I’m leaving, and I doubt I’ll come back, but you know how the flick-knives of fate are, pushing you into a room with an empty canvas, the brush and the paint beckoning you to paint again. But I’ve learned that a stroll in a picturesque park can do away with the urge. Writing was never my life, and it’s my life that needs writing: pages and pages of musical notation with an odd time signature; piano jazz with light touch drumming with a Brad Mehldau or Triosence feel to it. Something ethereal and delicate that’s becoming this acquired taste that I can’t get enough off. And don’t look for me in my lines, or between them or in the minutiae spaces between the syllables. They never made me anyway. Don’t look for me in pictures posted on social networking sites. They’re just simulacrums of what’s there. A picture speaks, but doesn’t allow you to smell the soft earth, feel the breeze, or taste the sweet dew coating the leaves. I guess I was wrong about so much, and right about so little. And my mistakes taught me that this tobacco hazed room with its books and notes scribbled isn’t really the jazz that’s life. There’s so much more bebop in meeting people, light conversations, runs and swimming, so much exhilaration and thrill in listening to concerts by the local indie band, so much to perceive by just getting out there and watching somebody hum ‘Freedom,’ by Mingus rather than listening to it, resting against the headboard of my bed with my iPod on. There’s so much more fusion of senses found in places other than the local bookstore: maybe a bar with beer, where I’m just hanging out with a few old friends, and the girl I crushed on in college, or was it after college? And will I juxtapose art and life like cool jazz, the alto saxophone being life and the piano art? I don’t know and honestly, I don’t care. I want beauty, love and should I go far and say infinity? Not something esoteric, or out there, but just the infinity of each moment.
Sometimes I wonder if I live in an apartment or an oubliette. I mean, there’s a cushy couch, rose-colored chintz curtains, a PS4 with myriad games I haven’t played yet, cigarettes and wine, but there’s this sense of feeling imprisoned. Maybe it has to do with a non-existent purpose. There’s jazz playing in the background. Benny Goodman or Art Blakey or somebody great. I think it’s Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing.’ I hear the beat leading up to the feet tapping Big Band sound, and then the clarinet kicking in and then the drums again. The music plays like a movie – scene after scene. Characters in the form of bars of music or minims or crotchets dance, but I’m not dancing with them. I’m drinking again. It’s been a while since I was sober. The wine’s a cheap Indian one. I can taste the sediment in it and maybe that’s all I taste. The sediment of losing my freedom, the sediment of myriad crushed paper hopes. The sediment of dreams finally meeting hard, stony earth and I, bruised with flayed skin scuttling on roads of fire, howling like a rib-cage showing, wounded mongrel. I think I’m asking the famous existential question but without any panache – Why am I here in this place and space, slowly and steadily slipping into oblivion?
It’s Art Blakey and his quintet playing Wee-Dot. Not Benny Goodman. Or maybe it’s Benny Goodman. Jazz is like Casu Marzu: Maggots crawling all over the rotten cheese, but a delicacy, nonetheless. But lately, the wallpaper looks like moldy cheese and spiders flit around. I can see their eyes watching me: Little brothers monitoring my every movement. I’m in a dystopian, postmodern 1984. And why do I have this postcard saying, “I had a great time yesterday.” I don’t have friends or lovers. I open the refrigerator and find a severed hand! Fuck! It has beady-eyed spiders all over it, and it’s made of skin and cheese. And there’s this ringing in my ear. Make it stop! Please! Is this real? Is anything real?
The wallpaper envelops me, and I become larva in a cheese and spider cocoon. I eat my way out; biting through both the cheese and the spiders. It tastes like a corpse. But how do I know what a corpse tastes like? I escape, but the ringing in my ear is fucking killing me! The shadows look like severed arms now. I pick up the postcard. It says something else now: “You know that man isn’t free. Sartre was a liar. Dostoevsky spoke the truth. The truth will haunt you forever.” What does that mean? I start weeping, but tears don’t fall, spiders do. I crush them, and they become cheese. I put it in my mouth, and they become spiders again. They taste ugly and sore. There are spiders all over my hands with little beady eyes. The ringing becomes classical music, and then it goes back to jazz. I smell cigarettes and piss and shit. My apartment suddenly looks like a smoky jazz bar. What is going on? Why is life so complicated? Why did Adam fall? Why did Lucifer fall? Weren’t all things considered good? Then how could Lucifer deflect unless creation and God were always flawed? Or did God withdraw grace and is cruel but justifies things by using the term ‘greater good’. Damn the Elect and the reprobate! Damn Calvinism and free will! Damn the Cheese and the severed hand!
I decide to sleep, but rest isn’t forthcoming, and so, I pop a few Valiums and soon, I’m sleeping on my sofa. I wake up, and it’s morning. I snip the edge of a carton of milk and drink it straight from the packet, the white liquid drenching my shirt. I go outside and find the newspaper lying on the ground.
‘Archaeologist killed in Cheese Factory,’ the headline screams. I read on: “An Archaeologist was found dead in a cheese factory. His arms were severed.” I’ve read enough. What the fuck is going on! I feel a rush of vertigo and collapse. I dream of my mother and how I was sexually attracted to her. My father collected spiders and loved cheese. I hated the man though he was good to me. Nausea overwhelms me. I run to the bathroom and puke. I then don’t wash the stains away because of an image of a psychoanalyst that floats in my consciousness. I call my mother.
“Did you read the news lover?” She says.
“What the hell is going on!” I shout into the phone, “I’m hallucinating, and I’m terrified!”
“I’ll be right over sweetie. I’m bringing Dr. Hansen,” she says, in a voice riddled with mad ecstasy.
Why would my mother be excited? Here I am, standing on the shore, preparing for the waves of insanity to sweep over me and drown me, and she’s thrilled! I feel disgusted but then think of the things my mother did for me. But what has she done?
The doorbell rings, and I see my mother standing with Dr. Hansen. Who’s Dr. Hansen by the way? He looks familiar, but I can’t place him.
He smiles, and says, “We’re here to help you, son. Don’t worry.”
“Mom, I’m scared. Help me!”
“Quick! Don’t waste time, doctor! He finally admitted that he was hallucinating today! We need to act! Now!” My mother yells.
The doctor and my mother lead me to my bedroom.
“So, you finally have insight into your condition. Now’s probably the best time to tell you the truth, but before that, I need to ask you how you feel about your mother,” Hansen says.
“I felt sexually attracted to my mother. It led to nausea and vomiting. I’m unwell. Just tell me what the fuck is going on!” I say and look at my mother who’s in tears.
“My sweet darling. My honeysuckle. Oh, how I’ve waited for this!” My mother squeals.
“You were always sexually attracted to your mother from the time you were three. It’s called the Oedipus complex. You hated your father and wanted to replace him as your mother’s lover. As you grew older, those feelings never subsided, but luckily for you, your mother reciprocated your feelings. She initiated a sexual encounter with you when you were fourteen, and then the two of you regularly had sex. One day, however, your father walked in on the two of you, and beat you badly, before leaving your mother shortly afterwards. He never spoke about what he saw to anyone, but your hatred towards him grew with each year, and you needed a way to escape, and so you envisioned a world that revolved around the objects your father adored like cheese and spiders so that you could destroy it repeatedly. You’d return to sanity without insight now and then, but when wounded, you’d go back to this world. During periods of hypnosis, you’d claim to see a severed hand too, but I never understood the significance of it, until you blurted out – during a period of regression when we monitored you – that you’d like to see your father’s hands chopped off because he beat you with them.
“Your love for Jazz and classical music comes from your mother playing it when you made love to her. She did it initially to make it look like she wasn’t home, and you were in your room alone listening to music. But after the divorce, she continued playing it during the lovemaking sessions because it symbolized that something special existed between you two – a connection beyond an ordinary mother-son relationship. You also reported hearing a ringing sound. That’s common in mental illness sufferers. Now, I’m not a conventional Freudian therapist, and so, I encouraged your sexual relationship with your mother because stripping you off it would have robbed you of identity altogether.
“Recently, you surprisingly regained sanity immediately after you heard that your father met with an accident. But you relapsed when you heard that he recovered fully. So, that gave me an idea. Now, I don’t care about ethics. I’m a man of pure, unadulterated science. I wanted to help you heal completely. You were my most fascinating patient, and I wanted to make a breakthrough. And so, I asked your mother to kill your father. But to do it in a unique way that involved cheese, spiders, and severed hands.
“And so, your mother and I managed to lure your father to a cheese factory on the pretext of her suffering from severe mental illness, and how it would be beneficial for her prognosis. Your father was reluctant and angry at first, but I convinced him by saying that she was always mentally unstable, and he’d only failed to recognize this. I told him to meet us at a cheese factory. The mob – with whom I have deep ties with – introduced me to the owner. The owner knew that someone was going to die in his factory, and so, he fled. He’s currently the prime suspect.
“While your mother, I and your father explored the place, your mother showed your father a spider and told him that she’d started collecting them. Your old man was still angry but calmed down a little when he heard this. He then took the spider in his hands. Your mother then grabbed a machete we’d already hidden on one of the shelves and hacked your father’s arms off with it. She then proceeded to shove a lot of cheese into his mouth to muffle his screams.
“Now, please register what we did and the way we did it carefully. Process and think. And also, recollect.”
Tears run down my eyes now. My past is lucid. The cheese and the arm and the spiders will never haunt me again. “Oh, mother! Oh, mother!” I sob in joy. She holds me. The doctor plays some jazz and leaves us. We sigh, and we moan, and we finally find closure.
I woke up this morning and I looked outside my window. I watched the Flame of the Forest in all her effervescence, dancing to the rhythm of the breeze, giving herself up to the wind’s cadence.
I felt peace. I felt serenity. I felt a rush of tranquility, but it was short-lived.
Soon the voices in my head, and the hurt of the past screamed, shouted and shrieked. A scythe of disquiet hacked my solace in two, and I, distraught and disturbed wandered corridor after corridor, groping in the darkness, looking for answers in a society of charlatans wearing Bauta’s and just hating each other.
Hate, hate, greed, greed, bitterness, bitterness, anger, anger – a theatre of mockery and psychosis, and here I am standing on the stage through the seasons, seething and broken, wanting to do something about it.
Why do you have to be like that?
Why do you have to screw me over?
Why do you have to fuck me up?
I wish someone would find me amidst the puke covered streets, and the stench of ditchwater. I wish someone would breathe life into me. I wish someone would love me furiously, ferociously and pull me down from the cross, nurse my nail pierced body, remove this crown of thorns and I wish she’ll show me more to belief and faith, and draw my anger out of me.
I wish she’d understand me. I wish she’d transform this barren room with half-smoked cigarettes, spilled coffee and broken bottles of wine into something worth living in.
I wish she weren’t like the others – the women who came and went, waltzed in and foxtrotted out. I don’t wish for just physical intimacy. I wish for commitment, sacrifice and this beautiful, amazing thing that exists in the chaos, burning incandescently despite the wintry chill, this crazy thing we call love.
You should know by now that I love you, even though I hardly say it. You should know by now that I’ll live and die for you, though my tears are dry. If only trial and circumstance didn’t make me hard, if only a cesspool of madness which fate baptized me in didn’t make me unpredictable, if only a vortex of apparitions didn’t carry me away and set me on a shore of agony, darkening each particle of my existence, making me unable to distinguish between reality and chimera, light and darkness, paranoia and angelic hope, I’d give you so much more, and love you with an intensity unparalleled. We’ve woven this story of togetherness and despite each inner window shutting, slowly barring my light, we’re clinging to each other: body to body, mind to mind, soul to soul. But if I’m gone tomorrow: a train wreck of a man with an arthritic mind, unable to grasp the simplest picture of you, I want you to move on. Life gives us hope, despair, recollections to cherish, and echoes of now to clasp and cling to with all passion and ardor, and in this moment, I’m crazy about you.
Jimmy bought a new moped. “I’mma ride it to the hills, brah!” He squealed, the effects of the skunk weed which landed him in an institution where he spent hours talking to the ceiling fan and calling it his ‘Big Momma’ still affecting him. He reverted to his Indian accent now and then, but I always kept my fingers crossed, scared he’d go crazy on me.
“What do you plan to do in the hills?” I asked Jimmy, but deep inside I already knew the answer. “I’mma find a bootleg pill man. They sell some fine quality hashish,” he whispered, bending low on his moped and there was something terrifyingly odd about the way he did that, but then again this was Jimmy. Everything was odd about him. He slept with his feet on the pillows and his head where his feet should be, he drank scotch with mixed fruit juice, he managed to get some old cuckold to film while he fucked the man’s wife, he joined a book club and turned it into a Wednesday swingers party. I don’t how he did it. I think he had this weird cult of personality. It never worked on me, but it certainly did charm a lot of others into giving into his twisted fetishes.
I always wondered if Jimmy made up his exploits until he introduced me to the old cuckold and his wife at a cafe. The old sleazebag asked me if I wanted to join Jimmy and plough his wife. I politely declined. The last thing I needed was an amateur porn video starring me, some older woman and Jimmy of all people, while a cuckold, jacking off shouted, “C’mon son. Fuck her harder!” I guess I’ve seen enough amateur porn to know how it worked. I’ve decided to stick to watching it; the monitor separating me from the actuality.
I also walked into the swinger party by accident. Jimmy’s mother asked me to fetch him one Wednesday and I said, “Yeah, he’s probably at the book club. I’ll fetch him.” I then called Jimmy and asked him where he was, and he gave me directions to some apartment complex. I could hear loud music in the background but didn’t make much of it. He couldn’t have possibly converted a book club into a swinger party, could he? I wondered. I finally found the place in some cul-de-sac and asked the watchman for directions to Room 125. He looked at me with disgust and spat: the red, betel leaf juice tainting the parking lot. I wondered what I’d done wrong.
I knocked on the door and Jimmy opened, clad only in his pajamas. I went in and the stench of weed overwhelmed me. I then heard loud music and ferocious moaning from the rooms.
“What the fuck’s happening here?” I yelled at Jimmy and he said, “Peace fam. Lighten up. We just havin a good time, that’s all.”
I needed to get the fuck out because nothing good happened when Jimmy started speaking thoroughly in his Indo-African American accent. But I’d promised Jimmy’s mom that I’d bring him back and so, I grabbed him by the wrist and started pulling him out of the door.
“Nigga, you need to lighten up,” Jimmy barked before screaming, “Help! Terrorist!”
And some butt-naked girl ran out of one of the rooms and screamed at me.
“Leave Jimmy alone! Leave him alone terrorist!” She shrieked, her tits bouncing while she hysterically jumped up and down.
“Calm down,” I said, “His mother needs him.”
“Jimmy’s got no momma,” she said in some bizarre Indo-Chinese-British- African American accent.
“No, he does, and I’ll call the police if you don’t go back to whatever you’re doing.”
“I’m doing Jimmy you fat tit! And I’m not letting him go until I’m done!” she yelled and slapped me, and Jimmy started crying.
“I’mma lose it brah!” He whined and I had a panic attack.
“C’mon Jimmy,” Big breasts said softly, “I’ll fuck yer brains out until you’re happy again.”
“For real! Bitch please! You don’t know what I’mma lose.”
The girl then started crying and I took the opportunity to cart Jimmy away.
We raced past houses and ramshackle huts, Ganesha processions and Hindu activists and gay parades and livestock and restaurants and finally reached Jimmy’s house.
“I’mma lose it,” Jimmy squealed as I bodily lifted him and carried him home.
“You’ll be fine Jimmy. Just think of the bootleg pill men and the hills,” I said, dropped him on his bed and went out and smoked a cigarette.
My love, life, dreams and fond reflections always meet November – the season of cinders, a period of transition between Autumn’s ripe melancholia and Winter’s mist and rattle. Didn’t I lie down beside you just yesterday, holding you in our nudity – skin and core? And here I am, walking the sidewalk and passing the throng – bearded, distinct, peculiar and still unnoticed. Walking on the mud, skirting the litter, and making sure I don’t step on that mongrel – sleeping, and oblivious to our lives that revolve around the clock – and pausing at the ramshackle cigarette shop, I pay the man for a few Marlboros. Didn’t yesterday give me lucidity? Didn’t each kiss shared, and the laughter that echoed in our space give me felicity? Well, I’m back in my zone now, the old inner ruckus – thoughts brawling like drunken football hooligans, and I guess a swig from the Old Admiral in the fridge lulls them. And then bloodied, they suddenly stop and erupt into rhapsodies of praise – a little bent, off-tune, interspersed with lilting and yodeling. Didn’t each sob when you took me in to our tempo, each sigh of euphoria when we reached that penultimate phase – before that deep moan of ultimate satisfaction, making us forget everything – tell me that here’s a woman to live and die for? But I’m just existing now, or maybe I keep regressing to some pre-existing state, huddled up in some fetal position, before birthing myself now and then for a smoke while the floor’s drenched with the blood of my brokenness, and the umbilical cord from this thing we call life lies severed and thrown in the dustbin.
I don’t know if I’m a saint or a sinner or if I’ve somehow transcended those notions through a nihilism that followed a dark night of the soul.
I’ve looked in the mirror a thousand times and I never find the same reflection. I’m like a song who can’t be played the same way twice, and once the musician discards me, I’ll fade into obscurity and oblivion, like a train entering an endless dark tunnel. Who am I? Where will I find myself after the apocalypse – on a barren land with a bloody moon, or some small redemptive corner where the Church bell still chimes and visions, gifts and prophecy endure?
The last time I looked in the mirror, I saw a disgruntled bearded man, having come to terms with the loss of youth’s vanity. No longer attractive, no longer possessing allure or personality, no longer finding solace in women. I never envisioned this man when I lived separated from reality in a city of romanticism, but bit by bit, the jade and sapphire turned into brick and rust, the smell of the earth gave way to a miasma of decay that singed my eyes and left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.
I then spat and vomited, knowing things will never be the same. I ran on roads coated with ash and blood under a dying sky and on some crag spotted Tennyson’s eagle waiting to swoop down like a majestic golden-brown monarch. I reached up hoping he’d land on my arm and guide me, but I was denied providential grace. The buildings looked like putrefied flesh and I ran on to find my house lying in ruins and I was left with two choices: To cling to shattered idealism or to forge the new out of what remained and I still don’t know what I’ve done.
I feel strongly and don’t feel at all. I love strongly and hate bitterly. I call myself out for my duplicity, but I can’t repair myself. I don’t possess the tools and the wheel of my existence is losing a new spoke each day, which I stick haphazardly with duct tape and glue, never knowing if tomorrow it’ll still run and there’ll be freedom symbolizing the now clichéd, ‘This too has passed.’
And hence, all I can offer you is abstract expression. I sit now in a coffee shop, smoking my last cigarette, and see faces pass me, some mute, some saying something like, ‘hello,’ and I know they’ve got it sorted out, and with each tick of the clock, they’ll progress while I’ll stay like the ash in the tray, never knowing what’ll happen next, until they clean the tray.
My mind is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, riddled with disproportionate, cracked pavement ideas, and a consciousness like a filthy graveyard or derelict buildings, burning and crumbling. There are no verdant valleys here. I’m plagued by trauma and guilt, and crude madness blaming me severely for pathos that isn’t always my own. I hear echoes of lines straight from The Fall by Camus telling me that I’m responsible for all the misery I’ve seen, caused or endured; asking me to confront my duplicity. I only see my reflection in concave or convex mirrors giving me an out of shape picture when I look within. But through it all, you hold me, and our insatiable passion for each other isn’t always delicate with a childlike charm. We often go through the throes of lovemaking – the pleasure and the pain – even when we’re not entwined, becoming one. It’s difficult to distinguish love. It isn’t just feeling, though without it, it’s just cold false zeal. Perhaps, love is feeling backed by severe effort: a struggle to find in each other what’s unsayable, irresistible and luminous. A fight despite sweat and blood, and angst and grief. Whatever it is, it creates a balance, helping us move forward through November’s twilight. And perhaps one day Gomorrah will lie, reduced to ashes, but I’m more thankful that I’m in love with you.