago
May 11, 1910 To Lika Lee San Francisco Say, Dachshund, what does Turk look like? He wants to marry me, and Papa is smiling to himself. The affair seems somewhat Constantinopolitan to me. Tell me what I should do. The Oceanic Sanatorium definitely must be built. In any case, he’s really crazy about glass architecture and the island of light and the fun with paper lanterns in the evening a starry sky. Your Fanaticized Squirrel May 11, 1910
To Lisa Thackeray Chicago We’ll go through hell and high water for the idea. I’m marrying the owner of a glass factory. Make short work of it. In any case, I have a hell of a lot to do with iron constructions and lead linings. Have to learn a lot. Pardon the rush. Entirely Yours, Dachshund May 13, 1910 36
To Mr. Borromaeus Milwaukee Everything will work out now. The main thing is to create a solid foundation for the island. The entire thing has to rest on large iron hulls. That takes time. We won’t be able to finish the structure before Christmas. But if everything goes well, we’ll set sail at this time next year. Before then, you, Mr. Barromaeus, will have to finish the buildings and the facilities. Yours Faithfully, Turk, San Francisco May 15, 1911 To Mr. Thackeray Chicago: Dear Papa! We’re in the middle of the ocean and are calling our island Lee-Thackeray Island. My friend Mrs. Borromaeus, née Lee, aka Dachshund, has already dragged her own Papa out here. We finished everything within a year. But the work! The great hall is radiant. And oh how the island looks at night! How the whales and the polar bears will marvel when we travel north sometime! Mr. Borromaeus’s new umbrellas (completely white) are splendid. The tugboats turn the island around so that the light of the sun always comes from the same side. My atelier for stained glass ornamentation is more marvelous than the boudoir of a French queen. Come soon, Papa! You’ll be celebrated here—like an ancient sun god. You’ve created an architecture of light for us. I’ve sacrificed myself for the idea too and have become Mrs. Turk. But it’s not half bad—one learns something about ornamentation in the process. We all send you our best regards, and I remain, Your Old Squirrel 37
(in Bhairav Raag)
After dusk near Assi Ghat, Pericles plays the sitar on one leg; his battles half-won, his beard flowing. In the old haveli where we sit, your eyes are closed and soon the fog will come in from the Ganges, he will play the melancholies and speak. “You have to make a sound, a single unit – Each note is an emotion, each combination an act of love, of knowing, of understanding the world.” Your eyes are closed and Pericles is silent now, his meditations are calm like the Ganges nearby – each note vibrating through a thousand years to touch your face this night, this moment in Benares.
We stand together in the olive groves by the kitsch pink family home. Her worn cotton nightie clothes a worn body that bends to the ground in search of vegetables. The tomatoes from the garden are not glossy like the ones from the supermarket, rather misshapen and coloured powdery red. The hands that gather them belong to Yaya, which means grandma in Greek, and even though I only met her a few days ago, she insisted that I adopt the familial name. Her nose is pointed, too pointed for her sagging face. In truth all her features have retained an angular spike, which must have looked sharp and defiant under elastic skin; but which now look sad, forgotten remnants of what once was. Her eyes, lined with blue pencil, which betrays the shaky hand that applied it, look to me in search of interest, or perhaps pity. In crooked English, she tells me of her country, of its glory days, and of its fall. I listen dutifully and nod my head as my mind wanders the acres of olive groves, the same ones my mother was photographed in as I grew inside her womb. Itâ€™s strange to stand now, fully grown, on this remote Greek island. Strange to see the place my mother so fondly recounts stories of her pregnancy. When she told me of ZĂĄkynthos, it had been of a place of parties, of fun, of life. Now, the Mediterranean air is imbued with a somber drift.
Yayaâ€™s rough hands work the dirt off the young aubergines with familiarity. She is going to teach me how to make Scorthestruby: an eggplant and tomato dip. Even in the dirty white plastic bucket, the fresh vegetables look beautiful; like life. I take a photo to eternally preserve their freshness. As Yaya puts the aubergines in the oven whole, I find my black moleskin journal to scrawl down the recipe. But when I ask her to recite it she is lost for words, as if the ritual of cooking is etched so deep in her being that it is antecedent to language. I look at her with a cumbersome smile, as our hands peel the dried skin from the eggplant. It comes easily, the force of the oven having already torn the flesh from the skin. I ask her if she had cooked with my mother; she had, but that already I knew. She tells me I look like her, I already knew that too. Together with a generous glug of olive oil, we blend the roasted eggplants and fresh tomatoes with garlic. Lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Less is more. Yayaâ€™s husband returns from outside. He is too tired to talk to me, too tired to play charades with broken English. He eyes me wordlessly, and I wonder if he is comparing me to the woman who had charmed him years earlier. I wonder if he finds her life, her vibrancy, in me, her progeny. Although I am a long lost godchild, Yaya clings to me, adopting my ear. Her unevenly stained-pink lips move to the shape of her countryâ€™s crisis, her crisis. And I could see it; its decrepit buildings, its despairing people. I could see her pile of regrets, her crutches of delusion. She tells me of the beautiful wedding dresses she made; she takes me to her sewing room. I see the cream taffeta and the beaded bodies of bygone fashions. I look at them, at their careful finish, and their misery of so many years left unworn. Their purpose never realised.
Yaya looks to me and tells me of the tragedy, the tragedy that is her life. And as she talks I realise why her daughters have taken their ears to foreign lands, and why her husband has grown deaf. Lunch comes and offers us respite; she is transformed by the food. She is once again matron of the house, maker of the meal; feeder of the people. We eat the green olives and they explode with juicy tang. The insecurities of a collapsing economy are temporarily dissolved by the senses. We eat the Scorthestruby and it fills us with its zest. There is chicken, and cheese, and bread, and salad. It crunches and cracks, it bursts and drips, it spills and spurts. We dollop, we lick, we chew: we devour. There is only us and the meal she has made. There is sustenance. We breathe the summer air; it smells of the country. And in that moment of silence we both know the horizon of her future now stands behind her, and she has nowhere to look but back. It is a state condemned to the old, an exile shared by only those expecting death. Outside, the olive groves stretch their body down to the sea. They have the splendour of something firm and timeless; something that had seen many moons and many people and many times, and remains. We take the compost into the garden, the cycle perpetually repeated.
I like you best when you’re at your weakest; when you’re a pale blue after-image of where coal went falling through water, forgotten, apart from dark, swirling pigment that slowly rises and sparks flashes of recognition-catalyst to a hoard of almost-memories sighed away before fully realised. You are the music from two doors down that they play loud when they make love or they fight, just audible through our walls with words missed and muffled as though sung through pillows. Softened by distance, emotion ghosts out to us from a past time, a faded passion; each syllable a brittle reminder of former strength. And you, half-smile with eyes half-shut and you feel the world— more than I ever could or will—following you home through the dusk. you are second-hand smoke, a half-asleep whispered secret in bed remembered years later when all is said and done; beautiful still, and pale blue.
When Anna woke up, her upper lip was covered with drops of sweat. She was afraid she had had a dream too pleasant to be decent. A bright figure in a glowing blue gown approached, touching her once, and Anna felt a splash of warmth and sweetness she could not yet explain. She muttered the lines of a prayer she had long known by heart, her lips still heavy from viscous slumber. It was a dark winter morning, and Anna could sense a draught drifting in through the window. She had to get up and go to church with her family before school. She hurried after her parents and her two siblings. The frosted snow, sparkling in the mellow light of the street lamps, crunched under her feet. As Anna came closer to the church, she felt a growing feeling of delight, which pleased and confused her at the same time. The bells were ringing with a heavy, hollow sound, announcing the start of the service. The stone building of the Orthodox Church was huge and cold inside, with astonishingly high vaults, under which a conglomeration of icons, in varying sizes and set into massive carved gilt frames, filled the space in seeming order imposed by some insatiable hand. Everything was yellowish from the dim light of candles burning. The thick smell of honey wax and incense filled Annaâ€™s nostrils as she walked inside, and she took a deep breath as she looked up at the vault adorned with sacred paintings. Once again, she was embarrassed and bewildered by the sight of the divinity and its might. The girl longed to see and watch, although it was hard for her to explain what exactly she wanted to encounter.
The service hadn’t started yet, so Anna had some time to herself to walk around the church and visit her favourite spots. The interior slowly filled with echoes of coughing from bleak figures wrapped in layers of clothing. After a couple of minutes of praying and lighting candles, Anna finally saw it and stumbled, and, for a moment, her breath was taken away. It always happened to her when she saw the Crucifix. Anna stood there staring at the figure of Christ with her eyes wide open. She was once again confused by overwhelming feelings of delight, compassion, and perplexity. Piety, fear and fondness – all intertwined. He feeds and leads her, protects and teaches her, takes things away from her, just as He took her little sister Lilia two years ago. Anna’s small body felt even smaller, and suddenly became so warm that she felt drops of sweat on her upper lip. The girl was fascinated. She absorbed the vision. Suddenly a loud manly voice pierced the air, bringing her back to reality: it was the deacon beginning the worship.
At school the girl couldnâ€™t concentrate on the lecture, so she decided to read a prayer to help get her thoughts together. Then she thought of Him again. Anna tried to get rid of the image immediately, as she knew it was forbidden to envision icons, saints or the sacred family. The picture, however, stood before her eyes, begging to be examined.
Anna forgot about the lecture, forgot about rules and sin. As she pictured the figure of Jesus on the cross, she wanted to weep, feeling her readiness to take Him down and rinse His wounds, and she imagined herself as one of the biblical women wiping His body with her hair.
Her eyes, a shade too dark; secrets withheld behind a veil. For endless hours I think about her voice. The snake’s quick tongue has spelt a word so close to love. Last night a drink from some unwitting pawn. He has become the object of the chase as hearts now race. A fleeting moment leaving her cold—numb. And yet she will return and to my face she will compose an artful tale; a lie. Some story of great adventure which brought her back home. I know. She knows. I too can lie. Her swift response won’t make me insecure: “And where were you?”— My night, a mystery, because, I too, was where I shouldn’t be.
The other day I had a nightmare. It was Wednesday afternoon and I’d been up since the night before writing a newspaper review of a translated science fiction novel called “One Hundred” by the Portuguese author Priscilla de Araujo Severo about a detective who has an accident that leaves him with the power to see the future without the ability to change it. The plot was good but the writing was full of bad metaphors and had the sad and solemn tone of someone who had never realised that nothing is funnier than unhappiness.
I finished the review and emailed it to my editor just after lunch and then sat down with a beer, had two sips and immediately fell asleep. At first, I was having quite a pleasant dream: I was a session musician with a chest tattoo of the Virgin Mary participating in the centenary celebrations of the life and works of the Italian communist avant-garde composer Luigi Nono. For some reason I kept leaving my wallet in the fridge and during a performance of Nono’s seminal opera “Intolleranza” I sang in the choir while wearing a biker jacket and drinking American whisky.
After this, the nightmare began. I found myself to be the detective in Severo’s novel and things were bleak: I was on trail of an anonymous serial killer who was murdering cyborg sex workers on a space station the size of New York. Just before every murder happened, I’d have a vision of it taking place, but I never got a chance to see the culprit’s face as every time I got to the scene they’d already vanished. There was also a subplot in which I became the best Texas Hold ’Em player in the galaxy, but that faded as the body count rose and my boss threatened to fire me unless I brought whoever was responsible to justice.
In the end it turned out the killer’s identity was staring me right in the face: I was the murderer, and I’d been killing hundreds of cyborg sex workers during psychotic episodes triggered by a post traumatic stress disorder that was caused by my accident, which is why I had no memory of any of it. Despite this, they sent me to prison for life. The visions kept on happening, 53
but I was no longer sure if they were real or the product of my disturbed psyche. I would see lots of things. The last episodes of soap operas, people locking themselves out of their houses, the conclusions of World Cup football matches; I even foresaw the rise of a wretched country that exalted the works of Martin Amis as the pinnacle of their literary accomplishment.
I didnâ€™t like prison very much, but I got on okay and because people knew I was an insane murderer they left me alone to spend my time reading and writing and going to the gym. Then, one lunchtime, I met a man in the corridor. He appeared lost. I noticed he was blind and carrying a white cane so I asked him if he needed help. I have something to ask you, he said. I have come from the future to grant you a wish. If you could have any superpower what would it be? Immortality, I replied. I have always wanted to be a famous writer and they say the greatest authors live forever through their works. Okay, he said. So now you will live forever. And then he disappeared.
With hindsight, Iâ€™m not sure if this was the best superpower to choose or that immortality is really a superpower at all, but by that point it was too late. Living forever had its ups and downs. I saw people I loved grow old and die, and once great civilisations disappear like they had never existed. History seemed meaningless. The bravest attempts by humans to create order and dignity were frail and prone to perversion and violence. Thankfully, after a couple of hundred years they let me out of prison and I had plenty of time to dedicate to achieving literary immortality.
Following several failed attempts, I eventually wrote a prison memoir that was hugely successful and read in thousands of different languages for millennia. However, once the universe had ended and all life became extinct I realised that literary immortality was actually a vain and hollow ambition. That said, once all existence had ceased to exist my problem with being able to see the future solved itself as the rest of time appeared to be an infinite present in which nothing ever changed. 54
After that I woke up and found I’d spilt beer all over my lap, but the events of my nightmare got me thinking about literature. And dear reader, after boring you with details of my dreams, it feels apt to confess my sins, too: Recently I’ve been taking creative writing classes. And what’s more I’ve enjoyed them, a lot. Nonetheless, the one thing that’s bothered me is when people say, Write What You Know. Along with, Show, Don’t Tell, and Find Your Voice, it’s one of the gospel and verse laws of creative writing. But if, as another saying goes, fact is often stranger than fiction, then where does that leave us? And since dreams obey a logic that cannot be comprehended, are they even stranger still?
The other day I had a dream that literature was an infinite puzzle and that it wasn’t humans that gain immortality through writing, but books themselves. And that even if the world did end, they would carry on being read forever in the minds of people that enjoyed them whether they were alive or dead because this activity takes place somewhere that’s outside ordinary time and space, a place in which words are no longer what they seem, but a vast network of shifting signs that indeterminately refer to one another, like sand being blown across the desert through a corridor of mirrors on plane of immanence in the imagination of being who cannot tell when they are asleep or awake.
And then I woke up and found I’d spilt beer all over my lap. 55
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