facebook1 twitter1 sllm2a

witslogo1 17

Liam Kruger

Liam Kruger

Liam Kruger has had stories, essays and poetry in numerous online and print journals, including The Rumpus, theNewerYorkPlayboyAerodromeMahala and PrufrockSome of that writing’s ended up in anthologies like AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers (Storytime Press) and Bloody Satisfied (Burnet Media). 

For the past little while he’s taught and written and studied in Cape Town, but now he’s living in Istanbul.

You can find some of his stories hereand you can watch his sanity visibly unravel here
Website URL: twitter.com/liamkruger
Thursday, 23 July 2015 11:36

Newton's First

The art of losing is a changed thing, these years;
I think of you every time I clear
my search history.

And just as the progress can be tracked
Of lost phones to the parts of the city
Where we don't go, so the unexpected
Transactions of missing credit
Cards, so the careless trajectories
Of hearts gone on to a different use.
We can watch all this as we would
The receding world in a rearview
Mirror, hopeful
horuspex of unravelling roads.

They lose in the old, still ways here, an
Arid town ambered by cartographers;
The hotels where my father drank shut
Up, the railways quietly failing, big
Companies pulling out. You wouldn't
Notice the absence in this desert
Which is comprised of absences,
Of those silences which imply
Some disaster impending, or just past,

Or ongoing. Some miles ago I'd thought
To drown out the silence with a city
That dwarfed me - but there I sat
In an indifferent bar off Istiklal
As soft-palmed youths spoke of
The place where first they'd met in the past
Tense, proper nouns gone out
Of circulation, though cherished
By collectors. In parody
Of this quaint enterprise

I dredged up fragments of you, bidden
And otherwise, which clung to me or I
To them, narrow shoulders and sour
Breath and the name of your
Favorite niece; not much. A body

Barely assembled, then,
Literally half-hearted.

In flight, I'd once come home from a

Party in Toulouse with a friend who'd
Forgotten with me the name
Of the bar and whichever band
Had played for us; I decided it
Didn't matter, that it was enough
To have heard the same foreign sounds
In the same unfamiliar climes together.
She'd snapped.
"Of course it bloody matters."

Does it matter if your ghost resembles you?
You are a thousand unseen miles away,
All my neighbours barbarians, and though
I could reach out now and find you, I don't know
That you'd do the same. Wrong area code.

And are you haunted too by halfway things? Like
An archaic name for an extinct bird
Crying in a renamed quarter of your city?

Does it sound like this?
Thursday, 19 September 2013 14:59


So they were never especially clear, when they spoke of Narcissus; they called him beautiful, yes, but beautiful is a well so often drawn from that the waters are never still, and never clear, our reflections churning to the sound of buckets. We do not know what we look like in beauty, save that it would be different.

So it is with Narcissus; we know only that he looked different, out of reach, but – maddeningly – never out of sight. He was troubling. It’s been said that we could learn something from the water, and learn to grow still again once we have been troubled by stone, or fish, or beauty, but I’ve doubts there. Even if we could forget our hunger for one beauty, there’d be another to stir us up before too long. Shallow waters are never still.

The waters that Narcissus found were not still, though – found out in the woods, chasing deer or music or just taking a walk away from the city where he was stared at, whistled at, an indistinct blur that made even the old men and women of the city moan; let us not talk of what the youths did. No-one had yet touched him, wary, perhaps, of beauty’s cruel reputation, or of being rebuffed by that dulcet voice, or of succeeding - and finding thereafter that all the world was ash and bile that was not Narcissus. They wanted him, but wanted to live unchanged by him; we all ask for miracles, sometimes.

The gods are not usually kind.

I think that all Narcissus wanted was water, at first – a chance to let his neck dip unselfconsciously into some cool, unseen spring, and slurp at the stuff, gulping and belching happily, knees on the grass and hands on the muddy turf, without concern for sustaining the hyaline blur of beauty that was all he was known for back in the world; but before those lips that would efface your last love’s lips could break the cool surface, he opened his eyes, and was doomed. He knew himself.

Understand, he did not kneel there transfixed by his own beauty – a beautiful youth of sixteen in a small town full of plain people can not be surprised by such things; it was not the sudden apprehension of his bone structure that had him stuck there, ignoring the nymphs and dryads that wheeled around him, as if blown by the wind, begging for his esteem; it was the glimpse, in those still and cruel reflective waters, of something behind the shimmer of beauty – something that was Narcissus. The people had called Narcissus beautiful – what did Narcissus call himself? He looked deeper, trying to grasp the forever departing kernel of self – regarding not simply his own reflection in the pool, but the reflection of his eyes in the pool, and the reflection of the pool in the reflection of his eyes, and his own reflection, again, in the reflection of the pool, in the reflection of his eyes. It was a chase that went on forever, and who was he to know that he would never reach its end? Even if he did know – who among us has not, at times, longed for the futile, noble struggle in favour of that which is possible, and vulgar for it?

But perhaps we mistake beauty for nobility.

Xeno, we assume, did not think much of beauty, or of the self-knowledge his old rival carried around like a favourite wine – or else he would have found his batches of infinities far before he came by Achilles, or his arrows.

Though they say Achilles was beautiful; he was born by a nymph, like Narcissus. Achilles was struck by an arrow fired by a man who had received either Aphrodite’s curse, or her favour; Narcissus, some contend, was struck by an arrow fired by Aphrodite’s child.

The gods are not usually kind.

Their favours are ineluctable. It may be that it is better to love them than to hate them, because it is easier to love the shackles that we cannot break, to adore our afflictions, as the people of the desert make a religion of dryness – but it is hard, to have to love your master. It is hard to love; ask Achilles. Ask Narcissus.

When you see them.

[Q. The god of love fires an arrow. How many infinities must it cross before it pierces my heart?

Please show your working.]

And though the gods have different names now, nature and nurture and causality and macroeconomic concerns, and though they did not say for sure whether Narcissus sits paralyzed, regarding his condition in tense waters or through a glass, darkly, or in the window of a bus leaving his hick town for the city, the facts remain; they are, and he does.

The gifts have grown subtler; Narcissus knows not where his extended arm ends, and the gift begins, cannot limn the line between himself, and himself.

They say they found flowers where he was, but that is a different story, and about a murder.

Soundlessly, the corpse of something beautiful slid into deep waters, which rejoiced at their prize. The surface rocked, for a little while, as time goes for surfaces, and then resumed its mimicry of the sky. The flesh beneath it, once taught and supple, grow pale and bloated, began to rot, and once-shining tresses of hair floated away in clumps; fish fed themselves.

And the clear water, which looked upon no-one, and was not looked upon, was no less content.
Monday, 30 April 2012 02:00

Stained Glass

The wood panelling doesn't do much to disguise the bar's seediness. The floor is sticky, the corridors leading to the bathrooms are lined with empty kegs, and they keep the cigarettes in a locked cabinet behind the taps.

People don't usually end up here on purpose.

There's a middle-aged man with sideburns creeping inwards past his cheekbones whispering close into a woman's ear, his arm wrapped around her shoulder, then her elbow, and she stares dead-eyed into her drink. She is struggling to remain impassive; in spite of her dark colouring and the poor lighting, I can see puffed purple skin around her eyelids. The men standing nearby, if they are his friends, ignore this, and watch the local handicapped golf tournament on the too-new television, or make a show of lighting up fresh smokes. The whole bar ignores whatever may or may not be happening between this sunburnt middle-aged man with dirty fingernails and a large digital watch, and this woman with looped gold earrings and full, pink-painted lips.

It's a Saturday night, but that matters less than you'd think.

Car headlights punch through the glazed windows irregularly, throwing lazy searchlights across tables and smoke and all kinds of faces. There's a couple perched near the entrance, watching the swinging doors more closely than anything else; maybe they're waiting for friends, maybe they're worried about being seen together here. I worry about being seen alone here, sometimes; it's a conscious effort to keep from staring at people for long enough to make eye contact. I've already had some warnings.

I think maybe the couple is here because it's the kind of bar that encourages monogamy; you might leave with someone you meet here, but you wouldn't take them home.

The place is crowded, and dim lighting makes it look worse, but there isn't too much movement - nobody's dancing to the tinny jock rock, nobody's crossing the floor quickly to move from one crowd to the next. It's a watering hole, but we all find a way to keep our backs to one another. It's less embarrassing that way.

A girl squeezes past me to get at some bartop real estate, slapping money down to try and attract the potato-shaped barkeep's attention. He takes his time getting to her, though, because he has a face that's folded in on itself and he works in a bar like this; what difference is a couple more banknotes gonna make either way?

The girl orders two beers, which relieves me. She's not bad-looking, between the dark hair and the apple cheeks, and I'd hate to think what would have to happen in a not bad-looking girl's life to bring her to this place alone. She looks like maybe you could take her out on the kind of night where there are flowers and wines and the menus aren't laminated and stuck to the walls; like she'd be gentle about putting her hooks in you, and not too shitty about you putting your hooks in her. Still, there's damage enough that she doesn't look out of place; dry, chipped fingernails tap at a drinks coaster, and I can't tell if she's eyeing the rows of liquor bottles that line the far wall or the stained copper mirror behind them. The thirteen-year old in me wonders at the thirteen-year old in her.

Her beers arrive; we're drinking the same brand, but it's the cheapest so we're a pretty big club. She pays with an overlarge note, setting the barkeep muttering as he goes to find change. She's scratching at the beer label now as she waits.

Abruptly, she turns to me.

"Are you okay?"

It's a pack-a-day voice, and I don't know if she's drunk or not.

"I'm great," I say.

"You look sad," she says, maybe a little embarrassed because she sounds like she's trying to explain herself to me.

"That's just my face," I say, and then "excuse me," because my drink has just emptied itself down my throat and it seems like as good a time as any to toddle off to the bathroom, which is mercifully empty. I think about washing my face with the so-cold-it-hurts tapwater, but then someone else walks in and I give my reflection a quick glance before walking out. I have to squeeze past a guy with slicked back blonde hair and Satan's jawline on the way back.

The girl's where I left her, but the place is getting busier, the crowd threatening to spill out onto the sidewalk tables normally avoided in the chill of the night. Some people have put on their beer jackets. The woman that was being groped isn't there anymore, but her drink - something pale with lemons in it - hasn't been removed, and I worry that she's going to come back. The sideburnt man is in deep conversation with his middle-aged barside neighbours, one with a leather face and a jacket to match, the other fat and shiny with boozey sweat.

I move back to where the girl was, because it's either that or go outside. Or go home. I shift to bourbon, and it comes in a cracked glass. I nod obliquely to the girl, who either doesn't notice or doesn't care. Maybe my face got better. It's looking like the second beer was for her too.

The bourbon may have been a mistake; it's a sipping drink, so I'm sitting here not looking too involved in my cracked glass, next to a girl with dishwater eyes, afraid that she looks like she'll spill her life out over the side to anybody who stands still for too long. Booze this bad was meant for dissolving the walls between us - for lowering, for a little while, that wall of I am not you - but mostly it just dissolves us for a couple of hours and if you're lucky you don't get your feet too wet. I invent a life for her - the usual distant father and mother with an embarrassing, lingering glance, a younger brother so fascinated by how her life's been coming apart that he doesn't see the tears in his. A racist dog.

Around the second bourbon I decide that I don't want to learn any more dog names, which suits as the girl is now deep in conversation with the blonde man with Satan's jawline, and she is laughing and he is laughing and in the copper mirror I can see them fingering one another's hooks. Maybe the five-year-old in him is talking to the five-year-old in her; maybe they're the same.

I stand up, and the walk to the door is downhill, but I'm grateful for the bourbon when I get outside and the wind ruffles my hair and my jacket but my skin feels nothing. I smile a little at the drinkers setting up camp at the cold wooden tables outside, and I make it around the corner before I have to throw up. It burns at my throat and I think about going in for another beer. I don't, though; a pair of headlights doppler slowly by, and when the dark comes in again the cold road looks simple and inviting, so I move towards the shadows where I trust my home and self will be.
Monday, 21 March 2011 02:00

Orgasm in Retrospect

I lost my virginity to a prostitute who told me her name was Lara. Obviously 'lost' here is the wrong word - I paid to have it removed. Still, if somebody asked me where my virginity was, I could not honestly reply, and in that respect it probably is lost.

I was in Amsterdam with some friends - nobody to whom I was spectacularly close, just the sort of people you opportunistically bond with when you're travelling somewhere new in the hopes that your collective naiveté will be enough to get you through the various borders and whatnot. We were drinking what I imagine must've been Heineken at some tourist trap at Nieuwmarkt, near the borders of the red-light district; we'd been daring one another to venture into it all night, and once I'd decided that I was drunk enough, I said that I would go.

They didn't know that I had a virginity to lose at that stage, of course; I had constructed some fantasy about an ex-girlfriend in Vietnam, something believable but geographically distant enough never to be tested. I like travelling for that; I don't have to keep a particularly close track of my lies if I keep moving.

Anyway. Motivated by the alchemy of distance and alcohol and wanting to pass a particular line beyond which the world might look different, I took the plunge and knocked on Lara's glass doorway.

She opened the door a crack, and stuck her head out to get a better look at me in the half-light; she did not seem terribly disgusted.

"American?" she asked.

"No," I replied. She nodded, satisfied.

"60 euro," she said.

"Alright," I shrugged, as if this were the sort of thing I did all the time. I do not think I was particularly nervous. Resigned, perhaps.

The dark-haired lithe girl from Vietnam about whom I had lied - well, not entirely lied - was entirely real. Our relationship, however, was a fabrication, one I had held close to my heart for long enough to rattle off as the truth without needing to think too hard. It was uncomfortable. Conscious of this, and conscious of the fact that truths approximating lies are dangerous, I had gone in search of the tall and blonde archetype that had taken more time to find in the gallery of De Wallen than I'd expected. Lara was tall enough and blonde enough to suffice.

Once admitted to her parlour, I tried to eye her neck surreptitiously as I counted out the foreign money. My companions, who had tact enough not to follow me hollering to the prostitute's front door, had warned me to look out for Adam's apples. She told me to call her Lara, and moved to draw the thick red curtains that would tell passers-by that there was no longer any room at the inn; she smiled thinly as she did so, but did not attempt any further friendliness. I appreciated that, although I can't for the life of me imagine why.

It was not a particularly big room - it didn't need to be. Still, there were implements to make the place somewhat more comfortable, and to distract from it's primary purpose. A kitsch green rug, an oval coffee-table with a bowl of condoms displayed like potpourri, a bedside table with a pack of cigarettes and an ashtray for those who needed a stereotype after sex. There was a coat-rack for me to hang my clothing on.

She had taken off the wire-mesh construct that had served as a bodice. I was grateful not so much because this allowed me to see more of her body, which was nice enough in the low red-filter light, but more that I felt incapable of taking the thing apart myself without an instruction manual and power tools. She stood topless, impassive, framed by the bedside lamp.

My first instinct was to take hold of her, but having been myself for long enough to know my first instincts were generally wrong, I sat at the food of the bed instead, and asked her if she was originally from Amsterdam.

She sat down too, one foot on the floor and the other on the red satin bed sheets, which conformed to expectation. I took that moment to notice her breasts, which did not hang too pendulously, and so I did not listen too closely to her response, which concluded with, "...pay extra."

"You don't have a Dutch accent," I said, as I realized it. She eyed me listlessly as she reached behind her for a cigarette and a lighter. It did not occur to me to mind.

"You want for me to sound Dutch? Ja, ja? Or maybe you wish for une mademoiselle Francais, monsieur? Una chica Espanol?" she asked, in passable corresponding patois.

Sensing a horrific cliché about a failed actress turned prostitute coming on, which would have smothered any lust I had managed to generate while stealing inexplicably guilty glances at her chest, I said no, her current accent would be fine. Albanian, maybe? I don't know Eastern Europe especially well.

We had sex twice. She didn't move much, but she was warm, and made noises that were not unpleasing. When she told me we were done, I left, thanking her on my way out of the door as though I'd gotten a haircut.

I had no great feelings of corruption, or of something lost. Nor was I particularly surprised, albeit a little disappointed, to discover that the world had not taken on any greater meaning after the fact. We've all stepped into the wardrobe at one time or another, on the off chance that we'd find Narnia; sex, it seemed was just another dark room smelling of mothballs.

My friends were faux-jubilant at my triumphant return and, later, subdued - if they regretted what I had done, I didn't know it. No matter, I thought to myself, swallowing down a mouthful of beer; I would be moving on again, soon, and would be free to rework the evening into a better lie.