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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others.

     

    Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

    “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

    “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

    “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

    “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

    He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.”

    Sometimes that really made Floyd angry. “Is that right? Every bad thing? I made happen every bad thing that came into my life, Marcy?” He would tower over her, breathing heavily, staring at the top of her lacquered hair until she was silent.

    She looked closely at the big digits on the clock by the bed. It was almost 8:30 and she still had not done her makeup. From the drawer in the nightstand on her side of the bed she looked for her own pill organizer and then realized she had already taken it out. She put it under the light, right beside that picture of her two boys, smiling in the lap of a black Santa, and looked at Wednesday. There were still pills in the morning box but the evening box was empty. Maybe she took the evening pills by mistake. Not that it mattered ‘cause they were basically the same. Or maybe she hadn’t filled the PM part.

    Looking at the rainbow colored compartments (Wednesday was green, Thursday red) she thought of Wilson, who had the hardest time with his R’s when he was little – “Weeding Wainbow,” he would say about his favorite show, and his brother would laugh at him. She felt overcome for a moment and then heard her husband’s keys in the door.

    She took the morning pills, four altogether, as Floyd shouted at her from the kitchen.

    “Do you know how much they wanted for a half-gallon of milk?” She imagined his face as he said the price and the way he would look at her afterwards. He might be looking that way right now, even though she wasn’t there.

    “Cost of everything is going up,” she yelled back. Then she stood and headed for the bathroom. “I got to get a move on.”

    “Ain’t you even going to drink your milk?” She heard him swear as she closed the bathroom door.

    The bus driver turned out to be some white guy who’d been sleeping in the back while people waited outside. The whole bus was talking about it, even after they got out of the Holland Tunnel and were getting on the turnpike, people tisking and hmm-hmming until Floyd wanted to yell, “Who told you to stand out there in the first place? It’s not even cold.” But he kept quiet and sat by a window, alone thank you very much, though Tommy insisted on sitting right in front of him, while Marcy huddled on the other side with a bunch of ladies. They outnumbered the men five to one anyway; he let Tommy represent, going back and forth across the aisle like some congressman making a deal. Each time he went over to the ladies he would say something so low that Floyd couldn’t hear and they would all laugh and holler.

    “I think it’s about time for some music,” Tommy said after one of his sorties. He had a gym bag with him that also said Mets on it, and from it he pulled a boom box that he tried to balance on the seatback in front of him. He pushed play and Johnnie Taylor started in on “Who’s Making Love” and the ladies all laughed, even though the sound was kind of wobbly. From the front of the bus the driver said something, they could see him looking at them in the rear view mirror, but no one tried to hear him. In fact Tommy stood up, with the boom box on his shoulder, and started to shake it in the aisle, which made the driver get on the mike.

    “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to sit down.” He had some kind of accent, Russian or something, but no one really paid him any mind.

    The hits kept coming; it must have been some kind of collection since Floyd never heard a deejay. Tommy jammed the boom box between the headrest and the window so it wouldn’t fall down and turned around to look at Floyd, but not before looking at the driver, who had his eyes on the road again.

    “How ‘bout a little taste?” Tommy said, taking a half-pint in a brown bag from the pocket of his jacket.

    “Too early for me,” Floyd said, looking out the window. To him it always looked like New Jersey was halfway through being torn down.

    Across the aisle Marcy was in the middle of a conversation with the other ladies but she didn’t feel quite right. It started as soon as she left the building; she had picked out a brooch to go with her blue blouse, a little gold tree with red apples on it, but she had left it sitting in front of the mirror. Now she felt naked, all that blue stretching out below her chin like an empty ocean almost and she felt like she was being pulled back from drowning each time one of them stopped talking. That meant somebody was supposed to say something, you were supposed to jump in like it was a game of double-Dutch.

    “What I value most is the privacy,” Marcy said, but no one answered. She had a feeling she had said that before. The topic was assisted living and how to know when you needed it.

    “Until you wake up privately dead,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. Marcy didn’t remember meeting her before, a friend of Helen’s was how she was introduced, but she didn’t like her now. She had these gray and white streaks in her hair, extensions by the look of it, but it reminded Marcy of mud. Besides she was probably the youngest woman of the bunch, what was she talking about dying for?

    “My boy checks in on us every night,” said Marcy and immediately wondered why she had. It wasn’t true. Most times she had to call Eric and he never sounded too happy to hear from her. He did come to visit though, once a month at least. They saw less of him after his divorce, though you’d think it would be the other way around.

    “Where are we?” she said suddenly, looking out the window. Everything looked the same.

    “You keep asking that,” the lady in the Kente cloth said, or maybe she said. Marcy wasn’t looking at her and the music Tommy was playing made her feel lost.

    “Sending this one out for all you ladies,” said Tommy, like he was some deejay, and they all laughed but Marcy didn’t think it was funny. It was that song about sitting on a park bench that always made her sad. “I see her face everywhere I go/on the street and even at the picture show/have you seen her?”

    There was a hospital up there high on a hill and for a second she felt that the bus was going to take off and fly straight up to its doors. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise.

    They parked in the lot of the Showboat casino. Though they could have gone anywhere they wanted, the thirty odd passengers that disembarked made for the Showboat as if summoned, shuffling and limping toward the entrance in a broken conga line.

    “No one says we got to go to this casino,” Floyd said to the crowd of ladies leading the way.

    “The Showboat has a Mardi Gras theme,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. She turned around to give Floyd the fisheye, pulling down her glasses as she did. “Besides, we got coupons for the Showboat.”

    He fell in line sullenly beside Tommy who offered him another drink. Floyd took a swallow this time without pulling down the brown paper to see what it was. It tasted like mouthwash.

    “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

    “Little peppermint schnapps.” Tommy tried to slap Floyd on the back but the big man danced away, handing the bottle back as he moved.

    “What she mean by a ‘Mardi Gras theme,’ anyway?” Floyd said.

    Tommy shrugged. “As long as they got free drinks and blackjack I don’t much care.”

    Seagulls screamed overhead. Floyd saw his reflection scowling in the window of a parked Humvee. He went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when he was in the Navy, how many years ago? He got lost and someone stole his wallet. A man dressed as a woman tried to put beads around his neck, he remembered. You could have your Mardi Gras.

    Marcy was among the first of the women to enter the casino and the air conditioning hit her like a cold wave. “Good thing I remembered my shawl!” she said but no one answered. The music and the sound of the slot machines, dinging and ringing with sirens going off every five minutes as if some crime was being committed, swallowed her voice.

    Marcy had thought to bring rolls of quarters and silver dollars. While the other ladies were getting change she was already pouring her silver into a red plastic cup provided to her by a girl in the shortest skirt she had ever seen.

    “You must be freezing!” Marcy said but the girl didn’t seem to hear her. Maybe she just got tired of people trying to talk to her.

    The slots area had thousands of machines and at noon it was already half filled, mostly old timers like her and Floyd. He and Tommy had set off in the other direction like there was a sign saying ‘Men, That Way.’ The carpets were in a pattern of red and orange and gold that reminded her of a kaleidoscope and the ceiling was made up to look like stained glass, though she knew real stained glass when she saw it and this wasn’t it. She felt like if she didn’t sit down she might just fall into the colors. She sat down at a quarter machine and began feeding it. She didn’t know where the other ladies had gone and looking over her shoulder left her none the wiser.

    “Y’all gonna have to find me,” she said and as if summoned a different lady in a short skirt appeared.

    “How you doing today?” she said. She had a tray filled with drinks and a notepad tucked into her belt. “Can I get you something to drink?”

    “Well I suppose you can!” Marcy turned in her chair to show her appreciation. “My name’s Marcy by the way, I come here from Brooklyn with a bunch of folks from my church group.”

    “Now isn’t that nice? My name’s Kim Sue. What can I get you?”

    Marcy smiled and opened her mouth. But she could not think of the names of any drinks, not just the fancy ones but any drink. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back underneath her blouse.

    “It’s funny,” she said, embarrassed. “My mind’s just a blank today.”

    “Sure, no problem!” Kim Sue smiled back at her like one of those Chinese dolls, her name right there on her badge. “We have beer and wine and soda and mixed drinks.” She kept smiling at Marcy and continued. “I could make you a nice white wine spritzer, if you like.”

    “Oh, that sounds nice,” said Marcy, and it did sound nice, like a sprinkler in the summer time, the kind the boys used to play in. Kim Sue left and Marcy returned to the machine. Cherries and plums rolled past, never stopping at the same time.

    Eric used to chase Wilson through the sprinklers in the park and sometimes when Marcy wasn’t looking he would hold his little brother down and try to pull off his shorts in front of all the other children. She would get so mad at him, always teasing like that, knowing it would make Wilson cry and come looking for her, but she had a job then, looking after a little white boy named Oskar whose parents lived in Park Slope and worked all the time. Oskar’a parents didn’t mind too much when she brought her boys with her when she took him to the park. “As long as you remember,” the father said, “that Oskar is your first priority.”

    Well of course he is, mister doctor man! Why would my own flesh and blood come before your little prince? Good gracious, the things that man would say. If the wife heard him she would weigh in and try to soften the blow. “What my husband means is that we don’t want you to get too distracted. Three children is a handful.”

    Now that was the kind of thing only a white person would say. Where she came from three children was just getting started, even if she was done after Wilson, something her own mother could never understand.

    “Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Marcy would say. “I won’t ever let Oskar out of my sight.”

    All these people thinking someone was going to steal their child then, like the whole country had gone crazy. Soon they’d be putting their pictures on milk cartons and billboards and on TV during the news – “Have you seen Brandon?” Usually white kids. If a black kid went missing generally people know who took him.

    “Here you go, ma’am.”

    Kim Sue was back with her drink. It was in a big plastic cup with a straw that went in curlicues, like a roller coaster, like this was for a child. She started fishing in her coin cup.

    “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

    Like I didn’t know that. She pulled out a Susan B. Anthony and put it on her tray. “That’s for you,” she said.

    “Very nice of you, ma’am. And if you need anything else you just let me know.”

    She turned to leave and Marcy was afraid to see her go. “Kim Sue, it’s like your momma gave you two names.”

    “Kim is my family name. Family name comes first in Korean.”

    “Is that right?” said Marcy. “Well I think family should come first, don’t you?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    Marcy thought that was something else she should write in her book but realized that she hadn’t brought it with her, and then forgot what she had said. “But they probably don’t spell it like that in Korea, do they? The Sue, I mean.”

    “No, ma’am, we have a different alphabet.”

    “Now isn’t that something?”

    She was balancing a tray full of drinks while she talked to Marcy so she let her go, disappearing into the big Tiffany lamp around them. A band was playing Dixieland and Marcy strained her eyes to see them. The music seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

    “Let me tell you another,” she said, sipping on her drink. The lady at the machine next to her looked at Marcy and then moved away, taking her quarters with her. She watched as the drink spun up the straw when she sucked. Here we go loop de loop.

    Sometimes Eric would help her push the stroller as they went around the park, and Wilson would run so far ahead she would shout after him. “Don’t go where I can’t see you!” she’d holler, and Oskar, too big to be pushed around in a stroller, would try and stand up and yell after her. “Go where I can’t see you!”

    Wilson would hide like that at home as well; hide so good she couldn’t find him sometimes. They were living in Prospect-Lefferts, more house than they needed but you could afford those big limestone buildings then even on a Con Ed salary and Wilson would go into different rooms and be so quiet that she would get hysterical, be practically beside herself by the time her husband got home. Then they would hear him laughing. “Got you!” he would say and emerge from the cupboard or from behind the sideboard and Floyd would get so mad. That one time he came out of her closet wearing her bra and Floyd just about went crazy; took off his belt and chased him.

    She put in a coin and pulled the lever: a watermelon; a bell; the number seven in gold.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned her head but nobody was there. Who had spoken? Just turning her head made the colors around her move and when she looked at the floor she saw the pattern there was moving too. It was like a flying carpet, the Vale of Cashmere –

    The Vale of Cashmere! That was the name of that strange corner of the park where she took the boys now and then. They were getting older; other boys took the place of Oskar, and Eric got too big to want to be with them. But Wilson kept her company as she made the rounds, bought them ice cream and wiped their sticky hands. People used to call it The Swamp and there was a muddy pond okay and some hanging trees.

    “How come you don’t play with boys your own age?” one of the kids had asked him once.

    “I just like to help my momma,” he’d said.

    He was the one who found out the real name of The Swamp, checked an old book out of the library and showed her on the map. There was a poem that went with it and Wilson stood up by the pond and put one finger in the air as he read: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave?”

    Another babysitter saw them by the pond once and came over to warn them. “You shouldn’t be down in there,” she said, afraid to come too close with her stroller in front of her. “They say men get together down there.”

    And after that Marcy noticed them, lurking about, standing in the trees. Once when she came down with Wilson and a stroller two men ran out, going in different directions.

    She didn’t think about it again for years, until Wilson was grown and still living at home, and he came back one night that first time with his face all bloody, drunk or high on something and smiled at her, blood on his teeth.

    “Hey, Momma, I been to the Vale of Cashmere!”

    That’s when Floyd said no more.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned and the colors whooshed like a scarf being wrapped around her head. She saw her this time, a little woman, no bigger than a dragonfly like the ones the boys chased in the park, Wilson would put them in a jar with holes punched in the top, while Eric tried to cover it up with his hand so they would smother.

    “I’m looking for three sevens,” Marcy said to the dragonfly woman. “Are there some other numbers to play?”

    “That is the question, isn’t it?” said the faerie. “Are there other numbers to play?”

    And then she flew away, just like a little hummingbird, and Marcy got up to follow her, passing into the pattern of colors and leaving her cup of coins behind.

    Floyd went through all his money the first hour. Not all his money but all the money he’d meant to spend, the money he put in his shirt pocket, seemed to fly off the table. Dealer beat him every time: if Floyd had 18, the dealer had 19; if Floyd sat on a 19, the dealer hit him with two bricks.

    “I guess this lady feels like she has to show us what a blackjack looks like,” said Tommy, when the dealer drew her third in ten minutes. She apologized to them both, even though they didn’t tip her, and Tommy’s luck was better than hers: He doubled down twice and made a hundred bucks in the blink of an eye. All Floyd could do, once he had spent the money he had earmarked for this outing, was sit there and simmer in his resentment while Tommy’s chip pile grew.

    That was when Helen, the lady in the purple pantsuit, came and asked if he knew where Marcy was.

    “I thought she was with you,” said Floyd. It came out like an accusation.

    “Well, we agreed to meet for lunch at three,” she said, “but then nobody could find Marcy. We figured maybe you two went off together.”

    And that’s how well you know us, Floyd thought. “Maybe she just went off to another casino by herself,” he said. Even though he was losing, and wasn’t even playing at the time, he didn’t want to have to leave his spot and go look for his wife. “There’s no law says we got to stay here.”

    “Blackjack,” said the dealer, flipping another ace.

    But after a minute he did get up to look, as he knew he would, leaving Tommy, who still had a hot hand and no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

    “Did you try the ladies room?” he asked Helen.

    “That was one of the first places we looked. They have sofas in there, you know.” She paused. “Do you think we should call security?”

    The suggestion made his blood pressure rise. “No, I don’t think we should call security. Christ sake, grown woman goes off for a few minutes and you want to call the cavalry?”

    “Does she have a cell phone?”

    “Our son gave her one but she couldn’t figure out how to use it.” This was literally half true: Eric had given them each one last Christmas, and neither of them could figure out how to use it. By the time Floyd got the hang of it he realized that the only person he would call was his wife, which was kind of stupid since he saw her all the time anyway.

    They looked all the places that they had already looked and the lady in the Kente cloth joined them, acting more concerned that Floyd felt. “We need a system,” she said, as they circled the room for the second time. The place was more crowded than ever and Floyd could hardly hear what she was saying. “How about I go stake out the buffet and you stay here?” she suggested to Helen.

    “How ‘bout I go stake out the buffet?” Helen said. “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

    Floyd said they could both go feed themselves and take their time doing it; Marcy would turn up. He stood like a sentinel beneath the bells and sirens of the Mardi Gras slots, scowling most of the time. He hated slot machines; there was no sport in it, as he often told his wife. Blackjack at least you were playing the odds. Slots to him was just dumb luck, like a rabbit betting it wouldn’t get run over when it ran across the road. Twice he thought he saw his wife, and each time he took pleasure in anticipating just how much grief he was going to give her. But each time he was wrong.

    By four o’clock they were back together, Tommy too, and they began to set out in search parties. They were a small group: most of the travelers didn’t want to leave their stations, since the bus was scheduled to leave at six and this whole business had already cut into their time as it was. The lady in the Kente cloth, who finally introduced herself as Niobe, took charge. She contacted the hotel security, who seemed to have some experience with old folks wandering off, and as the witching hour neared, and the day-trippers started heading back toward the bus, she went out and argued with the bus driver, who was pretty adamant about leaving on time.

    “You can’t just go off and leave an old lady alone,” she scolded him. The engine was already running, gently shaking the bus, while the AC gusted out the door in heavy welcoming breaths.

    “I won’t be leaving her alone,” the driver said. “I will be leaving you to find her.”

    He agreed to wait as they made one last search. A handful of them fanned out, going to neighboring casinos and restaurants, off the boardwalk and into the side streets. Floyd couldn’t help but think that Marcy was messing with him the whole time, and when he saw the impatient faces of the other folks on the bus – they’d lost their money and had their fill, they just wanted to go home – he couldn’t help but side with them.

    Most of the people he saw as he wandered were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Used to be people would get dressed up to go someplace. And when did everybody get so fat? Walking down the boardwalk, bag of French fries in your hand, what did you expect? The new motto for the city was “Always Turned On,” which he found kind of creepy. There was nothing that he saw that turned him on.

    Doors were open, air conditioning blasting out, cooling nothing. Floyd took to popping into places and doing a quick look around, not even asking half the time if they’d seen anyone who looked like his wife. One, they couldn’t hear you with all that noise and two, half of them couldn’t speak English.

    “You seen an old black lady?” he shouted at one girl scooping ice cream. Her nails were so long he figured they might end up in somebody’s cone. “Blue shirt, about this high?” She stared at him like he was the one with the language problem.

    He kept walking. Going in and out of the summer sun was making him dizzy, to say nothing of thirsty. He wished for the first time that Tommy was with him. That man would always stop for a drink. He saw people in those rolling chairs, being pushed by young people, girls sometimes. And you wonder why you so fat?

    Down at one end of the boardwalk he found what looked like a real bar. The crowd had trickled off as the sun sank lower in the sky. Go on, get out of here. A lot of good you been. Floyd ducked inside and felt the rivers of sweat roll out from under his hat and chill on his face and neck. His glasses steamed as he took a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. He perched on the stool and looked up at the game on TV. The waitress brought him his drink and man did that taste good. No skimping on the gin, either. He forgot to ask her about Marcy. His wallet was bothering him, he felt like he was balancing on it. When she asked him if he wanted to start a tab he simply nodded.

    “You got a phone?” She pointed to an old-fashioned booth in the back, kind Superman used to change in. The place was filling up, young couples waiting for dinner. Went back to the hotel to put your dress shorts on? Once inside the paneled wood booth he forgot who he was going to call. Eric, right. He searched the scraps of paper in his wallet for the number he never had cause to memorize and let it ring, go to voicemail, and then dialed again.

    “Hello?”

    “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

    “Hey, Pop.” He did not sound happy to hear from him and Floyd had already put enough change in the machine so he cut straight to the point.

    “We in Atlantic City and your mother’s gone missing.” He backtracked from there, explaining the whole afternoon in greater detail than Eric needed, but never did his son sound any more excited than Floyd felt. He asked the obvious questions – had they called the police? Who else was looking?

    “Did she have her cell phone?” he asked, pointedly.

    “That’s why I was calling,” Floyd said. “I figured maybe she’d called you.”

    Eric was silent, and Floyd knew that he knew he was lying. He imagined him at home, still in his work clothes, the sound on the TV muted, his eyes on the game. From his perch in the booth Floyd could see the TV over the bar. Jeter was trying to steal.

    “I’m sure she’ll turn up, Pop. I mean, where’s she gonna go?”

    “I know that.”

    “You got your cell phone with you? So I can call you if she does?”

    Floyd muttered something and got off the phone. That boy would go to his grave asking about those damn phones. He should just wrap them up and give them back to him for Christmas. Turn ‘em into salt-and-pepper shakers.

    When he got back to his seat at the bar Jeter got picked off and he ordered another drink. Now they could send the search party out for him. The tumblers were tall and when he turned in his seat he found he had company. Big old white dude with long hair and a pointed beard. He was sipping a Budweiser longneck and looking at the screen. His arms were covered in tattoos; dragons, snakes and skulls disappeared into his shirtsleeves.

    “Fuckin’ Yankees,” he said and turned to look at Floyd. “Nice hat.”

    Floyd turned to face his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “You wouldn’t believe how long I had this hat,” he said.

    “There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe,” the man said.

    They got to talking. Turned out he worked in a tattoo parlor on the boardwalk, which explained all the ink. Half way through his second drink and Floyd was feeling generous in his opinions.

    “Back in the day,” he said, “man had a tattoo it meant he’d been someplace. In the service, in the joint, you know.”

    “I hear you,” the man said. “These days it just means you been to the mall.” He drained his beer and held up the empty. “Buy you a drink?”

    “Let me buy you a drink,” said Floyd, and pulled out the fat wallet that had been giving him such a pain and laid it on the counter. Soon he had the pictures out and was showing him snaps of Eric, bragging on his job even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he did. Then one of the whole family, when everyone was young.

    “Where’s your other boy?” the stranger asked.

    Floyd made a face like he was sucking on a lime. “Wilson got killed in a hold-up ten years ago,” he said.

    “Oh, man, I am sorry. They catch the guy who did it?”

    “No, it was in Prospect Park one night. Lot of crime in there.”

    “That’s why I could never live in the city,” the man said, which struck Tommy as funny. Most people would be scared of him, even in Brooklyn.

    “So what happens when folks get old?” said Floyd, changing the subject. “Maybe they don’t want all those tattoos any more.”

    “Shit, you don’t have to wait ‘til your old to regret something stupid you did.” The man laughed and Floyd got a glimmer of a gold tooth in his head. “People come in all the time wanting to have tattoos taken off, usually the name of some girl that don’t love them anymore.”

    “Can you do it?”

    “Sure,” the man said. “Hurts like hell and costs twice as much. But we can do it. Easier just to change it, though.”

    “How do you mean?”

    “Well, there was this one girl who loved a guy named Chris and had it tattooed on her ass. Until she found Jesus and then we just added a ‘T’.”

    He didn’t smile at first and it took Floyd a minute to figure it was a joke. He smiled first. “Hey, I got one,” he said. The stranger’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There was this guy who loved this old girl so much he had her name tattooed on his Johnson.”

    “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

    “Hell, yeah.” Floyd wiped his mouth. “Then they broke up, you know, and soon he started missing her real bad. So he went all over looking for her, from Wisconsin all the way down to Jamaica. Then he’s in the bathroom one day and he looks over and he sees this other guy’s dick.” He stopped for a minute. The stranger kept staring at him. “Now I can’t remember that girl’s name.”

    “Is it important?”

    “Yeah, it’s the whole punch line.”

    “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

    He felt flushed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. There he stared straight ahead at the wall and read all the graffiti as if looking for a message. And by the time he got back to the bar he was not surprised to see the stranger was gone and with him his wallet though all Floyd could feel was a keen sense of disappointment: He remembered the end of the joke now. He had remembered that old girl’s name.

    ______________________

    voice from the planet

    ‘Vale of Cashmere’ was first published by Harvard Square Editions in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others. Sean Elder’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Vogue, Elle, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details and many other publications. The essay he contributed to the collection of men’s writings The Bastard On the Couch (Morrow, 2004) was reprinted on three continents; his essay on ecstasy, included in the collection of drug writings entitled White Rabbit (Chronicle Books, 1995) was called “seminal” by Granta; and a piece he wrote about being a stay-at-home dad for Oprah was included in her best of O collection, Live Your Best Life (Oxmoor, 2005). He has co-authored several books, including Websites That Work with designer Roger Black (Adobe Press, 1997) and Mission Al Jazeera with former Marine captain Josh Rushing (Palgrave, 2007). He also works as a book doctor and helped edit the forthcoming Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa (Hyperion, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

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  • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

  • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

    aao cover

    My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

    Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

    The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

    Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

    There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

    An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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The Matrix*

(For Kesari Kannepalli)

 

If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have
any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.

George Orwell
 


Know then thyself, presume not God to scan…

Alexander Pope

 

My critique of Eurocentrism (EuroModernism, or EM, the specific variant of Modernism invented in Europe and imposed on the world (I have placed a precis of its main traits in the APPENDIX below this piece) is simplicity itself:

 
I maintain that ALL of EM thinking is plain Wrong, not just bits of it.
 

Why?
 

Because EM rests on an ontology/epistemology of humans (and society) that is flat out incorrect.
 

On Manifest Error, EM built an architecture of socio-human theory and praxis that has doomed us all, and is now rushing us headlong into perdition. .
 

If so many of us live in depravity ,emotive deprivation, and/or depression ,it is solely owing to imbibing the false nostrums of EM.
 

It,perforce, converted a band of Convivials into a company of Strangers.

 

Unlike any prior social formation in history, it dehumanized (by desocialising) our species by penalizing altruistic behavior(s) and rewarding anti-social activities.
 

Worse, it compounded injury with insult, by self-styling this obvious devolution as the very acme of ‘progress’.

 

And , everywhere, including within Europe itself, it was forcibly imposed: not ‘voted in’.
 

Today most of the world breathes its ether, North and South, East and West.
*
 

Emergent EM Elites ( mercantilist, in vein, be they landed or not) drew their premises partly from the then state of European society, in transition from medieval values to modernist values , partly from wishful thinking as to what would serve their interests : viz., a novel , composite, melange (departing from extant norms) of domination and mutual distrust, coupled with egregious avarice and supernal greed.
 

The former produces its social and political theory, the latter its political economy.
 

Both served to ratify the now familiar Modernist ethos of aggressive cupidity, and avarice , at one remove, and mutual distrust, adversarialism, and (permanent ) domination, and incurable dissension/disaffection, at the other.
 

Contra it’s absurd reductionisms, we are neither economic nor political entities, in the main, but natural-cultural beings: bringing creativity and imagination to the rites and rituals of communal life.
 


In fact, as an aside, it would be correct to say that we are , as humans, quite consummate mythmaking animals
(indeed, we excel in it).
 

At any rate, given its imperial reach and clout , EM was able to impose this ‘iron cage’ on most of the planet (save a few native peoples).
 
But as its domain shrinks, its ideational hegemony is now also dwindling.
 

That is where we are today.
 

*
 
This is not to imply that there was no tangible content-gain at all during the transition(s) attended by EM, as , per exemple, in the obvious abatement of extreme, medieval cruelty and gross iniquity, of the more egregious kind (the Colonies were still treated brutally, but the Mother country was made relatively pacific to enable routine conduct of commerce)

 

However, such benefits were purchased at prohibitive, life-threatening , even exterminist, costs that life on the planet simply cannot afford, as must be , by now, abundantly clear.

 

It doomed us all to stark loneliness, anomie, desperation, and loss of meaning (in effect, being denied the human right to be human) the signature hallmarks of the dreadful alienations of E-Modernism: whilst simultaneously helping degrade both society and ecology.
 

*

 

Our real, collective, ‘human nature’ is an Open Book, and plain to see for anyone who indulges in but a little self-examination.
 

Yes, self-examination.

 

Our very lived experience confirms the Theses I am advancing.

 

No books, no scholarship, no deep insights, are needed.

 

Their basis is natural and instinctual, not societal and environmental.
 

As animals (lest we forget!) we are possessed of instincts that may be suppressed/sublimated – but not excised.
 

Care, consideration, and conviviality (within an organic community) are our principal , nay primal urges : contrary to the misanthropic myths perpetuated by Modernist ideologues.
 

You might conceive of EM, therefore, as the First Great Reset.

 

*
 

Why?
 

For sharing the same rationale as the one being planned by the WEF (and its sister multilaterals) today: to reboot society, to suit the tributary needs of the predator-governors of society.
 
Family, clan, and community identifications/loyalties, were obstacles to the homogenisation of us all into a vast Precariat, tied to the Wheel, at one end , and to the whims of the gambler-governors at the other, playing their Game of Thrones.
 

That is the hidden logos behind their spurious ‘universalism’, which we were conned into taking at face value.
Uniformity is a sine qua non of easy governance.
 
In effect , the affective Social Economy of Affections was being replaced by the sordid Political Economy of Interests – and defined as advancement.
 
*
 
However, returning to our tribal origins, instincts again intercede(d) to create a tension within the integrated tribal system.
 

Men and women are instinctually conditioned to have dissimilar urges (btw, biology is not destiny: instincts can be worked against)
 
This is as easily verifiable , across time, place, and culture, as to be trivially true.
 
Women , as progenitors and initial food-providers to the infant, are possessed by nature, of nurturance.
 
Men have predatory instincts expressed , at the apex, in a willingness/readiness to kill.

This tension is smoothed over, in tribal modes, by women, ‘naturally’, imprisoning the proclivities of men within emotive bonds, basically domesticating them.
 
Why do they (have to) do it?
 

Because the human infant (more helpless than many of our animal cousins) cannot be nurtured, if there is random violence in its vicinity (incidentally, the mother-child dyad is the first social, whence moral, relationship – albeit naturally inspired- : and is the fons et origo of All societal morality).
 
They , sort, of ‘secure the perimeter’ (interestingly, it is, as an aside, as if men take after chimps, and women after bonobos).
 
In effect, men have to be ‘tamed’ (via emotional bonds) much as nature, for the social organism to reproduce safely.
 
Incidentally, there is no other restraint that has ever worked nearly as well.
 

*
 
This is not a permanent snare, however, and at some point, men break away from intra-tribal bondings to adventurism , be it military, political, or economic, whence the dissolution of tribal societies begins.
 
It is in this sense that it is women who patiently (and naturally) build a human society, whilst men, at some point, tear it apart.
 
That’s the real ‘animal spirits’ that Keynes , quite unknowingly, invoked , if in another context.
 
We call the rest (post-Tribal orderings) that follows, history: or, perhaps more aptly, His Story.
 
All post-Tribal societies are, necessarily, in consequence, both masculinist and male dominated.
 
*
 
EM began its recasting of our species-being between the 16th and 18th centuries,
in its own aggressive image.
 
Given the realities of late medieval society, the mores of their tribal past were already a distal memory.
 
However , the former still retained one rather important concept: that of a Social Compact , recognizing the organic nature of the community, despite its deep class cleavages.
 
Here, EM took a quantum leap into Dystopia by abrogating that Compact and replacing it with the now familiar notion of a Contract (vide the ‘social contract’ theorizing).:
 
To that sacrilege, it added the Final Corrosion that was to define Modernism forever:
 
Asocial Individualism, essentially positing society as but a means to personal/individual advancement(s) , (which is what the upstart mercantile elites were doing, anyway).
 
It is this momentous ‘innovation’ that separates EM Europeans from All other peoples (btw not ALL of Europe succumbed to this: the more tribalist Euros, like the Scandinavian nations, also couldn’t wholly absorb this, which is why their capitalisms are so much more muted and ‘communal’), as much as their own prior history.
 
They Other may accept E-Modernism: but not Asocial Individualism.
 

This remains true even today.
 

That may well be the true differentia specifica between the EM West and the EM Other.
 

*
 
EM ‘economics’ , vulgar and otiose as it is, only enshrines these travesties in its banal oeuvre: in fact it is the crown jewel in the hegemonic ideology of EM(whence the gratuitous gratuity of a Nobel Memorial Prize)
 
The ‘nation-state’ is also forged in this period (post Treaty of Westphalia) and becomes the corral of merchant princes/potentates , within which all denizens are permanently imprisoned – at the mercy of the executive whims of the governors.
 
And Martin Luther restructures religious duty as a nexus between the individual and god, (much as the economy is seen as a ‘deal’ between individuals and /or the market) niftily blunting the societal welfare side of the Church of Rome, by not requiring any ‘good works’ to substitute for the vague pledge of ‘faith’.
 
In all of the above, the self-seeking/acquisitive individual is placed above communal bondings and responsibilities.
 
These were the fateful steps, taken with Seven-League Boots, no less, with which Europe left all of humanity , including its own past, behind.
 
EM was now complete : as the New World Ordering, we all genuflect to.
 
It was , in a sense, an effort to convert mammals into reptiles.
 
More prosaically, women, toilers, and native peoples (never fully integrated into EM mores) found themselves, in common cause, against predacious (mainly male) commercial elites.
 
That uneasy Equation is still extant today.
 
The irony is how many (intended, real) victims of EM are yet its greatest votaries.
 
*
 
The Task before us becomes apparent.

We need to recognize and recapture our own (quint)essential human nature, and revive our local, micro-communities within which it was always expressed.
 
This is not necessarily for any exalted purpose of ‘emancipation’ (another, dissembling , EM trope) , but purely to retrieve our own personal lives from rack and ruin ,if lived on the false premises of EM which have us ensnared in all manner of delusion(s)
 
Human integrity is spontaneously evoked only within face-to face Gemeinschaft orderings (this is simply natural).
 
It abates as we move toward Gesellschaft formations (as entailed in EM nation-states).
 
Once self-aware of our own , inherent, essential, humanity, and rid of the phony barrage of false expectations and ambitions thrust upon us, disengagement , in theory and praxis, with the hypertrophic paraphernalia of Imperial State and Authoritarian Society will follow, as an adjunct – if gradually.
 
Why?
 
Because natural, emotive , ties with kith and kin and community, ever exceed the hold of any artificially inseminated loyalties to Modernist notions of state and nation.
 
Mind, this is NOT a sketch of yet another EM style Utopia, by any stretch.
 
Note also I am rejecting the usual EM stance of attempting macroscopic changes: these , being power struggles, only end up, be they right or left in persuasion, with the consecration of a new structure of domination.
 
Consider it qua Robert Michels the true Iron Law of Oligarchy (he was incorrect to think it stems from Organisation: it stems, instead, from male organised entities) entirely owing to purely masculinist power drives.
 

Utopia is a vainglorious EM fantasy with no precedent other than the ‘heaven’ of religious imagination: in effect, it is its secular equivalent.
 
It will not at all guarantee ‘democracy, equality, or liberty’, the delusional chimeras – nay sops – of EM (I won’t explain it here, but these norms are not merely utopian; even if achieved would do NOTHING to allay human alienation).
 
But it will give us back what we need most – our birth-right,to live as human beings.
 
Recall, we are mammals with rather simple needs (the governors distract us with meretricious ‘wants’ that help perpetuate their domination and keep us distracted, and on the treadmill).
 
Let me spell out what that all means via a small, but illustrative, detour.
 
*
 
Have a look at the Human Family.
 
It is neither democratic, individualist, nor free, nor equal.
 

Stop and think.
 

It gainsays every abstract idyll of EM !!
 
Imagine that!
 
A Non-Modernist anachronism, subsisting plumb in the middle of EM societies.
Yet, it gives all of us, via the related, and equally ubiquitous , concept of ‘home’: across time, space, and cultures, what we crave most: a cradle of hospitality.
 
That should tell you who we really are, as opposed to EM fantasies..
 
So, when EM took that quantum leap away from family, community, co-operation, and the social compact , in the name of progress no less, it sent us all spinning wildly into orbit.
 
The orbit of a foredoomed, benighted , existence: banished forever from the very fount of our species-being.
 
In that enforced orbit, were we lost, and are still lost, seeking dreary, vain, unrequiting, solace, in soulless regimes of production and consumption, competing against one another, turned away from natural domains of nurturance, whilst being subject to exploitation, conquest, genocide, and empire.
 
Worse ,we are beguiled into believing that all can still be redeemed at the level of civil society and the state, by virtue of (permanent) struggle and (inescapable) adversarialism.
 
Absolutely not.
 
They are the very EM entities that have to be abandoned/sublated.
 
*
 
In the EM matrix , the struggles to achieve LED (liberte, egalite,’democrace ‘ ) are perennial: they are never gained, and if gained , by fluke, can always be rolled back.
 
Our Citizen-Sysiphus is, thereby, forever climbing uphill muttering ‘yes , we can”.
 
Those ‘participatory delusions’ are what keep us tied to the EM Wheel, in grim, if tragic, loyalty.
 
Even hard-headed critics of EM fall for the spin.
 
Modernist Democracy is the most efficient device ever devised for maintenance of the status quo : whilst also providing the necessary illusion of mass participation and activism.
 
Besides, the underlying idea that we can declare ourselves , societally, by fiat, into any utopian project as crosses our minds, is both a fatal conceit and a ludicrous denial of realism.
 
For all the myriads of ‘protestors’ that throng the street, celebrating , or demanding, EM freedoms, the oligarchs remain in power; and if they are replaced , it is only by a new set : and the Great Game starts up, all over again.
 
Even worse, internalising EM norms will drive us (as it already has) to the very limits of societal insanity ( with sociopaths, psychopaths, abounding) for having lost our firm, anthropic, moorings in family, clan, and community.
 
*
 
Btw, I am not setting up any idylls: that is an EM penchant.
 
I am saying we, as natural, anthropic, beings , have simple, natural, traits/needs easily , and observationally,verified in the veritable cradle of humanity: i.e., simple, tribal society.
 
To be content , we need to live in rough conformity with them ( Or we can, in EM fashion, ‘climb every mountain, ford every stream’, and dissipate our precious lives in such absurd, empty, ruinous, assignations).
 
When that umbilical cord is cut , we are catapulted into unhinged, solo orbits where we suffer a radical loss of meaning which is the ontic basis of angst, anomie, and ennui.
 
*
 
The dystopian madness of our current EM societies (starting with their Lead Formations) verifies the aforesadid every day.
 
It is not merely psychic distress: it is the immanent possibility of mass annihilation.
 
It is EM which gifted us WW1 and WW2: and is now preparing us all for WW3, all ‘rationally’ and prosaically (we are , under EM tutelage become rational fools, thoughtful idiots).
 
We are no more , no less , than animals: domestic felicity– the hospice of kith, and kindred – keeps us , more or less, tolerably tame (within limits).
When that basis is deracinated, We are Undone.
That is what EM achieved, near-universally.
 

*
 

Against much of the foregoing, juxtapose, only by way of illustration, the Marx-Engels, and wholly E-Modernist , flaunt to ‘abolish the family’.
 
All the more ironic, because guess where Marx got his idyll of ‘communism’ from?
 

Yes, from the very tribal society I have been talking about.
 

He called it ‘primitive communism’.
And what is a tribe, but one big extended family?
 

So, Marx certainly understood the unique felicities of the tribal form, but his EM ideas – materialism, in particular -had him wishing it were ‘upgraded’ to Modernist standards of rationality, etc.
 
Besides , it was all to be accomplished within the grid of the extant nation-state, the very EM space that defines/promotes our alienation.
 
Now you know why EuroSocialism failed : it fell to my Iron Law of Oligarchy: i.e , to the omnipresent masculinist drives for domination.
It also equated the ‘ideal society ‘(socialism)’ with an ever augmenting bowl of goulash, within the false unity of ‘nation’.
 
Put simply, it had lost track of who we are as humans.
 

*
 
There is no elaborate ‘proof’ needed for any of the above.
 
Strip away Modernist delusions, and we stand revealed for who we really are.
 

We are human: and it takes but a little reflection to realise how we have been deceived.
 
Each of us knows that s/he is really far better than what the system requires her/him to be.
 
History and social science have been tendentiously authored by EM votaries (as the spoils of conquest): and most of the intelligentsia are under its spell.
 
But lay people will ‘get it’ without undue toil.
 
In fact, all of us recognize the benefice of kith/kindred/community – for its being natural – without at all being aware of its full significance.
 

Indeed, our unconstrained choices, if duly observed, dally gainsay the travesties of EM tutelage.
 

So, it is time to pierce the Veil.
 

*
 
The greatest error of EM lay in wholly forgetting we are , primarily, natural beings in a natural universe (despite the high social airs we affect).
 
EM Anthropocentrism, in its lapidary foolishness, acts as if it can wish/wash all that away by loud declarations and manifestos.
 
EM is a determined project of social engineering: and that required it to reject any inherent limits to our malleability.
 
EM dreamers (the cannon fodder of the paradigm – not its framers ) never stopped to consider the fact that in anthropic life there are no idylls to be realised.
 
All that is pure untrammeled , vanity.
 
Worse, it is tawdry bait held out by those who would use our hope and wishful thinking to achieve their own mundane purposes.
 
*
 

We are a self-conscious form of life on a lonely planet, a deserted oasis in the solar system: the best we can do is to embrace mutuality and make our years as hospitable as we can for each other watered by care, consideration, and conviviality.
 
That is what our tribal forebears achieved , naturally, and without elaborate verbal bluster,until EM Vandals destroyed the very basis of their simple existence : in the name of ‘progress.’ (parse that as more labor, more work, more discipline , more diktats, and less contentment, leisure, and satisfaction).
 
Whence, I make little effort to engage EM ideologues.
 
Let them keep their unsanguine satrapies, their near manic cumulations of wealth and power.
 
Life is too short , especially in these times, for such extended argument with such delusionaries.
 
*
 
If what I say is true, it needs no ‘defense’; if it is false, it would be silly to defend it.
 
Put aptly , “it is true because it is realizable: and it is realisable because it is true”.
 

In sum, EM philosophers have radically misinterpreted (and, thereby, nearly destroyed ) the world: the point , however, is to swiftly sublate, and transcend, their misanthropic abstractions.
 
Indeed , I have termed the EM view of humans a libel upon the human race.
 
We can, and must, rehumanise the world rendered , bitter, bare, and barren – by centuries of EM hegemony.
 

The First Step is true , sincere, Self-Reflection: who are you, and why are you living the way you do?
 
The ‘program’ will, I venture, quickly unravel after that.
 
You can bet all your EM idylls on that!
 
*I would doubt the producers of the film by that same name ( a cult classic) were aware of the Real Matrix that keeps us all in thrall: i.e, EuroModernism.

 

APPENDIX

EM has several components: I list but a few here.
 
First , it is a philosophy of Materialism (everything is matter: and all objects are material) aping classical Newtonian Physics . Today’s (Quantum) Physics debunks this notion.
 
Second , it adopts a triumphalist, Self-serving view of Progress (expressed again in material terms: GDP, etc.). Worse, it takes it for granted that ‘ Progress’ is wherever Europe happens to find itself – because Europe is the Gold Standard.
 
Third , it claims Official Science (scientism) , as defined by its elites, as truth : rejecting any and all other epistemologies sans proper scrutiny (e.g. acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal treatments, were dismissed , a priori, as ‘non-science”). Even worse, it marries science to the state : thereby risking despotism, substituting it for religion as in pre-Modern Europe.
 
Fourth , it enables the Statist use of Force, as needed, to ‘force people to be free’ (JS Mill), another license in favor of any and all Statist objectives
 
Fifth , it has a formal/mechanical /contractual /instrumentalist view of society , rejecting its natural, organic , features.
 
Sixth, its Asocial Individualism sees society as but an instrument to be used to achieve individualist ends. The individual, placed above society, is sovereign: society is but a means.
 
Seventh , it sees ‘Nature’ as external to us as ‘humans’ who stand ‘above’ it. Women, children and native peoples, were all assimilated to being ‘naturvolk’, to be raised/disciplined/ and tamed.
 
Eighth, it sees humans as untouched by essential properties such as Instincts. Animals have instincts, Humans don’t (since the latter are cast, as was the ,medieval belief, in the image of god: Darwin’s correction came much later , but has not entirely erased this precept). Levi Strauss , e.g., famously wrote, that “instincts explain nothing’.
 
Ninth, it privileges humans as the ‘Sovereigns of Creation’ (Marx), set above all other forms of life (Anthropocentrism). Nature exists only to serve us.
 

Tenth , it sanctions Adversarialism as innate in society, and validates the idea(l) of a brutish struggle for existence. Distrust is institutionalized , and intra-societal aggression/anger promoted.
 

Eleventh, it substitutes Abstract Ideals (rarely, or never realised) as a decoy away from attending to real human needs (so , e.g., they offer you the chimera of equality and democracy, but not food and shelter, in the first instance).
 

Twelfth, it promotes perpetual, strenuous, heroics as the idyll of life: climb every mountain, ford every stream, etc. (Doing is endless, Being is seen as passive) thereby overloading vulnerable flesh and blood humans with unbearable stress to ‘achieve’ – if, as per systemic norms/requirements.
 

N.B. There is an obvious degree of overlap between EuroCapitalism and EuroSocialism (since EM is their mutual provenance).

[© R.Kanth 2022]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Tristesse

 

Heaven hath no need of rules

Hades scribes a dozen score

The generous spirit ranges free

The hidebound locks the door

 

I’ve roamed the darkling fields of night

Walked the thorny wild

Borne the yoke of a thousand ills

Borne them meek and mild

 

Calm lies the diurnal shore

Though tempests break at sea

In dearth of human solicitude

Lies the true heart’s atrophy

 

Immure me in penury

Steal from me my weal

Let love but loan me one fair breath

And I, though dying, shall heal
 
[© R.Kanth 2022]
 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations
 

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The Modernist Condition

 

The Tragedy

of Our

Existence
 

Is not that

Life

is Short
 

And its

Meaning

Inscrutable
 

But that We,

whose Highest

Need
 

Is but To

Huddle
 

Can so

let

ourselves
 

Be

deluded
 

That we are,

in the

Modernist world
 

Living

Unrequitedly
 

*

 

Entrenched

In Tasks

we loathe
 

Engaged

in rites that

Mean Nothing
 

Giving Fealty

to specious

Idylls
 

Dissipating

precious

Time
 

Ingratiating

Others
 

And Powers

that

Should Not Be:
 

*

 

Kept apart

from
 

What/whom

we love
 

Squandering

Vital

energies
 

Vying with

Those

Equally Wrought
 

In Dubious

Struggle(s)
 

That amount to

Less than

Nothing
 

*

 

And all the

While
 

Like a

Muffled Chorus
 

In the far

gloaming
 

The Sacred

River of Life
 

Murmuring

Sweet Enticements
 

Meanders

on –
 

Eager ,

racing,

To dissolve
 

In the dank,

sodden,

Estuaries
 

Of ever

hastening

Decline
 

And nameless,

Unmarked

Dread
 

In the

brooding

Backwaters
 

Of the

Ominous

Sea
 

*

 

There is no

Panacea

 

Save to

Capitulate

to Love
 

Of that

we cannot

help but love
 

Soon as we

find It
 

Cling ,

adhere,

nay Clench
 

In hoops

of burnished

steel
 

Abandoning

all distraction
 

Despite

the ravening

Wolf

at the Gate
 

And the

hovering

Vulture
 

In the

churning

skies
 

*

 

Their bite,

their sting
 

Is not so

keen
 

As Life

frittered
 

In Sysiphian

gather of

faggots
 

To stave

encroaching

Winter
 

Day after

Unavailing

day
 
*
 

‘Tis the Heart

that must be

warmed
 

The Soul

that must be

fed
 

The Spirit

that must be

succored
 

*

 

We survive

slings

and shot
 

Misfortunes,

calamities
 

But not the

peerie

achings
 

Of the

Yearning

Heart
 

And the

stifled cries
 

Of the stricken

Soul
 

*

 

There is no

Anguish

greater

 

Than Spirit

benumbed
 

by love’s labors

lapsed
 

*

 

So steady

on,

 

Fond

Traveller
 

In this

confuting
 

Unchartable

Land
 

Find the

Right

Rudder
 

Not minding

the frothing

current(s)

below
 
*
 

Most Tests

and

Trials
 

Get

Absolved
 

When you Move

in Kindred

 

With your

Master

Spirit
 

The Lodestar,

Lamp,

and Pathfinder
 

*

 

We were forged

to Live
 

In Affinity,

not Discord

 

In cognate,

consanguinal,

Communal Kinship
 

Close to

our

embedded
 

Anchoring

species-being
 

That fires

our Anthropic

Flame
 

In this

Delphic

Realm
 

And lends

Healing

Solace
 

To the

fulgent

ravages
 

Of parching

Day
 

And the

Phobic

Disquiet
 

Of that

ever so
 

Phantasmagoric

fearful
 

And petrifying

Stairwell
 

That descends

to nether

reaches
 

Of Endless

Augural

Sepulchral

Night
 
*
 
Love

Alone

Indemnifies
 

Against the Scylla

of Chance

and the Charybdis

of Chaos
 

[© R.Kanth 2022]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Night Rain

 

O Play ,

to the raptured

heart
 

Ditties of

a vacant

Mind –

 
Of Love ,

forsworn,

By fate, unkind:

 
or the gloat,

of a heartless

hind –
 
*
 
Fears

dog the delved

day

 

Though birds

twitter

And children play –

 

Singing to

the

Grieving Heart
 

Of rills

of Faith that

failed to start
 
*
 
Ballads of Things

Now Done and

Past
 

O naught is

ever Hard

and Fast
 

Treason in

Guiltless cups

of Tea

 

Spite,

in jocund

Company

 

And Fealty,

that

didn’t last
 
*
 
Whisper to the

vagrant

mood
 

High tropes

still barely

understood:

 
Ordained by

a higher,

Living, Good
 
*

 

Tears gorge

the

living vein

 

Flowers,

with peerie

thorn

 

Art ,

replete with

mounting bane
 

Gather

a

glazing scorn
 

*
 

O tell me again

why rain

yet falls

 

When there’s

never a cloud

in the sky?

 
Premonition

or

prophecy?

 
Must we not

question

why?

 

Or is it

only

happenstance
 

Just when

delusions

die?
 

*
 

Is it how

All Things

Must Die?

 

Knowing not

the When

Nor why?

 

To sleep ,

besotted,

Undisturbed

 

Below the

curlew’s

piercing cry?

*
 

Since Time

began

These Reckonings

 

These

Soliloquies

Of (Wo)Man

 

Lucubrating

all

The while
 

The

Centuries

do span
 
*
 

In deep, dank,

and torpid

grave
 

Sleep

The broken and

The brave
 

That None

can stoke

nor stave
 

O, even with

aid

Of Poesy

 

No Art,

Nor Science

Can save

*
 
So, wherefore

Do we

still believe?
 

Can we not ,

simply, up

and Leave?
 

Seeping,

ever so slowly:
 
Ever so very

slowly
 

like honey ,

from

a sieve –
 

Never knowing

why

we die –
 

Nor even

why

we live

 

[© R.Kanth 2022]
 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Le Cœur

 

There is no Kingdom
of the heart:
there, ’tis the Plebs
who reign
 

It has no measure
of Largesse:
be it of joy
or pain
 

It dares only to
remember
it cares not to
forget
 

What’s too grave
to embrace:
it spins soft
in legerdemain
 

Never seeking to
calculate
audits both Loss
and Gain
 

And, never needing
to cogitate,
Ever Showers The Truth –
like rain

 
[© R.Kanth 2022]
 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Revival of Things Past

 

O for a romp

down

Memory Lane
 

Where we

drank

Sweet Coke –

took our

Coffee plain
 

Where ennui

was (maybe)

The Only Bane
 

Where a shrink,

or a pill

lulled

every pain –
 

Where Guilt

was allowed

even Shame

was legit
 

Where Failure,

was owned

and to be

sorry, admit
 

Where to aim

too high

was never

a dare
 

and betrayal

by one’s

own –

rarer

than rare
 
*
 

O for a

Stroll down

Memory Lane
 

Where we

watched Hitchcock

munched on

Candy Cane
 

Where the air

hung clear

the Spirit

flew high
 

And the sun

shone through –

even in

rain
 
*
 

But then It

All

Changed

 
The Needle

swung wild
 

Rules were

not rules –

to break them,

No stain
 

We passed all

posts

breached all

due norms
 

and history

quick morphed

into

legerdemain
 
*
 

O for a

Run back

on Memory Lane
 

Doing it

for Fun –

not merely

for Gain
 

Took Intuitions

for real

dry Reason

disdain
 

where ,

if ignorance

ran large

penitence

rang true
 

and the Line

drawn sharp

‘twixt sane

and insane
 
*
 

O for a

Slide Down

Memory Lane
 

Where Love

was enough

to writhe,

blissful,

in pain –
 

Sans Egregious

Sins

cleft deep,

in

the grain
 
*
 

O to let go

Of Memory

Lane
 

Where what’s

Lost is lost:

And to dotingly

linger

is hopelessly

vain
 
*
 
And so ,

to Return

To our own

Sordid Time
 

Where the Heart

Is hung heavy
 

O so very

Heavy –
 

Yes, the

heart

is hung heavy
 

For the

Fever

In the Brain

[© R.Kanth 2022]
 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Utopia*

 

There is a Sea of
Tranquillity
if only We knew
The Way

 

Mystery guards
its access wild
hid in light
of day
 

It signals us
in accents mild
as to why it is
that way
 

Only the blest
pass the acid test
Others are led
astray
 

In turbulence
of fretful life
it is a haven
fond
 

Far from the
muddling,
madding, strife
it lyeth quiet
beyond
 
*
 
It’s what starry eyed
call Shangri-La
where all traffic lights
stay green

 
Where all clocks
chime in unison
and all idylls
glow serene
 

Where wishes teem
big and bounteous
and beggars rise up
as kings
 

Where at every nook
an angel sings
and every pig
has wings
 

*
 

But, alack, there is
no Promised Land
nor High Roads that
lead to Rome

 
So Here and Now
must seek your bliss –
in benefice of
hearth and home

 
* The ‘enlightenment’ gifted us Utopias to chase after,
as a sop, and a secular substitute for ‘heaven’…
.
 
[© R.Kanth 2022]
 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Spring

 

Dreaming ,

wan,

by the by:
 

In Reverie

did the

spirit lie
 

As wintry

sun

meek and

mild
 

Kissed the

doting mead

All coy
 

Here, none

can augur

any Atrophy
 

When the

bower

lies drowsing

blessedly
 

Where the lazy

bee

and the

languid rose
 

Soft murmur

love in

sweet repose
 
*
 
Heaven may

have its

bounties fair
 

But little can

its high mien

compare
 

To burnished

glister,

enchanted

boon:
 

Of a torpid,

halcyon,

afternoon
 

[© R.Kanth 2022]
 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Complicity

 

Come, let us
Temporize

All misgivings
Euthanise

Feign a little
Fake surprise?

All doubtings
Vaporise

To Explain
Where We are

 
*
 
We were far
From being
Good
Took it all
As understood
Never glanced
Below the hood

Whilst They lowered
The Bar

 

We were only
Taking orders
We dared not to
Cross the borders
Accepting
Any and all
disorders
 
Cared not to
venture far

 
*
 
We handmade
this Iron Cage
quieting our
inner rage
eager to be
On Their Page
 
Stepped inside
Their Bell Jar

 
*
 
And now it is
Far too late
we bow, accept
our Common Fate
 
Too late now to
Supplicate!
Gone beyond both
Love and Hate
 
Who there
To expiate?
None there
To separate –
 

With Us and
Them on par

 

*

Rulers and
the Ruled
both uncommonly
unschooled
and mutually
befooled
 
In Guilt
fulsome embroiled
in depravity
despoiled
In casuistry
uncoiled
in dissembling
soaked and
soiled
 

Gave up on
Wrong and Right
nor kept the
dark from light
looking away
from looming blight
turned sacral day
to darkling night
 
*
 
Reneged on
Simple Norms
of Ruth
 
Scoffed at
every Antic
Truth
 
Whence
the’ harvest,
now, forsooth!
 

Greed, hubris
In Intertwine
Inebriate
On illicit wine
 
Mocked our
inner spirit divine
Crossed that
Ill-omened Line
 
Where would be
pearls turned
sorry swine

We had crossed
beyond the bar

*

Will we be
Ever healed?
Or is our spirit
Forever sealed?
 
Is our Fate
Now All congealed?
Will it ever
Be revealed?
 

Where now our
Guiding Star?

 

[© R.Kanth 2022]
 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Ukraine

 
(for my Mother)
 

Were it Not
 
For the heaving,
selfless, Human
Heart
 

I would Not
Feel
The Wrong

 

Nor Know
What is
Right:
 

Know that
All is Blight

 
*

No shards
Of Light
Scatter
From the
Prism
Of this,
Our Darkest
Night
 

Can be No
Antic Gibber
Of Left
And Right:
 

When Grim
Turpitiude
Is Rife

 
*

Just
This once
hold sacred
The Mute
Anguish
of Struggling
Life

 

There is
no East
nor West:
And No One
Is Blest

 

When Child
clings in
quavering fright
to huddling
Mother –
in frantic
flight

 

[© R.Kanth 2022]
 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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