34 ali tal england, uk Unbounded Void (V) 34 mewlana jalaluddin rumi At the Twilight Birdsong 38 edmund spencer Travels in Circassia, Krim Tartary, &c. (XIX)
BAŞ KABÎMÎZDA ON THE COVER
2 henry david thoreau Epitaph on the World Dúniyanîñ baştaşînda 4 iwan iskender (aleksanduruw) Beklemekte
NAZAR LOOK Attitude and culture magazine of Dobrudja’s Crimean Tatars Tomrîğa Kîrîm Tatarlarîñ turuşmamuriyet meğmuwasî ISSN: 2069-4784 www.nazar-look.com firstname.lastname@example.org Constanta, Romania FOUNDER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF BAŞ-NAŞIR Taner Murat EDITORS NAŞIRLER Emine Ómer Uyar Polat Jason Stocks COMPUTER GRAPHICS SAYAR SÎZGAĞÎSÎ Elif Abdul Hakaan Kalila (Hakan Calila) CREATIVE CONSULTANTS ESER KEÑEŞÇÍSÍ M. Islamov Copyright reverts back to contributors upon publication. The full issue is available for viewing online from the Nazar - Look website. For submission guidelines and further information, please stop by www.nazar-look.com
6 taner murat scythia minor (little crimea) Kókten sesler - Temúçin (XXV) 8 tom sheehan massachusetts, usa Delicate April on Hodd’s Mountain 14 svetlana kortchik new south wales, australia Superhuman 20 kevin marshall chopson tennessee, usa May Montane ...of the mountain Neely’s Bend Hummingbird in Silhouette - Karartîda şîbînkuş 24 w. jack savage california, usa Bumping
Kevin Marshall Chopson Svetlana Kortchik W. Jack Savage Tom Sheehan Ali Tal
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henry david thoreau
(1817 - 1862)
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(1817 - 1862)
Epitaph on the World Here lies the body of this world, Whose soul alas to hell is hurled. This golden youth long since was past, Its silver manhood went as fast, An iron age drew on at last; 'Tis vain its character to tell, The several fates which it befell, What year it died, when 'twill arise, We only know that here it lies.
Dúniyanîñ baştaşînda Bo dúnyanîñ kewdesídír mínda ğatkan, Ğanî, ne yazîk, ğehennemgedír atîlgan. Altîn ğaşlîgî kópten ótken, Kúmúş ğígítlígí hîzlî geşken, Soñî temír şagî bolîp pítken; Bellí tuwul tabiyatî, Tanîlmay başîna kelgenlerí, Kaşan ólgen, kaşan uyanağak. Tek bellí şiy mínaw ğatkan yerí. (Terğúmesí Taner Murat’tan)
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iwan iskender (aleksanduruw)
(1941 - 2000)
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(1941 - 2000)
Beklemekte Koş-koğa bír kîskaayaklî koş-koğa bír bala tuwurayatîr. Gezúğî yîldîzlar kadar ter tanelerí íşínde bírkaş biñ seneden berítlí ogîraşîp başîna şîgîp kurtula-almaz. Bala da şegíşer, ana da şegíşer, bírí-bírísín de azatlata-almaz. Bírewníñ yardîmî da tiymez; kenarda otîrîp şaşîp kalîrmîz o kadar kíşkenemíz ke, eger kîskaayaklînîñ mañlayîndan ústúmúzge bír ter tanesí awsa malîmîz-múlkúmúz men barabar selge buwulur edík. (Terğúmesí Taner Murat’tan)
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scythia minor (little crimea) www.tanermurat.com
Kókten sesler - Temúçin (XXV)
Kesím 51 Sende kalsîn Temúçin tuwgan soñ, kaberín algan Yasugaynîñ, Elinaynîñ tuwganî, koñşîsî, arkadaşî ádet kuwup, kolî tiygende Delígún Boltaktan ogîrap, kózaydînga kele başladî. O sîralarda, kolîndan tutup dórt-beş yaşînda ulun ğeteklep kelgen, Úriyañgay Zarğiyut îrgîndan bír polatşî da keldí, Yasugaynîñ tanîşî. Atî, Zarğiyuday Eslígen. Şo karíp polatşî, Zarğiyuday Eslígen, kaltîrawuk kollarî man torlangan kózlerín súrte-súrte, akelgen kózaydîn bakşîşlarîn bírer-bírer berdí, Yasugay Batîrga: - Mína, Batîrîm, uluña, Temúçinge míl akeldím, şengel akeldím, buluka úşún. dep. - Bek árúw etkensíñ. Ósíp buluka awuna şîkkanda kereklí bolîr, saw bol! dedí, Yasugay Batîr, míllerní, şengellerní alîp. Kama da berdí, uluna berílgen kamanî da alîp, bír kenarga saldî, Yasugay Batîr. Almansúk te berdí, almansúkní de alîp: - Saw bol, ğeñkke ketkenge bek kereklí, kollarîña kóp sawluk! - dedí Yasugay, bakşîşlarnîñ ğúmlesí Zarğiyuday Eslígenníñ óz kolîndan şîkkanîn bílíp. Lákin Zarğiyuday Eslígen "Bonî da apakayîm ğíbergen edí, Temúçin uluña" degende, onîñ kîskaayaklîsîndan kelgen bakşîşîn kaytardî, Yasugay Batîr: - Saw bol amma bo sende kalsîn! dep, kúlúmsúrep. Mína, kózaydînga şay-típ kelíp, kîskaayaklîsî ğíbergen bakşîşîn şay-típ alîp kaytkan edí, şo wakît, Zarğiyuday Eslígen, ulî man barabar, kolîndan tutup, ğeteklep.
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Kesím 52 Beş balasî boldî Elinay Biykeden Yasugay Batîrnîñ dórt ulî man bír kîzî boldî. Ullarnîñ atî Temúçin, Zoğiy Kasar, Kağigun, bír de Temúge Ózegin. Kîznîñ atî da Temúlún edí. Temúçin dokîz yaşîna kelgende, Zoğiy Kasar yedí yaşîn totîrgan edí, Kağigun beş yaşînda edí, Temúge Ózegin kunan edí taa, úş yaşlarînda, Temúlún de aldda edí taa. Kesím 53 Ekísí de ul Ğeñk tenkasîn kár etíp, kîskaayaklîsîn sagînîp, Delígún Boltakka ğuwurup bargan sîrasînda, Yasugay Batîrnîñ ulî tuwgan edí, Temúçin. Şo wakît, Temúçin ulî tuwganîna bek kuwanîp, órseñlep, ğeñkke taşlangan aranî uzatîp, bírekí ay úyde kalgan edí, Yasugay Batîr. Bírtaa ğenkke ketkenínden hesap yasalsa, dokîz ayga barmay, Şal-Ay da bír ul taptî, onîñ atî Belgútay. Temúçin men arasî senege barmay. Tîpkî Belgútay man, Elinay Biykeníñ tapkan ekínğí ulî, Zoğiy Kasarnîñ arasînday. Ekísí de ul, ekí bala taptî Şal-Ay Ana, Yasugayga. Bekter men Belgútay. Yedí balasî boldî Yasugaynîñ, yedí kardaş edíler, Yasugaydan. Şal-Ay Anadan ekí ul, Elinay Anadan dórt ul man bír kîz. Yedí kardaşnîñ tîşînda, Yasugaydan tuwmagan, Temúçin alar man baya aralî, Elinay Egeníñ dórt balasî taa bolağak, dórtewí de, ul. Onlar da Temúçin alarnîñ kardaşî. Kesím 54 Ğeñgesínden elşí Temúçin dokîz yaşîna kelgende, kúznúñ mañlay ayînda, Yasugay Batîr alarnîñ úyúne ğeñgesínden elşí keldí: - Başîñ saw bolsîn, Batîr! Nekún akañ geştí. - dep. Yasugay Batîr atîna míníp bír buşuk haftalîk başsawluk ğolîna şîktî, ğeñgesíne,
scythia minor (little crimea)
atadan óksíz kalgan ballarîna barîp. - Sawluk man barîp, sawluk man kayt! - dedí artîndan Şal-Ay, şîgîp ketiyatîrganda. - Sawluguñ man barîp, sawluguñ man kayt! - dedí artîndan Elinay Biyke de, ğolga şîgayatîrganda. Yasugay Batîr ğeñgesíne barganda, ğeñgesí karakaberní olarga da ğíbergen, akasî Mañka Kîyan man, ğañîlarda úylengen ínísí Darîtay Ózegin men de tabîştî. Úşewí de tabîşîp, úşewí de ğîlaştîlar, ğeñgesí men barabar, Nekún Tayğanîñ artîndan óksíz kalgan ballar man barabar. Şo keşe kondîlar. - Men dayanmam. Kartayatîrman, endí. - dep, ekínğí kúní sawlukmankal alîp, Mañka Kîyan akalarî şîgîp, úyúne kayttî. Bír keşe taa konîp: - Men de kaytayîm, endí. Úyúmde kaár etíp beklegen ekí apakayîm bar. - dep, ertesí kúní Yasugay Batîr da sawlukmankal aldî, bír buşuk hafta uzaklîkta bolgan úyúne kayttî. Şonday, Nekún Tayğanîñ artîndan kalgan tul ğeñgesí men óksíz ballarnîñ karalmasî ğañîlarda úylengen Darîtay Ózeginge kaldî, oga túştí. Kesím 55 Karakulak Teregí Bírkaş kúnden, Yasugay Batîr, Elinay Biykege: - Yarîn, Temúçin men barabar, awga şîgağakmîz. - dedí. Elinay Biyke sabaga aşap-íşeğeklerní ázírledí. Temúçin de atkîş-súmún ázírledí. Tuwganînda Zarğiyuday Eslígen bergen kamasîn, almansúgún taktî. Temúçinní batar kanatîna alîp, tañ man ğónedí, Yasugay. Úylerínden awga şîgîp ketken ekínğí kúní Burkan Kaldunnuñ işínde Burgî Kókíregíne barîp, bír kíşíní taa aldîlar, úyúnden. Zarğiyuday Eslígenní aldîlar, onî kuyrukka tagîp, artta ğúrsettílp. Ğollarî Burkan Kaldunnuñ íşínde, Kulan Daknîñ betíne edí. Aylana-aylana Kulan Daknîñ wahşiy dúniyasîna barîp, daknîñ sarplîgîna, şetínlígíne yúz tutup şîktîlar. O yerlerde, Zarğiyuday Eslígenníñ,
sáde ózí bílgen, eskíden dak barsaklîgîndan temír-bakîr şîgarîp, ózí kazgan, ózí teşken, dokîz koñgîlî bar edí, onlarnî aktardîlar. Dokîz koñgîlnîñ aktarmasî, teşkermesí sîrasînda, şo yerlerde yuwa kurgan bír ayuwga rast keldíler. Nogaylarga talattîrîp sîgîştîrdîlar, ayuwnî. Kadattîlar oklarîn, túştúler, şaşîrîp, ğanî şîgîp kaşkan haywannîñ tabanîna. Artîndan ğetíp, kóp azaplîk şektírmedí, Yasugay Batîr boldîrgan haywanga. Ğîltîratawuydî kamasîn, saplawuydî ğúregíne. Bír hafta kalîp awladîlar, Kulan Daknîñ sarplîgînda, şikáyetke yer kalmaganşîk. Ána, şo awnuñ sîrasînda, bír haftalîk awunda úyrendíler, Yasugay Batîr man Temúçin, şo koñgîl yerlerín. Zarğiyuday Eslígen kóstergen edí olarga, şo awda, şo, saklî, dokîz koñgîlnîñ yerín. O wakît añlattî babasî, Temúçinge, Zarğiyuday Eslígenníñ polat, bakîr ustalîgîn, uzlukşulugun. O wakît añlattî Zarğiyuday Eslígen, Temúçinge, ka-típ, polat ustasî bolganî úşún, Tatarlîk man onúş senelík ğeñgínde, Tatarlarnîñ yagîndan ğeñkke katîlîp, kul túşúp óttíríleğegínde, bír Batîr şîgîp kabaátín síldírgenín, kutarganîn. O wakît kósterdí, Zarğiyuday Eslígen, urbasîn taşlap, Temúçinge, şalkasînda taşîgan polatşî ímgesín. O wakît añlattî kullugun. Yasugay Batîrnîñ tuwganî, ğeñk dostî, Tarkutay Kírtlíkníñ kolîna túşkenín. Şîr-şîpalak brakîlîp, başka kullar man barabar kafeslerge itelgenín. Tam kafeslerden şîgarîlîp ğeñk kurbanî etíleğekte, şalkasîndakî polatşî ímgesín kóríp, bír Batîrnîñ şîgîp ğanîn bagîşlaganîn. - Zanaat ustalarîna tiygen, ulusnuñ keleğegíne tiyer. - degen eken şo Batîr, ğan borîşîn sîltawlap. Şo awda añladî, Temúçin, Yasugay Batîr man Zarğiyuday Eslígenníñ arasîn. Aw tekmíllep kaytmak ğolînda, Kulan Daknîñ etekleríne kelgende, akşam ústí edí. Toktamaga kelíşken bír yer karayatîrganda, bír terekníñ íşínden tîrmaşîp añîlgan bír karakulak wurdî, Yasugay Batîr. Şo yerde kalîp kondîlar, Karakulak Teregínde. (dewamî keleğekke)
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Delicate April on Hodd’s Mountain
Oliver Kettering remembered almost everything. And judgments came of that memory. So it was that two coincidental things happened within seconds of each other as he sat on his porch: April, the sweetest month to him for close to 80 years, was into a third most memorable day, and his youngest granddaughter, Holly Gatersby, had come down off Hodd’s Mountain in a sour mood. Showing attitude in her face and in a most determined walk, she went past her grandfather, without waving a salute, right to Fleet’s General Store. The Kettering patriarch, on the porch of the small house he had righted from a barn more than a half century earlier, two wives ago, six boys and girls and six good hounds ago, noted the rigor of her walk. “The girl’s only 17,” he said to himself in polar judgment, remembering 17 like it was last night right after the evening meal. Like then, Delicate April was touching him with her ten delicious fingers. He was sure April would never let go her grip on him. He hoped that somehow April’s ten good fingers would also touch Holly Gatersby before the day was out. “It’s a damn shame if they ain’t doin’ just that,” he continued in his communal prayers, the thick white beard reacting to a breeze more than his jaw at self-talk, the hazel eyes catching early sun and making them live as lit kindling. His half left leg was thrown up on a barrel top, haphazard, bent. Every time he threw that leg up on railing or barrelhead, Oliver Kettering swore he could see Brutus the mule snapping back at him the fiercest of kicks. A dozen or so
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neighbors, in a hurry, had come to his rescue a good fifteen years back. Once he swore he remembered every face of theirs; now he wasn’t so sure he could pull all into one scene again. In quick summary Oliver acknowledged most folks around about were kin of his, from one strain or another, and mostly friendly otherwise. He understood his own “otherwise” as being poor advice that he’d tossed from his present spot in the world, the sole chair on the generally-proclaimed Judgment Porch where he sat at the moment. Oliver, as all Hodd’s Mountain knew, was a curious mixture himself…he neither looked like he was near 80 (seemingly half that age) though he oftentimes acted like 80… in proof he thought it had to be 30 years or more since people stopped calling him Ollie, sort of an extension of respect of what he had become the whole length of The Chawtenauga, advisor of all and such as he preferred to call it. And Holly, true to one strain he knew as well as the book, was capable of going in one of two directions. Like her father Luden Gatersby, she could be idle, shiftless and sorry most of her life, like Luden a damn scarecrow of what he could have been; or, like her sister Marvel Alice Gatersby, she could, one illustrious day, haul up
massachusetts, usa her damn britches and damn well get to work gettin’ out of a rut. Marvel Alice, after her britches hauling, hard work, daring, dreaming, was three years into college, the first girl off Hodd’s Mountain to do so in the best part of a hundred years. Though he loved Marvel Alice and her attitudes, he knew he loved Holly just as much; yet that thought caused him serious argument; did he love Holly a bit more because she needed more loving, and more security? He savored those thoughts in his usual fashion, fully and consequentially. Then, in further adjudication, he said another prayer for her… Holly now mostly blessed in haymow adventures. Quickly he counted on his fingers his diverse intentions, marking with her name the deep sweep between thumb and index finger each time passing through that valley. Delicate April, as ever, coming around every year with sweet hope, touched him again and he prayed once more that its most decent enterprise and selection would include this grandchild of his at an obvious precipice of life, a place where he had been a time or two. And so, absorption came on him again. A tremor in the bent leg, the hoisted leg, brought Brutus back in a hurry, and he spoke to nobody in particular, a sense of sharing accosting him, as he said: “Damned if I can’t smell old Brutus’ field work leather comin’ back from its winter stash. And I can see the old cinches, reins and checkreins hangin’ in the barn the last time I hung them up for good, seein’ them over these late years slowly givin’ way to dryness and crackin’. Every time I go in the barn, Old Plow, I swear on Eternity I can smell you.” In his mind, in all about him, came a cessation of all other images and thoughts as Brutus came home again. “You ain’t none lettin’ go either.” A furrow, as straight as a rifle shot across the back acres, from a long day past, fled its neatness through his mind.
Holly, in sudden realization, came back just as quickly in the mix of images; he could picture her down the road somewhere drying on the vine, ageing, missing the richness and true goodness of late years, her hair thinning, lips curling, thoughts dimming. “Oh,” he thought aloud, “what a mixture of hope and disillusion abounds.” It felt as though Brutus had kicked him again. Then, from the mid-section of Old Smoky, the line of rock edging the road to Mt. Albion, his friend April sent down the smell of new maples afloat in the universe, and also the hidden horror of an old accident. His first wife, Therese Fablon Kennesy, came back in a rush, and he swore in another instance that he knew the same perfumed scent she had set adrift specifically at him one night at a dance almost 70 years ago. So drifted was that scent it clung to him for her whole life. It was a special life until the wagon, with her and their first daughter Ida Ells, had gone down off that Mt. Albion road, straight onto a pile of boulders and the inevitable and unaccountable smithereens. Life then, for a bit, had rushed about like a headless chicken, and he had gone everywhere for every reason until his soul had quieted down. Sanity had lead to preservation, he swore. *** Oliver’s bad leg gave off one small ache of memory, and Holly’s determined gait, so it said to him, was one of anger, and he judged it to be dead against her now-and-then boyfriend, Angus Hollerfield. Angus, handsome as handsome comes, more man than boy, knew all the paths and all the valleys of The Chawtenauga… and traveled them, as word went, usually after dark from forked leg to forked leg. One path led directly to Holly’s barn on the side of Mt. Albion, and most other paths had their own same conclusions, moonlight not withstanding. With a sense of wisdom, and long practice at life’s endless war, Oliver could damn
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massachusetts, usa near orchestrate the illuminated arguments rising out of gray matter and understandable hungers put in place at Creation itself. In one memorable night on the Judgment Porch he had argued with great gusto against Merle Preblum whose daughter Alice Colber, named for her uncle Al, had apparently been dishonored in a neighbor’s barn. “Goddamn shame, Merle, you forget your manners and memory what you exercised in and out of a barn or two in your own time. The boy was coltish, not forsakin’ anything at all, and that girl a fair mare in her own right. They been right-minded for a good dozen years now. More power to ‘em both, that lesson in humanity and all its cravin’s.” Oliver had sprung that same argument on Holly a time or two, or one interpretation of it, to make his point, to give her self-reflection something shiny to look at for a change. “Way in the past, girl,” he had said, “perhaps 10 or 15 thousand years ago, or perhaps longer than that of which I ain’t sure, you can make up your own mind to whatever, someone kin to us back down the road, made up his mind about somethin’ and set the pattern and path for us, all of us. Makin’ us like we are, he did, and they ain’t much we can do about that decision of his and why it comes down to us. So just picture someone in your friend’s family, over the hill there, or off in another cave or another valley makin’ a decision that came down to your friend and they ain’t a helluva lot he can do either about that old granpap of his a few hundred steps back down on the ladder of Creation. Locked up in the blood, it is, tighter than the front door on the hive out there back of here.” Holly, as most kids off Hodd’s Mountain, or for that matter anywhere in this here universe of looking up and looking back, paid little heed to words from an elder where sauces and hungers
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were involved. “He’s such a liar, Gramp. Out and out, a liar from the first word. Never once said he snapped another pair of bloomers like he ought to have said. Ownin’ up is important to people. And he didn’t spend a breath on it. Just holdin’ onto the goodies like he couldn’t ever let go.” The blush of her pure pink was as healthy as the old gent could imagine it. “Girl, you can imagine him in your image or in his image, but you don’t get both, and don’t try to make his image be your image. It don’t work that way. Never has, never will, believe me. You can go down to the river to pray for all of that, or up on the mountain in the mornin’ glory, but it ain’t comin’ to you on any silver platter, no matter how hard you pray. Best thing is to let him do the prayin’. That’s the secret in all of this here houndin’ us. He gets to do the thing best needed. Sooner or later, the way he combs his hair, how he holds his head, the path shows itself.” Now, obviously on this sweet April morning, it appeared the frisky colt had run an odd course. “I best warn that boy of eternal loss,” he said half aloud, knowing April, in its most fierce grasp hardly ever lets go, and granddaughter Holly had as many good parts to her as anybody on Hodd’s Mountain. In a sudden vision he saw the silhouette of Angus’ widowed mother, Best Pearl, and knew a slow, subtle ache of another sort. As part of the same vision, he could almost frame up the picture of a long-past forebear, Cro-Magnon or whatever name had been given him by people who invented such names, moving from cave to cave with more than one kind of fire with him or about him. The picture tickled the hell out of Oliver; Brutus and the ugly kick, and all the old leather work, made a hasty departure when he saw a saber-toothed tiger sitting beside a cave opening in the face of a dark cliff, licking at bone remnants, drooling. Time, so twisted upon itself, marched in the abrupt darkness across that
massachusetts, usa imagined cliff. All Oliver Kettering’s genes, some thinking they were deeply hidden and nearly lost, gave thanks in a rush. Best Pearl, upon hearing a caution come from him as they sat in her kitchen, said, without a bit of hesitation, “Oliver, you know well as I do, there is barns and then there is barns. They do make memory, I swear. We knowed ‘em and they know them, and like you always said, ‘It all makes the world one whirlin’ place of addiction,’ and bless me so for sweet addiction.” She added a shyly spoken but clearly heard, “Oh, yes. My! My!” She herself was a late mother, and now at 50 or thereabouts, prime and robust, a light within emanating, hair as blond as a bottle would allow it on short order for a special occasion, set tasks in a row. With near effortless moves she primped her hair, ran a cloth over the shiny bluecheckered oil cloth on her kitchen table, righted and smoothed out her apron with the sweep of one hand, and just as casually let an elbow touch the old man of the mountain… less some degree of work still in the till, as he often said. “There is one way we can square those kids away, Oliver,” she volunteered. Immediately he somehow felt the old Cro-Magnon spirit moving in the woman. She tickled him right down to his funny bone, the hair shaping, the apron primping, the forgotten light hustled from some back acreage, the Cro-Magnon woman at her best. He figured whatever she had in mind was right as rain, and would have some prominence to it and a damned lot of years of refinin’. “You just didn’t all of a sudden come up with that notion, did you? Or you been spendin’ some of the moonlight workin’ part time at it?” “Oliver, I must admit, for only you to know, that I been that way ever since I seen you
and Hustice Helen in the back of a wagonload of hay some time past. Never was any sinnin’ there either. Oh, my, no. No sinnin’ there, just naturalin’. And you never fooled me none with the philosopher stuff, knowin’ you’re a man all the way from the very beginnin’ you’re always talking about.” In a queenly and outright manner she practically knighted him as she added, “You’re the mountain itself, Oliver, and I swear my boy is trackin’ the route you laid out so long ago over half of Hodd’s Mountain. That kind of talk is endless, you know, once it gets hold of by some hereabouts… and you can imagine where I’m pointin’.” Her nod was down the road from them, at the Town Pulpit, Bernadette Mabel. “She does swear by some things as being gospel good.” Part of Oliver’s recall went skittering down the ways and valleys and over hills and hummocks long gone into mist. But a stubborn way held at some things so precious they seemed on their own not wanting to part. His smile was not an old man’s smile, nor was that smile one of boast. “So what kind of an idea you been spinnin’ about in that pretty head?” At last, he was thinking, things are getting’ kicked out in the open. He affirmed within himself, It’s time enough. Too much seed gone to pot. So he said openly, “You thinkin’ we been wastin’ time and those young ones showin’ us a thing or two about time itself?” The old mountain was straining in him; it was bound to break loose in a landslide sooner than later. As he took in all signatures of any sort in the room, any leftover ownership marks that might have been dropped in passing, a line of her hip movement, subtle as tea smell in the back of the kitchen, eased its way from wherever it had been tucked away and
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massachusetts, usa made itself known again. It was contagion and he believed in contagion. “It’s easy, Oliver. You up and promise to marry me, do it all over again. We party, make speeches, get holden onto one another, and then you just up and back out of it all, like you went and changed your mind without a single fuss. Ought to slight hell out of that boy of mine. Make him somethin’ miserable ‘bout his mother gettin’ stood so.” He thought about it for the shortest spell. The picture of a Cro-Magnon man came back to him in all his raw glory. As if in a partnership with that older man of the mountains, he then said, “Whyn’t we make like I’m tryin’ on seducin’ you, getting’ you into your own bed and lettin’ him catch up to us.” It really wasn’t a question he had proposed. “Now that might scare the hell out of him, him bein’ the really worryin’ type boy we hope he is. That might put the thunder under him, shake his outlook all to hell and then some.” “Oliver,” she replied, the mouth ajar with her words and a move at false surprise, “You do get past yourself sometimes for a man your age. I have to admit the thought’s been there more’n once since his nibs last took a belt out of me and got himself killed too on that bad turn of the road, like he was bein’ served up one more time for all his shenanigans and such. There’s always been a good connection since we both lost folk on that crazy road up there. I think it’s been cookin’ for a long time.”
*** It was little more than a week later, and the stage was set.
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The routine on Angus was decoded and duly noted, for Saturday was usually a night for Holly; a walk uphill for him, a new go at heaven for her, or a good shot at it. The maples and the early blossoms, the richness of new grass, the spill of a decent moon so soon after a few chilled nights the week earlier, said romance was well afoot, and the whole of Hodd’s Mountain echoed with possibilities, with encounters promised as sweet as could be dreamed. Best Pearl had put on her long flannel nightgown, where pink flowers roamed at will, where the long folds allowed all beauty its hideouts. On her head the knot of hair, newly golden, was loosed and tossed for best of measures. In her mind, little was left for chance; the house spruced from corner to corner, as well as herself. Signs of loneliness she had borne for endless nights, were put aside, like the screen magazine at least three years old but radiant with a picture of one handsome dog of a movie star; and the tired, worn, nearly obliterated .45 Elvis record of new love was finally dropped into the waste bucket. But she was perfumed for the fare-the-well of all else she owned. Scenes, she knew, were being set. A sudden glimpse of how movies were made came to her and just as quickly disappeared with an intaken breath. Oliver Kettering, the old man of mountain, performer yet, waited down on corner of Fleet’s General Store with some of old bucks, passing time and tobacco and stories between one another.
the the the old
“Damn thing I noticed, Oliver,” Malcolm Brisbee said, “that you got yoreself pretty clean shaved for a Saturday night with the old boys. You ain’t one bit losin’ that bait on me; you got sonethin’ goin’ on we don’t know about, like you’d let us know just as many times you did
massachusetts, usa before.” He raised his hands in bounden salute and waved them at the sky and whatever else. “I think we gonna run you for president, Oliver, or raise some damn fine stature for you at the end of the valley, some that all the old folks from here to the end of The Chautenawga can take heed.” “It’s what I’m ever tryin’ to fathom, Malcolm, this boundless bit carryin’ on in us since Creation did it’s thing, and we ain’t got it figured out which way is really right and really wrong. Beats me at times all to dazzle, it does, lookin’ at it from all sides.” Oliver looked down the road toward Best Pearl’s house square and neat against the barn behind it. The image of a man of the caves came back to him in clear luster. “We look at things two ways or more every time out, seems to me, and I’m not lettin’ myself out of any argument here.”
ought to have a stature raised up for him, walked off from the group of old timers and headed toward Best Pearl’s house still neat as a straight furrow against the barn at the other end of town. The confrontation came in Best Pearl’s kitchen, not in her bedroom. But Best Pearl’s essence had assailed Oliver from the moment he entered her small house at the edge of town. He could not stay away from her in her loose gown where all promise seemed to leap about as she moved around, lovingly, coyly, proud. They gabbed a bit. Stopped gabbing. Closed a bit. Came together a bit. Oliver’s right hand, hidden in the deep folds, was at anointment when Angus stormed into the room from outside the house.
“Oliver, you cut the furrow a little deep for me every now and then, and I suppose this here is another one of them now and thens, you figurin’ you’re still asittin’ on the mighty porch of deliverance and all us here at your feet waitin’ on judgment. But if you’re talkin’ about men and lady things, ain’t no way to hide it in mystery talk… it’s damn well mysterious all by its lonesome. When there’s honest couplin’ ‘tween folks, I can’t think there’s two ways of lookin’ at that, no matter what age we’re at.”
The young Lothario of Hodd’s Mountain screamed at Oliver, who turned and said, “Only as far as you go with my granddaughter, same distance, and not makin’ her any decent promise. Is that enough for you? Is that a truce? Or do I let your mother speak her piece right now?”
“That’s strictly the point I’m making, Malcolm. Honest couplin’ for the moment or for some kind of promise? The future counts itself on what’s goin’ on now.”
Angus, before bolting in defeat, said, “All right, Old Man.”
“Hell, Oliver, none of us knows what’s around the corner, never mind plannin’ on what we don’t know’s goin’ to be there. It ain’t logical for me, not enough to change my appetite for supper, that’s for sure.” He laughed his way out of the whole argument, coughed once and nodded as Oliver Kettering, the old man who
Best Pearl’s arms were still locked around Oliver’s neck.
And Best Pearl added “All right, Old Man,” perfectly happy with all considerations, though not in perfect mimicry of her son’s words. ***
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new south wales, australia
Superhuman She was superhuman. Her moves defied commonly accepted laws of physics, and everything she did, from a tiny flicker of her fingers to elaborate, daring tumbling passes, was masterfully executed. When she stepped on the mat, her aim was not to beat her competitors. Nor was she attempting to conquer her fears for she had none. But every time she performed, every time the audience gasped in breathless wonder and erupted in a thunder of applause, she was fighting the gravity. And when she prevailed over it, time and time again, she knew that the physical limitations that applied to other people didn’t apply to her. She was invincible, a hero, a role model for millions of young girls around the world who wanted to be her. Her trembling hand clasping the remote tightly, Sarah watched herself compete on TV. Her unblinking eyes followed the slim figure on the tiny screen, while her whole body seemed to tense whenever she performed a particularly remarkable skill. Each time her routine ended, she would rewind to the beginning. Over and over she would play it without noticing the tears that ran down her cheeks. She watched the girl on TV do a brilliant dismount after a flawless beam routine and raise her hands in a celebratory greeting, and her face lit up for a second and then relaxed into a habitual frown again. A nurse waltzed into the room, a medical chart under her arm. She smiled cheerfully, an expression of carefree unconcern on her plump freckly face. ‘Are you watching it again?’ she demanded, taking the remote from Sarah’s unresponsive fingers and pausing the video. ‘All you do is torture yourself. You should watch a movie or read a book. We have many good books in the library. I could bring you one.’
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Sarah shook her head sadly and looked out the window, her eyes vacant and staring. If she tried hard enough, maybe she could pretend that she was someplace else, practicing in the gym, perhaps, or swimming in the lake, or at her parents’ place enjoying a family meal. Anywhere but in this dreary room where everything, from grey walls to the wheelchair that she used to move her immobile body around, smelt of sickness, death and desperation. ‘Try to move your toes for me, honey.’ The nurse’s no nonsense voice interrupted her reverie. ‘You have a long way to go to get better and you have to work very hard.’ Sarah blinked the unwanted tears away. How was she supposed to move her toes if she didn’t even feel them? She sensed her stomach tighten in a helpless, petrified mass and she squeezed her eyes. ‘What’s the point?’ she said dejectedly. ‘I will never do gymnastics again.’ ‘Yes but if you don’t give up, you might walk again.’ The nurse winked and adjusted her pillows. ‘Gymnastics is my life,’ Sarah whispered. ‘Oh, honey,’ said the nurse dismissively. ‘There’s more to life than gymnastics.’
new south wales, australia Sarah contemplated her with pity. The woman didn’t know what she was talking about. How could she if she never experienced the rush of mastering a move that no one else in the world could do, the giddy exhilaration of winning, of achieving the impossible, of beating the odds every single day of her life? Her gaze fell on a framed photograph on her bedside table. The young girl in the picture was crying too but instead of weakness and fear, they were tears of happiness. Not because she had a gold medal around her neck or because of the adoring crowds shouting her name. And not even because she was the best in the world. No, she was crying from happiness because she still believed that she was superhuman. *** She waited for him all day. Trapped in her helpless misery, there was nothing left for her to do but pray for him to come. Nothing to do but watch her mobile phone obsessively and dial his number time and time again, leaving countless messages, each more frantic and despairing than the last. She fretted and cried and she even put on some bright pink lipstick only to wipe it off again with a sleeve of her hospital gown. Finally, she slept.
asked. ‘I’m not,’ she said dully. ‘Sorry?’ He looked at her in confusion. ‘I’m not feeling anything, Paul.’ It was a lie. Paradoxically and despite not having any sensation below her waist, every fibre of her body seemed to exude dull, monotone pain that never went away, not even when she was asleep. ‘Do you want anything? Is there anything I can do?’ ‘There is. When I fell…’ she stammered. ‘When I had the accident, I was recording my vault. I want to see the video.’ ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea.’ ‘It will make me feel better.’ ‘You shouldn’t dwell on the past so much. Concentrate on your recovery.’
It was while she was still asleep and when the early morning dawn coloured dark skies bright red that he finally came.
‘I need to understand the mistake I made to make sure I don’t do it again,’ she said, and then she saw his darkened face and remembered. She would never do gymnastics again. Shivering, she continued, ‘You are my coach. It happened on your watch. It’s your fault! I want to see the video.’
He watched her open her eyes groggily and said, ‘Sorry I haven’t been in touch. I got caught up at the gym.’
He gasped as if she slapped him. ‘I’ll see what I can do,’ he said coldly. ‘You should get some rest.’
‘I called the gym. You weren’t there,’ she said accusingly. ‘Were you with her?’ Sarah didn’t like the whining, atypically insecure note that made her voice quiver. She shut her eyes in pain, waiting for the drug infused fog to clear so she could think straight.
‘Do you still love me?’ she demanded.
Instead of sitting down in a chair beside her bed, he took a step back. ‘How are you feeling?’ he
‘I love you.’ It was almost a whisper. She lowered her gaze thoughtfully. ‘If you loved
‘Of course.’ ‘Say it.’ She watched his face for what seemed like a very long time. ‘I need to hear you say it.’
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new south wales, australia me, you would have gotten a divorce by now.’ ‘I really need to get going. I will come and see you very soon, I promise. Go back to sleep.’ Leaving the room, he turned the lights off behind him. She was suddenly plunged in darkness, and she squeezed her eyes shut in a vain attempt to fight off the familiar twinge of panic and loneliness. Her shoulders shook in silent sobs. She desperately wanted to get up, make her way to the window and watch his retreating back as he walked away from her and into his daily life. But the body that until very recently had obeyed her every whim now let her down, refusing to cooperate. She concentrated on her lifeless feet, willing them to move but there was nothing, not even a flicker of feeling. *** Paul stepped out into the cold and, briefly turning around to look at her window, started down the street. He wasn’t sure if it was the bleak hopelessness of the hospital room, Sarah’s tearful desperation or his own allconsuming remorse that was forcing him to walk so fast on this lazy Saturday morning. All he knew was that he had to get away. He slipped on the icy road and almost fell, swearing loudly and startling a lone dog walker leading an oversized yellow Labrador. Regaining his balance, Paul muttered something under his breath and rapidly changed direction. He couldn’t face going home, either. He couldn’t face his wife, just yet. He wondered if Lucy knew about him and Sarah. How could she possibly not? She worked as a physiotherapist at their gym and she wasn’t stupid or blind. And yet, they had been very discreet. No one else knew, not even other gymnasts. Not even Sarah’s best friend. He fumbled in his pocket for a key and, struggling with a lock, his frozen fingers trembling a little, opened the door. The gym was
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deserted and he welcomed a rare moment of solitude. His office was a chaos of haphazardly discarded papers, documents and magazines but Sarah’s camera was still on the table, right where he left it that day, exactly a week ago. He shuddered every time he remembered what happened. Her sharp cry of pain, hushed voices of white clad doctors, quiet rustle of their crisp uniforms as they placed Sarah on a stretcher, monotone blue flashing lights of the ambulance as it made its way through deserted streets. Picking up the camera, he hesitated. He wasn’t sure he could bear to relive the disquieting feeling of helpless guilt that he felt then and was still feeling now. Finally, he sank into his leather chair, turned on his computer and braced himself for what he was about to see. She was breathtakingly beautiful and even now, in the confines of his small computer screen, she radiated youthful energy and life. She did one vault after another and he smiled proudly. She was the only one in the world who had the courage and the talent required to do this skill. She was a winner, a force of nature. He sighed and shook his head in despair. After her third vault, she walked to her gym bag to get a drink, her back to the camera. She took a swig of water and, bending over, began to bandage her ankle that was troubling her that day. And as soon as she did that, a tall blonde woman approached the vault and moved the springboard a few inches away from the apparatus. Paul blinked, his face frozen in shock. His question had been answered. Lucy knew about him and Sarah. *** For the last week Lucy hadn’t been able to sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she awoke from the same agonising nightmare,
new south wales, australia shaking in anguish, cold sweat running down her face. And as she lay wide awake night after sleepless night, she wanted to scream. I didn’t want it to end so badly, she repeated to herself. I didn’t want her to get hurt. She couldn’t face going to work. Long, mournful faces of gymnasts, subconscious fear permeating their every move, Sarah’s name whispered everywhere she turned, even the cursed vault, everything reminded her of what she had done. Day after day, she stayed in the reassuring safety of the house she and Paul shared. On an impulse, she dialled the hospital. There was no answer for a very long time and she breathed out sharply, almost relieved. When a nurse finally answered, she panicked and nearly hung up. ‘I am calling to inquire about one of your patients,’ she mumbled, her voice barely audible. ‘Her name is Sarah. Sarah White.’ Saying Sarah’s name aloud made her cringe, as if she was in pain. ‘Are you a family member?’ ‘Yes,’ she stammered. ‘I’m her sister.’ She shivered. ‘There’s been no change in Miss White’s condition.’ The nurse on the other side of the phone sounded bored. ‘Will she be able to walk?’ asked Lucy, holding her breath. ‘I’m sorry but at this stage it’s impossible to tell.’ ‘Thank you,’ whispered Lucy softly. Slowly she sank into a deep armchair and stared into space, her body rocking back and forth. Half an hour passed, then an hour. A sudden bang of the front door startled her and she looked up. Paul was standing over her, his mouth set in a tense contemptuous line. ‘Aren’t
you going to work today?’ he asked sternly. ‘I’m not feeling well,’ she said, her voice hoarse. ‘What are you doing home?’ Slowly, unsteadily, as if the effort of it was too much for her sleep deprived body, she got up and leaned against the wall, facing him. ‘We need to talk.’ He watched his wife’s gaunt face, his arms wrapped tightly around his athletic body. ‘I want a divorce,’ he said firmly, his voice empty and dull. He braced himself for her reaction, her shock, her inevitable tears. None came. She looked calm and collected, and only the glass she was holding in her hand shook badly, spilling water all over their spotless beige carpet. ‘I know we’ve been having problems. We drifted apart. But we can work on it. We can try again.’ She was blinking fast as if struggling to control her emotion. He shook his head defiantly. ‘It’s over, Lucy. There’s no point trying.’ ‘All I ask for is another chance. Is it because of her?’ Finally she cried, her shoulders quivering. ‘You must really love her to want to do this to us.’ She wiped her tears away with the back of her hand and her face lit up in sudden hope. ‘I will never give you a divorce. Once this infatuation is over, things will go back to normal. I am your wife for life and nothing you do is going to change that.’ She leaned forward and reached for his hand but he recoiled and took a step back. When he spoke, his voice was very quiet and she had to make an effort to hear him. ‘I know what you did to Sarah. You are lucky she’s alive. You could have killed her. Here, watch this.’ Carelessly, with contempt, he threw a computer disc in her direction, and it fell on the floor with a disturbing clanking sound. ‘And don’t worry if you damage it, I made copies. My lawyer will be in touch.’ He looked at her one last time and his eyes were
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new south wales, australia cold. Turning around, he walked through the door, slamming it behind him once more. When she was alone, Lucy sank to the floor in a shattered faltering mass, clutching her stomach tightly as if she had been stabbed. *** Sarah wished she could sleep twenty hours a day. Sleep was oblivion and when she slept, she was almost happy. Unfortunately, her body was rebelling against more sleep just like it was rebelling against everything else that she willed it to do. To pass the time, she watched an enormous spider on the ceiling above her bed, weaving its intricate web that stretched from one wall to another. Every morning a cleaner destroyed the results of its incessant work, and every day the spider rebuilt its web again, never giving up, no matter how long it took, only to have it taken away from him once again the next morning. I wish I had his determination, thought Sarah. She named the spider and had endless discussions with him. The spider was a good listener. The door opened silently and she watched a tall woman make her way into the room. Sarah recognised her immediately, even though Lucy looked as if she aged ten years since the last time she saw her. There were dark shadows under Lucy’s eyes and her shoulders were stooped. There was no makeup on her face, nor did she bother to brush her long blond hair that looked matted and lifeless. There was a minute of silence as the two of them stared at each other intently. Finally, Lucy said, ‘You must be very pleased with yourself.’ ‘What are you talking about?’ asked Sarah, wondering if perhaps the older woman was mad and whether she should call for help. Just in case, she placed her thumb on the emergency panic button.
‘I felt so bad about what happened to you. So guilty. But not anymore. You deserve everything you got.’ Lucy paused, as if afraid that she revealed too much. Sarah closed her eyes. She was in pain and didn’t feel up to a confrontation. ‘What are you doing here?’ she asked coldly. ‘How do you do that? Even now that you are in a wheelchair, you manage to destroy my marriage.’ She laughed hysterically, her hands shaking. ‘I don’t know what you are talking about.’ ‘He left,’ said Lucy. ‘He packed his bags and left. We are getting a divorce. But if you think you will be happy together, you are wrong. One day he’ll do to you what he did to me, you just wait and see. He will soon get tired of the responsibility of looking after you.’ She looked Sarah up and down with disdain. Sarah felt the tiniest glimmer of remorse as she listened to Lucy’s tearful accusations but it was soon gone, giving way to exhilaration and excitement. In vain did she struggle to hide the sheer happiness that was written all over her face. Finally, like she always wanted, she and Paul could be together. No more sneaking around and hiding their feelings for each other. She closed her eyes and prayed for the woman to leave, so she could daydream about her future with Paul without interruption. For the first time since her fall, she felt hopeful. That night and the one after, she didn’t close her eyes, not for a moment. She waited for Paul to come and give her the exciting news. She couldn’t wait to hear him tell her that now she could have everything she ever dreamt of, with him. That everything would be ok. She lay awake minute after agonising minute, watching the door. But hours turned into days and her hope soon
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new south wales, australia turned into doubt, and there was still no sign of him. Finally, her mobile rang. She grabbed it and, seeing his name light up on the little screen, answered eagerly. ‘Where have you been?’ she demanded. ‘I haven’t seen you for three days.’ ‘I think it’s better if we don’t see each other anymore.’ He sounded distant and his voice was quiet but every cruel, bitter word made her gasp in agony. ‘Why are you doing this? I thought that now you left Lucy we could finally be together.’ ‘I’m not doing this to hurt you. It’s for the best for both of us. One day you will understand.’ ‘Are you going back to her? You should know that she’s crazy. She was here, threatening me. She stalks me pretending to be my sister.’ Sarah talked very fast, refusing to believe in the finality of what was happening. ‘This has nothing to do with her,’ he said firmly. ‘You said you loved me. Was it a lie?’ She listened to the ominous silence on the other end and a sudden panic gripped her. ‘Please don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone,’ she pleaded. ‘Is it because I’m not well? Well, I’m going to get better soon and then you’ll be sorry.’ ‘I hope you get better, Sarah, I really do. For your sake rather than mine. You are only seventeen. You have your whole life ahead of you.’ ‘I can’t even walk, you bastard!’ she screamed, throwing the phone in the corner of her room and shaking in rage. ‘I can’t even walk,’ she whispered.
performing a peculiar dance in the eerie light of a lone yellow streetlamp outside. As they settled on the tall leafy pine trees, on the frozen ground and ungainly buildings, Sarah thought that they made everything appear shiny, magical even, as if it was Christmas, as if there was no hospital room, or pain, or fear. A nurse strolled in, a distracted, it’s almost the end of my shift expression on her round face. ‘How are we today?’ she inquired. ‘Fine,’ said Sarah. ‘Just fine.’ ‘That’s good to hear. I brought you a book. It’s about a cyclist who made a full recovery after an accident. Would you like it?’ ‘Yes, please.’ Sarah reached for the book eagerly. ‘Do you think I will make a full recovery one day?’ ‘Of course you will, dear. As long as you believe in it.’ ‘I believe in it,’ whispered Sarah, holding the book close and looking out the window once more. She wished she could touch the snow, run across the boundless white fields of her parents’ farm as fast as she possibly could, their refreshing coolness making her giddy with excitement, her trusted dog Buttons by her side. And as she imagined the crunch of snow under her bare feet, almost sensing its icy touch on her bare skin, she tensed her muscles. She tensed her shoulders first, and then her arms, and when she tensed her back, she sensed a strange tingling sensation running up and down her legs. And as she squeezed her eyes, thinking about all the things that she wanted to do, all the things that she used to do but took for granted, she felt her feet move. ***
*** Layer upon flawless layer of snowflakes were
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tennessee, usa Kevin Marshall Chopson received his MFA from Murray State University in Kentucky and is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. His work has appeared in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Poetry Salzburg Review, English Journal, San Pedro River Review, Number One, The Baltimore Review, Tennessee English Journal, Nashville Arts Magazine, New Madrid, Poem, the Aurorean, The South Carolina Review, REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, Rio Grande Review, I-70 Review, Incandescent, Concho River Review, The Broad River Review, Metric Conversions: Poetry of Our Time, and previously in Nazar Look, among numerous others. He teaches writing at Davidson Academy and serves as an adjunct professor at Volunteer State Community College, both just north of Nashville, Tennessee.
May Crane flies hatched last week, coating the ceiling of the porch with their fluttering spindleness above and about the incandescent bulb glowing muted yellow like a sunset. Next morningâ€™s haze saw the possumâ€™s kit, dead in the rain, covered with the wind-blown bloom of honeysuckle, smiling in the grass.
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Montane ...of the mountain Four years ago I saw him, the bear. Now I touch the saffron dust holding to the side of rock face as laurel leaves move like feathers held in the hands of scribes slowly translating the wind. The falls above are mine alone today. I read the pools of the stream for trout holding fast. A ripple of hidden truth, cast in shadow, breaks gently across his mark. Hours before, he sought refuge here, drank the water underfoot, as I rose from dreams of gold rush and dressed for this encounter.
Neely’s Bend The black snake sleeps here. The rat snake and the water snake too take rest under these rocks beside the Cumberland beneath this one lonely willow. The water hides much below its surface – watch closely to see the rings. Just as the stem and bloom of wild coxcomb gently bounce after butterflies push off into flight, so too the fish leave their mark, fleeting yet eternal – what wings they must have.
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Hummingbird in Silhouette This memory, like these embers waning on the hearth, sparks new breathing in the brain … One of last summer’s silent measures, the moon half hung at dusk previewing a gloom full of pulsating stars, seasons to come, dreams of now, yesterday, and decades unfolding … To see a hummingbird in silhouette, all dark, its profile still, the long beak pointing out toward the setting sun – perfectly primal. Content in its understanding of this moment. Complete, resting briefly on a sapling’s bough, as like-winged fireflies waken the night.
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Karartîda şîbînkuş Bo tezkire, bo ateş korî gibí kaálbíñ ústúnde sonîp balkîldar ğañî solîşlar míyníñ íşínde... Geşen yaznîñ sessíz hesabîndan bírsí, akşam ústí asuwlî kalgan yarîm ay kaswetke karar kím sílkíngen yîldîzga, keleğek mewsímge, búgúnnúñ, túnewúnnúñ, onlarğa keleğek yîllarnîñ túşúne tolîdîr… Karartîda şîbînkuş kórmek kap-kara, ğanayî hareketsíz, gáagáasî tîşarga Batkan kúneşke karaptam sadelík. Bo annîñ añlamasîn Memnuniyetí. Tekmíllík, kîska diñlenúw bír dal fidanînda keşení uyandîrgan kanatlî ateşbóğeklerí gibí. (Terğúmesí Taner Murat’tan)
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california, usa wjacksavage.com
There was something different about the sense of urgency I felt that morning. Having lived with the anxiety for some time, I began to notice a certain positive influence it had on me in some areas. For example, while it made me somewhat scattered at times, I seemed less forgetful. I had always been forgetful. It was as if going to the car had no relationship with having the keys to operate it. I would simply get there, pause, and realize the next step would be impossible without keys. It annoyed everyone but me. The truth is that I became somewhat good-natured about it. I’d even laugh. Then, I’d go back to the house and get my keys. Often, I’d repeat the process with my briefcase or something else I’d need. But that morning it occurred to me that preparation had somehow become a byproduct of the stress. It would only be fair to say that the ominous feeling that came with the urgency probably began with the dream. Suffice to say, if I’m not going to find my way through these…these problems in some way, it’s only natural to at least consider some sort of final solution. That is, before these things become the province of others to decide for me. I’ll not be forgotten to death in some institution or wander off, only to be absorbed into the ranks of the homeless. Be that as it may, the point is that dreams of ending my life should not be looked upon as anything other than a logical progression in the cavalcade of “what ifs” which are still mine to ponder. So, in getting back to the dream, the list of what I would not do in such a case seems endless. No
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guns, knives, razor blades, ropes, and heights could be involved. Death by car or train, or in any manner likely to cause pain, however momentary, could not be given any consideration. Upon eliminating all possibilities of a scene where people might gather, we are left with pills or some kind of asphyxiation or suffocation. In some way, the pills I’m taking have kept me just this side of the next step in the process of being dealt with, I suppose. To that extent, they’ve bought me time. By that reasoning, and still acting upon the hope that my condition may improve, it would, somehow, seem ungrateful for me to seek my demise with the very medications that have allowed the time and reasoning to affect it. Therefore, cessation of breathing functions in one of its forms is what we are left with. I’m not sure, having never been there, but Santa Catalina has always seemed more to me like Bali Hai from South Pacific. Not Bali Hai itself, of course, but the picture of the tropical paradise painted on some flat in some community theater production. State of mind rather than a grid coordinate. And, it occurs to me that for my state of mind, deteriorating though it may be, to seek an ideal on the horizon, never to be achieved,
smacks of a poetic lucidity that soon may be well beyond me. In the simplest of terms, I’d go for a swim from Huntington Beach to Catalina. I’d never make it, but I’d die trying. It could be a last quiet struggle, the kind I used to enjoy such as college, marriage, the service, and my other demons. Some won; some lost, but with all the motivational tools brought to bear in achieving an end from a beginning, or finding a beginning after an end, as the case may be. And so I dreamt that I was swimming to Catalina, and it came to me like a revelation. But then I felt it. As soon as I did, I told myself that I didn’t. Then I felt it again, and it seemed so impossibly unfair. All I wanted to do was swim to Catalina for God’s sake! I certainly couldn’t make it. I’d drown, but I’d spend myself in a final celebration of splendid nonsense. But now this! I felt it again, and the next thing I would feel, or perhaps the thing after that, wouldn’t feel like splendid nonsense at all. It would feel like death by shark and, before it was over, would make me wish I’d been run over by some Orange County prick in a speedboat. It was a bump. They bump before they bite—most of them. Not the big ones, of course. They’ll suck you down whole or cut you in half or any damn thing they want. But nearly all the rest of them bump into you to see if you might be something to eat. They don’t see well, I heard once. I woke up murmuring to myself, “Well, it’s always something.” It made me laugh. I laughed about it later, too, but couldn’t remember the reason for the laughter. That stopped it! But I find this condition more curious than sad at the moment. In the time I have left, if I don’t improve that is, I need to follow that curiosity to a conclusion. I’m just not sure about Catalina anymore. I did like the idea though, thinking it to be masculine and extroverted. Two things I’ve never been, sadly, but there’s no point in becoming deranged if you’re going to stand on ceremony. Quite a bit had changed by that time. I was still driving my car but not on the freeway. Actually, I
was driving less and less, and it seemed my gas gauge had broken. It never appeared to go down; therefore, I’d fill it up nearly every day. Once it was seventy-one cents. I pay by credit card, so I didn’t need to explain. Still, I suppose that I’m explaining it to you now. I was on medical leave from work. They knew that but kept calling anyway. It’s not as though they were concerned. It was more like they were trying to catch me at pretending there was something wrong with me. “We’re just concerned, that’s all,” she’d say. “I don’t think you are,” I told her once. “I think you’re trying to catch me pretending to be sick. That’s what I think.” When there was only silence on the other end, I hung up. Minutes afterward, I thought of so many good things to say and called back. But I couldn’t remember her name, and after a while on hold, I couldn’t remember why I was calling. I did later. I took my medication though. I’ve never been much for that sort of thing—a pill regimen. But I did. Then I’d wait. After awhile I’d forget what I was waiting for, but so far I’d always remember before I needed to take them the next time. They gave me a chart. That helped. It seemed silly at first. I don’t think I could do without it now. The worst part, apart from what was happening to me, was the loneliness. Deprived of my other interests—and I’m sure I must have had some—what began as boredom turned to a certain melancholy, and finally, I’d get lonely. What few friends I had were really little more than acquaintances. I mean you can’t really count the guy at the video store. He’d always been friendly but that’s not really the same thing. It could be, I suppose. But, while I was always grateful for the friendly exchanges, the fact that they were
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compartmentalized into brief commerce transactions would have required me to make some effort to break out of that. And what motive might I have had? I wasn’t lonely then. So, for the most part, I was left with my housekeeper. Her name was Tina or Maria, but in fairness, I kept getting that mixed up before this happened. Anyway, I think I did. I can’t exactly remember how she gets paid, but she keeps coming so I suppose she does. If I had to write a check or something, I’d probably remember. So there was my housekeeper and Loren, too. Loren’s attentions were never welcome for what they were. But he was good-natured about it, and while it was always there—what he wanted that is—once I said no we went on to other things. He liked music, and he liked to drink. I can’t drink anymore. I really don’t dare with the medication. I need to stay sharp for as long as I can. I haven’t seen him lately. I think something happened. I woke up the other night wondering if it was because, not thinking, I’d run out of scotch; I mean, not thinking that he still drank, he’d have thought me rude. But I had scotch. Maybe something else happened. I can’t remember, but I can remember I haven’t seen him lately. Then there was a call; I think, recently. I remember the voice sounded familiar. “Mr. Bernard?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Mr. Bernard,” he began again, “you probably won’t remember me. My name is Eddie, Edward Rosenthal. I had you for American History at Johnson High School some, ah, twelve years ago. I’m sure you don’t remember me but, well, I was just calling to thank you. I’m a teacher myself now. I might have been something else, but your class had an effect on me.” I didn’t know what to say but made an attempt.
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“Well, hello Edward. I’m sorry. Your name rings a bell though. Tell me, what are you teaching?” “American History,” his voice sounded as if he might be smiling. “I teach American History in Barstow now. I know this must seem strange, my calling like this. But, well, as I said, your class had an effect on me. I understand you don’t teach anymore. That’s what they told me when I called the school. What are you doing now, Mr. Bernard?” “I work for a company. It’s not very interesting. I’m not working now. I’ve been ill but will be going back soon.” His response was sincere. “I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been ill. Anyway, I didn’t want to bother you. I just wanted to tell you that, well, your teaching made a difference in my life. It took awhile. But, well, what I’m trying to say is that I became a teacher because of you. I want to thank you for that.” “You’re very welcome, Ronnie. I’m glad things are working out for you.” “Eddie, sir,” he said. “Eddie, yes,” I repeated. “I’m sorry.” “It’s all right Mr. Bernard. I just wanted to thank you. Have a good night.” I’m not sure, but I think he had the wrong number. I wasn’t sure, you see. I was sorry later. I am Bernard. But he must have meant another Bernard. That’s probably what happened. That’s the thing about this condition. It can fool you into thinking you’re forgetting something. That is, if you can’t remember, maybe it didn’t happen. That’s a viable explanation certainly. I do know my history though. I suppose I could have taught history. That certainly would account for my
knowing so much about it. But I can’t believe that I could forget something like teaching. It would have to be soon. Possibly today, maybe tomorrow! I’ve noticed there’s a rhythm to my affliction and the medication’s ability to pull me back now and then. I may be going crazy in a literal sense, but I’m not stupid. The last time I spoke with the doctor, I asked if there was a hope of getting better. Now, that part, what he said exactly, I can’t remember. But I do seem to remember the substance of his argument. He seemed to be saying that simply because no one had ever recovered, there was no reason to think that someone might not recover and that person might be me. Living with the alternative offered no comfort; therefore, I suppose, deteriorating as I have been, he probably felt that putting a bright face on a hopeless condition was a magnanimous gesture of sorts. Again, his exact words escape me; nevertheless, his raised eyebrow and continuous nodding in an assumptive manner, assured me that whatever he was saying was bullshit and that I was in a lot of trouble. From moment to moment, the preparation I spoke of earlier, that is, not being as forgetful at least in the short term, was going to be of no use if my demise was somehow not affected because of it. Little things must not be allowed to defeat me. As I have outlined, I haven’t many friends and haven’t seen Loren at all recently. My housekeeper gets paid regardless and as to anything else: wills, insurance, the phone bill; those matters can be sorted out by the people who would have decided my fate under other circumstances. In short, no one to say goodbye to and nothing to worry about except waiting too long. That, of course, meant that I wasn’t going to be getting any better, only worse. It was a sad realization to come to, but I was grateful I still could. Realize it that is. I decided right then that I needed a plan. Since I had no real alternative plan, the other plan would have to do. I only remembered it in part, and the rest I could figure out. I would go to Huntington Beach. I’d need a
bathing suit, and I’d have to risk going on the freeway. I’d take my medication early so that I wouldn’t lose my way. I’d go at dusk and arrive in the dark. I’d leave the keys in the car. The first thing that got crossed off the list was a bathing suit. I don’t know if I ever had one. I must have sometime but maybe not since I was a kid. My under shorts would have to do. They were dark. Someone bought them for me. I’d have never bought dark underwear for myself. Who would buy me underwear anyway? Who would buy me anything? It’s strange, but somehow I remember opening presents, even recently. If I hadn’t any friends, who gave me presents? Well, Loren, of course, and Adam. Adam, yes, he was my wife’s son. That’s always nice of him, too. She only married me to have someone pay for Adam. She made me promise to adopt Adam, and when I did, she divorced me. I had to pay child support for fifteen years after that. It was okay. I had the money; the money wasn’t the problem. But I never saw Adam again. He was a nice boy, quiet like I was as a child. He always sent me a Christmas present. He’d have bought me underwear. He was smart, too. Though his mother wasn’t very bright, he was. I don’t remember her name though. I thought of leaving a note that day, but the idea seemed ridiculous. Moreover, it would be something tantamount to an admission that I was lucid enough to do away with myself. I wasn’t sure if anyone would miss me or even take pleasure in my death, but I wanted no part of any act that would please some insurance company. Hopefully, somewhere along the line, I said it all at one time or another. If not, it was rapidly becoming far too late to worry about. As I left the house with my keys, I paused for a moment and thought that I should have had a pet. I’d never had a pet. Adam had a turtle once. Lucy got rid of it one day during one of her cleaning frenzies. That was her name, Lucy. I had read that pets were wonderful. I wasn’t exactly sorry that I wouldn’t be finding out how
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wonderful. But it tripped something in what was left of my mind, because I started thinking about several things I never had or wouldn’t be trying. Some sort of melancholy, I supposed, and quite natural under the circumstances. As long as it didn’t get in the way, it would be fine. The next thing was gas, but I felt the elation of a breakthrough when I decided to trust the gas gage and simply head for Huntington Beach. Fearing the radio would confuse me, I decided to keep it off. The traffic wouldn’t matter since I’d get there sooner or later. Sure enough, as I reached the 605 south, it seemed clear sailing. I was making good time, but I couldn’t understand why it was still so light out. It was only four o’clock, but I thought it was more winter. Perhaps spring happened when I wasn’t looking. I smiled to think of it. Winter or spring, it didn’t matter. That’s why I lived here. It was perfect most of the time. It was light out though. I might have to enjoy a final sunset before…before whatever I was going to the beach for came back to me. That made me smile again. I got a little confused in Long Beach. I missed Studebaker Road, and when I drove past the college, I thought for a moment that I might turn in. Long Beach State I called it. It was really Cal State Long Beach, but I liked Long Beach State better. I went there once. I’m sure I did. I remember something about the Revolutionary War. Yes, and about Francis Marion in South Carolina. Certainly, I must have gone there once. Anyway, with these things floating around in my head, I nearly missed my left turn on Pacific Coast Highway. But I didn’t and, as I turned, I realized I had made it. It was a few miles away, but there would be no more turns. What did they call him? It…it was the “swamp fox.” Yes, that was it. I was feeling very good as I pulled up to one of the meters. It was a nice day, and even if I was a little early, that was okay. I forgot three things almost at once. First, I forgot to leave the keys in
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the car. Then, when I put them back, I forgot to leave the doors unlocked. Finally, I forgot that I didn’t need to worry about the meter and put about three dollars in it. There was a fourth thing, but it really was the first thing because I had left my wallet at home when leaving there. Had I filled up the tank, I’d have realized that I left it and gone back. But there, on the bluff overlooking the beach, I decided none of that mattered anymore. I walked down to the shoreline and stood there. The sun was low to my right, but there was still an hour or two of light. As I looked out on the ocean, I saw some boats; however, there was something else I couldn’t remember. I mean…there was something out there…something I was forgetting to look for or wasn’t seeing somehow. I decided it didn’t matter and that being in Huntington Beach was enough. After a pleasant exchange with several people passing by, I decided I might become distracted so I walked back and found a nice rock to sit on. It was beneath the cliff, somewhat off the beach. I was trying to remember what it was that I should be looking for out in the ocean when I felt a puppy, a young pit bull puppy, sniffing at my foot. I petted him, and as he looked up, I realized in his look of trust and love that benevolence was all he knew of humans so far. “Hello,” she said from behind me. I think I must have smiled. “Hello. What a nice dog. How old?” “Three months,” she said, but I’d forgotten what I asked and got a bit confused. “Her name is Lucy,” she continued, leaning up against a rock next to me. For no particular reason, I said, “I was once married to a woman named Lucy. Seems kind of strange.”
“You’re not married now?” she asked.
I felt lost. I couldn’t remember what we were talking about and so I was quiet.
“No, I’m not.” She sighed before speaking with resignation. “I’m getting a divorce.”
She asked another question. “Could you forgive someone if they cheated on you?” “Yes,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not. Actually, I’m kind of glad it’s over. He cheated on me.” “I’m sorry to hear that. Did he do anything else?” Looking puzzled, she asked, “What do you mean?” “I’m…I' not sure,” I said, but continued anyway. “Before he cheated on you or before you found out, was it…was it better then?”
“Well I can’t. How could you? How could you forgive someone knowing they cheated on you?” “Because you might not get a second chance to forgive. What I mean is that if you let things hurt you too badly, you won’t do them anymore. That’s fine when it comes to touching a hot stove or driving too fast and getting in an accident. We learn our limitations that way. But if you let love keep on hurting you, without trying to get used to it, you might give that up, too. Then you’ll be alone like me. It’s okay. I don’t mind. But I can’t remember anyone loving me anymore. Maybe they did. I just can’t remember.”
“Of course,” she replied. “Well, I mean, were you actually happy with each other before that?” She paused before replying. “I guess so. But what does that matter now?” I didn’t know, but had another question. “Are you the one getting the divorce?” “Yes, I could never put up with that.” “Look at your dog,” I said. “Look at her smiling at me with her beautiful face. I’ve never had a pet, too busy I guess. I have the feeling your dog could love me.” Ignoring these comments, she went back to her problem. “Are you saying I shouldn’t get the divorce?”
I think I answered her last question, but I couldn’t remember it. When I looked over at her she was crying, and I thought I had said something wrong. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I haven’t been well lately. I didn’t mean to upset you. I hope…hope that I wasn’t out of line. Please forgive me.” She struggled to speak through her tears. “Oh, no, you didn’t say anything wrong, but what you said about not being able to remember is so sad. I just don’t know if I can forgive my husband. I know it couldn’t hurt me this badly if I didn’t love him. He begged me. I just don’t know if I can. It’s not supposed to be this way.” I only caught the last part about whatever she was talking about; she said that something was not the way she supposed it to be.
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“Nothing ever is,” I said with a sigh. “Not in my life anyway. I can’t think of one thing that was the way it was supposed to be. Sometimes better, sometimes not, but different every time.” “What’s your name?” she asked. “Bernard,” was all I could come up with at the moment.
this too personal Bernard, but did you and…and Lucy have this problem? Did you ever, you know, cheat on her with another woman?” I was grateful for the last part of the question. I didn’t know what she was talking about. “I can’t remember if I did, but I don’t think so. I was never much of a Romeo. I’ve never had much confidence about that sort of thing.”
She extended her hand. “I’m Sandy.” I shook her hand, thinking she was such a lovely girl. She seemed to have been crying. “Is there anything I can do to help you, Sandy?” I asked, not knowing what might be bothering her. “I think you already have, Bernard.” I didn’t know what she meant. It seemed like something Loren might say—like something with two meanings. Of course his double meaning always had a sexual overtone and, confused though I was, I knew this young woman couldn’t mean that. She gave me a thoughtful, questioning look. “If I gave him a second chance, I don’t know if I could trust him. That’s the part that worries me.” In my confusion I simply said, “Worry is the only issue. Just don’t worry and everything will take care of itself.” Her next few words made no sense to me. “That’s right… isn’t it?” Though a question, it didn’t seem like a question for me. I didn’t know what to say; therefore, I decided to be quiet for a while. She seemed lost in thought, and so I was pretty sure being quiet was right. There was a dog at my feet.
She was quiet again, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. I knew she was thinking, but I had no idea what about. How did I know her? Finally, she said, “I just don’t know. Everybody says I should divorce him.” “I’m not sure what you mean. But I do know one thing and that is ‘everybody’ doesn’t know a damn thing. You’re all that matters.” For just a moment, the clouds parted, and I remembered why I was sitting at the beach. I remembered driving here, and that I was wearing dark underwear for some reason. And that it was a thesis I was working on at Long Beach State—a thesis in history. I didn’t know this young woman, but she was divorcing her husband. And her dog liked me and was friendly, and I was waiting for dark. I remembered that, too. “Are you okay, Bernard?” she asked. “No,” I replied. “Sandy isn’t it?” She nodded. “No,” I repeated. “Sandy I’m not okay. I’m sick and I’m not going to get better. But don’t worry; it’s okay. What were you saying dear?”
Suddenly, she spoke. “I hope you won’t think
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“That no one, except you, thinks I should give him another chance. I just don’t know what to do.”
looking or popular, and the only person who ever wanted to go to bed with me was Loren. “It should be easier, you know.”
“You’ll choose between me, who you don’t know and will probably never see again,” I began, “and ‘everybody,’ who knows you so well that they feel qualified to tell you whether or not you should end your marriage. I think you want to give him another chance, or you wouldn’t have brought it up and stayed here after I said it was no big deal. But, you need to ask yourself how important the judgment of your peers is to you in regard to your marriage? They may be right, after all. One thing is certain; whether they are or not, they’ll be around to keep telling you that you did the right thing if you divorce him. If you give your husband another chance, you’ll probably be on your own. You’ll have to be happy with that. And if he cheats on you again, you may be faced with the same question all over again. But if you cheat on him and find yourself in the position of having to explain that ‘it was just one of those things and didn’t mean a thing’ and all of the excuses he gave you that you were having none of the first time around, you’ll still be the bigger person because you forgave him whether he forgives you or not.” Her smile was genuine. “How do you know so much?” I shook my head back and forth. “I don’t. I’m generalizing and theorizing. That’s all we’re ever left with anyway: our intellect, our heart, and sometimes our instincts. Ask Lucy here. She knows as much as any of us when it comes to love. She loves you and I suspect she loves your husband, too. She won’t know why he isn’t around to love anymore if you divorce him, and you may find yourself wondering the same thing.” She was quiet again. It made me sad for her. She was lovely. The rules for her were different. Things were a lot harder for her because of it. I never knew that problem. I was never good
I agreed. “It seems it should. I’m sure it can be. I’ve never figured out how though.” “Thank you Bernard,” she said. “I think you were an answer to my prayer somehow. No matter what I decide, thank you.” She came over and kissed my cheek, and Lucy put her paws in my lap, stood up, and smiled. I petted Lucy a final time, and they walked away. As they did, I began wondering what the significance of my dark underwear could be. Sandy and Lucy. Seems like I knew a Lucy once. I can’t remember though. The sun was about an inch from the houses down by Seal Beach. It would be getting dark soon. That’s what I was waiting for, but I wish I could remember why. It seemed like Huntington Beach, dark underwear and after the sun goes down was enough information to put something together. There was definitely a purpose to all of this. I wouldn’t have ventured this far from home without a purpose. I reflected on how my medication, if that’s what it was, just sort of kicked in for a while there while I was visiting with that girl. I hoped that she would be alright. I couldn’t blame my exchange with her for knocking me off track. I think I was unclear when I got out of the car. If I could remember when I decided on this course of action, I could piece it together, I’m sure. I came to the beach to do something. I watched some surfers. They were nearly in front of me now. I don’t think I moved. The waves were breaking farther down the beach when I arrived. Now they were in front of me but a little farther out. Behind them, there was a boat—several boats actually. No speed boats or jet things though.
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leave it behind for somebody. I decided to go for a walk. I’d walk down by the water, and maybe I’d remember. As I did, I noticed the sun was already halfway beneath the rooftops. It was beautiful. I’m not much for that sort of thing. But it was beautiful and was my last sunset. That was it! I understood about the underwear and the ocean and the speedboat and Catalina…Santa Catalina. It was the kind of problem solving joy that I hadn’t felt in many years. Like the look on a student’s face when he…when he finally figures something out. A student. My students! There were so many faces, so many years, and all the papers. It was too much, and it was too long, and it brought tears to my eyes. I stopped and looked out to sea. For a moment I visualized a surf breaking at the top with all of the papers: the hand-outs, the schedules, the purple-blue froth of mimeographed quiz booklets tumbling as the three pages pulled against the staple. There was the butcher Tarlton and the Bacon Rebellion and Benedict Arnold. He rode that day, ignoring the pain, and rallying already broken lines at Saratoga, the blood from his leg smearing the underside of the gray. With a wink here, a vote of encouragement there, his valor alone would lead them to cross that line that mortal fear keeps sane men away from. With victory, they would say to one another, “General Arnold, there was a man.” I hadn’t cried at all. But having walked away from it, I hadn’t been the same either. Now I cried. What a loss! Not this, a life without a life! And it killed me as sure as I stood there. It made me insane, and now it was far too late. Perhaps Eddie Rosenthal would keep up the good fight. God knows he fought me enough. If it wasn’t paper clips and rubber bands, it was bubble gum and a CD earpiece. I never held his attention for ten seconds consecutively that year. Now, he’s teaching American History in Barstow. But, I wanted to tell you; I cried and cried and felt much better. I forgot my wallet. I don’t remember if I told you. I didn’t carry money. It wouldn’t have hurt me to put a twenty in it and
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The surf, where moments earlier I visualized my life’s work crashing to the shore, broke over my body and pulled my dark under shorts down to my ankles. I pulled them up quickly, but I’m afraid if anyone was watching from the shore, they were on the receiving end of an unintended salute and brief commentary on the life I was trying to escape with yet some dignity. I wondered, in those first few strokes, if it was possible to forget how to swim. Not in the case of some muscular dysfunction, of course. I mean forgetting mentally of which I’ve accumulated some experience of late. Could you forget how to swim? Clearly, I hadn’t and to this point, it felt wonderful. I turned around and took a look; it was only a few hundred yards. There really wasn’t much to see. I turned around again and tried for a moment to peer through the mist and perhaps see Santa Catalina. I couldn’t, of course, nor would I likely come within sight of it. I could see a buoy marker of some sort and thought I’d make an initial goal out of it. A friend of Loren’s told me of a video he purchased in preparation for some triathlon he was doing. He spoke of “totally immersed” swimming or something like that. My idea of swimming is, and has always been, propelling oneself through the water with one’s head out of the water in order to breathe. “A passé concept,” he said, explaining that all that resistance was unnecessary to maintain breath. He went on and on and finally said, “You’ve never done a triathlon have you?” I said, “No,” and resisted the temptation to add that I’d never taken it up the butt either. In a way I wish I had—said it, that is. Anyway, the substance of his concept was that, if you rotated your head just right, you could keep it down all the time, expelling breath underwater
and taking it in on the up-turn. I made a brief stab at it and wound up coughing up seawater as a result. It made me remember that Catalina was my goal in name only and that what I was really up to would acquaint my lungs with enough seawater to end a lifetime. I began to tire rather quickly, within, I’d say, fifty to a hundred yards of the buoy. Also, the buoy was lit, and I thought for a moment that I saw some movement on its base, possibly seals. I wasn’t sure they’d understand. That and a rest was something I really didn’t want. Soon, there would be all the rest in the world. Against my instinct, I turned a bit further south and before long was beyond it. I was very tired but fought the urge to turn over on my back. In the end, perhaps it was true. Perhaps I lost my nerve. Maybe I didn’t feel the bump. I thought I did but in my fatigue, perhaps not. In any case, it seemed like only a moment later when a boat came by, shining a light on the water. I waved. Whether or not it was a shark that bumped me, I’ll never know. A woman and her dog, who said she had talked to me, came back by and saw my clothing by the rock. She told them I said I was sick and wouldn’t be getting better. They initiated a search. I got pretty far actually, a few miles anyway. I told them I’d gotten disoriented, but they were having none of it. So, now, I’m here. It’s not as bad as I imagined, and I’m better off than most. Loren came once. He explained that he wouldn’t be coming back. He said it was the place and that he just hated me being here. I’m sure it was partly true. What he didn’t say was that I was no longer a potential conquest. In my deranged state, even if only at times, he’d feel perverted by just flirting; it would be as if he were somehow trying to take advantage of a child. I told him I understood and thanked him for coming. He cried.
however, I’m sure I never saw her before. She said she had a dog with her, but they wouldn’t let her bring her in. That was somewhat confusing, but I asked if I could go out so she could have the dog. They said “maybe later” which is institutionalese for “not in this lifetime.” She told me that she and her husband stayed together, and she thanked me for that. She said I had advised her and that I was right, and it was going well. She was very good looking, and when she asked me if she could visit me again, I told her I’d like that. One day, after a visit, I saw her husband with the dog waiting outside by the car. He looked like an asshole. The dog was a cutie though; there was something familiar about her. But as I said, on the whole, it isn’t that bad. This new medication they put me on brings it all back at times, parts of it anyway. I’m not too sure how it all happened or who some of these names I have floating around in my head belong to: Maria and Ronnie and Lucy and Allen or Adam or something. The food is not that bad, and as I said, I’ve got it better than most so they mostly leave me alone. I read a little but only for a sitting. There’s nothing on TV, but this one guy down the hall has a great collection of old music. I don’t know what you’d call it exactly. I’ve never been much for music. But I like his music. When he acts up, they take it away, so I try to calm him down sometimes. I’m not sure how long I’ve been here, but I feel pretty good. I’ve come to believe that’s not too bad. What occurred that brought me to this point seems less important to me now. I think it was important once. I’m not sure why. ***
This nice looking young woman came to see me. She asked if I remembered her and I said yes;
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Unbounded Void (V)
6 Upon one afternoon in midwinter with snow covering the ground and the villagers settling in their homes for fear of cold, I was suddenly privileged with an unexpected visit from my dear friend Nader. That icily sunny day is forever carved in my memory for it marked the moment mercy and compassion were reborn to my heart. Soon afterwards, my feelings for Fatimah turned to a captivating passion that sharpened my senses and gave me an inner sight into the depth of the tragedy of my people. Nader rest in peace. Wherever your grave maybe, and only the fiends of the mandate know its place, its soil is hallowed. Nader you are a Michael1. I fully remember all the details of that day and used to repeat them to my pupils at the start of each school year to plant in them the seeds of the dignity of the human soul and the sacredness of forgiveness. Every time the boys discovered new hidden meanings that had been absent to me. That memorable afternoon in Shebat2, I was loading the sacks of wheat and grains which I had received in lieu of the winter term fees into the cart of the merchant Abu Ahab3. I had had an unwritten concord with the man that he would buy all my cereal seeds at the market price. This accord had last until nineteen sixty seven when the villagers, with
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them went their children, were scattered by war like insects when their stone is lifted. By prearranged verbal promise, Abu Ahab normally called on me in the second month of each term. I was preoccupied with Abu Ahab, busy counting the measures of grains before loading the sacks into the cart, when I heard a small boy say, 'This is teacher Ali.â€™ Abu Ahab and I stopped talking and both of us turned our heads to see who was calling my name. With his large cross dangling from his neck to my surprise and delight, I found myself in the presence of the son of my neighbourhood and schoolmate, my dear friend Nader, that selfless angel. Enthralled with happiness and emotion that he was honouring me by his visit, I kissed his beloved face and warmly welcomed him. Seeing my excitement, Abu Ahab led the two horses that were harnessed to the cart by their reins and withdrew. I waved him goodbye then took Nader by the hand and lead him into my house. In admiration and respect, I laid two mattresses one atop of the other in the forepart of my room and invited him to be throned on them. For his comfort I surrounded him by cushions and pillows. All the while enquiring about the health of my revered visitor, I added more charcoal and wood to the noqra fire and when the flames got
www.arabworldbooks.com hold, I begged his leave for a few moments and left the room. Despite the cold, I was not surprised to find the children, boys of all ages and small girls, tiptoeing with curiosity at the gate, snooping to know who was my guest. It was quite rare for them to encounter strangers. I called one of my pupils by name. All the crowd of children heaved forward, surrounding me. I ordered them to hurry and invite the village chief and call the worthies whom I named, to come to my house and meet my honoured friend. Racing each other, the boys noisily spread out in all directions, carrying out my instructions. I sent one of the small girls who were still standing, to go and call Umm Ahmad. Dwilling three houses away from mine, she promptly appeared. I told her of my visitor and that I am planning a mansif in his honour. I ended by saying, ‘If you cook well, I will make it worth your while.’ Her eyes beamed and she said, ‘Have no care, Teacher, Ali. Put your trust in Allah.’ When the rest of the village boys began to congregate around my, with one of them I sent a word to the shepherd to immediately slaughter one of his fattest rams and bring the meat forthwith to Umm Ahmad to cook mansif. Before I knew where I was, the whole village had knowledge of my business. Burdened with heavy winter clothes, the village chief and other worthies came in ones and twos. My courtyard was soon a hive of activities. Other women, including the village chief’s good wife arrived carrying a large cupper coffeepot of Arab-coffee. As it was the custom in the
countryside at the time, most of the village men brought a contribution towards the dinner party. Some came with a coffee beans, others brought sugar, butter, gamid4… so on and so forth. Not long the smoke and flames of the open fires inside the outdoor cooking stoves under the sooted cooking pots was filling the air. Having had just received a payment from Abu Ahab my pocket was full with cash. After my guests had been introduced to Michael and had settled down, Arab-coffee cups were passed around by the younger members of the assembled men. After a respectful period of time I insisted that all who was present to stay for dinner then I took my leave and dashed to the village shop. As though everything had been preordained, that day the shopkeeper had a delivery of goods. I bought all the rice, pine and almonds nuts he had. Not wishing to exaggerate, it was the first dinner party I gave and I did without the burgul and served only well stocked mansifs of rice and hafeet5. In those days for the ordinary folks of the Levant, whose stable diet consisted of cereals, olives, cheese, eggs and whatever vegetables and fruits that were in season, the expensive, imported rice was a luxury not many could afford. Nader, may God have mercy upon his soul, was an orthodox Christian and about three years older than me. He was an idealist and the most successful student in our school. Despite the mandate and the near calamitous situation in the country, in his poems he always encouraged us to look to the future with pride and hope. He was a fervently believer that the Arabs will find their rightful place amongst the nations of Earth.
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www.arabworldbooks.com After finishing school my father was intending to send me collage. But I asked Nader, ‘How can I serve the Beautiful6?’
It was a time of awakening and the young particular were hungry to know about their country and about themselves.
He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Ali, our country is not just Baghdad, Jerusalem, Cairo, Algiers and Damascus. It is the thousands of forgotten villages scattered on deserts, slopes and plateaus. To take reading and writing to just one village, you will be educating the next generation. That is the peak of selfless sacrifice.’
They asked, ‘Sir, were we as we have heard and how did we descend to what we have become? Who built those ruined palaces and scattered fallen columns? Who did once sing and dance in those empty amphitheatres where now, only the wind howls? Do you know anything of those who paraded and did business in the ruined forums?’
Before pan-Arabism gripped the Arabic speaking peoples of the Middle East, and like many of our generation, Nader whole heartedly believed in the shared destiny of the Amorites tribes of Syria and Iraq. The ubiquitously Arab Revolt aimed at unifying their people. Even though this had made it easy to spot, to antagonise and spite the French and British mandates security authorities, some young freedom fighters wore their moustaches in the fashion of Hitler. They were viciously pursued by their oppressors. To be lost within the milieu, most Arab men also wore their moustaches in the same Germanic fashion. I must immediately and categorically state that these men had no empathy whatsoever with Nazis. At the time the concept of nationalism was still in great part alien to our culture. Nader and I wore our moustaches like our forefathers did, for we both abhorred the Nazism and Zionism ideologies.
Nader answered them simply and slowly and they listened eagerly to his soft choking voice, ‘Syria is the fields of the sun. We are its wheat, its figs and its olives. Its love may lie heavy upon our heart but how can we go to a country its soil is not made of our flesh?’
My happiness was immense upon Nader's visit. I felt honoured and proudly requested he recite some of his poetry for the assembled men. He versed in measure and the young men sat spellbound by his musical odes.
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*** (to be continued)
----------1 - Mythologically Michael was one of many ancient deities ending with ‘El, name of the Supreme god in the Semites pantheon. Archangel Michael is the angel of Justice and Mercy. 2 - Shebat is the eleventh month of the Semite calendar and corresponds with February. 3 - Father of Ahab. 4 - Hard salty balls of sun dried cheese used to make soups and especially sauce for mansif. It tastes similar to Parmesan. 5 - or shrak is large circular wafer thin bread baked over open fire and spread under the rice. 6 - Meaning of Syria.
(1207 - 1273)
At the Twilight At the twilight, a moon appeared in the sky; Then it landed on earth to look at me. Like a hawk stealing a bird at the time of prey; That moon stole me and rushed back into the sky. I looked at myself, I did not see me anymore; For in that moon, my body turned as fine as soul. The nine spheres disappeared in that moon; The ship of my existence drowned in that sea.
Birdsong Birdsong brings relief to my longing I'm just as ecstatic as they are, but with nothing to say! Please universal soul, practice some song or something through me!
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Travels in Circassia, Krim Tartary, &c. (XIX)
Our voyage from Galatz to the Black Sea was any thing but agreeable: the banks were every where marshy, especially below the Pruth; and as a consequence, the musquitoes and hornet-flies were multiplied tenfold. Still, however favourable the swamps might have been to the increase of our tiny tormentors, they were most deleterious to the health of man: this was sadly evidenced in the bloated countenances of the wretched Cossacks, doomed to guard the Russian frontier in this part of the empire. But as we rushed forward by the aid of steam, and a current computed to run at a rate of twenty thousand feet in an hour, we experienced no other inconvenience from the climate than a little annoyance from our insect enemies.
state of the inhabitants; the whole passing in review as if in a panorama. Nor must I forget to mention, that the whole expense attending the voyage amounted to no more than about eleven pounds. This sum, be it remembered, does not include the expenses of the table, which must always be regulated according to the inclinations of the traveller. With respect to the time occupied, were it not for the vexatious detentions of the passengers by the Austrian authorities in signing passports, together with the ill-planned arrangements of the directors, the tourist might leave Vienna and arrive at Constantinople with the greatest ease in eight days, casting anchor each night about sunset. However, as things are at present constituted, he may consider himself well off, if he is able to accomplish the voyage in twelve days. But even this rate of travelling is considered by the natives of these provinces equal to the speed of an air-balloon; so different is the value of time where the absence of commercial and manufacturing employments leave the mass of the population to the enjoyment of more idleness than wealth. So now farewell to the Danube: my next letter will, I trust, inform you of my arrival in the capital of the Ottoman empire.
Notwithstanding these petty dĂŠsagrĂŠmens, still, taken altogether, I have seldom performed a tour which afforded me more real pleasure, nor one that offered scenes of such varied interest, whether we regard the beauty of the scenery, the striking diversity of features exhibited by the different provinces, together with the primitive
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LETTER X. ENTRANCE INTO THE BLACK SEA OBSERVATIONS RESPECTING IT - STORM GERMAN TERROR - LANDING AT VARNA FORTIFICATIONS - THRACIAN BOSPHORUS COMPARISON BETWEEN THE BAY OF NAPLES AND STAMBOUL.
The distant prospect of the Black Sea was regarded by all on board with unmingled satisfaction, if for nothing else than the hope it engendered that we should be delivered from our insect enemies. We were hailed at the mouth of the Danube by a Russian officer of the quarantine, who proved to be an Englishman, the son of a Mr. Carruthers, formerly a merchant at Odessa. Here it was that the Russians intended to impose a toll upon all foreign vessels navigating between the Black Sea and the Danube: an intention, however, which a little well-timed remonstrance by English firmness, and a little prudent reflection on their own part, induced them to abandon, at least for the present; but as they are diligently employed in erecting a quarantine establishment, which will be followed in all probability by a town, futurity will tell whether or not their moderation will be persisted in. Our papers having been found perfectly correct, we were allowed to pass the Russian guardhouse; and indeed we congratulated ourselves not a little on our entrance into the Euxine. This vast expanse of water, now become of the most vital importance to the whole
commercial and political world, is about two hundred and three leagues in length; and its greatest breadth, on the meridian of 31" east, a hundred and ten leagues. The Turks call it Karadenghis, and the Russians Tscherno-more (Black Sea). This appellation is presumed to have been given in consequence of the frequent occurrence of thick black fogs, caused by the surrounding mountains intercepting the vapours when they arise from its surface. Owing to the prodigious quantity of fresh water poured into it from its numerous tributaries, the water is rather brackish than salt; hence it freezes with a moderate degree of cold. Thus, being continually fed by some of the noblest rivers in Europe, not to mention those of Asia, violent currents are produced, particularly during the early months of summer, when they are increased in volume by the melting of the snow. That caused by the Danube was now most observable, our vessel being hurried forward with extreme velocity; while the noble stream, which had so long borne us on her bosom, preserved its yellow turbid character for an immense distance, as it rolled through the clear, dark-blue waters of the sea. When a strong wind directs its force against these currents, a short "chopping sea" ensues, said to be somewhat dangerous to the safety of small, or ill-built vessels. It must also be observed, that when a vessel during a strong gale is unable to lie-to, or obliged to run before the wind, or, through the ignorance of her commander, finds it impossible to make a port, she runs some danger of being wrecked; for, though the sea itself presents no object to jeopardize her safety, there being
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neither rocks, shoals, nor islands (with the exception of Serpents' island near Odessa), yet the high, rocky shore offers an aspect full of peril, particularly on the coast of the Crimea and Circassia. These lofty crags also form another source of danger to the mariner, by attracting thunder-storms, which occasionally rage here with great violence: and destiny decided that one of the wildest fury should now threaten our bark with destruction; for though the Ferdinando was a fine vessel, of a hundredhorse power, and commanded by an Englishman, an experienced navigator, still she found it difficult to come off victorious in her struggle against the elements without sustaining some loss. The sea heaved fearfully, the watery mountains rolled over each other in rapid succession, the fiery lightning darted through the dark, wild clouds, accompanied by tremendous peals of thunder, and the howling wind drove our vessel like a feather through the surge; it was, in truth, a glorious spectacle, and made a deep impression upon our Hungarian traveller and the German students, who now admired, for the first time, the grandeur of a sea-storm. Their admiration was, however, quickly converted into fear, when they beheld the steam-boat pitching first on one side and then on the other. But how is it possible to paint their horror and consternation when she first shipped water ? Pale with apprehension, for one and all expected that we were immediately going to the bottom, they first invoked all the saints in the calendar to protect them; and next execrated
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their own folly for committing themselves to the fickle element. Drenched to the skin, and with countenances of an ashy paleness, they were to be seen, in one part of the deck, locked in each other's arms; and in another, clinging with all their strength to a rope. While the brave Magyar, the dauntless hero of a dozen battles, and who never before knew what fear was, trembled like a leaf, and assuredly at no time embraced a fair maiden more lovingly than he now did the mast; and nothing could persuade him, every time the vessel creaked, but that she was splitting to pieces All attempts of the captain to clear the deck of these, to him, useless lumber were unavailing; till at length the heaving billows performed upon the whole party the work of ipecacuanha, and they retreated to the cabin, having then become careless whether they were shipwrecked or not. The wind having abated, we soon reached Varna, where we remained about half an hour. This is now a miserable town, every where bearing marks, in its half-ruined citadel and dilapidated fortifications, of the severe and protracted siege it sustained by the Russians. Being built at the confluence of several small rivers, or rather extensive marshes, it is not considered healthy; but owing to its situation, if properly fortified and well defended, Varna might prove a strong bulwark against an invading army.
(to be continued)