Announcement re Spring Issues

Gentle readers: 

Editor Cristina Deptula will attend the Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Portland, Oregon March 27th through April 1st. As a part of the conference, our magazine is jointly hosting an offsite literary reading event, with the Beyond Publicity panel, in which several people who have contributed pieces to Synchronized Chaos will read. This is a paired reading where more established writers create work in response to and inspired by pieces from emerging authors and people from the community who aspire to write, and then each pair of writers reads their work aloud at the closing event.

To be accessible to hard of hearing people and to further celebrate the written works which people will share on March 29th at the OpenHaus coworking space, we will repost them here on March 25th. This will be in lieu of our April issue and will allow people to access our magazine online and follow along during the reading event or enjoy the writing from afar.

Works submitted to April’s issue will go into a joint April/May issue.

Synchronized Chaos March 2019: Speaking the World into Existence

Man with a briefcase walking into a galaxy with a white wormhole at the center

Walking Into the Light

Announcement: Our co-editor Rui Carvalho has released a new book, Pieces of Hope. It will be available very soon. The book is a collection of short stories and poems translated in Portuguese, Spanish and English (and four also in Italian and one in Danish, with the help of the Danish Embassy here in Portugal).

ALSO – please feel welcome to join Synchronized Chaos Magazine next month at the Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Portland, Oregon. I, Cristina Deptula, speak Saturday March 30th on a panel, ‘Beyond Publicity: Getting Your Book Out There in a Changing Media Landscape’ and we are hosting a partnered reading the night before at 6pm at the OpenHaus co-working space, where established authors create pieces inspired by the works of emerging authors and read together with them at this event.

I’m reading and participating alongside a large group, to which Leena Prasad, Ross Robbins, Joe Biel, Doug Hawley, Leticia Garcia Bradford, Lisa Loving and Gina DeVries have all provided intellectual, creative, practical and moral support and to whom we are incredibly grateful. We encourage all who will participate in this reading to contribute work to Synchronized Chaos Magazine in the future.

Now, for March 2019’s issue.

Many cultures’ creation stories involve the deity, or the first humans, naming creatures as they give life to them. In a way, we all do our own ‘naming’ process throughout life. This is more than simply choosing a word to call something or someone, but figuring out what kinds of categories and traits matter, and who is important and worthy of our attention.

What do we decide to notice, to value in life? Each of our submissions this month deals with naming, giving meaning to a part of our universe. 

In her monthly Book Periscope column, Elizabeth Hughes reviews LaVera Edick’s Cat Tales, Kitty Capers, the story of how people found love and companionship over years with their pet cats. She also discusses Clem Masloff’s Trees Unlimited, a novel in which characters have to sort through others’ actions to determine their true motives.

Vijay Nair’s poetry, along with Jeongeui Son’s paintings and accompanying artist statements, draw upon natural scenes and phenomena to reflect human emotions. Jeongeui’s flowing streams show us how not even pain lasts forever and we can recover from trauma, while Nair finds romance in couples snuggled up during winter and the delicacy of a butterfly.

Mahbub also looks to nature to convey how love distracts us, pulling us out of ourselves into connection with the larger universe. That shows up most poignantly in a touching piece where a spouse reflects on his need to appreciate his partner after many years and children together, and see the flowers the years and the many child-related responsibilities have trampled underground.

Chimezie Ihekuna, or Mr. Ben, as he is affectionately called, sends in the first installment of a no-nonsense relationship advice column, where he posits that sexuality is something powerful we should treat with respect.

J.D. DeHart’s poetry explores the meanings we ascribe to things and parts of ourselves. What do we do with our need for the sacred, with the ‘other’ within ourselves? How will we be remembered, or not?

Akinmade Zeal vividly portrays the tension between the world’s various attractions and the inner life necessary for a true spiritual person in his short story, where a young man experiences seduction both from sensual women in a nightclub and from showy, larger-than-life personalities within organized religion. What will he choose to revere as sacred?

Norman J. Olson asks similar questions in his travelogue about his journey with his wife to London. What do we remember, what stands the test of time? He and his wife see Motown music, pre-Raphaelite art and Mamma Mia, all of which we consider historically important artwork for different reasons.

Jaylan Salah offers a profile on Egyptian director Hisham Abdelkhalek, who is acknowledging and celebrating Egypt’s iconic historical Pharaonic past. Also, Abdelkhalek is making a statement about coexistence among faith groups by planning to have an all-Muslim cast in a film about the life of Jesus Christ..

Robert Quill contributes poems about writerly inspiration. This may come from within oneself or from the outside world. The detachment required to write may feel akin to visiting from space.

Serendipity Sprout reflects upon encountering an unusual, kindly, otherworldly gentleman, and she decides to give him and their time together value and remember him in her poem.

Jayne Marek lyrically muses about choosing to encounter life at its most authentic. She has real scars rather than tattoos, and is braving the awareness of reality needed to write and think, while approaching the physical and natural world in a similar manner. Her description of actual dirt and plants reinforces the literal, sober view of the world that she advocates.

Meanwhile, J.J. Campbell describes facing up to reality in a less brave and enthusiastic, but still poetic, manner. He’s stuck in what Buddhists would call samsara, contemplating endless, repetitive cycles of moderately tragic circumstances.

Two seated ancient peoples dressed in fur making metal tools, cave paintings in background

Two seated ancient peoples dressed in fur making metal tools, cave paintings in background

 

 

Poetry from J.J. Campbell

J.J. Campbell

on a friday morning
a couple inches
of snow on a
friday morning
by tomorrow
it’s supposed
to be thirty
degrees warmer
fucking ohio
with any luck
my future will
be closer to
either a paradise
or hell
something without
dramatic weather
changes
—————————————————————————-
a couple thousand dollars
i had a woman ask
me this morning for
a couple thousand
dollars so she could
get married
i laughed
she asked again
and i said oh,
you’re serious
in what fucking
world does a poet
have a couple
thousand dollars
to give a stranger
she had nothing
but silence
my point exactly
i told her to have
a good life and
blocked her
fuck you money
hasn’t graced me
with her presence
yet
———————————————————————–
so many damn afternoons
i’ve spent so many
damn afternoons
in physical therapy
places
the faces and buildings
all look the same
anymore
it becomes this endless
race of the mouse and
the wheel
and eventually, you
realize death is the
cheese
—————————————————————————-
they are praying for me
the jesus freaks
find me each
morning
to tell me they
are praying for
me
i tell them thanks
and i promise i
will let them know
when i give a shit
enough to notice
any changes
——————————————————————————-
and still single
i laugh at the number
of women that are
shocked i am 43
and still single
i kindly let them
know if they had
my life
had my genetics
and the endless
nightmares that
these scars remind
me of
shock nor sympathy
would be the reaction
it would be a burning
pit in the stomach,
screaming to either
run or pounce
J.J. Campbell (1976 – ?) is trapped in suburbia, wondering where all the lonely housewives went. He’s been widely published over the years, most recently at The Beatnik Cowboy, Horror Sleaze Trash, Ink Pantry, The Dope Fiend Daily and Academy Of The Heart And Mind. You can find him most days waxing poetic on his mildly entertaining blog, evil delights. (https://evildelights.blogspot.com)

Short story from Akinmade Zeal

Night was beginning to fall when her call came through. She had called on two occasions hitherto when the phone began to ring again in the bedroom. But he was too embroiled with Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died. The phone bawled still as he reached for it but it snoozed immediately he got to where it laid.

He could have been clairvoyant enough to guess the caller— of course he was. It was the religious caller — Rita.

“Hello, Richard,” her guttural voice reverberated through his earlobe.

She began to chirp emotive greetings unceremoniously. One could tell those words spurred from mere feeling of obligations than the altruism they appeared to be.

Rita began in an unceremonious manner. She began to fumble for words.  Her voice wavered aimlessly as she could not at first not summon enough courage to relieve herself of the words that chocked her throat.

Rita, though taciturn and a consummate listener, her diction and linguistic ingenuity at every context is second to none.  She was suave and deft in her approach to issues, but people can hardly subdue their conscience when a sense of guilt is roused from it.  The conscience finds its ways of defeating man and his callous self— scuttles his reasoning and makes him palpably emote when he unjustifiably errs his fellow man. That seemed the case with Rita. Rita may be suave, but that day, she emoted. She showed the preponderance of pent-up sense of guilt in her which the bestiality inherent in her, as inherent in every human, tends to undermine. Man may be perverse, but conscience could never be. An evil man knows he is evil and somehow knows the perception people have of him. But the courage to averse evil is the greatest challenge of men. The conscience is never pervious to prejudice. It would react accordingly, to reveal the true nature of man to himself. It’s a mirror through which a man could see himself. As suave as Rita was, her conscience nethered her.  She began to slur. She stuttered in a strange manner as if her tongue would be glued to her mandible should she unburden herself.

She soon found her voice, “I left a message for you on Whatsapp,” she said, as she congratulated him for the future.

Their relationship was then hovering in its fifth year. He had invested so much trust in Rita. Even her perfidious acts and the simulacrum of infidelities she emitted have not swayed his affection for her.

“Men cannot be perfect,” he thought. But his lackadaisical attitudes towards the chicaneries of Rita came back to haunt him in the direst magnitude. He had thought the imperfections and flaws of one’s lover should not be brought to bear on the way the relationship is run.

If people cheat, he thought, they at least have the task of keeping it safe; not doing the helluva of rubbing it on the face of their partners.

“People should not worry about what they cannot control,” he would say, but his lukewarmness had came back to haunt him.  His indifference had came back to test his inner equilibrium far more than he could have ever imagined.  He began to worry about the pugnacious pains that reverberated and percolated into his brain, flowing round his veins such that it formed a cyst in his biceps, seeking to escape through his pores because of its enormity.  He had always urged people to worry less about what they could not control, but he found himself even contradicting himself.  He found that he could not take to his own advice. He could not hobble his emotion or disciple his disappointment. He derailed from his principles such that every bit of reasoning in him began to douse.  He began to despair.  Not even the words of Wole Soyinka that had enchanted him all his life could give him the fortitude he so much needed that day. He who had being a stoic all his life now swarm in pool of despair.

Prior to that uneventful day, he would have soothed himself with the poem Invictus. He would have recounted those powerful lines in his head. He would have said: “It matters not how strait the gate/ How charged with punishments the scroll/ I am the master of my fate/ I’m the captain of my soul.” On this fateful day, he ceased to be the skipper of his soul. His spirit was sombre and his courage doused. But he would not give anyone around him the privilege of seeing him despairing.

 

Famous Night Club was a hub for hedonists, religiously, on Fridays.  It was a broker for incontinent men who relished sybaritic lifestyles. For such men, parsimony remained a heresy.  They were ever ready to splurge their last pennies on assuaging their flirtatious desires.

Famous` antecedent, unbeknownst to Richard, made him make the place an intuitive and random succour on that eventful day in his life.  Famous offered solace to young girls who inured sex and coquettish lives, and in fact — whoremongers. It offered a postprandial roister for men to booze lavishly, and vivacious young ladies to comb “customers.”

Richard made into the opulent room which beamed with incandescent bulbs. The chandelier radiated through the disco delightfully. It was a wow sight to behold. Richard sighed, swallowed a dose of phlegm and made fast into the cosy chairs that festooned the disco.

He had seen lavish cars as he wriggled through the garage, and what he had seen had brought him a premonition that he was making for the midst of the linchpins of the society. “Such gatherings with those top caste offers souvenirs,” — he thought.

Most times in his life, Richard had always boasted to have stood where wonders met their ends. But his foray into the belly of Famous that eventful night was one of the too many occasions of remarkable scenes where he was proven wrong — where he had his curiosity rousted from its sleep, and one such occasion where his mouth was left gaping, as he went frantic with shock.

Within his very eyes, he saw girls-teenagers- flaunting their nudes in a coquettish manner, wriggling seductively in what was as an “advertisement” to the old men seated on the cosy furniture that teemed the disco hall.

The hall was narrow at the entrance, but as one pierced through, deeper and deeper into its cauldron, it begins to widen.  Opulent cushion chairs were spread across the hall— round — such that the middle is left rotund in form of an amphitheatre to make a great stage for the sitting individuals who had come to feed their eyes on the frantic moves of the strippers.

Girls — new to puberty — blatantly naked, teased the seated audience in turns, swirling to rouse their lust from its roost.

The delirium of the strippers was getting too much than Richard could bear.  A pert teenager amidst them — at first — flung her chemise off her body and unceremoniously left it gaping on the ground.  Then she with her subsequent moves rousted one’s de javu feeling of the Biblical Sodomites. She flung her translucent panties and whirled round the rail ceremoniously planted at the centre of the hall.  These salacious dances, to Richard who had never found himself in such an “indecent” scenario, remained a novelty.  It was a complete oddity to him.

She then took the last straw— loosened the grip of her bra and the whole disco was greeted with her sturdy ‘chests.’ It was raw and real. Richard was seeing it with his own eyes but was blinking as if he wanted to rouse himself from a trance. The lady threw the clothes unceremoniously to the ground as if the whole idea of covering one’s cleavages vexed her. She traipsed down to a seated clubber and made some tease gestures towards the man.  Richard still felt as though he was hallucinating. He wanted someone to roust him from his trance.

In this very world, Richard thought, he had heard the tales of the incredible things these contemporary daughters of the Biblical Jezebel would do for money. He had been garlanded with bitter tales of young ladies who slept with a father and subsequently outsmarted his son again just for pittances— to the detriment of their own pride and self esteem. He had heard the mind-numbing tale of young ladies relieving two friends simultaneously, but he would be indifferent to such tales. He would look at the raconteurs in an incredulous manner.  Such tales made no sense to him. But that day, he was a primal witness. He became vulnerable to bonkers` scenes, he was not pervious to seduction there.  He stood among the soggy scenes of his rotten society and wondered if they were real. Richard was there in his own world, in his own micro-existence, being a first-hand witness to young ladies whetting the sexual appetite of men old enough to be their grandfather.

As if her salacious moves were not enough, this particular lady, who remained one more wonder in the world to Richard, was rippled into a sequestered section of the club.  The place was silhouetted and ones view was bridled with stripes of beads serving as a makeshift curtain. It did well to inhibit the gaze of one into the section, but paying a rapt attention to the goings-on was a complete giveaway to the scenes in the sequestered area. The view of one may be dimed slightly, but it was not impossible to have a glimpse.

Richard once again remained a pariah in a place that offered an odd sensation. Everything struck him a superstitious awe. He, an aficionado of Wole Soyinka and his craft, had found himself where he had least expected to be.

Not that being there was an accident for Richard; he had made the choice to be there. But the developments he saw there remained a novelty to him. He felt as if he was ostracised, even though he was there to splurge his own money. He remained a pariah in there.  He could not beat their incredulous indecency, and he had no courage to join them.

The consolation left for Richard was to be spectator of the micro-world — of the world he had heard of so many times but  never had the privilege of being its primary witness.

The stripper who had been stashed to the sequestered area laid on the chair ceremoniously with her legs widely open, while she was still completely naked. Music blared through the hall as everyone went about their businesses in the disco. The men who had quarantined her began to insert Naira notes in between her legs which were still widely spread.  She would groan in an exhilarating manner and scoop the money in turn into her garter and anticipate more as she wriggled the wet fleshy parts of her widely spread legs to the men, enchanting them to insert more Notes into her.  They did—over and over and over again, till they felt the lady had siphoned them enough.

Richard was completely numb. Though he was far from pious, he had never seen such a helluva thing before. What he saw was to him anticlimactic. The men, exhausted of all the Notes on them, began to insert their fingers into her, and she groaned in relish.  She relished the dexterity of the men as they seemed to deep their hands in the spots she most loved.

Richard was lost in delirium. He could have thought he was hallucinating when he gave an impulsive shout.  He did not know if the clubbers heard him shout, but he guessed the blaring music would have undermined his cacophony. He was forced to savour an odd sensation. He was reacting in a strange manner. He was in the pool of oddity and wanted in the direst magnitude to leave the inferno he seemed to be. But the people around him carried on their businesses as if everything were normal, as if these young girls being mere pawns for assuaging the sexual whim of those hedonistic men were normal. Those soggy scenes were too much for Richard to bear. He went berserk, but he took consolation in quaffing wines.

Richard did not wait for the waitress to come take his orders, he assisted himself to the bar and ordered a bottle of Campari — his favourite wine.

Campari, for Richard, is always a tonic to his soul.  He inured it so much. It was a delight to his spirit when he seemed to be atlas whose shoulder all the problems of the world laid. He knew Campari could always cauterize every bruise in his soul. He gourmandized it. Even though the price was quite astronomic compared to the customary price it goes for outside Famous, he splurged his money on it and grasped it with an overrated fervour. He daubed the money on the canter and swooshed frantically to his seat.

He began to engorge himself with the wine.  He had taken a stick of cigarette from a young lady who had been burning up several sticks since she arrived.  Although he had never smoked, he did it in maladroit, trying to mesh with the environment he was. He tried to hide the awkward manner he smoked from the lady sitting close to him.  Ironically, the young lady was a deft smoker. Richard tried to feign perfection all to no avail. He was terrible at it. The smoke he emitted, instead of going in a linear manner, flowing in torrents, spluttered. Smoking had been an exception to Richard all his life, but it had been a norm to them. It was in one of those occasions that he was made a pariah again and ironically by a young lady.

He was engrossed in every sip of wine he took. He relished every sip he gulped-even the slightest of it. He behaved as though he rued every vestigial spill that escaped from the bottle as he turned it over to the decanter.

The valediction of Rita began to reverberate plaintively in his head. He fumbled his phone and glanced through the messages again. “I have given us serious thoughts these days and in my assessment we may not be happy if we settle down together. I think it’s best we part. I do not lose my admiration for you, but I’m sorry, I have to move on. I hope you do so, too. My respect forever.”

It was all too much for Richard to bear up. Those messages reverberated plaintively in his head.  Rita had been perfidious forsooth, but Richard thought it unfair and disrespectful to have misgivings or give in to cynicism. He felt he wasn’t to treat her as bad as she was, but as good as he was. It was always difficult for Richard to give up on humanity. His sentiment had always been that however sinister any man may look, he surely still has a core of morality inherent in him which could have been opaque but definitely exist. He felt he could always bring out the best in people. He would say if we speak in the language of love, men, though seemingly evil, have tons of mercy lying in their hearts. They are capable of benevolent acts, he thought.   Richard sought to love her as imperfect as she was, and as best he thought he could, but his trust in humanity was raptly tested through her. Rita had proven to him that you may take a pig to an edifice and it would still somehow find its way back to the troughs.  She showed that you could love wholeheartedly and yet be treated with outright disdain. His benevolence impinged upon him greatly, and since then he carried a maimed heart ladened with misgivings. It was his experience with Rita that lacerated his heart and plagued him greatly. It was Rita that made him weigh whom now to open his heart to and whom to shut its door against. Rita left a lot of questions in his heart begging for answers. He began to imagine whether one is wrong to distrust people if one has been constantly treated with high haughtiness.  Richard had since then believed that when the benevolence of a man is taken for granted so much that in response to kindness, peace, love and affectionate behaviour towards people, one gets ones dividend in chunks of bountiful despair, one is not wrong to be cynical of people. Rita tested his faith in humanity. She puts his inner equilibrium to task, but he hid his pain under the guise of boldness- because he didn’t want to give anyone the pleasure of seeing him despairing.

He was swooshing through the silhouette in the early hours of the day — after the strippers had ceased their businesses and the DJ had put out his music.  It was time to go home. Richard, a frolic of Campari- had gorged himself to stupor. He sauntered home in a leisurely manner.

Around 4am as he was finding his way home, he ran into a pretty young lady.  Even in the dark, her enchanting skin was one more wonder to Richard. She gleamed and Richard salivated in a coquettish manner. His mouth was moist with wines and the malodor was poignant. He had even lidded it with cigarettes.

The vivacious lady he ran into was brandishing her Bible. She had obviously gone on a vigil with Christ, importuning Him all night.

Richard could not describe what to make of her as she approached him in the first place.  But one could tell from his stare that he cast a flirtatious glance at the lady. She was to Richard, pious, as his intuition felt she was, and one redoubtable figure. Richard thought himself a direct irony of her. He thought himself an impious and filthy fellow to be knocked on the head for frolicking with the “world”. In the Christian parlance, they would have said he was “unequally yoking with the Gentiles.”

As she hurried down to where Richard was, he tried as much he could to be deadpan. He pretended as if he wasn’t budged by the resplendence of the lady. She approached Richard and greeted him affably. Richard was feeling inhibited because of his booze. Richard is not religious, but has a high sense of morality.  He was feeling a sense of guilt to have drank to stupor and be toiling the streets at such an ungodly hour. He felt his malodor would inhibit her. But no! She would not budge.  She had no inhibition dealing with Richard.  Her liberal nature intrigued Richard. She treated Richard like a human and she immediately earned his respect. He was moved to a fault.  By everything: her exaggerated politeness, her soft-spoken attitude, her stoicism and her true mettle. Richard imagined all these and became so relaxed in talking to the lady. He began feeling comfortable and began to cast a coquettish glance at the lady. He was assisted to such a level of confidence by his booze too.

She introduced herself as Franka to Richard and quickly handed a tract to Richard, a tract he grasped with sheer gusto. She asked if Richard could come over to her church the following Sunday. Richard, still lost for words, could not exactly say whether he nodded in the affirmative, but he did surmise in his mind to honour the invitation.

Nothing aroused the admiration and in fact, curiosity of Richard more than that this curio who had stoically received him in a connubial manner, not taking into strict accounting that he stank of wine and cigarette, was something more than liberal. She was not inhibited with the chance to worship side by side an impious being as he thought himself to be, and he was for once ready to contradict himself — courting with pious people.

On Sunday morning, Richard woke up in high spirit. He was though religiously an early riser. He woke up in high spirit around 5:30am and set out to his morning routines. He read and scribbled some verses.

Through his study hours, he had received calls from different ladies from the church who called to be reaffirmed of his imminent attendace. He was definite he was going to be there.

Their networking in the church remained one more wonder in the world to Richard. The affable nature of the callers on phone struck him to superstitious awe.  He was wooed to be there and he later found out that using female callers to lure male converts to church was a calculated strategy. Male potential converts would be lured in pretext by ladies. They would feign being affable with them and there they go! They would come and the rest would take it from there and indoctrinate them fully into their catechism. It was one shrewd step that recorded such a towering success and never ceased to inundate Richard. Although what brought him to the church was more of a noble reason. He felt indebted to the lady who had shown him so much tolerance despite their polarized way of lives.

One thing — one must study those one agrees with and those one doesn’t agree with — even the more. By doing so, one gets to know the strength and weaknesses of dissents and take decisive stand. But being there again was one of the too many occasions that Richard became a social-misfit. Richard had been born out of wedlock into Islam; to a Muslim mother whom he lived with for ten years and a Christian father he never lived it for once. He had gone out of the box to repudiate the two beliefs and instead live as a free-thinking individual when he came of age. The conundrum of where to belong was the plague he has carried all his life. He was a misfit because he could not mesh with them. On getting to the church, their discrepancies stared him in the eye and he was swept off his feet.  When they sang, he could not make the words of those worship songs. He would just make a hem to augment for what he didn’t know. He was feeling ill, but he would not again give people around him the privilege of seeing him down. He braced himself and tried to be as affable as he could.

Richard donned his blue flowing agbada which had white embroidery on the chest. He was a lanky young man who never failed to rouse the admiration of women. The icing on the cake was his intelligence. He knew to stash words away from their kennels and quash them between his teeth. He was that an orator.

The inner apparel of the clothes has a long tapered hand ladened with a gilded cufflinks. He then lidded it with a black -flat-leather- sandal. His choice of dressing that day made him look so conspicuous. He was a complete giveaway to the church members.

Richard had been informed by one of the triumvirates of callers that the service ran from 9am to 12pm, but he had taken a calculated lateness by an hour.  He knew he couldn’t grant them the luxury of a whopping three hours. Two hours was the most modest he thought he could afford them.

By his calculations, two hours was enough to pontificate any ritual. It was enough to win a turncoat, it was enough to decide one’s stand, it was enough for any dissent to map out dichotomies or points of convergence. It was enough to assess the strength and weaknesses of each other, to determine whether one is right or wrong, to determine whether one needs to relax his principles or stand his grounds. An armistice could be reached in the space of two hours, and two parties may continue their warring should they see no reasons to mesh after the polemics. If he would have a rapprochement with Christianity while with them, he would determine in two hours.

Church had already been in session when Richard arrived. He skittered through the aisle down to where the standing usher clad in a wine long-sleeved t-shirt and black short skirt was signalling him to come. He arrived there and was directed to sit in a reserved seat which had been reserved right adjacent the choir. The usher whispered to Richard that the seat had been specially reserved for him. He was rather flattered than enchanted. He felt such an enormity of nausea at the towering courtesy. He felt there was more to it than meet the eye.  He knew they had either taken a calculated attempt to flatter him or they thought he was a top caste because of the ostentatious attires he donned. He was not at ease with their exaggerated reverence but he feigned a smile that suggested his gratitude and he sat and paid rapt attention after quipping an intuitive “thank you” to the usher. She sauntered off him.

Many things made him feel so, so uneasy. He felt his place is right at the back and not at the conspicuous place he had been made to seat. But he never was willing to flaunt his recalcitrant attitude yet. He is always an iconoclast, but that day, he respected their demands and sat where they suggested. He however felt so uneasy there. He was like a fish stolen away to an edifice. The intruder may have taken the fish to an opulent edifice, but that is not its home. It feels at home best even in the shanty waters. To him, his place was at the back — where he could have an eagle-eyed view of all the goings-on in the church. Sitting behind, his gaze could catch everyone at a time without having to strain himself. He rued such chances he missed via sitting at the front. He had come to reconnoitre, rather than worship.

The clergyman was pontificating the session. His gait and manner of expression enchanted Richard. He was not called Pastor, he was called Brother Ramsey. He donned a white cardigan with a black and blue stripe ceremoniously daubed in its front.  He was on a carton-coloured trouser and black sneakers that was festooned with a white touch. It glitters. His dress sense portrayed liberalism and his person was pure art. He was a born orator too who could swivel from myth to religion and deconstruct myth to give credence to some religious credos. He could explain religion with physics and map out the affinities of religion and literature. He could lure Muhammed to renounce Islam and embrace Christianity were he alive, and turn Jesus the other way round too, were he alive. Such was the weight of his oratory.

Brother Ramsey based the spine of his lecture on a rhema note handed down to him by a Very Venerated Reverend Reus.  Reverend Reus had studied medicine in the University of Benin and gone ahead to have his Masters Degree in the United States and subsequently had his Doctorate Degree there. Very Venerated Reverend Reus had “abandoned” his profession to “do the will of God.”

To Richard, that was not a novelty. It had been a societal demeanour. It had been the rule of the society he was, rather than an exception. He reconnoitred around the country to plant several other branches, but the Lagos branch was the fount of his “call.” He had founded it first, made it sturdy and saddled its running on the shoulder of Brother Ramsey and a retinue of “disciplined” and assiduous servitors of his sermons.

As Richard would later find out those teachings couldn’t be “reviewed” or subjected to “reasoning.” Cognitive interpretations were heresies. They would say one who does that is pervious to a cosmic comeuppance. The doctrines of the church were so ratified and canonized such that the Reverend was somewhat in pedestal with God. His speeches, messages, Bible teachings were sacrosanct and punctiliously practiced to the letter in all his branches.

Although Richard was yet to meet Reverend Reus, he felt as though he were seeing him in a trance. Every minute he spent in the church made him imagine the much fawned Reverend Reus. He was in his absence treated with such an ostentatious deference. They could have asked that one sanctifies his mouth before one is passed fit to enunciate his name.

Like the book of Psalm 24 says “who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who had clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol nor sworn deceitfully.”

Such heights were the superstitious awe he was treated even incognito. The ushers would almost say to you that one should not walk in such a leisurely manner in “the house of God where the Reverend of God teaches.”  You could not fold your arms nor cross your legs, nor even turn your neck to have a glimpse of something. Such acts were considered a nuisance. It would mean that your “soul is fluttering aimlessly” and you were not “connecting with God.”

Brother Ramsey began his sermon: “Reverend said the greatest challenge of a child of God is not sin, but ignorance. Praise God. Gloreeee!” He bawled.  “Beloved, Reverend said,” this time splitting the words, “the … greatest ….. cha .. llenge. … of  …  a child …of …. God ..  is   .. not. ..  sin, but …  Ignorance.  He said what you do not know the devil pushes you through it. Halabayeba!  Ooooohhhhhh! Can you see that?” He chirped in. “It means, in the word of Reverend, we must search the scripture and look out for what the scripture says and not be ignorant”, He swirled up and down in an opulent confidence that drives the church into a frenzy.

“Beloved,” he continued. “Reverend said to be ignorant is to walk in darkness and not be able to discern the requisites of connecting with the Holy Ghost. Hallelujah!” He recoiled as if he were pinched with a pin. “That is why it is good to pray in tongues”, he retorted.

“Beloved,” he continued. “When I am in crossroads, I speak in other tongues. Hei, Helabalabalaba. Masontorialabasanta lebedeszragado lesquidi heeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiii.” As he spoke in tongues, the whole church ran amuck. Some raised their chairs and put it on their heads; running round the church in frantic modes. Some put the weight on their feet and waved Brother Ramsey to go on. He seemed to have so much made their day.

Richard sat in that hall feeling a surge of bile in his tongue. He felt as though he should just disappear and reappear in his house. Brother Ramsey paced up and down with a lofty smile and waved the church to a silence as he went on with the service. When the delirium of the church had ebbed, he began again.

“I pray in tongues,” he continued. “Tongues,” he said, “connect you to the Holy Ghost. Hallelujah.  Beloved, if I’m still not getting the results it means the issue is bigger than me. And if it’s bigger than me it’s not bigger than Reverend. I pick up my phone and cry unto Reverend,” he said, as he pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his face, still pacing back and front in an ostentatious confidence.

Though his sermons were well detailed, they were not his. They were from the rhema of Reverend Reus who seemed to be in a pedestal with God. Richard began to feel a surge of spasm in him. He felt nauseous. It had been more than he could really bear. The whole scenario inundated him. But he did all he could to conceal his disgust.

After the “meeting”, Richard waited for a small question and answer session where the teaching of the day was reviewed.  Being a “nascent convert”, they relished asking to know what he had gleaned from the teaching of the day and he was astute enough to feign his exhilaration as if he relished every bit of the “meeting”. He had been deeply disturbed, but he would not let his dissatisfaction become palpable.

It seemed to Richard from the moment he stepped into that church that these people who asked that one does not reason are bent on doling out half truths. He felt he was out to be brainwashed. No one knew why he had such a misgiving, but he was not at ease. He felt they are bent on crushing the quizzical and rational part of him.

To Richard, they had positioned the church to crush the cognitive sense of men and make them a lackey of Reverend. He became a pariah again amidst them.  He again found the place an oddity he could not reconcile with his personality.

Richard had relished the philosophy of Descartes the French philosopher that says one should doubt everything; oneself, one’s relatives, friends, even the existence of one.

He famously said “Doubt yourself, doubt your closest friends, doubt everything. I doubt therefore I am.” This tenet, Richard had always subscribed to. By his calculations, Descartes teaches the tenets of critical thinking. But that was a heresy to these people.

Richard sat in the church amongst them trying to soothe himself even though he was deep down terribly distraught. He tried as much as possible to not make his discomfiture palpable. He felt as if he was not there. Deep down him, he was a loner. He felt as though a part of him had been severed from him. He felt excommunicated, even though he was treated with ostentatious deference. He felt ostracized even though he was well received. The deference with which he was treated undermined his principles and what he stood for. But he took them with shrewd equanimity. They took his bio data and vowed to reach out to him at subsequent levels.

The people Richard met at the church were effervescent and their hearts seemed to teem with love.  But their mentalities remained polarized. They were like two cistern poles whose paths could never intersperse. He, an eunuch of Wole Soyinka and his crafts, an aficionado of Peter Tosh, a lover of Lucky Dube and even Fela: people of radical minds and deep thoughts who had festooned him with the tool of deep reflection all his life, people who had been his solace in the world where he was orphaned so early in his life, and had to cope with chaos and loneliness, he knew he could never mesh with them.

Since that Sunday that Richard had gone to the church, he had always shunted aside going back there. He, an hardliner, began to vent his pangs and they began to see the real him.

They would not let him be with incessant calls. They had kept their promises of following him up with their calls. They importuned him more than he could bear. Since the data he gave to them carried his address, they interloped him at their will and encroached his study hours at their slightest whim.

Richard was always decisive.  Even when they importuned him with calls, he would tell them he would not come. He doesn’t find it hard to ditch out his mind to people. They so many times felt desolated but their emotion would not make him change his mind for the day.  They would call and call and call and have him receive their calls. Yet, Richard would not be budged despite their importunity.

The next Friday, Richard absconded their service.  The subsequent two Sundays, he repeated the same lackadaisical act towards the church. He was becoming conspicuously recalcitrant to them. He received their calls, made them know he would not come and he would remain deadpan. They would importune him, yet he would not budge.

In fairness to them, their networking was one more wonder in the world. Three ladies may call you and it would be lidded by a male caller. They made you indebted to them through their calls. They spoke to you in a genteel manner that flattered you and even made you feel indicted in your conscience. Deep down your heart, you begin to loathe yourself, deeply wounded in your heart as an individual. You begin to mull on whether you have been too hard on them. Your body inhibits you. You even begin to look arrogant to yourself. You begin to feel a depth of indebtedness towards them and look for a way to reimburse their kindness and assuage their importunity.

Richard was not a man whose will would be swayed sheepishly. One who must budge him must be more than a helluva of an orator and must lade his polemics with facts that emit every dough of doubts from his mind.

Having shunted them aside for about a month, he had had the last straw with them. They like the Biblical good shepherd who left the corralled ninety-nine sheep to search for the straying lone-one.

While seated at home on a Friday morning, a call was put across to him to inform him of their arrival. He was perhaps dumbfounded, but not awestruck. He had known it was someday an eventuality. He knew they would behave like the Good Shepherd someday and come to roust him to church. Richard had been reviewing Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom when they came in. Never for once did he ever consider the absurdity of encroaching his privacy without a prompt notice. He pored over it in his mind and felt bitter he had his thought scuttled, but he disciplined his emotions and slighted their indifference. He treated them with a lavish courtesy, ushered them in and they caught a view of his opulent library. He saw one of them nod his head in admiration and was deep down proud they were awestruck.

The evangelism group comprised two vivacious young ladies. One of them was the self-imposed mentor of Richard —Franka, and the other one with whom Richard had never had a personal encounter, but had seen in his first time in the church, Chioma. They were accompanied by a fair-looking young man donning a dandelion suit and a black tapered trouser with a black Luis Vuitton shoe.

The First Lady introduced herself as Chioma, the second was Franka whom he knew too well and with whom he had first had a personal encounter and had subsequently met. The only man amidst them introduced himself as Kingsley. They were all looking grand, brandishing their Bibles.

Franka, whom Richard had met, was not an habitué of Friday’s “meetings” because she worked far away at the Island part of Lagos where she either would have been encumbered by the heavy traffic on the Third Mainland Bridged or got home so late that she would not make the service. But she always came as her time permitted her.

Chioma was their bastion. She led the entreaty, quizzing Richard agitatedly on what had brought about his consistent absence from “meetings” in the last few weeks. Richard was emotionless. He cleared his throat and swallowed a dose of phlegm. Then he made bold to tell them he could not abandon the chunks of books that lay on his table begging for attention. He told them nothing was wrong with him, but that he was not a monk to be that more Catholic than the Pope himself. He said he was a humanist. They looked through his eyes in disbelief, as if he had just committed the grandest heresy. It was the most honest response they had ever got from anyone, and yet, the most mind boggling.  They looked puzzled and could not believe their ears. They would not believe their luck. It was a novelty to them to in this age come across someone who makes snide remarks of the Holy Spirit. They knew they needed to “educate” him and “sanctify” him.

Anyways, that was a mere pretext from Richard. Studying was not the real reason he had avoided going back to the church. Men, he though, have a way of making it up to what they really relish. The bane was the polarization of ideologies between them. He knew he had shirked coming to church because of the varying ideologies they share.

“Sister Chioma” began her sermon. She sermonized Richard to the letter.  She remonstrated with him that there are absolutely nothing more important than serving God. She cited the case of Peter in the Bible who left his trade and followed Christ to thaw away the perception of Richard. She went ahead to quote several chapters from the book of Ecclesiastes. She started from Chapter one verse two and read a great portion of it.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; what profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?  One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south… All things are full of labor man cannot express it.

She moved closer to Richard who had been listening with a rapt attention and nodding his head in the affirmative. All the others too opened their Bibles, following Sister Chioma as she read the passages. They nodded their heads in solidarity with her.

“Let me move to verse 12, she bawled agitatedly. “ I the preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be numbered. I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge. And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow,” she lamented. As she read that last part, she looked keenly at Richard and repeated: “he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.” Richard looked at her, deadpan, and smile. Sister Chioma took a break from the Bible and quoted the Revered. Richard still listened with an exaggerated fervour.

Revered says “to be in line with the word of God is to be spiritual. But to be carnally minded is to be engrossed with the things of the world,” she bawled as she now began to palpably emote. She is obviously enchanted with the passages she was reading, and was not paying attention to the fact that Richard was deadpan; emitting no emotion at all.

“Brother Richard,” she continued. “I want you to see the light, to walk in the ways of God. Reverend says “to know God is the greatest accomplishments a man could ever have,” She affirmed as she embraces the air as if she wanted to cuddle God.

Then she continued, this time with less fervour, paying more attention to every reaction of Richard. “Reverend says when you are with God, you begin to open doors, all things become possible for you, lines will fall in pleasant places for you, heiiiiii ayayayayayayhhh!  Praise God!” she bawled in superstitious delight as she went frenzy. Her comrades nodded their heads in quick succession, nudging her to reaffirm their solidarity with her message. But Richard was there, emotionless, just listening with a wry smile that hovered between stoicism and indifference.

She began to charge Richard again as she seemed hell bent on thawing away what she called his prejudice. Richard too was thrilled with the passage she had read to him. He marvelled at her Biblical ingenuity, but showed no emotion.

“Vanity. They are all vanity,” Chioma chirped again. “They would all pass. Only God blesses a man without adding sorrow to it. And he would choose randomly and bless us. When you do his will, his blessings upon your life are nonnegotiable. He becomes indebted to you”

The word “vanity” ricocheted in Richard`s head.  He felt morose and looked dumbfounded.  He began to rue the day he had met Franka in the first place. His mind rattled back to the valediction of Rita, and how she had caused her to go clubbing that eventful day. He began to loathe himself. He knew with these set of people, he had bitten more than he could chew.  Had he not gone clubbing, he wouldn’t have met Franka nor attended her church in the first place. These people were a leech. They were a plague on him. They were the jigger he wished to pulverize. They visibly are direct dissents to his ideologies. He has never believed they are stupid to take their religion so seriously, but he felt they saw him stupid to be who he was. Lines of Achebe flashed through his mind plaintively. You will have what is good for you; I too would have what is good for me. Let the eagles fly and perch, let the kite fly and perch too. If one of them should stop the other, let it break its wings. He knew the world could mesh with their various ideologies without straddling; just as birds do in the air. He found himself at the crossroads between his resolution and its dissent, and he could not afford to be harsh on them. He saw their challenges as affronts, but he took them with astute equanimity.

Richard kept looking for a way to charge them to let him alone. He kept looking for a means to be politically correct while still ditching out his mind; but he could not. He had been strained beyond his tether and now he was on the verge of despair. He knew he could not escape with the level of importunity these people launched at him. But he tried to soothe himself. He was not willing to make them feel inhibited. Their presence alone was a conundrum he had to sort in his head.

Chioma continued his proselytizing again. She probed further into the heart of the book of Ecclesiastes. This time to the second chapter. Richard was a consummate listener. He nodded in the affirmative as she read along. He was feeling uneasy, yet he would not let them see him despair.  Chioma’s comrades buoyed her with nods or hems of “yes” as the occasion demanded.  Again, Richard found the environment odd.  He was in his own house and yet feeling such an immense pressure. But he kept nodding, prodding them to speak on as if he was interested.

Chioma began again-more agitatedly. “I said in my heart, come now, I will test you with mirth; I therefore enjoy pleasure; but surely, this also was vanity. I said of laughter — Madness! ; and of mirth, what does it accomplish? I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives. I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of grove. I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had a greater possession of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds. So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. Then I turned myself to consider wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the man do who succeeds the king? — Only what he has already done. Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. Yet I myself perceived that the same event happens to them all. So I said in my heart, as it happens to the fool it also happens to me, and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, this is also vanity. For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die?  As the fool!

She looked at Richard with rapt attention at the pronouncement of the word “fool”. Richard looked through her in return and smiled again. Obviously getting enchanted with the verses she had reeled out to him.

       Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me,” She quipped, looking purposely at Richard.  For all is vanity and grasping for the wind. Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool?  Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity.

Richard had been drenched in the pool of emotion.  The whole polemics from the Bible had inundated him. All his former convictions had been rendered void by the Bible passages. They all paid rapt attention to him to affirm if he got all the messages and be reassured they were making sense to him. His dulled countenance had reassured them he was won over. He was sombre and nodded in agreement—nudging them to forge ahead. Then she continued the passage adding more vigour this time.

  “Therefore I turned my heart and despaired all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.” “So you see?” she continued in certitude. “All these knowledge, this erudition, they are vanity and grasping for the wind as the Bible calls it,” she recounted. “This life is the way to light,” she retorted.

She had spoken to him for about an hour. Richard was now looking terribly down. Chioma knew Richard’s spirit had been crushed. He had listened raptly to them through the whole sermon and they after the sermon implored him to don his clothes and follow them to service. They reminded him they were running late and he paid a great deal of attention to them.

Richard was now looking gay. He stood from his seat and thanked them so very much: for their benevolence, their time, their largeness of heart and spirit. He turned to Chioma and thanked her profusely, “Sister Chioma, thanks for your unending efforts to salvage my wandering soul,” he managed to affirm, still sheathing his emotion. “I would remember that you love me so much. Your words are words of wisdom,” He bawled. Chioma smiled and nodded agitatedly, obviously inundated by the courtesy of Richard. She managed to acknowledge his gesture.

Richard assured them he understood perfectly what they had said to him and all they inferred through their Bible passages. He meant to tell them that he understood that they insinuated that his reasoning, his long years of erudition, do not count like “working for God.” He got their points perfectly. And he appreciated them. He was looking gaudy as he moved around, stretching forth his hands to them reverentially.

“Thanks, Sister Franka,” he fumbled with a wry slime. “Bro Kingsley, it’s been a great honour to have had you under my roof today,” he quipped as he darted back to his seat.

“But, sir and mas”, he started, “I’m afraid I would not make the meeting for today,” he said, to the discomfiture of the triumvirate of people in his company. He mentioned to them how badly he needed to finish some portions of the mounds of books lining up on his table. He knew he would not want to hurt their feelings in the direst magnitude, and he had to give them a glimpse of hope for the future. Then he found a way to assure them he would come to the “meeting” on Wednesday.

They could not believe their luck.  It was as though they had never seen such a recalcitrant fellow till that day. Chioma’s eyes lit up. She was an effigy of fire and brimstone. She saw Richard an uppity radical.  He had indeed paid rapt attention to her for half an hour or there about and had seemed to have acquiesced their pleas. What brought about the setback remained a mystery to her. Chioma’s face shone as she gestured to her comrades that they took their leave of Richard.

To Richard, he had been unfair to them. He was always a man with whom one may disagree and still get away with a handshake in the end of the jostle. He had not meant to slight their personalities; he had barely stated his mind without bias. He imagined in his heart that these people of perhaps far augmented profiles that he was, having come to rouse himself away to church, only to leave them disappointed, was probably a presumptuous act. He at a point thought it shows strength of character—firmness in what one truly believes. But a part of him felt wounded to have been pig-headed. He had a mixed feeling between principles and morality. His principle forbade that he budged, he was to himself on a just moral jurisdiction, but the humane part of him penalised him a great deal—knowing he had made unhappy three great personalities. But part of buoyed him was the moral ground he was.  He respected them, and loved them more than words could capture, but their doctrines and his were what stood as a snag between them. He found that they could never mesh, and he wished they saw it too and let him alone.

To prevail upon Richard, Chioma had launched a reckless affront at Nelson Mandela, whose book Long Walk to Freedom Richard was reviewing when they came in. She had said Richard was wasting his time studying a man who was probably burning in hell now. She had said what eternal gain had the life of the man Richard was studying, a man who doesn’t count with God. Richard`s eyes were slightly furrowed when Chioma mentioned those words. He knew Chioma would have been either naïve or myopic to know nothing about Nelson Mandela, or she was blinded by religious sentiments. Was it the same Nelson Mandela he knew Chioma demeaned to that length?  Was it the same man whose memorial service in Johannesburg witnessed the unprecedented conglomeration of the world leaders in a single occasion?  Was it the one whose burial was greeted by Barrack Obama, the then president of the United States and then one of the most powerful persons in the world?  His mind bounced to 10th of December 2010, when Obama pronounce in Johannesburg: “although I would forever fall short of Madiba’s examples, he makes me want to be a better man. He speaks to what’s best inside of us.” He reminded himself of the dignitaries who had come to pay their respect to the fallen hero. He reminded himself of John Kerry, David Cameron, Benjamin Netanyahu, Morgan Freeman, and Kofi Annan, all people of great personalities, who shook the world, who declared a moratorium to their schedules and stopped the world for the sake of Madiba. To now have a young lady here snide that avatar was too much for Richard to bear.

He recounted the pains of Madiba and his sacrifice in his head. His 27years jail term that was to mark the end of apartheid, his speech in court before he was sentenced for life where he pointed to the judge that for his ideal, he was “prepared to die”, the crashed marriages he had with Evelyn and Winnie just for the struggle, the death of his mother, the death of his two sons, and finally, forgiving those who afflicted him that much, saying he knew if he didn’t leave bitterness, he`d still be in jails of hate. To Richard, the strength of character of Madiba was extraordinary. To have Chioma harangued him was an oddity to him. But he disciplined his pains still.

But forsooth, her dig at Mandela never failed to destabilize Richard. Mandela to him was a giant of history. He was to him less than a god but definitely more than a man. To him, Nelson Mandela was gold. Gold his in intellectual prowess, in his statesmanship, in the manner he spoke, in the manner he emoted. Richard was terribly distraught, but he did all he could to feign indifference.

Against all odds, Richard held his ground. Despite the souring countenance of Chioma and the rest, despite their inhibition, he held his ground. He had never been a subservient lackey. He stood his ground against all teeming odds.

Richard accompanied them to the gate as they walked away looking morose. He saw their sour countenance. He felt them despair. He knew he had stuck a dagger to the deepest part of their hearts by his blunt refusal and he sought to brighten them a bit. He reassured them he would be around for the Wednesday’s meeting. He wanted them to come off their despondency. But they remonstrated with him that a particular blessing always teemed each programs as allotted to it by God. Richard would not be humbled. He told them he was ready to sacrifice that day’s blessing and would catch up with subsequent ones, since the mercy of God endures. They gave up, though despondently, but remonstrated with him to give them his words of honour that he would come on Wednesday. Richard said he may not come if he had gone to join his ancestors before then, but if the good Lord is merciful enough to spare him beyond then, they would see him. They brightened and moped off in an exaggerated disbelief that gave credence to their surprise at his staunchness.

On Wednesday evening Richard found his way to church. He had as usual taken a calculated attempt to lateness. He knew the church was never in a rush to finish, so he was never in a rush to join them. He bade his time well before joining them. To them “no amount of time spent in the house of God is ever enough”; But Richard was indifferent to such credo. He hated to walk out of a gathering, so he rather used lateness as a tactic. He knew he could never question their lateness as question itself was considered a nuisance, so he had things his own way.

Richard made himself comfortable on a white plastic chair left empty in the second row in the middle of the hall. He had been conspicuously indifferent to the usher who was waving him to sit in another position right beside the choir. He knew that was in the fringe. He wanted to be at the middle where he could see so many goings-on. That day, Richard was even luckier. The Very Venerated Reverend Reus was the one pontificating the service . He was standing right in front of Richard. Richard could smell this was the man he had heard so much about from all and sundry.

Richard sat in his microscopic world ferreting every whiff of the nuances palpable in VVRR. His gait was a marvel. He paced up and down the aisle in a leisurely manner more to the delight of his devotees. He donned a white floral long-sleeved shirt. His white sneakers beamed through the hall. His countenance never ceased to rouse one’s reverence. He was clearly a redoubtable clean-shaven man.

Everyone in the church ululated at every clench of his fists as he drove them frantic. He at intervals had to wait for the hysteria among the church to subside before he continued his preaching.

“People of God, I do not like the way you shout when a man of God mounts the pulpit. It is wrong.  It is an aberration,” he remonstrated with them.  “When a man of God walks into your midst, you stand on your feet and shout ‘Gloreeee’,” he bawled. “That’s how to appreciate a man of God. That’s how to appreciate his anointing.”

He was yet to get through with his charge when the whole church went frantic again. They blared “gloreeee….  Oooooooo… gloreeeee. Oh my goodness! Gloreee. Glory be to God.” He waved them to a silence. He waited till the frenzy subsided, then he started.

“Beloved, I want to tell you about the usefulness of prayer.  Prayer is an illustrative way of communicating your needs to God. It is very important that you as a Christian outline your priorities and pray according to them.” His voice began to reverberate through the silence in the hall as the whole worshippers who were predominantly youths in their late 20s  bent their heads and wrote every piece of word he muttered.  Even Brother Ramsey was relegated to the position of a student. VVRR was becoming embroiled in the preaching now. He ran amok this time, swirling round and round the hall.

“Most Christians pray amiss,” he bulked. “Beloved, even in the biggest churches we have around, they pray amiss. Beloved, I see them, always, always. Even the biggest men of God, they lead people astray. In some churches, the way they pray is most times not meant to be so.” He took a pause and allowed his “students” write all he had said. He made a series of hem as he took a calculated tactic to allow them write all he had said. Some were saying “Yes, sir. Thank you sir,” as their intuitions led them. He would motion them to silence and continue again. Richard was in his own corner, scribbling the little he could and paying more attention to the man and the message than he wrote.

“While I was growing up, I started my life at Deeper Life, he recounted plaintively as if to insinuate that those in that sect were already doomed. “We prayed pray a lot. I agree. But there were too many impediments saddled on us. Too many restrictions which were not in line with the word of God. We were not allowed to see the TV, we could not keep friends of the opposite sex, we could not dress the way we feel mostly comfortable, everything was considered a heresy. It was then I assessed my life and saw that I was not free,” he argued. “I saw myself a free prisoner who chooses to imprison himself under the religious exigencies of a church. I could not beat their demands, and I could not join them,” he surmised.

“On one eventful day,” he continued. “I woke up and told myself I deserved better than these encumbrance I got. “Forget that thing, o boy, ah run. I went out of there, I got a pretty damsel for myself,” he squeaked. “In Deeper Life? For where?” He laughs derisively and wrenched his nose sarcastically.” You were condemned,” he continued. “You were a sinner. Everything was amiss! Askew!” he recounted regretfully, lamenting the time he wasted there.  “The problem I saw among them was ignorance,” he remonstrated morosely.

Richard was still in his own corner trying to decipher the message in the cyst VVRR was carrying. He felt this man who was well read should know better than besmirch any sect.  He ran amok with anger. He was paralyzed where he was, but he was able to bridle his pent-up anger. It was in one of those moments he yet again became a pariah and could not get to reconcile his principles with the credo of VVRR.

“I moved ahead again,” VVRR continued. “I went to Mountain of Fire. Ha! “That one worse,’” He went frantic with derisive laughter. “There, it was from frying pan to fire.” The whole church had begun to run frantic with laugher. He himself could not hold his breath as he laughed till tears began to race down his cheek. His stomach began to ache before he stopped. Richard found nothing funny in the whole sermon. He only managed to feign a wry smile to not look sadistic to the cluster of people around him who had gone amuck with laugh.

A keen attention would have given away the exact way Richard felt. He felt as though his visceral had been lacerated. He was deeply wounded in his heart as a free-thinking lad. He had sat in his conspicuous seat, but he was lukewarm and seemed odd among the gay audience he was amidst. He felt as though he was ostracised.

“Mountain of Fire? Don’t dare go there! He started again, nervously. “There, it was a different kind of prayer entirely. “The prayer points self tire me, he remonstrated. “Seventy prayer points to be prayed every morning. I got tired. I came in contact with different kinds of prayers and got vexed. You hear stuffs like ‘Any enemy, strong man of my father’s house, strong man of my mother’s house, plotting my downfall; fall down and die. Die!  Die!  Die!’”, he said as he went delirious with laughter again, sending the church into a weird ecstasy. The whole church was raucous this time. He tried all he could to kill the frenzy round the church but it could not be killed on time. It had gone too viral.

Richard was still in his corner lying emotionless. He rued the “wasted” time he had in the hall. RRVV was indeed reeking of intellect, but he was to Richard blinded by prejudice. The time Richard spent there was considered a waste by him. He hated being among religious fanatics who are so called “holier than thou,” but he steeled himself still.

“I had to leave,” VVRR started again. “I had to run for dear life. They prayed amiss, he surmised. “Then I went to Redeem, where I felt my soul would be redeemed. For where?” He asked sarcastically, then he narrated how he was made a pastor in Redeem, how his knowledge of the Scripture brought him a great repute in Redeem. He then began to weave up the delinquencies of Redeem. He began to make cases on why he left Redeem. He hedged. They were not concise enough, but he let it rest. He said things were not patching up well for him in Redeem, so he left.

Richard began to peeve where he sat. To him, the religious peregrination of VVRR had been a selfish reconnoitring. He was not to Richard an assiduous servitor or God. He seemed to want to ingratiate the church and rise to a level of apotheosis amidst them. He could not get what he wanted in those places, hence he moved ahead. But no one seemed to reason the way Richard did. Everyone was an aficionado of the VVRR; no one ever subjected him to scrutiny.

VVRR continued again. He narrated his ordeal in Christ Embassy. He narrated how he was amidst them speaking in tongues. He narrated how indecent the ladies there appeared to him. He recounted how the ushers and choirs bared their cleavages to his discomfiture and how he was nauseated amidst them. He was presumptuous. He spoke in an exaggerated disbelief of his experiences amidst them. Then he rounded off by rebuffing the strands of the tongues they spoke there. He said the manner they spoke in tongues was not in line with the tongues prescribed by the Holy Ghost as ordained by God. He said you would easily discern a man who spoke in real tongues from the Holy Ghost. Then he recounted instances of the way tongues should be spoken. He said the strands the Christ Embassy people spoke could easily be memorised and rendered. He gave copious examples of tongues and began to deride the ones he had met in the past.

The knowledge of speaking in tongues Richard read from the Bible was from the book of Acts chapter two, on the day of Pentecost. God had been clairvoyant of the occasion before that day, and he had given the Disciples a prescience of the day. So when it came, it was not a shock to them.  They were not gibbering too.  They spoke in the language of the people they were amidst such that the people were bamboozled. Richard recounted the people saying “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?”

Richard could not judge what he did not truly understand. He did not judge VVRR. He surmised that the Holy Spirit resided in him permanently and so he was a purveyor of the tongues such that he could roust them from his repertoire and recite at the slightest whim.

As he continued his blatant indictment of those renowned churches, Richard was moved somewhat between hatred and anger. He felt education is not enough; getting the right education and putting it to use were the pivot. A man with such a roaring degree of augmented profile to Richard should have known better than these he did. It takes a man of sound mind and education to know that we cannot all be one; that our humanity and its strength lie in our uniqueness as humans. We are meant to have our identities and beliefs—of varying degrees—and respect one another despite the differences. He felt VVRR should know these. A de javu feeling of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God ricocheted in his mind again. “You will have what is good for you, I too will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too — if one says no to the other, let his wing break.”

We should care more about our affinities than our differences. We could have our discrepancies look us in the eye and yet shunt them aside and live together without dough of inhibition.

As Richard headed out of that church that day, he had been more damaged than he was ever before. He began to recount the great men that headed and peopled those churches VVRR had recited. He had the augmented profile of the former university don and redoubtable Rev. W. Kumuyi of the Deeper Life suffuse his mind. Rev. Kumuyi had been a reputable statesman probably before VVRR was born. Rev. Kumuyi had thought out his catechism as they had conformed to his philosophies, and he had had it work for him for over four decades. To now have VVRR besmirch him overnight to attain stardom was a bile Richard found so hard to swallow.

Dr. D. K. Olukoya was also a distinguished scholar in his own right, not to mention the towering achievement of Dr. Chris Oyakilome of Christ Embassy. They were authorities in their own rights. People whose sacrifices towards the church could not be counted or repaid. As much as Richard failed to agree with them or fawn after them, he so well respected their sacrifices, humanity and accomplishments. To then have this nascent protestant VVRR affront these great men left more questions begging for answers in the mind of Richard.

Richard felt VVRR could have the kind of orientation he had; to live and let live. To understand that the sky is broad enough to have different birds fly without crossing lanes. He knew by human standard, VVRR was not fit to lace the shoes of these men he slandered, but he did—unabashedly and unremorsefully. It was again a reminder to Richard that until humans learn to live with their discrepancies, peace will be mere illusions to the world.

Richard got home and lay on the couch despondently. He was deeply bitter that he could not thaw the prejudice of VVRR. He considered his own life, his reconnoitring—to get the truth of the word of God in the world, his past disappointments, he felt even bitter the more. His past wounds that surged through his encounters with rabid men of God were beginning to heal until he went to Latter Day Protestant Church where he even had his faith more confused. He was bitter. He was too presumptuous to admit regretting to have gone there, but he assured himself he would henceforth need to seek God in his own heart; quietly, in the solitude of his room.

Artwork from Jeongeui Son

Stream

Stream

 

Stream

Life is ordinarily a painful thing.
But I knew the painful things are rewarded with good things one day.
One by one.
The good things were a hope and it was the future that I had hoped for.

In my heart,
I still feel numb sometimes with my one foot.
And I’m limp.
It’s been so hurtful.
however,
I know I’ll run and jump soon.
Eventually I’ll someday be a place where there is only happiness and true love.

The stream and rocks are getting shiny with sunlight pouring between the trees and bridge after the pain.

The sky would sometimes turn to salmon pink.
I would enjoy with you under the beautiful sky then.

Just living in the joy………….

Joy

Joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essay from Jaylan Salah

 

 

Conversations with the Artist on Edge

My Interview with Egyptian director Hisham Abdelkhalek

Hisham Abdelkhalek during directing A Footnote in Ballet History?

Hisham Abdelkhalek during directing A Footnote in Ballet History?

Neurotic, alert with childlike wonder, Hisham Abdelkhalek is an Egyptian director, adventurer whose love for his home country juxtaposes with his creative spark. Abdelkhalek directed and produced French movies backed up by French production companies to represent Egypt. His Instagram shows his nostalgia for a cosmopolitan Egypt and the traditional Egyptian cuisine.

“My artistic influence is mainly Youssef Chahine whom I consider one of the greatest thinkers of our time. He was heavily involved in portraying the real Egypt and that is why he succeeded worldwide. However, I personally do not like to disclose my artistic influences because I love to prove myself as a director apart from whoever affected me.”

Like any other Egyptian dreamer, Abdelkhalek’s career span a decade of filmmaking, art direction for musicals, and short films as experimental as they are poetic. Although he flexes his artistic muscle between mysticism and reality, his documentary “A Footnote in Ballet History?” –which I had the honor of watching and moderating the postscreening Q&A- is not simply a sentimental reminiscence at a cosmopolitan Egypt but more of an homage to great women who have not received their deserved recognition in history.

Abdelkhalek is no fan of small projects. His resume includes a variety of grand projects including the artistic direction of Opera “Aida” in Doha, Qatar and under the pyramids of Giza, Egypt in 2002 as well as the Egyptian Permanent Mission to the UN Gala Event on October 13, 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Akhenaten performance during the UN Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Concert

Akhenaten performance during the UN Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Concert

Akhenaten will be the first pharaonic musical to open at Broadway. It will feature 23 songs with an expected budget of 16 million dollars. This spectacle of songs and ancient pharaonic theological themes showcases performances by major Broadway stars such as Christina DeCicco, William Michals, Ted Keegan, Seph Stanek and Timothy McDevitt. The musical also will include a chilling performance of “O’ my Son” by Broadway favorite N’Kenge.

I have had the pleasure of sitting down with Abdelkhalek in 2016 during the 38th edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF). He was buzzing with excitement and energy, expressing his opinions openly about the bureaucracy that filmmakers typically face as well as the problems that he personally faced during directing Opera Aida in Egypt in 2002, stating the hierarchy of the Mubarak regime back then as factors behind his decision to travel to Paris where he cofounded his production company So Freakantastik with his friend Olivier Delesse.

“Working during the Mubarak regime I witnessed all forms of corruption on all managerial levels. After “Aida” I decided to leave for good. In Europe I opened a film production company and started making movies. I returned due to a partnership with media and production mogul Isaad Younis’s company Al Arabia Cinema Production and Distribution to distribute Egyptian films in Europe. I have always been keen on spreading films by the great Egyptian directors such as Dawood Abdelsayed and Mohamed Rady all over Europe. I became involved in social and political activism during the Egyptian revolution of 2011 until the Muslim Brotherhood took power where I joined mass protests against the Islamist rule. Right after Islamist president Mohamed Morsy was overthrown, I traveled back to Europe to make art.”

Abdelkhalek is your typical artist on edge. During our meeting he smoked one cigarette after the other, recounting tales from his artistic journey with bitterness, without falling into the pit of despair. When it was time to talk about one of his masterpieces “A Footnote in Ballet History?” his eyes glistened with memories as he spoke of how his project saw the light,

“I was directing Akhenaten The Musical for Broadway in 2013, co-written with Hesham Nazih and Mohamed Metwally, when Ashraf Sewailam the renowned opera singer introduced me to former legendary Egyptian prime ballerina Magda Saleh. Later, while attending a formal dinner after the UN Gala dinner in Egypt’s UN ambassador’s -at the time- house, I met Magda Saleh for the second time as well as her husband. That was when I was smitten by her personality. I wanted to make a film about her since I was already aware of her inspiring history and her career as one of Egypt’s dancers who danced the legendary role of Giselle with the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia.

The idea expanded into archiving the journey of Egypt’s Bolshoi 5; Saleh, Diane Hakak, Aleya Abdel Razek, Wadoud Faizy and Nadia Habib. The film was jointly produced between So Freakantastik and Saudi, American and French collaborators, as well as through crowdfunding which I believe is one of the modern gifts technology presented to aspiring filmmakers. Through crowdfunding, filmmakers and artists could get access to resources they otherwise would not be able to, funding-wise. “A Footnote in Ballet History?” was produced on a budget of more than 100,000 dollars, with $14,000 raised strictly from Indiegogo.”

Legendary Egyptian ballerina Magda Saleh during the shooting of “A Footnote in Ballet History?”

Legendary Egyptian ballerina Magda Saleh during the shooting of “A Footnote in Ballet History?”

Legendary Egyptian ballerina Magda Saleh during the shooting of “A Footnote in Ballet History?”

“A Footnote in Ballet History?” did not simply tell an enchanting tale of the 5 ballerinas as they sealed a footprint in Egyptian history through intense training and a life-changing transition to Moscow for formal ballet training at the Bolshoi Ballet company. It also gives due credit to the late Minister of Culture Tharwat Okasha who -right after the 1952 Egyptian revolution- inaugurated the Academy of Arts and the Higher Institute of Ballet in 1959, envisioning it to be a professional artist factory where young men and women are formally educated and trained with global standards of artistry.

“I did not simply want to tell the tale of five butterflies who danced their way to the top, but more of an important period in my country. How Egypt transitioned from the Russian camp to the American camp during the era of late president Anwar El Sadat, how enriching was 1960s Egypt, and how well-educated most people were through reading fan letters sent to Saleh in three languages from all over Egypt.”

Abdelkhalek told me that while editing his film, he had a peculiar feeling of unjustly dismissing the cornerstones of Egypt’s culture.

“It devastates me to notice how the West treats our monuments and heritage with due respect more than we do to ourselves. When the Temple of Dendur was transferred to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, cultural significance was foreseen during the preparation for receiving the temple, including the design as a mythological, religious and symbolic concept. For your information, the Temple of Dendur was where UN Gala Event was held.”

Our interview grew into a longer tale of texting and communicating. I was more than glad to extend it until he reached his culmination through the creation process of his feature debut “Jesus and the Others” starting 2019.

O my son at Egyptian UN Gala night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Jesus and the Others” recounts the Holy Family’s journey in Egypt from a Coptic Orthodox point of view. It is the tale of how the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and Mary’s cousin, Salome, as well as a young Jesus escaped from King Herod into Egypt. The script –by late scriptwriter and novelist Fayez Ghaly- has been rejected on basis of refusal to screen it due to portraying Jesus Christ from a Coptic POV rather than from the POV of the Muslim majority;

“I did not search for the script. It has been present ever since a long time and –like a regular reader- I followed the long struggle to produce the film as well as the copyright and the censorship battles to prevent the making of the film. I was not involved at all in the beginning. Until the screening of my film “A Footnote in Ballet History?” during the 38th edition of CIFF, when Fadi Ghaly –Fawzy Ghaly’s son- offered me the script to read and direct. I was elated that he expressed his vehement insistence that I direct the film.

For a whole year, I left the script in my drawer, afraid that once I started reading it I would be attached to it and immediately seek directing it. I picked this project because it fits the grander scheme of my artistic vision; presenting Egypt to the World. Jesus does not belong to a certain religious group but he is more of a universal icon.”

Abdelkhalek states that the film cannot be produced via an Arabic production company nor shot in Egypt to avoid conflict with the Censorship office or battles on religious basis. However, he insists on using an all-Muslim cast of Arab actors –with the exception of food vlogger and actor Mourad Makram- to emphasize the state of compassion and coexistence between Egypt’s two complements; Copts and Muslims. He intentionally plans a dream cast with actors from all over the world with big names from Hollywood and Europe.

“We opened a fair casting call for three months and I was surprised to find big names from Egypt auditioning. Currently we are lining up our main cast whether Egyptian, Arab, or A-list actors from Hollywood and Europe. Our film crew includes big names in the filmmaking industry globally, such as famed Japanese cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata with names such as La Vie en Rose and Paris, Je t’aime to his name or Jean-Luc Van Damme as co-producer, as well as one of the most talented set designers in America. Our high-profile cast and budget are related to the nature of the film as a foreign production and not an Egyptian production. Shooting will take place between Puglia in Italy due to the ancient nature of the city similar to Jerusalem, Betlehem at the time, as well as in Ouarzazate, Morocco which is the world’s largest studio.”

Abdelkhalek is highly opinionated. He believes that cinema cannot be graded on the basis of art vs. commercialism. Great films receive both critical acclaim and box office success. This is what he is aiming at while directing and producing “Jesus and the Others.”

“There’s no such thing as an artist with a mission or a message that he wants to transmit to the world. We produce entertainment. We want people to be entertained. It’s up to audiences whether they like what they see or they don’t. People don’t ask about the message or the aim of art in the Western world. We, as Arabs, are more concerned with what’s the hidden message or the main theme that a director targets in a film. I personally do not have any message that I want to transmit through my art. However, what I seek is to show the actual image of Egypt culturally and socially to the Western world.”

Jesus and the Others starts shooting in….

Mixed media from Jayne Marek

Yellow Curl

Yellow Curl

Amendments

 

 

when psychological disturbance is not being treated,

the bodymind knows; when a drug has shrouded

 

reality with a costume that flutters its feathers

as the body spins or floats, softened and disoriented,

 

or with a garment ponderous with leaden slices

as with the protective drape spread across

 

a body before an X-ray, we know that some drugs and

the bodymind fit uneasily against each other,

 

one cannot probe into the other but sweeps across it

like the leading edge of a deluge:

 

a prerequisite of healing is awareness, which can be

scorching, so a blanket of chemicals may be spread

 

to interrupt the pain so the bodymind can unclench

its confused agony for a blessed time:  I am not saying

 

people don’t need relief, I am saying the bodymind

is a whole of fluid and continual movement,

 

as I think artists know as they give themselves into flow

of noticing and physically responding to a great Idea

 

which, in its turn, has come from awareness:  mutable states,

like rain, and rainless parts of sky, and rainbows,

 

parse vapor into an equilibrium of colors in flow:

a lesson one may learn from looking out the window

 

as well as into oneself is not to trust a drug

and not to drug the earth:  in early summer,

 

one can look out the window to see red

Jupiter’s Beard, yellow daisy centers circled with white

 

fronds, purple sage and lavender tips just coming out

of clouds of green next to a few gold grasses; the iris

 

and camas and tulips, done now, ragged-leaved

and in need of deadheading, splay dried fronds

 

in all directions unfocused and spent with trying

after weeks of effortful blooming, and now they

 

shiver and shred; there will be no more easy rain:

this is the patch of earth I sweated for,

 

wept over, broke my skin into blisters for,

disrupting the stasis of scraped suburban yard

 

surface by digging, poking, spreading, incorporating

what was needed (sand, pumice, humus, detritus

 

of the right kind of organic waste, scrap newspapers,

compost, and fresh soil from plastic bags, an irony not lost

 

on modern gardeners) so as to feed

wizened brown bulbs which resemble frowning knots

 

of angry aged faces so old you cannot tell what

gender they might have presented with

 

nor even what identity they may have most deeply

felt:  I was so tired from hauling and digging

 

that at last I planted bulbs willy-nilly (a perfectly

evocative word not enough used, so here it is)

 

and these bulbs have reached up and out into belonging,

wild surprises of colors spiking the yard-world

 

and no doubt communicating with their roots,

so important yet frail as eyelashes, reaching

 

for sun and for damp depths:  if the soil is made right,

and here you have it, something deeper can express

 

more than itself in the infiltrations of disparate

particles that combine to nurture a whole system

Wormhole

Wormhole

 

Body Marks

 

 

scars are not the only imprints which remain on our bodies,

although people may think of scars first off, when a body

 

mark is mentioned, or perhaps tattoos:  I suppose these days

tattoos constitute the inscribings most often seen,

 

skin decorations appearing under the hem of a short sleeve

or underneath the currently fashionable loose neckline

 

of a blouse or gripping a calf muscle; many cultures

have used tattoos to signal, to embody age or affiliation:

 

human history in tattoos as a striking means of expression

and sometimes in your face, so to speak, communicating

 

with variety and imagination:  the tone of one’s skin,

however, will highlight or nuance or restrict

 

how a tattoo turns out, so that whatever people

might wish to say with their skins must interface

 

with the world’s eyes, as in fact skin always has done:

yet many body marks are private, such as from surgical

 

procedures or accidents:  by happenstance I have four

tiny red dots on my belly from the claw tips

 

of a cat jumping from my lap, for on that one day

and with that one lap-leap out of hundreds

 

(since cats insist on sitting in one’s lap and then

cannot stand to be there all of a sudden, and

 

there is urgent business elsewhere that requires

a human to become a launch pad), and

 

these punctures did not heal or vanish back into

the expanse of belly (yes I confess it)

 

but instead remained small red imprints of

animal being on my animal being:  these

 

accidents of blood-pricks healing over as permanent

petechiae do not seem to be scars:  I am not surprised,

 

looking over my scar collection, how cat claws and

human fingernails can create lasting pale slashes

 

in the epidermis:  if only we could construct vehicles

from keratin, springy and durable, protective, able to

 

cover and re-knit the body surface when epidermis

is breached (and so acts as a marker—here

 

was an event that split the skin!):  although keratin

supposedly is not living tissue, it traces life events

 

more clearly than a tattoo:  wound blemishes are

acquired as a result of some of the countless

 

acts of violence bodies encounter (may they be

minor), such as childhood fights with a sibling who had

 

long enough fingernails (real keratin ones) to hold

an edge; I have plenty of memories

 

of the particular stinging throb of scratched hands

and arms, between having cats for many years

 

and fights in childhood and the odd knife slip and

a couple of operations (some of which

 

were successful); I may admire the colorful art of

tattoos but I have a sufficient store of scars

Drift

Drift

Artist’s Statement:  Artistic visions ideally provide exciting imagery and a capable, even provocative, formal touch.  I use visual and verbal designs to lead the mind’s eye beyond an initial response.  These poems use couplets to follow a modern perspective in thinking about how modern life impinges on our relationships with the natural world.  The photos abstract their colors and designs from natural subject matter to achieve ambiguity, inviting readers to think about how objective reality can be perceived in multiple ways.
 
Bio Note:  Jayne Marek’s poems and art photos appear in One, Light, Grub Street, The Cortland Review, Slipstream, The Lake, Stonecoast Review, Spillway, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Sin Fronteras, Notre Dame Review, and elsewhere.  She provided color cover art for Silk Road, Bombay Gin, Amsterdam Quarterly’s 2018 Yearbook, and The Bend, as well as her recent poetry books In and Out of Rough Water (2017) and The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling (2018).  Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, she won the Bill Holm Witness poetry contest and was a finalist, most recently, in the Naugatuck River Review and the Up North poetry contests.