from ULTRAZONE: TANGIER TOMBSTONE BLUES
A collaborative work-in-progress
Editor’s Note: This is the first part in a weekly series of an excerpt from a new work by Francis Poole & Mark Terrill.
ULTRAZONE: Tangier Tombstone Blues is a fictional tale about the ghost of William S. Burroughs returning to Tangier to try to find and destroy a lost manuscript of his, in which he believes the “Ugly Spirit” is dwelling, the same Ugly Spirit that had been haunting him ever since he accidently shot his wife, Joan Vollmer, in Mexico City in 1951. There are also appearances by the ghosts of Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin, Joseph Dean (of Dean’s Bar), Brian Jones and others, as well as many living persons, both real and fictional, as there are several intertwining subplots. Despite the macabre nature of the storyline, it’s a humorous tale, weaving fact and fiction and much local Tangier color and history together into a sort of kaleidoscopic fable.
The inspiration for this collaboration came in part from Burroughs’s idea stated in The Third Mind, that “when you put two minds together…there is always a third mind…as an unseen collaborator.” Francis and Mark have already published two other collaborative chapbooks of poetry, The Spleen of Madrid and A Pair of Darts, both from the Feral Press, in 2012.
Tangier, Morocco is a strange and mysterious city which dates back at least 2500 years. But archeological evidence, including fossilized humanoid bones, shows that the land it sits on has been inhabited for much longer, perhaps as far back as 200,000 years. Some of the oldest historical relics in Tangier (besides the aged dowagers and queens who live in faded luxury on the Marshan) include a necropolis with Phoenician tombs. Legend says Tangier was founded by Antaeus, a Libyan giant who compelled visitors to wrestle with him and after killing them, built a house from their skulls. The city lies on the Northwestern tip of Africa, at the edge of the ancient world. Just to the east, the Pillars of Hercules, Jebel Tarik (Tarik’s Mountain or Gibraltar) and Jebel Moussa (Mountain of Moses) guard the entrance to the Mediterranean which separates Spain and Christendom from Muslim North Africa.
During the International Zone or “Interzone” days of the 1940s and 1950s, Tangier had a reputation as an inexpensive and permissive city where artists, poets, and writers could go and be left alone. The climate was temperate and its international community and close proximity to Europe made it more accessible than lands further east. Though American expatriate writers Paul and Jane Bowles became most closely associated with Tangier, other names from that time that came and went included Francis Bacon, Truman Capote, and Tennessee Williams. Artist and experimental writer Brion Gysin became obsessed with the music of the Master Musicians of Jajouka and introduced them to the Rolling Stones in the 1960s. William Burroughs moved to Tangier in the 1950s where he tried to kick a drug habit while writing his “routines,” which were eventually edited into what became his infamous novel Naked Lunch. Burroughs called Tangier “a sanctuary of noninterference.” Though its clear blue skies, views of the Mediterranean, and exotic mixture of cultures beckon, Tangier’s charms only slightly veil the underlying currents of an impenetrable native consciousness where belief in animism and the casting of magically induced spells continues to this day. It is a city which attracts more than its share of neurotics, smugglers, drifters, hustlers, poseurs, and lost souls. They come from America and all over Europe, drawn like insects to a black-light bug-zapper.
The British have had an interest in Tangier since the seventeenth century when it was acquired as part of a dowry given Charles II in his marriage to the Portuguese Infanta Catherine of Braganza. However, the English were subject to ceaseless attack by local tribes and in 1684 abandoned the city after first destroying it. As it is their nature to believe they have the right to feel at home anywhere, the British found it difficult to keep away and over the next two centuries gradually filtered back in. In August 1883, Sir John Hay Drummond Hay, Her Britannic Majesty’s Minister to Tangier, made a request to the Sultan of Morocco for land on which to build an “English Church.”
By October of that year a message from the Sultan was delivered by the Khalifa, the Sultan’s representative in Tangier, that His Majesty was pleased to grant the infidels a parcel of land to be used for the purpose of erecting a place of worship. The site granted by the Sultan was on the western edge of the main bazaar, or Grand Socco, and was wedged between two Muslim cemeteries and a coal market. The land was bounded on the right by a foul stream. In late 1884, a prefabricated iron church was purchased from a company in London and erected in twenty-eight days. This temporary church served the parishioners of Tangier for a few years until a permanent church was completed in 1897. Constructed in the Moorish style by builders and craftsmen from Fez, the completed church was named for St. Andrew the Apostle. The Church of St. Andrew, or St. Andrew’s as it would be called, was an example of the finest design and artistic standards in the Andalusian tradition.
The St. Andrew’s Church cemetery was not established until 1906. This followed the drawing up of burial regulations by the church wardens. Initially only British subjects had the right to burial in the cemetery. There were regulations dealing with the size of plots and the designs of any tombstones. A church committee had to approve any proposed tombstone and forbade the inclusion of guardian angels perched forlornly on broken urns, no mournful Madonnas, and no plump cherubs cavorting across headstones. The first person to be buried in the churchyard was Edward Joseph Taylor who had died of typhoid. He was laid to rest on 9 April, 1906. Not long after, a plan for the proper layout of the cemetery was drawn up complete with landscaping and plantings by a trained gardener and horticulturist.
The establishment of the St. Andrew’s Church cemetery came as a relief to the Anglo-Christian community, owing to the careless way burials had been performed at another Tangier cemetery where the English were interred. There, graves were often too shallow and haphazardly dug, leading to the opening of vaults and other abuses. As a result many coffins and their contents had to be exhumed for reburial. In short, it was difficult for the dead to find a well-deserved and eternal repose before St. Andrew’s opened its welcoming arms. But was the peace and quiet to last?
It was that time of day when the length of a man’s shadow is the same as his height, and in the cemetery of the Anglican Church of St. Andrew in Tangier, Morocco, there’s one single shadow that always falls in the wrong direction. It’s the shadow of Walter Harris, usually wearing one the many Riffian tribal disguises he had worn when alive. Harris had lived in Tangier for many years as a correspondent for The Times and as a member of M16, the British foreign secret service. A world traveler, an arms dealer, a colorful, gay expatriate author shrouded in mystery and intrigue; in many ways Harris was the ur-Tangerino, a prototype for the many characters that would come to populate Tangier in the years to come.
Harris had died in Malta in 1933 at the age of 66 and his body was returned to Tangier and buried in the St. Andrew’s cemetery. With Harris’ long life in Morocco, his many legendary exploits, and highly placed friends, his funeral was memorable. The Tangier Gazette reported that an immense crowd followed his cortège from the port up through the medina. Among the chief mourners were the distinguished Moroccans, Sir Mehdi Menebhi and Sidi Kacem Duckali. No British chaplain was waiting there, however, to receive this huge funeral throng, for Harris, a convert from Quakerism to Roman Catholicism, was buried at St. Andrew’s by Padre Pedro Ruiz, the Franciscan Superior at the Spanish Cathedral. A simple and elegant headstone in the form of a miniature Moorish façade sheltered by a projecting roof of green tiles was later erected over Walter Harris’ grave. Since then his ghost had reportedly been seen many times at night moving through the churchyard in the leafy shadows cast by the full moon, and sometimes even in broad daylight. His ghost was a restless one, perhaps anxious to get back to Malta, but unable to do so as long as his remains were interred in Tangier.
Moustapha, the cemetery watchman, although relatively well-versed in Moroccan black magic, didn’t know the appropriate spell for getting rid of the ghost of the Englishman. Having been brought up as a Muslim, Moustapha was taught that ghosts as such did not exist, only djinns, supernatural creatures who inhabit an unseen world in dimensions beyond the visible universe of humans. Like human beings, djinns can be good, evil or neutrally benevolent, and hence have free will like humans and unlike angels. But after his many years as watchman in the cemetery, Moustapha had come to believe that ghosts existed as well, often haunting a particular locale, and thus becoming a source of continual annoyance, as was the case with the ghost of Walter Harris. There was a café not far from the cemetery where an old sorcerer with a lazy eye could usually be found smoking kif. On several occasions Moustapha had seen him in the cemetery picking datura flowers and other strange plants. Perhaps it was time to pay him a visit.
Zora, the queen of the cemetery cats, came up and rubbed herself against Moustapha’s leg and gave him one of those looks. Zora’s looks always meant something and Moustapha wondered what it was this time. Then Moustapha noticed a shadow moving behind a large tombstone. He grabbed his staff and walked slowly toward the grave, his footsteps on the dry leaves the only sound in the otherwise silent cemetery.
Moustapha heard the sudden metallic twang of a sitar and immediately knew whose shadow he’d seen; it was Ravi Kahn, the expatriate Indian sitar player, getting ready to play another one of his devotional ragas at the foot of the grave of his wife, the German neo-fauvist painter, Brunhilde Reinhart. Ravi Kahn’s brother, Tarik, owned a small bacal in the Zoco Chico and Moustapha remembered that he owed him 500 dirhams. So there was no need for a confrontation with Ravi Khan. Moustapha turned slowly around and walked back to his post near the cemetery gate. Maybe I can ask the sorcerer for a spell that will make Tarik forget what I owe him, Moustapha thought. And, Allah be praised, if that works I would also like to silence that cursed sitar. And for the grand finale maybe we can get rid of the bothersome ghost of that Englishman.
But all that together would be a lot to ask and the sorcerer would want to be reimbursed commensurately. Normally a sheep or a goat would cover the bill but Moustapha had neither. The only thing he had of any real value was an old dusty fedora that Moustapha’s mother had given him, a leftover relic from the days when she worked as a maid in the Villa Muniria, the hotel where William S. Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch, and where many other members of the Beat Generation stayed, including Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. Moustapha’s mother didn’t know for sure who the hat used to belong to, although she was under the impression that its previous owner had been Paul Lund, an ex-con and former smuggler who later ran a bar in the Zoco Chico. But Moustapha’s mother was dead and there was no one to challenge him were he to claim that the hat had indeed once belonged to William S. Burroughs, which would make it a much more valuable item, perhaps even something he could sell to the right collector or even some unsuspecting tourist.
From the tinny-sounding loudspeakers mounted on the minaret of a nearby mosque came the lo-fi, scratchy sound of the Asr, the pre-recorded muezzin’s call to the afternoon prayer; “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar…,” which went wavering out over the sun-drenched rooftops where laundry flapped in the afternoon breeze coming in off the Strait of Gibraltar.
Moustapha took advantage of the timing and slipped out of the cemetery and walked over to his sister Laila’s house where he often ate and slept, and where had stored a few possessions in an old trunk. Laila asked if he would like something to eat but Moustapha seemed in a hurry and said he only wanted to get something from the trunk to sell in the market. After getting the fedora, Moustapha left and went to his regular café on the boulevard. It was filled with a noisy late afternoon crowd who were drinking tea and smoking. He sat nervously fingering the hat brim as a waiter approached. The waiter was an old friend. “Salaam,” said the waiter, eyeing the fedora. “That hat looks like it belonged to a Nazrani. Did you steal it?”
If there was one thing that Moustapha could not tolerate, it was being falsely accused of some wrongdoing. “No,” he said adamantly. “My mother gave it to me. She used to work at the Hotel El Muniria, where many foreign writers used to live. One of them left his hat there when he couldn’t pay his bill. Now he’s a famous writer and I hope to sell the hat.”
“What famous writer?” asked the waiter.
“Never heard of him.”
The waiter turned and walked away. Moustapha looked across the street and saw Aicha, the ancient prostitute and part-time sorceress with all her garish make-up and that Helen of Troy haircut. Some people said she was around when Picasso painted Guernica. These days she was just a walking monument to times gone by.
During her years as a prostitute Aicha had known many famous men and women and was rumored to have learned sorcery and magic at the hands of a Riffian woman. It was said that Aicha put spells on several wealthy expatriates including Barbara Hutton. The results were that she was given large sums of money by these Tangerinos, enough even to live on in her small villa on the Old Mountain. Aicha’s sister, Cherifa, had a long, troubled liaison with Jane Bowles, and was said to be partly responsible for Jane’s ill-health and eventual death.
Moustapha wondered if Aicha would be interested in helping him with his problems; not by selling her the alleged William Burroughs hat, but by offering to give her plant cuttings from the graves in St. Andrew’s cemetery. Among believers it was thought that materia magica from Nazrani graves held great powers when used in sorcery. The more Moustapha thought about it the more he liked the idea. Perhaps he could even offer to sell Aicha some pieces of the tombstones, thus also making some money for himself. He finished his glass of tea and watched Aicha as she disappeared among the crowds on the boulevard.
Moustapha paid for his tea and started down the boulevard in the direction that Aicha had gone. He finally caught up to her but remained slightly behind, following her as she turned down several side streets and entered the door of a small windowless bar. It was the sort of place that Moustapha would normally never go into, but he went in after Aicha.
It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. There was a bar along the right and some tables to the left, where Aicha was seated alone. On the walls hung portraits painted in Day-Glo colors on black velvet of Janis Joplin, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Lee and other celebrities. The jukebox was playing a song by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Moustapha went over and sat down at Aicha’s table, just as the waiter was approaching. Moustapha gestured toward Aicha and she ordered a cognac and he ordered a bottle of Stork beer, both of which he paid for.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Aicha asked, raising one of her painted-on eyebrows.
“I need your help. And maybe you need mine.”
Moustapha then explained his situation and elaborated on the datura and other exotic plants in the cemetery, also mentioning the possibility of him selling her some pieces of the old tombstones.
Aicha sipped at her cognac, obviously considering Moustapha’s offer. “And you say that hat belonged to William Burroughs?”
“Yes, with absolute certainty.”
“Well, starting with your first problem, the best way to fight ghosts is with another ghost. With that hat, I can try to conjure up the ghost of William Burroughs, and with him we can chase out the other ghosts from the cemetery. There’s no guarantee, but it’s worth a try. Tonight we have a full moon, which is perfect. We should meet at midnight at the cemetery. I’ll bring most of what we’ll need; the rest I can get there.”
Moustapha, looking stunned, nodded and said, “Yes, fine.”
Aicha finished her cognac and without saying anything more, got up and walked out of the bar. Moustapha looked at the hat which was on his lap and thought, Hey hat, you are going to bring magic and good luck. He drank the last of the Stork and left.
As he walked up the street toward the boulevard, Moustapha had an idea. He would stop by the Hotel El Muniria where Burroughs had stayed in case Burroughs’ ghost was nearby. If the hat had indeed belonged to Burroughs perhaps it would take on some of Burroughs’ mojo and acquire more power; power that Aicha could use. Moustapha knew the woman who managed the hotel and for a few dirhams he was sure she would let him in. He knocked on the door and a maid opened it holding a bucket of bleach water in one hand. He asked if the manager was there and was told she was at the market. Moustapha asked if he could come in and the maid said no, unless he wanted to rent a room. He then offered her five dirhams if she would just let him see the room that William Burroughs had stayed in. The maid seemed annoyed but shrugged and took the money.
Moustapha followed her down a flight of stairs and along a short hallway which led to the garden made famous in the photos of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky Gregory Corso, Paul Bowles, Alan Ansen, and Ian Sommerville when they had visited Burroughs in the 1950s. She stopped in front of a dark blue door with the number 9 on it. “This is the Burroughs room. I was about to clean the floors but you can have a quick look and then you must leave.” She opened the door and Moustapha felt a cold blast of air on his face and neck. He tried to step inside but the maid, who was rather stout, blocked him. He could see the room was simply furnished with a bed, a chair, a few pieces of Moroccan folk art on the walls, and a small table with a lamp on it. Above the bed was a framed photo of William Burroughs wearing a fedora. Burroughs’ deadpan yet piercing gaze seemed to be looking directly into his soul. The hair on the back of Moustapha’s neck stood up and he backed away. His hands were shaking as he surreptitiously rubbed the hat against the door. “Now get out before someone sees you,” said the maid. She then closed the door and locked it. When Moustapha stepped outside into Calle Magellenes the hat actually felt warmer and Moustapha smiled to himself. Perhaps the hat had picked up some of Burroughs’ ghostly power. Since it was now close to 5 o’clock and time to lock the gate to the cemetery, Moustapha hurried back to St. Andrew’s. He had left his young nephew Yousef to watch over things while he was gone.
As Moustapha passed the café where he had been earlier, the waiter came out and called after him. Moustapha turned and went back. “There were two American tourists here after you left, young kids with long hair and rucksacks. They were asking about Paul Bowles and Mohammed Mrabet and that writer you mentioned, Burroughs. I told them I knew someone who wanted to sell his hat and they were very interested. I sent them up to the cemetery to find you.”
“It’s not for sale anymore.” Moustapha could feel the hat getting even warmer in his hands as he spoke.
“How could I know that? I only wanted to help you.”
“Never mind,” Moustapha said, and turned and started toward the cemetery, aware of the hat getting warmer and warmer as he walked. When he arrived at the gate of the cemetery he looked for Yousef but didn’t see him anywhere. He walked a little way into the cemetery and called his nephew’s name but there was no sign of him. Zora the cat came out from behind a tombstone and looked up at Moustapha with what he interpreted to be a concerned expression. She seemed to be looking at something behind him but before Moustapha could turn around he heard their voices.
“Hey, there’s the dude with Burroughs’ hat.”
Moustapha turned around and saw two kids, maybe in their late teens or early twenties, one with long curly brown hair and brown eyes, the other with long blonde hair and blue eyes. They were wearing T-shirts, shorts and sandals, with large rucksacks on their backs. The one with the brown hair approached Moustapha. “Hey, is that the hat you want to sell, the one that used to belong to William Burroughs?”
Moustapha looked down at the hat, hesitated a moment, then looked back up at the two kids. “It’s no longer for sale. I still need it.”
“What do you mean, you still need it? I’ll give you fifty dollars for it, right now.” The kid produced a fifty dollar bill and waved it in the air.
Moustapha could feel the hat getting still warmer, even starting to get hot now. “No,” he said, “I still need the hat. Maybe later.”
“Ah, come on man, I’ll make it a hundred.” The kid produced another fifty dollar bill and waved them both in the air.
“No, I’m sorry. Like I said, perhaps later, tomorrow or the next day.” By now the hat was almost too hot to hold in his hands.
“Okay, dude, we’ll come back tomorrow. Can I just see it for a moment? Maybe try it on?”
Moustapha could anyway barely hold the hat anymore. He tossed it to the kid who grabbed it out of the air and put it on his head.
“Perfect fit! But hey, what the hell? It’s hot, like way fucking hot. What’s that all about? Shit, man, it’s…” But before the kid could finish the hat burst into flames. He knocked it off his head and it landed on the ground between the three of them, where it flared up into an inferno of blue, red, green and gold flames, with showers of sparks and acrid white smoke.
“What the fuck, man,” said the blonde haired kid, stepping back from the flames. “This is some kind of wacky Moroccan voodoo or something.”
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” said the brown haired kid, and the two of them turned and ran out of the cemetery.
Moustapha tried as best he could to stomp out the flames but by the time the fire was out there remained only a pile of flaky black ashes. He went into the tiny watchman’s shack next to the gate and grabbed a sheet of old newspaper, then returned to the ashes and scooped them up into the newspaper and folded it up into a small packet that he put into the pocket of his djellaba. He called out for Yousef again but there was still no sign of him. He locked the gate of the cemetery and was about to start off when something in the cemetery caught his eye. Amidst the long shadows cast by the tombstones in the early evening light there was one shadow that was definitely leaning in the wrong direction. Moustapha spat on the ground and turned and started toward his sister’s house, where hopefully dinner would be waiting for him.
When the taxi let Aicha off at her villa on the Old Mountain, Mohammed, her watchman, was standing by to open the large wooden gate for her. Suddenly and at exactly the same moment that the old fedora burst into flames, Aicha felt a burning pain at the back of her neck. Ah, she thought, I must try to find the source of this pain. When Aicha entered her house, she went straight to the salon, removed her caftan and stretched out on the banquette. Pressing her fingers to her temples, she was able to visualize the scene with the young Americans, Moustapha, and Burroughs’ hat. When she saw the burning hat she realized that Burroughs’ ghost, or the djinn, or whatever spiritual entity had been inhabiting the hat, was now free. Now all Moustapha had was a pile of useless ashes.
But why did it go up in flames, and if it was indeed Burroughs’ ghost where had it gone? Aicha thought about the possibilities. The ghost must still be in the cemetery, perhaps now searching for something new to inhabit. This will be more difficult than I thought and Moustapha (whom Aicha was now regarding as somewhat of a fool) will have to give me more than a few plant cuttings and pieces of Nazrani tombs.
It was now almost ten o’clock and the full moon had just risen over the Bay of Tangier. Aicha went to her bedroom and opened an old inlaid wooden box which was sitting on a table. Inside were various dried herbs and other objects: small vials of water from magic springs in the Rif; monkey teeth; horned viper skin; tiger whiskers; falcon claws; dried lizard feet; and a small leather bag containing her fingernail and pubic hair clippings. As Aicha opened the box, the burning pain on her neck suddenly disappeared. She selected several items and put them into a small black velvet pouch with gold-braided drawstrings which she then put in the pocket of her haik. One item that she still needed and which was not in the box was dried snail slime. She closed the lid of the box and went out the back door of the kitchen and down the steps into the large garden.
Clouds were scudding past overhead, propelled by the stiff breeze blowing through the strait. One minute the full moon would be shining down with its bright metallic intensity, the next minute a wall of passing clouds would plunge the night into murky darkness. Across the strait could be seen the twinkling lights of the coast of Spain. Aicha made her way through the garden toward the fish pond which was behind a large bamboo grove. The wind rustled the leaves of the bamboo in erratic crescendos. Aicha approached the fish pond and in a flash of moonlight saw the goldfish and koi circling slowly in the depths of the pond, their bodies glowing iridescently in the moonlight. Across the stones surrounding the fish pond Aicha saw a trail of snail slime shimmering in the moonlight. With a paring knife she’d taken from the kitchen she scraped a small amount of the dried snail slime into a small piece of paper which she then carefully folded and added to the other items in the black velvet pouch.
From a nearby villa came the sound of some sort of amplified music, somewhat distorted by the rise and fall of the wind. At first she thought it was an electric guitar, but then recognized it as an electric oud. It must have been that strange musician from New York, Tony Mahoney, who had a recording studio in his villa and liked to practice with all the doors and windows open, which Aicha sometimes found quite irritating. From the other direction further up on the Old Mountain she heard a low roar, followed by other roars and some deep growling. That would be the lions and tigers that belonged to Mr. Garland, the eccentric English millionaire with the large menagerie of exotic animals.
While Aicha was standing there listening to the rustling of the bamboo, the wavering electric oud music and the distant roaring of the lions and tigers, something suddenly caught her attention. She looked down at the fishpond and saw the fish circling around until they suddenly stopped moving, as though frozen in the water. Together, the goldfish and the koi formed the features of a man’s face, looking up from the depths of the pond. It was a gaunt, bony face peering out from under the brim of a fedora perched on his head. It was a face she had not seen for years but recognized well; it was William Burroughs. The goldfish and the koi started swimming in lazy circles again, breaking up the apparition as suddenly as it had formed. Aicha shuddered and realized that she might be getting involved in something that exceeded her own powers and knowledge. She quickly and silently recited the Verse of the Throne and the last three chapters of the Qur’an.
Aicha turned and started back through the garden toward the steps to the kitchen. She’d thought of a plan that would require the assistance of someone in the expatriate community and decided to call Mr. Everly Tweed.
Moustapha sat sullenly on the banquette in the salon in his sister Laila’s house. The meal spread out on the low table before him was his favorite, chicken tagine, but he was so worried about the destroyed fedora that he could barely eat. How would he explain the handful of ashes to Aicha? And without the hat how would she be able to conjure up the ghost of William Burroughs to chase the bothersome ghosts from the cemetery? Moustapha got up and walked into the kitchen. He remembered his sister usually kept a small jar of majoun for the maids and he felt like having some. He found the jar on a shelf behind some other cans and jars and took a small Moroccan teaspoon and scooped up a little of the dark jam which he quickly put in his mouth and swallowed with difficulty. Then he rinsed the spoon off and put it in the sink before his sister came back in.
When he left the kitchen he heard his sister’s husband talking in the salon. Her husband Ahmed, who worked for the fire department, always seemed annoyed whenever Moustapha came by the house to eat or to spend the night. As he entered the salon, Ahmed said, “You look lost. What’s the matter? Don’t you like the tagine?” Moustapha replied that he wasn’t feeling well and was only thirsty. Laila poured him a glass of water which he hurriedly drank to wash down the majoun. “I have to go back to the mesquita now. There were some strange young Nazranis there today asking questions and I want to make sure the gate is locked. Those hippies will steal anything.”
“Next time you come for dinner bring your hunger,” Ahmed said.
Moustapha said nothing as he let himself out and stepped into the street. It will take the spirit of the majoun a while to reveal itself to me, he thought, and headed up to the Café Hafa.
Not only was Moustapha’s sister a wonderful cook, but she was also an excellent maker of majoun. She used nothing but the best dates, nuts, honey, and kif from the biggest strongest buds from Chefchaouen that she could afford. Even before Moustapha reached the entrance to the Café Hafa he was aware of the streets starting to look stranger and stranger as he walked along. The wind was rustling in the trees making strange noises and the trees under the streetlights were casting flickering shadows across the street and the whitewashed walls of the buildings as he walked along. A cat dashed across the street in front of him and suddenly stopped and looked up at him and Moustapha would have sworn the cat had a human face. Moustapha shut his eyes and shook his head and when he opened his eyes again the cat had disappeared.
Moustapha went into the café and out into the garden, which was a series of tiered terraces perched at the edge of the cliff overlooking the strait and the distant coast of Spain, which faded in and out of view as the clouds passed by before the full moon. Moustapha sat at his usual table at the uppermost terrace and looked out at the view. He ordered a mint tea and started looking around at the other tables. This was a strange place, Moustapha thought. So many famous writers and artists and musicians had been here and hung out over the decades; the Beatles had been here, the Rolling Stones, Jean Genet, Paul Bowles and many of the Beat writers, including William Burroughs. In a way the Café Hafa was sort of like a cemetery. Probably plenty of ghosts wandering around here as well, he thought.
The familiar clicking of a backgammon game interrupted Moustapha’s reverie and he looked down and saw Mr. Garland at a table on the terrace just below, with his tame ocelot with its jewel-studded collar and leash lying on the ground next to him. Mr. Garland was playing backgammon with a lady in fancy evening dress with a mink stole, wearing too much make-up and a ridiculous blonde wig which only made her look even older than she was. Moustapha shook his head a smiled a spiteful smile. Someday he would be pulling the weeds and watering the flowers on their graves in the St. Andrew’s cemetery.
The ocelot slowly turned its head and looked up at Moustapha and the animal’s face looked even more human than Mr. Garland or his female companion. The ocelot was moving its lips as though it was trying to say something. Moustapha quickly looked away and took a sip of his tea. At another table further below, close to the wall to the west, there sat a large group of young foreign tourists, laughing and talking and drinking beer. They were speaking English but judging by their accents they were not Americans or English but mixed Europeans, speaking heavily accented Euro-English. One of the tourists, a young girl dressed in a black armless t-shirt and black shorts and black leather boots, heavily tattooed and pierced, was wearing a slightly beat-up looking fedora tipped back on her head.
Moustapha sipped at his tea and watched the tourists. Something at the edge of his vision caught his eye and he looked down and saw a small lizard on the top of the low wall next to his table. Moustapha almost choked on his tea when he saw that the lizard’s face was a human one, with a pained, anguished expression, looking up at him as though it was about to cry. Moustapha quickly looked away.
The wind was blowing through the garden in occasional strong gusts. Maybe the wind would blow the lady’s wig off, Moustapha thought to himself and laughed. He then noticed his friend Driss sitting at a table further down. He was sitting with some other men that Moustapha didn’t know, and they were all smoking kif. Driss was always smoking kif. He ran a small bazaar near the Hotel Minzah that was primarily for tourists. He also dealt kif on the side, both to tourists and natives. He always had the best quality kif that was available. Moustapha waved and caught the attention of Driss, and motioned for him to come up to his table and join him. They exchanged greetings and Moustapha told Driss about his current situation, the troubles at the cemetery, the flaming fedora that allegedly belonged to William Burroughs, and his imminent appointment with Aicha.
Driss loaded his pipe and passed it to Moustapha. “Here, my friend, this may not solve your problems but it may make them appear somewhat smaller.”
Moustapha was already feeling the effects of the majoun in such a way that he didn’t need any kif, but he didn’t want to appear impolite, as he was considering asking Driss a favor.
“You see the hat that girl in black is wearing at that table down there?”
Driss looked and nodded.
“I need one like that. Tonight. Right now. Do you have any hats like that in your bazaar?”
Driss leaned back and stroked his chin thoughtfully. “No, my friend, I’m afraid not.”
Driss began to load his pipe again and suddenly there was a scream and they both looked down and saw the girl in black reaching up for her fedora, which had been caught in a strong gust of wind and was now sailing over the wall of the garden. The girl and some others at the table got up and went over to the wall where the hat had disappeared somewhere in the darkness below. Be it Allah’s doing or whatever, Moustapha saw the window of opportunity opening before him.
He finished his tea, bid farewell to Driss, and descended the steps to where the foreign tourists were. He went over and stood next to the girl in black and looked over the waist-high wall where the others were looking down into the adjacent empty lot, which was totally overgrown with weeds and brambles.
“Does anyone see it?” The girl was asking the others.
“No, it’s too dark,” said a tall blonde guy.
“I see it,” Moustapha said. “It’s stuck in the limbs of that tree over there.”
“Oh shit,” said the girl. “How will I ever get it back?”
“I can get it for you,” said Moustapha.
“Really? You think so? That would be great. I absolutely have to have it back.”
Moustapha went down the lowest terrace where the wall was even lower and let himself down into the brush and brambles below. He slowly started working his way back up along the other side of the wall. It was tough going. The thorns were ripping holes in his djellaba and scratching his hands and arms. Moustapha worked his way up to where the tourists were leaning over the wall and then turned in the direction of the tree where the hat was. He stood there and looked up at the hat in the tree, wondering how he could get it down. The majoun had made him feel like he was floating on a cloud, on the verge of falling asleep. But the kif he’d smoked with Driss was now working in his head. He felt as strong as a hundred donkeys about to plow the fields. He shimmied up the tree and grabbed the hat.
“I’ve got it!” Moustapha yelled up to the tourists.
“Oh great!” the girl shrieked.
As Moustapha was shimmying down the tree a branch broke and he lost his footing and fell, landing on some springy bushes from where he bounced further down the hill. He was unable to stop his momentum and the branches he grabbed broke off in his hands as he tumbled further and further down the hillside toward the beach below. Finally he landed with a thud on the sand of the beach, just a few yards from the breaking surf. Still clutching the battered fedora, Moustapha got to his feet and looked down at his ripped djellaba and the bloody cuts and scrapes on his arms and legs. But nothing was broken, the brush and shrubs having cushioned his fall on the way down the hillside. His years as a member of his family’s acrobatic troupe had paid off well. But now what? It would be impossible to make his way back up to the café the same way he’d come down, meaning he would have to walk all the way around by way of the Kasbah and the harbor, or the other way around via Merkala Beach, both of which would take way too long. He looked down at his watch, the glass of which was scratched and cracked. It was twenty minutes before twelve. If he hurried, he could just make the cemetery by midnight, where Aicha would hopefully be waiting for him. With the crumpled fedora under his arm, Moustapha set off for the Church of St. Andrew.
Seated in the back of the petit-taxi coming down from the Old Mountain, Aicha clutched the black velvet pouch which contained the magical items she had selected, items which she would have to use in place of the destroyed Burroughs’ hat. She pulled back the sleeve of her haik and looked at the antique gold watch which had been given to her by Jane Bowles before she left to die in the Catholic convent in Málaga. The tiny gold hands showed it was a quarter to twelve. As the taxi rattled along down the Old Mountain Road suddenly the figure of a disheveled man stumbled out of the darkness and into the headlights’ glare.
Aicha shouted Arête to the driver who pulled the taxi over to the side of the road. The man approached limping from where they had passed him. Aicha had thought he looked like Moustapha and as he got closer, she realized that was who it was. The driver opened the front passenger door and Moustapha slid into the seat beside him. “Shukran, baraka laoufik.” The driver looked at Moustapha, said nothing and then glanced in the rear view mirror at Aicha, who had put her veil on. Aicha nodded back at the driver to proceed and they continued on down toward the town.
The driver noticed that Moustapha was holding a crumpled man’s hat and wondered if he might have attacked and robbed one of the Europeans who lived high up on the Old Mountain. That might explain the fresh cuts and scratches on his hands and face. Not wanting to know whatever this apparent madman was involved in, he drove in silence until they reached the gate of the Church of St. Andrew. At this point Aicha handed the driver several dirhams and let herself out. Moustapha then opened his door and falteringly made it to his feet.
Without looking back he walked slowly to the iron gate and unlocked it with the oversize skeleton key. The effects of the majoun, more kif at the café, and his fall, had left Moustapha feeling woozy and out of focus. Aicha looked at him and said, “You are m’hashish, no?”
“Yes, I ate some majoun and smoked a little kif at the café,” said Moustapha. “I thought it would calm my nerves.” As he entered the grounds he heard footsteps behind him, turned and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. There a few meters away stood the gaunt figure of William Burroughs. Moustapha stopped dead with shock. The figure was wearing his usual horn-rimmed glasses, rumpled suit and tie but was hatless.
“Well, well, if it isn’t old Moustapha,” he spoke in a nasally, uninflected drone, as flat and dry as the prairies surrounding St. Louis; “Friend to every Nazrani corpse in Tangier, or Tanjah as Brion used to say.” The voice was unmistakably Burroughs’.
“How about handing over my fedora and we’ll discuss the situation. You see, I am keenly aware of your, um, problems and maybe we can be of use to each other.”
His mouth hanging open in disbelief, Moustapha turned toward Aicha, who was just now stepping out of the shadows into the pool of light cast by the single lamp at the cemetery gate.
“Aha,” said the ghost of Burroughs, “Look what the cat dragged in. It’s the Wicked Witch of the Rif.”
Aicha stood there clutching the black velvet bag in one hand, with her other hand on her hip, slowly shaking her head while looking at Moustapha. “First you come here with the intention of giving me that phony hat which never belonged to William Burroughs, to cover the loss of that other hat which actually belonged to Paul Lund, and now you have this imposter in tow, impersonating Burroughs’ ghost. For what sort of fool do you take me, Moustapha?”
Moustapha’s head was spinning. He no longer understood what was happening. “What do you mean?”
“That is not the ghost of Bill Burroughs. Do you really think he would just show up here on his own accord, as if he had nothing better to do than help out some poor hapless Hacheichi cemetery watchman?”
“But… But, if it’s not the ghost of Burroughs then who is it?”
“Don’t listen to that old whore, Moustapha. Of course it’s me. I remember you from when your mother worked at the Muniria.”
Moustapha scratched his head and took a step back.
“Nonsense,” Aicha said to Moustapha, obviously somewhat perturbed. “That’s just a djinn who has assumed the form of the ghost of Burroughs, working together with your subconscious and your will, both of which are completely under the spell of all the majoun and kif you’ve had. And you know as well as I do that a djinn can be more dangerous than any ghost.”
“And what makes you say that this is not Burroughs’ hat?” Moustapha asked, his mind still swimming in a sea of confusion.
“I know everything I need to know and what I don’t know I find out.”
“Ah, a clairvoyant whore to boot,” said the Burroughs figure.
“Come, Moustapha, we have work to do if we want to get the real ghost of Burroughs to appear. Get me a mijmah and make a fire.”
Moustapha looked at the djinn and shrugged his shoulders and went into the watchman’s shack next to the gate and got the brazier and some charcoal. When he came out the djinn was gone without a trace.
Aicha told Moustapha to walk back into the cemetery near the grave of Walter Harris. “Moustapha, place the mijmah at the head of the tomb and light the charcoal.” While Moustapha readied the mijmah, Aicha slipped into the darkness where the Burroughs-djinn waited just out of earshot from where Moustapha knelt fanning the coals. Aicha handed the djinn a 50 dirham note. The “djinn” was actually Mr. Everly Tweed, an old alcoholic Irishman who lived in a small house near the Café de los Navigantes in the medina. Tall and gaunt, with black horn-rimmed glasses, he was the perfect Burroughs stand-in, and always willing to do anything for the price of a few drinks. Aicha pulled her veil down and said, “When Moustapha has the mijmah ready I will do my magic and convince him that you are the real ghost of Burroughs. You must threaten him so he will be afraid. Then he will be completely in my power.”
“That sounds delightfully devious,” said the Irishman. “Perhaps you could see your way to easing me another fifty dirhams? I worked quite hard on perfecting the St. Louis accent.”
Aicha hated to be chiseled by men, especially Nazrani men. But there was no time to bicker. She slipped Tweed another 50 dirham note and gave him a disparaging look and turned and made her way back to Walter Harris’ grave where she saw that the coals in the mijmah were glowing a bright orange. Good, she thought. Now he will be my goat.
Moustapha was startled when Aicha appeared and jumped to his feet.
“Now Moustapha,” she said. “You must do as I say or things may go badly for you and perhaps others also.”
“What do you mean, others?” Moustapha asked.
“Your sister Laila kept the Nazrani hat hidden in her house for you. A hat inhabited by strange powers. Isn’t that true?”
Moustapha nodded sullenly.
“Now walk over to that marble gravestone, the one with the Egyptian Ankh carving.”
Moustapha did as he was told. Aicha went on; “I want you to lie down on the gravestone and close your eyes. I will then summon the true ghost of William S. Burroughs.”
Moustapha walked unsteadily to the grave that Aicha had pointed out.
“Moustapha, you forgot the mijmah. Go back, get it, and place it at the foot of the grave. And hurry. I only have so much time for this and soon the moon will be a waning one.”
Moustapha, still very high from the majoun and kif, stumbled backwards, turned and picked up the mijmah, spilling some coals and trailing sparks as he carried it to the grave. Then he lay down on the cool, flat stone and closed his eyes. In seconds he began to feel at peace. It was as though he were a bird flying up through blue and white clouds to where the sky was clear. In the distance he heard Aicha’s voice repeating strange words. He then heard a hissing sound and smelled a scent that he remembered from his childhood; the dizzyingly sweet smell of datura blossoms.
“Moustapha, open your eyes.” Aicha said finally.
There at his feet in the white smoke rising from the mijmah stood the figure of William Burroughs. To Moustapha he didn’t look any different than the djinn, but apparently, by way of Aicha’s magic, this was the real ghost. But how could he know for sure?
Addressing Moustapha, the figure said, “Moustapha, tell me the truth. Is the hat you brought with you tonight really my hat?”
Moustapha turned his head to look at Aicha, who had her arms crossed across her chest. Then he looked back at the figure and said, “I told you, ghost or djinn or whatever you are, the hat belonged to that Hombré Invisible, Burroughs!”
Aicha bit her lip and the Burroughs figure reached inside his coat and pulled out a curved dagger. He then reached down and picked up a vase of narcissus that had been placed by the grave.
Then the Burroughs figure spoke; “Each one of these flowers represents one of your relatives. Every time I cut one with this dagger, a member of your family will fall ill or die.”
At this Moustapha stood up and said, “Aicha, I thought your magic was strong. And I thought this ghost was going to help us. Min fadlik, make him disappear!”
“You cannot lie to a ghost,” she said. “You must tell him the truth or he will haunt the cemetery forever and cause harm to you and your family. There is a turtle in this cemetery that hears and sees everything. He told me the hat of Burroughs originally belonged to Paul Lund and is anyway now only ashes.”
Moustapha, now terrified, shouted, “I lied. I lied. Take the damned hat!” and tossed the hat at the feet of the Burroughs figure. “Aicha, now do your magic and send this ghost to hell!” The Burroughs figure bent down and snatched up the hat as if he had just found ten-pound note.
“What are you prepared to do for me in return?” Aicha asked.
“Anything! Anything you wish!”
“You’ll let me take as many datura plants as I want?”
“You’ll let me take the tombstone of my choice?”
Aicha put two fingers to her lips and whistled loudly. The taxi driver appeared out of the shadows with a spade and some burlap gunny sacks. Aicha told him which datura plants she wanted and he began digging them up and placing them in the burlap sacks.
She then pointed out a weathered marble tombstone which lay nearby on the ground, and which had long since cracked into two pieces. It was the tombstone of Joseph Dean, former proprietor of Dean’s Bar, inscribed with the words, “Dean. Missed by all and Sundry.”
“No!” Moustapha said pleadingly, “Not that one! Everyone who comes here wants to see Dean’s grave. How will I ever be able to explain its absence? I will lose my job for sure!”
The Burroughs figure held up the flowers in one hand and the dagger in his other, slowly bringing them together, the blade just touching the stem of one of the flowers.
From the trunk of the taxi the driver produced a tire iron and used it to pry up the two halves of the broken tombstone, which he then placed in the trunk of the taxi, along with the burlap sacks of datura flowers.
From her perch high atop a nearby obelisk, where she had been watching the proceedings with increasing alarm, Zora the cat leaped through the air like a bolt of furry lightning and landed squarely on the back of Everly Tweed’s shoulders.
“What the bloody hell?” Tweed roared in his usual Irish brogue. Zora bit fiercely into his neck and Tweed screamed, dropping the dagger and the flowers, and with the hat in his hand started running toward the gate of the cemetery with Zora’s teeth still locked into his flesh.
Aicha and Moustapha looked at each other in stunned silence. Then Moustapha spoke; “Since when is a ghost afraid of a cat?”
Aicha frowned. “That wasn’t just a cat, that was another djinn, fighting for control of the ghost of Burroughs. This is getting very complicated. We are dealing with some very strong forces here.”
Very complicated indeed, Moustapha thought. He was about to explain that the cat was Zora and not a djinn but then he decided against it. There was something strange about Aicha’s particular brand of magic, and something very strange about the ghost of William Burroughs. And Moustapha suspected that it wasn’t just all the majoun and the kif he’d had.
“But there’s nothing more we can do now,” Aicha said. “The djinn broke the spell and scared the ghost away. We will have to wait until the next full moon and then try again.”
Aicha turned and followed the taxi driver back out through the gate. Moustapha heard the doors slam shut and the engine start and the taxi driving off into the night.
As Moustapha stood there in the ensuing silence, pondering all that had just happened, he felt something rubbing against his leg and looked down and saw Zora. This time it was a cat face, and not a human face, but Zora was smiling nonetheless.
Moustapha put out the fire in the mijmah, locked up the shack and the gate to the cemetery, and started walking toward the medina. Although it was already quite late, he knew he could still find the lazy-eyed sorcerer in his usual place in the Café Triangle.
(c) 2014 By The Authors
FRANCIS POOLE first visited Morocco in 1973 and 1975 and was eventually hired to teach English at the American School of Tangier in 1979. During this time he met and befriended Paul Bowles, in whose apartment he also met Mohamed Mrabet, Mohamed Temsamani, Mohamed Choukri, Gavin Lambert, Claude Thomas, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, and others. During Poole’s three-year stay in Tangier he wrote poetry and edited BLADES, a small magazine of experimental writing to which Paul Bowles contributed several items, including the first poem he ever wrote as a young child. After other teaching stints in Evora and Lisbon, Portugal, Poole eventually returned to the USA, where he became a film archivist at the University of Delaware, which had a substantial Paul Bowles collection. Poole was then able to negotiate the acquisition of a substantial amount of Bowles’s papers, notebooks, letters, and books, which greatly expanded the University of Delaware’s collection. Poole last spoke with Bowles in September, 1999, two months before his death. The outcome of that conversation was the last interview with Paul Bowles, which appeared in Five Points. Poole has published several collections of prose and poetry, including Everybody Comes to Dean’s; Dean’s Bar, Tangier, (Poporo Press, 2012), Snakeskin Raincoat (Poporo Press, 2013), and with Kevin Lacey he co-edited Mirrors on the Maghrib: Critical Reflections on Paul and Jane Bowles and Other American Writers in Morocco (Caravan Books, 1996.) His essay on Hollywood’s depiction of the Moroccan bandit, Moulay Ahmed al-Raisuli in The Wind and the Lion, was published in The Arab-African and Islamic Worlds: Interdisciplinary Studies, and an essay on William Burroughs and the Beats was published in International Quarterly. Other writings have appeared in the Village Voice, Exquisite Corpse, Black Moon, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Bukowski Review, Chiron Review, Lost and Found Times, New York Quarterly, Pearl, Poema Convidado, Poetry East, Rolling Stone, Shattered Wig Review and elsewhere. Recently he collaborated with Mark Terrill on two limited edition chapbooks of poetry illustrated with collages by John Digby, The Spleen of Madrid and A Pair of Darts (both Feral Press, 2012). Poole lives with his wife in Newark, Delaware.
MARK TERRILL shipped out of San Francisco as a merchant seaman to the Far East and beyond, and was a participant in a writing workshop with Paul Bowles at the American School of Tangier, Morocco, in 1982, resulting in a long-lasting friendship and many return visits to Tangier over the years. After extensive travels and stays in Europe, Terrill settled in Hamburg, Germany, in 1984, where he’s worked as a shipyard welder, road manager for rock bands, cook and postal worker. He is the author of Here to Learn; Remembering Paul Bowles (Green Bean Press, 2002) Bread & Fish (The Figures, 2002), The United Colors of Death (Pathwise Press, 2003), The Salvador-Dalai-Lama Express, (Main Street Rag, 2009), Laughing Butcher Berlin Blues (Poetry Salzburg, 2010) and 22 other books and chapbooks of poetry, prose and translations. Other writings and translations have appeared in over 700 literary journals and anthologies worldwide, including City Lights Review, Cahiers d’Art, Bombay Gin, Denver Quarterly, Fourteen Hills, Skanky Possum, Gargoyle, Rattle, Zen Monster, Talisman, Jacket, Partisan Review and elsewhere. In 2009 he was invited to guest-edit a special German Poetry issue of the Atlanta Review, which included his translations of Günter Grass, Peter Handke, Nicolas Born and many others. Together with the poet Cralan Kelder, Terrill co-edited the poetry journal Full Metal Poem. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, his own work has been translated into German, French and Portuguese, and he’s given readings in various venues in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Prague and Hamburg. Recent publications include a chapbook of his translations of the poetry of Jörg Fauser, An Evening in Europe (Toad Press, 2011), and a full-length collection of his translations of the poetry of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, An Unchanging Blue, Selected Poems 1962-1975 (Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions, 2011). Currently he lives on the grounds of a former boatyard near Hamburg with his wife and a large brood of cats.