The English Patient – one of my favorite books.

Journal Prompt – a book I love and one I didn’t.

Off the bat, I choose to rebel. The English Patient is a book I love and I hate. The prose is unbelievable. It’s like dipping into a refreshing pool in the dead heat of summer, when the water is just cool enough to raise goose pimples at the back of your neck. It’s of no surprise to me that eight years passed while he wrote the book, as every sentence draws emotion in some way or another, typically in a procession from confusion to dim light to heartbreaking understanding. Every word contributes, either to plot, theme, setting, or character development. A mountain of book, it would require three or four readings to dig up and unpack all the metaphors and images, which sit in your brain until they unfurl like a tea blossom or like ink blooming in water.

Beyond an verdant commitment to beauty through prose, the themes – colonial and postcolonial discourses, the loss of identity, national rhetoric, the inabilities to translate cartography against humanity and the devastating effects to which the practice has been used– merge seamlessly into the plot and never quite sway into preachiness other than a few comments by the English Patient, who is established early on to be rather highfalutin and knowing.

I’ll be honest – I read the book because I wanted to see the movie, and I like to torture myself with literary adaptations to film, which never live up to their promises, often leaving me with the same hollow feeling I get from eating Mexican food in Washington state. (Memoirs of a Geisha, anyone?) I remember the VHS case in my Grandma Di’s collection of movies, and Naveen Andrews plays Kip, and either of those reasons was good enough for me to dedicate an afternoon to the novel.

I read while the movie downloaded, and since I already had developed a mental connection with the actors, I was excited to sit down with my tea and feel the spine of the book crinkle against my fingertips. I get excited over Naveen Andrews anyway, and this was one better. That was in the early afternoon about a month ago, on a Saturday. I read for the next twelve hours (the book is about 300 pages in length.) The pages read like plodding through a bog barefoot; my eyes would take in a sentence and then track back through the murk to find the trail once again. That sounds awful, but picture the bog less like Mordor and more like the Italian countryside, and soon you come to recognize that the prose is so lush and beautiful and striking that there were many moments in which I tracked back purposefully, just to feel the words crashing over me again. An example:

“It was essential to remain still, the way he had relied on statues during those months when they moved up the coast fighting into and beyond each fortress town until there was no difference in them, the same narrow streets everywhere that became sewers of blood so he would dream that if he lost balance he would slip down those slopes on the red liquid and be flung off the cliff into the valley.”

Although it’s valid to raise an argument against the wordiness of the sentence, the images drawn forth are powerful enough to give the reader some incentive to work through the bulk and put them together, rather like only being rewarded with the whole of Orion after locating the three dots of his belt. Kip relied on statues – tangible, solid, cold things that do not want from us or tax us, and perhaps importantly because he is a young man, illustrate the perfect form of a woman – and repeatedly sought them out, laying against them for protection and to soothe himself from the daily horrors of war. In this scene, he becomes a statue for Hana, illustrating his inability to disengage from the endless, momentary threat of danger. In the moments leading up to the quote, they nearly died from a particularly malicious bomb (left by Germans, who occupied their villa previously) and instead of feeling grateful for life, Kip becomes irritated with Hana for not heeding his instructions to leave (she’s become a distracting factor to him, and he doesn’t care to owe things to people.)

Another bit I enjoyed before I vomit all over the novel:
“I was a man fifteen years older than she, you understand. I had reached that stage in life where I identified with cynical villains in a book.”
This is Caravaggio speaking of Hana – twenty-something words that carry a tremendous weight in terms of his character and foreshadows a few uncomfortable interactions between him and Hana/Kip.

While I read, I had several lightbulb moments, in which the book would come to rest on my knees while I processed the words in relation to the theme or plot, and my eyes would fall back to the page, devastated that a mere mortal could string together such tiny bombs of angst and love and compassion. I can only hope to develop my skill as a storyteller to the point that a reader desires to throw the damn thing across the room for fear of developing cardiac arrhythmia.

I have two problems; the ending, and myriad depictions of Kip throughout the novel. Though I’m much closer to understanding Hana as a person, Kip is my favorite character. His lush backstory provided a wealth of information to use as a framework for processing his decisions through the main plot – although things felt a little rushed at the end, almost as if the author got to a certain point and said – well, we can we do with him now? And I’m not accusing Ondaatje of that – the universe knows how painstakingly each sentence and plot point was crafted.

That aside, a troubling problem exists in the descriptions of Kip’s physicality. A few examples:

“He would be pregnant with her.”
“…the slight singsong of his voice…”
“She imagines all of Asia through the gestures of this one man.”
“She holds an Indian goddess in her arms, she holds wheat and ribbons.”

Kip is a sapper, an engineer who disposes of bombs for the British military. He faces death, day in, and day out, and yet he is repeatedly referred to being weak, slight, small, and brown.
I see two possibilities – either the author fully understood and used the feminization of Asian men trope to further the breakdown of his national identity, or to give a bit womanly credence to his ability to bounce between English and Sikh customs, but the descriptions left me cringing. This is a man who laid down in a church next to a cold statue and waited for death to arrive – he’s a badass, and though there’s nothing inherently wrong with femininity, I could have done without him being described as an Indian goddess.

CAVEAT – multifaceted, deeply layered decisions are employed by the author – there is so much going on behind the words that it feels impossible for me to pinpoint where choices were made in a deliberate fashion and where they slide into a good natured, but ultimately flawed attack on racism. Kip is the colonized – he is the other. From the perspective of political identity, he is the weaker, the smaller, and the less powerful in opposition to the forces of colonization and to Almásy. So perhaps a good question arises here – who are we are writing for – when does a story become more theme than plot, and is purple prose as racist as the alternate stereotype?

There was enough movement in the story to keep theme at arm’s length until the end, when I turned on the movie, and raged, blind with wrath, for the next two hours and forty-one minutes. Oh, Hollywood. You disappoint me. I don’t know – I didn’t check, but I’m guessing Kip (and by proxy, Naveen Andrews) is in that damn movie for all of seventeen minutes. It broke my heart, especially when such whitewashed bullshit won so many Oscars. Grrrrrr….

As far as the ending – I won’t spoil it for those who feel inspired to pick it up, but I will say that I found it to be weak. He moves mountains through time and space, creating a grand narrative designed to deconstruct nationalism and draw attention to alternative forms of history – and he wrapped my emotions into a tight ball of drama and angst, and then didn’t give me what I most wanted for the two characters I came to root for – a sense that it is possible to find love and keep it across boundaries, both real and imagined.

kip

Need I say more?

Journal Prompt- A Conversation

Journaling prompt – take a tidbit from the previous day and write a blurb about it in deep third POV.

When she returned home from walking the dogs, her wooden legs creaked and groaned. Moving across the kitchen floor required a fair amount of resistance to squeamishness. Panko bread crumbs lay underfoot; she knocked into the tray attempting to find counter space for the pork chops, onion, garlic, flour, brown rice, and various breading items. Once, she made pork chops without frying them, and they came out so dry that her son hadn’t been able to help himself from commenting. Most of the time, Robert was the most conscientious person in her life, seamlessly slipping between subjects with guarded emotion, but cooking, or rather, the product of her cooking was the one area he stuck to reckless honesty.

“Hi Mom. Wanna know a fact?”

Her smile spread without thought. From the time her son was in diapers, countless people told her to wait for it. Just wait, they said, you’ll be in for it when he becomes a teenager. It – a two letter word that caused so much consternation, and yet, defied clarity and had never so much as extended a finger for the reach other’s maintained it possessed. No such trouble had commenced, and now, two states North, neighbors, his doctors, and his teachers constantly reiterated how lucky his parents were to have such a even-tempered child. What is it that creates a good natured child?

She nodded her head. “Of course, little prince.”

A bit of hot silliness flashed through her at the endearment; nothing about him was little anymore. Though he still required her hugs several times a day, it was him who wrapped her up in his long, sturdy arms. She picked up the raw pieces of meat, still a bit cold for frying, and opened the warm tap, just to bring them to room temperature before coating them in flour, spices, dipping them in egg wash, and pressing them in panko crumbs. The rogue morsels on the floor embedded themselves into her big toes.

“Did you know that the Chinese Army is creating islands in the South Chinese Sea to increase its military presence in the region?”

She made a small thinking sound while drifting through the BBC news stories she had read in the last few days. “No, I had no idea. What’s the end goal? And what’s that playing on your stereo?”

He lifted a hand to her shoulder. “I don’t have a stereo, Mom. It’s on my computer. It’s WWII music, Chinese national marches. And it’s to increase their military presence, like I said. There’s a lot of disputed territory down there.”

An errant thought diverted her focus. “Do you and your friends talk about WWII?”

He crossed his arms and leaned against the counter. “Nah. Sometimes, they’re not into like I am.”

She had seen that expression on his Father’s face, the tightening in his brow and slightly pressed lips that illustrated his absolute confusion in regards to other children. She remembered this feeling, too, but he had decided to go on.

“I can sum up my middle school in five words. Adidas, Nike, Rap, Looking good, Being fit.”

Technically seven words, but she nodded. “It was much the same when I went to middle school. And you love rap.”

His hands smacked against his legs. “I love old school rap. The kids at my school like new rap. There’s no meaning to the words now.”

“I’m not sure about that.”

How life repeats itself; how many times had she tried to convince her Father that Led Zeppelin was a better band than The Beatles? Or when she clung to seventies Americana – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Heart, James Taylor – and he steadfastly refused to depart from the sixties? It seemed that, no matter where bridges were built, parents and children exist on different islands.

“Well, you’re right about one thing. There really hasn’t been anyone like Tupac since.”

He nodded and grumbled. “I hate that you listen to Nikki Minaj.”

“I’m quite aware. And you like being fit, yes?”

She turned to glance at him out of the corner of her eye. Though he grew thinner with every upward inch, weight remained a tacky issue. As such, he looked at the ground while he answered. “I guess. Not like the other guys. I’m just one of the smart kids that everyone ignores.”

A deep rush of tension rose in her gut, filling her stomach with cement. The notion that everyone ignored him was as frightening as it was hurtful – the proliferation of mass media has turned introversion into a suspicious activity, and unwillingly, that thought brought forth images of trench coats and children jumping out of third story windows.

A teaching moment was required, but how to frame it without lying was the problem. He waited, well acquainted with the time it took her to answer to such serious statements, and as she placed the breaded pork chops into the fryer, she turned and looked at him dead on. “Being intelligent is far more important than being popular. But it can be isolating. Try not to give up on other people.”

His eyes flashed towards the office, where she had spent much of the last six months drafting and redrafting her first novel, but he didn’t say anything about it. “I won’t. I’ve been talking to this Romanian girl in my homeroom.”

She laughed. “Another European, of course you have. You don’t like American girls, do you?”

He smiled and wandered away a few steps. “There are a lot of Eastern European girls at my school, and they’re more interesting than the ones who just want to be property.”

She listened with drawn brows as he stated his opinion. The Russian, Romanian, and Ukrainian girls were quiet, they didn’t make him feel bad or laugh at him when he was unsure of an answer, and they liked to discuss history with him, that being the solidifying factor for his preference.

When the fryer dinged, she plated the food, but had to know. “What do you mean, girls that want to be property?”

He held his plate in his hand, fully intent on retreating to his Chinese national marches and his WWII strategy game. After smiling, he spoke with an air of someone providing an explanation to a child. “The girls who just want a boyfriend. They don’t care about each other, they just want…to look good. Don’t worry. I’ll wait for college.”

She broke into more laughter. “Thank the universe for small favors.”

 

Snail Woman/Made of Sand

f7fad00178064806e7d9dd94461b5882Atwood said woman made of sand, I say snail woman
She carried her world strapped tumpline canvas thick
So heavy her brow wore down and now it’s feathered

The snail woman packs her things tight and tidy
In coconut shells and acorn caps and a bowled hand
Yes, they tip but glued they shake like ground seed

The snail woman moves faster than you’d expect
Across the sidewalk and yard and men and years
You never know where a shoe might crash down

The snail woman bops under her diaphanous shell
She stuffed pillows and blankets and cobwebs inside
There’s but a sliver of her body left in the mishmash

The snail woman reached the fence the other day
No pockmarks or marble holes to ooze through
The shell frayed like sand, Atwood knows best after all.

Banana Liquor in Mentone

Write about the first time you danced with someone you loved –

Right where his wings should have been
Hair traipsed, blond feathers brushed
My fingers tickled against football shoulders
Hills of bulk flattened as he laughed

Pinked words flew by steel train tracks
Such physical creatures are the young
Fluttered lashes and nothing of my mind
A cosmic joke, perhaps, for bodies to sing

Under the kitchen lights when outdoors
Authority looks on, ice-eyed and weary
While lovers sway, chest to chest, hearts
Aligned in shallow waters like tadpoles

Perhaps a cosmic protection, instead
Life preservers to the blade of experience
The moon bright enough to cut a path
And our eyes swathed in its silver smoke

Hope is balance in love as we age, for that night
My being leapt out as an unleashed spirit
And perfumed the kitchen with desperation
Which he consumed like a starving child.

 

32, Lost at Sea

sun-shining-near-dark-clouds-ocean

 

It’s hard to say
why
The beauty here
Does not thaw me out
I try new things
Pry open my mouth
Stutter words
But
I’m still frozen
I’m still pushing
On
Through bramble
and sapped pine
Listening to
the seachilled wind
Stood at the sound
Looking
For something
To live for
other
than others

End of Summer

150617_07f7cff76d

Inhale deep before you answer the phone
Unless you’d like them to see the pitch
black fog that surrounds your shaking chest ,
a voiceless hallow grove in winter

Drink an energy drink to peel your
numb body from the couch, and pray
that there is enough daylight to
carry you through your tasks

Link your arms around your heart
and pump your ribcage so that you
remain the red-headed walking dead
goddess who laughs at despair

New Years Day

Every New Years is cleaning day.
As the sun rises
She wakes to the pines and iced windows
A woman pained
Parts her eyes and stretches a swan’s throat
Eyes deadly sharp
Prepares coffees the partner never remembers
A nighttime decision
She drinks deeply and will ignore the dust.
To fill deep waters
The littered counters and clogged sink will wait.
Float in her mind
Energy percolates as she faces the mirror
Choices rendered
The screws are right under her parted skin
Logical progressions
It doesn’t hurt to remove them, the nerves
Exercise employed
might be dead. The screws lay in her palm,
Therapy completed
The head comes off, lefty-loosey, a child proof
Prescription Written
med bottle. Now she’s backward, and must note
Medicine bags held
righty-tighty. A minute or two is all it takes,
attempt to be happy
cleaning day is swift when bleach is employed.

California

I read all the Bukowski’s. He, impossibly, he
She is a fly on his back, waiting to uproot joy
Wishing not to relate so to his murky stream
Filthy accusations, a broken bottle to her
Large breasts, she, impossible, she notices
He was beat with a strop, I remember, I
We share pockmarks on our pasts, We
California Oranges, split love, Drinking, Us
We share a common History, Left Behind
Betting on the horses, dive bars, Dirty Streets
Haze in smog smog smog. There is no
Happy ever after, only lingering nothingness

zzz-bukowski-art

purple-dawn_print

Early morning, when purple reigns
Slunk, slinking out of bed, feather
Light touches, a new day to inhale
My toes against the ground, to Savor
Coffee and warm carpet

It’s Washington in May, and Green
Everything breathes, heavy fuchsias
From the watchmaker and hanging
Baskets full of bramble, pitch Pine
Luminary orb, stretching trees

The dogs are hungry, little mouths
Yawn, Paul with his hammer, thump
The sun opens her arms and powers
On the world I stand, my feet bare,
That purple drawn into me.

Stinky mouths and bleary eyes
A teenage son says little, wrinkles
His mouth bent down to hold his tongue
From spilling out his love of night
Shadows the morning’s beauty

21

View from the Road (5/9/16)

 

2340684_e760b90e

I was born encased in concrete, the ocean spread
Before me she turned tricks in a carnival show
The bad family blues a rotten tune, tricksters
Hung her upside down, toes suspended in anger

I illuminated the beach and turned the page
It wasn’t enough to brighten the the long road
and I became a trickster myself, looming near,
A haunting refrain of the past, circular gaps

Southward she reached, her arms a perfect arc
The sky a canvas of aubergine, monolith sun,
Cinched eyes, blackened smog hung to the IE
A bowl of fire and smoke, a road from the ocean

Is Concrete my North way, briny shell homes
Closed-cone pines light the path, ocean salt
In my bones. Trickster mind, pitch soot lungs
A long road ahead, a path behind me undone

%d bloggers like this: