11 Death (Imagined)

I noticed I was dead when I saw myself lying dead in my bed, looking down on myself from a great height: there I was. Gone. A lifelong flirtation with significance, over. And nothing dreadful in consequence. No pain, no loss, no uncertainty. Just the remorseless ease of an expired existence. Of almost failure. Of having nearly been. Something or other. Someone? Then I woke up and realised that it had been a dream. I don’t like to say ‘only’, but it had been ‘only’ a dream. I had dreamt my self dead. What new joys. Wait on me.

It’s hard now to say what perplexed me more. Being dead (in my dream), or being alive (after all). But finding myself thus among the quick in a hitherto slow existence, I believed I had heard, and was minded to heed, a call for action: I got out of bed and made coffee.

Mug in hand I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, naked. I do that a lot these days, I examine my body. I marvel at it, not admiringly: bemused. I don’t look for blemishes or signs of decay, I look for signs of familiarity; for something that says: this is you. I don’t find it. The person standing naked in the mirror in front of me could be anybody. It’s not that I’m alien to myself or strange, just: unfamiliar. I’m roughly fifty and not beautiful. What I marvel at is not beauty. What I marvel at is the fact that I don’t recognise myself in the shape I’ve become. I’m not even unattractive. In fact, I may be more attractive now than I’ve ever been. And I’m not even sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure it’s a thing. Any more. ‘Attractive’. To what and to whom and to what end. Nevertheless, I’m a little alarmed because it seems late in the day to suddenly start feeling attractive. Alarmed but a little reassured too, because perhaps it just means I’m not over the hill. What is the hill? Going down is supposed to be easier than going up. What ride am I in for? Now?

Mug in hand I stand in front of the mirror naked, looking for signs of familiarity. The eyes maybe. Or the nose. Maybe the lips. I’m stubbly, and I like it. There. That’s something to hold on to: seeing as it is that I’m alive there’s one thing that I’m happy with and that’s worth holding on to: my stubble.

I remind myself I am sitting opposite my young self and I had promised my young self – not so much promised, perhaps, as enticed him over by means of the prospect of – a question. My mind goes blank. The memory of imagining my own death, even just as a dream, and the image of my standing in front of the mirror naked, mug in hand and content that I have inexplicably become ‘attractive’, possibly owing to stubble (which has since grown somewhat into a near-mature beard), sends a shudder down my spine, and I put down my mojito too firmly.

‘George,’ I say, sensing that something – anything – is required from me at this point, ‘what are you doing in Istanbul?’

This is not, obviously, the question I’d had in mind for him, but then I can’t begin to conceive of what question I might have had in mind for him, and since it’s a question that is playing on my mind about myself (what am I doing in Istanbul?) I feel it is pertinent, or if not pertinent then perhaps justified, or if not justified then at least maybe useful, useful in as much at least as it might open the conversation and at this point in the proceedings (are these ‘proceedings’, and if so what are they?) I yearn for a touch of conversation.

I startle myself at realising I also yearn for a touch, his touch, any touch, some contact beyond verbal, visual, aural, and I want to place my hand over his in a fatherly gesture. I don’t. But there are now two versions of us sitting at this table in the garden of the Limonlu Bahçe: one, the ‘real’ one, in which he still holds his glass in both his hands and has his eyes not exactly fixed but nevertheless on it, whereas I look at him in my ongoing state of bewilderment, and one, the ‘imagined’ one in my mind where he has put down his glass and I have cupped my left hand over both his hands and I look him in the eyes and he looks back into mine.

‘Not exactly sure,’ he says – in one version examining the glass in his hands and twisting it slightly, in the other holding my gaze with a blend of confidence and the uncertainty his words imply – ‘I was doing Interrail with a friend, I had no intention of coming here really, but maybe circumstances conspired…’

I know at once that they did, even though I still don’t remember this scene from my past, and I am immeasurably relieved; he is, although he doesn’t know it, similarly displaced from his own reality: we are on the same page, more or less.

I imagine squeezing his hand and cupping my right hand around his neck and pulling him close so he can rest his head for a while on my shoulder, but instead I pick up my glass and lift it up to him and say, as if I had any authority to do so: ‘welcome to Istanbul,’ to which, in both versions, he too raises his glass and clinks it with mine and, once again gamely, says: ‘welcome to Istanbul.’

{Vibe}

What kind of a consciousness is it that knows itself to exist but doesn’t know why? In what way does that make sense? In what way does it not?

The quest.

The longing to learn.

The yearning for answers.

The learning to yield. If only my brain were better at retaining information. What is ‘information’? And when it is not ‘information’, what is it then, that we get, if we get it, at all? What, if anything, can be known, can be felt, can be appreciated, understood, can be experienced or imagined, or both? And is there, but is there a difference?

Remembrance of things past and future. The energy stream, and the particles. Obviously, the waves. The idiosyncrasies. Material flaws. Cracks that let the light shine through. Nonuniform irregularities.

Quantum behaviour…

2 The Sultaness

Shaped like a pear, she sits on the bed, doing make-up. Her skin is coffee-coloured soft, her eyes smile with secret knowledge, ancient and wise. She is twenty. Unrushed and unhurried she dabs the powder brush to her cheek; her legs folded. Her voluptuousness is contagious. In her lower lip, a golden ring. She looks like a goddess, and when she gets up, her vast midriff and buttocks bounce to the stoic rhythm of her stately gait. Gracious and large, she beams life into whatever sphere encompasses her. Gorgeous is she.

I remember her, as I look up at the waitress who is taking my order, who by contrast is gamine and lean and angular too. I appreciate her angularity more than I like it but then angular, so am I: assembled in the right way we two could make quite a pattern. But I am seated at a table on my own, still puzzled as to why I am here, and she with her dark brown eyes and dark brown hair makes me feel I belong here. (I have pale blue eyes and no hair to speak of, except in places where it flummoxes now and perturbs me.) I order a Turkish coffee and fresh lemon juice, and I’m given a moment to look at the menu and decide what to eat. I am ravenous which makes me think I maybe haven’t eaten in a while. How long does it take to get from Clapham Junction to Beyoğlu? I suppose it depends on the route.

My rational mind tells me there can be no Sultaness. Then again, my rational mind tells me I am in Kingston, Surrey. Upon the old river Thames. (It pleases me to call it ‘the old river’, though in truth it is unlikely to be older than most.) My rational mind is being irrelevant, I decide, and I order a hamburger with chips, because I am hungry and I don’t remember being a vegetarian, though it wouldn’t surprise me to find that I was. The Sultaness speaks to me now in perfectly formed elliptical syllables, and she says: ‘Nearly time to make our grand entrance.’ I understand her not.

I’m trying to remember the night before in the hope that this would lead to something: ideally some sort of explanation, or if not that then perhaps just a shimmer of clarity. The night before is a blur. I’d come back from Ibiza. I’d been playing water polo at three in the morning with some hearty Scandinavians in the pool. That much is certain. From then on in, nothing much is. I wonder where I’ll be staying tonight but my burger arrives and puts on hold questions and queries alike.

“Our grand entrance,” she’d said. Are we in this together? I wonder have I still got my phone and I feel for it in my pocket, and there it is, no missed calls. No voicemail. No text. None new, that is, I’m not friendless. Friends! I could phone up a friend, I could call Michael or Richard or David or Sam and say: hey how is it going, what are you up to, have you any idea what I might be doing in Istanbul? My rational mind says that that’s the way forward, but having relegated my rational mind just a moment ago I feel sheepish putting it back in charge so inelegantly so soon, and I ask for some mustard instead. The agency hasn’t rung to find out where I am. Maybe they sent me here? Unlikely, and also: what for. The fact that the agency hasn’t rung to ask how long I’d be before pitching up, allowing, one imagines, a note of disapproval in their voice at having to chase me rather than me informing them of my delay due to a detour via, erm, Turkey, bodes well and ill simultaneously and in measure that broadly compares.

If they don’t miss me, then I’m not in trouble for not showing up. On the other hand, if they don’t miss me, perhaps I have ceased to exist? Maybe I have never existed at all and am no more and no less than a figment of my imagination. I like the word figment and decide to use it again soon, but unpaired from ‘imagination’ to make it thus more particular, to me. The agency hasn’t phoned and it’s now what, coming up to eleven, but Turkey is two hours ahead, so that could mean that they might phone any moment; maybe I should call them right now. Or would that be overhasty, even drastic. Maybe the agency too has ceased to exist, or has never existed at all and is in fact no more and no less than a figment of its own imagination. (Ah yes, I walked right into that one.)

I notice that I have not run out of cigarettes and decide to allow myself one now, as the circumstances are clearly extenuating. The ritual of lighting it, the sensation of pulling in the warm air. The exhaling, with a lower jaw jutted out just ever so slightly. What obfuscates the atmosphere may yet purge the mind. My headache has gone, that’s a relief.

. . .

The Sultaness was first published in LASSO 5 – The Blackout Issue

{Palimpsest}

What, then, if it is true.

What, then, if it is true that we live in this world.

What then, if it is true that we live in this world and this world is the best of all possible worlds.

What then, if it is true that we live in this world and this world is the best of all possible worlds but not the only possible world merely the best of all possible worlds right now made by us for us because every possible world is the best of all possible worlds at that moment in that place in that configuration; there are

an infinite number of infinities so there must be an infinite number of dimensions and an infinite number of potentialities.

What then if we were all of them at any given time.

What then if we were to learn to experience life like that.

What then if we were to learn to experience life like that and sense that we are everything we can imagine to be and everything we can’t imagine to be and that therefore everything is exactly as it should be if we will it so.

What though if we were to fail ourselves in our entirety and simply not realise our potential.

What though if we were to fail ourselves in our entirety and simply not realise our potential.

What though if we were to fail ourselves in our entirety and simply not realise our potential but know that that’s what we were doing and know that doing this was unnecessary:

What then if we were to know that we are able to realise our potential

What then if we were to know that we are able to realise our potential, at least part of our potential —

What then if we were to realise at least more of the potentiality than hitherto we had known about – what if we were to know this and act upon it; what if we were to know this and act upon it, then what would we do? What if we were to know this and act upon it: then what would we do?

What, then, if we were to know that we can realise our potential, and act upon it.

What would we do.

(I ache for my mind to expand. Not expand just a little to know a thing or two more, I ache for my mind to expand to the dimensions it can not yet comprehend through the layers it can not yet penetrate, beyond the colours on the spectrum to the prisms the frequencies to the scales it isn’t capable yet of taking in. I long, I long for it to make sense, in a way: a different kind of sense, a sense that I had never known could be made.

I yearn to absorb and be

absorbed.

I long, I

long

to)

exist

{Orlando}

i am orlando

..

breathless

at the bacchanal

bewitched, senses

submerged, my image

mirrored, my mind

magicked, my emotions

modulated

magnified

unmoderated and maybe

immodest, myself

multiplied:

..

masked dancer at the carnival

bald bearded lady, fashionista

beehive diva, torch song bearer of my soul

pole-dancing scientist

shop floor assistant checking out

the other side, experimenter, part-time genius

moustachioed hipster sophist nerd geek self-inventor and

bespectacled spectator

taking in, in-

haling, hailing without praise or

condemnation

participant observer, being-done-to

doer

..

all exposed

..

the pushing

to the fore, persistent rushing shoreward of

wave upon wave:

the daily deluge of disaster 

wilfully

constructed, or else

wantonly permitted to occur and then

dispersed

with breathless kick and fury

horned-up with excitement

round the clock

catastrophe porn paired with power penetration to the 

brain: every

second someone selling something

a tsunami of musthave dispensables

then news again the weather breaking down ten thousand perish in a flood

security alert

three men arrested at the airport

one who fled

soft-spoken leaker of state secrets swears allegiance to

the people; people

protest

the police, the army

bullets rifles hand grenades, ex-

superpower eyeing up her neighbours’ territories, boundaries

unkept, unrecognised, rendered irrelevant

space probe touchdown on the comet, cheers and champagne at

base, break through

the tunnel, high speed trains

dark matter and dark energy

the murder of the messengers

a million on the streets in solidarity, fighters

of and for freedom feeling pain, offenders

in each other’s eyes – our

tears taste all the same

..

a smartphone

with an app the university that taps into the global lecture hall

a telescope array across a mountain table peering deep into the origin of

time, and

cupcakes

talent shows, made-up

realities

downloads, stolen

identities and

printed body parts

milestones in mending memories, the

tantalising likelihood that we are not alone

sandcastles made of stars, stars

made of frivolities

cat videos

and piles

and piles

of rubbish

..

rejects

refugees

residents of uncertainty, nomads by 

adverse conditions, the

collateral of calamity

unwanted

unloved, un-

understood   

disowned dishonoured dismissed dishevelled, dis-

affected

indistinct

in the morass

of mass

morbidity, in-

visible

..

flashes of inspiration

fascinations

colours, glitter

decadences

balls: exuberances

festivals and

congregations, close

communions

travel at the speed of sound, lightspeed

communication

instantaneous pools of

commonality

the vibe and exultation, the

euphoria

the sharpwit razor of precision, the

ingeniousness

the shared experience

the climactic joy, the

sacred orgasm of

life

..

..

..

i rest

i pause

i meditate, i am

orlando

i reflect

..

i have no solution, there are no solutions

i have no anger: anger is void, i 

ease

i learn

i think

i offer

..

..

silence

..

..

i

become

the citizen

and i see sparks of wisdom and then once again i laugh

i love

i give

i take

i lose myself

i win

i love again, i want and want not and want not to want, i 

realise

i am a part of it: i am

a part 

of everything, every

thing

is part of me

..

i am the gods

i am the universe

i am the energy

i am the code

i am the probability

i am the failure and the hope and the despair 

i am the triumph

of existence

..

that is what i am:

i

am

..

orlando

..

..

..

[{Orlando} was first published as part of Orlando in the Cities in A Quantum CityBirkhäuser 2015]

{Detour}

The incident with the van was unnecessary.

It never really happened, of course, but that, considering how unnecessary it was, may be just as well. I had found myself on the edge of a village called Checkendon, waiting for someone to pick me up from the Cherry Tree Inn where I had spent part of the night. The other, earlier part, I had spent in a converted barn making up words to no end. These words were then taken by four or five individuals of varying degrees of expertise, importance and relevance to the task in hand, and essentially messed around with, much in the way I don’t like. Since it was a job I was being paid to do and that I had no emotional investment in, I kept a half-pained smile on my lips and retained some other words within, unspoken.

By 1:30 in the morning it had been decided, by one person or another who was in some way or other involved with the project, that it was now time to call it a night. So Timmah swung on his motorbike, and I was given a lift by someone else to a B&B somewhere in the countryside, where, having had only three hours sleep the previous night, I immediately went to bed but did not immediately fall asleep.

Instead, I lay awake for a few minutes pondering what my life had come to and wondering whether Timmah felt, as I did, that it would be comforting and reassuring now to hold on to each other, to curl up in one bed instead of the two and to rest in each other’s arms for a while. The option existed of knocking on his door and asking him outright, but I was too tired, and also as so very often before I felt that doing so might just jeopardise our easy and uncomplicated friendship.

I woke up amazingly refreshed. I am not good in the morning. I do not get up and trill a summery tune. I do not sing in the shower. I don’t yoga and I don’t jog. The only time I get to see dawn is when I’m still up from the night before. But the job in the barn appeared to demand that having left there barely six hours before, we return and continue the dance of irrelevance. Timmah and I had a hearty breakfast which—it later turned out—I enjoyed more than he did, and he then swung himself back on his bike while I waited for the shortish man with the blonde eyelashes to drop by and pick me up in his car, as he’d promised he’d do the night before.

This took a little while longer than I expected because apparently he forgot, and so after breakfast I checked out and sat myself at a wooden garden table outside the pub, enjoying the early sunshine and continuing to ponder the stark irrelevance of my own existence.

I was just getting to the point where I thought there’s only so much pondering you can do without anything actually happening, when a rather large man in a larger still van appeared, not quite out of nowhere, but still unannounced. He drove up to nearly as far as he could across the gravelled parking lot—otherwise empty—and purposely decabbed, opened the back, took from it what looked like a plastic tray of something or other and carried it to what one imagines must be the tradesmen entrance or the kitchen, his protruding belly leading the way.

What happened next is, of course, pure fantasy, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere, called upon to go back to the outskirts of somewhere to pursue the pointless depletion of your brain at the hands of a bunch of people you have nothing in common or store with (except, most certainly, Timmah) and who drain your soul, talking and thinking and living in terms of things that are ‘key,’ when in front of you is a van. Stuff in the back, probably food, or at any rate something that has at least some sort of value, intrinsic or not. Engine running. Cab door open. Driver at least twenty, maybe thirty seconds off guard. Possibly more. He’d never dream of somebody doing what I did next. A few seconds passed. Tic. Toc. Toc. Tic. No sign of him yet. Cab door open. Engine running. I would be caught within minutes. Or would I?…

I slide off the pub bench on which I had perched and pick up my backpack, not very large. I take two paces towards the van, maybe three. No sign of the driver. What is he doing? Probably having a chat with chef. Or with the girl at reception, more likely. Twenty paces, twenty-four. Thirty. I’m not really counting. I step up to the door nearest me, passenger side, on the left. The slide across to the driver’s seat will be awkward. I unsling my backpack, when: ‘Oi!’

Large man loomed even larger as he strode towards me red-faced with rage. For once, my brain cells didn’t desert me. Cool as a cucumber I reached across the wheel and turned off the engine. Slid back down, re-slinging the backpack and looked at him frankly, as he approached. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you might be a while…’

Fucking this bloody that and the usual, but my boldness, I believe, stunned him, into submission. He slammed the back shut, heaved himself into his driver’s position and, revving loudly, took off. He could have crushed me. Decked me or punched me. Nothing of the sort. He just made his departure loud.

I felt a little prouder that morning than I had done before, not for infuriating a simple bloke, but for daring myself a tiny bit to the edge. Perhaps, I then thought, I should adopt a style of more dangerous living…

8 JoJo

Today is unusual in that it passes slowly. This is unheard of, more or less. For the third time in a row I look at the clock or the watch or the phone and I think, ‘ah, it’s not gone eleven; oh, it’s only just coming up one; hn, it’s not even three.’ Normally it’s, ‘what? six o’clock in the afternoon already, I need to get in the shower otherwise I’ll be late for the theatre the cinema the drinks or the dinner or sometimes the gig.’

But today I’m running early and that’s unusual and I’m wholly unrushed and wholly unpressured and really quite happy; the sun is out, it’s as hot as summer though it’s only April, and the time is barely two thirty in the afternoon. All of which is new.

The reason today passes more slowly than usual is probably because I’ve been up and functional since about ten and the reason I’ve been up and functional since about ten is that I went to bed about two, which for me is early, and the reason I went to bed about two is that in bed also was JoJo and I wanted to be with him, and that’s unusual too. (I’m changing his name here as well, by the way. Not that not doing so would land him in trouble, or me, for that matter, I don’t think, but I don’t know whether he’d want to be named and I don’t want to ask him because that would seem like making a big deal of things, and I’m not of a disposition to make a big deal of things generally, really.)

Everything’s a little different since JoJo’s arrived, three days ago. By coincidence, he arrived on the day Maxl departed, and within hours everything changed. Gone is the stuff and the friendly but heavy presence of a man who doesn’t really want to be here but doesn’t not want to be here either, who seems to lack all sense of humour but still retains a modest charm, who has brilliance concealed by sluggish thinking and earthy inaction.

Gone is the farmer who somehow found himself in a city, who almost by fluke made it to London and into my life where for a while I thought he ought to stay, but from where to know him departed I thank my angels, god, the universe and all that is in and around it, because after I previously had asked all of them for him, they have shown themselves wise and forgiving, by putting him there for me just long enough to see what that would be like, and then, without fuss or damage, taking him away again, no questions asked. Thank you angels, thank you god; universe and all that is in and around you: thank you.

JoJo is more than a breath of fresh air, he’s a tonic, a breeze to keep you alive and awake; and he’s done what I couldn’t expect he would do but still knew he would, he’s come back, if only for a few days, and so while we’re not sleeping together as in ‘sleeping together’ now, we’re sleeping together as in sleeping together, and I like him next to me in my bed and sometimes it happens that I snuggle up to him, and when he gets up at an unfeasible hour in the morning to go to work, I briefly stir, sensing him unclasp himself from my probably too firm embrace, and because the sun is already shining and I had a good dinner with him the night before, which he cooked, and because he’s the only person I’ve ever known to come and go like a cat, unperturbed, unencumbered, loyal but free, dictated by his external needs maybe more than by his internal wants but nonetheless appreciative of the shelter, attention and strokes for his warm body and reciprocal appreciation of his comforting presence I can offer, he wandered back into my existence, and I have no idea how long he’s going to be here for, but while he’s here I am happy, and because I am happy I like to be near him, and so when he’s home I go to bed early so I can go to bed with him, and because I go to bed early I wake up calm and rested even though I don’t sleep anywhere near as soundly as I do on my own; and the day passes more slowly than it normally does, and I think maybe the day passes more slowly because without knowing it or being aware of it or consciously acknowledging it, I am waiting for him to come back, and part of me wonders if that has a meaning, and an even more reticent part of me wonders if, should it indeed have a meaning, that meaning is that I am slowly changing, at last, and if that is the case then what, exactly, in turn, does that mean?