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volume three
number three
Flying a Red Kite hugh hood
Souvenirs jacob zilber
The Convent mari pineo
The Marriage of Jack Clam jack leahy
The Wings of Night zofia romanowicz
Tidewater Burial
The Belly Dancers' Ball
In the Tidal Pond
Skipping Rope in Garden
A Diver in Cement
Windows, Trees, Eyes
Not for Gold
Miscellany for a November
Between the Mountains
and the Sea
A Dream of
■ His Dead Mother
The Witch Poetry
editor Jan de Bruyn
associate editors  Elliott B. Gose
Jacob Zilber
Heather Spears Goldenberg
managing director  Wayson Choy
subscriptions  Yolande Newby
Barbara Beach
Marcus Beach
design William Mayrs
treasurer Alice Zilber
advertising Cherie Smith
cover design William Mayrs
illustrations   William Mayrs
David Mayrs
PRISM is an independent publication, supported by subscriptions, advertising, and
donations. Donations are eligible as Income Tax Deductions. PRISM is published
by The Prism Society.
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Manager, 349a West 35th Avenue, Vancouver 13, British Columbia. MSS should be submitted to the
Editor at the same address and must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope. University of British Columbia Book Store
Hours:  g a.m. to 5 p.m.
g a.m. to noon on Saturdays
For your future peace of mind
start saving now
HUGH HOOD The ride home began badly. Still almost a stranger to the city, tired, hot
and dirty, and inattentive to his surroundings, Fred stood for ten minutes,
shifting his parcels from arm to arm and his weight from one leg to the
other, in a sweaty bath of shimmering glare from the sidewalk, next to a
grimy yellow-and-black bus stop. To his left a line of murmuring would-be
passengers lengthened until there were more than enough to fill any vehicle
that might arrive. Finally an obese brown bus waddled up like an indecent
old cow, and stopped with an expiring moo at the head of the line. Fred
was glad to be first in line, as there wasn't room for more than a few to
get on.
But as he stepped up he noticed a sign in the window which said COTE
DES NEIGES — BOULEVARD and he recoiled as though bitten, trampling the toes of a woman behind him and making her squeal. It was a Sixty-
Six bus, not the Sixty-Five that he'd been waiting for. The woman pushed
furiously past him while the remainder of the line clamoured in the rear. He
stared at the number on the bus stop: Sixty-Six, not his stop at all. Out of
the corner of his eye he saw another coach pulling away from the stop on
the northeast corner, the correct stop, the Sixty-Five, and the one he should
have been standing under all this time. Giving his characteristic weary put-
upon sigh, which he used before breakfast to annoy Naomi, he adjusted his
parcels in both arms feeling sweat run around his neck and down under
his collar between his shoulders, and crossed Saint Catherine against the
light, drawing a Gallic sneer from a policeman, to stand for several more
minutes at the head of a new queue under the right sign. It was nearly four-
thirty and the Saturday shopping crowds wanted to get home out of the
summer dust and heat, out of the jitter of the big July holiday weekend.
They would all go home and sit on their balconies. All over the suburbs in
duplexes and fourplexes, families would be enjoying cold suppers in the
open air on their balconies; but the Calverts' apartment had none. Fred and
Naomi had been ignorant of the meaning of the custom when they were
apartment hunting in January. They had considered Montreal a city of the
sub-arctic, and in the summers they would have leisure to repent the mis-
He has been shopping along the length of Saint Catherine between Peel
and Guy, feeling guilty because he had heard for years that this was where
all those pretty Montreal women made their promenade; he had meant to
watch without familial encumbrances. There had been girls enough, but
nothing outrageously special, so he had beguiled the scorching afternoon
making a great many small idle purchases of the kind one does when trapped
in Woolworths. A ball-point pen and a note-pad for Naomi, who was always stealing his and leaving it in the kitchen with long, wildly-optimistic, grocery
lists scribbled in it. A carton of cigarettes, some legal-size envelopes, two
DINKY TOYS, a long-playing record, two parcels of second-hand books,
and the lightest of his burdens and the unhandiest, the kite he had bought
for Deedee, two flimsy wooden sticks rolled up in red plastic film, and a
ball of cheap thin string — not enough, by the look of it, if he should ever
get the thing into the air.
When he'd gone fishing as a boy he'd never caught any fish; when playing
hockey he had never been able to put the puck in the net. One by one the
wholesome outdoor sports and games had defeated him. But he had gone
on believing in them, in their curative moral values, and now he hoped that
Deedee, though a girl, might sometime catch a fish, and though she obviously
wouldn't play hockey, she might ski, or toboggan on the mountain. He had
noticed that people treated kites and kite-flying as somehow holy. They
were a natural symbol, thought Fred, and he felt uneasily sure that he
would have trouble getting this one to fly.
The inside of the bus was shaped like a box-car with windows, but the
windows were useless. You might have peeled off the bus as you'd peel the
paper from a pound of butter, leaving an oblong yellow lump of thick solid
heat, with the passengers embedded in it like hopeless breadcrumbs.
He elbowed and wriggled his way along the aisle, feeling a momentary
sliver of pleasure as his palm rubbed accidentally along the back of a girl's
skirt — on,ce, a philosopher — the sort of thing you couldn't be charged
with. But you couldn't get away with it twice and anyway the girl either
didn't feel it, or had no idea who had caressed her. There were vacant seats
towards the rear, which was odd because the bus was otherwise full, and
he struggled nearer them, trying, not to break the wooden struts which might
be persuaded to fly. The bus lurched forward and his feet moved with the
floor, causing him to pop suddenly out of the crowd by the exit, into a square
well of space next to the heat and stink of the engine. He swayed around
and aimed himself at a narrow vacant space, nearly dropping a parcel of
books as he lowered himself precipitately into it.
The bus crossed Sherbrooke Street and began, intolerably slowly, to crawl
up Cote Des Neiges and around the western spur of the mountain. His ears
began to pick up the usual melange of French and English and to sort it out;
he was proud of his French and pleased that most of the people on the
streets spoke a less correct, though more fluent, dialect than his own. He
had found that he could make his customers understand his perfectly — he
was a book salesman who called infrequently on the local librairies — but
that people on the street were happier when he spoke to them in English.
The chatter in the bus grew clearer and more interesting and he began
to listen, grasping all at once why he had found a seat back here. He was
sitting next to a couple of drunks who emitted an almost overpowering smell
of warm beer. They were cheerfully exchanging indecencies and obscure jokes and in a minute they would speak to him. They always did, drunks
and panhandlers, finding some soft fearfulness in his face which exposed
him as a shrinking easy mark. Once in a railroad station he had been solicited
three times in twenty minutes by the same panhandler on his rounds. He had
given the man something at each solicitation, despising himself more with
each new weakness.
The cheerful pair sitting at right-angles to him grew louder and more
blunt and the women within earshot grew glum. There was no harm in it;
there never is. But you avoid your neighbour's eye, afraid of smiling awkwardly or of looking prudish and offended.
"Now this Pearson," said one of the revellers, "he's just a little short-ass.
He's just a little fellow without any brains. Why, some of the speeches he
makes ... I could make them myself. I'm an old Tory myself, an old Tory."
"I'm an old Blue," said the other.
"Is that so, now? That's fine, a fine thing." But he sounded as though
he didn't know what an old Blue was.
"I'm a Balliol man. Whoops!" They began to make monkey-like noises
to annoy the other passengers and amuse themselves. "Whoops," said the
Balliol man again, "hoo, hoo, there's one now, there's one for you." He was
talking about a girl on the sidewalk.
"She's a one, now, isn't she? Look at her appurtenances, oh, look at them
now, aren't they something?" There came a noisy clearing of throats and
the same voice said something that sounded like "Shaoil-na-baig."
"Oh good, good!" said the Balliol man.
"Shaoil-na-baig," said the other loudly, "I've not forgotten my Gaelic do
you see, "shaoil-na-baig," he said it even louder and a woman up the aisle
reddened and looked away. It sounded like a dirty phrase to Fred, delivered
as though the speaker had forgotten all his Gaelic but the words for
"And how is your French, Father?" asked the Balliol man, and the title
made Fred start in his seat. He pretended to drop a parcel and craned his
head quickly sideways. The older of the two drunks, the one sitting by the
window examining the passing legs and skirts with the same impulse that
Fred had felt on Saint Catherine Street, was indeed a priest and couldn't
possibly have been an imposter. His clerical suit was too worn, egg-stained,
and blemished with candle-droppings, and sat on its wearer's shoulders too
familiarly, to be an assumed costume. The face was unmistakeably a southern
Irishman's. The priest darted a quick look into Fred's eyes before he could
turn them away, giving a monkey-like grimace that might have been a
mixture of embarrassment and shame but probably wasn't.
He was a little gray-haired bucko of close to sixty, with a triangular sly
mottled crimson face and uneven yellow teeth. His hands moved perkily
and expressively in his lap, in counterpoint to the lively intelligent movements
of his face. The other chap, the Balliol man, was a flawless example of a certain type
of English-speaking Montrealer, perhaps a bond salesman or minor functionary in a Saint James Street brokerage house. He was about fifty with a round
domed head, pale red hair beginning to go slightly white at the neck and
ears, pink porcine skin, everything very neatly barbered and combed. He
wore an expensive white shirt with a fine blue stripe and there was some
sort of ring around his necktie. He had his hands folded fatly on the knob
of a stick; he had a round face with deep laugh lines in the cheeks and a
pair of cheerfully-darting little blue-bloodshot eyes. Where could this pair
have run into each other?
"I've forgotten my French years ago," said the priest carelessly. "I was
down in New Brunswick for many years and I'd no use for it, the work I
was doing. I'm Irish, you know."
"I'm an old Blue."
"That's right," said the priest, "John's the boy. Oh, he's a sharp lad is
John. He'll let them all get off, do you see, to Manitoba for the summer,
and bang, BANG!" All the bus jumped. "He'll call an election on them and
then they'll scamper." Something caught his eye and he turned to gaze out
the window. The bus was moving slowly past the cemetery of Notre Dame
des Neiges and the priest stared, half sober, at the graves stretched up the
mountainside in the sun.
"I'm not in there," he said involuntarily.
"Indeed you're not," said his companion, "lots of life in you yet, eh
"Oh," he said, "oh, I wouldn't know the right end of a girl from the
wrong, not if I fell over her." He looked out at the cemetery for several
moments. "It's all a sham," he said, half under his breath, "they're in there
for good." He swung around and looked innocently at Fred. "Are you going
fishing, my boy?"
"It's a kite that I bought for my little girl," said Fred, more cheerfully
than he felt.
"She'll enjoy that, she will," said the priest, "for it's grand sport."
"Go fly a kite!" said the Oxford man hilariously. It amused him and he
said it again. "Go fly a kite!" He and the priest began to chant together,
"hoo, hoo, whoops," and they laughed and in a moment, clearly, would
begin to sing.
The bus turned lumberingly onto Queen Mary Road. Fred stood up confusedly and began to push his way towards the rear door. As he turned
away, the priest grinned impudently at him, stammering a jolly farewell.
Fred was too embarrassed to answer but he smiled uncertainly and fled. He
heard them take up their chant anew.
"Hoo, there's a one for you now, hoo. Shaoil-na-baig. Whoops!" Their
laughter died out as the bus rolled heavily away.
He had heard about such men naturally, and knew that they existed; but it was the first time in Fred's life that he had ever seen a priest misbehave
himself publicly. There are so many priests in the city, he thought, that the
number of bum ones must be in proportion. The explanation satisfied him
but the incident left a disagreeable impression on his mind.
Safely home he took his shirt off and poured himself a coke. Then he
allowed Deedee, who was dancing around him with her terrible energy, to
open the parcels.
"Give your Mummy the pad and pencil, sweetie," he directed. She crossed
obediently to Naomi's chair and handed her the cheap plastic case.
"Let me see you make a note in it," he said, "make a list of something,
for God's sake, so you'll remember it's yours. And the one on the desk is
mine. Got that?" He spoke without rancor or much interest; it was an
overworked family joke.
"What's this?" said Deedee, holding up the kite and allowing the ball
of string to roll down the hall. He resisted a compulsive wish to get up and
rewind the string.
"It's for you. Don't you know what it is?"
"It's a red kite," she said offhandedly. She had begged for one for weeks
but spoke now without enthusiasm. Then all at once she grew very excited
and eager. "Can you put it together right now?"
"I think we'll wait till after supper, sweetheart," he said, feeling mean.
You raised their hopes and then dashed them; there was no real reason
why they shouldn't put it together now, except his fatigue. He looked pleadingly at Naomi.
"Daddy's tired, Deedee," she said obligingly, "he's had a long hot afternoon."
"But I want to see it," said Deedee, fiddling with the flimsy red film and
threatening to puncture it.
Fred was sorry he'd drunk a coke; it bloated him and upset his stomach,
and had no true cooling effect.
"We'll have something to eat," he said cajolingly, "and then Mummy
can put it together for you." He turned to his wife. "You don't mind, do
you? I'd only spoil the thing." Threading a needle or hanging a picture
made the normal slight tremor of his hands accentuate itself almost embarrassingly.
"Of course not," she said, smiling wryly. They had long ago worked out
their areas of uselessness.
"There's a picture on it, and directions . .."
"Yes. Well, we'll get it together somehow. Flying it . . . that's something
else again." She got up, holding the note-pad, and went into the kitchen to
put supper on.
It was a good hot-weather supper, tossed greens with the correct propor- tions of vinegar and oil, croissants and butter, and cold sliced ham. As he
ate, his spirits began to percolate a bit, and he gave Naomi a graphic sketch
of the incident on the bus. "It depressed me," he told her. This came as no
surprise to his wife; almost anything unusual which he couldn't alter or
relieve, depressed Fred nowadays. "He must have been sixty. Oh, quite
sixty, I should think, and you could tell that everything had gone all to
pieces for him."
"It's a standard story," she said, "and aren't you sentimentalizing it?"
"In what way?"
"The spoiled priest business, the empty man, the man without a calling.
They all write about that. Graham Greene made a whole career out of that."
"That isn't what the phrase means," said Fred laboriously, "it doesn't
refer to a man who actually is a priest, though without a vocation."
"No?" She lifted an eyebrow. She was better educated than he.
"No, it doesn't. It means somebody who never became a priest at all. The
point is that you had a vocation and ignored it. That's what a spoiled priest
is. It's an Irish phrase and usually refers to somebody who is a failure and
who drinks too much." He laughed shortly. "I don't qualify, on the second
"You're not a failure."
"No, I'm too young. Give me time." There was no reason for him to talk
like this; he was a very productive salesman.
"You certainly weren't cut out for a priest," she said positively, looking
down at her breasts and laughing, thinking of some secret. "I'll bet you never
considered it, not with your habits." She meant his bedroom habits, which
were ardent, and in which she ardently acquiesced. She was an adept, inventive, and enthusiastic sexual partner, her greatest gift as a wife.
"Let's put that kite together," said Deedee, getting up from her little
table, with such adult decision that her parents chuckled. "Come on," she
said, going to the sofa and bouncing up and down.
Naomi put a tear in the fabric straight off, on account of the ambiguity
of the directions. There should have been two holes in the kite, through
which a lugging-string passed; but the holes hadn't been provided, and when
she made them herself with the point of an icepick they immediately began
to tear.
"Scotch tape," she said shortly, like a surgeon asking for clamps.
"There's a picture on the front," said Fred, secretly cross but ostensibly
"I see it."
"Mummy put holes in the kite," said Deedee with alarm, "is she going
to break it?"
"No," said Fred. The directions were certainly ambiguous.
Naomi tied the struts at right angles, using so much string that Fred was
sure the kite would be too heavy. Then she strung the fabric on the notched ends of the struts and the thing began to take shape.
"It doesn't look quite right," she said, puzzled and irritated.
"The surface has to be curved so there's a difference of air pressure." He
remembered this, rather unfairly, from high-school physics classes.
She bent the cross-piece and tied it in a bowed arc and the red film pulled
taut. "There now."
"You've forgotten the lugging-string on the front," said Fred critically,
"that's what you made the holes for, remember?"
"Why is Daddy mad?"
A sultry evening shower had begun, great pear-shaped drops of rain
falling with a plop on the sidewalk.
"That's as close as I can come," said Naomi, staring at Fred, "we aren't
going to try it to-night, are we?"
"We promised her, and it's only a sprinkle."
"Will we all go?"
"I wish you'd take her," he said, "because my stomach feels upset. I
should never drink pop."
"You should know that by now."
"I'm not running out on you," he said anxiously, "and if you can't make
it work, I'll take her up to-morrow afternoon."
"I know," she said, "come on, Deedee, we're going to take the kite up
the hill." They left the apartment building and crossed the street. Fred
watched them through the window as they started up the steep path hand in
hand. He felt left out, and faintly nauseated.
They were back in half an hour with undampened spirits, which surprised
"No go?"
"Much too wet and not enough breeze. The rain knocks it flat."
"OK," he exclaimed with fervor, "I'll try to-morrow."
"We'll try again to-morrow," said Deedee with equal determination.
Sunday afternoon the weather was nearly perfect, hot, clear, a firm steady
breeze but not too much of it, and a cloudless sky. At two o'clock Fred
took his daughter by the hand and they started up the mountain together,
taking the path through the woods that led up to the University parking lots.
"We won't come down until we make it fly," Fred swore, "that's a
"Good," she said, hanging on to his hand and letting him drag her up
the steep path, "there are lots of bugs in here, aren't there?"
"Yes," he said briefly — he was being liberally bitten.
When they came to the upper end of the path, they saw that the campus
was deserted and still, and there was plenty of room to run. Fred gave Deedee careful instructions about where to sit, and what to do if a car
should come along, and then he paid out a little string and began to run
across the parking lot towards the enormous main building of the University. He felt a tug at the string and throwing a glance over his shoulder
he saw the kite bobbing in the air, about twenty feet above the ground. He
let out more string, trying to keep it filled with air, but he couldn't run
quite fast enough and in a moment it fell back to the ground.
"Nearly had it," he shouted to Deedee, whom he'd left fifty yards behind.
"Daddy, Daddy, come back," she hollered apprehensively. Rolling up the
string as he walked, he retraced his steps and prepared to try again. It was
important to catch a gust of wind and run into it. On the second try the
kite went higher than before but as he ran past the entrance to the University
he felt the air pressure lapse and saw the kite waver and fall. He walked
slowly back, realizing that the giant bulk of the main building was cutting
off the air currents.
"We'll go up higher," he told her, and she seized his hand and climbed
obediently up the road beside him, around behind the main building, past
ash barrels and trash heaps; they climbed a flight of wooden steps, crossed
a parking lot beside the Ecole Polytechnique and a slanting field further up,
and at last came to a gravelly dirt road that ran along the penultimate ridge
of the mountain beside the cemetery. Fred remembered the priest as he
looked across the fence and along the broad stretch of cemetery land rolling
away down the slope of the mountain to the west. They were about six
hundred feet above the river, he judged. He'd never been up this far before.
"My sturdy little brown legs are tired," Deedee remarked, and he burst
out laughing.
"Where did you hear that," he said, "who has sturdy little brown legs?"
She screwed her face up in a grin. "The gingerbread man," she said,
beginning to sing, "I can run away from you, I can, 'cause I'm the little
gingerbread man."
The air was dry and clear without a trace of humidity and the sunshine
above the downtown haze was dazzling. On either side of the dirt road grew
great clumps of wild flowers, yellow and purple and blue, buttercups, daisies,
clover, goldenrod and cornflowers. Deedee disappeared into the flowers —
picking bouquets was her favourite game. He could see the shrubs and grasses
heave and sway as she moved around. The scent of fresh clover and dry
sweet grass was very keen here, and from the east over the curved dome of
the mountain the breeze blew in a steady uneddying stream. Five or six
miles off to the southwest he spied the flat wide intensely gray-white stripe
of the river. He heard Deedee cry, "Daddy, Daddy, come and look." He
pushed through the coarse grasses and found her.
"Look at all the berries," she cried rapturously, "can I eat them?" She
had found a wild raspberry bush, a thing he hadn't seen since he was six
years old. He'd never expected to find one growing in the middle of Montreal. "Wild raspberries," he said wonderingly, "sure you can pick them dear,
but be careful of the prickles." They were all shades and degrees of ripeness
from black to vermilion.
"Ouch," said Deedee, pricking her fingers as she plucked the berries. She
put a handful in her mouth and looked wry.
"Are they bitter?"
"Juicy," she mumbled, grinning with her mouth full. A trickle of dark
juice ran down her chin.
"Eat some more," he said, "while I try the kite again." She bent absorbedly
to the task of hunting them out as he walked down the road for some distance
and then turned to run up towards her. This time he gave the kite plenty
of string before he began to move; he ran as hard as he could, panting and
handing the string out over his shoulder, burning his fingers as it slid through
them. All at once he felt the line pull and pulse as if there were a living thing
on the other end and he turned on his heel and watched while the kite
danced into the upper air-currents above the treetops and began to soar up
and up. He gave it more line and instantly it pulled high up away from him
across the fence, two hundred feet and more above him up over the cemetery
where it steadied and hung, bright red in the sunshine. He thought flashingly
of the priest who had said "It's all a sham," and he knew all at once that the
priest was wrong. Deedee came running down to him, laughing with excitement and pleasure and singing joyfully about the gingerbread man, and he
knelt in the dusty roadway and put his arms around her, placing her hands
on the line between his. They gazed, squinting in the sun, at the flying red
thing, and he turned away and saw in the shadow of her cheek and on her
lips and chin the dark rich red of the pulp and juice of the crushed raspberries. And he felt a certitude and peace that he had never known before.
Champagne-silly from jet-prop travel
And Greyhound weary; station wagon
Stiff the shipyard worker from Newport
News and shy from piedmont and mountain
The country sisters (in black dresses,
Flat-chested) and droning and new-shaved
From Tennessee the preacher-nephew—
Brought back to grey beach and yellowed blinds
The closet smell of consolation;
Set parcels on the kitchen table;
Straightened on a chair the fallen lace;
Kissed the grieving widow's powdered face.
The clapper in my bell he was, she said,
The bucket in (and here she blushed quite red)
My well I will not trust the no-good bas-
Tard even deep down in the sulfured smoke
The stink the black and barking throat of hell:
The aunts and nieces of the dear deceased
Explained that when a man's soul is released—-
Four niggers put him in the ground.
The sons and brothers stood around and wondered
Who in God's creation caught more bass and who
Drove with dogs the fleeing deer as far and shot
As fast and who in three dry counties emptied
Half a jar of stump juice down and ran a boat
And Johnson Sea-Horse bang out of the Cape Fear
River and onto dry land and a new red
Harley-Davidson Seventy-Four Dual Glide
Clean through the picture window, the plastic drapes
(It was his eightieth birthday; he got lit)
And customers of Tudy's Beauty Salon.
14 5-
(Beowulf, suh, was just another big Swede.)
Four niggers shoveled in the dirt
Yet did not hardly make a sound;
For those who wanted photographs
They put the flowers on the mound.
(Wind-wrack and sea-scorn waited
While the flames ate flesh and gold
Melted in to the bursting bones.)
But the tide turned brackish back to the sea
Leaving thirty suits of armor quite high
And a little rusty on a dark shore
And the cops took them away from the kids
Who found them (along with a battleship)
And blamed the Trotskyites from Chapel Hill.
Thou shalt not eat ice cream after a fish dinner.
"Dear Lord make us truly thankful
For these and all other blessings . . ."
He dined (mullet, shad, flounder, mackerel, red drum)
And did (fudge ripple)
And died.
Seven Baptist daughters with tits galore
And all the guile of resurrection's dream
Wedged soft and pollen-blonde between their thighs
Sang Alleluia for the King will come.
Four bending niggers put him in the ground.
Two belly dancers wiggled out of the two holes
In the mask of the Muse of Tragedy,
Some by-gone scenario from a folded production,
Now catching dust in a musty warehouse.
But the ball went on,
Everyone wiggling to the silent beat
Of the big drum,
Performing their daily ritualistic orgy,
Trying to dig up the buried camera lenses,
Dancing in the kitchen,
the toilet,
And crawling up the air-conditioning vents.
Then, a cheer went up from the girls
As they began nibbling away on
the man's ex-god,
For the man was really
quite dead. . .
Ever since
I have succeeded
with you, my Cynthia,
my mind has become bloated
with praise.
At noon
when my sated lids
16 I see lithe
virginal queens
their arms
to lull me
into perfect
And if I must think
it's your lips
I feel
in my mind.
Or, when
I wrack my pen
for one more line,
find your moist tongue
the page;
to blots
my few
sprained words.
Now I would again
become that
crooked beggar
lovestarved and
hunched with thought,
beneath your
in the dripping
April, a high whistle over the Ulm house-tops, explosion, rain of rubble,
and Barney's squad scrambling through the basement window of an apartment. A silent three persons within. A well-dressed man, a woman,, a pretty
girl of perhaps twenty. Corlova looking out the window, ducking, and rubble
pattering against the side of the building. "Ask them if they're Nazis,"
Barney nodding to Reinhardt.
"Nein nein,, ich bin kein Nazi," the man in reply to Reinhardt, and the
woman shaking her head, the girl bursting into something.
"Ask them if they have any relatives in Milwaukee."
"He says he had a cousin in Cincinnatti."
Again the girl bursting into something. "What's she want, Rein?"
"When's the war going to stop? She says her husband was killed in the
"Tell her it's almost all over but the shouting. Ask her if she has any nice
Reinhardt in German. "She says her girlfriends are nice but they're scared
of the niggers."
"What niggers?"
Questioning in German. "The papers said the nigger soldiers rape women."
"Tell her to come upstairs, I want to ask her some questions. Keep an eye
on these birds and if the Captain shows up knock on the steps."
Up and through the kitchen, a bedroom. Motioning, "Sit there, Fraulein."
Sitting, something in German, a long sentence.
"Nichts verstehen, blondie, you with the nice build. Ich kann sprechen
ein — ein kleine Deutsch."
Another long line.
"Yeh, alles kaputt. Americans come in, make boom-boom. You a Nazi?"
"Nein nein, ich bin kein Nazi!" And a string of words.
18 "You and me both, honey. And all those cousins in Cincinnati."
"Ja, ja, Cincinnatti!"
Putting the rifle away, opening her blouse, "Any concealed weapons?"
Rising words from the girl.
"Right, the weather's fine, honey, and this is reconnaisance, so take these
off like a good girl. Aufnehmen," pointing.
With her clothing on the floor, Barney shucking out of his, save for the
shoes, "See? No concealed weapons," onto the bed, "and fraternizing with
the enemy. Heil Hitler!"
The girl beginning to reply, "Heil — nein nein, ich bin kein Nazi!"
"Du bist sehr schon."
Delayed beginning of a smile.
"I'm a nigger. Ich bin Neger."
Drawing back from hands, "Sind sie Neger?"
"Don't let the skin fool you. A Jewish nigger."
"Jude? Neger?"
"That's right, pussy. Ich heiss — I'm Barney Sossman."
"Barney Sossman?"
"Ja. Deutsch. Boruch ato adonoi. Blessed art thou, O Lord, our God."
"Barney Fugman."
"Ich bin ein amerikanischer Nazi, verstehst du?"
A timid smile. "Bist du ein Nazi?"
"Jawohl, a Landsmann — Deutschland iiber alles!"
"Du bist ein Nazi?"
"Ich bin ein Amerikanischer Jiidische Neger und auch ein Nazi. Ich liebe
dich, honey, verstehst du?"
"Barney Sossman. Barney."
"Heil Hitler, honey, heil Hitler."
In search of souvenirs. Tavern-keeper in a tavern near the Danube, neat
in cap, shirt, necktie, and brown sweater. Mustache. Short, sturdy, energetic.
Knows some English, not a Nazi, had to say Heil but never believed in his
heart. Alles kaputt, but glad to see Americans instead of Russians. Hopes
Americans will stay, glad to let Sergeant and squad use tavern as guardhouse.
Down the stairs at rear of tavern, a dark basement, four cots, three Polish
women, a Polish man. "Ask them what they're doing," Barney to Janek.
"This guy says they brought him and the woman from Poland. They work
for the Heinies. He says the Heinie soldiers used to fuck the women." The
Pole lifting his shirt, purple welts on his back. "They hit him with a whip."
The Pole shaping his hands into a noose. "When he gets out he's going to
choke every German he finds."
19 Upstairs, Barney to the tavern-keeper, "Do you have a pistol?"
"No no, no pistol!" Never had a pistol, no pistol here, search anywhere.
"Where could I find one?"
"Ahhhh—" The tavern-keeper, suddenly understanding. A finger closing
one eye, a wink from the other. Securing overcoat.
A chilly wet field outside. The tavern-keeper marching, Barney next to
him, breath white, walking through the grass heavy with April rains.
Halfway across the field, a shelter, once a dog-house. Open at both ends.
Sleeping on the grass floor a curled-up shape. The tavern-keeper, and unsmiling wink at Barney, a shout, "Steh' auf!" Stirring. '"Raus!" No one else
visible in the dark field, a gutted building at one edge.
Dark swollen eyes peering out beneath shaggy mass of tight ringlets, a
small dark-skinned man or boy of twenty, muddy jacket and trousers, maybe
part of a uniform. The shape frightened and angry.
"Hast du eine Pistole?"
"No no!"
"Gib mir deine Pistole!"
"No no, nichts pistola!"
"Du hast eine Pistole!"
"No no no, nessuna pistola," rising flow of Italian voice.
"Du hast—"
"No no no—"
"Gib mir—"
"Nessuna pistola—"
"No no no, nichts pistola, nessuna pistola," words spilling, twisted face,
the boy cramped or compulsive scrambling forward on knees, and the tavern-
keeper's hand like a shot across the cheek. An astonished cry, eyes bulging
and violent, white breath spuming into air. The tavern-keeper, crouching
over him, "Amerikanischer Offizierl"
Whining, crawling to the back of the shelter, forward again, yielding the
gun to the tavern-keeper, who, with a bow, presents it to the Sergeant.
Muttering "O.K.," cradling the Beretta, then laggardly back across the
field behind the marching tavern-keeper.
in the tidal pond
fish-bitten of my life,
bearded with reeds i let down my pants
among a fistful
and say into them
i am a poet, hear
hollow, answering back
the twang of their heads
and the huge audience of the sea listens
they do not want to miss
their blue-hid
laugh, the tide more freckled
with looking
than ever before
migrates by instinct
the log-leaped sketch of a trial
making free play
a cow at a flower stall
people or sea no reed nor poet do not
even lift
their heads no less embellishing than fishermen catching nothing to throw him back.
i sit ass-eared in these bulrushes
long-gartered for something
and could sit all year water-strung.
my seige could watch hosanna-high
through the dappled-down day
pushing up lip-service to everything
until the
stuccoed sky palavers around me concentric
whorl and i rib out over
the edge of these pants-down-merry-go—around life
and wander into the universe. SKIPPING ROPE IN GARDEN
like me in my dawndays
the girls play a game
that will not last.
girls —■ go
h ° ° p
over the garden
while the beautiful boys
cycle by on wheeled wishes,
guessing you
guessing your game
where the time-tangent
knocks circumference;
makes a station for the eternal boys
on their eternal cycles
for the eternal hooped girls—
station in a loop-whole
wheel that this minute is
"Beware of angels, for they bite."
he said,
"And helmetted divers
gone twidgy for trite gold
at any sea's bottom; I saw
one up to his neck in cement
who'd gone diving down a sidewalk,
(city trance etc.).
I propose anyone who dreams
wonderland is witless,
22 who plunders wonderland is witness
to all trite passion, and
I propose passion is just a state
of having passed;
;'And that's that!" he said
and washed his hair
and combed his face
and fell through the sidewalk
up to here.
(For Anthony Fiamengo)
Go, bitter polaris, go
gleam the green deep.
There a dark brother lies
mute and moist,
where all stars hide.
Go, glint a glow
where phospherous, pale as snow
flints on that dark boy's brow.
Not skeletal yet,
that flesh is wet.
He lies where coral's sown,
where polyps roam.
Full fathom five
means not alive.
Pole star, bold star,
cold as the dark boy's bones
stare through the smirk of foam.
Tell him through bubbles,
the bauble is broken,
vessel empty,
no body home.
23  Lying under a neatly-folded white coverlet in the Sacred Heart dormitory,
with a neatly recorded temperature of one hundred and two degrees, Rosamond thought of the two ways she had come to the convent from the wilderness of home. The first, oppressively resolute and angular: down a paved
avenue, up forty cemented stairs, through with her mother into a slick dark
parlour where ornamented chairs sat about in vacant arranged groups. The
oil paintings were nearly invisible in the gloom, but the nun who had copied
Raphael's Madonna had had no twelve-year-old Protestant in mind as
viewer. There she had felt shrunken but whole; there she had felt no sense
of loss, had promised obedience. The second entry had come down the
curving gravel drive to the east of the convent, where, on a lonely walk on
her second day, she had encountered her second self, while the practising
from the music rooms, private, delicate and free, spilled over the untended
gloomy garden like the patterns of sunlight.
"I think I'll like it here," said second self, as wanton and unwilled and
welcome as ever," Flowers and music."
"You can't come," she had replied, "I'm to be tidy, and unquestioning."
Second self, as vague as always, had felt no danger, had wandered off until
the next encounter. So both of them had come, over her firm wished willing;
the principle of disorderly hope was to trouble her convent year as it had all
the others.
A rap on the glass of the door, metallic, accomplished, made her thrust
her thoughts aside like tousled knitting, and in their place came a quick
flash of anger at the authority with which Sister Hortense used her wedding-
ring. No need to answer — the door would open before possible reply, as
surely as pain followed a slap in the face. A swish of black skirts and a
rattle of beads, and Sister's face, nearly as white as her coif, was beside
the bed.
"Flu again, Rosamond?" she asked in chill dutiful charity, "I thought
you had had your share this year?" Underneath the words, the rage and
resentment (I've no time for nursing — I know, Sister, I know) and the
words unanswerable. Rosamond smiled weakly and nodded, while the rabbits
of fear chased round her eyes. Suddenly she remembered a glad stricken
moment when she had hurried up the stairs to report a perfect mark in an
examination on the theory of music. "Give the glory to God," Sister Hortense
had said, handing her a chapel veil without a nod or smile. Shall I give
the glory to God now wondered Rosamond. There are too many ways of
blaspheming in this place. The smile became real, and she stifled it under
Sister's suspicious glance.
25 "No dinner, I think, with that fever," said Sister justly, and Rosamond
murmured, "No, I guess not." Another jarring note in the convent dialogue
which she would never master. The prescribed answer was, "Yes, Sister,"
with the resignation of a hungry child. Perplexed, Sister Hortense withdrew,
murmuring, "Sleep, if you can," in consoling, faintly irritable tones.
Rosamond leaned back against her resilient pillow, savouring the blessed
four hours of privacy ahead, privacy that resulted from her own illness and
Sister's overwork. I can read, she thought, or write, or think out harmonious
patterns that have no words. For hours, four hours. And down in class someone else is answering the questions, and when nobody knows the answer I
am not there to be asked. All the day girls can wear lipstick; the discipline
committee has a temperature. Next week someone else can lead the class
and have her name on the bulletin board; tomorrow I do not have to go
to Mass and watch the girls trying to be the most devout. But as she relaxed,
second self emerged from the depths like a troubled mermaid, "So, everyone
is simpler than you, Rosamond?" She turned her head aside and wept at
the challenge — they must be, they must be — not better or worse, but
simpler —• they must be. Or I shall never understand.
In her dream the Children of Mary gathered in the downstairs cloakroom, white-veiled for Benediction, like a flock of blue-striped birds. Alone
in the garden, she called, "Come outside!" Chattering birds, migrating to
warmer places, they did not even hear her. Alone in the garden she paced
slowly, then more quickly, watching the new leaves budding on the trees.
The buds swelled as she watched, and burst; the trees leaved and dropped
their leaves in part of a second, and she was running in a desolate garden
by a dirty tennis-court. "There is no reason for these trees to be here," she
thought, and kept her eyes clenched shut; by the force of logic she had killed
the trees and they would not be there, nor the ground, and she was running
on a tightrope that swayed beneath her feet and stretched between a stone
building built on hollow space and a fence that was nowhere and was falling
with a cracking sound. "But that is not the right sound, that tapping," she
thought clearly, and was awake.
Sister Hortense swept silently in; Rosamond felt the black cloth beside
her, and opened her eyes. "You had visitors," said Sister, "and I was forced
to send them away." Then go, if I cannot see them I need not see you,
flashed Rosamond's resistant mind. "Ministers?" she asked, for politeness.
"No — your father's sister. A very pleasant lady," said Sister. Which one,
and was she sober? asked Rosamond's mind. There must be a, question I can
ask, she thought, but I cannot remember what it is. "She is leaving the city
tonight, so you will not see her," said Sister, her satisfaction undisguised.
And that will teach you to be sick, thought Rosamond, fighting against the
treacherous tears. Once I cried and she kept on. I will not cry now. She
closed her eyes — it was to difficult to keep them open — and her Sister
turned saying, "You are vain, Rosamond." "And you?" she asked, and did
26 not know whether she was heard, or whether anything at all had happened.
A toneless sentence from her mother's latest letter came into her mind,
"Daddy wants you home — you are the only one who understands him!"
A quotation, of course, but did her mother agree? Was he being more impossible than usual? Did he need her?
She was still running, in her new dream, but on ground: the open
ploughed field in front of the farmhouse. She tripped in the furrows and
struggled to keep on. His voice called, "Rosie! Rosie!" from a distance, trailing off into the drunken cursing she had heard so often. I'm coming, she
called inwardly, but there was no sense calling aloud, for he was nearly
deaf. In horror she realized that he was calling from the river and there was
real danger. "Rosie!" and, suddenly, the chuckle she could never understand,
full of self-mockery and odd warmth. She scrambled through the tangled
bushes by the river bank and saw him in the river, fully clothed, struggling
and lurching towards the deep water as if it might free him. "This way!
This way!" she called silently, but he kept on, calling, "Rosa! Rosa!" Not
me, then, but mother, she thought, relieved, and turned to face a hopeless
distance back to the unhearing house, as thunder overhead and around her
grew louder and louder and turned to footsteps.
"Mother!" she called as she woke, and was instantly ashamed as she
recognized the footsteps — the girls let out from school trooping into Sacred
Heart dormitory, and Stella Maris overhead, to pick up their chapel veils.
Was it loud? she wondered, must I explain? Audrey from the room next
door poked her head in the room. "Sorry I yelled — I'm sick," said Rosamond wearily. "Go away or you'll catch it." "Poor kid," said Audrey, and
Rosamond felt an overwhelming rush of gratitude and tears. As Sister reappeared in the doorway, thermometer in hand, she gulped the tears back
hastily and submitted to having her temperature taken. There was sudden
shock on Sister Hortense's face as she read it; Rosamond felt a surge of
"The infirmary for you, I think," said Sister with surprising gentleness,
"Can you walk, Rosamond?" "I think so," she said, and was further surprised
at how distant her voice seemed. She did not object as Sister went into her
closet for her dressing-gown and slippers, and helped her into them. But as
they went down the stairs (snaking black, circular, the focus of the house)
she could hear her voice babbling senselessly, betrayingly, and could think
of no way to halt it.
"But I mustn't be sick tomorrow, Sister — tomorrow is the meeting of the
Aquinian Literary Society, and the ninth grade is putting on a play. It's
about the life of Joyce Kilmer — did you know Joyce Kilmer was a man?
Sister? Look how I remember to say Sister all the time. I never saw a purple
cow — no, I think that I shall never see — he was a lousy poet but he was
a good Catholic, and we think Aquinas would have liked him, maybe. Do
you think so, Sister??" I ought to be quiet, she thought, I've said about a
27 hundred wrong things, but there's too much movement and I don't know
where I'm going. To the infirmary. "Will there be bright white lights, Sister,
and wide-open windows like in a hospital?"
"Don't try to talk, dear, you're not yourself," said Sister gently, repriev-
ingly. Then I won't, she told herself firmly, and how lucky she thinks I'm not
myself. I am myself, I am always myself, I am even sometimes all of my
selves, no other cigarette can make this statement. She laughed, and listened
in surprise. "Why, that's my father's laugh," she said. Sister's arm tensed
beneath her own. I can't explain, I'm too tired, she thought.
They crossed to the nuns' side of the house and entered a strange dark
little room with no furniture but a single white bed. How odd, where shall
I keep my books? I'll find out tomorrow, but first I must explain, she thought,
climbing into the chill bed. "If you put your hand in a river, you can't suppose you've stopped it flowing," she said clearly and definitely. "You're very
ill, you know," said Sister from a distance. "Try to sleep — try not to think."
Suddenly it seemed to Rosamond that she had been waiting all her life to
hear just that. She lay back with an empty mind, and drowned in a sleep
too deep for images.
Later, late at night, she half-woke to images again — still figures, herself
and the members of her family, still as mannequins, turning on pedestals. In
fluctuating rhythmic alternation they faced one another, but as they tried to
sleep they were turned from one another. Each was left gesturing to emptiness or speaking to the wrong person, and confused murmur of sound
swirled through the air. Always, she thought, it will always be this way, and
she slept deeply again. Then she dreamed again, of the river at home, distant
and shining, and herself watching it. It is beautiful, she thought, and much
more complicated than you think. I can tell you of the different kinds of
stones it harbours, and the different kinds of life; I know what is beyond
that bend, and where the mud is treacherous, and I can warn you of the
floods. Who are you? she asked, for there was nobody with her; but as she
realized her loneliness she did not feel deceived; she felt a rounded wonder
that all of this should matter more because she was alone.
The next waking was sudden and startling. A wheeze of musical sound
gasped beside her room, and Rosamond saw that it was morning in her
bare cell. An organ was playing beside her bed; why, then, her room was
right behind the chapel, and the morning Mass was underway. Sister Martha
was playing, she could tell by the firm and literal touch, and two hundred
reedy female voices were singing the hymn she detested above all others:
'Jesus, sweet Jesus, my treasure divine,
Oh with what rapture I call Thee all mine!'
She ached in every bone, but her body was no longer struggling; I'm better,
she thought, if that means past the worst.
"Ah, you're better," said Sister Hortense gleefully as she took her temperature, "Breakfast for you, my lady!" Rosamond tried to smile her gratitude—
28 we will never agree, but she has never meant me any harm. "When can I
get up?" she asked, and Sister left, chuckling, "All in good time!"
Rosamond savoured her breakfast, looking around the new-born room.
The sheets were woven of uneven threads; she had never before noticed that
thread had a life of its own, after men had made it. The dark convent
varnish could not completely hide the grain in the woodwork beside her bed.
One small window let in the morning sunlight; caught in the light were
thousands of living separate particles of dust, moving in intricate and delicate patterns. As she watched in still joy, a burst of sound came from beyond
the wall. Sister Germaine at her music practice, she could tell, for the gleaming joyful muse had no words, no words at all. Though her mind would
never stop making words, the music had none. And by the second way you
came to the convent, you can leave, since you must, she told herself, and
leave happily, while the music born in the music room, public, jubilant and
free, floods out like a river and carries all your loves.
Youth and reason grow a tree
each summer, in the field of my sight
and corn, morn-sun grinds its heel
in my eye, belling. Head-lifted
into the farthest leaf of
the most high branch,
the same summer apple time, blooms
of these boughs short as a bird's
mouth in a wrong season. Like speaking to
a wilderness of child-straight
woods my tongue is short. When the
spring-water comes there over the tallest
farmer-wire it
leaves uncovered what the
water ran over. Stand in a spring-water
saying, Come down between your boulders and
the careful fence. Gone off
the land before finish.
The flower there wilts blows withers. The bird
there behind the apple choirs
the tree spreading out trunk—
thick. He does not know the leaves brown
themselves from the branch, only
the sun slings itself
across the green-blued sky children jump
the Dance without Reason around,
everything follows
even the houses half-way
into the next valley. So grew this tree
in the sight and corn, blistering
I spread with it reaching and
the country-bird behind the apple, thinking myself
all that dies still without seeing his
tree melt small leaf curl dry from the edge,
start over again at falling
next after the ground again re-
sows the fruit, springs
sidle through our hands, delivering
all to be burned, slurring
30 it up higher, trilling. And lying as wheat—
grass often lies saying soft
to hard stones among it.
Wheat-grass no softer than a stone, nothing less
of a truth
some bruised fruit telling
bruised fruit is sweet.
When dew falls into the grass
each-morning in the field of my sight
and corn, most-high branch
barraged by youth and reason
is the seed to cover the country-bird
mocking back beating wings not flying. This is
I everything babbling This is truth
in your sight, when
we see our apples curl in
the sight and corn of my morning.
But your desire is not for gold
cast in a crucible, it is
for any reflection to incorporate
into yourself: yes?
But what if I refuse to let a category
you can usurp trickle
out of a poem, if I speak only
of an insolent spring flipping
her extravagant mud
on your alabaster face?
but you like the idea
that your face is alabaster,
you like the idea of mud spoiling it.
I don't know what to do: if in
four riming iambic lines I
call you a bitch you will
carefully arrange your features
in a posture of bitchiness.
DISCURSIVE:  a winding in and out, loquacious;
yet I could wish for revelation
in images precise and neat,
worthy of publication.
Sometimes my breath comes fast, uneven,
of late, painful, with a cough:
smoothing on his leaded apron, the doctor asked:
"Do you spit blood?"
The lights went off,
fluoroscopic light is blue, not red—
He said:   "Carcinoma in the beginning is without sensation,"
His shadow towered
(I kept thinking what his wife shrieked
at the divorce hearing)
De Gaulle is an egomaniac, but who is not?
If I were Queen, I would not go to Ghana.
A girl came to the door, I gave her two dollars.
In the autumn, now, the ground is brown with cedar droppings,
a blue jay with a black head comes to steal bits of bread,
he tips the linnets' feeding tray.
Yesterday Mary asked why I had put
a dead banana in her lunch kit,
at the Aquarium she liked best
the pale pink underfoot of the octopus,
it moved when she tapped the glass.
Have they removed the penguin's wooden egg?
In fifty years we shall all have to sit on one another's laps,
any megaton blast is large,
I have a new hat,
made of green feathers,
an irrational fear of elevators.
Last week we found the body of a man
Lulled gently with the drift among the stones,
His white and bloated arms reached out toward
The beach as if in the leap that slowly killed him
He had learned the truth about the mountains
And the sea, and now he longed to rise once more;
To climb the mountainside, up narrow streets
That fade into the dark and waiting woods,
Across the rivers in their April rage,
And, ascending cliffs until his sinews sang,
Achieve at last the ridge and gleaming spear
Of stone
That pierces through the sky,
But suddenly as we stood about and watched,
The tide began its subtle ebbing song,
And as its turning slowly drew his helpless
Hands, slowly sliding down the weed slick stones
Toward the everlasting deep; on his face,
Turned up in the hazy shallows by the rocks
When the surf paused, under his swirling hair
I could see his sagging features shaped to scream,
A silent burst of terror as he drifted
Out of sight, to be hurled in his hellish task
At another hopeless shore.
She was an ugly woman, the ugliest woman I had ever known, and even
my grandfather, who was always kind toward the woman folk, had to bite his
lip when ugly Sally came wandering with her slender clam-stick down the
long ocean beach.
"Smashrocks! Smashrocks!" the Indian children yelled at her as she dug
about with her stick. "Ain't nobody can smash rocks like ugly Sally!"
"Git!" she yelled at them, flinging about with her clam-stick. The children
scattered, dashing about, tripping over each other as ugly Sally waved a
knobbed fist after them.
"Sally Smashrocks! Sally Smashrocks!" the children yelled. They narrowed
in on her again, like a pack of yelping dogs, until Grandfather and I, sitting
on the bench in front of Father's store, could hear her yelling at them and
we would hear something else too: Jack Clams come running down the
beach, shouting and waving his arms and throwing at the children whatever
he could pick up on the run.
"I'm damned," my grandfather said. "It ain't like Jack to go acting civil
to his woman."
"It sure ain't!" my father said. He had come out of the store to see what
all the fuss was about.
"Git! Git you brown bastards!" Jack was yelling as he stormed down the
beach, tripping over driftwood and stumbling in the loose sand.
"He never done that before," Father said.
The Indians saw Jack Clams coming and scattered toward the ramshackle
huts that lined the ocean road. Sally Smashrocks watched them go, and then,
as if they had never existed, she sat down on a piece of driftwood, and began
to chew absently on a piece of dried fish which she suddenly pulled out from
the folds of her dirty clothes.
"You don't suppose Jack's lost his mind altogether?" Father asked.
"When a man would live with a woman that ugly, it's a question whether
he ever had a mind," Grandfather said.
"He ain't exactly a charmer," Father said. "Glass on polishing day ain't
safe around either of them."
Sally sat on the driftwood and vacantly chewed her fish. When Jack
Clams came puffing up, she seemed not to know he was there. Her jaws
worked the fish over slowly, carefully, as if she had something on her mind,
even though her eyes were absent, staring out at the rolling ocean. Grandfather and I sat on the bench in front of the store and watched.
35 "Woman!" Jack Clams bellowed, "Git off that ass and dig me my dinner!"
She sat there impassive as a stone, chewing on her fish, looking at the
horizon. Clams took off his hat and threw it on the sand.
"Now look here, Sally, you ain't got no . .."
"Git!" said Sally Smashrocks, between bites of her dried fish.
"Well, I am damned!" Grandfather said.
Down the beach, old Jack Clams slunk away from his woman. Children,
watching from the ramshackle cabins, began to wander out. Soon they
were yelling again: "Sally, old Sally, ugly Sally Smashrocks!"
"Damn you! Damn you!" Jack Clams yelled. But Sally sat on the driftwood and quietly chewed. Only when Jack had gone off down the beach
did she turn toward the children and hiss: "Git or this belly git you!" and
she threw down her clam-stick. She began to take off her cothes.
My mother suddenly appeared from nowhere and began shouting at
father: "Lubin, you stop that woman from doing that! You stop that!"
Father took out a toothpick and began to pick his teeth. He said: "It
looks as if there is a few others who are taking care of that," and he was
right too because I could see Miss Kate, the school teacher, running toward
Sally, and up the beach, coming from the other direction, Sam Happiness,
the drunken Indian who owned the only gas station in the village, galloping
and waving an air pump at her, when Sally, half undressed, suddenly cocked
her head like a robin toward the sand and recovering her clam-stick, began
to dig furiously.
"Jesus!" Grandfather said, "now she's after a clam!"
Miss Kate and Sam Happiness stopped transfixed and watched Sally fling
sand into the air. The flat-bladed clam-stick spun into the sand, and the
hole in front of her got steadily deeper. Pretty soon she began to disappear
into it, following the flashing stick downward. Soon there was only the lower
part of her body visible above the sand. Sam Happiness slowly came forward and grabbed hold of her legs.
"She's after a big one!" Grandfather shouted and began to run.
All the Indian children also ran toward the disappearing Sally, and the
noise got out most of the village. They came tumbling out of their broken
houses and when they saw the rapidly vanishing legs, they began to shout
and yell and run toward the beach. Even Jack Clams, wandering off, turned
around to see what was going on and when he saw he came roaring down
the sand shouting: "Git away from my dinner, you bastards!"
I was right behind grandfather and when we reached the spot where
Sally Smashrocks had disappeared, the hole had got so deep that even Sam
Happiness was halfway into it, and Miss Kate had hold of him by the belt
trying to pull him back. All that was left of Sally was her legs sticking up
like a couple pieces of driftwood above the dirty water that was seeping in
the hole.
"Has she got hold of it?" Grandfather shouted down to Sam Happiness.
36 "She got hold of something and it better stop!" Sam shouted back up.
"This is evil!" Miss Kate said and held on for dear life as Sam suddenly
lurched forward and threatened to disappear into the pit.
"Pull! Pull back!" Sam screamed. "She's beginning to bubble!"
We all grabbed onto Sam and Miss Kate and pulled backwards so that
first Sam came out, muddy and full of sand, and then very slowly, Sally
Smashrocks emerged, feet first from the great mass of muck that she had
created. Last of all came the clam, a great huge one, a gooeyduck, at least
five pounds, as long as my arm, all neck out and the shell was so large it was
all Sally could do to get her arms around it.
"By God, she got a gooeyduck," Grandfather said.
"Ain't nobody got a gooeyduck right in front of the village at least seven,
eight years," Father said.
"She got an ear for 'em," Grandfather said. "I swear, she hears 'em underground."
And that was probably the truth too. Even before Sally found the gooeyduck right in front of the village, everyone knew that Sally had some sort of
magic that she worked so she could find the clams. The funny thing about
this gooeyduck, though, was that even if Sally was about as weird as she was
ugly, she wasn't after it for Jack Clams' dinner. By the time Clams got
there, growling and snorting and shoving people aside, Sally had already
given the clam to one of the children who had been taunting her. It wasn't
any use for Jack to shout and plead with her. She simply sat and stared out
at the ocean, chewing again on a piece of fish.
"O.K.! O.K.!" Jack Clams yelled and he came walking up to Father,
looking even sadder than Miss Kate who had somehow got ahold of Sam
Happiness's air-pump in the confusion and was standing there wondering
what to do with it.
"Mr. Tobin," Jack Clams said.
"No credit," my father said, looking at a seagull.
"Oh, t'ain't that! T'ain't that. Worse," Jack said. "Me and Sally aim to
get married and if I ever fix to eat again, I just got to get me a license."
I don't know why Jack Clams ever came to Father with his problem.
Perhaps it was because Father was the man who ran the store and aside from
Grandfather and myself, the only other white man that lived all year 'round
in the village. It might have been that he thought Father was some sort of
official. Anyway, everyone else was so thunderstruck at the notion Jack
Clams had got into his head that by the time they came around, Father had
got an old Raleigh cigarette coupon out of his wallet and sold it to Jack
Clams for five dollars.
"T'ain't very big, is it?" Jack Clams said.
My grandfather had recovered enough to begin to sputter, and probably
he would have collared Father right then and there but that the Queen's
Black Guard had come out of the tourist cabins and had begun their after-
37 noon practice on the beach. Father owned the tourist cabins as well as the
grocery store and the cafe, and the Queen's Guard were on tour of the
United States and had come out to Teahwit for a vacation. They came
marching down the beach, black kilts swinging, bagpipes blaring and, furious
as grandfather was, he was caught up in the mass of Indians, who as soon as
the Black Guard came blaring down, began to chant and sing. Ever since
the Black Guard had arrived for their vacation, Jack Clams had stayed
away from the village, and that was one of the reasons that grandfather
was so surprised to see him chasing Sally down the beach, but now, as the
Guard came piping down the sand, blowing bagpipes, beating drums, twirling batons, Jack Clams stood there speechless, holding the Raleigh cigarette
coupon in his hand, and suddenly he dove toward the sand and began to
burrow into it.
"Ah!" Biblical Holbucket, and Shaker minister said, "He wishes to imitate
his woman."
"It is true," Basket Hoh said. "He searches for the gooeyduck."
"Perhaps then," Holbucket said, "we shall have two."
The band passed right through the Indians as if they had never existed.
In front of them -was a huge fellow at least six and a half feet tall with a
great furred hat on his head and a baton in his hands. All the Indians began
dancing about, joining hands, singing songs as finally the great bass drums
went BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! leaving the exhausted Indians speechless
and Jack Clams upside down in the sand. By the time we got him untangled,
he was too full of sand to hear anyone except Father saying: "The preacher
will be here next week. Then you can marry Sally Smashrocks."
The Black Guard were scheduled for two weeks vacation in Teahwit.
Father was making a fortune selling them illegal whiskey. My grandfather
hated the Black Guard almost as much as Jack Clams did. He hated everything that Father had done with the Indian village. Grandfather had been
one of the first white men into the village and he often told me how beautiful it had been in the days before people like his son had been let loose.
Father had certainly made a success out of the village, for each summer the
tourists poured into Teahwit so that starting from a grocery store, Father
had built a cafe and then a group of cabins and then had leased all the
land along the river so that he owned the fishing shed and as a matter of
fact, even though it was an Indian reservation, Father had worked it around
so that he owned just about everything except the land itself. That weekend
my grandfather asked: "What are you going to do, Lubin? Get the Sergeant-
major to be preacher?"
"He won't come back," my father said. "What the hell is the more important, Jack Clams or the Queen's Guard?"
38 "Jack Clams," my grandfather said and went stomping off to his bedroom.
"Ain't that just like the old man," said Father.
But as the week went on, Father began to get nervous. "He's coming to
get married," my grandfather would say.
"He won't," Father mumbled.
"He's coming!" grandfather said.
"Well, he's got no right marrying a woman like that," Mother said. "He's
been living with her God knows how many years, and now, just because
she's pregnant, it ain't no reason to get carried away." Sam Happiness was
in the store at the time, trying to buy a popsicle, and he said: "Mrs. Tobin,
she is a good woman."
"Bosh!" Mother said. "She's a tramp!"
The Sergeant-major of the Queen's Black Guard wandered in. He was
very drunk.
"Lubin," my mother said, "that man is a disgrace to his uniform and his
country! He's drunk!"
"It would appear that way," Grandfather said.
"A drink, for God's sake!" the Sergeant shouted. "A drink for a man
what needs it!"
"Shhhh!" Father hissed. "Not now." He glanced awkwardly at Mother.
"And why not?" roared the Sergeant. Mother gave him a long stare and
finally stamped out of the store into the back bedroom. The door slammed
loudly behind her.
"Mrs. Tobin doesn't approve of drinking," Father said to the Sergeant.
He bent over and pulled out a bottle from his private cabinet. "Jerrod,"
father said, turning his eye on me, "go to bed!"
"Let the boy stay," Grandfather said. "He's not a child any longer."
"Let 'em stay!" the Sergeant roared. "Got one myself in England. Got
six, in fact, and another on the way. Poor Nellie. Nellie's my wife!"
"I thought she might be the Queen," Grandfather said quietly, looking
out at the rolling ocean.
"What's that?" said the Sergeant.
"He was asking the health of the Queen," Father said.
The Sergeant stiffened to attention, or at least tried to, and held up the
the glass of whiskey that father had given him. "The Queen!" he said, and
rapidly drank the whiskey down. Father did the same with him.
"And how is the Bonnie Prince?" asked my father.
"Who?" said the Sergeant.
"The Bonnie Prince!"
"Oh, him," said the Sergeant. "To the Prince of Wales!"
"To the Prince of Wales!" roared my father.
Sam Happiness stood in the corner of the store listening to Father and
39 the Sergeant toasting each other. He had somehow recovered the air-pump
from Miss Kate and was eyeing the penny balloons. The Sergeant toasted the
Commonwealth and Sam reached out and grabbed a balloon. The balloon
had a map of the world on it, so that Sam hooked it over the end of the
air-hose and began to pump; Europe and the Atlantic Ocean sagged into
view. Beyond him I could see the frozen moon begin its long fall toward
the ocean that seemed to rear upward to meet it.
Father and the Sergeant-major went on with their toasts, drinking to
the Princess and then the Dukes and whatever else happened to be handy.
The ocean rolled in and Sam Happiness pumped furiously at his balloon.
It grew larger just as the swelling ocean seemed to grow larger with the
sweeping tide. The balloon had rolled over as Sam hissed air into it, and
the Pacific and West Coast swarmed onto the bloated world. Outside, the
other ocean, the real one, was beginning to look all swelled and blown, pale
under the dying moon. The rubber world was getting stretched all out of
shape, the separations between the land and the water had completely
disappeared now. Only the huge bulge remained, getting bigger, as Sam,
grinning fiercely, pumped and hissed air into it.
"To Empire!" the Sergeant-major shouted.
BOOM! The balloon exploded and tiny shreds of the ocean spiralled
over the grocery. North America, torn and shattered, floated down on the
Sergeant-major's head.
"What the hell?" Father shouted.
"To Empire!" the Sergeant said again. He hadn't flinched. He stood with
his whiskey glass straight out, his head covered with the Western Plains, the
Rockies and the Mississippi dripping over his ear, and the South cascading
over his neck. Father stared at him amazed and Sam Happiness began to
blow air into another balloon just as Jack Clams, wild-eyed, came into the
store, clutching his coupon and yelling: "Whar's the preacher? Whar is he?"
"Oh God!" my father moaned, but it was too late to duck out because
Sally Smashrocks had wandered absently in behind Jack Clams, chewing on
her piece of fish, looking like something that had drifted too far up on the
"To Empire!" the Sergeant said, waiting for someone to drink with him,
while North America fluttered on his head.
"You him?" Jack Clam said, waving his coupon.
"Who?" asked the Sergeant-major.
"That's him," Grandfather said. "He come to marry you."
Sally Smashrocks had walked over to watch Sam Happiness pump up the
world. "Whooie!" Sam whispered as the air hissed into the balloon. Sally
watched the swelling balloon and then gazed out at the swelling ocean and
then looked down at the great rim of her stomach. She smiled to herself
and chewed on her fish, finally going back to absently watching Sam
40 "Who?" asked the Sergeant-major.
"That's him!" Grandfather said again.
"Who?" asked the Sergeant-major, drinking his whiskey and refilling the
"Who?" said Jack Clams. He went over and grabbed Sally and dragged
her away from the growing balloon world. "Say 'Who!' " he bellowed at
her. "We're getting married!" Grandfather put his whiskey glass down and
walked outside the store toward the rolling ocean.
"Who!" Jack Clams said again, and he went right up to the Sergeant
and grabbed his glass and drank it down.
"That's the spirit," the Sergeant said, grabbing the glass back and filling
it again from Father's bottle. "That's the way that. . ."
"That's the spirit," Jack Clams said, grabbing the glass from the Sergeant
and downing that.
"That's the spirit," Sally Smashrocks mumbled between bites of her dried
"What the hell . . . !" the Sergeant said, as California suddenly unfolded
itself in a ruffle and went tumbling sideways over his head.
"What the hell," said Sally, looking down on her bulging stomach.
Far down the beach there was music. Father was shouting and the
Sergeant-major was shouting and Jack Clams was shouting and Sam Happiness was hissing the world into view, so that by the time the Queen's Black
Guard got to the store, playing and banging and squeezing with Grandfather
in the lead, Jack Clams and Sally Smashrocks had walked hand in hand out
of the store toward the peaceful ocean while my father stood there amazed
looking at the cigarette coupon in his hand.
She's got the right eyes,
and the separate laughs,
the silly, on-purpose one
she gives to adults,
the wise, just-happens one,
she keeps for herself.
Too bad God
in letting her be eight forever
didn't remember
to stop all the clocks
at the same time
so that instead of
those mildewed ropes
bursting out of
elastic stockings,
she'd have hopscotch legs
that go in all directions
at once,
and the funny kind of beauty
we try to meet
with gentle laughter.
I dreamed my mother grew within me
talking like a half-moon in my head;
her lips behind my knotted lips that mumble,
her arms behind my arms that motion
in my night;
her legs behind my legs that tremble:
a spirit resurrected in my flesh.
My dreams are clotted; flow like flags
across my skies;
42 I have strange dreams and cannot tell
where dreaming ends. . .
The generations broil within me:
From palm on palm the offspring is
of palm
and spirits tremble in my dryness;
I who have fathered silence and
the dark,
even the dark that clots into no flesh,
can only sit and contemplate
these mournful stirrings growing in my heart.
yes, & you'll forget the excitement, forget the suspense
when the wheel next
for holy christ & holy dionysus were killed & reborn
turns, & terror & injustice
in march, sun between ram & fish
will ride to the top/
always building: always dying
the witch, poetry
the natural religion, a way of communion.
pretend then total beauty is/
be it a laughing god, tears-of-wine
& sharp sword to stab with
at your patted back
or total beauty of the echo
of my jeremaid, fulmination
at total broken beauty cast on records
of statisticians & the alchemy
of mathematicians, physicists, there it is:
the infinite one a.m. of the mind's backwater
where solid objects melt, brain's ice melts &
one small stick floats in the liquid to poke out poems.
43  Cbe Oliitg$ of lliflbi
At the doorway, Father turned and said:
— Be a big girl, and look after Mummy . ..
"Be a big girl" ... I stood on tiptoe and made myself as tall as I could,
but it did not make him smile as I had expected. He bent down and, instead
of giving me the usual kiss, looked at me. His face, seen so close, wrinkled
and porous, seemed quite different. It looked older and somehow sadder. On
his chin were some drops of dried blood; he must have cut himself again
whilst shaving.
Trying to speed things up, I gave him a peck on the cheek. On the kitchen
table Father had already laid out something for me to play with: a sheet of
paper and a new box of paints. But he put aside his brief case and hat. He
squatted on the floor so that our faces were level. Obviously today he was
not in a hurry. He placed his arms round my shoulders and pressed so hard
that it hurt.
— Listen ... he said, Listen . . .
His breath smelled of tobacco and some other bitter aroma. He breathed
loudly, in his chest something seemed to move every time he drew in breath.
I could even hear him swallow. His big, grown-up body, filled with the
warmth of life and flowing blood, was like a clock which one must approach
quite closely to hear it working. I was happy when sometimes he allowed
me to open his jacket and place my ear against his shirt, under which his
heart was pounding.
Today such games were out of the question. His hands rested on my
shoulders, heavily inert, but I dared not complain. Embarrassed, we remained
in this uncomfortable position.
Suddenly my mother gave a groan. At once Father jumped up. Crossing
the few steps on tip-toe he peeped through a crack into the room where she
was lying. It was dark in there and the windows were never opened.
— I must go now, he said quietly, into the darkness. I am leaving. I shall
try to be back as soon as possible.
Shoulders hunched, he waited for an answer, but mother was not yet
awake. She must have groaned in her sleep.
— Don't forget the medicine, he said.
He closed the door, turned to me and placed his finger on his lips.
— Listen, he repeated and again stopped.
He seemed to be waiting for me to help him, expecting me to say something-.
45 Suddenly I looked up and saw myself in his glasses; I saw a little girl
with a crooked haircut, holding a paint brush in one hand and a small dish
of water in the other, smiling in a meaningless uncertain manner, as children
do when grown-ups interfere with their projects and games. My attention
was completely distracted by thoughts of my new paints, which I should
at last be able to use, once he had gone.
For a moment Father stood there, at a loss for words, peering at me from
behind his glasses. He made a vague movement with his hands and shrugged
his shoulders. With a deep sigh, he turned clumsily, grabbed his hat and the
brief case and, having kissed the air near me, left.
He knew how to close the door so carefully that it shut without a sound.
I did not hear his steps on the stairs immediately after. Perhaps, standing on
the other side of the door, he was listening to what was happening in the
house. Sometimes he would come back, as if he had forgotten something,
and once more peer into Mother's room. This was what he had been doing
After he had gone, the apartment suddenly became empty and huge. I
was alone. Behind the door leading to Mother's room it was so quiet and so
dark, that there might have been no one there.
The paints, spread on the kitchen table, were waiting for me. The sun
shone brightly on them, and on the window panes, which had not been
washed for a long time and which gleamed with irridescent light. Sighing
deeply, the way father did, I poured myself some water in the little dish
and settled down by the table to paint.
But I was no longer so eager to paint. I was not at all sure that I should
be able to paint what I wanted to. The paints, arranged in two neat rows
of hard buttons, looked very much alike and it was impossible to guess
what they would look like when mixed with water and put on the paper.
— Be a big girl, Father had said on leaving the apartment.
This meant that I was to play quietly, to manage by myself until he came
back. Mother usually got up only after he had begged and insisted for a
long time. Frightened, wrapped up in a dressing gown, huddled into a
corner of the kitchen she supervised his work about the house.
—My head is splitting, she would repeat.
She would press her hand against her forehead, as if by touching she
could feel that pain, that split. I used to be terribly afraid when she started
crying like a child. On these occasions Father allowed her to return to her
bed, having closed the windows and shutters. Her slight figure, lost in the
loose folds of her dressing gown, swayed with every step as she entered once
again her favourite darkness, her beloved night.
It was difficult for me to recall when these things had begun happening
to her. I could hardly remember that it had not always been like this. Time
veiled the gay moments in sad, distorted perspective. Even then, my few
years of life cast behind me a past that seemed to be eternity, just as it drags
46 today. To everyone it seems that he or she has lived forever, for when did
they start? Only the testimony of others, the example of others, deprives us
of this illusion.
Thus it seemed to me that my lonely mornings in the kitchen had been
going on forever, as well as Father's reminders to "be a big girl", soft-voiced
conversations, walking quietly outside the doors of the room where the
shutters were opened less and less frequently, for shorter and shorter periods.
In the evenings, when I tried to listen, I could hear crying or even worse —
silence. Father used to come to my room and smoke in the darkness, blowing
the smoke out through a crack in the window. The little red point would
glow level with his face. I used to lie without moving, even when he placed
his hand on my forehead, as though trying to see whether I had a fever. He
would leave, closing the door with the care that was now characteristic of
him, and I lay, listening again, until sleep overcame me.
Once, long ago it was quite different. A year ago, perhaps two years, or
perhaps only a few months ago; it could not have been very long ago, for
the parents had not had time enough to re-organize their lives according to
the events which had overtaken them. Yet for me, those were memories more
remote and more obliterated than the memories of childhood in old age. I
had visions of opened windows, brightness everywhere, Mother cheerful and
gay, fitting a new dress on me in front of the mirror in the hall, or breaking
off pieces of bread for me that I might throw them to the ducks in the pond,
and walks, when we went out all three together. I held their hands, pulled
up my feet, and laughing, they carried me over the puddles. At what particular moment did everything begin to grow dark? When did it become quieter
around me, smiles disappearing and conversation being reduced to whispers,
the shutters drawn making the room dark? It was as if some alien spirit had
crept stealthily into my mother's place and gradually taken her over
Father, who remembered the past better than I, expected it to return.
"When Mother gets well . . ." he would say. He promised that we should go
for walks and take bread for the ducks. In the meantime, however he kept
repeating — "Be a big girl."
I wanted to be big and at the same time I was afraid. I did not want it
to happen to me suddenly, all in one day. I did not like the idea that I
might change into someone different, as Mother had.
Fortunately this morning was endowed with a holiday mood, transformed
by the new box of paints. I knew that I should paint the same thing as
always — a house, and in front of it larger and smaller children holding
hands. Yet every time the brush, soaked in paint, touched a clean sheet of
paper, I was excited, and could feel a lump rising in my throat. Children
lived in that house. They all had names, parents and relations, and I made
sure that there were as many windows as there were children, so that each
one could look out. The girls had coloured ribbons in their plaits, the boys'
47 hair stuck straight out. All had legs like sticks and large round heads.
Time passed, I had no idea how much. I did not understand the clock
that ticked above my head. The present was the only reality.
The sun moved away from the kitchen window and disappeared round
the corner of the building. The wet paint shone all the brighter on the paper.
I felt pleasantly happy, and bored too, because I had no one to whom I
could show my picture.
When children began to call to one another in the yard below, I opened
the window and leaned out. I knew I was doing wrong, for Father had
strictly forbidden it, since we lived on an upper floor.
The window sill was messed up by the sparrows to which Father and I
used to throw crumbs after breakfast. They had already finished all of the
crumbs and now one sparrow, perched on the edge of a wall, looked at me
from a distance, turning his little head from side to side. Not interested in
the sparrows, I looked down. Below, in the floor of the grey concrete yard,
there was lively activity. Round heads, like those I painted, bobbed about
the place. From my bird's-eye view their games, running about, forming
into groups and chasing one another, were a fascinating puzzle, which I
tried to solve, to understand what they were playing at and how. In one
corner a girl was skipping over a rope by herself, I looked at her with envy —
I was not allowed to skip in the house.
Suddenly a hand pulled me away from the window frame.
— No. The scream was out of all proportion, as if something terrible
had happened.
Frightened, I look around. Mother was up.
She was not wearing the dressing gown, she was dressed as though to go
out, in her best black suit. She even had a bag dangling from one arm and
was wearing gloves. She pushed me away from the window with such force
that I almost fell. Then she closed it with a bang.
— Mummy, I said, ready to cry, I was only looking . . .
I was afraid that she might as a punishment take away my new paints.
She was not listening to me. Sharply painted lips emphasized her paleness,
she was whiter than my sheets of paper on the table. With one hand she
leaned on the table, not caring that she was soiling her gloves, because I
had spilt water from the paints all over the table.
—• Yes, of course, she said in a peculiar, strange voice, hoarse and low.
— Of course, there is still her. She sat heavily on the kitchen stool and
without taking off her gloves, lit a cigarette.
I hung my head, filled with guilt and some indefinite apprehension. Why
was she up? Where did she want to go? Her gaze memorized me. She smoked
greedily, her hands shook and ash fell on her crumpled black skirt. She did
not bother to shake it off. Suddenly with all my strength I wished that it
could be time for Father to come back, I could not yet make anything of the
hands of the clock hanging on the wall.
48 — I should not have borne her, Mother said loudly and emphatically. If
only I could take her back in again.
Trembling all over, I looked around. Mother was talking as though there
was some other invisible person, to whom she was addressing, over my head,
her remarks about my grievous transgressions and naughtiness. Never, never
again, I promised myself, shall I even lean out of the window, I shall
never even go near the window. But I sensed that this was not the real
reason for her being cross with me, that there was something else. Her
words sank into me, not only the words, but even the tone of her voice, as
she uttered the words, as though with great difficulty, unwillingly, while
her eyes looked beyond me, through me.
I knew that I would think about all this in the evening, before falling
asleep — I thought that then I should at last understand it all.
—• I should not have, she repeated, without taking her eyes off me.
Rigidly tense, I watched her. Was it possible for her to swallow me back?
To take back what has been born? I knew, of course, that apparently there
was a time when I did not exist, and that once upon a time even parents
were only small children, though I found it difficult to imagine; and that
before then, they too did not exist and that their parents had come out of
their parents. The successive generations appeared to me in a highly simplified fashion, though not so very remote from actuality. It was all modelled
on one of my toys — a hollow wooden egg, inside of which there was a succession of eggs, one sitting inside another, getting smaller and smaller.
I had never realized as clearly as now my link with Mother, the fact that
I came from her, and never had the knowledge filled me with such apprehension, such instinctive revulsion. I imagined her thin body in the black
costume swallowing me, enveloping me, the two halves of night closing about
me — the impenetrable egg. I retreated to the wall . . .
— Be a big girl, Father had repeated, looking at me expectantly, with
some kind of plea and hope, as though he thought that some day, under his
very eyes, I should change suddenly into a grown-up person. Now Mother
had decided for some unknown reason to take me back into her, so that all
at once there would be no me, but only her.
Outside the window, the children continued to chase one another, shouting. The sparrow took off from the wall, alighting on the window sill but
seeing that there were no more crumbs, flew away again. At the "whir" of
his wings, the lightest of sounds, Mother jumped up from the chair, petrified.
This amused me, but I suppressed my desire to laugh. I was afraid that she
would be even angrier.
As a matter of fact she did not look angry. She lit a second cigarette. Her
face was distorted with convulsive grimaces, as if she were crying one moment
and laughing the next. Through wreaths of smoke, her face seemed to
become longer, to dissolve, double and change still more. I did not know
what on earth to do with myself.
49 Suddenly she pulled me towards her. She placed her hands, clad in black
gloves, on my arms, the way father did. Even through the gloves, her sharp
nails cut into my flesh.
— Believe me, she spoke directly to me and not to the invisible some one
with whom she appeared, up to then, to have been discussing my fate.
— Believe me, it will be better this way. Sooner or later you will find
yourself at the same point. You will see for yourself. What then? You will
reproach me . . . Life . . . She gave an unpleasant laugh. What is this life?
Look at what it will do to you. Look at me . . .
Her eyes were huge and staring, underlined with black shadows. Deep
furrows cut her skin beneath the heavy coat of make-up, which was already
flaking off. Above her lips and on her chin were patches of sharp dark hairs.
I did not remember her being so ugly and old, so terrible looking. I found it
difficult to bear the nearness of her fixed staring eyes, to feel her breath;
I was repelled by her in a different way than by Father. Vainly trying to
follow her words, I said nothing.
— Anyway, she said, I can't leave you by yourself, and I?
At once everything became clear to me. — Are you going to take me with
you? I cried. Are we going for a walk? To see the ducks? — Overjoyed
I pressed myself to her.
A walk to the pond, with crumbs of bread to feed to the ducks, was one
of the best preserved legends of a happy past. Ceaselessly I bothered Father
for it, but he always temporized — As soon as Mummy is well —. Was she
well now?
Mother wiped her forehead with her hand. I was afraid that she would
say — My head is splitting ■— that she would change again into her dressing
gown and moaning, would lock herself in her dark room. But no, her face
changed. The mask of strangeness vanished from it. Clearly I could see it
disappearing. A change was taking place, her eyes grew smaller and disappeared under her eye-lids, her lips spread in a smile, a special smile for the
benefit of little me. This was how their faces changed when sometimes I
entered the room and found them immersed in some argument or struggle.
— Don't forget, the child is looking, I heard once from Father. Perhaps
at this moment she had remembered that plea, remembered that I was not
so very big. — That's right, she said. That's right. We are going for a walk.
Get dressed.
I was overcome with joy. Skipping with happiness, I changed my shoes
and took off the apron I wore at home. I managed to dress by myself; anything, so long as she did not change her mind about going, everything seemed
to tire her so.
— Can I take the skipping rope with me? I asked. Shall we take some
bread for the ducks?
She consented, objecting to nothing.
50 She did not leave the stool in the corner, but sat there smoking, while on
her face all the time was that smile which was especially for me and which
gave me encouragement. After a moment's hesitation, I approached her
with a brush and comb. A ribbon, badly tied by Father, had slipped out of
my hair. — Will you comb my hair? I asked.
She combed my hair more clumsily than Father. Her hands shook badly
and pins fell to the floor. She pulled me towards her and began to kiss me
haphazardly. To my horror, I realized that she was crying.
—■ Why Mother, why? I asked, fearful that the walk was hanging by a
— Because I love you so, she said, remember to the end that it is because
I love you.
Of her own accord she reminded me about the ball and the little bucket.
From an impulse of gratitude, I turned to her on the stairs.
— This will do you a lot of good, I said, in a very grown-up tone of
voice. I often heard Father encourage her in this way to take a walk, to get
some fresh air.
The day was indeed different from the many previous ones and promised
to be very good. We walked along the sunny side of the street, shadows
twisting around our legs. To amuse Mother I told her of the sparrow who
was tricked, thinking that there were still some crumbs for him, about the
little girl who was playing with the skipping rope, about the new paints. She
did not answer me, but it was quite enough that she continued to smile at
me with that peculiar, artificial but none-the-less loving smile, which did not
leave her lips, nodding her head to what I was saying. From time to time she
squeezed my hand too hard and then I had a strange feeling, as if we were
approaching something terrible.
In the park she chose a bench that stood to one side, close to the fence.
— Go, she said to me, Go and play, and I shall sit here for a while.
Helplessly, I turned around, somewhat unprepared for this sudden realization of my dreams. There were not as yet many children. They generally
came with their mothers in the afternoon. The empty park seemed to be
larger, more festive. The sunshine trickled through the leaves and on the
grass, water hissed and sprayed from a rubber hose, abandoned by the park
In my eagerness, I tried all sorts of games. I rushed to the ducks. Fat and
lazy, they had come out of the water, and stood, cleaning their feathers with
their beaks. The large pieces of bread, which I threw to them, they took as
though conferring a favour. I skipped for a while, playing in the sand, and
then chased a ball. The black figure of my mother filled me with anxiety
because of its immobility, its detachment from everything. She looked as
though she had forgotten about me, though it was probably already time
for lunch. I noticed that people turned and stared when they passed the
bench on which she sat.
51 It was the longest day I had ever spent in the park. The place became
crowded, then emptied again. I wanted to eat, and felt tired, but for nothing
on earth would I have shortened my stay in the park by complaining. Squatting in a large sand-pit I amused myself by demolishing castles left by the
other children.
Suddenly Mother came towards me, walking stealthily and looking around.
— Let's go, she said, squeezing my hand tightly. Have mercy, I cannot
stand it any longer.
I was so tired that I did not immediately notice that we were not going
in the direction of home. Only when Mother again squeezed my hand very
hard, as if she wanted to hurt me, did I look at her, staring.
— You will come with me, she said, from behind her smile, which seemed
to become more and more separated from her distorted face. I assure you,
I have thought it all out, it will be better for you this way.
Suddenly we were on a bridge, over a river. At that particular place the
river divided, flowing by on either side of an island, which stood jutting
out, sharp and slim as a boat. The water was strange, tinted like that in my
paint dish, with red and violet. The sky too was changing in the last rays of
sunset. A heavy barge floated beneath us, cutting the water deeply and
mixing all the colours. Washing was drying on the deck, and a little dog
was barking at its own reflection. I wanted to be back at home, with my
paints spread on the kitchen table, with my unfinished picture, and my
I don't know how long we stood there, until it became dark, until the
night came. Mother either stood staring into the water, completely oblivious
of my presence, or crying, embraced and kissed me. This threw me into a
state of panic and I turned away my face. After that she took my hand
and once again we walked through streets, sometimes faster, sometimes
slower. Lights appeared in the windows and the street lamps came to life.
Even now, whenever evening catches me unaware, in town, a lump comes
to my throat and a feeling of helplessness and fear, belonging to that little
girl which was I, sweeps over me. Once more the bridge, with its stone
balustrade, the island looming below, and water full of golden whirlpools
and bends was before us. And so it was three and four times, as if no matter
which way we went the river was always before us.
Mother leaned on the balustrade, breathing heavily. I could not see her
face. — Don't be afraid, she said, it is only a moment. It will be better this
way. After all I can't leave you behind.
In her voice there was such blind determination, that I tore myself away
from her as though possessed. — Let's go back, I shouted, Father is waiting,
it is night already!
I started to run in the direction where I thought our home would be. I
did not turn to look at her, did not wait for her. After a while she caught
up with me but did not take my hand anymore.
52 Halfway home we met Father, who had been searching all over the town
for us, and was almost out of his mind with anxiety. He did not ask about
anything, but cradled me in his arms like a baby.
I was so tired that I was half asleep by the time we got home. From his
neck, which I embraced with both arms, pulsated healing warmth and life.
As though in a dream I remember the door leading to Mother's room and
the impregnable darkness beyond. She went into that darkness without a
word, one hand to her head. The door closed after her.
— Be a big girl, Father told me next day.
From then on I was a big girl. I never saw Mother again. She did not
take me with her. Each of us, separately, is enveloped by the wings of the
same night.
avo erisalu was born of Estonian parents in Sweden, emigrated to Canada at the
age of four, and now attends high school in Vancouver.
marya fiamengo of Vancouver has appeared in Contemporary Verse, Contact 60,
Fiddlehead and Poetry Northwest. Klanak Press published a volume of her verse
entitled The Quality of Halves.
Maurice gibbons lives in North Vancouver and teaches English at West Vancouver
High School. He has had poetry published in New Voices (Dent's).
Elizabeth gourlay, born in Toronto, raised in New Brunswick, educated in Montreal,
now lives in Vancouver. She has published poetry in The Canadian Forum,
Saturday Night and some of her poems have been accepted by The Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation for broadcast on Anthology.
K. v. hertz of Montreal is co-editor of Cataract Mazagine and has appeared in a
variety of Canadian little mags.
hugh hood lives in Montreal. His fiction has appeared in The Tamarack Review,
Esquire, Contact and The Canadian Forum. A collection of his short stories is
in preparation by The Ryerson Press.
jack leahy has published stories in, among others, The San Francisco Review,
Kenyon Review, Perspective and Prism (3:1). His novel, Shadows on the Water,
was published by Knopf in i960. A recent story has been selected for the forthcoming Best American Short Stories of ig6s. He teaches at the University of
john newlove, originally from Saskatchewan, now of Vancouver, has been "a failure,
but not a remarkable failure, as a student, teacher, social worker, copy writer,
disc jockey, news editor of a couple of small radio stations, and as a very unwilling labourer." A book of his poems, Grave Sirs, is being printed by Robert
mari pineo of Vancouver "spent most of her childhood with adults and most of her
adult life with children." She won the W. J. Gage Writing for Young Canada
Contest, and her story "The Convent" here printed, was broadcast on Anthology
in October, i960 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
david pinson is a Montrealer led to poetry by an interest in song-writing. He has had
poems accepted by Fiddlehead and The Canadian Forum.
zofia romanowicz is a Polish expatriate living in Paris. Her novels, Baska and
Barbara and Crossing the Red Sea, both in Polish, were best sellers. A translated
story, "The Screen", was published in The Antioch Review. Both this and "The
Wings of Night" were translated by jan solecki, a lecturer in Slavonic Studies
at the University of British Columbia.
jacob zilber, one of Prism's Associate Editors, teaches English at the University of
British Columbia. He has published previously in Prism (2:4), Commentary,
The Tamarack Review and Carleton Miscellany.
david mayrs is a graduate of the Vancouver School of Art and has worked as advertising artist in London, England and Vancouver. He did the illustrations on
pages 4 and 24.
54 The editorial staff of Prism extends heartiest congratulations to the winners of the University of Western
Ontario's President's Medals for 1961:
won the medal for the best Canadian story published
in a Canadian periodical with The Tomorrow-Tamer
in Prism 3:1.
won the medal for the best Canadian poem published
in a Canadian periodical with "The Necklace" in
Prism 2:3.
we congratulate also, whose story "The Sound of
Waves" (Prism 2:4) has been selected for Best American Short Stories of ig62.
Prism is proud to have been able in the course of the
past year to bring to its readers so many outstandingly
good pieces.
Northwest T{eview
In every issue fiction and poetry.
Recent and future
contributors include William Stafford, Jack Leahy, Ralph Robin,
Malcolm Lowry, Eric Hoffer, Earle Birney,
Melville Jacobs, Marion Montgomery,
Sister Mary Gilbert, John William Corrington,
David Galler.
now published One year (four issues)     $2.00
quarterly Two years (eight issues) $3.50
Write for
complimentary copy NORTHWEST REVIEW
University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.
PRISM —•> ONLY   $3-£S   PER YEAR!!!
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