Mud people (excerpt from Gargoyle)

fullsizeoutput_b93 The shallow hole the boy had dug became deeper with time as he scooped out the red colored clay the ground was made of. He filtered it through his hands, taking out stones, sticks, decomposed leaves and roots. Punching and smoothing it he compacted the clay to one block, thus slowly building up a monolith from clay. He devoted great care to this process, making sure that he would have a structurally sound mass with which to work. Over the course of building hundreds of small people from mud he had gotten quite skilled at this craft. Only when he was content with the sound that a slap against the block produced, a deep, saturated thud, would he proceed to sculpt. With deliberate slowness he worked from the general form to the details. Many times a form had collapsed when he had tried to overemphasize a movement or had placed the limbs too far outside the center of gravity. In the beginning he had tried to use sticks to support an arm reaching out or a leg stepping forward and though technically that solution had worked he didn’t like that the figure now seemed to defy the laws of gravity that nature put on the material and form. It was thus almost impossible by the mere use of sticks and clay alone to sculpt an outreached limb that looked natural. So he had returned to work from the inner core of the material and to rather hint at a movement that – though invisible – the eye would project into the empty space. He was always intrigued by what he could see without seeing it. He liked the way his sculptures randomly related to one another, all he had to do was to quietly look at both sculptures and discover this relationship of forms. Something deep inside him stirred when he looked at his creations and their silent endurance. He could see the form of the space in between two physical forms, it was nothing and yet visible if one cared to look, it changed constantly, stretched and diminished, even disappeared. It was actually easier for him to comprehend the properties of this in between space than the form itself. You could get out of the trajectory of any moving object if you controlled that space. If you made that space in between adhere to your inner voice you did not need sticks to build a figure. Why, you barely needed your hands, all you had to do was to look long and hard, look at the clay monolith and make some slight adjustments. Soon his people were crouching, stretching, running, turning. He took great pleasure from this.

His father began to take notice too. One night when he had returned home from the workshop the little garden patch had first caught his attention. In the twilight the clay sculptures his son had build in the afternoon had a strange quality of perfection. There were seven fresh sculptures, six of them crouching on the ground, the seventh a small figure in flight, emerging out of a block of brick-colored earth, running.
From a distance it had seemed that all sculptures possessed distinct personalities and bore individual facial features. Something about these features seemed oddly familiar to the stonemason. Upon closer inspection he realized though that the impression of an actually sculpted face dissipated from a nearer perspective – but reinstated itself the moment he stepped back like a magical trick. The inability to confirm his initial finding, to come closer to the truth, was intriguing to him. He asked himself how a not yet six year old child could have created such a sophisticated illusion. He didn’t ever doubt that the impression was created deliberately. He studied the people his son had made for a long time. Inside the house the light from the boy’s bedroom shone dimly through the drawn curtains.

Literary avatars,Jawara´s story, excerpt

IMG_5726Where do you live when you live in a mattress under a dining table as a roommate to a legal intern? What is your legal address? Do you even have one? You are not freezing at night. You do not go hungry by day. You are alive to the world, breathing, thinking, feeling, and you have a history that walks by your side as you walk past the store fronts on Madison on your way to the subway on 96th Street after your boss has taken off with the food truck towards Queens. His day is not over yet. He still has to drive the truck out, clean and unload it in order to comply with food regulation rules, to keep the truck running that provides both of you with a livelihood but in your case just so.

From the window displays on Fifth and Madison distant galaxies of human existence are reflecting. The entry to these worlds is being jealously guarded by slim young men in well cut suits with cold stares. You don´t even desire the kinds of goods that are hiding behind those faraway windows though you are also not ignorant of them, there is simply no meaning in the acquisition of things that furbish and decorate for events that are not even on your far horizon.

You do desire books though and a place to sit and work quietly. At this moment all you need is a few minutes for yourself, to be a free man and a free agent of your fortune, maybe pretending there was indeed a place for you to go to, not here in the Upper East side, maybe somewhere in Queens like your boss, a place with friends and family waiting for you like back at home. You correct yourself: like it used to be at home.

You stop in front of the book store on Madison Avenue, Crawford & Doyle. You have never once been here during opening hours but you love the window display and the old-world storefront. Your time is ticking, and you are incredibly tired, but you take a few minutes to let your eyes rest on the new arrangement of books. You love book design. Your mother was born in in Saint-Louis, Senegal, where she grew up before moving to Dakar to finish her secondary schooling and becoming a book designer. You know book design because she loves it. You miss her, but you know she approves of you being here and giving it your best shot. And so you feel ashamed that your best shot does not go so very far as you are exhausting yourself working at the food truck so you don´t have to live in the street. Any other city you might be having your own place but here it is all but impossible, all you can afford here is the mattress under a dining room table of a legal intern who is too poor to afford that place on her own.

The studio apartment you share is really small like a doll´s house, which explains why the only place for your mattress is under the table. The intern herself owns next to nothing – but she does own this table that is like a small hut. A table like a boat, like the Arche Noah she once said. New York could drown and all she´d have to do is turn the table over and float out of there. The both of you share the upper part of that table and the kitchen and the bathroom. She has made her own bedroom in a walk-in-closet which accommodates her own mattress underneath the clothes hangers. The arrangement works remarkably well. You are rarely at home when she is, time´s maybe overlapping a few hours at night. She comes in late, often after midnight, you have to get up at 3.30 am to meet your boss set up the food truck in time for the morning crowd of office workers. Both of you try to be mindful of the other´s sleep. Neither one of you brings a lover home though you have once seen her with this tall guy on Bank Street, artist looking type. He would not have fit in that closet. Such a strange thing though to know there is a girl in the closet while you are brushing your teeth. Sometimes she´s talking in her sleep from deep within that closet. New York is a strange place.

All of this you think as you let your eyes travel unseeing over the books displayed in the windows at Crawford & Doyle. You should be writing a book and have it displayed in this book store´s window for people to see and buy, you are a good narrator and a good writer, and you have a story to tell. But even in real life no one here seems to care about your story, you are all but invisible. People ask you for a bottle of Peach Snapple or Newman´s Lemon Ice Tea, they ask for coffee to go, they ask you for a donut with cream cheese or a pretzel with salt which you carefully wrap in a napkin and hand out to your customer, but not before you have carefully counted the change. People don´t care for you touching the pretzel with your hands, they are afraid of touch and life and smell, though the city is full of touch and life and smell, but it is like a playground to them with their own set of rules, it is their playground but your jungle, and they know close to nothing about you and they don´t want to either. You are not their problem, you hand out snacks and food and sugared drinks and coffee in a sanitary, non-threatening, polite way so they can forget about you the moment they bite into their pretzel, you are like an extra to their own, legitimate story while you keep invisible, keep in your place. Your head is so full of life and stories that all you want to do is sit down and start writing, tell a story, only you can´t because you are so tired and lonely and tired again,  so tired you almost hear your thoughts and they are so loud that they are almost painful and the blood rushes to your face, and what you really have to do is to go home and wash the dust off and crawl on to your mattress under the table in order to be able to get up in a few hours to start working again, so you will still have that mattress under the table and water and enough food to survive, and so this will be another night when you don´t start your book. Maybe tomorrow night. Try again. You have not given up quite yet. And you slowly start walking toward the subway station on 96th and your life´s avatars drag behind a bit, still clinging to that beautiful window display.

thin ice

IMGP0071_2on an early winter’s day a small girl is contemplating the fine layer of ice that, over night, has been glazing over the surface of the fjord. the fine glass is firm enough to carry a duck sliding more that waddling on her webbed feet, making towards the dark canal of open water a fisher boat has left in its wake this morning. it is a comical sight to watch the duck struggling to make progress on the polished ice, the bird looks like harpo on skates.

a little further off the shore a small lake has been kept open by another group of water birds continuously swimming to keep their hole from freezing over, among them two swans who for the time being have resigned themselves to the company of the more common water fowl as their attempts at escape have been defied by their weight.

the girls narrows her eyes as she tentatively put one foot out on the ice, holding on to the orphaned pole the boat upon its return will bet tied to. a large bubble of air that somehow has been trapped underneath the ice near the pole displaces itself under the weight of the child’s feet and causes the ice to sigh. the child smiles with appreciation.

she is old enough to realize that the surface that will not carry a swan’s weight will not carry her own. furthermore, she has been firmly instructed to never walk on the ice before being told that it is safe to do so.

but no ones knows that she is as fast as lightning. they don’t know that she can make herself as light as a feather by breathing just so. with her eyes she follows the path her light foot would take, by a split second faster than the breaking ice. she would reach the other shore before the fjord could ever hope to claim her, she can see it now, can see herself running out there, triumphantly, defying nature and convention in one glorious run.

She seemed to be right out of a historical reenactment society


I was so completely startled by this sudden change in behavior that I wasn’t even shocked to feel a hand grabbing my shoulder and yanking me down from my boulder and back to shore.
The hand was firm and muscular. It dragged me away from the shore a few steps, beyond the tree line and I had to oblige, stumbling backwards. When we reached the shelter of the tree, the hand let go. I turned around. The strong and determined grip had been misleading. Standing in front of me, inspecting me gravely with birdlike, black eyes, was a tiny, old woman. She wore a long rough shirt with an apron over a grey flannel shirt. Snow white hair done up in a tidy bun, her narrow shoulders wrapped in a grey woolen, triangular shawl, she seemed to be right out of a historical reenactment society. “And what did you think you were doing there, laddie,” she inquired with an authoritative voice. Apparently she mistook me for a boy, addressing me as laddie. “Speak up,” she demanded, quite clearly being used to be obeyed immediately and not one prone to put up with any nonsense. I shivered. She stepped closer again, then reached out and pushed my tangled hair out of my face. Taking a sharp look at my face she murmured to herself: “In a bad shape we are, aren’t we.” And inspecting me a few more moments she added: “A girl in a lad’s clothes, if I ever saw such a thing, lost too, I take it.” She put her hand on my forehead. I started shaking violently. “You are burning up,” she observed, again more to herself than to me. If I had had any more strength left in me, I might have inquired right there and then why she had yanked me away from the boulder. If I had been in my own time and place, I would have protested most decidedly about being ordered about by a woman who was a complete stranger to me. But here I was, meek, shivering with fever and cold and lost. The tiny lady took off her shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders. “That’s more like it,” she stated grimly, referring to my state of clothing, I am sure. Then she simply took my hand and pulled me along.

Woe to the unfortunate stranger who should come upon the gate they were keeping

For a brief moment also I did wonder now whether I was still dreaming. Yet the wet sand, the sea gulls of the lake circling overhead, the light on the water, the dark blue reflections of the two adjacent Mountains, Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah, in the misty mirror of the lake on the distant Southern shore, everything had a coherence that was not dreamlike. And yet the situation was surreal, not only because I had fallen asleep on my bed and woken up on a wet, cold beach hundreds of miles away from home. The sun, for example, was incredibly small, too small for our planet, planet earth. In the east the sharp crescent of a waxing moon, greeting the morning with disdain, was accompanied by a second crescent, a twin moon. And the surface underneath me was still breathing. And yet I knew the silhouettes of the twin peaks by heart. My mother used to tell us on warm summer nights, when the sun had already left the sky and only the patient outlines of the rock formations on both sides of the lake were still cutting into the advancing darkness, that the mountains were ancient guardians who were forgotten by their masters and not having been relieved of their duty had decided to keep their post to the edge of doom. Woe to the unfortunate stranger who should come upon the gate they were keeping. Lake Willoughby was an incredibly deep, glacial, water filled ravine, and there was some sparse folk lore about creatures living in the dark, about a connecting underground acquifer between the lake and its twin lake, Crystal Lake, to the West behind Mount Hor. It was a strange place, but being as remote had kept all stories at bay.

I sat still for a while, waiting for the scenery to change or disappear like dream images do, especially if you pay too much attention to the details, but the situation was as real as you can imagine, and not prone to change any more than Ms. Havenshire’s classroom during an especially tedious lecture on a philosophical concept that excited her. I stared around for a while, bravely ignoring the piercing cold, trying to take an inventory of everything. Except for the strange planetary constellations, the lake seemed real. I had never been up here in fall but I imagined it to look as lonely and cold as it did now. It is not exactly a lively place even in summer. And in winter, once the snow started, it would be one of those places that were cut off from the outside world for weeks on end, alas with the local people being prepared for it and not disconcerted by a few inches more or less of snow or even by massive boulders coming thundering down the mountains just like every winter. There was no skiing and therefore no seasonal dwellers in winter. Both, Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah were too steep and fully covered with trees.

I was shivering violently now, my clothes were as damp as if I had actually spent the night unprotected on the beach. When I finally stumbled up to my feet, it took me a moment to find my balance just as it would have on a big gym mat. I tried to disregard the breathing of the surface and made a few gingerly placed steps towards the water. What to do next? What to do if you are suddenly stranded in a place without any preparation or at least warning? Why was I here? In a dream, typically, events keep unfolding and you keep reacting but the lake was quiet with quick shadows dancing over the surface. I stopped at the water’s edge. Little waves arrived at the shore with a sweet sound. Light was dancing silver on the ripples. I was getting colder by the second, shaking most convincingly.

I had to find shelter. There was a colony of summer cottages at the North Beach, they would be boarded up for the winter, but maybe I could find a way in all the same to warm up and think. It seemed a reasonable plan, if you can at all call it reasonable that you have to think about finding shelter in a dream. Again I asked myself what I would do once I got inside. Maybe there would be a phone but even if there was, it probably would be disconnected for winter. Would it even make sense to call home and ask for someone to please come and rescue me? How ever to explain how I got here? And would it be possible to call home even if I found a working phone? I turned around to scan the tidy row of vacation cottages at the North Shore to find one that would suit my improvised plan and I faced an impenetrable row of trees. The cottages were gone.

the earth itself, underneath my body, was a breathing organism, like a gigantic whale you find yourself stranded on

How hard my mind had to work to keep control, to still try to make sense out of a wealth on information that had long stopped to be apprehensible by any rules I had been led to understand applied. But only submission to the world of grown-ups would have you believe that they were – in general – truthful about the world. I didn’t believe this anymore but tried to rely on my own senses instead. It was treacherous ground.

For example that night. As I lay in the dark, eyes closed though wide awake, the surface of my bed felt soft as was to be expected, but it felt soft in the way I had experienced and shied away from before. It seemed to be soft in an organic, breathing way. I tried to distinguish between my own breathing pattern and the breathing of that soft, pliable surface I felt underneath my body.  It was an uncanny feeling – but just ask yourself how many sensations you can really clearly distinguish besides soft and hard, warm and cold, pain and pleasure. Truth is, you constantly rely on additional sensations and context to tell you about the thing you are experiencing through just one of your senses to make sense of something.

What was it that I was feeling? Something that I feared, but I didn’t know why I feared it or whether I had reason to fear it in the first place as I was completely unaware of its nature. All I knew was that last time I checked my bed had not been breathing. As before it felt actually – and it made perfect sense to think those words as irrational as they might seem – that the earth itself, underneath my feet, my body, was a breathing organism, like a gigantic whale you find yourself stranded on. It didn’t make sense and I couldn’t explain to myself where that strange idea actually orginated. Nothing I had read or talked about lately had pointed in that direction. Remember, there was no internet and but little TV. None in our house, by the way.

And yet, I just felt it, right there and then, the surface underneath me belonged to something alive, and I knew I had to open my eyes to find out what was going on, but I was entirely too scared to live up to my own imaginative ability. All I could manage to do, pathetically,  was to continue breathing slowly just as I had done during those long ago nights when I had led some non-existing intruder to believe that I was asleep. And with each moment the sensation of a sighing, breathing surface underneath my body was getting stronger.

god and a decade ending with the brief and delirious ruling of acid freaks, post feminists and de-constructors of language

When I thought about the idea of god waking me (or not) I became afraid. There was a German lullaby by Brahms that my then ancient great-grandmother used to sing to me when I was really very little which ended with the words: “Tomorrow morning, if God wants so,
you will wake once again.…”  Our family life was altogether politically non-theistic, except for the great-grandmother who passed away when I was about four, but the idea of god deciding about my waking in the morning was still disconcerting. What if he did not want to? On a whim? Would I just sleep forever? Would I die? What if he plain forgot about me?

When I had asked my mother about the song she had explained to me that the lyrics dated to a time when it was understood that everything – everything – happened only with god’s consent and that these lines, by their content, did not deal primarily with the idea of god remembering to wake people or not.

I don’t know whether that explanation did much to put my anxiety to rest, I think probably not. But it certainly was with relief that one day I realized that I actively did not believe in god. That was an easy attitude to acquire in my family, by the way, and an easy attitude in that decade following the sixties, a decade ending with the brief and delirious ruling of acid freaks, post feminists and de-constructors of language which left a lasting impression on western societies and which was my intellectual parents’ undeniable contribution to a new cultural value system, a system that allowed for people like them to unfold their wings and discover entirely new horizons and ideas.  I don’t remember that we had ever attended any church service. Even wedding ceremonies in my parents’ circle of friends and family were civil ceremonies. No baptisms. Still, God remained a quaint distant relation who, after a history of misfortunes, had found asylum in old nursery rhymes and lyrics. All but forgotten and without charitable visitors, but hanging on.

My parents’ were avidly confessing atheists for many years until older age and the dawning sense of their own mortality softened their rhetoric. And yet, my childish sense of superstition, during the phase of their most decided and articulated stand on the topic, detected an ominous quality to the concept “god” and it took some years and my awakening intellect to overcome the threatening taste the fear of that forgotten but lingering god left in my mind. Maybe god explained and explored would have been easier to understand but I was pretty much left to my own devices to figure out what the idea of god stood for.  I vaguely feared god until I shed that fear pretty much like I had shed the fear of the nightly intruder eventually. Only much later did it occur to me that the elimination of god did not erase the randomness and with it the terror of the unpredictable nature of death.

Lord of Mischief

English: Wicker man, engraving

English: Wicker man, engraving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

may the Lord of Misrule not end as a wicker man but be allowed to see to his fields in spring hereafter. barren were the lands of our neighbors when saturn was still allowed his share of the human mind and barren be our own if we allowed this tradition to be continued. whatever name you might attach to the greedy deed – accident, mischief, malevolence – thou shall not partake of the feast and not grudge nor join your neighbors in their well deserved merriment. instead hold in your heart for twelve nights the coming of the light.