Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The tree is huge and has three main branches: two in a fork, straight up into leaves and sky, and one which grows parallel to the ground for a great distance. This species of tree, unlike the banyans of my homeland, does not produce tendrils that on touching ground grip and swell into air roots; the horizontal branch, fifteen or twenty metres long and connected only at its base, is always in threat of breaking.

This great tree around which the whole park is built has long since been fenced off for that reason, and supports placed under that errant branch. There will be no walking along the branch as if it was the great plank of a pirate ship, and anyway as adults we must now work from prudence - there are people who do not wish us to do some things, who are important enough to override all our other desires.

You used to be such a great climber. Something in the fingers, I think - the last phalanx of your fingers can bend to form a hook, which mine never can. I was the only one who saw you when you sneaked from branch to thin branch, all the way to the 20-metre-high canopy, and let loose a howl that affrighted half the people on the plain below; they thought you were some strange tree beast, I saw you up there, and I was the only person shielded from your sight under great boughs of leaves.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On A Sudden Spell of Fatigue

All of a sudden I am tired and I do not know why.

I had been holding a paragraph of words in the minutes before this fatigue struck. Now my mind loosens and the whole thing disintegrates, dripping out somewhere - through my skin along with sweat, perhaps, or jumbled in with the conversation that marches on without noticing I am prostrate in a ditch along the way, prostrate but still crawling.

Work is the imposition of the dictum that your time does not belong to you. Within the restricted space we have we try to make do - if work is life, then work must also include sleep and at least two meals. But there is nothing for us to rest on. No rest, no chair, no bed - only a floor, which would have been fine but has not been swept in weeks and can never be swept clean anyway-

(Cue T. S. Eliot.)

Even when I take out the notebook and jot down ideas for one story or another I do so slowly. This is not the normal deliberate slowness, it is the hand saying stop brain, stop a moment, you are surges of current and I am mechanical physics. There is some sort of insight to be had here but I can't see it.

Reading gives me a headache after a while, and then I see it is because the lights are all off. That I do not sense the difference for so long says something about the intensity of the light outside, which I do not want to let in fully through the door. And so I open it a bit to see, to my surprise, it is already early afternoon; the sky is saturated with both light and grey-white water, and that water is already everywhere on the ground also, being led towards the drains or collecting in depressions in the tarmac of the road.

Light is ubiquitous in summer, especially tropical summer. Light unfettered, light filling clouds, light through suspended droplets in air. In the morning a rainbow, and at evening great white towers of vapour in the north. My eye has deceived me into thinking it is the same, all the same, and behind me the day sneaks by.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Somehow we have come back home; or at least I have - your home is the home of my childhood, but I have waded through the intervening years which you are now dropped into like a stone. There are vistas both indoors and outdoors which you will not see anymore, most notably the great high ceilings of warehouse markets now turned into respectable shopping malls, or the sight of roads which go for improbable stretches without flanking buildings. (At least you were prescient about the distance being improbable.)

Love, this place is no longer really your home; perhaps this place is no longer really our home now. Still I know its roads and turnings better than you do - in a place like this memory is at best a vague guide - and I know too the places you want to see which are still around. Name me a place. If I bring you there then there is still something worth seeing. I know you are still not the sort who goes for crowds; would you trust me to guide you around?

If you do choose to go around alone, of course, I will ask nothing of your itinerary. But neither can I give you the schematics of my route. Letting you know too much of where I am going will force me to lose my way.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Titles - On hardcover books

I don't own many hardcovers; I don't know why, but I just don't. In the cases where I do, the books tend to be huge, heavy ones - Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary heavy. In this case the hardcover is as much an additional hindrance as it is a form of protection.

Nonetheless I imagine it must be nice to have a lot of hardcovers. There's a certain respect behind it - a whole shelf of books in shells instead of skins, some monolithic semblance of knowledge. The whole idea of knowledge lies in the illusion of its completion and completeness.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Propinquity is a simple word for the number of intersections between two lives.

There are some times when this becomes a terrifying force. But when I take long walks alone the sense of propinquity stays far in the background. This is a small place, but it is a crowded place; it is more surprising to run into somebody than not. All I expect - and most of the time, all I get - is the mood of the weather, the layout and changing of spaces.

The light of stars and galaxies reach us long after the event. The only saving grace is that the speed of these dispatches are about the only constant in our universe, and so time, if passed in great amounts, is at least not distorted in this case.

Distortion of time takes place instead in places not acquainted with light as a constant - the folds of the brain responsible for memory, huddled near the core, or as the ancients would have it the heart, obscured from the laws of physics by muscles and a ribcage. Within these shelters people resist all the time the truth that one portion of time is only as important as the next, or the one before.

If we count things year by year rivalries and affections become clear. But day by day everything is an ambivalent muddle. The needs of life dominate at the small scale. Only if we decrease the resolution can we pick ourselves out, and see all the critical times we have missed because they had only lasted hours or days which need to be given over to some small daemon or other.

The Adventures of John and Sleazy Nancy

The conference had ended.
We quickly said goodbye to the office colleagues,
flagged down two different taxis

towards the same destination.
The coast was clear.
I knocked on the door.
Our password contained no letters or numerals;
simple, effective: the laughter of secret sharers.
I entered, with a sense of mission.

The air-conditioning wasn’t working, said the proprietor,
but you will find it very comfortable --
there was boiled water in the corridor, his daughters slept
in the corridor outside the room, in case one needed anything
and would you please be back by 10pm, so the caretaker can lock up?
At the one-star motel in a hutong
that smelt like cats’ piss,
Mr Woo, 56, distinguished contact, convenient
family friend, dropped off
a mysterious, important envelope
and left in a chauffeured BMW. The hotel staff
eyed us with suspicion, and handed us
the white, message with their calloused, trembling hands.
In truth, it was diarrhoea medicine.

We told them we would stay just one night,
but ended up staying at Baofang for 5 nights,
too long for errant one-night lovers,
too short to be involved with matters of consequence.
What business did we have in China? asked the proprietor.

We were spending the summer
pretending to be spies.
In truth, we also were in China
to fall in love. Soon the film would be be completed.
Then I would replay it again and again
to its end, and then again,
and again, till in my mind,
those days became a roll of film.

Friday, June 1, 2007


We abstained from sleep in summer,
held each other like two halves of a poem,
hurled rocks into Lake Michigan like expletives.

In fall, dusk arrived with a shock of birds.
The lake reflected the dying light,
photographing it with perfect calm.


In winter, the hours flew in the direction of warmer places.
The lake, glazed over, like indifferent eyes.


You open the door.
You confront a line of trees.
They have been shorn
of all pretenses. Starved; heroic.
winter is circling over you, calling and calling.
Alighting in your arms, shivering and wet,
It asks to be nursed, then falls asleep.