Amour Tunisienne

Before my life’s second half, before the obvious Inferno-rift, which involved my sitting in a dusty armchair on the banks of Lake Champlain after squandering the first half my life, after causing as much suffering and committing, as Saint Paul would have it, enough sin to people a small South American village a couple of times over, before the second half of my life I was asleep. Only when I smelled the cheap dust in a badly upholstered armchair of three homosexual friends who took me under their wing for several months, who fed and housed me in Vermont out of charity and love for me for seven months, maybe it was eight; only then, when I read Dante—and this is the truth—did I wake up from having been an extremely talented waste.

Before inhaling the good filthy dust of an orange-thatched armchair on Lake Chaplain, and being left alone to think and be and masturbate and be, above all, listened to by three men, before I inhaled the filth of Vermont, I was asleep. Over awful pork dinners, over awful pot roasts, over bread-crumb soaked fat-dripping bacon-laid meatloaves that made me sick to have on the tip of my fork, and which, because these male friends were all gay and gallant and generous, who was I in the crapped up shoes I was wearing to have turned down the three gay g’s, even if the last of the triplet is soft? I was in no position to do anything but refuse or submit to their months of dusty love. I could never call them, they called themselves Peter, Paul, and Mary, which was a cute and apt gay joke we kept up for the entirety of my visit; I never called them by their real names, and won’t, out of my love for them. I won’t call them by their real names here in this reckoning. I loved all three and couldn’t criticize their dinner food that was dripping with fat, soaked in animal grease. I can’t even say what they called me. It wasn’t polite. But I won’t say. Some things, even in a perfect reckoning, must remain silent; some things must ever remain silent. That’s the way I am. That’s the way I have always been.

All I have left, for example, from my amour Tunisienne is a little brass plate, an ashtray really, and a single photograph, which, since I never take pictures, I have no pictures of my loves, is exceptional. For me it is taboo. I will say as little as possible about my amour Tunisienne, not out of shyness, not out of shame, not out of guilt, not out of pride. I will not name her. People I have loved I never name. The only external reminder I have of my amour Tunisienne is a small brass ashtray, a souvenir plate, with her name’s meaning, along with other arabesque designs, banged into the side, banged into the lip. Her name means star. I may point to every constellation I know of in the heavens; with my etymological wand I may point to her name itself; I may indicate it with the index of translation; but I will never say it. Somewhere in my lifelong heap of junk I have this plate with her name hammered into the side of it in English capital letters, in, I should say, a Roman alphabet, a small gift she passed to me sometime before our clandestine love affair was discovered by her older brother.

I have been mad about women all my life; for me, as others bend their knee to the Cross, I lower myself to women. As others seek spiritual salvation through Christ, my life has been a Golgotha of women. Everywhere on this hill of skulls, my loves are crucified. Everywhere on this bloody hill of women there is another lover. My journey to the divine heart has been through women, from my earliest teens, when I was a doubtful American thrown on the white coral beaches of Carthage, where along the promenade at vespers young girls walked their light-brown arms wrapped around each other’s waists, down and up the red-tiled promenade above the Mediterranean Sea, their unheard voices drowned out by the skulk and shuffle of matchstick-striking boys leering here and there, like me. All my life I have lit matches, and struck them before the faces of illuminated women. In Carthage and elsewhere, much of my life has been a discovery of the divine through an ongoing and endless crucifixion of feminines. It is the only way I seem to learn. Through loss I have learned and through loss gained everything.

Just last year I traveled to a local film screening and, seeing a seat free beside a young woman, asked her if she minded my sitting beside her. Shortly after welcoming me to the seat, she put out her hand and greeted me with her name. Establishing within the several minutes before the screening room darkened about us an intimacy of names and places, more than just her raw beauty itself, to which I am and always have been irrevocably attracted, the shaded salience of a cheekbone, the knobbed attenuated wrist bared at the cuff, the smell of beauty, that sweet unguent of salt and water and grease, it is a smell itself that draws me in like the word itself love uttered by another before me, more than just the similar social accents exchanged between us, I was lost to my now perpetual silence. While I later, the next day in fact, sent to this lovely young woman, whose surname and town in which she lived she had given to me, a copy of the extant text of the great poet-lover Sappho, marking the spot with a yellow autumn leaf where on the right-hand page the English reads the English, and on the left-hand page reads the Greek, I will never hear from her again, I will never in daylight see her.

That it was my desire to do so, though it was my desire to see her again, though in her beauty and youth was awakened in me the rapture of Carthage, though my heart could recall the scandaled bliss of placing my hand on my amour Tunisenne’s right knee seated on the filthy curb of an urban street, in Tunis itself, where we had conspired to create our lovers’ tryst, though next to my own smell of my own nose crammed into my own armpit, though besides my own the salted aromas of this movie girl’s body filling up my lips with blood puffed they were the best ever I smelled once in my life, though I felt the urges of a lifetime to compose a thousand poems and shred them to papered fragments to be mulched by the promiscuous woods and pulped by the greasy and slimy estuaries besides which we all live, I could guess even then, when I know nothing of propriety, when I go through the mere motions of manner and propriety, when the coattails of my upright social upbringing are grabbed onto; when, if, for example, to note an entering female I turn the entirety of my albeit squat, foreshortened torso about, rather than cranking around the hairy uncouth knob of my flustered head to view the entrant; when my true barbaric self behind a knoll lies half-hidden and I pretend that outwardly I am the handsome JFK, when this collision happens, when I am neither half the one nor half the other, when both exterminate the other, when I mentioned to this great young beauty whose oily breasts were a button away the poet-goddess Sappho just before the darkness of the movie theatre descended and she knew nothing of Sappho, the name itself was foreign, unheard of, even then I knew in my shivers that I should never meet her again. Throughout the dark screening, my left hand cupping the armrest, I felt her breath exhaled on my warmed fingers. Being placed on the face pointing downwards the nose is such a funny thing, I thought: made to send messages of love even the sender may not comprehend, understand, or even know of. Phoenician thrown from a cliff my love is fallen down to a nameless purple sea.

I will never say to the world the name of my amour Tunisienne or the name of the young movie girl. The one I knew in my teens, the other in my fifties. It is all the same to me, and I have never let a truth in my heart be corrupted by naming it. The particular province of men, to name, is one I have steered away from in my life. To have records of my life runs counter to everything I believe in. Only were I sure that a lover were to be a lover for life would I take her picture. That is why my amour Tunisienne is such an exception. Her picture, which I snapped at a careless moment, I don’t have the impulse to destroy, nor do I wish to keep it. I would never snap the picture of a woman unless I knew I were to spend my entire life with her. That has, except for this one exceptional picture, been my lifelong credo. I have, except for this one picture, been faithful to it. I have no pictures of any of my lovers, not one of them, except of course for the amour Tunisienne.

In the picture, it is actually a picture of her and me, we are standing next to each other, I with my arm hung atop her shoulder, and she with her arm held loose around my waist. Her older sister, Jemullah, which means beautiful, took it. We are smiling. I cannot bear to look at it. Even my memory of it makes me sad. When I look at that picture in my memory, I am saddened forever by how happy I am. I cannot bear to have dozens of pictures like this. So, I have none. Pictures of happiness would be impossible to live by. So, I have none. The idea of pictures of happiness reminds me of the life they represent as no longer being so. So, these pictures represent a life that is false. Pictures represent falsehood. So, I cannot bear any of them. This is especially true for the dozens of pictures of women I have loved. I cannot bear to see any of them. It would be suicidal for me to have kept pictures of my loves. They would have made me feel false, and, therefore, suicidal. So, except for the amour Tunisienne, whose existence has been a silent curse throughout my life, and which I never will destroy, I have not taken any pictures of women and therefore have not been faced again ever with keeping or not keeping some. I have made it perfidious to take and therefore keep any. I have made it sacrilege. I have paid homage to all the women I have loved by not taking and not keeping their pictures.

This, really, is my only religion, it is my only constant lifelong practise. In everything else, I have lived in violation, a sort of violation that at times has been steadfast and at others not. But, in any case, I have lived a life continuously filled with violations, and every violation is a violation of love. The one aspect of my life which I have not violated is the taking of pictures, except for my amour Tunisienne. Excepting her, I have all my life been steadfast and true to this one reigning principle: never to take the picture of a woman whom I did not doubt I would know forever. In this, except for the Tunisienne, a plague to me, I have been true. To me, naming women I have loved is identical to taking their pictures. Their names spoken are identical to the images taken. To me, it doesn’t matter if that name is one from decades and decades back, or if that name is one from the week prior. The divine must never be profaned. To me, naming and creating the image of the divine profanes it. It is taking what is divine and soiling it, chewing up what is real and meaningful to what is rendered mere amusement and sport. I have never named or created an image of any of my life’s loves, besides the one already detailed, and I never will.

(Novel excerpt, 2004—click here for other current works)

Planet Nanny Earth Takes Care of Herself

brooklyn truck trash

What fill up rain barrel of water? Raindrops. Every person who alive is only raindrop. All person filling up rain barrel. This barrel of life. So long barrel good, life good. When barrel weak and tired, human life it in a great jeopardy. Anybody own this barrel? Cry it out! Anybody own this barrel! Without a raindrop in it, what use is a barrel? Without a barrel full raindrop in it, what purpose has rain barrel got? The barrel, people, need the rain and the raindrop we all need the barrel. We are all on planet. We on a rain barrel call planet Earth. It contain us all. What kind use it got without us people? It got some! For many many million year it got stuff growing on it! Mildew in your wet shower towel you throw in corner, mold in shower you no scrub for so many week in row, old kitchen sponge you too lazy and cheap change, flake of wet skin come off in between toe, there all kind of life everywhere you find. But human life, it a special kind of it. It know it mildew. It know it tiger. It know it slow slow grouse in wild laurel bush puffing out all feather.

Planet do quite quite well without human being animal long long time before you up running around swimming pool on two legs getting chased by a mother who catch you, throw you in, and break open by accident your chin on blue cement side of it. Other animal never remember it so clearly, never tell it to be love story. Other animal only see a danger in it. Human being animal very complicated. It can see a love in a danger. It kind of animal who know what mean being sometime very very cruel to each other being very very kind to each other. Sometime too kind! We actually way too smart sometime for our own good. The planet Earth it contain us and we special animal people, we give it special purpose. We create on it love. We create on it picture on cave for other people animal to see tomorrow. We special because we think about tomorrow. We always do. We sad when people die because when they die we remember there really is tomorrow. So we have sorrow. So we have joy. We mix together two sorrow and joy and we make beauty. Can who else make this? Spider web very beautiful. You think spider done and think about how beautiful trap it make? Beaver house very beautiful. You think when done it swim to shore and go flap! flap! flap! with broad broad tail to say like whoopee! To self? You think bee go wiggle each other how pretty hive look when you think about it? You think bald eagle couple up high in tree with enormous nest built of branches ever go over how majestic a view they got or how they so majestic looking themselves up there in it? You think acre after acre after acre blue spruce with thin white poplar tree poking through in place ever know about how peaceful peace of self is? Why we think dolphin happy when jumping and jumping and jumping with ship on side? Or mother monkey take care of baby monkey picking out bug in hair? It because they more like us! Of course! You know that already! We see some of own happiness and care and love in other animal. More like us, more we see.

Without a human being animal, rain barrel Earth just interesting kind of shape with all kinds interesting thing growing on it all over place. It will still be interesting, but not so special. It why it so important to be taking good care of rain barrel. How sturdy the rings it got? Very sturdy. But all chemicals and heat human animal people put up in air, very bad for what hold it together. Ozone apart. Greenhouse effect. Thermal pollution. You think factory in China that make my shoe very good and cheap there good? No. They bad. They make rings of planet weak and rusty. You think all garbage put in ocean day and day and day, or bury in ground place where not many people live close, or burn and burn and burn is good? No. It also bad. It pretty obvious! We all know it! All this make wood of barrel rotting. Some slats they very bad already. So far, people, it ok. But once barrel go, it go! All water in barrel it flood all out. It ruin everything and go everywhere all over the cosmos.

It why now people we need pay attention, people, to care of planet earth and repair of it where we can to our mother barrel. It only one we got! It great big treasure chest. We already it jewel. But we digging out of treasure chest and into it same time. This really very crazy to do! What we looking for we don’t got? It in us. We the treasure. We the sparkle, we the shine; we would glow and shimmer. What give a moon it lustre and a sunshine it smile. That what we do! All that shine and glow already in us! Next time you see raindrop, make cup with hand. Catch that little raindrop, and remember as you close hand now that it all raindrops who fill earth with life. Without human animal raindrop already sparkle. With human being animal it also very very precious.

Truth is: World ok without you. World ok without me. World ok without people. Then it just world. I see sometime purple bumper sticker it say: SAVE OUR PLANET. I alway want peel off. It not about planet. It about people. When I grow up, planet great. We go McDonald™ and when everybody done, we put all garbage in big white McDonald™ bag all food come in. Then roll down side window and throw on highway. It normal. That what a highway shoulder suppose be used for. It like a white tumbleweed rolling. Big bunchy white McDonald™ bag, and I feel so lucky I one who get to throw it out. It best part McDonalds™. You think earth care about people garbage? Not really! You think ocean water care about chemical drum we dump there? Not really! You think state Arizona care about nuclear bomb explosion underground? Not really! Earth don’t care. Earth like big nanny. Earth no matter what it take care self. We mess up nursery, throw round toy and break all sort things, scream and yell. We take off diaper and throw round room. We swear at each other and use very very vulgar language. Planet Nanny Earth, she don’t really care! She take care self! She got a job no matter what! Long as she got a planet, she got job! Who on it, it don’t really matter her.

(Sergey Gashchak/Chornobyl Center)

“It shows I think that how much damage we do,” said fellow co-author Jim Smith, an environmental science professor at the University of Portsmouth. “It’s kind of obvious but our every day activities associated with being in a place are what damages the environment.”

“Not that radiation isn’t bad,” he added, “but what people do when they’re there is so much worse.”

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