Wrought Prose

We have grown quite fond of our brothers here in the desert. There are poetry contests here, the poets who line up for days, and who follow the caravans through the Saudi tundra, from Oman, from Yemen, they follow the caravan commiting their reams of poems to the mind. There is a great patience in the camel, a meaningful elegance and grace, these poets live their subject, and for them there is nothing else.  The poems are only sang, and so putting them to the page is beyond us — the slow cadence of the chants, the dancing of the winners, these are good beasts.


Sometimes it is hard to believe in the one god and his one true prophet, with our Ganpatty idols gauzy with incense smoke, with our morning salutations to Laxmi — but in these hills, with their palette of one million monochromes, we are sure, if only for the moment, but we are sure.

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During one lunar year, I have been declared invisible: I shrieked and was not heard, I stole my bread and was not decapitated. I have known what the Greeks did not: uncertainty. In a bronze chamber, faced with the silent handkerchief of a strangler, hope has been faithful to me; in the river of delights, panic has not failed me. Heraclitus of Pontica admiringly relates that Pythagoras recalled having been Pyrrho, and before that Euphorbus, and before that some other mortal. In order to recall analogous vicissitudes I do not need to have recourse to death, nor even to imposture.

I owe this almost atrocious variety to an institution which other republics know nothing about, or which operates among them imperfectly and in secret: the lottery.


It seems that we adjusted to the new time zone right when the rains gave up and the Ganesh idols finished their prolonged bathes in the putrid waters of Chowpatty beach. Those early mornings and mid afternoons have never been hotter or more crowded or anything else. And bathed in the haze of time passing, leaving only the dim outlines of an actual physical presence there, seems like it could not have been us. Long hair matted in the humidity, the unrest, the unknowingness, New York left behind, wanting to go home more than anything else, and not going. Why not? Well there was something there. There was something in Nana’s cooking, something about sitting cross legged with the drunken uncle who wretched blood after dinner from his cheapo rum, something about the sense that this is the time and place and going back could not have been an option. It was an option though, and finally when the uncle was too much, and his drunken barging into a little room that had to be the only respite in that entire shithole ended in an argument that had to be unwinnable, and then there was only one place to go.


It was a different place, a different city in Colaba. There were white people there, white girls who dressed like this was Chelsea – not in the twenties, the one in England, and there were weird junkies who slept everywhere, and there was a hotel. It is named the Ascot hotel. And it had a big soft bed and a shower. And for the first time in two months, we were clean, and there were meetings to get to, and country clubs with silver bells where we could eat tea sandwiches and watch cricket, and none of that was very important but it seemed like it then. There was that breakfast in the Oberoi with Jacqueline, and seeing someone from home was the best. But there were other things between the Ascot Hotel and the Oberoi. There was a good cheap hotel on the top floor where they brought as much tea as we could drink in the morning, and good buttered toast. And there was Prive – it is a club, and no one came to India to put in work at the club, but when there is nothing, and all we have are our wits, the club is a good place to feel at home in. The raw silks draped perfectly, some smooth looking loafers, plenty of fresh lime soda, and a few good jokes here and there. And then we are at the Taj with the CEO of HSBC, and we are on the beaches across the way from the Gateway Of India, and we are in the country clubs up in Juhu, and suddenly everyone is a friend and doing everything they can, and it is mostly bullshit. But that it fine. Because if there wasn’t the bullshit, there would be nothing. And nothing is good, but sometimes we need something, even if it is bullshit. Those brunches next to Prive, where we did nothing but chat up the entire room and make everyone laugh before getting back into the hard bed on the top floor, and delicately hanging that suit that couldn’t make it much longer, not in these conditions, out every night sweating through this silk – it was well stitched though and can still pass any doorman in the Gulf.    


We made it to the Oberoi, in a purple and green checked shirt that had done well in the Hamptons over the summer. And some salmon linen pants, and Jacqueline said to eat more, and there were pancakes and omlettes and waffles and more pancakes, and it felt like we could not eat anything more, but the waiters came by and there was no reason not to eat – and we did. Our pants were tight, and there in that air conditioning it felt like something close to home. There was coca-cola, there was the club, and there was this breakfast, and only that.


There is so much that was not home. Nothing like home. There was the slums up in andheri, there were the weird jobs over there, the chance meetings of with girls who worked at Vogue India, who couldn’t understand how far removed from anything authentic that it was worthless talking to them – well that could be something from home – which home? From when? There was the Bourne Supremacy, that could have been from home too; but do you understand? Ok.

That first morning was believable, the rain, the thousands of men lining the streets in drenched rags, the clanging of one million bells, the little firs, the bottles of soda lining the gutters; the strange and penetrating darkness. Sleep was impossible. The time change, the noise, the rain, the absolute knowing that only outside was the temple, and before the sun rose the staircase was descended and everything that was about that first Bombay morning became cemented. Walking too far was sure to leave everything awash in horrid miscalculations. So the steps became measured, and it was clear that this was India, that this was everything never imagined, or even begun to thought about. What had been imagined? Impossible to say now. but really, what had been imagined? A city, traffic, poverty, good food, some Indian girls, not much, the flight was long and many thoughts processed over and over, though none of them actually about the final destination, none of them about this place.


There is the temple, which is not much: covered in Christmas lights, potted with dirt.


It was probably hot. It was very hot. Maybe skin had already begun to melt off some of the people arms and faces, leaving the muscle mucus exposed and shivering in the glints of the heats wavy optics. It was not hot enough to melt the steel base and have the towers collapse on top of themselves at near free-fall speeds, but it was hot. The lights had gone out, maybe the sprinklers where showering everything, or maybe they weren’t working; a few things didn’t work that morning – the radios, the air force interceptors, the security cameras, a few things, but it was a busy morning and even if the sprinklers had come on they wouldn’t have done much against the flames or the heat. The summer spent quietly, trading treasury bonds, or brokering CO2 emission credits, and then there was nothing but this heat. The intensity and singularity of the thought, the singularity and intensity of the most basic need to catch a breath – to let the lungs fill with sweet oxygen; this is all that is there. But there is more. Because they took each other by the hand before they leapt out windows that had to have been smashed with dull and plastic and, at this point because of the oncoming weakness due to smoke inhalation, heavy office chairs; because they exited into those crystalline blue skies hand-in-hand, there must have been some clarity of thought. Could it have been scary? Could the thought of leaping out the 101st  floor possibly terrorized anyone who was already trapped inside of an insidious sort of art project that were it in a movie would have been classified as obvious. This was not a movie though, besides everyone lining the Hudson by the afternoon who said that it looked like one, or felt like one (what do movies feel like?), this was undeniably the pinnacle of life. This is the moment when New York harbor stretches out occasionally clouded by the black plumes that shift with the slight sway of the winds, this is where the statue of liberty is standing down there looking back up: Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …


  This is after those messages have been left from the phones who somehow had managed to keep their connections connected. This is the proclamations of love to partners who had been out that morning, or the lines had been busy, or they had run to the television and had it turned up too loud and they had missed the ringing phones. The lost lovers on that top floor who were trying to say a few last words. These are those last words, the declarations of love that are filled with guilt, that somehow are tinged with the idea there is no other choice, there is only this, only those windows and what lies beyond them, every tangential option has become focused on that. It is a life to its own. It is not a choice because there is no other option. The phone would ring and ring and ring on the other end, and maybe it was for the best; messages are easier sometimes. And what could the voice on the other side be like? And what could be said, and what pleas could be made? This was best a one sided conversation, and the messages are left and the urge to call someone else, someone who might be home – but there is some else behind the caller, and they want to make a call to, and there is the understanding between everyone that these are those last reaches of contact. The self is lost in the greater good, and once that receiver is placed back in the black cradle there is nothing except acceptance. And maybe the man behind that man has gotten someone on the other line. He is crying, or he is strong, but either way he is talking, and he does not want to hang up. It had been better to leave a message; say your peace and let it be done. There are no protestations, no admittance that we are about to take our own lives, that we are free and this is clear, like those skies right there behind the slight shade of the tinted windows that have yet to be smashed open.


The fire continues to gobble up reality and a few have already found solace on the ledge, perfectly conscious in the way that the creep of certain death drives electricity through the entire body, climaxing in the purity and silence of singular action. Though we are not there yet, this choice (that is not a choice) has not been there, and this is still the office; with the drabness of the gray cubicles and the nylon clothe that wraps the chairs begging to melt. This is still the thick black smoke choking and filled with the chemicals of the rubber wheels on the bottom of the chairs; this is the wheezing. The message has been left, the machine somewhere back uptown or across the river would have a little red light, and it would take whoever took the message a long time to know what to do with it: keep it, erase it? Keep it? Erase it? Until in their own indecision the message had lost its’ meaning, and came to mean nothing at all, abstracted from those final moments of definition and clarity. The message inside the message is gone, or there never was one. There is nothing more inside this office. They had been good employers here. Nice medical benefits, a killer Christmas party last year, good views, always good views. On sunny days like this one, but more so when the clouds had rolled in and there was nothing but the chunky grays outside, teaming with what everyone knew only 1,355 feet below; the millions of yellow taxi’s that looked like ants, the people who could not even be discerned, all of that hidden behind those clouds. But today is, was, and will be clear, and they can see everything before them. This is perfect knowledge of the marketplace. This is the maturation of their bond. And they are on the ledge.


Some of the others had leaped holding hands, because there was hope in it. Because the fright was manageable this way — because they had been friends and talked about Friends at the watercooler. She had like Monica’s wedding, and was Ross really the father of Rachel’s coming baby? They had talked about other stuff too, like deals, and the market, and that new chick who worked on the floor below. Where was she? And now they took each other by the hand and let themselves go. But we are not there yet.


We are with he who is alone. Who has left the message, and who begins to choke with his own coughs. Who crawls on his knees to a window that has already been used as the fastest exit to freedom by thirty, forty, fifty people. He has watched them line up. He has watched the calmness in which fate is determined. The calmness in which free will becomes obsolete; the understanding of humans who stand on the ledge of a towering building blossoming beautiful buds of smoke, and the wind isn’t there, even at this altitude; and the thick blackness flowers and hangs there. He crawls because he remembers his school fire drills, and there is no one in front of him, or no one behind him, or no one that he sees, or registers. And then it is only him, the ledge; and the sweet taste of the perfect autumn morning. How clear is that first breath. The brain electrocutes. Firing new track ways for neural transmissions. He is free and he is alive.


And with out much thought, there is the flailing limbs. The whiteout. The blackout. A life flashing before his eyes. The brain floods the senses and all that is left are these iconic ten seconds.

We must look to our man, the one who stands at the ledge with the clarity of a life before him, and the life behind him. We must honor the definition of his soul through his actions and come to understand that all of our buildings our on fire.







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