me and hymn

little boy cross-legged in the grass
looking up at the sky
farming for words
whose cup are you trying to fill?
you know you could
empty me and fulfil
your self. just want it hard enough.
say the right words, tell me good night.
soft things fall
but they don’t make a noise.
you’ve seen women shatter
before you
but divinity doesn’t
break.
———-you want a woman divine.


damn.
I gotta be tough
for you
I gotta be strong
for you
I gotta be touched
for you
I gotta be fine
for you
I gotta be soft
for you
I gotta be lost
for you
I gotta bleed

———-for you

what a woman divine.

she’ll do well in your poems
she’ll roam the thick of your words
she’ll cut through your darkness
she’ll lick the sun and paint your dreams
she’ll be art and artist
your creator and
creation.
how do you get her so
woman divine?

stone-cold smart mouth soft skin so fine
always doing
fine
no need to call me when there’s static
from your side baby i’m okay,
you couldn’t hear me anyways.

wrote her into me from birth:
women divine
struggling.
waiting
where i come from,
to speak
————i love you
is an offering. such flowers are given
at the altar of our hopelessness.
when you say
i love you
it is an exercise in words.
you want a woman divine
and write everything but
prayers.

me a woman divine.
my namesake a goddess
mounted on a lion.
She wields danger like a ribbon in her hair
She wrongs and then
She writes herself.
She sings songs over bones.
She builds and she burns.
She blooms and she folds.
She does what she thinks, She wants
what’s a woman divine?
keep writing, maybe she’ll

get real.

 

Image from the film “Frances Ha”, dir. by Noah Baumbauch

Aircraft Cabin

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Snaking gold veins dribble and drip below
Tinned tuna somehow airborne
We’re chasing the sun with the moon
Bobbing like a white face at our backs
The clouds pulling cotton
Across our air-sucked eyes.

Home is a memory
Easily tampered with behind your shoulders
How is it splitting so suddenly
At the seams?
Did you leave it in the dryer too long?
Did you photocopy it or
3D print it?
Which one is real? It cannot- surely- be an
Aircraft cabin?

A place as uncomfortable as the man
Shuffling past you from that pencil-box bathroom.
His indigestion eyes are a warning worse than
Seatbelt signs. You really don’t want to go in there.
Home shouldn’t be
A scrabbling toddler’s kick
Or the quivering string of drool
That glitters from you
To the tray that the attendant is clearing.

Home is a collection of things
It is a hand-crafted alibi to prove
You danced, wore,
read, wrote, breathed
There is a stuttering line of objects from
Your foalish careening into the world to
Your feet
and the thing attached to them.
Home is a proof of you beyond the mirror.

So, it cannot be a stinking port-a-potty
Whizzing through the clouds 12 kilometers
Up.
It can’t be a thing lobbed at the sky
Like some soda can crushed underfoot and flung-
Even if the person in the mirror there
Looks surprisingly like (an ugly) you
And you’ve crafted a house from the feeling
Of flight.

Home is “remember when-”
And a softness about the eyes
A memory, easily tampered with.

 

Artwork by Sally West, “Beach Study 1”

A Concert for Plastic Bottles

aurora

I call plastic a friend. Do you?

 

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With the global economic prevalence of petroleum, so came a massive abundance of plastic. With possibilities to chemically engineer it and thus, fulfill a plethora of purposes, plastic soon replaced wood, stone and metal in the crafting of everyday materials. Plastic has become so essential to us, we don’t even notice it. If you’re reading this on an electronic device, perhaps you weren’t fully conscious of its plastic components until reading this sentence.

Unfortunately, while plastic’s ubiquitousness has led it to blend into the background, it has also, more literally, begun to blend with the biosphere. Due to their strong polymerous molecular structure, plastics cannot biodegrade – through wear and tear, as well as photodegradation, they can be broken down into smaller pieces, but these pieces themselves will never go away. Once they’re reduced to smaller than five millimeters, they are referred to as a microplastic. Becoming aware of and understanding the existence of microplastics is crucial to understanding how and where plastics create impact on our world, both in the present and future.

These tiny things are, essentially, everywhere. The oceans teem with them. And when drinking from a plastic bottle, you are now probably ingesting some amount of microplastics as well. Plastics are not only all around us, they are within us too.

 

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As plastics, micro or otherwise, become increasingly entangled with our environment, the inhabitants of the biosphere seem to be unable to escape interacting with them. Many of these interactions are quite gruesome and deadly, such as the albatross suffocated by plastic in Chris Jordan’s haunting short film Albatross (2017) or the cod raped by a dildo that Heather Davis opens her Toxic Progeny article with. Sometimes, biological beings have managed to successfully colonize plastic, using it to their advantage in survival. Davis mentions that microplastics “are becoming rafts of biodiverse ecologies for bacteria and viruses”. Scholar Kim De Wolff writes about a ghost net in the open ocean, where researchers have found “a host of coastal species: coral, reef fish, sea slugs and even a lone oyster”. She also writes of the Velella vellela, a species of jellyfish, which is perhaps a very direct example of a fusion between a biological being and a synthetic plastic: “Velella vellela may have incorporated synthetic materials right into their bodies. […] They are both plastic and jellyfish.” Plastic is not only around us and within us, it is becoming a part of us.

With plastic production showing few signs of diminishing and the rising inevitability of entanglement between biological beings and plastic material, it seems to me that efforts to “save the environment” from plastic need to go in two directions: first, we must try to move away from the mass production of plastics; second, we must learn how to live with existing plastic, and to minimize the damage it causes. It is the latter problem that fascinates me. What does learning how to live with plastic entail?

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In their futurist speculative fiction piece The Ragpicker Meets the Composter, Ståhl and Lindström present us with a glimpse into a future where plastic is much more valued than it is in the average human’s mind today. The Ragpicker spends their working days collecting scraps of plastic washed up on the shore, and has a certain appreciation for the plastic that we presently do not have. “Look at this beauty! It’s got shimmering stones and a toothbrush almost in disguise. I think I want to keep it as it is.” the Ragpicker says, and then mentions how the other ragpickers make jewelry out of the plastiglomerates (stones containing sediments and other natural debris, but held together by plastic) that they find – a process of literally turning trash into treasure, meaninglessness into art. This appreciation for plastic is in line with political theorist Jane Bennett’s ideas of vibrant materialism, which mentions that “vibrant materialists… linger on those moments during which they find themselves fascinated by objects”. It is in a vibrant materialist approach where the Ragpicker excavates this kind of fascination and value for the plastic they come across, directly contrasting with the way that most humans perceive plastic currently.

The writer Heather Davis asserts, “Although plastics appear as mere surface, designed to be discarded, and are associated metaphorically with change and malleability, plastics are actually extremely obdurate materials”. Even though we often regard plastics as temporary, using them only once and then simply throwing them away, they outlive both our expectations and even our lives. Because they will be around for longer than supposedly intended, they can thus be useful for longer as well. So, if us humans could harbor a higher appreciation of plastic, like the Ragpicker or, in some sense, even befriend the material, we would be less willing to just throw it away. Instead, we would rather prioritize searching for methods to optimize its usefulness, even impose on it a new purpose – one that is more emotional rather than pragmatic.

 

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How can humans begin to befriend plastic? This is the main question around which my art piece was conceived. The piece was a concert where the main intended audience, rather than humans, was a crowd of empty plastic water bottles. Music, or merely sound, is an interesting area to explore in the quest to befriend plastic. Unlike art that is solely visual, sound waves create vibrations that are capable of transmitting energy not only to our eardrums, but also to other various materials. I first became aware of this at a rock concert, when I felt my half-empty plastic water bottle vibrating from the band’s loud bass. But I noticed it would vibrate only when particular notes were played, likely because these notes corresponded to the harmonic frequencies of the bottle. The fact that these vibrations are not only intermittent, but in fact selective, is fascinating. Like a human who is emotionally moved by a particular song attached to a memory, the plastic bottles are moved by particular frequencies within sounds that match their current size and shape. This makes sound a medium that physically interacts with the plastic bottles in ways that are comparable to mere touch or even hearing, thus inviting the human audience of the piece to consider what the water bottle might be experiencing in the moment.

The concert does not exist by itself, however. There is a short curtain speech before the human audience enters the room, where I explain that the audience has already been seated and that there may be only a few seats still available. This part elaborates on the social and political positioning of the bottles within the piece. It directly prompts the human audience to consider the empty bottles as more than just trash – the bottles are now clearly audience members, presumably also here to enjoy the song. The fact that the bottles far outnumber the humans and that they sit on the floor, not just on the chairs, is important to the piece. The human audience is asked to be careful with the plastic audience when entering the space, suggesting the bottles rank socially level to the humans. Once more, the bottles are no longer considered mere garbage, or beneath us; they are equal audience members. Portraying them as such invites a host of other various associations we have of theater audience members: they are wealthy enough to afford a seat; bumping into them creates awkwardness. When a human bumped into a water bottle during my piece, the rest of the human audience gasped, almost as if she had stepped on some important person’s foot and caused a commotion. Additionally, we think the theatregoers have set aside time for their leisure, choosing to go to a concert, and not just any concert, but with regards to my piece, a solo music recital sung by a suited man on an elevated platform with atmospheric lighting… they have a particular taste. Within my constructed scene, the bottles thus elevate themselves from their performative capability as trash;  they morph into plastic wrapper-wearing audience members at a bourgeois classical music recital.

One last important choice was the the song. In the little introductory speech for the song, I explain that it is very significant to me and that “it is about love and the Moon”. The song is in fact Luna de Margarita written by Venezuelan singer and composer Simón Díaz, and when I say that it means a lot to me, I sincerely mean it. Margarita is the name of my island home in Venezuela. While growing up, I have also always been enamored by the Moon. Moreover, Luna de Margarita appeared in the movie Pina by Wim Wenders, which is a matter of pride to me, seeing a piece of my culture in a documentary about one of the last century’s greatest artists. The water bottles do not have a brain and hence they will never be able to grasp this last sentence as you, my dear human reader, just have. But what matters is the intention. If we humans fully open up to the water bottles, we will begin to get closer to befriending them, or to at least start shifting the way we perceive them and treat them. Sharing important memories and emotions are, after all, important in nurturing a friendly relationship.

Thus, the piece constitutes an experience that invites its human audience to reconsider the value and existence of plastic water bottles and, hopefully, other plastics in their lives. Perhaps the next time they drink from a plastic water bottle, they will at least remember having sat next to their kind in a concert and begin to develop a sense of kinship with them, maybe even prompting them to become closer to the bottle, learn more about it, and take better care of it.

 

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This piece stems from an assignment that involved creating a 5-minute art piece on Plastics. The art piece consisted of a one-song concert inside a room where both class members and a mass of empty water bottles were considered part of the audience.

 

Photographs courtesy of the author.
Header artwork by Aurora Robson.

 

References
Bennett, Jane. “Vibrant Matter.” London, Duke University Press Durham, 2010.
Davis, Heather. “Toxic Progeny: The Plastisphere and Other Queer Futures.” Philosophia, a Journal of Continental Feminism, vol. 5, no. 2, 2015, pp. 231-250.
Jordan, Chris. “Albatross.” Chris Jordan Photographic Arts, video, http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway-film/#trailer.
Lindström, Kristina; Ståhl, Åsa. “Plastic Imaginaries.” Continent, vol. 6, no. 1, 2017, pp 62-67.
De Wolff, Kim. “Plastic Naturecultures: Multispecies Ethnography and the Dangers of Separating Living from Nonliving Bodies.” Indeterminate Bodies, special issue of Body & Society, vol. 23, no. 3, 2017, pp. 23-47.

 

Louvre Abu Dhabi: Cultural Growth or Publicity Stunt?

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If you’re an NYU Abu Dhabi student, you’ve probably already scrolled past a version of this photo on your Instagram or Facebook feed: a well-coiffed classmate in neat semi-formal clothes, smiling candidly amongst azure waters and the pristine white blocks of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

It’s a photoshoot that’s hard to resist. Not to mention that the whole photoshoot setup was a deal whose name alone sold for more than 1.8 billion AED alone. The costly world-class museum was born out of an 2007 intergovernmental agreement between the United Arab Emirates and France, and finally opened on Nov. 11, 2017 to much fanfare.

Lauded as the “first universal museum in the Arab world”, the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s slogan is “see humanity in a new light.”

The Louvre’s curatorial philosophy focuses on the interconnectedness of art around the world and shared bodies of thought, resulting in thematic galleries. Examples include, Universal Religions and The First Great Powers, each arranged according to chronology rather than national tradition.

Indeed, sheltered under the seemingly weightless 7,500-ton dome designed by Jean Nouvel, the museum’s collection boasts Greco-Roman sculpture, Chinese pottery, Shiva statues, Renaissance painting and Islamic calligraphy, and the likes of individual greats such as Rothko, da Vinci, Ai Weiwei, van Gogh, Kandinsky, Delacroix, Calder, Monet, Pollock, Gauguin and Rodin.

Despite the rich ensemble of artworks, you would be forgiven for thinking that this immaculate floating museum consisted of only Instagrammable exterior locations. Upon exiting the galleries, one observes almost every visitor inhaling sharply and whipping out their phones to capture the magnificent effect of the light dancing through the latticework of the dome, or the stark scene of turquoise waters lapping against solid marble. As James Langton aptly reported in The National, “Louvre Abu Dhabi is a building for the age of the smartphone and the selfie, its startling architecture and angles perfectly designed for Twitter and Instagram.”

Every museum-goer has their smartphone in hand; several asked the security guards inside the museum how to get to the open space underneath the dome. As far as I know, you have to pass through the exhibits first. Arguably, this clean-cut aesthetic — azure waters, pristine white blocks — is the most iconic aspect of Louvre Abu Dhabi. Perhaps, curiously, even more iconic than the works housed within.

Located just ten minutes away by taxi from the NYUAD campus, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has quickly become a favorite student spot, particularly for photoshoots. When I visited on opening day, I noticed a sign at the security gates forbidding selfie sticks. Most museum-goers left the obnoxious sticks at home, but not the selfies.

The choice photo spots of the day were in front of Napoleon’s portrait or da Vinci’s La belle ferronnière, directly under the dome, and around the bridge overlooking the view to the sea. Notably, not many visitors chose to hog the spots in front of non-Western artworks or lesser-known pieces — and I’m sure many tried their best to crop out the lifeguards and cleaning staff working on site. There are politics involved in what we choose to take photos of.

The experience begs questions about the way we interact with art and the reasons behind it. Perhaps taking a photo of yourself with art, as if you were part of the art, breaks a certain code of conduct for treating a museum as a revered and sacred space. In the Internet age, how do we engage with sites of great artistic beauty?

Selfies and Instagramming may take away from the actual museum experience. There are no easy answers to questions revolving around power, privilege, culture, aesthetics and art. However these questions are relevant to understanding the nuances of how we consume media in general, especially in the image-saturated media environment today.

The case of Louvre Abu Dhabi, however, is reminiscent of other major art museums. When I visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence this January, the alarms near the Botticelli’s, Cimabue’s, and Giotto’s kept setting as tourists got too close during their personal photo-shoots. In a bathroom stall in the women’s toilet, an angry museum goer had scrawled and underlined in white-out pen: YOU CAN GOOGLE THE PHOTOS WHEN YOU GET HOME!

To some extent, I agree with the disenchanted graffiti. At times, the pressure to take a photo for posterity sometimes referred to as, Pics or it didn’t happen, is simply absurd. We know that we don’t need a photo of the Birth of Venus to prove to ourselves that we existed in that moment. We can Google a high-definition photo later, and it is very sad to think that, for whatever reason, some people never actually put down their cameras and see the million-dollar masterpiece with their own two eyes.

However, I don’t think Instagramming inherently means disengagement; it could be a prelude to closer study, remixing, reworking. I have pictures of my suitemates and I visiting the Louvre Abu Dhabi. One of my friends is even an artist who enjoys taking unusual angles of artworks in museums and cropping them until they are nearly unrecognizable.

In reproducing the original artwork in new ways, Instagramming could incite important discussions on why certain aesthetics are privileged over others. This only happens if the tool is used purposefully and metacognitively, not just for cultural capital and showing off to others.

What matters most is that we ask ourselves why we are so tied up in taking pictures at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, or any other museum, and what those photos really show. It is true that the nature of art is radically changing with developments in technology, and we are all constantly exploring our roles in that relationship.

 

Photo courtesy of Karolina Wilczyńska
This piece was originally published in The Gazelle.

The Withering of a Paddy Field

On the day my grandmother turned sixty-seven, we found her sprawled in her living room—eyes wide open, mouth gaping, hands half-clutching the golden knob of a wardrobe she was trying to open. Her floral blouse was smeared with coffee stains, and her body smelled of stale urine. She did not budge when we barged into her house, or tried in the slightest to resist the uncomfortable position into which she had fallen. She lay there, numb, and in total silence, head resting on the tiled floor, gaze glued to the ceiling.

Shortly after rushing her to the hospital, we discovered that her stroke had apparently taken a heavy toll on her body. Her legs and arms were paralyzed, and her throat was blocked, forcing her to feed solely on warm milk and intravenous fluids. She lost control over her bowel movements and would just wet her bed all night, making my father change her hospital bedding twice or thrice a day. I was fifteen at the time, and watching her body shrivel to just bone, her eyeballs seemingly bulge out of their sockets, and her cheekbones jut out from underneath her skin, was upsetting. I had never seen someone teeter on the tightrope of life and death before. My grandmother, who used to be so full of life, suddenly looked empty, hollow, ailing, dissolving. Taking care of her in the hospital was like treasuring an oyster that you know will never yield any pearl. All that lays bare on your bruised palm is just shell. Just shell.

Although the news of her condition came as a shock, my grandmother had actually started showing her symptoms quite early on. Her face, which used to glisten with a radiant, toothless smile, suddenly became sullen and slightly contorted: the right side stiffened whilst the left drooped low. Her gait also changed: she started bending sideways with her right shoulder crooked like it was weighed down by an imaginary, heavy sack of rice. When walking, she moved her trembling left leg forward a beat late as if she was testing the ground before climbing a stair, or as if her left leg was somehow shorter than the right that she needed time to firmly anchor her step. During my monthly visit to her house with my family, I would often catch her taking hasty glimpses at me from her bedroom window—her eyes squinting and her brow wrinkled in puzzlement—as if she was trying to remember my name or why there was a young man sitting in her living room. The most visible symptom of all was her stuttering: her clunky repetition of the word bagus, which she would say to praise my father, who bears an uncanny resemblance to my deceased grandfather. In her eyes, they both were one and the same. They even share the same first names.

In the beginning, my father kept neglecting the symptoms that I thought were mildly worrying. “Old age” was his go-to diagnosis, a perfunctory conclusion that sounded reasonable to me at first. My grandmother’s scoliosis, he said, was a testament to the years she spent working in her paddy field helping my grandfather cut, haul, thresh, and bag crops during harvest season. Her quivering left leg was perhaps due to the weakening phase of her body, which was common among people of her age. My grandmother’s sister, who was only two years younger, suffered from that tremor, too. It mattered not actually whether she remembered my name, for she always referred to me with my father’s name anyway. As for her smile, we had not seen it blossom for two years since my grandfather’s death; her glum visage was nothing more than a physical manifestation of her grief.

Where we live, in Indonesia, stroke—or brain attack—is sadly one of the leading causes of death among the elderly. One is said to have a stroke when the supply of blood to their brain is cut short, either because there is an accumulating blood clot that clogs their blood vessels, called ischemic stroke, or because the blood vessels rupture, leaking blood to the brain area and essentially drowning it, which, in medical terms, is named hemorrhagic stroke. For the most part, the latter type of stroke is usually the lethal one, accounting for more deaths than the former. In my grandmother’s case, it was the first one that slowly corroded her life; although in the end, what took her away was the second.

To think that my grandmother’s death caused an uptick in our country’s stroke statistics made me feel uneasy. For most people, their stroke is a byproduct of a bad lifestyle, which often includes smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, obesity due to unchecked binge eating, etc. But my grandmother stayed far away from that lane of self-imposed misery. Raised in an agrarian family that constantly forced her to do laborious work, she led a perfectly healthy and active life—at least until a few months before her last day. Her diet was always wholesome: low carb, high protein, with stewed vegetables. She never missed taking the vitamins that my father kept stacking on her bedside table. She always walked wherever she went, or rode her rusty bike if the place was unreachable by foot. She drank a lot of water and hardly added more than a spoonful of sugar to her tea: her life was seemingly destined to span a long period of time.

It was no sooner than my grandfather passed away that she started developing an addiction to coffee. All of a sudden, she breathed, excreted, bled, and became one with coffee. It was her fuel, her pretext to stay up at night and sit on her patio, doused in silver moonlight, overlooking the expanse of her paddy field where each grain screamed the name of my grandfather. Mur, Mur, Mur. It did not bother her that her heart was pounding fast. Instead, in a sickly plaintive manner, she would press her hand against her chest and intone a silent hymn matched to the thumping of her heart, her lover’s heart, the one that had stopped reverberating long ago, the one whose sound she could no longer make out, the one that made hers want to stop beating, too. We did not watch her weep that often, but we knew from her wistful gaze that she was silently slipping into an emotional tailspin, portending an impending crash that none of us could avert. She started retracting herself from social events in her neighborhood, stopped meandering along the riverside before sundown, lost her buoyancy and garrulity, and crawled inwards under her skin where no one spoke to her and where all she could hear was the dulcet hum of Mur, Mur, Mur.

Upon her arrival at the hospital, the doctor, whilst showing the CT scan of my grandmother’s brain, berated my father for not heeding the symptoms earlier, even more for letting my grandmother stay in her house by herself. He said that my father should have taken my grandmother’s speech impediment or her tilted posture as a red flag. Stroke, he explained, could become fatal if unattended. What would have happened if on the day she tumbled over, my father had not been there? With her throat clogged, she could have died. Her body would have rotted until someone finally smelled the foul odor and broke into her house. The graphic imagery that our doctor painted brought my father to tears. He should have stopped the coffee and stripped my grandmother’s home of any trace of caffeine. He should have just forcefully relocated her to our house. Staying put in her home alone was my grandmother’s idea. She had not wanted to leave her patio and her dry paddy field, deflecting any form of persuasion or compromise.

After the meeting, we learned that the risk of stroke is extremely high for people who resort to a life of idleness, which my grandmother gleefully embraced. The risk is even greater if the person also has high blood pressure or diabetes, in which case, the figure would double or even triple. My grandmother’s addiction to coffee, which caused frequent spikes in her blood pressure and which almost plagued her with diabetes, checked all the wrong boxes for her. Her unwillingness to engage with the rest of the world did not do her good, either. The doctor kept reminding my father how fortunate he was that his mother’s body could stave off the effect of caffeine, which, had it been inflicted on someone else who was just as old, would have given them a deadly heart attack. At the rate of five to six cups of coffee per day, coupled with very little food and a sudden halt to any form of exercise, my grandmother’s short-term immunity to heart attack was pretty admirable, though her body was not strong enough to evade a looming stroke.

Upon hearing this, my father became fixated on accusing her coffee intake as the main cause, excluding other possibilities. Blame the coffee, curse the insomnia, put an end to her silly addiction—it was his way of redeeming his mistake. Yet he knew, deep down, coffee was not the root of the problem. Nor was it the stroke itself. My grandmother was dying of grief. She had ceased to exist long before her body began to weaken. Time had stopped operating on her watch the minute my grandfather bid the world his goodbye. The doctor might have talked about how my grandmother’s loss of short-term memory (in which I did not exist and where all men were named after my grandfather) was the consequence of her malady. Her stroke meant that the blood vessels in her brain were jammed with plaque fragments. But these fragments were not initially formed in her brain; they were formed in her heart and later travelled to her brain. My grandmother’s heart, her swollen, stone-hard heart, the one she trained to drum every night—this selfsame heart was sending a message to her brain: how much it longed to blossom. How much it wanted the brain to stop reminding my grandmother of her lover’s absence. How desperately it desired the brain to envelop my grandmother’s consciousness in the cloudy memory of my grandfather and to drown itself in the sea of blood she used to share with him, the blood that made my father, that eventually made me.

And though none of us wanted it, the brain eventually acquiesced to the heart. The collapse, after two weeks, caused my grandmother’s blood vessels to burst and her blood to spurt, forming a puddle around her brain. Our doctor, seeing how severe my grandmother’s condition was, softly pleaded to my father to guide her in her farewell, in saying the kalima shahadat: I bear witness that none is worthy but Allah, the One alone, without partner, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger. My father was in tears, clenching his fist, but my grandmother, who could only mime the shahadat by blinking her eye, kept tugging on my father’s shirt. It was her last message, her way of explaining: she wanted to apologize for tumbling over on the day she turned sixty-seven. All she had meant to do was open her wardrobe, reach for my grandfather’s shirt—the one that looked like my father’s—and whisper into it the prayer she had been repeating in her head. Mur, Mur, Mur. I want to be home. I am not home.

 

 

Artwork by Madabhusi Raman Anand

 

stuart highway

i like remote places
indian-owned coffee shops
in nowhere oman
darjeeling or
west virginia
faded roadsigns
warning soft edges
rumoring falling rocks

i like doomed birds
soaring somehow content
in woomera, the dust of radiation
below the dust of johannesburg, san
bernardino, former lovers’ minimalist
rooms and other
rookeries who fail
all traces on my boots’ underbellies

i like road-trip playlists
waltzing matilda, have you ever
seen the rain, papaoutai, ballads
my father once young
now worm-blinded
must’ve heard and heard again
with his peached ear
while his fingers tapped some wheel

i like the distant cargo train
a toy for the wuthering girl—
giant shadow-daughter of marree man—
a prickled joy in her mischief
sticking a thumb in the tunnel home
of some coober pedy opal miner
like a human child does a pie, guilt
almost unbearable unlatched from
earth so unlike her geoglyph father
once built like a tribal deity
now going invisible near
lake eyre

i like worm-bound notebooks
on my american thighs, beside me
the look of a good-enough man
a mostly-good
a more-good-than-bad man’s
hands on the steering wheel
sun boomerangs on his forearm
from the car window down the bone
of his cheek, downward
blades of sun like the isosceles
inside an envelope
where you lick

i like his glowing arm hair
sometimes mammothy
sometimes thistle
like the tuffed bushes
the spinifex growing
on the long hairy arms of the earth
the earthen arms of the endless
highway holding us between
the breathing and the breathless
grisly patches fading
as we drive forward
faded roadsigns
warning grief
rumoring hope

 

 

Photograph of Old Ghan Railway, courtesy of the author.

stump of a silver lining

A diving board, wooden trampoline
And I wake up to skin belting
what goes down must come back up
slithering on streets lined with tar
Tucked into the cubicle, lost and found
Fluid nonideas cooked up
Packed into something of a
stump of a silver lining
Mixed in, mixes me in out side
Reels in another laugh

Headless woman in a paper hat, you make my heart full
Curious what I look like to you,
‘cause you look like you’ve never taken a tumble
without dragging your nails along the wall
Pinpoint pupils and my eyes the color of a free fall

Oh, you’re giving me them chest compressions
that just won’t quit
Playing lighthouse once again with your frantic glint
Someone’s got to wait there, dripping spit

What’s brought me to the middle after a pleasant run
I thought I’d chosen the cycle of falling and flying
to walking this cramped line

I trust you’ll overwrite it all with a bored guitar riff
your white oxfords sign me off
citing something of a
Grass stepping,
Train spotting,
Crash compiling,
Beach combing,
Town trotting,
Do nothing
Who’s done

an interrupted finale, instead
Mercy’s comeback gives it to us with a thump
multiplying with the return of my gut

You know I’d sooner prick a finger on
something of a tripping, kicking,
spinning wheel
Then senselessly take it on the chin
I catch myself in the parallel
and rehearse the same old spell
who else could
break that one in,
give it that lived-in chic.

 

Call It A Persona Poem (ii)

 

Artwork by Claudia Rogge “The Red List”