Keep Your Eyes Peeled

It started when I looked at the sky. It was sunset and it had just rained. Light, over where I was, had started to dim, as if someone was sinking into their sheets for some night-time reading.

I saw clouds. Clouds, at first. Then, I saw fluffy wisps of thick mush, crafted into sky meringues. Then, I saw freshly lit coals become embers, except that they were suspended from, tacked against a salmon-pink sky. Then I told my friends to come out and look. “Embers! Look at the clouds, they look like embers.”

They didn’t see them. They just saw clouds.

Thirty minutes prior, I was looking through a friend’s art, an art gallery balancing on my lip. I savored the moment, just looking deep into this well. It could have been thirty minutes or a mere eternity, I wasn’t sure.

Then, I drove home. My eyes had just been freshly peeled. I saw light yellow skies by the highway. Clouds again like meringue, shades of waning orange and red and yellow, somehow degrading upwards toward the cosmos. And as I drove further down the road, around the bends, and onto the main highway that would take me home, the world swelled up and exploded up in size, beyond the my awareness of my body, occupying space, my thoughts soaking up every minute of my consciousness. All I could see was the pastiche of thick, rich colors, splattered upon the skies, lit by the setting sun. Clouds shaped like rice noodles wrapped around a chopstick, like icing coming out of a funnel onto a cupcake, like fresh toothpaste. Nothing mattered other than this ebb and tide of color, crashing down on me, but the crash not leaving marks or scars or wounds.

“Beauty. I’m seeing beauty. My brain is opening up!” I told myself.

As more minutes whizzed past me, I turned off at the exit. The skies were much darker than on the highway.

I was home, under the night’s darkness, but not cut off from the beauty.

 

Dear Now Married,

Dear Now Married,

Yesterday was Christmas day and I was thumbing through the writings of ten years ago, seeing what I could work on or not. Ten years ago would have meant our first holiday season together — a meeting of families, traditions, maybe even lips.

I found all the pieces that I wrote about you, the factual, the mythical, the imagined, and the experienced. I kept it all, like a hardened archaelogist.
Until last night. Last night, I let go of your remaining fossils in my life.

I loved you until I had to stop because I meant nothing to you. I was a melting bug on your windscreen, as you raced past me to reach your husband. You lied to me. I drank up to ease the pain. You told me that you had been hurt too much and you could never trust anyone again. I was foolish enough to think that that was the truth. I just was a bug, not a lover to you.

You taught me that to love is to believe and create and wait and hope and listen and give. The classroom was the time spent together, where I played no games and spun no lies. I did everything I could to bond with you. When I graduated, I made you a small book, filled with our words, memories, your face, and my love. I found that book the other day. I uncovered that heart I used to have, the heart whose teeth were cut on your rejection.

Yeah. Hindsight’s knowledge would have told me then that you were never into me. I’m glad you weren’t. You would have left me when I would have committed to you further. All my love, as innocent and child-like as it was, was never returned or valued then.

Here’s the twist. That heart I found? I didn’t lament over its death and push its coffin back underneath my bed.
I took it out and placed it again deep behind my ribs. I’m quiet with resolve that I will be that guy again.
I will love again and make libraries out of this healing heart.

Merry Christmas, Now Married. I hope you find love.

 

The Girl Likes Joints

Through her fingers, as she explained why she chose shit brown and blood red, I saw the strokes and they made no sense to me. I was standing an inch away from her, her syrupy voice lining my ears. I looked at it again and I made out, in no particular order, silently to myself, a disfigured human, an angry cloud, and the insides of a colon.

“I don’t understand it, but I guess that’s me, not the piece.”

A smile blossomed out of her mouth. “I don’t hear that all the time,” she said. “Most people don’t know what to do with something they don’t understand.” I chose honesty over trying to do something about the fiery energy jumping off her and latching onto every square of my flesh.

“Explain it to me again,” I strained out, while looking at the piece again. “Maybe there’s a Jackson Pollack in this and I just don’t see it.”

Her eyes sucked out the white in her face. She blushed and threw her eyes down. “Uh, thank you… that’s a pretty big thing to say.”

I examined her face like a pathologist. The red in her cheeks was still there. An island-shaped mole by her lower lip, sapphire eyes, and a slender neck presented themselves as evidence. She held an intense gaze, eyes that stood still and wholesome like icicles on a glacier. I finished the report with this conclusion: I need to throw my own weight behind my own gaze into hers.

“Is this piece about intimacy?” I said as solemn as solemn could, to the painting. I turned to look at her.

“OK, this is freaky, NO ONE has ever said that or picked up on that!”

Some other attendees threw short, startled looks her way. She resolved the awkwardness by giving them their back and folding her arms, as she stared at her own piece, as if she was as disinterested and faking it as them.

“Sorry about that. Uhm… I just don’t get people who come here and figure things out.”

”I can’t be the only person.”

“You ARE the only person.”

“Don’t be sorry anyway,” I chuckled, “tell me more.”

The car wheels in the distance ran their crevices through the wet streets, like children running fingers in a stream. She, Max Langford, told me about her first and final lover, who held her one night after they had told each other I love you’s. A long embrace turned into the grabbing of her body, then her mouth, then her arms pinned down, then a taking of their love without her yes. We walked, as if in a moving lunch line, towards nowhere.

“At some point… I sat in front of the canvas because it was prettier to look at than every other therapist I had to endure,” Max mused, with bland whites in her eyes.

“That’s just beyond fucked up.”

She kneaded her lips into a thanks, then looked down. She rubbed her arms with her hands, as she looked straight ahead. “Well.”

“I mean, you’re here… you made it through.”

“Yeah,” she said, “and now I pick up guys for coffee after exhibitions.”

I was fooled for a moment by the steel in her voice. Some woman I just met told me about her story of horror. I decided to play along.

“That’s an honorable profession.”

She smiled, as if a sun imploded in her chest. “You’re a funny guy.”

“Thanks. I judge women on their taste in coffee, by the way”

She was declared innocent, as the waiters brought us a third round and she went further into the piece of art that brought about this night. Every minute of explanation made me want to see it again… and her, too. The light against the oak counter, from the Regolit floor lamp, onto a row of pots of tulips, threw a warm glow across Max’s face.

“You’re different.”

“How do you mean?”

“You haven’t pulled a move or said something suggestive.”

“I like you. Isn’t that enough for now?”

I thought I had seen every type of smile there is, but I now saw a new one.

“Bullshit. Smooth talker!”

That steel again. But, it doesn’t seem so reinforced this time.

“It’s da troof.”

“What?”

“Oh, truth… nevermind.”

“No, tell me!”

“OK, well, like, not everyone in England speaks prim and proper, so in London –“

“Oh, like Cockney people! I get it!”

Cockney people. She’s adorable. And she’s travelled.

“Sorry, it just didn’t hit me and no one usually makes those kind of jokes around these parts.”

“Around these parts, Humphrey Bogart?”

“Shut up!” and she grabbed my arm, by the elbow. And she stopped to look at my elbow, and my arm. She maintained her grip and drew herself down to my shoulder, resting her head sideways as she looked down.

“I should fear these moments,” she said.

“I understand.”

She pivoted on my shoulder and looked up at me. “Do you?”

“Yeah.”

Our gazes met and stood still. I counted 30 veins in her iris before she turned back to rest her head on my shoulder. She picked herself up to be close to me. The sexual energy was still there, but it was simmering quietly, out of harm’s way, on the back burner.

“I fear these moments, too,” I creaked after I motioned away a tired waiter.

“Why?”

“That there will only be one of them.”

She moved her hand to my thigh, by my knee. She rested it. I moved mine. I put it on top.

“There will be more.”

She kissed my shoulder.

On Lady Macbeth

During Act III of Macbeth, the play shifts its course slightly; we see Macbeth no longer succumbing to Lady Macbeth’s provocative speeches and plans. Now, Macbeth has taken control of the situation, as his speeches are a lot more powerful and contain more than just confusion or remorse. In the scene with the Murderers, we see him as a devious persuader who convinces the men to kill Banquo. Meanwhile, especially in the Banquet scene, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a wife who wants to keep the guests entertained and when she does speak to Macbeth, she wants to forget about the death of Duncan and her speeches themselves show traces of denial and some elements of fear. Thus, it is evident in Macbeth’s speeches that he is taking control of the situation at hand and is responsible for the actions made, while Lady Macbeth’s speeches show less involvement and importance in the plot at this stage.

The first two major occurrences where we see Lady Macbeth greatly influence Macbeth’s actions is when she waits for him to come back after the slaughter of Duncan and fainting when Macbeth’s motives were about to be put to the test. As she waits for Macbeth, she opens the scene with the soliloquy “That which hath made me drunk hath me bold” and lines 7–11 show that she has planned every detail of Duncan’s murder and she doesn’t care what happens to them; a part of her perhaps cold and evil behavior. When Macbeth returns and talks about the “noises” or signs that he has done something dreadfully wrong, she merely says, “These deeds must not thought after these ways, so it will make us mad” She does not let it bother her; what is done is done. Later on, before they go to sleep, she boldly tells Macbeth to go asleep such that nobody would notice they are awake; she wants to keep this whole issue under control and Macbeth, for that matter.

Again, Lady Macbeth takes hold of the situation when she “supposedly” faints in Act III: iii. In lines 135–137 of Macbeths preceding speech, “Who could refrain that had a heart to love, and in the heart courage to make love’s known?” Lady Macbeth instantly senses that Macbeth might admit to Duncan’s murder to live the suggested honorable courage in his speech because she probably knew that he could be carried away by the moment.

However, all of this changes in Act III of the play. In Act III:I, p. 85, Macbeth’s soliloquy shows that he has started to doubt Banquo’s character and whether he could trust him or not. By the end of the speech, lines 75–77, we see Macbeth has already decided to kill Banquo and states that he was destined by fate to resort to such extremity by killing anyone being a threat to his regency.

Later on the scene, when Macbeth meets with the Murderers, he skilfully convinces them that “that is was [Banquo], in the times past, which held you so under fortune, which you thought had been our innocent self” He makes it clear to them that by killing Banquo, their revenge would be fulfilled and they cannot wait any longer, “having their patience so predominant in their nature that they can let this go.” Also, when he senses on p. 89 that the First Murderer is showing some doubt in sacrificing their lives for killing Banquo in line 145, he quickly changes the subject and says that their courage enlightens them for doing this.

As Macbeth goes on to meet Lady Macbeth, he assures her that “we have only scorched the snake, not killed it”. His tone is self-realized and assured; he warns Lady Macbeth of this act of horror by killing the king will always haunt them. When he mentions to her that something dreadful is about to happen and she questions what it is, he calmly tells her, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, til thou applaud the deed”. This could perhaps signify that Macbeth knows Lady Macbeth has some kind of evil tendencies and that she would enjoy or rejoice some deed of this sort. This also asserts that Macbeth has the upper hand in this situation and there on, while Lady Macbeth would symbolize the ideal wife who gives him a pat on the back for “what he did at work today”.

This phenomenon is also observed in the banquet setting, where the whole scene revolves around a main Macbeth and a supporting Lady Macbeth. When Macbeth starts to see the ghost of Banquo, he is thrown into a fit of near delirium and hysteria, and cannot control the flow of actions or speech. Lady Macbeth tries to please her guests and keep them calm, like in line 65–67,”Pray you, keep seat. The fit is momentary; upon a thought, he will again be well”. One can tell that Macbeth’s apparent visions of the ghost and its accompanying speeches reverberate greatly on the guests, as Lennox curiously wants to know what Macbeth sees, as shown in line 142–143 on p. 107. However, Macbeth does at one point realize that his guests are rather disturbed by his behavior and asks them not to “muse at me, my most worthy friends… Come, love and health to all…Give me some wine. Fill full”.

Macbeth has brought the dinner atmosphere back to a jovial and pleasant mood again when they toast. Lady Macbeth, in all of this, is silent and tries to pacify Macbeth’s erratic behavior. At the end of the scene, Macbeth is determined to find out his fate from the Weird Sisters because he knows that he is too far now in his quest for power and that nothing can bring him back to being good. All that Lady Macbeth replies with is that you definitely need some sleep, honey.

Thus, by the end of Act III, the crown of control has been passed over from Lady Macbeth to Macbeth. No longer just being confused and easily swayed, there is determination and realization in his voice, while Lady Macbeth is simply there to support him. If Macbeth cannot turn back to goodness and Lady Macbeth does show some sign of denial and regret. Why cannot she convince him to turn back?

I wrote this in high school.

A King’s Decree

As I walk the plank, I lose heat, my eyes do fade

My feet, they freeze, the sun turns blue, then you appear

I say, I love you, I hurt, and that I’ll miss you

Will I live in your mind, will you let me stay there?

Will you allow my air to flare, in your quiet care?

As I drop to the wave, I hear a final groan

I ruled the weak like a king, and I made them fat

But the queen chose to live far, why I will never know

Your Eyes are Tired. Whom Do You Want to Call?

The Öresund train from Malmö to Landskrona. Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch on my knee. I lose myself in the rich, precise language, enjoying her craft, of how deftly she chisels forth the characters and their world.

A perfect Saturday is ahead of me: soccer, swimming in the sea, and a party. A friend with a car is going to pick me up from Landskrona station.

When I get off the train, balmy, delicious breezes blow from Öresund, turning me into Ernst Kirchsteiger. I find myself a bench and wait for my friend. I take off my shoes and I close my eyes to take in the sun.

“Excuse me?”

A woman and man of 25 years old. I recognize them, they were on my train; it came in from Copenhagen.

“Can we use your phone?” the woman asks. She smiles with tired eyes.

“Whom do you want to call?” I reply, handing her the phone. She unfolds a note with Arabic letters on it.

“Zero… zero… four… six,” she reads.

“That’s the country code for Sweden,” I interrupt her, “You don’t need to put that in.” They look at each other. I’m unsure if they understand. Her English is shaky and it looks like the guy’s is no better.

“We are in Sweden, after all,” I add.

They look at each other and let out a big laugh, light and carefree, as if they had hoped they were in Sweden, but didn’t dare to believe it.

“Where are you from?”

“Idlib.”

Idlib.

Syria.

They had been travelling for ten days straight: a boat from Turkey to Greece, car to Macedonia, on foot over the border to Serbia, the same to Hungary, a car ride to Germany, a train to Denmark. And thus the Öresund train to Sweden’s Landskrona.

I dial the number on their piece of paper and hand over the phone. A short call with the man’s brother who lives in Landskrona. Wide smiles.

“He’s on his way,” she says.

The couple sit on the bench next to me. They have no luggage, other than her ragged purse. They couldn’t take anything when they left Syria. The woman starts to explain. “Idlib… it is…”

The brother arrives. Exclamations of joy, tears, hugs. We say goodbye and the trio drive away. My friend arrives and we leave. A sweaty game on a manicured field. I blow a couple of chances in the beginning, but I nab the ball from the defender and luck be the top corner into the back of the net.

The swim afterwards is so good I want to scream. The salty water is 20 degrees, with added fresh seaweed. When I get to the party, my wife is already there, striking in her silver frock. All guests have chosen a color to come in. I got pink. It’s a fun party in a lush garden. We play some games on the porch and everyone is getting into it. Laughs all around.

The next morning, I google Idlib. Airstrikes against a hospital. Massacres. Chemical weapons. Photos of dead children.

“Many civilians were subjected to chlorine gas, in what is thought to be two attacks by chemical weapons, carried out by government forces in Idlib on Monday. The attacks meant that civilians, amongst them children, died a painful death.” — press release by Amnesty International, 18 March 2015

“Idlib’s streets are practically abandoned, a week after the city in the country’s northwestern region was taken over by Islamists, amongst them Jabhet al-Nusra, a jihadist group with ties to Al-Qaeda.” — Dagens Nyheter, 11 June 2015

“At least 20 Druze residents in Idlib province have been shot dead by Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhet al-Nusra. The jihadists consider the Druze faith as blasphemy.” — BBC 11 June 2015

I look out the window. It’s sunny again in Malmö. We cycle to Västra harbour and go for a swim. At night, it’s chicken falafel in sammoun bread. I read some more of The Goldfinch. I lose against my brother in Wordfeud.

This is a translation of Niklas Orrenius’ column in 29 August 2015 print issue of Dagens Nyheter.

I Apologize

Apologize

The cream polish sticks under my nails as ghee

And sweat dangling feet at the seam of my back

Apologize

This, my croaky confession at your still, cold feet

I wanted your stare to be level, not sink, fall

But I dreamt while I put you back on your stand

Your hands erect, sturdy, gallant at my neck’s valley

I’pologize.

Your breasts attest indifferent, brushed against me

I’pologize.

Your breath on my neck like feathers, drops of honey

I rejoiced

I’pologize.

My feet scurry, darting, flit ‘bout like flambé

I’pologize.

My bite nipped your lip for a minute exactly

I’pologize.

 

My 6 Books of 2015

This year, I committed to reading 24 books before the end of December. Mission was accomplished about two months early. I found great satisfaction in the achievement and the process.

This is a short piece on the six most memorable books from this year’s challenge.

The One where You Can’t Think the Same Again. Karen E. Field’s Racecraft has left its mark on my thinking about politics, my own privilege, and how pervasive race is. The tripartite formula of race, racism, and racecraft seems inescapable to me now. Thank you, Dr. Field. And thank you to all friends who were patient as I spoke to them about it at great lengths. A friend, NYTimes journalist Ron Nixon, wrapped it up in a single sentence: “Race doesn’t exist, but it’s real.”

The One that Went Straight for the Heartular. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. This one made me cry, more than my usual quota of tears (three merciless bouts every 5 or 6 years, followed by drought and emotional detachment), because I related to her as a musician and as the non-conformist. Wonderful writing, a wealth of powerful aphorisms, and courage imparted from Palmer’s fearless life. I’ve never cared for another stranger, through his life and death, as for her friend Anthony. I wished I could have been by his deathbed and at his funeral.

The One that Will Be Forgotten. Andy Weir’s The Martian is a blogpost gone nuclear. No literary value, no journey, no punch. Just worldly dialogue and a three-act structure.

The One that Had Me Creasing*. Best White and Other Anxious Delusions by South African journalist Rebecca Davis. She’s the patron saint of projectile spit from your mouth while laughing out loud at her cutting, thought-provoking, and sharp prose. An excellent book about South African politics, history, and current affairs. *London Cockney dysphemism about your stomach creasing when you laugh hard.

The One that Made Me GO WTF Mate. Every Spy a Prince is a detailed monograph about the history of the Israeli intelligence. It’s well-researched, well-written, and fascinating. I don’t put anything past Mossad anymore and I understand how Shin Bet tracked down the alleged killers of the two Jewish teenagers last year, the incident that started the war in Gaza.

The One where I Must Write a Novel. Ahmed Mourad’s Arabic-language Diamond Dust (Ar: ‘Torab al-Mas’) starts off with excruciating detail (think Joyce in Ulysses), and then accelerates into a superb novel about revenge and family, only marred by a romcom ending. Why you do zis, Ahmed? (I would recommend learning Arabic to read this novel.)

One thing changed the way I read this year and that’s keeping a journal, to note down great sentences, turns of phrase, ideas or other books to look into, or just thoughts generated while reading. Reading is no longer a race against time or a milestone or simply ticking off names on a list. It’s a way to become the owner of the process and phenomenon of thinking and developing your thinking. Shout out to Maria Popova, of Brainpickings.org, for the inspiration.

You can check out all the other books I read here: https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/2425711

 

Love is Water

Her knuckles found home on the same line on the door. Her eyes hung low as she waited for her common sense to ebb. When that would happen, she would be assailed by the stench of pain and stale liquor reeking through the wood. True as death, it happened. Today, a stranger was present, too.

“Dora.”

It was the rare weakness in Zach’s voice. She hadn’t expected it or seen it in years.

“Dora…” Zach intoned again. Dora walked in, moving as slow as her fear. The stubborn cloud of smoke bit at her eyes. Nothing had really changed except mounds of mess around the couch and her attempts at impressionist painting had disappeared off the grimy walls. But looking down, her high heel colliding into the slimy broth of a dark night’s drinking, she saw vomit outline Zach’s leg and foot.

“Oh my god, Zach,” Dora squeezed out with her shock, as she tried to get around his body to get to him, “not again, dammit.”

She leaned down at his head, as he rolled up his head and looked at her. Her face looked like wet black chalk against the cream ether, but he saw those eyes he once loved. “Yeaaah… again, dammmmmittttt.”

“This is not cleaning up and finding peace…”

“I know… I f-f-ef-fucked up again.”

The crispness of the curse made her recoil, as she looked behind her to sink into a dry spot by her favorite chair behind her. That spot knew her droop from before she left this place called home for 3 years.

“Dorraaa… I love you… I-I-I-reallllyyy lovvvve you.”

“No, you don’t, Zach,” she shot back, with hot tears burning, “This is not love, what you’re doing to yourself. Look at this place. You’ve sucked the life out of it!”

“D… I do love you,” he said with crust around his lips, picking himself up, to sit in the locus of his life, “love is water, it’s all over you.”

It’s all over you? Says the pontificating drunk!

“Don’t be a dick, you’re a mess right now.” She pulled out her mirror from her purse and lunged it into his face.

“Look! Is this love! How is this love! My man of three years is this!”

“Love is water, baby, it’s waaater,” Zach repeated as he tried to make out the fuzzy outlines of his sunken face, “When you go swimming and you jump in, the water is all over you, it covers every part of you, and it’s there while you’re in there, riiiiight?”

The coherence and pithy of the words struck her. She pulled back her arm. She felt a tap against a door of her heart.

“When you-you-you’re done, and you, uh, uhm, get out, the water falls off you, it leaves you, it leeeeaves you, it faaalls you, riight? You get out and you get a drink, I need a drink, you say I say to myself, and then you sit in the sun, until the whatever’s left on you is absorbed. Love is absorbed, until whatever’s left on you is absorbed.”

The tap grew into a mad banging, along with floods of rain against the windows, as she looked at him.

“I can’t do this again, Zach,” Dora said.

“Love is water… love is water,” Zach chants in a whisper, as he turns around and lays back so that his head is near her legs, as he looks up to stare at his morning sun.