And When the Ashes Fall From the Sky

‘At first pass (= shot) some ten or so Numbers from our hangar were caught napping beneath the engine exhaust – absolutely nothing was left of them but some sort of crumbs and soot.  I’m proud to note down here that this did not cause a second’s hitch in the rhythm of our work, no one flinched; and we and our work teams continued our rectilinear and circular movement with exactly the same precision as though nothing had happened.  Ten Numbers – that is scarcely one hundred-millionth part of the mass of OneState.  For all practical purposes, it’s a third-order infinitesimal.  Innumerate pity is a thing known only to the ancients; to us it’s funny.’

– Record 19 in Yevgeny Zamyatin‘s novel We, first published in 1924.

On Love: The English Patient

I have been away for a while but nothing much really changes within the hearts of humans.  We are all flesh, we all feel, love and grieve, and we are all united by life and divided by it:

“What you find in him are cul-de-sacs within the sweep of history – how people betray each other for the sake of nations, how people fall in love… How old did you say you were?”
“twenty.”
“I was much older when I fell in love.”
Hana pauses. “Who was she?”
But his eyes are away from her now.

Quoted from the novel The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje.

On Health and Safety: Part 2

Q.2. A fire has broken out in the building that you currently work in, endangering the staff present and the building itself.  What should your first course of action be?

Please select one of the answers below

a. The fire has broken out just at the right time as it is currently your break period.  Cracking open your little used locker you locate the marshmallows that have sat in the locker for the past 8 months and, using a fork no-one has cleaned within the past month, you head over to where the fire is and toast the marshmallows.  You laugh hysterically as your colleagues vacate the building whilst you sate your belly.

b. The fire is close to your desk, however you notice that Gill, on secondment from the Lancaster office, is trying to leave before you do so you accidentally trip her up and run over the top of her to get out of the office.  The cause of the fire, it is later ascertained, was your specially ordered fan from HR, even though you ordered it in November and the office air conditioning was to blame for the high temperature.   

c. Fire excites you!  It strengthens you!  You have become disillusioned with office life and believe that, just like the dragon queen from telly, you too can become tougher and more leader-like if you throw yourself into a fire and survive its red hot embers.  Your remains are later found cramped into a fetal position.  Nobody mentions the embarrassing porn magazine found in your smoldering locker to your mother at the work service. 

d. You locate the nearest fire alarm and push the trigger, indicate the nearest fire escape and help colleagues through before closing each set of doors as you exit the building and wait for the fire brigade to turn up.

Seventeen Fifteen

Raised up, head on pillow. Eyes closed and jaw slack.

Firelight creeping up the wall, midnight

falls across the land.  Tears stain each and every pillow.

~
One last year to see it in,

one last year to see it out.

~
A round white mint, given to both

child and animal alike.  Each drawing on the sugary

energy that bursts forth.

Closed eyes and a smile drawing across the lips,

that devilish chocolate kiss, which

flooded a child’s mind at Christmas time.

~
The wind that shakes the barley,

the heart that skips a beat,

knowing that you won’t be here today

or tomorrow,

to meet for one last treat.

Fall From Grace

It was a tick box exercise that I had been through many times before. The lush and satisfying swaying of her hips was met and complimented by the beauty of her face. Tattoos adorned her tanned and lithe arms, the nape similarly decorated. She could lull me into any decaying dream and I would have followed wholeheartedly. She guided me through the process that was to come in some far off distant time, but my attention was not on that inescapable void.  It was focused greedily on her, imagining what it would be like to kiss those lips and to sleep by her side each and every night, even though I did not know who she was, nor what her dreams or aspirations were.

Of course I was daydreaming, I was escaping the reality of the situation as I always had in those circumstances. I was lost in a reverence I had not earned nor sought. I looked to the motherly figure of my desires and implanted fake hopes and dreams onto those individuals instead, even as they took me under their wing and I gave wholeheartedly in. In short I became a ward of the system, I did not rebel.

‘Don’t you go too far, you don’t want the weather to turn bad’. It somehow felt like a hollow cry, an obvious plea.  I’d never seen him look frailer.  I worry now, of course, partly from guilt but also from love.  How far those miles seem, how slow the fastest transport is.

26 and Out, Over.

26 and out,

over.

Hello?

Yes, receiving!

Hello there! Look, it’s happened!

Yes, over.

Oh, nothing much.  Will you sustain coverage?

No, that all? Hold your bile.  Over.

Yes, okay.  Any thing for lunch?

Sandwich.  Okay, over.

 

An empty transaction, the masses spit on your grave even as your culture fractures under the public eye.  Yes, your skin will crack under the sun and your bodies will shrivel.  Instead the talk will focus on non-existent personalities, screaming inane words until their faces turn blue.  Politics, culture, digital media! Like this, read that. Digest, regurgitate.  Eat Eat Eat. Shit Shit Shit.  Live your life but don’t infringe on others, sit and hold your knife and fork even as others sit and starve, here we are.  This is us and that is them, an open divide.  A smell, putrid and fresh, a boil on this scarred land.  Sailors tied to their posts, a whip cracking at their torsos.  Fresh blood broiling over their naked hairy backs, frothing at the slightest glimmer of light.

Join me! he shouts, Join Me! JOIN ME! Have your voices heard, your hand raised, your vote cast!  Tick my number and look at my face.  This is me and you are voting for this!

A shadow disperses, and death marches forward.  The inevitable crunch of extinction, bones snapping underfoot.  Yet this too will be dust.  How inane it all seems.  How selfish it all is.  How frustrated the system of this system is.  Geological time, star dust, the universal contraction of the inevitable birth of a nation will be smeared by the blood of its own first borne.

This is horrific.  This is absurd.  This is the state of no nation, no planet, no universe.  Feel glad to be alive and grab that life and love it.  Hold your brother, your sister, as you hold yourself.  Life is not mutable, there is no eternal transaction, life debt paid heaven ascendant.

A Brief Sojourn

The vibration of a string, the flick of a brush, and the ink scrawled across the page; this is how I express myself.  Each moment, every movement, is transient, as life itself must be.  The paint dries and stays on the canvas, the ink fades gently as the page turns to a crisp yellow in the sun, the music hangs in the air for a brief second and then disappears.  Three different modes of self release, each with their own finite life, are released into the world to be judged alone.

A Letter of Love

I have always firmly believed that if my house caught fire, and my family were safe, I would not hesitate in saving my batch of personal letters.   Let my other personal possessions burn, another guitar can be found, books can be sourced and CD’s can be hunted down, but personal letters are one of a kind.  A written statement from one individual to another, never read by anyone else, containing all the thoughts that that person felt at that one time, particular only to them and them alone; they are irreplaceable and irrevocable.  The two packet stuffed envelops, tape wrapped for safety, sitting in a drawer near my bed, are the collected letters I have received from family, friends and lovers, over a decade or so, sitting comfortably close to me.  I hold them dear to my heart.  Letters from friends I have not spoken to in some time, letters from lovers in different countries, and letters from friends in different continents.

The night before major surgery I sit and compose letters to my dear friends, a final farewell if the worst were to happen.  Solace found in the hand written word.  I often wonder what world my letters find themselves in, letters sent to Brazil, France and Germany, where the language the letters are written in is not the mother tongue.  I imagine my friends opening the letters, sent perhaps unexpected for arrival, their hands and eyes scanning the page, the pearl of a grin beginning on their lips.  For me the sound of the postman in the early afternoon and the sight caught of a personal letter is one of sheer joy.

There are a few hauntingly brilliant songs about letters and their contents, but for me the stand out is the song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat‘ by Leonard Cohen.  I will always remember composing a letter to a dear friend at 2am on a quiet winter night in my university flat whilst listening to Leonard.  It is a memory I will treasure always, of the little academic holed up in his cold flat.

A Paean To The Book

In my castle of books, the tower of pages blows freely in the wind, advertising the fact that they are brimming with pages but are yet to be read.  This saddens me beyond belief.  In a library I could spend my days swallowed in a sea of words, beautifully phrased sentences, emotive paragraphs, and pages of perfection; in short, I could die happy.

Yet whilst my tower grows, a gnawing doubt resides in my bosom  and trickles through my blood.  These things, these objects, are material, paid for with coin and accumulated through time whilst also taking up vast swathes of space.  I jettison one or two here or there, that is true, but can I do this for all?  Even those that I love with a tender thought and a heavy heart?  No, not these, let these stay and reside as they must.  Let them gather dust not on the shelf nor in the soul, but be forever a part of me.

From father to son do Russian classics pass, from charity bookstore to my home to toilet cistern do some books pass, left as a present for a cleaner.  Sometimes left on trains or buses, stored with care.  Where do these books go next?  Do they live well, provide others with such sweet succulence as they have provided me?

A well thumbed travel book, a train journey across from Britain to Japan.  A wonderful guide and misanthropic author, whose very spine is bent by the passage of time spent in my bag.  I shall leave you with a dear friend.  Another, a deep and cohesive attempt at the psychiatric novel, is left behind battered and bruised in an Amsterdam hostel, a message of love scrawled into the front cover page, hoping that the new owner treats it better.  A date, place and time, etched for others to follow.

Books?  No, friends surely, through past and and through present.

Old Ideas

That old troubadour Leonard Cohen released his latest album, ‘Old Ideas‘, on the 31st of January of 2012, now almost a year ago.  For myself it was a welcome return from this man of music, whose wise and melancholy words have kept me company long into the night on many an occasion.  I first discovered him through listening to Jeff Buckley’s tremendous version of ‘Hallelujah‘, and I subsequently dived into into Cohen’s works.  A poet, a novelist, a singer, and a lover, Cohen continues to be all of these and more.  He is the eternal voice of despair, depression, love, acceptance, melancholy, and culture.  As I discovered through my musical journey of his works he has been through a few different musical styles, but his lyrics, and his voice, have always remained distinctive.  A review of his extensive oeuvre of albums would be better served by seeking them yourself, but what follows here is a selected highlight of some of my favourite albums, songs and books of his.

His back catalogue is an extensive one, but it is a beautiful one.  One of the first albums I managed to procure was the elegant, subtle and subdued ‘Songs From A Room‘, his 2nd album released in 1969.  Largely consisting of Cohen and his acoustic guitar, occasional female backing singers and little else, the album is a revelation, even during its own decade of release in the 1960’s.  It is beautifully stripped back in its approach to highlight the poetry of Cohen’s lyrics and story telling.  Perhaps my favourite song from this album (though the album is rewarded when played as one) is the song ‘The Partisan‘.  The haunting lyrics, “‘oh the wind the wind is blowing, through the graves the wind is blowing, freedom soon will come”, is heightened by the addition of a french verse sang by both Cohen and female backing singers, extolling the grim reality of partisan war, of how life is often entangled in a deep romance with death.

Songs of Love and Hate‘ followed ‘Songs From a Room’ in 1971, and is much in the same vein as the previous album.  The most moving song is ‘Famous Blue Coat‘, a paean to a triangle of love written in the form of a letter.  It is an elegant, expressive, and an evocative song, with the details of a love soured.  A late album now, released in 1992 ‘The Future‘ is a move away from the bare singer song writer, and includes a fuller band working on Cohen’s songs.  The album largely leans towards folk rock, although there are tantalizing hints of synth and keyboard playing.  The song ‘Democracy‘ prompts the listener into exploring the views extolled in the song.

Cohen toured the world from 2008-2010, in a much anticipated and long awaited return to the spotlight after some financial difficulties.  The London date, in 2008, was released in DVD form, and showed the exquisite showman at his finest, singing strong even after all those years.

My first introduction to his poetry was the delightful and playful ‘Book of Longing‘ (2006).  The poems are joined by the doodling’s and drawings of Cohen’s which litter the book, and are often colourful and joyful.  A quick scan will show that he has a certain fascination with the female form, often returning back to it for further study and doodling.  At the moment a collected edition of his poetry sits by my bed, ready to dip into at a moments notice.

This has been a brief introduction to some of Leonard Cohen’s  works, and there are obvious gaps, but I hope you can fill them in by giving him a listen.  He is often given criticism for sounding dour, or downbeat, but he has become more cheerful as the years have drifted by, by some accounts.  Needless of what the critics have to say, his music, art and poetry will resonate for far longer than the snipes of criticism as to his state of mind or mood in which he created them.  I sincerely hope you enjoy what you hear.