May 182012

The Terrace

You live off the six-lane U.S. State Road 17-92 which cuts through Orlando and one of the city’s major arteries. Even though your building is close to the road, you are not bothered by the traffic; you can barely detect the whoosh of passing cars. This may be because these buildings—the oldest condominium complex in Orange County, erected in  the 1950s—are two stories of concrete block, hurricane-proof. You know because you’ve ridden out at least a Category Two here, and plenty of tropical storms.

The buildings retain retro detailing in the porch latticework and New England-inspired names—Gladstone, Kingston, Exeter—which hardly fit the shrubs flowering fire-orange petals, geckos flitting up your porch screens, the lemon tree outside your bedroom which bears fruit in the winter. The complex is notoriously well-kept by the landscapers who descend on Wednesdays, clipping hedges and parading down the sidewalks wielding leaf-blowers like jet-packs, calling to each other in Spanish and Creole, or another Caribbean patois, you’re not sure which. Most of your neighbors have lived here for years. Many are elderly, and a good number are snowbirds—Canadians and Northern retirees who arrive in October and leave around April, with the heat’s descent. But a good number of young couples and singles have moved in recently. You have lived here a decade, and with each passing year, find it more difficult to imagine ever leaving.

 The Birds

Sometimes when you are climbing in or out of your jeep, the water birds catch your eye. Herons, pelicans, ibis, and others hunt in the stream behind your building, some so tall they would likely reach your shoulder. You try and sneak up on them, but can get no closer than a dozen feet before they scamper away awkwardly on legs like bent chopsticks, or take flight. Even though the birds are a fixture, they fascinate you. Perhaps it’s the elegant, precise way they hunt in the rushing water as their long beaks hover, then strike, in the weeds. Or perhaps it’s the sheer size of some of them, the uncanny way they can sense one’s approach even as they stare in the opposite direction. They are simultaneously graceful yet goofy, like jabberwockies. Sometimes you find giant white splatters on the jeep’s hood and windshield, dotted with seeds, which ignite a string of under-the-breath curses from your lips because of course you have somewhere to go and cannot stop to get the car washed. But you find it difficult to stay mad at them.

The Room of Your Own 

Your office is in the back room which doubles for storage and laundry. While the washer spins and groans in the closet behind you, you peck away on your laptop. So far you have written only nonfiction here, but you are between novels anyway. The vestiges of your most recent project, research for your first novel, are still fixed on your desk—Blood and Capital, America’s Other War, Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia—ominous-sounding titles you would never have predicted yourself reading a few years ago, but that your creative pursuits led you to discover. Literary journals have found their way here, including the final issue of The Southern Review published under the editorship of your friend and mentor, Jeanne Leiby, who died swiftly, shockingly, in a car accident last April. The issues don’t belong on your desk, but you don’t know where else to put them; sometimes you find yourself picking up those with forwards by Jeannie and reading them, some comfort to feel that she is there, yet, within those pages. So every time you replace the issues in their spot, knowing one day soon you will have to clear the desk, make room for new projects, but not wanting to yet. For now, they stay.

Lake Lily Park

You meet someone, a music teacher, at the bar next door. He tells you he’s playing the violin the following night in the park across the street. You decide to check it out.

It’s a balmy February evening, enough for a light jacket or sweater, but as you enter the park’s south side, you pass dog walkers in flip flops and t-shirts, a lone jogger in shorts. Above the lamp-lit brick walk, the Spanish moss dangles from the oaks like lace. This side of the park is vacant, but gradually you round the horseshoe path past the playground alive with children, and the din of music and chatter grows louder. In the daytime you can gaze down among the lily pads in the shallows and spot turtles and fish, but tonight Lake Lily looms dark except for the illuminated fountain in the middle, and the full moon rising in the misty clouds above. A young man steps to the lake’s shore, snaps a photo with his Smartphone. You think of doing the same but don’t. You have never been a fan of stepping out of a magical moment to try and capture it.

Rounding the bend to the far end of the lake is the “food truck round-up,” a modern-day caravan minus gypsies and fortune tellers. Uneven lines form at the truck windows; couples, families, and teenagers stream to the crowded picnic tables with fish tacos and cupcakes. In the center, under a white tent, a new age band strums ambient music—guitar, tambourine, violin, no vocals to disrupt the conversation or mood.

You run into a neighbor and his foreign exchange student, Vika, from the Ukraine, a high school sophomore in glasses who smiles a lot over her burger and fries. She displays a firm grasp of conversational English, and even though you are sitting right beside the band she laughs at the jokes between you and your neighbor, strains to hear your questions but answers them without hesitation. She says it’s thirty below zero back home, that Eastern Europe is experiencing the coldest temperatures on record. She likes American high school because it’s easier. In Ukraine, she studied sixteen subjects a week.

As you rise and say goodbye, you glance at the music teacher—he’s on violin, nods in return, but a restlessness stirs within you. Perhaps it is the ambient music, which alternates between uplifting and melancholy, as now, matching the cozy din of the residents milling about the brightly lit trucks, young and old, married and divorced. You leave and walk around the lake, but there is no escaping this feeling of having one foot in an old chapter that is closing, and another in the new, opening up; you have been in this love-limbo before, this splitting of self. You are almost, once again, single.

The Dance Studio

You bustle into the studio at nine-thirty, water bottle in hand and dance bag bulging with your tambourine and gypsy skirt. Lively Indian music stops and starts from the class in medias res, and when they file out at ten, skin glistening and faces flushed, they talk of costumes for the upcoming show—wrong sizes ordered, jewelry to be borrowed, sewing to be done. They are the professional Belly dance class; many of them have been dancing for years, grew up taking ballet and jazz. Some dance at various themed restaurants in Orlando, for Disney and Universal Studios. You had one semester of ballet, but somehow you are here. At twenty-seven, you discovered your gift for dance, and now, like writing, can’t imagine giving it up.

Tonight, your troupe practices tambourine first—a rollicking number with spins and changing line formations. You split: one half of the group performs for the other half, who sits along the mirror and scribbles critique on scraps of paper. Then one by one, you fire off feedback (“The push backs are getting lost, make them bigger” and “Keep energy in the arms! No chicken wings”). When your turn comes to the galloping music, your coin earrings flick against your neck. Your timing is good. All you need is to slip fully into the dream on stage, and you will be great. The same rules for fiction apply to dance: forget the self, and the art shines through.          

Then you run through the Persian routine. The green velvet and gold-trimmed costumes have arrived, Renaissance style with bell sleeves, complete with gold tiaras and veils. You look like queens, or at least ladies-in-waiting. This dance is sweet, graceful, totally unlike the other. Just after eleven, you finish. Before exiting, you remove your checkbook to pay for the costume. Your stomach squeezes as you write the amount. What is the cost of fantasy? Are you living the life of a Winter Park housewife as someone close to you recently claimed, the bourgeoisie woman in her prime, claiming she’s an artist? Should you stop all of this, and focus on paying the rent?

You should, argues the logos mind. But how can you? The stronger half of your brain, the half that is toned and strong from crafting critical essays, thirty stories, and a novel these past five years, is as sculpted and agile as your limbs as they carry you to your dented, shit-splattered jeep in the night. That brain and body, blood pulsing with adrenaline and spirit as you sweep through the barren streets, wails no, you cannot stop. To stop is death.

You pull into the complex, park in front of the lemon tree. Climbing from the jeep, you are grateful for the spotlight illuminating the lot vacant of persons, or birds—where do they go at night, the spindly-legged hunters of the stream? Through the trees, laughter and loud voices escape from the bar next door. The scent of night-blooming jasmine trails after you, up the sidewalk; the Canadian couple, down for vacation, sit outside the unit beside yours, smoking, cradling glasses of red wine. You are back at the condo, alone.

—Vanessa Blakeslee


Vanessa Blakeslee’s fiction has been published in The Southern Review, The Good Men Project, Ascent, and The Drum, among many others, and her short story “Shadow Boxes” won the inaugural Bosque Fiction Prize. She has been awarded grants and fellowships from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ragdale Foundation, and recently was one of twelve writers selected by Margaret Atwood for her 2012 Key West Literary Seminar workshop, “The Time Machine Doorway.” Vanessa’s nonfiction and reviews have been featured or are forthcoming at Numéro CinqThe Paris Review Daily, The New Republic, KR Online, and The Millions, to name a few. In addition to writing, she’s a professional dancer with the Orlando Bellydance Performance Company in the troupe Gypsy Sa’har. Find her online at and at the Burrow Press Review blog, where’s she’s the resident “Shimmying Writer.”

May 162012


Christina Hutchings is a Bermudian artist and architect who does painting & sculpture or sculpture & painting or something that is in between painting & sculpture, using a variety of media, collage, and found objects to create art in three dimensions. Hutchings describes how her experience as an architect has helped to shape her thinking as an artist: “In the architectural design process, the idea is represented as a diagram, the diagram drives the organization of spaces in plan, section and elevation. I am in love with this way of working.”

But she combines this process with “a more intuitive approach—something in the studio catches [my] eye, one thing follows another and the piece seems to make itself.”

“When I begin a piece,” she says, “I think of it [both] as a painting and as an object…The frame defines a space in which to work and provides a boundary either to respect, or disregard with extensions and additions. At some point the pieces will be stacked one on top of another. And I will think of them as a stack of sketchbooks.

“The fact that Bermuda is a small British island situated in the Atlantic Ocean is a major influence. I cannot help but think of a lifeboat situation. I am surprised by what has inspired me: … school images, life boats, ships, rigging, buoys and channel markers, transistor radio broadcasts of Gemini space capsule launches, submarines, lines of rope, nautical charts, flags, undersea cables, shipping routes, a ride on the ferry.”

—Kim Aubrey


High Tide, gouache,coloured pencil and conte on wood 100″ x 70″, 2010


Camera, gouache on paper, gouache on wood and electrical tape 24″ x 22″ varies, 2011


Coordinates, ink and pencil on vellum with Color-aid paper 10″ x 10″, 2010


Yes No, oil on paper, gouache on paper, string and ruler 12.75″ x 16.75″, 2010


Henry’s Office, pencil, foam core, tracing paper, painted vellum and cardboard mounted on board 12.75″ x 16.75″, 2011


Site Plan, gouache on paper cup and grid paper 12.75″ x 16.75″, 2006-2012


Classroom, gouache on paper, and gouache on paper mounted on wood 12.75″ x 16.75″, 2011


Book Cover, oil on paper and acrylic on hinged wood panel 12.75″ x 29″ varies, 2011-2012


Book Jacket, gouache on paper, charcoal on paper mounted on wood 22″ x 22″ varies, 2004-2012


Sunday Night, wind gage, barograph paper, painted paper mounted on board 12.75″ x 16.75″, 2010


Gemini Capsule, gouache on paper cup mounted on painted paper 12.75″ x 16.75″, 2006-2011


Walled Garden, gouache on paper, electrical tape on board and painted kite sticks 12.75″ x 16.75″, 2011


Christina Hutchings was born and grew up in Bermuda, but lived and worked in New York City as an architect and designer for many years before returning to the island to live in 2008. She holds a BFA in Painting from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, and a Master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Virginia. Christina has received visual arts fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, The Edward Albee Foundation and others. She has exhibited her work in galleries in the U.S. and Bermuda, and her work was selected for inclusion in the Bermuda Biennial in 2010 and 2012. A number of her paintings have been purchased for the Bermuda National Gallery’s Permanent Collection.

Photos of Christina’s artwork were taken by Ann Spurling.

May 142012

Part of the genius of Zona is Dyer’s skill at taking art and turning it on himself and his reader to reveal the exquisite longing of the heart. Dyer does what all great writers do: he makes you interested in his subject matter, he makes you excited to learn more.          — Jason DeYoung

Geoff Dyer
Pantheon, 2012
$24.00, 228 pages

Geoff Dyer is a British-born essayist and novelist. While he has written a number of smart novels—probably his best being Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi—his nonfiction (written mostly as book-length essays) is thought of as especially original and brilliant. Dyer’s broad intelligence and charm make the work addictive. He has a gift for putting oddly diverse cultural touchstones—Hakim Bey to Wordsworth, Thievery Corporation to Miguel De Unamuno—together with his own offbeat insights to create keys to contemporary culture (and personal understanding).

In a recent Bookforum interview Dyer was asked if was fair to say that his work is written in part “against clichés of genre, clichés of convention.” Here’s what he said:

Oh, indeed. Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve drifted away from fiction as a reader as well as a writer…[S]ome novels can actually be conceived at the level of cliché. The whole idea of what we want from a novel sometimes is for it to conform to a very familiar set of conventions.

Dyer’s nonfiction often falls within two categories. While he has written books on serious subjects such as The Missing of the Somme (about World War I) and the Ongoing Moment (about documentary photography), he also has a cannon of playful and irreverent books such as Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It (a collection of travel writings) and Out of Sheer Rage (a quasi-memoir devoted to Dyer’s own desire to write a “sober academic study” of D. H. Lawrence —he never does; he just writes one about wanting to write one).

Zona­—a book devoted to writing a gloss on Stalker, a ’70 Russian art-house film—seems to belong somewhere in that whimsical column. With his trademark wit and whine, Dyer humorously summarizes the rather humorless Stalker, lovingly interpreting it through a combination of autobiography, literary theory, and cultural criticism, opening up a rather difficult film so that even non-cinéastes can find pleasure and meaning in it.

Stalker, released in 1979, is Andrei Tarkovsky’s sixth full-length movie, and it’s loosely based on Roadside Picnic, a science fiction novel written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.  As the opening caption of Stalker sets things up: something has happened—a meteorite crash or alien visitation(?)—which has led to the creation of the Zone, a place “troops where sent in and never returned.” The boundaries of the Zone are now outlined with barbed wire and cinderblock walls and militarized.  The movie depicts an illegal expedition lead by the eponymous Stalker who guides two characters simply known as Writer and Professor into the Zone.

Somewhere within the Zone there is a room that that will fulfill your most deeply held wish. The Writer and the Professor want to go to this room.  The Professor and Writer both want something like greatness. Writer, in particular, wants inspiration, and Dyer can’t help but identify with him:

[Writer] is washed up. Finished. Maybe by going to the Zone he’ll be rejuvenated. Man, I know how he feels.  I could do with a piece of that action myself. I mean, do you think I would be spending my time summarizing the action of a film almost devoid of action—not frame by frame, perhaps, but certainly take by take—if I was capable of writing anything else? In my way I’m going to the Room—following these three to the Room—to save myself

Reading Zona is not unlike being with a friend who talks excitedly over movies. The actual pages are often halved with the top half occupied by Dyer’s “take by take” summary and with the bottom occupied with an abundance of footnotes—which cannot be dismissed and have equal prominence. In Zona, Dyer keeps hitting the metaphorical pause button to tell about his childhood, the movie, his insights into it, its history, Tarkovsky himself, or share bits of cinematic-lore, such as how Mick Jagger remarked that Godard was such a “fucking twat,” speaking of the experience with the filmmaker on the documentary Sympathy for the Devil.  It’s all very noteworthy and compelling.  As Dyer writes: “In a sense this book is a catalogue or compendium of proposals for potentially interesting studies.”

After a journey through a landscape that is “completely weird and completely ordinary,” the three characters arrive at the Room’s door. At the entrance, Stalker tells Writer and Professor to think back over their entire life. Writer seems to be the one who’ll enter first.  But he stops.  He cannot go.  Why?  Donno. Even Tarkovsky confesses in a 1980 interview that he didn’t know why*. In fact, neither Writer nor Professor can enter the room. (Note: I’m not spoiling the movie here.)

For Tarkovsky the existence of the Room “serves solely as pretext to revealing the personalities of the three protagonists.” And as a person who is following these three characters in the movie, Dyer stands at the door, too.  Unable to make a decision whether to enter, Dyer meditates on desire, faith and belief: “Is one’s deepest desire always the same as one’s greatest regret?”  Is this why Writer and Professor cannot enter the Room, since they will have to face their true selves? As Tarkovsky puts it: the Room fulfills “a hidden vision lying deep within the heart of each person” because they don’t ask the Room for what they want, the Room will just know.  At the Room’s threshold, Dyer bares his own desires and begins to question their validity.

There is such sincerity and allure in Dyer’s prose that the reader ends up following him to the Room as well, and his interpretation of the film leaves a lasting impact. As the author questions his wants, you can’t help but to question the faith you have in your own desires, and if obtaining them will make you happy. And this is part of the genius of Zona, Dyer’s skill at taking art and turning it on himself and his reader to reveal the exquisite longing of the heart.

Dyer does what all great writers do: he makes you interested in his subject matter, he makes you excited to learn more.  Tarkovsky is a difficult filmmaker—in pacing and in image—and his films demand thoughtful viewing and patience, something that’s becoming increasingly more difficult—even for Dyer—because of our diminishing attention span. But he laments, “a lot of what’s being shown on the world’s screens—television, cinemas, computers—is fit only for morons.” I cannot say whether it’s a good idea to see Stalker first or read Zona first.  I saw the movie before reading Zona, and it helped me to hold the thread of Dyer’s synopsis while reading the footnotes.  But I wonder what it would be like to experience the book without knowing the movie, experiencing Zona as “book” instead of something like companion piece, because there’s something so dreamy in how Dyer describes his personal vision and experience of watching Stalker, and entering his Zone, a “place of refuge and sanctuary. A sanctuary…from cliché.”

— Review by Jason DeYoung


Jason DeYoung lives in Atlanta, Georgia. His work has recently appeared in Corium, The Los Angeles Review, The Fiddleback, New Orleans Review, and Numéro Cinq.

*All quotations by Andre Tarkovsky come from Andre Tarkovsky: Interviews, ed. by John Gianvito, University Press of Mississippi, 2006.


May 122012

For you aural delectation on this sunny weekend (at least here it’s sunny) NC offers a delightful, whimsical, lilting, sunny, multi-ethnic  jazz piano & ensemble performance, “La Danse,” from my old friend Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius and the group Heard. I have known Elizabeth, yea, these 15 years and more, ever since she lived in the walk-up apartment on Broadway in Saratoga Springs and was my boys’ first piano teacher. Eventually she moved out of town to a rambling house in Middle Grove where she hosted huge bonfire and potluck parties with masses of friends, children and dogs. Then she moved again, to Troy, NY, (no more piano lessons) and got married and had a daughter — but we’ve always kept in touch and she performs in the area constantly. Elizabeth was an inspirational teacher and certainly had a profound effect on  Jonah who has played in half-a-dozen bands and still composes. But she always had her own art and it was pleasant, after lessons, to talk about plans and projects.

Her first CD (Shade Songs) cover featured a painting by another NC friend and contributor Laura Von Rosk (see Laura’s paintings and her photo essays from Antarctica on Numéro Cinq — NC sometimes seem less like a magazine than a family). Eventually, the group Heard formed around her and there have been four more CDs, the latest being the marvelous Karibu of which “La Danse” is part.

If you’re in the area or feel like jetting in, Elizabeth and Heard will be performing at the legendary Saratoga Springs coffee house Caffe Lena on Friday May 25th, 8pm. It be well worth the trip.



La Danse from Karibu (click the player and listen)


La Danse began as a piano sketch inspired by working with modern dancers at Skidmore College, then enjoyed a stint as a string quartet. Now it’s created a new life for itself in this version, with lyrics by Zorkie Nelson (drums/vocals) in Ga,
This is truly a piece of ours that highlights our many influences–you can hear the Cotton Club in Jonathan Greene’s clarinet, you can hear Ravel in the writing, and Ghana throughout, in the marimba-like gyil, drums, bells and shakers.
— Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius




The original repertoire of Heard is the work of composer-arranger-pianist Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius who brings a wide array of styles — jazz, classical and world music — into her captivating soundscape. Her inspirations come from her diverse experiences and interests and are often drawn from the raw and powerful sources that nature provides. Heard’s dynamic and eclectic lineup of musicians gives Elizabeth a multitude of talents and textures to compose for, and to perform with.

Elizabeth received her formal musical training at the University of Washington and Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she studied ethnomusicology, piano performance and composition with Brazilian pianist Jovino Santos Neto, trombonist Julian Priester and Big Band leader/trumpet player Jim Knapp, as well as with Nigerian Juju musician IK Dairo.

In addition to teaching composition and piano privately, she has been an adjunct professor for 12 years in the Dance Department at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY, where she works as a dance musician and composer-in-residence. Her collaborations with dancers have also led her to work with the NYC-based Mark Morris, Jose Limon, and Doug Varone Companies, and the NYC Ballet, and with Saratoga Springs’ TangoFusion. Her work with the Capital-District based Ellen Sinopoli Modern Dance Company has led to numerous Arts-in-Education Residencies in regional elementary schools. Elizabeth has also played keyboard and percussion with the Brazilian group The Berkshire Bateria for eight years, as well as with vocalist/songwriter Joy Adler.

May 102012

Eddie White and Ari Gibson’s “The Cat Piano” delightfully combines the innocence of animation with the bleak mysteries of film noir, creating a hybrid genre as our expectations of animation’s typical child-like subject matter are interwoven with noir’s darkness and moral ambiguity. What starts off as playful, fun animation with ferociously witty anthropomorphic cats, quickly turns into a tale of despair, corruption, and vengeance.

The story opens with a lonely cat poet recounting his dreary past. He takes us through the crowded urban landscape, filled with bars and nightclubs as musical cats lounge about. We are also introduced to the angelic obsession of this poet’s alienated mind, the soprano siren in white fur.

Things seem splendid as these cats relish in breezy jazz and musical beats, but there is an underlying evil that creeps in and, before they know it, the voices that bring them such joy begin to vanish one by one. The poet quickly transforms into detective mode and makes a terrifying discovery, the blueprints for perhaps the most detestable creation ever conceived: the cat piano. Before he can warn the soprano in white of these dangers, she disappears. Searching for her, the poet descends into madness on his quest for vengeance.

“The Cat Piano” is narrated by the multi-talented Nick Cave, mostly known for his work as front man of the band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and for his musical scores of the films The Assassination of Jesse James and The Road. His narration plays off the double meaning of words in a fascinating and playful way, giving this short a significant amount of replay value. His voice adds a flush and sophisticated warmth to the noir underbelly and switches to a treacherous rasp during the short’s darker, almost black moments.

As with most film noir, the short is notable for its harsh contrasts in lighting, made even more substantial by the beautiful animation. The low-key lighting and shadow patterns are exceptional, directing our eyes specifically towards the terror, fear, and heartache the protagonist experiences. Most of the colors are overwhelmingly black and blue, adding atmosphere, mood, and foreshadowing the darkness that looms over this underground world. Green is used to represent the sickness of loneliness brought on by the soprano in white’s disappearance. And a red tint is added in the scenes where the poet reveals his violent and aggressive side in his quest for revenge.

There are several similarities between this short and David Lynch’s feature film Blue Velvet. After being love stricken by a female with a beautiful voice, both protagonists begin to discover hidden secrets in their respective, seemingly happy settings (a white picket fence suburbia in Blue Velvet and a fresh underground music scene in “The Cat Piano”). As they dig deeper into increasingly haunting mysteries, they both horrifically discover the corruption and darkness that exists all around them and within others.

The endings of both films are relatively happy, but with a more monotone revelation as it’s uncertain if either of the protagonists will be able to return to the naivety of their former selves. Their innocence has been forever corrupted and lost.

“The Cat Piano” is a great film noir crime thriller with captivating characters, bold visuals, and spine tingling mysteries. It pushes our comfort zones by blending the innocence typically associated with animation and film noir’s characteristic darkness and gloomy tone. On a larger level this mixing of genres mirrors the protagonist’s loss of innocence, his turn to his darker self. Like him, once you know the cat piano, you cannot walk away unscathed.

–Jon Dewar


Jon Dewar is a grad student at University of New Brunswick, Fredericton and is working towards a degree in education. He is an avid film fan, interested in both film analysis and filmmaking. Some of his inspirations include directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Steve McQueen, and Martin Scorsese. Jon has written numerous screenplays and is working towards eventually producing some of these projects.

May 102012

Here’s a poem by Mark Lavorato, not about Nature so much as about Being, about the surprising thereness of our mysterious collisions with the wild, that sudden glimpse into the eyes of a startled animal, the eyes looking into your eyes. Unforgettable are lines like

and with two bounds of flaming grace

it slipped through a slot in the long grass
the candle flame of its tail doused
into a thin wick of shadow

I read herein faint echoes of D. H. Lawrence and also reminders of an American poet, Robert Wrigley, whose nature poems I admire greatly. Mark Lavorato is a Montreal writer (poems, novels, also he takes photographs and composes music). This poem is from his new book Wayworn Wooden Floors, due out imminently with Porcupine’s Quill.





A true story: Found a fox once
bright coil rusting in the spring grass

looked like it’d died in its sleep
its nose drowned in the fur of its tail

so I crouched down to touch
the still-glowing embers of its pelt

when, with a wild and frozen start, it woke up
I will never forget the electric green

of its eyes fixed to mine, and the
rushing sense that I was looking

into something I’d been scanning for
for miles or years or fathoms

and had found at precisely the moment
I wasn’t prepared to, butterfly net in the closet

My need to swallow splintered the exchange
and with two bounds of flaming grace

it slipped through a slot in the long grass
the candle flame of its tail doused
into a thin wick of shadow

Must have stayed there an hour
wondering if he’d come back

— Mark Lavorato


Mark Lavorato is the author of three novels, Veracity (2007), Believing Cedric (2011), and Burning-In (forthcoming). His first collection of poetry, Wayworn Wooden Floors, is published by the Porcupine’s Quill (2012). Mark lives in Montreal, where he also does work as a photographer and composer.

May 082012

This is a follow to the Christmas murder story Jean-Marie Saporito wrote about in her first “Letter from Taos” in January — intimate, intense, minimalist memoir, Chekhov crossed with Barry Hannah but telling the truth, with a female sensibility that is sassy, unafraid of her own peccadilloes and desires. What was wonderful in the earlier piece and still holds here is Jean-Marie’s ability to create a dense weave of narrative vectors: murder, femme fatale, sobering up, a cowboy lover, an indiscretion, and the words of historical cowgirls. Jean-Marie is a former student of mine at Vermont College of Fine Arts where she received her MFA. She lives in Taos. For her first “letter” she wrote, “If you want, you can add to my bio that I’m dating a cowboy. You know what a cowboy is? A man who can handle cows — ride, rope, herd. I’m learning a lot.”



I saw the femme fatale of the Christmas murder at my friend’s party. Let’s call her T. to protect what little may be left of her privacy. The papers had graciously kept her anonymous. T. is 17, a child I’ve known since my son and she were in kindergarten. I had heard that the girl had hid in the closet and listened while Charles shot Dylan and that she’d since sobered up. So when I saw T. at this intimate party of recovering women junkies and drunks, I knew, without asking, she was the girl who’d hid in the closet that night.

At this party we played a raucous game of Cowgirls Ride the Trail of Truth. This board game, which the hostess, M., created several years ago, is a version of Truth or Dare, only the dare is to tell the truth. On the front of the cards are quotes from cowgirls like R.C. Jonas (1904) — “To have courage is to have the life you want.” On the cards’ backs are different categories of questions — family and friends, experience and history, sex and body.

My turn from the sex and body category — “What would you do if you woke up one morning and discovered you had a penis instead of a vagina?”

“Fuck the first girl I could!” someone shouted, another, “Masturbate!” We screeched and laughed at our unseemliness. I noticed T. smiling.

I left the party to see my cowboy. We fought over my admitted indiscretion with another man. My cowboy had a violent past, now many years behind him. Still, I considered the game I was playing.

On Valentine’s day, at a burlesque show at the local solar station bar, I saw T.’s mother. I was there with friends, having refused to see my cowboy lover. Maintaining the pretense of T.’s anonymity, I mentioned to her mother that I had seen her daughter recently, that she is such a sweet girl, that she remembered me. I didn’t have the courage to tell T.’s mother I don’t think the Christmas murder was her daughter’s fault. Instead of taking her hand and lamenting motherhood’s travails, I pretended that nothing had happened, and smiled, commenting on the show and the sweet bits of cake we were eating.

A few days later, my cowboy gave me my Valentine’s presents — jewelry, flowers, and a box of condoms.

From the cowgirl, Kathy Willow (1881): “Everything has a meaning, but sometimes I just can’t figure out what it is.”

 —Jean-Marie Saporito


May 072012

I spent the summer of 1968 in Freiburg. Martin Heidegger was still alive, living in a retreat in the Black Forest in an odor of disrepute on account of his Nazi sympathies during the war. I had a fantasy that I would meet him hiking in the woods. I never met him. I did meet Friedrich Von Hayek, the great economist, but he was easy; he had an office at the university and I walked in one day with a mutual acquaintance and shook his hand. My brush with history, my personal relationship with the god of Paul Ryan and the austerity-cats of the  Republican right.

Heidegger is a particularly difficult philosopher to read because he thought he was inventing a new language to talk about the thing he couldn’t talk about. You can’t tell sometimes if he is being mysteriously impenetrable or just impenetrable as in opaque. He had a vast nostalgia for Being which he thought of as something we couldn’t access by perception or thought. This vast nostalgia seems sometimes to have been more felt than reasoned; he was of that generation who still mourned the passing of the Greek gods. He also slept around a lot and had a more or less open marriage with his wife, Elfride. Somehow his nostalgia for a thing you can’t reach and his many love affairs seem comically and humanly self-contradictory. He is ripe for literature.

Enter Leon Rooke.

Leon Rooke is an old and dear friend. He was in my head long before I met him because of his books, Shakespeare’s Dog in particular in those days, a novel that has stuck with me as a license and an inspiration — William Shakespeare as observed by his dog (who is telling the story), a brilliant book, a tour de force of point of view construction, an example of how literature thrives by making things strange. I put Leon in Best Canadian Stories regularly (as often as Alice Munro) over the decade I edited that anthology. I’ve reviewed his books at least a half-dozen times. I wrote an essay about his (also brilliant, eerie, and wonderful) novel, A Good Baby, which you can find in my book of essays, Attack of the Copula Spiders. Rooke was born in North Carolina but lives in Toronto. He has an actor’s voice and presence and is an amazing performer of his own work. He’s also a painter — we have been lucky enough to publish images of four of his paintings on NC.

In “Heidegger, Floss, Elfride, and the Cat” Leon Rooke gives us Heidegger with his pants down (metaphorically), straining to compose the impenetrable prose of Being and Time while shuttling to and from his lover’s house and fending off the jealous and passive-aggressive intrusions of his long-suffering wife (I have inserted photographs of the real Heidegger and Elfride below).  All this is relayed through someone named Floss, another one of those odd point of view inventions Rooke is so good at. In this case, Floss might be a philosophy student reading Being and Time in a library or he might be Heidegger, or rather, I think, Heidegger’s Being (which we might have called his Soul in the old days). Heidegger, of course, can’t know Floss, but Floss knows everything about Heidegger. And when the story is done, Floss trundles home to his wife and kids (being Heidegger’s Being is like a job). And, of course, it’s very late and I might have got this wrong.

As far as I know, no animals were harmed during the composition of this story (despite what happens to the poor cat).





Lights that flickered, curtain at a certain pitch in the summoning, the rendezvous with Frau Blochmann now concluded, Heidegger clamps his trouser legs and bicycles home.

Floss withholds opinion on the Master’s affair with the eminent colleague, which he knows will continue another few decades. What he wonders is what Elfride will say when the philosopher king comes through the door. That Jewish bitch again? Or will she say nothing, having just dispatched her doctor friend through that very door. This love business is a bit tiring, is Floss’s thought. Get back to work, he tells Heidegger. Not that such is required. After swallowing a bit of Elfride’s tasty stew Heidegger will be at his desk. Being and Time, thinks Floss, page 355. Quote, Resoluteness, by its ontological essence, is always the resoluteness of some factical Dasein at a particular time.

Floss, in his cramped library carrel, has no argument with that. Well and good. Floss and resoluteness and Heidegger, Floss believes, are one and the same.

They are together, he and the Freiburg sage, working the deep trench.

Heidegger now writes, quote, The essence of Dasein as an entity is its existence.

Without entity, no essence: well and good, remarks Floss to himself. Particles afloat in space, what purpose they?

Quote, The existential indefiniteness of resoluteness never makes itself definite except in a resolution. Page 346.

Here Floss wants to say Hold the phone. Floss wants to put his foot down.

Floss’s mind is rapidly scribbling notes to himself. These notes are scratching like a dog inside Floss’s brain. Hold the phone is but one of the dog’s bones.

Floss’s index finger is rapidly scanning the lines, speed-reading Heidegger as the master composes. Are not he and Heidegger that close?  Are they not twinned with respect to Being and Time? Are they not brothers?

Floss can quote aloud, at any time, Floss can, any one of Heidegger’s current or future thoughts. The text is spread open on the desk for company only.

Photographic. That’s what Floss’s mind is.

Never mind that he has scribbled into his notebook the erroneous page reference. His hand did. Floss’s mind knows the difference.

Not 346. 355. Floss has jumped ahead. He always knows where Heidegger is going; often he arrives at the destination while the King of Thought is still clearing his throat.

Quote, Only by authentically Being-their-Selves in resoluteness can people authentically be with one another.

Ah! Floss thinks. Let’s not get too, you know, personal. Like.

In Floss’s view this statement is another Hold the phone. This is Heidegger fighting a headwind.

That someone has just this moment walked into Heidegger’s study is radiantly clear to Floss. Being with one another is an untypical Heidegger sentiment. The Master has been thwarted in his goals. Ergo, the line’s impurity.

Who is the culprit this time?

Excited, Floss thumps his knees.

Elfride, of course.

This is Heidegger being influenced by Elfride. This is the wife calling the tune. It is Elfride saying, If you are going to be with me, then be…with me.

Floss can see Elfride hovering over the great man’s shoulders. He can see her whisking dandruff from the great man’s shoulder with a tough whisk broom.

—Don’t mind me, Elfride is saying.

Heidegger doesn’t like any of this. Naturally, he doesn’t. Her very presence fills him with distaste. She has destroyed his flow of pure thought. Be with one another? How has that monstrous phrasing got onto his page?

Four a.m.  Heidegger never sleeps, that explains him. But must Elfride do her dusting at this hour?

Floss thinks not. Floss thinks Elfride must have something up her sleeve.

—Dearest soul, the great man says — can’t you go away? Can’t you leave the room and quietly close the door?

—You know what happens if I don’t dust, don’t you? Elfride says.

Heidegger doesn’t know what happens if Elfride doesn’t dust. He is pretty certain Elfride means to tell him.

—Can’t you make a guess. Oh, go ahead. Go out on a limb.

Heidegger is thinking he has always been out on that limb. He was out there first on the limb with the Jesuits when he was a boy, then with Husserl, the so-called father of phenomenology; he was out on the limb with Elfride, then with Hannah, then with Elfride and Hannah jointly. And don’t forget colleague Blochmann. Occasionally the Stray Other. Now he is back on the limb with Elfride. Elfride is dusting the limb.

—I do not intend to engage in your theatrics, dearest soul, he says.  I intend to sit here and work on this passage on page 355 until I get it right.

—It’s right, dear one, Elfride says. I’m here to tell you it is already right.  You get it any righter, then I won’t know what to do with myself.

Floss, hearing this exchange, leans back in his tight carrel chair. He crosses his arms over his chest. He closes his eyes.

“Don’t let me interrupt you,” Floss says.

Heidegger spins his head. Elfride ignores Floss. Floss is a pest; he pops in at inconvenient times; otherwise, he is nothing to Elfride.

—Keep out of this, Floss, she says.

Heidegger sighs. These sighs are magnificent. They express his full contempt of those who would make the philosopher’s already impossible task that much more difficult.

Elfride, normally the most anchored of women, is subject to flights of fancy. Now she’s whisking her broom at vacant air. She has even given that vacancy a name: Time Being. There was a time, Floss recalls, when Elfride was more besotted with Heidegger than some now assert is the case. It is all that Hannah’s work. Months before Elfride and her future husband met Elfride had carried in her pockets notes destined for the magician of Frieburg. Don’t deny it. Yesterday I saw you looking at me. Or: Last week I blocked the doorway and without a word you swept by me. Or: I beseech you. Love me. She still retains these undelivered disintegrating missives under lock and key in a wooden chest buried beneath the floor.  They prove her love.  They prove her love existed prior to his. This makes her proud. Not even the great can be first in every regard. These notes will be published after her death. The instructions are contained in a sealed envelope affixed with her granddaughter’s name. Not in this envelope or in the locked chest is the narrative describing the gypsy fortune teller’s role in their haunted lives. Well, are not all lives haunted, Floss, who has never loved, reminds himself. The gypsy said to Elfride, On the first rainy afternoon, following your economics class, stand beneath the first blooming tree your steps venture upon. The lover meant for you will appear. Cold rain dripped, afterwards she caught a cold that endured through many weeks, and periodically through each wheeling year, this existing as nothing because love’s astonishing light penetrated the drooping boughs and stormed her heart. Heidegger, under a black umbrella, indeed appeared.  Through wet lashes he imagined he saw a dying tree where nothing had stood days before.

—You. What is your name?

—Elfride Petrie.

—Why are you standing in the rain?

—Waiting for you. I am your fate.

Heidegger believed in fate as he did in Plato, with suspicion, particularly with regard to the monumentally salient question What is truth, but he was impressed. She was also pretty, though with rain pouring over her face he would reserve opinion on that. Yet when this schoolgirl fitted her body against his, his heart which was three quarters stone fragmented and certain sounds issued from his mouth never until that moment heard by himself or by any other.  Fortunately only children on a dilapidated school bus, there to witness ancient Marburg splendours, were present, and they were too distracted to absorb any image of the historic coupling. This was because rain had become sleet, sleet had become snow, which in minutes had blanketed the lovers, flakes ascending and descending a second and third time, and then repeatedly, in abstract harmony with their movement.  Floss, who was there and could have sought the better view had he been that kind of person, was mostly concerned with Heidegger’s black umbrella which gusting wind ripped into sundry pieces, the cloth flitting hither and yon like unruly crows, if crows were ever to attempt flight in such weather.

Heidegger has put down his writing pen. He is leaning back in his chair. He is crossing his arms over his chest. He fits his tongue beneath the upper lip; he can see clearly his thick Fuhrer’s moustache. The sighting gives him strength, although he distinctly prefers his own. He is reminded that theirs is a nation-building task. The moustache renews him in the impossible goal.

He sighs anew, leaning further back. He closes his eyes.

His sighs now, however, are obviously feigned. They exist merely as an admonishment to his wife. Feigned, they express his resignation. His disappointment with married–the assailed– life. The sighs are meant to convey to Elfride that he has given up.  How can he work with a loudmouth duster in the room, chattering non-stop?

Gone from his head is that trail he was tracking re resoluteness.

But that quickly does his mind seize again upon the trail. His shoe soles hit the floor. His burden has lifted. The pen flies into his hand. Once more he is at work. He is already scribbling again.

He is scribbling, Floss thinks, quote, The resolution is precisely the disclosive projection and determination of what is factically possible at the time.

Hold the phone, Floss is thinking. The projection is termed disclosive only because the thought has just this second revealed itself to the sage. Ditto, factically.

But Heidegger is breaking his pen’s point underlining this significant line. It is imperative that the line be printed in the italic. If the line is not set in the italic then readers fifty years from now, speedreaders like that dunderhead Floss, will fly right by it. They will be blind to its pertinence, as he himself is blind to the dust, the dandruff–as he would wish to be blind to Elfride’s galling presence.

—That’s good, Martin, Elfride says.  I love that factically possible line. It makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Indeed one of them in the room is sweating, though it isn’t Elfride. Heidegger is sweating because writing a new philosophy, bringing the axe to old traditional philosophical walls — that, mein Fuhrer, is hard work. Plus, there’s the other problem: the window, the cat. How hot and stuffy this room is. If he raises the window, he will be wasting heat. Heat the Volk must not waste. Only a Jew saboteur would waste the nation’s heat. So he is stymied on that front. Yet — and now he is getting to the essence of the situation — yet if he raises the window, the simple solution sans heat, the loathsome cat which always plops itself down on the sill, will come in. Thus, he keeps the window shut. He sweats.

Architects, he thinks, truly are a repellent tribe. They can get nothing right.

Floss swings in his chair. His shoe soles strike the floor. He sees Elfride poised. Resolute Elfride is ever on the job.

—Were you saying something, darling? says Elfride. It isn’t the architects, it’s me. Don’t blame the architects for your stinginess. Blame the war. Or better yet, yes, blame me.

She parades curvaceously around the sage’s desk.

—Although of course, she says, you would be perfectly justified if you blamed the cat.  I’m with you there. I hate that cat.  That cat is the ugliest creature I, for one, have ever seen. Are you for two — if I may phrase the question so? — in thinking that cat is the most frightful creature ever to walk on four legs?

—Three, Heidegger says. If we are to speak of the cat, then let’s speak precisely. The cat has but three legitimate legs. The fourth, as you can distinctly see, is so foreshortened as to scarcely exist.

Foreshortened? says Elfride. Do you mean to say the leg in question existed that way in the womb? Perhaps in the very exchange of seed?  Oh, I think surely not foreshortened, because I clearly remember that leg was perfectly normal until you crushed it when you caught the cat coming through your window.

Heidegger lowers his head. He kneads his brow. He is thinking, I have stayed up all night for this?

He is thinking, Hannah, thank God, was not a chatterbox. Her head was on my chest whenever I spoke.

—Yes, darling, Elfride is saying. As much as I despise the creature, it is criminal what you have done to that cat. You all but pressed that cat flat. Martin, I hardly know what to say. I hardly do. I am speechless, listening to your infirmity on the subject of that cat.

Floss sees the philosopher’s eyes narrowing. He sees him looking with utter hatred at this wholesome, proud, meandering wife. Heidegger’s defence collapses. Elfride has described the scene exactly as it occurred.

—It was an accident, Floss says.

—It was purely accidental, Heidegger says.

Elfride snubs this excuse. She whisks it away with  her broom.

Floss has his attention elsewhere.  He is focusing on the sleeping cat. The cat, to his eyes, has altered itself somehow. That the cat suffers deformity is true enough. But it is no longer the bony, undernourished cat. The cat has been eating. It has found food somewhere. The cat is fat.

As for Heidegger, already he is scribbling again. Quote, When what we call “accidents” befall from the with-world and the environment, they can be-fall only from resoluteness.

Floss forsakes his study of the cat. Hold the phone, he says. Hold the phone. Hello, hello. Bravo, my friend.

But Elfride’s broom is stabbing the air.

—You could kill the cat, Elfride is saying. Yes, my lamb, you could finish the job. Then you could raise your window, if only for a moment. Surely not a great deal of our precious heat would escape if you raised your window for one mere moment. Our war resources would not be sorely depleted.  Fresh air, Martin!  Glorious health!  With the window open, even so little as a tidge, you would not be forced to wrestle there in heavy sweat. You could be comfortable. Surely your work would go better if you were comfortable. Kill the cat, my good soul. With the cat dead, your Being and Time will be concluded in nothing flat.

—Enough, Elfride. Enough!

—Shall I kill the cat for you, Martin? I would be happy to kill the atrocious cat if you tell me you believe I should, and can morally justify my performing the act. Issue the cleansing command.  Think! She is only a cat.

—She? That cat is female?

Oh master, groans Floss.

—Yes, and rather resolute, by the look of her.

Heidegger sinks low into his chair. He hoods his eyes.

—Are you done, Elfride? Dearest soul.


—Yes, done. If you are not done, Elfride, then I am leaving my desk. I am leaving my house. I will walk this night all the way to my cabin in Todtnauberg, if that is what it takes to be quit of your tongue.

Floss, at his desk gnawing a fingernail, allows himself a smile. The sage is tempting fate with this mention of the cabin, of Todtnauberg. He has stepped with both feet into Elfride’s trap.

—Todtnauberg? Elfride says. Your cabin?  But, darling, the cabin is mine. True. I gave it to you. But quit my tongue?  Oh, heavens, you can’t mean I have disturbed you. I rattle on, certainly, but only because I know how much my rattling improves your mood. If I did not rattle, you would go about eternally under your famous black cloud. You would never be able to look anyone in the eye. Your students would hardly hang on to your every word. Oh, I think it is fair to say, Martin, that without me and my tongue, and my Nazi boots, and just possibly the cat’s presence at your window, you would never get your work done. You would never write a line. Most assuredly your opus would never be completed. Fame would elude you. Not a person outside Frieburg would ever have the pleasure of hearing your name. You can admit that to yourself and to me, can you not? I’ll not hold it against you. You do not have to prove yourself to me, not ever. Certainly not the way you had to prove yourself to that schoolgirl, Hannah Arendt. And to take her to my cabin in Todtnauberg to prove it, well, my word!

—So that’s it, is it? That’s what this eternal dusting is all about. This mouth disease. So you can harp night and day on my little Hannah fling.

Little, darling?  What would poor Hannah think if I repeated to her what you have just said? Did you not write to her that she was your life?  Did she not reply that you were her every heartbeat? That your paths would haunt each other until the death?  Oh, I think so, darling. I believe those were the two sweethearts’ very words. ‘My homeland of pure joy.’ Was that not your latest encomium?

Floss applies a handkerchief to his eyes. His eyes are wet. They ever get so each time he sees Hannah and Heidegger together in the cabin at Todtnauberg. Strolling together after class under the singing trees. The decades of love to come. How thrilling it must be, Floss thinks, to possess these loves.

Still. Still, Floss altogether shares Jasper’s view when it comes to that Hannah relationship. Resolute, yes, but messy, messy. Cataclysmic love: Hannah defending him at the French de-Nazification committee hearings: scrambling to hawk his manuscripts to Columbia: through the years never one syllable from the master’s mouth as to the beloved’s own work which he read in secret and secretly believed ephemeral if not deliquescent. Her head ever lowered to his chest.

Elfride is thorough.  Not all has been said:

—Or perhaps the precipitation in your eyes has as cause your forthcoming tart Princess Margot of Saxony-Meiningen. Will your rendezvous signal this time be flashing lights or will it be your shades hanging at a certain depth, as was the case with banal Hannah? Which? Will she hand-copy your every hour’s text, as I do?

Floss is astounded. He is giddy with excitement. He has not heretofore perceived that Elfride’s capacity to see into the future matches his own. He sees her now, as one day she doubtlessly will, hands clasped in an unrecognized lap, confused by the vague sense of warfare between aching joints, an old woman of 92 awaiting death in a caretaker home. Will she see her two sons on Russian soil, prisoners of war? Has she yet seen the Delphic oracle rescuing from rubble manuscripts housed in what previously was a Messkirch bank? Hiding them in a cave?

Not at the moment, in any case. At the moment what both Elfride and Floss are seeing is the Master frantically bicycling 16 miles to Todtnauburg, flinging off his clothes, now dressed only in an absurd Tyrolean cap, Elfride, Hannah, the Princess, and scores of other women panting in pursuit, flinging off theirs. For Floss, madness promotes the vision. For Elfride, a confirmation of enduring love.

A thousand letters, cards, over the decades, informing Elfride where his Divineship is, not one suggesting who he is with. What a challenge this marital devotion, these conjugal splits. Send in your party membership, dearest soul, thinks Floss. In resoluteness is strength.

“Get back to the cat,” Floss tells Elfride. Forget Hannah. The cat, after all, has meaning; it is both a real and a symbolic cat. In light of the great man’s post-war silence on the issue of certain atrocities, personal betrayals, I could tolerate additional intimate details re his treatment of the cat.”

—Shoo, shoo, says Elfride. Stop harassing me.

Heidegger is distracted. Once more, Elfride is communicating with vacant air. But perhaps this is good. Perhaps her nasty obsession with Hannah has for the moment exhausted itself.  Elfride, he thinks, with her everlasting can of worms. Essence of spite. Why can’t my two great loves, my sprites, be friends? I must see to that, however imbecilic it may appear.

He looks at the cat, asleep on the window sill. Even curved like that, one can see the leg’s deformity. The crippled spine. The cat should be killed. It is doing that cat no favor to let it live.

He would give Elfride the order. He would say to her, Elfride, kill the cat! Do it now.

But he and she are locked in this struggle. They are irresolute. The cat, if it is to die, must die under Elfride’s own initiative. If he were to give the order, the cat would ever survive intact in his memory. Whereas, if she killed it outright, slicing its throat with a knife from the kitchen or beheading it with the hatchet on a woodblock in the back yard or merely trampling it to death, then the cat would be gone forever. It would disappear totally and entirely from his mind and from the world. Its essence would have been annihilated, its entity denied.

He thinks: what Elfride is hoping is that the weather will get extremely cold this winter — Frieburg under ice, the cat stiff as a rock in the freeze. Certainly there is not the remotest chance that she will allow the cat inside the house.

Unless she does so in punishment of me. Unless she does so out of revenge for my taking Hannah to Todtnauberg. Such a stupid impulse, despite its having led to excruciating reward.

One, it had led Hannah out of drabness. It had transformed her overnight into a bewildered passionate vehicle of sex. Wrought, her mind had unloosened, her brain cells uncoiled.

God forgive me the moments I even have wondered she wasn’t the better thinker than me.

Heidegger is close to tears.  The shame of this.

—Oh, she’s bright, Martin, Elfride says. I have never denied you her brightness. But — she snaps her fingers — she isn’t you.

Floss leans back in his chair. He removes his glasses, polishes them. Elfride’s face is flushed. Always, with that flushed face, any wild remark is apt to burst from her mouth. He wants his glasses clean, that he may see her clean, when next she speaks.

“Tip the scales, Elfride,” Floss says. “Show the great man how bright you are.”

—Martin, darling, Elfride says. She is laughing. —Look what I am doing!

Martin has been cleaning his glasses.

Floss, putting on his glasses, sees Heidegger putting on his.

As for Elfride, Elfride is at the study window. She is poking the cat with a stick. Heidegger keeps the stick there for that very purpose.  Enter a line in Being and Time, then jump up and poke the cat. Enter another, poke the cat.  Day after day, poke the perfectly stupid, ever returning cat. That is how his opus is being written: Elfride’s dusting, Eflride’s interventions — but whenever alone he has been poking the cat.

So Floss figures. Floss has figured it out. Just as he has figured out — flipping the pages, speed-reading the familiar text — the nature of the breeze. He must wipe his fingertips of glycerine, that’s how much speed he needs. He has learned the dark secrets of this book.  Floss knows precisely each line, each phrase, where Heidegger has got up, flung himself across the room, picked up his stick — tortured the cat.

But today, to Floss’s mind, there is something different about this cat.

“A moment, Elfride. Consider. In my view, that’s a pregnant cat.”

But Elfride is in action. Elfride has the stick. She is poking the cat.

-Da!(poke) Da!(poke) Da!(poke) Da!

The cat is squalling; it is meowing, hissing. Clawing the glass. It can’t get in, it can’t get out.

Heidegger, cannot, will not, look. He turns his back to this scene. He claps hands over his ears. Elfride is capable, reliable.  When the deed is done she will dispose of the corpse. He need never be appraised of the how or where. Philosophy need not concern itself with a being’s single specific fate. It has steered fathomless circles since the Greeks established the course. Well done, Greeks. Now those old walls must crumble. With certain exceptions, work to date has been rubbish in the wind. The ground is soggy, diseased, repellent: it releases a fetid odour. Original thought is now required. Already the cat’s presence, Elfride’s resoluteness, is slipping from his mind. The pen flies into his hand; it flies across the page. Quote, ‘Irresoluteness’ merely expresses that phenomenon which we have interpreted as a Being-surrendered to the way in which things have been prevalently interpreted by the “they”. Sweat pours down his cheeks. He pauses.  He wonders if he may permit himself a footnote excluding Plato, Holderlin, Nietzsche from this “they”. Probably so. Why promote their cause?

He works on. He is unaware that Elfride’s Da! Da! Da! has catapulted into shrieks. Something about the cat. Something about something inside the cat. Let her deal with the matter. The cat is a household problem. That’s what marriage is for. For wives to deal with them.

Floss isn’t fooled. He knows Heidegger’s deeper thought: This wife, this hellcat, distorts the providence of being.

“Do you wish to whack the cat, Martin.”  Elfride is whacking with each shriek.

Floss cannot sit still in his chair. His every nerve is shot. He cannot witness any more of this. He is shouting at Elfride, “Put down the stick! Filthy Hun, put down the stick!

Already she has dropped the stick. Blood has splattered on the carpet, on her lovely night-dress. Her hands are covering her face. On the sill the dying cat is wrenching its body one way and another. Gore is leaking from the torn fur. Blood pools on the window sill. A slimy wedge of kitten protrudes beneath the crooked tail.

Never mind. Soon, reaching towards sixty, Heidegger will be out on the hinterlands with young and old, digging trenches to delay the advancing enemy. Floss hurriedly assembles his books. He hitches the backpack over one arm. Rushes down the stairs. The library is exceptionally well lit. Fluorescent tubes quiver and spit. In the entire building no other individual is stirring. The universe is silent. Dawn has arrived, an ascending quilt. His own cat will be crying. His cat will be saying, Why have you not been here to let me purr in your lap? What have you been doing? His wife and children will be in tears. Where have you been? Who are you? (Dearest soul), resolute being, explain yourself.

— Leon Rooke


Leon Rooke has published more than 30 books, including novels, short story collections, plays, anthologies, and “oddities,” and more than three hundred short stories. Rooke’s many awards include the Governor General’s Award for Fiction (for Shakespeare’s Dog, 1985), the Periodical Association of Canada Award for the English-Language Paperback Novel of the Year (for Fat Woman, 1982), a Pushcart Prize (1988), the North Carolina Award for Literature (1990), and the Canada/Australia Literary Prize in 1981, for his body of work. Also the W. O. Mitchell Literary Award, for his writing and his mentoring, and the ReLit Short Fiction Award. Rooke has taught at more than a dozen Canadian and U.S. universities. He lives in Toronto.