Dear brother,

I read your last letter and it moved and shook my core because the date nears, and the court has dismissed all our appeals. You told me about Sara deciding to move on, having found another man, and about how she has never brought little Ruth to visit you though she’s twelve now. I always believed that Sara wanted to protect Ruth from a scarred childhood impression of seeing her father in chains, given an hour to pour his heart out and weep because that sort of thing leaves an ugly, indelible stain on the consciousness, and it’s usually suppressed before those grotesque colors coat all sense of identity later in life, making the person see things in monochrome. So, in that sense I believed that Sara was justified. But what outraged me was her questioning your innocence. Now, here was the woman who stood by you these last ten years, meeting lawyers and filing appeals. A woman who knew you from childhood, experienced so much with you as your friend, sweetheart, lover and wife, who knew the ins and outs of your labyrinthine personality, who stood by us when we couldn’t bear seeing mother suffer so much, and then eventually be snuffed out by cancer’s gale. I called her but she doesn’t pick my calls. She’s cut ties with both of us, as if we were putrefying sores so gangrenous that there isn’t any other course but amputation. Now, I don’t know what happened on the 27th of August, all those years ago when some homicidal, spree killer got away and you took his place like Christ did for the Church. I use such strong Biblical symbolism because I believe in your innocence, and even if they stripped off my skin, my blood and bones would cry for justice, my dear brother. Forgive me if all this sounds like hyperbole. I assure you it’s not. I saw you the previous evening with your friends in a local bar, enjoying yourself and infusing the place with your honest vivacity, and I can’t believe that the same person resorted to doing something so vicious and heinous to an innocent family who lived a few blocks away the next day. You didn’t even own a gun. But why did you not say a word and remain mute during the trial like someone unsympathetic and unafraid? You refused to answer questions properly, and your monosyllabic replies enraged me. And though a few witnesses saw another man dart from the house, you strangely dismissed that claim. They caught you with the weapon and blood stained hands, but you stood trial in a place between light and dark; neither defending your innocence or pronouncing your guilt. You, the brother I looked up to, a man of integrity who never conformed to the Janus-faced parade with their gaudy robes masking reptilian skin, suddenly seeming somewhat catatonic. You, who despised the hypocrisy of ‘perfect’ people and embraced fractured finitude suddenly seeming conniving. You knew something that you’re still unwilling to share didn’t you? And somewhere deep inside I know it too, which is why we can never look each other in the eye for an extended period during visitations. I’ve searched and dug but can only unearth hazy traces of who, why and what. Traces just as blurred as my days of addiction back then. So tell me. Just throw it at me. Let it rip through me that the lamb sacrificed himself for the degenerate. And if you have the proof, clear your name. I’ve avoided asking you this because our memories are contortions of actuality. But as the day nears, I sense things inching their way to the surface, and I need to know. I don’t want your sacrifice or love, just the truth.

Yours

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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All the symbols of rebirth – baptisms in pristine pools, ashes becoming fiery Phoenixes or the mere washing of hands – find their way through trampled landscapes with drying rivulets, chewed off hills and fields of straw to a fractured you: a broken woman looking for a fragmented me to throw her arms around. Now, I can never give you unconditional agape, but I want you to know that depth and substance infuses even the gentlest kiss with something not seen or heard, or even touched, but felt fiercely, furiously and ferociously with the heart. And though each moment doesn’t glow incandensently and we’re often submerged in darkness and disarray, in a haunted, battered room with broken chairs and smashed bulbs, groping, and feeling the walls with flayed wallpaper, searching for the exit, it’s your hand I clasp, your love that gives me a reason to wage war against the maelstrom with a shared intuition, a shared emotion and a shared experience. It’s forever you darling, even if forever is a myth, it’s always you darling, even if Thanatos splits union and mutes always, and it’s a circle of truth that embodies you darling, even if circles are dissected at their diameters and truth dies with the world.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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I remember you composing
music to the poems I wrote,
infusing them with more
emotion and turning red droplets
to crimson stains of expression,
you sat blissfully tranquil
and while you drifted with time,
your hands gracefully sliding
across the piano, each quaver,
crotchet and minim merging
with my iambs, anapaests and
trochees, I forgot to remember
the burn of the bruises and scars
our knuckles and wrists bore,
because beauty and love triumphs
and creates a twilight far superior
to the pastel skies we retreat
into when the hands of our disturbed
fathers clawed deep, stole our
hearts, and planted seeds of
abominations on the soil of our souls,
watered each day by the tears
of an unforgettable, unfathomable,
undying trauma, and how we wait
for the axe of unadulterated affection
to slice the harrowing, horrifying
fruitless tree with stark limbs,
and thorns instead of leaves still
growing within, but
I guess even that wasn’t enough. I
watched those very hands that played
grow stiff and the face that absorbed
itself in our art grow catatonic.
I watched as you lost even the crayon
world of yesterday and only saw
terror, uttering meaningless
neologisms now and then – a
clink and a clang, and finally
watched as they took you
to a pristine, drug den where
they false promised you’d get better,
and though I visited, playing
your music and reading new poems,
hoping innocently that you’d give
them a score, they told me
a month ago that they found you
in a way that killed off all my hope,
and I didn’t attend your funeral,
because I knew that though some
other pianist was going to play
your compositions. I heard she
gave it ‘justice’ and that your parents
hate me now, and as
I walked to the beach
this evening, I crushed all the poems
I wrote you, left them on the sand,
jumped in and let
the waves crash against me
while I screamed, trying my best
to forget to remember us, and
get a hold of a life so fundamentally
messed up.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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I don’t know if I’m a saint or a sinner. I don’t know if motes of good and evil flit past the room I’m enclosed in, or if I’ve somehow transcended those notions through a nihilism that followed a mystical 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 endures?

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 was he by any means attractive, no longer did he possess allure or personality, no longer did he find solace in women like he once did. 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 spat and vomited, knowing things will never be the same. I ran on ash, tar and blood swirling under a beautiful azure 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 and stay deluded 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 symbolising the now clichéd, ‘This too has passed.’

And hence, I’m an agglomeration of the moon, stars, rain and sun, and all I offer you is a conglomeration of red, blue, fluorescent and black emotion. 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 as time meets time, they’ll progress while I stay just as ambiguous as the melancholic post-rock playing, and the ash in the tray, never knowing what’ll happen next, until the music player switches off and they clean the tray.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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MORALITY PARK

‘Will things get better Ma?’ I’d ask her, once a fractured identity, found its cast of maternal iron and grit, determined to see the boy through shoves that split ears open – red drops of anguish finding an emotionally ramshackled Gethsemane – though he was too young to pray, to plead and to say sorrowfully, ‘If it’s your will, take this cup,’ and desperate to see him uphold integrity and become the antithesis of the man, who – when she had an early hysterectomy because blood and nearing death finds its provenance in sorrow and ashes: the grime of you’ll never be good enough as a wife, lover and a person – beat the boy on the way to the hospital for leaving a textbook in school. ‘God! God! You and your mother chant! Where is your God!’ He screamed trying to smash his face against the car’s dashboard. ‘You’ll…

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I find the road ahead stained with crimson, tattered parkas, blurry and Kafkaesque. Maybe it’s the blood of martyrs – brothers and sisters who lived for art alone; smashing the mirror though the shards stung and the ooze throbbed – who wandered like vagabonds and died having taken up the pen, or maybe it’s the false inner opulence of alcohol or antihistamines – a carpeted antechamber with a plastic chandelier and a stony candelabrum with ugly, blotched masses of wax and polaroids instead of Gogh and Rembrandt; basically a burlesque scene where a thrift store stands in for Gucci, and gives you raw, ribald low-brow that is only lacquered – making me glorify the obscure and venerate the underground. It’s like making love to a woman you don’t love anymore, without passion, the rough arpeggio relieving stress. In the end a few questions stem from the heart of all frustration, giving the reader(s) withered parchments of poetry – unlike the parrot green published work – and prose that doesn’t bloom because it’s not nurtured by engagement: Do I still do this though I rely on someone else’s monetary support? Do I still love this? Do I need to create? And despite the mass production of tomes, teaching you how to ‘write,’ asking Kafka to move over to a surreal corner with hazy light – where an apple lies crushed – in the corner of the bookstore, despite the post-novel filled with multimedia and embracing fanatical postmodernism, like Night Film by Marisha Pessl (which I’m not saying isn’t good, so don’t get me wrong), give me my books, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a pen and paper, and I will create, or at least I think so.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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In this little hill town, where the eight o’ clock night sky, snakes like ash, encircling, circumscribing and circumventing the dying, azure twilight, I stand on the front lawn of this hotel: a natural green carpet, strewn with cigarette buds, and pull on my Marlboro, the orange glow a miniature replica of the houses glowing like fallen stars or shops with broken neon halos. I’d like to think that here in the fog, and where the wind doesn’t splutter, splatter, cough and brave the tough dust, mortar and industry, or carry with it the stench of ditchwater, like a weak labourer, knock-kneed and begging silent providence for redemption from toil, drink and pain, where trees aren’t gnarled and anemic like geriatric men having no glory except yesteryear’s nostalgia, except battles won and wars lost, watching loved ones fade like flickering planes, the roar before the silence, the joy before the crushing loneliness, where life still thrives and throttles the patchwork boogeyman, slaying him with mystical daggers and making him the petty doggerel he is, where poets are the sonnets they write, and villanelles aren’t political slogans but songs sung or shouted with passion, where the nebulous sparkle of this place in which fathers still tuck in their children who play football on small patches of ground unsoiled by walls and construction signs…yes, I’d like to think that each thought of mine will find you and make you smile, and walk on though we once were and will never be.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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