I’d seek out his public lectures, sit in the auditorium and close my eyes.
His voice was a rich bass. And his control over it was extraordinary.
He’d programmed a monthly series on liberal diplomacy, the future of state-building and peace studies. He also wrote prose poems about the futility of war.
I made sure I always sat in his eyeline. Occasionally, I made notes.
But mostly, fantasised about him, late at night, whispering his literary theories into my ear, his breath hot on my neck.
“… theoretical and practical approaches to the question of peace, the problems of conflict and violence, and responses to them, particularly, in the form of contemporary literary expression…”
His voice was my favourite kind of ASMR.
“…why do we stand for the bastardisation of indigenous cultures and watch in near silence as the rate of degeneracy of their leaders becomes ever more calamitous …”
I’d captured an audio recording to get off to later. I’d get off to his podcasts often.
The final lecture. When it ended, I followed the crowd out into the hallway, tapped him on the shoulder, and told him that although I agreed with the conceptual validity of his proposition, as the gatekeepers of democratisation, we needed to occupy a leftist position for the threshold of state conflict to decrease.
We took our conversation to the wine bar around the corner.
His writing room gradually became familiar. Its ordered disorder, comforting.
The lackadaisical way he let his cane drop from his grip as soon as he was fully absorbed in a book, was in total opposition to his usual meticulousness.
He hadn’t noticed that I’d carved out a space for my work, too. Or maybe he had. Of course he had.
He never spoke about those things. The persecution. The militia men. The machete.
His stump would sometimes itch. He’d rip off the protective sock and scratch it with his paper knife.
He’d scratch it so aggressively he’d often draw blood. And then blink back tears.
I’d watch from my little corner. And audibly sob.
My empathy made him furious. He’d erupt into violence, swinging his cane around in rage, his prosthesis long forgotten on the floor.
Hero-worship compounded with an impulsive saviour complex is the enemy of pathologically repressed trauma.
But sometimes he’d let me massage the scar tissue. Cover its hard knots with soft kisses and run my tongue over its ridges.
His tenure ended and he got a new position in Boston. He dedicated his next
collection to “London and its myriad of radical voices”.