after & for Ghassan Hage
The day is forecast as catastrophic. Heat
strangles the sky. It bulges, a rotten purple.
Earlier, an old Greek and a friend unexpected
slipped into my sleeping throat to see
why I bulged, rotting within: a history
believed in, threatens to become faith
in a future―didn’t anyone tell you
never to eat a seed? Oh it grows, it grows.
You must lose this weight to be at ease.
“Hallo?” I say, voice still sleep-drunk. I sit up in bed.
I don’t know why he’s calling me from an unknown number. My anger rouses itself and beats me to the mouthpiece. “I know. It’s three in the morning. What the fuck, dude?”
“’What do you come from Europe for? To make pictures you take back to England. But my people stay here! Living like this!’ He gestured violently toward a filthy gaunt old woman selling roasted mealies in the gutter, at the queues of lurching drinkers…” as Paul Hogarth packed away his paper, pens and pencils on a hot and dusty Johannesburg street corner he took the brunt of a young black man’s frustration of life in 1950s South Africa. It would set the tone for much of his journey across the continent and beyond wherever the disparity between the wealthiest and poorest was most acute, but Hogarth never shied from recording both extremes, in fact he reveled in it.
Olga was a screamer. It’s nothing you would have guessed about her, at least not at first. Or perhaps some would. Maybe almost anybody could have told me to watch out for a beauty school graduate with a military father. But I was shy, and clueless, and young, excited to be in a new place, excited to date a girl.
We met at the beauty parlor on Calle Numancia, near the main train station in Barcelona. It wasn’t just a beauty parlor, it was a huge complex, three floors, opened from ten am to midnight Monday through Saturday and until three pm on Sundays. You could get anything done there: nails, hair, waxing, electrolysis, Thai massage, California or Swedish massage, Botox injections, fish pedicures. Olga did waxing and I was both the massage guy and the handyman. I fixed broken lamps and collapsing massage tables, dealt with circuit breakers, repaired all sorts of broken nail-clipping tools. The owner, Adele, a French woman who weighed about 45 kilos, hired me the August I arrived from Buenos Aires. She liked that I had long hair, a thick black ponytail. You seem New Age, she said, and asked if I’d be interested in maybe teaching her tai chi.
On Halloween We Touched Hearts
And brains. We touched eyeballs and intestines. The basement of the Nyberg Building had been converted to a haunted house and in one room were bowls of eyeballs. In another was spaghetti noodles with some sort of slime that made them feel slippery, like your insides when you’re scared all the time. The brains must have been Jell-O, the heart a tomato, and we were all dressed like monsters or the men we’d grow up to be. I don’t remember if Derrick was there, or Dalton. Only mist from dry ice that smoked slowly throughout rooms where bodies had once been embalmed, back in the tuberculosis days, before the Institute became a safe haven for a different kind of disease. Somewhere someone was screaming. A chainsaw fired up behind a fitted sheet but all we could see was a silhouette. Everything was fake: all the hearts, the intestines, our own insides, which should say that we’ll submit to being scared as long as we know it’s not real, but I’ve always observed the opposite: everything we know to be real we pretend is fake, and that scares us.
— from “Derrick Wore His Pants Too High” by Paul Crenshaw
“The hope of reason lies in the emancipation from our own fear of despair.” … It is not despair that is the agent of imprisonment, not despair that keeps us, (or reason), in a state of unfreedom in need of emancipation; but rather fear. The problem is not despair, but our being afraid to feel despair. In other words, it is not pessimism that is a challenge to the liberating effects of rational hope, but our fearful dismissal of it. It is optimism itself that keeps us from achieving what optimism hopes for. Optimism is its own worst enemy; it is self-destructive … Kierkegaard suggests [we] give in to despair … Any life that isn’t fundamentally lived in submission to God is a life lived in despair anyway, whether it is lived in pursuit of aesthetic enjoyment, or in pursuit of fundamental ethical commitments. The problem is that both sorts of life unavoidably must involve various kinds of mechanisms for covering over despair, of distracting us from it. But such mechanisms cannot succeed forever, and in fact the mechanisms usually only serve to make things worse. So the advice is just to cut to the chase, to choose hopelessness. Despair is the necessary step to God, so being openly in despair is better than trying to fool yourself that you’re actually not; and in this sense despair takes you closer to God and to genuine hope.
— from “Hope & Despair: Philosophical considerations for uncertain times” by Michael Stevenson
مر عامٌ ونيف منذ كتابي الأخير. وهذا خطأ. الأمور على ما يرام نسبيًا. نظارة الثلاثينات تختلف تمامًا عما قبلها. الحياة من هنا ليست بالبساطة التي كنا نتخيلها من قبل، الزوجية بالأخص. أصبحت بعد الثلاثين أحلم أحلامًا غريبة، وحية بشكل عجيب. أوسخ تلك الأحلام على سبيل المثال – وأكثرها تكرارًا – أن أحلم بانحباس صوتي. أنادي مستنجدًا، فأشعر بصوتي كعجينة مرخية، تتمدد في كسل، فلا يصل. ثم أستيقظ فزِعًا، وأتشبث بأقرب قطعة أثاث تقابلني. أتعلم أني بلت في فراشي مثل الأطفال منذ يومين؟ اعتقدت في بداية الأمر أنني احتلمت مثلًا. ولكن سرعان ما تبينت أنه بول. بول يا يوسف! كنت أحلم أني أفرغ ضغطًا شديدًا على المثانة، واستيقظت شاخخ على روحي… أي والله! طيب. نهايته. أخبرك أني لم ألحق موعد التقديم في منحة النشر. ولكني قدمت قبلها بشهر أو اثنين في منحة لإنتاج البودكاست، من قبل المورد الثقافي بالتعاون مع بي.بي.سي. ولم يختاروني بالطبع. أفكر حاليًا في نشر الديوان جديًا، ولكن العلوقية، كما تعلم، أعيت من يداويها، وتمنعني من العمل جديًا كما أفكر. مرفق طيه صورة لأول أحجية (بازل) ركبناها سويًا أنا وذو النون. لقد وضع فيها الكثير من الجهد (رغم حركته المفرطة)، ليحاول اتباع تعليماتي، والتركيز في كل قطعة. لعنة الله على الجينات. والسلام ختام.