Life and War with Mikey Fatboy Delgado
Sunday, January 01, 2017
Bartholomew John

excerpted from Bartholomew John

Leaving Luxor

For a while, before Rosita and I had ever met, I lived in Luxor. Finally, I set
out from there, intending to make my way to India. A friend had sent an
aerogramme from the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba near Bangalore. She had
addressed the letter to an old lodging of mine in Beaujeu and the letter had
chased me for several months across Europe and the Levant and down into
Upper Egypt. People at successive former addresses had forwarded it and
finally it had caught up with me at the Hotel Phillippe, next to the morning
watermelon market in Luxor. The letter simply said

Dear Alfredo [for that is the name by which I had been known to her]
There is one religion, the religion of love. Please come.
That same evening I met up as usual with Abu Nasr, the poet whom I speak
about at some length in Mule. He had befriended me and offered his services
as a guide on my first trip on the ferry across the Nile from Luxor to the
villages and tombs in the valleys of West Thebes. Since then he had
accompanied me four or five times a week for an hour each evening at
sunset to the terrace of one or other of the hotels on the corniche along the
eastern bank of the Nile. There we would sit and drink Turkish coffee or mint
tea and watch the hills on the other side of that tremendous river turn purple
as the sun set over the western desert. From time to time we would teach
one another the name for something that had caught our eye in our
respective languages which we thought may be of interest to the other.

That particular evening on the terrace of the Winter Palace Hotel I spread a
map across the table between myself and Abu Nasr. We chatted about what
we knew of the countries and landscapes through which I was plotting a
route to Bangalore. Afterwards we strolled in the hotel’s gardens and an
example of the shame I have mentioned before, the shame of what we fail to
do in our pre-occupation and our cowardice, remains with me from that walk.

In those gardens, as some of you will no doubt know, there was a cage
constructed from wood and wire mesh. The cage housed a crazed monkey.
Any time anyone came walking by, the poor demented animal would throw
itself against the mesh with incredible force, howling the most anguished
of screams I had ever heard, from man or beast. As we know, memory is a
poor utility to rely on to recall events in our past and I expect that my own
memory may have heightened the blazing brightness of the yellow and
black of the monkey’s eyes, but even at this distance I believe that my
memory doesn’t invent the extent of the animal’s rage, nor the certainty
that if it had managed to escape from its prison it would surely have torn
the first living thing it encountered limb from limb as a means of
concentrating on something other than its own horror and despair at the
existence it was enduring.

I have berated myself over the years for not getting the animal help. Instead
I just felt great fear as I contemplated it hurling itself with such anguish
against the restraint of its cage. And I have often thought of the cleansing
release of vindictiveness and tension that I experienced when I shot Ardeshir
in the Tito Hostel in Beograd, and I have considered my shame for leaving
that far worthier creature in its cage to live in that desperate torment when I
could have come to its aid and at least shown it mercy with a release of pure
love, and parted it from its horror.

And so it was against the background of that encounter that Abu Nasr and I
parted for the last time on the corniche outside of the hotel. Both of us were
subdued and shamed by the extremity of that creature’s suffering and by our
own inaction in the face of it. Earlier, as I had marked a route on the map,
up to Cairo and on to Kantara and the Suez Canal, and up into the Sinai
desert, he had spoken of the Ramadan War in which he had served as a
tank commander in that desert. He had spoken of how he had seen young
men burning like torches, screaming and running in circles hundreds of miles
from their homes and those they loved, running until their own men shot them
out of mercy, or they buckled and fell to the sand, burning and dead. From
the street as we embraced we could still hear the howls of the monkey and
Abu Nasr turned on his heels, with his eyes filling, and I think we were
both still thinking of those burning men in other men's wars…My god,
called out the poet, he is carrying all of our pain. I will make a poem for you
in which he is a little flower.


I tell you this to make the link to the woman writer in München whom I had
encountered less than half a day before the events I described at the beginning
of the narrative in Mule. The link can be explained in part here…the evening
after my last meeting with Abu Nasr I was at Luxor railway station
waiting for the arrival from Aswan of the overnight train to Cairo. I was
reading a writer who was writing about another writer. That second writer
had written about ideas which Pound had expounded…Artists are the antennae
of the race…Poets are the registering instruments, and if they falsify their
reports there is no measure to the harm that they do
. Pound of course later
went on to make radio broadcasts in support of the Axis powers in the Second
World War. Maybe he hadn’t felt that he was falsifying reports by doing so,
or, if he had, that there were advantageous ends to be derived from the means.
As I was considering that thought I remembered the woman in München who
had spoken to me after she had been witness to the police arresting me, and
I suddenly remembered that the wallet in which I kept the silver medallion of
St Therese of Lisieux which she had given me that day - to guard over you -
was still on the bedside table in the Hotel Phillippe.


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