Life finds provenance and meets Death cradling Grief

‘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 fail your bloody exams, and even if you were to find your textbook don’t you dare tell me that you said so, you little bastard.’

‘Will things get better Ma?’ I’d ask her after they’d finally separated and she took the gamble and said, ‘I’d rather be on the streets with my son than watch him grow, wearing his father’s skin.’ She’d seen the rebellion, the blows delivered in the parking lot, but some shared idealism of knowing worse kept them. He’d pinned her to a bed when the boy was still five and tried killing her, and as innocence slowly left the boy’s soul and he let out a primal scream, he slapped the boy. ‘Shut up!’ He countered with feral ferocity and slapped the ground and shouted, ‘See I’m hurting myself too!’

‘Will things get better Ma?’ I’d ask her after disappointments on the football field and the wrong woman, who was never the yin to my yang, never the destiny, the truth or true love because these things find their birth in collective pain and strength to both wear and bear it. The girl had known pain but she suppressed it and marched to Hypocrisy’s parade: a salute and a stand at ease when Society barked on his platform held together by man’s strained, crooked limbs and knock-kneed stance. ‘Rip the veil and see,’ I’d tell her, but the traumatized often either worsen or slam the iron maiden shut on others like them, or swing, unsteadily somewhere between, where there isn’t darkness or light; just the false lull of addiction.

‘Will things get better Ma?’ I asked her, holding her frail limbs and bellowing, a sudden car crash of recollection. ‘Stay! Tell me! Please!’ And after years of separation and my relationships with worse women and flings with alcohol, she smiled a smile of togetherness, but it wasn’t a bittersweet ending for me; just a spear cracking skin, breaking arteries, piercing my organic core and rushing out from the other side.

‘Will things get better?’ I ask myself in this small town where the petrichor supposedly enlivens, the birds chirp, and Autumn tosses orange scarves as she drifts slowly in her gown of bristles and thorns, with ripened halitosis – a dethroned Empress, and she stares at me, never knowing where I’m heading, bleeding from the rocks of Reality thrown, and says, ‘Godspeed. I hope things get better,’ with a sad idealistic smile.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Originally published in Morality Park 

People

This is a picture of a city viewed from the inside of a car while it's raining. I've chosen it to represent life and grief. We hide our grief and go on with our lives, but how long can it be contained?

When we write,
we write with the hardest hearts,
singed raw with pride,
but when we grieve,
those hearts soften,
and words become tears cascading
down rough contours and jagged edges.

What’s written isn’t felt
when hands mechanically type,
but when it’s felt,
despair cloaks us,
and we wish for
idyllic unknowns and peaceful reveries.

We hold the deepest pain,
but mask it
with a semblance of a smile,
we delude ourselves
into thinking we own it,
but it’s the opposite,
and when it possesses us
words flail and thrash
the air that keeps us
and prayers and psalms turn into
battered petitions and broken hallelujahs.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Originally published in The Literati Mafia

Cold

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering…” 
― Fyodor Dostoevsky

There is no life in this place; no vegetation; no predator or prey; just the shrill roar of industry like inaccessible noise rock. We sit, you and I, on the porch of this tumbledown house, smoking and sharing a bottle of rum.

The starless sky and oddly shaped crescent augment the bleakness of it all. Our eyes have grown hard like dull, brown stones and our hearts, harder like a cinder block ensconced in a rib cage.

Motes of dust scratch our faces like tiny razors cutting skin, but not deep enough to draw blood. We buried Mark on this day, last year and since that tragic day, weather and wither have adversely affected us. The weather inside reflects the sudden, drastic change of the weather outside – arid and decaying. And like the trunks of aging oaks, the wrinkles on our faces create folds that embody some nihilistic wisdom – something gained after some remote in our minds switched off sorrow and gave us an apathetic, grainy screen.

Words mean nothing now and silence haunts, and so, we drink to feel something even if it’s self-pity that punctures the very essence of life. We don’t greet each other; we’re like exhausted workhorses, but the irony is that we haven’t found work since our little cherub left us.

We’re living off what we’ve saved, and the money leaks like water from a broken pipe. We don’t love each other anymore, but we still persist because death creates a strange bond. One that makes two people live together though they paradoxically died together a long time ago.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

For Real Toads’ and Poets United 

Dear Melissa

When you read this, I won’t know if you’ll be shocked or just subdued. I won’t know if you’ll think I took the coward’s way out or had the courage to do something most people only dream or talk about. Life is filled with tragic curves and barely guarded hairpin bends and there’s only so much I could climb. You’ll ask yourself if what I did was the most selfish, cowardly act someone can commit or if I said what I needed to, did what I needed to, left behind both rapture and devastation and left on my terms. Each day felt like an inner concentration camp, gripping my soul and squeezing hard, crushing my will and slowly and steadily I became a slave to forces within beyond my control. I tried explaining this to you and if one person got me, it will always be you. But words are both spoken and unspoken and the latter always resides even after you think you’ve purged it all out. I felt like I was being a burden, a curse and a shame; thriving on my self-pity like a leech on blood; growing fat, drinking the blood of sorrow, and by and by I needed freedom and though I smashed the trapdoor with my fists, clawed at it even; it refused to open, and day became night and night became day and I lost sense of purpose like a walking cadaver doing his duty. But I kept at it, until fate wrung me dry of emotion, and apathy kills darling, but also gives a man courage. I didn’t want to fake love, to fake sorrow, to fake that you meant something long after my heart grew cold. I wanted you to mean something always because nobody else gave a damn, nobody else fucking cared. I’ll remember your touches and kisses if there’s an afterlife where sorrow lies defeated and we drink from the waters of beauty and rest on the shores of inner quietude. Now, I don’t expect you to understand. And even if you did, I don’t expect you to forgive me. I love you and though they’ll say, ‘He never meant it because love translates into action,’ and they’re right, I just want you to move on, to exorcise yourself of me, if necessary. If what I did is selfish, then use it against me, but let me go right there. If what I did is difficult, don’t try solving that puzzle. If what I did is cowardly, then remember me for being yellow and nothing else. I wish I could explain more but I can’t. I write this with dry tears and a dead soul and if that sounds harsh, remember me for being cruel and for not walking hand in hand with you, and breaking ‘forever and always,’ even though paradoxically you are forever and always.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Originally published in The Literati Mafia 

Abigail

Abigail and I walked to a ramshackle bar after her father’s funeral service. She wanted to get away from her mother and her brothers. She wanted to wallow in self-pity, and I guess she picked the introspective, brooding me because she thought I’d make a great companion and well…because misery loves company as the old adage puts it.

Paunched, sleazy cops and haggardly men with no purpose filled the bar. We ambled along to the counter where a man with a lopsided grin and a squint looked at us. Abigail wore a sari and didn’t look all that attractive, but that didn’t prevent the bartender from looking at her from top to bottom.

Abigail usually picked lounge bars or elegant restaurants, but both of us were short on cash, and so, we settled for this place where men belched, and masala peanuts were the only appetizers available. The acrid stench of the strongest and cheapest liquor overwhelmed us, but we braved it anyway.

We asked the waiter for two glasses of Old Monk and a bottle of Coke. We received our order in less than five minutes. That’s the only beauty of ramshackle bars in India. You don’t have to wait long for your order. Abigail suddenly decided to drink her rum raw and just gulped it down. She didn’t even look disgusted after she’d finished. I guess grief has a way of overwhelming us and killing what’s left inside.

‘He was the only one who truly loved me,’ she said, ‘The only person who stood by me despite me throwing my life away.’

‘I felt the same way when my mom passed, but even though the grief never subsides, you find a way to pull through eventually.’

‘Now, I’m left with a mother who hates me and two brothers who’re too young to understand deep emotion. She shields them from me, you know? She thinks they’ll end up becoming an addict like me if they hang out with me long enough.’

‘I don’t know what to say, Abigail. I’m a fucked-up person too. I threw away every opportunity fate gave me; handed it back to her like a spoiled, ungrateful child, and I guess that’s what I am: A man-child with zero sense of responsibility.’

‘At least your father financially supports you. I don’t have any support, and I can’t keep a job. Don’t you wonder what all this is about sometimes? The meaning of suffering and the final purpose? I’m tired of just going with the flow, but I can’t aim myself in any direction, and when I try, I’m more directionless than before. You get the drift?’

‘Yeah, I do. I think we fall into these inescapable patterns of recklessness that lead to the same tragic consequences again and again. I think it has to do with some deep-seated hurt that we suppress initially before bottling it up becomes unendurable, and it violently breaks free.’

Abigail looked at me with her brown eyes but said nothing. We never fancied each other even though there was a time when she couldn’t handle her mom’s incessant verbal abuse and lived with me for a while before her father took her back home. We just drank and did drugs then, just like we’d done over the years. We always opted for antihistamines and codeine. She got prescriptions from a friend of hers who was a doctor. We’d make sure we never visited the same medical shop thrice though. We made this decision after a pharmacist threatened to call the police if we ever visited his shop again.

Soon we were well into our fourth drink, and Abigail suddenly surprised me by placing her hand on mine and locking fingers. Grief does strange things to people. I wondered where our friendship would go if I gave in to her impulses. Will it end up in a garbage dump with the two of us feeling even more sorry for ourselves? Will a romantic relationship blossom? Will we go back to being just friends? I also felt guilty because she was replacing the bond we had with another more intimate one on the day her father died.

‘I can’t give you what you what Abigail, and besides, it’s the grief talking,’ I said and hastily removed my hand from the table.

‘We don’t love each other and we’ll never be attracted to each other, but let’s make an exception tonight. We’re both broken, and can never fix each other, but just this one night, please.’

‘Now it’s the alcohol talking. You need to stop. You can come to my place and sleep on the bed while I sleep on the couch. But that’s it. Besides, I have this on-off thing with Mary, and this is wrong, very wrong…’ I said, quite tipsy myself.

We managed to get to my apartment, wobbling and laughing randomly. Once there, we popped a few Avil, and soon we both had an ugly bad trip. We couldn’t laugh or suppress the pain anymore, and so, I just sat against the bathroom wall and looked up at the ceiling, a cigarette dangling from my mouth while she rested her head on my lap.

Suddenly, she plucked and threw my cigarette away and kissed me. I kissed back, and she led me to the bedroom where we got naked.

‘Are you sure?’ I asked her, ‘This feels wrong.’

‘Hush,’ she said and kissed me everywhere, and we soon made love.

I fell asleep and woke up, only to find her staring teary-eyed at me. I wept a little too. A maelström of guilt coursed through me, and I knew I had broken both our hearts; fractured them even more. I looked away and stared at the decaying cabinet, embodying all we were and all we were becoming.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Michelle

You were bold, too much for your own good,
and when alliteration, analogy, allegory, metaphor
and narratives within narratives failed, you
typed it out on Facebook plainly,
but black suits and white gowns
stay, extending but not reaching, deciphering
but not connecting, what’s circumstantial fades,
which is why you’ll find them drinking cherry-vodka
or whatever it’s called these days, tattooing themselves
with portraits of musicians who died for that very reason,
and getting a hundred likes for one post about pain,
from similar folks, saying, “I know how hard it is,
I go through it everyday,” I’m sure they do,
but you and I know what cripples
eats you alive, bit by bit, piece by piece,
never withholding or forgiving,
but I’m guilty too for not bothering then
and suppressing my pain, I’m guilty of not even sending
you a text though I had your phone number stored,
I’m guilty of avoiding those places, trapped in
a corridor of false youth, thinking it’ll lead to
a room with soft blue walls, a cushioned bed
to lie on, a multi-hued quilt that will comfort,
and opera to lull me into sleeping soundly,
but you know how circumstance becomes a
meta-narrative and you’re just a mote trying
to fight the omnipresence of suffering, and so
I think I did the right thing when I didn’t attend,
the same black suits and white gowns did,
fake-weeping, feigning, while your mother
who never cared did the same, and your father
who had no business being there, suddenly
bellowed, while they made you
look your best, the dark circles, and bloodshot
eyes gone, a beautiful soft blue dress covering
all your scars, and I’ll say now, that yes, I fucking
love you, but just not enough to go down
the way you did, and so, I’ll express myself
and let fate cut me into two with his axe,
everybody owes him that (whether they
admit it or not) and I couldn’t care less
about what they think or say because everybody
loves becoming somebody, or somebody else, or
everybody else, but you taught me enough to
just stay me.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

Dear Manisha

Yeah, I read some of your messages,
and hoped you’d go away,
but you keep coming back, urging
me to look at that website you started,
saying you created it just for me,
that our thoughts collide in
that parallel reality, that alternate universe
where you’ll always be mine, and so
I finally read through it, and all it
spells is a metaphorical clusterfuck of
who you’ve become, velocity running
through each line, but both positions remain
the same, a blurred vision of me years ago:
some bike, some café, some booze,
and it is divided by time alright,
seconds riddled with high blood pressure,
a perverted fiancé, visits to psychiatrists
who fit you into archetypes, and encourage
the shit you’re doing, and maybe Prozac
to lull you into not taking responsibility,
I never wanted to write this, but those
one liners I’ve sent encourage you,
make you think that it’s still him,
the stereotype who makes the girls swoon,
and if I were to shave my head,
grow a filthy beard, eat a bit until
I’m paunched and then meet you,
you’ll still say, “It’s him!
Just a little older that’s all,” and if I were to
tell a friend to pretend, jealousy will
kill you off, and so I’ll just be frank,
wielding that same figurative scythe you do,
what do you know about pain?
You’ve never watched a woman you loved
go through five stages of death, while she’s still
living, while you go through the five
stages of grief looking at her, the bloom in her eyes
withers, crushed with no fragrance
of forgiveness or remembrance,
and a death-spirit winter looks back,
fuel injected into arteries, the vomiting,
the need to survive, and the finitude of
what you can do, making you suppress
it all, before you smash glass and bleed
because you want to suffer with her,
and then pray with a hard heart, though
you know it’s hopeless, and then smoke
a pack, watch overtly sexual TV shows, and drink,
before quitting, but just moving
on lifeless, disoriented,
disconnected, distracted but with an apathetic
grit making the clock tick,
you’ve never watched your mother
grow frail, creaking joints, one climb
up the stairs, dislocating her hip,
and you just can’t be there anymore,
you’ve never watched your father weep
while he speaks, his lines soaking with
self-pity, that very voice a shriek
bursting your eardrum, until you just
finish your coffee, and walk away from a
ruined house he still haunts like
a ghost, just like you, so stop please,
I just hope this makes you realize that
you’re a messy mass, and you need the
speed of light (times two) that only
fate can provide, to get the energy to move on,
before you end up as lifeless as me.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)