The Coati (Translation of Quiroga story El Coati)

The coati is a little animal as long of head as it is of tail, with both arched upwards, possessed of the cry of a bird, high-pitched and rash, and with a curiosity that devours it alive.

There is nothing, in effect, that the snout and paws of the coati spares. To see what lies inside, it is capable of busying itself in opening an oven heated to 1000 degrees. If there are ten books within its reach and only one of them is neatly wrapped for posting, only this one will interest it, and it will investigate its cover and the cover beneath that, leaving it bare and with all the leaves scratched, because perhaps there might have been something between them.

The one we owned, besides its diabolical curiosity, wielded a strange effect on men – though not on women – because a mountain man had bred it.

The coati had never known its mother. It owed everything – warmth, cuddles, food – to that solitary man, who had been its father, mother and childhood companion. As a result, already grown and in our keep, its natural affection and the warmth of its heart, so to speak, was directed toward men. It accepted women’s caresses equably but no sooner did a man approach than it spread out its paws at once.

Tutankamón, which was what the children had called it, was innocence itself in the face of life’s perils. No one is ignorant of the fact that coatis and dogs are antagonists in the animal kingdom. Tutankamón drove away the dogs that barked in its midst, throwing himself at them … to play with them.

His heart was that of a man and no other creature. He reserved his most lively antipathy for a coati skin that he carried round the house and sniffed without respite, deeply burying his snout in every part, until he pulled out all the hairs, as if that skin belonged to his worst enemy among the species. He ate however much he could. Whatever it happened to be, he awaited it on two paws. He especially loved oranges, which he scratched and scratched speedily with his claws until he opened them. If we gave them to him cut up, he scratched them just the same.

Whatever hour of the day we passed by his hut, he was ready to sleep for a moment in our arms. If we did not gather him, he climbed as high as our chests nonetheless and instantaneously fell into a deep dream.

Dreams of caresses, in vain, because his paws never remained still for more than a moment: pockets constituted too powerful a temptation for him.

Thus the cigarettes I carried in my shirt pocket were damaged by contact with the coati. Within a moment of falling asleep, clinging to my neck, I would feel Tutankamón’s silent hand in my pocket though his eyes would still be beatifically shut. I would then reproach him for his bad deed, his abuse of my trust, with words that he understood perfectly well, I am sure, to judge by the way he remained unmoving with shame and sorrow. But while I continued speaking to him, I noticed him look at me out of the corner of his sleepy little eyes while his paw slowly climbed once more toward the cigarettes.

Our coati did not fall victim to his curiosity. He is still alive, though at a distance from us. I know, however, of another coati, suffering from a stomach tumour, that opened up the abscess with his own claws, appearing content with the result because he no longer had to worry himself about that.

But without doubt the scarring stung him and he again used his claws to pick and pick inside until he removed something next to the wound.

His curiosity inflamed, he picked and picked without stopping until he completely emptied his belly on the floor. With that he was finally satisfied and died.

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Marginal

Link to the amazon page for my just released novel Marginal:

https://www.amazon.com/Marginal-Lindsay-Boyd/dp/194839006X/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1518757450&sr=1-7&keywords=marginal

Posted in Links to other published work (stories, novels, etc) | Leave a comment

The Remarkable Mr. Flower Man – Parts One and Two

Mortality is traditionally a favourite theme of artists. In the realm of film, diverse directors have embraced it, in both documentary and fictional formats. Among European auteurs (think filmmakers whose individual style and control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp), Werner Herzog is noted for his series of portraits of US death row inmates, to say nothing of his features and documentaries about individuals who diced with danger and death as a matter of course in their daily existences. His German counterpart Wim Wenders’ 1980 production Lightning Over Water shines the spotlight on the ailing American director Nicholas Ray.

The Dutch – Australian auteur Paul Cox touched on the theme in documentaries – 1975’s We Are All Alone My Dear and 2005’s The Remarkable Mr. Kaye, about his ill actor friend Norman Kaye, for example – before treating it otherwise in Force of Destiny (2015), the final film the director made before his death in mid-2016 at the age of 76.

The hero of the piece is Robert (David Wenham), a sculptor of renown who lives alone in the countryside of Victoria, Australia. A maverick in life and art, as his unusual creations attest, he is on close terms with his daughter Poppy (Hannah Fredericksen) but much less sure footing with his ex-wife Hannah (Jacqueline McKenzie). Around the same time that Robert is diagnosed with cancer of the liver and given months to live he meets Maya (Shahana Gosswami), an Indian marine biologist temporarily working and studying in Victoria.

Robert’s work fascinates Maya, whose uncle in Kerala, India is in the final stages of a protracted battle with stomach cancer. Uncle is a brave individual determined not to leave the world without gracefully imparting to those who will outlive him the wisdom he has accrued on his journey. Robert, who meets the old man on a trip he undertakes to Kerala with Maya, is accepting too, much more than some of his near and dear. The possibility of going on a transplant list, thereby gaining a prolongation of life beyond the time frame initially given cannot, however, completely erase his pique that a wonderful woman like Maya, with whom he becomes besotted, has stepped on to the stage of his life when he may not have much of that life left.

It is impossible not to view Force of Destiny without bearing in mind the director’s own cancer diagnosis in 2009. Broadly speaking, an auteur’s individual films cannot help but mirror their makers’ states of mind at the time those films were shot. The dream-like images of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) would not have come to be had it not been for the long illness and convalescence the director underwent around the time of the film’s conception. Alter-ego characters – frequently they are artists or individuals possessed of keen poetic or artistic sensibilities – permeate the films of Mr. Cox. Sculptor Robert is perhaps as close as he came to a direct representation of himself. When we hear Robert describe himself to Maya as an agnostic humanist we sense it is the director, who built his reputation upon his deeply humanist perspective, speaking.

The long held close-up shots that abound in Force of Destiny enhance the intimacy of the portrait, the laid baring of souls, not only of Robert but also fellow cancer sufferers and those in their inner circles. For the artist, Maya represents both new love and a new cultural outlook on the business of death and dying. There is estrangement in his natural family. He has never been close to his father and his ex-wife, though well-meaning, grates on his nerves, especially when she reacts with Pavlovian-like predictability to Maya’s easy commandeering of the role of leading lady in his life. Even after receiving the ominous prognosis he would much rather be left alone until the radiant Maya appears on the scene. Her own brand of worldly wisdom does much to alleviate his apprehension about the ‘end’. While a great deal of what he witnesses on his hospital visits confuses and scares him, in Maya’s presence he is relaxed, at times even carefree.

Many segments in the film are classic examples of ‘mindscreen’ or first-person film, as Bruce Kawin termed it. The director never shied away from liberal usage of the cinema’s potential to portray subconscious states, including distant memories. We witness not only Robert’s fears and dire imaginings but also lilting, uplifting fragments, both visual and aural. Mr. Cox also employs mindscreen of a different sort in scenes where Robert’s compassionate interest in and observance of the patients with whom he is sharing ward space briefly ‘take over’ the narrative. It is an arresting technique and gives rise to some of the film’s most poignant moments. They are a potent reminder that as ‘all alone’ as we may well be, there is and remains a unifying thread of humanity death will be powerless to sunder when she comes calling.

***

In an inner suburb of Melbourne in the late 1960s, a fifty-seven-year-old widower and wood carver by the name of Ron befriends twelve-year-old seventh grader Angela. The basis of their friendship is the pain and sadness both recognise in one another. Ron bears the burden of the death of his wife in an accident some years earlier. Angela, for her part, endures torment at home living with an alcoholic mother in the throes of an affair. When a nosy café patron reports their ‘suspicious relationship’ to the police, their modicum of happiness becomes threatened. Despite ample warnings, Ron pursues this newfound bond, unaware and unashamed of the tragic end he is barrelling toward.

One of the first directors with whom I shared this screenplay idea decades ago was Paul Cox. I knew little about him or his films at the time, with the exception of his feature Kostas (1979), which I had appreciated. He was still to become an established identity within the Australian independent cinema scene. My relative unfamiliarity aside, I hesitated not in sending my work to him when I discovered his name on a list of producers and directors open to receiving unsolicited ideas.

Weeks later I was delighted to discover he was enamoured of my story. But he was committed to projects of his own for some years to come, ruling out any possibility of direct collaboration. Though kind enough to offer suggestions and encouragement, he categorically stated that my screenplay was ‘too human for the average producer’. I inferred from this that he believed I would have my work cut out selling it in the marketplace. If this was what he was implying, he was correct. Not that the fundamental story idea would go to waste.

Mr. Cox’s disdain for the ‘average producer’ is one of the threads running through his memoir Tales from the Cancer Ward (Transit Lounge Publishing, 2011). The book details his late life battle with liver cancer and the stark confrontation with his mortality this leads him to embark upon. His determination to remain independent in a ‘predatory’ industry is depicted as both an enormous cross and a great joy. He is hypercritical of the way in which the once great art of the cinema has been betrayed, transformed into another opiate for the masses.

His prodigious output, which includes Lonely Hearts, Man of Flowers, Innocence, A Woman’s Tale, biographies of van Gogh, Nijinsky and Father Damien, among many other films, consistently deals with the inner lives of people. The illusory, ephemeral, exterior world is unquestionably there but it is not of great importance on his palette. He underlines the fascination exhibited by rafts of storytellers with ‘illegal activities … that break the laws of Man.’ ‘What a challenge it is and how beautiful life becomes,’ he writes, ‘when we acknowledge the inner world of a person and balance the inner with the outer. The interior is usually more interesting and rewarding.’

Artists,’ he goes on to assert, ‘must protest. Start at least one revolution a day and never take anything for granted. We’re living with too many contradictions, and our crazy indulgences are rarely questioned. Artists can change the world, are always changing the world.’

He adds: ‘We can make a more adventurous, more spiritual, more creative society. The first step is to lose all fear and stop compromising, today in one way, tomorrow in another, by never contradicting the world around us and always following public opinion. Compromise is another word for mediocrity and failure.’

Elsewhere, in a less ornery frame of mind, feverishly if not quite successfully contemplating the eternal questions, he concedes ‘that it’s probably quite true that we’re all more interested in finding our food, shelter and human contacts than thinking too much about the purpose of life.’ He is gracious enough too to make a late, if begrudging, concession to a place in the artistic spectrum for purely escapist cinema.

Tales from the Cancer Ward can be read as a companion piece to the director’s Force of Destiny, his cinematic swansong, which he would make a couple of years after the writing of the book, when his health had recovered sufficiently following the receipt of a new liver. Scenes in the film have their embryo in the pages of the memoir. The tone of poignant searching is identical.

The director cum memoirist also reflects at length on his relations with family and friends, including Vincent van Gogh’s great grandnephew Theo, Norman Kaye, Werner Herzog, his brother Wim, his sister Angeline and brother-in-law Jaap, as well as the American film critic Roger Ebert, a fellow cancer sufferer. Vivid, at times horrid, dreams lace the narrative but are countered by visions of light and love.

War child Mr. Cox readily acknowledges that the death and destruction he witnessed daily growing up in occupied Holland established the tenor of his life. Though for a time he aspired to a priestly calling, he struggled ever after to conceive of a benevolent Creator. He renounced conventional religion but admired faith. It is out of the question that any Creator figure meriting the name would be so meanspirited to have not ushered such a man into one of the brightest astral realms when the reprieve his new liver granted him finally ended.

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The Remarkable Mr. Flower Man (Part One)

Mortality is traditionally a favourite theme of artists. In the realm of film, diverse directors have embraced it, in both documentary and fictional formats. Among European auteurs (think filmmakers whose individual style and control over all elements of production give a film its personal and unique stamp), Werner Herzog is noted for his series of portraits of US death row inmates, to say nothing of his features and documentaries about individuals who diced with danger and death as a matter of course in their daily existences. His German counterpart Wim Wenders’ 1980 production Lightning Over Water shines the spotlight on the ailing American director Nicholas Ray.

The Dutch – Australian auteur Paul Cox touched on the theme in documentaries – 1975’s We Are All Alone My Dear and 2005’s The Remarkable Mr. Kaye, about his ill actor friend Norman Kaye, for example – before treating it otherwise in Force of Destiny (2015), the final film the director made before his death in mid-2016 at the age of 76.

The hero of the piece is Robert (David Wenham), a sculptor of renown who lives alone in the countryside of Victoria, Australia. A maverick in life and art, as his unusual creations attest, he is on close terms with his daughter Poppy (Hannah Fredericksen) but much less sure footing with his ex-wife Hannah (Jacqueline McKenzie). Around the same time that Robert is diagnosed with cancer of the liver and given months to live he meets Maya (Shahana Gosswami), an Indian marine biologist temporarily working and studying in Victoria.

Robert’s work fascinates Maya, whose uncle in Kerala, India is in the final stages of a protracted battle with stomach cancer. Uncle is a brave individual determined not to leave the world without gracefully imparting to those who will outlive him the wisdom he has accrued on his journey. Robert, who meets the old man on a trip he undertakes to Kerala with Maya, is accepting too, much more than some of his near and dear. The possibility of going on a transplant list, thereby gaining a prolongation of life beyond the time frame initially given cannot, however, completely erase his pique that a wonderful woman like Maya, with whom he becomes besotted, has stepped on to the stage of his life when he may not have much of that life left.

It is impossible not to view Force of Destiny without bearing in mind the director’s own cancer diagnosis in 2009. Broadly speaking, an auteur’s individual films cannot help but mirror their makers’ states of mind at the time those films were shot. The dream-like images of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) would not have come to be had it not been for the long illness and convalescence the director underwent around the time of the film’s conception. Alter-ego characters – frequently they are artists or individuals possessed of keen poetic or artistic sensibilities – permeate the films of Mr. Cox. Sculptor Robert is perhaps as close as he came to a direct representation of himself. When we hear Robert describe himself to Maya as an agnostic humanist we sense it is the director, who built his reputation upon his deeply humanist perspective, speaking.

The long held close-up shots that abound in Force of Destiny enhance the intimacy of the portrait, the laid baring of souls, not only of Robert but also fellow cancer sufferers and those in their inner circles. For the artist, Maya represents both new love and a new cultural outlook on the business of death and dying. There is estrangement in his natural family. He has never been close to his father and his ex-wife, though well-meaning, grates on his nerves, especially when she reacts with Pavlovian-like predictability to Maya’s easy commandeering of the role of leading lady in his life. Even after receiving the ominous prognosis he would much rather be left alone until the radiant Maya appears on the scene. Her own brand of worldly wisdom does much to alleviate his apprehension about the ‘end’. While a great deal of what he witnesses on his hospital visits confuses and scares him, in Maya’s presence he is relaxed, at times even carefree.

Many segments in the film are classic examples of ‘mindscreen’ or first-person film, as Bruce Kawin termed it. The director never shied away from liberal usage of the cinema’s potential to portray subconscious states, including distant memories. We witness not only Robert’s fears and dire imaginings but also lilting, uplifting fragments, both visual and aural. Mr. Cox also employs mindscreen of a different sort in scenes where Robert’s compassionate interest in and observance of the patients with whom he is sharing ward space briefly ‘take over’ the narrative. It is an arresting technique and gives rise to some of the film’s most poignant moments. They are a potent reminder that as ‘all alone’ as we may well be, there is and remains a unifying thread of humanity death will be powerless to sunder when she comes calling.

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The Scent of Acacia

Short story now published in Winter 2017 issue of Gold Dust Literary Magazine:

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/golddustmagazine

Posted in Links to other published work (stories, novels, etc), Stories and other short pieces | Leave a comment

Love in the Midst of Distractions

Can now be read at http://www.anaksastra.com Click on ‘current issue’.

Posted in Travel related pieces | Leave a comment

The Immigrants

Translation of Horacio Quiroga story Los Inmigrantes

The man and the woman had been walking since four o’clock in the morning. The weather, broken down in the asphyxiating calm of a storm, made the nitrous vapours of the swamp even denser. The rain finally stopped and the couple, soaked to the skin, proceeded obstinately.

The water stopped flowing. The man and the woman then looked at each other with anguished despair.

“Have you the strength to walk a little further?” asked the man. “We might yet manage … ”

The woman, flushed and with sunken ears, shook her head.

“Let’s go,” she said, reviving and continuing to walk.

But a moment later she stopped, taking hold of a branch when she started twitching. The man, walking ahead of her, turned around when he heard her moan.

“I can’t … !” she murmured, her mouth twisted and covered with sweat.

The man took a long look around him and decided there was nothing that could be done. His wife was pregnant. Then, without knowing where he trod, feverish with excessive fatigue, he cut branches, spread them on the ground, and lay his wife down. He sat beside her and cradled her head in his lap.

A quarter of an hour passed in silence. Then the woman shook to such a degree that it was necessary for the man to at once muster all his massive strength to contain the body tossed violently to all sides by the eclamptic attack.

When the attack ended the man remained a moment above his wife, whose arms and knees lay as if fastened to the ground. Finally he sat up, took several hesitant steps, punched himself on the forehead, and went back to cradling the head of his wife, now plunged in a state of deep drowsiness, upon his lap.

She suffered another eclamptic attack from which she arose even more lifeless. Moments later there was another that ended her life.

The man took note of the fact when he was still astride his wife, trying with all his might to contain her convulsions. Terrified, his eyes remained fixed on the blood flecked bubbles of saliva around her mouth, which now leaked into the black cavity.

Without knowing what he was doing he touched her jaw with his finger.

“Carlota!” he said, in a featureless voice devoid of any intonation. The sound of his voice brought him back to himself and sitting up he glanced everywhere with unseeing eyes.

“Too much death,” he murmured. “Too much death,” he murmured again, forcing himself meanwhile to come to grips with what had happened.

Yes, they came from Europe; there was no doubt about that. They had left behind their first-born, a two-year-old. His wife was pregnant and they were on their way to Makallé with friends … The others had gone on ahead because she couldn’t walk well … And in bad conditions, perhaps … perhaps his wife would’ve found herself in danger.

And suddenly he got a hold of himself and looked around with crazed eyes.

“Dead, here … !”

He sat once more and again rested the head of his dead wife upon his thighs. He spent the next four hours wondering what to do.

He could not think straight but with evening about to fall he brought the body of his wife upon his shoulders and began the walk home.

He went around the swamp again. The straw field seemed endless in the silver, unmoving night yet alive with the buzzing of mosquitoes. The man walked on with the same step, his neck bent, until his wife suddenly fell from his shoulders. For an instant he remained standing, rigid, before collapsing behind her.

When he awoke the sun was burning. He ate bananas from the philodendron tree though he would have preferred something more nutritious given the possibility that it might be days before he buried his wife in sacred ground.

He hoist the body anew but found his strength diminished. Wrapping it with intertwined liana vines, he made a bundle of the body and continued with less fatigue.

He walked and walked for three days, stopping, continuing anew, beneath the white-washed sky, devoured at night time by insects, drowsy from hunger, poisoned by cadaverous fogs, bent on a single obstinate idea: leaving this hostile country and salvaging his wife’s adored body.

Come the morning of the fourth day he could not go on and he was scarcely able to resume walking that afternoon. But when the sun sank a profound shiver ran through his exhausted nerves. He laid his wife’s corpse on the ground and sat by her side.

Night had already fallen and the monotonic buzzing of the mosquitoes filled the lonely air. The man was able to perceive them weaving their biting net upon his face; but the shivers increased without surcease from the icy marrow of his bones.

The waning ochre moon had risen at last behind the swamp. The pernicious fever rushed out.

The man threw a glance at the horrible whitish mass that lay at his side and bringing his hands to his knees sat staring straight ahead at the poisonous swamp. In the swamp’s farthest reaches his delirium painted a picture of a Silesian village to which he and his wife Carlota Proening returned, happy and wealthy, to look for their adored first-born.

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