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Ml international  JOHN SCHOUTSEN
Managing Editor
Poetry Editor
Drama Editor
Fiction Editor
Translation & Copy Editor
Publicity Director
Advisory Editor
Editorial Board
CONTEMPORARY WRITING Prism international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published four times per year
at the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,
B.C. V6T 1VV5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University Microfilms, Ann
Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation, New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1981 Prism international for the authors
Cover design and artwork: Derrick Clinton Carter
One year individual subscriptions $9.00, two-year subscriptions $14.00. Libraries and
institution subscriptions $12.00, two-year subscriptions $18.00
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must be
accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or international reply
coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient return postage will be held for six months and then
Payment to contributors is $10.00 per page and a subscription. Prism international
purchases First N.A. Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, The Koerner Foundation, Dean Will and The
University of British Columbia
Also financially assisted by the Government of British Columbia through the British Columbia Cultural Fund and Lottery revenues. CONTENTS
Al Israel Smith
The Most Beautiful Lady
in the World
Frank Davey
Two Poems
Marianne Andrea
Two Poems
Paddy McCallum
Jane Munro
Margot Livesey
Crispin Elsted
Two Poems
Katherine Duncan
Johannes Bobrowski
Robert Flanagan
Heat Rise
Georg Trakl
Paddy McCallum
Mario Azzopardi
Two Poems
Phanishwarnath Renu
The Messenger
Thomas Shapcott
Two Poems
R.W. Fulford
Six Poems
Ulla Dahlerup
The Train Journey
69  Al Smith
The Most Beautiful Lady in
the World
secluded, and off somewhere alone, almost inaccessible.
She sat in the sand next to me.
"Oh. It's hot."
She jumped up and brushed the hairless cleft between her legs where
little particles of sand clung to the smooth skin of her opening.
"I'm magic. Look."
In the wet sand she wrote I LOVE YOU. Then she made a pulling
motion with her arms and a wave came in. She pushed her hands against
the air; a wave went out.
I LOVE YOU disappeared.
"Magic. That's me."
She poked her hands in the sand letting it strain through her fingers.
"Do you know what?"
"No. What?"
"The boy who lives at the end of the block wants to marry me."
"Yes. He really does."
"I think that's nice."
"It's not nice at all."
"But he seems like a nice boy."
"He has pimples. Would you marry someone who has pimples?"
"No. I sure wouldn't. I hate pimples."
"Me too."
Pushing the sand into a hill she formed what looked like the beginning
of a sand castle. She stopped playing in the sand and ran to the water's
edge, pointing out to the ocean.
"There's a whale out there. I see a whale."
She ran to the beach blanket and picked up the binoculars and focused
them on an object far out in the ocean. "This is the wrong time of the year for whales. Their migration is
over. Whatever it is out there, it is not a whale."
"It's a man."
Walking slowly into the water until it was ankle deep, stomach
foremost, she refocused the binoculars.
"He's on top of a lady. Floating. And he's like us. All bare. He doesn't
have a bathing suit on."
"Let me see."
She handed me the binoculars. I looked. There was a man floating on
top of something made of rubber that looked like the body of a woman.
"He's waving. I think he's calling for help. Please help the poor man."
I pushed the rowboat into the water and rowed out to him. When I got
to him I asked:
"You need help?"
"But. You were waving."
"I was waving good-bye."
He paddled deeper out into the ocean.
"You're going the wrong way. There's nothing out there. You're going
out to sea."
"I'm going the right way."
"Can't you stop and wait? I want to get a photo of you. I work for the
Morning Star. Have you ever read it?"
"Go away. You have no right to be here. I want to be alone."
"But. . .you and this. . .lady. . .this is. . .sort of a love story."
"Go away. You're ruining everything by being here. The story doesn't
end that way."
"What story?"
"My story."
He paddled faster and I rowed faster.
"I'm thirty-three years old and I never made love to a woman. Thanks
to her I am no longer a virgin."
He put his arms around the woman's body. He hugged her. The
swelling of the waves made a natural motion between his body and the
woman's body.
"Please. Go away."
An enormous swell came up and I turned the boat back to the shore.
When I got to the beach she tugged at my hand and pulled me up the
soft sand.
"Well. What happened?"
"Nothing. You call a man and a lady nothing?"
"Let's not talk about it now. Later. OK?"
"No. I want to talk about it now. Tell me."
"It's hard to explain. Remember when you believed that there was a Santa Claus and he would come down the chimney and bring you
"Sure. How could I ever forget that?"
"Well, wasn't your life a little sadder when you found out that there
wasn't a Santa Claus at all?"
"Yes. There are some things in life you have to know about and then
there are some things in life you never have to find out about. It's better
that way. Why, I'd give anything to be able to believe in someone like
Santa Claus."
She pushed her tiny belly out and poked her finger into her belly button.
"You sure have a big belly like him."
"That's not funny."
She slipped her tongue between her lips. I could see the moist pink tip.
"Poo-on-you." She pointed to the ocean. "The man was waving for
help and you came back without him. You left him out there. With her."
"That man and that lady are just a man and a lady and that's it.
Nothing more. And whatever else there is to know isn't worth knowing."
"I know he needs help."
"Look, I need help too. Give me the answer to this one. Which came
first. The chicken or the egg.?"
"The egg. Silly."
"Then where did the chicken come from?"
She kicked the sand.
"I told you.  The egg."
She hugged herself.
"It's starting to turn cool. Let's go home."
I tied a towel around my waist and she tied a wraparound dress across
her flat chest. She looked at her chest where her breasts would one day
"Did you know Debbie has stretch marks?"
"Now how would you know that?"
"We take showers together. Are they ever ugly. Can you imagine.
She's only fifteen and already she has stretch marks."
"Pimples and stretch marks. I wonder what god was thinking about
when he gave people pimples?"
"When my breasts come out, I want them to be little. Not big. Big
breasts sag. And they look just awful when you get old. Tell god he better give me little breasts or I'll be mad."
"Don't worry your small head about it. Your mother had small
breasts, so —I guess —you'll have small breasts too."
"You never talk about my mother."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"You married her." "Lots of people get married."
"For all kinds of reasons. What's the reason the boy at the end of the
block —I mean, why does he want to marry you? "
"I don't know."
"See, you don't know."
"See yourself. / do know. "
"OK. Why?"
"He thinks that I am the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world.
That's why."
"That's what the man out there said about his lady."
She stopped walking and squirmed her feet into the sand.
"Let's make a sand castle." She stood on her tip toes and held her hand
high in the air. "A real big one."
"No. I don't feel like it."
We started to walk away from the beach.
"That lady out there. Was she really beautiful?"
"Was she prettier than me?"
"Yes. She was."
"How much prettier than me?"
"I would say she was the most beautiful lady in the world."
"That may be for now. But after my hair and breasts come out, and
after the red stuff comes, then I'll be a lady. And I'm going to be the most
beautiful lady in the world."
She placed her palm in my hand.
"Who knows. You could have pimples. Big yellow pimples."
She pulled her hand away from mine.
"Who me? Never. Not me. And I hate you for saying that."
She turned. She walked back to the wet sand of the beach.
"I don't believe you. I'm going to see for myself. She can't be the most
beautiful lady in the world."
"Amy. Come back. You can't swim that far. She's ugly. God awful
ugly. Amy, her breasts are nothing but air. Inflated tits. She's made of
rubber. Come back." I yelled to her. "You can't swim that far. You're the
most beautiful lady in the world."
She ran into the ocean and disappeared behind a wave.
10 Frank Davey/ Two Poems
The black ants carried white bundles
across the sidewalk. The red ants had roadways
on the trunks of the plum trees. The chickens
roosted in the apple trees, the cherry trees
of the United Church manse.
"What's that under your cow?" I asked.
"Tits," the boy answered. "Tits."
The red ants lived in cracks
in the bark of the plum trees.
Cracks where the sap
oozed & jelled. The chickens
had a chicken house
but roosted anyway, in the cherry trees.
"What hangs under a cow?" I asked.
"You'll find out soon enough,"
my mother said.
Beyond the manse was a farm,
beyond the other neighbours were other farms,
& cows lived on the farms
& bellowed at sunrise & bedtime,
& dogs lived on the farms
& barked as I lay waiting
for sleep.
"What hangs under a cow?" I asked.
"Just something or udder," said my father.
11 I remember that I saw where the black ants lived.
I never visited the farms, or peeked into
the minister's chicken house.
I remember that I stood under the plum trees.
I remember that the cow was brown, had a boy
about ten, leading it, that something large
swung heavily beneath it.
"What's that under your cow?" I called, pointing.
"Her tits," he said. "But what is it?" I said.
"Her tits," he said again. "But what?" I said,
still wanting to know. "Tits," he yelled.
"Tits, tits, tits," he yelled, running now
to keep up with the cow. "What?" I called.
But the boy & the swinging tits
both vanished around the corner
& left me under the plum trees, alone
with my question. What hangs, what swings
under a cow?
Now Edward collects histories of mass-starvation & drowning.
Patricia organizes her collection of McCalls patterns.
Edward looks for bronze bookends at antique shops
& auction houses. Patricia
traces his & hers profiles, life-size,
onto black velvet, & mounts them
above her stuffed animals
on their bedroom wall. Edward
leaves unused prophylactics
in his bookcases, on her hope chest. Patricia
admires the wall. You look like George the sixth
she says.
Edward leaves for work at the library.
Patricia leaves for work at her hospital.
Edward marks book catalogs; Patricia fills out file cards
for abused children. Some nights they go out.
'Let's drive around the North Shore,' Patricia says.
'Let's go to Woolco,' Patricia says.
'Let's get rootbeer at the A & W,' she says.
Edward buys a banjo, a pewter police whistle,
a bass drum at the auction, & decorates, he says,
the spare room. Patricia buys a guitar
& sings Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley
& I Sail On the Sloop John B
to her Indian rubber tree in the living room.
13 'Let's go to Woolco & see what's on sale,' says Patricia.
Let's go to the auction & see what's going,' says Edward.
'I got a new nail polish half price,' says Patricia.
'I got a Victorian stool for $14,' says Edward.
'You got taken,' says Patricia, 'but we could give it
to my aunt for Christmas.' 'Your kids
could use the polish for painting gourds, & making
Christmas ornaments,' says Edward.
Edward buys cross-rib roasts at Super-Valu
& cuts them into steaks. Patricia
cooks brownies, pop-corn,
graham-cracker pies.
Edward reads Evergreen Review, Rolling Stone,
& Joan Baez dustjackets. Patricia reads
Vogue, Modern Bride, while crocheting shirts & trousers
for her stuffed animals.
Often she talks to Edward while she reads,
while he reads.
'Someday we must have a baby, Edward,'
she says.
14 Marianne Andrea/ Two Poems
I have no one to ask but you
And the stars: where do I begin?
The street we lived on,
The one we first saw that spring
After the February freeze —
I try to return
To rescue recollections
Like faded fotographs;
Walking the neighbourhood
Following the sun
Obliquely painted on a wall,
The iced corner of the eaves
Melting, measuring distances
Of its fall;
The robins have returned,
The old yews trembling back
Into green.
Cobblestones, covered and cleared
By a thousand seasons,
Each breathing into the other's mouth.
15 II.
This is the second spring.
I lived through the winter frost
Facing my horoscope,
Sucking my memories dry,
Plotting a kind of geometry
Full of clever equations
That died like malnourished children.
Where do I go now and when,
Since you are so terribly not here?
Brittle branches broke in our hair
tracing our climb.
We searched for treasures among rocks
in obscure dunes
After the sea went out. There was a bird
marking a grave
and the light changed.
The wind whipped its cape into the eyes
of clouds —then pulled us
High above fields, sea, and landscapes
into thinning day.
Without sun or compass we found the break
in time as if we entered
a child's book of rhymes.
In our town, along old roads and trails
of barberry bushes
and lichened stones,
We walked chanting old fairy tales
Watching the red-winged blackbirds
clouding the sky.
This was the same hour, the same day
when we didn't come home
But waited for the moon to rise, and
staying the night
lost our way. . .
The day ended as if a fruit reverted to bud.
Returning to rocks
fissured with rain,
We made our turn along the sea-covered dunes.
The bird was no longer
17 Paddy McCallum
She says the water is a flock of starlings
and the cupboard a forest celebration.
Her plate is a cage of mirrors and feed.
She has felt the determination
of the mind-flock's restless flight across
the desert in search of greenery
and knows that music is a foreign tribe
of crows with beaks like cutlery; claws
no feathered breast should feel the pressure of.
I would hold out my hand to call her back
but over breakfast she cannot hear me
shout. All the branches are singing.
18 Jane Munro
for Ranjan
one flew away
one flew away
why would a bird depart?
a bird will fly
one flew
the bird knew
In tall reeds a marsh bird
waits. His neck
long as an unstrung bow,
waves loose. He does not bend
toward the stalled dreams.
His unbaited claws
have peeled any number of thongs
from the stream.
Without commotion,
notions trek past in herds,
thronging the swamp's dumb growth.
The bird's legs fall backward,
untensed. He blends
with the fibres
of attenuated evening,
martyred to deja vu.
19 Swamps snore noisily at night.
Bird listens.
He avoids downed light forms.
He picks out
particular lives from the cacophony.
Bird chooses not to eat
the dark's creatures. He takes
heart by relinquishing strength.
Hard edges collected
from the squandered textures
of a swamp: in a test
of night vision,
blue birds stare
to reassess
a departure marred
by the mirroring of two.
The pond, bruised
by lack of sunlight,
tenders three flowers,
scentless. The moon hangs
like the shadow of a melon.
The birds eye
terror so hollow
it rings.
20 in the tallow of a night
as the segments of a grapefruit
onto a discarded peel
a pair of yellow herons
enlarged as the harvest moon
ochred in an ordered moment of flight
the hugeness of two
flying in the face of
uncommon ripeness
these two are new, rising inside
the sky's lavender bud,
outlined by fire
it is fire
which describes them
they are violet as the lidded light
as the closed lotus
shadows silhouetted
by the flare of their approach
on the clinging side of dusk: auras
uneven with ignition
before explosion into flight
21 7
the salve of tranquillity
blend of necks
the float of a flock
solves a passage with feathers
gentle unguent
of twilight
slips between birds
whose undoing is a jewel
lingering on the current
of a loosened day
bird's frenzy
his royal contortion
shakes off despair, solemnity
explodes him
in this craze of angles
to prance, soar, shake the sky
wild purple
bird dances
his code of ecstasy
a choreography
frantic with love
bird's share
22 one flew away
one flew away
why would a bird depart?
a bird will fly
one flew
the bird knew
23 Margot Livesey
Whenever I visit a museum and see one of those sienna orange and black
Attic vases around which the figures pursue each other in an endless
mutilated procession, I remember my father who held in great regard
mummeries and funerals. His whole interest in life lay in death and the
rituals that surround it and, like a character on a vase, he remained poised for as long as I knew him, in the same attitude. He would, if he had
lived in that age, have appeared frequently in these scenes as a mourner
or bystander, even a rather solemn flautist, following the priest and the
pyre to some dark cave where the dead kept house. I could imagine him
driving a good-humoured bargain about fares with Charon; the latter
shaking his shaggy head and saying, "A man must live," while my father,
notebook in hand, confronted him with the accounts. Probably he would
have been much happier in that world which seemed to pay closer attention to death than we do now, but given his generation he had done
rather well for himself, indeed accomplished something rare, by professionalizing his stance and becoming the obituary writer for the local
paper, an unsalaried position which he pursued with conscientious zeal.
His real work too was bound up with mortality for he owned a small
shop where he sold and repaired watches. In this room, the size of an
enlarged cupboard, he sat behind a glass display case in which lay his
selection of stock, new and used; over his white shirt and black trousers
he wore a black apron, later in life, black overalls, and screwed into his
eye a black loupe. So permanent was this addition to his vision that even
when not in place his features, in memory, were dragged a little to one
During the summer months we went almost every Saturday afternoon, Saturday was early closing, to the local nursing home which lay at
the top of a hill. The road going up to it undulated gently but was still
fairly steep. There was in fact a long way round which offered a more
gradual incline and brought one to the back of the nursing home, but we
always meandered up the direct way, stopping first beside one garden
gate and then another. While my father conversed with the gardeners I
would climb on the gate or stand fidgeting, and surreptitiously dissect a
24 rose or two. At last, to my delight, we would reach our destination. The
nursing home stood inside a small garden surrounded by a privet hedge.
One gained admittance by a green wrought iron gate on which I would
swing a few times before running along the gravel path and ducking past
my father to open the green door on which hung a red and white notice
stating the visiting hours. Even on a warm day when many windows
stood open there was still an initially overwhelming smell of antiseptic.
After a short time in this intense atmosphere I could distinguish the
many smells which it smothered; lunch's meat and boiled vegetables, the
smell of talcum powder and old skin, dust and death, the rather heavy
perfumes and cosmetics favoured by the nurses, the wax on the floors,
the disinfectant in the toilets, the smell of flowers. My father always went
first to pay his respects to the matron, whom I thought of as being quite
elderly but was probably, at that time, no more than thirty-five,
although her hair was already grey. She was a large woman and I
remember her wrists, nipped in like tucks at the end of her plump, blue-
sleeved arms, and small very white hands. I have heard people complain
that geriatric nursing is depressing but certainly this was never true for
matron. What mattered to her, as for my father, was the quality of death
and together they would discuss for hours who had made a good death,
which one had exceeded their expectations and which surprisingly at the
last moment cringed. While they talked I would find the tea trolley and
follow it on its route.
My father had a curious status as a visitor. Wearing black, seen as a
harbinger of doom, come as it were to measure them for their coffins,
ready or not, he would often meet with resentment. At the same time his
position and rights were so clearly established that he was almost a kind
of old favourite. In addition, for some few, I think he provided an important service; he was their chronologist, the one person on whom they
could rely to listen to their history and give some sense and shape to it
before the end. To some of the more truculent of his customers my
father endeared himself by always memorizing the football results or
whatever and coming well supplied with the local paper. The more lively
of these elderly people loved to play jokes on the "crow" as they called
him. They would assure him that Mrs. Archibald had passed a very bad
night and was close to the end. My father would scurry down the ward;
he had never forgotten the ignominy of those rare occasions when he had
arrived too late, the sound of his cane like the hollow clicking of the
death watch beetle as it burrows through the night. The pre-arranged
victim would remain quite still as my father drew near, hat in hand,
making a brief side-step to confirm the name on the chart which hung at
the end of the bed. I was exactly on the level of these charts and to me
they were strange magic pictures of voyages along unknown waterways.
I imagined them lying on top of the brown water, bobbing in the ripples,
25 stretching on and on along the surface of the river. By these means a
person could walk along, a little shakily perhaps, but the charts provide a
constant passage of safety, until they begin to falter, and the leaps between them grow wider and more perilous. At last, inevitably, the person
slips and disappears, with only a few bubbles.
My father coughed softly, which was always how he signalled his
presence. In the shop it was amusing; a person would come in to look at
the display and after a minute or two, if they failed to say hello, my
father would cough. Of course people didn't respond. Now he coughed
and spoke. "How are you Mrs. Archibald?" There would be a gurgle or
some indistinct rumble. "Not too good I see. Shall we just check your life
and make sure that we've got the details straight." As he spoke my father
would have reached in his pocket and produced his black notebook
which I think never left his person. "You were born in Tunbridge Wells,
isn't that right? In 1899. That makes you eighty-two, doesn't it? Not a
bad age, certainly more than three score and ten. It is amazing how
many people do pass on in their seventies, almost as if they decided to.
That's probably how it is, there's nothing like keeping interested." He
would talk on in this fashion, mixing his philosophy with dates and facts
about the person, undeterred by the silence until at some point Mrs. Archibald, tired or enraged, would sit up triumphantly and announce, "I'm
planning to live to be a hundred so you can stay away from me you old
crow." My father would be quite unruffled by her denunciation. "Good,
you're feeling a little better. It was Tunbridge Wells, wasn't it?" In nine
cases out of ten the patient would then embark on their life story to the
one listener they could depend on, even though my father attached
himself like a limpet, only to facts, and regarded tragedies and shadows
as mere digressions, adding no substance to the narrative.
By these weekly visits to some of his potential customers my father
kept his very thorough files up to date. He loved every aspect of death,
the talk of last throes and last words, the discussion of casts and coffins,
the choice of hymns and funeral orations, where the reception would be
held, the cold meats. His interest extended just the other side of death to
the will with all its surprising possibilities. He was also avidly interested
in postmortems which are also a kind of Last Testament. But he was not
one to talk about illness in a hushed voice, in fact I think he found minor
vicissitudes of health quite boring. It was only interesting when it was
fatal; to watch someone slowly slipping out of life either hanging on, or
pushing themselves off, that was what interested him.
When it was cold in winter and the hill up to the nursing home seemed
too long and steep we would go round to the undertakers instead. There
were only two, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Sullivan, but I don't think that
there was any rivalry between them except in the details of their craft.
When my father was appealed to as a judge of such matters he was
26 always very careful to remain impartial so that they were probably both
united in regarding him as indecisive. Mr. Sullivan's shop had a plate
glass window with his name in gold letters and a display of a grey tombstone with a bunch of red plastic roses in front of it. Behind the display
there was paneling to a height of six or seven feet so that the goings-on of
the interior remained mysterious to passers-by. Inside there was a
wooden counter with a blotter and an ashtray, a clock, a calendar and a
couple of hard wooden chairs. It was not particularly comfortable but
there was a certain incipient hominess, as if any moment a cup of tea
might appear. My father, a privileged visitor, always had one to sip during his tour of inspection to see what they had in stock. He and Mr.
Sullivan would assess a corpse like a couple of farmers looking at a piece
of beef, or a soothsayer scrutinizing a liver. "Well he's neatly turned out,
Mr. Sullivan, though this suit isn't up to much. Surely this isn't his best.
I've seen Mike at a couple of funerals quite nicely dressed." "I think she's
keeping it for the son. He's nearly of an age now when he'll need a suit,
and they are dear." "Still she should understand the occasion," my father
would say quite sternly, "I mean this is not an everyday occurrence; it's
his big day. And look at these shoes, they've got a good shine on them
but didn't she realize that he wouldn't be walking, everyone would see
the sole. A good pun that, though perhaps a bit Catholic; I never noticed
until Mr. Campbell pointed it out, of course his sister-in-law is a
Catholic." Mr. Sullivan would nod. My father would pursue one of his
favourite topics: the stinginess of women in the face of death. "Women
are always so calculating; they don't have any respect for the dead. They
think the living are more important. . . .Now I look closely at the feet,
they don't look so good. You've got a very funny angle for that left foot,
it looks unnatural." "We tried but you know that's how he was. Don't you
remember he limped, especially when he was tired. Remember at his
father's funeral how slowly they had to walk because of Mike." To nudge
my father's memory one had only to refer to a funeral and his vagueness
would vanish; I even heard him refer to my birth as being the day before
the former minister's last rites. "In fact I've managed to make it look a lot
straighter than it ever did before. Sometimes I think I'd have made an
excellent surgeon." "You're right. I'd forgotten he limped. Well, he'll be
walking straight as an arrow now."
While this conversation was going on I too would have looked at the
body but more perfunctorily, unless the person looked radically different, which sometimes happened, before drifting off to play with Mr.
Sullivan's various tools. As a child I took my father's hobby for granted.
He was almost completely oblivious to me I think but I enjoyed accompanying him on his rounds and in my own way I tried to emulate him. I
had my own little cemetery in the garden where I buried what dead
animals I could lay my hands on, mostly birds or mice that the cat had
27 proudly deposited on the kitchen floor. I wrapped them in hankerchiefs,
incarcerated them with some of the words that I could remember, threw
on the earth and had my dolls celebrate the whole event with cups of
tea. Each grave was marked with a small cross made from two twigs tied
together. It was my equivalent of a stamp collection and I felt no
squeamishness at all in handling the bodies. Where appropriate I also
buried relics with them, things they would need in the happy hunting ground: favourite toys, pictures of dangers and pleasures. On the
longstanding graves I planted flowers and remembered their anniversaries. My father never commented on this as far as I recall. I did
overhear him once saying to my mother, "Perhaps she'll be a vet when
she grows up. She seems to have leanings that way." Maybe that was a
comment. The first couple of times I buried a pet my mother thought it
was sweet, but then when it became apparent that it was not just the
dearly loved but any corpse, she shrivelled into disapproval, but she
never said anything explicit, only tried to divert me.
On Sundays we had to go to church although my father did not on the
whole see eye to eye with the minister who refused to preach deathly sermons all the time. Christmas he loathed. Easter I think he viewed with
mixed feelings: until Good Friday things were definitely going his way
but Easter Sunday left him uncertain. He was not sure this was what he
wanted; it was one thing to enjoy death vicariously, another to revel in it
face to face. But he did, I know, believe in the physical resurrection of
the body for he often said things which reflected the idea that in heaven
we would all be whole and comely and athletic, rather like "The
Triumph of the Will." Because of this he deplored cremation, although
as our town was too small to boast a crematorium it was not an immediate threat. He felt that cremation stripped the dead of all the things
they needed for the after-life, for certainly one would need one's best suit
in heaven, and cremation also made it that much harder to, as it were,
"connect everything up" even after John Donne's formidable reassurances. Later when f had attended a service at a crematorium for myself I thought he would also have hated the efficiency, the soft-footed
attendants, the well-oiled doors, the lack of personal reference to the
dead. At our church it was always obvious when the bearers were struggling with a heavier person or why they were marching with a good
swing. We all knew who was dead.
There would be a service in church, then we would go into the graveyard, following behind the coffin. My father to his chagrin was debarred
from the activity of a coffin bearer by reason of his weak heart. While the
coffin stood on a plinth beside the open grave and the turf in the churchyard was so green and smooth each grave was like a wound, the minister
would say, "Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and
is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth
as it were a shadow and never continueth in one stay." That part of the
28 service always made me shiver, it sounded so black and final. The coffin would be lowered and we would give thanks for the owner's relief
from this world. My father would usually linger for a moment after
everyone, bar the gravediggers, had left. The nearest and dearest always
had to hurry ahead to organize the reception. After a moment of silent
contemplation (I am not sure whether a reverie or an assessment of the
flowers), my father would nod and turn away. The reception, his only
kind of party, was inevitably held either at the home or at one of the two
small hotels, The Cross Keys or The Green Plum. There would be sherry,
ham, slices of tomato, shortbread, rolls, hard-boiled eggs, scotch eggs,
cheese. My father took upon himself the role of chief mourner; he passed
from guest to guest with a soft dry handshake and the ordinary condolences of which he was a master. In a low voice he imparted the information of his profession: "You know he was decorated during the war?"
or, "He was the eldest of six brothers and he's outlived all of them so he
hasn't done so badly." I, meanwhile, in a dark skirt with white socks and
a white blouse, would sit on a chair near the food and eat, with discretion, as much as possible.
I always thought of death as a kind of blessing and never understood
my mother's murmured regrets until there was a death more shocking
and violent than the elderly fading to which I was so well accustomed.
Through the middle of town, just behind the High Street, ran the river,
green in summer, brown and swollen in the spring and grey in winter
until one year, I was about eight or nine, when there was a cold spell of
sufficient severity and longevity to freeze it over. The whole town turned
out in Wordsworthian fashion to skate or stroll on the ice. When
darkness came at about four o'clock a big bonfire was lit on one bank and
a pub, ambitiously called The Waterman's Arms, sold hot chocolate. There
were a few days of unusual jollity. Douglas Brown was the only son of
rather elderly parents who kept a farm outside the town. He was three
years older than me so I only knew him by sight; he displayed his gap-
teeth with a wide grin and had curly brown hair and was stocky and
always getting into scrapes. One afternoon when there were only a few
people around he skated too far downstream and disappeared. The current was swift and he must have immediately been swept away beneath
the ice. I imagine him fighting with it like an impenetrable window
which refused to yield even to his body's urgent pressure. It was not
mentioned that he was playing truant when his death was announced in
the school assembly; of course we all knew already and were fairly quiet.
The body was not recovered; my father knew all the details of the search
and I was fascinated to learn that there was one place near the mouth of
the river where one could almost rely on finding a drowned corpse. I imagined it a kind of sandbank around which the bodies, beautifully dressed, floated and socialized. Eventually the funeral was held anyway. The
church was full to overflowing but my father, an old hand, had come
29 early and secured a ringside seat where he could covertly observe the
family. I had never seen him so full of zest, so excited before. The
Browns occupied the front centre pew. The mother wept, the father
stood beside her with a face like a naked sword which you could have
plunged far down into the dark soil, their two daughters sobbed, other
relatives stood by stoically partaking of the limelight. The minister
preached as best he could in the face of such strident grief, about life
everlasting, only the good dying young, God needing messenger boys
and boy scouts in heaven (Douglas had been both). The sobbing continued unabated and my father's face gleamed with disapproval, I think,
but I'm not sure of what. Surely not grief which was as nectar to him,
but perhaps once again the minister's refusal to confront death. This time
the coffin was so light that the bearers had to resist swinging it high over
their heads. I wondered if there was anything inside it, a picture of him,
a lock of hair, any sign to show whose corporeal being was meant to be
enclosed in that dark wooden space. We retired to the grave; the icy spell
was over and it was a cold sodden day. The grave-diggers must have
grumbled heartily as they worked but I suppose the grave was smaller
than the average; that surely was some kind of blessing. As the ritual of
laying to rest unravelled, the mother, unable to stand it, hurled herself
upon the empty coffin. She lay on it, clinging, begging death to admit
her, until her husband plucked her off, while all the time the minister intoned and disposed of the possibility of life. The mother's sobbing went
on and on, relentlessly, like the water dripping off the church eaves.
Everyone's faces and hands were red and raw with the cold. My father
said to me that if they found the body then they would break open the
grave and place it inside but even if this didn't happen, he explained,
God would already have found Douglas and transferred him to heaven;
He didn't need a funeral to alert Him to death or to identify the body. I
thought he should have said all this to Douglas's mother.
After this funeral there was no reception, much to my father's disappointment. He and a few other people, obviously at a loss, drifted to the
pub and presently came home smelling of whiskey, for lunch which was
shepherd's pie and peas. As he ate he talked about one of his favourite
subjects, the value of having the corpse lie in at home so that people
could see for themselves the nature of death. "Not much use in Douglas's
case," my mother murmured over her knitting and my father gave her a
sharp look before continuing. He could still remember the death of his
father; he had been a gardener at a big house and had died of a heart attack while hauling the roller across the lawn. Another gardener and the
bailiff had carried the body home to the cottage where they lived; no one
had gone ahead to warn his mother. From her kitchen window she saw
the two men approaching with the body slung between them like a heavy
sack. She put aside what she was doing and went out to meet them,
walking quite slowly, wiping her hands on her apron while my father ran
30 ahead. His father was still warm; he touched his hand. They asked
where she wanted him and she said on the parlour table and then bustled
ahead to polish it and pull away the chairs. The two men hoisted him up
and laid him down. They didn't offer consolation nor did she seem to expect it but at once began to undo his boots. She stripped him and washed
him and dressed him in his best suit, all in silence, almost dreamily.
Then she went off to cook dinner up at the house, which was her job. It
didn't seem to even occur to her that such exceptional circumstances
would allow her to absent herself. She left her son behind with the injunction to watch his father and so he did. I imagine my father as the
kind of little boy who always lost at games and was always the last to be
chosen for teams so I see him playing games with his dead father and
triumphantly winning every time. The curtains must have been drawn
out of respect and in order not to fade the carpet, but not entirely, so that
there was enough light to play by. If he wanted to address the body
directly my father could pull up a chair and stand on it, or he could take
refuge in the cave under the table. He was quite unafraid. Accustomed
to his parent's taciturnity it was only a question of degree; their companionship lay in silence rather than in conversation. In the evening the
neighbours came round to keep my mother company in her vigil and my
father was banished to the periphery of the circle. The neighbours sat
around the table on six matching chairs almost as if my grandfather were
delectable and they were sitting down to consume him. After the third
day when the coffin was ready they took him to church and buried him.
Once again my father was lonely. He longed to repeat this episode of
happiness but there seemed no possibility; his mother was in good health
and in spite of his entreaties she never remarried so that he remained an
only child. My father thought the modern methods of dealing with the
matter were impersonal and disrespectful, that death was not sufficiently
honoured; for surely if we did hold it in respect we would not relegate it to
tradesmen, it would be kept in the family. It was important to him in
this context to remind people of his amateur status with the local paper.
It meant, he said, that his fidelity was unimpugned, people knew that he
didn't owe anything to the paper; he was his own master and they
respected him for it.
Gradually my mother, never very noticeable in her prime, began to
fade; she coughed more, grew thinner, sat occasionally with her hands
idle and talked even less. My father's interest in her revived and he
became solicitous of her well-being. For quite a while, I am not sure how
long, he refrained from calling a doctor, then perhaps thinking that this
was a mistake in strategy he went ahead and called him, first ensuring
that my mother looked her best for his visit. I was in the garden when the
doctor came and out of curiousity followed him into the house. My
mother was up, dressed as always in a black dress with an apron over it
and a cardigan, seated by the fire. Doctor Sanders shook her hand and
31 asked her how she felt. Of course she said she felt fine. My father offered
the doctor some tea and said she had a bit of a cough. The doctor accepted the tea and listened to her chest, that was all. The rest of his visit
passed in conversation and only when he came to depart did he give
some medical advice; to keep warm and rest. My father saw him to the
garden gate and they talked for a few minutes, but that could have been
about the doctor's passion for fast cars rather than about my mother.
People said that my father looked after my mother with devotion. He
certainly cooked and cleaned, and did the shopping on his way to and
from the shop. Rather than taking a sandwich with him for lunch he
came home and made something for mother and me. I went to school
and did not think much about the matter. Looking back I can
distinguish my father's excitement, how my mother became daily more
dear to him, more exquisite; he cleaned the parlour at least once a week.
My mother, I think, was past caring, certainly she did not resent but enjoyed her husband's renewed attention even if it stemmed from delight in
the process of corruption, actually in her case, consumption. She didn't
even seem to mind his conversation which typically went something like
this: "Did you see old Simon just passed on? Do you remember him? He
used to run that little newsagents on the bend in the High Street. Eighty-
two he was and still digging the garden when he caught a chill. He was
dead in a couple of days, chilled to death you might say. No family at
all." And so on. It was so much a part of him that perhaps neither of
them noticed its inappropriateness. The only person who remonstrated
my father was my aunt, Theresa, who lived nearby. I think she saw
straightaway what was happening and tried, in vain, to rouse my mother
in whom she encountered a gentle, obstinate optimism. She argued with
my father and hinted that his motives were questionable, but confident
of my mother's support, he stood up for his devotion. It was the same
when the doctor, at last, tried to get my mother to go into hospital. My
parents presented a united front; my father, secure in his knowledge that
no help was possible, argued nobly to let him continue to care for her,
that hospital would only frighten and depress her. My mother said she
was much happier at home. Finally the doctor said well wouldn't I be
upset by the whole business. I was called in from the garden. My father
asked, "You want mother to stay at home, don't you?" I, carefully coached, said, yes, I wanted her to stay and where would she be going? before
running back, probably to play in my cemetery.
At last she died, wasting peacefully 'til the very end. My father cried
but not I. He wouldn't let me out of the house that morning in case I
should tell anyone for he knew that then Aunt Theresa and the
neighbours would come round and assume to themselves the perogative
to wash and lay out the body which my father so dearly sought to do. He
had everything very well organized and I helped with the buttons and
the underwear. When she was finished we both kissed her. Only that
32 evening would he let me go and spread the news. Aunt Theresa and the
neighbours came gladly to watch with him for they remembered the
custom and missed it. My father had already written her obituary and
sent it in promptly. At the funeral he occupied the star pew, as opposed
to the usual one, and wore black and had me dressed in black. The
minister preached his usual sermon about the dearly loved sister whom
we had lost (but God had gained), how many people would remember
her for little selfless acts of kindness and miss her; all the usual, irrelevant things to which I paid no attention but my father fidgeted in annoyance; once again he felt that death was being given a poor deal. At
the grave, as always, he cheered up, and by the reception in the Cross
Keys he was glowing, for this one time he was the hero.
After my mother's death my father grew depressed, not, I think,
because of loneliness, but because after the intimacy of my mother's
demise, ordinary obituaries seemed remote and unexciting; death had
abandoned him and he felt the slight deeply. He would ask me how I was
feeling but I always felt fine and was rosey and well. A number of years
passed before my father realized that the only death he had to look forward to was his own. All his life he had anticipated events for other people; as it were, his feelings and excitement came from them, his
stimulus. Now, for the first time, he began to study himself. Like an old
soothsayer he plunged in his hand and drew out his own liver to discuss
what might happen. His great fear became that he might die suddenly,
hit by a car, or struck by lightning, removed to oblivion in one moment,
unable to savour the experience, to, at last, understand it. He grew nervous and watched himself. Now he had something to look forward to.
When I left home he lived alone, still writing obituaries but too blind
to mend watches. To visit him was perhaps a little like Pip and Miss
Haversham; time was not taken for granted, nor forgotten, but a
carefully caressed pet. His clocks ticked softly and chimed the hours.
There was a sundial in the garden. No minute passed without being examined and loved.
When he died, alone and at home, everything was ready and well
prepared. He had stopped the milk and papers and a couple of weeks
before had paid the bills, telling people that he was going off for a few
weeks to visit me. He must have lived on tinned food until he took to his
bed, where he lay reading sometimes, perhaps listening to the radio,
which was on when they found him, and died. If they had found him
sooner I would have washed him and laid him out and sat with him in
proper state for now I'm too old for cemeteries and my friends are young
and don't die. Occasionally I'll be driving through some small village
when I will see a crowd in the churchyard; I stop and go and stand at the
back to watch and hear those lovely words rattling around, but it is not
the same, the dead are unknown, my father is not there to inform the occasion, it is, as he predicted, impersonal.
33 Crispin Fisted/two poems
for Robert Bringhurst
Under molde hi leggeth colde
Andfaleweth so doth medewe gras
Thos. Hales (fl. 1240)
Mass, the voice over the shoulder holding its own audience
the tear under the hand, several things clear because of islands
the need for water, all are one thing
which is a way of thinking, and an opinion: Africa.
When you died you wrote it down, holding in
the only last strength like a bullet, writing through the poison
about the full stop.
You decided to die in a place I have never seen
and before I could speak to you.
I would shake you
beat your forehead into my language
curse you with my hands held up to my face
palms out, wailing, asking you to speak.
We are under the same sentence
with no one to talk to, and we both
study our fingers, and laugh.
Africa is an incantation to me, and there
is no Africa like that blunt sanctuary slab
that died under your wrists.
34 7 I want so much not to say
anything about drums and elephants,
but what do you give me of your country, why do you write
about the loose landscape of the brain
and not one sentence of the heat crumbling your skin
like the husks of bees.
8 You never liked to write about
what you could see out of your window
after you had come home from the printing rooms
without gifts for the children, your eyes itchy
with letter-mites: you wrote instead
in other languages, and dreamed of Paris.
9 I have seen Paris, and it has nothing of you in it:
you can rest easy there.
10 My head shakes with sorrow when I think of you
at the moment when you died, because that is the time
when the right words would have visited, it is in that desperation
that there is the sentence.
11 It is almost worth looking for; it is almost worth looking.
12 And there is that about your slipping to the floor
that makes me curse your selfish eyes
full of fingers and alphabets.
13 Your last words were written on paper
with no one there to speak to, it was always that way
and your tongue would not have known where to move
what with the Hova, the French, the Spanish, the shrieks
35 14 I would have stood aside to let you fall
if that was what you wanted.
15 I could only have heard you.
16 I shout into your dead ear that I
am that poet who will know your books like flowers
but in the other matter you were wrong:
your tomb is not in the blue winds
it is in your tongue
fallen apart in the case of your head.
17 I love you as no one did & know it is not important.
18 If I had sat with you calling you nigger
struck your face and preached at your opium,
so long as I read, and said so,
it would have been well with you.
19 The words
have nothing to do with our shapes and odours;
they are outside us
as a neighbour's grave.
20 I fix on your death to explain that I am sad
since I am not black or Jew
with a right to grieve, and since to keen or greet
has no decorum in my country stiff as a bride's knees:
your death gives me sorrow.
21 You must not mistake the grief
for anything other than yours: I would sooner
miss seasons than be, as I must be
without you, I would sooner not know Spring's flick.
36 22 Really if I were there, I would take your hand
and ask for your voice, because I wonder how it would be
without the poison to curdle its vowels and make the consonants
bend and snap like birds' bones.
23 Ah God now that the sun is so low
I put my hands on my head and wail, and hear my voice
come back from ray own hills half dead, and kill my voice
by melting it in rage.
24 Your whole head was a machine for knowing:
you could hear with it, and look out of it,
and you could smell smoke and heat, the sponge scent of ripe fruit,
the sweet clout of women; and you could taste on your tongue
noon dust, sweat, the liquor of sex, and on your tongue
words spun and died, poisoned with sentence.
25 I have reached a quiet place, friend, and I scuff the ground
where the dead grass has been hammered on itself,
and the new grass has not found its way yet to be seen,
and the dog scratches in it after spiders: this is peaceful
as long as I do not remember you.
26 The grass covers nothing; I stand on your coffin.
27 It is very plain, a dead box, but for everything on it,
a whole world sticking out in every direction, sand, cedar,
salt and bone; but for the living it endures
under the sentence of dawns.
28 I can never walk away from you since I found your words
37 29 I care for nothing but the fact of your dying
against your word, soon after it, and I am trying
to put my arms around you in words, to teach you joy
when my hope is to find it in you, when there is none
but to die with you, words the last secretions, holding
near, phrases, clipped verbs, letters shaken loose,
eyehook L's, M's cradle, the crutched T
spilling out of our teeth, and we will catch them in our palms
and close our fingers.
30 There is a long silence where mourning was:
it will not last: whole out of the quiet
comes the last cry: now it is near.
31 It sings to me like nothing on a fencepost far away.
32 Perhaps it is Africa that keeps me from you
because it is desperate and hard to grasp you in my hand,
my fingers slip and burn, and I suck them to soothe them
and taste your language as a graze of honey on my tongue.
33 I have already said that I am beginning to die.
34 And how long will it be, how long will I have
after I have said certainly I am beginning to die, where
does the question end, and will you hold me, Jean-Joseph?
35 Friend I love
there is no mystery in Africa
translated from the night in your uncoupled head.
36 I know you.
You can increase the distance sheep by weed
by looking first at the wall at the edge of a grave
and over it to the first copse where deer
engage grass and from there the windbreak of spoken trees
announces the mile in green curds
beyond which and over a stocked pond it hides
farms luck and an utter smoke makes work
draw the fields around it with a jerk
before on a hedgerow the looking slides
a plain reach indistinguishing birds
in haze-deckle phrasing three oasts and the bees
succumb words behind my arm and mere
nouns are naming verbs nudge particles place and wave
and grammar is distance in memory of Charles John Meade.
39 Katherine Duncan
Take an envelope. Fill it with rain. Send it, as a gift,
to a friend living in the south.
Now take a teacup. Fill it with water, cold, from the
tap. Filter the water through cheesecloth and drink.
Remember a friend you have forgotten. Think of Peru.
Think of Peru or Paris or the distance between. Imagine
you are somewhere within that distance. This may be fact.
If so, remember to keep imagining. Take a bus to the
nearest museum. Look at maps.
Imagine yourself on a boat on the Atlantic. Rain falls.
The surface enlarges around you. This may be confusing,
you may lose your sense of perspective. Imagine two
lines converging on the surface of the water. Transfer
this image to a sheet of expensive paper.
The lines become fence-posts. In the distance a cat jumps
off the fence through the rain.
40 Johannes Bobrowski
The air.
The tall tree,
circled round by the heron.
And the house,
once, where now the forest
comes down,
small and white
the house, and the green glow,
a willow leaf.
Wind. It led me.
I lay at the threshold.
It covered me. Where
could I have followed it? I don't
have wings. My cap
I tossed to the birds.
Twilight. The bats
fly round my head. The rudder
is broken, but I shall not sink, I move
across the water.
Translated from the German by Sammy McLean
41 Robert Flanagan
Heat Rise
A small tornado, he thought, one decent wind — hell, a ten-boxcar
train running loud in the night through the town would have wiped it
out. It had been that way for as long as he could remember. And the bus
he was on made the same run out of Jackson as when he was a boy, down
Route 137, through French and Darden City on to the coast.
The Coca-Cola sign on the side of Parkins Drugstore was rusted now,
and chipped. It spelled old. Fading with the town. The white glass was
gone from the Conoco station sign, but the 1944 model Jeep still rested
on blocks back of the grease rack. The Shell station was no longer there,
across the street. In its place was a new spic and span white Southland
center advertising diesel fuel and propane. Darden City. Home.
"You still make the fifteen minute stop at the Corner Cafe?" Jeremiah
Torrence asked the bus driver. He saw the man's name tag in the mirror
and read R-O-B-I-N-S in the reverse image. He had a quick flash of
memory: some Robinses in school. . .had he known the family? No,
those were Robinsons.
"Naw, ain't no Corner Caf-fay no more," the driver said, stretching
his long neck out of the loose collar. He twisted his head around and
Jeremiah thought of shooting turtles on Bottom Crick.
The bus slowed for a log truck making a wide swing into the street.
Robins glanced up at the tall figure in the mirror, saw the wide gold
chevrons and star on green, the ladder of straight small gold bars that
ran up the right sleeve, the multitude of angled service bars up the left.
The driver wiped a bony hand across his mouth. His knuckles were large,
grotesque on the skinny hands. Perspiration stood out on his freckled
forehead, and what remained of the straw-colored hair was pasted to the
skull. "You been gone from here a spell?"
"A spell," the Sergeant Major answered slowly. Been a spell since he'd
heard that phrase too. He smiled.
The driver couldn't see the soldier's face clearly, even in the bright
noon blaze of Mississippi summer; there were no overhead skylights in
the old bus and the barracks cap bill threw an angle of shadow down
across the forehead and eyes, diagonally across the mouth. He could see
42 only   the   edge   of   the   terrible   scar,   but   he   saw   the   smile   and
misunderstood it.
"Glad to be back, I 'spect. Heh! All you boys 'bout the same; go off
over there'n that war, chase them slant-eyed gals, then come back down
home to find peace. No joke intended, you know." He grinned broadly,
showing stained, broken teeth in a checkered pattern to support the joke.
The bus came to a stop. "Naw, ain't no Corner stop no more. I pull up
at the old Pure station at the edge of the circle, long enough to let off and
let on. You gettin' off there?"
"Don't know. Where is it. . .what circle?" Jeremiah Torrence watched
a hound with the mange amble across the concrete street and knew the
dog's foot pads were long since scorched tough, horny almost, like a
turtle's head. He remembered with admiration how he'd hopped and
skipped and fast-shuffled across that street in the summertime when the
dust between your toes would have blistered cantaloupes.
"Yep, you have been gone awhile. There's a traffic circle now, out past
the livestock pens. On the edge of town. Hell, there's three, four stores
out there. Coupla' service stations — this town's the damnedest thing I
ever did see. Got six hundred people, come good weather, and got nine
service stations. I don't know how nine gas station operators can make a
living in this piss-ant town. They ain't no tourists; farmers get that
guv'ment gas. What they selling here?" He winked at the soldier.
Jeremiah Torrence thought he'd missed the point, then realized the
driver must mean corn whiskey. Moonshine. With the phrase came the
memory of Uncle Claude and the time he burned his smokehouse down
thinking government agents were closing in, and the two strangers
turned out to be some kind of Jehovah's Witnesses, and Claude chased
them all the way to the Yalobusha line, cursing them and Jesus, the
federal government, God, and Eldridge's Lumberyard for selling him
pitch pine boards for that smokehouse against his better judgement. It
was hot that summer, hot all those summers. Hot like only Mississippi
could get. And Korea.
He hadn't wanted to think about Korea. He tried not to. He looked
for the circle coming up, tried to pick out the new businesses Robins had
mentioned. Gallaegher, now, he'd had a new business, back in Omaha.
Selling some kind of plastic doo-dads for the kitchen. At least, so
Galleagher'd told him. But that had been before the draft, before Korea.
Now Gallaegher was dead in a rice paddy, and they'd left his body. He
was smelling by the time they'd breached the trap and straggled back
with what they could. Nobody would have tried to carry him, even if it
had been possible. Jeremiah Torrence reached up and touched the scar.
He glanced up at the mirror, bent down until he could see the fresh
rawness of it. Then he pulled the cap down farther and straightened up.
"What were you saying?" he asked the bus driver.
"I ast was you one-a them crowd used to raise hell with Old Blaylock,
43 the marshall here. When you was a kid." The driver checked the side
"Sure, I remember him. Old man, white hair. Always wore a Stetson.
Yeah, I think I do remember. Packed the biggest damned six-shooter I
ever saw. Used to give us boys hell for smoking." Now that was awhile
back. A spell.
"Yeah, that's him. He was my half-brother. Older'n me," he said. It
sounded like an excuse for something. "Betcha didn't know, that old
Peacemaker was never loaded. I don't think Roy even owned any shells
for it." He shook his head.
"He still around?" It was more the vivid memory than the fact that
Jeremiah really wanted to know. Funny how the old man stood out
clearer than most.
"Naw, the old fool walked into the bank one day to get a free
calendar — right after Christmas, it was, that year — and some nigger
with a single-shot Iver-Johnson 16-gauge blew him apart at the beltline.
Nigger was robbin' the place, thought Roy'd come to git him. Shame,
too. Sent the nigger off to Parchman, planted Roy next to a walnut tree
on Daddy's place, and the bank didn't have no money nohow. It was just
after payday for the field hands."
Jeremiah Torrence felt disoriented for a moment. What appeared to
be a non-sequitur apparently held some thread of meaning to the bus
driver, but the sense of it was beyond Jeremiah. He'd have to accustom
himself to the speech patterns again.
The pneumatic whoosh-hiss was followed by a sudden in-rushing of
furnace heat. "You getting out here? You never said." A smell
compounded of cotton seed meal, diesel smoke, and the dry, talcumy
aroma of parched dust swept into the bus and left a brassy taste in
Jeremiah Torrence's mouth.
A black woman in a flour sacking dress maneuvered her bulk up the
aisle of the bus carrying a cardboard box tied with trot line. The
Sergeant Major read Oxydol on the box and watched her as she placed
one massive leg down on the first step, shifted her grip on the chrome
bar, wrenched the other leg beside the first.... The bus driver made no
move to help her. She started the two-step cycle again; Jeremiah moved
forward. A light chocolate hand reached in through the bus door and
gripped the woman's arm.
"Minnie, child! What you doin' downtown, all by yo'self? Lemme
alone, now. I can still walk. Leave me be. . . ." The voice trailed off and
Jeremiah Torrence watched the old black woman place the cardboard
box on the ground, reach up, and open a bright yellow parasol that bore
the most hideous painted excuses for oriental fish he'd ever seen. It
might have been pieced together from a cast-off shower curtain; every
rib on the umbrella poked beyond the fabric.
44 "What?"
"I said, you gettin' out here?" Robins stared at him with suspicion.
Jeremiah Torrence weighed the driver's look with his own movement
to help old aunty. He marvelled at the tenacity of these people, these
ways. He thought of the barrel he'd seen once, up in Tennessee. A droll
comment along the side of the U.S. highway: a 55-gallon stave barrel; a
white stripe painted vertically down the middle of the side toward the
road; a dipper on each side. The sign read "White Only" on one side of
the stripe, "Colored Only" on the other. He'd admired the unknown
commentator then, but knew it had been a feeble effort.
Jeremiah Torrence knew he was not following the conversation with
the bus driver. The driver had asked him something. What was it?
Jeremiah put his hand to the scar and massaged it, rubbing at the dull
pain, until he saw Robins staring at him again. He jerked his hand
"Can you let me off on the road, beyond the town?" The skinny,
freckled arm snaked out, ratchetted the door shut. The bus would probably be in Gulfport before it got cool again, the soldier thought.
"You bought a ticket to Darden City," the bus driver said. It was a
pronouncement to which there was no argument, no appeal.
"You're right. Here, let me get my bag." He reached back into the seat
behind him. "Can you get my duffel bag off—"
"How far you wanna go?" It was a mean gift. The heat was fierce; no
humans moved on the street on foot. A large mustard yellow sedan with
a tall antenna and its windows closed whirred up the street, the tires
sticking to the white concrete and creating a sucking sound as the car
cruised forward through the humid silence.
"To the fork, where the road branches to Magee." Jeremiah Torrence
stood poised, the AWOL bag in his hand; he tugged at the uniform
blouse. The driver looked at the rows of brightly colored ribbon on his
chest, glanced at the scar again.
He put the bus in gear, looked at his watch, shifted gears again,
pumped the brakes to fill the passive streets of Darden City with a series
of loud, flatulent whooshes, checked the wide mirror outside, the mirror
inside, shifted gears again. . . and edged out into the street.
"Whatcha want out there? Ain't nothin' around there, 'cept that row of
nigger shacks back on the slough." He worked the bus up through the
gear chain.
"My folks live there. I grew up there." Jeremiah Torrence smiled,
remembering the cool shade of the two magnolia trees in the front yard,
their sickly sweet summer blossoms. Lot of good times in that big old
house, and fishing on the slough. Frog gigging in that old leaky flat-
bottom. "Just going home."
The driver gave him a look then, strange and appraising. "Where
45 'bouts you mean you growed up? Down the road to Magee? I don't know
many people on that road, once you git away from the highway."
"No, right there. At the fork. That big white house, two story. Red
shutters." There was a nagging ache just behind his eyes. Jeremiah
Torrence shifted his gaze and stared out the side window. He watched
the scrub pine flash by, occasional tall sugar pines with long needles.
The red, gravelled soil poked up through the burned pastureland, and
even the kudzoo was wilted.
There was silence on the bus. Only the same sucking, whirring tire
The driver spoke again, testing the conversational waters. "There ain't
no big white house anywhere around that fork, soldier. There ain't been
one, neither, not since I been on this run, and that's over seventeen
years. Now, I can remember from when I was a boy —I'm from over
D'lo way —there used to be a big place there. Musta been a plantation at
one time, way back. Land all got sold off. Folks named. . .lemme see,
what was their name. . .well, anyhow, place burned sometime between
when I was a boy and when I started drivin'. Ain't nothin' there now."
With that final word on the matter, it became quiet again on the bus. A
mile farther down the road he spoke up.
"Funny. I was just thinkin'. Those folks had a boy went off to the war,
that was way back. But he got killed or blowed up. Something. Hurt
bad, I reckon he was. No, maybe it was killed." Haifa minute later, he
confirmed it for himself: 'Yep, he was killed. I remember."
The glare off the highway, the flicker of amber and pale green flashes
from insulators on cross-trees atop the poles along the road, had a
hypnotic effect. Jeremiah Torrence felt his head swimming. He ran his
hand under his cap, wiped the sweat back, and traced the scar down
from the scalp to the corner of his jaw. Emotions, tugging at his
memory. . .deja vu, he decided, and he had a vision of the remains of the
big house. In his vision, blackened timbers shone in the summer sun; he
traced the pattern on a large beam, a checkered design like the mud
crust on a dried-up pond bottom, cracked and curled at the edges.
The beams were black. Tin rusted among the fallen timbers, sienna
colored in the light. The magnolia trees were withered and bare; too
close to the burned house to survive.
He scattered the dream from before his eyes. It frightened him. And
in his fright, he thought of Korea again. He had the feeling something
was missing. It had to do with the old scars, the ones on his back and legs
and around his side. He didn't often think of them anymore. The
doctors had told him something about them — what was it? He touched
the scar on his face again. It had the dry, warm, smooth quality of a
talisman worn around the neck on a chain. Absurdly he wondered what
the odds were that he could rub it and a genie would appear.
46 "What's that?" Robins asked.
"Nothing. Just thinking out loud. How long until we get to my home?"
He felt the anticipation building in him, felt the knotting in his stomach
as he tried to picture how they would look, tried to imagine the first
words from each of them.
Mom would say, "Lord, lord. Look who's come home. My baby."
And Paw, he'd be all shy and crush his son's hand in that big old
farmer's gripof his. If he said anything at first, it would be, "Jeremiah!
Glad you're come home, boy." And Frank, his brother, probably would
be over at his own place across the creek. He'd see Frank and his sister-
in-law later.
"I purely don't know where you're callin' home, soldier, but we're
comin' to the forks now. You sure you wanna get out here?" He slowed
the bus and pulled off onto the gravel just before the fork. His passenger
did not reply.
A narrow, broken macadam farm road wavered off between two
cornfields that were burned brown. Not a bird in the sky; nothing but
heat risers down the road. Jeremiah stared at the corn that was too far
gone for seed or feed, and he turned and looked across the highway to
where black Angus were motionless, scattered dark mounds in a field of
pale green. He looked at Robins. He stared back down the road toward
A row of dilapidated mailboxes stretched across his vision, perched on
the horizon. He could barely see the tops of the tiny shacks rising above
the rows of withering corn and a hedge of plum and chinaberry trees.
Shotgun shacks, Paw'd called them; they were built long and narrow,
one room directly behind another. Joke was, you could fire a shotgun
through the front door of one of those shacks and clean out everyone in
the house. He couldn't remember why that had ever seemed funny.
He looked at everything, looked everywhere but where the house had
been. He thought of the vision he'd had, and he knew what it would look
like without putting his eyes on it.
There was something else. . .white marble, rising stark and bare out
of the Johnson grass... a man in uniform in a wheelchair before the
marker. The face was familiar, but he couldn't identify the man. Was it
someone he'd known in Korea?
"Here's the rest of it," Robins said, dropping the duffel bag on the
gravel. "Well, gotta make a schedule." He turned toward the bus; he
seemed reluctant to go.
Jeremiah Torrence turned then and looked at the spot where the
house had stood.
"Say-uh, did you get hurt?" When Jeremiah Torrence stared at him
with no comprehension, Robins added: "In the war. Were you wounded
in Vietnam? I know lots of you were. Nephew of mine —"
47 Vietnam! What was it about that. . .he was still fighting the nightmares of Korea. Vietnam! There was something there, though, he
thought, grappling with the elusive, fleeting thought.
Jeremiah Torrence felt the word slipping out of his mind, and he saw
before him a long, low wall of old brick, standing among tall weeds.
There was no longer a jumble of blackened beams; tin roofing had gone
to red powder, blending back into the soil.
When he looked back, the driver was in the bus, in his seat, his hand
on the door handle. "Hey, those people's name was Tolliver, I think.
Something like that. Used to have a fine big house right there. You can
still see the foundation. Yeah, lost their son in the last war. Then the
house burnt down with them in it. Bad luck. Bad luck!" He tugged at the
heavy door. "But good luck to you, soldier. Hope you get home before
dark. If you don't, see you walk toward the traffic. All them gold stripes
and medals and what-all, they'll see you. Not much traffic down that
He waved his hand, the door clamped shut, rubber on rubber, and the
bus pulled away. Jeremiah Torrence sat down on the duffel bag and
watched the heat rising on the Magee road. The words were there; the
trick was to get them in some order though. The white marble, the black
beams, memories of the magnolia trees green and sweet with blossoms,
the red of the fading roof — a mosaic like an art form he didn't
understand. The meaning of it was just beyond him.
There was a dull, lazy, whipsawing of insects on the still air. Only that
and the heat risers.
48 Georg Trakl
Silently a dark stag emerges
At the edge of the forest,
The evening wind stops softly on the hill.
The blackbird's lament grows dumb,
And the gentle flutes of autumn
Are silent in the reeds.
On black clouds
Drunk with poppies you glide across
The nocturnal pool,
The starry heavens.
Always the sister's moon-voice sounds
Through the spiritual night.
Translated from the German by Sammy McLean
49 Paddy McCallum
for Kevin
The Cosmic Dancer, declares Nietzsche,
does not rest heavily in a single spot. . .
If this is God's mouth,
if we writhe in it,
if there is language
in acres of silt
and pylons are teeth
that the wind corrodes,
teasing fricatives
when the river drops,
then I was swimming
in the blood of His heart.
These things happened
here, do happen now:
rivers merge, their flight
into perfect sea
begun; trees unleash
from flood-broken banks,
into that expanse
of pure mind, sand grains
whirling like black stars,
wings like ashes of sun.
50 When, sighting a hawk,
his fall a claw, his
fall a fingernail,
he fell an instant
out of sight, behind
or in tall grass, fell
beyond the river,
did you hear nothing?
Not even when sight
once more set waves lapping
throughout the air
until it seemed hawks
swooped everywhere.
Then lightning the shape
of white cattle-bones
and chunks of bank fell
into the river.
Just that, nothing more,
but that it happened
here — water where wings beat.
51 O, I could have fear.
It's not intention
though, not even will
shapes the current so.
Whoever bends earth
is earth, no less. Was
it willful to say
that God forms water
in His mouth to speak?
Hands dip likewise to drink.
Now an otter swims
whiskered in winter,
shameless bold tenant
of the underpier.
In his mouth the fish
breaks free, out of nets
fine as fur, breath-nets
wide as a river.
Above his dock, boughs
catch feathers. Tears, His, freeze.
52 Mario Azzopardi/ Two Poems
night spread across the fields
and caught by their wings
in a wire trap
birds shrieked piercing the darkness
from the tree of prickly pear
three barefoot women
emerged treading on the night
the birds wished they were women
the women wished wings
beneath the cactus tree
seven mongol boys
touched the hair between their thighs
and cried for their mother to wash them
only the birds seem to protest
Translated from the Maltese by Grazio Falzon
From where the rock rises
a patch of blood
marks someone who lost his life to the sea.
Through the trellis I spied
a woman naked as water
her soul
paradise abjured.
preferred to my lover.
Someone will mistake the patch of blood
in the sea.
In the lattice
over the naked woman
climbs a grapevine
quivering with ants.
Translated from the Maltese by Grazio Falzon
54 Phanishwarnath Renu
The Messenger
Hargobin was surprised: so even today someone needed a messenger! fn
this day and age, when post offices had opened in every village, why
would anyone send word through a messenger? Nowadays a man could
sit at home and send word to Lanka and back. Then why had he been
Hargobin crossed the crumbling threshold of Bari Haveli. As usual,
he sniffed the atmosphere to get an idea of the message. It was
definitely some secret communication he had to carry. Not even the
sun and moon would know, not even a pigeon.
"I touch your feet, Bari Bahuriya!"
Bari Bahuriya of Bari Haveli gave Hargobin a low stool and with a
glance told him to sit quietly for a time. Bari Haveli was now the big
mansion in name only. Where servants and workmen once bustled
about, Bari Bahuriya, the eldest daughter-in-law of the house, now
sifted grain with her own hands. The village barber's wife had raised her
family just on the money she got for applying henna to those hands.
Where had those days gone? Hargobin heaved a sigh.
After the eldest brother's death, it was as though the game had ended.
The three brothers began to fight among themselves. The tenants made
claims on the lands and occupied them. Then the three brothers left the
village and settled in the city. Bari Bahuriya was left alone. Where could
she go, poor thing! God only troubles the good. Otherwise why would
her husband have died after just an hour's illness? The jewellery was snatched from Bari Bahuriya's body and the farce of dividing it up began.
Hargobin had seen the drama with his own eyes; like the disrobing of
Draupadi those merciless brothers had torn her Banarsi sari into three
pieces and each taken a share. Poor Bari Bahuriya!
Old Modiyain, the grocer woman of the village, was sitting in the
courtyard and muttering, "It's very sweet to eat the food you get on
credit, but when it's time to pay, my words seem bitter. I won't leave today until I'm paid!"
Bari Bahuriya made no reply.
Hargobin sighed again. As long as this woman remained in the court -
55 yard, Bari Bahuriya wouldn't speak to Hargobin. He couldn't keep
quiet any longer. "I say, auntie, you've really learned the Afghani way of
collecting debts."
Modiyain flared up when she heard "Afghani way." She got up in a
huff. "Shut up, you charred-face whiskerless son of a — "
"What can I do, auntie? God didn't give me a moustache or whiskers
like your Afghani Aga Saheb's dashing beard!"
"If you say Afghani once more I'll pull out your tongue!"
Hargobin stuck out his tongue as if to say, "Try it!"
Five years ago Gul Muhammad Aga used to come to the village to
lend cloth. He set up shop on Modiyain's front porch. Aga talked sweetly
when he lent cloth, but when he collected he forcibly took double the
amount. Once several debtors got together and gave him such a beating
that he never returned to the village. After that, sad Modiyain became
mad Modiyain. She even got irritated at the mention of Afghani
almonds. The village players mimicked the Aga Saheb in their show:
"You come my country, Modiyain? I feed you Afghani almond,
pistachio, walnut!"
Modiyain left the courtyard, muttering and cursing. Then Bari
Bahuriya said, "Hargobin, you must carry a message. Today. You'll go,
won't you?"
"To my mother's."
Hargobin lost himself in Bari Bahuriya's tear-filled eyes. "Tell me,
what is the message?"
Bari Bahuriya began to sob. Hargobin's eyes too filled with tears.
Hargobin was seeing the Lakshmi of Bari Haveli sobbing this way for
the first time. He said, "Bari Bahuriya, strengthen your heart."
"How much more can I? Tell my mother that I'll wait on my brothers
and their wives to fill my stomach. I'll eat the leftovers of the children
and lie in a corner, but I won't stay here any longer. Now I can no longer
stay. Tell her if she doesn't take me away from here, then one day I'll tie
a waterpot around my neck and drown myself in the pond. How long
can I go on living on bathua greens? Why? For whom?"
Hargobin's heart grieved for her. How merciless were her younger
brothers-in-law and their wives! Every year they came at the time of the
November paddy crop with their children. In ten or fifteen days they
heaped up a pile of debts and each took back two maunds of rice when
they left. Then again they turned up for the mango season. They broke
off the mangoes, ripe or not, stuffed them into gunnysacks, and left.
They never once looked behind. Monsters, all of them!
Bari Bahuriya took out a soiled five-rupee note from the knotted corner of her sari and said, "I can't even provide enough for your travelling
expenses. Ask my mother for money for the return trip. I hope my
brother will be coming back with you."
56 Hargobin said, "Bari Bahuriya, you don't need to give me anything,
I'll manage."
"How will you manage?"
"I'm going by the ten o'clock train today."
Bari Bahuriya took back the note and gazed at Hargobin silently with
an expressionless look. Hargobin left the Haveli. He heard Bari
Bahuriya say, "I'll be waiting for you."
Hargobin, the messenger! Not everyone could perform the task of
delivering a message. Being a messenger was a God-given talent. It was
no simple matter to remember each word of a message and relay it in exactly the same tone and manner in which it had been spoken. The
villagers' attitude was wrong. They thought that only idle loafers and
gluttons took the job of messenger — men who had no one to care for
and no one to care for them. They didn't think much of a man who
delivered messages to every village for nothing. "A lackey of the womenfolk," they called him. No decent man would become so intoxicated
whenever he heard a few sweet words. But there wasn't a man in the
village whose mother's, daughter's or wife's messages Hargobin had not
delivered. Still, this was the first time he was taking such a message.
As he got onto the train, Hargobin recalled the old days and the
old messages. The forgotten strain of a plaintive tune echoed in his
I beg you, I beseech you,
Carry my message, oh messenger!
Every word of Bari Bahuriya's message pricked his heart like a
thorn. "Who can I rely on here? There was one servant. Yesterday
he too ran off. The cow is tied to the peg, lowing from hunger. For
whom should I suffer such misery?"
Hargobin asked the passenger seated next to him, "Tell me,
brother, does the mail train stop at Thana Binhapur?"
The passenger answered peevishly, "All the trains stop at Thana
Hargobin realized the man was a grouch. It was no use trying to
talk to him. Again he began to repeat Bari Bahuriya's message in
his mind. But how would he control himself when he recited the
message? Wherever Bari Bahuriya had wept when telling it to him, he
too would weep.
When he reached Katihar junction, he saw that much had changed in
the last fifteen years. Now there was no need to ask around for directions
at the station. The train arrived and immediately a voice announced
from the loudspeaker, "Passengers for Thana Binhapur, Khagariya and
Barauni please proceed to platform number three. The train is ready."
Hargobin was pleased. Only now did he feel that Independence had
57 truly arrived. When he had come to Katihar previously, he often missed
the train in the process of inquiring which one to take and where to
After he changed trains, the pathetic face of Bari Bahuriya again came
before his eyes. "Hargobin brother, tell my mother, God has forgotten
me, but my mother is still there. How long can I live on bathua greens?
Why? For whom?"
By the time the train reached Thana Binhapur, Hargobin's heart was
heavy. He had never felt this way before, although he had come to this
village with many messages, good and bad. His feet would not proceed
toward the village. Bari Bahuriya would be returning to her mother's
home by this very footpath. She would leave the village and come here,
never to return again!
Hargobin's heart was grieved. What would be left in the village after
that? The Lakshmi of the village was leaving forever! How could he
recite such a message? How could he say that Bari Bahuriya was existing
on coarse bathua greens? The listeners would spit on the name of
Hargobin's village. What kind of village was that, where a bride like the
goddess Lakshmi was suffering such pain!
Hargobin unwillingly entered the village.
The villagers recognized Hargobin as soon as they saw him. The
messenger from Jalalgarh has arrived! Who knows what message he is
"Ram Ram, brother. Tell me, all is well, isn't it?"
"Ram Ram, brother. Everything is fine, thanks to God."
"Has it rained over there?"
At first Bari Bahuriya's elder brother didn't recognize Hargobin.
When Hargobin introduced himself, the brother asked immediately,
"How is Didi?"
"Everything is fine, thanks to God."
After he washed his face and hands, Hargobin was invited into the
courtyard. Now he began to tremble. His heart throbbed. This had
never happened before — Bari Bahuriya's tear-filled eyes, a message full
of sobs. He touched the feet of Bari Bahuriya's elderly mother.
She asked, "Tell me, son, what's the news?"
"Mother, thanks to your blessing, all is well."
"Any message?"
"Oh — message? No, there is no message. Yesterday I went over to
Sirsiya village, so I thought that I'd come over and visit you people too."
The old woman was disappointed when she heard Hargobin's words.
"So you haven't come with any message?"
"No, there's no message. Bari Bahuriya just said that if she gets some
free time she'll come to the Ganga fair during Dashera and meet you."
The old lady was silent. Hargobin continued, "How can she find time?
The whole household rests on Bari Bahuriya."
58 The old woman spoke. "I was just telling Babua to go fetch Didi. She
can stay here. What's left there now? All the lands are gone. The three
younger brothers-in-law have settled in the city. They don't even inquire
about her. My daughter is all alone!"
"No, mother. The lands are still substantial. What there is is plenty.
After all, it's still Bari Haveli, even if it is a little run-down. There's not
the same pomp, it's true, but the whole village is Bari Bahuriya's family.
Bari Bahuriya is the Lakshmi of our village. How can the Lakshmi of the
village leave and go to the city? Every time the brothers-in-law come,
though, they insist on taking her back."
The old woman brought some snacks and served Hargobin herself.
"First have a little something, son."
As Hargobin ate, he pictured Bari Bahuriya seated in the veranda,
waiting for him — hungry, thirsty! At dinner time too, it was as if Bari
Bahuriya was sitting in front of him. "Now no one gives me a loan. Even
a dog feeds his stomach. But I? Tell mother —"
Hargobin looked at his plate — rice, dal, three kinds of vegetable
dishes, ghi, papar, pickle. Bari Bahuriya was probably eating boiled
bathua greens.
The elderly mother said, "What's the matter, son? Why aren't you
"Mother, I'm still full from the snack you gave me."
"Come on, a young man can have a snack five times a day and still eat
a plate of rice."
Hargobin didn't eat anything. He couldn't.
A messenger always eats with determination and sleeps with indigestion, but Hargobin wasn't sleepy. What had he done? Why had he
come? Why had he lied? No, no! Tomorrow morning as soon as he got
up he would tell the old woman Bari Bahuriya's real message, word by
word. "Mother, your only daughter is in grave trouble. Send someone to
fetch her today. Otherwise she will surely do something desperate. After
all, for whom should she suffer so much? Bari Bahuriya said she would
eat the leftovers of the children and lie in a corner."
Hargobin couldn't sleep the whole night. Bari Bahuriya sat in front of
his eyes — sobbing, wiping her tears. When he arose in the morning, his
resolve was firm. He was a messenger. It was his job to deliver the right
message. He went to the old lady. She asked, "What is it, son? Do you
have something to say?"
"Mother, I'll have to go back by today's train. I've been gone several
"Come now, what's the hurry? Be our guest for a few more days."
"No, mother. Please give me permission this time. I'll come at
Dashera with Bari Bahuriya. Then I'll stay for fifteen days and enjoy
your hospitality."
The old lady said, "If you were in such a hurry, why did you come? I
59 thought I would send some yogurt and pounded rice for my daughter.
But the yogurt won't be ready today. There's a little pounded Basmati
rice. Take it with you."
Taking the bag of rice under his arm, Hargobin left the courtyard.
Bari Bahuriya's elder brother asked, "Do you have enough for your
travelling expenses?"
Hargobin said, "Brother, thanks to your kindness, nothing is lacking."
When he got to the station, he counted his money. He could only buy
a ticket to Katihar with what he had, and if his four-anna coin turned
out to be counterfeit, then only to Saimapur. He couldn't go even one
station without a ticket. Half the blood in his body would dry up out of
As soon as he sat down in the train, he felt strange. Where had he
been? What had he done? What would he say to Bari Bahuriya?
If the nirgun singer Surdas hadn't gotten into the train, he would have
been in a bad state. His mind became steadier hearing Surdas' songs:
/ say, Rama!
Now the dream of the bride's family has come true.
The palanquin has borne her to her husband's place.
Don't cry, mother, this is the course of fate.
When Surdas left, in Hargobin's mind Bari Bahuriya began to weep
again — "for whom should I suffer such sorrow?"
He got to the Katihar station at five in the morning.
The voice was coming from the loudspeaker: "Passengers for
Bairgachi, Kusiyar, and Jalalgarh proceed to platform number one."
Hargobin wanted to go to Jalalgarh, but how could he go to platform
number one? His ticket was only to Katihar. Jalalgarh — forty miles
away! Bari Bahuriya was waiting. Forty miles was no great distance,
after all. He would walk.
Hargobin invoked the name of Hanuman for strength and set out on
foot. For twenty miles he strode along as though nourished by the
breeze. When he got to Kasba, he filled his stomach with water. Sticking
his nose into the bag, he sniffed. Ah! Pounded Basmati rice! The
mother's present — for her daughter. No, he couldn't eat even a handful
of it. But what would he tell Bari Bahuriya?
His feet stumbled. No, he wouldn't think about anything now. He just
had to walk. He had to reach the village soon. Bari Bahuriya's moist eyes
drew him towards the village. "I'll be waiting for you!"
Thirty miles. "Tell mother now I can't stay here." Thirty-three, thirty-
four, thirty-five. He could see the signal at the Jalalgarh station. The
village palm tree with its head held high was watching his progress.
Right below that palm tree on the veranda of Bari Haveli, Bari Bahuriya
was staring silently, waiting — hungry, thirsty. "Carry my message, oh
60 But where was he? What village was this? The darkness of a new
moon night already at dusk? What road had he taken? Was this a river?
Where did the river come from? It wasn't a river; it was a field. Were
these huts or a herd of elephants? Where was the palm tree? He had lost
the way. Weren't there any men in this village? There was no light
anywhere. Whom should he ask? Over there — was that a light or a pair
of eyes? Was it standing or moving? Was he in a train or on the ground?
"Hargobin brother, is that you?" Was it Bari Bahuriya's voice or the
loudspeaker at the Katihar station?
"Hargobin brother, what's the matter?"
"Bari Bahuriya?"
Hargobin felt with his hand. He was lying on some bedding.
Touching the shadow seated in front of him, he said, "Bari Bahuriya?"
"Hargobin brother, how are you feeling now? Here, have another sip
of milk. Open your mouth. Come on, drink it. Drink!"
Hargobin came to his senses. Bari Bahuriya was giving him milk to
He slowly extended his hands and grasped Bari Bahuriya's feet. "Bari
Bahuriya! Forgive me. I couldn't repeat your message. Don't leave the
village! I won't let anything happen to you. I am your son. Bari
Bahuriya, you are my mother, you are the whole village's mother! I
won't waste time any more. I'll do everything for you. Speak, mother,
say you won't leave the village! Speak!"
Bari Bahuriya mixed a handful of pounded Basmati rice in with the
warm milk. Ever since she sent the message she had been regretting her
Translated from the Hindi by Kathryn Hansen
61 Thomas Shapcott/ Two Poems
"Can't kill 'em. Other night
I caught this eel — down
by that pool we call the Skull-hole.
Chopped off the head, slit
and gutted it.
Soaked in a tub of good
salty brine
Then I tossed it in a bag,
bottom of the fridge. An hour later
it still thrashed hard, trying
to get back out. Can't kill 'em."
Leaning against this kitchen fridge
he rips off another beer cap
while we pick his brains
for more. The meat boils up
against the saucepan lid, waiting.
"Was it the Tolai tribes," I ask,
"would gulp the throbbing brain of enemies,
to gain their souls?" No one remembers.
He serves the pale flesh to us.
Deeps of the Shoalhaven flash
like a reflex. We hoe in.
Potted, behind a sofa in Stockholm.
On a Toronto platform, pruned.
Stephan Dom, Vienna, and Ficus Benjaminii
swaying above tribute garlands, safe
in its tub.
Ficus Benjaminii takes something away
it deflects light deep into itself
a shady undercurrent of ripples
each leaf with its edge of ripples
dreaming of dampness, compost, humid
Queensland summer.
Ficus Benjaminii is mine.
The original tree claims my backyard,
children growing up share figtree shade
that foresaw their space four hundred years
and knotted its trunk to a giant's wrist
sinews two children cannot grip around.
They twitch in dreams for such security
the cubbyhouse ten feet up no sun
a summer room of green benches beyond storms
never drought nothing disturbing spiders
that shall be harmless for life like the work of birds.
At night fruitbats weave charms to net stars with,
beetles are brought blindfold, chubby slaves
that bump giggling caught in a grandfather tickle
the fig dreaming us there
we toss above damp sheets
and return alone, find the secrets, centuries
knotted in those wrists plunging through compost
under the falling hair of leaves that still ripple
like summer water when the sun slaps loud
63 In my knuckles there is the remembrance of compost
there are green shoulders of leaves where you leave a shadow.
Stockholm, Vienna, Toronto: there are no spiders.
Ficus Benjaminii, indoors, trimmed for tubs,
we call it Weeping Fig in my country. You have
my birth legacy in your potplants, but only
the rootless exile of its name.
64 R.W. Fuliord/Six Poems
Born again
when the great
fire broke
through the Jews
and no cinema for
beggars running
the town in the
stars of my child.
Out of the Haggadah
father stirred herring,
his frozen hands
shining with a
brine and mute heart.
This movie runs
in ray mind
separate lines
then again painting.
The old man
sucks the newborn belly
kissing your stranger
little one.
The lines in the
photograph are
painted and lost.
65 When the picture
clicked I had my mouth open
to breathe and
nudge mother's skirts,
but now there is no plate
of my dead sister
in blue heaven
where she must
sing like an angel.
Let us sing the rabbi song
for our losses,
my mother speaks.
I have seen my talent
hidden in her where
she never looks.
When her king droops
at the table, how
she looks to him in
her prayers, her
talking to us when
the sky is gone.
Later at Lyozno, grandfather
smells of hides, steals
the bellied cow's throat
and turns his back on
my strange nude.
66 Child illness
begins with dreams
of mama.
There is a corner
in the mirror
of parents and
young girls
that frightens me,
where we have drowned
mice in the chamber pot
and breathed colour
on the cold windows.
And when you've seen
the dead man and the others,
then the memory takes you
to the small things that
hang dustless anywhere.
The boot sign fishes
for the clouds coming
in like worms,
and through the evasion
half a man disappears
67 that woman wailing
the sweeper sweeping
the player fiddling
a man alive with candles.
The painter runs wild
with time, his green sky
eating some fiddle.
In the cemetery
the dead rise again
and again to the
angled sky, like
alphabets of
rich grammar.
Ezekiel, master of
vast space, make
the child more than
a thought when I
build my town and
tomb, everything
strange and different
ways in the night.
68 Ulla Dahlerup
The Train Journey
A provincial town. From the low houses, a smell of heat, the streets
running crooked, and that was that. All the necessary shops were here,
all the old women, the lit lamps, and the local newspapers, whose foreign
reports dropped like fairy tales into the quiet days of the town: "Black
man almost lynched en route to his mother. . . Black schoolchildren shut
up inside stilling bus. . .white racist murderers acquitted." In the newly-
built outskirts of town was the teacher's house, gravel and grit flurrying
against its walls; it was autumn on the rampage. A few trees hung
about, their branches leaking. "Certainly, it's horrible," said the woman
inside the house, folding the paper, "but there's still a chance we may
have children of our own."
On Saturday, there was a large joint sitting in the nearest metropolis,
the auditorium crammed with teachers. Myriad voices ringing unevenly
against the ceiling; the lecturer was late, boredom reigned. To the left of
the centre aisle all the high school teachers were seated, lounge-suited.
"Saturday meetings are the student teacher's revenge," one of them
whispered out loud, just as the teacher went past. A humming overhead
projector aimed its light at the end wall: "Any pedagogue worth his salt
will make use of the case study!" A soft haze flickered against the tall
windows. "My wife and I are going to adopt one," he explained to a
colleague in corduroys. "It is one's duty to help out." That same evening,
following the meeting, he threw a small improvised party in his home,
wives included, open sandwiches, and open-minded talk to the din of the
gramophone. The interior wore an appropriately messy look, due to
his wife's complexes about having to stay at home —yet never ceasing to
admire him, who admired her in return; they were of the same opinion
on almost everything. Later, there was dancing. And the six usual
couples laid by their usual fidelity, grew hot in the mouth and slightly
unfaithful in consequence. "My husband is so fond of you," said one wife
to another, both on floor cushions. "Now, do show him a wee bit of
kindness, won't you?" Around midnight, they all joined in banging
awake the bewildered neighbour, donating him an egg and explaining,
uproariously,   that  this was  a happening.  Then running off again,
69 pleased to have granted the man an experience. In the morning, the
teacher slunk through the hedge and apologized. Returning to his own
garden, he found the postman on the lawn, covetously eyeing the pear
tree. "Hello there," he said, and left. The letter had West German
stamps on it, necessitating a dictionary: "... for the slightly bigger boys,
however, there is not much demand, so perhaps?" Slowly, he entered the
yellow bedroom and cleared his throat. "Ten years," his wife repeated
waveringly, doing a bit of measuring on the door-post; "that means the
child'll be up to here." Above the double bed was a collage framing in Ho
Chi Minh with Buddha and a French cartoon strip. "Yes," he replied,
matey, shaking his wife gently by her hips, "but what's the point of our
humanist stance, if we back out now?" She looked him straight in the
eye: "I don't want it that big." In sadness he flopped down on the
unmade bed, talking quietly about the guilt of the white race, receiving
no answer. That evening, a great silence hung over the house, the wife
reading on the sofa, turning her face away each time he passed. And the
evening had no end.
The following months were grey with trouble. Voices came to them
from the telephone, from densely-written papers and illegible
documents. And one mild afternoon, there was even a very unpleasant
lady right inside their house. Through an embarrassing silence, she went
from one messy room to another, wiping her hands after touching a table,
shamelessly pumping their matrimonial life. Afterwards, he closed the
front door. Behind him, his wife was crawling about in all directions,
picking up books from the floor, suddenly letting all drop and hiding her
face in her hands. He sat down with her, putting an arm round her neck.
Then, snow started falling. At the end-of-term celebration, the children
were a fair way into Christmas hysteria, the class a whispering sea of
gifts, taking no interest in his theoretical wrestling with God. "Let's talk
about something else, then," he said, making them all laugh. After class,
the children rushed off, he standing by the window, missing them
already. "Dare one presume a Merry Christmas to you," uttered one of
the senior teachers briefly, vanishing shadow-like down the corridor.
But he himself never celebrated in a ricepudding-dish, as it were; he took
to the area's woods, walking arm in arm with his wife; they would stand,
cold-toed, on a conifer-covered hill, watching the sun set over tops of
trees. One evening, he came upon a manual concerning baby care, in
his wife's closet, didn't mention it with a word. The next morning, the
book was gone.
It was not until New Year's that the mail brought in the adoption
papers. Immediately, he phoned one of the local papers, the journalist at
the other end suffering rather a bad cold and missing no opportunity of
repeating this fact, over and over. Next day, however, the centre pages
did bring an article: "Serious case of racial discrimination, says school-
70 teacher. Mulatto Child, was the police designation on the entry
permit —as if any authority, by the same token, would ever be found
designating a Danish child as White!" The article contained several
misquotes, the photograph of himself was a blur, but after a few re-
readings he grew accustomed to actually having said what the journalist
had written. In the staff-room, quite a few winter-clad colleagues had
already seen the article. "Made the papers, then," the senior teacher said,
pulling off his galoshes. He reddened: "What do you mean?" "Nothing,"
replied his senior, straightening. That afternoon, he accompanied his
wife on her shopping expedition, finding all people white, freely moving
about. "Niggerkisses," he pointed out angrily, in the grocer's shop, shaking his head. At night, the moon rode high, casting shadows. . .so he and
his wife took a long walk across plowed fields, being car-opponents, advocates of the brisk footfall. "I had a very unpleasant experience today,
at the staff-room," he told a furcoated wife, his breath a fog, she having
no degree, but a great penchant for high-level discussion, even if easily
hurt. This moment, however, she walked ahead of him into the night,
not answering; for the first time in their marriage, something was truly
amiss. "So, now the whole town knows I can't have children," she suddenly cried out, retreating yet further. For the rest of the walk, there was
silence between them. From the dark emerged a large farm, its outbuildings lit, but the wind forwarding no sound.
At the start of the Easter Holiday, they left in haste for Nyk0bing
Mors. Up there, in the warm apothecary rooms, sat her ancient parents,
at tea; before their porcelain stove, a cat. "You know," said the teacher
when inside the guest room, for the first time that day smiling freely at
his wife, who nodded and sighed in return. But before the holiday was
over, they had succeeded in scaring the wits so thoroughly out of the
two old folks —sunbathing in the nude in the back yard, mentioning
pornography when company was present, attacking the cook's
religion —that they could leave for home with equanimity. The sun
hanging onto the train window. "How tiresome it is, this always having
to break untrodden ground with my parents," his wife said wearily,
lighting a cigarette. He took her hand, regretting the holiday. Not a
word had been said of the German foster child. Back home, they had a
message informing them that the institution was trying to teach the
child some Danish. "Could you really make use of all those pears?" asked
the postman, eyeing the spring-bare tree.
After which, they could only wait.
And they waited. Some nights, a couple of school colleagues might
drop in, preferring the subject of themselves, however. Suddenly,
through the tobacco fumes, one female teacher revealed she was
pregnant again. He glanced nervously at his wife, but she got
up soundlessly and disappeared into the kitchen. Down at the small
71 municipal library, the clerk could go on and on procuring books on the
problems of Blacks. So the teacher and his wife would sit at opposite
ends of the sofa, their cheeks pulsating as they experienced generations
of Blacks being maltreated and tortured; Baldwin, Wright, Stowe;
beyond the panes, seaons changed. But finally, on a cool fall day, the
teacher was able to buy a practical child's coat and mount a train. On
the platform, a couple of men gave him a brief nod, turned their backs.
He stared out into the sun; the station hand was piling up boxes; on his
return trip, they'd be sure to take a closer look, all of them. Even at the
school, there were several among the female teachers who had only seen
Blacks on movie screens. The station's modest level-crossing bar went
down, ting-a-ling, before a tractor and its steamy load. The compartment was empty; with a careful hand across the jacket surface, the
teacher checked the whereabouts of his wallet. At the next stop, a
woman with two lively children entered; he moved away, smiling, that
they might both have a window seat, where they could breathe on the
glass. He sat smoothing down the purchased child's coat, looking
forward to fatherhood. Through all those years, he had never once told
his wife just how much he missed having a child about the house.
Above the station tunnel was the capital, an alien chaos of cars,
rushing people, hectic commercials. The violent noise served to make
the teacher quite dizzy. On the pavement, he was squeezed backwards
against house walls when a boisterous street procession of several
hundred people fell into disagreement about their route, brandishing
clamorous placards. Police officers came running up, ordering the
pedestrians about. "The perpetual revolution," the teacher thought,
same revolution, however, having the effect of making him feel
provincial, superfluous, his own being one of its fervent adherents
notwithstanding. In one of the broiling department stores, the teacher
bought some up-to-date clothes, sought out a couple of the most topical
and controversial books, and felt rather sick. There was too much time
to kill. In and out, between them many counters, all kinds of women
kept pushing past, giving him not a single glance. Now, the streets lay
wet with rain. In passing, he paid a visit to an exhibition of paintings, in
his mind rapidly totting up the works particularly worthy of mention
back home, in the staff-room. Next on the programme was his careful
selection, by the entrance to a glassily clear Mainstreet cinema, of a
number of pornographical magazines, useful for displaying in one's
living room. The woman at the ticket-hole was drinking coffee. In a
small square, a flock of chilly-looking youngsters were sitting on sacks
round a parking meter; they had fed the slot, were playing the flute. The
teacher smiled encouragement at the group, he had faith in the young,
but none of them noticed him. Inside an overcrowded bus, he allowed
72 himself to be rocked halfway through town; it had been his express
desire to pick up the boy himself. "Smoking prohibited!" the conductor
bellowed into his ear, and people turned in their seats, faces amused. So
the teacher got off one stop too early.
Within the institutional building, elevators flew up and down. At
the end of a long corridor, some office clerks were seated in a deep
alcove. "Speak here," said a sign. A young woman got up quickly from
her typewriter, was firmly displaced by a dark-suited gentleman. The
staircase of the building rolled of its own accord. "A very unfortunate
woman," said the dark suit, staring down worriedly into his step. Then
came the suction of several doors flying open at once, and inside, in a
very beautiful blue room, were several children playing about on the
floor. A buxom woman got up from the window sill, opened her arms
and sighed. "I am very sorry," said the dark suit, patting her cheek, "but
here's a pick-up, can't be helped." In an elegant side-room was a small
dark boy, his striped cap pulled well down over his eyes. The teacher bent
forward expectantly, stretching out a hand in welcome, a parcel escaping
from under his arm; but the boy speedily put his hands behind his back.
From up high came the woman's cultured voice: "We're feeling homesick
and a bit grumpy today." The teacher pulled himself erect, staring in
surprise: "Homesick?" A uniformed messenger came in, lugging a large
suitcase. At that very instant, the boy darted across the carpet, trying to
wrest the suitcase away. "Wanna fight?" laughed the messenger,
striking a pose, fists clenched. But finally the reception was over, a man's
face appearing on the television intercom in the wall; the elevator dived.
Outside, the messenger set down the suitcase with great ease, and
vanished. "What now?" thought the teacher, bewildered; the homeward
train was not due for another four hours. Then, as if by magic, a taxi slid
to a stop by the kerb. "Come, my dear," spoke the teacher, reviving,
hitching up the boy's case, his own parcels, and the superfluous child's
coat. The case was heavy. Indeed, the teacher had not expected so well-
equipped and healthy a child to be delivered into his hands. The taxi door
opened, a large driver in rubber boots came crawling out. But the boy had
remained a long way off, pressed against the institution wall.
The teacher felt himself colouring. High up there were innumerable
large institutional windows. "No need to be afraid of me, just because
I'm white," the teacher managed to say, gently taking the boy's arm. "At
home with us, you'll be taken good care of." A host of gulls circled round
their ears. But no answer came; instead, the boy began hitting away at
the teacher's hand, struggling to free himself. Out in the clamorous
street, a motorbike came to a screeching halt, wheels trembling; a couple
of women were approaching at a quick trot. "Is that man bothering
you?" a sharp voice demanded, and behind, the driver did an about-
turn, slinking back to the shelter of his taxi. "Now, come along —do,"
73 whispered the teacher with an imploring gaze. But the boy stood still,
merely extending a small brown hand. "Filr eine Zigarette, "he said, on the
brink of tears: "just filr eine Zigarette. "
In the city streets, rush-hour began, people elbowing their way home.
After some aimless driving around, the teacher decided to go to a
restaurant. The door of the restaurant rang its cowbells; an acrid smell
gushed to meet them; behind her counter, the cloakroom attendant gave
their overcoats a weary look. The teacher made a quick call to one of his
old classmates at college, his hand trembling slightly; at the other end
of the line was a strange voice promising to come by. Inside, there
weren't many customers; the boy sat down at the opposite end of the
table, placing his cigarette conspicuously next to the menu. A waiter
came, smacking the plates down hard; he made no sign of wanting the
child chucked out. The teacher heaved a sigh. A searing cone of light fell
on the naked table-wood. "If you like, you can go say hello to that
African over there," the teacher said uncertainly, nodding towards the
back wall where sat a big Black, reading a newspaper splayed on his
knees. The boy looked up in surprise. From behind the curtains came
the sound of dragging steps along the pavement. The teacher ate fast,
winding spaghetti round his tongue, off and on throwing a glance at the
boy, trying to catch his eye. Two homosexuals in soft suits squeezed
past their table, chatting eagerly; the teacher stared openly after them,
feeling a trifle better: how nice to know that homosexuality existed.
Maybe, it flashed through him, he ought to have devoted much more
time to the discussion of racial problems in class; the whole question of
the U.N. must be taken up for close scrutiny. . . .An elderly woman
entered, looked at the board with Today's Dish, and sighed
despondently. Back at the counter, the waiters were playing dice.
Then, an eruption of loud voices from the cloakroom, the emergence
of two men, the one in front carrying a bird-cage containing a hen. "Hi
there, clodhopper," they said, low. The teacher dropped his fork onto his
plate. A waiter came scuttling up, apparently familiar with both men. "A
gift for the kitchen?" the waiter said drily, placing two unordered bottles
on the table. The taller man shook his head, shoving the bird-cage closer
to the teacher's plate; the hen flapped its wings, claustrophobic. "That's
to ensure our old friend here doesn't get too lonesome in the big city," he
explained to the waiter, flicking dust off his fingertips. On his chair, the
boy had grown erect, showing an interest by prodding the hen with a
fork. People around the room took time off to look, while the cloakroom
girl, who had accompanied the new-comers in, sat down at the table,
uninvited. The teacher attempted a smile, feeling ungainly, a complete
fool. Again, he was but twenty years old, arriving at college straight
from the countryside, equipped with hymn-book and hard-wearing
clothes. A stupid idea of his, inviting one of the old mates, for of course
74 they would both turn up, the dominating duo from college. Once they'd
put a condom under the cheese in his lunch-box, making him chew and
chew in desperation, there in the schoolyard, next to the girl he had
discussed women's lib with, every single day, without yet daring to kiss
her. He had been very happy in her company, but after that she took to
avoiding him. "As witty as ever," said the teacher across the table, hearing
his own words distinctly, "how nice to meet again." The two men looked
at each other and smiled. The teacher pushed his plate away: he'd
boobed again —as if the life he'd won for himself, in the province back
home, counted for nothing, had all of a sudden been wiped out. Inside
its cage, the hen had settled down somewhat; there was a smell from it;
but the boy was again so quiet, face averted. The teacher broke out into
a sweat. "Don't you want to say hello to my son?" The boy gave quite a
start, his lips moving over and over, before it came out: Teh habe all my
comrades zu Hause in Hamburg." Behind the table, a waiter walked by,
yawning hugely; the two men exchanged a meaningful glance, the
teacher's throat draining to parchment because of it. Then the
cloakroom girl poked out her sleepy face, holding a smoking butt to the
boy's mouth: "Wanna gasp?" The teacher stared round the faces at the
table, feeling completely outside, the girl not even bothering about his
permission first. But he was one of the furniture maker's naive sons, had
attained his teaching post through conscientious industry and
government aid. He rose abruptly from the table, heard behind him the
boy's explanation, a linguistic obstacle race, of how best to go about
cigarette smuggling in Hamburg, back home in Hamburg. . . .Inside
the telephone box, the teacher leaned against the glass; the train would
not leave for another three hours. At last, the connection came through.
"Ah," his wife's voice, from far away: "What's he like, then, the boy?"
The teacher stared at the white insulation padding in front of him:
rather a lot of drawings all round. "Okay," he said, "just fine." On the
cloakroom counter was a heap of clothes.
But in the restaurant proper, the boy's chair was empty; the teacher
almost ran to the table. Three faces peered at him calmly, the girl
snorting, shaking yet more of her hair into her eyes. "He said he was
going out to you," she announced. "This is the limit!" the teacher
shouted, banging the table, rousing the hen to a cackle. At the sound,
the other customers turned to look. "Isn't this a cozy reunion," said one
of the men, smiling; "the boy's beat it, I shouldn't wonder; after all, he
looked rather down in the dumps." The teacher snatched up his parcels,
stumbling into the cloakroom; on a hanger was the extra coat, but the
boy's own had vanished, the case in the corner as well. Made clumsy
with fear, the teacher struggled his way out. ". . .delighted to pay your
bill," called a voice, then the door slammed. Out in the city, darkness
was coming; on a fence had been scrawled: Americans out of U. S.! in white
paint. And the street forked in four directions.
75 The teacher stared all round him before setting off at a limping run to
the left. How far might the boy have gone, encumbered by a heavy
suitcase? The entire city was before him, a stream of cars rushing past at
the crossing. And, for this very Sunday, invitations had been issued to
several colleagues, their children included: a garden party of sorts, in
honour of the boy, complete with sweet drinks and straws, and football
games on the lawn. The teacher was forced to stop by a leather shop,
catching his breath, turning his head quite by accident once, to see a
small figure emerge by the restaurant gateway, take to its heels in the
opposite direction. The teacher cried out in amazement, breaking into a
run through pedestrians. Not until well down the steps leading to an
underground lavatory did the teacher catch up with his quarry. At first
the child fought furiously, then all of a sudden his fists ground his
eyeballs, tears spilling despair, the suitcase bumping down several steps,
coming to rest against a pair of steel scales. "But we don't mean to harm
you," the teacher said, confused, touching the child's arm warily. From a
distance came the sound of a clock striking. "... You say die ganze Zeit
dass I Black am," the boy stammered out, hot with weeping; zu Hause was
nobody like that, all boys haben das gut in Kinderhome." The teacher could
only stare at the child; everything was whirligigging; never before in his
life had he been so insanely accused. In his perplexity, he had to sit down
on the stairs, closing his eyes.
People passing up and down, and a light rain falling now. Hesitant,
the boy and the teacher continued their way along the street, avoiding
each other's eyes. More than two hours still to go, before the train. The
houses sat more densely now; there was an increasing number of pubs,
emitting dim lights and music. On a corner, two policemen on patrol,
like twins, hands going flick-flick on their backs. "Wanna ride, honey?" a
coarse female whisper from the depths of a gateway. The boy turned
politely, shaking his head; he seemed to have lost his cap. Further down
the street, three men in work clothes stepped out in front of the teacher.
"Excuse me, but have you got a light?" one of them asked. Both boy and
teacher started eagerly rummaging through pockets: quite a relief to be
spoken to at last. When, with much coughing, the men had lit up, a
conversation got going, ending in their absolutely insisting on their
treating the two to a drink at the nearest pub. The teacher, standing
directly under the street lamp, said thank you: the boy might as well pass
the hours in a cheerful bar as in the cold, malodorous waiting room at
the station; he might already be feeling chilly. So, the company headed
for a small corner establishment, the teacher becoming aware of the
boy's pressing against house walls, his oddly gesticulating hands. Inside
were but few customers, but plenty of draught and bad lighting. In a
recess was a youngish man, head on arms, asleep. Hesitatingly, the boy
pushed the curtain aside, entered and sat down on the very edge of a
chair, declining a drink. "Akvavit!" cried the men. The teacher smiled.
76 "Oil on your hands," he said gently. "Would it be rude to enquire if you,
gentlemen, are employed at a workshop?" The men exchanged quick
glances across the table. "Yes sir," one of them said, smoothing down his
hair. The teacher threw himself back against the greasy wall, laughing:
how good it was, sitting here amongst the people; he had never been
averse to consorting with workers; after all, they were the healthy roots
of any society. Above the bar counter hung postcards and photographs
of film stars. But the boy sat with his back arched, staring stiffly at the
men. "Another round," shouted the teacher, tickling the sides of a
slatternly waitress at the point where her black dress had yanked open a
bit at the seams. "Just you watch it, bad boy," she laughed, set down the
bottle and pinched the uppermost part of his thigh. Indeed, it was
proving to be a pleasant journey after all; people weren't all that bad,
once you knew how to take them. The teacher gestured extravagantly to
two lean females, calling them thither, spending another round. The
wallet was unearthed: still plenty of money, but the wad of bills from
department stores annoyed him. "Should've hurled that money straight
in their faces, those shop girls," he confided to his tableful of friends; "in
the decent countries, everybody owns everything himself." The men
were nodding through a fog, the lamp bathing the bottles in light. Then,
it was late. From the door the teacher waved a moved goodbye to all at
the bar, stepped out into the dark. "Come schnell!" the boy hissed,
pushing him from behind, starting to run himself. Amazed, the teacher
called after him; simultaneously, the three men were in the doorway.
The pavement was rather narrow, parked cars all along the kerb. The
teacher started walking down a side-street, the men following, smiling.
"Can't you even walk in step," the teacher cried, laughing out loud. Two
of the men adjusted their pace, each seizing one of his arms, driving him
on. The streets became darker, more deserted, the direction now
distinctly wrong, the blocks of houses see-sawing. The teacher peered at
the men, bewildered, his ears starting to buzz; was something awry?
From the many gateways came chill draughts. "You take my hand," said
the youngest of the men, spinning like a top to catch the boy by his coat.
The next instant, the teacher felt a hard push, so that, losing foothold, he
toppled headlong into a narrow gateway. "But listen," he began,
quavering, cut short by a heavy blow on the back of his head that sent
him flat out, where he received fist after fist, in his face, in his midriff.
He gasped for air, felt his mouth filling with warm blood. Somewhere in
the dark he could hear the boy crying; they were hurting the boy!
Making a violent effort, he managed to free one leg, kicking into
something soft, for which he got such a tremendous blow in his chest
that he well-nigh lost consciousness. A hand was pressed against his
mouth, rigid fingers stalked about within his jacket. "No wiederstand,"
whispered a child's voice, far off, "they only stealen." The teacher tried to
scream, his entire body shaking with terror. A great deal of noise could
77 be heard at the gate; voices conferring in whispers. "Halt," the child said
politely, somewhere: "bitte, give uns unsere train tickets." Up in the air was
a quick confab, low laughter, low arguing, then the little rap of
something falling to the ground. From the street, the fading sound of
running feet, silence entering the gateway. The teacher tried to heave
himself up on his elbows, darkness dizzyingly within him. "How are
you," he managed to say. A car's headlights slid past the opening; the
boy was crouched next to the teacher, in his hand a torn wallet. "How
sohKopf you were, dock," the boy spoke gravely, head shaking,
wheedling to one side a forgotten note, deftly stuffing it up his sleeve;
"shall ich you helfen?" But the teacher crept on all fours to the corner of
the gateway, and was sick.
Translated from the Danish by Elin Elgaard
Marianne Andrea is a poet and translator living in New York.
Mario Azzopardi is the author of several books of poetry in Maltese.
Johannes Bobrowski, an East German, began writing while in the German army in
Russia in 1941, was a prisoner of war there until 1949, and died in East Berlin in 1965.
Ulla Dahlerup was born in 1942 and began her writing career with the novel, Glider i
Asken (Glows in the Ashes), in 1961. She has worked in radio and television and is now a
journalist at one of Denmark's major newspapers.
Frank Davey is editor of Open Letter, and author of eight volumes of poetry (most recently
The Arches, Talonbooks, 1981) and numerous scholarly studies in contemporary literature.
His poems in this issue were taken from two series: Bobbys War Poems, and Edward and
Kathryn Duncan lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Elin Elgaard is a freelance writer and translator living in Sackville, New Brunswick. Her
Danish version of Marian Engel's Bearwas published in 1979.
Crispin Elsted and his wife Jan own and operate Barbarian Press in Mission, British
A note to the text: Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo (1901-1937) was born and lived all his life in
Madagascar. He was self-taught in French and Spanish and earned a living as a proofreader after being refused a visa to visit Paris, a life-long ambition. Lack of recognition or
artistic companionship led to his taking poison on June 22, 1937.
Grazio Falzon is an Associate Professor of French and Italian at Pacific University in
79 Robert Flanagan lives in Vienna, Virginia where he is currently working on a novel.
R.W. Fulford is a Toronto writer and teacher.
Kathryn Hansen is a translator and professor of Asian Studies at the University of British
Margot Livesey's story, "Someone Else's" appeared in 15:2.
Paddy McCallum is the owner of a media production company in Vancouver. His work
has appeared previously in Prism and in other Canadian literary journals.
Sammy McLean teaches at the University of Washington in Seattle. His translations of
Helga Novak appeared in 19:2.
Jane Munro has recently had her first book of poetry, Daughters, published by Fiddlehead
Phanishwarnath Renu (1921-1977) lived in the state of Bihar in eastern India. His six
novels and numerous short stones dealt primarily with village life, and he was noted for
introducing literary regionalism into modern Hindi fiction. "The Messenger" was written
during the fifties.
Thomas Shapcott was born in Australia in 1935. He is Chief Literary Editor of The
University of Queensland Press, author of several books of poetry and fiction, and
recipient of the Canada/Australia prize for poetry, 1980.
Al Israel Smith writes from Laguna Beach, California.
Georg Trakl, an Austrian, committed suicide at the beginning of the First World War
when he was twenty-seven.


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