Unread

Our story is
Just everyone else’s
We start slow like a pinball circling
The edges of the abyss, before
Plunging headlong into the
Deep

Our story is
Not just anyone else’s
Written and rewritten
Encounters in unbound
Manuscripts lying unkempt
In the untended shelves of
Memory. Like lines leaning
Against each other, we were
Unparalleled.

We wrote for
No one but our eyes
Our last chapter is spilt
Ink gently tracing the outline
Of an embrace hand-drawn
Vodka-stained and trembling
At an unseen corner of a
Sunday night

Our story is
None of the
Tired tragedies
We read in a language
Not our own, but pages of
Forbidding conjectures now
Torn away to leave
Nothing but an

Epilogue of
Stolen glances and silent
Knowing looks
In between the covers
Of our books.

Unvisited Rooms

“We only become what we are by the radical and deep seated refusal of that which others have made of us.”
Jean-Paul Sartre, in the introduction to Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

“I’m a man without conviction
I’m a man who doesn’t know
How to sell a contradiction
You come and go
You come and go.”
Culture Club, ‘Karma Chameleon’ (1983)

Self-fashioning was once a pastime that came so easily to me—the way a bumbling toddler stares his reflection down in the mirror, points a pudgy finger at the other pointing back, sputtering in a tone half-jubilant, half-confounded: ‘Me’. In words, the contours of my consciousness ebbed and flowed intuitively, like waves lapping and shaping the shore of a hidden bay. Sure, there were moments when inward tempests tore at the swaying peripheries; but at the heart of being was an enduring rootedness—an oaken defiance.

Now, after the wearing on of years, like gears well-oiled and unthinking, I find myself forgetting. What is frightening is not so much that I rarely do any meaningful self-inquiry these days, but that I often catch myself existentially disarmed—in a kind of unmindful trance-like performance.  The execution of social scripts becomes an almost mechanistic procedure by design—all the right words in all the right places. In between professional chores and the erosion of social pressures, the once variegated colour of a being in becoming has been washed out, so that it has become what it is—an absent-minded simulacrum.

I can no longer view myself at once as a coherent totality; there are always parts shaded, shadowed, and eclipsed. There are regions that resist investigation; or am I seeing with eyes that are not my own? I grope sightless in a room unfurnished to my touch; but at the fringes of my vision, I recognize the curves and angles of unfamiliar silhouettes—there, but refusing to be seen or known. Now willful un-knowing has become unconscious forgetting.

When I do squint and try to remember, the endeavour becomes an exercise in self-alienation. Oscillating between discovery and despair, there is a dis-pairing of the thinking subject and thinking object—like an existentialist project gone awfully and paradoxically wrong. What happens when the scientist turns the microscope on himself, or the astronomer, the telescope? When the light of inquiry falls on the inquirer himself, he begins to notice the once imperceptible hairline cracks creeping across the surface of his own image. Closer inspection reveals swathes of insurmountable distance: an echoless universe residing in the epistemological gap between knower and known; this uncharted, unlit continent that resists geography; a history that refuses to be written.

As I try to make sense of these shadowed alleys with their labyrinth of twists and turns, I begin to recognise that I no longer know myself as I should. I am no longer the Daedalus who knows by heart the idioms of his own creation. I do not know in which forgotten room I have left my quietest thoughts, or which book hides the words I could not say long ago. And after all this rumination, I cannot even describe—in a voice truly my own—the ghost that haunts this body. It is here, invisible in plain sight.

Has the light in this house gone out, or has someone drawn the blinds?

A Forgetting

“Why do you think you are missing something you never had?”
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club (1989)

I can’t quite pin this feeling down, but I know it’s been around for awhile—the lingering shadow of a leaf withering to the ground, in mid flight, on the draft of a wet Thursday monsoon. The rain blears the eyes—the lens of a camera out of focus. I listen to the sound of damp crickets, leaping in a careless canon through my open window—a mistuned string orchestra. I feel strangely absent.

I know I must write. I just don’t know why.

Years ago I told myself to write to speak—to speak past the meandering labyrinth of metaphors and metonyms and into the arms of a clearing in the lightless woods. The song would pierce the night.

Years later I know I have not spoken yet.

How do I outspeak the silence, when reason and rhetoric outrun my meaning? And all the time—out in the white noise of the world—I forget. It is too easy to slip into prefabricated gloves that fit so snugly, like second skin. Sometimes you forget there is something less invisible beneath the threaded fiction.

At times like these, I write to remember.

The Prodigal Son

I return again to the writing table—not out of habit nor boredom, but out of necessity. These days, the act of writing has lost its novel glimmer, and instead clads itself in a kind of dull, utilitarian mantle. I visit this virtual abode only because I mean to fly from elsewhere—somewhere. No longer do I write to calibrate the metaphorical microscope, nor to tune the melody in that Orphean instrument. Not to make sense of the senseless, nor to ponder deeper, metaphysical questions—why something exists or not, or what form its existence takes—to scour the roof of my mind for answers in the lines of stars. I only see before me the smouldering embers of this once uplifting enterprise.

Still I return again to the writing table in two parts: the first as a whole soul—one conscious and sentient enough to pen thoughts into words; to sculpt and direct reason in a form palpable and tangible for another’s (or my own) eye. I come also in the second—a terrible wreck of a man whose inner paradoxes threaten to tear apart that fabric of quiet sanity. There is so much to be thankful for, and so much more to be hateful, resentful, vengeful towards—all exasperatingly embodied in one who sees little reason and seeks little comfort in divinely sculpted effigies, physical or otherwise. Humanism does leave one feeling human in the most visceral, alienating sense. Yet this is no longer a theological cry in the dark—it is a coming to terms with the silence after.

So I once again return to the writing table, this time trying my hardest to be less periphrastic, a little less avoidant; all this time I’ve be skirting in ellipses, drawing concentric circles that have become my own prison—layered and surrounded by metallic metaphors playing guardians and jailors. As I claw at the recursive rails of my own language, there is an almost overwhelming sense of semantic futility—I can never give voice to this shapeless void pulsing at the very heart of being; and here I once again slip into fantastical figures of speech—how can I ever escape to speak?

Faultlines

door-light2

‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.’ (Jean-Jacques Rousseau)

Daylight leaks in through the door-gaps,
And from my secret cell I spy
The world without—

Love
On a weatherbeaten park bench
A tangle: her slender hand on his hips,
His careful grasp gently clasps
The slope of her petite shoulders
Holding her like the roses
On a wedding bouquet.

Two bodies drawn together
Lock and key—they let no light through
Unlike these confounding cracks:
Faultlines sprawling unseen
A fractured
Labyrinthine self.

Sometimes behind these whitewashed walls,
I knock, but there is no answer.
In this unvisited room, the pictures hang
Unframed, unhinged. Faces of
Unsung first loves, tentative glances:
Yes, no, if, maybe. On these walls love itself
Becomes hypothesis.

When they do fling open these doors and peer in
Searchingly, looking for something they say I have
Lost—they find nothing, just as they should.
The light that floods in drowns me
Invisible.

It is nearly night now, and I am finally
Faultless again.

Bodies of Evidence

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
H. P. Lovecraft

I’ve been sitting here on a cold Tuesday evening for the past two hours with words that I have written and rewritten, and still the page remains a bleak, whitewashed canvas. The trappings that now streak gingerly across this desolate waste are all I can afford; I send them to their doom—nomads in the middle of this silent sahara. There is no doubt an urgency to write—this gnawing anxiety at things undone—after remaining silent for so long. But I fail to speak, again. A thousand thoughts swirl and converge in a raging tempest, but its updraft cannot raise the dead in the most literal sense. These are the dead-weighted corpses of those who have wandered and lost their way in the boundless dark—they are strewn in solitary lines, and their bones litter/letter the blistering tundra. The dead—they say, but they do not speak.

Perhaps it is because this place has been given to the public eye/I of late. I mean, it certainly has always invited visits and stopovers from the wandering reader, but recent developments (read: school) have reminded me of how much I dislike my writing being read for all the wrong reasons. My words supplement my Self—it re-presents it, it does not make it present. All writing is belated in the simplest sense. Every Self-in-writing dies with writing. Consequently, I am never the person I write as. The last thing I want is for my words to misrepresent me just because they have been misconstrued by those oblivious to who the ontological Self is. I can control the prose I craft—their cut and quality, shine and contour; but I am powerless over the gaze of the one who spectates—this is the portion of all writers, I think. So as much as I wish to remain authentic (in the existentialist sense) and true to my principles, there is a precarious line between honesty and exposure—especially when conflating them may engender repercussions across other facets of life, from fleeting inconveniences to more insidious hearsay.

Words are dead, yes. But they remain the bodies of evidence.

K(no)w North

“Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
So when or you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.”
Robert Herrick

I sit here in my room, on an unusually quiet Friday morning—55 minutes past the midnight of Thursday—trying to make sense of where I am, and what I am doing. For a moment in time, past, present, and future seem to me a single sea, and my consciousness this broken vessel drifting—broken, but drifting. A ship always has a captain at its wheel who, like the spinning compass that knows its North, steers his bark back home, into safe harbour.

But this ship has no captain.

Or else the captain is slumped against the walls of his quarters, either drunk or dead—no matter. The wheel, untended, turns with the sea; a spinning top on liquid glass, circling left, circling right. Sometimes in the infinite placidity of that starlit ocean—against the deafening silence of hushing wavecrests—one hears the felling of whiskey bottles, shattering glass shattering the nocturne.

***

How can we speak of something that refuses to be heard—tucked away in the fibre of forever, at some nondescript, inscrutable corner of space and time? If a bottle falls from a displaced table on a keeling ship plying the plane of eternity, and crashes on the timber floor with the tempest of a thousand cymbals—but no one is there to hear it, does it fall? Does the ship keel? Is there a ship? Is there an ocean?

Yes, there is—in the hollow of your mind, the reader, as it appears now. A rogue current nudges the vessel. It swoons a little, and a bottle grates against the grooves of an unfastened table—it falls, it bounces into a shower of errant shards. You hear the crash, too.

***

So sail on, you little ship—sail, because the sea is your harbour. And as long as your untended spinning wheel spins with the swoon of the sea, wherever you go—there you will be.