Nourbe Se Philip in There was a moment for me when reading this essay—somewhere between the father’s appearance in dreams and the narrator’s walking the underworld alone—where I experienced an emotional quaking—very jarring, like suddenly becoming tuned in to some new knowing about the relationship between personal loss and the monumental grief empire has produced.
There is a tension in this piece about the bigger picture and then a pulling back to the detail, to the naming of the particular, so that the big picture is always tempered or troubled by what resists universality.
Yet, this work necessarily has a global reach as it transcends the artifice of borders and nations; it also transgresses the temporal and the line between life and death.
Where, asks Chen, in the catastrophic is knowledge located? How can poetry know differently and what conditions do we need in order to manifest that access?
*** In the beginning, in 2012, my father passed away and I began making regular visits to the underworld, which seemed polite.
Like most people, I had not previously traveled to the underworld and hadn’t really intended to visit more than once.
What had happened, what had gone wrong, was my consciousness.
Think about when you experience a glitched image: the error interrupts the visual plane of the image like an instantaneous motion, but the glitch is what stops the video from continuing in time. I saw men in India strapping the bodies of insurrectionary sepoys to the mouths of cannons. If I sound as if I am angry, this is not quite the case, as I do not possess emotions commensurate to this scale.
It would require a really good writer to find the right words to describe the real feelings towards a father.
It is as much a good luck to have a father who realizes his responsibilities towards his children as it is for a father to have a child who acknowledges it all.
I told this to a novelist friend, who said that he had experienced similar dreams. My dreams would proceed as they had previously, but halfway through, my father would need to leave, would begin to move out of his apartment (he has never lived in an apartment), would disappear around the corner, would forget about me, would have never have been there at all. I had come not in a dream, but in a time machine did I come to Al-Azhar Mosque when Napoleon shelled it and occupied it with his soldiers, Al-Azhar where he executed a few sheikhs, married an Egyptian Muslim wife as proof of his new and supposed faith (a woman he killed after he fled Egypt), and where the French army and its horses pissed and shat in its sanctified halls. This did not happen since I had not been there two hundred years ago.
In the beginning, he was devastated to see the one who he had lost. The narrative distorted itself to represent the abrupt rupture of grief. This did not happen, since I had imagined the architecture based on the Death Zone tower in .