20 stories poetry interviews essays & such £7—
this issue for the inbetween times of 2020
Colphon Issue 20—Published September 2020 Structo is an independent literary magazine lost somewhere between the UK and the Netherlands. It operates on a not-for-profit basis and receives no external funding. Details about submissions, subscriptions and stockists can be found online. issn: 2044-8244 (print) & 2044-8252 (digital) team: Will Burns, Matthew Landrum (contributing editor), Adam Ley-Lange, Elaine Monaghan (copy editor), Euan Monaghan (editor/designer), Nat Newman (online editor), Sarah Revivis Smith, Valentina Terrinoni & Lydia Unsworth This issue is set in Garamond Pro and Knockout. It’s printed in Hertfordshire by Mixam using biodegradable inks on a 100% recycled, fsc-certified, uncoated stock. The cover photo was taken near Gjógv in the Faroe Islands by Annie Spratt (anniespratt.com). The patterns on the inside covers were designed by Eva Polakovičová (evapola.com). Unless otherwise stated, all content is protected by a Creative Commons AttributionNonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence. Nothing in this licence impairs or restricts the individual author’s moral rights. web: structomagazine.co.uk email: firstname.lastname@example.org socials: structomagazine
Contents 1 Editor’s letter 3 Claire Booker, Two poems 5 Jacob Parker, Until Later 12 Hisham Bustani, Field of Vision Translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes 16 L.P. Lee, Rewilding Ungnyeo 23 Luigi Coppola, Two poems 26 Matthew Landrum, A Disaster in Our Culture—An Essay 32 Marie-Andrée Auclair, Aspects of Light 33 Georgi Gill, Amelioration 34 Petra Hilgers, Someone else’s books 35 Joseph Hardy, Holding On In Mid-Life 36 Jessica Bell, Land of Milk and Glory 40 Tom Benn, Stuart Hall and Stuart Hall 47 Michael Bazzett, Two poems 50 William Nuth, The Tenth Plague of Ruislip 54 A Conversation with Joan Margarit 63 Stephanie Limb, Newton-on-Sea 64 Daisy G. Bassen, Shloshim 66 Kate Feld, Horse 68 Daniel Bennett, The Idea of Texas 70 Margarita Meklina, Grandmother Frost Translated from the Russian by Melanie Moore 80 Photography by Annie Spratt 86 Jen Stewart Fueston, Whose Streams 88 Joe Bedford, The Burden of Legacy 96 Claire Miller, Croeso 97 Contributors
Editor’s letter Structo was envisioned as a biannual back when it was first published in the now halcyon days of the 2008 financial crisis. Although perhaps ‘envisioned’ is too strong a word, since I had no real idea what would be involved in putting together a literary magazine, never mind one released twice a year. But that was the plan, and as the magazine has grown it’s kept to that publishing schedule, more or less. It occurred to me sometime after the release of the last issue that I couldn’t remember why I’d decided the magazine needed to be a biannual. Without getting too existential about the whole thing, there’s no particular reason why we do most of the things the way we do here; the magazine has evolved the way it’s evolved, and since the quality of the end result has been constantly improving, there didn’t seem to be any reason to question the process. Since Structo 19 came out, a few other projects have come to fruition. I helped to produce a story collection called Yarn in collaboration with the Amsterdam-based RISO publisher Otherwhere. And then there’s the first book from Structo Press. The new translation of Juan Rulfo’s El Llano in flames by Stephen Beechinor was published at the end of 2019. It’s been longlisted for the Republic of Consciousness Prize and got a shoutout in The Guardian, amongst other places. That’s it on the back cover. Get us. These more deliberate and discrete projects, with their beginnings, middles and ends, have been immensely satisfying, and have taught me a lot. It makes me want to apply the same kind of thinking to the magazine itself. This issue is full of inventive, exciting writing, even when the production side is on autopilot. Imagine what the magazine could be if we paused to think things through a little? And so, we will not be opening submissions immediately after this issue goes to press. Instead, we will be spending some time to figure out what’s next. This will mostly involve conversations, with writers, readers 1
and fellow publishers. We want to know how we can improve. Is a print magazine the best focus for our efforts? If so, what does it look like? How often is it released? How is it funded? How can we pay writers? How can we make a better, more open, more transparent platform? Exciting times ahead. I hope you’ll stay with us on the journey. Euan Monaghan Den Haag, 26 August 2020
Breaking Out I’ve had it with full stops planning endings before they’ve even begun I want a moonless night scrumping for stars Andromeda the Pleiades bruised and juicy in my trug to sink a fence post into concrete and watch wetness turn I’m sick of weighing the word I want a Marbled White to burn my eyes with its impossible exactness my hands turned copper by the ear-splitting resin of marigolds Give me the sea in conversation with itself a wood-propped yew its bell-clap of crows my fingertips dipped into nests of rainwater I can’t afford an hour to take a comma out I’d rather ease up a dandelion follow the tap root down into worm and grit where root-hairs go nodal and even a fraction missed will burst into sun clocks
The Path Home Autumn has a way with light, prolonging space, making horizons sail achingly close. A landslip of sights greets me from the top of Folly Hill: Georgian brickwork, the castle keep, clouds pinned by steeples – the gas works, an ugly thumb print. Behind me, bracken sprawls its cinnabar pelt, still warm with the possibility of adders. It’s a long walk along flint walls to the swallow holes where we banjaxed our sled one winter-stiff Christmas, planted a tree from a pip, glimpsed the mythic stoat. When the school bell tolls, it’s calling other lives. The weather vane’s still undecided: North, East, South and West, who is the boy that I love best? Somewhere, I’ll find an oak that keeps the hoop of my arms in its memory – a girl on the brink, practising al fresco kissing on one such flimsy day.
Until Later Back then I lived in cities in the south. At first I moved around a lot, didn’t want to settle anywhere. I don’t have any regrets. Either I was trying to get away from something or trying to find something. It’s so long ago now I’m not sure which. But I’m trying to tell how it went. One time, in one of those small hilltop towns, where all the houses were white and the streets dusty, I was attracted by a small crowd that was gathering. And the sounds of the dog. I went and stood at the edge of the group. The car had stopped and the driver was already out. He’d hit the dog and the dog was screaming. It was trying to run, to get away, but the back half of its body wasn’t working. It was frantic, dragging itself around in circles with its front legs, its back legs useless. It was lunging and biting at the other dogs who had started circling it, barking and feigning attacks, like they sensed death. No one knew what to do. The driver stood, frightened, his shoulders shrugging and gesturing away whatever guilt or responsibility he had. People just stood and watched the dog. It was as if we were waiting for someone stronger, who could take all that pain in their hands. But no one came forward. Then after a while the dog quieted, its eyes turned from terror to a sort of tiredness. Its whining and screaming gave out to panting. It lay down. Then it lay outstretched, the side of its head resting on the ground. Its eyes were fixed on something in the distance. Like it was shutting out the world, or the world was becoming farther off. And then it was dead. It looked so much smaller immediately, hardening already into death. I think this is how it happened, I don’t think I’m falsifying this. It was covered in dust, grit in its hair. I stopped moving around so much after a while, and I’d found this city I liked enough to stay. I didn’t know anyone, had no job, and was running out of money. I was staying in a cheap boarding house in a room 5
with no window, where they didn’t change your sheets unless you asked. And you weren’t made to feel like you could ask. They had the most beautiful parks in the south. All organised and symmetrical, with amazing flower beds and walkways that had been carefully planned. I’d walk through one of these parks on my route from the boarding house to the centre where I would go looking for work in the day. I got to know this guy, José, who ran one of the little tiendas in the park. The tienda was just a small round hut. José sold cold drinks, crisps, tobacco. I started going there regularly because he sold single cigarettes and I had no money. José and I got to sitting in the sun on upturned crates together outside his hut. We could hardly say anything to each other, I barely had any Spanish then and he didn’t speak English. But we became friends of sorts. He liked to talk about girls. Or at least I think that’s what he was saying. After a while he started giving me a free beer when I stopped by, and he’d have one too. I managed to tell him I was thinking of heading north for work. He told me to stay in the south, ‘Las chicas son más guapas aquí.’ I understood that. His hair was so black, José’s, and he always wore these smart shirts in soft pastel colours – pinks, blues, oranges. In real life I don’t think we would have been friends. When I finally got a job I ran straight to tell him. We had a beer each and a single cigarette to celebrate. We sat on the crates smiling, the sun snapping off our beer cans. He was happy for me. Two days later I left that city. I went to say goodbye to him. I didn’t have the language and didn’t know what I wanted to say or how. I moved to a more industrial town. Had a job that meant working in the mornings and the evenings, but the whole middle of the day was my own time. Getting to know the place, I walked around a lot. Once I was wandering around the port area and got really lost in the winding streets. It was raining hard and I ducked into a bar that appeared around a corner. It was warm in there, a close humid damp. All men – old boys, ferry workers, men that worked on the ships, fishermen maybe. ‘I’ll have what the others are having,’ I said, when the barman asked. They gave me white wine in a white china pot, that you drank from these small china cups. Then they brought steaming octopus on boiled potatoes, covered in olive oil and a red spice. It was served on a round wooden board. It was hot and dripping and delicious. My wet clothes 6
steamed slowly in the heat of the room. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. When I finally left it had stopped raining and the pavements were dark and shining. I never managed to find that bar again, although I went back to look for it plenty of times. Actually, that wasn’t true, what I said about going back to try and find that bar. I thought about it sometimes, but never did. I rented shared flats that had cheap wardrobes and thin frying pans. For a while back then I lived in that big grey block close to the beach on Canga Argüelles. Just down from the square with the town’s library. From the balcony of the flat if you looked down the street you could just about see the beach and the sea. We had a good time in that flat. There were four of us, we were all different. But we did things together and became friends. The flat was right above a stretch of bars where underage teenagers would go to drink and party on the weekends. On Friday and Saturday nights the thumping music, their laughter and arguments, would rise up to us in our flat. The drama of their lives was fantastic. We would go out onto the balcony and watch it all – look straight down on everything happening. Girls in pairs sitting on the pavement in short skirts, sipping bright purple drinks. Boys posturing and strutting, swirling in and out of fighting. Kids hanging around lampposts vomiting. Girls comforting other girls crying. One time I could see across the street into a doorway set back from the pavement, a girl and boy in there kissing. And then her arm by his jeans moving up and down. There was this café around the corner from our flat that I went to a lot. Inside it was like someone’s house. I’d go on my way to work or coming back from work. It was run by a Cuban guy, Milo. He liked me, always shook my hand, patted me hard on the back. ‘Eh, how you been, friend?’ Maybe it was because I was a foreigner too. They did great tortilla at this café, big warm slices with mayonnaise and bread. And large cups of strong milky coffee. It all cost next to nothing. I’d sit at the bar and Milo would half watch the TV in the corner, and half talk to me. This girl worked there who was gorgeous. Cuban as well. I think maybe she was his niece. She had that Latin-blonde hair, cut into a fringe. Wore dark eyeliner and had a tattoo on her wrist. Her look was severe, never smiled. That was just her style though. She never paid me 7
any interest either. It felt a shame to see her stuck behind this small bar with nothing to do. I felt she should be out in that bright day, striding down the street in dark sunglasses, feeling the sun on her bare shoulders and in her blonde hair. On some weekends my flatmates would happen to all go and visit their families. These weekends I would go for a long, slow run out on the coastal path. I’d run for miles. Get up to this hill where there was a huge modern statue of a woman stretching her arms out to the sea. The inscription said it was a mother reaching out for her sons who had all emigrated to America. From here I would catch my breath and look back and see way off in the distance the whole town. From there I could trace its borders. Other weekends I’d go to the botanical gardens. They had this part of the gardens I liked best that was full of huge oak trees. It felt like a different country there. Reminded me of home a little. I tried taking photographs of these trees, their old gnarled trunks. But the photos never came out right, never captured how they were. It’s hard, telling you about Sundays, that sort of hollow feeling. Trying to get it right. But other mornings would be lovely. A bell would be ringing in the old town and the day would come very unexpectedly on me and I could almost see you and feel you, like you were around somewhere just nearby. For one of Oscar’s birthdays we went to his mother’s house. She lived inland, towards the middle of that vast country. He arranged for me to get a lift with two of his friends. We hit the road in the morning. It was great. These two girls I barely knew up front driving, the hot wind blowing in. Watching the country going by. Trees. Dry land. Just flat for miles and miles it was. And the party ahead of us. Oscar’s mother lived on her own in what felt to me like the middle of nowhere. In all that dry land she’d created the most wonderful garden. The place was full of plants, bougainvillea climbing over the house, pots and tubs full of flowers that were all over the place and that crept into the house, blurring inside and out. She was lovely, his mother. Hardly said anything, just looked on at us all and made us welcome. It was a great party, although I don’t know exactly why. The next morning Oscar and his friends all went for a walk. But I was way too hung over 8
and couldn’t move. They left me on the sofa in the living room. His mother came in, brought me green tea. I was about to get up but she told me – Stay, rest yourself, be tranquil. I lay on my back with the sun coming in everywhere, all the doors and windows open. A breeze came through the room and I listened to the sounds from the garden. To the birds chattering in the trees, the noise of the cicadas all around, and the small sounds of Oscar’s mother quietly pottering around her house. Years later Oscar would go missing, hiking on his own across a mountain range. We’d lost touch completely by then. I found out about it from Henar. They couldn’t find his body anywhere. It went on for months. Eventually his family and close friends raised money and arranged to go out and hike the same route to try and find him. They did find his body and brought him back. We’d never been really strong friends, Oscar and I, and we both understood that we’d eventually lose touch. And that was fine. Thinking about it now, that morning in his living room with his mother around the house was probably the closest I’d ever been to him. I can’t bear thinking of his mother now – in that house. On Sunday afternoons I sometimes went to this large park on the outskirts. I always went on my own. I suppose that seems unusual now. The park was full of families. Parents, children, grandparents. And then young married couples too, walking close, holding hands. It was always busy. I liked the normality of it, the lazy Sunday afternoon. Children raced around the park, and there were beautiful bushes and flowers – rhododendrons, canna lilies. There were peacocks walking around too. When one of them had all its tail feathers up you would see the little kids looking at it, completely dazzled. I hadn’t seen peacocks since I was a child. I was looking for you all the time you know, I can see that now. But back then it just felt like time passing. For years, time just passes. Then one day it stops. The knock at the door, a cell mutates, a boy slips on a mountain path. And then you can feel everything. Of course, other things had been happening all the time, I just didn’t see them. That’s the problem. Now I can’t get them back. And it’s all made worse because I don’t want to die one bit. The beach. There’s nothing like that town beach on a clear night with the tide out and the moon everywhere. The beach felt enormous in the moonlight. I’d walk back home along the beach at night, going home 9
from drinking in the old town. One time in the small hours I stopped by a fisherman on the beach, with his various rods, the lines all taut as wire and disappearing into that dark sea. I asked him what he was fishing for, had a look in his bucket. I stood there, feeling drunk. He was kind in letting me be there. We talked a little. But mostly we just looked out on the choppy sea and the coming light. I know, I’m romanticising everything. Years later, after I’d left, I was staying in the spare room of someone’s house, in another country. I was in a single bed. It was winter, but the people had the heating on high, too hot for me to sleep. And suddenly it all started coming back, all of this. Unfolding slowly before me like one of those big Japanese flowers. In the summer we’d go out to the mountains. Paco would drive us all. We’d toss our towels in his boot and then drive up and around on the winding roads with the windows down. We’d found our perfect spot. A series of deep pools, with clear emerald water. It was a long walk to the pools, up the path by the river, through meadows and woods. We’d arrive hot and sweating, lay our towels out on the grass under trees, then jump in and swim in the deep mountain water. It was so cold at first it seized you, tightened hard around your body. And then you’d adjust to the icy feel, dive down to the bottom, push through the water and be stroked by its tiny chills. Then we’d lie under the trees, turn some music on low, eat tortilla and empanadas and share large bottles of beer that we kept cool in the edge of the water. We swam and slept and talked softly. It was warm in the sun and the whole place smelled of the mountains. The best part was when the few other people who knew the place would leave to go home, and then we had it to ourselves. We’d lie floating in the water like crocodiles, or sitting on rocks in the last spots of sun. Until we got cold. Then we’d dry ourselves and pull on jumpers and sit by the water closer together, sharing cigarettes, passing plastic cups of red wine or brandy between us for warmth. Then the walk back to the car, in the half darkness, single file along the river, in our own thoughts. Like I said, all this happened many years ago, otherwise I couldn’t be talking about it. Then one day I was sitting outside, in the café with the round wooden slatted tables, and you were there, across from me, picking up molluscs 10
as your father had taught you. As if this day were just like any other. And there swelled the promise of how I would know you, already knew you: how we were to arrive home late together one night, at the end of summer, autumn in the air, in some other city, and how in the bedroom you were to remove the pins from your dark hair. Quietly, in the halflight, the only sound the soft tick of the pins as you let them fall on the darkened dressing table. This feels like how it should end. But as it was this never happened either. Only meeting you in the café. Although the rest is as close as I can get it to how I imagined it. That was all still up ahead of me, wasn’t until later. Years later. As it was I visited the grocers on one of the last days in June. Of all places. The woman who worked there, María, was there as always. I realised I would miss her. I wanted to tell her, to say something, that I was going away. She didn’t even know my name. There were other people in the shop. I couldn’t say anything about it. I wanted to say, Hey, I leave from this place today, going away and doubt very much I’ll come back. I didn’t want anything or have any expectations. Just wanted to tell her. I bought some tangerines instead and went down to the seafront. The sun was right on the buildings. The buildings were in greys, browns, white. They were modern and ugly and functional. But in the sun now they were golden. I sat on a bench and peeled a tangerine. It’s not true either, what I said about regrets. It was one of the many things I did wrong. Leaving when I did. The rushing sea, the ugly white buildings with shops below. Cider was being poured in the streets. The streets that wound and ran behind the backs of buildings. I spat the pips.
HISHAM BUSTANI Translated from the Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes
Field of Vision
W There is something there, between us. No, not the camera installed in the corner of the room – its eye consuming us, broadcasting us to a faraway screen. My fingers reach into the space dividing me from you… They move normally but do not reach you, do not touch you, as if you are always a little further from where your image – drawn in my mind – is. As if you are behind a curtain of water. Maybe you are in a different air, thicker than my air. Thick air, like the air that drowned my comrades in the battlefield. They all died and I was left – like a few others – crammed into a few lines of poetry. I do not die. “One night, if thou shouldst lie in this Sick Room, Dreading the Dark thou darest not illume, Listen; my voice may haply lend thee ease.” They became a memory, but I remained – travelling through the ages, moulded by transformations. But, you look rested. You do not show signs of death’s throat rattle, of lacking oxygen. A calm smile lights up your pink face. Your eyes look serene. If it weren’t for the trace of glowing coal in them, I would have thought you were sleeping with your eyes open. And now here you are, closing them. Sleep then, sleep. V At night, he moves often. He thinks he can penetrate my world, that he can get to me. He thinks his airplane can land in my head. But many desires fly in and out of me, their airplanes always hovering. When I place my head on the pillow, he appears. At first, I don’t see 12
anything, I only hear. I hear a quiet breath and movement, then a hand tenderly tapping my shoulder: once, twice, then it withdraws. I still don’t see anything. I try to convince my eyelids to stay closed, I try to tell my mind that it is dreaming, just dreaming. But it’s no use. I see him now. Tall. Quiet. Wearing a soldier’s uniform and helmet. His face is suspended in a white halo in the middle of the pitch black room and he has no eyes. For a moment, his lips part. He wants to say something so I close my eyes. And when I open them, he has left and I smile. Not a happy smile, a knowing smile. I know he will return and that the night won’t swallow me in its loneliness. In the morning, I kneel to check if his steps have left any traces on the wooden floor. I retrace his path, drawn in my mind, to detect if anything in the room has moved, even a little, from its place. And when I undress to shower, I examine my shoulder closely in case something of his fingers was left behind. W I do not like to speak. My long life has taught me fortitude, patience and silence. What do you say to a bullet buzzing next to your ear and landing in the thigh of your friend who hadn’t yet jumped into the trench? What do you say to an officer who asks your name then slaps you before you mutter the answer? What do you say to a plane dropping bombs from hundreds of metres above, its pilot unable to see the features of your face, nor you his? War taught me that silence often saves your life, and speaking often ends it. Maybe it is because I am silent that I lasted longer than the others. It was only to her that I wanted to say something. But she is impatient, she did not want to wait for my moon to wax. She closes her eyes and the scene ends, I no longer exist. I wanted to tell her that serenity is not a passing feeling. It is the slow accumulation of scars massing little by little, leaving behind peace, indifference, ability. Serenity is to become a heavy keyring from an old hotel, worn from countless hands that have grazed it, but always hard enough to crack a skull.
V There is something there, between us. No, not the camera hanging in the corner of the room that I installed to try and capture you. Nor is it the book of poetry that reminds me of you whenever I come across those verses. The trench is deep, but not deep enough to save soldiers from the hand of impending death. I watch it from my place above the pages, and watch the plane formations that fly in with the cold wind like the blade of a knife. What is all this cruelty for? Were the poems an offering to the memory of the burned? Did the poet want to soothe the bodies of those who survived, so they could sleep like the man hurled down the side of the valley, his face rotting and hair tangled in the weeds, but who – despite this – does not shiver, nor feel the cold, pain, fear and tiredness that those who watch him do? Did he used to read his poems to all of you in the snowy, stormy nights? Did they save any of you from freezing to death? The poems were not burned in the war. They were not pierced by shrapnel or riddled with bullets. One of the soldiers smuggled the burdensome papers, and here they come creeping out of them every day, looking for what is left of their lives. I know you are one of those soldiers. I know that you died a hideous death. I know that you emerge from all the ugliness crammed between the covers to tell me something. But, as for me, what I have read is enough. W She always closes her eyes when I am about to speak. I want to cross over to her. To live in her body. But she closes her eyes at the crucial moment before I open my mouth. They say the soul emerges from the nose. I don’t know, maybe that is nonsense. But I know my words can penetrate her through those irises. That is how I can rest, all these churning storms inside me will find a tunnel into someone else and live on. She did not hear me, and I always swallow that sentence. What is the point of her knowing my secret if I cannot pass on its essence, its foundation, the entire experience? What is the point? She might think the smell of the book is enough, its burnt flesh, its greening corpse 14
consumed by time. That is all good, but if she does not see two eyes in place of the black holes she will never have a shadow on the ground, or a reflection in the mirror. She will continue to wander helplessly in our ambiguous world. She will never know. She will not know it is me who wrote the book she has been reading every night. Me who she summons again with every reading, every recital, every quotation, every memory. I still have poems I have not said, comrades who fell, whose death and torture I have not uttered. I promised them this, it is their debt hanging over my head. The world is a debt hanging over the heads of poets, and I want to pay mine off and rest. If you would only open your eyes, if you would listen to what I will say.
Lines from ‘On my Songs’, quoted from The Poems of Wilfred Owen (Chatto & Windus, 1990, edited by Jon Stallworthy), used with the kind permission of the Wilfred Owen Association. The dead soldiers who do not come out to the sleeping woman are from Owens’ poem ‘The Kind Ghosts’. Only the poet emerged. 15
Rewilding Ungnyeo Once upon a time, a tiger and a she-bear prayed to Hwanung, the divine ruler of the earliest Korea, to be made human. Hwanung gave them each a bundle of magical mugwort and 20 cloves of garlic, instructing them to eat only this for 100 days in a cave. After some days, the tiger gave up and left the cave, but the she-bear kept going and transformed into a woman. No one knew she was visiting until the day she arrived. Her security conducted a sweep while quickly, efficiently, the kitchen was stocked with all manner of delicacies. It would have been an honour a few months ago, but now the Apprentice was stirring his pot so violently that it was causing the Chef alarm. “It’s not right that she’s here,” the Apprentice muttered. He cracked an egg into the stew. His skin and eyes gleamed, shiny from steam. While the Apprentice was tall, sallow, and stringy, like a strip of dried squid, the Chef’s hooded eyes and resigned mouth gave the impression of a tortoise. The Chef hovered, watching the stew with concern at how it was being manhandled. The Apprentice crescendoed: “…and asking for only a bowl of garlic for dinner, she’s crazy!” The Chef didn’t say anything. He’d harvested the garlic bulbs himself, forked them up in the allotment. He thought: so what if the lady just wanted to eat garlic? He shuffled forwards, his neck protruding, and wrestled control of the Apprentice’s stew. They were making dinner for the only other guest in the villas that night, an academic recently returned from Japan, but with so much bile bubbling up in the Apprentice, the food would not taste good. It would give the guest a bad feeling. The Chef humphed and peered cautiously into the stew. 16
* In her villa, the garlic-ordering guest kneeled on a silk cushion before a low wooden table, her back disciplined straight, her hair coiffed and gleaming. Her grey strands had been dyed black, and her make-up was perfect. But her shoulders slumped and, out of sight of the press, her mouth drooped. Outside the window, heavy mist wreathed the mountains. The air was thick with the promise of monsoon rain. The trees, a damp, luxuriant green, hummed with cicadas. She looked down at the garlic cloves, at the smooth, spicy, luminous pearls. She picked up her chopsticks and lifted the first one to her mouth. * In the Chef’s cabin, the kettle boiled and the Chef poured the water over his shin ramyun. After a few minutes simmering, he added an egg and a layer of American cheese. He composed a text message that he’d send to his wife in the morning. Their youngest daughter was studying for university entrance exams, and the teachers had said she could aim for the best. He retired to a chair in front of the TV, and watched the news with the lights off, but it was only another scandal, the downfall of another person from public life. He rubbed his forehead. He couldn’t shake the feeling that whenever this happened, there was always so much vigour in the public shaming, so much anger, so much glee, knocking them to the ground, pushing their heads into the dirt, shoving them out of sight. After the segment ended, there was a more heart-warming story. The camera captured the lighting of incense, a woman walking with grace, an elegantly bowing crowd. The neon images played over the Chef ’s features and he thought again of his daughter. Of his children, his youngest was the brightest and also the most dutiful. She was the one who could lift the family up. He had big hopes 17
for her, as swirling and beautiful as the cosmos. He wanted to send her forth into the world like a shooting star, a crackle of a lightning bolt, illuminating everything in her path. But the last time that he saw her, when he pressed her for her ambitions, she shrank away from him. “No, no,” she said. “I’m not that kind of person.” What did she mean, at sixteen? With the warming bowl in his hands, the Chef closed his eyes, and sank into sleep. His mind melted into the darkness of the forest. * The Chef dreamed that he left his cabin and walked into the woods. The trees opened up before him like a gateway. He walked deeper and deeper, until the hum of cicadas completely surrounded him. The buzzing from their abdomens was so loud that he felt he was drowning in their vibrations. His whole body seemed to be humming along with them. Under his feet, a sea of cicada shells rustled. The bugs had shed their old skins en masse. He wanted to turn back but the trees shifted behind him, forming an impenetrable wall that pushed him forwards. As he walked, he began to feel afraid. He sensed that he was not alone, but he did not know what was on the mountain with him. Beyond the noise of the cicadas, he could make out the sound of something else, something large, stirring as if from a deep and agitated sleep. * A sound at the window woke her. She sat bolt upright, pleased to have been shaken from her dreams. It hadn’t been a dream but more of a nightmare anyway. Moonlight flooded in through the window, lighting up the empty bowl. From outside, the sound of buzzing coming from the mountains was deafening. What was going on with the cicadas? She slipped her shoes on and made her way out onto the damp grass, into the shadows of the trees. The smell of recent rain, of fragrant wet wood, wrapped around her. 18
Gradually she felt the ground beneath her feet change. In the darkness she didn’t have a clue what she was treading on, but some things crunched and snapped, and other things sucked at her shoes and squelched. The trees cocooned her. The ground sloped more steeply up, and she reached out for balance. Blindly she fumbled and grasped. Branches scratched her hands. Deeper and deeper she went. The cicadas buzzed so loudly that she wondered how large they must be, how many must be clustered on the trunks, watching her pass. Under the palm of her hand she felt the throbbing of segmented armour, of veined wings, the bubble of an eye. She recoiled immediately but kept walking. Up the tunnel of darkness, black as space. Until at last the canopy began to recede, moonlight bursting through. The trees cleared for a lake, its surface as smooth and reflective as a raindrop. She could see as deep as a few gil into the water: tiny fish swaying among the fronds of underwater flora. The sweet smell of mugwort laced around her. The plants were everywhere, by her knees, reaching up, frayed and feathery, ghostly in the moonlight. The leaves tickled her hands like old friends. Her breathing slowed and, for the first time in weeks, the tightness in her chest eased. Even that old knot, hidden in a deeper room inside her, began to loosen. But the surface of the raindrop did not remain still. A ripple spread out. On the far side of the lake, a shadow moved in the water. The shadow grew. A leathery snout broke the surface, nostrils shiny and flapping for air. It belonged to a large head, covered in black fur. The rest of the body emerged, slick and glossy, dripping water as it pawed its way onto the shore. It shook its fur and turned. Its ears were as round and distinct as a child’s toy, but the sight of its bone-crushing jaws, its teeth, its claws, rooted her to the spot and turned her blood to ice. Rising on its hind legs, it revealed a flash of white across its chest. A pair of intelligent eyes fixed on her and sized her up. It moved its snout, as if it wanted to say something. Then, incredibly, 19
a sound broke through – a laugh. Something that sounded like a laugh. Did it really laugh? It dropped onto four paws and moved off. Its rear bounced from side to side, until it disappeared into the trees. She let out her breath, and stumbled back. The strangest thing was that its laugh had sounded so very much like her own. She melted into the forest. Her heart drummed like the running rhythm of claws against earth. She loped through the trees, leaving a long and ecstatic trail of prints behind her. She picked up her pace – what was this feeling surging through her? She walloped and bashed her way through – make room for me! she growled – a lightning bolt in the undergrowth. * Though yesterday the Apprentice had been more frothy than his pot of stew, today he seemed subdued. He stuffed a chicken with ginseng, jujubes, garlic and glutinous rice, and sealed the cavity with a toothpick. He placed the chicken in a pot and added water. A soothing soup for the academic, who had come down with a bout of indigestion after last night’s meal. As the water bubbled, he heard a snuffling sound from behind. He turned around, but it was only the Chef selecting his bulbs of garlic. The Chef stood over the basket, shoulders hunched over and his dry neck outstretched, tenderly brushing the dirt off one with purple stripes. He heard the sound of cars outside, wheels racing up the narrow mountain path. More hacks arriving. There’d been a frenzy that morning, when their esteemed garlic-eating guest was discovered to have walked off into the woods. Support was called in from the city. Search parties combed through the trees with eager-to-please dogs pulling at their leashes. They’d found her footprints trailing off from her villa into the forest, replaced by the unmistakeable paw prints of a bear. Though wild bears no longer roamed the peninsula, the current theory, coming as it did from stunned mouths, was that the visiting dignitary must have been attacked and carried off in a freak accident. 20
Now search teams were crawling over the mountains and a helicopter had been dispatched, but there was no sign yet that they’d located the beast. Meanwhile, the story had broken, and news crews were descending on the retreat. All of this washed off the Apprentice’s back like an unwanted shower of sweat from someone standing too close to him on the underground. “Even in death she’s causing a scandal,” he grunted. “The bears were all meant to be extinct and now one’s rocked up because of her.” He stopped himself, his ears pricking up. A flutter at the doorway – a gentle voice asking for more coffee. Only the faintest blush on the Apprentice’s cheeks would give away his soft spot for the Maid. The Apprentice wiped his hands, picked up a box of Maxim instant coffee sachets, and strode out. With the Apprentice gone, the Chef continued slicing the rough ends of the garlic, peeling off the husks and teasing out the clean white cloves. He lifted one to his mouth, smelled the purifying fire, and began to chew. * She snuffled through the undergrowth. She was following an intriguing scent trail, her nose against the ground, when her right paw started feeling strange. It became difficult to pad along. With a jolt, she realised that in place of a paw was a human hand. It was pale and slender. She stared at it in bewilderment. She touched her black leathery nose against it and sniffed it. Distantly, images of besuited people giving speeches on podiums flitted past. She let out a snort. Fragments began to collect in her mind. As her second paw shrank into a human hand, as the frayed elements of herself began to coalesce within her, her heart began a faster rhythm. She had had so much fun. Bounding around with no one to please but herself. Just yesterday she had found the perfect tree to rub her back against, standing on her hind legs and giving her hairy back a good old scratch. 21
The branches had shaken vigorously, dropping startled insects onto her shoulders. She had chomped on nearby fruits, and climbed another tree to have a nap in it, scattering birds into the sky. It didn’t matter what the watching squirrels had thought of her, splayed out and snoring on those branches – sod them. She would take some of this back to the human world with her.
Anomaly The nurse gelled the abdomen, rubbed the probe along the strained dome: skipped across bellybutton, grazed over stretchmarks, down and left, right and up. And as they squinted at the morphing shadow that cast itself on the screen and their futures, the nurse slipped out to search out the doctor those scurried, stumbling steps matched the stuttering beat on the machine.
There Was A Young Species There was a young species that wiped out the bees; polluted the breeze and wiped out the bees; tell me why, please. There was a dread species that drowned all the cats; skinned them and wrung them and swung them in sacks; they drowned the cats and wiped out the bees; tightened their squeeze; wiped out the bees; tell me why, please. There was a strange species that slaughtered the hogs; violent epilogues for all the hogs; they slaughtered the hogs and drowned all the cats; skinned them and wrung them and swung them in sacks: they drowned all the cats and wiped out the bees; increased the degrees; wiped out the bees; tell me why, please. There was a blind species that butchered the tigers to satiate buyers with the skins of the tigers; they butchered the tigers and slaughtered the hogs; they slaughtered the hogs and drowned all the cats; skinned them and wrung them and swung them in sacks; they drowned all the cats and wiped out the bees; brought a deep freeze; wiped out the bees; tell me why, please. There was a harsh species that hunted the rhinos: for some horns they disposed of all the rhinos; they hunted the rhinos and butchered the tigers; they butchered the tigers and slaughtered the hogs; they slaughtered the hogs and drowned all the cats; skinned them and wrung them and swung them in sacks; they drowned all the cats and wiped out the bees; sold all they seized; wiped out the bees; tell me why, please. There was a cold species that culled the elephants; oh what malicious negligence to cull all the elephants; they culled all the elephants and hunted the rhinos; they hunted the rhinos and butchered the tigers; they butchered the tigers and slaughtered the hogs; they slaughtered the hogs and drowned all the cats; skinned them and wrung them and swung them in sacks; they drowned all the cats and wiped out the bees; spread a disease; wiped out the bees; tell me why, please. There was a mad species that murdered the whales; sawed off the tails of all the whales; they murdered the whales and culled all 24
the elephants; they culled the elephants and hunted the rhinos; they hunted the rhinos and butchered the tigers; they butchered the tigers and slaughtered the hogs; they slaughtered the hogs and drowned all the cats; skinned them and wrung them and swung them in sacks; they drowned all the cats and wiped out the bees; dried up the seas; wiped out the bees; tell me why, please. There was a lost species that cut down the forests: slitting your wrists is cutting down the forests; they cut down the forests and murdered the whales; they murdered the whales and culled all the elephants; they culled the elephants and hunted the rhinos; they hunted the rhinos and butchered the tigers; they butchered the tigers and slaughtered the hogs; they slaughtered the hogs and drowned all the cats; skinned them and wrung them and swung them in sacks; they drowned all the cats and wiped out the bees; pulverised trees; wiped out the bees; tell me why, please. There was a doomed species that destroyed the planet: damn it.
A Disaster in Our Culture
Photo by Matthew Landrum
athos for us gets to be pathetic way faster than in America,” Kim Simonsen wrote to me, explaining why my translation of his poem didn’t work. It was the summer of 2016 and I was in the Faroe Islands. I’d picked up a side job for FarLit, the Faroese governmental literature promotion agency, translating a few of Simonsen’s poems. Every day, I would sit at an outdated desktop in the cramped computer lab at Fróðskaparsetur Føroya, The University of the Faroe Islands, tapping out translation, hearing snatches of grammar lectures from the language summer course next door. The starved grass-clad mountains, lichened crags, and grey foggy seas of Simonsen’s landscape gave a window to a world of emotion and emotional endurance. As I hiked around under cold August skies, I saw his poems overlaid on the green mountains like a photo negative. One poem in particular captured me: an elegiac remembrance of a final journey to visit an Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother. I read it during my lecture to the summer language course on modern Faroese poetry. A student with oversized plastic glasses in the back row wept. I had just finished translating the poem that morning and hadn’t had time to run it by Simonsen. Afterward, I sent it off to him along with the feedback I’d gotten from the teary Icelandic linguist. The response came back swiftly—it was all wrong. After some back and forth with Simonsen, I made major edits to that poem and the others in the batch. It was, after all, a commissioned job. Still, the final versions felt dead to me. I turned them in to FarLit and declined to pursue publishing them. They didn’t capture my vision, what I had loved in the originals. For three years they languished in a Google doc. 27
Last year, I met Kim Simonsen in person for the first time at an afterparty for the Faroese book festival Bókadagar. He was with his wife, the excellent poet Vónbjørt Vang, whose first name means bright hope in Faroese. After a few glasses of dreggy organic wine, I brought up my original translations of his poems. “Yes,” Kim said, “we should do something about those.” What follows is my attempt at that something. When I travel, I am constantly running conversions in my head—six and a half kroner to the dollar, Celsius doubled plus 32 approximates Fahrenheit. Although I’m no great shakes at math, I get close enough to dress for the weather and know when I’m getting fleeced buying a sweater. But before haggling over my translations with Simonsen, I had never considered that emotion might also need conversion between cultures. It isn’t that speakers of some languages have fewer emotions (though I do believe language does color one’s perception of reality). Rather, not all languages have the same expressive range. In Scandinavia, and perhaps especially in the Faroe Islands, people are reticent. Though globalism and an increasing cosmopolitanism have changed speech patterns for some Faroese, it’s still common to hear “that’s not so bad” as high praise. Simonsen, reading my translation of his poem, felt that lines of emotion had been crossed. I’d put words in his mouth, ones he wouldn’t dream of saying, and made an oblique reference explicit. “What is pathos for you - might be too many feelings for us here. It is a huge cultural thing; I see this all the time and I have lived in the US too,” he said in one email. He went on to explain how my translation I cried and cried until I had to pull over the car focuses on the action of a person weeping instead of making a more oblique metonymy. He had me change it to the tears did not stop until I stopped the car. Here the tears are disembodied. No one is actively crying. “Saying I cried is way too emotional in our culture, it is a disaster,” Simonsen explained. The image of a single tear carries little emotional currency to an English speaker, particularly an American. American English is rife with superlatives and exaggerated praise. Compare this is not so bad to that was awesome! I loved it! They are equivalent emotionally but a literal translation would miss the point. I translate with emotionally inured American readers in mind. The target language takes precedence over 28
the literal meaning of the source language. The question is not what does it mean in Faroese? but how would it have been written in English? As a speaker from a globally dominant tongue translating a small, traditionally repressed and colonized language, I recognize the inherent power structures. I don’t think my translation is superior to the original. Faroese authors know more about Faroese experience and expression than
“I had never considered that emotion might also need conversion between cultures.” I do. Kim Simonsen is a masterful poet, thinker, and lecturer. If my translation diverges from the literal, it is because I am attempting to capture the soul of the original poem in familiar and familial American English. Kim Simonsen said we should do something with the poem. I can do no better than present it, first in Faroese with a literal translation, and then in my translation with notes on my choices for you to consider. Coming back to this poem after years of it lying fallow, I sense again the rainy mountains, the startle of sheep, matted clumps of seaweed at Sandagerð, the creation and transmogrification—the heady joy that keeps me translating. I love the poem and believe, above all, translation should be an act of love.
Tarin veit ikki hvar hann er endad ur i morgun.
dees net Know whele it hes ended up this
Omma nmin veit skjétt ikki hver er eri longur.
f will soon net Kaaw whe 3 am any lenaet.
Alt syngur ein sang,
Son last oman yvir litid vatn,
towers ovel a
ein vidalund av rotnandi treum. a
Eg haldi i hondina 4 ommu, LT held ry hennara seinasta dagn er byrjad .
Manin ser 4 vatnid,
over the ond lyngurin 4 bakkunum the
hevur lognar litir i manalysinum.
skenge colar in the
Tarini stodgadu ikki fyrr enn eg parker adi bilin.
Skyggj hava hult manan nu.
the Moen tow.
Grenur mosi fossar oman eftir bakkanum,
flaws down fre
eftir frostsprongdum hamri.
The seaweed can’t say where
washed ashore this morning;
Faroese tiope ak emotiandl
grandmother won’t be
sUblimatien 10) lands coye .
to remember my face. Everyone is singing
their song; some sing the last verse.
above a pond, marshy banks
with rotting trees. I hold myfomma’s}hand —
— her last days are here.
The moon shines over the pond,
the heather has a strange color
in the moonlight. I cried and cried
until I had to pull the car over.
the moon’s hidden
and I’m glad. Moss streams
down the hill like water,
green against ash
Eyer, aking @
Aspects of Light At night, rain glams up drab streets car lights, like disco balls and strobes pulse spots of unfamiliarity on the mundane. Light shifts sifted by clouds shadows grow dysmorphic: my world shifts along. Light shapes what I am told to see what I learn and recognize. Light is light then is not. It gives angles, planes volume and weight affects and effects or it steals them. Immense, what I don’t see that lives in obscurity needs a guide, a word to come into existence and the hooks of my templates to stay and radiate.
She takes a buff-covered, A6 Muji notebook – it’s what Ciaran Carson would have done – and fills it with well-meaning advice from boring friends: sit down in good light; buy yourself flowers every week; browse Heraclitus for stimulation; read Soutar’s Diaries of a Dying Man to explore your own presence and absence; thank stars and clichés; engage in science and the arts; (ARE YOU SELF ACTUALIZING YET?); bake a cake. She holds the book to the light, transparent and thin, and knows herself, knows she feels better for yawning, better for rest, better still for the company of boring friends.
Someone else’s books Thoughts trapped between pages some people don’t have a care where they leave their belongings the other day I found a wallet thick as guilt on the platform bench There’s identity theft and there’s identity pollution little thoughts scatter across pages as dandelion parachutes take root in some dark corner of my mind growing into a crash of canaries on the periphery of my clarity until one day I wake up to rebellion
Holding On In Mid-Life
Everything I thought I was, is bouncing, sliding across a pickup-truck bed, cascading off the open tailgate, uneven bunches of me littering a receding street. If I knew the driver, I’d bang the back window, yell, Slow down. If I knew which parts of me I’ll need, I’d cling to those and let the others go. While here’s my mother, cheerfully falling out the back end of her life, accepting each loss of strength, of continence, of reliable lucidity with gentle humor with easy love for us, who scramble to find her a safer place.
Land of Milk and Glory The parents had been seduced by the impalpable sanctuary of a promise. They had been lured by a cool and crisp country flowing with potential. They were to be foreigners living in a foreign land, spacious and fertile for opportunity. They were to be foreigners with forefathers in the country, predecessors who had emigrated from Jamaica, too numerous to list and as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore. Their Pupa was the first one to fly north. He settled in a city and he rented a room from a Black lady who treated him well and cooked his meals for him. Their Mada followed in the winter and the godly woman bought her a coat so to protect her from the biting cold of the wilderness. It became imperative that the parents save up to move into a house of their own, so their abundant life would not be restricted by a lack of rooms for their expanding family. Their Pupa got on with the daily grind and served as a cog in the wheel, mixing metaphors and fixing structures and fittings with his gifted carpenter’s hands. Those loving hands mightily lifted his family up from poverty into prosperity. Their Pupa was talented at blending into Englishness, suppressing the cadence and rhythms of his patois. Secretly, he despaired at how their Mada stood out. But their Mada was a paragon of endearment. She was fully dark and fully beautiful. She had always used her sweetness to win over those who had found her blackness unpalatable. Their Mada worked in a bakery in the west of England and, ever so slowly, the golden reality that was household ownership began to dawn on the horizon. Theirs was a home of a house with a dark hallway and a bay window in the lounge flanked by net curtains. Nesting complete, the parents were ready for their children to be sent home or from home. Either or both, by Aunt Lily. But the children were beloved. Judy and Darrell were being con36
tended for with strings of love that were deadlocked and taut. Their Mada and Pupa were pulling on one string, and Aunt Lily on the other, so that the children remained under the Tropical Sun. They stood still among cloud-capped blue-tinted mountains, rapturous sunsets, and coastal roads. They stood still among acres of banana farms, rustling grasslands, and coconut groves. Still among evergreen foliage and sugar cane growing from rich loamy earth. Still among smiling blue skies, purest sandy beaches, misty highlands, and silvery waterfalls cascading over basalt rocks. Still as Aunt Lily’s heart, dried and shrivelled and crisped like something wilting. But her hardened heart led to Signs and Wonders, attesting to their parents’ desperation. When their Mada was reading Aunt Lily’s letter out loud to their Pupa, she became mute after saying the words, “ ‘me gonna keep de pickney’,” whereas their Pupa’s voice started to speak and then grew louder as he leapt up from the armchair on which he was sitting. “What is she saying?” his gruff voice asked. She looked him in the eyes and explained that Aunt Lily would not let the children go. Her panic became flames in the pit of his belly. The whole of his towering frame was set alight. He stormed out of the house and slammed the door. His effervescence was imitated by the orbs that lit the streets. Their Pupa was walking fast without direction. He was alive with searchings. He questioned the hold the elder sister had over the younger. He blamed himself for not acting on his initial reservations at Aunt Lily’s willingness to look after Judy and Darrell. When their Pupa returned late that night, he instructed their Mada to write a reply insisting on the surrender of the woman’s pickney-plunder. “We have to get dem back,” their Mada said to their Pupa, “somehow or odda we have to get dem back.” The wait was a wound, now bleeding full and thick. It was coursing and glistening with rage and tears which were whirling around in circles in a hurricane. The hurricane had become fixated until its entire being concentrated on Judy and Darrell. Darrell and Judy in the eye of the storm. The storm that was stained red with rage and tears because Judy and Darrell were not home, or were at home. The storm that was screaming and teeming with all of those ‘e’ syllables which were themselves exhaled and expelled. Exodus. Exile. Emigrant. Selah. 37
* Their Mada’s weeping and howling distilled into ceaseless prayers for reunion, which wafted up to heaven with a burning urgency like fragrant incense from her unfaltering lips. She spoke them until her voice grew hoarse and then the prayers were whispered. Their Mada’s prayers wound round the same course every time, wearing a smoky groove into the sky with the path of their particular ascent, begging for the softening of Aunt Lily’s heart and the return of her children to her. But still Aunt Lily’s heart remained hard. No, the woman replied, their Mada and Pupa would not be able to find out what she had told Judy and Darrell. No, they would not be able to write to their children or to send any gifts. No, she would not barter. The parents were comforted by memory itself. “Tell me about Judy an’ Darrell,” their Mada would say. Their Pupa was a story-teller as well as a carpenter, and with his unbridled imagination, he would use his strong arms to conjure a flurry of two golden children, a blouse, a long skirt, a short-sleeved shirt, and a pair of trousers pulled up knee length. Now at the top of the stairs. Now at the dinner table. Now playing outside with perspiration like jewels on their precious foreheads. One irresistible memory for each of Judy’s years. Their lithe bodies and sweet smiles with teeth set as sparse as stars in the night sky. The feel of a child’s hand in the palm of Mada’s own. Recitations of Anansi the Spider at bedtime and teddy bears and two beds with chequered sheets. Plantain diced into little squares with coconut drops and cow’s milk, and a red and blue bouncing rubber ball. The way they squirmed at being tickled, and at cow foot when it was served. No memory was too small or too frivolous for their Mada and Pupa’s inventory. The next letter must be addressed to their Mada’s brother. Into his soft being their Mada inlaid her flickering hope. Once Uncle Ian had opened the letter, he took it upon himself to make the journey to Aunt Lily’s to settle the dispute. He crunched the gravel under the soles of his sandalled feet like he had been condemned to tread on shards of glass barefoot. “Listen nuh, me nuh understand de rule for dis game but give dem der pickney,” he said once settled inside. 38
Aunt Lily recoiled as if she had been shot and regarded him with disgust. With his gentleness, he had blotched their game: not a retreat from reality but a source of unfurling joy. He had injured their imaginary world by alluding to the illusion of Judy and Darrell. “Come outta me house,” she said with a guttural hiss that was emitted like a thunderclap and conspired in its intensity with the pink orchid and poui outside as they startled the soft evening light. As he left, she made pangs of anguish as in the pains of childbirth. She soothed herself by tracing the outlines of Judy and Darrell as told by the parents. Still, her heart was hard and, as Uncle Ian replied, she would not renounce the children. * So it had transpired that Aunt Lily had taken on the burden of these children who did not exist so as to free their Mada and Pupa from the yoke of oppression. Yet, their Mada and Pupa climbed back into the captivity of their captivation. The firstborn had been dissolved and conceded, but their Pupa was a story-teller as well as a carpenter. He conjured up new children. Bursting forth out of the red sea of rage and tears, an apprehension of the golden year upon year with their yet more golden children that awaited them. The gorgeous impalpable sanctuary of a promise from emptiness and formlessness. The storm calmed to the whispers of their creativity, passing ideas between each other. Wider and wider still their Mada’s and Pupa’s dilated imaginations swelled, and the number of possibilities contracted until there were just two frolicking figments of the parents’ imaginations. Already, she was lactating.
Stuart Hall and Stuart Hall Stuart Hall is a BBC presenter of north-west regional news programmes and national gameshows. Stuart Hall has fallen a long way, Krishnan Guru-Murthy says on Channel 4 News. Stuart Hall is a Jamaican-born left-wing academic and occasional BBC presenter. Stuart Hall is racially abused on the street in 60s’ Birmingham while out with his wife. Stuart Hall says we are all hybrid… Stuart Hall calls it the beautiful game… Stuart Hall says when I ask anybody where they’re from I expect nowadays to be told an extremely long story; they’re from really five different places… and in their heads, their sense of themselves, to be juggling a set of world identities… they’re trying to find their place… I can’t be doing with coloured men no more, my nana says to a friend, in 90s’ Hulme, Manchester, the lot of them brung me nowt but pain. While her lover, the docker from Trinidad, his hands calloused and patient, teach mine to play dominos and show a child what colour town is of a dry night: across high-rises, low-rises, deck-access flats, like this one; above pubs, parks, courtyards, radial routes, side streets. All is amber.
Lazy amber. Scurrying amber. Tassel-shaded-sitting-room-fishbowl, greased-bus-window, lamppost-blinking amber. Stuart Hall says the everyday and mundane elements of our lives can affect the person we become… Stuart Hall is a millionaire from the small market town of Ashton-underLyne, Lancashire, in the east borough of Greater Manchester known since 1974 as Tameside, after the River Tame. Tameside includes the towns of Hyde and Droylsden. Stuart Hall pleads guilty to indecent assault, crimes committed between 1967 and 1986. Stuart Hall is found guilty of two further charges and receives an additional sentence. Stuart Hall loves Shakespeare, loves English literature. Stuart Hall’s football commentary is highly allusive. Stuart Hall, in 1958, reports on his first match: it is at Hillsborough. Stuart Hall, more than fifty years later, no longer living in not-yet-Tameside, breaks his garage door motor. He rings my father for a quote to fix it. My father sends two lads round to fettle Stuart Hall’s garage door. My father buys his first house, a two-up-two-down red-brick in Droylsden, Tameside. It is 1980. For eight months he cannot afford furniture beyond a bed. Stuart Hall is brought up in Hyde, not-yet-Tameside. Hyde is home to the Moors Murderers and two of their victims, and to Harold Shipman’s medical practice and hundreds of his victims. Ian Brady is from Glasgow. He is born Ian Duncan Stewart; his father is unknown. 41
Myra Hindley grows up in Crumpsall, Manchester, brutalised by poverty, a family of four living in a single room. She dies of bronchial pneumonia, age sixty. My father, age sixty, cannot bring himself to say her name. She is too wicked, he says. Harold Shipman is from Nottingham, and until his arrest, he is my friend’s family doctor in Hyde, Tameside. He was very good, my friend, age sixteen, says to me. He used to listen. He helped my mam when she was pregnant with me. I was a nightmare. Later, a one-eyed man from Tameside shoots a man to death, possibly over an inherited slight. There is long-standing bad blood between two Tameside families and their allies. The one-eyed man then shoots and grenades the other man’s father to death, then shoots and grenades to death two female police officers dispatched to a house in response to a hoax 999 call he makes about a broken kitchen window, kids’ vandalism. I listen to the audio on YouTube. He sounds exactly like a chef I worked with in a pub kitchen one summer who believed in his own lies so completely he did not feel the need to remember them from breath to breath. After the ambush, the one-eyed man drives to Hyde Police Station to hand himself in. He is five months past his first murder, six weeks at the centre of a city-wide manhunt. Stuart Hall and George Formby Snr are both born in Ashton, not-yet-Tameside, fifty-four years apart. George Formby Snr pretends he is from Wigan; nicknamed the Wigan Nightingale because of his trademark terminal cough, on the music hall stage he coins ‘Wigan Pier’, giving name to a place that does not exist; and, by inventing a place he invents being from, he gives a road a destination.
George Formby Snr spends his adolescence touring the north-west, sleeping on coal carts, inhaling the coal dust that will kill him age forty-five. George Formby Snr’s mother has one hundred and forty-one convictions for soliciting and dies in the workhouse; his father is unknown. George Formby Snr is given his stepfather’s name, James Lawler Booth, but sheds it for others. In Manchester he watches coal waggons labelled and destined for Formby, a seaside town north of Liverpool. As Formby he develops his Lancastrian tramp persona, John Willie: white make-up, oversized pants, cane and bowler hat; seen and stolen one night by Charlie Chaplin. George Formby Snr, the Wigan Nightingale, dies nationally famous, a Professional Northerner, a wealthy bigamist from Ashton. His children are born in Wigan. Mary Ann Britland, the first woman to be executed at Manchester’s Strangeways Prison, lives and marries in Ashton, not-yet-Tameside. In 1886, when Formby Snr is eleven and out singing for his meals, Mary murders her nineteen-year-old daughter with mouse powder from the corner chemist. Mary soon murders her husband Thomas and moves across the street to live with another Mary and another Thomas. Mary murders Mary, of course, to be with Other Thomas; but three deaths are too many; even here; even now. Mary confesses to killing her family and neighbour for the insurance, so she could afford to marry Other Thomas, and leave Ashton, not-yet-Tameside. Mary hangs. In Ashton, Mary works days in a factory and nights as a barmaid. George Formby Snr says It’s not the cough that carries you off – it’s the coffin they carries you off in! 43
Hulme, inner Manchester, is built and demolished twice before my mother is forty-five. When Embden Street is bulldozed for slum clearance my mother’s father, my mother, her two brothers and sister are relocated to Droylsden, Tameside. Her schools are wrecking-balled. My mother cries. My mother is ten when she sees Jimmy Savile get out of a Rolls-Royce and enter a butcher’s shop by Embden Street. She touches the bonnet of his Rolls-Royce. Blinkin’ kids, he shouts, get out of it! and chases her down her street. A group of Moss Side Rastas see my mother entering a nightclub. She has gap-teeth, black lipstick, an afro. A box jacket and pencil skirt. She works through the week in a boutique, goes about with scooterboys and is courting a footballer. Hey, Sista, a Rasta says. I’m not your sister. Handsworth Revolution, an album of Birmingham reggae, is my father’s favourite LP and, on some days, mine. Stuart Hall, lecturing in Birmingham, prefers Miles Davis. Stuart Hall is the son of middle-class Jamaicans of mixed descent. Send them home, my mother’s father, Liberian Kru, says of the Jamaicans. They refuse to speak English. Stuart Hall is the son of an Ashton baker. Stuart Hall collects antique clocks; each tells the right time for some bugger, somewhere, somewhen.
George Formby fettles watches in his dressing room at Ealing Studios to pass the time. My father is the son of a D-Day veteran, an amateur boxer, a second-generation Irish Catholic. My father is the son of a seamstress, a Protestant girl whose family leave Wales and settle in Ancoats. My father’s grandfather is a kitchen porter at Manchester’s Midland Hotel. His wife-to-be is a tea waitress there. He has come from Limerick to work nights, to throw chopping knives at the rats. My mother’s father arrives in England from Liberia in 1950 and marries a white Mancunian girl who chucks a brick through her headmaster’s window on her last day of school. The Kru tribe make poor slaves. They gain a reputation for chucking themselves in the Atlantic at any opportunity. It is reported that the ones who make it across continually try to escape. For this they fetch a low price at auction. Stuart Hall says we are all hybrid… Liberian Kru and Mancunian welder, my mother’s father dies of pneumonia, not yet sixty. George Formby Snr says it’s the coffin they carries you off in! A nana walks out on a mother’s father, a mother’s brothers, a mother’s sister, a mother. This is before Hulme can be razed once, let alone twice. I remember my cousin’s hands, child’s hands, cleverer than mine. Pinching coins from a pool table in a Moss Side pub after my nana’s funeral. Coins spread on his palms like domino pips. 45
Stuart Hall says the everyday and mundane elements of our lives can affect the person we become… Stuart Hall is the son of middle-class Jamaicans of mixed descent. Stuart Hall is the son of an Ashton baker.
Once They Discovered They Were No Longer Needed facts began sifting out to the hinterlands, settling in hollows and lost corners, where they slipped into old sweaters, chopped wood, and dusted off the occasional linen hardcover – perhaps the meditations of Marcus Aurelius or To the Lighthouse – which invariably fell open in their laps like a single broken wing as their tea cooled and they drowsed by the fire. A lot of folks these days think birds evolved from dinosaurs. Yet in actuality they arose from the interbreeding of wind-blown leaves with stray thoughts & half-remembered songs. A close examination of the common house sparrow, for instance, reveals a 99.6% genomic overlap with storm-flurried elm leaves in early November. Just yesterday, I witnessed a bald eagle turning slow circles in a winter sky, and the light that shone through the white fan of his tail was more gold than white, and that is how the lampshade was born.
One Night, after Humberto Ak’abal I lay in the grass and asked my mother, What is that glinting, up there in the dark? Bees, she said. Every night since, my eyes have eaten honey. Now I am older, and sleep sometimes refuses me, so I go outside and listen to the droning that tells of flowers turning into butterflies turning into fire and I wake to my mother telling me that white foam is how the wave breaks
into laughter. Imagine crossing all that sea, just to topple! Now her work has ended, and the earth holds her close as she dreams grass into green hair.
The Tenth Plague of Ruislip “There’s a man outside, knocking on doors,” says Mum, one evening. She’s folded into the curtains, looking down on the street. There’s always a man, or a dog, or a nurse, outside or in here. She slipped on some milk at the supermarket a few years ago and hit her head. She told me afterwards in the hospital that she’d never seen anything so disgusting. There was something horrible about the dirty milk mixing in with her blood, she said she’d never forget it. Now she’s got dementia. The doctors say it’s vascular; blood where it shouldn’t be, in milk on the floor, on the brain. So now there’s people everywhere, doing things they shouldn’t. So now I’m here, with her, and there’s someone knocking on doors outside. “We’ll just finish dinner, then we’ll be off. It’s dark outside and the fish should be ready. Get it out, fish it out of the red river,” she says from the curtains. The doctor told me her mind’s like a bookcase, and her memories the books. Recent ones are on the top shelf, sitting precariously on the edge. On the bottom are her feelings and the deepest memories, those from childhood and the ones she’s lived with all her life. It’s like somebody’s come and shaken the bookcase. Now only the lower books are left, everything else is on the floor and she can’t read the titles. She can’t read anything. Now she’s just got her feelings and those strongest memories. Usually they’re related to dinner. She loved to cook. “Bring your little sister from upstairs, the fish is ready. I can hear her up there jumping around. She’s a frog, jumping like a frog, frogs everywhere. He’s still knocking,” she says. “She’s not here Mum, she’s at university, remember?” She’s pulling at the curtain rail, so I get up and untangle her. I try to 50
take her hand, but she jumps and pulls it away, then relaxes and smiles when she sees it’s me. She knows me, most of the time. I sit her down and put a blanket over her legs and she sinks down into her jumper. I imagine that’s what she looked like when she was a child. “Did I say about the fish?” she says. “What’s in my hair? There’s something in my hair, scratching. Still knocking on doors, I’d say.” As I close the curtains again, I see something moving outside. A person on the street in a long black coat. There is someone out there, knocking on doors. He’s tall but stooped; grey hair hangs low about his shoulders, hiding his face. His coat trails after him, hiding his feet as he glides along to number twelve. “Dogs barking outside, are they stray or wild? Wolf at the door and no one to answer.” I don’t think he’s posting anything, there’s no bag or handful of leaflets. In fact, I don’t think he’s even knocking. He glides up to number twelve’s door and stops. He looks through the frosted half moon window at the top then inspects the door in the dark, touches it right in the centre as though he’s feeling something I can’t see. As he glides back down the garden path there’s a moment when I can almost see his face. But in that moment, or just before it, I realise I don’t want to see it. There’s something wrong with it. I can feel that I shouldn’t look, that if I did I would regret it at once. So I look down the street instead. And down there, on each door I can see a mark. Right in the middle of each one, just where he was looking, there’s a little patch of something. It shines black in the moonlight. It’s on number twelve, and number fourteen too, on their white doors I can see that it’s red. “Just let them go. Go away for dinner and we’ll get off early before the meat goes off. The cows are sick again, bad to eat.” “I’ll be there in a minute, Mum,” I say. He’s at number fourteen now, looking at the mark on the door. At number sixteen he suddenly stops halfway up the garden path and looks at the house. I went to school with the boy that lives there with his dad. We were quite friendly for a while at school. We sat together in history and he’d tell me about his family. His mum left when he was young, leaving him and his dad alone. I thought that sounded great at the time, no sister and just a dad. He went off to university though, and 51
we haven’t spoken since. He’s back now and we pretend we don’t see each other on the street. The light in the windows of number sixteen fades away and the house becomes dark as the man stands and waits. Inside I see someone brush against the curtain, then a torch flashes across the window. The man on the path glides up to the black house and this time he knocks. The brass knocker clacks three times and echoes down the street. The torch lights the window on the door and the handle goes down. The man on the path jumps inside and the torchlight flails wildly and the door bangs against the wall, a clean white door with no red mark. “We’ll clean, shall we? We’ll leave it for tomorrow, better to see it in the light. There’s something on my arm. I’ll just scratch it.” I call the police; my hands are shaking. They won’t be here for an hour, Fridays are busy, they say. I drop the phone on the floor when I turn to look at Mum. There’s blood all down her arm and on the sofa. She’s scratching at something under her jumper and blood’s leaking out of her sleeve. “Jesus, Mum,” I say, grabbing her arm to stop her scratching. We go into the bathroom and I pull her jumper over her head. “Up and over Mum, just like we used to do.” “Up and over,” she says, “get your father, he’s in the garden picking tomatoes. He’s out there, he told me. Out in the thunder, it’s raining you know. Hot red rain in the sky.” Her forearm’s covered in blood. It washes off and reveals a round wound like she’d popped some great blister full of blood. It soon stops bleeding, so I stick on a white dressing from the cupboard. “We’ll go to the doctors in the morning,” I say, “come on, come and sit down.” “He’s pulling them off before they get eaten. Grasshoppers eat them, get all over them and eat them.” The lights are still off at number sixteen. The torch is on the floor and shining through the half-open door, pitching a strange angle of light out into the street. Has he moved on to the next house? I can’t see him anywhere, even if I lean out and look down the road. As I lean out, I hear his footsteps crunching the gravel on next door’s path. Quick strong steps. Next door is left in light as he exits their path and taps over 52
the drain cover in front of our garden. I turn away and get wrapped up in the curtain as Mum stands up and leaves. She’s already at the bottom of the stairs fumbling with the door as the lights in the house begin to fade. Three loud knocks on the door in the dark. Mum shouts upstairs as she pulls open the door. “You’re the first, first child, first born, no more. First for dinner, while the fish is still hot. Hot red, blood red. Get your sister, the little sister and I’ll let father in, our father. Dark in the porch. Tapping at the door. Our father at the door. Tap, tap. I’ll get it, love.”
A Conversation with Joan Margarit
Linocut for Structo by Jade They (jadethey.com)
t the end of April 2020, the eminent Catalan poet and architect Joan Margarit was due to receive the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious literary award in Spain, at a ceremony in Madrid. At the end of last year, he was awarded the Queen Sofia Prize for Iberoamerican Poetry, which he received from the Queen herself. Joan Margarit is the first Catalan writer to receive either prize. In his speech given at the Premio Reina Sofia ceremony, Joan Margarit expressed his thanks and reflected on his two callings, architecture and poetry. His thoughts on loneliness have a special resonance as I write this in early summer 2020: “Poetry and music,” he said, “are perhaps the main sources for consolation that human beings have in our loneliness, this loneliness we always staring down into, even though we have at our side, as our first line of defence, those we love best, our nearest lifebelt of the emotions.” He then added, “The safety of the home is not so different from the safety of the spirit.” He went on to read eight poems, leaving the lectern to wander among the assembled guests. I have been translating Joan Margarit’s poetry since October 2005, when I prepared some translations of his work prior to his reading at StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, here in St Andrews. The founder of the poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books, Neil Astley, was present and afterwards spoke to us both to ask whether we could produce a book of translations. “About a hundred and sixty poems?” he suggested. This became Tugs in the fog, and was the Poetry Book Society’s Recommended Translation for winter 2006. Since then, Bloodaxe has published two more collections, Strangely happy (2011) and Love is a place (2016), and we are even now working on a fourth. Hundreds 55
and hundreds of emails have passed between us, and I am proud to call him my friend. Born in 1938, his poems are imbued with memories of a childhood spent in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War – years of grinding poverty and fascist oppression – in Catalonia. Perhaps that is why one of his most-quoted lines is ‘Freedom is a bookshop.’ — Anna Crowe CROWE: Many poems in your latest collection from Bloodaxe, Love is a Place, speak of—or confront—fear and the proximity of death. In your poem ‘Lyric at 70’ there appears, twice, the phrase ‘do not go meekly into winter’. I think I detect here an echo of the opening lines from Dylan Thomas’s great villanelle: Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. At the same time, in other poems, you write of the lucidity and above all the dignity, which is a kind of indifference, as the qualities needed in order to confront fear and death. Do you see here any contradiction, or are they two sides of the same thing? MARGARIT: Death and physical pain in general form part of our being in an autonomous way. Should the occasion arise, you can try to show that they don’t exist by lying to yourself, via systems like religion; or, and this is my preference, you can limit yourself to seeking the help of medicine. The fear that needs to be discussed seems to me to have more to do with life than with death, and a lot to do with “other people”, those that make up Sartre’s hell (“L’enfer, c’est les autres”). The others are at once a salvation and a sentence. Our main tool for salvation is love, and love has meaning only through others. This situation creates around us a moral storm, capable of causing more pain than the physical storm, and defending oneself from this storm is an elaborate and complex matter involving intellect and emotions. This defence is produced within the realm of what we call culture, which is very broad. 56
I think that among the great many ways of protecting onself from this moral storm the most efficient are poetry and music, which form one body of knowledge and sensibility both very close to and very far from literature. In this sense I do not like to say that poetry is a literary genre. This is demonstrated by the big change embodied by do not go meekly into winter instead of do not go gentle into that good night. That is more music than literature. CROWE: You write about the cruel repression of the Catalan language by Franco’s government at the end of the Spanish Civil War. This repression means, for you, the repression of your life. Can you explain what this repression meant in terms of daily life? Still on the subject of language, you lost the Lleidan accent you had as a child: in your poem ‘Pillage’, you speak of that closed é that you imagine now “caught somewhere on brambles”. I absolutely love this image! At the end of the poem you say that “having saved my tongue has left me at the mercy of a people that were mine”. I am wondering what they might accuse you of? MARGARIT: I can answer the first part of the question with this anecdote from when I was six years old: I am living in a village, Rubí, of one thousand inhabitants. It’s a winter morning and we are going to school, a friend and I, talking as we go along—in Catalan, our language— about our own affairs. Suddenly, I’m aware of a shadow coming up behind me, who hits me over the head with the full force of his hand. I spin round, and it’s a guardia civil who says to me in a hectoring voice and in Castilian, “Boy, speak Christian!” All public expression of my language—and at school it was worst—was forbidden. But after the war I lived in many different places, a different house every two years, until I came to a halt in Tenerife. It was so far away (planes didn’t count, the journey by boat took six to ten days) that it didn’t seem like Spain! That was my Treasure Island. It still is. And going back I didn’t feel at home anywhere, and that’s why in this poem I speak of the people of my country as though it were foreign to me: “at the mercy of a people who were mine”. To understand what Tenerife meant to me, here is this poem [which appears in Un hivern fascinant (Proa 2017)]: 57
THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND I lived in a town where the women, as they leaned from their windows, placed cushions upon the sill, to rest their arms upon. And where the streets with houses of pink stucco dropped down to the port. I went back to my harsh, familiar country and never knew how to make of it a welcoming place. I know how to come close to the mysterious island of memory where I found myself at home, but I will never be able to disembark: Tenerife, the Fifties, a time and a place, the only ones I’d like to return to. But through its warm deep sea a shark was already swimming: poetry. CROWE: You have been an architect; an eminent architect, in fact, one of the little group charged with the task of completing Antoni Gaudí’s masterwork, the Sagrada Familia. You have also been a university professor teaching Structural Calculations. Has your profession as an architect contributed in any way to the job of writing poetry, or are they separate things, separate aspects of one person? It would seem that this discipline of exactness, with its mathematical rules, would be something a long way from poetry, would it not? Could you explain, please, how you keep these aspects in balance, and whether the fact of writing poetry may have assisted your work as an architect? MARGARIT: When I was no longer in my twenties, and wanting to be “just” a poet, I abandoned my career as an architect and began working in a publishing house. Then I realised that there I was as far from poetry as I was from architecture. And I discovered a couple of personal truths that would centre me forever. The first is that poetry is not a job. A job has one very different characteristic from any artistic or literary activity: the person who dedicates himself or herself to it always knows that they will be, let’s say, a better doctor or a better joiner after ten years than 58
when they first began. Poetry can never guarantee this. You can spend forty years writing and be just as bad a poet as you were when you started. Or worse. The second is that poetry is absolutely exclusive, and much more so than I imagined, but not in the sense that I gave it, the most obvious one. It is so intimate, it demands that its territory—that space in which everything has to be directed to making a good poem— shall not be shared with anyone. And that this territory should be the most important and necessary in the poet’s life. Poetry is much more demanding than my superficial decision had supposed. From this point of departure I began at once to analyse the world of architecture, the one I had close to hand and in which I had already travelled a good part of the way. I realised that one important part of of this world was that of Structural Calculations. A world in which mathematics and logic are the pillars and which, having nothing to do with poetry, I intuit indirectly, will be powerful tools in the apprenticeship of the rigour I have begun to value in the great poems I was studying. The furthest, moreover, from compositional territories—those of plastic art or decoration—the most dangerous for me. In those days there began to exist the person I would always be: a specialist in Structural Calculations and a poet who, without any kind of effort, will respect their respective worlds and who will find many ways based on this respect to assist each other. I began truly to discover mathematics and I entered the universe of its
“You can spend forty years writing and be just as bad a poet as you were when you started.” 59
application to the building of structures made of concrete and iron. I didn’t go back to attending the School of Architecture regularly, except for when it was essential, and I took my examinations with excellent qualifications in the courses on calculations. It was a shining forward impulse: I would never stop writing poetry, almost every day of my life, and I would abandon my career as a practising architect in 1968, when I took up one of the two chairs in Structural Calculations at the School of Architecture that same year. I was already disabused of the romantic mistake—or vice—of confusing poetry with life. CROWE: Nowadays, our lives are lived more and more in a gregarious way. We are constantly in touch with others via our mobile phones and computers. It seems almost as though we are afraid to be alone. And yet reading poetry is a solitary act. Do you think that the writing and reading of poetry is threatened by this way of living in the public eye, by this endless commentary on our own lives? MARGARIT: From the age of seven, I never owned anything bought from a shop to amuse myself with except a ball, the size of a tennis ball, and I never experienced the feeling of having lacked anything. The more possibilities for amusement, the more powerless the person remains faced with solitude, since the natural and fundamental solitude of each one of us can never be erased. It is suicide not to educate the young by explaining to them what solitude is and how it can be transformed by things like poetry and music into a positive element and something conducive to leading a full life. It is suicide to make a young person believe that, by smothering himself in mobiles, iPads, iPods, etc., he will never be lonely again. Those who seek to wipe out culture in order to acquire more power themselves may gain temporary victories, but in the long run poetry will have greater force. CROWE: In spite of changes in society that seem to show that we live at present in a world dominated by fear and greed, ignorance and selfishness, this collection, Love is a Place, is a book that is full of hope. During your life you have had to struggle in order to be able to write in Catalan, you have lost two daughters, and have had to struggle too 60
against melancholy. But you have changed even the traditional image of death into an image of home in your poem ‘On the ground’, from Dürer’s skeleton with the scythe into ‘a brightly-lit window in a dark street’. It would seem that you are confronting old age and death with a kind of renewed joy. How do you explain this? MARGARIT: I think it’s not a question of enthusiasm. It’s a question of intelligence, not of having an exceptional intelligence, but of making use of what you have. Power—economic, political, emotional, every kind of power—hurls a pile of topics at the individual, a stream of commonplaces, untruthful, therefore: challenges, methods, sacrifices, directions, ‘learning from your mistakes’, surrender, duties… But these commonplaces are the expression of the pressure society puts upon the individual. And this is the difficult point that has been the centre of my life: psychological understanding wanting to free itself from the enormous pressure of moral understanding, so often dominated by power, and that’s it. May I show you another poem? [This also appears in Un hivern fascinant (Proa 2017).] MYTHOLOGY They are all I cannot see, either in the world or in me. Things which will one day wipe out life, like the darkness of wretched absolute zero, space and time, and the speed of light. It was never any use imagining that these things were huge wills to be pleaded with— those gods of the Iliad or the Bible who never protected anyone. But maybe we have or maybe we are a force capable of defending ourselves. As powerful as gravity. The force of loving, which may even cause the moon—a frozen rock— to be warm, when I gaze at it with you. 61
CROWE: Finally, do you have any advice to offer a young poet, apart from suggesting they read poetry? MARGARIT: That the commitment to poetry is for always, that taking it up does not guarantee they will be a good poet, or even that they will be a poet at all. That if it is not for always then it’s because they are mistaken. That 90% of those who have thought they were poets were mistaken, and this mistake is a source of unhappiness for their entire life. Going on from this, the young poet may say to me: With so few possibilities of success, how can anyone dedicate themselves to poetry? And I will tell him or her: This is the heart of the matter, the true poet cannot evade their commitment to poetry. And the young poet may ask me: Why is it so unlikely that I may become a good poet? And I will tell him or her: Making a poem means looking inside yourself, not outside. Inside you there are millions of things which, for someone who is not you, have no interest. Therefore, you have to find among them one thing that may interest someone whom you don’t know at all nor will ever know. How do you send it to them? That’s the first problem, but you have to make it in such a way that, when it arrives and the reader reads it, he or she will be astonished, as though they looked into a mirror, and will say in a low voice: This is me…
Newton-on-Sea He wants me to explain tides. The sand refracts heat that cuts my toes. I sweep away the dry sand – turning a page, to find a place where seawater damps. I draw a circle with my hand – then moon’s orbit, like an eye ‘Mass attracts mass, the moon pulls, holds, in each corner the seas bulge—’ The sun pulls him to the cold water, I’m towed along – shedding clothes – braving his laughs at the gasp of each wave. Tugged by the current, far north of our towels, I drag his body down the beach – fighting the gravity-suck of the shallows until I relent. We lie like pebbles – letting the surf wash the planet under us.
DAISY G. BASSEN
for T. 8/9/18 The day after, there’s a downpour, Torrential, with gouts of water, lightning Almost red, like koi butting against the surface Of an ornamental lake. Pathetic fallacy, Too late, but you appreciate the effort, The roads running with rain, the sculpted greens Of the golf course filling up like oases; Violence and its cessation, the procession Of your grief, at least today, when it is a cloud That covers the sun, that becomes fog When it settles down on the bay flats, a veil For a sailboat listing right, the Esme At the mercy of tides, without a deep harbor. Rituals exist to help you manage, stones Weigh down the marker to keep it from flying Up, away. You begin to think you should carry some In your pocket, doling them out like candies To quiet your cranky children; not like Woolf’s Commitment to oblivion, wading in, a departure From what became at the last moment, unbearable. There are names for everything, the first morning, aninut, Avelut later, but no name for being sister-less Though it’s the state you find yourself in, As will your daughter; there is no woman left Whose face is coined with your mother’s strike Outside your mirror. If you lean forward to kiss her, You’ll be the one who has to wipe away the red mark. 64
It’s not worth it. People who understand send messages, A photograph of a bee, of honey in a jar, gold in gold sunlight; The satisfying confluence of neshama and comprehension.
As you know there is too much space inside the women on the morning road. You’ve got to get very deep into their tunnels to find the creature hibernating. I dream of taking each one by the face, opening their jaws like a hinge and bellowing down until they wake up. Until they take a big breath and finally expand out to occupy every bit of their casing, like drawing on a glove and pulling taut the little cups at the tips of the fingers, or pushing their spirit-toes right up against the seam of their skins. I dream of doing this but it is not allowed. The other women have to wake themselves up. That is the rule. We had fallen in together on the walk to school, our daughters ran ahead. It was very early in the spring and the woman was wearing an arrangement of tight overlapping t-shirts in bright colours and short denim shorts and lot of makeup for that time in the morning, carefully applied. When I told her how well she looked she told me she’d thrown out some bad rubbish in her life and was much the better for it. I asked her where she was going after and she said she had the day off. She only had to take care of her horse. And I had seen her on the horse the week before. She’d parked the horse in the middle of the sidewalk, in the centre of our town, sitting up on high like it was no big deal. She was smoking a cigarette and having a long chat with another woman, a friend on foot who must have been passing by. The two women talked, high and low, and the horse stood there as if it wasn’t the slightest bit concerned, and the overlapping material of the day adjusted itself around them. I told her I’d seen her on the horse and I liked the way she just sat up there having a smoke. She told me the horse was very understanding; she could do anything at all while she was riding and the horse wouldn’t mind. But it took a long time and a lot of work to get the horse to that point, she said. Is it spirited? I asked – a quaint word but one picked 66
because I thought it implied some intimate knowledge of horse matters which I did not actually possess – and she nodded approvingly, saying that the horse was spirited and she was glad about that. She’d find it boring having a horse who just did what you expected all the time. It was a thin year, full of trouble. I thought about the woman and her horse often, and they always brought me ease. Whenever I despaired she would come riding into town and make her stand somewhere inconvenient, forcing the stream of cars or bodies to part around her horse. Smoking a low cigarette and taking it all in, the soul in her taut and straining out to the surface, forcing the boundaries of the air to bend where they met her edge. Always, I rallied. She’d become my standard-bearer, the one sent ahead to make a declaration measured out in hoofbeats on the tired stone of the town: This is our new world order. Late the next winter I saw the horse woman walk into the schoolyard shrunk back down into herself, pushing a pram with an apologetic shuffle. Her! I got right in her face. Where’s your horse, I shouted, get on your goddam horse and everyone in the whole place jumped. She said nothing and all the women lodged deepdown in their loose spirit-containers, in their keep-a-cup fleece loungewear glared at me and said the same nothing louder. I took off out of the schoolyard, goddamn horse I muttered down the road, running hard. I ran until I came to the bronze statue of the woman on her horse that I had erected right there in the middle of the street at one of the busiest intersections in my mind and I gave it a few good kicks.
The Idea of Texas Mainly the sky. The rash of desert coral over dust, the erosion of islands without seas, a petrified forest unearthed in the gulch. He wanted to paint deserts: the stratification of rock, the shadow of a raptor across an Airstream roof, the exhaustion of air con and refrigerator units, a man shouting at traffic from a commuter bridge. In this, as in all things, he found himself drawn by a memory of scenes he had never experienced. He rented houses, passed through lives, existing as a peripatetic alien though one with a fondness for Blue Riband and opiates. The idea of Texas drew him to abandon his home but he fell into the shift between representations. He found himself remarking on the weather to strangers but there had been no weather 68
for as long as he lived here, apart from an electrical storm crackling across the desert setting news of the border across highways and flyovers and he knew he was doomed to be captured by longing as though he had walked where no one ever walked and still had many miles to go.
MARGARITA MEKLINA Translated from the Russian by Melanie Moore
Grandmother Frost 1. Child number one: cute and ginger, a quarter of her face behind thicklensed glasses, plait all awry and undone. Six-year-old Klara is writing a letter to Grandfather Frost in Russian, “Grandfather Frost, please give me a magic wand.” Gap-toothed, she asks her father: “What letter goes here?” Her father comes out of the bathroom in a thick dark-blue bathrobe, drips water onto the sheet of paper and writes a capital G in red felt tip. Even at fifty-five, you can believe the dream. 2. Child number two: age ten, name Karl, is wearing Mum’s longline white tee like a dress, trainers like skis, eyebrows black as coal (so dark and sharply angled that the Karl he sees in the mirror seems theatrical, unreal). He’s nibbling on a quesadilla he put together himself. The sauce dribbles and leaves bloodstains on the carpet. Bits of tortilla… the cheesy gloss of the keyboard… pencils, sharpeners and a tube of glue fan out from the table. Spinning on the swivel chair, Karl searches the Net for pictures of hedgehogs for a maths presentation. 3. There had once been another child who liked typewriters and musicals. This child’s mother was emotionally illiterate although she did bring him pieces of apple and slices of carrot in a bowl when he was revising. She used to call him the cleverest kid in school or the neighbourhood 70
heartbreaker or, all of a sudden, out of the blue (because of her hormones—her “shitty mood”, in other words), a disgusting Quasimodo or dumb-ass swamp creature. She made fun of his turkey nose and his huge sticky-out ears, and the child had no refuge from these swings of the maternal pendulum. (One minute he was soaring up, up and away, thrilled at her compliments, the next plummeting back down as if someone up above him had flushed him away.) Who he really was—fair or foul, Marat or even ‘M.’—Marat didn’t know, and he wanted to hide away and die. His own emotions stirred only when he tried on his mother’s tights and skirts or later, even at fifty-five, lay in bed dressed in funny, girly pyjamas with pictures of lunar hares and, snuggling under the blanket, hoped that someone would love him just the way he was. 4. Six-year-old Klara is getting ready to set off for the Russian Christmas tree to see Grandfather Frost. She adjusts her snow-white lace. Klara’s mother doesn’t like Christmas trees. She thinks they’re tacky, rubbish… and instead of children’s festivals she takes Klara and Karl to the Terenure Synagogue since sitting in temple is a hundred times more useful than the hurry-scurry fuss and flurry of bears and hares around the Christmas tree. Or is it because there’s free food after Saturday worship? Can Klara bring herself to stick her letter into Grandfather Frost’s hand? How desperately does she want that magic wand? Should her father who––just off a tiring flight and into and out of a refreshing bath—has taken Klara to the Russian Christmas tree straight away give her a nudge? 5. M. had flown in from London to spend the week leading up to New Year with the children. He had no idea what a magic wand looked like. He felt a bit weird: kind of bulbous in his Bulldozer boots and hemp trousers, with his pear-shaped nose and large, rubbery lips. At the festival Klara stood stock still, staring wide-eyed at a Grandfather Frost as exaggeratedly sugary as gingerbread, his voice sweet as 71
honey, and she remained rooted to the spot when Snegurochka asked her to recite a poem, although M. was mentally urging her on from the parents’ back row. The children had all gone by the time Grandfather Frost was taking his costume off in the storeroom. With an immense longing for some kind of resolution, M. did indeed give her a nudge. Grandfather Frost had a red nose and red cheeks. M. remembered the strapping hunk from the crazy get-togethers of Dublin’s Russian residents. In his civilian garb—dressed in smooth stretch-fabric with a big, bushy beard, he had held a shot glass in a dignified manner. His biceps had danced beneath the tightly stretched black fabric as he had knocked back one shot after another in time to the music. Klara timidly held out the letter. Grandfather Frost thanked her and said he would seriously consider everything she’d written. Do everything in his power. Make every effort. M. took Klara’s hand. They went out onto a street that was flooded with the day’s happiness. A few hours in a plane and there was his precious daughter with her little plait, in a white lace dress, a broad smattering of freckles on her round face. Personally, he would have been delighted to try on a dress like that, and would have asked Grandfather Frost for a magic wand as well, so that the lace didn’t hang on him as if he was a sack of potatoes. 6. M. had wanted the children’s names to match and his Irish resident son and daughter not to forget their Russian. For this reason, he would often ask Karl to tell him about claiming the coral, although instead of the tongue-twister, “Klara’s coral Karl craftily claimed,” his son would retort, quick as a flash, that he had done no such thing. But M. once saw him pick out a steel silver snowflake at the supermarket and hide it in a bag of potatoes, and another time he swiped Klara’s glass of water, which had a lavender-coloured Luntik figure ballooning inside it. “This is a hedgehog. His name is Pepper.” This was how Karl began his presentation. He scrolled through the text on his Chromebook, admiring his work. 72
M. had come to spend the holiday season with the children and he listened very carefully. He had been away for six months. An estranged husband, they’d say. The estranged wife (or just the EW)—in wide-fit sandals and a blouse with a grubby round collar like a bib—was laughing. She was skulking at the end of the rectangular room, behind a barrier of boxes and old newspapers. If she was to fly off the handle as she usually did and decide to slap M. across the face, she would have to clamber over bags full of rubbish, ribbons of shredded documents, broken belts, mismatched socks, used batteries, goodness knows what. To scramble over gigantic boxes, from which protruded the wheels of toy motorbikes, headphones and wires. Over plastic containers of sheets and blankets. And then over still more bags. The EW was a hoarder. Of the three sinks in the house, only one was working. The other two contained overwhelmed taps with rusted heads. Terrified that outsiders would catch sight of her disorder, she didn’t call a plumber. Her hoarding was compulsive. There was a stepladder in the hallway but nowhere it could lead to. Children’s clothes they could no longer pull over their heads; boots from Yugoslavia purchased back in the 90s. They communicated through what bound them together. The children. Standing on either side of what kept them apart. Her boorishness, as well as the hoarding. Their conversation was a cross-examination. “You ready? Time to take them swimming.” He didn’t bother to look at her. He asked his son to forward him the presentation about Pepper. Said to Karl, “It’s a shame we didn’t have time for the whole thing just now. I’ll read it through later.” So that he could relish the hedgehog later on, without her. She raised her voice, half-standing. The rolls of fat on her hips, the blinds at the windows fluttered into motion. “Why are you interrupting?” In actual fact, she was the one interrupting and, drowning out her interjection, he continued to dictate his email address to his son, who said nothing, as usual. 73
“And that message yesterday. You’ve completely forgotten your Russian with all this single living. Mind you, your English isn’t great either!” M. kept his mouth shut but the EW was building up steam. “Dear God, so many mistakes!” She repeated this over and over again. Despite the fact that he had a degree and she’d left school as soon as she possibly could. Then to Karl, she said, “Tell him my joke, go on.” She was very proud of it, apparently. “What joke’s that?” “Karl can tell you.” Karl demurred. “Mum, Dad, I don’t want to say it again! It’s really not funny.” The EW gleefully declared, “Karl didn’t work out the cost of the funeral.” M. stared, perplexed… what on earth had he ever seen in her? “It was a maths challenge they were given before the holidays,” she explained. “Karl worked out how much he’d need to keep a hedgehog as a pet from a baby until old age but he forgot it would die.” 7. In the evening, when he took the children home from swimming, M. saw Karl’s presentation open on the computer. “I picked a hedgehog because it is…” M.’s eyes started smarting. He carried on staring at the blurry screen. “…because it is: a) really cute b) happy to be friends with everybody c) very cheerful” M. could see the hedgehog’s funny, beady little eyes; the sticky-out spines; the tiny heads and feet, just like Karl and Klara had when they were born. That was when M. was looking after them on a daily basis, when there was no need to buy plane tickets to go from his room to theirs, when he used to carry them in a sling against his chest. Such vulnerability when the hedgehog isn’t curled up in a ball What was this “funeral” she’d come up with?! “Hedgehogs live from two to five years.” 74
He used to warm up their bottles of milk, taught them to walk holding on to the bars of the cot “Pepper’s bed would cost 7 euros “A brush for his spines—10.49 euros “Another 30 for a nanny to look after the hedgehog when the owners go to the seaside.” And there were more hedgehogs at the end of the file: a big one, a slightly smaller one and two teensy ones: they looked as if they were heading off together somewhere to get something done. One happy family Six months without seeing the children. The EW grew increasingly angry but M. wouldn’t sleep with her. He just sent money over from London where he’d gone to live. Karl and Klara hadn’t written to him once in all that time. The EW was jealous and the children didn’t even know how to get to the post office. To avoid being picked on, they kept their movements to the strictly essential. Hence the touching little hedgehog by the name of Pepper. The fondness and concern shown towards it was the voice of his speechless son, revealing itself to him. 8. M. had few friends in London: the eccentric Peter who rented out the castle he had lovingly restored from a ruin to honeymooning couples (the papers wrote about him) and, of course, his brother, Anatoli, who had no children. Anatoli’s wife loved M.’s children like her own. She would go to see them in Dublin when she was stocking up on shamrocks, claddagh rings and Celtic crosses for a West End jeweller’s. And, for M., reading her letters was like seeing for himself. 9. A letter arrived at the castle. It was put through the window and it was impossible to say who it was from. 75
10. Peter said he fell in love with his current partner, Eva, through her letters, that he would try to translate what she’d written to him but he couldn’t do it because it was in a completely different language and he would even take her letters to the post office where some guy from Provence used to work. 11. Dear M., Sorry, but it’s stormy in Dublin, pouring rain and a gale-force wind. The Internet’s down. Your Olga brought the kids to my hotel after synagogue and we finished making stained-glass windows. Karl really enjoyed it and he left the one he’d made as a present for me. And I taught Klarochka how to charge the pink tablet in a case you gave her. Olga issued me advance warning that she’d bring some kosher wine when she came to collect them as a thank you for babysitting. She brought two, as pleased and proud as if she’d grown the lot from seed herself (whereas in fact she’d been given them at work in the embassy). Klarochka told her about her letter for Grandfather Frost and she made fun of her. “You don’t still believe in that, do you?” she said. Klarochka was very hurt and upset. She rushed off and shut herself in the hotel toilet. A maid called Vida came to help and, in a mixture of Spanish and English, she convinced her that if you believe in something, then that something exists. While I wanted to smash a bottle over Olga’s head. Still, the day will come when we can tell her everything. Why are you so frightened of divorce? Because Olga said she’d “be like a tiger and rip both the children away from you”? Loads of trees have come down in Dublin. A relative of some Russians I know here, a nurse, was travelling in a car with her elderly mother and a huge great branch fell on them. Not a scratch on the decrepit old girl but the nurse was killed outright. 12. Dear M., Olga brought them round to me on Sunday with the railway set you sent them from England. We played with it and watched Shishkin School, 76
which had some new letters, and then, in the evening, Olga suddenly messaged to say that she was getting ready to go out to some concert, and it was half-two in the morning when she collected the kids. I could hardly keep my eyes open, and I had to go to the airport in the morning. She stuffed their sleepy arms in their sleeves and simply snatched up their boots and trousers, saying they wouldn’t freeze in the car. Klarochka, half asleep, just about managed to put on her paper crown. Before that—at midday, in other words, when she brought them over and sat down to recount her career successes—I’d given Klarochka the photo that I’d printed out. I should probably have given it to her when the EW wasn’t there, shouldn’t I? It’s the one that’s been blown up, where you’re inside an antique shop holding a typewriter, wearing a little silk scarf. Klarochka cuddled it right away as if it were you. She clasped the paper to her as if it were a person. She handed it to Olga so that she could do the same. She spoke to her so trustingly. You could barely hear her say, “It’s Daddy.” Olga practically recoiled. She actually jumped! “What’s this?” she asked. “Why are you giving me this?” “It’s from Daddy! You give him a cuddle as well. Look how pretty he is.”Olga started peering at it and so theatrically that even I could almost believe she didn’t recognize you. But her voice rang false. “This—this is Daddy? No, it’s some shapeless lump. Just some woman we don’t know, standing in a shop. Look at that hair. God forgive me, can it really be Marat?” 13. A bit of paper is unfolded. It says: “Grandfather Frost, I want a magic wand.” 14. A bit of paper is unfolded. It says: “Daddy I love you Daddy you are the best daddy in the world Daddy you are always in my heart Daddy it is five days till you come on the plain.” 15. A bit of paper is unfolded. It says: “This case for divorce was filed in the Irish court.” 77
16. Peter unfolded the letter from his ex-wife. She was demanding money from the castle. She wanted to take everything he held dear away from him. At the bottom, there was a PS: “I don’t love you anymore.” 17. Klara went over to the bin, pulled out the torn and crumpled bit of paper saying “Dear Grandfather Frost”, and began to stick it back together. 18. Peter’s ex-wife wouldn’t let the children visit him at the castle: charming twin sons, one of whom was planning to become a sculptor; whereas the other, the angel-wing sweep of his long lashes captivating, played the guitar. Eva told Peter in her native Occitan, “Just write to them as if you were still living with them, keep in touch, ring them, just ignore the distance and they will feel protected by your attention and your love…” Despite your ex-wife’s scheming. Despite the miles. 19. Words of love streamed forth from the castle. 20. Klara was clicking on yellow smileys, one after the other, sending Daddy emojis. A little elephant, a little donkey, a scattering of cream horns. Then she added little hearts and typed, “I believe in Grandmother Frost.” She’d meant to put “I believe in Grandfather Frost”, but Grandmother came out automatically and she didn’t notice that that’s what she’d sent to her Daddy. 21. In the safe semi-darkness of the garage, M. applied make-up, put on a red dress. The children were asleep, the EW was watching an episode of Little Britain, cackling as she studied the English. He drove into the city centre. He changed the men’s loafers he drove in for a pair of teetering 78
high heels, hidden under the passenger seat. The make-up glittered. The lipstick was smudged. With his majestic nose, an apologetic look in his eyes (evidently, he never did manage to escape the psychological pressure of the maternal pendulum) and soft curls, he looked like the stage version of a hefty supermarket checkout woman, but on the inside he was sylph-like. Maybe Grandfather Frost had considered his request and sent him an invisible magic wand… He had to slip past antsy robotic addicts holding hands as they ambled along the riverside boardwalk; then—without drawing the attention of the teenagers in modish, tapered tracksuit bottoms, contemptuous of any unaccustomed irregularity—to cross from Capel Street onto Grattan Bridge and, once on the other side of the Liffey, to enter the much-loved Front Lounge. Freedom, salvation, a rainbow flag outside. Elegant deportment, but it was no easy matter, walking in heels without stumbling. Without tripping. Just as long as wholescale collapse was avoided in full view of the drunken company laying siege to the bar. An insubstantial little handbag over one shoulder, right hand clutching a now heavy rucksack, she perched on a stool outside one of the coffee shops and, accidentally on purpose, left the rucksack of men’s clothes under the table. She experienced a sense of relief. Daintily, she picked her way towards the beckoning Front Lounge. Once inside, she was no longer a target for the tapered tracksuits. At last, she sat down. She adjusted her hair, with a peep at her luminous compact mirror. She breathed again, recovered from the feeling of constant dread. Her heart took flight in the form of paper petals. In an exquisite leather wallet, embossed with Indian deities, a white piece of paper, speckled with uneven letters, contained words of love. She donned a pair of pink, girly glasses to scan the cocktail menu. She touched the smooth delicate nylon of her tights. She adjusted the narrow bracelet purchased in College Green. She walked over to the bar. She ordered a glass of Pinot Grigio and a cup of coffee and, when asked what she was called so that it could be written either on the bill or on the cup, she replied serenely, “Marta.”
Photos by Annie Spratt
JEN STEWART FUESTON
Whose Streams after Psalm 46
So tell me the name of that river, and how I might drown. After long distance, I learned I should take off my boots, tie the laces together, sling them over my pack and wade through the foam, sometimes skirting my ankles, sometimes knee-deep while the pack-weight pressed my soles to the mud, or I trembled, tottering slick on the gem-bright rocks. Once across, we sat down on the boulders, rubbed the grooves on our shins from ribbed socks, dried our feet in the sun, ran thumbs along tendons and returned our swelled feet to stiff shoes. Can I say this is gladness? How clear water shimmers in memory, that once you were carried along, that once
you knew enough to take off your shoes, as you do at a threshold, how you are stilled there in the torrent while the river sings.
Winner of the 2019 Structo Lenten Psalm Contest—Our contributing editor Matthew Landrum has run this contest on-and-off for the last few years. The idea is to challenge poets to translate ancient poetry in new and inventive ways. Submissions over the years have come from people with creeds ranging from Catholic to agnostic, atheist to Hmong traditionalist, and everything inbetween. 87
The Burden of Legacy The grounds at Père Lachaise are slippery with mud and black leaves. Tourists duck out from their umbrellas to photograph each other with the graves. My map points out the popular plots. My grandfather’s name is absent. It’s strange to think that I’m the first in my family to make the search. I scan for his name amongst the headstones as if scanning for his face in a group portrait. I hadn’t expected the cemetery to be so crowded. FR ANÇOIS As a child, I committed his Wikipedia entry to memory. Aside from his professional biography, it told me that François Michaud was born in Paris in 1946. That was all. At the family home in Dublin, all questions about him went answered. His entry was my only connection to the man who cast such a long shadow over my family. My only other access to his identity was the few images of him hidden amongst boxes of loose photographs in my parents’ attic, all of which disappeared permanently after his death. My parents assumed I’d forget about him but already it was far too late. * He wasn’t French at all – I learnt that from a photograph of him in a cap and gown. His face is lean and confident, his eyes narrowed for the camera, as if trying to underplay a moment of intense private pride. A cigarette hangs loosely from his lips. On the back of the photograph, in faint pencil, are the words: ‘Franciszek, Paris 1967.’ 88
Asking my father about this taught me that the subject was out of bounds. Later, after the photographs disappeared, my mother began to open up to me. I caught her coming in from the night shift, when my father was already at work. I skipped school to have the conversation. She’d been expecting it. ‘Franciszek. Yes.’ She paused to open the kitchen window. ‘He only became François when the original Michauds took him in.’ In my naivety as a child I’d assumed my mother knew as little about the man as I did. Now, as she spoke calmly, adult to adult, it was clear that she knew everything. The words poured out of her, long overdue. She explained that my grandfather was born in Poland and brought to France with a military convoy – fatherless, unregistered and dying of diphtheria. He and his mother were processed as refugees, moved to the Île-de-France and eventually taken in by a wealthy Parisian family. The Michauds had chosen to take them solely on the basis of the baby’s luminous blue eyes, which reminded the marquise of a son she lost at Ypres. For that reason alone I am a Michaud. I asked my mother how she knew so much about his early life. ‘Grandma. She talked about nothing else. He’d go away for months – even years – without coming over to Ireland. The longer he stayed away, the more she talked about him.’ I remember my grandmother only as the terrifying image of an old woman in an open coffin – my earliest memory. My mother spoke of her like she was an extinct species of bird that had never been equipped to survive. She finished the conversation by saying: ‘Never a bad word about him,’ before her eyes turned down and she fell quiet. Then she walked to the open window, closed it, and went upstairs to bed. I sat in the kitchen and watched the rain fall against the window. * The Michauds were not difficult to research. There were members of parliament, historians, even a novelist who poisoned herself with strychnine. François’ name came up often. I was surprised that his fame 89
outshone all of his inherited ancestors. I found pictures of him with Ronald Reagan, Tom Jones, Henry Miller; monograms of his skyscrapers and conference centres; a Q&A in an archived issue of the Architectural Review. The questions were banal – ‘What’s your response to Frank Gehry’s Edgemar?’ – but his answers, even after being sterilised of syntax by the editor, burst with personality. He called Frank Gehry a ‘crooked gambler’, and the postmodernists ‘weeping Disneylanders’. I’d never heard of Gehry, or postmodernism, but for the first time I felt I was hearing my grandfather’s voice. I felt like he was speaking to me through history, over the angry din with which my father had covered his memory. I read the final lines of the interview over and over: ‘The burden of legacy is not how to undo what’s already been done, but to remember it and surpass it.’ It was around this time, as I prepared for my AS-Level exams, that I made my decision to study. I chose the Sorbonne instinctively. Like an inevitability arranged by powerful people long dead, it was that decision that led me here, into the rain at Père Lachaise, searching the cemetery for a gravestone. FR ANK Frank Michaud – my father – worked in the John Player factory in Dublin from the age of fifteen until he was laid off in 2005. When I told him I wanted to study he was sceptical. When I told him I wanted to study Architecture – in Paris – he stormed out of the house. It was the only time I ever saw him walk away from a fight. In the quiet that followed, me and my mother cleared the dishes. ‘You mustn’t blame your dad.’ It surprised me that my mother, who’d never shown anything but cold ambivalence towards my father, should now stand up for him with such sincerity. I saw then she may have loved him once. ‘There was a lot going on in Dublin when your dad was growing up. Grandma couldn’t really cope.’ I know all about the men my father did favours for as a teenager – he spent my childhood steering me away from the pubs where they drank. The violence he used to enforce this was chastised by my mother 90
but never abandoned. That didn’t happen until after he returned from François Michaud’s funeral. ‘Why was my grandfather not around? I know he travelled.’ Again she’d been expecting the question. ‘Yes, he went all over the world. I don’t think the fact he considered his family a burden was ever a secret.’ ‘Then why did he marry Grandma?’ She was surprised by my ignorance. ‘Because she was pregnant with your dad.’ She told me, coldly and candidly, how my grandfather had fucked his way round Europe, South America, Russia, the US. She told me about his drinking, gambling and fighting, about his ambiguous attitude to consent. At the word ‘consent’ she stiffened and decided to leave it there. She rubbed my shoulder and said quietly: ‘I’m sorry, Francis. The fact is the only person François Michaud cared about was François Michaud.’ I still carry that sentence with me, and its unusual cadence. I can’t be rid of it. * The rain is picking up now at Père Lachaise. I’ve been walking for two hours and my search is turning bitter. I ask myself if it’s right to feel anger towards my grandfather. He was a man I never knew – knew nothing about even, until after he was gone. Perhaps I should judge him with every other powerful man of his generation – men greedy for life and excused of the cost. No doubt there are young men in other parts of the world contemplating François Michaud and wondering where they’d be if he’d considered them family. They might share his hairline, like I do, or his calves, or the kidneys that finally killed him. Perhaps we share his inclinations – his promiscuity, entitlement, his gambler’s confidence. The question is dangerous. What exactly of François is left in me? It was my understanding that he had never come to see me. But this also was a lie. * 91
FR ANCIS The last surviving photograph of François Michaud in Ireland shows him in front of the church on Whitefriar Street. He wears a navy blue jacket with a yellow polo neck. On his left, Grandma beams in powder pink. To his right, my mother’s wedding dress is a white void. She told me it’d taken a lot to convince my father to invite him. He never replied, and in the end arrived unannounced. He stayed for three days, gave my mother £1000 for their honeymoon, and left for Bucharest. After that, his visits dropped off almost completely. Pictures of Grandma from that time show how rapidly her spirit decayed. Her cheeks became hollow and mustard-brown. She lost teeth. In the six years between the wedding and my mother’s pregnancy, she shrank, retreating into a fantasy of the past in which her husband loved his wife and family – a past which had never been true. When I was born in 2001 it was into a new world she had no capacity to understand. All she had were her fantasies, the church and a grandson who would remember nothing of her but a body presented in the living room, thick with rouge. Over breakfast one morning I asked my mother whether she was surprised François Michaud had never shown an interest in seeing his grandson. She poured out two teas. We drank in silence while she gathered strength. ‘Your grandfather came to us when you were three. He was living in Rome – he wouldn’t stop talking about the Sistine Chapel. He was very excited to meet you. Grandma lost her mind when he held you first. He had a natural way with children – with all people, actually…’ A shadow fell over her face. I thought she wasn’t going to continue. Then, in words long since rehearsed, she said in monotone: ‘There was a party. Your grandfather…’ She looked for a second like an old woman. ‘…got drunk and made a fool of himself.’ I should’ve left it but I couldn’t. ‘Please, Mum.’ I waited. I waited long enough so that she knew I wouldn’t let it drop. I made her tell me, even though it hurt her. I listened to her explain, coldly and precisely, and afterwards I couldn’t even hug her – I just sat 92
there silently, trying not to look at the door of the utility room in the corner of my eye, unable to shift the image of my grandfather’s navy blue jacket from my mind. My anger never really passed, and after a few minutes I fell helplessly into her arms. I should’ve found the strength to comfort her, but I was numb and weak. I saw the full picture of François Michaud for the first time, and beyond that the reason for everything my father became. I saw myself for a moment between the two of them – between two separate responses to life – and I felt utterly lost. I was caught there, a boy with no identity of his own, between François and Frank – old men of the disgraced past. * In the end it was my father who approached me, in my bedroom as I packed for Paris. He shut the door behind him – an action that had terrified me since childhood – and sat down on the edge of my bed. He knew I’d been asking after my grandfather. The crack in his voice had less to do with pain than exhaustion, defeat, maybe even relief. It took him a while to find the courage to say what he wanted to say. He said: ‘I spent a long time hating that man. It ate away at me, it really did.’ He collected himself. ‘Your mam begged me to take you to the funeral. Maybe I should’ve done. I hope you understand why I didn’t.’ He knew how much I’d wanted to go. My anger was still fresh. ‘Did you know he was dying?’ I asked. He nodded. ‘He called, sometime after the diagnosis. Your mam spoke to him. She tried to convince me to take his calls. If I’m honest I hoped his death would be long and painful. I feel guilty about that.’ He tried to sound sincere. I’m not sure he was telling the truth. ‘He wanted to see you, anyway. I’m sorry. I should’ve given you the choice.’ Then he said, with absolute sincerity, even shame: ‘Don’t judge me too harshly.’ I saw insecurity in his eyes. He spent his whole life unable to forgive his father for who he was. Now, as I was leaving, he worried that I’d do the same to him. He needed something from me, but I wasn’t yet willing to give it. ‘I’m going to visit his grave,’ I told him. ‘At Père Lachaise.’ 93
He looked down at his shoes. ‘Right. Yes. That’s good.’ I sat down beside him in silence. I felt the impulse to ask him to join me, but it was too late for that. His course in life had been set for many years, and there would be no deviation from it now. I wondered also if it was too late for me. * THE BURDEN OF LEGACY Looking up at the monument and the name ‘François Michaud’ engraved in gold leaf, I’m reminded of his words in the Architectural Review. I imagine them etched squalidly into the headstone – the responsibilities of the present, the supersession of the past. I picture my own hand scratching these words across the marble with a key, dragging my pain in pointless violence against the surface of his memory. I imagine taking a hammer and re-carving the monument into a jagged, angry shape. But this would be pointless too. He’d already lived, and built his world around him, and left it there unembarrassed. His legacy, in whatever shape, is indestructible. When I turn away, a flash of low sunlight rushes through the rain and I realise there’s no need for me to be here any longer. As I wander back through the graveyard towards the gates, my eyes are caught by a small monument topped with the statue of a woman in tears. A young man is bent down in the mud laying flowers against the filigree. I pass close and see the relief of a slender face on the tomb. The text reads: ‘frederic chopin. le 17 octobre 1849.’ I walk on. People have been laying flowers here for a hundred and seventy years – people who never knew Chopin or anything about him as a man. Outside the cemetery, people walk in and out of buildings that first took shape in my grandfather’s mind. They walk past the plaque with his name on it and never see it. They meet, argue, conceive their children in those buildings. They might one day do the same in mine. But for them, like Chopin or Oscar Wilde or any of the other bodies beneath the ground at Père Lachaise, it’s as if we never really existed. 94
The shattered, painful fragments of the past do not exist. Only the legacy. * I walk quickly down the path and out of the cemetery. At the dormitory, I sit on the edge of my bed and wait for my father to pick up the phone.
A mispronounced grey-brown sea of vowels, choking emphasis at your lips on resonant stresses. It runs its tongue over soft gum-beds curling like cheap caramel on a frothing shore pebble-peppered with croeso. Clamshell crumbs and seaweed clump between wooden teeth, rippling saliva-sand in a dry jaw attempting croeso. You show me mud fights in July watching our skin crack as Puffin Island swallows the sun sky bleeding complexions of croeso. I found croeso in your tongue, your arms, first love, second language. Give a cwtch and say fy maban as I’m reborn to the beach. The tides turn. Calm dŵr lures a cautious cwch that finally tethers, finds home in the abyss, and I croeso this.
CONTRIBUTORS Marie-Andrée Auclair’s poems have been accepted by online and print publications in Canada, where she lives, and in several other English-speaking countries (including the UK, Australia and Singapore, and also in many US states). She takes great pleasure in this sedentary traveling and tracks her progress on a world map. So she keeps writing and submitting, thinking of her poems as traveling pigeons, hoping they don’t come back to her home but move to exciting places. Daisy Bassen is a poet and practicing physician who graduated from Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and completed her medical training at The University of Rochester and Brown. Her work has been published in Oberon, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and [PANK] as well as in multiple other journals. She was the winner of the So to Speak 2019 Poetry Contest, the 2019 ILDS White Mice Contest, and the 2020 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize. She lives in Rhode Island with her family and, when she’s not seeing patients remotely, still gives out lollipops to them. Michael Bazzett is a poet & translator living in Minneapolis, USA. He’s published three books of poems: You Must Remember This (Milkweed Editions, 2014), Our Lands Are Not So Different (Horsethief Books, 2017), and The Interrogation (Milkweed Editions, 2017). His fourth collection, The Echo Chamber, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in 2021. His work
has appeared in The Sun, The American Poetry Review, The Iowa Review, and Ploughshares; and his verse translation of the Mayan creation epic, The Popol Vuh (Milkweed Editions, 2018), was longlisted for ALTA’s National Translation Award and named one of 2018’s ten best books of poetry by the New York Times. Joe Bedford is a writer from Doncaster, UK. His short stories have been widely published and are available to read at joebedford.co.uk. He is currently seeking representation for his novel A Bad Decade for Good People. Jessica Bell was born in 1996 in Derbyshire, UK, and is an English undergraduate at Oxford University. She has had a short story and a couple of poems featured in student magazines. More of her writing can be found over at jesssarahbell.blogspot.com. Tom Benn is an author, screenwriter and lecturer from Stockport, UK. His first novel, The Doll Princess (Cape), was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Portico Prize, longlisted for the CWA’s John Creasey Dagger, and was the Daily Mirror’s Book of the Week. His other novels are Chamber Music (Cape) and Trouble Man (Cape). His creative nonfiction has appeared in The Paris Review Daily, and he won the BFI’s iWrite scheme for emerging screenwriters. His first film, Real Gods Require Blood, premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Anna Crowe is co-founder and former Artistic Director of StAnza, Scotland’s Poetry Festival, and an award-winning poet and translator whose work has been recorded for the Poetry Archive and translated into several languages. Her third collection, Not on the Side of the Gods, was published in 2019 by Arc. Awarded a Travelling Scholarship by the Society of Authors, her work has been published by Peterloo, Mariscat, and Arc. Tugs in the fog, poems by Joan Margarit (Bloodaxe, 2006), and Maps of Desire, poems by Manuel Forcano (Arc, 2019) were Poetry Book Society Recommended Translations. Daniel Bennett was born in Shropshire and lives in London, UK. His first collection, West South North, North South East is published by The High Window Press. He’s also the author of a novel, All The Dogs, published by Tindal Street Press. Claire Booker lives on the edge of the South Downs National Park near Brighton, UK. Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Magma, The Rialto, Stand, Structo and The Spectator, among others. She was awarded a Kathak Literary Award in 2019 whilst guest poet at the Dhaka Book Festival. Her pamphlet Later There Will Be Postcards is out with Green Bottle Press. The Bone That Sang is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams. She blogs at: www.bookerplays.co.uk. Hisham Bustani is an award-winning Jordanian author of five collections of short fiction and poetry. His fiction and poetry have been translated into several languages, with English-language translations appearing in journals
including The Kenyon Review, Black Warrior Review, The Poetry Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, and The Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly. His fiction has been collected in The Best Asian Short Stories, The Ordinary Chaos of Being Human: Tales from Many Muslim Worlds, and The Radiance of the Short Story: Fiction from Around the Globe, among other anthologies. His book The Perception of Meaning (Syracuse University Press, 2015) won the University of Arkansas Arabic Translation Award. Luigi Coppola reads poetry, teaches poetry, writes poetry and drinks rum and Coke. He has been shortlisted for Bridport Prizes, longlisted for Ledbury and National Poetry Competitions and published in the Worple Press anthology The Tree Line; Acumen; Ink, Sweat and Tears; Iota; Magma; Rattle; and The Rialto. LuigiCoppolaPoetry.blogspot.co.uk Thoraya El-Rayyes is a writer, literary translator, and political sociologist living between London, UK, and Amman, Jordan. Her English language translations of contemporary Arabic literature have won several awards, and have appeared in publications including The Kenyon Review, Black Warrior Review, and World Literature Today. Kate Feld writes short fiction, essays, poetry, and work that sits between forms. Her writing has appeared in journals and anthologies including Hotel, The Stinging Fly, and The Letters Page. She is founding editor of creative nonfiction journal The Real Story and teaches journalism at Salford University, UK. A native of Vermont, USA, she lives outside Manchester, UK.
Georgi Gill is a PhD researcher with the Centre for Creative-Relational Inquiry at the University of Edinburgh, UK, exploring the role of poetry in dialogues about multiple sclerosis. Her poems have been widely published in journals and anthologies. Georgi is editor of The Interpreter’s House journal and is thrilled to be poet-in-residence at the Anatomical Museum in Edinburgh. She tweets @georgi_gill. Joseph Hardy is one of a handful of writers living in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, who does not play a musical instrument; although a friend once asked him to bring his harmonica on a camping trip so they could throw it in the fire. His wife says he cannot leave a room without finding out something about everyone in it, and telling her their stories later. His work has been published in some twenty journals, including Gyroscope Review, Inlandia, Penultimate Peanut, and the tiny journal. Petra Hilgers is originally from Germany; she’s lived in South Africa, northern Uganda, and for the past 16 years in the UK. Her writing and blogging is greatly inspired by travelling and the quirks of a bilingual life. Her poetry has appeared in South Bank Poetry, Pennine Platform, and Under The Radar, and was highly commended in the 2019 Open House Poetry Competition of The Interpreter’s House. Matthew Landrum is the author of Berlin Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press) and translator of Katrin Ottarsdóttir’s Are there Copper Pipes in Heaven (The Operating System). His poems and translations have
recently appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, Asymptote, Michigan Quarterly Review and Image Journal. He lives in Detroit, USA. L.P. Lee grew up somewhere in between South London and South Korea. Her fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, selected for ‘Best New Horror’, and featured in Virtual Futures Salons. Her screenplays have been developed into immersive theatre and selected for Google’s 2018 Jump Start Program for VR. In 2019 she joined Sundance Film Festival as a Lead Artist, and was nominated for Best Storytelling at SXSW. Stephanie Limb graduated in 2003 from the University of Warwick, UK, in English Literature and Creative Writing. She is now studying for a PhD at the University of Nottingham. She has appeared in Litro, The Moth, Stand and other journals. Her first book, My Coleridge, a collection of lyric essays and poems about Sara Coleridge and motherhood, will be published by Broken Sleep Books in October 2020. Born in Leningrad, bilingual writer Margarita Meklina lives permanently in the cloud and occasionally in Ireland and California. She is the author of six collections of prose published in her native Russian and of two books in her near-native English. Meklina’s awards include the Andrei Bely Prize (2003); the Yeltsin Center’s Russian Prize (2008); the Aldanov Literary Prize (2018) for her novella Ulay in Lithuania, a semi-fictional account about her meeting with a prominent performance artist; and the 2nd place in the Negative
Capability contest for her 100-word flash fiction piece ‘The Cure’. This bio is also 100 words long. Claire Miller is an MA Creative Writing graduand at the University of Nottingham, UK, who spent most of her childhood in North Wales. Her work explores the nuances of language and the human impact on the natural world. She has previously been published in Firewords and The Purple Breakfast Review. Melanie Moore’s first foray into literary translation came after a lengthy career in media translation for the BBC. Her first literary work was for the inspirational Natasha Perova as part of the Glas New Russian Writing series. She has since had the enormous pleasure of translating books by contemporary women writers Margarita Hemlin (now sadly deceased) and, most recently, Dina Rubina. She is happy to add Margarita Meklina to their number. William Nuth was born in London but now lives on the border of Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire, UK. In his spare time he can be found writing stories and talking to his dog. This is his first publication. Jacob Parker lives in London, UK, and teaches in a sixth form college. His short fiction has also featured in Open Pen, MIR Online, Litro, The Interpreter’s House, Storgy, and others. Jen Stewart Fueston is the author of the newly released collection Madonna, Complex (2020) as well as two chapbooks, Visitations (2015) and Latch
(2019). Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and has appeared widely in publications such as Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Cherry Tree, and Cagibi. She has taught writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder, USA, as well as internationally in Hungary, Turkey, and Lithuania. She lives in Longmont, Colorado, USA, with her husband and two young sons. Annie Spratt is a photographer based in the New Forest, UK. anniespratt.com
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