Reading Naked Lunch – Chapter 4: Where Is The Pivot?

old-man-with-magnifying-glass
Photo by Mari Lezhava on Unsplash

 

Ok, you might not have read Chapter 3 yet…

Then, I reopen the book, hair dripping in protest under the steam machine. My eyes immediately shift to off-focus. Go away, reluctance! The page starts swimming. The words seem to look like tiny ants crawling all over the paper. Hell no – it’s still the same gibberish. I want to toss my head in frustration, but then I suddenly remember that I have a hot steamer directly above my head. I try to turn my head to my left and catch a glimpse of the customer next to me, cheerfully chatting to another hairdresser.

Change tactics. 

“Wha-?”

The gentleman walks over and stands in front of me. “You have a choice. You know where the pivot is.”

Pivot? What is it? My eyes skim past a sentence. I ain’t know no pivot…“Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole how to talk?” Where the hell was that pivot? Where is the –

“This ass talk had sort of a gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go.”

Aha.

“You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you have to do is turn loose?” The gentleman grips hold of the knife and pulls it out, inspecting the blade, cleaning off the wood chips stuck to the tip of the knife.

His pale eyes reflect the cat’s eye glint from the blade. Then, his lips start moving, humming a melody that synchronizes with the enunciations of my tongue. The felt hat slips over his egg-shaped head. “Well this talking hit you right down there, a bubbly, thick stagnant sound, a sound you could smell.”  He starts to take his coat off. The knife drops to the floor. His crisp, tailored shirt comes off, revealing a bony, exposed chest. A scar traces its jagged teeth over the expanse of his skin, right where the heart is. I can see the slight quiver that betrays the location of his human sensitivity. His hands drop towards his pants. His movements, oblivious, to my stare. His innocence, blatantly oblivious, to my shame. Do I avert my eyes? Or do I continue this horror peep show?

He picks up the knife. Then he stops humming. Speaking in a gravelly voice, he rumbles: “This man worked for a carnival you dig, and to start with it was like a novelty ventriloquist act.”

He proceeds to do the unthinkable. A laugh first escapes his throat, then, just as swiftly, the knife plunges into the territory of that scar. A blast of cold air hits my neck as my hairdresser removes the steamer from my hair. The scene abruptly squeals to a stop. The man vanishes. She gestures towards the washstand, speaking in kindly tones, the voice matching the image of her harmless, round face…

I shiver. I am glad, for I have not a single chance to witness whatever could have come next.


Congratulations for coming this far! If this rambling was to your liking, here’s Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Happy reading!

Moodboard – Full Moon in Pisces

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Photo by Ganaparthy Kumar on Unsplash.

Today’s moodboard is a little different. On account of today’s harvest moon on the last legs of dreamy Pisces, also in its fullest form tonight – and also the mid-autumn festival which I (um) totally forgot about – I would like to leave this passage here, directly lifted from Bernadette Brady’s Predictive Astrology: The Eagle And The Lark, which I am also reading at the moment:

Full Moon 

The time to reap the rewards. This is not a time for new projects or ideas but rather a harvesting of that which is already there. This is the time to collect, the time to receive, to pick the fruit, for now it is in its prime. This is the climax to the cycle where the energy is at its peak. Collect the fruits of your labour. They are ripe. 

Seeing as it’s nearing the end of 2017, this full moon seems like a good time to take a pause and reflect on what you’ve done so far. Wheels can only keep chugging for so long without any rest.

For me, I’ve managed to publish a few pieces of my poetry and keep blogging. I humbly acknowledge that my biggest weakness has been my congenitally short-circuited level of interest. I haven’t managed to banish it totally yet, but I’ve learnt to harness this short circuitry into actual work, which is a nice start.

Also, I seem to gravitate to the moon as an endless source for inspiration. Hell, I’ve already posted a few poems about the moon. Perhaps it’s also fitting that my natal moon is in the watery sign of Cancer. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone!

 

Reading Naked Lunch – Chapter 3: Unreality

man-ray-plume-rayograph
A rayograph of a single feather by Man Ray

Before I begin – have you read Chapter 2 yet?

After ten minutes in, I start to rub my eyes, not from my annoyance at my blurred vision, but from the unpleasant shock of what meets my eyes. Holy shit…

In the monolithic fog of pungent chemicals, line after line of violent gay sex and repulsive, anti-social behaviour runs past my eyes. I see oppressed towns where gaunt-faced inhabitants ruin themselves on the cheapest junk available. Leering mouths. Some sort of bloated, fleshy epigram starts floating in front of my rapidly blinking eyes, turning green and insect-esque by the blazing light of the late afternoon that illuminates the salon every time someone comes into the salon, quietly demanding its share of space snatched by the artificial fluorescent tube. I squint, hoping to clear my eyes. But the green tinge refuses to dissipate. It clings to my vision like a filmy piece of green plastic, sparkling at the edges, reminiscent of the crinkly green plastic that I used in making DIY lanterns as a kid.

The window shutter of thin flesh promptly severs my link to the immediate world in a quick blink. I try to imagine something else, groping for that sense of vague familiarity swimming in the darkness of this intimacy. But it’s no use – as my eyes blink open, the salon and all its sights and strong smells floods into view, the receding waves plunging me into bright, bright light. The fluorescent tube’s glare stings my vision. I squint again and wrinkle my nose.

White light. UV rays. White light being split into seven rays…an ultraviolet spectrum. Ultraviolence. No, wait.

A blood orchid slowly blossoms from the tip of a trembling needle. The clean snap of young, swan-like necks –

To my left, the hairdryer continues to whine. Scissors continue to snip. I try turning my head to see where my hairdresser is, but I’m restricted by the large steamer that sits over my head.  I see only a pair of fleshy arms attached to something. Tch tch tch. Then a thought, morbid as only something imaginable can be, cracks a smile. What if hands had eyes to see what they were snipping? Would they have any morals to discern for themselves? Snip, snip snip – what the fuck am I reading? I slap the book shut.

I need to recuperate.

The silent gentleman (which, in retrospect, could have been pretending to sleep earlier) now gives a very obliging response. As he speaks, the brim of his felt hat slides over his eyes, softly glowing (?) in the distance. “You are too tired.”

Yes. I am too sleepy. Yes – that could be it. Okay. I’ll stop now and read it again later in the evening –

Silently, he takes out a knife with a beveled edge, and, in one smooth motion, flings it, where it hits the board with a resounding whack. But instead of whack, I hear No!

Confusion and Denial, the consorts of reluctance start laughing as they spinning my head round like a globe. The more I think about it, the more my head threatens to spin off its own axis. Where is the rotational axis, the thread that holds it all together? This does not compute. This does NOT compute – 

I am not asking to be raped mentally. I am only reading to pass my time while waiting for my scalp to stop burning; for my hair to break free of its kinked bonds, goddamnit. Snip, snip, snip.

Then the realization hits me. What the fuck? Are you serious –

Kinkiness?

The gentleman slowly raises a thumbs-up.


 

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…

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

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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…

Moodboard – Poetry: No. 9: Departing For The East, The Tales Of Ise

DT10749
A painting of a scene from The Tale Of Ise. I’m guessing this one is paying homage to the Yatsuhashi scene where they sit on the marsh overlooking the irises.

Long ago, the man was overwhelmed by feelings of futility, and he thought, ‘I can no longer remain in the capital; I will look for a suitable place in the provinces of the east.’ Then he departed, taking a few of his old friends with him. Unsure of their way, they wandered along in a desultory fashion. Eventually they arrived at a place called Yatsuhashi in the province of Mikawa. The location was known as Eight Bridges because the river there fanned out into eight channels like the legs of a spider, with a bridge across each one.

They dismounted in the shade of the tree by the edge of the marshland to eat some dried rice. In the marsh,  there were beautiful irises in full bloom. One of the party said, ‘Compose a poem on the topic “journey”, using the letters I-R-I-S, one for the beginning of each line of the poem. The man’s poem:

In these familiar, lovely robes I’m
Reminded of the beloved wife
have left far behind, stretching far –
Sadness, the hem of journeys.

Everyone wept, swelling the dried rice with their tears.

Continuing on their journey, they reached the province of Suruga. At Mount Utsu, the path was overgrown with maples and ivy and very dark and narrow. Just as the group was fearing that they might meet a terrible fate, they encountered a mendicant monk. ‘Why are you travelling on a path such as this?’ he asked them. On hearing him speak, the man realized that the monk was someone he knew. So he composed a poem to his beloved and gave it to the monk to take to the capital.

Here by Mount Utsu
in Suruga so far away,
I cannot meet you
in the real world,
nor even in my dreams.

Then when he looked up and saw Mount Fuji, he noticed that even though it was midsummer, snow still covered the peak.

Mount Fuji,
knowing not the seasons,
which one do you think it is?
Snow still covers your peak –
the dappled coat of a fawn.

Compared to the mountains at the capital, Mount Fuji was like Mount Hie piled twenty times as high in the shape of a great mount of salt.

The man and his friends continued their journey and came to a large river on the border between Musashi and Shimosa. It was called the Sumidagawa. They rested together on the bank and though forlornly about how far they had travelled. But the ferryman shouted, ‘Get on board quickly! It’s getting dark.’ As they boarded the boat, they were all filled with sadness, for there was not one among them who had not left behind a loved one in the capital.

Just at that moment, a white bird about the size of a snipe, with red legs and beak, frolicking on the water while gulping down a fish. As it was a bird that they had never seen in the capital, no one knew what it was. They asked the boatman what its name was, and he replied, ‘Why, it’s the “Bird of the Capital!”.’ Hearing this, the man recited a poem.

Bird of the Capital –
if true to your name
then let me ask you
of the one I love;
is she still alive and well?

Everyone on the boat broke down in tears.


Fun fact: in the commentary, this poem is credited with inspiring the Noh play Kakitsubata by Komparu Zenchiku, which indirectly inspired James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.