Gnossienne – n. a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknowable to you, because ultimately neither of you has a map, or a master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.
April is the cruellest month,
So said the Fool.
When old feelings start unraveling
From a long forgotten spool.
With parched lips I bid goodbye
To every illusion held dear.
My voice was gone, I had no voice
My eyes were dry. No tears.
I remember that April day
In that room that’s up the stairs
Where we made so many promises
That were broken without fanfare.
I remember the kisses
As you bruised my lips
And I in turn had drank you
In those oh-so-sinful sips.
That fateful April night I found
My kingdom in your bed.
But when I looked into your eyes
I found something else instead.
Waves of heat washed over me
As I tossed and turned in sweat
My mind a blur of could-have-beens
A pocketful of regrets.
Well, now you’re gone,
And here I must remain.
I no longer look for you
In my wreaths of daisy chains.
I tried my hand at needlework
Stitching broken bits of my heart
A button here, a pattern there
A patchwork piece of art.
And a bit of you I kept with me
Packed with infinite care
In a wooden box of memories
Sealed with a little prayer.
Is it only autumn when the leaves brown?
Being broken bit by bit
Withering away ever so gently
By the time it’s winter.
A silent farewell midst a riot of
Oranges, yellows and browns.
Picture book pretty even as they die.
So delicate, so fragile
Crumbling at the slightest touch.
Do they never get bruised
In the lushness of spring?
“Your call is waiting…the person you are trying to reach is speaking to someone else…”
I have heard this recorded voice so many times over the years that it’s almost as if I have formed a strange kinship with the woman saying it. I saw her today, in a little cafe. No, I didn’t recognize her by how she looks. But by her inimitable voice as she ordered a coffee. And I think, a sandwich.
So many times I have found the line busy, her voice my only companion. So many times, as I heard her repeat the same lines over and over, I have thought of her. Wondered how she looked. What she liked eating. Who all were there in her family. So many times, being unable to reach my friends over the phone, I have poured out my heart to her. And only her. She seemed so distant. So nonjudgmental. So mechanically comforting.
And there she sat in front of me. Having a cup of coffee. Probably waiting for someone.
It was an early wintry morning in Calcutta. A slight drizzle, a bit of fog.
What I really wanted was to sit down with her over a cup of coffee. But she was on her phone, trying to call someone. Over and over. Not getting through.
What fun! She must have been hearing her own voice, over and over. Telling herself to wait. Like we all often say. Just that we don’t get to hear it in our own voice.
There was a slight drizzle outside, a bit of fog.
For the longest time, I did not want to finish reading A Confederacy of Dunces. I had around 20 pages left and I just wasn’t able to bring myself to accept that it’s coming to an end. Very few books in recent times have touched me so deeply. Be it the big, clumsy, slobbering Ignatius, the unemployed scholar who lives with his alcoholic mother or Constable Angelo Mancuso and his aunt Santa. And the way she grabbed her deceased mother’s photograph and kissed it. Mr. Clyde, the “mogul of the meat industry”, who is actually the owner of a dilapidated hot dog vending business and Burma Jones, the “coloured cat vagran” seeking gainful employment to stay out of jail and his stint at the Night of Joy bar where the owner, Lana Lee is carrying on a pornography ring.
Myrna Minkoff, the “musky minx”, the fiery Jewish beatnik who strongly suggests sexual healing to Ignatius and suspects him to be a closet homosexual. Throughout the novel we get to read their correspondence via letters. How Ignatius finds her (and most of modern society) “an offense against taste and decency”. I can go on and on…
And what can I say about Ignatius? Underneath his faulty valved heart that despises all things modern and commercial, lies a man who is more than an obese, hulking lump of apathy. There’s a boy hidden somewhere in that lazy, flatulence riddled man who dearly loved his departed pet dog Rex and fought with his mother and the priest over his proper funeral rites. Between his “Crusades for Moorish Dignity” and his violent consternation against modernity, between his fevered advocacy for Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and his tryst as a hot dog vendor in a pirate costume, replete with a mock cutlass, a billowing white smock and a gold earring, there’s a boy who never got accepted and never really wanted it as well. His strong opposition against this century lacking “theology and geometry” is rooted in his love for all things medieval. He’s a misfit and he doesn’t really care. But shocked? Yes. He’s shocked by everything, from the crude Broadways and commercial cinemas he so meticulously follows, simply to note and remark on the degeneracy of society to the lack of “taste and decency” among today’s youth. He hates it all. Shocked by it all. As is frequently expressed by his “Oh my God!”s.
“When Fortuna spins you downward, go out to a movie and get more out of life.”
Fortuna has not always been favourable or fair to Ignatius. Whose fine psyche cannot be scrutinized by those with pedestrian pursuits, whose sagacious and sensitive worldview, as he puts it, cannot be gauged by those less refined. He belongs in his messy lair strewn with suspiciously yellowed sheets and Big Chief tablets where he meticulously pens down his scholarly views.
“My life is a rather grim one. One day I shall perhaps describe it to you in great detail.”he says,
The suburban streets of New Orleans, with its neon bars, idyllic porches, middle class and deeply suspicious neighbours like Miss Annie, or the elegant, quirky, frivolous homosexuals of the French Quarters cannot handle him. Nor can his masochistic, self pity filled, maroon haired, bowling loving, alcoholic mother,Irene who finally commits to put Ignatius in a mental hospital as she plots with Santa to remarry, finding a potential groom in Mr. Robichaux as a slap on the face of unfeeling failure of a son who says about hs mother:
“It’s not your fate to be well treated,” Ignatius cried. “You’re an overt masochist. Nice treatment will confuse and destroy you.”
This book I shall remember for a long, long time and I strongly urge you to read it.
Read it for Ignatius and his belches and gargantuan appetite. His billowing figure, his huge paws and black, moist mustache and green hunting cap as he waddles from one misadventure to another. Read it for the inimitable humour and style of writing.
For a good laugh, for a few tears, and a million unforgettable moments. For example, his exchange with the good looking queer Dorian Greene (yes, quite reminiscent of Dorian Grey, just more colourful):
“I suspect that beneath your offensively and vulgarly effeminate façade there may be a soul of sorts. Have you read widely in Boethius?”
“Who? Oh, heavens no. I never even read newspapers.”
“Then you must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age,” Ignatius said solemnly. “Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. For the contemporary period, you should study some selected comic books.”
“I recommend Batman especially, for he tends to transcend the abysmal society in which he’s found himself. His morality is rather rigid, also. I rather respect Batman.”
But most of all read it for the sheer genius of the author John Kennedy Toole, whose first and last masterpiece this is. Who took his life for not being able to accept the heartbreak of his book not getting published. The irony of him winning a Pulitzer Prize for the same book, posthumously. I wish he had been more like Ignatius in his apathy. I wish he had written more.
Do read A Confederacy of Dunces simply for the joy of reading.
“You know, manacles and chains have functions in modern life which their fevered inventors must never have considered in an earlier and simpler age. If I were a suburban developer, I would attach at least one set to the walls of every new yellow brick ranch-style and Cape Cod split level. When the suburbanites grow tired of television and Ping Pong or whatever they do in their little homes, they could chain one another up for a while. Everyone would love it. Wives would say, ‘My husband put me in chains last night. It was wonderful. Has your husband done that to you lately?’ And children would hurry eagerly home from school to their mother who would be waiting to chain them. It would help the children to cultivate the imagination denied them by television and would appreciably cut down on the incidence of juvenile delinquency. When Father came in from work, the whole family could grab him and chain him for being stupid enough to be working all day long to support them. Troublesome old relatives would be chained in the carport. Their hands would be released only once a month so they could sign over their Social Security checks. Manacles and chains could build a better life for all. I must give this some space in my notes and jottings.”
– Ignatius Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Ignatius is one of the few literary characters who I have felt so close to, empathized with so much, and grown to love.
Read me between the lines
open to all your interpretations
lost in your introspections
recreate me to your convenience.
Weave me somewhere in your
ever changing manuscript
of unpublished narratives
shoved in the recesses of a faulty drawer.
Critique me as only you can.
Go on, be your pretentious best.
Dissect me till I dissipate
And you can rest your case.
Remember me as I never was
Call me by a different name.
So that I can say a final goodbye,
before we start over again.
Is there time yet?
To build a few more bridges
maybe pick up the phone
and plan a completely futile
Is there time yet?
To unpack the baggage
we left stranded yesterday
on the railway platform
as we rushed to reach hurried conclusions?
Is there time yet?
To read you that letter
that I never chose to write
in fear of opening the floodgates
that could only drown?
Is there time yet?
To live our endless numbered days
in sickness and in health
as we edit the pages
of our shared history?
It had been raining steadily through the night. She was wide awake, hearing the rain ricochet across the window pain, like a persistent knocking. Seeing the stray flashes of lightning, with the promise of inevitable thunderclaps resonating through the airwaves. She was cocooned in her damp blanket, her feet sticking out.
Tick-tock. 2 O’clock.
Wide awake. Random thoughts flickered through her mind. The cup of tea she spilled in the morning. Her mother’s steady droning voice on the phone. The stranger on the tram who kept looking at her. Who she wanted to follow when he got off at some obscure station, but decided not to because the mud and the filth inconvenienced her. The little dead kitten being pecked on by crows.
Another clap of thunder. She hugged her blanket tighter and closed her eyes. Reflecting vaguely how time goes so slowly, especially in the after hours. Especially on nights when you are so alone. So listless. When all you really want is the company of a stranger who you’ll never have to see the following day.