On reading, The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles' most well-renowned literary work, I was easily spellbound by the way he writes of the desert. This man knows how to write about the desert. He challenges the very depths of language as a mirage over the ever constant reality of the desert wanderer, struggling to see through the inescapable immensity of emptiness.
I read this book to ruminate on the presence of my grandfather, stationed in Oran, Algeria in 1943 during WWII. Further, I was moved by the shifting sands of memory, as I reminisced on the fleeting clarity of earthly form, surveying the mysteries of the open Sahara on foot, on horseback, on camel, in SUVs, encamped, stoned, under a moonless sheath of stars, and under a fully electrifying lunar beam, reflecting on the moonscape shapeshifting quality of Saharan life. Now, I read with empathetic interest with the mutuality of a fellow American expatriate, while in colder lands.
The book was written by an author, who was first, a music composer (see my post Dreams That Money Can Buy for reference to a past collaborative work he did with John Cage and Marcel Duchamp), and then, with age, crafted a literary masterpiece. As Tennessee Williams wrote in an introduction to an edition of The Sheltering Sky, in reminding the aspiring literati that Bowles had given his words enough time to "cook" with the experiential maturity of a life lived with his respect to his writing.
_________On the metro, I open a local paper. Full color imagery comes alive, mostly scandalous female body parts, all the rage staring at you through half-covered nipples. Open the next page and shockwave. The image draws me in, a direct witnessing. I am there in the scene.
The African countryside, in the midst of civil war, green-uniformed soldiers are torn from life and limb in a bloody matter of seconds. I can smell the blood, and unwavering with petrified overwhelming adrenaline heat, I seethe with unearthly stress. Massive antiquated tanks and rebels are on their way to massacre the rest of life in the general vicinity. I flee, sure to grab a sight-affixed rifle.
In the night, stranded in the vile hot foreign country, I sense a wolf is near. Hunting for food, I follow the wild canine, cautious as to not be the followed. As I point my sight in the direction of the unaware, sickly beast, I see a green sniper light through the misty forested pathways. Fearful, I continue on with my hunt, starving. The closer I get to my prey, the more I realize it is a docile, harmless dog. I can’t kill it. With innovative strength and penetrating sight, I turn the tables on my would-be sniper. The mercenary is female. I can’t shoot.
Trashing my weapon, I head down a gated outdoor corridor. An overgrown trench of weeds now marginalizes colonial architecture, rising gothic overhead. The sky is dark grey, almost of sable commitment to the opaque grandeur beyond atmospheric heights, mirrored in the abysmal abandonment of the colonial fringe.
As I pass through the empty corridor, an unmistakable presence begs me to look over my shoulder. Behind me, a full-grown, healthy cheetah of princely step, subtly notices me through the fog haze. A bitter second ensues, I sprint, uneasy into the mangled course of vines and metal.
The cheetah bolts in an instant, as the steam of boiled broth rises from a fired pot. Miraculously, I manage to break out beyond the corridor before the cheetah advances on my unwilling flesh. A fortified military complex is my merciless welcome. Stealthily, I glide through unseen and out onto the open plain. A train station stands, lonely against the outlandish veil of unbridled wilderness air.
"If you dream of hunting, you will struggle for the unattainable. If you dream that you hunt game and find it, you will overcome obstacles and gain your desires." (iDream)
navigating through bursts of fire
while swans pull in whispers from far off,
sinking whistles, incantations, coded and brief,
releasing and subsuming the night,
to walk alongside other creatures
whose origins have no life in this world,
ranging across times and spaces
in the vast maze, within perceived eyes,
following a vigor,
sensing hues and grays
erased across slick thought trains,
to appease the spirit of the land and renew Place
raised from pure desire into a high peacedom
prevailing and spanning beyond Earth
yet encircling the buried heights,
now wasted underneath urban pathways
leading to vanquished lore,
spun with vines
growing and curling
swift with a fluidity of inhuman passion,
to embrace and devour flowering tombs
gathering in the Name,
speaking in raw emotion,
devotees to spontaneity alive with independent, rousing energy,
gaining followers behind faint lines written in dust
saved in the memories and the trust of trickster cults
after every midnight round
to oust the villainous government
from outside neoclassical churches and new age rooms
cast in a shrouded light
that spawns frustrated, annoyed intellect
to gulp down dreams and swallow potion
excerpt from "they, a chalk-grafted many"