Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2018  Vol. 17 No. 2
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Since I needn’t be true to myself, I can be true to you. I’ve accepted the dull contours of my life, the misshapenness, the frivolity. I can laugh at its brutal comedy. Luxuriant plumes of smoke, thick scrolls, blank air; reeking of bile, the stupid mouth of someone you love. I was once a mermaid, now a drowning Ophelia; the willow grows aslant a brook, the brook babbles; the unconscious is shaped like a mouth. The mouth was dank, a purple wart peeping into the crevice. The mouth was a moon, a crescent moon, crackling in the sun. I think of you often.

Dearest F.: I promised you a tie. I am wearing your grief like a smile, bravely. The unlovely streets welcome me—the orange strumpets in their black cloaks. You jump. I jump. I am trying to reverse the active-reflexive-passive trajectory: I now let myself be seen. There’s some agency in it, some deliverance. Peat-based compost and dappled light for mother’s begonias. The woman comes and stands by my door, then the cat topples the bin, then the boy crosses his arms and grins; I don’t know what I should do anymore.

A speckled mirror, the lozenges and mathemes; I stand waylaid, distracted. Desire staves off anxiety; my windows gather dust. To a very bad place / the wanderer has arrived. The feigned indifference of “I don’t particularly care” unguards me. Pay close attention to the waste that surrounds you—the sooty ceiling, the stained coaster, my shriveled feet, once beautiful, now socked. I anticipate your return and drink to our mutual loneliness like Akhmatova at the banquet of death.

A shriek rends the air; the child wants more and more love. My unfaithful memory eclipses your history, our shared history. I was waiting under the withering white sky / of humiliation; he was late. I do not feel safe, and I remember. The other side of the town is peopled, merry; here in the bowels we squat, we wait. We are always waiting for a miracle, for the ice cream truck, for the milkman, for the rat exterminator. The cats romp around, sleek and distrustful.

I weary of myself, of you. You must not punish me for an occasional slip; the silence is enduring. I go out for a walk; we’ve run out of eggs. The selfsame nocturnal rumbles, only muted. “My dear child, if it goes on like this, your head will soon be as bald as your buttocks.” The dreamer was characteristically unhappy and swore off cream biscuits and poetry altogether. I am one of Auden’s violent dogs in bacchic fury.

Dear, dear F.: we make a scarecrow of the day; the boys scrambled on the parapet in search of the lost kite and I was humbled, I bit my lip. I could quote “Canzone” in entirety, I am so moved. When the taxi pulled into the porch, there were two men. The one riding shotgun eyed me from under his cap. I was much amused, a little frightened. Once prized (like a fat goat at the Eid market under the flyover), now banished from remembrance.

The dome of pleasure, to use the hyperbole, was tinted blue; three nights in disjunction and I was weeping. The poems no longer come to me. Perhaps they never did. Like Sue, I don’t even have the consolation of pride anymore, or poetry. Underlined in faded blue ink—the sexual impulse-excitations are extremely “plastic” (property of MKH, circa 1956). The unsatisfactory termination of an affair; vent your stifled rage. I withdraw simply, like Punin on a chilly December night: It’s finished. I left as easily as usual, not broken and in no way upset. But my heart was weary, as if I had swallowed poison.

With my bare hands, I bury the skeleton of human love. Naturally the bluish tint takes forever to fade off; I am at the mercy of men in cold countries drinking rum in stained tumblers. They punched in the numbers, and while I was waiting, a gargoyle spewed water all over me; I was drenched. The crafty little bastards. We walked past an old lady who grimaced and got into a car. Then she drove off. In my abject loneliness, I reach out to you and suffer my fate. What is this? Who did I choose in my blindness—Hyperion to a satyr? The ghost sits on the tablet and weeps.

The loving mother waits for her daughters, the valuable assets albeit a little tarnished. The father, humiliated, creeps away. He inquires after the gun license every Tuesday. I’m afraid I might choke on my vitamin pills; what is it that you want for dinner? Of course, we’ve run out of potatoes. Dr. B. peered out of his purple glasses, twitching furiously: I’m afraid I can see only ten patients per day. Who is it that cooks for you again? My body rejects me.

Dearest F.: You needn’t bother; the promised land of conjugal bliss is not for me. In the book, they call it Perugia. Anna Wulf is talking to me; the discourse flags. She calls her novel a treatise on suicide. I fold and unfold the bedclothes, face the condescension of crows at daybreak. I lie down, sit up, cross and uncross my ankles, lie down again. In a sense of personal being lies / A child of earth’s happiness, concludes Zuleika.

I have a prudent soul; it acknowledges rejection as an omnipresent threat. Here comes the next commandment: Make a labial proffering of love or forever hold your peace. There’s effrontery in it anyway. I’m telling you this in absolute secrecy; I’m telling you this in confidence: I’m not ready for repentance / Nor to match regrets. Important reminder to self: Be nicer to A. This is how O’Hara puts it: Writing is an art of constructive exploration, akin to love.

Dear, dear F.: How quotidian you are in your sympathies, very crass. “Don’t put out like that!” I wait for the second coming, most placid; I am patient and small. Self-definition necessarily precedes self-assertion. And so we laughed, and it might have ended there, but I went on, talking of individuation. You were a sailor, driving the ship through a storm; I was tied to the pier. A message from my mother: I am getting fat no work only eating.

To the dog in Danapur Cantt.: You were orange, like a bluebird’s mouth, and grotesque. I liked you. Something in me exploded at the sight of you; the cowardice in your limpid eyes, that soft territorial pride. The night was lush, and I urged the woman to put out the leftovers for you. You and I, in cahoots, conspiratorial, exchanged a swift glace—each in her own mangy coat—(13th or 14th of October, private notebook).

Lacan on Antigone: “She is omos.” We translate that as best as we can by “inflexible”. It literally means something uncivilized, something raw. And the word “raw” comes closest, when it refers to eaters of raw flesh. That’s the Chorus’s point of view. It doesn’t understand anything. Elsewhere, lamentation: “I cannot understand: I love.” I nod sagely, in agreement. Love is incomprehension. Hâtem responds thus: Of all the bliss earth holds for me / I in Zuleika find the sum.

A verdict: Those who leave nothing behind cannot be missed for long. In a cramped, unventilated car, bodily smells exhaust me; my own body dry and antiseptic. The dolorous night swings by, turbaned on a scooter, in a city of dust and mute exchanges. A favorite-in-passing, a part of an intermediary town: an old house and an ancient tree shaking off its leaves. The continual threat of falling objects, a steaming bonnet and inexperienced drivers; cars frighten me.

Dearest F.: You are neither object nor occasion for desire; you merely happen to fall in its trajectory. I do not have red hair, but I eat men like air too. My thirteen-year-old self feels the same—deep eddy (whirlpool) of pain / love incarnate. Rice mills and saffron walls; skeletal trees frozen in naked helplessness, bleached white by headlights. The dizzying sprawl of the city, one enormous ruin lost in progression. Write something about the trees, the sky embroidered by treetops like the gray chador at the bazaar. Write something about the trees.

In another cloister, a room that has fallen out of favor, hell is another person and a rat (my Melchisedec?). If only it would sit up on its hindquarters and sniff the air in an interested manner. But I have no crumbs to offer, and it scampers about and crashes into things so. Fear is contagious; Count Basie’s frantic saxophone and Young’s use of silence as a structural device.

Like Nietzsche, I love the great despisers, the soul-squanderers who seek to go under in a blaze of glory. I do not have the bad conscience of Jim; I am only a woman fallen into a dream. Dear F.: To answer your question, no, you will never see me again. But expect me on Thursday. I offer myself up for your scrutiny and (unjust) judgment. they streamed in (moved) urged by ( ) faith and the hopes of paradise (to the place of decay).

Meanwhile, I slather Dr. Husain’s runny, pink lotion from an unlabeled brown bottle onto my face and wait for a miracle. Mirabai is lost in a thicket of hagiography, and I must unlearn the lesson of renunciation.  

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