SAND Journal c/o Jake Schneider Willibald-Alexis-Str. 16 10965 Berlin Germany firstname.lastname@example.org www.sandjournal.com Connect with us for news and events: Facebook: SAND Journal Twitter: @sandjournal Instagram: @sandjournalberlin ISSN 2191-429X Published in Berlin Copyright ÂŠ SAND Journal, 2017 SAND e.V. is a registered nonprofit association (gemeinnĂźtziger Verein) under German law. Designed by Rosie Flanagan Printed by Solid Earth Cover image by Marion Jdanoff, 2015
Editor in Chief
Assistant Fiction Editor
EDitor's note Although we didn’t select this issue’s work with any theme in mind, the pieces we’ve assembled here share an uncanny obsession with containment, with boxing things up and then (sometimes) letting them out. Our contributors have tucked a multitude of contents – from seahorses to cadavers to volcanos to cosmonauts – into various vessels for safekeeping. We’ve got a claustrophobe strapped much too tightly into her seat, a sobbing audience stuck in an auditorium, two pastures with questionable fences, a ghost climbing into his new haunt, a glitchy garbage bin leaking smells and syllables. That makes this issue a kind of meta-container, a box of boxes. Paul Cunningham’s series of poems “The House of the Tree of Sores” takes place at IKEA, a sterilized version of Scandinavia reduced to flatpack kits. As a Swedish-American family’s languages collide, the particle board sprouts into a living tree, and the speaker takes a conflicted trek through a hybrid identity. Some boxes arrive already bearing emotional baggage. Take “The Wooden Box,” Dolores Walshe’s winning entry for this year’s Berlin Writing Prize, organized by The Reader. Yousef escapes the quagmire of the war in Afghanistan – only to find himself the mute object of his Irish host’s domestic fantasy. Can he truly take refuge in a home packed with its own, more subtle dramas?
In Jodie Noel Vinson’s thirty-six-part essay, a runner-up for the prize, artists keep framing the same mountains in countless canvases, intent on encapsulating their majesty. One of them was Paul Cézanne, who painted Mont Sainte-Victoire more than sixty times. And still the real mountains loom over the art and the essay.
We’ve populated this whole issue’s white-cube gallery with just one artist, Marion
Jdanoff, whose Bien Mieux series tames both Cézanne and, in one case, his mountain (see page 57) by embedding Cézanne’s paintings in her own. In a reminder that all art envelops its inspirations, she cloaks the geological strata of canvas, oil, and paperin an original layer of gouache. For eight years now, successive strata of SAND editors have been inviting global writers and artists into the open box of this proudly local journal. Last month, thanks to a grant from the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe, our Poetry Editor, Greg Nissan, and I left Berlin for Hanoi to attend Ă-Festival 2017, an eye-opening celebration of poetry, translation, and many forms of boundary-crossing hosted by some of our most distant (and beloved) contributors. And when I remember the instant kinship we all felt despite that distance, it seems obvious that in both cities our literary communities had not built stifling boxes, but nests: open-air receptacles, contained yet unconfined.
Inviolable Affections Elena Karina Byrne LUNG
. . . 28 Flare-Up
[My coat collar erodes]
Maggie Millner TRUCK
Colleen Maynard PIANO
Lizzie Davis GRAPE SKIN
...9 Last Days
. . . 21 [A ringing in the shape of]
Christopher Cascio HOUSE
Lizzie Davis TOMB
. . . 10 Afterlife Parlor for Insects Elena Karina Byrne EXOSKELETON
The Wooden Box
In the Auditorium Mary Marge Locker AUDITORIUM
. . . 20
[Instance of not really sticking yet]
. . . 23 Oust the cows on a W key
. . . 12
Lizzie Davis SHELL
. . . 30
Leah Williams SNOW
Dong Li PASTURE
[This is about the time I went to heaven]
Sister Julia Burgdorff PASTURE
. . . 22
. . . 11
Dolores Walshe BOX
. . . 29
. . . 31 Artist Statement Marion Jdanoff BOOK
. . . 26
. . . 32 I want to smoke cigarettes with you beside the hot garbage
An Elegy George L. Hickman BALLROOM
Joe Rupprecht DUMPSTER
. . . 27
. . . 35
from The House of
For The Muttniks
the Tree of Sores
Derek Kannemeyer ROCKET SHIP
Paul Cunningham IKEA
Lizzie Davis infinity pool
. . . 36
. . . 61 if you press your ear to the dirt
Outbound Christopher Cascio Boxes
Elena Karina Byrne placenta
. . . 40 Thirty-Six Times
Pufferfish Craig Burnett fish tank
. . . 46
. . . 65
. . . 55
Elena Karina Byrne DOUBT
. . . 76
Joe Rupprecht Eggs
Loie Merritt Spiderweb
. . . 69 the bluest word Dong Li cloud
. . . 58
. . . 70
. . . 88 Darling, strip to the waist Nina Iskrenko tr. Anne Gutt Tram Stop
Tara Isabel Zambrano FOREHEAD
Marion Jdanoff book
. . . 60
. . . 86
Farryl Last Trap
With Conception of the World's Doubts
Treat Ourselves Laura Tansley RoUNDABOUT
the good burning drips out from all of you
. . . 75
. . . 62
Jodie Noel Vinson Paintings
Marion Jdanoff BOOK
[Stand by, please, for a waltz]
. . . 72
. . . 98
. . . 100
The WooDen Box And you expecting a woman, wanting a woman, someone private like yourself, but instead you get a man, small, olive-skinned with serpentine eyes, standing at your door, Sally spilling around him nervous-grinned talking about him now having refugee status, him and his shabby cloth bag holding life tighter than his loose arm skin. Aw, Jesus. What are you in for here? Her eyes beseeching, trying to convince you this wizened creature was meant to be a woman, the office got their files confused, didn’t they now, six o’clock of a Friday and her skedaddling to Paris for the weekend, with no place to put him except into the bed you’ve got ready for what you’re now wild suspicious might’ve all along been him. He doesn’t seem to notice the state of your face or Sally’s gabbling excuses. You mutter that you’re pleased to meet him. His hand is otherworldly for lack of flesh, all phalanges and metacarpals, and instantly you crave banishing the death in him, crave a good run-in with the grim fella, since you couldn’t do it for Manny. It’s a roadside conversion, despite it happening in your hall. He’s hounded. Eyes deep to bottomless, unfathomable. Winter brows like your own, but jutting in an overhang that’ll stop rain. His grey roof is the surprise, the look of
a tsunami in motion, thatched thicker than an old cottage. Even after death, hair keeps growing, he’s testament to this. Nails too, digging into you with the handshake. Abandon your phantom, woman, this is a being you can save. And what does he see looking from under the brows? Your mind is as empty of the answer as your life. Searching the kitchen-floor tiles with total dedication as Sally bubbles. Hasn’t she to get to the airport for the romantic weekend? In the hall she whispers how she’s surprised there’s no visible marks showing on the poor devil, no sign of what they’ve done to him. You want to ask her if she’s blind. But she’s down the garden path eager as a swallow heading home. Hardly a word of English, she chose not to mention that, the kitchen shrinking to what neither of you can say, even if you wanted to say it, the hall clock ticking desolation while the two of you sit shackled in your skins, staring from the tea ageing in your cups to the walls beyond each other’s shoulders. First time a man’s been in the house since Peter. Can’t count the handyman, the randy aul git. Outside, the garden’s awake: branches waltzing, shrubs alight, casting his statuary nature into sharp relief. Oh, you’re going to be some company for each other. You rise, to lift the pot from the stove again. A smell of stale sweat. Could be coming off you, tighten the arms to the sides just in case. You’re just his halfway house so make the most of it, hot sups of tea with the apple tart by his plate while you talk slow and loud, saying there’s a Kandahar Street in this city, though you don’t say it’s spelled with a C. Afghan though he is, he’s blank at the mention of his own hometown. He lets you stagger on while he demolishes your Eve’s pudding with apple and cream, and you give the finger to the grim fella in your mind. While he’s showering, you discover you’re the one sweating. You take your sister Manny’s old pink sheets off the bed and put on white ones, then change them back again; the white’s too like a shroud. You forget to tell him the catch is faulty on the bathroom door and through the open crack you sight him stepping from the shower with his kaleidoscope of scars, the map of his country scored on his back. You sweat even more and make a bolt for your room, spending the night planning English lessons, drafting them out. But he shows himself a match for you in resolve, the Saturday dragging by with you stuttering and him silent. Finally you shut up. And as if he’s been waiting for a gap, he begins to mumble the odd word, pointing to objects about the house, question marks floating in his eyes. Allah be praised, you want to tell him, as you struggle with frowns, careful smiles, actions, drawings, gestures, mimes. By Sunday evening, you get the feeling both of you might be enjoying yourselves. He sleeps with his door open, drinks his tea black, wolfs down your stew with some word for it in Pashto, but you can’t get him to say vegetable. Is it stubbornness or his lack of teeth?
WALSHE He doesn’t ask where you go Monday through Wednesday and you don’t explain how the charity you work for bypassed the grim reaper and brought him to you. At the market, he’s a hotshot searching out sweet cabbages, the freshest fruit, produce he sold in Kandahar. Browsing the freebie box outside the bookshop on the way home, you find a poetry book, shove it into your bag. He looks at you askance. You laugh, pointing out the word free. He brightens, sifts through the box, withdraws a gossip magazine. You’re bemused. But it’s either that or tattooed bodybuilders. Back home, he skips the garden, sitting instead in the conservatory, studying the magazine. Attacks it with your scissors, cutting out pictures, snipping forever, careful and precise. You give up on interesting him in a game of cards, turn off the TV, rinse the supper dishes. Is this what he learnt to do in the camps, passing time like you playing Solitaire? When he’s in bed, you gawk at the leftovers from what he’s been snipping: headless film stars, celebrities, severed torsos and trunks, a horror hotchpotch of cuttings scattered on an editing-room floor. You recycle these but still he roots in the box when you pass it. The bodybuilders he ignores. He takes a boating magazine along with some cookery ones, but later discards the rich on their yachts. The smell of his socks on the landing threatens to gas you and he hangs his washed clothes so badly you sneak out into the garden to rehang them while he’s busy cutting. He spins the globe in the dining room every night before bed, tracing his thumb from Ireland to Afghanistan, and in the mornings he prays in the pointy corner of your garden. On his knees, doubled over, a sort of Pilates pose. Seems like the fuchsia, all red and purple-faced, might be facing Mecca. What inner compass lets him know? Sometimes, still sleepless at dawn, you peek out at him prostrate on the dew-laden grass. Brings you back in time to you and Manny spying on Sister Immaculata, flat-out under an apple tree in the convent orchard, arguing with an imagined serpent, shouting her prayers from fleshy lips, the rest of her jailed in her long black habit. The least amount of body exposed, lest God or man, or, God forbid, woman, take pleasure. You get him to pronounce his name and what he says is You-sef. You repeat it after him, saying it must be Joseph in English. He doesn’t understand when you tease him about using the Angelus bell as one of his calls to prayer. Would his own holy honchos think it heretical, blasphemous, or what? You no longer have this problem yourself since God and you let go of each other. Sally calls in, romance plumping her, all rosy. Now Yousef’s settled, there’s no hurry finding him a permanent home, is there? You’re delighted, but after her tricking you, you’re parsimonious with your smile. He discovers Peter’s old tools in the shed, fixes the catch on the bathroom door, then sharpens the shears and fits a strip of wood under the back door to stop the woodlice, his grooved face taking on an air of purpose. It gives the air that you breathe purpose too, as if it really is there to buoy you, save you from yourself.
THE WOODEN BOX He eases the lawnmower out of your hands one evening, taking over the grass. Later, when you bring him out tea, he’s lingering at the rosebush Manny planted before she died. Drinking its scent, slightly stooped, green eyes shuttered under the jutting brows, his lids dark as his arms, from times of lifting his face to the sun. Times of peace for him, long gone. The thought scalds. You drag the iron seat across the grass, gouging tracks into the lines of his mowing. Peter would have a fit, but Peter isn’t here to frown at this lawn he nursed for thirty years, its army of green blades more dear to him than you proved to be. You set the seat beside the biggest rose, bowed, velvety, petals of blood drifting down. He reaches out a hand, catches one, strokes it with his thumb. He drinks his breakfast cup out there while the weather lasts, leaning back, absorbing the sun. You watch him while you re-wash his plate at the sink, getting the grease off. You grow hungry for his footsteps about the house, his cough at night, the creak of Manny’s old bed when he turns. You’re catapulted out of sleep when he shouts from his dreams, once you even had to wake him, afraid whatever it was would break him altogether. One day while he’s in the garden, you go into his room, set down fresh sheets upon his bed. You’re just leaving when you glimpse something under his pillow. You struggle for a bit, but your conscience legs it. Your own plump fingers lift the pillowcase’s corner; such a small effort to see what’s underneath cannot be a transgression. Moments pass while you stare at what he’s hidden: the sum of his saved cuttings, the faces he’s snipped from magazines, young, old, and in between, including children, a newborn infant. A dog, for Christ’s sake. All of them, gazing back up at you, arranged and pasted with care, this grouping, dark-haired, olive-skinned as himself, all of them smiling into the void of his life. You stare for a long time, piecing together his family, the searchedout likenesses of strangers to his own loved ones, filling him up, taken with him into sleep to counteract his dreams. What makes for pain is that it wasn’t always like this. You replace the pillow, your heart knocking against your ribs. The photographs you once had of Peter. Strange how you can be ambushed, the way it sneaks up. But the truth is your future was never fixed or assured either. Next time you’ll just hand Yousef the sheets. One evening you come home to him pacing the hall. “What,” you say, alarmed, “Yousef, what’s the matter?” Is he annoyed you’re not home on time to heat dinner? There’s enough stew from last night to feed a battalion; you’ve told him to go ahead if you’re delayed but so far he’s balked, won’t eat till you’re at the table together. Almost as if you two have a life like others. There’s seduction in that, though you try not to be seduced. He mutters now in his own language, taking your arm, urging you upstairs. You pause on the landing, panting from the climb.
WALSHE “God Almighty!” Still winded when you notice it; the closet at the far end of the landing barren as your life, its light illuminating the slatted wooden shelves. Stripped of duvet covers, sheets, even nightdresses, now piled across the bannisters. And him ushering you along the passage to the open door, kicking the toolbox out of the way as he pulls you inwards to look. You’re resistant. You’ve never seen these shelves bare since Peter built them, since you lined them with hope, the bedlinen of wedding presents. And now he’s pointing it out: woodworm. The rot of your life. He lifts the crowbar, a question in those ridiculous eyes, but you grab his hammer, bring it down repeatedly on a shelf, till the wood splinters with deafening satisfaction. Then you toss it. The light bulb smashes and you race into your room, slamming the door as he begins hacking away at the little that is left. At least you haven’t blinded him. The hacking takes forever, injecting you with a torpor that curls you into bed fully clothed. The light’s gone out of the sky when the noise finally stops. You sleep then, long, fitfully, wading through dreams of wreckage and abandonment. In the morning, sunshine. A crackling in the garden, the smell of woodsmoke through the bedroom window. And Yousef with his grey thatched head and serpentine eyes tending the fire diligently in the corner opposite Mecca. You take advantage, run downstairs, grab a cup of tea, return to bed, glad to avoid those eyes. Doze fitfully, vaguely aware of the hammer again in the distance, maybe you even hear the saw? It’s late when you wake, the air clear, a sense of warmth in the room. Footsteps maybe? Outside the door? Your phone says noon. So does the birdsong through the window. Otherwise, silence. It’s over at last. What’ll you say? Sorry I acted like a madwoman. But when you open the door your heart rears up. He’s sitting near the gougedout closet, his crooked little back to the bannisters, hugging something. How long has he been here? “Yousef, I’m sorry,” you begin, but he’s grimacing with stiffness, hauling himself from the floor, handing you a small wooden box made, he signs to you, from what he’s salvaged. Inside, the astonishment of your name, carved alongside some Arabic. “Yousef—” you manage. But already he’s descending the stairs. Somehow you get back into your room before the sobs start, hard and punishing. You’re gritty-eyed and worn out coming downstairs later, needing to thank him properly, offer some vague excuse for last night. But he won’t let you, he’s poring over the photos on the sideboard, mesmerised. This has to be a pretence, given he’s looked at them all before. You let him take your arm now, in atonement. He makes you point to yourself when small, examining your sepia curls, laughing warmly, as at a well-loved child. Your heart speeds up. He points at you and Manny in your teens, arm-in-arm, standing in this very house where you grew up together, then out at the rosebush.
THE WOODEN BOX “Yes.” You nod. “That’s Manny.” Dead before the first flower bloomed, before her twenty-first birthday, though you don’t air the words. He touches the blocky young hand and arm around you at your other side, though you’ve sawn it off at the shoulder. You look away. You’ve managed to hack most of Peter out of your life, your photo albums. Yousef then leans into your face and raises his brows. You turn back to the photograph again and shake your head. But he senses something. Shame makes you avoid his eyes. Cutting’s also what you do when you’re walked out on after a lifetime by a man you’ve loved beyond all else, one who’s not seen fit to tell you he’s going, one you’ve gone to the police for, sent out search parties for, only to discover him living with a woman in Canada, a woman heavy with his child. No. You can’t tell Yousef about your soap-opera life, this man whose entire family has been wiped out by war. And so you walk away from his mystified eyes.
Early morning, arriving at the office to missed calls from Sally, a message on your mobile phone. Though you knew to expect this, it’s a shock. Somehow, you’ve managed to lull yourself into forgetting why he’s come to you in the first place, that he’s forever lost his home. You don’t answer Sally either, when she rings again, you don’t want to hear the words. On your way home, you buy him a holdall the green of his eyes, but avoid looking at the bookshop as you pass. They’re in the kitchen, waiting on you, excited, his eyes over-bright, Sally fizzing with the finding of his cousin in London, her belief in serendipity, how everything always falls into place. To have all torn from you, something given back. Your heart, too, sings for him, in spite of what it longs for itself. Caught up in his joy, you say this calls for a celebration, you’ll make tea. But he’s all packed, there’s a plane to be caught. So soon? You sit heavily, trying to hide your desolation. Sally, sensing the shift, stuffs his bag into the new holdall, heads out to the car. For a moment longer you sit together as you did the first day, but now the air is thrumming between you. Then you’re both on your feet, hands clasped, his warm and rough, encasing yours like clamshells. And you, you’re afraid to breathe or think. Finally, Sally’s back, shattering the air, hustling him too quickly out down the garden path. You follow them to the hall door, stricken. Manage to wave, holding the rictus of your smile till they’re gone, a short blast on the horn.
WALSHE He’ll catch sight of his home again when he reaches his cousin. You stand there, gripping the empty air he’s vacated, holding on to his image. Presently you’ll go inside, past the clock in the hall, moving through the house, absorbing the silence. Then, into the back garden, to his chair, beside the roses. You will not succumb. Sally will give you his address. You’ll send a postcard. He’ll send one back. Because he’s courteous, because he has a warm heart still able to beat over what was done to him. In the meantime, he’s made you the box, carved his name and yours, in a circle, the circle of the world. It’s home to you now, and in it you’ll place him, bending to sniff Manny’s rose.
The House of the Tree of Sores from
My many eggs, embedded in the sore-house. My yolkish needs, gnidas. I check the recept, I study my feathered children in this well-furnished bunke bunker. Their blue and yellow colors make them look less American. I didn’t want that, I wanted them to develop via bra vibrationer. I take a moment to try and remember my daughter’s features, my daughter’s name. Was she Kikki or Sanna? I cannot remember, but I remember her holding a microphone. Does she get that from me? Does she have mor of my mor looks or mor of my far looks? What about my son? He looked like a famous Swedish chef, didn’t he? Was he Magnus? Didn’t he have a hunting dog? Named Krut or Crud? Clearly I cannot recall my little tree, my kvitto tree, my ancient ek, my traditional ick, my family tree, my bra vibrationer. I feel I have been feathered, tarred, censored. These yellows and blues, these new bruise colors. This doesn’t feel like the American Dream. America is however I feel. Right. It is only a feeling. It is about finding comfort in discomfort. Right.
Guitar riffs, death riffs. What am I, gångkläder? Jag är en fattig översättare! What am I saying? Shiny leathered, tarred and not feathered. Pappa, you are lost in translation, my children giggle. My cranial jelly shakes around in the riot traffic, I mosh into the shit of public decency. I think of chickens, their lilla eggs, their kokning bodies. The strangeness of their foreign language: stjärnor, ränder. Blah, blah. Amerikanerna, kernels popping. Hollywood games of whitewashing. Subtitles are shit, crud. Hollywood reminds me that anything in translation is mediocre. My red carpet wardrobe: shit, crud. What am I wearing to the snusk shed? No pretty musk, all should snusk closely into my snusk shed. I mosh onward, slashed and dripping riot dye, graffiti. Why am I trying to make sense of this world of graffiti? Why should I bother translating? Suddenly, I hear them. Suddenly, I remember their names. My son’s name: Meat-He. My daughter’s: Oak-Her.
The horned branches of the tree of sores up pinching my sleeves, my filthy body. Tentakler surround, vampyroteuthis. Tooths this, barcode body mine. I suddenly find myself covered in pearlish ulcers and tongues of worship. I become painfully decorated by the tree of heirlooms, the tree of sores. Its meathook branches take hold of me, holes me up ageless, to the light, pushes me into the overneath of the house. Crushes me with commercial light, viral bric-Ă -brac. Lobes of God. I seemingly roll and roll, collecting furniture all over my adhesive body. Stockholm kaffe table, Stockholm glas-door cabinet, Stockholm takkrona. Tentakler, blood-stealing IVs reaching into my retching spaces. I feel like vampyroteuthis, expanding my own Star Queen Nebula. I wake up, anguish, convulsing, in and out of a frame of sublime gaseousness. My black bed, my black sheets of space, my tertius gaudens. My venous sinuses, I receive more than one language. I become feathered, eternal flood of blasphemy. I eat these unknown scraps, I enjoy them. I enjoy this skĂĽp.
from THE HOUSE OF THE TREE OF SORES
My unglued, my handmade. My hen coordinates gone awry. My body rolls over into a tuft of rattan, stalks of office bamboo. My meat-bearings slide, I am dramatically framed by mouth-blown glass. I recognize my cabinetry. My slides, my solids, my drawerfronts. My dream always opening, closing. The sun feels surprisingly gentle against my skin. All this light, all this glass! Am I in a furniture store or a greenhouse? I stand up, I am standing in a room filled with lamps. Ten lamps, fifty lamps, one hundred lamps, one thousand. I squint and I squint into the endlessness. Every last lamp turned On-On-On-On. I look down at my feet, I am standing on a stage inside a strange crystal palace. I look down at my feet, thick roots growing across my shoes. Cable management, I cry tears of sleep. On-Off-On-Off.
The drawings of this series were the first ones I was able to make in a long time. For months I have been questioning the topics I used to work with, the images I was using, where they were coming from, why I was attracted to them. Appropriations, exoticism, responsibilities, etc. I was doubting every bit of my inclinations and imagination. I could not draw. One day, I found a book about CĂŠzanne in the street. I donâ€™t like his paintings very much. I decided to improve them. They are way better now.
Works from the series Bien Mieux (2015) appear throughout the issue.
Jodie Noel Vinson
Thirty-Six Times Thirty-six times and a hundred times the painter limned that mountain, each time torn away, then driven back there; each time borne (thirty-six times and a hundred times) back to that blank, volcanic, deadpan face. —Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Mountain,” tr. Len Krisak
Georgia O’Keefe painted Cerro Pedernal over thirty times from her studio at Ghost Ranch. If she painted that mountain enough times, she thought, God just might give it to her.
Doing something thirty times over indicates a certain amount of affection. O’Keefe’s husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, photographed his wife over five hundred times.
I must have first seen you out the plane window at twenty-two. Perhaps this is why whenever I fly I always take the window seat. Now that Seattle is home, every arrival and departure means a chance to see your face.
When my husband and I visited his relatives in Provence, we gazed out his cousin’s car windows, watching the colors of Cézanne’s paintings blur into soft, fluid features of the landscape. When we reached Mont Sainte-Victoire, which Cézanne painted more than sixty times in one decade, we only stayed for about ten minutes. The cousin’s children were bored. They said: “We’ve seen it before.” Wasn’t that the point?
It’s hard to describe what mountains mean to a plains girl who spent the first two decades of her life confronting an uninterrupted horizon. Sunrise to sunset.
O’Keefe first came to New Mexico as an alternative to staying in New York with Stieglitz, who’d just started an affair with the wife of an heir to the Sears, Roebuck and Co. fortune. Of her new landscape O’Keefe would write her husband: “It makes me feel I am growing very tall and straight inside – and very still.” Mountains often fill voids other than the sky.
When he read his friend Émile Zola’s novel L’Œuvre, Cézanne recognized himself in the central character, a painter called Lantier. Cézanne did not like the self he saw in Zola’s pages. Breaking ties with his childhood friend, he withdrew more and more from society, a choice that seemed to draw the painter closer and closer to his mountain. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke would later observe that “only a saint could be as united with his God as Cézanne was with his work.” Ironically, Cézanne’s seclusion also brought him nearer and nearer to the fictional Lantier, who by the end of the novel had “hanged himself from the big ladder in front of his unfinished, unfinishable masterpiece.”
The first image in Katsushika Hokusai’s series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji is The Great Wave off Kanagawa. In the print, the wave almost eclipses the mountain,
VINSON which can be seen beneath the hungry curl of its crest, standing snowcapped and small in the distance. The sea rages and, being in the foreground, is the clear, present danger, yet the mountain in the background cannot be underestimated. It’s diminished, yes, but isn’t this just a matter of perspective, and isn’t perspective what is needed to remember that Mount Fuji has been standing there all along, that when the wave melts back to sea – taking whatever inland destruction it wreaked with it – the mountain will continue to stand? Looking at Fuji untouched by the wave’s fury, you get the sense that, if it wanted to, it could blow its top, but, at this particular moment, it has chosen not to. It is the mountain’s presence that most inspires when viewing Hokusai’s thirty-six prints. Rain or shine, snow or wind, clear skies – seen from village, sea, or city – the mountain is a timeline against which all of life is measured.
At a national park’s visitor center, I view a miniature diorama that reveals the Pacific Northwest before European settlers arrived. “Mount Rainier as it appeared to native inhabitants,” explains a nearby plaque. At this point I’ve lived in Seattle for a few years, so I’m accustomed to seeing you couched between skyscrapers and the Space Needle, or crowded up against a Ferris wheel. That is, you’ve always appeared in the context of architecture which, magnified in the foreground, serves to shrink your sheer size down to something that can be swallowed in day-to-day bites. In the diorama, all of this is stripped bare. You rise from the plains like the god which those who saw you unspoiled believed you were – the god, perhaps, you are.
A less-known fact about Hokusai: he was one of the nineteenth century’s leading designers of three-dimensional dioramas.
“I like being able to see what’s coming; it’s a kind of security,” a friend who has chosen to stay in the Midwest explains. And it’s true: when you live in the midst of plains you have the advantage of always seeing what’s on the future’s horizon – a cyclone perhaps, funneling across farmland. But when you live in the daily presence of a volcanic cone, when you walk upon soil whose properties imply the presence of lava flows, it’s a constant acknowledgment of what has been, and what in all likelihood will happen again.
THIRTY-SIX TIMES It’s the difference, perhaps, between living in anticipation and living with acceptance. Between fleeing below ground and bowing one’s head.
I’m still trying to forgive the woman in the middle seat who, as the plane banked for descent, reached across to plaster her oversized cell phone against my window. We sat silently watching you sink pink beneath the clouds on her screen. Until my offended muteness melted into her wordless awe.
Mount Fuji’s northwest flank is blanketed by Aokigahara Forest, a thick wood that has grown up over lava that once flowed molten from the mountain’s core during an eruption in 864. Over hundreds of years the cooling lava was sown with seeds dropped from the beaks of passing birds. Today the forest has become so dense it is known locally as Jukai, or the “Sea of Trees.” Beneath a canopy of cypress and hemlock, warped roots furred with moss twist across a forest floor of volcanic rock so porous it absorbs sound, lending Aokigahara-Jukai its reputation for silent beauty.
The Iowa landscape is cultivated and purposeful. Cornfields do not have to explain their usefulness or excuse their ample existence. But what use is a mountain? It exists only unto itself. A mountain stands tall and straight and still and says: “I am enough.”
Living in the shadow of a mountain after college was a luxury, even, perhaps, a bit of a rebellion. What was I rebelling against? Unchanging scenery, for one thing. “Treadmill runs,” my sister used to call jogs along the miles of gravel road that hem Iowa’s cornfields like patchwork. Perhaps even against the pencil-straight rows of purposefully planted corn. Against the idea that burying a kernel yielded a predictable crop. The skies pressed down against a two-dimensional landscape. I boarded a plane and rose above them.
“His horizons are high, his blues very intense, and the red in his work has an astounding vibrancy,” wrote Gauguin of Cézanne.
When I first moved to Seattle, I was prone to car accidents. Driving over the Aurora Bridge, high above the ship canal, I would sneak glances left and right: east to the Cascades, glowing at sunrise, and west to the jagged peaks of the Olympics, dark silhouettes at sunset. This was actually safer than gazing straight ahead, where, on a sunny day, you might dazzle me right off the bridge.
Seattle’s Aurora Bridge has been the site of over two hundred and thirty suicides, trailing only San Francisco’s Golden Gate. Which side do the jumpers face? East to the Cascades or to the Olympics in the west? Sunrise or sunset?
Mount Fuji’s soundless “Sea of Trees” is also known as “Suicide Forest” and is the country’s most notorious place to take one’s life, with around one hundred suicides documented a year on this side of the mountain.
One of Hokusai’s illustrations of the Japanese epic Strange Tales of the Crescent Moon depicts the ritual suicide of Takama Isohagi, the servant of a medieval warrior. The image reveals two moments simultaneously: the moment when Isohagi plunges the sword into his stomach and the moment after, when he lies prone in death. Cresting over the raised heap of the two bodies, a wave seems a moment away from washing the scene clean. In retrospect, with Hokusai’s later works in view, it’s easy to read this early illustration as a precursor of what would become The Great Wave. In Takama Isohagi, the wave’s foaming crest hangs just over the focal point of the print: the composite of Isohagi’s body bent back over his corpse at the moment of death. Thrown together, the bodies, above which the suicide’s determined chin thrusts in a peak of anguish, form the unmistakable shape of a mountain. The difference between the prints is of course what happens next – that is, what remains. Another way of looking at it: The suicide becomes the mountain.
When I move back to Seattle with my husband, ten years after first glimpsing your face, our kitchen window offers a view of your peak, which only appears above the pines on certain days. This elusiveness, the ability to disappear, even on seemingly clear days, by some trick of the atmosphere, is nothing short of seduction. As when, after a period of several days without a sighting, you stand there reflecting a late afternoon sun off a blinding white slope, or revealing a bit of
THIRTY-SIX TIMES blueish rock that snow cover once concealed, or emitting the soft pink aura of a sunset before melting into the crepuscular sky, until it is as if you were never there at all. Every day you are different; every day you are the same. And even when I can’t see you, I know you are there. Even when you are there, I can hardly believe it.
One day, when you catch me by surprise as I round the corner of my house, I stop and say: “I’m going to climb that mountain.”
But months go by without my picking up so much as a carabiner.
Then, on another day, I sit down at my desk and begin to write about you.
In 1870, Hazard Stevens made the first successful documented ascent of Mount Rainier, along with Philemon B. Van Trump. With such rich names as these, it’s hard to imagine why we stuck with Rear Admiral Peter’s surname, just because Vancouver’s expedition spotted the peak from the Puget Sound (which they also named). Of course, the native inhabitants knew you by several names already: Tacoma (“snowy mountain”), Talol (“mother of waters”), and Ti’Swaq (“sky wiper”), among others. Words that lay claim by describing what is there.
Throughout his life, Hokusai changed his name at least thirty times. This happened so frequently, and the new names were so closely related to shifts in his artistic techniques, that critics have found them useful when referring to his work from specific periods.
Perhaps it was this fluidity of self that contributed to Hokusai’s drastic shifts in perspective, and which allowed him to know the same entity from several angles, through many seasons, shades, and lenses, to understand the nuances of light and shadow across a face, how the very textures and especially colors could change in the space of hours.
The self, Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views seems to say, is always essentially there, yet identity is not immune to context and conditions, rather the environment, as well as the position of the viewer, might drastically change how one is presented and perceived by the world.
For much of Japan’s history, suicide was viewed as an honorable act, as established through the tradition of seppuku, the ritual suicide of samurai to avoid defeat or dishonor, later manifested during WWII in the kamikaze pilots who flew their planes into the enemy as an act of ultimate self-sacrifice. This cultural tolerance for self-obliteration might also be attributed to amae, or the need to be accepted by others. In Japan, conformity – belonging to the whole – is traditionally valued above individuality. From this perspective, one’s worth becomes less defined by individual accomplishments and more highly correlated with how one is perceived by others. I point this out to say: choosing where one lives can sometimes be a matter of life and death. Or, at least, it can feel as if one is choosing between life and a kind of death.
It’s not that I am looking to own you, exactly. Especially not exclusively. I’m not planting any flags.
When a person claims a landmark, it’s not so much a statement of ownership, but a bid for belonging.
At least, that’s the way it feels: the mountain exerts a power over me, not the other way around.
So that when we say this is my place, what we are actually saying is I belong here.
When O’Keefe passed away in 1986, her ashes were scattered over the top of Cerro Pedernal.
Hokusai’s tombstone is engraved with his final nom d’artiste: Gakyō Rōjin Manji, meaning “The Old Man Mad About Art.”
Unlike realist painters before him, whose technique relied on linear perspective to capture the natural world on canvas, Cézanne often distorted views, like when he painted Mont Sainte-Victoire tipped forward instead of rising away from the viewer, as the mountain verifiably does in nature. Émile Bernard called this seemingly contradictory rejection of classic technique in the face of the artist’s desire to portray the natural world “Cézanne’s suicide.”
The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, however, championed Cézanne’s work through his theory of “lived perspective,” which insists that art does not purely imitate nature, nor does it emerge merely from the imagination of the artist. In an essay entitled “Cézanne’s Doubt,” Merleau-Ponty instead sees Cézanne’s work as a fusion of the self with nature. “The landscape thinks itself in me,” he quotes the painter, “and I am its consciousness.”
Hokusai’s father, Nakajima Issai, was a mirror maker. Who can tell, perhaps the mountain acted as a looking glass for Hokusai, one in which he saw his fluid, everchanging soul reflected.
In that case we might read his thirty-six depictions of Mount Fuji as a series of self-portraits.
When I leave Seattle for graduate school a few years after first arriving, I don’t think much about the ways I have changed since leaving Iowa. But when I move back to the city a decade later, I find that I can measure the years and their changes against the backdrop of who I was when I first encountered that mountain.
In a postscript to Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, Hokusai wrote: “From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive.”
It’s clear, of course, why Hokusai would, at the zenith of his career, choose Mount Fuji as a subject. The mountain stands at the center of Japanese identity, rooted in a cultural belief that goes back to the ancient Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, in which a goddess deposits the elixir of everlasting life at the summit. The etymology of the name Fuji can be traced to the folk word Fu-shi, which translates as “not death,” in other words, eternally alive.
“Everything we see falls apart, vanishes. Nature is always the same, but nothing in her that appears to us, lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us the taste of her eternity.”
What is less clear is why Hokusai chose to depict thirty-six views. Not thirty-five or thirty-seven; he didn’t even push for a nice round fifty, nor could he control himself at an even thirty.
I like to think that thirty-five was just not enough.
Or perhaps it was a matter of humility. The mountain enjoys a 360-degree view; to assume the human scope is ten times less seems like a safe bet. Any more might be presumptuous.
And then there’s the possibility of the artist’s paradox: in restriction one finds the greatest freedom.
Or maybe, according to his own prophecy, Hokusai feared that if he reached one hundred thirty, one hundred forty, or more impressions, his images might become alive – or, at least, wake up. No mortal wants to wake a mountain.
Besides, surely by thirty-six Hokusai had already earned the right to sip at the mountain’s alleged elixir. Or, if O’Keefe’s theory holds, perhaps by the time he’d printed that peak thirty-six times, Hokusai felt the mountain was his.
JULIA BURGDORFF was born in New Jersey and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She works at Columbia University School of the Arts. CRAIG BURNETT was born in Dundee and lives in South London, where he writes about awkward conversations, nasty surprises, and the weight of the past. His work has appeared in Flexible Persona, the Stockholm Review of Literature, Tincture Journal, Noble Gas Quarterly, and elsewhere. He tweets @cburnettwriter. ELENA KARINA BYRNE is a multimedia artist and editor, as well as the Poetry Consultant/Moderator for The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. She is the author of Squander (Omnidawn, 2016), MASQUE (Tupelo Press, 2008), and The Flammable Bird (Zoo Press, 2002). Other work has been published in Pushcart Prize XXXIII, Best American Poetry, Poetry, The Paris Review, APR, TriQuarterly, Kenyon Review, Denver Quarterly, Slate, Volt, Diode, OmniVerse, Verse, and BOMB. She has just completed a collection of essays entitled Voyeur Hour: Meditations on Poetry, Art & Desire. CHRISTOPHER CASCIO’s writing has appeared in The Southampton Review, Kalliope, The Feathertale Review, and Rose & Thorn Journal. He teaches writing at Monroe College and also works as a freelance editor and visual artist. He exhibits his paintings in New York, Pennsylvania, and Chicago. He currently lives in Kings Park, New York, with his dog, Samuel L. Jackson III. PAUL CUNNINGHAM manages Deluge and Radioactive Moat Press. He is the translator of two chapbooks by Swedish author, playwright, and video artist, Sara Tuss Efrik: Automanias: Selected Poems (Goodmorning Menagerie, 2015) and The Night’s Belly (Toad Press, 2016). His translations of Helena Österlund are forthcoming in Sink Review, Asymptote, and others. His own writing can be found in Yalobusha Review, Fireflies Film Magazine, Bat City Review, LIT, Tarpaulin Sky, Spork, and others. He is currently a PhD candidate in fiction at the University of Georgia and he holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Notre Dame.
LIZZIE DAVIS is a writer and editor at Coffee House Press, and a literary translator from Spanish and Italian. Her recent projects include My First Bikini by Elena Medel ( Jai-Alai Books, 2015), the commentary and prose for Then Come Back: The Lost Poems of Pablo Neruda (Copper Canyon, 2016), and a co-translation with Valeria Luiselli of Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions (Coffee House Press, 2017). ANNE GUTT is a poet and translator. She was awarded the Gabo Prize for Literary Translation Summer/Fall 2017 for her translations of poems by Ganna Shevchenko. She has also translated work by contemporary poets Andrey Rodionov and Tatiana Moseeva. GEORGE L. HICKMAN lives in Columbia, Maryland. His work has recently appeared in The Copperfield Review and The Louisville Review. NINA ISKRENKO (1951-1995) appeared on the Moscow scene in the 1980s as a force of great energy, provocation, wit, and virtuosity. Following the putsch in 1991, Iskrenko became a member of the Russian Writersâ€™ Union. She published three books of poetry in 1991, and her work appeared in many journals. When she died of cancer aged 43, less than half of her work had been published. Since then, her complete oeuvre has appeared in a series of small volumes. MARION JDANOFF lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Her practice interweaves drawing and serigraphy. She shows consistency in beheading her characters and believes in the importance of multiplying all sorts of narratives. She co-runs Palefroi, simultaneously a print studio, a publishing house, and an artistic duo. marionjdanoff.net DEREK KANNEMEYER was born in Cape Town, South Africa, raised in London, England, and lives and writes in Richmond, Virginia. His work has appeared in Fiction International, Rattapallax, Smartish Pace, Rolling Stone, and many other publications, including most recently Man in the Street and The Wild Word. FARRYL LAST was born and raised in New York City, and has lived in Mantova, Italy, teaching English there. She holds an MFA in poetry from Hunter College/CUNY, where she now works advising students about studying abroad. Her poems have appeared in The Maine Review, Entropy, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Poetry City, U.S.A., among others. DONG LI was born and raised in PR China. His honors include fellowships from the German Chancellery-Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Akademie Schloss Solitude, PEN/Heim Translation Fund, Yaddo, and elsewhere. He has poems in Kenyon Review, Conjunctions, Cincinnati Review, and others. His work has been translated into German, and appeared in manuskripte and Neue Rundschau.
MARY MARGE LOCKER grew up in Alabama and now lives in New York. COLLEEN MAYNARD has appeared in such places as matchbook, NANO Fiction, and Oxford Magazine. She graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute and trained at Illinois Natural History Survey in Botanical Illustration. She writes and draws at colleenmaynard. com. LOIE MERRITT is a writer and mixed media artist from coastal Maine. She is published in The Wanderer, Map Literary, The Thought Erotic, DREGINALD, and Lemon Hound, among others. She received an MFA from the University of Colorado, where she also taught fiction. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is presently hunting for an ideal home for her first hybrid novel. Loie now finds herself settled in Nashville, Tennessee. MAGGIE MILLNER’s poetry appears or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, The Awl, Narrative, and other publications. She is the recipient of fellowships from Poets & Writers, the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, the Stadler Center for Poetry, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, as well as New York University, where she teaches Creative Writing and is pursuing an MFA in poetry. JOE RUPPRECHT is from Syracuse, New York. His work has been published or is forthcoming in New Delta Review, Entropy, Witch Craft Magazine, Spy Kids Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of Faggy Bird Poems (Ghost City Press, 2017), and he tweets @heterofobe. LAURA TANSLEY’s writing has appeared in Butcher’s Dog, Cosmonaut’s Avenue, Gutter, Lighthouse, Litro, New Writing Scotland, The Real Story, The Rialto, Southword, Tears in the Fence, and is forthcoming in Stand. She is also co-editor of the collection Writing Creative Non-Fiction: Determining the Form. She lives in Glasgow and tweets @laura_tans. JODIE NOEL VINSON received her MFA in nonfiction creative writing from Emerson College, where she developed a book about her travels to literary sites around the world. Her essays and reviews have been published in Creative Nonfiction, The Gettysburg Review, The Massachusetts Review, Nowhere magazine, The Rumpus, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among other places. She is the recipient of the St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award and runner-up for the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize. Jodie lives with her husband in Seattle, where she is writing a book about insomnia. DOLORES WALSHE has had a novel and short story collection published by Wolfhound Press and has twice been awarded an Irish Arts Council Bursary in Literature. Fiction awards include the 2017 Berlin Writing Prize, the Bryan MacMahon Short Story Award, the James Joyce Jerusalem Bloomsday Award, and she has twice been a prizewinner in
RTE’s Francis Mac Manus Short Story Award. Playwriting awards include the Listowel Writers’ Week Play Award, the Irish Stage and Screen Award, and the OZ Whitehead/SIP/ PEN Play Award. Her plays have been published by Carysfort Press, UCD, and Syracuse University, New York. LEAH WILLIAMS holds an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she is a teacher for the City University of New York. TARA ISABEL ZAMBRANO is an electrical engineer by profession. Her work has appeared in Vestal Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Moon City Review, Lunch Ticket, and other journals. She lives in Texas with her kids and her husband.
Although we didn’t select this issue’s work with any theme in mind, the pieces we’ve assembled here share an uncanny obsession with containm...