Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Djami: A Story

Djami: A Story

“In this last delirious
memorandum, Rimbaud
is in Africa once more”
—Charles Nicholl
Somebody Else


I became obsessed with him. The boy, Djami. He exuded it—young human backwardness. He excited me because he was so primitive. He wasn’t tainted yet by the Parisian queens. Bourgeois modernity hadn’t contaminated him yet.

Djami personified my puerile hope that time could be stopped and man’s origins could still be kept close. Decadence hadn’t won out yet with Djami. I didn’t have to create him—he was already there.

I didn’t have to write about it, create it with poetry or illustrate it with grand Illuminations. There was no Season of Hell surrounding him—he was handsome, olive-complexioned and a virgin sixteen-year-old. He was like me—before my fall from grace.

His hair was clipped back short in the customary way—what you’d call a marine buzzcut now. The same haircut as the Taromina youth photographed by Miss von Gloeden in Sicily. We had similar tastes.

Djami was primitive, modestly posing for me on the rooftop of the Palais Jamai Hotel. There in the nostalgic section of Morocco. The whitewashed walls with Moorish crenellations behind him. As he posed for me, letting his adolescent primitiveness show itself. More and more, as he trusted me somewhat.

Djami was primitive, a kind of animal-primitiveness. He magnetized me, submerged me in that archaic Abyssinian twilight that showed me things.


I was obsessed with Djami, his primitive young maleness releasing me once and for all from the Paris I hated, the Parnassians who disgusted me. They posed and preened themselves, their café society was boring.

But Djami wasn’t boring—everything he said and did entranced me, obsessed me. He posed and preened like the Paris queens, but it was different. I fell prey to something only vaguely synonymous with love. Surely it wasn’t love, I didn’t love anybody.

Just ask Verlaine. I was in love with myself and wanted only one thing. To be a French voyant, to illuminate my journey like Jules Verne did with fiction. But then I failed—that’s why I was in Africa.

My obsession with Djami ended up being my passport to a style of life natural to Arab boys. Accommodating themselves to European men, posing as travelers, traders, slave-runners, gun merchants—usually the dregs of the lot.

I was one of them. Morocco, Fez Djami became the sacrificial ritual intended to ward off the harmful influences and unfavorable fate of my French baggage with its poetry bad history. I gave up poetry as an offering to appease fate and oblige it to help me develop in other ways in return.

After that first meeting in Fez, Djami nude on the rooftop, letting himself he had for a price, then living with me in the Palais Jamai Hotel, everything changed.

Except I learned to speak Arabic languages for trading and making a living with the other fellow expatriates.

Djami’s haircut—a Mohawk quiff over his forehead, his cockscomb of pubes, the twisting purple vein running down thru his right forehead when he came.

What did all this mean? All this Otherness—embodying the full power and source of life-giving energy flowing thru Djami into me? Most of my friends and especially my enemies wouldn’t have been ready for the intensity or duration of my relationship with Djami.

But I made it clear, to spare them, my living with Djami was not a sexual thing. No, no, not that Nanette. Anything but that. I even had a fag-hag I lived with to make it all look so str8t and square.


Djami dressed in the traditional manner—baggy whte trousers and a chandrisi, a woolen djellaba over his naked skin. How many times did I caress him beneath the folds of his cloak? His strong smooth body with big hands, a face with a large, broken nose which made him even more primitive-looking.

An Arcadian touch—the faded edge of the day. A sepia touch to the zigzag rooftops—one private life together in Morocco. I can’t say I was “falling in love” because I had no idea what “falling in love” was. There was no stigmatizing pitfalls like in Paris—no catty discussion of classic form, theater, ballet, literary gossip.

Instead there were the usual varieties of typically libidinous words—meeting, connecting, sometimes creating, then going from there. Western discussions of sexuality were puerile inventions of the bourgeois tearoom closet queens. Poetry more or less the means of consolidating supposed talent and cosmopolitan ambition.


All of which is became a moot point in Fez, Morocco, Abyssinia. A smattering of talk, but Djami’s oeuvre wasn’t a public collection. There was no Museum of French Legation for small art paintings of Djami in the nude in the desert moonlight.

There was only a strangely compelling talent to be primitive and extemporaneous while living it and doing it. A Muse d’art contemporary opening in my mind. A small, modest drawing of the real, something in common with Klee.

A museum of modern Morocco art was growing inside me. There was a large Djami painting in its collection untitled and never seen by anybody yet. His biography was never to be written, his worldly teenage oeuvre scattered throughout Abyssinia, never to gain the appreciation or disgust it deserved.

There is a photo of him in classic Moroccan dress, on the patio of my home up on the roof. A photo taken by a German photographer, Count von Gloeden. Djami’s profile distinctive from the side, his broken nose more graceful looking than from the front.

He’s wearing a djellaba open over his shoulders. Under it a Moroccan shirt, a gandoura trimmed with lace. His white turban hugging his thin elongated skull.

Cinematographic fictions didn’t follow, only a few photos exist. Photos evoked a yearning for something called happiness, something that’s been lost forever today. I wanted to live a pre-civilized life with a primitive lover. Thirteen years together? He lost his juvenile jouissance, we drifted apart.


A last picture of him, standing nonchalantly in the garden at the entrance to the house in Fez. Barefoot, a trim figure, a shirt with the arms rolled up, a pair of light summer pants. His thin waist, an impeccably lovely long bulge sliding coquettishly down along one of his neatly pressed pleats.

The thirteen years we’d been together. And then I had to leave for Marseilles for my surgery followed by my inevitable demise. I left everything to him in my will, nothing to the Widow Rimbaud or my sister.

Sex with Djami had been a quiet continuous apocalypse of myself, each time we made love was still a profound shock. I may have been a poet maudit back in France, but in Abyssinia and Alexandria and Morocco—I’d become my own voyant. Or rather the voyant had become me.

Djami's sheer lust for life and his heightened energy around me. Coming to me from somewhere deep inside him, even deeper and stronger than when he was a boy. Djami as a man was more mature, it came from beyond that adolescent buzz of male energy I thought was the end of the world.

When we made love before I left for Marseilles, there was a knowingness in him that knew I’d never come back. When Djami came that last time and when I lost it at the very same moment, it was like the beginning of a whole new series of intensities. Rather than the end of it all…

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