Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Martin Nakell
from Stories from the City Beneath the City

A Continuation

A breeze. A tropical bird flown far from home. A desperate economy. Truck gears at a precise pitch. Wherever you’re going, you’ve been there again. Why do you write about the indescribable beauty of the thin lines woven across the skin of the pottery of your city? Why do you imagine the Mind of the mind that envisioned them the hand that inscribed them unless it was you or your double at some time in history? The house where the murder took place is closed up now and the family dispersed. Who founded your city became a myth in the shape of an animal whose shape remains changeless throughout time. In the piazza outside the 4th Temple a band of musicians plays throughout the afternoon. Having made your small daily sacrifice to the most simple god, the god of the moment by continuous moment where the water meets the land, you settle down to observe the whiteness of things or the sound of a spade made by your friend cultivating the soil across the road. Last night with the window open so you could see the moon to make sure that it still existed you read in the book how good, how pleasant it is to sit together. The fragrance of lemon mixes with the smell of tomato from the arbor inside the garden. One bird has abandoned the tropics for another paradise. A wandering singer knows only the one song about death but it’s possible that everyone has already made a pact with the eternal. You drink only water now because wine tastes bitter in solitude. Someday, you swear you will begin, or you will begin again. You would tell yourself a story to pass the time while waiting for the others to arrive in time for it but you are a little tired now, and stories take energy, so instead you give in to a momentary living in pure hope, for people who have exhausted the colors of their art forms for a time then wait for the seasons to pass to restore the necessary pigments to the harvesting grounds. The town crier’s song awakens you though at first you can’t tell if it’s just the calling of the hours that he chants or the latest dramatic news that might require your attention.

Game : Card : Window

If you keep playing cards it’s possible you will be dealt a card you’ve never seen. You will show it to your friend of many years even though you should never show your cards. After a good laugh together, you and your friend agree to put the new card aside so you can go on with your game.
When you’re done for the evening, you clean up as usual, but you leave the new card on the table where you find it the next evening, when you come to play again.

Your card games, which you’ve played every evening, become enlivened with an unknown vitality, an urgency they hadn’t had. During the game, you and your friend both ever wondering what the new card could mean, invest more playfulness in your playing. You both play a more crafty game.

The complexities of chance, probabilities, the extent and the limitations of numbers play out in your mind. You discern now the myriad absolute differences between a three and a seven. You comprehend that although the combination of the cards 2, 6, and 7 mean the same thing in the arithmetic of the game as the combination of the cards 3, 8, and 4, these two sets have completely different significances based on the way one number interacts with another, or the way two combinated numbers interact with a third, or the way three combinated numbers would interact with a fourth.

License wanted this to happen next: Waking up in the middle of the night, you go into the salon where you play cards. The new card lies on the table in the darkened room, illuminated, radiant, emanating….what? You don’t even know what. It’s something real but unknown.

That doesn’t happen. This happens: at 3:12 a.m., you awaken. You walk the short hallway to the stairs, up the eight stairs. It is dark all the way. You don’t need light. In the common room, there, on the card table, the new card, not visible at all. Any illumination at all is your own, it comes only from inside you, any radiance, luminosity, nuclear energy.

You walk to the row of eight oblong windows that look out over the cliff to the sea, windows you and your friend look out of everyday, either with a purpose, gazing, or casually, hardly noticing. In her absence, your friend’s voice speaks to you. I don’t know if you’re reading my mind, she says, or I’m reading yours. You say, quietly but aloud the names of everyone you know. It takes a long time. Each name interacts with every other name in an ongoing and only nearly infinite series of combinations constantly rearranged by the forces of every human emotion a list of which you begin — but don’t finish — compiling on a blank piece of notebook paper left on the card table three days ago.

By dawn, the daily Coast Guard patrol boat passes by, east to west, at its precise appointment.

That afternoon’s card game goes somewhat differently than usual. As you play, you keep score on a piece of paper laid over the List of Human Emotions. At one point you say to your friend, I don’t know if you’re reading my mind or I’m reading yours. Your friend laughs, of course. We’ll see who wins, she says. But you tell her, It has nothing anymore to do with winning or losing. Your friend answers you: You’re falling into clichés. You must not have slept well. Winning or losing will always be important.

No, no, you tell her. I don’t mean it like that. Every day, yes, winning or losing makes a difference. But I mean it scientifically, scientifically it has nothing to do with winning or losing. Think about it. E=MC2 has nothing nothing at all to do with winning or losing. Just because, your friend says, Albert Einstein was your Uncle…. It has nothing to do with that, you interrupt her. I’m trying to explain something to you.

Your friend takes the new card from where it sits on the table, tears it in half, tears those two halves again into four, tears those four again into eight, says, ok, now let’s play cards!

Why, you ask her, counting the torn pieces of card, are there nine pieces here. Why? Laughing, you throw them into the trash. Don’t think, you tell your friend, that it won’t happen again. If tomorrow, if a thousand years from now, it doesn’t matter.

The Stolen Hour

Ornella and Claudio discovered that every day an hour was stolen from them. Trying to find the thief was worse, Ornella told Claudio, than trying to find the accuser in Kafka’s Trial. Making matters even more frustrating, as their days diminished, Claudio said, he couldn’t waste even one minute hunting for the thief. Living became more desperate minute by minute, as Ornella and Claudio tried to remain calm, tried to sustain an urgent calm, so that, as their opportunities for living diminished each day, they could achieve their pleasure in living only by finding the peace with which they could enjoy the time left to them each day. During the last hour of each day, Ornella and Claudio exerted an effort to become more cognizant of every experience, for tomorrow, that hour would be lost to them.

Just before all this began, Ornella’s good friend Rebecca had given Ornella and Claudio a gift, a bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon, the best vintage in a hundred years. Ornella and Claudio had planned to open that bottle on the day the stealing of the hours began. Alas! That day ended abruptly, before Ornella and Claudio could open that bottle. When the time came the next day to drink this gift, again the day abruptly ended. This went on every day. On the last day, with only one hour left, Ornella and Claudio couldn’t open the bottle, occupied as they were, as they had been during all these very short days, with more compelling activities, some of which included just staring out at the sea nearby. They had to take the principle of pleasure seriously, without deforming it by seriousness.

Eventually, Ornella and Claudia’s days diminished into the bizarre. They had to choose very carefully how to utilize the eight, then six, then four, hours of their day. Talking together was indispensable. Some sleep was indispensable, not for rest so much as for dreams. And for some demarcation of one day from the next.

When the last day ended in the expiration of the last hour, Ornella and Claudio did not die, they did not disappear. They exist; but they have not time. How can I describe what people without time are like? I have only words with which to describe. Words are made of time, even though time is not made of words and in fact no one knows just what time is made of. The bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon remained in the cellar where Ornella and Claudio had stored it at just the right drinking temperature. Is it possible that, had they drunk the Dom Perignon, Ornella and Claudio would have gained time, not the time they lost, not even the kind of time they lost, but some kind of time? It’s possible. Claudio had once told Ornella that wine partakes of every aspect of human life: the soil and the seasons of the earth, the labor of agriculture, the craft of winemaking, the civilized dining table, the art of assessing and tasting, the senses of sight and touch and smell, the pleasure of the right company, the experience of the body changed by taking in some substance. But there it is, the bottle, which cannot be drunk without time in which to do so.

They Arrived by Bus

They arrived by bus, the boy and his mother together. They got off the bus that afternoon without knowing anything about us or our village. When they stepped off the bus I couldn’t tell if the boy held the mother’s hand, or the mother held the boy’s hand. They stepped down the bus steps into the cool air of that spring afternoon. The sea is wrestling with the air, my friend had said to me at that moment, as we stood together there, watching the mother and her son. Well, I was watching the mother and her son. My friend, probably, didn’t take any notice of them. You know I hate that way of talking, I told my friend. The sea doesn’t wrestle with anything, it is just the sea. I have been to sea so many times, so many different ways, in so many different weathers, with so many different purposes, that I know that our sea has no intention and no desire. The bells rang from the church then, drawing my attention away from the mother and her son, momentarily. When I looked back the mother and her son had walked past the line of waiting taxis not refusing them but unaware of them so involved as they were in walking that way, together. They walked all the way up the hill toward the upper village then turned left at the last street before the crest, where the motor repair shop takes up the whole corner.

I saw them the next day at the market, buying fish. She asked to see the swordfish, was it fresh? But the son stopped her to ask couldn’t they get the sea bass? When the fish monger brought out a whole sea bass she looked it over, checked its eyes and its flesh, then asked for it to be wrapped up. They bought a few more things, vegetables, milk, coffee, eggs, then left the market. I was there to get a number of things myself. When I went to the back of the store, the fishmonger asked me if I knew her. “No,” I said, but, then, yes, I said, “I do know them.” “That boy,” the fishmonger said, “seems like he’s swimming in a dream of his mother.” “He’s a child,” I told him.

The next time I saw them was in the woods. I’d gone out to hunt mushrooms, as I do every year, with my friend, the same friend who’d stood at the bus station with me when the mother and her son deboarded. They were under a pretense of mushroom hunting, I think. She had a cloth-covered basket, he carried a small spade. But they looked to me more as if they were just out to be together in the air of the woods, the smells of the earth. “Would you like me to show you where you can find some very nice mushrooms?” I asked her. The boy looked at me like I was not just a stranger, but a strange creature, as if somehow he was not used to encountering human beings. He looked delighted, to me, smiling at my question, bemused by it. Why would anyone ask us such a question? “Thank you,” she said, “yes, that would be very helpful.” I took them off up the path toward the second valley, over the hill then down into the rich plain where a field of mushrooms blossomed beneath plane and oak trees. “Thank you,” she smiled at me, “thank you very much.” With that dismissal, I left them to their gathering, taking home my own hoard of mixed mushrooms with which to make a mushroom rice dish I make every year to celebrate the first harvest of one of my enduringly favorite foods. It reminds me of my own mother, when we would go mushroom hunting together at the first of the season. My mother was a hardy woman, she walked through the woods with a heavy steady foot never loosing her step. With a thick hand she would nonetheless pick the mushroom at its stem with a gentle even delicate motion of snapping. Coming home, she would make the same mushroom-rice dish for all of us - including some aunts and uncles and neighbors - that I make now for whomever happens to be around. Somehow, for some reason, I imagined that it was the son of this mother-son out in the woods who did all the picking of mushrooms, snapping them up then presenting them to his mother to put in the basket that hung over her arm. Why did I want to walk back up the hill just a way to watch them? I did stop halfway up, turned, looked back at them to partake with my gaze in the mystery of their bond. Each mushroom he handed to his mother carried a message of abundance with it. The earth there, as I saw them, put forth its plenty just for them, even though it was a popular spot for many of the villagers to gather mushrooms, this year the whole harvest in that area was made for them so that when the son snapped off the mushrooms at their stalk they released a perfume of the woods that we hadn’t ever taken in before. I smelled it even from where I stood, looking back. It filled the air. I closed my eyes. I smelled as if with my eyes. No, not “as if.” I smelled with my eyes.

When I asked around who these two were, where they came from, I found out that her uncle had owned the house where they now stayed, empty since his death, and, of course, I remembered the uncle, a mechanic who had worked in the engine repair shop until he died in an accident when, taking too sudden of a turn in his three-wheeled truck, it flipped, killing him. He’d been alone at the time, so only he was hurt. When I asked about why she’d come to inhabit the house of her deceased uncle, the Mayor told me that her husband had died, that she’d come here to escape the memory of his youthful death, or so the Mayor had heard. When I asked him who he’d heard that from, the Mayor couldn’t remember, but it may have been from the uncle’s boss at the engine repair shop, or maybe it was from his wife, the Mayor’s wife, because she had a cousin in the town that the woman and her son came from, or at least the Mayor remembered his wife telling him that, but he couldn’t be sure that was it, he’d have to ask his wife again.

I next saw the mother and her son in a café on the road back behind the sea. One of the café’s I often stopped in, called the Flowering Herb Café. She and her son sat at a small table outdoors. She drank a glass of white wine, the son drank what looked to me like soda water and snacked on peanuts. I could not imagine anyone so at ease at that time at the end of the day when we all begin to take our ease. Everyone passing by on their evening stroll seemed to me to fall into their ease just a bit more as they passed the mother and her son, or was that my imagination? I think I fell into their ease when I sat down three tables away from them, facing the other way into the street. Even though I’d been to Flowering Herb Café a thousand times, I fell into a different kind of ease. Every worry I carry around all day with me dissolved. The air itself took on a new clarity of presence. I existed as though – no, not “as though” - I had never before known myself, never known who I was, but was now introduced to myself for the first time, or perhaps in such a long time that I had no memory of it. I wanted to speak to them, but I restrained myself for the sake of sustaining this revelation. I wanted them to speak to me, and then they did. She spoke first, telling me how grateful she was for my help in mushroom hunting. Then the boy spoke, in that same delighted way as when he looked at me first in the woods, and with the same tone of voice as if he spoke to a hitherto unheard of creature, a human being, yet of course he’d seen people all his life, thousands of them, he said that the mushroom paté his mother had made from the mushrooms I had showed them to was sublime. The son held out the dish of peanuts to me, offering them. He got up from his chair, walked over to my table, brought the peanuts to me, offering them to me in the same way that he offered each mushroom to his mother to put in her basket. I took some from that bowl, ate them, washed them down with the light summer liquor I often drank. The son, sitting down at my table, talked to me about things in my life that had been on my mind in such a familiar way that I must have told him what I was all about. I answered him, we carried on a conversation that way, so that by the time we finally took a pause, he had become a mature man, someone with whom I could talk in earnest but without too much seriousness even with a playfulness of engagement about the concerns of the world. We carried on for some time, until the friend I was waiting for arrived, the same friend who had stood with me at the bus depot when the mother and her son arrived. As I stood to receive my friend, along the with son, who stood to receive my friend, and we all embraced according to the custom in our village, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that the mother was gone. I turned back to the son, as we sat down, to ask if his mother was in fact, all right, if we should go look for her, but the conversation between the son and my friend had already taken off at a great pace about the art show that had been just mounted at the museum in the medieval tower that rose over the other side of the village, an installation in wood and stone by a Japanese artist who’d lived in our village for many years while he gained an international reputation and now had built this site-specific show in our own gallery where some of our people helped him construct it to fit exactly and precisely and seemingly precariously if securely balanced inside that ancient structure.


The child didn’t speak, she told us, until he was 32 years old. Everyone knew, she told us, somehow knew, that he could speak. Physically could speak. Vocal chords. Tongue. Teeth. Mouth. Even the mind for it. Especially the mind for it. They knew. Why wouldn’t he speak all those years? Why wouldn’t he say, “I’m hungry,” “I love you,” “I’m sad,” something. She said that some people who were around then took him as having a special kind of speech. His father always said, He speaks. We can’t hear him. His cousin said he spoke to her but everything his cousin reported him as saying was so obviously what the cousin wanted him to say that no one believed he actually ever spoke to his cousin.

His mother? She was ashamed. Why? That’s just what they say. Ashamed. Got angry with him. Speak! for god’s sake everyone knows you can you just won’t why won’t you please please just speak so we can be done with this. You are my son make me proud of you please speak.

The Priest had a go at him, she told us, at his mother’s behest hoping that either an exorcism would work or some spiritual grace, filling him, might drive out his refusal. He was patient with the Priest. He was 12 years old then. I remember it, she told us because the Priest asked if I would bathe the boy, cleanse him physically in preparation for his spiritual work. During the bath the poor boy got an erection. Did he hide it? No way. He stuck it out, leaned his shoulders back, strutted in the tub, giggling, but silently. Truth is, he aroused me in a hundred directions desire chased my mind. Truth is, I bathed him as the erection subsided. I talked to him in a low patter: why don’t you speak? I asked him. Is it, I said, because you have some secret you’re afraid will come out? Is it, I asked him, because our language is our compromise? Is it because silence is so very satisfying? Is it because the body itself already speaks? I washed him nearly everywhere, his lips, eyes, his nipples. Everywhere I cleansed him. Do you not speak, I asked him, to be special? To have everyone wonder about you? We all do, wonder after you. Do you not speak because you are afraid to speak? Do you fear lies? Do you fear truth? Do you fear being human, a mere simple human being? Do you not speak as a way of speaking? Do you not speak as a way of singing? Are you hyper hyper sensitive to sound? Do you fear ugliness in your voice. Don’t you feel alone, not speaking? More alone? I washed his legs, his belly, his thighs. Is there something, I asked him – the last question of my litany – that you have to say now, only to me? In hope, I listened to his silence. I calmed. I finished my work in devotion. I robed him. I sent him to the Priest.

After the Priest, his parents gave up. They left him to wander the streets of the village. Everyone gave him something, a shirt, a sandwich, a drink. Even the prostitute took him in once, surely without payment for his parents never gave him an ounce of currency. I asked her, the prostitute, had he spoken? No, she said, not spoken.

Strange how it happened, she told us. I took notice of things that don’t speak. Stone, for example. I mean the great stone, specifically, the one that divides the road near the Café Dialogique. The sea, of course, she told us, every day I stand somewhere at least once or twice to gaze at the sea, so I thought about the sea not speaking which naturally takes you to the sun which naturally takes you to the moon, stars. A house. A building. The building where the stationary store is as you walk into town. A glass. A football. A floor. Everywhere a not speaking. Until all that not speaking sounds to me like a voice of some kind. I can’t explain it. I sort of heard it. I hear it still. Then I listened more ardently to the hum as people speak. In a bar, I’d sit listening to four or five conversations babbling all at the same time but I listen just to the rhythms of speech. Drama. Punctuation. Emphasis. Rising. Rolling. Do you think that all those years he wouldn’t speak he was thinking in words, like we all of us do? I even asked him once when I found him walking up toward the lighthouse, Do you think in words like the rest of us? He smiled that smile he would smile at you when he thought you were being kind or charming to speak to him when you knew very well he wouldn’t answer you.

When he spoke, she said, at 32 years, 8 months, 27 days, 7 hours, 16 minutes, 4 seconds old, he said: Language is free. Can you imagine! She broke up laughing. I broke up laughing, she told us. Language is free, he said. What did he mean? What could he have meant? I’m old now, getting to be very old. I’ll mediate on that as long as I live and maybe longer. Language is free. Don’t you see it? It has every meaning possible. It’s the primary thing there is to say. All else follows from that and includes that. He said it at 32 years old, 8 months, etc. etc. That was just two days before the invasion. He worked for the Resistance. Doing what? Translating documents. He had a natural talent for it.

We believed her.

Copyright ©2009 by Martin Nakell

Los Angeles poet and fiction writer Martin Nakell has published several works of fiction, including The Library of Thomas Rivka (Sun & Moon Press), Two Fields that Face and Mirror Each Other (Green Integer), and Settlement. He is a professor of literature at Chapman University.

Panos Spiliotopoulos | The Castaway

Panos Spiliotopoulos
The Castaway
Translated from the Spanish by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

The Castaway looked at his watch and immediately headed for the vestibule, where the radio was located. It was five minutes of seven. Ordinarily, after the news, the announcer imparted some animated words of assurance that all the appropriate measures had been implemented, in a way that intimated that his rescue was all but accomplished.

The Castaway settled comfortably into his armchair and lit a panatela, waiting for the bulletin to finish. In two or three minutes he would switch on the set.

For some time now, the political updates had irritated him, particularly since the advent of the socialists, and he limited himself to listening to that which concerned him personally. At two minutes of seven, he gave a twist to the dial and pricked his ears. By now, the announcer, having finished with the headlines, prepared to speak about the Castaway, when he heard the distinctive tone which the station transmitted when broadcasting information about this special case. The Castaway listened indifferently to the signals: three dots in Morse code, followed by a long dash and ending with the enthusiastic whistle of a ship entering the harbor. The Castaway inhaled a large mouthful of smoke and waited. At the signal, ensued a solemn silence of thirty seconds, after which the grave, consoling voice of the announcer conveyed the salutations of the Government and listed the procedures adopted for the day for the aid and relief of the Castaway.

“Today,” said the announcer, “marks, without doubt, a great stride in the series of steps effected by the Government, with respect to the imminent rescue of the Castaway. Because of new legislation enacted by our able and proficient ministry, the Government has ratified a resolution for the creation of a special tax-free lottery, of which the proceeds will complement sums previously collected, which are destined to finance the important naval operation which has for some time been planned with the object of rescuing the Castaway. We are convinced that the populace will respond unanimously, and lend its full and complete support to this latest measure adopted by the Government in order to reinforce those already taken. We have no doubt that the public will make its contribution with its customary diligence, allegiance, and constancy.”

The Castaway flicked the ash from his panatela, yawned, and shut off the radio. I wonder what she is doing right now, he asked himself languorously. Ordinarily, at this time, he went out for a walk with his wife. They would skip along, arm in arm, to the little promenade, and always ended up sitting on the last bench, at the edge of the island, overlooking the sea. From there, one can descry, far in the distance, the contours of the City, which extends five or six miles along the coast, and loses itself behind a hill. At times, when the wind is favorable, one can hear the tooting of the trains, the honking horns of the automobiles and, more especially, on holidays, the concerts performed by the Republican Guard in Liberation Square.

But it had been more than a week now since his wife had gone to the countryside, and his two sons had been left in the City, where they pursued their courses at the School of Economic Science. The Castaway received their postcards regularly but, if the truth be known, he felt nostalgia for his boys most of all, because he was beginning to age – he was forty-five or more – and he didn’t feel well.

What can she be doing right now, he wondered again, almost out loud. Then he got up from his chair. Just at this moment, someone knocked at the main gate of the garden.

Who can that be, he asked himself while heading towards the door. It couldn’t be the postman, since he had already stopped by this morning, bringing the usual letter from his sons along with one from his wife. He opened the door and stepped into the garden. Already he perceived, on the other side of the veranda, the silhouette of a young woman who waited behind the grate with a huge straw hat in her hand and, while he traversed the terrace as quickly as he could, the Castaway noticed that the girl was making fluttery, friendly signs by gracefully waving it.

“Hello! Could I come in for a moment,” she pouted flirtatiously when he came up close, and broke into a deep, bubbling laugh.

The Castaway drew the bolt, opened the door, and gave a slight bow. The woman smoothed her skirt and, with infinite caution, as if she were fording a stream, crossed the threshold and entered the garden. As soon as she was inside, she heaved a deep sigh and smiled cordially at the Castaway, offering her hand.

“I didn’t know how to present myself,” she said, looking at him somewhat mischievously. “But then I thought that it probably wouldn’t matter so terribly much, anyway.”

In her hat, which she held as if it were a sack, were three peaches, a loaf of bread, and a tin of tobacco.

“Leftovers from lunch,” she explained. “I have been traveling since this morning.”

“Had a difficult time of it,” asked the Castaway, mistrustfully, and cast a quick glance at the sea, which scintillated motionlessly beneath the springtime sky.

“On the contrary, I’m enjoying myself tremendously,” replied the woman. “But, as you know, the distance is very great.”

The Castaway nodded his head affirmatively and preceded the woman among the roses and cacti which clogged the footpaths. This is mad, he confided to himself, quite satisfied.

Over the course of time, he had grown accustomed to these visits, the ostensible purpose of which was to establish a coordinated program designed to put into action the best methods for his rescue. After all the years his stranding had endured, the Castaway understood and appreciated very well the sympathy which his situation inspired among women, especially the young, impressionable ones, so that he had become most indulgent with them and, in the long run, was never disappointed, even after the most fastidious visit.

But for quite some time now he had found himself tiring very quickly, for he had lost the fervor of his youth, that fire of so long ago almost legendary among the inhabitants of the City. He had transformed himself (or had been converted) into a breed of aesthete and, very frequently, discussions pertinent to his rescue held little interest for him, and seemed unprofitable even to the point of foppishness, unless the interviewer had enswathed herself in trappings of the highest order of scenic refinement, with discreet enhancements showing, most importantly of all, no trace of studiedness or affectation.

Inevitably, after each conversation, he would lead the visitor to the alcove, and pass some pleasant hours with her which at times turned into days and weeks. During these periods, his wife, who systematically avoided interfering with his public life, remained in the City, with her sister.

Before, when the passion he felt for the great work of his rescue had sharpened his nerves and inflamed his blood, the age and the beauty of the woman meant little to him, and he could be distracted in the most agreeable manner in the world, even by the company of mature women, as when he had succeeded various times with the grand director of the Cardinal Committee for the Glorious Rescue, who had visited him with regularity for many years. But this arrangement had become strained to the point of exigency – after all, his own wife was getting older – and now, because of the fickleness of the press, he had left it to the Supreme Committee what types of women were sent. Fortunately, the City had intervened on his behalf and, since then, each visitor had to submit to special screening procedures before receiving authorization to come to see the Castaway.

This time surely was no exception and, though a slight disquiet had been gnawing at him for quite awhile, he was satisfied. The woman who walked along beside him was young and beautiful and, beneath the muslin of her dress, he could make out a firm body, full of freshness, rich with sap. Just the same, the Castaway was preoccupied by the fact that for the past few days he hadn’t been feeling well. A strange fatigue, a species of physical exhaustion nullified in him all desire for conversation, to the extent that he had begun to wish for a temporary suspension of visits.

Without premeditation, the woman looked at him and smiled cheerily, shivering as if she suddenly felt cold, or as if an invisible hand were tickling her behind. They came to the veranda stair. The door was closed and the Castaway stepped forward to open it. From the porch, he motioned to the woman to join him, but she seemed engrossed with her stockings. Bending forward, she carefully examined her calf, a little above the ankle.

“If you have a run in your stocking,” said the Castaway laughingly, “we have all the necessities here. My wife has thought of everything.”

This was true enough – his spouse had asked the City for a special apparatus for repairing ladies’ stockings because, during her visits, she complained of the damage caused by the roses and the cacti which bordered the garden.

“It’s not serious,” replied the woman, and shook her hair impetuously, like a horse shaking its mane. Then she snatched up her hat, which had been left on the lawn, and promptly mounted the stairs.

The veranda was pleasant, spacious, built entirely of crystal, like a greenhouse. At its center was a round wickerwork table, and around it three or four comfortable chairs made from the same material. Along the wall were some shelves full of books, and two or three modern paintings. At one end was an attractive bar made of polished wood, with numerous glasses and bottles of a beautiful golden yellow. On a sideboard below, also of wicker, was a basket brimming with bananas and peaches which glistened under the rays of the sun now blazing across the sea, from the direction of the City. The Castaway installed his visitor in a chair and, taking two glasses, began filling them with wine.

“This is sparkling wine,” he said, handing one of the glasses to the woman. Real champagne had become more unobtainable than ever since the restoration of the present regime.

The woman drank the wine almost in a single gulp, and smacked her lips enticingly. Then she took from her hat a pack of cigarettes and offered them to the Castaway.

“Thank you, I smoke only panatelas, and then only rarely,” he said, “I prefer them after meals.” The woman coaxed out a cigarette and crossed her legs, uncovering them above the knees. After shooting them a sly glance, the Castaway drew up a chair in front of her and sat down.

“My visit,” the woman suddenly began, “is in no way related to the traditional pretenses or rationales. In fact, quite the opposite.”

The Castaway scratched his head and regarded her attentively, trying to look stimulated by the case his visitor put before him. She’s blonde and stupid, he thought to himself, and smiled, satisfied.

“I would prefer to cut immediately to the heart of the matter,” continued the young woman while staring at the Castaway in a manner almost provocative. “The new generation, at least a notable percentage of the present generation – the vanguard, as it were – after thorough study have come to the conclusion that your rescue is impossible. Wouldn’t you agree,” she abruptly asked, sharply flinging the ash of her cigarette onto a crystal tray.

The Castaway regarded her with a mixture of amazement, admiration, and unfeigned compassion, lifting his hand to his ear to indicate that he had not clearly heard or comprehended the meaning of her words.

“Your rescue is impossible,” repeated the woman insistently, “because, at bottom, no one has been shipwrecked or marooned. This entire history is a hoax carefully prepared on your part and on the part of the City.”

She was very flushed and moved her hands agitatedly, her bust heaving forward as if an invisible fist were pounding on the back of her neck, and forcing her to lean over the table.

“I’m not quite sure I understand what it is you’re saying,” the Castaway stated calmly. “I take it that, by virtue of your age, you approach the subject from the material standpoint, but it is the very contrary which should be embraced.”

Then, without moving from his chair, he reached towards the sideboard, took a banana, peeled it, and began to eat.

“Practically speaking,” he continued, as if he were talking to himself, “it must be admitted that the salvage of the wreck poses no more than a minimal number of problems, considering the relatively short distances involved, and the progress attained during recent years in the domain of maritime sciences. Nevertheless, these are only secondary considerations,” he added pensively, crossing his legs.

“How’s that,” she exclaimed, red with anger. “Secondary considerations?”

“Secondary considerations,” declared the Castaway, without revision, almost dejectedly. “The preponderating fact is that a shipwreck did take place. Surely you will concede that even a slip of paper embodies limited distances and a certain amount of technical perfection. The problem,” he continued, growing ever more aggrieved, and savoring the last bite of his banana, “the problem is not whether or not a shipwreck took place, this much already has been made clear, but, above all, to ascertain if rescue is realizable. Here is where opinions differ and naturally, viewed in this particular light, yours is of infinite interest to me.”

“I don’t understand,” said the woman solemnly, tugging several times at her skirt in order to re-cover her legs.

The last rays of the sun fanned over the City. The veranda began to get dark.

“Would you like me to turn on the lights,” the Castaway asked in a lowered voice, looking tenderly at his visitor.

“No,” she answered calmly. “I prefer to watch how the shadows become more numerous minute by minute, and steal over the garden. In the City this phenomenon is rare.”

“You are very young,” said the Castaway. “What is it you are studying?”

“Well, not that young,” replied the visitor, laughing coquettishly.

“Alright, then, not so young,” muttered the Castaway mutely, and folded his hands over his stomach.

Out of nowhere, could be heard the siren of a ship, and immediately a powerful searchlight lit the window.

“It’s a liner,” said the Castaway. “It circles the island and sounds this blast of the whistle by way of greeting.”

“But then it would be very easy to save you,” exclaimed the youth, indignant. “You only have to give a shout, to make some movement, show your location…”

“To save me? To go and reveal the whole truth,” asked the Castaway, taken aback, and springing spontaneously from the chair like someone who has just been struck on the back by a cudgel.

“Yes,” said the youth. “What else?”

“But that would be like admitting that there had never been a shipwreck,” he screeched with annoyance. “It would be tantamount to negating the shipwreck and nullifying along with it the enterprise of the rescue. What do you think you are saying,” he demanded, gesticulating wildly.

“No,” said the girl. “You would not be negating the shipwreck: only assuming responsibility for it and for the danger of the rescue. “Isn’t that what you would want?”

“Never,” exclaimed the Castaway, disdainfully. “I repeat that the material view of the subject under discussion doesn’t interest me in the least. That which interests me is the rescue operation in itself, and this operation can only be the result of a collaboration. I cannot deny the City the right to participate in the enterprise of my rescue. Do you finally understand this,” he asked indignantly. “To obviate or ignore this right would be not only to impede the realization of my rescue, which would have become no longer necessary, but to deprive it of all significance, converting it, in the process, into an ordinary individual act, as common as the act of spitting.”

“But the City sneers at you,” said the girl ironically. “Didn’t you know?”

“Under these conditions, rescue is totally impossible,” the Castaway responded triumphantly, “consequently your prior arguments are moot.”

Suddenly he got up, switched on the light, and looked his visitor in the eyes, his mouth contorted by a cynical smile.

“You are young, very young” he said afterwards, fondly leaning over her, brushing her hair softly to one side, and gently caressing her cheek. Then his palm slid over neck and next, before the girl could resist, he nimbly dipped his hand under her blouse, and caught hold of her breasts. The visitor squirmed and gave a stifled cry, but the Castaway sealed her mouth with his lips and took her in his arms. The youth soon abandoned all resistance, and let her hands drop strengthlessly to the sides of the chair, resting her head against the Castaway’s chest, and giving out with whimpering cries.

She is cooperating, thought the Castaway, suddenly overcome by a strange sadness. He lifted the girl’s skirt and slid his hand over her stomach…

* * *

The Castaway silently puffed on his cigar, seated on the plushest chair in the vestibule. His wife cleared the table, humming a tune of current vogue learned in the City. It was five minutes of seven and the Castaway waited as always for the moment when the news bulletin would conclude, so as to turn on the radio and hear the daily measures taken by the Government with respect to his case. At two minutes of seven, he gave the knob a twist, and bent close to listen. Curtly, the grave voice of the announcer, vibrant with anger, resonated in the speaker. The wife brusquely abandoned the dishes and anxiously entered the vestibule, while the Castaway hunched over the radio, visibly disturbed.

“An ignoble plot,” intoned the announcer, “was uncovered a few hours ago. The Supreme Committee for the Rescue, informed in time, promptly apprehended the conspirators. The leader of the plot was none other than the student Isabel, already widely known by the authorities for her subversive activities.”

“The student in question, during a gala banquet in honor of the Castaway at a local chapter of the Association of Widows of Sub-Officials of the Department of Air Pioneers in the Rescue of the Castaway, had the audacity to openly attack the Rescue Effort as well as the respectable person of the Castaway with the intention of dissuading those present from initiating the application of the measures lately sanctioned by vote of the Committee. She was arrested on the spot and her execution was carried out by the head of the Court of the Provoluntary Council of the Association of Widows of Sub-Officials.”

“The Government…” continued the announcer, but the Castaway shut off the radio and went out to the veranda.

The sun had already sunk behind the City. In the distance, a small trawler, chugging sluggishly, free of care, slipped away behind a puff of white smoke which slowly dissolved into the immensity of the night.

English language translation copyright ©2009 by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

Little is known about Panos Spiliotopoulos except that the Greek writer's story was translated by the surrealist Gisele Prassinos into French, as "The Sinking" in the journal Bizarre in 1957. The version above was translated from a Spanish version of the tale.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Marcel Bealu | Walls

Marcel Béalu
Translated from the French by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

The ease with which I traverse the walls readily persuaded me of their inexistence. Not least of my errors was imagining that they were simple assemblages of bricks or stones. The walls are made like plants, from living matter. Recently I found proof by accident (if this word can still make sense here.) In one of the houses where I love to glide surreptitiously, I suddenly experienced a sensation of suffocation, and a violent need for flight. The audience was too numerous for that, for me to be able to do it without passing, plainly manifest, by the door. So I went to open it and ascertained that the wall bulged from behind. They were well shut up inside there! I was startled by the general unconsciousness. To each the multitude of doors gave the illusion of being able to exit whenever one wished but no one had any desire to leave; they stayed, all ignorant of the trap but they didn’t dare say so and, owing to their cowardice, their awareness differed little from ignorance. Since that day, I no longer ask for the key to open the door but for the pickaxe to stave in the wall.

English language version copyright ©2009 by Gilbert Alter-Gilbert

Marcel Béalu was a French author connected with literature of the fantastic. His work often linked fantasy and dream images. Among his numerous books of fiction were Journal d’un mort, Passage de la bête, Le Bruit du moulin, and Mémoire de l’ombre.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Urmuz | Ismail & Turnavitu / Algazy & Grummer

Two by Urmuz

Ismail and Turnavitu
Translated from the Romanian by Julian Semilian

Ismail is composed of eyes, sideburns and evening gown, and is not readily available these days.

Long ago he was bred in the Botanical Gardens; later, thanks to the development of modern science, one Ismail was successfully actualized by chemical means, through synthesis.

You’ll never catch Ismail wandering around all by himself. On the other hand, he could be spotted around five thirty A.M. roving in a zig-zag on Aronoaia Street, accompanied by a badger, from which he is snugly secured with a ship’s cable, and which, during the night, he has eaten raw and alive; this though, not before he has ripped off the creature’s ears and squeezed on it a spurt of lemon... Other badgers are bred by Ismail in a nursery situated at the bottom of a burrow in the midst of Dobrogea, where he provides for them until they reach the age of 16 and have developed in a shapely fashion; then, sheltered from any penal consequence, he dishonors them, one by one, without the least reprimand from his own conscience.

Most of the year, Ismail, you’d never know where to trace his whereabouts. It is believed he is preserved in a jar situated in the attic of his beloved father’s domicile, a pleasant old man whose nose has been strained through a press and circumscribed by a tiny hedge made of twigs. This old man, it is rumored, out of a profusion of parental devotion, keeps Ismail cloistered so as to insulate him from the bite of bees and the corruption of our electoral customs. In spite of this, Ismail contrives to steal away three months out of the year, during winter, when his greatest glee is to wriggle into a ball-gown, tailored of a woolly bed quilt fiddled up with hefty brick-red flowers, and then dangle from the girders of various scaffoldings on the very day of the Celebration of Plaster, for the singular purpose of being presented by the proprietor as a perk to the workers... Through this course of action he hopes to contribute, by a considerable degree, to the solution of the working class controversy... Furthermore, Ismail receives audiences, although only on the peak of the hill next to the badger nursery. Hundreds of beseechers of positions, of monetary remuneration and fire-wood, are first jostled under a vast lamp-shade, where each is forced, by turns, to hatch four eggs. Next, they are lodged inside a trash wagon, property of the mayor’s office, and ferried with vertiginous velocity up to Ismail’s lounge, by a close collaborator of his, who serves them salami, named Turnavitu, an odd individual, who, during the upward journey, has the unsavory quirk of besieging the beseechers with demands for pledges of future amorous exchanges of correspondence, under the threat of impending wagon upturn.

Turnavitu, not long ago, was nothing but an ordinary ceiling fan in various grungy cafes, of Greek patronage, along Covaci and Gabroveni Streets. Able no longer to bear the foul odor which he was forced to inspire, Turnavitu turned to politics and successfully maneuvered himself into the position of state-owned ceiling fan, and namely one spinning in the kitchen of the ‘Radu-Voda’ fire-station.

At a dancing ball he made Ismail’s acquaintance. Unraveling to him the lamentable condition he had fallen into, caused by the constant spinning, Ismail, charitable heart, took him under his wing. Turnavitu was promised to be instantly paid the wage of 50 cents a day, plus a daily allowance, in exchange for one single obligation: to serve as chamberlain to the badgers; likewise, he was to set out every morning for Aronoaia street, just ahead of Ismail, and pretending not to notice him, to step on the badger’s tail, with the aim of afterwards begging of the badger a thousand pardons for this negligence, and then to butter up Ismail’s evening gown with a shaving brush dipped in rapeseed oil, wishing him the greatest of prosperity and happiness...

Likewise, so as to please his good friend and protector, Turnavitu takes, once a year, the form of a flask, and if he is filled with gasoline to the top, he undertakes a far-off journey, usually to the islands of Majorca and Minorca: almost all of these journeys consist of departure, suspending a lizard from the doorknob of the harbor master’s office, and lastly, return to the homeland.

During one of these journeys, Turnavitu, contracting an insufferable flu, contaminated upon return all the badgers, so that, as a result of their frequent sneezes, Ismail was prevented from the benefit of their intimacy whenever he chose so. Turnavitu was instantly dismissed.

Creature of an unusually sensitive nature, and unable to bear such humiliation, Turnavitu put into action the grisly plan of perishing by his own hand, not before, though, first taking care to yank the four canines out of his mouth....

Before his termination, he took terrible revenge upon Ismail, because, organizing the theft of the evening gowns, with the gasoline of his own being, Turnavitu set them afire in a dumpsite. Reduced thus to the lamentable plight of being made up of eyes and sideburns only, Ismail had barely enough strength to crawl to the edge of the badger nursery: there he fell into a state of decrepitude, and in this state can still be found to this very day....

English language translation copyright ©2009 by Julian Semilian.

Born Demetru Dem. Demetrescu-Buză in Curtea de Arges, Romania on March 17, 1883, the author, who later took the name Urmuz, hoped as a child to become a composer. Early on he studied law and became a judge, taking part in the Romanian military intervention with Bulgaria during the Second Balkan War of 1913. Afterwards, he became a court clerk in Bucharest.

Writing primarily to entertain his brother and sisters, he first works were published in 1922. The heavy pun-ladened work became popular with readers, and is seen today as having a precursor to the writings of Eugène Ionesco and the Theater of the Absurd.

Algazy & Grummer 1
Translated from the Romanian by Julian Semilian

Algazy is a pleasant old man, gap toothed and grinny, with sparse and silky beard, neatly placed upon a gridiron screwed under the chin and hedged with barbed wire....

Algazy speaks no European language... But if you wait for him in the dawn of day, at the break of morn, and say to him: “What goez, Algazy!” dwelling on stressing the sound of Z, Algazy grins, and so as to manifest his gratitude, pushes his mitt in his pocket and yanks at the start of a string, prompting his beard to jump for joy an entire quarter of an hour... Unscrewed, the gridiron serves to resolve any quandary, pertinent to the harmony or hygiene of the home....

Algazy never accepts bribes. Once only he lowered himself to this mode of demeanor, when he was a copyist for the Church Notary, and even then he took no cash but only a few crock shards, eager to endow with dowry several of his indigent sisters who were about to become betrothed the very next day....

Algazy’s greatest bliss — along with his customary tasks at the store — is to harness himself of his own good will to a wheelbarrow, and tagged at the distance of two meters by his crony Grummer — to hop at a gallop, with the singular ambition of collecting old rags, punctured vegetable oil tins, but notably, knucklebones, which then the two gobble together, after midnight, under the most sinister silence....

Grummer, moreover, sports a beak of scented wood...

Reclusive and bilious, Grummer lounges the live long day sprawled under the counter, beak stabbing a gap in the floor board...

As you step into the store, a delicious aroma tickles your nostrils... You are welcomed, as you stride up the steps, by a trusty lad, who, instead of hair has, sticking out his head, strands of a green cottony thread; after which you are greeted with great warmth by Algazy and urged to settle on a foot stool.

Grummer spies and waits...Treacherous, with glance askance, unearthing at first his beak only, which he ostensibly douses upwards and downwards in a gully dug into the ledge of the counter, Grummer looms up lastly in full measure... Then, through all manner of manipulation, maneuvers Algazy into absconding the scene, at which time, fawningly, lures you artfully into a variety of verbal intercourse, notably touching on the subjects of sports and literature — until, suddenly, when whim strikes him, he wallops you twice with beak on the belly, impelling you to barrel out into the street, shrieking in agony.

Algazy, who is forever forced into discord and exchanges of words with the clients, on account of this inadmissible gimmick of Grummer’s, scurries off after you, prevails upon you to return, and so as to regain your satisfaction, grants you the right — if you already acquired an object of value greater than 15 cents — to... sniff a whiff off of Grummer’s beak, and, if you so consent, to squeeze him as hard as you can from an ashen rubber bubble screwed to his back, a bit above the butt, compelling him to bounce through the establishment without bending his knees, all along expelling incoherent grunts...

One fine day, Grummer, without forewarning Alagazy, grabbed the wheelbarrow and set off alone in search of rags and knucklebones, but upon return, bumping into some poetry remains, postured illness and, under the dark of the bed sheets, swallowed them up surreptitiously... Algazy, catching on, slips in there after Grummer with the earnest intent to administer his crony no more than a light scolding, but to his horror detects in Grummer’s gut that all that was still any good in literature had been consumed and digested.

Deprived thus of any forthcoming prime nourishment, Algazy, in lieu of redress, gobbled up, while Grummer slumbered, the bulk of his bubble...

The next morn, Grummer, forlorn, — abandoned to the world without bubble — impales the old timer with his beak and soon after sunset rushes him furiously to the top of a tall mountain... There a colossal battle flares between them, persisting through the gloom of night, until, before the break of dawn, Grummer, overpowered, makes motion to restitute the whole of the gobbled literature.

He throws it up on Algazy’s arms... But the old geezer, in whose gut the gobbled bubble’s fermentation kindled the quiverings of forthcoming literature, discerns that all that is submitted to him is far too puny and much too obsolete...

Maddened by hunger and unable to locate in the dark the ideal nourishment which they both so craved, they quickened to the battle anew with redoubled vigor, and under the pretense of merely tasting each other so as to achieve improved integration and get better acquainted, they set about taking bites off of one another with ever flourishing fury, and, gradually consuming each other off, they come to the very last bone... Algazy is the first to finish...


The next day, at the foot of the mountain, passers-by could spot in a ditch, hurled by the rain, a gridiron with barbed wire and a scented wooden beak... The authorities were contacted, but before they could arrive on the scene, one of Algazy’s spouses, who was shaped as a broom, showed up unexpectedly and... swinging right and swinging left two or three times, swept everything she found into the garbage...


1It’s the former marquee of a well-known establishment from the capital, hawking suitcases, wallets, etc., still in place these days but under a single moniker. In any case, we grant ourselves the liberty to believe that the names Algazy or Grummer, through the images they stir by their specific musicality — upshot of the sonorous impression they produce in the ear — do not seem to correspond to the aspect, dynamics, and content of these two pleasant and distinguished citizens, in the likeness of which we encountered them in the actual world...

We grant ourselves the liberty to portray above for our readers how an Algazy or a Grummer should and could exist “in abstracto” had they not been created by chance occurrence, by a fate which refuses to consider whether the objects of its creation correspond, in their shape and motion, to the names which were bestowed them.

We beg forgiveness of Mrs. Algazy & Grummer for the above scrutiny which we allow ourselves to delve into; because, we carry out this task merely out of our sincere desire to serve them, inciting them, before it’s too late, to take appropriate action on this account.

It appears that there is only one remedy: either they should each seek another name, genuinely suitable to their particular actuality, or reshape their own identity, form and function, while they still can, according to the singular esthetic of the monikers they bear, if they still insist on keeping them...


English language copyright ©2009 by Julian Semilian

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Douglas Messerli | Seven Stories from Once and Upon: Sixty Tiny Tales

Douglas Messerli
Seven Stories from Once and Upon: Sixty Tiny Tales

Once and Upon

Once and Upon are the characters of this tale. Once is a little dreamy, abstract. He's a guy who always looks as if he was about to fly, but leaped into the sky so long ago that no one including him can remember when. For he is very very old, with a beard down to his knees. And when he sneezes he stands on tiptoes, with consistently a burp, a growl down deep in his stomach, a sniff or two, a snuffle, a whine and—excuse me please—often enough a fart. And although, so rumor has it, he was romantically inclined, today, even with Viagra, he cannot erect that past. His eyes often drip, along with his nose. His toenails need a trim.

He has been married for centuries to Upon, a clumsy slut.

Time was their only son.

City and Country

My father always used to say, "There's the city and the country," and you knew right away just what he meant. He did not mean to say there are substantial differences. Any fool knows that! He did not intend to imply that the city had a myriad of pleasures of which country folk had no knowledge or if they did had no hope of partaking of. He did not even mean that it's beautiful and quiet in the country, so still you can hear the stars in the sky.

He meant one and one is not always two, that you cannot add up people and their lives the way you do pears or apricots. Lots of people prefer the city and lots of people prefer a quieter way of life—although whenever I've been in the "country" I've encountered the incessant sound of tractor motors, the roar of threshers, shouting children, cawing crows, barking dogs, and cheeping hens. But lots of folk prefer one or the other and there's nothing else to be said.

My father was born in the country and lived in the city most of his life. I do not think he longed to return. But you could never tell.

The Beach

My wife and I went to the beach where we witnessed a man lying in the sand, not as others, sprawled upon it frying in the sun, but with head and hands appearing only, he preached to us of our sins. A little crowd gathered round him, some to jeer, a few to applaud, a couple to kick sand in his face which had gotten very red in the heat and the excitement of what he said. "Come out of there!" the lifeguard called over.

"I can't," he paused in his list of our transgressions, "until everyone here has knelt in prayer."

A boy collapsed to his knees and began to beat his breast in mockery. "Gawd, forgive me!"

"He's a loony!" another man shouted, shielding his eyes from the sun to see the buried priest better.

Several in attendance walked off as if they suddenly remembered that they had come out to celebrate the day, and wandering out of reach of his message, they laid down blankets and bodies upon them. Some stayed to taunt his torsoless rantings, but becoming bored, most of these also fell away. Two boys alone stayed to keep up the banter, racing round and round the plot until one tripped his friend who pulled the first to the ground with him.

"Sit down," my wife commanded. "The lifeguard has gone to get a shovel."


Right in the middle of forgetting I forgot, remembering at last what was about to be lost. Yet it had apparently passed, since I could not now recall why I had wanted to forget or why in the midst of forgetting I could suddenly recall all. Eventually I knew I would forget, and having forgotten would attempt to recall what I had this time not. Fearing that, I attempted to memorize the past, and repeating it over and over, in retrospect, I began to realize that I had already forgotten a lot, the colors of clothes and rooms, the smells of—was it summer? the seasons, the sounds of certain voices, and the sources of the voices themselves. Now I knew everything only in outline, and the more I retraced the outline the more I comprehended how its contents had been condensed, until I saw what was within as only a spot, a dot that stood for all that it was and could then have been. Until it appeared that nothing really had occurred, although it might have if only I had drawn in a deeper breath or studied the ceiling, a dress, or listened for what must or should have been said. And so it seemed now that nothing really had been spoken—although there were certain sentences that I seemed to remember such as: Are you certain? And as certain in such a circumstance as such an uncertain person as me can be—or accomplished by my committing it to memory, or even remembered and finally forgot.

Some Days

Some days, nothing goes right. I get up and it's raining. Well, okay, I'm not made of clay and I have an umbrella. But then, when I lean down to pick up the soap in the shower, I hit my head. Nothing serious, but it hurts. Is that blood? I must have cut myself shaving. It's just a little nick. Now I've lost the hot water again. If I stop to tell the landlady in the office, I'll be late for work. I'm late nonetheless. The boss had been looking for me to discuss the new account for which I haven't finished the papers. The meeting with their representative, I discover, has been changed from next week to this very afternoon. On the way to his office I twist my ankle—not enough to incapacitate, but leaving me still with a dull, stabbing ache. Is that a sore throat I feel coming on? Well, orange juice will take care of that! At the café, alas, they've just run out.

Then everything changes! Apple juice actually tastes better. The paperwork is an absolute breeze. The representative is delighted to sign on the dotted line. The largest transaction, I am told, in our company's history! I will probably get a raise. I leave the office early to discover a shining sun casting a pleasantly cool shade across the city streets. Hurrying home, I enter the living room to observe that my wife has already set the dinner table. I can tell we're having a special gourmet treat. She runs from the kitchen in anticipation. How beautiful, I gasp.

Unfortunately, I recall, I am not married. this is not my house. I have made a horrible mistake.

Pretty Is as Pretty Does

Someone had put up Christmas lights in the middle of July.

"What a shameful sight," my mother observed.

"It's pretty," I replied.

"Such lights are an expression of a very special occasion," my father's voice rose—a clear sign he was speaking only to indicate his support of my mom—"not just for any and every day of the year."

"I like them," I stubbornly held to my viewpoint.

"Christmas is a holy time," my mother insisted.

"Are the lights holy too?" I maliciously asked.

"No, they come from Pagan celebrations, to commemorate the transformation of Winter darkness to Spring light. But in our culture they represent something else," my father explained, "The birth of our savior and the light that brought into our lives."

I pretended to be stupid. "Maybe these people are Pagans too."

"They certainly seem to be," my mother responded sarcastically.

"Or Italians," my father laughed.

"Sometimes Italians use firelights just for decoration," my mother attempted to explain. "But they're usually just white."

"I like the colored ones, like these. They remind me of Easter," I added, daring to challenge their assertions.

"Well, they are pretty," my father had to admit.

"Pretty is as pretty does," warned my mother. "And a rose celebrating itself in the snow immediately withers."

She turned to the backseat where I sat, a scowl upon her face.

I didn't dare say a word after that.

But my father couldn't bare the silence we had embraced. "Look there!" he pointed his finger ahead. "The Martins have gone and painted their mailbox red."

"I think it's pretty," I quickly said.

My mother was speechless for the first time in her life.

Rocks and Clocks

There is always another way to tell the same story. For example, I have a friend who collects rocks. She has thousands of rocks, not only on tables, shelves, and mantels where people might normally display them, and on every window ledge, but in beds and chairs, in closets and shoes, and in the icebox. Naturally, people think this is strange and so they keep their distance. Which is really too bad, because my friend in every other way is very normal, kind, and generous to a fault. If you were sick and couldn't get to the physician's, she'd run you over in a second. She'd clean your house, if you let her. She'd bake a cake—although she'd always burn it—and take you over a hot plate.

I have another friend who collects clocks. He has them on the mantel too, and on shelves and tables and in closets and odd corners here and there. But no one seems to think there's anything unusual in that. People are always over at his place. Which is rather strange really because he isn't very nice. Right in the middle of a conversation, he'll walk out of the room and start tinkering away on one or another of his cuckoos. And even if you're absolutely parched he won't ever offer a glass of ice. And yet people come from miles around to see him and hear all those ticking clocks strike.

One day I thought about this for hours. Both are created from little pieces, bits of intricate metal in the one and in the other, sand and dust. Both tell us of time: the first by the second, the second by the age. And both will wear down it you wait long enough: the metal will fatigue and rust in the clock, wind and water will disintegrate the rock.

Despite these similarities, however, there are essential differences. The one is all noise in motion, the other suspension, silence. And while the one is all man-made, the other has nothing at all to do with us. In short, the one is naturally why the other is art.

Only then did I comprehend the intense hostility between the yard and the house.

Copyright ©2009 by Douglas Messerli

Douglas Messerli is the author of several books of poetry, most recently, First Words and Dark, which will appear in 2009. He is also working on his annual cultural memoirs, My Year, of which the 2004, 2005, and 2006 volumes have appeared. He edits Green Integer and Exploringfictions.

Laynie Browne | from The Ivory Tower

Laynie Browne
from The Ivory Tower


I am nowhere, and if I were to tell you the story I would tell you first plainly that location is not and has never been what it seems. We are ultimately fixed by other means regarding where we truly dwell. I am drawing near the influence of persons. Persons, not place create residence.

The land resides in itself. And that is why it is such a comfort. It asks nothing of us. But that is the flaw of the century, in our thinking. Because nothing is asked does not mean nothing is required. But dare I speak in such a way to the persons whom I am soon to meet? I will walk within the residing land. What is left of it.

What is left is the preoccupation with forms. The form of this body and what it will intrude or command. Before I enter how is my name carried? It is assumed by these persons that I am in some sense a child. Who ever heard of a speaking land?

I was sent away and then summoned. In the interim I have learned that in order to be effectual here I must learn another language.

The name of the language I must learn has not yet been revealed to me.

I am listening intently—

Trying to determine the language.

Much later I may learn that it is not a language of forms, or characters but a language of listening.

Becoming is part of the premise means nothing is complete. To be alive is to remain unfinished. And this unfinishing continues in a manner that seems both endless and minute. I will never get used to it. And at the same time I have surrendered in a curious fashion. I am an undone premise. This demands of me only persistence.

But how will I tell this to the unresponsive, the gadget happy, the drones and the ambitious, to those seeking only their own pleasure? Even those in the Institute obsessed with advancing civilization are missing something beneath the mechanism of movement. Who they are in the pursuit pushes the entire container we exist within. How we speak and are spoken to. But I cannot expect anything to become clear before the eyes of the Institute immediately. I must walk and not calculate. I must listen and not insinuate.

Yes I have done so here, assumed unfairly and perhaps idiotically. But it is not without reason. And reason, or the misperception of reason may be my worst contradiction. How can one reason about persons one has not seen in two decades? I speak as if I know, when in fact I know only memory and a record of the actions of these persons and this place. I know its mark upon the skyline, sharp graphite rising and angled. I know the reflective glass, in pictures. I know I was somehow carved here. There is a semblance of me. And though I have been absent, I have also been listening.

I know nothing about what occurs inside the building of reflective towers.

Let me tell you where I have been. Sent off from a landscape of measurements into one of forging. There were no numbers, no hours, no chart upon the wall to mark my growth. No contained parameters. No scaffoldings from which to lean out and look down at an artificial garden.

I have been in a place which waters the night and calls day a rest. In the darkness I can remember the quietness, how shocking it seemed to me at first. And the land in it’s own design seemed initially untrustworthy. Remarkably independent, More so than any being I had ever met.

Mine is the story of a boy estranged from any sanctuary known as home, affinity. I was what you might call sent away from my identity. When my mother told me we were to leave there was an enviable corner in her eye which I noted. This told me I could change things. It was her way of asking a question without admitting she was deferring to me. At twelve I knew this. What was this other location and what had become of her once more determinate facial features? There was suddenly no protection from the land of what absence had determined. Suddenly like departure, only we had yet to leave anywhere. My father leaving only his beautiful hands which I felt on occasion clasp my shoulders from behind. Did she know? I knew them at this threshold, his absent hands, urging me to investigate with the undertone and taste of question. What would I make of it, he seemed to ask. Or so I imagined. A boy of twelve in somewhat befuddled falling apart clothes. So I went where one is to go hidden toward one’s confidante. Away from the land of surface seeming certainty and into the more fragrant regions of adolescent scribes who would know what wasn’t spoken.

Spooked, he said, that was how I looked. We sat on the curb in the usual manner, knees visibly knocking together. Almost not touching at all. But certitude. Here. Buzz had absconded something from me. There is no future he said. Now is where we are. So I questioned him. Must I go? This was partially pleading for him to take me. Secretly or suddenly. Away from the question entirely and into a region I only imagined as safe harbor. What did this antiquated phrase mean? I had read it in a book. About boats or boys, perhaps pirates. I didn’t know. A boy of twelve with ghost hands upon my shoulders. A mother trembling of some indeterminate dis-ease which for lack of a better reason I ascribed to grief. What did I know, besides the curbside reverie as a means to unburden my somewhat unbearable sense of self-enclosure?

But Buzz didn’t take me anywhere exactly. He sent me. Was this a betrayal? How could it have been when I’d never even asked what I had wondered. There were no words even, only an image of a boat. The missing physicality of terse engagements. The night which kept encircling something I couldn’t have ignored anymore than I could have described. But I knew at least that he inhabited, or had recently inhabited such a question. The way he held his body and moved akin to some invisible current.
Safe harbor, safe harbor. But his eye loomed again. Preposterously, or disastrously, or anonymously. Nothing encircling the neck. No netting. This is where we are. Must I go? And even though I never uttered those exact words his gaze, which invariably tore through me, told me in no uncertain terms. There is no safe harbor. What you imagine is what you imagine.

Is it dangerous to imagine this? It is futile to imagine this. But relatively true if you are to leave.

He was basically saying, I am not that. I am not what you imagine. I am not your refuge, at least not of that sort. The grand entrance cannot be found in me. So exit instead through this particular porthole. And go willingly, where she will take you.

There wasn’t any “why” amid the interchange. “Why” interested me then as little as “no” and “later” and “you must.” Because “why” existed in the same region as reams of books in which any point could be argued to infinity. I could have culled as many volumes of “why” on each side of the equation. But what I did not realize was that the “why” of the question was much more pertinent to understanding where I was soon to be, to become. There is no making up for age, blindness, which is just as well. So seeing only what I was able to see, I went.

I dutifully followed my mother to that destination with no sense of “why” and stubbornly resisting any inclination to say goodbye. So his eye loomed again and again from the safe distance of no curbs and no knees. And from this safe harbor, which I never knew myself to reside within, my questions began distractedly to walk.

And in the cities-systems I visited care was taken to shield me from anything reminiscent of the Institute. No uniforms and research laboratories. Instead science infused with academic ethics. Think tanks alongside questions of what was deemed, the flaw of the assumption of the “eternal atmosphere. “ We had seen it disappear, due to human idiocy. How to retrace, and curtail further maiming of the planet? This against the backdrop of everything elsewhere, all rush and media. Medical thrusts brought to bear upon first, regardless of the cost. The endless debates. And to escape and to examine these debates there were the usual cultural amusements to which I was drawn, objecting all along to the consumerist aspect of inhaling it all simply to say one had done so. That was the climate though, to say one had seen a show or heard a composition or been present for a performance. This was to replace possessions, even food. Persons, live transmission of works were to replace facts. Walking was to replace the sedatives once taken by my guardians. I recall a tangle of city nights unslept. Unredemptive atmospheres in cool colors, the length of various planetary days. Unblinking I resolved that neither one life nor the other could be called correct. The pursuit of earth science or the pursuit of the art of exile. Neither the land nor the person. Neither consumption nor non-consumption. Intoxication or sober awareness. I compiled my lists of opposites, choosing none of them.

In secret, I supposed I was alone in this occupation, except once. The moon was visible in our imaginations alone, though we insisted the sky had never been veiled and painted. I took out the memory only rarely. We walked to a place, a firepit constructed of stones we had found along the path. Of course this too was a prevarication, the real soil, actual original stones, had been replaced. In this spot the lists were burned. At least, metaphorically. In this spot many silent vows were made. I say vows because the unspoken knowing between various versions of myself comes into relief when I look back at these occasions somewhat piercingly. Secret volition. Paper to ash. And other things we were not to name or to know.


(recounts a dream)

Substantially a dream we wish to cling to and not to forgo forget forge within incendiary mechanisms therefore go less childish wish—

From memory. I am invisible. There is a boy, in an old buttoned coat, somewhat secondhand military, or of some mysterious empire. Do we speak the same language?

Another language, instant kinship, affinity.

Is his name Gray? He has no name. It occurs to me that he is from the destroyed city.

We are in some abandoned castle, ruination. Cold and hungry. He must be saved from something. Unbathed. No matter. Longing is childish and innocent.

When I awakened I was lying in bed trying to retain the apparition. So pure in insisting upon merely presence and nothing else. Stirrings uncolored by adult consciousness. Complete belonging.

Clasping his hand in greeting or recognition —t his has nothing to do with possession, as it wouldn’t occur to us that other worlds could interrupt, interject.

Running down a hall where we were vaguely aware we should not have been at all. Damp grey stone. Where are we? Whose form is asking? I am propelled down another tunnel and another.
Covering the same ground again and again. The expression on his face saves me. Is this how all children — when they fall? The difference between falling and falling has everything to do with the scaffoldings we construct.

Finally he reveals it to me—why we have run to this dark passage.
Colin wanted to meet you, he says.
Where are we?
Colin, he points.
He points to a small stained glass window, visible only through the window we now look, to another, across a locked courtyard. The head of a small bird etched in the glass.

O, I say, examining the bird.

He must be a close friend.

When I try to take the dream memory further, there is no crossing the threshold of innocence.

There is no bordered kiss, no reclining embrace in the original.

That Colin is his best friend is sweetness saddened and pulled. He has somehow been deprived of companionship. As if crossing a sea, continually, there are certain ports at which he is able to stop. Colin is a port. There are other points in crossing where he cannot bid his mind still enough to enter.

That he has somehow been deprived and I myself as well I see. A dance between present and not, indulgence and deprivation.

In the dream, I think, it is a great mark of his confidence that he has introduced me. The glass bird stares and says nothing.

We skip contentedly down the dark damp hall again and out into the light

You can live here, I say because you are invisible.
Copyright ©2009 by Laynie Browne

Laynie Browne is the author of seven collections of poetry and one novel. Her most recent publications include The Scented Fox, (Wave Books 2007), Daily Sonnets (Counterpath Books, 2007) and Drawing of a Swan Before Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2005). Two collections are forthcoming: Roseate, Points of Gold, from Dusie Books and The Desires of Letters, from Counterpath. Her work has been anthologized recently in Not For Mothers Only (Fence Books), Wreckage of Reason, An anthology of Contemporary Xxperimental Prose by Women Writers, (Spuytenduyvil), and in The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (Reality Street Edititions, U.K.). She has taught creative writing at The University of Washington, Bothell, at Mills College in Oakland and at the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona, where she is currently developing a new a poetry-in-the-schools program for K-5 schools.

Ken Edwards | Us and them

Ken Edwards
Us and them

This is no longer the place we thought it was. Nowadays the street is covered in a thin sheet of khaki water that slowly ripples when the wind comes. What is there is not what we thought. Our country was a constellation of mountains and streams with shallow coastal plains watered by magnificent spring rivers that became mere wallows in summer. Most of the territory to the north consisted of relatively high mountains, and this natural defence was reinforced by strong fortresses and fortified towns where attack was easiest. Valleys were difficult of access, a division which affected local customs. For example, we used lard from the pig, since in the colder north no olive tree could grow. We had fine bread. Everything was piled, one on another. Everything flowed, one into another. There was no difference. That came later. Certain signals were given, that certain of us understood. There was no worry, as such. You never had to say anything: what could there be to be said? If you started to say it, it would never be completed. One did not speak about the others – no need to mention it – it wasn’t done. Beyond these – it didn’t exist. On the whole, we were prosperous. Drinking parties were held on the river at night, or in a grove or flowery meadow either in the cool of the evening or at dawn. These celebrations were sonorous. Our music would pulse like the human heart. We preferred contemplating it at dawn. Voluptuous tendrils enveloped it. Nature provided the idyllic background. High fields were infested by moonlight with beautiful small rodents. These were idyllic walks through meadows with far reaching views available in the freshness of the early morning, and a myriad of wild flowers such as crested cow-wheat, green-winged and butterfly orchids, a host of pinks, bellflowers, daisies and clovers. Satellites clustered in the lee of the moon. Nobody could disturb the shadows. There were orchestras of strange hills, presaging nothingness. Cows plodded in tall grass. Deer glid by; the air was heavy with their breath. In the lakes, perch dimly gleamed and glid. Bears from the woods tore the children to pieces. Beyond these are the chasms. We shall never forget the words a melancholy monk spoke through a long vale, shivering amid the rubble. The immense mountains and forests of the north were commemorated by such sights and sounds, the villagers in bizarre and sometimes touching costumes and masks, trading delicacies and emblems. These were to be found in the meridian of our love. It was fascinating to all those who respect historical monuments and cultural heritage. Old women sat outside their gates coaxing coarse wool onto spindles. Deals were sealed with a handshake, a sip of home-made plum brandy and cash payments. Rare mountain horses roamed freely. Open-armed people nestled in clumps of beech, flawless in their history. We believe that we could glimpse the sea beyond all this. We have no knowledge of the so-called mass graves. Everywhere there was wood of the highest quality imaginable. Even our victims were filled with the scent of countless wild flowers. In numerous restaurants and taverns you should have been able to taste home-made specialties. Rolls of soured cabbage were freely offered. A substantial breakfast would be at your disposal. We remembered the creak of the train at night as it sped through the countryside. Towards the end, we saw the lights of our own little town from afar and we wept. But those others would not have understood any of this.

Our great capital city has prospered through the ages. Fine craftsmanship over many generations gave it its contemporary allure. Cafés, restaurants, shops and banks of many colours and styles were enjoyed by admiring visitors. One of its elegant streets, adorned by period lamp-posts, is named after an English general. We had no problem with the British in those days, we welcomed them in our bars, from their cities filled with fog, their icons such as Maggie Thatcher, Manchester United, and also Liverpool, The Beatles! It may be different now. Cultural products were built from 1926. On this, the last word has yet to be said. Our nice children were selected by us. Beautiful photography and rich prose were abundant. How sharp and with what definition the shadows! Modern parking lots were equipped for the richest minds of their generation. Businessmen walked arm in arm among the arcades and distinctive yellow luminaries, witnessing many cultural events. There was once a thriving Jewish community here, before the war. Racial ethnicity is of no importance. Slippers were worn by beautiful women. We should like to state that we never had anything against the Jews. The restored municipality was much admired for approaching beauty. The great river shone like the blade of a knife. There was statuary. The library was said to contain 400,000 books, all beautifully catalogued. Nobody has read them all. How could they? Our happy children propelled their tiny vehicles along clean cobblestones, safe from any predation. Amid the clamour of the street market, a man might be seen in a green T-shirt with the slogan NO TIME TO WASTE in English. There were looks of wonder. Bright lights and American donuts. Young ladies gazed at the indicative map. The men thronged the bars watching Manchester United. There was Virgin Megastore amid the splendid geraniums of our youth. Children respected the fine carpets. LA TERRE announced a poster suspended from one of the many fine lamp-posts. Glorious emblems were prized above the heritage. You could choose the Barcelona, you could choose the Milan, you could choose the Manchester, it was the right of the young men; they were allowed to sing, they were beginning to gain credibility, to gesture, to capture the midfield, to attack. The flow of capital led to this place of construction, peace, and sighs. The lovely skin of this was that which made it what it is, or rather, was. But it’s going to end badly. Each year turned on its axis, to the slow solstice and beyond, dipping into darkness from the festival of lights. We went into hibernation, knowing that this time we wouldn’t awaken. We were “hot in the mouth of snow”.

What were the details of our nostalgia? Nobody can say for certain. All this is gone now. What happened? The bestiality of terror came. It was not of our choosing. We heard the sounds of laughter in the dark, and it froze us momentarily. Our daughter pleaded with us, our son hardened his heart. Sights and sounds are still transmitted to us; but they are out of kilter. There’d been a time when it had been hoped that members of different faiths could be welded into a unity; but it was becoming clear that this was not possible. The manners of the people deteriorated day by day; certain agreements went into abeyance, and still the visitors grew in numbers, until it seemed as though there could be no solution as to where or how they might be accommodated. Each time a green-painted train comes to a halt before the end of the platform, we know the outcome, mass migration and heartache is caused. It’s always the same. The more ignorant among us start to imitate the incomers, as if this would give any social cachet! One drunkard in a dark suit holds a carrier bag with the name and logo of a legal outfitters. A woman struggles to retain a low bloodhound on a leash, her face tilted upwards in a characteristic gesture, but she is probably not blind. There is excessive arm-swinging while walking. A jovial man and his serious friend stagger under the weight of long cardboard boxes, some beginning to split; it is claimed they contain artists’ easels, but we know better. The visitors were not welcomed among us, partly because of their numbers but also because they are a polyglot community divided among themselves and unable to establish any sort of unity. Their envy consumed them. They were accustomed to live in the midst of government offices and barracks of their unruly soldiery. Most of them have gone now, actually. The worst act no better than Arabs, and the others though better behaved yet are unruly sometimes. They are not of our sort at all. They may claim to be proud descendants of Illyrians, but they act like ungrateful guests who walk into houses with shoes covered with cow dung. The air is heavy with their breath. They have no schooling as such. Their knowledge seems to them to be perfectly systematic, yet it is complete nonsense from start to finish. Their hygenic customs, their exhalations, of depleted methane, of distorted syllables: it is this that gets under the skin, as does their incomprehensible music, so-called, like the babbling of forty thieves or fifty lunatics. These people were given prestigious flats by our municipality, but they prefer to spend their time in the open, kindling their fires, trading their horses, playing electric guitars and rendering the common spaces into fields of mud. They possess scummed-up dogs who are mindless. Their dance is just a stagger. Their tongues are rough, like white butterflies skimmed across the cement factory; their manners are those of uncertain bears. Their colours are of a different stripe. They give great clouts to our ideals. Their young men explode themselves. For what? They make cheese from their dogs. How could we know what to do? We were saddened to see the monasteries vanish. Political thought, once solid as a shining lighthouse, was moving in its several directions. Our throbbing heart echoed our dreams and deepest aspirations. We had to do something about this. We do not want to live in tents or slums while the immigrants confiscate our land, water and even the air that we breathe! Battle came to us and we couldn’t wait. Civil strife was fostered by those foreign to our customs. Our hands shook. We can’t remember clearly. We knew our daughter was lost to us. One of her eyes was facing inwards. She has had portions of her tongue removed. The last thing she wrote, in a shaky hand, was “I love you all.” As for our boy, he would never now marry.

Throughout the tempest, one man stood as straight as an iron rod. Nothing could shake his clear determination to undertake his job fearlessly, without the blink of an eye. He was a lion among foxes and bears. He stood against the coming age of darkness, scornful of the intelligentsia who offered only counsels of despair. And he was a teacher. He found ways and means. But his name can’t now be spoken, for fear of reprisals. The forces that were ranged against him, incoherent as they might be, stole power day by day. Such things overwhelm thought. Hearts break. Hospitals burn. Melancholy hypocrites abscond and skim. They have escaped from the zoo. Our true friends fall. This is what has prompted us to write these pages. It has become a world where truth is shadowed by endless lies. We have the internet, it’s an infection, the babble of vox populi. But the ordinary people of this country are almost voiceless. The babble is of ignorant, conceited and stupid people who pass judgement on others without having any idea what is going on in the world. They are so stupid that they cannot fathom their own limitations and insignificance. Their sickness lies not so much in the fact that they are misinformed, but in their self-deception and hypocrisy that makes them feel confident despite their feeble-minded emotional reasoning. They report that the authorities are finding more and more mass graves every day. But where are they? They don’t say. We should like to state publicly that we have no knowledge of such things. We wish such illiterate individuals judging high political things would have refugees flood into their home town, claim independence and then their illiterate equals from all over the world accuse them of mass killings! They are she-wolves without a clue to reality. They are not to our taste. Our cities and towns are no longer our own, and even the villages are now threatened. Our nostalgia has been corroded. Long demolished goods yards have been turned into derelict car parks. Consider our great city. Trams no longer run here. The rails are rusted and overgrown with moss and other vegetation. No one has seen a doctor for 43 days. Wild vegetation grows in the streets leading to the Opera edifice built in the neo-Egyptian style towards the end of the twenties. Collapsed scaffolding forms a rusty cradle around which the vegetation is beginning to creep, barring entry to the once proud thoroughfare. Water damage is beginning to crumble the columns. Rolled steel blinds conceal the unimaginable. We believe that was once a pharmacy. Burnt to the ground, an apartment block presents a picture of dangling telephone cables, furred cornices and illegible signs; a tractor has penetrated one of its spaces, and around the next corner further movement is impossible because of a great wall made of rusting containers. The windows have all been blown out, rags hang from a line and a stray hubcap languishes in dust that was once street. On every street, a barricade. Walls of sandbags make further progress impossible. Men in fatigues patiently patrol the rubble. Creatures that were once children play in the shell of a burnt-out car. They prefer death to life. Plastic bags with unknown contents are scattered amid the rubble. Honey slides from the barricades and is lost. Amid the ruins of the municipality you can hear a recording of a boy’s voice. We want for the throbbing of life to be, but any hub so wounded would never regain such lustre. People with tree heads, in the garden of snipers and land mines, declare their allegiance to what doesn’t exist. They worship jungle creatures in lieu of the flag, dire progeny of the bomb. Fragrance fragments. Pictures conclude: show now distressed towers, desolate alleyways, existent rubble, naked schools, torn landmarks of destruction and oblivion, memories of civilisation that we long for, that we fear, that we never knew! Spires in flash. Alley catastrophes. World has abandoned us. We requested them not to, but it was to no avail. These are all lies. This wind will not come again. And the others, the original cause of all this desolation, increasingly seem unreal creatures even as they become more and more familiar. We imagine them to be so, and they for their part pass themselves off. They pretend to be ordinary people. They try to tell us who we are, to convince us how could we will to live, how could we even will to live without them? And yet they will kill us. They that pretend to be us: they lie. We can’t accept this, we can’t accept them, they change their story, sometimes they say they want to be us, then that we want to be them, but we don’t want to be them. It’s madness! We don’t even know where they came from. We’ve said nothing, we’ve done nothing, we want nothing to do with them, let there be an end to it. But we’re afraid. What are we afraid of? That there’ll be no end. There’ll be no end to this. Well, they will obliterate us in the end, and that will be the end. Everything comes to an end, after all, it’s natural. They tell us, no, they tell us nothing, they talk to the world’s media, about such and such graves, which they have no hesitation in inventing, for they are people of invention, they make up anything you like; but as for us, we’re afraid of nothing. Nothing. Signal drift, ghosts, a spiral into lamentable sand. See us glistening with quagmires. Skirt spires down. Detritus within the embrasures. Executive turmoil. Wire in the flesh. It’s all connected. There is nothing. We know nothing of it. It’s a shame and a scandal. How could there be mass graves? Where?

Copyright ©2009 by Ken Edwards

Born in Gibraltar in 1950, poet, editor, writer, and musician Ken Edwards has lived in England since 1968. His poetry was associated, with the "British Poetry Revival" includes Good Science and No Public Language: Selected Poems. He also has edited several books, including the journal Reality Studios; he currently edits the literary press Reality Street.