The Garden /3 — Louis Armand

Ô Allah from what were you born so immaculately with your Iron Laws spewing out of your writing machine from here till doomsday yet there’s rebellion even in imagining that one can rebel & long before the end your language too will’ve become a dead language inshallah although for the pretence of meaning there must at least be a relic some sort of vestige a scar of rock jutting out over the water the uneven ledges of seaweed exposed at low tide the sun’s dying rays dragging across the sea like the strings of marionettes she placed her fingers hesitantly against the wall it was the tide she felt it running out of her gradually she knew that the last marker had slipped into darkness now she was counting back working back through screens hallways mirrors hospital rooms to a revulsion of the body that lives within the thickness of a landscape that’s been prey to contradictions sublime communisms centrifuges they sing the future the labours of love but M is scarcely surprised ask if Quasimodo knows what the moon is the black waves the unspoken & unspeakable things their logic demanded because neurosis is after all only a sign that the Ego hasn’t succeeded in unmaking like the barbarians of the great migrations who murdered & did penance for it till penance became a technique for permitting murder to be done as in her mind the picture of Allah the passionate activity of His hands in the tumult of sexual epilepsy hate me only as much as is useful there’s something poetic & sublime in the perpetrating of certain crimes when all of humanity’s at stake hahaha but the world’s dead when words lose their violence that chosen provisional solitude in the eye of a hurricane no she isn’t in need of perpetual comfort if she thrusts her hand between her legs it’s for no other purpose than the unpermitted pleasure it affords because credit is the highest form of alienation because a woman must have a hole of her own if she’s not to be a work of pure fiction does it matter how often you wait for the mind to go blank for the pantomime to end staring into space the same space & these voices this voice these words from elsewhere without naming you words that aren’t my own but whose lives I inhabit as actors inhabit the theatre the performance the rôle being nothing myself but this pseudo-existence this non-life animated by nothing but its lack of authenticity like the idea of a murderer who waits in a room for the victim who’ll never arrive she crumpled onto the floor there were cigarette burns on the carpet & dust & human hair but even night eventually goes in an infinitesimal fraction of a moment night becomes dawn & then becomes morning she dragged upright let fall her feet from the bed without opening her eyes she felt her way mechanically across the floor walked to the window by the washbasin & unlatched a shutter let it sag open a crack of light streaming at an angle across her breasts a mere outline the summarised form of a body in vertical sections whose details have become obscured in the too immediate contrast of white black white unable to isolate or focus the image every day spent becoming a woman grows longer or shorter the dilating contracting flicker of an eye shutter-speed exposure aperture-width what is she if not this tenacious malaise of contrasts fixtures enframings made to languish Ô so voluptuously in the shadows of pale ratiocinations ankles wrists bound with black nylon her white throat is a provocation to centuries of unrestrained violence a woman wears her nudity like a political slogan the convolutions of unblemished flesh nothing’s more unequal than desire He says waving His magician’s hands over her body scented of tamarind & moths’ wings this dark Svengali of her nauseating infatuations she feels the light searing between her breasts thighs lips erupting into an image she is legion she is a million TV screens a million billboards icons dollars masturbating hands she is the placid consensual face of Power colonising your unconscious she is the man dreaming of woman & the woman dreaming of herself being dreamt about she is the picture of injustice assuaging its own conscience she reeks of crime she’s the chill up the spine on a mortuary slab she’s art commodity instinctual satisfaction she’s the timeless aesthetic pleasure of the highest order she’s the supine DNA helix in His testtube laboratory she’s the avatar you want to inhabit annihilate remake with your tireless Image Manipulator how prettily she struggles against her restraints as invisible newt-men attach electrodes inject serums insert probes her mute screams trapped inside the Cone of Silence she bites her lips in mirrored concentration as shaking hands wield the depilating perfuming lubricating apparatus these daily ablutions before the shrine of her perpetual transvestism je est une ordure you have to live stories He said before inventing them but wasn’t life itself the history of an illusion as archaic as any long-suffering inebriated ego with a hard-on for dialectical materialism you want to be God & fuck Him at the same time as being fucked by Him the All-Knowing the All-Merciful first you name your enemies so as to erase them establishing certain formal procedures of arbitrary arrest beginning & ending so as neither to begin nor end picture the hole of a television as a concrete action like a vagina what it doesn’t omit isn’t worth thinking about I fear the fear of death more than death she dug her nails into her arms as she stood at the window watching the street the late afternoon sun casting shadows across the tiled floor once when she was waiting for Him in Tangiers in a cold-water hotel because He was so cheap He wouldn’t give her more than a hundred dirhams on the rue Magellan with a trash heap piled two storeys high the stinking refuse right outside her window & in full view a group of boys taking turns fucking each other on a rooftop supine where the harbour lies flat & heavy on the sea’s lip & the headland like a sentence half-articulated faltering syllables of stone shivered falling to a still & cold weight of water that stretched then further off into a tongue of silence the crossing-over into a beyond-space into a beyond-time but what does she seek through so many pages only to arrive in the midst of another reading or perhaps there’re other worlds & these are simply a tentative means of transporting herself I recognise that here is a wall & beyond it there’re other walls but the essence of my confinement is neither in the wall nor outside it but in my dwelling upon it which means also that it’s not possible to think the opposite of the wall though in my dream I’ve made it into a symbol & once again it remains there for as long as I seek the anguish of dispossession the experience of having lost life of separation from thought of the body exiled from the mind I’m always failing to compose myself & then falling into others falling outside myself into the nothing which opens my history but how is it possible to begin saying all of these things without describing events the objects around me their interrelations as though they exist all by themselves & aren’t in fact projected outwards from an organ of perception like the body & eye of Allah I write these things but I don’t understand them if only everything could be made to stand still & not speak to communicate directly in the senses the sound of traffic for example moving in the opposite direction reminding her of the sea the sound echoes in stasis like a smudge in a newspaper yet there she was barely an hour ago standing beside Him saying His name over & over thinking how dry her lips must’ve been under the veil they seemed to represent first one thing & then another the illusion that something stirs in the dusty corner of the eye in the room grey light filtering through the window mixes with the yellow light of the reading lamp but how do we know who’s speaking the voices in a crowd passing from mouth to mouth one mouth to another guarding their anonymity were they real or did you invent them forced into language like something merely described a set of instruction as if to say they lived while knowing nothing about life the way He leaves a bowl of milk out at night for the cockroaches while He’s working on His book I hear them scuttling across the floor we have that much in common at least flesh of my flesh blood of my blood I lie there like so much spilt milk dreaming of their pursuit Time fighting its way forward with an epileptic eye barely a step behind & I’m scuttling in milk drowning in it crying to be put out of my misery but Allah was always too many time-zones away they’d never succeed in maintaining a conventional relationship even on such a mythological plane there’re cries in the distance the birds reel & lunge at the tide of effluent flowing between the piled-up masses of broken concrete & grey vegetation arching over the river it seemed to spread not in a horizontal but in a vertical direction & something else what was it a faint stirring the snapping of a twig & then silence as if someone were listening watching among the trees & later along a path you find a piece of broken glass like millefiori it burns white in the sun it turns green you close your hand upon it & it changes to black you are not afraid of cutting yourself in a café beside the hotel she let her fingers play inside a pitcher of ice water the tablecloth with geometric patterns reminded her of the turquoise mosaic around the entrance of the Koutoubia mosque dissolving at its edges into exposed masonry where the tesserae had broken off like excess pixels cropped by a marquee tool in a cheap rendering job & her own half-image coming back to her squatting between the red rocks above the road from Agdz & at that moment M desired nothing more than to be her but the world wouldn’t allow it in front of an audience she found it impossible to suspend her disbelief knowing He was always watching looking scrutinising as in a film by Duras Renoir Robbe-Grillet a mobile gaze drifting among the scenery like a doppelgänger with sullen eyes hovering behind a lattice of convoluted shadow slipping from ledge to ledge in search of some fossilised relic of an imploded instant some infinitesimal flash of quartz some infinitely dense molecule of catastrophe emanating from the past like a physical immanence like a blackhole in the sky the air thickening dark red becoming gradually invisible she tilted her head & dropped her hands & then lifted them again aimlessly according to the directions in the script saying I suppose it’s all so logical isn’t it to believe the past has actually taken place afraid of being alone afraid to believe in uncaused things I can’t see it it mustn’t exist she held her face in both hands wearily sunk in the chair in the character of someone who’d like to possess a recollection of perfect stillness & sighed letting her hands slip down between her legs Ô hell that’s a lie there’s nothing only the tension of a room forced to become silent & then the silence begins to bash at your skull even when you try to hide form the worst of it BEWARE THE ALLURES OF UTOPIA the walls you idiot are there for other reasons than to hold your senile disorder in check while outside they parade ridiculously in the street & plant trees of liberty watered with rivers of dead donkeys’ piss to hang the next generation of republicans in but didn’t every precious little slut in every Alaouite anthole in al-Maghreb dream they had the intestines a princess wound up warm & tight inside them burning with uncontrolled passions she stood abruptly clutching her arms & immediately sat down again touched by the heat weightless leaden enormous & infinitesimally small I don’t know who I am I’m going to make gashes all over my body I want to become infinitely hideous & then the silent minutes passing it’ll never come to its own end whispered staring at the cracked windowpane I can’t retrieve the fear of death no desire nothing less than that even wordless I wish this voice’d shut up the wheels dismally turning promise me she’d promise & gravel beneath the tyres disgust gagged in her throat you can’t pretend you’re actually sorry for her catching her reflection in the window she closed her eyes the sunlight beat across her face red & then once more darkness did she really remember it that way beating her across the face but there was nothing she could’ve done that day or any other day nothing she could’ve ever done damned to reminiscence as though at one extreme I perceive all of this too clearly & at the other barely at all a pathological recurrence on the edge of forgetting the dull sensation of being held back from a point of awareness a passage of words the void spreading out like an infinite stain obscuring everything dispersion of all consciousness unseeing I look & she isn’t there replaced by an inventory of effects a drawer with letters photographs items of clothing boxes with pieces of cheap jewellery perfume hairpins & then there are all the miscellaneous scraps of a life that must seem meaningless to anyone else a bus ticket with an address scribbled on the back in blue ink pictures cut from old magazines dried flowers the stub of a diary with all the pages torn out fragments of lost intimacies confessions addressed to no one it’s pointless trying to seem sentimental her person solitude everything is lost integrally but what could prevent me from believing in the illusion of theatre since I believe in the illusion of reality through its apparent flow a definitive discontinuity one evening half-asleep in a bar I tried for no particular reason to enumerate all the languages within hearing music conversations the sounds of chairs glasses a whole stereophony that spoke within me & this so-called interior speech was like the noise of the Souk el Khemis that amassing of voices coming from outside I myself was a public square & through me passed the words of others yet no sentence formed as if the language itself demanded to know how you can recognise the unknown unless you harbour a secret image of it some kind of memento something which calls back to a time before its memory of itself like a question mark at the end of a very long & obscure sentence isn’t that what’s happening now even as you seek to stave off the moment when everything must stand to account as if to redeem or be redeemed like the objects in a pawn broker’s window or the unticked boxes in an insurance policy but what questions do they pose about origin the use & the future of every one of them to enumerate if possible what’s been discarded misplaced forgotten how often have you sweated over the same thing lost sleep counted what wasn’t there or wasn’t yours does it matter that they’re always fragmentary barely indicative of a method that they resemble for that reason questions you must’ve asked yourself on dozens of identical occasions marking borrowed time the price in hours or minutes of an encounter whose sincerity is now forever in doubt which began went on drew to an end which took so many years to begin & went on ending for so many more years or there was no beginning & no ending or it’d ended long before it’d even begun & continued long after if only to reach this futile duplication its persistence its vague circularity to arrive again at the same or at a similar point in time almost a routine performance the same marks on a page the same page or different pages one hand writes & the other wipes clean again & again the same farce but how long could it go on pretending all the while to be something else entirely for instance she’ll pose this charade as an expository discourse on the nature of self-identification & difference or on the relationship between herself & the other disembodied voices in the text or between herself & the silent idealised other whose ghost she might be said to have internalised as a single apparently stable POV now that He’s dead & everything moves towards His homicide speaks to it or she opens her mouth but the words don’t appear her lips mime the completion of an act that she’s already failed to perform or a light hummed in the ceiling & flickered I’m shown a room with several people the entire scene appears unworldly in the corner is what seems to be a large measuring apparatus I know that I will be forced to lie under it although it’s impossible to tell if it’s intended as a form of punishment or torture if I lie under it there’ll be nothing to hold up the calibrated arm it’s apparent at least that it’s going to squash me into a hidden receptacle obviously this must be a dream & I know that I’m dreaming but I also recognise that everything around me is familiar as if I’d dreamt it before or many times before although just as soon the strangeness returns because only Art makes everything safe & once more M found herself in an entirely different place a room which seemed to be divided into partial frames both joined & separated with indistinct sounds coming from somewhere outside perhaps a typewriter occupied a space on a table by an open window or a curtain blew suddenly across it between the eye & the gaze that seemed to direct her seeing from within the things themselves a presentiment of how many missed encounters on the way to that rendezvous she let her head rest against a low railing staring down at the sea at the foam garlanded in white corōllae white on the black water turning at the base of a long flight of stone steps I stare at that vacancy not knowing what will emerge to fill the emptiness words conjuring away the absences to plunge forth to surprise the things beyond all experience as light draws them from the darkness wherein they pre-existed she had the sense of no longer living among things but among things signified joined to them by a language whose meaning she was closed off from & thinking that somewhere in a book perhaps a theatre opens out to the sky from the room in its confinement its enclosure to the space outside the fleeting exteriority & her eyes her consciousness moving all the time between the two cet monstre à deux faces though she isn’t here though she’s already departed & you alone in a room beneath an open window left with nothing but impressions for example that day at the Gare de M________ when she thought she’d seen her on the crowded platform disappearing in the sea of faces naked strong bodies the colour of mahogany patent leather she was struggling like a swimmer fighting the tide & turned there where the sky descended across the High Atlas the way it might’ve descended across the ridge of her sex & for a moment she had an intuition of a blind woman alone facing her a mirror in a desert the light shifting from pale yellow to red & the impossible green of her eyes absinthe chartreuse the absence of recognition staring beyond her through her & M had reached out her hands like a sleepwalker as if desiring her embrace while at the same time disavowing it you can just picture her lying there enfolded in her passivity only to awake in the throws of an emotion she can’t describe looking along the dusty street to the desert plain the mountains rising forbiddingly above it & the white sheet of sky above that like the whiteness of bare skin the way invariably they stared at her on the Djemalfnaa weaving through the crowd the hucksters & snake charmers & butchers & spice sellers & Gnaoua drummers beating the hides of their drums the air afire with charged particles the slightest incident could’ve triggered a riot because nothing’s innocent least of all a woman but what if the devil’s really Allah in exile in His wilderness meaning out of the womb which the ancients called Eden on the great floodplain where ibis-headed ancestor spirits penned the sacred scriptures in river-clay as alone the voice of a hermit Murabit shook the silence that thirty millennia hence she might read their accusation cut into the wave-patterned stone the bird-tracks the unholy sediment of volcanic eruptions saying nothing more profound than everything repeats & returns like the pieces of a puzzle-game & you’re entrained in this you’re trying to recall M’s absence the sense of her absence you’re regressing through former lives inventing places locations set apart from memory you give each of them several names like names once glanced on a schedule during a train journey long ago & imagine she’ll still be there somehow a belated rendezvous a montage discrépant a chance re-encounter on the way to one of those impossible destinations no I can’t remember who I am I remember myself differently pale face sustained ghostlike in the warm air the darkness of the sky drawing a canopy around her in languid detached silence a blankness of meaning I perceive all of these things I perceive them but they don’t exist dreams memories fantasies the time of what she had just said the words themselves she closes her eyes lights a cigarette & slowly with a melancholy gesturing of hands she brushed away her hair from her face night has become too large for me beneath a patterned archway a room with a bed & on the bed the room key a crumpled dress the image of a stranger entering the slow entangled movements slipping of veils darkness & her mouth I’ve known you she thought former lives commingling after memory ceased but when did it end exactly staring through the glass eye on eye pressing cold lips that were no longer hers she sees M clawing at the windowpane the sound of blunted fingernails dragging across glass & the image of her naked under a blue hospital tunic a plastic name-band attached to her wrist & those appalling fingers grasping at their own reflection trying to set it free somehow but the body she saw in the window was no longer her body it was a stolen body a body possessed digging at the holes they’d made in it you think there’s something mystical stuffed up there she wants to puke shit herself out into some other dimension hating them for making her live hahaha those technicians of self-loathing with their resurrection machine wired into her clitoris the chorus of respirators the endless bouquets of blackened carnations unkempt in brown water death blossoming in a white glare of fluorescence you want to see what living is motherfuckers eat my shit while outside in a kind of counterpoint mired in its own poignance it was grey & raining in solemn congregation the trees sending the last yellow plaques of leaves to ground their mute epiphany serene & appalling as a painted filmstrip turning to violent screams in the darkness Allah explained it was a séance de cinema designed to provoke an erotic tension of existence separated from itself transformed by the machine into dead images dead hair entwined around a dead tongue Allaahummaghfir a travesty that she herself is expected to consume with all the guile of ritual like a drugged cobra spreading its hood progressively uncoiling her hips in time to inaudible music & the parody of that mouth lying there speechless waiting to be consigned sans cérémonie with the rest of the hospital effluent to the El Mansour crematorium thence cleansed of her transgressions by the light shed upon her &c so as to enter Paradise like a true avatar of how many versions had He written of that precise scene trying & failing to grasp the nakedness of it like Daumier sketching on filthy wax paper beside a mortuary slab remonstrating with his model to be perfectly still till he’d got down the final pen-stroke & her silence afterwards when at His insistence she’d admired it for the umpteenth time stroking His cock His zob till He ran into the bathroom to rub a salve where pus had broken through the skin M clasped her hands around a glass of water He kisses my fingers & gives me a hundred dirhams barely enough for a taxi jump-cutting to a scene inside an all-night cinema with men in rows spending their lust freely in their hands you could smell them to kingdom come hahaha He wants to seduce you with His unconcealed profanity His laughable contradictions like hot rain stirring her mind out of dust I was dust first dust & now she turned in a circle her lips moved repeating to herself the word now but what did it mean now was now was now & yet now was not now was never now what distinguished now she listened pressed the glass to her lips & then took it away now water is in my mouth now my throat now a shout broke her thought suddenly from outside a shout & then laughter words for now she wondered but already laughter had become an engine starting a dog barking a saucepan beaten with a serving spoon she struggled against the failure of memory which came first what was now in the beginning light glaring from a window the antiseptic smell of cold air warm air full of unbearable colours shapeless figurations something that failed to be recalled in the beginning she thought a dull throbbing the clanging of hammer & anvil some infernal machinery of darkness tempered into light in the beginning yet what was that word beginning what was I then in the beginning where in the womb of beginning when was I but she couldn’t think it she couldn’t think beginning the thought would not enter held back by some invisible cordon as though the weight of what it implied would sink the world into unrectored chaos primitive past present future between the dimensions of a past that is no longer & a future that is not yet there in the mythical time of a present where events are always in the process of coming into being suspended in the silent drawing-in of breath before the first lines of another performance are delivered confounding the desire for a beginning & an end beyond question echo or recoil of language through the gaps in speech hesitation before the utterance announcing what hasn’t yet been said in the aspiration then the curtain rose they spoke the four walls of a room which appeared to join seamlessly in the half-light as though there was nothing but a blank screen the emptiness of a theatre after a performance the mere ghost of it the isles the seats the stage machinery groaning & murmuring a barely audible murmur of voices that speak by themselves without speaker or interlocutor piling up on themselves strangulated collapsing before reaching the stage of formulation returning to an indifference from which they had never departed she imagined them almost taking shape around her embodying something which could not be drawn into a whole but remained dispersed porous indistinct as though slipping from one dream into another or lost somewhere in the interim a stalled mechanism like the shutter of a camera frozen half-way between opening & closing the film turned to black or the scene suddenly withdrawn behind a dark curtain some enormous contrivance operating in the very midst of what is visible from a point in space to the totality of what is seen the motionless cranes perched above the skyline like the limbs of a sleeping deus ex machina in a desk drawer a loose pile of photographs strange images they seemed to represent not real things but others semblances fake objects which looked like chairs a table a pair of shoes or rather these images didn’t exist at all mimicking the grotesque instance of mortality suspended ad aeternitatem each with a kind of nakedness like a nightmare which at the moment of waking reveals itself in the full horror of its negation the idea of belonging to an image the words to be came into her head she was looking at a photograph & thinking of superstitious Berbers afraid of losing their souls as if the image itself was a kind of infernal essence it beat silently in the dark silently beating into existence all things & there she was at a bookshop looking at a reproduction of Delacroix’s Ophelia on the cover of a book hands raised to her face in a gesture of remorse or perhaps merely irritation beside her there was a blank space as though something had been carefully erased from the negative quelque chose d’autre someone had taken her picture just at that moment it might only have been yesterday only a thousand years ago only a moment ago at the bottom of the pile some photographs taken during the summer at M________ figures in white sitting on a bench beneath a tree on the hospital lawns their features had become obscure paper ghosts there was the pungent smell of disinfectant formaldehyde the smell of jasmine inside the café bar one cigarette after another the ice in the pitcher was slowly melting she touched her forefinger to the table & began tracing lines on the white tablecloth while on the boulevard veiled women turned & whispered they passed into her they drew her into the desert of their eyes the courtyard of the hotel a swimming pool set among large orange trees pale light flickering between leaves & shadows dark veils shifting across the walls she wiped her forehead brushing back the hair from her eyes a film of perspiration covered her hand open sesame she thought staring at her own grey face a grotesque narcissus stared back sickness & lassitude the very idea of herself her wasted life closed-in enslaved by resentments & realisations of inconsequence driving her on to deeper & more profound bitterness if she could close her eyes & forget & everything she hated simply vanished names only words for death pausing at the window she looked out at the walls of the other apartment buildings their yellow squares of dull light staring back it seemed that everything in the world was mechanised & dead a golem waiting in the dark shifting its heavy limbs back & forth repeating itself without purpose as if the repetition of a purposeless act would give it meaning would cause it to become manifest she shut her eyes again again again as elsewhere a funereal Citroën as in a movie Casablanca of course it’d have to be Casablanca crept by through a steady drizzle wreaths pressed up against the side windows her eyes re-opening slowly involuntarily lit upon His body there closed within its skin but what is it He had said first one is dust & then she hesitated but what if one were born of water not to mention the discarded marrow of the belovèd or Scheherazade’s untranslated dream by a shallow pool the moon tangled in branches of water where it seemed she was dead wrapped in brittle papyrus & His solemn priest’s voice first one is dust as though it wasn’t enough simply to be not enough to exist in that infinitesimal moment one must always have first belonged to something else dust His voice had insisted His voice had seemed to wrench up truth from infernal depths of absoluteness first one is but these things had already taken place in precisely this way an appearance prior to reality she recoiled in sudden vertigo this moment He said is an eternity forever escaping your grasp but what am I she suddenly thought if not something that endures in an identical state for a certain time perhaps death illuminates things directly & this is all a shadow of that mysterious light like a pool of water in which reflections blacken into nothingness destitute & isolated from the appearance of their meanings

Louis Armand is the author of novels including The Combinations (2016), Cairo (2014), & Breakfast at Midnight (2012). In addition he has published a number of collections of poetry & theoretical works. He lives in Prague.