A Common Evil

Old walls, old cycles […]

A Common Evil


Who’s there?

 

I

Old walls, old cycles.

Old walls—
                 a common evil,
                 divining a daemon.

The castle of a dead empire.
        Lost, for a second.
               Reminded.

Safety in solitude.
               A seventh chance.
               A hidden glimpse.
               An honest smile.

A greeting — old friends,
                        old walls.

Sequestered in liturgy,
        but focus wanders;
        and we return to—

 

II

A building site
            disguised
                      as a temple.

            False history—
          but truth lies
                down the way.

Home
           to the human heart,
religion.                   The self
            cannot survive
without                    your kind glance.

See me, or—
                                 be me,
as I wish that I could be you.

    And then cut away,
    close-up of sweet smirk,
    shadow of hooked hand on wall.

And such small portions

 

III

Shot through ochre—
Brighter than the sun.

Leaning towards restraint,
We cough up mounds of
Grey paste,
That we trudge through
Day by day.

Then,
Under it all—
What is there?

I can tell you:

Several spheres, marked by curious lines,
Connected — and grand eyes,
Watching — soft — lingering—
Obscured and denied.

Alabaster mask,
Connected — and staring out,
Carven features — soft — lingering—

Do you understand?

 

IV

Survival.

               Climbing
            Higher
                  Than the last end,
            The false start.

Survival, day by day.

Trying
Not to repeat
Again, again again—

Survival: this time we move inside old walls,
                Sketchy signal,
                TV flickers.
                Fair features.
                Nobility, eternal history—
                How to engage damage
                And yet still wake up.

And then, morning:

For lo! the wishèd day is come at last

 

V

Differing wavelengths, changed masks.

I have no god—
           but I know He watches.

Silence matters.

Tracks lead to streets aglow,
Great Creator knows my moves:
But approval is ’fuscated.

       Never mind.
       You must find the path—

Chaos differs, but time stays the same.
Shadows again, on the windows shut.

Almighty! what gift—
What look thy give—
Lord! what have I done?

 

VI

Adages can lie—
You cannot simply deconstruct.

You must create,
        and whether it real or not,
        you must foster care.

It is but we who hurt each other.
It is only we who make us bitter.
Jove’s litter, Man—
And we live here, for now.

Verona shewed us light;
            but for now, the Tusks
            dig deep in our ribs,
            and our dying eyes see
            sweet sunlight, borne history, and innocence.

Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d

 

VII

Seven simple statements.
Seven forms of fate.
           Seven muses lie by my bed,
           and dictate solemn the date.

Four sisters of order;
Four days that are shewn.
           Four rules to channel your luck,
           and plead we notice too late.

One kindness is given,
One kindness received.
           Hold breath in reverie silent,
           Before thy great silver gate.

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name;
Please hear these words:
We did not choose this—
We did not—

 

VIII

Surrounded now
                                            by angels,
                           another gift.
Lifted by iron wings
                       you know better than I.

Did you see us waiting for you?

Exhumed fluids
                      never
                               never

Insalubrious
                      never
                               never

You entwine two worlds:
All those yet to be
                (and)
             Those who have left.

 

IX

Voices whisper ’round ruins
Tongues never remain, yet
We hear them.

Almost silent—
Catch them, bottle them,
Seal them in writing—

And never speak them again,
For words are stronger
And crueller than you or I.

Let them be,
Or else expect
To hear them — murmuring
Jealousy in your ear at night.

Can you see the face—
It lives in the curtains.
It sinks low on the yellow lace.

 

X

Something has made its way in.

Distorted now, pitched lower,
Childish din, sallow face. Crawling.

Do         you       understand

Lord—release me.
I can’t stop it.
I think it—

             The sun, equidistant, a million miles.
             Reach out — now, green grass, children frolick,
             Water never seemed so fresh.

Silence.

             Everything adds up. Food never tasted so good.
             This is the life. Good wine. Red. Like the old days.
             Serenity.

Something crawls up the back of your neck

 

XI

There are ghosts in this town.
There are soft sighs on the breeze.
Summer’s sweet vengeance.
I turn, and cover my eyes.
I am a sundial.

We create beings we can’t control,
Left at the mercy of faceless hives:

But — there are those
Who carry the light.

I have met one,
                          two—
                                     three.

The corrupted corrupt,
Tainted needlessly.

But still live those
Free of the Dark Mother’s grin:
I have seen the beauty inherent in the soul.

 

XII

Barbed claw-blades.
A night gaunt’s tickling talon—
I cannot run, these
              old walls have me
                    paralysed.

I lie vulnerable
As teeth enclose
     around my wrist:

No escape.

 

XIII

         Not every
         offering
         completes
         a ritual.

We are young,
But pain is ever pain.

         Nothing
         is ever
         easy.

What can we do, but try again,
Ad nauseam.

Not every sacrifice calls a god.
Ancient city,             so distant.

Waiting for the rain,
             to drink deep and catch
             a glimpse of the lonely spirit
             as it wanders by.

We were strangers

 

XIV

Such a strange face
            that frames those spheres.
Many decades will pass,
            and lines shall appear
On my face, as well
            as your strange face.

Yes, lines will grow,
            but keep your strange spirit,
Keep it clear and soft,
            like your strange face.

Did I see you?
Did you see me?
Do you underst—

I know what I see.

 

XV

Room umbrageous.
Blackout.
Voices — weal or woe?

Frozen in darkness.
No knock.
Footsteps — by your bed.

Eyes light up.
Seeping.
Laughter — unkind.

Cadence discords.
And so it unravels.

Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away

 

XVI

The serene song of Cherubim,
Strained descant.
Lilting.

Wait for the walls,
Barriers between sight and vacuity.
A never-ending white
Like static in the synapses.

To guide the hand
Like a tutor,
Like a sibling.

You—
But, leave it.
We make our own way.

There is much time
To fret and strut,
To observe the whistle
Of the wind.

We lift each other up,
Words at play.

 

XVII

In the boughs of yellow trees.
Hiding in plain sight.
Conviction.
A simple dedication.
Dedicated eyes,
Cracked alabaster mask,
Trapped outside dichotomy.
Unwavering mark.
Bane.
Wych-hazel,
Sprinkle ingredients
For invocation to
Summon a yellow sprite
From boughs of
Yellow trees.
A subtle mistake—
Now, catastrophe.
And in a foreign town,
In a foreign land,
Many years on:
Something has found you—
Something from which
You hoped to hide.

 

XVIII

Finnegan erupts, and realises
                            he cannot go back
                            this time.
An unmarried mother concocts
                            a tale, and creates
                            himself again.
The half-conscious desire
                            to embrace, to shy
                            away, to care, to
                            shake in dismay.

       To see oneself in a mirror
       and realise:
                            You are the
       voice in your head.
       To see your hair
       grow long,
                            grey, and fall out.

       To begin again, for what it’s worth.

 

XIX

Mist sinks low on hilltop,
Ensconced in coddling cloud.
Move behind glass.

City walls of craggy brick,
Music sets the scene.
Heartbeats, fast and irregular.
Like a foolish boy.

Capture short moment to laugh,
Dancing invisible together.
Just interrupted.

Kind heart sets other aflame,
Simple tongues,
Native,
Missed.

 

XX

A call from beyond,
Fathomless notes
             between
                           notes between—

       The peace
       of repetition.
       Sand calls

       Creep between shadows
                  between

                  soft

                  lingering

Cast aside sickness
        (soft)
Get on your goddamn knees
        (lingering)

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams

Spit out blood,
        hemorrhage,
                Tusks split bone,
                        return to your death,
It ends here,
        flatline,
                Tusks pierce organs,
                        see your own ghost,

In death’s dream kingdom

Life flashes now,
        annihilation,
                Tusks spear heart,
                        premonition,
Wish you spoke,
        honesty,
                Tusks remind you,
                        better to have loved—

For lo! the wishèd day is come at last—

                and lost—
                speak in your own ear—

And such small portions—

                soft spit, those eyes, I love—

Be all my sins remember’d—

                dead between sheets surrounded
                by old walls—

We did not choose this—

                soft

We did not—

                lingering

My God!—

                spit.

 

Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

 

“Exeunt! Exeunt! Hosannas to my love”

Exeunt! Exeunt! Hosannas to my love […]

“Exeunt! Exeunt! Hosannas to my love”

Exeunt! Exeunt! Hosannas to my love
Follow, follow! Let us cast off the stage
And speak, not act — no shame, no shame, exeunt!
O masquerade of priceless love bring forth
Princess parade pared to finest echo
Glory, glory as we embrace the streets
And freedom holds our kindred hands to see
Such sights beyond the pallor of the moon
Great girl, we walk bestowed with passive sighs
Yes, yes! You are the essence of our faith
Leonine, leonine — grand-crested, bold
Future rose, erstwhile glimmer, present lamb
Who dances of concrete dreams now made flesh

Exeunt! Exeunt! We leave for pastures fresh
And cast our shawls of silken night aside
Follow the priest of modernus, exeunt!
Aye, we are nubile yet, await the day
When we are wed in harmony of soul
Glory, glory as we discover sight,
Our hopes abide the climes of racing Time—
We hope our forms will yet warrant appraise
Entrusted to wingèd eohippus—
Yes, yes! That is the paradoxical—
To grow yet wise, and pray to keep our youth
A fallacy of the young; grim once old
But dancing still in fleshly, concrete dreams

Exeunt! Exeunt! Awesome boones to my sweet
Leave, leave! Lest your engendered breast is pierced
And lack falses our path beyond the bornes
O sorrow, fate! I feel you now, you cur:
Let it known what fickle fiend you favour
When it is Autumn bloom upon the globe’s room
The stage is you, the stage is me: so how
Can we find space to flee?— O spirus fate!
Conspire to force old age; ensign of death
Runs black, half-mast, it sits upon the bow
Of schooner pale, with steersman blind — ’pon waves
Of seas that dance in material dreams

Exeunt! Exeunt! Hosannas to my love
Follow, follow! Let us cast off the stage
And speak, not act — no shame, no shame, exeunt!
But the costume does not remove with ease
Instead it empeaches joyance contained
Glory, glory beyond the universe’s planes
And the ’straints that shackle spirit withall
Now greet sights once met in moontide slumber
Great friend, with visiting cheer and tinctures
Yes, yes! Wash away such thoughts of fleeing
Serpentyne, now slither thither, wither—
Future rose, erstwhile glimmer, present lamb
Who dances of hidden dreams now made flesh—
And writhes in litany ever out of sight—

 

My God is a Gun

My God is a Gun, translated into English in 2013 by the late Melvin Milo Melbern from a Spanish translation of an anonymous and untitled Quechuan text, is an anomaly in the history of translation.

My God is a Gun


For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart


Preface

My God is a Gun, translated into English in 2013 by the late Melvin Milo Melbern from a Spanish translation of an anonymous and untitled Quechuan text, is an anomaly in the history of translation. The acclaimed original Spanish translation, Nuestro padre, la lanza (Our Father, the Spear), was provided by Jorge Paca, who is primarily renowned for his historical work on oral folk histories from Peru and Colombia. Melbern, an author first and foremost, is known in the translation community for his work on other esoteric discoveries such as Hammett’s Statement (a Cornish text dated 1919) and the apocalyptic Diaries from Beyond (which Melbern translated from English into Spanish).

The original untitled text, named by Paca after a line found near the conclusion of the text, is dated to have been written between 1880—1883 in the Tacna region of Peru. The text was originally uncovered by antique book collector Bernard Laurent on the 3rd of January, 2008, near the bottom of a bric-a-brac box at a West London car-boot sale, alongside such charity shop classics as Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Mary McCarthy’s The Group.

Melbern’s English translation differs from Paca’s celebrated (and considerably more linguistically and historically accurate) translation in a great number of controversial ways, and is considered to contain embellished elements not present in the original Quechuan text.

Despite the controversy and purported lack of understanding of both time period and cultural voice, My God is a Gun has the distinct reputation for being the only current official English translation of the text. Furthermore, in contrast to critical opinion, many well-regarded multilinguists have spoken of their affection for the text, and some fans of this unknown Quechua-Peruvian author’s lone work consider this to be the definitive version of the text; both historian Jonathan Bayer and journalist Kenneth Loveman have praised Melbern’s effort as a singular work that transcends traditional translation and achieves its own greatness as a piece of metafictional art (Loveman summed it up in the Observer thusly: “Melbern’s translation is only passingly acquainted with the original historical work; however, it is through this that it unfolds as a masterpiece of artistic translation that deliberately defies rational understanding and instead takes its aim directly at the human pathos.”); other critics, however, blasted it as the work of an exploitative charlatan and a confused, grandiose narcissist well past his prime, particularly after Melbern’s infamous breakdown on The Jonathan Ross Show in 2014, an incident that fellow author Miles Stone claimed as indicative of Melbern’s decline.

In the interest to the reader, I have supplied a number of endnotes; these detail the notable similarities between the translated text and Melbern’s own 2004 novel Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar, his most successful work both critically and commercially.

The additional English translations of sections of the Paca translation are provided by professors Joelle Luna and Dennis Birkbeck of the University of Surrey, to whom I give great thanks.


My God is a Gun

I

There is no beauty greater than that of the female soul—O, no, lo and behold, I found myself indebted to a wanderlust driven by that need, that fire, for the beauty of a Spanish woman, far from my tribe; salted meat I prepared for the journey, and I left in the dark, speaking not a word of my plans to my mother Saywa, and before long the hills and mountain trails were breaking in my stride, and after some weeks I reached occupied Tacna.

When I arrived in Tacna on the 27th of May, I could still hear the lost echoes of dead souls. Many had died in the city the night before, and weary guards stood stony in the streets, a few lone smiles that read not joy but determined and temporary victory. Despite the upheaval, the people of Tacna continued their lives, unsure of what would come next.

I had no money or goods to trade; I had chewed all of my coca leaves on the journey, and salted meat had little value of note. My cultural background in ceramics however led me to take residence with a contentious and somewhat melted man named Pedro Sciarra, a watchmaker who employed me to create glass domes for his timepieces. Rarely did I complete a project for him in one effort; more often I received diatribes for my work, and Sciarra was not above striking me if he considered the work of low enough quality.

Adjusting to the existence found in this city of labyrinthine streets1 oddly unpopulated and so distant from the huts and hillside abodes of my past life took many months. I spent all of the time not engaged in dome-assembly wandering the city lanes, speaking to no one but observing all. After some time, the faces of the individual shifted into one face with two genders. The further I looked, the less defined became the European face of the Spanish beauty I had seen in my dreams.

In the dust-ridden neighbourhood of Texcuana2 I found a small abandoned house, and I began spending nights away from the Sciarra residence. Only here did I start seeing the image of that Spanish beauty again; she stared into me as I slept, and once I even heard her name. I saw her face clearly now, as vital as the morning sun: her speckled green eyes flickered with an energy I felt familiar. But for all of these dreams, she came no closer to taking material form; and in time, I even forgot the name that she had whispered into my slumbering ear.

II

Sciarra took ill, and in facing his death, became a new man. I stayed by his bed and listened to him speak of God, and the rites he wished to have performed at his funeral. He asked me to find his only living son, and to deliver him a message, entrusting to me several pages of Spanish that he sealed in an envelope with watchmaker’s mould wax. In the last few days of his life, he spoke of the Trinity, and he spoke of his hope for forgiveness. He repented for beating me, and he entrusted me with the future of his workshop. I stopped visiting that house in Texcuana, and forgot entirely about the Spanish beauty who surely waited for me still.

Sciarra passed away through the night, and I found him staring inert at the ceiling, clutching his bedclothes. I could tell that his last moments had been difficult; and in his eyes, something spoke to me, words in a language I did not understand. He was buried as per his requests—a scattering of herbs left on his unmarked grave, his coffin nothing but a linen sack. I was the only attendee; I left the letter to his son on the grave, and said a word to the shepherd spirit to deliver his son to the spot, if he still lived. I walked from the grave, herbs and dirt falling from my clothes.

I tried my hand at watchmaking but fell short repeatedly and gave up. To fail to create a facsimile of time is known to corrupt, and with each mistake I could feel myself taken further and further away from the destiny I had ordained for the future. Each ripple contained within it ten thousand paths, and the hope of falling onto the right one began to seem small. Violence spread through the region, until news of new hostilities became ubiquitous. But for all of the war, I thought only of the flower-haired Spanish beauty of the flatlands.

Her return to my life had me renounce any further attempts at watchmaking, and I sold the Sciarra property and took myself to Texcuana to locate and purchase the property I had stayed in the year before, but the house had been razed. Wandering into the night, I drank from pisco from a flask and spoke to many denigrated denizens of their woes and passions. I slept in the bed of an older woman of Quechuan origin named Cuxi3, who spoke of food and farming as we made love upon the course sheets. And although I felt a fervour, I left in the morning before she rose.

I found myself wandering for some weeks, avoiding the streets at night to save myself from losing my small inherited fortune at the hands of dark-eyed knives. Through the markets of dust I walked, passing the dull-eyed camelids and the chromatic drone of the ponchos. I dressed in fine cotton clothing, not for the heat but for my waiting Spanish beauty, the one who got ever closer and ever further away.

III

Three nights after I heard the fox howl, my eyes set upon a woman. She had conquistador eyes4, flowing rust-flecked hair, a brimmed hat resting atop her head. She was not the Spanish beauty I had been seeking, I knew that; no, she could be nobody else but my own flesh and blood, my own family, my own sister.

Her yellow dress was a beacon. I moved with the wind towards her, to find out how she came to be; how she found herself here; how we had never known each other. But the crowds of like-faced folk churned, and as I pushed further into them, I quickly realised that I had lost sight of her. After catching one more glimpse of that yellow robe, a man took a step directly into me. I fell back onto the floor, sand in my eyes. Something happened, and I clutched at my side. Hands moved around my body, pushing into every pocket. Soon, I looked up to see the crowds of people with their uniform yet shifting faces staring down at me. I looked at my hand to see it smeared red.

My blood painted the sandy street. My fortune was lost. My sister had disappeared into the aether, and my last conscious thought was that I would never see her again.

IV

I spent a month recovering from my wound. When I slept, it was no longer the Spanish beauty that looked into my eyes; it was my sister. I thought of what I might say to her; what I might call her. I thought of many names, but there was no single one that felt natural. I had to find her, to draw the answers from our shared mouth.

I spoke to the Father, but he spoke not to me. God spoke to no-one; I was left out of the loop, alone but for the rain and wind5.

My doctor, Santos, discovered my history working for the watchmaker Sciarra and took me under his wing fixing his medical tools. I witnessed the many victims of the city, those unlucky enough to feel the blade dig too deep or who had deteriorated from the lash of time. Most did not survive. I thought on my luck, and how I would not squander this chance to atone.

All of my time away from the surgery was spent carefully wandering the streets, searching for my sister. I dressed in sodden rags, appearing so to be a beggar or leper. I played the part and kept my gaze toward the future.

Three hundred days passed, and in time I became a master artisan of medical tools. I crafted devices that saved lives and eased suffering, and I played audience to the increasing survival of the unfortunate folk who found themselves on the operating table. Santos and I eventually spoke of my future; his kind eyes followed mine and he nodded as I spoke of the sister I had to find. He was quiet for some time, and then told me that there would be a day soon when he would not see me again. I nodded.

The day came sooner than either of us could have imagined; to be precise, it was that day. Not long after our conversation, I took my leave to a local drinking hole that I had recently started to patronise. As I took my corner seat, she appeared at the door. She was wearing that same yellow dress as before, the same hat, and her eyes were still my own. She only looked briefly into the room before turning and going on her way; I got to my feet and scrambled out of there, leaving my alcohol to the dust and flies.

The streets clamoured with a resounding din of footsteps and mercantile. Through the tangled archways I moved, keeping the woman in yellow in sight at all times; I knew that this would be my final chance to reach her. I saw many infinite versions of us moving through the alleyways that we crossed, our forms blurring as I kept my true sister in aim.

Eventually, we reached the outskirts of Tacna. Lonely streets housing lonely homes, and it was as if we were the only living souls around. More cautiously now I followed, her seeming unaware of her brother coming to find her. O how near the truth was now—but I did not rush, I could not. The desertic flats now stretched out into the northeasterly valley, the hills rising up to meet us. Finally, we were the only ones walking.

I was but fifteen feet from her now.

‘What of you?’ she said.

I knew not what to say, but I walked still.

‘You do not mean me harm, lest I would already be dead,’ she said, and she turned around.

Indeed, those eyes were unmistakable; the sleek curves of her face, the parting of her hair; she was my kin, a perfect feminine mirror of my soul.

‘You are my sister,’ I said.

She smiled. ‘We have been living together in this city for some time. Why only now do you seek me out?’

‘I knew you not. If only I had.’

‘Let us keep walking,’ she said.

V

We walked in silence up to the crest of the knoll that I had traversed on my journey to the city. Finally stopping and turning around, we looked over at the place we had both made home; all was quiet, other than the chirping of insects and the occasional cry of the birds.

‘How long have you been here?’ I asked, finally shattering the illusion of silence.

‘As long as you have. We have found ourselves here again.’

‘Again?’

‘Indeed.’

She turned to me. It was as if I were capturing my own gaze.

‘What of our god?’ I asked, but knew not why.

‘My god is a gun6,’ she said, ‘and I am a bullet.’

I inspected her eyes further; I had seen them before somewhere, in some dream state or fugue of youth.

‘Have you forgotten me?’ she asked.

‘I apologise, sister, for I believe that is the case.’

‘Do not apologise; one of us was to remember, and I get to play that role this time. There is much that will come back to you: the many aeons we have spent together. We were there at the start, and we will continue even beyond the end, to even more distant and remote lands and vistas. We have seen every end of this earth a thousand times; we have never failed to meet. We are more than twinned souls, my old friend.’

She offered me her hand, and I took it.

‘Do you feel it now? That sense of being whole—and the forces that conspire to pull us apart. There will always be times when we must be apart, but we will find each other again, always. For beyond brother and sister, you are I, and I am you. We have always been one, and we have always been two. Without one, we could not have the other. We fit together as pieces of a jigsaw, as parallel paths in Sol’s Labyrinth. Every woman you seek is I, just as every man I have adored has been you. Reflection is an ideal; it is purity.’

Our hands fell apart again. I nodded solemnly, and looked away from her eyes.

‘It is not our time yet, is it?’ I asked.

We stared out over the city. I felt the land expanding out before us, incrementally increasing in size, along with the rest of the universe. I turned once more to her, to see her before we parted again for another epoch.

‘I do not believe so, no,’ said she, said I. ‘There is much trouble to come before we are joined forever. We will realise our differences, and then our similarities. For it is not just our eyes that we are similar, just as our bodies are not the only way that we differ. It is only when order and chaos are at peace that we will speak as one. Until then, I will dream of you.’

She smiled, and Inti, the great sun, shone down on us. In the light, our forms were inseparable; two identical bodies, silhouettes without difference or conflict, melding in the solar incandescence.

‘We shall meet again, many years from now. One will give the other a sign; messages caught in the melee, scripture that only the other will discern. Let us take this chance and bury it here on this hill, and one day it shall find us again. When the call finally sounds, we will answer in kind, and after a decade has passed, we shall be together as one, for eternity, as one.’


Postscript

For those familiar with the lauded Paca translation, it is not difficult to see why Melbern’s ‘fictionalised’ version is so controversial; even the very name of the piece is a personalised corruption. But despite the artistic liberties taken (particularly) with the conclusion of the story, it is noticed that the final paragraph is incredibly close to Paca’s original translation, and despite the final sections becoming divergent to such a degree that the message is changed, Melbern finds a way to finish the tale with the same words, even with the context so vastly changed.

We know the reasons for those lines in the celebrated original translation, of course—the two separated siblings have discussed their return to the realm of the gods where they belong, but must first go their separate ways to attempt, perhaps futilely, to reconcile the brutally contrasting perspectives of their native mother and rapist, colonialist father.

The discovery in the original translation that they are half-Quechuan and half-Spanish makes the account primarily a piece of cultural criticism in the form of a tale, and until Melbern released his own version, that was exactly all the piece was: a primary text of somewhat novelty value, sought after by Peruvian and other Latin American scholars for their collections. Since Melbern’s translation was released, the story has taken on a life of its own; and particularly now, one year after his untimely death, it is being reassessed as one of his defining works.

Many theories abound about his personal changes to the story and the coincidental crossovers between the original Quechua text and Melbern’s own novel Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar, but I am not here to catalogue such conjecture.

Melvin Milo Melbern died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in his home in Oxford on the 3rd of January, 2018. He left behind a final novel, posthumously released this year, titled Woman Behind the Train, or Annotations Through Time, a dense, 1200-page odyssey-narrative of spirit-doppelgangers attempting to contact each other through time and space by leaving messages in the stars.

His other final work was his suicide note. It read:

‘My God will not punish me for this sin, as it is my God that has taken me out of this world.’


Endnotes

1: This marks Melbern’s first moment of erroneous translation: Paca’s Spanish translation describes the streets of Tacna as uncomplicated and bustling with life; moreover, the narrator is portrayed interacting with a number of townspeople (these conversational scenes provide satirical humour, showing supposed Peruvian stereotypes of the era). Conversely, Melbern’s Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar (hereafter referred to as ‘Jars’) is set in the city of Labyrinthia, a city in the lost Latin American country of Quelacicero. The streets are believed to shift in the night, making each new day subject to a sweeping clean of the slate and offering opportunities for constant adventure. As such, Melbern’s translated description of Tacna more closely resembles his own fictional work than the reality of the original text.

2: ‘Texcuana’ is not a real place, nor does it exist in the Paca translation—the area isn’t named in the original text, instead it is implied to be an abandoned hut or outhouse some miles outside of the city. Texcuana is, however, the metaphysical ‘locked cage’ that protagonist Atoc places herself in in the final chapter of Jars.

3: ‘Cuxi’ is the only name that remains the same from the Paca translation (for example, Sciarra’s name is Abracante). Cuxi is also the name of a minor character in Jars: coincidentally, both characters are described as older women of native origin. The similarities end there however, as the Cuxi in Jars is the distant half-sister of Atoc, as opposed to a brief sexual partner of the unnamed protagonist of My God is a Gun.

4: This oft-cited and infamous phrase is the focus of much derision from certain critics, who point out that for all of the liberties taken by Melbern, this shortsighted and insensitive description is the one that unveils him as an ugly, colonial-minded opportunist seeking to use a native primary text for his own means. The Paca translation of this line uses the word espíritu (a form of pun or reference to alcohol) in place of ‘conquistador’. If I may offer my own opinion, I consider Melbern’s reference to conquistadors and colonialism in this paragraph indicative of a deeper understanding and consideration of the original text, especially taking into account the original final reveal of the shared lineage of the Peruvian siblings — due to this, I see these critics as engaging in contrived controversy, and as such, cast doubt on their credentials.

5: This short paragraph does not appear in the Paca translation to any recognisable degree. It is, in fact, verbatim from a passage in chapter six of Jars; it is Atoc’s reply to her brother Tito after he asks her the fate of the magically enthralled apu Father Wind.

6: The title line, and what follows, is the most erroneous and controversial element of Melbern’s translation. Paca’s translation posits these lines as:

            Y nuestro padre?
            Nuestro padre es la lanza.

            ‘What of our father?’
            ‘Our father is the spear.’

This complete rewrite continues throughout the conversation; little of what the narrator and his sister speak is similar or even vaguely related to Paca’s version, and, as such, the entire outcome of the plot diverges onto its own path, as far away from the original outcome as possible, beginning with the revelation that the protagonist and his sister are the children of colonial rape.

Gone is the parade of gods that the siblings witness above Tacna, and absent too is the appearance of their mother. Of note to the reader is this: in the conclusion of Melbern’s Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar (published four years before the discovery of the Quechuan text), Atoc reunites with her father after the battle of the gods has taken the lives of her townspeople, only to discover her father is in fact Illapa, the lord of thunder, who set her off on her journey in the beginning with that portentous lightning strike.

After he asks her if she is happy to see him again, she shakes her head, and says: ‘My father is a spear. He offers only death, and I shall not grasp him.’

Although she tries to destroy Illapa for putting into play the dark, world-changing events that have taken place, she ultimately sees her own face reflected in his eyes; with this revelation, she turns away from her father, and places herself in the locked cage of Texcuana, to be awoken only once all of time has passed.


References

Anonymous. (n.d.) Untitled. Translated by Paca, J. as Nuestro padre, la lanza, Bogotá: Pontificia Press; and translated by Melbern, M. M. as My God is a Gun, London: Faber and Faber.

Hammett, C. (1919) Hammett’s Statement. Translated by Melbern, M. M. London: Faber and Faber.

Inženia, Ï. (1937) Diaries from Beyond. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

McCarthy, M. (1963) The Group. New York: New American Library.

McEwan, I. (2001) Atonement. London: Jonathan Cape.

Melbern, M. M. (2004) Jars of Pickled Brains and the Word of the Dogstar. London: Sahnow.

Melbern, M. M. (2019) Woman Behind the Train, or Annotations Through Time. London: Sahnow.

Wordsworth, W. (2015) ‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’, in Gill, S. (ed.) Selected Poems. London: Penguin, pp. 61-66.

All is Calm

Five hours, please […]

All is Calm

 

I

Five hours, please
   Just enough time to
     Sail away,
                        ride away

Surely a jewelled stallion
     May take my
            Last spot at pasture

Enraptured,
           a gilded crown,
not a frown from the bow

Just luminescent
       Liquid diamond

Goodbye, Old World—
   Would you pray for me yet?

 

II

Greetings from my castle,
     a wave from the walls.
Exiled Vixen,
          enamoured and vain.
Confession uncomprehended,
   an apology from God,

Whilst gears tick,
      a trick to keep you stuck.

Your beckoning finger
       Cannot drag me from this villa,
Just as the wind
        Will never encompass
                   The rain.

The prayer is silent.
       Penance can wait.

 

III

The sparrow flies
   beyond four walls;
between the seasons,
               She lies.
Hopping ’cross sand
                    and glass.

A freedom unchained,
      a supreme love,
ungained yet sitting
       like a phantasy
’twixt sweet pollen,
        angles askew,
a perfection unfound
        in even the Tetrahedron.

You seal on a paper heart,
       feel the warm air
            in December.

 

IV

There was a reason:
       To see life.
            Truly.

To live — that
          is it.

Autumn — the first.
     Brown hair.

The fort of dreams.
Godfather to existence.

     Amber glint.
                Lingering spit.

     Truth.
                 Beauty.

 

V

Winter, the last.

The jewelled stallion
         prays for me.

Whilst angels dance
    through blonde highlights,
And rooks knell
     like the church tower’s bell.

Turquoise ripples,
        chattering forms in blue.
A great, slight distance
                       from you.

    Good morning—
             open your eyes,

                 face the end.

 

VI

Weak profile and ragged
       hair — red spells death
Crimson cloth unveils
                  nothing more.
Acceptance.

             No new sight,
             you might say
                  I’m sorry

For rolling through
        and across
Celephaïs’ dreamt walls.

Lying in vulnerable grace
          spread eagle
     torn through by
          ragged arrow tip,
                      descending.

 

VII

The lone drifter must
      feel like Jean Seberg.
Dutch courage to die.

But these thoughts
        worry her not—
            instead,
                a chance smile.

The smile — the
                      very same—
     returns, many
                    years on.

When she thinks of the sun,
      the gentle yet chilling
                               breeze,
the absence of gulls,
       the soft lows of the sea.

 

VIII

Cigarettes and bottles
      of beer are this
           generation’s fossils.

Snow dove on the sand
Clatters into the sought blue,
       far above
           our shared love
                 of this lone moment.

The grace of infinitesimal
         grains, soft as the
     fur of an Andalusian dog.

No blade crosses the solar eye
      as cornflower canvas
           penetrates the self.

      This moment, here to stay.

 

IX

Vision at last returns
    Burns that cast religion
To seek a being
    Worthy of the throne
To sift through callous letters
    Whilst swarthy natives
Know you better
    Than the wall you crash against

Heart menstruation,
      A political demonstration,
               Policeman dressed
                                 in black.

A prayer for the slow
A prayer for the meek
A prayer for the soft glow

   and a prayer for me:
       the weak.

 

X

A return to arms.
A dry, salty beach.
Foreign conversations
            from behind doors ajar.

Exchange of ideals.
      An ever-present dread
  Coming closer,
                 getting further away.

Apologies and hymns.
             Hands held wide
       to let in the new world.

A gift of pain, black tendrils.

A masque of warm rain,
             Sitting innocent
             on a bed of nails.

 

XI

Life can be found in death—
     Without posthumus decay
     there can be no laughter,
     no love, no shared smiles.

Gentle crashing, closed eyes.
     A sweet summer scent
     so far from its home.
     I embrace it.

I remind it gently
         Not to wander too far—
    for even seasons can get lost.

There will always be life—
   Just as death will always
       be with us.

You cannot run — enjoy
    What there is, friend.

 

XII

Castles made of sand and glass,
     Blasted heaps of terror
Loom desolate over my home.

Alone they march,
                 These monoliths,
     Never hiding in Shath’s cellar.

    Right here—
                           Right now.
     I hold my warning.
     Tomfoolery of Chronos,
     Dream-state of Celephaïs.

Whilst gulls return, and
     Stallions stride, and
     Solemn prayers are sung;

We welcome in the new world:
   We shed our cowls of grey.