Living in Fog by Youssef Alaoui-Fdili

Living in Fog

Youssef Alaoui-Fdili

Diary of The Last Days of Forrest Pike Brougham III, Deckhand; H.M.S. Gouliot.

December 17, 1826Fog Ship
Living in fog is more difficult than it would seem. Our course was laid before we began. The crew has been asking questions, but our Captain remains confident. It is neither dark nor light here, with little differentiation between sea and sky. Confusion offers itself to us at every angle, to anyone who might be swept up by it. The Captain keeps the ship’s nose pointed at the compass and we manage to drift at a leisurely pace. We are assured that his crowded charts hold us fast in their matrix.

But this fog, this life, is beleaguering. To see it, one would think any direction the same as the other. I could be here or on shore. At my mother’s or my sister’s. I am assured there is no doubt of our bearings.  At night, the ship is festooned with lanterns. They bellow out gold in ten-foot globes. One might think us a parade ship, but we keep them lit to avoid collision.

December 18
There’s adequate wind to take us further, but home could be eons away. Looking to sea, I imagine it is sky. Above is below, but not perfectly so. The water’s dumb mockery of the sky is amusing. It wishes to be still, but blisters and horns erupt nonetheless. The water emotes and cavorts uncontrollably—this is St. Vitus’ dance.

You, Water, are the darker brother to Sky: more braggart, freighted with worry, prone to violence. Air too, is unwieldy, but never Sky. Sky is ever the calm observer, the elder brother.

December 19
We raced through the hams and the sheep we brought with us. We ate the last of our turkeys days ago, and now, Johannes’ monkey is looking tasty. Some are mentioning the meat on the back of its thighs. Late in the evening, I eat a bean curd I’ve saved. It sickens me to ingest, but I’m sated for hours. I leave the others to their stale old rum. But, I’m killing that monkey tomorrow if they let me.

The sky, divorced of its wretched brother, the wind, is a peaceful mate. We convene regularly, as I plod through my chores under its velvet canopy. The fog hasn’t left us for thirty days and land could be just off the bow. They’d never let us know how twisted we are. We must keep trusting the Captain’s reckoning. The world looks the same, whether you’re standing on your head or drowning in the ocean, after a month or so of drifting in the fog.

Christabel, O Christabel!

Why won’t the words come?
Your hand locked in mine
we walking forever
on plains so verdant!
The country receives us!
O Christabel!

The King has ordered artesian waters from those muddy primitives of the Americas. Our frigate is encumbered with a load in its hold of no less than fifty barrels of the infernal stuff.

Christabel, O Christabel!

I wonder if I will ever get this poem written—

My blood is a tiny sea
modeled in red!
It pulses and slams
the shores of my skin
in your honor!

The waves swell and heave
in concert to the muse
of your name—

A hundred times have I put pen to paper to rattle this ode, decrying my hapless passion for your soul! But I’ll write it eventually. I swear on my grave that at least I’ll scratch out the rhythm of this marvelous treatise I have so longed to finish!

December 22
O Christabel, the days here are waterlogged from dawn to dusk. I’ve kept a bowl of beans served up three weeks ago, now gone bad. Something in their process of desiccation has been hampered by our moist environment. Small growths of blue fur have sprouted within. All I need do is ingest the tiniest fraction and volumes of information are revealed to me—

Here! I take it thus, a thumb and forefinger-full, I say, it is getting powerfully heady. I vomit into the sea from my porthole, emptying my innards into the very chasm that swallowed everything I have ever loved or strived for. The sea does not care. It absorbs everything, great or small. I watch it go as we progress. My vomit pools in pitiful foaming spots. I watch them dip and twist like doilies on the glassy surface below. The ocean is fat and grey, old and not wise, fair Christabel.

AH! My mind opens. As if the top of my head had been lifted. Now I understand everything. I might be the only one, but I think I can see the solemn faces of those three bastard brothers: Sea, Sky, and Air. Yes. Today they are triplets. Identical in shape, age and form. Sky is the calm one, not freighted with worry or chatter like his heavier brother, the Sea. Air, or Wind, as he is known, is the traitor. Prone to violent outbursts, he’s your friend one minute and the very next he’s got you tight by the throat.

The Sea just doesn’t care. He’ll join in any time he likes. But, it’s all he can do, the Sky, to sit and watch. For that, they are bastards, each of them, either cooperating to pummel us or, as now, acting the one as absent as the other. And it’s the best we can do to sit here and ride our feeble speck of bark in the half-light.

December 23
Christabel, I’ve been trying for days to finish your poem. It must be complete before we make landfall. “O, Christabel!” I’ll proclaim, and this name will be the toast of the town! Our nation will rise in unison to chant my verses! Damn it if I don’t need another chew of the blue bean mixture! The entire universe opened up to me the first time I ate it.

And we, we’ve eaten nearly everything on the ship. We started out with a dozen turkeys. We boiled them, ate them, returned our scraps to the pot and boiled them up again, spiced with dry turnip greens from the cook’s garbage. We’ve made twenty soups out of the cook’s garbage. No one is allowed to throw anything overboard, lest we’re able to make a soup out of it. We’re using the King’s precious water and now we’ve boiled our every last bit of trash to survive. Yes, Johannes’ stupid monkey is looking quite nice by now. Fat little thighs on that thing, indeed!

O Christabel!
My blood
is a sea that thrashes endlessly
against the shores of my flesh for you!

My heart
slams against the hull of my chest
in your name!

My ribs
are but prison bars If I can’t have you!

My heart
is chained down by its arteries If I can’t have you!

My heart
begs to fly free to your side!
But Hell!

I’ll never get your poem written. Christabel, the name of my niece’s fawn, yes, a deer. An animal; it was her pet, back in Cordova. Who would know or care anyway? Once they hear my magical script, invoking the name of a wretched deer my niece saved from starvation. My brother and his cohort scooped it up whilst gorging themselves on the ecstatic spoils of the hunt: the hanging, the bleeding, the skinning, the chopping of the mother, the parting-out of the mother. And how they feasted on her! How they ate her in forty ways as my niece nursed her fawn! “We’ll fatten it up and set it loose on the property,” said my brother. The fool! Lying to his child: “Have some more beef roast, sweetheart!” Sweet-HART, rather!

O Christabel,
my eyes are useless
without you to fill them.

And useless indeed, as Sky here blends right into Water. Air, too, is constant. We move, aye, but Lord knows where the current leads.

December 24, Christmas Eve
Oh, Christabel. If you only knew where your mother was. Hark! Someone is coming! I stumble through my chores every day like an automaton, but today I have been hiding in my bunk. Shhht! They pass. I’ll go out. But I will return my sweet! No mortal shall tear me away from you. None!

—Here we are again my love, as we are meant to be, but in prayer. Tonight is the Silent Night.

December 25, Christmas Day
The bastard brothers enclose us still. Lanterns fixed to the bow, glowing ten feet in every direction. One would think us a wedding barque come evening, but hélas, no gaiety blesses our ship. We’ve lit them at our Captain’s behest to alert oncomers to our presence so we don’t get smashed. But I’ll be smashed any day of the week for you, fair Christabel!

Christabel, O Christabel!
The frogs of shore sing your name!
They chirp in such harmony!
They float on night air
flying under the wind!
I’ll punish every criminal
or bellowing out of turn!
For they can never know
the attitudes of love you are due
my maiden!

The trees, they whisper
your legend among themselves.
The rain, embarrassed
by my clarity of vision for you,
will bury itself in the soil
sneaking down to the lake
where we float.

Christabel, O Christabel!
Lightning snags the air
and explodes for want
of the words I put down
in your honor!

Were I but a playing card,
the nature of my royal station
would never comply
to a worldly dynasty
so well placed as your own.
For your tiniest denomination trumps me.
It is thus, O Christabel!

December 28
Our Captain has promised the King several barrels of Artesian water from those foul natives of New India. The claim is that it will revive his health and return his mental faculties. This means that we are effectively drowning in fog, lost in the water without a sky to direct us, and burdened no less, with a cargo of water.

Shore could be ten yards away and we’d never know. We’re just as trapped as if there were no such thing as land. We’ve almost wiped out our stores of food, so we boil what we have, return the scraps to the pot and boil them ad-infinitum, dropping in novelties like boots and gloves and rope trimmings for fiber. We may never run out of water to pilfer. We may never run out of water to tread upon.

December 31, A dream—
Oh Christabel, our eyes are as full as our stomachs on nothing but grey soup. Hélas. I sleep.

—I can’t tell. Has it stopped raining? I see the puddles trembling. There’s a hole in the clouds. Now a lower cloud, a massive one, has caught the moon’s direct glare. It is suspended, silent, ambulant. This is an unfamiliar sky. It is brawny and scattered. The moon carves a path between several layers of cloud; each one bulky and muscular, and disorganized enough to let a few, straight, silver fingers touch the grass.

A cry pierces the low clouds passing. It is a yell, a yowl. Plaintive. The clouds unfold to reveal a perfectly minted moon. The red eye of Taurus stares down from its heaving black cave. The sound is not a rogue drunk or a couple’s squabble. It is two cats. They bellow in the dark under the passing clouds, and as they attack, they tear one another to shreds. Blood pools in the street. Still, I know this is heaven. I stare at the moon, expecting to be drawn up to it.

Where am I? What is this land? Yes, it is familiar. At once, I know. This is my fate. Somewhere within the grass squirm the sand dunes and fog. Somewhere in the sky, vultures fly over the sea. Here lives a naked, craggy butte, kicking mist over its shoulder. It has a thirst for blood, for souls. It needs to kill or damage the humans that clamber upon it—

I awake to the sensation that my pillow is full of beetles. Lifting my head, I realize my pillow is tightly wrapped around my face.

January 7, 1827
About today? What can I say about today? The weather is the same. We cruise gently across a hazy mirror. But the Captain’s floor, above my cabin, betrays a canopy of chattering clocks, punctuated with the wheeze and creak of our flexing ship. The ocean cradles the hull about me. It wraps and oozes, now squeezing, now pulling our frame in the vertical, now horizontal. The limits of my skull ride the measures of the clocks’ continual song of no melody, no refrain, only a brace of unsynchronized calibrations. It is a rain, rather, of machinery and ticking. Confusion voiced and synchronized, boundlessly random.

January 10
At evening, when the day’s shifts have settled and we each have retired, rolling in our bunks, the clocks play a ticking song that permeates the root of my quarters. I understand it now as my dirge.

The ship’s hull provides a sawing counter bass. The slippery tides form a chorus, and the numerous clocks in the Captain’s room, above, provide a poignant section of staccato flutes. These flutes are tumultuous, like confused animals. Hiding, conniving, judging, they belie any hint of rhythm, discordant as a group of human heartbeats. The only pattern binding them is that they worry for safety together.

This is the music I sleep to. Certain nights I’m forced to stop my ears with wads of cloth. But the arcing counter bass rides me to the bone! I am forced to bear witness to the extent of their symphony.

It is a music that never ends, only rambles the night through. Soon enough, I am rousted back to my duties. The spinning of days is the only regular drumbeat to guide me, every evening dipping back into cacophony. “That SOUND!” I cry, muffled in my bedsheets. Chewing at the blankets, I thank the bloody spray of stars above, all be they hidden from me for an eon, that, at least, I am dry.

January 24
Johannes’ stupid monkey slipped off his shoulder and straight into the water today. Probably fainted from starvation. Never mind; we’ll not hesitate to throw Johannes into the soup once he dies of grief for the thing. The sorry bastard. I am so hungry for solid food, I would eat the calluses off my heels if they were only dressed in brown gravy with a side of roasted beets.

My bowl is not missed by the cook. No one cares about a missing dish. Curious though, the beans have shifted in it. I believe a colony of beetles has grown upon them. Well, they don’t eat it so fast. Maybe they’ve always been there. Perhaps their presence aids in the fermentation process. I need smaller amounts lately, as the strength seems to have increased. At once I must set myself to work:

Christabel, O Christabel!
Your perfumed curls

your willowy limbs
dance in my mind
like faeries of the forest! 

Artemis and Diana
heroines both, but nothing
like you are my grace!
They bow in your honor
they hand over their ribbons
and dress you in garlands.

Christabel, O Christabel!
We belong together
under the smiling eyes
of God! Oh how we’ll dance
on our wedding day!

Our love is boundless my dear
our whisperings of truth
will knit the canopy
of God’s heaven
with the purest ebullience!

Call to me in the open daylight!
Let the silvery mists of love
twirl about us as we dance
down the river valley
from the wedding chapel!

We’ll make our way
to a snug cabin
with a roaring fire
and lace curtains about the windows!

From there,
we’ll usher three children
into the world
and I will ensure
we have meals on the table
by selling wood crafts
to the town
from a little shop
on the corner!

Meat pies for the young ones!
Now is time for schoolbooks and such!
We are swimming in joy
and the tides of our love grow
with each passing year.

Christabel, O Christabel!
I am only ever yours
on Earth as it is in Heaven.

There! Christabel! Is this your poem? Have I done it? Let me see; I’ll read it back from the start. Is it moving enough? That’s the real question. Away to sleep for now. How silly of me. I must have eaten a beetle instead of the beans. The effect is more powerful. Did I eat a beetle? All the same. By now the mixture is probably equal parts. No wonder I’m dreaming of beetles!

January 27
My dreams were more intense this night. I was cutting clouds with a knife. I was alone in a grand house, waiting for a clockwork chimney to strike the hour. I couldn’t count the chimes. They were puffs of smoke. My work is affected. A ray of sunlight poured through the fog and almost burned me alive for an instant. I mentioned it to no one. Here I must admit: Every day I am feeling more comfortable in the fog. Should it clear I’ll probably swaddle my head with a sheet. I can do my tasks with my eyes closed anyway.

February 10
I haven’t written in two weeks. Now I believe the Captain is my father. He has no clocks. Why did I want him to have clocks? So much ringing and ticking. The clocks! It must be the shadow of authority, filtering down through the cracks of the floorboards! The regulated authority! The unfaltering and rigorous ticking of time! Christabel, Oh Christabel! I whimper your name, and I feel you’re waiting for me to finish you, but we both know it can never be!

This man, the Captain, is my father! He brought me here. He must have! He brought me up a soldier then a sailor!—Why? Why am I so poor about decks? Why else would I hate it so very much? Christabel, you know me better. My niece might have named you, but it was I who plucked you from Coleridge! I mutated and evolved you into a greater goddess than his frustrated mind could ever invent! His words were callous! Un-heartfelt! Confined! Mine are free! I am free and am liberated! Here! Thus! It is clearly a family of beetles now living on the remains of my bean curd.

A snaggle of blind, wretched, writhing little apostrophes, stealing my liberating invention, my tool of creativity! I’ll just take another one of your children now and, thank you! I am free again! No blankets of time holding me back from launching myself to heaven if I so desire! They get me dizzier and more airborne each one that I chew! I’m sure I could float away home if I tried! Their bodies have distilled the mixture by power of digestion! They are tiny wandering stomachs! Fleshy wine casks! They will be my salvation! Christabel! Oh! Christabel! The three bastard brothers are stacked, one upon the other, in three unbroken lines! The very symbol of solid stillness! They beckon! More children! I—must—F L Y!


Young Sailor Brougham
Far away from home
Took ‘is life alone
when ‘e jumped into the foam.

Oh, Young Sailor Brougham
Jumped into the foam
Ali’ alive—O
An’ ne’er made it home!

Young Sailor Brougham
Seven Seas did ‘e roam
ate the blue bean bowl
An’ ‘e ne’er finished ‘is poem!

Chorus Repeat:
Oh, Young Sailor Brougham
Jumped into the foam
Ali’ alive— O
An’ ne’er made it home!

© Youssef Alaoui-Fdili


Youssef Alaoui-Fdili is a Moroccan American Latino. His family and heritage are an endless source of inspiration for his varied, dark, spiritual and carnal writings. He has an MFA in Poetics from New College of California. There, he studied Classical Arabic, Spanish Baroque and Contemporary Moroccan poetry. He is also well versed in the most dour and macabre literature of the nineteenth century. Youssef is an original creator of the East Bay literary arts festival “Beast Crawl.” Find out more about Youssef, his writing, and his inventive and violent nineteenth century style novel “The Blue Demon” at