PRISM international

Prism international Prism international Oct 31, 1969

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Autumn, ig6g
An International Biannual Publication of the Arts and Sciences
Past contributions include:
Essays by Hugh Kenner, Marshall McLuhan,
Jerome Mazzaro, Dabney Stuart, and others
Fiction and Poetry by Daniel Stern, Eugene McNamara, Joyce Carol Oates, George Bowering,
Daniel Hughes, Larry Rubin, and others
Critical essays on Joseph Conrad, Herbert Mar-
cuse, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Robert
Lowell, Malcolm Lowry, Vladimir Nabokov, and
Canadian Art
Contributions are welcomed. Manuscripts submitted for consideration must be accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Address all correspondence to: The Editor, The University of Windsor Review, the University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
subscription rates : $2.50 yearly plus 20^ postage STAFF
editor  Jacob Zilber
associate editors   Robert Harlow
Douglas Bankson
/. Michael Yates
PRISM international is a journal of contemporary writing, published three times
a year by the University of British Columbia. Annual subscriptions are $5.00,
single copies $1.75, obtainable by writing to PRISM, c/o Creative Writing,
U.B.C, Vancouver 8, B.C.
MSS should be sent to the Editors at the same address and must be accompanied by a self-addressed envelope and Canadian or unattached U.S. stamps,
or commonwealth or international reply coupons. PRISM
Summer of the Black Sun
There Was An Old Woman
From Wexford
Two Stories
Two Stories
Some Falsifications
For the Blessed Virgin
Two Poems
Four Poems
Last Minute Dead
Three Poems
Peter Webb and the General
Two Poems
Three Poems
76 Two Poems
In Dreams Begin ...
Gone Underground
We Kill the Old Red Rooster
Doom by Water
from Stanzas for Listeners
at the Breathing Places
Books and Periodicals Received
The front and back photo covers are by Al Walters, who lives in Burnaby, B.C. The following excerpt is from a first novel which has just been released by
Prism international press and November House. Bill T. O'Brien had a story
in our Autumn 1968 issue, and has done free-lance writing for Vancouver
Life, the Vancouver Sun and the Vancouver Province, as well as radio interviews for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He now works as a welder
and emergency repairman for the British Columbia Hydro Gas division, and
lives in Vancouver.
Summer of the Black Sun
"Since Doug Forscutt is injured," I say, "we will take the report
on the women up to the present, and I will assign Johnkowski to
help Jesus I investigate the possibilities. Brother Forscutt, would you
fill us in on the latest developments?" Forscutt wheeled his chair
closer to the table, cleared his throat. "Gentlemen, I am pleased to
inform you that ward 1-A women's unit is on the loose ..."
Ben Herd interrupts. "What in the Lord's name is 'on the loose'?"
Jesus I jumped to his feet. "What do you mean 'in my name'?"
Jesus II yelled, "Your name. You are not the Lord!"
I slapped the table. "Order! Order!-—Please continue, brother
Forscutt, explaining the phrase 'on the loose'."
Doug cleared his throat once more. "I only meant those forty
luscious women have grounds passes. They are allowed to walk
around outside from ten in the morning until noon and two in the
afternoon until supper."
Johnkowski jerked his head back. "You mean those women are
out there now?"
"Out there now," hollered Matthew Echonus.
There was a rush for the windows. "There! There! There!"
In the distance, between the trees, sure enough, walked a woman.
We were like children at a pastry window. "Oooooo." "Aaaaaa."
"Mmmmmm." I had forgotten women. Now I remembered. There was more of
a feeling of loneliness than desire. Seeing that lone woman in the
distance gave me a deep sense of incompleteness. In my mind somewhere a hope still hung by a thread from the coiled wreck of my
fife: a picture of a happy, normal me dangled by a strand of unspoken prayer.
I thought, "I have never yet gone to my knees and asked for a
reprieve. I have chosen to make the best of this. My life has fallen
from what it once was — but I choose to fight my way out."
That woman walking in the breeze — she was wrapped in loneliness. You could tell by the way she walked. Maybe this was my
mind out of control once more. Why would she be out in the wind
if loneliness were not her name?
The strange part of this plot to bring us women is: why had we
not thought of women before? Perhaps we were too conscious of
our illness to think of anyone else.
That one thought born of institutional despair surfaced in the
pool of my consciousness — "Maybe these women will help me."
I wish that I could have approached this adventure properly.
Men would meet women for mutual pleasure. Yet, typically me, the
whole thing would be cerebral: thought-out, rationalized, pre-lived.
Why could I not be more earthy? Why not swagger with maleness
for at least a few days — be a man; take what I want ■—■ no regrets.
I know that this is not true: just another phantasy in my institution-
bounded world.
Drugs ate the days and hungered for the weeks. The staff fed us
pills twice a day: after breakfast and at coffee time in the evenings.
I learned not to protest when the pills were a different colour.
Ben Herd disappeared from the ward for two days. Frank Johnkowski saw him. "I tell you that was the weirdest sight. There was
Herd. He was dressed like a priest, black suit and reversed white
Ben told the story in his own words when he appeared in a later
meeting. "The white collar was easy. I reversed one of my white
dress shirts. I visited the women's ward in my priestly capacity. I
tell you, brothers — the whole thing is fixed -— the women's representative is Leona I-forget-her-second-name. She is game. That
woman even has the meeting place picked out. You know the old
powerhouse on the far side of the hospital?" He pointed as he said this. No one knew the place. "This Leona says that those women
are so lonely and filled with love and nobody to receive their love
that they want to meet our representatives on Tuesday."
"What day is today?" I asked in my presidential tone.
"Monday," answered Johnkowski.
I asked, just for the heck of it, "What month?"
"August —■ where you been?"
I spoke to the group. "Tuesday, that is tomorrow, man that is
That was the feeling I had. Up until then the whole thing had
been a dream. Within twenty-four hours, we would meet flesh-and-
blood women. I continued, "I might as well reveal the plan for
escape. We secure as many white jackets as necessary, create a rumpus at shift change time, then sneak out in the confusion. I will meet
Leona tomorrow and set the rendezvous date."
The meeting came to a close and I asked Johnkowski, "Would
you come with me tomorrow? We will have to try our escape plan."
"I will be glad to," Johnkowski said, "anything to get away for
a few free minutes."
First chance, I took two white smocks from the closet in the hallway. Bed-time came. I awoke with a start. Frank whispered, "Are
you awake, Louper?"
"Yes," I answered, "what is it?"
Johnkowski brought a finger to his lips. "Today we meet the
I swung out of bed, reached under my pillow and took out the
white jackets. We sat on the washbasin stand under the single bathroom night light. I could feel the morning's first-waking uglies hang
over me.
I do not normally smoke, but a few puffs on one of Johnkowski's
cigarettes put the morning in better perspective. There would be
adventure to break the monotony of the rubber-stamped days.
At five fifty-five, two of the male nurses were relieved. Frank and
I knew that the usual procedure was for the relief nurses to enter
the ward and report to the main office. This morning two white
smocks would be waiting at the door. We relied on the early morning drowsiness of the nurses and the element of surprise to make
our plan a success.
Johnkowski breathed, "Five fifty." Without further conversation we walked through the dormitory
and down the dark hallway. Johnkowski was surprisingly light on
his feet and the pad, pad of his footsteps was barely audible.
Silently we waited by the doorway. I had no thoughts for the
day, only "How will we get past these incoming nurses?"
A key rattled in the iron door. I spoke to the opening door.
"Hah, I was just about to use my key."
"Morning, gentlemen," Frank said walking through the doorway.
The two nurses hardly looked up. A voice mumbled, "Morning."
Then we were on the stairway. Down, down the three flights we
raced. There was really no need to hurry. There would be a few
minutes' confusion upstairs before the Buildings and Grounds Supervisor would receive a phone call.
There was a twenty-five cent piece in my pocket. We walked towards the tiny restaurant to spend it on coffees. I squeezed the
black-market quarter between my fingers as we moved. Its roundness and the freedom of walking unsupervised felt great.
Still wearing our white smocks we swung onto stools at the
counter of the cafe. My quarter went "cling" as we sat down. "Two
coffee, please."
I poured an ounce of cream in my coffee and sat there savouring
the flavour of freedom and coffee. "We meet the women in the
powerhouse at ten o'clock," John said. "That is a long wait."
"Shhh. Why just wait? Enjoy this freedom. Breath the un-institu-
tional air. I've had my fill of waiting. I've been waiting all my life.
Before I came in here I was waiting to finish school. I thought I'd
finished school and 'Boom!' the fireworks would break out and I'd
have it made. Now is all that counts. Today if that woman is game,
like Ben said, I am going to do it, or have it — or whatever you
"Shhh," Frank said. We left the restaurant and walked. The sun
rose and baked the early morning dew. I could not bring myself to
look at the sun. The strangeness of its colour was upsetting.
Frank and I sat in the shade of an evergreen. The sun crept
slowly, cunningly around and "Bing!" I was impaled in its black
"Louper, what is the matter?"
"The sun," I said weakly, "I can't stand it. The rays are choking
7 Frank jumped to his feet and spread his white jacket between the
black sun and me. Strange, how that hated white jacket can protect
you for a moment.
"Thanks," I said. "What came over me?"
"What is it?" Johnkowski frowned. "I have never seen that look
of terror on your face before."
"I must not tell you, Frank. No one knows about this. Somehow
I know that I will never tell."
Frank said, "Just so long as you don't do that any more — Hey!
it must be i o o'clock."
We rose and walked. The huge hospital loomed on our left. Sun
decks on each tier of the building were partially blocked by square
iron gratings. Faces peered at us through the openings. I couldn't
help wondering, "How do they live? What kind of people are they?
There must be some fantastic stories behind each one of these white
"There is the powerhouse," Frank interrupted. "Over there,
among the trees."
I saw the cement structure. By the door stood two women. We
walked down a flight of stairs, crossed a gravel parking lot and I
saluted the woman I knew must be Leona.
"Hello — you're Leona."
The younger of the two women answered, "Yes, how did you
I knew: because she was young. Her hair was long and looked
well-combed. Her skin was milk and satin. I'd seen her in my
For a moment I had a recurrence of a vision: When I travelled
and was so alone, I made up an ideal woman; she would be the
one I would five with and love, when the upheaval of my youth
was done.
I answered, "Oh, I just knew."
Leona wore a light blue sweater. The kind that quickly shows a
man that attractive softness. It had been such a long time since I
had seen a woman who was not in starched nurse's uniform. I forgot how soft and feminine a woman can look. She said, "So, you're
Louper. The medical school one who Father Herd called 'Bugsy'."
I laughed, "Hey, Frank, get that, Father Herd." But Frank was locked in a staring match with Leona's companion. "Why not step
inside the building?"
The woman with Leona was her opposite. Leona had a slim
figure. This woman was burly and had heavy features. A clear-cut
mustache sat on her upper lip. One window on the far end of the
cool cement building provided some fight. The four of us sat on a
bench that ran along the wall.
"Well," said Leona.
"Yes, well we — that is — uh — they, you know, our group
wants ..." I stammered.
Leona's laugh echoed in the coolness. "I know what you want —
"Well I would not have put it that way," and I'd have sworn I
smelled perfume.
Leona spoke again. "We all know why we are here. This is our
little lonely heart's club. Mister Louper, I thought you were a president?"
"You can call me Bill. You are right. I am the leader. I must
take control. Here is the plan outline: seven of us men will make a
break from ward three of the men's pavilion. We wish to meet
seven women on the same day, say ten days from today, at the same
time. We feel that this building will serve our purposes."
Leona spoke quietly. "I like you — you're so masculine."
My arm found her in the dimness. "My little bit of fluff."
Her head nestled on my chest. "Oh, Billy."
Then in the cool of the day I was a Frenchman. "Je vous aime,
ma chere."
"Oh, Billy-Billy."
My voice had the rich guttural tone of the Paris French. "Live a
lifetime in the present, ma chere."
And I caressed her back. "Love is more than life, my dove, my
sweet, my apple blossom."
A voice in a dream said, "You are my prayer, my big Billy man,
my very own 'Bugsy'."
"Your breath is like a perfume, your sweater is like camel-hair."
I caressed her back once more to get a feel of the sweater. It was
gone. Something fuzzy brushed my face. "The sweater is off," I
thought. "Ma chere, my lovely." I put my hand down to her waist. "God!
Where are your clothes?"
"Oh, I have them off," she breathed.
I felt the slim fingers fumbling with my buttons. The male in me
became dominant. "I'll do it." I jerked off my trousers. All my
clothes came off, except my socks. I pulled her close to me. Her
nakedness was pressed to my nakedness. I torsoed her over in a
modified Hollywood body kiss of my own invention. She gasped as
the cold cement touched her.
"I don't care," I shouted, "I'm all male!"
An answer, "You sure are," echoed in the darkness. I never
heard. My entire being was concentrated on that one purpose.
There I was striving, straining on the cold cement when my
muscles shivered, sparked in ecstasy and I rolled on my side in the
dust on the floor. "What's wrong?" That voice from the darkness
spoke again. "More! More! Greatness is within reach, Louper."
From a hole in the floor a grey mouse weighing thirty-five pounds
ran to me and lay across my face. You know how a mouse smells;
all rancid like old cheese. I almost passed out. The mouse lay like
that on me and said, "Yea, yea," and "Nay, nay," for I do not
know how long.
I was still lying dazed on the floor, when my pants hit me. "Put
those on. Who do you think you are? — Ovid?" Shakily I stood up.
The women were gone. Frank said, "I told them to meet us next
Friday, same women plus five."
"Yeh," I said and stepped through the door. "Whomp!" the sun
hit me. I froze in my steps. "The sun! The sun!" I moaned. Frank
covered me with his white smock. "You better do something about
this." In a few minutes I spoke. "The sun got worse while we were
in there."
"I still say you should have that looked into," Frank warned.
"Supper time in six minutes. If we hurry we can sneak into the
dining hall and say grace."
That was what we did. I kept those memories of that day in a
separate compartment of my mind, not to be mixed with fantasy
and delusion. I have missed too much in my life to pass up anything. Now I treasure the memory.
Wednesday morning I was informed, "Doctor Hooke will see you
in his office at ten." My mind was in a whirl. I entered the office.
10 Doctor Hooke stood upon his mahogany desk. His right foot was on
a copy of my case history, his left rested on the big black book that
contained descriptions of our symptoms.
Doctor Hooke was clothed with a cloud, a rainbow was upon his
head, his face was black and his feet were as pillars of fire. He had
in his hand a little open book: a copy of the large one on his desk.
The voice of the black parrot spoke to me over my left shoulder.
"Go on — take the little open book which is in the hand of Doctor
Doctor Hooke said, "Take it and eat it up."
I took the little book and ate it. As I was munching the pages, I
read, "The manic depressive psychoses:" and ate it. "Typified by
extreme mood with seemingly no provocation," and I swallowed
those sentences also. Upon my eating the little book, which tasted
like honey, there was loud screaming in the Doctor's office. Two
male nurses burst into the room. Doctor Hooke yelled, "Hold him a
moment — Bill Louper, we know about your organization and have
wind of your plans. I must warn you. You are interfering with the
routine. We had a good system before you came. This rushing in
here and eating eleven pages out of my psychiatry text will go on
your record. A word of caution -— you are causing entirely too
much upheaval.
"Despite these warnings I know that you will carry on among
our patients as you have. We are working on something now that
might help you to recover."
The Seven met as usual that day at two.
The days rolled by. I was warned two more times by Doctor
We met at the long wooden table.
"What day is today?" I said, fighting a splitting headache.
"Today is Thursday," said Ben Herd. "Where you been?"
"This is the Thursday," I continued, "before we meet the
"Yes," said Johnkowski. "What is the matter with you, Louper?"
I answered, "We must prepare for tomorrow's escape: seven
white smocks, do not forget to wake up early."
Jesus II said, "Why is that Empire Snigg hanging around during
our meetings?" We turned to see this stout man scurry away.
ii "Let's adjourn for the day," I said. "Until tomorrow at five-
forty, gentlemen."
That night I was too excited to sleep. I had to ask for two of the
red sleep bombers before I could pass out.
I woke staring at five white shrouds in the blackness. "I'm ready,
oh Lord, take me."
"What are you babbling about?" Forscutt startled me, he was so
close to my bed. "Get a move on. The time is five forty."
I had entirely forgotten about Doug Forscutt. How could we
manage him in a wheelchair? He could not join our escapade anyway in that cast — could he?
The six of us stood in the washroom. The only evidence that
there was anyone in the room was the glowing tips of cigarettes.
"Boys," I said quietly, "we are going to walk out of the ward when
the incoming nurses open the door. The alarm will be given, so I
have decided that we must hide in the changing rooms of the reproduction — excuse me •— recreation hall until ten o'clock — please
... no talking while we are on the move. Let's move out!"
I was deep into the adventure. With the clink of keys the door
opened. A tide of white answered the opening. "Good morning.
Good morning. Good morning." A shriek, "An escape!" The startled nurse grabbed me — I was the last man. I brushed him aside
as if he were a flea.
Bump, bump, bump, we carried Forscutt. Everyone was breathing hard. "He, he, he."
"He, he, he."
"Ah, ah, ah — hoo, hoo, hoo, hah."
"Run you fools, run!"
A voice in the stairway yelled, "I want to go back."
As the group burst free through the institution's doorway, I
tripped and fell onto the grass. I rolled in the dewy wetness, getting
green all over my white jacket. Laughter welled up in me and I lay
helpless on my back, clutching my stomach.
When I rose the group was well on its way up the hill. I had to
laugh again: They looked like a wild flock of seagulls. Walking in
the cool morning was pleasant. My neck burnt as in my breakdown
days. The burning ache was only a small problem, a misplaced
brush stroke in a wild Van Gogh painting.
The boys waited in the dim changing rooms. As the sun rose, the
12 concrete and tile warmed. Soon we were perspiring freely. My
nervousness added to the heat: Will we get through this? Is Leona
bringing her women? The seven of us sat in the hot dimness. Jesus I
was sick. He was off in another world. "I want to go back. I am
afraid. I want my pills. I want my doctor."
This was a problem I had not anticipated. Suddenly Jesus I
broke out, "Hit the deck you leathernecks!" His eyes popping, "The
bastards are behind us!" The man tensed in a position that suggested he was in possession of an automatic rifle. He made short
shivering bursts to the right and left.
I remembered that Jesus I had been in Korea. The rumour was
that he had been decorated for bravery. A memory of uniformed
men visiting Jesus I helped me to rationalize the grim pantomime
taking place before us. As far as I could make out, Jesus I was re-
enacting a skirmish with an unseen enemy.
"You rotten Gooks!" Then the jerk-shaking of body from the
automatic weapon bursts.
We watched motionlessly as the strange angel-faced figure re-
enacted his violence. Without warning, the standing figure smashed
into the tile wall. The weird part of the sudden movement was that
the force that drove Jesus I into the wall was an impact on the
groin. He lay on the floor staring blankly at the ceiling.
Forscutt spoke from his wheelchair. "Louper, what time is it?
Check the time."
I stepped into the coolness of the gymnasium and looked at the
clock. A voice at my left shoulder said, "Nine-thirty." Stepping
back into the change room I spoke. "Forscutt, the time is nine-
thirty. Could you and I wheel down to the powerhouse now?"
Doug nodded in the darkness. "Sure. Perhaps we can figure out
something for getting me some sex."
"Could be. Could be." I turned to Frank Johnkowski. "Frank,
you take over the group. Bring them down at a few minutes to
Frank asked, "What about Jesus I?"
"He's out colder than a mackerel. Leave him here. Once this is
over we can send the white smocks for him." I threw off my white
jacket and pushed Doug out into the blistering summer heat. The
heat danced on the pavement. Those ripples of heat and morning-
evaporated precipitation blasted at us. Squinting my eyes tightly
13 against the fierce black light I fought back the urge to fall on my
knees, sprawl palms down on the pavement and throw up. My
mind begged for mercy as if there was a mortal danger to be faced.
Closing my eyes for a few steps, opening them for directions and
closing them once again, I steered to the cement building. Doug
shouted, "What is wrong with you? Hurry up. You dumb president. Hurry up!"
I opened the powerhouse door. There was a movement inside. I
drew back a step, hesitating. The blackness outside the building was
more dangerous to me than the movement inside. Fear wrapped my
soul in ice.
Pushing Doug through the door first solved part of my problem.
Women's voices greeted us. Doug spoke. "Ah my darlings. Why
only three of you?" he said, as if three were not enough. A young-
looking woman with an oval face and hair to her shoulders said,
"Leona will be here with three more at ten. My! How handsome
you are. You can be mine," she said to the pied piper. One of the
other women's voices rose. "No! He's mine!" "No. Mine!" said the
third, and volunteered, "I'll fight!"
"Just one second," Doug interrupted. "See that block and tackle?
Louper, wrap a blanket around me. Hoist me up by the waist. I
will take off my trousers and — by God, you shall all have me!"
I fasten the hook through the blanket and raise Doug about a
foot off the floor. The woman who spoke first was under Doug
quickly — like a turned-over crab. Forscutt helped with his arms
and I lowered slowly, with him bucking and jerking around madly.
The woman moaned for a moment. Then screaming frantically she
tore at Doug's back.
I reefed on the rope and pulled him out of harm's way. He
shouted, "Next!" Another woman was under him in the twinkling
of an eye. I felt weak from all the exertions. You have no idea how
ridiculous a person looks doing that. The last woman was under
him. My grip on the rope was slipping when I heard voices. "In
here, man. In here!"
I drop Forscutt and run to the door. Four women brush past. I
see a mob of white jackets coming down the lawns. Instead of the
four expected there are ten or more of the white jackets running,
dead heat, for our building. "Oh no! We're discovered." I looked
14 out the door once more, saw the short, stout figure in a dark suit
and recognized Doctor Hooke.
"Louper! Louper is in this!" The doctor's voice rang out. "Get
I see the same grey mouse as before running with the doctor. I
scream, "That rancid mouse told on me!" Strong arms were on me
but I was yelling, "Rotten rancid mouse! Son-of-a-rodent!" My
voice snarled on and on. Then there was a wailing howl that I
knew was mine. I seemed to be another person and witnessed the
unearthly, continuous noise issuing from my mouth.
Doctor Hooke said in a steady voice, not audible to me in the
din, "I warned this man. Take the patient Louper to the violent
ward of West Wing. Leave the reclassification to me. Mr. Louper
will not be with us until he has been helped."
I saw that doctor smile, but he was one of the men in the organization out to finish me. My entire being was sure of that point. I
increased my howl. "Oooooooo. OOooooooh. OOOOOOOHHH."
That wailing moan was somehow comforting.
I walked with the escort of three nurses. A building loomed before me. The red brick mounted five stories into the summer heat.
It looked more like a coffin to me. Perspiration rolled from the
nurses. Walking and screaming seemed wrong while approaching
this building. The towering look inspired awe as I approached. So
I screamed lower.
After admittance to the giant West Wing, I found that howling
was not out of the ordinary. In fact if howlers were separated from
the quiet ones there would be no one left in West Wing.
That old feeling that someone was after me came on strong. I
finally narrowed the problem to one solution: The Russians were
after me. Who else could perfect a mechanical mouse that spied on
people? This was their secret agent place. What better cover-up?
Who would think of secret agent headquarters here? We hear that
all the time: "They are all around us." Those dirty Ruskies. That
is why I am locked up here like a dog. Possibly those police escorting me were under orders from the Kremlin. I thought, "That's it!
I heard about those famous scientists supposedly going crazy all the
time. Don't you see? They are not going crazy. This is a plot to
milk the North American minds. I must resist." I said to myself,
"Two can play the secret agent game." I became extremely secre-
15 tive. If they figured that I knew — the jig would be up. I answered
only the most harmless-sounding questions. At the admitting a nice
man in a blue suit asked, "What was your home address, son? I
can't seem to find it in your case history."
I told him. Then, thinking about the question, it did not sound
harmless. Maybe they would torture my brothers. I began to weep
and told the man in a blue suit, "You bastard!"
After that I was more careful. Kept everyone at a distance. I was
surprised how difficult it was to watch all over in a crowded place.
You had to move your head quickly to one side, then, in case someone was sneaking up on the other, you must whip your head back
to the original position. In order not to blur your vision you must
not allow your eyes to get fully open.
No certain person followed me. They took turns.
Those Ruskies are smart though. They also changed my surroundings so I could not get orientated. I wrote several notes to
Hoover, the G-man, warning him about the evil brewing in Green
Lawn. Yet, they were sharp, no sooner would I write a decent note
than a nurse would find it and say, "Mister Louper, don't write
these notes. They will cause you nothing but trouble."
You see?
The first day in West Wing I had a weird experience. A feeling
swept over me — I was invincible, even immortal. As I ran with
great bounds, a small side window seemed a good test for my new
power. I jammed a clenched fist through the pane. After that, here
came five guys in a riot squad type of uniform. They gave chase —
me bounding like a gazelle.
The men cornered me. I wanted to leap over their heads but
landed on top of one of the closest men. I was snowed under with
arms and flying canvas. They dragged me triumphantly to a room
with a single peephole in the door. The room was like the side-
rooms of the old ward, only this was better equipped. A type of
table-bed was in the centre of the room. It looked like a man-eating
table, if you can imagine that. The bed had leather arms that
wrapped around your waist and gripped your wrist, chest and neck.
If you struggle hard, the arm around your neck tightens, and you
black out.
After I had lain there for days, there came a guy to the round
window. He stared through that peephole. I tried to show dis-
16 pleasure through facial contortions, for you sure can not make hand
signals. The dope smiled and wrinkled his nose at me. I would
think, "Oh God — let me have my hands around his throat for a
few seconds."
Then, after one or two days, depending on your endurance, a
pretty female nurse would walk in and undo the straps. This would
make you feel well — except for that guy as big as an apartment
standing behind her. She smiled. I smiled. She rolled me over and
drove a needle into my bum, must have been a foot long— the
needle, that is.
Once every two days the male attendants showered me. They
led me into the shower room and took off my trousers. The steamy
water roared at me. My head rang with the noise. Insistent hands
pushed me along the tile floor. Mesmerized, I stepped into that torrent. "AAAhhh! You trying to kill me?"
I had a vague memory of doing this shower routine at another
time. The pleasant-looking attendant says to his partner, "This is
the third time we've showered this one. Today is the first time that
he noticed the hot water."
Not long after that I found myself standing in the ward. I felt
good all over, kind of full and content. Then I was standing before
a mirror. A coal-black growth of beard was on my face. My hair
was long and curling at the ends. A holy feeling crept over me.
Then I was walking. A patient spoke. "There He is." Immediately
I ran to the washroom and looked into the mirror. Staring back at
me was this forlorn, bearded, blue-eyed man. Blue eyes? I normally
had light green-brown eyes. Later I heard that the medication
changes your eye colour.
Talk about changing colours. Did you know that there is a drug
which if given in heavy doses during the summer turns the patient
black. Not healthy black like a coloured man — just stone cold
This ward did not eat in the cafeteria. We ate in a kitchenette
arrangement. There were fourteen of us. We went on a kick of calling each other "nuts." The nurses did not mind — if you were to
say that on a healthier ward you would at least get a needle. The
nurses appear to think that anything was permissible as long as it
kept us from wrecking the place.
Meals on the other ward were interesting. These were dangerous.
17 One meal a patient went wild right across from me. He began
foaming at the mouth at first. Seeing this made eating a little dim-
cult. Then he roared as if some monster were on him. He fell cursing to the floor, grappling with a terrifying beast. I narrated the
scene blow by blow. "The Dragon has him by the throat! No, by
God, the patient has him by the balls. Now the Dragon. An upper-
cut by the patient."
The thing had him down; then with superhuman strength he
recovered. The white smock men did not interfere. They seemed
petrified with anxiety over who would win. The beast won and tore
the man's throat out. It was carrying him away and I was shouting,
"Get the beast! Stop the beast!" when the white smocks jumped
me. I held onto the plastic tablecloth while they were dragging me
away. The supper dishes rolled crashing to the floor. I heard an old
man say, "Beautiful hallucination — just beautiful. I could almost
see it myself."
Meal times were the only chance we had to really meet. A
middle-aged man sat at my right at the supper table. He spoke a
new language. Ken was the man's name. His sentences were punctuated by hitting your shoulder. I would be eating and he would
speak. "Gawrsh, herzeegl." Hit on the shoulder. "Oh, lawn prat
org goofer."
In the beginning I felt that I understood what those words meant
and I answered, "Garfle?"
"Tumble wurts, herzeegl orp. Lorcifer."
"Hey Ken," I interrupted, "what is this 'Herzeegl'?"
"Orbetz can crummit," he answered.
After a few weeks, it was maddening to listen to that new language. The main problem was not in his pronunciation of words,
as you might think. It was the meaning. He was difficult to understand, and even after you did figure out what he said — it did not
mean anything.
The days were not differentiated into mornings and afternoons.
A day was only remembered if an event took place to hold it in my
memory. Like the day I met Coony. He was a negro (I suppose he
still is). I walked into him: thump, right in the middle of an hallucination.
"Hi. I am Coony."
I froze. "I'm Bugsy."
18 "Hello Bugsy."
" 'Lo Coony."
The man was so black that I became frightened. Blackness was
my one problem in those days. Coony said, "Man, you look like
yer flyin'."
I made flapping movements with my arms and laughed wood-
enly. "Nyah, Nyah, Nyah."
The perspiration stood out on Coony's forehead. I calculated my
chances of running. The white smocks would tie me down again in
that cream-coloured room — besides, Coony could catch me.
The man grinned. He had off-white teeth. I smiled at him.
"Let's talk, bwanah," Coony said.
"Do not get me wrong," I said. "I'm not one of those white overlords."
"Yah, I know," Coony said, "nobody is nowadays. Go tell it on
the mountain."
"Hey — you're not him are you?" I asked.
"Say, you really are crazy — aren't you?"
"Three times more than you."
"That's discrimination," and Coony slapped a black cloud of an
arm on the table. He shouted, "You want to play 'coon can't'?"
I did not know what "coon can't" was, but I did not want to
play. The game probably ended up with Coony stomping me. My
mind flashed to the solution. "Coony is probably a sensitive type."
My mind figured all this hate and race stuff drove him here -— just
like the black drove me.
"You know that is not true in the slightest sense of the word ..."
"What are you talking about, my man?" Coony said, wrinkling
his forehead. "You are makin' me nervous. What station you tuned
"Listen Coony," I said.
"Where did you get this Coony bit?" he glared.
"Did you tell me your name was Coony?" I asked. "When we
first met?"
"No!" he said. "I told you 'I'm Loony' — my name is Alfred."
Alfred walked away, muttering. I never did see that man again
and was afraid to ask about him in case he was part of an hallucination.
I walked around the ward after talking to that coloured man. A
19 well-dressed person sat at a table talking to a patient. His hat sat
primly by his side. I grabbed the hat and took off. There was an
uproar (this man was a visitor). And I had the wolf pack of white
uniforms after me once more. They caught me and took the hat
back (there was nothing left but the brim). I was thrown into the
cheese-coloured room with the leather-armed bed. Again there was
a guy leering through the six-inch window.
I lay very still on the bed, straining leather, hoping to be let off
for good behaviour. I screamed, "Look how well behaved I am!"
It is aggravating lying on one of those beds trying to be good.
The time ticks slowly by. Then you figure that the staff is not being
fair because they do not see how good you are and free you from
the table — so you get mad. You roll around cursing and sweating,
trying to burst the leather bonds. They are constructed so that a
patient can not reach the latches under the bed. The leather has a
metal core, so they are impossible to break. After several painful
hours of trying to escape, you calm down. Maybe you sleep, maybe
they give you a needle.
Some time later they released me once more. I found that I was
on the ground floor. There were four more flights up in which I
could lower my patient's status. The routine on release was not always the same. The two burly nurses untied me. When they saw
that I did not want revenge, they escorted me for a shower and
rough towelling-off.
My entry to the ward was type-set. I would sit fresh from the
restraint room tingling from a shower and starched in institutional
blues. Somehow, the clean feeling and freshness of the clothes would
make me sit meekly. I would sit quiet and feel the rough grey wool
knit in my issued socks. The hot shower and cold dash followed by
freedom combined to fill me with humility.
Then I was off once more. It always started differently. Once I
was sitting after a stay in the cheese-coloured room. Suddenly, in
the corner, was an elephant. How did he enter? I wish that I had
seen him come in because the beast was as high as the ceiling and
a bridge table wide. Up next to the rafters sat a tiny black figure —
a mahout. I could see him quite well, for believe me, I was staring
in disbelief. The whites of his eyes were a bloodshot pink. This
made him look unhealthy.
The elephant just stood, all wrinkled and everything. I began to
20 get the idea that this might be one of those educational exhibits
that was brought on the ward in my absence. Walking slowly, carefully forward, I thought, "This could be a trick, a plan — or an
exhibit." As I approached to within ten feet, the elephant took two
quick steps forward. I ran bounding to the other end of the ward
yelling, "Look out! Look out! An elephant is coming!"
Behind a chesterfield I waited expectantly. Nothing happened.
So I peeked over the couch. There he was. Standing still as a
churchmouse. The pair did not fool me now. This was no joke. I
had to tell the men on the ward. I could not speak. Too much
excitement, I guess. "Look at those two standing so smugly," I
thought, and sank behind the couch.
I sat trying to puzzle out the situation. Then I decided that if,
by gosh, those other guys could be brave enough to walk around
with an elephant on the loose, what the heck, so could I. Standing
shakily, I walked towards the apparition. The elephant was still
quiet, but the mahout was not trying to fool anyone. The bugger
was watching me out of those bad, black-eyed, pink-eyeballed eyes.
I did not like the look of things. All eyes were on me. It was too
Walking up to an elephant seemed foolhardy. I had to prove to
the men that I was not afraid. I had yelled to them, now I had to
prove that I could take that one big chance. Trying to look nonchalant, I lost my balance and stumbled on the rug when the mahout turned. I saw him kick the elephant in the ear. The elephant
tippy tippied forward in those quick mincing steps peculiar to him.
All I remember is this crazy thought — "Maybe he will not hurt
me — heavy people are often light on their feet." Next thing I knew
I found myself in the room with the possessive bed. I must have
missed out on the chase.
Not long after that I met Mister Glen. He was a ward attendant
and wore a white smock. Most of the patients disliked Glen. The
dislike was not from any long association with the man, but was an
animal instinct. I met him under trying circumstances. There was
a semi-riot on the ward. It was a chair-throwing, table-tipping fight
— caused by me. Mister Glen was on the ward in a dark suit because that day was class instruction day for him. He chased me
around the ward with four other white smocks. Mr. Glen reached
me first. I caught hold of his breast pocket and tore the suit's jacket
21 in half. "You beast! You filthy beast! My best suit!" His shouts
were still echoing in my mind as they cinched the leather bonds
Why do I have so much trouble? I have memories from when I
was on the outside that might throw some light on this. In a department store looking over the displays and a feeling would come over
me. The only words that describe the thoughts would be, "I bet
they think that I am a shoplifter."
Then a clerk would say, "Can I help you sir?"
"No that is — I — ah, you know, just looking." Then mumbled,
"Not shoplifter." His eyebrows rose. I made sure not to get too close
to the merchandise so nobody would think that I was a shoplifter.
Then a clerk or passerby would look closely at me. On my way out
I checked my pockets to make certain nothing had slipped in by
mistake. Those are the times when my neck would ache. I did not
think anything of it then. Maybe those stores are meant to feel like
Remember I mentioned California a few minutes ago? I lay on
my leather-bound bed (Do not ask me how I got there. I'm past
asking). The radiator was rap-tapping out a message. My first few
stays in there I never realized that the tapping had a meaning. I
broke the code towards the end of my stay on that ward. The radiator was a receiver for the Russian telegraph (pretty sneaky —
good thing that I broke the system and wrote the FBI a letter on
the margin of a newspaper).
I frightened myself so badly by deciphering the radiator telegraph that I tried to stop listening. I would translate the odd word
like, "Louper — annihilate. New York — bomb." Then the smiling
female nurse would pull down my trousers and punch a needle into
my bum.
The final incident on the ward happened during a bridge game.
Bridge was played ferociously. How else could you play bridge on
a violent ward? The bidding would begin.
"One spade."
"Four no trump!"
"You on junk?"
"I'm sorry, but you gave me a jump bid, I'm the dummy."
22 "You don't have to feel that bad."
"No, I mean — lie down."
"Well — if you are going to quit over a little bid, I don't understand."
"No. No. No!"
"What are you — a fanatic?"
"For heaven's sake, let's play."
"How can we when you just showed your hand?"
"God help me ■—■ what do you think we are playing?"
"I'm not too sure."
"What? How did you make that four bid?"
"It sounded good — that's all."
The one player got so angry that he grabbed his chair and ran
it through all the windows in the east side of the ward. He was trying to slash his wrist with a shard of glass when the white smocks
jumped him.
You never know about these guys. I do not know why he had to
explode. Could not have been his hand — just an average one. I
know. I looked. I continued playing in the broken-up player's place.
I noticed the trees blowing near a broken window at the east side.
I'll be damned if a squirrel did not jump out of the trees and start
to run along the window. I must have been the first to notice. I
said nothing. I sat petrified. I thought, "Oh no. Now it has finally
happened — squirrels."
The squirrel ran along the window sill and jumped down onto
the floor. By now I was sure that I saw a couple of other men jerk
their heads and follow it for a few heartbeats — no one said a
thing. The squirrel ran across the floor to the card table. He sat
there fer a moment, kind of biting his nails, or whatever they do.
Then he ran over, up one of the card player's legs and onto the
cardtable top. We sat there struck to stone. I could not believe it.
I slowly reached out my hand to it. He bit me. "AAAAAAAAH,
AAAAhhh," I yelled.
Everyone jumped like they'd been shot. The old man who made
up the fourth in the bridge game grabbed his chest, "My heart. My
heart!" and died, writhing all over the place. The squirrel made
for the side window and got out. The nurses came running onto the
ward to see what the ruckus was. A male nurse carried the old
man's body silently away.
23 I tried to explain the thing: "You see there was this squirrel —
look at what he did to my finger — I — uh." I noticed a hard-to-
describe look come over their faces. One leaned over and said barely
audibly, "Must have been looking for nuts."
We sat there mumbling, half-believing what had taken place.
The white smocks looked at me with a sigh, and said, "All right
Louper, let's go." I heaved a small sigh too. I tried to help them as
best I could as they secured me to the bed in my private room.
Our old-maid aunt
died of drink.
They discovered only then
that she'd had cancer
The liquor was a trick,
to keep the truth
from coming true.
The corruption
moved so secretly
she need not have known.
Then, too late, she might
have awakened one morning
already reticulate.
Only so long can a woman
hide it, or pretend:
the body gives way.
It seems possible
that such a thing
could also happen
to a soul.
Susan Zimmerman completed her B.A. in English at the University of
Toronto. She was a winner of the Norma Epstein Literary Competition in
1969; this is her first publication.
Some nights we see you
looking over the forest, a ship
hoarding the sky,
your four horns pointing us
oh Maria here we sit
in wrecked forests,
toes cracked,
and our dead sheep
lying around
by the light of your breasts
stare at our white hands
in disbelief, tinged green;
hide biscuits and love notes in our boots
is that basket you hold,
like ours, filled with chloroformed dogs,
with steaming apples,
handcuffs, sly crocodiles ...
and that rivulet
eating your marble leg
the same that eats ours . ..
26 oh Maria, master of the heavens,
speak   to   us —
Maria, fire your guns!
give us at least the dead flesh
of your palms
sometimes one cheek seems to slide,
your haunches shift;
lizards flash in your eyes ...
the trees rustle, and the acid
of gunpowder scrapes our knees
in your windless sea
you topple half over like a buoy,
still smiling
lean toward us, a drunken wooden clown
and sometimes wake
seeing you already gone,
toward the hills,
already facing the sea,
a hole blown
in the back of your skull.
Peter Wild's The Afternoon in Dismay was released by the Art Association
of Cincinnati, Inc. in 1968. A chapbook and a longer collection of poems will
be published shortly by the Lillabulero Press, Ithaca, New York.
27 Two Poems by Elizabeth Gourlay
this girl with the green thumbs
and the green hair
has been asked to dance
in one marble hall after another
she is being ushered
to a new rotunda
on the stage the orchestra is tuning up
a multitude
brass instruments
the conductor
wearing a blindfold
waves a steel baton
the musicians sit cross-legged
holding curved knives
in their mouths
they bang the cymbals
beat the skins
dance, dance, the crowd shouts
but the girl rends her green hair
weeps blood on her green thumbs
for the instruments with strings
the gentle woodwinds
but the conductor
is not only blind
but deaf and dumb
the girl bows
her naked neck
the musicians take the knives
out of their mouths
Sister, swim with me
under the sign of Pisces
into Gemini
there are always two fish
the fish and the ghost fish
one gasping on the dry bank
the other flashing through the cool water
I am glad to see
you are treading these uncharted depths
so successfully
black diving hood
you were wise to bring
your white light in your red basket
the time has come
when we must dive again
to the sea floor
face the drowned man
do not be afraid
the demon squid will scuttle from
your white circle
yes, we must force ourselves
you remember the last time
the crabs had eaten only half his face
and his testicles
even if there is only a remnant
a ragged knee or a gnawed nipple
you must lift up your fight
and receive the imprint
this is only a small part
of the original body
know this
Elizabeth Gourlay's poems have been in Prism international and other
Canadian journals. A poetry volume, Motions, Dreams and Aberrations, was
brought out recently by Morriss Printing Company Ltd., Victoria.
29 Alden Nowlan's poetry and fiction h'ave been in Prism international and
many other magazines. He has published several poetry books, and in 1967
won the Governor-General's Award for Bread, Wine and Salt. He edits the
Hartland Observer and lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
There Was An Old JVornan
From IVexford
There was the absolute darkness that is possible only in
places where human beings are few and five far apart, a darkness
in which the only solids are those close enough to touch. So nothing
was substantial except his own body and the bed on which he lay
listening to the sound of his grandmother singing.
It was so hot that the birds were still whistling outside his window although he knew with a country boy's instinct that it was well
after midnight. It was strange and a little disquieting to hear the
birds whistling in the darkness. He had kicked away the quilts and
wiggled, more than half asleep, out of his clammy underwear, so
that now he lay curled up in the salty smell of his naked body, the
moist pubescent odor of himself.
Her singing had awakened him many times during the past
month. Sometimes he almost wept, sometimes, although he tried
not to admit it to himself, he wished that something, anything,
even death would shut her up, and sometimes he went back to sleep
without thinking about it at all.
She had sung / Come to the Garden Alone. He had heard her
sing it often before her illness. That's a Billy Sunday hymn, she always explained. Proudly. Her brother—one of her brothers, David,
who was killed with the Sixth Mounted Rifles, or Joseph, who
could drink a forty ouncer of navy rum and shoulder a hogshead
of flour without batting an eye, her brother had heard Billy Sunday
preach in Boston or Bangor or Portland and afterwards they took
up the collection in baskets and every basket was filled to over-
3° flowing with five, ten, twenty, fifty and one hundred dollar bills.
She described the baskets of money as Mary or Martha might have
described the miraculous loaves and fishes.
And she had sung There is a Fountain Filled with Blood. Seated
in her rocking chair, a hot brick wrapped in an old sweater or
stuffed into an old wool sock pressed hard against her belly to ease
the pain, other bricks warming on the back of the wood stove
(Enterprise Foundry, Sackville, Nova Scotia,) the teapot brewing,
as it always was: she added leaves (Red Rose Orange Pekoe)
whenever it became too weak for her taste, emptied them only
when there was no room left for water, simply opened the kitchen
door and dashed them out into the yard. And what she smelled of
was burning wool and ginger and cloves and a liniment called Oil
of Wintergreen.
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel's veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
The window blinds shrugged like the wings of some enormous
mystic bird, like the wings of the blue heron that fed in the swamp
between the river and the railroad. He was afraid of the blue heron,
had always been afraid of it, yet he would stand sometimes for as
long as thirty minutes, spying on it. From the hill overlooking the
swamp the bird looked bigger and vastly stronger than he; certainly
its legs were longer than his, or so it seemed to him, and he could
imagine it running after him — in his imagination it ran rather
than flew — and beating him down with its great beak, legs and
wings. The wonder that he felt, watching it, was close to worship.
"Mother," a voice said. "Please, Mother." That would be his
Aunt Lorna, who would be hugging together the flaps of a faded
red wrapper, and who would not have put on her glasses. Her eyes
looked naked without glasses: it was the stark white adult nakedness that made him shifty-eyed with embarrassment; and there
were faint purplish indentations on her temples. Keep The Lower
Lights A'Burning his grandmother sang now, her voice louder,
much louder, childishly derisive and defiant.
In Aunt Lorna's voice a deep-throated adult sorrow gave way
reluctantly to a whine almost like that of a small girl screwing down
the lid on a sob. He rolled over in bed and raised his head slightly,
listening, but he could not distinguish sentences: only words jutting
out like rocks from a river of murmurs. It was as if between the
words mother and bed and late and please, each of them repeated
31 many times, his aunt were droning wordlessly through her nose
with the tip of her tongue pushing hard against her lower teeth.
The old woman wore a black wig shaped like an inverted soup
bowl and boasted about her jet-black hair. She rouged herself with
bits of crepe paper moistened with saliva and bragged about the
youthful redness of her cheeks. As a young woman, after her husband went to Saskatchewan to harvest wheat and did not return,
she had gone into the woods alone, with a horse, an axe and a
bucksaw, and come out with wood enough to keep her five small
children from freezing although, despite the fire, it got so cold at
night that water froze in the kitchen pails.
She's only a bird in a gilded cage,
A wonderful sight to see.
Some think that she's happy and free from care
But she's not what she seems to be.
Once, so his grandmother had told him, a cobbler had lived in
Hastings Mills, a man who made shoes and repaired them. He,
Kevin, had never seen a cobbler but could remember visiting a
clockmaker with his father. The clockmaker wore either a beard
or a great drooping mustache, Kevin could not recall which; his
skin was the colour of a plucked chicken, and his hair and suit
were the same pepper and salt shade of gray. What he called his
shop was only a corner of his living room, a rolltop desk and a
board covered with purple velvet from which hung a great many
pocket watches, some without hands, a few without faces, their
inner workings exposed. The house in which he lived, unlike the
other houses in the village, was lighted with gas rather than kerosene. Kevin had never seen such white artificial light and the wicks,
shaped like the thumbs of mittens but made from transparent
gauze, almost mesmerized him. Whenever his grandmother spoke of
the cobbler, Kevin gave him the clockmaker's face and hair.
The cobbler's name was Tulley Greenough. Just as it seemed
important to Kevin that the man had been a cobbler and not, say,
a millhand like his father, so it seemed important that his name had
been Tulley Greenough and not John Smith or William Jones.
Tulley Greenough was a name to savour, like the names of Caleb,
the son of Jephuneth the Kenizzite, and Joshua, the son of Nun,
who wholly followed the Lord.
One day the cobbler learned there was a cancer in his body, a
cancer being an enormous spider that fed on its victim's flesh.
(They had taken a tapeworm three yards long from the stomach of
her brother Joseph, the old woman said. She had seen it, preserved
32 in a jar of alcohol. And there was the scarlet woman in Wolfville
who gave birth to five gray puppies.) Knowing the cancer would eat
away his vitals if he did not destroy it, Tulley Greenough cut himself open with a cobbler's knife, cut himself open, snatched out the
great hairy black spider and hurled it into the open fire where,
clacking and hissing, it died. Its body was as big as a man's two
doubled fists.
Kevin got out of bed and groped his way to the window, knelt
there with his arms and chin on the ledge, night insects twanging
the screen like an out of tune mandolin, a warm breeze that smelled
of fresh-cut grass causing his hair to tickle his ears and forehead.
There goes that Boston burglar
In strong chains he'll be bound;
For some crime or another
He's being sent to Charlestown.
She had bought an autoharp from a salesman who wore a white
linen suit and a straw hat and told her, as she never tired of repeating, that she was a contralto. A contralto. She could interpret
dreams and pronounce curses. As a child she had known a witch
who made tables dance. She had ridden on a street car in Boston.
She could dance a clog, a jig or a hornpipe. She had seen the
face of Jesus in the sky. She could make up rhymes. She could live
on two dollars a week. And she was a contralto. With jet-black
hair and cheeks as red as a sixteen-year-old girl's.
Allister, Kevin's cousin, had despoiled the harp in attempting,
with a spike and a pair of pliers, to turn it into a guitar. She entombed the mutilated instrument in a cedar chest, taking it out
occasionally before her illness to sing with it cradled, forlorn and
silent, in her arms.
As I was leaving old Ireland
All in that month of June
The birds were singing merrily,
All nature seemed in tune.
Sing me a song, Granner. I like songs that tell stories best. Tell
me a story, Granner. But as he had grown older he had become
increasingly ashamed of her. Walking beside her on the street in
Windsor. Her with her shopping bag and the little frilly pink hat
she'd bought at a Pythian Sisters rummage sale. The sight of that
hat made him want to die and be buried and lie in his grave for a
thousand years before being restored to life. Sometimes he shut his
eyes tight and clenched his teeth as though preparing for a merciful bullet through the head.
33 My name is Peter Wheeler,
I'm from a foreign shore.
I left my native country,
Never to see it more.
And when she insisted on taking him into Livingston's Restaurant for a treat! Maple walnut ice cream with maple syrup
sauce. And a root beer. For herself, a pot of tea. The coins knotted
up in a handkerchief inside a change purse, the change purse at
the very bottom of a handbag, the clasp of the handbag reinforced
with a safety pin. Because money was immeasurably valuable, almost sacred. She would never accept the copper-coloured five-cent
pieces that were being issued because of the war. And she believed
threads of gold were woven into the paper notes — because if they
were paper and nothing more what good would they be? When he
was much younger she had shown him the threads, holding up a
dollar bill to the light. And he had seen them.
Two nickels for the ice cream. One of them bearing a likeness
of King George V. Another nickel for the sauce. A dime for the
root beer bearing a very faint likeness of King Edward VII. A
nickel and one, two, three, four, five pennies for the tea. Each
coin the centre of a separate solemn transaction. And the waitress
so reassured by such weakness, so strengthened by it that her eyes
shone with power, like Hitler's.
Poor Mary she lay at the door
As the wind it blew 'cross the wild moor.
But the worst came when she brought out her lunch. A handful
of crackers and a scrap of cheese wrapped in greasy brown paper.
To be eaten there while the three billion other people in the world
looked on and grinned.
Thinking now of the shame he'd felt, Kevin almost blubbered,
not so much out of pity for her or guilt at his secret treason, although these were part of it, as from a sudden desolate awareness
of how powerless he was, of how little effect his real wishes had on
himself, let alone the world that surrounded him.
He went back to bed and covered himself with the quilts. It was
still uncomfortably hot but perhaps if he covered himself he would
be more likely to fall asleep.
Tell me a story, Granner. There wasn't a man in the 18 counties
could hold a candle to Joe Casey. That's how one such story began.
Joe Casey, her father and his great grandfather, had lived in the
time when a man produced everything his family used except
sugar, tea, rum and tobacco. To obtain the money for sugar and
34 tea (Joe neither smoked nor drank) he sold stovewood in Wolfville and always just before entering the town he reined in his
horses, climbed down from his waggon and adjusted his load,
propping it up here and there with crooked sticks, so that it would
appear larger than it was. Joe Casey could fool a townsman into
believing a cord was two cords and a half. His daughter was so
impressed with this skill that she was still celebrating it more than
forty years after his death.
It was in celebration of Joe Casey as much as from poverty or
frugality that she carried a stick of chalk to the rummage sales,
with which to alter prices — spitting on her fingers and rubbing
out one number, using the chalk to substitute another, so that she
bought a pair of shoes for fifteen cents rather than a quarter of a
dollar. She could as readily have slipped the shoes into her shopping
bag and paid nothing. But that would have been theft, and theft
was a sin. Thou shalt not steal. But thou shalt be cunning as a
serpent. Blessed are they who survive, saith the Lord.
Tell him since he went away
How sad has been our lot:
The landlord came one winter's day
And turned us from our cot.
And a candle was fit to the memory of Joe Casey when she
scavenged at the Windsor dump, gathering pumpkins that had
grown there and selling them from door to door. Grown right in
the country, Missus, the way the good Lord intended with no fertilizer except manure. Nothin like that hothouse stuff they sell in the
stores. Fresh country-grown pumpkins. Thou shalt not He for thou
art a Baptist, who was put under the water in December after a
hole had been chopped in the river ice. But thou shalt outwit the
townsmen for thereby cometh glory, and it is good in mine eyes.
And thou shalt strive always to survive.
"Mother." This time it was the voice of Kevin's father and
Kevin could see him as clearly as with his eyes. Shoeless, gray wool
socks darned with yarn of another colour, Levis pulled on over
long-sleeved flannel underwear, the underwear partially unbuttoned
because of the heat, thick curly gray hair on his chest. A belt, and
suspenders that bore the word "Police" on their clasps as though
designed for boys playing cops and robbers. Saying, "You can't sit
here like this all night, Mother," although he knew well enough
that she could, and would.
Oh, saddle up my blackest horse
My gray is not so speedy,
35 And I'll ride all night and I'll ride all day
Till I overtake my lady.
I'll ride all night and I'll ride all day
Till I overtake my lady.
"Mother, Mother, Mother," said Judd O'Brien, who had said
the same thing in almost exactly the same tone a year earlier when
he had discovered that, by swearing that her adult children were
unable to support her, she had persuaded the parish overseer of
the poor to pay her two dollars a week.
The two dollars came with Perry Sandford the mailman who
drove a Ford except when there was so much snow or mud that
he had to harness his roan mare to a buggy or sleigh, and on the
day it arrived the old woman enacted several rituals to render herself invisible, putting on a coat and hat she did not wear at any
other time, a short black cloth coat with a collar, cuffs and hem
of artificial fur, and a sky-blue cloche (she could dance the foxtrot and Charleston and never dreamed there were changing
fashions in either clothes or dances). She went out the front door
that was otherwise used only by radio licence inspectors, Jehovah's
Witnesses, Mormons, peddlers and strangers asking the way to
Truro or Halifax. She walked down the road, no matter how deep
the snow was, or the mud, head down, limping a little, and met
Perry out of sight of her son's house. He drove her to a store in a
neighbouring village where she cashed the cheque and bought a
little treat, a bag of peppermints or maple buds, a loaf of raisin
bread that for some unknown reason she always called plum loaf,
a bottle of ginger beer, a half-dozen hot cross buns or a jelly roll.
(And, oh God, what a sacramental interchange it was, the offering
and acceptance of a tumbler half-full of soft drink, a small slice of
pastry spread with jellied strawberries. Kevin quailed at the memory of it like one who is suddenly aware that he has been paid an
honour he neither earned nor desired yet is too cowardly to refuse.)
What was left of the money went into the cedar chest. I've got the
money to bury me, she boasted a little defiantly.
O western wind when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down may rain?
Christ that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.
And before he died there was such a hole in Joe Casey's throat
that the tea he drank ran out through it and down his collar. He
36 went to the barn and back on all fours and his last words, spoken
to his wife who had offered to fetch him water, were: "Nobody
has to wait on Joe Casey. Joe Casey can look after himself."
Now Kevin's father and aunt were talking together on the stairs.
That look in her eyes, Judd, when I talked to her; I don't think
she even knew who I was, I swear I don't; she'll be dead by mornin
if she keeps this up, you mark my words, she'll be dead by mornin.
There's nothin on God's green earth we can do for her, Lorna,
you know that as well as I do, you heard what the doctor said.
But he could give her somethin maybe, somethin to make her sleep.
I'll be damned if he could, not if she didn't want him to. I don't
know how she's hung on as long as she has, so help me God I don't.
Well, there's somethin to be thankful for: the kids are asleep.
There was a wild colonial boy,
Jack Dugan was his name.
He was born and bred in Ireland
At a place called Castlemaine.
Kevin did not know how long he had been awake. Perhaps he
had slept and reawakened. He had heard her sing many songs, that
was certain. But perhaps there had been times when he had only
dreamt that he heard her singing. He was almost as unsure of the
duration and sequence of events as he had been years before when
he was delirious with pneumonia.
Should he go to the kitchen and talk with her? He had considered doing so, but was held back by fear: he was always afraid
of the sick and unlike many of his fears this one was not coupled
with an irresistible fascination. He was terrified of high places yet
climbed the tallest trees, almost choking with a kind of suppressed
phallic hysteria. But the fear inspired by the sick only made him
shrink back into himself like a rabbit.
He found himself sitting on the couch in the kitchen. He was
wearing his brown suit, a white shirt and a necktie, but his feet
were bare. As always the wool pants made his legs itch, and he
wondered why he had put them on, together with the jacket,
especially when it was so hot.
A gas lamp hung from the ceiling, replacing the kerosene lamp
that normally stood on the table by the window. His grandmother
sat where she always sat, with her autoharp in her arms, but all of
its strings had been restored.
And there was a third person in the room.
He was a man whose picture Kevin had seen in a book.
It was a very old book and had long ago disappeared. His mother
37 had read to him from it before he could read. He remembered a
poem with the refrain curfew shall not ring tonight and another
that contained the lines:
Morgan, Morgan the raider
And Morgan's terrible men,
With Bowie knives and pistols
Come galloping down the glen.
Those poems were among the visions he had experienced in the
dream time of infancy. They were one with the orchid he had
brought home from a forbidden visit to the swamp and the falling
star he had seen explode like a roman candle when, in broad daylight, it crashed into the backyard.
There were pictures with the poems. In fact, the pictures were
part of the poems. There was a girl in a long white dress swinging
from the tongue of a bell that hung in a tower so tall the top of it
must have pricked the sky. There was a boy who wore a sword and
spurs, one hand grasping his horse's saddle, the other reaching out
to a woman: she, too, wore a long white dress.
And there was a picture that, as far as he could recall, did not
connect with anything else.
A man sat at a desk surrounded by books and manuscripts and
test tubes. He wore a costume that Kevin had later seen again in
pictures of Keats, Byron and Shelley. And he was staring at a skull.
It was the skull that had fascinated Kevin. Often, while looking at
it, he had pressed his fingers against his face so as to feel his own
skull under its thin jacket of flesh. He had never looked so closely
at the man, yet the picture might not have excited him so much
if the man had not been there. And now the man was sitting not
eight feet away from him.
Neither the man nor the old woman seemed to be aware that
Kevin was there. She was performing for this man, Kevin realized,
as she had performed for that other man in the white suit and the
As I was going to Darby town
All on a market day,
I met the biggest lamb, Sir,
That ever fed on hay.
And didn't he ramble!
He rambled up and down,
And all around the town,
He rambled till the butcher cut him down.
She laughed, and awakening again in his own bed Kevin heard
38 her laughing. Her laughter was so joyous that it tickled the nerves
in Kevin's throat until he also laughed.
Now this ram he had two horns, Sir,
Two horns made out of brass,
And one came out of his head, Sir,
The other came out of his ass.
And didn't he ramble!
He rambled up and down,
And all around the town,
He rambled till the butcher cut him down.
"And what do you say to that, you old bugger? Tell me straight
out now, you old fart: what do you say to that?"
"Mother, please," Lorna said.
"Mother, for God's sake," Judd said.
"Here's another one for you then, you old shitarse."
And she sang:
There was an old woman from Wexford,
In Wexford she did dwell,
Who loved her husband dearly
But another man twice as well.
Next morning when Kevin got up she was lying down in her
room upstairs but by then it no longer mattered; the doctor had
been there and gone and that didn't matter either. But it mattered
very much, not only then but ever afterwards, that his grandmother, an old peasant woman, had sat up all through the last
night of her life, singing songs to entertain herself and Death.
39 Four Poems by George Jonas
The April wind is gentle.
The socialist sky is blue.
Our limousine is waiting.
My friend the film director pans toward me
And stops with his innocent eyes in extreme close-up.
He informs me he's happy.
He is happy in a happy country
Free, creative, and soon he will drive
To his island retreat in his East German car.
He dollies back for a final goodby
And fades out slowly.
The April wind is gentle
The socialist sky is blue
The limousine waits patiently.
A shabby woman steps into the frame,
Informs me she has not eaten for three days
And asks me for five forints.
I wave at my friend and smile,
And give the woman three forints,
And get into my limousine.
They are probably both lying
And I've become too old to chase after
The whore of truth in strange cities.
There are no cities here
But if I fly or float
For a length of time
In any direction
There will be a city.
In this sense
All cities meet here
And it is interesting to watch
The long shadow of Calcutta colliding
With the elegant narrow shades of Paris.
Here there is nothing
Except much unstable air
Ending in much unstable water
And a colour line where they meet.
Some travellers
Have touched this fine and lived to tell about it
But not many.
The plane in which I sit is guaranteed
Against shrinking, but I've noticed
The higher it flies the smaller it gets.
The co-pilot thinks
We will make Frankfurt in five hours.
I'm going to the washroom.
It used to take an eagle
To piss on a cloud.
A pianist plays his piano.
An immensely boring young man
Talks to us about underground movies.
An earnest cocktail-waitress approaches.
It seems to be a Thursday.
Perhaps this is a good time
To engage in some idle speculation
About a girl who burned to death
In her apartment yesterday.
I knew her slightly, and would not be surprised
To see her sitting a couple of tables to our left or right
At Sutton Place around 7 pm on a Thursday.
From the expression on her face
She would seem to be unimpressed
By the playing of the pianist
By the cocktail-waitress serving her drinks
By whoever might be talking to her
Very possibly about underground movies.
I may be wrong, but I think she came
Here from London, England, six or seven
Seasons ago, a job on the fringes of showbiz,
Dates with several men (she was pretty) but
Nothing special, furnished in succession
Two apartments in contemporary Spanish
(Except bookcases made of bricks) a record
Or two of Vivaldi, a box of (unused)
Spices in her kitchen and lately
She had been thinking of giving up smoking.
42 The cigarette she fell asleep with
She may even have intended to be
Her last one: she did not wish to die
Of cancer and she didn't: once more all designs
Form a pattern, all intentions
Are accomplished, my point's neatly proven:
Oh I adore
Our perfect universe!
If I had dated her (I thought of it once)
Now I would be sad.
As it is
An earnest cocktail waitress approaches
A pianist plays his piano
And it seems to be a Thursday.
The girl who's visiting me tonight
Asks me to remember her to an executive
And next day I remember her.
"She is a loser,"
says the executive,
"Let's go have lunch."
And that's that.
Except I seem to taste her in my Campari
And see her standing naked
At the window last night
With a tiny reflection
Of the lights of the city in her eyes.
George Jonas's poems have been in Prism international and many other
journals; The Absolute Smile, a book of poetry, was published by House of
Anansi. He is a radio producer for CBC in Toronto.
"... and even if a man only lay down on his back, he lost sight of
the ground." — Pedro De Castaneda.
Tire tracks
to the dust bath at
county-crossroads, the roads here go
do nothing forever in
the virtual silence
of a barely peaking Lambda, but
cross and rarely
"Da sich auf dieser Ebene ereignete und veranderte;
War die Ziet nur ein absegiges Gespenst."
Last Saturday night at the dance
down at Wickens, more big Harley cycles
than I'd ever seen before; the back lot
was a pen
of horse-statues of milk
in the dark
just cooled
to static petroleum smells. The boys from
Vancer County charged in, and the hack of their manure-
sharp bootsounds cut into the ceiling:
eight, beer-sweaty of gut and deadlift arms
that made the denim ripple. The deputy Mike
flipped himself into a shadow as the band
played louder and no one
heard, but the electric bass
thrashed its black heart
in everyone's ear.
44 I ain't gonna start it, me neither, but crazy Leroy
drunk as a spring minotaur, he'll do it
on homemade wine that reeks of apples and
tiny eyeless fish.
Hit him once low, Leroy, and you'll be
climbing, knees
in crescendo
almost to your chin,
catalogue boots dancing
Druid upon the quaking denim mounds; the Harleys
will roar for you
like snow in
countless detector crystals
of awe.
And who among us
but you can fill
a wind-parched woman like an April storm flooding
a gully. O the melted thunder of
your glands, Leroy.
At night these radio-preachers
shout like hail and
are heard, usually,
through the interference which smothers
most speakers as their signals falter mysteriously,
not with travelling too far, but at betrayal
by their whirling ion mirrors.
a photograph of the illusory plains
has only the grandiose hope of
bisecting their dimensions, and
always is itself bisected.
45 Fata Morgana
the seductress of eyes, waves
in the air her
splendorous cities
shimmering as
Gobelin upon her living blue-
gold hair. A mirage
is optical reality and hence
records on film.
shoots down like a fevered tongue
into his throat,
linguae tamquam ignis
and he's into him
whose taste between the chanting teeth
is the endless hot wind. By
the legend, the chinook evaporates snow
without melting
it, leaving the ground dry
as vellum.
Where land is flat
and unswelled,
the sun
moves up from beneath
the East, and mounts it low
and so at the first moment
of sun, man's shadow leaps without echo
from where he stands to
the western horizon.
46 The bells of Wanassa Methodist chapel
like hills through her dreams. Sunday morning
has been her time of altar lace where neck
splashes softly into shoulders, since
her grandmother bells opened the hymn books
to number fifty-three and make him sing it too, instead of
fingering his new suit buttonholes, hoping
them vast enough
to flee into. No,
you must stay here and sing,
my husband,
musical lover
loud in the windless
hollows of my body, climbing
my perfect valley tree
of ripe nadir al stars (and I answered,
a bird in a well).
and fear the women chasing death
away with the scrape of broomstraw soprano.
The preacher of death
is amplified in the vacuum
of our wombs, from
across the leaping distance of you.
Rory Holscher is a student at the University of Notre Dame, where "Interface" won the annual Samuel Hazo Award for outstanding undergraduate
poetry. It is his first publication.
47 Two Stories by Georg Britting
Translated from the German by Peter Paul Fersch.
Georg Britting (1891-1964) won international recognition in 1932 with his
novel Der Lebenslauf eines dicken Mannes, der Hamlet hiess. He is the author
of many poems, stories, and novels, which have made a significant contribution
to German literature.
"Mosquito Battle" is from Georg Britting's Gesamtausgabe, vol A E, Nymphen-
burger Verlagshandlung, Munich 1957, and "The Feast of the Four Hundred"
is from Gesamtausgabe, vol E I, 1958. We are indebted to the publishers for
allowing us to print these translations.
Peter Paul Fersch, who translated two other Britting stories for our 7:2,
is now teaching Comparative Literature at Loyola University, New Orleans.
The Feast of the Four Hundred
On the red morning of the feast of Corpus Christi the mutinous
convicts slew the general and his officers. Neruda, the leader,
ordered brandy distributed and the white-skinned women freed.
They died of the fatal embrace of the four-hundred. Their frenzied
and delirious ecstasy of freedom turned to despair, when four of His
Majesty's ships were sighted at noon. The anger of the galley slaves
attacked Neruda like a wild beast. They throttled him, spat green
bile into his face, and tied him to the mast. On their knees, hands
stretched out in supplication, they howled at the soldiers of the
king. Iron cuffs snapped around knuckles that had for half a day
proudly boasted pale rings of unfettered freedom. Forty-eight hours
later the ships put into the harbour of the capital city, and three
days later the mutineers were already subjected to the sentence of
the criminal court. On the large town square ten gallows had been
erected. Houses displayed festive decorations. Winding garlands
and wreaths. People crowded to windows and howled with impatience. The king and a small band of courtiers were seated on a
balcony. He nibbled tropical fruits from a crystal bowl placed in
front of him. The ladies opened their jingling fans. Preparations
had been made to hang fifty of the criminals at the one time, five
on each of the gallows. The gallows were specially built: two
wooden beams, a little taller than an average man's height, were
48 connected by a strong cross-beam. On low flat-carts, drawn by
horses with red plumage blossoming between their ears, the column
of the first fifty rattled through the prison gates. When the brilliance of the blue sky fell terribly upon their eyes, they saw green
wreaths flowing and black rectangular spaces dancing between the
gallows, and they burst into a scream that the jubilant crowd received with happy reverberations. They themselves had to fasten
the hangman's knot that dangled from their necks to the huge nails
on the crossbeams. The hangman's helpers snatched the ladders
from under their trembling feet. They quivered like eels on the
hook. Some of them paddled their empty hands as if shuffling
water. Others climbed a steep hill with quick steps. But soon they
all hung like deflated rubber tubes. They were cut down and their
warm flesh was taken away on shrieking carts. But already the
tongue of the next fifty hissed out of the prison gate. Street vendors
sold oranges. The yellow balls flew from hand to hand. Dandies
let them rise glittering to windows with faces of girls in them. The
broken eyes of dying men saw them circle the roofs like so many
moons. When for the third time the carts of fifty thundered onto
the square, the jubilation of the crowd rose to its impetuous climax.
The first cart was drawn by a stumbling, mangy nag with festering
eyes. Neruda sat on it backwards and held in his shackled hands
the braided tail of the animal. His hot eyes sparked into rows of
laughing people. And when someone called him a dirty name, he
showered his opponent with a flood of horrible and vulgar expletives, so that he drew back his head as if avoiding dish water. After
the next wave of fifty smashed against the gallows and broke into
quivering droplets, the festivities came to a halt, because actors
and dancers, flutists and kettle-drummers, magicians and sword-
swallowers appeared. A brown-skinned girl, clothed in transparent
red silk, danced before the king. She was like a red poppy swaying
in the wind of flutes — a tongue of flame dancing on the crackling
hide of drums. A high-pitched scream pierced the king like a thrust
from a slender dagger. She sank into a small heap of ashes still
aglow with the red embers of her robe. She was carried away and
trumpet fanfares announced the continuation of the executions.
Fifty bell clappers made of flesh crashed loudly against the beams
of the wooden clocks pealing the last hour. The horses went lame
from the heavy work and had to be driven on with whips. The
crowd became restless and grumbled because the hangings proceeded so slowly, and many started to leave. Even the king had left
after giving the leader of the band of jugglers permission to send
49 the girl to the castle in the evening to dance for him. The hoofs of
the horses clattered over the empty square. Tired windows clinked
shut. Thin streaks of rain squirted from the sky. The last fifty died
completely unnoticed.
The Mosquito Battle
The humidity crouched in front of the window like a huge hot
animal with trembling flanks. There it was — languid, broad-
bellied, wobble-bellied, match-tip-red dots on its yellow-skinned,
mushroom-fanned dragon-belly — and breathed heavily, trumpeting like a bellows, rhythmically. The tongue — the flame-colored,
fire-flush tongue smoked above the roofs. With each breath the
beast exhaled swarms of small yellow-winged mosquitoes.
They were like flags hung in the air: drooping and trailing, billowing and knotted rope-like, with tips flapping like a droning
waterfall, and resting as if woven into a carpet. In the evening they
began to dance with resonant fury. They spun around like furious
whirlwinds, descended upon the room with rage, and circled the
lamp like dried-up wreaths. There were hundreds, thousands. The
room started to turn with them. They eclipsed the fight. They
knocked against each other like purring rosary beads — winged
centaurs, an army of huns without clatter of hoofs.
We cast the nets of our fingers among them, closed the fists, and
held the small twitching bodies imprisoned. We slew them with
rags and pursued them with burning candles to light their funeral
But their numbers continued to swell, and the curvature of their
orbits grew mightier. They forced us to sit behind closed windows.
If we stepped up to the window, we saw them clinging to the glass
with inordinate desire. We were afraid. We retreated into the darkest corner of the room like cave dwellers, grew coarse-boned and
club-swinging, long-haired and bearded, and stared at these hostile,
deadly monsters.
Every evening we had to lower the glass abatises. We sat fatigued
in our armchairs. We rolled our cigarettes with moist fingers. From
time to time one of us went to the window, where from outside
mosquitoes reeled against the glass with a low thud. We were
under siege, confined: they always lay in wait for us. The humid
50 nights steamed under the moon. An uncontrollable hatred against
our enemies seized us. We killed them, if we encountered them
singly. We opened the window a little, so that through the small
opening a staggering band wafted inside. We slew them all. Our
prison life became unbearable. The sweat ate us alive. We made
plans to escape, considering the possibility of fighting our way out
with smoking torches and the din from swinging bells. We dreamed
of slaughtering them en masse, sizzling them with glowing broad-
shovels. Our nostrils expanded at the thought of burning flesh.
Then, exhausted, we slumped again onto the tables. And always the
greedy wing-beaters were at the window panes.
One evening a quick lightning bolt stabbed the huge animal. A
knife pierced the clouds and hissed into the yellow-fanned dragon-
belly as if into butter. The blood spilled like rain. The mosquito-
spitting breath stopped. We opened the windows wide. Cool air
flowed inside: a deep blue filled the room.
Let me die
doing: like a sky diver
whose chute fails to open, feels
acceleration suck away breath; a
the speed outburning
blackened fields,
the hum of fence wire.
I wait,
the slow collecting
of a drop
at the tip of a hemlock,
while earth twists
into target.
Ronald Moore's first published poem was in our 9:1. He is a graduate in
creative writing at San Francisco State College.
Know in advance that no facts are known
save these: he is from Long Island, twenty
one years old with long blonde hair that
swings over his eyes and his hair is thin.
No facts are known save these: but these
facts are known: as in well-grown woods,
on trees, cold, spiny grasshoppers sit
scraping, sending voices out that hardly
can pierce ears for softness and weak
faint sounds, so talking to me he told
me (with others present) These facts are
known and conscious of those others he
told me that these facts were the known
facts, the ascertainable and usable facts
and that no facts are known beyond these,
I told him he was of a bloodless race; I
told him Other facts must be known, dealt
with, but he refused and said that these
52 known facts were sufficient and no others
need be known, no others could be treated
cleanly he told me thinking himself honest.
I asked him to come away out of the close
air but he refused saying that elaborate
fictions lay within these facts but that he
himself surpassed even them. That he was,
indeed, changing, pleasureable, and abstracted;
abstracted away from me across the length
of the front room but that no fictions
existed even in the other facts that he
himself had known of others (who were there
then) who had known him and that in that
clarity we might meet but he again declined.
Know in advance that no facts are known
save those mentioned above and that he moved
in that fiction alone with those facts.
Michael  Patrick O'Connor is a sometime designer for the Swallow Press
in Chicago.
53 Two Stories by Eric Forrer
Eric Forrer's work has been in previous issues of Prism international. He
lives in St. Michael, Alaska.
In a skin kayak, a young man with spears. He is muskrat hunting.
All around him, on the water, rats swimming with only their eyes
above the water. The spears strike out, ivory points tearing into red
rat muscle. And the rats die. They drown, pulling the spear shaft
behind them. It is attached to the point by a sinew.
The man has only to paddle to a floating shaft, and pull in the
body of the muskrat. And dead rats float. The only problem is to
perfect one's aim.
One rat sitting in the mud of a bank; a rat with tusks. Ivory
tusks, they curl back, under the rat's jaws and up over its ears.
The hunter, seeing a deformed muskrat, throws with great care.
Once imbedded, the barbs must be cut from the flesh.
The deformed muskrat does not falter. Swimming, towing the
shaft of the spear and a bloated seal-skin float, the rat dives into
the bank beneath the water. And when the float hits the bank, the
earth peels back from the advancing float like ground from a plow.
Water fills up the trench made by the medicine-man muskrat
and the hunter follows, paddling along behind the advancing float.
Mile after mile. The rat does not seem to tire.
Crossing no sloughs, the rat plows across the tundra. Until it
reaches the main Yukon. There, on the edge of a deep eddy the
float rests. A new, strange slough lies cut behind them — the hunter,
the spear, and the rat.
And pulling up the line, the hunter finds that the muskrat has
changed into a mammoth. A great animal with huge tusks.
Cutting off a piece of the ivory and a chunk of meat, the hunter
leaves the rest. He takes the samples home to prove his story.
54 Seal
From the village, the men paddle their boats down to the sea.
And spread out over the water. When a seal rises from the depths,
if only for a breath of air, the men race towards the animal, hurling
spears and shouting to confuse the wary seal.
The strongest of the hunters is far ahead of the others. Farther
out to sea. But an excess of strength can be dangerous in a frail
skin boat. It is necessary to exercise control.
When the slower hunters reach his overturned kayak, the strong
man is gone. For although they live with the water, it is cold even
in summer, and no one ever learns to swim.
The hunters mill around the area, rowing aimlessly in all directions. Seeing a seal's head at a distance, one man darts forward.
Perhaps it is their lost companion.
The seal does not dive like other seals. The hunter frowns, and
strains against his paddle. Then readies his spear.
Next to the kayak a head rises from the water. A man's face
covered with the short fur of a seal. Ears gone. Slope of the forehead increasing. Diving under the boat, the seal-man reveals human
legs fused down to the knees. And placing a hand on the edge of
the kayak, it slips off, for the fingers are becoming stiff and webbed.
The seal-man begs to be taken back to the village. Back to his
family. But his friend is terrified and refuses.
Splashing the water in a frenzy, the seal-man butts the boat,
insisting, persuading. Then he is kept at bay by the prodding of a
Then the other hunters hurl their spears, and the seal-man dives
and does not reappear.
55 Three Poems by Joyce Carol Oates
"Only the Exhaustive Can Be Truly Interesting."
—Thomas Mann
now you are crossing rooms
you are part of a new dimension
back here you are interpreted
in my body
held as in a reed, suspended
a moment walled-up and suspended
the flash of iridescent wings
turned to powder
on a man's thumb —
which may be used for crucial
identification —
is our affection
to be dragged everywhere today?
sanctified are trailer trucks hauling
matter across my vision, as are
the rooms you cross endlessly
men cross and recross rooms
women contemplate their bodies
silent and baffled as bandages
and white with the body's
tainted white
separated now
by half a daytime city
I contemplate you in
in the tributaries of my
darkest body
Geometry created us.
Perfect of proportion, we love
in rooms;    doors chaste
as blank foreheads open
to our private keys.
The body is a muscle
to be regarded.
The brain is a muscle
of busy hills, the struggle
of unthought things with things
eternally thought.
Outside our rooms are
fences that sink into the earth:
roots curling in that darkness
are cut in pieces, unliving.
Our earth is filled in with
broken bricks, boards,
and old nails.
In a box we maneuver
from a set of walls
to another set of walls —
no space in between.
Our stories, told quickly,
are symbols of ourselves, the people
we must be, the lovers, inspired
to an infinite love
in a series of boxes.
the dimensions of the white vase are modest
crossed with fake gold, the outside is
dry and white;    the inside dark
moist and private
flowers crowded together, we rear apart
at our petals' tips
our stems sink into evil-smelling water
water unwashing
if the world breaks
all will flow without malice
the white pieces puzzled, broken
the flowers scattered wide for inches
over-blown petals parted, tiny hairy thorns
all blooming come to a rosy end
Joyce Carol Oates' story, Boy & Girl, was in our 8:3. She has had five
novels and a poetry volume published, was twice nominated for the National
Book Award and is now in the Department of English at the University of
That wooden Indian expression
on Peter Webb's lacquered face —
the day he came back to Camp Crowder
from Fort Baker with Company H. —
was lineless. Yes, his face had a Mt.
Rushmore coldness. And Peter Webb,
parading with eyes right, stared through
the brigadier. But in the general's
policed-up mind, the one star thought
was this: these men are mine; one face,
one force. And Peter Webb went
unnoticed. What the general
knew he kept to himself by not
looking, and what Webb saw, Webb
took for granted by looking through.
John Stevens Wade had a selection of his poems in the Hill & Wang anthology, 31 New American Poets; Poet & Printer, London, recently brought
out Gallery, a poetry collection illustrated with line drawings.
59 Two Poems by Wayne Zade
My eyesight is failing;
I need stronger glasses.
Was that a stop sign?
I think you'd better
fasten your seat-belt.
And listen, can you speak
any louder? I mean why
whisper about the weather,
your mother's knitting?
Really, I'd like to know.
Columbine, clover,
the sweet mown hay —
you smell a fire?
My cold's getting worse,
hand me more kleenex.
No, you go ahead,
you can eat all you want.
I've been smoking too much,
I can barely taste water.
My lungs will explode
any minute again,
my limbs are skis,
my muscles wheeze —
there, squeeze my hands,
come closer to the bed.
My cold and secret
epiphany continues;
I am walking on the bottom
of Lake Ontario,
arms and legs
tied to the floor.
More and more fish
die laughing at the sight,
refusing to tell me
why I came here,
(I'm not sure).
I think I wanted
to return,
kiss your coral lips all night,
have a dozen kids,
live happily ever after
But you speed by
in a cabin-cruiser,
or sometimes on skis
(what tricks you can do!).
Your thunders of waves
blur my vision;
my eyes are bubbles,
and I am forgetting again.
Only more and more
hysterical sturgeon,
only this waiting to wake.
Wayne Zade has appeared in Shenandoah and  Open Places. He is taking
graduate work in English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
61 Michel Butor is one of the leaders of France's literary avant-garde. He has
written several novels and in 1957 won the Prix-Renaudot. His most recent
work is Inventory, a collection of essays.
This talk was given this Spring at the University of British Columbia. We
have also appended an excerpt from a CBC radio interview between Michel
Butor and J. Michael Yates.
Derk Wynand's poetry, fiction and translations have appeared in Prism inter-
national and elsewhere. He is teaching at the University of Victoria.
ATalk by Michel Butor
Translated from the French by Derk Wynand.
I'll begin by talking for several minutes before your questions.
It seems that a certain number of you have read and studied La
Modification. This is a book that you probably know better than I
now, since it has existed a long time for me. It was already finished
twelve years ago, and during these twelve years I've done a great
many things. After having published Degres in i960, I published
many other books which aren't novels in the proper sense but, if
you like, which distanced me more and more from this former
book. And when you write a book, in some manner you drive out
what you've written previously; when you publish a book, it is to a
large extent in order not to have to remember it any longer. For a
very long time, you think about this book, you ponder over it, you
read it over a great number of times before it appears in its definitive version, and once it is printed it's up to others to turn their
attention to it. You present it; it's up to others to attend to it while
you go on other adventures yourself; you write other books in
general. That's why I know that a certain number of people know
my books much better than I. It seems paradoxical, but I've often
had this experience, especially with translators. A good translator
begins to know a book much better than the author knows it himself, because he is obliged to examine the detail of language, and he
begins to know the book by heart, as it were. Often, translators
have asked questions about my books, extremely precise questions
62 which I often had difficulty answering, showing me that henceforth
they evidently knew my books better than I. And to be able to
answer them, I'm sometimes forced to reread several pages of my
books, an experience that's strange enough. Normally, this is something I never do. It would never occur to me, for example, to read
one of my own books.
From the time the book is published, I tell you it's there for others.
It's up to others to continue the work that I started. I always hope
that the others are going to work hard, and I work hard on each
book myself. I don't claim to write books that are easy to read at
all. On the contrary, if I work so much on my books, it's so that
others will also work. I want them to work.
I remember an anecdote about Finnegan's Wake. One day before Finnegan's Wake was finished, a reporter came to see Joyce
and, concerning what had been published in some magazines, said
to him: "Oh, this is something that's really very difficult to read,"
and Joyce answered: "But it was still much more difficult to write."
I can warrant you that my books were very difficult to write, and
I don't want to be the only one to work. I want others to work as
well and I want others to continue my work. Of course, I hope
that there aren't any useless difficulties. I hope that everything is
done so that others can continue the work started therein.
Now let's come to this book which some of you have read, La
Modification, and I'll try to rediscover a little, I'll try to remember
it and to tell you a little about how this book was produced. It's
always very hard to recount the birth of a book because writing a
book consists in making it pass from a moment when one doesn't
yet know what it is to a moment when one knows what it is. A
reporter can know in advance what he's going to write in his article.
He is asked to write something on such and such a subject; he is
asked to write it in such and such a manner. He knows exactly
what he's going to do and he's going to carry it out. But a writer
doesn't know in advance what he's going to write. He sets out with
a plan that isn't clear; he sets out with a plan that is an obscurity.
If he begins to write, it isn't because he knows something he wants
to teach others; rather, it's the opposite, because he sees that he
doesn't know something. He sees that there is something he doesn't
understand. There is an obscure point, and it's from this obscurity
that he's going to start his work. There's a question, if you like,
which he doesn't know how to ask. There is something that won't
do and he doesn't know how to talk about it. All the work put
into a book consists of passing from that moment when you don't
63 know how to say something and don't even know what to say yet,
to the moment when it is said. So, once the book is finished, then
you can talk about it. The writer can talk about it a little himself
and the others above all become able to talk about it. But before
the book is finished, especially before you've started writing the
first pages, it's very hard to talk about it; it is very difficult to explain to another, for example, what you are going to do. When I
am asked what I'm working on at the time, what I want to do,
even when I've actually been working on something for a long
time, I have a great deal of trouble talking about it, because I
don't know what's going to come of it yet. If I knew exactly what
it was going to be, what it must be, the book would be practically
finished already.
So, books are something born at night that move gradually towards consciousness. And in spite of all the effort a writer can make
to understand what he's in the process of creating, in spite of all
the scaffoldings and all the culture that he can call to his aid, there
is always something that remains unknown to the writer himself.
Moreover, it is because something remains unknown that he publishes his book. If he knew exactly what was at the bottom of his
book, he wouldn't have to publish it. He could publish it, let's say,
to earn some money, but you know that it's quite extraordinary to
earn any money publishing books in France. On the contrary, you
do your best to earn a bit of money and, if possible, with books, so
you can continue writing them, so you can publish others. Books
are published because they aren't finished when they're written:
they absolutely must be read. You absolutely have to make them
read, because books are questions asked. And all the books that
I've written are questions I ask my readers. I need their answers,
answers that come in all sorts of ways. Sometimes, you quite simply
meet people who have read your books and who talk to you about
them, but that isn't very often. It isn't necessarily very fruitful.
Sometimes, it's through the intermediary of writing; that is, there
are critics who write things about your books, or indeed, students
who write theses about your books, and sometimes — which is
most interesting — it is precisely the questions they ask you in their
turn that let you understand things that were obscure for you previously. But that can happen still more obliquely; in other words, it's
through the intermediary of a certain change in atmosphere that
you become conscious of the answer or answers that your book has
provoked. You realize that your book has transformed something
in the reading milieu where it appeared.
64 How then can I speak a bit more precisely about La Modification? At that time, I was concentrating my efforts on the novel.
I wanted to put everything into my novels. For several years, I'd
forbidden myself the writing of poems in order to try to put everything inside the novel, and my novels — these four novels — form
a kind of series: each answers questions asked by the former. Well
then, the previous book is L'Emploi du Temps. L'Emploi du Temps
is the story of a young Frenchman who goes to spend a year in a
northern English city, and this northern English city, which resembles Manchester a bit, assumes a kind of personality, and in
some way the book describes a combat between this young foreigner
and the city surrounding him in which he's going to stay for one
year. The book before that, Passage de Milan, the first novel I
wrote, tells of one night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in a Parisian building that has, I think, seven storeys. I began this book at the time
of my first sojourn outside of France, while I was in Egypt, and I
continued it afterwards in Manchester, England. And for me this
book was a means of reconstituting the Parisian reality. Being
abroad, I tried to make a pattern, a kind of scale model for what
could have been my life in Paris. Having left England, I tried, if
you like, to make a kind of model for what had been my life in
England. But instead of having it one night in a building, I increased the dimensions a bit, to one year in a city. From that moment, I wanted to augment still some more; I wanted to find the
means for speaking not only of one city, but of two cities at once.
And it's this problem that's at the source of La Modification. It's a
technical problem, if you like. What to do in order to speak about
two cities? But you can easily see that it's not simply a technical
problem, because as soon as these two cities were named, all kinds
of historical and mythological content was going to step in.
How to speak about these two cities? Well, I tried several
methods. It was very complicated; it took a very long time to arrive, let's say, at the current formula that consists of making a man
travel from Paris to Rome, and this man think about what he did
in Paris and about what he's going to do in Rome. He thinks about
the trips he has taken previously, etc. And during this voyage, his
plan, the way he pictures his own future, modifies itself, and modifies itself in a rather sad fashion. Furthermore, at the end of the
book, in the book's last pages, you find traces of the book's entire
history in my head; that is, you find the man in question beginning
to imagine a book. He says that one way of resolving his difficulties
would be to write a book that he doesn't, however, write himself,
65 but that others can write in his place. He thus imagines a book and
this book has several forms, ultimately the form that one finds, that
one has just read, the form that is found in the book itself. If I
have ultimately adopted this form, the railway journey from Paris
to Rome, it is because in the first place, I like railway journeys very
much, and then, railway journeys present a considerable advantage
from the point of view of narrative technique. Namely, in a train
schedule there is a precise liaison between space and time. And
being the good student of French secondary education that I am,
I've always been fascinated by the question of the unities.
You know when Racine, Corneille, etc. are studied, it is explained to you that these people have always used, let's say, have
tried to respect the famous rule of the three unities attributed to
Aristotle. Let's say it was necessary that the events of a tragedy last
24 hours, that they occur in the same place, if possible in the same
setting, but strictly in the same city, and that it had to have unity
of action. Very well, I've used this rule to my advantage by transforming it and by taking on more and more complex unities. You
see that in the first book there is one building and one night; in the
second, there is one year and one city, and of course there are little
unities within the large, because L'Emploi du Temps is a text written by this character, by this Frenchman who spends a year in
England, and he writes all of it; he writes the whole text in his
room. So, there is a first unity which is the unity of the room and
then a second unity which is the unity of the city. In La Modification, the unities become much more complicated, but there is quite
a distinct little unity which is the railway compartment. At the
beginning of the book, the character enters the railway compartment, and at the end of the book, he leaves the compartment. And
during the voyage, each time he comes out of the compartment to
go to the restaurant, to go stretch his legs a bit, the text stops, concluding a chapter. The following chapter will begin when he returns to the compartment. So, we have a small unity of place which
runs between two large unities of place, which runs in quite a clear
way from Paris to Rome, and we know that when it's 20:30 hours,
the train must arrive, for example — I don't know any more — in
Chambery. And since one is going to speak of other journeys, he's
going to remember journeys he's made previously. After a certain
time, the schedule will be sufficiently established so that when one
says it is 20:30 hours, the attentive reader will automatically understand that he is in Chambery, or when one says that the train is
66 arriving in Chambery, the attentive reader will automatically understand that it is 20:30 hours.
You see that there's a considerable advantage for the art of the
narrative here; namely, that we're going to be able to say a great
many things in very few words. There is a narrative economy
realized by a precise liaison between time and space. And railways
are simply one possibility for a liaison between time and space. You
can work with any kind of schedule; for example, you can work
with airplane schedules. I've had a text broadcast, a text for radio
called Reseau aerien (Aerial system), whose framework is derived
from airplane schedules. And you can find liaisons much richer
still than those found in the schedules of transport. You can find
precise liaisons between time, space, and many other things, particularly educational subjects in any system of education; in French
secondary education, for example, which is used in the book,
Degres. But here, for example, in the program of your classes, there
is a precise liaison between time, space, and knowledge. In other
words, from the single fact that you have precise time-tables, we
know that at such a moment, such a student is found in such a
class and that his thoughts are turned towards such a matter. So,
you can have an absolutely extraordinary abundance of liaisons,
and thus an absolutely extraordinary economy of language. In using
structures of this kind, you can manage to say in several lines what
would otherwise take whole volumes.
You see, I've already talked much longer than I should have, so
I think it best if you began to ask questions, because if not, I'd
keep talking till the end of the hour.
Q. Do you write as an intellectual exercise or as therapy? And do
you believe that the average reader today is more intelligent
than the reader of Flaubert?
A. Oh, I don't believe that the average reader today is more intelligent than a reader of Flaubert. No, I don't think that. I think
that the reader of Flaubert, the people in the 19th century who
appreciated L'Education Sentimentale were really extremely intelligent people. L'Education Sentimentale was a book I believe
much more difficult than most of the contemporary books considered difficult today. Flaubert's art was very revolutionary in
relation to the literature of his time and, let's say, the concentration of culture within one page of Flaubert is something considerable. To realize this, it's enough to read La Tentation de
Saint-Antoine, for example, in order to see the enormous amount
67 of culture which Flaubert concentrated in his books. So, I would
really be very, very happy if all my readers today were as intelligent as the readers who appreciated L'Education Sentimentale the year of its publication. And as you know, there
were very few readers in France who appreciated L'Education
Sentimentale the year of its publication. Consequently, it's entirely normal that I don't necessarily have hundreds of thousands
of readers who become enthusiastic as soon as one of my books
So, to answer the first part of your question: when I write, is
it an intellectual exercise or a way of ridding myself, let's say,
of a haunting memory, of an obsession, a kind of autopsycho-
analysis? Well, of course, it's both things at once. If I write, it's
to rid myself of these areas of reality that trouble me, that
worry me, that keep me from sleeping, that constantly knock
at the door to my head. But to manage to make these areas of
obscurity pass into clarity, let's say, to make them pass from the
domain of nightmare, of haunting memory, of illness, to the
domain of understanding, to the domain of language, I must
do considerable brain-work. And that's why this deliverance
can take place only through the means of exercise. I cannot
deliver myself immediately; I have to teach myself a new way
of making, a new way of telling. Thus, I have to exercise myself.
Imagine a musician, a jazz musician for example, a jazz
pianist who wants to succeed in freeing himself of certain forms
that beset him. He realizes that in order to manage this he must
do particular kinds of exercises because he can attain the type of
song he's looking for only from the time he's resolved a certain
number of technical difficulties, when he's reached a certain
kind of virtuosity. So, when I write a book, I have to exercise
myself in writing this book. I have to play the scales in order to
manage to write that book, and these scales, these exercises I do
to write the book are going to find themselves again within the
book itself, with the result that there will be in the book itself,
in what people are going to read, there will also be exercises.
For the reader, the book will be like a sequence of exercises that
allows him to read things he wasn't able to read before and to
say things he wasn't able to say before. These two aspects then,
the ridding of haunting memory and intellectual exercise, are
closely related. All literature is thus conceived as a kind of religious exercise, since you cannot say that it's purely intellectual;
it's also an exercise of the imagination above all. It's a way of
68 becoming able to imagine what you couldn't imagine before.
When I write a book, I fabricate tools in order to become
more intelligent and more sensitive than I am. And when I
write, after a certain time, when I've really managed to perfect
good tools, I see that these tools are good because on the typewriter — principally, I write with a typewriter — I read sentences which I wouldn't have thought of before. The characters,
for example, begin to say things I wouldn't have been able to
say before starting work on this novel. If I write, if I do all this
work, it's because I discover something new in writing. It's because this work lets me understand what I couldn't understand,
to imagine what I couldn't imagine. I make species of literary
machines, if you like. Now there are computers that can solve
problems we'd have much trouble solving because it would
require a dreadful amount of time. Ultimately, we couldn't
have the time to solve all that. In the same way, by making
words play with each other, by placing them, by fabricating
species of machines with them, I become able to draw from
these words what I couldn't draw from them previously. And
from that it follows that the origin of the book is so obscure,
because the origin of the book is an inability to say something.
I'll give you an example.
Nine years ago, I came to America, to the United States for
the first time and I knew well that I'd be obliged to speak about
the United States on my return to France, since all French
writers who go to the United States publish "My Impressions
of the United States," "The Truth About the United States"
on their return, and consequently, during my stay, I was constantly certain that, when I returned to France, I'd be asked to
speak about what I had seen. And if I came to the United
States, it was also to be able to speak about them, certainly.
For about thirty or forty years, the return from a trip to the
United States has been one of the most exploited literary genres
in French literature. Well, at the time of this first visit, I thought
I could speak of the United States in the same way that I had
already spoken in a book called Le Genie du Lieu, that I had
already spoken of other countries around the Mediterranean ■—
Egypt, for example — and then of different cities: the city of
Cordoue in Spain, the city of Salonique in Greece, Istanbul in
Turkey. I thought I could write in the same manner. At the
beginning of my stay, I was at Bryn Mawr College near Philadelphia; at the beginning of my stay, I wrote a small text about
69 Philadelphia for the Bryn Mawr College journal, and this text
was called "First Sight of Philadelphia." Stylistically, this text
belongs to the same period as the texts of Genie du Lieu, with
long sentences constructed in the same manner. Then I gradually realized that that wouldn't allow me to speak about what
seemed to me the most important aspects of the United States
— and, I may say, on the North American continent — that I
had to find something else because all these books written by
other French writers on their return from the United States —
I'm thinking of Simone de Beauvoir's books, for example — in
all these books, the writers were sincere. In other words, when
they said that something had happened to them, it was literally
true. As a matter of fact, they weren't lying — such and such a
thing happened to them on such and such a day — but this
event placed into this kind of book became false. That is, I saw
more and more that it didn't have the meaning it assumed in
the interior of the book, and the problem for me was to find the
means for making a book in which what I said in my turn
wouldn't automatically become false. It was a matter of finding
a means for preserving the American space, the space or, if you
prefer, the American light, in such a way that what I narrated
in order to create a book which would be the same as what I
narrated within it wouldn't automatically become misleading.
That's why I wrote a book called Mobile, which tries to reconstitute the space of the United States within one volume. And
this problem of the space of the container became so important
that there isn't, as it were, a single personal anecdote in this
book. Small traces of personal anecdote occur from time to
time; it could have many more, but that isn't the book's subject. The subject of the book isn't the adventures of Michel
Butor and his family from Bryn Mawr to Middlebury at all —
and we had adventures that were numerous and picturesque
enough — but the subject is the American space. In other
words, how can one imagine a book within which one could
tell the adventures of Michel Butor or the adventures of any
other Frenchman or European who came to the United States?
So there you can see very well, I believe, how you pass from
something about which you cannot speak. There, in short, was
the landscape in which I found myself, about which I believed,
at the beginning, that I could speak as the other Frenchmen
believed they could, and then, knowing better, I realized that
I couldn't. Here was an extremely difficult problem of language
70 to solve, and one I had much trouble solving. I had to invent
a completely different literary form from that of this other
book, Le Genie du Lieu, and with completely different stylistic
structures. If you like, I was almost forced to invent a new
writer to manage it, and I was forced to become another writer
myself to manage speaking of this other subject. The means I
had to perfect — which you know if you've read La Modification — this style of long sentences, couldn't stand as it was. I
had to change it, to transform my linguistic and grammatical
equipment to do it.
Q. How do you intend to place yourself in relation to the nouveau
A. Look here, first of all I don't intend to place myself in relation
to the nouveau roman. It's very difficult for me to place myself
in relation to my colleagues, because I see myself badly. I read
my books — and very carefully — so long as they aren't published yet, so long as they aren't finished yet. From the time
they're finished, I don't read them any more. This means that
I don't know my books in the same way I know the books of
others. I can read Claude Simon or Nathalie Sarraute's books
like a normal reader, but I can't read mine like a normal reader,
which means that I don't honestly know what effect my books
have on a reader. It's very, very difficult to be objective about
my books. There is, if you like, a paradox in that vision. So, I
can easily make comparisons between Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute. I can write, revive the style of the parallel, so
instead of drawing the parallel between Corneille and Racine,
I can have the parallel between Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie
Sarraute written, but I cannot draw the parallel between
Nathalie Sarraute and Michel Butor. That's impossible because
the situation, the position, the optics cannot be considered, cannot be rendered parallel. There's something impossible here. It's
the others, then, who can see. It's the others, it's you who can
place me in relation to the other writers of the nouveau roman.
They began to talk about the nouveau roman in 1956, and at
that time we already knew each other, but we all had the strong
feeling of being very different one from the other, for, as you
know, the nouveau roman has never constituted a group. We
have always remained fairly isolated from each other and we
were extremely annoyed when we were always grouped together in the papers. When they spoke of Robbe-Grillet, they
always spoke of Nathalie Sarraute and me as well; when they
7i spoke of Nathalie Sarraute, they spoke of Robbe-Grillet, etc.
We were the Three Musketeers of contemporary literature, and
that annoyed us very much because we felt very different. We
were most annoyed when they attributed to one of us the ideas
of another, because we didn't assume the declarations made by
the others at all. In certain cases, there are very unified groups.
The Surrealist group, for example, was something very unified.
Consequently, it was entirely just to attribute to one of the
members of the group the ideas expressed by another. If there
was a genuine disagreement between them, one of the two was
eliminated, excommunicated, placed outside of the group.
Whereas in what concerns the nouveau roman, no, there has
never been anything of this kind, and consequently it was entirely wrong to attribute to Robbe-Grillet ideas coming from
an essay or an article by Nathalie Sarraute, for example. Their
ideas were really very different. Since then the situation has
improved — I'd say because after having talked a lot about the
nouveau roman, people began to read the book and realized —
even the newspaper critics realized — that the books were very
different from each other and that these were very different
writers. Consequently, they spoke of them individually. That's
why today there is much less misunderstanding. Today one sees
things in a clearer way from the sole fact that time has passed.
The nouveau roman in its strict sense is already dated, something that's ten, twelve years old. So now we already have a
bit of perspective and now we see the difference between the
writers very well, and we also see much more clearly what the
common points are. We see much more clearly why those people
are put into the same chapter of history manuals of French
literature in the 20th century; we see why people have spoken
of them collectively, why people of that time began to speak of
them collectively. So that's why it no longer presents a problem
today. All of us accept being placed in that chapter and the
writers of the nouveau roman are people who started from very
different points, who met at a certain moment, but their trajectories after this meeting . . . well, their trajectories spread out.
And each followed his own path with a certain number of
common points nevertheless, and I would even say with points
common in these differences, because all the writers of the
nouveau roman toward 1956 were concentrating their activities
on the novel. The novel was really the principal form, the form
that embodied all the rest. And all, in the following years,
72 diversified their activities. For example, Robbe-Grillet began
making films; Nathalie Sarraute wrote radio plays, etc. etc.
Each began to have a wider range than before.
From a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio interview with
Michel Butor by J. Michael Yates.
Q. Mr. Butor, I want to begin with the most pedestrian approach
and ask you what you conceive the new novel to be?
A. People reading our books — Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute
and myself, and afterwards many others — didn't know exactly
what it was. They called it "the new novel" because they didn't
recognize the ordinary novel, they didn't know in what category
to put it.
Q. Well certainly these novels are not conventional in the sense of
the characters, say as Balzac or Dickens used it, and the idea of
plot is certainly changed as far as what they have been led to
expect in the older kind of novel. And there's been the mention,
in the case of Robbe-Grillet, of the connection with science.
Are all of these valid?
A. Yes, certainly in all these novels there is something scientific, in
a very different way from the scientific approach of Zola, but
especially in the style there is something of the scientific technique, and even of the geometric way of speaking. In these books
you find very often words like "triangle," "straight line," "curve"
and so on, which doesn't seem very novelistic at first, and that
was certainly one of the common points between Robbe-Grillet
and myself especially. And there was also another very important point, it was like the signal of the new novel. It was the
fact that in our books people found very long descriptions of
familiar things, for example, ashtrays, shoes, we spent pages in
order to describe what people already know, of course, quite
well, what people think they know.
Q. To what purpose?
A. Ah, that is the difficult thing. To what purpose? It was in order
to found the language in a more profound way. I will explain.
It is extremely difficult today to speak about abstract things,
values and so on. If we use terms like "liberty," "happiness,"
"humanism," we are quite sure to be misunderstood, especially
if we cross a boundary, if we cross a frontier.
Q. This language has been worn out and just beaten to pieces,
I assume?
73 A. Yes, you know it is a swarm of misunderstandings. Of course if
you go from France to Germany with the word "liberty" or the
word "happiness," people will not understand you, because it
is not the same thing, not the same notion which is behind
these words.
Q. I notice that all of you have at one time or another attacked the
psychological novel rather harshly and I think I'm pretty much
in sympathy with this, that in other words by getting rid of all
this talk of abstractions, one necessarily gets rid of psychology
and therefore of character in the conventional sense?
A. Well, of course I like psychological novels very much and I'm
sure .. .
Q. No, I don't mean as a matter, but I mean as far as your own
purpose is, I don't mean that you're obliterating all history.
A. No, of course, and certainly we like psychology very much but
we have tried to approach psychology in another way, in a more
behaviouristic way if you wish, and that is in order to understand in a better way what we are saying. It is difficult to speak
about sentiment, but when you speak about a chair, or you speak
about a pencil, you have a chance to be understood. So starting
from these ordinary things, you can progressively go into characters and sentiments and values and so on. But you know better.
Q. Well I think that people very often misunderstand your purposes, people that I've talked to, when Robbe-Grillet in his very
interesting book called Toward a New Novel attacks the psychological novel, and for example the way he interprets Franz
Kafka in terms of the surfaces that Kafka saw rather than the
issues, as some of the theological and philosophical critics have
interpreted him, but you know perfectly well that when you
start talking about ashtrays and circles and triangles and squares,
that there is something down in the mind or down in the subconscious that reacts. It's almost alchemical and on top of it the
language. All of you seem to me much more concerned with a
great rhythm of language and an almost mesmeric incantation
as you go along, it puts you under a kind of spell.
A. Yes, certainly language is one of our major preoccupations, that
is why these novels are in a sense very poetic, not in the ordinary sense of the word, but there is a poetic quality in that concern about form and language.
Q. This was so beautifully illustrated by the sound track of Robbe-
Grillet's movie, Last Year in Marienbad, and I think most
people have come into contact with the new novel through
74 that film, it has been an enormous influence in a very new sort
of way. It's the quality, the precise quality. Probably you know
Julio Cortazar, the author of the story from which Blowup
came, and of course his larger novels, The Winner and Hopscotch. How do you see yourself in relation to his work and
perhaps Grass?
A. I very much like the work of Cortazar, and I know him, you
know he lives in Paris, and I like that book Hopscotch very
much, especially because it is a mobile, and I am very interested
in all that is aleatoric, problematic. Gunter Grass, it's different,
of course I admire him as a writer, but he's very far from the
kind of preoccupation of the new novel writers in France and
a man like Cortazar. For me, he is a very traditional German
writer who has a very keen ear for language and especially for
popular language.
Q. What about the writers of shorter books, or shorter pieces, like
A. Oh I admire Borges very much and I have known his work
for a long time, since the first translation of his work in France,
that was in 1947 or 1948. You know that story, that wonderful
story, called "Tlon, Ugubar, and Orbis Tertius." I admire
Borges because he has an extraordinary critical imagination and
I like his critical writings as much as his short stories. And in
his short stories there is also that mathematical imagination
which is very fascinating.
Q. Yes, I was just going to say, you would probably find him a
kindred spirit although using a little different mode.
A. Yes certainly, and I also very much like the language of Borges,
the way in which he writes, at the same time in a very modern
way but with archaism, he has a range of vocabulary, very
wonderful, and there is a historical depth in everything he
Q. If we have talked about the modifications roughly that the
nouveau roman has presented, where do you stand with regard to history, how do you feel about history, I mean what
use is it to you?
A. What use is history to me? I am always thinking about history,
because I am history, I am made of history, so history is absolutely necessary for me to understand something of myself and
something of anyone, something of everything.
75 Three Poems by Peter Desy
Sister, now you've got
yourself pared down
to where Old Widder Brown was
in 1942, and got rid of
those everlasting blinders, maybe
by the grace of him who modeled
loin cloth from a tree, you could
in conscience and by a trick of reverie
shake your straw black bonnet and your
rosary chain and . .. no, but first
shun orders, the worn accumulation
of that habitual heritage. Be familiar
as a start. Discard yourself leisurely,
a piece at a time, until you've got
yourself as spare as seems fit for the hour.
But not the sparseness of the cross.
Discard models too, and all catalogues;
especially him whose whole cloth was
really poverty, not convenience or ease,
whose bareness was a sacrifice and a mockery.
New skins for the same old wine.
It's tough to have to write
without a mate
to write about.
Bereft of those five years
or so of thickening domesticity,
all swaddled in memory and
that mumbling furniture,
they who have tripped and cycled their way
through familiar mysteries,
knowledgeable about jello, only still
trying to find out what
makes it wobble.
And then taking the homely line in verse
about how their home
resembles most, except for the
mnemonic creak of a stair;
or perhaps about the door knob which glistens
after dark, or maybe the wooden flamingo
on a familiar lawn, burning with
all the fervor and eccentricity
of a name brand tamed
into violence.
To end up but a little way
on the other side of the remote borders
of expected experience.
(CBS television special on the effects of drugs on the human mind-
January 31,  1967.)
It's been done now.
On television we've all seen
the snake charmers and
Jesus conversationalists
drink their chemicals,
queues of disenchanted Draculas
sipping sanity from
cardboard cups,
cancelling Neros and crazy Janes
with refreshments.
In the first sequence
the middle aged wife whose
whole body is a tremolo,
a classic instance of some
frequency or other,
disassembled completely.
In the second sequence,
fifteen draughts later,
drinked into lucidity and
wholly collected.
78 (see too
the male rat
practice housewifery
the mouse terrorize
the hairpin cat
the Jew embrace the cross)
strangely discarnate
the slack inmates
grace the worn corridors,
absent gesticulations —
it's in the tissues —
cellular —
quintessence of amino
our habitations
have been graphed;
they're drawing maps now
much smaller maps
more detailed maps
Peter Desy teaches English at the University of Akron, Akron, Ohio. He has
appeared in Zeitgeist.
79 Two Poems by Suzanne Zavrian
It is not the poet in autumn
blowing moons on the horizon
who floats them into the dark blue sky;
Nor is it he who sends green mangoes
drifting like thistles past the window
filling the night with globes of dawn.
It is not the October poet
who makes an offering of the world
to the forces that hold the world
So the hand that holds the strings
lets go the strings
of the moon, the night, the mango dawns . . .
It is not the Poet Magician;
It is that he tells these things.
The mangoes you watched grow green never ripened
crowding the nights with long oval moons.
That day when I awoke, trying to forget myself,
The sky was filled with thousands and thousands of balloons.
Suzanne  Zavrian,  who co-edits Extensions,  has  published  in  a  number  of
U.S. magazines. She lives in New York.
Between black walls —
kaleidoscope you peer through —
I walk to the white door.
No glittering pattern waits
breaks and shifts;
you see my shadow fall
across the white door.
It swings open.
A gun explodes.
He strides across the body's threshold,
runs along the tube
at your unblinking eye.
Three shots streak the walls
red across the black.
What will you do,
husband and children dead,
another shadow loose
among the shadows of the house?
You fumble through clothes —
they clatter down with hangers
and breath and heart stop —
stumble to unlatch the half-door
crawl through to the low attic
closing the door behind you.
Crouching in the darkness
small under the steep-slanting roof
you whimper unheard
at the end of your waking
Peter Stevens has appeared in Prism international and many other journals.
He lives in Saskatoon.
Not much earth
was in his hair
that first day,
no one thought
it strange.
The second week
mounds of soil
blocked off the path.
Friday the milkman
stopped delivery.
Earth piled up then
against the house
like sods or snow
heaped by the pioneers
to keep out winter
(but it was
a mole came up, unseasonable
in the lawn.
Its peering eyes
were blue.
Anne Marriott's work appeared in Canadian journals frequently prior to the
last few years. She has resumed her writing now, with a story on the CBC radio
program, Anthology, and accepted poems in Canadian Forum and Fiddlehead.
Her home is in North Vancouver.
82 These translations are from Marco Denevi's Falsifaciones. The imaginary
authors to whom he attributes the works are listed at the end of the stories,
except where the introduction provides the background. Denevi is a lawyer
in Buenos Aires, where he was born in 1922. He won the Kraft novel competition in 1955 with Rosaura a las diez, and the Life in Spanish prize for
short stories with Ceremonia Secreta in i960. Both of these were made into
films. His radio drama, El gran Khan, won national literary awards in Argentina and his play, Los Expedientes, the Premio Municipal for drama in 1957.
George McWhirter, the translator, has published his own work in Prism
international and other journals. He is in the graduate program in creative
writing at the University of British Columbia.
Translated from the Spanish by George McWhirter.
A Divine Comedy
After having created all forms of life, God adopted the habit of
assuming almost any one of them. So, one day he was a cloud, the
next, a tree, another day, a stone, today he was a lion, yesterday
he had been a yellow moon, tomorrow he would be a rose, later
he would choose to be a lake, a mountain, a black beetle, a naughty
boy, a hump-backed man, an old crone with a hooked nose. God
amused himself and enjoyed his own works.
Once, when a long time had elapsed since the Creation, and a
breed of theologians had emerged among men, God inhabited a
small frog. Hop-hopping along, God, the froglet, arrived at a pair
of colossal gates guarded by a theologian.
"What lies beyond those gates?" he asked.
"Hell," answered the theologian.
"What is Hell?" he asked again.
Again the theologian answered, swelling with pedantry.
"The place where the grace of God never reaches!"
Hop-hopping, God, the froglet, entered Hell and pardoned all
who were stationed there at the time.
83 Since then, Hell has been called Purgatory because now hope
dwells there, and the former Purgatory, freed from the neighbourhood of Hell, has been named Paradise. As regards the pristine
Heaven, it was closed for once and for all because it was always
found to be so empty.
(Attributed by Marco Denevi to Carlos Rios Puga in the book Diva-
gaciones en torno a Dios.)
The Animals in the Ark
True, noah carried out the divine command and placed on
board one male and one female of every species. But what transpired during those forty days and forty nights of the flood? Did
the beasts resist the temptation which a long period of co-habitation
and forced confinement offered? Did wild animals, those savage
beasts, submit to the etiquette of a sea voyage? Wouldn't the nearness of prey and predator unleash at least one crime of violence? I
can't help seeing the lion, eagle or viper dispatching some poor
defenceless little creature to the other world with a single blow.
And who but the loveliest would be the most vulnerable? Because
the lovely have no other defence than their beauty. What use would
that be to them in the middle of such a motley crew, crammed together in a vessel with only one class accommodation, and which, to
top everything, pitched and rolled in the vortex of a storm that
made every one of them edgy and evil-tempered. Only the ones
with the toughest hide would survive, the ones with the foulest skin,
those bristling with quills, horns, claws, beaks, those which secreted
venom, which hid in shadows, the ugliest and strongest. At the end
of the voyage, when Noah descended once again unto land, he re-
populated the earth with the survivors. But the most beautiful
creatures, the finest and most graceful, the absolute luxuries with
which God, in his rapture on the fifth day of the Creation, had
adorned the Garden of Eden, beside which our rabbit is a bloodthirsty wild beast, our peacock and gazelle, horrible effigies, alas,
those creatures perhaps never descended from Noah's ark.
(Falsificaciones, Marco Denevi.)
84 Kafka's First Story?
The literary magazine Der Wanderer (The Traveller) appeared
during the years between 1895 and 1901. It was published in
Prague in German under the editorship of Otto Gaus and Andrea
Brezina. The corresponding number for December 1896 includes
(on page 7) a story titled, The Judge, whose author either conceals, or lets his name be seen very indistinctly after the initial K.
Because of the atmosphere of this story and because of this abbreviation (which will later become the name of the protagonists in
The Trial and The Castle) the idea has occurred to me that it
involves the first story of Kafka aged fifteen.
When i was summoned to appear, as the warrant stated, in the
capacity of witness, I entered the Court House for the first time.
So many doors, so many corridors. I asked where was the Magistrate's Court that had issued the summons. They told me: farther
inside, always farther inside. The passageways were cold and dark.
Men with portfolios under their arms hurried to and fro and talked
in a ciphered language in which words like in situ, a quo, ut retro
appeared every so often. All the doors were the same and, beside
each door, there were bronze plaques whose time-worn inscriptions
could no longer be read. I attempted to stop the men with portfolios and ask them to direct me, but they looked at me angrily:
in situ, a quo, ut retro, they replied. Tired of wandering about the
labyrinth, I opened a door and went in. A very proud young man
in a lustrine jacket attended me. / am the witness, I told him. He
answered, You will have to wait your turn. I waited, prudently,
for five or six days. After that I became bored and, more to amuse
myself than anything else, I began to help the young man in the
lustrine jacket. After a short time I already knew how to distinguish
between proceedings which at first had appeared identical to each
other. The men with portfolios knew me and greeted me politely.
Some left small envelopes containing money. I was progressing.
At the end of a year I went on to carry out duties in the backroom. There I sat behind a desk and proceeded to scrawl sentences.
One day the Judge called me. Young man, he said to me, I'm so
well-satisfied with you that I have decided to appoint you as my
secretary. I stammered out words of gratitude, but it struck me that
he wasn't listening. He was short-sighted, extremely fat and so pale
85 that he could only be seen in the dark. He developed the habit of
confiding in me. What will have become of my wife? — he used to
sigh ■—■ Can she still be alive? And my children? The oldest must
be about twenty now. Some time afterwards this melancholy man
died, I believe (or, he simply disappeared), and I replaced him.
Since then I have been the Judge. I have acquired much culture
and prestige. Everyone calls me Your Honour. Each time the young
man in the lustrine sack-coat enters my room, he bows. I presume
that he isn't the same one who attended me the first day, but he
bears an extraordinary resemblance. I have put on weight because
of the sedentary life. I see very little: artificial light day and night
wearies the eyes. But I reap other rewards: whether it is hot or cold
one uses the same clothes. In that way I save. Besides the envelopes
which the men with portfolios deliver are thicker than before. An
orderly brings my meals; meat, vegetables and an apple, the same
as he brought to my predecessor. I sleep on the sofa. The bathroom
is a little cramped. At times I pine for my home and family. On
certain occasions (Christmas, for example) it isn't very pleasant
staying in the Court House. But what can I do about it? I am the
Judge. Yesterday my secretary (a very deserving young man) got
me to sign a sentence (he makes the sentences out himself) in
which I pronounced judgment on a defaulting witness. The decision, in absentia, included a fine and a disqualification from serving
as a witness for either the prosecution or defence. The name seems
vaguely familiar to me. It couldn't be mine? But now I am the
Judge and I sign the sentences.
It is said that a rabbi by the name of Hayyim ben Assa in a fit
of pride and madness challenged God to prove that his power was
preserved intact and that it hadn't been whittled away by time.
God sent the reply that he accepted the challenge.
Hayyim ben Assa waited for sudden death, disasters, burning
bushes, angels with flaming swords, fiery chariots, thunder, lightning, a second flood.
None of this happened.
But little mishaps began to take place. In the synagogue all of
a sudden he was mixing-up his words; for example, he said her em
86 instead of besiman fob, and the scrolls containing the Law and the
Prophets fell from his hands all the time. If he settled down to
write, the inkpot overturned and the ink spilled. If he raised a glass
of water to his lips, the same thing happened as with the ink and
inkpot. When he stepped into the street, invariably the sun's reflection glancing off some metal object hit him between the eyes and
made them water. He only needed to step into the teba and he felt
the urge to relieve his bladder. The portions of meat which his
wife served were steaming hot on the dish, but when they reached
his mouth, they were either cold or burnt. He cultivated rose bushes
in his back yard, but invisible ants devoured them during the night.
If he hunted for the Bible, he found the Talmud. If he hunted for
the Talmud, he found the Bible. At times in the middle of a conversation he broke off because he had forgotten what he was talking
about, or a word, even the commonest word, slipped his memory
and he couldn't recall it. He used to keep this one article in a
bureau under lock and key and then when he went to retrieve it, it
was gone. The cat died. His hens began to crow like roosters in
the morning. The maid set his knife and fork on the table in the
proper manner, but as soon as he sat down to eat, the knife appeared to be reversed. His right eyelid twitched continually, his left
ear itched. For a whole day he had the hiccup. While cutting his
nails, he used to make sure that the parings wouldn't fall on the
floor because they were unclean and contaminated the whole house
with their uncleanness, but one tiny piece always defied him. His
father-in-law gave him a copy of that wonderful book, the Zohar,
as a present. He intended to read it, but each time he started the
reading his vision became blurred and he had to leave off. On the
day of Yom Kippur he was seized by a violent bout of laughter
which he suppressed with great difficulty. On the other hand at the
feast of Sukkoth he wept unaccountably. When he retired for the
night, he would find his pillow had disappeared .. . "Who took my
pillow?" he asked. Nobody was able to provide an answer. In the
end the armchairs, seats, and stools on which he sat, inexplicably
collapsed and he rolled on the floor amidst laughter (or if this
happened in the Temple), the disapproval of all present.
Until finally Hayyim ben Assa prostrated himself with his face to
the earth and made it known to God that he was satisfied. God
sent the reply that, on the contrary, he would gladly continue to
give proof of his power.
(Attributed to Rabbi Ishaq ibn'Ezra in the book, Hanna's Seven Sons.)
87 An Allegory of Fate and Honours
The emperor had ordered a palace to be built according to
plans which he himself drew up. Each master-builder who supervised the construction of a wall for example, had no knowledge
whatever of those being erected under orders from different master-
builders. I must point out that the master-builders numbered over
one thousand. As regards the slaves who hauled stones and mixed
the plaster and mortar, they knew nothing. When the palace was
finished, in order to settle any doubts concerning what they knew
or didn't know, the Emperor commanded master-builders and
slaves to be put to death.
The palace, according to all accounts, was as vast as a metropolis, intricate as the universe, and mutable and deceptive as
dreams. Those who inhabited it, slaves, eunuchs, servants, soldiers,
pages, jugglers, dancers, whores, harpists, crown-makers, scribes,
courtiers, priests, magicians and ministers in incalculable numbers,
only mastered the sector in which they performed their various
tasks. They only needed to mistake a door, venture into an unfamiliar corridor, and they were instantly lost: a soldier ceased to
be a soldier to become a cook, a cook was transformed into a
government-minister, and the minister went on to be a soldier,
depending on the position which each person who had disappeared
left open. Within the palace there were passageways which led
nowhere and had been built simply to deter and punish the adventurous. There was talk of a Fool who, after crossing a maze of
infinite passageways, had come to die of hunger, thirst and madness at the feet of a guard. Consequently, no one dared stray from
the narrow itinerary which each person had fixed within the palace.
The only person who could cover it from one end to the other was
the Emperor. He showed up or remained hidden away according
to his mood, unpredictably, and no one could ever tell where he
would appear or disappear. This kept everyone particularly alert,
hard-working and polite.
The Emperor's subjects believed him to be immortal. "He has
reigned over us for more than a hundred years," they claimed,
"and he stays as young and handsome as he was on the very first
day." I had my own theory. I imagined that someone, a daring
young inhabitant of the palace, strayed into the labyrinth and encountered the King, killed him and took his place. The discovery
of the palace plans equipped him for his constant peregrination
through the courtyards and hallways. Until in the end someone else
88 re-enacted the move. Or, who knows, perhaps the Emperor, feeling
that he was getting too old, chose someone from among those
youths, someone who was courageous and strong, his own son, perhaps, and drawing him to a secret chamber, appointed him as his
successor. One final hypothesis remains: the Emperor may have
lost the plans and he also mistook one door for another. Then he
would have ceased to be an Emperor to become a harpist or slave.
And at the same time, or later on, in another part of the palace, a
harpist or slave found himself transformed into an Emperor.
(Attributed by Denevi to Nikolai Krakochenko in the book, Inos-
trantzef the Magnificent.)
The Scar
According to gustav buscher (The Book of Mysteries, Barcelona, 1961), the German archeologist Hilprecht deciphered the
cuniform characters inscribed on stones which were excavated from
the ruins of Nippur in Babylonia, thanks to a revelationary dream.
In the dream, a priest, after making it clear that the stones were
two halves of a votary tablet, explained the content of the inscription. On the following day Hilprecht was able to decipher the
writing without any difficulty.
I know of an even more extraordinary instance of a revelationary
dream. Every Sunday during i960 Ascanio Baielli read on Radio
Italia a series of tales, which were sometimes imaginary, sometimes
historical, grouped under the title, Storie per la sera della domenica
(Sunday Evening Stories). The Announcement of the Traitor, included in this present anthology, is one of those narratives.
One Saturday Baielli was preparing his material for broadcasting
the following Sunday. None of the two or three texts which he had
written (or to be more exact, sketched out) satisfied him. Overcome with exhaustion, he fell asleep in the small hours of the
Baielli dreamed that he was a small boy of not more than 12
years of age. He found himself weak, scrawny and underfed, dressed
as a humble shop-boy of the middle-ages. Some other little rascals
were chasing him. And he ran, ran through the dark winding
alleyways of a medieval-looking city. He reached the outskirts and
hid among some shrubs. He shook with fear and wept with rage,
swearing to avenge himself on his pursuers.
89 From his hiding place he saw a column of soldiers pass. A con-
dottier o moved at their head. The boy admired the uniforms, the
plumes, guns, standards, the trappings of the horses and their
But what he most admired was the huge scar which glared from
the Condottiero's face. It rose — long and quivering out of his right
eyelid and after crossing the plain of his cheek like a slow river, it
flowed into the middle of his chin. The Condottiero rode half-
asleep, his eyes sunk in troubled thought, or a reverie. But the scar
watched out for him, it made him look fearsome and alert. The
scar moved through the street like a war-pennant, it seemed to stun
the quiet evening like the detonation of dust, like the fanfare of
military brass. The scar passed by and every face seemed to grow
pale as under the light of the sun in an eclipse. Until the procession
was lost in the mist and dust.
Then the lad made his way to a lonely house, and in a room
stuffed with retorts, test-tubes and bundles of herbs, an old man
with the face of a warlock tattoed a scar on his cheek identical to
that of the Condottiero. He walked once more through the city of
sinister alleyways, preceded and followed by the scar as if by a
fierce howl. People looked at him and stepped aside. The curs who
had baited him hid in their houses. Now the boy strode, straight-
backed and defiant.
Soon he found himself a full-grown man at the head of a troop
of mercenaries. They crossed cities, fields, vineyards. They were
flanked by a stupified, terror-stricken silence. They heard the
frightened muttering of the villagers behind them, "Ecco LTm-
punito! Ecco LTmpunito!" He believed with secret joy and anguish
that he owed everything to his fierce scar, and if the fraud were
uncovered, a horrible fate with jeers of contempt and undoubtedly
death waited for him. At times he felt the temptation to spy to one
side or the other to see if some little weakling was watching him
from among the throng of country-folk, or half-hidden behind a
tree. Then, he would have called him, he would have disclosed to
him, to him alone, the truth about his lying scar. He would have
said, "See! Get a wound like mine tattoed on your face, then you'll
be free from all harm." But immediately he repented and continued straight on without turning his head. Because he couldn't
disillusion the lad, if he in fact existed and was there. Only by not
condescending to give one sideways glance, could he, LTmpunito,
this implacable, hellish figure, overawe the young boy as the Condottiero had overawed him years before.
90 Later he arrived with his mercenaries at a small valley that had
been channelled by a river. And suddenly soldiers spilled like ants
from among the trees and he experienced an anguish so intense
that Ascanio Baielli woke up.
L'Impunito. Where had he heard that name before: where had
he read the name? He consulted dictionaries, encyclopaedias, history books. In Cesar Cantu's Saggi Sopra il secolo XVI he found
this paragraph:
"In 1587 the bulk of the papal troops were scattered by the
Imperialists in an ambush which was laid in the outskirts of Val-
derosa. But what disconcerted Hadrian VII's soldiers even more
than their surprise was the incredible behaviour of their leader,
Giambattista Crispi, called L'Impunito, who, without offering the
slightest resistance, let himself be killed by an unknown enemy
Condottiero: an old man, aged over seventy at the time. When the
enraged Pope heard the news and that the retainers of the German
Emperor had spat on Crispi's name as that of a coward (a malicious boast in view of L'Impunito's record), he blamed the inexplicable event on witchcraft."
On Sunday evening Ascanio Baielli ended his narrative with
these words, "Perhaps we can reconstrue the truth. The Condottiero and Giambattista Crispi met, they looked at each other.
Identical scars gleamed on their faces. But the Condottiero must
have known immediately that those two scars couldn't be real, that
one had to be false, a copy of the true one. Or L'Impunito felt
shamed by this confrontation, realizing that his bravery, like the
scar, could deceive the rest but not the Condottiero. Once again
he was changed into a craven weakling who let himself be killed
by the only man who could kill him."
When I think of Lois having that baby
my genitals burn;
(the doctor would say I am churning
with envy).
That is not quite true (though the throbbing
is certainly there, both soft and strong,
like the feeling of robbing
a hen's nest
of just-laid warm white eggs.)
I have done that, too, reaching my hand in under
her silken feathers and rounded place
to finger the smooth young things, fondling
them one by one into my basket.
Truly, / make the babies, / am the hen
of my dreams — but all without carnal knowledge,
just as the Bible says.
Don't tell me, then, how the babies are started,
how eggs turn into hens!
I am sure that Lois has no husband,
and that the henhouse is chaste.
And to prove it,
I will go into the barnyard with my little red axe,
and kill the old rooster.
Then Lois, and I, and the warm white hen
can lie down in peace
Charlotte Alexander has had poems in Expression (England)  and Prairie
Schooner. She lives in New York.
Murk hurls forth from a coastal grave.
Vagrant, here, are mists of birth.
Then, at long last, storm
and a deathsea.
"Once a love — "
A ballad fades. On a sea-rock,
a maid is ringed by surf, captive of the wave.
Before storm breaks, there's eerie light.
Sky flames above altars, mimetic housings of earth.
How can a maid serve finality?
Sun will not solace this provoked sea.
Wildwind whips and flows
in white sashes as she stands
displaying to stormwhite wave
loveliness, all white,
and to ragged coast, displaying
loveliness — and to the light.
I dare the wind, I curse the sea:
of maelstrom sacrifice, what need?
And though I cannot lead
sun's horses, great rescuers, into the sea,
I question the calm that will come
when storm is done, and the sea forgets,
and murk and the mist recede.
Sam Bradley's work has appeared widely in North America. He lives in Honey-
brook, Pennsylvania.
93 from
Shoot upriver
over the water,
everything is
always ahead.
Imagine that mad
rush to nothing
in burning
woods, or
god's just one
false step
on the edge
of intuition.
a present
and its future
the wind shifts.
Direction to direction,
stages of tug and jab;
for a while
my body fights.
I know wind
and water, the
white spray and cold
of total motion;
then, perhaps,
noiselessly, the
long tunnel fall
to zero.
94 Ill
Cloud shapes
on the hillside;
the climber has shade,
the flyer, display.
Decision is
my interlude
between two cities
confused by three skylines.
Dark sky on the sea,
light on land;
as beachwalker,
I have my choice of weather.
Through the day of
mere minutes I
revolve by defeat in
the grey field of my vision.
A snow-blind wolf
reels along
the arctic landscape
of a dreamer's night.
The cold
is close,
what I am
leading into,
like light
that might be
or star.
95 Light from a hollow,
there or here:
blurring vision from
a life of microscopes.
Mark Young is a student at the University of British Columbia. This is his
first publication.
Charles angoff, George Sterling, A Centenary Memoir-Anthology, published
by A. S. Barnes & Co., for The Poetry Society of America, 1969, $4.50.
63  pps.
Stanley berne, The Unconscious Victorious and other stories, with the correspondence of Sir Herbert Read, George Wittenborn Inc., 1969, $8.00,
312  pps.
lawrence ferlinghetti, The Secret Meaning of Things, A New Directions
Book, McClelland & Stewart, 1969, poetry collection, Hardbound, $4.75,
paperback,  $1.20, 48 pps.
jeanne hollyfield, Poet's Handbook, Young Publications, 69 W. Main St.,
Appalachia, Virginia 24216,  1969, $3.00,  140 pps.
karl krowlow, Invisible Hands, translated by Michael Bullock, Clarke, Irwin
& Co. Ltd., poetry,  1969. Hardcover $6.00. paperback, $3.20.
david  mc fadden,  Letters from  the  Earth  to  the Earth,  The Coach House
Press,   1969,  poetry.  $3.00.
james mechem, / Make a Sudden Sally, special edition of Colorado State
Review, collection of short stories, 75^, 56 pps.
Stephen pettit, In the Deserts of Time, Phoenix Publications, 1969, poetry
mordecai richler, The Street, McClelland & Stewart, 1969, stories, $4.95,
128 pps.
Theodore h. white, The Making of the President 1968, Atheneum Publishers,
New York,  1969, 459 pps.
margaret widdemer, Jessie Rittenhouse, A Centenary Memoir-Anthology, A. S.
Barnes & Co., for The Poetry Society of America,  1969, $4.50, 49 pps.
arlene zekowski, Seasons of the Mind, with the correspondence of Sir Herbert Read. Novel, George Wittenborn Inc.,  1969, $8.00, 308 pps.
Aavesh, ed. Ramesh Bakshi, Everest Press, 4 Chamelian Rd., Delhi 6, India.
poetry, fiction, twice a year.
Gargoyle,  ed. Donald Crowe, poetry, fiction.
Like Zap, poetry and prose from the Creative Writing Class of the University
of Manitoba.
Works, ed. John Hopper, Robert Brotherson, AMS Press Inc, 56 East  13th
St., New York  10003. quarterly, $1.25 per copy, $4.00 a year.
for almost every taste
and purpose can be found,
easily, at
919 Robson
670 Seymour
4560 W. 10th Avenue
1032 W. Hastings
CA 4-7012
University of British Columbia
Hours: Weekdays 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. international
Autumn, ig6g


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