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Why I do What I do: Jonathan Bellot
An Eldritch Phantom
By Jonathan Bellot
Why do you write, a voice asks one lonely lamplit evening, and I realize the answer to that question is as one-in-multiple as a cubist painting. I write to raise a sunken figurehead from the deep, where the shipwrecks dream in bubbles; I write to learn the language of lost galleons, to understand the blueblack sadness of girls made of wood. I write so as to hold a kerosene lamp in the hallways of myself, those vast hallways of gold-endragoned doors that lead to Dominica and Curacao and South America and Europe and Africa, a notebook of returns to native lands, and sometimes I write so a lamp is snuffed out. I write to firefly the night, and to night the fireflies. I write to release the figures in my heart’s dusty mirrors, the figures long-buried in the heart’s old red cenotaphs, the figures lost under the labyrinthine spiral staircases that lead to doors of what-ifs, the kimonoed girls and aviators in fluttering scarves, the ones with hair that is straight and hair that is a mad starburst of ringlets and hair that is blue and black, the figures that string together my tapestry. I write because I could not be I if I did not write, or perhaps I have become I since I wrote, and it is simply too late to turn back, but either way there is no turning back.
I write to speak with Life and with blue-haired Lady Death. Because I am less memorious than Borges’ "Funes," and one cannot write if one remembers too perfectly well. I write to conjure back up the feeling I had of diving into the Caribbean Sea and coming suddenly across a sea turtle and, later, a stingray, each as large as I was, and still and staring. I write to slow the universe’s expansion, to tug back the screams of Munch and Lovecraft and Camus. I write because the island I live in is small, and I feel a sting each time the people who ask where I am from, then cut short their attention when they realize just how small it is, cut short their attention because the island is not on the radar of much-of-the-world, unless one sharpens the gaze. I write to re-contour known islands and, like the sailor in a tale by Saramago, to seek out Unknown Islands, unlisted on any maps. I write because Jean Rhys has been a beautiful and eldritch phantom for too long drifting down my halls, and some who remember the island we share will remember it only as a murky bit of sargassum leading to the shores of Jane Eyre. And I would write if she had never been a ghost, simply because I have never chosen to write, because I wrote long before I attached reasons to writing, when every back page in the exercise books of my youth was a story, a plan for a novel series.
Scheherazade tells stories even when her life is not threatened by an insatiable king.
I write, you see, because I could not be if I did not, or, closer to the truth, I would not want to be if I could not write, and perhaps that is enough of enough.
Jonathan Bellot is a second-year PhD in Fiction at Florida State University, where he also completed his MFA in Fiction. He was born in Cincinnati to parents from the Commonwealth of Dominica, and he moved with his parents back to the island as a child. His work has appeared in Small Axe, Transnational Literature, Belletrist Coterie, and The New Humanism, among others, and he has done collaborative work for The Missouri Review's blog. In Dominica, he has served for the last few years on a committee for the island's Nature Island Literary Festival, which brings together writers connected to the Caribbean.
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4/17/2014 08:17:45 am
Beautifully done, weaving together many ideas and influences of a bewitching island world..
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