Measure

In suspended time, I watch
the gears kiss, intertwined, their
teeth fitting into one another
with perfect ease. Metal mouths
in shared labour, producing
objects lesser than the sum of
its parts.

A mind tinkers away at the machine’s
organs, tip-tapping the beating heart
abreast the congested breaths
heaving in an over-boiled temper,
monstrous,
seething in gasps and grunts, a glint
of threatening metallic fangs.

Time swims languidly toward the shore,
Unsure of direction, meaning, chronology,
Biting my flesh, leaving lines for
my recollection.
In laughter, they are clearest,
thrusting their happiness into
my being.

A mirror reveals them, a reflection
that is me, but not me. There but
also here. Reality slips into
a displacement that soothes
my soul, for it finally shows
the chaos I know,
suspended in uncanny
being.

© Kat Manica

Inscrutable

There are words here, pasted on the
walls, dripping onto waste-paper floors,
dissolving into pools of serrated,
gnawing letters at our feet.

Letters that once signified,
lose their thingness as they are
abstracted into nothing but
peas and queues, eyes and
teas.

Dreams lost, meaning
jettisoned
away…

Into that place where secrets
are kept, locked, nuanced and
scented with the sweet perfumed
day dreams of our conspiring
unconsciousness.

Out stumbles hope, to soothe
our tired feet, which have trekked
over bladed pens and sharp-witted
words, with heavy burdens
and little respite.

Our tummies full, fluttering
with gratification–delayed and
fulfilled– Sleep-filled lids drop,
taking us far away from
prescribed meaning to
inscrutable delight
to be.

 

© Kat Manica

Number the Stars

O! that I could but count the stars,
Like the the sparkle of thine eyes,
An accountant of the highest order
Would fail to account for their beauty,
Their infinite capability to see
Goodness, where I have only seen
Pain, decimation, and abuse.

Constellations vie to amuse this pen,
As though Heracles vanquishing dragons
Could embolden the wittiest thinkers
Past cosmetic literary contrivance,
When, in your eyes, dawns ebullient
Metaphysics and epistemological truths
that inspire at their core.
O! what a muse are these eyes,
That alight from temporal existence
To celestial spheres.

Fluttering amber light unfolds,
Deep pools of reflective light,
O’er which fairies dance in exultant delight,
As pleasure decants in mellifluous tones,
Roses unroll their coiled petals,
A fragrant dance of perennial buds,
And sweet perfume intoxicates,
The inscrutable chasm between us that
Binds us in our reticence as incessant
Mortal hearts thud on.

O! that I had but immortality to
Stare into the skies evermore,
And see the sharp glare of thine eyes
For hours, days, and years;
The sweet taste of five minutes
Is a rationed sup over which I relish
In perpetuity.

O! that I could but count the stars
On this cold, cold night.

© Kat Manica 2017

Vivification

And from the throes of deepest slumber,
Mine body was awoken as a viscous smoke
oozed under doors, through unconscious
splendour, polluting their peace with prickled
corruption, an oppressive tyranny over the senses.

A window yet provides deep solace to mine
fired-filled flesh, flung open, shifting spheres
from private longing to civic determination,
A cool wind kisses my strainèd brow, easing
tension that rises from my heart, a heart whose
beat wishes to reign over time by killing me
with anguished speed and by setting a new pace for
the fastest ticking clocks. Oh! my breath is but shallow,
as a temptress wind splashes ephemeral relief
upon my furrowed brow. The reviving draught
is but medicine for my disobliging body.

Breath imbibes, percolating lustfully into my
being, drinking deeply, I gulp the crisp, snow-
filled air. How I long to be floating in the aether
among the burning-cold stars, the curd-like
moon, and the lone bird, who, too early, looks
to sup upon the worms that will turn my
tempestuous body into soil.

 

©Kat Manica 2017

A clouded weight…

I have not been here for a while,
and this feeling is neither
new, nor nostalgic, but elemental.
As sleep evades mine dusted eyes,
An agonistic beat marches nonstop,
Left, right, right, left,
Enchanted by the militaristic
might of my dreamless phantasms,
Stoney fingers, waltzing over
dew-kissed leaves that serve
as chalices to thirsty
butterflies, are poised in
the certitude of my ache
to create.

Pressed against the spaces
between
touch.
The heavens’ eternal sigh,
a clouded weight upon my
wingéd soul, entreats me
to deny the pleasures of
the sickly sweet, saccharine
devotion of the immortal nectar,
For sweet ambrosia, once tasted,
yields intoxicated madness
in this mortal toil,
where this union is but
a fairy’s dance upon a stage.

Ah, but fairies dance upon the
soft dew that butterflies imbibe,
and there, in the moment of
atomic touch, is markéd the
the greatest of all consummation,
The delicate wings that embolden flight,
ripple like soft tides against a sun-kissed
shore, Oh! those lips betide of honeyed
hours yet to come.
The drum’s beat winks away rigidity,
and the fairy’s dance
enchants.

[fin]

©Kat Manica 2017

[part of a project to create when I can’t sleep.]

Gobble Spiders

I wish there was a ghost
who would walk beside me,
gobbling up spiders
into the ether, quietly.

I don’t wish the spiders to be dead,
Okay, it’s complicated,
but maybe
I do.

I know they eat the other things
that are too small for
us to see.
I also know that centipedes

hunt them, rather–
rather gleefully.
I don’t want the ghost
of a centipede to walk

with me.
Maybe just an arachnologist
who isn’t finished her
work quite yet.

It would be harmony
and synchronicity,
and there would be less
spider corpses

hiding under
the spines of
the brave books
that protected me.

Yes, I wish there was a ghost
who would walk beside me,
Then my cold hands,
Would simply mean

our hands were interlaced,
and the shivers of my spine
would signify a spectre
of warmth hereafter.

 

 

 

 


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When Breath Becomes Air ⎟ Book Exchange Series

Dear Reader,

I recently took part in a Book Exchange. A friend of mine posted a status asking if anyone wanted to take part in a gift exchange. I had often seen posts like this before. In the past, I’ve never answered the call because I felt uncomfortable giving my address out to total strangers. This time, I decided, I was just going to jump in. My friend sent me a long message immediately after I replied that asked you to send your favourite book to Person A; you would make a similar post on your wall and those who responded would send a book to Person B (the person who’s post I had seen and to which I had responded). One swapped addresses as the chain of connections grew.

At first, I was a little overwhelmed. I was about to say, oh, maybe this isn’t for me. But, I embraced it. I embraced that I would be asking my friends to send my friend a book and that their friends would be sending me a book.  I was to send a book to the person who caught her in this web of gift-giving, and those who responded to me would send my friend a book.  I kind of liked that this whole experiment was at least once-removed. It felt like a connection wherein you shared part of yourself to someone you did not necessarily know. I didn’t even think about the books I would get, I just thought about the book I wanted to give and the person who would receive my book.

Since money is tight and our government insists that young people just need to get used to precarious employment, I told the friends who responded to my post that it was perfectly okay to send a used book or to buy from cheaper online shops, an advantage being that one can ship directly to their person. I know that we should be supporting independent shops, but there just aren’t any around me. I suppose the ideal situation would be to send a book with a care package and a small gift, but that wasn’t in my budget and I didn’t want to ask anyone to spend beyond what they were able. The only downside of this method is that the person who receives the book doesn’t know who sent the book. I’ve decided to make a post for every book I receive and extend my most heartfelt thanks and bow in humility to those who sent the precious gift of a book to me.

 

***

Yesterday, I received a book from the book exchange. At first, I was trying to remember what books I had purchased. I was awaiting some Roald Dahl books and Black and British, and when I opened the bubbly envelope, out popped When Breath Becomes Air. Afterwards, I realized this wasn’t a book I’d purchased because of the name on the label, it had my nicknameI was a bit shocked. I knew that everyone was super hyped about this book; I was not. Two humans in my life had told me about Paul Kalanithi, one before Kalanithi’s death and one who had fallen in love with this book.

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I really wasn’t convinced. He was sold to me as someone who had crossed the invisible but very tangible boundary between the arts and sciences. It seemed ludicrous to me. In my experience, science has heralded itself as the worthy occupation, and arts are usually sidelined as a luxury. It felt that science was a career, but literature, art, history, economics (not commerce), philosophy, etc., those things are considered to be hobbies. I’m wary of this crack in the earth, this line in the land, this unfathomable fissure. I never used to feel that divide so strongly when I was younger, I had studied physics and maths in secondary school, and I loved reading and history. I, myself, debated between studying engineering and history. My dad’s friends, engineers that had lived through Nortel Networks, told me to do history. So, I did.

As I studied, the prejudices against the arts from the sciences ruffled my feathers. It was like constantly going against the grain, and even though I was moving through molasses, people believed that work was somehow meaningless in the greater scheme. I had many existential crises in the library: what was the meaning of anything? History and revisionists and philosophies, oh my!  So, I let those experiences inform my opinion on this book, and I decided against reading it. I was wrong to have those prejudices.

Certainly, Kalanithi understands his own prejudices, the arrogances and ego that come with medicine or any career, really, and he conscientiously works against them. He notices it, and he remarks that it doesn’t feel right. Next time, we do better. I think that is one of the most refreshing aspects of this book; he recognizes that we are not always going to have the answers or be the same person day after day. Each day we have to struggle with the good and bad things that inform our past actions, we must be held accountable, and we must strive to shift our experience beyond what we know to be true.

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Although Kalanithi doesn’t explicitly state: BE EMPATHETIC, his entire memoir is an ode to empathy and understanding. It does not bridge the gulfs created by class, race, and gender, but it does remind us that privileges may make us heedless to how others think and feel. We might become solipsistic, the sole ego that denies souls to others.

The book is chockfull of references and allusions to erudite and esoteric literary works, and, by applying texts that might seem elusive, dusty tomes directly to his professional and personal experiences, Kalanithi encourages us to think of them as relevant to our own lives. Things that seem elitist are within our grasp; he evidences this by the fact that his mother’s revolutionizing force in the previously somewhat bereft local education system gave opportunities to all students.

Indeed, I’m still figuring out how education and elitism go hand-in-hand, particularly when so many  young people are educated but lack the hoards of moveable property that accompany the elite. Moreover, I know reading classics of western literature is laden full of privilege and historical prejudices, and, surely, our sense of their beauty is tied to the colonialism that accompanied(s) them. And yet, words, literature, and thoughts are profound and full of meaning. Canonical western literature is not the be-all and end-all. There are so many voices to whom we should listen. We must actively make social and public spaces for those voices.

We must also not forget that Kalanithi had an extraordinary education, Stanford and Cambridge. I cannot ignore this in my review because it would deny the fact that many persons will not and do not have access to these kinds of experiences. I would also like to make note that the book does contain some privileging of able bodies and able minds. The book, at times, seems to preclude a world inclusive of neurodivergence, but that these are problems to be solved. I am not well-informed enough in this area to speak to it fully.

Kalanithi’s bridge between Literature and Neuro-science and -surgery echoes his investigation of the mind/body nexus, a philosophical problem as old as time. We accept that language gives us the tools of expression, meaning, feeling, intelligence. ‘Man’ has believed that what made him man was language. (Animals, meanwhile, have argued that it was the red-flower.) And then there is the brain that controls the lot. If we want to understand how we think and what we think, do we engage in philosophy or neuroscience? If parts of the brain that become damaged or put under the pressure of a tumour influence how we behave and act, then what does that mean about what it means to about selfhood? Kalanithi doesn’t give us a straight-forward answer; rather, he engages in a well-thought discourse that attempts to meaningfully untangle the seemingly unsolvable. Unsolvable things such as life, death, mortality, suffering, the liminal experience of the patient who may or may not return from the cusp of death, and the place of those who remain after death.

To me, and I think most people will agree, it is the abridged and purpose-driven autobiographical narrative that a parent would hope to leave their child, especially if the parent will die before the child can ask the parent questions about their life.

Finally, I’d like to finish by quoting one of my best friend’s favourite lines: ‘You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving’. A life in motion, a life that moves forward, learning from others, ourselves, and how to engage with people as people and not as problems or a ticking clock.

 

Heaps of Love,

Kat Xx

[Edit: see below]

P.S. In my desire to publish this before I had to take my dog out, I forgot to emphasize a few things. The main takeaway that I want people to have from this book is the importance of reading and the act of reading as a tool to build empathy. For all of its flaws, children that grew up reading the Harry Potter series have been shown to be more empathetic. Because so many young people have this shared experience, they are also able to connect through it. Likewise, we may not agree on which religion or why, we might agree that Hermione’s activities through SPEW are indicative of white feminism. We were given a language to discuss child abuse and the loneliness that teens and young adults feel alongside the loneliness and isolation of adults (re: Sirius). Literature is important. People who study literature are important. Their brains work in wonderful and often uncelebrated ways.

In addition to noting the importance of literature, I did make the point about the prevalence of western literature throughout the text. When I was studying, I was co-Chair of an off-shoot of a charity that builds local-language libraries, supports local-language publishing, and gives money for girls to go to school. When I was part of this charity, it was always important to me that the books that were placed in the libraries and the books that were published were not western exports. Those books are usually readily available, but it was important that money was given to regional and local authors. It is never about exporting the western canon elsewhere; it is about recognizing that we need to support local publishing. This is why writing, and empathy, and developing our individual and shared vocabularies through reading, writing, and supporting authors is important.

Look at the ways in which my own world was broadened by this book. Those are the things that are important.

 

Book rating: 3.5/5

Waves ⎟ Poem

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Audio of poem:

I don’t remember the day I
fell into the water.
Some legends say the sky was gray,
I’ve heard elders whisper
that is was the bluest of days,
My story begins as I was
birthed to the sea.

From the strong urn of Mother Earth,
Ejected in a cocoon, bobbing
at the water’s top,
An Albatros freed my limbs
from their silken cage.
I did not scream,
I did not cry,
I did not look for warmth.

For the waves are the uneven beats
of my mother’s hearts,
My own heart’s beat is slow
but quite strong.
An eddy forms as my being
sends opposing waves unto
the sea.

Occasionally, I am berthed and ported,
Men have sought to
tell my story,
‘For she is a mermaid, fair, no darker than
the night, richer than the moon,
sweeter than nectar, more enticing
than drink.’
They say they know me,
but it is I, who have known them.

I swallow their boats,
I drink their lives,
I rain upon their masts,
I embrace their crafts.

Men sit at their fires,
hearth to hearth,
as they tell stories of my
vengeance and vitriol,
Their lust and my desire,
My wild hair enrages their
very being.

Men sit at fires and laugh,
For in the heat of safety,
Fear evokes laughter from
the weakest man.

I bob in the water,
I am incarnate
But I am intangible
Untouchable
Unknowable
Unbelievable
Unbelieved.

I exist,
as the sound of my breath
is the loudest sound known
to mankind–
It raises his hairs,
It tears up the earth,
I cry out, ne’er to be
vanquished.

Legends say I am a cruel nymph,
That I ensnare my prey,
But I am merely
A Malthusian force
of female
existence.

Into the sea,
Like sweet succour,
A song reveals all truths
As you drink
the fount of youth
at the base of my
feet.

–fin

Accompanying song to audio version is Keaton Henson, Elevator Song.

¶ Paradiso, Commedia III ⎟ PEA

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As we sat drinking coffees,
We laughed and sighed over dreams:
The ones we shared,
and our waking hours of delight.
Your hand on my leg,
Clouds in my coffee,
Nirvana, a vision of ecstasy.

Walking through parted clouds,
You said I had celestial beauty,
As we metamorphosed into abstract phenomena,
unreservedly cerebral,
We moved bounded by each other–
As One.

We swam through the skies,
Weightless and without form,
Like birds drifting, slowed in time,
Like smoke wafting through the atmosphere,
Higher and higher into astral planes.
Where solemnity paints the
sky blue
And stars burn cold
In our souls.

From lilac petals to apple blossoms,
The sun nestles life into spirited roots,
Reaching higher into the skies,
A deeper longing, into rich soils,
The world seems so far away now,
Tangibility, a construct that ebbs
as we find new meanings,
favourably.

Earth breathes, deeply,
As she asks her sojourners to
remember her before they leave
for nether or other realms,
Mars seems lovely, she supposes,
But is that where you’ll find roses?
To pin in your lover’s hair or upon
their lapel?

I gulp the ocean blue,
As we metaphysically entwine,
Locked in free-spirited desire,
Like the smoke of hell,
Our souls wrap around each other
twisting helically
into new data
from the stuff of which we are made.

 

 

 

–fin

Heaps of love,
Wordplay Xx

 

 

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