Merely a Mote
I am a tiny
merely a mote
piece of the universe
I strive to give
with no reward
write from my heart
hope to to start
If there is but one
I have done my job
no thanks required.
Isn’t that a Kelly Clarkson song?
I started reading Nietzsche at the age when he is best enjoyed, when puberty throws an anxious shade on schoolyard truths and every small sentence unfolds before you with hormonal exaggeration of the opening of the world or closing of the sky. It was from a time when boys are maybe a little too clever for their young bodies, yet not enough so to master them, and the tension inevitably leads to the pointless brooding and spiteful virility which loves a good question.
Nietzsche is wonderful fodder for the teenage mind for the same reasons why Rand or Camus are. Not because their ideas would meet evenly with the pubescent intellect, or that a full exploration of them should be in any way equal to that aptitude, but because they can be advertised to it effectively, because there is some provocative promise to reward all morbid angst, a small relevancy that can be understood just enough to chomp at the seductive, soul-shocking bit.
This, and the other crucial benefit of appearing clever to handsome, fully bosomed English teachers.
In my case, I spent most of my high school exertion to that end, treading far beyond my depth, hoping to materialize some testosterone-addled fantasy more improbable than the 11:30pm, parental-locked films which inspired it. I even went so far as to read Zarathustra aloud by moonlight above the Arno with the wish that some foreign women on the balcony next might holler in lascivious excitement for a night with my Ubermensch. There’s nothing like the single greatest artistic site in history to incite the philistine fancy – it gives its awe to both the high and the low.
Nonetheless, from all of this came some honest, more than warranted, learning. Part of it returns to me now, induced by the prompt.
Love of one’s fate. One of his ideas tied into the quote above, whereby suffering should be cherished, envied even, as a means to overcoming, and that if one could retake their life in whichever design, they would change nothing of its difficulty because it has made them precisely who they are. Eternal Recurrence…I need not discuss that demon; if true, most of us will meet with him soon enough.
But mainly it is a philosophy from a tired genius, of whom it can be said to have suffered unjustly, spurned by the only pupil he ever loved, in an attempt to write somewhat of a love-letter to himself, lessening the unreasonable pain of loneliness by giving it a noble visage, by permitting it to be of a grand, supra-historical essence. And in that meaning, what a much-needed gift it is, to cast our misery anew, in the dignity and purpose of overcoming, that we may learn to rule it forever in our favour, not so much for accepting it but loving and thanking it instead.
“Thoughts are Not Feelings” is Shitty Psychological Advice
If you have been in therapy before, or have ever picked up a cognitive behavioral or dialectical behavioral therapy book, you have likely encountered the adage that “thoughts are not feelings.”
This observation is often intended to help a therapy client distinguish between their interpretation of a situation (and what their thoughts are telling them about that situation) and the emotional reality of how that situation affected them. Take for example this passage from the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Workbook for Bipolar Disorder by Sheri Van Dijk:
Van Dijk does on to explain that this patient is actually feeling angry or disappointed by how she was treated. But as Van Dijk acknowledges in her own text, determining the difference between a thought and a feeling is really quite difficult. Our emotions shape how we perceive the world, what we think about, how we evaluate information, and how easily we can “break away” from repeating an upsetting idea to ourselves over and over again.
Conversely, the content of our thoughts impacts our emotions. When we dwell on unhappy subjects, we make ourselves physiologically and psychologically more sad. When we are used to interpreting others’ behavior in the most negative possible light, we move through life routinely feeling belittled, judged, and alone. The relationship between affect and cognition is a two-way street that is never shut down. So why do we even bother trying to cleave thinking from feeling in the first place? They don’t operate separately. They bleed into one another, shift and intertwine and progress in parallel, always.
“Thoughts are not feelings” is also something that patients who heavily intellectualize and analyze their emotions tend to hear from their therapists — especially when a therapist thinks all that analysis is blocking the patient from sitting with how they truly feel. Take for example this exchange I had with a therapist many years ago:
If my therapist’s goal was to help me connect with and validate my own emotions, she could not have done a worse job. Rather than hearing the anguish and panic evident in the metaphor I provided, my therapist decided to correct me for expressing my emotions in a way she didn’t approve of. This made me trust her a whole lot less, and it made me feel that the way I emote is somehow “wrong” in her view, and that I shouldn’t open up to her judgmental, censoring ass anymore. (Though I’m sure she’d want me to just say her actions made me feel mad or ashamed).
When therapists chide their patients to share a feeling, and not a thought, they are typically requesting the patient provide a straightforward affect word such as “joyful”, “irate,” “disappointed,” “bashful,” or “sad.” And if I pondered it for a moment, I could explain in this case that seeing so many friends suffering did in fact make me feel both guilty (because I could not help them all sufficiently) and sad (because witnessing their pain brought me sorrow).
However, in that therapeutic appointment, I did not feel that emotion words such as “sad” or “guilty” did justice to the enormity of what I was going through. My mood was not just a tiny bit struck by my friends’ crises. I was alarmed and had been alarmed for weeks, and quite literally could not stop thinking about it. My mind kept generating panicked thoughts about how much was on my plate, and how little I could to do to make a difference in the lives of others. Emotions were embedded into the content of my thoughts. My thinking was clearly quite subjective, flowery, and intuitive — it was emotional. Yet my therapist shut me down for conveying my feelings by sharing my thoughts.
Unfortunately, this approach is very common under a variety of therapeutic approaches. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches patients to avoid so-called cognitive distortions by identifying whether their thoughts line up with reality. If a patient’s thinking is not strictly rational or grounded in evidence, then they are encouraged to dismiss or set out to “disprove” those thoughts. In this therapeutic approach, any and all emotions are considered valid, and to some degree unavoidable — but inaccurate thoughts are treated as a problem a person must train themselves out of having so often.
Since our feelings and thoughts are impossible to fully untangle, it’s hard to put this approach into practice fully. How can I really allow myself to experience my sadness without also observing that my mind is flashing with images of my family members dying? How can I find space to acknowledge my anger, when that anger primarily takes the form of internal rants about how misinformed everyone is and how nobody ever listens to me? Those thoughts also reflect my emotional reality. If my therapist were to neglect them because they aren’t “really emotions,” they’d overlook a huge part of my interior experience.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (or DBT) also involves instructing clients to draw a firm line between their thoughts and their emotions. Returning again to the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Workbook for Bipolar Disorder, Van Dijk tells the reader that a statement such as “I’m an idiot!” is a thought, not a feeling. But is there a more emotionally charged thought to have than one that rejects your entire selfhood like that? It’s hard to imagine ever thinking of oneself as an ‘idiot’ and not experiencing a flood of negative emotions at the same time.
To say merely that one is feeling ashamed and embarrassed is to lose specificity in this case. “I’m an idiot!” (or “I feel like an idiot”) conveys that a person is experiencing profound negative emotions directed toward themselves, and that those negative emotions are connected to concerns about intelligence and capability, probably provoked by a perceived-screw up. That says a lot about why the client is upset and what past experiences and future concerns are being activated by their present situation. Why would a therapist ever want to replace such a rich, contextual discussion with vague faffing about their feelings?
Another reason that therapists and self-help books distinguish between thoughts and feelings is because many people do try and use their intellects to push unpleasant yet unavoidable emotions away.
Take for example my old colleague Brendon, whose parents had expected him to serve as their translator and unpaid employee when he was very young. Helping to manage a small business’ legal documents and keep its operations afloat at the age of ten years old had been incredibly stressful to Brendon. He had stomachaches and anxiety migraines as an adult that dated back to the experience. Yet whenever Brendon discussed his past, he was quick to dismiss his own trauma by highlighting all the generous things his family had done.
“My childhood was not perfect,” he’d say to me, after describing a harrowing encounter with government officials that he was forced to navigate on his parents’ behalf as a child. “But my family paid for my college, and they love me, and they moved to this country when they were in their mid-thirties and the adjustment was so very hard.”
It’s clear in this case that Brendon was engaging his intellect in order to keep feelings like resentment and sorrow at bay. In social psychology we sometimes call this motivated cognition — the practice of using our thoughts to arrive at the conclusion that we want. This is yet another way that thoughts and emotions cannot be cleanly severed from one another. We often try to think our way into feeling certain things — just as we often feel our way into specific thoughts.
Would it have been helpful for a therapist to redirect Brendon away from his motivated cognition with the phrase “thoughts are not feelings?” I don’t think that it would. Because in addition to the intense emotions Brendon was experiencing, he was going through a variety of meta-emotions too. Meta-emotions are the feelings we have about our own feelings, particularly feelings we’ve been socially conditioned not to discuss.
For instance, if a boy grew up learning that it was unacceptable for him to cry, he might become angry with himself for experiencing sadness as an adult. His anger is a meta-emotional reaction to his sorrow. I happen to experience this one a lot, by the way. It’s only in the past year that I’ve finally learned that when I feel the desire to go on snarky, cruel social media rants it’s often a signal I’m burying some sadness I think is too ‘pitiful’ to feel. I’m a toxically masculine man who hates his own weakness, and so I start intellectualizing away from my sadness by thinking very deeply (and very emotionally) about all the bad takes on Twitter that piss me off.
Brendon felt bad about resenting his parents. But he did not believe resentment was an emotion he deserved to have. And so he covered up his resentment with the meta-emotion of guilt — and that meta-emotion came with a series of specific, corrective thoughts. His parents did so much for him. His parents struggled so much more than he had. Their needs should always come before his own.
Brendon probably heard these messages from his parents as he was growing up — or he had it reinforced for him by the surrounding culture. There are a lot of conflicting influences and contradictory emotions swirling around inside of Brendon — and if we focused only on his emotions, and not on his thinking, all that complexity and personal history would be missed.
Many Autistic people are highly familiar with the complicated meta- emotional and cognitive maze that Brendon found himself wandering. We tend to live largely in our own heads, detaching from an overwhelming world by dwelling on our ideas and personal interests. We also are quite accustomed to being told that our reactions to things are incorrect.
One interview subject that I spoke to for my book Unmasking Autism, a young woman named Crystal, told me that she would experience meltdowns as a child when an unexpected change of plans threw her for a loop. If her elementary class had field day instead of indoor recess, for instance, she’d thrash and cry on the pavement in distress. Another interviewee, Eric, told me he used to get cranky and snap at people when he was at busy work conferences that became too noisy — particularly when the sound system made crackling feedback sounds that only he seemed able to hear.
None of the neuro-conforming people around Crystal understood she needed a consistent, predictable structure to her day, and no one planning Eric’s professional conferences recognized that Autistic people like him often require safe places to retreat from social data and sound. And so instead, both Crystal and Eric were frequently told by others that they were explosive, being sensitive “babies”, or making their feelings up. Experiences like these teach Autistic people that we cannot trust our own feelings, and that we should always closely analyze our reactions and make all our “wrong” emotions go away.
Because of these numerous invalidating and censoring experiences, most Autistic people are quite bad at knowing how they feel — especially in the heat of the moment. Scientists often call this inability to recognize emotions and body sensations alexythimia, and it manifest in many ways.
Autistic writer and researcher Stevie Lang has observed that during sexual encounters, Autistic folks can’t always tell if they have genuinely consented to an activity, or if they merely want to want something for the sake of pleasing their partner. During an argument with a loved one, an Autistic person’s speech might become clipped and loud without them even realizing that they are angry. An Autistic person I spoke to told me that she needs days to process and reflect on an experience before she can tell how it made her feel.
I am often the same way. Big losses and surprises throw me for a loop and leave me numb. “I’ll think about this and get back to you” is a life-saving phrase in such cases. My partner knows that when we experience any challenge, I’ll probably send them a lengthy text message explaining my true perspective and needs after a day has passed. It’s just the way I work. It’s how I and many Autistic people cope with the fact we reflexively censor and block our feelings. And have been blocked.
Thinking is part of how we arrive at how we feel. So for a therapist to tell us that all this crucial interior work is invalid because “thoughts are not feelings” is devastating. It shuts us down and makes us feel like we are wrong about ourselves all over again. This is only compounded by the many other invalidating experiences Autistics have in a standard therapy office, such as being told that our emotions look too “flat” or that we explain experiences in too much detail. We are always to much or too little. We truly cannot win.
Most therapists are non-Autistic white women who, for a variety of cultural and sociological reasons, believe that empathizing with a patient by looking at their face and instantly identifying how they are feeling is key. But Autistic people don’t work like that. Non-Autistic people are bad at detecting our emotions. Our facial expressions and nonverbals don’t look like theirs. We often convey our inner truth through lengthy stories, elaborate analogies involving our special interests, complex systemic analyses, and media references that echo how we feel inside.
Thoughts are feelings. And feelings are thoughts. Just as behavior is communication. Many decades ago, psychologists and neuroscientists did away with the concept of Cartesian Dualism, which tried to look at the mind and body as separate entities. The philosopher René Descartes believed the body was physical matter, and that it operated on animal instinct — which is still how many people talk about emotions today. He also claimed the mind was entirely spiritual, not physically instantiated, and that it was rational and moral in ways the body could never be. None of this is actually true.
just to get started..
the pacific ocean is the largest body of water on the plant. it contains all sorts of animals, sunken ships, unsunken ships, soon-to-be sunken ships, volcanos, seaweed, massive amounts of water. there are plenty of islands in it and even an entire continent is stuck at one of its corners. there are all kinds of storms, swells, tsunamis, waves and tubulences, much about it is unknown, it is heavily polluted and parts of it are in dispute over the territorial ownership. sights, sounds, smells and taste are all involved. oh, and some coconuts..
now here's the thing: we must find either a cement mixer OR a blue park bench as the most resembling the pacific ocean.
what arguments can you raise for the cement mixer, what arguments for the bench.
here's a few
cement mixer and its resemblence to the pacific ocean.
-contains more stuff in it than a park bench.
-much of the contents are mysteroous to us. it is true that it is nominally designed to contain cement, sand , gravel sand, and water, but it may hold other things, like a sunken ship, or a school of fish, it may even contain coconuts.
-the cement mixer is designed to turn around, using powerful hydraulics or electrical currents, and turn that in to a circular movement. not unlike ocean currents which move around, driven by powerful forcces, primarily the sun.
-the cement mixer has a high value , usage and importance.
-regardless of the motion of the mixer, the vehicle that carries may be in motion.
-if either the cement mixer or the vehicle is mishadled, the results will be disastrous.
-as the mixer is at work, there is a soothing, wave like sound, as the gravel and sand grind against the inner walls of the mixer.
blue park bench and its resemblence to the pacific ocean:
-its blue. maybe deep , intensly dark blue. maybe it is a new coat of azure. just like the sea. really, that was obvious.
-though many could claim it, they come and go in the end. the bench stays where it is forever.
-the planks that make up the seat are separated. looking at it from the front, it is clearly a series of waves.
-the wood contains eyelets, and burrs, which swirl down, tempring you...tempting you...tempting you..
-the backrest is a merciless tsunami.
-if you lick different parts of the bench, you will find ample similarities between it an the low tide scum, or the Mariana abyssal, or the great japanese 'research' whaling ship.
-the bench is coated with a plastic lacquer, and one or two of the planks are newer, pvc fake-wood . well...plenty of plastic in the ocean.
-ants that pick on whatever the last guy sitting was eating (very hard to tell at this point) resemble the endless chain of maritime freight.
- spots of dried bird shit bespatter the seat. one looks like honolulu, one like Samoa, another like Hokkaido...
-if you drown here, no one will help you.
Pattern without rhyme: A not-so-free verse
I can feel myself
Slowly slipping away from me
Forgetting the things that I used to love
The reasons to live
The reasons to die
So I'm stuck mere existence
Just floating around like—not a ghost—
Nothing I can think of that is neither here nor there
I do the same things over and over
Day after day
Watching the clock
Knowing the feeling of two hours
Exactly how long a minute actually is
Because I watch the time so much now
Do you know the feeling? Of time passing? I feel it
It breathes down my neck
With no boom
It's like I feel my soul flickering
Like a candle in the wind
My will fading
Like paint on aged wall
Blotched ink on faded paper
I don't wake up with excitement
I don't look forward to the day any longer
I teach the kids, exercise, drink a lot of water
I do only things that are good for me now
Do you know the feeling? When the thrill of doing something you shouldn't do leaves you? I know it
It's what makes life worth living you know
Doing things you shouldn't do
Enjoying the thrill of defying something, someone, yourself, society
No matter how little you do defy
And when that's gone, what is left?
I can feel the hollowness in my being
A silence where my curiosity used to be
I do things
But I put them off for much longer
There's a pattern
But there's no rhyme
I'm starting to feel like the poems I write
Do you know the feeling?
Operation Ted Bundy
Take the place of Ted Bundy’s first victim and bring back his brain for study.
My research brings me to March 18, 1946. A bedroom in small bright blue house with white shutters and a yellow front door in Roxborough PA where I take the place of the very first victim slipping into the pleasing sleeping body of a raven haired twenty-one-year-old Eleanor Louise Cowell.
That night. Squeezing her eyes shut pretending not to notice as her father Sam Cowell, having found nothing in the stack of semen-stained pornography kept hidden in his greenhouse to bring release, pulled up her covers. Just enough. To reach in and insert first one finger. Moistened with spit. Probing. Then one hand, spreading her labia wide, dipping in to broaden the passage. Expert he was at preparing for fertile planting. Satisfied, he hastily pulls up the other handful of bedclothes tossing them to land burying his daughter’s silent grimace. Beheaded. Intombed. His rough hands, the hands of a professional gardener, nails embedded black with soil, coaxed apart her ankles like tangled stubborn tree roots. His penis heavy. Angry. Aching. Beyond caring about noise or messiness. His wife in the bedroom ten foot away behind a wall cocooned in herself by the latest rounds of electroshock. What good was she to him? He knew anything could be concealed. Hidden away. His moan too loud. As he buried himself deep into the mossy hole he had dug. Impaled there he planted his seed ever deeper again and again.
I continue to live on as Eleanor into early summer with the shame of knowing she cannot vomit away what is growing inside her. She cannot hide. She feels the horror stretching her once slim belly from within. At night, she hits herself down there as hard as she can hoping to kill it and make it go away. Hoping to see something warm and red trickle into the toilet each morning. Weeks go by. She whispers words of hatred as she digs deep into her ballooning belly searching for a little neck beneath the heaviest shape her fingers can find to snap it off and make it die. One night, as her hands travel down to maim and kill, it strikes back. Inside the blow of a fist went straight to her gut making her gasp for breath. After that, she feels its sharp fists and kicking feet striking her endlessly with howls so loud inside she wonders if her parents will hear ten feet away where nightly she knows the sounds of flesh slapping, her mother’s sobs, her father’s moans.
Later that summer, her mother also named Eleanor, was taken away to the place where they shocked the emotions out of her memory for a time. She came back blank. Calm.Content to wander aimlessly going from cupboard to cupboard, drawer to drawer looking for what she’d lost before taking to her bed causing Sam to come again to his daughter’s room. This time bolder. Reaching under her covers with two hands. His fingers extend up under her nightgown and touch the bulge above her pubis. I squeezed my eyes shut. I grimace at what I fear will come next.
“What’s this?” He shouted tossing her sheets to the floor. “You whore. Slut. No daughter of mine.” He slapped her spat in her face. “How could you bring disgrace on this family?” You trollop. Who’s the father?”
Eleanor just looked at him. She was shaking. She felt her lips curl into a grin. “How about Lloyd Marshall? An Air Force Vet I met...” Another slap. Then a back hand to her jaw.
“Are you sure? You cheap worthless tramp. Answer me!” A clenched fist lands hard just clipping her left ear. There was a buzzing sound. Some warm wetness trickled.
“Whoever, Jack Worthington?” She looks at his eyes. Blue turning to black. “You want to hear me say it...........it’s you.” This time the blow of his fist when straight to her gut making her gasp for breath, followed by two more. Could knock out Joe Louis. Doubled over, she smiles. “Good. I hope you killed it.”
He reached over and grabbed her face by her cheeks burning from the blows. “I am your father. You will not shame this family. I’m sending you away where no one will ever know and you’ll have this child and then you will both come home. And your mother and me will raise the little bastard as our own."
Then her father kissed her, his hot swollen tongue licking the roof of her mouth as his hands roamed down stopping to weigh her newly ripe breasts. An expert gardener. Big juicy tomatoes. Eleanor just squeezed her eyes shut pretending not to notice.
November 24, 1946. Burlington, Vermont. Elizabeth Lund Maternity Home for Unwed Mothers. I know I will not have to endure this mission much longer. The pains went on for three days doubling her over. Could knock out Joe Louis. Eleanor hoped it would die. Eleanor hoped she would die. She felt her body being forced open like a rough huge hand spreading her wide, dipping down to broaden the passage. The pressure coaxing her bones apart. Tangled stubborn tree roots. Then her moans too loud. Her vagina too full, stretching bursting. Her feet in cold metal holding her open too wide. She howls. Some warm wetness trickled. She reaches down and feels a heavy shape covered in bloody moss. She whispers words of hatred as she digs deep and pushes just enough. Her fingers searching for a little neck.
Before the doctor can say a word or the nurses pull her hands away, I snap off the head. Slipping out and away from the first female victim.
I look back and see the doctor yelling at Eleanor to keep pushing to expel the mangled dead child. She bears down with all that is in her. A headless body plops explosively to the floor bloody, battered, bruised.
"The head, where its head?" The nurse yells.
"It must be buried somewhere in all this." Another nurse replies. She is crawling on hands and knees looking through the bloody sheets and tools that have fallen to the floor.
The doctor exclaims, “It would have been a boy. Too bad. Did you have a name for it?”
Eleanor is sobbing. Gasping for breath. Howling through tears of relief, “I would...I would have named him Theodore...Teddy...Ted."
The infant head in my hands, and make my way back, completing my mission.
Why do I even bother?
You know sometimes, some times
I don't want to do what I'm supposed to
What I'm expected to do
I don't want to act a certain way
Or chat a certain way
Or tone down my smarts for someone
Or cloak my humanity
because it's what's expected
I want to do what I want
Walk how I want, speak the way I want
Dress the way I want
Go wherever I want
But then I can't exactly
Unknow the things I know
The people I know
Or unchoose the things I chose
Or unbelieve the things I believe
So I guess I'm pretty much stuck
With the life I have now
So I take my two hands
Out of my two pockets
I can't possibly go home with them in there
They'd ask who the hell I think I am.
A Love Letter To A Friend.
Treat me not with the merciless indignity of friendship.
Not when I have wanted you so viscerally. Not when you occupy my every waking thought, and then, not content with that daylight mastery, you omnipotently deign to also haunt my dreams... such carnal dreams...
Of course I should not be complaining. It is a clemency that you enter me at all, even if you might not choose to. I want you inside my mind. In depraved, destructive ways. I want to be defiled by you, owned by you, kept by you. I want to languish in the power of your magnificence, to be nourished and then to die from your presence, as a flower wilts in too much life-giving sunlight.
But it cannot be so and I know it.
This intellectual fantasy, this... sensationalist fetish... does not align with my reality. And I am even now grimacing at myself for writing such ludicrous drivel.
It’s true, to be sure, you have never met a person so able to argue herself out of a compliment.
She seems nice, you might think on a first glance, or at least calm and undramatic, she might be fun to hang around with.
Not a moment later you will stagger back in horror, entirely convinced by my pompously eloquent self-flagellation that in fact I am just as demonically grotesque as the most barbarously gnarly beldam in existence. That I am but a vile putrid wretch! Let me alone to wallow in my egotistical misery!
...I take it all back.
I retract my words from you as a cat retracts it’s claws from a beloved scratching post, getting them caught and meowing pitifully for release from my self-inflicted predicament.
Treat me, please, with the merciful dignity of friendship.
Could it really be possible that a being as flamboyantly monstrous as myself could be gifted such a forgiveness?
Surely it cannot be hoped.
But either way, I promise that I shall henceforth endeavor to be more worthy of such a compassion.
Sweating profusely I tried to wipe my brow to no avail. Today the sun seemed to be a bit closer to earth, and it was scorching our bald heads. The land was barren, and the mirage continued its peculiar dance. The chains on our hands and legs were heavy and hot. Mopping my brow for the umpteenth time, I suddenly realised that it was probably the last time I would be using my hands as a pair. My mind raced back to all the things I’d ever done with my hands both good and bad. I thought where I had been and what I had done, the souls I’d touched and the ones I’d destroyed. A terrifying scream startled me jolting me out of my deep reverie.
I was now alive at the moment. I could feel my breath, I could smell the strange odor of feces, urine and sweat mixed with blood. The stench was choking me. The crowd cheered loudly as the butcher pumped up his axe in the air while doing a celebratory jig. The crowd was baying for blood, a look at their faces and you could see they were relishing everything that was going on. I was left wondering what kind of frenzy they would be in once the beheading started.
Up in the very important box you could see Mulei and Maria his wife and their entourage were enjoying the scene. My heart was now beating loudly like the tum tum drums of South Africa threatening to bust out of my chest. I felt like I could die. I swallowed hard as next guy in line was unchained and escorted by two humongous men to axe man’s arena despite the struggle he put up his hands were held firmly on the blood soaked log.
Meanwhile, the axe man was revving the crowd up with a small performance with his massive blood stained axe. With a wry smile on his face the king gave the signal and in a fraction of a second the axe was on the prisoners’ hand, cracking his bones while splashing blood all over. Simultaneously, the prisoners’ screams of pain were silenced by the rapturous applause of the crowd.
Next in line was an old man, and I was after him. His chains were undone. He walked slowly with a determined step and knelt before the axe man. Suddenly king Mulei stood up and with a wave of his hand the crowd went silent, but my heart thundered on, for a moment I thought the other prisoners could hear it.
“Citizens of Tuaa, your king greets you, today we have to appease our gods” Bokonos’ voice broke the hot afternoon air and reverberated around the amphitheatre.
The crowd roared and clapped with excitement.
“Today thieves’ hands will be chopped off so that they will never steal again” he continued and the crowd burst into another rapturous applause.
Looking around, I could see the last prisoner's on the ground, and it was still twitching.
“This man’s hands will be chopped off for trying to grope the queen, he deserves to die but being a merciful king I will let him live but with a warning.”
Another loud cheer met his last word. A broad smile crept from cheek to cheek on the queen’s face as she clapped to the words of the king. With a wave of his hand, the crowd fell silent again and that eerie feeling that my heartbeat could be heard returned. Suddenly the old man’s voice broke the silence.
“I’d rather die today,” he said resolutely.
I was taken aback, and so was everybody else in attendance. The king Mulei trying to show who is in command retorted “so be it you fool”
The crowd went ballistic again. The old man with a determined face scanned the crowd, the king and then bowed. The axe man was now doing his pre-beheading jig and both he and the crowd were loving it. King Mulei watched with a wry smile plastered on his face. This stupid old man had disrupted his plans but the show had to go on. Mulei let the axe man dance for a while, a tactic he used to fill the crowd with anticipation. Then he finally gave the signal and with one clean swing the axe landed on the old man’s neck which dissociated from his body. It rolled on the floor spilling blood until it rested near the pair of hands that were still twitching.
The crowd was ecstatic. Warm blood that had splashed on me was now trickling down my face and bare chest. The old man’s head lay in a pool of blood with flies swarming all over for a taste of fresh blood. The scene was ghastly I nearly vomited, but I managed to keep myself together. I was next and this sent cold chills down my spine, my feet were like wobbly like jelly. As the old man’s headless body was being dragged away I observed that the queen relished every moment of this.
Suddenly a large bust of wind tore up the amphitheatre and black clouds engulfed the blue sky. It started getting dark. Everybody was both surprised and confused, you could see it on their faces. The place fell silent that you could hear a pin drop. In a jiffy the old man’s head started floating, and his eyes turned pure white. Everybody was shocked, some fainted and others got on their heels and fled, the courageous ones were left behind to witness this peculiar event. The head was now midair spinning around slowly occasionally throwing bits of clotted blood.
“Today we will witness the end of Mulei’s reign” his shrill voice was deafening.
The guards had dropped their spears and scampered away. The old man’s head swirled around for a while, finally settling on me. His white eyes elicited no emotion, I stood there too afraid to move, my feet were heavy, and I had no energy.
“You are our saviour, the head said.
In an instant the twitching hand came alive. It felt its way, took the keys that had been dropped by the guards. The hand unlocked my hands as well as the other prisoners who were still shell shocked but they immediately took to their heels. I tried to follow them but I couldn't Some magnetic force kept me rooted on the spot. Pandemonium broke out as soon as the head and hand fell down and a lightning bolt hit the very important person’s box.
I could see the king Mulei, his wife and their entourage trying to escape. What happened next still baffles me to date. I was struck by lightning on the top of my scalp, but I felt no pain. Instead, I experienced the old man’s pain. I could clearly see what he had been through. His family had been tortured and killed by Mulei’s men. Then I was taken back to the memory of the incident that had caused his suffering and death. He was the king’s cup bearer. As he was serving the queen her wine, he accidentally spilled some on her chest. In the process of trying to wipe some of it off with a cloth, the queen let out a scream, claiming that the old man was groping her.
I wasn’t in control of my body. I picked up a panga and a sword and made my way up toward the very important person’s box. I was moving with extreme pace and athleticism that it shocked me. Mulei wasn’t in the box when I got there, but I caught a glimpse of his entourage. I started to run in their direction, and soon I was upon them as they made their way to the awaiting chariot.
I could spot the king now. A sudden spur of energy filled my right arm and I flung the spear which soared through the air and hit King Mulei on his back protruding from his chest. As he fell down, I could see Marias’ inaudible screams. Suddenly I blacked out.
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color-coded between the ribs
meet me on the equinox
somewhere between then and now,
where your whispers taste like powder sand
and liquid stars.
slipping my fingers into the marron
and cobalt streaked skies
slowly dipping my toes in your love
ever so gently, but with a blazing soul.
footprints on the moon,
imprinted over the kaleidoscope of your heart
my ever raging, peaceful midnight sun