Grailing, Vol 1., No. 3
The day seemed to..., new poetry from Irina Tall Novikova
Cup White..., new poetry from Irina Tall Novikova
A Land Grab and Two Small Children, part 3 of 4 in the Orang Laut series by Captain Warren Blake
At Maurizio's Cafe, an excerpt from a forthcoming novel by Anthony Valerio
The day seemed to...
by Irina Tall Novikova
The day seemed to pass over my skin
Leaving trails of dried leaves
Peaks stuck in the cracks of the earth
And there something alive is beating in the roots
clinging to life
Scarlet petals fell down with blood
The dead cannot be returned
With rods a broom on iron, on what was passing...
Bending in a tanned chilled hand...
And there's nowhere to go Hide Hide In my own...
by Irina Tall Novikova
Nude with a spoon
Hiding in the womb
Treasure of absurdity...
She can't close with a single hand
Because she was turned away
And pinned to death
as if they wanted to study her
In eternal torment...
Irina Tall (Novikova) is an artist, graphic artist, and illustrator. She graduated from the State Academy of Slavic Cultures with a degree in art, and also has a bachelor's degree in design.
A Land Grab, and Two Small Children
by Captain Warren Blake
I have long worried about the condition, and future, of my friends, the Orang Laut of the South China Sea. These people lived a largely nomadic life amongst sparsely populated islands when I first met them in the mid-sixties.
Their maritime culture, nurtured over tens of thousands of years has come under extreme pressure from Island “Developers” and Resort Owners, from Haughty Administrators and Disapproving Religionists, and from Rapacious Traders, to name but a few of the Villains involved. Technology, that all-embracing Villain, also plays its heavy hand.
Most of the folks I have known over decades of sailing amongst their lovely islands have vanished, presumably into the slums of Tanjung Pinang, Pontianak, even Jakarta, where their extraordinary knowledge of the tropical marine world goes unrecognized and lost, leaving them ill-equipped for City Life, in all its horrors for the newcomer.
a coveted lagoon
To illustrate one of the insidious mechanisms of Cultural Deprivation, an aside:
In 2015 my Family and their Friends sailed with me the length of the Indon Archipel. We lingered eight days in some islands, off Sulawesi, for the wonderful diving there on the vertical coral walls of numerous atoll reefs, which felicitous attribute made finding a place to anchor a daily worry for the Captain.
At one of the higher islands we motored past a luxury resort, just the place to indulge in a cold beer at the Beach Bar after weeks of living aboard in our own little community…but, again, no place to anchor…vertical coral walls.
To the delight of our Younger Crew, a motorboat put out from the resort to invite us ashore for the hospitality on offer there. Away all went except I…somebody had to stay aboard and motor around in such deep water…even my wife deserted ship.
My Crew were royally entertained by the Resort Owner, a Foreigner, and his Indonesian wife. They were regaled with many local stories, and they told tales too of our Adventures. Towards evening the resort boat brought my very happy crew back, and we set off to motor along narrow channels between atolls all night…no place to anchor. I felt much gratitude to the Owner for his kindness, despite not having met him.
The next day, very bleary after a long night of motoring around, I remembered I had Google Earth images of these islands, and called them up. I saw then that a nearby atoll showed a winding blue-water passage into the lagoon (pictured above), not shown on our Admiralty chart…the right sort of place for a comfortable anchorage.
We entered with the afternoon sun astern, and with my Son Philip at the masthead as lookout, and thankfully anchored in the North of the Lagoon.
We went exploring to the small, dark islet visible in the shallows at the top of the Lagoon. I landed everyone and motored out some distance to enough depth to anchor the Launch. On wading ashore I met two men and a middle-aged woman at a temporary lean-to with a fire…obviously Orang Laut. I engaged them in a few words of the Bajau tongue…to be met by surprising, surly, downcast expressions. Shortly thereafter, my Crew came round the point to tell me excitedly that the Resort Owner was on the other side exploring, having crossed from his Resort (the green island visible in the top RH corner of the picture). They said that he was keen to visit the Ship and to meet me! I was pleased to agree.
I mentioned the unpleasant reception I had received from the Orang Laut. They explained that the Owner had told the three that this Islet belonged to Him, that they must never trespass again, that they should leave before nightfall, and that they must clean up their dirty mess. This explained my cold reception from the Bajau folks. Now in my view of things, the Orang Laut possess some vague, Moral Title to use this islet for their very sustainable gathering of shell fish, etc. and that their ancestors had probably been doing just this for thousands of years.
Equally, in my view, the Alleged Owner had almost certainly bribed various Officials at the Administrative Island to the North for title, or “right” to build his resort on the Green Island, and very possibly that included “exclusive visiting rights” to our little Islet as well. This is absolutely the only way that Foreigners can get to exploit the scenic islands of Indonesia. “Title” to such places, if it exists, is probably merely a matter of traditional use, and easily expropriated by grasping bureaucrats.
I suspected that these same Officials were foreign to the area, probably from distant Java, and, should they possess any knowledge at all of the Orang Laut, they would regard them as Dirty, Uncivilized Kaffirs (Unbelievers). I stamped off in dudgeonis altis. My Crew, innocently, did bring the Owner on board to return a little of his genuine hospitality, but I fear he heard none of my reported stories, nor got to exchange but a few cold words, and retired without a handshake, possibly a little bewildered. Thus it was that I witnessed a Concise Compendium of Cultural Oppression and suspected a Textbook Example of a Land Grab. This story might also explain in more detail to my family why I was so goddamn’ rude to a “Kindly Gentleman”, who, if he reads this, might too understand a little of my Rudeness.
Two small Children
Earlier, in 2001, Four Friends was on her way back from the Sangihe & Talaud Islands at the NE tip of the Indon Archipelago after our epic thirty day Expedition there with The Nature Conservancy, a long haul. We stopped at Tokong Kemudi, a spectacular, isolated isle nearer Borneo than Singapore. Here I have met with Orang Laut many times over the decades, and had joined them in several adventures ( see “A Memorable Lunch” and “A Small Battle Won”) I very much hoped to meet a few of my friends, and to inquire into their well-being.
There were no people, no houses, nor canoes visible on the SW coast, their usual resort. We anchored on the North side and here we found just a middle-aged man and an old woman. Before I could ask “Where is everybody?” the lady led me to a shack where two sick children lay, about 5 and 7 years old. One was barely conscious the other comatose, both feverish. The two adults, presumably Father and Grandmother told us they were helpless to aid the kids.
My companion on this long voyage home was Dr. Julian Davison, old friend and shipmate. Amongst many other talents he is fluent in the Malay language, but neither he nor I could elicit a clear description of what ailed the children…perhaps the adults did not know themselves.
Julian and I returned to the Ship to see what we could do to help. We agreed that the most likely culprit was Malaria. On board we had a preventative medicine for that disease…Chloroquin. I could remember the Curative dose, a relatively massive application, but we had no literature to guide us in giving it to children, especially ones so young.
We discussed giving them half the adult dose…but were consumed by doubt…what if this were too much? Or not enough? And what if the disease was not Malaria, but Dengue fever, say? What effect would a large dose of Chloroquin have then?
We agonized further. We agreed that the children seemed to be at Death’s Door, so just leaving them and sailing away would seem a complete abdication of responsibility. Finally, Julian pointed out that they would likely die without our help so that giving them the wrong medicine might not alter that outcome anyway, and that therefore we had only one option.
We went ashore with half the adult dose, to be administered over two days. We helped the children, both now conscious, to swallow the first dose with safe water from our ship. We admonished the Grandma to strictly administer the second dose tomorrow, even if the kids seemed improved, since unlettered folk often give up taking antibiotics prematurely. We left behind four mosquito nets…and ourselves scuttled shamefully away as evening fell and mosquitoes appeared.
We sailed away with lingering doubts in our minds.
About a year later, those doubts were happily dispelled when I sailed back to Tokong Kemudi, to be greeted by a family of four in a dugout (pictured below) before the anchor was on the bottom…Dad, Mum and two, robust, healthy children, somewhat bigger than I remembered a year before.
Sometimes we mere mortals manage to do the right thing! 90%*
*Editor's Note: Captain Warren Blake, all-around seafarer, adventurer, gentleman, and raconteur, often lists percentages at the end of his stories to capture the truth contained in a given account. 85% or higher signals the most veracious of tales.
A happy, healthy family
The final installment of the Orang Laut series, followed by a rip-roaring biography of Captain Warren Blake, will appear in the next issue of Grailing.
At Maurizio's Cafe
by Anthony Valerio
Everyone calls me Wally.
Every Sunday I had dinner with my best friend and confidante, Alison Taylor. Ali was a Dream Analyst and Tarot reader. She read palms, too, but gave that up after she read Princess Grace's palm at a party. The ravishing princess's life line was short, and Alison showed her.
Carefree and happy skirting the cliffs of Monaco in her Rover P6 3500, blonde hair threads of gold and white, silk scarf blowing behind her, the beautiful princess drives to her lover. Smiling, one hand on the wheel. She is happy because she understands that a man cannot get enough of fucking Grace Kelly. Gay men especially understand that her beauty rests outside physical intercourse. She is simply, beautiful.
Alison sat at Maurizio’s s cafe located down Hudson Street, at a rear table, in semi-darkness, empty chair opposite her. Take it, put down ten dollars, then listen raptly to your future from your cards and your stars. I liked to sit near the front window so I could look out and see pedestrians and vehicles passing, all anonymous, yet each with a fortune to tell, that, likewise, I would never come to know. Often, I’d look back and see muted, indirect, orange chandelier light glint off the sequins of Alison’s eyeglasses, illuminating her wise, grieving eyes. She dressed always in black. Black dresses down to her ankles. Black leotards and black shoes. Long, silken, black hair and glistening, black eyes. Thick, high, black shoes, like nuns wear. Her soul, on the other hand, was bright.
One desolate night, I went back to Alison’s table and paid for a horoscope. That’s how we met. She read my stars. I fed in that I was born in the month of flowers, same day as Honoré de Balzac and, although I was a seeing person, I was only an aspiring writer and viewed images and characters in my internal mind’s eye. Words are exact symbols, Master Copyeditor Ernest Billions taught, so before you ply your No. 2 pencil to an errant one—"Always pencil. Never presume permanence with ink"—you have to know the true meanings. Alison charted and said, “Mercury is in retrograde right now. Careful with your communications. And, look here, you have a celestial component to your life.”
Fly high with the Aspiring Pornographer Wally Gregory.
Then, the day after, I was passing Alison’s basement apartment on Twelfth Street and she was outside watering her plants, the aroma of vanilla wafting up.
“Oh, I love vanilla,” I said.
And she said, “I do, too. I just put fresh beads in my bowls. You’re welcome to come in. The aroma is stronger inside.”
From then on, we have Sunday afternoon lunch together. Her succulent pasta with fresh marinara.
Ali always adorned herself in black because she was always in mourning. Each and every one of her love affairs was doomed before it began. He was married or wouldn’t fuck her or was ill or outright dying. We grew to love one another solely in a Platonic way because Alison was intent on sparing my life. Pondering the origin of a chaste relationship, however loving. Called Platonic. I wonder, had the philosopher Plato suffered the grave loss of a loved one, so from that time forward sought to spare himself a second grievous personal tragedy? We sat down and began our lunch, Ali and I.
“Freddie, my current lover, has AIDS. Last stage, poor guy.”
“You might consider being careful nonetheless," I offered, warmth in my voice. "Does he wear a condom?"
"No. He wears a cock ring. But we fucked only once."
Licking, kissing...his hard, decaying body festooned with lesions and sores and discolorations crushes against hers. Desire resides deep under her skin. His magical, golden cock ring rubbing, swinging, biding time, like the pendulum of an age-old grandfather's clock.
Alison's apartment was located at the level of the ditches men in hard hats too often jackhammer. Dig up the asphalt, create underground ditches for new water, phone, cable and other pipes and lines, in the process scattering rats into the side streets and garden apartments. All for the purpose of preparing housing for a new generation of lovers. I glimpsed a rat slithering under Alison's bamboo fence into her backyard garden.
After lunch and clearing the table, she’d take up her deck of Tarot cards. They appeared as if out of thin air. She may have had several decks around whose whereabouts only she knew. Dissatisfied with one reading, cast aside that deck, on to the next. She began our after-dinner reading with herself as subject.
I asked, “Searching for something in particular?”
“Oh, a lover who may be on the horizon, one not terminally ill or unmarried and loves to fuck.”
She turned over one card, studied that one, turned over another and another and read until there were six. Then she sat back and regarded all the cards at once.
"Well?" I said.
"Not so good. But next week I have an appointment with a psychic who comes highly recommended. I'll let you know."
I felt it was my turn to contribute to the reading so I told her about my Bengal tiger. "I see a Bengal tiger in a recurring daydream. A vivid vision. I can call her up at any time. I see her now. It’s like she’s everywhere."
My Bengal tiger, eight feet in length and weighing 300 pounds, saunters into my palace slowly, on the prowl, she fills the entire foyer. Her past is behind her, prey and victuals for her hungry cubs just ahead. She turns her big, yellow-and-black-striped head left and spots her next meal at the dinette table. She opens her maw and bares her white, razor-sharp, incisors. She growls. I am wide-eyed and trembling. She chuffs through her wide nostrils.
Meanwhile, Ali turned over another Tarot card. She read:
"It says, dear Wally, that you are all aspects of your recurring vision. You are the Bengal tiger. You are her incisors. You are the foyer of your palace. You are the frightened prey.” She glanced outside. “O my god!" and jumped from her chair. "A rat! Along the floorboard….” I turned and caught its tail before it disappeared behind a radiator. Ali practically screamed: “I'm so afraid of rats! Will you help me kill them, Wally dear? You know what they say: where there's one...."
"Certainly. I'll come by tomorrow with traps."
I was passing a fresh supply of Vanilla beads on the way out. “Hold on. Let’s see your last two cards." Standing now, elevating her perspective, she turned over the penultimate. "The Eight of Wands," she announced. "There's extensive travel in your future, Walter. And this one, the ten of pentacles--Money. Travel and Money ahead for you, my friend."
Satisfied, I pecked her on the cheek and turned to leave again.
"Wait. This last card." She turned it over and stared at it for some time.
My eyes blazed into her. I was at my final Tarot card's mercy. "Well?"
"It’s speaking directly to you. In a guttural voice: “'I will tell you this once and only once. The title of the book we have all been waiting for is: 'Confessions of an Aspiring Pornographer.' “
Fucken Aristotle. Fucken Plato.
Anthony Valerio is the author of the bestselling Semmelewies, the Women's Doctor; Before the Sidewalk Ended, A Walk with Shel Silverstein; and John Dante's Inferno, a Playboy's Life. His short stories have appeared in The Paris Review and been anthologized by Random House, the Viking Press and William Morrow. He has taught at New York University, the City College of New York and Wesleyan University. You can find him at anthonyvalerio.com.
This is an excerpt from Anthony's forthcoming novel, Confessions of an Aspiring Pornographer, to be published by Grailing Press in early 2024. Check back with Grailing for more excerpts from Anthony's novel.
[Cover Photo: Taryn Elliott]
Grailing, Vol 1., No. 3
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