“A Chance to Rid My Rock of Sharers” by Zireaux

And newsy we will be, I’ll say. / An article in Woman’s Day? / How much they pay for stories like these?

And newsy we will be, I’ll say. / An article in Woman’s Day? / How much they pay for stories like these?

Continued from previous Res Publica post

‘Enough!’ I cut him off. ‘You’ll puke
no further rubbish, wretch! You stand
on my Republic, a foreign land,
and spout your legal gobbledygook
as if it had some meaning here.
Your status, devil, is still unclear.
Are you an immigrant? A crazed
asylum seeker (if so, I know
your persecutor!). A tourist dazed
with culture shock? Quick! Declare
your purpose. And valid visa show.’

Now every contour everywhere
was charred or by a moonbeam chalked.
On every cloud, each gleaming rock,
each cheek and nose and tooth, was printed
a spark or flint of moonbeam glinted.

‘He’s knocked his head,’ Sayeed salaamed
and simpered, bowed, kowtowed
and said: ‘First words he’s spoken aloud.
Indeed, more like a man embalmed
he’s been these many weeks since we
were shipwrecked here – until the sea,
just now, delivered our deliverer…
Good Shepherd, have you spare clothes? Oh, not
for me, oh no. (I’ve been a shiverer
so long, no heat will halt this palsy).
For him, I mean…Now listen, you’ve got
a radio? I’ll make some calls – he
needs a doctor, someone at hand
when we arrive on New Z’s land.
And newsy we will be, I’ll say.
An article in Woman’s Day?

How much they pay for stories like these?
But come, Arcady, our mothers! Let’s go.
Our mothers await us! Alright then…slow,
No need to hurry either.’ He added: ‘But please,
I beg you, Arcady, dispel this trance
of yours. Let’s sail with circumstance.’

I, of course, was nowhere bound
but to that rock. My mind was wild,
my thoughts like orcas swimming round
some helpless, phocine, fatty schemes.
But all my flesh was firmly isled,
my legs two fixed and bolted beams.
The creaking sound of Dexter’s boat
was like a whimpering child, the note
of something helpless, adipose
and edible – and now, so close.

So close! That boat! A chance to tweeze
my Turkish tic from me (less direly;
not squeeze it from this world entirely).
A means to rid my rock of these
unwanted sharers (not homicidally,
no splattered blood or brain; but tidily).
And just like that, Fate’s indiscretion
was forgiven. She’d never intended
to cuckold me. A wrong impression.
An innocent error, that’s all. Sayeed
would sail away, my troubles ended.
Dexter, too, was sure to recede.

Alas. Narrators should never be trusted.
Plans revealed are always adjusted.

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “Container” by Fiona Apple

I’m the editor at the Tuesday Poetry blog this week. Join us in the comments and discussion. You can read this same post — and many other poems and commentary — over there.

Fiona Apple - Container

“Container” by Fiona Apple

I was screaming into the canyon
At the moment of my death.
The echo I created
Outlasted my last breath.

My voice it made an avalanche
And buried a man I never knew.
And when he died his widowed bride
Met your daddy and they made you.

I have only one thing to do and that’s
To be the wave that I am and then
Sink back into the ocean.

Sink back into the o-
Sink back into the ocean.
Sink back into the o-
Sink back into the ocean.

Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
“Speak, speak, I charge thee, speak” — this is Horatio, in Hamlet, imploring the ghost of Hamlet’s father not just to make some noise, to simply howl or to growl say (which would be astonishing enough), but rather to speak, to say something intelligible. More than any apparition, it’s words that bring a ghost to life.

And yet, Hamlet’s father aside, they rarely make good orators, these clumsy, techno-challenged spectres and their speech impediments; rapping on tables, sending codes through flashlights and will-‘o-the-wisps, playing alphabet games on ouija boards, making reverse recordings of their glossolalia on old LPs. But how else should it be? Speaking in tongues, or through mediums, offers a solution for those without tongues or bodies of their own. Divested of form, of density, what larynx can produce a voice? What brain suggests a syntax to the whims of the dead?

With her song “Container,” Fiona Apple produces the voice of a ghost — brilliantly, beautifully, but most importantly, poetically. Through lyrics, through words. It’s a wave, that voice. It rises and recedes, rages and calms. Apple starts with a tremor in her tone. Note the metrical structure here, the eerie, plaintive trimeter of the first quatrain — with its trochaic howling words, “SCREAMINGing,” “CANyon,” “MOment.” Then she belts the “echo” like no other singer, in no other song. The line becomes pure sound, pure mantra. The avalanche, meanwhile, seems completely out of place for an ocean-born ghost, but that’s the thing: This is a ghost voice. A vibration. It ripples and tsunamis through space, from sea to shining snow-top. There’s a oneness here, between language and sound, poet and phantom.

The first quatrain swells and solidifies into the event-driven physicality of the second, which is sturdy iambic tetrameter, reenforced with the “died”/“bride” girders of internal rhyme. Note the echo-effect of line five, with its ricocheting ictus in the canyon of iambs — my VOICE, it MADE, an AVaLANCH. Apple bounces back and forth. The literary device here — “My voice, it made,” “my abc, it xyz’d” — is called dislocation,* whereby the pronoun emphasises the noun by echoing it.

And it’s the echo, the ripple, the great wave of sound that becomes physical and powerful; that causes the avalanche, that causes the death of a stranger and a child to be born. The reference to “daddy” is intimate, child-friendly. “Containers,” I should point out, is the opening theme song of a TV series called “The Affair,” which just finished its first season on Showtime. The song lends the show a haunting artistic key with which “The Affair” never quite harmonises. Not for lack of trying. One of the show’s two main characters, Alison, insists that her dead son is still present in the world. “He’s watching us,” she says. “He’s caring for us every day.” If this is true — and at one point, yes, as Alison attempts to drown herself in the ocean, we hear the voice of a little boy shouting from the shore — if true, it’s definitely not something we want a main character to tell us.


Rather, we need to hear the ghost-voice for ourselves — which brings us back to Apple’s poem. We’re now at the third stanza, a tercet, in which the first two lines, still holding the dimensions of the previous stanza, start to tremble and collapse:

I have only one thing to do and that’s
To be the wave that I am and then

This is pure abstraction, pure searching, wavy, echolocation. It’s barely English. The five-lettered “thing” is the longest of the 18 words that flail about and say nothing. Beautiful, poetic ghost-speak. There’s a very soft, ghostly, syllabic rhyme in the enjambment — “and that’s” / “and then” — which Apple deftly stresses through the rhythm and tone of her voice, before the whole thing slams into the spondee of the original trimeter: “SINK BACK into the Ocean.” From the howling trochees of “SCREAMing,” “MOment,” “CANyon” we end with another, softer, more surrendering and mournful one: “Ocean.”

One of the most beautiful themes in poetry (which circles just beyond the black hole tug of a trope) is that of the passively almighty. The powerfully weak. The noisy unnoticed. A kind of stop-motion perspective in which things that appear silent and still and locked in eternity — the ocean, the dead, the ancient rocks of Australia (see that greatest of ghost stories, Picnic at Hanging Rock) — can rise up, knock us over, overwhelm our world with their substance. Apple’s poem contains that kind of substance. It dislocates our sense of control over our lives; and makes us stop and listen in wonder.
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Zireaux’s most recent novel is A Charlatan’s Orbit, which is available on Kindle and in paperback at Amazon.

* Dupriez, B. and Halsall, A.W., A Dictionary of Literary Devices: Gradus, A-Z, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, October 30, 1991; and later referenced in Huddleston, R. and Pullum G, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Cambridge University Press, April 15, 2002.

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Tuesday Poem: “A Charlatan’s Orbit,” a novel by Zireaux

Works by Zireaux.

Works by Zireaux.

This week’s “Tuesday Poem” is my novel-in-prose, A Charlatan’s Orbit, which is now available in print and on Kindle.

I should probably be making a bigger fuss about it. The book was picked up by an ardent and capable agent two years ago, and presented to some leading publishers in Australia. None of them, however, committed to the novel — which, in their defence, is neither set in Australia nor has anything really to do with Australia.

I nearly forgot about it; moved on to other things. I’d written most of A Charlatan’s Orbit when I was much younger (my first novel, in fact), then, following this agent’s advice, revised and updated it for publication. Over the years I’d almost grown accustomed to the book’s slippage into obscurity, which is one of its themes in fact: the spectre of artistic obscurity in our changing literary landscape. It seemed almost fitting that no one would ever read it.

But then again, with the book having come so close to publication, “bucking in its chute” as a narrator of mine once put it, it also seems a pity for A Charlatan’s Orbit to remain as nothing more than a manuscript in my writing room; so I’ve followed the necessary steps and, with this post, release it into the wild.

Make of it what you will.

A Charlatan's Orbit - A Novel (Pre-release Review Copy)

A Charlatan’s Orbit – A Novel. Now available in print and on Kindle.

A Charlatan’s Orbit – A Novel
by Zireaux
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
424 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1482019278 (CreateSpace-Assigned)
ISBN-10: 1482019272
BISAC: Fiction / Literary

On September 15, 2009, the chairman of a major New York publishing house is found shot to death in his bedroom. Nearby, in the chairman’s study, lies the manuscript of A Charlatan’s Orbit, by one of America’s most successful and prolific novelists — Randall Ray.

The manuscript, Ray’s 98th and final book, is unlike any of his previous works. Part memoir, part confession, it describes Ray’s curious life — from his charmed childhood in California, to the strange cruelties of small-town India, to the financial and artistic pressures of New York City, and finally to a mysterious island where he now lives with an antique pistol, defending himself from angry natives.

But most of all, the book reveals the surprising truth behind Ray’s stardom — a truth which not only changes his legacy forever, but which exposes his passions, his duplicity, and ultimately the series of murders that have allowed A Charlatan’s Orbit to be written and published at all.

Get the print version.

Get the Kindle version.

_____
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Tuesday Poem: “That Foul Accountant of My Wife!” by Zireaux

Still from the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: '...My mental portrait fattened / into plump and Quasimodian life...'

Still from the 1923 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: ‘…My mental portrait fattened / into plump and Quasimodian life…’

And hunched and hairy and beastly-shaped.
No neck, although its head looked shrunk
enough to be the stalk or trunk,
of headless monk (an ape de-caped,
so to speak).

                              “Which one? Which one
of you’s Arcady Robinson?”

Bowed short legs, broad shoulders, slender
loins, vermicular arms, lengthy hair,
and puffed up torso, as if both genders
joined together, merged in cleaved
and clumpy surge of flesh somewhere
above the hips.

                              The water received
his rubber dinghy, and ferried it
toward us, the way a waiter would carry it
– level and smooth — were it a tray
that held a hairy canapé.

Did I resent that calm, obedient
sea? So welcoming (compare
that with my own arrival!
)

                                                            ‘Where’s
your – stop that! – your one ingredient
of fixed net worth!’

                                  The cretin – now clasped
by smelly, delighted and blighted Sayeed
– still scanned the dim-lit isle and rasped
a first impression:

                                  ‘Your what’s-it-called.
Release me, sir! The terms agreed
oblige the undersigned” – he trawled
a trouser pocket, produced a letter,
or no, a document – ‘the debtor
undersigned gives promise not
to liquefy an asset bought…’

Oh Megan-Muse! Although we hadn’t
met before, I soon divined
this fellow’s form! My hunch aligned
with fact. My mental portrait fattened
into plump and Quasimodian life.

That foul accountant of my wife!

The man who ka-chinged her bell (may he rest
in peace), the dwarfish Pan who hexed her
– and sexed her — was here now manifest!

‘…an asset bought with aforementioned
loan,” continued undaunted Dexter,
“without the undersigned’s intention
approved by said Investor.’

                                                  He stalled,
then hoarsely shouted: ‘Your what’s-it-called,
you vehicle, your boat – it’s gone! The barge
on which we hold a “floating charge”…’

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “A Face Immense with Murder” by Zireaux

Kali trampling Shiva, Chromolithograph, by R. Varma: '...as from a face immense / with murder; swelled malevolence; / bloated, blue-skinned Kali among  / the Hindu’s devilry...'

Kali trampling Shiva, Chromolithograph, by R. Varma: ‘…as from a face immense / with murder; swelled malevolence; / bloated, blue-skinned Kali among / the Hindu’s devilry…’

Ahead of me a storm cloud masked
the dying sun, and seemed a tumour
there, with bolts of bronzy hair
projecting from its swollen bloom, or
swarming hive, or epiphyte
or gushing growth in crushing night –
whatever it was, the sea below
was cast in darkest indigo

and seemed, that level sea, a tongue
protruding, as from a face immense
with murder; swelled malevolence;
bloated, blue-skinned Kali among
the Hindu’s devilry. O pagan
horror! O see me tremble, Megan.
Great Muse! Lend me your size, your heavenly
amplitude, your wing-spanned weight
which magically rises, 747ly,
above those billowing effigies,
those dreaded cumuli of fate.
Lend me, love, your infinite ease
to tranquillise the Gorgon’s wroth.
O Utterfly! My Behe-moth!
Let’s travel, dear (you promised me)
to some unfathomed galaxy –

Okay. I know. First finish the poem…

The storm was not the thing I urged
Sayeed to see; but what emerged
from it — from that infernal foam,
what churned within its stygian throat.
A tiny moving thing. A mote
amidst that murky deep, a speck,
a spot, a floating fleck of bile
came drifting toward our island wreck.

‘A boat!’ my stowaway cried and leapt
across the rocks to where a pile
of scrap was gathered – a thing he’d kept
for just this purpose: a freezer box
was steeply wedged into the rocks;
and to it, obliquely, with rope attached,
the drum from which Sayeed had hatched.

And rings and winches; a blade from Tug’s
propeller, some davits, roller chains,
a crossbar from a hauling crane
– all jammed and hammered, crammed and plugged
in place, and bound with bailer bags,
and irons spars, and nailed-on flags.
Atop the highest point, about
four meters up, an empty jar
of Newman’s Salsa gave a snout
to that strange upward-sniffing creature.
Inside this high-hung reservoir
was stored some oil, its crowning feature
(peak oil, you might say). This cup
was what now fueled its keeper up
the sculptured peak. A boat was sighted.
That high-held cup must be ignited.

'Atop the highest point, about / four meters up, an empty jar / of Newman’s Salsa gave a snout /  to that strange upward-sniffing creature.'

‘Atop the highest point, about / four meters up, an empty jar / of Newman’s Salsa gave a snout / to that strange upward-sniffing creature.’

No torch-bearer at the Olympic games,
no squirrel-athlete could have scaled
that pile more quickly. Sayeed prevailed,
and with a single Flick-Bic’s flame
(where had he found my lighter?) the deed
was quickly done. A glowing seed
was planted in the growing dark.
And to that hanging lamp the boat
now honed, as when the dreaded shark
in Spielberg’s films locates its prey.
A far-off, faintly bleating goat
at first, and then a donkey’s bray,
the outboard motor rumbled nearer.
The pink that fogged the night-sky’s mirror
soon faded away. But just as soon,
behind us rose an amber moon,

which cast sufficient light, a golden
barley smear of light, for me
to track the roaring noise and see
the motorboat as it rolled in.
A sleek half-cabin craft it was.
Its engine slowed — a muffled buzz –
then silenced completely. Inside the gently
swaying craft I dimly perceived
a single figure, a child evidently,
a child all alone (although
my eyes were not to be believed).

‘Hello!’ Sayeed was there to throw
a rope.

                    The figure caught it, and now
it stood upon the moonlit prow,
a thing of physiologic distortion,
child-sized but adult-proportioned.

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “O Majesty of Muses” by Zireaux

'...as bound Ulysses (cargo knotted) / condemned himself to ecstasies / and wept and begged to be unbound.'

‘…as bound Ulysses (cargo knotted) / condemned himself to ecstasies / and wept and begged to be unbound.’

‘We traveled from place to place — from Paris,
Chicago, Houston, Singapore.
Our doleful players would implore
my mother:

                               “Queen of Heaven, Fairest
Tzarina, wax our ears! The call
of shiny cars and shopping malls
and billboard-blazoned beer unbinds
our will – just as that Argonaut did
fail to keep a focused mind
and nearly drowned in siren seas;
or bound Ulysses (cargo knotted)
condemned himself to ecstasies
and wept and begged to be unbound.
Sweet-tuned temptations all around,
each sung in notes we can’t decline
– those paper notes with dollar signs.

O Majesty of Muses – our earnings
are sweet. The dollar seduces. And yet
it also cheats. The Soviets
just steal our prize on our returning.
And here, Madam, on freedom’s soil,
the banks from Lenin’s face recoil –
what can we do? How can we use
this cash we stow in growing stashes?
To stuff more pillows? Or – excuse
the language, Lady — blow our noses,
spread cologne across our asses?
How strange a fate this world composes!”

But to our bandit queen, our troupe
stayed true; a loyal, close-knit group.
We loved but never groped the Free-land.
Then one day — ’

                                         ‘ — you met New Zealand.’

These last words were mine. How many days
had passed since I’d employed my tongue
(not counting mumbled curses flung
across the island — Sayeed-ways)
to mingle with my co-survivor?
Perhaps four weeks. Or maybe five, or
maybe several months — or more.
So comatose was I to him,
so like a wooden dummy for
his fancies to ventriloquize,
he did not think to pause and trim
his story’s sail when I (surprise!)
emitted words.

                                            He said, ‘Well no,
Not yet. Another year or so
would pass. A massive fox-fur muff
and hat, where mother liked to stuff

her secret store of cash, were worth
a fortune now; and on a flight
to Spain one moon-palpating night,
these great white furs of puffed-up girth
became two ATM machines.
Withdrawals were made, and – split between
the pilots – handsome bribes were paid,
and never have two finer actors
more convincingly portrayed
despairing, helpless, hijacked men.
The players cheered my mother, backed her
mission to defect. But when
we flew to Rome, then Ashkabat,
and mother told them of her plot
to conquer all Turkmenistan,
they begged us for a change of plan.

So I was forced to slap a few
(the flutist and a back-up singer)
and break our tabla player’s fingers
and even stab a stewardess to
convince the others to comply.
But it is late, quite late, and I
must start my prayers. Tomorrow I’ll
return to Ashkabat – the year
that saw my mother put on trial;
how we escaped to Bucharest,
Ukraine, Japan, and finally here.
Or rather, there.” He pointed West.
“That country I’ve forsaken — though
she couldn’t have been more kind, you know.’

He gave his hairy lip a stroke
and took ten steps, then turned:

                                                              ‘You spoke!’

‘You spoke, Arcady!’ He rushed to me,
so close, his moustache brushed my cheek.
He spat into my ear: ‘You speak!
You hear! You heard, unconsciously,
the story of my puzzling past.
Each woeful word. And now, at last,
we can converse.’

                                ‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘I said at last we can – ‘

                                                         ‘No. There.’

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “The Pheromones of Freedom” by Zireaux

‘The “H” that spells Kuala Lumpur.’

‘The “H” that spells Kuala Lumpur.’

We feared we’d be discovered, dreaded
we’d meet some relative of Nur’s,
or someone dressed in Russian furs
whose friend or father we’d beheaded
on giddy raids of Ashkabat.
We feared assassins, hit men, plots
to kidnap Noorya, hired thugs,
our former Majesty’s fanatics.
But mother served her daily drugs
and told her faithful tea-time addict:
“You married to prevent divorce
from this, your fix, your tonic source
of love and life, your sin and soul-friend.
When do we tour Romania and Poland?”

Arcady — you may be wondering what
my Noorya felt about it all.
How could I know? A frail blue doll
beside a northern window shut
against the cold, she numbly stared
out at the “greyzny,” grainy-aired,
despairing city. She weirdly hummed,
and only moved when she was lifted.
Some yoghurt-rice, morosely gummed,
was all she’d eat. Often she drifted
to sleep, and yet her eyes didn’t close,
as if, through puzzling, dreamy snows,
her dark north-facing gaze was tuned
to where dead Nur was now marooned.

One day – what did she see! — while scanning
that window’s view myself, I tried
to find, amidst that dried-out, tide-
receded reef of buildings spanning
Moscow’s ashen plain, some spot
on which my darling’s eyes had caught.
And this is when I noticed, there
along the notched horizon’s line,
what seemed a fallen eyelash hair
against the cloudy lens. So fine
and far away it was, it meant
so little — until one day we went
up north. I watched, in Noorya’s eyes,
the Ostankino Tower rise.

The first we’d ever seen – a high-rise!
Then two weeks later, in Poland, a latticed,
steely, guy-wired, apparatus
would lift my Noorya’s vision sky-wise
even higher. Our minstrel band
was being bussed through desolate land
that led to Warsaw’s radio station –
a tower that broadcast Noorya’s lyrics
to every household in the nation.
The papers printed panegyrics
extolling her unearthly sound.
Requests came in from all around
the world to hear the “Afghan Muse.”
And Asarov drank down his booze.

And died soon after, the dupe.

                                                      Pronto,
our group began a global tour,
from Paris to Kuala Lumpur.
Taiwan, Berlin, New York, Toronto.
We’d fly, we’d land, we’d play. Repeat.
The Russians studied each receipt
of every foreign item bought;
then stole the goods and took our money.
The cold damp seats of Aeroflot
(with air-vent nostrils always runny)
deprived us of our sleep; and rare
was our free time to breathe free air –
but here’s the thing: Each trip we made,
each foreign city where we stayed

appeared selected by that weird
unearthly voice, that Sibyl’s sense,
a demon-fed clairaudience
to which my Noorya’s mind adhered.
I’d watch her eyes. I’d watch them search
each city’s sky – and watch them perch
at once upon some thrusting spire
that like a timid hunter’s rifle
would track the clouds but hold its fire.
It was, in Paris, the tip of Eiffel’s
enormous parasol, fast-banded
with iron – and never quite expanded –
which served as yet another hook
for Noorya’s eyes to hang their look.

'That mid-town peak where King Kong sat / and  defended from the sky’s munitions / his lovely screaming hand-held girl.'

‘That mid-town peak where King Kong sat / and defended from the sky’s munitions / his lovely screaming hand-held girl.’

Berlin! That mast of tall transmissions.
Those twins that loomed in lower Manhattan.
That mid-town peak where King Kong sat and
defended from the sky’s munitions
his lovely screaming hand-held girl.
Shanghai! The Oriental Pearl,
a needled orb suspended high
above the towers of Pudong.
That beautiful inverted “Y”
that penetrates Taiwan’s azure.
Undotted “I”s across Hong Kong.
The “H” that spells Kuala Lumpur.
And not just towers of modern stock — no,
but I remember in Morocco,
her eyes in Casablanca set
upon a mighty minaret.

And obelisks and campanili,
steeples, shafts, pagodas, many
aerials and tall antennae
projecting upward, thrusting freely,
unabashed into the raven
dark or shaggy white or shaven
vast dilating sky above.
Arcady! How frightening and how odd,
the way whatever spark my love’s
dull stare retained was drawn to pinnacles;
and every place — a lightning rod!
Perhaps I was too rash, too cynical.
Perhaps her skyward eyes were chaste;
their tower-conducted gaze not traced
to long dead Nur, or her abduction,
but just to – I don’t know — construction.

To all the wonders of tall buildings.
To all the glories of the West.
We were, our band of players, impressed
with all that grass and glass and gilding;
the toilets fresh as spring. We smelt
the pheromones of Freedom, felt
its hardened harlot-hands inspect
our tender modesty. We tried
to find the courage to defect.
But mother saw things otherwise.
She shunned the shopping plazas, shied
away from lawns; showed no surprise
at blow-dryers; found in every place
we went some members of our race
already there, and thus determined
that all the world was Turkmen-vermined.’

…tbc

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Tuesday Poem: “Yushunskaya Street in Icy Moscow” by Zireaux

The Hotel Sevastopol in Moscow.

The Hotel Sevastopol in Moscow.

                                                ’I went
directly to mother, and whispered: “Quick,
let’s feed this Ass some arsenic!

Or hemlock, cyanide, or some
drugged drink of yours that pumps with pain
each neuron first, then bursts the brain.”

Remarkably, my poor old mum
didn’t share my choice of entertainment.
Her rare decision to abstain meant
she’d made a different, better plan.
It’s true, the bombings scared her badly.
She didn’t sleep well. Turkmenistan
appeared in dreams. She saw the madly
vengeful eyes of blue-faced Nur
whose speechless spectre stayed with her
throughout the day. She longed to go
somewhere, but where, she did not know.

“Here, give him this,” she said, and spooned
a sticky substance in a glass.
Of garlic schnapps and mustard gas
the liquid smelled. I nearly swooned
while serving it; but Asarov,
so smitten, proud, polite and suave,
imbibed the potion fast, afraid
to cause offence to his new love.

The following day, my mother made
it again. And six weeks later, above
a bustling Yushunskaya Street
in icy moody Moscow, she’d treat
him with some more – and call him “syn”
(in Russian, “son”) when serving that gin.

Or shall we call it herogin?
For I soon learned what key ingredient
had made our soldier so obedient
to us – and haggard, pale and thin.
When mother first revealed to me
the outlines of her strategy,
I couldn’t believe it. Frantically
I asked: “What madcap scheme is this?
To let that dumb romantic be
my Noorya’s spouse? To let him kiss
her toes each night, caress her hair?”
I cannot bear the thought!”

                                                “Now there,”
she soothed. “Don’t look so mortified.
The moment Noorya is his bride

you’ll thank your mother.”

                                                Here, she laughed:

“That daily drink he quaffs is meant
to make the poor man impotent,
yet gorge his lust for one more draft.
Enslaved, he’ll do what I insist.
and if that Noorya’s ever kissed,
then your lips, son, will have the honour.”

My mother was right. And not right, too.
New fears began to weigh upon her.
The wedding happened fast. It’s true
the Ass became what’s called a “junkie;”
and true, for every gin-glass drunk he
desired my Noorya even less;
and true that he would acquiesce

to mother’s sneers of cold command.
But though he promptly did obey her,
and steered his bride – and minstrel players —
to Moscow, little went as planned.
With famished eyes and spirits sagging,
he shivered on a mattress, begging
my mother to serve him one more sip,
one more – for “you’d be nowhere, right,
without my Russian citizenship?
I’ve done all that you’ve asked! Tonight
your troupe is booked at the Grand Hall.
The bribes I gave! These rooms are small
for your large group…yet” — meekly said —
“in marrying one, I’ve many wed…”

Now sixteen floors above the glare
and gloom of Moscow’s puddled streets,
eighteen of us slept with thirteen sheets,
and seven beds across a pair
of rooms – or more like cubbyholes.
That bleak Hotel Sevastopol
housed refugees of Turkic stock:
from Kyrgystanis to Tajiks,
Uzbekis, Turkmen and Kazakhs.
And Afghans, too, which we, like freaks
of ethnic nature now were classed.
What irony! We’d fled our past,
we’d dodged our demons – yet here we found
ourselves now lodged with Turks all round!’

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “Song of Towers: The Ass from Leningrad”

'I mean those spheres / that every man alive reveres...'

‘I mean those spheres / that every man alive reveres…’

‘A soldier met my Noorya; chanced
to hear her sing. A brooding lad
of twenty (home in Leningrad),
he fell, at once, in love, entranced
with Noorya’s voice; as well, no doubt,
with her dark eyes, her sultry pout,
those lambent violet lips; and – let’s
be honest here – we can be sure
that he, like me, desired to pet,
to kiss, to suck those soft, mature,
and shapely orbs; I mean those spheres
that every man alive reveres
when perky, plump (in Turkmen, “stacked”),
and clipped and filed and red-shellacked

and in a sandal’s row arrayed.

Of course, our brooding Bolshy tried
to mask this concupiscent side
of his desire; and in the shade
of Noorya’s brow he’d read a book
to her. And she would sometimes look
at him. A page of Turgenev, he
would recite (from Fathers and Sons).
And often, quoting Chernyshevsky,
he’d ask my darling – “What’s to be done?”

“About?” I’d interrupt his teaching.

“About mankind. His overreaching.
His violent nature, lust for war,
his wrath toward things one should adore.”

“Excuse me, Comrade Ass.” The fellow’s
name was Asarov. “What sort
of things have you in mind?”

                                                           “In short,
my brother,” he’d say, “I mean the yellow
stone church, the garden arbors, Spring’s
ecstatic nightingales – the things
of simple country life. Why must
we swap the willowed ponds and trilling
larks for tanks and filth and dust?”

Said I: “A chance to make a killing?”

“Aw brother” – he used this stock appellative
as if he really were my relative;
and I was Noorya’s kin; and she,
my singing love, his bride to be.

“You see this face” – and here his fingers
stroked my darling’s brow. She eyed
his chest, his shouldered gun, then sighed
and seemed to faint. “If I could bring her
to Russia, brother, I’d unbind
these slender ankles, wrists — what kind
of cretins cuff such pretty arms!
Then we could see if she’d resist
the tender tendrils of my charms.”

He smiled as the hookah hissed
and burbled in my perfumed tent.

“More whisky, please,” he said.

                                                                     I went
directly to mother, and whispered: “Quick,
let’s feed this Ass some arsenic!”‘

…tbc
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Tuesday Poem: “A Troubled Hush”

'...that concrete flower / rose into a long-stemmed tower."

‘…that concrete flower / rose into a long-stemmed tower.”

‘You know, Arcady, what I most dreaded
– and most admired – those years ago
when I first came to Auckland? Below
a pink sky, our airport shuttle threaded
the rolling urban hills which lay
around the southern motorway.
Then as we neared the city, a weird
design appeared: A massive clam
with steely javelin spired – or speared;
or like those crowns of old Siam
that dancers wear, it seemed to us.
Then slowly, from our speeding bus,
with stamen stiff, that concrete flower
rose into a long-stemmed tower.

It rose! It rose! It drove its spike
into the sky. New Zealand, in
brochures we’d seen, had always been
an undeveloped place, less like
a country than some shrubbery
or parkland in the south-most sea;
a place unspoiled by vain ambitions.
But then — that high-rise bayonet!
I’m not a man of superstition,
Arcady, yet nor will I forget
how seeing heaven’s abdomen
impaled that way (a stab-omen,
your might say, or evil tropo-spear),
did prick and poison me with fear.

You ask: What prompted my foreboding?
Let me explain: Back during the Russian-
Afghani war, the sudden concussion
that followed screaming MiGs unloading
their half-ton vacuum bombs would cause
all time to stop. The birds would pause
in mid-air. The breeze would still. One’s mind
would marvel at this troubled hush.
The world would seem to stutter, rewind,
then try again; until the crush
of time became too much for it
and all Afghanistan would split
in half: the dead, the living – while you
remained compressed between the two.

It was within these sudden blinks
of mute eternity – these lulls,
these gaps, these eerie intervals –
that Noorya’s words grew most distinct.
And as the ripest fruits are lost
by misplaced snows or ill-timed frosts,
so too those unexpected calms,
in which my Noorya’s vocals filled
the shockwaves of those Russian bombs,
congealed my blood and froze — or chilled
at least – my loins. “What rises, falls,”
she’d sing. Gotmek the wyşka. For all
ambition ends in pain. Achievement
births its rhyming twin: Bereavement.’

He looked distressed, Sayeed, and spoke
no more than day. But when we awoke
the following morn, his mood was cheerful
his mouth revived, his words less fearful.
His song would prick the long cold hours.
You’ll hear it next: “The Song of the Towers.”

…tbc
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