Tuesday, December 16, 2008

artwork by Katie Pierce

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cuban Bloggers Threatened by Police

From Alexis Romay at Belascoaín y Neptuno:

Hello, friends:

Please feel free to forward and circulate the following note regarding the escalation of police harassment and governmental intimidation that Yoani Sánchez and Claudia Cadelo (two bloggers residing in Cuba) are subjected to. I believe in the proverbial six degrees of separation. You have friends in the media, in Congress, in the Senate. Or you have friends who have friends on these high places. Please help us spread the word. Only by bringing wide international awareness of this issue we can assure a minimum of protection for these brave women whose sole crime is to write about their daily lives. Their safety is in your hands.


Alexis Romay

Subject: Cuban bloggers threatened by police

Dear Sirs,

We wish to inform you about recent facts that we have not seen
reflected in the international media that should be considered:

* Yesterday, the well-known Cuban Blogger, Yoani Sanchez
(Generacion Y) was summoned by the Cuban Department of Interior and
explicitly threatened by them in an effort to prevent a planned
independent Bloggers event scheduled for December 6.

* Today, Cuban independent blogger Claudia Cadelo (Octavo cerco),
has been summoned by the Cuban police.

* The Gaceta Oficial of the Republic of Cuba published a the
following as a warning to internet providers. "The regulations for
the suppliers of services of public access to the Internet," from
Resolution No. 179/2008 of the Ministry of Computer Science and
Communications. The resolution states, that providers have the
obligation to "adopt the measures necessary to prevent the access to
sites whose contents are opposite to the nations social interest, good
morals or customs."

This resolution, signed by minister Ramiro Valdés also establishes the
exigency to prevent "the use of applications that affect the integrity
or the security of the State". This is a outrageous attempt to censor
the rights of the incipient movement of independent Cuban bloggers.

We hope that in your next reflections on Cuba's "process of
transition" you will take into consideration some of the limitations
to basic liberties imposed on all citizens of the island.


Ernesto Hernandez Busto

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Clock by Aldo Palazzeschi

[A lot of tense clock-watching is going on & in response this is "L'Orologio," translated by Nick Benson as "The Clock," a poem by Aldo Palazzeschi from his book of 1910 L'Incendiario (The Arsonist).]

The Clock

The clock is the recorder of the time
that is no longer.
It marks the hours wretched man
donates to death.
- Valentino Kore

On a wall of my bedroom
there hangs
an old clock;
one of the old type,
with the counterweight and chain.
I used to wind it a lot,
just to have something to do,
not really sure
whether it bothered me more stationary
or in its damned perpetual motion.
For the longest time
the clock hasn’t worked anymore.
I’d always looked at it with scorn,
hoping for its demise,
wishing for that malicious chatterbox
a very sad end.

All you men
wear a clock on your person, and you don’t know
everything it knows about you,
everything it indicates,
and it will never tell you.
I watched it, thinking:
clock, you know
everything about me, tell me the hour of my death.
Two? Five? Three?
One minute after three, two minutes after?
God! I felt myself dying
every minute!
I unleashed all my fury
onto that clock,
everything I could get my hands on
I threw at it.
Insults, spit, trash,
shoes, inkwells!
And it stopped.
It stopped at six o’clock.

At the moment I figured
I was free of it,
it tick-tocked no longer,
it had stopped.
But the next day
when that hour came,
I looked at it,
and from that ferocious stillness
I understood
that was forever to be the time,
Was I to die at that time
on every single day?
At the sunset hour,
the hour of the Ave Maria,
just before night,
the last hour of the day,
six o’clock, terrible hour
of all my nightmares!
That evening hour
had quite justly become
the hour of my interment.

In my desperation
I ran at the clock,
I ripped out its guts!
I threw everything around, the hands,
its infernal
knifing mechanism,
everything all around!
And now you can’t see anything
but a gutted monster,
and a piece of chain
left dangling,
with a little wheel attached.
Bits of those putrid guts
I tore out.

You men know neither how to be born
nor how to die,
yet hold close, dear to your hearts,
this device that knows your hour
though it will not tell you, as all the while it beats
steadily into your breast, while you remain unaware.
I bless the one who knows the hour of his death,
and I kneel at the suicide’s feet.
I think: what am I waiting for?
Am I waiting for each beautiful hair,
for each of my beautiful teeth
to fall out, one by one?
Am I waiting for a yellow sore
to appear somewhere
and sully my white skin,
to invade and overcome it?
Oh! How beautiful it is to die
with a red flower at one’s temple!
The reddest rose
to ever unfurl, to unfurl
beside the pale visage!
O from the highest tower
to cast oneself into the void,
into voluptuous space!
So that nothing remains on the earth
but a red stain.
And you who already know that hour,
written as it is on your forehead,
you keep up your steady pace,
calmly mark that hour
and continue on.
But I won’t be among those who say:
that was it, that was what made me tremble
every day, what passed unnoticed,
what I had not expected.

No! I will make myself a tower on a mountain,
the highest in the world,
with all its bricks
piled on all your minutes,
and up there I’ll go at my appointed time,
the one chosen by me.
I stop to listen well to the ticking
of all the clocks of the world,
useless and vile hearts,
and to you I cry: take a look, clock, I’m going to jump!
And I do.
Ah! I heard a click!
It was you, you who’d already chosen the time,
and thought that was it!
No, it wasn’t,
and I know when it’ll be!
I’m in charge now,
I’m the one who will tell you the hour, Clock!
And in my throat I find,
risen from my belly,
the most outrageous, obscene laughter,
the filthiest jokes,
the rudest howls of scorn,
just to make you wait
another five minutes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Poems that talk to each other by Ian Engelberger and Clark Johnson

villanelle and elegy by Ian Engelberger

Maddening kinds of people now
foreign and decimated, closed-nothing.
and what of me do they allow?
today will be fine, but how?
original and nothing to sing,
maddening kinds of people now.
nothing to sing or disavow,
liberated with lost minds composed of things
and what of me do they allow?
a million sub-americans vow
broken to do, broken to say, to cling,
maddening kinds of people now.
maddening women who lead, drop, and endow
to mediocrity, with nothing to bring
and what of me do they allow?
maddening men who sit or stand tall avow
the structure is nothing, an early spring.
maddening kinds of people now,
and what of me do they allow?

I will melt on the people, the people people all the people
with holy dripping stillness that slides right
side up

I will melt on the sort that go and see,
I will melt on the wall paper people,
definitions stuffed down throats into hearts

I will live in the folds of horizons, and all things non-
withstanding I shall find ways to move and spill
and form the people

their who’s who formations,
the long dead order

the broken canvas people the dead window people the
news people the no more people

constantly becoming becoming into dust

I will melt on the no more people under suns that grow and

and what are hands up against them,
the sun people, the sun.

sun children watching themselves in shadows on the shore
at dusk

the sun children will melt on me

the sun children will melt on me at dusk beaches of their
own choosing

dusk runs into sand into water into me.
the sun is up.

the people. by Clark Johnson

People doesn’t make sense. People? Really…
People people, running around.
People people the people in the streets.
Nobody knows what I mean. I don’t know what I mean.
I don’t mean anything.
But I think the people do.

The people melt onto each other.
& the people melt into each other.
People people people, over and over

And the ‘o’ jumps
out and grabs and bites and I
can’t spell it now.
Too many people too many
fucking people on the page.

And I didn’t mean to say that,
but the people mass and swarm
and now we have a sun.
Did the sun melt the people?
I think I should make them
ask, but the sun can’t
melt the people because the people
will keep on melting,
melting all over the streets
under that hot hot sun.

The people aren’t Christian because
they die for themselves. They die
for the other melting people and
they don’t know why. They don’t
know why but they do it all
the same. All the same, all the
people are the same I think.
They will mass and they will
swarm all over each other because
they touched the sun and now
they will be melting.

And NOW we explain, we talk and
tell and expose but what if
we don’t want to know?
I don’t think you thought of that,
You and your people melt all into
each other
and regress into your minds where nothing
happens, and their thoughts about
the people melt and drip? into each other,
I hope they won’t smudge.
They won’t smudge in the future because in the
future everything will stop.

It will stop and they will look and they will
think, over and over again until your children’s
people will melt in the streets, under
the hot hot sun of people peopling people.

That was a new one.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Ode by Farsh

i got to cruise the open road,
so on the road i wrote an ode.
an ode about my buddy's oud,
a short and fat and stubby dude
"it's all I think about" - Farsh

Monday, September 22, 2008

dehra dun. photo by Katrina Kiritharan

Friday, September 12, 2008

Poem by Ian Engelberger

to be drowsily like a father

the base lethargy, reinforced
paternal drowsiness caused by ancestral intoxication, drowsy.
one of the three debts-to stagger like a drunk a man
the other two being-to behave like an opiate or a person
from which, with a pin, he is freed when he begets a son
to be drowsily like a father
owing to intoxication
a father figure,
respected, revered,
to lament irritatedly
the world of fathers and of the deceased, presses crushes and kills for

the rights are performed flaccidly on the fifteenth day
of the dark soft fortnight
of the month of over ripe soft
which marks farewell to the son
formed for the gratification of the father
patriarchs rendered flaccid soft
patricide enough to make a boy drink,
or to administer bilious threats-
evil spirited sons who speak ill
cliched slanderers
to be ground
to be powdered
to be pressed.

(source: a hindi dictionary)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Poems and Translations by Yvette Gottshall

Poems and translations from the German by Yvette Gottshall, an excellent poet we will be hearing more from. These are from her manuscript, The Damage Done To Certain Souls Is Proof.


The city on the hill makes for little light,
for all its claim of liberated bushels it gives
off little burning. The eight-hundred block
turning left off Seminary Drive smacks you
with the fried-chicken smell of the cotton
gins and mills over on Main. This smell
overhangs the 65 dollars-by-the-week
roomers across from Our Lady of Victory
School, settles on your shoulders as you
pass that Chinese vacuum repair and rental
place between the school’s empty dodgeball courts
and merry-go-round and the Gospel Truth
Mission. What is the truth? What is
the mission? Do you accept the poured out
fragrance of La Tortilla Ria, Tienda
and Restaurante, the Forty-Ten Club and
the yellow-eyed smokers gathered on its stoop?
What would you witness as you walk
quickly past the convenience store’s grilled
windows, the liquor stores, the check-cashing
storefronts. What will you give for the new
world smelting in the knocked out windows
and black crow rafters of the cotton-seed
mills and the barely up to code gins on Main?


I will gather my people into myself,
gather them into that coliseum cloud of witnesses.
I will be room enough for all of us,
and a room for each of us. I will be
the places of honor seating thousands
come to bear witness, come to cheer me on.
I will be the gladiator.
I will be the lion.
I will be the runner fleet of foot.
I will be, too, the one who falters,
the one who trips.
I will be the chariots and
the chariot’s wheels,
and the spoiling of enthrallment - calamity.
I will be the bread that is broken,
the good word spoken,
the banners of allegiances and alliances
blowing in the breeze and I will be the breeze.
I will be the dust the breeze stirs up,
the broken cup, the wheel, the potter and
the clay. I will be the fresh light of each new day.
I will be a few stars lost along Orion’s belt.
I will be the bruises and the welts
upon the bodies of the slaves
brought forth to be consumed for our little play.
I will be the slaves, the salve for which they pray,
the cells, and the doors and the doors’ lifting - Let
the offerings begin. Let us pray. I will be
the offerings, and the gods to be
appeased. I will be appeased.
I will be the banquet, and
the wine, and its lack, and I will
be the wine’s miraculous flowing
back. I will be the new wine in old skins –
and too, the new skins expanding to
encompass aromas -
unattainable, the grafting into the vine
to make a new line. I will be the chaff gathered
up and burned, the wheat that wisdom has learned
to gather and to store in the coming lean-cow years.
Sickly lean cows, seven will I be, and the fat cows -
seven will I be - the famine and the feast.
My people are crying. My people are laughing – their cups
are running over with wisdom-gathering, with dying.
Those virgins waiting in the darkness by the door?
I will be the virgins trimming their wicks, and I
will be the wicks. I will be the thorns
which prick the brow, and the vinegar
-soaked cloth to draw out the How,
the innate death, the spear piercing the side,
and the collapsing of the breath. I will be the cock
crowing thrice to deny all these things I will be.
I will be the table, and the dogs sprawling beneath
the table for the crumbs which are falling
from my people’s hands, I will be the one crawling
to touch the hems of holy garments, the one
who will be healed by my faith. I will
be the anointing, the anointed one.
I will not be healed; I will be dead.


Your mouth on mine.
I lost everything outlined.
Thousand small blooms
their cups opened
on my body.

You kissed me tenderly
and went.

Dry shame like a fire
stood red for me
on belly and chests.

(Translation of poem by Hilde Domin)


We have a bed, we have a child,
My wife!
We also have work - work for two,
and have the sun and rain and wind;
and we lack just one little thing
to be as free as the birds are:
only time.

When on Sundays we go through the fields,
My child,
and over the corn, far and wide,
the blue swallows can be seen darting,
Oh, then, we want not for slight clothes
to be as fine as the birds are:
only time.

Only time! We sense a thundering wind,
we people.
Just one small forever;
We lack nothing, my wife, my child,
but all that blossoms in us,
to be as bold as the birds are:
only time.

(Translation of a poem by Richard Dehmel)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Found in Translation: Alexis Romay on Miguel Correa Mujica

The following text accompanies Alexis Romay's translation of Miguel Correa Mujica's novel Al norte del infierno (North of Hell), forthcoming from Green Integer. This piece originally appeared in Passport: The Arkansas Review of Literary Translation, issue 4.

In 2003, I was working as a Spanish-language editor, translator, and copywriter for a New York publishing house when I came across a copy of Al norte del infierno, Miguel Correa’s first novel. The book had had an amazing trajectory: in 1983, the manuscript had won the Jesus Castellanos Literary Award in Florida and was published by SIBI within a year, with an introduction by Reinaldo Arenas that any writer would have killed for. The broadcasting rights were immediately bought by a Miami radio station, and the chapters were read every week to an amused and clandestine Cuban audience back on the island.

Shortly thereafter, the book fell out of print, the publishing house kept the rights, and for eighteen slow years, the author, like Penelope, had to stop, learn to weave, and wait for his moment. Finally, in late 2001, after Correa had regained his publishing rights, Carlos Espinosa, a Cuban writer, editor, and scholar, offered to publish an edition of the original Spanish work.

And here you have, in two condensed paragraphs, a summary of two decades of tribulations for the Spanish edition of North of Hell.

I bought my copy of Al norte del infierno soon after meeting the author at a reading at Columbia University. It was July, 2003. At that point, La entrevista, Correa’s first play, had been performed on the radio in Argentina and on the stage at Rutgers University. The Firestone Library of Princeton University had purchased the original manuscript of Al norte del infierno for its magnificent archives. An excerpt of the novel had been published in a German anthology of Cuban literature, and the same excerpt had appeared in English in an American quarterly. However, throughout the years, Correa’s work remained systematically ignored and/or banned on the Island of Dr. No. (Although it has never been officially disclosed, the list of forbidden books in Cuba may have as many digits as your bank account.)

Until then, I had never translated a work into English, with the honorable exceptions of a couple of short stories and articles by my admired friend Enrique Del Risco. I had under my belt almost a dozen picture books translated into Spanish and would soon embark on translating, also into Spanish, Flight to Freedom, a novel by Cuban-American author Ana Veciana-Suarez. But I had never considered translating a major work into English, mainly because Spanish was my native language. I was frankly horrified by the mere thought of “reverse translation.”

And then I read Al norte del infierno.

My first reaction was that of complete shock: although the book had been published in 1984, it described my complete Cuban experience, and I had left the island in 1999! The novel was simultaneously horrifying and hilarious, or rather, horrifyingly hilarious: It tickled my fear, my nostalgia, my sense of loss--of a place, a culture, a language--my permanent state of paranoia, and my personal exodus. The really scary part was that Al norte del infierno could also comprehend the gestalt of those who had fled the Socialist Tropical Paradise in the early sixties.
When I reviewed the re-edition of the novel for the New York Spanish-language newspaper Hoy, I wrote: “A healthy writer’s envy forces me to admit that this is the book, or one of the books, that I wish I had written” [translation mine]. I mentioned this factor--my familiarity with the content, that is--not only because I felt that I could have written Al norte del infierno, but actually because I (and, for that matter, anybody who had lived at least one year under the rule of He Who Mustn’t Be Named) had this book inside, knew this book before having read it. Correa’s novel was at once virus and antibody: something indelible, probably acquired through the Cuban water supply.

I was still a greenhorn when I first read Al norte del infierno: a displaced human being, a Cuban element surrounded by an overwhelming ocean of English-speaking editors and “book people.” As odd as it was for all parties involved, this was also mutually beneficial: I, Neanderthal-at-Large, would learn office politics from my colleagues and, in exchange, they would constantly bombard me with questions about my place of origin. Was I in contact with my family in Havana? Did we have nice beaches down there? Could I go back? Where did I stand in the case of the famous little rafter? Was I a rafter myself? Was I close to my relatives in Miami? Did I know a good recipe for black beans? Was I a defector? Was mint the secret twist to Mojitos? What would happen after the demise of Castro?

I would spend many hours and much energy trying to explain to my American friends and colleagues the many fallacies of the so-called Cuban Revolution until I realized that I had all the answers in my hand, in a delicate Spanish edition that was starting to fall apart from all the wear and tear. If only I could recommend to them that book.

The issue was, of course, that the book was in Spanish.

As a consequence of my constantly quoting from Al norte del infierno, a colleague dared me to translate the book into English. His suggestion came around the time I had finally coped with the fact that this novel had already been authored by Miguel Correa Mujica. (Some chutzpah!) I could not write something that had already been written. But I needed to have some kind of involvement with this book. So I decided to take the challenge. I approached Correa, told him of my fascination with his work, and asked him if he would allow me to translate his novel into English on speculation, in the hopes that we would find a publishing house for North of Hell. Once I had his approval, a minor issue arose: in order to embark on the translation, I had to convince myself that English was no longer my second language. That was an easy task. I lived in English; I worked in English; I spoke primarily in English. My communication with my wife, novelist Valerie Block, would take place a good eighty percent of the time in English. Spanish was my native language, no doubt, but at some point it had fallen to a secondary status.

The translation of Al norte del infierno occurred almost entirely during a daily rush-hour commute to New York City, facing industrial decay and the swampy reeds of the Meadowlands through a window of a train on the Boonton Line of New Jersey Transit. Every night I would return home with almost one vignette translated. As soon as I finished each chapter, I would share it with my wife, who would return the piece the same night with great recommendations for English usage, English equivalents, and, of course, with all the prepositions corrected. Correa would receive each new fragment by e-mail, fresh as a Boston lettuce, the next morning. He would comment when necessary, praise at all times, and call back at reasonable hours with an enormous wave of gratitude.

Translating his novel took as long as it took. And that was the relatively easy, enjoyable part. The tough job was finding a house interested in publishing a literary translation of a novel that followed no traditional narrative pattern.

I submitted the work to eight publishing houses, large and small, throughout the USA. In less than a year, we received two lovely rejection letters, were monumentally ignored by four houses, and had two publishers interested in North of Hell: David Landau, from Pureplay Press--who ended up buying the rights for Correa’s second novel, both in Spanish and English, as well as for my bilingual book of poetry--and Douglas Messerli, from Green Integer, who took the deal home for North of Hell.

And here you have, in just a few pages, a summary of two years of tribulations for the English edition of Al norte del infierno.

It is common knowledge that there are always things that get lost in translation. I must add that, in this, my case, quite literally (and literarily) some things have been gained, mainly to my advantage. With the advent of this new English edition, Al norte del infierno, North of Hell, my dear friend Miguel Correa Mujica and I will be, once and for all, bound in translation.


Correa Mujica, Miguel. “A Decent Woman.” Trans. Judith C. Faerron. Caribbean Review 12.3 (1983): 30-31.
-----. Al norte del infierno. 2nd ed. Cincinnati: Término, 2002.
-----. Al norte del infierno. Miami: SIBI, 1984.
-----. “Eine anständige Frau.” Trans. Christiane Friedl Zapata. Geschichten aus der Geschichte Kubas. Ed. J. A. Friedl Zapata. Frankfurt: Luchterhand, 1990. 183-87.
-----. Furia del discurso humano. Los Angeles: Pureplay, 2006.
-----. North of Hell. Trans. Alexis Romay. Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2006.

Romay, Alexis. Ciudad de invertebrados / City of invertebrates. Trans. David Landau. Los Angeles: Pureplay, 2006.
-----. Rev. of Al norte del infierno, by Miguel Correa Mujica. Vida Hoy 14 Nov. 2003: 9.

Veciana-Suarez, Ana. Vuelo a la libertad. Trans. Alexis Romay. New York: Scholastic, 2004.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Reading on South Silk Road

I was in Montclair, New Jersey last Wednesday to read translations alongside host and fellow-translator Alexis Romay. The event was at the teahouse Cha Ma Gu Dao, well worth the visit if you’re in the area – and there is now the reading series, hosted by Alexis and his wife, the writer Valerie Block, with readings every Wednesday evening. Many thanks to our lovely and gracious hosts, who accommodated our unruly caravan in style and with unflappable charm. Stay tuned for some of what Alexis read, from his translation of Miguel Correa Mujica’s North of Hell (Al norte del infierno), which is set to be published by Green Integer. Here’s something I read, from my translation in progress of the volume The Arsonist (L’Incendiario, 1910) by Aldo Palazzeschi (1885-1974).

The Festival of the Dead

The poets sing
this festival day:
each one the same way,
whether the day’s black or gray.
(But you can surely sing
an entirely different way.)
They say it never rains
but pours,
that everything flowers from mud
in a spring of muddy spray.
The same foolish old sayings
of the same old folks!
And yet today, it’s not raining,
a glorious sun shines;
the wind brings us its finest.
Black thoughts?
Come find release
in the cemetery.

You can enter, come in,
everybody forward,
the gates are open wide,
even to those with no one to mourn!
Everyone can come
and wander as they wish;
a poet too can certainly mingle
to his heart’s content.
The usual jesters’ shacks
stand outside the gate −
the social class that has the goal,
more so even than the astronomers,
of making men aware
that the world turns.
Monkeys dress as ballerinas
or in military uniform;
one walks off arm in arm
with a little sergeant,
another tries to pull
a corporal into a room;
one dressed as a maid
is busy with the cleaning,
a captain slaps
a petrified private.
Women yell themselves hoarse
about some scientific miracle,
the latest scientific revelation
within reach of the common man,
odd bodies, psychological freaks!
And the well-intentioned fairgoers
stand speechless before them.
Horns, cymbals, tin pans,
everyone shouts like mad:
it’s the festival of the dead!
And the homemade pastry, unforgettable pastry
everyone’s waiting for,
the hot roasted birds
they did not neglect to castrate.

In the taverns they’re playing guitar,
they’re singing songs of the country,
the latest folk tune
or Neapolitan romance.

They hang bleeding at the butcher’s,
the phenomenal, superb fresh hams,
those of All Saints’ Day,
that have already felt the first frost of the dead.
And on the counters, in stacks,
or sinuously linked,
miles of sausage
that seem the heaped diseased intestines
of all the dead.
The deli owners have hung
the new salamini, cotechini,
zamponi, mortadelle;
and an appetizing aroma
of hare and pappardelle
issues right into the street.
Everyone lurches to the feast
and eats till they burst.

The mounted Carabinieri
with their feathered red hats
proudly take up their positions
amidst the heedless throng of fairgoers.

You can go to the cemeteries
with flowers or without,
but even the most insufferable,
remotest relative
can expect a flower on that day
from his kin.

The dead aren’t all the same,
as some believe,
and above all, they’re not mute –
those in the cemeteries at least
are shameless gossips.
On the marbled skin of their faces,
far better than on those of the living,
their character’s features
are clearly revealed.
“Here lies
a man of rare virtue:
Telemaco Pessuto,
fifty-three years of age,
exemplary husband and father.”
If we’d encountered you alive,
who’d have known?

Everyone wanders around, reading,
more or less in a rush,
some sounding out the words.
Don’t you know that what
you’re so blandly reading
are the faces of the dead?
That all those sweet expressions
are the looks on their faces?

Oh! Curious coincidence!
“Celestina Verità
ninety-seven years of age”
and alongside:
three years of age
of the Del Re.”
Strange coincidence!
Which of you two forced your destiny?
Each of you were meant to reach a hundred,
yet, Peppino Del Re,
Celestina Verità,
against your will
you made such brief society
of your lives?
Was it Peppino who came to you, o Celestina,
and unexpectedly took from you
three years of your life?

Or did you, Peppino, at birth,
find your years
already virtually spent
by Celestina?
One of you is the parasite
of the other.

What little space the dead occupy,
far less than seems natural.
And some of you were sole owners
of some plot of land
that had always seemed so tiny!
Those high walls
with all those heads packed in tightly,
no room to budge,
seem the walls of a loggia
for an exceptional emissary.
And everyone wanders around indifferently,
chomping on hot roasted game,
sucking on sweets or mints,
reading distractedly, hypocritically,
the doggerel of those poor souls.
Clever men,
who always walk amongst the living,
and can’t wait for the moment
to walk amongst the dead.
The living have such faces,
so expressive, yet mute,
even a scoundrel’s
can appear sympathetic;
but the faces of the dead
are full of excellent information.
If you meet a thoughtful lad in the street,
how can you tell if he’s virtuous?

At the highest point of the cemetery,
atop a great platform
built for the occasion,
they’re putting the skulls up for auction.
They press around
in the hundreds,
fixed on the athletic auctioneer
who yells himself hoarse, at the top of his voice.
Cops are everywhere.
– Four!
– Five!
– Eight!
– Ten!
– Fifteen bucks!
The first ones sell like hot cakes!
− Think about it, gentlemen!
The impatient ones pay even more
than a buck per skull.
Many wait for competition to die down
and the price to fall.
– Four!
– Six!
– Eight!
Bathed in tears,
a young newlywed
clasps her husband’s arm:
– Buy me that skull.
– Be quiet! the young man says to her.
– Buy me that skull.
– Be quiet silly,
toward evening they’ll be giving them away for nothing.
– Ten!
– Eleven!
– Twelve!
– Think about it, gentlemen!
– Buy me that skull.
– Be quiet I said,
can’t you see it’s a crummy old skull?
– Buy me that skull.
– If you’re not quiet we’re leaving.
– That could be the skull of my own mother.
– What’re you talking about!
– What happened down below?
– The cops are on the run!
– Where are all those people running to?
– They’ve arrested that dwarf
who was selling those second-hand skulls.
And along the roads,
the winding country lanes,
in a pretty sunset full of smoke,
of violets and flame,
the people happily return
from the cemetery.
And every good devil
makes off with a skull under his arm.

(Thanks to the editors of the journal Calque for publishing this translation in their issue #4.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Poems and a translation by Kory Martin-Damon

Three poems by an amazing young poet, the Cuban-born, Seattle-based poet Kory Martin-Damon, from her manuscript in progress Blue, Yellow, Red, followed by her translation from the Spanish of a poem by Coral Bracho.

Poetry is

a country of loss. Everything within
its borders weeps. Memories are
mannequins in windows, their naked arms
displayed in thoughtful poses. Here
are the tears of loss collected in opaque
vases, the salt of them like frost filming
the glass. Here is the hole everything
disappears through. Here is Cassandra
calling into the wind. Her hair has come
undone. Her eyes are mad, her words torn
from her mouth. She is the muse of poetry.
The poet listens to her and believes her
no more than anyone else does.

In it my childhood swims

I take my coffee sweet and light.
I learned from my mother
how to drink it, when to drink it, and why.
My father took his coffee twice a day, upon
rising and when he came home from work.
My mother could not drink it—this dark,
smoky flavor drowned in sugar. Her stomach
would not tolerate the acid. But every morning
she would sneak a tablespoon into her mouth,
as if she were fooling the body beneath her
clothes. She smelled of soap in the morning,
sweat in the evening when she came home from work.
Sweat and a strange odor like burnt plastic.
One time she came home with a burn on the palm
of her hand. Her mind had drifted off the conveyor
belt, into some place where the tropical breezes
teased the sweat in her hair, where the sky was
wide open and promising, no cloud anywhere in sight.
Maybe she was dreaming of eating beans and rice,
or guava pastries. The next day the burn had
swelled to a pus sack. As she made coffee
for my father and harangued me for getting up
again before I had to, she was careful with
the hot coffee maker. She was careful to look
at me so that I would understand why a child
does not get up at 4 a.m. even though the kitchen
smells of coffee I’ve yet to taste, and mother
is there smelling of soap, her face clean, her
hair all in place, before the day has time to weary
her, before conveyor belts get to nip at her hands,
before her eyes begin to dream. She is there,
with that spoon of sweet coffee, her hand shaking.

“Father rocked me later by the water…”
--Lynda Hull

What must it be like? What must it be like—
that when a father holds his daughter,
a father simply holds his daughter?

What must it be like, to have a door in the heart
that swings with each kiss, with each hug, with
every touch? The echoes of its swinging,

that breath of air that whispers, “You’re home.
You’re home. You’re home.” The child listens
and knows, little rifts and tears healing with

each breath. What must it be like, arms strong
and warm, that feeling of never having to fall
through the lies of them, through arms that conspire

with a heart where the worm has made its way,
eating and corrupting until the wood
is a filter through which blood leaks, meaning

nothing. This child knows because her heart’s
door never swung, never whispered, screamed instead,
slamming shut before she could spell the word “door.”

A poem by Coral Bracho (born in Mexico City, 1951),
translated by Kory Martin-Damon

Love is its own half-closed being

Aflame in the forests of time, love
is its own half-closed being. It opens
its marmot snout and inextricable
paths upon paths spill forth. This is the path
the dead
return upon, the luminous place from which
they shine. Like sapphires under sand,
they make their beach, they make their intimate waves,
their flint flowering, their white, drowning,
erupting foam. This is how it whispers in the ear: of the breeze,
of the water’s calm, and the sun
that brushes,
with delicate, igneous fingers
the vital freshness. That is how it speaks to us
with its shell-like candor; that is how it reels us in
with its light that is stone,
and that begins with the water, and is a sea
of impregnable deep foliages,
and that only so, at night,
allows us to see
and ignite.

El amor es su entornada sustancia

Encendido en los boscajes del tiempo, el amor
es su entornada sustancia. Abre
con hociquillo de marmota,
senderos y senderos
inextricables. Es el camino
de vueltade los muertos, el lugar luminoso en donde suelen
resplandecer. Como zafiros bajo la arena
hacen su playa, hacen sus olas íntimas, su floración
de pedernal, blanca y hundiéndose
y volcando su espuma. Así nos dicen al oído: del viento,
de la calma del agua, y del sol
que toca,
con dedos ígneos y delicados
la frescura vital. Así nos dicen
con su candor de caracolas; así van devanándonos
con su luz, que es piedra,
y que es principio con el agua, y es mar
de hondos follajes
inexpugnables, a los que sólo así, de noche,
nos es dado ver
y encender

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The 2008 issue of the Stray Shot is now available & can be read online/downloaded here.

The issue was edited by Jon Hartmann (whose cover photo is at left), Sam Hunt, and Nick Benson.

Our thanks to Anna Kjellson for technical support.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Clarice Lispector

I am a huge fan of Clarice Lispector (the link takes you to a piece by Anderson Tepper in Nextbook) and it's hard to know where to begin, but this entry from her series of newspaper columns is pretty good, and it's from today, thirty-five years ago:

More Than Simple Word-Play

What I feel, I do not put into action. What I put into action, I do not think. What I think, I do not feel. I am unaware of what I know. I am not unaware of what I feel. I do not understand myself yet behave as if I had no difficulty in doing so.

- Clarice Lispector
in Selected Crônicas, trans. Giovanni Pontiero, NY: New Directions, 1996 (211)
original publication date 5/26/73

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Aldo Palazzeschi

So let me have my fun!

Twee twee twee,
froo froo froo,
eehu eehu eehu,
uhee uhee uhee!
The poet’s having fun,
he’s insane,
he’s out of control!
Don’t insult him,
let him have his fun –
poor guy,
these little pranks
are his only pleasure.

Cocca docca,
docca cocca,
What are these vulgarities,
these oafish strophes?
Liberties, liberties,
poetic liberties!
They’re my passion.

Know what this is?
It’s very advanced stuff,
nothing silly –
it’s the chaff
of other poems.

But if they’re deprived
of any sense,
why does he write them,
the blockhead?

Biloloo. Filoloo.
It isn’t true that they have no meaning.
They do mean something.
They mean...
well, it’s like when someone
gets to singing
without really knowing the words.
It is very déclassé.
Yet this is how I like to play.

A! E! I! O! U!
But, young man,
tell me something –
isn’t it a bluff,
to feed
this raging fire
with such paltry stuff?

Whisk... Whusk...
Shoo shoo shoo,
koku koku koku.
How’s anyone ever going to understand?
Such exaggerated claims as these −
now it sounds like you’re writing in Japanese.

Abee, alee, alaree.
Leave him to babble,
better yet if there’s no end.
His fun will cost him quite a bit –
he’ll be called an ass for it.

& so lala
Lalala lalala.
Certainly it’s a major risk
to write things such as this
these days, when professors wait
at every gate.

So I’m entirely correct,
the times have changed quite a bit −
men no longer expect
anything from poets,
so let me have my fun!

Nick Benson's translation of one of Italian poetry's definitive poems, by Aldo Palazzeschi (1885-1974), from his book L'Incendiario (The Arsonist, 1910), which was published by F.T. Marinetti's Futurist press, Poesia. Two other translations from this volume appear in the current issue of Calque:

The issue features work by Yves Bonnefoy, Astrid Cabral, Laura Solórzano, Ernest Farrés, Dmitry Golynko, Bruno Jasienski, Rieko Matsuura, Aldo Palazzeschi, José Saramago, Kazuko Shiraishi, and Ko Un, translated respectively by Marc Elihu Hofstadter, Alexis Levitin, Jen Hofer, Lawrence Venuti, Eugene Ostashevsky, Soren A. Gauger & Marcin Piekoszewski, Michael Emmerich, Nicholas Benson, Albert Braz, Samuel Grolmes & Yumiko Tsumura, and Brother Anthony of Taizé, Young-Moo Kim & Gary Gach, along with an Interview with Michael Emmerich by Jeff Edmunds, and reviews of Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in America (New Directions, 2008) and Florence Delay & Jacques Roubaud's Graal Théâtre (Gallimard, 2007).

Friday, May 23, 2008

Stray Shots/reading this evening

[poster by Ian Engelberger; purchase the prototype here]

Thursday, May 22, 2008

On the Water by Cassidy Goepel

A breeze tosses some stray pieces of hair into my face, partially blocking my vision. The top of my head is warm from the sun beating down on it, and the skin on my shoulders has been getting hotter as it burns. My body is balanced on a small, round, incredibly uncomfortable seat. My feet are strapped securely into shoes that are at least 6 sizes too big. The shoes are old and worn, with Velcro that barely sticks anymore. They are at the point where no person in their right mind would allow their bare feet to touch the scummy insides; mine are most certainly protected by socks. There is white tape wound around the ankle of the shoe in an attempt to keep my feet inside of them against the pull of momentum. The tape is wrinkled, and folded; clearly the work of someone who was rushed. The shoes themselves are fastened to a board with nuts and washers. To my left extends a black rigger with a long oar that reaches at least 6 feet out into the water in one direction, and about 2 or 3 feet back towards the boat coming to rest in my experienced hands. The tiny seat I mentioned before serves as transportation to bring me forward to “the catch” and then with a strong push of the legs it allows me to travel backwards. The boat I sit in is about a foot wide and maybe a foot deep. It is attached to the foot board, to which the shoes are bolted, inside of which my feet are strapped. It has become an extension of myself. The boat is an offshoot of my body that must be pushed through the water with my six foot long carbon fiber arm.

There are three others sitting behind me waiting on my next move. They are breathing hard in between strokes, and my boat-body has given me an extra sense, allowing me to feel the variations in their strength and timing. Without looking behind me, I see their expressions; mouths open sucking in air, eyes squinting against the sun and focused on the neck of the person in front of them, strands of hair tossed about, sweat dripping down their brows. My arms are extended, I bend from the waist allowing my hips to rotate forward while keeping my lower back tight and straight then my feet bring me up the slide again. With a subtle, but strong, movement I drop the blade into the water hearing a satisfying “ker-plunk” as it catches the water. Immediately my quads fire and I push back to apply force before the momentum of the boat carries the oar away from me. My legs accelerate and I finish by squeezing my hands into my body, popping the blade out of the water at the last possible moment. The water shoots away from us, I watch as the four puddles from our oars become further and further away and by the time the last one reaches the tip of the boat I’m at the catch again. Whoosh through the water, our strength combining with precise timing. Slowly I creep back up to the catch, allowing the boat to run in the water underneath us. It ripples around the boat creating small waves and patterns on the surface. The footboard springs me backwards. Out the corner of my eye I see my blade click into place, feathered to slice the wind. As my hands near my ankles in my forward progression I gradually begin to twist my hand forward and up to ready the oar to be dropped into the water. Click and it’s back into place. The green handle pulls away from me under the stress of the water as I brace myself against the boat to pull it through. The seats hum from the friction of the slide, and the boat speaks softly through its creaking riggers and clicking oars, then silence. It’s just as exhausted as its rowers. The boat runs on the surface and our oar blades slice through the air, then back into the water with a collective splash. Again, another stroke and I finish with the handle against my body. The speaker next to my feet vibrates with the voice of our coxswain, giving the boat a voice while we give it wings. The finish line is close by and the adrenaline pumps through my body making the pain of work obsolete. Thirty strokes to freedom, the coxswain's voice pushes us onward, “everything you got!” she shouts, “no regrets!” My lungs start to scream, echoing a groan from someone behind me as our last energy reserves start to disappear. My legs burn and the boat creaks, it wants relief, it wants victory, if only to be able to glide again, but it knows it must carry us across the line. Ten strokes left and the crowd is cheering us on, they can see the pain in our faces and know the desperation that comes with these last final strokes. We pass by the last buoy and our coxswain calls us to rest. The rowers throw their heads back, opening their throats as much as possible to get the air they need. Their leg muscles are already stiffening as they fill with lactic acid, but the stiffness matters about as much as the pain did during the race. A sense of respect lingers within the boat, an acknowledgement of each other as athletes. We silently commend each other because we know we couldn’t have done it alone. We sit there, idle on the water, waiting for our coach to come tell us the results, but it doesn’t matter. We flew, together, as fast as we could fly and it felt incredible. At the end of the day it’s not the number of minutes it took, or how many strokes per minute we took, or even whether we beat the other teams. Our accomplishment goes much further than that. The boat pushed us further and faster than we thought we could physically go. “No regrets,” the coxswain’s affirmation echoes in our ears. No regrets.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Jane's Addiction by Jon Hartmann

Jane's Relationship with God in Charlotte Bronte's Novel Jane Eyre

In the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, God becomes the symbolic, father, brother, and caretaker of Jane. This motif or idea first appears when Jane sits on the deathbed of her close friend Helen and asks; “Where is God, what is God?” (Ch IX). Helen responds: “My maker and yours who will never destroy what he created” (Ch IX). At this moment, the idea is suggested that a tangible, personal, relationship with God may be had, and it becomes the basis for much of Jane’s reasoning throughout the novel. To Jane, God offers a perfect and intimate relationship that was never present in her life, one that she immediately becomes attached to. There is somewhat of an unspoken struggle throughout the novel for this position in Jane’s life. God’s role is often obscured or even replaced, first by Rochester, and finally by Jane’s newfound relatives: St. John Rivers, Mary and Diana. Ultimately, Jane finds the balance between her human and spiritual relationships in a romantic climax.

Before Jane’s romance with Rochester, she is steadfast in her ascetic lifestyle. Jane feels supported as an individual through her relationship with God. God is a source of sustenance and justification for the values that she had come to appreciate at Lowlwood; namely self-deprivation, modesty, and asceticism. She invokes the name of god often, considering him a peer or a witness to her daily struggles and worries, almost as a family member. “I pray to God that Mrs. Fairfax may not turn out a second Mrs. Reed” (Ch XI) Jane states sincerely to herself after making plans to seek a position at Thornfield. Early in the novel, Jane’s sole source of reassurance is God. In the face of great difficulty or trial, Jane continues to consult God as a peer or parent. “Love me then or hate me, you have my full and free forgiveness, ask now for God’s and be at peace” (Ch XXIV) Jane asserts upon the deathbed of her hateful aunt Mrs. Reed. Here Jane faces a difficult moment with the support of God, almost in place of the assurance of a family. However a conflict quickly arises as a struggle for this position in Jane’s life occurs.

Jane subconsciously seems to seek this relationship in her life, filling the emptiness left by the absence of her own direct family. At Thornfield, Rochester quickly assumes a powerful and similarly important role in Jane’s life. While God substantiated Jane’s life with his omnipresence and moral standard, Rochester offers human companionship, financial security, and any degree of material comfort that Jane could possibly desire. Rochester provides a very tangible relationship, and God’s symbolic fatherly provision is swiftly overshadowed. Falling in love with Rochester, Jane forgets her devotion to God and to an ascetic lifestyle as she takes pleasure, although minimally, in the security and significance Rochester offers her. Jane shares a close relationship with Rochester; he shares his innermost thoughts with her at every opportunity. And this human connection or intimacy Jane finds seductive.

“He stood between me and every thought of religion as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not in those days see God for his creature, of whom I had made an Idol.” Jane has idolized Rochester, eclipsing entirely the “sun” or her past source of fulfillment: God. The statement ‘I could not see God for his creature’ suggests that ultimately Rochester had replaced God’s role in Jane’s life, becoming her mentor, brother, father, lover. In her zealousness, Jane doesn’t thank, or even mention God once during her romance with Rochester until it comes to a dramatic halt. When Jane discovers that Rochester is still married, she immediately cries out to God in lament. The material has failed Jane, and she returns quickly to supernatural or divine dependence. “I lay faint, longing to be dead, only one idea still throbbed life like within me, a remembrance of God” grieves Jane, at the news of Rochester’s secret wife (Ch XXVI). Jane seeks support in this time of great emotional stress from God. “looked for aid to one higher than man: the words “God help me,” burst involuntarily from my lips.” Jane’s support and confidence are again from the divine, God seems to have resumed the role of Jane’s caretaker. God now symbolically occupies the role of her father, lover, and sole relation in the world.

According to Jane’s assumptions about God, she starts her ascetic lifestyle anew, fleeing the human camaraderie of her now shunned lover. “Let me break away and go home to God” (Ch XXVII). Jane faces considerable difficulty and starvation in her wanderings; she cries out to God. “I can but die and I believe in God, let me try to wait his will in silence.” Once Jane is delivered to a dry home, “my dripping clothes were removed…I thanked God,” she appropriately resumes a pattern of life that she feels pleases the one now closest to her in her life: God. She lives sparsely and with little passion as a school teacher in exceedingly modest quarters. However, Jane soon inherits a considerable fortune and discovers relatives. At this point in the novel, again, God quickly disappears as a motif or a representation of Jane’s longing for relations. “It seemed I had found a brother: one I could be proud of, -- one I could love; and two sisters” (Ch XXXIII). Jane revels extensively in the comfort of her newfound family: St. John Rivers and sisters Mary, and Diane, generously furnishing their home with her new fortune. "Have I furnished it nicely?" she asks (Ch XXXI). The energy Jane feels in her new situation is clear; she quits her job teaching, keeps to the house of her relatives, and relaxes for extended amounts of time. Not mentioning or calling upon God once, as she had done constantly weeks before, it is clear that Jane had forgotten the relationship and intimacy she held with God. Her desire for relationship has presently been fulfilled by her discovered relatives. St. John Rivers sees this replacement, and criticizes her on this loss. "To the end of turning to profit the talents which God has committed to your keeping; and of which He will surely one day demand a strict account. Jane, I shall watch you closely and anxiously -- I warn you of that. And try to restrain the disproportionate fervour with which you throw yourself into commonplace home pleasures. Don't cling so tenaciously to ties of the flesh” (Ch XXXIV). Although a fervent and perhaps overly passionate man himself, he recognizes the shift and the loss of Jane’s symbolic relationship with God. Planning to be a missionary and to marry Jane, he slowly pushes her with cult-leader-like authority back into a relationship with God. Jane, either seeing her divergence, or feeling crushed by his passion, decides to run away to Rochester.

Jane discovers that Rochester -- now physically disabled by an unsuccessful attempt to save his wife from throwing herself off the roof of the burning Thornfield -- has sought an intimate relationship with God as well. He can no longer depend on himself, being blind, and in some ways seeks to fulfill this deficiency with a dependence on God. Figuratively, It seems both Jane and Rochester now rely on God to compensate for their own shortcomings; Jane for her lack of family and Rochester for his physical disability and to some degree his own lack of relatives. “My heart swells with gratitude to the beneficent God of this earth just now. He sees not as man sees, but far clearer: judges not as man judges, but far more wisely…I supplicated God, that, if it seemed good to Him, I might soon be taken from this life, and admitted to that world to come, where there was still hope of rejoining Jane” (Ch XXXVII). Ultimately, Jane comes to fulfill her desire for relationship, with both God and humanity in her marriage to Rochester. God plays an intimate role in both of their lives. Jane describes this accurately: “I am not of those who live without God in the world, and only mind earthly things” (ChXXXVII).

The novel ends on a mention of Christ: “Amen; even so come, Lord Jesus,” which is a quotation of St. John Rivers’s letter (Ch XXXVII). This symbolizes the significance and intimacy of God to all three characters, Rochester, Jane, St. John, and most significantly the final harmony in Jane’s life. She has found both a relationship with God and Rochester, both human and divine, living in the manner that she imagines God would approved of: an ascetic existence in Rochester’s unfinished forest cottage. God has resumed the role of intimate confidant in Jane’s life, and she lives accordingly.

This unspoken conflict is resolved. Jane has integrated and accepted the symbolic relationship of God harmoniously with that which often caused her to stray from it: human companionship. God now plays an intimate role as father and caretaker, despite her previous conflict, straying to the tangible companionship of Rochester, and to the comfort of her relatives. Jane has successfully integrated this symbol into her life.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poem by Ian Engelberger

so i put on a side as i walked out
towards the city lights
hoping for something to shout

sometimes your silence
and a walk after sleep
are enough to convince me
though my thoughts fade
that we’re all broken
because we were made

when i’m quiet i can hear my fear
like a river that screams as it rushes
a room full of voices raised at once
audible as it crushes
composed of words i can’t understand

and when i’m asleep my human dreams are distraught by nature
my mind reels to find
images and feelings by morning i rarely remember
broken boys dry eyes agape at televisions telling the story of love
and those holy days in mid december

i sat on a hill and watched them
all brought to a cliff and made to jump off
with that drunk old supermarket cough
their deaths they couldn’t embrace
unmedicated fear that i could taste
in their voices as they leapt from their palimpsest lives undone
those dull screams
like bullets shot at the sun

when i talk i feel their weight
words lost as i walk after them
the ugly notion that i’m too late


people mistake me for myself
as i float and refuse
why should i seek that kinetic abrasion -
my own realisation?

anyone’s realisation in this long country
anyone’s truth found on these streetcorners of elusive happiness

i’d rather descend instead into the sun and
with melting eyes fail to see
the flames
without ears to hear
and with melted hands i wouldn’t understand

and people mistake you for myself
moving in my head as someone else
can’t you look learned?
point everywhere and lead nowhere

followed giant fingers pointed in the sky
with clenched fists full of crumpled paper
laid down staring after potential airplanes
never to be realised in the rhythmic pursuit of my seconds

and my flutter of concerns before sleep
unsettled minds and poisoned heads
their america found dead
our bloodsport is six o’clock
channel five news

young men left lame
fighting wars left undeclared
old men’s money better off fared

where’s the pill that closes my eyes
to all this blindness i suffer?
how many weeks of two pills a day
before an american can
without seeing hate
look out their window
and find nothing worth buying

and how do i make the safe dollar?

and how many of those will take my eyes off the smoke
on the horizon?

that black bleak column
that means nothing to me nor should it

that from the side of my eye
suggests that maybe old men bought me

and old men sold me

[Congratulations to Ian Engelberger, who has just won the Gunnery's poetry contest, judged by Valzhyna Mort, with this poem. Ian is a frequent contributor to Green Hill and I think he has a bit of Dustin Hoffman in All the Presidents' Men in him. Honorable mention went to poets Sara Silverman, Kirsten Bouthiller, and Jon Hartmann, whose work is known here already and/or whose work will appear in this spot in the near future.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Yi Chen Jessie Tsai (2007)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Seasonal poem by Alex Geerken

All the trees bud,
the flowers start to bloom.
It’s the time of rebirth:
Spring is nature’s womb.

Behind this illusion of beauty,
a fiend lurks about.
It lashes out sporadically
and will attack without a doubt.

Small irksome spores
become airborne from the wind.
Once your eyes start to itch
you’ll beg the pollen to rescind.

Quickly take your meds
and hope for the best.
The only thing you can do
is wait it out & get some rest.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Illustration by Ian Engelberger
[...unintentionally recalls the story by Alex Brimelow posted below. More by Ian, including poems, coming here soon]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Street Fighter by Alex Brimelow

I remember the first time. The first time I killed another person. I was fourteen. My family and I lived in Baghdad, Iraq. My father, Amaz Busayna, was in command of the 345th Infantry Battalion, who during the invasion held off an American advance on a bridge for over 8 hours. After the 8th hour, my father said bombs and rockets fell out of nowhere as if Allah himself had demanded it. On that day his men broke and ran. He was then forced to surrender. My father blamed the Americans for everything afterward. Our family had served Saddam as long as he had been in power. My father, even after being stripped of his rank, tried to serve Saddam. I remember him leaving after dinner or slipping away during the day, sometimes with my brother, Azad. They would return later, sometimes happier, sometimes in a rage. Azad was eighteen. He thought that if not for the Americans, Iraq would be happy and wealthy.

One night I asked Azad where he went with my father. After a minute of silence I asked again.“Please, Azad, tell me where you go.” “I can’t tell you,” he hissed. I begged him. Eventually, he said they were part of a group who fought Americans. Azad said the only way for the infidels to leave was through a hail of lead and mound of bodies. “You see Imm, Americans are not like us. They are devils. They can only speak through their guns and only bring sorrow and misery to the places they go.” I listened to my brother and asked him if I could help too. He lay in his cot and did not reply.

It was not because I dislike the Americans, but because I was curious about the group that I wanted to go. In truth, I was once saved by an American soldier. It was a hot day in early June the same year. My friends and I were walking down the street heading to an ice cream store. We turned the corner and stopped at the end of the street was an American Humvee surrounded by half a dozen Americans. One of my friends said, “Maybe we should turn back? There’s always another street.” Some of us nodded and began to head in another direction but my best friend, Hdi, turned to me and said, “Come on Imm, they would never hurt us.” I called out to him “Hdi! Don’t! Come on, let’s follow the others!” He stopped and turned toward me chiding, “Imm, I’m not afraid. Are you?” I stood there, and then I chased after him. We walked side by side. The Americans were half way up the street, silent. They all seemed to be staring at us. The car seemed more like a giant steel dog, growling as it moved down the street. As we neared them, they began to talk to each other. Hdi didn’t even flinch. I was scared. So afraid. These men with black and white colored skin, whose bodies seemed to blend into the wall and whose eyes were nothing but black holes that you could see your own face in, they seemed like devils. One of them smiled at me. I looked at my feet hoping that I could just walk through. Then there was a shriek and explosion. Chaos exploded around me. The Americans began to shoot their guns. As I looked up, I saw Iraqi men standing on the roofs shooting at the Americans. I was thrown to the ground. One of the Americans was holding me, using his body to shield the bullets. He put me in an alley and started to yell at me, making hand motions. I looked into that face and felt more fear than I had ever felt in my whole life. The American ran back to the street, where the gunfire seemed to increase. I turned and ran down the alley. I did not stop running until I got home and burst through into my mother’s arms. There, I began to weep. She held me, hushing me, rocking. Later that day my father brought news that Hdi had been killed in a firefight downtown. I did not tell him that I was there too.

A week or so later, my father called me to the roof of our house after evening prayer. We sat in silence looking out over the city. My father looked at me and said three words: “It is time.” I was puzzled, but he continued. “My son, it is time for you to join us and help us remove this stain from our country.”

He told me that the Americans were not like him or me. They were devils. They neither loved nor cared for others. They only sought to kill. I asked why we do not just ask them to leave. He said that they would never leave our country unless we killed them and drove them back to hell. Allah wills it, he said, and we must do Allah’s will. “Tomorrow you will see.”

The next morning after breakfast, they took me into the city. We walked and walked until it was noon. At a big house, my father went down the stairs. He knocked on the door. A small window in the door slid open and then closed. There was a turning of locks and the door opened. The room was dark and musty. Only a few light bulbs dimly lit the room. I could make out some of the faces of the men who greeted us. As my eyes got used to the gloom, I saw men unloading boxes. They pulled out guns. My father picked one up and knelt before me. “This is the tool that will drive out the infidels. This is your sword that may strike down the demons to defend our home.” He smiled at me and offered it. I held it, but it did not make me more confident.

“Father,” I said, “I don’t know if I will be able to kill the Americans.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, “You will.” We sat there for what felt like a lifetime. We wrapped cloths around our heads and made masks. A door opened from the top of the stairwell and everyone began to move. We followed the stairs all the way up and travelled along the rooftops until we reached a place with a busy street below. Fear gripped my stomach. I wanted to scream “Get away!” but I couldn’t. I felt like a stone.

Then I heard the growl. The growl of the Humvees. The street seemed to empty as if people knew what was going to happen. Two Humvees began to move down the street with a dozen Americans on either side. A man with a RPG aimed at the Humvee. An American yelled, and chaos filled the street. The American soldier aimed and shot the man with the RPG. I watched as the man fall, scarlet blood spewing out of his body. Another RPG was fired, hitting one of the Humvees. The explosion rocked the street but the truck seemed unharmed. Azad was standing now, shooting at the soldiers. I looked toward them and raised the gun to my shoulder. One was dragging his comrade into an alley. Then I saw one alone, standing against the wall under an overlapping roof, aiming with a grim expression on his face.

I put the man in my sights. My hands trembled and I couldn’t keep my aim. I don’t need to do this! I thought, this isn’t right! Tears crept down my face. The American soldier dropped to one knee and reloaded. He stopped and looked up right into my eyes. I felt his eyes scanning me and I felt so naked. Time seem to slow and stop. The yells and gunshots seemed to disappear until there was only silence. My hands stopped shaking and the tears slowed. Then I whispered, “I’m sorry.” I pulled the trigger. The bark and the kick of the gun brought me back to the real world. I unloaded my gun at the man. I saw him hit the wall he was standing in front of. He stood against it and slipped into a sitting position. A red smear seemed to paint the wall even after the gun was empty. I continued to pull the trigger. I fell to my knees and began to cry. I heard someone yell “Back! Back to the safe house!” I grabbed my gun, turned still crying, and ran with the group. I jumped and weaved around the rooftops. I still cried. If god wanted me to kill these men, why did it seem that my soul died with them?

[Alex's story was among the pieces of creative writing selected to be read at the evening event celebrating young writers held by ASAP and hosted by Denis Leary at the Washington Town Hall on Saturday, April 26th. The story was read by veteran singer, actor, and narrator John McDonough, who especially commended its author at the outset of his reading.]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Laying it on the line: Mark Rudman's Sundays on the Phone

Few contemporary poets can be said to “contain multitudes,” as Walt Whitman did. Mark Rudman is one of them, as evidenced by his Rider quintet, which culminates in Sundays on the Phone. The winner of numerous prizes (The National Book Critics Circle Award, the Max Hayward Award for a translation of Boris Pasternak, and numerous fellowships), Rudman has been widely praised for his work, which manages to be ambitious and intimate, harrowing and funny. When his last book, The Couple, was published, Harold Pinter commented that Rudman had “woven an extraordinarily rich and highly original tapestry. It’s an impressive achievement.” Thom Gunn wrote of Rider (1994), the quintet’s first volume, that it was “The most believable book I have ever read about love.” An exceptionally well-read writer, and as much a cultural commentator as a writer of poems, Rudman has won some of the highest awards. His work, written in a seamless blend of verse and prose, the traditional and colloquial, documentary and personal, combines elements of biography, lyric, conversation, essay, and asides. Yet he remains, in the best sense, a poet’s poet, and it may well be the wide-ranging, discursive element of his poetic – which requires more than the brief investment of time allotted by so many readers – that has so far precluded his work from gaining the wider audience that it so richly deserves. This seems particularly true now, since Rudman’s control of the demotic and of the multiple themes of class, race, poverty, and privilege, has reinvigorated an art that often appears remote from public concerns and the polis. Here is a poet who confronts suffering, and is himself engaged in a poetic salvage operation through which he is able to transform anger (that which embittered his mother and caused his father to commit suicide) into energy. Rudman has evolved an autobiographical epic of surprising emotional and intellectual power. Surveying his output over the last decade, one gets the feeling that his achievement will soon garner wider recognition.

Rudman’s method has diverse antecedents. Denis Diderot and Edmond Jabès have been mentioned by reviewers before (and there is a short piece on Jabès in Diverse Voices, Rudman’s 1993 book of essays). Rudman’s mercurial, colloquial verse dialogue that crosses metaphysical boundaries recalls James Merrill; and the cinematic touches – voice over, concise director’s notes, asides, digressions – bring to mind the Pasolini of “A Desperate Vitality.” Dialogic verse that ranges from high diction to low dates from Dante, Shakespeare, and Whitman, but Rudman has also translated Euripides, and written adaptations (‘palimpsests’) of Horace and Ovid. He is acutely aware that to work in language is to work with freighted material, and has remarked that “the American poet is often deluded by the fantasy of not being weighed down with antiquity, of having an opportunity to encounter history anew without an overlay.” The classics are the model par excellence for reimagining the family and individual as the striated site of civic morality, and Rudman shares a talent for translation – and for the transposition of classical examples – with Frank Bidart and C.K. Williams, two elder contemporaries. The classics have also been formally rejuvenating for Rudman: “I found that modernism was implicit in Horace, with his sudden leaps, allusions, reversals, turnings, and complex use of form and sound based on Greek models [...] Horace’s sudden leaps to another plane were prophetic of catastrophe theory.” In an essay entitled “Catastrophe Practice” in his 1995 book of essays, Realm of Unknowing, Rudman appraises Nicholas Mosley’s writing as a strategy of fragments, intuitively sequential and capable of acknowledging the simultaneity and transhistoricity of subjective time. Rudman’s point is that Mosley’s style allows for a closer representation of how the mind works – sometimes stimulated to move ahead by the sudden shocks of catastrophe, other times immobilized by known limits, half-measures, the conditioning past. “Stammerers stammer because they can’t render what is in the mind – the larger picture, lost unity – in sequential speech. The stammerer has not repressed the awareness of how little of what comes out ‘for all its lovely cadences (perhaps because of them?)’ has to do with ‘what is going on in one’s head.’” Rudman’s writing similarly implodes chronological narrative; it is the record of an obsessive recapitulation of the past alongside attempts to live in the present. In “The Night,” an essay on Antonioni in Realm of Unknowing, Rudman defines the concept of duration as “moments of perception which take consciousness a long time to detail, to populate. Consciousness can never unravel all that it perceives happening in an instant.” The Rider quintet responds to such moments of limitless duration, which rise to consciousness in the poetry through fragmentary and elliptical narratives.

In Sundays on the Phone, the voices of the poems range from Anita O’Day to the local dentist to the members of Rudman’s immediate family; the voices of the departed mix with those still among us, to comic and harrowing effect. The speakers we hear most often are the poet’s stepfather, the poet himself, and the poet’s mother – whose complexity, and complexes, dominate the volume. Poems refer to one another, threads of conversation are taken up again, and dialogues don’t seem closed at book’s end – which is fitting, since Rudman’s project is to lay bare the subject’s self-fashioning. One could say that his subjects are the testing-ground for the health of the American body politic. And Rudman’s is a body politic saturated in the language of jazz and film. An epigraph to “Fragile Craft” in the quintet’s previous book, The Couple, quotes Michael Powell: “Cinema is the mythology of the twentieth century.” Rudman is an avowed ‘burrower’ – an obsessive collector of popular culture – and he has a knack for juxtaposing the armature of daily life with the mythological stories that typically pass for the ephemera of our imagination. For example, when Rudman leaves a notebook behind on a plane, it is salvaged from the deep by Aesacus the Diver (from Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book XI, and reworked in the trio of Aesacus poems in the quintet’s second book, The Millennium Hotel), who then passes it on to Andromeda (Metamorphoses, Book IV, and “Perseus and Andromeda” in The Couple) – who in turn restores something of its contents to the author. The voices of this poem, “Sons and Lovers Recovered!,” which report what is retrieved from the notebook, belong to the notebook itself; to the ‘rider’ of the quintet’s first book – alternately prickly, empathetic, and discursive; and to Andromeda, who concludes the discussion by apprising Rudman of the multiple delusions attending his youthful obsession with Mary Ure. The notebook spoke of the poet’s mother taking him, at age 11, to see 'Sons and Lovers' – “a real / adult film, no one else’s mother in town like that would have taken their child to see...” – and, having completed the transmission of the notebook’s meditation with these lines:

I know it saddens you Mark to think how companionable
your mother had been and could be in light of
how she became and even though I am only
antimatter now—not even graph

it saddens me too!

You—who wrote on me in such a way that I felt wanted… …

Yours Truly,

Lost (Moleskin) Graph Paper Notebook

Andromeda writes:


Dear Mark,

Let me clarify a few points. It was Ure’s strength you liked; it was only her blond hair and pale complexion that made you remember her as ethereal. It is not she who is fragile but the actor’s craft. It’s the same subliminal mistake Perseus made when he saw me chained to the rock and he watched the wind lash my hair across my face. But he was just a boy, like Paul Morel.

Do you know that the parts you like best in the film weren’t even in Lawrence’s novel?

Yours truly,


The finer memories the poet has of his childhood are just as suspect – and indelible – as his experience, as an eleven-year-old in 1960, of the film rendition of Sons and Lovers. As in the example above, Rudman’s poems often juxtapose the ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’; voices and time frames recur over the course of the quintet, creating a vortex through which the reader follows the poet toward an eventual understanding, if not reconciliation. And despite the inclusive method of the quintet, Sundays on the Phone is akin to Rider, its bookend partner, in that it is paradoxically a work of remarkable focus and economy – the battle lines are sharply drawn, the speakers are precise, lines are brief and sentences pointed, and even poems of several pages’ length are works of concision.

Rudman’s probing of the relationship between mother and son is at the center of the book. Marjorie Louise Levy Leeds Harris Rudman Strome – one person – died in 1999. By the end of Sundays on the Phone, the reader can almost construct her biography, particularly as it is lived under the oppressive influence of male figures: her father, who scorned Marjorie’s artistic ambitions while cultivating those of her brother (the filmmaker Herbert Leeds); and her husbands, both alcoholics. Some of Rudman’s most powerful work has addressed his father – “rebarbative, even in death” (“Dreams of Cities,” in Realm of Unknowing) – and his stepfather, interlocutor from beyond, uncommon voice of sanity amidst family chaos, and the ‘rider’ of Rider. In Sundays on the Phone, we learn about Marjorie’s life in her own words or through overheard dialogues between mother and son. Rudman’s own son, Samuel, figures in these poems from the beginning; as Samuel matures into his teenage years, the poet’s empathy grows for his late father, mother, and stepfather, though his anguish does not diminish. On closing the book, we understand why “Back Stairwell” describes the poet, “the last of the parents / who don’t send a stand-in […] propelled by a kind of demon” as he runs up the synagogue stairs to pick up his son from day care; shortly thereafter, Samuel responds with “a look of sheer defiance” when his father tries to get him to hold onto the banister:

the same boy who, the other night
I watched shuffle and backpedal and nearly fall,

down the escalator, over
the rapids of the raw-toothed

edges of the blades;
his hands, his attention, occupied

by a rabbit samurai Ninja turtle
and Krang, the bodiless brain.

I gauged the dive I would need
to catch him if he fell:

a flat out floating horizontal grab
I couldn’t even have managed in my youth.

The daily terror of being a parent – of endlessly striving to give one’s own child the best of oneself – is all the more poignant for this poem’s position at the volume’s outset, as a deceptively casual sign of what follows.

At times – as announced in the frontispiece, “The Nowhere Water,” originally published in The Nowhere Steps (1990) – the relationship between mother and son is blissful and effortless; at others it is painful for everybody involved – mother, son, and then grandson. At the time of Sundays on the Phone, fifteen years after The Nowhere Steps, all of Rudman’s parent-figures are deceased. The struggle of living with (or on the phone with) his mother has ended, and it is as though he can see “Marjy, Left to Her Own Devices,” the title of one of the book’s prose pieces. An abruptly direct passage from that poem glosses the entire volume:

My point: she was younger than her years and, as every word written in this book attests, she was born too early (as well as in the wrong family) to have the choice to live a life in which she would have flourished, even if her temperament and sense of unwantedness was the same as it was. There are a lot of functioning, successful people who are not happy in their personal lives but they take satisfaction from their work. My mother “could have been” (for instance), to use a modest example, an art historian, transforming her encyclopedic knowledge into a vocation. She could have spent her days in a wish-come-true factory, surrounded by and immersed in images and objects from another time.

Following his mother’s death, there is clarity: Rudman is witness to the fall of a family, his mother’s brother dead by his own hand, and his mother consumed, eaten alive by anger because trapped in an unrewarding existence light years from how she envisioned life with a ‘Rabbi.’ Yet this clarity delivers the poet into an impasse, dark as those he has observed in others who have written of spiritual conversion; the volume’s final poem, “Conversion in Scafa,” finds him stuck deep in a wordless melancholy, unable to express himself without pain and collapse. But Rudman is heir to the skeptical pragmatism of the American diaspora; what redemption might be on offer, the poem implies, is here and within us, if we have the courage to observe carefully:

But this July in the rugged Abruzzo something stole my sleep.

In exhaustion, it all comes clear.

The stars so close to the ground.

The way, the way they appear, one by one.

No vasty, vertiginous blur.

The dry, ravaged air that molds
every rock and shrub and crevice and grotto,
every white house chiseled into the Apennine range.

Not that there is no secret to the universe,
but that the secret may not be one
we want to hear.

At the conclusion of Rider, the poet was “set free” by the empathy of a preacher and hospice worker, who came to love Rudman’s stepfather Sidney, ‘the little Rabbi,’ during their time together. At the end of Sundays on the Phone, equilibrium is restored in a renewed quest for metaphysical knowledge. The poems resist closure – and the quintet likewise – because they are the embodiment of a life lived according to the dictates of a persistently dialectical mind. For years, mother and son had spoken by phone on Sunday morning. Sunday no longer threatens with phone calls – but it wouldn’t be correct to say there’s no one on the other end of the line.

Review of Mark Rudman, Sundays on the Phone (Wesleyan UP, 2005), by Nick Benson, in Prairie Schooner 82:1 (Spring 2008).