Searching for Winged

The elders kept chewing their words
Someone cut the children’s tongues

Memory played: pebbles rubbing rough
The soles of the feet, a body of water, and blood
The blade in her macopa hands slipping
To slice the silence with a clang

I feel wings but neither see nor hear them

All was written as legend
Yet as forgotten, almost unsaid

The Dream of Madame X

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These notes were found in a brown suitcase in one of the long-abandoned offices of a known doctor of the mind, whose name we have taken the liberty to keep to ourselves. The patient, a woman whose most peculiar confession you will read in the English transcription below, remains unidentified. 

“Oh, doctor! I’ve been having the wildest dreams. Just the other night, I dreamt that I was on a couch, very much like this one. Yes, I distinctly remember the rub of this fabric on my skin. And I remember finding my clothes a puddle on this very carpet.

On top of me was a man, doctor, the same height and built as you. He was as naked as I was, with lips pressed on my neck.

Forgive me for not blushing, monsieur, but I’ve been sharing with you the most intimate of my secrets for months now. I cannot even pretend to be embarrassed, especially given how bizarre this dream was.

But where was I? I was pinned down on this couch by a man, yes, and I was caught by surprise, of course. Imagine my shock, doctor. Being intimate with a man not my husband—what a scandal! I tried pushing him away in vain. But it was not long until the heat of his skin and the smell of his hair awakened desires I felt like I had not long had. The way his fingertips made contact with my most sensitive places— What a man he was! And I never felt more like a woman until then.

But this carpet—this design, this exotic pattern—it caught my attention and reminded me of a trip with my husband, God rest his soul, to Persia. We were a young couple under the haze of early love. And in one of our trips to the local market, I remember coming across this artifact. I swear on Mr. X’s grave that this is the same one I saw on that trip. Look at this design, doctor. Wouldn’t you agree that the maker would not have been able to replicate it had he tried to?

It was so many years ago, long before consumption claimed his body. I remember asking him to buy this carpet as a wedding gift. Did I mention it was our honeymoon? But he declined, harshly, saying that the carpet only reflected my provincial taste.

Oh, forgive me for straying too far from my narrative, doctor. You must think me too much of a scatterbrain, telling stories that have nothing to do with what my appointment is for. But in my dream, these were the thoughts that ran in my head about ten minutes under this man who was making love to me the way my husband never did.

So there I was, locked in the arms of an unknown lover, dreaming about Persia with my dead husband, when his speech broke the harmony of our moans and grunts. “Is this what you want, mother?” he said.

I was horrified at the prospect of having coital relations with my own son, but before I could push him away in disgust, I realized that I was not in fact the intended recipient of his query. That was when I noticed a dark figure in the corner of the room, this room, come to think of it. There was a woman sitting on that chair.

At this point, the man on top of me held my neck in a choke and I had to suppress a cough. Pinned down and strangled, I looked at the woman whose legs were spread open. It was clear to me that she was, well, pleasuring herself. Do you understand, sir? Her hand was—

Pardon my vulgarity. These are not the words of a lady, I understand, but this was my dream. And as I stared into the eyes of this woman, the mother of my lover, I felt sick at the pit of my stomach. I dare say, even the women in brothels will find the experience of being caught in the act of making love by the mothers of their partners repulsive. Even more so, if said mother thought her voyeurism particularly stimulating.

But after the alarm faded, intrigue settled in and I found the way she fingered her flushed folds most entrancing. She called the name of her son over and over between her multiple spasms. And I watched her, completely neglecting the man whose manhood was pressed between my thighs. At a certain point, I was even quite sure that there was no one else in the room except the mad woman and I.

The more I watched her, the more the space between us vanished until I was face to face, eyes to eyes, with her person. My faceless lover, I saw sprawled by her feet, leashed like a loyal dog. I observed as she placed one finger and then two in her body. And she watched me watch her.

Alas! The key reached the plate, sir, and I awoke most perplexed by the perverse nature of this dream. I find you now taking notes, doctor. Perhaps you, with your theories on the psyche of man, with your scientific insights, can enlighten me with your brilliant mind and point me to the whereabouts of my dress.

October 13, 19—”

 

*Image by Paul Medalla. Check out more of his awesome work here

Orange

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She turned to me and asked, “And how do you spell orange?” A smirk played on her lips. That and the cheap lipstick she just bought from the pharmacy.

I wanted to tell her that orange is what happens when the sun of her smile kisses the sea of her lips. That orange is a flower blooming on her perfect mouth. I wanted to tell her that orange is the fruit Eve tempted Adam with and of which he happily partook. I wanted to tell her that orange was what I wanted.

But the truth was I wanted more.

“What do you think?” she asked again.

I went to her and pressed a thumb lightly on the corner of her lips. Orange rubbed off on my finger and I sucked on it, running my tongue over the color, looking for the faint trace of her taste. I wanted to drown her in my poetry and shower her with complicated words which will never explain half of what I feel. I wanted to breathe my literature into her mouth when she finally gasps for explanations. I wanted her to die with her last breath in my lungs. I wanted her more than anyone or anything in the world.

But the truth was I wanted more.

“You look pretty,” I said.

She looked pleased as she held a palm to my cheek, her eyes examining my face intently. “But I’m still not as pretty as you.”

I never thought I’d

Your arms, your arms

I never thought I’d
Not hold hands, not
understand the ways you
believe, exist,
hurt,

          I
          beg

End the night,
Sleep, see again, tomorrow
Trade chances, I
think I’d want to
Stay with you

Your arms, For a while
I never thought I’d

Miss
the most

*Words plucked from someone’s tweets, rearranged for someone else

5 Online Articles that Influenced My Notions on Writing

Today, as a working young adult, most of the words I consume are in the form of pixels on a screen. The articles I read are no longer printed with ink, and the stories I share with friends are no longer on paper. The Internet has become my library and I find that its contents have influenced my writing the same way that the books I love had.

The fact that most readers today keep to the Internet for its convenience and leave behind the physical book is not something to be lamented. If one is open-minded enough, he’s bound to encounter a few online gems that will make a lasting impression. Here are five online articles that changed my perceptions and challenged my earlier notions on writing:

“Why You Shouldn’t Be A Writer”

Susannah Breslin, Forbes

Skip this if you’re looking for inspiration. Go ahead. Go to the second link. The article delivers exactly what the title promises and nothing more.

Even when I started getting paid for writing articles, I was very hesitant to call myself a writer. I felt like the W-word was reserved only for the great masters. Shakespeare, Jane Austen, George Orwell—these are writers; I didn’t and I don’t deserve to be called one.

You see, the problem with writing, as with all art, is that it’s impossible to arrive at a conclusive statement on whether a work is good or not. It’s not like being a salesman wherein you base your skill on the amount of money you earn. It’s not like working as a teacher which enables you to measure the effectivity of your delivery by looking at the performance of your students.

“Writing is thankless work. It is like housework. It is like laundry. It is like a soap opera. It is never finished. There is always more to do. People may tell you that you are good, but you won’t believe them, or you will believe them too much, or you will not know who to believe, least of all yourself and this thing you created that is nothing more than a mess of letters trying to make sense of things that don’t: life, death, what happens in between.”

Writing is not as easy as speaking English on paper. This is my take-away from the article, and has been a sort of reserved comeback every time someone in my immediate vicinity has the audacity to belittle the craft. And given the subjectivity of its brilliance, making a profession out of writing is almost a matter of calling, the execution for which is best left to the brave.

“50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice”

Geoffrey K. Pullum, The Chronicle of Higher Education

I was in college when I first encountered William Strunk’s and EB White’s The Elements of Style, but it wasn’t until I was working as a staff writer for a kids’ magazine when I realized just how much influence that little book enjoyed.

To the uninitiated, The Elements of Style is the grammar bible most of what we were taught in school about English and writing were based on—”don’t join independent clauses with a comma,” “write with nouns and verbs,” “avoid the passive voice at all times.” The rules that make up this little book so determine our notion of good writing that some of them even found their way to the house style at my first job.

“Avoid the passive voice at all times.” Sure enough, every time I wrote a sentence where action precedes the actor, I would find my editor’s note glaring red: “Revise!” It did not matter that my passive sentences were merely placed as welcome breaks to the monotony of a five-sentence paragraph going doer-does, doer-does, doer-does. I was left with no choice but to change my sentences, costing me the “music” I worked so hard to incorporate in my words.

What I found in this article by University of Edinburgh’s George Pullum was an ally. He goes on to explain why some of the rules in The Elements of Style were not only groundless but stupid.

“It’s sad. Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write “however” or “than me” or “was” or “which,” but can’t tell you why. The land of the free in the grip of The Elements of Style.”

At the end of the day, writing for me remains a matter of the ear. And as much as our conversational language changes and evolves, so must our written language.

“What Great Artists Need: Solitude”

Joe Fassler, The Atlantic

I’ve always been the kind who’s dark and gloomy. You know the type: dark hair, glasses, eyeliner, with a face that never smiles to match. At 15, I started having mood swings. Years later, I’ve learned to romanticize depression and began thinking of the perpetual state of sorrow as a consequence or a prerequisite of being a writer or an artist.

I loved my sorrow. There were times when I would even trigger myself to be depressed just so I’d be able to put myself in an “artistic mindset.” I didn’t care that I was becoming self-destructive. I was a Creative.

“You know the cliché: You’re out on the town, you’re doing drugs, you’re drinking, you’re running on the walls, you’re pissing on the fireplace. It’s a cliché. Often you run into artists who live that life—and at one point, you find out that they’re not actually producing that much art. They’re living the life of the artist without the work.”

Ultimately, one learns that sorrow does not an artist make. And most dangerous for any writer or artist is to drown in alcohol, affairs, or feelings that he fails to create anything but a ruin of himself. Emotions, deep or shallow, do not string together words or paint figures. Discipline does.

“What is a Poem?”

Mark Yakich, The Atlantic

What is a poem? The closest answer I got from a professor back in college was “that thing that is not prose.” The definition of poetry, especially to its pursuer, always remains elusive.

Likewise, the matter of why people write poetry is a mystery. Especially today, bombarded as we are by mass and social media. The enjoyment of poetry became exclusive to the dowdy English teacher and the emo teenager. Even the discussion of poetry in school is almost always portrayed in films and TV as obligatory and tedious.

So why do we read and write poetry? It’s not something people nowadays admire. It doesn’t earn us money. And unpublished works just take up space in our computers.

Enter Professor Mark Yakich of Loyola University New Orleans:

““Poem” comes from the Greek poíēma, meaning a “thing made,” and a poet is defined in ancient terms as “a maker of things …” Like no other book, a book of poems presents itself not as a thing for the marketplace, but as a thing for its own sake.”

“It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s Repurposing.”

Kenneth Goldsmith, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Reading an article published by The New Yorker on Kenneth Goldsmith opened my mind to a world of possibilities. It was like going back to uni and listening to a much-admired professor deliver a passionate lecture and then going home to hear his words still ringing in your ear. I thought Goldsmith was controversial, daring, and a true intellectual if there ever was one. So much so that I scoured the Internet for more of his words and for people like him right after reading that introductory article.

In “It’s Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It’s Repurposing,” I saw the evolution of poetry. Carefully tiptoeing past the clutter of emotional baggage writers have been throwing around since the birth of letters, modern poets who take the conceptual road play with ideas and not words.

What would a nonexpressive poetry look like? A poetry of intellect rather than emotion? One in which the substitutions at the heart of metaphor and image were replaced by the direct presentation of language itself, with “spontaneous overflow” supplanted by meticulous procedure and exhaustively logical process? In which the self-regard of the poet’s ego were turned back onto the self-reflexive language of the poem itself? So that the test of poetry were no longer whether it could have been done better (the question of the workshop), but whether it could conceivably have been done otherwise.”

It may sound crazy, but this is how my faith in art, in literature, in words, in people, in the possibilities of the future got restored. For I felt that as long as art and literature are changing, the possibilities in our short lives remain inexhaustible.

 

BONUS: Don’t Try