Willesden Herald Short Stories 7, the winning entries from the International Short Story competition. Treat yourself to a copy here
Thank you for your letter alerting me to the “dreadful review” of my poems in the What’s on this weekend page of the Goring Flaneur. I am guessing that you may be disappointed to learn that you weren’t the first to let me know that yet another nonentity regards my literary output as “utterly without merit”.
It just so happens that I was reading Borges when news arrived from the sharpened tongue of my friend and chief detractor Scamander that no less a judge than the poetaster Tarquin Feather (!!) had criticised my output as lightweight, dull and dead. As soon as he uttered the name of Feather I had less doubt than the narrator of The Gospel According to Mark that a crucifixion was to be attempted. If you had been there to see and hear me conducting my defence, and if you are at least…
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Originally published at unlikely blond
Protecting the Commanding Heights of the Economy –
A Torturer’s Poems
forthcoming in 2014 from Pink Panther Acid
While I was setting up the recorder for our interview ANOn glanced without invitation at my typed notes.
– This is problematic.
He pointed to the second sentence of my notes where I’d stated “He was a torturer for the government.”
ANOn is frank. He was a torturer for the government.
– But all that means to say is that my wages came from the public purse. As far as I was concerned, as far as we were all concerned, I think, or I thought, we were working on your behalf, on behalf of the people, safeguarding what we like to call democracy. Of course I know now that our function was merely to inflict pain on strangers, on other mothers’ sons, on the off-chance that we might thereby protect the commanding heights of the economy and our ruling class. But let’s be clear, we are all collaborators. As the law now stands if you are not a collaborator you are ripe for torture, or worse
During intermissions in the torture process ANOn would write. That is how this book came into being. The first poem he wrote (and the last poem in this collection) starts
In places the torturer can sound like
some sort of poet. He says so himself.
He made the poem (An instructor in C— B—–) immediately after a lecture he and his fellow torturers had attended. During the course of that lecture the torture instructor had exhorted his cohort to not lose sight of the “fact” that both reading or producing poetry, and safeguarding democracy by any means necessary, are absolutely compatible.
-We learned to believe that it’s possible to be both [torturer and poet]. That it’s possible to be absolutely anything, and any combination of absolutely anything. That whatever it is it’s all right. That whatever vileness which might be inexcusable and arrestable elsewhere is tolerable if in the apologia for it the word democracy is sprinkled.
ANOn notes in the poem the most terrible human exhalations that
It’s possible to muse, for instance, that
from these rooms only sighs and screams escape.
It’s possible to believe that they are
made to flee the body on your behalf.
Even something as terrible as a
scream, which he has spent lifetimes subduing
and suppressing, cannot bear to remain
within his body when the torturer
is doing his work on your behalf.
His screams breed like rats, they breed inside the
body impregnated by your torture.
The more screams I bring into the world the
more are born elsewhere.
As is now well known the twist in the torturer’s tale is that ANOn became a whistleblower and fearing arrest and consignment to the network of secret prisons and torture rooms that dot the globe he went on the run and is wanted for punishment.
– In our unit the work was done in that half-darkness that is calm and quiet apart from screams.
There is sometimes a ringing and we will
turn our attention from him and we lift
our small blue screens to the side of our face
and illuminate in blue the harsh bones
and muscles of our heads which form and shape
and change like corn in erratic gusts and
breezes the silhouette of his torture.
(from Taking a call from my wife while I’m killing a man)
These days ANOn says he looks at people with their phones to their heads, and automatically thinks don’t hurt me. He says this plea is most fervent in the half-dark and the dark, when he sees blue faces and screenlit eyes in the gloom. He says he doesn’t say it aloud. It’s more of a prayer, and he knows it will be merely co-incidental if it works. He says he knows that people have no mercy and that everyone does a job and can’t think about it and what pain there might be in it for others, direct or oblique.
They can’t afford to think about it. They
sell poisonous food. They scan barcodes and
ask if you need help packing the poison
into poisonous bags. People work for
poisoners. People work for the people
killing their children. People work in our
government offices and make peoples’
lives a misery. People work and their
work neglects other people. Why would these
people here have any mercy or thought
of mercy for me? I’ve done it myself.
(from Crating up chickens for slaughter in darkened sheds)
-I was a coward. At the start another torturer could see I was floundering. He said if you think of them as lives you won’t be able to do this job. If you think of them as beating hearts you will fail our country. You must think of them as oranges, as I do, or as something else.
He said I shouldn’t think about it if I broke their legs stuffing them into the plastic restraints in that half-lighting. He said I should think nothing of it if their breathing stopped. He said I shouldn’t sorrow at their deaths. I remember liking at the time that he’d used sorrow as a verb.
Now, in this long intermission in the torture process, ANOn does sorrow. Here in M——- he is aware of everything; the man on the phone, the muscles in his face and the flutter in his throat, scenes from the past that arise in these intermissions, faces that he hasn’t recalled for thirty years, the boy who died when he was six.
We didn’t sorrow for him then, or for
his mother. From that day forward
when we thought of him it wasn’t his death
or even him that we remembered, but
our terror of the word leukaemia.
(from we didn’t sorrow for him then)
-In the torture room, as in life, things of beauty dumbfound us. Only sighs escape. These sighs are given off from what has coalesced in us, and has been silent and impatient for contact. In that way beauty drains us of our small cries. It’s a gentler torture.
ANOn in his recounting of the lives of himself and his fellow torturers says the writing of them feels something like a loner’s furtive masturbation. He also knows that is how many will want to portray it, to discredit it, to de-validate it. He says….
-I look back and see myself huddled there in the network, doing my job, not sorrowing, fantasy streaming from me along with inadequacy, immaturity. Of all the species what other animal’s outpouring would lead to that room?
Equally what other species’ outpourings lead to the bookshop and the critics knife. And which critics will take the knife to ANOn’s outpourings without any sorrowing, on our behalf.
Plenty I expect.
We will see.
Dear Mr(s) Kemoe Hopscotch
Thank you for letting us see
your poem. We have a
backlog at the moment and so
we are returning it to you. Good luck
with your writing.
Vortex soul, myriad of allworthy aptronyms. Moment! Yes!
Formal aesthetic distance. Praxis.
Couplet sensibility. Saussure?
Marmoreal. Horizon of expectations? Écriture.
Episodic structuralism and pageant? Yes. Metanovel? No.
Conceits, metaphors, feminine endings hypermeter. Show
enjambement. An attribute of realism. Remember
you must die. Decentre! Why? You ask why? Reader-
response criticism (Chicago critics?) and choral characters
as per tradition. (I am an unreliable narrator.)
Orate! “Writing of whores! Stimulate appetites!
Unveil! Denote! Discourse! Imagine fist fights!”
Thank you very much for your work on my behalf and your great patience. The light and warmth that radiates from you is wonderful to behold – long may it shine. I count myself very fortunate to have spent this time in your company. Over the weeks and months my regard and affection for you has increased manyfold, at times to the point of confusion. I will miss you, and when the opportunity presents itself I will be pleased to wonder how you are and to sing your praises.
Oh look, fuck it, this is bullshit. One is forever on the brink of being foolish and leaning forward and risking one’s heart. To be in the room with you is to struggle with myself, to struggle with the truth that the client has one therapist to fall in love with and the therapist has any number of clients to sit with and guide towards illuminations. The therapist is guarded and the client must abandon his cautionary instincts. How fair is that? I want you, dammit.
But anyway, here’s hoping all your roads unfold kindly for you.
Very best wishes