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of the most interesting
bookstores in Vancouver Prism
FALL, 1961
volume three
number one
The Lip
Kwatte, The Flag-pole
Then There Was This
Character Mona
Something or Other
The Tomorrow-maker
Col De Tende
Yesterday's Horsemen
The Alchemist
A Small Bonfire
Dear To God and
Famous To All Ages
Acts 12
Letter To A Friend's Wife
Jan de Bruyn
Elliott B. Gose
Jacob Zilber
Heather Spears Goldenberg
Wayson Choy
Yolande Newby
Barbara Beach
Marcus Beach
William Mayrs
Alice Zilber
Cherie Smith
William Mayrs
William Mayrs
PRISM is an independent publication, supported by subscriptions, advertising, and
donations. Donations are eligible as Income Tax Deductions. PRISM is published
by The Prism Society.
Annual subscriptions are $3.50, single copies $1.00, and may be obtained by writing to the Subscription
Manager, 3492 West 35th Avenue, Vancouver 13, British Columbia. MSS should be submitted to the
Editor at the same address and must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Prism enters its third publication cycle in the midst of yet another censorship
uproar. It is still not decided whether some Canadian readers are to be permitted to
follow Lady Chatterley through the woods to the gamekeeper's cottage, and Henry
Miller's Tropic of Cancer has been vigorously denied us. There is a kind of indecency
in this denial of our right to read which surely overshadows the alleged indecencies
of the novels.
While the flamboyant covers of a thousand paperbacks in the stands in drugstores, corner groceries and coke shops throughout the land beckon readers leeringly
into a grotesque world of lurid sexuality and unlimited violence, works which are
highly regarded bv intelligent and knowledgeable critics and men of letters throughout the world are ignominiously forced to prove their innocence and purity at the
bar (or the border) without benefit of expert defence. Although our obscenity law
was, according to Mr. Fulton, designed primarily to deal with the former category,
it appears to reverse the Minister's intent by prosecuting works generally accepted
by  enlightened  people  to  be  serious  literary  considerations of the human dilemma.
Censorship is, at best, an insult to those whom it deprives of the right to see or
read. Yet those same people, presumed to be too emotionally unstable and intellectually weak to avoid debasement if exposed to the censored material, are considered
perfectly competent to accept full democratic responsibility in a nation dedicated,
among other things, to the principle of freedom of speech. If indeed we are responsible enough to select our legislators, to sift the corrupt and selfish politician from
the altruists, surely those legislators cannot with impunity or any show of logic
deprive us of the responsibility to legislate the government of our selves.
There is machinery to deal with corruption when it becomes overt; when this
occurs, it is time to use it. A citizen of a free country expects to be restricted when
his behaviour interferes with the rights and properties of others; he hardly expects
to be restricted in the choice of what he reads by his living-room fire or at the study
It is time our government considered more wisely the matter of freedom of expression and undertook to build into the Criminal Code provisions regarding obscene
publications which are more compatible with our democratic ideals than the amendments of 1959, and more conducive to making available serious literary achievements
that deal frankly and openly and intelligently with realities of human life which a
pressure group of prudes and puritans may wish to represss, but which normal
individuals can scarcely regard as debasing or foul.
Besides adding its voice to the choir of liberalism, The Prism Society wishes to
announce additions to its literary endeavours. Recently, with the co-operation of the
Radio Society of the University of British Columbia, and Radio Station CHQM of
Vancouver, we have begun producing a monthly half-hour radio programme of
generally literary interest. The programmes are broadcast over Station CHQM-FM
on the last Thursday of each month at 8:00 p.m. We hope that many of our readers
will be able to listen in, and that they will enjoy the offerings.
In the coming year at the Cambie Art Theatre, in co-operation with Peter Statner,
whose dramatic offerings and foreign films have been enthusiastically received by
Vancouver audiences, we will present a series of play-readings. We hope to make this
a regular feature. On December 5 and 6, Prism, together with the Special Events
Committee   of   the   University   of   British   Columbia,   sponsored   readings   of  Santa Claus, a play by e. e. cummings, at the University Auditorium for students, faculty
and the public.
In the current volume of Prism we will produce a number devoted to novel experimental writing (3:2) and a number bringing our readers a view of French-Canadian
contemporary literature. The latter has been made possible by a grant from the
Koerner Foundation and will, feature prose, poetry and, we hope, drama written in
French by Canadian writers, and translated or adapted into English. Both the French
and English texts will be published in the issue.
Along with compliments of the season, please accept our wish that you will enjoy
good and unrestricted reading in 1962.
"A delicate justness
of expression."
"Exquisite control;
disciplined, taut hold
upon every line."
46 pages        $3.00
"A talent of considerable
"A fine sensibility and
accuracy of vision."
80 pages        $2.50
75   CENTS
75   CENTS
75   CENTS
75   CENTS
75   CENTS
75   CENTS
75   CENTS
75   CENTS
You will find the widest selection of Penguin & Pelican Books at
VANCOUVER, B.C., MU 4-4496
Please send for catalogue or come in and browse. THE
"But why surgery?"
I wasn't sure, though I tried to answer the doctor in specific terms—
"It's in the way."
I did actually believe this as a physical fact even though I was planning
to become a Psych Major when in college, and I thought I already knew
something about my delusions. Nevertheless, I was asserting that mine had
to be a physiological problem: I needed this ten years ago.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders. He turned to the desk nurse and put
on an officious manner — "All right, have him get his mother's signature."
This announcement bothered me. His sacrifice would amount to mere time,
twenty minutes of snipping; mine was, from the point of view of teen-age
metaphysics, eternal. It had to be a significant step: part of me was at stake
for a girl. It was also important for this mission of mine that I retain my
independence —
"Is a signature necessary?"
He looked blase when he responded, turning not to me but toward the
choric-like nurse —
"This is a clinic, you know, and you're a kid applying for the knife."
"I mean is it necessary to have a mother's consent? I don't have parents."
"Some guardian will do," he answered, starting down the corridor, and
jerking his upper torso diagonally to avoid shoulder contact with the milling
swarm of candidates for Bronx County charity. I told the nurse that I would return. She flicked out the hospital entry form which I pocketed carefully
while heading for an uptown subway.
My aunt was disturbed.
"I raised a young man so foolish! A briss, yes — when you were a baby —
the rabbi cut the shmootz away and the whole thing was over, clean. But
this, never — only over my dead body," and she wailed from habit, offering
herself up: "God should strike me dead if you . . ."
"Aunt Zelda . . ."
I wanted to reason with her, to justify the ways of God to those of compulsive young men. I tried comparison —
"What about your operations? When medical care is necessary . . ."
"—O-per-a-tion," she emphasized in her most pronounced European way,
interrupting my reasoning with that last syllable, and continuing: "A growth
gotta go when it grows in women." With this she crossed her heavy arms
over her breasts, encircling them. "Listen here," she asserted, "what kind
of a son would dare to mention to an aunt about woman's trouble? Even
your uncle, the klutz with a big mouth like his nephew, wouldn't talk to me
this way. And that one isn't suffering for my operation: who needs we
should have more children to raise? But you should suffer," she chanted,
"you should only be miserable if you go have a crazy operation."
It was useless. Her logic was as faulty as mine. I was to learn after those
Bronx years of dragging it up that the one contribution to making me a
mensch — though never a rational one — was this "wisdom" of my loony
Take grandma. She was next on my guardian's consent list. Old bubbe
was, in those days, still spiritual ruler of this family and I was accustomed
to planning strategy for her. As I tore around the corner, I could see her
there, as she will be forever, perched on the sill of that brick-enclosed apartment window just above the stoop, staring out, watching for me. This anticipation had become a vital part of her life because during the summer I came
by through these slums every day at this time on my urine delivery route.
"Hide the satchel Larry and hurry in for borscht." She announced this
to me clear across the street while yanking half of herself out the window,
waving me through traffic with one hand and with the other indicating
exactly where I was to leave my "Boston bag" under her window. Grandma
never let me bring those warm jingling half pint bottles into her apartment.
She always seemed ashamed of my summer job, not understanding as I did
that these deliveries from drug stores to the urinalysis lab were stepping-
stones to the sciences I would begin that fall upon entrance to college. What
she did comprehend in her strangely aristocratic way was that in a larger
status sense I was in a more respectable profession than the street bums who
were merely workers in the local Bagel Factory. With contempt, she used to
try to douse them with water when a few strays pissed below her window
during; lunch break. I barged into the apartment. On those sweaty August days I was never
able to resist that cool gold trim soup plate with its dab of sour cream afloat
on the redrich borscht.
"Eat, eat, Labele," she insisted, although I was more concerned with
squeezing out the few words that would induce her gradually to sign my
document. She kept interrupting me, as my aunt always did; it was as
though ingestion had to be a ritualistic cramming down —
"Don't say a word. You must never talk when you eat. Eat with bread,
lots of bread." That sweet chalah loaf literally blew up my grandmother,
aunt and uncles during hard times, and they all stayed that way. Right now
all I could think of was my need for grandma's signature — any family
OK would do — but I knew I wouldn't get it while I was involved with the
rite of eating. So I hurried through this snack, turning down other nasch
offers of seltzer, honey cake, sponge cake and more bread. Then, while hugging grandma to acknowledge the nutritional worth of her food, I whipped
out the application and a pen —
"Grams, sign your name for me. I'm in a hurry. Must get back to the lab,
so just sign here . . . right here."
What could have caused me to imagine — other than impulsiveness —
that I could leave that apartment without having our customary eight
minute session at the window? Here I was always placed on view for all
of 179th Street to see grandma's melamed, the young scholar who was
going to make good like a doctor. This day offered no departure from her
production. I was actually pushed to the window while protesting foolishly,
and I felt, as I fell into place, like the grinning gibbons of nearby Bronx
Grams began: "Why should I sign a paper? That's what Aunt Zelda is
for. Like a mother, sacred, Labele, remember that." I realized that grandma's Divine Right theory was simply a cagey response to that recurrent
phenomenon: my rushing to her whenever my aunt denied me something.
She pretended to concede some royal power to her daughter, probably because of her puzzled reaction to the mysterious application form.
I tried again: "It's just that I'm in a hurry, grandma. I've an important
plan — it all has to do with a girl — and it requires a guardian's permission;
sign this now so I can get back to work before they close."
"Who closes? If they're Jews, of course they'll close now . . . and I certainly won't write my name on Shabbos." It was late Friday afternoon and
I had forgotten that the Sabbath was almost upon us. To convince me of
this was grandma's reminder: "Even my toilet paper is all cut into little
pieces — Jews never work on Shabbos."
"I'm not asking you to convert to a goy! Just sign your name here, can't
"You know I can, Labele, are you making fun? Didn't you teach me to
write? How else did I become the citizen of a democracy-in-a-repulic?" Government! This was going to be the recitation which grandma, in order
to become a citizen, had memorized for five years and then never forgot —
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And I was obsessed with the fear
that somehow I would lose all three as she went on with this —
"In Bucharest could I write my name? Not in English. I used to write
in the old country way I learned from a crazy gypsy who used to watch for
the trash fires in the street; then she reached in and pulled out thousands
of dollars. She was like a magician. She even knew King Carol, so your
grandpa and I gave her money to get our papers and she even took us right
to the boat. In America, years later, I signed papers her way for the Welfare, but the Investigator made fun: 'Lady, when will you people learn to
write English?' So I learned, Labele, from you. You were named after a
great rabbi so you could help me and when you grew up you did. Now I sign
my Welfare check every month and the Investigator can never move me —
I have rooms, Labele, I have rooms."
I knew these episodes of Fortune by heart. I had learned to listen as one
"listens" to background music while reading. I concentrated on grandma's
hands: they could never be studied enough. I used to try during these sessions to relate the veiny arthritic knuckles to grandma's narration of the
tragi-comic actions in her life. One finger was missing, and for this German
butchery grandma had once left me with a vivid sacrificial scene: "They
had to have it so I let them cut."
As I thought of this I was reminded of my own problem. It was getting
late; I had to go, rush, but I just sat there. I took those tough chapped hands
in mine, kissed each, and turned to look outside because grandma was now
gossiping about every old yenter peering out the windows across the street,
up and down the block. Garbage was piled against the iron railings fencing
the "super's" basement windows of each brick building. Leaning against
those warm bricks were the old people with eyes closed, squinting at the last
rays of the sun: they were drawing great power to guard their buildings,
holding on with this last energy.
"Five o'clock — it's Leverbound, the seltzer man!" Here was grandma's
Prologue to Shabbos, banging in supplies of jangling seltzer bottles; he
lifted the wooden boxes down from the truck to the curb, then hoisting one
mechanically to his shoulders, he marched up the stairs to the stoop and
into the dark hallway.
Could I use this interruption as a cue? I stood and pulled out the application again, but grandma was engaged painfully in her massive way in pushing out to the other room: the door and the refrigerator had to be accessible
to her seltzer man. As I listened to them exchange their Yiddish badinage
in the kitchen, I was yearning to get out of this stuffy apartment, and particularly to escape the persistent ticking of the old woodcarved pendulum
clock. This was another distraction that both sustained and troubled me
during grandma's seances:  the elongated weighted testicles hung high and low, somehow weighing my still moments in this hot room with the rhythmic
sexual pulsations that tugged at me to be free in the Bronx streets.
When I heard Leverbound leave, I began my goodbyes in the kitchen
where I glimpsed the last blood of the drained Friday chicken dripping into
the sink. It seemed in those days that I could not escape sacrifice. Coarse
salt crystals were glimmering on the fresh-plucked skin, and on a shelf
above, I could see the familiar red and yellow box — DIAMOND CRYSTAL KOSHER SALT — lording over the purged scene. I hurriedly kissed
and hugged my way to the door, on the way reassuring grandma in the
usual order: one, that I too would keep a kosher home; two, that I would
not work on the Sabbath; three, that I would pray for the memory of the
six million; four, that I would honor the divinity of my aunt and uncle; and
lastly — that curious dualism — I would not get overheated, and would of
course marry only a healthy, rich Jewish girl.
I backed out throwing kisses to her and feeling as foolish as always during
these farewells, not daring to look at any of the negroes and Puerto Ricans
who sat in the cool hallway. "Shh," she added ceremoniously near the doorway, handing me something crisp, "don't let the Schwartzes see!" I recall that
they always seemed to be grinning and chuckling, perhaps because the old
lady was one of the last of that strange group that just wouldn't move away.
Outside, I snatched my satchel and crossed the street, turning my head
often to fix the details of grandma at the window: her flushed face and her
silvery head of hair with yellow streaks that pulled back tight into a bun
behind her head. I could see the faded flower print with its cotton looseness falling away from bubbe as she leaned way out to me. She tried to
follow me, waving away mechanically at this distant blur, while I too sought
desperately to retain her image as though for the last time, stopping dead
there in the middle of the street to memorize her forever.
What the hell was cutting into the palm of my sweaty hand? Another $2
Canadian bill! This was around the twentieth she had actually bought with
Welfare money from that mad magician-grocer, Hezekiah Wistrich, who
had convinced grandma that one hundred of its grinning monarchs would
mould me into a noble doctor. While being charmed into all this, I was
still lacking that magical signature which, during the enchantment, I had
completely forgotten!
I rushed the bottles to the piss-smelling lab and started for home. Uncle
would have to be my last resort. I took a short cut through a side street, but
that was a mistake.
"Hey, Lippy, we want you on second!"
Second base was painted yellow; it was the third sewer cover up the street,
and I was now only two sewers away from my block. The guys were finishing
a stickball game before it got dark, and I couldn't stop to play. I had to
hurry to dinner. I called across to them —
"I can't play tonight, supper's waiting — and don't call me that!" "Awright, we'll get someone else," bawled Albie Nussbaum, the sport,
"we don't need you, Larry the Lip." Whatever the reason — the Lippy
Durocher fever this pennant time of year, or just me — I was sick of hearing
that name. Even grandma's harmless endearing appellation, "Labele,"
seemed related to the whole damn labial Thing. I heard another buddy on
the Pioneers team roar with laughter and exclaim, "At least you ain't got
pimples, old Lip!" He was at bat, this gasser, Schmerele Hershkowitz, tossing
the pink Spaulding ball high and laughing at me for the benefit of the girl
I secretly loved. Crystal Schwartzapple was right there on the curb.
That did it! I was not even in on the game, which in itself was disturbing
to the guys' street code. Add to this Albie and Schmerele, the bigshot hitters
who would pick tonight for bugging — and with Crystal there! It was for
her that I was on this Improvement kick, so I hurried up the block to get
my uncle's consent.
"Not company — tonight?" I shrieked.
"It's Shabbos," my aunt declared even louder, towering over me with
hands on her hips. "Since when is Lavish company?" They were, in fact,
my rich cousin and her spouse, Leatrice and Lionel Lavish from the classy
island of Manhattan. Lionel was now a Button King.
This wasn't going to be easy: extracting permission from my uncle for
anything, especially with our illustrious, critical guests. I didn't have to say
a word — Aunt Zelda's spiel was under way:
"I've already told your uncle, so don't say a thing. They all think you're
nuts. Eat with bread."
I remember being propelled into both gefilte fish and soup so as to catch
up with the others who hadn't even looked up to acknowledge my presence.
I tried to get the old man's attention, but he was involved with slopping up
his last few stray noodles.
It was only Lionel who dared to initiate conversation at the sacred table:
"What's new, Lippy? Making money yet — or girls?"
I was now elevated officially from "squirt" to that other name. My aunt
"Don't call him that — he's sensitive and he'll threaten again to run away
to the west coast."
"Lionel," I roared, "where the hell did you ever pick up that name?"
With this I threw my spoon into the soup.
"Easy squirt, you got soup all over. Don't get your bowl in an uproar."
He laughed alone, and resumed factually, "It's just a nickname. Your lips
are too thick." Then he changed the subject slightly and went on with his
kind of reasoning —
"Everybody's got nicknames. Why do you call your friend Ballsy? Or
take that Mervin, remember him? You think we called him Mer-vin? Everyone knew he was a fag — a Jewish fairy — so we called him Fagarina . . .
Fagarina Fleishaker, ain't that a name?" He searched around for comic effect, but Leatrice wouldn't even look at
her husband. She appeared benign, and with her smile of Manhattanesque
enlightened Yiddishkeit, she said to me:
"Rise above all this, Lawrence. Some day, when you get out of this ghetto,
as we did, all vulgarity and mockery will be beneath your dignity." Then
she tore into her drumstick.
Aunt Zelda was furious with Leatrice —
"Listen, miss fancybloomers, you should only raise your children like I
raised mine. I sold soap door to door to send you to City College Business
School. What kind of gratitude is that? Your children should only turn out
as well-fed as mine. And if you don't like a Jewish neighborhood, stay downtown with the goyim! Besides, the Bronx used to be classy, and furthermore
there's no more apartments like this one in New York City."
Leatrice couldn't look up from her food. It was Lionel's turn again:
"You're right Mom, you got the best apartment and the handsomest kids
in the whole city — the chicken here," to my sister, "and the Labele here,"
to me. "They take after the old lady, huh? not this Yid over here, ha Papa?"
Uncle shook his head from side to side. I hadn't heard him talk in years.
He did manage his refrain, "Sit down Mama and eat," to which my aunt
responded," I've lost my appetite," and she stormed out of the kitchen to
nurse what I recall as her social status grudge. Nods around the table.
This was my chance. I whipped out the hospital application form and
handed it over —
"Lionel, explain this to Uncle. I need his signature to get into the hospital
for only two days, that's all."
"What is it for?" he asked, fingering it with dripping chicken fat. I
snatched the sheet away from him and explained that it was an application
for minor surgery, that this was due to my being self-conscious about my
physical appearance, and that if I could go through with my plans I would
establish better rapport with my friends and especially with a girl named
"Girls? Sure Pa, let him do it," Lionel whooped with gusto, "if this is his
way to a lay — sign it!" My uncle was confused, but Leatrice assured him
that it was probably all right since only a little snip of tissue was involved
and besides, my psychological well-being was at stake (she was undergoing
My aunt reappeared, protesting with a review of my hospital history:
circumcision, tonsillectomy, and a slight two-stitch lip injury incurred in a
hide-and-go-seek game years ago. Then she expressed contempt for the
humiliation she had on many occasions experienced with the office staff
of the county hospital —
"You won't sign my nephew over to that dirty heartless place," and she
left the kitchen again, yelling, "only over my dead body!" Uncle signed.
Tuesday morning I woke up sweating to the smooth unfamiliar tug of a rectal thermometer emerging, and with this an accompanying declaration —
"You can go home today, Lawrence." She was blonde and couldn't have
been much older than I was. While I was asleep, after the operation, she
and my light-haired Crystal had merged, to induce a wet dream. Half
awake, I felt the nurse give the top sheet a swift pull back, and I cringed
with her remark, something blunt like ". . . nocturnal emission." Night duty.
At that moment I experienced what I now acknowledge as my double
revelation. I felt suddenly that until the operation I had been constantly
backing up against something — cul de sac — something final in effect like
the yank of the thermometer or the last background scene that closes a film
documentary. I knew that I no longer needed static episodes: I was yearning
for action, for something superbly in motion, like those thin laughing lips
that haunted me all night in a wild hide-and-seek game. I wanted once more
to recapture how I willed into existence those wet cavernous mouths in my
dream. I was eager to dress for home, to heal for my nocturnal mission with
those lips of Crystal.
About a month later, we walked across City College campus. We had
just left the closing summer evening concert at Lewisohn Stadium where I
had been feeling her up, with little cooperation, on the concrete steps that
warm all-Gershwin jazz night. We took subways across and uptown to Pel-
ham Bay Park.
School would begin soon and we were relating plans, she for entering
City College, and I for a startling jaunt to the west coast. She couldn't
understand my choice: "How did you ever decide so suddenly? And why
Seattle?" she asked, while I was trying to reach my arm around her
shoulders. She was resisting me as we walked toward Pelham Bay.
"It's the remoteness," I answered, "I guess it's the romance of the
distant corner of this great map. I want to stand right at the extreme end
of the country, like cutting out to the very edge of this city, being here."
I pointed to a cool spot on a rocky beach looking out to the distant lights
of ships and beacons on Long Island Sound. The waves were ramming in
just in front of us, so we took off our shoes and started splashing around
the rim of the sea in the phosphorescent glimmers of the dark night. Our
feet were getting cut on the rocks, so I deposited Crystal on the two concert
cushions which I had rented for two bits each and with which we casually
left the stadium.
I must have shown great daring in my declaration that I would take a
quick swim. It was only our third date, which might have accounted for
my own surprise and for Crystal's nervous laughter. She made a mockery
of my plan by pointing out a sign near us:
13 I thought the hell with New York codes! All through Senior English I
had been reading about new men and their protest: the motions of Martin
Eden and Stephen Dedalus haunted me and compelled me to demonstrate
the image I had become. I wanted Crystal to see me as a man, and though
I could not yet seem to bring my face close to hers, I bared my chest and
back eagerly, stripped to my briefs and escaped. My feet were getting cut,
but I leaped with the pain out over sharp encrusted rocks into the Bay.
With this disorderly dripping as a kind of boisterous incentive, I felt I
could now face Crystal. I kissed her for the first time on the back of the
neck, but she pushed my legs away in an attempt to keep the water from
settling on her. I had a strong feeling that she might not want this contact,
and with this, old negative doubts returned about my presence before her.
I moved away, drying myself with my shirt, and I fussed around delaying,
trying to light a cigarette in the fresh breeze. All my exuberance left me:
I felt chill air on my back.
I realized I was shivering when she described me critically: ". . . standing
there like that." I shrugged this off, denying it, and suggesting that she
might be cold. I was grateful that she was. I fell to one knee and put my
sweater over her shoulders; while crossing the sleeve arms in front of her
I then dropped to both knees.
"What will you do in the west?" she asked, relieving the tension. "I mean
aside from this scholarship at the University, will you work?" I leaned back
on my heels and repeated mechanically what I had been saying all week
to friends, family, boss —
"I have a job in Seattle after school and weekends. I'll be working for a
cousin there, a photo-finisher, delivering photos to his lab. I'm an old hand,
you know, at deliveries. I started with kosher chickens, pizzas, bottles . . .
and now photos."
She laughed fully now and said that I was moving up in the world.
"Not up," I replied excitedly, "just out, sort of horizontally ahead." I
remember mellowing into a new kind of feeling: "Crystal, I will miss you."
I said this while trying to toy with her hair carefully: "I'm just beginning
really to know you."
"You were always just a kid to me, a delivery boy." She added thoughtfully, "You seem completely different."
I was just settling down beside her, about to touch her shoulder and to
tell her about this feeling "different," when a powerful beam broke in. We
sat up, stirred, feeling ridiculous. I couldn't see because the light was blinding, nor could I hear the voice too well because of the pounding waves;
but I detected a policeman's foolish questioning whatever were we doing
there? Before I could answer, he shouted something about putting something on and getting the hell out of there at a certain time. Then, with a
final loud exclamation, "—and none of your lip," he was gone.
All we could do now was snuggle on the cushions. With her snickering,
14 I felt relieved that finally we were being forced together to enjoy a kind
of helplessness. But Crystal reached for something, and again I suspected,
with disappointment, that she wanted to go home. It was my shirt, quite
wet, which she was trying to spread over her legs. We were both fidgeting.
I flipped the shirt away, and leaned over while mimicking the cop: "None
of your lip!" All of it: I tried to search that smile of hers. I was nervous
so I offered her a cigarette, but she nodded no; instead she pulled my cigarette from my lips to hers, took a drag with apparent satisfaction, holding it
to her lips until she inhaled again — and so I kissed her.
Was it time to ball? To be grown? I remembered then Lionel's caustic
voice when he once caught me off guard with my hands in my trouser
pockets: "—Leave it ... it will grow!" Suddenly, I took one mighty leap:
the noisy travelogue seemed to end, and this Crystal Schwartzapple stretched
out ahead with me for a new quiet sharing. She wouldn't let me pull my
mouth away. I could feel deep inside mine the pulsing of her lips, and they
were spreading as our teeth touched, sliding wet and smoothly in a rhythm.
Now I could hear the last of that singsong refrain from the old hide-and-
seek street game — ready or not here I come: ready this time puckered for
winter and spring, and pressed tight on this summer beach night, lips pursed
ready for the fall.
It seemed the mind might leave its thoughts behind
Lost in La Roya leaping down its ridges,
Lost in spray from the falls, rain in the wind,
While the road curled under the rock and the wrecked bridges.
All the way up white villages back to the wall
High as they could climb, and Tende beckoned
The mind, like a refuge, forward; highest of all
Up on its col. It was not quite what I'd reckoned.
But repose on an edge. The waters hurried away;
A tunnel pulled toward Turin, to Nice a cleft,
Like an equals sign where unstable equations sway.
(High level bridges all blown when the Germans left.)
We shan't be here again. But do not grieve;
This is the place I think we shall not leave.
(Mexico City)
The first element of height
being provided
perhaps rather prosaically
by the altitude:
a plateau seven thousand feet up
in the thick night mist,
in the east end of a city
that's all one big east end,
feeling rather than seeing
stunted figures
slipping shawled and sandal-footed
in and out of tenuous lanes.
Sounding in desperate strains from every corner
the incessant liturgy of the vendor's chant
the hoarse and frantic hawkers of the National Lottery
wailing into the night
and one blind ticket seller
roaring insanely above the others,
the whites of his atrophied eyeballs
turned upwards and sideways,
moaning to the turning of the thumbscrews of poverty . . .
The second ascension
being tendered
by the simple solvent medium of 90% proof Tequila
splitting you lengthwise on the down draught
like drinking dry cleaning fluid . . .
High in the Mariachi Square
where roving bands of muscular mendicant musicians
slit the odd throat between numbers
or as one friendly denizen proffered
in a purely impartial spirit:
"Amigo, if I were you I'd get the hell out of here."
16 High in a square in the east end
a musical plaza
where guitars literally hung from the trees
and prosperous Mexicans came in cars
opening the window just a slit
to hand out fifty pesos for a serenade.
When out of nowhere one band of these musical mercenaries
moved perhaps by some vague feeling of troubadour heritage
actually played a number for nothing
a flamenco accompaniment
for some elderly people of the square;
an old couple of the slums
elderly peons in rags
who, with the grace of a duke and duchess
executing a minuet in an eighteenth century court,
struck up a light and polished gypsy dance:
light and sprightly
graceful and balanced
despite their age
and their clumsy tattered sandals
squishing on orange peels and beer bottle wrappers
and despite their thick squat limbs
and the occasional cacaphonious twang of a loose guitar string
despite it all
and amidst it all
a spontaneous act of artistic self-assertion
a dance in the cobbled streets
astride the orange peels and beer bottle wrappers
a work of art
providing the third
and all time high
for the night.
Then Kwatte the Trickster came upon a large whirlpool in the
sea and looking down he saw Subbus the Whale yawning with boredom at the world. Then Kwatte went round and round the whirlpool, watching always with trickster eyes and finally down he went
in ever closer ever smaller circles until he sailed his canoe right into
the mouth of Subbus. Darkness was about him but Kwatte flailed
with his spear and the whale died and floated ashore and all the
Indians gathered about him and began to hack at him with their
axes when from inside came a small voice saying: "Do not kill me!
Do not kill me! I am Kwatte the Trickster!"
Northwest Indian Tale
Beneath me, shining and red from the slanted afternoon sun, the twisting,
swirling upturned faces of the crowd, laughing and gawking, a sea of
mouths, whirling themselves into a vortex, the mouths becoming one, now
motionless, still, open, waiting to swallow, to envelop, to devour me. Whack!
I wolfed a ball of spit together and let fly at them. I waved my fist at them.
I ran around my tiny platform and jumped up and down. I blew my nose.
The crowd was delighted. I tore my hair. I sat in my tent and considered
dumping the contents of the Little Giant Sanitary Can on them. Ha! That
18 would do it. But then they would force me to come down. What if I
wouldn't? Then they would chop up the flagpole and down I would come
anyway. They would execrate me. I ran out of my tent and spit at them
again. Whist! Whaff! They twisted, twirled, whirled beneath me. I sat on
the edge of the platform and aimed a good one at them between my overhung legs. Whack! I watched the tiny globule float downwards, carried here
and there by the easy wind. A fat red-faced man in a straw hat glanced
upward. It got him smack in the eye. Ha! He shook his fist at me. The
crowd roared. The fat man pulled out a large white handkerchief and
wiped his face. A tiny dirty-faced boy with a large sucker stared gap-toothed
up at me. I let one fly at him. This time the crowd was wise. A circle void
of people suddenly formed in the twisted arms, legs, faces beneath and the
white frothy mess landed bull's eye! in the middle.
Now the sun touched the western horizon, turning the ocean into a million golden spears that shot forward into the crowd, dispersing them, making
them think of home, sending them scurrying towards a last ride on the
Loop-the-Loop or the Daredevil Trail before supper. I watched them move
off, little groups of peopled blackness, toward the other parts of the Amusement Park. A few persons remained, gawking up at my legs swinging over
the side of the platform, and reading the large sign which glared forth in
large black letters the notice that I was Kwatte, The Flagpole Sitter, and
further, that I had been sitting up here for sixty-three days (tomorrow
would be sixty-four and the next day would be sixty-five and yesterday had
been sixty-two and ten years from now would be three thousand seven
hundred and sixteen, counting leap-year which would happen twice, but
also thinking that they would have to paint a new sign so that a number
that large could be attached daily, perhaps knowing too that the Little Giant
Sanitary Disposal Can would burst and explode by that time) and that I
intended to stay up here until the Amusement Park closed for the winter.
What the sign didn't say because they who painted it and who sent up my
meals daily in a bucket could not possibly know, was that I wasn't coming
down at the end of the season. I was staying right up here and they would
have to build a large sign to hold more numbers and send up endless tin
buckets of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and sooner or later, a new Little
Giant Sanitary Disposal Can.
I couldn't possibly come down, you see. I am afraid. But all this will be
explained later. Now I want to tell you about life on the flagpole, or as I
sometimes think of it, the finger. It occurs to me that this is perhaps the
reason I draw such a crowd, maybe they like to see me sitting up here,
perpetually goosed. Maybe they feel sympathy for me. I don't know. That
isn't why I'm here however. I'm up here because I'm too frightened to go
down. How I came to be here doesn't really matter. It doesn't matter how
people get where they are. The real problem is that they are where they
are, and that is horrible. Not really though! Only if they stop to think about it. Then the terror begins. Then it doesn't make any difference if they know
how they got where they are or not. No difference whatsoever.
That's my problem, you see. That's why I'm frightened. I sit here and
I listen to the screams of the young girls riding the Loop-the-Loop and the
Daredevil Trail, but inside me there is a louder screaming; a more terrible
and real screaming. If I could get it out: if I could spit it out at the crowd
perhaps it would leave me. But then maybe they have it inside them too.
Who knows?
Across from me I watch the whale swallowing people. It devours them
whole. The whale's eyes reflect the people waiting their turn to be eaten.
It distorts them. It twists them into fat people, thin people, squat people,
round people, square people. It tells them things about themselves. Inside,
the whale has many more eyes, glass eyes that stare at you and you see
reflected in them things about yourself.
For this, the people pay twenty-five cents so that they can go and get
themselves lost in the maze of mirrors and stare and gawk at themselves.
Me they can look at for nothing, but what have I to say? Subbus, the whale,
has plenty to tell them in the mirrored by-ways of his guts. When they
come out the exit door near the tail, they are purified, they are cleansed,
they are sanctified. They know something more than when they came in.
It is dangerous, though, to pay your twenty-five cents and go look at the
shiny intestines of Subbus. You might get lost. I am told that his esophagus
is over one-hundred yards long, all twisted and coiled and tricky — really,
not like a whale's esophagus at all. The esophagus mirrors are all of a special
kind. They break you up into pieces so you will be ready for the stomach.
Imagine a hundred yards of being broken into pieces! Hard to take, I
should say. Besides, it is possible to wander off into the trachea. In there,
you are a goner, for there is a wind machine that blows and the mirrors
turn you into a streamer that waves back and forth. The people who are
wise turn back and get going on their way toward the stomach, but some,
I am told, get right into the lungs. There, the mirrors make you small, so
small in fact, that you feel that you are going to be sucked into the blood
and devoured forever somewhere in the millions of tiny holes that line the
floor and the ceiling: sucked into the blood and swallowed forever somewhere into the unknown parts. That done, you are lost. Better to go on to
the stomach, stay on the right road.
The stomach makes you round. Pumping noises are heard. Growl! A dash
of hydrochloric acid — one smells it. You feel things taken from you. You
feel your juices going. You are a million times round, lost, tossed, and
bounced. Easily digestible. The better to devour you with. You are worked
over. You walk around. Rumble! The floor shakes. An earthquake! The
mirrors rattle, you are bounced and tumbled, turned here and there, rounded
out some more, smoothed, surfaced, polished, garnished, rumpled, rambled,
rombled, whoosh! a bowel movement, the floor opens, you fall, crash! small- ness, tightness, smugness. You are in the small intestine. Squish! A touch of
bile. Blish! Out go the lights: you are clanked and banged forward into
Movement, jerk, crash! the lights go on, a red glare, the inner regions,
the lights dim, red, purple, brown, deep brown. The mirrors have made you
lumpy. You have lumps all over you. The intestine widens, noises are heard,
growling sounds. Light ahead. An opening and closing, a flashing light. The
walls get smaller. You are pushed, squashed, the mirrors disappear, blackness, the walls move in on you, press you, form, mold, develop, squeeze,
crash! collision with a wall, lightness, push, a door opens, whoosh! and out
you go, a magnificent turd, still wearing your straw hat, into the brightness
of day and the cooling ocean breeze.
All this for twenty-five cents. It is not hard to see why Subbus, the whale,
is the most popular spot in the amusement park. There are days when the
line of people waiting to be devoured extends past my flagpole and right
up to the ticket house by the Daredevil Trail. Subbus takes all comers: he
devours them endlessly and without effort. His mouth twitches, woolf! another victim disappears. Pop! yet another is ejected from the tiny door near
the tail. This is money well spent, I dare say! Better than I can do, at any
rate. I have no tricky mirrors, flashing lights, and rumbling rooms to offer
them. I cannot sanctify them as Subbus does. No! Of what good am I to
the gaping crowd below? All I can really do, you see, is to sit up here in my
black tights and sneer at them, shake my fist at them, spit at them. I am
a good preparation for Subbus. I give them something for which they can
be purified.
The sun has disappeared completely now. To the east, the lights from
the city begin to blink on. In the early evening, there is a moment of stillness.
Even Subbus seems sated for the moment. I watch the sideshow fat man
stroll away from the large tent next to the Daredevil Ride. He is carrying
a bunch of bananas. He tears one from the stalk and munches it, forgetting
to remove the peel. Allegro, the Alligator Boy follows him, hungrily eyeing
the bananas. Allegro has skin like sandpaper. He strikes matches on his
forehead. He was born that way. When he was three years old, his frantic
mother dropped him into a tub of boiling water. It hardened him up. It
toasted him. He screamed. He enjoyed it. It was something he could feel.
The fat man turned and gave the Alligator Boy a banana. He peeled it
and stuffed it into his mouth. His jaws moved from side to side. I could
hear a rasping sound. Part of his sideshow act consists of filing away an
inch or so from a block of wood with his tongue. At the beginning of the
summer, he starts off with a block of wood about four feet square. By
season's end, going at this a bit every day, he has the whole thing filed down
to a small round piece of wood about the size of a marble. He keeps these
little pieces of wood in a jewel case.
Last week, I dropped my rope ladder and he came up to visit me, carry- ing his jewel case under his scaly arm. He showed me his little round pieces
of wood. There were thirteen of them. He picked them up one by one and
held them closely to his glazed eyes. He blinked at me and rolled a piece
of wood around in his hand. We pulled out cigarettes. He struck a match
on his forehead, lit us up, and pushed the burning stick up his nostril. His
mouth smoked. He rolled the wooden marble faster between his fingers. I
watched as he lit another match and held it under his arm. His face grew
rapturous. "It is something I can feel," he said.
Below me, the fat man had given Allegro another banana, and the two of
them walked off toward the ocean. Soon the crowds would be coming back.
The man who ran the Loop-the-Loop was oiling the machinery and wiring
parts together. He banged his head on a steel bar and swore. Further on,
they were oiling the tracks of the Daredevil Trail. A man was checking the
safety apparatus. Last summer, I am told, a car had left the rails. Six people
were killed. There was an investigation. Things have been straightened up
since. In a way, it's really too bad the authorities have gone to so much
trouble. Takes all the fun out of riding the Daredevil Trail, I should say.
Still, the authorities haven't found a way to keep the passengers from standing up in their seats. Three weeks ago a young fellow stood up at the wrong
time and collided with one of the overhanging structures. Whist! off went
his head, pfft! just like that. He finished the ride in a seated position, but
his head ended up in a gentleman's lap who was lunching at the hamburger
stand. Quite a travelogue, indeed. I had a good view of the whole thing.
The head was clipped off neatly at the neck and just kept on going, not
even a twist, mind you, right in a perfect arc to the lap of the gentleman
who was munching his hamburger.
The safety inspectors came and looked around again, of course, but what
could they do? If a man wants to stand up and look around him, it's his
God-given privilege. After all, there aren't many privileges left. Adds a
touch of reality too. Things can get pretty dull sitting on top of a flagpole.
Boredom. That's the essence of life up here. Nothing to do all day except
sit and look at the crowds swirling around beneath me. After awhile all
the people begin to look alike. They are all sweating and wiping their red
bloated faces with huge white handkerchiefs as if they were covering their
shame. They all wear straw hats, or cheap kerchiefs and every last one of
them carries a kewpie doll.
One night I dreamed that I had become a kewpie doll and the crowds
were firing the target guns so that they could carry me off. It was horrible.
There were twenty-four iron buffalos in a row and all one had to do was
shoot them down. Bam! Bam! Bam! They were shooting machine guns at
me! I was lost. It was unfair. Bam! Bam! Bam! They had me! A fist grabbed
me. I was carried off into the mob. Pushing, grunting, sweating. It was
terrible. Right toward the mouth of Subbus we went. Ugh! His eyes flashed
at me. They twisted me so that I couldn't even find sanctuary in being a kewpie doll. I was all black. I looked closer. Who was I? Where was I?
What was I? The huge jaws of Subbus came closer. I grabbed frantically
for his mirrored eyes. Too late. We were swallowed.
I woke up waving my hands wildly toward Subbus. I was halfway off the
platform. Quite a crowd had collected. They were upside down. Allegro
was standing upside down outside his tent, thrusting match after match
into his nose. He was excited. It occurred to me that I was leaning over
the platform backwards. I rolled over. Things came aright. The crowd
began to scatter. Allegro disappeared into his tent, his nose full of matches.
It was a good lesson. Now I am more careful when I sleep.
Sometime I turn toward the ocean. I pick a wave and follow it in. This
is hard to do. It takes experience and a certain amount of cleverness. You
could get confused and lose your wave. Maybe you would get them mixed
up. Then what would you do? Then what would be the use of watching
the waves at all? You have to follow it from the beginning, right from the
moment when it is a tiny movement far out. You have to watch it grow,
swell, fall and tumble over itself, and swell again into a rounded fullness.
Then you have to watch it die. That's the best part of all. It grows into a
greatness, it exerts itself, it reaches toward you. Ah! You know it can't last.
Crash! down it goes and spatters itself into foaming bubbles at your feet.
It hisses at you. It tries to take you with it. Woosh! Its gone. That's the
way to look at the waves. It's best to start at the beginning and follow
through. They have meaning then. Just looking at the waves splattering
themselves on the beach is no good. You've got to go through the whole
thing with them.
But now I know that my little game of following the waves in is really
no good. I cheat at it. I fool myself. I am aware that there is confusion out
there and that it isn't the distinct individual wave that takes form for a
moment before it splashes itself to eternity, but in reality it is the mass of
things: the ocean, the earth, the creaking jerky push and pull of the tides
that I am seeing take place beneath me. That takes all the fun out of it.
It really puts a different face on wave-watching.
I tried to explain all this to Allegro one day. He shook his scaly head.
He stuck matches up his nostril. "I can't feel it," he said. It was no use.
How do you explain anything to a person like that? That's the trouble with
Allegro. He doesn't feel things. He's impervious. He's locked himself in.
Below me, the crowds had begun to come back for the evening. The
machinery of the Daredevil Trail began to clank. The Loop-the-Loop
whirred. Subbus yawned. Noises came from inside him. Allegro and the
fat man strolled past his gaping mouth toward the sideshow tent. The
crowd began to swirl and cluster now, expanding and contracting, breathing
like a living thing, a rolling mass, a beast, a snake, a toad, a monkey, a
medusa-headed thing ebbing back and forth, staring up at me, gawking at
the side-show, riding the Loop-the-Loop and the Daredevil Trail, winning
23 kewpie dolls, crawling now, a monstrous thing, a black fungus, an evil
growth that covered and distorted the peace of the flowing ocean. Whack!
I spit at them. They roared. Monkeys and goats! Subbus will get them. Sub-
bus waits. Whoom! I let one fly at the crowd and get a skinny woman right
smack. Crash! She drops her kewpie doll.
A great hate is within me. I grind and bump. I swear and snort. I shuffle
around. The crowd roars with delight. Hotcha! I hear them yell. Go! Go!
I hear them shout. Go where? That's the question. Where would I go? It
is not only hate that is within me. It is loneliness too. I think I've got the
loneliness of the world up here on the flagpole with me. It sings softly to
me. I hear it singing now, softly, shrill, a flutelike thing, inside me. But
it can grow, you know. It can become a whole symphony orchestra. Raa!
It can grow! Writhe, turn ,twist, a swelling thing like the crowd below, a
real thing, a live thing. I follow its involutions. They stagger me. They
envelop me. They strangle me. Loneliness is a living thing. I embrace it.
I accept it. I welcome it.
Night deepens. The crowd begins to thin out. They move off toward
family, friends, home. They too have that flutelike thing within them, but
they wouldn't tell you about it. Perhaps they don't really know that it is
there. Subbus could tell them. Subbus could tell them about themselves.
But maybe it would be best if they didn't know; complacency is better than
truth. That's why I try to be complacent about watching the waves. But it
is no use. I know that what I am trying to see is not really there. It's not a
bad thing to accept, either. Really, it isn't, especially if you happen to like
sitting on a flagpole listening to the wind-dry flute singing within you.
I crawl into my tent. I pull the blackness over me like a blanket. The
waves crash regularly on the beach. No! Now they are out of step. Wait!
No! It's an aural illusion, stereophonic. I try to shut the irregular roar out
of my mind. No use. They keep pounding in. I can't seem to get things
straight. It's a terrible thing, listening to the waves get in and out of step
like this. It could drive you mad. No, that is not a good word. It doesn't
explain much at all. It is a term. It means nothing. It fixes things for a
moment. It wraps things up in a taut string. Snap! the string breaks. Things
tumble around, get lost, trampled, bruised, picked up, reorganized. A tragic
rhythm. It goes on.
The sand-dry flute begins within me. It rasps. It keeps a rhythm with
the waves. They get together. They get synchronized. They get arolling.
It's a terrible music they play, a sonorous sonata, a surrogate symphony, an
oceanic opera, a rattling rock-and-roll. It rattles me. It grinds me. I get big.
My arms are heavy. The waves pour into my blood. Crash! The heaviness
passes. I float. Blackness. Void. Rhythm. Beating of Drums. Song. Vision.
This Is. This is the Way. This is the way we Go. This is the way we go to
Sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep. Early in the evening.
The morning strives with lightness. The dawn has uncovered me. I am
24 cold. I listen to the waves. They break regularly. I peep out from my tent.
The light hurts my eyes. I blink. Allegro is walking back and forth in front
of my flagpole. I wave to him. He lifts a scaly hand. The tin bucket is sitting
on the edge of the platform. I lower it over the side. Allegro goes to fetch
my breakfast. The bucket sways in mid-air. It hits the ground and flips
over. I wait. Allegro comes back carrying a steaming plate. He places it
in the bucket. I pull it up. The plate of food stares up at me. I see pancakes, syrup swallowed, with a yellow eye on top. The yellow eye looks at
me. It wiggles back and forth. It slides and sloshes. I stab at it with my
fork. The eye breaks. Squirt! I sop things up. I slosh around. Yellow
mouthed, the broken eye weeping from my lips, I stir the fork around.
The Amusement Park gets ready for the day. Below me, they are greasing
the machinery, getting things going, fixing up the Daredevil Trail and the
Loop-the-Loop. Subbus growls inside. Noises surround me. The waves break.
I look around, frightened, amazed, awake. I blink. I stir the bottom of the
tin bucket with my fork. Brawk! I dump its lumpy contents over the side.
Ah! if the crowd were here, I could cover them.
They will soon be below, beneath me, shining and red from the slanted
morning sun, twisting and twirling with their upturned face, laughing and
gawking, a sea of mouths, whirling themselves into a vortex, still, open,
waiting to swallow. Ah! to dump things on them, that would do it. But
then they would force me to come down. What if I wouldn't come down?
But then they would chop up the flagpole, and down I would come anyway. They will execrate me. They will slaughter me. Murder! Ah! But
I must go down sometime. That is the final thing, don't you see. Even the
twisting, twirling crowd knows that. They wait for me. They walk around.
Subbus knows all this. Mouth open, he waits too. He has surprises. He has
things to tell me. I must go down. Everyone knows that. I'm afraid. The
ocean roars. The dry-flute plays. I must go down and tell them about the
waves. Slaughter! Murder! Goats and Monkeys! Whack! Whist! The beginning and the ending. Subbus could tell you. He is waiting. He has things
to say. He fools us all. He is the trickster. He is lying there, twisted, ugly,
(Where you become such kingdom I allow)
In young mondays you walked giant leagues
of loveland. I know this —
you have a door where the mouth should be,
is proven entered by the lip
rolled back regally in a smile
princes widen when
their fleet of kiss-ships
anchor in heart-harbours.
Small days braided tightly
with sound of high horses testing terrain,
made parallel the timid, swift-purloined
glances, chances of your eye
on flesh loved —
fingers inspired against breast,
lips querying the thread of throat.
Once loved, O wild!
Then laugh! I've entered
your yesterday . . .
When I was thin ten, you'd already
stripped the fat years naked,
known love, known
the loud commerce of forms
under some night's elm-arms —■
while I was living long marriage-rites
in the wind's wide bedroom,
or resting colourful commonlaw
with the silent passion of peoni. . .
Say I've toboganned into your young Monday,
Say I've sprouted breasts in two hours,
Say I've drugged the watchman at time's gate,
regulating yawning years, flexing
the indefinite dimensions of love . . .
26 Love, they're coming now —
ten thousand high horsemen through the gate,
their steed's hooves tasting
this delicious land . . .
Look — they're passing us — the horsemen!
They're going on to tall tomorrow,
going on
He was an alchemist:
Made royal blue razzamatazz
offered green-sprouting hearts
one-a-day, like gummy insides
of coconuts. In short, was
monkey to her desires and detested
mass femininity despite the weather.
Promised to wash Eurasia off
the map in Cuban beer, circa
1961, laughed sin to dust, made
bubbles in the bones of her antipathies
as if holding a mechanic's license
with God's signature.
Didn't know better and was
sincere as sun on the desert or
waves by the wind at night. Glowed
as a beacon to lost ships of
misunderstanding, like forcing
words to do a man's work.
He was an alchemist in short,
but could not make her love him.
27 I
She looked into all the windows as she walked home along Newark Street.
Another September evening was dropping, dank and pale mauve, over the
petulant city and she had seen the river, outward bound and bearing the
summer away with it. So there was left only the lull that marks the moment
before fall, with the people in their homes, all waiting, but meanwhile quite
busy and cheerfully intent upon their various activities.
Opposite, the Burtons had their shades up and the rooms all lit so that
there they were, open to the world, manipulating their deep-frozen, quick-
fried suppers in front of the television set, eyeing the screen and chewing
in vacant thoughtfulness.
Mona saw Mrs. Burton half rise in her seat and glower out at her, forcing
her to pretend that she wasn't really looking at their sprawling intimacy but
was actually admiring the rose-bush in the front-yard . . . the bedraggled,
aphid-eaten rose-bush . . .
Feeling heavy and unwieldy, which she was, she passed the vacant lot
which also waited, gaping and littered, then the Carnovich's where the lace
curtains hid all but their quick, shadowed movements. Then home, up the
long drag of eight cracked, stone steps to the trim, grim front door that
28 Mrs. Harker kept newly painted and brass-polished and glass-polished so
that the cracked steps wouldn't matter so much.
She let herself in and smelled Mrs. Harker's pseudopine scent hanging
threateningly through the house, then, more slowly, hauled herself up the
thread-barely, genteelly carpeted stairs to her one and only room. With a
view. Because it looked out onto many little kitchens with window-boxes on
their ledges, all flowerful, and everyone around had one square yard of
irritatingly green lawn, all to be seen from Mona's window. And it made
quite a nice, colorful showing, Mrs. Harker had said, duster, as usual, in
hand and hoping for some appreciation.
Mona, heaving for breath, sat down into a weak creak of a wicker chair
and put her keys away in her purse, this being her excuse for sitting down
before removing her coat and putting away her gloves in her little top
She felt like making something special for her dinner tonight. Owing to
the fact that she was a rather large and plain old maid of thirty-eight — a
pair of humorous, listening eyes being the only thing to recommend her as
far as looks went — it was not generally realised that she was highly skilled
in the art of the cuisine, brilliant, little French dishes being her particular
She would make a cheese souffle and sit herself down at the precise
moment to sample the precisely perfect first bite. And Earl could be there.
Earl, the man of her all too frequent dreams, came and went in his furtive
little manner only at the times when her need was greatest. He was the boy
who twenty-three years ago had sat down on the stairs with her at a party
and had lit a cigarette and had looked at her face in the matchlight and
had said "Oh, no!" and had leapt up and lightly dashed down the stairs
and into the crowd of the party and had started telling them about this
uproariously funny incident on the stairs. And because of this and the sallow,
delicate beauty of the fingers that had held the match and his utter unaware-
ness of her as human, she had fallen in love with him. But it wasn't a sweet
and nice, moon-and-roses kind of love, it was deep and grinding and hands
reaching down inside her, pulling, until she found herself making sounds
like a sick child moaning now and then in its sleep.
But now, after all these years, it seemed there was some kind of an acceptance of her. Tonight, like the other nights, she would put her souffle in the
oven and just before it would be precisely ready she would send Gigli turning on the turn-table and he would serenade "O Lola" in his always heartbroken voice and the pain of the Sicilian moonlight would again fill her
with longing. And suddenly Earl would be there, gulping her souffle as fast
as she served it to him. She would come up behind him at the kitchen
table in her dining-bedroom and cradle his perfectly shaped, greasy, black-
curled head against her Mother Nature's bosom; he would turn in his
chair,   swallowing  the  last  of his  souffle  and  hungrily clasp  her motherly
29 natural hips and over they would go to the bed-sitting-room bed. She would
smell the egg on his breath and his unwashed hair, but would know also
his pathetic shoulders and slender, girlish hands.
She had advanced twenty-three years, but Earl was quite ageless. Yet he
had come to accept her and he was no child, never had been, so this was
no kind of mother and son thing; oh, no. He was her sexy little fellow;
one of the hot-rod crowd, not unreasonably tough, but knowing what was
what just enough to enable him to get along all right. And Mona knew
that he knew that she was passionate if plain, loving if large, clinging if
clumsy and always knee deep in desire. Always.
And yet, after the souffle something very odd happened. For many years
now, in the fall, Mona had become accustomed to experiencing vague,
churning disturbances inside her. Around her in the city, the people were
coming to life after a long, drowsy summer and were suddenly getting about,
registering for courses, forming clubs, all plunging feverishly into something
new and Mona invariably found herself affected by their fervour. Previously,
she had placed a Gigli or a Tagliavini on the turn-table and had sat, listening and lost, until the feeling shrivelled within her. But tonight, standing in
her bed-sitting-kitchen, drying her one of each dishes, the strange inner
churnings happened to be coincident with her eye falling at random on a
certain little squared-off ad. in her propped up newspaper.
The Evening Star was announcing in all studious earnestness that Martin
Eastwood School was offering evening classes in a variety of interesting
subjects, both academic and vocational. As it happened, the Martin Eastwood School was just four blocks down Newark and one block left. She
could take French or Spanish Conversation, even Russian; there was English
Literature; or, to go all out with the thing, she could board a bus that went
direct to the University and sit in on a course of lectures given by Doctor
Beria himself.
Standing there with a dish in her excited hands, polishing it until it
nearly snapped, she knew that she could still get away from these walls
that weren't really closing in on her, it was just that she had this vivid
imagination and at times she could see herself closed in for ever, her and
little fat Gigli with his broken heart and Earl, coming and always going,
sexily and perpetually sure of himself.
She needed only to button on her coat, slamming the door behind her
because the catch didn't work unless it was slammed smartly, and stumble
off heavily and happily down the cracked steps into the welcoming September gloom.
And there would be lights at the end of the street and people going into
class-rooms, looking at each other in self-consciously friendly ways (You
too got sick to death of something or other?) and sitting down to listen,
hoping they looked intelligent — but warm anyway, and forgetting outside
30 She folded the washcloth and hung it into place, then unfolded it and
allowed it to drop into an untidy little heap in the sink. She was now
She would write a short note to Mother who, over in the east, was interfering unhappily with the rest of the family and who, from the time she
had seen Mona born onto the bed, a great, silent lump of a baby, had made
it plain that she didn't want to touch her. So that Mona, guided by an
early-trained reflex, had always moved away from her mother's unexpected,
accidental nearnesses — moved away and her heart crying out, O mother,
take me in your arms, just once! A short note saying that she was planning
to continue her education from where it had been halted when Father
passed away (Mother wouldn't have 'died') and that Mother would understand if this and ensuing letters were a little brief for a while.
This was purely form as she knew that Mother wouldn't give a bloody
damn what she was planning to do and that as she tossed the letter into the
back of her bureau drawer, she would probably punctuate her action with
one of her most delicate of belches.
At the office, Miss Parsons would be furious, naturally. Looking up from
her automatic (while she thought bitchy thoughts) journal entering, only
the other day, she had said to Mona,
"Night classes start this week, you know. Why don't you take up something this winter?" Knowing all the time how Mona never took things up,
her glasses reflecting the murk on the office windows so that you only guessed
at her probing, hawking thoughts. How very fortunate for her that she was
near-sighted and taking off her glasses to look across at you gave her this
helpless, dazed look; for some reason, no one can help being soft around
these near-sighted people, blinking like lost owls as they sit hazily re-shining
their lens.
None of the girls in the office, each flurrying through her own whirl of
days, could bear to think of Mona cooped up in her small dead-sitting-
room with only Gigli, and they suspected that she must be a bit queer in
the head the way she talked, as if she knew all about it, as if she really
knew her way around and yet look at her, for Christ's sake!
"You really should get out more." Parsons had continued in her neatly
efficient voice, "There are all sorts of interesting things going on around
you, you know." Then, smiling, almost complacently, "Life is passing
you by."
Mona had felt a small tremor of panic as she thought of Life actually
passing her so far by that she could even see it, an infinitesimal speck, heading steadfastly into the distance while she sat in stillness in the deathly calm
of her cemetery-sitting-room.
She stood up, licking the gummed envelope rim so deliberately that it cut
her tongue. She said to the kitchen, "Father, I am going out into the world
to seek my fortune," and made her way out into the living September night.
31 The chill, yellow air made her pull up her coat collar around her throat,
its friendly, rough wool nestling warmly so that all was well as she clutched
her letter in one hand and her collar in the other and made her way to go
past the vacant lot where the car was sitting by the curb, its engine throbbing
gently and no lights on, the door moving open softly and the young man's
low-pitched, odd voice saying something. To her.
Yes, of course, he'd be wanting the night-school. With her friendly, helpful look all ready she went to the car and bent down to look inside. All
helpful, even then, as the revolver in his hand looked sullenly back at her,
not in keeping with any of this. She couldn't get the helpful look off her
face at all as she stayed bending down, listening to his terse instructions.
She was to cross the vacant lot in front of him, to the shed at the back, the
door was open and she was to go inside and if she so much as squeaked
she would get this in her guts. The fixed, helpful and interested expression
never left her face as she went in front of him, knowing full well she should
scream and run.
But she wasn't the screaming type.
Well, what about running?
And how far would she get weighing a hundred and sixty pounds besides
being out of condition? And anyway, she had just discovered that life, now
exquisite with its possibilities so recently opened up before her like a box
of gems, was not to be thrown away on a vacant lot.
She stumbled over a brick. She felt the damp stringiness of overgrown
weeds on the floor of the shed. She smiled sadly up at him as he pulled
away her clothing and she felt his bare, young legs on hers; it was all so
sadly ridiculous.
"Big girl, aren't you?" he said afterwards as he got up and re-arranged
his pants with one hand, awkward, with the revolver pointing in all directions in the other.
He somehow got a cigarette to his mouth and lit it and she noted with
not the slightest surprise the slender, dirty hands cupping the light, so briefly
that she didn't see his face. But she had smelled his hair and his breath and
it was none of it surprising.
She was to return to the car, leading the way still, and he would be driving off but this gat would be waving in her direction so she needn't bother
getting too smart.
She stood by the roadside seeing only his hands gracefully steering the
car into the night. She felt the little moaning sounds rising inside her and
was glad of the chill in the air which would perhaps help her to pull herself together.
How far would he get, she wondered out of a haze, because it seemed
there was no licence plate on the back of the car; not that she had deliberately looked for it (I'm too stupid, she thought, I'm not doing any of the
right things). But it didn't matter suddenly, any of it, as she climbed long,
32 thousands of eight cracked, stone steps, past Mrs. Harker gaping and gawking and why the hell did she still have to be holding a duster in her hand
at this time of night, up the other stairs . . . what was Harker whining about?
"Are you all right, Miss Teasdale?"
O, fine, you bloody old moron, I've just been raped. Gaily she should
say it, just to see her expression. And tomorrow, at the office. Now that
could be something. She could prance in, laughing, bubbling over . . .
"Girls, guess what happened last night?" Girlishly, as if she'd become
Their faces would look across at her expectantly, like silly, surprised
"Darlings,  at last it's happened,"  she would gush,  "I've been raped!"
They wouldn't know what to do. Miss Parsons would remove her spectacles nervously and clean them with her three-inch square of anti-mist,
silicone-treated cotton supplied compliments of G. Atkinson and Son, your
friendly optometrists, Visit us and You'll See, polishing round and round,
madly. Miss Parsons who hadn't a clue about what went on in the world,
it certainly never happening to her . . . furiously polishing . . .
Mona sat into her creak of a tired wicker chair that held her kindly as
she removed her wet shoes and torn nylons that had blood on them. She
stood at the sink and removed the crumpled, wet heap of washcloth and
put the nylons to soak in a warm detergent foam, plunging her hands in
with them to know the comfort of the water and feeling, as she remained
standing, the horrible force of shock pound through her frame.
I should sit down and keep warm and drink hot tea, she thought in
dreariness, remembering old first-aid remedies. I should call Harker and
make her render first-aid to me. Render unto Caesar. That would teach
her to stand around dusting all hours of the day and night.
Remaining with her arms in the water, leaning on them, feeling the
water slowly growing cold, Mona thought about Mrs. Harker and all the
people dusting and playing records in their small, lost rooms. She thought
about them and saw them in the flash of a final, rending grief and then
it became rather difficult to think of them with any sort of concentration
because as she stood, there began stealthily creeping over her the realization
that the treacherous walls around her were, at last, calmly moving in. Quite
gradually, though, so that you could hardly see them moving . . .
She stayed as if looking into the foam, hearing the crackle of bursting
bubbles as she smiled to herself, deliberately not turning around to look at
the walls, feigning nonchalance quite cleverly, really, while awaiting the
right moment. And as a door slammed somewhere down the street and
the walls paused, Mona seized her opportunity and, pretending she hadn't
noticed anything, turned and determinedly left the room.
It was all quite simple and she couldn't help feeling how silly people
were to stay cooped up in their rooms, and she was telling herself this as
33 she left the house followed by Mrs. Harker, quietly at her wits end upon
seeing Mona's bare feet.
They went out into the soft, shrugging night and it was then that Mona
understood as she passed along the street, witless Mrs. Harker terrified
behind her, that she must still keep a close watch because all about them
it seemed some kind of a plan was being put swiftly and efficiently into effect.
It was hard to define but it was unmistakably surrounding them like great,
silent arms, thick and subtle and lonely as cobwebs . . .
She strode along purposefully, but all the time watchful, her eyes darting
from side to side, her smile becoming strangely set. . .
Around them the late children's shouts were stifled into sadness as they
were called into their homes and above, a slightly bruised moon crept up
and hung dolefully over the known-to-be-approaching brittleness of winter.
A small bonfire
in a field
where crows
have destroyed the crop.
Signs of a storm to come.
Nathan Hale was a scarecrow,
Christ laughed on the cross,
Napoleon was friendless
and turned female.
Useless sometimes to ask
who is to blame;
a small bonfire
in a field
where crows
have destroyed the crop
may clear the air
for the storm to come.
Christ may not laugh
the next time. For all I know
Napoleon may even have friends.
This is no place for burning; only the flowers
Offer their cool flames to the gentle air,
And one who lit the fire that in this square
Consumed the vanities, by violent powers
Was here consumed. And still the cool stone towers
In Botticelli's sky. One, stair by stair,
Descending into hell's revealing flare,
They could not bear, and all succeeding hours
His flames must burn elsewhere.
Who may regret it?
Here, if here only, gentleness must ascend
Into the ascendant with Angelico.
The passion and all the pain, who may forget it?
(And they their recompense receive at end.)
But here let peace with pensive Arno flow.
Dear to God and famous to all ages,—
Not, alas, an easy integration.
Nice to be recognized across the nation,
Nice to be numbered with the saints and sages,
Nice to be valued for one's marvellous pages,
Nice to possess a golden reputation
Serene and high above the conflagration
And all the civil strife that daily rages.
And dear to God too. That would be the trick.
Dear to the great Creator and Sustainer,
Dear to the source of Light and heart of Love.
Best of both worlds, aware what makes them tick.
But, oh, what expectation could be vainer?
Hold, hold my hand. Then let both worlds remove.  TOMORROW-TAMER
a short story by
The dust rose like clouds of red locusts around the small stampeding
hooves of taggle-furred goats and the frantic wings of chickens with all
their feathers awry. Behind them the children darted, their bodies velvety
with dust, like a flash and tumble of brown butterflies in the sun.
The young man laughed aloud to see them, and began to lope after them.
Past the palms where the tapsters got wine, and the sacred grove that belonged to Owura, god of the river. Past the shrine where Nana Ayensu
poured libation to the dead and guardian grandsires. Past the thicket of
ghosts, where the graves were, where every leaf and flower had fed on
someone's kin, and the wind was the thin whisper-speech of ancestral spirits.
Past the deserted huts, clay walls runnelled by rain, where rats and demons
dwelt in unholy brotherhood. Past the old men drowsing in doorways, dreaming of women, perhaps, or death. Past the good huts with their brown baked
walls strong against any threatening night-thing, the slithering snake carrying in its secret sac the end of life, or red-eyed Sasabonsam, huge and hairy,
older than time and always hungry.
The young man stopped where the children stopped, outside Danquah's.
The shop was mud and wattle, like the huts, but it bore a painted sign,
green and orange. Only Danquah could read it, but he was always telling
people what it said. Hail Mary Chop Bar & General Merchant. Danquah
had gone to a mission school once, long ago. He was not really of the village,
but he had lived here for many years.
Danquah was unloading a case of beer, delivered yesterday by a lorry
named God Helps Those, which journeyed fortnightly over the bush trail
into Owurasu. He placed each bottle in precisely the right place on the
shelf, and stood off to admire the effect. He was the only one who could
afford to drink bottled beer, except for funerals, maybe, when people made
a show, but he liked to see the bright labels in a row and the bottletops
winking a gilt promise of forgetfulness. Danquah regarded Owurasu as a
mudhole. But he had inherited the shop, and as no one in the village had
the money to buy it and no one outside had the inclination, he was fixed
here forever.
He turned when the children flocked in. He was annoyed at them, because he happened to have taken his shirt off and was also without the old
newspaper which he habitually carried.
The children chuckled surreptitiously, hands over mouths, for the fat on
Danquah's chest made him look as though the breasts of a young girl had
been stuck incongruously on his scarred and aging body.
37 "A man cannot even go about his work," Danquah grumbled, "without a
whole pack of forest monkeys gibbering in his doorway. Well, what is it?"
The children bubbled their news, like a pot of soup boiling over, fragments cast here and there, a froth of confusion.
Attah the ferryman — away, away downriver (half a mile) —had told
them, and he got the word from a clerk who got it from the mouth of a
government man. A bridge was going to be built, and it was not to be at
Atware, where the ferry was, but — where do you think? At Owurasu!
This very place. And it was to be the biggest bridge any man had ever
seen — big, really big, and high — look, like this (as high as a five-year-
old's arm).
"A bridge, eh?" Danquah looked reflectively at his shelves, stacked with
jars of mauve and yellow sweets, bottles of jaundice bitters, a perfume
called Bint el Sudan, the newly arranged beer, two small battery torches
which the village boys eyed with envy but could not afford. What would
the strangers' needs be? From the past, isolated images floated slowly to
the surface of his mind, like weed shreds in the sluggish river. Highland
Queen whiskey. De Rezke cigarettes. Chivers' marmalade. He turned to the
young man.
"Remember, a year ago, when those men from the coast came here, and
walked all around with sticks, and dug holes near the river? Everyone said
they were lunatics, but I said something would come of it, didn't I? No
one listened to me, of course. Do you think it's true, this news?"
The boy grinned and shrugged. Danquah felt irritated at himself, that
he had asked. An elder would not have asked a boy's opinion. In any event,
the young man clearly had no opinion.
"How do I know?" the boy said. "I will ask my father, who will ask
Nana Ayensu."
"I will ask Nana Ayensu myself," Danquah snapped, resenting the implication that the boy's father had greater access to the chief than he did,
although in fact this was the case.
The young man's broad blank face suddenly frowned, as though the
news had at last found a response in him, an excitement over an unknown
"Strangers would come here to live?"
"Of course, idiot," Danquah muttered. "Do you think a bridge builds
Danquah put on his pink rayon shirt and his metal-rimmed spectacles
so he could think better. But his face remained impassive. The boy chewed
thoughtfully on a twig, hoisted his sagging loincloth, gazed at a shelf piled
with patterned tradecloth and long yellow slabs of soap. He watched the
sugar ants trailing in amber procession across the termite-riddled counter
and down again to the packed-earth floor.
Only the children did not hesitate to show their agitation. Shrilling like
38 cicadas, they swarmed and swirled off and away, bearing their tidings to
all the world.
Danquah maintained a surly silence. The young man was not surprised,
for the villagers regarded Danquah as a harmless madman. The storekeeper
had no kin here, and if he had relatives elsewhere, he never mentioned them.
He was not son or father, nephew or uncle. He lived by himself in the back
of his shop. He cooked his own meals and sat alone on his stoop in the
evenings, wearing food-smirched trousers and yellow shoes. He drank the
costly beer and held aloft his ragged newspaper, bellowing the printed
words to the toads that slept always in clusters in the corners, or crying
sadly and drunkenly, while the village boys peered and tittered without pity.
The young man walked home, his bare feet making light crescent prints
in the dust. He was about seventeen, and his name was Kofi. He was no
one in particular, no one you would notice.
Outside the hut, one of his sisters was pounding dried cassava into kokonte
meal, raising the big wooden pestle and bringing it down with an unvaried
rhythm into the mortar. She glanced up.
"I saw Akua today, and she asked me something," her voice was a teasing
Kofi pretended to frown. "What is that to me?"
"Don't you want to know?"
He knew she would soon tell him. He yawned and stretched, languidly,
then squatted on his heels and closed his eyes, miming sleep. He thought
of Akua as she had looked this morning, early, coming back from the river
with the water jar on her head, and walking carefully, because the vessel
was heavy, but managing also to sway her plump buttocks a little more
than was absolutely necessary.
"She wants to know if you are a boy or a man," his sister said.
His thighs itched and he could feel the slow full sweetness of his amiable
lust. He jumped to his feet and leapt over the mortar, clumsy-graceful as a
young goat. He sang softly, so his mother inside the hut would not hear.
"Do you ask a question,
Akua, Akua?
In a grove dwells an oracle,
Oh Akua —
Come to the grove when the village sleeps —"
The pestle thudded with his sister's laughter. He leaned close to her.
"Don't speak of it, will you?"
She promised, and he sat cross-legged on the ground, and drummed on
the earth with his outspread hands, and sang in the cool heat of the late
afternoon. Then he remembered the important news, and put on a solemn
face, and went in the hut to see his father.
39 His father was drinking palmwine sorrowfully. The younger children
were crawling about like little lizards, and Kofi's mother was pulling out
yams and red peppers and groundnuts and pieces of fish from bowls and
pots stacked in a corner. She said "Ha-ei ..." or "True, true . . ." to everything the old man said, but she was not really listening — her mind was on
the evening meal. Kofi dutifully went to greet his grandmother. She was
brittle and small and fleshless as the empty shell of a tortoise. She rarely
spoke, and then only to recite in her tenuous bird voice her geneology, or
to complain of chill. Being blind, she liked to run her fingers over the faces
of her grandchildren. Kofi smiled so that she could touch his smile. She
murmured to him, but it was the name of one of his dead brothers.
"And when I think of the distance we walked," Kofi's father was saying,
"to clear the new patch for the cocoyam, and now it turns out to be no
good, and the yams are half the size they should be, and I ask myself why
I should be afflicted in this way, because I have no enemies, unless you
want to count Donkor, and he went away ten years ago, so it couldn't be
him, and if it is a question of libation, who has been more generous than
I, always making sure the gods drank before the planting —"
He went on in this vein for some time, and Kofi waited. Finally his father
looked up.
"The government men will build a bridge at Owurasu," Kofi said. "So
I heard."
His father snorted.
"Nana Ayensu told me this morning. He heard it from Attah, but he
did not believe it. Everyone knows the ferryman's tongue has diarrhoea.
Garrulity is an affliction of the soul."
"It is not true, then?"
"How could it be true? We have always used the Atware ferry. There
will be no bridge."
Kofi got out his adze and machete and went outside to sharpen them.
Tomorrow he and his father would begin clearing the fallow patch beside
the big baobab tree, for the second planting of cassava. Kofi could clear
quickly with his machete, slicing through underbrush and greenfeather
ferns. But he took no pride in the fact, for every young man did the same.
He was sorry that there would be no bridge. Who knows what excitement might have come to Owurasu? But he knew nothing of such things.
Perhaps it was better this way.
A week later, three whitemen and a clerk arrived, followed by a lorry
full of tents and supplies, several cooks, a mechanic and four carpenters.
"Oh my Lord," groaned Gerald Wain, the contractor's superintendent,
climbing out of the Land-Rover and stretching his travel-stiffened limbs,
"is this the place? Eighteen months — it doesn't bear thinking about."
40 The silence in the village broke into turbulence. The women who had
been filling the water vessels at the river began to squeal and shriek. They
giggled and wailed, not knowing which was called for. They milled together, clambered up the clay bank, hitched up their long cloths and surged
down the path that led back to the village, leaving the unfilled vessels behind.
The young men were returning from the farms, running all together,
shouting hoarsely. The men of Owurasu, the fathers and elders, had gathered
outside the chief's dwelling and were waiting for Nana Ayensu to appear.
At the Hail Mary, Danquah found two fly-specked pink paper roses and
set them in an empty jam jar on his counter. He whipped out an assortment of bottles — gin, a powerful red liquid known as Steelwine, the beer
with their gleaming tops, and several sweet purple Moko-Moko which the
villagers could afford only when the cocoa crop was sold. Then he opened
wide his door.
In the centre of the village, under the sacred fire tree, Nana Ayensu and
the elders met the new arrivals. The leader of the whitemen was not young,
and he had a skin red as fresh-bled meat. Red was the favoured colour of
witches and priests of witchcraft, as everyone knew, so many remarks were
passed, especially when some of the children, creeping close, claimed to
have seen through the sweat-drenched shirt a chest and belly hairy as the
Sasabonsam's. The other two whitemen were young and pale. They smoked
many cigarettes and threw them away still burning, and the children
scrambled for them.
Badu, the clerk-interpreter, was an African but to the people of Owurasu
he was just as strange as the whitemen, and even less to be trusted, for he
was a coast man. He wore white clothes and pointed shoes and a hat like
an infant umbrella. The fact that he could speak their language did not
make the villagers any less suspicious.
"The stranger is like a child," Nana Ayensu said, "but the voice of an
enemy is like the tail of a scorpion — it carries a sting."
The clerk, a small man, slight and nervous as a duiker, sidled up to
weighty Opoku, the chief's spokesman, and attempted to look him in the
eye. But when the clerk began to speak his eyes flickered away to the gnarled
branches of the old tree.
"The wise men from the coast," Badu bawled in a voice larger than himself, "the government men who are greater than any chief — they have said
that a bridge is to be built here, an honour for your small village. Workmen
will be brought in for the skilled jobs, but we will need local men as well.
The bungalows and labourers' quarters will be started at once, so we can
use your young men in that work. Our tents will be over there on the hill.
Those who want to work can apply to me. They will be paid for what they
do. See to it that they are there tomorrow morning early. In this job we
waste no time."
The men of Owurasu stood mutely with expressionless faces. As for the
41 women, they felt only shame for the clerk's mother, whoever she might be,
that she had taught her son so few manners.
Badu, brushing the dust from his white sleeves, caught their soft deploring
voices and looked defiant. These people were bush — they knew nothing
of the world of streets and shops. But because they had once thrown their
spears all along the coast, they still scorned his people, calling them cowards
and eaters of fish-heads. He felt, as well, a dismal sense of embarrassment
at the backwardness of rural communities, now painfully exposed to the
engineer's eyes. He turned abruptly away and spoke in rapid stuttering
English to the superintendent.
With a swoosh and a rattle, the strangers drove off towards the river,
scattering goats and chickens and children from the path, and filling the
staring villagers' nostrils with dust. Then — pandemonium. What was happening? What was expected of them? No one knew. Everyone shouted at
once. The women and girls fluttered and chattered like parrots startled into
flame-winged flight. But the faces of the men were sombre.
Kofi came as close as he dared to the place where Nana Ayensu and the
elders stood. Kofi's father was speaking. He was a small and wiry man. He
plucked at his yellow and black cloth, twirling one end of it across his
shoulder, pulling it down, flinging it back again. His body twitched in anger.
"Can they order us about like slaves? We have men who have not forgotten their grandfathers were warriors —".
Nana Ayensu merely flapped a desolate hand. "Compose yourself, Kobla.
Remember that those of our spirit are meant to model their behaviour on
that of the river. We are supposed to be calm."
Nana Ayensu was a portly man, well-fleshed. His bearing was dignified,
especially when he wore his best kente cloth, as he did now, having hastily
donned it upon being informed of the strangers' approach. He was, however, sweating a great deal — the little rivers formed under the gold and
leather amulets of his headband, and trickled down his forehead and nose.
"Calm," he repeated, like an incantation. "But what do they intend to
do with our young men? Will there be the big machines? I saw them once,
when I visited my sister in the city. They are very large, and they feed on
earth, opening their jaws — thus. Jaws that consume earth could consume
a man. If harm comes to our young men, it is upon my head. But he said
they would be paid, and Owurasu is not rich "
Okomfo Ofori was leaning on his thornwood stick, waiting his turn to
speak. He was older than the others. The wrinkled skin of his face was hard
and cracked, as though he had been sun-dried like an animal hide. He had
lived a long time in the forest and on the river. He was the priest of the
river, and there was nothing he did not know. Watching him covertly, Kofi
felt afraid.
"We do not know whether Owura will suffer his river to be disturbed,"
Okomfo Ofori said. "If he will not, then I think the fish will die from the
42 river, and the oil palms will wither, and the yams will shrink and dwindle
in the planting places, and plague will come, and river-blindness will come,
and the snake will inhabit our huts because the people are dead, and the
strangler vines will cover our dwelling places. For our life comes from the
river, and if the god's hand is turned against us, what will avail the hands
of men?"
Kofi, remembering that he had casually, without thought, wished the
bridge to come, felt weak with fear. He wanted to hide himself, but who
can hide from his own fear and from the eyes of a god?
That night, Kofi's father told him they were to go to the sacred grove
beside the river. Without a word or question, the boy shook off sleep and
followed his father.
The grove was quiet. The only sounds were the clicking of palm boughs
and the deep low voice of Owura the river. Others were there — Kofi never
knew who — young men and old, his friends and his uncles, all now changed,
distorted, grown ghostly and unknown in the grey moonlight.
"Here is wine from our hands," Okomfo Ofori said. "God of the river,
come and accept this wine and drink."
The palmwine was poured into the river. It made a faint far-off splash,
then the river's voice continued unchanged, like muted drums.
The priest lifted up a black earthen vessel, an ordinary pot fashioned
from river clay, such as the women used for cooking, but not the same, for
this one was consecrated. Into the pot he put fresh river water, and leaves
he had gathered from the thicket of ghosts, and eggs, and the blood and
intestines of a fowl whose neck he wrung, and white seeds, and a red bead
and a cowrie shell. He stirred the contents, and he stared for a long time,
for this was the vessel wherein the god could make himself known to his
priest. And no one moved.
Then — and the night was all clarity and all madness — the priest was
possessed of his god, Owura the river. Kofi could never afterwards remember
exactly what had happened. He remembered a priest writhing like a snake
with its back broken, and the clothing trance-torn, and the god's voice low
and deep. Finally, dizzied with sleeplessness and fear, he seemed to see the
faces and trees blurred into a single treeface, and his mind became as light
and empty as an overturned water vessel, everything spilled out, drained,
Back at the hut, Kofi's father told him the outcome. Libation would be
poured to the ancestors and to the god of the river, as propitiation for the
disturbance of the waters. Also, one young man had been selected to go to
the bridge work. In order that the village could discover what the bridge-
men would do to the sons of Owurasu, one young man had been chosen
to go, as a man will be sent to test the footing around a swamp.
43 Kofi was to be that young man.
He was put to work clearing a space for the bridgemen's dwellings. He
knew his machete and so he worked well despite his apprehension, swinging
the blade slowly, bending low from the waist and keeping his legs straight.
The heat of the sun poured and filtered down the leaves and bushes, through
the fronds and hairy trunks of the oil palms. The knotted grasses and the
heavy clots of moss were warm and moist to the feet, and even the ferns,
snapping easily under the blade, smelled of heat and damp. Kofi wore only
his loincloth, but the sweat ran down his sides and thighs, making his skin
glossy. He worked with his eyes half closed. The blade lifted and fell. Towards mid-day, when the river had not risen to drown him, he ventured
to sing.
"We are listening, we are listening.
Vine, do not harm us, for we ask your pardon.
We are listening, River, for the drums.
Thorn, do not tear us, for we ask your pardon.
River, give the word to Crocodile.
The crocodile, he drums in the river.
Send us good word, for we ask your pardon."
Before he left at nightfall, he took the gourd bottle he had brought with
him and sprinkled the palm oil on the ground where his machete had cleared.
"Take this oil," he said to the earth, "and apply it to your sores."
Kofi returned home whole, day after day, and finally Nana Ayensu gave
permission for other young men to go, as many as could be spared from the
farming and fishing.
Six bungalows, servants' quarters, latrines and a long line of labourers'
huts began to take shape. The young men of Owurasu were paid for their
work. The village had never seen so much cash money before. The white-
men rarely showed their faces in the village, and the villagers rarely ventured into the strangers' camp, half a mile upriver. The two settlements
were as separate as the river fish from the forest birds. They existed beside
one another, but there was no communication between them. Even the
village young men, working on the bungalows, had nothing to do with the
Europeans, whose orders filtered down to them through Badu or the head
carpenter. The bridgemen's cooks came to the village market to buy fruit
and eggs, but they paid good prices and although they were haughty they
did not bother anyone. The carpenters and drivers came to Danquah's in
the evening, but there were not many of them and the villagers soon took
them for granted. The village grew calm once more in the prevailing atmosphere of prosperity.
In the Hail Mary Chop Bar, the young men of Owurasu began to swagger. Some of them now kept for themselves a portion of the money they
44 earned. Danquah, bustling around his shop, pulled out a box of new shirts
and showed them off. They were splendid; they shimmered and shone.
Entranced, the young men stared. A bottle of beer, Danquah urged. Would
the young men have another bottle of beer while they considered the new
shirts? They drank, and pondered, and touched the glittering cloth.
Kofi was looked up to now by the other young men. Some of them called
him the chief of the young men. He did not admit it, but he did not deny,
either. He stretched to his full height, yawned luxuriously, drank his beer
in mighty gulps, laughed a little, felt strength flooding through his muscles,
walked a trifle crookedly across the room to Danquah, who, smiling, was
holding up a blue shirt imprinted with great golden trees. Kofi reached out
and grabbed the shirt.
When he left the Hail Mary that night, Kofi found Akua waiting for
him in the shadows. He remembered another purchase he had made. He
drew it out and handed it to her, a green bottle with a picture of flowers.
Akua seized it.
"For me? Scent?"
He nodded. She unstopped it, sniffed, laughed, grasped his arm.
"Oh, it is fine, a wonder. Kofi — when will you build the new hut?"
"Soon," he promised. "Soon."
It was all settled between their two families. He did not know why he
hesitated. When the hut was built, and the gifts given and received, his life
would move in the known way. He would plant his crops and his children.
Some of his crops would be spoiled by worm or weather; some of his children would die. He would grow old, and the young men would respect him.
That was the way close to him as his own veins. But now his head was
spinning from the beer, and his mouth was bitter as lime-rind. He took
Akua by the hand and they walked down the empty path together, slowly,
in the dark, not speaking.
The next week the big machines came rolling and roaring into Owurasu.
Lorries brought gangs of skilled labourers, more Europeans and more cooks.
The tractor drivers laughed curses at the gaping villagers and pretended to
run them down until they shrieked and fled in humiliation like girls or mice.
Gong-gong beat in Owurasu that night, and the drums did not stop their
rumble until dawn. The village was in an uproar. What would the machines
do? Who were these new men? So many and so alien. Low-born coast men,
northern desert men with their tribal marks burned in long gashes onto their
cheeks and foreheads, crazy shouting city men with no shame. What would
become of the village? No one knew.
Nana Ayensu visited the shrine where the carved and blackened state
stools of dead chiefs were kept and where the ancestral spirits resided.
"Grandsires, we greet you. Stand behind us with a good standing. Protect
45 us from the evils we know and from the evils we do not know. We are
addressing you, and you will understand."
Danquah sat at the counter of the Hail Mary with a hurricane lamp at
his elbow. He was laboriously scrawling a letter to his cousin in the city,
asking him to arrange for four cases of gin and ten of beer, together with
fifty cartons of cigarettes, to be sent on the next mammy-lorry to Owurasu.
Okomfo Ofori scattered sacred summe leaves to drive away spirits of evil,
and looked again into his consecrated vessel. But this time he could see only
the weeping faces of his father and his mother, half a century dead.
When morning came, the big machines began to uproot the coconut
palms in the holy grove beside the river. The village boys, who had been
clearing the coarse grass from the riverbank, one by one laid down their
machetes and watched in horrified fascination as the bulldozers assaulted
the slender trees. Everyone had thought of the river's being invaded by
strangers. But it had never occurred to anyone that Owura's grove would
be destroyed.
Kofi watched and listened. Under the noise of the engines he could hear
the moaning of Owura's brown waters. Now would come the time of tribulation; the plague and the river-blindness would strike now. The bulldozer
rammed another tree, and it toppled, its trunk snapping like a broken spine.
Kofi felt as though his own bones were being broken, his own body assaulted,
his heart invaded by the massive blade. Then he saw someone approaching
the village.
Okomfo Ofori was the river's priest, and there was nothing he did not
know. Except this day, this death. Kofi stared, shocked. The old priest was
running like a child, and his face was wet with his tears.
46 At the work site, the superintendent listened wearily while the old man
struggled to put his anguish into words.
"What's he saying, Badu? If it isn't one damn thing, it's another — what's
the trouble now?"
"He says the grove belongs to the gods," Badu explained.
"All right," Wain sighed. "Ask him how much he wants. It's a racket, if
you ask me. Will ten pounds do it? It can be entered under Local Labour."
The village boys looked towards Kofi, who stood unmoving, his machete
dangling uselessly from his hand.
"What does it mean? What will happen?"
He heard their questioning voices and saw the question in their eyes.
Then he turned upon them in a kind of fury.
"Why do you ask me? I know nothing, nothing, nothing!"
He dropped his machete and ran, not knowing where he was going, not
seeing the paths he took.
His mother was a woman vast as mountains. Her blue cloth, faded and
tinged with a sediment of brown from many washings in river water, tugged
and pulled around her heavy breasts and hips. She reached out a hand to
the head of her crouched son.
So the grove was lost, and although the pleas were made to gods and
grandsires, the village felt lost, too, depleted and vulnerable. But the retribution did not come. Owura did not rise. Nothing happened. Nothing at all.
In the days following, Kofi did not go to the bridgework. He built the
new hut, and when the gifts were given and taken, Akua make a groundnut
stew and half the villagers were invited to share this first meal. Kofi, drinking palmwine and eating the food as though he could never get enough,
was drawn into his new wife's smile and lapped around with laughter.
After a week, the young men of Owurasu went back to work for the
The approaches were cleared and the steamy river air was filled with the
chunking of the pile-driver and the whirr of the concrete mixers, as the
piers and anchor blocks went in.
To the villagers, the riverbank no longer seemed bald without the grove.
Kofi could scarcely remember how the palms had looked when they lived
there. Gradually he forgot that he had been afraid of the machines. Even
the Europeans no longer looked strange. At first he had found it difficult to
tell them apart, but now he recognized each. His father and Nana Ayensu
asked him this and that about the work, and he would tell them.
"The big hammer is working in the river, hammering in the giant stumps,
and from the stumps will grow things taller than trees, so it is said. This
work has a power in it."
Each week he was paid for his work. Akua bought a new cloth and an
iron cooking pot. On one memorable day, Kofi came home from the Hail
Mary with a pocket torch. It was green and handsome, with silver on its
47 end and silver on the place one touched to make the light come on. Kofi
flicked the switch and in the tiny bulb a faint glow appeared. Akua clapped
her hands in pleasure.
"Such a thing. It is yours, Kofi?"
"Mine. I paid for it."
The glow trembled, for the battery was almost worn out from the village
boys' handling. Kofi turned it off hastily. Danquah had forgotten to tell
him and so he did not know that the power could be replaced.
At the bridge, Kofi's work had changed. Now he helped in the pouring
of concrete as the blocks were made. He unloaded steel. He carried tools.
He was everywhere. Sweat poured from him. His muscles grew tough as
liana vines. He talked with the ironworkers, some of whom spoke his tongue.
They were brash, easy-laughing, rough-spoken men, men of the city. Their
leader was a man by the name of Emmanuel, a man with a mighty chest,
hugely strong. Emmanuel wore a green felt hat enlivened with the white
and lightly dancing feathers of the egrets that rode the cattle on the grasslands of the coast. He spoke often to Kofi, telling of the places he had been,
the things he had seen.
"The money goes, but who cares? That's an ironworker's life — to make
money and spend it. Someday I will have a car — you'll see. Ahh — it'll be
blue, like the sea, with silver all over it. Buick — Jaguar — you don't know
those names. Learn them, hear me? I'm telling them to you. Wait until
you see me on the high steel. Then you'll know what an ironworker does.
Listen — I'll tell you something — only men like me can be ironworkers,
did you know that? Why? Because I know I won't fall. If you think you
might fall, then you do. But not me. I'll never fall, I tell you that."
Kofi listened, his mouth open, not understanding what Emmanuel was
talking about, but understanding the power of the man, the fearlessness.
More and more Kofi was drawn to the company of the bridgemen in the
evenings at the Hail Mary. Akua would click her tongue disapprovingly.
"Kofi — why do you go there so much?"
"I am going," he would reply, not looking into her eyes. "It is not for
you to say."
Kofi still went each evening to see his father and his mother. His father
was morose, despite the money, and had taken to quoting proverbs extensively.
"Man is not a palm-nut that he should be self-centered. At the word of
the elder, the young bends the knee. If you live in an evil town, the shame
is yours. Follow your heart and you perish."
He would continue interminably, and Kofi would feel uneasy, not certain
why his father was offended, not knowing where his own offense lay. But
after he had returned to his own hut and had filled himself with bean soup
and kokonte, he would feel better and would be off again to the Hail Mary.
48 One evening Kofi's father sent the women and younger children away
and began to speak with his son. The old man frowned, trying to weave
into some pattern the vast and spreading spiderweb of his anxieties.
"The things which are growing from the river — we did not know the
bridge would be like this, a defiance. And these madmen who go about our
village — how many girls are pregnant by them already? And what will
the children be like? Children of no known spirit —"
Kofi said nothing at all. He listened silently, and then he turned and
walked out of the hut. It was only when he was halfway to the Hail
Mary that he realized he had forgotten to greet or say farewell to the grandmother who sat, blind and small, in the darkened hut, repeating in her
faroff voice the names of the dead.
At the Hail Mary Kofi went over to Emmanuel, who was drinking beer
and talking with Danquah. Danquah no longer complained about the village. These days he said that he had always known something wonderful
would happen here; he had prayed and now his prayers had been answered.
Emmanuel nodded and laughed, shrugging his shoulders rhythmically to
the highlife music bellowed by the gramophone, a recent investment of
Danquah's. Kofi put one hand on Emmanuel's arm, touching the crimson
sheen of the ironworker's shirt.
"I am one of the bridgemen," he said. "Say it is true."
Emmanuel clapped him on the shoulder.
"Sure," he said, "You are a bridgeman, bush boy. Why not?"
He winked at Danquah, who stifled a guffaw. But Kofi did not notice.
The dry harmattan wind came down from the northern deserts and across
the forest country, parching the lips and throats of fishermen who cast their
moon-shaped nets into the Owura river, and villagers bent double as they
worked with their hoes in the patches of yam and cassava, and labourers
on the sun-hot metal of the bridge.
More than a year had passed, and the bridge had assumed its shape. The
towers were completed, and the main cables sang in the scorching wind.
Kofi, now a mechanic's helper, scurried up and down the catwalks. He
wore only a loincloth and he had a rag tied around his forehead as slight
insulation against the fiery sun. He had picked up from the mechanics and
ironworkers some of the highlife songs, and now as he worked he sang of
the silk-clad women of the city.
Badu, immaculate in white shirt and white drill trousers, called to him.
"Hey you, Kofi!"
Kofi trotted over to him.
"The bridge will be completed soon," Badu said. "Do you want to stay
on as a painter? We will not need so many men. But you have worked well.
Shall I put your name down?"
"Of course," Kofi said promptly. "Am I not a bridgeman?"
Badu gave him a quizzical glance.
49 "What will you do when the bridge is finished? What will you do when
we leave?"
Kofi looked at him blankly.
"You will be leaving? Emmanuel, he will be leaving?"
"Naturally," Badu said. "Did you think we would stay forever?"
Kofi did not reply. He merely walked away. But Badu, watching him go,
felt uneasily that something somewhere was disjointed, but he could not
exactly put his finger on it.
To the people of Owurasu, the bridge was now different. It had grown
and emerged and was an entity. And so another anxiety arose. Where the
elders had once been concerned only over the unseemly disturbance of
Owura's waters and grove, now they wondered how the forest and river
would feel about the presence of this new being.
The forest was alive, and everywhere spirit acted upon spirit, not axe
upon wood, nor herb upon wound, nor man upon steel. But what sort of
spirit dwelt in the bridge? They did not know. Was it of beneficent or
malicious intent? If a being existed, and you did not know whether it meant
you good or ill, nor what it required of you, how could you possibly have
peace of mind?
A series of calamities enforced the villagers' apprehension. Two of the
pirogues drifted away and were found, rock-battered and waterlogged, some
distance downriver. A young child fell prey to the crocodile that dwelt
under the riverbank. Worst of all, three of the best fishermen, who worked
downstream near the rapids where the waterffies flourished, developed
When the council of elders met, Kofi was told to attend. He was not
surprised, for he had now been the spokesman of the village youth for some
time. Nana Ayensu spoke.
"The bridge is beside us, and we live beside this bridge, but we do not
know it. How are we to discover its nature?"
Danquah, who was there by reason of his wealth, flatly stated that the
bridge had brought good fortune to the village. Business was brisk; money
flowed. He could not see why anyone should be worried.
Kofi's father leapt to his feet, quavering with rage. The bridge might
have brought good fortune to Danquah, but it had brought ill fortune to
everyone else.
"What of my son, spending all his time in the company of strangers?
What of Inkumsah's child, buried in the river mud until his limbs rot soft
enough for the crocodile to consume? What of —"
"Kobla, Kobla, be calm," Nana Ayensu soothed. "Remember the river."
"The river itself will not be calm," Kofi's father cried. "You will see —
Owura will not suffer this thing to remain."
Okomfo Ofori and Opoku the linguist were nodding their heads. They
agreed with Kobla. Kofi looked from face to face, the wise and wizened
5° faces of his father, his uncles, his chief and his priest.
"Something is dwelling in it — something strong as Owura himself—"
Silence. All of them were staring at him. Only then did Kofi realize the
enormity of his utterance. He was terrified at what he had done. He could
not look up. The strength was drained from his body. And yet — the belief
swelled and grew and put forth the leaf. The being within the bridge was
powerful, perhaps as powerful as Owura, and he, Kofi, was a man of the
bridge. He knew then what was meant to happen. The other bridgemen
might go, might desert, might falter, but he would not falter. He would
tend the bridge as long as he lived. He would be its priest.
When the paint began to appear on the bridge, the people of Owurasu
gathered in little groups on the riverbank and watched. The men shook
their heads and lifted their shoulders questioningly. The women chirped
like starlings.
"What's the matter with them?" Gerald Wain asked. "Don't they like
the aluminium paint?"
"They like it," Badu replied. "They think it is real silver."
"What next?" the Superintendent said. "I hope they don't start chipping
it off."
But the villagers were not primarily concerned with monetary value. The
bridge was being covered with silver, like the thin-beaten silver leaf on a
great queen's chair. Silver was the colour of queenmothers, the moon's
daughters, the king-makers. The villagers wondered, and pondered meanings, and watched the bridge grow moonbright in the kingly sun.
Kofi, who had been shunned at home ever since his insolence, himself
brightened and shone with every brushful of paint he splashed and slapped
on the metal. He painted like one possessed, as though the task of garbing
the bridge lay with him alone.
In the Hail Mary, he questioned Emmanuel.
"Where will you go, when you go from here?"
"Back to the city. First I'll have a good time. Everything a man does in
the city, I'll do it — hear me? Then I'll look around for another job."
Kofi was amazed. "You do not know where you will go?"
"I'll find out," Emmanuel said easily. "What about you, bush boy?"
"I will tend the bridge," Kofi said in a low voice.
Emmanuel's laughter boomed. "Do you think it needs looking after? Do
you think it would fall down tomorrow if no one was here?"
That was not what Kofi had meant. But he did not perceive the difference
in their outlooks. He heard only one thing — the bridge did not need a
priest. Emmanuel must be wrong. But if he were not? Kofi thought once
again of the bridgemen, coming together for awhile and then separating
once more, going away to look for other places, somewhere. The thought
51 could not be borne. He clicked it off like the little light of the green and
silver torch.
He could return to his father's farm. That would please Akua and his
mother. His father would welcome another pair of hands at the planting.
He thought of his machete and adze. They would need a lot of sharpening
now. He stood up indecisively, looking from the counter to the door and
back again. In his pocket the silver shillings clashed softly as he moved. He
pulled them out and held them in his hand, staring at the last of the thin
bright discs. Then he grasped Emmanuel's arm, clutching it tightly.
"What will I do? What will I do now?"
Emmanuel looked at him in astonishment.
"Why ask me?"
The towers were painted from small platforms run up on pulleys, and
the cables were painted from the catwalks. Then the day came for painting
the cross-members at the top of the towers. It was not a job which many
men would have wanted, for one had to leave the safety of the catwalk and
crawl gingerly out onto the steel beam.
Kofi at once volunteered. He swung himself lightly over the catwalk and
onto the exposed steel. He straddled the beam, two hundred feet above the
river, and began to paint.
On either side of the brown waters lay the forest, green and dense, heavy-
hanging, sultry and still at mid-day. The palms rose above the tangle of
underbrush and fern, and the great buttressed hardwoods towered above
the palms. Through and around it all, the lianas twisted and twined. Poin-
settia and jungle lily blood-flecked the greens with their scarlet.
Kofi listened to the steely twanging of the cables. The sound, high and
sweet as bees or bells, clear as rain, seemed to grow louder and louder,
obscuring the bird-voiced forest, surpassing even the deep-throated roar of
Owura the river.
Squinting, Kofi could make out other villages, huts like small calabashes
in the sun. Then he saw something else. At a distance a straight red-gold
streak pierced like a needle through the forest. It was the new road. He had
heard about it but he had not seen it before and had not believed it was
really there. Now he saw that it would emerge soon here and would string
both village and bridge as a single bead on its giant thread.
Emmnual would ride along there in a mammy-lorry, shouting his songs.
At some other village, some other bridge, Emmanuel would find his brothers
waiting for him, and he would greet them and be with them again.
Then Kofi knew what to do. He was no longer the bridge's priest, but
now the thought could be borne. He was fearless, fearless as Emmanuel.
He knew the work of the bridge. In the far places, men would recognize
him as a bridgeman. The power of it went with him and in him. Exultant,
52 he wanted to shout aloud his own name and his praises. There was nothing
he could not do. Slowly, deliberately, he pulled himself up until he was
standing there on the steel, high above the forest and the river. He was
above even the bridge itself. And above him, there was only the sky.
Then he did something that Emmanuel would never have done on the
high steel — he looked up. The brightness of the bridge seemed strangely to
pale in the sunfire that filled his eyes. For an instant he looked straight into
the sun. Then, blinded, he swayed and his foot slipped on the silver paint.
He pitched forward, missing the bridge entirely, and arched into the river
like a thrown spear.
The bridgeworkers' shouted alarm, as they saw him, was each man's cry
of terror for himself, who might have been the one to fall. The pirogues
went out, and the men of the village dragged the river. But Kofi's body
was not found.
"What could have possessed the idiot?" the Superintendent cried, in anger
and anguish, for it was the only fatal accident on the job.
"He did not believe the bridge would hurt him, perhaps," Badu said.
53 "Did he think it was alive?" Wain said despairingly. "Won't they ever
But looking up now, and hearing the metallic humming of the cables, it
seemed to him that the damn thing almost was alive. He was beginning to
have delusions; it was time he went on leave.
As for the people of Owurasu, they were not surprised. They understood
perfectly well what had happened. The bridge, clearly, had sacrificed its
priest in order to appease the river. The people felt they knew the bridge
now. Kofi had been the first to recognize the shrine, but he had been wrong
about one thing. The bridge was not as powerful as Owura. The river had
been acknowledged as elder. The queenly bridge had paid its homage and
was a part of Owurasu at last.
The boy's father quoted, stoically and yet with pride, the proverb — "A
priest cannot look upon his god and live." Kofi's mother and his widow
mourned him, and were not much consoled by the praises they heard of
him. But even they, as they listened, felt a certain awe and wondered if
this was indeed the Kofi they had known.
Many tales were woven around his name, but they ended always in the
same way, always the same.
"The fish is netted and eaten; the antelope is hunted and fed upon; the
python is slain and cast into the cooking pot. But — oh my children, my
sons — a man consumed by the gods lives forever."
54 ACTS  12
Up to a point you can't improve the story.
Peter in prison and to die next day:
Calmly between the sleeping guards he lay;
An angel came replete with power and glory
And led him forth to streets with moonlight hoary
Then disappeared. He made his marvellous way
To Rome, that in his name resumed her sway
On all the world, once more her territory.
But furious Herod killed the guardians; eight
As Raphael counted them. Can Athanasius,
Augustine, Ambrose or Tertullian tell
What they had done to suffer such a fate?
Would the great angel not have been more gracious
If he had left one feather in the cell?
He stopped on the corner, fearless of detection;
They saw him steadily and saw him whole.
He smiled and acquiesced. The traffic's roll
Was iron hoofs and tires in each direction.
They saw him plain without police protection,
Standing beside an oak tree's ancient bole.
His grey eyes (they would say) were full of soul;
Or (we would say) with interest and affection.
He turned, plunged in the carriages: gone for good.
They too are gone, the Kingsleys, Arnold, all;
Eliot, Collins, Reade. On the small street
Life kindly paused for them and kindly stood,
With his hand on a tree and his back to a brick wall,
Until their time-exposure was complete.
Carrion for albatross is blemish
To the white wing;
Better the gaunt bird crying home
And the sailor safe in Edmonton.
Noble we anchored shoreward
From the thunderhead of love,
Better the dust:
Better the griffin cry of stone
Than the wave's salute.
Today I saw you
At the corner of Jasper
And ioist.
Noble you smiled.
I cannot sleep for the wind
On the dry field
And the mermaid's scorn.
Here come I where the great Caesar came,
In these small Alps his smaller Trophy left,
As the older Greek (black prow in Monaco Bay)
Left a black jar in the white rock's cleft.
They say there was sunburned mirth in old Provence,
Then Bourbons or Directory on the march,
Napoleons, Monte Carlo, last La France —
Leaving death, destruction, faith and the fine arts.
And what shall I leave? Only this tentative song
Of love for the azure coast, the luminous wave,
The palm, the divulging orange, the rusty vine,
The moving eye of this boy who rambles along,
This white stone reared to Resistance, names of the brave.
Remembering them, what heart shall not incline?
56 University of British Columbia Book Store
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gerald cohen teaches English and French at Western Washington State College.
He has previously published poetry in Modern American Verse. The Lip is his
first published story.
roy daniells is head of the English Department at the University of British Columbia. In 1948 McClelland & Stewart published a collection of his poems entitled
Deeper into the Forest. The sonnets in this issue of Prism will be included in
another volume by the same publishers which is to appear in the spring of 1962.
stella foxton came to Canada (New Westminster, B.C.) from England, via Sydney,
Australia. She has published "a handful of articles and one solitary verse." Her
story in Prism is her first publication of fiction.
Robert kroetsch is originally from Alberta, and is teaching now at Harpur College,
Binghampton, New York. He has published stories in Canadian Forum, Maclean's and The University of Kansas City Review. A novel is under consideration by a publisher, "but nothing is final enough to bear mentioning." The
poem in this issue of Prism is the first he has published.
Marshall laue, of Edmonton, Alberta, is engaged in "convalescing," as he tells us,
"from the usual education . . . with a prescription of equal parts people-watching,
reading, writing and idleness." He has previously published verse in Canadian
margaret Laurence of Vancouver, B.C. has appeared in Prism on several occasions.
She was the winner of the ig6i award of the President's Medal given by the
University of Western Ontario for the best Canadian short story of the year —
in this case, A Gourdful of Glory {Tamarack Review, Number 17), and of the
Beta Sigma Phi award for the best "first" novel by a Canadian, This Side
jack leahy has previously had short stories in San Francisco Review, Descant,
Northwest Review, and Kenyon Review, and is the author of the novel, Shadows
on the Waters (Knopf, i960). He teaches at the University of Washington.
Gwendolyn macewen is a young Toronto poet who has appeared frequently in
Canadian Forum; her poem, "Yesterday's Horsemen," is her first professional
publication. She has also written "three and a half novels to date—unpublished."
Michael malus is a medical student at McGill University, Montreal, P.Q. Subsequent to an earlier appearance in Prism he published poetry in Delta.
tracy Thompson is a San Francisco poet who in the past year and a half has been
published "in over one hundred books and magazines" on both sides of the
border, including The Massachusetts Review, Carleton Miscellany, Fiddlehead
and The Kansas Magazine.
Charles mayrs is a scholarship graduate of the Vancouver School of Art. Now working as a commercial artist in an advertising agency in Vancouver, he illustrated
the stories on pages 18 and 28.
58 Prism is happy to announce the results of the contest arising out of the
publication of our "All-Campus" Issue (2:3, Spring, 1961). Thanks to a
Canada Council grant we were able to offer prizes of $50.00 each to the
best poem and the best prose piece in the issue.
The poetry prize was won by Christopher Priestley for the poem, "By
This Inward Dusk."
The prose prize was awarded to Ken Hodkinson's play, How Long, which
in the opinion of the judges was the best item in the issue.
Prism is grateful to Henry Kreisel, Eli Mandel and Wilfred Watson of the
English Department, University of Alberta, for acting as judges in this
competition, and to Canada Council for enabling us to offer these prizes
for the encouragement of young talent among Canadian university student-
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This six-year-old artist, like
most Canadian children, is
fascinated hy the far North and
the Eskimos who live there —
high on the roof of the world.
That's why hoys and girls of
all ages consider The Bay's new
Eskimo doll a pretty fine fellow.
With our long tradition in the
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and so we asked one of our
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trimmed duffel parka,
mitts and hoots. Now he
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He is just one of many special items.. .found in abundance
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