The same reflection

This is an image of a person trudging through the mist. It represents the hard road we walk on, which is a central theme in my piece.

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.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Nathaniel and June (Part 1)

This is an image of the blue sky and the clouds. The picture is more complex than my depiction of it and I've chosen it because it depicts depth and intricacy to me. My piece is an intricate portrayal of a relationship.

Nathaniel was a man of quirks and eccentricities. He was a self-absorbed artist who spent his time brooding. He was once an idealist, but years of looking at Fate’s rugged, unwashed face threw him in a pit of nihilism. Nathaniel loved June but found it hard to express himself and make her feel loved and respected. He’d brush off her attempts at conversation with a nonchalant ‘hmm,’ or a ‘uh huh.’ He’d spend hours losing himself to his art though he’d given up on his dreams of getting published. He’d realized some time ago that the road he walked on was potholed, broken and covered with layers of dust and ash like a waltzing grey swirl caressing each contour of the landscape. But that didn’t keep him from writing and writing, chasing the will-o’-the-wisp, and revolving on that carousel of delusion.

His was a peculiar case. A case in which he had complete insight into his distance from reality, but made no effort to bridge the gap. A paperweight of unhealthy defense mechanisms had him trapped, and the swirling mass within the paperweight was slowly psychically and emotionally asphyxiating him, but he made no effort to pry himself free and find his own.

Now, there’s nothing in this world more fascinating than an intelligent fool, and by that definition, Nathaniel was the most captivating man in the world. He’d make the same mistakes and then find himself ensconced in a cocoon of guilt where he’d writhe in agony before purging himself of the unhealthy emotion and undergoing a painful metamorphosis of sorts. But unlike the Butterfly that dazzles us while it’s with us with its jubilance and effervescence, Nathaniel would regress again once he stumbled upon the same obstacles. But the truly fascinating aspect of all this was that Nathaniel knew his way around these obstacles, but was helpless in translating his ideas into action.

Nathaniel’s love for June bordered on worship. He believed that they were twin souls and that the loss of one will lead to the death of the other. But there were times when he despised her. He hated her when she didn’t conform to his vision of perfection and loathed himself more for hating her. If colors depicted emotion, then Nathaniel’s affection for June took the form of every hue. He sometimes burned red with passion, felt the green stab of jealousy, retreated to a blue ocean of calm when she was warm, nestled himself in pastures bold and green when he dreamed of brighter futures of togetherness, and thought in black while tears coated his cheeks when he dreamed of the harrowing reality they’d eventually face.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Onion

This is an abstract painting. I've used it to depict personality and identity because they have myriad layers to them. One can never truly comprehend another person fully.

He was odd, to say the least, and he would walk around hunched, with this peculiar gait that made him look like some wounded war-veteran who limped. He seemed so absorbed with himself, and I often wondered whether thoughts buzzed around inside his over-sized head like flies circling a pile of garbage. He had this effeminate way about him, but his voice was a rich baritone that reminded me of the Euphonium. It still shocks me that he took his own life because nobody really hated him, and some in fact nicknamed him “a man with a thousand reflections,” and wanted to get to know him better, to put together the hundred pieces that made him so unique, so that they could finally get a glimpse of the solved puzzle. Having said that, loneliness isn’t about being alone in a dimly lit room with a back against a wall, smoking a cigarette; it is being surrounded by different unique realities, or a hundred faces – each with their contours, pimples, wrinkles and facial hair (or lack of it) – and still seeing this thick impenetrable fog that threatens. Was he lonely? I don’t know, but then again what do I really know? I’ve lived with my wife for fifty years and even though she’s been so forthcoming, I think I’ve only peeled a few layers of the onion. Every man’s mind is a galaxy in itself, with ideas and constructs orbiting the core that makes him. Sometimes I wonder if he really was that complex, if he was really an instrument like the piano, with its tuning pins, soundboard, keyboard, bridge and case, or if he was just this hollow reed we mistook for a flute. The naïve often have this enigmatic charm about them that makes them so alluring, and makes us see them from all kinds of vantage points, thereby giving us a blurred reality. Maybe it was just us, looking through glasses, or a microscope when we should have seen him plainly for who he really was. Nonetheless, none of it matters now. He sleeps and with him rests an over-analytic mind that calculated the steps he took to reach the college canteen from the classroom, or an introspective one that told him that there was no escaping the frightening hands of fate; or a creative one that made him think that he was like a character out of a fantasy book: grey in every sense, or a simple straight forward one that couldn’t get past some obstacle, and hence caved in.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

The gravedigger’s son

This is an eerie image of a grave. My post is about a gravedigger who loses his sense of self because of the stress of his job, and I thought this image perfectly captures that.

I’m a gravedigger’s son,
the shovel and spade, nick
-snick-flick, earth as raw as putrid flesh,
movements and sequences, nick-
snick-flick, instinct, impulse, rationale, reason,
combining, conglomerating with each nick-
snick-flick, making my father weary,
and the eulogies for sons lost in
accidents, daughters dying of cancer,
got to him, and the fire and brimstone
spewed, unnerved, unsettled him, and
so, he drank and drank, and came home,
never abusive, but neglecting everything
and everyone, his surroundings a chorus
of the dullest beige, his song softer than
the mildest blue, his eyes red, his cheeks
crimson, giving no one, even a semblance of
green, and when he died, I took the spade
and shovel, not out of want but need, nick-
snick-flick, a slow monotonous cadence
settling in, standing in a corner, averting glances,
and then fine-tuned to them, the buzz and flow
of the traffic, the cacophony of horns
making no difference, nick-
snick-flick, coming home
to an aging mother, and a wife without
the alcohol and yet failing…falling short, nick-
snick-flick, each picture slowly turning
sepia and then a blurred black and white,
while everyone I knew or cared about,
or loved still breathes,
but is sadly dead to me.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

An ode to self

This is an image of myself with an overgrown beard. I've used it because my poem describes me as a shabby poet who's given up on life.

Walt Whitman, you shabby bastard, reincarnated
as a straight man with dying honey skin, teeth like
sorrowed Chiclets, bleeding yellow—a coward,
a hypocrite, a liar, a farce, a façade of a man,
speaking with an almost bass smoky voice,
thickened by the Indian accent, just like belly fat.

Does the rum give you solace, a harsh catharsis?
Do cigarettes & coffee give you an old school aubade?
Do the pills you pop give you a blurry epiphany?

Forever histrionic and theatrical—
a pitiful demoniac’s twisted, sick despair—
a drift between distress and the hysterical—
forever searching for a life that’s just and fair—

Your wife’s cuckolding you in the next room
while you search for answers reading books
you hear her moans, sighs and deep sobs
and a part of you is titillated, aroused and likes it

Oh Walt Whitman, you filthy bastard, going weeks
without a shave or a shower, walking to the cigarette
shop in the track pants you shagged in, and then
to the supermarket where faces turn because you
look like a beachcomber but have a credit card

Oh Walt Whitman, you dirty bastard, coming home
with three cans of Red Bull and then spilling it on the floor,
and then licking the floor and lapping it up like a dog,
before you’re frustrated and need your porn.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)