Monday, 25 April 2016

Do Judge A Book By Its Cover - Flash Fiction

The bookbinder asked him if he wanted a family crest stamped into the cover to underscore the personal nature of the commission. He told her he’d get back to her within the day with his answer. No mean artist himself, he sketched some versions of heraldic serpents. Although suggestive of the writer’s craft, he immediately ruled out the snake in the skull. Death heads apart, the skull was not a coat of arms trope. B esides he didn’t want to give the game away, tip his hand to the reader before they had cracked open the cover. He drafted involved snakes with their curlicue form consonant with a serif character, but unfortunately he also decided it conjured up a snail. He limned encircled snakes, making some the ouroborus which consumes its own tail to signal eternal renewal. He essayed nowed or knotted snakes, a doubled loop evoking the symbol for infinity, but he felt it looked too much like a reef knot. Besides, these were somewhat missing the point. Conferring untameable power upon the ophidian which cut very much against the grain. In the end he settled on an eagle volant, wings displayed expanded, a snake in its talons. He executed a final design and sent a scanned copy off to the bookbinders.

A fortnight later and his book was ready for collection. The bookbinder carefully unwrapped it from its protective waxy sheath and presented it to him. It was a thing of exquisite beauty. He had opted not for the usual calfskin, nor Moroccan (goat) leather and had certainly rejected the gaudy sheen of seal skin out of hand. No, his book hide of choice had been that of the snake. Its reticulations forming a delicate spangling pattern that surpassed any artificial dye sprinkling of the traditional calfskin. The forked page marker was n ot wrought from silk, but that of the snake’s very tongue itself. Marker of the twin perspectives required to a full appreciation of his text. He could also indulge himself in the fancy that the disarticulated organ could taste the fear and perspiration imbued by his words.  It was only a pity that the hollow fangs could not be somehow incorporated into the divine architecture of his tome, representative of the venom its viperous words laced.


In his vanity, the association he had not been able to make, was that reading his circumlocutory style was akin to the turgid process of a snake working its prey through its body. The squeezing and compression of muscles in the digestive tract was much the same, as was the sense of bloated ingestion. 


Serpent encircled










Serpent nowed

Sunday, 17 April 2016

9-Line Nonpareil - Flash Fiction


I author infect you. I stain you with my word markers. I impregnate you with my seminal ink. You download my minuscular packets of lexical data. Even if you scale no further than the opening chapter, my verbal DNA has ineffably entered your bloodstream. Your eyes burn in the back of their sockets. Your breathing stops up and when you swallow for air, it burns the lining of your throat such is the caustic corrosive nature of my verbiage. For you can’t unread me. Words are viral. The symptoms are similar even if you regard the words as invigoratingly communicable, as non-pathogenic. Either way, partially digested or complete, your system extracts the aliment, my propellant, while the lexical orts refuse your expurgation and bulwark and barricade themselves rendering you discomfitedly costive. Your mental immunosuppression system may attempt to quash my word sepsis from reproducing within your host, but they hitch a ride with your vulgate leukocytes. Catch as catachrestic can. Sink their claws into the antigen receptivity, forestall your production of antibodies through a circumlocution here, a turn of phrase there, to elude the wandering phagocyte censors. Suppressing your suppressors. The macrophages who would seek to inject me with their deleterious toxins, when it is in fact my printing press that squeezes and devours them. My words knock off your words. They duel and grapple and attach themselves dual. Whence my muscular molecular vernacular makes use of your cellular apparatus. A reverse transcription to multiply your vocabulary and shape it inevitably mine. I rewrite you. I seep into your very marrow, to be spewed out a thousandfold greater in volume. I bleed you dry, drain you of lymphocytes and replace them through my own hematopoiesis. I transcribe your blood. I author you.  



Thursday, 14 April 2016

A New Phonetic Alphabet

Can I suggest the need for a new phonetic alphabet? What with Ancient Greek letters, old fashioned dances, metric weights, Canadian provinces and Shakespearean characters, today's youth have little chance of readily recalling the mnemonics attached to the letters.

We need to provide them with words instantly recognisable. Words they encounter every day. Words from the high street (or online shopping at least).

So I propose the following:

Alpha - ADIDAS
Bravo - BURBERRY
Charlie - CALVIN KLEIN
Delta - DIESEL
Echo - ELLESSE
Foxtrot - FILA
Golf - GIORGIO ARMANI
Hotel - HOLLISTER
India - IGI & CO
Juliet - JORDACHE
Kilo - KAPPA
Lima - LACOSTE
Mike - MARK JACOBS
November - NIKE
Oscar - OSHKOSH B'GOSH
Papa - PRADA
Quebec - QUICKSILVER
Romeo - REEBOK
Sierra - SUPERDRY
Tango - TOMMY HILFIGER
Uniform - UGG
Victor - VANS
Whiskey - WRANGLER
X-Ray - X-BIONIC
Yankee - YVES SAINT LAURENT
Zulu - ZARA


And to make it easier, these come with ready-made visual prompts.

 
 

  
 
 

 
 

 
 

 

 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

The World Of David Cameron & Mossack Fonseca





I have never had any investments. No shares. No ISAs. No pension plan. Partly because I've never had any disposable income I could afford to put aside. But also because I was exposed to such a world as a child by the dealings of my father and was completely repulsed by what I saw even at that tender age.

But I'm going to offer a story that in some ways best illustrates that world and which may throw some light upon the revelations of the Panama Papers albeit at a much lower level. It's a world that the average person is completely outside of and thus why revelations such as the Panama Papers seem to come as such a surprise when the story breaks. But it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise really. Just think about it, the firm Mossack & Fonseca are merely one of these type of operators across  a fistful of countries and dependencies, who host such offshore financial arrangements that so benefit their rich clients. I'd suggest it represented just the tip of the iceberg, except these countries tend to have hot weather and any ice would melt.

Okay, so on a more personal scale. My father was up in court accused of insider dealing on shares in the 1990s. The law he was prosecuted under was fairly new and was intended to prevent professionals who came by sensitive information regarding companies then made a profit from it through buying or selling shares based on the information. My father was a lawyer and had come by the information when one of his clients, an accountant, came to see him about possibly suing a company who were tarnishing his reputation as he served as a broker between it and another company who were looking to merge. The accountant had bought shares on the basis of this upcoming merger (and eventually pleaded guilty to one count while being cleared of 3 others, which was bizarre since the one he claimed guilt for was buying shares on behalf of his grand-daughter who was under 10 years old....) After the meeting in which he distributed legal advice on the slander and defamation of character, my father then proceeded to buy shares in one of the companies. And that was what he was on trial for. If the accountant hadn't have pleaded guilty to his one charge and subsequently been cleared of that as well as the other 3, then the authorities could not have come after my father, being a stage further removed from the privileged information, when they would have failed to successfully prosecute the primary source.

So I attended the court case over the 4 days it took place. My first warning should have been the moment we stepped up to the building. There was my father in his usual suit and bow tie, in the middle of defendants from the other more run of the mill cases, the Notting Hill drug dealers and gangsters. The contrast was blatant. Next thing I notice was that I'd played football regularly against one of the members of the jury which was a heck of a coincidence. I was in the public gallery so I don't know if he clocked me or knew my relationship to the accused, so it almost certainly weighed more upon my impressions than it did his. And then the trial got started.

One after the other, either for the defence or the prosecution, marched up to the witness box a parade of stockbrokers, lawyers, accountants and civil servants. Now I credit that I'm a reasonably intelligent person, well educated and reasonably well read, but I couldn't pick the bones out of what they were saying. The world of investments and stocks and shares they talked about, was as alien a landscape to me as a reality TV programme would have been to them (a slight anachronism since this was an era still relatively unsullied by the form). Again, maybe this is fanciful on my part, but I imagined I could see the eyes of the jury glaze over, because this world being presented to them just did not compute. These men and yes they were all men were arrogant and presumptive that we all knew about what they were talking about and therefore they had no need to explain and define what they did. Which was use money to make more money and to move money about. They reminded me of Catholic Priests of old jealously guarding the exclusivity of Latin that prevented any body challenging their status or knowledge. The accountants and stockbrokers were made to squirm by the QCs, because bandying words was not really their thing. The lawyers in the box were better suited to the fencing. All were odious to my judgemental eye.

Having sat through that trial, I was none the wiser whether my father was guilty under the law or not (as per usual any legislation drafted by Parliament you can normally drive a bus through its loopholes or lack of definition. Information is a precious commodity in the world of speculators and investors, a bit like getting the scoop on how a horse is training from the stables ahead of a big race. But it remains inestimably hard to decide what and who is 'privileged' in regard to information. I think my father was certainly morally culpable if not technically guilty, a bit like David Cameron. Anyway he was found guilty and as a final disorienting landmark, the fine was paltry compared to the fees of my father's legal team which was what actually bankrupted him. Money chasing after money again, yet not quite at the same level of no win no fee have you injured yourself at work the rest of us get bombarded with on TV...


So the world of investment remains abstruse to many of us. Hence when the shock horror, rich people salt their gotten gains away from the taxman revelation emerges, it really shouldn't be a surprise at all, but inevitably is.  I loathe those for whom money is the only interest they have, not just professionally but in their whole mien, so that  though they would proudly pledge themselves to the UK, at the same time getting their money safe from the talons of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, no matter how legally they are behaving. In the same manner as the moment the government mentions a crackdown on corporate tax avoidance, some firms start making noises they'll quit the UK for more tolerant tax regimes. These people have no deep stake in our country. Like the offshore operators they utilise, have money will travel to find the best deal. It behooves us all to try and educate ourselves, to arm ourselves with the information to be able to nail these sharp practitioners who screw the country out of valuable funds. This is why Cameron can bare faced stand up and proclaim he has done nothing illegal, which is true, but it gives the lie to his political message of one nation Conservatism, we're all in this together, the cuts to the welfare budget are all that stand between the UK and economic bankruptcy, etc etc. As my father's case  demonstrated, there is the letter of the law and then there is its spirit.



Justice is blindfolded rather than blind... Coincidently, when I did jury service, one of my cases was about the receipt of stolen weighing scales...


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Songs About Books

A few years ago I was involved in an anthology of stories inspired by songs 


I wrote the introduction and reproduce it here:

The Symbiosis Of Music And Literature
I never read books until I was fourteen years old. Typical boy, I was out in all weathers playing cricket or football instead. What tuned me into literature was a respected older cousin’s suggestion to listen to The Cure's ‘Killing An Arab’ and then read Camus' L'Étranger, both of which I dutifully did. At the time I was on the look out for cool bands to drop in to conversations at school, but thanks to this one suggestion I had my appreciation opened up to a second vibrant art form. Oh yeah, I not only read books now, I write 'em as well. And as part of that, music is still key.
Literature is perhaps regarded as the highest, noblest art form for  opening our minds towards contemplation of the world around us. And rock'n'roll, bubble-gum three-minute-pop about puppy love and teenage crushes, is regarded in some quarters as the most disposable of art forms. Books occasionally percolate society's collective consciousness, for example the obscenity trials over Lady Chatterley's Lover or Last Exit To Brooklyn. Pop frequently outrages, from Elvis The Pelvis, through ‘God Save The Queen’ to Beastie Boys. Yet, despite being from fairly opposite ends of art's 'brow' spectrum, the two are fundamentally intertwined and mutually inform one another. 
Apart from the above example of The Cure, Gang of Four referenced Joseph Conrad's ‘Heart Of Darkness’ with ‘We Live As We Dream Alone’ and Kafka's beetle from ‘Metamorphosis’ in their song ‘Anthrax’. Howard Devoto, singer in Magazine, referenced Raskolnikov and  Dostoevsky's ‘Underground Man’ in ‘Song From Under The Floorboards’.  Just a few examples of artists honouring fellow artists who have gone before them. Inspired them. Given them words and ideas to stir their own creative pools...
Of course, it goes the other way too. Poets Linton Kwesi Johnson, Benjamin Zephaniah and John Cooper-Clarke have all performed live with backing bands. Gus Van Sant has set texts by William S Burroughs to music, and Steve Fisk composed music for the late Steven Jesse Bernstein's poetry. Then there are the crossover artists: Patti Smith, Nick Cave and Henry Rollins to name but three with a foot firmly planted in both camps. Plus recently we have had short story anthologies inspired by the words of Mark E. Smith and the music of Sonic Youth. 
So now nine new writers offer their contributions to the symbiosis; nine stories inspired by songs from different musical artists, plus nine stories arising from the same song: "Heroes"’ by David Bowie. Nine very different interpretations, no mere cover versions.


So, here is a music video playlist for books name-checked or referenced in songs. Enjoy.


1) The Cure - "Killing An Arab"


This was the Cure's debut song as Robert Smith took his exam-level study of Camus' "L'Etranger" and spun a song out of it. Later, once tried to retreat from fame into his half-Goth, half-childlike persona, the books he referenced were more of the order of children's books such as "Charlotte Sometimes".



2) Kate Bush - "Wuthering Heights"
I was never a huge Kate Bush fan, but I was heartened when her recent comeback tour sold out so rapidly. Normally I am appalled by comeback tours when artists are way past their prime and the audiences just want to indulge in some nostalgia, but this tour seemed genuinely to have an audience spanning across generations suggesting Ms Bush had picked up legions of fans who have come to her music long after it was in the charts and public sensibility and that must speak for its strength.




3) Velvet underground - "Venus In Furs"
With Lou Reed's interest in all things transgressive and sexual, perhaps not surprising that he should find as an inspiration Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch's book that gave us the word 'masochism'. Never has John Cale's viola sound been used to such unsettling effect as on this song.




4) Klaxons - "Gravity's Rainbow"
The blissed out hedonism of rave is not usually associated with the literary, as its fans stand waving glow sticks around in muddy fields, bombed out of their heads. And yet here Klaxons reference  a writer who guards his true identity more than JD Salinger guarded his privacy. But then Pynchon writes about a pretty bombed out American sensibility so maybe it makes perfect sense.




5) Rush - "Tom Sawyer"
Rush were big fans of Ayn Rand, but I'm not going to peddle of her work here. They also quoted Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" which is far more edifying, though with Rush you never quite know. I don't know, like most things Rush, they manage to make this all sound somewhat bombastic.




6) Manic Street Preachers - "Patrick Bateman"
After Salinger's "Catcher In The Rye" and Tolkein's "The Hobbit"and Orwell's "1984", this is the book most often referenced in song by musicians. And the thing is I suspect most of the musicians creating a paean to Brett Easton Ellis' psychopathic financier probably identify with him rather than embrace Ellis' satire. The Manics maybe one of the few who got it to judge by their sarky opening.



7) Joy Division - "No Love Lost"
Ian Curtis was very literary in his refrences, from JG Ballard's "Atrocity Exhibtion" to Kafka's short story "In the Penal Colony". Though spoilt for choice I've plumped for a slightly more trashy reference from a book called "House of Dolls" because it's the book from which the band took their name. Curtis quotes a passage from the book directly in the song. 




8) Lagwagon - "Owen Meaney"
Having not read the book I hope author John Irving got to the point a hell of a lot quicker than Lagwagon, a band about which I know nothing. Not very informative on this one I'm afraid.



9) The Stranglers - "Death And Night And Blood" 
Stranglers' bassist JJ Burnel got a bad rap as a thug when in the fledgeling days of punk he just used to lay into photographers at the front of the stage and belt them with his bass. But actually he's pretty well read, evidenced by his solo release "Ozymandias" quoting a Shelley sonnet. But as a song it's nigh on unlistenable. I suspect that this Stranglers ditty was his as well, referencing Japanese author Yukio Mishima's "Confessions Of A Mask". The band identified with outsiders and peripheral guys, such as Sancho Panzer in "No More Heroes". And there were fewer more radical outsiders than Mishima who took his life by traditional seppuku (ritualised self-disembowelling of the Samurai warrior class) after failing to persuade a detachment the army to join a coup d'etat.





10) Jefferson Airplane - "Rejoyce"
Who let the stoners read "Ulysses"? What next, death metal does Samuel Beckett? New Romantics do Flann O'Brien? As impenetrable as the original tome.




11) Iron Maiden - "Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner"
And yet... Heavy Metal, always associated with anti-intellectualism, well Iron Maiden had several songs inspired by literary works so just goes to show you can't judge a band by their hair length. From the album "Power Slave", oh well, you can't have everything. Did someone say "Spinal Tap"?





12) Hawkwind - "Farenheit 451"
I find myself undergoing a worrying transformation as I hit my 50s. I'm starting to get into Hawkwind, space rock drug excessives from the 1970s and still just about going strong I think. I credit it's that period when their paranoid frontman Robert Calvert wrote lots of songs about terrorism which seems somewhat apt today. I dunno.





13) Magazine - "Song From Under The Floorboards"
Howard Devoto is another one of those New Wave music frontmen who drew hecvaily from literature for their lyrics. Dostoevsky's "Rashkolnikov" is name-checked in the song "Philadelphia" and here devoto draws on the opening to "Notes From The Underground".




14) Bomb The Bass - "5Ml Barrel"
And to finish up, a couple of songs which are the result of collaborations between musicians/producers and actual authors reading their own words, or having them sampled. Bomb The Bass (Tim Simenon) did a song based on William Burroughs' "Naked Lunch" but here goes one better and has the hard-bitten and yet also simultaneously world-weary tones of Will Self also exploring the theme of drug-taking. And mighty fine it is too.



15) William Burroughs/ Gus Van Sant - "Millions Of Images"
Van Sant's cast Burroughs in his second movie "Drugstore Cowboy" and from that emerged a rather wonderful 4-track EP called "The Elvis Of Letters". Burroughs of course had such a characterful Southern drawl, he never actually would need to sing, the music is there in his delivery anyway.




Thursday, 17 March 2016

Widows And Orphans - Short Story for Syria



A fully laden table for our expected visitors.



 









Feasting her eyes on the resplendent banquet, the colours of the food, the architecture of the tureens and serving dishes, she felt she was looking down on a miniature city. Even the nagila standing tall like a minaret, abutting the domed tureen of harira. It was as if the whole variety of the souk had been brought home here on the table, only without the bustle. Her father came and stood beside her and admired the panorama too. He approached the spread and circled all four sides of it. He idly fingered the tassels of the tablecloth. Then with his other hand he grabbed a second fistful of the textile as it hung down over the edge of the table. He gave it a gentle tug as if he was straightening it. Still grasping it, he turned and grinned at his daughter. She put her hand to her mouth, surely he wasn’t going to try it now? What would Mama say?





Was she herself going to be cast as silent witness and conspirator?










For Papa was a devil, always impressing her and her brothers with his magic tricks. The greatest of them being when he advanced on a table, less laden than this yet still with things placed there, whereupon he would make a great show of stretching his arms out and wiggling his fingers and summoning up the sound of the wind with his exhaling. He would stop at one of the short sides and grab the two cornerflaps of the cloth, standing there with great ceremony and concentration, before yanking away the cloth from under all the things stood upon it and bringing the cloth around his shoulders like a magician’s cape. And miraculously nothing would fall from the table or even topple over on the now exposed cypress grain. And no matter how often we children were witness to the magic, we could not but help burst into thunderous clapping.





The thunder of the planes overhead rattled some of the plates even from so high.













Liberators?











The high explosive produced less of a consummate pulling away of the mantle from under us. Mortar was yanked away from bricks, so that the whole room came tumbling down on top of me. I heard my father breathe like the wind into my ear, only he sounded very angry. A real sirocco, bringing with it dust and sand clogging my throat. But then I realised I couldn’t see anything. It was total darkness. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or shut. It wasn’t my father at all, but the roar of the air being sucked out of my chest and my heart hammering trying to drag it back in. Like my mother would with us kids from playing outside. But I couldn’t come back in since I could move no part of me, pressed under the weight of my collapsed house.





Where was Mama? There was no ‘in’ to come back into.





‘In’ was on top of me. In was trying to press inside my body.













I tried to cry out but I have no idea if any sound left my mouth. The only thing I could feel was rats scurrying over me. Scampering to feast on the banquet meant for us. But as a glint of light blinded me, igniting flashes in my bruised eyes, I realised it wasn’t rats, but bricks being peeled from my skin and scraped away off me. Papa was coming to save me and pull me from the rubble.





But it wasn’t Papa.












They scooped up all the broken shards of me and swept me into a taxi to whisk me to hospital. I screamed for my parents, but the sound got mangled in my parched throat and I think they just thought it was from the pain I was in. Someone gave me an injection. Mama hadn’t been in the room with me and Papa. So she should have been safe. The streetlights overhead strafed me as the taxi passed under them. I was reblinded about every three seconds. This was like being at the disco with a stroboscope. Only I couldn’t move, let alone dance of course. I was afraid, that awful sensation when the strobelight freezes your body, then eclipses it altogether. I didn’t think I’d ever get my body back from the darkness.





I floated away.





 






I couldn’t follow my dreams, except that I briefly saw Papa perform his tablecloth trick and drape himself once again in the fabric. But then the picture moved to his whole body wrapped in the cloth like a cere sheet so that not even his face was visible. Mama and my brothers were nowhere to be seen in the dreams. Then I got confused in the dream and thought since they were not here that I was the one who had died and was being removed to be sent into the ground. Eventually I woke up and saw that my whole body was set in plaster with the bed tilted up and a spaghetti of tubes hooked into my arm.





I must have looked like a nagila.













The television they had hanging on the wall of the hospital showed the news on with the volume turned down. There was film of a minaret blasted by explosives so that it lay down across the rest of the demolished mosque. Another echo of the nagila, though this time no longer tall and proud. These images replayed about every ten minutes, so that you could easily imagine it to be a new destruction of a mosque, until they had razed every last one in our land. We are all Muslims aren’t we? So how can we spill each other’s blood and pull down the mosques? It made no sense to me, though the bomb that dropped on our house had been sent from another continent altogether.





I knitted back together like one of Grandma’s needlework creations..











But I had a bad limp. I made my way back to my house. But it was completely flat as a pancake. Well not completely flat. More like when you tip out all the jigsaw pieces from their box and then smooth the pile a bit to reveal the pieces. But I wouldn’t be able to put this together even though I held the picture of it in my head. Even though the doctors had put all my pieces together whole again. I didn’t go rooting around in the debris. What could it tell me? What if the tablecloth was no longer buried in there somewhere? What would that tell me about my father’s fate? Mama hadn’t been in the room with me and Papa. So she should have been safe. But now I see that the whole house has gone.  I needed to know where my parents were. But next door where our neighbours used to live was only a crater of scorched brown earth. The bombs seemed hell-bent on returning our cities back into the desert. All our street had fled their houses so there was no one to ask. No friendly faces left at all. All the familiar landmarks were still in place, yet I felt completely





disoriented.















Lost.





The myth of the flying carpet was just that. A myth. I made my escape like so many others. A camel train without the camels. People with humps on their back under their baggage. On foot under the endless sun and then into a camp just beyond the border. I had no papers. They wrote down my name and ran a finger down lists of names on sheet after sheet of paper. They said my parents weren’t in this camp but they might be in another one. They would try and trace them for me so we could be reunited. Then their fingers returned to the top of the list again for the person after me.





I was adrift.















All the faces here were unknown to me, yet they were instantly recognisable. Tired. Drawn. Fearful. Twitching. I wondered if my own face was similar. But there were no mirrors for me to check. There was nothing much to do all day. There were a few toys but none of us child adults played with them. There were no books for me to read. The gruel they served every day was colourless and made me pang for the rainbow of foods that had sat there on the table before the fiery rain of spicy seasoning and red hot sauces fell from above. That’s what it was, the children’s faces also were totally lacking in colour. They ate without joy and the blanched food just reflected this. All we had in the camp was television. I wondered if one of the refugees had hauled their satellite dish with them here on their back. The sound was turned down just like the hospital. Nobody ever watched it except me. I guess they had their own constant rolling images inside their heads already. Watching the ticker script at the bottom, pleading, begging for it just to have some new words to say, just by way of change. But it never did. Perhaps they only changed when you weren’t looking. I felt like I had at school, being forced to repeat the words over And over again until I read them out correctly. Only here I never graduated.





Images of dead men hung upside down by their feet.






















Like joints of lamb hanging from the ceiling of our butcher’s shop. Gravity had effected the modesty of veiling their faces behind their clothes draping down, though it could not conceal the impiety of the flesh so exposed in its place. The dangling pendulums may have been still, but beneath them coming and going were observers pointing up and gesticulating wildly. The camera lens was too far away to pick up their faces clearly. Heaving shoulders could have indicated crying or laughing. I deduced that since there were no mothers present, these men had to be those rejoicing in the devil’s verdicts enacted above their heads.





A man presented the stumps of his arms where the hands had been cut off.




















The scrolling text explained that he had played the ‘ud which was viewed as taking him away from prayer and devotion and consequently they had put a stop to it. I couldn’t quite comprehend this as the devil dogs behind this had lots of songs and music of their own. But then maybe you can’t march to a lute. I shuddered as I thought of my father and his beautiful hands that could do magic tricks. If he fell into their hands they would remove his. I could only hope that torn from me his heart would be too heavy to show his magic. Maybe he had forsworn all magic anyway once he realized it could not hold up his house or keep his family together and safe.





Beheadings.




























A kid holding up severed heads, one in each hand. Like a bowling ball. Like a roadside watermelon seller. There is colour in his face alright. But not in that of the floating head. Bloodless, Like the children here in the camp. We are all orphans even if our parents are still alive somewhere. We have all died and lost our blood. Our heads pulsing with thoughts and dreads separated from the rest of our numbed bodies. Another boy clutches a decapitated head by the hair with both his hands. Like a bag of heavy shopping. These youths are the same age as my brothers. An adult fighter is crouched down holding his little child so that its thrashing feet dance across a severed head lying on the ground. I can only think of a hamster in its wheel. This child lost to humanity before he can even speak. A blank page already inscribed with blood.