Be Not Afraid of the Clown

This text was first published in a shorter version in Digging Through The Fat, Stories No. 39, on July 8, 2015. I am inclined to put on this site the longer – original version – of the text, while expressing gratitude to the literary website for its enthusiasm. I do want to make this longer version available partly because of the recent spike in migration through Europe, and because this text testifies in the best of my abilities to my own experience as migrant/refugee, at least in ways I feel are honest, raw, uncompromising. I have struggled throughout my adult life to narrate to myself – come to term with, in concise and chronological manners – the events which led my brother and I to be smuggled out of Iran, when I was 5 and a half year old, my parents having to flee overnight three years before. The image of seeing that young Syrian boy on the beach stirred in me more things than I could handle. I have found that the narrative re-appropriation of such events does more injustice to the events themselves than expressing them as what they truly are: trauma upon memory, perception, and language. The fragmental style of this text testified precisely to this disarray: the impossibility of talking about such events in a narrative and transparent way, and the incompatibility between the different parts of my past and present identities.

Be Not Afraid of The Clown

I’ve seen my words slip from my lips and skip my fingertips. My eyes open and shut experimentally. The TV screen breaks news every other minute. The government bans several letters of the alphabet. A man with a backpack enters a crowded mall. The toddler next door throws a tantrum shredding the paper off the back wall. The father bawls: You are a detriment to my every second of every day. Skin supersensitive to touch. Analepsis: A house on an alley that bears the same name as my father’s last name. I’ve seen a mulberry tree facing the front door on the sidewalk where wild dogs attack the passerby. Doorbell is too high for my small arms. I’ve seen falling bombs blast buildings on my way home from school. The unintended utility of the ruler. Flashforward: I’ve seen amnesia caused by a key set. The sudden revelation of nothing. I’ve seen ice in a glass of water spin without any extrinsic pressure applied other than the pressure brought to bear by its own deliquescence. The humdrum of the day in and the day out. I’ve seen milk in a plastic bottle turn bad before its date. I’ve seen an incision in the morning mirror. Dark red permeating bright white. I’ve seen the indecision in choosing between color and color. I’ve seen supermarket aisles of cold shelves bearing lumps of blood-drained flesh laying bare side by side in bright red. Elevator smiles and lavatory gossips. Hand dryer smothering the sounds of faucet flushing and of urine hitting water. A patient makes the case to a therapist for the plausibility of a solar explosion within the next twenty-four hours. Broadcaster blaring on air: Sonars alter whale behavior to the brink of mass beaching. Autochthon contending: They’re no real refugees if they’ve got money for a boat ride. Flashback: Desert-crossing at night at five and a half on smugglers’ horseback. Hiding amid the stable stink of sheep shit in the dead of night. Dogs bark ferociously outside at soldiers’ footsteps digging sand. The cattle inside clatters in angst. My mouth gagged by brotherly hands. Newsflash: The final assault begins. Civil unrest enters seventh year. I’ve seen: How cities think. In Harlem: You know Africa’s my middle name. I’ve seen a paraplegic in wheelchair at Kingsbridge: It hurts then again I’ve hurt my whole life. I’ve seen a beggar reply back to me in an outburst: What are you sorry for. I’ve seen orgies in people’s eyes in public places. The underground smell of wet and woman’s scent and sweat all in one breath. On reds at crossings I’ve seen flocks of people like sheep. A dark suit and white shirt with suitcase stares at me over his shoulder to his left. In the subway I’ve seen a fat lady foray with fury into a crammed car doorway. I’ve seen rats run over railways. Infomercial: Keep your razor blades razor-sharp by storing them in baby oil. Suspicious train collision injures dozens. The government and military prepare for collisions amid protests. Screen memories: Little boy’s red ball bobs inside a hideout apartment’s courtyard beneath a balcony and then flurries toward the front gate. I’ve seen through an iron gate four car doors clap and sidewalk stumped by guard-boot heels. Up the stairways and to the left pulling a woman’s hand to point at the scene playing out in the street. I’ve seen my first childhood memory randomly recounted back to me eleven years after the fact by a woman who was not in it. The feeling of things fades with words appearing on the screen. I’ve seen random letters get lost during their transcription. First name printed on official papers misspelled with an extra e silently lying under nine numbers. I’ve seen state documents systematically misstate my date of birth. My own voice played on tape sounds foreign to my ears. Sleep never comes easy. I’ve seen a subway banner say to me: You are more than a diagnostic. I’ve seen a loner lament to himself out loud in a crowd: I can’t stand you scolding me any longer ’cause it makes me crazy. I’ve seen mammal refuse on pavement. I’ve seen a stumped tabloid sullied on concrete read: Microbes will be last survivors on future earth. I’ve seen the spectrum of saturation. Music track improved on speakers when cut out with white noise at random. Story ending abruptly mid-sentence. The wait for the afterthought. I’ve seen writers’ support system stress: Transparency is good for you because it allows your target audience to connect with the real you. I’ve seen the pleasure of defecation. Its pain beyond words. I’ve seen incontinence at seven. I’ve seen casts of white and red and brown and yellow collide in one frame. Bodily secretions in every state and form. Excreta texture and mud feel indistinguishable to the touch. Hygienic paper folded systemically two to four over. Opinion: Best arguments for the way toilet paper rolls. One hundred and one ways to wipe one’s ass according to a sixteen-century humanist: I prithee go on with this torcheculative or wipe-bummatory discourse. I’ve seen puppeteered mouths delivering ventriloquistic phrases. Pop-up ad: How to explain your plush business without turning people off. Flush people in shorts and flip flops dozed off behind classroom desks ape-like gaping. I’ve seen a placard in a public park probing: Is heroine a problem for you. Need Help. I’ve seen up close: A stutterer’s face ghastly disfigured as he stumbles upon sound. Mute monstrous lineaments claiming facial territory for a split second before retreating. I’ve seen someone viscerally disliked say this to me: Sounds like you wanna say something but can’t just come out and say it. Stuttering literary scholar spends half hour without any facial contortion recounting stories of past arms dealing and high theft in the Middle East back in his twenties as he sips from a plastic bottle of homemade liquor of which the recipe he found in Hungary and then ending with this: But you know I’m from New Jersey. I’ve seen at a bus stop an ear-splitting lone lost dark-skinned little girl terrorize a petrified Caucasian male commuter while shouting at him: Do you want my money. A college classmate confessing: I knew this kid and he was a good kid and apparently he is also a monster. At an armed camp at midday a child sprechgesangs in his head an inarticulate song. I’ve seen in the desert barbed wires whirl on fence top under a sectarian sun. I’ve seen natives speak to me a foreign Semitic tongue. I’ve seen asphalt melt and roads sink under a kid’s light weight. I’ve seen water instantly heat up because of being in contact with air. A blue helmet drops dead from heat wave. I’ve seen blood gushing out of a mosquito’s body upon it being crushed between two fingertips while still in sucking through my skin. I’ve seen an old socialite bric-a-brac-incense-newspaper street-vendor profess on the sidewalk every morning: A mother’s work is never done ’tis what mommy tells me. Sunglasses in the subway. I’ve seen: Lots of candies ladies gentlemen one dollar. Kalashnikov bullet in my shirt’s front pocket as keepsake. Bus ride at six in a different desert. I’ve seen: Not easy to stand here and ask for money when people make fun of me every day. Desert walking many hours with my pants wet with piss. I’ve seen: It could happen to anybody you know. I’ve seen parents fretting about an eight-year-old discovering hand grenades hidden inside a pot over the stovetop. I’ve seen: Ladies and gentlemen be thankful on his Lord’s glorious day that I ain’t gonna sing you a song. I’ve seen an elevator vault with shut iron doors not moving for over a minute with people crammed in it. I’ve seen a scorpion skulk close to my face in quasi-complete darkness inside a boy only military dormitory. In the midst of children and animals I’ve seen two blood-gushed leonine eyes full of carnivorous cravings one foot away from me behind iron bars. I’ve seen a toddler in rage throwing peanuts at a caged gorilla and yawping to it with untethered animosity: Say mommy you fuck dummy. I’ve seen a small supine frog with its belly soft and swollen smell of death and feel tepid at my fingertip. I’ve seen butterfly wings severed from a living thorax by my toddler fingers. Lepidopteran plodding like petty tapeworm. I’ve seen the pleasure of feeling guilty in a three-year-old fray indelible memory traces. I’ve seen a philosophy student talk to me once in New York then die in Texas of cocaine overdose two months later. I’ve seen a pre-med student in good health talk to me once in New York then die in New York from leukemia two months later. Different degrees of dyslexia. I’ve seen the word pomegranate be the first word of the alphabet. Study: Poverty reduces brain power. Depression forms in the Caribbeans. Fifty-two killed and seven abducted at Camp Ashraf. Elementary-school classmates dead by bombardment right after we left. I’ve seen three people bear the same name as me. Newborn in Isfahan. Street-vendor in Metz. Arab in Atlanta. Doppelgängers messaging me thrice by email trashed unread in the archives. I’ve seen dusk streetlight fizzling with agony for many minutes before ending in an explosive apex. I’ve seen through a window frame rain on red bricks and rusted staircase collide in conflicted geometries. I’ve seen a trumpet mute out in an underground tunnel. I’ve seen the meaning of the word foreign first appear to me at five and a half with gypsies babbling incomprehensibly to smugglers at a desert border at night. Just now: Police kills man who tries to run them over. Faking sleep on a bought-off border patrol lap. I’ve seen parents being switched five times in two weeks. Brother begging me in a bathtub: Please tell me you understand that these ones are the real ones. The perks of being trained to become a precocious liar. I’ve seen someone say to me: What an interesting life you’ve had. Accompanied with the appendage: I can listen to your voice for hours. I’ve seen someone say to someone else standing right next to me: If only he could write there would be so many good stories to tell. I’ve seen acquired commitment with age on the brand of my toothpaste. Sustained perplexity toward people fostering feelings of disdain and disgust toward bananas. Amid all edible things bananas trigger in me the most prosaic response. I’ve seen of the two men known to me to foster feelings of disdain and disgust toward bananas one commit suicide at age forty-two. I’ve seen a killer clad in a clown suit. Headline: President spurned deals seeing military as tamed. In a kitchen’s privacy I’ve seen a sexagenarian retort to her lifelong husband: A dog’s worth better than you. Man self-immolating on the National Mall labeled: An isolated incident. I’ve seen written in a notebook: I am the memory that dies before crossing the threshold. Further down: You better put up with me because I won’t put up with you. I’ve seen committees self-congratulate monthly on hot air. I’ve seen families drink cardamom tee nightly reveling in other people’s misery. I’ve seen families drink hard liquor nightly also reveling in other people’s misery but more crudely. Grudges against other people’s successes. Pride in being told of a child’s incurable disease because it was somebody else’s child. I’ve seen fatigue transform dark spots in my eyesight into menacing animals. News consumption at a compulsive pace. Brazilian referee decapitated by mob of angry spectators because of stabbing a player. Upheaval raise brain drain fear. Men rescued from tigers after days up tree. Consumption of local news only from faraway localities. I’ve seen a twenty-four-hour Dunkin Donut front counter barbate Muslim toiling the night-shift hand me a homemade turmeric lamb stew with rice sealed in a privately-owned plastic container right before the breaking of dawn because no donuts were left on display racks. Accompanied by the appendage: Brother. I’ve seen the time it takes to swallow someone’s dinner under his insistent eyes. Being pressed on: Hurry it’s almost time. I’ve seen the terror at being mistaken for somebody else overtaken by the terror at seeming ungrateful for an unsolicited hospitality. Commercials break every ten minutes: That’s how a lemon can save your life. Prompter shouting in the foreground: I personally guarantee this is going to be the most comfortable pillow you will ever own. Finding comfort in the feeling of free falling in a bottomless void before sleep. I’ve seen engraved on a grave: Dripping water hollows out stone. I’ve seen a boy unlike any other boy among my middle-school classmates speak the same language as me. I’ve seen him translate to me playground gossip and recess politics. I’ve seen him teach me with care and phonetic prowess how to ask politely the classroom teacher for the proper permission to please may I go use the restrooms. I’ve seen a bullet hole on the left side of his brown-skinned face underneath his blind eye while he smiled and played ball with the autochthons. Acquired sensitivity to perforations in my own skin. Sustained awareness about switching the lights off before exiting a room. Sporadic lapses about the ventilator whisper. Sustained aversion since early childhood to dishes made of cow tongue. I’ve seen buccal confusion with the texture of the bovine organ and my own organ’s. Abjection toward the skin formed over boiled milk. The deformity of yogurt spilled over a metal kitchen faucet. I’ve seen a pamphleteer in the subway say: This is your opportunity to find yourself. At a social gathering I’ve seen a woman point her index at the frontal lobe of my upper skull and say to another woman: I saw a guy once who looked like that. At the bottom section of my expired refugee card: Any change in residency must be reported within eight days of arrival at the new address. Acquired aversion to drama in life the same as in art. Acquired taste in red meat cooked so rare it barely meets the standards for safe digestion. Acquired distaste for speaking about myself. Acquired compulsion in looking in the mirror always from the same angle. Disavowal and awe at seeing a spit projectile propelled from a rolled down passenger window of a looming car and land on my face. The bewilderment felt at sharing such intense intimacy with a faceless stranger’s bodily secretion. I’ve seen a little boy comment inside an airplane: Cars are smaller than ants. I’ve seen vertigo during take-off and landing when the scales of things differ from their everyday reality. I’ve seen landscapes through an airplane window mid-flight trigger dissociations similar to images playing on a screen. I’ve seen panic of an airplane falling with me in it arise no sooner than age twenty. Music plays in my ears during turbulence. I’ve seen a woman jerk up from her seat midflight pointing her index finger at me and shout over her head with a deep-throated southern US accent: Hey look at this guy. I’ve seen a stuttering scholar ostracized from academe because of being unintelligibility. The incomprehensible comfort felt in imagining shooting at random people before falling asleep. I’ve seen a cashier smirk back at me: You stuttered there for a second there. Middle-school mass shooting fantasy from ages ten to fourteen. Unsolicited advice: Can’t seem to spill out that novel you’ve had inside of you for years. Suffering through a writing dry spell: Download Unstuck. A film ends abruptly midway without end credits. Pop up ad: We can help you quit. Acquired inclination toward mingling with ethnic minorities other than my own. Identified as white on paper. I’ve seen my passport falsely read September 11 as my day of birth. I’ve seen a patron in a shoe shop ask if he could try on my shoes instead of those on display. I’ve seen a twenty-three-year-old fret that he’s never seen his father’s bare feet in his life. A summer spent wearing unwittingly my father’s shoes’ exact replica after hunting for the perfect fit for many weeks. Intimate voice says to me on landline: I think I’ve internalized a system that does not believe in life. The redundancy of the statement: The utility of bad art. Father fist-pounding the countertop: He will never be a poet. Community of writers on lifeline: It is very important for artists to learn to use their own words. Teacher asks his soon-to-become terrorist student: My God how did you cope with all that stress from that past life. I’ve seen bullets cutting through thin air all around me in a desert night at five and a half while riding on a smuggler’s horseback. Hysterical laughs take over me because of the urge to piss with the horse saddle pounding on my bladder. I’ve seen an ex-male-prostitute and ex-convict septuagenarian say: If I do not write I will kill instead. Warning in mass public transportation: Don’t assume it’s been left there by accident. Development: Despite violence the majority of people support the military. I’ve seen the large red stained face of a straphanger stare back at me unblinkingly many stations long. The feeling of being shadowed by someone outside my eyesight. I’ve seen the bravery of the caned blind beggar collecting in a crammed subway car despite being cursed at. Is marijuana a problem for you. I’ve seen lies pour out at a naturalization interview with a government officer. I’ve seen prayers pour out of my mouth in an incomprehensible tongue. Disclosure: The department assumes no responsibility for the quality of this writing. Rereading: The sentence is a lonely place. I’ve seen a knife cutting though a red tomato flesh give the jitters.

Experimental Work