PRISM international

Prism international Prism international Jul 31, 1970

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Summer, igyo $r-75  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
A Selection of Mew Writers from
and the United States
Two Poems
Now That We're Moving
Two Poems
jean biguenet
Two Poems
Four Poems
The Girl
Two Poems
What we do we put
Losing Control
Three Poems
Two Poems
The Last Meeting
Family of Snow
Two Poems
For a Friend
Two Poems
Two Poems
Two Poems
Three Poems
The Ocean
The First Wall
No More Earthly Food
Estragon, My Brother
Fine and Unusual Games
My Silver Boots
81 & Others
Three Poems
Three Poems
Two Poems
Three Poems
Two Poems
Two Poems
From: Paradise Poems
The Birth of a Form
Two Poems
The Heart and the Head
To Malcolm Lowry
Five Prose Pieces
Hearts, the Sea, Rattini
An Unfinished Television Script
The Queen and the Drowning
Divebomber     Robert sward
Books and Periodicals Received
The photo cover is by Tony Westman, a full-time freelance photographer, who
has had three one-man photographic exhibitions in British Columbia. He is a
graduate in Political Science from Simon Fraser University. Two Poems by Ralph Adamo
After ages of coming days
the clowns of the street and their breaded women
put down their bundles of blank praise
and fought beside death for the right to begin
anything newer than nothing at all
and something more than something small:
children who had words and the time to live out of phrase.
One clown grew a face
made his hands into a hard sign
and took his place
at the head of what began to look like a line.
They marched together sore-skinned and glad
new as their leader and no longer mad:
their children would live now beyond their time and grace.
That was six million years ago
when god was young and had not yet been tried
and did the only thing he could to show
he was serious about his wisdom and his pride.
He put the revolution where he could watch it and not be involved
and the stars grew numbers and the worlds revolved
and the clowns, the women and their long children learned how to
burn in the dark and how to hide. ADVICE:
Give a foreign history to the child
(she will come of age too late
to know our ways)
and her terror will be mild
as though some classical fate
had laid the error in our days.
When she is seven
you must tell her
less of skies
and more of leaven.
You will not love her
for all your lies.
She will live to make a child
who is not of any history.
And he, by woods, will be undefiled:
eyes, flesh, blood, bone:
the end of mystery.
Ralph Adamo is an associate editor of Confluence and a student at Loyola
University in Louisiana. His work has appeared in various North American
November 16, 1968
I have never haunted
The mountains and the meadows.
I have no record.
Crops, herds, fruits, and flocks
Of animal sheep
Have meant less to me
Than the artificial color
Of my black shoes.
My educational supervisor, Mr. Thaler,
Gave me hints on how to handle kids.
He now pays me the daily complement
Of silence. When will this fucking war
Be over? When will I be free?
I'm slowly fashioned, like a shepherd,
Into hostility.
November 17, 1968
November 18, 1968
I was born when I was over twenty.
In my life, that was too late.
I have had the sheaves of perfumed plenty
Heaped on my head like a Greek fate
I couldn't avoid.
Nor want to.
I'm American;
I can't resist myself. I don't want to dream tonight.
I don't want to think tonight.
I don't want to walk these criminal streets
As if I were unable to hide —
Artemis, I don't want to walk these streets!
You would laugh at me, seeing I am a timeless fool,
Seeing my erroneous rebellion fade across my face,
A harmless sunburn, enjoyed, gorged
To satiation! satisfied; unable so much
To make you out of my modern fashions.
Violins string their musics
In such miserable sentimentalities.
I pluck their musics in my self.
Artemis, you dumb broad,
What did you do with my kind?
What did I do with yours?
Twenty-five, Irving Benig is "placing poems together, writing prose in Brooklyn, withholding the downfall of America." Two Poems by John Biguenet
I am
in a room with a naked woman
and a television. There is
no outlet. I unscrew the back
and remove two tubes. I tell
the woman that this will be
enough. I smash them together
and take off my clothes. We
make love on the floor. I
say that her grandmother
loved a giraffe. She takes
a tube and slashes my wrist.
I am dying although I am
in a room with a naked woman
and a television.
To any man who covets my wife:
May he, sneaking into my house
at night, lay with a woman
in the dark and find in the
first light of dawn, the mother
of my wife beside him;
or better, that he confuse
my house with that of my neighbor,
Fred, who is a fag. To any priest who lusts after my soul:
Let him be ordained bishop
of a godless country and let
its leaders praise him as
their own; and may his ears
fall off and he ask leave to go
to a leper colony, and
the Vatican later disclose
that it was not leprosy.
To any administrator who hankers
after my intellect:
Let him become a University president,
and going to his office late at night
mistaken for a student
be beaten to death by security cops.
To any thief who would steal from me:
May he steal what is stolen and be
stopped by police searching for
another man, and may they find that
which was stolen twice, and send him
to jail for a job he didn't pull.
To any man who would rob me of my freedom:
May his hair grow long and may he
wear beads around his neck, and may
he find himself naked except for
his hair and his beads in Lincoln Park
in Chicago on August 24, 1968.
John Biguenet, who is 20, lives in New Orleans. He has recently published
in the New Orleans Review and Epos. Two Poems by Gregory Brehm
I am an open field
Where old women bury their husbands.
If I was not unconscious
I should entangle them in my growth.
The women remember me
Like a tumor which leaves a path of ash.
The rust of the city
Is caught in the stream of their tears.
I did not chose to be an open field.
I am not even conscious of my size.
Dawn settles on me like scissors.
I am divided between
What I should have been and what I am.
The women grope through my division.
The day's progression turns the sky
To the rust of rivers.
I am eternal within the corrosion
Of progression. Coffins are inlaid
in me like fillings.
My mouth opens and bites my tongue
So that I do not have to swallow.
I am an open field
Where old women bury their husbands.
The days repeat themselves
Like brothers in an argument.
The nights confuse two songs of joy.
The brothers turn in darkness.
Their backs to different planets.
Night is gone.
The cage of days destroyed.
Gregory Brehm is a young film-maker and writer who is studying at Ohio
Universty. These are his first publications.
II Four Poems by Louis Cormier
a. Janet
Je ne veux pas
ni en anglais
ni en francais.
Je ne veux pas
la crier,
ni pres
ni loin
de toi.
Je veux que ca soit,
tout simplement,
comme tes yeux
dans mes yeux,
sans mots,
sans langage,
et inutile,
comme la neige.
If I must be compared
for someone's wondering eye,
then let it be to a bonfire built
near the sea's rough shore
and let the flames roar high,
let it rage out to the world
so that when the last spark dies
and the sea comes, claiming ash,
you'll know there was a light.. .
The eyes of the radio
fight up
at the turn of a button.
Through a speaker,
you can hear
its voice.
If you touch it
with your hand,
you can feel its pulse.
Once in a while,
as if the result of
some call of nature,
it mutters statically,
like the sound
of a cat's claws
at a screen door.
When this happens,
I unplug it,
open the bathroom door
and point out the way.
I do not know the answer,
and if I find it,
I don't know
that I'll believe it.
But I know it's not here,
and it's probably
not anyplace.
Once I was told
it's just like
reaching inside yourself
as far as you can,
until you come to the heart,
then you touch it,
taking the memory
back to the surface
where lies
the perfect question.
Louis Cormier's poems have been featured in a young writers' issue of Tamarack; Fiddlehead Press brought out thirty-two of them in a chapbook last
spring. He lives in Saint John, New Brunswick.
She is there against the bus stop
in the air filled with the approach of 8 a.m.
the air that frees her
and leaves mops sweating in a basement closet
that frees the night
and returns the day to chaos
and long fluorescent tubes shining from the floor
Betrayed by the half-closed Venetian blind
I beckon madly to her
through the molecule bars of glass
Her awakening is toward her coming bus
the routine freedom ride that only I can change
and without: this heavy crowd outside
: this window
: this long obstacle filled hallway
that ends in a
what-to-do-now-should-I-really doorway
But the bus snatches her and her quarter
and gone
Outside I run
embrace the fading cloud of diesel shit —
destroyed, no time for it
run away, no way to chase it
as fate brings it back
left alone, a question arises: why leave
her that way without giving her
all your love
— and scatter to work
in the different two-way aisles
of the sidewalk
Robert Lanning migrated from the United States to Ottawa where he now
lives. This is his first publication.
15 Two Poems by Vaughn L. Duhamel
has so many
she can not
remember names
she knows
where to put
their wants
she loves
to have them
that is
being wanted
& wanting
is a need
of love
& all the boys
want her
for nancy
is a quick
is made
from the inside
this well
& counts
her loves
a blossom
its petals
ruthie waddled into the game-yard
of the bar
oblivious to the stares
of hatchet men
she let their eyes
fall off her back like water
made impervious by the feathers
crowning her dignant lady-head
in the cacophony
from her bill-cutting the air
she became a metaphor
quacking the breaths
she then patiently
for new eggs
looking incongruous
the blue swans
Vaughn Duhamel is a student of English at Loyola University, New Orleans,
and a "madly sane poet."
the undertaker's voice
colorless as chicken fat
I start to tell him but
we settle for
OCCUPATION: merchant, retired
both know it's a lie
in the car I head for his farm;
above the dashes in the road
grandpa is smiling
it's something he says
the lies you have to tell
for a pine box
we settled on his living
not his life
which was something else
forty miles in the country
rough with 80 foot pines
I find the farm
cross a wooden bridge
drive in the yard
it's the way I remember it:
a huddle of gray boards
chickens clucking underneath the porch
the front room
used to be a general store
it smells still like old potato sacks;
on a counter
all its glass splintered
a coffee grinder
and a pile of papers
I go through them
a man who hardly talked
must have written something
Grandpa had gone
to get his brothers and sisters
out of Russia
/ remember the first time
I tasted country water
squeezed from the ground
cold and strange smelling like rotten eggs
he said the smell
was the minerals in the earth
and showed me how to prime
with a cup of water
jerk the rusty handle
till water gurgled out
in the hen coop
I watched him cheat his chickens
with china eggs
along the counter are locks
saws, jars of nuts and bolts
things he kept for when the pines
were grown
and he could build a good house
I pile them in the car
then laze by the chickens
over the wooden bridge
and down the road
slow enough to miss everything
but the sound of the shovels.
Shael Herman, 27, is a lawyer in New Orleans, a musician by avocation and
"a multilingual noodnik by necessity."
how can i shut my ears when the windows
are banging
the hinges on the doors close against themselves
a flower sinks into the soil
before the bees' arrival
newspapers arrive in languages no one has seen
my picture is on the front page
all my teeth are missing
in my eyepatch a map of Siberia
small animals are crawling into my shirt
the paper is printed in fresh blood
i lick the headlines then turn away
wishing to suck hard candy
broken toys in the garden
play the games i have taught them
the cherry tree shakes each cherry a candle
an old face returning the whisper
of yesterday's mother
i sit under the tree
my eyes gone hard as glass
and play myself a tune
through the long roadways of vanishing blossoms
the limbs scratch only the air the backs of birds
the face of a beautiful woman
a field of violets
hovers above me
pleading for another birth
Tom McKeown won the Hopwood Award in Poetry from the University of
Michigan in 1968. His poetry has been published in more than 60 magazines.
He has also published four chapbooks, the latest of which is Drunk All Afternoon, Abraxas Press.
20 Three Poems by Jeremy Newson
Ships climb the earth.
Twenty years out from
wrong compass settings.
I wave at them.
You do not wave.
I build fire. You do not
want to be rescued.
Don't they know
we are all Liberians
sick of seeing the world.
The screws of mercy turn.
The white convoy shudders.
We see them making up their minds
in the harbour,
turning with the logic of logs.
They are showing their
true colours.
Slick against
sea-green sea.
21 The sun shows its true colours,
goes down
red as an eye.
You cross your arms
like the bones of a flag.
You are glowing:
A skinned seal,
A woman,
wet and inside out.
Then is your true colour
or are you waving
foreign flags
at me?
22 Flat on our backs,
on the beach,
as if the sea had been
yanked out from under
like a rug,
I can see only one ear,
one eye (looking windward).
I know that far out to sea
where your head
curves out of sight,
(how did your parents explain that?
I never could remember)
there is a second ear,
another eye.
An ear which hears
a sloop go down,
bored with all hands drowning.
An eye that watches
the wash of debris.
The eye that I can see
watches clouds,
forming out of clouds,
gathering like days and
bound for
Pitcairn Island.
The chairs in this car
pretend to go forward
as if that is the way we are going.
The talk mesmerizes
like predictable bundles
from the binding machine;
(we have made our hay
and now, we must eat it.)
I am pointing the car
into the turning world,
that whines
the illusion of motion.
The sun is less than
the head of a pimple.
There will be no sunset.
The sky like litmus paper
turns to remark
our basic mood.
And your teeth.
And your teeth when you smile
are white and regular as
petrified chicklets.
24 We are driving faster
than the road will go,
but it does not do
because there is gravel
in our hubcaps;
therefore we cannot surprise the horizon.
The dashboard nags us
with sensible numbers.
Old passengers have left
their postures behind.
On your lap; maps
that did not refold
as they once unfolded.
The mirror shows yesterday
smaller than a snapshot
there is
a black sedan
I can spot a portent
out of season.
I can distinguish the sign
from the daily event.
And something insists
that life is not pretty,
that the ordinary splay of
wine, bread and cheese
(horrible apples, red, like a warning)
is as common as poison,
as deadly as breath.
Something insists
that I'd better watch out
as this patentiy odious
picnic falters
and it rains on our
only grey blanket (suddenly as flat
and restricting as Earth).
Beyond a frayed perimeter;
a hostile green universe
inhabited by ants only
lifting one hundred times their weight
in cake crumbs.
I have rain on the brain today,
a short in a synapse,
as the torrential idea of erosion
convolutes the scene.
26 An isotherm defines me.
A cold front stops me
like a shoulder.
And I have come to uneasy grief,
coming unstuck in the rain,
the curl going out of my smile.
When I tell you this,
you reassure me
in your Avon Lady voice,
that isotherms are abstracts
appearing only on maps.
But there is a very real abstraction
that sets us in time
like a date line:
I am today and you,
only inches away,
are the past.
Now, when I speak of latitude,
you seem to see
lines scoring the world
like a pizza
while I see space
and no meridians.
Jeremy Newson is a creative writing student at the University of British
Columbia. He is also an actor, singer, composer and guitarist. His one-act
play, Bull Durham, was produced recently at U.B.C.; the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation presented his radio documentary on the nuances of garbage collecting.
27 Two Poems by Joseph Ranallo
As I go standing
streets walk by,
the lamp-posts
run beside me.
The building walks
as I stand still,
the door-knob
shakes my bones.
I live in a house
that has no walls,
the chimney
fends off thunder.
I talk to a woman
who has no face,
her feet have
twenty-five fingers.
As I lie down
time slips by,
the iceman
calls my number.
When days are candy-puffs
I look for unicorns —
mythical beasts with one gold horn.
I search the woods,
I search the trees
that I can reach.
I search the house,
I search the thicket's
mossy floor,
but find no unicorns.
Hush, said the werewolf
trees are full of tigers.
Joseph  Ranallo  teaches English and  Italian in  the secondary schools in
Trail, B.C.
I have come below the darkness of the trees
and through the birdless shadows. The vapors of
the endless gulf do not warm,
the silence hurts the bones.
On either side
unseen branches leave familiar burrs
clinging to clothes worn thin
and to the skin underneath.
I know that I should rather let them be —
they bite more sharply when I pull at them
than when they pull at me.
I have come, Father, a long way.
I hoped to reach you before the night
for a last meeting of eyes,
without words — we rarely needed words.
Father .. . your eyes are closed, your face is turned to the blackness.
In this starless gulf nothing will shrink
the loneliness, not even a shadow.
I feel your clasped, cold hands and regret
the long way back.
Leonard Neufeldt's poems have appeared in a number of journals, including Canadian Forum and Inscape. He teaches English at the University of
It is snowing
on the quarreling family
whose father has never come home,
whose mother has never left,
whose shrieking teenage daughter
is now running out,
claiming again,
"I'll not come back."
She goes to the window
and sees in the circle
of wicker chairs filling
a packed, undrifted man,
a soft, allowing shape
in the lap of a woman,
slim and young,
melting out of matron snow.
Gary Sange has had poems in or acceptances by various journals, including
Shenandoah Review, New York Times, Southern Poetry Review, and also in
the Southern Poetry Review  anthology.  He lives in Washington, D.C.
31 Two Poems by Wayne Stedingh
to an hourglass
You got up and left
nothing but your form
pressed in the drying
leaves of grass.
It's as if some sacrifice were needed
to accommodate your slippered weight.
Something dying slowly
had to be given a push.
But tomorrow
each blade will forget
the feel of your shadow,
and the field will look the same
from far away.
lac neuchatel
All the grace of a slippered girl
comes to water with its coquetry.
The wings out white, tighten.
There is confusion with a goose.
On a gliding hiss you enter
a wet world. It slows you down
to a heavy grace more lovely
and more terrible.
Proud angel, a face like satans
red with reprise;
a head like zeus, white
even in disguise.
Yet you seduce yourself
with glances in a calm.
The barbed bill spoons,
your neck becomes a snake, and
the water speaks like shattered glass.
33 Competition is a presence
on the broken water.
It arrives like one's self
as graceful as the wind. As threatening.
The only weapon is a feather,
the only shield, a wing
arched like a cage over the back —
then there is always the beak.
Then there is always the land
where the rest of you comes out
heavy, awkward, preserving the whim
of stern nobility in a waddle
that labours like a drooping pillow
between two orange stumps.
Your tracks are deep, white bird.
There is only the air again.
Wayne Stedingh has appeared in Grafitti, Envoi and Tamarack Review. He
is a graduate student in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia.
When your Greyhound hit the ice
I was submerged in St. Louis
under empty bottles, enema bags,
and one blonde lush; sick to my
stomach of daylight and birds.
I would have come with you
to search for the golden seal,
but there was no last note.
You slipped quietly out of five o'clock
into the river's thin skin,
tumbling free as an octopus from the
clock's call, leaving me for dead.
I swallowed a hundred gallons
of negro blues
at the bottom of a city.
Up here, above it all, there is no
cataclysmic vision; no angel laden
speedboat cuts through fog to cure
blindness and the jazz of people
breaks loud on ear drums. How is it
down there, floating under Russia,
the Mississippi? Is there flesh
for women to get fingers into?
I once thought — but  still don't know ■
that if you're deep enough
you can hear
the music of mud fish kissing.
Randy Tomlinson is a graduate student in the Creative Writing program
at the University of British Columbia. His poems have been accepted by
many North American periodicals.
35 Two Poems by Peter A. Stenberg
They say the stench from Dachau's roaring pipes
Reached Munchen twenty years ago
At first they stopped in the English Garden
And raised their nose to the north
And the dachshunds on their lax-held lines
Would paw the earth.
And on clear days when the air was as sharp
As the mountains you see in the south
They saw in the north the smoke of Dachau
Rising and rising and spreading and spreading
Till the sky over Munchen was grey
And the dogs in the English Garden
Coughed at the failing sun.
Then they left the English Garden
The Hirschgarten where I sit was empty
And black as the sky above
Reflecting the eery twisting bodies of the smitten heaven
In the darkened pools, From Nymphenburg
the swans whose ashen wings would lift them
Flew south toward Africa
And in Munchen noone looked again toward north
The sky was black as night the whole year round,
The smell was strong as death the whole year round,
Yet in Munchen they learned to live with it
Though the dogs on their straining lines
still pawed at the earth.
On a sharp day when the Fohn
Is sweeping down along the Alpine feet
Washing the air of Munchen
With the sweet Swiss snow beyond
The Lake of Constance
You can see from our window
Here 8 floors above the city life
Far to the north the Schloss of Dachau.
It's true the naked eye could hardly
Clear it from the blending hills
But magnified it focuses
Up above the Munchen plain
White and clean and looming like a
Jackal in a tree.
Silently it fills the rounded eye
Makes distance short and telescopes
The time it took
To make the Schloss of Dachau dark
Above the city pipes.
The Fohn must not have blown
The cleansing snows those filthy years
The air must never have been washed
So people here could see the
Blackened white of Dachau's shining Schloss.
Peter Stenberg is an assistant professor in the Department of German at
the University of British Columbia.
37 Two Poems by John Thompson
Night is day, winter a single
gust of wind which bangs
the moon;
the time it takes
to lift my hand to grasp
the smell of balsam
I break the buried rock
of an immense journey
and stand before the window
my eyes rimey
with frost, glittering
with owls' flights, my mouth
full of dead ferns;
around my wife's hand swirls
a mist of flour,
the hands of my daughter
gleam with paint,
and I come, simply, bringing
a few fir cones
which have lain for months
under the snow,
back to the quiet, knowing
those terrible iron tongues
no longer hammer
against the walls of my house.
Your hands peeling and
kneading the dough:
the work comes
up from the thighs
and hips, through
the leaned shoulders,
sweet drive of arms
down through the tough roots
of the fingers;
in the dark
of the oven
a moon gleams
and fattens:
our winter bread,
your shadow
huge on the wall.
John Thompson's poems have been in Fiddlehead and the Dalhousie Review; others have been accepted by The Far Point and The Malahat Review.
He teaches English at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick.
39 Two Poems by David Zaiss
Two people walking in air
behind the orchard
with a window to real
byword apples on a bronze tree
that waits halfway to see,
surrounding two people with reasons
for wanting to be seen
walking in air.
Every day the orchard wells
comatose, the piled hay picking up
sugar like a tongue.
There are no green birds
or wind so that a man wary
looking for rest in the shade,
considering the orchard
and if a woman notices
two people on bicycles,
the house poisoned with shadow between
hills and running
to other houses with sails,
to other people walking
around without reasons
when the orchard will not wait
for the bicycles to become one.
I have lost the bucket but my mind pulls
Something bulky to the slanting window.
Tho I am a fiver of glances by day
And have rattled eyes at the lip of the bay
Where bearings of the golden elbows roll,
Now nothing can be heard climbing
The rope to the house I built last year
In the elm's garret. Still the body
Of a woman forms a tear
Thru the green quiet of summer limbs
And soon she will bend a great twin
Down to the earth's full view;
And I will be listening to the sound of man
Crashing into space from a tree -
Top, all mouth and lucky blue eye
Closing the leaves of my only window
On the universe so far.
David Zaiss is a graduate student in the Creative Writing program at the
University of British Columbia. Poetry (Chicago) recently published some of
his poems.
41 Three Poems by John Corsiglia
White men ask me how I am so old.
I tell them because I don't drink
the white man's canned milk.
We speak English because in my
language mok'sin means shoe
and for my wife mok'sin is nose.
Look mama.
The valley here was all for canoeing ■—
I wonder what the otter thinks.
It's not the digging up
of buried men
that make a ghoul a ghoul;
and it's not exactly the enjoying,
the telling, or the paying.
No, children, grave robbers
and archeologists
are different as
night and day —
which is when they work.
The lone eagle
with thirteen everythings
has had it.
John Corsiglia had three poems, his first publications, in Contemporary
Poetry of British Columbia (Sono Nis Press, 1970). He lives in Coquitlam,
I do not care for this ocean. Take it away.
The blue tones that it suffuses dim,
the muted thunder of its constant din,
the movement as the waves slither in;
I do not care for them.
I cannot understand the perplexities,
the swirlings and the colours and the abundances of it.
Its reflections, the mysterious things that it suspends
bring me to a fearful wonder.
There is awe in that ocean. There is, sometimes,
fire over that ocean,
where the ponderous sun beats the cool green
with his tepid glow.
There are foams and mutterings and interrupted harmonies,
of light and black and noises.
That ocean is much too alive; it crawls with being.
I do not trust that ocean. Take it away.
Dick Fowler, a gifted young writer, drowned near his home in Castlegar,
British Columbia, in December 1969. Rona Murray is administering a fund
established in his name at Selkirk Junior Colege.
43 Bryan Carson is a graduate of the University of British Columbia, where he
took some creative writing courses. "The First Wall" is an excerpt from his
novel, A Dream of Naked Women, now in progress, and is his first North
American publication. He is presently building a house near Sechelt, B.C.
The First Wall
We are living, Caroline and I, at the top of an orange house with
no windows. I mostly cower in my large uncomfortable chair, barefoot, and read the liner notes of record jackets covered with jam
blobs and coffee rings. We don't talk much, because I have realized
she is really quite ugly and doesn't have much of a brain; and she
knows I have an unreasonably withdrawn snarling reclusive chronic
mood of having just awakened from a sleep already too long, and
we both smell bad. Through my early insistence, she hasn't been
home since that first morning and consequently doesn't have many
clothes, and neither of us has any money. A friend with changeable
avid enthusiasms gave us the generous remains of a twenty-pound
sack of brown rice when he went off macrobiotics, so we have
managed. The house-owner doesn't know we are up here, himself
not having left his lower-floor flat except every two weeks — the
only sign of his existence being the screams of his aged wife during
her beatings. She went insane on their honeymoon, as he had known
she would, and was brought back from Butte to this especially
prepared three-storey orange house with no windows. He usually
beats her in the early morning, she screams until noon and whimpers all day and most of the night. My thoughts have her noises
for accompaniment in the night, for I long ago abjured sleep and
find reading unsatisfactory in the light of the neon sign outside that
flashes fuck you fuck vou fuck you all night and only
slightly less noticeably all day. We have no electricity of our own,
44 because no one knows we are here, and we, or I, are saving the
candle and the remaining matches for an emergency, such as the
impending confinement of the dirty cat with the broken tail who
for some reason lives in what would be the kitchen if there were
any furniture besides my chair and the mouldy comforter to differentiate the rooms. There are naturally no mice for her (Cat),
only some repulsive looking animals that may be cockroaches, and
what there is for them is equally a mystery, there are no lice yet,
I won't allow that, and the cat's fleas are only in the kitchen. She
(Cat) leaves at dark to catch pigeons and make love. I too have
often thought of catching the pigeons I can hear in the crawlspace
over our heads, but have no idea what to do with a raw, dead
pigeon. As for making love, screwing a girl who hasn't had a bath
for about the same length of time that I haven't, seems distasteful.
I suppose Frank would lend us his tub, but getting out of here involves creeping downstairs during one of the landlord's regular but
not quite predictable beatings, and however sincere, his enthusiasm
peters out in fourteen minutes, the time we spend going to the gas
station to crap and fill the wine bottle with water to cook our rice
in. And the scene at Frank's wouldn't be worth it, explaining to
and placating his uncomprehending pregnant hometown wife who
only married him finally after it seemed I had disappeared and
would no longer drag him downtown at 4 a.m. to spit off the
I first noticed the obscene sign next door when I finally ripped
through the outer wall in breaking off burnable bits of wood. It
was only after several seconds, and half as many flashes that I knew
what it was saying; I was incensed at first but have learned to find
its consistency comforting as I had before found the silence of the
cat in the kitchen reassuring. I have not paper to work it out exactly,
and the wall and the pencil are reserved for my ouevre but I know
it flashes something like six thousand times a day. As we walk to
and from the gas station every morning except fortnightly tuesdays
I smile at the used condom man who owns the sign, and he pretends not to know why, but goes into the shop and pinches the
bottom of the girl who operates the vulcanizer, and is secretly
happy too.
Every second tuesday is a special treat for Caroline, and an
excruciatingly ascetic agony for me, for then she wears my raincoat
with a bundle of our three pieces of underwear underneath and
45 goes three extra blocks to a garage with better facilities for the
laundry. I do not dread losing her. She would never go home wearing only a man's raincoat (I make her leave her other clothes behind for this reason) and no one else would want her now, looking
as she does, filthy and repulsive with long grimy hair. (She still
has a comb but has recently given up.) I don't go with her because
no civilized man walks on the streets without underwear, and I am
bound by convention.
The first months were probably the funniest, before we came
here. It was probably summer then, and we slept on the beach. I
didn't feel like going back home because Christie was probably still
there, and only returned once, for my records, not specifically for
them, but because, having crept in at great emotional expense to
myself, found the place empty and was only infuriated when Christie
wasn't there, and the place was actually clean and swept and my
possessions looked even more immense, being neatly ordered. So I
took the records because there was less of them then anything else
— four l.p.s. and a cracked 78 {excerpts from Tannhauser somebody left on a bus; Favourite Easter Hymns was a gift from
Granny; Lawrence Welk I stole from a record store to carry on a
protest march denouncing the decline of the double standard which
never materialized; and another one I actually bought because I
had only the exact amount left and it had a lot of writing on the
back; the 78 is my last heirloom, the only vestige of my father's
estate my sister was willing to part with, or I to claim apart from
a paperback copy of Tristram Shandy I slipped into my pocket
when she was chasing one of my friends from the kitchen, I left it
on the same bus where I found the record) and my chair and
the blanket and the bottle of beer (which we still have, in case of a
"Why on earth . . . ?" said Caroline when I staggered out with
the chair and the records and the beer, and I said, "Go to Hell."
The orange house I have always known about because I used to
sit in the park across the street one winter and watch it, and, as with
things one has always known, there is never any complete realization of what it is. I knew it was orange orange and thought that
that was why it stood out from the pallid things around it, and
then that it was wood and the others were stucco, until one morning after the beatings had subsided a white old crawly man came
from the door and walked slowly southeast, and I realized that the
46 moment during which the door had been open was the only glimpse
I'd ever had of the inside.
This was a tuesday morning and he returned half an hour later
with a scrawny paper bag and four bananas. It was two weeks
later the same thing occurred, with the same bag and four presumably different bananas. On the sixth second tuesday I went
into the house and found desolation above the ground floor. But I
stayed too long and met him on the porch, "Congratulations, Mr
Fuller," I said, thinking quickly. "Your name has been chosen ..."
"Get outa here," he said.
I had no interest in the place after that.
The sign I didn't notice, and I'm sure it wasn't there until the
moment I broke through the wall, because it still can't be seen from
the street from any distance. Only through my wall.
Our life is not yet a ritual — we are this way for a reason, but
any departure is annoying.
One second tuesday morning the beating stopped and mean old
Mr Fuller left, not making any sound with closing the door. We
are always prepared, Caroline never bothers putting on her clothes
on tuesday, to be ready to leave right away, taking full advantage
of the half-hour. I wait, in my chair, trying to read my record
jackets by the intermittent light from the "fuck you" sign,
which, even in the daytime is the only available light. One second
tuesday morning Mr Fuller got back first. I still have my watch
with the luminous dial, but God knows what time it really is, it
gains on me. I have it to look at in the dark, in the second when
the sign is off, and I can know how much time has passed. One
second tuesday morning when Mr Fuller had come back before
Caroline, long after Caroline had not come back, I looked at the
numbers rather than merely at the luminous glow. Four hours after
I started noticing, and more time since she had actively not been
here, I realized she was not coming back. I thought about opening
the bottle of beer.
Following her usual route at her usual brisk but furtive pace,
stared at disparagingly by the usual passers-by, she had tripped on
a curb and landed at the feet of a ubiquitous cop. In falling, she
had thoughtlessly put out her hands to break the fall, and my
raincoat, which has no buttons (they having been removed to replace the worn-out pawns in a marathon chessgame), came open.
The crowd gathered rather quickly, and the policeman was forced
to do something, especially since Caroline, unaccustomed of late to
47 speaking, wasn't answering any of the questions he thought quite
reasonable. The crowd was turning ugly, and several burly men had
arrived with shotguns, so the cop turned her over to a passing
She had made it to the gas station, where the attendant, tired at
last of carburators and exhausts was ravishing her in the greasepit.
The ear no longer being in the forest, the tree had stopped making noises.
She returned four days later, just after I had cracked the neck
off the beer bottle and managed to gash one wrist and was thinking
of gashing the other, with a moist red cut on her forehead which
still bleeds occasionally, and a welt on her left breast, and no clean
laundry. She offered no explanation and I demanded none, there
was no joy in her return as there had been none in her disappearance, she was looking, I thought, more surly than before. Perhaps
she had been ravished by the mechanic or mechanics, chained to
the High Octane pump and been offered to everyone buying three
dollars worth of gas. She had not had a bath, obviously, and as it
turned out, nothing to eat. Neither had I. So we drank the beer
and cut our mouths on the bottle.
The first months were more comfortable. Caroline had four
dollars and some cents and a bustoken which I have allowed her
to keep, having no desire to ride on a bus myself. From the luxury
we indulged in, it seems I must have had some money as well.
And this is my only regret, that only recently have I begun the
ouevre and so have no real idea what happened in the early days,
but of course this too was impossible, as I suspect something was
happening then, and my journal is something more than an accurate recountal of daily events, if things were happening, I choose
to leave them out.
I speculate (there is nothing else), trying to work in some order.
For days now we were in something approaching agony, or have
been, for days now, for there has been nothing but silence below,
no chance for escape, however brief (and escape, of course, is the
wrong word, our only escape is when we come back here). And I
always thought that consistency was one of the chief virtues of the
old and demented, that forever would the old man downstairs beat
his crazed wife in the mornings. Would it violate decorum to in-
48 vestigate? I thought for a while of sending Caroline down. But
both her value and her incompetence in such a matter hinge on the
same point: if apprehended she would tell no one that I am up
here, not out of any sense of loyalty, surely she had learned better
than that by now, but because, I think, throughout her whole life
she has been incapable of making it through an entire coherent
sentence. So she would be equally incapable of telling me what was
I thought too, of going myself, but there is no need; for what is
the sense of being a prophet if one must examine every phenomenon
physically? Down there, for whatever reason, the old man has been
dead for some days, is already beginning to putrefy, the whip still
in his hand. And the wife, fastened for years to a wall-bracket by a
short length of chain, too short to allow her to stand, has kneeled
for years, is still kneeling, in incomprehension, peering through ages
of matted dangling grey hair, grey withered breasts swinging below, a diary of festering welts on her body, still expecting something
from her husband lying within reach, the smell she is not even
aware of as something apart from herself, if she can notice it at all.
And how can even I wander into a scene like that? And how can
we stay? For even in this nauseous neighbourhood, someone will
eventually notice the smell, send for the cops, discover me here,
and carry me off to prison, and I am not ready to make that sacrifice. Even if I leave, someone will remember having seen us coming
and going daily or on alternate tuesdays.
The beginning is somewhat farther away, and probably less explicable. I used to trace it to the volcano but that seems now to be
not far enough, far enough for the real beginning. When Caroline
didn't come back, I expected that. When she did. I expected that
too. When expectation always comes up equal to what is. So when
I first knew that I knew it wasn't even the beginning of being
aware. It was much too soon.
Our nextdoor neighbour, although separated from us at the
time by two hundred feet of untended weeds somehow bought a
circus surplus steam calliope. My father, a vastly tolerant man on
most occasions, I noticed read his almanac more fervidly and said
nothing for a long time, and my sister, then already several years
older and already an unmitigated asshole said several things, and
my mother made a chocolate cake. So, between the ages of eight
49 and fourteen I knew that sometime a volcano would erupt in our
Let us now make a distinction between foreknowledge of an inevitable event and creation of circumstance, between the admission
of a situation as it exists and the advocation of the situation. At
first I didn't especially feel any desire to have a volcano, but adapting to fate, saw all the possibilities — what could be done with a
volcano, even with the crassness of commercial guided tours of the
only active and privately-owned volcano this far north or inland,
away from the volcano belt as it were. And of course kept it secret.
But there is also the problem of undisclosed foreknowledge of an
event that when it does take place you can only say, "I knew it
would," rather than the more impressive, '"This is going to happen," and having it happen.
So I said in private to my father, when we were both slightly older,
as something I had just learned at school: "Somebody in Mexico
had a volcano erupt in his backyard, Father, and became rich
almost overnight by selling admissions to the tourists." My father
looked at me briefly and askance, as we did not often find the
necessity of speaking, looking at me as if even then he knew me
for an inspired madman. And He put down his almanac.
Caroline is disturbing me lately. She has again started taking an
interest in things. I caught her just now trying to read these graffiti,
furtively, but trying nonetheless. Will my tolerance allow me to
chastise her? These, I begin to admit, are to be read, I had hoped
read in the nature of an archeological discovery, centuries from
now, as the sole surviving intelligible remnants of the time. The
future will not need portraits of our age, but documentation of
individuals will be rare. Because this part of my oeuvre, I am disinclined to admit, would answer the questions Caroline used to ask
me before she stopped talking, and I would hate to seem to be
influenced by a living person, least of all by someone like her. But
let her read, it will keep her mind off.
We had always liked music to a certain extent. My mother's
radio station often played some, I would hear my father humming.
I used to climb down into the dry ditch in summer behind our
place and practice whistling, to no avail, but with the right urge.
And my sister, always the deviant, sang in an assortment of fashionable church choirs in the three surrounding townships.
So it was with something only slightly more enthusiastic than
mild surprise, that we looked at each other as the first Kawhoop
50 sounded only slightiy diminished in intensity by the intervening two
hundred yards of property investment values. There was no real
panic. My grandfather who usually spent Sunday afternoons (and
it was Sunday) drooling in his chair by the window behind the
always on Sunday drawn curtains, peeked briefly out and saw a
circus parade, and that satisfied most of us for the time being, as
we were drawn off into one of grandfather's protracted reminiscences of circuses past. But it was some hours later that we began
to realize that even allowing for the fact that a circus parade
might pick out an unpaved and scarcely populated country road
as its route, and also allowing for the fact that at the rate it was
passing it would have had to be some twenty-four miles long, by
my father's calculations, allowing for that, it seemed surprising that
a circus of that magnitude would not employ someone who could
actually play something recognizable as a tune on the calliope.
We all except for grandfather who seldom did, went outside.
There was no parade.
We all, except for grandfather, who was already there, went
back inside.
My mother went into her kitchen. Father took up his pencil and
went back to almanac. Grandfather and I stared knowingly at each
other. I had long ago decided that he (Grandfather) was merely
drawing on his age to indulge himself in the follies of longevity.
That all his life he had been secretly insane, only waiting for a
suitable age when he could pee and drool and fart and see whatever he liked and throw his vegetables around at the dinner table
and eat orange peels and be respected for it all. That's what we
mean by age. It is probably because of this hereditary concept of unreality that I gained all of my superiority: Grandfather; a father
who had retired from active business, a pauper, at the age of twenty-
eight; a mother who incessantly made the worst chocolate cakes in
the country; and a social climbing, cautiously sane asshole sister,
from whom, thank God, I can have acquired no genes.
I passed up the stairs, softly. It was best if nobody noticed my
departure, because then, in all probability, nobody would notice
my absence. My usual escape route was through the window of my
parents' bedroom, onto the swaying branch of an oak tree. I fell
about twenty feet into the untended garden and muttered softly for
a while, then stole across the weed patch to the neighbours. I realize now that if someone in either house had decided to look out of
a window, all my slinking approach was fruitless, and from this I
5i derive two things: one is that windows are all wrong; and two,
that nobody looks out of them (except voluntarily impotent people
like Grandfather) anyway. I assume that nobody saw me. And
it was that evening that I told my father about the Mexican volcano.
But it wasn't till a week later that my sister came home one day
(at about age seventeen) and said, "That idiot next door has a
calliope." Grandfather cackled and pounded his cane on the floor.
"No," said my father, in one of his rare outbursts, "it's absolutely
out of the question." I looked hopefully out of the kitchen window.
"You must have heard it," Sister said, "he hasn't let up much for
the whole entire week." "Oh," said my father. I came back into
the living room. "He's made thousands of dollars by now," I said.
"Who?" they all asked.
I have never liked being the centre of attention of that many
people (I was only about eight or eleven). "Oh, .. .somebody."
And I quietly went back to the kitchen.
"Well, aren't we going to do something?"
"I suppose so," said my father, and began looking for his hat.
I have said that the neighbour had absolutely no sense of music,
that for a week he had produced nothing but random noises,
which I know now are allowable, but then were simply noises. My
father was gone for some hours, during which time the noises kept
up undiminished, and had not stopped by the time he returned. He
sat down without removing his hat.
"Well?" said my sister.
"He's got a calliope," said my father. And that was more or less
the conclusion. Except that we all knew something had to be done.
For my sister. Only I knew what. Unless grandfather did. Unless
my father understood.
So after my grandfather had been gone for several days, as was
his custom, he came in through the back door looking disgruntled
and went to his room. No one else took any notice, but I went to
the kitchen and saw steam rising from the pond. I went to speak
to Grandfather.
"There's smoke coming from the pond," I said.
"Circuses,' he said, "work of the devil. Probably. There's no
stopping it now."
"I don't want to stop it," I said, "but how do we make sure
of it?"
"Stay away from lawyers." And he was silent.
52 This time I didn't even bother lying in the untended garden for
very long after I had fallen from the oaktree.
There were some thousands of dead tadpoles and four boiled
ducks in the pond, my dog was there looking incredulous, trying
to drink. The pond was bubbling in the middle. I went into what
was left of the barn, found some red paint and a board. VOLCANO ICy. I wrote, trying to make it look as much as possible
like a childish dribble. I nailed the sign to a fencepost and waited.
The mailman, the milkman and the breadman came along our
road every day. The mailman never stopped at our house, the
milkman was as old as grandfather and his only remaining friend,
the breadman, couldn't read. Otherwise people only drove on our
road by accident.
"You spelled 'people' wrong," said Caroline.
"Why don't you go for a walk in the park?" I said.
"What do you do with volcanoes?" I asked my father.
"Stay away from them," he said.
"What do you do with volcanos?" I asked my mother.
"What are you talking about?" said my sister.
I changed my sign to VOLCANO SPECIAL 2 @ 15* TODAY
"I don't have anything to wear," said Caroline, "nothing."
The welt on her breast had turned blue by now.
"You're far more attractive that way," I said, reassuringly.
The rim of the crater was now beginning to emerge from the
water, I noticed with a satisfaction that somewhat tempered the
alarm at my lack of sightseers. Grandfather was with me. "This
would have been unheard of forty years ago," he said, "when I was
at Oxford the rowing crew would have done something. Pure
sensationalism. The devil knows his own."
"But you're an atheist," I told him. He cackled.
"We'll see about that," he said.
"Could we build a fence around it? So that they couldn't see it
without paying?"
"People with cameras around their necks? Are you kidding? Sell
it to the university."
"Dear Sir,
I have the only volcano in Southern Ontario. My grandfather, formerly of your history department tells me you would be
interested. ... , „
Yours truly
53 "No one's going to believe that was written by a child," said my
grandfather, "don't be pretentious, my boy."
"But I am a child."
"Don't contradict. Give that to me."
"Dear Mister Man,
I have a volcano. Would you like to buy it? My grandfather
said I should write you this letter.
"There," he said, "that was written by an eight-year-old child.
Ask your mother for a stamp. But don't tell her why you want it."
"There's a letter here to-day," said the buxom stupid secretary,
"that won't take a form response." Dr. Melthm pondered.
Dear Sir, Mister Man
a volcano
I have the only volcano in Southern Ontario, would you like
to My grandfather, formerly of your history department buy it
tclLa me you would be interested.
said I should write you this letter.
Yours truly Love.
"No return address?"
"I thought not."
For several weeks, even though I knew the postman was not
going to stop, I waited by the mail box for form's sake. Because
Grandfather insisted on it and waited with me. "I can't stand being
alone in the house with your mother," he'd say. In the mornings
father would go out with his hat and cane and knock the tops off
a few weeds. And although I seldom found it necessary to go to
school, my sister was there every day. Mother mostly stayed in the
kitchen. "How your grandmother and I could have produced a
child like that is beyond me. And I assure you that there was nothing attractive enough about your grandmother to suggest the obvious." And we'd squint our eyes against the dust as the mailtruck
drove by. "Well," said my grandfather, "might as well wait for the
I found my father standing by the pond. He seldom went there.
"That's a volcano," I said.
"Oh dear," said my father, "so that's where the smell has been
54 coming from. I wouldn't mention this to anyone just yet. Especially
to your sister. Not until we settle this calliope business first."
"Grandfather knows."
"Yes, I suppose he does, yes."
The rim was now some feet out of the water.
"That was a sweet thing to say," said Caroline.
"Characteristic," I said, "but I wouldn't call it sweet."
"It was sweet, you do love me."
"Oh, that."
"Your grandfather is a strange man, did you know that? I first
met him in a student-teacher relationship as a graduate student.
He was Professor Emeritus then and only three of us were taking
his course, and .. ."
"I know," I said, "you've mentioned it."
"Oh," he said, "I suppose I have."
We watched the volcano belch smoke for a while.
"I don't suppose you'd like to hear about the Last Days of
"I'd rather not."
He sighed. "No, I thought not," he said. And turned away.
"What about a postmark?" asked Dr. Melthm.
"It says, 'M' then something I can't make out, then something
else I can't make out, then 'O R T' then some 'X's and 'V's and
Ts, then '2.30'."
"Hmm," said Dr. Melthm, "a joke?"
"Not my idea of humour, but I suppose we'd better look into it.
Any graduate students applying for grants?"
"Only one, and he wants to study folklore in Tahiti."
Dr. Melthm sighed.
"It's that calliope."
"Now dear, calliopes don't smell like rotten eggs."
"Then what is it?"
"There are no rotten eggs in my kitchen."
My father and I exchanged a glance. Furtive and guilty on his
"Work of the devil," said my grandfather, falling back into
character, "bread and circuses, music and corruption. You call this
food Maidie?" He upset his butter beans.
"Oh, Daddy," said my mother.
That night my grandfather went away again.
55 "You say he knows about the volcano?" my father asked as we
again stood alone by the pond.
"And he helped you write to the university?"
"Then there's no real doubt about where he is?"
"Not likely."
"A strange man. One day after class he asked me, insisted I go
home to dinner with him. I am only sorry you never knew your
other grandmother. Your mother was there, of course, and I saw
right away why I'd been invited. Both of them, your mother and
your grandmother watched me like vultures for the entire evening,
and still, I was strangely attracted and went back often. One night
I asked your grandfather if I might marry his daughter. 'What on
earth for?' he said and I muttered the usual things about love and
not being able to live without her, because it was, after all, the last
gasp of a romantic era, and how, of course, it would be a hard pull
for a few years until I became a recognized historian, but with the
help of the woman I loved I would have spiritual riches beyond
my wildest dreams. He just said, 'That's a pack of nonsense too.
You marry that woman, even if she is my own daughter I say it,
you'll end up on an abandoned farm somewhere living on what
I dole out and waiting for me to die.' But I did it anyway and
here we are."
"I know," I said, "you've mentioned it."
So when Roger Meloby arrived, we were prepared for what
happened, even if he wasn't, still seemingly not having convinced
himself that he wasn't studying folkways in Tahiti.
"Volcanoes aren't really my specialty," he insisted.
"Volcanoes?" said my sister. "Are you crazy?"
"Not another goddam academic in the family," roared Grandfather, "I won't stand for it, you know."
"But grandfather, he just got here. He's just visiting," said my
mother. "He has no interest in Sissie. He thinks we have a Volcano."
"I've heard it all before in my time," said Grandfather, "we'll
 rt  33
"Could I see you alone?" Roger Meloby said to my father some
days later.
My father merely gestured for him to sit down. Roger Meloby
56 looked to the corner where Grandfather and I were conspiring,
seemed to dismiss us as inconsequential, and sat down.
"We'll fix him for that," snapped Grandfather. I nodded.
"You have a Volcano growing in your pond, you know," said
Roger Meloby.
"Yes, yes," said my father, "I know."
"I won't have it," said Grandfather, "not another goddam academic."
"Now I am willing to admit my ignorance of such matters..."
"What do you suppose was happening in the barn the other
night, Grandfather?" I asked.
".. . but I am sure I have the full authority of Dr. Melthm ..."
"All after my money," said Grandfather, "all of them."
"I heard Sissie giggling, and, and, somebody else."
"What?" said my father.
"Up to twenty-thousand dollars for the rights to.. ."
"What," said my father, "What!"
"Outrageous," said Grandfather.
"A seventeen-year-old girl? A child?"
"Ten thousand dollars," said Grandfather, "not a penny more."
It's worth that to be rid of her, but no more."
"Are you aware of certain laws in this province, Mr. Meloby?"
"But sir, I am quite unaware . .."
"Sissie, come in here."
"And only if he takes her away from here, say to Manitoba, and
becomes a decently dishonest mechanic."
"Yes father?"
"I said up to twenty thousand dollars for the rights to study
your volcano."
"Mr. Meloby here has agreed to marry you, although I was sure
you were better brought up than that, I mean you gave the illusion
of having some hint of morality ..."
"Not a penny more. Not a penny."
"Are you making all this up?" asked Caroline, daring to lean
across my back.
"Why don't you cook some rice?" I said, "And afterwards..."
By the time my Volcano was twenty feet above the water, it had
eaten three geologists and a geographer. My mother frequently
went down to the pond with coffee and chocolate cake. Father despaired of his morning activity, the weeds were now all trampled
and crushed, the neighbour's calliope could not be heard over the
57 heavy grumblings of scientific equipment. At first they had all paid
my new admission of a quarter as in the spirit of a joke, but towards the end of the first month I was being good-naturedly
brushed past. "They're not paying any more, Grandfather," I said.
"Hmm," he said, "come up to the attic .. . Fought the Boer war
with that," he said, taking down a musty rifle.
"You were never in Africa," I said.
"Now who said I was?"
The truck sat in a puddle of its own radiator juices. A cautious
face appeared over the dashboard. Grandfather recharged his
single-shot rifle. "Can't read?" he said, indicating my sign. "Should
charge a dollar parking for the truck, too." Seeing he was dealing
with an old man and a boy, the driver regained his nerve and
stepped largely out of the truck and walked towards us like a football player or a western gunman. Grandfather shot his cap off.
"Season's pass for five dollars," he said, "just like shooting fuzzy
We collected eighty dollars on season tickets alone the first day.
That night we waded into the pond and fed Grandfather's rifle to
the Volcano. "Don't overdo anything," said Grandfather. Naturally, the police came next day muttering Threat and Extortion and
Armed Robbery and Contributing to Juvenile Delinquency.
Hegel said it all but what was the word that Hegel left out
that Hegel didn't say?
I can have no further respect for the Germans than that. Or my
Grandmother on the other side — a Victorian lady living in a place
big enough for a stable in the old days, smelling of catshit tinctured
with something that made cat shit a respectable Victorian ladies'
cologne. My grandmother wore it. And I in a parody cliche from
maybe a melodrama or cinemategraphic re-creation of an era.
Granny was a Kraut too. Without the accent. Canadian was
Granny as only foreigners one generation removed from the stigma
of their Krautness or Wopness can be Canadian. But also something English because that's what was in in whatever century she
first started becoming it, was Granny. A stately lady something
over six feet with blond kraut hair wearing mental jackboots which
she only thought she was concealing, still trying to be a sweet
grandma. She was a wizened crouched old bitch was Granny, with
gray hair, leaning on her cane. And I in a parody of a cliche situation from a melodrama or cinematographic re-creation of an era
standing on her hearthrug, her cold hearth-rug as young gentlemen
58 should with hands behind back, hair combed over my eyes, I probably couldn't have had a beard then, and Granny grey-haired and
shawled crouched standing leaning on her cane a respectable distance removed seated in a peacock chair with fat starched butler
out of a cartoon plasticized beside her.
"Well, you are sixteen today," she says. Sixteen today she says,
whacking the riding crop against her boot. "I suppose you'll be off
to the university soon," join the army she says, "What profression
do you have in mind?" Work, she says, Doctor, maybe Lawyer,
Big Business. "I don't want you to want for money for your education," she says, Money, "What is it you have in mind?"
"Nothing," I say.
"Yes, I suppose it is rather early to have made a decision," she
says. Heresy! she says. Sixteen and not financially solvent, what is
today's youth coming to, she says.
"That's my decision," I say, "I don't want to do anything."
"Ah, you are joking with your old Grandmother," she opens an
innocuous looking door, three crazed Alsatian dogs emerge slav-
"No," I say, "I don't want to do anything. What I want to do
doesn't exist."
"Very well," she says, clanging shut her purse, "then you won't
need any help from me." She motions the butler to let the dogs
"No," I say, "Thank you," being polite, "I still have my money
from the Volcano."
"Ah," she says, smiling indulgently, "the volcano." That's
Caroline didn't believe it at first either, as she has not believed
that I am lying on the floor writing the last few lines on this wall.
She's begun to talk again lately.
"What are you doing?"
" ," noncomitally.
"We don't have to stay here, if we were somewhere else, we
could get some paper."
" ," matter-of-factly.
"I'm not sure I like it here anymore."
Does she want to be told she is free to leave at any time? Part of
being alive is being what other people expect. Caroline crouches too
on the floor, trying to read, but her eyes are not yet and I guess
with the chronic inadaptibility of her breed never will be accus-
59 tomed to the constant intermittent flashing of the fuck you sign
which is our only illumination.
"You never talk to me any more," she says.
Which all my grannies mothers sisters lovers all say to me
"Look," I say, "suppose I were thirty-three years old two months
ago and had never yet had a god named after me. Would I waste
time trying to justify inconsequentialities with a force of evil, or
would I be trying to demolish my own vision by accosting small
children in a public park. Whose joke is all this anyway?" I sweep
my arm around magniloquently, she bats her eyelids three times
before the light goes out.
"But why do you write everything down?"
"Because it's all there. Already written. I'm just colouring in the
parts where the words are so I can see them, joining the dots."
"You used to talk to me."
"That whole wall will talk. Look, now it's almost full, then I'll
celebrate, I'll even tell you a sonnet, make up stories about handsome insurance executives, sing the praises of my favourite school
teachers, tell of the ravages of childhood disciplining, be god, eat
your boiled turnips, and bring you dandelions in a milk-bottle, all
this will I do when that wall has told it to me."
"But you're making it all up."
"How do I know till it's all there?"
"But you must know, you're putting it there. Even what I said
now, you're putting that there."
"You don't know if the window has broken till after the rock
goes through. Don't confuse cause and effect if you're going to consider them at all."
"But on the beach you loved me."
On the beach I loved her. It was probably raining on the beach,
a gray drizzle, a dog not dead. Why would I go home anymore?
Part of me was doing it, and part considering it all arrant nonsense, there used to be a joy in acting out cliches, at least a quiet
laughter. I never could bubble and giggle about anything. How
long do we stay anywhere? It was a favourite theme of my father
that we are different people every seven years, that in that time all
our cells were renewed. I don't question it.
"There," I said, "the first wall is filled."
60 Robert Schultheis is a graduate student in anthropology at the University
of Colorado. He is presently at work on a semi-comic novel.
» Mm
The last ride dropped me off. Alone in nowhere.
High snowy mountains floated in the blue air, on every horizon.
It was cold, in that high, barren valley. I buttoned up my hide
jacket. The highway and its toothpaste line unreeled north, south,
The great dunes of sand off to the east —■ jumbled tiers of high
dune sand, on and on and on, back to the mountains (where it was
late autumn). I knew there were secret rivers back there: green
with cottonwood and marijuana, and the mountain lion prowled
for deer, and a skeleton in Spanish armor on a heap of treasure,
guarded by sneaky rivers of Sucking Sand. I'd been working with
myth too much: living in Santa Fe and Chin Le, putting together
a paper on Ice Age animal motifs in Navajo myths . . .
And while digressing, the most interesting myth I ever heard
was from a drunken Coprolite Man (expert on fossilized excreta),
at an anthropologists' convention in Chicago. He claimed to have
been surveying in the Far Southwest (as with all good modern
myths, the exact location a secret, or comfortably vague), and
stumbled into a valley full of giant salt crystals. He wandered
through them for hours — tall, blinding panes of pure salt, jumbled,
a mineral forest — till he came to a deep cave in the salt floor.
Down a crawlhole by flashlight, he found a small chamber. There
was a skeleton, lying on its left side. He recognized it as Indian.
61 The skeleton was grinning; it wore various amulets and necklaces.
In one skeletal hand was a dessicated husk of document. ..
It was getting late out, and the thought of negotiating the salt
forest at night made the Coprolite Man hurry. He put the document in his pack, scanned the floor for coprolites, and crawled up
and out.. .
The document turned out to be the Treaty to the Absolute
Ownershop of the Entire United States, signed by one of the old
Presidents. The skeleton was that of Tall Ice (or T't'k'k'e, in Mountain Wahoo, his people's language), great shaman and cosmic
joker — especially loved to goon Anglos — and his final goon was
to trick the U.S. government into signing the whole continent over
to the bearer of the Treaty. Who knows how? Then disappearing
w. the Treaty.
Rumors had persisted ever since, in the high echelons of gum-
mint, about the existence of the Treaty. A special F.B.I, task force
was permanently assigned to tracking down the Treaty, as were
certain sectors of military intelligence, the C.I.A., etc. Archeologists
were funded, through dummy foundations and N.S.F., to look for
the Treaty (though they weren't told what it was, or anything
about it).
Upon his return from civilization, the Coprolite Man soon became the object of a manhunt, pursued by agents of America, the
Soviet Union, China (Fukienese disguised asUtes),etc,etc. (down
to & including the last survivors of the Mountain Wahoo) . . .
(The whole story is told in The American Book of the Dead,
now in preparation by the author.)
But meanwhile I was waiting for a ride. And none was in sight.
Balloon baskets of bears, yetis humming on yellow silk streamers.
But no rides.
I waited and waited,
but nothing happened.
But eventually, out of desperation, I got several wrong rides,
away from the baleful wits I was trying to get to: through the
cold misty mountains of the Tiger, the Snake and the Loris; through
furnaces of icy jade; through the rattle and crash of rain, rain
smell, taste, sound, rain in my heart and head and feet, so that
all I could do was go on, ride it out, go on, in the cold and the
rain, and the dream country.
62 There was a town, ghost town, high in the mountains. And in
the town a strange house.
Walls and floors were askew, windows opened out into other
rooms, second floor doors swung out into empty space. Faded mustard and mauve wallpapers. A pack of wild dogs gnawed the bones
of saints. A hall led back narrow into a dripping, dizzy weedyard,
that led up into the forest. Someone played a guitar back there, a
vague song that wandered, crossed and recrossed, a cold idea.
Her room was so careful, like the den of a meticulous animal, a
bushbaby or panda. A small, narrow room, with a small window
at one end. Pale gold walls. A tiny antique mirror, an incense
burner trickling smoke. A dark wood box, with rings and pills
in it. Old newspapers from the old mining days, yellowed piles —
we read them, the birth, death, insect dreams of glut and gold —
the Cold Misty Mountain Gloryhole Brahma-Daily. Smiling softly,
she would turn to me — breath wild and sweet from camomile and
honey tea, long ironed hair swinging like a bolt of radium, penny-
goldbrown face — and the sunny warmth of her body — she spoke
a strange patois, from some lost city or gone tribe: "Pockets of dirty
snow up there in the high ecology, the rock country, but it's rich
as flowers if you can see it the way it really is, without cobweb
qualifications —"
Mountains winding away into black crackle of storm: we were
passing a bottle of red wine back and forth . . . then back in the
pollen-musty thistleweed yard, under the starry sky, we were passing
a bottle of white wine back and forth . . . then it was sunny again,
and we were passing a cup of Jimson weed tea back and forth:
belly thundering, eyes peeled and raw, and rocking with dreams . . .
I never went back to the drab, dead libraries, where voices are
dusty coughs; the grey insect scuttle, the gnawing dullness, the
weary flesh dragging itself through brutal routines, goosed with
electricity, sapped by goon music and spangled swamps of fat. . .
This is where things have really ended. In the strange house with
doors to the four directions, and empty blue sky and wind. In a
dreamless sleep, hard as melt water, clear as hard rock. No more
earthly food for me: I'm sure of that. Nothing remains but the
last bone dice throw in a game whose outcome is already assured
and known, whose stakes I have transcended, whose other players
are only different versions of myself.
63 Ronald Xavier Massa's stories have been in several U.S. journals. Presently
majoring in English at Williams College, he plans to do graduate work in
creative writing at the University of Massachusetts.
Estragonf My Brother
Whenever I think of my brother Estragon, I see him standing on
a tug boat that had just pulled him out of the Hudson River. He
is holding onto one of the vertical ropes and waving at me, wildly.
The sun is very bright and Estragon's hair is very blond as it always
was in summer, and it falls madly about his grinning face. I am
standing on the New York shore, circa 172nd Street. Estragon had
bet me that he could swim to Jersey, scale the Palisades cliffs, take
one complete ride on the Dragon Coaster, and be back in two
Instead, he persuaded the tugboat captain — an old gentleman
who smoked his pipe upside-down — into ferrying us up and down
the river, from the Battery to Harlem, until we were so tired and
so sunburned and so happy that we slept six hours on a cross-town
As a child, I was in awe of my brother, and an amazed spectator
at his constant duels with our father. Once when Father told him
to do his homework, Estragon raced into the backyard shouting
and waving his arms, and scores of beasts — robins, bluejays, ants,
squirrels, a cat, and hundreds of pigeons from the Great Neck
Public Library razed our expensive garden.
After a similar disagreement, Estragon had all the neighborhood
dachshunds dig in the front yard so that when Father opened the
door next morning to go to work, he fell into a nine-foot hole.
Often I would see Estragon sitting alone in our yard, looking,
with that intent expression of his, at the trees, or bushes or flowers.
64 He would be perfectly still and silent, and it always seemed to me
that he was communicating with something I could not see.
Once I caught Estragon whispering into the toilet bowl. From
deep in the pipes came an answering gurgle and "swish." I ran
promptly to bed and pulled the covers over my head.
At the age of fourteen, Estragon left school and became a neighborhood renegade. He slept in our backyard, and during the day
could be found just about anywhere. Most of the neighborhood
despised Estragon because he raided their fruit trees and vegetable
gardens, or because their dogs and cats followed him miles from
home. But he had three staunch allies besides myself: Riley, a
rookie cop who patrolled the Village Green, old Mrs. Neasling, our
senile neighbor, and Tilly the Drunk.
Estragon met Riley when he tried to arrest him for drunkenness
at the age of twelve. Estragon convinced Riley that he had merely
consumed three dozen oysters at the Port Washington Wharf at the
expense of his equilibrium and a month's allowance. The whole
affair ended with their taking a walk in the park. After that Estragon often accompanied Riley on his rounds. Riley in blue, red-
haired, swinging his nightstick; Estragon pointing at things, stopping to talk to dogs.
Old Mrs. Neasling lived next door. She had wild white hair and
yellow teeth, and every time she laughed, the pigeons down at the
library squawked and flew into the air. Estragon and I would go
over there at night and watch television while Mrs. Neasling
laughed up a storm and plied us with white sugar doughnuts and
apple cider. Estragon and I both loved her.
Tilly the Drunk could usually be found in the Village Green in
a recumbent posture. His face looked like a rolled-up, stomped-on
American flag. His nose looked like it had once belonged to a very
poor boxer. I used to imagine Tilly climbing into the ring wearing
a bathrobe that had "Tilly the Drunk" written on the back in large
letters. Once they caught Tilly trying to cook spaghetti in the wash
basin at the public latrine in the railroad station. There wasn't even
any hot water, but that didn't bother Tilly. Whenever Tilly got
arrested, Estragon used to send him popsicles by way of Riley. The
popsicles were made by me in our freezer with ioo proof vodka,
sugar, and Welch's Grape Juice.
Usually Estragon would wait for me outside of Arrandale Grammar School and we would be off on some adventure. Once we stole
a rowboat from the Kingspoint dock, Estragon rigged a sail, and
65 we sailed to a windmill that he wanted to show me in Connecticut.
It was an unusually large, abandoned windmill, and the arms
still went round and round for no reason. Estragon bet me that he
could ride around on the arms. He leaped up and caught one as it
went past and I watched him borne higher and higher into the
He hung by one arm.
"Hey," he yelled. "Wanna see me hang by one finger?"
I covered my eyes with my hands.
White-puff clouds hung in the sky as Estragon went round and
"HOORAY! HOORAY!" he shouted.
As we floated home in the stolen rowboat, a wind started blowing down from Connecticut, kicking up small whitecaps in the
Sound. Estragon stood in the bow with his back arched and his
face thrust into the spray — like one of those carved, winged figures
on the bow of a ship.
I am very grateful to Estragon for being around when I was
a child. Mother died shortly after I was born, and Father worked
all the time, and whatever maids we had always seemed slightly
detached and not quite in tune with things. Indeed, if it hadn't
been for Estragon, I am sure that long periods of my childhood
would have been filled, exclusively, with melancholy.
When Father sent me away to prep school, Estragon and I
parted company and I did not see him for four years. I worked
during the summers so I was rarely home, except for an infrequent
vacation. During those years I received letters and postcards from
Estragon, from all parts of the world. I received a photograph of
him standing on top of the Matterhorn, shouting something — perhaps yodeling. In another photograph he is squatting with a circle
of ragged oriental boys. Behind them is a thatched hut. They
seem to be playing a game similar to marbles. Another photo shows
him behind the bamboo bars of a Singapore prison. His face is
sunburnt and he is grinning and he has his thumb tucked between
his fingers in the oriental equivalent of the extended, Anglo-Saxon
middle finger.
When I graduated from prep school, Father said I could have
the summer off as a reward. My marks had been exceptionally
good and he was pleased.
At first, I was thoroughly bored. Then early one morning, unable
to sleep, I got up and began strolling through the garden. Imagine
66 my surprise when I found Estragon sleeping beneath the olive tree.
There were blueberry stains in the corners of his mouth and several
peach pits lay on the ground beside him.
I knelt and looked closely at my brother. He was a man now. I
knew him to be in his early twenties. As usual, he was wearing
tattered blue jeans, a T-shirt, and an old, leather vest. A round,
black disc, a charm of some kind with an oriental symbol painted
in gold, hung from a chain around his neck.
His hair was still blond, and his features still narrow and sharp.
His cheekbones stuck out and his nose turned up in a point. But I
saw changes in my brother's face. The skin was drawn very tightly,
and there were lines across his forehead and at the corner of his
eyes. He had always been thin, but now his bare feet seemed skeletal. He had fastened his jeans with a length of twine, no doubt to
keep them up.
"Estragon," I said.
He opened his eyes, shouted, leaped up and embraced me. Suddenly I found myself running about like a madman, playing tag.
Estragon was still at least twice as fast on his feet as I. I'm sure
he kept letting me tag him. Exhausted, I collapsed on the ground.
Estragon, grinning, came and sat beside me.
"Tell me," he said. "How's old Neasling? I can't wait to see her."
I was reluctant to answer. "She died," I said.
"She what!" His face was pale and angry.
"She died," I repeated. "Father wrote me."
"And Tilly? What about Tilly? What's he been up to?"
"No one knows," I said. "He hasn't been seen for a year."
Estragon, furious, leaped up and jumped over our neighbor's
"Where are you going?" I called.
"I'm going to see Riley!" he yelled back.
I was going to tell him not to bother, but I checked myself.
"Riley's been transferred to another precinct," he told me later,
"Yes," I said. "I know."
We spent a good deal of time that summer swimming between
the New York-New Jersey shore. We'd pull ourselves out on the
New Jersey docks and make our way up the cliff to the spot where
Burr shot Hamilton in Weehawken. From there you can see all
of Manhattan smoking futilely across the river. When our clothes
had dried, we would walk over to Union City.
67 There are half a dozen bars on the main street of Union City,
and Estragon and I developed a kind of ritual. We would start at
one end of the street and have two 30* draught beers in each bar.
When he was really feeling good, Estragon would do handstands
on the counter. He could do a one-arm handstand, and sometimes
he could almost do a one-finger handstand, but not quite. One
night a fat bartender, for no reason, pasted Estragon in the eye.
He lay on the floor, calmly, barely breathing. An intent look came
over his face. Within five minutes, seven large rats had been counted
scurrying across the floor. The next time we passed through, the
entrance to the bar was boarded shut.
We would go from bar to bar down the main street of Union
City, New Jersey. Sometimes we would sing, and often Estragon
would turn cartwheels down the crowded sidewalk. We would end
up soused, burning our mouths on steaming pizza in Mama Rita's
Pizza Palace, trying to sober up enough for the night swim home.
When it came time for me to leave for college in the fall, neither
of us had the courage to say goodbye. The night before I left,
Estragon disappeared without a trace.
Four years passed. During that time I decided to enter the profession of law. I heard from Estragon infrequently, and, what was
perhaps more disquieting, I went for long periods without thinking
of him. Other things filled my mind now. I thought of being a
lawyer, and of earning large sums of money. I thought of owning
a fine home. I thought of marriage, in a vague, unspecific way.
When I graduated from college, I had a week free before my
summer job began. Father urged me to come home and confer with
him about my future. Father and I conferred, and then I found
myself with a week free around the house.
I awoke from a dream early one morning. It was just beginning
to get light. As if under the control of some outside force, I watched
myself get dressed and go quietly into the yard.
I knew, somehow, that I would find Estragon there, asleep beneath the olive tree, but I was not prepared for his appearance.
His hair was no longer blond, his eyes and cheeks were sunken, and
his body was emaciated like someone who has had tuberculosis for
a very long time. I would have thought him dead had I not seen
his stomach rise and fall slowly with his breath beneath his torn
T-shirt. I could not help myself; I stood over my brother and cried.
Estragon only stayed the morning. He was off again — to China,
he said — or so I understood. He no longer spoke intelligibly, his
68 speech was a mixture of a dozen tongues jumbled together. I could
make out words in Italian, French, and Spanish, sing-song oriental
cadences, and fierce, low guttural sounds which I could not fathom.
Later, we walked into the new department store in town. I was
wearing my dark, vested suit. Estragon wore his rags. A well-
dressed salesman smiled magnanimously from behind his counter
and asked Estragon if he could be of any help. At that moment,
with an overwhelming pang of shame, I realized I was embarrassed
to be seen with my brother.
For a moment, Estragon was lucid. He brightened. He thrust
his index finger into the air.
"I'd like a pencil!" he exclaimed.
"One?" asked the salesman, drily.
"Eagle Brand. It has to be Eagle Brand," said Estragon. "That's
the kind I used in school."
As the man was handing the pencil across the counter, Estragon
said, "Can I have that sharpened?"
"Yes! I'd like mine sharpened, please!"
Distastefully, the salesman sharpened the pencil and handed it
Estragon examined the sharpening job thoughtfully. He revolved the point in front of his nose. He seemed to be sniffing of it.
Then he grinned and stuck the pencil between his teeth. He
gestured magically in front of the automatic doors, lurched into
the street, and waved back at me — as if from a very great distance.
69 Peter Vandenbosgh is combining an interest in creative writing with his
science studies at the University of British Columbia. This is his first publication.
Fine and Unusual Games
Small shops abound in Reykjavik. I was on my third attempt to
circle the world in one vacation, and had inevitably got stuck in
the first foreign port my money had taken me to. But then I love
small shops with harmless owners and a minimum of customers, so
I tried many of them in ecstasy.
At first there was nothing unusual about the MakerAndSellers-
OfFineAndUnusualGames, or its compounded Icelandic equivalent
which seemed even longer. But though elsewhere I had been greeted,
received as an old friend and drawn into the inevitable discussions
on politics or commerce, here I entered, without the ring of a
chime, into an alcove of a store where one light burned and no
owner waited to greet me. I could have gone out with the ivory
chessmen or a sea-shell Wei Ch'i game under my arm, and had
no-one outside questioned me, the owner would have been no
wiser. On a large round table in the room's centre were placed, in
no necessary order or grouping, pieces for games I had not known
existed. The display reminded me, because most games are simplified combats, of a skirmish somewhere in the run of Armageddon.
As I was about to leave, I heard a small sound behind me and
discovered a door being opened inward. After a long pause, a figure
stepped into the frame and said in English, "Yes? I'm sorry to
have kept you, but it was my turn to make a move. Have you
found anything to your fancy?"
He took two paces into the room to stand behind the round table,
revealing himself as an older man of classically English features.
70 Behind him, in another room shining yellow in artificial light, I
thought I could hear a third person.
"I'm sorry," I said. "There was no need to disturb yourself.
I only wanted to look, and I have no money really."
"Ah? Well, I was certain you were going to buy something.
Perhaps it were best if I gave you some game then; it's never good
to pass up an opportunity when it arises, and I certainly don't see
how you're to buy one if you have no money." He pushed some
things around on the table, picked up a set of ceramic pieces, and
pulled a cardboard cylinder out of a drawer. "This is Tablut. Have
you heard of it? No, I suppose not. Well, look here then." He
kneeled on the floor with his collection and began unpeeling the
seal on the tube as I crouched down beside him. He drew out a
cloth of embroidered squares which he spread out on the floor, and
placed the pieces in a pattern. "Now then. The dark pieces are
Russians while the whiles are Lapps. This is the Lapp king; no
pieces may occupy his throne. The object is to either capture the
king or for the king to reach the outer squares; moves are orthogonally unlimited, except by other pieces; capture is custodian.
Have you got that?" I nodded. "Then it's yours."
There was a cough in the backroom.
"But I really only wished to look," I said.
"Oh look around all you want. There isn't much to see, but
you're welcome to look."
I was half holding the game out to him. "Keep that," he insisted. "It'll serve you well in intelligent company. You know Othin
played something like —" Another cough, this time quite insistent.
"You must excuse me: it's my turn to move. Do look about all you
like, and perhaps I'll be back before you leave." He disappeared
into the backroom, but left the door ajar.
"Well well, Basil, how have we progressed?" I heard him mutter.
It all seemed very humorous just then; this friendly storekeeper so
eager to give his merchandise away, and the all-important tournament going on behind the facade of the store. Had he not left the
door half-open I would have walked out, leaving the game behind,
but I could hear what I presumed was Basil's voice, dry as spice,
rustling away at a sentence I could not make out.
Had it been any other store, a bookdealer or an antique merchant, I would have thought it was a game of checkers, one of
those interminable sets old men indulge in when they aren't sleeping, but what mysterious games of the Orient might be found here?
7i Does a bookseller keep the rarest books for his private shelves? I
certainly would, and I approached the door for a small look.
"Come in," said the owner without looking up from the table.
"Do come in. We were only having a friendly game; I hope you
didn't mind."
I entered, and for the first time laid eyes on old Basil, who sat
opposite the merchant, across a table that was no more than a slab
of granite sitting on the ground. It was an enormous slab too,
square and with rounded corners, and on it were all manners of
carved marvels.
"Basil," said the owner of the store. "Look up will you?"
"Have you moved?" crackled the other without opening his eyes
or lifting his chin from his chest.
"No, no Basil. We have company. This young man is Ceir
Westwyl and he's recently purchased a Tablut game from us."
The old man looked up and squinted at me. "Basil Firth," said
the merchant. "Basil is my partner and companion."
I nodded in acknowledgment. Basil's eyes were more than simply
old; they were a gnome's eyes, eloquent and witty, and while the
rest of him went lost in its smallness, they caught and held my
attention. As he looked at me, I could say nothing, least of all the
politenesses we are all accustomed to give out to strangers. Then he
lowered his head again and immediately he was only an old man
behind an enormous game of checkers.
I glanced at the board. "But how did you know my name?"
"Why when you introduced yourself," replied the owner, concentrating on the board.
"But I never gave you my name."
"Indeed?" He looked up. "Well, but then you don't know mine
either. How unthoughtful." He got up and took my hand — his
eyes were less interesting than Basil's, I noted — and shook it.
"Grimar Jonasson," he said. "Sit down. Please. I don't suppose
you've ever seen a game like this played before."
I confessed I hadn't. The table was divided, quite in the conventional manner, into squares, but beyond that nothing was familiar. Besides the pieces on the board, I had spotted a box next to
each chair containing perhaps two dozen more. I could see no
pattern or distinction in the pieces, which were all coloured in the
same faded bone.
Grimar stared at the board in silence while I scrutinized it and
Basil slept. I reflected on their names:  Basil had a good sterling
72 name that would have passed anywhere on Fleet Street, but his
features were Norse; Grimar's name on the other hand was unmistakably Icelandic, but his face, as I have said before, was
But Grimar leaned forward and removed a piece three squares
diagonally toward Basil, breaking up my thoughts on the subject
of their names, before I could get the full humour of it phrased.
"Didn't you say Mr. Westwyl had bought a Tablut, Grimar?"
Basil did not look up or give any indication that he had seen the
move made.
"Yes my dear Firth; your memory is faultless as ever. I gave
him one of the . . ." He looked up at me. "Or am I yet to give
you one?"
"You gave me one sir, but actually I ■—"
"Then in faith, you move was quite illegal Grimar," said Basil.
"Indeed? But did I not place a piece on the board for him?"
"No you are yet to."
Mr. Jonasson muttered nearly inaudibly and reached out to return the piece he had just moved, while Basil rummaged through
his box of pieces. "Here's a fine one that hasn't been used in awhile."
To me he said, "Do you like it? Good; then it's yours." With that
he placed it on the board, apparently at random.
"Not there," said Grimar sharply. "It's my move, J'// place him
on the board."
I smiled involuntarily. Two old men playing checkers — or even
better, a game of their own invention in which they made up the
rules as they went along — and seeming to think the whole world
depended on it. Like all old men they had lost their sense of time:
something already done or something yet to be done became one
and the same; in the morning they no doubt squabbled over whose
move it was. The game, as I watched, progressed by two-dozen
moves, but nothing was accomplished. There was a three-move
skirmish and a bit of positioning, but it was apparent that the
object of the game was not to defeat or to trap. I could make out
no rules — either they were too complicated to discover in a small
sampling of moves, or they were nearly nonexistent. The piece
which they referred to as mine was moved twice and no others
were added to the game.
Yet somehow I was fascinated. The moves were of great importance to them: they contemplated each one the way a gambler
contemplates his dollars before slotting them. It was my own in-
73 terest in games in general that held me at first; later on it was the
men more than anything. These were no tired old men reducing
their struggles to a table game: I had seldom seen any two people
take such delight in the plotting and execution of each move.
I took my leave of them when it was late and asked if I might
return the next day. At first Grimar agreed that certainly I might,
but when Basil pointed to "my" piece, Grimar said, "Ah, but I see
that other opportunities are already forming themselves around you.
This is quite unavoidable, but do return when you are able, and if
the game is favorable tomorrow, we'll move you into the right
He showed me to the door while Basil contemplated his move. I
assured him I would be by. He assured me I would not.
He was right. But then I'm not so sceptical as to refuse clairvoyance into the evidence we gather for our own private trial
against life. At the hotel where I took a meal there was a troupe of
people who were going into the interior and anyone who could
walk and chip in a few kronur for food was invited. Being inspired
by Mr. Auden's then-recent book, I had counted on ponies, but
the opportunity was too good to let pass for a mere detail.
It was days before I got back to their shop. The game had not
changed substantially, although the pattern was different. There
was perhaps one new piece on the board, and mine had moved
somewhat, but there was no change in its randomness, and no
seeming approach to the end.
They were not playing. There was a great pile of newspapers
beside the table and they were both reading. Grimar, legs wide, sat
on a milkstool beside the pile, and Basil was small and lost in his
thronelike chair. The ones I saw were from all over the world. Last
Saturday's editions of many major and minor papers (some very
minor — but they seemed to have been read with equal care) in
many languages.
"Good morning gentlemen," I said.
"Ah Ceir; I'm sorry you're leaving," said Grimar.
"Leaving? More fortunetelling, gentlemen? I see no opportunities
to leave your country just yet. Nor really wish to: I had hoped —"
Basil's head rose from the paper.
"I could have sworn it was mentioned in one of these journals
somewhere." His eyes caught me again, and I felt a need to know
74 the past of the kind of life that had formed those eyes. He lowered
them. "Well, no matter. If it isn't now then it will be."
"Come Basil," said Grimar. "Time to get to our game."
Within a week I managed to get a job on a Norwegian whaling-
boat that was in harbour, and I departed. The remainder of the
summer was nearly anticlimatic except that at the end of it I met
Laurel and Eldon. Eldon, who recognized the Tablut game, was
later to become my partner in several business ventures. Laurel
was to be my wife.
Indeed, I aged as people will, and my life was complicated
enough to be interesting. Eldon and I were once happy, once bankrupt and once rich in three different ventures. The last one cost
me both my marriage and my partnership, and I found mystelf staring at the hair on the bridge of my nose one morning and wondering what it was I was so unhappy about.
Something, a smell, or just the atmosphere, brought back memories that had been suppressed because present life was so rich.
Somewhere in my labyrinth I met up with those three summers of
carefree cosmopolitanism and ran headlong into Reykjavik. Now
as then, I was unattached, unfriended, and without my business I
was as uncertain and uncaring about tomorrow. There was something else . . .
On either side of my nose were eyes and I hadn't looked into
those since the vain days of my youth — the only part of my face
I knew intimately, in fact, was my chin. For the first time the
happy thought struck me that they had grown to be Basil's eyes,
and that I had managed to five up to the old man. And since my
memory was in Reykjavik, I decided the rest of me might as well
be, to see how much had changed in thirty years, and how that
street looked now. Most of all, I wanted the game if it hadn't been
destroyed in the meantime.
Reykjavik had changed in style, though not in atmosphere. It
was still a nineteenth century whaling town uprooted and placed
precariously in the centre of a circle of modern buildings. I entered
the street of small shops where the store had been located and
noted with pleasure that not all had changed.
In fact the store was still there. It was like having come full
circle in time and being deposited in that same body which had first
opened the door (there was still no bell) just to look around. Now
I could buy at will, but all I wanted was to meet the new pro-
75 prietor and tell him I had known the old men and just reminisce.
The table was still there. Its display had changed little in subject
(the dark pieces were perhaps slightly more victorious) although
the pieces themselves were different. Since there was no-one in the
shop, I knocked on the backroom door.
"Come in," said a strange voice, and I opened and walked in.
There was a new person in Grimar's chair and he was somewhat
younger than I, but Grimar. . . Grimar was in Basil's chair, older,
but recognizably the same gruff shopkeeper. It was all I could do
not to leap at him and embrace him.
"Ceir,' he said calmly. "It's good to see you." He pointed to the
table. "Your piece, you see: it's still playing."
"This is the one then," said the other.
"Yes," said Grimar. "Ceir Westwyl; Ceir, this is Lome Blake."
Had only Basil been there instead of this intruder, my spinning
mind would have pronounced the intervening years a mad dream,
and all things would have — for me at least — returned to that
point. But he was there, and Basil wasn't, and this added a painful
I sat down on the milkstool. "Come, play gentlemen. I'm eager
to see if the rules remain the same."
"The rules are forever changing," said Blake. "As you must well
I ignored him. Grimar interested me more. His face had become
wise and interesting like Basil's. Age doesn't do this to all, but these
Reykjavik games merchants had been treated well by time.
He too was watching me. "You've changed, Ceir. You've lived
a great deal."
Somehow I had stayed in his memory. Possibly because, through
their benevolence, the old gentlemen had kept my piece on the
board during several years and after awhile it had become fixed as
part of the total game. I could see I wouldn't last long though, and
suppressed a smile as I thought I caught Lome glancing at my
"Come, Grimar; your move," he snapped.
Grimar moved. For some reason I thought it was a good move,
but Lome snorted. As far as I was concerned he hadn't caught the
humour of the thing; his move was swift and hard, and he stared
at Grimar in that smirking way minor chessplayers have after
finally doing something brilliant. Grimar replied calmly, not without that Basilesque twinkle in his eye, certainly with age and mel-
76 lowed dignity. Again Blake pounced — he was becoming very catlike in my mind. In this Lookingglass game there was no room for
cold logic; I really didn't understand why a man such as he would
bother playing at all. Grimar touched my piece to move it, but
thought better of it and pulled his hand away, sitting back.
"You only arrived today, didn't you, Ceir?"
No longer surprised by this, I said that I had. Blake shifted in
his chair.
"You should travel around some. There are ponies for hire in
the Thingvellir and the country there is moody this time of year."
"I might," I said. "If you'll go with me, Grimar."
"No, no, I'm well beyond that now," he said with a smile.
"Lome might though. He hasn't seen much of Iceland in the years
since he's arrived. Have you Lome?" He picked up another piece
and moved it nearer mine.
Blake immediately moved, then grunted.
"I think you should go with Ceir. The air will do you good. I
can manage the shop for the day."
"And the game?"
"That can rest. I know you're eager to play, but you must get
out more."
Blake eager to play? He was a fanatic, but then he would have
been intense at anything he tried. Yet he wasn't playing right by
my standards, and if life were fair, he would have lost.
"It's your move," he finally replied.
"I won't move until you've consented to go tomorrow."
"No!" said Blake, and he jumped up and walked out into the
Grimar calmly watched him leave, then picked up a piece and
played his thumb over it. "He'll go, I think."
"I don't really want to go with him," I said.
"I wish you would." He replaced the piece and sighed. "Basil
died some time ago. You may have noticed .. . No, no; you were
never very observant. You know, Ceir, a great deal more may be
inferred from a newspaper than is actually printed there .. . but
never mind. I was forced to take on a partner quickly, for the game
could not lie idle long, and since you were all tied up at the time,
I had to accept Lome."
"You followed my affairs closely, did you?" I asked.
"No, not very closely, but we kept watch on you, just as on every
piece on the board."
77 I got the amusing juxtaposition of these old men pretending to
run a spy system, and the Norad board on which situations are depicted in lights. In this case, they kept track of their supposed
agents by means of a complicated game that involved an old stone
gameboard, and a weekly supply of journals — a risky idea at best,
and one I was not sure Lome subscribed to.
" I still have the Tablut game you gave me," I said to break the
"I thought so." He picked up the same pieces as before and
moved it one square closer to mine.
Blake opened the door and walked back to his chair, sat down
briskly and said, "Very well. I'll accompany Mr. Westwyl on a
pony-ride. Now play extra hard, old man, so the echoes of our
game today will still be heard tomorrow when the board lies undisturbed."
The Valley of Gatherings — holy grounds for the dawn-parliaments, where law prevailed most of the time in the days when three
chieftains gathering in one place might mean a deathbattle and a
feud that could carry to the fifth generation, where lays from the
Elder Edda once were chanted and Snorri, son of Sturla, gathered
up the island's then-short and already rich history.
On this day it was misty. The few tourists were content with a
brief look at the dark basalt towers and plunging facades, there
being no opportunities for photographs, and soon only we and our
ponies were left. I lost sight of Lome briefly in the mist.
When I found him again he was carrying what looked like original Viking broadswords, except that they were of shiny new metal
and unworn wood, their leather straps fresh and uncracked. It all
seemed very natural at the time; but it was later to occur to me
many times that it was a dream.
He threw me a sword which I caught flat, then buckled his own
on — an example I followed. We rode up, keeping to each other's
"One of us will kill the other," he said.
"But not here."
"Here," he said.
It was blasphemous, it made mockery of the laws, but I could
see no way except to turn my back on him, and that would not
resolve our vendetta (for the last time that day I wondered what
78 the fight was over — a game?). I pulled back some, drawing my
sword with both hands.
The horseback battle proved impossible. The ponies were skittish
and soon learned to keep away from each other: we could not
guide them and fight too. We dismounted finally, standing with
the muddy heath sucking at our boots.
In the mist, the families were gathering around us, each in their
group, all thought of enmity forgotten for the moment as it always
had been in the Thingvellir. The gods were doing battle. I thought
I saw Grimar sitting on the great stone lawgiver's chair and a small
shrunken skald who momentarily resembled old Basil was moving
through the crowd singing snatches of ballads. Their voices mingled
and diminished while the ringing of our swords grew sharper and
more continuous.
Lome fought the way he played; tight and grim, without seeing
the nuances. He played his sword like an axe. I touched him many
times, though not well enough to wound, but he was never able
to come close. Yet I feared his blows, for if he could sustain them,
one good strike might lay me low.
We fell into an alternating game of thrusting and felling. We
both played for variation, but the rhythm of our battle took over
and was impossible to break. Thrust and parry; blow and block.
Swoop and parry; fell and block. Thrust and parry. All the while
we rang bright and clear in the deepening mist.
With time the fog encircled us and the others had gone from
sight, leaving us, two giants battling, on a grassy island. Thrust and
parry; swoop and dodge: all in exquisite rhythm to which our
very hearts adjusted. The sound of battle no longer echoed back to
us, but the universe had closed in so that my knees were barely
visible. I began to feel like one single being with Blake, fighting
myself because there was none other to fight. Eng and Cheng
Bunker. Teetotaler and alcoholic. Player of Tablut and player of
chess. Neither better nor worse than the other, but battling to death.
Finally, the battle became absurd. Our blows slowed down as we
could see no more, and we struck blindly into the mist hoping that
eventually our weapon would sink into something soft instead of
being deflected off metal. And soon the ringing disappeared too, as
we backed off too far and lost one another.
I stopped my breath, and could hear his for an instant, then he
stilled it too. After that it became a matter of fighting the sob of
air that was overwhelming us both, and circling, or doing what we
79 thought was circling, about the spot where we last touched swords.
In the final moments I lost self-management, and it was as
though I was gently pushed over the final step. We slammed together back to back and both of us struck out wildly. Pain that
burned through my arm and finally slammed into my brain overcame me and I collapsed.
At the uncertain edge of dawn, I awoke with a festering arm-
wound. It throbbed angrily, but there wasn't the sweet filthy smell
of gangrene. Lome lay three feet away, his head immersed in the
rising lake, and if I had not killed him, the valley had. I managed
to push him in and beyond that, up to the gameshop's front door,
I have no memory.
The backroom door was closed as usual. I walked in, and Grimar
was there in his old seat, leaving Basil's carved-mahogany pagan
throne empty for me to sink into.
"I reset the game to where it was when Basil died," he said. "It
was his move."
I picked up one piece, set it back, and let my eyes wander over
the board. With a smile of boyish enjoyment, I picked up my own
piece, moving it across the board.
Grimar was saying something pleasant, but I couldn't hear for
certain. I was contentedly failing asleep in Basil's big comfortable
80 Victor Kowal is an undergraduate student in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. A story of his was on the CBC radio program,
Anthology, this year.
My Silver Boots
I bought a pair of silver boots some time ago. They have high
black heels with a thin ebony design travelling over them. The tops
have ivory caps running around them. Although silver boots are
inclined to be rather heavy, I feel very light when I'm walking in
them. The fit is very snug and they cling to my feet and ankles as
I step. Naturally, the boots attract a lot of attention wherever I go,
which pleases me enormously. There aren't very many silver boots
She didn't understand the rain like I did. She couldn't see the
warmth, the kindness, the absolute good of the rain. And what
could I say? Very few people understand rain. I couldn't condemn
her for her attitude. So I tried to make her see. We walked for
hours in heavy downpours, feeling the water soak our hair, run
down our backs under our collars, hang in droplets, from our noses,
tickle our eyes. And she said yes I like the rain but sunshine is just
as good. What could I do?
I got a great deal of symbolic satisfaction from my silver boots.
I wore them constantly in the rain and they would become so caked
with mud that you couldn't tell that they were at all special. At
this point, I took them home, wiped them off and carefully polished
them. And the grey metallic smoothness returned, as solid and as
even as before. I smiled and thought yes this is the way the world is.
It was something I had learned from the rain.
She didn't understand that you have to decide, that you have to
make a definite irrevocable choice. To be partly in one world and
81 partly in another is madness, I said. Yes she agreed. But she thought
that she would be wholly in one and then in another as if you
could change dimensions with the weather. There is only one
dimension she said, and I was willing to share it with you but
you've submerged what I gave in rain.
I made a vow never to wear my silver boots when it wasn't raining, so as not to lose sight of what the world was about. To expose
them to the sun would be to become blinded by the crassness, the
gaudiness that would be reflected in them. I wanted none of the
phony glitter-glitter that disguised life as a popcorn carnival. The
world was wholly, totally represented in my silver boots.
When I went to look for her, the rain was very clean. It fell
softly, like a feather blanket, over me as I searched and then. It
stopped. When I found her. I was happy to find her but so afraid.
She was looking at my boots and I knew that I wouldn't be able to
restrain myself. I had to look, too. My silver boots, naked before
the unrelenting sun and her eyes.
It's like warm fur, glowing softly, strongly, between the gleaming
black border. The ivory is mother's milk, unblemished and pure,
thick and deep with generations, spilling over the tops. Of my
silver boots.
82 Three Poems by Bogdan Czaykowski
Translated from the Polish by the author and Michael Bullock.
And again I said no. And three times I denied.
And the night was calm and gentle
pierced by the keys of stars, rusting like mythology.
An astral missile glowed.
It was a night like many others, a hothouse night of thought,
exciting the exotic vegetation
which men cultivate in the barren poverty of the beyond.
A clear and lucid, an obvious night,
thick with emptiness, almost alive to the touch.
Translated from the Polish by the author and Michael Bullock.
Ruins, yet with the energy
of forms,
fragments, but like Pascal's thoughts
clenched in the firmament,
rebellions, against real power,
explorations based on faded maps.
He was thrown
like a savage
into the open frontier.
Far away loomed
The clouds had no centaurs,
nor Leda with the swan.
was lost in clusters of stars.
What was he to destroy,
what was he to build,
before destroying,
before building?
was the play of his thought.
The world he received
was unshattered
and drawn from chaos
all elements
were there for his creation.
Furrowed by the conflict
of elemental forces
there emerged — the earth.
Translated from the Polish by Andrzej Busza and Michael Bullock.
The swallow lake
as a dead eye,
pure tearless
with a strange tree bent
encircles a stone
in the centre
even more peaceful
reflects the sky
after rain
even more pure.
A bird
in a huge glass aquarium
has frozen
on a glass perch
neither shoals of fishes
nor the whale
wake it
it is so transparent
that we do not ask for anything
from its entrails.
The sand
flows into water
and ripples into mountains
of trembling air,
the world's body
is without substance
the origins of mists
are visible above the sea.
85 When
the peaks of mountains
cut off the sky sharply
hot fires
drilled the coast
around them
swelled into thick massive contours
into extended dimensions of time
this morning's
the coast
will remould solid bodies
the sand flows into water
and ripples into mountains
of trembling air
mass is without substance.
A dark woman
gazing into the mirror
her own portrait
galloping eyes
like two stallions
under the raven broom
of the mane.
on the shattered glass
a wounded cat
savagely dying.
along a deserted road
through the night
of the frightened doe
86 at last
we reached Point-no-Point
they say
that old sailors
thought this was land's end
the open
in fact the land
struck by a wave
abruptly stops
and turns
Bogdan Czaykowski introduced a selection of Polish poetry in our Spring
'69 issue, which also contained one of his poems. A member of the Kontynenty
group of poets, he has lived in Vancouver since 1962 and is Associate Professor in the Slavonic Department at the University of British Columbia.
Michael Bullock, poet, fiction writer and translator of innumerable authors,
is a staff member of the U.B.C. Creative Writing Department. The Sono
Nis Press recently published his Sixteen Stories as They Happened and The
Savage Heart,  a poetry volume.
Andrzej Busza teaches in the English Department at U.B.C. One of the
Kontynenty poets, he had poems in our Spring '69 issue, and subsequently
as part of Astrologer in the Underground, a volume published by the Ohio
University Press.
day after day    night
after night
having this conversation
with God    long distance
asking him:
God, did Attila the Hun
Voltaire    Nietzsche   Abelard
(and other guys on my list)
finally make
immigrant status?
Asking him about bad popes
women popes    Errol Flynn
and if there's a football team
up there    and a first eleven
Asking him:
when there's another war in Heaven
what's your policy, G.,
on draft-card burners?
What would you say
if earthmen captured
one of your chariots for trespassing
inside our twelve-mile limit?
Questions of moment
asking him
88 His answers are muffled
voice like chewed fog
but sometimes his favourite question
comes through loud and clear:
What bothers me —
who'll pay for the call
when I finally hang up?
Or will he cut me off
his dead receiver
leaving me no one to talk to
another bill stacked up to meet
on the due date?    Heh!    Heh!
When the bailiff comes
I won't be home
only, dangling by its cord,
my cherryred telephone
wailing and sputtering   born
without gods    without an answer
Mike Doyle is a New Zealand poet now teaching English at the University
of Victoria. His poems have appeared in various Commonwealth and New
Zealand anthologies, and in North American journals, including The Nation
and San Francisco Review.
It was only later when she was out of the car,
Four holding her down,
Shadows rising,
The whole of the room flickering
As if someone were watching
A home movie, and she
No longer asking her boy friend who had set it up Why,
That she fell victim,
Feeling her body
Slip away, bruised, young,
Bringing them back for more,
Her breath coming
Hard, lacking
Her first thrilled
Intake, no longer suggesting
She enjoyed it.
The third date I gave her my class
Ring, she was
Hot. And sleek
Around the ass —
I don't know which
I liked best, her or her pants,
Or the idea of her ass.
Inside it was
Close, all the way up . . .
Strange I should get shy,
But it's like that sometimes.
Like now when I forget her name,
Kind of like Cathy,
But not quite.
90 Still
She's some piece of ass.
You had to tell someone
She was telling herself,
As she told Julie,
Who nodding dreamily
Sat on her hands
And imagined a ring,
The whole of
Her being phrasing the question.
"It was sort of .. . well,
It just was."
She wasn't so bad once you got in her she wasn't
Bad at all, and afterwards —
There were fifteen, maybe twenty afterwards,
She lay curled in the half-light,
And you had to admit she was cute.
Still she was short on tit —
Strange these fuckers
Should always want tit —
And even I was surprised
At how little she had.
And whoever was up
To bat
Let her know she had nothing
To hide.
That, and listening to Spider calling all night long
Cunt?    Can you come Cunt?
To the darkness
Within him,
Got to you.
9i And the guys preening
Their cocks
On what had been her skirt.
Still I was fourth man in,
Or was it third?    though by rights
I should have been first,
Seeing she had been my girl.
I remember the driving,
Of white line on
The coming and coming
White line, her bra
Dangling like a kewpie doll
From the mirror mount, where
on curves
It brushed against Spider's
Face, who looked now,
As if from a dream come true.
In back where even then someone slipped
A finger in,
She lay scrunched as a towel,
And I was thinking if only
We could have
Hung her out
To dry.
Philip Gallo's poems have appeared in The Far Point, North American
Review^ and Quartet. He is the publisher of the Hermetic Press and teaches
poetry and creative writing at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas.
92 Three Poems by Niko Grafenauer
Translated from the Slovenian by Joze Lazar.
The house where you think things over
is growing tense like a darkening day.
Memories close in
as if you were dying with gloomy dignity .
Silence shines upon the immobility
you take from the dead.
Loneliness gnaws you like verdigris.
In the narrow crack of permitted consciousness
projecting itself like a beam into dusk,
moths quiver.
Love throws your enlarged shadow against the wall.
With a clammy key I step towards the threshold.
I call from the verge of black forebodings
into emptiness.
Silence is your language.
I grow quiet,
but within me, as in late autumn,
sounds flutter, almost tears.
The house where you think things over
is like the beginning of all that goes away.
Stubborn forms still subdue you
and all that is ancient
in you, I mean these dark forces
full of passionate spittle
and feverish night sweat
that burn in gusts of confusion
like a shudder;
and then you are so unencumbered
when you walk without peace through the dark city
flattened by the falling snow,
you can sing within
like a hard crust of bread
in a bony fist.
Sometimes a black slit yawns
on the wall and through it
comes the smell of mould, winter fruit,
urine and homeliness
and slowly disperses
in the bristling cold.
They accompany you
into the deaf underworld of earth
with the words you drank from
all your life
and now too
when the moist eyelid rises slowly
and beneath it the hunger of the earth
gapes at you,
no man has spoken of it yet,
because with it only shadows talk,
yet that moment of parting rings out louder
than all the rest —
the speech of silence.
Hate grows
like the shadow of a mountain towards evening.
In an invisible blaze it twists things.
Madness licks consciousness like smoke.
In twilight clairvoyants are crowned
with the effort of their whole life.
Chained between silence and fasting
they read the world like the palms of their hands.
It is terrible, when I consider it,
to depart during sleep
without any weight,
without resistance like beauty,
when I consider it,
after all,
in spite of the dead,
man has experienced nothing.
Niko Grafenauer, born in 1940, has published three books of poetry and is
among the leading young Yugoslavian poets. A Slovene, he works in Ljubljana
as a freelance writer and editor of Problemi, a literary and cultural journal.
Joze Lazar is a Slovene from Trieste who has lived in Canada since 1953.
In 1962 he became acquainted with Niko Grafenauer while studying at the
University of Ljubljana. Now completing his M.A. in Comparative Literature
at the University of British Columbia, he plans to compile and translate an
anthology of contemporary Slovene poetry as part of his doctoral studies.
95 Two Poems by Gary Geddes
The grating of earth on the pine-box
roared through his mind like the sound
of his own voice, haranguing her
time after time for being late,
himself storming from the house,
door clattering, to wait in the car.
She could not understand what it meant
to him to be on time; and for his part,
he never thought it other than a most
rational demand. For him, it was an event,
to be measured in terms of the proper
functioning of parts; for her, the event
was symbolic, an occasion of public
togetherness, whose meaning lay in the
ritual gestures of planning and expectation.
Now, as the last sod fell heavily into place,
the contemplation of her single punctuality
relaxed his mourning countenance; and she,
undisturbed by sounds falling upon
deaf ears, dreamed quietly on.
The noseless marble face
of Robert Lord Hungerford
relaxes, confident, in prayer.
Supporting angels at each shoulder
uphold his heavy dignity.
The long-suffering dog, his master's
voice silent under centuries,
cushions a brace of feet.
A cautious man, he discovered
his friends in appropriate places.
Discretion rode beside him into town.
Thinking at last to out-fox death,
he chose his resting-place
as carefully as his words.
But the slow grinding of atoms
has blunted his cool facade
and generations of pimply schoolboys
have scratched their antic
hieroglyphs upon his brow.
Some wag has pinched his nose.
Gary Geddes is a poet, editor and anthologist whose essays, books and poems
have appeared in Canada and the United States. He presently teaches English
part-time at University College, University of Toronto, where he is also completing a doctoral thesis on Conrad's Later Fiction.
97 Three Poems by Ralph Gustafson
O there was a sweet hush
As the quiet nun
Out of her days of sorrows
Turned on the revelation of lights.
Murillos came, and Leals,
And a coffin draped
Before the high reredos
Of angels and saints and Manera
Who collected the corpses of criminals
For decent burial.
The city owes to him refuge
For what it neglects, the blind
Of life and those guilty
Of their own hurt.
Now this altar baroque
With horrors makes this little
Lady smile. She loves
Her Jesus with broken limbs
And bleeding palms, and Mary
Standing on a crescent
Moon. She kneels to ask
A blessing on the one-
legged and the one who slavered
As we came in the gate
And all the scabbed and wounded
Gentle scum. So sweet
She knelt, so sweet she smiled
In conquered sorrow, we knelt
Too before the rail
In gilded perpetration.
98 She showed us Jesus and little
John, forerunner in
The wilderness, and Isabel
Who washed the filthy painted
By Murillo, murmuring softly
In Spanish as if the globe of us
Should know. Each singular caught up
By the Lord, she pointed out,
Forgetting, not knowing, the collapse,
The folly of faith.
The paintings
In the chapel were well lighted,
Unusually: over the door
As we exited, was a canvas
By Leal of an Archbishop
Eaten by maggots.
The proportions are enormous. Ten steps
Lead up to every terrace, God's commands
In multiple. Virtue commends the Civil
War beyond. An angel of Obedience
And one of Justice flank the iron doors.
War and Religion prevail inside, two themes
Blended in awesome, subtle harmony.
They've been able to accumulate 40,000 dead.
So far. There's hope of finding more,
Depending on parents giving up their corpses.
Falangist or Loyal, brother and brother. This place
is without prejudice. Equally loveable
Are the fallen. Love. Sure refuge
For the dead. All the deprived mother
Has to do is apply to the appropriate head
Of the local branch of the burial administration
For entrance. He needn't rot. The chapel is dug
From solid rock. Underneath the floor
Each tier is stone. The Mass is high. Over
The pews eight faceless statues, Pain and Sorrow,
Stand, stone cloaks about their faces.
Everything is anonymous. Just
The bravery of the good and dead. Agonized
Christ is on the crucifix. General
Franco cut the wood for this himself.
A bare scratching soil provides the day
Broiling down on dust of Spain.
Olives twist, vineyards brave the passing
Contents of the well-appointed train:
Californians who talk twelve hours
New Yorkers who judge the country moneywise
Five Spanish kids (human) who scream
A full professor of English Literature
(Michigan State) who says
"Like I said, Lake Michigan is bigger"
Three efficient Germans with Andalusian time-tables
One dour Canadian
Ralph Gustafson's most recent book of poems, Ixion's Wheel, was published
by McClelland & Stewart in 1969. The CBC radio network broadcast the
world premiere of Richard Arnell's multi-media setting of his poem "Nocturne" last year. He teaches at Bishop's University, and is a frequent contributor to Prism international and other Canadian journals.
The stars in the sky
Were like fish in the oceans
When God saw Mary
at her devotions.
The stars in the sky
Were like fish in the water
When God had a son
By his favourite daughter.
The stars in the sky
Were like fish in the sea
When they nailed the Bastard
To the nearest tree.
The fish in the deep
Were like stars in the sky
When the Son of God
Agreed to die.
James Harrison teaches English at Guelph University. His poetry has been
published in various journals, including the New Statesman. A collection of
his poetry, Catchment Area, was published by O.U.P. in 1959.
I02 Two Poems by John Hulbert
I find my horses finally in
the waves of my white or black silences
where the wind geared to a
big circle goes around around in my dream
& their manes when I swing up are
wet fire my hands grip stiff like old
books flame
the day is a page in the waves a
page of the stable in the waves
sticks bones & smoke where why am I
dragging these lead masks
a door says it Yes I go into the first room
the old man at the spinet beats a
ratty keyboard/ nothing but black keys
a jawbone under the couch keeps trying
John Hulbert is co-director of the Creative Writing program at the University of Alaska. His poems have appeared in a number of journals including
Southern Poetry Review, Poem, Poetry Australia.
103 Two Poems by William Latta
And brightness falls from the air
And darkness sporulates
The starkening trees
The frail fire
Of loosening leaves
Weaving snail trails
Of obscurity
O Lord have mercy upon us
In our rock-locked desert of the mind
We suddenly hear
The shriek of vagrant gulls
Reminding us of the wild
And beautiful sea
So far away.
Our blood aches for
Breakers on our shores.
William Latta has had poems and short stories in a number of journals,
including Queen's Quarterly, The Prairie Schooner, Best Poems of ig66 and
The Wascana Review. He teaches creative writing and literature at the
University of Lethbridge.
Translated from the Swedish by Zbigniew Folejewski
Once I came to paradise. It was empty. A deserted village in a
distant forest.
Even the schoolhouse was for rent. But nobody came.
And the village road grew narrow as the grass rambled in from
the sides. Still there was a hint of human life over this village. This
is something that stays on. School children had a break. They
shouted and played. It was only that they could not be seen. Like
the schoolmistress, they were invisible. And now the schoolmistress
came to meet me. I could see it from the grass moving under her
invisible steps. She stopped in front of me, and I looked into her
eyes. They were the sky over the trees. When she greeted me with a
few words I heard that her voice was the wind mixed with birds'
song. One more step and I myself would have been invisible as she
was. When I finally left, I heard her calling. Three times she called
in paradise.
Harry Martinson, born in 1904, is one of the "Eighteen Immortals" of the
Swedish Academy, and author of many poetry volumes and novels. The selection here is from his cycle of prose poems which was published in Bonniers
Litterdra Magasin, July-August  1963.
Zbigniew Folejewski, who also translated poems by Ostromecki and Rym-
kiewicz for this issue, is Professor of Slavonic and Comparative Literature at
the University of British Columbia. His translation of a poem by Czeslaw
Milosz was in our Summer '69 issue.
Translated from the Polish by Zbigniew Folejewski.
The very struggle on the way upwards is enough
to fill man's heart,    camus
He is sawing his mountain
under the charred sun
only a few more steps and
the stone will tumble into the smoking sea
The gods
have something that makes them roar with laughter
Sisyphus gets up
wipes off the blood with a sleeve
And when he props the block again
this time he knows
And when he stands on the trodden ground
it is not a prisoner
who struggles with the cliff
And when he once more begins anew
o gods
is happy.
Bogdan Ostromecki, born in 1911, is a modern poet preoccupied with the
past and with the heritage of classical literature. This poem is from the volume
The Sign of a Planet, which was published in Warsaw,  1969.
Translated from the Polish by Zbigniew Folejewski.
Golden hammers hammer little leaves
flatten buds into big leaves,
into a forest.
We were hammered by different hammers
a few turnips, bitter time
not many of us are left.
There is strength in my metaphor
since under its bark there is Polish sap.
the poem grows out of soil.
Nothing must cripple this poem
before my end, guards and barbarians
will vanish.
Young spring, spring of calm
hammer my scribblings
into rose petals.
Let them rise from the flames
as Aphrodite out of foam
of bleeding seas.
Alexander Rymkiewicz, born in 1913, began his poetic career in the '30's
with The Pathfiinder, a volume he wrote when he was a member of the provincial avant-garde group called "Zagary." He developed a highly individualistic style in his most mature poems after the war. The poem here is from his
volume A  Wild Bind-Weed, published in Warsaw in 1969.
107 Two Poems by Ernest Sandeen
Even with lights on I lock
all doors on my privates
(my privacy, that is, among my books).
Let me examine you, she said,
meaning my privacy.
Surprised but glad to oblige
exposure before a woman
I'd never seen before.
And as she pressed and peered
she defined our parts, mine
licensed amateur, hers professional
stretching the pride in bone of blood
another inch of miles.
Thank you, my dear, chaste kiss
on cheek, for something not paid for
by the dollars tucked in her quarter.
Knowledge of body, was it, warm
as milk, and lost as in romance, lost.
Now you be sure and come back,
standing like a door in shadow
always ajar.   And I've gone back
so many times I wonder if maybe
she's dead by now.   Such opening
of the gates, such vigor of practised buttocks.
My books gaze down at my dog
licking himself.   If we could reach
our organs and apertures like that
with our kissing, speaking, eating
mouths, my fellow immortals and I,
would our narrative be worse.
108 The organ pipes, I seem to remember,
reverberated in heroic chords.
Fat with refuse which those anthems
left behind, the rats of nightmare
roll out from below the pedals.
The keyboard locks, we watch
them waddle to the timbers
of our wistful heaven and gnaw.
If other ways and kinds of
love fail, try this love-making:
make a poem and get you
lovers you'll never see or
know of, by thousands, hundreds, or
three or two.   Be sure you
get one lover though,
namely, yourself.   Him you
knew only too well.
yesterday but now he
shines unkown again and
lights up crowd on crowd that
may be there or not.   You
may of course get none again.
Ernest  Sandeen is in the  English Department at the University of Notre
Dame, and has encouraged student writers there.
Your heart is in your head
said the silly girl
of course untrue
but true enough
to remind me
of the great Eli
who comes down from Heaven
on Passover Eve
comes through the open back door
drinks the wine
at the empty place set for him,
and once in many seasons
inverts the candle-sticks
and then the heart
goes into the head
and the head into the heart
the exchange of beautiful tears
for hard diamond-like truth,
then the heart is filled
and the head is filled
and both are wise
Sim son R. Najovits studied at Sir George Williams University. His poems,
stories and essays have appeared in many European and North American
reviews and magazines. He was awarded a Canada Council grant in 1968
for a book of prose, A Foolish Mirror, which he recently completed. He is at
present living in Paris.
You lived in a house with a head
hanging out of every window,
every tongue curling, as if it were
for sale, reduced to move;
but somewhere in a tunnel
or a street below, you walked
out of your body,
out of the loud silence,
tongues erupting from your gut
and gathering on your face,
pieces of an evening,
artist, cold volcano.
A note on James Tipton appears with his story, page 125.
Translated from the Czech by Marketa Goetz Stankiewicz.
Jiri Jirasek: An Introduction
The following prose pieces by the Czech writer Jiri Jirasek
have one thing in common. Each reveals some facet of the absurdity
of a man's life in a certain society. In the West "absurdity" has
become almost a household word in discussions of contemporary
literature. One of the reasons why this unsatisfactory term has
thrived is that the idea of the senselessness of man's life has caught
the imagination of the intellectual; and the Western writer, partly
responding to the audience's need, partly to his own sense of lack
of values and resulting futility, provides "absurd" writings — the
material for the theories.
The meaning of "absurdity" conveyed by the writer in Eastern
Europe is of a different quality. It does not project metaphysical
anguish but reality. In a country where life is kafkaesque, Kafka
becomes a realistic writer. In a society where people are made to
work, suffer, and wait for the promise of a bright future, Waiting
for Godot has a political impact.
For this reason, Jirasek's prose pieces, which appeared in 1967
when Czechoslovakian writers had not yet become fully conscious
of their new freedom of thought — a freedom which has been sadly
lost since — are of particular interest to the Western reader. It is
important that Jirasek be read with the awareness that his writings
are highly explosive material in his own country. In Western societies any protest against existing conditions has become accepted to
the point of being institutionalized. In Eastern Europe it has to
masquerade as an innocuous comic strip. The writer must play the
fool in order to reveal his truth. The result is much more electrifying because to say the truth becomes an act of courage. It is dangerous for Jirasek to tell a people for whom revolution is supposed
to have become a glorious archetype that a successful revolutionary
112 hero can be a sensuous little man for whom the idea of a great
future is not worth one ride in his shiny new car; that bureaucracy,
which is a man's daily diet in a non-democratic society, is an om-
niverous monster; that certain laws to improve society are not only
ridiculous but destructive. Jirasek points to the "absurdities" in his
society with a toy-stick. With naive seriousness he takes a given situation and proceeds to reveal its absurdity by talking about it with
the laconic candor of a mechanical observer who has no inkling of
what he is really saying.
The Western reader will respond to the humourous implications
of the stories' absurdity, but the Czech reader responds to their
realistic impact. The case of the Czech writer Vaclav Havel who
has become internationally known as a playwright of the absurd for
his play The Memorandum (1966) is revealing in this respect.
Havel has caused confusion among Czech critics who couldn't decide whether to call him an "absurdist" or a "realist." The significance of this incident is obvious. When life is absurd, "absurd" literature becomes realistic.
Marketa Goetz Stankiewicz
Marketa Goetz Stankiewicz teaches German and is Advisor to the Comparative Literature program at the University of British Columbia. She translated Ernst Barlach's play, The Poor Relation, for our Spring '68 issue.
One day I let myself go down further than usual, right down to
the bottom. Besides shell-fish, stones and stones I found the day
that was yesterday. It was completely soaked and useless. Obviously it had been lying there God knows how long. And that
happens to you just as you let yourself go down more deeply than
ever — into your inner self .. . But on the other hand in the shallower places I find all kinds of glittering little fish.
Fifty sacks of grain were brought to the mill.
"Make us strawberry jam," they said.
"Yes. A special task. Show what you can do."
After some time they really managed to make from the fifty sacks
of flour one glass of first rate strawberry jam which could not only
compete with but was superior to jams with international trademarks.
"Good boys," they said.
And the miller was asked to give public lectures at the Institute
of Higher Learning on the production of marmalade from refuse
Another time the mill was given a hundred sacks of grain and
the order to assure the manufacture of fountain pens.
This worried them even more but faith works wonders. A fountain pen produced in this manner was later presented as a gift to a
distinguished public person abroad who thereupon spread the fame
of "the golden hands."* Orders were pouring in.
In the mill they also succeeded in initiating the production of half
a yard of a fire-proof type of cloth from one hundred and sixty
sacks of grain, and two permanent sixty watt light bulbs from two
hundred and fifteen sacks. One bulb was used for the festive illumination of the main square and the second was lost without a trace.
A highly-qualified search team is currently investigating the matter.
Furthermore it was possible to produce from six hundred sacks a
number of airguns distinguished by their minimal use of air. These
were distributed to the children who had collected the largest
amount of old paper.
114 Last but by no means least as far as its importance goes, it proved
possible to manufacture from six thousand and three hundred sacks
the prototype of a soundless pneumatic drill, the excellence of
which was proven during the demolition of the Josefov quarry.
The mill would have preserved its great renown until our days
but life does not insist on perfection.
One day a car arrived at the mill. It delivered a glass of marmalade, a fountain pen, half a yard of fire-proof cloth, both light
bulbs (how could it have been different?), a number of airguns,
and a receipt for a soundless pneumatic drill to be picked up at
the railway station, with the order: produce seven thousand and
two hundred sacks of grain.
Today the mill stands idle and people avoid the place. It is dark
and gloomy there and one can't be surprised at the rumour that it
is haunted.
* It became obvious that this meritorious action also had its dark aspects.
Inquisitive foreigners who immediately began pouring into the country were
utterly incapable of grasping the symbolic meaning of "winged words," and
interpreted the statesman's admiring comment literally. The result was that
they showered the citizens with naive questions such as whether everyone
could afford hands made of gold, and if not, who could; whether there were
any restrictions — and similar absurdities. The citizens' answers were understandably on the same level as the questions. This gave rise to a variety of
incidents. The worst, however, was not that the foreigners were unable to
come to terms with the real situation and even infected a small number of
citizens by their attitude, but that, seeking consolation, they began to indulge
in beer-drinking, and when learning that it originated in gold — albeit green
gold — refused to pay their bills, shouting in twenty-two international languages that they thought their own currency was of questionable stability and
therefore valueless in a country where everything was made of gold. It was
no longer possible to remain silent. A proclamation was published in twenty-
two international languages in which the facts were unambiguously stated; it
was declared that a news item, originally perfectly true, had been distorted
by bribable hack-writers. The adjective "golden" in the text was to be understood as referring to the word "heart" which obviously changes the meaning
of the remark. What followed was that the foreigners tried to murder several
citizens in order to gather riches. However, due to the vigilance of the activists
such attempts were liquidated even before they took the shape of formulated
thoughts. The entire matter can now be closed with the cheerful assurance
that the well-meant words of the statesman finally did prove to be morally
and economically beneficial because it became possible to recall all personnel
from the border-crossings and use the troops released for a task which was
significant for the entire country — the furthering of tourism from abroad.
Some time ago the Law decreed that all domestic animals were to
be driven from the city of P. The Law derived logically from the
widespread realization that man was a superior animal and it was
undesirable to run the risk of cross-breeding disproportionate physiognomies, which is the unavoidable consequence of a long and intimate life together. What led up to the quick passing of the Law
(for the protection of human superiority) were constantly multiplying cases of people (organizations) pointing out that they were
confusing the keeper with the animal (mistaking the keeper for the
animal and vice versa) or that a keeper of small domestic animals
was taking downright advantage of this similarity for his own gain.
There was, for example, the event, as widely known as it was despicable, when a keeper tried to avoid his duty to participate in the
six weeks' military exercises by sending his Saint Bernard instead.
Luckily the fraud was discovered before the end of the exercises
and the owner was by no means relieved of his duty — on the contrary.
Not even in a strained situation of this sort did the Law forego
its humane sentiments. Those citizens who in the prescribed time
limit were unable to separate themselves from their pets to which
they had been accustomed for years (this must be documented),
were permitted to keep them until the latter's death. The putting
to sleep was performed rapidly and without consequences by means
of poison. The Law also provided for special measures and left
nothing to chance. The incinerators of the local crematoria were
reconstructed at considerable expense, enlarged and tastefully redecorated according to the latest design, so that they would have
the capacity to liquidate the consequences of suicidal intentions on
the part of the keepers of small domestic animals. The Law envisaged, for example, the possibility that a case might arise when
the domestic pet did not appear alone at the appointed time but in
the company of some human being. Furthermore the Law made
provisions which enabled the Special Committees, chosen by electoral process and designed to preserve order, to proceed with justice.
Since it was absolutely necessary to recognize a human being as a
human being until the last moment, and to respect the factual
difference between a small domestic animal and the former, the
following procedure was to be followed: add one hour and thirty
minutes to the day on which the time limit for the unpunishable
116 appearance of small domestic animals expires. If until that time the
suspected (yes, even the suspected) person does not cease the
mutual contact (unless he is able to produce the appropriate documents) a New Rule comes into effect. This is not all! Without
amendment the Law even covered a case in which a certain organization might have maintained contact (obviously by mediation of
a human being) with a small domestic animal while the latter was
to be considered illegal. According to the Law and the New Rule
the organization would be acting illegally after an established period
of time which could be arrived at by simple calculation: to the New
Rule on small domestic animals was to be added not merely one
hour and thirty minutes, as in the case of an individual person, but
another two hours and fifteen minutes. The moment when the
New Regulation pertaining to an organization came into effect was
hereby determined. One point, however, which meaningfully demonstrates a principle of logic carried to unprecedented precision,
is the foresight displayed by the Law in a particularly rare and
complicated case, namely if the guilty organization were found to
entertain a relationship with a superorganization. To determine the
time limit of this New Regulation the following pattern is to be
used . ..
A secret addendum to the Law was the clause according to
which it was possible to determine the time limit for the New Regulation even in case of a revolution.
Today the territories where the city of P. was formerly found
have been overgrown for numerous years by primeval forest inhabited by freely roaming animals.
— Sit down, over there perhaps, and he pointed to a chair on
the side. By that time I knew enough to realize that his drily polite
sentence was concealing all, or at least almost all the craftiness of
an official in his relationship to a client.
— I did not come to sit down. I am seeking understanding for
my problems, I answered.
— Certainly, just as you wish, he said with provocative politeness.
He obviously realized that I would be a difficult case because of
my standing position.
117 People who are requesting anything—and then sit down (I
have verified this during my years of apprenticeship) take on a
strangely nebulous and transparent quality. They somehow evaporate from the office, forgetting that desire without a body is considered supernatural and hence negligible. Thus they are no longer
in the way!
Please note, that seats, armchairs, benches, shells meant for the
petitioners are systematically put into the corners and on the sides.
The official NEED NOT walk around the petitioner, nor pass by
him, push him aside, not to speak of looking into his intimidated
eyes. He somehow does not exist. Once he is taken care of in this
way, he can only worsen his position by being absorbed in offered
printed matter which was obviously invented for just such occasions
and registered at the patent office under a very low number.
If the clients fall victim to the paralysing spell of the content of
these literary archives, they are definitely "settled," because the
categorical imperative, requiring that every moment be accounted
for, alternating with periods of embarrassment, makes of them
grateful and unpretentious readers, quiet and tolerable creatures.
The greatest success, as far as I know, concerned an admirable
man who, after having read through a certain journal patiently
several times, was offered the first part of Quiet Flows the Don
from the library of the establishment, with the comment that the
other volumes were also available. This, of course, may flatter a
man but it cannot ease his desires. In very average cases nothing
at all is offered to you and you are bound to be in the way of the
cleaning-woman who gets rid of you easily by assuring you that
everyone has gone home to their TV sets.
So I was standing there, being in the way, listening patiently to
incomprehensible remarks which could have but need not have
been excuses, hiding painful wheezes, and greeting whoever was
departing or arriving. I did everything, at least I thought so, to
escape being listed in the inventory. Later on I even became aware
of encroachments on official proceedings and was used to deliver
simple messages. I entered those magic circles, without having any
previous education, but even so they gulped me like a raspberry
without my succeeding in causing the slightest ripple on the surface of the tension. At the end of the day I had become a passive
member of the collective, who could be depended upon. I was even
introduced as such several times. There was enough work. There
was much work and little time:  after all, you know how it is. As
118 I was leaving at four o'clock I realized that I would have to work
overtime. If only the office hours for the public could be shortened,
I pondered, but obviously nothing can be done about that.
It sure couldn't!
But we did put the chairs out in the corridor so that we would
have more peace and quiet for our work.
"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas."    pascal
If E. Hamle wanted to keep up his standard of living, which was
allotted to him some time ago by forces beyond his control, he could
not afford to be consistent, uncompromising and intolerantly honest
in every situation. Despite this it took him rather a long time before
he found Thursday, i.e., today. ??? But — he had just bought the
lovely double-seated, wild-looking, elegantly steel-equipped Senta.
The day was golden, Senta was metallic grey, E. Hamle was rosy,
International Street was full of exquisitely-built, strolling women.
The glittering row of cars did not wait for E. Hamle and Senta to
fit themselves in — and increased and decreased in both directions
with muffled sound. He and she parked at the sidewalk in front of
the automobile show-room, slowly getting used to each other, slowly
growing into each other, always finding new ways of prolonging the
bliss of the beginning stages. In spite of this, E. Hamle secretly
pretended that he was making it all up, that it all was not true,
that a while ago he had not paid for this beauty in order to raise
her from a meaningless passive existence, that (as he had been
doing for many years) he was only greedily creeping around the
car of another man, a foreigner with a cool and unsurprisable
face. . ..
Now it was he who was that foreigner! He cautiously put his
hand on the pliant, shiny door handle, looked around and slid into
the driver's seat so hurriedly that he hit his knee on the gear shift.
For an instant he froze with terror at the thought that something
might have happened. . . . The front part of the roof was pushed
back. Intoxicated he breathed the scent of the leather seats. He
needed to rest for a minute . . .
Now what does he have to do first: drive to the police head-
"9 quarters which is only a few houses further on on International
Street in order to pick up his registration number. To drive the
short stretch of road from the automobile show-room without a
number is quietly tolerated by the police. Then everything will be
really definite! He turned on the ignition. That was not an engine
which gently vibrated through two beings, one single being, it was
a chamber orchestra without a conductor, hidden under the hood,
playing the delightful andante from Hayden's "Lukavecka."
A light wind was combing E. Hamle's brush cut. But the trip
to the police station was merely an insignificant foretaste of future
delights. E. Hamle parked at the side entrance. He noticed that the
policeman on duty smiled at him — he knows, that's good — and
sent him straight to the correct door. E. Hamle closed his car, but
then had to return because he had forgotten his documents in the
red leather pocket on the door. He entered the building. For a
moment he stopped to read some kind of announcement for owners
of automobiles but its meaning escaped him, because he was still
looking at himself as if from some envious side street, watching
the foreigner with the impenetrable face taking his place in the
metallic grey Senta. He began to look for door number 667. After
a while, however, he realized that he had become confused in the
spacious building and doubtless had landed on some Economics
Floor where at the moment there was no one he could ask, and on
the doors signs announced "No entry for non-employees," or possibly "Emergency Exit," which he did not need, because he had
not yet received his registration number. Finally someone was coming toward him — actually he was running. In the most polite
manner E. Hamle tried to ask about the shortest way to number
667 but in the meantime the man had disappeared behind the
corner of the corridor without having decreased his speed, and E.
Hamle merely snatched the shouted words: that there wasn't anyone anyway and that.. .
— That would surprise me, pondered E. Hamle. They must have
some office hours. Finally he managed to get back all by himself
to the entrance hall which was already familiar to him. But there
was such a turmoil of officials, attendants, policemen, as if everyone
had gone mad. No one wanted to talk to him and only about the
tenth person bellowed at him, whether he was in his right mind,
nobody would look after his stupid registration number now that
there was a revolution. A revolution? — What kind of revolution?
E. Hamle's brain is working slowly — hadn't there been some revo-
120 lution some time ago? He wants to figure it out with all his strength
— isn't one revolution enough?, and what kind of misunderstanding is it to start a revolution just now when everything is in order,
when .. . He stiffened, froze, for an instant there was no spark of
life in him, then he ran out on the street.
International Street was still there, the sun was shining, but
where had the calm, happy flow of beautiful women and shiny
automobiles disappeared! Men in helmets were running about in
the street, cases were dangling, containing pistols, grenades, binoculars, maps; the men were covered with birch branches, and were
screaming something, gesticulating wildly and pointing out things
to other men who were rolling barrels, cutting down the poles of
the street lamps, throwing bedding, furniture, mattresses, pianos,
rocking chairs, grandfather clocks . .. from open windows into the
street (all those things should, after all, be carried down!). Men
were tearing up the pavement and were just pushing an old streetcar, turning it over by the huge heap in front of the police headquarters ; on top of the pile they heaped baskets of books, television
sets, typewriters, manuscripts, filing folders, printing presses, microscopes, shelves, anatomic atlases, encyclopaedias, busts — now a
man, somewhat imprudently, was dragging over an electric chair.
One could hear a heavy explosion as well as individual shots.
Above the roof-tops little clouds of smoke became visible, the revolutionary singing of a crowd was carried by the air. From the Old
Mills an officer arrived in a blue uniform, with a green sash on a
red horse; with his hand covered by a white glove he showed what
was still to be done. He shouted: — And a flag on the barricade!
Where is the flag? How do you expect them to tell who is who?!
They carried the flag out on the barricade, which by now had
already reached the height of the third floor of the police headquarters. Only a small opening was left on the right sidewalk
through which one could pass to the other side. An officer called
out something to a non-commissioned officer and the non-commissioned officer called three men and pointed into the direction of ...
the grey unsuspecting Senta, standing there, caressed by the sun.
The men rushed over to the car, released the brake and in a few
moments they had pushed the light Senta to the opening between
the house and the barricade. She fitted there as if she had been
made to measure. Already further objects were falling on her . ..
From the side entrance to the police headquarters an agonized
scream was heard. The first to be wounded, E. Hamle precipitated
121 himself after Senta but had to withdraw because of the tailor's
dummies being hurled out of the windows on the second floor,
which until recently had housed a first-class couturier for diplomats.
E. Hamle fell to his knees before the commanding officer and his
— Mr. Officer! Save me . .. my new car .. . you can't let that
happen... I bought it today, I've been saving for so many years
... that can't happen! . .. It's impossible! ... help me! ... Mr.
General... !
It is the fine attribute of democratic revolutions that even in the
course of cataclysmic events there is time for the human being. If
anyone was expecting the officer to refute him brusquely and without understanding, he will be disappointed. Even in this time of
tension the commanding officer found suitable words of understanding for the citizen's point of view and also with regard to his
material values. — That lovely car was, ehm, yours? Don't worry
about your property. . . surely you have some documents, don't
you? Nothing will happen to your property but for now it must
serve the idea. It is only a matter of a few hours before we will
emerge from the battle as victors. In the meantime you are offered
the unique opportunity to defend with a weapon in your hand —
he motioned into the distance with his hand in the white glove —
to defend with a weapon in your hand our — your ideals and property —. Meanwhile the officer was approached by a man who was
dragging a heavy machine gun; he reported, the officer dismissed
him. The heavy machine gun remained. The officer motioned to
E. Hamle: —Here is your weapon; now take your place on the
barricade where in one of the most important areas your excellent
car was placed. Fight to the last drop of blood, do not yield and
your reward will be gratitude, love and of course those moments of
freedom when you will be able to strike out on the road and vie for
speed with the wind! —
Such was the succession of events that made E. Hamle a fighter
on the barricade in the revolution which later resulted in many
years of the city's fruitful growth. But for the time being E. Hamle
had to live in the present.
Not long after he had taken up his fighting position with the
machine gun near Senta, the battle began. One wave of attackers
after another swept closer and closer to the barricade. The street
became covered with dead fighters until no one was able to collect
them any longer. E. Hamle was wounded twice lightly and once
122 more seriously, but after accepting only minimal treatment he returned to his position which he did not want to cede to anyone.
Only in the fleeting moments, when the attacking forces slightly
eased their pressure could he watch his Senta with worried eyes.
Luckily she was securely wedged in, as if Fate had wanted to compensate E. Hamle at least in this way. In the heat of the battie he
did not even notice that his fellow-fighters were falling one after
the other and that the few that were left had withdrawn behind
another barricade along with the commanding officer. The new
barricade which had been hastily constructed was, of course, not
nearly as powerful as that in front of the headquarters, and it was
obvious that it too would soon fall.
At the police building things were really getting out of hand.
The regressing commanding officer called out to E. Hamle that he
should withdraw with his machine gun, that it was no use . ..
Perhaps E. Hamle did not hear it, perhaps he did not want to
hear it, perhaps he had decided to sacrifice himself completely to
the idea—alone but unshaken he waited for the next attack. It
was not long in coming. Along the street, hidden behind barrels
filled with sand, the enemy approached. From the windows came
a new hail of shots. The barricade answered with the moaning
cadences of E. Hamle's heavy machine gun.
And as long as he was shooting, E. Hamle shot like the god Mars
himself. Only a few shots missed their target ■— the enemy's heart.
However, this was E. Hamle's last heroic effort. A heavy explosion
shook the barricade, the objects assembled with such love were
flying through the air. With one of his last looks, if indeed it was
not the very last, E. Hamle managed to take leave of Senta who, up
to that moment at least, was not heavily damaged. Then he died
... or fainted. At any rate he was gushing blood.
But such is life; luck in battle depends on many invulnerable
moments, the course of history is sometimes determined by incalculable factors. Although the barricade was broken up and somewhere under the debris was E. Hamle — the hero of the police
headquarters — the explosion turned out to have been the enemy's
swan song. At that moment the latter had run out of ammunition
and any further supply depended on a man called A. Halburton
who luckily did not take his duties very seriously. He was caught
in the web of a female spy who stunned him with her exquisite
beauty, and, promising him delight, enticed him into a cellar. There,
however, rather than giving herself to him, she strangled him on a
123 heap of potatoes. So it happened that the enemy, although superior
in numbers, could not take one of the most important — albeit now
silent — barricades; on the contrary, it was won back. After it was
manned again, E. Hamle was found, and momentarily the best
surgeons as well as a charming nurse were summoned to him. One
day much later, long after the victorious end of the battle, E.
Hamle came out of his coma. In his room there were thousands of
flowers, stacks of correspondence, pink, light-blue, pastel-green notes
next to thick, large and somewhat stern-looking official envelopes
from various institutions which expressed one, one single unified
theme: precisely that which the blue officer had promised to E.
Hamle shortly before his death — while withdrawing he had been
slain by a treacherous enemy bullet — Gratitude and Love.
Because he was still too weak the physicians had to conceal from
E. Hamle a sad piece of news for some time to come. Senta had
not survived the last explosion. The only remnant of her that was
found was the small rear-view mirror. Later on it was set in ivory
and presented symbolically in office number 667 by the mayor of
the town to E. Hamle during his festive inaugurative entry into
the police headquarters — now no longer as a petitioner for a registration number but rather as the Chief of Police chosen and installed by the will of the people.
E. Hamle was one of the greatest and best Chiefs of Police recorded in history. He administered the headquarters to the utmost
satisfaction of the people for almost thirty-six years. When he was
dying, his secretary noted down his last words which have passed
on into history and schoolbooks: "More police officials." What
however did not pass on into history and what E. Hamle's perspicacious secretary kept to himself, was the very last sentence or rather
question of E. Hamle, expressed urgently but quite authentically
with his very last strength: — And whom, tell me, did we actually
beat in that revolution? — Thereupon he died without being able
to wait for the secretary's answer. From his hand fell the small
rear-view mirror set in ivory.
124 James Tipton's fiction and poetry have appeared variously in North American
journals. He lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Hearts, The Sea, Rattini
The pawn shop on Polk Street in San Francisco. And Elsa Rattini, who was in the pawn shop purchasing an old Purple Heart.
There was a small box with the heart too, containing pieces of
shrapnel, pieces of bone, and a Citation of Merit made out to a
marine whose name had faded. The sunlight coming through the
window made checkerboard patterns on the floor.
"My name's Jim," I said. "I have a sword from the Civil War
and some currency printed by Ben Franklin's printing partner in
Pennsylvania. Maybe you'd be interested in seeing it sometime."
She wasn't very pleased. Didn't answer.
Outside, an old man selling pencils pushed himself toward us
and we turned the other way. Her lips were thicker than her face
"Will you have a cup of coffee with me?" I asked. Women with
thick lips generally have big breasts, Italian breasts, but I couldn't
tell because she was wearing a sweatshirt. Maybe she wasn't wearing a brassiere; I couldn't tell that either. But she was walking
slowly, and that was a good sign.
"Coffee?" I said again.
"Yes," she said at last, "I'll have a cup of coffee." I was comfortable now, already planning an evening on the ocean, making
love on the sand, walking the beach with her sweatshirt in my
hand, both of us warm; but the sound of roller skates, skating
125 wildly behind me, broke my sea dream. The pencil man. His arms
were too long. I tried to step up our walk.
"I know him," she said, and stopped.
"Ben," she said, "are you an honest man today?" Ben held up a
hand with seven dimes. She handed him another dime and took a
"Aren't you a writer?" she asked me.
"No," I said, "not really."
"Start," she said, and handed Ben another dime, and handed
me a pencil. Ben kissed her legs. To be kind, I winked at him, but
he didn't notice. Ben rolled back into the shade.
"You ever race with a legless man before?" she asked me. Her
teeth were showing. One of them was gold. She's twenty-two, I
thought. Maybe twenty-three. Maybe she was mad.
"No," I said.
"He was my lover once. Two weeks ago. In an alley off of Turk."
The ocean rolled in again, but this time I was legless, my cart
stuck in sand. The tide was coming in. I turned and said, "That's
very interesting."
"It isn't very interesting at all."
Walking toward More's Cafeteria I told her I was from Indiana.
Enjoying a summer vacation. Eating up the city. She said she'd
never been to Indiana. Told me she'd never been anyplace east of
California but said she'd been all over in California.
Inside More's she took another look at her Purple Heart. Didn't
talk much for a long time. When the coffee came I said "Do you
like pawn shops?" She was watching an old man push his tray
along the steel rails. The old man had only a cup of coffee. I heard
the lady ask him if he needed the tray. He had said he did and sat
down. There were pigeon feathers in his hat. He looked very tired.
Elsa looked very tired too, oddly tired.
"When I was seventeen, I went to every pawn shop in Los
Angeles and San Francisco and asked for Shelley's heart."
"Shelley's heart?"
"Yes, the poet's heart. When Byron and Trelawney burned his
body on board the Bolivar, his heart refused to burn. Trelawney
gave it to his widow."
"You really expected to find . .. ?"
"Of course not," she said immediately, and laughed. An odd
laugh. Coming from another face it would have sounded lusty.
"But an old man once sold me the thumb off a catcher's mitt.
126 Claimed it was Shelley's heart. I was very drunk and he was very
poor. Three dollars. For Shelley's heart."
"But a marine's heart," she went on, "those are relatively easy to
come by. I have seven already. Purple Hearts, I mean. This one
was a nice one. I like this box full of little bones. Someday I'll have
a whole battalion. I'd trade them for Shelley's, of course." She
laughed again.
I was tiring of the game. "Maybe the pencil man has one he'd
let you have for a little more fun in the alley."
Elsa sat up very straight. "You're mutilated too," she said. "Beyond recovery." Her voice was calm, condemning. I was very
"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't know what I was saying." I could
tell now she wasn't wearing a brassiere.
"I'm sorry too," she said, "about you. I think I'm going to go."
"I am sorry," I said. "It's none of my business."
"I'm going to go tell Ben you're jealous of him," she said.
It was warm in the coffee shop. Quickly and ridiculously I asked,
"Would you go to the ocean tonight with me?"
"Go to the ocean tonight, the man says, and the forecast is rain."
I wasn't ready for that one. "Rain?" I asked.
"Kiss me on the legs and I'll go," Elsa said. I wasn't ready for
that one either.
Italian women get me. I don't know why. I pretended I was
tying my shoes, my hands were shaking, I grabbed a leg and
kissed it.
"Both of them," she whispered.
I reached for her other leg and she pulled it away. Now, down
on my hands and knees, I fumbled for it under the table. Finally
kissed it on the calve. The manager was moving toward our table.
"Well, my dear," she drawled, "I suppose we should be going.
The children will be coming home from school."
At the register, red and still fumbling, I found two quarters and
dropped them in the lady's hand.
Outside, Elsa's lower lip was trembling. "I'm really sorry about
the pencil man," I said. "I really am."
"Don't talk about the pencil man," she said. "You don't know
anything about the pencil man. I'll talk about the pencil man."
I didn't want to hear about the pencil man.
"Why don't we go to a movie," I said.
"The pencil man," she went on, "can't stay awake very long.
127 Poor circulation as a result of the amputations. He says he dreams,
though. Dreams of tripping people. Particularly young girls, pert
young girls with their hair piled high. The kind who, when they're
younger, steal pencils on a dare. He says he does many things in
his dreams with pencils, with his giant pencils." She laughed. The
strange laugh.
"That's what one would expect him to dream," I said. "I don't
think he told you that at all." I didn't want to talk about the
pencil man.
She went on. "He says I'm his cigar store Indian. Sometimes he
has a cigar. Always puts him to sleep. Says I'm his Pocahontas.
Ben Smith, he calls himself. Says I saved his head. Says he was
wheeling toward the sea and couldn't stop. He has trouble going
down-hill. Sometimes he has to run over his hands to slow down.
He told me this in the alley. Needed me only once, he said. Said
once was enough. It almost killed him."
How could I go on? Pocahontas saved his head. From rolling
downhill. Toward the sea. Will it rain tonight? I'm the mutilated
one. Missing my head. Why don't I go home. Shelley must have
had a heart of stone. A friend told me about Sisyphus once. Said
Sisyphus used to climb to the top of a hill, and when he reached
the top, he'd fall over backward and roll back down. Jack and
Jill, I told my friend, it's nothing new. The sky is falling. Am I
rolling up? Or rolling down? These are the difficult questions.
"What do you want to do now?" I asked.
"Walk to the beach," Elsa said.
"Walk?" I said. "It's miles."
"It isn't night yet," she said. "We have time. We'll talk along
the way."
We walked a long time without stopping, and we didn't talk
much. Multilated people don't say much, I suppose. Elsa had
brown skin. Her hands were in her jean pockets. I wanted to talk
to her. Her hands almost moved when she walked. I wanted to put
my hands into her pockets. Her face was beautiful in the early
evening. True beauty always has a hard look to it, I thought. I
thought of many things.
I used to go to the county fair every year when I was little. I
always paid a dime to see the Stone Lady. She was hardening into
stone from some unknown problem. Sometimes I'd pay a quarter
to touch her. But she wasn't really very beautiful. Always wore
bright red lipstick.
128 When we got tired we sat down on a bench and played with
some pebbles at our feet. A farmer stopped and asked if we needed
a lift. I said we didn't.
"Demosthenes learned to speak by putting pebbles in his mouth,"
Elsa said.
"Everybody knows that," I said. I did know that too. I had taken
a speech course my freshmen year at Purdue. I wanted to tell her
about the Stone Lady. I did tell her my story about the Stone Lady.
She listened very carefully. When I finished she told me about the
Cold Man. When she was little she used to go to the county fair to
see the Cold Man. He was suffering from an unusual condition.
She used to pay a dime to see him, and for a quarter, she could
stick a thermometer through a special hole in his heart.
We walked some more, and talked occasionally. California Street
was a long finger stretching toward the sea. A good image, I
thought, and told it to Elsa. She said it wasn't very good. Toward
night, I told Elsa about a circus that used to spend the winter on
a hill above my home. It used to be an old graveyard. She said it
was a good image.
Night, the sea became the color of the sky, the street became
the color of the sea, and seemed to plunge into it. Birds, on invisible
wires, glided by. The beach was empty. Even the bums had gone
Elsa was warm under her sweatshirt. The sand was warm too,
regardless of a light rain. We undressed and went swimming. Back
on the sand she made me kiss her legs again. I kissed them all over.
She had lovely legs. Later we made love. But it wasn't really much.
I tried to be a superman of sorts, to get even for everything she had
said and I had said, but it wasn't much at all.
We did talk some more on the beach. We were there all night.
Elsa said she heard the sea lions laughing. In the rain I couldn't
really hear them, but I said I heard them too. Said when she was
little she used to slide down a dolphin's back into a swimming pool
at home.
129 Kent Thompson's stories have appeared in a number of Canadian journals
including The Tamarack Review, West Coast Review and Quarry. He is in
the English Department at the University of New Brunswick, where he edits
The Fiddlehead.
An unfinished television script entitled.
ec Window on the Revolution"
My colleagues will cite instances to tell you that I have a
streak of cruelty in me. It is true, although I would prefer to be
more discerning and say that I am sometimes ruthless in my determination to survive.
But they will tell you not to be fooled by my demeanor, nor by
the clothes which (they insist) I wear like a costume. I usually wear
an old brown raincoat; it is several inches too long to be fashionable.
And I am of ordinary height; I wear the old-fashioned glasses
with pale, yellowing-plastic frames. I have padded one shaft where
it rubs my ear.
I have repressed the stammer which bothered my ambitions when
I was younger. I usually carry an old and battered briefcase which
survives from my military service during the famous UN Police
Action some years ago.
And I suppose I ought to add that I am famous for the time I
backed the section chief into a corner during a gala party and told
him exactly what we all thought of him; he's never been the same
As I grow older I find that I have less and less time for fools,
and perhaps because I realize that I am growing older, I have
less and less time for any sort of personal foolishness. You will
130 notice that this story, in fact, is constructed along the lines of a
television script. The reasons for this are simple: I need money, and
no story I sell earns me one-eighth the amount that a single television script does. Indeed, I have come to see the events hereafter
described as images in a television play. You will notice how visual
it is. But my part in it is slight: I am simply the eye of the camera
— the man in the middle. It is the people who swarmed around me
who are important.
The main action takes place in a Canadian air terminal.
The time of the action is late evening. I had driven to the air
terminal at a gentle pace because, as usual, I had allowed myself
plenty of time. On the way out, I found myself driving along behind a huge, flat-bed semi-trailer loaded with bricks. You know
how heavy those trucks are. I considered trying to pass the semi,
but I reconsidered. I drive one of these light little foreign cars, and
although I considered it, I finally decided — No. I'd just as soon
take my chances with life. The road was curving, and there was no
place I could get a straight shot at him while he was going uphill.
I followed the truck at a lazy pace, thinking how heavy it was, how
it laboured up the curving hills, and how rapidly it rolled down
them, barely under control — the weight swinging into the curves
must be solid, comfortable, holding the truck snugly into the curves,
until that moment when the driver senses he is going just a shade
too fast. He gears down. One does not brake a semi-trailer loaded
with bricks going down a steep grade without some careful consideration.
Therefore I was astonished when I discovered that someone was
passing both me and the brick-truck. And it was very odd: we
were being passed by a Brinks armoured-van.
These are our shots, then:
The establishing scenes: me, my car, me driving the car behind
the semi-trailer loaded with bricks. Then the Brinks armoured-van
rolling around me and the brick-truck, and barely making it past.
Down the hill toward us is a little green Vauxhall, driven by a
lady. She must have looked up and seen the semi-trailer and the
Brinks armoured-van side by side, heading right at her. Wisely, she
took to the shoulder with a thin fright. Think of how she must
have told the tale!
The Brinks armoured-van and I turned in at the Air Terminal.
The semi loaded with bricks went on its way.
131 I realize that these establishing shots are expensive. If the budget
is tight, we can restrict the entire play to the single interior of the
Air Canada Terminal.
Someone like me enters carrying his brief case and a copy of
Playboy. He takes a seat in the centre of the terminal and lights
his pipe, looks through his Playboy. It is a wry scene: it is difficult
to look at the gatefold Playmate without blatantly unfolding her.
He is not the sort usually thought to be reading Playboy. I enjoy
the irony of it. He glances around at the people in the terminal.
There are the usual people in the foreground and background —
businessmen, dressed in grey and black — one as much like another
as some dull species of bird. There are bright little wives waiting
for husbands to arrive; or to kiss them hurriedly as they depart.
There are tired mothers with children — the mothers look like uncertain spring flowers in their bright coats — and there are children
running about at cross-patterns to the main direction of the room.
The long axis — the chief direction — of the room is from the
back, where one enters, to the huge window and, beside it, the
boarding gates. All of us sit facing out at the window, and we look
steadily through it at the empty runways. Everyone who enters does
the same — walks in, sits down on a modern vinyl-covered chrome
chair or sofa (red and green), and looks out at the runway, expectant of planes. Occasionally someone leaves, goes out the back,
or goes to the restaurant, also at the back.
And perhaps it is because of this predominant axis of movement
that I first notice the group of young people, although as yet I do
not think of them as a group.
For example, standing casually by the Avis booth there is a handsome, long-haired young man wearing a beat-up old green bush-
jacket and jeans. He smokes and looks out at the runways from
time to time, but does not move around much. But clearly he is
incongruous standing by the Avis stand. He is not the sort of young
man who would rent a car, who would even consider it. Would
they consider him?
And, on the opposite side of the room, near the Baggage Arrivals,
there is a very modish, mod young woman. She is quite tall —
perhaps 5-9 or 5-10 — and quite thin. Her hair is red, and long;
straight. She has too much black eye-makeup on. She is standing
there waiting, but nothing in her stance seems to indicate that she
132 expects anything to arrive on the baggage conveyor belt. She carries
a brown handbag slung over her shoulder by a long strap. But she
does not seem to be waiting for anything.
The young man in the bush-jacket looks at her as he lights his
cigarette; then looks quickly away at the empty runway. It is growing dark now, and when we look out we see reflections of ourselves
in the huge window over-looking the tarmac. It is the height and
width of the large waiting-room. I pick myself out in the huge reflection by watching the movements of a child in a red sweater
who is playing near the stand-ashtray beside me. His mother warns
him not to knock it over or she will have to spank. He continues to
play, but cautiously.
The very mod girl is now looking at a clean-cut young man I
had not noticed before. He is nearly behind me. In fact, were it
not for the reflection in the huge window, I would have to turn
my head to see him. He is sitting — but again, he is not waiting.
He is sitting near the back of the waiting room, sitting on the edge
of a red sofa, sitting forward, his hands clasped. He is sitting, in
fact, like a fighter on his stool. His stance belies the elaborate
casualness of the clasped hands. I notice that his hair is cut short
and neat; he wears a dark suit, white shirt, dark tie. Then he leans
back and lights a cigarette, and in the great reflection I see him
catch the eye of a man in front of me.
I look down quickly, not wanting to be caught reading their
signals. The fellow up front is wearing one of those athletic warm-
up jackets. It once had some lettering on the back, but the letters
have been long since removed, and it is impossible to tell what team
or organization the jacket once represented. The fellow is hunched
forward, reading a paperback book; he reads slowly, and has folded
the book inside-out, breaking the spine. He is wearing jeans. He
wears his hair cut short, but he needs a haircut. It is curling up at
his neck. He turns his head casually, and looks around the room to
his left, taking in the tall, mod girl.
I notice that directly in front of me are two more young people
— a thin, French-looking fellow and a young girl (presumably his
wife), neither one of whom looks any too clean. He is wearing a
denim work-jacket. She is wearing a brown suedecloth jacket and
cheap chartreuse slacks. Besides them on the floor is an AIR
FRANCE flight bag.
I catch the young man in the bush-jacket smiling oddly to himself.
133 The tall, mod girl takes a pack of DuMaurier cigarettes from her
handbag and lights one, throwing the paper match on the floor.
The clean-cut young man who is sitting well behind me comes up
to the couple in front of me and speaks to them. The thin, French-
looking chap starts with surprise, then seems to recognize the fellow
and grins. The clean-cut chap has to repeat his question, but I
cannot hear it. I do not know whether he speaks in French or
English. The dirty-looking wife seems to understand first, and hands
the chap a folded-up newspaper. He nods his head politely in
thanks, takes the paper, and returns to his seat.
It is only then that I notice the Brinks men have entered. They
are laughing and talking to one another and pushing a little rubber-
wheeled cart on which there are several grey, unmarked, canvas
bags. They push the little cart past the Avis and Hertz booths (the
boy steps back and looks out at the empty tarmac), and stop by
the boarding gate. One looks at his watch and laughs, while the
other speaks to the dapper commissionaire. Apparently they know
one another. I look at my watch. My plane is due in fifteen minutes
and I take my tickets from my inside coat-pocket and check them
over. They are in order; my baggage is checked through to Toronto.
Several other people — as if I had given the signal — check their
tickets. There is almost no sound in the room except the scuffle and
chatter of the children and their mothers, and the Muzak lightly
in the background.
The dirty-looking girl leans over and speaks to her husband in a
very low voice. He nods, opens the AIR FRANCE bag and gives
her a pack of Gauloises. When he unzippers the bag and gropes in
the bottom for the cigarettes, I notice that there are rubber masks
in the bag: their great hollow eyes staring up grotesquely as if from
the grave.
In the reflection of the window I see the clean-cut young man
exchange a worried grin with the young chap in the bush-jacket.
They have forgotten about the reflection. They do not notice me.
The boy in the bush-jacket starts toward the commissionaire —
who is still talking to the Brinks men — and then changes his mind
and walks over to the fellow in the old athletic jacket. He looks up
from his paperback novel in slightly angered surprise, then glances
at his watch and tells the time to the boy in the bush-jacket. The
boy walks over in front of the window, but does not change his
I look in the window's reflection. The mod girl is suddenly gone.
134 When the lights go out the children squeal with delight. I had
forgotten about them.
*        #        #
I put my hand on my briefcase and discover that I have tensed
myself in readiness. But even as I hunch myself into a defensive
posture, the emergency light goes on — it is over the boarding gate,
and throws a beam toward the back of the room, where someone
is running. There is, at the same moment, the weird announcement
that Flight 99 (my flight) is cancelled due to bad weather in
Quebec City.
The French-looking fellow in front of me looks up in surprise at
the emergency light and zippers-up the AIR FRANCE bag.
But then the room-lights go on again, and for an instant we see
the Brinks men crouched with their backs to their cache and their
guns drawn. Their round faces are bulged and surprised — they
look like buffoons. Then they are laughing and straightening up
and everyone in the room is laughing nervously with relief. One
of the Brinks men •— the taller one — steps back, bumps into the
cart while he is putting his pistol in his holster, and we all duck
instinctively. Then there is more laughter — louder and less restrained— and everyone is smiling at everyone else (I, as well) as
if we had been introduced to one another by way of the comic
emergency. We all grin foolishly in our newfound sense of community.
With my flight cancelled — there's no wory, for there's another
directly to Montreal in an hour — I decide to go to the restaurant
for a cup of coffee, and as I walk toward the back of the room I
notice that several other people have seemingly made the same
decision. Approaching the restaurant I notice the mod girl outside
the terminal with a young man —• he is helping her into a waiting
VW. I see none of the others immediately. As I pass the ticket
counter I hear one clerk talking to another:
"Is the computer fouled up again?"
"Yes. There's going to be hell to pay somewhere."
"Well," says the first, "at least not here."
I go into the restaurant, sit down at the counter, and order
coffee. There's no place to put my briefcase, so I put it on the floor
beside me, leaning against my leg. As my coffee arrives, the young
man in the bush-jacket takes the stool next to me. I pull my elbows
in to give him room. He smiles in a friendly manner and says,
"Well, I wonder what all that was about?"
135 "I haven't the faintest idea, I'm afraid."
"More 'n likely, somebody leaned against a switch," he says.
"Yes, probably."
He turns to face me. "When were you in the forces?" he says.
He grins, and points down at my briefcase. "The Army?" he
says. Imprinted on the old briefcase are my name, rank and serial
number from the old, old days. I find myself laughing lightly.
"That was a long time ago."
"Longer ago than that, I'm afraid. Korea."
He nods knowingly. "Guns are my hobby," he says. "What did
you carry then?"
I try to remember. "Mostly we carried the old Lee-Enfield .303,"
I say. "It was a good rifle. Very dependable. You could leave it in
a rice-paddy overnight and fire it the next morning." Remembering
the grey bodies rising and falling over the bunkers, and the snow.
You never thought about a rice-paddy.
"Is that so? What was its range?"
"Well, I don't remember exactly. For sniping purposes — if you
were very, very good — it was accurate up to — perhaps — 600
metres. But its battle range was about 200 metres."
"Bolt-action, wasn't it?" His coffee had arrived and he was
stirring it slowly, pooling it in his spoon.
"Yes," I said.
"More dependable, then, than the weapons they're using in
Vietnam now. Most of them are gas-operated, I understand. Tend
to jam in a tight spot."
"Is that so?" I say.
"Yes," he nods. "Bolt-action rifles are better for rough conditions, I understand — where you don't have any armourers handy.
How many rounds in the clip?"
"How many rounds in the magazine of the Lee-Enfield?"
"Oh. Five, I think. Yes, five."
As I answer him as best I can I find that he is looking at me with
a strange, youthful interest. He has wavy hair, which he wears long,
of course; his eyes are grey. When I notice that he is wearing a tiny
pearl ear-ring, I decide to drive it from my mind. He has raised old
memories in me of battles I have been trying to forget. But he wants
to talk. And he talks about guns, weapons, rifles — old guns, new
136 guns, mortars, howitzers, light and heavy machine-guns, armour-
piercing shells, fragmentation grenades, phosphorous grenades, mo-
lotov cocktails. I find that I am telling him old Army stories: how
to make a good vodka substitute out of medical-supply alcohol, and
the parties which followed with the mooses. I tell him a story I
heard once from a Navy chappie about how they drank the juice
out of torpedoes or something like that. I served in the infantry, I
tell him, with a very good battalion. We held when other units were
over-run all the way back to the band, and bandmasters were firing
rifles they hadn't held in twenty years.
"Is that so?" he says. He is very polite, and I can imagine how
pleasantly "square" his parents must be. Sturdy middle-class faces;
his mother probably bakes for the United Church sales.
"Have you tried any drags?" I ask. He grins. "Oh, yes," ■— he's
tried them. But he's not hooked. He says that you have to learn
how to float with them. Take this one, that ■— take them only when
you don't need one, only for fun. That's the way it's done, he says.
You fight down the needs, and take life as a joke; you take the
drags as a joke; good for laughter. Has he tried speed? He laughs:
only once. Not for him. "Not your bag?"
His grin is polite. "Not for me."
But one day, I point out (coming in for the attack), you'll take
a drag because you think you deserve it. You will need it. Deserve
equals need, I point out, saying that after all these years my tired
education must be good for something. No, he says, he is dedicating
his life to not needing anything.
Not even a woman?
No, he says. Not even a woman. Or a man, either, he says. His
grin this time is directed toward the retreating waitress.
But surely, surely —
No. He is adamant. Soft, sure of himself. Adamant. "Without
the Zen," he says. All right, I suggest, why not try suicide? Why
not indeed? Why not blow out your brains with a great flowering
He is quiet, except for a shake of his long hair; softly disgusted.
I've hurt him.
"I don't need you," he says, still smiling. "You bore me." He gets
up and ambles away. I leap up to continue the argument, but he
continues his careless progress towards the door, leaving me.
137 Robert Sward is Visiting Writer in the University of Victoria Creative Writing Program. His novel, "Horgbortom Stringbottom/I Am Yours/You Are
History," will be published this summer by Swallow Press. He has also completed two novels in collaboration with his wife Judith: Soft and The Jurassic
Shales, from the latter of which the following section is taken.
The Queen and the Drowning Divebomber
I dream incessantly of water.
No one I know is drowning,
Ships nearby but they are never visible
No one ever tires,
I think of water polo and never tiring
Suddenly sinking
The snow melting the basement filling with water
Every time I do not dive when diving is what I want to do
I fear impatience,
Water I do not, but falling into it
I never see photographs of anything without thinking
Somehow of water
Somewhere an ocean of doorknobs
A river called The Vacuum Cleaner
What happens when a lake dies?
Do trout have funerals for trout? or bluegills
For bluegills? Whales for porpoises?
I once had a Queen who worked a year as stewardess
on a pirate ship gobbled four dramamine a day and
participated in immense solitary orgies on nights
of the full moon with the moon and albinos who would
visit only on nights of the full moon. She nearly
went mad with boredom.
138 And is now living with an octopus.
The water's Queen. I went one evening to the Coronation.
What I did was to take off my glasses and put them in
my pocket. It was the Pacific Ocean, but also the Bronx,
New York and a campus I had never seen. Seeing planes
taking off, the campus an ocean and an aftermath, narrowly
missing buildings. And all I've learned to do is wear
galoshes and strange furry pajamas to giggle and to relax
when I'm half-crazy and the Queen all the while wants me
to play dwarf or divebomber. We are under water a long time.
Come up and the surf is filled with rooftops, planes overhead narrowly missing trees, it begins raining upwards.
It's a cemetery for seaweed.
The sailors,
all of them,
some slight angle
counter to the angle
everyone else
walks at.
The ships and the rain
at still
And music
and the woman
one has children by
bears her child
and her belly
every day
at a different
All sperm and potato seeds go off and the fertile ones
bear gyroscopes.
139 Things get lonely to go outside the body.
Sometimes the body gets lonely to go outside the body.
Sometimes everything and the body also goes outside at once.
The only thing lonelier is New Jersey with nothing to drink.
No suicide is sufficiently irrational.
and even when I leave my body I like to be in bed next to
the woman I trust and with blankets.
Everyone I know is leaving something or their body or lonely
or drowning only not putting it into words — either that or
I am not hearing them. Sometimes there is nothing that is
not or does not or will not if it is not already everywhere
there are grasshoppers worms and whales dream too the doorknob has founded an asylum for doorknobs doorknobs wearing
green jackets or white jackets, striped and gray jackets
no more lifeboats nothing to be afraid of they are all anyway
carrying sandwiches and lemonade all anyone really wants to do
the whales and grasshoppers and doorknobs know how.
Every morning at precisely that moment
the Queen asked for his dreams,
he had none, or felt he had none
or forgot or wanted to forget or
conceived he was dying.
In his memory
they broke up
almost entirely
because he could not
remember his dreams.
On the other hand, she remembered hers
and told them
Juggler, ed. Michael Patrick O'Connor, Notre Dame. Tri-quarterly, subscription $2.00, 75^ per issue.
Open Letter, ed. Frank Davey, 2810 Cook Street, Victoria, B.C. Poetry. No
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Scottish International, ed. Robert Garioch, Edwin Morgan, Robert Tait, 24
George Sq., Edinburgh EH8 9LD, Scotland. Articles, poetry, fiction, reviews, news, photos.
Transpacific, ed. Nicholas Crome, P.O. Box 486, Laporte, Colorado 80535.
Poetry, fiction, translation, art, mixed media. $3.00 a year.
U. Vic Writing, a selection of student work from the Creative Writing Programme at the University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C., Canada. April 1970.
The Writer, ed. A. S. Burack, 8 Arlington Street, Boston, Mass. 02116. $7.00
a year, 50^ per issue.
ian adams, The Poverty Wall, McClelland & Stewart, 1970. $2.95, 154 pps.
Leonard cohen, The Favourite Game, McClelland & Stewart (New Canadian
Library), 1970. Paperback, $2.35, 223 pps.
robertson davies, Stephen Leacock, McClelland & Stewart, (New Canadian
Library, Canadian Writers), 1970. 95^.
charles edward eaton, On the Edge of the Knife, Abelard-Schuman Ltd.,
1970. Poetry, $4.50, 47 pps.
corinne  friend, Short Stories of  Yashpal, Author and Patriot,  University of
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len fulton, Two Short Stories, Dustbooks,  1970. 30 pps.
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Francis  w.  grey,  The  Cure of St.  Philippe,  McClelland  &  Stewart   (New
Canadian Library), 1970. Paperback, $2.95, 313 pps.
ernesto  Gutierrez,   Terrestre   Y  Celeste,  Universidad  Nacional  Autonoma
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Patrick lane, Separations, New/Books, 1969. Poetry.
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Stories. 207 pps.
margaret Laurence,  The  Tomorrow Tamer, McClelland  & Stewart   (New
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141 Stephen leacock, Last Leaves, McClelland & Stewart  (New Canadian Library), 1970. Paperback, $1.95, 213 pps.
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In our 9:3 issue, we mistakenly entitled the M. Byron Raizis translation of a
section from a poem by George Seferis. The title should have read "Three
Secret Poems," not "Three Secret Rooms." Our apologies to poet and translator.
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a. naeigetzine of tlcie
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PRISM international i959-
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editor  Jacob Zilber
associate editors   Douglas Bankson
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