Dancing Rice – Impression #4

To love another is one thing; to love yourself is another. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Korean proverb

Besides the city, a young farmer was tending his rice field. The year was to supply a rich harvest and more could be given to the Confucian temples further down the track. The farmer’s family were eating a humble breakfast, while in the horizon the vision of the city rose its head. The people did not know then what damage pollution could inflict on the environment. This was the moment of human expansion the most profound and the most deadly.

The farmer finished his morning routine and went in for lunch. A gentle drizzle was soaking the dusty road and cattle hooves stove the dirt, revealing healthy soil. His mother poured out a full bowl of soup and sat down herself opposite her son. “Are you going up to the city after all?” Came the question from the mother. “I still need to think about it”. The two carried on with their meal in comfortable silence. “Are you still with that girl?” Yuan nodded.

For three evenings a week, Samira danced in a show that was customary in the area. Yuan would watch, keeping a respectful eye on the others as well. He knew most of them, as the village usually had a small concentration of personalities. After the shows, he would wait for her and accompany her home, stealing kisses whenever he could.

“But I’ve heard you’re moving up to the city,” she said this time, dodging easily his gauche, trod out gestures. “Yes, I hope to have enough from this harvest to invest in something up there, Seoul way.” As they walked along the sidewalk, Samira thought to herself about what this could mean for them and the future he had been promising her.

“We’ve worked together as a team before, surely we can do it again?” She asked, thinking of a plan to make this work out. Yuan did not feel so confident and with a heavy heart held the hand of a woman he would love to love.

Six months ago he had sworn to her an absolute faith, after a series of trying months, during which both parties had fallen out and learned about the other. They sat back at Samira’s apartment, taking off their wet shoes, her mother making tea in the dimly lit parlour. Their house was on the border of the farmland and the concrete high risers, so stark was the difference between the two areas. “We can earn enough here,” she pleaded with him. He left at 3am, kissing her head, stroking her neck and saying that he will always love her. She stayed up and wrote him a letter.

“Yuan, I will wave you off by the shore and kiss your hands as you leave; I will see your boat fade into the horizon, with me wondering when you will walk again on these pastures; I will kiss the very memory of you on my mantlepiece and stoke fires, thinking how nice it would be if you came into the room with your usual cheerful smile. But if you wish to hold good the deal you made to me, of loving me always and honouring our pact, then I want no other woman to taint your bed.

“You go away and leave me to the threats and calls of the locals, as I lead a troupe of girls across the stage. Your presence kept them from getting too excited, but now with you gone God knows what sort of excitement the men will have. Though I have learnt to protect myself over the years, you never know what can happen to something you are not watching.

“I see what you are doing, don’t try and pull the wool of my eyes; you are yearning for greater things, with youthful ambition. Do I not satisfy you enough? Do you search bigger game in a bigger arena? Or are you looking for a cage to hide in? While you race off into the horizon, ever faster, I will stay here and deepen my connection with the land, but I will always be faithful to you.

“I can see you now, being an intellectual in the streets, earning money sitting down, and joining the right crowds; you have a cousin there you can stay with. I will keep entertaining people; that’s my job and evidently yours is to be the star of your own show. I remember times when you have held a good crowd around you with a strong story. I don’t doubt you will do this elsewhere.

If you want, you will be able to find me by the shore, tending my nets that I put out every morning to catch a little more for lunch, a trout or pike, that come swimming too close to the shore. You will find me there and I will be waiting for you. But respect my wishes, if you truly agree to this pact.

“Fare well, dear lover, and take to heart my words.”

She sealed the envelope and left it on the desk by the front door. She slipped out and got a taxi back to her own apartment. It felt like an age until Yuan woke her up in the morning, excitedly, and asked if she want to come with him and they could go on an adventure together. She sat there, stupefied, wondering if he had read the letter.

 

Il faut bien servir à quelque chose

“Il faut bien servir à quelque chose…”

… said Paul to the man standing at the bar.  They clinked glasses and took a long swig of what each was drinking.  It was at this moment that a boy of about five or six came running around the corner of the bar, dodging in between the chairs of the tables by the large windows, overlooking the cobbled streets of Barbizon.  He was playing some game with his sister – it might have been tag – and she was laughing by the knees of her father, who was playing his own adult game at the bar.

The children breathed life into the greying décor, and a couple, no older than seventeen, sat and wanted to hold hands, because it was cold, and looked into each other’s eyes while all around them darted the stares of newcomers who had just sat down to take a hot chocolate.  Two plates of food were carried out by a waiter of the brasserie, delivered to a patient table and set upon like a winter feast.

With his most recent professional accomplishment, Paul was spending his time gambling in so-called PMUs, which gave him the time to unwind.  Usually on the horse and chariot races, in this bar there was only the bingo to while away the time.  This he did with consummate professionalism in a hobby, going out for smokes and drinking half pints of cheap beer.

A man with a hat on his head had walked in a few hours ago and was standing to the left of Paul at the zinc.  He wore this hat to keep out the cold, but when it was summer he wore a hat to hide a scar on his head.  When he came in, he ordered syrop au citron and thought about the times he was living in, and being artistic he had to plenty to consider, standing at bars in brasseries, wondering what the hell is going on.

He said hello to Paul, who respected his seniority and asked him what was what.  He replied that he was a painter, trying to catch the minutiae of a village with two centuries of printed history.  A fine task, said Paul with little reflection, for he was occupied with what his next professional engagement might be. No rest for the wicked.

All of a sudden, one of the children fell over a chair, having misjudged the amount of space to give a chair leg, but did not burst into tears.  The father put down his betting pencil for a moment, ready to pick up the child if necessary.  The couple stopped their chitter chatter to see if the boy was alright, and even the local drunk turned an eye from his beer to assess the scene.  Yet the boy simply looked at his knee, rubbed it and ran off to rejoin his sister.

In conversation with the painter, Paul admitted to taking a little break from his work, omitting that he had recently been charged with obtaining information about the forthcoming French elections and had needed to interview some very high personalities.  He had come to the countryside to take some fresh air and to march among boulders in this ancient domain.  The older replied that he lived there, exhibiting paintings in the village’s largest gallery.  Paul could not help but be impressed.

The man had a bag by his side, out of which – like some terrible cliché – a brush and palette stuck out.  Paul was intrigued by this and asked him to show him what he had in there.  “Si vous me payez une bière”, replied the older man.

Paul considered.  He could see the people around him and did not want to disturb them.  In this little corner of France, they talk about guns between themselves and the military.  Ostensibly, they do not support art that is not nationally their own.  But in Barbizon, there is something more, Paul had learned, and the locals do appreciate the artist.  In their own way.

“Allez-y,” said Paul and the older man removed from his bag a sketch book and soft crayon, which the older man was very well accustomed to handling, as well as dealing with the curious eye of the public.  Why do you think he drank so much?  He had painted all over the world, from Japan to the west coast of the USA and thence further East always, in some spiral to refind his birth place and to rest his ashes in his homeland.  He was stuck in Europe.

He and Paul continued their conversation over a cigarette outside and noticed that it had started snowing.  Paul thought of the final story from the Dubliners, remarking on the universal nature of art and its ability to combine the high and the low in one story.  “Vous êtes un méchant”, said the older man.

This pricked Paul’s attention, who then questioned him.  But instead of saying anything about it, the conversation became political.  As Stendhal would say, the pistol was fired in the theatre; the older man asked whether Paul thought Sarkozy was going to win the elections.  He did not exactly, so Paul gave his own two cents and they both returned to their beverages at the bar.

“C’est l’heure pour moi, je crois” said Paul.  “Avant de partir, je vous fais votre portrait”, replied the older man.  Flattered, Paul accepted, thinking his witty conversation had earned him the honour.  After all, passing through an artist town, one has one’s portrait done.  He stood at the bar, still like a shark, and surveyed the room around him.

When the portrait was done, proudly displayed on the bar, the other clients looked at it, looking at Paul and mostly nodding in approval.  Paul could not tell if they had done this before.  Even the couple holding hands in a tight embrace broke their attention to snatch a glimpse of the art of Barbizon.  Paul felt both intimidated and proud by this moment, and so he asked for the bill.

When it came, shortly before his taxi back to the station, he offered the older man a beer, who accepted it.  He clinked his glasses, threw the rest of his beer down his throat and strolled out of the café.  The couple stood up to pay their bill, silently nodding at the artist, and opened the main doors into the snowing night.  The father ushered his children along, telling them to stop playing, and left the brasserie.  The artist finally sat back on his chair, raised his glasses and said to himself “Il faut bien servir à quelque chose”.

 

 

Venice, 2016

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Gorgias and Iasone talk shop

Gor: Here you are, reclining on your boat, under the shade of your favourite palazzo.  You strum your guitar like never before, a wistful tune of Spanish origin, yet I know you know this lagoon and have never left for South American shores.  And while I am searching a way to flee this place, to move on and never come back, you teach the delicate waters to resonate with sweet words.

Ias: My dear Gorgias, it is a mystery to me what has procured this peace and I do not see this inspiration stopping soon; for a long time in my life I have enjoyed the altars of Bacchus and willingly served his cult.  As a young man, my mind would be softened by words and the images created by another.  Now, this aura reigns my soul again, so it seems, and has allowed me once more to play on my swift boat.

Gor: I certainly do not deny you this privilege, friend, but instead I marvel at your composure, while all around us there is frenzy.  I have driven my boat around these canals for weeks on end, finding only a few thin tourists.  I saw this one man standing out in the crowd, with a very pretty woman, much his junior, and who looked like a fat sale.  We exchanged words, and he was about to embark, when he tumbled, clutching his chest.  He fell like an oak on the stones in front of the church, shouting something about the goodness of his mind.  Died before the ambulance could reach him.  But tell me, Iasone, what has brought on this blessed state of mind?

Ias: I have been reminded of the city of Paris, which I once thought just another tourist trap like our own.  Many years ago, I visited this place and brought my choice lines of poetry to dress them up in more cultured rags.  At the time I was in the habit of comparing bitches with pussies, mothers with daughters, oaks with acorns.  But then I saw this global metropolis raising its head above the international playground, like the chestnut trees reaching towards the skies on its wide and famous boulevards.

Gor: And what brought you to Paris in the first place?

Ias: Freedom.  I discovered it late in life, before my beard had made me wiser and while in my eyes change could be achieved through violence.  Then I was held between Italian cities, cultivating my bitter gardens and milk-white pretentions, exerting physical force over the undulations of an unremitting ideal.  I did not care for freedom; I thought not of material accumulation.  And though many a time rich ideas would leave my humble threshold, the return I was seeking would not give back, and my right hand, stained with brassy ink, could seize no profit. 

Gor: At the time we crushed this afternoon a cup of amber wine on the San Giacomo, I wondered why you wept to think of these former streets from a Parisian perspective, and wherefore you glutted sorrow on sunk grapes; you have been absent from this Bay.  The fountains, the palazzi – they missed you.

Ias: What could I do?  The high tides would not free me from manacles, and She, my god, threw herself from the cliffs, as I missed her kiss; and we both missed the synchronicity of waves.  And then I saw something more, something concrete, the thing now for which our tour travels from place to place and from which near seven years ago I was given the first statement of change: “Boys and girls, feed your verses as before, and rear your mighty tomes”.

Gor: Happy you now must be in the lofty Pyrenees, though the streets are emptying and tainted algae make a parasite of our youth.  Fortunate soul, to gaze upon the Seine under the cooling shades of our beautiful city’s canopy; your days are spent in the demarcations of swift Culture, drinking from the cool taps and listening to the flock’s gentle lowing.  And what’s more, Italian borders are never too far away, and upon Hesperian sheets you can be lulled whenever you choose, while sea dogs and Sirens, your own delights, will never cease their plaintiff melodies.

Ias: You inspire me again: sooner wine be turned to water, pigeons to tigers, or the exiled Syrian to princes once again, or the Union to tatters, than I shall turn my gaze from those streets lit up.

Gor: Come, my friend, it is time.  San Francisco calls, the Dominican Republican waits on us and all of France yearns to hear the words of our review.  I will miss my rural home and the country side that surrounded me, a child.  The birches that point directly to Heaven have shaded me for such a long time; they have seen me grow, but I them never.  Now a dismal soldier threatens, and barbary stands ready to ravage our well-tilled soils.  Look at where war has led us, faithful citizens of an eternal republic; it was for this that so much ink was spilled?  Go on, fellow writers, with your happy lines.  Look at me in my ruin, as my once cherished house crumbles in despair; songs I’ll sing no more, what an exile I’ll die and my over-polished crop of wailing words will fall short before the dawn, languishing by the willows and sickly cypresses. 

Ias: But you will stay here the night.  The Venetian moon is rising and we have all we need for the moment: wine, wit and wisdom.  The tavern awaits us, the crowd longs to be pleased and the smoking pipes caress our hoary throats. 

Padua, 2017

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“Formality,” you said, “is not something I’m familiar with.”

I would recall these lines at the very end of Padua 2017, remembering the very first time our eyes met when I became enraptured.  After the pleasure of meeting others in the piazza Gasparotto, the hub of the following events, I had to content myself with knowing only your eyes, l’innominata.

I met a woman on Friday night who said this: “When you have known someone, physically, violently, intimately, a part of that person becomes you and never leaves.  I know I will love ***** forever, even though we said goodbye four years ago”.

I replied with a similar story and tried to impress her with John Donne: “Letters more than kisses mingle souls”.  She looked me straight in the eyes and said she agreed.

Our eyes kept on meeting.  She clutched a cold bottle of water in her hands and I drank Venetian bitters.  I think of the Saturday afternoon conference, about artistic eruptions, with the three old sages; the elderly academic struggled to open a bottle of water in front of a crowd of students.  Every morning of the tour last week in the UK, I drank a bottle of local water in the morning.

You read your poetry through the cobbled streets with pride.  At the open mic, you read two poems.  One of yours and the other from an Italian writer I cannot now remember; my mind is too filled with Latin writers to remember Italian ones.  To quote 3615, I understand them, but I did not understand them.

You spoke with such sincerity of purpose, climbing the mountainside of psychology to an understanding, personal, of a T.S. Eliot poem.  I warned that, you might be able to climb the mountain, but scaling down the other side is another trial in and of itself.  You just wanted to jump off in a bat suit.

You laughed when you swept me off my feet in a scooter by Galileo’s ivory tower, and symbolism flooded my vision.  The painter repetitively capturing the same scene for years – does he notice the excited laughter from the birds?  Is April his kindest month?  Were we nothing but the invisible sound from a wind chime, seen as a passing movement?

Our eyes kept on meeting.  I wanted you to dance to deep house electronic music, escape the wild conversation of outside to cover our ears with harmony and give rhythm to our feet.  Earlier I had tried to dance, but my feet just carried me back to you.  At that moment, though, you preferred the solitude of poets to the union of dancers.  Our time in the sun would come, as I remember wanting to say to you.

We played our game with sweet precision.  We laughed when told a joke; we greeted when let in; we parted when obliged.  Did I see another Suitor?  A claimer to those eyes that made a servant out of this pen, a fellow captive to the loving servitude a Cynthia can create?  In which case, I will have to change tactic.

We played at being intellectuals in Paris, even though we were in Padua, scootering our way around those cobbled streets.  I held your sides, feeling the soft silk of your shirt rub your skin.  You said that everything was chemical nowadays, even the libido.  A jolt in the road confirmed this.

We did not yet write our four-hand poem – la più bella poesia è quella che non ho mai scritta.  But we did sit down, side by side, at a station piano and improvise for a little moment, and I felt your classical training, you who talk about an unfamiliarity with formality.

Our eyes kept on meeting.  We offered our souls in two-minute repartees between poems and walking, walking and poems.  Between poems and walking, I discovered a side of writing that was truly social.  Between walking and poems, you suddenly became the reality of your own desire.  Between walking and poems, we were, between poems and walking, between walking and poems, we were, between poems and walking.

La barquette de fraises – Impression #3

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« Je n’ai jamais goûté des fraises aussi exquises que celles-ci » dit Léon, tout en essuyant ses mains fines. C’était vers la fin du printemps et la chaleur du soir devenait tendre de plus en plus. Les deux amants étaient assis sur le banc dans un parc minuscule, caché loin de la foule enchaînée.

« Mais qu’est-ce que tu veux de moi ? » répondit Ludi, sentant le ton aigre de son amant. « Je fais tout pour toi ; je te couvre de cadeaux, j’arrange mes cheveux selon ton goût, et je te donne mon corps entier. Mais, enfin, tu ne me donnes jamais ton amour, comme si tu le gardais pour les autres. Où allons-nous ensemble ? Ou notre avenir est-il plutôt une image décomposée, qui va m’échapper quand tu en auras marre ? » La question était posée.

Léon commença à compter les fois où sa compagne se plaignait de lui, de leurs relations et de son habitude de se faire des amis ailleurs. Ce n’est pas comme si c’était, pour lui au moins, la première fois qu’il était en couple ; loin de ça, il avait déjà promis sa main à quelqu’un d’autre, avoué un amour abondant pour trois autres femmes aussi abondantes, et s’était échappé de l’ire de plus d’une amante déçue. Donc, que pourrait-il répondre à une telle question ? Pour lui, ce qu’ils possèdaient ensemble – leur communauté, leur appartement, leurs bibelots – tout cela était devenu son identité, dont il était très fier. Mais d’un autre côté, un tel confort était devenu une prison, dont il était son propre geôlier… Renfermé dans une image d’homme au foyer, il était devenu triste, plat, vétuste.

Ludi cherchait dans les yeux de Léon le moindre signe – de jalousie, de haine, de tendresse – mais n’en trouva aucun. Sa voix, normalement douce et roucoulante, devint grinçante et ses gestes lui semblaient tranchants.

« Je ne peux plus… » commence Léon, mais Ludi en comprit tout. Et d’un geste net et précis elle appliqua la barquette de fraises dans le visage de son héros tombé.

Rest Adrien

Adrien embodied the spirit and aspirations of our readers and this newspaper at their best – cheeky passionate, funny, fearless, engaged, possessed of a lovely conscience and a swaggering style.  (The Sunday Times, Goodnight, cheeky prince – what a silence you leave us, 11th December 2016)

I sit down at my laptop to write about the world in which we live.  For a long, I have seemingly kept a silence on matters cultural and social, political and economic notwithstanding.  And this while living in the city of Paris, a place pregnant with literary activity and consequential transnational vibe.  I have spoken of the intimate loves of Catullus, not the public activity of Cicero.  Until I read about the death of AA Gill from cancer, “the full English”, in the Sunday Times.

Though this could turn into a recounting of his life and work, where he schooled, or how alcoholism nearly killed him at 30, when we read that “We are all today in mourning – for him but also for ourselves, because we know there will never be another quite like him”, we might wonder whether that actually is the case.

By (un)fortunate providence, I am not dyslexic – even though I have just spelt that word incorrectly – and so I must resign myself to the tedious task of hammering out the lines on a contemporary typewriter. Instead of through the pleasure vivae vocis.  (i.e. dictating it to a copyist).

But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

An (un)fortunate distinction between me and this journalist, is that I prefer to tell the truth through fiction, and he through press releases and reviews.  He also takes the stance of writing to a known public, whereas I do not write for a real public, but for one that might never exist.  Yet, you still read my lines and hear my thoughts on the page, and I respect that.  Maybe, an important lesson to be learned as a writer is to accept that some public somewhere will want to read what you are writing, even if these people are close friends reading on a Facebook stream message or retro blog sites.

It is true that social media websites represent one of the most obvious sources of control in our (un)fortunate world today.  The power that these sites have is silent, but considerable.  How?  To understand this, we must look to the three rules of convincing per the Greeks; for a speech to convince, it must possess ethos, logos, pathos.  Education, the family and the church teach morals, but when I read the newspaper, I see cold liberal news, or the factual side of things; and when I see social media websites, I see pure passion.  And not the kind I want to bring home with me.

“The divers went down to the deep wreck and the boat revealed its last speechless, shocking gasp of despair.  The body of a young African woman with her baby, born to the deep, still joined to her by its umbilical cord.  In labour, she drowned.  Its first breath the great salt tears of the sea.”  (Quoted from The Savile Row suited flaneur who beguiled, engraged and entertained millions of readers, Mark Edmonds).

This could be considered dogmatic approach, but let us not forget that we are constantly being told that the system is collapsing, and so filling in the cracks with a bit of plaster surely is not a wrong thing?

“Quandiu stabit coliseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadit coliseus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus.”

A frequent comparison heard nowadays is that of the fall of Rome, but no one, with a few exceptions bien entendu, has cared to explain what this could mean.  It seems to be a popular liberal expression, perhaps a reminder that members of this ideology hang on to their existence like the string which hangs on to the Damocles’ sword.  But I might go back further in the history of civilisation and take another example of an ancient empire destroyed: arma virumque cano Troiae qui primus ab oris.

If AA Gill wrote with experienced first-hand accounts of what he writes, I write through the lens of my own experience – for better or for worse.

Giants of an Electronic Age

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We are surrealists, carrying the sacred box of literature to those who will never read it.  What are we doing with those words, no… those sentiments that we dig up from those who went before us.  You are the torn up letters of books I have read before and scream out loud to hear the ghost that you were.

You stole my time and so I’ll steal from you.  I’m sorry.

I have looked in all those reference books and dictionaries that once took our ears by surprise and made us cry by the full moon.  I kick my heels while you finish your lines and our friend sleeps on the bed lost.

But I will not be the first to point at him, and nor can you be – we have been there before.

And I am so happy to be here, writing with genius, listening to giants of an electronic age.

Smash glass here


So there you are, standing in the jewelry store, wondering when it all went wrong.

Just smash the glass and run, keeps repeating in your head. The alarms have been hacked, the owner and assistant lie tied up like pigs in the back room. And a car is waiting for you just outside.

Just smash the glass and run.

But then, where is your man? The one supposed to be standing next to you? The one who did the hacking, tying and fine tuning of this whole goddam project? Where is your Beatrice you followed naively into the real world, finding nothing but false images, misrepresentations and facades that smell like honey, but sting like Venus fly traps? This crazy town of butterfly ladies and sugar daddies, in a hand basket headed to god knows where.

Yet, he must be there. You know him, through and through; you’ve known him intimately, distantly, savagely. You’ve known him for your whole life, before and beyond your existence. You know, as you yourself explained, because he is the one reflected in the fish tank at the party that none of your friends went to.

He is the one that crushes parched dead flowers in his oversized palms. He is the one who drags the mab where she will not go. This is he!

You know him: an aging soul in a gypsy shell, with the remnants of some distant formal training. But now you will find scant rhyming couplets and a decomposed structure that tried once only to write sonnets. But winter early invades my hairs and the bones that struck the page groan with premature senescence.

But stop thinking about all of this; who the hell cares?

Just smash the glass and run.

Guy burns tonight

The candles shine strangely in this moonlight. Your faces are caught in their dancing, you who are seated in a semicircle of intrigue.

The bell will soon toll for noble Guy Fawkes, and long-enduring chains with newly oppressed young minds will explode in fireworks.
But a knock at the door will end it all.
In comes the law with righteous fury, beating in the faces of the conspirators. Stop your plans; put away the maps; soon we will have nothing left.
Guy promised all, but Parliament took vengeance with arcane severity. The room is battered, the actors arrested and the farce is over.
And just before the torture and the unjust slaughter of freedom, Guy thought of his freer times – long before his inverted role in government.
He saw her standing there by the window, throwing back her hair and laughing. He saw him too, moving with clumsy footfalls over a nightingale floor.
Why wait anymore to expose the lie?

CI – Impression #2


The armory of my misery is hidden with layers of ancient pain, locked up like the rusty axes of a happier age. Once they gleamed with lucky joy and cut their ways through crowds of gleeful opportunities; with words – naive but words all the same – happy folk came running to see the hero with his heroin and wish them well upon the wave that carried both; willingly would they have their last night, trusting in a tomorrow that always turned up with kingly regularity, giving each and all each and all expressions of candid, azur infinity.

But I sit pious now, remembering those days not laughing yet remembering still the breaking of the blade and the decaying of our youth; hearing still the screaming of those lambs stopping not their bleating while we bleeding to our last, feeding time with sins long gone, sat in the rose garden remembering. Lying. Crying. Dying.

I cannot come again to those fields we knew so well. I cannot open up again the chest that holds the secret memories of my youth, yours, hers, ours – the collectivity of universal remembering, hidden in a poem, an ode to someone well remembered. The armory of my heart is kept away with metal inspectors, queues, delays and layers upon layers of heavy, dense remembering. It is the very recess that none but He can see.

Accept these words – naive but words all the same – and may they wet your tomb with fraternal reckoning.

Now, forever, brother, hail and farewell!