Category Archives: Kamal, Book One

Tuesday Poem: The Final Episode of Kamal, Book One! “A Haunting, Sad Lacuna”

The Burning of the Library of Alexandria, by Hermann Goll (1876)

The Burning of the Library of Alexandria, by Hermann Goll (1876): ‘No doubt, in some unearthly realm, a vast / librarium of titles have amassed, / an anti-Alexandria to match / the one which Caesar had his men dispatch.’

Our hero is astonished to discover that the old, bedraggled stranger he met in the previous episode is none other than Ramana Narayanamurthy (a.k.a. Rick), Kamal’s old philosopher and friend (who always advised Kamal to “pursue the greater pleasure”).

But Rick still doesn’t recognize Kamal, who is badly burnt and disfigured. Rather, Rick thinks this horrific figure must have heard the story of Kamal and Imogene, a story which Rick has often told, and which he proceeds to summarize now — to our hero’s overwhelming grief.

We learn that Kamal’s mother found photographs of her son on a pornographic website (the photos, you’ll recall, taken while Kamal was drugged, without his knowledge); and that she shared this website with Imogene, who, as we know, was pregnant with Kamal’s baby; and that, as a result, Imogene has committed suicide. Unable to bear this news, Kamal passes out, and Book One comes to a close.

‘Kamal? Good try, my friend. You think I’d fall
for that? So you, it seems, have heard before
my story of Kamal and Imogene!
How he was banished, and she, the poor
naïve young girl – just turned sixteen –
heart-broken, wild, and furthermore,
now pregnant with his child, was by
her mom (my mistress) made to lie
with twenty men in just a single night
so she might temper sadness with delight.

The story always breaks my heart. Like you,
my friend, the men I tell the story to
feel most compassion for Kamal, who never
discovers how his Imogene, forever
in love with him, is ravaged by the pills
her mother makes her take in hopes
an overdose of drugs will kill
the unborn child; or how she copes
with so much self-disgust, until
one day, of her freewill, she takes
a razor (once Kamal’s) and makes
a slit along her forearm, this way-wise,
and on her favorite pink divan . . . she dies.

That’s right, she dies. “But poor Kamal!” I hear
them say. “They’ve both lost what they held most dear
– but he knows not her miseries! Imagine,”
they say, “when he discovers how his passion
was mistreated, crushed, defiled!” To which I say,
“Dear men, it’s she who suffers most!
Kamal, it’s true, was cast away,
and surely must have felt morose
for days – but hey, didn’t he obey
my firm philosophy? For sure
enough, did he not take my cure
for melancholy? Choose a greater pleasure.
To find our worth, it’s happiness we measure.

Queen of Sheba

The welcoming of the Queen of Sheba: “…of oceans crossed and golden fleeces found; / I write of Sheba bedded, children crowned…’

Not misery! Move on with life! Move on!
If one joy ends, then let another spawn!
And judging by the path Kamal selected
his heart’s already disconnected
from his first lost love. Two weeks
before my body turned to this
monstrosity – when I had cheeks
the ladies still adored to kiss,
when pills I took still worked! – a shriek
resounded through our mansion’s halls.
And then I heard my Lady call:
‘Come quickly, Rick!’ So to her room I sped.
‘You won’t believe it! Becky phoned and said

Kamal is now a worldwide celeb!
And look at this! I’ve found him on the web!’
Together, she and I – transfixed, amused,
astonished – every single page perused
of that amazing site. My friend, I can
attest, without a doubt, Kamal is not
a destitute or even mournful man.
O no! Of all the graphic, candid shots
we saw, of all the images we scanned
– Kamal engaged in carnal trysts;
Kamal the proud polygamist –
not one perspective of his face did show
the slightest trace of misery or of woe.

“Come quickly, Genie dear!” – my Lady wanted
her daughter to see, and so the site was flaunted
to the girl. Kamal the Libertine.
Kamal the Sultan in his nest of Queens.
Contrast his star with Imogene’s – who, quite
the opposite to him (I know
because I saw the painful sight),
refused to let her sadness go.
And so she suffered most despite
her final choice: That is, to die.
And die she did. And much as I
believe that such a choice confirms one’s strength,
the second measure of one’s life is length.

O yes, our lives are scored in years. In fact,
if I was frank, and asked to be exact
who suffered most, then, well, I might just say,
it was their baby…my friend? Are you okay?’

Kamal, as you have guessed, has quietly swooned
(for he already was recumbent)
and from the truth is now marooned
in cool oblivion’s abundance.
For when we cannot bear a wound,
a hurricane of numbness sweeps
us to that land where no one weeps
from either pain or pleasure. ‘The Land of Nod’,
as Stevenson once called that place abroad.*

Hylas and the Nymphs, John William Waterhouse

Hylas and the Nymphs, by John William Waterhouse (1896): Hylas was one of the Argonauts, sailing with Jason in search of the Golden Fleece. He encounters a bevy of naiads, who invite him into a pool. He is never heard from again.

Poor Imogene! I mourn her loss – or more, lament
the loss of anything adored.
Of anything on which we’ve spent
more thought than thinking can afford.
To find, at last, your lover gives consent
– I’m yours! I’m yours! – a gift it seems
that grants the kingdom of our dreams.
I do not write of love that’s unrequited.
No! I write of love attained then blighted.

Of beauty gained then lost; of pleasure’s throne
ascended, a million paradises owned;
of oceans crossed and golden fleeces found;
I write of Sheba bedded, children crowned;
of iridescent flashes chased and netted
and twitching with survival’s lust;
of sea-nymphs caught and dragons petted
– and all of it, alas, to dust!
The rose de-petalled, the muse beheaded.
Be clear! Be clear unthrottled throat!
Was it Stendhal or Proust who wrote
that love is sweeter in the past? But what
of love unfairly severed, cruelly cut?

With tragedy the future is devoured.
And reminiscence, too, is overpowered
by thoughts of present pleasures now aborted.
Each hope, however gently coaxed or courted,
refuses from our hand to feed – and runs!
(Yet lingers, still, beyond our touch).
Can characters a poet has spun
their maker ever know? So much
I feel for you, Kamal – a son,
as I have said – and yet for me
I don’t expect your sympathy….

Let shame say what it will! Like Laertes,
I let emotion douse indignities.
I promised you, Kamal, that I would give
you all I had – and loved – so you may live.
And this I’ve done. But O, how frail you are!
And how protective I’ve become.
For darkness threatens every star.
Who knows which rival will succumb
when fame and obfuscation spar?
For every book that’s published, one
exists – at least as good – which none
have heard of, books which editors have spurned.
A Xanadu porlocked! Lolita burned!

In every shelf of classics, there exists
a haunting, sad lacuna – lost, dismissed,
abandoned, silenced works of greatness. Works
blacked-out by popes and peons, kings and clerks;
or accidents, a freakish fire, or duels
of honor, libraries bombarded
by civilized, invading fools;
a drawer unopened, box discarded,
or all those ‘literary schools’
which poison future Socrates
with drafts of mediocrity.
Unwarranted, political hysteria!
Abhorrent camps, the gulags of Siberia!

No doubt, in some unearthly realm, a vast
librarium of titles have amassed,
an anti-Alexandria to match
the one which Caesar had his men dispatch.
For every book we read, a phantom one
is shelved within that catacomb.

My hope, Kamal, is that won’t you won’t inherit
that fate; for that is not the fate you merit.

– End of Book the First –

*A reference to the poem by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), which goes:

From breakfast on through all the day
At home among my friends I stay,
But every night I go abroad
Afar into the land of Nod.

Published as part of the dVerse poetry group and the Tuesday Poets, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!

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Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“The Man who had a Mid-Life Crisis at 26”

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1943), by Ivan Albright, oil on canvas.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1943), by Ivan Albright, oil on canvas.

Having been picked up and loaded into a car by a very large man (and myrmecologist) named Carl — and thus saved from a cruel woman — our badly wounded, disfigured hero encounters a man with a gun.

Kamal assumes this man is a soldier, also badly wounded, who has joined the front lines of the new war. Kamal invites the man into the car and listens to his story — and is astonished when he discovers the man’s true identity.

Now let me shape my final stanzas’ form:
This first book’s end is near indeed – and warm.
The sun, too motherly, too hot, too wearing,
is tender toward Kamal – and overbearing,
enwrapping him in fire. The car has stopped.

‘Wait here,’ says robust Carl. ‘I’ll see
if I can get some rations swapped
for bandages, okay? And we
will need some gas.’

                                           Kamal, now propped
atop some pillows, looks outside
across the olive blistered hides
of FEMA’s army tents that crenellate
a nearby park. Kamal obeys and waits

and sees a flutter of orange and violet laying
its eggs on mallow leaves; children playing
beside a fountain wall, an asphalt sponge;
and next to this, a steely cruise-ship plunged
into the earth from space – the Transco Tower,
imposing, tall, alone, austere.

Some minutes pass. It seems an hour.
Then suddenly a man steps near
– a hideous visage, his deathly glower
a muffin smeared with dirt and streaked
with sweat. And pressing flatbread-cheeked
against the window’s squeaking glass, he leers
inside. A fog around his mouth appears.

‘Please help!’ – his eyes like purple mushrooms spoiled,
his mouth an ancient ruin rimmed with boils.
What hair he has is clumped in sagebrush tufts,
his nose an oily bratwurst over-stuffed.
And yet (of course) Kamal is moved by pity
for such a ravaged hungry soul.
How sweet the country when a city
is smudged and smeared with clouds of coal!
Without an Anna, there’d be no Kitty;
Or too, without a Vronsky, Levin.
And dear Kamal, he finds a heaven
within his fellow creature’s fall. Which means
when help’s required, he quickly intervenes.

The Transco Tower in Houston

The Transco Tower in Houston, Texas: ‘…a steely cruise-ship plunged / into the earth from space…’

It’s like an anesthesia to his brain
– goodwill. And suddenly, despite the pain
that comes with any movement when one’s skin
is hot like embers pressed and paper thin,
Kamal collects his strength, unlocks the door.

‘Come in, brave soldier! This food and drink
is yours! And have some rest before
you must return to battle! Don’t think
me impolite – I’m very sore
and weak. For as you see, I’ve had
my scrape with death, like you, comrade.
But where you are a true contender, sir,
I’m but a meek and failed surrenderer.’

The famished man of course, too busy eating,
cannot reply or give a proper greeting.
Which doesn’t bother Kamal, who chatters for him
(as this, for speechless guests, is good decorum):

‘And where’s the enemy retreating to?
For surely they are not as strong
and brave and resolute as you?
Eat up! This food does not belong
to me but to a noble fellow who,
– with verity I can confide –
is charity personified!
And I am certain he would find it fair
with you his great prosperity to share.’

And in this vein Kamal continues, until,
at last, the man (perhaps against his will)
decides that he must speak. His mouth, a stubble
of crumbs and burgundy saliva bubbles,
gives voice:

                                     ‘The enemy? The enemy’s
right here! In here, by God! For with
a potent self-made venom he’s
destroying me! It is a myth
to think that wild and random seas
propel our boat with slippery wheel
which we can neither steer nor feel!
I chose to fight against myself because
I did not like the kind of man I was.

To be precise, I did not like his age!
I did all that I could to stop that stage
of life that follows youth. If you had known
me not too long ago, before I’d grown
into this decomposing piece of meat.
you might have said, “Hey, that was you
I saw on Hollywood’s Elite
last week – or was it in GQ?”
You would have kneeled and kissed my feet
beside the heels of movie stars!
For when I entered clubs or bars
I was – I swear to God – a pussy magnet!
But oh how quickly one’s good looks grow stagnant!

I saw it coming. Long ago I saw
it coming, knew deep down that beauty’s law
would not be broken – and only slightly bend.
And so I chose – for choice is ours, my friend –
to fight her foul enforcing years!
How old you think I am? A guess.’

Kamal tries hard to sound sincere,
although he picks a figure less
than what he thinks – for it appears
this ragged man is sixty or more.

‘Did you say forty? I’m thirty-four!
But that is one of beauty’s many prices:
To smite you with an early mid-life crisis!

My crisis came, in fact, at twenty-six!
For with perfection comes more flaws to fix!
My hair was curly, fleecy-gold, with Grecian
luxuriance, no hint of alopecian
inheritance; and yet I had a patch
of hair transplanted just in case
– and found the color didn’t quite match.
So out it came, which left a space
of baldness there. Another batch
of hair would take a month to grow,
or more, so I took pills – you know,
Propecia and Minoxidil – took both
together, in triple dose for greater growth.

Jean Claude Van Damme

Jean Claude Van Damme: ‘…and all those other scams, / to keep my booty as solid as Van Damme’s.’

And never stopped! And then the steroids – Oh!
I thought my muscles should be bigger, so
I chose, yes chose, a daily regimen
of HGH and anti-estrogen,
with all those supplements – like creatine,
and cortisol suppressors – in
my chest injected. Pure caffeine,
pregnenolone and insulin,
and all the rest. A drug machine
I was, by God! And then the diets!
Every weight-loss ruse – I’d try it.
The hoodias, voodias, and all those other scams,
to keep my booty as solid as Van Damme’s.

I was by all accounts a doughty male,
and yet the day Viagra went on sale,
I chose to swallow one per day, then three,
then one per hour – that’s right! – to guarantee
a permanent virility.’

I always knew the side effects would come!
The falling hair, the roid-rage bouts, a numb
and mangled member! Worse! The sleeplessness
and nausea! O God! And I’d address
each symptom with a quick-fix cure
that kept me normal for a week,
a day, or less, to reassure
observers of my young physique.
I used these cures to make damn sure
– like that locked room and purple pall
which hid that portrait . . . can’t recall
the story, Cory something’

                                                         – ‘Dorian Gray?’–

‘That’s right . . . so none would see my youth decay.

A locked-up room of scar revisions, laser
resurfacing – see here? No clumsy razor
made these slices cross my scalp. It was
a surgeon grafting on some fresh new fuzz.
Or these cuts here; my face was lifted
twenty times. Or here, where fat
was sucked out from my breasts, which shifted
my nipples – see? Or look at that,
they carved the cancer out –’

a gentleman and diplomat,
who wasn’t so much worried that
he could not bear the site of carcinomas,
but rather that he’d faint from the aromas

which wafted acridly into his nose
from this confessor’s mouth, and wounds, and clothes,
– politely said, ‘It is your heart, good sir,
which though unseen, is proof your story’s pure.’

‘My heart? My heart was not immune to me!
With steroids, all its valves gained mass
and each aortic artery
was stretched and strained. Just one bypass,
was not enough. Why, I had three.
I shouldn’t have had the last one done,
for by the age of thirty-one
I’d had eleven seizures of the heart.
And there were times it almost didn’t re-start.

Despite my ills, to those who knew me best
I still looked fit. You never would have guessed
I’d lost my teeth that day, or had a stroke;
that underneath my skin’s cosmetic cloak
a different man was aging way too fast.
Until one day – not long ago –
I looked into the mirror aghast!
For as a corpse will no more show
upon its flesh the maggots massed
within, until, at once, they burst
outside, the maladies immersed
in me – ’til then emerging twice, at most,
per day – now all at once lay waste their host.

No surgery, no treatment could repair
my ravaged body – look at me! My hair
is gone! I dribble urine, fail to feel
my feces pass until the stuff congeals
between my legs. My skin is sap, my bones
are foam, my mouth a festering sore.
What could I do but leave my home?
And luckily, just then the war
had started! I told my friends (by phone).
“I’m going off to win your freedom!”
But invalids – what armies need ‘em?
Not ours. No way. They looked at me and said
why fight for us when you’re already dead?

Cary Grant Male War Bride

Cary Grant in the movie Male War Bride

I’m not a soldier – look, this gun’s not loaded,
nor can it be. At most it has exploded
a paintball on a TV show. These pants
are from a party. I went as Cary Grant
in Male War Bride – yes, a pretty sight!
I wore a satin bridal gown,
and underneath its sheeny white
these camouflage fatigues I found
at Army Surplus. What a night,
I tell you! Sheridan was played
by Ms. De______, who once portrayed
the call-girl in that classic, Lucy’s Crime.
But that, no doubt, was long before your time.’

His speech, till now unfelt as such, a line
of finest fiber passing through a mind –
Kamal’s – which ripples to a pattern all
its own, begins to catch and drag some small
amount of dross, then gather weeds and twigs,
then snag, at once, upon a rock
of memory so firm, so big,
the jolt begets a massive shock.

‘A beauty, then, but now a prig.
And am I bitter? No! For I enjoy
this great new power to annoy
my listeners by giving them a drink
of words they can’t refuse despite my stink!’

Contending with absurdity to gather
his thoughts, Kamal pronounces – ‘Rick? Or rather,
O master Narayanamurthy! It’s me! Kamal!’

Published as part of the dVerse open mike and the Tuesday Poets, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“How Kamal Eats Dog Shit and Marvels at Written Music”

The Piano Lesson by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Piano Lesson by Pierre-Auguste Renoir: ‘What foolishness to think /such beauty could be caught in nets of ink!’

Kamal has taken refuge in the garden of a Houston suburban home. The owner of the house, who thinks Kamal is an illegal immigrant, has a dog named Beyonce. At first this cruel lady feeds Beyonce’s dog-food to Kamal; and then, for fun, she feeds Kamal the dog’s feces (“sliced and fried”).

A large red-haired man in an SUV drives by and reprimands the lady for her mistreatment of Kamal. The man, named Carl, is a myrmecologist. He puts Kamal in his SUV and drives away. The piano music that’s playing in the car reminds Kamal of an incident from his childhood, involving his piano-playing father. One day, for the first time in his life, he saw his father composing a song. Kamal wondered at the miracle of written music. How could such a thing as music be captured on such flat and flimsy stuff as paper? (You’ll note, reader, the beautiful imagery below of the telephone wires as “staves” on a page of sheet music).

For days Kamal can hear the constant shelling.
‘You catch the news?’ some passing soul is yelling.
‘A missile almost torched the Pres’dents plane!
These guys with shoulder launchers are repelling
whatever craft is flying low to ascertain
the damage that’s been done! Who’d ever thought!’

Kamal can hear the moans of men in pain,
the rattle, squish and thump of troopers wrought
with gear – like Nemirovsky heard in Paris.
He smells the tanks, the diesel juggernauts
that rumble down the streets in slow nightmarish
determination, making pillars of
the trees and wafers of each house’s terrace.
He hears the guns of soldiers shooting doves
that fly in purling rufous streams above.

And then one day, refulgent, still and stuffed
with pungencies – of tar and fuels and meats,
of white plumeria and plastic tufts
of uncollected garbage in the streets –
those puffs of daisy slippers step outside
to fill his bowl, not with Beyonce’s Bits
but with her dried-out droppings sliced and fried!
She can’t resist one last disgrace and spits

inside the dish before she turns around.
And at that very moment, easing down
the street, the driver of an SUV
espies this woman in her tattered gown
expectorating in the bowl which she
is feeding some poor fellow on her lawn!
What’s this barbaric ghastliness I see!
The brakes are slammed. The jolting car is drawn
aside to spawn a massive figure, shoes
click-clicking on the sidewalk, upper brawn
all sweater-bound in lilac. ‘You abuse
this man! Were he some hound or mangy beagle
still such treatment one cannot excuse!’

The lady, sure of self, her manner regal,
retorts with: ‘Man or dog – he’s still illegal.’

Irène Némirovsky

Irène Némirovsky (1903–1942), author of the unfinished Suite Française which is about the Nazi occupation of France.

Now many other neighbors would have raised
their eyebrows here, stepped back and reappraised
the suppurating invalid. But not
our doughty, red-haired man! He stands amazed
before this foul old vixen and her plot
to shame the stricken youth – who, though unfazed
amidst this pleasant arbor, clearly ought
to have his lacerations dressed! What crazed
behavior this! The man, a scientist
who studies ants, cannot resist

the urge to help the stricken adolescent.
With biceps flexing into bulging crescents,
he hoists our lightweight boy – a sinew sack,
much lighter now than that which Blaze once lifted.
He shows his big white car the sickly snack
– a beep – and like a reptile’s mouth when gifted
with some food, it widens in attack.
And in the creature’s throat Kamal is shifted,
gently, gently. The man’s assuring paw
then closes down its upper jaw.

Now let’s move on – no end can be delayed
beyond the time which it alone has made;
and it alone reveals. The big white car
is filled with jugs of wine and big gold bars
of cheese and bags of apples, carrots, bread.

‘I’m outta here!’ says Carl, his flaring head
a torch beside the open window
– a torch that feels no air blown in though,
so slow he drives around deserted
turtle shells of cars, inverted
public buses, gangs of boys
out hunting for a Jag or Royce,
and bodies sprawled like effigies of wood
upon the road. ‘I’m outta here for good!

And far! Let’s see. Tasmania enchants.
Those deadly myrmicines – the jumper ants.
Or Spain. We might find something un-Darwinian,
in supercolonies of Argentinians.
Another sandwich, son?’

                                                                         Kamal is still
devouring his first and lacks the will
to listen more to Carl’s sweet talk,
while Carl’s sweet car is playing Bach’s
Capriccio on compact disc.

The sweet piano’s notes are brisk
and whimsical, a glass of bubbling
nostalgia served to ease a troubling
rapaciousness. And with Kamal’s good eye
now healed, he see the treetops whisking by;

while prancing notes seem written in the wires
that droop in measured staves between their spires,
as if – as happened once – he stood behind
his father’s hoary ragged bulk, enshrined
inside that airless room that day Kamal
(in brazen breach of protocol,
his father’d left the door ajar)
had crept inside three steps too far.

His father hummed in high soprano
then played the tune on his piano,
and then – and this most stunned Kamal
who stood unseen – he penned it all
in streaming lines! What foolishness to think
such beauty could be caught in nets of ink!

Jumper Ant Myrmecia pilosula

Australia’s Jumper Ant (Myrmecia pilosula): ‘Tasmania enchants. / Those deadly myrmicines – the jumper ants.’

Those songs which filled his dreams with rapture
were not a substance one could capture!
Kamal remained there, silent, wondering
which marks denoted violent thundering
chords, and which ones squeezed the stars
like honeysuckle of their nectar!
And which built emerald Alcazars
or conjured through a nightmare’s specter
resplendent moths, perfumed boudoirs,
the palm-sweet scent of Genie’s hair?
Which sharp or flat or half-note pair
could sound the depths of Genie’s eyes?
Kamal tried hard to recognize
within the sheets of paper there

notations of his nightly dreams!
But all he saw were straight black beams
between which father’s marks were wired.
A place where dull grey birds retired.

His father’s marks – ? Kamal has pealed
back time again, again besotted
by the redolence concealed
within his past – but finds it rotted!
His father’s marks – ? More thought reveals
more blemished spots and wormy holes,
until the past no more consoles
but offers up its cankered core
– who was this man he’d hankered for?
Who writes the music of our souls?

The cryptic scribblings of a stranger?

‘Your presence puts my muse in danger,’
his father had explained. ‘Now go.’

Kamal had thought, ‘But surely you must know,
dear father, how your muse befools you!
She’s turned your chamber to a tomb
and made your daily labor rule you!
Like Sisyphus, forever doomed,
as life goes on – and ridicules you! –
to lift a never-lifting weight.
You’re Arion – but can’t translate
your beauty, father, there on that
– that black and white, anaemic, flat
and flimsy stuff!’ It came too late.

Too late. Esprit de l’escalier:
Those great retorts we never say
(but think of later). ‘Go now, please.’
And out he went…

                                                 The wired trees
step back, make way. The breeze has gained
more courage now, its happy tongue
a gusty slobber, unrestrained
on Carl’s big cheek. The car is swung
across the road, now multi-laned
to miss a film crew and their gear.
O young Kamal! I made it clear
right from the start that you and I
are unalike – that I comply
to common well-known codes out here,

Harry Potter

‘For death’s as true / to you as me! It’s prowling scythe – or blotter – / as scary as Rowling was to Harry Potter.’

that I am not unique like you,
a force – and freak – of nature who
enchanted by the music played
knows nothing of the way it’s made.

Nor do I have your natural eye
for art, the way your mind responds
to beauty’s barometric highs
and lows, the isobars that spawn
such savage sunsets in your sky.

I’m older, too. I have that spinal
embodiment that makes death final;
while you, Kamal, well . . . never mind.
It’s ludicrous, indeed, unkind
of me to talk like this while you
are suffering! For death’s as true
to you as me! It’s prowling scythe – or blotter –
as scary as Rowling was to Harry Potter.

Published as part of the dVerse poetry open mike and the Tuesday Poets, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!

1 Comment

Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“O Hypnotizing Death!”

Woman with a Parrot, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1871)

Woman with a Parrot, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1871)

In the previous episode it’s revealed that Kamal is badly wounded. As he crawls away from an enormous bomb blast, apart from a bullet in his back, and an ear blown off, he is now blinded in one eye (he can barely see with the other), and his “pink-milk flesh” is bubbling all over.

Meanwhile, it’s starting to rain, and the area around the Houston Astrodome has broken out into civil unrest, while a stranger leads Kamal to a safer neighborhood. But as Kamal seeks out, and finds, a nice garden in which to die, the lady owner of the property feeds him dog food.

Kamal’s poor mind is stunned and hazy
and once, when someone askes him, ‘Where
you going,’ he answers through the daze, he’s
headed home.

                              ‘Where’s home?’

                                                                        ‘Bel Air.’

‘I’ll take you there. Here, hold my elbow.’

Kamal can’t see, but he can tell though
his guide is hurt as well, the stench
of labored breath and wounds all drenched
in unctuous bog and marshy blood-sweat.
Kamal can barely stand, but does.
The sidewalk still has ash because
it hasn’t felt the growing flood yet.
From every step more anguish springs;
yet still to that dear arm he clings.

The rain has now begun a flogging.

‘Let’s go! They’re coming, man!’

                                                                  The voice
is huffing, faint, its owner jogging,
or will be once he makes the choice
to let those hitching arms and legs fall,
and ditch his dragging, flagging rag-doll.

By now they’ve crossed the overpass
and stagger westward (toward, alas,
Bellaire and not Bel Air). On Main Street,
cars are frenzied bees – they swap
their pheromones, then go, then stop
again, and in another lane meet
another car. And all the while,
as though the cars are merely stiles

to count the crippled people passing,
the fleeing figures wade across
the vespine trail with smells amassing
from body fumes and car exhaust.

In 1994 Christian Spur confessed to faking the famous Loch Ness Monster photo.

In 1994 Christian Spurling confessed on his deathbed to faking the famous Loch Ness Monster photo.

Kamal can hear that odd assembly
of sound – the sharp rebuke, the trembly
retort, the thwack of windows cracked
(that comes before a car’s car-jacked).
and this above the constant chisel
of jets against the sky’s soft rock,
the helicopters’ hammer, flocks
of sirens whimpering, the sizzle
of gunfire – popping seeds in oil,
with teargas shells thrown in the boil.

Those shells, those guns, they seem much closer
indeed; and that is when his guide
– transposed from savior to disposer –
lets fall our hero from his side.
Kamal is dropped upon the pavement
in agony’s accursed enslavement,
a crawling corpse, a pinkish cur
with coal-dark clothes its patchy fur.

The rain, upstaged by other dramas,
is quick to end its old routine.
And though the scenery is unseen,
a laurel tree’s inverted commas
of purple fragrances take shape
within Kamal’s aroma-scape.

O reader! How hypnotizing death is!
A swindling shrink! A fraudulent Freud!
The deepest thoughts a mind possesses
extracted by the charmer’s void!

I once read of a sick pet parrot
who hated human touch. To spare it
a paltry death, its master built
a bed-like box with walls of quilt,
where it could die with noble bearing.
The master woke next day within
his own bed chamber. Near his chin
the bird lay dead (and pillow-sharing).
Mesmeric death’s enchanting glove
had teased out an unlikely love.

No secret’s safe! How many deathbed
somniloquies have given life
to freak-let narratives and breastfed
new-born truths – a second wife,
a massive debt, assassinations?
The ‘I killed JFK’ quotation.
This war, that bomb – a big mistake.
That Loch Ness photo was a fake.
Or as their devilish hours shorten,
the likes of Atwater and Rove*
will talk of brotherhood and love
and then repent for Willie Horton;
as death elicits heartfelt talks
not just from doves but also hawks.

But anyway – the strongest feelings
Kamal possesses are nothing too
extraordinary or revealing.
For all that death can make him do
– his deepest urge, his primal duty –
is seek a resting place near beauty.

And hence the scent of sodden grass
just as he smelled that day, alas,
when he was excommunicated
(those car-wash suds that soaked the lawn
before his dear Bel Air was gone),
is how his dying wish is baited.

To crawl some thirty feet it costs
an hour, and all his strength is lost.

Lee Atwater

Lee Atwater: ‘…Or as their devilish hours shorten, / the likes of Atwater and Rove / will talk of brotherhood and love / and then repent for Willie Horton…’

He creeps around some toy-train hedges,
the honeyed leaves of floodlit fern;
a flagstone path with painful edges
which gives his route an extra turn
around some potted plant formations
of spotted blue with waxed impatiens
and calla lilies’ sturdy shafts
with fresh-poured rain in raised carafes.

And here, at last, amidst this garden
of dream-damp dusk and ash-flecked trees
and grass like glass against his knees
which sink in soil and press each shard in,
Kamal collapses.

                                          ‘Hey, you there! Where
you from?’

                       Beneath a porte-cochere

a woman’s standing, wrinkled, slippered
with big white daisies at her toes,
a shag-pink robe, her blonde hair clippered
as if by pruning sheers, her pose
unwelcoming, with chest-clenched knuckles
beneath her chin – like neckline buckles.

Although Kamal can hear her through
the bullhorns of policemen who
are busy blocks away controlling
marauding gangs of anarchists
and Klu Klux Klan recidivists,
and vigilantes out patrolling
their neighborhoods, or looting shops
because it’s pointless calling cops

(which helps explain this lady’s tension),
his meek reply is madly spent
without a hope of comprehension.
He tells her he’s an immigrant.

Now comes a dog, a mini Greyhound
that hangs – in saltatory way – round
its owner’s bare white calves; it yaps
as if its vocal chords will snap
and now and then it sniffs the carcass
or pees nearby to stake its claim.
The lady learns our hero’s name
is not Jean-Paul, Roald Dahl or Marcus.

Her hand uplifts the Greyhound’s chin:
‘Come on, Beyonce, let’s go in.’

She reappears the morning after,
a shovel in her grip. But when
she comprehends the tool which staffs her
would kill the corpse it buries, again
she goes back in the house, emerging
with food this time – and thereby purging
herself of guilt (So what if it’s
Beyonce’s favorite – ‘Kibbly Bits!’).

Michael Dukakis

Michael Dukakis, Democratic nominee for president in 1988

*Lee Atwater (1951-1991) and Karl Rove (born 1950), both ruthless Republican political consultants infamous for their dirty tactics –- including the promulgation of fake poll results, hiring reporters to ask set-up questions during press briefings and countless smear, or “whisper” campaigns. One of Atwater’s most infamous tricks involved a television advertisement related to the case of Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who subsequently committed rape while on furlough from a life sentence in a Massachusetts prison. The advertisement convinced many voters that Michael Dukakis, presidential candidate and Massachusetts Governor, was soft on crime, resulting in the evaporation of Dukakis’s 17-percent lead in early public opinion polls over George H. W. Bush, who went on to become America’s 41st President. Shortly before his death from a brain tumor, Atwater issued a number of public and written apologies to individuals whom he had attacked during his political career, including Dukakis.

Published as part of the Tuesday Poets, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!

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Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux


George Bush Hurricane Katrina

President George Bush looks out the window of Air Force One over New Orleans, Wednesday, 31 August 2005, to survey the damage from Hurricane Katrina.

We pick up now after a missile — a “mini-nuke” in fact — has struck the Houston Astrodome during Fame Fest VII, launching America into a war it will struggle to define.

But despite the global implications of these events, all that really matters to our narrator is what has happened to his hero, Kamal (not very good news, it turns out).

Near Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada,
the President at last has climbed
from underground – a king cicada –
and taken wing, all stalwart-spined,
on Air Force One. ‘A war has started!’
he roars, euphoric, lion-hearted.
And armies shift, and navies sail,
and Russia asks for more detail.
(Its military’s been alerted.
‘You sure your nukes are in control?
One hates to contemplate the toll
should your commission be subverted.’)
Reservists are employed; a flock
of large battalions from Iraq;

and infantries are ordered via
commanders in Afghanistan,
the Persian Gulf and South Korea,
to quickly have their men withdrawn
from ‘theatre’ and join the nexus
of real platoons in southeast Texas.
And any group sans frontier,
the CAREs and SHAREs rush quickly there,
the IRCs, and CRSs
religious folk and journalists
who need a war zone to exist,
celebrities for whom success is
a cause, and frauds who think that art
is best when things are blown apart.

Why, all of history seemed convergent
upon events so near Kamal!
The U.S. generals blamed insurgents
while other leaders liked to call
it civil war, ‘the pot that melted
to melt-down point’. And Rumsfeld felt it
“was just the start of some new war
the world had never seen before,”
a war in which the enemy might
possess a mini-nuke like that
which felled the Fame-Fest, laid it flat,
and maybe Freedom needs a re-write.

But for Kamal – and others, too –
a reckless world is nothing new.

Monet's The Japanese Bridge (1918-24).

Monet’s The Japanese Bridge (1918-24): ‘…were he /
to paint on canvas he’d portray / his vision like a blind Monet.’

And all that matters is what happened
to our protagonist – Kamal!
You think this climate we’re all trapped in
considers how our urban sprawl
affects its temperature? It scratches
an itch; another cyclone hatches;
and if the world’s at all concerned
with us, perhaps it thinks it earned
our spumes of waste through some imperiling
behavior of its own! And we’re
the bleaching coral reef, the queer
mutating frogs, the data heralding
the end of rare Sirocco forms,
endangered winds, Auroral storms.

Oh how flighty is a poet! How quickly
we alight upon a point of view
and ride its leaf however prickly
or tossed by wind! We glide on new
opinions, mind-bends, time-swings, mood-slants,
and yet we always haunt our food-plant.
Or let’s be grim – not butterfly,
but rather vulture circling high
and viewing boundless earthly Edens;
yet still it settles down on death.
Two dozen actors, one Macbeth.
So too, of all the minds to feed in,
there’s only one that’s fit for me.
Let’s see then what Kamal can see…

Well, nothing really, just the searing
electric pulses, bolts of pain
and burning voltage interfering
with optic neurons in his brain.
The eye that saw the falling rocket
has cauterized, its red-hot socket
a pinkish eyelid puddle now.
The other one, I’m not sure how,
survived the blast intact. But were he
to paint on canvas he’d portray
his vision like a blind Monet
– resplendent, yes, but dark and blurry.
And O! That’s just his sight! His skin
is blinded worse! Must I begin?

I’d rather not describe too closely
his flesh. Indeed, to magnify
those wounds would conjure them more grossly
than anything on CSI!
For after all, he’s not disfigured,
(except the ear-loss lately triggered);
The bullet in his back’s no worse
than when a bloody abscess bursts.
Oh no! He’s not some corpse beheaded
or charred or strangled, deep-earth brown
and disinterred, or blue and drowned
and tangled in a net, or shredded
with fish-gill stripes all liver-red.
He’d look quite good if he were dead.

Mel Gibson Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ:’…one scrape there, a split, a crack / where we can see two glossy ribs in, / would titillate a drunk Mel Gibson.’

No, he’s newborn, a hairless infant,
a hatchling in a mucus sack,
without a bloody gash or imprint
– though one scrape there, a split, a crack
where we can see two glossy ribs in,
would titillate a drunk Mel Gibson.
(They look like rodent’s long buck-teeth
about to break their filmy sheath).
His bones have not reduced to rubble;
He’s quite intact and lily fresh!
Until, O God, his pink-milk flesh
is seen more closely still. It bubbles.
As if some life-force thinks his nose
a drinking straw – and gamely blows!

It bubbles, I tell you! Movie masters,
just try creating this effect!
No CGI or yeasty plasters
would get that frothing skin correct.
And more than that (and most appalling)
this raw, aerated form is crawling
– at snail’s pace, with snail’s slime –
and has been crawling for some time!
An hour now! The skin that lathered
in ash was scrubbed with pumice rain
to quickly dry and foam again.
And in the gloaming dim have gathered
tremendous molten clouds of smoke
with curly streaks like grainy oak.

Published as part of the dVerse poets open mike, and the Tuesday Poets, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!

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“A Hurricane of Thoughts and Comment”

Jim Bakker I Was Wrong

Jim Bakker’s confession: ‘Or have I mixed my Jim with Jimmy? / They’re all the same. They make sweet noise / then falter with their altar boys.’

Shot in the back, one of his ears blown off, Kamal looks up to see a missile falling from the sky, directly toward the Astrodome. In this episode, our narrator describes the differing views about the events of that terrible day — the Cessna airplane that crashed outside the stadium, the security forces and so forth — and why a missile was fired in the first place.

                                       A flash. And then…

But what, I hear you ask, has happened?
Depends on who you are, whose eyes
unwrap ideas events are wrapped in.
For each a singular surprise.
Here’s what the President related:
By his account, he’d ‘duly waited’
and listened to the Pentagon
and heard the stark conclusions drawn
by aides. The bomb, they said, was ‘dirty’.
Or might have been. Who knows for sure?
And though, in retrospect, the cure
out-harmed the ailment, ‘War ain’t purdy!
When cities might be gassed, you know,
it’s better we think fast than slow.’

That’s true. For Time is indecisive!
Each line it writes is soon crossed out.
For every word it sacrifices,
another one is cast in doubt.
It starts with, ‘Terror Strike on Houston,’
then puts a tiny pinch of Proust in,
then rolling-pins and stretches it
into the clearer, ‘Missiles Hit
the Astrodome.’ And then expanding
still further, ‘Missiles Were Our Own,
Admits U.S.’ ‘A “Known Unknown”
Results in President Commanding
Preemptive Strike.’ ‘The Cessna May
Have Had a Nuke, Officials Say.’

Above these searching, cooked-up phrases
parading cross the TV screen,
the experts speak in verbal mazes
explaining what the facts must mean.
A hurricane of thoughts and comment:
On what a certain type of bomb meant
(supposing it was used); or why
so many people had to die.
And yes, it may have been an error
to launch those missiles. Then again,
attacks are not an ‘if’, but ‘when’.
And we must win the war on terror!
At least by blowing up the hive,
no killer bees come out alive.

Noam Chomsky

The brilliant Noam Chomsky: ‘But let me not disgrace a poem / with world affairs and those who choose / – like Rush, or Chris, or even Noam – / to be the groupies of the news.’

But let me not disgrace a poem
with world affairs and those who choose
– like Rush, or Chris, or even Noam –
to be the groupies of the news.
This world is a great performer!
And like her fans, these pundits swarm her,
request an autograph, then boast
that they’re the ones who know her most.
That they – so different from the masses –
were sitting in a privileged row.
That they not only saw her show
but afterward, with backstage passes,
engaged her in some repartee,
and pumped the hand of Destiny!

Stay back! Stay back, enticing diva.
I’ve seen what mischief you can cause!
Send B-grade actors to Geneva
so they can hear the world’s applause.
A diplomat you made of Bono!
An artist out of widowed Ono.
And though the world, no doubt, has gained
from these strange titles you ordained
and craves to know – much like a goalie
before a shot – which corner space,
of which unknown, impoverished place
will land the offspring of Ms. Jolie,

stay back! For I’m a weak believer
in anything I write with true
belief! (A perfect rhyme – ‘deceiver’.)
We see the lights, but shadows do.
In every righteous, preachy braggart
resides (an easy rhyme) a Swaggart,
who sings the proselytizer’s song,
then writes a book called, I Was Wrong.
(Or have I mixed my Jim with Jimmy?
They’re all the same. They make sweet noise
then falter with their altar boys.)
So, too, some sleeper spy within me,
it seems, emphatically condemns
the inverse of my stratagems.

And now it’s time to cool this thermal
digression, calm its upward draft.
Though poets feel no spine or dermal
adjustments, wings adorn their craft.
And stretching out one’s verbal feathers
in warm and philosophic weather
beside a canto’s cliff can shrink
one’s story down to insects’ ink
(while we drift up into the heavens).
But reader! How these lofty planes
provide their gifts to you! Some grains
of manna for Kamal to leaven,
like lessons Wendy gained from Pan,
or brainy Lane from Superman.

So let’s move on. A poet. That’s all.
I have a purpose. To write Kamal.

A billion pairs of eyes were sure
their TVs showed a massacre.
And many more would see the sordid
broadcasts of that day’s nightmare.
So many Camera Joes were there,
so many twitching limbs recorded,
and screams for help and plaintive groans,
and calm last words on telephones.

'A diplomat you made of Bono!'

‘A diplomat you made of Bono!’

So many witnesses, so many
reports and so much evidence;
survivors, wounded, dead aplenty –
all members of the common sense
that when I give my own rendition
of what occurred (the demolition,
or terror strike, or accident,
or metaphysical event
that turned the Astro into Ash-tro
and launched the world into war)
I’m sure to meet a seasoned corps
of criticasters and their cash-flow.
And every fact I write will be
dismissed by those who disagree.

And some will say that Houston’s bombing
was good or evil, smart or dumb,
defensive, vital, terror-calming,
or just ‘performance art’; and some
will say the witnesses are liars
and some – the ‘Astrodome Deniers’ –
will have the solipsistic gall
to say it didn’t occur at all!
(Ignore their treachery, protestors!
They crave the frottage in your fight;
Your ‘no’s and ‘stop’s will just excite
more lechery from truth-molesters).
And some self-righteous ones will nod
and give all credit to their God.

Published as part of the dVerse poets open mike and the Tuesday Poetry group, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!

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Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

“A Rending of the Air”

Incoming Missile

‘…something falls / out of the sky just then – a muse’s pen, / a silver dart (it rather stabs than scrawls).’

We continue our story. A massacre is taking place inside the Houston Astrodome. Kamal has decided that it’s better to die in the carnage — an event that history will surely remember — than to carry on with a life bereft of his beloved Imogene. Searching for a way to join the crowd inside, he discovers that all the doors have been chain-locked, and as he struggles to open the doors, the people are fighting to get out. Finally a door is broken down, but before Kamal can scramble through the spill of bodies, he finds himself being shot at by security forces that have surrounded the stadium. He takes a bullet in the back. One of his ears is blown off. He notices the wreckage of the small plane in the parking lot (see “The Suicide Attack”); and then, hearing a “thunderous, wondrous wail,” he sees a missile falling from the sky…

He hopes a stairwell door might soon evict him
from this hollow safety he despairs
– will thrust him straight into the savage fray!
Each door, however, is locked. A chain ensnares
the shaking beasts. They snort out smoke and bray
in high-pitched lamentation for release.

‘Please let us out!’

                                           Kamal, who seeks a way
inside, attempts to help. The cries increase.
He hears some shots and blood begins to sluice
beneath the door. And then the wailings cease.

Kamal pulls harder still, but it’s no use.
He scrambles down another level, then
another, till an exit sets him loose,
a dusky concourse where a troop of men
with gas masks, flack-vests, boots and rifles kneel.

And now he sees a row of doors – some ten
or twelve which shake and bulge yet somehow seal
the mass of people raging to get out.
A gale of sound assaults Kamal, with peals
of gunfire carrying in their gusts the shouts
of mortal agony. Just then, before
the gunners swing their weapons round and spout
a stream of bullets at Kamal, a door,
a middle one, comes snapping to the ground
the way those dealers on casino floors
will neatly slap a card. Out falls a mound
of bodies, over which, like frenzied grub
whose den an entomologist has found,
survivors try to crawl before the snub
of someone’s bullet adds them to the pile.

But to Kamal, it seems the Astro-tub,
at last has sprung a lucky leak, and while
the bodies trickle out, he sees his chance!
My crazy, breathless, heart-sick juvenile
(against my wishes!) races toward that lanced,
or rather burst metallic boil! How fast
he reaches it and starts his bold advance
up through the crumpled heap of humans massed
around the door – but then a bullet rips
into his lower back. Another blasts
apart an ear (with that, the world flips
and shifts all substance to his right). And now
the door becomes a fount, the former drip
a gout of frantic people, who, somehow,
have managed to survive their stint in hell.


‘…like frenzied grub / whose den an entomologist has found…’

Each fugitive the soldiers kill allows
another to escape; and soon they can’t repel
the growing torrent that ensues, each shot
a pebble tossed into a raging swell;
and in this swell Kamal is lifted, caught
and ferried out (half-pushed and half-supported)
down a ramp and to the parking lot
where lies, not far away, a burnt, contorted
bus below a giant, downward-angled
finger made of smoke; a twisted, thwarted
banner to the right, spread out but tangled
round a fire engine’s hose; and there,
beside the bus’s jaws, and like some mangled
metal molt – a mantis poised in prayer –
the Cessna rests in flame-retarding foam.

Kamal is shed with little grace or care
from someone’s shoulder, landing by the chrome
cement-reflecting hubcap of a Royce.
He turns around to face the massive dome.
How can it be? He’d made that crucial choice
to die in there – and now he sits a hundred
yards away as some crescendoing noise
assails his one remaining ear, a thunderous,
wondrous wail, a rending of the air
as though some unseen veil were torn asunder.

Standing up, in deathly disrepair,
an elbow pressed against his hip, Kamal
attempts to meekly stumble back to where
he’d been ejected from, but something falls
out of the sky just then – a muse’s pen,
a silver dart (it rather stabs than scrawls).

It spikes into the dome, that great white Den
of Fame. A moment’s pause. A flash. And then . . .

Published as part of the dVerse poets and the Tuesday Poetry group, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux

The Boston Bombings, Adam Gopnik, Kamal and the Muse

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, right, lost at the Golden Gloves championships in 2009. A year later, a new citizenship rule blocked him.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, right, lost at the Golden Gloves championships in 2009. A year later, a new citizenship rule blocked him. From the New York Times, April 27, 2013.

I wrote the novel Kamal while living in New Zealand, laboring away in the Takapuna library (thank you, great librarians), and the book was self-published in 2007 — only to be met with a vulgar blogger who mistook one of the novel’s many fictions for fact, accusing me of stealing the rights to my own book.

When I politely informed this imbecile of his mistake, he shamefully retracted his statement, but I had neither the money nor influence to bribe that great Gogolian gatekeeper, Google, who ensured the blogger’s ridiculous libel topped its index for the next five years. Thus my Kamal entered the world with a distinctive club foot, and only a very kind Elif Batuman, who wrote an appreciative review, offered him any cuddling whatsoever.

Kamal is a parable of sorts, a “satire” I’ve been told by some of its handful of fans. It involves the eponymous teenage hero — of “bedouin brown” — raised on his family’s beautiful estate in Bel Air. Kamal is passionate about life; about his Hollywood parents, his butterfly collection, his paintings, his books, and the self-help teachings of his mother’s fitness trainer. But Kamal has one passion which surpasses the rest, and when this passion causes his paradise to fall apart, our distraught young hero is sent into exile, on a journey across America, following the fitness trainer’s wisdom to “always pursue the greater happiness.”

But the novel is also about the struggle of a poet, its narrator (himself a cultural exile from America), to contribute his New Zealand-generated song to a loud and rancourous American discourse. Last year, because so few people had actually read the book in the five years since its birth, I decided to post episodes of Kamal on this site.

I began posting one episode every Tuesday, chronologically, starting from the opening lines — “Be clear, unthrottled throat!” — and due to end, not far off now, with the closing couplets of Book One:

…one thing it is to write,
to finish a great work, but quite
another to ensure the work is read
and understood before its author is dead.

By March 12 I’d reached the scene in Canto Three, written in terza rima, where Kamal is sitting in a private box in a crowded Houston Astrodome, watching something called “Fame-Fest VII” — a kind of reality show extravaganza. On Tuesday, April 1, I posted the scene (episode 33) where a young pilot of Libyan extraction attempts to crash a small plane into the stadium. On April 8th I posted the scene where — the plane having been shot down in the stadium’s parking lot — armed security forces begin storming the Astrodome, with chaos and panic breaking out inside.

It was the morning after my post of April 15th — a scene where bullets begin to fly, a grenade is thrown, and a young woman with a blonde ponytail sees her fiancé shot dead — that a friend told me about the Boston bombings.

A few days later, as the chase for the bombers unfolded in Boston, and we learned more about the suspects, I read this headline in the New York Times: “Suspects With Foot in 2 Worlds;” and, later, numerous articles linking homegrown terrorism with the failed assimilation of immigrants. Now compare this idea with the lines from Kamal that I posted on April 22 (“A Touch of Libya”), as the woman with the blonde ponytail, standing beside the bleeding corpse of her husband, begins to reflect on an aquaintance who, unbeknownst to her, is the suicide pilot who’s been shot down outside.

They’d gone to school together. They’d been neighbors, in fact. But she hadn’t realized he was born in America; nor had she realized that he was in love with her.

Recently, when meeting him on a bus, she’d said to him:

‘…you came to Riverview
Estates from Egypt . . . no? From Libya? You’ve seen
the world! Lucky you. Oh is that so?
At Northeast Med? . . . Me too . . . That’s right, nineteen
on April twenty-fifth, how did you know? . . .
Well, even if you haven’t traveled much,
it’s like, your foreignness will never go.
I mean, not quite a foreignness as such.
I mean to say – I’m sorry, lately I
can’t think! – your parents gave you just a touch
of Libya . . . Did you ever learn to fly?
When we were kids, fifth-grade, or sixth, you swore
you’d be a pilot . . . Here’s my stop . . . Goodbye!’

It turns out that her very rejection of this man is what prompted his suicide attack on the Astrodome (where he knew she’d be that day). On April 23rd I added this comment to my post:

…Having not read the lines in many years, I’m often struck by their content — but especially these lines, this week, given the recent events in Boston. That “Touch of Libya” could easily have been a “Touch of Chechnya” — as America seeks out the right sketch artist to draw its enemy’s face. And now everyone wonders about motive. Was the bomber inspired by some faraway fanaticism? A radical Australian cleric on YouTube? Some Mujahideen in some mountain hideaway? Heavenly virgins?

Or could the act of terror — to use the term generally — come less from politics and ideology and more from a cultural offense, a sense of personal hurt or failure or detachment, and is there really any difference between these potential triggers of extreme violence? (“Oh, he was actually born here,” Lisa suddenly realizes in the lines above; “He has the same right to pursue happiness that I have.”). Whatever the motive, America would benefit by revisiting its definition of terrorism — or scrapping it entirely.

Four days later, on April 27th, I read an article in the Times with the headline, “A Battered Dream, Then a Violent Path.” The article explores how the imigration status of one of the Boston bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, thwarted his boxing career, and how perhaps it was this inability to continue boxing in America that led him down the path of violence. “From one year to the next,” according to the article, “the tournament rules had changed, disqualifying legal permanent residents. His aspirations frustrated, he dropped out of the boxing competition entirely, and his life veered in a completely different direction.”

I published the latest episode of Kamal last week, on April 29th. A few days before, again in the Times, I had read that after the bombing, Dzorkhar Tsarnaev “favorited” a post on Twitter that said, “The sad part about the events in Boston today, is that some bs Hollywood director is gonna try n make a movie n profit from tragic events.”

And here came my latest episode, “Like Thieves Who Frisk the Dead,” in which Kamal — remembering to “choose the greater happiness” — decides to die in the massacre rather than flee to safety. Because…

…what choice exceeds
in pleasure that of dying in a fight,
a royal massacre, a great stampede
of carnage which, someday at least, just might
be made into a film by grave old Stone,
or what’s his name, that Michael Fahrenheit,
or Spielberg, Clint, those brilliant cicerones
of history’s House of Horrors, showing tourists
how a head would really look when blown
apart in ways the military purists
deem ‘authentic’ – and seen while eating
popcorn in a seat! – and Oscar jurists
call ‘artistic?’…

Now here’s the thing: On the one hand I wondered if my readers, the few I have, might not realize I’d written the verses many years earlier, that I was just posting the episodes on a weekly basis. Would I quickly go from a handful of readers to no readers at all?

Perhaps I’d be accused of lacking taste. Who would write poetry about terrorism at such a time? Or perhaps they’d think I was using tragedy to personal advantage — especially if I drew any notice (as I’m doing now) to the coincidence of the events?

The writer, Adam Gopnik

The writer, essayist, and commentator, Adam Gopnik

On the other hand, I began to despair how my novel, my dear Kamal, received so little attention at the pre-Obama time when it was written — and continues to live in obscurity — even as, five years on, America begins to grapple with exactly the issues my Muse was singing to me. Did this not testify, to some degree at least, to the integrity of Kamal‘s art? Had Kamal been fairly ignored? Was it lacking in merit, or did it deserve more attention?

Or was I making connections that don’t really exist; the way, after purchasing a pair of new shoes, we suddenly start noticing every brand on every foot we see around us? Was it worth noticing that many years ago I wrote a scene about a terrorist attack in Houston, and that I happened to post it online at exactly the same tiem a terrorist attack occurred in Boston? So what? Does it mean anything? And was it moral for me, as people grieved and lives were destroyed, to be desperately seeking some evidence to confirm an elusive mimicry between reality and literature? And even if there was a litmus test for artistic honesty or merit, why would it have anything to do with the powers of prognostication?

I wondered, I questioned myself, I despaired. Was I making this all up? What was I trying to express? And then, two days ago, I discovered a blog posted by Adam Gopnik of the New Yorker Magazine. Its title: “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Lost and Found.” In it, Gopnik writes:

…we already had a glimpse of how this might be a tragedy of assimilation and its discontents. A well-liked student at a good public school, a Golden Gloves boxer—somehow they had transformed their souls in ways that made it possible for them to casually drop devices meant to rip human flesh apart next to an eight-year-old boy and his family.

“Assimilation and its discontents.” This, indeed, was the theme I was addressing in those episodes from Kamal. But, more astonishing and affirming to my eyes, Gopnik goes on to write:

Experts tell us the meaning of what they haven’t seen; poets and novelists tell us the meaning of what they haven’t seen, either, but have somehow managed to fully imagine. Maybe the literature of terrorism…can now throw a little light on how apparently likable kids become cold-hearted killers.”

I tried to contact Gopnik to express my gratitude for what seemed a clear confirmation that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts. I wanted to let him know that yes, poets can indeed tell “the meaning of what they haven’t seen.” But we don’t often realize it in the process of writing. We don’t always trust our own interpretation. And sometimes the Muse comes from so far outside the conversation (across the Pacific!), in a voice or accent or style so different from what people are used to, that it simply can’t be heard through the din.

In fact, in the constant commentary, in the furious tumult of Twitter that never allows anyone to pause and muse and reflect (and sit in the Takapuna library for months on end) in a way that produces any insightful, clarifying literature that can “throw a little light” on current events, perhaps it’s unlikely that Gopnik — or America, or anyone else — will ever hear this point of view.

Yet I write about it anyway. And Kamal, as we know, is about that, too.

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“Like Thieves Who Frisk the Dead”

Painting Ian Anderson

Painting by Ian Anderson ( ‘He sees the blow / of body parts, the spray of blood, the ground / a whale spouting…’

As violence erupts — and a grenade explodes — inside the crowded stadium, Kamal is still safe behind thick glass, in the private box of Lionel Blaze, high above the fray. Now thinking back on recent events, Kamal realizes that if he hadn’t tried to kill himself by leaping off the Santa Monica pier (see “The Suicide Attempt”), Loraine and Chantelle would never have rescued him; and if it weren’t for Loraine and Chantelle (who drugged and photographed him), he never would have appeared on that pornographic website; and, on learning about the website, he never would have lost his senses and nearly bled to death by walking through a glass door and plunging into a swimming pool (see “Eighteen Years or Older”); and Lionel Blaze never would have rescued him, never would have taken Kamal to the Houston Astrodome to witness this terrible moment of history. Kamal, therefore, is thankful for his fate — better to die here, he thinks — and decides to join in with the massacre below.

ordeal’s just begun. He sees the blow
of body parts, the spray of blood, the ground
a whale spouting – not the upright flow,
or sweetly jetted water often found
on barroom signboards in Nantucket,* or
the ‘very bushy’ spume when Moby crowns
the sea for air! – but rather all the gore
that founts up toward the sky when Melville jabs
his whales with harpoons! This fount, therefore,
is indiscriminate – and here a slab
of torso flies, and there a leg goes spinning.
A pale and bloodied hand appears to grab
the window where Kamal is now beginning
to feel faint – a hand without a thumb,
without, in fact, a body underpinning,
flung up into space to dully drum
upon the glass and finger-paint a smudged
vermillion crab.

                                     And once again it’s come:
that time when grieved Kamal, on having judged
his circumstance, must make a choice! That time
his pained and paralytic mind must budge.
He knows the medicine to stir him – rhymes
(as Masters Rick and Blaze have wisely said)
with ‘treasure’. One must always seek to climb
the higher happiness. For had he fled
the pier that day, decided to endure
an empty, vagrant, lonely life instead
of sweet embalming sea, Loraine and her
assistant never would have saved him, never
would have let him undergo such pure
disgrace (a shame preserved online forever!),
never would have caused him to request
at last Loraine’s syringe and nearly sever
all his limbs in air that coalesced
into a sudden sort of Ethernart,
and never would have had his wounds compressed
by Blaze’s healing hands – or had his heart
so weighted by these high, horrific views
of people shamed then shot and blown apart!

Steven Spielberg

Stephen Spielberg winning an award for best director.

He never would have had the chance to muse
upon what path he now should take. God bless
this liberty! God bless the right to choose!
For looking down upon this gory mess,
desultory flames like thieves who frisk the dead,
machine guns shaking out their pent-up stress,
and bodies toppling over, limbs outspread,
from railings of the higher decks (some shot,
and some just falling to rebuke the dread
of being shot), our stricken, stunned, distraught
Kamal feels gratitude, at least, that he
is here, so close to this historic spot,
this vortex of the damned, which just might be
the end of all humanity.

                                                    He knows,
as well, that having seen such savagery
he can’t go back to Imogene. He’d pose
a kind of threat, a psycho-hazard to
her virgin realm. His darling Magic Rose,
alas, would sadly wilt; the honeydew
would swiftly sour. And as he feels no need
to live, he thinks – if I cannot pursue
a beauty I would spoil, what choice exceeds
in pleasure that of dying in a fight,
a royal massacre, a great stampede
of carnage which, someday at least, just might
be made into a film by grave old Stone,
or what’s his name, that Michael Fahrenheit,
or Spielberg, Clint, those brilliant cicerones
of history’s House of Horrors, showing tourists
how a head would really look when blown
apart in ways the military purists
deem ‘authentic’ – and seen while eating
popcorn in a seat! – and Oscar jurists
call ‘artistic?’

                              O, but let us not go beating
up on Hollywood! Kamal adores
that industry and their respectful treating
of his father’s genius (three Best Scores,
and two Best Songs) – and he imagines
one of those esteemed ambassadors
of Mount Olympus standing on that pageant’s
stage – a Brad pul-Pitt or Cameron Dais –
shaking in an earnest, practiced fashion
statues of gold-brass; and in a pious
tone declaring, ‘This is for the victims
of the Houston war!’ And with a sigh his
mind is made. An urgency now pricks him
as he turns and rushes down some stairs…

* In chapter two of his Moby Dick, with Ishmael wandering the streets of Nantucket, Herman Melville writes: ‘. . . and looking up, saw a swinging sign over the door with a white painting upon it, faintly representing a tall straight jet of misty spray . . .’


Published as part of the Tuesday Poetry group, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!

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“A Touch of Libya” or “A Bullet Snug Within Her Neck”

Hawk Moth

An “eyed” hawk moth (photo by Roy and Marie Battell, ‘…and what she thought / an owl’s eye… / …was more a day’s disguise or masquerade.’

As the Houston Astrodome is filled with gunfire, the girl with the blonde ponytail sees her fiancé shot and bleeding beside her.

She sees the blood, she sees it spill
from one step to the next, the bits of brain
upon her blouse – and yet the thought which chills
her most, a deep, unsettling refrain,
is how deceptive life can be.

She begins to reflect on someone she’d seen earlier that day — a neighbor, a young man she’d gone to school with.

Meanwhile, a small plane has crashed into a bus in the parking lot outside the Astrodome (the plane, in fact, was shot down before it could hit the stadium). As we know from “The Suicide Attack”, the plane was towing a banner which read: “LISA DEAR I FEEL I’LL NEVER FIND ANOTHER PLEASE DON’T LEAVE!’

We also know, from the last episode, that a grenade (the ‘doll’) has been tossed into a huddling crowd (see “They’ll Kill Us All“) and will explode in a few seconds.

The girl with the blonde ponytail knows nothing of the plane crash or the grenade, but we can assume after reading the stanzas below that we know her name…

She has been fooled! He’d found it hard to talk
– not this one here, this stupid, stupored thing
(the bullet struck in mid-vituperation) –
but him, the one who gave that tacky ring
to her at junior high-school graduation.

L-Shaped Ring

‘…the one who gave that tacky ring / to her at junior high-school graduation. / Cursive ‘L’. And cheap, gold-plated…’

Cursive ‘L’. And cheap, gold-plated…’ Thirty
dollars? Without the insect’s animation
leaves lay dead and twigs inert – he
couldn’t express himself; or did she not
know how to listen? Or . . . perhaps the hurt he
always seemed to show was like a spot
of camouflage, a ruse, a trick design
concealing something else, and what she thought
an owl’s eye – a brooding thing confined
to night’s demonic gloom, a stalker made
to watch her all her life (he’d been assigned
the house next door; in fact, they used to trade
inspective glances walking to the school) –
was more a day’s disguise or masquerade.

And why this thought? Why now? Amidst this pool
of blood, the bullets chirping off the seats,
the soggy smell of rheum and diesel fuel
(the bus fumes seep indoors), this choking heat
– why now? The man she was to marry, dead.
Yet in her mind, another’s face? It greets
her on a bus, his eyes two balls of lead
and flattened cheeks all pocked like timeworn stone
upon an unknown grave. That day she’d said
to him: ‘Seattle . . . yes . . . no, not alone . . .
with Chris, my fiancé. He’s studying law.
So how’re your parents? Funny – feels I’ve grown
so far away from Kingwood High. I saw
Miss Hosenkrantz the other day – oh you
weren’t in her class? Yes, you had Mr. Straw,
that’s right . . . No – no idea what I will do
out there! . . . Seattle’s not so far, I mean,
it’s not like you – you came to Riverview
Estates from Egypt . . . no? From Libya? You’ve seen
the world! Lucky you. Oh is that so?
At Northeast Med? . . . Me too . . . That’s right, nineteen
on April twenty-fifth, how did you know? . . .
Well, even if you haven’t traveled much,
it’s like, your foreignness will never go.
I mean, not quite a foreignness as such.
I mean to say – I’m sorry, lately I
can’t think! – your parents gave you just a touch
of Libya . . . Did you ever learn to fly?
When we were kids, fifth-grade, or sixth, you swore
you’d be a pilot . . . Here’s my stop . . . Goodbye!’

‘LISA DEAR,’ appeals / the long and trembling banner’s bold aplomb, / ‘I FEEL I’LL NEVER FIND ANOTHER! PLEASE /  DON’T LEAVE!’

‘Did you ever learn to fly?’

O how depressing he was! So why – before
she dies (she knows she’s going to die quite soon,
and reader, she is right) – these thoughts? The more
she thinks of all she’s lost – the honeymoon
in France which she would dream of now and then! –
the more she thinks about that afternoon
she met her neighbor on the bus, and when
she’d gotten off, how much it struck her: although
they’d lived as neighbors since the age of ten,
and watched the same old postman come and go,
and heard the same old doves and warblers, served
the same refreshments at the same car show,
how different were their lives! As she’d observed
that day, how blessed she was compared to him!

And just this morning – Chris’s car had swerved
out from her driveway – there he was, as grim
as ever, watering the lawn, and she
rolled down the glass, tossed out a waving limb,
and joked how he would see her on TV!
But how absurd is life! A trick! A ruse!
That word misspelled at school – chicanery!
The ay-rab spook – her classmates often used
those names – will grimly live the happy years
which she, the lucky native peach, will lose!
And that – yes, that was truth. O God. She hears
a loud yet strangely muted thump, and reels
around, and wants to gasp, or moan, or clear
her throat, but she has finished life’s ordeal,
a bullet snug within her neck. And all
of this occurs – these thoughts, her muted squeals –
within the seconds just before the ‘doll’
explodes down on the field, there below
the crowded, smoke-enshrouded stage.


Published as part of the dVerse poets and the Tuesday Poetry group, a blog founded by New Zealand poets, but which includes poets from around the world.

See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

Listen to Kamal read live!


Filed under Kamal, Book One, Poetry by Zireaux