Tuesday, January 26, 2010


                                             "The Fabulous Racetrack of Death"
                                                                                   by Roberto Matta

it happened again today
i remembered you
though you rarely cross my mind
i don’t know why you did today
cross my mind that is
i think it was the boy that was walking down the hall
with his hairless head bald but not shaved
bald with the sickness that you knew so well
and he walked past me like he didn’t see me
but then he turned around and said hello miss
and i said hello toni
and he smiled that weak smile that he tried so hard to make work
and so i remembered you thierry with your smile
all that time ago
the memories fell on me like warm rain
and i remembered the day that it happened
we were all sitting in french lit class discussing l’étranger
and you kept dropping your pencil on the ground on purpose
just to make us laugh
and dr rizk kept turning from the board and telling you to
stop fooling around and fait attention
then she went around to get one of those pointers she loved to use
and you dropped your pencil again
and when you bent down to pick it up that last time
you banged your head on the bottom of your desk that didn’t budge
didn’t make room for less pain
but sat there solid and allowed you to hit it
and you came in after the weekend with a bandage on your head
and we all thought
how odd it is to need a bandage for a minor bang
but that wasn’t the end of that because after a couple of days
you came in with a larger bandage and said
they’d had to shave off some of your hair
right there where the bandage is you said 
they had to shave so they could stitch
but that wasn’t the end of that because after a couple more days
you came in with your whole head shaved
and wrapped in a large dressing
and we all got scared because this is not normal
but that wasn’t the end of that because after a couple more days
you came in with your whole head wrapped
and the bandage was tied all the way around your chin
and you wrote us a note and said
i can’t talk because it makes my head move
and that was when the darkness started to fall on us
our small group of eight in that french lit class and dr rizk the ninth
eight wannabe scholars who got together with their teacher
to read balzac and zola and maupassant for shits and grins
but that wasn’t the end of that because after a couple more days
you didn’t come back to school
and this happened in early february and dragged into its end
and i remember it because march was coming up
and i kept wondering
will thierry make it to my birthday party
i was young and selfish and thought of my own wants
and i wanted you there to make me laugh like you always did
so i called your maman and she said you weren’t doing well
but that i could visit you in the hospital
hospital i’d said thierry is in the hospital
so i asked my mother to drive me to the hospital
after school the next day

and i remembered
i remembered in drama class when
we went backstage to read our trojan women script
and work on our blocking and then decided to run off
and get a pizza on rd 9 and so we went
running and running and running with the wind in our hair
and the devil in our blood
and caught a cab right outside the school gate
and put together our coins so we could pay the driver
and went to get our pizza
and didn’t have enough money to each get our own
but had enough to buy one pizza and share it
one slice for each of us but back then one slice was enough
and we were all skinny as a rail and food was just food
but it wasn’t even about the pizza thierry
it was about the thrill we shared at having skipped class
and knowing we’d be in trouble ‘cause we’d already been seen by
mr marshall’s assistant as we ran off campus
while she was coming in
and she’d given us a look like i’ve caught you
and we’d looked through her like she was the air
and we’d laughed out loud ‘cause we knew we were getting it
so what the hell might as well live it up now
it wasn’t like we were going to be in less trouble
if we were gone for only half the class
and i remembered in french lit class
when you’d climbed up on a chair
while dr rizk was out in the hall with another teacher
and you’d set the clock above her board ahead 10 minutes
so dr rizk had dismissed us 10 minutes early
and we’d all exploded with laughter
and fell over each other as we ran down the hall
but then one of us had had a change of heart
and said this isn’t right and that one was you thierry
the very one who had changed the clock
and we’d all gone back to class and admitted our deed to dr rizk
and she’d cried and said
why would you do this to me what did i ever do to deserve this
and we’d all been mortified with guilt and gone up to dr rizk
one by one
and hugged her and said we were sorry we’d never do it again
and i remembered the countless times
we’d gotten together to study for those
ridiculous vocab tests dr stein gave us every week
75 words a week plus etymology plus define in your own words
plus two sentences for each word plus bla bla bla
and this happened
it happened
your maman and papa had waited twelve years for you to arrive
twelve years of tests and hopes and shattered dreams
as you had told us
and then i was conceived and then i was born and then i became
as you had told us
and maman and papa were the happiest people in the world
and that had been the end of that story
at that point
but now i was in this hospital room
sickly blue like the color of tired veins beneath parchment skin
and looking down at you
so weak and helpless in your bed that was not your bed
and listening to you as you said
they came and took me in this big ambulance nevine
and watching as you licked your brick-hard lips moist
the lights were crazy nevine
red and blue and red and blue and spinning and spinning
and your maman was sitting on a small chair by the window
her head in her hand
and the door opened and in came the doctor a doctor another doctor
and one of them asked me to leave thierry can you imagine the gall
but your maman said it’s okay she can stay
and the doctor said i’m sorry to inform you madame
but it appears the tumor is beginning to metastasize rapidly
and i’ll tell you this
my mother had made me read the fucking dictionary
every day from the day i was seven until i was seventeen
and in dr stein’s class we’d learned 75 vocab words a week
and even with my dictionary reading and dr stein’s vocab lists
i still didn’t know what the hell metastasize meant
so i reached my hand in my back pocket
and pulled out a pen and scribbled the word
on the inside of my hand because thierry
i didn’t know what the fuck that word meant
but i did know that word sounded pretty damn sinister
and tumor
who had said anything about a tumor
these doctors must be in the wrong room
but no
it seemed
that small bang on the desk
had triggered some dormant something in your head
or at least that’s what the doctor said
triggered and dormant
and i’d never heard the word trigger 
used outside of the context of a gun
he used the word trigger which
i can no longer hear without thinking of you thierry
and when i realized
when i realized
i remembered
all those countless times our small group of eight had held hands
like children
out on our school’s green soccer field under the cairo sun
and bounced around in a circle singing
sur le pont d’avignon
on y danse on y danse
sur le pont d’avignon
on y danse tous en rond
and we’d bounced around
high school seniors going on kindergarten
but i wanted to know what that word meant
so i got home and pulled out my worn-out webster’s
with years of my graffiti all over it
i got home and voluntarily picked up that dictionary
and i looked up that word that
the doctor had let slip from his mouth
so swiftly so smoothly
and when i read the definition my mouth fell wide open 
like i was catching flies 
and there you were in your hospital bed that was not your bed 
thinking i don’t know what if you were even thinking anymore
and this happened
it happened
i came back to see you in your hospital room
that was not your room
and you looked at me and said
i want to fly to my silver castle in the sky
and i said
why not a golden castle
it seems a more becoming color don’t you think
and you said
no it’s too bright and in your face
a silver castle suits me just fine
and my heart went doink pinch bleed
because fuck
i was seventeen and you were eighteen
and death was not in our world
or not supposed to be
nor were those needles they had pinned
to your arms and your legs
or those tubes with
clear liquids going in and colored liquids coming out
or those horrifying doctor statements like
sometimes we have to poke several times before finding a vein
and i did not understand why
for the life of me
someone who had a tumor in his head should be
poked all over and bled
and i did not understand why
those doctors answered most of the questions they were asked with
i don’t know
or why the priest that your maman brought over
to pray for you said
i don’t know
or why the holistic healer who came with oils and crystals said
i don’t know
or why you couldn’t come to school anymore
or go swimming anymore
or come to my birthday party
i mean you had a tumor and we all knew you were dying
but why couldn’t they let you die doing what you wanted to do
and this happened
it happened
i came to visit you one day and you were all but gone
laying there with a tube sticking out of your chest
and tubes stuck in your arms and in your legs
and a strange looking pump stuck on your head
does it hurt i said
yes you said
do you cry i said
yes you said but not in front of maman
are you afraid of me nevine
do i scare you now
just a little i said i’ve never known anyone who… you know…
is dying you asked
yeah i said
i’m tired nevine you said
i’ll let you rest then
and i went
but not before clutching your hand between both of mine
and you asked when i die will it hurt
and it was my turn now to say i don’t know
because i didn’t know
and you asked me when i die where will i go
and i said i don’t know
and you asked me will they bury me underneath the ground
and i said i don’t know
but then
didn’t you say you wanted to fly to your silver castle in the sky
and I cried and you said don’t cry nevine
and you said my name as it should be said
avec un accent aigu sur le premier ‘e’
and i held your hand still and prayed
like i’d only prayed once before
and this happened
it happened
my mama was on her way to hospital to deliver my little sister
and i made a promise that if my mama came back alive if if…
and i had never finished the prayer…
but my mama did come back alive
with my healthy baby sister in tow
and i’d never given that unfinished promise a second thought
but now i prayed for you thierry
while this cancer metastasized and killed you
i prayed and said you were so young and so sweet and
so intelligent
and why you
but it was like my prayer was
falling on deaf ears and blind hearts
even as i was saying it
and it went unanswered
and you were taken away quietly and gently
on a warm and sunny day of may
23 days before we were all supposed to
graduate in the shadow of the sphinx
you were taken away

and i don’t think of you often thierry
but when i do it is always with a memory of your very blue eyes
and the cairo sun shining through your golden hair
and your childlike laughter
and us holding hands
you and me and jéhane and sandrine and
karim and hervé and sherine and tareq
and us going around in a circle on that green soccer field
in the middle of what should be an arid desert
holding hands and singing
sur le pont d’avignon
and i don’t know thierry
if you and i would know one another today
if you were still alive
or if we would be in touch
or if i would remember you or you would remember me
but i do know i remember you every now and then
when i see a boy walking down the hall
with his hairless head bald but not shaved
bald with the sickness that you knew so well
and he walks past me like he doesn’t see me
but then he turns around and says hello miss

you come into my head
you fall on me like warm rain
and when you do i feel that doink pinch bleed in my heart
and i tear up
but then i smile because how could i think of you and not smile
it would not be possible
and how could i think of you and not sing

we sing 
like children 
who will 
forever sing
and stay

Thursday, January 21, 2010

white night, scarlet sails

one moment we are sitting

head by head eye by eye
talking about this and that
waiting for the twilit sky
(that we know will not darken)
to darken
and the next moment
you are under

i see you slowly get heavy
i see you gently slip away
and i will follow soon
as i usually do
follow you
broken bones frozen flesh
anesthetized mind
injected with an obscure drug
to inspire a selective amnesia

we lay we sleep we dream
head by head eye by eye

if i reach out i can touch
with dry fingers
with broken bones
if i reach out i can touch
with bruised foot
with frozen flesh

i can touch inside

i can step inside
the elastic plastic dream
i can plunge under
the fluid surface of awareness
and listen to words
spoken in slumber
and listen to the bleeding
of an anguished mind
listen to words streaming
from a ventriloquist throat listen
to what should not be said
to what must not be heard
listen to words that glide
like scarlet sails on a white night
listen to words that come
from lips from face
radiant with truth listen
despite my troubled sleep


and pretend i do not hear

i inhabit
a vagrant delirium
a mouthless telepathy
head to head eye to eye
flat like a blanket
of pointless pentacles
spread upon the eternal twilight
curved like a mass of scarlet sails
painted upon the white night sky
but in this fantasy a crevice
jagged as the mouth of a hidden cave
through which the madness creeps
in this fulcrum a blemish
a scarlet spot upon the white ether
fixed like an exotic butterfly
mounted in a glass box mounted on a wall
fixed like a memory that does not vanish
but always leaves its traces fixed

and like the memory that does not vanish
but always leaves its traces fixed
i am fixed and awaiting
a new feverish rejection
a new delirious confession
i am fixed and awaiting
the collision of blind imaging with
the fragmentation of savage mind
i am fixed and awaiting
the unraveling chemistry of my delusion
the trauma of my expulsion from eden

i am fixed and awaiting
i am fixed and hearing
with the scarlet and salty eyes of my heart
the white and toxic hammer of your dream

Sunday, January 17, 2010

my chains

                     "Raphaelesque Head Exploding"
                                 by Salvador Dalí

i see myself enchained at times
imprisoned torn immobile alone
tossed and pressed by the wind
a weathervane twisting and turning
and going nowhere
a rooster that is trying to fly
a flurry of inept and gnarled wings
flapping and slapping
and going nowhere
and i anger and rebel with the usual
cowardliness of the incontinent
and impatience of the incapable
while my torment hides and mocks me
and i salute and admire and envy
its strength and courage and audacity
but i do stop and remind it
that the time will come
for it to tire and drop its armor
for it to quit and want to negotiate
a possible exchange of places
a possible exchange of scars

but my torment does not know
nor will i ever tell it
my chains are my armor
and when they are hot
they are my branding whips

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Detail from“Girl Reading a Letter in an Interior” 
by Peter Vilhelm Ilsted

And then he came back. Like a quiet lightstorm. She saw him. From the distance. Coming up the driveway. She watched. From a window. His arrival. As if from some invisible realm. His return.

She opened the door. Stood there. Clenched fists. Curled toes. Frozen tears.

She heard everything. The crunch of tires on the gravel. The car door closing with a gentle thud. His tentative footsteps on the pebbled walkway.

She waited.

Time seemed to move like it does in hospital waiting rooms.

He stood in front of her.

He smiled. A gentle kiss on her open heart. Her heart that twitched like a phantom limb.

She smiled. Hesitantly. Skirting the well. Skirting. But not plunging.

He held her. "I'm home."

He said.

That night they lay in the dark. Together. She on her back. Her lips caressing the air. He on his elbow. His breath caressing her face. She told him of herself while he was away. The waiting. The pain. The isolation. The loneliness. The madness. The emptiness.

She told him of the news.

"They said you were dead."

She said.

"And in this whole world everything was grey."

Sunday, January 10, 2010


i beseech you
in the darkest hour
in the deadest silence
if the snow should whisper to you
if you should hear my soundless cry
if i should not return
feel my absence
think of me

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Don't Think About a Pink Elephant

Art by Salvador Dali

You're restless. Uptight. Bored out of your wits and out of your senses. So, why do you keep pretending? Why do you keep trying to show interest when you're not interested? The only thing you want from Vera is her body. You know it. She knows it. And she's already giving you what you want. Why the games?

She's asleep on the sofa in her small apartment. And you want her to wake up and take you in her arms. Right now. Right this very minute. Don't count on it. She's tired. You keep switching on that light and switching it off and plumping up the cushions and messing with her blanket, and you think any of this will do the trick? She's even snoring a little, that's how dead tired she is. You're touching the back of her knee with your fingers and you're teasing yourself and getting a hard-on and getting pissed off and getting resentful because she's not responding. But you don't have that right. She gave herself to you twice before she fell asleep. And, she's the one who has to wake up early in the morning and rush over to a full day of smiling at ungrateful customers who never smile back, and trying to communicate with them in her broken English with the Russian accent that makes them cringe. Whereas you, you just have to sit at your computer for a few hours a day, in the comfort of her apartment, and read what someone else wrote and check it for typos. How about that for easy living!

But none of this is really taking the edge off. You want her and you want her now. You want to feel her warm body against yours, her mouth moving all over you, her brightly painted fake fingernails digging into the small of your back. So, here's a suggestion - think of something else. I know it sounds easy, but it really isn't. And, knowing you, you'll be just like those fools in that psychology experiment who were told to not think about a pink elephant. Fat chance of that happening! You'll know you're deliberately trying to distract yourself, and that'll take you right back to thinking about her. And her laying right there beside you on that freakin' sofa isn't helping, either. So you'll have yourself a real pink elephant on your hands. But then, maybe you'll get so tired of trying to focus, you'll fall asleep. And then maybe, in the morning, when you're both awake, all you'll have to do is roll her over and look into her eyes, and she'll read your mind and do whatever you want her to do. Not that you'd pressure her or anything. Or would you?

Take a drink of water. Your throat is dry from all that nervous breathing. Just make sure you don't knock over the glass when you're setting it back down like you did last week. You did that on purpose, too, didn't you? Just to wake her up. She's breathing deeply. She just moved. And you can smell that sleeping smell of hers that drives you insane. That freshly-baking-cookies smell of hers. And you're waiting. But she's back to snoring. You hear the clock ticking. And your breath is ticking with it. And you're trying to distract yourself. Again. You're thinking about those damn classics that Vera loves to read and that you despise. Again. Oedipus Rex and War and Peace and The Idiot. But you can't even get into thinking about those books. And what's anyone gonna do about it if you never read those classics anyway, sue you? Vera doesn't care if you read the classics or not. She likes them. But that doesn't mean you have to. She grew up reading the stuff. You didn't. But you should've been honest about it instead of  pretending like you were all over it. And maybe she was partly to blame for making you feel so challenged that you hadn't read those damn books. But had she really even mentioned it? Or were you the one who'd gotten yourself worked up over that shit? Actually, you did allow Vera to think you're interested, and she believed you. And you liked it when she fell like that, didn't you? You liked that she was innocent and naïve because it gave you that false security. It made you feel like you were somehow older, or more mature, than her. But nothing can change the fact that she's older than you. And nothing can change the fact that, after six months of being with her (way longer than you had banked on), and even moving in with her, you're feeling kind of stuck.

Remember the first time you saw her? You were so charmed. You heard her talk with that Russian accent to the lady in front of you in line and you just about dropped to your knees in worship. And when you walked up to the counter to order your coffee and threw around a couple of Russian phrases that you'd picked up in Russian 101, she just about creamed her panties. It was the first Russian she'd heard outside of home in months. You manipulated her, you dickhead. And you're still doing it. You know she isn't your type. She's a little too white, a little too blonde, her eyes are a little too blue, and her face is a little too round. And that Russian accent that once sent you into orgasmic explosions? Now it gets on your nerves. You feel like someone is sliding your ears against a cheese grater whenever she says, "How was your day today, Robert?" And add to that the fact that she never calls you "Rob". You're always "Robert", like you're being introduced as the key speaker at a freakin' convention. Besides, you hadn't seen yourself getting so entrenched. You were out to get a few lays before moving on to a new conquest. But a couple of weeks into meeting her, she started to get all warm on you, started to get all serious. And then she expected you to tell her you love her. And you knew it. She really wanted it. A confession. A declaration of love that she could use to tie you down. All women want that. You know how they get with their relationship shit - all dreamy and sappy. And they start planning long-term, like you're gonna be with them forever.

But it's wrong of you to mislead her. You're taking advantage, and that's not cool. You should do the right thing and break it off. That's exactly what you want to do and exactly what you should do. Her apartment is too far out from your favorite hangouts. Her accent is about to drive you insane. And, truth be told, you're really not that into her. So cut it off. But, you won't. You don't have the balls. Because you know you have something a little more for her than just wanting her body, don't you? When you talk to other women, you see her face and hear her voice. When you see a woman that looks remotely like her on the street, you want to reach out and grab her. And when you have to sleep at your own place because you've had one drink too many with the boys at the Making Whoopee, you're just down in the dumps. But let me tell you something - if you don't break it off with her, she's gonna break it off. And you know, you just know, that your healthy little ego is not gonna like that! This woman has a grip on her shit. She knows what she wants to do with her life and she knows how she's gonna do it. And even though she sells lattes and muffins for a living and doesn't have a college degree, she's self-reliant and independent. She is a woman. And you are not a man.

I know that hurts. Badly. But it's the truth. Sure, you look like one. Like a man, that is. You even look like a pretty cool man. You're tall. You're handsome. You're stylish. You walk with a swagger that says you know what you're doing. And women like that. They fall for the looks and the swagger. Sometimes, anyway. But you... you don't like the way you feel... inside... about yourself. You don't feel half the man that you look. And she's a smart one, that Vera. So you won't have her fooled for much longer. And it's not about age, either. Sure, she's older than you, but what's three years in a life? Her life is a lot bigger than yours. Her cup is a lot fuller. Her ambition is a lot more far-reaching. You're not as passionate about living. You're not as loving and trusting of people. You're a freakin' chronic complainer, is what you are. And though you like Vera, and you sometimes think you can't live without her, when you're out together you look at other women. Don't! Don't even try to deny it. You look at other women. You even fantasize about them when you're having sex with her. And that's just the kind of scum you are.

It won't be long, now, before she sees right through your act. And you're waiting to see those expressions of disrespect and impatience and intolerance and superiority on her face when she finds you out. They're all coming. Soon. She even gave you a little preview, just last night. You were both sitting at her kitchen table, drinking the split pea soup she had made when she came home from work. And you reached out to take a napkin from the napkin holder. And just because you knew she's OC and she'd be pissed and itching to fix your mess, you grabbed the napkin with a jolt, like you were pulling some Houdini trick, and sent all the napkins in the holder hanging over its edge. And then you'd just sat there, all smug, with the napkins looking like they were preparing to springboard dive off of that holder, and you'd continued to drink your soup while waiting for her reaction. But she was on to you. And so she just sat there, too, smug in her own right, and waited until you straightened up the napkins that you'd disturbed and returned them to their place before she gave you one of her "You idiot!" looks. She's ten rungs up the ladder, and you're still contemplating getting off your lazy ass. Go do some growing up. Take some blows and some headaches and some tears. And take some shots, too, while you're at it. Tell her the truth and stop being a jerk. And maybe, maybe, with time, you'll be able to look out at the world and not feel like a little kid hiding in a grown-up costume.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

at dusk, communion with cairo

at dusk the kites rise
billowing in the air
coloring the sky
circling over the city of the dead
like the skirts of a whirling dervish
circle over a stationary floor
red yellow green blue

your air smells of smog
of fried eggplant
of white tuberose
strung on silk thread and
worn around my neck
your datepalms are
pregnant with secrets
(my secrets and yours)
and life-bearing fruit
they tower over you
and over your glorious sand
your glorious dust
your glorious mud
and over your tent-covered market
offering cardamom seed
and hibiscus blossom
and over your ancient temples
where the air lays upon the ruins
like painted glass upon the horizon
and over your ancient river
the father of rivers
as it glows and flows
emerald and elegant
while boats ride it into
the expectant sky of you
my beautiful cairo
my victorious one

the people amble in the streets
and over your bridge of dreams
their long shadows stretching
graying your sidewalks
and the stiff air does not move
to let them pass
to let them breathe
light slivers slowly
threatening to fall
while grains of dust
sporadically speckle the air
and i hold my breath
not for lack of need to breathe
but for worship of you
my beautiful cairo
my victorious one

a child touches my hand
and tugs
and pulls
his toffee eyes look into mine
upturned and dreamy
the saddest eyes i've ever seen
(his or mine)
eyes that have seen
too much too soon
and he smiles
and he wraps
his little fingers in mine
and he says
bahebbik ya amar
while the perfume vendor
sings to me of amber
sings to me of rose
sings to me of musk
and other aromatic aphrodisiacs
that promise sensual satisfactions
and i blink
in the dust
in the dusk
in the purple splendor of you
my beautiful cairo
my victorious one

in your glamorous palaces of old
the exiled deceased sleep and dream
while in your shattered graveyards of new
in those squatted mausoleums of broken bones
the trampled living dwell amongst the dead
and offer me tea prepared on a primus stove
and we sit and sip in silence and listen to you
come alive
between your saffron sunset
and your mercury moon
come alive
between crypted cenotaph
and stolen solitude
we sit and sip in silence and listen to you
my beautiful cairo
my victorious one

and the pigeons flock
and the pigeons preen
and the pigeons coo
and the pigeons draw circles
and the pigeons paint silhouettes
upon your sky
and the pigeons chant
in tongues unknown
bestowing their blessings
upon me
upon you
my beautiful cairo
my victorious one

and the minarets hum to one another
in the lavender haze of a day gone by
one more day in your life
my most beautiful cairo
my most victorious one
one more day in your life
that will endure forever
or if not forever
then at least until i die
and am buried beneath
the eternal dust of you
my beautiful cairo
my victorious one

my womb
my mother
my shelter
my tomb

(Ar.) bahebbik ya amar: I love you, gorgeous.