Sep 222016
 

antique-store

I recently relocated to the St. Johns neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, and have been trying to get my bearings. “Gritty” St. Johns, as Portlanders say, or “up-and-coming” St. Johns, as Realtors tell us, was once an independent city built on its port and a few industries. It was incorporated into Portland a century ago. The other day I walked by a display, pictured above, in the windows of a store that had just closed. Free verse, public art—Sharon Helgerson tells her story and St. Johns’. Age 79, she is third generation St. Johns and a former Longshoreman, once a member of ILWU Local 8.

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Nolan Calisch and Nina Montenegro joined to put her words up, part of People’s Homes, a collaborative art project. The store is across the street from James John Grade School, where Sharon began attendance in 1942.

The other morning I searched online to see what I else I could find about Sharon and ran across this casual picture she took in 1968:

bobby-kennedy-st-johnsVia the St. Johns Heritage Association.

Bobby Kennedy, campaigning in Portland, made an appearance in St. Johns after their May parade, just a block away from the school, the store with the sign, and the place where I now live. Ethel and John Glenn were there as well. Two weeks later Bobby was shot.

The coming elections are in mind, and I’ve been thinking about ways to repair the break in time and the rent in our social fabric, as well as imagine what words I might put in a public window some day, without success.

Gary Garvin

Sep 212016
 

This has been a long time coming. No drumroll, just the satisfaction of a circle closing, a sense of rightness. Gary Garvin has been part of the magazine’s history since the February, 2010, issue. He helped design the site. He went away for a while, his wandering in the wilderness years, then came back and has been working prodigiously on his essays and fiction for us ever since. Now he has agreed to come out publicly as a Numéro Cinq co-religionist and join the masthead as a special correspondent. You can check out his many contributions if you click on his name below. But there will be more.

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Gary Garvin lives in Portland, Oregon, where he writes and reflects on a thirty-year career teaching English. His short stories and essays have appeared in TriQuarterly, Web ConjunctionsFourth Genre, Numéro Cinq, the minnesota reviewNew Novel ReviewConfrontationThe New ReviewThe Santa Clara ReviewThe South Carolina Review, The Berkeley Graduate, and The Crescent Review. He is currently at work on a collection of essays and a novel. His architectural models can be found at Under Construction. A catalog of his writing can be found at Fictions.

Sep 172016
 

Douglas Glover photo

Left the NC Bunker today to check out the Tunbridge Fair. Was persuaded against better judgement to go on rides. First took pictures of this thing, which I think of as The Claw, and then rode on it. Feel much better now. But cannot write complete sentences yet.

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Then I went on another very fast whirling gyroscopic orgasmomegatron ride (which I did not photograph) and with four tickets left got onto the Zero Gravity machine with Matt Monk (dg dressed in dark clothing, Matt in white). I recall Matt saying, as we entered the big kids’ ride enclosure, “Now the shit gets real!” Needless to say someone else took these pictures.

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What you see here are the faces of men who have faced Death in the Zero Gravity ride (along with 12 small children).

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Sep 152016
 

For Numéro Cinq at the Movies this month we feature talented filmmaker and NC at the Movies contributor Jon Dewar’s short film “Hypothermia” which just finished the festival circuit and is up on the web for the first time. Here in dialogue with his cinematographer on the film, filmmaker Matt Rogers, they explore the film’s themes and how it was made. Dewar just wrapped an epic film shoot adaptation of one of my short stories, The Beautiful Drowned,” and I am so pleased we get to share this, his previous film, in the bittersweet moments as he finishes up the new one.            

— R. W. Gray


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Jon Dewar’s “Hypothermia” asks us to relive fractured and incomplete memories of a love story rife with nuanced tensions and unspoken complexities. As an audience, we are tasked to temporarily experience the leftover pieces of a relationship between characters Verity (Michelle Duncan) and Harper (Greg Profit) as they search for each other in a frozen forest. Dewar’s precise editing leaves us to find meaning through stark juxtaposition and intended absences. The film features a tonally complex score by Nick Mazerolle, which draws us in and provides connections between the characters’ dispersed memories.

In the end, Dewar asks us to implicate ourselves in these cold fragmented pieces of the story through a simple, but bitter, glare. Since 2014, “Hypothermia has enjoyed great success on the Canadian and international film festival circuit, winning Best Picture at the Tottering Biped Film Festival and I won Best Cinematography at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival for my work on the film. My following discussion with Dewar, of Quispamsis, New Brunswick, is an extension of all the conversations we had through the making of the film and gives him a chance to elaborate on the film’s craft, and on what brought him to this frigid romance.

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MR: When people ask you to describe what “Hypothermia is about, where do you start, and what do you tell them?

JD: I generally try to keep the synopsis for my films simple. For me, “Hypothermia was always a love story set to the backdrop of winter.

MR: The narrative of the film comes to us in small pieces and fragments. Why did you think this film needed to be told this way?

JD: I wanted this film to feel like a memory. When reflecting on an experience, our minds tend to oscillate between different parts of that experience; we try to pinpoint where we were, how we felt, and what was influencing us. Time can distort memories and this can affect how we perceive them. I wanted this film to explore this conflict.

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MR: How does that distortion play out between these two characters? Do you think these distortions ask audiences to distrust elements of the narrative?

JD: It’s less a distortion of truth and more a distortion of emotion. If we line up and juxtapose all these moments what is the final equation? Are the moments of wonder between Harper and Verity any less so because of their moments of hardship? The characters spend the film trying to navigate this idea.

MR: Did the story come to you first or the style of telling it?

JD: Every draft of this script told the story in fragments. Rather than using a linear story structure, I wanted to try to blend moments together in a visual or kinetic sense, without ever losing the arch of the characters. I wanted to find ways for the images to represent scattered pieces that form the whole. I thought this was vital in depicting the film as memory.

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MR: Where did you find your influence for this approach? What films were you watching at the time when you came up with “Hypothermia?”

JD: Blue Valentine was a source of inspiration for “Hypothermia;” I was really drawn to its nonlinear narrative and to the type of romantic conflict between the two characters. Upstream Color is a film I’m continuously drawn to visually and also served as inspiration for “Hypothermia.”

MR: You and I had a lot of conversations while making the film about how the terrain is another character in the film.

JD: I try to ground my films in the resources I have available. One thing that New Brunswick continuously offers is unique landscapes and weather, and I’ve tried to use those in most scripts I write. When I decided to lock this story into a winter backdrop, the setting started to influence the choices I made for the characters, the themes of the story, the color palette, everything. Winter became a reflection and embodiment of what this story is about.

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MR: I found this is a very tonal film. Besides the terrain, what were some of the things you focused on to help establish this stark tone?

JD: The dialogue and acting were a big part of that. I wanted the characters to speak more in sentiment than in specifics. The characters’ memories fail them in a sense. They don’t remember exactly what was said or how they felt but can recall the tone or spirit of it. This puts us at a bit of distance from the characters. We experience the moments as they do – as reflection.

MR: I particularly liked that, how as the story progresses we relive this growing disconnect between the characters with them. The coldness of the terrain, that third character, definitely helps establish that feeling. Did that third character (winter) have an impact on the production of this film, did it in any way influence what was possible for you to do with this story?

JD: It certainly locked us into a specific time frame of when the film could be shot. It also meant that everyone was going to be very cold. There are a lot of obstacles that come with filming outdoors in the winter but I try to see this kind of restraint as a positive thing. When you lock yourself into a specific parameter you have to get creative and that creativity undoubtedly has a positive influence on the film. This is much of the premise that Dogma 95 was built on.

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MR: Were there other limitations in filming the film?

JD: We didn’t have much of a budget and worked with a bare bones crew. I never saw this as a hindrance though. Sometimes having that tight knit group can get everyone in the same wavelength or head space. This is an intimate story and I think having a small crew helped highlight that on screen. That intimacy was something I wanted to preserve in the film and a vital part of the onscreen romance. Greg and Michelle are a real life couple and the three of us were able to work together to weave elements of their relationship into the film.

MR: Audiences also get much of the meaning of this story through what you present to them visually. What is your storyboarding process?

JD: I’ve always had trouble describing my storyboarding process. I generally just try to go with my instinct. When I read the scene on the page I try to focus on the images I see with it and draw a representation of that. It becomes difficult when I overthink it or ask myself how another director might do it. That initial image gets skewed and it can be hard to return to it. I stuck to the storyboards on this film more than I have on any other production. The storyboards were basically my script and shot list. I thought this was key for working with a nonlinear narrative.

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MR: What was your approach to editing the film? Did you know the choices ahead of time, or did many of your choices come in the edit?

JD: It ended up being a mix of both. If you watch the film with the storyboards, there are scenes that are identical. There are also several that took on a different form while editing. In some cases Greg or Michelle would bring something great to the scene that I hadn’t considered or noticed and I’d follow that thread. The setting, location, or cinematography could work the same way. Telling the story in fragments or non-linearly also greatly influenced the editing. I had to find that right way to blend the scenes together. Sometimes I would connect them through visuals or motion rather than continuity. It all came back to that notion of the film feeling like a memory.

MR: How did the score of this film help you tell the story?

JD: With each scene representing a different point or jump in time I wanted the score to represent something more fluid. Nick, our composer, created something that weaves between the emotions of the characters. The music seamlessly morphs throughout the film so that it’s always changing but without us ever really noticing. I thought having this fluidity in the music would mesh well with the visual contrasts in time.

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MR: For an ultra-low budget short, this film has had great success reaching audiences. What was your experience like navigating the film festival circuit with this film?

JD: “Hypothermia was really my first time navigating the film festival circuit. I’m not sure if I initially had much of a strategy but what I found worked for this film was pinpointing independent or underground based film festivals.

MR: Did you get to travel with the film? What was it like screening it in other contexts besides the chilly North?

JD: “Hypothermia ended up screening at 18 film festivals across North America. I attended the screening at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival and the audience and programmers responded very strongly to the snowy setting. It became known as the “Canadian winter” film. That was a lot of fun. Regardless of where the film was screening, festival programmers were always highlighting the landscape of the film. I think that almost became its selling point. I was very proud of that. It was such an integral part of the story for me and I’m glad it connected with audiences in that way. Of all the festival screenings “Hypothermia had I was only able to attend two. I wish I had been able to attend more. There is nothing else in the world quite like a film festival. I’m glad it is finally going to be online now so that I can share the film with larger audiences.

MR: Anything you learned that you will take with you to the next film?

JD: Film is such a collaborative medium. It’s all about the people you have around you. For every film I’ve directed I’ve been part of an incredibly supportive and committed crew. Without that there really is no film. Surround yourself with people who make you want to be better.

—Matt Rogers & Jon Dewar


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Matt Rogers is an educational researcher, a former teacher, and an Atlantic Canadian filmmaker. Matt is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of New Brunswick. His teaching includes critical teacher education in film and media studies, social studies, technology, and educational foundations. His research focuses on the intersection of critical pedagogy and participatory filmmaking with youth in school contexts. He is also active in the NB film community and has coordinated the What’s up Doc? youth film program since 2009. His personal film work has been internationally recognized with awards and nominations in cinematography, editing, writing, and direction. Recently, his latest short film, a list, (Frictive Pictures) won the award for Best Direction at an international film festival in Boston. Currently, Dr. Rogers is co-directing a documentary with Dr. Susan Cahill (U of C) focused on the ongoing history of government resettlement programs in Newfoundland.    


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Sep 152016
 

Lewis Parker

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“It’s one man, one vote, quite literally, Jim.”

“The one man who will be casting a ballot to decide the next President of the United States is actor Christopher Walken.”

“After a six-month ordeal that has brought the U.S. political system to the brink of ridicule, Christopher Walken has entered the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. He’s wearing brown slacks hitched high up his torso and a senior citizen’s cardigan. There’s that grey blizzard of back-swept hair, the moonbeam stare. He’s limping past camera flashes with a walking cane and a strangely elongated stride.”

“The brink of ridicule, Bob? He’s standing outside the voting booth having his I.D. checked by Bob Furris of the Federal Election Commission.”

“Until we hear of any further developments, Jim, I know you’re a fan of Christopher Walken. So I wondered if you could answer a question that’s bugging one of our listeners, Hank from Ohio.”

“Howdy, Hank.”

“Hank asks in an email, can somebody please tell me, what’s the movie where a young Christopher Walken sits in a darkened room talking about his desire to crash his car into oncoming traffic?”

“Is that a trick question, Bob?”

“No, it’s a legitimate question from Hank in Ohio. Hank goes on, ever since I learned that Mr Walken would be choosing our next president, I have not been able to sleep for this scene flashing through my mind. It’s scaring the bejesus out of me.”

“OK, Hank, thanks for calling in. I can picture the scene. He’s wearing some sort of checked flannel shirt. And a guy, the protagonist, I can’t remember who, comes into Walken’s room late at night, and he delivers this monologue about hearing voices in his head.”

“Right.”

“It’s in The Dead Zone, a movie based on a Stephen King novel. About a teacher with supernatural powers who intuits that a politician played by Martin Sheen will send America into a nuclear holocaust, and so he goes to one of his rallies shoots him.”

“Final answer The Dead Zone?”

“Certain.”

“You’re wrong, Jim. The unsettling scene you’re thinking of is in Annie Hall.”

“The Woody Allen movie? No.”

“Look, we have a widget printed out right here. He plays Annie’s brother.”

“It’s a great movie that won a lot of awards, Bob, and I think Christopher Walken’s scene is one of the best things in it.”

“I am personally not reassured by this at all. If Christopher Walken is the only man alive who can make Annie Hall feel like a horror movie, no wonder the bond markets freaked out when they heard he’d got the nod.”

“I think Walken was a perfect choice for the brother in Annie Hall, and he’s the right man to choose the next President. He’s the impact character this script needed.”

“One man’s impact character is another man’s nightmare scenario.”

“If you’ve just joined us, the Supreme Court building is draped in American flags, a giant clock has been set to zero and the world’s media is crammed into the marble hall. Armed U.S. Marshals are swarming all over and Christopher Walken is having his identity checked. Bob Furris of the F.E.C is holding Christopher Walken’s driving license next to Christopher Walken’s face and comparing the two. I really don’t think this is necessary, Bob.”

“Bob Furris has to be absolutely certain that this is not an actor or impostor come to hijack our political system. Before he arrived in the Capitol this afternoon, there were calls among the population for the Academy Award winner to recite the speech about his grandfather’s watch from Pulp Fiction as an extra security measure.”

“The F.E.C.’s lawyers said making voters recite speeches would breach voter registration laws, although there is a movement in Alabama campaigning to make all registered voters reel off two pages of the Independence Day screenplay from memory.”

“But Walken’s not a voter, Jim, he’s now a kingmaker. And let’s remember that from the outset, Christopher Walken has been a reluctant kingmaker. When his nomination was announced, he was spending the weekend foraging for wild mushrooms in his Vermont woodland retreat, reading Edgar Allan Poe to himself by a campfire. The great American news media tracked him down and demanded to know whether he was ready to play ball.  ‘Let’s see what I’m doing on Thursday,’ he replied.”

“A true American enigma, Bob.”

“He’d been given the honour of choosing the next president, Jim, and he didn’t even crack a smile or say thank you. When the great NBC newsman Bob Waffle jumped into the campfire circle and confronted Walken on what that meant – could he please elaborate, could he at least maybe promise not to turn his back on the American people – he said, ‘It means I’ll see.’”

“The thing with Walken is that he’s really a poet. You have to parse what he’s saying to get to the kernel of truth. When he says, ‘I’ll see’, he didn’t just mean I haven’t made up my mind. If you listen closely to that clip, look in those adamantine eyes, ‘I’ll see’ means I will perceive.”

“Our nation was in the most serious political crisis since 1824, when Andrew Jackson was gazumped by John Quincy Adams in the House of Representatives. Walken had 72 hours to register himself at the Capitol, accept the nomination and cast his ballot. That morning, he brushed the great American news media aside with his cane, and didn’t answer a single question as he got into his old Sedan and started off on what the nation hoped would be a direct route to the Capitol. Millions of people across the globe tuned in to see helicopter footage of Christopher Walken driving – maybe to the Capitol to choose us a President, maybe to the grocery store to buy more marshmallows. Federal agents had blocked the roads to give him a clear run. What did Walken do? On the freeway near Northampton, Massachusetts, America watched in horror as Walken drove up to the police road block. When a police officer tried to tell Walken, no, he couldn’t exit the goddamn freeway, we saw blurry footage of a cranky old celebrity giving a servant of the people what looked like a volley of abuse.”

“Christopher Walken doesn’t have an abusive bone in his body, Bob. He’s an eighty-one year old man on his way to elect the next President with the news media watching his every move. He shouldn’t have to empty his bladder into a Sprite can.”

“He went to his favourite eatery called Kathy’s Canteen fifteen miles out-of-the-way. A convoy of New Englanders were waving flags, holding placards and ‘Go, Chris! Go!’ bumper stickers. Soccer moms came out with cookies to give to Walken. A local business owner offered to lend him his Porsche to get him to Washington quicker. People had brought take-out food to give to him, but he didn’t give a damn.”

“Cool as you like, a consummate gentleman the whole time, Walken got out of the car, thanked his supporters for the cookies and the take-outs, but said, you know what, folks? I’ve been driving all day without a rest stop. Kathy-who-owns-the-restaurant is a personal friend. I need a break. I’m going to eat in. And you know what, Bob, I think that’s fair.”

“Walken enters the restaurant and Kathy, whose political allegiances are suspect to say the least, bolts the doors behind him like a French café owner welcoming Robespierre. He sits in a booth in the middle of the room and orders a plate of Philosopher Quinoa. That’s a reference to the socialist philosopher Aristotle.”

“It’s a reference to Plato’s Republic, Bob.”

“Americans are uncomfortable with the next President being chosen by an unpredictable vegetarian who eats salad named after Greek intellectuals, and I understand their concerns. If I was there, I would have throttled him.”

“On Tuesday night when Christopher Walken drove into Washington, D.C. in his sedan, half a million people had come out to greet him. Now here he is, in the lobby of the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., proving his detractors wrong, about to save the nation from a constitutional crisis.”

“We hope.”

“The Interim President and Leader of the House is here, looking extremely relieved. His gamble to railroad through a 28th amendment to the Constitution, to elect a popular kingmaker in the event of political gridlock, appears to have paid off. All nine Supreme Court justices line the front row in gowns. They are here along with the F.E.C’s Bob Furris, United Nations election observers…”

“Let’s not forget the great American news media.”

“… all here to make sure this election meets the highest democratic standards.”

“We can now confirm that Christopher Walken’s documents have been given the all-clear by the F.E.C. and the Chief Justice. His hair’s standing on end and I still haven’t seen him blink yet. He cracks an eerie half-smile to somebody in the audience, but that does nothing to calm the atmosphere in the building. In fact it just sent a shiver down my spine. The Chief Justice is stepping forward with a Bible. Christopher Walken is being sworn in. He’s even making the Pledge of Allegiance sound menacing.”

“The mouse that turned the cream into butter and walked out!”

“A Japanese news anchor is being ejected by a U.S. marshal for heckling one of Walken’s lines from the Steven Spielberg movie Catch Me If You Can.”

“Talk about tension, Jim. With the formalities over, the Chief Justice and Bob Furris are ushering a barely compliant Walken towards the voting booth. It’s a solid wooden shed roughly the size of a phone box, manufactured by Shrubb Electoral Solutions in the great voting state of Florida. Inside there’s a mechanised voting system that was perfected in the 2000 Presidential Election. It’s a stunningly simple process that I hope will be good enough for our national enigma. The voter puts his ballot card in a slot and pulls a lever to stamp the name of the candidate he’d like to be President. Sort of like a fruit machine.”

“The Chief Justice is now reminding Christopher Walken that once the door closes, he will have one hour to stamp the card.”

“Here we go, Walken is approaching the booth. He’s taking his own sweet time.”

“The big clock hasn’t started yet. Christopher Walken is only halfway inside the voting booth. We can still see half his face as he confers with Bob Furris. He’s making a movement with his wrist to check that there’s a lock on the door. Furris nods and reassures him that it definitely locks.”

“I never thought I’d say it, Jim, but Christopher Walken is now inside the voting booth procured especially for him with the door shut.”

“There goes sound of the voting bell.”

“A patter of applause has broken out among the sleep-deprived press corps.”

“Stewards are reminding the press to be quiet, lest they try to influence the election.”

“The Leader of the House of Representatives is tentatively shaking hands with a couple of the Supreme Court justices. He has a right to feel relieved.”

“I’m not so sure this is all over yet, Jim. Can they lock it from the outside, to make sure Walken doesn’t run away?”

“Show some respect, Bob.”

“I don’t understand why he has to lock the door when his vote won’t be a secret.”

“Voting is not a rational process, it’s a deeply personal ritual akin to prayer. I met a group of folks on the West Coast who told me that it is a mystical experience, akin to something called pataphysics. That’s the study of unobservable phenomena. By training their minds to think intuitively, these folks can tell you what’s inside a box without looking inside. They can guess the codes to safes and predict earthquakes. They have also predicted the outcome of the last five elections correctly. That is why they are now being courted by the elites of both main parties to try and get ahead of the game in the next election cycle. I also have it on good authority that Christopher Walken has been in contact with these people in Oregon, who call themselves the Ubu Roi.”

“I don’t know what to say, Jim. You may be onto something, or you may need counseling.”

“I believe in the Ubu Roi and I believe in Christopher Walken’s ability to choose based on their teachings and his own mystical intuition.”

“But what’s your belief in the Ubu Roi based on?”

“Perception.”

“Whatever you say. One of our researchers has just handed me an article about Christopher Walken in Vanity Fair magazine from 1997. The journalist who interviewed Walken in his house in Los Angeles discovered that Walken had two tissue dispensers in every bathroom, one on each side of the toilet bowl. This means, if you can believe it, that Walken wipes his ass with both hands.”

“I wonder what the Ubu Roi say about that. I know what I make of it.”

“Hey everybody, listen to this. Did you know Christopher Walken wipes his ass with both hands?”

“Christopher Walken still has fifty-five minutes to cast his vote. Bob has left us momentarily while he confers with some of our network TV colleagues as to the possible meaning of this revelation. If you can believe it, the media are now wondering if Walken expects there to be two levers on the voting machine. Bookmakers have slashed the odds of Walken taking one look at the voting machine and leaving the booth – and the political system in disarray – to 3/1. Using my own intuition, I have to say, I still don’t believe that will happen. Closing my eyes for a second, I’m envisaging Christopher Walken inside the voting booth pulling the lever, walking out and declaring a winner. Who that winner will be, I’m not sure, it isn’t my job to speculate. An anchor behind me is asking his people if they remember whether Walken ate his quinoa in Kathy’s restaurant the day before yesterday with both hands. I’ve seen this footage dozens of times, and I remember Kathy bringing him a knife and fork, but him only using the fork, and doing so with his right hand. That’s what Fox News thinks, and they’re predicting a Republican president on this basis. (Don’t they know that people who hold the fork in their right hands are left-handed?) A blogger in front of me says she has found photographic evidence of Walken at a Hollywood diner in 1982 using a knife and fork to eat a plate of fries. Bob’s leaning over the blogger’s shoulder and pointing at the photo, screaming.”

“Who in God’s name uses a knife and fork to eat fries?”

“News is coming thick and fast from behind me now. It emerges there is a photo of Walken in Times Square eating a slice of pizza from a plastic plate with a spoon. Meanwhile NBC is claiming Walken shook hands with his left hand when his arm was in a cast. Bob’s still shouting.”

“This is un-American behaviour!”

“Bob, come back here, buddy.”

“But what about using both hands to wipe his ass? Listen to Karryn Kelly at Fox:”

“I’ve alternated hands over the course of my life, but by god I’ve never been so depraved as to use both at the same time.”

“Bob’s walked off again. He’s with around ten other anchors who’ve approached Bob Furris and the Chief Justice. They’re demanding an immediate suspension of the voting process while we figure out exactly what’s going on with Christopher Walken.”

“Somebody drag that fucking maniac out of there!”

“Welcome back, Bob. Can you tell listeners what you were doing?”

“Is that booth sound-proofed? I hope he can hear the shouts of Traitor! Communist!  Reptile! Get him out of there before America becomes Iran and we’re wiping our asses with our hands!”

“Marshals are dragging Karryn Kelly out by the nostrils. Unprecedented scenes.”

“Tom Cooley from Nevada FM says the legislature in his state is already putting the wheels in motion to secede from the union.”

“A martial also has an apoplectic Ben Bozier of NBC by the feet and they’re tasering him. The Chief Justice and eight other Supreme Court judges have backed off behind a martial cordon. The Leader of the House has been escorted away from the increasingly hostile press corps.”

“In amidst all this chaos in Washington, D.C., Christopher Walken has used twenty of his permitted sixty minutes.”

“The networks may be happy to see this go down to the wire.”

“But I’m sure Christopher Walken isn’t the kind of man who would string things out for ratings.”

“Ratings are astonishing!”

“I’m now starting to wonder what he’s doing in there.”

“All this dithering jackass has to do is stamp a piece of paper. Is there a clock in there? I wonder if he’s even wearing a watch.”

“Our democracy can’t handle another vote.”

“The folks behind me are now calling Walken a space cadet.”

“Has it crossed your mind that he’s fallen asleep in there, Jim?”

“If he has fallen asleep, the United States of America, our democratic traditions, and most certainly, the great actor Christopher Walken, will have become a global laughing-stock. That would be a sad day for us all. But I’m sure this outstanding American, who was chosen precisely for his ability to make one decision and one decision only, would never allow that to happen. The Ubu Roi would not allow that to happen.”

“Believe me, if you fall asleep in that booth with the whole world watching, you hand world supremacy straight over to China. This is how crucial it is that Christopher Walken doesn’t fall asleep right now.”

“Come on, now, Christopher Walken. You’ve had plenty of time to think about this. There are only two options. Put your card in the machine, select the least-worst option and pull the lever. You can use two hands for all America cares.”

“All my eggs are in Christopher Walken’s trouser pocket, Jim. It galls me to say it, but they are.”

“Holy shit!”

“Crap!”

“Oh my god, take cover!”

“America’s at war!”

“Bob, come back. Bob’s running towards the booth. The news is going crazy with reports that. With reports that. I’m looking over the heads of cowering journalists, in fear of their lives, trying to make sense of what just happened in the Supreme Court building, where a shot has been fired. Marshals are packing the area, surrounding the booth, our democracy, with uniforms. We’re being told to get down and stay down. I’m trying to see over the top of my monitor, to report to you what is happening. The Chief Martial is opening the door of the voting booth. The door has been prised open, and there is a commotion now as the martial appears to be summoning Christopher Walken from the booth, but he does not appear to be coming out. The Marshals appear to be dragging Christopher Walken out. They’re blocking my view. Now I can see that they’re trying to smother the bloody mess of pulp and spine where his head has been blown off and his brains are dripping like stalactites onto the marble floor of the Supreme Court building.”

—Lewis Parker

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Lewis Parker is a writer of fiction, poetry and journalism who is trying to get out of London. A hand-typed book of his poems, Suicide Notes, collects the best things he’s written while working as an écrivain public in the streets and at festivals during the last year. His prose has been in the Guardian, New Statesman, Dazed & Confused and Minor Literature[s], and he has taught at Kingston University in England.

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Sep 142016
 

di Benedetto

Di Benedetto precisely evokes themes of alienation and absurdity through Zama’s futile supplications for promotion and the humiliations…. Evocative of history without being a historical novel, Zama shares in a rich tradition of existentialist fiction. — Frank Richardson

zama

Zama
Antonio di Benedetto
Translated by Ester Allen
New York Review Books Classics, 2016
224 pg, $15.95

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Adead monkey, drowned but undecomposed, washes against a pier where a man stands, alone, separated from his family by half a continent of jungle, desperate to escape, dreading the suspicion he will share the same fate as the corpse drifting in the water. And so we meet Don Diego de Zama, the eponymous antihero of Antonio Di Benedetto’s most celebrated novel. First published in Argentina more than sixty years ago, Zama—extolled by Julio Cortázar, Roberto Bolaño, and Juan José Saer—is now available for the first time in English courtesy of NYRB Classics and master translator Ester Allen.

Born in 1922 in Mendoza, Argentina, to parents of Italian descent, Antonio Di Benedetto studied law before turning to journalism. In 1953 his first short story collection, Mundo animal, was awarded a prize by the Sociedad Argentina de Escritores, juried in part by Jorge Luis Borges. His first novel, Zama, appeared in 1956 and was followed by the novels El silenciero (1964) and Los suicidas (1969; made into a film in 2005). A collection of his selected stories is forthcoming in English from Archipelago Books and a film adaptation of Zama is due out in 2017.

Antonio Di Benedetto traveled the world and lived a life as incredible as any fictional character, including, unfortunately, the horrors he suffered under the Videla dictatorship. For reasons unknown, he was imprisoned after the 1976 military coup d’état and held for eighteen months, during which time he was tortured and stood in front of a firing squad four times (a terrifying experience to have in common with Dostoyevsky, his literary role model). Ester Allen’s insightful preface includes the remarkable story of Di Benedetto’s release, in part due to efforts by Heinrich Böll and Ernesto Sábato. A testament to his spirit, Di Benedetto continued to write stories in prison, stories he published as the collection Absurdos in 1978 while living in exile in Spain. He wouldn’t return to Argentina until 1984 and died in 1986 in Buenos Aires.

Castaway

Don Diego de Zama, the protagonist-narrator of this first-person tale of existential descent, is a castaway in the midst of a crowd. Appointed by the Spanish Crown as a court councilor in the remote colonial outpost of Asunción, Paraguay, Zama’s greatest desire is escape—preferably by promotion. Zama reports to the provincial governor (Gobernador), but despite his high rank, the Gobernador treats him with disrespect since Zama is an americano, a criollo—of Spanish descent, but born in South America—unlike the other Spanish-born officers living in the small community. Ironically, the fact that Zama works for the Spanish government alienates him from the americanos. Isolated from his family, isolated within his own community by prejudice, and given his own admitted “nonexistent capacity for making friends,” his hope for escape becomes for him a “long soliloquy,” a record of his frustration and fear and anger and pain as the years tick by and he falls farther and farther away from his expectations and dreams. He sums up his situation:

Here I was, in the midst of a vast continent that was invisible to me though I felt it all around, a desolate paradise, far too immense for my legs. America existed for no one if not for me, but it existed only in my needs, my desires, and my fears.

Di Benedetto precisely evokes themes of alienation and absurdity through Zama’s futile supplications for promotion and the humiliations he endures at his bureaucratic job—themes similarly explored by Kafka, to whom Di Benedetto is frequently compared. Called to the Gobernador’s office, Zama is “condemned” to wait in the antechamber, “writhing with impotence,” “humiliated” at being of “apparent equality of status” with a group of locals waiting for an audience with the governor. The irony of the situation becomes clear when the Gobernador tells Zama that he has summoned him to deal with the troublesome old man and young woman with whom he has been waiting. When told, he storms out past the petitioners and into his own office where he broods:

First they would have to grow weary of waiting for their audience with the governor. They would bestir themselves and approach the secretary, only to be informed that it was the learned councillor they should see. Then they would wait another long while before they were received at last and came to the realization that the learned councillor was none other than myself, that is, the very man in whose presence they had already wasted an irrecoverable half hour.

Zama will reap what he sows, for he too will “grow weary of waiting,” he too will “bestir” himself (and to the point of madness), he too will dwell on “irrecoverable” time. The 198-page novel comprises 50 numbered chapters distributed in a 3:2:1 ratio across three sections labeled by date: 1790, 1794, and 1799. These sections represent discrete states of mind for Zama and the dwindling ratio mimics Zama’s psychological dissolution as he spirals toward destruction.

Terribly alone, Zama’s only preoccupation besides leaving is sex. The 1790 period of the narrative is dominated by his almost hysterical lasciviousness for any woman, and his pursuit of conjugal relations is simultaneously pathetic and comical. Zama does miss his wife, but he also convinces himself that “No man . . . disdains the prospect of illicit love.” His primary would-be paramour, Luciana (the wife of a colleague), when she realizes his interest in her, strings him along, teasing him with promises, then kisses, then the hope of a midnight assignation. She deliberately fuels Zama’s expectations with no intention of ever consenting to his desires. When Luciana won’t have him, he tries Rita, the daughter of his host, despite a growing paranoia that people are laughing at him behind his back over his overt concupiscence. One night, in passing a random woman in the street, he is convinced she’s attracted to him and follows her home. A comically absurd moment ensues when the woman’s dogs emerge to defend her and Zama, believing himself her deliverer, attacks them with his sword in a seizure of quixotic lunacy.

Zama’s conflicts drive him to constant contradiction. The episode of anger at work distracts him from the aid he promised an injured native woman. When he learns that the help he finally sends is in vain, he feels “so disoriented that my unease and remorse were visible, my guilt at neglecting a human being . . . .” He sees himself as a faithful husband, yet behaves lecherously. He sees himself as a good Samaritan, yet neglects the ones he would help. He sees himself as dignified, but behaves pettily. While we can assume he began his exile with some of the character traits that define him, his isolation exacerbates some and creates others and all are amplified as months turn to years. Don Diego de Zama is no hero, but he is a complex, vibrant character through which Di Benedetto ingeniously illustrates the contradictions and flaws that make us human.

paraguayNicolaus Bellin, Carte du Paraguay et des Pays voisins Pour servir a l’Historie Generale des Voyages, 1760

Descent

By the end of the first part, almost all of the people Zama knows have left Asunción. Four years pass and 1794 opens with Zama in the same town with the same job, but living with a Spanish widow, Emilia, with whom he has a son, born “sickly.” But Don Diego has only changed for the worse, and his namesake becomes symbolic as neglect reduces him to an animal-like state:

Propelled by his knees and his filthy little hands, the child moved about on the dirt floor. With no one to clean them, his nostrils dripped, and the two streams of snot had reached the upper lip . . . The little one rubbed his face, smearing the snot around with a dirty hand . . . His viscous little fingers then dug back into the dirt, which made a revolting mud. . . .

My son. On all fours and so filthy that in the twilight he was indistinguishable from the earth itself: a kind of camouflage. At least—like an animal—he had that defense.

When Zama’s wages are overdue from Spain he must sell almost everything including his sword. He soon abandons Emilia and his son and moves to the cheapest lodgings he can find where he exists in the fog of his own expectations; thinking only of the future, the present decays into hallucination. Neurotic and at times feverish, he is alternately lucid and confused, lost in fantasy. Zama’s oneiric narration during this period is similar (though not nearly as stream of consciousness in style) to the surreal “Report on the Blind” section of Ernesto Sábato’s 1961 novel On Heroes and Tombs. Sábato’s character Fernando, obsessed with a conspiracy of the blind, plunges into the depths of his unconscious, metaphorically represented by the sewers of Buenos Aires; Di Benedetto’s Zama, plagued by an interminable isolation created by forces both without and within, loses himself in fantasies of women. The internal forces prove most destructive, a fact Zama will eventually realize when he reflects that “the search for freedom . . . is not out there but within each one” (Di Benedetto’s italics). In an essay on Sábato’s novel, William H. Gass wrote that Sábato “believes deeply in the reality of evil, in the hell that each man is . . . whereas for the kingdom of heaven, or the reality of the good, he has only hope.” In his isolation, Zama creates his own hell and the possibility of a heavenly future remains only a hope.

Leaves of Existentialism

Zama shares many of the themes associated with existentialism, including, but not limited to estrangement, anxiety, despair, and the absurd. His alienation from family, colleagues, and community is self-evident, and although Zama’s “soliloquy” gives the reader a sense of his anxiety and despair, Di Benedetto doesn’t rely on Zama’s exposition alone. In his afterword to Di Benedetto’s Animal World, Jorge García-Gómez notes the parallels between Di Benedetto’s fiction and Kafka’s in their use of animal imagery to elucidate a character’s existential state. For example, while Zama contemplates the drowned monkey—a striking image itself—a fellow officer joins him on the pier and tells him of a fish that “the river spurns, and the fish . . . must wage continual battle against the ebb and flow that seek to cast it upon dry land.” Disturbed by his colleague’s story, Zama walks into the jungle where, minutes prior to spying on a group of bathing women, he imagines a puma and reflects “on games that were terrible or that could turn terrible.” In another example, while adjudicating the case of a murderer, Zama discovers the man believed he had grown a bat wing and in a frantic attempt to cut it off, had, in reality, stabbed his wife to death.

And, there are insects.

Zama the predator (puma) becomes symbolic prey when Luciana tells him of the pompilid wasp nest she found in her room; female pompilids prey on spiders, paralyzing them with venom so that the wasp’s young, when they hatch, will have something fresh to eat.

waspPompilid Wasp

Another layer of Di Benedetto’s representation of Zama’s psyche is his prose style. Allen wrote that that recreating Di Benedetto’s prose was a great challenge, that the style of Zama is “sui generis: choppy, oblique, veering and jolting from sentence to sentence, often rather opaque, a bit mad.” All the more perfect for this novel, for capturing the nature of this character’s consciousness. For Zama is oblique, he does veer from thought to thought, from plan to plan, and he is certainly more than a bit mad.

When his psychological state is most strained, sentences are separated by line breaks as if to punctuate the manner in which Zama experiences his world—through curt, dour moments, isolated inside his own mind:

I slept very late.
I did not leave the room until I sensed an absence of light outside.
I perceived the moon, like a woman seated on the horizon, naked and fat.
I went to the rear yards.
I searched for something to chew on in the kitchen garden but it was much neglected and had no fruit trees.
I drank maté in the kitchen.
I was not thinking of the dead girl. By now she was far away. I remembered the blond boy. He had reappeared now, with four years gone by, under incomprehensible circumstances. I did not devote much thought to him. . . .
I was isolated, besieged, defenseless.

In the final part, 1799, Zama joins a company of soldiers sent to apprehend a local bandit, Vicuña Porto, and as the company rides deeper into a heart-of-darkness jungle, the prose becomes even terser:

The wind would topple the cross. Later, someone would carry off the stone.
Bare earth.
No one.
Nothing.
I shuddered, without moving.
This could not be. This could not be for me.
I must go back, expose myself to this no further.
Give up the search.

With all the white space on the page and the pauses between lines, you can almost hear Zama taking deep breaths between each thought.

In style, Zama is similar to Camus’s L’Étranger. Camus’s novel also features a disturbed first-person narrator, and although Meursault and Zama have different stories, characters, and motivations, nevertheless they assume a similarly abrupt tone, and what both characters do not say often echoes as loudly as what they do.

§

Evocative of history without being a historical novel, Zama shares in a rich tradition of existentialist fiction. For much of his life Antonio Di Benedetto lived in Mendoza, a self-imposed outsider apart from the literary scene of Buenos Aires. Through Zama he gives us a glimpse into the human condition that is alienated, absurd, comical, desperate, afraid, and yet, hopeful. Zama’s life is one of unfulfilled expectations, one of waiting, reflected in Di Benedetto’s epigraph: “A las víctimas de la espera / To the victims of expectation.” At the end, during a moment of clarity, Zama thinks:

. . . that uncertain though I was as to our goal, I became possessed of the certainty that my fate would be the same anywhere.

I asked myself not why I was alive but why I had lived. Out of expectation, I supposed, and wondered whether I still expected anything. It seemed I did.

Something more is always expected.

Something more is always expected. But isn’t this one of our greatest strengths? Unfulfilled hope is not hope in vain. One thing is certain, we can be grateful that Antonio Di Benedetto’s novel will now reach generations of new and eager readers all replete with their own great expectations.

— Frank Richardson

N5

Frank

Frank Richardson lives in Houston and received his MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His poetry has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, The Montucky Review, and Do Not Look At The Sun.

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Sep 132016
 

Numero Cinco

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Numéro Cinq is always trying to extend its malign tentacles (er, I mean benign antennae) into the far corners of the world on the general biological that genetic diversity is good. For a while we had a French-Canadian component but lost the person who was editing that. For a couple of years now we’ve had a monthly Irish feature called Uimhir a Cúig, which is Number Five in Irish. For ages, I’ve wanted to incorporate the vast and ancient land to the south, Mexico, historically glorious and immensely productive of writers and artists (I know Donald Trump disagrees with us on this). Now we’ve managed to get enough contacts and curatorial help (from Dylan Brennan, Brendan Riley and our own Ben Woodard) to feel safe in saying we’ll have something new from Mexico (almost) every issue from now on.

There is a navigation button to the Numéro Cinq archive page in the right hand column now. And here is a link to the Numero Cinq archive index page.

Numero Cinco

Sep 132016
 

MLbuganvilias1 (1)

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Happiness

IT WASN’T LIKE they’d been invited, but when they saw that house in the distance, they left the highway and took the dirt road that led to it. Nor were they accustomed to dropping in at strangers’ homes, but the fact was the long trek from Belize to Guatemala, the hours it’d taken to cross the border—as if the young couple traveling in a camper with the young man’s father were suspicious—had left them hungry and thirsty. If they drove up to the house it was to ask where they could eat. As they neared the structure of amber wood, evidence of the occupants’ life comforted them: a bicycle tossed on the grass, a tire swing hanging from the branch of a tree, sheets hung on a line. The sound of their motor attracted the attention of the inhabitants. First the children, then two small blond women and then a man with a long beard came onto the porch and smiled as if they had been expecting the visit. The couple and the boy’s father got out of the cab and the latter took the lead, greeted them in a mix of English and Spanish and quickly discovered English was the language to communicate with that friendly family. Rose, Wendy and Bob introduced themselves and gestured at the children, indicating that they were Wayne and Stephanie. The man and the young people also introduced themselves and then explained that they were looking for a place to eat, if they could give them directions, but Rose, Wendy and Bob immediately insisted that they were their guests, they were making lunch and would be delighted to share it with them. They emphasized the words “share it” and among the three exchanged glances as when a husband and wife consent to a decision taken on the fly, without consultation. Rose, who was wearing an overall which exposed her shoulders crossed by the turquoise straps of a bikini, directed the children, by way of giving them the news: we have guests, set three more places at the table. The children, without copying the welcoming smiles of their parents, said, yes, Mamá, and with looks of annoyance went into the house. Wash your hands, Wendy ordered, lost within a shimmering red dress. Yes, Mamá, the children answered without enthusiasm. The young couple exchanged a fleeting look, trying to disguise their discovery without being able to say a word; only confirming their suspicions by squeezing each other’s hands. They’d heard about communes, different ways of living together, thought they knew all about it, thought they owned the word “freedom” (maybe this trip derived from such a conviction) but now they were witnessing a lifestyle that embodied that word. When they were seated at the table, a bowl of salad was passed around, accompanied by rice with carrots, squash, sprouts, beans and eggs, the main course. They were vegetarians, they said, smiling; they were sorry not to be able to offer anything else, but the eggs supplied protein, Wendy said, and the legumes, the lentils and beans they mixed with the rice. The boy’s father, who traveled with a plethora of vitamins and minerals lined up each morning like beads on a string, endorsed Wendy’s nutritional knowledge and said that in addition these were foods rich in lecithin and nobody took lecithin into account.

During the meal, while Wayne and Stephanie opened their mouths and showed the guests their chewed balls of vegetable protein when their three parents weren’t looking, the young pair and the boy’s father learned their hosts had moved to Orange, Belize five years ago. Before the children were born, the three took a trip to Tikal and were convinced that Central America was the place to start a new life, far from the conventions of capitalism and hypocrisy, with the mystic force of the native cultures. They found a bit of land they rented from a British relative of Rose’s stepmother, and as it was very complicated to explain that, they summed it all up. Here they were, they had chickens, they made soy cheese, ground wheat and corn to make bread, grew fruit trees because vegetables were difficult; the climate didn’t permit tomatoes, for example. They said it rained a lot. We have beehives, Rose informed them when she served the dessert, and it was she who took care of the bees; the guests had to try the mango blossom honey. And she passed the pot with its dense aroma so the guests could pour the divine product over the mangos of their orchard.

The young couple kept exchanging glances; they had arrived in a place as sweet and yellow as the flesh of the mango that they lifted to their mouths in juicy bites. They were eighteen and on the point of deciding what to do with their lives. In the light of that golden well-being, their world seemed made of asphalt and motor noise, too much clothing and too many school exams: insipid routine. The boy’s father talked enthusiastically, asking about methods of cultivation, how they made compost, collected water. He’d just sold his automobile wheel factory and had bought the camper to explore his new life. He’d invited the couple to come along on this journey of recovered freedom, if indeed he ever had freedom, he told them when he spoke of his plans. Wanting to be together and on the road, they readily joined the father’s curiosity and imagination, felt an astonished and joyful complicity with that man twenty-five years their senior. They supposed it was his attitude about the trip and adventure that excited them. They didn’t realize that they shared the same question—what was happiness?

When Rose, Wendy and Bob invited them to see the water reservoir which supplied the house, and which they drank after boiling, the three were elated by the goodness of the paradise their hosts had built. One could live isolated, eat well, laugh and love each other, create a home. The young couple walked slowly in the tropical heat, seeking refuge in the shade of trees on the path. The children got on their bikes and sped by, splattering them with mud from the puddles. But all that was fine. Much more than taking the camper through the middle of the city, much more than the parties where they danced and drank, much more even than going to La Marquesa and climbing to Cruz Blanca at nearly 13,000 feet. Here they were more together. The boy said his friend Aldo would be happy to go with them. She understood his meaning: the three of them could be hand in hand and sleep curled up in the same bed of the camper if need be.

As if to demonstrate he was versed in engineering issues, Bob explained how the water drained down the sides of the pond and how it was fed into another lower reservoir from which it was piped into the house. The gradual slope and quantity of rain were ideal. If the reservoir overflowed, the canals they’d designed carried the water as far as the orchard and then the river below. Under that high sun, the children took off their rubber boots and stripped rapidly to throw themselves into the pond. Bob watched them with satisfaction: the water’s fresh and irresistible, he informed the guests as if he were the narrator of an ad. And he also sat on a stone to take off his shoes. Wendy and Rose joined forces to advise the guests to swim: they had to refresh themselves before getting back on the road. The young couple looked at each other again because they’d left bathing suits in the camper, but their hostesses had already taken off the red dress, the overall and blue bikini, and Bob his pants and t-shirt. He didn’t wear boxers. How annoying they are, he said, when he saw that the boy’s father lingered in his briefs before exposing himself completely. The girl looked at her boyfriend, hesitating. They were still protected in their pants and tee shirts, and even worse, lacked the skill to undress quickly and fling themselves into the coolness with the naturalness of their hosts. The boy began: took off his tennies and shirt, and she, without looking at the boy’s father out of modesty, rushed to take off her playera, bra and finally her pants and socks. When she saw the boy going ahead to jump into the water, she tossed her clothing carelessly on the grass. Alone and naked on the shore she felt destitute. Running after him more as a chore than for pleasure, she submerged herself in the water that revealed their bodies. She looked for the boy because she needed his protection, but it was Bob and Wendy who swam to her side and bragged about the benefits of bathing in their crystalline water. Rose emerged naked and round on the shore, the sparse down of her sex dripping, her breasts pink and large, while the boy and the girl, separated, avoided looking at each other. The women shouted to Wayne not to urinate, which he was doing in a sumptuous arc, on the water where everyone was swimming. And Wayne took off running after his sister.

The young couple began to feel comfortable in the water, in front of the others. As Wendy went over to Bob and embraced him sweetly, as Rose hugged Wendy, as Bob kissed them each tenderly, and then gave them a pat on the butt when they moved away, kicking toward the boy’s father, the shame of nudity seemed to abandon them. It was a thing of the past, of the shore minutes earlier. Submerged near the shore the boy’s father needed a little push, Wendy and Rose said, challenging him to a race. Then he, without saying a word, left his reserve and set out swimming, leaving them far behind while the young people looked at his white rear emerging from time to time. The two women revenged his triumph by splashing him, and then warmly embracing him. Rose kissed him on the lips and swam across to Bob, who laughed while Wendy boldly kissed the guest. The young couple got closer together, there in that water, whose muddy bottom they dipped toes in. They didn’t go near the others, although Bob called them to where he and Rose were playing. He cupped water in his hands and let it fall over her breasts. The young couple weren’t prepared to share their nudity with others; it was enough to feel their submerged bodies beating with a pulse that hadn’t ever manifested like this before: in the midst of a liberty without restrictions, a naturalness like mango flesh. They kissed their wet mouths and his erection brushed her thighs. They’d made love before the trip and during it had dared to while the boy’s father slept in the upper bunk, and also when she stretched out in the back bed, because the tight curves had made her carsick.

This time, with the laughter and nearness of the others, they discovered secret, prohibited sex. There was something public and private in that rubbing under the water; their nakedness, no different than that of the others, excited them. They didn’t talk to each other nor let Bob coax them over; there was enough mystery between them to add something new. The children came back asking that one of the parents peel them a green mango and fix it with lime and salt. Rose moved away from Bob, Wendy from the boy’s father, and Bob stopped calling the young couple and started getting out of the water to take care of the kids. No help for it, he said, and invited the others to eat green mango. He’d wait for them on the porch. He walked his naked, hairy body in front of them all and only the girl looked at it openly. The nakedness of men was something recently added to her experience, and she compared the sex of the boy with that of Bob, who had not been circumcised. The pubes of Wendy and Rose, whose rosy bodies passed near them to get dressed and help with the green mango ritual, didn’t provoke the same curiosity in her.

They didn’t notice when the boy’s father got out to get dressed. Now that only they remained, they wanted to stay, oppose themselves to the rest and the children, kiss each other rabidly because they had participated in a definition of happiness they hadn’t known before. They didn’t know if they wanted it for themselves or if the boy’s father would adopt it.

They said goodbye to Bob, Wendy and Rose, and the children Wayne and Stephanie, who ran next to the camper along the dusty stretch of road, throwing dried mango pits, irritated by that world of smiles and living in harmony, of rice with vegetables and pond water, of nakedness and shared bodies, of Papá and Mamá and Mamá and we love you very much, of that way of being happy. The couple looked at the approaching highway. They paid no attention to the sound of pits striking metal, had their hands interlaced as if to protect them from the need to find answers. When they reached the asphalt and the camper slid along smoothly, the boy’s father broke the silence: good people those Dutch. They didn’t respond, only abandoned themselves to the serpentine road in the midst of the luminous green of the countryside.

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The Textbook Case
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for Emilia

HAVE YOU EVER dialed a wrong number? I’m talking about when you’re stressed because you’re not going to get to an appointment on time and then in the car, at a red light, trying to keep the traffic cop from seeing you, you open your day minder, quickly punch in the number of the person you’re going to meet? Since he doesn’t answer, she leaves a message on his cell: “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes, wait for me.” Relieved, she drives to the meeting and there he is with the documents that have to be reviewed so that her paper can be considered for the conference, the first in her anthropology career: “Single mothers in middle class neighborhoods of the city.”

Has it happened that you don’t even realize you’d left a message on a wrong number because the person you had the appointment with doesn’t mention the call and has simply waited the fifteen minutes imposed by familiarity with city traffic? She parks and apologizes before sitting down, but he has no complaints because after all, he’s been comfortably waiting in a café while she’s been the one driving and dodging through traffic, her mind racing like the motor of the car. They begin immediately to review the objectives she had posed for the research: he’s a member of the committee that selects presenters and had been her professor besides. He knows she’s brilliant. During the discussion, her cell vibrates within her jacket pocket; she feels it because she didn’t take the jacket off. She wouldn’t have answered it anyway, because she doesn’t like to be interrupted. She knows when she should take a call and when not to. This isn’t the time. Warming up by her second coffee, she sheds the jacket, so doesn’t feel the insistent vibration–like a dentist’s drill—demanding an answer.

§

She’s back home before she realizes that she has five calls from the same number. The number hasn’t been registered under a name—it would have shown on her screen. There’s a message. “What do you want? Stop bothering me.” The number appears to be similar to her professor’s, which she’d called when she was going to be late. She checks the call and confirms it. But it isn’t her professor’s voice. It’s someone else who answered her call while she was in the café. The voice is unpleasant; she listens to it again. The “what do you want” is loaded with irritation. While she searches for the professor’s number to see what the error was, someone leaves another message. She listens to it: “I told you not to call me.” It’s the same irritated male voice. The insistence angers her and she thinks how absurd it is that an attempted apology set off this series of calls. When she gets a call from someone she doesn’t know, she simply doesn’t bother to answer it. To do this, someone must be very lonely. At best, it’s a message in a bottle washed up from the sea, like in the story she read by some Bernardo Ruiz, where a girl calls numbers at random from prison to see if someone sometime will answer from the outside. And someone does.

§

She fixes dinner: a sincronizada, grilled tortilla sandwich with lots of salsa and beans. She’s happy with the professor’s comments: it’s likely that she’ll be chosen to read her paper at the conference. She feels good, like when she made paper boats with her father and blew on them so they’d sail in the fountain at the park and the boat didn’t fall on its side, but kept going straight. As she sits to eat, the cell phone buzzes. She’d put it on vibrate, and on the table the sound resembles a compulsive cicada. That’s what her mother says: “Answer your compulsive cicada already.” She’d never seen a cicada. Her mother said they were big, ugly, nocturnal insects. That their looks match the disagreeable sound they make. She answers without thinking, and the voice at the other end scolds her: “I told you to never leave me messages.” She thinks about the cicada’s appearance; suspects this man has a wart on his big nose. “Look, mister, I don’t know who you are. I called a wrong number,” she says, liberated and looking at the sincronizada on her plate. “I made a mistake,” she mutters in an exasperated tone after a silence. The cicada seems to have realized he doesn’t know her voice. Another silence; she’s on the point of hanging up but he finishes with: “Then don’t go around making mistakes, stupid,” and hangs up. She returns to her lukewarm dinner. Now on top of feeling guilty for arriving late to her appointment, she’s supposed to feel bad for having dialed a wrong number. She has the urge to call the imbecile back and tell him that surely he’s never made a mistake. He’s never confused a two with a seven, which is what happened to her.

§

Has it ever happened that the mistake you made kept coming back? That once you’ve sighed the relief of confusion clarified and begun to forget the voice of the bothersome, disconcerting cicada, and are in bed reading the novel that lulls you to sleep, the phone rings again and you find that at such an hour (when normally only family or your partying friends would dare to call) the wrong number is calling again? She doesn’t even consider answering. If it wasn’t clear enough and he can’t stand getting an erroneous message, then he should see a shrink, give that a shot, just stop bothering her. She mutes the phone and sleeps. The next morning its red blinking makes her realize there’s a message. She sighs, reluctant to listen to this intrusion. She thinks the word and it seems curious to qualify someone who calls that way, because actually she was the one who inserted herself into a stranger’s life, by bungling a simple courtesy call.

§

While drinking her coffee on the edge of the bed she listens to the message. “Slutty woman, leave my husband alone. Damned whore.” The strange voice is fraught with aggression. It’s astonishing that her misdialing has resulted in all this. She supposes that it’s the old, where there’s smoke…or she fit like a glove in the wrong place at the right time, someone’s tail has been stepped on…She’s upset, making explanations in proverbs like her grandmother. She wants to call the woman and shout at her that she’s done nothing, that they need to leave her alone, that their fights are their problems and if her husband is despicable, they have to deal with it themselves. She clears herself with those words with which she would like to pierce the idiot’s ear. Then she starts thinking about how absurd the situation is and how laughable. What if she calls and says to the man: Look, I already told you I called your number by mistake, straighten things out with your wife but don’t put me in the middle of it? She imagines him explaining: “Sweetheart, honestly, the girl called by mistake. She can tell you herself.” He hands over the phone. She says: “I’m Elsa, an anthropology student, you’ve mistaken me, ma’am, and I’m neither a whore nor do I get mixed up with repulsive cicadas, and even less married ones. If you are not disgusted by your husband I am.” And the wife replying: “Ah, you know him? Don’t think that I’m going to believe you, dead mosquito. It doesn’t matter to me whether you study seals or whistles, don’t students fuck? Or do books inhibit sex?” She wasn’t going to bare her breast for the other woman to unload on. She didn’t want to begin her day that way, fed up to here, or better yet, up to her ass, in the middle of the bed of Mr. & Mrs. X.

§

Haven’t you done the same out of sheer exhaustion? On the tenth message from the wife infuriated by the infidelity of her husband, by her jealousy justified or not, after receiving insult after insult each time more obscene, more grotesque, wouldn’t you opt to put an end to the situation? Of course, she could have shut off the cell, asked for a change of number. But she thought she shouldn’t have to be made the victim of the game and suffer the consequences: having to advise everyone that her number’s changed, especially the professor who should call her in the next few hours. And no way he ought to get that “the number you called is no longer in service” routine. The messages have intensified so drastically that she thinks only confronting the gross, obscene woman will resolve things. So she answers the tenth call in the afternoon and tells the woman they can meet in the Vips on Revolution. Sufficiently far from her house. She will explain who she is and why the woman should leave her in peace. Perhaps the two of them can get a load off their minds.

§

She sits at the table nearest the entrance, as they’d agreed, and orders a coffee. She doesn’t like the coffee in that place but only wants to pass the time and calm her nerves. She doesn’t know how she’ll react when she sees the enemy: what’s the woman like, with her shrieky voice and beside herself? Short? Curly hair? Does she have a big nose? Doesn’t wax her moustache? Dresses in loud colors? By the jealousy, she supposes the wife’s neither very young nor very old. Forty-something, she thinks. Typical case of the husband who betrays her with young women because her fading looks and domestic preoccupations have killed his appetite. Typical case. She, young, nice-looking, tall, a bit plump but acceptable, fell into the middle of a textbook case (so says the professor). If the jealous wife sees her, she won’t doubt that her husband has been having an affair. The thought floors her. She looks at her watch: the fifteen minutes have lapsed. The woman ought to be there already. She looks around: tables with couples, groups of women, two men, a family, various young people. She realizes that she’s the only woman by herself in the place. The cell rings. She recognizes the number and answers cautiously. Nobody speaks on the other end. She looks around thinking that a cell at the ear would allow her to discover the accuser. She feels afraid. Better to go.

§

Wouldn’t you have done the same? Now she doesn’t want to face the person who has not appeared. She’s been naive. The textbook case doesn’t end like this. Go. She leaves quickly after paying and stamping the parking ticket, looking around as if she were guilty of something. Not wanting to run into the woman who was perhaps just calling to say she was late. But the voice didn’t speak. Would she repeat the situation that started this distasteful appointment in the first place? She gets in her car and goes down Revolution, takes Rio Mixcoac to her house: she’ll get home and throw the cell in the trash. She’ll send her professor an email, trying to make sure he doesn’t think it’s just a way of trying to find out the committee’s decision; she’ll say her cell’s not working, that she missed anything if he called or texted her. If there was anything, of course; and then she’d tell him what happened as a result of her appointment, the textbook case…

§

The last two blocks seem interminable; she turns, parks in front of the house and when she starts to get out of the car it hits her. Noticing a car parking behind her, she’s struck by an urgent need for safety. Instead of walking away, she runs to the front door of the house. She goes in and, without lighting the lights, closes herself in her room. Then the cell rings again. She knows that if she looks out the window, a woman will be standing on the sidewalk with a phone to her ear. She moves the curtain and peeks out. The woman’s a tall redhead. And determined. The cell continues to ring. She has no reason to get rid of it now.

— Mónica Lavín, translated from the Spanish by Patricia Dubrava

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Mónica Lavín is the prolific author of short stories and story collections, including Manual para enamorarse, 2012. Her novels include Yo, la peor, about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, which won the Elena Poniatowska Prize, 2010. Lavín has also won the Gilberto Owen National Prize for Literature among other awards. www.monicalavin.com.

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Patricia

Patricia Dubrava is a writer and translator whose translations from Spanish include stories by Mónica Lavín in Metamorphoses, Reunion: The Dallas Review, K1N, Lunch Ticket, and Norton’s Flash Fiction International, 2015. Most recently, in 2016, Lavín stories have appeared in Aldus Journal of Translation and Mexico City Lit. Dubrava blogs at www.patriciadubrava.com

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Sep 132016
 

2014-06-02-Merwin1

W. S. Merwin’s Garden Time is a book about aging, about the practice of trying to live one’s life in the present. The recurring themes are loss and old love, memory and forgetting, and a kind of precognition that the whole of what we are was with us from the beginning —Allan Cooper

garden time

Garden Time
W. S. Merwin
Copper Canyon Press, 2016
96 pages, $24.00

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We seem to live many lives before we die. One of the great joys of growing older is when one of those accumulated moments comes back with sudden clarity, when we least expect it. We are young and old, male and female, and sometimes even two redstarts perched on a plum twig return to find us:

…in the dusk
two redstarts
close together before winter
lit on a plum twig
near my hand
and stayed to watch me

(“Portents”)

W. S. Merwin’s Garden Time is a book about aging, about the practice of trying to live one’s life in the present. The recurring themes are loss and old love, memory and forgetting, and a kind of precognition that the whole of what we are was with us from the beginning:

ONE SONNET OF SUMMER

Summer has come to the trees reaching up for it
it has come in daylight without a sound
it arrived when the trees were dark in sleep
they dreamed it and woke knowing it was there
but I am an autumn child and my first
summer I was here but was not yet born
I heard the leaves whisper on their branches
and the cicadas growing in their song
I listened to all the language of summer
in which the time was talking to itself
I was born in autumn knowing the sound of summer

There are many questions in this book, questions about life, death, and the passage of time. The opening poem repeats the phrase “would I love it” several times like a mantra:

THE MORNING

Would I love it this way if it could last
would I love it this way if it
were the whole sky the one heaven
or if I could believe that it belonged to me
a possession that was mine alone
or if I imagined that it noticed me
recognized me and may have come to see me
out of all the mornings that I never knew
and all those that I have forgotten
would I love it this way if I were somewhere else
or if I were younger for the first time
or if these very birds were not singing
or I could not hear them or see their trees
would I love it this way if I were in pain
red torment of body or gray void of grief
would I love it this way if I knew
that I would remember anything that is
here now anything anything

Memory is a major theme in “Black Cherries”– how we store the past, those moments of clarity and understanding and carry them forward. In this poem a synergy is created between the goldfinches “flutter (ing) down through the day” and Merwin eating black cherries:

Late in May as the light lengthens
toward summer the young goldfinches
flutter down through the day for the first time
to find themselves among fallen petals
cradling their day’s colors in the day’s shadows
of the garden beside the old house
after a cold spring with no rain
not a sound comes from the empty village
as I stand eating the black cherries
from the loaded branches above me
saying to myself Remember this

A small poem called “Rain at Daybreak” is about living firmly in the present. It ends with a Zen-like koan: “there is no other voice or other time.” W. S. Merwin first came to Hawaii to study Zen Buddhism with Robert Aitken in 1976. Merwin doesn’t wish to chat about Buddhism in a casual way, and I respect that. But in an interview with Ed Rampell of The Progressive (October 25, 2010) Merwin talks a bit about this, and the connection between Buddhism and Christianity:

Certain things, if one pays attention and is concerned about them, in one’s temperament, in one’s outlook on the world, in one’s attempt to understand something about the world, certain things confirm what one is groping one’s way towards. I didn’t have the words for that, but there it is… For me, there are various places where one can find things like that. Blake, or Daoism, there are even things in the New Testament. I’m not a Christian but I think Jesus was an amazing occurrence on the planet and I think we’ve made of him something that he never was or ever wanted to be. But there are incredible things that he said. I heard a Japanese teacher say where Christianity and Buddhism are very close is when Jesus said: “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” If it’s not there, it’s nowhere.

Merwin also understands that at this time, many of us have less and less knowledge of the natural world. In this excerpt from “After the Dragonflies” he begins:

Dragonflies were as common as sunlight
hovering in their own days
backward forward and sideways
as though they were memory
now there are grown-ups hurrying
who never saw one
and do not know what they
are not seeing

Rather than being stewards of this planet, we have literally lost touch. Merwin seems to imply that what we do not know, or do not want to know diminishes us. The poem ends with “there will be no one to remember us.”

And yet there are ways to reconnect with the world. Thoreau built his small cabin, ten feet by fifteen feet near the shores of Walden Pond as part of his mission to live in a closer relationship with the land. For Merwin it was Maui, where he bought three acres of land depleted by erosion, logging and pesticides. Over the years, he and his wife Paula built a house there and began restoring the land. The Merwin Conservancy is now 19 acres and contains over 800 varieties of palm trees. It is “one of the most comprehensive palm forests in the world.” (Merwin Conservancy, biography.) Merwin doesn’t speak of meditation as such in his poems, specifically Zen sitting or zazen, but it seems that his translations, his own poetry, and his work as a gardener in his palm forest are all a personal form of meditation. We could say there is a connection between his creative life, his gardening life, and what we might call his spiritual life. They flow into one another and form a kind of third consciousness. When we spend more time in the natural world, our reservoir of fear, which is immense in this century, tends to lessen. Then there can be commerce between the human world, the natural world, and the invisible world where the old gods – if we’re lucky – step out to meet us. In “Voices Over Water”, Merwin says “There are spirits that come back to us…some of them come from the bodies of birds.”

§

There are moving, heartbreaking poems about childhood in Garden Time. As a friend said to me recently, when we hear the right words that express our loss and our grief, our visceral response is to weep. “Loss” is about his stillborn brother and how his mother tried to come to terms with it. Merwin understands loss; he also understands how our attempts to dismiss it rarely work. In this poem Merwin faces it head on, naming it in the opening stanza:

Loss was my brother
is my brother
but I have no image of him

his name which was never used
was Hanson
it had been the name
of my mother’s father
who had died as a young man

her child had been taken away
from my mother before
she ever saw him

to be bathed I suppose

they came and told her
that he was perfect in every way
and said they had never
seen such a beautiful child
and then they told her that he was dead

she sustained herself by believing
that he must have been dropped
somewhere just out of her sight
and out of her reach
and had fallen out of his empty name

all my life he has been near me
but I cannot tell you anything
about him

In the second poem Merwin becomes his mother’s way to find her life again – the laughing child. Nowhere in this collection is the sense of the past as extant in the present more evident. It is one of the finest poems of the last 60 years.

THE LAUGHING CHILD

When she looked down from the kitchen window
into the back yard and the brown wicker
baby carriage in which she had tucked me
three months old to lie out in the fresh air
of my first January the carriage
was shaking she said and went on shaking
and she saw I was lying there laughing
she told me about it later it was
something that reassured her in a life
in which she had lost everyone she loved
before I was born and she had just begun
to believe that she might be able to
keep me as I lay there in the winter
laughing it was what she was thinking of
later when she told me that I had been
a happy child and she must have kept that
through the gray cloud of all her days and now
out of the horn of dreams of my own life
I wake again into the laughing child

The Canadian poet Alden Nowlan said we experience these moments somewhere “between tears and laughter.”

§

Many of us would agree that poetry is one of our oldest and most poignant forms of expression. The poem is a container for those things that move us profoundly but which many of us can’t quite put into words. The poet names things, gathering them in images which centre and focus our experience. Here are a few of Merwin’s ideas about the uniqueness of poetry, again from The Progressive interview:

Poetry uses the same words as prose but it’s physical. It was that way – poetry may be the oldest of the arts. Because it’s probably as old as language itself. Its closest relation would probably be music and dance. Those three things together; before the visual arts, the first Paleolithic paintings, and things like that. Anyway, it’s very, very old, and theories about the origins of language suggest a different source for it, very close to poetry, in the origins of language itself. A number of theorists think it comes out of an inexpressible emotion, something that was just so, so urgent that the forms of expressing it weren’t adequate to it.

The final poem in Garden Time is called “The Present.” We don’t know for sure if Merwin means the present, the now, or a gift which has been given. Coleman Barks in one his poems says “mountain laurel overhanging the water, letting blossoms go to keep us constantly in the same thought with the falling rain: the gift is going by.” Merwin says:

As they were leaving the garden
one of the angels bent down to them and whispered

I am to give you this
as you are leaving the garden

I do not know what it is
or what it is for
what you will do with it

you will not be able to keep it
but you will not be able

to keep anything
yet they both reached at once

for the present
and when their hands met

they laughed

Hands touching, then laughter: W. S. Merwin catches those urgent, inexpressible moments in his poems. Like Han Shan, the Chinese recluse poet, he faithfully tends the garden of compassion and sudden awareness that is inside all of us.

—Allan Cooper

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allan cooper

Allan Cooper has published fourteen books of poetry, most recently The Deer Yard, with Harry Thurston. He received the Peter Gzowski Award in 1993, and has twice won the Alfred G. Bailey Award for poetry. He has also been short-listed three times for the CBC Literary Awards. Allan intermittently publishes the poetry magazine Germination, and runs the poetry publishing house Owl’s Head Press from his home in Alma, New Brunswick, a small fishing village on the Bay of Fundy.

N5

Sep 122016
 

Susan AizenbergSusan Aizenberg

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The Television

Until very near the end, it played and played.
Paternity Court, followed by Judge Judy,
in the afternoon — fineh mentshn, you’d say,
tsk-tsking and laughing at the unfaithful
men and small-time grifters, shaking your weak head
at this crazy new world. Nights, there were movies,
or docs on PBS, though you mostly missed
the endings, adrift on morphine and Xanax.

Only when you began in earnest the hard
work of your dying did it start to annoy.
The night nurse who could not stay awake complained
she had to have it on, though it startled you
from sleep, confused and afraid. We let her go.
M. and I kept the volume low in the dim
study, the one room without hospice supplies,
our guilty oasis, except for the desk,

its deepening stacks of paperwork, sticky
notes, and the phone numbers of emergency.
Door cracked to hear you, we’d binge on The Wire,
grateful for the hoppers and murder police,
the ticking row houses and alleys become
a place where we could rest awhile in the pulse
of electric blue light. We’d watch till it lulled
us a little, until we could almost sleep.

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Lit

mmmiiimiimIt’s the dying must be allowed
mmmmmmTo mourn their own departing.
mmmmmmmmmmmm—Olivia McCannon
mmmmmmmmmmmmmm“You Said This”

All day you’d ride morphine’s black waves, not rousing
except once or twice, when you’d cry out, That dog!
There’s your father! until evening, when you’d wake
and ask to eat, to sit up in the lift chair
in the dim light of your living room, the night
nurse exiled to the kitchen, your grandchildren
and me around you. We’d feed you applesauce,
a little mashed sweet potato, and you’d talk,

a fevered monologue, as if you were lit,
your poor brain’s wiring over-fired. Smiling
and laughing, a little wild, you’d go nonstop,
free-associating memories you’d revised
to shape a life pretty as a fairy tale—
your wedding story, the part where he left you
redacted, no three nights alone, no pawned ring.
A fable about your lost, favorite brother,

how as a child in Russia, he’d killed a bear
with a wooden stake he’d carved. Pausing only
to accept a small taste from a spoon, or cough,
you’d go on for an hour or more — I confess
I timed you, afraid, and yes, annoyed, these jags
too familiar, these lovely lies you needed
the played out soundtrack of my childhood — me, blind
to what you were doing, what must be allowed.

.

Tea Boys
m— after Salaam, Bombay!

MRain waters down
the milky, warm tea delivered
Mto the district’s young prostitutes

Mby dark boys
in white cotton. Barefoot,
Mand motherless, they believe

Mat night the beckoning souls
of Bombay’s dead children wander
Mbeneath the stone bridge

Mwhere, days, the living
gamble and smoke. Baba the dealer
Mchristens each

Mnewly arrived bumpkin:
there is always a Chillum
Mto smoke brown, to die,

Moverdosed and icy,
trembling like a reed in the wind;
Mthere is always a twice-

Mabandoned Chaipu,
still missing his mother,
Mas if it’s understood

Mtheir old names
will be somehow wrong among
Mthese steaming alleys.

MStacked tenements
crumble above the streets
Mwhere they twist, too hungry

Mto sleep, these tea-boys,
each one so thin, any slight arm
Mcould encircle him, though none does.

—Susan Aizenberg

 

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Susan Aizenberg is the author of three poetry collections: Quiet City (BkMk Press 2015); Muse (Crab Orchard Poetry Series 2002); and Peru in Take Three: 2/AGNI New Poets Series (Graywolf Press 1997) and co-editor with Erin Belieu of The Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women (Columbia University Press 2001). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals, among them The North American Review, Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Connotation Press, Spillway, The Journal, Midwest Quarterly Review, Hunger Mountain, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and have been reprinted and are forthcoming in several anthologies, including Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier UP) and Wild and Whirling Words: A Poetic Conversation (Etruscan). Her awards include a Crab Orchard Poetry Series Award, the Nebraska Book Award for Poetry and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Levis Prize for Muse, a Distinguished Artist Fellowship from the Nebraska Arts Council, the Mari Sandoz Award from the Nebraska Library Association, and a Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner award. She can be reached through her website, susanaizenberg.com..

 

 

Sep 122016
 

Henighan on ferry on Lake NicaraguaStephen Henighan crossing Lake Nicaragua on a ferry.

The Path of the Jaguar cover image

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In this excerpt from Stephen Henighan’s new novel The Path of the Jaguar, just released from Thistledown Press, the protagonist, Amparo Ajuix, an ambitious young Cakchiquel-Maya woman in rural late 1990s Guatemala, has just been mugged and robbed of the savings of the cooperative she belongs to. At the time of the mugging, she is almost nine months pregnant and her husband suspects that the child is not his.

Mist condensed around her head. She felt the child’s twisting far down in her entrails as though it were marooned in a place beyond her reach. The Maker, the Modeller, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, wrought the world out of mist. Her mind strayed through the spaces beyond that haze when the mountains rose out of the water and the first people were fashioned out of corn and took the name B’alam. Her child was slipping away from her. Before she could reach through that space to pull the child back into the light which, inhabited by the first mother and the first father, would yield life, her strength abandoned her. As she floated on the waves that must recede before people of corn could take to the earth, a sharp smell penetrated her nostrils. Pom. Someone was burning incense. She heard voices: Eusebio’s words derogatory, Mama’s tones implacable in resistance. Amparo tried to reach out to them. She slipped away into the silence of the mist. She saw the people of mud who had preceded those of corn, deity’s failed experiment in human life. The mud people’s noses and eyebrows crumbled. People of wood, the heart of the sky’s second failed experiment, who could not speak or worship their makers, stared without seeing her. As the people of wood drowned in the great flood, she slid farther down into darkness.The tendrils of incense prickling her nostrils were the lone thread leading back to the world. She saw four roads of different colours crossing. Cold fear that she was already a corpse and this was Xibalbá, and the four crossing roads were the gate to the underworld. A chanting tapped through the walled-up silence. Nothing moved. She was blind, the cold rivetting her to the meeting point of the four coloured roads. The first four men, Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Jaguar Not Right Now and Dark Jaguar, fathers of all subsequent lineages, hung before her eyes, then faded away. The tapping mingled with the tang of incense. The two sensations blended until they were a single interwoven fabric like the rope of terror that runs up a woman’s spine when she fears for her child — yes, she had a child, and another one inside her — and in that instant her body swathed her in its aching weight and she was back in her room listening to the sound of the curandera chanting. The child turned in her belly, moving her body with its body, two bodies moving as one, as she and her husband had moved as one to make the child. The curandera must be Doña María’s sister Eduviges, a woman simpler yet wiser than her sibling.

Raja q’o’,” she said. “She’s here.”

Eduviges stepped back from the side of the bed. Mama began to sing the song she sang when they were ill as children. She had sung these words over the beds of the children who had died in infancy, and over those who had returned from illness. Her voice was harsh but strong: 

Kapae’ wakami
Katz’uye wakami
Kapae roma utz qaw’a
Katz’uye wakami

(Stop here today
Sit down today
Stop here for our food is good
Sit down today)

Amparo, feeling the bulk of her hair beneath her on the pillow, whispered: “It’s all right. I’m here.”

“You’ve been away for two days.”

At Mama’s words, she remembered the man with the gun, the other thief’s dragging gait. She lifted her hand, felt the bruise on her temple and began to cry.

“Stop crying,” Mama said. “No one was hurt.”

She passed from sleep to waking without lapsing into the mist. Every time she woke she felt sad. Eusebio entered the room and held her hand. Esperanza visited her and said: “In the next meeting we’ll start saving again. I’ve spoken to the señora gringa and she says we cannot allow misfortunes to discourage us. The only solution is to start again.”

The señora gringa had spoken to Esperanza, not to her. Her powers were ebbing. She had lost everyone’s respect. Her child would be the offspring of rumour.

The day after emerging from the mist she sobbed until dusk. Esperanza came in for an hour but had to leave to look after her children. Eusebio and Mama poked their heads in the door. Mama told her that Sandra was staying with her.

That evening her contractions began. Eduviges returned, not as healer but as midwife.

Her son was born at the stroke of midnight, his body lodged across the line between one day and the next so that they were never certain which date to count as his birthday. From the moment she held him in her arms she could feel his timidity. He was afraid of life. Spirits had infected him with poisons in the womb. Her first thought was that his sickliness would make people think he was Ezequial’s son. His nose and brows looked about to crumble like those of the people of mud. She held him against her breast, blinded by her need to protect him. When Mama and Eduviges told her that Eusebio wanted to see the child, she whispered, “No . . . ” But they had already left the bedroom. Eusebio came in the door. He was unshaven. She wondered if he was sleeping on the couch. He lifted the infant off her breasts, which had been untouched by his hands in months. She gasped. Eusebio raised the boy to head height and stared into his face. She could hear the child breathing in throaty gasps.

Eusebio started to cry.

“Don’t hurt him!” she said. “Give him back to me!”

Eusebio was sobbing more loudly than a child. “He looks just like my grandfather!”

“He doesn’t look like anyone yet,” she said, finding the strength to sit up. She tried to pull the child away. “He looks like the people of mud. By tomorrow,” she said, feeling herself growing calmer, “he will look like the people of wood. Later he will look like a human being made from corn. Then we can have him christened.”

Eusebio gave the child back to her. He kissed her cheeks and her lips and her neck and her breasts. “I’m sorry, Amparo. Will you forgive me? I’m so sorry. I’m worthless, I don’t deserve you. I promise I’ll never treat you badly again. Amparo, please forgive me, can you ever forgive me–?”

The words poured out of him as though they would never stop. She let him go on long after she had decided to accept his apology. His conversion was a miracle, and she knew that miracles must be savoured. At last, she lifted her hand to his cheek.

That night they slept together in the bed with the child between them. She woke in the morning to a loud knocking on the front door. When she reached the main room, the child slung across her shoulder, Esperanza was coming in the door. Though exhausted from hours of feeding the child at short intervals, Amparo felt a great calmness ease through her at the boy’s weight on her shoulder and the memory of her husband’s sleeping body.

“Amparo,” Esperanza said, “I’m going to have to bring Sandra back here— ”

“Already? Can’t you . . . ?”

“It’s Yoli. She’s run away with a gringo— ”

“Run away? To Antigua?”

“She’s going to be travelling with him as his girlfriend! Amparo, nothing like this has ever happened . . . I’ve neverseen Papa and Mama so ashamed. Mama says she can never go to the market again. She’s too humiliated to go to Mass.”

“She has to go to Mass,” Amparo said, struggling to absorb the news. “Maybe we can get her back before anything happens. We can go to Antigua— ”

“You don’t understand, Amparo. She’s in the capital, at the airport. She’s going back to his country with him.”

“She’s leaving Guatemala?” Amparo wrestled with her inert brain. “Leaving Guatemala?” They were speaking Spanish, but she said the word “Guatemala” in Cakchiquel: Ixim Ulew, Land of Corn. The idea of a girl travelling with a man she was not married to was horrible—but to leave Guatemala was beyond imagination. “What will it be like for her, Esperanza?”

Esperanza shook her head. Amparo felt the baby on her shoulder begin to cry. Trembling, she asked herself again what the world was like.

—Stephen Henighan

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Stephen Henighan is the author of more than a dozen books, most recently the novels The Path of the Jaguar (Thistledown, 2016)  and Mr. Singh Among the Fugitives (Linda Leith Publishing, 2017). He has translated novels by the Angolan writer Ondjaki from Portuguese and Mihail Sebastian  from Romanian.  He teaches Latin American literature at the University of Guelph.

 

Sep 112016
 

Black-Bread

teixidor

The setting is rural Catalonia in the early years following the Spanish Civil War, and the young narrator of Black Bread has been sent to stay with relatives on his paternal grandmother’s farm. His father has been jailed and his mother is too busy to care for him. In this excerpt, Andreu and his cousins, Quinze and “Cry-Baby,” enjoy that last days before school resumes playing in the orchard and spying on the TB patients in the monastery garden. They have, however, the clear sense that the adults in their lives are not entirely truthful about what is really going on during this troubled time.

Black Bread was originally published at Pa negre in 2003, and is translated from the Catalan by the great Peter Bush.

— Joseph Schreiber

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WE LIVED UP the plum tree until autumn came.

When the days began to shorten, nighttime sometimes caught us in the tree and Ció had to shout to us to climb down.

“Blessed kids!” she’d gripe after she’d stopped bawling, when we were standing in front of her. “You spend too much time playing for the age you are. One of these days a branch will break and you’ll crack your skulls open.”

“They’re all up to no good, they run riot,” said Grandmother, keeping her eyes glued to the knitting needles her fingers moved over her ample bosom, while she kept her arms still.

The Novíssima didn’t start until early October, and for the early weeks of school when we three chased back to the farmhouse, the first thing we did was put our cardboard satchels on the stone bench in the entrance, go into the kitchen and grab the slices of bread spread with oil and sugar or wine and sugar Ció or Grandmother had prepared for us on a dish in the middle of the table, then we’d run with our snacks to the plum tree so we could climb up and eat them lounging back on our branches.

Now and then, when a colder breeze blew and the reddish sun didn’t linger as it did in summer, when evenings were like the inside walls of a bread oven that retained the heat from the flames of logs burnt moments before, we took blankets up the tree to wrap around us and fought off as best we could the cold and early nighttime damp coming out of the woods. The damp, stifling heat, treacherous cold or gusting wind all emerged from the forest that was like an immense belly or huge pantry full of small compartments that hoarded all the good and bad luck that existed in the world. Up in our plum tree we often thought we’d be able to catch the moment when the leaves changed colour, but the change in the leaves, like moulting feathers, always happened from one day to the next; overnight an area of wood turned a dazzling saffron yellow, and a few days later the beech trees had turned wine-red, soon to be followed by the silvery white of the poplars, the dark brown of the chestnut trees, the humid greens… We looked at each other in dismay, as if someone was making fun of our wait and one year Cry-Baby suggested we stay there the whole night to catch the precise moment of change.

“You’re such an idiot!” laughed Quirze. “How would we ever see anything? It’s pitch black at night and we won’t see the new colours until the following morning, when it will all be over and done with!”

However, Cry-Baby was stubborn and ignored him. She’d say nothing and I could tell from her determination, from her staring eyes, firm lips and jutting chin that she wouldn’t give up until she got a proper answer.

From the tree we used to gaze at the mysterious little lights in the cells in the Saint Camillus monastery as they lit up one after another, indicating that the friars, brothers and novices were getting ready to go out to care for the moribund souls in the neighbouring farmhouses or village.

Until someone howled from the gallery: “Where have those little blighters got to?”

“I want to see them here breaking up the sweetcorn. Or fetching buckets of water for the troughs or the sink.”

Cry-Baby was such a ninny nobody ever included her in their summons.

“They’re back up the plum tree!” shouted an astonished Dad Quirze or a farmhand, usually Jan, the oldest hand, who was like a piece of the furniture.

“Where did you get those blankets?” raged Ció, as she watched us walking towards her, shamefaced, with our blankets. “No corner of this house is safe with you drones buzzing around. I’ve told you a thousand times not to touch the things I keep in the two big baskets in the doorway, whatever they might be. These blankets don’t belong to us! Put them back where you found them right away.”

And when we were just about to return them to the big basket, before removing the lid, Ció snatched them from us, looking alarmed: “Leave them on the floor! Don’t ever touch them again. Nobody must touch them. They are all infected. Go and wash your hands at once, you naughty devils! You’re disgusting!”

We three didn’t know what to do next. We knew Ció was contradicting herself and we put that down to her being so upset by our mischief-making. We didn’t understand why the easygoing Ció was getting worked up by what we thought was a worthless pile of cloth no doubt destined to be used by the livestock, the mule, the mares, the horses or the colt, that was small and frisky like a toy and the one we liked best.

“They are the blankets the Saint Camillus friars threw out because they stank to high heaven. Ugh! They used them to cover their ill patients until they breathed their last. Most were draped over the ones with TB who sun themselves in the heartsease garden. Ugh! I wasn’t very keen to take them, and I only did so as a favour, and I didn’t touch a single one with my hands, I stuffed them in the big basket using tongs and a pitchfork.”

However, whenever we spied on the heartsease garden from the top of the plum tree, or, especially when we’d stood by the wall separating the land around the farmhouse near the pond and hazelnut spinney from the monastery gardens and orchards, we were horrified to see a row of naked, skeletal bodies stretched out, all young men, sunning themselves in a meadow full of yellow daisies, pale pink carnations, bright red poppies and purple, almost lilac or mauve heartsease, the colour of the habits the Saint Camillus order reserved for Holy Week. All those boys, or rather, young men, lay on the whitest of sheets, some clutching a corner to cover their nether parts, the area that most drew our attention, the bit that fascinated us infinitely more than their emaciated faces, sunken eyes, the small beads of sweat on their temples, their chests striped by protruding ribs, bellies, collapsed in some cases, swollen in others, and their off-white or yellow rancid butter skin…, those blackened, shrunken genitals and a crop of lank hair like an obscene black bloodstain…, monsters in our eyes, phantoms from a forbidden world, sickly, worn down and consumed by a horrible microbe, victims of a contagious, suppurating disease like the rabies dogs spread or sheep’s foot-and-mouth, that can be caught simply by breathing the air or drinking from the same glass a TB sufferer has used, an accursed disease, contracted as a result of an errant life of vice, sick men condemned in life, proof of the deity’s pitiless punishment of sin, swaddled in white sheets like premature cadavers in dazzling white shrouds… Yet we’d never seen one under a blanket.

A black umbrella was planted next to the sheets of just three or four TB sufferers, so the shade protected their heads. The presence of those faceless bodies, some shamelessly displaying their sexes, were shocking in our eyes and beyond words. A mystery and a secret no one could fathom. And a friar sat next to the little gate from the vegetable plots to the monastery garden, reading his breviary and never looking up, as if to have sight of the infirm was to behold evil, physical evil, a palpable sign of invisible spiritual evil, a repugnant manifestation of sin.

We didn’t touch another blanket that autumn. But the two baskets, especially the big one, were inexplicably marked out as things only adults could handle. Why did they keep those dangerous blankets in that place of transit, within everyone’s reach and what should the movers and shakers in the house—Dad Quirze and Aunt Ció—the delegates of our invisible masters, do about them? Why didn’t the friars destroy them in the monastery if they were worthless? What deal had they done over those ignominious bits of cloth?

“They should be washed back and front, boiled, scrubbed, scraped, dusted and dried and then we’ll see if they are any use,” said Ció on that occasion, after she’d calmed down. “On Saturday when we go to the market in Vic, we’ll leave them with the wenches who launder the lovely linen from the Poor Hospital, and let’s see what they can do. The Town Hall allows those nuns to use the communal wash-house all night, when nobody else washes and the water is filthy from all the daytime washing. On Sunday, when the sisters have finished, they change the water. And even then the wretched Saint Camillus folk won’t make anything from them.”

However, one day, surely another autumn, when we were looking for clothes to keep us warm, when the weather drove us from our tree, when we’d all forgotten her little rant, Aunt Ció mentioned those blankets again.

“Don’t touch the blankets!” she said this time. “God knows where those damned friars found them! I expect they collected them up after the war, when they returned to the monastery the lice-ridden militia had occupied like a barracks, and the church was full of shit, with hens running round the altar and sheep penned up in the Chapel of the Most Holy Spirit as if it were a stable… I bet they found them on the floor abandoned by the Republican soldiers who’d had to beat it hell-for-leather when the fascist troops, led by the Moors, entered Vic. And now they don’t know what to do with them, they can’t use them, not even to wrap up the sick, and they want us to sell them in the market: I wonder what we’ll get for rags that are so old and filthy not even the novices in the monastery want them, ugh, and so full of bugs they need washing at least ten times.”

We never saw anyone take the blankets to Vic market on that Saturday or any other.

Adults think children have the same poor powers of recall they have. They forget we children have no memories of anything, that words and acts are all new to us and every little detail remains automatically etched on our brains.

— Emili Teixidor, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush

Excerpt from the novel Black Bread, translated into English by Peter Bush, and published by Biblioasis.

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Born in 1933, Emili Teixidor‘s first novel, Retrato de un asesino de pájaros, was published to tremendous acclaim in 1988, followed by several more which established him as one of Spain’s greatest contemporary authors. Teixidor died in 2012.

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Bush_Peter-289x300

Peter Bush is a prize-winning English literary translator. He has translated works from Catalan, French, Spanish and Portuguese to English, including the work of Josep Pla, Joan Sales and Merce Rodoreda.

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Sep 112016
 

teixidor

They challenge one another to tell shocking stories, creating their own mythologies about the strange habits of animals and people, especially characters like Charcoal Pete who is caught stealing potatoes or Mad Antònia, the young woman who reportedly went crazy after seeing her boyfriend executed before her eyes and now runs naked through the woods. —Joseph Schreiber

Black-Bread

Black Bread
Emili Teixidor
Translated by Peter Bush
Biblioasis,  2016
400 pgs,  $14.95

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.There is an interlude, just shy of a third of the way into Black Bread by the late Catalan writer Emili Teixidor, where the narrator steps back from his childhood reminisces to question the nature of memory. He asks why some things stay etched on his memory while he has forgotten others completely, and wonders, “how can I know I have forgotten what I can’t remember?” He recognizes that some places, people and incidents fade quickly whereas sometimes a word can come back unexpectedly and ignite a flood of distant memories. These reflections appear as a curious break in a narrative marked by a degree of youthful naiveté, but remind us that the journey from childlike to mature understanding is uneven and necessarily distorted in retrospect. So, although it is never entirely clear just how far removed the protagonist stands from the experiences he is sharing, as his account continues his ability to hold on to his own innocence will increasingly come into conflict with the harsh realities of life in post-war rural Catalonia.

In recent years, much revisionist debate has been dedicated to exhuming questions of the true impact of the civil war and the Franco dictatorship on Catalan culture and society; “true”, that is, depending on where one’s interests lie. Against this backdrop, a novel like Black Bread, originally published in 2003 when Teixidor was seventy years-old, could easily be construed as an attempt to reclaim history through lived memory. That may, in part, be a fair assessment, but this novel offers much more. It is, on one level, a tender and sensitive coming of age story, one that filters the joys, fears, mysteries, and discoveries of the fitful transition to adolescence through the unaffected lens of childhood memory. Our narrator, Andreu, an astute observer of his own confused emotions, must learn to navigate a world filled with dark dangers and even darker delights. He knows there is much going on around him that he doesn’t understand—truths that he isn’t certain he even wants to understand. However, his growing awareness and conflicted reactions open space for an indirect but honest commentary on the realities of Catalan existence during this time. In this respect, the work can be seen in line with that of writers like Josep Pla and Mercè Rodoreda.

The recent release of Black Bread as part of the Biblioasis International Translation Series, in a wonderful rendering by Peter Bush, brings one of the major novels of modern Catalan literature and its author to an English language audience for the first time. Born in 1933 in Roda de Ter, a small town halfway between Barcelona and the French border, Emili Teixidor was a writer, teacher and journalist. He began to write fiction for children and young adults in the late 1960’s as restrictions against publishing in the Catalan language were gradually relaxed. In a short essay written in 1998 when he was still best known as a children’s author, he addresses the satisfaction of writing for young readers and the value of the imaginary worlds we encounter in our formative years:

. . . I think that there is a mystery or secret that concerns us all, old and young, such as an inkling of the immense possibilities regarding the future that these years hold, so that the seriousness and even the sadness of adults would be nothing more than the awareness of loss or the wasting of this original force. These images, these books, also have a liberating function. They have the capacity to help us to escape from specific situations that overwhelm us. There is nothing more frustrating than the impossibility of escaping, of fleeing. . . . The dramatic urge to live and the ferociousness of existence would seem to pose a threat to the wealth of wonders that we accumulated during our early years. But the reserve of these possibilities and the indestructible trust in the achievement of the desires expressed by these images or sentences, situations or characters, is probably the only thing that can keep us solely hopeful and strong during the difficult years – if not the only thing that can keep us truly alive.

There is something telling in this observation, it illuminates a concern that grounds the larger story that Teixidor sets out to tell about life during these tumultuous years of Catalonian history. By building on the delicate tension between the child self’s desire to hold on to the world of the imagination and the adult self’s disillusionment, he creates the compelling narrative voice that drives his most famous literary work.

Black Bread derives its title from the dark bread rationed to the poor throughout Spain during the 1940’s, the so-called “hungry years.” The early post-Civil War period was marked by widespread deprivation, the growth of a black market, and the persistent efforts of the Franco regime to root out suspected political agitators of all stripes. As the story opens, eleven year-old Andreu is living with relatives. His father has been imprisoned on suspicion of ties to political activism, while his mother works long hours in a textile factory. Her free time is consumed with gathering paperwork and support for her husband’s defense. Yet out on the tenant farm with his indomitable paternal Grandmother Mercè, he is not the only “refugee. His younger cousin Nuria, nick-named “Cry-Baby,” doesn’t even know the whereabouts of her parents who were forced to escape to France following the war. Together with their brash and confident older cousin Quinze, they spend long summer days lounging on branches high up in the plum tree. From this secret vantage point they can monitor the comings and goings of the adults to and from the farmhouse, and peek over the wall of the nearby monastery. If they want to get closer look they stand right by wall so they can observe with morbid fascination the naked bodies of the tubercular young men who lie languishing in the garden, drawing whatever faint benefits the sun can offer their ailing bodies.

Teixidor makes skillful use of his adolescent narrator’s limited retrospective stance, allowing his understanding to swell in response to the different circumstances he encounters. One has the sense that Andreu is aware that the fragile innocence of childhood can be easily threatened. His relationship with his parents, for instance, is already tinged with a bitterness and resentment that only grows stronger over time. After his father is arrested and their home is turned upside down by officials, he immediately finds himself emotionally estranged from his mother. His memories of the time he spends in town contain little child-like wonder:

She now spoke to me as if I had suddenly grown up. She spoke to me as you speak to adults. And that, rather than the brutal police raid, made me understand how serious the situation was. Suddenly, that despondent woman had no warmth of feeling left to see me as the child I still was; overnight she stopped holding my hand, that she put elsewhere, and no longer carried me around her neck so I had to walk by myself; now there was no time for singing and hugging because all her attention was required for someone in a much more fragile state than I was, and at a stroke I felt exposed and unprotected. I understood in a vague, confused way that she was simply feeling a new, acute pain, that the wife now predominated over the mother, and a wife’s harshness and tension overrode a mother’s loving inclination.

By contrast, the farm with its fields and orchards and forests, provides a refuge, a place where Andreu can still be one of the “young-un’s” as he puts it. Here mystery still exists. Efforts are made by the many adults around him—Grandmother Mercè, his aunts Ció and Enriqueta, “Dad” Qunize, the farmhands, and Father Tafalla from the nearby monastery—all try to protect the children from the very real threats that exist around them. This is, after all, a time when the slightest provocation could bring the authorities to the door. People were very careful to conceal their thoughts and communicate indirectly rather than risk speaking openly.

Andreu does not imagine himself a good student, or a bookish type, but he is acutely aware that the language the adults use is doubly charged with meanings that he can only guess at and he is alert to the fact that there are things that are not discussed in his presence. He and his cousins struggle to figure out the moral location of the words they hear bandied about so much. They are eager to know what makes someone a “bastard” or a “bugger” and what defines the difference between “our folk” and “others.” Yet they are enraptured by Grandmother Mercè’s stories, the funny and scary tales she regales them with, especially at night. Her tales are a comfort and an entertainment, but the stories of the goblins who run up and down the stairs provide a cover for the maquis, or guerillas, who still pass through the farmhouse seeking food and shelter on their way to France.

Although they live in a time of much subterfuge and unspoken tension, the children work out much of their own anxieties and excitement through the games they play in the forest. Here, together with “Oak-Leaf,” a girl Quinze’s age, they challenge one another to tell shocking stories, creating their own mythologies about the strange habits of animals and people, especially characters like Charcoal Pete who is caught stealing potatoes or Mad Antònia, the young woman who reportedly went crazy after seeing her boyfriend executed before her eyes and now runs naked through the woods. There is a raw enthusiasm to their attempts to figure out the “facts of life,” and their desire to make sense of the more arcane truths of the world.

Doubts do begin to work into Andreu’s conscience as time passes. With the hormonal stirrings of adolescence, he and his young cousin begin to tentatively explore each other’s bodies but, for some reason that he can’t quite fathom, his thoughts tend to be preoccupied with an image of a particular young man lying among the ill and dying in the monastery garden. He cannot reason why the sight of this one youth commands his passions so completely. But, by this point he has noticed that some adults manage to hide dark secret lives, so he assumes that this is simply a hint of the double existence all grownups lead, something he will come to understand in due course. His more serious doubts begin to extend into the realm of religion, social class, and the limitations imposed by society. A cynicism, borne of what he has witnessed with his own parents, sets in. He vows to avoid being tied to a life on the land or on the factory floor, the fate awaiting most of his peers:

I didn’t consider myself to be either strong or courageous enough to be like them, but I had learned that the providential, orderly universe that my agricultural-labourer or factory-worker schoolmates intended to inhabit was an illusion, and that if I wanted to survive, I should trust only in myself, that my strength lay in my powers of dissimulation, my inner struggle, my partial, oblique adaptation to the moment and the concealment of my true intentions; my weapons were treachery, sleight-of-hand and deceit, if need be.

However, when he is offered an opportunity to escape, with the means to continue his schooling and create his own future, Andreu is caught off guard and isn’t entirely sure what he wants to do.

The true power of Black Bread lies in the author’s ability to capture the nuances of adolescent experience in a time of turmoil and change. A cast of memorable characters, interpreted through the memories of his sensitive young narrator allow Teixidor to create a world with true emotional depth. Although this novel only covers about three years of Andreu’s life, it has an epic feel. As elements of sadness, grief, and anger slowly begin to work their way into our hero’s voice, it easy, as a reader, to feel a sense of loss; it is as if we have allowed ourselves to grow up again alongside him. Here one can’t help but feel that Teixidor’s experience writing for children and young adults has been parlayed into a narrative that rings true to remembered childhood experience, but is clearly aimed at the adult reader. In the end, we are reminded how important the “wealth of wonders” that we accumulate through the imaginary worlds we encounter in literature are to our ability to understand and survive challenges in our own lives. For Andreu who has been nourished on the stories that his Grandmother, his teacher, and his friends tell, we are left to wonder whether it will be enough to provide him with the strength he is likely to need in the years that lie ahead.

—Joseph Schreiber

N5
JSchreiber

Joseph Schreiber is a writer and photographer living in Calgary. He maintains a book blog called Rough Ghosts. His writing has also been published at 3:AM, Minor Literature[s], The Scofield and The Quarterly Conversation. He tweets @roughghosts

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Sep 102016
 

Paul McMahon colour

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Bourdon

I remember my ex-girlfriend
running through a field of sunflowers

as I’m looking at a dead bumblebee
lying on its back on the window sill,
its downy head of battered fluff
as stubborn and bull-headed as a drunk oaf.

Bloated, like a bluebottle in a stripy jumper,
I roll it off the ledge and onto the palm of my hand,
its wings more like frail stained glass windows
closed over a pregnant blob. Woollen arms

with question marks for hands, the hidden tongue,
the gilded eye that sees all in honeycomb,
and again I see Bourdon, but she is waiting
for me to get out of bed. The sun is shining,

the sky is blue topaz. She is at the hotel window,
fretting and stamping her feet. We arrived late
the night before, after a long day driving south.
Get up, she says, as she finally bolts out the door.

    ……………………..*

I slip out from the warm sheets,
walk over to the window
and look out to see her running
through the field of sunflowers,

her hands spread out like wings
skimming off the flower heads
that were the same colour
as the bull-headed drunk oaf,

the woollen blob of fool’s gold
flashing on the lake-bed of memory –
the bumblebee in the palm of my hand
that crashed into the window pane

like Bourdon crashed into a tree.
I touch its downy flank and remember
the sandy dunes of her skin,
the sweet drone of her voice,

silent as the bee’s wings
sleeping in the sunflowers of dreams.

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Shrouds

1

He was about six or seven, black rubbish-tip hair, big doe-eyes,
teeth driftwood-white, a painted-on ringmaster’s moustache,
outstretched arm and hand held out like a soup-kitchen ladle.

I was standing beside one of the cremation paddocks
at the burning Ghats in Varanasi. A pyre was blazing –
bruise-black smoke rose up into the vacant sky
and the sun burned down over the slow, wide Ganges
and the vast, sandy tidal plain on the far side.

Garlanded chanters in a canoe rowed a dead guru
out for river-burial – the shrouded corpse lay stiffly
across the bow like the firing arm of a crossbow.

The artful-dodger street-child tugged once more
at the hem of my sleeve and I looked down into his hazel eyes
to see that all my ambitions were meaningless dreams,
illusions that would vanish into smoke at the end of my days.
I felt hollow, like a bubble, shrouded-off from anything real.

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2

As I reached into my pocket, that I kept stocked with sweets
for the street-children, I glanced to the blazing pyre –
a man, a fire-warden, was picking up an arm
that had fallen out and he threw it back on top
of the furnace-orange flames.

When I gave the hazel-eyed street-child the sweet, a chocolate éclair,
he clutched it in his flycatcher-hand and then asked me for money.
I looked away – the day before I saw him hand his coins in
to a lanky teenager who had the stern eyes of an amateur knifer.

The child shrugged-off, examining the shrouded éclair,
its plastic wrapper a black velvety blouse, which he opened,
revealing an inner wrapper, a white geisha-corset
stuck sugar-tight against the treacle skin which he peeled back
and gently released like a dove’s wing onto the air
before he tossed the sallow toffee body into his gaping mouth.

I turned back to the paddock and the burning pyre,
its summit of unquestioning flame –
the detached arm had landed palm up,

the fingertips lightly cupping,
it had let go of all it had given

……………………or been given.

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A Junkyard Full of Flowers

As she fumbled with the buttons of her jeans
the musk
………….of her warmth

rose from the swan of her neck
and mixed with the fog-wet
………….of the cold alley wall.

The streetlight, covered in a speckled veil of drizzle,
flooded the alley
………….in aquarium-blue light.

The muddy puddles we had just splashed through
settled back
………….into stillness –

tapered with petroleum rainbows, as smooth as her silk eyes –
they lay on the concrete
………….gaping up like apertures,

photographing the wild moonlight and recording it
into the scriptures
………….of riverbed churches.

In her husky voice I heard the rumbling of mad oceans
and I saw stars and trembling bridges
………….walk frail light

to the ledges of the visions beyond the woodland path
as it turns through the forest
………….and out of sight.

A car swerved into view. In its headlight,
the cloudy mirage of her breath
………….lit up in the air,

leaving the rose of its afterimage hanging there
until the car drove on
………….and the darkness snatched it –

its grip pressing out the illuminated perfume
from the wrung blossom
………….which spread through the blue alley,

leaving, in place of the strewn cast-offs,
a junkyard
………….full of flowers.

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The Hearth-Pit

The fire in the hearth is galloping
through the wind in the flue,
over the highways of ember.

Three hundred years ago,
when this farmhouse was built,
a man stooped and dug a pit
under the hearth – in those days
it was also a grave. I too kneel

at it every day
with black roses
and a shattered cross.

I too feel the hearth-pit
in my stomach
turning unquiet

in these early morning
archaeological hours.

As the flames take hold
there comes a sense of longing,
the gone by, as though waved to
by someone I recognize
but don’t remember – except in

the sound of her laughing
when I told her
there was no film
in the camera.

            *

Before leaving,
I set a scalp of turf
on the fading embers of the fire
and look out the window –

across the boglands,
deep in sleep
below a lullaby
of fresh white snow,

a black cormorant
swoops into view
then glides out
towards the open sea.

— Paul McMahon

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Paul McMahon lives in Cork. His debut poetry chapbook, Bourdon, is being published this November by Southword Editions. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, The Stinging Fly, Atlanta Review, The Salt Anthology of New Writing, The Montreal International Poetry Prize Global AnthologyAgenda, The Moth, The Irish Times, Southword, Ambit, and others. His poetry has also been broadcast on RTE Radio. He has won a number of prizes for poetry including The Keats-Shelley, The Ballymaloe International, The Nottingham, The Westport, The Golden Pen, second prize in both The Basil Bunting and in The Salt International Poetry Prize, and Arts Bursary awards, for poetry, from both The Arts Council of Ireland, and The Arts Council of N. Ireland.

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Sep 092016
 
Photo by Dorothea Erichsen

Photo by Dorothea Erichsen

livre-les-fleurs-du-mal-par-charles-baudelaire-aux-editions-france-editions-preface-de-henri-frichet

Fleurs-du-mal-1

 

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On Translating Les Fleurs du Mal

The line-by-line process I learned in poetry translation workshop mimics the molecular genetics mechanism of DNA into RNA into protein into living energy, but writing these translations, I’ll admit, felt a little more like using organic chemistry glassware to make hard candy. One evening, late in the workshop session when I had been feeling somewhat misunderstood and far from the main thread, I departed from my usual non-Roman alphabets (Tamil and Arabic) to work on Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. I didn’t think of it as a temper-tantrum at the time, but yes, there I went, twisting rhymes up against the poems’ glass tubes and then adding a few microns of imagery to enshrine my favorite women from history in the “flowers of evil.” As subversion it failed—no one took offense at my riff on “La Beauté.” But I became curious: subversion of a subversive collection yields… what exactly?

A little background on Les Fleurs du Mal… first published in 1857, Charles Baudelaire’s first poetry collection was not well received: “the book was publicly denounced as offending public morality, which led to the prosecution of Baudelaire and Poulet-Malassis. Author and publisher were dragged to court, convicted, fined heavily, and six of the poems were banned from the book.” The 1861 edition, which included 35 new poems, lifted Baudelaire’s prospects temporarily, but never raised his career as poet to anything like success during his lifetime. His poetry stemmed from influences like Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la Nuit, an early instance of prose poetry, and it blossomed prolifically in influencing the French symbolists and those who followed them. Baudelaire’s brilliance fits a description by Phong Nguyen in the introduction to the latest issue of Pleiades: “writers…can always go for shock because scorning the prevailing moral consensus fills us with the cathartic joy of breaking taboo. But the ones who do it really well challenge the fixed morality of their day in order to further collective moral understanding, not actually to subvert or replace it.”

In my line-by-line translation of “La Beauté,” I added a reference to radium, an element that my workshop peers pointed out would have been known only after Baudelaire’s time. Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898 and much later founded the Radium Institute in Paris, propelling its fame. Eve Curie, in her biography of her famous mother, described something so close to the inverse of the poem: “[she] bent over the apparatus where the ‘numeration’ of atoms took place, and admired the sudden irradiation of a willemite ore by the action of radium. Before these familiar miracles a supreme happiness was set alight in her ash-gray eyes… ‘Ah, what a pretty phenomenon!’ she would murmur.” Describing Mme. Curie on her deathbed, “All in white, her white hair laying bare the immense forehead, the face at peace, as grave and valiant as a knight in armor, she was, at this moment, the noblest and most beautiful thing on earth. Her rough hands, calloused, hardened, deeply burned by radium, had lost their familiar nervous movement. They were stretched out on the sheet, stiff and fearfully motionless—those hands which had worked so much.”

I chose other poems from Les Fleurs du Mal by consciously searching for connections with my fiercest heroines. In “Rise,” the biography of Margaret Fuller came to my mind, because of the poem’s quiet insistence on a transcendental mood. In “Je n’ai pas oublie, voisine de la ville…” the last three lines especially evoked scenes from Edith Wharton’s and Elizabeth Bowen’s novels, where the narrative sets us up to spy on the characters, almost to glare at them, and usually to set them apart from the opulence that enshrouds them. “La Vie antérieure” and “L’Aube spirituelle” point to the recurrence of social diseases, over and over in human history, which brought me to a few powerful promoters of change: Dorothy Day, Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

My departures from the original poems are slight, but these experiment-translations are not meant to reproduce an exact copy of Baudelaire’s intentions. My device was more like a titration experiment: adding a substance of known pH to the unknown solution, in this case adding my personal goddesses to the poems. In the introduction to Shapiro’s translation, Willis Barnstone explains that these poems were a type of experiment for Baudelaire himself: “he was obsessed with the notion of evil, and to accept or reject it he had first to express it….the poems speak of beauty and escape, love and death, and an overriding metaphysic. And the mood of melancholy morality may at once be infused with an ecstasy of otherness and joy when the poet, for a moment, climbs high or descends so low as to find light. In poems where corruption and beauty seem inseparable, the poems give off both light and darkness.” Translation, as an active investigation, rather than a pursuit of perfected products, can yield, in my metaphor, the excellent peppermints and extra clean lab glassware that make all the difference in understanding the poet’s genius.

—A. Anupama

Bauelaire1

“Je n’ai pas oublié, voisine de la ville…”

(Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Bowen)

I haven’t forgotten our white cottage,
small and quiet, beyond the town’s edge,
where plaster goddesses stood hidden,
Pomona and Venus, naked in the sickly garden.
The sun in the evening, flowing and vain,
scattered his rays across every pane
and loomed, an enormous staring eye in the strange sky,
to meditate on our long, silent dinners and to spy,
glaring, like candlelight spilling across our table, until
finally gilding each drapery cord twist and curtains’ twill.

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Je n’ai pas oublié, voisine de la ville,
Notre blanche maison, petite mais tranquille;
Sa Pomone de plâtre et sa vieille Vénus
Dans un bosquet chétif cachant leurs membres nus,
Et le soleil, le soir, ruisselant et superbe,
Qui, derrière la vitre où se brisait sa gerbe
Semblait, grand oeil ouvert dans le ciel curieux,
Contempler nos dîners longs et silencieux,
Répandant largement ses beaux reflets de cierge
Sur la nappe frugale et les rideaux de serge.

Baudelaire2

La Vie antérieure / My Past Life

(Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman)

I had a long life, under vast porticoes
stained by marine sunlight’s thousand-fold flame
and framed by grand pillars, of upright and royal fame,
which, in evening light, reflect everything basalt knows.

Sea-swells scroll the reflection of the skies,
shuffling the solemn and the mystics
with the powerful, by harmonizing their rich music
with the colors of sunset, on the surfaces of my eyes.

I lived there in tranquil, voluptuous
deep blue, in the waves, in splendors
with nude slaves, all pricked with odors

and fanning my forehead with palm branches,
whose true role was the deep answer
to the grievous secret that made me shiver.

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J’ai longtemps habité sous de vastes portiques
Que les soleils marins teignaient de mille feux,
Et que leurs grands piliers, droits et majestueux,
Rendaient pareils, le soir, aux grottes basaltiques.

Les houles, en roulant les images des cieux,
Mêlaient d’une façon solennelle et mystique
Les tout-puissants accords de leur riche musique
Aux couleurs du couchant reflété par mes yeux.

C’est là que j’ai vécu dans les voluptés calmes,
Au milieu de l’azur, des vagues, des splendeurs
Et des esclaves nus, tout imprégnés d’odeurs,

Qui me rafraîchissaient le front avec des palmes,
Et dont l’unique soin était d’approfondir
Le secret douloureux qui me faisait languir.

Baudelaire3

La Beauté / Beauty

(Marie Curie, H.D.)

Dear mortals, I am lovely, like a dream made of stone,
and my breast, upon which all are bruised in their turn,
inspires in poets especially a love that burns
solid, eternal and mute as radium, pure matter alone.

I sit enthroned, a mysterious sphinx in the blue sky–
my heart of snow, like the whiteness of swans,
despises any movement that displaces the lines,
and never do I laugh and never do I cry.

The poets, prostrate before my grand nudes,
which I pretend to have lent the masterworks of art,
consume their days in studies, their minds occlude;

because I have, for hypnotizing those open hearts,
pure mirrors that amplify my spell:
my eyes, my large eyes, an eternal well!

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Je suis belle, ô mortels! comme un rêve de pierre,
Et mon sein, où chacun s’est meurtri tour à tour,
Est fait pour inspirer au poète un amour
Eternel et muet ainsi que la matière.

Je trône dans l’azur comme un sphinx incompris;
J’unis un coeur de neige à la blancheur des cygnes;
Je hais le mouvement qui déplace les lignes,
Et jamais je ne pleure et jamais je ne ris.

Les poètes, devant mes grandes attitudes,
Que j’ai l’air d’emprunter aux plus fiers monuments,
Consumeront leurs jours en d’austères études;

Car j’ai, pour fasciner ces dociles amants,
De purs miroirs qui font toutes choses plus belles:
Mes yeux, mes larges yeux aux clartés éternelles!

Baudelaire4

L’Aube spirituelle / Spiritual dawn

(Florence Nightingale, Dorothy Day)

When dawn’s pink light enters the house of sin,
like the meeting of the Pure with her congregation of river rats,
a mysterious operation begins, piercing vengeance in the ersatz
profligate, numbly sleeping while an angel awakens within.

The blue sky of spirit is impossible
for the man struck down again and again by dreams
and for whom the abyss beckons and beams.
And just so, dear Goddess, pure and bright Apple,

over the charred remains of mindless orgies
your memory grows ever more clear, rosy, charming,
turning cartwheels in my eyes, which dilate to apertures alarming.

The sun blackens the flames of candles;
and just so, your vanquishing spirit in whole
equals the immortal sun, dear blazing soul!

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Quand chez les débauchés l’aube blanche et vermeille
Entre en société de l’Idéal rongeur,
Par l’opération d’un mystère vengeur
Dans la brute assoupie un ange se réveille.

Des Cieux Spirituels l’inaccessible azur,
Pour l’homme terrassé qui rêve encore et souffre,
S’ouvre et s’enfonce avec l’attirance du gouffre.
Ainsi, chère Déesse, Etre lucide et pur,

Sur les débris fumeux des stupides orgies
Ton souvenir plus clair, plus rose, plus charmant,
À mes yeux agrandis voltige incessamment.

Le soleil a noirci la flamme des bougies;
Ainsi, toujours vainqueur, ton fantôme est pareil,
Ame resplendissante, à l’immortel soleil!

Baudelaire5

Élévation / Rise

(Margaret Fuller)

Above the valleys, above the ponds,
the mountains, woods, clouds, and seas,
well past the sun and ether’s breeze,
and past the limits of sphered stars beyond,

my soul, you move with ease,
and like the swimmer who leaps into waves
you cheerfully cross an unsoundable gulf, brave
and with a mute and masculine tease.

Stay away from these miasmas of death.
Transparent orb, take to the high, pure air,
and make a fine and divine elixir,
like flames in space, of your breath.

Leaving behind all the ennui and sorrows
of daily dread, heavy as fog upon the countryside,
the blissful can dial their wings wide
and dart toward bright and serene furrows.

With minds like morning songbirds
gliding near the skies in rising liberty—
they soar through life and know every subtlety
of lectures by flowers and of all without words!

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Au-dessus des étangs, au-dessus des vallées,
Des montagnes, des bois, des nuages, des mers,
Par delà le soleil, par delà les éthers,
Par delà les confins des sphères étoilées,

Mon esprit, tu te meus avec agilité,
Et, comme un bon nageur qui se pâme dans l’onde,
Tu sillonnes gaiement l’immensité profonde
Avec une indicible et mâle volupté.

Envole-toi bien loin de ces miasmes morbides;
Va te purifier dans l’air supérieur,
Et bois, comme une pure et divine liqueur,
Le feu clair qui remplit les espaces limpides.

Derrière les ennuis et les vastes chagrins
Qui chargent de leur poids l’existence brumeuse,
Heureux celui qui peut d’une aile vigoureuse
S’élancer vers les champs lumineux et sereins;

Celui dont les pensers, comme des alouettes,
Vers les cieux le matin prennent un libre essor,
— Qui plane sur la vie, et comprend sans effort
Le langage des fleurs et des choses muettes!

—Charles Baudelaire translated by A. Anupama

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A. Anupama is a U.S.-born, Indian-American poet and translator whose work has appeared in several literary publications, including The Bitter Oleander, Monkeybicycle, Fourteen Hills, and decomP magazinE. She received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. She currently lives and writes in the Hudson River valley of New York, where she organizes literary community (RiverRiver.org), and blogs about poetic inspiration at seranam.com.

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Sep 082016
 

bojan louisBojan Louis reading.

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As long as he stayed ahead of the project manager’s bullshit for the next two days Phillip George could have the weekend to take Jared, his older cousin’s son abandoned to him, to the base of Mt. Elden, where unconnected caves offered refuge and seclusion to both amorous teenagers and the homeless transient. The kid had been cutting bat shapes—since a unit about volcanoes, caves, and bats in his gifted second grade class—from the delicate pages of the Bible he’d found in the dresser drawer of the weekly/monthly motel. Phillip’s health-major-minded girlfriend had protested that the distance might be too far for the kid’s physical and mental capabilities, no thanks to his down syndrome. But Phillip was intent on nothing obstructing his plans.

His shift ended after another twelve-hours and a call from his project manager asking him to remember to lock the gate to the job site, which he did every day since he always left last. Vick was a knew-enough-to-be-dangerous construction lackey turned PM, probably because he was the general contractor’s relative or a favor owed to a friend. He arrived to job sites in his overly chromed and small-dick lifted Ford F-350; clean shirt tucked into ironed jeans, boots more shiny than used, holding a clipboard of meaningless to-dos and a list of places where he’d eaten lunch and with whom. He was the perfect middleman between the GC and clients/investors for his readied knowledge of available tee-times and recipes for wine spritzes.

While Phillip chained and locked the gate he imagined Vick yammering among clients and contractors his annoyances regarding employees, the rising price of material, and the perpetual failure of other sub-contractors meeting deadlines. Shit-talk that made the workers seem like ignorant numbskulls, though most actually were, Phillip included. Without a false sense of dignity there was no assurance that what the clients and contractors paid for was actually hard work or craftsmanship, but projects completed just good enough.

When Phillip secured the site at the end of the day he rode the bus home, glared at his reflection in the opposite window; the florescent lights making him ashen, his negative-like image superimposed with dated storefronts the bus rumbled passed. He dozed, tried to ignore the lurch from potholes left after winter storms, and the conversations crackling around him.

§

The dusk sun left the clouded and smoke filled sky a flare of fire as Phillip side-stepped puddles and runs of mud on his walk across the parking lot of the Elden Motor Inn to the office. Inside the heavy glass door he set down his tool bucket and drill bag, rang the bell like he’d done every week for the past few months.

The motel owner/manager appeared in his typical collared rayon shirt rolled to his knotty elbows, a brightly patterned tie, and tight Wranglers stretched painfully over his large and well-sat ass. Boots, fashioned out of ostrich skin, creaked and clopped as he positioned himself behind the front desk. He often wore a white cowboy hat, but today he appeared with black hair bushed on top of his head.

“You just missed the hura cabrón,” he said. “Rolled out of here ten minutes ago.”

“No shit,” said Phillip. “Saw a couple cruisers from the bus on the way in. What was it? A little domestic violence, meth-heads exposing their freaky fucked up nature?”

“None of that, ese. Just the locotes from 1A and 2D arguing and coming to a half-assed fistfight over going halfies on the last bachita and who hot-boxed it. Pinche borrachos. You’d think they die of agua or straight oxygen.”

Phillip nodded. More of the same down and out, struggling to keep one’s head above water bullshit; generally meaningless and harmless, though as consistent and disheartening as shirked overtime pay. He slid two hundred seventy over to the manager who pressed his tree trunk like fingers on the crinkled bills until Phillip released them so that he could pocket the money. Phillip never saw him use the register or any sort of record book. The couple times he asked for a receipt the manager simply pulled a notepad from behind the counter, wrote the name of the motel, the date, Phillip’s name, the amount paid, and scrawled figures resembling a T and M; all an act of show, nothing official or legit.

“That chica of yours not being too hard on your pockets, hombre?” asked the manager.

“No,” said Phillip, “she’s too busy keeping her head in her books and fucking exercising. What makes you say that?”

The manager shrugged, tongued at something between his teeth, and opened his mouth to say more but didn’t. Phillip palmed the counter, waited for whatever might be said next.

“Well, hombre, just before the hura got here I found your niño playing around back, close to the basura. Nothing to stress about, I took him back to your pad. The puerta wasn’t locked and your chica was laid out cold, snoring on the bed. Don’t worry, ese, I didn’t see her tetas o coño. She had on one of those fantasía track suits.”

“Fucking hell,” said Phillip.

The evening reds had faded, the night air warm but cooling. Many of the other tenants had their doors open, the noise of reality television mixed with the dying traffic on Route 66. Phillip’s tool bucket and drill bag banged against his numbed calves, his shoulders felt as if nearly pulled from the socket. The single window of his room glowed at the edges of the drawn curtains. His eyes itched and watered slightly from the ever-present smoke of the first series of controlled burns. It was still early in the fire season, but he and the rest of town hoped a substantial monsoon might dispel the previous decade of drought.

§

Before Phillip moved into the Elden Motor Inn his lady, Benita, was living in the dorms at the university, which was required of freshman that didn’t already live in town. They’d dated a year long distance by then. He’d worked for a commercial electric company that landed most of its contracts with another company that built resort hotels in and around Phoenix. A large and temporary employee pool assured him work for no less than six months and also the knowledge he’d be laid off once a certain phase of the work was completed. He never saw the resorts in their final glory, never got the job to finish or trim-out the receptacles, light switches, or lighting fixtures. He only bent and secured what felt like miles of half-inch to two-inch conduit, pulled circuit-boats to and through junction boxes, and made-up and readied the wires for the eventual installation of chandeliers, sconces, dedicated circuits, and smart-dimmers. His work was invisible, necessary that it work the first time with nothing to troubleshoot once the main power was turned on. He would hump a slow Greyhound north every other weekend to visit Benita, play stow-away in her dorm room, flip idly through her textbooks while she studied and he waited for sex or a meal. It all seemed perfect. Fucking, eating, fidgeting through movies, and being asked to parties, since he had five years on her, where she drank drinks called skinny-something-or-others. The calorie count so low she could indulge in one or two, three maybe. She was consistently counting and calculating: calories, miles, reps, fat percentages, heart rates, cholesterol levels, grade point averages. Her major’s focus was on obesity and diabetes in Navajo communities, the lack of education in regards to healthy eating, and dispelling the myth of fry bread, which she told him was a significant health hazard due to its high calorie content. Fry bread was, in effect, a remnant of colonization and forced removal, The Long Walk. All of which he could understand though at the end of his long workdays could give a shit about.

When Phillip entered his one room domicile he found Benita snoring open-mouthed on her back, hands clasped death-like over her stomach. He grabbed her leg and shook. Her limp body moved as if her joints were loose. This incensed his anger, made him shake her violently until she woke.

“You can’t stay awake another hour to keep an eye on the kid?”

“What?” she asked drawing out the vowel. “Don’t shake me like that. I’m not some wasted, passed out ‘adláanii.”

He let go her leg, removed his hoodie and t-shirt, threw both toward the clothes piled beneath the sink outside the bathroom, and attempted to pull off one of his steel-toe work boots, which he didn’t unlace completely. It nearly hit him in the face once free and he shouted fuck, threw it against the wall, and got a muffled yell and pounding in response. While he fussed with the other boot Benita said she’d wanted to fit in a Body Pump class before picking up Jared from after school daycare. This was a tension grown between them; her poor time management and agreeing to get the kid no later than five so he wouldn’t risk losing overtime. There was no one affordable to look after the kid no matter how much overtime he worked. And anyway, who would want to look after a nine-year-old with down syndrome whose trust in strangers was lacking at best and who also took issue with anyone other than Phillip touching the back of his neck or ears?

“Jared was asleep and I locked the door. I thought we’d both nap until you got back. He’s never done anything like this before. Never wandered out alone. It’s something to pay attention to from now on. It won’t happen again.”

She faced him and smoothed her green warm-up top, curves tight beneath the soft, plushy material. Fuck his anger, he thought, and hoped she would turn away from him so he could see her from behind, approach and press his tired body to hers, caress the firmness between her breast and thighs.

“Fucking shit. You know the manager found him playing in the trash around back? What if those cops from earlier found him? Deep shit. We’d be in deep shit. Hell, his mom already fucked him over. We don’t need to, too. Even if it’s . . . because one of us fucks up.”

She turned, awaited embrace and apology, and blamed final semester stress and the need to carve out time to care for herself.

The argument waned and Jared, hunkered quietly beneath the round two-chair table next to the window, called out hello. Strange how he became invisible, thought Phillip, despite being what occupied his mind and energies most. Maybe that’s how he escaped earlier. His presence demanded all of one’s faculties, yet he could vanish and still seem to be all places.

“Hey, little man, I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to yell so much.”

The kid emerged from beneath the table to hug Phillip, a hug that forced the breathe from him. He wondered if the kid would ever become strong enough to crack his ribs.

“I’m cool, man. I’m cool, man,” he said.

Sure that Jared hadn’t been in any real danger, and the manager was a person who he could count on, though he’d never make it a thing between them, Phillip reassured himself by lightly squeezing Jared’s shoulder, and headed toward the bathroom.

“You need to pee or anything? Or is there some business that you need to finish before the weekend?” he said over his shoulder.

“I don’t need to go. I’ve got bat business.”

While Jared returned to his task Benita sat facing the opposite direction sobbing. Rather than reengage the argument they were having, or about to have, Phillip asked if she could keep an eye on the kid. She acknowledged by looking toward Jared, who waved at her. She waved in response and turned the TV on.

In the shower, Phillip imagined his life differently. His final years of high school and not quitting the club soccer team before a couple of college scouts had taken the time to watch a few matches, offer scholarships to a handful of players. Had Phillip stayed it was likely that he would have been one of the guys selected to play with a full ride to one of the state universities or, at the very least, a community college. Had he stayed he would have gone. From there was a life he never fully envisioned. Pro, semi-pro? Would he have finished his degree? Would he have had a major? Construction management or hotel and restaurant management? Something that required little academic vitality but with the potential to have made him more money than electrical work? Would he have dated Benita, or some sorority blonde who’d he fuck how and whenever he wanted? He most definitely wouldn’t have honed in on the young Benita giving him eyes; he the potential bad boy, though the truth was that he was the best thing for her. Stable, mature, and in no way related by clan. But there he was living check to check, with an abandoned retard, and a girlfriend who would probably leave him once he got fatter, once she found her dream job after she graduated. There he was, beholden to everyone else with the soap and hot water rinsing off the grim of another fucking day and maybe, more of him.

Relieved with clean he slid open the shower curtain, found Benita leaning naked against the door, her clothes piled neatly in the corner. He hadn’t heard her enter, so deep in his own head as he’d been. Her brown figure had toned up in the past couple of months. Her hair lay in black strands across her small breasts. He felt himself get hard.

“You’re leaving him alone again,” he said.

“That’s what’s special about you. You never think of yourself first.”

She grabbed a towel, dabbed his body, and used it to soak up clumps of his wet hair. She frowned, whispered that the kid was occupied with his bats; she would pay more attention later. He kept quiet, didn’t want the momentum to be lost, and guided her to the top of the toilet tank, lifted her leg, slowly pressed into her. He’d go to bed hungry: exhaustion and an apology his dinner.

§

He dreamed of volcanoes erupting suddenly, all at once. The town was the town he lived in but different, spread out with houses overlooking cliffs that didn’t exist. Lava poured from the angry cones, fire ash fell from above, and cracks opened the earth. Escape wasn’t likely. On a strip of land he watched the black sky descend; heat beneath and around consuming him.

At 4:30am, startled from the dream, he staggered to the bathroom to piss, began to dress. Work pants from the day before, a fresh t-shirt, and a collard button down. Back in the single-room he kneeled over Jared, woke him by smoothing his hair.

 After the kid was showered and readied he took Benita’s keys from her purse and drove him, half-awake staring out the window, to his elementary school.

“Hey, kid,” he said poking him, “before we get you to school tell me what you’re going to tell the bats when we find them.”

“I love them being my friends,” he mumbled. “What will you tell them?”

Phillip wasn’t sure, but maybe something about how he appreciated the bats being Jared’s friend. He added that he thought it’d be a good idea if Jared brought along the bats he’d been making so that his bats and the bats supposedly in the caves at the mountain base might become friends, too. The kid told him, duh, that was why he’d been cutting them out.

Benita was never awake when he returned her car in the mornings. Wouldn’t even stir if he bumped the furniture or creaked the door open and closed. Girl can sleep through anything, he thought. A quality he both admired, looked down at.

He retrieved his tool-bucket and drill bag, walked the two hundred yards to the bus stop that took him across town. Every day the same ride: sparse traffic; chemical white billows above the toilet paper plant south of the train tracks; an abandoned steel mill turned junkyard that advertised auto-repair and estimates; the refurbished historic downtown beyond his price range.

At twenty past seven he arrived to the job site where Vick waited to tell him he was late.

“I’m this late every day,” said Phillip. “I don’t control the bus schedule and you can’t get me a ride, or anyone else, here on time. I’ve got the kid to take care of and there’s no use jerking off here before seven if the gate isn’t even open.”

Vick waved him off, muttered yeah, yeah, even though none of the other trades ever arrived before eight, and if they did it was always to stroll around with donuts then fuck off for the day. Phillip was the only electrician onsite; reliable, his lack of a vehicle the assurance he’d stay put, and still he’d never been given a key to the gate.

While Phillip unchained and positioned the ladders, Vick brushed the rat end of his ponytail against his lips and examined the conduit runs across the ceiling; traced each run to where they ended at the service panel or hung unfinished.

“Might get close to finishing the runs today,” said Vick. “If you can hustle and don’t fuck up. How are you on materials?”

Phillip needed spools of ground and neutral wire to begin pulling circuit boats by the end of the day, and asked if he could get off early, hoping Vick wouldn’t put too much thought to it. Vick sucked the tip of his rattail, took more than a minute to respond. Wouldn’t be possible. Not with all the added dedicated circuits, subpanel, phone, co-ax, and ethernet for the reception area, break room, and bathrooms. The facility was going to be top of the line, which meant as much distraction as possible. The patients would want to ignore the fact that they were in a dialysis center. There would even be TVs in the pisser. All overtime for the week and, Phillip suspected, through the weekend. He reminded Vick that he’d requested time off, who responded that it was out his hands. But with Phillip’s request in mind—which was bullshit—Vick had hired a helper; older guy who claimed ten years residential wiring experience and countless skills in other trades.

“Sure, that’s all a load of shit,” said Phillip.

“That’s what I’m thinking. But he’s got no qualms working for ten an hour without overtime despite the experience he claims to have. Shit, if he were a Mexican I could pay him seven. Anyway, you’ll probably have to teach him to bend pipe, pull wire, and whatever else. You’re going to have your work cut out for you. And I don’t imagine he’ll be too keen on a young tonto telling him what to do. Guy’s name is Nolen or something. Told him to show up around nine. Give you time to set up and get going. I should have your material here by then.”

Vick spat a loogie on the polished concrete floor, smeared it with the toe of his boot, and walked to his truck.

After he drove away Phillip cursed him for being an inept and ignorant piece of shit who had managed to fuck him by hiring some old lackey, probably a drunk if he possessed no real skill, who would only slow Phillip’s progress. Just another benign action from the managers that reminded Phillip of his unappreciated and unacknowledged skill being a reliable electrician who made twelve to the ten dollars an hour that his helper was going to be paid.

Around nine-thirty Phillip smelled the sour stench of cigarette smoke and days old body odor. He turned, looked down from the twelve-foot ladder he was working off of at a man, probably six-six, wearing clothes that hung off him like the tattered sails of a ghost ship. The man clomped across the job site in large desert boots, reached into what remained of a shirt pocket for a pack of cheap cigarettes, lit one using the one he’d smoked to the filter, and flicked it behind him aimlessly.

Phillip descended the ladder, uncertain if this was the guy Vick had hired or a random homeless.

“Can I help you with something?” he asked.

“That’s what I’m for,” said the man, “to help you.”

“All right. Vick said your name was Nolen? I’m Phillip.”

The man shook his head.

“It’s No-Lee,” he said.

Phillip watched him and the man explained that people always asked if he had any leads on any jobs and he’d tell them no, no leads. So the name No-Lee stuck. The two stared at one another quietly until Phillip told No-Lee that he would start him on running conduit. They’d work together until No-Lee got the hang of it; it’d be easy since they were only using half-inch, a little three-quarter.

 They worked atop ladders eight feet apart, the length of a single stick of conduit. At the butting end, No-Lee tightened the coupling with channel locks and secured the conduit to the base of a wooden truss with a half-inch strap, eight inches from the coupling. Phillip held the opposite end, measured off the wall to assure a straight run, and strapped the conduit loosely. They moved across the truss work in leapfrog fashion until they reached a point in the run that required a ninety-degree bend toward the service panel. Phillip explained the fundamentals of conduit bending: from the point of measurement mark back five inches, toward the dumb-end of the tape—six inches if using three-quarter—make sure the foot pad of the conduit bender faces the foot; make sure the bend is a perfect ninety by applying equal pressure on the foot pad and handle, and use a level to be precise.

No-Lee repeated the instructions and the work continued smoothly, faster than expected.

They took lunch at two. Phillip estimated that they’d accomplished a little more than the day’s anticipated work. Two more days working like this past sundown and he would have Saturday secured. While he jogged to the corner gas station, No-Lee sat where the breeze was strongest and smoked, eyes closed as if gathering substance from the tobacco and wind. Phillip returned with a microwave burrito, a bag of dollar chips, a gallon of water, and sat far from the rancid breeze.

“You eat that shit every day?” asked No-Lee.

“It’s cheap,” said Phillip. “I don’t have time to make lunch. I’ve got the kid I take care of. Eats up most my time.”

“You got a kid?”

“Not mine. My cousin’s. I raise him here so that he can go to a decent school, have more opportunity or whatever.”

“Mother drink herself to death, huh?”

Phillip crumpled his burrito wrapper, threw it to where it suspended for a second, and was blown backwards.

He was used to this passive-aggressive, not uncommonly aggressive, shit talk from white, conservative co-workers and bosses. Back in Phoenix was the worst ignorance he’d encountered. It was everywhere, as much as there was heat and blowing dirt. Proud right-wingers who boasted about the guns kept locked in their glove boxes, some with handguns strapped to their hips, talking God and country, rights, and who deserved to live and who to die. Sad harbingers of death that Phillip could only do his best to ignore, though he was often confronted because he was brown, mistaken for being Mexican, and always given a pass because he wasn’t them, but neither was he an us.

“None in my family drink,” he said. “The kid’s mom fucked off to Portland with a bunch of vortex, vision-questing dykes.”

No-Lee drew long and the cigarette ember flexed; dragon smoke fell out of his nostrils.

“Bitch can’t appreciate her own dying culture. Funny. All that pride you redskins powwow about and most of you fall for New Age bullshit. You sell out your faith then build fucking casinos.”

Phillip ate his last chip, dropped the bag. He rose, told his helper to sit and smoke for the rest of the lunch hour while he got back to it. No-Lee responded, I work when you work, and was told to clean up. He stood, examined the job site, which was clean except for some unusable scraps of conduit and the trash Phillip had tossed. No-Lee picked up the burrito wrapper and chip bag, stuffed them into his pocket, and organized the material without comment; his only noise the exhalation of smoke and the gurgled hack of clearing his throat.

Phillip called the day sometime after seven, watched No-Lee walk east beneath streetlights until he became a burnt match in the distance. He made note of the next day’s work—pull boats, pull lighting circuits, low volt, land the panel—grabbed his gear, and trudged to the bus stop.

§

He arrived back to his place late. It sat dark, still between the noisy brightness of the rooms on either side. The curious tunnel of it drew him in. Benita had left a folded note. The explanation was simple: she was tired, needed to consider herself and her final semester, had left Jared with the manager. Anger shook Phillip’s throat and he punched a hole in the wall, smashed one of the two chairs. On his way to the manager’s office he gathered himself by tapping his chest imagining he and the kid excited, out of breath before the mouth of a cave. They’d enter a cool damp darkness; shine lights on walls that held something he couldn’t think of. In the office, Jared and the manager watched a cartoon show Phillip didn’t recognize. Their laughter settled the tension in his shoulders and he watched for a few minutes before announcing himself. It wasn’t a big thing for the manager, since Phillip hadn’t ever been a problem, but it also couldn’t keep happening. Phillip needed to figure it out.

Back in the room he and Jared continued watching the cartoon until both dozed and slept, their shadows playing oddly on the wall behind them.

§

The morning bus that took Phillip and the kid to a stop a quarter mile walk from his school was empty. At the school, they waited until the doors opened for students who needed an early drop off. Before entering, the kid told Phillip that Benita would come back, she’d cried before taking him to the manager’s office. The kid was probably right, Phillip told him. They’d have a boy’s weekend and everything would be the same afterwards.

At the job site, No-Lee sat against the locked gate smoking, said there hadn’t been hide or hair of Vick. It was close to eight. Phillip made the decision to dismantle the tension bands so that the chain-link fence fell slack and the two could crouch down and through. Let Vick fix the goddamned thing; they needed to get to work. When Vick arrived after lunch he shouted at Phillip for fucking up the fence, went on about added cost and time. But the fence wasn’t damaged, only taken apart, and if Vick actually knew anything, he could reassemble it. In response, Vick threatened to fire Phillip, who packed up his tools and walked out the gate, where he was stopped, told to calm down, and asked what was needed in order to fix the fencing. Phillip told Vick that No-Lee knew. So, the two of them reassembled the tension bands, spoke quietly, and looked and nodded toward Phillip.

Before the day’s light began to fade Phillip told No-Lee that he needed to leave to pick up and return with the kid.

“You work late Fridays?” No-Lee asked.

“Twelve to fourteen is average. I don’t care if we to work all night. We’re getting this shit done.”

“Whatever you say,” said No-Lee. “I’ve got my cash in hand. See you when you get back.”

It took an hour to get the kid and what remained of daylight when they returned cast deep shadows throughout the interior of the job site. The gate was locked and from what Phillip could tell from behind the cold links the ladders had been left standing. Since he’d left his tools behind he told the kid to wait while he jumped the fence. Inside the unfinished building material was strewn about, his tools gone, along with a couple spools of solid wire.

Phillip dropped to his knees, held his head between them, and screamed into his shirt. No-Lee had probably been waiting for a moment when Phillip lent him any modicum of trust, so that he could leave him fucked. No regard for his livelihood, his need to care for himself and the kid. He dialed Vick, got voicemail immediately. Piece of shit had already disappeared into the weekend, obviously hadn’t even returned to check on the site.

He stood, a friction among the shadows, and threw his phone against the polished concrete, its shattered pieces skipping outward. He turned and jumped the fence once again, told the kid, to hell with it, it’s all fucked, and took his hand to walk to the gas station for a couple dinner burritos and provisions for their trek to the cave come morning.

§

The kid didn’t fuck around. He sat in the unbroken chair gazing out the window at thunderheads separated by cuts of sunlight that spotlighted down making dew of the predawn rain. Phillip snored on the bed, a pillow over his head. It was well past the time they’d planned to depart. The kid slid off his chair, opened the door: crisp, cool scent of vanilla from the ponderosas and the dusty mold of the morning’s moisture engulfed the room. Phillip stirred, woke to see Jared dressed, his pile of cutout bats ready on the table.

He rubbed his puffy face. “Guess I better get my lazy ass in gear, huh? Let me shower and we’ll get the hell out of here.”

The kid nodded, shut the door. He gathered the bottles of water, granola bars, and two Snickers that Phillip had bought. He took the flashlight kept in the nightstand drawer, located both his and Phillip’s bus passes. Everything was ready.

The trailhead lay northwest of them, the nearest bus stop next to a grocery store a half-mile walk away where Phillip lifted two oranges from an outside display of produce. He told the kid they needed to survive and they continued their trek. Beneath the shade of large ponderosas they paused to drink water. Phillip asked the kid if he was hanging in there ok, there was a mile and a half left to go. The kid said he was fine; they’d go on, they’d survive. The two pushed forward and the day warmed up, a little humid from the morning’s rain. Phillip felt the hardened shell of his heel crack, the tender flesh beneath sticking to his sock, which slowed his pace. The kid noticed, told Phillip there was no need to rush, the bats would be there. They stopped once more where the tree line broke into a clear cut for a natural gas pipeline and service road. Logs were piled into long triangles about twenty feet away from the treed edge, the brush cleared for when fire crews would come to complete controlled burns. Across the road the trail inclined into the shade of the ponderosas.

The mountain base was a jumble of volcanic boulders and hardened lava flows that created climbing opportunities, as well as, shelter in the caves and dead-end tunnels. Lichen, an assortment of small trees, ferns, and cacti covered the unreachable parts, higher up on the rocky ledges. The cover of tall ponderosa pines made the day appear later than it actually was. Phillip and the kid walked the base, went off trail to where a cluster of ferns grew, and came upon a small, man-sized entrance into the rocks. Phillip suggested they eat before entering. The kid ate quickly, reached into his pocket for his pile of bats, peeled one off, and handed it to Phillip, asked him to read its body.

“It just looks like notes from the bottom of the pages,” said Phillip. “This bat must be a nerd. Hand me a different one.”

The kid laughed, set the bat in what he deemed the nerd pile, and peeled another off.

“Let’s see, it says ‘11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. 13 Better is a poor and wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.’ Damn, kid, these Bible bats are fucking intense. Let’s see one more.”

The kid off peeled bat after bat while Phillip read the bodies. The pile wasn’t substantial, but since Jared had worked slowly and meticulously cutting them out, Phillip was proud of his handiwork.

Some dexterity was required of the entrance, though the squeeze of it wasn’t tight. Cool air exuded the rancid stench of piss, body odor, and alcohol. Water trickled somewhere in the darkness. Once inside and on flat ground Phillip flicked on the flashlight the kid had brought, shined it toward the sound of the water. A figure, more detritus than man, wavered cock-in-hand, pissing against the far wall.

“You gonna come suck this thing or fuck off with that light?”

No-Lee’s smoke and drink broken voice. He’d been drinking all night, all morning; face a grotesque swell of skin.

Phillip panicked, more for the kid’s safety than his own, and hurried to push Jared back from fully entering the cave, but the kid tumbled off the rocks and in, yelped painfully, and lay holding his ankle in the faint light of the entrance. Phillip knelt to urge the kid up, didn’t see the spool of neutral wire thrown through the darkness. He felt the hard weight strike his temple, swirled into the void of his volcano dreams: pools and rivers of lava, the burning of his face and body, the burning of Jared and Benita’s bodies, screaming and laughter from someplace far.

“I was hoping you were some bitch,” echoed No-Lee. “Ain’t easy for a guy like to me to get any gash out here. When I’m lucky some stupid cunt will happen on me. It’s good. It don’t happen much, but when it does, oh, is it so good.”

Phillip stood wavering, felt blood beating out of his head, and fell back on his ass.

He couldn’t see No-Lee or the kid, but discerned Jared’s frightened sobs, the twist of a plastic cap against glass. He listened as No-Lee swallowed hard twice, twisted the cap back on. Heard the whoosh of something tumbling through the musty cave air and shattering near the kid’s noise. No-Lee laughed, gagged from the effort. Phillip rose and rushed into the black toward the sound; arms bent ninety at the elbow, hands curled to grasp what he could of No-Lee. When his hands met the man’s chest he gripped and drove his shirt collar to his neck. The two grappled, staggered in the darkness until No-Lee began to vomit and threw his body into Phillip’s, and they fell hard against the wall and ground. An object was knocked over and others crashed out of it near them. From what Phillip could feel with his hands and body, No-Lee was on his side, back against Phillip’s knees. He skimmed his right hand across the dirt, found what felt like a screwdriver. His left hand found the hair on the back of No-Lee’s head, gripped it tight. He rolled himself until he felt that he was on top of No-Lee’s back and brought the screwdriver in his hand to the head in his other quickly, with force. The body beneath him bucked. Phillip struck his left hand on his second stabbing attempt, deeply, and his grip on No-Lee’s hair went slack. So he hugged his head, shook it like he did when Jared was a small child and would ask to be picked up by Phillip to be swung back and forth so that his legs looked like a pendulum. He felt a pop, No-Lee’s body go limp. He collapsed, took his gashed hand in his shirt, and tried to focus on the dimming light of the cave entrance.

§

Phillip never carried a gun before working in Phoenix; had only plinked cans off dirt mounds with small caliber rifles out on the rez with his cousins. The day he decided to carry, a short Guatemalan man had been hired to remove the stucco and chicken-wire siding for an addition. Racial slurs and death threats were being slung at the man because he hadn’t completed the task before Phillip and his boss had shown up to remove the electrical wiring and outlets before the framing could be redone. He remembered the man’s panicked expression and watery eyes, the erratic swing of his sledgehammer, and pleas in Spanish, which Phillip couldn’t understand. The other contractors stood by in an arc, showed each other their handguns and crossed the man with the barrel ends. It would be a temporary thing for Phillip, carrying a handgun. Once he realized he was outnumbered and viewed as no better than the immigrant workers, the other contractors and tradesmen directing their attacks at him, he decided to sell the handgun to a cousin for a couple hundred less than what he paid for it. But the anger and humiliation remained, festered in him, made him judgmental and prone to hate anyone paler than he was. He often dreamed of shooting the racists, the far right-wingers, torching whatever ignorant, upper class project they were working on, and letting everyone and everything burn to ash.

The kid wasn’t crying anymore when he shook Phillip awake, shined the flashlight in his eyes.

“Are you cool? Are you cool?” he repeated until Phillip told him that he was.

“I want to go home,” he said. “We need to go home.”

Phillip sat up and held the kid, told him, ok.

Outside the cave a breeze rustled the pine needles and a far away dog barked once. Phillip felt nauseous and weak, the sensation of the air on his skin made him aware of the heat he felt flaring within him. He wanted to call Benita, have her come get him and the kid. She wouldn’t, he knew, even if he told her the truth. She was driven, career oriented. And, anyway, what good was there thinking about it, he’d smashed his phone yesterday. He felt lost, without purpose. He needed a solution, needed one given to him.

He thought of the body in the cave and his fucking tools. He needed his tools. He told the kid to wait, climbed back into the cave, and gathered his scattered tools; left the screwdriver plunged into No-Lee’s cheek where it was, and hefted the tool bucket and drill bag outside to the base where Jared waited. He smoothed the kid’s hair, told him to stay put, to keep his bats safe and the tools safe. The kid nodded, removed the bats from his pocket, and held them. Phillip, as if driven by instinct, headed toward the pipeline road, some sixty feet through the ponderosas, to a burn pile at the road edge. Something needed to be done about No-Lee’s hateful body, it’d be found sooner or later. Phillip estimated a half an hour to forty-five minutes, if he hustled and didn’t fuck up, in order to remove enough logs to cover No-Lee’s body back in the cave before the forest gave way to complete darkness. He would burn the motherfucker. Char any evidence of him or the kid ever being there. After, he and the kid would walk beneath the night, find a pay phone, if pay phones still existed, and call Benita, beg a ride back to the motel. She’d give in; she would, for him or the kid, it didn’t matter.

As Phillip finished building a pyre over No-Lee’s body, having stuffed the gaps with dry twigs and pine needles, the kid climbed quietly into the cave, sat next to where Phillip knelt, peeled off one of his Bible bats, and set it in an open space between the logs. Phillip began to hiccup and sob, the kid hugged his bruised ribs, and he winced.

The kid said, “We’ll leave them. The bats will protect us.”

Phillip took Jared’s dry and calloused hand, smoothed his hair, and began placing the bats in cracks along the perimeter of the pile. While the kid watched, Phillip ignited the kindling on the far side of the pyre. As it took flame and illuminated the already blackened walls of the cave the two noticed how the smoke wafted up through a natural chimney in the rock. As the bats burned their curled bodies drifted upward until the ash and char of them filled the interior. When the whole of pyre began to burn and the smoke was too much they exited, retrieved Phillip’s tools. When they came upon the far side of the service road they turned around, saw nothing of fire or smoke in the darkness.

Phillip’s tongue fat and course in his mouth. He asked the kid if he was thirsty. He was. But both were without water.

—Bojan Louis

.
BOJAN LOUIS is a member of the Navajo Nation — Naakai Dine’é; Ashiihí; Ta’neezahnii; Bilgáana. He is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist who earns his ends and writing time by working as an electrician, construction worker, and a Full Time English Instructor at Arizona State University, Downtown Campus. He has been a resident at The MacDowell Colony.

 

Sep 072016
 

Riiki Ducornet

.

We came together in celebration
(is not every world a miracle?)
and like the twins joined at the hip
so were we tethered
sparking the night
in a place named House of Birds.

Not long after
and seen for the first time
the four moons of Jupiter
circling like sharks.

He came disguised as a vulture,
we offered him iguana, flowers
our most beautiful boys circling the sky
suspended from their weeping chests like moons
in the light of the torches
their bodies black with soot, the boys
Moon Boys, Lizard boys
sacred as jaguars
tethered at the heart.

In the year named Death named
Split Down The Middle.

The boy who called herself White Quetzal.
The boy who called herself Lady Cormorant.

The boys:
Egret Ruler, Door Keeper (he the first to fall)
all at once seized
in a sea of sprung traps
who cried out like deer:

Moon Woman has fallen!
True Magician has fallen!
Mother! I, too, have fallen…
Here I am, hanging. Come for me.

Come for me
In the year named Lament.
In the year named All Of Our Losses.
Viscera unspooling black and red
on this day named 49 Death.

::::::::::

When gravity overcomes us
when our magic fails
there is no place a body can hide.
We wondered then
where are our mothers?
In extremity shouted out:
Where are our mothers?
We made ourselves invisible
(the jaguar does this, the moon, the snake).
We lay still, a big black blanket
holding up the stars.
A voice shining in the wreckage of the air:
It’s ok. I’m here with you.

Much later some of us returned to
a certain kind of visibility.
The floor bleeding
the moment
spilling its dark substance
into the days to come.

Some awakened in the place named White Bone House
with broken jaws, forcibly initiated
into a dark knowledge.

It is said that in extremeity
everythng eclipses, everything above and below
is born of shadow and formed of light
light which has no body yet dances.

::::::::::

It was then, there at the side of the road
my friend caught my eyes, held them, they leapt
moths between his hands
his bloodied cord uncoiling between us.

Later I walked away unseeing without him.
Now I walk each hour of the days alone and unseeing.
Such work cuts the tongue from the mouth.
Yet before it happened
we were all the colors of the rain, we were the music
of Jupiter’s moons in motion
in the infinite reaches of deepest space
our bodies tethered at the heart
suspended
in something as sacred
as water.

Know that each encounter, each embrace
leans over the edge of a crater.
If we fall we fall all the way
to the other side where the pavement pools
beneath the force of the multitudes running
from danger.
Know that pain resides
in a street scattered with cds and cigarettes
a child’s supper spilled on the landing, a spine
a snake broken against a wall
a woman standing tall beside the highway
her pride shining before she is made to die
fear striping her back.

::::::::::

Now even the rain smells bad.

::::::::::

That very night, in that moment on the sweetest of afternoons,
over there, across the street, on the lawn,
suspended from that tree, that
fence—there—do you see it? (It’s ok. I’m here with you.)

Everything scorched:
the scales of snakes
the fur of jaguars
their eyes the
bones of their feet the
soft purposeful organs
their beauty, O!
The beauty of the children!

It happens fast, a world reduced to gravel to vapor,
A stench that does not belong to us and yet is ours.
See? There?
The heart swinging from its rope?

::::::::::

As when in an airport, a subway, a city street, a jail cell, on the prison stairs, in
custody; it begins on a sidewalk beside a city park.

And then a boy and all things within his vicinity

vaporize

It was like that

When the tongue was cut from the throat of the world.

We hid like roaches behind the toilets but couldn’t make ourselves small enough.
In this way betrayed—as is the child—hiding behind the curtains, beneath the bed,
deep in the closet, the cellar, the train car, in her mother’s overcoat hanging from a
hook. Standing there thin as a pin, small as a mote of air, cloaked in the very body
that when struck repeatedly, breaks.

::::::::::

As this transpired I was with her concealed in that place above the city you knew so
well. The sound of the night owl, the moving water and breezes—all this making us
as safe as within a house of paper.
In the distance we could hear the music, smell the corn roasting, the iguana meat
crisping on the coals. Hear our people singing, their voices made for stories, their
clothes made of feathers, and at their ankles: bells. In this way they were the
children of the gods. Their hearts secure in a box of green stone.

I sat with my mother, our heads together, holding hands—in that place were once
there were people known for the extremity of their innocence, who spoke all the
languages of the flowers. Recalling this perhaps, my mother held me close, said:
little creature…little sprout…
The air shimmered in the heart of the coming summer as beneath us the world
collapsed; we saw it happen. In that instant grew old together. The heart of the
people crushed beneath a weight so stubborn no one has been able to lift it, not to
this day. We have exhausted ourselves trying.
See:
my mother, my one mother on her knees, changing color, melting like wax; she is
ablaze.
She says:
He was killed like a cow.
(And it is true.
Born of men he was killed without mystery.)
She says:
He didn’t DO nothin’.
He didn’t HAVE a cow’s face.
He had the face of a MAN.
THAT was my man’s FACE.
And this is why I am here now
In this hard place
In the city.

::::::::::

I need someone to come for me.

::::::::::

They say when you are buried
with bullets in the body and when
the flesh falls away
those bullets fall, see…
they tumble before coming to rest beside the bones.
And that makes no sense. None of it.
Something’s the matter.

O my beloved.
My boy, my only love, your body changes color your chameleaon body,
pristine as the stuff of stars, your perfect knees the palms of your hands,
run through by metal by anger the holes in your back…I wish I hadn’t seen it,
I wish none of this had transpired, not here, take it elsewhere, send it careening
into deep space why don’t you? For we are burdened, joined at the hip in the hard
work of dying. Falling together down the steep side of things. Yes we are falling.
Propelled by a sail the size of a lunar sea in a ship no bigger than the eye of an ocelot
the bunghole of a fox, its nose a nipple probing the ether leaving behind it a trail
of milk.

My mother said:
Please don’t tell me he’s gone.
Don’t let him be gone.
His body a star assaulted by a shadow.
Still we heard him shouting:
ba
bel
bil
bol
bul
dal
del
dil
dol
du

do not, he said. Don’t do it. Please don’t do it.

::::::::::.

She said: My body is mine, see.
I mean it is sacred, somehow.
Keep a respectful distance.
She said: I am not an animal.
He ignored her, and after the fact
galloped away in the shape of a horse the color of lead.
He had the face of a goat.
White as cheese.

According to the authorities,
She closed her eyes.
The knife was left lying with its sharp edge up,
she hanging by a rope of hair.

::::::::::

The following day we named ‘Tribute’.
The day that follows Macaw Madness,
Tribute takes place in the heart of Hell,
right beneath the angry eye of noon.

Now they are speaking over him saying:
Take a handful of white salt. Toss it
across your shoulder onto the backs of the cattle.
Take a little hair between the ears of a cow
a little blood a
teaspoon of gunpowder.
Piss, spit and you will forget forthwith
where and when the unthinkable happened.

Now, in this instant, strangers bestow their grace upon him.

::::::::::

They say that once the Pleiades signified
a flock of cockatoos.
The horns of cows were worn as amulets.
These suspended above a door, in a window
above the bed where the little ones were conceived,
later to be born with the faces of children.

We are not cattle to be corralled into a pen.
Brought down with a thud.

Know that when night comes
it is not because the sun has abandoned us
only
it has been eclipsed by a thing
for which there is no proper word nor a tongue with which to speak it.
This word arrives like a truck
white as all the angels.

—Rikki Ducornet

.

The author of nine novels, three collections of short fiction, two books of essays and five books of poetry, Rikki Ducornet has received both a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Lannan Literary Award For Fiction. She has received the Bard College Arts and Letters award and, in 2008, an Academy Award in Literature. Her work is widely published abroad. Recent exhibitions of her paintings include the solo show Desirous at the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2007, and the group shows: O Reverso Do Olhar in Coimbra, Portugal, in 2008, and El Umbral Secreto at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende in Santiago, Chile, in 2009. She has illustrated books by Jorge Luis Borges, Robert Coover, Forest Gander, Kate Bernheimer, Joanna Howard and Anne Waldman among others. Her collected papers including prints and drawings are in the permanent collection of the Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende, Santiago Chile, The McMaster University Museum, Ontario, Canada, and The Biblioteque Nationale, Paris.

.

Sep 062016
 

Dave Kennedy A view to a passageway_working_Dave Kennedy

Anamorphosis is showing at Bridge Productions in Seattle, September 7 – October 1. The opening is Wednesday, September 7, 6-9 pm, Bridge Productions, Hamilton Work Studios, 2nd Floor, 6007 12th Ave S, Seattle.

x

Anamorphosis is an ancient representational technique; you deform the image of the object so that from a certain angle it looks like one thing and from another angle a different image appears (sort of). A classic example is Hans Holbein the Younger’s painting The Ambassadors, with its anamorphic skull. In that instance, the technique is allegorical, a reminder that we will all die. For Dave Kennedy, the technique is also allegorical, but in this case it’s a reminder that things are not what they seem, identity is unstable, even untrustworthy. He uses photos, photocopies, bits of cast off material, explodes and reconstructs images of what conventionally are not aesthetic objects, dingy street scenes, junk lumber. So not only is Kennedy calling identity into question, he is also subverting the idea of a conventional aesthetic and the relative value of objects in our society, a subversion that, yes, extends to our identities as people (think: race, ethnicity, social class).

In his artist’s statement, he writes:

He [Kennedy] creates an augmented reality based on his surroundings, documenting various street scenes, walls, fences, detritus, and everyday objects; shooting nearly hundreds of images of the subject matter. They are recreated by tiling the image, printing them out on 8 x 11 or 11 x 17 copy paper, and stitching the individual ‘pixels’ together to form a large-scale print with jagged borders, or an assemblage of an exploded view much like a photographic blueprint. He then opts to affix an actual or facsimile object from the scene to the printed piece, further thwarting our ability to gauge what is ‘real’ versus ‘image’.

One that lends significance to places, objects, and things, elevating them through a process of familiarity. The details noticed become representations of reality. They represent both what they are and something else, at the same time. Such symbols allow for a different way of seeing the self, not as a mirror but as an access point. They act as elements that allow the viewer to explore and possibly complicate the narratives that are firmly affixed in normative presumptions.

This special manner of viewing, human subjectivities and more individualized identifications are seen as something that can become knowable. Anamorphosis is a metaphor for reimagining and expanding on appearances, as well as, overcoming “Otherness”— more in the sense that when someone is seen as less than, or as an object, this perspective can then be appropriated and re-loaded with more poignant meanings that point towards agency and autonomy.

As happens now and then on NC, Kennedy’s statement provoked a conversation (via email), which is really worth reprinting here.

DG: Let me ask you a couple of questions. When you say “less regarded spaces and objects”, what do you mean? And what drew you to such spaces and objects. As I see them, they are the objects and spaces that we pass over in life as unartistic, not aesthetic subjects. It’s kind of a rebellion against an unconsciously accepted conventional aesthetic, to render the “unaesthetic” aesthetic with your art and thus in an extended sense to reshape identity.

One of the guiding stars at NC is the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky who said that the purpose of art was to take the ordinary, the things we pass over in the process of conventional seeing, and process them (make the “strange”) by representing them inside aesthetic form (techniques and structure). His idea was to slow down perception, which has become too conventional. We don’t actually see things anymore.

Dave Kennedy: On “less regarded spaces and objects”: Douglas, what you wrote about objects, spaces, aesthetics and rebellion.. rendering the “unaesthetic” aesthetic to reshape identity is both beautiful, concise, and exactly what I’m pointing to. I would love it if you included this. In addition, here’s how I got to this…

I grew up in a WWII housing project in the Pacific Northwest. Due to a lack of government funding various parts of my neighborhood were left in a constant state of disrepair. “Under Construction” each street block seemed to have many ethnicities represented which was accompanied by a lot of racism bred of misunderstanding.  Personally, my mother is Italian and Eritrean, and my father Native American. So I didn’t look like one ethnic group or another and I would walk these multicultural city blocks alone, looking for someone else like me. It was common for people to make assumptions of what I was: Mexican, Samoan, Black. “What are you?!” My response to these objectifying guesses and questions is embedded in my practice and my exploration of an expanded view into unseen subjectivities.

Growing up in these spaces where other people did not want me to be. Places in various states of repair and ruin, provided me with a playground where I could escape this bias and bigotry. Lately I’ve been returning to these memories and attempting to reveal the marvelous that is often hidden in the aspects of life that we find quite ordinary while extending the availability of alternate roles to the subjects, places and objects I am finding.

On “reshaping identity”: First, thank you. It’s quite a distinction to be “fitting in” with Viktor Shklovsky…  Andrei Tarkovsky once wrote: “The goal for all art – is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what [a human] lives for, what is the meaning of [their] existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question.”

The action of deconstructing spaces and objects — these images, with my camera and then adhering the tiled photo copy sections back together feels like a performance of investigation that culminates in a space for meditation. The photocopy allows me to physically take apart the image and put it back together. I do this in part because I believe that social constructs are stories that can be taken apart and told differently.

We need an alternative definition of reality. One that allows us to reconsider the beliefs that we bring to what we see.

The details that I notice become representations of my reality. They represent both what they are and something else, at the same time. Such symbols, in my opinion, allow for a different way of seeing the self, not as a mirror but as an access point. They act as elements that allow the viewer to explore and possibly complicate the narratives that are firmly affixed in normative presumptions.

Within my process — this special manner of viewing, human subjectivities and more individualized identifications are seen as something that can become knowable. Anamorphosis is a metaphor for reimagining and expanding on appearances and overcoming “Otherness”— more in the sense that when someone is seen as less than, or as an object, this perspective can then be appropriated and re-loaded with more poignant meanings that point towards agency and autonomy.

—dg & Dave Kennedy

Kennedy Something fully itselfSomething fully itself
(photocopies, yellow stick, orange straw, wood scrap, pencil, brick, adhesive mound and blue cap. 108″ x 81″)

Something fully itself_detail_1Something fully itself (detail 1)

Something fully itself_detail_2Something fully itself (detail 2)

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Dusty teal stick and trapezoid paper objectsDusty teal stick and Trapezoid (constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid_detail_1Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid (detail 1)

Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid_detail_2Dusty teal stick and Trapezoid (detail 2)

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Framed between two othersFramed between two others
(photocopies, wood scraps, duct tape, tape, light grey tube, blue cap and rusty clip. 113″ x 73″)

Framed between two others_detail_1Framed between two others (detail 1)

Framed between two others_detail_2Framed between two others (detail 2)

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Burgandy and White stripe paper objectBurgundy and White stripe (Constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Burgundy and White stripe_detail_1Burgundy and White stripe (detail)

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Almond Fudge SupremeAlmond Fudge Supreme (Constructed photocopies. 28″ x 40″)

06.Almond Fudge Supreme_detail_1 500pxAlmond Fudge Supreme (detail)

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Crescent moon and white circle on rectangleCrescent moon and white circle on rectangle
(Constructed photocopies of various dimensions)

Crescent moon and white circle on rectangle_detail_1Crescent moon and white circle on rectangle (detail)

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Black Raspberry delightBlack Raspberry delight (Constructed photocopies. 28″ x 40″)

Black Raspberry delight_detail_1Black Raspberry delight (detail 1)

Black Raspberry delight_detail_2Black Raspberry delight (detail 2)

—Dave Kennedy
Anamorphosis
September 7th – October 1st
6007 12th Ave S
Seattle WA 98108

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Dave Kennedy_likeliness of an appearanceDave Kennedy at Kinnear Space (The likeliness of an appearance)

Photos: Courtesy of Joe Freeman www.joefreemanjunior.com

Dave Kennedy has recently worked as Co-Director and Visiting Lecturer for the University of Washington’s Art in Spain program. He is a recipient of the 4Culture Individual Project Award, as well as Artist Trust’s Grants for Artists Projects, the Joanne Bailey Wilson Endowed Scholarship, and the Vermont Studio Center Fellowship. Kennedy has recently served on Seattle Art Museum’s Blueprint Roundtable panel and has participated as a guest lecturer at the Henry as an intro to their “Out [O] Fashion” Show curated by Deb Willis. He has prepared multimedia presentations for the Society of Photographic Educators, Cornish College of the Arts, and the University of Washington on topics of marginalization and objectification. He received his MFA from the University of Washington in Interdisciplinary Arts and an undergraduate degree from Western Washington University in Visual Communication. Kennedy is currently working as the Visual Arts Coordinator at the Vermont Studio Center while continuing to be an active member of Photo Center Northwest and COCA in Seattle, WA. His works have exhibited both locally and internationally at such venues as the GGibson Gallery, Photo Center Northwest, Zhou B Art Center, Chicago Industrial Arts & Design Center, Escuela de Belle Arte in Spain, and the Seattle Art Museum’s Gallery.

Artist site: www.davekennedyimages.com

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Sep 062016
 

Erika Mihalycsa

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According to her medical record, the translator was suffering from hypochondria. Now she’s even a hippocondric, as her mother-in-law remarked to her son, that is, the translator’s husband, four neat syllables, with the stress falling on the third, when she thought the translator was in the bathroom and out of earshot, but a translator has an ear for everything, especially for the half-swallowed sentences and the words implied in the emphatic upward jump of the eyebrows.

Supercilious is the word, it crossed the translator’s mind, as she stepped out of the bathroom half a beat too early and caught in her husband’s look, beside the habitual let’s-drop-it-mom resignation, a new, yet unseen quality, a parry of the foibles: not now, she’ll hear us. It was not the first occasion when she caught her husband at it. A few weeks earlier when they went on a day’s outing to pick mushrooms with Tamás’s family, she saw all too well with what demonstrative diligence he was gathering dry boughs, voicing his expert opinion on the best place to make a fire for the barbecue, delivering with a puppy’s enthusiasm the peppery milk-caps into Ildikó’s hands. Ildikó, Tamás’s wife, is three years older than the translator, so she bosses her around with the utmost naturalness. She has two children, drives a car with relaxed nerve, is always bursting with high spirits – in one word, she’s a real sport. The translator doesn’t like peppery milk-caps, as a child she used to get sick from them, and she could take down quite accurately the score of Ildikó’s conversation with Tamás that evening while putting the kids to sleep, that this poor Karcsi has a hard enough life by the side of this party pooper, and here the translator’s name follows. Who, instead of mushroom-hunting with the others on the thick carpet of dead leaves lighted up here and there by the oblique sunrays, keeps moseying all day long along the edge of the wood with those myopic eyeglasses and a second-hand botanical atlas, trying to identify bear’s foot, buttercups, black hellebore, water crowfoot and similar never-heard-of weeds, months after flowering, although normally she couldn’t tell dill from daffodil, so hard is she set on collecting first-hand, first-eye and first-nose impressions about the shape, feel, smell of their unarmed stems, leaf petioles, lobed and whorled leaves, and about the taste of their poisonous milky sap, because she happens to be translating some novel whose cranked protagonist flees ever-present but, as it sometimes happens in fiction, perfectly invisible and imperceptible war, and takes refuge in a small hut in the woods somewhere up north where, poring day and night over the ever-more-prostrate basal leaf-stems, the increasingly broken-toothed leaf margins, and decreasing number of ovules in the pistils of the windflowers of the field, he reaches the conclusion that mankind is ripe for extinction. The translator came out of the bathroom, gripping a handful of fallen-out hair. On the threshold the hairs were slightly blown back by the barely perceptible draught originating in her mother-in-law’s word uttered in a histrionic whisper, with an intonation soaring toward the third syllable, only to plummet towards the fourth. The translator, staring vacantly in front of herself as usual, took in this word and the two stares hastily shifted from the sizable knot of hair in her disinfectant-smelling hand, in them two thirds of repulsion, one third guilt-feeling because of the repulsion, and an almost uncountable, but all the more rabid rage because of the guilt-feeling, like a cauldron in which words of all colours, consistency and smell ferment together into fruit mash, no, not that, mash is fermented in barrels, but rather like bits of meat and gristle simmering with the quarters of potatoes and peppers quite alien in consistency and character, a bit more patience children, the potato stew is almost ready. In the spring she started translating a novel, she has known the author for a long time; in the small hours when they were both at their desk, they used to send each other long e-mails with minutiae of folk beliefs connected to the dragon-herb, detailed rules of extinct board games, lengthy quotes from obscure authors. It all began in mid-May with a curt, parenthetical aside inserted into an answer, in the negative, to one of her questions, from which the translator learned that the author had been diagnosed with lung cancer. She despaired, was hopeful, could not sleep and work, and lost even the little appetite she had, so that she gave up the semblance of cooking she did, for better or for worse, on account of her husband, and after one and a half weeks of relentless tension not talked over, her mother-in-law moved in and took matters definitely in hand. When, smelling the fizzling breakfast bacon and eggs, the translator rushed for the first time headlong into the bathroom, bursting in on her husband who was shaving, and who clumsily embraced her from behind and held her head as she dropped to her knees in front of the toilet and with eyes blurred by tears and amid loud, croaking hawks coming up directly from her stomach, was throwing up thin air, she glimpsed a spark of cautious hope in his eyes as he asked, with a wink too big for the occasion and in his usual professorial manner, if he should run down to the pharmacy for a pregnancy test, at which she, with still tearful eyes, made a feeble gesture to push him away, but her husband took this for the opening move of an embrace and pressed the translator’s palm to his chest, with his other hand tore a bit of toilet paper and wiped off the whitish saliva from the corner of her mouth and, smiling indefatigably and with his head turned ever so slightly so as not to be knocked off his feet by the ammonia smell of her breath, gave a smack on her nose, then just in case patted her on the bum and gently ejected her from the bathroom, go lie down a bit, Bugs Bunny, you’ll see you’ll eat ten eggs in a minute like a good girl. Needless to say, the translator didn’t eat one single egg that day or the day after, she kept counting the hairs fallen with each brushing or hairwash, scrutinizing her scaly fingernails, scrubbing her skin for hours, which thus became more gray and flaking every day, palpating under her arm the nodes which she could now recognize with unerring precision even through her pajamas and the terrycloth gown, as one would intuit in the first, sinister beats of an opera overture the crime of passion to come inexorably at the end of the fourth act, or as she would foretell at the beginning of the writer’s meandering sentences the mindfully placed counterweight in the parenthesis opened one and a half pages later, the apparently casually tossed phrase from which all the silencings, all the bureaucratic complicity planted in the language used in the fictional world are revealed, that transfer the forsaken, uncomprehending human being into a rubric of the production plans, next to the pesticide statistics. Shortening her sleeping hours day by day, she repeatedly revised the translated chapters with reddened, burning eyes, because with every rereading she discovered some side-note, some dissonant chord tucked away in a subclause, for the text had known already at the onset of its writing, eight years ago, and at the very beginning of its 15-year gestation, not only the past it narrated, but also the way the body goes about blowing up its time bombs, it had known where the malignant growth is to start, how the old lingo’s old words hatch with the first spring thaw from the betrayals hastily buried under the December snow, how they eclose from their pupa, start swarming and lay their eggs in the new lingo of the new papers and new schools. The translator was not particularly well-known in her trade, having published few volumes so far, but the author insisted that his works should be dispatched by her because he knew that even if it took her years to complete a novel, she would look up every single pivot hinge, pattern of embroidery, or medical diagnosis. Sometimes at half five a.m. she would send, with amusing enthusiasm, a link to some blog on which she found a picture of a wicker rocking chair from the 1920s looking exactly like the one in which the novel’s grandmother, a camp survivor, liked to sit in the sunlit square in front of the parlour window. Now that the author was recovering at home after the second chemo, the translator perched all day long in thick woollen socks and pullover at her desk curtained off from the summerly sun, with hands and feet turned into icicles, and on the rare occasions when she ventured to the grocery around the corner to fetch mineral water, cigarettes and some fruit, she kept to the shadow like a beetle. Her wax-coloured skin recoiled from the sun like the skin of an amphibian, and she felt naked behind her sunshades among the people in bright summer clothes, like one whose eyebrows and lashes had gone the way of all her hair, that is, down the toilet. On the scraps of paper scattered on her desk, synonyms were listed in columns, on which she was trying out, like a piano tuner, the ululant screech like a siren, of the doorbell ringing for the interrogatory in the fourth chapter. Her head, sinuses, even her teeth and gums were throbbing now to the rhythm of the ambulance’s, now to that of bomb sirens, tiny points of light kept pulsating in front of her eyes, she was waiting with the heroine, hiding the wounds of her moth-eaten lapels beneath her worn fur boa, in front of the entrance door, and the moment she hit upon the most gratingly ululating word her skin, holed by the ultraviolet rays bombarding her through the windowpanes, at once sensed the inward suction of the draught caused by the door about to open, although the hand had only just grasped the handle, and she saw her husband with the sharpness of an overexposed photograph as he slams the trunk lid on his suitcase and the carefully wrapped LED TV two weeks later, to drive off to his parents’ after having told her that they need to talk over their future, and that he cannot wait until kingdom come, until his wife, i.e., the translator, would finally realize that she needs to change her lifestyle a wee bit, that is, radically, because he too has got only this one life, Bugs Bunny, and the clock is ticking. But in vain is the clock ticking, Bugs Bunny, that is, the translator doesn’t grab the phone and dial her in-laws’ so that, after amiably greeting her father-in-law who picks up the receiver, and hearing her mother-in-law’s voice from the background, well finally, and don’t you give in this time, in a shaky voice and clearing her throat as always when she is nervous she would tell her husband the long-rehearsed sentences about their perennial, herbaceous endosperm life together, how it lacks a persistent woody stem above ground, is in the winter only alive in their rootstock from which in the spring solitary bright yellow flowers shoot with rotate corolla and colourful sepals, whose sap is poisonous when freshly picked, but innocuous if dried. She acknowledges the situation with the same impassivity with which she does the fact that in the meantime summer has arrived, tempestuous showers wash the windowsill in the afternoons, then the stifling July heat comes back, the season keeps dripping the infusion, all her energy is taken up by calculating the sequence of days spent in dull torpor and with a clearing head, in her mind sentences start out gropingly, following the itinerary of the author’s sentences with sluggish feet, to get stuck sooner or later at a polysemic word whose meanings proliferate like a tumour in that other language, then by the much-awaited second half of the week the buttery, viscous mist lifts from her eyes and the words, so far clacking like a stuck record, bolt out impetuously, on these days she translates up to five-six pages a day, the text laboriously sheds its cocoon and spreads its tiny, raw wings, but tires soon, has to take frequent rests to warm itself up, breathing hard with chapped lips, at times looking exactly like a bunny with its small quivering nose. By the end of the summer the author is through three chemos and one surgery, still laid out in the no man’s land between life and non-being on a sterile hospital bed, whereas the translator is roosting in the disinfectant-smelling apartment that feels cold again, with a blanket on her knees and short of breath, in the posture that her spine would now automatically take up even in her sleep, and with which the novel’s criminal-prisoner-turned-revolutionary drives the once-elegant chaise with the three huddled members of the family destined to be deported, to the collecting point in town, the brick factory that had fulfilled its function to general satisfaction a short while ago. Above them, the swallows preparing for migration are practicing diving.

—Erika Mihálycsa

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Erika Mihálycsa is a lecturer in 20th-century British literature at Babes-Bolyai University Cluj, Romania, a Joyce and Beckett scholar. She has translated works by Beckett, Flann O’Brien, Patrick McCabe, William Carlos Williams, Anne Carson, Julian Barnes and others into Hungarian. Her translations of contemporary Hungarian prose and poetry have appeared to date, or are forthcoming, in World Literature Today, The Missing Slate, Trafika Europe, and BxOxDxY Magazine. A regular collaborator to various Hungarian reviews, she is editor, together with Rainer J. Hanshe, of Hyperion, issued by Contra Mundum Press.

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