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Oratory of a mourning slave

Sunday, November 27th, 2022

I. Invocation

Master. The numbers don't exist for how many things I still want to ask you, to tell you, to find and to forget with you. Oh monument unto yourself, large as ever, looming with I know not what expression, the way I feel you is terribly different, but its weight does not change, the dimensions and intensity are all the same. How I still yearn to be pressed by that weight into moulds I know are wise for they come from your hand. I let myself be pressed now into shapes I can't be sure are right ones, hoping from that font of gratitude, the things I know for knowing you, will come something sane.

But ever do I see and feel that demon 'round my shoulder, that small and mal-formed gray thing whipping up with ugly wings recursion to the mean. And so I look to that very place you formed in me to foster calm, and remember that I've nothing left to fear. What greater gift could anyone hope to ask for, in the end?

My heart, you were the beginning of me, and I will carry you to my end.

II. Realization

I don't know why I thought I could get by without writing it out. Sitting at my desk, three keyboards sit askew asking if I'd care to graze across them, tell the tale, and somehow...

...somehow a year after the death, I've managed to not testify it. It's come out in sobs, here and there, always by mouth, often enough after outright begging to just be heard, because no one wants to hear it. It's filed away in some obscure tendril of bureaucracy. I only realize now, in the wake of the thought that truly, I too died that day, that the deep obligation to recount what happened rests upon me.

What horror and what dread, scions of strange new nightmares come to me at the very thought of going back to that day clearly enough so as to report it sensually and not merely as a list of facts. The loss, wider and more profound than the ocean that caused it, stretches out infinitely before my mind, and I shudder at the sheer volume. The count. I'm outnumbered, and so vastly that it doesn't matter anymore what exactly comprises one unit.

Committing, then, feels like agreeing to a free tattoo; I've no idea how it'll go but I'm guaranteed it'll leave its mark, whateveritbe, forever.

III. Elucidation

How beautiful and elegant are those moments during which you realize, in perfect real-time, that you'll remember fondly forever. Such was the stretch and heavy hug that he gave me when I woke him up that day, well before the dawn. I can keenly remember the warmth of him, the softness of his pajamas against my skin, and the slight but happy groan that came from somewhere in the beard. He'd had maybe three hours of sleep, and I'd had maybe five. It was thin sleep but it was part of how we'd come to enjoy the beach after years of experimenting with hours: leave as early as possible. To leave at five am then, the earliest time to be on the road given the daily curfew, required rising at four. It was a typical pre-beach routine that day, with all the coldness and deep blues of the morning air, the crackling of aluminum foil around sandwiches, the faint scent of sunblock wisping out of freshly packed bags. The difference was that Nikki wasn't coming, and so our usual slit-eyed but smiling encounters were missing.

Descending the stairs to leave, he expulsed all trace of tired fight from me with the unabashed joy of his lens; he laughed back at a cackling gecko and asked if I thought they missed us when we were gone. He tapped with fondness the little felt frog hidden among the iron bars on the landing. He bent over the begonias newly blooming there and said how beautiful!.

The early morning ride to the coast was fertile ground for some of the greatest dissemenations that ever could be. We talked of games, of the soul of the sale, of the mind of the rube. But of the things I'll oblige to share and those I won't, strangely enough I choose to keep that day's conversation behind the curtain. I'll say I was as content and humble as at my best when, with the opening of the sky from somber grays to ecstatic tourmaline, we arrived.

Product of my own processes, I always felt a rush to get to the water, which meant changing, exchanging the heels for flip-flops, and moving the middling-elaborate baggage train from the car's trunk to the water's edge, some couple hundred meters away, in that spot just over the first sandy break where the high tide never surprise-hit to steal a towel and there was less foot traffic.

No foot traffic, really, as that was one of the prime attractors of this beach in the first place: at all hours but especially in the early morning, it was rare to come across anyone else. Maybe a spare surfer or two, or someone dwindling a slow shore walk, but in either case, distant, non-intrusive, barely visible. That particular morning I ducked into the bathroom of the little hotel where we parked, not really wanting to dash madly into the ocean to pee, but at the same time feeling guilty for adding more time to my set-up. He was already swimming; my first moves were to get him from cufflinked suit and lace-up shoes to beach shorts and sandals, then spray him down in that hated but necessary aerosol-delivered sunscreen. The one that smells like cupcakes, we called it. "See you soon!" he said sweetly as he took off to enjoy what he enjoyed while I worked to catch up.

III.i Delerium

"Is that your dog?" Some scruffy dude asked as he walked by my freshly-laid towel (the one Master had specially made to comfortably fit five or six, a truly luxurious expanse of terrycloth) and small city of bags. A pair of mongrels had trotted by to investigate, probably lulled by the scent of the sandwiches in the icebox. "Nah." He walked on. I put my hair up, I took my glasses off, but not before seeing where the master was, at his usual distance, further out than ever felt controllable --but I knew too that the firmly crossed line of comfort was part of the ocean's appeal, for him.

I walked into the waves intent on reaching him, but felt the usual dread as I got closer. A few times I'd sensed we were being carried out by the current, in the past. And once, we had very much found ourselves in a pull. But we always overcame it, even the time he'd gotten so thrashed and spun around he came out with blue lips and had to rest a half hour before moving again. I was confident that he could handle it, but less confident about myself, and so while we were almost always in the water together, we weren't quite together. I kept my short distance, a decision I fight to not hate myself over every day and imagine I always will, like a thousand other choices that morning that replay over and over in my head. I can't know if things would've turned out better if I'd acted differently. I try to stand on the logic, to listen to those who tell me that his death was not my fault, to follow the lines of reason, but they're often enough washed away and scrambled in the chaos of the water.

Floating on my back, I heard him yell something. "What?" I uselessly replied over the roar of the waves. "Master, I can't hear you!" How desperate I felt in the water, with my vision and my hearing both tamped down to nearly nothing. But the next thing he said, I heard, as I paddled closer --"Help."

III.ii Defeat

I fought against suddenly angry waves to get closer to the hazy image of his head, the occasional flash of a hand. "Master come to me, come towards the sound of my voice! Here!" The water crashed with greater and greater fury, and I felt the clean, hard strength of the current's pull as I got closer. I saw his head go under again and again, and knew he was in actual trouble this time, unable to keep his head above the waves. I pushed myself to him as hard as I could and in what must have been less than half a minute, but what felt like an eternity, I found his hand and pulled. I pulled as hard as I could; I felt him grip my hand. We both went under and I felt myself shoot up again in a rage of determination, my hand iron-clad to his. "Help!" I screamed as loud as I could once I broke the surface.

Many are the particular moments that play in loops in my head, deliberately and on some background, subconscious screen I can only really make out if I stop everything else and focus on it. Those few seconds finding his hand, feeling it respond to mine, and pivoting the law from "get to him" to "get him the fuck out", comprise heavy hits. I can't help but try to see and feel it from every possible angle, to hear and taste it on all sides, to ask it somehow, as though a moment is something with which one could actually converse -- "Did he die because I wasn't enough?".

Over and over again I screamed as I tried to move us back towards the shore. For a moment it'd seem we'd made progress; the next we were further out, and always new waves were crashing over us, inching us away from whatever direction I was trying to move in. I saw distant rectangles in the far distance that I knew must be people; I screamed and screamed, and eventually felt my foot hit the bottom. Still latched to his hand, I pulled as hard as I could against the current, still yelling frantically, trying to signal with my free arm, aware that his face had gone in the water, nothing in me but saltwater, panic, and the dead, no-thought, racing need to get us the fuck out of the ocean.

As I collapsed the third or forth time in what was now only waist-deep water, I saw a man running towards us. He tried to take my arm, and I barked at him to help me get the man out of the water. We pulled, each with one of his arms in tow, struggling awfully against that hungry riptide. At knee-height I fell again and couldn't rise, the acid in my legs too much now to move. The man dragged him over my useless body. I crawled to them; we started trying CPR. His eyes wouldn't open; his chest wouldn't rise. I slapped him, I talked to him, I screamed for more help.

And more help came; I can't say how many people rushed to us to try to offer their technique or animate him as if by sheer will. Maybe six? It felt like a crowd, and I wanted them off him, but I also wanted someone to know exactly what to do. It didn't occur to me that he might die. It just wasn't something on the list of possibilities, even if it was always possible. A few minutes passed (another eternity), and the sickening idea that he might actually suffer some sort of neurological damage here started to set in.

The ambulance was coming; they'd called it, any second now. They'd come with the Right Equipment, the Correct Methods, they were coming to make this shit stop so I could see his eyes open again and he'd say oh holy shit what a wave jump that was, maybe we should call it a day and go home? Just a tiny bit longer, I told him, they're coming, hang on. But foam was starting to come out of his mouth when our hands pressed against his heart.

III.iii Denouement

The Red Cross guy ran over to us from somewhere up on the road, directed by an apparently gathering crowd I heard on the periphery. He kneeled in the sand and started to administer the Official CPR that my flooded head imagined would fix everything. He asked me how long he'd been in the water. "I don't know, twenty minutes," I answered, before realizing he meant how long had the man been drowning. "It was maybe two or three minutes, with the problem." I stumbled over my spanish, willing everything to just stop and make my Master breathe again.

He took a pulse. He shook his head. I heard the machine hooked up to master's chest beep, but only when the medic's hands pressed against him. After yet another eternity, he shook his head again and said, "it's difficult." And he stopped the CPR. "What?!" I didn't look at him as I bent back in to keep pressing against his chest, keep inflating his lungs with the the mask. "It's difficult," he said again, and in some twisted back and forth he managed to tell me that there was nothing for it. I kept pumping and felt the crowd around me getting closer, a hand here or there landing on my shoulders. The medic started to pack up his shit.

I stopped. It's not clear to me at all what constituted apparently reasonable criteria for me to stop. I somehow knew it was necessary. I remember seeing the mist rising from the tide in the distance against that jungle bluff that formed the delicious curve on the road to the beach. I remember feeling the sun getting hotter as it rose higher. I remember a few people offering me their bottled water, saying they were sorry, reminding me that riptides were dangerous, asking if I had any kids. I sat there bewildered, more truly bewildered than I'd ever been, and I stroked his hands, and I kissed his feet. I buried my face against the soles of his feet, pruned by the water, cold. I kissed his toes slowly and rubbed them softly, curled there beneath him, overcome by the daze.

I don't know how long we laid like that. People left; occasionally new ones came by. Eventually the police showed up, and with them watching over him as though that somehow counted for something, I hobbled to our towel, so far away now, to get his hat, and to get my phone. I had to keep the sun off his sensitive head, and I had to talk to Nikki.

IV. Reality

The body of the Master was laid out in full suit, of course; nothing new for that fine and handsome form. It was attended by two naked slaves in heels; perhaps the only time that particular parlor ever had or will have such a ceremony.

Life since those moments has been unimaginably different even if in many respects it's very much the same. Everything that followed was full of thorns. Is full of thorns. Even if beautiful, they cut, they leak me, they leak the world. For the world is very much less for having lost him. What scenes have played on since that day, a year ago today1, and how familiar but how alien. Sometimes it seems I'd always known I'd have to act them out someday, though I can't imagine how I could've ever really been prepared.

?. Exit Music

I look at my hands and hate them for having been too weak to save you. But I love them for the memory of that last embrace, for what I imagine they received. For all the times you held them. For all the things they did well under your own. Your death is a filter through which I see all else, now; before and after, possible and hopeless, real and imaginary. How I long to be on your side. How I can't imagine anything sweeter than experiencing life once having been touched by you.

I will always be open to the pain.


I don't entirely know why I had to go back to that particular place on the shore one year from the day, but I did have to go, and so I went. The beach has changed somewhat; for one thing there are a lot more people about these days, even in the early morning. The sand is markedly blacker. But many things remain the same, like the slopes that mark location better than the endless tangle of leaves up by the road, and the presence of curious dogs without obvious owners. Two dobermans walked at my heel as I moved south past the place where we always laid the big towel, south to the spot on the sand where he died. Why is it I imagine he died on the sand, and not in the water, I wonder? From his own point of view, he lost consciousness in the waves. It's my own lens that perceives a hope, some chance, or even at times, something like a choice, as though he were waiting to see how the world would react to the emergency of his sudden absence and at some point on the solid side of that great divide, called it.

I walked to that point and the dogs sat beside me as I stood, staring into the surf. I don't know how long I was there looking, but eventually I had the urge to say something, and so I walked into the water, dropped to all fours, and waited for a wave to crash towards me. When it did, I leaned down my head, I opened my mouth, I took in as much water as I could, stood, and spit the ocean back at itself. Stupid, pointless, a cryptic message for an untooled enemy that could never summon the interest to care.

But the ocean is not my enemy, I realized as I walked and watched the horizon change moods. It is a force he loved; a place he loved; it is the challenge he took and many times enjoyed triumphing over. That I should hate the ocean for finally winning is as ridiculous as the loss itself, and the only thing they have in common is my own suffering. I will use it to learn. To do. To be better. That is what, after all, he taught me.

  1. It was a year past the day when I wrote this. In the intervening months I've waffled considerably over whether to publish this or not, but knowing all the while in some corner of the mind that I can't go guarding the expression of what I wish to keep in myself. I may be slow for a while, even as life progresses at breakneck speed, but I've decided not to plant my life in the mud, just yet. []

The Froth of Our Days: September 13th, 2014

Saturday, May 2nd, 2020

I pressed the top of the pen a few times just to hear it predictably click. "Next time you have to get the program started the moment I say we're doing something with it." Yes, sir. He might as well be saying "You should anticipate what I'm going to do at any given moment so as to have available any and every function I might require regardless of the cost or the degree to which it fucks you up elsewhere, though I'll still be just as angry if you fuck up elsewhere and apply this lecture to that happenstance instead." He might as well be saying "Fuck you."

I pushed the top of the pen in a few times just to hear it predictably click. A tiny series of victories at having anticipated something correctly. The pleasure of touching something that works was my almost silent rebellion against the tide of broken shit. It worked now, anyway, it would, until one day the ink would run out and the man would want it from me to sign something and he'd inklessly scratch paper. Then the look would come. The look that preceded a different kind of world full of shit. I could anticipate what would come after the look, but there wouldn't be any joy in it. Maybe he'd throw the pen at my head. I clicked a few more times and imagined the man shoving the future inkless pen into my chest. Maybe he'd pull it out and push it in again, maybe he'd fuck my heart a tiny series of holes and kick me in the stomach when I fell, spit in my face and leave me to die on the floor of the post office. Or the lobby at the lawyer's. Or by a bench at the park. The pigeons would move away a few inches but keep on pecking at the dirt. They'd look at me sideways, wary of a broken thing but hopeful I might have had a cracker in my pocket or something.

I made myself dress and went out to preemptively buy water and milk and coffee. It was more than was needed but the security of having it would feel nice, a few more things I wouldn't run out of for a few more days. I liked it outside, for the most part; despite feeling like I was out of my element (what would that be, concrete? I wondered), it was good to see the disinterested faces of uninteresting people, old edifices uncaring about the passage of time, shitty kiosks stuffed with shitty cheap things no one could possibly want but which stuffed the eyes and the mind with low-cost information. It was a world of tchotchkes, some living, some not, some somewhere in between, men going into or coming out of alcoholic stupor slumped up against the doors of theatres paneled with blown-up photographs of tits and ass.


Friday, April 3rd, 2020

I woke and thought of you, I slept and dreamt of you, you unfinished, silent fountain, glimmering oblivion in stolid repose.


I walked along the catalogues,


and peered at awful oddities, and rent myself in listless lots, in search of you.


Would you believe, for being willing, I found your form in all?


The black, the brilliant, broken ghosts, all beauty something you had bade me see.


The hallowed halls I entered, the crumbling corridors I left, mere rooms inside your story's speechless lines.


And in each crossroads of the endless land I gazed upon your pain.


Your glory called to me behind my shoulder, around each corner, in the eyes of strangers, in the salt of my own will.


But when I see you, as from nowhere, what is it that I see? Am I even truly seeing you?


Or dread made manifest, are you a mirror trained upon the hollow of me?


It never mattered to the ages. It will never matter hence.


And so I seek to let it pass, and to deny the overburdened synapses, the singeing edge,


Lifeless, locked in orbit round unasked questions and unraveled seams.


Pictures taken at Naturhistorische Museum, Vienna, February 2020.

The Good Old Boys Best Spigot Friends Club

Monday, February 17th, 2020


GOBBSFC holds spontaneous meetings wherever good spigotry is found to prosper; previous symposia include whether it is better to snooze beneath the nightshade or defy the sandman with midnight cappucino, the importance (or not) of possessing a hat, and traditional ethnic stovetop dancing.

Apply within!

Broken Sesame

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

The packing was done with an oscillating admixture of excitement and dread. What do you take on a road that might lead you straight to the Golden Horn, but which also might weave a few weeks' worth through the Dalmatian coast, to Greece, and in either case quite likely through Syria, and in Jordan, and Egypt, and further points unknown? For weeks, for months, you don't know, you've got one bag: go.


The unpacking takes a lot less time and is done under a veil of melancholy, the excitement all wrung out and left in pockets here and there along the way, where some investigation lead to nowhere, or a playful hope was laughed away, a desperate attempt condemned. I have stood at the gate of the Orient and been denied. My soul's been weighed, if not against a feather, perhaps against some paragon of quality; I've been centrifuged and found constituently lacking, sick without illness, an impotent item incapable of claiming either stake or asylum.

It sucks, and that's all I can really bring myself to say about the rime or reason of this cut-short trip, for now. Unpleasant as unfurling the corpse may be, there's yet the rank dissection to be done, and then who knows what rituals and rites to come. Let no one tell you failure is an easy route.

On then, instead, to assorted observations, which are the currency of the broken and approximate.

I. Belgrade, Serbia

Pain-in-the-ass "demonstrations" are weekly by now. Exactly as in Buenos Aires, the Look, ma! rilers are a lot more about volume than substance, and trudge through the downtown streets to block traffic and prevent sleep. Why are loudspeakers cheap? Why are the apparent leaders of the agitated universally tone-deaf?

A strange bedfellow of the foregoing is the shallow luxury of Belgrade. Like gold, but plating, a pleasant kiss with no desire, a suite of rooms in the town crown jewel kept for a week with spas and sweets and soft piano music is a dream for a day or two until you want something real, which is I guess to say, inadequate for practical, rather than constructed, reasons. You'll never fit in someone else's complex vision of "the best". If you don't bring something ample of your own, the cast will ache, and itch, and irritate.





II. Nis, Serbia

A fifteen year old waiter faced with well over a hundred patrons at half that many terrace tables tallied our bill in his head, on demand, a thing that makes most other servers shut down. He blushed and then offered a number. "Wouldn't it be terrible if he got it wrong, and was too shy to say anything about it, it's really like 70% of the actual cost, and now instead of a tip he has to dip into his check to cover it?" So we found a menu and checked him. It was right, a big thing in a small world.

Not incidentally, Nis keeps its oldness out in the daylight, and invites you to touch and trample.









III. Sofia, Bulgaria

There is literally nothing to recommend this place. I feel for the snow-tipped crags in the distance, that do not yet have what with to cover this shameful valley. I never saw a bird, or a breath of life, or a trace of thought, or a mote of grit. The most prominent advertisement (for some subsistence concern shop, naturally) is of Гeopги Эвpэшмyk in his mass-market "casual" polyesters high-fiving a beagle with inexpertly enlarged eyes.


IV. Edirne, Turkey

The cats began, and then the seagulls, the stray dogs, the genuine smiles beholding something different. The first Adhan, at dusk, washed over the loose stones and tiny shops, uneven pavement and sudden bursts of roses, making everything sparkle in the early winter mist. There is incompetence, but there is no pretense. In Edirne I feel myself a human among humans, and alien enough to appreciate it.










V. Istanbul

Driving in, the nothingness breaks open to give height and vibrance to modernity as only a place still excited about reaching it can render. Glistening cubes of glass, obsidian in the night, rise from the plain kilometers out, getting denser, their lights and quirks of design growing more and more beguiling. Then suddenly, the swelling stops and you're in the center of everything, cross of all crossings, testament of all times. You stop for fresh pomegranate juice and while someone hands you a napkin (for they've noticed the falling drop faster than you) you wonder why the simple joys of Istanbul must be so particular to the city itself, and so foreign outside it.

Seated two streets down from the Galata Tower, a tiny cross-street intersects with what serves as the main, narrow and precarious as it may be, a curled ribbon fraying under loving daily use. Cars pass, entering intricate negotiations for clearance; cats zig-zag on the cobbles now trustful, now terrified. A row of preschool chairs and tables line the alley, where large adults balance themselves over ubiquitous parabolas of tea. A short old man makes the turn, plank longer than himself across his shoulders, anchoring on one end a tin tun of tea, a plastic box of sweets and paraphenalia on the other, calling out the çay شاي чай. I tell myself to remember him when the work at hand seems tedious.

Moments later a blind woman robed in the pinks and purples of girlhood rounds the curve and starts to climb, her flailing stick miraculously hitting nothing on the busy street, as though the bustle paused for her ascent. She's followed by a fellow sweeping carefully with broom and pan, without any obvious sequence or plan.

Laleli's plazas and faculties are fully guarded, half with would-be red-tape heroes, half with mere observer posts that wouldn't dream of blocking access. The youth, the female youth, is conspicuously busy, overpainted, flushed beneath the powder somewhere, palpably. They are not doers, but reporters, reporting others' deeds. They say they study economics and worry about safety, and I worry if I'm too late, I wonder if I've lost out. It's a ridiculous thought in this faultless place. The other side of the balance rings true: I'm not ready.





The thought thus choked out, my head and heart and throat an aching tangle, I'll stop, except to note a simple irony: sesame is one of the hardiest crops on earth, resistant to just about everything.