PRISM international

Prism international Prism international Apr 30, 1987

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Since  1959, introducing the finest contemporary
Canadian and international writing.
Available in British Columbia
at these fine bookstores:
Duthie Books   919 Robson Street
The English Bay Book Co.   102-1184 Denman Street
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PRISM international
Department of Creative Writing, UBC, Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1W5 Im.
international  DIANNE MAGUIRE
Managing Editor
Poetry Editor
Art Advisor
Business Manager
Fiction Editor
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 1W5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University
Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation,
New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1987 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover photograph: Michael Savage
One-year individual subscriptions $10.00, two-year subscriptions $16.00. Library and
institution subscriptions $14.00, two-year subscriptions $20.00. Sample copy $4.00.
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 postage will be held for six months
and then discarded.
Payment to contributors is $25.00 per page plus a one-year subscription. PRISM
international purchases First North American Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Will and the University of British
Also financially assisted by the Government of British Columbia through the British
Columbia Cultural Fund and Lottery Revenues.
Second Class Mail Registration No. 5496. April 1987. CONTENTS
Brian Burke
The Undiscovered Country
Kenneth Graham
Conversation, with Silences
Polly Koch
Black Water
Peggy Sue Alberhasky
"Storm Has Happened"
Brian Wickers
'■Jorberto Luis Romero
Salvatore Cetrano
"Table by Cell Window"
Chris Mansell
Helga M. Novak
Beverley Daurio
"when you are young"
"i have my doubts"
Hans Erich Nossack
Who Would Have Thought of
Hot Chocolate?
Otto Orban
"The Tourists Arrive"
Iain Higgins
" 'Every Force Evolves
a Form' "
"The Love Song of Ceyx"
Keath Fraser
Sharon McCartney
"Not Now"
Michael B. Turner
"Sure Sign of Fish"
"Rip Tide"
Bogdan Czaykowski
"Race to the Limit"
Emanuel Mandler
In the Boiler Room
Ken J. Harvey
"long, delicate procession"
Evelyn Lau
"The Quiet Room"
"An Autumn Photograph"
81 PRISM international
1st Place:    $1000. Brian Burke,    The Undiscovered Country (p. 7)
2nd Place: $ 500. Kenneth Graham,    Conversation, with Silences (p. 17)
3rd Place: $ 250. Polly Koch,   Black Water (p. 27)
Brian Burke, of Vancouver, B. C, has had stories appear in Quarry,
The New Quarterly, The Fiddlehead, event, The Antigonish Review, Matrix,
and others. New stories are due to appear soon in The West Coast
Review and Waves. A previous collection of stories, Watching the Whales
Jump, received the National Epstein Award.
Kenneth Graham, of Sheffield, England, will have his first novel,
Hokusai's Wave, published by Chatto and Windus later this year. He is
also the author of English Criticism of the Novel 1865-1900 (OUP);
Henry James: the Drama of Fulfilment (OUP); and Indirections of the Novel:
James, Conrad, and Forster (forthcoming in 1988: CUP).
Polly Koch, of Houston, Texas, has one previous publication in Mississippi Review. She is currently completing a master's degree at the University of Houston.
Charles Foran, United States Miranda
Keath Fraser, Canada Damages (p. 55)
J. Q. Gregg, Canada Responsibility
Rick Hillis, Canada Blue
Emanuel Mandler, Czechoslovakia In the Boiler Room (p. 71)
translated by Peter Petro
Bill Richardson, Canada The Same Old Story
Norberto Luis Romero, Argentina Jewels (p. 37)
translated by H. E. Francis
Frances Sherwood, United States Do Dogs Dream?
Gary Whitehead, Canada / Can Fix Anything
We wish to thank the Canada Council for its Promotions Grant. Also,
we extend a very special thank you to Guy Vanderhaeghe, this year's
final judge. Brian Burke
The Undiscovered Country
Jude's mother had been born the year Halley's comet last sped past the
Earth —1910. The first time she looked old to him she'd been wheeled
down to the tv room to watch the moon-landing—she still possessed
her eyesight back then—and she had joined a long row of other
patients, all accompanied by orderlies in white, all rigged up with
tubes and supports and the medical paraphernalia that kept them
moving and that kept some alive. All that effort to watch Armstrong
and Aldrin balance awkwardly on the flat but foreign surface of the
moon. His mother wore a soft sky-blue dressing gown and puffed
white slippers on her feet.
Nineteen sixty-nine and the violence now rampant and in complete
control of her had still been building then. Most of her disease lay
dormant, or in some kind of mystical abatement, resting its cruelty and
crippling effects for a future, final assault. Viral multiple sclerosis,
something Jude had thought only a kid's disease, like chicken pox or
the measles, wrestled with her spinal cord and brain, lay down successive patches of hardened tissue and sent ripples of muscular twitches
coursing through her body. But it hadn't yet rendered her paralysed
or struck her blind. In 1969 that had been still to come.
Jude first recognized her in the line before the tv monitor by the
way she sat with her hands patiently clasped in her lap, an image of
serenity. She often sat in the same position in her own living room
while his father's self-important friends finished eating her carefully
prepared cucumber sandwiches and finished drinking the liquor that
raised their voices and intensified their small-town politics before they
finally vacated her kitchen table for the night. These men intimidated
her with all they understood about her adopted country, with all the
businesses and people they claimed responsibility for.
Although her hair must have begun to fade years before, Jude had
never acknowledged the gray. But he'd noticed it that day and he'd
judged its unnerving implications while he watched as she reached
into her dressing gown pocket for the plastic wallet of photographs
she kept with her. She liked to show them to him and explain the small myths connected to each one. His two older brothers were there, as
children only, as if anything that reminded her of the insensitive bullies they had become needed to be forcefully censored out. His childhood was also present and marked his progression through crawling,
on up to walking and then his speedy adolescence: baby pictures, back-
to-school clothes, sports uniforms. Her routine with her snaps, as she
called them, as she called flashlights torches and elevators lifts, calmed
her. For along with the symptoms of her illness, she also felt a common
second discomfort, the one generated by the objectionable fact of being sick at all. She felt betrayed; he could see that in her politeness, her
removal from those around her, and in her smile that faded too
quickly, that no longer lasted until he left the room. He wanted to tell
her that he forgave her even if the others did not.
Mostly, though, the others—his father and his two older brothers —
would not forgive her one basic request: that she be buried in England, the country she'd left for a six month holiday more than twenty
years ago.
"Anyway," his father had said, refusing to consider making arrangements, "you might not die yet."
Days when she had felt strong enough to take short walks, his
mother dragged around with her an intravenous unit on wheels that
attached to a vein in her arm, and like a recalcitrant moon described
slow and irregular orbits of her failing body. Her own gravitational
forces seemed too weak to hold it in a true path. Whenever they met
other patients in the halls or solarium, Jude stepped aside, embarrassing her, and gestured to the unit in introduction.
"This is HAL," he'd say. "Remember that renegade computer in
2001 ? Once a space traveller, now reduced to this." Noticing his
mother's shy indulgence, he'd once added, "You should try it yourself.
They'll think you're a character."
Now she was back, confined to a bed in the same white and glossy
hospital where once they'd witnessed man walking on the moon. But
six years later and it was blindness, finally, that provided her with a
private mixture of faith and a paradoxical clarity of vision that she had
sought after vainly all her half-life in this country.
Win Cole arrived in Canada in June, 1946; four months later she married the thirty-year-old son of her brother's next-door neighbours.
Her brother Joe never much cared for Jude's dad, who occasionally
wandered into town from his mountain home less than forty miles
"The old couple are decent enough people," Joe explained to his
sister, after she'd settled into what had been her nephews' room. "But
their son drinks. He's a bit of a rebel. Traps wild animals for a living,
so they say."
8 Drink was exactly what Jude's father did, and he also slaughtered
more than his share of 'wild animals.' Through drink he had polished
off the profits from his own taxi company (four cars), his fleet for
hauling logs (two heavy-duty Hayes-Anderson trucks), his sawmill (still
in operation), and his combination dog kennel and riding stable.
"Name a store out there and I can break into it," he used to brag, because he had trained all the guard dogs in the town.
When Jude thought of his father, he recalled first his pungent Old
Chum pipe tobacco and the Eddy stick matches, the ones his dad lit
with his thick yellow thumbnail. What he often saw in his mind was the
red, grainy back of his dad's sunburnt neck, or the big blue tent they
camped in each summer with its musty smell of canvas in the hot, dry
woods. Or he saw his father late at night on a drinking bout, out under
the stars, efficiently shooting fruit bats and crows, blasting them from
the dark sky with a shotgun as they swooped or simply circled overhead.
Edward Cole hated, argued and joked at nothing less than full
volume, and Jude saw his English mother as being forever eclipsed by
her bull-headed husband: King Ed as he was called by friends and employees. He'd been named after a promising young king overseas by
his beleaguered mother, a British broodmare of a woman who'd given
birth to nine already. Her Edward arrived late and nearly killed her at
birth as if to establish right away that he would always be a burden for
her or some other woman.
At the kitchen table where he conducted most of his business and
plotted strategy, Ed sat with his elbows heavy on the table. He told exaggerated tales of his homesteading days or his misadventures in the
army to his three boys. The two older ones, born in successive years after his late marriage, resembled their father in build and temperament. The youngest, Jude, was a surprise three years later.
"WWI was the Great War," Ed liked to say, savouring what was to
come next. "But WWII was a fucking great war!" He'd been born in
the middle of the first war, while Win, his wife and six years older, had
survived and remembered both wars.
His father the storyteller: those nights at the kitchen table made
Jude want to remember everything that ever happened to him so he'd
have something to talk about and impress people with later on—so one
day he'd have stories to tell.
But other times Jude thought of his father simply as a man who
went to war but didn't fight. There'd been nothing like real combat for
Ed Cole. He'd only once escaped boot camp in Brandon, Manitoba,
and then only to travel by troopship to England. On shore for the
night, Ed and his mates had stalked the Southampton pubs until an
emergency recall cancelled their orders and sent them steaming back
to Halifax. Next, by train, he and his fellow soldiers of fortune had journeyed across the country, over 4500 miles, because rumours
claimed a Japanese submarine cruising the west coast had lobbed shells
onto the beach at Esquimalt, and the lighthouse needed defending. By
the time Ed had navigated half the globe in defense of the farmers and
fishermen on Vancouver Island, any serious invaders could have
stormed the province, rampaged through the Rockies, and spilled
over into Alberta. A swift sweep of the prairies would have brought
the Axis menace to the Western shores of the lakehead, tossing all of
Ontario into a state of siege (something Ed always said might have
been worth watching).
But war did teach Jude's father a few things about bureaucracy, a
skill that came in handy later on. He had loved the army, and perhaps
only the army, because, as he often said, it was the one place where he
knew everyone's name: Captain, Sergeant, Corporal. Jude guessed
correctly that his father had not been as happy since. Since beginning
when Ed met Jude's mother.
When Ed visited his parents, he usually stayed there for a few
nights, while he transacted local business, which consisted of the sale of
raw logs to city lumberyards and frequent stops at sprawling city beer
parlours. He also liked to sit and drink beer on his parents' porch and
tease the two small boys from next door. By October of that year he'd
be their uncle.
The boys complained that they were losing their room to their
crabby aunt from England. Jude's father claimed he emptied his beer
and set the bottle spinning on the step below him. "Don't worry about
it," his story goes, "I'll marry her for you."
Jude's aunt and uncle witnessed the wedding at City Hall. Whenever
his mother brought out her huge felt-covered album, permanently
discoloured by all the dust it had drawn to it, she showed Jude the
snaps she'd collected and saved. A few pictures of England remained
in the book, but none of her. It was as if she hadn't existed before Canada compassionately married her to one of its own. Cold Canada offered as a colony what could no longer be hoped for back home —
quick elevation to a higher class.
A couple of photographs had been taken since her arrival in her
new country, and included among these was one from that same wedding at City Hall. A dull, drizzly day. His father wore the only suit he
would ever own until grass roots political success necessitated a fancier
wardrobe. The mismatched couple halted in their march from the
courthouse to have their picture taken by a street photographer on
Granville. Jude has imagined his mother, many times, standing quietly
beside her new, younger husband. What could she have expected,
marrying a man like Edward Cole? Jude also glimpsed in the photo an
after-image of his father, fumbling through the change in his pocket
10 to spill payment into the outstretched hand of the photographer. His
mother wore a soft gray suit. Hers was a warm smile; she clutched a
bouquet of miniature flowers, trimmed with delicate lace. Pinned to
her breast was a frail corsage, limp from the rain falling. Dressed in his
own suit of gray (the only colour left in the world after the war? Jude
wondered), Ed looked oddly quizzical, like he'd just won a bet he had
no faith in. For he looked not at the photographer, not at his bride,
but to the wet street and the stinging rain that showed on the picture
either as large white bubbles or as dark clots of unblotted ink.
"I will not live with you on that mountain," Jude's mother had informed her new husband, forcing Ed, a self-proclaimed pioneer, a
homesteader, to become someone else's tenant.
Jude's father traded five hundred cleared acres for a twelve cylinder
Packard. Caught in the heavy spring runoff of 1949, it sunk in up over
its axles on a sand bar along the Fraser River. Ed had finished the jar
of home-brew he had with him and hiked the rest of the way into
town, abandoning what represented several years of homesteading to
the rising floodwaters.
Still more of his land was reclaimed by the federal government for
non-payment of taxes owing, which was only fair, Ed admitted, because he had taken the land from the government in the first
place—had said thank you and then built a house (more of a shack),
his sawmill, and the other businesses that kept him occupied after the
war ran out. He'd made a second, third or fourth living setting trap
lines for muskrat, mink and marten. Lean years, he'd even sold squirrel skins, dyeing the pelts and selling them as imitation mink. Only the
sawmill remained.
What he had originally accepted from the Crown were logging concessions. Vast tracts of forest that only interested the government because of the potential for lumber sales abroad. Ed Cole acquired Cole
Mountain by logging it off a section at a time. He'd apply for lots one
and three, buying them from the government at ten cents an acre or,
as he liked to point out, less than his monthly subscription to the Sun
newspaper. But he would log sections one, two and three. When the
agents complained that he had not purchased the rights to all three
lots, Ed would sell them the logs which were all they wanted anyway.
They received the raw resources at a reasonable rate, foreign sales
quotas were quickly met and Ed accepted in return the land he had
mistakenly logged clean. With the money he made from forestry officials, he purchased lots four and six, proceeded to log lots four, five
and six, and so on around the mountain.
By the time Ed had cleared three sides, federal officials were convinced they were dealing with an uncommonly stupid man and he
owned outright hundreds of acres of undeveloped property. When
11 the census was held the mountain needed a name so that Jude's father
could possess a registered address. It got his name: Cole Mountain,
Malamute Territory, British Columbia.
Scattered on it now were three huge housing divisions, belonging to
two separate municipalities; a shopping mall; several apartment complexes; what was once a fishing and hunting lodge further up the slope
but which was now reduced to fishing only due to the absolute
slaughter of all game—the lake at least could be restocked; a family
riding stable on the west side; and a ski resort near the top, complete
with an artificial snow machine. It still bore Ed's name; there was a
Cole Avenue, Cole Place, Cole Court, Cole Village, and the Cole
Mountain Ski Chalet, with a few branch-plant condominiums
threaded along the alpine runs.
To young reporters from valley weeklies, eager to write local interest stories, Ed denied any connection. "If they found out how I got it
I'd be thrown in jail."
Jude thought this unlikely. "You'd be a hero," he told his father,
who now worried about things like that because of what he feared a
disclosure might do to his fledgling political career.
The first man Jude's father had ever hired to work for him lived on
Cole Mountain still, in a house they had built together on one of the
few remaining treed lots. That was really all that was left of his mountain empire. The man sent a card every Christmas, which Ed left
Jude's mother to respond to with a card of their own.
Although his mother refused to live there, Jude often hiked to the
high meadows and camped out. He especially liked the late summer
weeks, as the weather broke down, signaling autumn—the renegade
thundershowers and isolated dervishes of hail that spun, flashed and
rumbled, that clung to the ridges, boxed between the lower peaks and
back valleys. Sunshine everywhere else, but solid blocks of chiselled
vapour rattled between his father's hills, followed by more diluted
lightning, on-off-on-off and then gone. The last palsied flush would
give way to a heavy downpour, a cool whoosh of air and large drops
that stung when they hit—so big because they'd been carried up and
dropped, carried up and dropped again by the currents within the
clouds, now too full to hold more. Thick whips of rain swept down,
black and trailing, to the tops of the darkened treeline.
At other times it would be millions of grainy ice pellets, sudden and
violent, because, Jude supposed, the turbulent air inside the anvil-
shaped thunderheads was so cold, so alien, lunar.
Win believed she had done her duty, and only Jude, from among her
family,  agreed.  She  informed  her  men  that there were  suitable
12 graveyards in Newcastle. "My father's buried in one. He died in a
shipyard accident when I was only eight. My sister's buried there, too,"
she said. "Somehwere." She even hinted that she'd had a boyfriend,
before the war.
A half-dozen years ago, when Jude came home from school for
lunch and they were alone, he'd asked her about England during the
"Not so bad," she'd said then. "The Bromley Court Hotel was full of
American soldiers once they'd decided to join in. They were very good
to us. But I hated the bomb shelters. I used to go for walks outside
during the air raids. Right out in the open!" Jude pictured her, a single
working girl, only a little afraid, away from home, strolling the damp,
foggy streets while whole blocks of London exploded around her.
"When I left, I promised them I'd be back. I was Head Waitress."
It was during one of those lunches that she told him what she had
expected to find when she came over. The trip took twenty-one hours,
with stops in Greenland, Montreal and Toronto. Canada was rich in
everything, her brother Joe had insisted, despite the cruel weather,
the distant people, and an unexpected shortage of work. Still, she had
expected to find an odd but charming combination of civilization and
wilderness, and her brother a prosperous man, better off than he
could ever have hoped to be in England.
Lunch hours together, she showed Jude more pictures of himself as
a child growing up. In these backyard shots the sun seemed always in
his eyes. Win believed that the sun must lie behind the Brownie box
camera she held unsteadily at her waist as she peered down into its rectangular lens, searching for a truer, more perfect image of him. Her
son, the youngest; not one of Ed's boys. Because of the sun's constant
glare, not one picture in her maroon, felt-covered album showed Jude
without a squint.
Dinner out was a rare event, but before driving up to the hospital,
Jude's father had insisted on it. He chose for the occasion a local
Chinese restaurant that also served Canadian food.
"Steaks," his father promised, downing a glass of what looked to be
only one of a series of whiskies and water. "Steaks," he'd said, convinced this time his wife was dying.
"You're the brains here. What kills a woman still barely in her sixties?" he asked Jude, whose solemn brothers sat waiting across from
him for their dinner. They were large, awkward men and needed to be
"Here," Jude said. He dug a quarter from the front pocket of his
jeans and flipped it on the table. "Three songs for a quarter. You
13 Jude surveyed his drunken father. He'd had but one opinion when
Win first announced her wishes. "If she wants it she can have it. I
denied that woman nothing. First she wanted a washer and a dryer.
She got it. The year before that it was an electric stove—suddenly gas
wasn't good enough for her. Well so this year it's a grave."
Ed's recent political failures had done to him what trapping in freezing winters, logging on treacherous mountains, and homesteading,
and the war, and every other type of life he'd lived had failed to do: it
had cheated him. He'd lost a re-election attempt at a district councilman's position. A judicial recount overturned his slim lead on election
night. Someone had used more tricks, slapped more backs, marred
more ballots by smearing an errant thumb through the penciled X by
his name, rendering the vote spoiled. And now this: his wife wouldn't
allow herself to be buried in any of the ground he'd logged, trapped,
tamed or owned. Jude watched his father reduced to water-diluted
whiskey and second-rate cuts of meat—and not by any lack of funds
but by his own lack of a broader vision; his finally was a small ambition,
rooted in the soil he'd won once and lost.
Jude's father held firm to his next idea—drugs had addled Win's
mind, "What she had of one." That was what enabled her brain to bubble forth with this crazy notion of hers.
But Jude had seen the photographs: hills greener and much gentler
than his father's mountain; passive streams and brooks, and not the
raging, flood-prone, Packard-avenging Fraser; paler skies, softer
winters. His father had missed it. Drugs only allowed her the peaceful
release she'd sought, for years, to rebuke her domineering husband
and his two complacent sons. They were flakes, good-time drinkers
and good-old rowdy-boys come Friday and Saturday nights. But none
had the decency, Jude saw, to stop treating her like another chunk of
property once conquered, exploited and gotten away with. They
hadn't the courage to stop pursuing and winning the easy fights.
"I said one or two things when I first got here," Win had told them
before entering the hospital this time. "But I've been mostly quiet ever
since." She'd said nothing and suffered through their summer camping trips—trips that were no vacation for her, for she still had meals to
cook, and without the convenience of gas, electricity, or any kind of
kitchen at all. Nor had she said anything when Ed took his sons hunting and brought back deer and moose to be gutted and butchered,
then the carcasses to be cleaned and the rich meat to be hung for
aging. Nor anything again when he came home late at night, drunk
with a friend he'd promised their couch to pass out on, some crony
from his pioneering days, who smelled like he hadn't washed since the
last time they'd gone drinking together.
"Oh mother oh mother he's on to me now," they'd sing, bellowing in
14 Win's kitchen, while cooking a booze-induced snack of bacon and fried
potatoes, "Like Mulligan's bull and Flanagan's cow."
She wasn't asking him or anyone else for their permission, she had
told them. This was simply her wish, that she be buried "back home,"
in England. She could toss wool around like a weapon, when she
needed to, and the sturdy click of her quick knitting needles echoed
behind her words as she felt her way through the pattern. She had
made the vest Jude wore that night at the restaurant, an old-style, no-
nonsense pullover that kept out the chill.
When she dreamed, Jude wondered, what did she see there that
beckoned her back?
Jude always considered it a stroke of divine luck that he resembled
neither his mother nor his father. He was the image of neither—but
why have a third son so late in life? —Unless he was to act as a buffer,
unless he had some duty to perform. The two older boys were Ed's;
Jude belonged to her. Perhaps, that had been her plan all along.
"So your little brother's going to visit the old country." Ed smiled,
now, and dropped his heavy arm around Jude's shoulder. "Only a
puny little puke like you would be fool enough to take a Cole to Newcastle," he joked. "Right boys? What should we do to change his
Jude inhaled his father's warm breath of whiskey. He knew his
brothers only managed businesses set up for them by someone else.
They didn't have what it took to carve out or steal them. Whatever had
prevented his father from staying with his homestead, because of a
wife, would also render his threats meaningless now, because Jude was
her son.
"That seems to be her point," Jude said. "She's not a Cole."
"You're not burying her in England."
Jude looked at his two brothers crammed together in the booth. Ar-
borite, plastic, metal table speakers, the songs typed on a list they
flipped through. Fluorescent lighting. Soon, greasy food would be
served to them on thick white plates. This was where they had brought
him to "work him over."
"I said you're not burying your mother in England."
Jude smiled and folded his hands loosely in front of him. "What are
you going to do about it, Dad? You don't strike me as the kind of man
who'd throw himself on his wife's coffin."
Jude sat on with his mother after his father and his brothers had
shuffled out of the hospital. She reached for the plastic wallet of snaps
in the drawer beside her bed and filed through them while Jude
waited for the drugs prescribed for her to bring on sleep.
"My brother Joe," she said, leaning across so Jude could see once
15 more the photograph of a tall, thin man, wearing wire-rimmed glasses
and suspenders; he'd died ten years ago from the same disease. "He
sent me slippers and nylons and Liberty magazines and packets of
chicken noodle soup during the war. Nylons were prohibited. I sent
him Woodbine cigarettes wrapped in an English newspaper, one with
the football scores." Jude had stopped trying to guess what blind, subconscious trigger linked the photos to her thoughts. "Woodbines were
a real man's cigarette and he couldn't get them over here. We got into
trouble for that. I sent them on without declaring them."
Another photo was of Bromley Court where she had worked in
London. "The Americans were very good," she said, and Jude caught
again the disappointment, the yearning in her voice. He suspected that
she still wondered how her life might have turned out had her brother
Joe sailed for America, with its generous tippers, and not Canada. "All
these in-between Canadians," she had once said, "always in the
"The Americans got the most pay in their packets, then you and
then our own. But the Yanks would open their parcels from home and
give us gum and oranges and chocolates."
Jude tucked the blankets tighter, trying to convey allegiance, love,
and he flipped another photograph past and waited.
"They left such good tips, the Americans. They'd leave all their
change behind. I used to say, 'Now you know that's English money. Do
you realize how much you're leaving?' They never cared."
Often she fell asleep before she completed a full telling of her snapshots and Jude wondered if the boyfriend, before or during the war,
had been an American.
Sometime over the past few years his mother had begun to cut herself out of her Canadian pictures. Jude kept one in his wallet, one
where Win hugged her youngest to her side and smiled hopefully at
the camera, held this one rare time by Jude's father. Although she had
razored her image out, her right arm remained draped around his
shoulder, the reassuring weight of it giving him faith, while her hand
cupped his bony upper arm in a grasp he could still feel. Jude's ever-
present squint was frozen into the photographic chemicals.
During the long flight over the North Pole—eight hours, compared
with her twenty-one hour ordeal to get here—Jude would read, have a
drink, read some more, drink some more, eat, sleep, ask for more to
drink. During the private services at the tiny chapel he'd stand defiant
and tearless, and he knew that he would only discover his grief
reunited with his mother in a wind-whipped English graveyard, one
moonstruck crow circling overhead.
16 Kenneth Graham
Conversation, with Silences
Where a group of high rocks made the road narrow, it passed quite
suddenly from one county into another. One minute it was all plumb
meadow and elm, then there was this rush of exciting black rocks and
next minute open moor, or almost moor, canted up at the sky, with
ash-trees like sparse candelabra and sheep slow-swarming across vistas. The change was really too abrupt. It made people travelling by car
feel dramatic, quarrelsome.
"Can't you smell the different air?" she demanded.
"Those stone walls depress me—they're like a battlefield," he
"Why a battlefield?"
"Heaped bones —I don't know—or ruins, like Troy. Or
redoubts—American Civil War—people kneeling in line behind them
firing long rifles."
"You're being affected," she laughed, still very fixed and gay. "It's
such open country."
"I wish I wasn't crossing it to go to any party. It's grim."
"Well it's not far. And I think it's terrific. Feel the wind tugging the
Then the car lurched into the first series of bends, slowing,
diminishing against the landscape. The moors had begun to throw up
broken cusps of dreadfully worn stone: the tip of each ridge bent over
in a frozen wave. Daylight pricked between the interlocked boulders
on the summits, and the road as it spiralled beneath them shared in
the sense of erosion and instability. It could have been a cold and
blackened Arizona, or the moon with a faint scurf of grass and surprising valleys—but people quite comfortably called it the Backbone of
17 "You can see why they call it the backbone of England," she said
brightly when they got out in a lay-by to put on their sweaters. They
struggled, with their arms flapping, against the solid wind. She held
her arms out longer than was necessary to put on a sweater, submissive
to the thick tug of the air, making a deliberate gesture. He looked at
her, out of the intense habit of admiration, but hating the cold, the
self-exposure, the big gesture.
"The stag at bay," he said; but she thought he was only praising the
possibilities of the hillside, and got back into the car still smiling, dishevelled by the air-crammed distances and by the prospect of travelling, experiencing, talking. It was to be a nice party, and worth the trip.
Sophisticated but not mannered; interestingly mixed; completely un-
stuffy. The talk would be as invigorating as the air; and she always
loved the sense of change, as when a flat road is suddenly caught between high rocks and flung upwards like a ribbon. She was a woman
through whom life flowed just like that, in heaves and spasms. He
would have died without her, glowering out blindly at a world suddenly deprived of its meaningful gestures. But how he hated the
drama and the assertion. He was a man who believed, self-deludingly,
that he detested all conversation. And she despised the equally
dramatic gestures of his silences, sniffing out the self-regard in them
like a truffle-hound. Change made her unforseeably irritable as well as
creative. Journeys and landscaspes were a dreadful joy to her, full of
twists, ascents, and broken cusps—just like a conversation.
"What do you mean, I don't talk?" he said, as they drove down into
the first valley, abruptly green and with a pale snake of river in the
"Well you won't enjoy parties and things like that unless you put
something into them. You always go along passively, waiting to be inflamed or infused or something."
"That's right. I've got something still worth inflaming in me because
I don't fritter myself away. Party-talk is frittering."
"You're vain. The sleeping giant. The genius waiting for his spark to
be blown into a fire. You're always looking for a kindred soul—or just
a nice big-eyed big-breasted little girl who'll—"
"No I'm not. No little girls. You're making that up, and it's banal."
"You don't talk because you think you're too good to talk."
"I'm shy, damn it. And I don't think quickly. And you'd talk to a
doorpost if you were introduced to one at a party— and you'd keep finishing its sentences for it."
"Ha-ha. You're a prig and a prude."
"You're a conversational whore."
"This is getting silly, let's stop it. What do you mean I'm a whore?"
18 Then the car thumped over the stone bridge in the bottom of the
valley, and his lips moved voicelessly against the rattle and the loud
change-down of gear. The car began to climb steeply, as though
plucked up slowly on an interminable cord through the westering
light. That flank of the valley was suddenly violent red-gold above the
autumn shadow that hung in the river-bottom. The car was a yellow
bead—so small, so glistening—and other beads moved up slowly behind it, or fell down past it into the shadow. The road was strung taut
and flaming all the way up to the next peak, it seemed. Even the gust-
ing of the wind had become a fixed element around them, packed
solid by the light. And still their two faces, minute pale discs inside the
car, kept turning restlessly from one to the other as the car rose, arguing, laughing, reflecting the light like broken words.
There was one more stop in a lay-by before they would arrive at
their destination. They would open a flask of coffee and lucidly discuss
its merits, while their tiny car perched at an angle on the edge of the
universe. He loved tastes, and images for tastes. He imagined he was a
puritanic sensualist, with a sombre, near-Jewish glow lurking in his
heart and taste buds. At times, he had almost come to believe he was
part Jewish, and some critical early acquaintances claimed to have
detected traces of an inconsistent Viennese accent. But he was a lazily
efficient man: he had designed a shopping centre in Utrecht, and had
chaired a month-long commission in Venice that almost reached
agreement on how that city might be saved. Yet the images he sought
were not those of efficiency but of a sullen poetic heat. Smitten by
boils, enraged by inarticulacy, he would one day strike a boulder in his
pain, and the gold inside would burst out like honey. In a crowd, his
sense of self became dissipated. Only a loving irritation at his wife's
gregariousness seemed to keep him focussed and concentrated. But
people who knew him saw a social charm that owed nothing to his
wife's otherness. Some people had even found him unctuous, glib to a
fault, and at times—on Commissions, in meetings—rabidly ambitious.
When accused of these things he fell into a dangerous and baffled
daze. Who was he anyway? Was he whole and single, or was it all wind
and shifting weather? All such crises of guilt and self-doubt sooner or
later induced sleepiness in him: he had to close up on himself in a brief
doze like a small animal or a flower, till he could sleep his way back towards his centre. He went into such sleep headlong like a journey,
seeking a way, a line to a point.
He woke now from his nap—perhaps this time it was simply tiredness from driving in the late afternoon, or one of his conscious preparations for a testing social event. It could only have lasted for minutes.
The still-opened flask of coffee was steaming on the dashboard. But
19 where had she gone? The wind made the parked car shake; the
ground outside fell away into nothing; there was no one in the seat beside him. For a moment everything around him was drained of sound
and dimension, and the car was suspended in a landscape of dazzling
silence. Then she was there. She was on the hillside a hundred yards
away, talking to someone; very solid, very real—talking. But by the
time he had opened the car door she was walking back, quite quickly.
Who was it beside her? She climbed back over the fence, and with a
smile she told him as he held the door open against the wind.
"A man and a boy flying a kite," she said.
"I must have been asleep."
"The man was teaching the boy to fly it," she said. "And I asked if I
could hold it, too. That was all."
That was not all. She sat too rigidly in the car seat.
"What did you talk about—kites?"
"Yes. They're sensitive things. The little boy could hardly hold it.
And they've spent a long time getting it up, apparently."
"But it's a bit strange, isn't it—going over and talking to them like
"Well you said I was a conversational whore. Why shouldn't I?"
"I don't know. What did happen, though? You look strange."
"I feel strange. Nothing really. I don't feel like talking. We'd better
drive on—it'll be dark soon."
"You don't feel like —Ha."
His smile was sarcastic, jealous, very uneasy. She didn't see, but
stared out of the window. The car still hung over a great drop, where a
solitary red kite trailed its tail in the wind. The man and the boy were
now out of sight below the slope and the cord that held the kite to the
ground was invisible. The car hung in its own wordless space. They
both sat rigid in their strangeness. There was nothing to say.
But by the time they drove over the last ridge and came down towards the village where their friends lived, they had found the usual
things, and some new things, to say. She had always found him a
source of new things—often to his surprise, when he felt he was only
repetitive or inexpressive. She drew sustenance from his taciturnity,
sometimes in irritation, sometimes by articulating for herself what he
failed to express. Then there was the usual reaction of guilt. She lived
by guilt, which can paralyze but can also intensify and provoke like a
hot spice. Guilt made her so florid. She had failed her first marriage in
which she was timorous and tender. Then she had failed her two children in the thousand usual ways—so they passionately refused to give
her up and still battened on her contradictions and her endless emotional flow. They were at home, in that small Cathedral city among
20 eastern meadows and elms: teen-aged harpies, they would make her
pay for this night's absence. She had failed to produce a child for this
second husband: the real husband, for all his self-indulgent silences
and his play-acting. But perhaps it should have been his guilt, for he
hadn't really wanted a child to add to the menage he had inherited. So
she got angry at others for not taking away her guilt. And in that way it
all flowed, in a stream of small crises and collapses, sustained by the indestructible secret crudity of her nature. Her language, like her
thoughts, could be virulently primitive—but fashion had caught up
with that and it now passed as sophistication. So she sought new language, new styles—to conceal, and therefore to express, the terrace-
house peasant she resented in herself. When she collapsed, she collapsed utterly, down to her deepest layer. He guessed at what lay
there, but could never penetrate. He could only wait glumly, or in
sleep, for her to recover. She was often a bitch, but she was never
mean. She understood many people like a sorceress. She could appear
to be a malicious snob and a gossip. She invented mythologies, and in
extravagant talk and tasteless metaphors she forced the people she
knew to inhabit them. Truth tended to hover somewhere on the edge
of her myths, as though compelled by their charm or by their
stridency. Where he was cunning, in a lazy, ambiguous way, and endlessly self-protective, she would throw herself noisily like a martyr onto
every guilt-sharpened intuition that presented itself. But she was—for
all he said to the contrary—quite capable of silences. She could burn in
wordless, brief contemplation.
"There it is," she said too loudly, as though putting some secret, or
some place, abruptly behind her.
"Where's the entrance?"
"Everywhere. It's all open, like a ranch—remember?"
"Of course. Lunatics. I can hear the gabble from here."
They drove with a rasp over gravel, in a turquoise twilight that was
suddenly made suave by the hint of tailored hedge and lamps glowing
through leaded windowpanes. This was as far as they would go. They
would stay the night. The journey was now stretched out tight behind
them, a complete line from noon to evening, from pasture land to hill
country, from where their life was centred to where it now hung out,
momentarily, for one night, exposed in this strange space. When the
two travellers got out of the car and walked, one slouching, one with a
toss of the shoulders, towards the subtle house crammed with light and
chatter, they missed the last glimpse, black against turquoise, of those
speechless and eroded hills as they began to uncurl their fingers
against the moon.
21 II
But on the journey back, next morning, something terrible happened.
It came without premonition and without cause, like one of those silences that suddenly bulge through a conversation. They might have
felt something was going to happen, being so conscious, so intuitive, so
scratchily on the lookout for signs and symptoms. But they both felt
unexpectedly relaxed after the party, and left while the few other
stop-over guests were still breakfasting stiffly amid the debris. There
was a heavy frost on the ground as they walked over the gravel to the
car: up here autumn clearly meant something very different from
where they lived. They couldn't wait to get home. The noise and challenge of the party had drained them, in different ways, but had united
them in the aftermath.
"I did get quite a bit out of that tree-man," she said, waiting while he
scraped ice from the windscreen.
"I didn't meet a tree-man. What do you mean?"
"The one who was in the Forestry Commission and talked really
sensitively about trees. He's worried about sycamores next—another
beetle or a fungus or a sooty bark or something. Didn't you meet
"No. I got into a quarrel with some local headmaster about the usual
educational things. But wasn't the smoke terrible in that back room?"
She agreed. They were both really very agreeable, very chatty. They
had lost just enough sleep to make them feel sharp-edged and pleasantly brittle, so early in the morning. He drove off with some sense of
exhiliration. They had come, they had sampled, they had
judged—and now they were going home, anatomising the party-goers
as they went. They would wind up the unspooled road right back to
where it began, and the sense of an easy, perfect pattern to accomplish
would give pleasure to a morning drive. But this time they were driving into the sun. Quickly, the flood of light shining through valleys
and across boulders had begun to break up into a million disconnected
points and uncomfortable facets. The road shimmered, vanished,
reappeared. A birch tree straight ahead, caught full against the disc of
the sun, wobbled and broke. A solitary sheep lay lumpishly asleep, or
dead, by the verge of the road. There were no other cars. He gave a
yawn as they came up sharply to the brow of a hill. They had both suddenly fallen silent, he thinking of nothing but following the line of the
verge as it disappeared into the sun, she wondering who had been
speaking to her at the party about the Civil War, or was it the Civil
War? Then it was that the journey became very terrible.
A bright-sheeted hillside spun round suddenly, the sun was pulled
22 away, the car sobbed violently into a long skid, turning slowly broadside as it went, downwards into a shadowy tunnel between rocks where
there was no weight, no shape, no touch between where they sat like
rigid puppets in their seats and the earth outside. Horror became a total element: a bright release. They flowed backwards through purest
air. Things went rushing past. They were floating inside the moment,
yet things outside still went rushing past. Somewhere a rock or another car waited to pluck them back from where they had gone. But
still, facing the way they had come, mouths open in a scream that
wouldn't start, they spun down through liquid light. Then the car
screeched as the ice gave up; it slowed, spun round once more, and
stopped dead.
It had been a very long skid. It was, as usual, a miracle they were
alive. They sat for a moment, still inside their miracle, till they began
to breathe. Then he wrestled with both seat belts and opened his door
and hers. Outside, it was as though nothing had happened. The car
was upright on a wide, gravelly shoulder, quite untouched, only facing
in completely the wrong direction. Even the skid marks that waltzed
across the road near at hand, then ran straight back out of sight into
the shadowy place higher up, were beginning to fade, or melt, as he
looked at them. And not a car had passed them. There was simply
nothing to show how the earth had been taken away from them in a
long moment's intensity of weightlessness, motion, and silence. But
they had come back. He was very sore where the seat belt had cut into
his neck and chest. She was trying to be sick out of the open door of
the car. The inevitable incongruous bird had started to whistle in the
bracken. But they had come back.
"Are you getting better?" he heard himself ask her eventually.
"It was awful," she said, sitting sideways on the edge of the passenger seat, her feet on the ground outside, letting the wind pull at her
hair. "One minute you're talking, and then suddenly you're sliding
away and it's all finished."
"Well, it didn't finish. It's luck, that's all it ever is. Just luck. And
nothing's changed."
"But it was just like the kite, you see. That's what made it so terrible.
I just knew the feeling."
Even as he stood over her, anxious and practical, and beginning to
feel secretly warmed by the drama of their lucky survival, he could feel
the quick nausea of jealousy that had made him panic yesterday—on
this very spot, perhaps, or not far off.
"What's that got to do with it? What on earth did happen about that
damned kite anyway?"
She was too tired. She tried walking up and down for a bit, while he
watched her from where he knelt, examining the wheels. She threw a
23 stone as high as she could and counted aloud till it fell with a click on
the rocks.
"—Six, seven. There. I can't even throw. I want to go home now
very badly. I don't want to talk about it."
He didn't trust her tears or her stone-throwing, but he wanted to
take her up and crush her warmly into him, to fill the cold space of his
jealousy and fear.
"Tell me about that man with the kite."
Then she laughed.
"Oh, it was so little. I would never have remembered him if this horrible thing hadn't happened."
She got into the car, dry-eyed and recovered, and slammed the
door. He sat beside her, hands folded across the wheel. The sun had
begun to warm their backs through the rear window and soon they
would have to turn the car to restore it to its journey.
"You were asleep in the car," she said. "So I got out and climbed the
fence and walked over to look at the two of them flying their kite. It
was beautiful. The tail of it kept swishing about in the wind. I thought
I'd have time for a little conversation with the man—"
"Ha. Conversation."
"So we spoke about kites. He said he came up there often with his
little boy and he always got more fun out of it than the boy. And things
like that. Very ordinary. Then he said to me, 'Here, you hold it, you
have a try'. So I did, but he had to hold his hand over mine because the
thing was whipping about so much in the wind. I'd never flown a kite
before—honestly. And it was very strange. The cord throbs, you see. It
throbbed right through both our hands, and it pulled and pulled all
the time as though it was alive. It was the force of the wind. Thrumming away in the cord. It made me go rigid all over, like an electric
shock. It's as though the whole sky's tugging at you and blowing into
you so that you can't stop thrumming. Like a big hot tongue. I went
quite dizzy with it and thought I was going to be ill. And the man was
looking at me very close all the time and grinning, and so was the boy.
Quite ugly, really. With his big hand gripping my wrist and the boy
leering up. I thought I couldn't let the kite go. And they must have
seen I was scared. You see, it was like crashing or skidding. You just
floated. Nobody spoke. It couldn't end. I didn't belong to myself, or to
you, or to anybody I knew. Then it was like falling or drowning. It was
all such—such a power. I hate the sky up here."
His hatred could never come out at anything. He felt poised on the
edge of something. But he would never leap.
"I think I see," he claimed.
"Let's go," she asked.
He stared dumbly through the windscreen, feeling the whole jour-
24 ney knotted in iron around his chest. But he was holding a key in his
hand. And the car started up quite easily, with a throb of release, performing its turn with care. Simultaneously lowering their sun-visors,
in salute, they returned to the promised rhythm of the day.
She only spoke once more before they left the hills. It was when they
were safely in sight of the greener, flatter county, only a mile or two
off. They had climbed up the last slope and now all was easy: a long,
straight decline. She spoke sharply, nervously.
"You always say I talk too much, I give myself away too much. But I
wasn't going to talk about that business of the kite at all. I do know
things sometimes that I don't put into words."
"I know things," he snapped.
"And I know that what matters most is sometimes as frightening as
when I was holding that kite and couldn't let go and couldn't speak
and just felt filled by it."
"It was the man. Your mysterious gamekeeper."
"Oh don't, don't. No, you're not right. It was nearly dying, when
everything turned the wrong way round that time and we just slid.
Horrible, horrible. And exciting, too—wasn't it?" Her face lit up suddenly as she discovered the idea. He denied it. She thought again for a
moment. "I think I've always known it was there, waiting. Something
wild or silent, you see—or nearly silent. Thrumming away like that."
"Why do we bother to go on talking then?"
"What, you and I? Oh, and everybody. You've got to go on talking.
You can feel it through the talk. The talk doesn't fool it. Perhaps it
keeps people—well, something keeps us together, God knows how."
He laughed anxiously. She pulled a wry face. He found himself
wishing he could have a nap in some lay-by. She asked if he had any
aspirin in the dashboard. She began to have a cramp in one leg. He began to describe the ache in his bruised neck. She remembered something peculiar, something hypochondriacal and funny, about a man
last night at the party. He pointed out the county signpost by the side
of the road. The car's voice rose up as it flitted between the last high
rocks—the road was compressed for a moment in their shadow—then
they were free, free to go on talking, on the road that was suddenly flat
and expansive across the fields.
And they were still deep in their various edgy conversations when
the car entered the small dense Cathedral town where they lived.
There was the usual traffic jam at the Westgate, where the cars inched
between the patient worn stone, more mellow-warm than anything
they had seen in that other place. Light reflected from the old walls on
either side outlined their faces as they kept turning, one to the other,
within the slow-moving car, scowling and laughing, arguing unheard.
The town, the noise of other travellers, the honeycombed stone, the
25 sudden fluster of bells from the Cathedral, absorbed their voices. So
their car drifted slowly away, directionless, without resistance, in the
general flow around the flank of the Cathedral. From the centre of the
traffic, the towers and the buttresses rose up, stone locked crazily into
stone. At every verge, the gargoyles gawked, eating the air; and inside,
at appointed times, a hubbub of sound would bulge up in the vacancy
of nave or chancel. Random people came in curiously, from travelling.
Their words fell dead on the stone floors of the aisles. Ropes
thrummed in the belfry. And the people went out again, to test their
luck and their differences, conversing.
26 Polly Koch
Black Water
1. Julie
Lexington in the heart of summer, and the buyers come in their private planes, their tinted limousines. Yellow roses boxed in trailing
banks along the stables, and all the fields green as acid, lapped in swells
beyond the track, laced with white board fences. The days swelter; the
studs hang their heads and switch at flies. Grass thick and blue around
the dogwoods, past their bloom, but still such a sweet seduction in the
air of blood and money. The yearlings, restless, turn in their boxes.
Young antiques, rubbed to a bright expensive gloss of chestnut, teak,
mahogany. Slender legs, neatly made as Chippendale, a dark patina
smoothed like glass to the strange fragility of fetlock and hoof, thunk-
ing wood as they turn. I slide a palm down the hard polished curve
from forehead to nose and flinch from the touch of whiskered lips,
their black warmth, fingers drawn back wet.
They let the horses run at night to save their coats from the sun and
I follow, lightly palming the warm leather wheel. The Porsche still
moves silky on the turns. Gravel sings, a chalky gray sucked beneath
the car while all that iridescent green turns deliriously black. A Doobie
Brothers tune plays soft, turned low, as the fences flick past, trees
ghosting up to vanish. Beyond the fields, the highway curves, a concrete arch set on pillars. It cuts across a third of the farm, the arrogant
state-mandated road that even Daddy couldn't stop. Nor me from taking its unfinished length, drunk, pedal pushed to the floor, as if I
raced home for the roses with one cheek close to her working neck,
hot and bloodied with foam. When they took the bandages off, Daddy
watched without expression, coolly assessing the immediate damage.
Studied my face, the crazed bone china of this, his last and most valuable possession.
"Oh black water, keep on rolling, Mississippi moon won't you keep on shining
on me...." The yearlings run. Sweet and easy, their forelegs reach,
black ink lines on a soft black wash, stiff, rocking them forward as their
hindquarters bunch and thrust, digging clods out of the grass, packed
dirt flying. I spin the wheel; they swerve and bank along the fence,
27 tails high. The air thickens, lying damp in the hollows, turns white. "/
like to hear some funky Dixieland. Pretty momma come and take me by the
hand —by the hand, come take me by the hand, pretty momma! Dance with your
daddy all night long. ..." The parties last all night but the buyers leave
early and we sit on the pink marble sinks in the bath, bent over
Johnny's long feathered lines, hundred dollar bills rolled between our
fingers. The car drifts around a corner; white gates loom and fade.
The colts canter downhill, kneeing through the mist, and the air
streaming over the windshield is redolent with dirt and shit and gasoline, the spicy scent of roses.
2. Johnny
She's crazy, gunning down those roads, those schizy horses some
kind of weirdness I can't figure. Twenty grand for a year-old filly who
might never race. Those cool little men in their ruffled pink shirts,
fucking with their Raybans and unlit Marlboros, each twitch shooting
the price another thou. Don't move, she tells me, grinning like a cat, or
buy yourself a pricey new hobby. Silk slipping along every curve. The
people watch; they give me looks. What do they think they know? She
brings me business, cool bleached women with their tanned jaws
cocked. How much, how pure, how many grams? Drum their fingers
on the Mercedes roof, slouched on one hip, half in, half out, wondering how to bring me down. Take it, she tells them, believe me, trust
me. Already laughing because she knows for sure that one second
more and I'd have said fuck it, but the money is out and I don't move.
What a cunt, playing her games, and the blond bitches float their
three-figure bills in the empty air between. Don't want our fingers to
touch. Their daughters come out here late at night. Nose whores, all
of them, busted, drunk, more than willing if necessary to touch, that
and more, I take them down. The people watch, all the spotters in tux.
Her father in the paddock slaps the ground with a stick to make the
colt dance. Smacks the ground. She doesn't flinch. The colt weaves
back and forth, the sun bouncing off its back. The people watch.
She's a crazy bitch. Promises to front me for the building on Polk,
match my half of the down. The real estate guy, playing it sweet, nice
old neighborhood bar, he said. Fucking shit all over the street but the
crowd she runs with likes to slum. The bouncers at the parties enjoy
their work. Hey, man, invitation only, they say. The cabbie slams the
car door and swears. The real estate guy wiped dust off the glass,
door's got a beveled transom. I was thinking rock and roll, eight ball,
pool. Popped my knuckles on the bar. The buyers tucking in lobster
claws, fingers slick and shiny. She runs me in the back to cut some
lines. Her father on the drive, laughing, big fat glass in his hand as he
waves the last limo off. I went back at night and pried the boards off
28 the door. She stood there laughing as I set my foot on a lath and bent it
till it snapped. They might slum in town, but anything past the city
limits is theirs. When the road came through, they passed in their
Audis, tossed empty bottles at the crew. I chop it fine. The mirror's
old, with an antique frame. They stand and watch the razor blade
move, slicing her reflected face. She turned on her headlights, danced
on the bar. Cops, I told her, you're nuts but I'm not. I climbed back
through the boards. Mom with the Big C, leaving me the house. A
crackerbox worth a bare fraction of the land right next to all those
farms. The buyers wipe their hands, pick up their glasses. She'd locked
the car doors. I slammed my fist on the roof, went around and kicked
the fucking lights out.
She's a crazy cunt. Says she doesn't screw, always pays in fifty dollar
bills for her blow. The filly hops, shows her eyes, bits of white sticking
to her butt. Wipe her down, he says. Three stable boys jump. Looks
right through the people as he leaves. They watch. Sure I got it, she
told me, hey, Johnny boy, look at me, I'm flush. Blue silk flipping at
her legs in the headlights, bare feet slapping on wood. She runs her
palm down the filly's nose. Tongue comes out and she jerks. That
stupid stunt of hers, driving off the overpass. When the road crew
passed, my mother fucked them all, her body full of cancer like some
kind of drug. That stopped her, when I told her, stopped her laughing
for once, scars still shiny pink on her face. People watch. The next colt
bucks. A vet reaches for its leg. She bends down and picks a yellow
flower out of the dirt. Some woman works her way around the circle,
gold chain on her neck, dress a long beige tube. Wants to make some
deal; we step to one side. I wanted to grab that foot and pull. Mad
enough, I would have screwed her on the bar. The people clap inside,
another ten grand sale. The colt bucks going in. The people move
3. The Playwright
It still seems tragic to see someone favoured by fortune go under.
We are perhaps too weak to resist the fear that the same fate could
overtake us. But personally I find the joy of life in its cruel and powerful struggles, from being able to know something, being able to learn
something. Julie is an interesting case. There is something there in her
you want to break, like the thin hard edge of a crystal glass. You want
to bite it for its thinness, its hardness, its expensive breakability. It's
enough to make you weep, something that thin, between your teeth.
I have motivated Julie's tragic fate by various circumstances: her father's distance, his leniency, her own weak and degenerate brain. Also,
more particularly, the midsummer night, her father's absence, her
monthly indisposition, her preoccupation with animals, the provoca-
29 tive dancing, the powerful aphrodisiac of flowers. A July funeral and
she sends roses out to the house, dozens, blood red, drooping and
sweet. She doesn't come herself until just before dark, drugged and
dancing, her father off that afternoon to the match race set at a Jersey
track. Julie is perverse, difficult. I don't know how to hold her to the
poorly lit stage; slippery with seat or fear, she bolts each time, head flying back, skittish as the two-year-old she's been riding, too fast for the
trainer's liking, or mine. Its ribs heaving, my own lungs hot. Julie is a
soulless spirit. She dances in the room, blood wet on her jeans in a
smallish patch between her legs. I lean forward, heat the stage with my
breath, to listen to what it is she might say. I just couldn't make it, as
she kisses him light, I buried one mom already, Johnny boy, so what
do you know now, what do you know? The room pulses against my
face as I watch, track the sweat down her throat, wait, blood hot, until
the man finally tells her: I got the money now.
Julie is, after all, a modern character. Not that the man-hating half-
woman has not existed in all ages but because now she has come out
into the open to make herself heard. An inferior species, they go under either because they are out of harmony with reality or because
their repressed instincts break out uncontrollably or because their
hopes of achieving equality with men are crushed. The type is tragic.
Julie, in this case, doesn't have the money to match it. A mundane
tragedy for the man, but there's something more underneath, I watch
her, a nearly imperceptible jerk back, as if the words themselves have
touched her, soft, licking, warm. Hatred, then, veiled at once, in swift
denial, perhaps even in contrition as well. She's sorry, all right, sorry,
really sorry, but you see I have her now. I will force her back on the
point of her singular conceit. Watch, and she puts her hands in his
hair: I knew what you scored, how long it would take, I was thinking
five years when the trust loosens up. Her voice shakes: come on,
Johnny, listen to me, you're the only real friend I have. She is distracted, angry, apologetic all at once. She tugs at his hair as if she held
in her hands the long sloping head of a colt. Oh I have her now, I
scarcely breathe, and I press her back slowly, slowly again, hard
against the edge of her hidden contempt, and it is guilt that finally
breaks out now, a flood of sorrowful salty tears, running hot and sure
to her sex. She jerks in my grip and I let her go, besides, the man, he
holds her now, and after this there is no match, his hands moving on
her, down her hips. She's sorry, truly sorry now, and I put in her
mouth words of love, watch her fingers tighten, her skin flush. The
stage grows dim and I lean close in, over his shoulder, alongside his
head, past the dark tanned line of his neck, inhaling the exquisite stink
of him, to see her face and to see, as I lean closer still, the tear that
floats dead in the centre of each unblinking eye.
30 I do not believe that love in any "higher" sense can exist between
these people, so I have Julie's love as something she fabricates in order
to protect and excuse herself. I think it is the same with love as with the
hyacinth, which must take root in darkness before it can produce a
sturdy flower. Here a flower shoots up, blooms, and goes to seed all at
once, and that is why it dies so quickly.
4. The Mime Ballet
The actors move quickly in smooth succession from one mimed gesture to the other, "Black Water" playing in the background so that
they seem in a tense and scattered way to dance. Johnny half sits on the
table, holding Julie by the hips between his legs, and she pushes back
his head with her fists in his hair, steps away, flicks her fingers at his
face. He lets her drag him up but walks straight at her instead of starting to dance. She turns her back, he pulls off his shirt, and she turns
back around and sits. He sits, he stands, brings a beer, and kneels, then
he toasts her, kisses her foot, and rises. She offers her hand and he
pulls her up, half turning away to touch his eye. She steadies his head
with one hand and reaches up with the other, slapping away his fingers when he tries to stop her as she in turn touches his eye. She grips
his shoulders, steps back, then offers her hand to kiss. He jerks her
forward and she shoves away again. After a long beat, he hands her a
rose; she drops it to the table and stares at it blankly, head lowered for
a moment. Then she reaches tentatively to pull his head toward hers.
They embrace and he turns her around by the shoulders and pushes
her, stumbling, to the centre of the room. There he poses her, using a
kitchen chair, in six conventionally pornographic positions: arms
locked behind her tilted head, legs spread, up kneeling on the seat,
bent forward at the waist, straddling the back, one leg cocked with her
foot on the chair. She stands up from the last pose and steps back away
from him. Then she slowly stops, leans forward, elbows braced on the
back of the chair, shoulders slumped. He comes up from behind and
kisses her on the neck, turns her around and licks her ear, her eyes. He
holds her head between his hands and licks and licks her face. She
struggles then hits up with the palm of her hand against his jaw. He
bites his tongue; his mouth fills with blood. He drops his hands and
they stare at each other. She closes her eyes.
5. The Actress
He told me horses, which was perfect. I knew them. I even saw Ruffian run. Some Florida race the winter before where she looked so big
with her long reaching stride, coasting in two lengths ahead. Dark, almost black, she ran flat out, loved the feel of the speed, to be alone in
front. She was a fierce, beautiful, headstrong filly. They say she took
31 off in the middle of a cooldown, chasing a riderless colt, and the jockey
who was on her had to scream himself hoarse, all his weight hauled
back to pull on the reins. When she drew up and slowly came on
around, his arms were totally numb. That sheer brute power she had.
Enormous for a filly, with her natural speed she was breaking stakes
records, earned three hundred grand. She was ten for ten, so they decided to run her in a match with the colt who'd won the Derby that
year. Foolish Pleasure was a come-from-behind sort of colt, liked to
hang on the rail and bust a gut coming home. Ruffian was certain to
break his heart, they said, starting out so fast he would fade in the
stretch. She would cut out his heart unless they trained him for speed.
The track was an old one, Jersey, genteel, not built for a mile and a
quarter race. The gate was on the track's far side from the grandstand,
set up at the end of a chute. It was quiet down there, away from the
crowds, wind licking the grass, summer hot. Just the two of them
easing down the sandy track, two handlers, the jockeys, officials standing by. A cameraman checking the angle, the sound, a reporter half in
love with the horse. He said you could hear the bees hum, every creak,
each sudden snuffling breath, right to the clatter of the gate as the
handlers slipped clear.
They exploded together and slammed down the stretch, Foolish
Pleasure by a neck before Ruffian hit her stride. They took the back-
stretch at a thundering speed, matched stride for stride, hooves shaking the dirt. Then Ruffian lunged forward, got her head in front,
starting, it seemed, to make her move, to open up. The crowd roared
as they flashed past the three-quarter post. And in the roar, in the
pounding, both jockeys heard the snap. Like a dry stick breaking, they
would each say later, a hard flat pop in the shuddering air. Ruffian
stumbled, half fell, reeled right to the rail. Foolish Pleasure raced on,
but the crowd grew quiet, watched the jockey jump down, a small figure, bending forward, Ruffian already backing away. A man ran
across the grass and then a square green van rolled slowly onto the
The fragile bones that are grouped near the fetlock had splintered
just above her right front hoof. She had run on the fracture, sent the
break through the skin, the ligaments shattered, the bones like ground
glass. The men moved in the hot sun, cautious, worried, swearing under their breath. Terrified at losing the leg, she panicked, reared away
and trembled, black with sweat. Even in the surgery, they couldn't
calm her down, the drugs wired her higher, she went under in shock.
They nearly lost her three times while they set the leg; recovery was
more of the same. Still trying to run, to finish the race, she threw herself at either side of the box, kicked against the cast until the nails
wrenched loose, the plaster bit by bit flying off. Eleven hundred
32 pounds slamming at the wooden box as she drove herself slowly mad.
It was gray predawn, the dew salty on the grass. It took five seconds
for the drug to take her down.
I watched them cry, all the owners' sons, drinking in the bars that
night. Cried unashamed, palms pressed against their heads, as they rehearsed the long ghastly second when she stopped then sagged to the
rail as if shot. The sudden halt. The quiet. The gulls crying overhead.
The fathers shrugged, their darkened jowls stiff and tired, the skin
puffed below their eyes. With horses, they said, that run as hard as
those two, the risks you take are just greater. They said, horses like
that give everything they have. If it kills them, they said, then it kills
them. The sons said shit and fuck and cried.
He said horses and I said fine, but I watched that damn tape too
many times, watched them cry too long. Christ, they love it, men do,
when we die. So deeply tragic, so romantic and sad. They break their
hearts for our violent deaths, lay their heads down on bars and weep.
Better than sex, this flood of grief, better than the moment when "My
Old Kentucky Home" starts wafting over Churchill Downs. They must
dream of this in their beds at night, the vast nostalgia of feminine
death, its sweet sweet sadness, a pure satisfaction: the heroine floating,
hair tangled in dark green weeds, the Southern belle raped into
bloody death, the pale limbs frozen askew in a ditch, Ruffian on her
side in a Jersey box stall.
When she stood at the gate, looking down the track, the grass on either side had sawed in the breeze, and the sky had the wide flat arch
you feel when you're near the ocean, clouds dragged one way. The hot
weedy stench drifting up past your knees. The jockey's low voice
somewhere far away. Gulls banking, the distant mutter of a jet, and
then that deep unutterable bliss, as the gate snaps open, and you start
to run. That second of sheer hard-muscled flight. The pounding silence, vision ajar, the stunned lilt each time you leave the earth. The
empty track that is yours alone. Where you run and run and forever
run and no one once gets in your way.
6. The Playwright
Johnny wants her to die, it's a simple desire. He is not a very complicated man. I find less interest in the slow evolutionary crawl to power
of aspiring young men, but he did have that moment while it lasted on
the phone. Ten seconds listening to the bright sticky air of New Jersey
beat in the wires. Her father's voice was clipped, pitched higher than
expected, her name sounding strange, overused. Purporting to find
her, Johnny sat in the chair with the phone laid cool along his cheek.
Watched her bare back, framed, in passing, in the door, seconds later
framed again, and again.
33 I would not trace the simple desire that deeply. The reasons seem on
the surface sexual, linked to past humiliations, constrained servitude,
the loss at the moment of his material future. When, in fact, it was the
ease with which she took up the phone and talked to her father.
Naked, in the hallway there, the receiver cupped between shoulder
and jaw. I don't know how to make this work on stage; he does nothing
more than watch her after all, lips moving in only the smallest sort of
way as he whispers his desires, his subliminal oath. Die. You can't hear
it on the far side of the lights. Die, and she swings the telephone
gently, hooked in the fingers of one hand. Die, and she bumps it
against her thigh. Die.
Johnny is a classic case. There is something fundamentally appalling
in the rise of savage, small-minded men, but something wholly satisfactory, too. The species will survive. Johnny knows a horse broke her
leg on the backstretch of a racetrack in New Jersey this afternoon and
that is why she is standing there, a hand twisted in her hair, making
low exclamations on the phone. But it's a fucking horse. And it's not
even one of theirs. You can't do a thing to this kind of man.
She will try though. She is in the room, the soft rush of static suddenly silenced. The gray light that seeps through the windows on either side turns her tanned skin black, her face a dark blur. Johnny tips
the white powder from its plastic bag. Hate is like lust, something to
hold back until the given occasion offers to bear fruit. He smiles at his
own dark reflection in the mirror. When she moves to the table, it
sounds like silk. He lays the blade neatly on her palm.
34 Peggy Sue Alberhasky
Storm Has Happened
It has happened, the storm of all storms
has come and begun to be over, while the whole
voyage is trying desperately to cancel itself.
She is in a square apartment with mustard coloured
walls and ceiling, wishing it was white—white-
listening over and over to her personalized
record of the "Wedding March".
Outside she listens as the swamp murmurs
and the coast laps up and up sideways to the ocean,
all the alligators, even the ones with split toes,
come to her door and ring the door bell
as casually as eating flies on meat4illed bones.
The radiators to the side of her give dull heat
the water outside mixes with the boiler
and for a moment she forgets, she dares to forget
continuing the false alarms and the walking out on
old church steps, with brick doors.
Ribbons fall straight down from her fingers
as the record ejects and begins to play again.
Outside a couple walks fast not touching in the rain,
she knows it has come again —
the storm has happened.
35 Brian Wickers
[Matt. 7:3]
When I came down to the molten
Hollowed snowbanks, humped on the brink
Of the river, I found a rotten
Tortoise carapace, burnt umber, exposed
On the melting ground by the trail.    One iris
Budded beside it.    I saw where the seepage poised
Over the soiled ice floes, deeper where the stilled
Waters took on oozing mud, the exuded
Spoils of last autumn's debris and
Failed growth.    The working oils
Spread a mottled stain on the glazed
Rim, hid the weedbeds and lidded
Woods under it.    I took a fallen branch and brushed
Aside what I could.    A splintered bit
Of sunlight shafted into the current to strike
Elemental fire in green-gold scales.    A pike
Thrashed at my shadow or the light.    Then a split
Instant's lucent glimpse —
A single eyelens dilated,
And I shivered.    It snatched the branch down;
The disturbed surface flickered
Until murk returned, and it closed over.
36 Norberto Luis Romero
It's not easy to fish out jewels—you need an acute sense of hearing to
detect the rake striking a tiny metal object. The jewels are not always
rings or earrings that people who live up in the world of light lose
down drains and toilets; you find everything: screws, eyebrow pencils,
tweezers, tiny nail clippers, files, gilt and glass trinkets and especially
contraceptives—countless contraceptives float on the water like
hundreds of white bubbles with knots to imprison the semen, like reliquaries which hold an instant of sterile love.
In all that refuse, once in a while a real jewel shows up—a gold ring,
a brooch with finely set stones, a pierced pearl fallen from a necklace,
an earring with blurred initials, silver crosses.
Stones shine in the bed of the sewers when the water's not very deep
or dark and give off a faint glitter, as fleeting as rats' eyes as they watch
from their lurking places. You detect gold by a diaphanous sound it
produces when it's hooked in the teeth of the rake, and silver by its
light touch, its fragility. Fake jewels, simple imitations, we immediately
toss into the deepest sewers which quickly empty into the river.
It's tough, though on the highest level here there's a little light
which filters through the sewer openings. In the lower levels, the darkness is total and there's a continuous mist, a penetrating hot steam
given off by the boiling waters. We have to guide ourselves along the
walls by touch, by ear and smell. The habit of living in these depths
creates the keenest sense of orientation in us; we develop it when we're
kids and it initiates us into our work and becomes more acute as we begin to lose our sight.
Certain cracks and depressions in the walls, intense humidity in the
air, irregularities in the floor and roofs, some narrows and slopes, are
signs you must know to master these galleries, know them with precision despite the dark. The rats follow the signs in the same way. Then
there are smells which, though permanent, are also distinguishable—penetrating biting stenches which signal the way to follow, an imminent danger, the proximity of a nest of rats, the pursuit of
someone  who  has  entered  another's  territory.   There  are  noises
37 heightened by the silence, rhythms of drops wearing away the implacable cement, liquids which glide like tiny vertical rivers, which the
rats cross with a dry crack of lightning. And there's the water, these
eternal waters which flow in minimum or enormous volumes, which lie
stagnating, which whirl and advance implacably toward the light,
producing this continuous murmur which guides us in the search,
which hoards the jewels in its bed, among the thick sludge. The water,
the dampness which penetrates our bones, and the darkness make us
old before our time because here day and night are indistinguishable,
producing this pallid flesh, provoking this slow blindness which turns
us to moles or rats who appear in the nightmares of those who live in
the city lights above.
I've never seen the sun. The sewers are my city. I travel through
them with the ease of those who live aboveground. They move along
the streets and avenues, enter stores, sit sunning in the parks, gaze enraptured at window displays, enjoy the diaphanous light and air; but
for us, the jewel hunters, all this intricate web of horizontal and vertical tunnels, this immense ant-heap fashioned of waters, flights of
steps, ramps and crossings holds no secret. Here we live and work;
within these walls we eat and make love. We also die here. Then, yes,
we see the sunlight—when we are dragged through the jammed pipes
toward the wastes and float to the surface of the river.
For several days now I've had this wound in my left side, here between the last ribs. It hardly hurts—except when I want to sit up and
swing my rake to scare off the rats which come near, attracted by the
smell of this yellow liquid. The wound is not very deep either. It's from
a knife, but I had bad luck—if if hadn't become infected, it would already be a scar like the others and the rats wouldn't be pursuing me,
hungry, crouched, watching from their hiding places, their eyes shining like jewels, gleaming on one side of the darkness and the other,
furtively appearing and disappearing among the rusty pipes.
I've gone three days without a bite to eat. Despite drowsiness and
the fever which sometimes burns and consumes me, threatening to
drive me mad, I can calculate it's been three days. I resist. I dare not
fall asleep. We must be always vigilant, our ears alert because the ear is
very useful although it also easily deceives. We must concentrate on
the noises, try to make sure the echo does not confuse us. Noises can
be gauged, but the echo confuses it all. Knowing how to distinguish
the echo is essential for survival. At times a drop which falls intermittent and monotonous is accompanied by hundreds of echoes that override, drowning out the true noise, the one that interests us. And at
times, a faint metallic sound can be very valuable since it may lead to
the discovery of a previous object or it may announce an imminent
danger to us—maddened rats or a sharpened knife seeking the guts.
38 The echo coming from the right can distract from the original noise
sounding from the opposite side. The echo confuses galleries, multiplies pipes and waters like sonorous mirrors, shrinks the dimensions of
the tunnels, furnishes deceptive exits.
From where I'm hiding, at the bottom of a narrow sewer which
water has not flowed through for some time, I can make out, far off,
the intersection with two other galleries. One of them has shallow turbid water, the other carries thick mud, and a few inches above the surface runs a straight causeway along which I can see the rats circulating.
I see only their eyes like lightning; feverish, they move like fleeting
stars and leap into the water squealing and biting at one another. Rat
meat tastes sweet, like the smell which my wound gives off when I uncover it.
At instants I vaguely perceive through the somnolence of fever the
silent silhouette of one of my companions pushing his rake back and
forth, dogged and tireless, with delicate sure movements, caressing the
murky filth under the water. They have begun to rake in my territory,
and they know it. For days they haven't seen or heard me and they
guess that I must be hurt, motionless in some hole, shut in like a
frightened rat in some dark corner. But they know I'm still alive because there's no smell of a dead body. The rats disturb me more; they
have a keener smell and the odour of my wound fascinates them. I
keep still and silent until the others move off. Wounded as I am, I
couldn't defend myself; they'd steal the jewels I've so jealously hidden.
It wouldn't be long before they began to seek me out; already they're
nosing into my boundaries, just as the rats did, boundaries no one respects, a continual cause for fights and battles to the death. It was
defending what's mine that put me in this state, hidden, fallen into this
hole, unable to get out to look for jewels, or even food, overcome by
the pain of my wound and by fever. Here nobody is without
wounds—from rat bites, razor cuts. We have them all over our
bodies —on our arms, necks, legs, backs; we're like scar samplers,
where you can select the most obscene. I have mine too: three are
from razors; the scar across my face is from a knife; the others, these
small ones all over my body, are from rat bites. The first thing they attack are the eyes, nose and ears; they prefer soft parts and appendages. They bite us but it would be hard for them to eat us as we
eat them when hunger prods us. There are exceptions—when the victim is very drunk or sick, weakened by illness or fever. That's why I'm
afraid of them; for days they've been hovering around me, sniffing the
air frequently, raising their tremulous snouts, exposing their sharp incisors, imprudently approaching, attracted by the smell of my wound.
For days they have been watching my movements hoping for an instant of weakness or sleep. At times, seeing me so still, they suppose
39 me already dead and advance cautiously; it takes all my strength to
seize the rake and scare them off, and I try to stake one on its prongs
so I'll have something to eat. But they're faster than my arms and slip
off, leaving me sweating and hungry. A couple of days ago, when I was
overcome by sleep, they attacked me. The sharp pain I felt in one arm
woke me. One had bitten me, others were sniffing at my wound
frenetically, drawn by the smell of pus, risking their own safety. Since
then, when I feel I'm about to fall asleep, I wrap myself in rags and
make a wall of boxes and pieces of wood.
When one of us dies, we bury him right away because the stench
which spreads through the sewers extends and branches into all its
arteries. It's enough to follow its intensity—below, to the left, above,
through the main canal, back to the left.. . always it travels with the
corpse, generally covered with rats which would rather succumb to our
rakes than abandon their prey. Then we get rid of the body, tossing it
into the most torrential streams which empty into the river. Bodies of
jewel hunters are a common thing; usually they lie in the mortuaries
with a tag tied to one foot. It's also common for us to end up in
laboratories and universities. The causes of our deaths do not interest
them; it's enough to know we live in the sewers; they're afraid to come
down into these dark places just as we fear daylight and the cities
aboveground. We know only that jewels fall from up there as food
does for the rats and that up there are the buyers who wait for us, hidden in the aqueducts of the port with their dirty money and their haggling, mingling with whores and smugglers.
The police or medical students will find my jewels; then they will
auction them off and the jewels will go home to their original owners. I
can't let fever or sleep overcome me or let the rats sink their sharp
teeth into my flesh and expose my treasure to the greedy gazes of the
other hunters. They don't know that under these bandages and this
crust of blood are gold and silver, but they'll kill me if they can't find
them; then they'll drag me on the teeth of their rakes toward the
spillway and dump me into the dark water.
Between the darkness and the echo of the drops which fall endlessly,
I play at guessing where my jewels came from and recalling the most
beautiful ones I've had in my possession. I remember a gold medallion
with an inscription on the back; the love in those words moved me
deeply. I also had a ring I'd seen one night in a shop window and
brooches with diamonds which dazzled me with their iridescent brilliance. I imagine their owners. I see beautiful women. I see the violent
disgust reflected in their faces when they see their jewels swallowed by
drains. Theirs are the same hands which contemptuously throw
knotted contraceptives down toilets. I see those white hands showing
off finely worked rings which will soon be mine. I see impeccable
40 starched cuffs bound by rich gold links with entwined initials, and I
know they will end up in my hands or hidden in my wound. There are
earrings like drops of flashing water scarcely concealed by a curl, gold
and platinum chains ... I know that one day all these jewels will be under these bandages, mine.
Now I play at imagining what rat will be the first to bite me—those
with sharp teeth and glaring eyes or the others, those who wield cunning knives and crude steel razors. When fever overwhelms me, nightmares will assault me as every night; the people who live aboveground
will sneak through these sewers, crouched like rats, their razors high,
showing their most exquisite jewels. They will glide quivering over the
surface of the water or submerged and hidden by the muck, with their
threatening rakes ready to detect the hiding place of the gold. Those
women with white fine hands, their noses high in the air, will sniff until they come upon the place where I'm hiding, attracted by the smell
of my wound, anxious, avid for my flesh; their teeth will tear these
bandages to bits to recover their diamonds and their pearls. In a flash
they will appear like spectres of light, screaming and biting one another, haggling over this sweet odour emanating from my wound,
these rats with impeccable hands ringed to watch them better in the
sewers, with their necks hungering to display their lost jewels. Proud,
they will dig into my wound with their rakes, they will pry, parting the
flesh to get to the bottom, taking the life out of me, the gold and silver.
Of course I will defend myself, I will cover myself with boxes so they
will not find me, I will sink my teeth into them so they won't seize my
jewels in this darkness under this immense filth. And I will shout at
them, I will cry out that if they take my jewels they will kill me, that I
do not want my body to appear floating swollen and soft in a mass of
contraceptives, and my shout will resound through the dark galleries,
it will rush like an echo through the sewers, confusing them. Infuriated and implacable, like the rats' eyes, it will travel through the
canals over the waters until it surges up through the drains,
aboveground, and explodes into the burning light.
Translated from the Spanish by H. E. Francis
41 Salvatore Cetrano
Table by Cell Window
There is room in the slanting light
for just a few considered things,
their selection a kind of sacrament.
A pitted tin tray folding from the wall
like a rusty drawbridge is solitary
relief from the blackset stones. Island
in the air, it catches the dying light
for an hour, radiating a cold fire.
As on my childhood altar, a doily
spread on a dressertop before battered
blinds, things to be lit wafer white
are arrayed, waiting for the sun.
Where once I propped a blue plastic
Madonna, dust about its grottoed feet,
lesser proofs of a loser's God now
lie, drawn from my cache of trivial
mysteries: a crumpled pack of Luckies,
set like a leaning tower; a toothbrush
with a scorpion's tail; a crystal vial
of fudge-dark pennies, stalks of solemn
wheat on dirty copper; some shards of
coloured glass to bootleg tiny rainbows;
a pocketwatch, face cut, arms broken.
They wear the captured zebra light
42 like dreamskin, the glint of cellophane
or burnished coin more precious than
a beggared stint on my own ashen hide.
Even dust, trapped and ignited, becomes
other than itself in silvery ascent.
Yet, the shaft holds no more warmth
for me, no voice, no glimpse of burning
doves, but is empty, empty as the dark.
So I shrink, back to wall, and watch
each pocket apostle give up its ghost,
each marker yield its shadow soul, in
imitation of something gone before.
The man who believes what he can touch
remembers a boy too pained to feel,
and a boy who believed in original sin
sees a man sweep a tabletop clean.
43 Chris Mansell
I have an office        with a window
and a fountain       and a telephone       and a ledge
and every demeanor of object       lines        pencils        words
files I am supposed to understand things
in that office        on my hands the lines like a train
of thought a traveller blotting out the Nullabor
riding the Indian Pacific with the Ring
Cycle beating over the desert
ages flapping down landing with soft
feet on the red ground and
the Valkyrie in the train
extra culture
another line
and this is what I haven't learnt today
how to fit the things together
to make something out of
nothing to let cleave
all the opposites of language into a pile
of gravel        how to keep a stone imprisoned in a pocket
it struggles to escape
I hear its cries
and it is nothing like Wagner
the stone has its own thin line
of call       it sings to others
of its kind for them also to beach
themselves like the sea shell in the desert
I found when I could hear only the fizz of quiet
the round desert sound
44 on the other side
of the desert        you become aware of separations
of flat and of thin and of round
I gather stones and hide them in my pocket
they grow in number and shriek together thinly
in my fingers        I do not know the names of the minerals
and my job        I remember
is to want to know the names
which will solace me as they solace
others       it is everyone's occupation to name
things        their number and distribution
I put the stones under a tree undertake
never to look at them again it is important to one's grace
not to look not to check to not see whether some vandal
rain has taken one away or moved one from the circle
it is their grace they consider
and who knows what vandals
understand the quiet riot of rain
pushing a stone out of place
45 Helga M. Novak
We don't have any money. We have a lot of luggage. We carry everything we own in suitcases and tied up in bags. There are five pieces of
We arrive in a village. The mayor's office, the church, an inn with
dining room are situated close to one another.
We inquire about work. The innkeeper says, we have unemployed
people here as it is. Men, too.
We stay overnight in the inn. The room is cheap. It has cold floor
tiles. The tiles are patterned in navy blue and turf red. The room has a
balcony. The balcony looks out onto the marketplace. In the marketplace people bargain, admire, criticize, appraise, handle and smell
everything. Red, yellow, green fruit is piled in pyramids on the fruit
stands. There is a coffee smell. The roasting pan is turning in the coffee shop. People carry skinned lambs past on long poles. Gerda and I
pack. We carry our luggage into the courtyard. While I go back upstairs to get a heavy suitcase, Gerda watches the luggage.
I come down with the heavy suitcase. Gerda is gone. I call, Gerda,
Gerda. I go upstairs again. I come back down. Two pieces of luggage
have disappeared. I call. I search. I get into the throng of people in the
marketplace. The crowd holds me up. I yell. I turn around in circles. I
go back. Now only two pieces of luggage are left. I call. I cry. I howl.
Gerda comes. She laughs.
I say, where were you?
She says, in the kitchen, breaking beans.
I say, meanwhile they've taken everything we have.
She says, no, unfortunately.
I say, the largest pieces though.
She says, we had too much anyway.
I say, now we don't have anything at all.
She says, we've gained in all sorts of ways.
I say, I liked the stuff.
She says, either belong someplace or have no luggage at all.
Gerda and the innkeeper have been married for a long time now.
They have adopted me. I live in the room with the navy blue and turf
red tiles and the balcony that looks out onto the marketplace.
Translated from the German by Sammy McLean
46 Beverley Daurio / Three Poems
when you are young and your legs feel good there is always
someone saying    hey baby    want a ride    maybe you think
you're going to teach them to speak English better or
maybe you like the shapes of their noses    maybe it's someone
you know and it's a game    like when you want to fuck and he
doesn't    and the next day he wants to and you don't    next thing
he's giving you a red umbrella and talking about the symbolic
nature of rain    he hasn't noticed you're hauling around some
dead woman's luggage    vinyl a little rust on the clasps otherwise
usable    fires hate to go out
i'm not making you touch me she says    white umbrella
condom    window    as the rain continues    one side of
the road to the other    and a windshield wiper    maybe rock
has its own surface    when you're afraid or the thing is
stretched instead against sunlight    all the hands
get inside your clothes    except the white rain
and the thoughts you are thinking
how to understand the maps that calendars make    that woman
praying on the subway tracks    black mouth of an alley streaked
by a face turning away    inside the unfixable vision of stars
becoming the things around you    the heart    precisely
start    march through    the walls are white the
night is black there's nothing more    the concept of god
it gets to the point where i can't fabricate anything
everything is true    habit
coming like a train
47 Hans Erich Nossack
Who Would Have Thought
of Hot Chocolate?
I have never spoken with another God. Only nine months have to go
by before you enter immortality, as it is called. But human beings have
to wait a hundred times nine months to find out whether they will acquire immortality.
I saw Gods, though, before my time. They all looked alike, and I'll
probably look the same too. Unconcerned, they strolled with their attendants along the street toward us. The grownups shouted excitedly:
"Kneel and cover your faces with your hands! The God is coming!"
And that's what we children did. But there are always some who peek
through their fingers. That's what I did. And today, when I pass
through the city and interrupt them in their doings, they don't act any
differently. Those little brats take a real close look at me, closer than
do the adults. They don't miss a single thing. The beauty of the God's
multicoloured robe blinds them, and the expression on his face seems
strange to them; he is something much grander than what they ordinarily see. Iridescent and cold as Sirius he passes through their
world and his figure stamps itself on their memory: a being the
parents kneel to—why shouldn't he impress them? Afterwards, they
stand in closed groups in their backyards and whisper to one another,
and when they think no adults are watching, they play a game about
what they have seen. One of them parades around decked out in some
colourful rags he has found while others act as his retinue and pummel and goad the ones who are supposed to worship him. And if
they've heard someone talk about it at home, they even carry out a sacrificial ritual on their little God, drumming wildly on old pots and pans
and, as boys will, delighting in their feigned cruelty.
I never played the role of the God myself. I told my playmates I
didn't understand it. But I was really afraid that I would play the part
all too well and lose myself in it too soon. I watched the others closely.
Later, then, everything followed quite naturally. That's how it was for
me, and that's probably how it will be for those who come after me.
48 Nothing has to be learned first: the God acts in accordance with what
he has observed.
I wonder what two Gods would talk about if it were possible for
them to meet one another? People probably think they would say to
each other, "Tell me how you do what you do so that when I do what I
do I won't make any mistakes." Or perhaps they think the Gods would
be glad to be together. But in fact their being together would make
them so unspeakably sad that the whole world would lose colour because of their sadness. They would be looking at themselves as if in a
mirror and they wouldn't know which is image and which the real figure. They wouldn't have anything to say to one another and in that silence each would seek to become one with himself again: but the mirror might break if they did that. What is a God other than a mirror for
those who need to see their own reflection? The God, though, does
not reflect himself.
And it's impossible for him to make a mistake. I didn't know that at
first. But every time I said to myself, "You did that wrong!" it turned
out that whatever I did was always right. What I thought of as a mistake was simply something a God had done. That's how it was with one
of the first orders I gave. Immediately afterwards I became angry that
I had let myself go and given the order, and I tried to think how I
could undo it. But that wasn't necessary. This happened on the first
day that I showed myself to people. The God can go anywhere he
wants: people give him shelter and all doors are open to him. On this
occasion I directed my steps into the hall where all the old worthies
meet to counsel on the governance of the nation. Those dignified old
men, in accordance with custom, immediately knelt and covered their
faces with their hands. I stopped in front of them and for a time didn't
say anything. The man who formerly had been thought of as my father was there, too, kneeling with the others. I acted as if I didn't see
him. I intentionally made everyone wait. Then I pointed to the one I
acted as if I didn't see and called out: "Bring that man a cup of hot
chocolate!" I didn't have as much control over my voice then as I do
now and I sounded angrier than I intended. That made me really
angry. Several of my attendants hurried out to get the hot chocolate.
That wasn't as easy task because there was no kitchen in that building.
And who would have thought of hot chocolate? They were in a great
rush to carry out my order but it took some time—they probably got
the hot chocolate in one of the neighbouring buildings—and meanwhile the old dignitaries had to stay quiet. I just stood there and let
them wonder. I saw that the man in whose house I had grown up was
trembling slightly. He didn't dare remove his hands from his face, of
course. When they finally brought the hot chocolate, I commanded
him: "Stand up and drink it!" I knew he didn't like hot chocolate, but
49 that didn't do him any good: he didn't dare disobey me. He struggled
to his feet and they handed him the cup. He looked down at my bare
feet as he drank. At home, you see, he had let the women and his eldest son talk him into giving me up to the boys from among whom the
God is chosen. He would rather have kept me as a son and what he had
done preyed on his mind. I watched him drink; I didn't say a word,
and when he was finished I turned away and left the hall. Once outside
in the brightness of the street, I felt sorry for what I had done.
But would you believe it, not long after this I heard that he had become a revered and honoured old man because the God had commanded that a cup of hot chocolate be brought to him. He wasn't interested in the honour because he realized now that one can never
hold women responsible and that he had only his own weakness to
blame for everything. More than anything else, though, he knew that
he could no longer allow himself to think of me as his son. So in a few
days, when I ascend the stairway to my immortality, he will have no
reason at all to feel remorse. His only emotion will be the dismay that
all human beings experience at such a time.
Translated from the German by Sammy McLean
50 Otto Orban /Three Poems
The Tourists Arrive
"Towards the end of the trip, we could see that fantastic
city. Like a slick wheel of dough about to slide off its axle, the
fiery mass turned slowly, silent and shining. We got out and
took a few pictures. Though the film's overexposed, the
spokes and axis can be made out. Then we climbed back and
went on. The light faded, first evening, then night; points of
light here and there in the darkness; nothing much. Soft
snores from a few seats. At the next stop some of them didn't
get off at all, and the ones who did took no pictures. The local fireball flickered like a broken-down storm lantern far
from the road. 'Here it is,' someone said, 'just a hop and
we're down on Earth.' Frankly, that was overstating it: a
mere half-step, and there it rolled at our feet, that severed
head, its round hideousness nauseating. Green tendrils of
hair still dropping out, and swampy wounds, purulent marshes over the naked flesh. And on its stony cheeks an age-old
misery mantled by a green iridescence. Most horrible were
the eyes: they glittered as though they were once alive; at
times I even thought they could see. No death, no terror in
them, but some kind of demi-agony, demi-pleasure, an unspeakable sense of grief, and lovely responsibility."
Translated from the Hungarian by
Jascha Kessler with Maria Korbsy
51 Intellectuals
A little garden sandwiched between thinly-sliced houses in
Hampstead. Heavy rain skates on silvery leaves, windshield
wipers whispering in quick strokes. I ring:—"We've been
waiting for you." Carved pipebowl, four armchairs, hi-fi. A
face materializes behind the smoke; misery smokes behind
the words. Somber childhood. Suicide per se. Budapest
basement, Sylvia Plath: the dreary livingroom's lit by the
fire. "Coffee?" Thank you. Soft fugues of chitchat on their
lips. "We might walk the dog, if you don't mind." Water's
gushing from the trees, gouging a channel thick as your arm
into the gravel; the monster-pup gambols coalblackly. "At
least he gets a kick out of it." And they do too, watching him,
these sensitive jokers, with a "Yes, for sure!" prompt on the
glib tips of their tongues, rapprochement their cult, and understanding their god. It seems they like each other: India,
New York: shoes soaked, exchanging recollections: they are
(so they both think) the yeast in the world-loaf. . . while below that rocket-propelled sky, and under their grizzled hair
this wet eggshell glints yellow—the braincase that can be
cracked on every stone.
Translated from the Hungarian by
Jascha Kessler with Maria Korosy
52 Love
The V-6 heart of horses galloping over a breezy pasture: like
most everyone I too thought every blade of grass on this
field would live forever. Having stumbled into the ditch of
the years, I now see an avalanche of wrinkles
spreading—and still I believe I am who I was. The mad fire
still warms me. What is lovelier than that tangled mop
threaded by gray resting on the other pillow? Beyond it a
flare of black raked by the wind's sharp teeth when I came to
know it, the blustery path on the lakeshore, the winter sky,
the thunderheads of an open bed, the bellows of sweaty
thighs, the track between sun and sun, star and star. I was utterly free in those chains. The world stripped its lacy
lingerie, and we were the most beautiful of all its unabashed
contradictions, two souls in one body, our life fluttering like
candles in a draft. Walking on cat's feet, time reaches the finish line, and the crumpled tape is thrown in the trash with
nations and Utopias; but till then, the stubborn cell fights on,
the cage tossing in the ark of Earth—on swells deluge-high
with the clatter of dishes, quarrels, the beat of aging wings.
Translated from the Hungarian by
Jascha Kessler with Maria Kbrbsy
53 Iain Higgins / Two Poems
'Every Force Evolves a Form'*
Even the valves in the shallows of distended veins —
soft petals of flesh—evolved to hold the idling blood
back; and snowdrifts resist to give shape to the wind,
which splashes there like a child in an ocean of light.
^Gaelic proverb
The Love Song of Ceyx
frigida nequiquam duro dedit oscula rostro
Ovid, Metamorphoses, XI
Here I turn towards the sea and there
You turn away and in between we turn
And turn again like seabirds on the wing
Unable to embrace although we sing
As if we do our lucid voices borne
Upon the earth-embracing and unheeding air
54 Keath Fraser
I am going to confess something libelous. Can you sue yourself for
libel? Am I liable to myself if I reveal this lamentable thing? The reason I hesitate is I wonder if it's worth my while confessing or would I
be better off keeping quiet. I guess I like the contact. Like lots of
women, when I talk I risk losing a settlement against myself. It's not
fair. By telling the truth I'm punished for indiscretion. I know the best
defense against libel is to prove it's true. You see what a position this
leaves me in. I could lie and say blackberry thorns really hurt me in the
pleasure of filling my pail. But they don't.
The stars know this. They risk libel every night they turn on in the
hills. The stars are foolish and who notices, who suffers? We do. Their
watchers do, we suffer for them. We read libel in their glitter. We
make a to-do about the showboaty stars and it gives them pleasure.
Not till morning can we trace our scars, their scars, with our fingers.
The skin declines to lie.
Take just one star. Look at the things she has had to face. Bobby
Darin. A gun, her father came after Bobby with a gun, so that was the
end of a potentially huge romance. Bobby married Sandra Dee. Bobby
died. Then her brother was murdered. Her two, three marriages
fizzled out. She miscarried. One husband beat her. She had typhoid
fever and bled from the ears. A perfectionist about singing, she just
made her pain worse. Lost her voice, attempted suicide, became psychotic. It got gross. She travelled in and out of clinics like a laundry
van. A court found her incompetent to look after her own affairs.
Twice. By the way, it was the mob in New York City who shot her
brother—in the driveway of his New Jersey home. He was a racketeer.
These facts are part of our public record. I think it would be wrong
to repeat them at all if magazines hadn't reported them, newspapers, if
she hadn't told us herself. It's all true. Kicking a policeman, the lithium
treatments, problems in her fourth marriage. Everything. I have
watched her growing darker, I must admit, watched with more than
Take, for example, when a knife-armed stranger broke in and
raped her in a Howard Johnson motor lodge, I too experienced a loss
55 of self-esteem, failed to recover my usual good nature, and little by
little lost my pitch till I whrrrred like a pheasant with strep throat. I
couldn't have sung to save my supper.
"Something eating you?" asked Mr. Delmore, not looking up.
"That... uh, tenant still troubling you?"
Nerves in need of the sun I told him, since it was December by then.
"Feed a fever," he suggested. "Starve a cold."
After the lawsuit she tried comebacks. She lip-synched on the Dick
Clark show, I watched her on TV, and she flew home from L.A. feeling like a fraud. She who had sung for the Queen, sung in Carnegie
Hall, been chosen Female Entertainer of the Century at Expo 67. She
made herself go back to finish an engagement at the Westbury nightclub where she was singing the night of her rape. But nothing soared.
She couldn't repeat the past. She was already passing into myth.
You felt it was all going to come out: barricading herself inside her
house, inside her bedroom, where her wretched change of voice
seemed to echo the men who'd violated her. A father who pushed her,
husbands who left her, the stranger who raped her and was never
caught. She herself blamed it on air-conditioning. On the effect of air-
conditioned rooms on her throat, after surgery to narrow her nose
and the operations afterwards to fix up the first surgery's leftover scar
tissue. It's hard to say. You admire vanity.
But who can write off the gagging fruit of evil?
Listen. All her hits came before the rape, before the marriages, before she found out her brother, who was rubbed out for squealing, was
a crook.
Right to the end, just like a friend,
I tried to warn you somehow . . .
I don't know who wrote that one —my father once said it was an old
song, a real poco andante. He'd sniff his Dutch-Reform-sniff at the Hit
Parade, at how it sparked, then doused its stars. He was right. The
stars flared, went shooting, died out. Frankie Avalon, Neil
Sedaka—her father tolerated those two though he hated Bobby Darin,
who went on to become a bigger star than either of them. Frankie
befriended her, Neil wrote her songs. Such songs, even one song could
have made her a star. Isn't it your memory of a song that stays constant
when the flame that inspired the words is gone?
I could show you the river where Bernice Hailey and I were sitting
in her father's Mercury when Tony Bellis sang a song on the radio that
should have become a bigger hit and never did, not really, Robbing the
Cradle. Or where I was when Ricky Nelson gave me the answer, "Uh-
huh," in a falling third to every question asked of me for a week, from
his big hit Poor Little Fool. I was at Mrs. Kabush's kicking the slats out of
used lettuce boxes for her stove—not a thing in neighbourly conscience I could dodge, stocking her kindling.
56 "I'm in your hands, dearie!" she would scream. "I'd freeze and
starve both without you!"
I just bet, I thought.
"Hold on, dearie, I'll turn up the radio!"
The old have ways of wheedling life from the young. What is dignity?
When I reported the record settlement for negligence against
Howard Johnson, in the millions, to Mr. Delmore, he only stared out
the window at passing traffic and said lawyers were so many farts in a
closet. I think he said ten. He should know, he wrote the book on fusti-
ness. Darkness. Not that litigation has ever threatened Mr. Delmore,
he's too wary. I help Mr. Delmore to manage Stay-A-While outside
Lacey. We're the last resort for travellers who, because of indifference
or bad timing, are unable to reach the coast before nightfall. They
come out of the Interior, over passes, down the Canyon, before making their mistake. Our highway isn't the trans-Canada but a secondary
route veering away at Hope. "Typical," mutters Mr. Delmore. He's
been trying to sell out for years. Powerlines buzz overhead and remind
him of electric chairs.
He's an aging man with gas-station sideburns and a need of blunt
pencils. He'd rather go to jail than mark anything, a cheque or
crossword puzzles, with a pen. The nearness of an eraser encourages
in him the conceit of retraction and the second chance. Around me he
prefers to listen than comment, so I prattle, and dust lightly. He has no
love for people who wear him down and all of us do. His face at the
counter resembles the slumped side of an old boot, propped up at the
chin with the heel of his hand.
When I say "manage" I mean changing sheets, vacuuming carpets,
Cometing sinks. The things a wife'd get stuck doing for free to help
her husband in any one-man operation of ten units. Mr. Delmore has
that many peeling cabins around a weedy driveway and seldom more
than four occupied per night. Nobody stays longer than a night. The
Datsun trucks and Suzuki motorcycles all pull out by eight, eight-
thirty, in the morning. Good riddance to the grumps. By noon yours
faithfully is on her way home.
Except once. Just once in twelve years have I had to enforce noon
checkout and I was not a success. This was when I first started. I was
new and hating the job, my morale was rock-bottom. A young man
with dirty yellow hair who hadn't bothered to close his blinds was still
in bed, on top of it, in underpants. He groaned when I knocked on his
door to explain who I was and what time the clock said. I heard nothing till he fumbled open the door, just enough to reveal a molely face
and skinny chest. I looked away. He wasn't telling me anything, he
muttered, if he was to tell me he thought he might drop dead from
wild oats. He didn't look sarcastic so much as hung over.
57 I had to knock again, this time sharply with a broom handle. I
walked to the window and rapped there too. He slowly guillotined my
view with a downward pull of the blinds. So I walked over to the office
and reported him to Mr. Delmore. Mr. Delmore looked at me, said it
was nothing to get upset about, and pencilled in No. 9 for another day.
"What if he ups and leaves without paying?" I said. "Look, Mr. Del-
more. I haven't been here long but I know a smart ass when I hear
one. He'll just out and away on those parked wheels."
Mr. Delmore raised his chin to window level. "Got his Gibson."
Casually, he pulled out some baggage from under the counter and
unzipped a canvas bag to show me the smart ass's guitar. A shiny, expensive instrument.
"He give it in for safekeeping."
"Who's he afraid's going to burgle it? Other guests?"
Next morning I discovered the blinds still down and the same
motorcycle on its kickstand. The license said Saskatchewan or
Manitoba. I knew how to wake the lazy ones by rattling my key in their
locks to remind them it was time. This time I pushed forward and ran
into the nightchain. Into the unresponsive gloom, wondering if I
ought to shout through the crack, saying I was the cleaning lady. I
The only rough part of the little episode was Mr. Delmore, finally,
who had to come and lean in with a hacksaw across the chain. The
minstral in underpants offered no more resistance. We prodded him,
God knows we tried to get a rise out of him.. . .
As it happened, he had dropped dead, and of course I felt shock as
well as grief. I really did. What he died of Mr. Delmore didn't bother
to phone the R.C.M.P. back to find out, after the ambulance took away
the body. The heart, he guessed, gummed up with drugs. To the police he neglected to mention the guitar when they took away the
motorcycle. Mr. Delmore is like that. Guests can do what they like to
mess up, even exit their rooms in bodybags, so long as they pay in advance and I'm around to clean up.
That afternoon I think he came near to firing me when I refused to
enter No. 9 and he had to scour it himself. But he kept his tongue. If
he found a syringe he kept that too. He was liable for nothing so long
as no evidence of neglect surfaced to threaten him. Negligence of the
heart didn't count. Such hopes as once beat in the dead boy's breast
didn't concern Mr. Delmore. And he was safe from reporters. Our
guest would become no star. Had not in all likelihood, coming west,
even managed to see salt water for the first time in his life.
In the Carthage shopping mall that Christmas I listened to a choir
caroling 0 Holy Night around the ears of K-Mart customers. It
reminded me how run down and depressed I felt. My spirit was taking
a beating, my lungs felt padlocked, my priorities had been misplaced
58 somewhere along the way. Where? How very pissy the future looked.
At twenty-eight, that year, I was still living on a dairy farm with my
parents. You didn't need a little bird to tell you when you had a crisis
on your hands. In the presence of a cat, barn swallows can drive you
Tonight, looking back, I'm thinking of stars who peter out too. Who
can't see themselves till too late to stop the damage, the libel of dying
larger than life. I bruise easily in August, but I see farther. I see how
we have three ages: young, not young, old. I see that the abiding age is
the middle one. We are not young most of our lives. An evil age because we learn what decay is and face it sometimes with bad grace. I
did. I understood history then without understanding the stars. The
stars who flail longest against any intrusion of this knowledge and fade
Aren't I a peach at hindsight? I could run a clinic for guests at Stay-
A-While. As a matter of principle, I've stayed far too long myself since
those days when Mr. Delmore's sideburns were still brown and boys
carried guitars.
I was sure about the sun then. I believed in it, yes. But spring failed
to renew me and made Christmas seem by no means the lowest I was
going to sink. Whiney, I moped a lot. Mr. Delmore was dying to tell me
to take a powder.
At home I behaved like a schoolgirl with no responsibilities to the
parents who'd wheedled her into staying. I was to come into their
farm—but who wanted a farm? I went silent. Noises gave me a
headache. I couldn't pee without clenching over water. For someone
who liked to talk, I was so far off the beam I was in danger of flying
smack into silence. I made up my mind to fly south.
Club Med in Guaymas, Mexico, on the Sea of Cortez, is an Indian
pueblo village above a lagoon with the dry Bacochibampo mountains
behind. When I saw the violet hills and cactus desert I thought of the
Interior with the same Mediterranean climate that attracts stars to
southern California, along with reptiles and greasewood. I might as
well have been in California, if you counted the swimming pools,
tennis courts, and restaurants.
I'm not athletic but was willing to make an effort. I played volleyball,
bocce ball, ping-pong. I horsebacked into the desert, rafted on the Ya-
qui River, tried deep-sea fishing and caught a sunburn. I visited the
quaint town of Santa Rosalia, ate too much, above all talked to anybody
who would listen. I was determined to reacquire cheerfulness. Finally,
in the evenings, I snuggled up to the fire listening to singsongs. I love
songs. I love the way a singer trusts a song, the way she trusts a stamp
not to poison her when she licks it. I listened closely those nights.
Stretched thin, my throat wasn't up to flight.
Those were my two weeks on the surface. Black and white, cut and
59 dried. No great fissures. My two weeks underneath are another story if
this trip south isn't to sound distorted, even a lie. They say the greater
the truth the greater the libel—the worse the libel they mean. I want to
be brief.
I was talking so much, to anybody who'd listen, because of what happened after landing and busing in to the club. This I was trying to put
out of mind. All Club Med bungalows are based on double occupancy,
so if you go alone you end up, unless a single man tumbles for you in
the plane or airport bus, sharing your room with another woman. The
odd thing is I ended up in a double room of my own.
The other girl assigned to this room opened the door, looked at me,
coughed, and backed out again with her luggage. I thought she had
the wrong room—what she wanted me to think, in her straw stetson. I
was hanging up my dresses. Then it happened again, a second girl
looked in, hesitated, vanished. Maybe her lip gloss needed freshening,
who were they looking for, Linda Ronstadt? Who was I, Linda Leper?
Downstairs the GO., a camp counsellor for adults, a French boy with
lean tanned cheeks, introduced me to a third girl, from Wyoming.
"No," said the girl. You see she was expecting a friend to show up any
minute now. You like a lie when it's well turned.
I went back up and pretended nothing was the matter. Pretended I
was going to have a very nice time. Made up my mind to it. Pretended
I was not an unattractive young woman. I kept busy, as I mentioned.
Kept talking.
I talked to people in a breezy way and refused just because it was
popular to shy off a kissy face. I took lessons in scuba diving to be included in a group: that group, any group. People were polite and this
hurt. At meals no one shunned me, but no one lingered.
My room on the second floor was right below an identical room on
the third, with a moonlit view of the Bacochibampo, where I'd hear
two men at night, and sometimes a man and a girl, depending on who
was changing rooms and shacked up with whom. Atmospheric conditions in a Club Med are randy, there's no other word for the weather.
Swapping has lots of singles on the hop all night.
On the last night I woke up with a body pressing down on mine and
smelled cocktails on its breath. It recognized its mistake right away and
apologized. This calmed me down. It was nothing to get upset about,
he wasn't going to get upset, he acted lazy and reluctant to leave. He
knew he was an intruder, I knew he was an intruder, we both knew
where we were. In that climate you learn to guard your privacy with a
little less dignity.
"I think you have the wrong room," I said, turning at the same moment he chose to slip his hand down the side of my bare leg, under the
blanket. In the moonlight I recognized the body as belonging to a
bank employee from Seattle, not an unpleasant young man I'd made a
60 point of talking to on a trail ride to the waterfall. Arthur Perry. Peterson, maybe.
"Holy smoke," he said, suddenly embarrassed.
His fingers twitched and he looked away, down toward his fingers.
In all the moments of my life none has seemed more glacial, more
eternal, than that moment. He didn't know what to say in a place that
didn't cater much to talking, having to talk, your way out of anything.
Like the girls backing out of my room he couldn't think of anything to
say. Small talk, anything, might have cheered me up.
Just listen to what he concocted, in this ticklish situation, listen to
what this strong silent type said very carefully to me, who was more or
less a stranger.
"So help me ..." he began, whispering with real passion. I thought
for a moment he was just trying to make the best of a bad situation.
" ... So help me Christ, I could give it to you ten different ways to breakfast . . . do you understand? . . . and have you screaming from every orifice like
Tonto in a teepee."
Whispering, he was coming on to me like life depended on his performance. He definitely sounded menacing.
"Savvy, sugar? I'm saying I could eat your ratatouille like you've never had
it eaten before. How would you like right now . . . to give me a dish of
ratatouille and for me to wolf it?"
He was moving the tips of his fingers over my leg, rubbing them under the covers. He was staring down to where his fingers were misusing my leg.
"Tell me," he whispered, "how you'd like to feel the mouth of hunger so bad
it gives you spasms for a week. Tell me how you couldn't stand supper from any
other teeth. Who wants fast food, hey, when her gravy train is pulling into the
station for pork loin buffet? Tapioca pudding? Christ, I've got teeth so sweet for
you they're singing in my gums. Listen ..."
He couldn't stop talking like this, turning himself on I figured, getting cruder and cruder like he was making up a libretto for buddies at
a stag. Some of his other lyrics I remember are, "You can wait for it like a
mare in heat, sugar, but try kicking me and I'll have you broken into saddle so
quick it'll fry your curlers." And, "I don't take prisoners. When the sun comes
up you'll find yourself either eaten alive or looping the stars. Or both." And,
"So help me Christ, I'm going to stuff you backwards like a Thanksgiving
turkey.. . . Brown juice is going to run out of you so fast I'll need the gift of
tongues to lap it up . . . and spit it over you till you get down on your knees and
thank me to do it some more."
I may not have this last lyric right, it doesn't have much of a beat. It
was pretty disgusting. Circling, he kept on like this for four or five
minutes, whispering, waiting, watching his own grazing, invisible fingers. I wondered about his obsession. I mean talking like that, hard
and voguish, he'd begun to give himself away. His whispering sounded
61 passionate but his words sounded hollow. He sounded like he was
lying. If anything, too big for his boots, he didn't believe his own
threats. I was concerned but not terrified, the way I would've been
with a total stranger. I was tense but not rigid. The point is I was not
He stopped then. Talking, he hadn't so much as removed the
blanket with his hand, but had kept rubbing his fingers in menacing
little moons on the skin of my thigh. I could tell he was up against me
in an uncomfortable position. But that wasn't his problem.
His problem was anger had gradually got the better of him. Silent,
quiet anger. He'd stopped whispering. In the end he was angry to the
point of violence. You could have set fire to the silence.
"God," he said at last. In a normal voice, glancing up at my face, he
said, "You haven't heard one word I've said. Not a word, have you?"
His anger gave way to pity. He removed his hand and sat up.
"Yes," I whispered. "I have, Art."
"No you haven't," he repeated, irritated at this license. "You haven't
heard one single syllable. I pity you," he said. "I feel sorry for you, you
know that?"
Maybe he was trying to cover up his own tactics, his own violent language, his own embarrassment. His own failure, for all I knew, to
think up any more sexy threats. He stood up soberly in T-shirt and
bathing suit, then flapped in thongs to my door—his thongs hadn't
even fallen off—opened it and went out.
I thought about reporting him to our Gentils Organisateurs. I
thought over his dirty talking, what he'd meant by it, just talking like
that. And the disgust, the pity in his venom. I felt sorry for him, for
how foolish he was going to feel at breakfast for talking to me that
I don't exactly recall the hour that morning I thought I might have
it wrong. Him wrong. No knife at the throat, no gag in the mouth, had
stopped me from calling out. Worse, if I was being honest, I hadn't
even felt insulted. This man was testing me, he was putting me on trial,
and I just lay there . . . listening!
I confess I cried after that, for a long time. The moon moved on. I
cried for ages and ran my fingers over myself for a long time afterwards.
People at breakfast were nicer than normal because I didn't try to
talk to them, and at our last breakfast it made them feel guilty. I must
have looked like death warmed over. It was like they knew at last, what
I knew they knew. That they were young and full of the future, or so
they thought, and I was not. I went out of my way not to glance at
Arthur's table, not to notice it, not to acknowledge its existence. I felt
On my return Mr. Delmore didn't look up, but he had about him a
62 generally sympathetic air. Maybe he missed me, laundering for the
transient, unplugging their toilets.
"Sounds like your cold's got worse. Wintertime in Mexico too?" Only
he pronounced it the Spanish way, Mayheeko.
I didn't want him to think I liked working at Stay-A-While any better than when I'd started, but couldn't think of anything smart to say,
when he said, "Here. Take it."
He was holding out to me the canvas bag with the Gibson.
"Take it," he said.
With his pencil he returned to a real estate flyer, the heel of his hand
covering back up his wealed chin.
I still sometimes take out this guitar and think of the dead boy and
wonder if he'd known suffering, and how well he'd played the blues.
"Who's sad and blue ..." strum, pause, "Who's crying too . .. " The
boohoo strains of a blue guitar. You can never learn the bridges too
Like tonight, I sit here in the window on the second floor, strumming, looking out at the fields. Mountains surround the meadows and
from up here I can see the river where the brambles grow. A mist this
morning was lifting off the mown hay and my father, old and
rheumatic, was calling in the herd. Bawling like a little sheik. It's a
large Holstein herd. He came out from Holland to help drain the
polder when this river overflowed its banks in the forties. He thought
with his lore of flood plains he wouldn't need to stay in Perumbur past
spring to contain the damage. But tempted by offers of cheap land he
stayed on to do the Dutch thing and build a dairy herd. He built this
house. We followed him, my mother and I, an infant.
The lamentable thing is I'm now thirty-nine and still living with my
parents. There was a time I would have lied about this. A time when I
believed in the right to be free of oppression, that I had a right to be
No more.
Listen, dearie! I can hear myself calling to the young a generation
from now.. .. But no one uses kindling these days. It's the young who
blame their parents for the narrowness of age, including their own.
The not young withdraw their accusations and settle down to compromise. We insist on paying rent in spite of objections they don't need
it, no they don't need it, please.
Notice how the tempo of my strings picks up to mock revolutionary
fervor? The other day in a glossy magazine from New York I saw pictures of Beirut guerillas modelling the latest fashions in uniforms.
These boys, these men, in murderous pose—checked scarves over
heads, bullet belts over shoulders. Asses over teakettles. I could have
screamed! The myth of the young is their belief in the right to be free
of oppression. What right is this? Who gives it?
63 Fashion's who. That tyrant of our age. The guerilla as top dog, character of history, supreme individual. Listen, Mr. Fatigues, in your
oversized boots.
What about me?
I often want to love and can't succeed in loving. I seek my own
defeat without finding it, and am forced to remain free.
Like Elvis. Fattened on junk food and drugs, he fell off his toilet in
the ensuite bathroom of a mansion where his heart, with no more
room, lay enlarged and surrounded with fat. Bloated, beatless, his
body needed fourteen mourners to carry its casket. Today it lives on in
T-shirts and mugs. Is this dignity?
It's the stars who go to parties wearing the glass facsimiles of
diamonds in safes at home. The false stones make those real stones
look bigger than life. It's the same with the stars. To be bigger than life
they leave their real selves at home. It makes them illusions like stars in
the sky, glittering, long after dying into holes. Their light takes so long
to reach us, so long to matter, sometimes we forget we're looking at
history! Glitter has become its opposite: a dwarf, blackness, vapour:
Time run out of gas. It's only distance that makes them appear to
throb with life, poor things, unable to face death, condemned to be
This morning when I phoned Mr. Delmore to excuse myself from
work he just grunted. Leery of being horsed around, he'd have to mop
up, scour, sweep on his own. But he won't. He'll leave the dirty rooms
for me as though I'd never missed a day. In real estate, as Mr. Delmore
knows from long experience of trying to sell out, the three important
things are location, location, location. In the case of libel I sometimes
think they must be detail, detail, detail. Tomorrow all the rooms will
be dirty and I'll be hard-pressed to launder so many sheets. If you
knew that sometimes I leave the unsoiled ones, stretch them tight over
mattresses to look unused, would it shock you? The next guests never
In spring the dike along the river protects us in these lowlands, an
earthen wall of grass with a small road running on top, a trail, really,
for the cattle. It stretches miles and looks natural. The river comes out
of the lake. The delta comes before the sea. Where the river runs into
the sea we learn, slowly, to read the sand dollar as a microchip of
evolution—fossils implanted in its shell like scars in our own. Skin.
Soul, it's the same. When your soul meets history you become liable for
the damages. And they say you cannot libel the dead.
Some nights like tonight I accompany myself back to life, fret marks
in my fingers, the memory of this song my deepest, no, wildest
64 Sharon McCartney /Two Poems
Chicken-skin music and mescal,
where all the ladders begin
against trees solid with fruit,
with Mexicans ten feet high,
with webs and nests, rodents
loping through weeds.
Voices of Tijuana hiss
and gamble among crates.
Names of the packers rot
while chickenhawks circle in threes.
My pregnant mare and I lift
our ears and listen
to the deserts rich with scrub
beyond the coils of wire
where the coyote laughs,
where women press tortillas
in storm drains, where the rain
is sudden and the men are away.
65 Not Now
Not now, not now, but soon,
the earth-movers will reopen the road
to Cape Flattery.    Our car idles
and the cedars are lifting and falling
in a breeze,
like a man breathing
in sleep, after some trauma,
an argument, unjust accusations, the police.
His breath comes easily, his lips part,
and when I raise his arm,
wanting to turn and cool myself,
his unconscious hand opens
and sweeps the air.
The cedars smell like Christmas,
like silence, if you crush the spiny ends
and rub them against your skin.
A cloud of yellow tractor dust rises
and approaches us, visibly,
colouring the trees until a rain
comes to hold down the earth.
I am as heavy as damp ground,
as restful, leaning over,
my cheek against his thigh.
The road is clear, his muscles
shift with the gears,
but I'm not moving.
I'm the cedar,
we're all breathing alike,
taking in the dust, the exhaust,
and letting it go again.
66 Michael B. Turner /Two Poems
Sure Sign of Fish
If a raven sets down
On the roof of a gut-truck
Without even picking for milts
Then it's a sure sign of fish
It's a sure sign of fish
If the raven stops squawking
To pick for a milt or
A head with its eyes still in
For sure
If the raven flies off
With four eyes facing westward
Then the fish will be caught
In the Inverness Slough
But if the raven is seen
Tonight dressed in a whale skin
Then we can set down our nets
For the next hundred years
67 Rip Tide
When the river becomes a garment,
And the day-boats blunt scissors
See-sawing on an unseen inseam,
We have rip tide,
An alteration to the hunt.
The highliner works underwater,
Spooling up his whereabouts
To a spot where the fish may be.
He crouches on a sand bar
And spins from nothing enough
Green strings to sew a mesh
Taut enough to collar heads,
Yet loose enough to think through.
As the waters shift, the river slackens.
The highliner is back on deck,
Reeling in his ragged net.
Every yard he unbuttons a fish,
Stopping for those he can dress for cash.
68 Bogdan Czaykowski
Race to the Limit
calling him out
a pack of hounds was racing past
and behind them hunters with ancient muskets
dry powder in the pans
the crack of shots
they stopped at a lake
and staring into the surface of dreams
saw mountains before their eyes
the sun rolling out over the mists of the valley
crosses of birds
the valley resounded
plumbed by an echo its limits stood out
time past emerged in an enormous forest
ignited fireballs in the muzzles of flying foxes
raised beaten gold leaves to the antlers of stags
flowed with a star to golden crowns, with a moist diamond,
in these picture galleries, in dark passageways
slammed with the light of a monstrance
where the tracker raced past —shouts, and then gunshots.
for the reverberations were set down,
quill-pens were scratching,
the wind was toppling henhouses, scattering sheds,
burying the commoners in leaves,
unearthing renaissances of winter corn, heatwaves of fire,
kindling mica to a white-heat.
69 he would have joined up with anyone,
was in and out of revolutions, had a global strategy,
cast light on signs vanished in childhood,
in the globe of a lighthouse, on archipelagoes,
as the tracker's footsteps resounded along the trails
and nets were hauled out on fishing boats,
he extinguished his cyclops eye and waited in the dark
for a star.
suddenly they had mountain views before their eyes,
the sun rolling out over the mists of the valley,
a boy in the crosses of birds, carrying a globe
in the globe, as if in an aquarium, on glassy screens
the pack of hounds was racing, and behind them the hunters,
dry powder darkened the view
and from the crack of shots
a boy ran out
a dream unfolded in his palm
(and he glanced off the glassy limits like a fish
shimmering below the surface of the water).
Translated from the Polish
by Iain Higgins
70 Emanuel Mandler
In the Boiler Room
I was descending a spiral staircase—it seemed sad in the light of
dawn—looking out for a sign that would indicate the third floor exit.
The floors were not marked, though, and there were so many of them
that I began to doubt if this were possible. From outside, the building
did not seem so tall. I kept looking back, worrying that I had missed
the third floor already, that I should go back, but I was fascinated by
the new corridors issuing from the staircase. Finally, it grew dark on
the stairs; I had descended into the underground. I smelled a repellent, faintly sweet odour, so unpleasant that I would have turned right
back just because of it, if it had not been for the sound of excited voices
coming from one side, and some light in the distance. I turned that
way and walked down an unpaved corridor covered by some gravel,
till I stopped in front of a massive, iron door. I gathered—the voices
sounded distinct and strong—that the people who were speaking were
standing close to me; I knelt down and slowly brought my eyes to the
crevice of the slightly opened door. I gazed into the subterranean
chamber of which only the front part was illuminated: the opposite
wall was completely covered by giant shelves (the upper part I could
not see), filled by big books, thick files, and partly also by long objects
wrapped in long sheets; in front of it stood a few huge boilers. The
piping from the boilers criss-crossed into the back part of the chamber
that was filled with huge mounds of coke, most of it remaining hidden
in the darkness. Before I could take a closer look, I had to lift my head
and exhale; the odour that penetrated through the crevice was so
strong that I felt sick, so I remained for a while on my knees behind
the door, listening to the voices.
"We always hear one and the same thing," someone was saying in a
deep detached voice, "but those are facts from which our superiors will
hardly be able to draw any conclusions."
"I have been working in the boiler room from my youth," another
man answered him, his voice sounding fatigued, "and I think that
nothing will change here until my death, because nothing can change
here. Someone has to stoke and two men are not enough for the job."
71 I folded my handkerchief and put it in front of my mouth (it was
difficult to breath the air from the boiler room) and looked inside
again: I could make out a group of four men; they were sitting on the
floor. Two of them were stokers, judging by their clothes; I could not
see the other two well enough to know who they were. A fifth one was
standing to the left of the boiler; he was taking out the ashes and
listening to the conversation. He turned around to face the men; his
hair was white and his face full of wrinkles. Yet his voice was still
resonant and it echoed even from the distant walls.
"I have been stoking here ever since the founding of this institution," he said in the direction of the two that I could not see very well.
"I know that I shall leave without any appreciation for my work, although I could have been the head of department in charge of the
boiler room if it had not been for the problems with the corpses."
"We cannot express ourselves as to your work assignment, I am sure
you understand," a man from the darkness hurriedly interjected.
The stoker shifted his weight to a big rake, nodding his head: "I
know, but the problems in the boiler room—and that means my own
problems too—began soon after the building of this institution, and
from that time the situation became day after day more complicated.
Although a commission of three set up for that very purpose made
quite an extraordinary effort, it did not manage to solve anything. It is
true, the commission faced enormously complex problems: the collection of the basic factual material itself took several years and so did the
drafting of the proposals, of which there were several variants. While
these proposals were being discussed, there constantly appeared new
obstacles of an objective nature, until one member of the commission
died, so that it became necessary to replace him with a man of identically excellent qualities, and that also took some time. In the
meantime, however, another member of the commission passed away,
so that only one man from the original group was left.
" 'What are we to do now?' the superior organs asked themselves for
a long time with little result. It was necessary to decide, namely,
whether it was possible to complement the commission which, having
diminished in members to one, had ceased to be a commission, or
whether it was necessary to form a new commission. Both solutions
were found to be inadequate: it is impossible to complement something to become the same thing, if it is not already what it is supposed
to be. Similarly, it is impossible to form a new commission to replace
the sitting one, if the sitting one cannot be abolished after it had ceased
to exist due to the deaths of two of its members. A possibility to combine the two solutions was pondered, as I learned, but in that case it
would have been necessary either to complement the abolished commission or to abolish the complemented commission, neither one of
72 which, needless to say, would have lead to a satisfying outcome. They
say that thereafter the superior organs wanted to solve the intricate situation by maintaining the status quo without attempting to complement or abolish the commission, and to form a new commission independently of the old one; however, they realized in good time that this
new commission, having been established, would have been obliged to
solve its relationship with the preceding commission: it would either
have had to recognize its competence, which, as we knew, was not possible inasmuch as the old commission was de facto nonexistent, or it
would not have had to recognize its competence, which again was not
possible because the old commission was not abolished and it could not
be abolished. And this state of uncrystallized vagueness still prevails."
A man in the darkness coughed: "What you are telling us sounds
logical and we have no reason to doubt you," he noted, "but we seem
to have digressed from our search." The stoker frowned: "I have been
explaining this regularly at least four times a year to those who are assigned, but it is always to someone else. But of course, it also happened
that the same people were investigating twice and even three
times,"—"Yes," another man from the darkness interrupted, "I cannot
exclude myself that I once saw this boiler room with the shelf full of
files, that I smelled this odour and heard the stories that you are reporting, but it must have been a long time ago; I cannot remember
"Could be," answered the stoker, "I will tell you more, but let me
have a drink first, one cannot breathe here any longer.. . The problems I mentioned began, if I remember correctly, sometime at the end
of the second month after the opening of this institution. One day they
brought us, instead of coke, a shipment of strange, longish objects
wrapped in white sheets; they were corpses. I asked the official in
charge what we were supposed to do with them, but he did not know a
thing about it; he also did not know who it was that had ordered the
corpses to be sent to the boiler room. I hesitated for some time but the
corpses started to decompose and their odour began to contaminate
the environment. We managed to cremate them only with great technical difficulties indeed; still, a short time afterwards, a new shipment
reached us. Thereafter, we received them quite regularly and the
problems that developed as a result are truly unimaginable: our boiler
room was not designed for the cremation of dead bodies. The fire
would often go out, and as a result we were frequently unable either to
produce the necessary amount of power, or to cremate still other
corpses that were consequently decomposing. Disturbed, the superior
organs first reprimanded the boiler room staff, and when this failed to
have any effect, they submitted the whole affair to the Tribunal which,
due to the gravity of the case, instituted the aforementioned commis-
73 sion, and this commission actually collected some valuable information. Unfortunately, despite the respectable effort of all its members, it
did not manage to find out who was sending those dead bodies to the
boiler room, nor how and why they were being sent, and it was precisely this failure that had a detrimental effect on the further development of the case. In order for the investigation to move ahead, it was
first necessary to clarify whether or not these shipments were regular.
"At first glance, it seemed simple: the shipments were arriving more
or less regularly, but this glance, the commission unanimously
declared, was a glance back: 'As soon as we try to estimate the regularity of the shipments in the future, we stand face to face with uncertainty. Because we do not know who is shipping them, or why and
how, we also cannot know whether these shipments will not cease for
good, say, in a month, or whether they will not lose their present regularity. From the point of view of any given moment in the future, the
sum total of the given regularity and the stipulated future irregularity
could be a general irregularity. The result, then, in any case is doubtful.'
" 'Maybe this is to the good,' the commission decided, 'because if we
knew who in our institution ships the corpses, and how, we would have
to investigate, in addition to all the present problems, whether this unknown person fulfils or overfulfils the regulations with the shipments
of corpses; although, on the other hand, if we were aware—assuming
we knew the unknown person—that we would have to investigate all
the circumstances, are we not going to be guilty before the law if we
use our ignorance as a pretense in order to avoid making such an investigation?'
"Therefore the commission came to the conclusion that these matters (i.e., how the shipments of corpses were related to the law) had to
be established regardless of whether or not we knew who their originator was, and it made this issue the point of departure for its future
course of action. This was not only beneficial, but also courageous, because it is really not easy to determine the legality or illegality of an act
about which we do not know the meaning, or even the identity of the
person who committed it.
"The commission then had to proceed deductively: 'We were
entrusted by the Tribunal,' the members reflected (they were still all
alive and well then), 'in order to find out why it is that the cremation of
corpses in the boiler room developed a snag.'
"Does it not follow from this very formulation, that the Tribunal
knows about the shipment of the corpses? Certainly; and finally further still: the very fact that the Tribunal did not charge the commission with investigating whether the aforementioned shipments overfulfil the lawful norms would lead to the conclusion that it considers
74 both the corpses, their shipment, and their cremation to be phenomena existing within the confines of the law. Still, the opposite can be
maintained, because the Tribunal, as distinct from the superior organs
that issued the reprimand to the boiler room staff for not satisfactorily
processing these shipments, did not have recourse to the sanctions
against the boiler room, but set up a commission that weighed objectively all the circumstances of the case."
The stoker paused for a moment, wiped the perspiration from his
brow, took a sip from a bottle and fished out from the grate by which
he was standing a long, white object. "Look," he said loudly and threw
the object towards the other four men, "what sort of work this is, it
does not burn well at all."
"Of course," another stoker continued, "I always maintained that it
is uneconomical to use corpses as a fuel, we are not equipped for that,
and that it is irreverent: no matter who these people were—and after
all we do not know who they were—they deserve a little respect now
that they are dead."
"Still," a third stoker said, "the worst thing really is that it is uneconomical. If you put a deceased under the boiler, you should add
some coke, so he can burn better, but the grate is small, so that in fact
you have to add less coke. This lowers the output of the boiler, and in
order to balance out this lowering you have to add some more fuel
next time, but there will be less space for the corpses and they will
decompose and when that becomes unbearable, you add more
corpses, and that will usually extinguish the fire. You will use a lot of
fuel for heating, the corpses will not burn up anyway, and so you end
up mostly drinking rum, because otherwise you cannot stand it."
All of them reached for bottles and I felt a burning thirst; I was getting sick and fiery circles began to turn in front of my eyes.
In the meantime, the first stoker again shifted his weight to the rake
and began to speak as if to continue his previous narration: "As I told
you, one cannot blame the commission for not showing an honourable
effort: after they had clarified theoretically the fact that the shipments
of corpses were neither in agreement with nor at variance with the law,
the members explored the means and ways that would lead to the liquidation of our problems. The most logical course of action, they decided, would be to change the status of the boiler room in the sense
that in the future one would have to cope also with the cremation of
the corpses; in other words it would be necessary to install an oven for
cremation and to employ to that effect especially trained stokers. But
the commission, as you know, did not know whether or not these shipments of corpses would stop soon, in which case the installation of the
oven for cremation would be an unnecessary investment; worse still,
this would throw an ugly light on the purpose and aims of our institu-
75 tion: after all, we are not a crematorium, are we? Similarly, one could
contemplate converting our courtyard (there is no other empty space)
into a cemetery, so that the dead bodies would not have to be burned,
but a cemetery instead of a courtyard would look depressing, not considering the fact that one would have to hire a gravedigger—and to
what purpose if the shipments end? Similar obstacles also met the idea
of letting the corpses rot and to use the fertilizer produced in this manner—but for what? We do not have a garden, there are no trees here.
The commission then wrote down all these proposals, adding without
hesitation, that it did not consider them applicable, that it would be
useful to reflect further on the most expedient solution, while accepting a temporary solution, namely that the stokers in the boiler room
should get half a litre of rum daily free of charge, which would enable
them to bear that horrible odour.
" 'One must consider, however,' the commission further noted in its
recommendation, 'the practicality of this temporary solution, for as is
known, to pay wages in kind is not allowed. But this difficulty could
still be overcome: the stokers would get a pay raise to account for the
price of the amount of the relevant alcohol, albeit with the condition—to prevent the misuse of freed money—that they would buy
for that extra pay only and exclusively rum. Evidently,' the commission stressed, 'to use alcohol at work is not allowed, and should stokers
drink it at home, it would be of little help; on the other hand, if we
consider that they currently drink rum in the boiler room anyway, and
that one has to recognize that they are right to do so, only two possibilities are open to them: either (in order to work) to drink at work that
which is not allowed, or not to drink that which is not allowed, and as a
consequence—not to work.'
"The conclusion that the commission drew was logical to a degree,
but hardly very positive for us. 'The stokers,' it was concluded in the
recommendation, 'should drink—although temporarily, obviously—rum, and should it be provided by the institution free of charge, it
would not be without difficulties; but it follows from the fact that they
already drink rum currently, without its being provided by the institution, that their wage is sufficient for the purchase of the necessary
amount of this alcohol. Then it does not have to be provided free of
charge to the stokers, especially because this solution, which we equally
propose not to take into consideration, could have only temporary
validity for the same reasons as the other solutions. And the stokers
can meanwhile buy the alcohol for themselves even though it might
eventually be above their means.' "
"Oh Lord," the third stoker smiled sadly. "It is not that I would have
the temerity to disparage the work of the aforementioned commission,
but if you knew how difficult it is for us here ... In order to work in
76 the boiler room you have to become an alcoholic, and if you become an
alcoholic, where else could you work but in the boiler room? Then,
also, it costs a lot of money, and that too, I can tell you, has not stopped
worrying me for some time. Still, imagine that you work at night, at
night you do not burn the corpses when you are the only stoker here.
You feed the furnaces then, and you want to turn around to see how
the deceased ones are doing: so I turn around and they are standing in
a row behind me, they are looking at me and all of them have their
right hand raised. They get off the shelves, I think, and take a look at
the shelves, but no, they are not standing behind me, they are lying
peacefully. But that too, of course, you think when you look
again—and try to stand it without looking back—is maybe an illusion,
because right now they are not on the shelves, they are climbing like
monkeys over the mounds of coke, jumping from one shelf to another,
throwing fuel at each other, sticking their tongues out at each other.
Maybe you can stand it one night, but the next night you do not want
to be in the boiler room alone, the dead are afraid of two men, but who
will pay the other one, and someone has to stoke. Then sometimes you
go to the canteen for lunch and there they are again, they occupy all
the long tables, but they are not the ones from the shelves; those from
the shelves have flesh on them but these are just naked bones like
Death: long tables occupied by Deaths, they are eating soup from
bowls. Click, the spoon hits the bowls, click, I hear how the spoons hit
the hollow jaws and then it speeds up: click, click, nobody can eat the
soup as fast as those rows of white skeletons: click, click, and the soup
is gone, they put the spoons on the table, push away the bowl, but it is
strange, they do not have stomachs, these skeletons, what happened to
the soup? Suddenly all of them raise their eyes, they do not have anything in their place, and with that nothing they look at me. I am walking between the tables and again hear click, click. Who is making the
click, click, I am asking myself, but they just sit there with their hollow
eyes watching me and between their jaws appears a long red tongue.
Who is making that click, click? I can run away from there and still
hear click, click, and so I walk, click, click, I lie down, click, click, only
when I drink is it a little better."
"Please, wait a minute," one of those sitting in the darkness interrupted him, "listen!"
They all remained motionless and I tried to take a closer look at the
room but my senses were already exhausted and weakened by the unbearably heavy air. In front of my eyes there loomed a vibrating field
of fire and the only recognizable thing in it were the glances of those
five men, directed somewhere upwards, five glances that materialized
in long, smooth strings and I could not see their point of intersection. I
moved closer to the ground in order to see higher, but in front of my
77 eyes was still only the fiery field; it vibrated in the rhythm of regular
strokes ever so distinctly, as if it were shaken by the beats of a throbbing heart: click, click, I heard that loud noise, it cut into my eardrums, it passed sharply from one side to another, approached and
receded: click, click, I wanted to get up, but the fiery field dissolved itself, and I saw the rough floor of the corridor, and again I lifted my
head with strain, but the floor was approaching, growing, and suddenly everything disappeared.
Translated from the Czech by Peter Petro
78 Ken J. Harvey
you were draped across
that couch
like the beginning and
end of a long, delicate
starkly naked
with pills dotting
the carpet next to you
you were all legs that could
not walk
legs leading up to where
the fever once drew life
pressed pleasure past life
to where the balanced beauty
of your eyes pictured nothing
fresh from the bath to the long,
delicate procession of that couch
you were forever clean
naked to the cleanliness that you
scrubbed past the skin
a flower set in the centre
of a polished table
bending gingerly toward
a slow, clean death
79 Evelyn Lau /Two Poems
The Quiet Room
Psychiatric Assessment Unit,
Vancouver General Hospital
Naked feet
flop over the cement block
in Quiet Room #4.
The silence is a dead creature
stirring decay into the air conditioning
interrupted only by water dripping from a tap
a roll of toilet paper unbalancing from the toilet rim,
scuttling across the floor.
The observation camera blinks
at the spot of blood plastered to the ground,
resembling a dried flower, or . . .
perhaps the lips of an old woman
left there by a careless nurse
stealing life through a hold in the patient's arm.
Her dreams open now, in the air:
knives licking doctors' throats
dynamite to fragment the brick walls;
the cold barrels, their fear!!
mirrored back into her eyes.
The observation camera swivels its attention
to the next patient:
his screaming.
80 An Autumn Photograph
The camera stares unblinking on silver legs.
A woman leans into the wind
sweeping away sheafs of hair from her face
with icicle hands.
Leaves splotch blood onto the sidewalk
pooling at her feet.
Seagulls circle wide,
handkerchiefs flung weeping out of the wash,
wheeling around a mass of phosphorescent sun.
Water gurgles from the park fountain
stealing shards of sunshine
where she positions her foot like a stone cherub.
A man tiptoes quickly
from behind the mounted camera.
He slips his arm around the woman's waist.
They smile
and the glass eye winks in approval.
Peggy Sue Alberhasky's work has appeared in Milkwood Chronicle and The Southern Poetry Review. She has also produced a poetry-video entitled "Stories to Open
Brian Burke, of Vancouver, B.C., is the first place winner of the 1986 PRISM international Short Fiction Contest. His stories have appeared in Quarry, The New
Quarterly, The Fiddlehead, Event, The Antigonish Review, Matrix, and others. New
stories are due to appear soon in The West Coast Review and Waves. A previous collection of stories, Watching the Whales Jump, received the National Epstein Award.
Salvatore Cetrano's poems have appeared in The Lyric and Pulpsmith, and are
forthcoming in Piedmont Literary Review, Psychopoetica, and Kentucky Poetry Review.
The Virginia Poetry Society recently awarded him with the Leitch Memorial Prize.
Bogdan Czaykowski is a professor of Slavonic Studies at the University of British
Columbia. Translations of his poems have appeared in Volvox, Contemporary Poets of
British Columbia, Czeslaw Milosz's anthology Post-war Polish Poetry, and in a number
of issues of PRISM.
Beverley Daurio's work has appeared in Room of One's Own, Poetry Canada Review,
Only Paper Today, Identity, Grain, and others. The poems in this issue are from a
nearly finished manuscript entitled Driving into Winter.
H. E. Francis is a professor of English at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
His stories have appeared in the O. Henry, Best American, and Pushcart Prize
Keath Fraser is the author of Taking Cover (Oberon, 1982), and Foreign Affairs
(Stoddart, 1985) which won the Ethel Wilson Prize and was nominated for the Governor General's Award in 1986. The title novella from Foreign Affairs will be anthologized by Methuen this spring '87. More of his "Perumbur" stores (of which
"Damages" is one) appear in the current issue of Descant.
Kenneth Graham, of Sheffield, England, is the second place winner of the 1986
PRISM international Short Fiction Contest. He will have his first novel, Hokusai's
Wave, published by Chatto and Windus later this year. He is also the author of
English Criticism of the Novel 1865-1900 (OUP); Henry James: the Drama of Fulfilment
(OUP); and Indirections of the Novel: James, Conrad, and Forster (forthcoming in 1988:
Ken J. Harvey's work has appeared in Fiddlehead, While Wall Review, Newfoundland
Quarterly, Matrix, Pottersfield Portfolio, Prairie Fire, The New Quarterly, and others. He
has had two books published: Open and Shut (1982) and No Lies and Other Stories
Iain Higgins is currently studying at Harvard. His translations from the Polish of
Andrzej Busza and Bogdan Czaykowski have appeared in Canada in Dialogi/
Dialogues and in Seven Polish-Canadian Poets.
Jascha Kessler's translations and fiction have appeared in numerous issues of
PRISM. He has published three volumes of poetry, several collections of short
stories, and five volumes of translations, the most recent of which is The Face of Creation: 26 Poets (translated from the Hungarian, 1987).
82 Polly Koch, of Houston, Texas, is the third place winner of the 1986 PRISM international Short Fiction Contest. She has one previous publication in Mississippi
Maria Korosy collaborated with Jascha Kessler in the translation of The Face of
Creation: 26 Poets (1987).
Evelyn Lau is a fifteen year old Vancouver writer. She has published poetry in
Waves and Canadian Author &f Bookman.
Emanuel Mandler, of Czechoslovakia, writes fiction, and political and historical
essays. A graduate of philosophy, he has worked as an archivist, editor, party activist, propagandist, and director of a publishing house.
Chris Mansell is an Australian poet and editor of the literary magazine Compass
poetry & prose. She has published two books of poetry: Delta (1978) and Head, Heart
6f Stone (1982). "Vandals" comes from her recently completed third book, Redshift/
Sharon McCartney's work has appeared in Waves, Fiddlehead, and Pavement (University of Iowa), and is forthcoming in Event.
Sammy McLean's translations have appeared in numerous issues of PRISM. He has
recently translated fifty-two poems and two stories by Helga M. Novak, and Hans
Erich Nossack's novel The Younger Brother. He teaches Comparative and German Literature at the University of Washington.
Hans Erich Nossack is known primarily as a novelist and short story writer, but he
also published poems, essays, and plays. Between 1933 and 1945 he was forbidden
to publish by the National Socialist Government in Germany. In 1948 he was discovered by Jean-Paul Sartre who became an advocate for his writing, which began to
appear in translation as well as in German. He was awarded various literary prizes
including the Georg Buchner Prize and the Wilhalem Raabe Prize. He died in 1977.
Helga M. Novak has published five volumes of poetry, two novels, and several
volumes of short stories and documentary prose. She left the German Democratic
Republic in 1966 when that government deprived her of her citizenship. She has received the Bremen Prize for Literature and the Prize for Literature of Bergen-
Enkheim. She presently lives in West Berlin and Yugoslavia.
Otto Orban has published twelve volumes of poetry in his native Hungary.
Peter Petro, a translator and writer of fiction and poetry, is Acting Head of
Slavonic Studies at the University of British Columbia.
Norberto Luis Romero is a young Argentinian writer whose book Transgresiones
won the Noega Prize for short fiction in Madrid, Spain.
Michael Savage is a professional treeplanter who has been seriously studying photography for the last five years. He aspires to study in New York at the International
Center of Photography to which he was accepted in 1986 but could not attend due
to a lack of funds.
Michael B. Turner's poetry has appeared in Fiddlehead and Random Thought, and
is forthcoming in The Antigonish Review. He is a founding member of The Saving
Grace folk trio.
Brian Wickers' poetry has appeared in several Canadian publications including
Fiddlehead and Queen's Quarterly.
83 "The Fiction Magazine has established a reputation for being exciting
and committed and astute in its choice of short stories, of its novel
excerpts, of its poems and reviews".
"An excellent short story magazine"
Molly Keane
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The Guardian
The Booksetl
"If ever a magazine deserved every ounce of support, then the Fiction
Magazine does. It is a key publication for all who care about novels
and short stories; and most of us do."
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The Fiction Magazine brings you new and exciting fiction every
month - together with articles, essays and reviews. We look for
prose which is lively, communicative, inventive, reflective. We
publish little known, as well as established, authors and run an
annual competition to find new writers of talent. We aim to be a
meaty, entertaining magazine.
Among our contributors:
Brian Aldiss • Tim Aspinall • Dirk Bogarde • Maggie Brooks
Charles Bukowski • Simon Burt • Anthony Burgess • Duncan Bush
A.S. Byatt • Raymond Carver • Janice Elliot • Steve Ellis
Alisdair Gray ■ Georgina Hammick • Aidan Higgins
Russell Hoban ■ Desmond Hogan ■ James Lasdun • George Macbeth
John McGahern ■ Allan Massie • Deborah Moggach ■ Amos Oz
Lucy Pinney . V.S. Pritchett • Frederic Raphael ■ Richard Rayner
Lisa St Aubin de Teran • John Saul ■ Gillian Tindall
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Coming in our spring issues: special features on new women writers,
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Subscribe to
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for £15 to 13 Clerkenwell
A Memoir:   Robert Penn Warren, "Portrait of a Father"
Howard Nemerov:    Five Poems
"Impressions of Nemerov"
by Richard Holinger
A Review of Inside the Onion
by Tom Johnson
Suzanne Brown, "The Baby-sitter"
Joseph Ferrandino, "Ten Cents a Dance"
Roxana Robinson, "Charity Dance"
Betsy Wing, "Cotillon"
John Fraser on J. V. Cunningham
Christopher L. Miller on Orality and
African Literature
Neil Lazarus on Lewis Nkosi
David Baker, Willis Barnstone, Richard
Behm, David Citino, Sally M. Gall, Arthur
Gregor, Hunt Hawkins, Tom Johnson,
P. B. Parris, David Rigsbee, Michelle
Blake Simons, Ronald Wallace
Bruce King on Vikram Seth and
Timothy Steele
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Michael Anania
David Mills on The Bone People
Business Manager, The Southern Review.
43 Allen Hall, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70803
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sponsored by Descant to find Canada's best novella
prize: $ 1,200.00, plus publication of winning submission in
a 1988 issue of Descant.
entry deadline: September 1, 1987.
LENGTH:  15,000-30,000 words.
format: Submissions must be typed and double spaced.
Photocopies or carbon copies of manuscripts preferred.
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Issue # 7 a
Book VII, a
and Gerry
Mark Laba
rough th
ivies®: $
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Since  1959, introducing
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and international writing.
Don't miss our Technology in Society issue
July 1987
Featuring: John Baglow, Salvatore Cetrano,
Ron Charach, Christopher Dewdney, Bill Gaston,
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they may take this magazine
right out of your hands
The Great Depression; two world wars; a small, spread-out population;
recessions; inflation; overwhelming competition from the U.S.—none of
these could kill Canada's magazines...
...but the current Government in Ottawa just might.
The Government is considering demolishing the delicate structure of postal, tariff and tax-related incentives that helps keep the
Canadian magazine industry alive. If this happens, many Canadian
magazines will die.
Those that survive will cost more to readers and publishers
and will be more vulnerable than ever to competition from foreign
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Those that survive will be less profitable and, therefore, more
likely to succumb to adverse economic
circumstances in the future.
Brian Burke, Kenneth Graham, Polly Koch.
Plus more fiction by: Keath Fraser.
Poems by: Sharon McCartney, Salvatore Cetrano, Chris
Mansell, Michael B. Turner, Evelyn Lau. . . .
In Translation: Norberto Luis Romero, Otto Orbdn,
Hans Erich Nossack, Helga M. Novak,
Emanuel Mandler, Bogdan Czaykowski.
Featuring: fohn Baglow, Salvatore Cetrano, Ron Charach,
Christopher Dewdney, Bill Gaston, Susan
Ioannou, Guy Gavriel Kay, David Manicom,
Walter McDonald, Fred Nadis, Roger Nash,
Lance Olsen, Kenneth Sherman, Andrew Vaisius,
Carol Windley, and many more. . . .
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