Meditation on air

Ink is bleeding a Rorschach image onto the page where text should be. (Why should there be anything? This is something. At least there is this.)

handmade marks meander, he shifts his eyes to old light and breathes, as is his habit, borrowed air stale since Socrates, warm as flatulence. At least there is air.

The eyes in his skull close, as is their habit. Darkness closes the cluttered earth, its supermarket bounty.

Outside, it’s as brutal. The heat has turned the tops of the fern dry, water staunched. Crisp and dead. But at least he is still here, here he is being … , how shall we say this? He is entering the stasis of existence. The inkblot. The stain. He repeats these words:

I am being, … being.

Iamb bean.

Eye yam bean.

Why yam bean?

And so it goes, on and on and on

anon.

Meanwhile, it is always mean while, outside there is now a clear full moon lit night and you can hear the crickets but not the continent rip away beneath your feet. They have always been doing that. The continents. The crickets pulse so loudly you feel their sound inside you and continents move apart so slowly you don’t notice till you look back and nothing has changed for so long it seems that you are an eighty year old dream in the head of a seven year old kid falling asleep on his grandfather’s lap that smells of Old Spice and chicken pie. At least there are memories.

Memory is the residue of being. We call its residence, Self. Like a shelf for the soul. A sole shelf. A shelf. Remembering is sad theatre. Theatre performed by one for ghosts, but its got soul. He wrestles his memories. They become stronger, become demons,make him a stranger to himself. At least he has himself. We doubt, and so we become. (That seems to be the way it happens) What we become is the mystery. Maybe the mystery is only a word to describe that point of surrender. Maybe we have always been that which we become. Becoming is a stripping away. Doubt does that. Life too. You can sit in one place and life will find you and strip you to the bone.

Dubito ergo sum.

That is it. I am in that.

That I am, is being. That I feel, is being. That I think, is this being applauding on and on, anon.

At least there is that.

But what is it? I may as well breathe.

The Sisyphus pearl

Sisyphus polished rage pearled purple

with

iridescent layers of loss rough to the

touch. He did not heave

some slipping century smoothed,

huge knuckle crunching boulder,

but bent double around a

pocket-sized

stone of perpetual despair, a

reminder of gone people, gone things.

And poets pocket the same stones,

picked up

after placid crowds or from river beds

and

gardens where they were kissed and

from

gravestones and deconstructed

walls.

Who of us who hold them now have

not

filled our pockets on walks by the

river?

But, we carry them and carry on.

Flash Fiction: Mike Scallan’s “The Minotaur’s Memoir” – O:JA&L

http://ojalart.com/literary-arts/fiction/flash-fiction/flash-fiction-mike-scallans-minotaurs-memoir/

Afterwards, after words … (Carmen)

After you left, we all leave but you left early, I cried. We all did. Only because we loved your company, the presence of your life. Even when you weren’t around we knew you were there, somewhere. Here, there … do you see how difficult it is to locate you now. I think you will always be here but I do not fully understand where here is. You did not always have to be in my presence to be here. Here is a place in the heart of my mind, where it hurts. Can we call that place soul? Can anyone ever leave there? What does it mean to leave? I know others I have loved who left but still remain here. The whole world is still out there but very little of it is here. I never doubt it is not there even though I only ever see a small part of it at a time. It shall be the same with you I think. Always. After you went towards away, afterwards, we found language had failed us. All these years of using it every day and then …

This is how it failed us. I want you to know how because then you may understand why the world went quiet after you left. It was strangely wordless. In the hour after we received news of your going the house was so quiet. We heard the fridge hum and I had never heard it hum that loud in daylight. I walked over to it to see if something was wrong. There was something wrong, but not with the fridge.

It fails me now as I struggle to shift letters into words into a form worthy of you and words simply cannot do that. But they are all I have. And we have a need to share these things, we humans. We want to get the words right. You are worth the effort and at some point I will cease the bending and reshaping of this imperfect language and hope they reach you somehow. Then we shall go back to being quiet and polish our memories of you. I think you will shine.

The memories we have of you only reach a certain point and then they stop. We were all counting on there being more. This is a normal expectation, please do not be angry with us for that. Anger will visit us all. We will feel cheated by your early departure. But then, how sad you must have felt. We are sorry. We wanted to be able to fix things, like the humming fridge. We wish you had hummed. Maybe you did but in the daylight and the noises that come with it, we did not hear. We are sorry. Sorry is the word we use when the pain rises in our chest and up into our lungs creating such pressure that the place where we keep our language shrinks and leaves only a few essentials, the residue of life. This is usually emitted as a low hushing sigh. It is more a sound than a word and we fear the sound of it because against the memory of you stretched like the sky around us it feels pitiful, banal. When you hear the sound please hear it as all the love we can gather in one place as an offering of ourselves to you.

The memory that lingers for me is a montage of moments. It is what all of our lives are destined to become,

and somehow these are greater than words. You taught us something of value, presence is a beautiful thing. When we are present we do not need words, Words come afterwards, and after words, there is the beautiful memory of presence.

Welcome to country

This country is in my blood father said. I refer to him now as father but even then struggled to call him by the usual names like dad, daddy or pa. I would wait in his presence until he looked at me, then speak. After he died talking to him became easier. My father, in heaven, hollow sounds your name … I had an aversion to names. I thought all children suffered like this to speak? Maybe they do? It was only in later years that I began to understand my struggle with names, once my own had worn thin. To name something is to establish one’s own identity in relation to that. It is to claim that as one’s own. As it was for my father so it is with country. Even now I cannot bring myself to claim it as mine. It is not my country. Father loved me, that is how I can call him mine. Countries cannot love, only the people around us that live in them can love. My family is my country. That I am is arbitrary. That I am that which I am on soil named one way or another is of no significance to me. Flags have always been an oddity to me. Fervour over teams and states something beyond the realm of logic. Flags, countries, patriotism, loyalty … these are cultural curiosities that detract from the more pressing issue of being and how to be as if one were hatched in an unnamed forest.

How does a country get into your blood? A country is after all just soil and blood is blood. Mud gets on your boots, blood leaks when you cut your skin. Men who murder mix “blood and soil”. Motherland, fatherland, no-man’s land.

In our search for identity, why is it we become obsessed with place. Does place form us? Perhaps. Are we not displaced at birth, from the warm confines of the womb to the world. Our first country is our mother, thereafter it’s just geography. Restlessness is the default setting of all human beings. We cling to a sense of place as a suckling baby clings to its mother’s breast.
My blood, the tissues and muscles of my body were manufactured from the water of the Suidkaap River, iron from the Makhonjwa mountains with probably some trace of gold that lay scattered across the valley and congealed in rich veins under the mountains. My father mined the gold, but that is a different story. The fruits that provided nutrients to me via my mother would have come from the orchards of Nelspruit and several trees in my grandparents home in Barberton. There was a Paupau tree, an avocado tree and a litchi tree. My body was manufactured in a beautiful valley in the hills of Mpumalanga. I am an amalgam of all of those atoms. Does my mind have an atomic structure? Is it composed of stuff? Does it matter?

Reared in the shadow of a police state my public body was weaned on the hard unloving tit of a fascist hag. I left that country and reside now in another, still displaced, with all of the papers to prove it.

I do not know this land. What does it mean to know a land anyway?

The new world order

The state of democracy.
The state of democracy.

Seven score and 12 years ago Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “government of the people, by the people for the people”. His social context was civil war and his political context was re-election. Nevertheless, we have adopted the cultural habit of associating individual freedom with the political structures of democracy. Furthermore, we tend to assume that the latter guarentees the former. But democracy has always been experienced within a firmly regulated space where the initial vision of egalitarian power has evolved into a mercenary political drive to ‘hold’ power.

Now, on the threshold of a new century, it is perhaps time to re-evaluate what democracy means to the average person. By average person I imply one of the ‘people’ for , of and by whom the above mentioned governance is meant to be administered. Those in power have always offered limited freedoms to appease the masses. The illusion of participation is a powerful opiate. In the age of social media this is especially true. Technology makes us feel that we are active participants in the world. Maybe we are? What is the alternative? What does personal liberty look like?

By the late Eighteenth century”Liberty”was represented as a lady in a toga. The bold, proud voice of seduction dressed in the cloth of imperial Rome. A woman in men’s clothing with enough cleavage to dispell any seriousness we might have in her ability to lead. A novelty perhaps? After about two and a half centuries it seems a lot of people are asking whether individual freedom has ever been taken very seriously at the level of governance. The daily bread of facebook, twitter and linkedin nourish the illusion of action. We tweet, ‘like’ activist pages and ‘sign’ petitions while chained to the cogs of the various systems that keep the engines of society churning. Maybe that’s enough and to expect any more is to be naive and hopelessly romantic? It begs the question, is democracy as an ideal flawed? Declining voter turnout (where voting is not compulsory), the emergence of the Occupy Movement since 2011 and the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America appear to indicate an increasing disenchantment with many aspects of the democratic process.

Democracy has everything to do with a political process and little to do with the condition of being human in the 21st century. Globally there is a tangible disenchantment with politics. The primary goal of politicians appears to be re-election and pandering to an electorate. People feel powerless because they feel that the influence of their vote is diminished by the very political process that promises to safeguard their voice. We just don’t feel that we are being heard. Political speeches sound like lip service, politicians appear contrived. Shirt sleeves rolled up, blue and red ties, dark suits for men, executive haircuts for ladies, … everything feels manipulated. Politics has always been a form of theatre, lately it resembles a farcical puppet show. That’s ok if that’s your thing. I suspect this is why people are more inclined to tweet than vote. Their tweets are read, their votes may be counted but do not appear to affect any meaningful policy. Democracy has become the realm of bureaucracy. To borrow from Winston Churchill, an interminable paper tray has descended between the people and their government. The box has replaced the voice. “Tick the box that ye may be heard” is the new world order. And don’t draw outside of the box, under any circumstances.

Perhaps the best that we can do is to bring all of the conviction we have about life and humanity to the square metre of space around our feet and then treat the people that come into this space the way we treat the world online. If we want to actively participate in the world we may practice our ideologies online, but if we do not act them out with the people around us we lack integrity. Then we are no better than the politicians who pretend to care while they fight for re-election.

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These streets

I have walked these streets before, but not here. I have seen these iron stairs, where fifty years of feet have cut the skins of paint from around a welded joint revealing contour lines of colour that expose bureaucratic flirtations with frivolity. Brave municipal souls signed off on yellow, cautious souls returned to gun metal blue, the current trend is industrial grey. These will be our Ozymandies, rusted steel and sky scraping nests where tomorrow’s scholars will speculate on the ritual function for those who travelled here with donations to their gods housed high above the ground in concrete slabs. What stories are layered here? Which hands have crafted this iron, placed it, cursed it, clung to it and from higher up how many displaced souls have jumped from it? How many commuters passed here in the morning with lovers at home and returned in the evening to unpacked cupboards? The metal stairs cut the sunlight into ribbons leaving only strips of shadow on the steaming tarmac below. I have seen that street dog. Wanted to be its friend but afraid it would bite, walked away before it could turn and leave me looking the fool. I have seen that dog everywhere. I have seen that beggar, heard the cock crow three times in every city. He gets around, that cockerel. I have felt eyes peel back my skin, make me translucent till i remembered no one cares and then become invisible again. Able once more to lose myself in the oil dispersing rainbows on wet streets where blues and purples run over greens with yellow nebula catching a trace of my current face. Here there is a long running symposium for lost souls. Everyone’s invited. There are always cigarette stumps stepped on and black from rubber and dirt, i have noticed them too, but not here. The smells are familiar. There is the occasional waft of rotting food carried in warm, nauseating currents fused with car exhaust fumes, excrement and fast food. When you smell these you hold your breath but cannot do that for long when you walk so you settle for short, quick inhalations and move to a busier road where gasoline and warm tarmac smells are welcome relief. I have seen the homeless man asleep on his cardboard, using a plastic bag stuffed with precious possessions as a pillow, but not here. The streets, the smells, the dogs, the people and the sounds follow me to Mumbai, Marakesh, Johannesburg, London, Beijing, Madrid, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Fremantle, Newcastle, Benoni and Jaipur. Perhaps i carry them with me. I used to yearn to travel. Strangers enjoy the greatest freedom. When you are unknown you can become anything. After two years you are invisible and people expect only the essentials from you, like breathing and presence.

Ode to an ash tray

Fellow vassel of need, honest companion,

We residue collectors, exiled together,

in this garden of earthly delights we incense air,

vassels of extinguished hope, heirs to the throne of desolation,

Vessel for the ash of my leisure

Little reminder of the end of pleasure

You hold my future,

Asher to ashes

It was fun while it lasted.

After the storm

Pick up and burn the dead birds

there will be more where they came from.

Turn over the pots blown down.

Sweep the scattered soil into the garden

(or a dust pan and discard)

Honour the dead by carrying on.

Pick olives and bottle them.

Next year the tree may be gone.

Sustainable love

all across the sky of today

I have stretched your name, even

on the impossible ocean

of tomorrow in foam

I flung you

for all to see,

 

and ceaselessly I corral my hushed

spirit onto the sand

in crashing rolls

of hello.

I say I love you still forever so

go down to the beach and hear

Quod sine litteris regem (ode to trump)

Heaving carcass  dragger

Unhilted gemstone strewn dagger

Flab with swagger, not moving like Jagger

Bloated by ingested self deception 

god by his own projection (unfake)

Give him a Faustian reception. (Loud applause)

Malevich at midnight

There are low hanging clouds tonight. They look like steam. The city cooks us all, devours us and you wouldn’t know it but for the likes of me so I will do my bit for the illusion of progress and mimic the ritual of success. I will move without purpose. I will begin now, here, by standing. No one likes a reclining dude in the city, except if it’s lunchtime in a park and you have expensive shoes and unholy socks which display to everyone that this is a deliberate rest and not a stupour, not a cry for help or the decline of a once respected soul. Steam clouds, ice cream clouds, I scream at clouds. I feel like a hot turd meting out my miasma. People look for clouds during lunch break or smoke break but who notices clouds at night? Vagrants and poets thanking God for the cover of darkness, cursing him for the cold but grateful the noisy city workers with their high heels clakking, their cappucinos, their $500 suits and dresses have gone home to give the city dwellers some peace. Hope Malevich comes by tonight. I want to show him my black square of night, just behind you between the bank and the hotel, the road and the billboard.  If you look up from where I am now there’s a perfect square of sky. I only see it unblack for a short time before sunrise, before the arrival of the masses, the walking dead as my mate Jude and I call them, the one’s who think they are safeguarded by their suits and distance from the bitch of bad timing and one more for the road. We catch you sneaking glances like the buildings catch the sky between loathing and compassion depending on how your day has gone so far. See the disgust in your eyes, the same looks i avoid in shop windows. The streets are a hall of mirrors at night. We’re all passing through, but we pass variously.

It’s official!

Oh fish all

Oh fish will

Awfish all

Offish will

Off fish ill

All fish are ill

So be it.

The executioner’s voice

It is said she burned with holy passion. I do not know. I know she burnt. It is said that flames purify the soul. Hell must be free of blemish. It is said she heard saints speak. I hear voices. Who speaks i do not know. She heard them before she burned to a crisper version of her former self. Voices. She scared us because we hear them too. But we fear fire more. We impure ones. She spoke too freely. Damn her. There are things we know to be true and there are reasons for the great silence. We all have voices, thoughts. The voices. If you knew what mine said. It is said she was loved. It is said they respected her. Still, they watched her burn. Is this what burning love is? They must have heard the wood crack and spit back her fat. Some were sickened as they salivated at the familiar smell of roasting flesh. I always notice the one who vomits first. I want to say to him: What did you expect?  A spiritual cleansing at the spectacle? A symbolic demise? No mess? The devil in a cloak to descend with her? No. He ascended an hour ago to take up his seat next to Beaufort and Cauchon. They who commanded I do my duty. With their mitres and gold they cross us. Their light. Let the games begin. I do not hate them. The heretics i burn. It is theatre. I am an entertainer, the hand of God. I am the distance between their thirst for blood and the blood. I am the interregnum. They demand satisfaction, protection, justice. But not one will step forward to do the work that delivers it. They are not bad people. They are spectators. They are mostly ordinary. Ordinary spectators hoping the warmth will pass on a degree of purity. She burns for hearing the voices of saints while dressed as a man. Heresy. Hear say, here see? It’s not her we kill but thinking. Thinking is a voice and now we fear it. Tonight we will all sleep speaking prayers to drown out the voices. They, I … I burn her. I release her soul and I lose mine. I have earned the right to say these things having despatched souls for twenty years.We are mostly all ordinary, the burners and the ones who burn. These are the two types of people in this world; those who burn and those burnt. The pure and the purified. Only gold holds back the flames. To hold gold others must burn. We must eat and they hold the gold. I think of today as an exchange. They are buying the security of purity and the soul is a weighty substance. None dare burn those who burn others. They are exempt from the fire, for they are the voice of  God and are jealous of other voices. Will it not always be so? 

We must be careful of voices, even our own.

 

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Geoffroy, Rouen,  30 May, 1431.

Long distance loss

Physical distance seems to amplify feelings of love and loss. In this world of instant everything we learn the hard way that live video chat does not substitute a relationship. It’s why books beat e-books, vinyl beats i-tunes and why a warm hug beats electromagnetic, pixelated internet talk. But, video chat is better than none. Sound waves beat no waves. Physical proximity may foster contempt. We take for granted who is closest to us, we expect them to be there always, like the stars and the moon. Then life happens and strips us clean of certainty. When you experience loss at close quarters it’s awful. Loss with the separation of oceans is numbing and with little to hold onto we clench our fists and breathe the hurt deep down into ourselves. There is nowhere else for it to go. This is the migrants lot. Three of us in our small circle of friends have each lost a parent. We have had to co-ordinate visits with relapses in health and where travel used to be about seeing new places it has become about saying goodbyes, seeing up close the people we love whom we know we shall never see again. When a mother or father we love dies, we are physically and emotionally stranded and loss is amplified by guilt and regret. We new it would be hard, and it is.

Death is only one of the difficulties of migration, forging new identities is the other. We embrace the new country that has opened itself to us while mourning the one on whose soil we were born. We should be accustomed to death when it comes. We have practiced loss. But losing people is not a rehearsal and proximity does not ease the pain. Near or far the distance death cleaves between us is interminable. Maybe the pain of it for us trans-continental mourners is that we mix into our grief the echo of the migrants chorus ” you ran away”, ” you took the easy way out”. However, I remember it was a slow walk. The slowest of walks, almost a shuffle. We all run, it’s only the direction that differs. Some run forward despite the cost, some run backwards, despite the cost.

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