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OCTOBER 1986 Technology
Technology's growing impact upon all societies is profoundly
influencing every person's life, thoughts, and dreams. We
invite submissions which explore this theme. Poetry, fiction,
short plays, translations, and cover art work, in any style
or genre, are welcome. Author's payment is $25 for every
printed page.
Deadline for submissions: January 31, 1987.
Publication in July 1987. Please clearly note "Technology in Society
Issue" on each manuscript. Enclose a suitable SASE (outside Canada
SAE with IRC's) for reply.
PRISM international
Department of Creative Writing
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1W5
Canada international  WAYNE HUGHES
Poetry Editor
Art Advisor
Managing Editor
Fiction Editor
Advisory Editor
Editorial Board
CONTEMPORARY WRITING PRISM international, a journal of contemporary writing, is published four times per
year at the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1W5. Microfilm editions are available from Xerox University
Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and reprints from the Kraus Reprint Corporation,
New York, N.Y.
Contents Copyright © 1986 PRISM international for the authors.
Cover design and artwork: Michael Bjornson
One-year individual subscriptions $10.00, two-year subscriptions $16.00. Library and
institution subscriptions $14.00, two-year subscriptions $20.00. Sample copy $4.00.
All manuscripts should be sent to the Editors at the above address. Manuscripts must
be accompanied by a self-addressed envelope with Canadian stamps or International
Reply Coupons. Manuscripts with insufficient postage will be held for six months and
then discarded.
Payment to contributors is $25.00 per page plus a one-year subscription. PRISM
international purchases First North American Serial Rights only.
Our gratitude to the Canada Council, Dean Will and the University of British
Also financially assisted by the Government of British Columbia through the British
Columbia Cultural Fund and Lottery Revenues.
Second Class Mail Registration No. 5496. October 1986. CONTENTS
FALL 1986
Jlla Natterqvist-Sawa
Stig Dagerman
Stig Dagerman
God Pays a Visit to Newton, 1727
J. Mark Shoup
"Tower Guard, Military Prison"
Gigi Marks
"Something at the Surface"
David P. Reiter
"Harmonica in Glass"
Lloyd Zimet
The Flora of South America
Patricia Haebig
"January 20, at Ragdale"
David Manicom
Rebecca Janson
Two Stories by Women Writers
from Bangladesh
Rabeya Khatun
Relief Boat
Mafruha Choudhury
In the Abstract Circle
Jeff Worley
Stanislaw Baranczak
"The Three Kings"
Walter McDonald
Michael Czuma
"Blackfriars Bridge, London,
J. Q. Gregg
Any Message At All
Andrew Wreggitt
"Crabbing at Melville Arm"
Suzanne McCarthy
"Girl at River in Winter:
Convent School"
Marlene Cookshaw
"The Settlement"
Ray Weremczuk
2 Weeks Monday
Hillel Schwartz
"My Father Kisses the Blarney Stone"
Jane Frazier
"Phone Out of Order"
80  Stig Dagerman
Stig Dagerman, considered one of the most gifted Swedish writers
of the 1940's, published his first novel in 1945 at the remarkable age of
twenty-two. Another followed a year later; both novels were highly
praised by the literary cognoscenti and the author was quickly recognized as a representative figure of his generation.
Dagerman's childhood was traumatic and devoid of parental love.
His lifelong devotion to the "free socialism" ideas of the Anarcho-
Syndicalists figured prominently in his work, denouncing the prevailing ideas of capitalism, communism and social democracy. Much of his
finest journalism consisted of contributions to the Anarcho-Syndicalist
daily newspaper, Arbetaren (The Worker).
Journalist, poet, and lauded dramatist, Dagerman was foremost a
writer of prose in a generation that watched the world being torn
apart by World War and genocide. He evinced the Angst of a society
left with seemingly meaningless traditional beliefs, hopes and goals,
empty words in a world headed for apparent destruction. He probes
this desperation with sensitivity and remarkable receptivity, displaying, to quote Dagerman's biographer Dr. Laurie Thompson, "a degree
of mastery over narrative technique astonishing in so young and inexperienced an author."
The piece translated here, "God Pays a Visit to Newton, 1727", was
meant as a prologue to a major work that Dagerman was planning
which was to be based on the life of the Swedish romanticist/realist
Carl Jonas L. Almqvist (1793-1866). One can sense in this work the
deep despair of a troubled soul: a despair based on the conviction that
even if a Supreme Being exists, the distance between God and
Humanity can never be bridged, that God can never come to
Humanity's aid.
Dagerman's planned novel on Almqvist never materialized; in November of 1954, Dagerman asphyxiated himself in his garage, a victim
of his own despair.
Ulla Natterqvist-Sawa
Translator Stig Dagerman
God Pays a Visit to Newton
At times God grows weary of his guise of light and silence. Eternity
stifles him, he sheds his cloak. We perceive the formation of a shadow
among the stars. The approach of Night. In Newton's house in London, unwittingly, preparations are made for the singular visit. In the
late evening a carriage comes gliding in the rain along the street where
Newton lives. It passes through the arched entrance to Newton's house
and takes a turn around the courtyard. The oak leaves fall incessantly.
Newton's butler rises from a step of the staircase and wobbles out
into the rain—midnight and drunk. No coachman, and, upon a closer
investigation, no horses. He opens the carriage door: the carriage is
empty, the seat is cold. He crawls inside on all fours, into the dusty
compartment, and is soon fast asleep. The carriage rolls back out the
way it entered, giving way to a sick dog that's licking the cobblestones.
A while later it sideswipes a certain lady who is selling herself to Bos-
well on the corner of Park Lane and Oxford Street. A sovereign with
the image of King George rolls tinkling into the street. Boswell roars,
lifts the lady's skirt to figure the size of her calf with his Spanish walking stick, which is also a measuring rod. Poor Boswell, poor lady. The
woman has a wooden leg; this explains the train of the skirt. Boswell
lets his hand slide. God save the falling Night! The lady is made
entirely of wood. Suddenly it starts snowing. Boswell is choking. With
his arm around her hard waist, Boswell leads Miss Gate in among the
trees; he is soon out of sight.
But what of the carriage—well, long gone. The butler is snuffling
and snoring, dreaming, yet exceedingly more quiet. The fog wraps itself around the wheels—the Dartmoor Heath. Now only a faint
breathing can be heard—and soon not even that. The butler dies, the
carriage rolls on, soon never to be seen again.
But God is in Newton's house, downstairs. The entrance hall is huge
and cold. Far in the back a fire in a frugal hearth, a maid sound asleep,
her head between her broad thighs. Soft smoke rising from a pot. A gelid mouse climbing up along the maid's neck, disappearing into her
warm hair.
God is now in Newton's work room, forty-four steps higher up. An
agreement prevails in this room, between Newton on one side, and the
world on the other: nobody utters a word.
Newton has over a lifetime gathered silence in this immense room.
He has silence from all parts of the world and from many eras. There
is the ionic silence, the spousal silence, the silence among the dead, the
silence over the Chinese Sea, the Alpine silence. But between two thin
silver disks, Newton safeguards the happiness of his soul, the apex of
his collected joys: the silence of the torments of Tantalus.
It is now midnight, and by the hearth, far behind old Newton, a butler in a red jacket is preparing the midnight tea. With an iron stone he
shoves off the salamanders that are gathering about the tripod. The
butler often wishes that he could yell at them, the way soldiers and servants do, but he was born dumb, of dumb parents. Everyone, from
time immemorial, has been mute in his family, from the very beginning on. Even his heart is mute. It beats without a sound. Even things,
at the touch of his hands, are rendered mute. If this man slams a hammer into a rock, both hammer and rock remain silent. If he approaches a shrieking mule, the mule becomes dumb.
He is the Son of Silence, and Newton loves him.
He now places the steaming tea pot, the marmalade and the almonds on a silver tray. He then proceeds thirty-six steps to the southwest corner of the room, where a tall cupboard stands, the upper part
of which disappears in the obscurity of the beams. It is black in color,
its doors are sealed. This cupboard belongs to Swedenborg, pawned
on his latest trip to London and never redeemed by its owner. A cupboard so heavy that it took six Scotsmen, and drunk at that, to carry it
up to Newton's room. Every midnight the Son of Silence bends deep
down toward the feet of the cupboard and pulls out an unwilling
drawer. In it, a glass bowl with a tight-fitting lid. The butler places the
bowl on the tray, and is thus finally prepared to wait on Newton. The
latter will soon lift the lid from the bowl, and, with closed eyes, he will
inhale Swedenborg's silence. This is a silence heretofore unmatched, a
singular silence that fills him with dread and reinvigoration.
But God is in the room, and God's handicap is the Miracle. God cannot suffer a human predicament without an act of metamorphism. He
turns suffering into love, love into suffering, and muteness he turns
into speech.
Newton is wondering what's keeping the butler. He turns his heavy
head away from the flickering candelabra. In the midst of the dark,
the butler comes to a stand-still. The tray sparkles, but darkness hangs
like torn banners around his head. Silence is in a wild flight from him. Whirls and eddies are created in the room. Overcome by a strange
premonition, Newton gets up from his chair. In that instant, the butler
lets go of the tray. Newton takes a step forward, the butler a step back.
Both then remain immovable for an eternity. A curious act takes place
between them in the dark.
The tray ought to have fallen, but it did not fall. It remained
suspended in the darkness, sparkling and horrifying. It then proceeded to rise slowly towards the ceiling, and while rising thus, tears
flooded Newton's eyes. And up along his forehead his tears rushed,
like Sorrow's Niagara. But the butler did not cry. For the moment he
remained in the same spot.
The tray then hits the ceiling—and Newton turns around, and in
anger and damnation he grabs a beautiful pipe which he throws to the
floor. But the pipe never reaches the floor. It is intercepted in its flight
by the criminal, who here breaks the holy law of gravity, and it is
carried forcefully towards the oak beams in the ceiling, where it scatters into a thousand pieces, pieces which do not rain down upon Newton, but remain stuck in the darkness high above his tear drenched
Alas, to Newton this is no miracle, possessing neither the comic
aspects of an aberration nor the infinite beauty of the absurd. It is
simply a crime, lower and more cruel than all crimes combined. Would
that he could but see the criminal. But the criminal is hiding behind his
crime. Newton chases him around the crime, but does not find him.
During the chase Newton howls, and all the silence that has been preserved during a singular life is in flight, is being dispersed. In the end,
Newton grabs the huge untouched poker that decorates the hearth,
and throws himself at the table, not to pierce the butler, but rather to
chop into pieces the table itself, his favorite place for creative
thoughts, now but an image of defeat. And the old man raises the
weapon with the passion of a youth of twenty, but, at the very instant
the murderous strike is about to fall, the poker, of its own accord, is
pulled out of Newton's hand, and it too rises towards the ceiling, and,
with terrific force bores into the oak beam next to the notorious tray.
But while Newton, powerless, shakes his fist at the lost tool of vengeance, the butler frees himself from his locked position, steps into
Newton's vision, takes a deep bow saying: "Just a minute, Sir, I shall
fetch it immediately."
And, in all truth: with a few flightlike movements of his arms, the
butler rises—and mirabile dictu—he rises with tremendous precision.
The man is flying. He soon reaches the ceiling, his head with a noble,
clanging sound striking the oak. He then grabs the poker by what his
simple vocabulary would label the handle, pulling it until it is yanked
free, whereupon he salutes his master down below in the bright
to lighted nether region. But when their beautiful eyes meet, they are
both—Newton on the floor and the butler at the ceiling—struck by the
same curious thought, and a more silent silence sets in.
Standing there up in the air, about four meters above Newton, the
poker in his left hand and the right hand shivering from excitement,
the butler now serves himself a cup of strong tea from Newton's
suspended tea pot. He swallows deeply three times, then looks with
reverence down on his master, and, clearing his throat, says:
"Should I be mistaken, Sir, punish me. Should I be correct—then
command me to silence. Decide, Sir, if your servant can speak."
Then, finally, Newton grasps what is taking place: He is witnessing a
miracle. And what is a miracle? An exception. And who performs the
miracle? God. And who is God? An exception. But what exception?
The sacred exception, the exception from oneself.
And in order to test the constancy of the laws, Newton now performs an act, which his health and his age can ill afford. He bends his
knees deep down towards the floor, and in an effort to simulate a
spring, he jumps with all his might towards the ceiling. But the butler,
who is already busy filling his master's cup, waits in vain. Newton does
not fly. He falls back heavily to the floor, and, lying there on the hard
planks, he starts laughing. And he laughs until tears fill his eyes. And
the tears are now running down his cheeks. And Newton rises to put
the memory of this moment on paper. He reaches for his quill, but
doesn't find the ink. It has in a fine straight squirt left the ink pot, its
prison, and can now be seen in the shape of an enormous drop up
there under the sole of Newton's butler's shoe, and is thus entirely out
of Newton's reach.
Instead he grabs a piece of chalk and with it writes the following on
a blackboard:
A. The human crime=a dream in the house of The Laws
B. The reason for the human crime=despair for not being seen by
C. The cure for the human crime=to be seen by God, if only from
the faintest distance.
D. The divine crime=a vain effort to replace the Law with the
E. The reason for the divine crime=despair over not resting in the
heart of Creation.
F. The cure for the divine crime=on a clear day to stand eye to eye
with Creation. (By cure, Newton here means recovery from
While Newton writes, the-butler, having already discovered the horrors of the world of miracles, is whining and whimpering:
"One has literally risen above one's humble origin; tea and almonds
i 1 for a fortnight, and then death. But awhile ago mute, now granted the
capacity to express one's whines and whimpers. From being blind one
is given the gift to see crime. From being lame the gift to encounter
one's undoing."
The butler weeps, and soon the heavy drops of his tears cover Newton's ceiling like crystals.
But Newton has finished. He leans the blackboard against the wall,
and, above the butler's crying, he hears the horrifying banging from a
God begging to be let into the house of the laws. He motions at the
butler to be silent, but the butler cannot deny the miracle. Newton
rises, and with a firm step leaves the pool of light around his table,
passes the withering fire and goes straight up to Swedenborg's cupboard. He now tears the bolts from the locks, turns the unwilling key
and, with a cry of triumph, throws the huge doors wide open. And out
of the emptiness of the cupboard gushes forth the divine nothingness
that fills the oceans between the stars. The Pearl of the Universe, the
sacred Silence—vacuum mixed with light. The fire flickers, the butler
is again mute, not even his heart can be heard. In Newton's room only
God's banging against the Gate of Creation is now heard, and the howl
of the locked-out angels, and, through the storm, the hoarse screams
of the Flying Dutchman.
Newton climbs Swedenborg's cupboard, and from the top of it he
beckons the butler to come. And under the sooty beams comes the butler stalking with dignified steps through the air, the tray resting on his
outstretched hand. Almost there—and Newton flings himself off the
cupboard. His arms around the hips of the butler and heavy as the
earth itself, the old man pulls his servant to the floor. He then accompanies him out of his room, his hands weighing ponderously on the
butler's shoulders; he leads him downstairs and into the scale room
next to the kitchen. There, Newton fills the butler's pockets with
weights, placing the two heaviest ones in his hands, and these are truly
heavy. Then, out on the steps. It is raining and all that had previously
happened in this courtyard has long been washed away.
Newton says to his butler: "Ask for a carriage. A Dutch ship has run
aground in the estuary. The captain saved himself, swimming ashore,
and is now on his way towards London. His clothing is all soaked. It is
dark. The Captain is cold. Meet him with a light. Bring him here.
Don't let go of the weights.Don't step out of the carriage. Good night,
my friend."
Newton goes upstairs to his room and sits down in front of the fire,
waiting. Straight across from his own he has placed another chair. In a
couple of seconds he is asleep.
On the floor, a short distance from the place where the butler
landed, is a huge ink spot, and when Newton dies that night, and a
throng of strangers enters Newton's room, they will wonder about this
12 spot, understanding nothing. And there will be no one to explain it.
Newton is asleep, but he is not dreaming. His body is erect in the
straight chair, in anticipation. The fire casts its light on his peaceful
face. Suddenly he hears in his sleep the rain inside the house. Rain is
falling in his room. He opens his eyes, dazzled by the fire. Heavy drops
are falling from the ceiling. The butler's tears are again subject to the
law of gravity. Newton, understanding now that God has arrived, has
his eyes fixed on the door.
In the dark, in the doorway to Newton's room, God stands, in the
guise of a drenched, shipwrecked Dutchman. Newton rises. The visitor is approaching. The tears, falling incessantly, mingle on the floor
with the dripping water from the shipwrecked captain's clothing. God
walks over to the hearth, warming his hands. With his fire tong, Newton fetches a salamander from the hearth, making the animal crawl
over the Dutchman's clothing until it dries out. They then seat themselves in the chairs, silently watching each other at great length, God
and Newton.
At two in the morning the latter says.:
"Lord, you are now in Newton's house. Here prevails the law of
gravity, which is the love of all matter for the earth. Where is my butler?"
"He is asleep," God replies, "he is asleep in your carriage."
"And where is my carriage?"
The Dutchman's eyes wander about as if searching for the carriage
in the room.
"I don't see it any longer. It left me. It flew off. It rose high above
London. But London did not rise."
"And the horses?"
The captain then extends his empty hands. Like an old Jew, he
shows Newton his salt-gnawed palms, and there are no horses.
But Newton is thinking, and while he thinks, Death approaches. It
slowly enters the gates, tiptoeing past the sleeping maid. From his coat
pocket Newton brings out his watch, placing it on the floor, right between the two chairs. Its loud ticking disturbs the sleep of their souls.
At two thirty Newton asks:
"What are you after, Lord?"
Shivering, God replies:
"The world's heart and my own image."
Newton then points at the watch, saying:
"See your image there, emulating you as the monkey emulates man.
As you circulate around the face of the universe, in the hope of somewhere discovering a flaw in your creation, a crack to penetrate, so do
these hands fly around their own face, chasing the time they think
themselves having created, but never will they find it.
"I am sure that you too, during your vast travels, lately on the
*3 planet's oceans, have reached the conclusion that the infallibility of
creation, its perfectness, is the cornerstone of all unhappiness, divine
and human. The created and the Creator—we both suffer from yearning for each other, a yearning never to be satisfied. I assure you: Better having created a wanting universe, into which you could have entered through some secret crack, so as to become part of us, than this
perfection which forever excludes the Creator. Likewise I assure you:
Only within the limits of the law will there be peace. I regret it Lord,
but time rushes on."
And time is now gaining momentum. The hands on Newton's watch
no longer move at their regular pace, but in howling madness they
whirl around the face in order to smash the Roman numerals into
smithereens—and it is daytime. The day is grey, and their faces are
white. And the hands of the watch are spinning around as if wanting
to disintegrate Newton's watch, and night again falls upon London.
"About my butler," Newton says, "he just rose towards the ceiling,
and despite his muteness, he commenced to speak. I suppose he now
hovers around in the atmosphere, pulled by two horses, and, for all I
know, he might even be singing. Nor do I doubt that high up there
among the stars, trees are floating about, maybe even entire gardens,
castles and cathedrals, armies and armadas, all of which you have
entirely absolved from the law of gravity. These crimes, by fools called
miracles, do not alter the Order of Things any more than a pickpocket's efforts, or a murderer's atrocities, overthrow the laws on
earth. On the contrary, they reinforce them, inasmuch as a crime always acknowledges the law; the criminals are accomplices of the laws,
and the legislators should pay homage at their graves.
"But the Miracle, Lord, does not lessen the distance among human
beings. On the contrary, it deepens it. The Miracle offends the blasphemers and induces false hope in the believers. But the world's heart,
Lord, is left untouched by it."
The sound of a carriage is heard through the heart of darkness.
Horses are neighing, and in London someone cries out loudly. The
fire is dying, the candles sink into the candelabra. The two men move
their chairs closer to each other. God begins to tell of his thousand
years on the seas and in Roman cities.
"Often was I drawn towards other ships. In the calmest of waters the
wind would seize my sails and bring me forward towards those I
wished to embrace. A marvelous ketch anchored in the sunset: sailors
on deck, sailors in the rigging. I put the megaphone to my mouth, to
announce my intentions, my cheeks already bloated with air. And
then, right then, the masts are suddenly covered with moss, the sails
are ripped into clouds of dust, the sailors topple over on deck, a horrible stench rises. The boards of the boat fall apart, the ship sinks, and
14 in its place a tower rises, emitting flashes through the night. But, when
my ship reaches it, the tower crumbles into gravel and ashes, and a cry
is carried across the sea.
"At other times: In my wanderings along streets in Roman cities, a
man extends his hand. I take it, but while holding it, the man grows
old in front of me and falls crumbling at my feet. A mound grows over
his remains. I place a flower on the mound and, weeping, I make
ready to leave. I then notice that I am in a house with plain walls and
small windows. In the house are long hallways with many people, and,
as I pass through, they collapse and turn into earth. The whole house
fills up with earth. I find a shovel to dig my way out, but as I grip the
handle, the house catches fire. I find myself in the sun on an immense
plateau covered with ashes, and a man approaches me, extending his
hand, but I do not take it. Like a howling wolf I charge out."
A light now appears in Newton's darkness. His watch is on fire. The
salamanders, curious, crawl out from their hiding places.
"Time, my Lord, is a horrendous mistake. Six days was too much.
You should have used but one for the Creation—and thus had it done
and over. And yet, Lord, to you time is more horrible than to Man.
Man only sees his friend die. He does not in the same instant see his
grave changed into a house, the house to a field, and the field to a
puddle of blood. On the immense face of time man distinguishes only
one number. Man does not know that everything already has taken
place, has no presentiment that the history of all histories, the birth,
existence and death of the universe, is already completed, that it is enclosed in eternity, like a ship in a bottle."
Day comes again, and the sun beats down on London. The maid is
still asleep, the mouse still sleeping in her hair. The vanished carriages
continue their journey. It grows dark. In the staircase outside Newton's room are heard steps and the sound of repressed voices. Bells are
ringing and the sound of hammers echoes. The darkness deepens.
Something is about to happen. The two chairs are now pushed so close
to each other that one wonders: Are there two chairs or only one?
But, in a voice that caresses God's ear, Newton whispers:
"Lord, I do believe I have a gift."
"What sort of gift?"
"Of human life."
"To what end?"
"To be born and to die. For only as mortals, Lord, do we experience
time less as a horror than as a law. And only in the face of the laws,
Lord, can we touch the world's heart."
"Present me then with your gift."
Newton now straightens up in the chair, his eyes burning with ecstasy. He pulls the bell rope, and everywhere in the large house there
l5 is ringing, and we now understand that Newton can well afford the
loss of one butler. The doors are thrown open, and, in a long row they
march in, Newton's red-clothed servants. They line up in a semicircle
around their master, who immediately commences to give orders.
To the first one he says:
"Bring a priest!"
The servant pushes open the window, calling for a priest who is
stealthily slipping along the street by the house wall on his way home
from a shameful adventure.
To the second one he says:
"Bring me my dice!"
And he receives his ivory dice and a red bowl to roll them in.
To the third one:
"Bring me all the books you can carry!"
And that is how many books he gets. To a fourth one he calls:
"Put on more fire wood, rekindle the fire and place new candles in
the candelabra!"
This too is done.
But to the fifth one, he whispers:
"Roll up your sleeves and prepare to fight."
And the fifth butler rolls up his sleeves, pugnaciously looking for his
God is now kneeling by the fire.
The priest is brought into the room. He reeks of alcohol, his attire in
disarray, as if he has come from the sulphur pits.
Newton turns to him with authority:
"See this man! You are to baptize him! Is that clear? Got it?"
And he repeats "Got it?" so many times that the priest finally believes himself to understand. His puffy face lights up with ecstasy as he
searches in his pockets and around his neck for his cross. But the cross
is lost. He then forms a cross with his left index finger and his right
middle finger, holding it above God's head.
"Open these books!" Newton now commands butler six, seven, and
eight, and they obey.
In the book of the sixth butler, on top of the open page, can be read
the word "sailmaker," and in the book of the seventh butler the name
of "Claes," and in the eighth butler's book the name of "Jensen."
"Throw my dice!"
And the ninth butler then rolls Newton's dice. All is quiet except for
the rattling of the dice, rolling around each other in the bottom of the
bowl. The first number: twenty-four; the second: twelve; then: eighteen, six, seven, four=71. Newton writes all this on a piece of paper,
which he then hands over to the priest. The priest looks over the
paper, after which he drops it in the fire.
16 He then lifts his hands above his head, shaping them into a bowl,
and like a miracle, this bowl of flesh and blood fills to the brim with
fresh water. And without having spilled a drop, the priest now pours
the thus preserved water over the stranger's head, while he loudly and
clearly pronounces:
I Hereby
Baptize You
Claes Jensen
Born In Newton's Room In London
The 20th Of March In the Year 1727
Or In Bergen In Norway
The 24th Of December In The Year 1815.
Born To The Life Of A Navigator
To Share Brethren's Hardships
And To Die A Man
In Hawaii
The 7th Of April In The Year 1871
Or On Good Friday Hoc Anno.
The priest then wipes his sweaty forehead with his still wet hands,
herewith experiencing a strange invigoration. He raises the sailmaker
from the floor and kisses both his cheeks. He then leaves Newton's
But Newton, still seated, says to the sailmaker:
"My friend, you are now a man, a sailmaker, and as such must be initiated in the conditions of the simple man, so as not to be amazed at
the life that awaits you, or at other's actions, or your own suffering."
And Newton tells his fifth butler:
"Strike him!"
And the butler with the rolled up sleeves proceeds to strike the sailmaker three times, hard in his face. The latter, motionless, receives the
blows. The butler then looks at Newton, who, with lifted eyebrows
"More fear, my friend! Unlimited is man's fear."
And, turning to the butler:
"Spit at him!"
And the butler gathers saliva in his big mouth and hissingly spits the
sailmaker in the face. Without a change in his facial expression, the latter wipes his cheeks with the sleeve of his jacket. But the butler, who is
now possessed with a passion to hurt and insult, cries out in rage, mak-
17 ing ready to throw himself again at the sailmaker, when Newton with
one glance sends him off to the end of the line of butlers.
Newton now takes a gold coin out of his pocket and tosses it carelessly on the floor in front of the sailmaker. When the sailmaker bends
down by Newton's feet to pick up the coin, Newton puts his foot on it,
saying to the kneeling man:
"My friend, learn this position by heart, the position of the
humiliated. Kiss my shoe! I will then remove my foot and the coin is
yours—provided I don't change my mind."
And all happens as Newton said. But, when the sailmaker tosses the
coin into the fire, the butlers throw themselves forward and fight with
burning sleeves for the desirable piece. Newton then rises from his
chair, takes his guest by the arm and leads him away from the burning
butlers. They leave the room and approach the hallway to the staircase. Newton says:
"I will now show you my house."
He then lets the sailmaker step ahead of him through a narrow
door, while he himself remains without. The room is narrow, and the
ceiling immensely high. In the ceiling is a tiny hole, through which
light shines in. In the wall a different hole, through which pours darkness. As the sailmaker stands there, gazing at the dark hole, a snake
suddenly coils towards him. The sailmaker, looking for the door, finds
it locked. His eyes are drawn to the hole in the ceiling, but the walls are
smooth and high, and no ladder is in sight. The snake rises slowly in
tight coils, and its eyes are now at the height of the sailmaker's. He
screams in terror. But the snake sinks back down and slithers off into
the dark. The door is flung open, and the sailmaker wobbles out into
the hallway.
"You now know fear," Newton says, leading his guest across the hall
into a different room. This time Newton accompanies him. It is a vast
ice cold room, and on the bare stone flags lies a Negro welded to the
floor in immense iron chains, which cut deep into his flesh. With each
pulse beat, his body trembles from excruciating pain, and the whites of
his eyes flash like knives in the darkness. The sailmaker questions a
jailer, who, eating a large carrot, is bending over the prisoner:
"What is his crime?"
"No crime, Sir."
The sailmaker then pulls the key ring from the jailer and tries the keys
in the locks but no key fits, and to make it worse, the locks are filled
with rust. He then tries to pull the chains from their moorings, but
they are so tightly anchored, as if they were moored to the center of
the earth. The Negro, who through all his pain perceives someone
touching his side, gives a sudden jerk with his head and bites the sail-
maker's shoulder. With eyes blinded with tears, the bitten Samaritan
stumbles out of the room.
18 They now enter a salon, a music room, softly lit by a single candle.
At the piano a young woman. They stop on the threshold, and Newton
gravely says:
"My friend, you have just come to know man's great anguish for his
lack in strength, to fulfill his most ardent longing, that of performing a
miracle. You will now learn to feel the greatest of man's sufferings,
which consists of his awareness of the impossibility of love."
With these words, Newton leaves the room, but the sailmaker tiptoes
towards the piano, and during his approach, the woman begins to
play. So spellbinding is her playing that he is compelled to kneel at her
feet, and in the light of the lone candle, he sees a face, so enchantingly
beautiful that at first he is possessed with reverence for the unknown,
then with love for her, and finally by wild desire. When he rests his
hand on her warm arm, begging her to follow him, her white hands
fall like snow on the keyboard, and she looks at him, so tenderly, so
sadly, and so lovingly, that his soul collapses and she replies in a low
"I shall stay with you a thousand years."
In this ecstatic moment, the door is flung open and a couple of
handymen storm in. Roaring and laughing they hurry up to the piano,
tear the hair off the sailmaker's beloved, tossing it into a huge basket.
And as with a screw, they twist the woman's head around and around,
until it comes free, and the sailmaker notices that it had indeed been
screwed onto an iron rod. The same treatment for her arms. And the
hands are unscrewed from the wrists, everything is being engulfed by
the insatiable basket. And so they hurry out, as merrily as they had entered, the basket swinging between them like a huge cradle.
But the sailmaker, feeling a light touch on his shoulder, is startled
out of his pain. Newton is behind him.
"My friend, it was a doll you loved."
"But she played for me."
"Your love believed so."
"But her eyes looked upon me with a human brightness, and her
arm was as warm as yours, sir."
"Your love believed so."
"But she spoke to me, and she promised me a thousand years."
"Your love believed so."
And they leave the room, the light expiring behind them and the lid
of the piano shutting. They now descend the stairs and arrive in the
vast cold entry with the maid sleeping in front of her fire and her pot.
"Are you hungry?"
At once a ravishing hunger besets the sailmaker. He nods, and Newton gives the maid a push, knocking her off her stool. She flies up in a
rage. Newton calms her with a single glance.
"Give the beggar a meal!"
19 The maid takes a bowl from the floor, a bowl so filthy that neither
rim nor bottom is visible. She turns it over to empty out the flies. Then
she grabs a ladle and begins to pour the beggar's supper into the filthy
bowl. Newton and the sailmaker step forward, looking down into the
pot. They see a large rat floating in the broth, and with each pouring,
the maid smacks the rat with the ladle to prevent it from obstructing
the traffic. In the bottom of the pot they see pebbles that sometimes
get into the ladle and into the bowl. The maid hands the sailmaker the
bowl with such sloppiness that half of it spills out on his feet; he brings
the bowl to his lips and empties it, save for the little stones. He then returns it to the maid, who blows her nose in the soup, sinks back onto
her stool and is at once fast asleep. The little mouse that has followed
the happenings from his nest in her hair also goes back to sleep.
Newton now says to the sailmaker, who is very full:
"Count not on people's charity, but learn to like a beggar's meal."
Footsteps are heard from the stairs. A sooty-faced butler in a half-
burned uniform rushes up to them. His eyes are venal and cunning
and, tight between his thumb and fore-finger, he holds Newton's coin,
retrieved from the fire.
"Sir, someone is expecting you," he calls, as he loses the coin which
rolls rattling through the gates and out into the street, closely followed
by the butler.
Newton's eyes scan the house. He is pale, and his eyes are sunk deep
in his head like rocks. He starts up the stairs, turns to his guest and
barely audible says:
"So, we must already part. This is truly sad, tres triste. Enfin ...."
He takes a few more steps, but appears to change his mind and
walks back down to the sailmaker, who waits motionless next to the
snoring maid. Newton moves close up to his friend, so close that in the
gathering darkness it is impossible to tell whether one or two persons
are standing at the bottom of the stairs.
He then looks him straight in the eyes, slowly saying:
"Lord, I will give you one more miracle."
And Newton's face suddenly becomes hot like a blazing fire and he
presses his mouth to the sailmaker's ear, apparently whispering something. The sailmaker nods seriously several times, and they then
finally part. Newton does not turn around. He climbs quickly but not
too quickly, up the long staircase, while the sailmaker remains
downstairs, following him with eyes that grow dimmer and dimmer.
When his eyes are clear again he sees the long empty staircase, and
Newton is no longer to be seen.
The butler passes by, whistling, tossing his coin in the air. The maid
is snoring, as is the mouse still hidden in her hair, and under her pot
the fire is expiring. A beggar sneaks in from the street, and, like a dog
20 he follows the scent to the soup pot. With joy he sees the sailmaker disappear up the stairs, and noting the maid's deep sleep, he soundlessly
lifts the pot off the fire and disappears in triumph with his loot.
But the sailmaker's steps are heavy, and the ghastly chill now penetrating the house clots like ice in his blood. Unwillingly, he puts his
hand on the icy-cold latch and enters Newton's room. He is amazed at
the size of the crowd already gathered. Not only the circle of butlers,
but the immediate family, who had been called in the middle of the
night, are there with their hastily arranged wigs, standing there, raising their little hands into the air. There are doctors with shiny instruments swinging as they measure and debate, and he recognizes a small
group of fashionable theologians leafing through some books, now
and then raising their hands towards the ceiling. And they are all
gathered around Newton, who now is dead.
Newton lies in the middle of the room, dead, but not only that: Newton lies dead midway between the floor and the ceiling. IN CALM
And the relatives say:
"How can we explain this to the authorities? God help us, what will
people of our class and rank think, the Lord Mayor, the Peers of England, the Duke of Kent? Oh my God, what a scandal! Can't someone
get the man down to the floor?"
And some make a feeble effort, doomed to failure. With their
gloved hands they press lightly on Newton's remains, but to no avail.
Newton stays where he is, and the doctors lament:
"It is impossible, it's unsanitary. And, it's annoying. It is a physical
misunderstanding, a gross deceit and in addition a scientific error.
Newton is exaggerating. He always wanted to be superior to us simpler
souls, but this is really too much."
And they feel Newton, they pinch him and they cut him open, but
Newton is unmoved. He remains in his spot, and the doctors, who put
their ears to his body to hear the gas expire, hear nothing, because
there is none. The doctors are now very sad, and they place their
medicine chests and instrument boxes on Newton's body to weight it
down, but the great Newton carries with ease such light burdens, and
the theologians while adding to Newton's burden with their books, are
"This is heresy. This is the theology of the Devil. This truly is Sin.
Not even Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Herod's Agrippa or Nero who
burnt Rome, as far as is known, refused upon their death to descend to
They then lift their books from Newton's body, but on leafing
through them, they cannot, much to their dismay, anywhere find
21 proof of heresy in the act of remaining suspended between heaven
and earth after one's death. But the most ardent of the theologians is
already seated at Newton's desk, working on a text proposal meant to
be presented at the following church meeting, and in which it clearly
stipulates that corpses freely suspended in the air must not be permitted to rest in consecrated ground, but that the possibility of consecrating the air around such suspended bodies should be taken into further
Meanwhile, the Secretary of the Medical Society is performing
minute measurings of the distance between Newton's body and the
floor, the acceleration of the body at the time the relatives pass by, and
other such measurements, and they are just in the act of measuring
Newton's gravitational constant with the aid of theological writings
and medical instruments placed at different points of Newton's body,
when a horrible noise disturbs the peace of both the dead and the
In the doorway appear two sooty blacksmiths who between them are
dragging a huge thick chain of enormous length. It turns out they had
been sent for by one of Newton's relatives, a major from the
highlands, who saw his career being disrupted, and, with this threat
hanging over him, had conceived the one idea of his life. They all give
way to the blacksmiths, who, without reverence, for the dead man is
unknown to them, now shroud him in their black chains. They
swaddle the great Newton like a child, from his ankles to his neck, and
when they have finished, he, to the mourners' relief, sinks heavily to
the floor. Only the Secretary of the Medical Society turns angrily away,
and the ambitious theologian at Newton's desk in a rage rends his
proposal with his teeth.
But the rest of them gather around Newton's vanquished body,
weeping over him, praying and crossing themselves. Incense is
brought forward, instruments and books disappear into the priests'
pockets, the wigs are adjusted and the chains are covered with a
shroud of black silk, for it is now day, and the dukes, the French
counts and the German barons are already stepping down from their
carriages to make a last visile d'honneur.
Quickly, get the coffin in! The handymen add the last nail to the
coffin and now come galloping into Newton's room with his final bed.
They are setting the beautiful coffin down on the floor, respectfully
stepping aside, when the crowd cries out in terror. THE COFFIN IS
SUSPENDED, AND CANNOT BE MOVED. Everyone is shouting
and yelling, the wigs are in disarray, and the major from the highlands
calls for more blacksmiths.
Blacksmiths arrive from all over London. Brutally, they push aside
22 the velvet-dressed party in front of Newton's gates, and struggle up
the stairs with their heavy burdens, while all of London's dukes, counts
and barons are dumbfounded at this strange reception. Once in Newton's room, the blacksmiths fill the coffin to the brim with the heaviest
chains in London—once again the crude gravity is triumphant over
the feather light miracle. The chain-shrouded Newton is thus finally
placed in his iron-chain-filled coffin, and he shows no sign that the situation is in any way embarrassing.
More candles, larger tears, more incense, fewer doctors, fewer
theologians, more bishops. Bring in the archbishops! Get the blacksmiths out of here! Make way for the dukes. The great Newton is expecting you! Allons Comptesses, bitte die Baronen! Neutonne vous attend.
Und die tranen fallen aus dem edlen Baum. The great Newton essays a last
smile and the coffin is nailed shut. Sailmaker Claes Jensen, who in exchange for his new existence has assimilated the image of the
suspended Newton in his immortal soul, pushes his way through the
tremendous crowd.
Outside Newton's house he is a stranger, and he asks a poor boy for
directions to the road to London harbour, for he was born a navigator.
The boy gives a direction which the sailmaker follows, but he is soon
lost in a throng of people. A pompous funeral procession is approaching along the wide street. He questions the bystanders—all
women—who it is that is here being borne to his grave? A hundred
puzzled faces turn towards him, and he notices that all the prostitutes
of London are honouring the impressive procession, and he notices
that they are all crying, the tears carving deep canals in their heavy
make-up. A hoarse voice whispers in his ear:
"The great Boswell is being buried today."
And as the pompous hearse passes the prostitutes, they weepingly
lift their skirts up above their thighs, exposing their black garters.
Even the sailmaker weeps at this scene, because, for the first time, he
sees true sorrow without calculation; deeply touched, he disappears
into the streets of London.
The fog is approaching, and the city which was already a stranger is
now like an extinct star; the sailmaker gropingly makes his way. But so
strong are his navigational instincts that he heads directly for the port
of London. Suddenly he finds himself once again in a throng of
people, much worse than the previous one, and through the fog he
barely discerns a great procession of what looks to be a row of slowly
forward-gliding ships, with high sterns and broad decks. Above the
procession the fog hangs, white with screaming seagulls; every so
often cannon shots go off right by his ear and he shouts out to the
"Who is being carried to his grave?"
23 In one thundering voice, all of London answers through the hovering fog:
"The great Nelson is being buried today."
The sailmaker then understands that he is on the right track; he
vanishes so deeply into the density of the fog that he can no longer be
seen, and with him all sounds fade out. Only the sky keeps dropping,
as his footsteps fall among the shrouded houses.
When he has walked a long time in the direction of the sea, he is met
by wind, and the fog eases up. Suddenly, as by a stroke of magic, the
fog rises straight up into the sky. The sun shines, bright and strong.
He crosses a newly tarred pier and walks towards a city. The facades
shine at him in glimmering colours, the windows sparkle, a white horse
lifts its nose from a box of smelts, neighing as he comes by. Leaning
against the merry horse, he proceeds to take off his heavy shoes, and,
having done so, he flings them far out into the blue sea, where they
soon sink.
A soft snow is now falling. The sun is gone. The stars come out. The
moon rises. And, barefoot, the sailmaker continues his journey into
the city of Bergen, in Norway.
Translated from the Swedish
by Ulla Natterqvist-Sawa
24 J. Mark Shoup/Two Poems
Tower Guard, Military Prison
The rumble of generators deep
in the core of the prison
comforts me in my tower,
a wave that rises and falls
softly from the floor
along the wall of my ear.
This bass hum could be a mother's heartbeat
and I, floating in amniotic fluid,
just like the others,
tied to the same cord,
the same cold mother.
This simple vibration conducted
from floor to bone to my finger
to the trigger of an M-50
may be all that separates me
from the next impatient child
to seek the sharp angle of birth.
25 Patterns
I hold my open hand
to the horizon.
Winter sun sets
where veins lace ligaments,
bare trees beneath skin.
Shadow fills the well
of my pupil.
Sky dilates, cracking
the edges of my cornea.
The pulse flares in my thumb.
Blood foams into the knot
of witches-broom in my head.
The cold moon rises behind me.
I roll a crane's long wing feather
between my palms,
place it carefully over the curve
of my arm.
I touch my nose to my wrist.
The shallow, fragile redolence
of feather and skin —
the horizon, moving farther
from the blood in my hand
the more I reach,
holding steady when I stop —
red fire of sun rising in my palm
the creases, tiny branches of blood.
26 Gigi Marks
Something at the Surface
Each of our
surfaces has a tension we
curve to, but when the wind lifts
the very sleepy
branches of a willow it seems
a fragile one; yellow off them
seeps to the frozen ground,
a pattern of snow.
And if you imagine how the cold
greets your body, enters it,
you might think skin opens wide
holes like a net and life
holds in despite it, and when
I look at hazy shapes in the sky
there's no end to them,
just a slipping off to begin
another shape spreading
to another.    But we hold ourselves
intact; a discrete spread
of surface starts at the ground
and pushes away the soles of
my shoes equally as it
pushes the willow up.
27 David P. Reiter
Harmonica in Glass
for Randy Raine-Reusch
kulintang gongs
Suspended on twine, their brass
nipples shiver    music as you chime
them.    Our ceiling too low
for tones that feather    down
Philipino skies.    You conjure twilight
leaves.    (No droplets of Aquino
blood conspire in this breeze.)
zheng harp
Her sinews are long as a coffin
but you trusted her to wing here
from Singapore, nervous on her own.
Fingers dim the lights to boudoir,
a filigree of blue.    Our eyes pillow
your harmonics.    Is she the inside
liquor you seek, or does she pluck you?
An attic sound: lanterns spill
their smoky light over cobblestone.
Clatter of hooves; dresses on sidesaddle.
(When Marx-o-chime boys tried to peddle
them door-to-door on the toes of Depression
housefolk found their strum and bow
less friendly than Fuller bristles.)
28 khaen mouth organ
A Thai farmer bundled these reeds
for you.    "Not like Canada," he said,
"our musicians are silken    thread
with no fabric, while your tin cups
bear coins."    He taught you to blow
without pause, as sure of your breath
as a waterfall is of snowmelt.
glass harmonica
There must be no oil in this: you bathe
your fingers for these strung crystals
like a lover tuning    skin for bed.
Each brim has its wine
note.    When you rub them like
limbs, a chaliced harmony
flashes    against the grain.
29 Lloyd Zimet
The Flora of South
I only went for the coffee. The Rose was known for it and I was loyal
and coffee-bound.
There was the Rose in an old warehouse building. It was now all
white and rose where it had once been sand.
I went each morning before work, as part of a routine. I sat at the
same table and ordered the same thing. At the tables they always had a
stem or two in a glass bud vase.
The Rose once held buses. Old city lines that no longer ran. Now in
place of buses there were kitchen items. They had coffee systems and
copper cooking pans. Now there were roses. Hand painted roses were
spread all over, over doorways and counters.
Along the line you went. Women served you coffee and French
baked things, sometimes with cheese on the side and jams.
At the Rose only women worked. That was simply store policy.
I have left out that my wife worked. That she managed the Rose.
That my wife, the manager, hired only women as a matter of policy.
Someone gave all the credit to the blend. Something special in the
mixture of beans. The way the beans had been roasted. Someone said
there might have been a spatter of Peruvian Red or High Mountain
The best thing about the Rose, after the coffee, was its airy light
space. Something you could not get at home. Inside my home was
dark with typical woodwork. The Rose had kitchen things, things only
women would purchase. Things like coffee pots with hand painted
tulips on the side.
Afterwards, I took to buses. I preferred to leave the car where it was
and to depend on public buses. I told her she could have had the car,
but she said she wanted the things that were hers. Things like the
curtains that let too much sun in, all the vases, the outside potted
plants and the house plants, the Chinese rug with its tree of life, the
cook books, the red enamel cookware, the Danish coffee maker, and
all her closet things.
30 The policy was you had to bus your own table. Not that there wasn't
staff enough, but I think as tribute, if I understood correctly. There
were signs that asked. Signs below the roses on the walls.
Really, I should have guessed. I should have known all along. But
what would have changed?
One day I saw her from the bus. She was in a car. On the back of her
car she had placed a sticker. It said: Designed by computer, built by
robot, driven by woman. She did not see me from her car.
"You're here," she said.
"Where else would I be?" I said.
Few men were steady customers at the Rose. If I were to guess I
would say it had something to do with the service. The coffee was always the same, so it wasn't that. I heard her say men expected service.
She said it to a woman, or to me because I was there.
I forgot to tell you about the clincher, if there ever was one. It was
more picture proof than anything else. But the clincher was the flower
on her shoulder. Those small petals all in place. Someone said it was
like a single earring in one ear. Right or left I do not remember which,
but that someone had said both flower on a shoulder and single earring were signs.
I could not come up with anything like that blend. It was never the
same, and for someone like me it had to be. Things have to taste the
way they should taste.
Out here you can get two seasons in, sometimes you can get in three.
Outside she had planted bushes. I used to watch her from the house as
she cut back the branches and removed all the runners. We always had
cut flowers. She used to put coffee grounds in the water to help them
last. And when the flowers drooped she removed the stems and put
the petals to float in a bowl.
This is straight from a book she left me. Coffee beans come from an
evergreen tree. The mature red fruit typically contains two seeds. Coffee trees require a hot, moist climate and rich, dark soil.
31 Patricia Haebig
January 20
at Ragdale
Another week has stepped by
in mud boots.    And still
what remains of the snow
drains deeper
into the brown-sogged roots
of meadow.    To the west
and north pastures, a few
great scraps of whiteness
crouch low, the way
swans might tense to bend
deeper, to sip
the warmed red waters
they churn with their feet.
The wetted white necks
of a southern stand of birches
bob one degree back,
then forth, perhaps
with the wind, perhaps
with mild admiration.
32 David Manicom
The crouched baler creeps along hay-row
bound on inward spiral to the field's crown,
dragging the baled residue, track's ripeness
knotted, stacked, creaking on wagon boards.
Crawls, arm thrashing, compacting, thudded roar
at the present core of slow procession,
eats the tangled hair of raked hay.
Slender sway of green meadow hacked, flayed;
a scythe our breathing swings. Catching our eye
the small terror of quick field mice
darting into their bald sky.
At the conclusion
of slow-narrowing perimeters, the fusion
of barren field and full wagons,
of late supper and our sunburn and dust.
At sunset the stretched membrane bright,
allowing into our gathering space
not enough, light.
33 Two Stories by Women
from Bangladesh
As a nation, Bangladesh is only fifteen years old. With more than 100
million people, 78% of whom are illiterate, it is overpopulated and
poverty-stricken. At only a few feet above sea level, it is geographically
cursed. Since its birth as a nation, Bangladesh has known precarious
leadership accompanied by constant political strife; the present martial law regime, the country's longest-running government, has been
in power for only five years.
The majority of Bangladesh's people are not interested in turning
their suffering into poetry; they are more concerned with prolonging
life than with writing stories about it.
While living for seven months in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1985, my
decision to translate women's fiction developed slowly. It had something to do with my observations of the way women in Bangladesh
were perceived. I came to understand that women were lauded as
homemakers, wives and mothers, but not as professionals or creative
artists. This attitude was supported not only by men, but also by the
entire uneducated female community. Even in the capital city of
Dhaka, the hub of the country's education and literature, and where
women are most often allowed to hold respected jobs, this feeling
prevailed. In an underdeveloped country where more than 90% of the
population is Muslim, I felt a strong admiration for those women who
struggled to overcome their traditional roles.
In Bangladesh, literature is both a source of pride and a luxury, and
everyone in the field knows everyone else. No one denied that women
whose works I had chosen to translate were well known, prolific
writers, but the response from each male was the same: "Yes, she's
pretty good, but she's a woman."
Rabeya Khatun, author of "Relief Boat", has published in
Bangladesh twelve novels, an additional four novels for children, and
also two collections of short stories.
Mafruha Choudhury, author of "In the Abstract Circle", is presently
employed by Doinik Bangla (Bengali Daily) as a journalist for the weekly
women's page. She has published five collections of short stories.
Rebecca Janson
34 Rabeya Khatun
Relief Boat
By sunset, even the highest standing portion of the dirt courtyard was
under water. From the verandah of the thatched hut, situated higher
still than the courtyard, Nilo wailed, "Everything is gone. Even my father's grave is gone!"
Moriom heard her son's cry as she gathered water lilies for supper
with other village women in the small Arool lake behind her house.
She was afraid Nilo had been bitten by a snake that had taken shelter
in the hut, above the level of the water. In other years, snakes and humans had lived congenially enough during flood time, but this year
the intensity of the monsoons had driven so many reptiles indoors that
there was not enough room for people to live without danger of being
Fulboden said in response to Moriom's fear,"It cannot be. These
days, even the creepers have a greater morality than people." No one
contradicted her. She had become a widow at a very young age. She
had raised a son who one day left her and did not return. Now, in her
sixties, her grief had turned to bitterness.
Moriom quickly wrung the water from her sari and ran to the
verandah. Nilo sat holding a bamboo fishing pole over the water, a
despondent look fixed on his face. "It's all gone," he said."What will
happen now?"
The morning had been sunny and beautiful, and even in the early
afternoon, the graveyard had been dry. All the villagers had been
happy. The red hibiscus still stood and the low bamboo fences marking each grave had budding vines wound round the poles. Someone
had tied the border of a sari to the lower branch of a custard apple tree
to measure the water level. Now, the strip of sari was completely submerged, and all the flowers had been washed away with the graves. In
the morning, Moriom had thought the flood would never take away
her husband's grave; he had been too fine a man.
"You did not answer me," Nilo said. "What will become of us now?"
Moriom turned so Nilo would not see she was about to cry. "What
fish did you catch today, Nilo?"
35 The boy shrugged. "A catfish. I threw it back. What good is fish if
we have no rice to eat with it?" Moriom fought the tears. The flesh
beneath her eyes quivered. "I knew something bad would happen,"
Nilo went on. "Boal the Fishgod came today. I saw the red dot on his
"You must have seen wrong," Moriom said. "So big a fish could not
come here in so little water."
"No, Mother. I saw him. His giant eyes stared at me. I recited from
the Koran so he would leave me alone."
Moriom came to Nilo, but when she was close, he said to her,
"Please, Mother, take off that red sari. It may give you fever in this
flood, and if you get fever, who will take care of us?"
Moriom quietly stepped from the verandah into the room. Since her
husband's death, there had been no one to look after them. Farman
Ali had had a good income from the local market. He had left the family home because it was so crowded there, and had built a house between Arool Lake and the river on more than half an acre of land. His
dream had been to grow a garden with vegetables he could sell in city
markets. Had he lived, his dream would have come true. He had been
the sort of man who could have done anything. His death had been
sudden. Electricity came to the part of the village on the other side of
the river, and Farman Ali's curiosity took him there to have a look. He
got in the way of an ungrounded wire, and died instantly.
There had been much talk in Farman Ali's family about his death.
His elder brother, Arman Ali, was responsible for a lot of it. Shortly after the accident, Arman Ali came to his younger brother's house, stood
in the courtyard with a fine punjabi wrapped around him, and called
for Nilo's mother.
"My brother died," Arman Ali told Moriom, "because the power of
money became too important to him. Just as the leaves breathe a suffocating gas, so did our ancestors breathe sighs of disapproval at your
husband, for he had hurt the pride of the family when he left our
home. This is why he died so unnatural a death."
With the respect due a husband's elder brother, Moriom lowered
her head and covered her hair with her sari. But beneath the sari, her
skin became soaked in sweat from her rage and her hurt. She would
not let Arman Ali see her tears. She came from a good family, one that
had had some education, and she knew that the dead did not curse the
living, but only blessed them.
Moriom knew also that she could not speak these thoughts to her
husband's elder brother. Arman Ali was the assistant to the village
Chairman, and whatever he said, right or wrong, carried a lot of
weight. Moriom had heard, too, that relief supplies had arrived in the
village: bamboo for a footbridge, country boats for crossing the river,
kerosene for lamps, wheat, salt and molasses. Some people had said
36 blankets and clothing, too. None of these things had reached her
home which was a short distance from the centre of the village, farther
down the river. She knew it was the Chairman's men who were supposed to bring the supplies to her door.
As she changed her sari, Moriom remembered she had not picked
any chillies today. That would mean only parched wheat with salt for
supper, and that was not enough.
"Nilo, has the sun set?"
"Yes," came the answer from the verandah. "Why?"
"Then I must not touch the chilli bush. Some seasoning would have
been nice."
"I will get some," Nilo said. "Don't worry. The bush will understand
it is because of the flood that we forgot earlier."
Nilo leaned his fishing pole against the wall and stood up. Moriom
had moved the potted chilli plant from the courtyard closer to the
verandah so it would be safe from the rising water. Nilo picked four
chillies and returned indoors. Reaching for a tin of wheat on a shelf
above her head, Moriom asked Nilo to close the door.
"Why so early?"
"Because it is a season of harvest for some, and of great loss for
"What do you mean?"
"At the lake today, I heard that drowned bodies are floating in the
river and thieves have begun a business right there in the water."
"But what do we have to steal? We had to give up most of what we
owned when older sister was ill, and after father died we sold the rest
for food. All we have is this house and our property."
"Stop talking like an old man," Moriom scolded. She did not like
hearing about the unhappy events in her past. "These days thieves will
steal even stale rice and old blankets."
As they were finishing supper, the sound of a boat came from the
river. Moriom quickly blew out the oil lamp, then put her ear against
the thatched wall.
"Why did you blow out the lamp?" Nilo asked. "It may be Uncle's
Moriom snorted. "As if he had nothing better to do after supper
than ride up and down the river. No, it can't be your uncle. Only
thieves take boats out at night."
"People say my uncle is as well-off as any man," Nilo said. "Why can't
he bring us relief goods?"
Moriom frowned. "These days you speak too sharply, Nilo. You do
not show the proper respect. Isn't he your father's elder brother? Your
father put you in school so you would learn some things, including respect."
"Don't blame me," Nilo said. "People say that and what can I do?
37 People say my uncle supports the Chairman who does so many wrong
things. People say this flood will make the poor people poorer and the
rich people richer, because rich people sell poor people's relief goods
on the black market—"
Moriom clapped her hand over her son's mouth. "Be quiet."
The boat sounds moved from behind the house toward the front.
Nilo stared through the window. In the place where his father's grave
had been, the moonlight spilled over the shallow water. Within the circle of light, Nilo saw a pair of lizards splashing slowly toward him on
short, thick legs. There was no boat at all, only lizards. He had once
been afraid of them. They lived in a small pond inside a stand of bamboo trees in the courtyard. Nilo had seen them come out of the pond
to catch some sun, but if there were people around, they flailed their
tails and glared.
Turning around, Nilo spied two snakes coiled on the shelf beside
the tin of wheat. He reached for a spear to kill them. Moriom grabbed
his shoulder. She would not allow him to kill a living thing that was
seeking only shelter.
"If you drive them away," she said, "we will have bad luck."
"I know," Nilo answered, "but you said in this flood they are different. They may bite us."
"Let them. Humans bite worse. Let's go to bed."
Nilo put the spear away and said, "You go to bed. I will guard for a
Moriom patted his back. "We have guards of nature. The lizards will
take care of anyone coming to the verandah."
In the morning, two new reptiles clung to their mother. Nilo moved
toward them for a better look. The male lizard hissed.
"Come away, Nilo, or they will bite."
"No, Mother, he is only trying to scare me because I am a little boy,
A large black cloud covered the sun. Nilo stared at it and a sad look
crossed his face. He spoke no more. A little later it started to rain.
Sometimes it was a very hard rain, sometimes light. Early afternoon
brought drizzle and Arman Ali in a country boat. He docked the boat
at the verandah.
"Where are you going, Uncle, with so many clouds over your head?"
Nilo said.
Arman Ali folded a new umbrella and sat down in the chair Moriom
brought him. He said to Nilo, "Your father built a house at the end of
the field. When I come this way, I always come here. I do not know
what you think of me but I always remember you. I am not feeling
well, still, I have come. You will return with me to the relief camp."
Nilo turned toward his mother and cried, "Are we going to the relief
38 camp? Oh, Mother, let's do—"
Arman Ali interrupted him with a laugh. "Not now, my boy. When
it is time, you will both go. Come along with me now and you will get
some relief goods. If your name is not registered, you will have to
stand in line, but in any case I will personally see to it that you are
given some goods."
Moriom spoke softly from behind the door. "Are they giving rice for
Arman Ali said, "Yes, sister. Long-grained white rice is there, so
good it tastes like meat."
As quietly as before, Moriom asked, "How much will they give?"
"They are not giving very much, but I will request the Chairman,
who is friendly with me, to give you more. After all, you are my
younger brother's wife and Nilo is my nephew."
Arman Ali stood up and smoothed the creases in his clothing. Before he climbed back into the country boat he said, "I will give Nilo
rice, pressed rice, and molasses. I will give him whatever is available.
But please consider my proposal of several days ago. I will return in a
few days to learn your decision."
Nilo went with Arman Ali in the boat. Moriom was happy to think of
the supplies Nilo would bring home, yet it distressed her to remember
the proposal. The last few days had brought so much rain, she had not
had time to think about Arman Ali's visit ten days ago. He had
brought Moriom two mill saris and a dozen seers of meat, then smiled
and suggested to her that she sell her husband's house for a good
Taken aback, Moriom had replied, "I cannot sell the property of a
minor boy."
Arman Ali's smile had vanished. "Do you think he is only your responsibility? He is my blood, too. With the money from the house and
land, I will get him a shop in the local market. He has had education
up to Level 3. It will not happen overnight, but in a short time he will
be running the shop. Your finances will improve immediately, and instead of having half an acre you can buy twice that.
Moriom thought it was not a bad proposal. If she went about it right,
maybe she could make a profit. Yet instinctively, she knew it was
Arman Ali who would buy her husband's property in someone else's
name. She had heard, and she knew Arman Ali had heard, that electricity was coming to this side of the river, and mills and businesses
might come, too, so her husband's land would become much more valuable.
Already she had seen land brokers from the towns on her side of the
river. And Arman Ali, her own brother-in-law, wanted to beat them to
it, wanted to take advantage of her. But what could she do? Who
39 would help her? Who would take her side? No one would help her unless he profited by it. Widows were helped by father and brothers, but
her father had died long ago, and her brothers were all so poor they
could do nothing.
All that afternoon, Moriom rested her cheek against her palm and
thought. At first she thought she could find a compromise, but in the
end, she gathered her strength and decided not to sell.
Late in the afternoon, during a hard rain and heavy wind blowing in
every direction, Nilo returned. Arman Ali did not bring the country
boat to the verandah, but dropped Nilo in a shallow part of Arool
Lake. Yet, because of the flood, the water was up to his neck. Holding
the plastic packets of rice, pressed rice, and molasses above his head,
Nilo made his way to the verandah, shivering and crying out to his
mother for blankets. The rain came harder. Even in the heat of late
monsoon season, under the two blankets Moriom wrapped around
him, Nilo's small body trembled with cold.
Moriom sat cradling her son in her arms until dusk. She forgot
about the rice Nilo had brought, forgot, even, that neither of them
had eaten since morning.
Nilo could not see his mother's face, but he could feel her breathing.
"Don't worry, Mother," he muttered. "It is malaria. I will suffer, but I
will not die. Leave me here and go and cook some rice."
"You have so high a fever and still you want to eat rice?"
"Why not? I am hungry for rice. It is my food and my medicine.
Please cook it quickly. Soon it will be dark and the lamp does not give
much light."
It was already dark, even though it was not yet full night, and
Moriom had no kerosene for the lamp. In an earthen stove, she made
a small fire and cooked the rice with chillies and salt and the stems of
By the time she had finished dinner, it was pitch black outdoors.
The water continued to rise. The lizards, with their young, made their
way toward the verandah, and three pairs of snakes curled up on the
roof. In the middle of the night, Moriom could hear the water lapping
just outside the door. She knew it would not be long before her home
was under water. "Is this the same flood that happened to Noah?" she
cried out loud in the dark.
Nilo was delirious. He muttered, "Uncle said the boat will come to
our house. Uncle said we will go to the relief camp at the school. We
will be safe there. They will give us food and medicine. I have seen
tablets there—red, black, and white—in so many bottles."
In the early hours of the morning, Nilo's fever receded and he slept.
Moriom also slept. Mother and son dreamed of the relief of reaching
the ghat and finding the boat there. When they awoke, there was no
boat, no sun, only another dark day and more water.
40 On the verandah, Moriom clung to a bamboo support pole and
stared out at the water. The lizards were gone. A woman was swimming toward the front of the house, a chain of water lilies encircling
her neck for an innertube. Her name was Kulsum.
"Sister," she called to Moriom, "have you heard the news?"
Moriom shivered. She believed there could be no good news.
"We are going to join the relief camp," Kulsum shouted. "Someone
from the village council is sending a boat today. Will you go?"
Moriom called back, "We will go, but when depends on the sweet
will of my brother-in-law. When you see him, tell him Nilo is sick with
a high fever."
"Really? I saw Nilo just yesterday in the boat with his uncle. But I
will tell him. Don't be afraid. Trust in Allah."
Kulsum swam back the way she had come. For the past few days, she
and her family had lived on the roof of their hut under the protection
of a broken umbrella. Moriom wished for the boat to reach Kulsum's
family this morning.
Although it was no longer raining, the water rose. The verandah
was covered and water seeped into the house, though it was still below
the level of the bedsheets.
In the late afternoon, Moriom spotted another neighbor, Mana
Pagla, paddling in the direction of the schoolground. He was clinging
to an earthen pot to keep afloat. As he paddled by her hut, he called to
Moriom, "You must leave here. The dam upstream has burst."
Moriom did not know whether to trust Mana Pagla's words. The
whole village knew he was a little crazy. She called for him to come
closer, but he was fighting the current, and in a moment had vanished
from sight. She looked down at the water she stood in and knew he
had spoken the truth. Dazed, she stared off into space and tried to
think what to do. It was already so late in the day.
From inside the room, Nilo cried, "Mother! Boal the Fishgod has returned. He is so big he will swallow me. I am afraid."
"Be still, Nilo," Moriom said. "I have driven the big fish away." She
held her son in her arms. The afternoon passed into evening and evening passed into night and night grew very dark. Moriom knew now
that Arman Ali would not send the relief boat for them until she
agreed to sell her husband's property. But if she agreed, what would
happen to them when the flood was over?
Time moved slowly. Moriom's fears increased. The water reached
the bedding. Softly, Nilo said, "Something is biting me. Is it a lizard?
Or a snake?"
"Hush, Nilo." Moriom tried to think. "Nilo, you must climb on my
"Why, Mother? The relief boat is coming?"
"No, Nilo, it is not coming. We must be our own relief boat."
41 It was the middle of the night when she gathered Nilo onto her back
and wrapped his arms around her neck and waded to the door and
plunged into the water. She was not a strong woman, but she tried to
swim. Away from the house, she caught a glimpse of the young lizards
on the roof. You will not be safe there for long, she thought. And
then, from the dark water, into the dark night, she called out to the
shadows on the roof, "We are travelling by the river. Tell anyone who
Translated from the Bengali by Rebecca Janson
42 Mafruha Choudhury
In the Abstract Circle
Mr. Siddik leaned against the railing on the third floor verandah and
looked at the surroundings. Then he looked at himself. He wore loose
pants, a punjabi, a sturdy pair of shoes. They were not new shoes, but
they were good ones, which he had had polished for fifty paisa just a
few days earlier by a boy who came to the office where Mr. Siddik
The feast continued. About three hundred people had come. Most
had finished eating and some had already left because it was so hot.
Mr. Siddik had finished chewing some betel nuts and was now smoking a cigarette on the narrow verandah near the entrance to the banquet rooms. Only a few tables were still occupied. Mr. Siddik could not
leave. He had made the arrangements for the meat, the cook, and the
decorator, and he had to stay until after the clean-up. He had made
the proper arrangements.
He leaned farther forward on his elbows and watched the activity
below him. A strong, collapsible iron gate stood ajar, open wide
enough for one person to pass. Just beyond the gate, several children
stood in anticipation, their eyes shining like stars as they kept close
track of the pots and baskets filled with leftovers from the guests'
plates: meat, potatoes, rice, tomatoes, and cucumbers. A few moments
ago, the children had been noisily shoving one another toward the
food. Now they were as quiet as small birds, watching the man inside
the gate guarding the food. The man had a stick. The children's gaze
moved from the food to the stick. Mr. Siddik could smell the food
from where he stood. The children's faces became his own children's
faces—Moni, Joti, Shefali, Paru—who were as thin and pale as these
before him. Mr. Siddik tried to recall whether his own children had
ever tasted biriyani. He decided they had not, because they had never
had the kind of clothes that must be worn on the occasions when
biriyani would be served—weddings, and other gala affairs.
Someone moved one of the baskets outside the gate. Given a signal,
the small faces brightened. The children stood ready to fly. Again, Mr.
Siddik saw his own boys there, as if he were watching a movie through
cataracts. The man used the stick to hold the children back, letting
43 them go one at a time to receive a plate of food from another man who
dished it out. . . . Moni first, then Joti, then Joti helped his younger
brother, pulling him away when he had been served....
Mr. Siddik walked along the narrow verandah to get a better look at
the beggar children. It's all right, he thought, let them eat. The food
was left on the plates; no one had touched it. It was not as if it had
been eaten and vomited up. Let them eat. They had probably never
tasted biriyani either.
Mr. Siddik had seen a few famines in his lifetime, and he could not
believe some of the things people had eaten during those times.
Things no human being should have to eat. Even these days, he saw
beggars who lived beside the garbage pits and collected the rotten vegetables the grocers had thrown out, and mixed them with dried fish
and stale rice and dal they had begged; they cooked everything together over a fire and ate it before they slept, enveloped in the rank
odour of the piles of garbage beside them.
... taka 10 for rice; 12 for dal; 120 for dried chillies; 40 for oil...
On very hot days, there had been no rice, only chapati, and not even
enough of that for three pieces a day. And always a shortage of
kerosene. Mr. Siddik could not forget those days. They were black
ghosts that would not leave him alone.
In front of his house was an open space, just beyond the courtyard.
During the last flood, two families had taken shelter there. Mr. Siddik
had wanted them to leave, but his wife, Nurjahan, had said, "Let them
stay. The whole town must be full. Otherwise they would not have
come here. Do you think they came because we are so rich?" Throughout the famine, Nurjahan had asked, "Has the water receded?"
"Why?" Mr. Siddik would answer. "If the water recedes, will we have
rice instead of bread?"
"No, but the people from the villages could go home, and the town
would be less crowded and that would make things easier for everyone."
During famine, there was not much for Nurjahan to do in the
kitchen. She would make bread and cook green papaya. Green papaya
had not been so costly then.
The narrow verandah became a cinema hall to Mr. Siddik, who was
now both part of the audience and an actor on the screen. In his
movie, he saw one of the wives who had taken refuge in his front yard
carrying a clay bowl half full of rice toward him. She was dressed in
rags. Mr. Siddik's eyes lit up when he saw the rice. He thought that
there was no crime too horrible not to risk for that bowl of rice. It was
as if his soul had left him, had become no more than a dog's bark. The
woman's eyes focused on him, and he knew she understood his threat.
She gripped the bowl tighter.
44 "Where did you get the rice?" he demanded.
"I begged for it. From door to door. At each door, I had to cry until
the waters from my eyes and nose became one. Then I was given rice."
Mr. Siddik wondered if there was any rice left to be begged. But
who would do the begging? He himself? Nurjahan? One of his children?
Once, exhausted and hungry, Mr. Siddik had come home from his
office and stopped in front of the filthy rags and jute bags the squatters used for bedding. He had had only four pieces of plain chapati to
eat all day. Not even tea, because he had had no sugar for it. He
wanted to sleep. As he stared at the rags on the ground, he thought, I
could sleep here, so what if it's dirty? When we are asleep, we are all
the same. He looked at the clothes he had on—loose pants, meticulously patched in many places, an old shirt worn thin, and a pair of
shoes that looked like they had been retrieved from the trash. But he
could not change those clothes. He had no others, and lungi cloth cost
taka 18, and new shoes, taka 125.
Mr. Siddik's thoughts returned from the cinema hall in his mind to
the verandah. So many people had come here today. So much food
had been wasted. His employer had told him to bring his wife and children, but they did not have the proper clothing. Mr. Siddik felt a pang
in his heart. The rich food he had eaten was not behaving well in his
stomach. He lit a cigarette, and it tasted good.
So much time Mr. Siddik's employer and his wife had spent looking
for the right invitations. So much money to buy them. So much money
for gas for the car to deliver them. Some, Mr. Siddik had delivered
himself. Some of the invitations had been addressed to Mr. and Mrs.
so-and-so, some to Mr. and Mrs. so-and-so and family. Mr. Siddik had
not received an invitation. His employer had simply said, "Bring your
The food turned again in his stomach.
There had been rows and rows of guests' cars parked outside. Only
a few were left with the one decorated for the bride and groom. Mr.
Siddik heard the groom's voice inside and the voices of the girls
gathered around him, like goddesses around Lord Krishna.
It was nice to stand up there on the third floor verandah and look
around at all the lovely scenery. From where he was he could see a lot
of houses and they were all big and beautiful. They looked like pictures. The grass below him was lush and green, and all the flowers
were shaped and trimmed perfectly. Mr. Siddik doubted that any insects had chewed through their petals or leaves. All the cars had been
so well polished, and the children all looked like dolls.
Many years ago, Mr. Siddik had come to this town from the village
to go to college. He had lived in the college hostel. His room was on
45 the second floor. After he had been there awhile, he decided that was
the way he would always live. He would always live in a brick building.
He would always live in a room with furniture. He would always live
where there was a dining hall and good servants. In those days, it had
not been important to think too far ahead. Then he failed his exam
and was thrown out of the hostel. The future suddenly became both
important and very dark. Since then, his life had been a struggle, like a
small boat on a big river with no port.
Certain reminders of his life stayed with him like old melodies. In
his neighborhood, between the houses, on a narrow alley not far from
his own home, was a row of decrepit thatched huts. Nurjahan could
not visit the neighbours' houses because she had no time; she was too
busy with the day's hard work. If she were to go, she would have to
change her sari, comb her hair, powder her face and wear sandals. But
to visit the huts, she needed to do nothing but go. She was always welcome. Those people were proud to have her in their homes and they
always offered her something to sit on. They were so hospitable, Mr.
Siddik found it hard to believe they were the same people he could
hear from his house shouting at one another at the top of their lungs,
as if whoever yelled the loudest would win the argument. Just the
other day, as he had walked through the narrow alley, he had heard a
young girl shouting at her mother.
"Hey, Mother, you daughter of a slut, get me some water from the
tap before it's all gone!"
Almost two hundred people received their water from one public
tank connected to the private taps, and when that water was gone for
the day, those who had not yet gotten any went to Mr. Siddik's tank.
He had allowed that for a while, but now he sent them away because
they always caused trouble among themselves, and they left his courtyard a mess.
Another car left the party. Only two were left, plus the one
decorated for the bride and groom.
My daughter will also get married, Mr. Siddik thought. My daughter. A smile crossed his face, then faded. But I won't be able to invite
Mr. Siddik considered himself in these lush surroundings. He had
chosen to come to this party, but now he felt like an intruder. He had
tried to blend in, to be inconspicuous. He had eaten the rich food with
the rich people. There were many things here he would have liked to
have had for his own family. But this was not his world. He was a
trespasser. Mr. Siddik looked at the ground three floors below him.
He thought how easy it would be to jump.
He had seen his own face many times. When he had lived in the
hostel, in the corridor near the stairway there had been a mirror. He
46 had been very thin. In the office where he now worked as a bearer,
and in the room where his employer took his meals, there were
window panes in which he could see himself. He looked the same. He
was still thin and the colour of his skin was not good—it looked
charred. Two other bearers worked in the office. Mr. Siddik thought
they looked much too aristocratic to be bearers. Sometimes he thought
he would ask them why they were not embarrassed to look so good
and have such lowly jobs.
Mr. Siddik had not seen a mirror he could look into here, so he did
not know how well his appearance fit into the rest of the party.
Below him, the decorated car moved up to the portico. From where
he stood he could not see the portico, only the black iron collapsible
gate. The food was all gone. The man with the stick guarded the
empty baskets and pots. The party was over. People were cleaning
up—collecting flowers which had been dropped and food which was
spilled on the stairway. In a few minutes someone would spread a red
cloth over the stairs so the bride and groom could descend, their eyes
closed as they dreamed of a winged horse that would fly them off to a
golden bed.
Mr. Siddik could still taste the biriyani. When he got home, his children would run to him and beg to know what food he had eaten at the
party. He would tell them that he had had nothing, that there had not
been enough for him. His wife would scold him for having worked so
many years for the host and staying so late at the party without having
anything to eat. It had happened that way once before many years
ago. He had been invited to a party but could not eat the pilau served
to the guests. He had eaten the plain rice given to the servants instead.
When he told his wife, she was furious. She would not let him forget it.
She said she had married a man she could look up to, not someone's
Mr. Siddik went inside. He had done his job and he wanted to leave.
It was time for the final farewell and he believed only those closest to
the family should remain. He saw one of his employer's best friends
near the red-draped stairs. He approached the man and murmured,
"I must go now."
He walked downstairs, thinking some day he must arrange to have
biriyani at home for his own family. His wife was a good cook. Everyone who had eaten at his house had said so. If he had the proper supplies, she could cook biriyani well, too. Good rice, good mutton, ghee,
ginger, onion and other spices. If Nurjahan were to make biriyani, Mr.
Siddik would have to invite his younger sister and her husband and
their four children. Nurjahan would want to ask her younger brother,
who had a small business and had helped them many times. He also
had a family.
47 Mr. Siddik abandoned the idea of having biriyani at home.
He was part way home when a foul odour made him stop and hold
his nose. At first, he saw only a trash can like the ones always pictured
in the newspapers with articles that complained about city employees'
negligence. The articles never helped. People still threw their garbage
at the can instead of in it, and no one ever bothered to clean it up.
Then Mr. Siddik saw the source of the odour. A dead dog lay in the
middle of the garbage, bloated to the size of a small calf. It had been
dead a long time.
His stomach turned. He tasted the fancy dinner he had eaten. He
thought the food should be digested by this time, but the feeling in his
stomach grew stronger. He turned away from the dog to stop the
nausea. It was no use. He leaned over the curb and vomited.
When he had finished, he looked around quickly to see if anyone
had seen him. Even though no one was watching, he was embarrassed
to think someone might have seen him and left, disgusted. He would
never know.
Suddenly, he didn't care. In fact, he felt very good. His body felt
light. He walked across the street and around the corner to a tea shop
and asked for a glass of cold water-First, he rinsed out his mouth and
spat out the water. Then he drank the rest.
Translated from the Bengali by Rebecca J anson
48 Jeff Worley
It's what I know, how
to move something solid
from the dark you hide
it in to the dark
I wear inside my jacket.
I need people
like no one else:
At the accident I
have a picnic among
the sighs of the blood
seekers, the solid
citizens happy to not
be the one with the steel
pipe through his chest.
I would like to speak
to you of need,
but like the dumb
only my fingers speak.
I help you take
splinters of glass
from the schoolgirl's leg.
We bandage the bus driver.
49 I take something from
your life into my life.
When, later, you feel
someone shuffling
your credit cards,
practicing the difficult
loops of your name,
make yourself believe
it's only money, know
other hands wouldn't
glide so gently
over your heart.
Think of the unexpected
kindness of strangers.
5° Stanislaw Baranczak/Two Poems
The Three Kings
They will certainly arrive in the New Year.
As always, early in the morning.
Wrenched out of bed by the pull of the bell,
Bewildered like a newborn baby,
You will open the door.
Identity cards will be flashed in your face like a star,
Three of them.    Dulled and stunned, you will recognise
In one of them a friend from school (what a small world).
Since then he has hardly changed at all.
The moustache makes a difference,
And maybe he is a little fatter.
They will enter.    The gold of their watches will flash at you
(What a grey world), the smoke of their cigarettes
Will cloud the room with a smell of incense.
Only the myrrh is missing.    Half awake you will ask
Pushing under the bed with your heel
The book that should not be found,
What in fact is myrrh? You'll have time
To look that up.
"You're coming with us."
You will go with them.
How white the snow is.
How black the Fiat is.
How huge the world was.
Translated from the Polish by Michael Parker,
and students from Gdansk and Torun
51 History
A ten year old runs into the sleep-swollen street.
June sunshine, crisp underfoot, glints in glass fragments.
Like a kite, the closed kiosk tags a ribbon behind it,
The queue.    The people are silent, rarely raising their eyes.
The newspapers should already be here by this time.
A coin sweats in his palm.    When he races back home
Two uniformed men, on the corner next to the bill post,
Are struggling with some kind of tool—it's definitely a
To gouge from the elephants' skin of endless circus posters
A hand-written statement glued to its surface.
Free from suspicion, the onlookers thicken
While the men in uniforms are sweating, embarrassed
By the bluntness of this tool.
They should have been given an appropriate one
For such a situation.
Translated from the Polish by
Aleksandra and Michael Parker
52 Walter McDonald
I take what they give me —
table scraps, chicken bones
they don't care if I choke on,
soaked lettuce leafs like phlegm
and grass I've chewed and vomited.
They throw old blankets down,
as if I'd crawl on my belly
and roll over, pee in the air
and flop my tail on the ground
to beg a home.    It's true,
I circle their house twice on my way
anywhere.    I sleep by their barn.
Their children squat and call me
all sweet names I've heard,
then hurl sticks and stones
when I stay away.    That night.
I know they'll dump
their parents' scraps out in the grass,
grind them with their heels
and sprinkle them with worms
from the compost.    That night,
I'll pick out meat chunks with my teeth
and swallow, wet their posts as my own
and lope through the bitch-rich night
for miles.
53 Michael Czuma
Blackfriars Bridge, London, Ontario
Each car that hits
it explodes in
logs, in a dust of
sound that rises,
settles.    The jarring teeth
of dozens of logs
laid side by side
end to end of the
bridge.    Waves of logs.
The old skeleton
bridge.    The dry bones.
The sound bounces.    The
mind takes a mental
bite as each car slams
down, drills to the
end.    Logs rumble down
the mind's washboard,
a rabble, a flock of
sound.    It is an iron
hammock.    A kite.    A
calligraphy.    It flies low
over the river.    A bridge
made of ear-splitting sound.
An infant, bawling
bridge.    A sleeve passing
traffic.    A set of balanced
scales.    The cars' beauty
is in the drum of the
logs, where the road
curls up, settles its tail
across banks, risks the
drop, the water crust
breaking below.
54 J. Q. Gregg
Any Message At All
Into the street, into a clear night smudged with street-lamp yellow and
the mist of scorched rubber, stepped my father. He was barefoot, clad
only in droopy white boxer shorts. "Friends — ?" his merry baritone
danced the space between us, "—or just passing acquaintances?" From
uphill the hazy light cast a shadow pool in the twist of his nose, a cleft
in the place in one eyebrow where hair would never grow.
Below us the lights of Portland lay strewn endlessly toward the
north like the millions of tiny campfires of an enemy encampment,
while to our sides and above us on the hill neighbours' houses huddled
unconcerned, uninterested, behind their laurel hedges and slat fences,
hulks, deaf and blind. My father awaited an answer, skin prickled with
gooseflesh, shoulders back, long apish arms held from his sides by
oversized latissimi, fingers loosely curled. More a gunslinger's than a
boxer's stance, his often seemed the coiled poise of an animal which
may strike or may not, and from that stance without any change of expression or any flurry of motion he had kicked Jake down a flight of
stairs and through a window.
I hitched shoulders to a posture he preferred, and said to the dark,
"Don't know 'em. Picked me up hitching at the bottom of Vista."
"And you didn't say anything to them?"
"Didn't think it was necessary."
"You didn't think—?" His voice rose to nudge me with a reminder of
non-think, for when younger I was non-think's most loyal employer
and victim.
"Sorry, Dad. Next time I'll say something."
These days it seemed I met up with my father only to fall into some
household project I hadn't realized was underway, or to be humiliated
through this maddening softspoken Socratic method. Relieved this
meeting was short, I followed him through our gate and across the
concrete path through river gravel and stunted shrubs called a Japanese garden. Under the brighter light of the upstairs foyer I was surprised by a ribbon of scars which sneaked around one side of his ribs
and up his back—and was surprised that I should be surprised. Tracking the rear of his knees were wider scars, from an earlier, more primi-
55 tive time, and these I watched flex and distend as he led the way.
"Goodnight, my boy."
"Night, Dad."
Downstairs, I filed away folders and palmed notecards from my
desk, kicked off shoes, lay back on my bed. Without his unique sense
of timing, father insisted, Jack Benny's jokes would fail, and on these
cards he had jotted numbers where I was to pause to the count.
"Souvenirs from a big Nebraska farmboy," he said when I asked
about those knee scars long ago, "a gentle giant whose brain hadn't
kept pace with his body—and who just couldn't seem to remember to
which team he belonged. I never did thank him properly." He laughed
at my bewilderment, laughed in that way which always lured you
closer, never pushed you away, and began to tick off his fingers: "No
more broken noses fighting for five dollar purses. No more fish camps
in Prince Rupert. No more traplines in Dawson Creek. No more
sweaty summers logging 'round Juneau. No more wandering the western world in search of next week's meal ticket." Out of fingers, he
omitted no more football scholarship, one of the few ways a dirt poor
Okie could attend university in the late Thirties. But I was then, and
maybe even now, more taken with the magic of his life than the missing tally: at seventeen bound for Dawson Creek, Hannibal in the Alps,
while I at the same age, here I lay, racking up scholarship points, never
once farther north than Seattle.
The downstairs door opened, let in a squeal from downhill, banged
shut. From in front of the house Jake shouted, "Hey you dumb prick!"
On my desk a white shoebox of a clock radio hummed as its arms
closed midnight. Until my father's operation we had lived in another
house and in separate bedrooms each much larger than this. That too
I had forgotten, or at least hadn't retained as something worthy of
memory, a conscious awareness. In that house a clock radio which
hummed at midnight would have been replaced.
Jake entered, his look anywhere but toward me, glasses as usual low
on his nose so a brown frame drew a bar across his eyes and disfigured
the blond beauty he so despised or so feared.
"Dad come outside?"
"Yeah," he sighed with fatigue, and with warning. Dimwitted farm-
boys mistook for timidity the way he studied his shuffling feet and
screwed up his mouth to answer their taunts, and they paid. It was the
same shoulder-slumped retreat he offered the few girls who dared
corner him, and I often wondered what would happen if one touched
him. With his glasses knocked off, he saw double, but went for the one
on the right.
"What did he say?"
"Hey look—I'm beat." He shucked his shirt, held it angrily before
56 him as if strangling his own throat. "Had a bit of an argument about
ethics—rights and responsibilities of a school rag to a student
campaign —your campaign. Idiot seniors off to college —now's their
chance to argue philosophy. What a load of crap. Anyone with an
ounce of smarts knows you're going to win, you and your slate of toady
whimps—you always do, don't you? And your column went in, untouched. So don't bug me, huh." The dead shirt dropped to the floor.
Some lifters called me Cobe, for the shape of my back when flexed,
but beside Jake's narrower chest those family lats seemed an abnormal
growth, dromedary humps on a gazelle. "I saw his scars," I said. "His
lung scars."
Jake tugged a sheet over his head. In a voice on the verge of sleep or
on an unguarded edge of his shyness, he said, "For me he wore pajama
"You know what's got him so upset?"
Jake lunged to the foot of his bed and snapped at the switch. I
turned on my bed lamp. "Do you know? Or not?"
"Yeah. He needs his sleep. Just like me. Now let me have it."
Clock radios would begin buzzing throughout our house within five
hours, Max's first, over my head, and our mother would arise to make
his breakfast, something she never did for Jake or I when we delivered
morning papers. Jake now snored his light cadence, a screen door
spring stretching with summer gusts. It wasn't really a great concern.
There was my speech tomorrow and a need to remember to keep the
head turning to take in the entire gym and look a select few dead in
the eyes, and there was that sliding half-step which keeps stealing into
my discus throw and a bylaw ammendment to be drafted for the Medical Explorers and an essay due for Law Day, and on Saturday there
was Mary Lou O'Rourke. But somewhere, at the edge of sleep, or in a
dream, or within that brief glimmer of wakefulness just before Max's
radio, there came to me a clink made when all the tumblers fall into
After the speech which wrung laughter from the stands and sorrow
from those so foolish as to challenge me, I humbled my way through
backslappings and handshakes, then skirted the gym to avoid the track
coach. I stuck out my thumb and fell into a ride with a fellow whose
thoughts were contorted with Spring, mythic resurrection, pastoral
rebirth. He quoted Wordsworth, then asked what I thought of such a
bounteous Oregon spring. He didn't look queer, but one can never be
too sure.
"I'm going into medicine," I stated. "The only life and death I'm interested in are those of men and women."
"The trouble with doctors today," he snorted. "Educated mechanics,
57 no imagination.
On the white walls of my parents' bedroom hung no pictures, no
shelves of books, no diplomas or framed documents, no clues to the inhabitants, no symbols of permanency or ownership. I disliked this
room and its asepticism, and now that I had again seen the scars I
loathed it. Within this room three years ago I massaged with a lotion
the ribbon along my father's back, worked with a fear that his body
might break along the tender dotted lines as he urged me to knead
more vigorously.
Within his closet, I expected a shotgun, I needed a shotgun. A shotgun would put back to sleep those memories the clink of a combination lock had awakened, would again retire concerns father's cheery
character and his very life itself had so thoroughly erased. Tonight in
the living room, late, after my shift at the ice cream parlor, he might
greet me stroking one with oil, might ply me with hints to ask for a
Sunday at his club—for he had recently learned of scholarships for
skeetshooters. If I agreed, he would likely return the gun to the metal
cabinet on the other side of my bedroom wall.
Beyond his closet I didn't want to pry, for I now felt his pain not that
deeply buried, that I might encounter the tail of a pain, a blood-
spotted handkerchief perhaps. I had forgotten those dry cold mornings hunting pheasant, how he would hack and spit and leave in the
dust a glob of bloody phlegm like remains of a field mouse killed in the
night. I had forgotten the physician's call I had eavesdropped upon,
on the extension when I was just twelve, how I had dropped to my
knees to beseech a god for my father's life even as I condemned him
for wanting to take it, the room around me filling with the cotton batting of my mother's cries muffled through the floor above me.
On father's side of the bed, the window side, stood a white night-
stand with one drawer and a magazine rack. Outside was that coniferous forest he so cherished, a patch not unlike those he logged and
trapped before the war, hunted and fished before his operation.
Spring, the man said, resurrection. But cedar and hemlock wore the
same greens as always, clumps of sword ferns no more lively than in
winter. No blossoms, no crocuses, no fragrant warning signs on stinging nettles down by the trickle father called a creek. In father's forest it
was dank and dark, forever autumn.
In the drawer would be a pellet pistol and a flashlight, weapons in
his crusade to frighten cats from his forest, whether to save the squirrels and pullet grouse or only his sleep I was never certain. I fin-
gertipped this nightstand, studying the vague unyielding greens outside. This was treachery, deceit, but I had to be certain. As he would
tell me when younger, this is for your own good. Within the quiet pall
a flush of shame engulfed me, put its warm moist hand to my throat. A
car whooshed down the hill.
08 That Sunday he trapped me. From my desk I sensed his presence in
the doorway, his unhurried ease which so completely disguised his
eagerness to produce, to succeed, to get on with life, and I snapped a
pencil lead in anger at Jake for having left the door open. Mary Lou
hadn't produced, and we wouldn't be skeetshooting.
"No work at the shop today?" he asked, only after I turned to him.
"Not this Sunday."
"The hospital?"
"Too many hours in this month already."
"Looking for some?" His lower lip swollen from having been split so
many times seemed engorged with amusement, his head tilted to a
side, nearly to the jamb.
"Sure," I lied, looking through my window and into the lower branches of a cedar. Law Day could wait. "Why not?"
Together we packed old railroad ties for a retaining wall until he
caught me out at carrying more than my share, inching toward the
middle of each tie. We then carried one apiece, balanced it awkwardly
on a shoulder so that creosote smeared cheeks, ears, hair, and its
corner gnashed a crease in the edge of the neck, up and down his goddamn hill behind the house to protect his goddamn forest from the
erosion of mother's Japanese garden. At first his one-lunged breath
rattled and wheezed, and then, like any other old motor when warmed
up, smoothed itself out into a rapid steady stroke, his thin hair slick to
his skull. It was not my idea of Sunday recreation, and he said nothing
about the big black revolver in his nightstand drawer, not a hint. When
he did speak, he twanged and he drawled, referred to lunch as "grits
fir awhr gullits," as if on a day of rest he should leave on a shelf the diction he desired in his sons and let slip, for one brief moment, the
veneer adhering to his past. "No couth," I whispered back.
After lunch mother halted him in the hall as he was leaving the
bathroom, and in the kitchen I realized I had heard from her before
these quick unintelligible mutterings behind walls without understanding or even trying to understand their meaning. He emerged
from the hall and said to me, "Like a beer? A special on the idiot box I
think you'd like, a round-up of the best ball from last season."
It was the closest we could come these days to a family gathering.
Beside me sat my father nipping at a scotch and water, on his lap
Sammy chattering between commercials about cars and pickups and
beers, Max sprawled on the carpet picking his nose, and on the couch
against the wall my mother, darning socks. Her short hair like a close-
fitting helmet, she sat with her prim unspoken power of a prison
matron, or at least a head librarian.
"See how he head-feinted left for just that all important split-
second? Then pivoted his torso at the waist to take out the guard on
his right?"
59 "Very nice," I answered. I hadn't watched with him since the regular
season—the last time, it came to me now, the time he kicked Jake down
the stairs—and I had forgotten how he encouraged us to study positions we played, how he quizzed us. For him education was the only
value in television, an education to be applied toward scholarships,
and, with mother policing, it would also be for him the only work accomplished this afternoon.
"That tight end is clever. See how he snakes back down the line to
block low from the side. Almost clipping, but not quite. Too bad Jake's
not here."
"Lovely," I said.
Downstairs, Jake lay on his bed, legs lapped at his ankles, back bolstered by pillows, muddy workboots on the floor. "Missed a great football special," I said. A pocket of his flannel shirt was torn away, on one
knee a wet grass stain. "Been hotwiring cars again?" He turned a page.
"Rolling rummies for their wine money again?" Though I envied his
concentration it angered me when it eliminated me. "I've got it. You've
been out molesting poor defenseless sheep again." No, but he was
reading The Heart of Darkness, again. I tore the book from his hands. It
wasn't required reading for his class, but for mine. Through lenses his
eyes blinked as though he had been struck from behind and was grasping for consciousness, those gold flecks pulsing up and down, luminescent in the surrounding green seas. About those eyes girls made little
pigeon sounds, but not to him.
"I was talking to you."
"And I was reading." His eyes narrowed as he reached for the book
with one hand, the other clenching into a fist beside his armpit.
"Strange stuff," I said, pretending to savour a passage, "for a tough
"Try it sometime. You might find it more enlightening than Cliff's
Notes. But then, maybe you wouldn't."
I held the book toward him, but he refused to lean forward, to come
halfway. "Dad's got the Luger. I mean, he's got it up in his room. In his
He canted his head slightly to a side in father's manner, his fist still
beside his armpit and his hand still outstretched. I set the book on his
palm. He flicked pages forward and back until he found his place,
then, with a short sigh, seemed to sink deeper into his bed, as if a
badger burrowing backwards into a hollow just deep enough for protection, unperturbed, settling in to wait for the wolves to come to know
what he knows, to give up and go home.
"Do you know anything about it?" I persisted. "Any ideas why he
might want it there?"
From his hollow he poked, crinkled his nose as if sniffing the air,
60 stated flatly, "I don't mess in other people's business," then ducked in
deeper, unreachable.
"Shithead," I seethed. I wished I could kick him down some stairs,
the way my father had done. Just harder. He deserved it.
On the following Saturday evening I sat on a couch near the
downstairs door, reading words but not thoughts. What truths Jake
might learn from Conrad lay hidden from me. On his way out the
door this evening I had grabbed him at the bicep. He recoiled from
my touch, put his back to the wall, glared through my concern. "Fuck
off," he interrupted. "I'm not one of your fawning sycophants." To my
father I had mentioned these year end parties, intimated the alcohol
consumed, the vandalism which often resulted, the potential for a police record which might dash scholarship hopes, that I was willing to sit
home—and that Jake should do the same. "No, no, m'boy," he joked.
"Chapter two, verse twelve: The modern father mustn't—must not
cramp the style of young bucks exploring their manhoodlumery."
Across this library/game room from me, on the other side of the
pool table, stood the double-doored metal gun cabinet, locked. I had
no way of knowing if the Luger had been returned. On top of the cabinet lay the dictionary where I had looked up sycophant. Jake was
right, he wasn't.
Throughout last week I had asked friends who drove me home to
drop me off at the top of the hill. "I need the walk," I'd say. I don't
mind, some responded—and plunged down the steep drive. Let me
out, let me out—here! And they would, with quizzical glances and
shrugs. Occasionally I tried to explain, about the boy killed on a
similar hill in another suburb before I was born, the paperboy still in
the hospital, my brother Max taking his place, how our neighbours
were wary of teens in cars. Lots of little kids on our street, you know,
including my brother Sam. These explanations were heard as insults:
You think, you actually think, that / would lay rubber up your precious little street.
Another car was coming my way, and I again stopped reading,
looked up toward the gun cabinet, hoping it was not Jake, that he
would walk down as he had previous evenings. One lung and a bad
heart, he had said after crashing through the landing window. "You
see that?" he chortled, groping among sword ferns for his glasses,
barely able to form words through the saliva of his glee. "One lung
and a bad heart and the old man just—whammo!—boots me down the
goddamn stairs!" He had not forgotten, I had.
This car was coming too quickly, with the throaty rumble of glass
packs, and I stood, closed the book on a finger. Braking wheels jabbed
out a short squeal, then glass tinkled and raucous laughter bumped
61 around aimlessly outside. I left the downstairs entry light off, ducked
into the shadow beside the concrete wall, crept three strides up our
driveway and huddled there, waiting.
Through the yellowed dark Jake weaved unsteadily, mumbling a
tune around an unlit cigarette, his head bent as if a musing philosopher, detached. At the bottom of the hill a car screeched a turn. From
the shadow I stretched a foot across his ankle and "Shee —!" he
tumbled forward, skidded on his face and hands to sprawl with his
head against the garage door just as father chose his position in the
street, across from the gate and above us on the hill, his back to us,
hands hidden below his waist, chin directed downhill over his left
shoulder, barefoot and in his boxers, his goddamn droopy boxer
shorts. I knew this stance, almost expected him to yell "pull" and to see
a car flung across the street. Toward him I stammered a voiceless plea,
uncertain what I should say, what I could say, then—in alarm—jerked
around. But Jake lay motionless. From him seeped a stench of sweet
white wine tinged with the acid edge of vomit, and I took a step his
way, back down our driveway. A short squeal of rubber pounced toward us, bounded past, and I looked back to father. Shaking his head,
Jake forced a feeble push-up, a girl's push-up from the knees.
Arms straight, father steadily raised his clasped hands from crotch
to shoulder level. Jake rolled over. Highbeams flashed on and father
squinted his brow lower, arms veed in aim at where the driver's head
would be. He stood statue still, granite white, in the centre of the
street, impassable. Behind me sounded the rattle of the garage door
and a faint grunt. Jake was on one knee, groping the dark for his
"Evening, gentlemen," father announced in that all too casual manner of policemen, and, as if an officer uniformed in power rather than
a sick man near naked, he squatted at the open passenger window, his
back a yellow splotch against the old Chev's black green. In that pleasant manner which seemed to diminish his size and mask his battered
face, he recounted the stories of little Tommy Tompkins, the long-
dead marble roller, "who would be a young fellow of your mien and
stature today, if God and a failure of common sense had not deemed
otherwise," and of Petey Johnson, the paperboy "whose future as a
young athlete celebrating very life itself was crushed in its bud, literally
crippled, not two blocks from here."
From the back seat a large voice demanded, "Get lost old man!" and
I stuttered forward, afraid father might reach in to throttle the punk.
The motor revved slightly. "Hey!" yelled the same voice above the
shushes around him, "why doncha go put some clothes on?" Father
wound up with, "Sorry to have to waylay you gents on such a glorious
evening. But do have a safe drive home. Good night."
62 "I thought you had a gun," said the driver nervously.
"Hey—" rumbled from the car, but father had turned away. Jake
stood behind me to a side, his light sorrowful breaths spilling soured
wine. "Hey—" The rear door facing us clicked open, hung ajar—
"Christ, Dick, siddown!"—and voices clashed in argument until a slap
of flesh quelled them all. At the front door of our house father said
something to himself, to the boys in the car, to his sons or to the night,
something I couldn't discern. With an abrupt laugh he disappeared inside.
Out into the yellow light over another's legs clambered a beefy
senior, a mean and ugly fellow made meaner by his lack of wits, his
suspicion that others meant to dupe him. "Hey old man!" he hailed toward the house, waved a loop of his arm toward himself. Little brown
ringlets fringed his fat face, his tiny pig-like nose. He lumbered a step
toward the gate. "Hey!"
"Dick," I said, and raised a hand. He squinted toward us, took one
heavy step our way which nearly forced me one back. When I was sure
he recognized me, I continued, "There's no reason to get upset about
this little roadblock. No harm was done you, no insult was meant."
"Shit," hissed Jake softly closer to me now.
Muller faced us with his large ugly head like a buffalo's bent low between his shoulders, elbows bent at his sides, fists forward. Pondering,
he took another step our way, and this time I did back up, my hand
still raised.
"Dick, listen, we've all played on the same team. We're teammates,
right? And teammates—"
"For shit's sake," moaned Jake.
"C'mon, Dick," said someone from the car.
"—they don't squabble, right? do they? I mean, they may have the
odd little disagreement, right? but when you come down to it, they
stick together, don't they?"
Muller glowered our way, his little eyes squinted smaller. "That old
fool your old man?"
"Now, Dick, that's no way to be. For the good of the team, you —"
"That old fool your old man?"
Muller's fists rose, a spark to his eyes, a twist of a grin to his blubbery
lips, but Jake bobbed deeply, came up like a wedge between Muller's
arms and caught his larynx with the thwack of an open hand—Muller's
tiny eyes gleamed open, his breath huffed out—then clenched it,
darted up a knee and began to bring Muller down, directing the collapse with his left on the neck as he lashed a right across an eye and
into the side of his nose. Jake freed his left and the buffalo crumpled
to his knees, gagging, his own left now on his neck as his right flagged
blindly to fend off the blows that Jake rained onto his face. Muller
63 slumped forward. Jake quickly crouched to halt his fall, push him
erect, but Muller slid across Jake's hands to fall onto a side. Jake drew
his fists to his gut and bent sharply forward, threw his right leg back,
his foot high.
"Jake," I cautioned, and his foot slapped asphalt. A head poked
from the open door, said "Jesus Jake," and popped back inside. The
passenger in the front snapped his face forward and rolled up his
Like a large cat, a rangy mountain lion, Jake stood tipped slightly
forward, weight on the balls of his feet, watchful, ready to pounce
again if his prey arose. The Chev's motor mumbled away. No one
spoke. Muller's eyes were dilated, moist and vacant, but he was conscious, burbling sobs through the bloody stream from his nose, the
split over an eye. His ringlets in matted disarray, eyes already swelling
closed, he reeked of old urine in sunlight.
I forced him to a sitting position with his head hanging between
knees, got him to pinch his nostrils with my handkerchief. "You'll be
all right, Dick," I said, "You'll be fine in the morning, just a little
nosebleed, nothing to worry about." I patted his shoulder. "Just keep
your nose pinched and your head down." I helped him into the car, his
sobs trailing off into wheezes, the occupants strangely silent.
The old green Chev moved slowly uphill, from its rumbling tailpipe
a faint yellow spiral of exhaust, a little dribble of water. I turned to
Jake. His hands clenched at his thighs, body tipped toward me, he
glowered, ropes and cords of his neck and arms strung taut with rage,
under his flannel shirt those weird lats like the stubby folded wings of
a fallen angel. Our porch light went off. It was suddenly very quiet on
our street, and all I knew for certain was that none of us would discuss
tonight's events tomorrow. "Mine," I believe Jake had whispered as he
lunged past me at Muller.
"You could've killed him," I said to Jake, and turned toward the
64 Andrew Wreggitt/Ttfo Poems
Crabbing at Melville Arm
In my dream,
it could be anything
pulled up in the wire cage,
the yellow rope pointed
like a finger
into the dark water
Not like the people before us
who could dream dog salmon
along narrow shoals,
or a swath of abalone
hidden by bullkelp
The people before us
who could map
the paths of sleep,
follow ancestral dreams
to the ocean floor,
the full nets, spilling
the routes clear, unbroken
In my dream,
the blue cage comes up
bearing only starfish,
wide pages of kelp
All night, I pay out rope
to the swinging tide
I have no skill at dreaming
The dark waters of my sleep
uncharted, pulled by random currents
I must accept what is offered,
what is swaying at the end
of the yellow rope
Perhaps tomorrow,
two brown Dungeness
scrabbling on the wire bottom
65 Breathless
for Sandy Parker
The single engine Beaver lifts,
roars like a symphony of banjos
crashing up into the sky
In your Afghani tribesman hat,
you tell me about
down draughts so sudden,
you once broke twelve bottles of beer
on the ceiling of your plane
And of the milkrun to Masset,
flying home upside-down to stay awake
the whole Pacific, angry Hecate Strait
riding just above your head,
floats paddling like duck feet
on the underbelly of clouds
What is remarkable to me:
not the lifting of metal and rubber,
swept up in rivers of air,
it is the heart lifted up,
curious, astonished,
so it gasps a little
like the quick    breath
the engine takes before the stall
Two of us lifted high over Seal Cove
in the clear eye of flight
New beings, breathless,
against the dangerous
ceiling of sky
66 Suzanne McCarthy
Girl at River in Winter: Convent
There is no one can give her this,
a chaste cold kiss
upon quivering reluctant lips,
yet not pull her in and down,
for she will not be pulled
into the vortex of a river to be drowned.
At noon she plays piano,
long fingers moving deliberately.
This is a devotion she can understand.
She is in love with clarity,
with black and white keys,
passion restrained in a torrent of Bach.
She lets drop two sheets of music
into the cold river moving deliberately
Over rocks and branches;
Over rocks and branches, icy,
passionate and reasonable fingers are pushing
music from water bundling over rock.
She wants heart meeting intellect
in open space,
the certainty opposites have when fused,
or two, in interval,
close enough to harmonize,
she grins, amused.
She dips her wrist
in the clear water.
I will not marry
for fear of losing clarity,
for fear of losing passion.
She bends over the crystal quick river
67 And the river speaks to her,
returning the embrace,
in the music
of her own chaste cold face.
68 Marlene Cookshaw
The Settlement
The teacher and the carpenter pack their bus
to explore the prairies    This time
she is not pregnant, I've not entangled him
in a romance    There are no mountains
from which he will write letters and not send them
A teacher, a carpenter, three-year-old child
Educator with circus desires    No room, she says,
in this overstuffed armchair of a town
She leans over    Property mapped out
along the Red River    Square beads on an abacus
Pamphlet on government land grants
I cannot tell her my fruit tree has worms
You look so clean, he says, and leaves behind his coat
One's presence enlarges    A tree of one's own
She leans over the counter    See you later
She leans over    (I call him
from Assiniboine Park, from the Winnipeg Zoo
I've seen gorillas and penguins, and the bears
in rock pens    I've lost weight and the sun
is going down, will you meet me?    I'll wear
a striped T-shirt, trail your new red Corolla
past McDonald's to the north end apartments
Women pace the verandahs of the governor's house
in cloaks the colour of crushed flowers
You can make me chicken cacciatore    I'll make
love to you though what I want is to be
your wife)    She leans over
69 There are no mountains, she says,
though I've heard of a park near Ottawa—
a mad prime minister planted imitation
Roman ruins—where one can walk through falls
of multicoloured leaves at any time of year
70 Ray Weremczuk
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with hollandaise sauce. Coffee..
A foreign woman in a chinchilla wrap, black muffler,
peaked hat, sunglasses, imposingly dark make-up,
says Hello, my man.
Lunch: Instant noodles with shrimp.
Watch the beautiful girl who works in the jewellery
department, her reflection in the counter mirror where
customers appraise the trinkets against their own skin.
Supper: Chicken pie.
Watch TV. Do 50 push-ups. Buy a milkshake. Try to read
Finnegan's Wake:
Hopsoloosely kidding you together with your cadenus
and goat along nose how we shall complete that white paper.
Breakfast: Frozen waffles with real maple syrup. Coffee.
Masturbate. Shower.
The foreign woman returns, pulls an exposed black & white
film from her muffler: Glossy prints please, my man.
Lunch: BLT from cafe across the street.
Watch the girl in the jewellery department fit
the decorative metal onto necks, wrists, fingers.
Supper: Canned spaghetti with clam sauce.
Read the newspaper. Watch TV. Take a walk and buy an out-of-town
newspaper. Flip through
Finnegan's Wake.
71 Wednesday:
Shower. Re-wash hair to remove the strange groove.
Breakfast: Jam-filled doughnut and coffee.
Sell an expensive camera outfit to a woman who seems to be blind.
Lunch: Two cups of coffee.
The blind woman returns, faces the wrong way, asks about
infrared photography. Read the explanation:
It captures invisible wavelengths longer than the red
in the visible spectrum.
Supper: Frozen cordon bleu.
Do 40 push-ups, in 2 installments of 20 each. Try to read
Finnegan's Wake:
What a warm time we were in there but how keling is here the
airabouts! We nowhere she lives but you mussna....
Watch a TV movie about spies in this country. Think about
the foreign woman.
Breakfast: Corn flakes with banana chips. Coffee.
Long bath.
Sworn at by a man whose film was lost by the processor:
All those memories gone forever!
Lunch: A raw green bean that one of the girls from the drug
aisle insists is good for the bowels.
Sell a 12-exposure colour print film to the foreign woman.
Supper: Big Mac, fries, chocolate shake, and hot apple pie.
Wander through the shopping mall and buy a record:
Jazz Legends: Thelonious Monk.
Go home. Listen to the album and find it has
skips in it: The lone, the lone, thelonious monk.
Have a painful excretion. Watch TV.
Wake up to snow and white noise.
72 Friday:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and ketchup. Coffee.
Receive new shipment of picture frames.
Cut finger on some broken glass.
Raise the bloodied finger towards the jewellery department
mirror, then wipe it clean before anyone sees.
Lunch: BLT from cafe across the street.
Explain why infrared film is hard to find to the returning
blind woman: Almost no one wants it.
The girl in the jewellery department says, Good weekend;
her face is backwards.
Phone friend who isn't home.
Go see a film about a buxom woman who pretends to be
a boy to prove a point.
Go home. 20 push-ups. Try to read
Finnegan's Wake:
The herewaker of our hamefame is his real namesame who
will get himself up and erect, confident and heroic
when but, young as of old, for my daily comfreshenall....
Watch late-night rock video program.
Wake up to snow and white noise.
Sleep in. Flip through
Finnegan's Wake.
Breakfast: Frozen blueberry waffles with real maple syrup. Coffee.
Wander around downtown. But some black 8c white film.
Lunch: Salad in a pita pouch.
Phone a friend who isn't home. Watch professional bowling on TV.
Supper: Frozen pizza with extra green pepper and mozzarella.
Phone friend. Go to pub together and drink beer.
See the blind woman in front of the TV, not seeing the love
scene, lips tongues noses, jigsaw pieces.
See the foreign woman at the bar, not acknowledging, holds
a cocktail in a grey-gloved hand, eyes behind sunglasses.
Go home. Watch TV.
73 Sunday:
Breakfast: corn flakes with coconut flakes. Coffee.
Watch TV evangelist miraculously heal a slow learner and
a blind child. Watch wrestling. Try to read
Finnegan's Wake:
Then there came down the thither bank a woman of no
appearance (I believed she was a Black with chills
at her feet) and she ....
Supper: Stuffed zucchini.
Watch TV. Accidentally expose black & white film.
Wake up to a news profile on tax shelters. 20 push-ups.
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with hollandaise sauce. Coffee.
The foreign woman returns, her sulphur blonde hair uncovered,
pulls an exposed colour print film from her coat with
white-gloved fingers: Large prints please, my man.
Lunch: Instant noodles with shrimp. Coffee.
Watch the beautiful girl in the jewellery department,
the counter mirror dissecting her into vividly-coloured sections,
into puzzle pieces with no joints.
Supper: Chicken pot pie.
Watch TV. Do 25 push-ups. Read the back cover of
Finnegan's Wake:
Joyce worked for 17 years on his masterpiece.
Breakfast: Frozen waffles with real maple syrup. Coffee.
Masturbate. Shower.
Sell a 12-exposure colour slide film to the foreign woman,
her heavy coat open to reveal a scarlet blouse.
Lunch: BLT from cafe across the street.
The beautiful girl in the jewellery department forms
shapes as she moves and stops.
Deep blue hourglass, orange sand petrified or run out.
A butte made of chunks of sky, midday and sunset.
Supper: Canned spaghetti with mushroom-wine sauce.
Buy an out-of-town newspaper. Watch TV. 20 push-ups.
74 Wednesday:
Shower. Re-wash hair to straighten an odd curl.
Breakfast: Jam-filled doughnut. Coffee.
The foreign woman returns, clear spectacles, a sheer
silk scarf around her naked neck, pulls a slide film
out of her open jacket: As transparent as possible, my man.
Lunch: BLT from cafe across the street.
Discover that the stock of infrared film is out-dated
and lower their prices.
A red and green guitar. Golden waterfall.
Supper: BLT from cafe across the street.
Watch TV. Try to read
Finnegan's Wake:
The great fall of the offwall entailed at such
short notice the pftjschute of.. . .
Breakfast: Corn flakes with banana chips. Coffee.
Long bath.
Cursed at by an old man whose film has been poorly processed:
This thing with black hair and green skin
is not the woman I remember!
Lunch: A pomegranate. Coffee.
The foreign woman returns to inquire about infrared film.
Show her the diagram:
/       violet
/           blue
/               green
/                    orange
/                       red
Then the visible spectrum is only a tiny part of the whole,
my man.
Supper: Double-bacon burger and strawberry shake.
Wander through the shopping mall. Buy an argyle sweater.
Go home and listen to the album with the skips:
The lone, the lone, thelonious monk.
Have a painful excretion.
Watch a TV special about extra-sensory perception.
75 Friday:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and ketchup.
The foreign woman, light dress and bare white fingers,
buys all the out-dated infrared film.
Lunch: BLT from cafe across the street.
The blind woman returns and asks what happened
to all the infrared film.
The girl in the jewellery department says,
Good weekend, with her backwards face.
Phone friend who isn't home. Buy a bottle of rye and watch TV.
Wake up to snow and muzak. Turn down the sound.
Sleep in. Read the back cover of
Finnegan's Wake:
The author has taken language as far as it can possibly go,
demonstrating that words can be delightful in and of themselves.
Do 25 push-ups. Shower.
Breakfast: Frozen blueberry waffles with real maple syrup.
Wander around downtown.
Lunch: A chili dog.
Phone friend who isn't home. Watch skeet shooting on TV.
Supper: Order a pizza with the works.
Go to pub. See the blind woman, her ear towards the TV,
not seeing the embrace, throat shoulder elbows,
her stare penetrating.
See the foreign woman alone at the bar, her unadorned eyes
clear and glassy, raises a long finger and a pink smile.
Buy her a beer and discuss infrared film.
Buy her a beer and discuss the genius of
Finnegan's Wake.
Against her smooth, milky face she holds a black rippled key:
My hotel room, my man. We will take infrared photographs.
Go home. Rip back cover off
Finnegan's Wake.
Watch TV. Wake up to white noise and blank screen.
76 Sunday:
Breakfast: Corn flakes with coconut flakes. Coffee.
Watch TV evangelist heal a blind woman and a crippled
child. Watch wrestling. 20 push-ups.
Supper: Leftover stuffed zucchini.
The lone, the lone, thelonious monk.
Deep blue hourglass, orange petrified sand.
The lone, the lone, thelonious monk.
Backwards face.
Tape the cover back onto
Finnegan's Wake.
Watch TV.
77 Hillel Schwartz
My Father Kisses the Blarney Stone
Not that he mumbles or stutters or stumbles or mutters
nor that he counts out his phrases in shillings & pence
yet hangs from his ankles, held by a stranger as heavy as Water
ford crystal & looks out toward Cork & toward Kerry & kisses the
Funny, this preposterous dangling affair over St. Finbarr's see,
him who crossed the waters on horseback on his way to Jerusalem.
What a man in his sixties will do for the gift of Gab
riel, him who showed Daniel the secrets of the end of time.
What a Jew from Chicago will do for the gift of Gab
batha, the Pavement, where John says Pilate sat in judgment.
What the son of a Russian will do for the gift of gab
bardine, that long loose black coat worn for pilgrimage.
My father hangs by the imperfect strings of his once-stricken heart,
by the sected length of his once-cankered colon & kisses the stone.
Beyond, in the county of Monster, the Blackwater rages, for Schwartz,
& the Leeway, the Abandon ....
So this is why he has climbed the limestone steps of Blarney
with all the other gibbering gullible lunatic pilgrims —
not gab but Gad.    Once again the Gentiles have gotten it wrong.
Blessed be he that enlarges Gad, not gab.
"What good fortune," Leah (my mother) exclaims at Genesis Thirty
as Gad at last is born.    She seeks out an Irish heirloom
78 8c returns with a palm-round paperweight, its purple passion
tricked out on a folding brass stand on a shelf in the breakfront.
My father, blessed be he, has the gift now, and she the glass.
May they both live long, live well, in the highlands of Laguna.
May Gabriel visit their dreams like an old friend from Hebrew school,
& the sons of Gad forever pipe their penny whistles across the springs
of the great green meadows of God's own county of Orange.
Tum-toodle tum-toodle tum-toodle tum-ta.
79 Jane Frazier
Phone Out of Order
It's like you're strolling down this gravel road
And the jays and squirrels are off there,
Somewhere on the side, in the bush,
Pounding their tunes out at ninety miles a minute
And you don't know what all the yakking is about
But there's this huge leaning water oak
Hanging above you like some old grand matriarch
Dropping acorns on your skull that don't hurt
But they're getting to you
Because when you split them open
The insides are in Chinese so you can't read
The damn things or even know if you're
Not trying to read them upside down and
It's like sometime in the drunken, hazy morning,
The world got up
And just walked away.
Stanislaw Baranczak, an "inner emigre at Harvard," is highly regarded as a
writer in his native Poland. "History" is from the collection Atlantyda and other poems,
1981-1985, soon to be published in France.
Michael Bjornson is a Vancouver artist and free-lance architect.
Mafruha Choudhury is a journalist for the weekly women's page of Doinik Bangla
(Bengali Daily). She has published five collections of short stories in her native
Marlene Cookshaw's book of poems, Personal Luggage, was published by Coach
House in 1984. "The Settlement" is part of a longer work entitled "The Whole Elephant"; other poems from the series appeared recently in Malahat Review.
Michael Czuma, a Toronto writer, has published in Malahat Review, Grain, Quarry
and Fiddlehead.
Stig Dagerman is considered one of the most gifted Swedish writers of the 1940's.
In 1954, at the age of thirty-one, his life ended tragically in suicide.
Jane Frazier is pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Notre Dame.
J. Q. Gregg lives in Heriot Bay, British Columbia. "An alcoholic and a builder, he
writes short fiction when out of houses and sober. His work has appeared in The
Tamarack Review and Quarry. He does not write poetry and has no plans for a novel."
Patricia Haebig is editor of Wisconsin Review.
Rebecca Janson studied and translated Bangladeshi literature as a Fulbright
scholar while in Dhaka for seven months in 1985. She currently lives in Pennsylvania.
Rabeya Khatun has published twelve novels, an additional four novels for children, and two collections of short stories in Bangladesh.
David Manicom has published poetry in most of Canada's major literary magazines, including Prism 24:2. He is assistant editor of the Montreal journal Rubicon.
Gigi Marks lives in Massachusetts.
Suzanne McCarthy has been published previously in Waves.
Walter McDonald's latest book, The Flying Dutchman, won the University of Cincinnati's 1986 George Elliston Poetry Prize, and will be published by the Ohio State
University Press. He is the director of creative writing at Texas Tech University.
Ulla Natterqvist-Sawa, a native of Sweden, has lived in the San Francisco Bay
area since 1956. Aleksandra and Michael Parker live in Winsford in Cheshire, England.
Aleksandra Parker's translations have appeared in PN Review, and will appear in
Verse. Michael Parker has published poetry in Britain and Poland, and is a regular
poetry reviewer for The Honest Ulsterman. He is currently working on a study of
Seamus Heaney's poetry, and a book on writers from the North of Ireland.
David P. Reiter's work has appeared in West Coast Review, Canadian Literature, Fiddlehead, Quarry, Meanjin (University of Melbourne) and Poetry Australia. His latest
collection is Stealing Cherries, and he has recently completed a sequence of Inuit
Hillel Schwartz has published a chapbook, Phantom Children (State Street Press,
1982), and a history of dieting in North America, Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of
Diets, Fantasies and Fat (Free Press/MacMillan, 1986).
J. Mark Shoup, a carpenter and a Vietnam veteran, teaches English composition at
Wichita State University in Kansas.
Ray Weremczuk is a recent graduate of the University of Victoria. This is his first
publication in a recognized literary magazine.
Jeff Worley has been published in numerous literary magazines. He is an assistant
professor of English at Penn State.
Andrew Wreggitt's poem "Crabbing at Melville Arm" was one of a series which
tied for first prize in CBC's 1985 Literary Competition. His most recent book is Man
at Stellaco River (Thistledown, 1985). A new book of poetry, Southeasterly (Thistledown) is forthcoming in spring 1987, and a new episode of the Beachcombers,
"Alekos," will be broadcast this fall '86.
Lloyd Zimet lives with his wife in New York City.
82 FEBRUARY 1986
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Since 1952 Quarry has been publishing new, innovative poetry and fiction by young, emerging
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Women Poets/Le gala de la parole
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SP/ELLES: Poetry by Canadian
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Saturday, November 8,1986
P.K. Page
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Poems by: J. Mark Shoup, David P. Reiter, Patricia
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