Essays

Tiane Doan Na Champassak: Tamarind Ghosts Full Text

By Brad Feuerhelm on November 23, 2016

“In any event, this numbness behind the eyes reminds me that I live and I die for next to nothing. The value of a contemplative life used to re-assure me that my existence within the corrosive whole of humanity had meaning”

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I often contemplate why my arm goes numb. The numbness spreads through my body and ends in the space behind my eyes, which has no name outside of being contained within my cranium. It feels like it expands from my spine, where it feels warm… lucid… like the first time I broke night on heavy painkillers or a warm bath where the sensation is indistinguishable from pissing myself, as if lowering my limbs into the warm salt water of a dead sea.

In any event, this numbness behind the eyes reminds me that I live and I die for next to nothing. The value of a contemplative life used to re-assure me that my existence within the corrosive whole of humanity had meaning. It doesn’t take much to suppress laughter with oxicton or enough cortisone if administered in the right place. It’s a pervasive laugh indeed from where I sit in this room on the off-season reasoning with the mold on the wall in the corner, as it spiders its way along the frame of my “bed” pressed in the corner. I don’t keep cleanliness to a high standard and at the end of a particularly humid season, when my pillow is sometimes thrown to the floor after an inhospitable night, I can see the little black spots of mold that have attached themselves to the fiber of my pillow’s half-cotton, half-plastic synthetic weave. I imagine myself pressed into its thin volume, mouth open, heavily breathing, sucking in a little taste. To reason conversely, it is a mold that splinters itself from deep inside my own cavernous chest, sprayed on the surface of the pillow; a black and venomous design in which my head finds some comfort held at a specific angle while my sleep apnea causes in me a great choking sound… or so I have been told.

And all of this is simply a view from the side of something’s side. It is like the world exposition of fungus between my eyes and the wall. There are little insipid and dazzling arrays of black specks cavorting through the hills of the soft pillow and the dimpled terrain of the wall. I sometimes liken my tissue, my physical self, to a stone in the shoe of the universe. It is important to keep this pebble lodged in the foot of the universe. I narcissistically like to think of it, or myself, not as a great agitator, but rather as a persistent reminder to the universe that I do not belong in its shoe other than to service the doubt of my own creation. I am rock, here me fucking wheeze, universe. I wonder if spirituality would possibly diminish if all the relics of the saints were taken back to the place of their execution. Would their relevance be so great? A piece of scapular bone replaced at the scene in which it, along with the rest of the shoulder, was severed from such a holy and penitent farce? And by not staring at the mirror, the one backed with silver, the one that stares back with a lazy eye in this room, I can only surmise that this pebble body has so much nothing to offer. Infantilism can be such a harsh disciplinarian. The mirror has been noted as having the same black spots of mold as the pillow and still I persist. From the mirror, I stumble to the opposing corner of the airless room and lift an empty plastic water bottle to my lips, their form cracked with contempt and malnourishment. This is the promise of water.

I stand and slowly let my dirty right hand sift over my rigid organ’s features – the one contained in my stained shorts. I fish my manhood into my hand like some trophy hunter making polaroids of the starlet’s place on the eternal casting couch. Each trophy is ready to be fucked endlessly for a little ray of sunshine, maybe a compliment, twenty-dollars even. “Hey Mr., got any money”, Frankenhooker bled out. And with my dick in hand, I marry the lip of the plastic bottle to my un-circumcised self, lift back the edges of protruding skin and match the hole in my dick to the empty bottle’s eager mouth. I stand in this position for what seems like an eternity, swaying back and forth with inconsistent energy. I try to drum up an image of a waterfall or a fountain to help the process of making my urine meet the bottom of the bottle, but in my mind all of the water on the earth has dried up and each pool where it once resided feels like the dirty caked inside of an unwashed mouth. I can almost hear my cock spit a hissing air at the bottle’s interiors until finally a tiny trickle of viscous yellow fluid cascades down its inside, warm against my hand. Again, it feels like the pressure behind my eyes. If only I could smoke while attempting to carry out this procedure.

You can never tell how long a piss will take, can you? Its an eternity stretched into perhaps fifteen seconds, some days more, often days less and yet the body persists its rancor and dissolve even amidst the notion of living, water passing through this hollow facade. Counter points dear boy, counter points and rebellion. I am convinced at the end of this long episode of excretion that my cock will spit out an endgame, something like sawdust. I imagine a thick murky and perhaps putrid – to the observers that I swear watch me daily – broth that will dry upon contact with the air damming my urethra, my Aretha Franklin-maker. Perhaps it is more like dandruff. There is no shortage of flaking skin in my room. And with that thought, the full stream of fluid erupts from the pressure of the full bottle and my foreskin fails to uphold its rank and I am awash in my own discharge.

I hesitate and move towards the sole beam of light cast from the mesh wire of the small window. The liquid on my hand casting an eerie and discorporate object so pale and yet so otherworldly at the same time that I cannot tell if it is any longer attached to my body. I let go of the bottle, it greets the cement floor and I can feel warm urine splash against my leg. I stand observing this hand, fluid dripping along the webs of its interstices like honey down my arm and to the floor. It causes my un-kept skin to prickle in the light. It is somehow satisfying and I classify it as a sort of “disruption subsidy”. That is to indicate that it has something that gives me a gift between the light and the warmth to carry on, a subsidy of failure purposefully re-examined towards inevitable ends.

“You can never tell how long a piss will take, can you? Its an eternity stretched into perhaps fifteen seconds, some days more, often days less and yet the body persists its rancor and dissolve even amidst the notion of living, water passing through this hollow facade”

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In the pale blue tumbling light that enters the boy’s room, a soft glow glistens off the rail of the crib. The pre.dawn light, as noted so many mornings before moving into the flat, has an eerie, almost menacing atmosphere. To say that it pulses would not be incorrect. IT is often comparable to how his head throbs when the pressure of the rain is due. The space between his own dura mater and skull quickly compresses and forces his eyes visibly from their orbit. When looking in the mirror, it is not in tune with the previous aforethought proportions of his recognized face and presents a perplexing mystery of identity, frustration and solitude. That his wife also notices continues his own doubt on the nature of his physicality.

This morning, walking like a psychic somnambulist through a field of rusted razors and other metaphors inconveniently thrust to the forefront of his imagination. The man’s feet are slower, somehow stuck to the carpet outside of the cheap wood door that obstructs his view from that of his son’s crib. Hesitating slightly for a moment outside of the child’s room, his hand resting lithely on the cheap brass knob, the man struggles with the veil of sleep still hanging on his being. He decides that instead of risking an early morning arousal and cry from his son and thus espousing a resulting plentitude of grief from his slumbering wife, perhaps it is best to leave his own sentinel being to work into something closer akin to that of being awake by urinating and perhaps splashing some cold water on his face in front of that mirror that so often betrays his being in the small but utilitarian bathroom in their flat. Upon entering the toilet in his half-slumbering encroachingly neurotic dream state, he stumbles through the frame of the toilet door, shuffling his feet along the metal edge of the door frame’s base, inconveniently catching the hard pad of his foot, the sole, if you will. He chuckles to himself still caught on a slightly protruding nail from the baseboards of the doorframe. He cannot tell if the nail has torn flesh or simply knocked a calloused chunk from this foot and without the temerity to check, he slumbers oafishly on towards the toilet.

Loosening the drawstring of his worn pajama trousers, his softening belly lapsing slightly over its tightening elasticity, the man turns and rears himself in front of the porcelain basin. He seats himself. He does not intend to defecate, but rather has trained himself to sit while urinating as a silent favor to his wife whose constant nagging and critique has overwhelmed this daily ritual into one of emasculation from one of haphazardness. It was never until he lived with his wife and that is was pointed out to him as such that he could even see shades of his untidy self which majestically appears when relinquishing his bladder. His “shot”, as it were, had gone corrupt somewhere in mid-life and his nightly visits to the toilet had seen no end to missing his target of the bowl. His wife was an early riser even before the child and had taken great pride in potty training him by making him sit while performing any sort of bodily excretion. It was just as well. His aging self was no longer adverse to the once intolerable criticism that he passionately fought with, looking for an understanding in her eyes in the initial years of their union.

Those same eyes now simply seemed to be a function of indebted familial solitude towards him as if to say, ‘You may have given me a child, but that child will be the only connection we will share again’.

And as yet before, he has given himself up to life’s unholy indentured servitude for the sake of peeing, not even “pissing” at home without enmity cast upon him. Single strong free men piss, emasculated father “pee” or “urinate” or “make their morning affairs”. Standing up slowly and wavering a slight motion to his left, the man reties his pajamas after wiping himself steadfastly, flushes and walks around the tiled divide between toilet and shower to continue his frustration at the wash basin. Head down and imagination unceasing in its flights towards the fancy of dispensing with the situation all together, running away like some brazen piece of shit out of some terrible American drama similar to the anti.thesis of his actual life, the man sprays a small cupped handful of water over his brow, careful to clean the edges of his eyelids of night’s vestigial tail by way of caked and dried mucous crusted around and trapped in the lashes of his eye like some sort of burn victim’s skin. He imagines himself, with so many other thoughts, as being a parishioner in a church set alight by a strong blaze. He can even see it and smell the burning wood, a sweet and repulsive odour in equal measure.

The congregation in this lucid thought are bent kneeling, some are running chaotically as the wooden beams from the ceiling tumble aflame to the floor and the snapping and cracking of glass from the vestibule’s windows send shards of beautiful, rainbow colored knives hurling to the stone floor and whatever lies between it and its point of origin. He thinks he sees a small girl-child still kneeling, penitent and absorbed in the malady… holy, if you will, accepting God’s fatalistic urge to show the truly redeemed a quality of benevolence only administered in times of great suffering in terror. He walks amongst the dying congregation and sits next to this girl-child who turns to him featureless, but with a small gasping mouth covered in skin like wax, the layers forming one moving maelstrom of magnanimous activity which renders the eyebrows, nose, and chin as one slick melted surface. She silently reaches and puts her small white-gloved hand in his and he awakens from this early morning daydream to find himself holding the basin, his knuckles white and hairy from the pressure and the aging. He looks towards the mirror, his eyes perfectly apportioned to the rest of his face.

With a click of the light switch he exits the toilet slowly, careful not to impress upon his foot the same god damned nail that took something from his sole upon his entrance. He walks a few feet towards his son’s room, looks at the carpeted floor behind him and notes there is not blood from the entry wound of his foot. No exit matter it would seem and he continues his way along the hall holding an outstretched hand not dissimilar to that of Christ in so many religious paintings – the graphic illustration for the love for his children and the bloody stigmata signifying nothing but hope in the mind of the eternally and presently damned. So they must cling to it he reasons, the congregation. So they must cling just as he clings to pissing like a woman for the benefit of his family.

“It was certainly some sort of sub-conscious design on the part of his mind to remind him that perhaps we are all children leading other blind children through the dark tunnel of life and that screams are only screams if you are one of those lucky enough to have hearing as a manufactured trait of your human identity”

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He reaches the doorway of his infant son’s room and pauses momentarily to think of the girl in his hallucinatory dream state. He was certain that she had something good to tell him. Why would she have gravitated towards his hand otherwise? It was certainly some sort of sub-conscious design on the part of his mind to remind him that perhaps we are all children leading other blind children through the dark tunnel of life and that screams are only screams if you are one of those lucky enough to have hearing as a manufactured trait of your human identity. And he was thus, lucky.

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Turning the handle of the door he is surprised that it feels warm to the touch. He had anticipated that the cooling metal of the handle would expedite a quicker awakening. It is the moment in the morning that he feels the most affinity towards. It is almost purposeful, this movement. It is the point in which he enters into the world of his progeny and takes careful deliberation to draw attention to his seed and his purpose. It gives him pause to think of himself as caretaker. He is of course aware that the notion of a caretaker is simply to monitor the progress of death upon another individual in incremental and minute calibrations of time and image. This being said, it is always distanced when it is your own kin that you give care to. Opening the warm handle slowly, the man peers into the room. It is just as he left it, blue in pallor, slightly dark in the finissage of the night’s embrace and it struggles defiantly to give him sight and it is losing at the dawn’s oncoming mélange.

The rhythm of the room transcends into something unforeseen in small movements. The breeze that filters through the window just ever so slightly as to push the lace curtain in and out like a pair of fresh breathing lungs, the small movements of the infant’s mobile astray in the same wind all bring relief to the man. He knows that the boy is not due to awake for perhaps thirty minutes so he decides to occupy the reclining chair in the corner of the room and wait for the stirrings of his son. In the cold blue light he looks towards the crib and thinks again of the significance of Jesus, the blue light, and the faceless girl without an identity. He stares fixated towards the window ushering in the blue light near the crib, yet he is so lost in thought that he cannot actually see anything at all. He is a wanderer in an empty blue space alone with his mind and looking for some sort of miracle to explain these ideas. Perhaps, like Teresa of Avila before him, he is waiting for a rapturous sign from the same cold blue heavens, which will exemplify some meaning towards these symbols and his life in general. He ponders and time fades in and out with the sucking of the wind through the open window.

It is some time that he is lost in reverie. He sees only varying shades of blue, as the room grows warmer and warmer with the oncoming day. Perhaps thirty minutes pass with this man deep in recollection and self-examination, mind wandering through desert, sky, and green valley alike. Only an interspersed ‘hnnnnn’ or awkward sound of saliva being stuck in his throat clears the mediation under which his body has become nearly paralyzed. And time passes. The man wakes slowly. There is no sound in the room. It is much brighter now and has metamorphosed from its cold blue genesis into something of an orange glow. The white carpet is aflame with daybreak’s gleam. He slowly re-positions his body and hears a small clicking noise coming from the infant’s crib. The small baby blanket that his own mother had given him as a child rests along the caged surface rails of the crib thus blocking the view of the child from the man’s sight. There is some movement to the edges of the fine fabric and the duty of the man as father and squatting husband is about to consume him. He stands, stretches, yawns and moves slowly, nearly drunkenly towards the crib, his knees cracking with contempt. He reaches the edge of the crib, the blanket still obscuring his view from his son. He sees the boy’s tiny fat legs and little feet struggling like his own against the fully formed process of awareness that being awake offers.

He slowly murmurs something of a good morning towards the boy and the tiny limbs seem to shake more and more visibly with excitement as he approaches. This is what it is all about perhaps. The gift is not the self, but the giving of the self. And with this, the father lifts the blanket. His free hand catches his weight on the side of the crib, knuckles again whitening. He is unable to process that which is before him. His febrile mind is locked in the same dream state along with the burning girl and the congregation kneeling amongst the flames. The air in his lungs seems to have been sucked back through his body as if it were possibly a gesture of gallantry, he would pass out from the fury of flame that invades his skull, popping those same eyes forward into the reflection that the mirror distractedly points back as his own. The cage of the crib seems to rock silently back and forth with each pulse of the snake’s glistening skin. So fat and large is this reptile that the man must choke back the spittle in his throat or forever be locked in its eyes. This large column of pulsating reptile that can but barely fit through the bars of the crib, its torso seeming truncated by each slattern of wood on the crib’s sides stares back at the man, jaws unlocked and slowly but steadfastly pulling the infant son, his first born, further and further into the trenches of its guts. Only tiny shaking feet remain. The man can and will never retrieve the meaning of this faceless encounter in which the image that sears his retina is but the ultimate purpose of his untimely existence.

“This large column of pulsating reptile that can but barely fit through the bars of the crib, its torso seeming truncated by each slattern of wood on the crib’s sides stares back at the man, jaws unlocked and slowly but steadfastly pulling the infant son, his first born, further and further into the trenches of its guts.”

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03
Boarding the plane was always the most painful of moments. No matter what precautions she took to wear the right clothing, sunglasses, scarves or any accessory that would hide the obvious, she would be preyed upon by thousands of eyes beginning at the rotating door of the departures entrance and to a bevy of suspicious glances from the check-in counter. She thought she would have warmed to it somehow; become impervious to every sideways glance in the steel and glass belly of this architectural monstrosity. Why are airports so fucking antiseptic, clean to the point of making the individual feel dirty as they are pelted with sunlight from every direction and whose transient denizens are silently sprayed with volumes of cleaning product without ever noticing. This much antibacterial compulsion must give those leaving the sanctity of this greenhouse atmosphere an immediate sickness once their tired, but newly clean lungs hit the open air outside of this gagging little capitalist transport utopia. The stares would continue unabated nonetheless, but the vicodin had conditioned her to less and less observation and persecution as it came on. Soon enough, there would be an endgame to every open and watching eye.

Its not that her condition was intolerable by her own admission it was just a striking “look” she had about her in this condition. Being a red head with above average height gifted her the double paralysis of being overwhelming to those of shorter stature and being easily pointed out in a crowd for her natural hair color, which was unnatural to most, if not an aberration. These were attributes that made her stand out apart from what some would reason to ultimate condition: grotesque patterns of burn scars running down the entire left side of her body, culminating in a web of opaque latticework, particularly prevalent along her jawline and up to what would be her upper left brow. This was the alarming part for most people to view. The sight of the thick, nearly calcified looking scar material with its white veiny surface and soft pinkish dimples met at her temple with a concave delineation of form. The brow was caved in and if she were not careful to select a large pair of Jackie O-type sunglasses to cover herself with, children would point and adults would look away with a fastidiously twitching motion. To pay the cashier at a grocery store had become an exercise in the futility of exchange to which she took great joy in her stature and with her keloid facial scars to stare down each and every cashier rendering them impotent with her “handicap”. Years of suffering the impregnable command to look at one another had become a long-term game of her checkmating and devouring every possible small interaction except at the fucking airport where the volumes of people and the sterile environment had given her a series of uncomfortable glances historically.

“The overflowing white fat squeezing through the sandal straps now groaning under the pressure of too much weight from the carcass they carried above. Sweat and Coca Cola the aromatic offences of a nation oblivious to the war at hand, insipid in their trials to take junior to Disneyworld”

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Growing up in the Appalachians and with no particular affinity to her future, she had been a prescient and energetic young girl, playing volleyball, enlisting in various youth organizations and keeping generally close family connections. Her family was devout and considered loyal children of God and had taken a very active role in the local Methodist church. She had suspected her family’s good intentions and convictions in attending the Holiness Church of the Sacred Virgin’s Light Heart – a name she had made up in her mind with a whimsical degree of sovereign delight. When people talk of light, being light or feeling the light, she cringes and a thick vein above her occipital orbit engorges and further a symmetrizes her face. That the church was a step further than penitent with serpentine rituals of complete lunacy is of note. The sect of Methodist practice relates its denomination to one passage of the bible taken all too seriously: And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover. -Mark 16:17-18.

Them that believe condition the otherness which now affects her body, marked by suffering from a church fire on a lucid and humid summer day. And the snakes, they did die in their cages. And the timber did fall ablaze atop her shoulder burning her eleven-year-old dress and her skin stuck to these burning embers for nearly fifteen straight minutes. Pulled from the charring blaze, she could but mutter nothing in her unconscious rapture. Paramedics, pulling her from the blaze were but angels in blue uniforms, held in that light she now detested. And she almost recovered, but never again drank that deadly thing. And the Gift did give back.

Sitting behind her laptop, sending correspondence to her destination, would he let her find him? This was the never-ending question. This man, so full of life, yet testifying against himself in such cold and rudimentary ways had seen his disappearance as her true lover to that of her true indoctrined loss. They had spent time anointing life together; speaking in a lover’s tongue in which no other could decipher. Her inability to take this man up and join in unison with new life had been her only sin under the broken smile of the unholy ghost of her ovaries. There would be no minister for whom she could call to undo her own failing to bear him offspring. It was the great division dividing them from enjoying their remaining years in power together. Neglecting his wishes and denying him this chance had driven him from her coiled embrace. He had left to a foreign land in which he opted to live without light, as had she. Her longing and reverie was temporarily broken by watching the carousel of faces in the airport lounge pass her by. Children in Hawaiian t-shirts, parents too fat for their socked sandals. The overflowing white fat squeezing through the sandal straps now groaning under the pressure of too much weight from the carcass they carried above. Sweat and Coca Cola the aromatic offences of a nation oblivious to the war at hand, insipid in their trials to take junior to Disneyworld. It made her nauseous. It always did. And yet, she would look at the young adolescent faces disaffectedly looking at their devices, breaching the family contract of connectedness for that of the immaterial worlds at their fingertips. She had a certain prowess for examining the faces of youth, like some Greek tragedy, she could with unerring appraisal, accelerate their process of aging in her mind’s eye. She could testify to their metamorphosis from youth to aged rancor. It was an uncomfortable talent. She would watch ears and noses elongate on the children, see their hair grey, fall out and watch creases envelope their soft features. It was dismal affair, to watch people age in seconds. ‘I can see you now for the decay you will present yourself.’ She thought it a marketable gift if only she could assimilate an algorithm from her brain to a digital program. ‘Would you like to see what you would look like at age forty-five? At Age fifty-five?’ She could imagine invoking fear and a large bank account. She always wondered why a computer scientist had not already taken on this program for the population. Imagine forensic pathology and missing children posters for the masses. If we could harness this perhaps we would be less complacent in our maturing lives, learn to accept death and share a more prosaic outlook on life. Of course, she realized that this was also part of her own physical condition. Her own face aged prematurely by cinder and ash, her features having slid down the bone of her cheek with that epiphany in the church so long ago.

She continued typing preparing for her flight. She had a recriminating feeling that her endeavors would end in complacent failure. The giant bird would take to the sky, leaving tarmac for stratosphere and tumbling downward onto a different asphalt in some shitty third world country where he would be, likely surrounded by dirt, fungus and bottles of piss, too lazy to leave the dark room he likely inhabited to empty waste. And the bird did take flight and the struggle was likely never going to be the journey. And a cracked smile did rake her parched lips; tongue spent gumming her false teeth and dry cavities.

Tiane Doan Na Champassak

Tamarind Ghosts

Editions du Lic

(All Rights Reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Tiane Doan Na Champassak.)

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