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 lltPiifiiwr  Tl
J\7U international  JOHN SCHOUTSEN
Editor- in-Ch ief
Managing Editor
Poetry Editor
Drama Editor
Fiction Editor
Translation & Copy Editor
Publicity Director
Advisory Editor
Business Manager
Editorial Board
CONTEMPORARY WRITING PRISM international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published four times per year
at the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. v6t IW5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1982 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover design and artwork: Derrick Clinton Carter.
One year individual subscriptions $9.00, two-year subscriptions $14.00. Libraries and
institution subscriptions $12.00, two-year subscriptions $18.00.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or international reply
coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient return postage will be held for six months and then
Payment to contributors is $10.00 per page and a subscription. PRISM international
purchases First N.A. Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Will and The University of British Columbia.
Also financially assisted by the Government of British Columbia through the British Columbia Cultural Fund and Lottery revenues.
George Ryga's Prometheus Bound (20:1) and Claude Gauvreau's Petrouchka were published
with funding from the Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation.
Second Class Mail Registration No. 5496. April 1982. CONTENTS
Jon Furberg
Five poems from Anhaga
Al Purdy
Two Poems
Paul Witherington
Couple and Dog
Frank Davey
Robert Bringhurst
Two Poems
Erin Moure
Nicole Brossard/
Nine Poems from Amantes
Barbara Goddard,
Barbara Godard,
The Translator as Ventriloquist
Ray Ellenwood
The Automatic Translator
Claude Gauvreau/
The Shadow on the Hoop
Ray Ellenwood, translator
George Payerle
Deadly Nightshade
Luchezar Elenkov/Jascha
Kessler and Alexander
Shurbanov, translators
Gyorgy Somlyo/Jascha
Kessler and Maria Korosy,
[arlene Cookshaw
Pat Lane
Three Poems
Elizabeth Bartlett
Eugene Garber
The Cat Girl
63 Introduction
Works of translation have been an important part of PRISM international
for many years, yet traditionally the artist behind these works, the translator, has received little attention. In this issue we place special emphasis
on this unique artist with the inclusion of Barbara Godard's and Ray
Ellenwood's English versions of work by Quebecois writers Nicole
Brossard and Claude Gauvreau, as well as short essays on these texts by
the two translators. In their essays, Godard and Ellenwood offer a brief
and close look at two of the many possible approaches to the craft of
translation, and hopefully, an understanding of what translation is, or
can be.
A different aspect of this craft is represented in Jon Furberg's Anhaga.
These poems are what the poet considers to be "a failure" to translate the
Anglo Saxon The Wanderer. Their origins relate thematically, and in part
chronologically, to the original text, but Furberg has worked the
sequence beyond translation into a new and unique poem.
There are other concerns in this issue. A number of themes weave
through the pages. Men and women move and speak, with each other
and without, for each other and against, through various backdrops and
in various shades of light. But rather than spell these things out, it may
be best simply to refer to the beginning: absorbed in the image on this
issue's cover is a pattern for many of the themes and concerns on the
pages that follow. This too is translation. Jon Fuvherg/Five Poems
The Brotherhood
some were carried off,
dragged away
one, the birds bore aloft
over the high sea
one, a grey wolf
handed over to death
I myself put another
to a shallow grave
Victory and loss are theirs —
theirs the blind ground,
theirs the still sand,
grumble of waves alone,
echo of past winds.
Trackless birds, their seed
whitens, all rage gone.
A thousand slain. Pathless men,
apparitions in pale sky.
Is theirs the honour in the iron
cloud ringed with light?
Is their sun a radiance
of souls and home of grace?
Theirs the land of wakefulness?
Theirs the storm of splendour
flooding the dome? Do they sit
to banquet in the city of friends? Wis dom
no one knows more of doom —
the shape and bounds and mass
and course — knows aught of day's end
save he has eaten a share
of winter in the world
he stands beside the thoroughfare,
lets his heart cool and slow,
stays quiet in the sighing rain
which fills his bowl
doesn't cower; he stands
in the weather, face wind-dark,
raw hands, thick-skinned,
feet black and bare
no longer serves or fears,
wants for nothing, waits for
nothing anymore; he opens
his body's gate to the humble air
he makes no claim upon things;
the braggart broken in him,
lips quick to halt loose talk;
no claim against men — he stays
his own size; one false word
would take him down. are
freezing air pounds a door
made of skin. Nobody home.
Fingertips burned white, nipples,
ballocks shrunk to little stones.
Rain flays his skinny roof.
Lord of cold mercy! is this
your field? we are all fixed
in you, heaved up islands in low mist,
bloodsteam over the snow,
and ground too hard for graves
Lord — your weather
glare of your old eyes!
Too cold for flies —
and all this meat! Wyrd
Walk the earth and it becomes
a sea, numbing and endless,
feet heavy as thought;
wade in deeper, pushing it back
arms become oars, hands blades
to make headway, break through
the ice, rake up the bottom muck
and into the expanse of waves,
heart weighted with memory,
shouting a cry, words wrenched
from the throat — but the sea
sends them back again, whisper
from a dank wind, all sign
scattered, regions unmarked.
Wyrd, weird Fate, strange power
felt by those wrecked in time,
fully unsayable, utterly. Wyrd
what happens, Wyrd what becomes,
Wyrd what is done — a man
scuffing and snapping through grass
until it is a sea. Cicadas
shrill among the ghosts of flowers.
io Anhaga
Snow on the ground, yet roses
blooming —the cold, clear flower.
White heaven a hard waking to,
and the fallow jagged, frost-buckled.
Air ripe and cracking burns deep
in cut lungs.
Earth overcast with iron,
sky's forge steams and showers
ash into gawking eyes, slack mouths.
Felled horses still gout from flared
noses and ears —it thickens fast.
And all about, stunned and swollen,
the dead seem heavy clods in a field
gashed by feet and hooves;
shattered weapons stubble the furrows
— sparse, twisted harvest.
Yet these were men, spelled out of time,
split open, spilled dry, their hair
stuck to frosted stones.
Go look
at their faces — all dead but you,
Wanderer, you alone, and only your skin
to enclose you— Anhaga, the hawthorn,
wild, winter rose. Al Purdy/ Two Poems
The big boss bull harrumphs
disapproving ten feet from shore
adolescents are darker
drops of moon-water
enclosed in bright sun-water
make little enthusiastic oinks
at the tourist visitors
lolloping back and forth
wild with joy
churning the Humboldt Current to froth
One whiskery juvenile is curious about me
snuffs at my extended hand
wants to know
why I can't join the fun
For a moment
I feel an electric jolt
of adult tenderness
as if the inside organs
of my own body had emerged
and were living separately from me
making hoarse little oink sounds
12 — my lungs float in tropic seas
liver a dark shadow remembering water
and the difficult amphibian drag-race
across forgotten sands
kidneys and heart
bob in the salt sea
and I croon some primitive song
while they call me to join them
When it's time to go
I have not retrieved all of myself
and may never
Galapagos Islands
Hunkered on hands and knees
then collapsing sideways
cheek on stony ground
in order to see close-up:
Tyrannosaurus thirty feet high
looming over my head
about to have me for breakfast
My left eye sees separately
seventy million years in the past
but the right eye sees only
a harmless vegetarian
this spring day in 1980
He regards me benevolently
in fact reminds of my Uncle Wilfred
who chewed plug tobacco
and while reading Tennyson
never missed the spittoon
from a distance of at least
fifty years ago
I am travelling of course in time
expect to encounter relations
maybe a mislaid cousin
I didn't like much anyway
across the lava peninsulas
indentured to Polyphemus
maybe a long-dead brother
I wanted to say goodbye to
or kooky aunts and uncles
and clutch my craziness tightly
for fear I might grow sane
14 However
back near Darwin Station
the black iguanas gather
and they're actually domestic
a trois or dix menage
the big one old man God
who bullies his female harem
some basic law of the flesh
requires that he demonstrate
requires in the act of creation
that he demonstrate lizard restraint
A separate species
at evolution's stop-light
silent and unaware
that in Mexico for instance
they're regarded as tasty as chicken
here old man God is a sultan
before man a reptile Jehovah
and before Jehovah — what?
With a modicum of trepidation
I touch his back with my foot
expecting iguana explosions
thunder at Darwin Station
at least the earth to open
and my flesh crawls with the effort
But God just sways his head
sways it up and down up down
irritated at this presumption
What can I be but humble
for the reptile and mammal primate
may never touch each other
without fear of opposites
'5 and I feel sad
knowing I will never understand him
nor the races before and after
the star ship's rocket landing
understand nothing but now
balanced in the needle's eye
and the impulse to touch God
is as close as I'll ever come
Galapagos Islands
16 Paul Witherington
Couple and Dog
From his seat at the far end of the kitchen table, the man watches the
lovers' quarrel she is having with her robe in the hall. The way she gives
herself a hoist just before the kitchen door and hesitates a moment in the
frame as if waiting for someone, not the man, to align her properly.
Then the brown dog stretching at her heels and shaking off night at the
foot of their bed.
"It's roused itself for breakfast," he says as she passes by, not close
enough to touch, and the dog hunches near his knees. He jerks his arm
as if to toss a scrap, and the dog arches its eyebrows. Jerks it again and
the brows start and stop. Again and the dog is as motionless as the
woman staring out of the window over the sink. "Something to brace it
for another hard day on the couch. Yes, I know, I hear you saying, 'Poor
baby, all she wants is a little peace.' Piece of whatever anyone else is hav-
When the woman turns on her toes, not quite balanced yet, she does
not look at his plate where he is prodding bits of hard fried egg with his
fork, nor at the dog that has turned a yawn into a high, fragile whine.
"I paid for a watchdog and all it watches is the insides of its eyelids,"
the man says, twisting the solid yellow leftovers from the white leftovers
and meeting the dog's sound with a rasp of his fork on the plastic.
Whining and wagging its tail almost to its nose, the dog looks from the
woman to the joined aluminum bowls on the floor, one of them clean
enough to reflect not only the light from the window but the two bulbs of
the overhead fixture.
"Go on and say it," the man says as the woman stretches at the stove.
"Tell poor baby to wait a moment, you've got to get the water on for tea.
Then come to your senses and you'll find that the water for tea or
anything else is still hot. It's all been done." He is wearing a dark suit
coat, cardboard-splayed at the edges but still heavy blue. He has already
shaved, and a small spot of blood on his neck has stretched partway
toward his white collar, like a doll's carpet unrolling.
The woman gently turns on the stove's left front eye and the kettle's
water starts to simmer. She glides to the sack of dog food next to the
'7 aluminum bowls and measures out two cupfuls of dry chunks in the
cloudy bowl while the dog tries to get its nose in between her arm and
her thin body, and the man pushes past them into the front hall. She lifts
the food bowl out of its metal stand and carries it to the sink, changes her
mind and takes it to the counter next to the refrigerator, moving adroitly
within her space but always waiting, looking, as if her composition
depended on someone outside of their set. With a long knife and fork,
she cuts off a piece of fat from last Sunday's rump roast, then adds some
leftover muffin, then more of the meat to round things out. Pours tap
water over this mixture until the bowl is half full. As she sets it back with
its twin, she sings to the dog in a high, wordless voice and steps easily out
of the way of the man, who is returning from the front porch where he
has picked up the morning newspaper and glanced at the spot where the
thermometer used to hang. They move together and yet singly, like the
eyes of a large fish that are and are not in focus.
The man takes his seat at the table, and with his fingers at stiff acute
angles spreads the newspaper in front of his face as if it were the last
piece of stained glass from a ruined cathedral. The dog is tonguing up
the liquid in the bowl to get to its scraps while the woman at the counter
is lowering a tea bag into her cup.
"Sounds like it's enjoying itself," the man says. "The streets run with
horror, our leaders subscribe to fairy tales, and your lap bitch takes thirty seconds to put down the food it's dreamed about since yesterday."
She sits lightly in the chair across from him, her tea flanked by her
muffin. He gets up to carry his egg-stained plate to the sink and sets it
down on its edge between two other plates. Through the window slit he
has made with his eyes, he sees craters and patches of burned grass, dusty green trees, and maybe another house or two, at which he shudders.
If she were to say that neighbours were not as close as they seemed, he
would say that she was looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
He recalls her favourite myth of the woman locked in a tower and letting
down her long hair which a lover climbs, combing his way to her rescue.
He pinches his nostrils with thumb and forefinger and blows his nose into the dishes piled in the sink. The woman holds onto her cup.
He takes what is left of his coffee to the red vinyl reclining chair at one
end of the living room couch, the paper under his arm. If she were to tilt
her head just a bit to the left she would see his clean bald head even
though he has not leaned back in his chair. If he were to look up he
would see her left arm and the active tail of the dog as it alternately begs
at the table and whines and turns half circles.
"Now it wants out," he says. "Its third major talent. Sleeping and
eating and dumping on the lawn. I know, Mommy will tend to her
baby. Just wait a moment till she butters the second half of her muffin.
But no, baby doesn't have a moment. If it had a moment it wouldn't be a
dog."   '
18 The woman gets up slowly and follows to the back door, the dog's long
claws clicking on the linoleum. She unlocks the handle and the two night
latches the man is so proud of, and the storm door. The dog squats on
the glossy lawn just off the red brick patio. Sniffs and circles and hunches
behind a green apple tree where there are a number of walnut brown
piles. The green off the patio is as bright as toy wagons after a rain,
though he would call the sky faded and loose, an old quilt hung out to
air. An observer might record that although their views are not consistent, they are not altogether incompatible since they are never looking at
precisely the same thing. They have never agreed, for example, on the
breed of their long succession of dogs, or whether they should require
medium sized or large biscuits.
"It wouldn't do for it to change its spot," the man says without turning
his head. "Oh yes, tell me she needs someone to shovel some of her poo-
poo into a plastic bag, or bury it over at the garden plot. If Daddy would
just do it once a week, Mommy wouldn't have to wipe its paws with a
paper napkin, and we'd have tomatoes the size of softballs. If Mommy
had planted tomatoes."
The woman is locking the back door again, holding and wiping the
dog. "If there were a garden," the man says.
He leans back in the reclining chair as she comes into the living room.
He has tossed several back sections of the newspaper onto the coffee
table. She has changed her mind and is turning toward the bathroom.
The dog whines and puts one paw on the end of the green couch nearest
the man. He reads and seems not to see. Moments later the woman
enters again, and he notices the caress of her tightly drawn robe which
shapes her body in and out. She is holding a toothbrush.
"Yes, of course. Poor baby roused you all the way from the bathroom.
Her daddy wouldn't let her nest in his lap."
The man continues to read. The woman kisses empty air several times
and the dog jumps and circles and curls on the man's end of the couch,
sniffing and licking between its hind legs. When the woman goes out
brushing her teeth, the man tilts his chair upright and reaches for the soft
skin behind the dog's head, but the dog growls and snaps.
"It tried to bite me," he announces when the woman comes back, still
not dressed. She sits at the end of the couch opposite the dog and drops
off her slippers and curls into herself to read an Architectural Digest that is
several months old.
The man stares at the dog that is watching him with one large brown
eye. "If it does that one more time on the face of this earth Daddy will get
the pliers and pull out every one of its teeth and make a necklace of them
to strangle it to death and throw it out for the worms to get fat on."
"It must be about time for work," she says quietly, the thick magazine
tilted between them.
•9 He snorts, expecting more from her. "I don't work Sundays yet," he
says, bending so that the snarling dog's head is superimposed upon her
head. "Maybe I'll have to, before long, to keep our gift from nature fed."
The woman sighs.
"But not yet." He gets up to go to the bathroom, running the water
loudly over whatever he is doing. When he returns, he carries a leash
and a dog collar, and he jingles them to the left and to the right. The
dog's hind end has begun to move from side to side on the couch, but its
eyes are large and distrustful. The woman drops her magazine.
"Yes, I know poor baby's not used to going out this early," he says,
watching her pull at her feet as if what she might have said has settled
there like glue between her toes. "Go on and say it, she's all upset. Like
her mother."
The man goes to the couch where the dog is still divided, the tail swinging and the lip lifting itself over the teeth. "Only it's excited, not
upset. It hasn't sense enough to know it can't get something free." He
slips the collar under the dog's jaws and buckles it tightly on top of its
neck. Once the collar is in place the dog seems resigned and steps off the
couch propelled by the rhythm of its latter half, shakes its tags and allows
the chain leash to be fastened.
"No, we won't wait till it's brighter, or bluer, or balmier; till its mother
is dressed and ready. That may not happen for weeks."
The dog is turning circles on the leash and the man turns with it to
keep from getting tangled. The woman's hands are variable, but her eyes
flash and words have gathered, like bats at dusk.
"I know what you're going to do," she hears herself saying. "You'll be
gone for an hour or so, so I'll worry. Then I'll hear the jingle of the
licence and the inspection tags outside on the porch and I'll move a bit on
the couch to be ready. Put down my magazine, smooth my robe,
moisten my lips. Then you'll come in holding the empty collar and leash.
'It slipped right out of it,' you'll say. 'There was nothing I could do. If it
hadn't been fed so much all those years, three times a day like a human,
its neck wouldn't have been fatter than its head.' Then you'll clean out
her food bowl, as if you know something I don't, and put it away with
the leash and the collar in the closet. 'We'll get another one someday,'
you'll say."
"That's not it," he says, angry at her putting words into his mouth.
"You're not even close."
"That's the way you always are. You think I haven't remembered?
You may be two hours instead of one, I'll grant you. She may break her
leash instead of slipping her collar, poor baby. She may go mad from
eating her own poo-poo and run under a truck. It's all the same."
She sits back limp on the couch, the air gone as from an inflatable
20 The man pulls hard on the leash, and the dog's front paws leave the
floor. "I'd better get going," he says. "It may take me three hours to make
up a story this time. I may get a heat stroke trying to think up a story
you'll believe."
"Take me," she says suddenly, her voice low and breathless. She gets
halfway up and arches her feet partway into the slippers without taking
her eyes off him.
He shakes his head. "One's all it takes to walk a dog this size."
She is down now on all fours. The dog beside her begins licking her
face. "Walk me," she says.
He stares at her robe hanging on the floor, her hair sluicing out of its
bun and halfway down her back. He laughs, but her face is upturned,
her mouth open, her tongue parting her teeth.
"Walk me instead of her."
The man unhooks the collar from the dog and fits it around the
woman's neck, the leash still attached. The collar fastens barely, in the
last hole.
"It's way too tight," he says. "I'd have to get the icepick and make a
new hole."
"The collar doesn't hurt, let's get it over with."
"I don't think so. Your hands would burn up on the pavement. Your
knees would be bloody by the end of the block."
"Then it would be a short walk," she says nipping at his hand.
He picks up the leash. "You think I won't do it."
She shakes her head, and her hind end begins to move back and forth.
"Isn't that it?" He pulls on the leash, not gently. "You think I won't."
She begins to pant, and now her pale pink tongue is halfway out.
Before she can put her hands on his trouser legs, he moves her toward
the door. The dog has crept back to the couch and curled up in its
favourite spot near the empty vinyl chair. It has no desire to follow the
others outside to their ends, no need to separate the walker from the walk.
The dog is asleep on the couch when the door opens again, but it gets
off slowly, dutifully, arching itself between the warm cushion and the
floor. The woman edges in, then leans on the door to snap it shut behind
her. She is still wearing the light blue robe, ragged and black now at the
knees, but she is barefoot. The collar can still be seen under her fallen
hair, but the leash is gone. She does not touch the dog, and when she
pulls back her stiff black hand from its tongue she bangs her elbow on the
hall closet door.
"Poor baby," she says automatically, "I'll get your lunch." She limps
into the kitchen and drops some of the dog food into the clouded
aluminum bowl where it clatters like hail. The dog sniffs, but does not
21 eat. The woman holds its head down to the dry food and then collapses
onto her knees and makes encouraging noises above the shiny, empty,
bowl, but the dog pulls away.
"We were crossing the intersection," she begins, getting to her feet
thigh by slow thigh as if recalling how to stand erect. "He was holding
onto me, just behind me. But he was late and the light had already
changed and the traffic started up at us. There was nothing I could do."
The dog whines, runs into the living room and back to its original
position. She fills a plastic breakfast glass with water and pours it into the
shiny bowl. Once the man brought breakfast to them in bed, on trays,
but she was so surprised that she spilled her orange juice all over the
white sheets and his morning news. The dog waits, looks at the bowls.
"There was nothing I could do." She walks slowly back through the
dark hall to their bedroom. The dog does not follow, even though she
calls it from the doorway and curses it in her new, loud voice. The dog
waits at the couch, then at the window, and alternately listens and
whines. The woman comes from the bedroom still in her torn robe. "All
right," she says, "a little meat." She takes a tray from the refrigerator and
cuts a piece from the week old rump roast, holding the long fork and the
knife loosely on her fingers as if she were nursing a leaky pen. Bringing
the piece of fat to the dog's aluminum dish, she holds it at eye level and
pretends to drop it onto the dogfood, palming it instead. The animal
sniffs at the spot where the fat would have fallen, then runs its circle into
the living room and back.
"Do you want out? Is that it? Do you want to dump on the lawn?"
The dog stares at the door she has opened, whines, runs into the living
room again.
The woman kicks the aluminum bowl with pointed toes and part of the
dry dogfood spills out on the floor and the water in the twin bowl rolls
round and round like a clapperless bell.
"Look what you made me do."
She suspects that the man will come soon, hard and full of his own
version of horror, but the long-handled fork she still holds has not grown
into a weapon, and she drops it back into its drawer.
If an observer were outside the front window pondering such a
domestic picture, he would feel considerable frustration, having expected the fork to be plunged into the woman's own breast to exemplify
one last spasm of will; to be plunged into the dog's breast, killing that
part of herself and the husband that the dog has come to represent; or
perhaps held under her torn robe to plunge into the man's white throat
should he be so foolish as to return.
Instead, he sees her begin to dance, without music, turning upon
herself and taking herself from room to room, the robe rising in tatters
like the flag of a minor province in alarm, her arms now close like ears
22 and now raised to point out circumference. It is a rough dance, not the
sort that can be polished for love or war, and when the observer closes
and opens his eyes in disbelief, she turns even faster, her long hair cutting the cords of vision.
Standing further back, one might see the entire front of the white
frame house, the walk leading to the door, the man slouching from town
to lean against the doorbell, and the two of them eating dinner in some
sort of order after all, though for her it is mixing mouthfuls of potatoes,
meat and green beans, while he finishes all of one food before he begins
another. They move their arms together now, but her robe has been
replaced with a red dress, and his soiled coat with one that is equally
dark. The woman's hair is back up to reveal a white neck that seems to
have gotten longer since she put on and off the collar. They each look
about the room. If their eyes meet briefly, it is to fix the limits of consent. The dog sleeps on the chair in front of the window, and outside in
the dusk that has settled on the street another lover prowls the old frame
house, shifting shapes and looking for an opening.
23 Frank Davey
Edward Has Too Much
'I don't mind,' Patricia told him,
'except you've got too much come.
I've never known a guy
with so much come,' she said.
'Hey? What's wrong with that?'
Edward said.
'How would you like it,
dribbling down your legs until noon?'
she said.
'But it's because of you,
because you excite me so,'
Edward protested.
'I can fix that,' she said.
'Sleeping in a puddle all night,'
she said. 'Smelling like a fish shop
all day,' she said.
'Well, it's because you're so beautiful,'
Edward said. 'So exciting,' he said.
'You just inspire me, just
draw it out of me,' he said.
'It shows how much I love you,' he said.
'Don't be funny,' Patricia said.
'If I laugh, or cough, or run,
big gobs soak through my pants
onto my skirt or jeans,' she said.
'It's embarrassing,' she said.
24 Edward visualized. Little drops of him
inside her. On her pubic hair,
on her panties, glistening
on her thighs. 'Hmmmm,'
he said. 'Maybe doing it more often
would help,' he said.
'No way,' she said.
'Better you should wear a safe,' she said.
'But I couldn't feel you,' he said. 'Maybe you
could wear a tampon or pad?' he said.
'Maybe you could lick it off,' she said.
Edward pondered. 'Maybe I could at that,' he said.
'We could always quit,' she said.
25 Robert Bringhurst/ Two Poems
Daily, daily walking out of our eyes
in order to meet them returning,
the face full of acorns and mice,
the teeth pumping like heddles.
Daily peeping from under our tongues,
the ears like oars rowing backward and burning.
These poems, these poems,
these poems, she said, are poems
with no love in them. These are the poems of a man
who would leave his wife and child because
they made noise in his study. These are the poems
of a man who would murder his mother to claim
the inheritance. These are the poems of a man
like Plato, she said, meaning something I did not
comprehend but which nevertheless
offended me. These are the poems of a man
who would rather sleep with himself than with women,
she said. These are the poems of a man
with eyes like a drawknife, with hands like a pickpocket's
hands, woven of water and logic
and hunger, with no strand of love in them. These
poems are as heartless as birdsong, as unmeant
as elm leaves, which if they love love only
the wide blue sky and the air and the idea
of elm leaves. Self-love is an ending, she said,
and not a beginning. Love means love
of the thing sung and not of the song or the singing.
These poems, she said. . . .You are, he said,
beautiful. That is not love, she said rightly.
27 Erin Moure
This is a life in which
a case of whisky is one drink.
In it, a dog goes totally blind & no one knows
if it remembers its young doghood,
the smell of wild mountains carried in storm
from the high passes.
I feel I am in the world & fhere is no god in it with me.
These days my husband gets up & sits
on the edge of our bed & says
a case of whisky is one drink.
He says there are glasses as big as women filled with rye & he wants
to marry one.
This is what I listen to, no wonder
I can't sleep.
I hear the heart-tick of my old dog in Calgary, 800 miles away.
She sleeps on the porch, & shies away when the footsteps
come, crying gently.
When there are no footfalls, she rests & waits to die.
I want to leave my husband & let him marry
all the bottles in Vancouver,
while I go to Calgary to sit beside the blind dog of the family,
her eyes muddy with cataract,
& tell her of her old/young doghood, of hikes to the ice-caves
with a black pup in '71, who was herself
splay-legged on the fireroad.
I want to tell her she is a dog who loved the mountains,
& she should be proud even in blindness
that she saw them & climbed their hard trails,
& camped there with the humans
like a god.
28 Now she is only afraid, of being stepped on.
She knows our voices, even mine that she hears so seldom.
She speaks back in her small voice
& snuffles nearer.
I wish she would remember & be proud, but she lives
only the present in her dogged blind way,
fighting the back stairs.
Without her memories I am alone in the world,
the god gone out of it.
My husband murmurs over, the root is still there,
in the whole world there is only whisky for one drink.
No wonder I can't sleep.
No wonder to look at the world is to go blind in it
29 Nicole Brossard/A%£ Poems
the temptation
from Amantes (women lovers)
I succumbed to all the visions
seduced, surface, series and serious
in all mobility and landscapes
concentrated on each episode
territory and cheek, masked/unmasked:
hors d'espace or full of intonations
in the climate delirious around
all the figures, aerial
in the use of glaze and phrase
I succumbed to the fury, the cities
and the etchings / come / the
conversation in snatches, in the open
the entire palm imprint of slowness
and reality transforms its lynx
eyes of identity which motivate
all the resources the tongue braids
existence by dint of constant courses
and breath within the limits of the possible
of the tolerable blindly: feeling
3° 69
I succumbed to the clear vision
of vegetation and events
of early morning, in the privileges of light
because the authentic body spine of fire
has shown its tongue as it
was then tangible and tango
very vivid for the eyes / of the inside
I succumbed to the temptation as
one enters the circuit of gestures
ensuring survival, conquest
smile and fusion of fictions
the night come when the wick
our foreheads remember the most delightful
delinquencies, the hand is moved a bit
so that before our eyes opens up
the agile memory of girls from Utopia
moving in italics
or in a fresco towards all the issues
31 71
I succumbed to the impression and instantaneous
one and the other life mobilizes itself
with the fine ardour of women showing forth
their vertigo and the two there
dizzy sur terre turning seized suddenly
in the most ritual amorous slownes    s ex-
temptation with all gravity
of ecstasy, the two here were so
enraptured celebrating the daily
emergence of temptation
I succumbed to the echo, the return,
to the repetition, in the beginning
vertebrae was the duration
an essential rejoinder at every instant
in the joy I have in you, lived
duration of signs, stricken
with collusion and the waters
of reading and delirium
the agility of thighs each time
surprises me in space because they are
this opening originated at all
times in all vegetation
the vitality of cycles: our images
32 73
I succumbed attentively to the very
point of knowing that for each
temptation a meaning must be preserved: recollected
and resumed — — to open onto mental
space, with words of lightning, sequence
of unreason, episode of recommencements
and of breasts unpublished web: the mouths
science of the real, skin/itinerary
going away to slip gently
into the continent of women
I succumbed: that's what drags me
into the real and vertigo at the same time
into the surrounding grasses (they touch
our most sensitive tissues)
 - eclipses	
temptation beyond words
to devise an architecture
when everything veers towards fever so
even a clever description:
moving me towards the other woman
other than naturally
33 75
I succumbed as far as the certainty
that designates the initial legend
the one which excavates the passed 'n time
and which prompts the question
of distance (itself) in the fire of
fictions/ to succumb becomes thus to cross
take shape and choose oneself
a consentment affecting the woman lover
Translated from the French by
Barbara Godard
34 Barbara Godard
The Translator as Ventriloquist
"the temptation" by Nicole Brossard was first translated to be read by the
poet at Writers in Dialogue, May 1, 1981 in Toronto, where she participated with Adrienne Rich. The occasion was a significant determinant in my translation.
As the famous adage has it, every translation is a betrayal. So many
elements enter into a literary text — connotative riches, word plays,
sound effects (rhyme, etc.) —often mutually exclusive in the target
language of the translator, that some tradeoffs are necessary. Given the
elliptical style of Brossard and the brevity of the oral presentation, it
seemed appropriate to make the poetry sound as much like Brossard's as
possible, leaving interpretive subtleties for written versions. Consciously, I sacrificed sense to sound.
Literary tradition also guided my choice. The "dialogue," Rich's
"dream of a common language," underlines a current feminist theory
about women and language, circulating in a marginal, "oral" culture.
Rich's work "broaches biography," moving into the silence of personal
experience, while Brossard's moves from abstraction, theoretical work
on language, to find "body itself the intensity," to recognize the primacy
of women's sensual and oral experience, beyond or before words.
Specific clues in Amantes help us to read her work in this way: "each time
into reality steals an image which meets your lips ready to speak." Experience is translated into speech before it is written on the page. Orality
is the marker.
Brossard's work is characteristic of French language feminist works intent on overthrowing linguistic conventions. In this way it is aligned
with that of avant-garde figures such as bp nichol or Sheila Watson,
whose works reflect an interest in the shape and sound of words. Like
many post-surrealist writers, Brossard often lets her ear make connections to present to her mind in a sort of free association of sounds (rather
than images) which is a scaffolding for the poem.
A few examples will clarify the sorts of betrayals I am talking about. In
68 the phrase "constant courses" is somewhat ambiguous and might more
"correctly" have been rendered "constant itineraries," but this would
35 have involved the loss of the "ources" sound which the "tongue" has been
"braiding." Again in 67, "glaze and phrase" is an approximation aimed at
giving some of the "meaning" and all of the sound of "verre et verbe" in
the original. In 69, I retained the words of the original with essentially
the same sound effects, "tangible and tango" (an example of the ear
leading the mind), knowing the importance of the Latin American tango
in Brossard's life at the moment, and keeping an auditory image when I
might also "correctly" have substituted "tangerine" to pick up on the imagery of orange in daybreak and sunlight present in the French original,
tango in French carrying this second connotation as well as the more
common one. Again, in 73 "recollected" is fine but "resumed" a little
forced and unusual in English, although within the dictionary definitions—a consideration I have ignored to retain the parallel sounds which
link the two lines. In this poem there are also two oral puns which I have
been able to retain, more obvious when heard but which I have
underlined with graphic means in the written text. In 71, for instance, I
have displaced the final "s" on slowness to create an elision with "ex"
which happens with the French original when "s'exprime" is shortened to
s'ex— ("press" is understood in English, of course). Another such play is
the "passed (or past) 'n time" where I have used "n" abbreviation as a
clue to the reader to elide the two words to creat "pasttime." In the interpretation of such ellipses I have checked my hearing of the passage with
the author to verify the reliability of my ear.
Complicity, in fact, is the nature of the relationship between
translator and writer in such translations, when translation becomes
creation but also subversion. As first reader of the text, reader from a
foreign culture, I must abscond with it, hijack it into my own. After
establishing the semiotic systems which permit the text to be communicated by the author to a Quebec audience, I must then become
author and establish another semiotic system to send it to a very different audience, as the same message. Hopefully, the creating has
transcended the lying at this point, that my signalling to an anglophone
audience the orality of Brossard's text has made clear themes within the
text as well as placing it at the crossroads of two relevant discourses, that
of contemporary feminism and avant-garde concrete verse. My aim has
at least been partially attained, for following the reading the only two
francophones —experts on Brossard's work —in the audience, affirmed
that the poems indeed sounded just like Brossard. The translator become
ventriloquist. . . .
36 Ray Ellenwood
The Automatic Translator
Claude Gauvreau, whose work is presented on the next few pages,
was born in Montreal in 1925 and died there in 1971. Although he
has received plenty of attention in Quebec, especially since his death, he
is virtually unknown in English-speaking Canada and is, in that sense, a
new poet. But he is new in another way as well: his poetic experiments
are still avant-garde, still fresh in any language.
The two pieces included here, Petrouchka and The Shadow on the Hoop,
are from a collection of 26 dramatic objects called Entrails. The originals
were written between 1944 and 1946, when Gauvreau was an enthusiastic
member of the group of young painters and poets who would eventually
be called the Automatistes. Playing with all sorts of dramatic and poetic
conventions, Gauvreau moves from some fantastic, though otherwise
fairly conventional settings, back and forth into a world of pure "explora-
tional" language with phonemic clusters as non-objective in their own
way as the paintings of his friends.
With Petrouchka, the problems for the translator are minimal, all complications being for the stage director and having little to do with
language. With The Shadow on the Hoop, however, the situation is reversed. Here, the translator must analyse the language structures in
order to reconstruct in English the "sense" of Gauvreau's original. Just a
few lines will show what I mean:
Les glands de joie les clignotements de cloche cri papou et
beuzellin et anarchiste a nez plastique aux morves vieillottement
et abnegationnement theologiques de l'abreuvoir a tocsin....
This is the first half of the second sentence of the monologue (p. 40). It
obviously does not make immediately recognizable sense. Even though
an anarchist with a plastic and snotty nose may be conceptualized, we
can't be sure how that relates to all the rest. The concrete "anarchist" is in
a series with "papou" and "beuzellin," which are coined words with no
recognizable root (as compared to "vieillottement" and "abnegationnement" which are obviously constructions based on "vieillot" and
"abnegation"). Also, the sentence is syntactically difficult to deal with. It
37 has no verb, and the word we would expect to be verbal by its place in
the sentence is given as "cri," the noun "cry" or "shout," rather than
"crient" which would translate "they cry or shot." In addition, the "ment"
ending of "vieillottement" and "abnegationnement" may be nominal, as
in "clignotement" (tinkling), or adverbial. Questions persist: should the
word "glands" suggest, by definition, "acorns," or by definition and
phonetically, "glandes" (plural of "glans" of the penis)? Of course any
translation raises these kinds of questions. Here the problem is compounded by a lack of normal logical, contextual and grammatical
As a matter of fact, as I look over the text to be published here, I begin
to question some of the choices I made. Perhaps I translated "glands" as
"acorns" because of the word "glaner" (to glean or gather) used earlier
(let's not get psychological about this). It should probably have been
translated "glandes." Not only that, I am now convinced that "vieillottement" and "abnegationnement" are adverbial and that I should now
allow "cry" the ambiguity (verb or noun) it has in English. "Tocsin,"
being rarely used in English, might have been "alarm bell" instead. For
the record, here is how the passage probably should read:
The glandes of joy the tinkling bells the cry papou and
beuzellin and plastic-nosed anarchist with the antiquationally
and abnegationally theological snot from the watering trough
with the alarm bell....
That should help make things clearer.
Claude Gauvreau distinguished four basic types of poetic image: the
image rythmique (rhythmic image), which is basic to the sound of poetry,
involving both onomatopoeia and stress; the image memorante (reflective
image), which is the standard metaphor or comparison between similar
elements; the image transfigurante (transformational image) which involves
a strained comparison creating a new compound whose elements are still
traceable (this applies to most Surrealist images); and the imageexploreenne
(explorational image), where the basic elements of the image are completely modified and can no longer be easily traced by analysis. There
are a number of transformational or explorational images in the latter
half of The Shadow of the Hoop and the problem they represent for the
translator is obvious. These are images which are not meant to be comprehended in the traditional manner, but are word-fusions, difficult or
impossible to analyse and hence to translate with any confidence. What
to do, for example, with a phrase like "foret muscapantoule, serre et car-
banturier" from the fifth paragraph of the monologue? You won't find
the second and last words in any dictionary. Sometimes I can break
these constructions down into possible morphemes and try to translate
those, making my own coinage based on Gauvreau's. At other times I
respond   with   a   similar-sounding   word   or   an   anglification   of  the
38 original, or, when the resonances of the French work just as well in
English, no change at all. In this instance, my rendering of the phrase
as, "muskapantulous forest, hothouse and carbanturier" is far from
adventurous. Should I have worked harder at suggesting certain associations? "Muscat," "pantoufle," "pantoute," "pantois;" "carabinier," "car-
bonater," "couturier," come to mind. As the language of the original
becomes more non-figurative and free, so does the translation and my
word choices become more "automatic" — some might say capricious. All
of this is not a mea culpa or an apology, but a simple recognition of a basic
truth: if there is one original text which may be considered finished and
static, there are any number of possible and plausible translations. This
one claims to give a "sense" of Gauvreau's texts.
39 Claude Gauvreau
The Shadow on the Hoop
(L'ombre sur le cerceau)
(Monologue of the shadow cast on a hoop
by a leaping acrobat.)
Listen to the harvest of Belval and the thuriferous fork which has
come to glean the careful rows of pupazzi pastiches and anglioche-
glicoche and Bux the Clown ejaculating trapeze and crossbow,
and the brother's lips and the old-mother wrinkle and the sister of
the brother's stag, become a pupazzo, become an advertising
avalanche, tacit and bitter and baynal landslide in addition to
acid of linseed and skull of oil's soul with instructive painterly
mastication. The acorns of joy the tinkling bells cry papou and
beuzellin and anarchist with the snotty plastic nose, theological
antiquation and abnegation of the tocsin watering trough, smooth
and crystalline pale blue mirror like the virginal apple of the
martyr clerk in his springtime escalade, buffandesque,
heroicomanic and vermillion of pure gosling.
Your pompedear Cleonte in her populist and overthrow cloud,
that cantankerous and diaphanous frantic flying coat, white,
white, white, black toes on that blight, on that euphemie, the
crossroads of faithful crosses and the cough akchou ekribitchou ploum
ploum of the cordlings of crayfitious asbestos.
Ago Absalon. The disproportionate medals and scapulars
surround and ransom this spot of white skin on the wall of
pamenver gray. The new cross-breeds rip the bileous feeding, the
40 vinegary slobbering, out of the faggot tongues, diapers for the
stomachs, acrebungs for the armour cartridges immured in the
attained psychol half-dawn circle of the visceral pelt, of the
midcreagondic touch of the Pals of Elmeuze of the Kingdom of Ki
who blay the Ostaches Cumule and Serval. Onward lances and
tale dice, counts and burlurettes, the family of hesitated means, of
abandoned attempts, of one-eyed compatures, of ossified
regulations. Burman crusade. Bones of sentimental anthologies,
rubbings of the amorous eruption. Onward the bagatelle of the
dear corduroy pompom of the glacial blue and of the
crystallization of porous orifices, of the stylinisation and
synthetinisation of these molassous greens perpetually in motion,
chain and breast of jealousy.
The baby-faced Zut and the buffoon Clement in the footlight, the
cracker's fireworks, the moss-grown snow and the ice palisade of
the tutus, they all clementize and isolate the perverse hunchbacked detonating gasoline. Baby-face and the skirt's wheel whip
the spanish-style cream again, and the orange laugh of my
pantheresque wife cut and pasted on her wax face adorns the
monarchist behind of the paschal cabinetmaker by his checkered
wig. Serated jew-girl, muskapantulous forest, hothouse and
carbanturier, the bream pastoral fulmine, spikes and waters
right-handed, dampens and pecorates the sorcerish
acquiescences, and the Ocean grinds its teeth on the platform of
human tastes.
Abrdoum Pou King, the verdigris and the engerminating
roofbeams, sincerely stainted, bend and stain the Olme and the
Prkades of the seat and of the agrable ombezeres' celon, royal
comedy, fameloid burlesquery, pioune and pitouzery, who guard
4i and fuss over the learned eliteries, who robe and flisk the cumus
and handsome holes of the pots and pans, of the cabiton's eagles,
the opulent ruins the corpulent detentions, and who underline on
imperial days the zing and echo and madrigal sol of the
dishevelled circles who hash the fictional space.
Agroupine. Almah palm the pinch chireeps, the algaesia of the
planks sings at the top of its glass under the melodious spell of
the siphon.
Translated from the French by
Ray Ellenwood
42 Claude Gauvreau
(An endless expanse of ice with waves and blue reflections over the
surface. Petrouchka is chopping at the ground with a pickaxe.)
petrouchka: It's the old-time Klondike. It's gold country.
(He chops away.)
Ah! Loosening a little!
(He chops away. After one of the pickaxe cuts, a fountain of liquid
gold spouts from the ground, rising high in the air and falling back
like a shower.)
petrouchka:  What luck.
(Petrouchka lays his pickaxe down, gets undressed and takes a shower
in the liquid gold. The golden fountain grows weaker, then dries up
petrouchka:  I had a good shower.
(He gets dressed and retrieves his pickaxe. He chops away.)
(Two husky men dressed like prospectors approach across the ice
field. They look rough and strong.)
the first man:  Strangle her, Petrouchka, it's easy. All you have to do is
walk as far as her bedroom and squeeze her neck in your hands. She
won't have time to get out of her room. It'll be fun, you'll see. Then
you can come back and tell us all about it and the three of us will have
a good laugh.
the second man:  And we'll share.
the first man:  Go on, Petrouchka, go strangle her.
(Petrouchka shoulders his pickaxe and begins to walk. As he moves
forward, the curtain closes behind him. Petrouchka walks back and
forth between the curtain and the footlights, turning abruptly and
43 walking left or right as if following a road and covering great
distances. While he is at stage right, an old woman enters from the
left. Petrouchka moves over against the curtain to let her pass, tipping
his cap. The old woman puts a coin in Petrouchka's cap as she goes by.
He takes the coin, puts it in his pocket and puts the cap back on his
head, then sets off walking again. Finally, he ends up facing the
curtain and makes a motion with his arms as if to open it, but does not
touch it. The curtain opens wide to reveal a bedroom in a modern
big-city apartment, furnished like a room in a grand, modern hotel,
very comfortable without being cluttered. Shelves of books, a chair
with a contemporary look. There is a large, white, square bed fitted
out in the style of modern interior decorators. The old woman seen
earlier is half sitting, half lying on the bed. There is a door at the
right rear of the stage. Buildings on the other side of the street can be
seen through a window. The buildings are too high for their roofs to
be visible. We can read the neon sign of a nightclub across the road:
THE SCRUFFY GIGOLO. The room is on about the third floor.
Street noises can be heard from time to time. Petrouchka does not go
directly into the room, but goes off the right front of the stage. Before
long, the door at the rear of the stage opens and Petrouchka enters.
He has a vacant, detached, staring look in his eye. He takes three
steps and waits, like a sleepwalker, with his pickaxe on his shoulder.
He sets his pickaxe aside and moves forward in the direction of the
old woman. She is neither startled nor panic-stricken, but she watches
him with obvious fear. She is calm. Petrouchka has reached the bed;
the old woman gets up suddenly and moves to the other side of the
room. Petrouchka walks towards her and, when he comes near, she
returns to the bed. Petrouchka walks toward the bed. He stands in
front of it. The old woman looks to left and right, then at Petrouchka,
who begins to strangle her. Petrouchka's face is neither stone-cold nor
wild-eyed; he is unemotional and distant, almost as if he were lost in
the clouds. At one moment, a few pieces of gold fall from the mouth
of the old woman as he strangles her. Vague sounds of a band playing
swing-era jazz can be heard for a few seconds. Petrouchka hums
along, imperceptibly. Indifferent, paying no attention to her, he drags
the old woman off the bed. She dies of strangulation. Petrouchka lets
go of her and she falls to the floor where she lies on her back.)
petrouchka:  I came looking for a surprise. I came looking for
something I couldn't find anywhere else. What am I going to find?
(He looks all around the room, walking here and there, glancing at the
books. Then he snatches up the pickaxe, leaps over the old woman
and swings the pick full force into her stomach. From this moment on,
Petrouchka's frenzy increases constantly. He opens the woman's
44 clothes and proceeds to rummage in her stomach through the hole
made by the pickaxe.)
petrouchka:  That's what she was hiding. Hiding that in her stomach.
(Petrouchka pulls a rope ladder from the old woman's stomach. As the
ladder comes out, it rises in the air, swaying like a charmed snake. It
is a very long rope ladder. As quickly as Petrouchka pulls it from the
old woman's stomach, it rises, until finally it is high enough to
disappear behind the top of the set. Once all the rope ladder has
emerged, it remains suspended with the top out of sight. Petrouchka
is in a frenzy. He laughs, leaps onto the ladder and begins to climb.
He makes sweeping movements with his arms like a vaudeville star
imitating a prima donna. He is exultant. He kicks his legs free and lets
them swing loose, hanging by his hands like a young monkey. He is
high up on the ladder. We begin to hear music in the distance,
grandiose but extremely thin, sung by choirs of indeterminable size,
quality and volume. The music sounds vaguely like psalms sung in
Latin, but we cannot catch either the words or the number of
syllables. It is too far away.)
petrouchka:  I didn't know it went so far up.
(He begins to laugh and drops to the foot of the ladder as the music
fades out. He begins to jump and buck like a rodeo bull, going all
around the room in prodigious leaps. He jumps up on the furniture.
He bellows. He laughs. He hangs half-way up the ladder and swings
wildly in the air, lets go and lands upright with his legs spread, one
foot on each side of the old woman. Without bending his knees, he
butts the old woman in the stomach. Then he shoves his hands into her
stomach and digs around with exaltation. Triumphantly, he takes out
a pair of wings. He sticks them on his back and executes a series of
tiny steps as if he were caricaturing a ballet dancer. He climbs the
rope ladder with giant strides, then strikes a high-diver's pose and lets
himself fall from that height with his arms outstretched as if he could
glide through the air. He does a belly-flop on the floor. He gets up
laughing and, with a long run, makes an immense diving leap into the
bed. He bounces onto the floor, landing on his back beside the
old woman.)
petrouchka: Ah! my beautiful sweetheart! My lover for a night!
(He is convulsed with laughter. He beats on the old woman's stomach
like a drum; suddenly a wooden box emerges from the stomach as if
pushed by a spring and falls on the floor. Popping out suddenly, it
almost hits Petrouchka on the nose and he has to jerk his head back.
This makes him laugh hugely. He bends over the box to examine it.)
45 petrouchka:  Once more. Once more. Always.
(Before he even touches it, the cover flys off and almost hits
Petrouchka in the face. Long, black gadgets, roughly the same shape
as turbines, with electric wiring and antennae, show above the box
like a submarine surfacing.)
petrouchka: Ah! Electricity!
(He clutches handfuls of the gadgets. A bluish flash rises higher than
the ceiling. Petrouchka immediately begins to tremble, vibrate, shake
through his whole body. Every limb quivers furiously. Now his frenzy
is boundless, charged with electricity. Still trembling furiously, he
suddenly takes off like an arrow. He begins to fly around the room like
an airplane, at full speed, cutting close to the corners like a stunt pilot
doing every possible aerobatic trick. Suddenly, he does a complete roll
and flies off in a straight line, skimming two inches above the floor,
passing so close over the old woman he almost brushes her. Just as he
is about to crash into the left wall, he does a right-angle turn, then,
with another right-angle twist, flies upside down making all sorts of
zigzags. Then he leaves for a top-speed, off-stage tour, after which he
zooms out the bedroom window like a thunderbolt and disappears
through the open window of the SCRUFFY GIGOLO, the nightclub
across the street. He soon returns leading a crazy airborne procession
made up of, besides himself, five dancers from the club dressed in
their show costumes, all in a line and holding hands, the whole wild-
eyed group looking like some huge, fantastic, speed-crazy kite. The
aerobatics begin again. Suddenly the kite takes a vertical dive and
disappears straight through the floor, leaving a hole. Two seconds
later, the group bursts through the floor again a little farther on
and continues its flight, Petrouchka and the dancers having travelled
under the floor like a mole underground. But now arrows begin to fall
around Petrouchka and the dancers, shot from the open window of the
petrouchka: The scruffy gigolo is shooting arrows at us. He's jealous.
(The arrows fall close to him. He laughs heartily. He rubs his cheeks
on the dancers' legs like a xylophone player.)
petrouchka:  Where can I put all of you? Come! Come here!
(He runs over to the old woman. He takes a needle and thread from
the garter of one of the dancers.)
petrouchka: Just what the doctor ordered.
(He opens the old woman's stomach wide and holds it open. He makes
46 all the dancers climb into the old woman's stomach, one after the
other. Then he sews it up. He slaps himself hard on the thigh and
starts to laugh again. He leaps high in the air and begins to shake once
more, extremely frenzied. He picks up the old woman, clutches her
around the waist and begins to dance with her. Round and round.
The dance is part waltz, part Apache war dance. Petrouchka laughs
or snickers. The dance is brutal and dizzying. Petrouchka dances up
the ladder with the old woman and leaps to the ground, then throws
her over his shoulder and retrieves his pickaxe. Very gently, with a
deliberate rhythm, he runs his fingers over the handle of the pickaxe
as if it were a harp. Harp sounds come from it. Petrouchka is leaning
to the right with his right foot pointed left. Without changing his
posture, moving nothing but the left hand which is playing the tune,
Petrouchka gradually rises from the ground and begins to float in the
air towards the right. He floats gently, serenely, like a leaf in a stream.
In this same position, he passes through the right wall leaving a hole
shaped like the silhouette of himself carrying his burden. This is the
last we see of Petrouchka, but after a moment we hear his cheerful
petrouchka:  Ah! Ah! He told me it would be fun!
Translated from the French by
Ray Ellenwood
47 George Payerle
Deadly Nightshade
"It's wet," he says.
"Yes," she replies.
"Like frogs," he says. "After the rain the frogs sing." The exultation of
frogs that they are no longer dry.
He licks her delicately between the legs, her little erection like a prick of
intensest light in the wet dark of his mouth.
"Wet," he says, "like the fish."
"Yes," she says. The silver trout slippery in her hands. Their loins joining then in a cascade of fish in which they thrash like a single drowning
"It's all true," she says. "I've always thought it was all true, what they say
about fish and fucking."
Were there fish the first time? he wonders. What was it like, the first
time? Of course he remembers some things. The colour of her labia,
cunt-bright, livid even by lamplight. Of course it wasn't the first time
either. But the first with her, the marriage, that chunk of his life.
Dorothy. Dot. Dotty. Who had fried bread for his breakfast. And he'd
eaten the thick stench of grease, thinking kind thoughts: A brave people,
the English. Hardship. Wondering if a bite of the griddle itself could
taste worse. Fried bread like lead in his stomach. No, the lead was in that
boy's belly in the Belgian mud. Frozen. Now in his own gut as he lies
with this girl in the musty rooms of the King Edward Apartments. No,
not the lead. Dotty saying, "What a lovely morning!" as he realized that
only the English could find a way to eat the stove itself. "How can you
eat the stove?" he said, watching the pigeons of Ladbroke Grove shit on
48 the bricks beyond Dot's window. "What's that, luv?" "The stove," he
said. "Oh, you mean the cooker." Yes.
He caresses the girl's hair and cradles her skull, thinking, "I shouldn't be
thinking all this" while he watches what he feels in his loins spread over
her face like a sweaty vision of paradise. Women do become beatified
when they come and I'm a sixty-year-old trout heading up this stream
one more time. And he grunts in a rush of the waters which aren't cold.
Wet. Her flesh all around him, all around her.
"What are you thinking?" she says.
Thinking? Her fingers curl in his hair.
"How old are you?" he asks.
"Forty-four," she says. He hears a smile and lifts his head to look.
"You're beautiful," he says.
She laughs. He feels her breasts under him and his pecker slipping out of
her laughing, syrupy other mouth. A feeling like nothing else on earth.
Except the blood and the heart and the liver in your hands when someone's been gutshot and no one can do a thing. He grunts again, differently.
"That's funny," he says.
And furrows around her eyes as she says, "You don't look like it's funny."
"No." His eyes and her eyes begin doing that thing he knows about, in
which two people fall into each other and come up wondering which
way, or what day, at all, is it since they've been down there in that big,
ancient, quiet place. His tears slide down from the corners of his eyes to
the bridge of his nose, and then roll uncertainly towards the tip.
"I love you," he says, gripping her skull as though it needed holding
together. "Not too much, you understand. But enough." He swallows
something. "Lord," he says. "Enough."
She looks at him. Quizzically, he thinks, instead of crying. Which he
likes in her.
T pray sometimes," he says.
49 "I know," she says. "You were praying all along, weren't you? While we
were making love."
He smiles, and the warmth in his loins moves up through him like they
said benediction was supposed to.
"I wish I had been," he says. "Thank you. But I was thinking too much."
She smiles. "You didn't feel like you were thinking, satyric man."
"I keep thinking you're a girl," he says. Her sons almost men. Forty-
four. Slim. Sapling birch. Max von Sydow bending that birch tree to the
She grins. "Thank you. I'm hungry," and slips down to nibble his ear
and his neck and kiss his chest, like a girl.
"Nothing," she says, grinning up at him, "tastes like sweat."
Blood, he thinks, and knows he shouldn't think it.
She licks the sweat from his naval and pecks, birdlike, soft-mouthed,
along his abdomen and the little angle remaining to the inside of his hip.
His surprise becomes anticipation stirring in his groin. She giggles,
wickedly, "Dessert," and slips his dozey cock into her mouth.
He looks at her, curled up like a girl at his hip, and can just reach her
ribs with his fingertips.
She mouthes his balls, one at a time, sucking them up over her tongue,
and he wonders if this is how a plum feels in a virgin's mouth.
Why virgins? he thinks. A blonde girl in a lane in Devon, blue-and-
white print wrapped tight around her hips, hollows in her buttocks as she
bends into the tangled foot of the hedgerow. New breasts languidly pointing around in her white blouse. Fourteen? He goes to look at what she's
looking at, prickly in the August heat.
Bright hair swinging and blue eyes looking up, strange in the wild matted
green of the hedge. Near her parting hand, a spikey, livid thing tipped
with reddest orange among the cowslips and what he think are kinds of
"Deadly nightshade," she says, sounding embarrassed.
50 "Yes," he says, wanting to touch her buttock with his fingers' ends, to feel
if she vibrates in it as she looks. He can smell her light, evaporating
sweat and feels his pores gushing. "I must look like a bloody ageing consumptive," he thinks, and moves his hands awkwardly about. He sees
himself tearing her soft skirt away and reaching under her taut bottom to
the sweet, sweaty young flesh there between her legs, and his vision
blurs. Cunt, he says, cunt, how can it be so lovely? And hopes he hasn't
said it aloud.
She removes her hand from the hedge and says, "Well, I must be off
now," and swings away. He watches her, unhurriedly quick and swaying
out of sight between the twisting hedgerows, tasting bitterness and
wrong. There are red hills and green, dotted with sheep and cows in the
humid, dungy, febrile smell of England the good. He hates the flies with
a brief concentration of hatred. Bends down and parts the good English
weeds of centuries. Deadly nightshade.
Awesome, malicious, necromantic thing. Delicious and dangerous to the
eye as pointy red peppers. Deadly. He takes it in his fingers and crushes
the fleshy stem, pulls it into his hands, mashes the berries in his fingers
and palms, just barely avoids cramming the whole mess into his mouth.
He picks another, carefully, and takes it back with him to his hosts, who
look at him in horror as he enters their kitchen.
"That's deadly nightshade!" they cry.
"Yes," he says. "Odd how pretty it is."
"Throw it out! In the dustbins, man. Don't you know it can kill you?
And wash! Scrub! Immediately."
He stands looking at them like a ten-year-old, and feels for a moment
that he is not in England, nor anywhere, and the pit in him draws hoarse
sucking noises back through his throat.
On the terrace of The Seven Stars he sucks at a pint of murky Bass and
longs for company. It's closing time, the bizarre English hiatus in public
hours to allow drunkards' wives the feeding of their men. A few tag-ends
of tourists sit at the white enamel tables under gaudy canvas tilted all
wrong for the sun. They stare over the beer-sticky tables as though there
were no flies. A half-hearted bustle along Fore Street before the
greengrocers close. A beery Canadian, he thinks, and pretends he's
sober enough to cross the street, pint in hand. On Vyre Island he stares
5i at the beer-coloured river. Tour boats blue and white float like the beer
tables, stinking of diesel. The river sucks at the silt along its edges and
laps over pavement that is gradually sliding in, its iron rails tilting rusted
and bent out of the water. The underside of the roadbridge dully reflects
its river on mud-skimmed concrete. He badly wants a place to piss, and
that looks inviting. In Flanders fields there is room to piss. He pours the
dregs of his Bass onto his bootcaps and looks down. He isn't wearing
boots. Civvy shoes. Soft leather. Comfortable for walking. Splattered
with beer. He sways out over the river and hauls himself back. No place
to piss. No place to sit. The benches either broken or occupied by young
handholders. A beery, thickening old Canadian who dislikes tourists.
The bushes rustle behind him and a girl's voice says, loud enough to be
mean, "Strange 'un, is'n 'e?"
"Sausage and eggs," she says, peaceably sliding her cunt to and fro over
his semi-able self.
He looks at her out of what feel like haggard eyes.
"Sausages and eggs," he says. "Lily," he says, "I want to tell you
"Yes?" she says. She's not too hungry to say yes, he thinks.
"But I can't. There was a girl in Belgium." The waters well again behind
his eyes. "She wasn't my girl. And things happened there. A lad in my
platoon. One of my lads."
"How old were you?" she asks.
"An old man." She smiles, someone who has a son twenty and has lived
long enough.
"He got his guts blown out in a field of parsnips in the mud."
She had come to the shell hole at twilight and no one had stopped her.
The Germans had been kind.
"Should you think about those things?" Lily asks, having been nine at the
time, in Ontario.
"No," he says.
52 She had wanted to bury him, him lying on the slope of the hole like the
filthiest bundle of rags and meat. She had said, "Before you came, I was
raped once." Her hair brown, and her eyes brown enough to be black,
fine bones under her brown, hollow-cheeked skin. "Five Germans who
took turns holding each arm and leg. One for each, and one for me, turn
by turn." Her French was schooled. Her Walloon he wouldn't have
known. There is a fountain in the garden.
"Then you should tell me," Lily says.
"No," he says. He feels that all of him is up in his chest and face and eyes,
spilling out even his ears.
She had asked to bury him, but there was no way. She couldn't have
moved him alone, much less dug him under. Hugh. Filthiest bundle of
rags. And no one could help her. He could send no man up there to dig a
hole for a dead man. Not even himself. Lord that he could have sent
himself. He looked at the two boys in the hole with him. Not Hugh.
They were looking at the coming night and the Germans they couldn't
see, and at the freezing ground. In his head he saw the other boys in
the other holes, the dozen or so left to him. He could send himself
least of all.
She had laid her hand on a long, evil shard of shrapnel in the mud,
fingering its broken-razor edge. "Give me your knife," she had said. And
he had pulled out the dagger from his boot. It hadn't much edge, meant
for plunging amongst ribs, mostly point. But it was long. She had taken
it, and found Hugh's heart amongst his ribs and wreckage, and hacked it
out. He hadn't stopped her. The two boys were looking somewhere into
the ground, where there were no Germans and maybe there was Lake
Cowichan or the streetcars on Granville Street. She had scraped a hole
in the mud up out there where no one should be, and buried Hugh's
heart in Belgium. She had said, "I must go and look for vegetables" and
left him his knife.
"Give me your hands," Lily says, and lifts him up. "Sausages and eggs,"
she says.
"Thank you," he says.
She looks at him like that again, sitting on his thighs with her legs wrapped around him. "You're a good man, Sergeant Collister." And he's not
sure which way or day at all. "Funny," he says, "she said the same thing."
53 "Being remembered by someone like you," Lily says, "is living in a holy
"I'm not so sure," he says, "about going down to breakfast with your sons
old enough — "
"Shush," she says, rising. "They're old enough to know their father when
they see one."
And he sits there looking eye-level at her cunt, thinking, yes, that's what
cunt means. A wedge. A woman. And he puts his hand there, saying
thank you to a woman. Yes.
54 Luchezar Elenkov
Superheated steam
floats above a planked roof.
A train stop it might seem
in a dank, ashtree wood.
But a door bangs open
wide as the world.
Out dashes a woman —
and heads for the freezing well.
Bare thighs ringing,
and distant ringing laughter.
A brief sun gliding
over the rounded shoulders.
Something that resembles
paired doves below the curved neck.
And vapor that trembles
wrapped about them yet.
Running feet that vanish
beyond the wall of a weir.
Then the watery splash
and a swan soaring free there.
translated from the Bulgarian byjascha Kessler
and Alexander Shurbanov
55 Gyorgy Somlyo
Ten longstemmed purple tulips
in a clay jug, blackglazed with yellow spots
just to copy
just to trace an outline
just to touch that matter
just the curved stems
just the petalled patterning
just the spaces
just the degree of tilting
just the poised turning dance
of these wild dervishes
of these girls dancing to death
of these gay martyrs
not giddy and vain creation
just mute humility
the one impossible act
just to copy precisely
to make it once more what it is
what it is no more
with mute humility to discover
its ontology and teleology
the pre-flower pre-stem pre-petal
the pre- word word
that will once more unfold
ten longstemmed purple tulips
in a clay jug, blackglazed with yellow spots
translated from the Hungarian byjascha Kessler
with Maria Kbrbsy
56 Marlene Cookshaw
Seven Months
how she salutes the morning by pivoting
on her left foot left hand, rolling
over the body of the man she lives with
how the dog licks her ankle when she stands
how the bathroom door won't latch
to keep the heat in and the cap
of the new toothpaste tube swivels
open, her thumb pressing fennel oil to
the opening like the circle her father
sawed in ice to winter-fish
how one often seasons fish with fennel
how she neglects to rebraid her hair
hooks the stray bits behind her ear
all the time running water
so it pours hot from the tap when
she bends to scrub her face with
a sandy medicinal potion, lemon-scented
lemon too
how the water runs into her mouth
and she holds it for a moment on her tongue
recalling sink-baths when her mother's
left hand spanned both collarbones
her mother's right hand sudsed her back
the kitchen window violets within inches
57 how she steps carefully down
the cold tiled stair
plugs in the kettle, measures
camomile into the china pot
how she'd give the alabaster egg
on her desk for a cup of black coffee
the water boils
how she runs shivering to the closet, fishes
in the drawer for her oldest undershorts
the lambswool chemise, the shirt
her former husband gave her,
the baggy corduroy trousers
she twirls the tea-ball, warms
her fingers on the porcelain
how she leans against the sideboard
the silk fraying in bits off
the belly which touches everything first
58 Pat Lane/ Three Poems
Old mother
on your nest of twigs and bits of bone.
What is it you are dreaming?
Small flowers of blood?
The wind's voice buried in the dust?
Beneath you your shadow lies waiting,
thin-shelled, dark against the soft
belly of your kill. Your beak tastes
grief, tastes exile, tastes
the altars where silence speaks.
I hold you to me like a sacrament.
I drink your endurance.
I hold the point of your talon
deep in my heart.
This river was a wall to the wandering buffalo
who drifted here in the last of summers
before turning back to graze their way south
into the American guns and the hunters
who shipped their tongues to the far east.
On the ancient brooding hills above the blue
great stones remain. Around their base
the wallow of the beasts curves in a deep
depression. Above them Marsh-hawks wheel.
But forget the hunters and their steel,
the old ones who still wish
the animals' return to these wide plains,
the farmers who still turn the rare
skull to sky with their deep plows.
The bones are long since shipped to Minneapolis,
a dream of charcoal stolen from the sun.
Above this river a child slides a stone
and does not know his long smooth falling
is a history of death, his breath
a breaking that the wind will steal.
But I, who wish to speak with history,
will sing of this though kingbirds cry
and coyotes move like ghosts
across the rolling grasslands.
There is nothing to atone, there is
only a dreaming, a child climbing
and a man above a river who still feels
the heart's revenge, the grieving and the earth
falling like a smooth stone into darkness.
And they took me to a bar in the deep valley
long after the sun had deserted the golden hills
and I went with them through the dark streets
where old men slept in their dreams and children
dreamed and women turned slow in their sleep
and there the band played songs I had not heard
since I was a child and some I had never heard
they were so old and some that were known
only in that place and I was bright among them
though they were strangers and did not know me
and she was beautiful, the woman I had come
for over a thousand miles through the sun
and the night and the wine and the blue
reaching of trees in the high mountains
and the endless flat plains with nothing
but grass and the high wheeling birds, she
was beautiful, full of what I had not known
and I drank there and I danced there
wildly with her and she danced with me
and she looked at no other man but me
until the shadows were a tangle of strings
and the band became lost in their music
and the music was wild in my mind and wild
was our dancing each with each other
while the strangers cried aloud
I tell you this though you will not
believe me seeing me here still young
that once I went among strangers
and danced and she was of a beauty
but do not ask me why I left that place
and do not ask me
61 Elizabeth Bartlett
She was a strong woman —
everybody said so.
She carried the mountain
on top her squirrel's back
Instead of cracking nuts
and leaving empty shells.
No wonder, when she died,
they looked in her ashes
For a piece of metal,
something out of this world-
A strange meteorite
or a collapsed old star.
62 Eugene Garber
The Cat Girl
The time came when the cats, six now, had to be seen as an infestation,
even by the mother. They lived upstairs in Sonia's room making entry
and exit over the tiles of the kitchen roof and the squares of cane which,
mounted on poles, shaded the kitchen courtyard. You were likely to hear
at any hour of the day or night the chucking of the tiles or the brushy
complaint of the cane under their feet. But it was not only their noise
that irritated, it was also their furtiveness. In the long garden between
the kitchen courtyard and the walled patio that looked down over the
Meditteranean they lurked like panthers among the shaded branches of
the mulberry, the medlar, and especially the chirimoya, whose wide
leaves and many forkings made for them ideal coverts. So when Maria
came out to hang her wash, there was always a subtle shifting up in the
trees. "Sssst!" Maria hissed. But her sibilance was ambivalent because
she loved Sonia more than she hated Sonia's cats.
Sonia's brother Carl, on the other hand, hated the cats with an
unalloyed purity of feeling. He hated them because Sonia had taught
them her disdain of all things Spanish. In her room or in their secret
bowers they were an enclave of hauteur and contempt, the most heinous
manifestation of which was their relentless attack on the small gray rats
that lived in the top of the date palm. These creatures Carl learned to
love from the very first. Maria had used the flashlight to show him one
night a rat scaling down the trunk of the palm and racing out across the
garden floor. "Siempre un rato solo."
"What does it do in the garden all by itself?" Carl had managed in his
primitive Spanish.
"No se," said Maria. "Dar un paso, bailar en la luz de la luna." I don't
know —take a walk, dance in the moonlight. She made in her richly larded
throat a low chuckle. Carl liked Maria. But he could not understand why
she loved Sonia —Sonia, who put between herself and all things Spanish
her aloofness, her books, her combing of her hair, her staring at the sea,
her cats, her disdain.
63 Probably Maria herself did not know why she loved Sonia.
Everybody, of course, loved la Senora Luisa, so perhaps it was necessary
to love the daughter for the mother's sake. But it seemed more complex
than that. Maybe Maria saw in the haughty blond girl a beloved antitype of herself—a chaste goddess from the severe mountains, the
snowfields, and the immortal evergreens, things she had seen only in
pictures. And when Sonia began to acquire her cats, luring them up to
her bedroom window with choice filets of hake, they were to Maria
perhaps no longer village alley cats but creatures of the frostline temporarily incarcerated here with Sonia in the barred sun and shade of
Carl began to watch for the rats at night. He discovered that the single
runner was a forager. Apparently dates were an insufficient diet. So it
gathered things and took them back up to the top of the tree for the
mothers and the pups—just what things Carl wasn't sure: snails, grubs,
beetles maybe. He loved watching the rat scurry down the tree trunk,
flash out under the moon, disappear in the shadows of the garden, and
reappear later with its mouth packed. He wondered if it, or its
comrades, made more than one foray, but he was always too sleepy to
stay up and watch.
The day before Carl found the first dead rat, slashed mercilessly, he
had a premonition of the cats' savagery. That afternoon there appeared
around the mulberry tree first one, then three, then a dozen, and finally
a great host of pale yellow butterflies flitting inexpertly in the sun — all in
the space of five minutes. How they had synchronized their emergence
from the larval stage so perfectly Carl could not imagine. But there they
were, an apparition of June sunlight, shimmering over the patio. Then
came the cats, dark as the shadows where they had been hiding. They
leaped up and batted the butterflies down, pausing only occasionally to
inspect the odourless smear of pale yellow on their claws. And Carl,
fascinated by this gratuitous carnage, did nothing for some moments
until finally he gathered his wits, snatched up a long stick, and swished it
at the cats like a sword. Routed, they dashed the length of the garden,
leaped up on the cane, and clattered across the roof tiles. He whirled his
stick triumphantly until they gathered in Sonia's window. Then he
"I see you," said Sonia, sitting on the sill, flanked by cats, all of them
looking down at him disdainfully as at some peevish juvenile. "When
will you ever grow up?"
"Didn't you see them killing the butterflies?"
Sonia smiled pityingly. "Kill? Those creatures of the hour, those
ephemera? I saw something quite different, little brother — a lovely ballet
of cats playing with evanescent coinages of the sun. And you destroyed
64 Carl turned and strode away. He hated talking to his sister. The
difficult words she learned from books pricked him like invisible darts.
He returned to the patio. But a light breeze had sprung up and was now
wafting the butterflies over the wall and out beyond the cliff that fell
sharply down to the water. Some, caught in a down draft, crashed
among the low green cactuses that clung to the talus of the cliff. But most
were blown out to sea, a fast thinning spray of gold.
The next morning Carl found the first of the dead rats, and the war
began. The discovery came at the tail end of some troublesome
thoughts. He had walked out into the garden after breakfast. The odour
was terrific from the cuarteles on the other side of the garden wall where
a half dozen fishing families lived in a congeries of adobe rooms without
benefit of plumbing. Normally the odour did not offend him, not even
when there was added the aroma of ripe fish frying in rancid oil. In fact,
he took pride in breathing it all in deeply, dissociating himself from
Sonia, who kept the air of her room constantly sweetened with colognes
that Maria was instructed to buy at La Tienda de Elena. But this
morning a sluggish breeze dumped the whole burden of the fisher folk's
poverty and crudity into the garden, driving Carl back up into the
ambience of the jasmine by the kitchen courtyard.
Sitting there in a wicker chair, Carl was profoundly disappointed in
himself. He had vowed to love everything Spanish, from the highest to
the lowest, vowed it for the sake of his dead father, who had planned this
Spanish summer and then passed away unexpectedly. But the doctor
had revealed that his father had known for some time of his coming
death, so the trip was clearly a posthumous gift. Consequently, whatever
their feelings, they must spend this summer in Spain. The house was
already rented. And a lovely house it was, with pure white walls, blue
floor tiles, high ceilings, and a lovely patio and garden. Carl
remembered his father looking at the photographs. But why hadn't his
father, thorough as he was, investigated the neighbourhood? If he had,
he would have learned that the house was flanked on one side by the
fishermen's cuarteles and on the other by a sun-bleached tomato field. He
would have learned that the narrow street in front was impossibly noisy.
"Ruidosa, ruidosa!" said Maria comically, holding her hands to her ears.
But la Sefiora Luisa didn't find it comical, nor Sonia, nor even Carl if
the truth be known. The roar of motor bikes, the incessant screaming of
fishermen's wives and children, the tinker's curious fluting, the clatter of
his cart, the bleated passage of herds of goats, the barking of dogs, and
even occasionally the heavy tread of an ox team — all this was too much
for Carl to pretend to love. So, in effect the dead father had sentenced
them to three months' imprisonment in house and garden. Maria, whose
services were part of the rental contract, did all the shopping, as well as
the cooking, washing, and cleaning —none of them need ever go out for
anything. They were prisoners, incommunicado.
65 A moment later Carl's thoughts went an even darker way. Suppose his
father, foreseeing precisely how things would be, was punishing him for
continuing life without him? Carl rejected that. Though his father had
been a little cold, he had never been vindictive. No, the summer in
Spain had to be seen as a gift, but a gift of what? Consolidation in the
face of grief? Well, if that was the intention, the trip was an utter failure.
For at that very moment, Sonia sat alone in her room, surrounded by
cats. And somewhere inside the house his mother pottered about
uselessly, trying to discover some chore that Maria had left undone.
Carl sighed, walked out into the garden, and found the first dead rat.
Initially he thought it was a fallen flower, its gashes petals, for there were
roses and tiger lilies nearby. But his second glance caught the gray fur
and the delicately ridged tail. He stooped over and examined the animal
carefully. The rib cage and the belly were raked evenly so that there was
a fine grid of red. Carl knew immediately that it was the cats. And of
course they hadn't killed to eat, fed as they were on hake and milk, which
Sonia had Maria bring back from the market every day. No, it was a
case of murder pure and simple. Carl noted that the rat's eyes were
open, bright little black beads. Perhaps rigor mortis had opened them,
but Carl preferred to imagine that the rat had died looking its assassins
straight in the eye. Also the mouth was open, the little pearly teeth shiny
in the sun —that, too, perhaps part of death's signature. But again, Carl
decided that it was a grin of disdain: even as the cats slashed it, the rat
smiled its contempt. Carl touched the little ears and ran his finger along
the back. The gray fur was suave, elegant, much finer than a cat's.
Carl wrapped the dead animal in a chirimoya leaf and buried it
between the canebrake and the mulberry tree. There, the sound of the
sea on the rocks below mingled with the whispering of the breeze in the
leaves above. He was not tempted to any ceremonies, those at his
father's funeral having left him cold. Indeed, the garden itself—the roses
and lilies bending in the wind and the cane and palm fronds making
mild plaint — seemed to perform a dignified ritual of morning. So Carl
was consoled and would have let the incident pass, but the next morning
he found another dead rat in virtually the same place.
Maria, from the kitchen courtyard, saw him crouching intently.
",;Que es, Carlito?"
"Un rato muerto."
"^Si?" Maria was surprised. She came over. "The cats," Carl said.
"Los gatos." Yes, Maria nodded. Always cats and rats are enemies.
Enimigos. The word struck Carl strangely — some sort of perversion of
amigo, something twisted in nature to cause one kind to kill another
without necessity of food. Maria touched his shoulder. "No puedes
cambiar la natura," she said. You can't change nature. But he was thinking
that these killings were not natural; they were ritual murders — occurring
in the same place, executed with the same slashes, the same fiery grilling
66 of red flesh. And what was worse, if this destruction of the foragers
continued, the families in the tree would soon starve.
Maria went back to her work. Carl made preparations to bury the rat
next to its comrade under the mulberry tree — folded the body in a green
pall of chirimoya leaf and began to dig the grave. Behind him were the
cats —two in the chirimoya, one in the medlar, two in the canebrake,
and one on Sonia's window sill. He knew their positions precisely though
he didn't actually remember seeing them there. But stranger and more
maddening than this was his feeling that they accepted him as one
engaged with them in the lugubrious but necessary extermination of the
rats, he the menial grave-digger. Oh how he hated the cats, symbol of
Sonia's denial of all things Spanish, denial of her father's plan for them.
Consequently, when he had patted down the freshly covered grave he
spun suddenly and hurled a grapeshot of pebbles into the trees. The cats
made a murmur, as of surprised regret, and glided up to Sonia's
window. Meanwhile, the rain of small stones spattered near the kitchen
courtyard. Maria looked up from her sweeping in surprise, and Carl's
mother stepped out from the house. "What in the world? Was that you?"
she said as Carl came trudging up the garden walk. "Well?"
"What were you doing?"
"Scaring the cats back up the yard."
The mother stepped farther out into the kitchen courtyard and looked
up at Sonia's window, as though seeing her daughter there surrounded
by her cats would somehow make clear her son's motives —an absurd
notion, Carl thought. But then all of his mother's mental processes were
slow nowadays, almost addled —an effect of his father's death followed
immediately by the difficulties of living in Spain. Why hadn't his father
foreseen that?
From the window Sonia dropped down her cool and disdainful voice.
"Haven't you noticed, Mother, that little brother does not like my cats?"
The mother looked puzzled. "They're killing the rats," Carl blurted
out, regretting it immediately, for his mother's face blanched. "Rats?"
"Yes, rats," said Sonia. "Can you imagine anything more foolish than
trying to stop my cats from killing the rats here in our beautiful villa?"
"Rats. I had no idea." The mother seemed overcome, as so often now,
by pitiable puzzlement.
Carl said, "They aren't ordinary rats, Mother. They're harmless rats
that live in the date tree and don't hurt anything. Isn't that true Maria?
Los ratos no dan dueno a nadie ,;verdad?"
"Si, si," said Maria looking from one to the other of them trying to
pick up the drift of the disturbance.
"There's no such thing as a harmless rat," said Sonia. "If nothing else,
they harm the beauty of our garden. Just picture rats running among the
roses, the lilies, and the bougainvillaea."
67 "No." The mother turned accusingly to Carl. "You must let the cats go
about their business, Carl."
Carl shrugged assent and walked back toward the patio, leaving the
women behind. He climbed the garden wall and sat there in the sun
looking over into the plot behind the cuarteles. There was no patio at the
end of that yard, only a sheer drop down to the rugged rocks along the
shoreline. On other occasions he had seen small children wander to the
cliffs edge, peer down, and walk back. He wondered if one had ever
been lost over the precipice, and if the mother had missed it from the
teeming throng. Well, today in any case the children were safe, all
gathered in a knot by one of the adobe doorways —twenty or more, from
ages two to twelve. Inside sat an old man. Carl could see a hand on a
stick and the brim of a battered hat. Apparently he was telling them a
marvelously arresting tale, because they were all still and silent for once.
Carl continued to survey the wretched yard —beaten bare except for an
occasional outcropping of tenacious furze. Over against the far wall that
separated the cuarteles from another unlucky neighbour was the open-
air privy, a scattering of large stones for standing or stooping. There
rank weeds thrived on the rich excrement. The flanks of Carl's nose
twitched involuntarily, and he was just about to turn and drop back
down into the garden when he spied a movement next to a scraggly
furze. It was a rat. In its teeth was some kind of food to be brought back
to the litter at home. Where? The rat bounced happily across the yard
with kangaroo-like leaps until it reached a pile of rock not far from the
cliffs edge. There it disappeared into a hole. So it was not of the date
palm family. Carl had hoped that it might be, that the date rats had
brazenly begun to slip foragers out under the eyes of the cats in broad
daylight. But no, the date palm rats were still under siege.
A resolve began to form in Carl's mind, spurred by the rat he had just
seen —something in its gait, in its achievement, however awkward, of a
kind of curvet, as though it bones presaged the appearance of a larger,
finer animal. And not only that, but also its blithe passage through the
human debris. Carl resolved to be the champion of the date palm rats.
That was settled. The next step was to plan their deliverance.
The flashlight was to be his weapon. He slipped out of his bedroom
when the house was quiet and took station in a chair between the kitchen
courtyard and the date palm. Presently the voices along the street and
the occasional cry of a child from the cuarteles ceased, and the wash of
the sea took possession of the night. Above, Sonia's light went out. A half
moon streaked the garden with pale silver, silhouetting roses and lilies
68 against the white wall. The cats, of course, remained concealed in mulberry, medlar, and chirimoya, but Carl felt their palpable gray shadows
flowing down the dark undersides of the trees. Still, he had no misapprehensions. He would see the forager rat come down, see the cats
descend and stalk. At the crucial moment his beam of light would flash
out and blind the cats, stopping them in their tracks and thus allowing
the rat to return safely.
Waiting, Carl fell into the long somnolent rhythm of the waves. No
wonder then that the descent of the rat down the trunk of the date palm
seemed like a darting from an altogether quicker world. It passed across
his field of vision so rapidly that it almost failed to make an image. But
he snapped to and followed the running of the rat through roses and lilies
until it disappeared into the canebrake on the other side of the walk.
Now he was alert, eyes wide, watching for the rat's return.
In the trees the cats leaned toward their third rendezvous with the
rats. Carl readied his light, pointing it to the ground near the tree,
pressing his thumb to the switch. And now his perceptions, which only a
short while before had stretched out along the elastic rhythm of the sea,
divided the minutes, even the seconds so finely that he could actually feel
them as a hair-like prickling on his face. In that tense traffic of miniscule
moments every eyeblink seemed dangerous. He began to sweat a
clammy sweat. His eyes twitched. Ironically then, perhaps inevitably,
the rat began its homeward dash through one of the narrow interstices in
Carl's attention. Even so, the thumb went forward almost instantaneously. The beam of light shot down on the ground and caused long
shadows to spring up behind every clod and pebble, among which the rat
threw the longest of all. So, for a moment Carl believed that the bright
shaft had foiled the cats, but then, almost as if someone had passed a
hand over the lens of the flashlight, the once illuminated area was
eclipsed. The cats struck. Carl saw their dark coats, saw the green hint of
their eyes, and saw, or imagined he saw, the clashing of teeth and talons
— all of which lacerated his eye horribly. But the sight of the swift kill
was not the worst of it. The worst was the single piercing scream that the
rat threw back from the threshold of its death. And then all was quiet,
the cats gone, the slashed rat lying dead on its side in the slant light.
Carl switched the light off and returned slowly to his room. No need
to examine the rat. He had seen it all before.
Carl awoke late. The sun was already high over the garden when he
got up. Maria was off shopping, but his mother was there in the kitchen,
trying to look purposeful and efficient. She laid fresh fruit out for him —
a banana, an orange cut in half, and a seeded section of honeydew
melon. She sliced and buttered several pieces of crusty bread and ran
them under the broiler of the little butane stove. Normally Maria fixed
breakfast, so this little instance of domestic need pleased the mother. She
69 smiled, but only for a moment before worry undid the smile. "Why are
you so late getting up, Carl? Do you feel all right?"
"I feel fine, Mother. I'm probably just picking up lazy Spanish habits."
"Well. . . ." She said no more, but seemed to drift off as so often lately.
Carl pretended to eat the breakfast with gusto, though she hardly
noticed. When he had finished, he thanked her and went out to bury
the rat.
This one had lain in the sun longer than the others. Its lips were curled
back. The bloody grid on its flank had gone from red to purple and now
threatened to glaze over with a putrescent green. Several ants had discovered the corpse and were busily at work on the eyes. So Carl hastily
wrapped the body and dug a third grave. When he had finished burying
the rat he looked up and saw Sonia sitting in her window as usual. Two
cats flanked her, precisely at each end of the sill, like sentinels. She
leaned forward so that her long blond hair brushed the shoulders of her
white gown and hung there in the sun like a golden pelt. Then she withdrew again into the shadow of the window. "Good morning, brother
Carl refused to answer. He turned his back, walked out onto the
patio, leaned on the wall, and looked down into the sea. Just below him a
sunning snake took fright and darted into a crevice among the rocks.
The movement did not give Carl the slightest start, a fact that caused
him to smile wryly. He had become a close companion to rats and snakes
and all creeping things. But that was all right. Better them than the
haughty, murderous cats. His thoughts turned to the events of the
previous night. If he could not ensure the rats safe passage, then he
would have to mount a counter-attack. But with what weapon? He
cogitated. Why, with the fruit of the chirimoya — hard, heavy, and
furnished with indentations that exactly fit the fingers, nature's hand
grenade. And ironically appropriate, too, in view of the cats' sinister love
of the shade of the chirimoya. But the prospect of this counter-violence
made Carl feel a bit queasy. Nevertheless he steeled himself to it. In fact,
he even gathered up a few of the fallen chirimoya fruit and heaved them
out into the ocean, to loosen up and to feel the heft of them.
"Are you cleaning up the garden, Carl?" Sonia called from the
"No, I'm playing war."
Sonia laughed her silvery ironic laugh.
Carl went back down to the patio again and looked out over the sea.
He thought of his father and of this summer in Spain, the meaning of
which was so murky. He shook his head. The summer must be a
mistake, the only major mistake his father had ever made, the forgivable
folly of a dying man. Carl shook his head. No, he couldn't accept that
because he couldn't believe that his father had lost, even briefly, his
70 famed clarity of vision. Not even death had dimmed it — a thought that
forced Carl to recall his father's dying, a strange dying, terrifying in its
swiftness. One day his father was at home with them as always; the next
he was in the hospital, never to return. And in the hospital the decline
was incredibly swift. And how strangely his father had attended his own
dying, careful, of course, to be kind and solicitous of them when they
came, but in fact very much occupied with death. He lay very still,
concentrating on dying—not in a morbid way, but to ensure that his
mind and flesh conformed to death's dictates. The only horror would be
to oppose death, to die struggling and thrashing about. And at the end
he simply folded his hands on his chest, let the flesh of his face go slack,
attenuated his breathing, and at last died, almost imperceptibly.
Carl sighed. There was not the slightest chance his father had made
any miscalculation in his plans for their Spanish summer. No, the
architect had laid it all out in his imagination, just as he set down at his
drawing board the designs of beautiful houses and buildings. All had
been there in his mind — blue sky and sea, garden and house, even the
noisy street, the cuarteles, and the tomato field. But why? Father, he
longed to say, what does it all mean?
After such puzzlement it was good to be sitting there in the dark, ready
to act. The flashlight was carefully wedged under the arm of a second
chair so that when he flicked the switch the beam would remain fixed on
the area between the walk and the date tree. He held a chirimoya fruit in
his right hand. Others lay at the edge of the courtyard, a small arsenal.
When he saw the enemy he would strike. He did not think, did not feel.
The moon sailing over the sea merely furnished light. He knew nothing
of beauty. The sea washing sweetly against the rocks was merely a sound
he had to prick his ears against, so that he could hear the tell-tale rustle
of the enemy.
So Carl was ready. Let the cats come. The forager rat had been out in
the garden for some time now. It should be on its way back to the palm.
Carl's legs tensed. His hand gripped the fruit more firmly. When at last
the rat crossed the walk and dashed for the tree, he had the light on in a
trice. The cats struck. He threw the first fruit into their midst, but the
cats did not scatter. He instantly began to gather up others and hurl
them one after the other at the attackers. But to his horrified astonishment none of them struck home, nor could he tell why. He could see the
heavy pods streaking down the light beam right on target, but when they
reached the cats, instead of striking with the thud he had expected,
instead of raising a terrified yowling, they passed through harmlessly,
7i bouncing on the ground and smashing against the wall that divided the
garden from the cuarteles. It was almost as though their passage were
along a plane not occupied by the cats, or as though the image of the cats
were a clever projection, of no substance at all. Then they were gone, the
elusive cats. And there lay the dead rat, just as before. Carl unwedged
his flashlight from the chair and bent down over the rat. On each flank
glistened the same precise slashes.
But how on earth had the close-packed cats dodged the chirimoya
fruit? It was uncanny. It gave Carl a dizzy feeling, as though he were
perched on a high promontory from which he could look down on the
cats, look but not intervene. He returned to his chair and sat for a while
without moving, afraid to move actually, afraid of toppling. A little later
he heard a tiny scratching on the trunk of the date palm. A second rat
descended and scurried across the garden floor. Carl shook his head.
What folly. Did the rats think that the cats were not smart enough to
watch for just this, an unexpected second foray during the same night?
Then he shook his head at his own folly. The rats, of course, were not
thinking at all. They were desperate. They had passed four nights
without the necessities the foragers were supposed to bring back. Carl
could picture the scene —the males hunkering restlessly, the females dry
in their dugs, the pups squirming blindly. In the end, of course, the
adults would eat the pups, if it came to that.
Carl walked slowly back to the dark house. He was tired. The next
day there would be two bodies to be buried, or more. And the spectres
of starvation and cannibalism shadowed the date palm. He must devise a
plan. But he didn't know where to start.
He awoke heavy-headed the next day. He had not dreamed, which
was a disappointment, because he had hoped that something would
come to him during the night —a vision, the voice of his father,
something. But it hadn't. When his mother peeped in at the door, he told
her he didn't feel like breakfast and would stay in bed a little longer. No,
he was not really sick. He would come out and get some fruit later. So
his mother went away, but before long Maria came back from the
market. "iQue tienes, Carlito?"
"Nada, nada."
Nevertheless she felt his forehead while Senora Luisa stood by
worriedly. "No fiebre," said Maria.
"I'm not sick," said Carl, while Maria looked expertly into his eyes.
She also made him stick out his tongue. "Bueno, ique duele?"
"Nada, nada. Solamenta cansado." Maria smiled shrewdly. "iLos
ratos?" He nodded. His mother said, "What is it, Carl?"
Carl smiled sheepishly. "Maria figured it out. I've been up watching
the rats, Mother. They're fascinating."
"Fascinating! They're filthy. Leave them to Sonia's cats. Do you hear
me, Carl? I want you to stop watching the rats. Immediately." The
72 mother's injunction was passionate, almost tearful. Nevertheless, Carl
sidled away. Sitting up in bed, holding up one finger with comic gravity,
he spoke in a Spanish accent. "Tonight I weel comblete my experiment
and all the world weel know of my startling deescovery."
"I don't like this, Carl." The mother sighed deeply. "Just one more
night, and no more. Absolutely no more."
Carl nodded. "Vayan ustedes. El gran doctor tiene que pensar,
pensar." Maria tsked at his impoliteness, but the two of them nevertheless departed. And now he felt better. He had committed himself to one
last night with the rats. He had to plan something decisive and carry it
out. That was that.
Later he ate some fruit and went out into the garden to bury the rats,
only two after all. Sonia called to him from her window. "How are you
enjoying your nights in a garden of Spain, little brother?"
"Bastante bien. Espero que yo no moleste a mi hermana." The
Spanish would annoy her, he knew. So he was a little surprised when she
spoke again, running her fingers idly, almost coquettishly between ear
and hair. "No, you're not molesting me, Carlito. But the nights would be
sweeter if less disturbed, don't you think?" She drew one of her cats
Carl smiled an unpleasant smile. "No tenga miedo, senorita. Esta
noche es la ultima."
"Really?" said Sonia, raising her eyebrows. "I'm surprised, Carlito.
I've always heard that rats are very hard to exterminate."
Carl turned his back on his sister and went about his funeral chores.
When he was done he sat in a corner of the patio hidden from the house
by the canebrake. He tried to think of how to get the rats down out of the
palm, out of reach of the cats. But no plan came to him. Below, the sea
swished gently. In the garden the breeze died as the sun rose higher.
Carl let his mind go slack. What came into it was an image of his father
seated on a high three-legged stool at his drafting table. Carl glimpsed
the T-square, the ruler, the calipers, and the other architect's
instruments made variously of fine wood, transparent plastic, stainless
steel — all shining in the bright light of the cobra lamp that bent over the
table like a little hooded sun. And despite the difficult perspective, he
could make out the general outline of the design — a curious stockadelike structure, different from anything he'd ever seen his father draft.
The architect's hands moved deftly, almost hypnotically, over the paper.
And then, absolutely without warning, they were gone, leaving in Carl's
eye only the loose lines of the canebrake swaying in the breeze.
A moment later Carl sat forward with a start. The solution to the
problem of the rats had been given to him —a stockade would be needed,
one which provided for protection as well as escape. He stood up and
looked around for materials. There was the canebrake, of course, but he
couldn't chop it down.  Maria would never permit that.  He could,
73 however, safely strip off all the long fronds he needed for weaving the
walls together. But where would he get the stakes? He thought of the
plaited cane panels over the kitchen courtyard, but obviously he
wouldn't be allowed to take those down. Where could he get stakes? His
mind was moving fast now. He climbed up onto the wall that separated
the garden from the tomato field. And there was what he needed, an
extra supply of the canes that the farmer used to stake the vines. But at
that moment two men were working in the field under the shade of their
floppy straw hats —one gathering tomatoes, the other hoeing. The harvester looked up. Carl waved innocently, sat down on the wall, and
watched the workers as if fascinated. In actuality he was calculating the
number of stakes he needed. He would filch them during siesta time.
At its base the date palm was about two feet in diameter. He would
want the stockade wall to circle the trunk at a distance of two feet or so, a
wall therefore, by quick calculation, of about twelve feet in circumference, with an opening for a small exit. So, if the stakes were to be about
four inches apart, he would need roughly thirty-five stakes. And for the
narrow corridor that would run from the circular stockade some four feet
to the cuarteles wall? Another twenty-five stakes. He looked down at the
farmer's supply. Yes, he was sure there were sixty there, easily.
The next thing he had to think about was breaching the wall so that
the fleeing rats could escape into the cuarteles. He couldn't begin to do
that now because Maria and his mother would see him. He didn't care if
they saw the cane wall rising. That would seem to them merely mysterious or boyish —the work of the mad Dr. Carlos. But the hole he didn't
want them to see. That would give away the plan, and they would
probably resist. Sonia he didn't have to worry about because the site of
the hole was hidden from her window by the date palm. The upshot of
his planning was that he would be very busy at siesta time, breaching the
wall while his mother and Maria napped, and borrowing the canes while
the tomato field workers rested from their morning labors. Meanwhile,
he began to gather a supply of cane strippings. These, fortunately, were
plentiful — strewn over the ground and dangling from the living canes.
Some were old and brittle, but the great majority were still stout and
serviceable. These he uncurled and stretched out between stones that he
arranged at the far end of the patio. Also, he dampened them so that
they would be pliable when he began to weave them into the wall later
that afternoon.
Thus passed the remainder of the morning. Maria and his mother
were busy and paid no attention to him. Sonia, of course, had to shoot
her barb. "What are you planning to do, little brother —make a long
braid like Rapunzel and lower it down from the roof to your besieged
Carl went silently about his work. By mid-afternoon he had gathered
up sufficient canes from the tomato field and began to dig the access hole
74 through the cuarteles wall with a garden trowel. The ease with which he
had loosened the stones was a great relief to him, because he had feared
that the wall would be stubborn and hard. But as it turned out, the old
mortar was sandy, and so without a great deal of prying he made his
small passageway and then carefully replaced the loose stones to conceal
it until he would remove them again that night.
It was in the late afternoon, when he was driving the stakes and
weaving the walls, that his project received the full attention of the
women. Maria's concern focused on the canes —he assured her that the
very next day they would be returned to the tomato farmer intact. His
mother worried about his purposes in constructing this curious corral or
whatever it was. "What on earth is it?"
"A hoopoo."
The mother fretted. "Well, what's it for?"
"Don't you see, Mother," said Sonia from above, "he's simultaneously
going to wall out my evil cats and wall in his pets, out of harm's way."
"Is that it, Carl?" the mother said.
"No. It's a hoopoo."
"Es loco," said Maria and bustled off with her broom.
"He says it's a hoopoo," said his mother to Sonia. "Do you know what
that is?"
"Of course not. It's just something he's made up to mystify us."
"A hoopoo is a cane wall that rises up one day and comes down the
"Yes, but what is it for?"
"It's part of my experiment, Mother, the one I told you about this
morning. And tomorrow I'll tell you how it all came out."
"A sort of miniature Troy," said Sonia. "You know what happened to
the topless towers of Ilium, though, Carlito. Down they came in flames."
His mother spoke again, even more fretful than before. "And I
suppose none of the rest of us can see it."
"No, not even I will see it," he lied. "It must be absolutely quiet." He
went back to his work. He had to finish everything before dark —except,
of course, the removal of the stones from the wall. Fortunately, his
mother went away, and soon his work on the passageway put him out of
Sonia's sight. Presently the undisturbed mechanical labor allowed him to
think again of the one aspect of his plan which still worried him. How
was he to get the rats down from their nest? He had thought of flood. It
would be easy enough to train water from the garden hose up into the
top of the tree. But Carl didn't think that would work. The rats would
just hunker down and let the water drain off. What would work best?
For a while he was stumped, and then the answer came to him —from
Sonia of all places. Fire.
How simple. All he needed was the stepladder, a stout cane, some
rags, and the old can of motor oil he had seen under the kitchen sink.
75 Fire. Down would come the rats, into the hoopoo, and then out the
passageway to the freedom of the cuarteles. El fin.
Shortly after midnight Carl removed the loose stones from the wall, then
set in place the last canes of the passageway. Next, he quietly unfolded
the ladder and set it up at the edge of the kitchen courtyard. Then he
climbed up with his long cane, an oil-soaked rag tied to the end, and
struck a match. The rag made a high flame and a dense smoke that rose
up black against the moonlit sky. He carefully guided the flame over the
top of the date palm and then lowered it down. Immediately there came
a crackling from the thin fronds of the palm. Good, thought Carl —not
only the fire and the heat but also the noise would act to drive the rats
down. But after two or three minutes no rats appeared. The burning rag
dimmed and went out leaving only a thin curl of smoke rising from the
scorched tip of the cane. Carl shook his head and climbed down. He tied
another rag around the cane tip and this time soaked it until it was
dripping copiously with excess oil. The flame shot higher than before
and now the partially dried fronds flared fitfully with a greenish flame,
but the rag burned down. And still no rats appeared.
Carl regretted the extreme measure he was now forced to use, but it was
necessary, necessary for the rats' own good. He attached to the cane a
dangling series of rags, strips tied one to the other like the tail of a kite.
He would lower the flame directly down into the rats' nest. However,
when he had soaked the rags and climbed the ladder again, a voice
pierced the stillness of the garden. It was Sonia. "Are you sure,
Prometheus, that your friends the rats will know how to use it?" She
laughed her silvery laugh, which set his teeth on edge. He ignored the
question and said instead, "I hope all your cats are in." He tried to generate an ominous tone, but it fell flat, because it was silly. What threat
was he to the cats with his awkward long cane of fire? Anyway Sonia was
saying, "Of course not, Carlito. How could I keep them in and deprive
them of the great spectacle of the summer? They're perched all around in
the trees, and I know if they could applaud, they would." Again the
whicker of forced mirth. "Before you light the next one, don't you think
we ought to call Mother? She's very interested in all these exploits of
your boyhood, you know."
"You've probably already wakened her up," said Carl. The possibility
spurred him to action. He lit the long tail of rags, hoisted it up, and
carefully lowered it into the palm. The fronds crisped and flashed green
flame again. The rag tail burned unevenly. Flaming pieces of it began to
drop down into the top of the palm. And then it happened. The rats,
with a sudden terrified outcry, began to scurry down the trunk. Carl saw
76 hefty males, smaller rats, and mothers with pups in their teeth —dozens
of them. He would never have dreamt the palm could house so many.
Down the trunk they fled. And then followed a horrifying chaos. Many,
as planned, fled down the narrow passage to freedom in the cuarteles.
But others panicked, leaping or scrambling over the wall into the garden.
Down swarmed the cats, horribly agitated. The swift silent executors of
previous nights became a yowling company of slaughterers ripping
madly through the garden, slashing indiscriminately, furious because
there were more running rats than they could catch and kill.
Carl, paralyzed by the sudden din, continued to hold the cane over
the palm until the last flame sputtered out. The moment coincided
almost perfectly with the return of something like silence. The cats could
be heard patrolling the canebrake and the garden, but apparently all the
rats were either fled or dead. Then came the voice of his mother from the
kitchen door. "What in the world?" Carl began to descend the ladder.
His mother in her white robe stepped out into the moonlight, looking
decidedly spectral. Then, just as Carl reached the courtyard, the bloodcurdling scream of a rat pierced the night, followed immediately by the
yowling of a cat down by the mulberry, not a yowl of triumph, however,
but a throaty cry of pain. The mother moaned and began to totter. Carl,
reaching her just in time to keep her from collapsing on the hard tiles,
lowered her gently. She was entirely unconscious. He looked up at
Sonia in the window. "Come down here and help me, dammit!"
Carl lifted his mother's knees. Somewhere he had heard that. He also
tried chaffing her wrists and slapping her cheeks gently, but it wasn't
until Sonia came with a bowl of cold water and doused her face that she
blinked her eyes and came to. Even then, however, she didn't look at her
two children bending over her, but fixed her eyes on the moon out over
the sea.
"Mother. . ." Carl began, but she shook her head gently. "Tell me
about it tomorrow." Then she offered them her hands and they lifted her
up and helped her back to bed. Carl, his head flooded with all sorts of
images and feelings, did not stop to reflect on how curiously quiet
Sonia was.
But the next morning, not so emotionally surfeited, he was amazed
when Sonia came down from her room and joined him in the kitchen
courtyard. He said nothing, however, because something in her face
warned him not to comment, warned him also to stop scrutinizing her,
which is what he was unconsciously doing, because she was very striking
there in the early sunlight, in a long white nightgown that stopped just
above her bare feet, which shone snow white on the brown tiles of the
patio. And her golden hair made an undulant sheen in the sun.
"Well?" she said crisply. Her meaning was perfectly clear: shall we
proceed to examine the aftermath? So Carl led the way to the enclosure he had
built around the trunk of the palm. It looked much shabbier than when
77 he had finished it at dusk. The palings were not equally spaced, and the
weaving of cane strips had already begun to unravel. "I'll take it down
later," he said.
Sonia lifted her blue eyes to the top of the tree, where the bristly fronds
— some scorched but most still bright orange — stirred in the breeze.
"You think it has served its purpose?"
"Yes," Carl said, and began to thread his way slowly through the rose
bushes toward the patio. He found four dead rats, peremptorily
mangled, their wounds very different from the ritually neat slashings of
previous nights. He gathered them up by the tails and carried them to
the patio, not looking back at Sonia until he had made a pile of corpses.
Then he turned and watched her slipping carefully between the thorny
branches of the rose bushes. The image was so beautiful that it startled
him — the big red blossoms passing across her white gown like fresh
gouts of blood that threatened but could not stain her purity. And
behind stood the white wall, splashed with red and purple bougainvillaea, like the site of some ancient martyrdom, the blood of which never
browned. Now Sonia was lifting her gown daintily up above her ankles
so that the hem of her gown would not be soiled. Once on the patio Sonia
took no notice of the dead rats, but stepped to the wall and looked out
over the sea. Carl said, "There'll be a lot more on the other side of the
garden." Sonia merely gave a slight nod of her head which meant, Well,
lead the way. But when he had crossed over under the shade of the
mulberry and was about to start the second leg of this sad search, she
said from behind, "There will be a cat."
"A cat?" He did not understand.
"Yes. There were only five cats this morning."
"Probably he chased some rats over into the cuarteles or the tomato
field and will come back later."
Carl shrugged and went on about his business. The first dead rat lay
between the mulberry and the canebrake. He picked it up by the tail. He
had six in all by the time he reached the kitchen courtyard, having
searched the canes, Maria's tomato patch, and the shaded grass under
the chirimoya. He was just turning to watch Sonia pass through the
shadow of the big tree when she said in a high tense whisper, "Look!"
He turned and came back to where she was stooping. The object of
her scrutiny was a blind pup sucking hungrily at its mother's teat, but
the mother was dead and milkless, so the pup would suck fruitlessly for
some moments and then rummage around among the other barren
teats, all the while emitting a high thin piping. "How did it get here,"
said Sonia.
"The mother was carrying it in her teeth, but didn't make it over into
the tomato field."
78 "Could she have climbed the wall?"
Sona stood up. "You'd better kill it."
"No," said Carl. "I'll put it over in the cuarteles. Another mother
might find it. If not, it will die soon enough." So he folded the pup in a
chirimoya leaf, crossed the garden, and dropped it gently on the other
side of the wall. Then, as he was returning to Sonia, he saw the cat. It
was almost directly above her, dead, draped across a fork of the
chirimoya tree about ten feet from the ground, its tongue dangling from
its mouth and its neck brown with dried blood. A rat had managed to
nip the jugular.
"There's your missing cat," said Carl, pointing, his voice absolutely
toneless. Sonia looked up. Perhaps her eyes narrowed momentarily.
Otherwise she betrayed no emotion. "Bring it down please."
Carl climbed up, took hold of the dead cat by the scruff, and lowered
it down to her. Fresh blood oozed onto her nightgown. She turned and
walked with the corpse back toward the patio. Carl followed her. Was
her step slow and stately as in a procession, or did he only imagine that?
In any case he did not break the dignified silence until she had laid the
dead cat on the ground under the mulberry. Then he said, "You want
me to dig a grave for it when I dig one for the rats?"
She looked at him carefully. "Are you going to put all the rats in a
single grave?" Well, thought Carl, this sister in the blood-stained gown
was very different from the sylph-like sister of the rose garden. This one
had an unflinching eye and a stern voice. "Yes," said Carl.
"Dig it deep and bury the cat with them."
Carl immediately got his trowel and started digging a long trench.
The work went fast because the soil there in the shade of the mulberry
was loamy. Sonia stood above him and watched — not with great
interest, he thought, but as one obliged to await, for propriety's sake, the
completion of a doleful task. Perhaps she would say or do something
when the bodies were committed to the grave. But Carl's task now was
not to speculate, but simply to dig. Still, after a while the silence got
uncomfortable and he said, "What was his name?"
"Cats have no names," said Sonia. "Tom, Puss, Priss — poo!"
At that moment Carl became aware that the other cats were watching
from the chirimoya, but there was nothing in their presence of the
intense leaning quality he had felt on the three previous nights. The wild
running of the rats had destroyed the elegant precision of their world.
Carl almost regretted it.
Just then his mother appeared in the kitchen courtyard in her pink
robe of tiny floral design. He started to call up to her good morning! but
caught himself. He didn't want to strike a false note. So he said nothing,
but rather waited silently there with Sonia while their mother came
79 down the walk. How had the events of the previous night affected her?
He was full of anxiety, but not for long, because there was something in
the manner of her approach that reassured him. She walked very slowly,
but her step was firm. And if there was a certain tearfulness in her
glance, it was nevertheless steady, determined to take in whatever was
there. He wished that he had already buried the dead rats and cat, but
when he looked over at the pile of bodies and back again, he saw that
Sonia had followed his glance, and her eyes said clearly, let her see them.
Yes, he agreed, it was better that way.
So, from the walk, her arms folded beneath her breasts, the mother
took in everything — Sonia's stained gown, the dead animals, and the
long grave. "Well," she said, speaking with a slow precision which
triumphed over the threat of a quaver, "How did the experiment go?"
Carl felt that she was going to be all right. He smiled. "To tell you the
truth, Mother, it wasn't an experiment. I fibbed. It was a plan to get the
rats out of the tree and away from the cats."
"And away from us, too, I hope," said the mother almost severely,
giving him a decisive nod. Carl was glad to see these signs of strength.
He smiled and started to speak, but already Sonia was saying, "Purely
coincidental Mother. It was essentially a great exodus to freedom, with
Carlito the savior."
The mother looked again at the dead animals. "But there was a defect
in Carl's plan after all?"
"Well," said Sonia, "some of the rats panicked. Otherwise, they would
all have escaped through Carlito's ingenious passageway to the wonderful world of the cuarteles, where even now they are hailing the king of
rodentdom." Sonia sent forth a peal of gay laughter that shredded the
gloom hanging over the dead animals.
The mother spoke again, addressing herself more to Sonia than to
Carl. "Then the episode is ended?"
Sonia pouted comically. "Not episode, Mother, epic."
Now Maria appeared standing at the edge of the kitchen courtyard,
also with her arms folded. Obviously she intended to show them an
absolutely expressionless countenance, but in fact, even at that distance,
Carl could make out the mixture of disapproval and curiosity in her
face. Predictably, then, she came down the garden walk, joined the
mother, and looked over at the funeral pile. "Pues," she said after a
cursory inspection of the bodies. That was all. Well. As though no more
words ought to be wasted on Carl's nocturnal foolishness or its distasteful results. With considerably greater interest, however, she turned to
the seiiora and looked at her with deep concern. The concern, Carl
noted, quickly evaporated. Nevertheless, Maria took the senora's elbow
rather firmly and started her back up the garden walk. "Senora, usted no
debe preocuparse con tantas tonerias." Then almost immediately she
added, jQuemananabonita!"
80 But it was Maria's first statement that Sonia picked up a moment
later. "Stupidities is a little harsh, Carlito, but you do dig awfully slowly.
I'm going up."
"You're not staying for the last rites?"
"I'll listen from my window. Intone them deeply."
Carl shrugged, then said, "Ask Mother about your gown. I think it's
lemon juice and cold water unless it's too late."
"Thank you for the suggestion, Carlito, but I've decided to burn it."
"Que lastima." Again Carl shrugged. But his insouciance was
pretended, because even as Sonia turned to walk away he had a vision of
her naked flesh burnished by the flames into which she had thrown her
blood-stained gown. He dug vigorously and soon had a grave large
enough for all the bodies. He put the cat in first and then arranged the
rats around the edges. It was a purely practical procedure, no symbolism
intended. Neither were there any last rites. In fact, he made no formal
valediction of any kind. The truth of the matter was that his thoughts
were running another way —in the direction of the question he had
asked more than once before: What was the meaning of this summer in
Spain? How had he come to be at exactly that place? A strange image
came to him: he was at the center of a motionless hub around which
wheeled cats, rats, roses, white walls, sea and sky, sun and moon. The
cats suddenly scampered up the yard and gathered in Sonia's window
like a five-pointed star, gray, fading, as it were, in the dawn. They, too,
seemed a center.
Carl sighed, tamped the grave, stood up, and walked slowly out onto
the patio. The sea was just now recovering its deep blue from the tarnish
which the early slant sunlight had splayed over its surface. But it was still
in its early-morning condition of random restiveness, its swells neither
settling seaward nor breaking against the rocks but only slapping and
sloshing along the shore. This aimlessness of the sea shattered Carl's
image of the center. Suppose there was no center but only an endless
skein of forces looping all over the place, with an occasional illusory knot
like a certain spot in a garden or a star of cats? The idea was absolutely
dizzying, sickening. He sat down in a corner of the patio wall. Its unyielding solidity was comforting. Let the shapeless tangle of the world's
lost purpose unwind itself right there before his feet — dead rats and
cats, dying seas and suns, seething slums, whatever. He would just dig
in deeper, there in his personal cul-de-sac.
Inevitably, he dozed. And when he awoke he discovered that the
things around him had changed and left him behind, laggard in sleep.
The mulberry, for example, was lifting its branches, beckoning and
pointing in an absolute chaos of signals, as though the tree were seized
by an attack of antic animism. Below, out of sight, the sea soughed
and sucked in the rocks with a deeper, more regular rhythm, but Carl
knew without looking that the marshalled rows of white caps were only
81 just now forming in the offing. And up in the window the star of Sonia's
cats beside the golden fall of her hair seemed to be dimming in the sun's
advance. So everything was involved in the morning's transit. What
could Carl seize that might help him regain his place?
He got to his feet and peered into the canebrake, but the canes,
blowing in the contrary breeze, only rattled and shook their thin heads.
So he proceeded on through the cane and the staked tomatoes into the
chirimoya shade, gazing intently into the darkness by the wall. But there
was nothing there either. He veered over to the walk and went on toward
the kitchen courtyard, which was empty, Maria gone to market and his
mother somewhere in the cool interior of the house. And then he saw it,
off to his left, the work of his own hands. How suddenly old, absolutely
ancient it appeared there in the harsh morning light, like an immemorial
ruin, his hoopoo. He smiled. What was a hoopoo? Who in this distant
age could decipher the meaning of that primordial structure?
Carl stepped over and began to examine the curious edifice with the
care and discernment of a seasoned archaeologist. He noted, for
instance, that the tops of the stakes were evenly cut and concluded,
therefore, that the builder had available to him a sharp instrument made
of polished stone or metal. The binding strips, however, were of uneven
width and generally frazzled at the end, so they undoubtedly had been
prepared by hand. And the placement of the stakes, though generally
even, was variable enough to assure the investigator that the primitive
builder had used no measuring device. Carl took the top of the wall in
his two hands and gave it a shake. It was quite stout, the stakes well
driven and tightly bound. But what was more interesting than these
details of construction was the shape and function of the thing. Basically
it was a circle, the most pleasing of all geometrical forms, his father had
once informed him. Why? Because of its fullness and symmetry, which
implied plenitude. Plenitude. That was the very word his father had
Back to the hoopoo. The eccentricity in the design was, of course, the
narrow passageway. Yes, yes. Carl smiled and touched the top of the
passageway wall once, twice, thrice, to signal its import to a colleague.
The colleague was a specialist in native architecture — a very good man
but one who, in Carl's opinion, often pressed too hard for practical
explanations when the real clues lay in the realm of ritual or myth.
"Alas," said Carl to his colleague, "out here pours the lovely symmetry of
the otherwise perfect circle."
"Poetic," said the colleague, "but perhaps not entirely relevant." The
words came crisply from under the architect's thin mustache, which
seemed to perform the function of brushing from his sentences any stray
crumbs of looseness or pleonasm. "I would suggest that we have here an
entry way or an exit."
82 "Which?"
"The former in all probability — a trap of some kind."
"For very small creatures," said Carl.
"Yes, but jumpers. Mark the height of the wall."
Carl nodded meditatively. "Well I'm not sure it's a functional structure
at all, except in a figurative sense."
"That the trap may be for an earth spirit who crawls up out of the soil,
one necessary for the fertility of the land." Carl knew the minute he said
it that he was in over his head, but he plunged on. "Consequently, there
has to be a place where the womb-like enclosure is broken by a passageway. ..." Here he stopped because the architect had actually begun to
whicker — and suddenly Carl loved the man for his whicker, betraying
as it did great caverns of lusty laughter below the crusty exterior. At
length the architect managed to stop long enough to say, "I do hope,
Carl, that you will spare us the indelicacy of further explication of the
symbolism." Then the whickering went on, turning in fact into a high
whinnying that rose up toward the roof of the house. Carl looked up. It
was Sonia, of course. She had changed her stained gown for another of
delicate beige. As a consequence, Carl's first glance startled him. He
thought she was naked. But of course she wasn't, sitting there on the
window sill, catless, her book closed in her lap, her head thrown back so
that she could point the rich whinnying laugh to the skies, and her
golden hair falling over her shoulders. She stopped laughing and looked
down at him. "Have you gone completely out of your mind, Carlito?"
"What was I doing?"
"Don't you know?"
He shook his head. "No. I was in a shamanistic trance, flying back
and forth entre Espafia y Marueco."
"Really! Well here in the garden, if I may be so mundane, you seemed
to be having a private self-congratulatory conversation with yourself
about the beauties of your little stockade."
"Hoopoo." Sonia pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I'll tell you what
Carlito. Why don't you stand inside the hoopoo and I'll etch the picture
in my mind's eye so that ever after I can tell you what you and your
hoopoo looked like on this memorable day."
"All right." Carl quickly tore out a small section of wall, entered, and
leaned against the tree.
"Very good Carlito. If you had on a pith helmet, we would look for a
black pot and cannibals with bones in their noses." She laughed again.
Meanwhile the architect stood leaning on the wall of the hoopoo, his
face still burnished with suppressed laughter. "Be careful, old man.
You'll begin to think you have there the tree Iggdrasil or the lotus stem
83 that supports the heavens." But Maria drove him away, shaking her
finger violently at Carl and saying, "Tu tienes que devolver los palos al
"Yes," said his mother coming out at just that moment. "Take them
back, Carl. We don't want to get the reputation of being thieves."
"Poor Carlito," said Sonia.
But Carl didn't move for a few minutes. He remained leaning there
against the tree, surrounded by his hoopoo. Let them laugh. It was the
world axle. Everything turned around it, from the blue sea to his sister's
laughing face, and all things beyond, if he could see them. Then after a
while he stood away from the tree. "You got it?" he called up to Sonia.
So he began to tear down the hoopoo, unbinding the stakes one by
one, which was hot work, for the sun was now high over the garden.
Elizabeth bartlett's poetry, fiction, and translations have been published widely in
Canada and the United States. Her most recent book is Memory is No Stranger (Ohio University Press, 1981).
Robert Bringhurst was born in California in 1946 and attended the University of
Indiana and the University of British Columbia. A volume of new and selected poetry,
The Beauty of the Weapons, will appear through McClelland & Stewart in the Fall of 1982.
Nicole Brossard was born in Montreal in 1943 and received a Governor-General's award
in 1975 for her book of poetry Mecanique Jongleuse. She was one of the founders of the
influential literary quarterly, La Bane dujour and of the feminist newspaper, Les Tetes de
Pioches. English versions of her work, including, A Book (1976) Turn of a Pang (1976), and
Daydream Mechanics (1980), have appeared through Coach House Press.
Derrick Carter is a Vancouver-based Art Director/Graphic Designer who works
primarily in image advertising. He has won a number of national awards for various
advertising and design projects.
MarleneCookshaw lives in Victoria, B.C. Her work appeared previously in PRISM20:1.
Frank Davey teaches in the English and Creative Writing Departments at York
University in Toronto. His most recent volume of poetry, The Arches: Selected Poems, was
published by Talonbooks in 1981 in a series which also included the selected works of
George Bowering, Fred Wah, bill bissett, bp nichol, and Daphne Marlatt.
Ray Ellenwood's translations of Claude Gauvreau's Entrails were recently published by
Coach House Press. The Shadow and the Hoop, and Petrouchka, were being prepared for
printing here at that time and are published with their permission.
Jon Furberg teaches in the English Department of Vancouver Community College. The
poems in this issue are drafts from the manuscript, Anhaga, to be published by Pulp Press
in 1982, and are based on the Anglo-Saxon poem, "The Wanderer". Furberg: "I began by
trying to 'translate'; and indeed, some of it is literal as can be. But most of it is poems
which arose of themselves as I pondered the original text. The poems you have read are,
therefore, largely the result of my failure to translate the original 118 verses. So it can't be
called 'translation'. Maybe these shouldn't be called anything, but poems."
Eugene Garber lives in Albany, New York, and teaches English Literature at the State
University of New York, Albany.
Claude Gauvreau was born in Montreal in 1925 and died there in 1971. His 1500 page
Ouvres Creatrices Completes, was published by Editions Parti Pris in 1977.
85 Barbara Godard teaches Canadian Literature (French in translation) at York
University. She has published many articles on Canadian Comparative Literature and is
presently completing an English version of Nicole Brossard's novel, L'Amer for Coach
House Press.
Jascha Kessler is a professor of English and Modern Literature at U.C.L.A.
Patrick Lane is currently Writer-in-Residence at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
In 1978 he received a Governor-General's Award for his book, New & Selected Poems. New
poems under the title of Weights & Measures will appear through Oxford University Press
later this year.
Erin Moure lives in Vancouver where she works for VIA Rail.
George Payerle was born in Vancouver in 1945 and has been by terms a writer, editor,
and typographer. Deadly Nightshade was exerpted from Payerle's second novel, The English
Al Purdy is one of Canada's best-known poets and has an extensive list of publications.
Born in Wooler, Ontario in 1918, he received a Governor-General's Award in 1967 for his
book of poetry, The Cariboo Horses.
Alexander Shurbanov is a professor of English at Sofia University in Bulgaria. He has
translated into Bulgarian such English works as The Canterbury Tales and Paradise Lost.
Gyorgy Somlyo was born in 1920, the son of poet Zoltan Somlyo. He has been a script
and magazine editor, and is presently editor of the multilingual poetry yearbook Arion.
Paul Witherington lives in Brookings, South Dakota.
86 The Canada Council
Conseil des Arts du Canada
In 1957, the Parliament of Canada created the Canada Council to
promote and foster the arts in this country.
Over the 25 years of the Council's existence, and due in part to its
help, Canada has experienced unparalleled cultural growth. In 1957 the
Council provided grants to a handful of professional theatre companies,
all that Canada possessed at the time; today the Council assists 168. Ten
professional orchestras received help in 1957; today the Council funds
29. In 1957, 3 professional dance companies were supported; today the
number is 26. Most of today's publishing houses did not exist in 1957;
over 125 now receive Council aid, as do more than 70 periodicals, 20
film organizations, and 25 video groups.
Approximately 3,000 grants are awarded each year to artists and arts
organizations. About 1,000 of these are provided to professional artists
in all disciplines, allowing them time to concentrate on creative projects
and study in their fields. Another 2,000 grants each year support a
variety of arts organizations covering every discipline.
Also, under the Council's umbrella, the Art Bank purchases work by
contemporary artists and rents the works for display in public places.
The Touring Office offers both financial support and expertise to individuals and performing groups touring within Canada. The Explorations
Program provides assistance for innovative, creative projects in a wide
variety of artistic and cultural fields.
In setting up its programs and assessing grant applications, the
Council relies on the advice and assistance of artists and other professionals in the arts from across Canada.
The Canada Council receives 85% of its budget in an annual
appropriation from Parliament. Additional income is drawn from the
original $50 million endowment fund provided by Parliament in 1957.
The Council also receives bequests and donations, which it is able to use
for various programs.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Council. If Canada's artistic
community can grow in the next quarter century as it has in the past, we
will be a richer country indeed.
Book Publishers
Prepositions for
Remembrance Day
by Jon Furberg
A suite of 14 poems whose starting point is
in the smallest particles of speech and whose
content derives loosely from accounts of the
First World War. Furberg achieves profound
simplicity and unusual compassion.
» K,,.Knil..«.,I>.,
jon furberg
by Al Neil
"A turbulent amalgam of Jack Kerouac and
Hunter S. Thompson. . . Reading these
stories is a wildly pleasurable hallucinatory
experience. . . scintillate with satire and
wit. . . Slammer is an unusual and powerful book. The cover design by Carole Itter
complements it beautifully."
—Len Gasparini, Vancouver Sun
Breaking the Silences
20th Century Poetry by Cuban
edited and translated by
Margaret Randall
"together with biographies and
interviews and Randall's introduction, a
panoramic view of Cuban women's poetry
emerges.... Reflects a mental geography
vastly different from our own."
$8 95
—Interface Magazine *


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