The sponge

I am soft and full of holes,
Preserved by smiles
That host soirees in my belly,
Every once in a while.

Forest fires snuffed out
By the swampy stretch of shallow summers;
By the mountainous intimacy,
And the cold blood pumper.

I am the overzealous draught
Puffing up the wrong trail,
Where Circe’s shrubs grow dull
And Rosemary’s spell tickles your snout.

Their nymph dance clouds the air
And you stare, as the same shade of ash
Stains the ocean and sky.

I smile at your glassy eyed eagle eye –
You are at sea with my oddly set genes.

My two-minute love, I am
The train of thought you couldn’t follow,
The prospect turned to vapour,
Floating up to be a cloud
And raining down to wet your dreams.

Don’t expect me to bloom
Just because it is spring.

You amaze at the flowery insights
Budding off my frivolous tongue,
At the bleeding emotion
Ejaculating from my ripe fat fruits.

There is a pureness and ease
To this elephant happiness.

But the sickness, you see,
Has been breeding for months
And the worms inside are waiting
To rush down your throat and smother you.

As you press your feverish mouth to mine,
It is your weakness that will rot you.

I lie before you, truthful and bare.
Trust me darling, all I really am
Is a few padded memories of childhood,
Waiting like dew to dry up in the sun.

I have soaked up more than any barnacle could bear
So just give me a squeeze, and I’m done.


Photograph of view from Punta di Circe, San Felice al Circeo, Italy

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A carnalidade

Poem originally written in Italian for my great uncle Gilberto Grasso, who I lived with in Santarem, Brazil, over the summer. It is very special to me, as is my uncle Gil, who, at the age of 80, still burns with what Pasolini (one of his favourite Italian authors) would call ‘desperate vitality’. Thank you for overwhelming me with your immense love for life, literature, cinema, romance, fun, debate, and all the ups and downs this world’s got to offer.

Zio Gil and his friend Deonito, Language professor at the University of Santarém, helped me translate the poem into the beautiful language it deserves to be in. (Below a rough English translation for those who need it).


A carnalidade jogue tudo na brasa.

Eu, que sempre mergulhei nas gentes,
A procura de um tudo
que apagasse cada minha curiosidade.

E que sempre mais esvaziada me foi acordada,
Apagada-se a duvida
Que era a minha vitalidade.

Tu es demais incontrolável para mim,
Demais fora do lugar.
Eu, que cambaleio nas margens da loucura,
Ainda demais regulada.

E me pergunto se tu
és verdadeiramente livre,
Se o homem verdadeiramente
pode aprender em ser livre.

Quando o teu ser fica marcado daquele momento,
No qual tu abaixas-te para afivelar a bota
Ou em olhar uma linda mulher e não uma outra.

Aqueles momentos te acorrentam a este mundo
Que nos acompanha sozinhos,
dos vinte e quatro aos oitenta.

Quando penses saudoso ao passado,
Naquele que é, que não foi.
E quando procuras de viver desesperadamente
Para não te sentir apagar totalmente.

È bem verdade que nÓS poetas
somos calculadores – niilistas miseráveis.
È bem verdade que eu, sou espelho ornamental
Das emoções que me cercam.

Mas absorvo, te garanto que absorvo.
E estas vidas que cabem em mim,
Estas luzes que cabem em mim,
Saiam de mim mais coloridas, cheias.


Carnality turns the world to ashes.
A life spent diving into people,
Seeking fullness to quench curiosity.
Yet rising emptier each morning,
Extinguished the doubt, extinguished the clout.
You’re too unruly for me, too out of place.
I’m still staggering on the margins of madness
And yet I am still too restrained.
And I ask myself if you really are free,
if a man can truly ever learn to be free.
When you’re tainted by that moment
when you stopped to tie your shoelace
or lay eyes on a pretty girl and not another.
Moments like these glue you to this word,
that chaperones our lonely journey
from age twenty to age eighty.
When you think, with ‘saudade’, to the past
to what happened and what didn’t.
When you try to live desperately,
to not fade out entirely.
And maybe what you said is true:
Us writers are calculating, misery-breeding nihilists,
And maybe I am, indeed, just an ornamental mirror
Throwing back the life and emotions around me.
But I promise I sponge it all up
And these lives that soak in,
These lights that soak in
Come back out more colourful and full.

No Life During Wartime

Back to bite, back to bite, don’t breath, thump thump.
Lights, gone. Food, gone. Drugs, gone, Hope.

Desperate sex and wobbly legs.
Get me drunk, look after me, stop the thinking, stop the world.

Back to bite, back to bite, bite me harder, fuck me harder
Than this silence, than this screaming, are they screaming, is it me?

The terror is like popping candy abusing my skull,
Like angry clots of blood trying to burst out of fingernails

Pulsing, screeching, moaning, and then silence.
The constant ringing and now your face has gone all blurry.

The thought of all the itches we will never get to scratch.
It’s all rotting, it’s all gone and you just keep being so fucking kind.

The bile in my stomach, my hands in your pants, is there even a point?
Splashing about in mud, looking for familiar faces, for a trace of something human.

Slaves demanding justice, then wanting the crown.
Grey days, skipped days, were you slowly drift away.

I don’t want to be pretty, I don’t want to write pretty
To hide behind niceties and disgusting adoration.

In the darkness I’ve stopped tripping, I walk steady now.
I’m not longer funny but I’m lonely, as you roll me the millionth cigarette,

As I gulp the millionth gulp of bitterness, my bitterness.
We lost a long while ago and we’ve wasted all our time.

Toxic waste and suspicion, is that mask because of me?
They’ve turned us against each other and there’s no going back.

There’s no life during wartime, only slow self-destruction.
Before the bombs, before the lights went out,

Before the mould and the stench and the disease and the hunger,
The mind numbing stupidness had already knocked us out.


 

Featured image: Jobkill by Pushwagner, Hariton (1987) can be found in the Norwegian National Museum, or online at: http://www.pushwagner.no/galleri/kunst/JOBKILL

Empathy

I washed three times but still:
I smell the vile breath, and still
I see the sunken bloodshot eyes
a pain too deep and miserable to scream
from its open grave, vestige of human lies.

Tomorrow your vacant eyes will not remember this face
yet the fetid smell will not ever leave my head.
Again and again it plays,
the blurry vision of a heat induced hallucination
sneaking up, once again, to threaten my sanity.

I thought it was a child,
an innocent, ill-fated child on a bike,
perhaps still burning, perhaps still alive.
Yet all I could find was the shell of a human life
bruised by a world which is infinitely unkind.

As you blinked at me and slurred your dissent
I disentangled your legs from the wheels
tugged you out of your certain crematorium
dead weight to weak arms and shaky knees,
dead weight to all our cushioned lives.

My abandoned car blinked furiously
ignored by the lives that unblinkingly drove by
No longer human, no longer of use,

illegal smelly immigrant

I wretched violently on the way home
the smell of your skin on my clothes and hands
the unsettling disgust in humanity
steeped into my disillusioned plans.
Only one man stopped:

‘anche io sono straniero ma…’

His conscience dirtied by judgement over judgement
your rotten breath etched deep into his identity
an anchor of blame which has nowhere tangible to go
defensive and defenceless to this worldwide generalisation.
Anche io sono straniero ma.

Did I really save your life, did I choose to be this way?
To follow the trail in the grass
where the cheap boxed wine pulls drunkards off course.
To acted upon automation, like the Belding’s ground squirrel,
putting itself in danger in the name of evolution.

You asked god to bless me but did I really do you a kindness?
Or should I have let the heat put you to sleep, cease your pain?
Head nuzzled in the prickly grass, feet tangled in your rusty bike
barbed wire inches from your eye
invisible to the road, invisible to the world.

And as xenophobia prevails, as hatred and fear win the UK
and all these cars speed away, I feel lonely and wired incorrectly.


 

Featured: Pink Man / Leviathan (Blu), to be found on  Oberbaum Brücke / Falckensteinstraße ( U Kottbusser Tor stop).

Travel Post # 5 Alter do Chao, Pirates and the Rio Arapiuns

Alter do Chao, 17/07/16

Smiles, sunsets, palm trees and a samba band – music in the night always makes me feel at home. And I feel enormous right now,  don’t know where I end, how to contain all of this. Lightning lights up the night and I sway on the rio. I’m terrible at making friends, at looking people in the eyes. They hurt me too much. I wish I could stare without them staring back. If only I could make myself small, a menina, so I wouldn’t feel so constricted. Is it poverty that killed activity in Santarem or is it something else? It’s GLOBO that holds the power over here, it’s all about American idols and dreams. The telenovelas have murdered history, love for nature and spirituality and now the children in the comunidades lacked even basic imagination. Creativity replaced by fake promises, of money and social status.
Caranazal, the Pirate’s Lair and the Pajes (chaman) 18/07/16


I have been abducted by pirates. Hippie pirates, with skulls on the face and body and grand illusions of freedom. They say I’m in the middle of the jungle now, but there’s a road a few miles away. I drove a wolkswagen truck and they threw thei pet rat, Chorinha, onto my lap. I didn’t even budge. Artesanato, drugs, the reggae music, the car, the dirty ethnic prints, the snake skin, the ayahuasca plants in the garden and the forceful natureza. Slaves and stereotypes in their escape of society. But you’re not free, you pry on people – on gringos – to live your lie of community, free love and no possession. But you were kind to me and I am grateful. But that man, that wise man… there was magic there and I felt it inside and I cried. I cried for the kindness and strength he found in me and the empathy and calm he left in me. I confessed my biggest fear, of being alone with myself and he gave me his silent resonting answer, awakening a knowledge that was already inside of me. “There is no fear when you are alone with yourself”. Fear and anger are the most social of constructions.

Comunidade de Anã, Rio Arapiuns, 27/07/16

The rio is cooler and bluer, the forest is greener and I feel lighter. The language stopped being a barrier a soon as I stepped foot into this side of the resex, almost like magic. And there is something magical about this place. About the people’s knowing peaceful smile and how lightly my feet step on the leafs.It’s almost as if the Muanã, the protector spirit of the lake, really is protecting its land and people. I feel like I’ve always belonged here and all my fears and bothers are distant memories from someone else’s life. The excitement in the air subsides my need for sleep, and I lie in the dark, unafraid of snakes and insects, gazing at the infinite white marks and swirls in the sky, frogs croaking all around me. I then walk straight into the all embracing orange light, as the MUSA’s – Mulheres Sonhadoras em Ação – set their nets. There are no human words for happiness.

 

 

Travel Post # 4 – Indigenous Communities of the Rio Tapajos – A Reflection on Learned Helplessness

There are no jaguars here, and there is no conception of power. Chicken. Featherless chicken everywhere. And dogs, skin and bone, sickly and hungry with empty eyes, biting at each other´s skin for a mouldy orange. Ants explore my legs and arms, as a dragonfly buzzes about and I wait for the boat, sweating, thirsty and useless. And often my eyes cross, a curious bloodshot glare – of men, women, children. But it isn´t malaria that haunts the forest and fills the air with sickness. It isn´t snakes and wild beasts that flood me with fear. It is the demon of helplessness that lurks here, by the edge of the Rio Tapajos. The air in these ´comunidades´ is drenched in learned helplessness. The playfulness, the dancing, the brincadeiras – they make me sick as a poisoned rat and I´m suffocating. Brincar, brincar, bola, bandoleira. Blissful ignorance and hunger. Laboratory dogs – they have been taught there is nothing they can do. Things will never change here, we will always be conquistadores. One cannot change what doesn´t want to be changed.

All I can do is hold on to this heaviness of heart. As always, I let the weight of the world sink in. The one that floats around in this forest, homeless, ignored by the bodies it belongs to. There was nothing I could do for that man who lay helpless in the mud, covered in ants and mosquitoes amd soaked in cachasa. Life had run him over. Life has run all of them over. All of these children, all this Criança, the demon of passivity etched upon them from the womb. A helplessness that is almost genetic. They queue up for the special merenda: chocolate milk and three biscuits. They look at me curiously, the meninas touch my braid. Eyes open, brains full of potential. Yet they are all slaves to Globo TV, that want to grow up to be modelo or a football star.  There´s no spirituality in these comunidades in these washed out wooden structures with holes for doors, but with TV´s inside, flashing telenovelas 24/7. I´ll always be a gringa here, eyed with awe or hatred, even if I play bola barefoot and let the insects eat my feet. Even if I swim naked in the rio with biscios. If I carry heavy things in the sun and take nice photographs and sleep on hammocks under the stars and learn amazonas music. Even after the insistence and casually handed out sexuality, just cause I´m playing a yes man game.
A transparent albino child plays in the middle of this dark brown criança. I wonder if he feels as much of an outsider as I do. I feel terribly lonely and nostalgic. The language, the faces, the colours, the heat, the upset stomach. Pull me, push me, make me feel alive. Maybe they´re right, autonomy is too hard a plight. One must choose and pick and do. Better to have someone do it for you. How many of you have really felt these chains? Understood the possibilities, felt the stagedness of this narcissistic freedom? And even if you do feel the chains, would you still choose to run alone? If you don´t know that you don´t know, you don´t torture yourself in doubt and uncertainty. To reach the knowledge of not knowing implies a duty as the next move: to act. So maybe openness to experience doesn´t have to come without care or with stupidity. It means considering and choosing what feels right, not playing a yes man name. And does recklessness really feel right what it comes with the risk of snake venom, malaria a hepathitis? I value this, because I recognise how easy it is to fall prey to the contamination of stupidity and carelessness. It snuck into my every pore over here and for two nights I gave into a carelessness that doesn´t lead to freedom. A million bloodshot eyes stare into mine every day to prove it. Freedom and versatility come with choice. I want to choose, not prove. I Have nothing to prove to these people. I don´t have to be like them. I need to learn how to stop feeling like I´m in debt to the world.

Note: All photos taken and thoughts written during work with a indigenous community development program of the NGO Saude e Alegria, based in Santarem.

Apocalypse

Always in the car of doom. And it’s doom for all this time, out of any of our control. We’re driving down the road and it’s calm, still vaguely sunny, there’s breeze, the sea is somewhere on the left and it’s almost dusk. A building up front towers over all, the Tikal perhaps, or maybe the Taj Mahal. It wasn’t there before and its feels ominous. I know something is happening a second before the rest. Yet we’re all in this together. Objects start tumbling from the sky before us: tables, cars, machines, electronics, trees, body parts, shoes, flowers and chickens. We see it but it’s too late to stop and we’re under the pouring rain of humanity. And now we all know this is the end, it is the end of it all. Tossed into the terminal, an itch of disappointment tugs at me. I thought this would feel different. There’s no sudden realisation, no purpose, no regret. My life doesn’t flash before my eyes. I just quietly find myself dismantling… everything splinters, matter is no more, and I vaguely think this is what it might be like if a planet struck earth, if we were imploding on ourselves. I’m disassembled painlessly and bloodlessly into blackness. And as our history is scratched out by the universe’s absentmindedness, I become extra dimensional, pulsating sparkles in the nothingness. Inexplicable and immaterial, maybe this is what pure consciousness feels like.

Featured Image by Danish artist Anja Hemmingsen. Find her on: http://anjahemmingsen.com

Nap Time

Finally, it is nap time and I wake up with my nose smashed into metal. At least the bodies aren’t here this time. Oh, it is happening again. Something weird is growing in here somewhere and I can feel it trying to scratch its way out. I’m not quite sure what will happen when it does, or if there’s anything I can or should be doing to stop it. I’m on autopilot again. This black tar-like feeling is spreading in me and I am constantly on edge, fear chewing away at me. I am so fucked. Everything is perfect right now and I’m paralysed by fear: I am slowly being forced to walk blindfolded off the plank and who knows what lurks beneath. Will she be there to steer the wheel this time? She know the rocky planes off the paths better than I do. Or will I be left powerless and lonely to keep myself awake while this dull sleep washes over me? My lips and fingers are so dry, shrivelled to perfection by sleepless nights. I feel slightly sick all the time and the pain behind my eyes pushes the lids shut. But I cannot sleep now, oh no. I cannot sleep ever, not with this fucking HD screen stuck on channel suffering 24/7. I have grown morbid again: guts and violence seem to temporarily lift me out off the torpor. Disgust is the most awake I’ve felt recently. Irreverence is my comfort blanket.

SHOCK

Sudden, sudden loss of control.
Your invisible blood sticks to my fingers,
The air that left you,
To my chest like alien tentacles.
Grey metal to join the blue and black,
Already nuzzled in the fields.
Who was here before me?

My pill-induced nightmare is shattered by your silent scream.

Sudden, sudden loss of control.
My biggest fear just rolled all over me:
From a distance I observed,
The war of paranoia and sedation –
The human-made virus
Spreading through the world.
Whose side am I on?

Grey streaked kind woman, I can’t tell you how sorry I am.

Sudden, sudden loss of control.
I cling desperately to the only scrapes you left me:
It works, but only just.
And only just always fills you
With horrors and questions and blame.
Only just pulls me out of Switzerland,
and right back into the rubble.

I’m at war.

 


 

Featured Image: ‘The Art of Paranoia’ by Peter Schwartz. Check him out here:

http://www.artmajeur.com/en/artist/peterschwartz/portfolio

Letter for the new year

Dear all,

Let me start this post, and this new year, by apologising for not writing anything in December. I have been rather busy, thoughtful and confused. Today, I shall honour my original quest to share reflections starting from my own experience and to record my progress in this year in which I have ‘taken time off’ to look after myself.

I started this adventure by testing out a life of routine: work, family, yoga, therapy, reading, writing, no travelling, no household and financial responsibilities, not much going out. In fact, not much of anything that could hinder the quiet balance of my (I now realise) overly-structured daily pattern. In doing so, I succeeded in not losing myself in the depths of deep depression or mania.

However, three months into this new lifestyle, I started getting irritable. Familiar faces started to annoy me terribly and my disgust in humanity increased: the old woman who shooed the dog, the people who wouldn’t let me pass on the zebra crossing, the people walking about aimlessly in shopping centres, getting in my way and stamping on my feet, the people who complained about bombings in Paris, and did nothing in their lives to make the world a better place, those who moaned about a corrupt government and were masters of fiscal evasion. Badly dressed people, people speaking loudly, people saying stupid things, people frowning… everything was painful to my eyes and ears.

And then I started getting anxious: why was I so irritable? I needed to control myself, not seem strange at work or at home. They’d start to think I was manic! My hands started shaking and my insides bubbling, when I was alone with myself I didn’t feel very well. Towards the end of November a woman sped through a red light and very nearly crashed into me and my friend. A series of ‘what if’s’ instilled themselves into my mind. What if my friend hadn’t been so quick on the brakes? What if we’d been a couple of inches further down the road? What if my friend had died and I’d been left with the guilt of having asked her to drive my car cause I was tired?

And finally the fear crept in: I spent ages in my car, how many times had I evaded death? I started seeing ambulances on the road, every day for a week. Cars speeding in the rain, water on my wind shield. I started flashing images of myself dead and bloody, a road kill. My hand clutched the steering wheel and my ears pounded. Nightmares started haunting my sleep: I killed my loved ones cause I didn’t drive carefully, I lost complete control, became insane.

What was happening?

The structured balance which had worked so well in keeping the craziness out was somehow giving in. I wasn’t, of course, spiralling out of control or losing touch with reality: my anxiety seemed to be limited to car journeys and I could control my irritation. Most importantly I was aware that something was going wrong. I talked to my therapist about it, who suggested it may have to do with the fact that I had been ‘living the life of a cloistered nun’, as she put it.

That woke me up. I realised all at once, that the routine I had mistaken for balance, was far from it. I had gone from being all over the place, full of ups, downs, interests, enthusiasms and responsibilities, to a life deprived of anything that could trigger an emotional response of sorts. I wasn’t learning how to deal, and live, with bipolar disorder: I was avoiding it. Of course I felt balanced: my mum made me coffee in the morning, I had no responsibilities other than work and I avoided nights out, alcohol, drugs, people, situations were I could spend money, PEOPLE. I wasn’t crazy and spiralling out of control, but I also wasn’t ME.

Maria Popova, author at brainpickings.org writes: ‘the structure of routine comforts us, and the specialness of ritual vitalises us. A full life calls for both — too much control, and we become mummified; too little excitement and pleasurable discombobulation, and we become numb. After all, to be overly discombobulated is to be dead inside — to doom oneself to a life devoid of the glorious and ennobling messiness of the human experience.’

So I decided to test myself: I brought a plane ticket to visit old friends and started going out more often. I spent time with people, old friends and new ones, had a few drinks, listened to some great music and had a good time. But most of all I felt like myself again. And sure, I may still be a bit overenthusiastic when doing things (stuff like being overly affectionate towards everyone or spending 38 quid on scientific magazines while waiting for my train, oops) but I’m not bat-shit crazy and I feel real again.

And this is what I need to learn how to be, one step at a time. I realise now that what I have to do, what I need to do, is a lot harder than I had anticipated. Avoidance is boring but fairly easy, self-control and patience are a whole different matter.

So here’s to a year in which my top priority is learning to live with myself: a year of patience but not avoidance, of adventure and spontaneity, but not recklessness and carelessness. Here’s to savouring the things and people that make me happy, and not skimming past them in a frenzy for more.

Keep an eye out in the coming week for a more technical account of self-control and willpower and what it really means to implement them in real life.

Happy New Year to all,

Alisha:-)