ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

CHIEF EDITOR ELEONORA SCHINELLA NUARA CHOUDHURY JIA-CHUAN KWOK ADITI MEHTA ERIN OROZCO CHLOË PIETERS SIMON WANG PUJA SHENOY SIMON WANG

EDITING COMMITTEE MADEEHA ANSARI CHRIS HARE PAUL LATHERON PRAMATHA NAIR DEEPALI PATTANI PUJA SHENOY LAYOUT EDITORS CHRIS HARE JIA-CHUAN KWOK

The Muse is published by the Literature Society of the London School of Economics and Political Sciences Students’ Union. This issue of The Muse is funded by members of the Literature Society, by the LSE Students’ Union, and by the Arts Advisory Group. Special thanks also go to Dr Angus Wrenn for his endless advice, to Mr Richard Hylton for his precious support, and to Mr Peter White for his invaluable patience. The editors of The Muse are not legally responsible for the material published in this magazine. All views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of the editors or sponsors. Correspondence should be sent to: litsoc.themuse@gmail.com (general enquiries) or submissions.themuse@gmail.com Printed by LSE Reprographics, London. Coverpage image © Kasten Searles (www.studiokasten.com) Back cover image © Anna Baker Copyright © 2008 The Muse All rights reserved.

2 THE MUSE

CONTENTS
EDITORIAL Eleonora Schinella 5

PLEASE, MR SNOOZE BUTTON André Tartar 23:59 Alex Hamilton FLAVOUR OF THE WEEK NM Lopez IN THIS ROOM Josh Tendeter MIRROR Holly Bontoft MRS. DALLOWAY AT THE LSE Chloë Pieters SAUSAGES AND SULPHUR Vanessa Corcoran THE HOMELESS André Tartar BEAR Hannah Gomersal PORTRAIT Jared Pilosio WOMAN UNDER THE RAIN Giovanni Birindelli JANUARY PROCESSING OF DECEMBER RECOLLECTIONS Erin O’Halloran THE LUTE PLAYER OF CONSTANTINOPLE Andreas Marcos Papasifakis

6 7 8 9 10 14 16 18 24 25 26 32 34

THE MUSE

3

BIRD CAGE Anthony Bavan THE MYTHS OF PRAGUE Jia-Chuan Kwok THE SOLDIER’S WIFE Chloë Pieters LOSS Josh Tendeter FACEBOOKING (EXCERPT) Shira Keshet THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS EDUCATION FOR HIS LIBERTY Andreas Marcos Papasifakis MORPHINE NM Lopez A MUTUAL, BUT COWARDLY, DECISION Erin Orozco KARAOKE BAR Alex Hamilton LIKE MY GRANDMOTHER Ann Lockhart INCOMMUNICADO Vanessa Corcoran THE RECORD SKIPPED Adam Kaasa DRURY LANE Ashmi Ahluwalia THE PEOPLE’S FINGERNAIL Ben Lamy AUTHOR PROFILES

35 36 40 42 43 44 52 53 54 58 59 60 64 66

70

4 THE MUSE

EDITORIAL
“There once was a beautiful Muse Who thought in LSE she had no use. But along came an editorial committee Who made sure she’d look all pretty, And now everyone loves the pages of the Muse.”

Never dare say that there is not enough creativity in the LSE. It was enough to gently poke the student body with some emails and flyers in the Michaelmas Term to be submerged by messages showing interest or sending in submissions. If I catch anyone complaining about the lack of inspiration in LSE, I’ll send them to sort the submissions account for The Muse - that’ll keep them busy for a while! And inspiration sure must have been what motivated also the members of the editing committee. Week after week they came to the Beaver’s Retreat for our meetings, more often than not staying for hours. Where did all this energy come from? Partly from Brunch Bowl brownies and cakes, admittedly, but what really fueled us was the belief that we were working on something meaningful and inspirational. I hope that The Muse will touch your hearts too. Read her, touch her, feel her, draw on her, beat box to her words, let her make you vibrate. Make her yours, and let her make you hers. And you’ll feel the energy that it generates. Be inspired,

THE MUSE

5

PLEASE, MR. SNOOZE BUTTON
André Tartar

only ten more minutes. i beg of you. ten more minutes in la-la land to win an oscar or meet the buddha or debauch like adonis. give me ten more minutes and i will know of futures that can only be dreamt. and unlike wrinkles and aches, unlike life, futures that can be undreamt. or even redreamt. eyes open, my dreams only last ten minutes. or are those my memories fleeing the light. i can’t tell. because my memories, my dreams dissolve in a mess of acid trips and inspiration binges. i guess the soulless staccato you muffle is really a shock wave smashing my thoughts into soup. i guess i’m stranded in between. just give me ten minutes, snooze, so i can make some memories out of last night’s dreams. so i can later redream them if awaking is wearisome and undream them if it comes alive.

6 THE MUSE

© traumwerk.stanford.edu

23:59
Alex Hamilton

For a moment, when the cabin pressure fell and the oxygen masks dropped from above, I understood why I was coming home. Looking out my window I saw a snowflake pattern of frost spread across the glass and my thoughts drifted down through the atmosphere. It was 11:59pm. Far below was the salt-sprayed shore of Nova Scotia where I had spent most of my life. I clearly recalled the biting wind that blew off the ocean much of the year. More than once, during the heart of winter, I wished I could live somewhere else. When planes flew overhead I often dreamed of the passengers inside bound for exotic destinations. Thirty five thousand feet and falling: the engines were quiet. It was a cloudless night. I felt the weight of our descent in my stomach, but I was calm. There was nothing left to choose between — no alternatives — only outer space and the brilliant stars. Perhaps it was the isolation that broke me—the incredible distances that separated neighbours; the open land; the sea. There was no end to the horizon that surrounded my family home. Perhaps it was my fascination with crossing to the other side of an invisible line. Perhaps it was curiosity or boredom or nothing at all. I had eaten the little pretzels long ago. I couldn’t remember exactly how long it had been. There had been two in-flight movies, dinner, an emergency demonstration… an emergency. It was peaceful in the evening with the full moon shining on the ice-glazed snow. My footsteps made a crunching sound as I walked. It was so bright. It was blinding.

Image © Simon Wang

THE MUSE

7

FLAVOUR OF THE WEEK
NM Lopez

Cycled sloth-like with the tykes, trepidation for approaching conversation. Anthropophobia, irony. But they begged for ice-cream. A lingering opportunity by a rack, parking and jostling, a reprieve, until at last we dim sunshine to chrome counters and your silhouette in black. They order, I observe, you are gracious and jocular. Half-mast lids, misty-eyed, tousled ‘do, velvet palms and feline smile. A giggle that tickles! More patience than I, but I do clarify their spastic demands and perhaps - I think - we speak eye to eye. You offer me some, but I decline. So I mint you, I flap, jittery elbows and arm flab. Then you wink. That nest in my hair, a cinch - but I had not the time. Now I am trapped in your headlights, bagged eyes, faded rouge. I dare not move. A month later I would stalk you.

8 THE MUSE

IN THIS ROOM
Josh Tendeter

In this room He used to sit On one of two chairs Fire burned Clock ticked Today’s paper Pipe lit In this room She now sits Fire burns Clock ticks Yesterday’s paper A pipe, unlit And remains the pair of chairs Now, however, one goes spare

© Alexander Wills

© Fahad Shakil Khan

THE MUSE

9

MIRROR

Holly Bontoft
When I was a child, I would spend all weekend at my grandparents’ house. It was a plain semi-detached in a regular neighbourhood, but in a child’s mind it always felt magical, like just about anyone of the dusty, faded porcelain knickknacks on the mantelpiece could come alive at any moment. It had always had a slightly antique feel to it, like everything was at least twenty years older than it actually was. Despite the generations of my family that had slept in its rooms and ran through its hallways, the walls of the house itself always felt very still. The living rooms could be (and very often were) packed full of brothers, cousins, aunts and assorted other relations, or the family friends who had just been adopted, but as soon as you stepped out of the room, the rest of the house was hushed and peaceful, just waiting for the next child to come tearing down the hall, or the next ActionMan who had valiantly sacrificed himself to save his comrade-in-arms the Incredible Hulk by falling over the banister onto the head of whichever person or dog was unlucky enough to be passing down the hallway at the time. While it was often packed with people, I was the only one of the children to regularly spend much time there, and quite regularly it would be just me and my grandparents. With the active imagination I had, it seemed far more likely that each holiday souvenir was waiting to come alive when I wasn’t looking than that they were simply inanimate objects. I became convinced that the objects on the highest shelves, kept out of the prying, sugary hands of the grandchildren, were kept so far up because they were the ones that had the most power. The chess board inlaid with shimmering blue and green butterfly wings was kept out of reach not because it had been brought out from Cold War Leningrad, but because the wings were actually those of fairies, and they hid in the chessboard until midnight, when they would float around the house and enchant anyone sleeping there. This was why you had the best dreams at grandma’s house, not because she had no problems with you eating sweets until bedtime. As I grew up though, I gradually began to realise that these objects weren’t quite as magical as I had previously believed. The crisp packets remained in the bowling trophy not because the lid protected them behind an invisibility cloak, but that Grandad simply wanted to sneak us more treats without his spoilsport children finding out. There was no grand appearance of these cold facts, but as I grew up it just became obvious. It wasn’t until the wise old age of 9 that I realised that my childhood fantasies started to disappear, and

10 THE MUSE

I began to mourn for them. Prior to that, their existence had just seemed obvious. However, one trick of the mind lasted quite a while longer. When there was no-one else around to play spot-the-dragon-in-the-watercolour with, my favourite game just involved a mirror. On the bathroom windowsill, beside the bottle of Old Spice which seemed to have been bought when the Spice was still new, was an old shaving mirror. It was the simplest kind of mirror – about 6 inches square, with a small wire stand. My grandfather used it to put his contact lenses in each morning, although the 8-year-old me thought that after so long, he really should have learnt where his eyes were. Whenever the house was quiet, and my grandparents were filling in the crossword while listening to Classic Fm, I would take the mirror and play my favourite game of all. It would always start in the hallway. I would stand on the green chequered carpet, and place the edge of the mirror just under my chin. If you looked straight down into mirror, and never peered up, all you would see was the textured swirls in plaster on the ceiling (and the occasional scratch in said swirls from someone trying to carry a ladder down the hall). I would walk around the ground floor of the house, navigating only by the ceiling. At first it was tricky not to look away, but eventually I would get drawn in, and be sucked into this strange world. Light fittings looked like some kind of bizarre flower sticking straight up from the ground, and the books on the shelves became blockish icicles. For the really brave, the next challenge was the stairway. As you approached it, it looked like some kind of rather unpleasant slide (at this point the ceiling moved from large artistic curls to a slightly vicious dappled effect, which I was convinced would do enough damage to the back of my trousers to have my mum sewing them back together for a month). Still, the only way to carry on exploring was to risk a sore backside and get on with it. If Wolverine had been afraid of a bruised behind, he never would have rescued Barbie from the secret lair of the evil Joker. So I would lower myself down, never tearing my eyes away from the mirror, and sit on the floor. So far, so good. The dappled plaster was remarkably comfy when you were actually on it. Then I would start to lift one leg over the edge, ready to slide down. On several occasions my grandma found me like that, my legs at a 60 degree angle to the rest of me and pointing up the stairs, going slowly cross-eyed as I tried to find the invisible barrier that was quite clearly preventing me from sliding down. As I grew up and became as jaded as a 9 year old could be, this all got a little boring. I saw Indiana

THE MUSE

11

Jones, and knew that if I just took a step forward, I wouldn’t really fall to my doom down into the abyss, but I would find a hidden pathway there to carry me across to the other side. This became an old story, albeit one that could have led to my breaking my neck if I had misjudged it. Yet one part I never could quite bring myself to explore. My grandfather had the most amazing garden. When they had moved in forty years ago, it had all been concrete, but since then every spare hour he had found had been spent on nurturing the kind of flower beds of which others only dreamt of. There were fuchsia bushes of the most startling pink teardrop flowers you had ever seen, and roses of the deepest red that climbed to over six feet on dark green wooden trellis that he had made himself in the garage. When the marigolds weren’t being destroyed by children recreating the latest WWF moves, it was an absolute haven and one that now even in my most ambitious moods I could never hope to recreate. My grandfather was so proud of his garden that he had knocked down most of the living room wall to install patio doors, so that everybody could admire it. They would be open all day in the summer, so that he could make the most of it even during Countdown. With the mirror still firmly attached to my chin, I would walk into the living room, negotiate the table and head towards the doors. I have to admit I was cheating, as there was no hint of where the table was by looking at the ceiling, but self-preservation saved me from walking into the back of one of the chairs. I would walk around, and stand on the edge of the patio doors, on the row of tiles normally covered in soil where my grandfather would leave his shoes before coming into dinner. Here I would always hit a problem. I knew that if I took one more step forward, there would be a drop of about two inches before I walked out onto the mossy patio. I knew that straight ahead of me was the patio, followed by the goldfish pond (another one to be avoided, although with a slightly lower success rate than the chairs). Yet it was never quite that simple. While most of my wizened old head was telling me that I knew what was straight ahead, that wasn’t what I was seeing. As I looked into the mirror, all I could see was the sky above me. All there was was the blueness, with the occasional pale cloud drifting past miles below. If you were leaning forward you couldn’t even see the wall of the house rooting its foundations into the sky, just the great nothingness. Most of me knew what was ahead of me, but the fertile imagination of a 9 year old just couldn’t let go of the nagging fear of what would happen when I did step forward. I could tell myself all I wanted that it was just a trick,

© Andrea M. Buffa

12 THE MUSE

and all I needed was the courage of Batman to move a couple inches forward to go and explore this fantastical world. I could tell myself all I wanted, but I was never quite brave enough. Once or twice I would even put a foot out over the edge, and gently lower it down to the level where the tile should have been. Except the tiles never were there, due to the ledge. This lack of continuation of the ceramic tiles was all my imagination needed to whip my foot back quickly, tear the mirror down from face and run to the pantry for a calming slice of cake. If anyone caught me, especially my older cousins, I would never admit that I was scared of falling, just that I didn’t want to end up in with the goldfish once again. Looking back on it, I should have let that tiny part of my childlike brain stay for a little longer, and let myself stay persuaded that it was a straight drop down. One day though, just a before my tenth birthday, I made the mistake of growing up. Instead of letting the part of the brain that still told me that the magician had made the coin disappear be eaten up by my growing rationality, I should have stayed a kid for a while longer. One day, I took the step forward.

© Paul Latheron

THE MUSE

13

MRS. DALLOWAY AT THE LSE
Chloë Pieters
I can see you as a good politician’s wife, Manic gleam in your eye whittled down to The polish of ambition, only veiled by a modest swathe of lashes, Perfectly painted, in black like ink. The frown of academic frenzy smoothed to The burning question of whether shrimp hor d’oeuvres Will go down well with the Chilean ambassador. I can see you as a good prime minister’s wife, Running such a frugal household, Not frugal as in the days I knew you – The days when laundry was a last resort, when walking for miles To save a few pounds was commonplace: not like this, but Still wearing your mother’s hand-me-down sweaters, Still wearing the pearls your father gave you. I can see you so well, my beautiful, happy, brilliant girl, Contented with that perfectly polished life he would present you – You were born happy and brilliant and beautiful, And you would be so happy in that soft wide world without edges – Cultivated flowers in crystal vases – the perfectly frilled petals, how deep the colour, Of roses, carnations, scentless in a crystal cage; the glass statue of the dolphin, The dining-room table inlaid with mother-of-pearl, sofa upholstered in Blue Italian silk – Perhaps not recognising your own face in the morning: The curls smoothed to silken blandness, The daily swipe of mascara a lifeline. How can you be my blurry-eyed girl with the coffee cup, The girl with ink-stains, without an ironing board, My girl with textbooks drifting from her fingers like snowflakes, With theories and queries and a terrible laugh, My girl in mismatched skirts, dancing through the kitchen, Singing while you do the dishes – My girl. And yet his girl, Frozen vodka, salmon on ice, sweaters pressed, shoes polished hard,

14 THE MUSE

My beautiful, happy, brilliant girl with her smile, Her teeth like pearls, the pearls around her neck, Her mother’s sweaters, still, over pencil skirts, Hair submitted to a sleeker force than nature’s will, Bone china cradled in slender fingers, Hands white and soft as milk, against a background of scampi Arranged in cocktail glasses. My girl, I can see you As his girl, as A good politician’s wife: Beautiful, brilliant, happy. Perfectly contented, just as you were Perfectly contented to be scruffy-soled, rumpled-sweater, ink-blackened beside me – Manic eyed, sleep deprived, beloved by me – With your thoughts like fire and the endless narrative which accompanied Every bird-like gesture, every extravagant wave. How can you have been happy with me If it is possible for you to be with him? Does this have significance, could you really be perfectly contented to be Perfectly contented? You are Mrs Dalloway on the make, Today a whirlwind amid the planted wheat, tomorrow A compromise, like all of us here Becoming straighter and neater, grander and richer, than we would have wanted At the beginning of it all. Pleased and pretty and polished, polished, polished: Money and peace, forgiveness and compromise, evening suits, Calfskin gloves, pressed powder, painted cheeks: His beautiful girl, his model wife, with a musical laugh And salmon on ice And the daily swipe of mascara that becomes Something like happiness, something like a choice: A lifeline to all of it.

Image © Mehrunnisa Yusuf

THE MUSE

15

SAUSAGES AND SULPHUR
Vanessa Corcoran

sausages and sulphur yeasting in the damp alley air grime settles from sky to rock and dews in your nose. breathe it in blow it out cough the exhaust of the stifling mist condensed by a city boiling with flavours Mate, do me a favour: Put out your fag and walk.

© Fahad Shakil Khan

16 THE MUSE

A LOVE SONG (FOR THE PASSING)
Jia-Chuan Kwok

I dream of how a love so immaterial speeds on its empty road, streetlamps blinking, winking as we hurtle through curled under their carefree grins, careless ourselves, we rest upon the fountain that spirals to a cadence swirled revolution set to the lilting of fingers; piano that caresses a glissando, (that sweet, delicious tone) simple, unspoken voices, and we marvel how the clouds melt away for us. there, dear, how you once wished the moon to grow full (for a passing) to pluck the stars, anoint yourself in sheets of light, slashed into the lyrics of night. to ride skywards onto a curtain hung beyond windows scribbling a goodbye on the wind that (for a passing) fluffs my hair back, combs it black dresses my lips as the smoke that licks them flits as you left (for the passing.)

Image © Jia-Chuan Kwok

THE MUSE

17

THE HOMELESS
André Tartar
Evgeni, my older brother, paces nervously in our one room, the muted light of early afternoon seeping in from outside. Our second floor room barely allows enough space for a worn double mattress and some pacing room. Twenty-seven with tangled straw hair and wide shoulders from years of farming, his bulk entirely blocks each of the room’s three windows as he passes by them. His back-and-forth, back-and-forth fills the room with nervous activity and flickering light. I shift a little on the bed corner, sidling over on my hands. Evi crashed into the room panting and brooding less than twenty minutes ago, much earlier than normal for a workday. I immediately asked him what was wrong, but he just began pacing silently, darkened by a shade of nervous anger. Or perhaps it was fear. He hasn’t said a word since. “Fucking bastard fired me.” he suddenly blurts out, his pupils flaring. “Fired all of us. Immigration was snooping around. Said he couldn’t risk it. But we’re the ones who lose out in the end!” That’s what’s upsetting him. I had been anxious all day to tell him my sliver of good news, but I decide against it. At least until he calms down. Turning to me, “please tell me Anton came through on that favor”; a glint of desperation flashes in his pleading eyes. “Immigration already picked up two of my coworkers, Czechs. I need to lay low, avoid the warehouses.” Evi drives a forklift at a furniture warehouse; well, he used to drive a forklift. “If he’d get you a job, it might give me some time.” Here’s my chance. “Actually, I met Anton today at the corner, at Khalil’s, around ten,” I offer up. “He says he got me a job at the supermarket where he works weekdays, over by the train tracks. His manager hires our kind without too much fuss. Said I’d end up a stock boy or something in the backroom. That’s good news, right?” I watch him closely for any reaction, but he just returns to his marching, concentrating intensely on the floor a few steps ahead of him. His jaws and fists are clenched less tightly but the tension remains, which I can see in the deep furrow in his forehead. Anton’s from back home. Home being Poltava, two-thousand-three-hundred-andtwenty-five kilometers away in the Ukraine. He left Poltava about four years ago and worked his way westward: Prague, Stuttgart, Bremen, Salzburg, Paris, and unknown places in between. I remember the postcards his mother used to show us of palaces lit up, wide tree-lined avenues, and bustling cities. In one of them, a sparkling Eiffel

18 THE MUSE

Tower in the background, he said that Paris was the best of the lot, a true city of immigrants, a city made for immigrants. That’s how Evi and I ended up here on the outskirts of Paris, in Champigny-sur-Marne. We came to find the jobs that didn’t exist at home. We came so our families wouldn’t have to support us. We came so we could support our families. It’s ironic, though. This one-room apartment doesn’t feel like home but from the outside, it might as well be. Our three-story tenement wears the same Soviet-gray dress code of Kiev. As Evi reaches the wall furthest from the door, his gaze drifts to the stained walls above the mattress, and rests there. Since moving in we’ve often been momentarily entranced by these water stains, which seem to come alive with the little light that makes it into the room. We’ve spotted haloed Marys, misshapen menageries, and even alien scripts. He studies the walls intensely for a few minutes, perhaps searching for salvation in their enigmatic depths; abruptly he turns, places his back against the wall, and slides down it. Evi in a fetal crouch on the floor, it’s practically an admission of defeat. But it was he who got us this far, safely: past Polish border guards, through Germany on foot. He never gave up. He never lost hope. My voice cracking with uncertainty, I suggest he relax. “I’ll check with Anton if I can start right away. Maybe I’ll make a little more than the others because of the French I’ve been practicing.” I’m not sure how much reassurance any of this is, but I press ahead anyway. I tug a soggy Le Monde sports section from under the mattress and display it as proudly as I dare. Evi glares at me so I quickly look down at my lap. Was it resentment in his eyes, or irritation? His glower always reminds me of my father’s, a stern discipline lurking below the surface. He turns his gaze toward the window, still a heap on the floor. Instead I look at the picture of Thierry Henry that dominates the newspaper page and practice the translation of the caption: Joueur-extraordinaire, Thierry Henry, marque son huitième point pour Arsenal pendant une match contre Liverpool le vendredi dernier. Arsenal is the team name, written in big white letters on his jersey, stark against his dark skin. The picture has him in mid-shot, the ball already moving away from his outstretched foot toward the goal, somewhere outside the frame. He looks like he’s flying, like even gravity can’t control him. “Do you really know any French?” Evi asks, a challenge clearly intended. “Can you say anything that might actually make you useful to a Frenchman?” Taken aback by the bitter response, I try not to show it. He’s never like this. He’s the caretaker and I’m the infant. At least that was how it used to be.

THE MUSE

19

I reply as if he hadn’t just snapped at me. “Umm. Futebol. Equippe. Victoire. I know loads of words and can even count up to one hundred.” I don’t mention that virtually all the French I know was gleaned from this single article. His glare softens but he reverts to the grey skies outside the window with little more than a weak shrug. After a few minutes, he pulls himself up to his feet, his joints creaking like an eighty-year-old’s. He trudges over to the corner of the mattress resting against the wall and, crouching low, pulls an envelope stuffed with money out from a rip in the mattress. As he starts counting out bills and coins, I go back to Thierry. By the time I’ve read the article through once, Evi is already counting the money out on the floor for the fourth. He’s been murmuring the whole time, mostly to himself, “what will we do, what will we do”. This time when he finishes counting he grumbles, “twenty-nine, eighty-three”. Still not satisfied, he puts the small pile of money back into the envelope and starts the process all over again. The deep furrow that remains on his brow confirms to me that he is finding no solace in that envelope. Maybe he just needs to unwind, take the edge off. Since I know he often goes for a beer after long days at the warehouse, I propose “what about going for a beer at the corner kebab?” I suggest it cautiously, trying to make it sound almost like a joke, in case he reacts badly. “They have Lech, Polish I think.” Not quite the same as Ukrainian beer but I guess it’s as good a way as any to spend so little money. There’s not even enough in the envelope to cover a week’s rent. As soon as the words are out of my mouth Evi spins around, his eyes glinting with surprising reproach, perhaps even suspicion. But he almost immediately relaxes, his entire frame drooping. This full-body shrug is as close to agreement as I’m sure to get from him. But I had expected at least some resistance, some attachment to the meagre fruits of his labour and sweat. It’s not like this day would never come. We illegals live in limbo. We get fired, caught, deported, sneak back in, get caught, deported, and life goes on. Anton had told us as much. Getting arrested in Prague in a restaurant kitchen. Fired from a job in a Salzburg bakery. Sent back to the Ukraine once. “Only if you really want to, Evi.” I quickly add, unsure if a drink will be medicine or poison to him. “What with rent and all. I know it’s not…” Gruffly, “No, you’re right little brother. A beer would be nice. Not right now, though.”

20 THE MUSE

Image ©

He rests his head in his hands, his shoulders slump as if his frame is collapsing under a Herculean weight. I don’t press him. Maybe I’m meant to be the caretaker now. Maybe it is Evi’s turn to be protected. As I get my first glimpse of the despair that must be gripping Evi, a flash of what I can only describe as divine assurance courses through me. It illuminates a simple truth. What choice do we have? “Sure thing, we’ll go later. Anton said he’d be around later anyway. Maybe we can go then.” I leave him alone at that, with faint dawn light filtering through the grey overcast. It casts a warm wash across Evi’s pitiful form, softening him. Warm light of dawn, like back home. I imagine that his mind probably drifts there, thinking back to Poltava girls and wheat fields, back to the small farm and Mother’s lumpy goulash. A knock at the door rouses me from sleep. For a moment I struggle to understand what had happened, but then I realize I must’ve dozed off. Evi is still in the same position I last remembered him. At the second knock, he gently unfurls, first turning his head toward the door and then to me. He doesn’t say a word but his pleading eyes say it all, as creases radiate from the corners of his eyes. Worry. He’s worried and scared. Like an animal cornered. I stand up, watching Evi as I do. My movements are deliberate and slow, almost as if not to startle him. “Who’s there?” I ask. My eyes never leave Evi, in case he tries to run to safety. But run to where? I don’t think that even he knows where else to go or what else he can do. “It’s me. Anton. Let me in, I’ve been holding it in since I left work.” Evi barely looks at Anton when he comes in, who heads straight for the bathroom door. Anton is our first cousin, from our mother’s side. Better friends than Anton and Evi you won’t find. Sometimes it is hard to dispel the feeling I have of being a tagalong, of intruding. A short while later Anton emerges from the stained tile bathroom and walks over to the window in front of the mattress and leans on it. The room is so small that the addition of Anton must be a strain on the oxygen levels, I think to myself. Standing room is now in short supply. Evi is still hunched up against the wall, staring at the floor at Anton’s feet. At first he doesn’t seem to notice, maybe he thinks Evi’s just exhausted. But when a few moments go by and no one moves or speaks, he perks up and takes a step toward my
Charles Montaldo

THE MUSE

21

brother, “What’s up with you today, Ev?” When he doesn’t get an answer he looks at me, looking for an answer not mine to give. I just shrug and sign to him that he should propose we go out for a drink, that it might calm him down. He picks up on it. “So, um, Ev, you up for a drink?” Silence. “Seriously what’s wrong?” genuine concern creeps into his voice. “Whatever it is, a drink can cure it. I’ve been through some rough patches, trust me it helps.” Evi looks up and gives Anton a faint smile. “You two go. I’m fine, really. I’m just not… I’m tired.” He reaches into the envelope and pulls out a five-euro bill. He beckons me to come near to take the bill. “Come on,” I plead, “it’ll be fun.” As soon as I utter the word I immediately regret it. But the only reaction from Evi is a feeble attempt to wave off us. “Just go. And Anton,” he looks searchingly into his best friend’s face, “thanks for helping Mikhail with the job. Really.” I want to stay, but I do not know what I can say. I do not know how to help. So I take the five-euro bill still in my brother’s outstretched hand. Anton also seems to think it best not to push because he makes for the door. Stuffing the sports page under the mattress corner, I pocket the five and follow Anton out. “You want me to bring you anything back. A Lech?” I offer from the door. I could be mistaken, but I swear his entire body let out a deep sigh just then, wilting like a forgotten flower. I’ll make this better for him, I swear to myself. I’ll do whatever it takes, just like Evi has. “Later Ev.” Anton calls into the room as he starts down the steps. “Sleep it off, buddy. Trust me, things will turn out ok.” Does even he believe that? I want to say something more, but Evi preempts me. “Turn the light off,” he says, like an order. The solitary light bulb winks off in a crackle of electricity and vacuum. But even in the twilight of the darkening sky I see his lips already moving. But can’t make out what he’s saying. As I close the door Evi becomes little more than a dark spot against a mottled landscape. “The first time is always the hardest,” Anton tells me as I reach the bottom of the stairs, where he’s waiting patiently. No one had said a word but he knew what was wrong. He’d had a ‘first time’ himself, after all. And a second, third. Perhaps even a fourth. We can make it, I say to myself as convincingly as I can. I’m sure of it. But is my faith in the future enough? Enough for both me and Evi?

22 THE MUSE

© Hristo Guertchev

THE MUSE

23

BEAR

Hannah Gomersal

I walked today over slabs of Leicester Square, under a kaleidoscope of canopies, ubiquitous yet bare. Then behind one café window, lay eyes I know so well, a paper face of lilies destined to repel. How did it come to this? Adolescence withers unfed, each willow of punctured arm flashing it’s holy thread. Two plums stare back at me; lips of violet hue, can you see this porcelain doll; that love you did once pursue? Uplifting is the gasp of nostalgia as I recall only five years ago, the bashful meetings on mossy carpets of the parkland we both know. Bridged hands and tangled limbs, we slip dip dreamed away, bodies wet like shining chestnuts as they morphed into the day. Then that summer, left to the trocadero, sewing my last goodbye. You clutched the package, of soft denim bear, I never allowed you to untie. And yet here I stand in front of you, reminiscence so different to now, with your lipstick smudged distance and that stubborn heroin vow. Smuggled away from the light of day, without a single farewell, destiny sealed by the body snatchers, that we could not foretell. I wave at your iris unblinking, you do not even know, so with one last tear I decide that finally I must go. You recall my face no longer. You do not know my name. I walk away from my lost bear, Closure, I can finally proclaim.

Image © Nuara Choudhury

24 THE MUSE

PORTRAIT
Jared Pilosio

Unremembered memories My head cocked back She grins into the camera “What’s so funny?” “Why do you ask?” Unremem“You’re smiling” bered And I was memories My head cocked

Image © Eleonara Schinella

THE MUSE

25

THE WOMAN UNDER THE RAIN
Giovanni Birindelli
This will be our third day of climbing, the day we are supposed to reach the peak. The weather so far has been marvellous, but we know that this afternoon it will get worse. However, we intentionally forget it. The peak has a gravitation force of its own, a gravitation force acting on the minds, not on the bodies, and going up, not down. Climbing a mountain brings you into a different dimension, it creates an intimate dialogue with your own body, your muscles, your breath, your temperature, your sweat, your cells, your fear, your unknown parts and resources. You and your body finally share the same rhythm. The mind discards any thought that is not relevant to the dialogue with the body, and with the mountain itself. Not even a cancer, or a child’s death, or a love could exist while climbing. There isn’t physical space for anything else but the search and maintenance of this rhythm. It is a parallel world, with different forces, and different rules. When we start climbing it is still dark. The sound of the crampons grasping the ice is comforting. After a few hours the ice becomes vertical rock, and the air becomes fog. When we reach the peak, we are above 4,000 metres. The air is thin. We have everything below us, but we can see nothing. There is a strong wind: crystals of snow on my face bite like invisible insects. The spell created by the effort suddenly vanishes: the rhythm is broken. I feel cold, and thoughts re-enter my mind. I think of my recurring image, a day dream I have often had, though I don’t know its origin, or its meaning: a person, a young, beautiful woman, is lying unconscious on her belly against the asphalt of an isolated road in a remote countryside. It rains. It rains on her back, on her head, on her hair, on half of her face. Her white cheek is pressed against the rough, cold, black pavement. Her thin, dark, drenching hair mixes with the dirt of the road. I lift her gently in my arms and I take her home. Of course, this would be the very last thing I would do in such a situation: I would call immediately for an ambulance, or the police. But in my daydream I don’t. I accommodate her in a large, clean, warm bed, in a spare bedroom with its own bathroom. Then I go to the living room, next to the fireplace. I stand there, looking at

26 THE MUSE

the fire, waiting for her to awake. The film stops here: I never manage to go beyond this point, however hard I try. It is as if there was a wall beyond which imagination could not go. In this moment, on the top of this mountain, I cannot imagine that a few hours later I will discover her identity. ***

©

Giovanni Birindelli

Sitting on a rock, surrounded by fog, we drink and eat something. However the wind is so strong and it is so cold that we cannot stay still for long. Soon we start the descent. We leave the clouds above us, but what we see below them is not reassuring. A thunderstorm is approaching. We speed up our pace and eliminate the stops to drink. While crossing a ridge, I fall into a crevasse. I immediately hammer my ice axe into the ice, my lower body swinging in the void. The roped-party security system works well, my companions’ reaction is fast. Nothing happens: I

THE MUSE

27

get up, try to make a joke, and we continue going down, fast. *** It happened in the middle of a three hours long, mostly vertical wall. From far away, lightning looks like a crack in the sky, or like a tree upside down: it has a precise shape, it looks as if it had been designed. There is something delicate about it. But when lightning falls less than a metre away from you, it is quite different. It doesn’t have any shape, only violence. It is sudden, and absolute. The rock trembles, and makes a delicate, terrible noise. When seen from short distance, lightning is a big “No!” from the sky, to which there is no possible answer. The lightning falls between Christian and me. We look at each other in the eyes, without saying anything. After a few moments, while I start realising that I am still alive by accident, we all start getting rid of our metallic equipment, very rapidly: ice axes, crampons, krabs, etc. We huddle where possible, motionless and in absolute silence. And we wait. Shortly before the lightning, I had a problem with my harness. It was something banal, but I couldn’t solve it. This gave me a measure of my fear. Outside I was relatively calm and lucid, but somehow Christian understood that I was approaching the borderline between fear and panic. So he ap© Giovanni Birindelli

28 THE MUSE

proached me and fixed that banal problem for me. Instantly his help made me calmer. Team spirit. I have often found it where people do not talk about it. We wait. Lightning is falling all around us. I look at Christian with a barely contained fear. He has two children, a boy and a teenage girl, and he tells me, with a gentle smile: “There is nothing we can do”. In that moment I realize that I am the weakest of our group. We are all scared, but I am the only one whose borderline between fear and panic is unfenced. Their example prevents me from crossing that invisible border. If the others had been like me, things might have turned out differently. I had often wondered what I would think in such a situation. I imagined having very deep thoughts about the meaning of my life, or desperation for the risk of leaving it. But I have only three thoughts, in the following chronological order. The first one is a desire for a warm Thai soup. The second thought is asking myself whether I would ever take a warm bath again. The third thought is about her, whom, one year and a half earlier, on these same mountains, I left for another girl, a mirage I knew before it would be devastating but also inevitable. I think of her, not of the mirage. *** The thunderstorm lasts about twenty minutes. As soon as we think it is over, we quickly recuperate our gear and continue our descent. We are dehydrated and even though we cannot feel hungry, we know that we need energy. In addition, I hardly slept the last two nights. However we see that a second thunderstorm is approaching, and we have to quicken our pace, to the extent that we often do without basic security precautions, relying on our dehydrated muscles when we are in the worst physical conditions to do so. The fear is gone, replaced by total concentration and gratitude. My body works in harmony with my mind, in a way I cannot explain. I see my body like a bank which is lending me a huge amount of money without any collateral, for an extremely risky project, in the moment I need it the most. I tell myself that, should I survive this, my body will rest and eventually will go back to its normal state, but, somehow, somewhere, it will always keep memory of what is happening here, and I will have to respect this memory. ***

THE MUSE

29

A couple of hours before we arrive at the base, we realize that the danger is over. The second thunderstorm missed us. Eventually we stop, and finally drink and eat something. I remember once doing a scan. I was injected with a liquid: “This will feel a little cold” the doctor said. Indeed it was cold, but that was not was surprised me. The cold liquid flowing inside my veins made me feel them for the first time. For the first time I could feel the speed of my blood in them. I could feel that liquid entering the heart, and then leaving it. I could feel my heart. When I sip my warm tea and have some cereal bars, the absorption of energy and liquid seems instantaneous: I feel the energy flowing inside my veins in a way that reminds me of that cold liquid. *** When we arrive at the base it is dark again. Just before entering the refuge, we all hug each other. Our hugs are strong, almost violent. They are the channels through which all our fear, our exhaustion and our joy to be alive come to surface. We are drenched, exhausted, dehydrated, starving, cold, but safe and intact. We find it difficult to part, but now, inside the refuge, it seems that we don’t know what to say. We have become strangers again. We ask ourselves the usual, banal questions, in the usual, banal way, as if we had just met on the train: “Where are you staying?”. I find out that Christian has to drive four hours to get home. Driving four hours in our condition is simply impossible. I think of my day dream: “this is quite a coincidence,” I tell myself: Christian needs shelter, and I can offer him a warm, clean bed to rest and recover. At school I hated having to translate texts from the ancient Greek, but there is one I can still remember. It’s about two generals of ancient Greece who are fighting against each other in a battle, but unexpectedly discover that an ancestor of one of them had been a guest in the house of an ancestor of the other. The battle stops immediately and the same evening a party with both armies is organized with an exchange of presents. Hospitality was holy and bound. It took me quite a long time to convince Christian to spend the night at my

30 THE MUSE

place. It is curious how a person who saved your life in a particular situation can hesitate to accept a very simple form of help in a different one. *** We are in his car, driving home. The windows are steamed up. We are both shivering. Outside it rains. I am happy that Christian will spend the night at my place. It is something different from my day dream, but not much. It is something real, but the identity of that young woman remains mysterious. After a few minutes of silence I find myself thinking of a novel I had once thought but never written. It happens to me quite often: finding myself thinking about something without knowing which chain of thought brought me there. When it happens, I always try to trace back the origin of the thought. When I manage, often I am surprised of the strange path that led to that thought. Sometimes I do not manage. But this time it is different: I remember exactly what was the last thought before that of my unwritten novel: I was thinking of the mysterious young woman lying under the rain. But what is the link between the two? What does an unwritten novel have to do with that recurrent thought? “Lesson learned,” Christian says. I look at him as if I was waking up from my thoughts: “Sorry?” I ask. “I’ll never climb again with these weather forecasts.” “Yes. Me too... it was stupid.” I turn again towards the window, trying to polish a small bit of it from steam to see outside. We are so worn-out that silence isn’t embarrassing. I cannot help thinking about what the link between the woman under the rain and the unwritten novel could be. Can it be that that young woman is that novel I have not written? I think about it, and the idea becomes immediately deeper and wider: it expands as if it had a force of its own, as if a cork had been removed. Could it be possible that she is all the stories I have never written? All the ideas I have not developed? Can it be that she is all the things that were crushed under my practical life? That all that day dream is trying to tell me is that I have to give a home also to the part of myself I have been neglecting? I smile. The guest room has its own bathroom, and a clean, warm bed. And tonight someone will be sleeping there.

THE MUSE

31

JANUARY PROCESSING OF DECEMBER RECOLLECTIONS
Erin O’Halloran

How to explain that you have me, all, everything - my pulsing beet red heart leapt into the grasp of your abnormally large palms. And you, torn and distracted, unsure what to do with me the proper course of action; Just Process; Ends and Means. My jetlagged body lies long past midnight, memory working feverishly to imagine your warmth beside me, the whispered conversations I only enjoyed long enough to miss everything about you held just close enough to sear into my skin

32 THE MUSE

We sit in relaxed lighting and you seem thrilled to rediscover my hair, my eyes, but your image is so cut into my mind as to make looking at you essentially superfluous… I stare, though, and stare.

You say no one can read you. But I have come back to you and back to you wearing each page down to tissue until your spine spilled open like a fan of transparencies between my laboured fingers, smudged with sandalwood. The reward of countless hours breaking prayer beads: A moment’s flit over those stained and hampered palms.

THE MUSE

33

Image © Jia-Chuan Kwok

THE LUTE PLAYER OF CONSTANTINOPLE
Andreas Marcos Papasifakis

He took his clean lute of polished spruce In the dry light and played Its rusty notes. Sounds spread in the unfenced air And birds sat on soil and seed. He scattered his song and it turned into bloom and fruit. There were fat plummy notes and twangling ones too, And thick ones that groaned like bellyfulls of beer And he plucked strings till the grainy dusk set on the unswept stone till the shift and glisten of firelight till the harsh fabric of his finger had faded on the dark-flecked ash, And the clouds’ murmur hinted Of the night’s downpour. And why did he stop, leaving them in such an awful silence, -a milestone between two infinitiesto face the crackling of the dry earth? Unlocked and lifted, they faced The confluence of forces in a flickering hand. “There’s work to be done”. Fill the brazier with coal. Fill the priest’s bottle with a pool of oil.

Image © Nuara Choudhury

34 THE MUSE

BIRD CAGE

Anthony Bavan

As they parade our prized bird before us, Sorrow’s vials shatter and set in our palms. His once euphonic song of hope and love, Raped and replaced by the chime of chains, A chime that tolls and says that our time Has passed and faded like his plumage. They leave him before the mocking glass, My reflection imposed on his image. Oh those wings! Those once proud wings of faith! That once sheltered both her and me, Now hide claw marks of the State and slander. Silence, save the soft murmurs of mortar That tell of the past unhappy reunions Of free babes before their captive shadows, Of lovers that come like faithful pilgrims, Of lovers who now love others and will Never show, though the conned bird still awaits. To tear off the wings of horned Angelo*, To throttle his voice of recorded law, To press him hard against the cold steel bars, Would only give me strength to brave today. Icy sunlight falls on his ravaged wings As he calls us to his loving embrace Yet not now; not ever; not for two decades. Before father, mother and son can age As one outside this forsaken bird cage.

* Lord Angelo from Shakespeare’s ‘ Measure for Measure’ Written in Spenserian verse and inspired by time spent at C.C Rebibbia Maximum Security Prison, Rome, Italy as part of legal training and work experience, Christmas 2005

THE MUSE

35

THE MYTHS OF PRAGUE
Jia-Chuan Kwok
“Franz Kafka was born into a myth called Prague. A city with three human groups (Czechs, Germans and Jews) at work… the conflict leaves its mark on the city’s physiology, turning the districts into hermetic compartments, drawing out invisible borders, but it does not determine the ultimate nature of the cage. We also have to intuit it from the bird’s point of view.” - Inscription in the Franz Kafka Museum Whether the man would have liked it or not, Kafka is an industry in Prague, ready to be presented to starry-eyed tourists just like the Old Town Square and the Charles Bridge. Every bookstore has tomes by and about him stacked on the shelves, most taking centre stage amid a backdrop of notebooks, bookmarks, pencils and magnets. Kafka is The Metamorphosis, Die Verwandlung and La Metamorfosis all at once, and even a little square in the centre of town bears his name – namesti Franze Kafky. In all this dizzying whirl of reproduced print and photographs, the Franz Kafka Museum lies quietly in the background, an understated green building unmarked on most tourist guides. Yet upon entering it, I am struck by the raw solitude that hangs in the air and permeates the walls; black, unfurnished, one-dimensional. It makes no attempt to soothe your disquiet as you walk through Kafka’s life – little scrawls of his novels adorn the walk, extrapolated into the landscape, dogging your steps. I pass through a wall of cabinets, perfectly obsidian in their rigidity, their grotesque harmony only disturbed by a telephone that barks out the translation of his letters – naturally, the pitch and tone are flat and unwavering, the pace that of a marching-boot. An involuntary chill passes through me, and I walk on, unable to reconcile such dispassion. For I am the bird, the outsider, looking into a window of Prague, the Bohemian city that has four thousand years of history behind it, has housed kings and emperors and fallen victim to plague and tyranny. The Kafka Museum, windowless and veiled in the deepest black, defies such a view. To understand Kafka, perhaps more than any other, is to transplant yourself back into his time, one monochrome and machine-less, and watch him transform the city into a surreal complexity, caged and unable to escape even if it wanted to. In a word, Kafkaesque.

36 THE MUSE

Image ©

*** Prague is one of the few major European cities with two distinct town centers, and they could not be more different. Like a man who has come into sudden, newfound wealth, the New Town dresses itself in dazzling lights and fancy metallic buildings, where boutiques and not bric-a-brac are the order of the day. The Old Town Square prefers to retain a humble wood-and-brick façade, an untidy collection of street stalls and antique rooms together with the reluctant addition of the Western tourist necessities: bureau des change, souvenir shops and drinks machines. And as if to compensate for its shabbiness, the Old Town tugs at the heartstrings of its visitors by the perfume of nostalgia; that attentive old shopkeeper behind a shelf of books, the chirpy woman tending the sausage store who tells you stories of love, the nameless old man with a tender saxophone who vanishes just as you want to applaud him. As a stranger, I soak all this in slowly, resisting the temptation to try and rush through life as I have been trained to do in school and meander along the cobbled streets. Little snaps here, little snaps there, as my camera captures pauses brushed with laughter and wonder. Amid it all, it is mystifying how the owners know so much about their trade; one can be indulged in endless stories of Dvorak and how the Water-Goblin chases his daughter in Rusalka, or about the stories of handmade marionettes that hang limply as their owner waves his hands excitedly. I walk into an old bookstore, washed in tones of sepia and brown, and between finding bargain versions of Milan Kundera’s Immortality and Fydor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, stop to play two games of chess with the owner. I win both, and afterwards while we discuss the Classical Sicilian Opening, he rushes off every few minutes to attend the calls of a customer. I wait patiently, knowing that he will come back, and I’ll have rearranged the chess pieces again. In the Wenceslas Square of the New Town, a medieval statue of King Wenceslas IV looks distinctly out of place, sandwiched in between a McDonalds and Hugo Boss. The whole square seems to have been brought over from a London high street; Zara, Mango, Calvin Klein and the lot are all here. I am politely and firmly reminded by a uniformed salesgirl that photography is not allowed. There is nothing more to write about – I am within myself here. ***
Jia-Chuan Kwok

THE MUSE

37

And yet tucked away within the glitziness of the New Town is an artefact of the not-so-distant past – The Museum of Communism. Only fifteen years removed from the Velvet Revolution that toppled Communism, the Czech Republic is still largely silent about the whole period, preferring to erase it from memory and paint it over with a palette of democracy and freedom. After all, the West did win the Cold War, didn’t they? Going towards the Museum, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that you were going to a casino; after all, both share the same stairway and the little corner entrance of the former is overshadowed by the vivacity and gloss of jackpot signs and roulette wheels. Going inside, you see the manifold layers of the big, monolithic evil that has been attached to the word “Communism”, blazing posters screaming death to capitalism and America, busts of Stalin, Lenin and Marx sculpted down to the tiniest details and border posts where guards would receive a watch for shooting trespassers dead. What strikes the eye about the exhibitions is the sheer detachment towards the people; they are never mentioned in the early years, a stark counterpoint to the video of the Velvet Revolution. There, the ordinary person forces his way into the spotlight, whether when being set upon by plainclothes police, waving banners in desperate defiance or holding night vigils by the millions upon Wenceslas Square. Jan Palach, the 19-year old student who burnt himself to death in protest of Communism, has largely disappeared from a world of globalization and Google, but the Museum of Communism is battling to save his memory. It is time for my opera. Communism, after all, is but history here. *** Above the Prague State Opera stand Dionysus and Thalia, the god of pleasure and the muse of comedy, but comedy is furthest from the minds of those who have come to watch Puccini’s Madame Butterfly tonight. Inside, spirals of gold embrace a fresco of the gods, seemingly just as interested in watching as us. Being an opera set in Japan and sung in Italian, it was always going to be interesting to see how Puccini negotiated the clash of culture. The set was Japanese enough, but Cio-Cio-San’s anglicized voice marked the distinction clearly, almost as if a geisha had been seen wearing an evening dress. And as we could follow neither the soaring Italian arias nor the Czech translations overhead, we turned to the music, with flutes, cellos and violins tracing out the story for us. At the end, it was not surprising that the conduc-

38 THE MUSE

tor received the loudest applause. Somehow, the play just didn’t feel quite right, in the way the bird wonders why the living creatures in the cage below are spellbound to the ground. And now, writing this from a café serving homemade Czech coffee, I look out of a window and see a KFC and an antique shop side by side, the smiling face of Colonel Sanders mirroring that of the gap-toothed antique owner. Like Cio-Cio-San standing on the bridge, waiting helplessly for the lover she knows has betrayed her, like Kafka’s stern face staring out of a thousand similar books, so I sit, my bird’s-eye view gazing wistfully at the myths of Prague. The coffee mug’s empty, and it’s time, unfortunately, to fly off.

© Jia-Chuan Kwok

THE MUSE

39

THE SOLDIER’S WIFE
Chloë Pieters

These are the things I will do for you: Polish the silver, dry the plates, stack them away; Always set the table for two, as if you will step in any minute; Wear beautiful dresses and do my hair every morning Even when you are not there to see me. Especially when you are not there to see me. So many things we don’t share, but I will keep The anchovies in their unopened tins, the prints Of sailing ships on the bathroom walls, the embroidered tablecloth You love because it was your mother’s: All waiting for you, bought for you, wiped clean for you, pressed for you, And when you return they will be there, like love always was. I will keep the grass trim and tidy, even though I have to cut it all myself. I will weed on my hands and knees If that will bring you home to me; I will bake Under the hot summer sun, I will burn and blister If you return and rescue me. If, if, if. I will take the curtains down and mend them, I will learn to live without a washer, I will Absorb myself with elaborate embroidery, I will be the perfect woman You would never leave behind. Come back for me, come back. Please come back and find me waiting for you: Let me take your hand and say to you: These are the things I have done for you; It is all here waiting, waiting, like love always has been: I have been waiting, waiting, like I always have been. Come back for me and touch the polished silver, Sit down at the table and look over at me,

40 THE MUSE

Drink from this bottle of wine waiting for you: I am waiting, I am burning, I am looking after you, I am looking at you, even though you cannot see me: I am loving you, even though you cannot feel me. I am the perfect woman (even if I am not perfect) Because my love is waiting for you always, and I would stand beside you, but my duty is to Wait. I will do that perfectly, wholeheartedly, And every moment of my being will be a song of love to you So loud you can always hear it. And it will call you, call you, And I will not stop singing it until you are here, Until you have come back, come back to me, And the perfect house and polished silver – the plates, The tablecloth, the wine and roses – and the love, The love that has been waiting, waiting, always, For you, only you, only you, always.

THE MUSE

© Publications International, Ltd

41

LOSS

Josh Tendeter

Shuffle through the old mans home? Why not? The door is open. Sneak past preying neighbours eyes See what’s there for taking. The hallway’s musty and uninviting But then, I’m uninvited. The postman’s been a dozen times, Unpaid bills and final warnings A notepad of important numbers Next to a phone that’s disconnected Today’s paper rests on tabletop And scribbles on it write: “Dear, I’ve just popped to the shops” Alongside it, a tribute photograph To a loving wife, Looks like “dear” has popped her clogs A quick rummage around, Not much worth stealing, An antique vase, a pair of earrings Nothing else that meets my eye, And then as I retreat, I spy a jar of marbles by the door; He’s losing them. Who will notice if I take some more?

42 THE MUSE

FACEBOOKING (EXCERPT)
Shira Keshet

So I wonder How it is that with Forty-one friends on Facebook I still feel So fucking lonely

THE MUSE

43

THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS EDUCATION FOR LIBERTY
Andreas Marcos Papasifakis
One sultry evening early in June, a man emerged from the alleyway fronting on Bear Gardens and turned slowly, with an air of resolution, towards Blackfriars Bridge; at first none of the other pedestrians appeared to notice that he was alight from head to toe. ‘I know what you will say before you peruse what I have written in there,’ he cried in a terrible voice, and tossed what appeared to be a book high into the air. ‘You will say that I am a man possessed! You will say, ‘Oh, this is the diary of a madman!’ But I have created a work of such wonder, a mystery in which many men will lose their way!’ he cried, before collapsing onto the floor. Lying awake in my room, I could hear the clock strike nine. How had I come to be confined there at that same hour once again when the sun was about to set and the roads of the world would soon grow dark? It seemed that I had withdrawn from society totally of late until I was prepared to shun almost every human face, venturing out only at night. Depression, poverty and excessive study were weighing me down. I had read till my eyes were sinking deep into my skull. For a few brief moments, I recognised the familiar smells and colours of a summer evening. The sounds of the town wafted in from the window. The cries of the newspaper sellers in the languid evening air, the shouts of the sandwich sellers, the clapping from the Globe Theatre, all marked out in my mind an invisible evening ceremony which I knew well. I suddenly twisted over in my bed, seized my overcoat, which was still wet from the previous night, and made my way to the door with a certain eagerness. On my way down the stairs I passed a pair of lovers whispering in an entranceway. I pushed my way through the door and gained the street. The glare of the sun seemed to dazzle me more than ever before. Already a dense mass of people was blocking my view of the man. Ordinarily the kind of individual who gravitates to the outer edge of any scrimmage, I shoved, butted, squirmed my way forward into the heart of the crowd. Soon I was within arm’s length of the man,

44 THE MUSE

but the way was blocked by an impenetrable wall of flesh; an enormous priest with a large shining bald forehead and an almost equally enormous youth, presumably his lover. The air reeked of sour sweat and incense. There was suddenly a furious, deafening roar. The crowd’s attention was directed to a heavy gypsy with an untamed beard and sparrow hands, who had seized a woman and placed a knife over her throat. He was a fearsome man all in coarse black, with a great scar on his cheek and deep wrinkles behind his neck. A man with no hat, and with torn trousers, and an old rag tied round his head. ‘All right people, who’s got the diary? Quick!’ growled the man. The woman begged the crowd with her eyes, from where piercing cries of disbelief resounded. ‘Please don’t cut my throat, sir’ she pleaded in terror. ‘Please don’t do it!’ ‘Nobody has found the diary yet,’ replied a gaunt man with an elongated face, ‘and you won’t get much for it now either. He’s as dead as a doornail. Leave the poor woman alone.’ The expression on the gypsy’s face changed. The annoyance passed out of it and for a moment he looked almost pleased. A sort of happiness shone through the dirt and scrubby hair. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘Filthy scoundrels!’ he shouted, spitting in the direction of the man’s body, ’if anyone finds that diary you tell them to bring it to me, or else I’ll find you, lop off your head and pickle it in spirits!’. He let the woman out of his grasp and dashed round the corner. Presently we heard the sound of gunfire and the shriek of sirens. I had seen quite enough of the depressing scene and decided to depart; in my solitude, I had grown unaccustomed to crowds. I walked along the River Thames in the direction of my university library under the low red glare of sunset. The rough wind cut through

© Nuara Choudhury

THE MUSE

45

my nerves like the lash of a whip. I nuzzled my chin into my breast in an effort to escape it. As I walked down Houghton Street I saw my friend Godwin. I usually trusted him, but I felt so morose that for some reason he appeared to me a man of forty faces, all of them deceptive, a kind of cartoon villain. He was a burly man of an exceedingly dark complexion, with a crooked nose and a large mole on his right cheek. We discussed fruitlessly the incident of the evening and, unable to make any sense of what we had seen, we travelled to the Four Swan’s in Bishopsgate, where we drained draughts of weird and wonderful beers; Dragon’s Brew, Mad Dog, Angel’s Milk, and Left Leg. We didn’t have anything to drink to except each other, and soon our discussion returned towards the incident of the day. ‘He was either a crackhead or a pedant!’ said Godwin, opening his toothless mouth. ‘Either way, he deserved an end like that! Do I need a psychologist or priest to tell me about him? Every week I hear people at our university propagating their high-sounding theories! Every one of them is a Devil! A pedagogical Devil I tell you, just like the armies that laid waste the fields of my homeland, slaughtered the cattle, and polluted the wells by throwing our dead therein.’ He had drunk too much and his eyes were growing misty, but they had kept their hard fire, the gleam of precious stones. ‘Maybe he was the Devil,’ I said, looking into his deep-set eyes, ‘but tell me this. Certain beings shift the boundaries of destiny, thereby altering history. Perhaps he has something encoded in the diary which can help a great many people - some startling revelation on human nature, for instance. As for his being a crackhead. I wouldn’t focus too much on that. A world without crime is like a language without profanity, it cannot exist! You should not make so much of his perceived amorality, there been many great men who were completely amoral.’ ‘Listen to me,’ he said, blowing smoke out of his hairy nostrils, ‘I don’t know why you read all these damned books if you can’t answer such a simple question! It seems to me that they have turned your brain to slush. You are confusing the prevalence of crime with whether a man is worth paying attention to. I will refute your second argument with an example from history. To the earlier Marx, the commodity led inevitably to the world market. Having nowhere further to go, the capitalist system would then give way to a higher form of economic and social organisation. Marx went back to the drawing-board, when he realised that in the real world the circulation of capital did not act this way. It did not necessarily expand into new areas, or inevitably destroy earlier forms of social and economic organisation. Capi-

46 THE MUSE

talism could happily coexist with traditional, communal types of social order, as was proved by his native Westphalia. He then revised the manuscript of Das Kapital, Volume I, removing references to the inevitable expansion of capitalism and its destruction of preceding systems. Still, some passages remained which suggested the earlier direction of his thought. For the French translation of 1872 Marx rewrote substantial sections, removing all trace of the philosophical framework, and adding passages to make it clear that he did not envisage an inevitable onward march of capitalism throughout the world. It was this French translation that Marx would cite in reply to Russian socialists who raised the question of Russia’s future economic development.’ Godwin paused to wipe the great beads of sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. ‘Despite these efforts to prevent giving the impression that Das Kapital stated that all countries were fated to undergo capitalist development, that was precisely the way his work was first received in Russia. This was largely due to the fact that the pamphlet he had published in 1859, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, had argued in this way, and had contained the memorable scheme of successive types of economic development: the Asiatic, classical, feudal and capitalist. The first person to propagate Marx’s ideas in Russia was Nikolai Sieber, the professor of economics at Kiev University. Sieber took the view that Marx considered capitalism to be a universal system and that he expected it to take root in Russia. His book was to provide Plekhanov and subsequently Lenin with their early conceptions of Marx’s economic ideas.’ ‘And your point is?’ I said. ‘My point is that in actuality, what the diary says is totally irrelevant. It could say nothing after all. It only says what we make it say. The individual who died today was probably one of those men who thought the world could be changed by writing a pamphlet, but pamphlets in themselves are nothing without the close scrutiny of the ballot box.’ His judgement strikes me with wonder. I realize that I am no match for his intellect and so as not to take up any more of his time, I reply, ‘You are absolutely right! I must be on my way now.’ Hmm. What is my excuse for leaving?

THE MUSE

47

“I need to study my papers.” I walk up to the door, bow and put my hand on the doorknob. ‘Good night!’ The street was almost empty. My head was awhirl again with the wildest fantasies. What if I were to discover the man’s diary suddenly, solve the mystery, and make a million pounds from it? My mind was like a rough and untamed landscape brimming with possibilities, but the occurrence of the day had left me shrouded in mist. It was quiet all around; I could hear only the heavy, clanking footfalls of a policeman in the side street and, far away, in the direction of St. Paul’s, a dog barking. I breathed in the night air and made my way home, where I collapsed on my bed with fatigue. I awoke the next morning to find myself drenched in sweat. There was a sudden rapping at my door. It was Godwin. He wished me good morning and handed me the newspaper. The diary of the man had been found. It was largely empty apart from one page in the middle. It contained several illogical ramblings and wild statements. He had, moreover, omitted dates. The diary read thus: I The day is slowly dying in every blade of grass and the dark monsters out there will suck me up when night comes on. II They took him to the mountains around Larnat, and there they asked him if it was true that he wanted to capture the heretics. He admitted that it was; and instantly Philippe and Pierre threw him off a great cliff, into a crevasse. The murder will remain a secret for many years. Guilhelm de Rodes, Raimond de Rodes, and the Autiers are safe for the time being. We need to interpret the past, not simply present it. III A few days ago a tenant of ours from Mylopotamos arrived at our house to

48 THE MUSE

report the failure of the crops and told my elder brother that a notorious character in their village had been beaten to death; then some people had cut off his ears, fried them in oil, and eaten them as a means of improving their hearing. They eat human beings, so they may eat me. IV This is how the present life of man on earth, King, appears to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us. You are sitting feasting with your ealdormen and thegns in winter time; the fire is burning on the hearth in the middle of the hall and all inside is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging; and a sparrow flies swiftly through the hall. It enters in at one door and quickly flies out through the other. For the moments it is inside, the storm and wintry tempest cannot touch it, but after the briefest moment of calm, it flits from your sight, out of the wintry storm and into it again. So this life of man appears but for a moment; what follows or indeed what went before, we know not at all. April 23, 1986 Rigorous analysis had revealed that the man was named Abdel Karim and was a distinguished player of the oud. It was claimed that he only truly fell in love once, in the bloom of his youth, with a young woman whose parents refused to allow them to marry. After four years, her parents finally approved, but the girl died of a chronic disease before the wedding. Abdel Karim never recovered from her loss, and dedicated many of his saddest songs to her memory, including Fi Youm, Fi Shuher, Fi Sana (In a Day, a Month, a Year) and the poignant Qariat el-Fingan (The Fortune-teller). He continued a life of apparent normality for several years, travelling and performing relentlessly, but the passing of time only added more bewilderment to his grief. Sickness and misfortune further soured his morose and acid disposition until one day he resolved to burn himself alive, convinced that life no longer offered anything worth the living. On the eve of his death, he doused himself in petrol and gave himself to the flames as a lover to a bed. According to the view of the journalist who had written the article, it was his final act of undying love for the girl. The mystery which he purported to have created in which ‘many men would lose their way’ was dismissed as a farce, a desperate attempt to furnish his

THE MUSE

49

suicide with a quasi-academic aura. Among the diary entries were a heavily plagiarized passage from the Anglo-Saxon historian and theologian Bede, a monk in the Northumbrian town of Jarrow, which seemed to stress, if anything, how aristocratic life in the Anglo-Saxon world was strongly communal: the great hall was a place of good cheer, a haven in a dangerous world. There was also mention of a medieval murder first recorded in the registers of inquisition in the year 1308, and an artistic caricature of Lu Xun’s Diary of a Madman. It was said that he suffered from several psychological complexes, despite the protestations of his family. He was dismissed as a madman, and the story was put to rest. Many years later, as I face the firing squad for crimes against the state (crimes which I do not recollect but must be guilty of, since I have been accused), I recall that distant evening when my father first chided me for studying history. He warned me that historical sources are not innocent; their voices talk to certain ends, intend certain consequences. It dawns on me suddenly that I have solved the mystery of Abdel Karim. The problem is not embedded within the diary; it takes place in time, not in space, and is merely pointed out by the entries. What Abdel Karim wished to highlight by his suicide and the writing of the diary, apart from his ardent love for the girl, was at once the impossibility and the possibility of history: that history, which aims at the whole truth, cannot ever reach it because of the myriad things which must remain unknown. Historians, he was suggesting, propose to us systems too perfect for explaining the past, with sequence of cause and effect much too exact and clear to have been ever entirely true; they rearrange what is dead, unresisting material. The only part of the diary entries which was not plagiarized or clearly based upon another text is the part which states, ‘We need to interpret the past, not simply present it.’ Abdel Karim’s problem was how to communicate this idea in a coded form, and the only way he could find was by placing it next to the plagiarized work of another historian in the hope that eventually, someone would notice. The rifles are cocked. I wipe the sweat from my face and listen to the soft wind breathing through the grass, church bells chiming in the distance. Sadness wells up within me, like blood from an inward wound and gushes out; yet it is intermingled with awe for Abdel Karim’s literary genius. On the olive trees the cicadas saw the air and I watch the moths fluttering on the heath. This is certainly a beautiful country! At this moment of despair, my past life affords me a retreat, so I decide to hold audience with my memories. I rec-

50 THE MUSE

ollect the marbled stairways of the Acropolis which I visited with my cousin when I was nineteen; I imagine myself wandering effortlessly as a child over my grandmother’s terrace bathed in the fresh sea spray of Episkopi; I picture myself kissing Asya on a staircase in my twentieth year and observe the softness and shimmer of her youthful flesh. It is not society’s failure that I will be shot here today; for a long time I have ignored its fundamental rules anyway. It is my fault that I did not expend greater effort in my studies to solve the mystery of Abdel Karim earlier. Had I duly weighed and considered all of the story and proceeded accordingly, I should have made a quite different figure in the world from that which people are likely to see in me now. I would probably be a rich man with several children! Now that there is no ship for me, no road to take, it is not my part to dwell in the strange labyrinths which grief contains; I should rejoice to have escaped the aridity of old age. I am afraid of the cry of the general as he commands his soldiers to open fire, but I bravely bite the dry muscle of my mouth and accept my fate; just as my own history is being extinguished, in this small corner of the earth, so it will be new created somewhere else in the world.

Image © Alberto Zamperi

THE MUSE

51

MORPHINE
NM Lopez

Cords and accordion lungs. They extinguish stars. A pat and you would pop: Raw split chicken skin And five chins. I scraped you Just. Train-tracking the blood Tube to the beat of your valves Peaked on screen. We excited you - you heard us. But eyes crusted over and Spine cramped, motionless, Flailing just a tad, You tried to cry. All those things you wanted, The needles kept you Paralysed.

52 THE MUSE

A MUTUAL, BUT COWARDLY, DECISION
Erin Orozco

When my body calls out to you, a siren song, with every sense capable, my eyes searching like lights across the seabed, my ears straining to hear your mooring and my nose sniffing for clues (hypersensitive) only to discover the scent of salt and abrasive Neptune between my toes in place of warm bed sheets, I wait for rescue and remember the words of an incantation that make my arms hesitate when I want to reach for yours, remaining lost. It reminds me that this decision is mutual though cowardly, overwhelming as being pulled by an undertow, flooding my senses. And perhaps that is the truest anchor that could ever weigh me down in a place that is tonight and always without you.

Image © Tresy Kilborune

THE MUSE

53

KARAOKE BAR
Alex Hamilton
There was so much I wanted to say to the young girl drinking the gin and tonic. But how could I be heard over the noise of the karaoke bar? I would like to have said, “Hello my name is Ben, and you?” But cool – I would have said it really cool. Or better yet, I would have taken her by the hand and walked her straight outside and told her, “I love you”. Then she would know I was sincere. But as I looked at her through the crowd, all of that seemed a long way off. There were barriers to overcome. I would need to earn my place in her company. There were too many nobodies, too many somebodies, for me to assume she would understand my position. A mere glance was not enough. I would need to tower over other men who hoped to win her affection. I would need to be graceful, charming, magnetic. Then, once she saw me clearly, we could be together. It was, however, a terribly intimidating environment. It was hard to get my footing among the group crowded around the stage. Every two and a half minutes a new star emerged from the crowd, took the mike and began to sing. The greatest music in history was being performed: Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles. Perhaps my buzz was influencing my perception, but the conviction of the karaoke-singers, their confidence - it was enough to make one believe it was their night, their show. I knew then I would need to have my time in the light. I would need to take the stage. How else could I be heard? If I could be brilliant for one track – one carefully selected moment in time – it would make all the difference. She would see me, wonder, and then she would know: “This man is not like the others.” So I decided, in that moment, to break away from the crowd and move toward the inevitable. I would do it once and do it right. I shouldered my way forward and waited for the stage to clear. I can’t remember the song before my own, but I recall the applause that lingered as I took the mike. The excitement that I imagined from the floor was now palpable. I made my request to the DJ and looked out – it was a full house. I envisioned the young girl sipping her gin and tonic distantly aware that another song was about to begin. Of course, she could not have anticipated the reality of the situation. I was about to perform one of, if not the most, beautiful songs ever written.

54 THE MUSE

In retrospect, Roy Orbison’s “She’s a Mystery to Me” may have been too great a challenge – the resounding quality of that man’s voice, its lofty haunting tenor, who could really do justice to such a thing? But his words, the magic air of those unforgettable words; I believed their magnitude would overshadow any shortcomings in my performance. The music began – a bongo-drum bass-line – and I was torn between brilliance and anonymity. I was on the verge of success, on the verge of failure. Then several high notes of an electric guitar sounded above the bongo-drums, then a snare drum, and finally the lyrics illuminated on the television monitor in front of me. It was the end of the road, or the beginning; I could only guess at the outcome of my performance. In the back of my mind I held a reserve of fear that could have consumed me, but the pounding in my chest and the light of new love filled me with inexplicable courage. “A coward dies a thousand deaths,” I reflected, “A hero—” It was time:
“Darkness falls and she Will take me by the hand Take me to some twilight land…”

I was plunged into the cold water, irrevocably thrown in motion. I was transfixed, metamorphosed, desperate to be great. When I closed my eyes I could feel the stage lights hot on my skin, and see their blue-red aura. The brightness intrigued me, seduced me, and I moved closer to them, as though warming myself beside a flame. What was it that ignited in me? Singing the first verse I felt moved by my words, or the words of Roy Orbison, which resonated through me as though they were my own.
“She’s a mystery girl She’s a mystery girl…”

As I hit the high notes of the chorus, I felt like a spectator at my own performance, disbelieving of the achievement. It was an out of body experience, the kind of thing that happens when you die on the operating table and hover above the doctors busy trying to mend your broken body, unable to stop the bleeding. I know it sounds incredible. But it was! I was a flame, or a lightning bolt, or a shooting star.
“In the night of love Words tangled in her hair

THE MUSE

55

Words soon to disappear…”

The second verse opened, and I slowly descended back into my body. Clutching the mike, I braced myself against all fear, all uncertainty, and willed the lyrics through the crowded bar, searching out the beating heart of the young girl with the gin and tonic. I wanted everything to be hers. She was everything in my thoughts and words. She was the music itself.
“She’s a mystery girl She’s a mystery girl She’s a mystery girl…”

I did not abandon the bittersweet chorus, not a single, resounding note. I closed my eyes more firmly against the bright light and strained myself to keep up with the immense intensity of it. I felt feverish, stretching the peak of my vocal range beyond the reaches of my imagination. I was a man possessed, not just revisiting a classic love song, but refashioning it in the glowing image of new love.
“Haunted by her side It’s the darkness in her eyes That so in enslaves me But if my love is blind Then I don’t want to see…”

So deeply was I entangled in the lyrics, I was no longer sure that I was in time with the melody or even, for that matter, if there was a melody to go with the words. The words, I was sure, were all that mattered. What more was there but to embrace the radiant heat of the spotlight, held suspended in the luminous gaze of love?
“She’s a mystery girl She’s a mystery girl She’s a mystery girl She’s a mystery girl…”

I don’t recall the final chorus – the blazing crescendo of Roy Orbison’s “She’s a Mystery to Me”. Looking back, I recall only opening my eyes to the dizzying light. As though in a dream, I descended from the stage. Several people congratulated me, but I felt at a loss for words. I couldn’t help but think all the best words had been exhausted; all the finest imaginings had been explored. But then she walked up to me, and I heard myself say, “Hello.” And when she smiled I said, “My name is Ben, and you?”

56 THE MUSE

© Hristo Guertchev

THE MUSE

57

LIKE MY GRANDMOTHER
Ann Lockhart

You are warm. Like my grandmother’s voice graphed on a screen it is scratchy with many blips yet it generates heat in my stomach. Your capable hands are like my grandmother’s, after she works on her flowers, the mud caked onto her fingernails, calling my mother to help her up off her knees, her red apron pocket filled with the bulbs she will plant at the next bed. She comments on the fir tree boughs I cut for her telling me that if I don’t cover them gently, the flowers will stay in the ground. You are soft, like her hair. I mess up her perfectly bi-weekly crafted curls, on purpose to make her happy. Stay, so I can remember her.

Image © Microsoft Clip Arts

58 THE MUSE

INCOMMUNICADO
Vanessa Corcoran

I wish I could tell you about the loneliness that crept in while you were out; it dripped in through the leak in the roof – cold and clear, wet and slow. It wells up inside me. The words sublimate thaw on my frosted kiss. My voice catches with the chill in the air. My gaze skirts your eye; I swallow and smile.

dissipate

THE MUSE

59

THE RECORD SKIPPED
Adam Kaasa
A soft light. That early morning, early-angle light. You might call it borderline darkness. Not quite night, but not yet dawn. It’s 5.17. It’s also March 3rd. And though every bone in my body aches, and my heart, my hands, my head all tell me to sleep, rest, dream, my eyes are open. My thoughts are settled. There will be no more sleep today. The double bed feels perilously empty. For a brief moment, maybe half a second, I’m fooled into thinking that he’s lying there, breathing soft as a baby lost in a sensory dream world. I manage to sit on the edge of the bed. I dare not turn around. For if I do, the beauty of that half second will disappear and I will be bound to spend the next nineteen hours in frivolous regret. I pull on my underwear. Holes tatter the ribbed elastic waistband and the tag says ‘Fruit of the Loom - M’. I can’t remember buying them. But who can remember buying white underwear? My slippers are harder to find. I’ve left them by the reading chair in the other room. And while I know that a warm and cushioned day awaits my feet, the hellish trek across the room on arthritic bones, bunions and blisters leads me to yell. A hoarse and coughed yell that whispers age and thirst. Water. The stove clock says 6.23. An hour for underwear and slippers. Oh, and the loo. I pour a glass of water and turn on the kettle for tea. There is sliced bread ready in the toaster from the night before and I let it down gently to the radiating red wafts. The paper has arrived, and I am without my glasses, at the front door. The bold headlines have become my news, glaring a short distance from my nose. But the toast is cold and hard, and the screaming kettle has caught my attention. I turn off the stove and fill my warmed brown betty with one bag and boiling water. My cup is filled just so with warm milk, and I retreat to my reading chair. The doorbell has rung. I hold my breath. It rings again, and then the sound of footsteps fades in the distance. A conversation avoided. It’s 10.13. I open the blinds. This is the moment of the day when all things come together. The sun, the light, the movement of the earth, the angles, the shadows, the potential. At half ten, it is gone. It will have moved into an established brightness that no one has ever managed to grasp. Noon passes

60 THE MUSE

in fluorescent horror tramping a forced honesty that muddles reason with rationality. Evening comes, and with it a poetic light that many have captured in prose and image, and yet at this point, the earth is spinning fast towards night. The golden hour of dusk is far too desperate a time, an early symptom of regret. Nor is early morning so great a time for it is tainted by an agitation, an eagerness that is much too raw, needs much too much work. The light needs too much care, too much thought, too much refinement - and there is too much risk. I stare out the window with momentary thoughtlessness as the light, that awesome light, hits between the creases on my face. I can’t remember if I’m hungry, or if I’ve eaten. If I have eaten, then I must be full, but then also the kitchen must be full of dishes. Although I can’t remember if I’ve done the dishes. I must be hungry. The kitchen sits stale. Musk and heartache. Empty breadbins and a fold down ironing board that is stiff from standing up, upwards and inwards. Here the light comes from overhead. The lampshade hangs twisted and white - like a modern sculpture with wisps of movement prodding the stagnant space. On the wall is a pattern that must have been delivered through compromise, for though I know that I never did care for it, times have changed and I can now sit and stare at this wallpaper for an entire afternoon. Especially if it’s raining. The rain makes shadows on the walls, the pattern comes alive, I can almost hear it speak. The rain makes noises that drown out the silence and for a second I half believe that he shuffles by the stove, that the warmth behind me is not the gas hob, but the human body taking up space and radiating some thing towards me. But today there is no rain. There are no clouds. There is no half second, and I am hungry. I awake in a shiver. The water is cold, and I am pruned and sensitive. My leg kicks and water splashes out of the bath tub and onto the floor. I slowly sit up, careful not to rush the blood from my head. I feel faint and feverish. My arms are shaking and I grab hold of the railings to pull myself out from the deep and the cold. The towel is damp and thin, nothing dries in this house. I use it to pat my tethered skin and mop up the floor. The towel, I hang on the radiator, and I put my finger on the mirror. My finger does not quite touch its reflection, cannot quite enter that world I see. The representational, the reflected. The two worlds remain imprisoned, separated by an angled look, by the space between two fingers. I can see everything, but can never touch it, never feel it, never enter and live the mirror, live with him again. It’s half ten and I am getting tired. I move back to my reading chair, but on the way I stop to put on a record. I pull out Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 2

THE MUSE

61

with Philippe Entremont on the piano. I lay the record down and it begins to play. The first eight chords come through. The most precious notes to ever have been written by a hand on manuscript. The record is just that. It records moments, time and space. Playing a record is time travel. The acoustics trapped forever on a round piece of vinyl, fragments of dust providing the atmosphere of that time, that place. The echoes, the coughs, the tapping of a foot, the murmur of a voice. A machinist reproduction, yes, but with soul, with depth, with materiality. This record has been warped by the sun long ago. The record skips, the head bounces over the black from cadenza to horn solo, from the weave of violin to the melt of piano. The brief glimpses of music are enough to soothe me. I fill the gaps with what I can remember, each brief note as perfect as the entire concerto. But never hearing its entirety is emptiness, is loneliness-is a lost chance at recorded potential. I awake to the repeating rhythm of the head piece meeting the cardboard middle of the record and slowly rise to avoid the blood rushing from my head. It’s 12.08 and my bed lies waiting to be filled with volume and heat. As I turn to the broken record the entirety of his life, of our life can never be played again. All that’s left are the skips between notes, and a short night’s sleep. Philippe Entremont on the piano. I lay the record down and it begins to play. The first eight chords come through. The most precious notes to ever have been written by a hand on manuscript. The record is just that. It records moments, time and space. Playing a record is time travel. The acoustics trapped forever on a round piece of vinyl, fragments of dust providing the atmosphere of that time, that place. The echoes, the coughs, the tapping of a foot, the murmur of a voice. A machinist reproduction, yes, but with soul, with depth, with materiality. This record has been warped by the sun long ago. The record skips, the head bounces over the black from cadenza to horn solo, from the weave of violin to the melt of piano. The brief glimpses of music are enough to soothe me. I fill the gaps with what I can remember, as each brief note is as perfect as the entire concerto. But never hearing its entirety is emptiness, is loneliness - is a lost chance at recorded potential. I awake to the repeating rhythm of the head piece meeting the cardboard middle of the record and slowly rise to avoid the blood rushing from my head. It’s 12.08 and my bed lies waiting to be filled with volume and heat. As I turn to the broken record the entirety of his life, of our life can never be played again. All that’s left are the skips between notes, and a short night’s sleep.

62 THE MUSE

© Nuara Choudhury

THE MUSE

63

Ashmi Ahluwalia

DRURY LANE

Hustles and bustles The black-tied iPod man smokes his cigarette amidst chaotic Chinese fruit and Indian takeaway. A Halloween mask gleams in morning rain-sun. Bespectacled faces try to clutch time with their Cartier watches. Difficult heels click in this home of beautiful chaos and soundlessness. Love and alcohol talk to each other in pale night in moonlit shadows. A woman tries on Queen Anne’s Edwardian marriage gown hoping her husband will love it. He loves his daily pint amid the glassless White Hart.

Image © Paul Latheron

64 THE MUSE

The sun rises on an old man and he reads, looking onto busy kids running late to anthropology class. His window makes him photographic, eternal a wrinkled face among pink and purple azaleas. The alcoholic sees the free brunch takeaway where bread smells of heaven and coffee. I stand, on the crossroads of new life and old, between Holborn and Aldwych, Strangeness and familiarity in the middle of the street signposting life.

THE MUSE

65

THE PEOPLE’S FINGERNAIL [A PARODY OF “YES MINISTER”]
Ben Lamy
(Intended for Radio) F/X: Newspaper rustling and other breakfast sounds Husband: It’s a complete joke! Wife: What is, dear? H: This. British politics. Any politics for that matter. I don’t understand the point of it. W: So why did you become an MP? H: I thought I could listen to people’s problems and help them. Emma: Daddy! H: Not now, Emma. W: Daddy is just disillusioned, dear. H: Disillusioned is exactly what I am. I was swept up in the glory of the democratic wave, ushering in a new epoch of openness, of ideals, of liberty for all… and what happened? The transport unions went on strike demanding a pay increase. W: Well that’s democratic, isn’t it? H: It might have been… if it hadn’t coincided with the Parliamentary vote restructuring the transport sector. Half the MPs were stuck in traffic and missed the vote! W: Well you couldn’t do much about that. H: I know, I know, but it was one giant leap back, like Neil Armstrong tripping over and Buzz Aldrin beating him to it. The opposition criticized us from the beginning.

66 THE MUSE

W: Why? H: Because it was popular with the voters. They laid into us and when that didn’t work they tried to sabotage us. You remember that time we all took pack lunches in case they put sleeping pills in our food? W: Yes of course. How did it start? H: Poor Stephen fell asleep during Questions to the Home Secretary about an hour after lunch. W: I’m not surprised; an hour in the House of Commons is like taking a dose of night nurse. H: But Stephen is the Home Secretary… was the Home Secretary. They’ll move him up to the House of Lords soon. W: I bet he’ll feel right at home. H: What do you mean? W: Well they’re always asleep anyway. W: I don’t know… this isn’t what I signed up for. W: What did you sign up for? H: (With pride) I wanted to change things, to pull this nation up by its lapels, to reduce poverty and inequality of income, to improve health care and educa… W: (Cutting in) And what have you done? H: (Embarrassed) I’m on the Standing Committee with a bunch of geriatric sycophants. W: But it’s not too late to change, is it? To stand up for your beliefs? H: If I did that the chief whip would have me flogged! You see, once we became the majority our promises became less prioritized as we basked in the political limelight once again. All of us, subservient to the will of our over-

THE MUSE

67

lord the PM. The moment we stand up to him our careers are all but over. W: Surely it can’t be that bad? H: It’s worse. The PM takes all his decisions from the media. He’s a slave to the Fleet Street Editors, and there’s certainly no arguing with them! They’re the ones who inform the people…or misinform them. They’re the real gatekeepers of democracy. W: What are you all then? H: The people’s fingernail – only good for scratching our own backs. W: Oh well, it could be worse. H: How? W: You could be a transport worker. H: After their thirty percent pay increase?! I wouldn’t complain. W: I suppose not. H: But then it was the opposition who encouraged them to go on strike and then the tabloids followed suit…the poor working man didn’t stand a chance! W: Are you sure you’re not just being a cynic? H: A cynic? Diogenes was a cynic, I’m just an MP. W: Well, Mr. MP, the plumber will be here soon, so listen out for him. F/X: chair scrapes back. heeled footsteps. door closing. H: A cynic? Please! A British Democracy; that’s what this is. The people vote for boring men and boring women in grey suits and grey hair and then have no say for another five years. The only time they get to vote in a referendum is when the government can’t afford to lose any more popularity, and that only happens when the papers tell the people we’re unpopular. It’s a complete joke! I mean, it’s true that our governments are stable…well, at least

68 THE MUSE

from the outside…but where’s the accountability? When the figures don’t add up they change the counting method, and then the opposition, well, they just take cheap shots at everything. But here’s the real dilemma: each of the major political parties will adapt their beliefs to gain votes. Can you comprehend anything more idiotic?! F/X: Dog barking H: A left-wing government favouring increased privatisation and a right-wing government ‘swinging the other way’! What madness! The politics are the same, the decision-making is gone for the people, the only choice of importance is whether to vote for one buffoon or the other…… Why am I talking to the dog? F/X: Doorbell rings. END

THE MUSE

69

© Microsoft Clip Arts

A LITTLE SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHORS...
Holly, a third year law student from Somerset is living proof that happiness is found at the bottom of a glass of apple juice

HOLLY BONTOFT

ANDRÉ TARTAR
André is a General Course student and glad to have escaped his home institution. He hopes that his many long years of Economics training will come in handy when he is a congressional aide or a Harper’s editor. Because if not, there go three years of his life! Andre is also that rare breed of person that has hit mid-life crisis before ever even having a job or family to make him feel old.

When Erin’s not chillaxin’ with her homies, you can probably find her down at the homeless shelter helping people get their lives back together. She’s also lookin’ out for the shorties coz’ she knows when life gets hard all you really need is some love. It was either Nostradamus or Fred Dibnah who said ‘If you can’t keep your shit tight when everyone else is losing theirs, then go fuck yourself,’ and she tries to live by that everyday.

ERIN OROZCO

BEN LAMY

Adam imagines he writes more than he does. He is currently navigating the architectural scene of post-revolution Mexico in search of musical fodder.

ADAM KAASA

Ben is a final year law student from Nottingham. In his spare time he writes screenplays for film, listens to blues rock, and supports Nottingham Forest FC. Giovanni wrote a few articles, one fairy tale for his little nephews and three film scripts. He loves alpinism and political philosophy (in particular F.A. von Hayek).

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI

ANDREAS PAPASIFAKIS

Much to his chagrin, Andreas recently reconciled himself to the fact that it may not be possible to travel back to a summer in Stratford in 1582 to witness the young Shakespeare learning his craft. He has therefore resigned himself to write every word toward the establishment of democratic socialism. He is currently working on a vast dream novel following the nocturnal thoughts of Henry Rottweiler, groom of the stool to Henry VIII.

Hannah is a girl who loves handbags, shoes, and the chocolate digestives handed out at writers group. She also has a tenacity for getting lost and bumping into things.

HANNAH GOMERSAL

Ashmi loves colour, earrings and quirky bylanes. She appreciates art but can’t draw a straight line.

ASHMI AHLUWALIA

Vanessa is a Canadian postmodernist Master’s Student who is lost in the outdated grind known as LSE’s Anthropology department. Her personality is that of a typical firstborn child; a Pisces cusp who, despite what others say, will accomplish everything she sets out to do. She is a fierce idealist, romantic, feminist, anarchist, lapsed catholic, chocoholic, who gets lost looking at surrealist paintings and hopes to write poetry forever.

VANESSA COROCORAN

70 THE MUSE

Jia-Chuan is an avid travel writer and poet. When not affected by wanderlust and running off to some foreign city, he is usually sitting down in a plush sofa and enjoying jazz and a good book.

JIA-CHUAN KWOK

CHLOЁ PIETERS

Chloë is a first-year international relations and history student. She loves epic fantasy and mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Alex is from Nova Scotia, Canada, near the coastal community of Peggy’s Cove. His writing is largely inspired by the natural settings of the Maritime Provinces and his experiences abroad. He is a sailor, a scuba diver, and a surfer. A graduate of the United World College of the Pacific, Alex also holds a BSc in Biology from Mount Allison University and is currently a MSc student in Biomedicine, Bioscience and Society at the LSE.

ALEX HAMILTON

Anthony is a 2nd year LLB student and absolutely loves his choice of degree wouldn’t you enjoy Lazing, Larking and Boozing full time for 3 years?!

ANTHONY BAVAN

Born prematurely in the summer of 1987, Josh was an instant hit. Homerton Hospital just didn’t want to let him leave, they even gave him a glass box to lie in. He went on to breathe perfectly and has perfected living a life of imperfection. His interests include sport, the English language, the foetal position and lychees. He dislikes Twiglets.

JOSH TENDETER
N.M. Lopez was bred in Amsterdam and is a loner, a stoner, a telephonophobe, a womaniser, an alcoholic and a devout Catholic.

NM LOPEZ

SHIRA KESHET
Shira is. (Excerpt)

ERIN O’HALLORAN

Erin writes as an alternative to more strenuous activities such as shouting or banging one’s head against the wall. This may or may not qualify her as lazy. But she’d tell you that poetry - like shouting - is primarily an oral experience. It is born on the tongue and exists only in the ear.

Ann is a postgraduate student from Bath New Brunswick Canada studying for an MSc in Communication, Information and Society. She wrote this poem while procrastinating. She is considering making a go of writing full time, and writing her dissertation while procrastinating.

ANN LOCKHART

Jared is an unlikely writer: that’s because he’s an economics major and a classic rock buff. After a hard day’s work, when he’s all alone, he feels inspired and sometimes writes mediocre poetry. If he had more time he’d write short stories, but alas! real life gets in the way. If not hiking in the forests of his Motherland, New Jersey, or wandering around London muttering to himself, he can be found in Shakespeare’s Head, enjoying lunch and a pint of stout.

JARED PILOSIO

THE MUSE

71

72 THE MUSE

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful