Shoeshine Timmy

This is an image of a man pushing a boulder while he's climbing a steep slope. I chose this image to parody optimism and herald realism. My poem does the same.

Shoeshine Timmy lived in a brownstone
near vacant parking lots, and a street lamp
that sputtered measly light on potholes
riddled with garbage and acid rain.

He lived beneath black starless skies;
prayed to a god who’d jilted him
and thought of Carla who’d married his brother
in the summer of ninety-eight.

‘Be thankful for each blessing,’ a thought said
‘Wake up, seize the day!’ Another yelled
‘Fight! It’s a new day!’ A third whooped
And Shoeshine Timmy muffled his cries
And listened to the same encouraging lies
And I doubt he’ll stop until he’s dead.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

3 Eulogies and the Truth

7.00 am. The cold mist tragically doesn’t complement my best friend’s passing. It breaks my heart that he went down the way he did. Reality is often something venomous for a few tortured souls, who try to find an antidote through art and expression, and that he did, in ways unfathomable. But the anguish that resided in his heart, his conflict over matters of faith, and his affliction were a cross that I tried carrying with him, but it crushes me that it eventually broke him. Now, I suffer with this burden I’ll have to carry alone, knowing that I’ll never hear my brother’s voice again, and it’ll haunt me that I’ll carry this feeling of not being there enough, and my tears won’t do that justice. I’m sorry my friend and brother. I hope you find rest and solace that life with its labyrinthine paths that we’re forced to walk, often in a catacomb of despair, never gave you.


7.30 am. I’m broken beyond belief. I loved him and I know he loved me. Our relationship was two years of bliss, cut short by his spiral into madness. I wanted to stay by his side through it all, but he was a noble man, who said that he didn’t want me losing my sanity and integrity, fighting with him. I was heartbroken, but I respect him and I still love him. Some of us are kind and loving, but the inner pangs of terror and angst we go through make the word ‘hell’ a euphemism. I’ll never recover from this, and I know that some day, I’ll see him in an eternity where we’ll smile having fully transcended these ephemeral squalid conditions life imposes on us. I still am shocked that he took his life, and that grief will forever stay and perhaps be the end of me.


8.00 am. Our friendship was one that lasted since school. We grew up, playing football together and I still remember his wonderful Cryuff turns. He was very good at it. I remember his love for sport, his love for reading and his love for writing. I don’t know much about his anguish in his later years, because he led a very solitary life, and I couldn’t get through to him. We once got drunk, and played football one on one like old times, and that was the fondest memory I’ll have of him. I hope to cherish that and forget this incident, but I know I’ll never be able to.


Outside time and space. So Raj, you’re here and you’re delivering my eulogy too. I asked Death for one favor before I’m sent to where I must be, and that was to see the charlatans who show up, talk and fake mourn. You call yourself my ‘best friend’, and you knew more about my condition than most, and yet you never reached back, when I reached out. My tears fell on a dusty ground never heard by a silent ‘best friend’ and a silent God. And why do you even use the word ‘cross’? That’s a cliché these days. Everybody carries a cross, don’t they? You say you weren’t there enough, but you know you were never there. A friend in school, a friend in college, when things were okay, or a friend after college when we were both down, getting stoned, and hunting for work. But then you disappeared. You kept saying, “We’ll catch up sometime,” but when did we ever catch up? You met everybody else who was doing well, but avoided me like something ‘venomous’ to use your own words. You have a penchant for metaphor though; I’ll give you that.

And Clara, love? Really? It was a relationship based on visions of who we’ll become, and in that sense we both fucked up. You never called me noble when I lived. Hell, irritable, pathetic, foolish, and ‘never in my league’ were a few terms I heard. And you left, and then tried getting back, before leaving again, and now you talk about a common suffering: a ‘we’. You never knew my reality, and will never know it, and you claim to empathize, and hell, go one step further and say that you lived it. Life didn’t impose anything on you when I called you from an institution, and you were too busy skinny-dipping to even bother. I needed a friend, but it was the usual, “I’m busy,” and then you called later when you were down and I was kind. And now you want to transcend a life of nirvana and reach what? Something above joy and bliss? You’ll wash your face tomorrow, and get back to your life. You’ve transcended already, so why even bother dancing to the rhythm of a black parade.

And Ishmael. Friends? Really? Well, you bullied me, and you never let me perform Cryuff turns then. You called me a nerd and despised me, and loved my life falling apart, and then didn’t bother about me. I’m glad you never called though, and I’m glad we got drunk that one day, and I absolutely schooled you on the field, leaving you angry and jealous, but unable to intimidate me like you once did. And, if that’s your fondest memory, I’ll smile.


© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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Touching the horizon

So, some exceptionally intelligent, middle-aged mad scientist, and trust me they live on the other end of the spectrum, and we tortured artists don’t normally converse with them. Hell, I’ve broken the fourth wall already, but does such a thing really exist? Anyhow, I digress, so this man spent hours trying to find a way to time travel. But he fell short each time, and ultimately frustrated and disillusioned, he did a little LSD and had an out-of-body experience of sorts, and when he recovered, he jumped out of his hospital bed, pulled off the tubes they’d attached him to, and ran around the hospital, slightly bloodied, in his gown screaming, “Eureka!” They planned on putting him in the nuthouse, but ultimately refrained.

He eventually came up with a hypothesis, which became a theory and ultimately reality. He’d discovered the multiverse. Now, for each possibility or dream that a person had, it manifested itself as another self in another parallel universe. And he also discovered a simple method of traveling from parallel universe to parallel universe which involved the on or off pitch singing of a few Gregorian chants into some complicated device, which vaguely resembled a microphone, and which I don’t know much about, since I’m not the omniscient narrator.

People were excited to meet their other selves, and find other universes: some primitive, some advanced. The multiverse, however, turned out to be a cosmos and not chaos. How? You ask. Do possibilities have a mind of their own? Is chance something? Well, sod off. Like I said, I don’t know. Anyhow, I digress again. Cracks knuckles. Soon, the multiverse started eliminating all other selves, and kept just one it thought was ideal. It did keep the civilizations though. Why? Leave me alone, already! So our dear professor faced terrible criticism, death threats, and lawsuits, and he decided to give up on people and save his own life. His paranoia and uncertainty did help make his decision. So he moved from parallel universe to parallel universe murdering all his other selves. Finally, exhausted, he found an old cabin in the mountainside, and an old man opened. He asked for a glass of water. After he drank it, he found himself slipping in and out of consciousness. And just before he died, he remembered his adolescent dream of settling down someplace idyllic, and watched as the old man howled in laughter.

But the age difference doesn’t make sense, you say. Bah! Go get a life, already!


© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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A portrait

Well, I’ve known him from school and I’ll admit that he was natural. He did win a writing competition besting me with the sharpest prose. But later, he quit writing altogether and took to another field that never suited him. A field filled with theocratic therapists and pseudo-scientists trying to decipher cryptogenic minds with cryptic jargon, and abstract laconic sentences: Wrestling with creativity and trying to stuff it into a box, before crumpling it and tossing it into a wastebasket of indifference. I guess that got to him, because he couldn’t fit into one particular genre of ‘thought’ and he eventually quit, picked up a pen and started writing again. But doggerels of years, forced him to re-learn all that he’d forgotten, and I guess in that sense he taught himself how to write. The irony was that he sat in the patient’s chair, listening to a therapist prescribing him with machine gun doses of anti-depressants, anxiolytics, mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics. He initially speckled his poetry with the softest tears of naïvety, but I’ve learned now that he is his biggest critic, his biggest judge and that might be both an axe and a box of treasures. He eliminated his writings once he got popular, tried getting off the medication, and tried religion, but a certain doctrine from Geneva haunted more than it ever saved. And then began a period in his life which no hermeneutic will ever explain. I mean, if you need a guide to try to decipher the Cantos, then books or quotes will never suffice interpreting him! The last we met, I was balding, struggling with similar side-effects (albeit to a lesser degree) and I tried setting him up with a girl who was seven years older. He said, “I’ll think about it,” and that right there is the problem. He did date her eventually, but he probably thought twice before making love to her, and wondered if passion will lead to something that lasts or if it will fizzle out. And so, he gave up on her, and thought about everything, except when he wrote, because then something strikes like lightning, and it just spills on a page, a verbal vomit that strangely has structure, but I guess it’s better if he thinks and pours out syllables on a page, stringing together alliteration, drawing from every other eclectic source, and the suicidal aspects of his own life, because when he ghosts away, that’s when he suffers the most. I mean that’s when he gives into utter madness. He once walked on the street at two in the night, tried gouging out his eyes, stepped on thorns, and came back home completely befuddled and disoriented. He thought it was penance. Fortunately, some slight wand of fate always prevents him from going the distance. And then he’s back to writing, stitching together pieces, and it seems like each time he disappears and comes back, he gets better at what he does. I always thought sorrow is the muse that makes a few, but I guess I’m wrong; it’s inner torture. And from what I read, I thought his writing parallels Perrin Aybara’s life, very moralistic and will go to any length for art, but it doesn’t. It’s definitely not Matrim Cauthon because you won’t find him frequenting bars and writing bard poetry, even though he says that’s his favorite character from the series. No it’s Rand, starting naïve, and then judging himself and letting his anger flare though each line, before finally struggling to break free, and walking into a new age. But then that’s a series. I think by now everybody knows that artistry and life are disconnected. But strangely you have Facebook pages devoted to pulling a quote out of context, with a picture of a person falling from the sky, and benighted criticism is something that the world now says, “Be Knighted!” But the truth is this, when you’re young and your writing is an imitation, the mature poets will pat you on the back, and when you’re good and flipping reality, they’ll hate you. I guess I’m flipping a quote out of context by T.S. Eliot myself! Anyhow, he’s back on his medication, and writing to survive, and I read from a distant land with a wife that I often hate, and a son that I love, and I’m glad as long as he thinks and reads and thinks, and then writes, because if he vanishes, I’ll have to call immediately and find out that he’s done something terrible to himself again, and I don’t want that.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2017)

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