Fragment Number 64 | Cassandra Voices

Fragment Number 64


It was Saturday morning. Maher was lying in bed. He had just woken up. It was early yet, before eight he could tell. When he had been a much younger man, he had been able to lie in for hours on end but ever since he had passed 30, which was almost twenty years ago now, he had found it impossible to sleep on once he had woken, which was typically before eight on the weekend, maximum, and 5 or 6am minimum on the weekdays.

He looked around him. Light was already beginning to filter through the dark yellow curtains that he had bought particularly for his bedroom. This had been one of his greatest discoveries in terms of interior decoration, as the soft light they diffused helped him to acclimatise gently to his surroundings. And, considering he was such an early riser, he needed this bit of morning douceur. It was the first in a complex and methodical line in his defences against the onslaught of the day. For Maher, life was an unending struggle, or at least, series of struggles. War in short. He had always felt this, ever since he was a young boy. So, when he finally came across the figure of Heraclitus, in his first year in university while majoring in philosophy, he had been endlessly consoled to read fragment 64, literally translating as the thunderbolt steers all things. In other words, from out of conflict came everything!

As he lay lying there on his bed watching the wedge of light widen a little through the gap in the heavy curtains, Maher could not but help think of the unending cosmos. This was reflexive. Maher, obviously, was a morning person. It was, without any doubt, one of the plethora of reasons why he was single. His ex-wife used to joke to him, after they had separated of course, of the years of abuse he used to subject her to with cosmologically ruminations like this, first thing in the morning. She would joke, sometimes almost seriously, that she was sure that she would be open to pursuing a claim for psychological abuse after the years that they had spent together and all the subsequent trauma she had faced after being subjected to Maher’s monologues.

She had a rich sense of humour, Maher smiled, thinking about her now. However, obviously not rich enough.

As Maher finally lifted himself up off the bed, he heard the pitter patter of Dave, the dog. Dave was a Jack Russell. Mad as a box of Jacks! Maher had read somewhere that the breed was rather particular as they were convinced, apparently, that they were human, not canine, which as far as Maher could tell kind of helped to explain their rather anti-social behaviour vis a vis their four -legged brothers and sisters. Dave, for example, basically wanted nothing to do with other dogs. Except of course when he had an urge, and that was basically it. Apart from random acts of sodomy, typically rather perversely involving a rather aged mongrel, Dave, as far as Maher could see, did not particularly give a shit about his fellow quadrupeds.

Maher sat on the side of the bed, half contemplating the face of his pet who was, as was his systematic habit, sitting in the most physically endearing position imaginable, for human empathy at least. That was another character trait, Dave the dog had a most uncanny knack how to make himself cute as possible, somehow shrinking himself by adapting a very specific posture, typically first thing in the morning, making his shoulders go in, contracting every part of himself so that he appeared physically as small and so as defenceless as possible. The head would tilt then slightly, that was when he really wanted to work on Maher, he would tilt his head in this impossibly cute angle, the eyes then would look appealingly at him so that the invisible bubble-like memes above his head would float up.

“I need you.”

And Maher would just look on, indeed as he always seemed to, helplessly with some amazement at the eternal ingenuity and downright cleverness of the creature. Only that very year, animals had been granted sentient status in a government bill, in the UK. Maher had greeted the news with incredulity. After two thousand years and counting, finally, they were now recognised legally as being thinking creatures! Christ, Maher, could not think of any human who met a Jack Russell’s level of conniving and sheer trickery. Personally, such attributes he found rather admirable.

“Okay, Dave, I’m with you man!” he addressed the dog.

All too often, Maher observed, Dave was the instigator of communication. Non-verbal, of course. Dave was only prone to bark on two occasions. Firstly, when someone approached the front door, typically in the form of a courier or the postman and secondly, when they were down on the beach and Dave wanted Maher to play fetch, typically with a common stone that Maher would throw for him along the beach.

Maher sat in a face-off with Dave for a further few moments before Maher eventually capitulated and got up off the bed.

In the kitchen, Maher approached the coffee machine. He had ordered it from Italy directly from the manufacturer. Oh, it was nothing fancy. It was more like something from the nineties, Maher’s favourite decade. In other words, it was still quite mechanical, rather than electronic. Maher didn’t trust technology, at the best of times. He was of that generation that was somehow in between both worlds. Not quite wholly 20th century, not quite wholly 21st century. Born on the cusp, as it were. And, fundamentally so.

He ground the coffee which he retrieved from the big golden foiled packet which he also ordered online. It came from Naples. The Neapolitans were great blenders, and particularly of coffee. Maher had once visited the city with Claudia when they were still in their honeymoon period. Oh yes, the days of magic they still remained in the great storehouse of the mind. Golden memories reflected back to him now in the reflection of the light on the coffee packet, such were the unholy correspondences. There was never any escape from memory. It was Proustian, that equation.

After grinding the beans, he filled the cartridge with five spoons of the precious powder, before screwing it in place. He prayed that the filter was clean before pressing the start button. Miraculously, it sprung to life and poured, literally, into life. When the espresso cup was three quarter’s full, he flicked the switch and admired the colour of the coffee against the white quartz of the counter top. It was a thing of beauty, he told himself. Then, he filled a mug with soya milk and placed it in the microwave heating it for 75 seconds. It was the same beautiful ritual every single day. Finally, when the latte was ready, Maher versed the content of the espresso cup into the mug of warm soya-milk. It turned a beautiful tan. The first sip was always delicious. This is what he needed. Such continuity. Every single morning. It was, after all, the only thing he could be certain of each and every day. This, along with the incredibly rich taste of the coffee in the warmed milk, was what made his morning ritual so particularly special. Maher stood in the kitchenette staring down at Dave. Mornings never got any better, he thought.

Once Maher had taken Dave outside the front door, the usually circus started. Every time it was the same. Dave, the minute the collar was placed around his neck, would start barking and jumping about. I had forgotten, there was indeed a third criteria for Dave when it came to barking. This was inevitable, the barking. Also, the omission. Maher, considering himself to be a prisoner himself, in the most global existential terms, he had nothing but sympathy for Dave’s predicament, and what is more, rather than get frustrated by Dave’s constant frustration and ultimately his persistent rebellion, Maher openly approved of it. It only cemented, at least for Maher, their already precious bond.

“Good man Dave, that’s it!” Maher would encourage him.

“Don’t take any shit, from any of them!”

It was almost as if by addressing the dog thus, Maher was in fact talking to his alter-ego.

Up in the castle grounds, Dave, typically, was in his element. Maher had taken him across the cove as the tide had been out and then they had walked across the sandy expanse of coastline, which was usually completely devoid of any human activity. Maher found it was a real tonic as it helped to clear away all of the white noise that still lay combusting in the furnace that was still his mind; all the accumulated stress of the commute, the apparently unending tension which earning a monthly paycheck necessitated, life being reduced as it was to a strict timetable and series of schedules involving train times, scheduled appointments with customers or clients and all of the countless minutiae that made up a working day X 5.

So, in this way, just watching his dog run about the castle grounds without so much a care in the world somehow seemed to ease Maher’s peace of mind. It was almost as if the dog’s delight was a symbol or sign of Maher’s own peace and contentment so that he began to see Dave almost as an extension of him, in some way.

Typically, Maher would then take Dave through the small wood which ran alongside the edge of the cliff looking down onto the beach below, although you couldn’t see the cliff’s edge from the paths as they were too far inland, approximately 25 meters or yards away from the edge and whose visibility was also blocked by so many trees and plants and other forms of vegetation.

Maher loved to walk under the great boughs of the trees and while Dave typically would scamper about the wood, going in and out between the trees just enjoying the general feeling of freedom of movement without having the leash attached to him, Maher would, at the same time, stare up at the sky directly above his head and marvel at the colours that would confront him. The deep azure of the sky contrasted sharply by the verdant colours of the leaf in spring and summer say, although now it was midway through Autumn and there was a slight chill in the air as if someone had switched on the fridge.

There was a certain section of the wood where the path joined two others and some beautiful old trees formed a kind of island in the center of the junction forming a clearing, effectively, where the sunlight would stream in, particularly during the summer months, but even in the Autumn too like right now. Maher stood there as if appraising the phenomenon of the light pouring into the clearing almost as if in liquified form. It was a phenomenon that he really enjoyed as it made him think of Heidegger who likened these kinds of clearings, for he too was a great woodsman, or Lichtung, to the spaces in the mind where thought could occur in illumination…

Maher thought it was an extremely poetic analogy or idiom and he often thought of the German thinker when he passed this clearing in the wood. Thinking, in general, is one of the reasons why Maher would come up here as he found the great expanse of space and time, the unlimited acreage of the demesne allied to the timeless nature of the walk, in that he was, for once in the week, not bound to some schedule be it train or academic (Maher was a Lecturer in a third level institute in the city), brought a truly metaphysical dimension, in the proper meaning of the term that is, in other words when spatial and temporal notions collided in a rather fortuitous manner, so actual thought, as opposed to mere reaction, could actually take place.

Indeed, Maher often found himself engaging in discourses with Dave his dog, in other words, while he was up walking in the local castle grounds, which most of the time were devoid of people, Maher found that it helped him to actually give physical embodiment to his thoughts in the form of his own voice using Dave the dog as a receptacle. It was the old Socratic method of uttering what one thought, (or was it Platonic?) and by doing so one could actually physically embody one’s thoughts in one’s voice so that one could clearly see them better, as opposed to just leaving them unvoiced in the cocoon then of one’s mind.

“The current situation, it seems to me,” Maher began, throwing cursory looks around him there in the wood to make sure once again that he was in fact alone and seeing that he was he felt further emboldened so that he could continue his discourse proper.

“Concerning the sexes, that is. It would appear to be really quite clear that there is a profound discord in the nature of popular discussion today between the sexes, that is to say between men and women. Why is this? Well, first of all, let’s try to clarify further what it is exactly we mean by this statement. So, when I say that there seems to be a rupture in communication between men and women I really want to further specify between heterosexual men and heterosexual women as public discourse between the two seems to have become completely splintered or fragmented into the overall discussion of identity politics which seems to be interminable now and which is really strange as both heterosexual couples would appear to be completely excluded in current popular debates, having been taken over by fifth wave feminists now and queer ideologues.”

Maher laughed aloud at this pronouncement as he imagined the startled sighs of dismay if he had actually dared to utter such a statement on an unsuspecting public in a public forum, it would go off above their heads rather like an invisible bomb. This was good, he imagined himself now preparing to support his thesis before them, standing behind the rostrum. Dave his dog, meanwhile, ran on through the vast expanse of fields embracing, without question, the unlimited nature and scope of physical freedom.

“I mean, take poetry, for example. In the current context, here in the Republic of Ireland today, you have an almost ludicrous situation where heterosexual men have almost been banished from the public spectrum of debate and in many public readings because of the extremely predominant nature of identity politics which indeed has completely taken over the realm of all public discourse and particularly in the arts, poetry, always being the poorest medium, being the place where the damage has been almost terminal. What are the reasons for this? Well, without a doubt, poetry was always the preserve of white male middleclass privilege in this country, especially since the origins of the state right up to the 1980’s and nineties. You only have to look at an anthology of Irish poetry from this time, take John Montague’s Faber Book of Irish Verse, for example first published in 1974 and you can see that the representation of Irish men to Irish women is 52 white male Irish poets, and generally hetero, to 2 Irish female poets covering the period from W.B. Yeats (1865 – 1939) to Montague, which is a truly shocking figure, I grant you. The two Irish women poets represented in the book were Evan Boland and Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin. That ratio is worth repeating so as in order to better take it in.

52 / 2

That’s covering a period of say, 100 years.”

Maher let some time pace, as he walked with his dog, in order to let the content of the figures sink in. This was the country that he had grown up in, after all. If this wasn’t a sign of patriarchal orthodoxy, he didn’t know what else to call it. And it certainly existed, until the sudden war of feminism, which started in the eighties, and then the other voices entered in the nineties. First Gay, Trans, and then Lesbian. Maher remembered it all well and clearly growing up in Cork and the arrival of the first gay bars and vegetarian coops. They were the original pioneers in the new quest for cultural and personal identity.

Maher stopped to take in the view of the Irish Sea before him, the vast expanse of mercury tinted liquid shimmered before him in the breeze.

Those were such very different times, he thought. The shoe now was very much on the other foot. Maher was representative of the white middleclass heterosexual poet personified and completely sidelined to such an extent that he couldn’t even get a book published in the country, so under-represented was the nature and style of his work. The situation was actually bordering on the ludicrous. He remembered only just a few weeks previous sitting in a public park where the Arts Council had installed a screen with a number of black and coloured poets reading their work, all women of course with a token gay or other ‘under-represented minority’, that was the preferred terminology, wasn’t it? And this was all happening as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests that had recently happened in the USA and also in the UK. Here was the thing, the percentage of black Irish nationals in the country was hardly similar to the percentage per head in the populations of both the UK and the USA. But that point, extremely relevant you would think in the context, did not seem to occur to the blessed powers that were. No, they were just conforming to the international zeitgeist of identity politics, as opposed to actually considering the literary value of the work. Maher had watched the lectures and talks of Harold Bloom dating from as far back as the nineties when he had seen the whole catastrophe of identity politics taking over. And, he had been right. Look at the situation today!

Maher just laughed and continued his walk with an even greater vigor. He wanted to go to the walled garden where the flowers were, they were his quarry. He wanted to savour the aroma of a carnation, whatever type of flower was currently on display, Maher wasn’t discriminating, flowers after all were flowers. Though some, it is true, had a greater, or better, aroma than others, it was fair to say.

Upon entering the enclosure, Maher kept a firm hold of Dave as he seemed to grow even wilder within the enclosed formal garden tethered to the leash once again.

From the corner of his eye, Maher saw the first flourish of orange roses. These were the L’oreal Trophy which were being buffeted by the breeze. Maher could barely contain himself any longer, he approached the first big carnation, the superlative as it were, which could be clearly distinguished by its vibrant colour. Dave seemed to become even more agitated as he approached the flower. Les Fleurs du Mal. Its many-formed leaf burst in a dazzling display of rich and light orange hues depending on the intensity of the sunlight and the degree of strength of the individual pigment of the leaf. Maher stooped down placing his nostrils firmly yet gently over the flower. The aroma or perfume emitting from the flower penetrated in an unmistakable scent of vanilla with hints of tea. Yet, Maher only thought of her cunt, and how he missed it so!



About Author

Peter O’Neill is the author of five collections of poetry.  The Exquisite Cadaver is taken from The Enemy – Transversions from Charles Baudelaire ( Lapwing, 2015). His sixth collection of poetry, a bilingual collection translated into French by Yan Kouton, Henry Street Arcade, is to be published by Éditions du Pont de l’Europe and will be launched on the 8th April, 2021, as part of the 200th anniversary celebrations of the birth of Charles Baudelaire which will be hosted by the Alliance Francaise in Dublin.

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