Poetics

I’m The Only Man Who Has Seen Her Naked.

It’s Southern Scene that compels me to finally write about her. I debate between writing longhand and typing on the keyboard. When the later happens words topple against each other, some want so bad to come out that they are born before their time. And this is a disaster because their meanings are lost to me. They cannot attest to their existence as words. It’s an adaptation they have come up with, because I so easily forget, they want to appear before they are extinguished, before confusion at the Tower of Babel. It doesn’t mater that their existence, like man’s, is worthless, their meanings inexplicable.  So I choose the keyboard. It suits me just perfectly.

My words can assert their position on the evolutionary graph. They change as I change. Some are killed, exterminated like rats that have been eating food from the kitchen shelves. Some survive, but this is no assurance that their meanings will also survive.

Southern Scene, before I forget. The song is from The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carniege Hall CD 1 album, according to a torrent file. It convinces me to stop the task at hand and write about her, my friend. I met her a few days ago.

She is working on an interesting topic, a book-length essay of sorts. It’s still possible to write book-length essay about Nairobi, since it is a young city and, like my words, it harbors the need to be chronicled and analyzed. She has three months to finish it. So her essay begins in 1911. I tell her about Lord Delamere. I know the history of Kenya through reading a biography: Elspeth Huxley White Man’s Country; Lord Delamere and the Making of Kenya. This is not something I say in public but I can list the first species of sheep and goat to reach the country from the English countryside. But she is not interested in Imperialism, which for me is the best example of the white man’s madness, a topic at the heart of her essay. She is not interested in the precolonial or postcolonial. I read an interview saying that there is no longer any space in contemporary life for postcolonial literature. The interviewee mentioned the Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro, whose books – I’ve read two: The Unconsoled, The Remains of The Day – are centered on English characters. Fuck that. So much has yet to be said. I think about how I wanted to steal the biography from the university library, to have history locked in a dark closet where I could go back to it like one goes back the bed of an ex-lover, revisiting the past, seeing it through the space between the legs of the lover spread like a Y, the tail a horizontal. Most of my writer friends have stolen a book from a library. Sometimes it’s the only way to convince ourselves that history is not just a word.

So I let her talk about the past. I listen. I like hearing about the past, about the Protectorate – which sounds like a noun, a name, a mother would give for her first born. Something you can find in a birth certificate. I’m amazed by how much she knows. I think the topic would make for an interesting novel and I beg her to lend me her notes. But she wants a bribe. She sneers. There is something in her face, a knowing, which says we have been here before. I don’t care about being here before, or reliving the past. I tell her I’ll fuck her for her notes. She says she has found Jesus and cannot take part in meaningless sex. I want to tell her it’s not meaningless, it’s about the mustard seed of a novel, an inception in my mind, a bribe, an erection under my Italian pants (it says so on the tag. Irrefutable evidence.) But I figure I’ll come off as base so I let her talk more about her essay. And, anyway, how many ideas for a novel have I stored up in my head?

We are now talking about 1945.

She is interviewing nurses and doctors and I tell her why I quit my Field Interviewer job. I hate conducting interviews. Questions about the household head’s sexual preferences make me more uncomfortable than they do the household head. I’d rather talk about astronomy. She says nurses and doctors like talking about her topic of interest so she is having some fun.

She wants to know how my screenplay is coming along. She calls one of her friends, someone she met in a support group, saying the friend and I have so much in common. What she means is that the friend has a mental condition. She flatters me. she will refer me to any of her friends because of the screenplay I have been working on. I don’t like thinking about that screenplay. Another testament of my failures. A false beginning. Something happens inside me, a flame, like a meaningless transfiguration, because it has no witnesses. The aesthetics of failure. The erection subsides. Interesting verb. Subside. More appropriate for describing water in a river, or a manmade dam. I think about Hemmingway’s A Movable Feast, where Fitzgerald asks him to see if his dick is as small as his (Fitz’s) wife likes to insist. Funny, the wife ends up institutionalized. This story would help my friend if the authors were Kenyan, but they are not. Somehow none our writers or their wives have been diagnosed with a mood disorder.  When she hangs up the phone she says her friend cannot make it, she is held up somewhere.

She tells me she is working in a new office, where everyone speaks very good English. She is looking for a tutor. I tell her I am a poet, therefore not suited to give English lessons. I tell her to try and think in English, so that when she speaks it’s a continuation of thought, rather than a river that starts from no source. A river? What the fuck does that even mean? What’s with rivers? So much happens between us and so little is formed into discreet sentences, spoken. You know, fuck the English language. I should have learnt the mothertongue. I don’t say this loud enough for her to hear. She’ll probably say the same maxim when she discovers there is nothing to learn.

She likes to send me text messages with semicolons neatly tucked between sentences.

This queer habit reminds me of my jazz collection. Some of the songs are incomplete. They start at the middle and break off precociously, because the torrents did not finish downloading or there was a blackout at the cyber and therefore I could not resume download. So she sends me these texts, saying that I am rude, that I don’t treat her well. Rarely will she send me professions of friendship and love.

I think of her as some kind of jazz song, or a Jack Kerouac poem from The Book Of Blues, that I have not learnt how to listen to because my ears are not receptive to certain arrangements of notes, and if the notes manage to get past my sensory nerves to my mind, where they are no longer stimuli but life itself, the beating of the heart, I still don’t know what to make of them: this long song which is really a number of different songs that I am too preoccupied to notice the many endings and beginnings, the deliberate clues, the ends of solos, the anticlimaxes, the unspoken tales of antiheroes. This reminds me of another inadequacy; I’m not ready for jazz poems yet, the same way I am not ready for her anxiety.

Perhaps she is more complicated than a complete poem. Perhaps she is a short line in one of those poems. A short line in blank white space, hanging, suspended by the reader’s breath. Existing only because the reader exists. A short line in a poem is the music of hesitation. It’s why I have not read The Book Of Blues. I hesitate.

When believers count their rosary beads and say Hail Mary I count my inadequacies. I used to say Hail Mary. Sometimes prayers worked. Did I give up prayers for poetry? Are they the same thing? William Cowper would probably say yes. The Romantics, too.

She’ll probably read this and send me a text message with a semicolon and no words.

What I have been doing is asking about her anxiety and pretending to listen. Then fucking her. Or thinking about fucking her, which is the same thing.

And she insists that I must hold her after sex, before sex, before leaving, after arriving. I can fill her rib cage against my body, made frailer by her anxiety than her bony form. Her skin is soft, like a flower in a dream. She wants me to hug her during sex, to hold her closely incase I get it in my head to leave her on the bedspreads. She wants to be strangled, ever so faintly. She wants her anxiety and fear to be one thing, contained within her body, and she wants me to do this because I am the only person who has seen her naked this year. Her body is warm against mine, like a fallen bird when the life is seeping out of it, a stone, thrown by some reckless young kid, lodged in its body. And I’m that kid. I’m forever a kid. Hanna Schmitz’s kid. Write to me, kid. Her voice says. Hold me.

I think about Hanna Schmitz the same way I think about my friend. Not that either has changed my life.

I left my notebook of poems and some dirty thoughts in Kisumu, so I cannot quote I poem I wrote about her. I will, soon. Though I remember it was set at Lang’ata cemetery. Its one of the few poems I have written set in a cemetery.

Back to the book-length essay. We have the conversation happening before us, and its undercurrents, and there is that which is happening inside us. We don’t speak like characters in a book. Our sentences are simple because we have no capacity for difficult or abstract thought. Our emotions are deep geysers, our language limited. I’m the Marques de Sade, preoccupied with the smell of her cunt, and she is the last chapter of a self-help book . Some people are aware of angels lurking around so they speak knowing they have an audience. Not us. We are our own audience.

She reminds me of a pregnancy scare in February.  She had told me that she was safe. I became paranoid. It turns out I am like most men; I don’t want to hear anything about a missed period. Most men don’t want to be their fathers. You grow up saying Hail Mary and hoping you will grow into a fine gentleman. Then you are 40 and you are a copy of your old man, down to the intonations of speech, the limp, the preference of white meet, musky cologne, and older women. You are the two entwined dancers of the helix, you are his compliment and at the same time his exact copy. Maybe like a palindrome. Fuck that? Sure. I got really mad when she told me she might be pregnant, we had to go back to the calendar. It turned out she did not really know what Safe Days means and I had to explain it, thanks to PMT Human Physiology 101. The idea of a pregnancy scared me. I had not even planned for the next month. I had no job (I was a fulltime writer). Right now I’m saving up towards a Harley-Davidson, as far as prospects go. Or a Nikon.

Digression. As she talks about why she reads self-help books I think about allusion.

I like allusion, it’s how writers and poets get to get away with so much without directly referring to it (I hope I will come back to my friend. I have a problem with threads and plots and staying relevant) Take this, for example:

The girl took Hoshino to a nearby love hotel, where she filled up the bathtub, quickly slipped out of her clothes, and then undressed him. She washed him carefully all over, then commenced to lick him, sliding into a totally artistic act of fellatio, doing things to him he’d never seen or heard of in his life . He couldn’t think of anything else but coming, and come he did.

“Man alive, that was fantastic. I’ve never felt like that,” Hoshino said, languidly sinking back in the hot tub.

“That’s just the beginning,” the girl said. “Wait till you see what’s next.”

“Yeah, but man that was good.”

“How good?”

“Like there’s no past or future anymore.”

“The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth, all sensation is already memory.”

Hoshino looked up, mouth half open, and gazed at her face. “What’s that?”

“Henri Bergson,” she replied, licking the semen from the tip of his penis.

“Marne mo memelay.”

‘I’m sorry?”

“Matter and Memory. You ever read it?”

“I don’t think so,” Hoshino replied after a moment’s thought. Except for the special SDF driver’s manual he was forced to study – and the books on Shikoku history he’d  just gone through at the library – he couldn’t remember reading anything except manga.

“Have you read it?”

The girl nodded. “I had to. I’m majoring in philosophy in college, and we have exams coming up.”

“You don’t say,” Hoshino said. “So this is a part-time job?”

“To help pay tuition.”

She took him over to the bed, stroked him all over with her fingertips and tongue, getting another erection out of him. A firm hard-on, a Tower of Pisa at carnival time.

Kafka on the Shore is about remembering. It’s why I find it so difficult to go back to Haruki Murakami’s books. I prefer forgetting. I prefer memorizing Alexander Pope’s Eloisa to Abelard. Such is the material of paradox: storing in memory a poem about forgetting. Of all affliction taught a lover yet /  ‘Tis sure the hardest science to forget!

I’ve forgotten our past, although I remember her face in it.

She is here now, on a faded couch, her toes immaculate against an old rag, and I can relive that past and forget it, again. This might go on forever. Eternal day. I watch her lips move as she talks about her essay, a word upon a word upon a word. They moved the same way when she kissed me. A lip upon a lip.

The conversation turns to her hair, she is having difficulties finding what to do with it, difficulties finding a good hairdresser. I tell her the natural hair is just fine. Kenyan women are obsessed with synthetic hair, like collectors. I prefer looking up allusions, footnotes, suggestions for further reading, bibliographies. Anything that will distract me from the book at hand. Anything that will make sure I get away from dealing with the things that directly affect me. So when she mentions her hair I go to that place in memory where Henri Bergson resides. It’s difficult to say what she means to me. I think she is irrelevant and yet I can go on and on about her. It’s because of this that I can always go back to her and hint at sex. The things that affect me – biographies, allusions, footnotes, even headers and footers – those I hide in a dark closet. They exist, yes, the possibility of their effect on me is great, but they are hidden and I can only recall reading them but not what they meant. I like it that way. Education is the key to madness. There is a time I was angry because it had taken her too long to get synthetic hair attached to her scalp. She let me fuck her. To make it up to me.

She serves me Black Currant. I hug her as we part, too aware of every part of her frame, like licking ice, so that I don’t hug her as tight as she might have preferred.  This is more about me than it is about her. There are more hesitations in my speech and manner than in hers. I have two conversations going on; one feeds through me, leaves traces across my heart, hints at inaccessible meanings. The other conversation is direct and affects me, and I turn away from it like one does at the sight and smell of a carcass of a dog by a highway.

It’s strange that I still remember our first conversation. It was about a Counting Crows song, something about the end of a day. Maybe I should write an essay about that.

 

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