A quick update on our story so far: We’ve met our narrator (“Be Clear My Throat“) — a middle aged writer named Arcady who, as yet unknown to the literary world, is determined to tell the story of Kamal no matter what.
We’ve also met the hero of our story, Kamal (“Innocent Kamal“), a happy young man who lives with his parents on a beautiful, sprawling estate in Bel Air, California, where he spends blissful days chasing butterflies (and painting, as we’re about to learn). He loves his father, a famous pianist. And he adores his mother, a rich but faded Hollywood film star.
We will now learn about his greatest passion of all.
Content Warning: Certain thematic elements of the following stanzas may disturb some readers. But you must trust your poet, his muse, and the work of art that is Kamal.O blessed young man! With naivete so great
your inner world reformed the world outside
and made the vulgar poetic, the crooked straight:
That drive you had in the Benz – your mother sighed
(in trafﬁc on Wiltshire) and softly sneered, ‘Just wait,’
while spying a billboard which once displayed her
in bloom but now exalted some Raider
of Tombs who had an even bigger bust.
‘Is it true about Time? Can we trust
it to do unto others as it has done
– and you, her adoring son,
assuaged her: ‘Done unto you? But mother! Time’s spared
And just like that – the world repaired.
Such words were all the more poignant because they were rare
(and heartfelt). Kamal was not a talkative fellow.
He listened well, and yet you’d almost swear
some key cognition absent from his mellow
mien. In truth, his thoughts were never where
he was. Contorting to any shape
(a demon artist of escape)
Passion can’t be easy caught
or fashioned into what it’s not;
and Love, that greatest magician
of all, served as a private optician
to Kamal – converting what offended
others to ﬂirting forms and visions splendid.
He painted these lovely sights in vibrant acrylics
– a visual artist, our Kamal (though all
the senses help enthrall ecstatophilic
natures). His mother’s servants would recall
the way, at dawn, he’d ﬁnd someplace idyllic,
erect his easel, his three-legged stool,
and – while others went to school –
paint masterpieces! Every stroke
a reverie of color evoked!
‘Trafﬁc Rage Red’ and ‘Tangerine Smog’
– colors not found in catalogues;
and brush-strokes mighty winds couldn’t help but envy.
Not even Saint Ana could paint with such frenzy.
on canvas: The way the olive trees would pitch
on skateboard shadows and yet would never surrender
their balance; or how the hummingbirds twitched
in emerald chain and ruby-hooded splendor
before Queen Fuchsia – like Knights of Air,
deftly moving from square to square.
He painted such things, and more – much more:
the servants from El Salvador
who painted the tennis courts green,
or corrected the aim of a serving machine,
which ﬁred blazing comets toward a man
who guided his student’s racket – and her hand.
He loved and painted the world beyond the gates,
though he knew little of it, our Kamal
(apart from silent movies a car-ride creates).
While his mother shopped at Highland Mall,
he liked, with pencils and colored pens, to wait
in the Benz and sketch the passerby
until the lamplight swallowed the sky.
He loved the freeways – the pure, seraphic
joy of being stuck in trafﬁc!
The rows of sitters holding still
for Kamal to observe and sketch at will!
Unlike me, my hero never watched TV;
never read the papers; was tutored privately.
And yet – for I’m about to reveal his greatest
passion of all – he preferred to stay at home;
and not just for the purple dahlias, those straightest
of pinwheels; not just for the scented foam
that overﬂowed the spa-bath; or for the latest
movie screened in their private hall,
with popcorn soaked in alcohol;
or for the classical scenes he painted
of ladies lounging (some of them feinted)
outside, or bent above a mirror,
so close, their noses could go no nearer;
or for his mother’s parties, the games of Twister –
No! Most of all, my reader, he loved his sister.
When I say ‘loved,’ I mean – well, what do I mean?
Love, I say! A word of many hues,
but for our hero only the most pristine
of tints will do – the kind of love that views
its object as an extra limb,
detached, yet still belonging to him,
making it even more vital
to keep possession; to claim its title.
Her beauty made him weep; her eyes
as blue as Morphos butterﬂies.
Her tresses cascaded like honey – almost drinkable.
A fairer, creamier ﬂesh would be unthinkable.
How did he know? Because he touched it, of course!
They often slept together – so what? Who cares?
The separate rooms they had could not enforce
their sleep-time habits. And why must taking shares
in bed-space guarantee an intercourse
beyond the realm of words? Or dreams?
(For theirs shared common music and themes).
That’s not to say his passion lacked
turgidity; or that the act
of touching gave no special pleasure;
but rather, that love, to Kamal, lacked measure.
’Twas inﬁnite. Impossible to contain.
It owned his mind – so why, from touch, abstain?
Her name was Imogene. You’ve seen her eyes,
you’ve sipped her hair; but what about her mind?
As time in this poem now starts to materialize,
we ﬁnd her aged sixteen, and thoughtful, reﬁned,
and like Kamal, inclined to fantasize;
a youthful spirit, as it were,
as happy with life as life with her.
And yet – as pretty as people perceived her,
spending a day reading books most pleased her.
To everyone but Kamal, her face
was a glossy, veiled, book-covered place;
and while she sometimes glimpsed the servants admiring
her body, their gazes, to her, were uninspiring.
her tasteful clothes exasperated her mother.
Only Kamal ever saw what boys shouldn’t see;
which was, of course, because he was her brother,
and he loved her, she knew, so why couldn’t he?
She, too (like Kamal), adored their estate.
She adored her parents, and stayed up late
to read her Joyce and Tolstoy scored
by her father’s piano. And she adored
her brother. O reader! I hear your question:
‘Adored? Not loved? There’s no suggestion,
is there, of romance morals might forbid?
Did she feel the same as he felt?’
Saint Ana, dear – a great big breath from you please.
To blow away these credits, end this montage,
and stir our story forward…
…and speaking of gusts — a roar of readers, a tempest of tweets, a great frenzy of followers is what we need! I’ve told you of Kamal’s true passion. But our story is about to take a dramatic turn when Kamal reveals this passion to his mother’s “guru,” the fellow we met briefly in “Innocent Kamal“; the same fellow, incidentally, who holds the hand of Kamal’s mother in the tennis lessons above — a talented retainer, / and chef cum chauffeur cum ﬁtness trainer / cum handyman (he works like a pun!) / cum guru-shrink-masseuse all in one.
What happens when Kamal confesses his secret? I’m ready to tell you (and will), but please remember this:
However much I wish to weave it,
my story can’t live without eyes to receive it.
See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One