Read to me, Mr. Gaiman

His voice as if dipped in rubbing alcohol becomes the other mother. The simple innocence of the tone is becoming on a child raised by ghost parents called Nobody Owens. A battered voice dipped in equal parts melancholy and arrogance makes the eldest of the Lilim turn into a wizened old lady from a childhood nightmare.

He is my companion — a giant shadow, a friend like Sirius on the horizon, and unobtrusive moon that is somewhere lost in the folds of the satin sky — for my midnight walks. His voice rings and trills and drums and pulses in one of my ears (one side of my headphones doesn’t work). The universe becomes multiverse as I find myself in a deluge of heard images and vibrating words that journey through the ossicles to set in my temporal lobe. They belong to me, from him to me.

I have been listening to the audiobooks of Neil Gaiman, read by Gaiman himself, as I take my nightly strolls. He takes me away, as my tired feet keep on with their rhythm, and rise above the tiled floor and walk into a fairyland. I am falling in love with his voice, even more so than his stories. Perhaps it is the witchy combination of the two that makes me feel a little less lonely, somewhat more alive when the air is filled with the faint whispers of desert coolers and the sleeping breaths of most people in my neighbourhood.

“I tend to think the experience of hearing a book is often much more intimate, much more personal: you’re down there in the words, unable to skip a dull-looking wodge of prose, unable to speed up or slow down (unless you have an iPod and like hearing people sound like chipmonks), less able to go back. It’s you and the story, the way the author meant it,” expressed Gaiman in his journal.

I love when people read to me, just like I rejoice when their hands go through my hair, ruffling me, pushing my body to deep awareness. Yes, it is intimate.

I remember asking the first person I was ever with to read a poem to me. In bed together, I was nestled in their arms. I opened the said poem (I cannot remember which, it was perhaps a Keatsian ode as I was a lot into Keats back then) on my cell phone. Their voice made an enclosure for us, closer and more comfortable than the four walls or the late afternoon light filtering through the dust-caked window screens. I recognise the memory of hearing, more than the touch itself.

Another time, another person who anchored at this violent shore for an evening, that is to say, it was a hookup. They sent a poem after a couple of days. A written verse, not spoken, about all that I left on their bed to their safekeeping. The scent, a stroke of my fingers, a pause that lasted. It was beautiful in its composition and still, I imbibed it in my mind as if they were reading it to me. The voice, more than the words, found its place in my skin.

What is it in the voice — the shape and sound and stillness of words and their absence thereof — that creates this web for me? Why do I reflect so much on the simple romance of people reading to me?

In a world where we derive pleasure from the visual medium (for instance in pornography where the voice, when present, is but a conduit to artificially heighten the stimuli) in the absence of a sexualised touch? What is voice but an afterthought, something dispensable, something that we can do without to reach the state of release or orgasm?

I am not denying the pleasure derived from listening to a pop song or an orchestral crescendo. I am trying to derive a loose hierarchy of senses to understand what comes first and what matters more that attracts us. I am not talking about phone sex either as it corresponds to particular acts being voiced and exchanged and therefore, the voice is in some ways subservient to the physicality of the actions.

Let me ask you to reflect on something. Think of the sexiest voice that you have heard, listen to it, feel how your body responds to it, and think of the person behind the voice and then yourself in tandem with that image. Is it similar to the response of Joaquin Phoenix’s character to the Scarlett Johansson’s AI-voice in Her?

“The voice is ambiguous, ambivalent, and enigmatic. We don’t
trust things we can’t seize with our eyes and hands. We might squeeze
the beloved’s body in passion or fury, but we can never hold his or her
voice hostage,” writes cultural theorist Dominic Pettman in his book Sonic Intimacy: Voice, Species, Technics (or, How To Listen to the World).

The voice, devoid of the body, is such a strange thing. When we say someone’s voice touched us or made us see an entirely new world, we are defining it by a more specific sense because the voice unto itself does not command the same expression. Still, we are defined by it, and it is characteristic — its tonality, rhythm, pitch, range, et al. — of our personality.

When I think of the voice behind those two poems, whether I heard them or not, I map out the entire person, how I saw their skin and all that lies beneath, how I perceived their lips and tongue and the throat producing those sounds that make a voice.

When I listen to Neil Gaiman, I think of his voice apart as well as a part of the story he weaves and constructs with its plot devices and endings.

In any case, I love it.

Read to me. It may be a bit more or less than romance. It is not always about desire and pleasure. Just read to me so that we can know each other better, as when I take from your voice, I give myself to you too.

This is the second essay in a new series of essays called #Trash. You can check out the previous piece here. As promised, I wrote something sexier as compared to last week. Let me know what you think about this essay, what voices left an impact on you, as well as some good audiobook recommendations. I welcome your feedback and topic suggestions as I would like to keep going with this series at least for some time.

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Not a Poet!

Who do I seek to comfort when I am writing a poem? Who can find some reprieve or succour in my written word?

My approach to poetry and writing as a whole has often been selfish. I am selfish. I begin with the urgency of thought or vulnerability of my heart when I pick up the pen or open a word editor. I design and modulate and raise my voice to find someone — an invisible spectator or a known or an unknown other — who can consume it all for me, digest, excrete, and display for my purpose, to exterminate my words till their remains are indistinguishable. Such an inexorable marriage of poet and poetry and reader.

I am hungry for any reader, as I seek to consume so to be consumed, without parenthesis or any context. I do not care who the reader is. I do not comfort. I do not create an experience where we can both meet and touch each other and walk through our shared emptiness.

I want to devour so to be devoured. I want to become the other so that I can know myself better, even if I provide only a limited scope for that understanding to emerge.

“Poetry is an intimate act”: The adage is mentioned in the first chapter of my handy Poet’s Companion, which further goes on to define how a poem is sharing knowledge, which seems to be another way of universalising this experience. It seems anyone who creates, gives birth, evokes the miasma of the human truth or situation is expected to display it in a way as if it belongs (to more than one).

As a reader of poetry and other things, I know of my need to relate and be a part of the verse and the punctuation — to belong in a line-break or hide in a plot device.

When I read some of the so-called poems that came from me, I recoil at the arrogance, at the self-entitled diatribe of a diminutive of who or what we call a poet in popular understanding or literary parlance.

A poet friend once said, “Anyone who writes even a single poem is a poet.” I find this quote attributed to Kierkegaard even more exemplary: “What is a poet? A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music… and men crowd about the poet and say to him: “Sing for us soon again”; that is as much to say: May new sufferings torment your soul.”

They never said who is to define what a poem is. If the decision is left to the one who writes it, it would be a futile exercise to discuss it any further. Still, I agree with a self-construed definition of such words and the meanings attained, far away from the capitalist mores of publication, reach, and popularity.

Let’s say everyone is a poet, as in everyone is capable of writing or thinking or sensing or living a poem. That should definitely upend the fallacy of a singular or multiple strands of a definition.

A song of Emilie Autumn that helped me through some bitter nights says, “The world is full of poets, We don’t need anymore.”

So, I have decided that I shall not be deemed a poet anymore. It’s yet another act of selfishness to take up a word, make it mine, live through it, use it, mutilate it, and then leave it be. But I am selfish. All my creative endeavours are built on the basis of the mythos where comfort only lies in destruction or pain. I turn it to favour me, to suffer, to pick at my gangrenous pen so to be seen or noticed or analysed and thus found.

Let us go back a little now. The day I started writing this exposition, I received a kind rejection from an editor of a digital magazine, who suggested that my work is not of a ‘snug fit‘ for them. This is something I already knew because I often revelled in being too small or too big. Too short in my much-cherished individuality, too big in the failure of my years. Like a rat that can fit into the tightest of spaces and still be the purveyor of ghastly death (mostly blamed for the black death as if death can be anything but black). A study suggested that the rat’s case may be blown out of proportions. Its complicated mathematical model pointed out the human-parasite link to be the primary cause of mortality in many affected cities.

It is for me an acceptance that what is apparent to my mind and heart is not often the whole truth. Facts change, so do emotions. So, take everything I write as a self-questioning enterprise or my agency to mould and expand my thought process.

I will be writing poems, whenever it happens. Sometimes out of habit, at other times deliberately carving words from the carcass of language to make them palatable. As history goes, I am not good with fine dining. I will also keep learning through reading and doing the unspeakable things to any poem I come to love, and perhaps go through a bit more of that companion text.

I do not know if any poem I will write can cause what I want it to release into my small world, where a comment or two can cause such a surge of pride and/or repulsion in me. Only for some time. This is the only way I have known because it is a release, and not something that I have nourished and built and kept safe. I do not think I ever had a chance.

I always sought to be comforted when that was not possible. I wanted reprieve when it could never last.

“Why live a lie,” sings Autumn as a refrain through the song. I am not going to bother with it. It is just a beginning to overcome some internalised delusions, and it has to be symbolic like everything else, to be of any significance.

This is the first in a series of essays envisaged by me called #Trash. Please bear with me as I had to get this self-indulgent piece out first; I have something sexy planned for next week. Share your opinion and topic suggestions (however trashy) in the comments. You can keep up with me on my Instagram or Twitter as well.

If you enjoyed this piece or you have liked my poems or anything else that I have ever written or shared, you can show your support and buy me a coffee. Thank you.

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of waiting

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naked. i sit in the bathroom, waiting for my needs to dry and shrivel so that I can take control of my breath again and proceed with my shower. listening to Cyndi Lauper, i wait. i am merging with my immediate emptiness. yet, I keep on waiting…

waiting for things to normalise back to their abnormality. waiting for that dairy milk cake to rise and collapse and harden and soften with time. waiting for ice cubes to melt and burn my tongue further and blister. waiting for the pain to recede and waiting for it to come back. waiting for the silence before the scream to extinguish itself and waiting for the impending scream to crack open the earth. waiting for the food to pass the intestinal tract and waiting for the next unsatisfactory meal.

waiting for the room to start becoming my skin and enclosing my wronged limbs and waiting for it to break me to nothing. waiting for the world to open a star-shaped space for me and fill me with moonlight. waiting for my heart to collapse beneath the weight of my consuming world. waiting for the hunchback sky to turn into that particular hibiscus-red and fall down on me. waiting for the heat to penetrate my shadow skull and open flowerless graves within. waiting for a song that would escape my lips and take my voice and bury it into the ploughed riverbed. waiting to be kissed by a nightmare and fucked by an inconsequential god.

waiting for the wait to end.

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© Anmol Arora

Image source (Tyeb Mehta (b. 1925) Diagonal Series signed and dated ‘Tyeb 76’ (on reverse) oil on canvas 44 x 35 in. (111.8 x 90.2 cm.))

 

of sleep

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i stalked Shabana Azmi’s Instagram at 4:17 a.m. after coming across one of her posts. i got stuck to it and explored her life, as exhibited on the heavy screen of my cell phone. in a desperate plea for sleep, i look for such intervening factors on the social media that can lull me to close my eyes where i can lose the ra(n)ge of my incessant inner-voice. sometimes, it works and i hand over the reins of the internet and breathe deeply into a light snooze. at other times, i realise after long how bizarre it is and begin to make amends, in the form of shallow breathing to trick myself to sleep. when that does not work, i start worrying about the books that i am not reading, the ones i left in between, the ones i do not know of, the ones i could never write (or something along these lines) till i cross the borders (and uncross them) between levity and foolhardiness one too many times.

in order to feel better, i finished the chapter of one of the books that i was reading and watched the first half an hour of a film. then to bed and breaths and buildups. and back to prompt wakefulness.

at 6:37 a.m., i stand up and go for a floating walk. with the sun burning my industrious eyelids, i miss out on the hornet just ahead of me. after a moment’s delay, we both gawk at each other and turn in opposite directions. my sense of direction does not work well in such circumstances and i end up encountering this mischievous creature again. before the sting, the cry of a crow takes my full attention and i manage to escape.

the scrawny black thing has a worm in its mouth, hanging loose like a scarf around the neck (that can well be a noose). it is a morning angel, cawing and cackling and enjoying its breakfast. it ignores the row of six pigeons on the opposite wall, who are the sentinels of this open court.

there is no judgement in the coming. i think of the law and its acrimonious relationship with hope. i think of the absentee litigator before an absent god, i think of a big advocate with a stamp of contempt on his head. what is the law for but to disembowel the mind and tie the tongues into neat knots?

the law is sans justice. the sleep is sleeplessness. with that in mind, i start writing of this vacuum that can contain all of our lifetimes and those that have not even begun yet.

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© Anmol Arora

Image source (Sleeping Effort, 1953, Jackson Pollock, © Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

of heat and pain

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the pain comes in waves, rising with every twist and movement, closing like a sunflower in that one particular posture and head tilt that makes it recede to an invisible centre (all else silent). in that particular pose, a burst of senseless laughter escapes me, of relief, of sweet, sweet relief. it has only been a couple of days and i am sick of its tentacles piercing and needling my muscles into tight knots. the right quadrant of my upper back is a plain, a parallel dimension for unintended consequences of seemingly inconsequential actions.

a hot water bottle rests against the hurt. the nightlight makes the red rubber look like blood. its scaled surface feels like old skin. letting the heat transfer and latch onto my pain, i feel light. the waves pass me by, hungry for new flesh and brittle warmth. lying in this manner, i drift off to visions. it may be the result of a muscle relaxant i took in one go that i feel the vibrations of a half-dream on my left shoulder and forearm, and numbness spreads throughout like apricot jam on a burnt toast.

with this unkindly sleep, i stay in a drug-addled awareness. all is as should be. all is on its way to becoming a memory.

embracing the pain, i read of an empress and bulimia, bridges made of watermelon sugar, and the kill list of a forgotten virus. the night becomes predawn becomes the first glimmer of light becomes a hot day. the water turned cold hours ago, the anti-inflammatory chemicals have absolved themselves. i move around and struggle with the weight of my small being in the vastness of this bed, all in the hope to find a way through the pain.

not to avoid it. to be it.

the pain as a reminder as a prophecy as a hypnotic dream as a sunburnt image as a rain besieged sea as a burnt-up pyre as an acceptance.

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© Anmol Arora

Image source (Frida Kahlo, Arbol de la Esperanza (Tree of Hope), 1946 (Photo: Nathan Keay, ©2014 Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, D.F. Artists Rights Society (ARS), Private Collection Chicago))