The prologue to Kamal, in which the narrator describes his determination to tell the story of Kamal no matter what. Even if he, Arcady, is unknown to the world, or lacks the poetic skills, or the artistic angst, or even if he sings off-key or gets his words all wrong. Even if he’s past his poetic prime. Because nothing is more important in his life than the story he’s about to tell.
2. “Rebelling Against Obscurity”
In which Zireaux expresses his gratitude to his readers (few though they may be).
3. “Innocent Kamal”
We meet the eponymous hero of our story, Kamal, a happy young man who lives with his parents on a beautiful, sprawling estate in Bel Air, California, where he spends blissful days chasing butterflies (and painting, as we’re about to learn). He loves his father, a famous pianist. And he adores his mother, a rich but faded Hollywood film star.
We learn of Kamal’s greatest love, a passion as uncontrollable — and as dangerous — as the Santa Ana Winds. (Content Warning: Certain thematic elements in these stanzas may disturb some readers. But you must trust your poet, his muse, and the work of art that is Kamal).
5. “The Great Advisor”
In this scene, Kamal’s mother is about to leave the house to go shopping at Rodeo Drive. Her driver, Ramana Narayanamurthy, who is also her personal assistant, masseuse, tennis coach, handyman, spiritual advisor and all around toyboy, is a man of great wisdom in Kamal’s eyes. And thus Kamal, we learn, in seeking advice from the wise sage Ramana, has recently confessed a scandalous truth: namely, that he, Kamal, is in love with his own sister, Imogene.
6. “Lady de Milo”
A scene as great as any known to art awaits us! Kamal’s mother has set off in her Mercedes Benz for a shopping excursion to Rodeo Drive (with her driver-guru-paramour). As the Benz pulls away, the door to the grand estate is open and we are ready to enter — to travel upstairs, to Imogene’s room, where she and Kamal are engaged in an act of illicit passion.
Practically alone in the house now, innocent Kamal (our hero) and beautiful, bookish Imogene (our hero’s sister) are free to indulge in their favorite pleasures. What the sibling-lovers don’t realize is that Ramana Narayanamurthy (a.k.a. Rick) — chauffeur of said Mercedes and lover of said mother — is about to divulge their most tender secret.
8. “An Unseemly Situation”
Continues the previous episode in which, with our poetic license (“works just like a warrant”) we’ve broken into Imogene’s bedroom. Unseen, uninvited, we can now observe our hero and his beautiful sister engaged in, and about to be caught in, an unseemly situation.
10. “The Revelation”
Our sibling’s mother, a faded Hollywood star “whose age now stalks her more than her fans,” bursts into the room (with her toyboy, Ramana Narayanamurthy, a.k.a. Rick, close behind). A naked Imogene cowers in her shame. But rather than express dismay at what she’s discovered, the aging actress presents her daughter with a packet of birth control pills, and says: ‘A month’s supply; / but ﬁrst take this. Just in case.’ A strange pill is given. Imogene dutifully swallows. Now the mother has a very important secret to reveal.
11. “A Certain Tenderness Here”
Having learned that he was adopted, Kamal is stunned. How much he’s always adored his goddess mother, his gentle father. How much he’s adored their lives together in Bel Air. The paintbrush falls from his hand. Imogene, however, is quick to see the good fortune in this revelation. She tells Kamal that she is pregnant with his child. So now, because they are unrelated, they can marry, become a legal husband and wife. But their mother, while accepting of her children’s carnal engagement, is not about to let them wed.
12. “I Choose My Lover!”
Seeing that her children won’t be easily dissuaded — that they are truly in love and determined to live their lives together — our sibling’s mother threatens to take her own life unless Kamal leaves the house forever. With his mother’s advisor-cum-lover, Ramana Narayanamurthy (a.k.a Rick), opening the door for him to leave, suddenly Kamal hears the beautiful arpeggios of his father’s piano coming from downstairs.
13. “A Flurrysnow of Printerspew”
Kamal follows the music to his father’s room and listens at the door. Perhaps his father can help him now? But no, it’s not to be. The canto closes with Kamal walking out of his Bel Air estate to the sound, the horrible crunch, of a book being eaten by a lawn mower (Joyce’s Ulysses, which Imogene defenestrated from her bedroom some stanzas previously).
Banished from his beloved home, a distraught Kamal is forced to stagger through his neighborhood, engage with the America outside the gates of his cloistered youth. He finally settles down for the night on an inviting patch of grass — the green of a golf course it turns out. He dreams of his dear Imogene, of the baby he only learned about moments before his exile.
15. “The Katabatic Winds”
Kamal continues West, across highway 405, where he is abused by passing motorists and almost killed. We follow his journey down Wilshire Boulevard.
16. “When Every Girl Appears a Friend (or Twin) of Britney Spears”
Kamal continues West (with not much land remaining for him to walk upon). At last he reaches the Santa Monica pier, walking to its very end and standing there, staring out over the Pacific Ocean. The narrator poet, like a father to a despairing son, cries out from New Zealand (where he is writing Kamal) to his poor hero across the sea.
17. “Reclining Nude in Foggy Night”
Kamal, in following Ramana a.k.a. Rick Narayanamurthy’s advice from previous stanzas, decides to “pursue his greatest pleasure,” which, in this case — given his crushing despair over Imogene and the loss of his childhood paradise — is to drown himself in the ocean. He thinks of Imogene posing naked for him, and how her belly was just beginning to swell with child, and then he climbs up the pier’s railing and prepares to leap.
A suicidal Kamal lets himself fall into the ocean. Some drunken fraternity boys jeer at him and urinate into the water from the end of the pier. An very ambitious and professional young woman named Loraine — with dreams of financial success as a sales agent for a company called Sable Inc. — removes her shoes, gives her phone to her assistant (who is named Chantelle), climbs up the railing, and jumps into the water to rescue Kamal. The only problem is, she doesn’t know how to swim.
19. “Angels Are Not Ours to Keep”
Luckily for Kamal’s rescuer, Loraine, who has leapt into the ocean without knowing how to swim, her trusty and resourceful assistant, Chantelle, quickly fashions a floatation device out of a plastic pirate’s chest and a bungee cord. Loraine and Kamal are pulled from the water, and we see Kamal’s angelic face, like a death mask, with lips “puckered in a suckling shape…a face much cheated, yet forgiving.”
Having survived his suicidal leap off the Santa Monica Pier (thank god), our hero awakes without his clothes, in a strange bed, with a strange lady (Chantelle), who is naked and equipped with a video phone. The ladies ask Kamal if he’s “attached” to anyone, and when Kamal replies that he’s attached to his beloved Imogene, Loraine replies, “That isn’t what I meant…I meant, are you attached to any firm.”
21. “The Great Master Blaze”
Now the two ladies perform their recruitment routine, informing the impressionable Kamal about the great entrepreneurial guru and supreme leader, Lionel Blaze. Blaze is the head of a pyramid marketing program called Sabel Inc, to which Loraine and Chantelle have devoted their lives.
Loraine is secretly shopping online with the platinum credit card she found in Kamal’s clothing, the same card his mother gave him when commanding him to leave his childhood home. Kamal thinks the card was lost in the water. Now Loraine celebrates with her faithful assistant, Chantelle, and even provides some special pills and presents for her new recruit: Kamal.
Loraine and Chantelle take our innocent hero, Kamal, on his first “assignment” — to lure in new recruits for Sable. They visit the Jamza bar (most likely based on the famous Zanzibar club in Santa Monica), where an intoxicated Kamal meets a beautiful girl and awakes several hours later amidst a sprawl of naked bodies.
24. “Suspended Seeds of Milky Light”
Committed to his Great Savior, Lionel Blaze, our hero now embarks on assignment number two, descending — unbeknownst to him — still deeper into a world of drugs and debauchery. Through his narcotic haze, however, Kamal still manages to recall his greatest love and guiding light: his dearest Imogene (“Aurora Imogenalis“).
25. “Eighteen Years or Older”
Kamal is escorted to numerous parties, introduced to a variety of addictive drugs, and often finds himself awaking in bedrooms filled with naked bodies. Now Kamal learns the truth about his situation — how his rescuers have been abusing him without his knowledge.
Our abused Kamal has discovered that the very same women he thought were saving his life — Loraine and Chantelle, recruiters from Sable Inc — have been secretly filming him for a pornographic website. The two women are showing him the site for the first time. Our now drug-addicted Kamal begs for another injection before plunging — gorily — into a swimming pool.
27. “The Roar of Wanton Jollity”
Having just discovered how his rescuers have betrayed him, our drugged and distraught Kamal has walked straight through a glass door at a party, and splashed into a swimming pool. Now the party-goers laugh at our poor hero, until a very strong man, who Kamal recognizes, comes to carry him away.
28. “A Hundred Thousand Infidels”
A badly injured Kamal awakes in Lionel Blaze’s private jet, which flies them to Houston Texas. A limousine carries Blaze and our wounded hero to the Houston Astrodome, where a very big event is about to take place.
29. “To Parents!”
We follow Kamal and the business tycoon Lionel Blaze into the Houston Astrodome, and up an elevator, which takes them to the highest floor — the ninth floor (which is important, reader, for reasons you may guess at now, or discover quite soon). Here, in the exclusive private box, Kamal looks down at the gathering crowd and the spectacle below while being served platters of finger food. Having eaten nothing since he left Los Angeles, our poor Kamal is famished.
As our injured, famished hero devours the wonderful variety of food being served, the great Mr. Blaze explains why he brought Kamal to the Houston Astrodome. Meanwhile, through the glass windows of the private box, in the enormous arena below, amongst a delirious crowd, we see that the spectacle of “Fame-Fest VII” has begun.
31. “On Eating Cockroaches and Donkey’s Sperm”
As “Fame-Fest VII” begins, our poem switches rhyme scheme — to the fast-moving terza-rima of Dante (fitting, of course, if you recall that Kamal is observing the big event from the topmost floor of the stadium, which is also the ninth floor; hence nine levels in this vision of hell). Kamal watches aghast at the reality TV stunts performed on the stadium’s field below. Contestants are eating horrible things. A man is covered with leeches. A couple kisses for as long as they can in a freezing pool of water (for a TV show called Death Can’t Part Us). A Chinese-American woman performs sex acts on a group of men.
32. “This Strange and Complicated World!”
Aghast at what he sees — contestants engaged in humiliating acts for just a few minutes of fame — Kamal is unable to swallow his food. Lionel Blaze, owner of the private booth and the man who saved our hero’s life, praises Kamal for his lack of pretense. Kamal, meanwhile, recalls his lost love (Imogene) and wonders if perhaps he could shake himself awake from this nightmare and find that he’s really been asleep in her sweet lap all this time.
Inside the Houston Astrodome (where resides our hero, Kamal), a crowd is enjoying Fame-Fest VII, in which contestants engage in acts of humiliation for a few minutes of fame. Outside the Astrodome — “straight up through clouds that look like well-chewed gum” — a small plane is circling above, its pilot in the process of carrying out a suicide attack.
34. “This is Not a Drill”
A sense of apprehension spreads inside the Astrodome. What was that sound outside? An explosion? An attack? Security forces, heavily armed and wearing gas masks, begin streaming into the stadium. The Fame-Fest performers are confused — a confusion which soon infects the crowd. People begin to scream. A fire is set, a burning page from a program flies into the air and beings to spark a panic. And then, with Kamal watching from a private booth above, all hell begins breaking loose (to use an apt cliche) in the nine levels of the Houston Astrodome, and the terza rima of Dante’s Inferno in which this canto is composed.
The heavily armed security guards begin shooting into the crowd. An ex-marine steals a weapon from one of the guards and guns down seventeen people (he counts them off). Madness, terror, people are trying to escape, but the exit doors are locked. They try to hide from the gunfire. They throw things at the security forces, one of whom — finding a thrill in the warring, video game-like pandemonium — decides to toss a grenade into the crowd. Meanwhile, our narrator seeks out a particular couple in the stands; and finds them: A girl with a blonde ponytail (more on her next week), who, seeing her fiancé shot before her eyes, suddenly begins to reflect on her life.
36. “A Touch of Libya” or “A Bullet Snug Within Her Neck”
With her fiancé mortally wounded beside her, the girl with the blonde ponytail begins to reflect on someone she’d seen earlier that day — a neighbor, a young man she’d gone to school with, a man she had always thought of as a foreigner. She knows nothing of the plane crash outside (the plane was towing a banner addressed to Lisa), or the grenade that’s been tossed a few seconds prior to her thoughts.
37. “Like Thieves Who Frisk the Dead”
As violence erupts — and a grenade explodes — inside the crowded stadium, Kamal is still safe behind thick glass, in the private box of Lionel Blaze, high above the fray. Now thinking back on recent events, Kamal realizes that if he hadn’t tried to kill himself by leaping off the Santa Monica pier (see “The Suicide Attempt”), Loraine and Chantelle would never have rescued him; and if it weren’t for Loraine and Chantelle (who drugged and photographed him), he never would have appeared on that pornographic website; and, on learning about the website, he never would have lost his senses and nearly bled to death by walking through a glass door and plunging into a swimming pool (see “Eighteen Years or Older”); and Lionel Blaze never would have rescued him, never would have taken Kamal to the Houston Astrodome to witness this terrible moment of history. Kamal, therefore, is thankful for his fate — better to die here, he thinks — and decides to join in with the massacre below.
38. “A Rending of the Air”
Searching for a way to join the crowd inside, Kamal discovers that all the doors have been chain-locked, and as he struggles to open the doors, the people are fighting to get out. Finally a door is broken down, but before Kamal can scramble through the spill of bodies, he finds himself being shot at by security forces that have surrounded the stadium. He takes a bullet in the back. One of his ears is blown off. He notices the wreckage of the small plane in the parking lot (see “The Suicide Attack”); and then, hearing a “thunderous, wondrous wail,” he sees a missile falling from the sky…
39. “A Hurricane of Thoughts and Comment”
Shot in the back, one of his ears blown off, Kamal looks up to see a missile falling from the sky, directly toward the Astrodome. In this episode, our narrator describes the differing views about the events of that terrible day — the Cessna airplane that crashed outside the stadium, the security forces and so forth — and why a missile was fired in the first place.
We pick up now after a missile — a “mini-nuke” in fact — has struck the Houston Astrodome during Fame Fest VII, launching America into a war it will struggle to define. But despite the global implications of these events, all that really matters to our narrator is what has happened to his hero, Kamal (not very good news, it turns out).
41. “O Hypnotizing Death!”
As he crawls away from an enormous bomb blast, apart from a bullet in his back, and an ear blown off, Kamal is now blinded in one eye (he can barely see with the other), and his “pink-milk flesh” is bubbling all over. Meanwhile, it’s starting to rain, and the area around the Houston Astrodome has broken out into civil unrest, while a stranger leads Kamal to a safer neighborhood. But as Kamal seeks out, and finds, a nice garden in which to die, the lady owner of the property feeds him dog food.
A large red-haired man in an SUV drives by and reprimands the lady for her mistreatment of Kamal. The man, named Carl, is a myrmecologist. He puts Kamal in his SUV and drives away. The piano music that’s playing in the car reminds Kamal of an incident from his childhood, involving his piano-playing father. One day, for the first time in his life, he saw his father composing a song. Kamal wondered at the miracle of written music. How could such a thing as music be captured on such flat and flimsy stuff as paper? (You’ll note, reader, the beautiful imagery below of the telephone wires as “staves” on a page of sheet music).
43. “The Man who had a Mid-Life Crisis at 26”
Left in the car by Carl, our badly wounded, disfigured hero encounters a man with a gun. Kamal assumes this man is a soldier, also badly wounded, who has joined the front lines of the new war. Kamal invites the man into the car and listens to his story — and is astonished when he discovers the man’s true identity.