Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Life is not always peachy in Olinda, I have discovered. No running water for 48 hours, for one, has a way of taking the romantic shine off things. Though it may be that everything happens for a reason, and if that is true then the reason this time might be that some of the unsavoury tasks that arise from a lack of running water (particularly as the same relates to basic bodily functions) provide the most fitting commentary of all on what you are about to read.

So. Despite erratic sanitation conditions, there is something about sitting in the garden in Olinda on a Monday night, sipping on a non-non-alcoholic beverage and feeling the wind draughting balmily up from the milky warm Atlantic a few hundred metres away to make one feel minorly heroic.

And what better use is there to make of this dubious courage than to embark on a venture into the most self-indulgent and adolescent of all the forms of art that have been misguidedly launched upon a reluctant world – that is to say, poetry.


Jesus, Mary and Joseph, as the Reverend Iain Paisley probably wanted to say a great many times, but couldn’t, for fear that his pals wouldn’t want to play out with him anymore.

So with hands covering the face in horror, and inspired by a film called Things We Lost In The Fire, with Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro, to whom any right-thinking person would pay huge sums of money for the pleasure of watching them read the nutritional information off the back of a cereal box, and David Duchovny, who is not worthy of quite such high praise but is not a bad Number 3 starter, unless you’re talking October baseball where the stakes are higher, and with no other reasons than I have been able to write very little of note since Your Life Is An Impossibility, and that poetry is easier to write because it’s shorter, here it is, it being the only pronoun that seems to do the job (as well as being grammatically accurate). And I am sorry, sorry, sorry, for anyone who has the misfortune to read further. If there was ever an audience to be lost, then this is surely the way to do it. But, you know. In for a penny, in for a pound, and all that.

Nameless Poem

We buried him in a simple plot,
A black marble stone set into the grass.
Soon the grass grew taller than the stone,
and crept over its edges, and once we saw a man walk across the grave without knowing it was there.

It was a graveyard that looked better in rain than in sun.
And when we stood around the grave we were small in number,
and we stared like awkward teenagers at the more boisterous groups of mourners across the way, thinking, that’s where the party is.

The other plots in the graveyard were bigger, and ringed by little stone walls and plastic fences.
They had alabaster angels and towering headstones,
and more flowers than he ever did.

But we liked the simple plot, because the simple plot said his name, and the simple plot said that things like alabaster angels and towering headstones are not, when all is said and done, the fairy on top of the Christmas tree - like he might have done, had he been there.

Recife/Olinda September 2009

And while there can hardly ever have been a vainer exercise in vanity than this, the best thing about having a blog that nobody ever reads is that one can not only wallow in such self-indulgence, but can also predict, if not govern entirely, one’s audience’s reaction, as follows:

Reader James: Wow, Poet James! Not only have you entirely mastered the prose form, now you’ve cracked poetry! You really are a Parsons for the new, economic downturn, age!

Poet James: Shucks, Reader James. And thanks! Though it’s quite untrue.

Reader James: But it is true, Poet James!

Poet James: Well, ok. And can I say, Reader James, just for the record, that you might well be the sharpest critic of your time?

Reader James: You most certainly can, Poet James.

And, diving further into schizophrenia –

Reader James No.2: Poet James, you’re a great writer! And Reader James No.1, what insightful criticism!

Poet James and Reader James No.1 (in unison): Thanks Reader James No.2!

And so on.

But Poet James and Readers James 1 and 2 have to go now, because the bastard mosquitoes are biting again, and the gurning trickle I hear above me might well be the water returning, and all three individuals are in great need of a shower.

Some points entirely unrelated to the above:

1) My Friend From The Small Caribbean island, and previous resident of this house, has mooted the idea of a get together of non-Brazilians (the word gringo has now been prohibited on this site) somewhere in Olinda or Recife. I don’t know why this makes me want to run screaming all the way to a point somewhere west of the Brazil-Bolivia border, but it does. Maybe it is that once, newly arrived in Recife, I went looking for friends on the interweb, because every non-Brazilian living in Brazil needs to speak in their native tongue once in a while, and call Brazilians a bunch of terribly silly sausages. And someone who I’m sure is a very nice chap answered my message, and told me that he and a group of chums got together every Saturday to play rugby on the beach at Boa Viagem. Now either you understand immediately the tooth-jangling awfulness of such an idea or you don’t, and if you don’t, as everyone’s mother must have said at least once, or maybe it was just mine, then there’s no talking to you at all and you can burn in hell for all of eternity. Or maybe it’s just me, and I should try and remember that people are not so bad, at least not all of the time.

2) A friend of mine gave me a lift home last night. On the way home we stopped at a set of traffic lights along a particularly murky stretch of road. A squeegee man appeared, grinning, and lurched towards us. My friend gave a shriek of panic and roared off through the red light, narrowly avoiding an oncoming juggernaut. The inference being, I gathered, that we were on the brink of having our throats cut. Now call me an idealist if you want, but I got a good look at the squeegee man’s face and an equally good look at his weapon of choice and if he was looking to cut some throats then I would suggest he would have required a very powerful anesthetic to keep us under for the hours he would have needed to spend hacking away with his soft, spongy murder implement. Statistically, carjacking is not all that a common a practice in Recife, or at least it not an epidemic, and serious injury as a result of carjacking even less so, and serious injury as a result of carjacking by squeegee men even less so again, especially now that there are police guards at a number of the city’s traffic lights. But the Brazilian upper middle and upper classes do not pay much heed to statistics, preferring to put their faith in urban myth and media hysteria. That’s why many people will tell you that in Recife you can’t drive with your windows open, you know, to which I would say then someone had better tell this to the hundreds of thousands of people who are driving cars less shiny than BMWs and top-of-the-range Toyotas and who seem to be displaying a wanton disregard for their own safety by not only driving with their windows open but even STOPPING AT TRAFFIC LIGHTS WITH THEIR WINDOWS OPEN AND SMOKING CIGARETTES AND LISTENING TO THE RADIO AT THE SAME TIME! And also, if it isn’t pointing out the blindingly obvious, unless your car is fitted with bullet proof glass, it would seem that having your window closed probably won’t provide that much help against a bandito with a gun, and in fact would probably be as about as useful as wearing a seatbelt on a 747 about to hit the earth nose front at how-many-ever miles per hour.

3) Every so often someone new comes into your life who makes every day seem like lying in bed on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus, and I wish I could write like Amy Hempel, because she would have come up with a better line than that.

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