Spotlight: Pull Me Out of the Earth and Feed Me to My Madness (after The X-Files)

Look at our bones laid bare      on the metal      or in the grass.
Slides spill like memories across the wall        and while he sees his
favorite legend again     Scully has to hold her science in her chest.
What even is real in 1999?     In 2018 when I turn off cable news

call my grandmother     stuff laundry into a giant sack?    This is my
ritual murder:      the dishes      the doctors     the documentation—
a mountain.     In his fantasy he is always right       knower of truths
snuffing women out        like smoking candle wicks.        Like Scully

I am melting.     I am questioning my findings.     I am breathing.
We endeavor to find the most logical conclusion     this approach
the only way to pass from day         to night.        He is a skeleton
but his bones do not hold us up.       Look at the lights in the sky—

as alive as I am       I began by rotting in a wild field.           Scully
breathes in spores     a lie      falls dark into that underground place
and I have a shovel and will dig up the dirt      to know what cryptic
science brought us here         all these acres of eyes       of silence

some social narcosis         the edges of our vision always pulling in
that flicker of emergency       the truth in me always      acid on skin
a legend of my own      that I remember to believe      because lights
in the sky are not enough to pull me from a promise    ribs out.

 

E. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture and Hysteria: Writing the female body (forthcoming). Kristin’s poetry has been published worldwide in many magazines and she is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry, including A Guide for the Practical Abductee, Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night, Fire in the Sky, 17 seventeen XVII, and Behind, All You’ve Got (forthcoming). Kristin is an assistant poetry editor at The Boiler and an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker.

When Greek Gods Fall

Main entrance (College Evaluator)

His name was Nicolas. We called him “Greek God.” It was 1995, pre-Facebook and we huddled in a dorm room, perusing a glossy, thin booklet displaying headshots of over 500 Vassar freshmen. Instead of chugging tepid beer at a nearby party, our friend group, a motley crew who shared little in common except that we were all beneficiaries of generous financial aid packages, ate greasy pizza and doled out nicknames for classmates we’d noticed from afar but hadn’t yet met. “Drama Girl” for a willow-thin young woman who wrapped Pucci silk scarves around her Manhattan prep-school crown of chestnut highlights. “Greenwich Boy” for a trust-fund kid with green hair who dressed like Billy Idol and wore a pierced safety pin through his chapped bottom lip. And finally, there was “Greek God,” a rumored Austrian count by way of Palm Beach, Florida and Findlay, Ohio. Nicknames were saved for other first-years we found exotic and intimidating. Rich kids more sophisticated than us and therefore, more beautiful and deserving of a spot on a campus where they vacuumed fallen leaves and dried twigs off the rolling lawns each morning.

The quad in fall (Office of Residential Life)

Over the course of the semester, we eventually called them by their given names, yet for me, “Greek God” stuck. He looked the part with his gelled, flaxen curls, a pronounced, aquiline nose, and a smile both wide and broad that dominated his year-round sun-kissed face. Nicolas wasn’t much taller than me, maybe 5’10”, but his posture was like a dancer, and his broad shoulders and slim waist made him appear more formidable. And then there were his clothes: a seemingly never-ending array of Prada loafers, skin-tight Armani slacks, Versace jackets with swirls of turquoise and gold.

One particularly bleak February afternoon, I was walking back to my dorm from class and I spotted him across the empty quad. He pranced toward me along the slush-lined path wearing sumptuous black leather Chelsea boots and the most beautiful camel mohair coat I’d ever seen. A cashmere scarf trailed behind him like a Pride flag rippling in the icy wind. Nicolas must’ve noticed me staring, mouth agape, because he shot me a glance and then a wry, knowing smile that said, I dare you to look at me. I immediately shut my eyes and turned away, my nose in the air. He was fully out and I was only halfway there and resented his bravery. I was also jealous of all the things he had that I lacked: wealth, white privilege, ridiculously good looks, confidence. In any case, I decided that day to hate him and for the remainder of my college career, I went out of my way to ignore him whenever I saw him on the quad or at parties. At the time, I’d recently read Marx and Weber and saw myself as a budding Democratic Socialist, despite that I’d spent all of my summer barista tips on new clothes at J. Crew and Urban Outfitters. And because of this, I thought I was better than him. In my mind, Nicolas was part of the evil capitalist class with his silver BMW three-series and a wardrobe of showy designer clothes. Meanwhile, I strived to be an understated, yet stylish, social justice warrior who just happened to know the brand names of everything he wore and drove.

Senior yearbook photo (Vassarion 1999)

*

For the next two decades, we didn’t cross paths nor did he cross my mind much. Then a few months ago, I woke to find a former classmate had posted a news article about him on Facebook. The story said he’d worked as the personal assistant to the head of an investment bank and had stolen over a million dollars’ worth of wine from his employer. After hiding out in Brazil, Morocco, and Italy for fourteen months, he was arrested at the Los Angeles airport and transported to the LA County Jail, the latter of which just happened to be where I worked as the Senior Fellow, charged with improving healthcare delivery for inmates. In my pre-caffeinated morning haze, none of the story’s pieces made sense. Wasn’t he Austrian Royalty? If he was so rich, why was he working as a modern-day butler? I swiped through the article for photos of him but was disappointed to find none.

When I arrived at my office at the county jail’s healthcare division, I cancelled my morning staff meeting in order to Google news stories. Article after article portrayed him as a lifelong charlatan with humble midwestern roots. His mother wasn’t an Austrian countess but in fact, operated a self-storage facility. She’d mortgaged her house in Ohio to make his bail. Over the next few hours, I devoured everything I could find online until I realized he was probably in my building. I had to see him. To help him. I wanted to make sure he was housed in one of the LGBTQ wards so to avoid harassment or worse. I asked one of the sheriff’s deputies I’d befriended how to gain access to the jail information database and in my manic fuss, I spilled that I was looking for a college friend.

“Don’t do it,” she said. “That’s called fraternization. You could lose your job. It’s considered breaking the law.”

I returned to my desk crestfallen but decided my mission was worth the risk. I clicked open the database and was about to type his name into the search engine. It dawned on me that I didn’t know what to say to him besides asking whether he felt safe. I then looked down at my battered J. Crew khakis and denim shirt that had recently started buckling against my growing stomach. I was middle-aged, starting to look it, and working in a jail. And though it sounds ridiculous given that he was the one behind bars, I was too ashamed to face him. Besides, what if he didn’t remember who I was? It had been almost twenty years. So I closed the database and returned to work, rationalizing it wasn’t worth risking my livelihood for someone I’d barely known.

Weeks passed and I convinced myself that Nicolas would get off without jail time. Some politician would pardon him or the investment banker would drop charges or the judge would order community service in lieu of time served.

LA County Men’s Jail (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

“We live in a country where white people, especially pretty ones, get away with just about everything,” I said to a friend with a dismissive eye-roll.

However, Nicolas made the mistake of doing the one thing you can never get away with in America and that’s steal from the wealthy. In 2008, American bankers bamboozled middle- and working-class folks into billions of dollars’ worth of subprime mortgages and were later gifted a bailout. Around the same time, Bernie Madoff, an investment advisor for the uber-wealthy was caught defrauding his clients and slapped with a maximum sentence of 150 years. One news story reported Nicolas’s mother begged his former employer’s wife to drop the charges. She even promised to repay them for the wine. Purportedly, the investment banker’s wife said it was out of her hands.

On the day of his arraignment, Nicolas checked into the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan and jumped to his death. A news article reported that he’d called his sister before to say he couldn’t go back to jail. The following day, I called in sick to work. I wallowed in bed wondering if there was something I could’ve said or done to have changed the outcome. And though in retrospect, this rumination was ultimately self-serving, it was my way of mourning someone I didn’t know well but with whom I shared something in common. We were both class traitors. I am the only son of Korean immigrants and, like Nicolas, raised squarely middle-class. We’d clawed our way into an elite liberal arts college historically reputed for educating young women of the leisure class. We strived for lives that outsized our birthright.

*

This summer, I will fly to New York before riding a Metro-North train to Poughkeepsie for my 20th college reunion. I don’t consider myself a “rah-rah” reunion-type, and despite incessant pleas, my close friends have chosen not to attend. However, there will be a memorial service where we remember those from our class we’ve lost. I hope to light a candle for our Greek God.

Tom Pyun is a writer based in Los Angeles. He was a fellow with Tin House, Vermont Studio Center, Gemini Ink, and VONA/Voices. His work has appeared in The Rumpus, 7×7.la, Joyland, and Blue Mesa Review and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net award. He is an MFA candidate in fiction at Antioch University.

Autumn Hunt, Suddenly in Paradise, 2015, Oil on Panel, 7.25" x 9.75"

Spotlight: Oh the Places We Will Go

UFYH

Sometime in the past week or so, I hit a funk. I decided to catch a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning and it quickly became a few extra hours. It can easily be dismissed as having a lazy day. Or a lazy week. Or a month. It doesn’t bother me that much, at first at least. It only bothers me when it gets out of hand.

The reasons behind the funks can vary, but the feeling is always the same: Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Tired. Frustrated. In summary, not giving a fuck. I stopped giving a fuck years ago, but the feeling is more aggressive nowadays. When you can go without taking a quick shower for three days, you know you’ve reached peak apathy. It’s also the time when you know that you need to take a goddamn bath.

It’s clear at this point that the funks need to be addressed, but they always take a backseat to everything else. It didn’t seem like too much of an issue. It can be worked around, or helped out with other things. It’s no big deal.

And then I couldn’t write a damn thing.

*  *  *

It’s hard enough to find the time to write. It’s even worse when you can’t find the motivation. The funk muddles the process, makes it excruciating to get through. It’s a miracle to concentrate on anything for more than a minute. I stare at the screen, willing the words to arrive before I give up and move on to something else. Anything else. Even then, the breaks turn into a distraction from getting anything done, then to an excuse to not do anything at all.

Part of it is the perfectionist in me. I get so caught up in the idea of what I want to write that I get nothing done. The other part is that I live in a house that is never quiet. Calm has no place in this house when family is in it. I’m used to chaos, but this chaos has no order. It shows no mercy and for what I know, there’s no end to it. After a while, despite my struggles, the chaos seeps into my calm and warps it into something disgusting. Something toxic. Writing becomes the last thing I want to do.

* * *

It doesn’t take long for the funk to manifest itself. My bedroom serves as an indicator of what I’m going through. When it gets bad—when I can’t walk the two feet from my bed to my door without tripping over whatever the hell my cat knocked over this time—that’s the sign that I’m in a bad place.

I was scrolling aimlessly through my Facebook feed two summers ago when I came to this realization. A friend who was probably going through her own funk mentioned how the state of your room usually represents the state of your mind. It spoke to me for obvious reasons; my bedroom was currently a biohazard and I was behind on my writing. Before I came across the post, I never fully considered that my lack of motivation could be something else.

It was in the comments of that post that I found the solution to that problem. A minor solution, at least.

*  *  *

Once you get past the title of the website, Unfuck Your Habitat is a helpful kick in the ass.  Browse long enough and you’ll come across a section titled “The Depression/Messy House Cycle”.  I don’t recall finding the page on my first visit; I remember looking it up on Tumblr and finding post after post of before and after photos of bedrooms, kitchens, closets. I came across a challenge that sounded like a good place to start: make your bed as soon as you wake up.

The morning after, I started making my bed. The first attempt was sloppy; the bedsheet was hanging off my mattress haphazardly, the pillows were lumpy and in need of pillowcases, and an eighth of it was taken up by books and clothes I haven’t bothered to put away yet. But it was still an attempt.

Over time, I started putting in more of an effort. I tucked in the sheets. I removed the large pile of books from the foot of my bed to its proper place on my desk. Eventually, I began making efforts to keep my desk organized, put my clothes away properly, vacuum the floor. The room was still messy, but I could at least see the bottom of my floor now.

* * *

On the worst day of my current funk, I spent the better part of my morning staring aimlessly into space under the guise of watching terrible movies. Maybe it was the movie itself or I got tired of doing nothing, but whatever the reason I reached for my phone, set the timer for twenty minutes, and began clearing the floor. I set the timer a few more times, cleaning up the room until I got tired of setting the timer.

Obviously, tidying up your space doesn’t solve everything. It helps me get out of my funk, but it doesn’t keep it from returning. I’m still in that funk from last week, and while I’m back to getting out of bed the moment I wake up, it’s still a struggle to focus on the important things. It’s still a process, but I’m okay with that.

 

 

Lily Caraballo is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch University Los Angeles and a figure model. She is a staff member of Lunch Ticket, a former contributor for Black Girl Nerds, and is featured in the anthology My Body, My Words: A Collection of Bodies. She lives in Los Angeles with her cat.

 

 

A diaspora gives birth

Like a whisper caressing the back of our necks/ kissing a line connecting sporadic wisps of hair / that’s how we feel it / a promise of a home we ever got to claim / made from bricks the color of earth / as deep and rich and brown as our skin.

We let our hands dive down our curves in waves / mirroring that beaches full of untouched sand / when la luna tickles the bottom of our feet / with her pointed edges on a half-full night / that’s how we feel it.

Swaggering across red white and blue streets / spitting words made from hard sounds / our lives depend on sounding as white / as the stars on the star-spangled banner / ‘cause the home we dream about like as a whisper / isn’t real anymore for our elders / and sure as hell never was for us.

We try to feel the hearts of our gods / who talked to us before another god interrupted / but their hearts don’t beat beat beat for la luna.

In that moonlight the tears of our great-grandmother’s great-grandmother / who can’t taste Tenochtitlan on her lips the way her great-grandmother tastes it / make a space in our young throats like mercury.

It burns us without mercy and we don’t mind / not remembering is half the pain in our lives / and remembering is the rest of it.

We tighten our fists against theirs / ‘til they turn white and white hot / still not lacking enough color to make them believe / that we are part of them like they are part of us.

Defending ourselves against conquistadors is written in our nerves screaming bleeding pain.

 

Alex Luceli Jiménez is a Chicanx writer from the little windy SoCal city of Fontana. Currently, she is a sophomore studying comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Although she moonlights as a poet-novelist, she spends her days as an editor at Berkeley Fiction Review and The Daily Californian, both of which have also published her original fiction and poetry. This is her first poetry publication in a literary journal. You can find her journalistic endeavors at dailycal.org/author/ajimenez and tweet her @alexluceli.

Blurred Faces

[flash prose]

When you first open your eyes, all you can see is the brightness. You don’t know what it is, but you feel your stubby fingers reach for that light. Pale clouds of cream dot your vision as you squirm, your back brushing against a fur blanket. You feel tender hands wrap delicately around your torso, its sensitive warmth spreading across your skin, and pull your small form away from that security. The pale clouds stitch together into a quilt of color, and you blink frantically to focus.

Later, you recognize the splash of pure white as your mother’s dazzling smile and the black spots as your father’s stubble, scratching you whenever he kissed you on the cheek. From your mother’s playful peek-a-boos, you realize the swinging blues as your mother’s sapphire earrings, and from your father’s fluttering hand butterflies, you make out the shimmering silver band as your father’s platinum wedding band.

When your vision finally allows you to observe your mother’s face, you admire how her dark eyelashes shiver in delight when she laughs, how the edges of her eyes crinkle when you try to talk, bubbles of spit blooming around your mouth that you think is gross, but your mother coos and calls it adorable. It takes you longer to recognize your father. Maybe it was the way his dark beard climbs up half his face or how his mess of brown hair curls to hide his otherwise striking green eyes. You like to tangle your hands in those curls, swishing them and watching its chaotic dance. The boisterous laugh you emit makes your father undeniably happy, and you wonder how a grown man could make such a high-pitched sound.

You dream of the colors you were finally able to explore, darting through lush forests, chattering with toucans and waltzing with peacocks. You race through meadows of wheat and watch as their beige arms extend endlessly towards the sky. You lie on the damp grass of your backyard, gazing towards the magenta sunset. You watch as the sky becomes a canvas and the sun its artist, painting a transitory masterpiece. You scrawl across untouched papers with your tools of creation, the colors you mix brilliantly dashing in a curved formation, a fragile butterfly, mid-flap, struggling to escape the paper’s incessant restraint.

One night you startle awake, grabbing for anything that will sustain your presence in reality. You breathe, telling yourself it was just a dream. But even with the lights on, you can no longer see the paper cranes you hung off your ceiling, only fuzzy dots of pink, blue, and purple, splashes of color that had once been your stunning creations. When your mother comes to check on you, you feel hot tears run down your face. No matter how hard you squint, you can no longer make out the deep dimples you used to poke affectionately at, nor the light brown freckles you used to count one by one.

You’re a kaleidoscopic butterfly, made to admire Mother Earth yet forced to endure a life surrounded by blurred faces, ones whose features you used to know so well, now only a thin mist—an illusion—drifting in and out of your sight.

 

Christine Zang lives in Palo Alto, California and is a junior at Henry M. Gunn High School. She has been writing casually since sixth grade. “Blurred Faces” was inspired by a conversation she had with a friend. They were talking about what it would be like to suddenly lose the ability to see and how the perception of the world would change.

Litdish: Elham Hajesmaeili, Artist

Elham Hajesmaeili

Born in Iran in 1984, Elham Hajesmaeili received a BFA in handicrafts from the Shiraz University in 2006, an MA in art studies from the University of Art, Tehran, Iran in 2010, and an MFA in painting and drawing from the Pennsylvania State University, US in 2017. She has held multiple groups and solo exhibitions in Iran and the United States. Currently, she is a dual-titled PhD student in art education and women studies at the Pennsylvania State University. When Elham arrived in the United States in 2015, she experienced living in a liminal space between Iranian and American cultures and has continued her works based on identity issues. Her works represent an observation of an identity oscillating between two geographical contexts, while sexuality remains the silent power holder.

Ten Questions with artist Elham Hajesmaeili

1. What’s your creative process like? Do you have a set routine (e.g., music playing, time of day, lucky token, etc.)? Is there a difference when you’re starting a new project or continuing one you’ve already started?

Generally, when the pressure of expressing myself can no longer be contained, I create art. I prefer silence when I am starting a new project in order to fully focus. The process of making sculpture is totally different than painting because in sculpture I can touch and feel. Painting is a pure feeling and a controlled art form. However, in sculpture, each material used has a different melody and I have to dance to the music the material plays. For example, when working with clay, there are boundaries, you adapt to the clay’s potential. Usually, I am looking for materials that are connected to the idea that I am trying to convey because every material has a personality. The difference between starting a new project or continuing an old one is that when beginning something new, I feel free and unrestrained because it is a fresh idea and it sets the standard for the rest of the series. However, when I go back to a previous work, I have parameters because the flow has already been established.

2. What’s the most recent thing you’ve created or curated?

My most recent project is “About the Body,” which concentrates on the color of human skin—specifically, the curves of the female form. The project is still in progress. I am using a CNC machine to create three-dimensional images, by generating shapes, then stretching canvases on top of the shapes rather than just painting on the ordinary flat surface of the canvas. I attempt to make as many pigments of human skin as I can. The most interesting thing about skin color is the variations and mixtures of red, blue, yellow, and white. It fascinates me because these colors react to one another and produce a color that really has no name. Oftentimes a subject will reveal itself on its own. For example, “Spanked” is a work where the red pigment radiated and reminded me of the tones associated with spanked skin.

Spanked, Acrylic on canvas, 2017

3. Where do you find your inspiration? Are there certain places or people you look to?

My inspiration comes from the places I go, the people I meet, and the politics associated with them. I do not identify with any specific artists or styles. It is difficult to categorize my art because each project differs from the other. I am inspired daily by my surroundings and the general patterns that I grew up seeing around me. Place and time are strong factors that impact my expressive proclivities.

4. Was there a specific artist or piece of art that inspired you to become an artist yourself? When did you discover the artist calling?

I discovered art myself and not through any specific person or influence. Around 10 years ago, in Iran, I remember consulting with an art professional and I asked him to teach me how to make art. I needed proper training in order to be accepted into a school of art. However, his words strongly resonated with me. He said “One cannot train someone to be an artist. If your calling is to be an artist, the artist in you will come out on its own.” And this was exactly how it happened for me. After graduating from the University of Art in Iran and got my MA degree in art studies, I started teaching formal art history at several colleges and universities in Iran. During that period in my life, I was distraught, and I felt displaced. One day I bought some canvas and pigments and my skillset evolved through practice and time. Then one day I opened my eyes, and I was surrounded by about ten paintings—my first series. During its construction, I did not intend for the self-portraits to be a series. In fact, naturally, to me, art was always individualistic, but at that moment, I looked around me, at my space and my immediate surroundings became—without intent—my first series, which came to be titled A Goddess Never Stands Alone.

5. How does your day job inform or affect your art and creative process?

After receiving my MFA at Pennsylvania State University, I am now in the art education PhD program. From the perspective of an aspiring educator, I am interested in how art education and art as a creative process merge.

6. What’s the most important thing(s) you want to get across in your art?

Art is a language, a language in which I can express my thoughts without having to use words. It is the most beautiful form of expression and nothing in this world can take its place. Many ask me what the long necks in my A Goddess Never Stands Alone series means. To me, it is the suppression of my words. The words I never said. Furthermore, for others, I would like for each individual viewer to get out of my art whatever they want to get out of it. I have had several mentions to me that my art makes them feel uncomfortable. I wanted to delve more into why that was. I asked one such person what it was about my work that made them feel discomfort. Her response resonated so strongly with me. She told me that by feeling discomfort, she asked herself why. This led her to confront herself and her deeper feelings about her sexuality and femininity. She learned something quite
profound about herself, as a result of my work; therefore, I felt that my work did what it was intended to do.

7. What advice would you give to any emerging artists?

Pay attention to your creative process and discover new things about yourself along the way. Skill and technique are learned, but creativity is unique to each artist.

8. Which artist(s) should we be paying attention to right now? What are some great works you’ve seen recently?

Any type of art that provokes an emotion within the viewer is worthwhile. For me, Iranian and western art are two distinctive types. I can strongly connect to Iranian art. I would encourage for those interested to begin by studying Shirin Neshat. She has paved the way for feminism in Iranian art. Any Iranian artist and/or activist that can open up conversations regarding the oppression of female expression and sexuality is important. Many movements are going on in Iran right now. For example, “White Wednesdays” where women protest against obligatory Hijab. Kiana Honarmand’s work encompasses many of these elements.

9. What are your interests outside of the creative and artistic world?

Hobbies and interest change based on time and place. For an artist that felt displaced at certain stages in her life, sometimes the mere switching and changes of interests could be labeled a hobby.

10. What question do you wish I’d have asked you, and what would your answer be? Is there any common theme that tends to manifest itself in all of your work?

Whether intentional or not, my Persian roots always surface. There are two essential aspects in my work: female sexuality and cultural identities. Female sexuality is exhibited through skin tonality and material that can produce an heir of sensuality. And traces of my culture can be found through colors, patterns, and architectural ornamentation. Female sexuality and culture are present in all my works; however, one theme will outweigh the other in intensity, this occurs naturally during the art-making process.

 

Sara Voigt is a current MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles where she’s pursuing her masters in creative writing. She also works on the literary journal Lunch Ticket, where she’s working as proof edit manager and managing editor. Originally from Wisconsin, she currently lives and works in the Los Angeles area.

Young black woman standing in front of pink background turns head to side yelling into a megaphone.

The Reluctant Activist

No Gas Station Signs Nailed to TreesI rifled through the plastic container, searching for the perfect nail to affix my handmade sign to the tree. Renee, my partner in crime, stood to my right holding the “NO Gas Station!” signs that we’d just made in my garage. She seemed unconcerned about the vehicles that whizzed by a few feet from us, but I noticed the drivers who stared at us quizzically as they paused at an adjacent stop sign. We must’ve been a curious sight, the two of us, traipsing around that wooded lot in sweatpants and sneakers. She, the retired social worker and seasoned community organizer. Me, the former executive and reluctant activist, wondering just how I’d ended up here.

* * *

This isn’t the story of a girl who undergoes an emotionally linear transformation from working for the establishment to leading protest marches. It would be simpler if I told it that way. It just wouldn’t be true. And that’s not usually how it happens anyway, is it? While most good stories have an inflection point that sets the protagonist off in some new direction, real life isn’t so black-and-white. We often evolve in fits and starts, over micro millennia, not fully aware of the changes we’re experiencing on a molecular level. And when we are, sometimes yielding, sometimes resisting.

Black woman looking at herself in the mirrorIf we’re lucky, when we catch a glimpse of our transformed selves—perhaps, like me, in the reflection of a passing car window—we’ll recognize the new creature we’ve become and embrace her. It’s when we don’t, or won’t, that we can experience identity crisis. According to the clinical definition, identity crises are reserved for adolescents, but I don’t agree with that. I think it’s when your internal identity no longer matches your external reality, and it happens to adults all the time. I’ve witnessed this phenomenon among friends who had to shed their former identities of successful professionals to take on the thankless—and financially perilous—role of caregiver to an ailing parent. The men who lost their status as breadwinners during The Great Recession likely had a similar experience. In retrospect, I’ve had identity crises at multiple stages in my life.

As far as I know, we’re the only species that experiences such neuroses. We think that possessing that level of consciousness makes us superior. But do you know that bugs don’t have identity crises? They are born knowing that they’re not yet what they will be, but also exactly what they will become, so they don’t get attached to identities that will one day no longer fit them. I think that makes them superior.

…the Universe has a will of its own that bends and shapes us in spite of—or perhaps because of—our ambitions.

As for humans, we consider it an act of love and encouragement to tell our offspring that they can become whatever they wish, choose your own adventure. Schools still have Career Days where children are encouraged to pick a label that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. But we don’t usually tell the rest of the story: that the Universe has a will of its own that bends and shapes us in spite of—or perhaps because of—our ambitions. When that sculpting process reaches its conclusion, we must come to terms with the outcome, whatever it may be.

* * *

If you’d met me in high school, you might have predicted that one day I’d be making protest signs in my garage and pissing off the powers that be. But life doesn’t always unfold in the way we expect.

Freshman year had barely started when my troublemaking gene fully expressed itself. I grew up in Pittsburgh where air conditioning was a rare find, and when classes began in the late summer of 1989, it was stifling hot. As if the lack of AC wasn’t bad enough, some sadistic bureaucrat had decided that we weren’t allowed to wear shorts to school. We were miserable and complained openly about this undeserved oppression. So I circulated a petition demanding that the school change its policy and allow us to wear shorts. I don’t remember how many signatures I collected, but it was enough that I felt confident presenting them to our harried principal, and in what seemed like record time, our demands were met! We could wear shorts, the authoritarians decreed, but not more than one inch above our knees, or we risked being sent home. We reveled in this small victory even though school administrators refused to give us credit for it, lest we allow our newfound power to go to our heads. I parlayed that win into formal leadership roles at school and honed my reputation as someone who wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power.

At home, my parents were sticking it to The Man in their own right. After my father had run unsuccessfully for school board, he and my mother organized with other parents to sue the Pittsburgh Public Schools for discriminating against black students. Through years of persistence and a lot of data, they succeeded in having the school system placed under a consent decree to correct its racist disciplinary practices.

Large group of students of color marching with fists raised

Boston University students marching on campus. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

With my whole family’s community organizing bona fides firmly established, I departed for college. As it is on many college campuses, protest was a relatively common occurrence at my historically black university. I marched on at least three different occasions during my undergraduate years. Except for one, I don’t even remember why. I assume I believed in the causes I marched for, but I was likely also influenced by the energy of the moment and by the fact that I was a columnist and an editor for my college newspaper—so it made for great material.

* * *

At some point between protesting on campus and taking a job with a public/private partnership, I had made a choice: to try and change the system from within. I don’t remember it being a conscious decision, but it is a common rationalization. I made this decision without irony and resolved to be a champion for representation, excellence, integrity, and efficiency. Regardless of the story I told myself, however, I couldn’t deny that I was no longer anybody’s activist.

Regardless of the story I told myself, I couldn’t deny that I was no longer anybody’s activist.

As I wrestled with this internal conflict, I colored outside the lines by challenging the status quo and occasionally pissing off a superior. In fact, I may have been the most outspoken and nonconformist senior manager many of my colleagues had worked with. At the time, I cast it as part of my change agent identity, but I think it was also a way to reassure myself that I had not completely abandoned my activist principles.

Male hand holding card with a blue hashtag in the center

Had I become a #slacktivist?

Once I transitioned from local government to entrepreneurship in 2013, I struggled to find my place. In more ways than one, I was questioning who I was and where I belonged. I became a hashtag activist, signing Change.org petitions and reposting #BlackLivesMatter memes, but I clung to my identity as an insider. I suppose I was attempting to hold on to the respectability (and income) that comes with working inside the system. Besides, I rationalized, not everyone could effectively manage large, complex institutions, so wouldn’t my talents be put to better use there?

* * *

It was in late 2016 that I found myself at my first Black Lives Matter event. The specific atrocity that prompted me to attend, I don’t recall, but I do remember that my soul was tired. The names and faces of black people murdered by police tormented me. The occasion was billed as a self-care event, a safe space for us to come together and heal from the violence and neglect directed toward the black community. My spirit wanted and needed to be there, but my conscience berated me: These people are tired because they’ve been doing the work, it screamed. What have you been doing? Go home! I shifted in the pew and looked around at the faces in the small church where we’d gathered. I winced at the thought that the young white activists sitting next to me had more of a right to be there than I did. After chatting with them for a few minutes, I trudged to a workshop that started off with some deep breathing exercises. Then we went around the room sharing what had brought us there that day. I made a self-conscious confession about my inadequate involvement in the community. It seemed even more pitiful once a young woman shared tearfully about her boyfriend, a veteran, who had been killed by a police officer while naked, unarmed, and in mental distress.

Young black woman standing in front of pink background turns head to side yelling into a megaphone.That event became a turning point for me, and I joined some grassroots groups in my community. I even became the president of one. Still, I strongly favored roles that depended on my professional skills: strategic planning, writing policy statements and press releases, running meetings, and moderating panels. Until a need arose that compelled me to step outside of my comfort zone. I and many residents were dismayed by what we perceived to be our city administration ignoring the will of the community and violating commonly accepted ethics. In my professional role, I had addressed elected officials at public meetings more times than I could count. I had even been verbally attacked and disparaged and didn’t back down or lose my cool because that was the job. But when I stepped to the podium as a citizen, I stumbled over my handwritten notes as if it were my first time. My message still found its mark, but a realization weighed on me: I had just come out as an activist. There was no going back now.

City Councilman and Mayor announcing their opposition to the convenience store–in front of my sign!

So earlier this year, when my neighbors and I learned of an unwanted development in the works during a town hall meeting, I sprang into action. An out-of-state developer wanted to put in a gas station and convenience store on an improperly zoned lot smack in the middle of our heavily residential neighborhood. The community had fought them off once before, but now they were back and receiving the covert assistance of our city officials to complete the project. The thought of underground fuel tanks threatening a nearby stream, tankers barreling down our already-neglected neighborhood streets and a busy establishment on a treacherous stretch of road was too much for us to bear. I scribbled out a petition and circulated it around the meeting room to my angry neighbors. Renee and I joined forces, and in short order there was a small coordinating committee, flyers, a huge turnout at the next City Council meeting, and, of course, the signs.

In a stunning about-face, the mayor announced that the city would no longer support the convenience store project and would instead purchase the land from the developer and turn it into a neighborhood park. This was less than two weeks after we organized our opposition. I guess even a reluctant activist can be effective.

* * *

Once Renee and I had finished hanging up the last sign, we waited for oncoming cars to pass so we could cross the road. It was then that I caught a glimpse of myself in the window of a passing SUV and felt the familiar sting of self-consciousness. Was this how I wanted to advocate for change? As a community organizer in sweatpants rather than a policymaker in a business suit?

In all honesty, my answer is still “No.” Even after a major community organizing victory, I have to admit that I am much more comfortable in a boardroom than I am at a protest. I realize that my sculpting process is not yet complete, and I do not know who I will be when it is. What I do know is that whoever I become, I want to embrace her without shame or insecurity. For now, activism is the assignment the Universe has given me, so that is how I will serve. I’m still working on the reluctant part.

 

A.D. Lowman is a management professional, consultant, and community leader. Her leadership and career advice has been featured in Essence, Money, and Diversity Woman magazines. She is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University Los Angeles where she serves as a blogger, interviewer, and assistant web team manager for Lunch Ticket.

À La Carte: Picnic at the Champ de Mars

[flash]

We had arrived in France two days before, and it was already our third croque monsieur. We bought it at a little Carrefour store, where we also got two cans of Dr. Pepper. Look, Joanne had said, didn’t Melissa say Dr. Pepper was impossible to find in Europe. So we just had to get that beverage we both hated, and a few minutes later we were sitting at the Champ de Mars, feeling so exotic as we took grotesque swigs from the burgundy-colored cans. Joanne chose a spot far away from our tour companions. Just as I was about to sit across from Erin and Tom—the couple we stayed close to because they were the least embarrassing—Joanne noticed what I had noticed three seconds before, namely that Erin, who was wearing a short skirt, sat with her legs crossed in such a way that whoever chose to sit across from her would have an unimpeded view of her panties. They were white lace, and I even got the impression that her bush could be seen through them. Joanne, who always shaved her bush, grabbed my arm and said, Let’s sit over there, where we can see the tower better. I sat with my back to Erin, to avoid trouble.

Next to us, two women talked while their kids kicked a soccer ball. They spoke English with an American accent. Expats. Did they use that word, I wondered, did they think of themselves as that? It would be so wonderful to live here, Joanne said, you could come hang out here every day like it’s nothing at all. The two women would switch from English to French. I caught words like maison, alors, voiture, expressions like ça va and d’accord, the question que c’est que tu veu, directed at one of the kids, the one wearing a blue baseball cap. At one point the soccer ball hit my arm lightly, but I pretended not to notice. Pardon, monsieur, said one of the kids as he picked up the ball and went back to his game. I felt Joanne’s head against my shoulder. Isn’t it beautiful, she said. I think she meant the tower.

At one point I stretched out on the grass, on my side, and my hand fell on a piece of coarse cloth. It was the kid’s blue baseball cap, which had either fallen from his head or been tossed aside. On an impulse, I placed my backpack over it, as if by accident. A few minutes later, when all of us had finished our food, the expats left. There was no indication that the baseball cap was missed, so I put it in my backpack as Joanne took a picture of Erin and Tom—holding hands, looking into each other’s eyes—with their mini Polaroid. We all waited with our heads together for the image to emerge. Oh my God, that is the cutest thing ever, Joanne said. Hey, let me take one of y’all, Erin said. So we stood on the grass, my arm around Joanne’s shoulder and her arm around my waist, the tower in the background. The picture came out alright. Not as cute as Erin and Tom’s, but then, Joanne and I simply weren’t as cute as they were.

As we began to leave, I noticed the expats had come back. They were walking around the place where they had been before, and the owner of the baseball cap was crying, pointing at a spot on the lawn. I told Joanne that she was beautiful and kissed her hard.

Back in the bus, I took out my copy of Hopscotch, which is what I was reading. It would be a crime not to read Hopscotch while in Paris, I had told myself.

I love it, Joanne said.

She was looking at our picture.

Here, she said, you keep it.

Are you sure, I said.

Yeah, Joanne said, you keep it.

I put it inside my copy of Hopscotch, where it has stayed, between the same pages, for the past twelve years. Sometimes I imagine my son or my daughter finding it, long after my death, and wondering who the girl is.

The baseball cap I kept for a couple of years, until one day I cleaned my closet and decided to give it away, along with a skirt, a blouse, and a scarf that Joanne had left behind.

 

A native of Buenos Aires, Jorge Iglesias moved to Houston in 1998, and has lived there ever since. He holds a BA and an MLA from the University of St. Thomas, as well as a PhD from the University of Houston. He has taught at Rice University and at the University of Houston. His work has appeared in Literal Magazine and The Chesterton Review, and he is the author of an introduction to Outlaw: The Collected Works of Miguel Piñero (Arte Público Press, 2010).

Big Sib, Little Sib

I was 14 when my mom told me she was pregnant. Right away, I knew it would be a little brother. On the bus one day, Mom called and broke the news: “I know you’ll be disappointed, but it’s a girl.” Bella is still figuring out which is more accurate and has decided to try out “they” pronouns (a gender-neutral alternative to “he” or “she”).

Bella is now the same age I was when they were born. At 14, they are several inches taller than me. These days, they wear their hair short, somewhere between the ears and chin. It’s usually messy, and sometimes dyed a weird color. They’re a fashionable kid, taking inspiration for their clothes and makeup from the world of K-Pop. They’re a deft hand with eyeliner—it’s always on point.

When they were a baby, I didn’t really want anything to do with them. I didn’t know what changes a baby would bring to our household, which was already tense with years of problems between my parents. I’d proven myself to be more of a troublemaker than my two older siblings, who had both recently left home. I earned myself a place in the police academy program at a nearby public high school because I “needed discipline.” Just a couple of days before the baby was born, I met my first long-term boyfriend, who would be part of my life, and the baby’s, for the next few years. He was three years older than me. My mom and I fought for days before she relented and allowed me to see him.

During her pregnancy and for a while after, my mom spent her life in fear. She was almost forty when she had the baby, and she had high blood pressure. Born six weeks early, Bella was tiny and had to spend two weeks in the NICU before being cleared by the doctors to come home. The first night in our apartment, Mom laid Bella in the bassinet that dominated the living room. They fussed so much that, before the sun rose, they were in bed with Mom. The two slept in the same bed until Bella was a teenager.

Welcoming a new baby brought relatives to our door. First, my mom’s favorite sister Suzi visited when Bella was about six months old. Later, Bella’s grandma and uncle on their dad’s side came. Pictures were taken, hugs exchanged, gifts received. I only have a few memories about this time. I was immersed in my own struggles, aching to spend every waking moment with my boyfriend. In a typical teenage fashion, I was completely egocentric and petulant, dealing with the depression that came with puberty while struggling to discover my own identity. Bella had sinus problems and was often sick. My mom and I still fought, but she focused her real energy on the baby, on the never-ending problems with my stepfather, on her own struggle with addiction.

Just before Bella turned one, I left the police academy, where I’d been miserable and short of breath all year. I went into independent study to finish high school, which was a much better fit for me. I spent several years in a nocturnal state, writing at night, sleeping in the mornings, and babysitting in the afternoons. During this time, I dabbled in prescription and over-the-counter pills, tried smoking a cigarette, and learned about sex. My boyfriend and I would babysit together, cuddling and kissing on the couch, Bella fixated on the TV. Whenever we went out, people assumed I was a teenage mother, which never really bothered me.

I remember Bella’s first big smile up at me as I sat in front of the computer, looking down at them in their little bouncy chair. I made squished eggs in the morning and plain pasta in the afternoons, annoyed at being the one to have to complete these chores. When my mom asked me to, I brushed Bella’s rat’s nest of hair, making sure their favorite show was turned on and they had a snack to get through it. I tried to be gentle. As a kid, I also had unga-bunga hair, so I understood the pain. Bella looked just like me when I was little.

Bella and I were together with our parents in a situation that was often stressful and sometimes violent. Our mom and Bella’s dad fought often and hard. When this happened, I became the caretaker. My teenage angst was sidelined by these crises. I would take Bella into the bedroom, into my lap, and we would watch the Powerpuff Girls, or play Legos, trying to ignore the shouting from the other room. I was beyond fear by this point, used to the screaming matches that had been going on as long as I could remember, but Bella would whimper and cry and ask questions. I tried not to be too harsh with my answers, tried to remember that they wouldn’t understand the complicated reasoning behind my almost grown-up emotions and opinions. When I would occasionally interfere in these domestic disturbances, I felt puffed up, empowered—but also helpless. I was still a kid, older boyfriend or not. I tried to shield Bella as best I could. I tried to shield myself.

*     *     *

Besides being sick all the time, Bella was always an accident-prone child. Once, they slipped while climbing on the back of the couch and smashed their chin into the windowsill, biting through their bottom lip. I was babysitting at the time, and I was wracked with guilt. For once, my mom didn’t react with anger, instead understanding that kids sometimes get hurt. I was relieved she wasn’t mad at me for my negligence. Another time, Bella reached up and touched the electric stove while it was on, receiving massive blistery burns on three fingers. Just before I went away to college, a kid pushed Bella off the playground slide. When they hit the ground, their glasses sliced open their eyebrow. My mom sped to the hospital, then turned the keys over to me for the first time so I could park as she rushed Bella inside. Bella will always have that scar above their left eye. They never try to cover it with makeup, embracing the uniqueness it brings to their face. Their right thigh is a mass of huge scars from the time our big sister’s cat decided they were a threat and tore into their exposed leg. Bella is no stranger to physical pain.

I knew some things about Bella years ago. I knew they would be a dancer. Through all of the illnesses and injuries, they always had a mastery over their own body that I couldn’t really relate to. I knew they would question everything, empowered to explore the opportunities life placed before them. I knew they would experience many of the same things I did as a kid, like mental illness. No one could have convinced me, though, that we would be so much alike.

*     *     *

Bella’s father left when they were barely five. At that time, I was a college student with my own life and concerns. Our mom moved into a new apartment across the street from the old one, where rent was a constant worry. When I came home from school to visit, Bella and I would spend hours coloring or playing in front of the TV. We sang our souls out to The Backyardigans, and I introduced them to Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It may have been inappropriate for a kid, but we had a blast singing along to each subversive song. Music was everything to us, necessary in our TV shows and games. Early one Sunday morning, Bella and I lounged in bed and sang “opera” until the neighbors started yelling at us to shut up. We laughed for hours.

When the power was shut off due to nonpayment, our big brother came over. As night fell, we armed ourselves with Nerf guns, jump ropes, and sticks. Then, we divided the apartment into kingdoms: The Kingdom of Kitchen, Bedroomlandia, The Plains of Livingroom, Bathroom Swamp. Finally, we declared war on each other. Peeking around doorways, hiding underneath tables, and charging each other head on, we play-fought for dominance of the darkened rooms. Bella and I were both thrilled and enthralled that our big brother had decided to join us in this flight of fancy—and I was grateful, because Bella’s laughter echoed through the apartment, their fear of the power outage lost in the great fun of the impromptu session of imagination. We never had occasion to play Apartment Kingdoms again, but Bella asked us to for ages afterward.

*     *     *

After college, I moved away for a couple of years. When I came back to Los Angeles, Bella was a preteen. They had grown even taller and looked much older. They were deep into their own life, just as I was at that age. It was different for Bella, though. I had been introverted and inactive, obsessed with my boyfriend to the exclusion of other friends, while Bella was dedicated to dance and seemed to have a new best friend every week. They were always going out to concerts or events, surrounded by a gaggle of dressed up teens.

Now that we live in the same part of town, we see each other more often. Bella is older, which makes our relationship different, more balanced. They’ve developed quite an irksome and entertaining personality. We’ve been able to spend time together one-on-one, reminiscent of the long days spent playing and singing when they were a toddler.

Last summer, Bella came over a couple of times a week so we could go swimming together. In my backyard surrounded by plants, statues, deck chairs, and the palpable presence of the sun, we would languish in the water. We cranked the radio, tuning in to our favorite alt rock stations, belting out the lyrics when Twenty-One Pilots came on. We played nonsense games reminiscent of Apartment Kingdoms, creating a plot worthy of publication. We sprayed each other with the hose as we took turns zooming down the big yellow slide into the deep end. When the time came to get out, we were equally reluctant, wishing we could stay in the cool safety of the water forever, living like mermaids. Even as I tried to act the grown-up and make Bella get out, all I could see in them was myself. Staying in the pool too long was my favorite act of defiance as a kid. I love the little things like this that tie us together, the little quirks that say we have a common history and family.

I remember the indifference and occasional resentment I felt toward Bella when I was a teenager, and I can’t connect to those feelings at all anymore. As different as we are, I can see those things in Bella now, the same emotions I battled as a kid. Depression and anxiety have set in, right on schedule. They’ve even enrolled in independent study, just like I did. My mom and I talk often about how frustrated and helpless we feel when we know Bella is in pain and there’s nothing we can do about it. I wish I could take away all the bad parts of their life, but I can barely keep swimming myself.

*     *     *

I guess if I want you to know one thing, it’s this: When life gets too hard to bear, when it seems like it’s all spiraling down to hell and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, I will be there, and I will rescue you. That’s a promise.

 

Adrien Kade Sdao writes young adult fiction and works in a children’s bookstore in Los Angeles. They are an MFA candidate at Antioch University, Los Angeles, and they are the lead editor for the Young Adult genre at Lunch Ticket. Their work has appeared in Lunch Ticket and Womanpause. They live in North Hollywood with their cat, Shelly.

Far From Normal

[creative nonfiction]

Given my personal perspective as an autistic person, nowhere in my personal vernacular does the word “normal” appear. It’s something I’ve never experienced. Neither is it something I have aspired to become. Perfectly “normal” is so far from my life goals that you might not believe me when I say that I would change nothing about me except one thing: I would be able to speak like you, giving me the independence that you all take for granted.

Sometimes when I dream at night, I can talk with no problem, and I feel so free. Perhaps you can imagine what that feels like for a minute! But imagine what it’s like for a lifetime. When I think about it too long, I know this is my fate in life.

All things considered, I would forgo the gift of speech if that meant I had to give up all the other ways autism affects me. For example, music is such an experiential event for me. I see what I hear in colors that represent which emotions are triggered for me. Unfortunately for a majority of people, they only hear the sounds coming through their headphones. For me, they appear as a swirling cloud of color, a hypnotizing form that is reminiscent of swallows in flight. I find these colorful expressions also radiate from people’s strong emotions. Using this insight as a way of reading someone’s mood gives me a deeper impression of the people around me. Really, the power to empathize so strongly is a gift.

Also, I have so many strong associations with memories that I can remember what it was like to be a baby in my mother’s arms. She would sleep alongside me, and I would lay in her scent, completely safe. I remember being in Kindergarten, learning my letters and numbers alongside other little kids. They didn’t know how to regard me, and I remember my teacher not even bothering to try to help. How strongly her dislike for me flared! This, I remember as if it were yesterday.

Having a different choice in my experience has made my life so rich and beautiful that now I have made it my life’s goals to raise awareness to the ways autistics can be included and contribute to society. Perhaps the most painful reactions are from people who fear me or think I am retarded. Not only does this insult me, but it is a form of oppression that other marginalized groups experience. What it results in is discrimination and using my disability against me.

Now that I can communicate, I have learned that this discrimination is born out of misinformation and a lack of exposure to people who are autistic. Really, not ever having contact with people who are different only reinforces stereotypes and ingrains them further. Using my voice for autism acceptance is the goal I wake up with every morning. It’s the one thing that continues to motivate me and keep me up when the world gets too mean. What I would like to help bring about now is a new understanding of autistics, and how we are able to have a positive impact on society.

I am standing on the shoulders of all those who came before me: the ones who were put into institutions and orphanages; the ones who have been segregated into special ed classrooms; the ones who are working in sweatshops for a quarter of what the minimum wage is; for all those who will lose their Medicaid benefits if the ruling party has its way… They are my inspiration, aiding my energy and giving me reason to fight the good fight. What I want is equal rights for people with disabilities and the understanding that we are a gift, not a burden.

Using my voice to bring awareness feels natural to me. Only when people really listen to those who live with autism will we see how our society can improve for everyone, numbering in the millions of people affected. Then we will continue this movement worldwide, changing the world. As we would want equality, so would people in the far reaches of the planet. Imagine what a wonderful world this could be.

 

Niko Boskovic is a 17-year-old high school senior from Portland, Oregon, who has written extensively about life as a self-described “low-verbal autistic.” Starting at age four, he received forty hours of behavioral therapy each week. At age twelve, the only offered option in the public school system was a self-contained classroom. A last-minute decision to participate in training on the Rapid Prompting Method changed his life forever. Within one year, Niko started high school fully included, using a letter board to communicate. He is expected to graduate second in his class in June 2019 and will be pursuing a degree in writing.

Spotlight: Routines in Cell 43

[translated fiction]

(Readable as a loop, beginning with any paragraph)

The rod rings out in the emptiness to remind me of my exile. I inhale the damp air and the invasive scent of my own misery. It was a long time ago that I took my leave of the apathy inherent to incomprehension and fear. Ignorance as to my fate must be agony for those I love, those I long for. Now, everything is just a hazy cloud as I maintain my neural circuits through the exercise of routine.

They’ll come for me tonight or some other night, or maybe months will go by before a droplet of coffee on the list of prisoners will call the guard’s attention to my name. He will, perhaps, remember that I was once famous (ephemerally so, but famous nonetheless) for my incendiary articles against the corrupt regime that has just retaken power. My name is common and it appears frequently in telephone books, like anyone born into the class of serfs. My name, singled out by the coffee’s chromatic union, will reawaken doubts, the precursor to suspicions, and then they’ll come for me that same night, or some other, or maybe days will have gone by and I won’t even remember what I thought today, anesthetized by routine as I am, alienated by incomprehension as I am, paralyzed by fear as I am.

The rod rings out. Screams can be heard at the end of the corridor. One might guess they were from Thomas, the young man from the antipodes caught far from home by the invasion. He’s been refusing to eat these past few days. Now our jailers take their fury out on his body with an obsessive tenacity. They revel in the torture, both his and ours, and each of Thomas’s screams may just be a prelude to another one of his, or Andrés’s, or Raúl’s, or Cosme’s, or my own. My own scream.

It makes no difference what my name is. It makes no difference whether what I’m telling is a universal truth or simply my own. Who knows? I tell what comes to my mind, and one can do nothing but remember one’s own past, near or distant, with a wide variety of nuances and suffering. I attempt to memorize facts and occurrences, making connections between the two, permanently joining them in a kind of infinite mantra, into a helicoidal thread that closes on itself. I attempt it even though I know that most of the vectors I trace will be doomed to failure, that my memory will automatically, repeatedly betray me with spurious associations, with loops of images and signs, with words linked to impossible moments, with daylong, month-long gaps. I have no doubt about that, yet I obstinately persist in my labors, because even the smallest piece of information, even the most insignificant of details could, in some future moment, lead to a chain reaction of memory, a fusion of neural circuits heretofore uncoupled, a supernova of joy.

To organize routines. What’s important now is to organize routines. In order to stop myself becoming desperate, what’s most important now is to organize routines. (Hourly routines, daily routines, weekly routines, nightly routines repeated day after day). Searching within the circular rhythm of routines for some measurement of time and some occupation with which to stave off desperation, and perplexity, and fear of not being, or being no longer, or being someone else. Eight minutes past midnight. Time to close my eyes, count to ten, and begin reciting the verses I learned as a child (Monday), the poetry I composed as an adolescent (Tuesday), the aphorisms passed down to me by my teacher (Wednesday), the songs of my youth (Thursday), the poems of my adulthood (Friday), and the letters I never wrote (Saturday), concluding with the monologues I’ve rehearsed a thousand times (Sunday). Routines I use to attain the formal sophistication of repetition, the anesthesia of advancing in slow motion. Routines to feel the ground beneath my feet, to gradually construct (reconstruct) a dream full of hope and freedom.

The rod rings out. Screams can be heard at the end of the corridor. The screams too are routine. They always sound identical to every other scream coming from the same person. Thomas’s scream. Cosme’s scream. Andrés’s. Mine. What does my scream sound like? Piercing? Ear-splitting? Quaking? Icy? To unleash a different scream for each wound, for each occasion, for each method of torture. A muffled scream for the cattle prod. A piercing scream for the rod. A blind scream for the sleepless nights under the lamp’s gaze, my eyelids forced to stay open. An icy scream for the nights watching snow fall in the immeasurable solitude of the plains. A leopard scream for when they come at my knees, for when they opt for the humiliation of urinating on me, for when they slander my ancestors or mock my loved ones, the ones who are still alive, my people, my kith and kin.

No one has told me (or us, from what I hear) why they brought us here, why they keep us locked up all day, why they sometimes let us out at night to engage in Argentinian style hunting. They came armed and in droves, destroying everything in their wake, instilling a culture of fear and barbarism. Now they control it all, every single thing, with a haughty air in their ways and an ambiguity in their messages. They made of violence their banner and their way of life. No one has told me (or us, from what I don’t hear) what they expect from us, what they want us to tell them, what we’ve done wrong. They never interrogate us. They never say a word to us except to convey their confusing orders, or which are at least confusing to us, as if they’d come out of some strange magma, out of a language we should understand, but only becomes more and more foreign with each passing day, a mixture of soldier’s jargon and obscenities befitting of a brothel.

Maybe they won’t come for me tonight. Yes, it’s best to think like that and not shrivel up like a pangolin armed with its plate-like scales. It’s cold. What these louts save on heating in the passageways they spend on whiskey and pleasure women. Here comes the moralistic murmuring, the mumbling of a failed missionary, of a waning man who takes refuge in iron discipline to maintain himself, this romantic hero buried in excess, this martyr for a vague cause with no followers, Unitarian in his militancy, in a losing position before the battle has even begun. It’s impossible to sleep caged in by these recurring thoughts, denying my external reality, the others’ reality, subsuming oneself in an autumnal retraction of deposits and wrinkles to the point of renouncing one’s senses, lost in a labyrinth of words that come flooding in, that hammer on one’s temples in a waterfall of symbols, that prevent one from getting to sleep (sleep is gotten, gathered, joined together through bits of consciousness: sleep is, therefore, a dreamlike puzzle, a dreamlike, improvised jazz set, a dreamlike cracked mirror that reflects one’s persistent insomnia, that diverts the lightning bolt, that trembles in all its recurrence).

A blind scream for the sleepless nights. Is this the moment? It’s over now, the rod’s diversion, the farcical humiliation, the hyperbolic laughter drowning out the victim’s screams, the wretched object of their abuses. The guards went away leaving behind what’s left of the martyr bleeding in the “reading room.” That’s what they call it, with their poorly disguised irony: the reading room. “This is where we read your thoughts. This is where we listen to whispered stories. This is where we build up the tale of public shame. This is where we strip away the best poetry you have inside you.”

My eyelids, my legs, my arms are heavy, my back is sinking into the mattress, causing my joints to cry out in an anguished desire for rest, but my thoughts, my wretched thoughts, my wretched self, rebelling in its consciousness, won’t stop for even an instant: words galloping over images, sounds over a language from the farthest reaches of my consciousness, images over sounds, shattering in a thousand planes simultaneously, drawing up and vanishing with no respite, tracing a four-dimensional, no, five-dimensional map with chromatic shifts, fades to black, sideways wipes, kaleidoscopic images, intermingling sounds, multilingual messages, and outrageous associations.

To organize routines. What’s important is to organize routines. In order to avoid becoming desperate, what’s most important now is to organize routines. (Hourly routines, daily routines, weekly routines, nightly routines repeated day after day.) Now, at night, counting stars. Real stars (rare here, the clouds dominate the sky for half the year, along with half of the other half) and dreamt ones (white dwarves, brown giants, novas, supernovas, shooting stars). Doing it for as long as it takes to make it across the known galaxies, the familiar constellations, every possible combination. After the stars, with a current sliding along my spine and my temples hammering from the excess, then comes the time to practice the relaxation exercises I learned from my teacher, to envision idealized images of sexual idols, and engage in the most violent kind of self-stimulation.

I try to slowly accumulate dreams, I imagine reiterated landscapes from my childhood, from when we would play amongst the bamboo thickets and be slippery vietcong, crawling through the stalks and stoically enduring the suffocating summer heat. In those days, the map of Vietnam filled up the black-and-white TV screen, and that’s how we learned where the Hoi Lin Mountains were, which have an outrageous amount of snowfall every seven years, along with the rivers surrounding the imperial capital of Hué, where the battles never ended, children running naked as they fled from the napalm, Ho-Chi-Minh Way destroyed; he, the whitebeard who became a model for the grandfather I never had. I reconstruct my nights sleeping in sickly quarters, where everything smelled like stables and ethical misery, where they prohibited us from being ourselves, where they counted us dozens of times each day to see if anyone had run away, as if there were anywhere to run in that massive plain frozen during the winters and sunken in a humid fog during the summers. I remember the years spent at boundless sea, waves stampeding over the bridge, the ship at the mercy of the currents and furious hurricanes. I think about the years I wasted chasing impossible loves, in a repetitive denial of myself, sobbing daily in front of the mirror reflecting an image of progressive degeneration. Every now and again I wake up sweating in the midst of a bout of malaria that I caught in the jungles of Cambodia, where I was searching for a treasure I never found, where I went through hunger, torture, and scarcity that I was only able to endure because of my youth and the strength I’d inherited from my forebears. I thread together sequences which approach in disorderly fashion: landscapes and information, perceptions and subjections, characters and plots, instants pulled from an internal camera that stores away undeveloped photographs, fantastical frames, and never-before-seen compositions combining all kinds of colors and shapes. Then, from the labyrinths of memory, come the cold barrel of the machine gun pressed against my neck, my ears frozen from walking the whole night to cross the border, my toes bleeding from stepping on glass when they came for us, the memory of the first time I spoke in public, pronouncing slogans that would make me blush now, or the afternoon when someone showed me how to gather shrimp from the rocks on a beach during low tide, or the other when I skipped an English class to learn the art of handling a scythe, or that time when a friend of mine named one hundred birds in one breath and I responded with one hundred sea and river fishes, to the delight of the rest of our group, who drank to our health and bet beers on who would win. In my memory I sketch out the passageways I slid along in dreams, which would lead always to an octagonal tower where each wall had a door ready to take me to a different world, which is how I learned about the flora and fauna of different time periods and why certain species survive, seeping through the gap as a door opened so that I could then enter a new, parallel world. In the air I trace dreamt or invented calligrams, ones they taught me in school or ones that I learned over the passage of time, alphabets that mark turning points in my life, a life no longer qualifiable as short. I try to organize my dreams to see if I can sleep, but dreams don’t allow themselves to be organized and classified so easily. They don’t come when you want and you always end up remembering your obsessions and forgetting about them, except the ones that have repeated over and over again since the moment you’ve been conscious of your recollection and organization: the dream about the lighthouse, the dream about the chapel in the dark, the dream about sex opening up into two cavernous bodies, the dream of enucleated eyes, the dream of reclusion, which has come true exactly as you’d dreamt it, and now seems more like a premonition than a dream. Dreams of the rod’s return, ones where screams can be heard, ones where nostalgia takes over me, ones where I take refuge in my routines.

No one has told me (or us, from what I don’t hear) what they expect from us, what they want us to tell them, what we’ve done wrong. They came armed and in droves as if they’d fallen from the sky or risen from the bowels of the earth, using their lethal weapons to devastate everything in their wake. They controlled the communications, transport, and commerce, and quickly began a random campaign of explosive detonations. They toy with the ambiguity in messages and the fear spawned by uncertainty. They never interrogate us. No one explains (nor am I myself capable of explaining) how I can go entire days without sleeping, feverish, consumed by the thousand ideas that attack me and retreat, rotting my insides and fighting to escape their fluid prison out of a desire to become solid, concrete, actualized.

The rod is back. Screams can be heard at the end of the corridor, in the “reading room.” They enjoy bursting open the wet skin. Thomas’s scream. Cosme’s scream. Andrés’s scream. My scream. A leopard scream for when they come at my knees. No one has said why they brought us here. What’s important is to organize routines. No one why they play Argentinian hunting games with us. Maybe they won’t come for me tonight. It’s best to think like that and not curl up like a plated pangolin.

My eyelids, legs, and arms are heavy, my back is digging into the mattress, causing my joints to cry out for a break, but my thoughts, my wretched self, which rebels by being conscious, will not stop for even an instant, with a flood of words over images, images over sounds shattering on a thousand planes simultaneously, tracing a four-, no, five-dimensional map with chromatic shifts, fades-to-black, sideways wipes, kaleidoscopic images, fusing sounds, plurilingual messages, and outrageous associations.

…It is in this emptiness that the rod rings out to remind me of my exile. I inhale the damp air and the acrid stench of my own ethical misery. It was long ago that I escaped from the apathy inherent to incomprehension and fear. The ignorance of my fate must be a torment for those who I love and long for. Everything is just a hazy cloud as I maintain myself through the exercise of routine. They’ll come for me tonight, or some other night.

I try to memorize events and information, linking them together, joining them forever in a kind of infinite mantra, in a helicoidal belt that closes on itself. I attempt it even though I know that the majority of vectors I trace will be doomed to failure, that my memory will automatically, repeatedly fail me with spurious associations, with loops of images and symbols, with words that will combine into impossible moments, with daylong, month-long gaps.

It’s impossible to sleep caged in by these recurring thoughts, denying my external reality, the others’ reality, sinking myself into an autumnal retraction of deposits and wrinkles until I renounce my senses, lost in a labyrinth of words that come flooding in, hammering my temples with a waterfall of symbols, permanently preventing me from falling asleep.

 

 

Rutinas na cela 43

(Pódese ler en bucle, comezando con calquera párrafo)

É no baleiro que resoa o vergallo para me devolver a conciencia do exilio. Respiro o aire húmido e o recendo invasor da miña propia miseria. Hai tempo saín da apatía propia da incompensión e o medo. A ignorancia da miña sorte será tormento para outros aos que quero e xa estraño. Para min xa só é unha nube imprecisa mentres sosteño os meus circuítos co exercicio da rutina.

Virán por min esta noite ou a outra, ou se cadra pasarán meses ata que unha pinga de café caída encol dunha lista de prisioneiros atraia a atención do oficial de garda sobre o meu nome. Recordará, se cadra, que en tempos fun famoso (de modo efémero, mais famoso) polos meus artigos incediarios contra o réxime corrupto que agora vén de retornar ao poder. O meu nome é vulgar e repítese nas listas de teléfono, coma todos aqueles nados de estirpe de servos da gelba. O meu nome, illado pola confluencia cromátic do café, fará acordar dúbidas, antesala das sospeitas, e daquela virán por min esa mesma noite, ou a outra , ou se cadra cando teñan pasado días e non lembre xa o que hoxe penso, anestesiado pola rutina, alienado pola incomprensión, paralizado polo medo.

Resoa o vergallo. Óense berros ao fondo do corredor. Diríase que son de Thomas, ese mozo dos antípodas ao que a invasión colleu lonxe de casa. Tense negado a comer nos últimos días. Agora os carcereiros asáñanse na súa pel con tenacidade obsesiva. Recréanse na tortura, na súa e na nosa, porque cada berro de Thomas pode ser preludio dun berro propio, de Andrés ou de Raúl, de Cosme ou meu. O meu berro.

Que importa como é que eu me chamo, que importa mesmo se o que conto é verdade universal ou só a miña verdade. Quen o sabe? Conto o que me vén ao maxín, e un só lembra o pasado, o pasado próximo e o afastado, con variedade de matices e padecemento. Tento memorizar datas e sucesos, relacionalos entre si, unilos para sempre nunha especie de mantra infinito, nunha fita helicoidal que se pecha sobre si mesma. Inténtoo aínda que sei que a meirande parte dos vectores trazados estarán condenados ao fracaso, que a memoria me traizoará, repetida e mecanicamente, con asociacións espurias, con bucles de imaxes e de signos, con verbas que se asociarán a momentos imposíbeis, con lagos de días ou de meses. Seino, mais testán persisto no empeño, pois o máis mínimo dato, o detalle máis insignificante pode, nun instante futuro, facer acordar unha reacción en cadea, unha fusión de circuítos outrora separados, unha supernova de ledicia.

Ordenar as rutinas. O importante é ordenar as rutinas. Para non desesperar, o máis importante é ordenar as rutinas. (Rutinas horarias, rutinas cotiás, rutinas semanais, rutinas cotinocturnas). Procurar no ritmo circular das rutinas a medida do tempo e a ocupación que me afaste da desesperación, da perplexidade, do terror a non ser ou a deixar de ser, ou a ser outro. Oito minutos pasada a media noite. Tempo de pechar os ollos, de contar ata dez, de comezar o recitado dos versos aprendidos cando neno (luns), dos versos inventados cando mozo (martes), dos aforismos transmitidos polo mestre (mércores), das cancións da mocidade (xoves), dos poemas da idade adulta (venres), das cartas que nunca escribín (sábado), para rematar cos monólogos mil veces ensaiados (domingo). Rutinas para acadar a sofisticación formal do repetitivo, a anestesia dos avances ao ralentí. Rutinas para sentir o chan baixo os pés, para construir (reconstruir) devagar o soño da esperanza da liberdade.

Resoa o vergallo. Óense berros ao fondo do corredor. Os berros son tamén rutina. Soan sempre igual a outros berros do mesmo dono. O berro de Thomas. O berro de Cosme. O de Andrés. O meu berro. Como soa o meu berro? Lacerante? Estentóreo? Trepidante? Xélido? Ensaiar un berro distinto para cada ferida, para cada ocasión, para cada método de tortura. Un berro afogada para a picana. Un berro lacerante para o vergallo. Un berro cego para as noites sen durmir, enfocado pola lámpada, coas pálpebras forzadas e abertas. Un berro xélido para as noites vendo caer a neve na soidade inabarcábel da chaira. Un berro leopardo para cando me paseen de xeonllos, para cando me humillen mexando por riba de min, para cando insulten os meus antepasados ou se mofen dos seres máis queridos, dos vivos, dos meus.

Ninguén me ten dito (ninguén dixo, segundo contan) por que nos trouxeran aquí, por que nos manteñen pechados o día enteiro, por que ás veces nos liberan de noite para organizar cacerías de facón e boleadoras. Chegaran en mesnadas arrasando ao seu paso con todo o que topaban, instaurando a cultura do medo e a barbarie. Agora contrólano todo, absolutamente todo, con aire de suficiencia nas formas e ambigüidade nas mensaxes. Fixeron da violencia a súa bandeira e o seu xeito de vivir. Ninguén me ten dito (ninguén dixo, segundo calan) qué esperan de nós, qué queren que contemos, cál é a nosa falta. Endexamais nos interrogan. Endexamais nos dirixen a palabra se non é para enunciar ordes confusas, ou que, cando menos, nós concibimos coma confusas, como chegadas dun magma estraño, nunha lingua que deberiamos entender mais que de día en día resulta máis allea, unha mestura de argot cuarteleiro e de exabruptos de casa de tolerancia.

Quizais esta noite non veñan por min. Si, será mellor pensar así e non se engurrar coma un pangolín, armado de escamas e de placas. Vai frío. Estes cachimáns aforran en calefacción nas galerías o que eles gastan en whisky e mais en bacantes. Regresa o ruxerruxe moralista, o rumor de misioneiro fracasado, de home minguante que se refuxia nunha férrea disciplina para soster, cal heroe romántico abismado nos excesos, cal mártir dunha causa difusa, negada de adeptos, unitaria na súa militancia, unha posición perdida de antemán. É imposíbel durmir cercado por estes pensamentos recorrentes, negando a realidade exterior, a realidade dos outros, ensumíndose en retracción outonal de depósitos e engurras ata renunciar os sentidos, perdido nun labirinto de verbas que acoden en fervenza, que martelan as tempas en cadoiro de signos, que impiden conciliar o sono (o sono concíliase, xúntase, únese a partir de anacos de conciencia: o sono e xa logo o soño crebacabezas, o soño partitura de jazz improvisada, o soño espello cos rachaduras que reflicte o negado na vixilia, que desvía o lóstrego, que conmove na súa recorrencia).

Un berro cego para as noites sen durmir. Será este o momento? Parou xa a festa do vergallo, a farse das humillacións, as risas esaxeradas que afogaban os berros da vítima, do desgraciado albo de servicias. Retíranse os gardados deixando os despoxos do mártir desangrándose na “sala de lectura”. Chámalle así, con sorna mal disimulada: a sala de lectura. “Aquí lemos os vosos pensamentos, aquí escoitamos historias musitadas, aquí construímos o relato da infamia, aquí espimos a mellor poesía que hai en vós.”

Pésanme as pálpebras, as pernas, os brazos, as costas afúndense no xergón facendo soar as articulacións na procura angustiada de descanso; mais o pensamento, o maldito pensamento, o eu maldito, que se rebela consciente, non se detén nin un só instante, cabalga palabras sobre imaxes, sons sobre verbas chegadas do alén da consciencia, imaxes sobre sons, estoupa en mil planos ao unísono, deseña e esfuma sen acougo, trazando un mapa en catro dimensións, en cinco, con saltos cromáticos, con fundidos en negro, con varridos laterais, con imaxes en calidoscopio, con sons que se fusionan, con mensaxes multilingües, con asociacións inauditas.

Ordenar as rutinas. O importante é ordenar as rutinas. Para non desesperar, o máis importante é ordenar as rutinas. (Rutinas horarias, rutinas cotiás, rutinas semanais, rutinas cotinocturnas.) Agora, pola noite, contar as estrelas. Estrelas verdadeiras (case nunca, aquí, as nubes enseñran do ceo medio ano e a metade do outro medio) e estrelas soñadas (ananas brancas, xigantes marróns, novas, supernovas, estrelas fugaces). Así durante o tempo que leve percorrer as galaxias coñecidas, as constelacións familiares, as combinacións posíbeis. Despois das estrelas, cunha corrente percorrendo o espiñazo e as tempas latexando polos excesos, chega o momento de ensaiar os exercicios de relaxación aprendidos do mestre, as imaxes idealizadas dos ídolos sexuais, a autoestimulación máis violenta.

Xogo a unha lenta acumulación de soños, imaxino as paisaxes reiteradas da nenez, cando xogabamos entre as matas de bambú a ser vietcongs escorregadizos, reptando entre as canas e soportando estoicos a calor abafante do verán. Daquela o mapa de Vietnam enchía a pantalla do aparello de televisor en branco e negro, e alí aprendemos onde ficaban as montañas de Hoi Lin, onde un ano de cada sete cae unha nevarada de escándalo, os ríos que cercan a capital imperial de Hué, a da batalla sen fin, os nenos correndo espidos mentres foxen do napalm, a rota Ho-Chi-Minh, que coa súa barbicha abrancazada pasou a ser modelo do avó que non tiven. Reconstrúo as noites durmindo nunha caserna infecta, onde todo cheiraba a corte e a miseria ética, onde nos prohibían ser nós mesmos, onde nos contaban ducias de veces no día por ver se algún fuxira, coma se houbese a onde fuxir, naquela chaira conxelada no inverno e somerxida no verán nunha néboa tépeda. Lembro os anos pasados no medio do mar inmenso cos vagallóns a cabalgar por riba da ponte de mando, co navío a mercé das correntes e da furia dos furacáns. Penso nos anos que perdín na procura de amores imposíbeis, na reiterada negación do eu ser, no pranto cotián diante do espello que reflectía a imaxe da dexeneración progresiva. Acordo a cada tanto suando no medio dunha crise da malaria que atrapei nas selvas de Camboxa, cando procuraba un tesouro que xamais encontrei, cando pasei fame, tortura e privacións que só a miña idade moza e a forteleza herdada dos antepasados me permitiran soportar. Fío secuencias que se achegan en desorde de datas e paisaxes, de percepción e suxeito, de protagonista e argumento; instantes coma enfoques dunha cámara interna, que acumula fotos sen facer, encadres fantásticos, composicións nunca antes visitadas, combinatorias de cores e de formas. Daquela chegan dos labirintos da memoria, o frío do cano da metralladora encol da caluga, as orellas xeadas camiñando a noite toda para atravesar a fronteira, as dedas sangrando logo de camiñar sobre vidros cando entraran por nós, a lembranza da primeira vez que falei en público repetindo consignas que hoxe farían que arrubiase, aquela tarde na que alguén me ensinou a coller camaróns nas rochas dunha praia en baixamar, ou aquela outra onde mudei unha clase de inglés pola arte de manexar a gadaña, ou naquela na que un meu amigo nomeou de corrido cen paxaros e eu respondín con cen peixes de mar e de río, para ledicia dos demais membros do grupo, que bebían á nosa saúde e apostaban cervexas por ver quen ganaba. Bosquexo na memorias as galerías polas que esvaraba en soños, que sempre ían dar a unha torre octogonal, na que cada parede tiña unha porta que levaba con certeza a un mundo distinto, que foi así como me aprenderan a fauna e a flora das eras diferentes e a razón da persistencia das especies, que se coaran por unha físgoa mentres unha porta se abría para logo entrar noutro mundo paralelo. Trazo no aire caligramas inventados ou soñados, que me ensinaran na escola ou que aprendín no paso do tempo, alfabetos que demarcan xeiras na miña vida, xa non curta. Xogo a ordenar os soños por ver se son quen de durmir, mais os soños non se deixan ordenar e clasificar, non acoden cando queres e sempre rematas por lembrar obsesións e esquecer os soños, agás aqueles que se repiten unha e outra vez dende que es consciente da súa recolección e ordenamento: o soño do faro, o soño da capela ás escuras, o soño do sexo abríndose polos corpos cavernosos, o soño dos ollos enucleados, o soño da reclusión, que agora é tan verdade, tanto como a tiñas soñado, que semella máis unha premonición que un soño. Soños cando regresa o vergallo, cando se escoitan os berros, cando me invade a nostalxia, cando me refuxia nas rutinas.

Ninguén ten dito (ninguén nos dixo, segundo calan) que esperan de nós, que pretenden que lles contemos, cal é a nosa falta. Chegaran en mesnadas como caídos do ceo ou xurdindo das entrañas da terra, arrasando coas súas armas mortíferas todo o que atopaban ao seu paso. Controlaran as comunicacións, os transportes e o comercio, comezando axiña unha campaña de detencións aleatoria. Xogan coa ambigüidade das mensaxes e o medo que xera a incerteza. Endexamais nos interrogan. Ninguén explica (eu non son quen de me explicar) como podo pasar días enteiros sen durmir, con febre, consumido por mil ideas que me asaltan e regresan, que me corroen as entrañas e loitan por escapar do seu cárcere de fluídos, que se queren sólidos, concretas, realizadas…

Regresa o vergallo. Óense berros no fondo do corredor, na “sala de lectura”. Recréanse no estralar sobre a pel mollada. O berro de Thomas. O berro de Cosme. O berro de Andrés. O meu berro. Un berro leopardo para cando me paseen de xeonllos. Ninguén dixo por que nos trouxeran aquí. Resoa o vergallo. Xamais nos interrogan. O importante é ordenar as rutinas. Ninguén por que na noite organizan cacerías de boleadoras e derribo. Quizais esta noite non veñan por min. Será mellor pensar así e non se engurrar coma pangolín en placas.

Pésanme as pálpebras, as pernas, os brazos, as costas afúndense no xergón facendo soar as articulacións na procura do descanso; mais o pensamento, o eu maldito, que se rebela consciente, non se detén nin un só instante, cabalga palabras sobre imaxes, imaxes sobre sons, estoupa en mil planos ao unísono, trazando un mapa en catro dimensións, en cinco, con saltos cromáticos, con fundidos en negro, con varridos laterais, con imaxes en calidoscopio, con sons que se fusionan, con mensaxes plurilingües, con asociacións inauditas.

…É no baleiro onde resoa o vergallo para me devolver a conciencia do exilio. Respiro o aire húmido e o cheiro acre da miña propia miseria ética. Hai tempo que saín da apatía propia da incomprensión e o medo. A ignorancia da miña sorte será tormento para outros aos que quero e xa estraño. Para min é só unha nube imprecisa mentres me sosteño co exercicio da rutina. Virán por min esta noite, ou a outra.

Tento memorizar datas e sucesos, relacionalos entre si, unilos para sempre nunha especie de mantra infinito, nunha cinta helicoidal que se pecha sobre si mesma. Inténtoo aínda que sei que a meirande parte dos vectores trazados estarán condenados ao fracaso, que a memoria me traizoará, repetida e mecanicamente, con asociacións espurias, con bucles de imaxes e de signos, con verbos que se asociarán a momentos imposíbeis, con lagoas de días ou de meses.

É imposíbel durmir cercado por estes pensamentos recorrentes, negando a realidade exterior, a realidade dos outros, ensumíndome en retracción outonal de depósitos e engurras ata renunciar aos sentidos, perdido nun labirinto de verbas que acoden a cachón, que martelan as tempas en cadoiro de signos, que impiden conciliar o soño.

 

Jacob Rogers is a translator of Galician prose and poetry based in Spain. His translations have appeared in Asymptote, PRISM International, Cagibi, Your Impossible Voice, Nashville Review, The Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, and the Portico of Galician Literature, with work forthcoming in Best European Fiction 2019. His translation of Carlos Casares’ novel, His Excellency, came out from Small Stations Press in 2017. More of Xavier Queipo’s work is forthcoming from Copper Nickel in the fall, with an anthology of his stories slated for publication by Small Stations Press in 2021.

Xavier Queipo is a Galician writer based in Brussels, Belgium. He has published nearly twenty books, ranging from fiction to poetry, to children’s literature, as well as essays. He has won several prizes for his novels, including the Spanish Critics Prize in 1991, for The Arctic, and Other Seas, and the Blanco Amor Prize in 2015 for his most recent novel, Os Kowa. His work has been translated into English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese, and he was one of the four collaborators on the 2013 award-winning translation of Ulysses into Galician.