Reading: The Naked Don’t Fear the Water by Matthieu Aikins

What is the constellation of forces that makes a text dystopian? Weirder, what makes one want to create a dystopia? Consider this –

An owl is watching from a skeleton tree, as people board the buses. The vehicles are old, but not in a quaint way, and some are dented. They seem scratch built from the leftovers of an imperial past, and people pack onto them, carrying bags, battered laptops, and cracked smartphones. The convoy wakes, the sound of engines soon lost over the city scrub, but the owl doesn’t seem disturbed. Its eyes blindly stare as the trucks disappear into the outskirts, picking up speed past the towns, the haunted tanks from lost armies, and abandoned imperial outposts, and goes on into the desert. The landscape isn’t safe, and speed is essential – rising dust from the column mixes with heat and fumes, and as night falls some buses split off and pass into the mountains. Onboard one of the rattling carriages an empire-adjacent storyteller has escaped the core and dedicated his life to following one of the occupied, Omar.

“The drivers did the fifteen-to-twenty-hour trip in one shift, often with the help of hashish or amphetamines”

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V.99

The world is not a game of chess –
A game of chess is not a game
sometimes it’s something more and less
When a world turns on an evening

When rain churns upon the roof tiles
and rain sounds dance inside the ear
and rain worlds are raised from the red
depths of the mind, a damp childhood.

In an oxbow lake three kids act
in a pirate film, and leap out
in the rain, to feel the warm depths
and feel roots in the dark water

touch their legs, and shiver. A fish
a dead fish bobs among the reeds
Its unused eye staring at clouds
dark with the shadow of water.

In a film a neat cottage stands
by the sea, and an old man gives
advice that, being trite, this time
because of something deep, and past

returning, brings with it a roar
like the sun checkmates the dark sea
and castles on the sand, kids hands
had made, are washed away. I love you

V.87

The love of blue should not eclipse
the love of green – of mossy tiles
of algae bloom and ancient trees –
but then – culture does not feel pain

The sky should remain blue, and far,
so we needn’t worry to breathe,
its empire dissolved, its currents
tamed – culture does not feel pain

Whelks and shells of oysters bubble
on the beach and drown, and white flocks
of turrets spoil the darkling coast
and yet – culture does not feel pain

Cinema screens in a bleak world
play empty films to empty rooms,
sound whispered arguments about
light swords – culture does not feel pain

The stadiums of the still world
are filled with the crowds of the past
and sportsmen fight against hunger
because – culture does not feel pain

The boats upon the sea that leave
bodies scattered, should now be raised
cenotaphii to float above
white cliffs – culture does not feel pain

Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-7

A few days later, my dad received word from one of our friends inviting him to Saint-Raphaël for a drink. He got us in on it straight away, excited to get some distance from this basically forced solitude in which we had chosen to live. So I told Sal and Elsa that we’d be at the Sun Bar at seven and that, if they wanted to come, they’d see us there. Unfortunately Elsa knew the friend in question, which meant she was even keener to come. I guessed there would be complications and tried to dissuade her. What a waste of effort.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-6

The next morning, I took my dad on a walk down the road. We were upbeat and talked a lot, but not about anything in particular. On the way back to the villa I suggested we go through the forest. It was exactly half ten, I made sure. My dad was walking ahead of me because the path was narrow and full of brambles, and he was pushing them back as we went so I wouldn’t scratch my legs. When I saw him stop, I knew he’d seen them. I came up behind him. Salil and Elsa were sleeping, laid out on the pine needles, looking rugged and happy – I mean I told them to do that, but when I saw them I felt devastated. Elsa’s love for my dad, Sal’s love for me, could that have stopped them? They were equally beautiful, equally young, and so close to each other… I glanced at my dad, he was looking at them intensely, without moving, and he was strangely pale. I held his arm:

– Let’s not wake them, let’s go.

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01/07/2018

I can only think of
your blue bathing suit
over the brown sands
with their holes and emulsions

I can only think of
your legs lit by crystal shallows –
of the bruise by your knee
and the flat beach you gazed at

I can only think of
you at different intensities
as if a shell sound lodged in my mind
and the waves of you repeat

I can only think of
you, and your sunburnt lower back
you shouted, it was so sunburnt
I almost evaporated

When I try to think of
other things
you come riding back
standing on a wave

Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-5

The moment with the cigarettes wasn’t without consequences. Like some people who think a lot before they act, who are very sure of themselves, Anne wouldn’t tolerate being disobeyed or dishonoured. By being gentle, by releasing her tough hands from my face, she was going against that side of herself. She’d guessed that something was happening, and she would have made me confess to whatever it was, but at the last moment she gave in to pity or indifference. Because she had just as much trouble taking care of me, training me even, as she did accepting my weaknesses. The only thing that pushed her into this role as my tutor, my teacher, was a feeling of duty – that by marrying my dad, she was taking responsibility for me as well. I would have liked it if the constant disapproval, if I can call it that, could have improved to just annoyance. I would have liked it if I could have felt that she was just over-sensitive, because then it would have faded as she got used to me. But it’s much easier to get used to someone’s behaviour if you don’t feel like it’s up to you to sort them out. In six months she would have been tired of me, but in an affectionate way, and that was exactly what I wanted. But it wasn’t going to happen, because she felt responsible for me, and in a way she was, because I was still easily mouldable. That and stubborn.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-4

Other than his surprise, my father gave nothing else away. The cleaner explained to him that Elsa had picked up her suitcases and left straight away. I don’t know why she didn’t mention Elsa and me meeting. She was a woman from the countryside, and very sweet. She must have known more or less exactly what was going on, especially since she’d changed all the rooms around. I felt suddenly very thankful for her.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-3

The next day, as I was walking down to Sal’s house, I felt a lot less sure of my thoughts. To celebrate the release of all that tension, I drank a lot at dinner – I ended up pretty drunk. I explained to my dad how I was going to study literature, visit professors, that I would end up famous and boring. He would need to use all his advertising techniques and probably some kind of scandal to set off my career. We were in hysterics, talking over our crazy ideas. Anne laughed too, less loudly – she was indulging us. From time to time she stopped laughing, when my ideas became overblown and nothing to do with literature. But my dad was so obviously enjoying himself having a laugh with me that she said nothing. Eventually they put me to bed, tucking me in. I thanked them too many times, and asked what I would do without them. My dad didn’t really know, and Anne seemed to have some pretty brutal ideas on the subject, but as I was begging her to tell me, as she leaned over, I fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I threw up a lot. Waking up that morning taught me just how crappy waking up can be. It was worse than I’d ever had before. My thoughts fuzzy, my heart beating too fast, I headed toward the pine woods without noticing the sea at all, or the probably overexcited seagulls.

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Hello Sadness 2020 – Part 2-2

Two days passed. I was treading water and tiring myself out. I couldn’t free myself, I was obsessed – Anne was going to trash our existence. I didn’t go looking for Salil, because he reassured me and gave me happiness and I didn’t want that. I just collapsed into questioning myself with impossible questions, remembering the before time, fearing the days that were to come. It was so hot – my room was shadowed, my shutters closed, but that wasn’t enough to drain away the heaviness, the stickiness in the air. It was unbearable. I stayed on my bed, head thrown back, eyes on the ceiling, barely moving and if I did, only to find a bit of cold sheet. I didn’t really sleep, I put the old digital radio on at the foot of the bed, found a synthwave channel, where they were playing their slow tracks, almost melody free, just a kind of beautiful rhythm. I smoked a lot. It was decadent, and I liked it. But all this playing around couldn’t distract me. I was still sad and disoriented.

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