The judges have sent a message. Their minion, the ineffable Kaplovsky, tapped obsequiously on my door last night (he is always cowering, shying from the blow he knows must fall) and delivered a list of finalists culled from the official entry list. For three days they have laboured without food or water (with the exception of a freezer full of lime vodka, a bag or two of whole wheat crackers and a wheel of Vermont cheddar). The task has been difficult, fraught with violence and recrimination. The first aid kit was needed more than once. Here is their short list of finalists in no particular order. Honours and laurels to these well known and sometimes anonymous contributors.
And over and above these illustrious authors of insane and melodramatic versions of a false truth who can forget Claire Wilkshire’s heart-rending cry “Behold, what a toe!!!” and her “master of whoop-whoop” or this sentence from Vivian Dorsel “What behooved me to! That linen and silk charm, the shoes and silken veils, the ring on her finger, that was for Frank” and her gorgeous “wordy as an eggplant” simile? Or this riff from Steve Axelrod, master of the startling and outré comparison “…laugh through their misery like farting crippled geese, trampled by toddlers … it degrades these nihilists of the Veldt, rope-throated troglodytes…”? Or Natasha Sarkissian’s cool psycho-sexual spaghetti-eating scene: “Frank squeezes my hand while we wait. ‘You can have a bite of mine,’ he says…”? And the anonymous X’s triple XXX, sultry version: “What behooved him to! He kneeling and sin licking, my shining sins devoted, my ring turned to vinegar by sin, but he was my Frank.” Or Sheila Stuewe’s talking wombat and Gwen Mullins’ (winner of the 2010 Numéro Cinq Villanelle Contest) horrific chase/birth scene “…even as I finally find moisture; running down my thighs in streams, salty, dripping wet against dry heat, signaling a taste of pain and torture that is birth. I feel my legs buckle, weak, failing: the mission was doomed from the start, but, even as the sun consumes both of us, I know the mission that was doomed was my own birth, calm in our adobe hut while my mother screamed and my father paced the floor”?
But here, as I say, are the five finalists, two with the original text (has anyone figured out where it’s from?). (And remember to vote for the People’s Choice Award here.)
Sure, it’s drudgery. Like a cow’s life, full of angst, a few laughs, but remarkably cheese-track, remarkably moo-ish, the drudgery is like velvet-hide spattered with mud, and over-plodded not at all strideful, doubtful buoyancy, rather, simply, one overarching soul-bellow: velvet of the warm-belly, the swollen-body, velvet of the six-titted udder, not freewheeling at puddle-tide and not even floating but oh, to udder-make-like, out in the street, remarkable thats, remarkable thises… What a herd-riot that would be! Instead, the lining–up, even the milking-down, the scrubbing and the wet soaking, the vinegar-brightened cowbell with the name “Frank.” Not a super moniker and hardly bovine, the name Frank. Sue would have been a better guess in the long and old order of cow-wording, or going with Eileen sometimes, the Sue-named one, going …well, nevermind, not this winter. Nothing works right now, all the cheese being shipped to America, that far-off scary-land where the tiniest days up-go wandering. All life and all zeal begging and squeaking in that bad lowland; it is the un-udder of the planet, dead, wandered out and lacking hill-warmth, freezing in the wide open light, that un-udder-geist. What is cow drudgery but group-swarm, barn-huddle; not for a second is it bet-raging, getting it off, on, in the lost-head, forever week-working, wrong-shmatteh and shmoes, with their hands-on-ing, able only to be twee, standing there, hiding their cow-bellowing behind masks.
Ja, er dreigde iets.
Yes, it was wretched stuff (literally “is brownness thrown”:
iets = pp. of “throw”; dreigde = brownness, a Dutch familiar word for excrement).
En hij bleef daar zitten, ziek van angst, làf, zonder geestkracht, zonder moed. . . .
And he cranked it out profusely (“bled dark fits”), wracked with angst — laughably! (imperative use of “laugh”) — without pleasure (“goosebumpedness”), without thought (moed = mind) . . . .
Er dreigde iets en hij voelde het naderen, hem overvallen, met hem strijden op leven en dood, in eene overspanning van wanhoop:
It was wretched stuff, and he wrote (voelde = “made vowels for”) those novels, beyond his reach (“above-valleying him” — valley is a verb) making him sick with madness (leven = left, as in left his mental faculties) and dread, with overwhelming desperation (“in an overreaching of faint hope [wanhoop]“):
hij voelde zich wankelen, nederzinken, hij voelde zich gerukt worden uit de fluweelen zachtheid van zijn leven, neergesmakt worden op straat, zonder dak, zonder iets . . .
he wrote such drivel (“weak crafting”), unfailingly (“never sinking”), he wrote so grossly in freewheeling bouts of madness, his writing devoid of sense, without substance, without grace (“made vowels for crude wording in fanciful bird-thrusts [zachtheid] into madness, words stripped of sense, without heft [dak], without thrownness [iets again, here suggesting lightness — Dutch is a strange language]). . . .
Wat behoorde hem toe!
What on earth possessed him? (“What beast [had] his toe!”)
Het linnen aan zijn lichaam, de schoenen aan zijne voeten, de ring aan zijn vinger, het was van Frank.
That lingering odor of his phrasing, the shower (deluge?) of his voice, the rack of his figures (vinger = finger, suggesting part for a whole) — that was Fred.
Het souper daarginds, zijn bed boven, het was van Frank.
That extraordinary gnashing (souper daarginds = super teeth grinding), his verbal halitosis (bed boven = bad breath) — that was Fred.
Zoo was het geweest een vol jaar lang en als hij ooit weg zoû moeten gaan met alleen het zijne, dan zou hij moeten gaan … naakt, in den winter.
No one was a greater violator (“pilot”? vol is also related to the verb for “flight”; or “thief”?) of our beloved tongue (“dear language”), and when he was down to his last sou, he lived on the street (“making alley”), with his last sou, his spirit gone . . . naked in the winter cold.
En hij kón niet meer zijn, als hij geweest was in Amerika, dienstbaar scharrelend van den eenen dag op den anderen.
And he was at the end of the his rope (“knew no way for him”), when he departed (was geweest = was gone-west-ed, or perhaps “deported” vt) to America, to the distant shores where dogs run free (dag op den anderen = dogs off the leash).
Zijn lijf en zijne ziel waren beide als geweekt in een bad van lauwe weelde;
There his life and his work were published in the tabloids (bad van lauwe weelde = bad weekly orifices).
hij was geworden als eene kasplant, die, gewend aan de vochte warmte der serres, vreest in de open lucht te worden gezet.
he was praised (ge worden = gone worded) to the high heavens (gasplant) — yes! — warmly received (warmte der serres = warmth of grasp), now thrust into the open light of words gone wild.
Want het dreigde, gruwzaam, onbarmhartig: geen seconde was die bedreiging van hem af, en, in de lafheid zijner verweeking, wrong hij er zachtjes zijne witte handen om, en drupten er twee tranen langs zijn strak masker van wanhoop.
What stuff, what reeking, steamy stuff (“brownness smoking, oozing”): one day he was in the gutter of art, and, in the space of a few weeks, he was applauded everywhere, and translated into three languages, proclaimed now the master of desperation (masker van wanhoop).
Ja, er dreigde iets. En hij bleef daar zitten, ziek van angst, làf, zonder
Oi, the dredged nets. In the bleeding dark night, the bleakness of angst, the laughable and yet yonder
geestkracht, zonder moed…. Er dreigde iets en hij voelde het
untouchable geschtalt, yonder mood of ease. Here the dredged nets and the night-holding heat
naderen, hem overvallen, met hem strijden op leven en dood, in
are born, here the ovaries swell, having met the stream of life and dread, in
eene overspanning van wanhoop: hij voelde zich wankelen,
the ever-spanning war whoop. Here the fields awaken,
nederzinken, hij voelde zich gerukt worden uit de fluweelen
the unborn children frolic, here the fields are rich with wooden flowers,
zachtheid van zijn leven, neergesmakt worden op straat, zonder dak,
holding the sin and sang, the yin and yang, the wooden markets up this street,
zonder iets … Wat behoorde hem toe! Het linnen aan zijn lichaam,
down that…. What harm beholds the toe! The linen and the lichen,
de schoenen aan zijne voeten, de ring aan zijn vinger, het was van
the school totems, both wrung with vinegar, all in the name of
Frank. Het souper daarginds, zijn bed boven, het was van Frank. Zoo
Frano. Here was the super tamarind, the unmade bed, the name of Frano. He was too
was het geweest een vol jaar lang en als hij ooit weg zoû moeten
large for even himself to fathom or believe in,
gaan met alleen het zijne, dan zou hij moeten gaan … naakt, in den
here a man who towered over mountains, yes, even in
winter. En hij kón niet meer zijn, als hij geweest was in Amerika,
winter. Here was a man that was tall enough to see all the way to America,
dienstbaar scharrelend van den eenen dag op den anderen. Zijn lijf
that barren wasteland of flat days and wandering weeks. Indeed, life
en zijne ziel waren beide als geweekt in een bad van lauwe weelde;
was barren of joy and zeal besides the gefilte fish and the baths of laurel weeds;
hij was geworden als eene kasplant, die, gewend aan de vochte
His was a garden of eggplant, and yes, the voice of Gwenda
warmte der serres, vreest in de open lucht te worden gezet. Want het
the warm and severe, asleep in the open light of the wooden gazelle. Do you want
dreigde, gruwzaam, onbarmhartig: geen seconde was die bedreiging
to hear more, my guzzywam, my heart and barn warmer: three seconds and the man died, suffocated in the wrung bedsheets,
van hem af, en, in de lafheid zijner verweeking, wrong hij er zachtjes
snuffed, and in the last remaining weeks of those left behind, the zealots chose wrong,
zijne witte handen om, en drupten er twee tranen langs zijn strak
writing on the wrong hand, and thus disrupted the wee track lines of hope, striking
masker van wanhoop.
the mask of the venerable Master of war whoops.
First she shrinks away, swimming to the edge of the bowl, she looks back anxiously, yet smiles so sweetly so nicely. She shrinks away darting her tail from side to side, upending the plastic plant which disrupts a fug over filth into the water obscuring the fish from view; her tail flashes through the opaque gunk speckled and carries her deeper and farther way. Low and behold! Frank is licking the bowl with his tongue, which always makes his breath and discolours his mouth scales a sickly burnt orange; anyhow it’s Frank. He laps up the algae, flapping his dorsal fin; good ol’ Frank. Zoo cuddles herself into a corner of the bowl, languishing in a bubble of self-pity; cursing fate for bowling her with such an idiot, such a nit-wit… “Alas such is life,” she blurps to herself. (The thought is understood in the original language without the quotation punctuation used in English.) All the nice fish are in America, not bowled with her, sclaffing from round to round (A peculiarity of the Old Norse language lines insists that bowls have corners and edges but not side. Instead of using the word “sides” the Vikings of what is now south-western Finland, used “round” to describe the edge of a bowl.) Zoo lifts her eyes to the sky where she sees the bowl’s rim and freedom; she wonders while he farts the two fish moving ever so slowly closer together. When she shrinks away he gruwzaams her (untranslatable verb having to do with courtship for domesticated goldfish: circa – 27 BCE) pushing her against the round but in a second he’s forgotten the task and is devouring a new patch of algae, chuckling to himself for having found such a nice tasting bunch. Zoo swims back to her corner and bubbles inside of her wonder, then the net scoops her up to drop her in the bowl with the masked wanhoop…
Anna Maria Johnson
Yeah, she dreaded ice. In her blamed cold drink, anxiety gained a foothold, while laughter went yonder goose-struck (this phrase is awkward to translate, but is a colloquial expression that means something like “happiness was scattered far and wide in the manner of startled geese). She dreaded ice in her inmost being (literally “green hills within”), and him overall (in this language, all object pronouns are referred to as “him,” and in this case refers to the ice), [dreaded] him most strikingly in life or death [as if it were a life-or-death matter], in a sense this was an overarching phobia: her inmost being loathed crushed ice, drinks over rocks, her inmost being loathed even the word ice appearing on restaurant menus and her life, otherwise a deeply happy and full-filling one, was made hard by the presence of ice . . .
What was a woman to do! The iced lemonade she saw in the café of her choice, its very presence in the same room, made her food taste of vinegar, until she saw Frank. He was eating hot ground-nut soup, and she suddenly felt warm all over (“bed boven” being a local expression that describes the cozy sensation one experiences while lying comfortably in bed in that half-awake, half-asleep state on a winter’s morning): Frank was here. Animal-like was the feeling she had at the thought of the hot soup as it flowed down his strong throat in a nourishing fluid stream going down to his stomach and warming his gut as almost nothing in the world could . . . like nothing else in winter. In her mind was nothing else, but her desire was in America (another untranslate-able expression that connotes the sort of desire that is unattainable, or likely to disappoint deeply when attained), far from her homeland here in the country of tall men. Her life as she knew it—her life as her own—was likely to go bad with this strange feeling; she was sure to become a byword, die, and who would understand it was due to want of warmth, to be embraced openly in this public setting. Again she thought of her ice-hatred, whether iced coffee, iced tea: second-rate lemonade was especially horrid with ice, and, in the busy cacophony of the eatery in lunchtime, her thoughts followed a wrong turn, and she lost focus on all the world except that of her phobia.