“. . .The horses can focus. They will not be disturbed by their vision. I am too loud when I speak. We are also too loud. The horses stay quiet in the city. I can tell you what we feel sometimes. A single thin needle pressed into our foreheads. A needle pressed through the bone of our chest punctures the skin of our lungs . . .”—By Marream Krollos
By Claire Bateman
GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Hubris)—1 June 2023—Marream Krollos currently teaches at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina. She was born in Alexandria, Egypt, and has since lived in Los Angeles, New York, Seville, Seoul, Christchurch, and Riyadh. She received her PhD from the University of Denver. In Jeddah, she taught one of the very few creative writing classes in the kingdom. Her hybrid collection, Big City, is published by FC2; her novella, Stan, by Meekling Press; and her poetry volume, Sermons, by VA press. In her work, Krollos explores dimensions of voice and alienation. Big City contains short stories, vignettes, and verse with recurring, concurrent, fragmented, and continuous voices. The work attempts to create a skyline of sorts with form, a disconnected community of muttering souls with language. Working together, the prose, verse, and drama pieces are intended to teach the reader how to perambulate through the text as they would a cityscape. She is currently working on an autofiction project entitled Fishflies: The Men of the Riverhouse exploring what it is as a writer to want to write fiction while you are blocked by the need to record only your own experience.
Selections from Big City
There are Horses and Lights in the City
If you were above the city you would see the lights. From above the clouds above the city the
lights of the city are blurred. The clouds cover the city. The lights are under water. It could all
be Atlantis. What an unnatural beauty the city is. Blue, yellow, red lights are a city from above
that looks like crystal jewelry you can hand to a friend. If you want to see a cross you can stare
at the lights and you can see that within the lights there are lights in the shape of a cross. It can
mean nothing. It can mean someone has sacrificed something for you in this city. A man who
does not have a house or a car stumbles around to remind the people of the city why they must
wake up early in the morning. On the streets of the city there are horses. They travel with
blinders on, in and through the lights of the streets of the city. The people of the city take away
the horses’ peripheral vision. If the horses saw all the lights they might be frightened. You
think this life is so cruel I can want something I will never have. In a car in the city the man
sitting next to you feels like a friend, but he won’t tell you why he has come. This hurts you
enough to have to pretend he has come to the city to meet a mistress. He is too ashamed to tell
you. His shame makes your shame better. There must be a reason why the people in the city
need the horses. There must be a god who loves the horses. The people of the city must not
frighten the horses. Clouds look like something that could be scooped up in your hands,
something you can fall on. Everything has been the same since you realized you would fall in
and through clouds. You should be able to take off these scabs on your face with your nails.
You should find perfect skin beneath the scabs you can scrape off with a nail. First there is
blood, then another scab again if you wait. If you wait, a scar. Everything is the same. Even
skin does not do what you can see in front of you. Even skin has a punishing system. Looking
down from above the clouds look like mountains, valleys, fields made of the gushing milk of an
animal whose baby has been plucked away. If you tried to walk on them you would fall right
through. What looks the softest can disappoint you. The horses can only see what is in front of
them. One car. One man. One house. Life is so cruel you can want things you can’t have. You
should be able to, if you feel a gushing in your chest while talking to a friend, grab a face and
kiss on the mouth. But that is not what friends do. You find something to stuff between your
legs without realizing it. Walking in the city you do not realize what you look like. You don’t
know what you look like when you speak. Until the people of the city remind you, you are
speaking loudly. When you begin to think about your voice you can imagine it. The parts of
you that are too short, too long, too thick, too small. You cannot be a natural beauty. What you
would have said changes. The horses can focus. They will not be disturbed by their vision. I am
too loud when I speak. We are also too loud. The horses stay quiet in the city. I can tell you
what we feel sometimes. A single thin needle pressed into our foreheads. A needle pressed
through the bone of our chest punctures the skin of our lungs. We can sleep with closed eyes
pressed tightly. Open eyes only pretending not to feel like pin cushions when they open up
early in the morning. As if life cannot be so cruel you can want things that don’t exist. A house,
a car, a man, god. I am fine. God. I am shamed. In front of the people of the city I spoke too
loudly. Can you hear me over the noise of the city? I have said many words too loudly before.
Only the horses can see me. That is why when I wake up I can feel the thick black cloud that
moves in my stomach. There is nothing you can say to make people in the city love us. Then
what good is it. To speak at all. To walk out into a street to be with the horses.
Why is the city so beautiful?
The concrete is hard and so makes walking easy. The trees are chained so they are not dangerous to the people. Each place has its sign. All of the city’s places are marked somehow. Though the city’s streets are marked it is too big to know all of its places by heart. Like a human face, you can recognize the city but never really know how the city will change. But the signs are still and bright and tell the people where to go. The cars stop and then move again all at once all together. People can buy coffee and tea and other warm drinks at night and in the morning in places where there are signs to let them know they can buy coffee and tea. They walk on the concrete in the heart of the city with their warm water. This concrete is the city’s skin. Somebody has spit on every inch of this concrete. The city allows them to do this.
Why is the city beautiful?
The moon and the sun are beautiful to the people because they create a light. Likewise, the city is beautiful because it is made of lights. The city is an unnatural beauty. The people are like insects that are attracted to light. The city is made up of insects that light up at night. The lights of the city are not like the light of the moon, or the light of the sun. They are unnatural like the city. The city is beautiful because of the lights and the unnatural shapes of its buildings. The buildings have been drawn and etched out to look unnatural to the people. Intricate, ornate buildings are beautiful to the people. When the people say the city is beautiful they are speaking of the lights and the buildings. The city is like a woman who wears makeup at night. The men of the city take women who wear make up at night to buildings that light up. When the sun is out, the city looks tame like a woman kneeling on four limbs. The city is a bare faced woman sleeping in the morning. In the morning the men and women go to buildings where they must work. In the morning the city looks tame. The men can use their arms to make and have the city every morning.
Why is the city beautiful?
The city is beautiful because there are so many people in its center who do not have buildings to go into at night. They are sprinkled all over the city. The whole city is their one home. Though people need buildings for shelter the city will keep those who do not have buildings to turn to, it will have them anyway. Some people do not have shelter but the city still provides for them. These, the homeless of the city, can use thrown away paper to make blankets and walls. These people know that when the lights of the city are set against the dark frame of the night sky, nothing is more beautiful. They sometimes think to themselves this is a city of fire and ice, a heaven where flame cannot burn you, or blow out in wind.
Why is the city beautiful?
When it starts to snow more and more people go home to turn on the lights in their buildings until the only light in the city comes from the buildings. The snow diffuses the lights to make the city look like it is encased in a heavy glass. Smoke spins out of the city as the people walk slowly in the snow. The cars move slowly too and the snow beneath them sloshes. The cars move like heavy slugs creating a gushing sound. In the snow some of the people are happy, they have somewhere to go. They sometimes think to themselves only in my city does the snow make so much noise. Only in the city does the snow not fall silently, but makes everything so silent. Once they realize that only in the city can they hear the snow under the tread of so many tires they immediately understand that the blood of the people who have died building their bridges is still in the bridges and towers and spires. Bridges made of intricate, lovely iron lace to make them like iron curtains. Then they realize that the city is the book the people wrote together. The city is their one story. That’s why they made these snow covered statues to last forever.