On the other side of these walls doctors are analyzing flying lungs and limbs, they are hoping not to lose an entire generation. Texas, before you got here these people parked cars and kept a record of every disaster. In the desert calligraphy flattens to a deep purple memory, nightmares and images in the belly and the brains. Poems, prayers and knives stockpiled in the school yard. They are attending meetings in municipal gardens next to open sewers, there never seem to be enough buildings. There is no air, just broken promises and a dizzying display of coffins. Texas, all is gain. All the signs have been lost to yesterday’s news, the horizon disbanded, the years dispersed in a bed of bones. Everything is ready for you to fix it.
In the morning Hakim brought soap and a basin filled to the brim with clean water. A few hours later he brought coffee, two books and a bowl of raisin bran. A guard stood at the door. I was the next story in the room. There will be one meal a day, said Hakim, and it will come in the afternoon. I will bring enough food so there’s a little left over for the evening, nuts usually and a few pieces of fruit for the morning … thank you but I’m not here to discuss food … oh … I demand to know my proximity to the nullity that is now occurring … I see … there must be some mistake … I don’t think so … perhaps you’ve not seen my wingspan … your what … I’m friends with the President and his press secretary, Fuckface … I see … have you ever heard a Texas dog howl … a few. Hakim didn’t seem to hear my questions and so I was forced to consider the possibility I hadn’t asked them, but that doesn’t explain why he refused me the information.
I watched him cover the bed with a light blanket. He put the soap and basin next to the fireplace, a plate, cup and some books on the counter. I had the impression that all of these things had been here before. Why the books, I asked … they are from previous prisoners … I see … I am learning to speak English … oh … perhaps you will help me … yes of course … I am Hakim … I know who you are, who is the man at the door … he doesn’t want you to know his name … this is an odd house … it was built by an Englishman in 1917 … I see … it was to be his country residence … oh … but he never lived in it … why … he died suddenly of cholera … I see … tomorrow we will begin our lessons … yes of course … I will bring you soup … thank you.
The people were calm as the bombs fell in the courtyard. Aban quietly put away the money. He knew the city no longer had the tools to break through the steel and concrete slabs. Knocking and voices were heard for days. Each time there is only this time, he said, and our day will come. As for myself, I had hoped to be in a bar sipping whisky, having run out of prospects, putting on a little glow to make sense of the din. Moderation is a difficult thing, and not much will come of it. At the moment of our end there is nothing. It is a well fed, well fucked Texas pilot, ready to do the town. Nothing but blue skies next to the almighty, and steel. As for events on the ground, we’ll just have to invent them.
It’s easy to lose oneself during an air raid, stealth jets restless and breathing, more idea than object against the setting sun. A roar from inside the clouds and all directions approaches without colour, without form. Houses briefly gather in their windows, a flood of perfect light empties beneath blind cement. Who is seeing this? Celestial campaigns reinvent time and distance, irretrievable like a face forgotten inside a mirror, the music of Beethoven all at once. The clash of civilizations will go on and the good book will focus our attention, keep the formation of the stars and the heavens. If God were here he’d pull these planes down from the sky, but the bastard doesn’t exist.
Aban is dead now, it was me they wanted. He was motionless while his killer approached. He liked drama, his own luck on the head of a pin. He was a fan of Hollywood in the forties – Bogart, because he didn’t talk much. He hated the fifties. Nothing but the years ahead and a garage full of small appliances waiting for the weekend. Things aren’t built to last anymore, they’re not worth fixing. Dad can go straight to drinking. Christmas trees matched the tinsel, made by Dow Chemical and like so many things it came in a spray. It’s the decade that gave us aluminium siding, thanks to the war. Soon everything would last forever, we thought, including mom’s breasts. In 1961 Dow’s little brother Corning invented the silicone implant.
You must go away, said Aban … why … because you’re killing all the people. I have lost what was said and what was done. People are hiding in the millions, behind borders, the wreckage of demarcation. The plural is how we hollow out a population, it’s just easier to kill by the thousands. Some will eat, some will starve and some will have never been here. I put it all in my report. Aban disagrees with the numbers but the President thinks they’re fine. We return the flesh to its elements, circumvent the funeral, and the burial is instantaneous. The fear is real, the pain of others will pass, try to muddle on. We each must cope as best we can, as we eat, sleep and are annihilated.
In this room I live inside the shoebox I keep underneath my bed, or is it in my head. It doesn’t matter, I just need some place to put things so that I can take them out again. This is where I keep the first snowfall and the promise I made to myself, to die in Paris. This only, and the hope, the scent of a visit, preferably from the waitress at the all-night diner rather than a higher power. Each time I talk to God he just doesn’t get it. Birth is an expulsion into a place that is missing, a fabric without weave or measure. It’s the laughter that sticks in your throat. I am an immigrant. I lied about meeting the President. Wait, I am not done. Here are the words that will save you: he will die and you are not him.
I once knew a poet from Saskatchewan, in Saskatchewan this is how every story begins. On his deathbed he told me he’d had a good life. There, in the colonies, a bard can still get a drink for a pun but the metaphors have been thoroughly picked over. Happily they still have an ear for a rhyme. The truth, he once told me, is in the long dead winters where we live. Life is a sickness, he said, I will go to India, or was it Peru. There, on the edge of impossible cities I will be nobody’s son. The truth will fly out of my mouth as I listen to the sound of the ancients dreaming, backwards. Then he explained that the next best English novelist will be from Mumbai. His grammar will be impeccable, he said, but in Exeter they know he will be more diligent than able.
After the Second World War we needed to contain Chinese expansion. Social change is contagious and sufficient to establish intent, countries were falling like dominos. We needed to protect the people of Indochina from the governments they were electing. In Vietnam we learned that it is difficult to dislodge an administration from its constituency, so long as the constituency continues to exist. What is good for Texas is good for the world. In Russia they’re thinking of Stalin again since Gorbachev tore down the wall. Eastern Europe is the new Trojan horse from which Texas will dismantle the region. Free at last, free at last, who needs the Mexicans now that we have the Ukrainians.
These days ritual murder will not secure the harvest, it will do nothing to rouse the Queen’s uterus, it has never kept our enemies at bay. The two criteria of a legitimate target are that it be defenseless and that they have something we want. After we defeated Hitler we kicked the French out of the Middle East and sent them to Africa. In 1951 Japan was made to pay reparations for their war of aggression against China. The cheque was made payable to Texas. Fifty years later, the same treaty was used to protect American subsidiaries against lawsuits from Asian victims of Japanese fascism. Texas’s favourite countries are a little bigger than a breadbox. International law is there to be broken, errant numbers and random skin. We will teach you to torture your own.
I knew where to look from my Manhattan condo, I rallied the young while I dined on truffles and wine. War is a beautiful idea. I am the one who put the Huns in the saddle, showed them how to make two cups from one skull. Next to the dead, eyes and lips moisten, in this room I walk on the tip of my tongue. Yesterday a bird told me I could continue my dictation so long as it doesn’t make sense. That’s fine, since I will not be the one reading it and writing it slows the next thing from happening. Everything and anything comes out of my mouth, so I wouldn’t call this a voice. What I know of the world is smaller than the gap between two words, but I’m learning to spit.
Lord knows this will not be a long life, but there have been such moments. It does not matter the name, that he is, or is not. That he is eternal. God is not what we see but all we penetrate, that’s why he’s so hard to get rid of. I used to think dicing onions and washing dishes was a waste of time, now I peel every grape. My first and last thoughts are elsewhere, and so are the ones in between. People are alright when they live and work according to their nature, searching and not finding. There is enough time amid the bombs falling. The window in this room has three bars that cut the sky, portals to a courtyard where two chickens and a goat wait to be killed. They feed without lifting their heads.
I am not now, nor have I ever been, a chicken or a goat. I am neither for nor against their destruction, yet they are changed forever by my gaze and by this sentence. It is the name that makes chickens and goats possible, pins them to their absence, of which death, and I hesitate to state the obvious, is but a small part. I stood at the window and watched them but I wish to remain flexible on the time and the date. That’s how I know I’m living in the hereafter. The twentieth century is now on the shelf. One hundred years can’t fill a thimble and no message was left. For a while we walked lightly in blue jeans and sandals, in what looked like another beginning. As for God, he knew he was dead before he read Nietzsche. He was just trying to stay current.