How Literature Speaks Through the Ages

I cannot recommend Stoner by John Williams enough; not a single word is wasted in creating a life and exploring the passions, loves and failures of an individual throughout that life.  These are the moments that history does not record:

Five days before the marriage took place the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour; and William Stoner watched the ceremony with a mixture of feeling that he had not had before.  Like many others who went through that time, he was gripped by what he could think of only as a numbness, though he knew it was a feeling compounded of emotions so deep and intense that they could not be acknowledged because they could not be lived with.  It was the force of a public tragedy he felt, a horror and a woe so all-pervasive that private tragedies and personal misfortunes were removed to another state of being, yet were intensified by the very vastness in which they took place, as the poignancy of a lone grave might be intensified by a great desert surrounding it.  With a pity that was almost impersonal he watched the sad little ritual of the marriage and was oddly moved by the passive, indifferent beauty of his daughter’s face and by the sullen desperation on the face of the young man.

– From the novel Stoner by John Williams. Published by Vintage, 2012.

The Corridor

I love you and I need you, I wish that I could see you.  I’m travelling down this corridor alone, strapped to this trolley with doctors by my side pushing through door after door.  I can see the light shining but I’m not sure if it’s for me or if it’s for everyone around me.  I cry out, not pain not in horror, I cry out in confusion.  I need you and I want you, to be by my side again.  Memories flood my frazzled mind, a skeletal hand clasps my own and tells me it will be alright, it will be okay.  I can help but feel that this is a denial, that my body is failing even as I flail in the half-light of an under-funded hospital, staffed by sleep walking staff with the warmest of hearts.

I need you and I want you, I can hear voices in the corridor, not my own or those around me but others, crying out in equal pain or in anger at the wait.  Where are my sons, where are my daughters?  I wanted to say to grow up in peace, to love your family, friends and neighbours as one, to move on or to leave if you need to.  We understand, we want you to be happy, we need you to be with us.  I love and I need you, and I wish that I could see you.

The final corridor, my body is checked in.  Checked once that I am who I say I am, that the arrows painted on my limbs are correct and that my brain is related to my body and my body is related to my name.  I say I am who I am and they take it on board, and I’m made to wait at Heaven’s Gate.  Two blonde angels guide me, make me comfortable on the slip green sheets which matches their sleek outfits.  Only bras and knickers must be under their gowns I think, wondering who they share their bed and younger, supplier bodies with at night.  My own is broken, battered and torn.  A mess of surgical scars, shortened limbs but above average, well we won’t go into that but it is according to a litany of my previous lovers.

I want you and I need you, I wish that I could see you.  I laugh, laugh at the futility of it all.  The drugs, I yearn for the warmth of the morphine, of the wicked sleeping potion to crawl up into my veins and up into my arm and to flood the chest cavity and consciousness itself.  I yearn to sleep with no dreams, where the minute that passes is not a minute but a moment between awake and awake.  My eyes linger on one of the angels, filling in the paperwork in the corner of the room, haloed by broken bodies on stripped back beds.

I need you and I want you, I wish that I could see you.  I’m moving, I’m moving, but I’m not moving, there are no words for this.  Through the first set of doors I am pushed, name confirmed once more.  Am I aware of what is going to happen to me and why it is happening?  Yes, yes I scream still dreaming of the green robed angels in the theatre waiting room.  Just do it, yes the heart always beats fast.  I need you and I want you, but I just can’t seem to see you.  I stare at the anaethetist’s eyes as the plunger is gently but firmly pressed down, a milky white liquid seeps into my own bloodstream diluting reality.

I needed you and I wanted you, but I just can’t seem to have seen you.  I wake as if I have been asleep for years.  I crave water, yearn to drink a thousand litres of the freshest water available.  I want to drown in crystalline lakes and to never wake.  A tube has been down my throat, a mainline into the neck is still present.  I wish that I could have seen you, I’m sorry to have left you.  I close my eyes again.

5 Minutes Late

An empty can of coke, or a wrapper left by the bench side, maybe a poem half scratched into the drying concrete.  These were all the tell-tale signs of being five minutes too late.

They were empty gestures aimed at trying to maintain contact when mouth to mouth, face to face, body to body, contact could not be kept.  It was in the inorganic artefactual remains that an attempt at communication was continually made.  It happened slowly at first, becoming more gradual and intense, and then, overwhelmingly, it ultimately became depressing as Henry couldn’t maintain verbal or physical contact with those around him.

He became an invisible body, lost in the ebb and flow of a time he no longer felt that he belonged in.

He tried, at first, to scream his welcomes, his hopes, fears and joys to anyone that would listen.  He stopped by the corner-shop he visited as a child, tried to speak to the vendor of sugar coated dreams with no luck, stopped by his schools, each in turn, searching for teachers old and new.  Yet it was a hopeless and a thankless task.  Everywhere Henry visited he was five minutes too late.

He could sense the swirling of the bodies that danced around him, yet they were just an outline, never sketched in properly.  They were intangible, un-contactable.  Each minute, each hour, and each day etched into Henry’s heart a feeling of numb pain, the kind that, if you do not warn it off, becomes entrenched in the very fabric of the body.  He knew this, of course, having seen his mother and father go through the same process, but he knew that they had truly loved him, that their gift had saved their son even if it had not saved them.

The days continued into months and the months tumbled into years.  Contact, truthful heart to heart communication, remained a dim and distant prospect to Henry yet a diamond hard dream held still in his mind, that there was someone out there with who he could contact, who he could talk to, who he could be with.

Body to Body

From my body to yours, from your body to mine, we are apart and we are together.

We span years, decades, centuries, and millennia.

There is no binary, there is no suffocating art, there is no expression too wild.

There is no love that is not shared, no thought unanswered, no dream left empty.

From my body to yours, from each firing nerve and from each flexing muscle.

My lips are your lips and your lips are mine.

From your body to my body, from each extension and from each moving bone.

Yours eyes are my eyes and my eyes are yours.

We are apart, but we can be one.  We are divided, but we can be united.

From you,

From me.

A Letter From Your Friend

Dear John,

Forgive the state of this paper that I write on to you now.

There is no sleep in this house now, there is only the ongoing pain at the long and drawn out suicide of humanity, that final desperate cry that is falling on deaf ears the world over.  Our cities, our towns, and our villages are burning in this fever, we are being choked as the very oxygen of life itself is sucked into this unremitting chaos, this rack and ruin of our modern world.  I know you have felt true pain in your life John, as I have mine, but this is unlike anything that we have seen before.  There is no glory in death, no beauty in execution, no mercy in torture.

Man is at the mercy of fellow-man, and that well of mercy has reached its bitter and turgid end.  It is dry, bone dry, and we have resorted to barbarity to replace what we have lost.

Even as I write this letter to you now I can hear the engines of jeeps prowling the street, the siren call for retribution wailing into the night.  I can hear the distant thud of artillery threatening the very capital.  The sands of our land are choking on the blood of its people, spilt time and time again.  I have seen inhumane scenes, of neighbour killing neighbour, of families split by invisible sectarian lines, of death squads rampaging across the city executing those it hates on sight.  I have lost the beauty that I once found in life itself, and it has been replaced by those faces that I see day in and day out.  The faces that are willing to kill and to maim if you do not abide by their rules.

I cannot believe that these people have families that lovingly raised them to be citizens of the world, that were ensconced in the beauty of our religion from birth.

It would be a lie, a certain and death-defying lie, to tell you that I did not fear for my immediate future.  There is no hope in munitions, helped either in its aim by the barrel of a gun or of a bomb held securely in the bay of distant plane.  In that sense, they both share the same problem in that they only kill and main and alienate – they do not heal, they do not bring together the families of those that are at war with each other.

The news is the same the world over, each country fighting its own personal war against the populace.  I pray for you my brother, as I shall pray for your family as you pray for mine.  May we find each other again in a garden of peace.

Yours sincerely,

Abdulrahman M.

Full of Fire: Part 1

(Part 2 – Part 3)

(Full of (foul), you are society’s ire incarnate….////

(Burn that witch/turn her heart… black)///

Use your paw to punch a gaping maw- -..

…/// (Bloody gullet, … let it flow over tongue, tooth and lip).

Let your children bathe in fire, (born anew)…. Let your desolation angels roam (free), cursing this ill-gotten – (land)….

Claw open the skin of this earth/let flow her fiery blood/ … to burn each plant and tree///

It was no good.  It was too dark, too miserable, too damn silly and too damn awful to proceed with at this late hour.  What the hell had he been thinking, he thought as he dashed out a few squiggles and symbols on the broken lines of a half-hearted poem.  He just couldn’t get into it.  It was a waste of ten minutes, no less and no more. The imagery was vivid, sure, but it was just ridiculous.  Especially at his age where he should know better, should be better surely?  He jabbed his newly sharpened pencil into his hand, a quick defiant flick to make sure he was still alive and still feeling.

Yes he was and he sure as hell wouldn’t be getting lead poisoning from that small scratch, no matter how much he heard his infant self suggest so in such innocent tones.  He’d need a bullet or two to do that.

Writing came easily, even in his childhood where he could whip up a story out of thin air.  It continued, for a while, into adolescence but necessarily slackened off when girls took his interest instead.  It returned, sharper than ever, as he reached the waning years of his teenage life.  Never announced itself as such, he just picked up a pen every other day and doodled a quick story or two on a pad of paper that was lying around.  He sent letters as well, hand wrote but rarely read, and eagerly awaited replies that never came.  Ah well everyone is busy these days he’d reason to himself, no one has time to spare half an hour or so, to dedicate a task to a single person when they could be messaging everybody at once on social media.  Announcing their new found love to the world, or sharing an intimate picture to people they’d only met once and even then only briefly.  No, he wrote alone and for himself.  His handwriting was awful anyway.

The stories, well they changed and grew, some became novels, others became short stories.  Sometimes it was fiction, sometimes non-fiction.  Often he’d plan a whole novel in his head but it actually never came out onto paper as new ideas pushed aside old, and screamed for their place in the sun.  Sure he made a living out of writing, a meager one, but it was a living none-the-less.  Not many could say that these days.

The coughing fits started again after he scribbled and crossed out most of the above poem, malformed as it already was.  Blood splattered in little droplets onto the fine paper, parachuting down in an attempt to escape a dying body.

He knew this too, of course, and didn’t begrudge any of the droplets their last attempts at freedom.  In fact he was rather envious, even as they gathered in number and deformed his poem further.  It was a rather beautiful sight though, the blood of life, oxygenated in full in the fresh breeze of a summer morning.  His wife heard him, as she always did, and rushed to be by his side, such was the situation of his advanced condition.

It wouldn’t be long now, no it wouldn’t be long.

Hospital Visit No. 132

Jaded I can’t even get wasted, the brown bottle bin empty.

It’s the gas, the final plunge that I think about each and every night.  That infinite high that accompanies gross body trauma.

The welcoming words of the paramedic; the soft hue of the ambulance lights.

That Cheshire cat grin as I think I overdose on the self administered pain killer.

It is the all encompassing hug of the soft welcoming paws of hospital.  The knowledge that I have survived again, that the bone can break and the flesh part, but I remain.  I remain.