She writes verses of poetry in her mind as she looks at the pale moon and the North Star from a two story house – a house built on the side of the street of a village that has endured bombshells and rifles and men with rough shoes and a handful of foreign languages.
She writes verses of poetry in her mind about what’s going on in the minds of the people sitting in the gardens and lit houses around her: What hardships have they endured in their lives? How many times have they fallen in love? What goes on in their minds as they lay their heads every night on their pillow? What has made them who they currently are?
She is fascinated by people’s history.
She writes verses of poetry in her mind as the prayers of a distant priest fill the village for the fifth time that day, and raise to the sky in an attempt to please a listener in the heavens that may or may not be listening – that may be a figment of imagination that has been passed on from a history to another, and has been woven so deeply into the histories of so many that it has become an “unquestionable” reality.
She writes verses of poetry in her mind about this reality, as she realizes the role she can and has to play in carving out an exact piece of the future she wants to hold in her wrinkled hands 50 – 60 years from now.
She trudges down the steps to the first floor and lights red candles she usually leaves for special events then decorates the halls with them. She sits facing a 32 inch TV.
She turns it on: Skies black from fire smoke. Villages rioting. People out of their minds. Minds out of their people. Burnt gardens. A repeated history.Chaos. A young girl with curly brown hair and sun-kissed skin lying dead in a pool of crimson red blood. A young boy placing next to her a white flower black from the grease in his hands, and a lit red candle.
She turns it off – smashes the screen with the vase of white flowers she had placed at the table, next to the red candle she just lit.
And then, she goes back to writing verses of poetry in her mind, running far away from a bitter- sweet reality and a constantly repeating history. But at the back of her mind, behind where the verses of poetry form, the image of curls and tan and the history that that girl could have made continuously resurface.
At some point, she knows she will write verses about her too.
A process where a living person- breathing, moving, blinking etc – becomes still in fractions of seconds. The heart stops. The pulse dies. Slowly, colors leave the body. They dance back into the air, absorbed by the sun, swept by the wind. Tombs are made to collect as much of the colors as possible. Those which escape become rainbows that bring joy to the living, who look in awe at light reflections they will someday be a part of . We’ll all dissolve at some point and with us we’ll take others’ colors. Life is all connected in an intricate web.
When the cold steals the heat off my fingers to warm itself up,I remember your solid, blue fingers folded on your stomach as you lay in that coffin. I’ve never shivered from the cold. It was always remembering your scene that sent chills to my heart. I hate winter for that very reason : that it reminds me of your blankets and boiling coffee and lost, blurry yesterdays that I can’t seem to put my hands on anymore. I forgot the sound of your voice – all the screaming that happened wiped it off my memory. But I do remember the story you’ve told me about that time you almost died while climbing that hill to work. Or the one about how she used to write you poetry on her father’s newspapers, and secretly give them to the mailman to send them to you. It’s a shame that she was killed after being caught giving the mailman those letters on a stormy January afternoon. They thought she was having an affair with him.
And I remember the poem you told me you wrote her. You’ve always recited it by heart. I wish she had had the chance to hear it.
There are no real words to describe death – be it death of people, events or experiences. Someone, or something, just disappears. All what’s left are videos constantly pressed on play-back.
We called the dead from their graves and told them they’ve finished one year of their eternity. Such good friends they were.By the campfire, flames dispensed in the still air after eating the last of their book’s pages.
Some things never fade. They just change states or shed skin. Bones remain as flower petals fall of scaly skin, and scaly skin falls off skeletal remains.Crumbling masks. Origins that send goosebumps to the skin.
I was never able to understand such processes. I don’t see the point anymore anyways.I’ve heard congratulations on the new beginning, the new birth. Such naive actions. The book hasn’t finished yet. The writer’s hand just got crippled. His tongue got cut; his eyes popped. This always happens on the 31st of the 12th. The brain is what remains functioning, forced to reflect on a story it can no longer tell. Self- torture. The worst and the best all send yearning thoughts that sizzle and fry. Those who use their senses never experience such pain. This year, I agreed to continue the book that will be burnt.
I attached a pen to the clock’s arms and surrounded it with papers pinned down by my friends’ bones. I hid it all away in the depth of the jungle.
Let them cripple my hands. The clock will continue the story.
She’s the girl with the messy notebooks scattered all over her bedroom, the ones with scratches over words and words trailing behind arrows of curved paths and a corrected direction. She never wrote with neat pens or fancy brushes, the ones you dipped into dark-soul ink and wrote a few letters, then stopped to stare at the beauty the feathers left behind. No. She didn’t. And her pencils were never sharpened. She left it to her ideas to sharpen words, then printed them with thick graphite on small sheets of old brown paper that smelled like yesterday, and her hand never wrote straight.
When she was at home, she would drink her coffee in an orange mug with a metal spoon inside. You always found it on the small round oak table to the right of her bed, sometimes full and boiling hot, other times empty and cold, always with the spoon standing inside. And right there, just to the left of the mug on that small round oak table she bought from the antiquity store for 20$, you always found a Hemingway novel on top of “Post Office” or a Hawking book lying over “Ham on Rye.” She would not let Henry Chinaski leave, and he did not mind. She fell in love with how they both lived over their writings : Him, through currency he got paid for writing raw novels to a sparrow; her, through the sheer existence of assembled words.
And every night before she went to sleep, she always ran her fingers through his books as she imagined how he had once written them on a barely-working typewriter in the corner of his bedroom while his head hurt from alcohol, his stomach rumbled from hunger, and his eyes darted back and forth to his bed where a women he had met a few hours ago lay peacefully sleeping naked. She shuddered as she thought of the scene, but didn’t shut the book for his tales of ordinary men were too beautiful. “One more hour,” she told herself as the hands of the clock struck 2 AM, then dove into the pages.
He walks through the streets with his tongue hanging out of his rosy lips, dripping salty water that mixes with the dust and sand on his feet to leave a trail of dirt behind his hairy steps. He wanders them streets with a magnifier in hand, an ax in another, speculating over every pebble lying in the corner, every scratch strolling on the wall. The magnifier has been partially painted red, the color of the flag, to remind him of his enmity to a movement that held resilient for decades but has long been dead. He shall see red in that pebble, and in every pebble and every scratch, and shall destroy all what poses a potential threat.
On that wall, in the dark alley by the bar where the prostitutes hang for drinks after their nights, he saw lines that made up men whose figures shone in that red. They were playing with glass they did not know held their death.
We live with the meaning of “living” defined. We live up to that meaning, following similar or different paths that lead to common goals set by societies long ago. And I wouldn’t say we hate change or fear it. I’d say that we rarely think about it. Rarely do we notice alternatives. Rarely do we open our dictionaries and realize that words have plenty of hands fit to hold multiple definitions. Rarely do we open thesauruses and realize that limiting ourselves to certain words is absurd, for every word has tens that carry similar meanings to it. And this ruins our writings. It turns them to bland pieces of common-use words and figures that have lost their ring long ago.
It ruins our lives.
The following is a beautiful piece of writing by Maya Al Ajam, a close friend of mine, on the subject of limiting ourselves, and in specific, our happiness, to definitions. Enjoy:
I have pixelated a breath of darkness in the ever-bright illuminations of my mind. The darkness of definitions. I’ve been regurgitating the same album of quotes telling me about happiness whenever I blink the illusions I see on the inner side of my eye-lids into reality. The quotes got me started and now I’m giving them the permission to define me so I’d act upon them.
Well, I was. Now, I’m not. I don’t regret that though. I’m content I climbed an extra step that tempted me to write this. As Oscar Wilde put it, “to define is to limit.” I can’t limit myself. I don’t want to limit my experiences or my emotions.
Tonight I live my thoughts for we both agree we are one. We agree that we’re the conversations we exchange, the emotions we feed, the conclusions we trace, both sides of an argument. Our existence and the hidden pieces we are, yet blended in other existences. We agree that we can’t keep rereading the definitions. We agree that happiness, is not. Telling myself to smile won’t work. Happiness must feel shame when it realizes how bad people want it.
Life is not meant to flourish on definitions. Life is feeling, taking turn.
Wait! See that! That’s a definition. Mine, not yours. You, yourself, are a dictionary ripped apart and thrown to the ripples of the ocean. Question that.
Today, today the smiles in my being find comfort in transparent cups of tea and mint leaves seductively floating in the water. I find comfort in making my nephews crowns out of paper , and reading, and manually looking up words in the dictionary, and writing. Yesterday, I found the smiles while talking with my closest friends, feeling what we’ve shared as beautiful song of a kid learning to play the guitar. Tomorrow, what is a happy tomorrow? How is a happy tomorrow? I’ll find out, tomorrow. I’m too busy to pixelate a fake definition of a happy tomorrow within me.
As I stand midst this road and look back at the fraction of my life stumbling as it dances, I mumble, “happiness.” It whispers, “don’t chase it.”
What I would never confess,was the intensity with which I loved those black crows.
On hazy autumn afternoons, I’d wander and look for their beaks in wheat fields and skies saturated with specks of sand carried by blonde rays. Their black feathers would camouflage perfectly during the night time, and so I had to rush after school to catch a glimpse of them before dusk.
I had torn the scarecrow down, severed its cotton limbs and stuffed my bed mattress and pillow case with what remained of them. I had ripped off the clothes it wore and handed them down to Sarah and Jen who lived by the garbage bins at the corner of the next street. I congratulated myself on those disguised deeds done to quench my thirst with short-lived shots of dopamine and serotonin.
I spent hours in our dim basement on dark Friday nights fashioning a chair out of logs of teak, crafting a picture of them on its back with perfect delicacy and their names on the front carefully.
And on a Saturday dawn, with sun rays kissing the seat a good-morning through holes in the walls, I had carved my last letter and dusted off of it the dirt.
I carried it on my back to the center of the field and cautiously set it down on a worn-out rug I had stolen from my neighbor’s yard during midnight the other week. He’d go on without it fine, but the chair, no it can’t touch the soil.
Then by its four feet, I left bowls of fresh water that glistened as light played on their surface, and on the seat I placed a nest of auric straw.
Slowly, I stepped back. The wheat had grown tall. Its grains toyed with my hair and caressed my tanned skin. I suppressed a giggle. I had heard a “caw”, but it gradually faded.
It’s been hours. The wheat grains seemed to be swaying more slowly now as I waited.
I stood in that golden heaven, but was too busy waiting for their black majesty.
I had built them a throne, in my mind and in that field.
At the edge of a cliff I sat, inhaling the beauty around. The sharp smell of pine trees , of damp soil, of blossoming dandelions revived my weary senses. I looked up at the starry night. I needed no glasses to see the stars. Their light reaches the eyes of all but the blind, and I know every constellation by heart. I came from them, in the end. How can you not recall the name of your parents?
The breeze bought a shiver to my naked body, but I wasn’t going to put any clothes on. I had none after all. I had left them at the foot of the ward’s fence. I wanted nothing to do with those men.
I was put in a psych ward, deemed insane by mad men. I was draped in a light blue gown, strapped to a bed. A transparent orange bottle with a white cap stood on the table at my side. Filled with light red capsules, “Lithium,” it read.
“She’s lost her mind,” men in white cloaks whispered among themselves.
But no I did not believe that. I would never lose my mind, I cherished it too well. Besides, the voices, they’ve quieted down, but they haven’t left. They’re still here. I still talk to them all the time. Every single one. They would leave with my mind if it had left. They hate me, I know.
But they’re the only ones I talk to, the only ones whose questions I answer and whose answers I accept. They asked me why we were here as I lay on that bed.
“I don’t know. They say they’re waiting for my mind. They’ve called me insane. Yet what is insanity?
Is it just a derangement of the mind? But wait that would affirm that my mind hasn’t gone, and that’s not what was said.
Is it losing all sense? No, I could see and hear well.
Common sense, maybe? That is possible, I confess.
Is it living in an illusion? Or becoming delusional?
Is it talking with ants? Conversing with pets?
Or was I viewed insane for those thoughts in my head? Not the ones that walked on sidewalks but the rebels that leapt, and danced in meadows, then crashed and wept. The ones that took the wrong step, and continued with the wrong dance, twirled in an incorrect direction, started a renaissance.
Maybe they thought that’s where my mind had gone, to that green meadow to bring them back again. So they locked me in this white room, with fluorescent lights overhead, and waited at the door of my house with cuffs and guns loaded with lead.
They refused a rebirth, debunked its need. They would dissect it, kill it, watch it bleed.”
I’ve always been a circle, rolling about in a world of angled shapes. Soft edges, no breaks, my outline incapable of blending in with rectangular figures nor with triangular blocks.
I’d roll on solid hard pavements, and on lofty green grass, on one way high-ways non-stop. I’d get bruised;my curved lines torn. I would wait for them to mend, an incomplete circle with no beginning or end. A one-side coin waiting to be seen, for one-sided coins are but figments of imagination, virtual sides in real minds. And so I’d roll on, unperceived.
But I always feared corners, for where the lines meet, cages reside; and I, too weak, a vulnerable circle, would get easily trapped inside. Yet they were unavoidable. I crashed too many times. I got engulfed, their lines tied me up, suffocated me, to their strain I had to succumb. But the pain was not physical, my rim remained intact. The corners stabbed my insides, the empty inside of my curved lines. Insides that got reminded of their vacancy when they got in contact with those perfectly full corners; and they longed to be full themselves.
Until you came along, perfectly round, a circle like me, too, and we crashed. Our circumferences overlapped, entwined, each a separate side of the same coin, and together we joined. Then they were able to see me. I was still hollow, but my outline, not thin anymore, was now seen and heard. At least now I’m a curved line that belongs to the real world.