Forty Stitches

I think I write decent haiku. I take pictures of everything that makes me gawk, and then I twist them, interpreting them in my weird way. Sometimes I even manage to impress myself.

But I never thought of how my haiku sounds to others.

Now I know. Because I’ve read CT Salazar’s book.

The title made me “ooh” and smile as if I understood what it was about. ‘Forty Stitches Sewing a Body against a Ramshackle Night’—hell yeah—this is my jam. I write haiku—I know exactly where this is going. Or did I?

Cover of CT Salazar's book, Forty Stitches Sewing a Body Against a Ramshakle Night
Cover of CT Salazar’s book, Forty Stitches Sewing a Body Against a Ramshakle Night

It’s a compilation of forty short poems, a hybrid-haiku form which the poet calls ‘stitches’. See, I didn’t realise that when reading the book. And so when I did, much later, it was as if someone had turned the lights on, laying bare the contents that had been so artfully cocooned within the title.

Ah, the pleasures of decoding poetry!

That title paints a powerful image to hook readers. Just enough, but not at all. That’s the biggest advantage—and the problem—with writing haiku. Everyone knows (or thinks they know) what to expect, but they know nothing of what they’re about to read. 

As a writer, you have to satisfy their wants—throw them a bone, if you will—and then when they think they’ve got the hang of what you’re saying, pull the carpet from right under their feet.

That’s what haiku is about. It embodies minimalism. It’s the ultimate form of contraction. Salazar does all of that. And then some more.

Opening the metaphorical pages, I thought I knew what style, tone, and tenor he’ll use. 

I assumed.

One should never assume anything about haiku.

trimming your hair
in the bathroom hundreds
of commas curl

No punctuation, no explanation, no direction for the reader. 

Go figure.

But that’s what’s so beautiful about haiku—and Salazar’s haiku, in particular—it makes you see—really see—the small, everyday things in life. The next time I see a strand of hair on my bathroom floor, I’ll think of commas. (And then I’ll moan about losing said hair.) That’s what good poetry does to you—it leaves you with lingering moments. 

As I read through the pages, more word treasures jumped out, shaking me completely off balance.

watched a cardinal
fly through me—sorry
through a window

Like most poetry enthusiasts, when I came across e e cummings for the first time, I was fascinated. As an English student, I cringed—no capitalisations and no language order. But I adored his rebel blood. He broke the rules and still made all the sense in the world.

Salazar does too. I mean, look:

river river
we’ve both been
running

See? It’s subtle, it’s delicate, but it punches you in the throat, and as you temporarily recover from gasping for air, it hits you again. 

I’ve read and reread this book plenty of times, and I still can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it’s about. Sure, I have five or six story lines running in my head, and every time I read the book, one of them seems to take precedence over the other.

However, as someone who writes a whole lot of haiku (or as I call it), I don’t mind if my readers don’t see what I see. That’s the beauty of any creative endeavour—it should always be open to interpretation. And so with Salazar’s book, even though I still haven’t cracked the code, I’m quite happy to revel in the pristine beauty of his words. After all, it’s not a test I need to clear—poetry is an artistic form of expression and food for the soul. And I will consume it in all greediness, inhaling it in gusts and letting it bloat me with pleasure.

Finders, not keepers

Unable to bear more suffering, the old man returned the battered book to the library. It’d gather dust, as it was always meant to—until the true owner reclaimed it.


This is my entry for day 28 of the Writers Victoria Flash Fiction competition. Today’s prompt: gather.

Of Love and Other Demons

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez - cover

I won’t lie. This book took me an embarrassingly long time to finish. Not because I’m a slow reader, but because, as is the case with so many books, I found it easier to put it down and not pick it up again. Another prominent book I did that to is One Hundred Years of Solitude, also by the same author. I might be sensing a pattern here…

Regardless, it didn’t help that the story picked up well into the story. It was designed to be a slow start, much like One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s almost as if Marquez was testing his readers to see if they’ll hang around long enough, if they were loyal enough, to endure the creeping pace of the initial chapters before bestowing upon them some of the greatest and heart-wrenching prose of all time.

In other words, Of Love and Other Demons features beautiful writing—writing that will stay with you well after you finish reading the book.

“Disbelief is more resistant than faith because it is sustained by the senses.”

I’m not pious. And I don’t enjoy the company of people who shove their religious beliefs on others. This story is scattered with Christian beliefs and the ancient traditions of bishops and exorcism. Even though this book personifies everything I’m against, I cherished the way it’s done.

I mean, just read this:

“The bishop could not continue, because the thunder resounded over the house and then rolled out to sea, and a biblical downpour cut them off from the rest of the world. The bishop lay back in a rocking chair and was shipwrecked in nostalgia.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I started reading this book before COVID-19 was born. And now, as I got to the last page of the book and rethink the narrative, I’m amazed at the uncanny and coincidental reference to today’s reality.

This is the story of a young girl who’s bitten by a dog with rabies. Unfortunately, she didn’t contract the disease, and that abnormality made those around her, subject her to eternal damnation.

Gabriel García Márquez has given us a wonderful tale in Of Love and Other Demons.

Defining minimalism

I’m a proud minimalist. My unrealistic dream is to own one pair of shoes that I can wear for everyday commuting, running, hiking, and the occasional work-related public speaking.

When I arrived in Canberra, migrating from India, I had one cabin bag—which contained my laptop, a few snacks, and the essentials for surviving an overnight fight. I had to check in my luggage because it weighed 12 kilos, a little over the 8 kilos of maximum allowance of a cabin bag.

And I’ve often narrated that story without the slightest sense of shame. While most people would identify themselves by the things they own and the value of those items, I lack the lust for materialism.

To put that in a different context, if a bushfire approached my house and I had to leave immediately, I’d have less than half a backpack to carry. Everything I own fits into my yellow rucksack.

However, as I’ve navigated society, I’ve developed many relationships and therefore, interests. As a result, I’ve started accumulating things. Stuff. Possessions I cherish, not because they’re mine but because I have anytime access to them—I now need them. For instance, I need proper running shoes, separate from my everyday sneakers. Of course, I didn’t start running until mid November of last year. And I would’ve have started if it hadn’t been for my friends talking about their running.

More than everything else, however, I can’t help but acquire books. I’ve always had that problem. Before I moved to Canberra, I gave away so many books because it made no sense to carry them all with me. Books—especially ones you want to re-read and enjoy for a lifetime–are, in bare terms, baggage. If I’m emotionless, I’d say books are an unnecessary burden. Having my teen ages possessed by technology, I’d argue I could get all the books in the world in one ebook reader—for the size and weight of one.

Yet, my social activities and my friend making has altered my view of possessions. I realised this last week when I visited a book fair. Even though I’d been to many such events in India, I’ve never bought anything because my string mind voice opposed to it. This time however, I ended up buying three new books, to add to the rather small pile that I know I’ll hold on to as long as I can. Unless there’s a bushfire and I have to evacuate immediately, I’d take these books with me.

This has made me question my principles.

I still consider myself a minimalist, but with a larger collection of things than I had before. I’ve come to understand that minimalism isn’t about having fewer things, but instead, about knowing the difference between wants and needs. It’s impossible to have one pair of shoes that’s ideal for all activities. And it’s ok to have two or three good pairs of shoes. As for books, I can always donate, and borrow when I want them again. Buying a book introduces me to the title. Once I’m familiar with the title, the author, and the style of writing, I can loan as many as I want.

That was my lightbulb moment. Minimalism isn’t about limiting your experiences, but it’s about expanding them. And you can do that without overloading your backpack.

Historical

A popular history of war - The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California
The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California

The masses believe
a popular history;
cheap, realistic.