What is this compulsion to write? It gnaws, crawls up from behind at the most inopportune moments with words and phrases he barely understands. Short sentences. Long sentences with the flowery addition of adjectives that I cringe at and cut away until only little bits of him remain. Mountains of my own mind to be cut down to pebbles and tossed into the current of seven billion lives. Boats ceaselessly borne into the past. Or born ceaselessly, I can’t quite remember now. And into the future from whence ten billion, and more beside, are bound to come. But never the present. Never can a word capture right now, the first moment of its inception. That silent unfurling, the single spark between a million billion connections in the galaxy inside my head. My own mini cosmos. At once the most superficial and deepest part of me.
I am overrun by dreams.
It rushes out, in too-personal groans, then stops. Like right then. Nothing. And then I dives back somewhere into the keyboard, pressing letters without my permission, parts of a self he does not know. Isn’t it fascinating what we can do with pronouns? Who’s there? Can you hear us? It’s me-not-I speaking. What do you call a deer with no eyes? And would said deer suffer from the same headlight affliction as her fellows? And would the fellows still feast on her should one of their number pass on? ‘Far too many questions there dear,’ my editor complains. I agree. It’s all so uncertain. Apart from passing, that is. On a long enough timeline everyone fails. Or something like that.
Sotimemes it gets all garbled, like just now, and I have to hit ‘backspace’, unwrite the musings of the puppet master seated behind my eyes. Jolly fellow, always up to some mischief. But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I think what if it’s the language of a god?, or some equally vain banality; what if that’s what he meant to write and I just haven’t learnt how to understand it yet? Or she? The puppet master hides identity from me, that prankster. ‘Why did you call him a jolly fellow then?’ my editor asks. Oh that. A turn of phrase, nothing more. A left-over from history, my personal haunted house, built on the horror and humour of our humanity. Horrible humour is most important, you know. Keep the spirits up and all that. Death and glory. Once more unto the breach. In nomine patri.
I write to remember. Or I wrote to remember how I forget. Or was that ‘write to remember how I forgot’? Tense has always bothered me. Irritable vowel syndrome, doctors conclude. The past, the present and the future walk into a bar… Then? I’ve forgotten I’m afraid, left behind by the tap-tap of fingers across food-stained keys. I have to remember not to eat in bed. Mother would be less than impressed.
Somewhere a guitar plays while the wind blows and words breeze past me. A few fall into my lap, others moan and scream through narrow corridors and banging doors, refusing to let me capture them, imprison them here on this blank page of my devotion. The night is long and dark, this the only light I have, held too close to my eyes as I squint, trying to see between the lines to what I really want to say. What do I want to say? What do you want me to say? ‘You’re deflecting again’ my editor moans. Bullshit. I’ll say it, whatever it is. Anything to be loved, even for a moment, right? We’re all like that, aren’t we? I would do anything for love… Yes, even that. My heart has a skyline – ask the ECG.
I write because of her. The girl I see in half-remembered dreams. ‘Remembering is a more psychotic act than forgetting,’ my editor tells me. Right on again. I write to glimpse her on full-moon frosty nights, the bike path iced over with moonlight. Burn, burn with me love, to hell with decay! Scared of slipping into the world beneath the reflection, diving headfirst along the road and down the rabbit hole where foxes sniff at the light and then paw softly away and mad-hatters and cheshire cats and armoured battle-badgers accost me, wandering figments of reality in this strange world I have constructed from someone else’s imagination where nothing fits together. Things fall apart. Entropy is a gyrating goddess. Strange how fate can be described so succinctly. That in such neat symbols lies the truth toward which all must tend, cold-hearted mistress of chaos hidden in the logs and slippery S of the icy bike path. Logs, rhythm and Logos – surprising what words seem to slide together, if only you stretch your mind far enough. To live is to live, and while alive, to die anyway.
Then there is the gun barrel to explain away. To rationalise and understand. To place in memory, carefully framed with the help of someone trained in soothing words. Still oddly black-and-white though. Can we ever escape the prison of our skin? Overcome our meatbag bias, he heard someone say. What a thought hey? Guns and meatbags going hand-in-hand down the street of just another suburb, on just another afternoon. Nothing out of place except urine-soaked school shorts and the falling syringa berries. Syringes of his memory, neatly bottled up. And the car crash, lest he forgets, and more gun barrels, bottled in green dustbins this time, and an enraged rhinoceros and a supposedly tame lion. ‘What are you’ my incredulous editor asks, ‘a circus clown?’ Almost unbelievable how often she is right…
What kind of idea are you?
I write because we live in a world surrounded, surveilled by too many eyes. All recording exactly what happens. Isn’t it sad? How we only see what is really there, carefully watched by closed-circuit cameras, completely insulated from the worlds upon which they gaze. Playing Orpheus. I write because someone needs to tell the story as it didn’t happen, to reveal all the parts which could have been might have been will have been, once we disappear and the cameras are left to watch themselves. What of self-consciousness then? All that watching has to bring some pretence of understanding. Right?
The puppet master decides that he prefers the story as it did not happen, tells me that it’s far more revealing; that the camera focussed on reality misses her shy glance, the scent of a fox slipping by, his Lordship The Fly, the sound ducks make diving into freezing water to escape the running figure as I flee this insane place of a hundred thousand literal eyes-in-the-sky.
But mostly I write for happiness. I write because the world has always been fucked up, because suffering is the only universal and so someone has to remember how we forgot or forget about happiness. In between all the theory, all the learnéd, distant talk of others, the Other, otherness, otherism, whatever, the puppet master works his magic and gets me to remember happiness. No matter how wrong I could be, no matter that there are poets out there who write about life and pain in heart-rending words and haunting ways which I could never achieve, no matter that we have to think about all those we exclude and silence and do violence to when we tell our stories, no matter that what I write will never change this strange, suffering place, no matter that infantile celebrations of life were hollowed out by sentimental folk and that happy endings were exterminated in gas-chambers by bloody-minded men, the puppet master commands that I write of the happiness within.
No matter that those marauding men, maulers of history and happy endings, live in me, haunting echoes of jolly fellows who feast on no-eye-deer, inbred over generations of captivity in a place called Magdalen Park. Pronounced like death, that is. Maud-len, mort-den, place of lies and long-dead tradition. Poisoned by the ivory tower, no different to the glass-and-steel skyscrapers, or the fake-lit studios, or the virtual chat groups, or the security rooms where snide men sneak-peek preview the terrorism, barbarism, dare-I-say-it cannibalism of silent black-and-white films in the interests of a failing state. A state change, perhaps that’s what we need? ‘Treason!’ my editor cries. She’s of the blindly patriotic type. Pity the fool. Never mind, the only people for me are the mad ones. Don’t worry, censorious editor, I meant a transformation. Of depth and surface. A turning of ice into water, water into vapour. We are the vaporous men, swirling together, eyes full of virtual reality.
I write to confess. I know those prying men, often play them myself in interrogation cells, muffled yells, Ben’s ringing bells, leaden circles and old motels, men everywhere in chains, no brains or brawn, just torn hearts and hope and the dream of healing, someday. Inventors of the themselves trying to fly high enough to feel a little warmth in the grey sun of a land with no borders where day is as cold as night, darkness the same as light, where wrong is write and magic myths of dancing men and women, some crying, some laughing, some twirling to their heart’s own beatbeat a rhythm in my overwhelmed imagination until grammar buckles under all the pressure of good and evil master and slave wrong and right leftwrite leftwrite marching across a wretched earth doomba baboom doom heartspace and the danger of beauty as the unknown calls and i follows blindly devout to the constructions of himself she long ago gave up believing full stop
I write because of the enduring feeling that, no matter what life does to us, the fact of being alive makes up for it. I write because, in moments of delirium, I see all in me, me in all, I in we, you and me. I write to do away with false pronouns and tense bar-fights which give the illusion that time can be controlled, neatly portioned and packaged into the correct parts of a sentence and then sent off into the world where it ends up having done strange things, curling back on itself, sped up and slowing down, mixed with space so that light itself became relative. Time and light, as intimately linked as logs, rhythm and Logos, an angel-demon pair ruling over life’s ticks and tocks, all the clocks of the city beginning to chime: you cannot conquer time.
And yet, the puppet master – who once proved how stars bend into a cone in front of you as you approach lightspeed (a space where time does not exist), presumably on chariots of fire, yelling Death and Glory in a maths exam without numbers – still returns to happiness. I sing the body electric the jolly fool demands, not caring that it’s been done before. It must be done again, over and over through each age if we are to make it out of this mess with our souls intact. Ha, that may be the funniest joke yet, don’t you think?
Life’s altogether too short to be taken so seriously. And no-one gets out alive anyway. Not the best, not the worst – although they sometimes seem to get closer – and certainly not the middle-masses marching in step with downturned faces in crowded places pretending that this, right now, ‘the eternal present’ as some mystics like to mumble, isn’t the strangest, most absurd thing they’ve ever encountered. Acting as if all of this is normal, as if this brief moment were something to be, at best, shouldered as a burden, at worst, left in the corner of an unloved childhood as all the adults go about their business. Forgotten, for the most part. Seen but not heard for the rest.
What kind of idea are you?
The one of a thousand masks. Although I’ll let you in on a secret – this is my confession after all – the one he most likes wearing is Peter Pan. The boy who never grew up. Bravely battling Captain Hook with childish glee, even facing that bloody big crocodile – Steve Irwin style – with the feared-and-hated clock hung about its ancient neck. Last survivor of the dinosaurs who, if we’re honest, at least managed to go out with a bang. Unlike the crocodile hunter, poor bloke. Death is always so… unexpected.
Tick-tock Tinkerbell. Our time is nearly up. I just hope that someone believes in you enough to keep you real, stop you from fading into a dream-world of fictional characters. Fear not, beloved, for I must follow you soon, a pied-piper leading all the merry dancers down memory lane, yellow-bricked and ice-covered, reflecting on the dreams to which we awake.
I don’t want to get to an end
and miss being.
I want to be, have been and bent
against the headwinds,
have sent a hundred love letters
with no reply,
have vented the agonies of my soul
on lonely shores
(for who else loves like me?)
have forged in ancient smithies
one small stone,
neither grand nor ornate,
no fate or fortune found
carved and bound within.
Just a simple stone
added to the mound,
cut by my lover I,
soul sufferer of life
singing satan’s songs
of unrequited love
and unreturned longing,
wonderer of the ages
ready for an end,
seeing and having seen,
being and having been,
a final act of love:
I lets go and
submits to death again.