We won’t come out of this alive
The sole of my life is shedding its skin,
Layer by layer, I watch it peel off.
All penises in the world have shrunk by two inches,
it’s an epidemic- that’s what they said on the radio.
A female monkey on the sidewalk
is suckling a human baby with her flabby breasts.
This shit is good, the baby screams.
Monkeys love this type of appreciation
- or so I’ve been told.
Two large testicles from space fall on New York City.
Everyone dies- it is all over the news.
Attention! The military officer yells.
We are being recruited for the war.
Droplets of urine fall from the immaculate sky,
the earth is slippery and salty.
A red-lipped vulture flaps
her featherless wings above my battalion.
We take shelter under a sperm sack made of leather
and slabs of semen splatter on our heads.
The vulture pecks ferociously, her beak sticks.
It is white glue- a trap.
We crawl through trenches beneath twisted turfs,
our feet cut open by prehistoric stone blades.
Lashed by land storms, we are bent double
carrying bags of human skulls and fresh faeces.
We won’t come out of this alive, I told my comrades.
We won’t come out of this alive.
Angle of Incidence
747 aircraft windows
have three layers of acrylic plastic.
Air France smells like French
people and people who want to be French people.
To my left, screeching snores.
A stocky arm falls on my thigh
like meat on a butcher’s board.
I press my head on the window,
trying to feel the second layer of acrylic.
In these temperatures,
expressions do not deny thoughts.
We are flying over the Atlantic,
testing the sky’s elasticity
at a steady altitude below Flight Level 390.
Lights on the white wing sputter like coals
and I see glimpses of faces,
faces of a billion of travelers,
a billion lives
spread across weightless clouds.
Beyond the third layer of acrylic
are circles and triangles,
glowing like traffic lights
beneath the black sky.
These lights are magical.
They consume the pits of Saint-
Denis with fantastic fluorescence.
If I squint,
do you think
I can see a balcony
on the breast of Les Francs-Moisins?
Maybe the balcony of an African immigrant,
a sub-Saharan African immigrant.
Maybe I can see an Ankara fabric on the rail,
absorbing the hot air of this misty night.
These lights are magical.
Wheeling on their surfaces
are ant-sized objects
and the occasional caterpillar.
I wonder how far they travel
before their journey ends.
The bleached blonde Air Hostess is talking to my neighbors.
Their ears cannot decipher vowels
because she is speaking a very French English.
I greet her
when it is my turn.
Bonsoir Monsieur, L’eau Monsieur? She inquires
with a submissive bow.
Je suis d’accord Madam, merci beaucoup,
pretending to gurgle water in my mouth
to achieve the full effect of the accent.
Charles de Gaulle Airport smells like mint and mist.
To my left, an empty escalator
ascends into an immaculate ceiling.
To my right, a chaotic line
shuffling into an impatient bus.
Their destination is the hallowed hall of 2C,
a secluded terminal
far away from
Charles de Gaulle.
When I was five years old,
I looked over a basin of clear water and saw
Grandmum said it was an omen
Before the white man’s God,
there was life beneath the lake.
When it sneezed, the tides rose into the sky,
communion with the earth above.
It directed the movement of every boat
while putting fish in the fisherman’s net.
A baby once crawled into the lake
on a Sunday afternoon.
Her head was held above the water
until the fisherman’s palms,
hardened by fishnets and paddles,
grabbed her supple belly
When I was ten years old,
I mispronounced the chief’s name.
Thunder cackled above the roof that night;
Grandmum said it was an omen
We spent years reading history books
by some Esquire John Smith or Lord Matthew Robinson
about what we were.
They said we were apes,
we evolved from apes.
They said life did not start with the lake
but with the big ships anchored on our shores.
They said water currents determined direction
all of it, every single morsel of it,
The movement of my current life
is like the drop of water
hanging on a tap’s mouth,
expanding like rubber,
lazily preparing to fall
When I was fourteen years old,
Grandmum told me stories of her past life.
Before the beginning of time,
everyone called her Luwain Nyambou.
Women who dropped baskets of food
on the lake had a good harvest season.
A mortar fell from the sky
on a rainy afternoon.
It stood under the rain
but it did not get wet
My life now looks through a frozen window,
like a blank canvass.
Snow buries my house,
like soil falling on a coffin
When I was sixteen years old,
thunder cackled above Grandmum’s roof
and she died in her kitchen.
In my nightmares,
I run inside a labyrinth of empty coffins,
looking for answers
I spent my high school years on Kerouac’s coloured road,
meandering through the lights of 27th,
wishing I was his Negro,
the Negro of ecstasy,
the Negro of transcendental qualities,
the Negro that offered everything his white world couldn’t
In the early 1960s
an American missionary died in some remote village
of a heart attack.
He invaded a ritual procession,
fearlessly shaking and waving
his King James Bible at the crowd.
He pulled off a juju’s mask
when he saw the blood-smudged
face of his black catechist
No one lives beneath the lake anymore,
women don’t drop baskets of food
on the lake anymore,
mortars don’t fall from the sky anymore.
There is only carnage,
carnage on the shores,
carnage in our houses,
towers built with human skeletons
I stare at this empty paper,
scratching my head,
wondering how to tell these stories.
Standing above me, like a headlight,
is a familiar stranger:
O’Hara said don’t think about it.
Think like Ginsberg;
he was hip and cool.
He wrote about interesting stuff
like ships sailing to the shores of Africa.
My stories on Ginsberg’s ship,
sailing to the shores of Africa.
In this reality, I am on the ship
not the shore
At life’s end,
I will have many regrets
and no regrets.
A Day with Bernardo Bertolucci
Mr. Bertolucci rolls into the room
in a brown trench coat and black Bogart Fedora;
belly fat leaked over the strap around his waist and his cheeks dropped into his chin.
The camera rail is coated with Marie Christine’s chewing gum and, perhaps,
even captured a print of John Lone’s sole when he stepped into the Forbidden City.
Move the table to the right, a little bit more, more, more, yes! That’s perfect,
the Cinematographer instructs from behind the lens.
Louis Garrel is standing next to me,
blowing cigarette puffs over an antique table.
He notices my presence and says quoi de neuf?
Maybe quoi de neuf sounds too informal for someone like Louis.
He probably wouldn’t say something like quoi de neuf.
He would say Bonjour, Monsieur Welang. He says Bonjour, Monsieur Welang.
His countenance is profound but his worn shoes happily tap the wooden floor;
maybe he is a laid back guy.
He says ca va mon frère? They are about to start filming, no time to chat.
Mr. Bertolucci’s furrowed skull swallows his brows.
His eyes zoom on Michael Pitt, correlating memory and execution.
Michael, stay in the cupboard for two full minutes before you come out
(with an earthy Italian accent).
There’s a slight subjugation of light in Michael’s round eyes
when he creeps out like an infant playing hide and seek.
Mr. Bertolucci nods.
Eva, the beautiful Eva, walks naked into the camera like Venus of Urbino on wheels.
The tip of her fingers tremble but her breasts are confidently erect.
The next scene is shot in ten takes because Michael can’t
control his erection. Louis grows tired of grabbing Michael’s penis like a sponge.
The camera leans towards Eva’s face as Michael mounts her.
Louis squats and rubs his fingers across her thigh,
his eyes a tsunami of controlled emotions.
Eva cries when blood streaks across her jaw,
her finger tips are not trembling anymore.
actors hurry into the dressing room,
Set Dresser and Props Master talk about getting drunk on Monmarte,
Production Assistant and First Assistant Director are still laughing about the erection debacle.
Mr. Bertolucci walks amid the commotion like a phantom.
He shrinks through narrow columns of people and floats
over routes rendered impassable by heavy equipment.
He loosens the strap around his waist,
tilts his hat over his face and shuts the door behind him
without a whisper.
© Nahum Welang