My apologies. Issue One Minus One - the pilot issue - is incomplete. The Editorial seems to have got lost. The items in this issue were selected from items in the previous issues of Chanticleer Magazine - the paper version - with one exception. Georgina Jabdab's essay, Shakespeare's Rush, was one I found in the bottom a drawer. It was intended for publication, but somehow got overlooked.
Poem - Anna Robinson
Essay - Ian MacFadyan
Poem - Jeremy Reed
Essay - Al Roy
Shard - John Bennett
Poem - Cyril Wong
Poem - Jane Wilding
Quote - Friedrich Nietzsche
Poem - Edward Mycue
Story - Stephen Webster
Poem - Dominic Robert Costa
Quote - Ethiopian Proverb
Essay - Georgina Jabdab
Poem - Shiv Mirabito
Poem - Louise Landes-Levi
POEM - Anna Robinson
Northling (A Child Sacrifice)
His tears and the catch
in his throat survived him.
We see them glint
in the laboratory lights,
in his eyes and mouth
lakes of salt and mucus
preserved in sand
for thousands of years.
When he knew they’d hurt him,
he screamed, cried,
sent his sobs
deep into the earth
as far as the water table
where they wobbled a little
before diving back off
the water’s skin, spattering
out, splashing fault-
lines, pushing at the levels,
causing salt domes to form
containing pools of oil
that men would one day kill for.
The Blood of the Poet : Lorca and the Duende
Buenos Aries, October 20, 1933. Federico Garcia Lorca is staying at the Castelar Hotel, Avenida de Mayo. Feted and celebrated wherever he goes, the poet is triumphant about his extraordinary popularity and success – although he disingenuously complains about the “nuisance” of it all, writing to his parents back home in Granada, “I’ve had to hire a secretary to answer the phone and receive visitors!” He encloses a sheaf of news clippings as evidence of his international celebrity – here is the poet as famous as a film star, incandescent in the flash of cameras, immortalised by magnesium, the very incarnation of glamour and genius.
Ironically, at exactly this moment Lorca is putting the finishing touches to his passionate, often delirious essay ‘Play and Theory of the Duende’, an evocation of the daemonic impulses which drive poetic creation. Behind the glittering kaleidoscope of his worldly success the poet celebrates darkness and death, and embraces his own mortality: “All that is most important has its final metallic valuation in death”. Seventy years later it is impossible to read this essay on spiritual and artistic style and not be struck by its “atmosphere of predestination” – as if, while playing with the theory of the duende, Lorca was unwarily tempting fate and unwittingly prophesying his own early death.
Lorca’s duende is Andalucian in origin. As Arturo Barea notes, “While to the rest of Spain the duende is nothing but a hobgoblin, to Andalucia it is an obscure power which can speak through every form of human art, including the art of personality.” In Lorca’s case, a fascinated morbidity is an ever-present aspect of his personal style and an essential component of his lyrical and tragic verse. His charisma, his musicality, his social flair, his sensitivity and wit, all these entertaining devices are strategically put to use in the performance of his created artistic self. He cultivates these elements of his being, these modes of playing with death - taunting death, celebrating it, holding it at bay.
Flashbulbs explode. The hotel room is strewn with neckties and velvet-collared coats and bouquets and books and glasses and papers and ashtrays. The poet talks and gesticulates unceasingly in an hypnotic whirl, caught up by the twisting and turning spirals of his own verbal invention. He poses for photographers in bed, in his bathrobe, in a bathing suit . . . While continuing to expound excitedly to the scribbling reporters on the deep, secret inspiration that is the duende. “That’s the secret of art: to have duende . . . the hidden spirit of disconsolate Spain . . . ” He explains that it is a power possessed by the truly great poets, painters, singers, dancers and bullfighters . . . On the wall he has tacked a photograph of himself with outstretched arms in a Christ-like pose, an image of willing surrender and sacrifice, a self-conscious homage to Apollinaire’s ‘The Poet Assassinated’.
Tonight he will give his lecture on the duende and it will be a brilliant success, but the duende is more than abstract theory, cultural history, poetic manifesto – it is the literal truth of his poetic vocation and even its most fantastic or apparently metaphoric elements are for him manifestly real. Indeed, he claims that he awoke early one morning in his hotel room and actually saw a duende, a fabulous creature dressed in red and gold with a pointed green hood, a winged sprite which flew around his room in circles . . . He insists that this was not an apparition but a true visitation by a living embodiment of the duende. Like Robert Louis Stevenson with his ‘Brownies’- the sprite familiars of his unconscious which he believed were essential to his creativity and which he kept “locked in a back garret”- Lorca dreams of possessing this beautiful, frightening creature, harnessing its supernatural powers to his own creative ends. “Do you understand the consequences? Can you dare to imagine them?” he asks a reporter. “My duende perched on my shoulder as I give my lectures?” (The reporter is amazed, but duly, humbly makes a note of this extraordinary conception).
Lorca knows that this kind of possession must work both ways: “The duende does not come at all unless he sees that death is possible.” The duende is “a mysterious power”, beyond explanation, and so beyond the confines of a lecture or rational discourse (in this sense Lorca’s lecture may be understood not as an exegesis but a performance of the duende). It is “shadowy, palpitating”, it “comes up from inside, up from the very soles of the feet”, it is a “style of blood”, “creation made act”. Manuel Torres, listening to Manuel de Falla play “Nocturno del Generalife’, said: “Whatever has black sounds has duende” and for Lorca there is “no greater truth” than these “black sounds” which transcend rationality: “Intellect is oftentimes the foe of poetry because it imitates too much: it elevates the poet to a throne of acute angles and makes him forget that in time the ants can devour him, too, or that a great, arsenical locust can fall on his head, against which the Muses who live inside monocles of the lukewarm lacquer roses of the insignificant salons, are helpless.”
More than an attack upon academicism, Lorca’s exposition of the duende is a celebration of the death instinct and he castigates the imposture of “literary fashionmongers” precisely because they would never plunge recklessly into that dark passion which “dissolves form” and “smashes bland, geometrical assurances”. It is the paradoxical destructiveness of the act of creation which Lorca discovered in the piercing and deep elegiac cries of the flamenco singer, and in the possessed, explosive power of the flamenco dancer through whose form and movements the duende may be seen trailing “the rusted knife blades of its wings along the ground.” Peculiarly – but not exclusively – Spanish, the duende makes its home in those who dance with death and court their own mortality. The poet is one who is wounded by death as if by “the edge of a barber’s razor” – and for the sake of his art he would gladly die the death of a thousand cuts.
Although Lorca identifies the spirit of duende in the work of artists like Goya and Velazquez, he insists that both poetry and duende are crucially involved with the performing arts: “Duende achieves its widest play in the fields of music, dance, and the spoken poem, since these require a living presence to interpret them, because they are forms which grow and decline perpetually and raise their contours on the precise present.” Lorca’s poems are scores for his own voice and he hesitates to see his works “dead on the page” – for him, spoken performance is paramount and the publication of his poems is often delayed or neglected. But his poetry is more than mere recitation - it is a continual renewal of inspiration and style in the very act of performance, the poet inhabited and possessed by the unfolding act of oral creation and physical expression. It is the oracular voice of the duende which sings through the poet. Lorca compares the poet to the bullfighter and the moment of the kill, the faena de capa, is “the blow of artistic truth” which he is inspired to deliver. He “moves the public to terror in the plaza by his audacity”, stirs and astonishes by his style, invention, and courage as he “constantly hurls his heart against the thorns.”
It’s getting late. The poet will soon be on stage. The audience waits for something extraordinary. They will not be disappointed. He pulls on his jacket, lights another cigarette, finishes the wine to its very dregs. The photographers and reporters and those very nice boys who hang upon his every word – and so they should – move away from him in the small hotel room and suddenly it’s as if no one is breathing, they conspire like shop window mannequins to present a motionless tableau of rigid gestures signifying respect and fear. The performance which never stops is now about to move to another level. Nothing less than immortality itself is at stake. And there he is in the mirror: the perfect image of the poet, a living silvered ghost, the incarnate divine. But he cannot see himself. The mirror has turned into a window in another city, country and time – Granada, 1922. A decade gone – an entire lifetime has passed him by! How quickly time disappears, my child, leaving nothing behind
. . . Drawn by music to an illuminated window, the poet and his friend Manuel de Falla stand on tiptoe to peer inside. There is a singer and a guitarist, a table and a candle and a bottle of wine, a crucifix on the wall. The two friends look into the lighted room and listen to the cante jondo, the Gypsy ‘deep song’, the black sounds of the Spanish earth rising and falling in the sweet night air of Granada. It is the essence of duende, “pure”, “naked” and “bloodcurdling”.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to introduce – ” But he is already on stage, the poet who described himself in the third person as “a Gypsy, a granadino, black and green like a thoroughbred pharaoh.” He appears smiling in his gorgeous suit to tumultuous applause, his arms outstretched and raised in greeting . . . But even though the pharaoh will live forever, it is already a gesture of farewell, an expression of duende. And they will never see his like again.
POEM - Jeremy Reed
Elegy for Alan Clodd
December fog smokes on my hill,
a cold, vaporous secondskin,
a furry chiaroscuro
I punch holes in, out scaring up
a rhythm in its white halo,
your death still loaded in my nerves,
the Royal Free like a monitor
behind me, where a morphine shot
discharged you, screened off on a ward
humming with medical data...
Dear Alan, I reverse the years,
as though friendship clones a shared gene
coded for access in the cells,
and sight you with familiar books,
12,000 stashed against the walls,
stacking a house, a pulped forest
rooting its printed weight indoors,
you massaging a signed Waste Land
like stroking silk, Eliot’s neat,
diffidently legible hand
frozen in ultramarine tracks...
Your partner, George, played Bob Marley
a floor below, Jamaican, camp,1
solicitous, I see him still
dodging into your desktop lamp
announcing a chicken ragout...
If incongruities design
a menu for purposeful love,
you had it, two making out good,
and in the process fugitive.
He died of AIDS. I’d meet with you,
after your visits to the ward,
his T cells down to 1 or 2,
pneumonia lighting a red exit sign.
We tried, but words wouldn’t ring true
in nailing your anxiety,
and stared over tea into space,
you forking a Danish pastry’s
raspberry-hubbed cyclopean eye
into a Bacon autopsy...
You came out after George’s death
as liberation, wore first jeans
at 70, regenerative,
alive to grief and patterning
a breezier way to survive
by opening inside your loss.
Your bibliophilic mania
provided retreat, each new find
demanding others to complete
an order structured by your mind,
the need always outstripping gain.
You clued your books with pencil marks
and clear diagnostic info
like commenting on a pathology
always advancing through the slow
tropism of paper, boards, glue,
towards inevitable decay.
I see you in the West End grid,
white thistle tuft of stand up hair,
slow pace editing out the speed
that seems to have the pavement move
with throbbing ante, distracted
by a window in Cecil Court,
your bricky holdall weighted down
with purchases, the handles taut,
you out on your itinerary
via Museum St. to Lambs Conduit.
Shy man, reserve in you was integral
to a quiet humanity,
your self-invention pivotal
to ways of living true and free.
Your flower was the sweet william,
its bunchy introspective tones
bleeding dark reds and coral pinks
into a slow-tempo maroon,
a subtle palette like your own
deeply textured consistency.
I look for you in every crowd
jostling on the Charing Cross Rd.
black cabs competing in the loud,
exhilarating, heady rush
of being dead centre to life,
as though the world turned at its core
below that precinct, where the join
at little Newport St. gains roar,
and yet to the acclimatized
seems oddly quiet ¾ your old patch ¾
and look up at a sky turned green
this crazy diamond afternoon
in January, and see between
the browsers in a shop window
a book you prized, and live again
our sharing of a gay café,
First Out, underneath Centre Point,
and kick my direction that way
towards its scarlet fascia,
and wonder where and who you are
in the big change, and how you’ll be
without your friends; the rush hour now
building around me like an angry sea.
ESSAY - Comatosed Recruit Blues
Of the 40,000 men who served on German submarines in the second World War, some 30,000 failed to return. One of those who did was Lothar-Günther Buchheim, war time correspondent and author of the unpleasantly lucid Das Boot. “He’s probably completely devoid of imagination,” Buchheim begins, commenting on the U-boat’s Second Engineer. “…the typical product of a one-sided education designed to turn out mass-produced, brainless, dutiful performers, utterly committed to the Führer.” One of the fundamentals in Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist master plan was to extend absolute control over all aspects of life within the new Germany; to mould society around an élite and to break the backs of all free thinking individuals. In short, the goal of Hitler’s education programme was to prepare people for a special brand of survival open only to those who had accepted their place in the great Nazi machine, even if it meant little more than being ground down to nothing beneath its steel-clad tracks. It was to be the life and spirit of a human élite with the concept of service as the highest ideal. Needless to say it didn’t happen. Not for Hitler. What did happen was a great, “democratic” watering down of another ideal, where what was slaughtered was not people themselves but their souls.
Sixty-three years on from the operations that formed the subject of Buchheim’s novel, one could not argue with the fact that the products of our own education regime are a little lopsided - off-the-peg, unimaginative, irrational recitalists, utterly committed to the Capitalist dogma of accumulation at all costs. It is a rather uncomfortable parallel to draw, but in terms of choice, the current occidental palette, like the unforgivably barbaric mortarboard of Nazi control, really offers very few variants of colour.
In the UK today, it is almost impossible to find an individual who will openly admit that something is wrong. Living in London - where every day our meat-paste bodies are hurriedly squeezed out of openings in busses and trains towards a mélange of down-turned eyes, neurasthenics, phobophobes and subtle, physical assaults - the problem is so close to the surface that it has penetrated our material bodies. The only people who are laughing are the chiropractors, osteopaths and head-peepers…At £50 an hour, they are living the dream. Languishing in a warm jacuzzi of aquatic satisfaction, they are proud of their accomplishments, of being able to give a little of that dream back. ‘With enough dough,’ they say, ‘almost anyone can get their mind or their body back.’ Yes, with enough dough you can bake a loaf big enough to sleep in while the rest of the world has to make do with a stale, disobliging bap.
At the age of five we are shipped off to school. This in itself is not a problem. The problem is what we are taught. Or rather, what we are told we are taught. We are told that our syllabus will, if embraced enthusiastically, provide us with the tools necessary to survive in adulthood, which in a sense is true. However, the real intention of education is to provide us with the ability to earn, to consume, to accumulate…to feed the system, in other words. If too many of us fail the system will fail also. If the system fails anarchy will ensue and from then on there will be nothing to consume. If there is nothing to consume we will die and for the proletariat death has never been a very palatable option. We do not want to die, hence we must earn. This is the way it works and for the most part it does indeed work - if we are willing to dismiss such AWOL nouns as “fun” and “satisfaction”.
The thing we fear most of all - possibly even more than death - is the day when the cushion is taken from under our backside, when, no longer free to fart though silk, we find ourselves lacking the assumed comforts. We need comfort. We are told so in school. So we keep on, neglecting to notice that comfort can also be applied to the soul. Suddenly there comes a feeling of guilt without having done anything wrong, of tiredness after a full twelve hours in our cots, of a recurring, abstract confusion. Looking down at the remote control, fluffing up a cushion and teasing a nacho loose from the pack, you look over at your lover and ask what’s wrong. ‘I don’t know.’ They reply. ‘It’s just…’ And you wait, propping an outstretched leg on a beanbag. ‘I don’t know. Nothing. Pass me the fags.’ The film starts. Things explode. Someone is beautiful. Someone is rich. Someone smokes the same cigarettes as you. That’s good. You wish you were beautiful too, but it doesn’t matter. A man succeeds. A woman cries. The credits roll. You smoke another fag and look at your watch. ‘Hit the hay?’ Your lover asks. A good idea. Tomorrow is another day and besides your back is killing you. ‘I wonder how they got his head to just pop off like that?’ ‘Yeah,’ you say. ‘Poor bastard.’ The trick is complete. The dove has emerged from the hat.
The question of why man has continued to dominate the planet for so long is not a difficult one to answer. Humans are perhaps the most adaptable creatures ever to inhabit the Earth. We look out across the horizon and have the ability to correct the human posture. If there is a shortage of fuel, for example, we are handed a number of options. We can use less or switch to an alternative source. We can sink money into technological solutions. Then there is the great western tradition of an international catch-22 - we can steal someone else’s, in other words. This last option is by far the most expedient, but it does require a certain amount of capital. It requires a strong economy. Bombs are not cheap, after all…And this is where you come into it, you and your ability to earn.
I can still recall the clear sensation of umbrage with which, at age fourteen, I sat down and “chose” the eight subjects I “wished” to study the following year. Looking down at the dimly printed sheet of foolscap it became apparent that the West was gearing up for a technological and ideological revolution. Gone were the syrupy delights of Woodwork and Metalwork - in their place I found Information Technology and Business Studies, with the former being rendered compulsory. It is no wonder that we are not taught to build tables and chairs in school anymore. There are machines for that sort of thing. But these machines, as clever as they are, do not require anything to sit on. It is us who must sit down after a hard day at work. It is us who must buy these products and keep the economy rolling, so we can continue to drive down the super-highways of western dominance. The person is the product and the product is the person. You are a chair and I am a table. Your mother is a barrel of oil.
Fairly early on in Das Boot, Buchheim wonders “whether it doesn’t require an infinite capacity for self-delusion to be able to live with the conviction that all doubts are silenced by the concept of duty.” This line of questioning is no less relevant today than it was in 1941. Our duty is simply to swallow what is on offer and to wash it down with entirely neutral conversations. What is the point of complaining, and besides, who exactly are you going to complain to? I have tried discussing the concept of person as product and always I am met with considerable scorn. The situation is largely seen as unavoidable. It has already gone too far. This is perhaps the most sinister accomplishment of capitalism. It has succeeded in gagging a potentially volatile product. We know our place. We know our duty and we’re keeping schtum. The only alternative is to think our way out of the corner and we stopped thinking some time ago. We go home again and flick on the TV, feeling tired and emotional but still we have no idea what’s wrong. Later, unable to sleep, we close our eyes and silently make love to a mirage.
SHARD - John Bennett
Ball Park Figures
These are ball-park figures. According to a recent poll, 48% of Americans think the earth goes around the sun in a day. I can understand how someone might make that mistake, but 23% think that the sun goes around the earth and 4% think the earth’s flat. 68% think the world was made in six days, which is a conservative assessment if you subscribe to the Big Bang Theory and believe it was made in an instant and everything since then has been evolution. Which brings us to monkeys.
14% of Americans believe monkeys are the descendants of Tarzan and that Jane was a virgin. Bestiality comes into play at this point, which ties into AIDS, which goes to show that God is out to wipe out homosexuals. 73% of Americans believe God is an old man with a white beard which explains why he had to rest a day after making the world. 98% of the 78% feel, however, that that’s no reason for Wal Mart to close on Sundays.
The list goes on, but what I’m curious about is: are there similar polls for other countries? And further, do these polls concerning America’s fucked up beliefs correlate with the hard stats that show us far behind the rest of the “advanced nations” in matters of education and health?
Seriously. I want to know what the average Chinese peasant thinks about Tarzan and the universe. I want to know if Greek boys still skip down the streets holding hands. I want to know if it’s time to pack up and move to Spain.
I have a deep sense of global dread. The world I grew up in has all but disappeared. It’s going to be close, but I think I have enough momentum to carry me to my death-bed before this pestilence overtakes me.
53% of Americans believe ET is real and called home on a T-Mobile cell phone.
POEM - Cyril Wong
Amazing how it takes the smallest things, like a bus ride,
to transport you to the important issues, such as death
and all its different manifestations. Approaching 7pm,
shadows are already climbing out of the sky to put out
the skyscrapers like candles, ink a river under the highway
to black opacity. You wonder about the years you have
emptied into your present job, the sameness of expression
with which your wife greets you in the evenings, sullen
face of your son at the dinner table, the taste of food
reduced to blandness on your tongue, while the television
in the hall blares forth winners of another game show.
You gaze out of the bus window at the moon’s half-grin
and remember that film your colleagues hated, which
wounded you in some deep, unspeakable way, like
the scene when the male lead hesitated for more than
what was only a minute before pushing the knife’s edge
against the taut curve of his wrist, with that sharply
held breath before every attempt, its quivering release
upon failure. This process you are so familiar with,
each hesitation recurring to a lullaby of the same,
these repetitions the invisible blueprint of a life. Stars
perforate the sky, like the eyes of dead people
suspended outside of time peering in, the place where
your soul must have come from, yanked down by ropes
of pure longing. You wonder at the history of mankind,
calculating the sum total of your consequence in relation
to its yet interminable drama. Quickly, you drift on
to happier subjects, like your son, who pointed one day
at clouds rising into houses, pillars, collapsible cities.
You wonder what you were like at that age. In school,
a teacher commented that you had a talent for stories,
a startling gift for description. You recollect the praises
scribbled in blue across the bottom of a report card
that dad signed, then handed back to you without a word
of compliment. You tell yourself you are better towards
your own son: more tender, more inclined to praise.
None of you can account for the exact moment when
that cynicism flew into his face to lock itself in.
You attribute rudeness to his friends, your wife blames
you for spoiling him from the very beginning. You
glare helplessly at desert maps of your palms, at the
paperweights of whitened knuckles pinning you down
to the world. A poet said that all of us are searching
ultimately for our graves. You think about graves, how
your wife was a hole in the ground you crawled into
and remained for so long you forgot what love was.
You complain to yourself about how this bus is taking
too long to bring you home. The road stretches out
like your father on his bed the morning he did not wake.
He looked no different, and religion made you believe
another sort of wakefulness was prepared for him. You
stood there observing him, dwelling upon decomposition,
how the air would dissolve his body, reclaim the space
it once occupied. You glimpse at your watch, this gift
from your son for Father’s Day you found out was really
bought by your wife; this watch that never slows down
for the ecstatic instant, but for boredom’s uniformity.
Last week, you went grocery shopping with your family
at the supermarket around your block, and discovered
you had lost your wallet, or maybe dropped it somewhere
between the vegetables and the dairy section. You heard
on the intercom, the voice of the one who had found it,
a girl mispronouncing your name again and again. And
you left your wife, your son by the trolley, both turning
to strangers with their identical expression of puzzlement
and mild irritation. You hurried down aisle after aisle,
so eager to retrieve the little you could lose,
realising instead you were unable to find the counter.
You kept walking and walking alongside rows and rows
of shampoo bottles pasted with women’s faces cracked
wide open by smiles and that barely audible laughter.
You became convinced there was no counter. That bitch
repeated again what was once your name. You halted,
much to the approval of tin cans of baby powder, images
of babies so cute you could smash a fist into every tin.
Fluorescent lights swelled inside your head to blossom
into a panic at once unbearable, yet oddly calming,
as you never felt so close to alive, so potentially free.
POEM - Jane Wilding
In the Moon’s Pantry
In the moon’s pantry the stars rest
in bowls and on Indian Tree plates,
the spoons are polished and sparkle
among the asteroids and vanilla pods.
In the moon’s pantry the black emptiness
has its place on the cool marble shelf
waiting over the flag floor, for the door
to open and the light to embrace the void.
In the moon’s pantry leftovers
from the universe of time are carefully
arranged and preserved, covered for later
and labelled with the ever present now.
In the moon’s pantry love rests on shelves
among the pickled black holes
there, love is sugared with hyperspace
and dusted with forever.
QUOTE - Friedrich Nietzsche
“Behind the glorification of “work” and the tireless talk of the “blessings of work” I find the same thought as behind the praise of impersonal activity for the public benefit: the fear of everything individual. At bottom, one now feels when confronted with work... that such work is the best police, that it keeps everybody in harness and powerfully obstructs...the desire for independence. For it uses up a tremendous amount of nervous energy and takes away from reflection, brooding, dreaming, worry, love and hatred; it always sets a small goal before one’s eyes and permits easy and regular satisfactions. In that way a society in which the members continually work hard will have more security; and security is now adored as the supreme goddess.”
POEM - Edward Mycue
Hush, Vanessa, life is green.
What looks like a weed thing
may be a string bean. What
looks like a twig thing may
become a lemon tree. What
seems unpromising at first
may end up quenching thirst.
You always think things come
too slow and never come fast,
but growing takes time and
the best may shuffle in last.
It is autumn, and early evenings I often sit musing, dreaming at my high window, enjoying the fading light. I sit at my table with the lights off, looking at the dark shapes of the tall houses across the road, and the trees, black against the pale pink and dark blue streaks of the sky.
Down on the pavement I see the students using the row of phone boxes outside their hall of residence. Some come and go quickly, calling their parents, boyfriends, girlfriends. Some stay in a long time, oblivious of other would-be callers.
There is Dark (whose real name I will never know) chatting intently and at length to who-ever. He has somehow managed to perch his ass on the small platform up by the phone; and his feet are wedged in the corner, so revealing his artfully torn jeans and his brown knees poking through. Dark cropped hair encloses a smooth brown face, unmarked by time. He is animated in his small gestures. He is enjoying his new “bohemian” student life, enjoying being free of his parents and his sister’s teasing and even being away from his girl friend’s clinging ways. He feels free, for the moment.
And here comes Blond, just out of the next phone box. I watch him pause to speak to a man who has asked him the way. He seems unsure, slightly nervous, but happy to try and help. His slender young finger tentatively points the way; the way he is not really sure of. He is not as sure of himself as Dark. He wouldn’t cut holes in his jeans – it would feel a bit show-offy and trying too hard to make an effect. He is wearing the shirt and jeans his mother bought him a few weeks ago, before he left home. He is still getting accustomed to his new life of freedom. It seems a bit odd to be away from home and able to decide a lot of the time what you do and when you do it.
Blond goes back to the room which he shares with Dark in the big Victorian hall of residence. He would have liked his own room; still, Dark seems quite nice and friendly, even if a bit cocky and too sure of himself. It’s nice to have someone around to chat to in the evenings.
There he is, just coming through the door, switching on the lights. I can look down into their room from my top window, just across the road.
Yes, I admit I sometimes watch them in the early evening as the light fades, and later too, I suppose. They never bother to draw the curtains and I don’t switch on my lights, so they wouldn’t know I’m watching. I hope they wouldn’t mind – for my part, I feel my watching is sympathetic, even friendly. I only wish the best for them, after all. It amuses me to watch them walking about together, talking, laughing, drinking coffee; then sitting in those boxy armchairs, their heads nodding to the music they’ve just put on, heavy metal or something equally loud.
My pleasure is not unalloyed, however. As I listen to my Schumann songs, full of heart-breaking beauty and tenderness; my Mahler and Brahms, or recently the Barber violin concerto, so full of poignant feeling, I realise I have for company a feeling which those lucky boys have yet to experience. Long may they elude its pangs!
This is the feeling which I might call a demon of regret. A ghastly emotion – useless, embarrassing. Nothing enchanting or ennobling about it. It speaks softly, and only in ‘nots’. Of the words not said, the emotion not expressed, the cheeks not caressed, the lips not kissed; the body not loved. These gaps and spaces which appear from the past, creating a dull anguish. Still, I have much to be grateful for and don’t want to wallow in self-pity.
My innocent watching of Dark and Blond continued for some weeks, as evening darkened earlier.
Perhaps not totally innocent, no. From across the dark road I enjoyed their youthful high spirits, their smiles and laughter. Once or twice Dark would break into a burst of manic dancing – arms and legs everywhere, and I glimpsed Blond laughing and starting to join in. Yes, I enjoyed the glimpses of their bodies when they changed to go out in the evening or go to bed – still they never drew the curtains. Probably the idea of someone watching never entered their heads, or if it did they didn’t care, they had nothing to be ashamed of.
So it was that I watched them going out together one Saturday evening, after their hall supper. Dark had on his leather jacket and the same jeans torn at the knees. Blond was more conventional, casual but not scruffy.
As I sat with my book and my music, under the lamplight, a glass of wine to hand, I imagined them getting quite drunk in some student pub. The voices would get louder, the jokes sillier and perhaps they would argue about whether to catch the bus later to some dubious party which one of them had vaguely been invited to; and which might or might not be fun.
At about half-past twelve my book was finished and the Brahms clarinet quintet had just come to its sad, unconsoled ending. I switched off my lights and was about to go to bedroom when the lights clicked on opposite and there were the two boys, obviously very drunk. They appeared to be singing and Dark had his arm around Blond’s shoulder.
Dark seemed to be fighting his way out of his leather jacket amidst much hilarity, and even fell over for a moment. Then he was up again and trying to help Blond off with his short coat. Suddenly Blond’s right hand was around Dark’s neck and they were kissing, passionately. Hands fumbled at shirts and buttons and belts and there they were naked from the waist up, Dark’s jeans slipping down, arms tightly locked around each other, hands feeling ears and hair and necks and sides. They were naked on one of the single beds and it was beautiful. Lust, yes, but tenderness also; Dark kissing Blond’s slim chest and belly – caressing his cock, his mouth following. Blond stroked Dark’s hair and shoulders, then all over his arched back and down over his buttocks and thighs.
Generously they gave of themselves, and each took what the other was happy to give. Drunk, yes, but still conscious and joyful and alive, gloriously alive.
I stood and watched, unashamed, with gratitude and a strange sense of privilege. When it was over and they lay quiet, close together, I turned away with a twinge of sadness. I hope they wouldn’t have minded me watching. I wished them only the best that life can inspire.
I never saw them together like that again.
I would see them in their room as before, but after supper or when they came in from a night out, Blond would always cross the room and draw the curtains. I hope they had a good time in the few weeks that were left to them – certainly I imagine that they did.
I don’t know why Blond moved out. Perhaps they rowed and fell out – perhaps Dark wanted to do things that Blond didn’t like. Perhaps he dropped out of college or moved into a flat with other friends.
At any rate, Dark suddenly seemed to be on his own in his room. The curtains were never drawn, as before. One evening I watched him on his own, pacing the room, looking restless and unhappy. I would have liked to have sent a word of comfort or some gesture of sympathy across the dark street to him. About a week later a stocky, plain-looking youth moved in with him to share the room. From what I glimpsed, they didn’t seem to hit it off.
On nights when I tire of my own company I sometimes visit a bar in the town, nearby. Yes, it’s a men’s bar, and not in the old, northern sense. I was there the other night when suddenly and to my surprise Dark appeared in the doorway. I almost felt as if I should greet him as a friend and offer him a drink. He seemed edgy and rather ill at ease as he ordered a pint of beer and sat down with it by himself. There was a strained, tired look in his face which was disturbing. I saw him glance at the clock, and our eyes met briefly as he looked around the room.
I got myself another drink and returned with it to the same seat. I looked at him from time to time, and once he looked back at me. He seemed to be smoking a great deal. He’s nervous, I thought to myself.
I relaxed a bit with my second pint and decided that ordering my third I would go up and talk to him. I rehearsed a few lines in my head. What would sound most spontaneous, hit the right note of friendliness, without overdoing it? “Mind if I join you?” – “Can I get you one of those?” – “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” No, not the last one, too corny.
Would he be friendly or distant, eager to talk or painfully shy?
Encouraged by the brief eye-contact, I drained my glass and went, rather nervously, to the bar. I paused, full glass in hand, my back towards him. Determined not to chicken out, I turned with my phrase ready to make a bridge between us.
Too late. Someone was there before me. Someone I knew slightly, someone I didn’t much like or trust, was offering a cigarette, ready with a smile and some glib chatter.
Chagrined, I retreated to a corner where I quickly drank my beer. You are not a suitable companion for my young friend, I thought. It is I who should be calming his nerves, gaining his confidence, taking an interest in him.
They seemed to be getting on irritatingly well.
I left, and as I left I wanted to say – like some wise sage of old – “No, my friend, he is not the one to whom you should give yourself this chill October night. And long may you look before you find one truly fit to fill your heart.”
POEM - Dominic Robert Costa
Thinking He Wants To
He does not tell his friends how he feels about men.
Then again, he is scarcely a man himself.
He tells me, though.
He knows how I feel.
Contact is whispered flirtation.
During the week, when sober and in
company, polite smiles and empty
conversation are interspersed
by meaningful glances.
I listen as he brags to others
of his conquests over the fence:
like me, he thinks the grass might
just be greenest on both sides.
Unlike me, only the other
side gets his attention,
at least for now.
By night, of course, everything changes.
The public persona of straight ahead
still lies at the fore, but our conversations
become less restrained and just-us-two.
With a casual air that belies his secrecy,
he points out his favourites and what he
wants from them. A hand is slipped
around my waist and another lands
on my chest as he leans on to me.
To others’ eyes he is a drunken man
finding support. To my eyes
he is a confused man needing it.
A group of us amble home. We sit
and talk for a while. I know what
will happen if I wait long enough.
One by one, people leave and my
nerves begin to rattle. Excitement
courses through me but it is hard
to know how to act. Will he break
with self-expectation and come
good on his curiosity? I stand to
leave and am followed to the door.
I have no words so I switch off the
light. We mumble. I brush the side
of his face with the tip of my nose,
lightly, innocently, like a child.
There is another meaningful glance
in the half-light, then follows the
purest of embraces.
His kiss is eager and energetic,
the articulation of years of quiet wanting.
My kiss is slower; I intend to luxuriate.
A voice echoes from down the corridor.
I encourage him to zip up quickly, for his
benefit not mine; and soon we are
confronted by another friend,
she none the wiser. There is a
faint hope that we might yet resume
play, but more people arrive -
the hope is extinguished.
What will come next is anybody’s guess.
Perhaps there will be other chances.
Perhaps his thirst is now quenched
and he needs no more. There are
other pastures to graze, but I
am not convinced that we should
move on from this one just yet.
QUOTE - Ethiopian Proverb
“When the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows deeply and silently farts.”
“The Devil can quote Shakespeare for his own purposes.” - G. B. Shaw.
“The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjur’d, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted, and, no sooner, had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait;
On purpose laid to make the taker mad--
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof. and prov’d, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.”
The first 12 lines of this sonnet have been quoted ad nauseam as somehow exemplifying Shakespeare’s attitude towards the ‘evils’ of lust. The dramatic irony implicit in the last two lines is usually ignored. To take one example. Roger Scruton, in his book, Sexual Desire, cites this sonnet while writing a moralistic diatribe against lust, completely overlooking Shakespeare’s subversion of his own point of view, which is implicit in words “yet none knows well / To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.” It’s not good enough. The poem is a whole or not a poem at all - a fact that should have entered Scruton’s equation. After all, if Shakespeare had finished the poem in the spirit of the first 12 lines, it wouldn’t have been a poem at all but just a polemic against lust.
Of course, the emotional content of the first 12 lines drives the poem forward. Pointless to speculate why Shakespeare felt as he did about lust at this point of writing the sonnet. Some very subjective reason, no doubt, re-enforced by a sense of guilt, for which his Catholic upbringing was perhaps partly responsible. People from my Amazonian tribe would have had a much healthier attitude regarding the question of lust, which they would have seen as part of the natural order of things. Clearly, Shakespeare was not of my tribe. And you can’t blame him for that. Nevertheless, what he was was an artist, who understood that for a poem to be successful, it had to be more than polemic. Some people do not read poetry closely enough because they have axes to grind, and they think poetry can be used to prove the point they are making. Roger Scruton writes a moralistic book about sexual desire using the above sonnet to support his position, but, as usual with people with axes to grind, he entirely misses the point of the poem in question.
Let’s try to imagine ourselves as Shakespeare writing this sonnet. This is something which academics and historians of literature, no less than moral philosophers, seem singularly incapable of doing. What sort of mood do you think Shakespeare was in when he started writing this sonnet? It’s 129, one of those with “the Dark Lady”in mind. One thing is certain about the poet, which is evident in the imprecision and irrational violence of the language, and that is that he is not emotionally very stable at the moment of writing the bulk of the sonnet. He has what that wise hippy fool, Danny, in the film, Withnail & I, calls a “rush”. Because our poet has had a bad experience with this thing called “Lust”, he says it is “perjur’d, murderous, bloody, full of blame, / Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust...”et cetera, et cetera - clearly, not a very balanced perspective on a purely natural human phenomenon. So what would Danny’s advice to Shakespeare be on reading the first 12 lines of this sonnet? “Change down, Man; find your neutral space. You got a rush. It’ll pass. Be seated.” - advice, by the way, which my Amazonian fore-parents would have heartily agreed with. It is as if Shakespeare had just had the sexual equivalent of a bad trip on Ayahuasca and is swearing to himself never to take it again, and backing himself up with all sorts of spurious emotional and moral reasons. We’ve all been there. How many times have I come back from a mortifying sexual encounter swearing to myself never to let it happen again? Which of course it always does. But then, that surely is the point of the sonnet.
It was in this reactive mood, then, that Shakespeare wrote the first 12 lines. And, hey, what do you think happened next? He came to the end of that phase of the poem and found that he couldn’t continue, that he had exhausted that particular seam of emotional and moralistic writing. He calmed down, found his ‘neutral space’ - along with a poem he saw needed completing. He probably left it awhile - a few hours, days even - and came back to the poem in a completely different frame of mind, one in which he had attained a certain ironic distance from the original emotion, and this enabled him to finish the poem. “Emotion recollected in tranquillity”- at least as far as the last two lines were concerned.
So much nonsense has been spoken about Shakespeare because it seems when people get up to speak about him they leave their imaginations at home. They even forget the very important fact that he was a dramatist as well as a poet. Shakespeare was a human being subject to same emotional swings as anyone else. But he was also an artist, who knew how to finish a poem. If he had continued writing according to his original intentions, he wouldn’t have been able to finish the poem, or else he would have written one that was so bad he’d have been too embarrassed to show it around to his mates. He had to step back from himself, step back from his ‘rush’, as it were. And it is only because he was able to do so that we have a poem and not just a diatribe.
POEM -Shiv Mirabito
America & GW Bush love real men because they are big
real men sit on the couch
& watch football
& basketball on TV
& drink beer
real men do not knit or drink herbal tea
real men eat steak and freedom fries
real men do not eat tofu
real men do not want to protect the environment
real men are a bunch of animals
real men like dogs, not cats
real men like pussy more than anything
real men wear aftershave, antiperspirant & deodorant
because the chicks dig it
real men do not do foreplay or wear condoms
real men accomplish their goals
& roll over
& go to sleep
real men have rock hard 10 inch gleaming erections
& real men are always circumcised so that it looks like a
like a shiny nuclear missile
not like a benevolent baby elephant’s trunk
real men do not dance, wash dishes, clean toilets, nurture
or change diapers
real men like to play with their guns
real men shake hands firmly
real men never hug
real men love their mothers
but real men never say it
real men wear uniforms
real men never wear pink
real men don’t ask & and don’t tell
but it seems like America & GW Bush love real men most because
they are disposable
POEM - Louise Landes Levi
Daughter. To encourage
me. Weep, over my ashes
as Gregory drapes his body over
caring hand upon
a last farewell,
No, I’ll leave alone,
A Jack Micheline in an
directly sent to the
Daughter. To encourage
me. Weep, over my ashes
as Gregory drapes his body over
caring hand upon
a last farewell,
No, I’ll leave alone,
A Jack Micheline in an
directly sent to the