Reading Naked Lunch – Chapter 2: Setting

fish-market-man
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Need to jolt your mind? Chapter 1 of Reading Naked Lunch is over here!

The salon appointment arrives, twirling its skirt of forced gaiety on a Sunday morning whirl. We quickly set off, passing by tired aunties resignedly pushing their little aluminium trolleys filled with fresh produce from the market. Blue, pink, metal – Tudungs, hijabs and bobbing, unwashed hair. Pimply faces. Eyes squinting under a merciless sun. Mynahs squawking, pigeons going about deceptively innocent businesses.

My bad sleep last night means that I find myself trudging through a slightly hallucinatory state. This is soon confirmed by a speedy ball of barking cinnamon fur weaving itself through its owner’s legs, nearly tripping him up. Trying to get a hold on my own fatigue, I mutter: “That is a poodle. A dog.” Goddamnit. I need more sleep. The acrid smell of coffee, interweaving with the simpering smell of condensed milk, drifts my way, an invisible seduction rising from the hovering pinpricks of light in the distance. This is where the coffee shops call home. This is also where I call home.

I breathe in and get punched in the face for my efforts with the stench of hot oil. Thankfully, hunger never discriminates. We turn to the right, walk down the hotch-potch variety of shops and stop at the second-hand shop, gazing past stagnant pools of antiquated junk that has now invaded the vacuity in front of the next shop like some malevolent virus. Cassette players, music CDs, sad-looking branded fashions, silver watches eaten by the time of rust…

The shopkeeper, a little lady with red hair the same shade as her sprightliness, smiles at us and we exchange polite banalities. I look at her crimson hair, nails and smile. Red lips disappearing into the void of pink flesh, where the lipstick fails to cover her paleness, enveloping its voluptuousness over little, sharp teeth. I think she looks a little like a vampire. I catch myself in time, just before the words leave my mouth and into the beautiful yonder of a potential social blunder. My internal alarm screams at me: YOU FUCKING IDIOT –

We open the door. A little bell tinkers. Again, another assault on the senses by sharp hydroxide, the ceaseless chattering in dialect, hairdryers screaming up a storm…dear god. I sit down and take off my spectacles. My uncomfortably naked eyes starts to squint under the fluoroscent glare. To make up for it (fuck knows why, honestly), I start smiling vaguely at my reflection. I make out two panda-shaped blots in the Impressionist lens of my myopia.

Shit, that could have been a grimace. Horrified, I quickly revert to blinking obscurely at my own visage. The torturous procedure of hair relaxation soon commences, but only after an hour since the lady besides me takes up much of my hairdresser’s attention.

The perfect time to start on my book! I lean back as much as I can, squirming in the fake leather seat as I do so, and open my book…


I love the immediate sensory thrills of the wet market in real life. Dried cuttlefish stinking away in large styrofoam crates, the raucous calls of stall owners hawking their wares, having a speedy breakfast of soybean curds and fried dough fritters on a particularly cramped table…

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Reading Naked Lunch – Chapter 1: Introducing

well-dressed-man-with-hand-facing-backwards
Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

 

This strange, thin man – who is he? This skulking shadow of a gentleman, peering from neatly pressed suits…I stare at my computer screen. Fascination has me in its cool grasp. Horn-rimmed glasses. Very long arms. They are thin and spindly. His expression, hard to read in the fading light, fixes me with a very cool stare. I start frowning.

 

Who are you, strange man?

My tentative point of entry: a second-hand copy with yellowed pages. US Grove Edition 2001. Large font splashed all over the cover in red and yellow. It arrives, suitably, in a poorly-looking envelope. My fingers tear away at the thin paper. This also marks my first foray into the delights of Internet purchases. Books – nothing too tricky. I don’t need measurements or expiry dates. A quick Goodreads lookup and a cursory glance at the synopsis will do. I quickly flip through the pages with some interest. What will this book bring to the fore? Then, something catches my eye, and my fingers pause mid-page in papery playback.

A green line, a horizontal literary crack – I’ve stumbled onto an annotation! Signs of its second-handedness has revealed itself. The ink has seeped through the thin page to the back, its garishness setting off silent bells. What promise did that single line pledge to the person before me? What did that sentence exactly mean to him – or her? Or it? My eyes alight on the visual tidbit, tittering. Mmmmmm….

Then this strange man says, “Fondle this line with curiousity.”

Huh? Okay, fine – whatever you say, strange ol’ man…

“NAKED LUNCH – a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”

I turn my head back to my tiny stack of library books. Someone at the back of my mind starts to mutter a mantra, a disembodied voice that echoes from the bottom of a dry well. “No, it’s not time for you to read that yet…” I start chewing on my lip, being as predictable as any anime trope that involves the not-so-subtle glint of spectacles. There’s only two choices for me to pick. Which one will it be?

After some consideration, I place it back on my groaning bookshelf, uttering a silent “sorry” to its groaning weight. As I settle on my bed, ready to frolick with another anonymous character on page 114, my right eye registers the red and yellows of the cover, now saddened by the dimness to the equivalent of dark mustard and menstrual stains. The enclosed darkness of my bookshelf seems to coccoon my book tightly in its wooden bosom, as if protecting it from my hungry gaze with its stare of death. Excuse me – but did you just buy me to add to your collection of pretentious literature? Fuck me. I could swear that Proust book almost gave me that exact accusatory statement.

I quickly resolve to stop being so bookishly promiscuous and thunk down a mental note to read it during my salon appointment.


I initially wanted to write another lengthy, mind-twiddling discourse on Burroughs (which would make no sense in the end, lol) but fictionalizing my Naked Lunch reading seems more fun then another attempt at cracking the dry desert. So here is the first chapter of Reading Naked Lunch, which I will split into six chapters. A proper story with a beginning and an end, readers. Finally.

Moodboard – Poetry: Cyril Wong, “for nusrat fateh ali khan”

From Cyril Wong’s gently undulating chapbook, like a seed with its singular purpose –

The first sounds of the tabla
like a god’s knuckle gently

knocking against the heart’s
resounding door, then your

voice, followed by the others,
rivaling, as if at war,

but I prefer to envision trees
plunging skywards into

light, oblivious of each other
yet fuelled by that sustained

impulse to swell, to ornament
a single chant into endless

branches of pure yearning,
eventuate in a vertiginous

forest of sound, each high note
sewn into a chord vast and

dense as the canopy of trees,
then a peace as when the wind

pauses in its marathon across
the landscape to catch its

breath, then begins again to
go; trees shrug off their awe,

revving up, flexing every leaf,
twig and branch, set once more

to sway, the same way your
phrase – the final solo now –

spirals up like a gold vine to
recapture height, or how those

of us willing to lose our hours
to your melody commence

once more to move our heads,
shaping a new infinity within us.


 

Poem “To Gongyla” published in Figroot Press’s Sappho tribute issue

girl-with-fern
Photo by Caique Silva on Unsplash

I am proud to announce that my poem, “To Gongyla”, has been published in the September issue of Figroot Press, a very special issue wholly dedicated to celebrating Sappho and her poetry. Please excuse me while I cradle my head, it’s been utterly wrecked by reading these exquisite pieces now fluttering around in my mind like angry lacewings. Aaaah! And before I forget, here’s the link to the issue. Happy reading!

Self Confidence

If staunch bravado
could be prevented from drying
to an awkward patina,

it would look
like a well-oiled coat

merely undulating with ready smiles,
smartly absorbing arrows;
never crumbling to pieces
at probing questions.

Unfortunately
I’m not privileged enough
for this fantastic suit,

so all that I can say
is that I admire greatly those
who strike a fine balance
between the two…

© Zelda Reville


 

Blog post – The Tales Of Ise and Flying Chickens

I’ve just finished the Tales Of Ise and I’ve been quietly amazed by how language can be full of mazes and trickery with the help of puns (kakekotoba in Japanese) and associated imagery. It’s making me wonder if I should properly master Chinese again, but – hey, that’s another story for another time…

To demonstrate the nuances of Chinese and Japanese that have their original meanings completely lost in translation without the benefit of context,  here’s something my friend came up with as we saw some chickens peering down at us from their lofty and leafy resting places. Now you see why Engrish.com popped up, eh?

“Come! Let us see
some aeroplanes –

Then, gesturing towards the trees in a fit of laughter, he said:

“Chickens!”

And here’s my crappy translation of the above in Chinese:

“来!让我带你
去看飞机 –

飞鸡!”

What my friend has done is to pun on the word 飞机, which you read as feiji in hanyu pinyin, the romanized characters for Chinese  – by turning it into 飞鸡.  Both words have the same intonation…but with the second character tweaked from 机 to 鸡 , the entire word now takes on the innocuous meaning of “flying chicken”. So, now we get flying biological machines in the form of quizzical female chickens…