Jun 162014
Guest Kiosk 2, Izmir station

How did I mount my first assault on her?

It is one of those curious questions I often get asked and fail to understand. I want to protest but given the way Agnes looks these days, and her terrible croaking voice, and raucous one-way talking on and on and constant complaints, and her bad habits for too much wine and white spirit, and the foul smell of cigarettes on her breath. The askers are all incredulous. What was there to love? they ask, Just look at her now. And sometimes they make tired old jokes about covering her head with a paper bag and so on.

Time was, I always begin.

Once there was a time I used to tell her story to justify, and boasted of her beauty, and many have preferred to choose to see her that way. The seductress. You horny dog , the men said to me then. But to be honest they were only serving their own imaginations. They would want all the dull details of her anatomy, and layer by layer of skin and bone and tissue I would have to give it to them. Down to the imaginary centre that didn’t exist so that in the end there was always disappointment.

So these days I don’t tell stories of her previous youth or beauty. Nor of her wildness, although that was the other way the men have wanted my love-making story to go. The sea witch. How did I tame her? they used to ask. And their voices would grow as small as their cocks as they frightened themselves with their own words and thoughts of the cold grey sea. Those of them that claimed to know a thing or two would drone on about Sycarax and Mesalina, and sometimes it made them sound as brave as lions. They said they were entirely confident that they knew exactly what they were talking about, but I never felt their words dispel their fear. Deep down they stayed as scared as all the rest of them.

Comus her son was wild I admit, but he was not my child. The wine god was his father, and of course that ended badly as it generally always does. Substance abuse. So that when you look at Agnes now, I know it is hard to remember that once we used to call her, along with her like, implacable.

Impacable. And we said that word with love in our hearts.

… and now we have forgotten so much of what we once knew about the dark places of wisdom.

Story telling I admit I still feel a dreamlike quality with her, and that she was not – She was not the same as all the others, that is simply implacable like the rest of them. The difference was in her voice. It is strange I know hearing her grim Glaswegian crossed with Greek way of speaking now. But once upon a time before, when she was not unhappy and broken down like she is today, she looked and listened before she spoke to me and then her voice held my own words back to me as if on a gentle summer breeze.

So I loved her.

Before fate intervened. Fate. Just as I am broken as well by this all too much fore-knowledge I have been given. And broken by the raising of the three children who were born as our fruits, and especially the one ‘from a far place’ who comes  between us, and follows after me with his inescapable spear.

Yes, it was her listening words that drew me in. Time was, I always begin.

Jun 032014
Pix NOTE141 024

The clash of her sparkling rings and painted nails: there is something indecent about us all as we grow older.

I know she is a shocker with her flashy jewellery and clumpy ornaments, and bright hair tints and high colour make-up, but Agnes still has the way of drawing me in. Yes, let’s talk about indecency.

Starting with me! Just take a look! Pot belly, saggy tits and spindly legs. I am not the picture of your western hero am I?

The thing is I doubt I ever was. Fighting the road? There is the inertia of my ageing days! I like to think that nobody gives a shit, and least of all her. But I know that isn’t true either. She is still so demanding. I need to get away.

There is the famous story that the soothsayer Tiresias went through a similar change in older life. Grew big breasts. Became just like a real woman. I asked him about it that time when I made a journey of a very different kind – katabasis - and had the opportunity. What did your wife think afterwards, I asked. What did she say?

“All I know is this:
he went out for his walk a man
and came home female.”
(Mrs Tiresias is a poem from The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy published in 1999)

At the end the wizened old crone had given me a knowing wink, as ‘she’ left me. A wink, as if to say that the two of them had eventually worked it out. Living together. I don’t think Agnes would be so forgiving. “Stand up and be a man!” would be more her kind of thing.

When I am alone I sit for long periods of time in front of the door. It is almost closed. Almost closed, but not quite. There is the slither of a gap, and a dim light on the other side. I can believe.

Oh dear, but nobody is going to knock from there, are they? Who would knock from the other side, and ask to come back here? I mean really, some kind of frickin’ idiot it would have to be.

And nobody is going to answer if I start knocking either. Knock as much as you want. Bloody your knuckles, nobody is going to answer. OK. Because I’ll let you into one of my dirty little secrets. I’ve tried, and I’ve learned that it is not the way it works (‘held fast by Justice’).

Still, I could insert my little finger if I tried.

The trouble is the hinges have all rusted. That is what I think as I look into the mirror, and see the pair of frightened eyes staring back. Lost.

That is the issue. The children I mean. However much I have been trying to forget. Forget them, especially the one whose name translates along the lines of “Born Far Away”. And the prophecy of course. In these epic cycles there is always some damn oracle isn’t there? Some jack-ass in the story, who gets put up to give out a dire warning.

And spoil things. Otherwise in many respects my life would be fine really. Real fine and dandy. But it is too late now. It is because of what I know. That along he comes one day and spoils things. Don’t believe in death?

I want you to know that in this story, apart from the indecency of the father, I haven’t really done anything wrong. After all mostly with Agnes it is all make-believe, smoking mirrors and magic. We are not talking Oedipus. But just try telling that to the child.

And I would. Tell him that is. If I could have the chance. Honestly I would. But this story is broken. Lost. And all there is, is this door that isn’t quite closed. Not quite. And a dim light which I keep trying to make myself believe is coming from the other side.

May 232014
Circe crop colour143

Lunch with this dreadful woman Agnes at the Made In Brazil. I had eaten so much pork, I had begun to feel like a pig. And my head was throbbing from the beer. That, and her incessant repetitive voice.

“Neck ya” she says. “Neck ya.” It sounded like that anyway . Greek, I thought, as she babbled on and on, or maybe she was reverting to a primitive form of Scots. Glaswegian. I couldn’t tell. I definitely wasn’t getting the signals: whatever it didn’t sound like an invitation to further intimacy. Thank God for that, I told myself.

But then I could have been wrong, I thought. Beyond knowing by now, half of me was ready for violence, half of me expecting to be kissed. How many beers had there been? I had lost count. That and the repeated visits out front for her to smoke another cigarette, and with it the chance for her to wave the smoking tip and shout more foul comments and abuse at the stall holders and passers by on the street. Time and again I had had to put my arm around her and take her back inside.

Be on your guard, I told myself. Be on your guard. But my defences were down and my mind was clouded over. I didn’t do drinking any more, I told myself. I certainly didn’t do drinking this much beer. Ever. And never ever at lunch time.

“Get this down you,” she says. She was holding out another bottle. There was a cut wedge of lime in its neck.

I hesitated. “Well,” she says. “Go on. It wont bite you. Go on.”

Strange, but that was exactly what I was thinking. Bite. Alcohol. Narcotic. Strong poison. Definitely enough to send a man down. Blind, or kill him. Or turn him wild. The thing was, I was becoming more and more attracted to the idea.Circe colour141

These days you wouldn’t call Agnes a fair-locked goddess. Once maybe long ago, she would have been a handful then, but her hair had paled and thinned, and she had long since lost that original grace, and the extraordinary lustre and gloss she had once had. She smelt bad too now, a mix of cigarettes, stale wine laced with spirit, beer and old perfume.

Come on, I kept telling myself over and over, there was only one word to describe her – dreadful. Dreadful. And yet.

I took the bottle from her, and peered down its neck. It was too dark to see anything. I noticed my hand was trembling. It was a fine tremor. I wondered if she had also seen, I asked myself, the pulse, pulse erection I was getting.

“Go on,” she repeats. I raised the bottle to my lips. Her voice went on and on, repelling without repelling, attracting without attracting. There was no way of reasoning any more. Golden garlic or the lily leek!

This moly stuff, I dimly recalled as I gave a loud belch and tasted the pungent flavour of raw onion in my mouth. Thank God for that.

May 052014

Afterwards I spoke with Agnes who served us coffee . She owned the bar called the Taverna Necromanteion (‘Taverna Death Oracle’) which we had found at the corner of the cross-roads of the village at the bottom of the hill.

Or rather was spoken to, as Agnes mostly talked rather than listened. “I’ve lived here more than thirty years”, she said speaking her English in a mysterious and not unattractive half-Greek and half-Glasgow Scottish accent. Her bar was modern and quite prosperous looking, the tourist buses stopped regularly, and several of the passengers, most of whom were old and many also overweight and infirm and unable to manage the walk up the hill, preferred to stop there sitting on the black sofas to talk with Agnes, or rather to hear her talk to them, and drink coffee and white spirit. While once a flaxen headed and wild beauty, Agnes now looked an aged and unhappy soul, judged by the lines and dark shadows around her sad eyes. Despite the evidence of prosperity in her bar she explained to us that business was bad. “The taxes are terrible”, she said rolling her ‘r’s, and that she longed to sell up and leave this damp, green and foul plain on which she had lived for the last 30 years. Not that she wanted to return to Glasgow. “I last went there for a week seven years ago”, she said. “It was terrible, expensive, and I couldn’t afford to live there”.

Geographically, we were now in the region of North Greece once called Epirus, and we were staying across the plain at a hotel located close to the banks of the fast running Acheron where it emerges from a steep sided gorge. It had been raining for several days now, the river waters had turned brown, and we had survived on a diet of beans and lupins, or some such well cooked food, and also delicious grilled meats that the local people put before us, before coming that morning to the village whose name is now Ephyra, and approaching the hillock in the middle of plain transected by four rivers (1.).

And close to the bay where, as some say (2.), Odysseus landed after he had parted from Circe (‘dread Goddess with a human voice’) on his quest to visit the Land of the Dead by way of one of the several entrances to the Underworld.

We walked to the summit of the hill where there is a church dedicated to St John the baptist, which is now suspended over a series extensive and massive walls, gateway, labyrinthan entrance, alcoves, chambers and rooms underneath that has been dug out in recent years, and is called the Acheron Necromanteion.

We found the church above closed and under repair, and I gathered several fir cones from beneath the surrounding trees on the hillside before entering the gateway to the place below. I did this because I dimly remembered that fir cones were once used to light the way of such places, and could also perhaps be left behind as offerings, or as payment as the custom goes for these crossings over.

So I gave one of these fir cones to each of my friends who wanted them. I observed that about half did, and half did not wish to receive them, and I also subsequently noticed that after we had visited below and a conversation had broken out among us as we stood on the top of the walls above as to what we had seen, our opinions were equally divided; those who had not taken a fir cone with them saying that we had seen and heard nothing, and those that had taken one with them saying that they had seen and heard something, and about the possibility of ghosts that come to drink the fresh blood of offerings that are made to them.

Although I had taken a fir cone to enter and indeed had left it below in the deepest chamber, I found myself reluctant to join in to this conversation. When asked at the end as to my opinion as to the meaning and value of a ‘Death Oracle’ , I found myself almost unable to speak as if there was a stricture at my throat.

“The dead appear to tell us that our task is to engage in our lives”, I managed to say finally.

Then on the way out of the labyrinthan entrance (3.), when I was alone with one of my friends, I held her hand as she wept for some minutes over the death of a relative who she told me was being buried that day, and somewhere far off, but not so far as we agreed together at that moment in the “split of time” as she had described it herself to us in the conversation earlier.

The next day it was still cold and it continued to rain heavily, there having also been a storm and lightning during the previous night. It was Sunday and I felt empty and strangely exhausted.

(1.) ‘the four rivers’
The Acheron (river of woe), The Cocytus (river of lamentation), The Phlegethon (river of fire), The Styx (river of unbreakable oath by which the gods swear), and The Lethe (river of forgetfulness)

(2.) The Odyssey Book 11, Vv 2-50 :
‘…When we had set the tackle in order fore and aft, we sat down, and let the wind and the helmsman keep her course. All day long with straining sail she glided over the sea, till the sun set and all the waves grew dark.
So she came to the deep flowing Ocean that surrounds the earth, and the city and country of the Cimmerians, wrapped in cloud and mist. The bright sun never shines down on them with his rays neither by climbing the starry heavens nor turning back again towards earth, but instead dreadful Night looms over a wretched people. There we beached our ship, and landed the sheep, and made our way along the Ocean stream, till we came to the place Circe described.
Perimedes and Eurylochus restrained the sacrificial victims while I drew my sharp sword from its sheath, and with it dug a pit two foot square, then poured a libation all around to the dead, first of milk and honey, then of sweet wine, thirdly of water, sprinkled with white barley meal. Then I prayed devoutly to the powerless ghosts of the departed, swearing that when I reached Ithaca I would sacrifice a barren heifer in my palace, the best of the herd, and would heap the altar with rich spoils, and offer a ram, apart, to Teiresias, the finest jet-black ram in the flock. When, with prayers and vows, I had invoked the hosts of the dead, I led the sheep to the pit and cut their throats, so the dark blood flowed.
Then the ghosts of the dead swarmed out of Erebus – brides, and young men yet unwed, old men worn out with toil, girls once vibrant and still new to grief, and ranks of warriors slain in battle, showing their wounds from bronze-tipped spears, their armour stained with blood. Round the pit from every side the crowd thronged, with strange cries, and I turned pale with fear. Then I called to my comrades, and told them to flay and burn the sheep killed by the pitiless bronze, with prayers to the divinities, to mighty Hades and dread Persephone. I myself, drawing my sharp sword from its sheath, sat there preventing the powerless ghosts from drawing near to the blood, till I might question Teiresias.

(3.) 027

Man Under Interrogation

 Posted by at 9:30 am  Catastrophe Games, IN Conversation  Comments Off
May 152013

There are the accepted norms for conducting these kind of things, and before we proceed to the thumb screws, we’ll begin by asking you kindly. Please tell us everything that you know. Make it easy on yourself because in the end you know that you’ll have to talk.

It’s us asking the questions, and the man is sitting naked under the spotlight in the centre of the room. He begins talking. He talks freely in fact, switching positions and telling it from a second point of view, and then a third. In triplicate – there is no shortage of words. Talkback.

It’s the stenographer’s fault in our opinion. They have the job of recording everything that is said, and it is our belief that they made a mistake. It is easily done after all when the words are coming at you from three directions at the same time. We know. They shouldn’t have left the blank in the middle of that word : Bus-ness. Was it Business, or Busyness?

There will be an official inquiry of course and the proper procedures will be followed. We will have made up our minds anyway by that time. let’s face it, we made up our minds long ago didn’t we? Judgements were passed, and, as we like to put it, the man condemns himself to remain until further notice within the confines of the prison of his own making.

You could say that Homer was a stenographer too, and some are actually of the opinion that he was more than one – and so in a way like us. Because at this point for some reason I am reminded of the last conversation between Odysseus and Achilles.  It is the one recorded in one of the later books of the Odyssey. Achilles has been dead for several years, and Odysseus has journeyed to the ends of the earth to have a final conversation with him – to “go in”.

What’s it like in the Underworld?, the wily trickster asks him – adept at the ‘Cunning Method’ he can travel across the barrier into the world of shades. We are all dying to know, he continues. Achilles isn’t looking happy. In fact he’s looking downright miserable. Bus-ness as usual, he replies.

Under interrogation his body is naked, and still strangely attractive, retaining its sinuously threatening beauty and a devastating sexual allure. From the killing machine perspective, it is indeed still bus-ness as usual. He prefers to think he is immortal. It is only from the other perspectives that the hellish frustrations arise to thwart his pride because down in the Underworld there’s nobody around left living for him to biff about or rape.

Bus-ness as usual, with more than a hint of irony – triple agony. At the end of their chat there’s a moment when Odysseus pauses, wondering whether he should ask Achilles if he would like to come back with him and rejoin the living. Or am I making this part up?

But How – how can somebody be rescued from himself? Odysseus thinks to himself. No, I don’t think I can ask him back, he continues, doubling his voice and listening to his own talkback. I think it needs a woman’s voice, he says out loud. One generous and strong enough and with a righteous anger to begin this slow process of evolution, he thinks later, but by this time he is outside again, and helping himself to a cup of coffee.

(Note: includes a phrase or two from Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas)