This is not the first time I’m thinking about how and what Duncan wrote on HD. That kind of love is so foreign and complete it revives me. So I am going to write about my love for Ashbery.
I know why I like this man’s music of infinite pauses, this man who is teaching me about being alone in a house where everyone must be alone and learn how to appear un-alone…let it be noted that one can be alone in Ashbery in ways that do not exist for others. And these are conversations I cannot have with anyone, except maybe the articles of clothing and debts and mementos like teeth and earrings from a progression of old lovers…there is only residue in this room…let it be noted the cheapness of their smells followed them out the door…
Back to this man and his walking over to where I am, I have taken him out to the bathtub of downtown Nairobi, have taken him out on shisha hunting adventures in that bathtub of the city…yet what I learn now is that in fact it is he who has been taking me to these places of infinite pauses.
‘Infinite pauses’ is the phrase that compels me to leave the comfort of my room and take three matatus to what I imagine to be another country within this one, landlocked between a black river and bad roads.
I take a couple of matatus to Garissa Lodge. I live in a part of Nairobi where you will always need a more than one matatu to get you where you are going. I have headphones on and I pass by the place that marks the beginning of the place of my birth. Sometimes I go to this place when things are really bad, to mean whenever I am depressed and cannot write. There is something about the place that makes me want to get back to writing, it has something to do with the attempt to remember knowing well I am not going to remember anything new. This failure is a quiet revival I have learnt to shelter. I go there because I must. It’s the only way of experiencing memory in the now now, you know…when memory is a real-time event, happening not after the event that precedes it, but in tandem with the event that gives birth to it. A contradiction in terms no doubt, but I have Ashbery with me and he tells me even this is okay.
This is not one of those days when I need to go there, today I am simply passing by. I avert my eyes.
I have been playing a picture puzzle game that makes use of classic and renaissance nudes. The strange thing about most of these nudes is that their eyes are always averted, even when they are looking at you. So I avert my eyes when I pass by the old place of my birth. As if the place, this material canopy of forgetfulness, eyes trained on me, has taken me into its hands in an attempt to (de)construct me into the beautiful human being with despicable toe nails I imagine myself to be.
Old lovers have confused these self serving theories I come up with as love poems.
There is music in my ears.
The matatu takes me to the Lodge. Lodge can be a transitive verb :
1 a (1) : to provide temporary quarters for (2) : to rent lodgings to b : to establish or settle in a place
2 : to serve as a receptacle for : CONTAIN
3 : to beat (as a crop) flat to the ground
4 : to bring to an intended or a fixed position (as by throwing or thrusting)
5 : to deposit for safeguard or preservation
6 : to place or vest especially in a source, means, or agent
7 : to lay (as a complaint) before a proper authority : FILE
Lodge can also be an intransitive verb:
1 a : to occupy a place temporarily : SLEEP b (1) : to have a residence : DWELL (2) : to be a lodger
2 : to come to a rest
3 : to fall or lie down — used especially of hay or grain crops
I alight at St. Teresa. Believers from church. Children buying ice cream and confectionaries, showing off purple and orange tongues. I contemplate buying a rosary but that would mean finding a priest to bless it. Yes, I still take part in these rituals. I look at the rosaries from the sides of my eyes and walk to where they are selling mangoes. The entire place is a festival of mangoes. Modified apples sprinkled with water on their green and red skins.
I walk through shops selling cheap perfume. It was also the perfume that brought me here. I thought I needed to smell good, but now that I am here I do not care about the smell of my flesh. There are dates and spices, women in long clothing walking in short strides, women who look at me from the deliberate spaces between their fabrics. They avert their eyes when I return the look. In another part of the city there exists women who are not afraid of eyes.
I am thinking of Kerouac on the road. I am thinking of Kerouac spending all those lonely nights in Big Sur. I am thinking of Kafka in Kafka On The Shore. I am alone, thinking about this feeling of being alone. But the problem is that I am not alone. I am in the middle of Garissa Lodge, where there is a shop everywhere I turn, mannequins stare at me like long dead pharaohs come to birth, and a Luo girl comes to me asking how much I’d pay for a pair of beautiful loafers, and although I have the money in my pocket I tell her I don’t have any money and thank her, not for the courtesy but for the beauty in the way the corners of her ears bend.
I am thinking of Kafka On The Shore, of Baldwin’s Rufus during the specific moment on the bridge. I’m thinking of Keguro Macharia. In other words I’m thinking of men whom have taught me the language of love. Mostly I am thinking of Ashbery, who is holding my hand and urging me to move the narrative forward but walk in reverse if I must.
I walk to a shop where a man is selling electronics. He is talking to a lady customer in a long fabric, and fading patterns like a terrible capillary bed on her palms. I ask how much for the soft leather casing. He completely ignores me. I figure he will return to me (even though he has not shown any signs of ever knowing I exist) but he is busy ogling at the crisp notes with Jomo Kenyatta’s portrait tucked in the lady’s wet palms. This man’s indifference is all I need to get yank me out of my reverie of infinite pauses, to get me out of this place I have lost myself in, this place I have come to occupy temporarily. Yet, and this baffles me, I think of myself as a master of anonymity. The way I do not exist in this shopkeeper’s everyday vocabulary, the way my money is worth less compared to another’s, this terrible and temporary quarters, this is my way of learning about anonymity. After all, I am turning some lines from Infinite Jest into temporary poems.
It is very easy to subsist in this man’s caesura, in what I think of as an infinite pause, the place where voice becomes all those things you have been told come before silence: it’s a regression into a place of possibility, it’s love come to you as no intonation, it’s a quiet place of sustenance. I have seen this place in the way shadows play in a lover’s mouth. I come to this place of caesura when I must. It is not the best place to exist, that kind of sustenance needs a lot of practice and patience. This is the Lodge at the middle of my pilgrim. I’m only here for a short time. I am thinking about what is temporary against what is transient. I know there is a difference there, I’ve seen it in a child’s first smiles of life, smiles that are clean and unknowing, smiles that come between pauses. What I have learnt from waking up as a child of dreams is that lonely places of infinite pauses can be happy places. As a child of dreams I modelled small animals from black cotton mud, and I had this persistent fear that the Plasticine was cancereous. Maybe this was the first time I experimented with an infinite pause, because the models of cows and men had this thing caught halfway between a smile and a sad face.
Sometimes there is a pause in the middle of a word as you think about how it reminds you of another place and time. Some pauses can be like a lover’s tongue. Sometimes a pause can be digressive. It can also bring you back to a certain kind of focus that is at once beautiful and inaccessible, like the juiciest loquats in the highest branch of a tree. An infinite pause is the juice of extravagance, and this is a feeling that preoccupies me everytime I read Ashbery
After all, I am in the Lodge, I am in little Somalia. And Ashbery is urging me to move on with the narrative, or at least buy some dates.
I take Ashbery’s hand and lead him to a street where there is a woman selling shisha. She smells like sunflowers in season, which is a welcome reprise from the dust and warm bodies in my space. Men in ochre beards look at me and exchange consonants, I return their gazes with an open mouth of vowels. I take a mouthpiece into my mouth, inhale the shisha, pass it over to Ashbery who is now daydreaming about houseboat days and in a way only he can.
As I walk past the vendors I am thinking of another place and time, where I saw shops exactly like these ones. I came across men selling dates and I thought about dates melting on a warm tongue, I had nights alone drinking 7ups and eating chicken. I don’t know how to return to that place and time without evoking the macabre.
So the man disregarded me, he looked down on me and inspired my sobriety.
As I walk through the Lodge I am thinking of infinite pauses, I am thinking about how Ashbery’s poetry seems to begin from a place beyond the page, this man who is having private conversations with his sewing machine and turning them into poetry midway, this man who is letting me listen in on his private conversations.
And I find my way to Gikomba and find a man selling original CDs for 50 bob. I buy myself some Sade, Thicke, Floetry, Coldplay, Angels and Airwaves, Wheatus. He is selling a 1969 vintage National Geography which, on a quick glance, betrays an article titled KENYA HARAMBEE. I decide against buying it. It’s June 2nd, a day after Madaraka Day.