As a veteran, I’ve written a lot about the “that one time in Iraq”. It started out with focusing on details of something that happened or didn’t happen in that time. But that didn’t cut it. I had to find another way to both describe what happened and what didn’t happen—directly speaking. This piece could be said to the best approximation of that journey (so far). It had to be experimental in style and subject.
Experimental discourse is, simply, anything that breaks the mold of convention. This can be in either terms of craft (style) or subject matter. In other words, when you move out of the mainstream and come up with new ways of telling a story or new stories. That’s one part. The more important part is getting the reader out of their routine to where they can see the world in new ways again.
Though he’s old, I have to say my favorite experimental writer is Borges. It might not sound all that experimental, but the ability with which he managed to stuff narrative into narrative, with his infinite libraries and book reviews about books that didn’t exist, was quite eye-opening. The first time I read his book I hated it. I went back later and knew I loved it.
Journal of Dead Prose
Call me mask of Empire. Salt stains on uniform, SAW in hand. Sit on edges of cordon search. Bombed-out villa. Old seat of power now concrete pulverized, rebar stretching to gods. Why?
Settle in. Silence punctuated by mosquitoes, distant gunfire, cackle of radios. Another boring mission. I walk. Crushed desk. Bullets holes as decoration. Arabic script on papers scattered with smashed dear leader frames.
But among the papers I find leather bound journal. In English.
I read. What seems like a historical narrative of an autocrat coming to power devolves. These are either the rantings of a genius. Madman. Both.
The author comes of age as dear leader grabs the reins of power. Through luck he’s positioned high up at the Ministry of Oil. Soon he starts seeing people placing shrines for ghosts that enrich those with right rituals. He refuses to participate. But as his peers surpass him in wealth and pressure from his family increases, he turns to the ghosts, rituals and all.
Wealth comes, but here his descent into madness (or clarity) begins. He swears the ghosts are ancient creatures. Once they ruled the world and now they want it back. Slowly, he grows estranged from his family.
Just him against the world now.
His last words speak of the fingers of dawn reaching into the night. Steel dragons screech into view.
The ghosts are everywhere now, eating the very concrete beneath him. His family, his world. All gone.
I read this and wait for my deployment to end, thinking it silly but never able to throw it away. Dust, black mucus, IEDs with that flash bang blackout. Brain and flesh shredded by shock waves, shrapenel. Back creaks under 120 degrees and armor and SAW. The salt stains topo maps for a million patrols. Jaish al Mahdi rises, mortar attacks rattle brains. M1s, Bradleys, C130s churn up the land. People. Holes for face. More dust. More death.
We jump on a plane and run away from our destruction. Now in green pastures. Drinks. Clubs. Women. I still hold onto journal.
To think causes a rock to form in my chest. So I drink more, think less. I laugh at the journal. At the author.
Still can’t throw it away.
I run out of Army. Back to the civilian world. More glittery dance of life here. From sparta to Babylon. Call me mask of Empire I say.
I make mistake of reading. History. That rock grows. History grows too. Into the present. Until I can’t unfeel it. Like an ancient creature eating everything around me. Slowly, my position as Empire’s mask evaporates. The journal beckons and I now I can’t stop reading this journal which still holds dust from that distant desert land. I no longer mock the author. Instead I see someone with wisdom.
For the ghosts are everywhere now. Eating the very ground beneath me. No longer a mask, but I’m afraid that makes me nothing. Is it I who is mad?
About the writer:
Nelson Lowhim is a writer, artist, photographer & veteran. He has short stories, non-fiction & art published in Red Rock Review, Adbusters, BlazeVox, Tayo Literary Magazine (upcoming!), Solstice Magazine, Talking Writing, Flyway Journal, Omni, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Bread & Beauty Literary Magazine, Nine Line Anthology, Vet Lit: How We Remember War, Vet Lit II: So it Goes, SF Books, LA Review of LA, Seattle Poetic Grid, The Mantle, Intersections International, Medium, ItsComplicated.vet, Aaduna, Artists Studios & Afterwords (& accepted at Callaloo!). With many novels out there to include CityMuse, The Struggle, When Gods Fail & Labyrinth of Souls. Born in Tanzania of Indian and Seychelles and European background, Lowhim lived in India for a year. At age 10, he moved to the United States and currently lives in Seattle with his wife. Lowhim is a US Army veteran.
Image: “Desert” by Gene Kreyd. Oil on canvas. 150 x 160 cm. 2015. By permission. Gene Kreyd is a Russian-born California artist. He is well-known internationally for his clothing design, films, music, and photography; however, his primary interest is and has always been painting abstract art. Kreyd exhibits across the world, and his paintings are in public and private collections in Europe, Russia, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Kreyd is the O:JA&L Featured Artist for April 2019.