CMON – Cave of Monsters / AMTRO – Aliança dos Monstros

Trespassing of Boundaries and Unification of Differences Through Art


Ground Zero – 2018 Proofread

Some people see my book as an exercise of self-pity. To show this is not the case, I decided to ground the ideas it revolves around on a conceptual starting point, a ground zero as I put it. Therefore, the readers would do good to at least read through this essay to follow suit the saying: “haste makes waste”.

I graduated in dance from UNICAMP (University of Campinas) in 1990. Close to the end of the course, I was doing dishes when, suddenly, my left hand got inexplicably very weak; so much so that I could not hold a glass. I hurried to the doctor then. After hearing me out, he told me that I had an inflammatory muscular condition; so he prescribed me anti-inflammatory drugs.

Because of my dance training as well as my personal experience in other physical activities, I knew that this diagnosis was not right. Therefore, I did not take the medicine prescribed by him. However, almost a year later I went back to him as both the tip of my nose and my skin got numb or itched often. All he did was to ignore my complaint and scold me for not having obeyed his orders one year before.

As the frequency and intensity of these occurrences increased, I went to see another doctor. She told me that I had a neurological condition and that I had had partial convulsions that due to a pinched nerve streamed either from the central nervous system or from the peripheral one.

It made sense to me, but even so, all the symptoms I was having just started to seem right when I threw a party to celebrate my birthday. While I was buying some drinks, I talked to the bartender with the right hand over the counter while hiding the left one behind my back as it moved like a crawling spider. What had seemed funny and intriguing to me at first, became so frequent and intense along the party that I rudely left my friends in it and ended up celebrating my birthday alone in the hospital thinking about death rather than celebrating life.

I spent the night and almost the whole of the next day over there, and the doctors were certain now that I had a problem with the central nervous system. Therefore, they scanned my brain. With that, they discovered a strange body in it that would probably grow. Nevertheless, it was neither possible neither to make a precise diagnosis of what I had nor to define the severity of it. Even so, the renowned scholars of the Medical School at UNICAMP were quick to give me their “verdict”. I use this word because it better describes the fact rather than the word diagnosis, since that previously to any testing, those doctors were certain I must have an AIDS-related disease just because they inferred I was gay. Sticking to their judgment and leaving aside any ethical standards, they abandoned my case as they were certain of my imminent and inevitable death,. Fortunately, a medical student interned at UNICAMP hospital and that had seen me at the students’ house, arrived on the scene and decided to take charge of my case.

Following an open diagnosis as my tests results were not ready yet; she restated her lecture’s verdict by prescribing me drugs for a severe case of toxoplasmosis only found in patients with immune deficiencies. Nevertheless, instead of responding well to the treatment, I only got worse. However, the worst was when I hurried back to the hospital in a helpless panic because due to some strange sensations caused by the fit-controlling drugs, I thought death was just around the corner. To calm me down, she said AIDS was neither different nor more severe than any other disease [1]; In fact, she told me, it was as if I had a brain tumour impossible to be removed surgically. By saying this, she placed my case somewhere between AIDS and a lethal, non-removable form of brain cancer. Since the results of my tests had not come yet, I faintly hoped that my case was not so severe and that I had something else.

Fortunately, for the sake of my mental health, I left Campinas, the city where UNICAMP is based, and went back to São Paulo, my hometown, and where my family and the doctors we trusted lived. At first, they agreed with their colleagues, especially about cancer, but they also believed in other more promising and less severe possibilities. Still, all of them agreed that my case required surgery. After the operation they sent whatever they had removed from my brain to be analyzed, and only after that did they close a diagnosis. To my relief, my hope came true, and I had neither AIDS nor deadly cancer. Instead, I had “something else”.

“Something else” meant neurocysticercosis, a disease caused by flatworm eggs. Although it can be deadly and impossible to heal by surgical procedures, it was not my case. Nevertheless, a brain surgery may cause permanent disability to the patient. To minimize this risk, the doctors were very careful. They left me awake during part of the operation so that they could ask me questions and from my replies differentiate the brain tissues from the cyst.  However, even so,  the operation left me with a permanent motor after-effect that although a minor one, would change my life forever.

I was relieved and grateful for being alive. However, I would blame that medical student from Campinas for that perhaps unnecessary and life-changing fright. Later on, though, I came to think: what if I had AIDS? And concluded: undoubtedly, she would have taken care of me and held my hand when my time on earth finally ended. Actually, I should have blamed her lectures instead as rather than abandoning me alone, they abandoned her as well. After all, they had let that young and unseasoned medical student solve a serious problem all by herself. Besides disgusting doctors, they had been lousy teachers as well.

Within her possibilities, she had been perfect. As a possible terminal patient, all I expect was to get attention from people that really cared for me rather than to be miraculously cured. Because of this painful process, I came to see death as universal and inevitable, as a natural fact, so that neither doctors nor patients can be untouched by it.

Sometimes I still get mad at it all and call the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Sod of sods and Divine S.O.B. However, thanks to it, I have thought about things we must let go. After all, what is life but a succession of symbolic labours and losses between real ones? If part of me died in that operation theatre, another one, unknown even to me, was born in that very same place.

[1] In 1992 there were not the drug cocktails that turn AIDS into a chronic condition.


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Former jockey Declan Murphy tells his story of winning again after reading his own obituary


Exactly 23 years on, Declan Murphy cannot remember anything about the accident that almost killed him. “Nope, nothing,” he says. “I have no memory.”

It is perhaps no surprise he cannot recall the details of what happened at Haydock Park on May Day 1994. That was when the horse he was riding fell at a hurdle. As he tumbled from the saddle, he was knocked unconscious.

While he lay on the turf, unable to roll from danger, a following horse stamped on his head.

So traumatic was the injury, as he remained apparently unresponsive in a coma, the doctors advised that his life support should be switched off, a move that prompted the Racing Post to publish his obituary.

The device, however, was left on while his parents travelled from Ireland. But because his father refused to come by plane, instead of six hours to get to Warrington, the Murphys took 24. And after 22 hours their son showed the first twitch of life. Subsequently his mind may well have erased the thought that he only survived because his dad was afraid of flying.

But the odd thing is, it was not just the accident that was expunged from his memory. Long after he had recovered, long after he learned to walk, to run, to ride again, long after he forged a new career as a hugely successful property developer living in Barcelona, the time he was at the peak of the riding trade remains a complete blank.

“Four years, six months, four days: gone,” he says. “I can remember up to the point I became successful. But it wiped out all the best parts of my career. It meant for years I pretended what had happened to me never happened. Because I couldn’t remember. When people talked about it I’d acknowledge it, but never engage. I removed myself from it.”

Yet now, two decades after the accident, he has just published his autobiography. It seems an unlikely proposition: the memoir of a man who can’t remember. “Maybe that’s why it’s taken so long,” he says, in his publisher’s office. “There are so many pages of my story torn out. I never wanted to do a book. I turned the idea down many times. I’d walked away, become someone different. I didn’t want to go back there. How can you assess the psychology of someone who doesn’t talk about what’s happened to them?”

The beautifully tailored suit he is wearing suggests he didn’t need the money. But in the end he was persuaded by his ghost writer, an American academic called Ami Rao. She became his ghost in every sense, trying to inhabit his past in the quest to help him recover the lost times.

The result is Centaur, a brilliant, bold and at times brutal examination of the process of re-constructing his memory. “What appeared to happen to me was I had an accident and I recovered. It wasn’t as simple as that,” he suggests. “It was a deeply personal battle. I didn’t have a fight going on within me I had a war. I chose to fight this war on my own.”

In the long process of recovery, he cut himself off completely from his past. Although strong enough physically, he only rode one comeback race. He won it and then walked away from racing. Ami Rao, however, made him confront who he was, made him look at every single piece of written or visual evidence of his riding prowess.

Declan Murphy and horse
Murphy pictured a year after his accident CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

“I’ve never cried so much as I have doing this,” he admits. “We talked to so many people about me. Their memories of what happened, it was like I’m a third party listening to this story. Really? That was me?”

One of the things he read during the process was his own obituary. “They were very kind about me,” he says of the Racing Post eulogy. “No complaints there.” As he recovered, Murphy had deliberately removed himself from those who had been central to his life before the accident. In the reconstruction of his memory, Ami Rao contacted all of them, several of whom had not heard from him in nearly 25 years.

“That was the amazing thing about this book,” he says. “Everybody we spoke to was desperate to talk. It was like they had finally been given permission.”

He discovered all sorts of things in the process. Like the fact his accident had happened the day after his hero Ayrton Senna had been killed and that he had apparently been filled with foreboding as he got ready to ride. Or like the way his fellow riders had reacted. “It seems when the doctor brought my helmet in and it seeped blood on to the table, every jockey in the weighing room that day, their blood went cold. You can’t imagine that type of scene. I certainly hadn’t.”

Ami Rao also contacted Joanna, Murphy’s then-girlfriend, who frantically tried to call him 20 or 30 times the afternoon of the accident, only for her calls to be ignored by the other jockeys, too traumatised to answer the phone ringing in his kitbag. She stood by him throughout his recovery, but they broke up soon after. The problem was Murphy had no memory of her before his accident. Nothing at all. Which was something his seven-year-old daughter struggled to understand.

Declan Murphy today

Declan Murphy’s book is “a brilliant, bold and at times brutal examination of the process of re-constructing his memory” CREDIT: SUNDAY TELEGRAPH

“My daughter opened the book and found a picture of me with Joanna,” he says. “She said to my wife, ‘Mummy, daddy had a girlfriend’. Then she said to me, ‘Why didn’t you marry her?’ My wife said: ‘Daddy had an accident and he can’t remember Joanna’. And you know what my daughter said? ‘But her picture’s in his book’.”

As he moved on in life, leaving his past behind, Murphy says the fact he was such a successful jockey became ever less significant. “I’m absolutely a different person. I have never used racing as a currency to trade in. Never. And I had a great career.” That said, he does admit that some of the mental requirements needed to become a top rider have been useful in his subsequent life.

“I absolutely used the disciplines I used as a jockey. But I think I had those anyway, and would have applied them to whatever I have done. I certainly had to be very disciplined in my recuperation.” Mentally, he says, his recovery was easily the most difficult thing he has ever done. Or at least that he can remember doing.

“I had to make sacrifices that you can’t imagine ever having to make. Yes, of course, there were consequential effects to that. Everybody said I changed. I became very private. I became obsessed with trying to create an identity for myself. That’s the thing when you don’t have a memory: you don’t have anything that tells you that you are the person you are.”

Now at least the memories are there in his book. Even if not in his mind.

  • Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao is published by Doubleday (£16.99)

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“Going on Crutches to Grenfell Tower after Ben Okri”

*If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.*
A Nigerian summons me to London from the sea.
A Palestinian gives me directions from the south bank of the
As I hesitate at the head of a plummeting escalator
two sharp-suited businessmen turn to help me
descend into the Underground.
It’s rush hour and the carriages are crammed.
Boarding the train, I shrug off my back pack,
tuck it with the crutches close to my body,
and grab the overhead rail, realising too late
all this is difficult, strains my weak arm;
as the force of the train rocks through me,
an Irishman asks if I need help.
‘I’m okay’, I say, and lurch against the door.
Quietly, in a gesture that reminds me
of the formal way South Koreans offer money,
he grips my elbow, holds my arm
between Waterloo and Westminster —
to keep him upright, he laughs
before he hops off
and I take his place by the plexiglass partition
with its yellow vertical grab-rail.
‘Will someone give this lady a seat?’
a man asks. Not a single person looks up.
Only one of my fellow passengers is asleep.
‘Charming,’ I murmur. The man repeats his question
and a woman stands, without a word or a glance.
I sit. I have taken her seat,
her prized rush hour seat,
but I needed to sit.
I felt unsafe on my feet.
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
At Baker St Station it strikes me
that heeding the call of the poet
wasn’t, perhaps, such a great idea.
As I teeter down a flight of stairs
a train arrives at the platform below me,
and disgorges a sea of people,
a flood of people rising toward me,
filling the stairwell, shoulder to shoulder.
one solid mass, an interminable force
I can’t thread my way through or bypass.
Neither can I turn around and go back.
I have to wait on the step
as people push past me,
and though my mind knows
that this muscular wave will soon pass,
I feel guilty for waiting.
For taking up space. For taking up time.
I feel stupid for thinking I could cross London on crutches.
I feel I shouldn’t have come.
I am no Biblical cripple.
I am not journeying to meet Christ.
I don’t need to be another Grenfell gawker.
I need step-free access
to a train home to Brighton.
But just as I realise
how foolish I’ve been, I see
that a small miracle is occurring:
people have noticed me,
are pressing closer together,
and a path has appeared
a narrow, shining hemline
along the edge of the stairs:
an invitation to continue.
Hugging the wall, I step
on down to the platform
as the physiotherapist taught me:
‘Good foot to heaven,
bad foot to hell.’
On the Circle line, a petite Black woman
smiles, jumps up, insists I sit,
and tells me about her corrected fourth toe.
She disembarks at Royal Oak,
and a couple from Colorado get on,
the woman curious about how long I have to go . . .
and before I know it, the train isn’t underground anymore,
we are rushing over grey streets and grey parks
and council estates, beneath a dull white sky,
and then we are there, at Latimer Road,
and before the train has even pulled into the station
it is there too. Right there,
through the window, watching us
with its hundreds of burned-out eyes.
Watching us go on with our lives.
Watching us speed through its shadow,
or stop and alight and enter its radius . . .
to go to work in a crime scene,
to come home to a war zone
or to make an unsteady pilgrimage
to a place we would normally zoom past.
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.
They greet me at the turnstiles.
Their faces are everywhere.
From walls, church railings, shop windows, telephone kiosks,
above the stiff queues of flowers,
the perfume of stargazers and rot,
their beauty radiates; an intolerable heat.
The honey-skinned mother and her five year-old daughter.
The Muslim couple and their baby.
The two young Italians.
A curly-haired girl, on the cusp of her womanhood,
Women in bright sweaters, bold prints, smiles and hijabs,
older men clad in dignified solitude.
Steven, also known as Steve.
Mohammed from Syria . . . please sign the petition.
Poster after poster, please call . . .
If you see . . .
And behind the telephone kiosk,
that plastered pillar of love,
with its poems and prayer calls
and white paper butterflies,
behind the viaduct
with its incessant trains,
behind the vinyl banner
on the brick-clad new build –
‘Considerate Constructors
Secure Everyone’s Safety’:
It rises.
The blackness.
The blackness
I have hobbled here
to stare at
as if nothing else exists.
The blackness
I will never forget.
For there is nothing blacker
than the windows
of Grenfell Tower
Not the niqab of the young woman
at the traffic lights
whose dark darting eyes
are the essence of light,
not the black plastic boot
that protects my shattered ankle,
not the black shell of my laptop
on which I’m writing this poem,
or the fascia of my BlackBerry phone
with which I took grainy photos
of the burned out windows
of Grenfell Tower,
photos that fail
to show those windows
as they are:
blackness as void.
Cosmic blackness.
The unfathomable blackness
we come from and return to.
Absolute blackness.
Cordoned off by red and white ribbons
Guarded from gawpers
by police in florescent jackets,
but impossible to cover up,
impossible to hide,
yet impossible to approach,
until a man strides by me,
stops up ahead on the pavement
and raises his arms.
Pale, grey-haired, in a grey shirt,
his arms lifted to the Tower
in an open-palmed V
for veneration
he appears to be praying.
mourning, giving healing,
sending love to Grenfell Tower,
communing with the spirits,
he tells me,
of his neighbours
who went to school with his children,
who didn’t want to leave this way
whose agony lodges in his throat,
whose vanished beauty shines from his eyes.
If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower
Yes, Grenfell Tower is a mass grave,
a mausoleum, a crematorium.
It commands our silence.
But go and see it.
Go and see Britain’s black omphalos,
the navel of our failure
to take care of each other.
Go and see London’s real Olympic Torch
our charred trophy of arrogance, greed and contempt,
a monument to everything this country’s leaders do best:
scoffing at basic safety procedures,
ignoring experts’ advice,
flouting regulations, cutting corners
for the sake of padding bank accounts,
promising improvements, delivering death traps,
telling critics to ‘get stuffed’,
never consulting, never respecting
the people they are paid to represent:
people deemed a nuisance and an eyesore,
a blight on property values,
a threat to ‘social order’,
whose lives are not worth the paper
their missing posters are printed on,
whose inevitable incineration
has been planned, approved and fully costed,
whose grief and rage and anguish
must be micromanaged
with a drip feed of numbers,
a narrowing of remits,
a stealthy adjournment of truth.
But the truth cannot be hidden,
the truth is there for all to see.
Yes, go see Grenfell Tower.
Go by tube, bus, car, taxi, bicycle,
wheelchair, skateboard, roller blades,
tap the pavement with white canes, with crutches.
Go and see it. Take flowers, food and clothes.
Leave a message at St Clements.
Go and see Kensington’s anti-Kaaba,
its site of sacred devastation
rising in every direction we face.
And if you cannot go,
wherever you may be, however frail or far,
let us all, in our hearts,
stand with the disappeared,
and stand with the survivors,
let us stand with the uncounted, the discounted,
at the top of the stairs
on the twenty-fourth floor,
let us demand those responsible
for this preventable inferno
stop their frantic climbing
over Grenfell’s broken bodies,
through Grenfell’s tower of ashes,
over stacks of contracts, legal documents,
to a safety and freedom
they do not deserve.
And as the faces of the missing fade
into the black flames of memory,
by the candles of our witness
let us light
a clear broad path
to justice on the street.
With its hundreds of burnt out eyes,
from its unfathomable void,
Grenfell Tower is watching us.
We cannot fail again.
Naomi Foyle

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Books | NZ Poetry Shelf – Slip Stream

Slip Stream Auckland University Press, 2010

‘Green knows how to create atmosphere and mood born of genuine conviction. Slip Stream is lovely, weird and warm.’ – Hamesh Wyatt, Otago Daily Times

‘Slip Stream is an account of a time when Paula Green was buffeted in the slipstream of an illness. How can life go on as usual? she asks – and finds answers in poetry and music, crosswords and cherries, lists and family love.’

Source: Books | NZ Poetry Shelf