Cold streak south

January 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

(In absence of a digital camera, I write. A record in real time.)

0930hrs train departure from Milan  -> Florence

Branches like capillaries whipping past floating, rooted in a mist shrouded landscape. Italy in the winter. Starlings aflight, broken farmhouses, wood fire smoke. Every so often a black out. Tunnels like the blinking of an eye.


Then suddenly, pale sun on my face and a string of silhouettes, cypress it looks like, dotting the monochrome sweep.

All this to a synchrony of sound.

Faunts. (Explain)

everything that I’ve done
everything that I’ve tried
has led me on this long road
until we all collide

Earbuds wedged in so the movement of the signora seated opposite me, with her coiffed hair and folders full of ledgers are nothing but a mime. I leave her to the negotiation of her numbers and return to naming the solitary trees – the ones that explode voluptuously outwards in seeming defiance of the neat rows their cypress brothers make in their long, skinny reach for the sky.

Fever Ray is next. (If I had a heart)

this will never end
’cause I want more
more, give me more
give me more

I open my book and read,

“He has a repertoire of answers. Sometimes he pictures her drifting down towards the mundane rooftops in a giant balloon made of turquoise and emerald-green silks, or arriving on the back of a golden bird like the ones on Chinese teacups. On other days, darker ones like this Thursday – Thursday, he knows, was a sinister day in her calendar – she winds her way through a long underground tunnel encrusted with blood-red jewels and with arcane inscriptions that glitter in the light of torches. For years she walks, her garments – garments, not clothes – trailing, her eyes fixed and hypnotic, for she is one of those cursed with an unending life.” (Margaret Atwood, Wilderness Tips)

Punctuated by a city. Bologna. Rust-red brick in a glistening coat of graffiti tags. No messages, just signatures – elaborate, authority defying stamps of “I Was Here”. Parking lots and old women in furs preceded by the ubiquitous shopping cart – a simple reminder that we’re all heading to the same place… death by super market/mercato/marché.

A few minutes later and we are out of the anxiety of the city – that concrete train of inevitability with no stops and no emergency lever.

I scroll artists on my iPod, searching for the right soundtrack for this mood, this cold streak south.

Editors, Doves, The Cure, Band of Horses…

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t such a hipster….

I settle for Auf der Maur. (Lightning is my girl)

Gonna let the lightning
Tuck me into my bed
Gonna let that man
Let him into my head
I’ll see you in my dreams
Electrified and cherry red

We don’t scream and growl half as much as we should as adults. We got it beaten out of us young. “Shhh… don’t cause a scene. People are staring…” they said, a plea for civility.

My mother taps my knee with her foot and touches her watch.

We’re here.



December 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Where should I begin? After all, you have never been there; or if you have, you may not have understood the significance of what you saw, or thought you saw. A window is a window, but there is looking out and looking in. The native you glimpsed, disappearing behind the curtain, or into the bushes, or down the manhole in the main street – my people are shy – may have been only your reflection in the glass. My country specialises in such illusions.

In summer we lie about in the blazing sun, almost naked, covering our skins with fat and attempting to turn red. But when the sun is low in the sky and faint, even at noon, the water we are so fond of changes to something hard and white and cold and covers up the ground. Then we cocoon ourselves, become lethargic, and spend much of our time hiding in crevices. Our mouths shrink and we say little.

By now you must have guessed: I come from another planet. But I will never say to you, take me to your leaders. Even I – unused to your ways though I am – would never make that mistake. We ourselves have such beings amongst us, made of cogs, pieces of paper, small disks of shiny metal, scraps of coloured cloth. I do not need to encounter more of them.

Instead I will say, take me to your trees. Take me to your breakfasts, your sunsets, your bad dreams, your shoes, your nouns. Take me to your fingers; take me to your deaths.

These are worth it. There are what I have come for.

~ Excerpts taken from Homelanding, in the book “Good Bones” by Margaret Atwood

The Other Place

October 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

For a long time I wandered aimlessly. It felt like a long time. It didn’t feel aimless, however, or not in any carefree way: I was being driven by necessity, by fate, like the characters in the more melodramatic novels I’d read in high school, who would rush out into thunderstorms and lurk around on moors. Like them I had to keep moving. I couldn’t help it.

I had an image of myself trudging along a dusty or lumpy or ice-covered road, carrying a little bundle on a stick, like the hobos in comic books. But that was much too droll. More like a mysterious traveller, striding inexorably forward, entering each new town like a portent, then vanishing without a trace, mission accomplished.

…. I would welcome each new dislocation, unpack my few belongings with alacrity and even joy, then set out to explore the neighbourhood or district or city and learn its ways; but soon enough I’d begin to imagine what I’d become if I stayed in that place forever. Here, a stringy-haired intellectual, pasty-faced, humourless, and morbid; there, a self-satisfied matron, shut up in a cage of a house that would not be recognised as a cage until it is too late.

Too late for what? To get out, to move on. Yet at the same time I longed for security. It was a similar story with men. Each one was a possibility that quickly become an impossibility. As soon as there were two toothbrushes, side by side on the bathroom counter in trapped stagnant, limp-bristled companionship – I would have to leave.

…. Set against my desire for fecklessness was an opposite and more shameful desire. I’d never got over the Grade Two reader, the one featuring a father who went to a job every day and drove a car, a mother who wore an apron and did baking, two children – boy and girl – and a cat and a dog, all living in a white house with frilly window curtains. Though no house I’d ever lived in possessed such curtains, they seemed foreordained. They weren’t a goal, they weren’t something I’d have to strive for: these curtains would simply materialise in my life because they were destined. My future would not be complete – no, it would not be normal – unless it contained window curtains like these, and everything that went with them. This image was tucked away in a corner of my suitcase, like an emergency wardrobe item: nothing I wanted to wear at the moment, but worse come to worse, I could take it out, shake out the wrinkles, and step into it.

I couldn’t keep up my transient existence forever. I would have to end up with someone, sometime, someplace. Wouldn’t I?

But what if I missed a turn somewhere – missed my own future? That would be frighteningly easy to do. I’d make one hesitation or one departure too many and then I’d have run out of choices; I’d be standing all alone, like the cheese in the children’s song about the farmer taking a wife. Hi-ho, the derry-o, the cheese stands alone, they used to sing about this cheese, and everyone would clap hands over its head and make fun of it.

…. In my more rebellious moments I asked myself why I would care about being shut out of the Noah’s ark of coupledom – in effect a glorified zoo, with locks on the bars and fodder dished out at set intervals. I wouldn’t allow myself to be tempted; I’d keep my distance; I’d stay lean and wolflike, and skirt the edges. I would be a creature of the night, in a trench coat with the collar turned up, pacing between streetlights, my heels making an impressively hollow and echoing sound, casting a long shadow before me, having serious thoughts about topics of importance.

…. At the time I’d set out, all women were expected to get married, and many of my friends had already done so. But by the end of this period – it was only eight years, not so long after all – a wave had swept through, changing the landscape immediately. Miniskirts and bell-bottoms had made a brief appearance, to be replaced immediately by sandals and tie-dyed T-shirts. Beards had sprouted, communes had sprung up, thin girls with long straight hair and no brassieres were everywhere. Sexual jealousy was like using the wrong fork, marriage was a joke, and those already married found their once-solid unions crumbling like defective stucco. You were supposed to hang loose, to collect experiences, to be a rolling stone.

Isn’t that what I’d been doing, years before the widespread advent of facial hair and roach clips? But I felt myself too old, or possibly too solemn, for the love beads and pothead crowd. They lacked gravity. They wanted to live in the moment, but like frogs, not like wolves. They wanted to sit in the sun and blink. But I was raised in the age of strenuousness. Relaxation bored me. I thought I should be making my way in the world, wherever that was. I thought I should be getting somewhere – in my case, as things so often were, somewhere else.

~ Excerpts from “The Other Place” by Margaret Atwood

We ate the birds

April 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

We ate the birds. We ate them. We wanted their songs to flow up through our throats and burst out of our mouths and so we ate them. We wanted their feathers to bud from our flesh. We wanted their wings, we wanted to fly as they did, soar freely among the treetops and the clouds, and so we ate them. We speared them, we clubbed them, we tangled their feet in glue, we netted them, we spitted them, we threw them onto hot coals, and all for love, because we loved them. We wanted to be one with them. We wanted to hatch out of clean, smooth, beautiful eggs, as they did, back when we were young and agile and innocent of cause and effect, we did not want the mess of being born and so we crammed the birds into our gullets, feathers and all, but it was no use, we couldn’t sing, not effortlessly as they do, we can’t fly, not without smoke and metal, and as for the eggs we don’t stand a chance.

We’re mired in gravity, we’re earthbound. We’re ankle-deep in blood, and all because we ate the birds, we ate them a long time ago, when we still had the power to say no. 

 – Margaret Atwood



© Mustafah Abdulaziz/ MJR


© Mustafah Abdulaziz

© Mustafah Abdulaziz/ MJR



© Mustafah Abdulaziz/ MJR

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