Being and not-being

This is an image of a grey background. I've chosen it because it symbolizes apathy which is central theme around which my post revolves.

He wakes up at one in the afternoon these days, walks to the dinner table, pops his prescription, nonchalantly, not caring anymore about bubblegum skin, sawed off hair, or bloodshot eyes that itch. Having said that, he does look perfectly fine. His gait is a little knock-kneed, perhaps it’s another side effect or it’s just this self-imposed malnutrition. He picks up his iPod and plays an EP called Re-Traced by Cynic. They’re this progressive rock band with eclectic influences, a little jazzy, a little groovy, with passages that are a little metal sounding and others that are a little mellow. He prefers them to Dream Theater though most will win an argument about which band is better. He doesn’t care about petty squabbles or disputes anymore though. I’m not sure he cares about anything anymore. They say everyone worships something, and it’s often either something materialistic or another person, or themselves, but he begs to differ. Perhaps he worships solitude, or apathy, but then again he stopped giving that thought any room a long time ago. Thoughts often turn into equations that need balancing, or puzzles that need solving, and so he just lets a non-linear sequence of ideas or the lack of them place themselves in those alleys of his mind, now neglected. He walks to the kitchen and uses a sharp knife to cut open a packet of milk. He can’t be bothered about finding the scissors anymore. A bit spills on the floor, which he can’t be bothered cleaning up. He pours the milk into a large glass, pours some coffee into it, mixes it, and goes to his balcony and drinks it while he puffs on a cigarette. Once he’s done, he grabs whichever book he can find and reads at a stretch, losing his identity and sense of self, and then some inner clock makes him go to the shower, strip and let the lukewarm water wash away yesterday’s grime. He does this without concentrating, and then brushes his teeth, which are slightly ashen now. He wears a shirt and a jean and it’s already seven in the evening. He goes to a pub, and dances with a girl who’s very attractive and alluring: her slightly cascading hair, her somewhat lean frame and her top and jean entices him. She gives him his number after a few drinks and he tells her that he’ll call her tomorrow. He keeps his promise and she arrives at his apartment the next day and they make love. She’s great in bed and it’s a treat, and there is a part of her that is attracted to him. Perhaps she wants more than an evening spent together, but he’s too jaded for a relationship or even a fling. He politely shifts the conversation to something else until she leaves a little frustrated. A lot of women are attracted to him, and he doesn’t know why, and can’t really spend time reasoning and figuring out the solution. In this millennial age, they’d probably call it no game-game, but he doesn’t give dating that much thought. He moves from woman to woman, each possessing their unique charm, their unique vibe that he senses, though not thoroughly, and perhaps his disregard for existence makes him an enigma to them. But in the end, he prefers the wall of his bathroom, his cigarette, and his own space and time, which exists both within and outside the clock. Some might call this sort of thing nihilism with a slight bent to degeneracy, but labels don’t define him, and that’s the freedom that divides him from the romance that spills from a screen into life. Even the books he loses himself in don’t really shape him, and that’s the emancipation from syllables, vowels or nouns: the stream of thought that does not run parallel to lines of poetry with meter. He rests now at three in the night, and as he shuts his eye, a sense of closure unlike love, belief or the need to work envelops him. He does work and often changes jobs, but he distances himself from the grit and yet functions just fine. I guess this is a different transcendence without the need for self-actualization. And I don’t judge the man or his lifestyle.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

As if

This is an image of a plane wreck floating on the sea. I've chosen it because it augments the nihilism which is the central theme of my poem

I write poems of myself, as if there is a point of writing.
I wake each morning to the sight of the ceiling fan,
as if there is a point to sleeping and waking.
I breathe the fresh air, as I walk to the rhythm of
the thrush, as if there is a point to breathing and walking.

What is existence, but the dregs of the past carried
by the illusion of tomorrow?
What is solace, but a myth punched in our skulls
using a societal pneumatic drill of ‘thinking positive
thoughts’ and ‘high self-esteem’?

I walk on a cracked road, strewn with dead leaves,
crushed paper cups and the stench of over-ripeness,
the road is broad and here and there I find a tavern
or a whorehouse that only elevates my guilt,
the road is barren except for a few humps
like an old hag with sagging tits,
the road has stark tress, fruitless and leafless
on both sides, menacing, haunting, monstrous,
hideous like wooden upright cadavers,
the road leads to a murky horizon, askew
and blurry, never telling me what awaits.

The stories I’ve known, I’ve shared with no one –
because ears hear, but they don’t hear at all –
and so, I trudge alone beneath the sun –
embracing seasons dying – the filth – fall –

I write songs of remembrance, as if recollection
abets salvation, memories or flashes of them
forming a false beatific vision, lasting an hour
before the mind’s uneasy, unsettled, untidy,
unaided.

I write sonnets of love, as if I hold it in my heart,
which in truth is a headstone with an epitaph saying,
‘Here lies one unknown who died before he died,
here lies one obscure who never lived though he lived,
here lies one unseen who saw though he never saw.’

I write villanelles of ache, as if sorrow is the muse
that refines, coats hearts with the golden dew of
resilience, but my tears refuse to flood my eyes,
my pain has given way to apathy like that of a soldier who
first cries in sorrow over a dying friend before seeing
one too many fall and then desensitized and disillusioned
carries on.

I write prose both lyrical and anti-lyrical calling
the hyacinth layers of velvety tenderness or
calling it a myriad chopped off tongues stitched
together, but does it matter? I ask you, does it matter?

I can sing of myself, but I’m not myself.
I can rise to meet life, but I’ve never risen.
I can talk of rebirth, but I’ve never known birth.
I can talk of death, but I’m already gone.

And all this, the songs and their echoes,
the women and the cigarettes, the laughter
and the beer, the muted tears and the numbness,
the journey and the destination rises like
a monster with a scaly carapace, irises of fire,
a mouth with demonic teeth, sharp like needles,
four-footed, with vicious claws and wings with an
aura of a death-spirit, seeking to devour life, but
only to find itself thrown in the abyss,
only to find itself lost to obscurity and oblivion,
forgotten and erased.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Closure

This is a black and white picture of a weary man. I've used this because it symbolizes resignation and the apathy that follows sorrow which are the chief themes in my story.

I met another version of him after three years: a totally different avatar. I wanted to meet him after reading one of his recently published poems. The tone of the piece showed a shift from his earlier work. His initial writing was effervescent, or like David’s psalms began on a note of melancholia and then gradually drifted to a note of triumph. Now, he wasn’t religious by any means; but he’d seen beauty. He’d seen her in an elegant ivory dress: a little coy, but willing to embrace a bedraggled him. You could always sense that he’d had an epiphany or a cathartic moment of sorts because his writing reflected it. His poems didn’t allude to similar artists, were not allegorical; or filled with symbolism. But there were these gentle nuances in them that soaked the reader with a softer, mellow happiness. They had this rhythm to them and he didn’t use meter, rhyme or traditional form to enforce this. He was brilliant, but his recent work, however, scuttled across more esoteric surfaces. These were cryptic, self-indulgent, full of surrealism; and experimentation. They also had a confessional element to them, or at least that was my impression. It seemed to me that he was in the throes of some suffering. Now I will not use a cliché and call it ‘existential angst’, but it was some hopelessness, some piercing, daunting anguish of the soul.

We met at a café near his place because he said it was convenient for him. Both of us had changed with time, and it hardly took a few sentences spoken to realize this. His openness and his frankness, which had surprised many once, had all disappeared. He never did bother about showing anybody both his strong and vulnerable side because he didn’t care about people’s opinions. Now, however, he seemed reserved, but it was a different kind of withdrawal. I doubt that insults or people trampling him had caused this. It was more of an apathetic, everything around me moves or stands still, and I do the same. There is no escaping. I’ll forever be trapped in this spectrum of meaninglessness, and on some days the emptiness is expansive; on other days just a slit within, that had engulfed him. I wanted to struggle with him, fight for him, help him see elegance again; but I realized soon that he was far gone.

“Your eyes, they give away everything. I see it: the hollowness, the antipathy towards the positive; and I just want to know why,” I said, and he looked at me with a lopsided grin, and said, “It isn’t something obvious like the loss of a loved one; or failure after failure that did it. It also wasn’t something sudden: I didn’t wake up one morning, go outside and stopped seeing the rose, and only saw the thorn. No, it was always there, I just didn’t embrace it. All those ‘inspirational’ poems that made me a ton of money never reflected me. Sure, I’ve seen beauty, but she fades just like man does. Her influence is only ephemeral, and as time passed; and I fell into the same pattern day after day, I gradually realized that I was always forcing myself to smile, that my love was just a momentary gush, that my sorrow a duty. I found myself questioning meaning and found nothing. There were times when what I was going through frightened me because I was gradually stripping each virtue or vice I clung to of its essence to see if there was something real, but I found nothing. So I let that cold draft of apathy freeze all the falsehood that I had invented to sustain myself, and finally found a barren me: exposed but not vulnerable; tired but not filled with self-hate; indifferent but not wounded.” “But has all this given you closure? I ask this because I read ‘Listless’ the other day, and it seemed as if you were writhing in inner hell,” I said, and he said, “‘Closure’, ‘Peace’, what are these things but man-made concepts that we glorify as universal truths. You’ve interpreted my poem as being confessional, but it really is a piece about a broken, sentient being unlike me: A person who fears leaping across that chasm of angst to that place of total aridity I’m in now and hence is unstable. The esoteric symbolism all serves to reflect this penultimate state.”

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)