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£7—

issue twelve for autumn & winter 2014

Featuring 10 stories, 14 poems, an essay, an instructional score and a 20-page interview with Margaret Atwood

12 stories poetry interviews essays & such

structo


Structo is a uK-based independent literary magazine. It is published twice a year, operates on a not-for-profit basis and receives no grant funding. Submissions information, as well as subscription and stockist details, can be found online at structomagazine.co.uk issn: 2044-8244

(print) & 2044-8252 (digital)

editor / desiGner: Euan

Monaghan fiction editor: Keir Pratt poetrY editor: Matthew Landrum copY editor: Elaine Monaghan proofreader: Heather Stallard staff: Tim Leng, Will Burns, Dave Schofield, Stephen Beechinor & Claire Hunter iLLustrator: Jade They (jadethey.com) Our thanks to recent donor Cathy Galvin of The Word Factory This issue was powered by The National, Porter Robinson and Ăşs Bertus

weB:

structomagazine.co.uk editor@structomagazine.co.uk twitter: @structomagazine emaiL:

All text, illustrations and the Structo logo are protected by a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 uK: England & Wales licence. Nothing in this licence impairs or restricts the individual author or illustrator’s moral rights. Structo is set in Perpetua, MrsEaves and Univers Lt Std, and is printed with biodegradable inks on fsc paper by Calverts, a worker co-operative based in London

structo


4

Editorial

5

Poetry preface

6

Uschi Gatward

The Clinic

14

Durs Grünbein

from Porcelain: Poem on the Downfall of My City

(trans. by Monika Cassel) 18

Frank Roger

The Retrieval

23

Brett Elizabeth Jenkins

The Places I Am Already Hiding

24

Luke Bowyer

Libations

31

Christina Seymour

A Song of Loves

32

The Incidental: Never Disappoint Your Audience

38

Jessica Johannesson Gaitán Cheddar Letter

44

Eley Williams

And Back Again

49

Keith Taylor

Winter Finches

50

Anton Rose

Plywood

52

John Sibley Williams

Migratory Pull

54

Jordi Doce

Somewhere (trans. by Lawrence Schimel)

55

Mark Mazzoli

Rooms

56

Jen Calleja

This Bull is a Bull

59

Roisín O’Donnell

The Lighthouse Keeper to his Daughter

60

Ana Ristovic

Stork in the Snow (trans. by Steven and Maja Teref)

62

Jorge Ortega

Treble (trans. by Anthony Seidman)

64

Megan Palmer

Behold

69

Timothy Liu

Tonight There Is No Friend

70

M.V. Fabiyas

Aachu’s Kaleidoscope

73

A.E. Stallings

Resquiescat

74

An interview with Margaret Atwood

94

Lisa Busby

Negotiating with the Dead

97

Stuart Dischell

A Message from the Herd

98

Shawna Rodenberg

Don’t Ask Me to Sing

100

Alex Sewter

The Blessing

103

Contributors


Editorial

R

egular readers will notice we’ve morphed again. It appears that it takes four issues before we change our format in one way or another—sorry to subscribers who like to keep orderly shelves—and this time we’ve become a little smaller and brought in a little colour. You might also notice that the magazine costs a little more than before. I want to explain why that is. I will consider this magazine a success when we are in a position to give all our contributors fair recompense for their work. Thanks to gently but steadily increasing sales, we have moved one step further in that direction. We commissioned three pieces of art for issue 12, and we are paying illustrator Jade They a decent amount for her work. Not a world-changing sum, but somewhere approaching fair recompense. And so partly to do justice to this artwork, we are working with a new printer. We took the change as an opportunity. A co-operative based in east London, Calverts come pretty close to our way of thinking about the world. It’s a place where the cleaners get paid the same hourly rate as the designers. Because of this they are more expensive to work with than our previous printers, but they also worked very closely with us to produce a magazine that looks and feels as good as it can be. The printer is where most of our money goes each issue, so we might as well send it somewhere worthwhile. Anyway, enough about ink and paper. What about the words we printed? It’s the reason the magazine exists after all, and happily it’s another great issue, full of distinctive writing and featuring one of the longest interviews we’ve ever published, with the unequalled Margaret Atwood. I hope you enjoy it. — Euan Monaghan

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Poetry preface

I

n addition to the excellent fare of poetry, fiction, essays, and interviews standard in Structo, this issue features three psalms from our Lenten Psalms Contest. These combine ancient text and poetic personality. They translate and transplant the original content into modern settings. We have a psalm of gratitude spoken by a dying lighthouse keeper to his daughter: When the clip of nurse- / heels and hurried voices heralded death on either side, you / guarded the flimsy bed-curtains, shielding me from fear. A psalm of living in the foreign land of a discontented relationship: I go to make the biscuits, but they will not rise. / The air in this place is bone-dry / and my hands, like hateful strangers, / force the dough against the pan. A psalm of contented domesticity played out across years: My hairbrush is not ivory or gold, / but it sets beside your razor, in its daily light. A friend asked me recently if it was depressing as a poet to realize everything has been said, even said better by someone else. She’s right; there is nothing new under the sun. But that doesn’t negate the task and purpose of poetry. The psalmist enjoins his listeners to sing a new song and new songs don’t depend on the novel and newfangled. It’s actually the opposite. Both the psalms and poems in this issue sing newly. They sing of the aftermath of a world war, of migrating birds, of a dead cat, of physical love. The storks and games of hide and seek, the city streets and interior rooms, the smell of laundry and labyrinths of the mind – none of this is out of the ordinary. It’s the stuff of everyday life. The newness of song comes from personal vision transmuted into the sound and sense of words to make us see the world again, to see it afresh. — Matthew Landrum

7


The Clinic by Uschi Gatward It’s set up to look like a home, with sofas and a coffee table, but nobody’s fooled. I haven’t been here since she was a newborn. Stupid of me. “She’s a bit tired today,” I say. “Busy day yesterday. We went to the park. She didn’t want to get up this morning.” The clinician smiles briefly, a little wanly. Her assistant sets out cubes on a mat on the floor. At the touch of a keypad a mounted camera in the corner swivels towards us. Behind a glass screen another clinician watches. Cara’s spotlessly dressed in her smartest clothes. I’m wearing my dumbest outfit, complete with slogan. Dean clears his throat. “She might not be at her best,” he says. “Put her down on the mat,” says the clinician. I put Cara down and she reaches immediately for the shapes. She looks at them. Starts to put them together, clumsily. She piles them up but they fall down. “This is normal,” says the assistant. “By eighteen months she’ll be able to do it.” “Does she babble?” says the clinician. “Babble?” says Dean. “Oh yes – she talks.” She sure as hell didn’t get her brains from him. “Talks?” “Gabber-gabber-gabber,” says Dean. “Mum-mum-mum.” The assistant smiles. “Is she walking yet?” says the clinician. I shake my head. “She crawls a lot more than this normally,” I say, as the assistant holds out a toy to her, arms-length away. “She’s a bit tired from yesterday is all.” Cara crawls towards the toy. The clinician seems satisfied and touches the screen on her device. “We don’t record brain activity this time,” she says. “Just run basic checks.” She taps her keypad and a Perspex box to our right emits a high-frequency sound. Cara turns towards it and a puppet waves at her. She laughs. The clinician repeats the task several times, different frequencies and different directions. Then with no sound, just the puppets waving. The assistant passes Cara a pen. Cara pincers her fingers. “Good.” Into 8


her device she says: “T33. NA.” “We’ll see you again at fifteen months,” says the clinician. She consults her screen. “Which will be some time in June.” Cara stares at my t-shirt and starts to form a shape with her mouth. I scrunch up the shirt and zip up my jacket. Back in the anteroom she’s weighed and measured, her stats plotted on a graph – reassuringly unexceptional for her age – and then we are free to go. We walk home. From her buggy Cara says, “I liked the puppets.” And then she falls asleep. We take the path by the nature reserve. The daffodils are out. “We got away with it,” says Dean. “For how much longer, though?” At home, I put Cara to bed to sleep off the cough syrup. Over dinner I say, “I wonder if we just don’t talk in front of her.” “We can’t keep her with us forever,” he says. At Wednesday baby group she’s spotted. By one of the other mums, newish. Her child’s well-dressed. New spring trousers already, rolled up at the cuff. Woollen waistcoat and brown leather boots, though he’s hardly walking. One of those. Cara’s sitting in the toy kitchen, stirring some play food round and round in a pan. “She’s a clever little thing, isn’t she?” Harsh-eyed. I laugh. “Is she? Saves it all up for when we go out then.” “What you got there, Cara?” says the woman. “Egg,” says Cara. The woman purses her mouth and says nothing more, eyes hard with satisfaction. Cara abandons her saucepan and crawls to the bookcase, clambering up it and pulling down picture books much too old for her. I read them to her to quieten her down but I know that the woman can see me, peering over from her place at the sand-table. After the session the manager catches me. She wants to make a film of me reading to Cara. She’s never seen a baby that likes books so much. I laugh uneasily. “Think about it,” she says. I stop taking her to the groups so regularly. I tell people she’s had a cold. I tell them we’re going to the park more often now that the weather’s better. “I hope she’ll be walking by summer,” I say. “I can’t wait.” And I get people to give me tips about trikes and trousers and surfaces to try her on. I go to the more active groups, leave the quieter ones alone. 9


But a week or two later I lift Cara onto the top of a slide and she says, “One, two, three – go!” quietly, but I look around and there’s the new woman, watching me. “Go!” I say, and push Cara down the slide. I look up again and she’s still looking. She holds my gaze for a moment and then slowly turns away. At lunch that day, Cara counts out her beans onto her highchair, one to twenty. “If I eat one, it will be nineteen,” she says. “That’s right,” I say. “If I eat two, it will be eighteen.” I don’t reply. “Mummy? It will be eighteen.” “Eat your beans,” I say. After lunch she wants me to read to her. I say no – no more books now, I’m tired. While I load the dishwasher she crawls to the pile and pulls one out, then sits on the floor and studies it, turning the pages delicately. She furrows her brow. I take it from her, gently, and switch on the TV. I’d heard of this before, on the internet. Archived chats. Coded suggestions. Always accompanied by post deletions. And then posters who just stop posting. It doesn’t end well. I start to overbuy, little by little, in my grocery order – small, cheap things that won’t be noticed by the software; things that are easy to pack and that don’t require cooking. Flat tins of sardines are the best, but I have to be careful – too many will raise a flag, so I get one extra every week – just enough to look like the baby’s eating more and likes tinned fish, I reckon. I vary the other items – one week hot dogs, another baked beans. In this way I collect twelve tins within six weeks. We eat a bit less, and save what else we can. We run through everything in the store cupboard – anything we can’t take – and eat that instead. Pasta, rice, noodles, dried pulses, instead of valuable tins and vacuum packs. I go to a shop in the next district and spend some of next month’s tokens there, filling my basket with party foods and a small birthday cake. I buy birthday candles too, and a birthday banner, and household candles, and a cigarette lighter. In another shop on the way home I buy another lighter. At baby group, I sow the seeds. I give out that we’ll be staying with my sister for the summer, with a view to moving there. I tell them she’s got an allotment. 10


“It won’t feed all of you, though,” says the new woman, sharply. “Maybe not, but we’re going to learn how to work on it,” I say, mildly. “My sister doesn’t have the energy to make the most of it, she’s not in good health. And we’ll pool our tokens. Anyway, it’s not definite – we’ll see how we get along over the summer and then think about it.” I smile. “I didn’t know you had a sister,” says one. “No… we haven’t seen much of each other in recent years. She’s not in good health.” “What about Dean’s job?” says someone else. I sigh. “That’s part of it really. We always worry about him being laid off, things never look good. He can pick up some work with my brotherin-law over the summer, and then his boss’ll take him back on afterwards if it doesn’t work out. We won’t need much money out there. They’ve got a generator.” I wish I had a sister. With an allotment and a generator. Some safe place where Cara could be well, and we’d just be country bumpkins, not worthy of notice. The clinic appointment comes through, and I open it with a lurch. Cara needs a pox jab. She’s not quite old enough for it, but we’ll have to be gone before she is. I could take her and tell them that we know someone who’s got it, but we might be caught out, and we can’t risk that. I could go to the walk-in centre in a panic and say I saw a boy with spots, and act a bit stupid when they ask for details, but it’s still a risk. But then we’ll come up on the records anyway when we miss the jab in half a year’s time. I take the risk, at the walk-in centre, and they agree to do her. Cara knows what’s up. When she sees the needle she screams. “No, mummy! Hurts!” The nurse doesn’t bat an eyelid. I realize that she hasn’t looked at Cara’s date of birth. On Dean’s day off I leave him with Cara and head out to pick up the last supplies. The camping shop is in the next district but one, in a row of specialist traders. I’ve passed it before but never had any call to go in. As I push the door, a bell ting-tings. Proper old school. A skinny old man comes out of the back of the shop, newspaper in hand, and nods “Morning” to me before taking a seat on a stool behind the counter and settling back down to read. I take out my phone and scroll down my list, brushing through the racks of cagoules, examining elasticated inner cuffs and breathable linings. I look at map protectors and whistles and torches, and then at thermal underwear. “Looking for anything in particular?” says the man, eyes still fixed on his newspaper. “I’ve got a list,” I say, going over to him. 11


He looks at it, then up at me. “Where you going?” “Spending the summer at my sister’s in Suffolk.” “And you’ll need a tent there, will you?” “We might do some camping while we’re there. Explore the countryside.” “Might you. Nothing firmly planned then?” “I’ll see what the prices are.” I shrug and move away. “We’ll need the clothes anyway, got nothing suitable.” I wander over to the small bookshelf and run my hands idly over the spines. Birdwatching… wildlife… birdwatching… birdwatching for children… angling... geology. I pick up a secondhand paperback, Foraging, and flip through the pages, stopping to read. I sense him watching me and snap it shut. It puffs up a cloud of dust. “When I was younger a lot of people used to do it.” He smiles and looks at me intently. The bell ting-tings and a middle-aged man comes in, asking for waterproof trousers in a Large. He buys them and leaves. The owner watches me for a while as I try out binoculars, then eases himself up off his stool and beckons me to follow, round the L of the shop, through an archway. In the inner room recess, three mannequins dressed head to toe in waterproofs – a man, a woman, and a child a little older than Cara, her dark hair cut into a bob with a blunt fringe – crouch round a campfire, in attitudes of rigor mortis. The mother, skin a waxy yellow, eyes full and staring, whistle dangling from a lanyard round her neck, clutches the cup from a thermal flask. Three silver sleeping bags – one junior-sized – sit neatly rolled in the pop-up tent behind them. Kendal mint cake and firelighters litter the groundsheet. A square of tinfoil lines the portable grill. I inspect the tent, shiny green nylon, just big enough for one person, or one person and a child. “I’ll take the lot,” I say, turning to him. “Sizes?” he says, going to his stockroom, and I tell him, giving Cara’s next size up. He piles the bagged-up clothes and boxed-up boots and gear on the counter, then comes out from behind it with a packet in his open palm. “Sterilizing tablets, in case you can’t boil your water.” He shows me and chucks them on the pile. He pulls things off the shelves and out of drawers. “A flask – when you do boil water, put some in a flask. Then you have it even when your fire’s gone out. “Medical kit – essential. “Thick winter gloves – also good for picking nettles. You can eat nettles, 12


you know. Yes – once you cook them they don’t sting. That’s where your flask of hot water comes in handy.” His thin mouth stretches over his teeth in a smile. “They also make good tea, for when you’ve drunk all the real stuff.” Has he been questioned before, I wonder, about branded goods on people found (alive?) in the woods, in caves? I’d love to ask him whether they were found alive. I wonder if he ever hears back from anyone. How he knows what works. “Do you sell anything else?” I ask, looking at him directly. He looks away. And then goes to the door of his backroom. I wonder if it’s an invitation to follow. I make another circuit of the shop. I choose a large waterproof camper bag, maps, torches, penknives, and binoculars. I pick up the Foraging book and Birdwatching for Children. “Oh, and I might take these,” I say carelessly, dropping them onto the counter. Then I hand over the equivalent of three weeks’ pay. As he packs up my purchases into the camper bag, he passes me a card. “Do come back,” he says. “We do mail order too.” And he smiles again, revealing a false crown. At home I pack the dried foodstuffs into the camper bag – cheesy biscuits, packets of small cakes, raisins, and chocolate – and all the tins. Candles. Cutlery. Vitamins. Toiletries. Jewellery. Cash. Nothing electronic. A few warm clothes, mostly things for Cara. Wellies in two child sizes. We’ll wear the rest. Dean collects up all his lighters from when he used to smoke, before the pollution got too bad. I used to tease him for being a hoarder. I stuff in a couple of print books for Cara. We eat the birthday cake. Late at night, in the kitchen, with the washer on, I read about foraging, committing to memory the properties and seasons of fungi, berries, leaves, bulbs, roots, flowers, nuts, and seeds. I make Dean learn about them too, in case we get split up. One day I’ll teach Cara, if we last that long. I re-draw the maps on paper, using codewords for the names of places and marking in South as North. I make copies for both of us. We’ve got an old compass that belonged to Dean’s granddad. I don’t know how to use it but I’ll figure it out. I know how to use the sun. It’s hard to leave all of Cara’s baby things, but if we hang onto the past we lose the future. Nothing to keep them for anyway: no chance of having another one now. I don’t want anyone else to have them, so I burn them in a metal waste bin on the balcony, one box at a time, one Sunday afternoon. I tell our neighbours on both sides and down the walkway that we’ll be 13


gone for the summer. Dean tells his boss that we might not be back. We’re lucky the weather’s still cool when we leave in June. No-one will comment on our anoraks. We dress as holidaymakers, in light hiking gear, Dean in shorts. At our local shop I use some more of next month’s tokens for picnic food. Some of it will keep for another day – and the tokens are no good to us now. I tell the shopkeeper we’re away for the summer. He knows us. “Sister’s got an allotment!” I say. And “Dean’s got a holiday job!” The last thing I do is tell the clinic we’ll be on holiday when the check is due – gone for the whole summer. No, we don’t have time to reschedule: we’re leaving today.The receptionist huffs with frustration, especially when I say I don’t know exactly when we’ll be back. “She’s hitting all her milestones…” I say. “That’s not the point!” she snaps, and huffs a bit more as she types something. “Just call for an appointment as soon as you’re home,” she says. “I’ll make a note to contact you in September, just in case.” My heart inside me gives a little leap. I know that if they want to find us they will. I just have to hope that they don’t care enough. We’re nothing valuable to them – at least, they don’t know that we are. When we get to the forest, we look for an area with good cover, not too far from a stream. We find a small place surrounded by bushes. We can stay here for a while, and maybe come back here too. Some of the bushes are evergreens, so they’ll shield us in the winter. I mark the place on our maps. We use branches and a picnic blanket, and cover them with ferns to build a bivouac. I set out bowls to catch rainwater. We take off our layers of clothes and pack them away, back in the waterproof bag. We make a light camp; we might need to move quickly. We build our first fire, just for the practice: dry leaves and twigs, one match, one candle, smiling in the glow of it.We eat sardines and madeleines. I read Cara her book and brush her nine teeth. While she sleeps in the tent, I leave the camp and scrape the dirty nappies with leaves, then wash them in the stream. When I get back I curl against her. A fine rain patters on the bivouac, but in our sleeping bags we are warm, and it will only get warmer this summer. We should be hardened enough when October comes round. In the morning I wash myself, upstream of the nappies. I find some field mushrooms on the banks, and cut them with my penknife: they smell fresh and mouldy, damp with dew or rain. I walk back jubilant, a longer way, so 14


as not to make a path between our camp and the stream. Nettles grow everywhere. I’ll pick some later, to stew with the mushrooms. As I cross a clearing, a huge auburn fox, the biggest I’ve seen, as big as a pig, pounds past me, a hare in its jaws. Another, younger fox chases it. I watch them hurtle through the wet trees, flashing tawny and white. When I return to the camp, Cara is standing outside. She is barefoot. She fixes me with her eyes and takes two tiny steps on the forest floor, then a pause, then one more. I run to her and scoop her up, then show her the mushrooms, which she wants to eat immediately. I wipe them on a cloth, slice them and put them in the pan. “Dean, I’m going back for nettles,” I shout, and I grab my winter gloves. I wonder about the foxes, and the other things. Will we be their prey, when the weather turns, when the ice sets in? I wonder about loneliness. Maybe we’ll find some of the others? There must be others.

15


from Porzellan. Poem vom Untergang meiner Stadt by Durs Grünbein

16 Dieses Bild bleibt unvergeßlich: wie dort Luther stand. Ringsum Brachland, scheues Grün, und unterm schnöden Himmel, ein Memento für den fast vergeßnen Brand, Hielt ein Fensterbogen Wacht in der urbanen Öde. Weißt du noch? Sehr einsam, rußgeschwärzt, der Risalit, Lautlos stöhnend wie das O in Torso ... Chor ... Barock. Einer dieser Splitter, und man trägt ihn unterm Lid Mit sich fort ein Leben lang. Und doch, der wahre Schock War nicht sie, die Kirchruine, seine letzte These – Daß da Schafe weideten, als wär hier nichts gewesen.

18 Elbtal, zwischen Hügeln, siebenbrückig, traumvertraut, Kannst im Schlaf die Stadt abtasten, was? Wie Polyphem Seine Schäfchen in der Höhle. Kennst von Hellerau Bis nach Cotta jedes Grundstück wie sein Sternsystem, Heißgeliebt, der Astronom. Das Kind im Dresdner Zoo Hätte blind den Weg gefunden zu den Pinguinen. Familiäres Glück wirkt fort, heißts, Unglück ebenso. Schließ die Augen, und das erste, was du siehst: Ruinen, Noch nach vierzig Jahren, in die Netzhaut eingebrannt. Kennst den Stadtplan wie die Linien deiner Hand.

16


from Porcelain: Poem on the Downfall of My City translated from the German by Monika Cassel

16 And this the image that I can’t forget: How Luther stood there. Fallow fields all around, shy green, And under shabby skies, memento For the almost-forgotten fire, a window arch Stood guard over the urban wasteland. Do you still remember? So lonely the risalto, black with soot, Silent moaning like the “o” in torso … chorus … baroque. One splinter like this and you’ve got it in your eye for life. And yet the greatest shock was not the ruined church, his final thesis – But that the sheep grazed on, oblivious, as if nothing else had ever been.

18 Elbe valley between the hills, seven-bridged and versed in dreaming, You can sense the city in your sleep, can’t you, As Polyphemus feels the sheep for which he cares? You know every property from Hellerau to Cotta As an astronomer knows his favorite solar system. A child in a blindfold Could find the penguins in the Dresden zoo. It’s said family fortunes live on, and bad luck is the same. Close your eyes, and the first thing that you see is: ruins, Burned into your retinas even after forty years, The city map familiar as the lines upon your hand.

17


22 Wirrer Traum, der zwanghaft wiederkehrt: ich bin dabei, Anonym ein stummer Zeuge, in der Bombennacht. Was, wenn du das warst, der Engel in der Haut aus Stein, Arme ausgebreitet, die Figur dort auf dem Kirchendach? Unten sinkt die Stadt in Schutt, nur er bleibt unversehrt, Von der Glut gehärtet, Asche auf den kalten Lippen. Diese Ohnmacht: niemand hört dich, in ihn eingesperrt. Sind das Menschen, prasselnd da wie Eßkastanien Zwischen Straßenbahnen, ausgeglüht bis aufs Metallgerippe? Wirrer Traum: nichts dringt heraus aus diesem Cranium.

24 Steig hinab, noch einmal, in den Luftschutzkeller. Sieh: Deine Vorfahrn, eng gedrängt, in ihrem letzten Hemd, Volksgenossen, Geiseln einer Massenhysterie. Wie sie fluchen, schluchzen, eben noch total enthemmt, Wenn der Führer, im Mercedes der Messias, kam. Festtag war das, Reichsparteitag für die Seele: Einmal Jubel, Selbstauflösung – tausend Jahre Scham. Noch sang Zarah „Davon geht die Welt nicht unter,“ Radio Satan übertrug das übliche Krakeelen. Nur die Tippse, der Bürohengst hofften auf ein Wunder.

18


22 Strange dream that keeps returning: I am there, Anonymous, mute witness to the night of bombs. What if you were he, that stone-skinned angel, Arms spread wide, the figure perched upon the church? Below, the city sinks in rubble; only he remains unharmed, Hardened by the blaze, cold lips ash-dusted. Such helplessness: no one hears you, trapped inside him; Are those people, popping like chestnuts among The streetcars burned out down to their metal ribs? Strange dream: nothing can escape this cranium.

24 Go down, one more time, into the air raid shelter. See your ancestors, tightly packed, in their only remaining clothes, Volkscomrades, hostages to a mass hysteria. How they curse and sob; just now they were beside themselves When the Führer came, Messiah in his Mercedes. What a celebration that was, a soul’s Reichs-Party-Day: One big hurrah, self-dissolution – and then a thousand years of shame. Zarah was still singing “It’s not the end of the world” And Radio Satan broadcasted the usual racket. Only the typist and the pencil-pusher still waited for a miracle.

19


The Retrieval by Frank Roger The experiment is now in its final stage. All the preliminary tests were successful, despite the scepticism of many, and we are ready for what should be the apotheosis. We went step by step, improving our procedure by trial and error. First we attempted to retrieve some inorganic material, a handful of rocks and dirt. We were ecstatic when it surfaced in our laboratory. It was the first time in the history of science that man managed to retrieve material successfully from the past. We then tried our luck with organic material: a patch of moss, a few plants, a number of insects. The results were astonishing. Although some theorists had proved that no life-form could survive the retrieval process, the creatures all turned up in perfect condition. The entomologists had a field day – after all a living insect culled from the distant past is something else entirely to a dead specimen trapped in amber for aeons. A small rodent followed the insects, and we knew we were on the right track. It was already clear then that science would benefit greatly from our project. Our funding was immediately increased, and our achievements were covered widely by the media. The general feeling was that we were writing history. And so we were. The question burning on everyone’s lips was of course whether we would pull off our main objective and retrieve a Neanderthal man from the past, alive and in good health. On the basis of the string of successes we have enjoyed, we are hopeful. Yet this final stage of the experiment will not be carried through without some trepidation.

Note #1

The great day has almost arrived, the day we’ve been workNote #2 ing towards for a long time now. Even if we’re thoroughly prepared, we’re all very nervous. After all, the experiment we’re about to carry out is the first of its kind ever, and there are too many factors beyond our control. For instance, we have no way to predict how a Neanderthal man will react when he finds himself suddenly and inexplicably transported into an alien environment. Will he be too shocked to make a move? Will he collapse with a nervous breakdown or a heart attack? Will he be aggressive? And then there are considerations of another nature: will he succumb to bacteria that are harmless to us? We can only wait and see. 20


Obviously all precautions have been taken, medical and otherwise. The final test runs all proved positive. All computer hardware and software are functioning as scheduled, Retrieval performs perfectly within its parameters. Nothing should go wrong as far as the technical side is concerned. Tomorrow we may have the answers to the questions that occupied so many scientists. What did Neanderthal man look like? A hairy savage, or an intelligent human? Did he wear clothes? Did he carry weapons or tools? Did he have a language? And most importantly, why and how did he disappear? The tension in the laboratory rose to an unprecedented level Note #3 as Retrieval geared up for its mission. We tried to picture the mechanism before our mind’s eye, descending through the ages, selecting the proper time and space, tracking its target, locking onto it, and retrieving it. Put in those terms, it appears quite simple. In actual fact it is probably one of the most ground-breaking scientific experiments ever attempted, and a true milestone in anthropology. So we watched as our man materialised in his cubicle. We just stared at him, barely realising the experiment had been successful and called for celebration. His physical aspect was more or less what we had expected. A short, sturdily built man. Heavy muscles. An elongated skull with prominent brow ridges. He looked a lot more human than some might have assumed. He wore clothes, rather crudely made. Unsurprisingly, he was wondering what had happened to him and in which strange new environment he had surfaced. He showed no signs of aggression. It started to dawn on us we had pulled it off. We had managed to retrieve a Neanderthal man from the distant past and deliver him safe and sound in the present. The scientific adventure could begin. Who knew what our examinations might yield? Something completely inexplicable has happened. Three hours after our successful experiment, another Neanderthal man materialised in the cubicle. Fortunately there were still staff members around who managed to keep the situation under control. Retrieval was checked and turned out to have indeed been set for one single operation. It had been put on stand-by correctly, and should not have resumed its activity. Technicians immediately started looking into the matter. As they failed to pinpoint the cause of the problem right away, a multi-shift emergency team was assembled that would supervise the

Note #4

21


cubicle and the rest of the complex on a twenty-four hour basis. Considering the importance of the project, no risks were taken. The first night shift witnessed the appearance of a NeanderNote #5 thal woman. While she was taken care of by the scientific and medical staff, technicians desperately tried to fix the problem, but had to admit they were making no progress. It was clear that Retrieval was malfunctioning, although no defect could be discovered, and all computer hardware and software was running well within normal parameters. Early in the morning another woman and a young child followed. Like the previous arrivals, they were transferred to the Neanderthal Habitat that had been built, both as a shelter and as a quarantine zone. Although it had been conceived with one occupant in mind, it could easily hold a few more people. However, if Neanderthals keep popping up here we will have to look for another solution, and at extremely short notice. Technicians have tried to shut down Retrieval and all computer hardware and software, but to no avail. For reasons beyond everyone’s grasp, the system remains on-line and doggedly sticks to its mission to retrieve Neanderthals. By now more than a dozen individuals have emerged in the cubicle. As the Habitat is now full, makeshift accommodation has been erected for the newest arrivals. The situation is putting the whole staff under incredible strain. Problems of this magnitude were not foreseen, and we have now reached the stage where solutions must be improvised, without the manpower to perform as required. On top of that two other problems reared their hideous heads: the media, always eager to sensationalise a story about an uncontrollable disaster, and the arrival on the scene of hordes of spectators. Both categories are kept at bay by security teams, but the entire situation is getting out of hand.

Note #6

We are facing a major crisis: it has become totally impossible Note #7 to construct shelters for the influx of Neanderthals – more than sixty by now – and keep them in quarantine. Our relatively modest staff has been joined by teams of scientists, technicians, security people, construction workers, and even army people. We’re working in what I can only label a disaster area. There are medical risks, safety risks, and too many other risks to mention. 22


There is no hope any more of fixing or even shutting down Retrieval. We limit ourselves to dealing with the newcomers as best we can. Fortunately the army is helping us to keep everyone away who is not supposed to be here. It is clear that we cannot continue like this. Something has to be done. The problem is that no one knows what. A theory is doing the rounds, shrugged off as a crackpot idea by all of the scientists and technicians involved in the Project. A syntactical error was made while programming Retrieval’s software: it was set to retrieve “Neanderthal man” rather than “a Neanderthal man”, and thus the entire species is being culled from the past. The ICT people confirmed that no such syntactical mistake is possible. However the popular press (never too keen on scientific accuracy) and a large part of its readership embrace this idea. They claim the evidence is stacked up high and that the authorities are trying to dismiss it for reasons that are hidden from the public. A major conspiracy theory can’t be far off. In the meantime Neanderthals keep turning up in huge numbers, and are sheltered in army tents. It remains to be seen for how long this exponentially increasing population of temporal immigrants will be controllable.

Note #8

Our biggest nightmare has materialised: the swelling ranks of Neanderthal men and women are no longer happy to stay in their tents and makeshift barracks. They are on the move, and there’s little we can do about it. We can hardly ask the army to shoot them. After all it is we who are to blame for their presence here, even if it wasn’t quite planned that way. These people are tough and ready to tackle any problem they find on their path – and that includes us, Homo sapiens. The Neanderthals survived two Ice Ages, and will no doubt also survive their unexpected travel through time. And we’ll have to put up with them, or simply make room – large-scale evacuation of the disaster area is being considered as the newcomers claim the territory they were brought to. More of them are arriving in the cubicle all the time. We simply allow them to join their fellow men. No attempt is made to deal with the situation. Our failure to contain the problem is total. We no longer try to keep journalists and spectators at bay, either. They are free to approach the Neanderthals, at their own risk. Most of them wisely fled the premises, though. Note #9

23


At least most of our questions have been answered. We now Note #10 know why no Neanderthal remains or fossils were found after a certain date. That date is the one when Retrieval locked onto them and transported them to the present. All the theories about the Neanderthals’ extinction were wrong. They did not become extinct due to climate change or contact with other species of the genus Homo. They were not absorbed by or assimilated with these other species. As a matter of fact, they did not run into any problems at all. They were all shipped to the present. Vast numbers have arrived by now, and the rest are on their way. They seem to communicate well, even if their language sounds pretty rudimentary to us. We’ve seen no evidence of them making any tools, but they pick up whatever looks handy and use it skilfully as a tool – or as a weapon. They’re clearly not resigned to remaining immigrants across time; they seem eager to settle down like colonists. We may be the ones running into trouble now.

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The Places I Am Already Hiding by Brett Elizabeth Jenkins Scavenger birds hunt me for my scent in the places where I grew up. Big oak trunk, a part of me there to be found. A page of the dictionary I lingered over too long, my finger pointing out the word espionage, no, espouse, no, esprit. And the places I haven’t been that my bones pull me toward, and ache, and hurt for. The bridges tiny feet have slipped from, there I am. Anywhere a blonde girl whispers into a pillow, anywhere a dog is let loose by accident. These are the places I am already hiding. These are the places I will always go.

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Libations by Luke Bowyer When people do terrible things, it’s only natural to dissect them, attempt to identify the signs that should have indicated their hidden depths. He had something of a reputation at University. No, that makes it sound as though he was infamous, known to all, when the reverse was true. But on my floor of Lancaster House, he was considered to be rather strange. I thought he was just wonderful. And he chose me. He decided we were friends. His name was Anthony. He wanted it in full, no abbreviations. If someone addressed him as Tony or Ant he would look blank and patiently explain that his name was Anthony. My friend Matt christened him ‘The Anti-Tony’ as a result. He was one of the cleverest people I’d ever met. Conversations with him were terrifying but exhilarating. I was always anxious of saying something stupid or dull, seeing that look of vague disappointment on his face. At the funeral we sang ‘Jerusalem’. I wondered who on earth had felt this was appropriate. It didn’t seem to square with the Anthony I had known, having been neither Christian nor a patriot, as far as I knew. But then, maybe I hadn’t known him at all. The idea was something of a comfort; a reason to feel less complicit. There weren’t many people present. They’d managed to keep it out of the press. I’d been surprised to receive the phone call informing me that I’d been on a list of those he wished to invite. It couldn’t have been a very long list. I noticed Alice arrive just before the start, sitting surreptitiously at the back. Our eyes met briefly. I nodded, before turning my attention to the order of service. The photograph on the front took me back to an autumnal day almost a decade earlier. We’d gone exploring on a whim, celebrating a cancelled lecture. He had a car. I’d felt giddy with the sense of escape. Sitting in the passenger seat beside him had felt intimate and confessional. I’d had the urge to gorge on confidences, but had restrained myself. I’d learned that he disliked overfamiliarity. Instead we talked about post-modernism, the definition of which I was failing to comprehend. He found my struggle endearing. We’d stopped when we saw the signs. 26


It was a long way from the road and we walked silently, in an odd sort of reverence. The surrounding landscape was broad and blank, cast a sombre tone by the darkening sky above. An atmosphere was building, promising heavy rain, possibly thunder. I’d brought my camera and took several blurred shots of deepening grey stretches. Finally, the hitherto hidden reservoir revealed itself. So massive, deep and unknowable, brimming with power and potential. I turned to him and found him enthralled. His gaze was fixed unblinking on the water. He was lost in worship, bound in the presence of a deity. He was a believer. He had found god. Somehow he was more alive than I had ever known him, suddenly and unexpectedly quite beautiful. His expression exultant. He saw me. Everything went very still. It occurred to me that no one knew where I was. I wondered briefly how it would feel to drown. I lifted the camera, twisted the focus, pressed down. Click. Anthony smiled at me, suggested we try to find somewhere for lunch. As we walked back to the car it began to rain in big cold blobs. Later, ensconced in a warm, bright pub, plates of hot food before us, I felt absurd for the thoughts that had briefly crossed my mind. As so often before, I had let my imagination run wild. The Anthony opposite me was dauntingly intellectual, but otherwise harmless, I told myself. A few years ago I found the photo while clearing through boxes of accumulated life-detritus. I saw him, staring at the camera, so handsome and peculiar and young, and I yearned. He didn’t read his emails, so I’d written him a letter, enclosing a copy. I’d said how much I missed him. That I’d love to see him. And here it was again. Someone had found it amongst his things. Recognised the image as the distillation of him. I wondered whether they’d found the letter too. I told him how I felt about him on the afternoon we celebrated his last exam, drinking out on the grass outside the East Slope Bar. He was driving off the next day and I strongly suspected I would never see him again, so there was nothing to lose, though that didn’t stop my stomach turning uneasily as I summoned up the courage. Talking about feelings was taboo with Anthony. He was unperturbed. He explained that I didn’t really know him, so it wasn’t really true. He was flattered, he told me, but honestly, he wasn’t anything for me to get worked up about. I could and should do much 27


better. I laughed and told him that he’d missed the point. I had a boyfriend by then, it wasn’t a come on; I just wanted him to know how marvellous I thought he was. I tried to explain, but he looked ever more confused, so I changed the subject and bought another round. The eulogy was given by a twitchy man – a cousin, I discovered later. He recited a list of Anthony’s academic achievements, talked about his burgeoning reputation, before hesitating, embarrassed, and starting on something about divine forgiveness. I tuned out, wondering what I would have said if I have been the one chosen to enunciate the essence of Anthony. I would probably have made myself ridiculous by talking about his hair. It was one of the first things I noticed about him, other than his tallness. He would let his hair grow into a shapeless mop until he couldn’t see; then he would get it cut very, very short. When I first encountered him in our shared kitchen he was at the mop stage, and our interaction was punctuated with flicking motions as he tried to usher it out of his eyes. A week later, I bumped into him in the corridor outside my room and fairly recoiled. He was shorn, naked, obscenely see-able. “Hello,” he greeted me. “You look troubled.” “It’s your hair,” I admitted. “It’s gone.” “I know. I had it cut.” “Yes,” I agreed. “Don’t you like?” He seemed to be finding the situation quite amusing. “I’m sure I’ll get used to it,” I offered uncertainly. “Ok. I supposed I’d better give you a chance to acclimatise. Drink?” He was brandishing a bottle of wine. I was supposed to be going to the library to prepare for a rapidly approaching essay deadline which had been panicking me, but I dismissed it instantly at the invitation to imbibe with him. I had accidentally broken through the barriers and procured an unexpected solicitation. I nodded enthusiastically, followed him into his room. That was the start of it. Slumped on his stubbly carpet, admiring his piles of books, his expensive sound system, as he played me vinyl records, explaining why this was a great album, or why I must read this book, all the while sloshing more wine into my mug. I was infatuated, gazing up at him, drinking in every word. It was an exclusive club. The only other person I ever saw enter his room was Alice. He didn’t answer the door to unscheduled knockings, but would respond to notes left in his mailbox. He turned down as many invitations as he accepted, with no reason ever offered for a decline, but he was more 28


likely to be swayed by novelties. Fancy seeing Metropolis? met a better response than Drink at Park Village Bar? Thus I found myself concocting elaborate proposals. Tequila sunrise, literally? was one of my unexpected successes from these excuses to bask in his presence. We sat on top of the hill, facing away from the brutalist concrete sprawl of campus towards an area of officially outstanding natural beauty, watching the sun come up in a fantastic array of colour, swigging mescal. He even put his arm around me. It was heavenly. Suddenly everyone was standing. I rose hastily and joined them in a ragged and surreal rendition of ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’. I looked around for Alice as we filed outside, but somewhat to my relief she seemed to have vanished. We shuffled awkwardly through the side exit. Donations to a mental health charity had been requested in place of flowers, so there was only a single wreath to gawp at. An elderly lady introduced herself to me as Anthony’s aunt. She asked how I had known him. “Oh, then you must be Patrick,” she exclaimed at my explanation. “You were the only one from his time at University on the list.” I opened my mouth to contradict her, but realised in time why Alice had slipped away. Instead I asked about the hymns, saying I didn’t remember Anthony being a church-goer. Well, no, I was told rather sharply. But funerals were for the grieving, not for the dead. They hadn’t felt a wake would be appropriate, I was informed. She had awoken some distant memories of Anthony mentioning a religious branch of the family who disapproved of everyone and everything. The memory was elusive, even though I had found anything Anthony said fascinating, because if he was talking about family then he would undoubtedly have been very drunk indeed, as would I. Alice was waiting at the main gates. “There’s no wake,” I told her. “Shall we have our own?” I nodded, grimly. I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to spend any time with Alice, but I did need to acknowledge Anthony’s existence with someone who had cared about him. The contortions imposed on his character by the newspapers, aided and abetted by this hollow charade of a funeral, made me crave the chance to reassert my own version. There was a pub close to the station. It was dingy inside, but was warm enough in the vague sunshine to sit in the back garden. “You look almost the same,” Alice said, with a hint of bitterness. I shrugged uncomfortably. I couldn’t say the same for her. She had 29


wilted. Her once thick, buttery hair seemed stringy, bleached too harshly, clashing with her colouring, and cut severely in a style that didn’t suit her features, which were drawn and shadowed. She’d veered from slim to scrawny. She looked slightly unhinged. “The way they were talking about him…” I started, coming to a stop as my eyes welled up. I studied a plastic-coated menu avidly to distract myself. “What was with the hymns?” Alice demanded. “I almost thought I’d gone to the wrong place.” “You crashed,” I stated, watching her expression. “I had to come,” she said simply. In homage to Anthony, I bought us a bottle of red. We clinked glasses in a wary toast. Old adversaries at the negotiating table. “You used to be a tea drinker,” Alice prompted, the ghost of a smile warming her face a little. I couldn’t help but return it. She’d taken me back to the first evening we’d met, at a party in our corridor’s kitchen, everyone crowding round, every surface covered in empty cans and bottles. She’d attached herself to me, kept me up after everyone else had been defeated, drinking tea until it was practically daylight. She’d given me her whole life story. She told me she was bisexual, which as far as I could tell meant that she sometimes kissed her friend Melissa in front of boys they fancied at parties. I liked her, to begin with, despite her horsey air of privilege. She was gauche and funny and talked endlessly about boys. She also told me that she was a witch, which made me actually laugh in her face and decide that it was definitely time for bed. “Did you stay in touch with him much after University?” Alice asked. “A little – he was always elusive, as you know,” I said briskly. I didn’t want to admit to her quite how challenging it had been to maintain contact with Anthony, how much it had stung when invitations to visit went unanswered, voice mails were ignored. I’d persevered regardless and had been rewarded with sporadic successes; books sent in the post, occasional late-night phone-calls, the odd letter. “You?” I asked, feeling it was expected. “I saw him in London a few months ago.” “Really?” I couldn’t help a little flair-up of the old jealousy; but I was hungry for information. “Yeah. I bumped into him at Euston station. After all those years.” “How did he seem?” “Fine,” Alice said blandly. “He seemed ok. Actually, he was quite friendly. 30


Genuinely pleased to see me. After everything he put me through. Just smiling, as though it had never happened. Making polite conversation. Small talk. He never did that before, did he?” “No,” I agreed. “I always thought he might be a bit autistic, you know.” “I thought he was lovely,” I said firmly, taking a steadying gulp of wine. It had been a mistake to come here with Alice. She was as keen to tear Anthony to pieces as everyone else. “Sorry,” Alice said quickly. “I know how much he meant to you. He meant a lot to me too, once. Too much. More than I really knew how to handle. And I’m sorry… for what I did.” “I just want to be allowed to remember him the way I knew him.” “Fair enough,” Alice poured more wine into our glasses. “I’m listening.” I talked about the Anthony I had known. Alice pitched in, clearly making an effort to keep it light, censoring herself at times with a sudden sip of wine. We drank and we laughed, as it grew later and colder, the sun lowering in the sky, brashly jovial, a constructed-reality show. Occasionally Alice would smile to herself at something secret. There was an unknown country, a side of Anthony that she had seen on those night-time visits to his room, which I had not and never could have. I would not ask her about it, of course, despite that shameful gnawing of curiosity. “I cursed him,” Alice said seriously, interrupting my obscene pondering. “That day, when he tried to leave after finals without even saying goodbye. I put a curse on him.” “He wasn’t good to you,” I admitted. “No. But I shouldn’t have cursed him.” Her eyes were focussed on some faraway place, growing teary as she considered the powerful curse she had subjected the ill-fated Anthony to. She really believed it, I realised. Alice was convinced of her own witchy powers, of which she had once boasted to me so proudly. It was obvious that she was mentally unwell. Had she always been? I couldn’t think of a nice way to tell her that what she believed was bollocks, so I just took her hand and gave it a squeeze. She was painfully grateful for the small gesture, smiling eerily in the half-light. “Do you think he did it?” It was the question that had been playing in my mind since the news broke. It had been printed in black and white, reported as fact. But I still couldn’t believe it, somehow. Alice looked startled, her face a conflict of emotions. Her expression 31


settled into one of pity. Then it cleared suddenly, as a thought occurred to her. “We could ask him, if you want?” “What?” “I could channel him for you. I can do that. I can call him to us, let him speak through me. You can ask him yourself, anything you want to know.” “No,” I said quickly, “no, thanks.” The thought of it was hideous. I shivered, suddenly very cold. Alice wanted to go inside and buy another bottle of wine, but I called time on it. When people start suggesting séances, it’s time to go home. At the station, we were waiting for different trains from either side of the same platform. I stared at the information board, willing the minutes to pass faster, aware that Alice was unnervingly focussed on me. I had to ask her. “Are you getting any help? Any treatment? Can I help?” “You were always kind to me,” she said with drunk gravitas, smiling. I wanted to stop her, to contradict her, but she held up a hand, silencing me. “You were. So I’ll tell you what I told him when I saw him. Because I loved him, even though he didn’t love me; so, I warned him. Bad things are coming. Really bad. You should get away from London. There are going to be dark times ahead. I mean it.” “I still live in Brighton,” I told her simply. She deflated somewhat, her premonition faltering. “Good,” she said determinedly. “Maybe you’ll be safe there.” Her train arrived. She clasped me briefly in a bony embrace before lurching on board. She watched me solemnly from the window, brightly illuminated in harsh light, before the train carried her away into the night, leaving me gratefully alone. If I could have spoken to him, if it had really been possible… I wouldn’t have asked him about what he had or hadn’t done. I’d have asked him about our friendship; whether it had ever truly meant anything to him, or had he simply humoured my embarrassing attempts to get his attention, pausing occasionally in the street to offer a docile cat a fleeting moment of affection? I thought of him stretched out on the grass, patiently explaining to me that you couldn’t ever know someone absolutely. On the journey back, I clutched the order of service, staring at his picture, trying to know him by looking hard at the pixels. I touched the image, stroking his face with my finger. But it was only paper. Just surface. 32


A Song of Loves by Christina Seymour

after psalm 45

Your garments smell like our years— open dresser, quiet nights, fallen soaps and creams. My hairbrush is not ivory or gold, but it sets beside your razor, in its daily light. I forget often to remember childhood, sitting in the backseat with my hand out the window, or walking our old dog around the yard, pretending to be his mother, placing his “dinner” on a Frisbee. I want to share the crochetwork of the afghan with my mother, falling asleep in her chair. I want to see my father’s temple of burned CDs and books of Zen and notes of his fears and comings into realization. You are my promised gift of a future like this: a dog or two, a child to take to the store to pick out a new candy, a movie. We are this family, occasionally: our bike rides where the sun follows us, our slippers left for the other to wear. Instead of my parents, we will be the children whom we may remake and remake for each earth, each time.

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The Incidental: Never Disappoint Your Audience an essay by K.J. Pratt One of the most important writers of the last century, Jean Rhys is probably best known for the novel Wide Sargasso Sea (a prequel to Brontë’s Jane Eyre), and her chaotic, tempestuous life. She died twice. The first death brought her critical acclaim, the second brought her peace.

O

n 5th November 1949, the following advertisement appeared in the New Statesman: “Jean Rhys (Mrs Tilden Smith) author of Voyage in the Dark, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Good Morning, Midnight, etc. Will anyone knowing her whereabouts kindly communicate with Dr. H.W. Egli, 3 Chesterfield Gardens, N.W.3.” The advertisement had been published by Selma Vaz Dias, Egli’s wife, who was seeking the author’s permission to perform an adaptation (Vaz Dias’ own) of Good Morning, Midnight at the Anglo French Art Centre. Selma had been told that Jean was dead. In one version of the rumour the author had died in a sanatorium, in another during the Second World War. But Jean was alive and she responded. She read Vaz Dias’ script and found it had been adapted “very sensitively”. The performance, a dramatic monologue by Vaz Dias herself, went ahead. Jean did not attend, but she had been reinvigorated. “I was convinced that I never wished to write again, and now I do – even rather badly.” Vaz Dias hoped that Good Morning, Midnight would be performed on the radio. To her daughter, Maryvonne, Jean wrote: “I am very astonished that the BBC like my work (especially Good Morning), but it seems they thought I was dead – which of course would make a great difference. In fact they were going to follow it up with a broadcast “Quest for Jean Rhys” and I feel rather tactless being still alive!” Perhaps if she had been dead, the BBC would have been more interested. To Vaz Dias, some months later, she wrote: “I’m not surprised the BBC didn’t like “Good Morning, Midnight”. I knew they wouldn’t.” And so Jean remained dead. “My bitter enemy next door is now telling everybody very loud and clear that I’m an imposter ‘impersonating a dead writer called Jean Rhys’…It’s a weird feeling being told you are impersonating yourself. Rather nightmarish. You think: perhaps I am!” 35


P

erhaps on some level, Jean had lived enough life up until that point to warrant some peace. “You must earn death,” she once wrote. Born in Dominica, one of four children, she came to England at the age of seventeen for school before leaving education to become a chorus girl. She married her first husband, Jean Lenglet; their first child, William, died at the age of three weeks. They moved around: Vienna, Budapest, Paris. Their daughter Maryvonne was born in 1922 and a year later her husband was arrested, imprisoned and extradited to Holland following charges of illegal entry into France. Jean began an affair with Ford Maddox Ford. Ford encouraged her writing and helped her publish her first short stories. After divorcing Lenglet and returning to England, she met and married her second husband Leslie Tilden-Smith. Her daughter remained with Lenglet in Holland. When war broke out, she lost touch with Maryvonne and only heard she was still alive after the war ended. Around the same time, Tilden-Smith had a heart attack. He died while Jean telephoned for the doctor. In 1946, she married Tilden Smith’s cousin Max Hamer. Jean went through deep periods of depression, she drank, and at one point was sent to Holloway prison for assault. When Max was arrested and imprisoned for fraud, she moved to Kent to be near him and, after his release, they moved to London. She didn’t like London much; it was dull, overcrowded and expensive. “The place I live in is terribly important to me,” she once wrote. She wanted trees, she wanted calm. She had a memory of Cornwall. In the ’20s and ’30s Rhys had published a book of short stories (The Left Bank and Other Stories) and four novels (Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Voyage in the Dark and Good Morning, Midnight). They barely sold. The reviewers were not kind: “If one is not entirely free from misery when one opens the book one will be at the suicide point long before one closes it.” Eventually, the books fell out of print. And so Rhys disappeared, and somewhere along the way she died, for the first time.

I

t took the BBC another seven years, but in 1956 it finally got around to resurrecting Jean Rhys. “It has come off! The BBC are going to do Good Morning. Just in time! I was nearly done.” The rumour of her death had continued to perpetuate in her absence from public life; even her publisher had told Selma Vaz Dias she had passed away. “I don’t know why everyone thinks I am dead – but I was feeling a bit that way myself at the end!” Jean had been thinking about Wide Sargasso Sea for years. A few months

36


before the advertisement in the New Statesman in 1949, she wrote to her long-time friend Peggy Kirkaldy. “What is to be done? If I could earn some shekels I’d fly from damp and bloody Beckenham and finish my book. Oh God if I could finish it before I peg out or really turn into some fungus or other! I think of calling it ‘The First Mrs Rochester’ with profound apologies to Charlotte Brontë and a deep curtsey too. I suppose that won’t do (I’m supposing that you have studied Jane Eyre like a good girl). It really haunts me that I can’t finish it though.”

“She couldn’t decide on a title either, coming up with over twenty choices; and she was terribly superstitious – she couldn’t have a title with a certain number of words in it.” The sudden interest in her work, following the BBC broadcast, had revived her long-dormant need to write. Jean found that her work was in demand. She was approached by Francis Wyndham from publisher André Deutsch, who eventually optioned the novel for £25. Jean was desperate for the vague hope of another try. It took her a few weeks to get a copy of Jane Eyre and a typewriter, and they weren’t the only unforeseen delays. She had told the publisher that the book would take six to nine months, but as time wore on she worried she was just doing a bad Brontë imitation. She struggled with the point of view: the first Mrs Rochester was too obscure, Mrs Poole the nurse wouldn’t come to life and she saw Mr Rochester as a dreadful man. Her difficulty in structuring it caused her to stop work many times and reassess the book – she wanted it to be “smooth”. She couldn’t decide on a title either, coming up with over twenty choices; and she was terribly superstitious – she couldn’t have a title with a certain number of words in it. But without doubt, the greatest barrier to her completing the novel was the chaos of her life. By 1955, Jean and Max had moved to a house – Bellair – in Bude, Cornwall, and every morning Jean woke up to a view of sea and sky instead of crowds and houses. But she also found it cold, rainy and bare. She decided, “I don’t really like Cornwall much”. They moved from Bellair to The Garden Bungalow, but they were still in 37


Bude, still in Cornwall. The book remained unfinished. They moved from The Garden Bungalow to 4 Carteret Road, then from 4 Carteret Road to Rocket House. But they were still in Bude, still in Cornwall. “When the wind gets up and the sky is grey you can see what a cruel coast this is.” And the book remained unfinished. Those around her reminded her about the limits of time. Her friend Peggy died, her brother Owen died, her husband Max had a stroke. Jean and Max moved from Rocket House to The Chalet. Out of Bude, still in Cornwall.Then from The Chalet to Land Boat Bungalows. Out of Cornwall, into Devon. And the book remained unfinished. For Jean, the book always seemed just out of reach, as challenging as putting down secure roots. She began drinking heavily to help. She was determined to finish the book, if it was the last thing she did. To Maryvonne she wrote, “I will send you Winters Tales 6 as I have a story in it. So old and grey. I hate it. If only I could do my book. That is not grey but black with vivid colours…” Max’s health was up and down and soon Jean’s was too. She complained of persistent flu and the doctor asked her to go to hospital, but she refused. Then Max had another stroke. Jean was fraught and she couldn’t work. André Deutsch offered to send an editor to help her put the book in order. Then Max came back from hospital and Jean had to look after him. She couldn’t work. The editor from André Deutsch spent three days with her. But then her neighbours began to spread rumours that Jean was a witch. She was depressed and she couldn’t work. Then Jean ran out of money. Then her mental health got worse. Then her drinking got worse. Her publisher wrote that it was becoming an “unfinished book”. Then she had a breakthrough – she had got Mr Rochester all wrong. She had been trying to be fair to Brontë’s character, despite seeing him as dreadful. She realised he was a fierce and violent man, and this would make the book work. Then, in 1964, seven years after being approached by André Deutsch about Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean went from Land Boat Bungalows to the Belvedere Clinic at Exe Vale Hospital – a lunatic asylum. Her brother wrote to the publisher, “I don’t know what the chances of getting Sargasso Sea finished to my sister’s liking are likely to be.” Jean left the Belvedere Clinic and went back to Land Boat Bungalows. They had wanted her to stay longer at the clinic, but she had got used to that 38


tiny Devonshire cottage. Even so, she still felt she needed to break the spell, get out of Devon and go to London to finish the book which was edging, tantalisingly, to its completion. The night she arrived in London, Jean suffered a serious heart attack. She went from the Nightingale Ward at St Mary Abbots to the Surrey Hills Clinic, then to the Caroline Nursing Home and then finally, after three months, back to Land Boat Bungalows. Jean was back home, and determined to finish her book. She needed a bottle of whisky a day. Max suffered another stroke and was taken back to hospital. Nine years after she had first been approached by André Deutsch, on the 7th of March 1966, her husband Max Hamer died. The day after, Jean delivered Wide Sargasso Sea to her publisher. Wide Sargasso Sea won the W.H. Smith Award and the Royal Society of Literature Award. After its release, Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Voyage in the Dark and Good Morning, Midnight were reissued. She received a CBE from the Queen. She finally stopped moving and put down secure roots. She summered in Exeter and wintered in London. “I do think writers have a tough time and nobody likes them either! Till they are dead.” Jean had died once and been resurrected. “Never disappoint your audience,” she once wrote. She died, for real this time, in Exeter on May 14th, 1979. With profound apologies and a deep curtsey to: Jean Rhys: Letters 1931– 1966 by Jean Rhys, ed. Francis Wyndham and Diana Melly; The Blue Hour: A Portrait of Jean Rhys by Lilian Pizzichini; and Smile Please by Jean Rhys. And a thank you to Elaine Monaghan, who first introduced me to the work and life of Jean Rhys, many moons ago.

39


Cheddar Letter by Jessica Johannesson Gaitán Greetings Getting used to her sliding down whims and answering unexpected mental phone calls has been easier than figuring out if she likes Marmite. Reason doesn’t seem to have any say with her, at least not loudly enough to stop her from touching you, if the only obstacle is the rumour of shyness. ‘Hey, future kid,’ I joke, my chocolate-covered fingers puncturing the air above my ears with quotation marks. ‘That kind of thing?’ ‘More or less,’ she says. ‘I’m sure you could come up with a better greeting, though. How about Dear Perfect Being? Or Dear Genetic Offspring? Dear Guilt?’ We’ve been on four dates. Five if you count the one which came to include the worst seizure I’ve had in years. She is the first person I can remember with whom I’ve left the house without informing them of this genetic inconvenience, my sub-dermal programming fault. The smell of epileptic sulfur came at me with a casual wave of her arm, just as we were entering the National Museum of Scotland. We were going to visit the giant stag in the main hall. She was talking about antlers and how they might be used as paddles if the museum was ever flooded, when I lost concentration to the floor. ‘I forgot,’ she says now, three weeks later, sitting on my own kitchen floor. ‘Forgot what?’ I ask. ‘No, that’s what you said before your eyes went all white. You said, “I forgot.”’ There are the physical quotation marks again, the rabbit’s ears, thrashing down sincerity with a broom. I’ve always disliked people who use them; it’s like they’re not responsible for what comes out of their mouth. They make me want to take hold of her wrists and hold them hostage until the bad habit is squeezed out, because for a second she is not beautiful and this makes me feel guilty. I didn’t forget; I had chosen not to tell her I was sick. That day I had to ask her to leave the hospital room so my mum and dad could come in, because they would only allow two visitors at a time. The next time I spoke to her I became the ugly one, ready to break it all off just 40


because of being met by a squeaky phone voice I couldn’t match up with her face. Ten seconds later she cleared her throat and that cough, a sorry excuse for a hamster sneezing, brought her back over the line, settling into a thin-lined beginning. How often does this happen?’ she asked. ‘I need to know so I can be prepared and not have you fall on me.’ So she was expecting to remain close enough to be fallen on. There is this bottle of Maltese wine. My parents brought the stuff back from their holidays and it tastes like something you would use to attract mosquitoes to a sweet, oleaginous death. I’ve made us a batch of chocolate biscuits and we wash the wine down with them. Then she decides it’s a good idea to have me cut her fringe. My hand in the mirror is watched: a test being administered on the edge of a blade. ‘Don’t do that,’ she says once to the quivering scissors. ‘You’re giving me too much symmetry.’ ‘You try it,’ I tell her and lower my shaved head to her neck. On my kitchen table there’s a calendar of forgotten words and expressions of the English language. I haven’t looked at it in months, and whilst I tip-toe over her fringe with a dusty comb, she starts flipping through all this neglected speech, never-used names for things we no longer know, reading out descriptions which hardly make them more meaningful. Today’s exhibit from the past: a Cheddar letter. ‘What if you’re lactose intolerant?’ ‘Cheddar used to be made from different dairy farms,’ she explains. ‘It’s one letter put together by different people.’ I think of a family sitting around a fire, each contributing their lonely versions of home to a son in college or at war, or – why not – dead for years. The idea makes me doubt true democracy. ‘Let’s write one,’ she says and takes her head away from the comb. I haven’t finished. We don’t know anyone we both know. This says something about her, the space she takes on my kitchen floor, and how quickly schedules have been rearranged, my time alone becoming a rare beast. ‘You’re right,’ she admits. ‘So let’s write one to our unborn child.’ I’ve just reached out for more wine and find myself taking repeated sips, until the glass is empty. ‘Cheesy,’ I say. ‘No,’ she sighs, reaching for another bottle. ‘Maltese.’

41


She says it’ll be fun, because us having a child together is just as likely as me having one with my neighbor, or her with her French teacher, an honest admirer of Sarkozy. ‘We would have beautiful babies, me and Guillaume.’ When I begin to imagine her with her French teacher it becomes imperative that I shake my head, the way one shakes a salt jar when damp has gotten into it. Revelations ‘Hey future kid, we are your potential parents. The things we know about each other may be summarised in four, never mutually exclusive, categories: The things we like about each other. The things we tolerate now, but will have to address at some later, always sad, stage. The things we can’t stand and won’t mention until it’s too late. The things we can’t tell you here because it will pollute your infant ears. By the way, Future Kid, we are not the kind of parents who will assume we’ve ruined you just by being us, and being yours. We think more highly of ourselves. Just look at the Maltese wine. Hey future kid.’ Now it’s my turn. She pushes the laptop over to me and crawls in under the kitchen table where I realise I’ve never been. I doubt there is much in there to write about, but she settles in a corner as if to watch the stars. I’m left with the continuation, expected to keep it afloat: ‘Your mother doesn’t do her washing until she’s got nothing but the pants with pink elephants, and even those she’ll wear twice. She doesn’t turn them inside out because she finds that disgusting. She wakes up every morning and meditates for an hour, then stretches and eats 80 grams of porridge oats with linseeds. This is something you learn quickly because she brings a bag of porridge oats with her when she stays in someone else’s house. One may suspect she will feed this to her kids. She loves mowing lawns so much she’ll pay for the privilege, instead of having the neighbors pay someone else. It turns her on when they watch her through the window. She has sweet-smelling arm pits. ‘You can’t write that,’ she says. 42


‘Why?’ ‘The poor kid will be grossed out.’ I delete what I’ve just begun to add about improvisational theatre. Our Gaps ‘Dear child of the underground (I don’t know why but I see myself giving birth in a cave, if such an alternative is at all available as part of the NHS), I have you to thank for never again thinking I should want to wear a bikini. Your father will have to wear them instead, in order for the bikini population in the world to be maintained and prosper. I will stop talking about myself. It’s not an attractive quality in any mother. Your dad, however, your father, your daddy, your old man: I could tell you he makes some wicked biscuits. I could describe them as butter, except they are what you put the butter on. They are everything with a little tea on the side. He told me it was the school-bus driver in third grade who taught him how to make them.’ At this point I join her under the table, because her fore- and middle fingers, the only ones she uses to type, have paused. I’m now quite keen to see what the next word will be, who this bus driver is, and how I came to inherit a terrible biscuit recipe which I can’t stop trying to make work. ‘It was on a day when his mum forgot to pick him up. The bus driver thought he was a smart boy, with a well-balanced world view for his age. This is not a compliment, Future Kid. People with symmetrical outlooks are afraid of sadness as well as of being too happy. I don’t wish a symmetrical outlook for you. Your Dad has the most asymmetrical mind I’ve ever met.’ I lean back towards the wall, checking myself for signs of insult. When I was seven we were paired up with pen pals in an orphanage in Bolivia. I was never able to figure out if I liked mine before the letters stopped arriving. He seemed like different people in each of them. Maybe he was. Maybe I was being shared. ‘Future kid. Dear non-molecular mollusk and seed of an idea: let’s say your mother will leave me soon after your fourth birthday. This will be nothing like a self-extinguishing candle, which is an image people sometimes use. She will leave, she will suddenly have left. She left, wearing a green 43


windbreaker and cold hands, because she’d just been peeling potatoes under running water. The skin doesn’t stick to them that way. You and I finished peeling them; then we played some X-box whilst they boiled, then ate them with butter and salt. That’s all, butter and salt, like all we knew to reach for were basic flavors and elements. It wasn’t symmetrical at all, not a well-balanced diet, but then we never were like that. We didn’t get to – were forced to – start off with leveled scales.’ I look at her face next to me leaning over the laptop screen. Her fingertips are searching for any small change in her fringe but there just hasn’t been enough time for erosion. I think that if this is what her nervousness looks like, I will never be fit to follow her excitements. ‘You finish it,’ I say. ‘Write something about us getting a dog and it getting run over.’ Replies ‘Let’s say he’s got this parrot, most likely it’ll be dead by the time you come around. Let’s say he taught it to say my name because he knew it would freak me out. Little did he know that I eat verbally gifted parrots for breakfast – or was it a canary? a budgie? - either way, the bird and I don’t get along. We will never like each other, we never spoke. Time is asymmetrical and so are greetings, like this letter. Things are never spread evenly and there is always resentment. There is always too much. The bird found my name so tiresome it preferred the ping of the microwave, so maybe it would have been better if I was called something entirely different. Let’s say I’m someone without a home, and that on his days off work your father likes to go to train stations with coffee in a leaking thermos. He does this, I think, because he’s afraid of over-staying his welcome, and in a place where nobody stays, you don’t have to worry about being unwanted. In Edinburgh, train stations also provide shelter from the horizontal rain. Let’s say that one day I was walking through Haymarket with a bag of rubbish I needed to throw away; a suitcase with my drawings and unpublished debate articles about British migration politics; or a backpack full of books with weed between their pages, wondering who I would smoke it with. I have never smoked in my life, and I am twenty-seven. Let’s say it was one of those tartan suitcases you see in the souvenir shops on the High Street, in it all the pictures I had taken of places I wanted to see, and 44


that I sat down next to him. I could smell the instant coffee reeking from his corduroy trousers where he’d spilled some, and I knew I wouldn’t start drinking coffee because of this, but I thought I understood somewhat better why people like it, need it, even. ‘I’m sorry but I can’t offer you any,’ he said. ‘There’s very little of it and also, it doesn’t taste very good. I think it might make you sick.’ ‘I wasn’t asking for any,’ I said. Let’s say I was selling magazines. That was my purpose that day, to sell snippets of simultaneous tragedy in between arrivals. Your future father took one, was about to open it but looked at me first as if asking permission. Then his head jerked backwards and he started shaking like the lid on a boiling pot, there on the bench in Haymarket station, his eyes retiring in their sockets, leaving the rest to me. By the time he’d slid off the bench but before he hit the ground, I already knew how to handle it.’ I’d like to think that there are still one or two people for every one of the forgotten words in my calendar. Hiding in the far corners of the English language, these voices tip the odd words into their everyday speech, like secret condiments nobody really knows how to use properly. Someone says they ‘give a goose’ when they hiss; another calls those whom they despise ‘shamocrats’. I don’t want any of them to be made up, which is pretty much what it amounts to, when they are no longer more than a story. After she’s stopped typing, her face continues to be lit up by the screen of my laptop. She stretches her legs and burps loudly. ‘I like the way you lie,’ I say, getting ready to leave the floor. ‘If that’s as bad as it gets, I still prefer it to the way some people tell the truth.’

45


And Back Again by Eley Williams Now: a porch, the back-damp luggage that I had brought and, waiting for the hotel to open, a different flavour of sunlight on my skin. Then: you had asked an easy question about love and a song lyric had entered my head. ‘This much,’ had been my initial response and I had extended my arms as far as they would go, which could never be enough, but let the record show it was roughly five foot seven inches and that you had not looked impressed. I was embarrassed that I had attempted measurement and turned my head back to my laptop screen: of course there could be no quantifying it; you were looking for rhetoric not wingspans; there are only things you can do for it or give up for it, not units; deeds, quests, behests, not measurements. That is when the song had slipped into my head and I knew what I had to do. Reaching for you gingerly as I am no good at hugs, holding out a hand to your shoulders as if you were a house of cards or something snappable beneath water, I told you I thought I could prove my quality, if not love’s quantity, in a way the world would recognise. And so to this strange porch in the African sunshine. I had thought my idea was original but when I arrived I found Timbuktu’s one hotel had a room made up specifically for people arriving on missions identical to my own. Each of us thinks we’re being highly novel in our undertaking: West End musicals influencing the West African tourist industry one chorus lyric at a time, but the hotel gets about three of us a month, apparently, all looking equally lovelorn and with similar cheap straw hats. I even found a commemorative poster of the original 1960 Oliver! Broadway cast tacked to the wardrobe door in the room I was led to. The receptionist looked up from his crossword with complete disinterest when I asked whether he could take a photo of me with a map of the city to send on to you as evidence that I was here. I posed with two thumbs up. The last Oliver! pilgrim had left a battered copy of Camus behind on the bedspread. The book looked untouched: spotless, a prop. I’m clumsy and within a week I had broken its spine and dropped it in the bath. The hotel had provided a cassette with the song on it.

46


I’ll do anything, For you, dear, anything On my first evening I ate the foamy shrimp Pick’n’Mix that I’d bought at the airport and watched the street beneath my window. The evening sky was growing purple at the edges and before long rain began hitting the windowsill. I watched huge raindrops make coronets in the dirt before the whole road below was smoothed into bright red water. Timbuktu, cockatoo, tickety-boo: the city’s name is a word that charms and comes bubbly and saffron-scented against the tongue. I sing the all-important line to myself and go to bed. I know that I’ll go anywhere, For your smile, anywhere, For your smile’s everywhere I see. After a week in the hotel, insects have eaten a hole in my straw hat and pressed their little librarian-stamp deposits on the copy of Camus, by which I mean, with no poetic extension, that the insects have shat in my predecessor’s book; when I switch on the light at midnight, I can hear them scuttling away from me then plinkety-plinkety shh as they scoot down the sink plug-hole. You would know how to calm me down but given I am alone I cannot sleep knowing they’re there. The overhead fan slices the air into swallowable rashers and the world is divided into a million squares through the grille of my mosquito net. Timbucktootle: the sound of the craze-plumed starlings outside. I’m at my window a lot of the time and the starlings all regard me with cocked heads. Each day that I have been here a truck advertising La Vache Qui Rit cheese has drawn up at first light and the driver jumps out wearing a turquoise t-shirt. He looks at the La Vache on the truck and gives her a familiar pat on the ear. I spot him that evening in the hotel bar and he tells me his shirt is a Chelsea away strip, specifying the years 2005–2006 very gravely. He asks whether I’m from England, then whether I’ve ever been to Stamford Bridge. He looks disappointed by my second answer and asks me why I’ve travelled here. He laughs for five minutes straight when I tell him but says to me he approves of painting my face bright blue. We have another drink and he smokes clove-scented cigarettes, and when the last of our bottles’ froth has been flicked from the table he offers me a lift into the 47


city tomorrow in his truck. He watches as I hesitate on the porch outside, considering. A corsair moon is doing scimitar practice above us and the stars are anvil sparks. It had been market day during daylight hours; I’d watched it all going on below my room. There had been fourteen-hundred different coloured fabrics and the city’s chewy and lyric language had risen to my window in haggles with accompanying shrugs and outspread, counting fingers. The most beautiful girl in the world had carried twenty white chickens by their feet over her shoulder past my building. I had shouted down to one trader to ask if he had any bottle-openers as I had broken the one supplied for the mini-bar; he had thrown me a penknife and I aimed my cash at his head. The knife had a picture of a vulture on it, and I used it now to beckon my new friend back indoors to open another final beer for him. Market day meant the whole hotel lobby smelled of roasted goat and the atomised clay of the road. Would you climb a hill? Anything! Wear a daffodil? Anything! Leave me all your will? Anything! Even fight my Bill? What? Fisticuffs? I’d risk everything for one kiss; everything; Yes, I’d do anything– The last time I had seen you, as I had said goodbye I had knelt down and tied your shoe. You had made me straighten and had said, not laughingly, that I didn’t have to prove anything let alone in a way that was based on lines from a musical, and when I had said that I disagreed you had – quite correctly – pointed out that tying a shoe as I had just done didn’t really count because I had also untied it first to make the action possible, and also that the shoes in question were fastened with Velcro. This was an unideal beginning but by then I’d made my mind up. Would you lace my shoe? Anything! Paint your face bright blue? Anything! Catch a kangaroo? 48


Anything! Go to Timbuktu? Over our beers, the Timbuktu Chelsea fan told me I was crazy and said that you wouldn’t care if I didn’t follow my plan to show my mettle. How will you catch a kangaroo anyway?, he asked, and laughed again. He has a point. He said he would take me out to see the city and would act as my guide. I could swim in a bottomless pool, fringed by pearl-white rocks. There was a saint’s relic housed in a silver book not five minutes from the hotel door, he said, and a museum that held an emerald as thick as a horse’s neck. I could realise that I was in a warzone. He knew a café where they made a drink so fizzy it would make you hiccup for a week, and in the basement – if you knew the right secret knock – there were men in suits betting money on gecko races; he said he could show me how to tell a mirage from an oasis, and that I could toss a coin down a local well that was haunted by a shaman’s strangled daughter. The receptionist shouted over to our table that the Oliver! pilgrims were never interested in seeing the city. I looked at my feet and my new friend despaired, but the next night he brought his thumb-piano to the bar to cheer me up: it took me a while, but I managed to twang out a passable version of the Oliver! song by closing-time. The coffee here is sweet and black and poured into tiny glasses. At night I wrestle mosquitoes the size of bulldogs; they fry audibly on the streetlamps outside. I have broken the cassette by playing it too much. I’m at the window again and thinking about the Chelsea shirt, the foamy shrimp and La Vache Qui Rit. They help ground me, which is good, because the idea of the city beyond them invites flighty hyperbole, paroxysms of exoticism and something unpolluted which is not what I had wanted from my trip. I’ve scoured the hotel for distractions: there’s an English dictionary, a copy of The Birds of Africa and a French Bible in the lobby to add to the Camus. The bird book says that vultures are scavengers, churlish and bald with pulled-down mouths, but also that they will not eat the dead of their own species. There is a certain nobility in recognising one’s own flesh as tasteless; this might be Camus rubbing off on me, however. The word Timbuktu comes just before time in the dictionary. Back home, when I was booking the flight tickets, the word TIMBUKTU had the rhythm of a squirrel-hop or a newly boiled kettle clicking itself off. It has just the right mix of spiked and undulating letters to imply travel: the verticals of boat 49


masts riding easy waves, railway tracks lying between banking hillsides. If you were here perhaps I’d be able to leave the hotel. I dream about you visiting on my last night, and of us hitting the town, outlandishly: neither of us would sunburn and our hair and clothes would stay dry and smell of tamarind; I’d hy perbole for you, here in the desert: we’d gather ostrich feathers, roll down dunes, feel the sun through our eyelids and kick sand into the stars; we’d weave mosquito nets from camels’ eyelashes and acacia flowers to pass our roast-goat evenings. But you’re back home, and I came here alone as a silly gesture to drink beer in the corner of my room and feed my hat to insects. Timbuktutored, the receptionist says, who has seen this all before. Timbuktoo little Timbuktoo late, he adds, and returns to his crossword. I’d do anything For you, dear, anything; Yes, I’d do anything [Anything?] anything for you but leave this hotel room and face the city itself, and on the morning of my flight I’m woken by the starlings who are shouting down the dawn.

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Winter Finches by Keith Taylor Christine chooses not to cut back the stalks of our corn flowers until Spring, so the finches can pull apart seeds all winter long. They don’t seem to appreciate that, or the millet and thistle seeds, the sunflower hearts and shelled peanuts we buy for them. The gratitude’s ours when they descend every other day, forty or fifty strong, a flurry of light around the feeders.

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Plywood by Anton Rose I have hardly seen my father since it began. When he first moved in, I gave him his granddaughter’s old room, which had been vacant since she finished university and moved away. After a few weeks, I began to worry that he didn’t have enough space to himself, so I offered him my study, which I hardly use these days. I suggested he could turn it into his own separate living room, get some of his old furniture out of storage. He nodded, and I knew immediately that he already had another idea. I know that nod well. It is the nod he used to give my mother to placate her demands, an absentminded gesture to avoid further questions. The next day, I woke up in the morning to the sound of his car reversing out of the drive. He returned a few hours later, the boot and the back seats piled up with cardboard boxes. He began to carry them inside, one by one, and he refused my help when I offered it. Once the boxes were inside the house, he carried them up to the study, where he stayed for the rest of the day. The next day followed the same pattern. He left in the morning, came home with cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and sheets of plywood, took them into the study, and stayed there until it was time for bed, only emerging at mealtimes, or to use the toilet. It has been three days now. I look at the clock, and it is half past eight. He has been in there since lunch. I fix up a cheese sandwich and a cup of tea, milk no sugar. I place the plate and mug on a tray, and take it upstairs. When I knock on the door, there is no answer. I knock again, grab the handle of the door, and open it, balancing the tray between my other hand and the doorframe. The door is partially blocked, but it opens just enough so that I can squeeze through the gap. The room is almost unrecognisable. My desk is gone from the corner, and the bookcases are nowhere to be seen. ‘You’re just in time,’ my father says, without looking up. The room has been emptied to make room for a new installation. The floor space is taken up with a doughnut-shaped construction of tables and frames supporting plywood, which in turn supports the train tracks. He has been busy. There is a small workstation in the corner, covered in paint-splashed newspaper. At the back is a row of little pots. Lines of colour dribble out from beneath their lids. Each one is marked by a name and a number: 52


Sandy Yellow 36116, Fern Green 36360. I rest the tray on the edge, atop the newspaper, and turn to my father. He is standing in the space in the middle of the ring, wearing half a smile. He gestures for me to join him. I crouch down underneath the plywood, feeling the strain in my knees. When I stand up by his side, he does not say anything. I turn in a slow full circle, taking in the panorama he has created. There are lines of trees, thick brown boughs with different greens colouring their leaves. Grassy fields with a crowd of sheep, each individual leg painted black, with a textured white on their backs. The sheep are held in their field by a row of hedges, and a rust-coloured fence. On the other side is a gravelly gap, and then the train track. My eyes follow the curve of the track, as it continues on its way past the fields, through a signal crossing, and alongside a farm, complete with barns, paddocks, a stone well, and a farmhouse. The farmer’s wife stands just outside the door, her right hand held permanently in a wave. Her apron is red and blue. My father is bent over another section, holding a train. He places it carefully, making sure that the grooves in the wheels are lined up perfectly with the track. He steps back, and I inspect it, being careful not to touch. It is a passenger train, with two carriages held together by clasps. The driver leans out of the window of the engine, his miniature elbow resting against the side of the train. Now my father is crouched down on the floor, checking all the wiring. I suspect this might not be the first time he has done so, making sure that everything leads where it is supposed to. Standing up again, he picks up the controller, which looks simple enough to operate. He holds it toward me as an offering. I shake my head. I do not want to be held responsible if it doesn’t work. After a pause, he flicks a switch and pushes the lever forwards. The train stirs into life, gaining purchase on the track and accelerating until it reaches a steady speed. Together, we watch it wind its way around the circuit; our necks and then our feet rotate in unison. I don’t look, but I can tell he is smiling. ‘You’ve done a good job here,’ I say. I place my hand feebly on his shoulder, and then let it drop back down to my side. The train pulls into the station. A row of little figurines wait on the platform, holding bright red suitcases. We pause in silence for half a minute, until my father blows his whistle, and the train resumes its journey. ‘Your mother never liked me spending time on this stuff,’ he says. ‘No,’ I reply, and it is the only word I have. 53


Migratory Pull by John Sibley Williams 1.

When the birds return us to the dialect of bird, which had for a time become snow and as distant, the question becomes how we’ll relearn to pronounce them, how the silhouette of what we love becomes in absence what we love.

2.

Everything here comes to us crossed out, as quixotic expectation, my hand over yours named bridge. And so when we fall unlike iron into flesh. And so when our branches are no longer more than arms. And so when the stars draw us further from their heavens we are no further from the bridge, still no closer to our hands.

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3.

If I stumble on a stone but instead speak sky, from which will I fall, as which will I return?

4.

There’s no wasted silence in the conversation of roots— helixed, intangible, beneath each broken step away from my father as our crooked roads converge, toward the meaning of bark to a barren, timbered slope, as absurdity creeps into our attempted migrations and into our remaining here conversing ourselves into meaning.

5.

It is to this degree I fear the landscape

will negate us.

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En Algún Lugar by Jordi Doce Vives en una ciudad donde el trazado de las callejas se parece peligrosamente al de tu corazón. Una ciudad donde las manchas y desconchones de los muros son ventanas que siguen tus pasos, puertas que nadie se atreve a franquear. Donde la ropa tendida propaga mensajes cifrados y los ojos vidriosos de los peces intercambian miradas de reconocimiento con las monedas de cobre de los criados. Una ciudad de torres y alminares que cambian cada día de lugar, de alfombras que vuelan por dentro de los ojos, de lámparas que esconden su propia luz. Una ciudad donde al atardecer grupos de muchachos y ancianos se reúnen en lo alto de las murallas para mirar la explanada del río, el lingote fundido del sol iluminando la vega, las espigas que vibran al más ligero soplo.

Somewhere translated from the Spanish by Lawrence Schimel You live in a city where the map of the side streets dangerously resembles that of your heart. A city where the stains and chips in the walls are windows that follow your steps, doors that no one dares to enter. Where the hung laundry sends coded messages and the glassy eyes of fish exchange glances of recognition with the copper coins of the servants. A city of towers and minarets that change location every day, of carpets that fly inside one’s eyes, of lamps that hide their own light. A city where at nightfall groups of young and old men gather atop the walls to look over the flood plain, the melted nugget of the sun illuminating the fertile land, cornstalks trembling at the slightest breath.

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Rooms by Mark Mazzoli “There’s a room inside this room, and its you,” he said— and I realized it was true No doors or windows in this place just two little holes that let the light through No one thinks of distance when they look at the light how far it’s traveled Instead chanting “Is this all there is?” Is this all there is? there must be a little more somewhere tangled up in the sunlight Something to see this game of being through I remember craving newer, better, bigger rooms Now the spaces silence me little boxes that are constantly spilling, constantly refilling While you’re constantly running (is this all there is, is this all there is) the rooms you carry (and that carry you) must grow smaller until your house, though it is always full of something, holds barely any light at all

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This Bull is a Bull by Jen Calleja Nazi officers would visit Pablo Picasso’s studio in Paris to intimidate him. On seeing a photograph of Picasso’s painting Guernica at the studio, one of the officers asked him ‘Did you paint that?’ to which Picasso replied ‘No. You did.’ ‘The correct answer should have been yes [elongated ouiii], but that moment has now passed. You should take responsibility for it if you are trying to insult me.’ Later that year, our man’s arm itched at the crook, and in the nameless place between crook and the wilted bulge of his bicep. How roughly the compliments – formed within the Scotch-steam of night’s drawingroom rehearsal – were filed away in a past where Picasso and he still had a chance to become friends in a future that didn’t exist even on the edges of the imagination. He shuffled his lips. His eyes’ stickiness wouldn’t clear till mid-morning. The seat was hard, the light was everywhere. Two fingertips smudged a perfect flake of pastry on the dish’s lip. The espresso went down sharply with a grimace that lasted all of a short second. How inoffensively he read the newspaper. He got up with ease, tipped, moved through the café, moved through the street. How adorably he sneezed among the Blumen outside le fleuriste. He wasn’t a particularly charming man, but then he never even tried to give that impression; not through the way he greeted the native ladies, nor through the way he would request envelopes and stamps at le tabac. Even if he were to smile decisively or show special fervour for his position, one still would not think of him as being able to carry any power from who he was alone. He wasn’t wearing the uniform or the overcoat, he could have forgotten, he could have made a conscious decision. He liked wearing woollen pyjamas best of all. His wife obviously didn’t find him repulsive; she’d had five children with him. Was she, in fact, the repulsive one? Were his five children foul, deluded creatures who, for some reason, behaved as if they were pure? What did purity look like? That painting made him feel ill with a violence he had never experienced. The horse cricking its neck in a cry to the heavens, the bull, blood everywhere. Even the animals are suffering, his assisting officer had said in passing. Could he make lines run from the dots in the aerial shots he had seen of Guernica with this fitful procession? This is the aftermath though, he thought, and 58


when had he ever seen a photograph of an aftermath months afterwards? Only while a curtain of flames brews still, or the dust is restlessly in mourning above the city. Pablo tapped his pipe twice on his hand, suck-suck. He imagined himself a vase holding dead flowers. What will tomorrow’s purchase fill me with, he pondered: lilies, sunflowers, tadpoles, red wine, pearls, seeds. Maybe I am standing in a town square and instead of walking every day as if automatically directed, I observe the entrances to streets that go in every direction, and I fail to choose them. Do I choose not to choose them? Is this familiar route my very being? I could paint a landscape, but I would notice it was on fire if I looked too closely at it. I could paint a portrait, but I would want to paint each part of the face on a different canvas. Perhaps I would paint it on a series of doors in a house. People ask me all the time, they ask me to pretend that everything is alright. I have to create what I see. That is a choice I suppose, though it doesn’t seem like one. I could tip up on the floor, and I do regularly, spilling the day away when too much vinegar is poured into the water meant for the flowers. There are so few colours in the world. They are limiting me. Have I lost control over something I never truly held any sway over? I have a Nazi writing me eloquent letters, and I am having vulgar imaginings where this Nazi is a man and I can have a conversation with him. I hear him singing songs to me in the street, though he is not really there. I saw pain in the placid stare of a horse. The officer (he is called Tilman, or Til) walked with his hands behind his back and marched himself to a gallery. A painting can only show you its real face, and its expression cannot be misinterpreted without revealing that agenda in the lining of your pores. A painting won’t kiss your ass and curtsey. He walked about the gallery and felt the weight of all the work on his shoulders, leaning against his back, tied around his feet. He thought of how to express the feelings it gave him without them automatically being his typical feelings of assent and agreement. Jawohl. How was it he could pass so close to these pieces of art? He tested that attendant by barging a breath away from a sculpture. The boy remained motionless. He clawed a hand around a selected picture frame and swung the painting off the wall like he was slamming a door. It twisted slightly, the paint would have probably cracked or the canvas would be bent. He put it out with a few hard scrapes of his boot. His hands were free, but he began flailing them, he caught his own face a few times, he beat his chest across an old wound that had gone black along the stitch line. He was plummeting down a cliff-face, that excruciating, alarming place where you realise you don’t understand 59


yourself and that it is only others who understand you, and who are worthy to judge you. He had brought a slim volume of poetry by Frappier Bonheur, a knowing signal of sameness. Picasso was standing in the doorway smoking a cigarette. Til was confused as to why he hadn’t found them a table, but then he saw Pablo’s pinched mouth. ‘I am an art-appreciator,’ was his greeting. The phrase fell upon the poetry, he flung it up and onwards when he gestured hopefully with the book. ‘I don’t believe at all that that is what you are.’ ‘Picasso!’ ‘You’re not able to know how much I loathe you, but I will allow you no compassion for that, even if it is not wholly your fault. I don’t blame you for being you. I definitely blame you for taking yourself to this extreme.’ And he left. One can’t really leave something one never really agreed to be part of. That’s what I would say.

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The Lighthouse Keeper to his Daughter by Roisín O’Donnell after Psalm 91 You swept into the palliative care unit with Lucozade and grapes. Your soft accent lulled the silent ward with the rhythms of the sea. You binned the dead chrysanthemums and you cleaned my false-teeth. You unfolded my abandoned post into a fortress of well-wishes. You slept upright with your winter coat wrapped around your shoulders like wings. Your face never faltered when needles slid their teeth under my skin, when bedsores oozed, or my vomit spewed. When the clip of nurseheels and hurried voices heralded death on either side, you guarded the flimsy bed-curtains, shielding me from fear. You stared through the tunnel of my pain and you never grimaced. Your young eyes were relentless as Atlantic storms. Your stories soothed, while waves of morphine drained into my bloodstream. In my last dreams, your open palm was the bed in which I lay. You said because you loved me, we would sail out together. We would swim out into this tide, And you would be here with me.

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Рода у Снегу by Ana Ristovic Пре недељу дана у пољу крај реке видео си роду стајала је тамо, у снегу, под крошњом дивље јабуке, сасвим мирна Партнер јој умро, а она није одлетела на југ смрзавала се тамо и само је мрдала кљуном у простору неког шибљика твог детињства А ја се питам шта би било када би изненада неколико рода тамо са југа променило правац свог лета помешавши стране света и када би се вратиле тој једној, самотној, поблесавелој која више не разликује снег од свог перја и сада гура кљун под корицу леда танким слојем пахуља прекривену Да ли би онда и свет променио правац да ли би њиме потекле саме пролећне воде да ли би можда небом летеле саме бебе неношене истим тим родама којима је било речено да морају некуда једном годишње отпутују и да тамо увек треба да носе врхове крила умочена у мастило, баш због тих страница Или би једно детињство и даље лежало у дубоком снегу и чекало да му се врати прво слово лепше написано

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Stork in the Snow translated from the Serbian by Steven and Maja Teref In a field by a river a white stork stands in the snow under an apple tree, quite still Her mate died, and she hasn’t flown south she’s freezing and only clatters her bill in the brush of your childhood What would happen if a few storks migrating south reversed their flight confusing the four cardinal points and returned to the lonely crazed stork unable to tell the snow from its feathers plunging its bill through thin snow covered ice Would then the world reverse its spin would spring waters still flow would babies fly uncarried by those same storks migrating annually their wings dipped in ink for those pages Or would another childhood lie buried in the deep snow and wait for its first letter to return more beautifully conceived

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Discante by Jorge Ortega He entrado al laberinto y he salido de él herido de incredulidad. Mojé los oídos en rumorosas fuentes que se dejaban escuchar desde muy lejos y refresqué los ojos en el aura de barnices jamás vistos, errando en poner nombre a lo que no lo tenía. La exactitud de ciertos tonos me ha redescubierto los innatos conjuros de la pigmentación. El trazo de los planos y las formas —ángulos, volutas, líneas rectas de altura ciclópea— depuso en la pupila su aguja de mica deslumbrante. La caída del agua me confió en una esquina rosada el álgebra de su música oculta, su esbelta cabellera de plateados y fugaces logaritmos. He venido sin cámara al país de yo-estuve-aquí, pero ni la palabra sirve de espuela para retener la permanencia del instante. Es el intraducible palimpsesto de lo que se percibe, la ociosidad de la glosa, ese no lenguaje que implica quedarse el testimonio o reservarse el derecho a declarar; la insuficiencia del grabado, la inutilidad del vocabulario que corre en vano hacia el destello del peplo de una ninfa en jardines más bellos que lo imaginado. Crucé el arco de entrada bajo mi propio riesgo y he regresado sumido en el largo silencio de los desahuciados.

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Treble Translated from the Spanish by Anthony Seidman I have entered the labyrinth and I have exited thence, wounded by skepticism. I moistened my ears with gurgling springs that let themselves be listened to from great distances, and I refreshed my eyes with the aura of unseen glazes, and I erred by naming things which were nameless. From the exactitude of certain pitches, I have rediscovered the innate conjurations of pigmentation. The tracery of maps and forms—angles, volutes, straight lines of Cyclopean heights—disposed their pointer of dazzling mica in my pupil. In a pink corner, the waterfall confided in me, its algebra of occult music, its graceful tresses of silvery and fleeting logarithms. Without a camera, I have arrived at the country of I-WasHere, yet not even language can click and capture the instant forever. It’s the untranslatable palimpsest of what is perceived, the laziness of the footnote, that un-language implying access to the case and to reserving one’s rights to testify; the insufficiency of an etching, the uselessness of the vocabulary that runs in vain towards the sparkling peplos of a nymph in gardens more beautiful than what was imagined. Taking my own risk, I crossed the entryway’s arch, and I have returned, bogged in the boundless silence of the disconsolate.

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Behold by Megan Palmer Her toes were the first to go. I could see them perfectly well – everyone could, except her. But the fact that we could see them was little comfort to her, with her peculiar blindness. We thought that she needed glasses – what a shame it is for such a young girl to need them already. Pretty, too. The optician denied us that comfort: nothing wrong with the eyes. Perfect vision. The teachers supposed it was a coquettish ploy for attention, that my reserved little girl privately craved gawping spectators. I tried to explain that she was frightened by the attention it caused. Deluded mother, they thought. I lavished her with attention, hoping that it would help: I circled around her, my eyes always on her, developing a sixth sense for her every movement. I came to believe her, in a way. The tears and terror were real enough to me. She cried when she bathed. We had to make sure that we filled the bath with foaming bubbles so that she wouldn’t be afraid of her missing feet. The frothy lightness veiled her truth from her, at least for a brief evening respite. ‘I can see them in my socks, Mummy!’ she would exclaim joyfully as I dressed her, wriggling her toes wildly. She was thrilled by the sight of their movement, proof that she was not disappearing altogether. She became increasingly uncertain on her feet when she walked, feeling herself to be hovering precariously even when she could see her shoes. I held her hand as often as she would let me, but even frightened children will fight for sovereignty. Doesn’t every child want to be a grown up? Those nightly baths became my most cherished time with her, when she felt safe under the blanket of bubbles and I told her stories about princesses, monsters and fairy godmothers. But for the most part our home was filled with sorrow at our child’s mysterious affliction. We all became expert at averting our eyes, fixing our gaze on some harmless point in the distance. It came to be part of our everyday lives, even in her games – as we played she would show me her rising level of invisibility on the smooth plastic bodies of her dolls. All the while, her vanishing seeped upwards, stealthily, over time. Some people mark head-height lines on a wall as their child grows taller, proudly recording their ascent in centimetres and inches. Once she lost her ankles we too began to mark the wall, but with her vanishing instead. It wasn’t long before she couldn’t see anything below her knees. And 66


then, one beautiful spring day, she saw her knees for the last time. She came running into the kitchen, crying, and pointed at her knees. I thought she had just scraped them as children so often do. But she hadn’t knocked them, she’d lost them entirely. Oh, she could feel them, alright – from the time her shins disappeared she had to wear leggings no matter what the weather so she could take better care not to stub a toe or graze her knee. As her legs gradually, inevitably, diminished from her sight, I asked her what she could see. She stood awkwardly, like a fawn, peering at her gangly legs beneath her. ‘Nothing, Mummy,’ she replied. ‘Just the other side of the room.’ She had to endure the additional revulsion of being powerless to control what we could see of her.You could see the frustration simmering, her mouth would purse with annoyance and she’d become fidgety. She couldn’t avoid drawing attention to herself: she moved with such uncertainty, always tip-toeing, like someone climbing steps in the dark who doesn’t know where the staircase ends. It made her nervous and withdrawn, until she hated leaving the house at all, preferring the certainty of her solitude. Eventually we took her out of school and taught her at home – she hadn’t made any friends anyway. We took photographs of her, of course – what parent doesn’t? I took as many as she would allow, capturing her as best I could, from close-ups of her delicate toes to long shots of her posing awkwardly in front of the lens. I showed her the prints. At first she was curious, like a captive animal that approaches a child’s hand flattened against its glass enclosure. She stroked the glossy paper, brought her face as close as she could to the image. For a moment I thought I had cracked it. I showed her another and another, exhilarated by her curiosity. I reached a photo of us standing side by side at the beach, in just our swimsuits and our resemblance particularly striking, like unpacked Russian dolls. When she saw the image she howled and threw the photograph from my hands. I don’t know what she saw in that image, but from then onwards she refused to pose for the camera unless she was fully dressed, and even those times were strained – I have no pictures of her smiling at all. She never swam again. She lost her hands on her eleventh Christmas. The day had started well and she merrily tore away the wrapping paper from her gifts. But by the time we had picked the turkey clean she couldn’t see her hand as she reached out for the Christmas cracker I offered towards her. I could see her wide eyes staring at her outstretched arm as though hypnotised and I knew that she had lost another part of herself. I watched in mute horror as her fingers failed to make contact with the cracker, instead grasping around its sides. Eventually she got it, but by then it just slipped from my hand 67


without any resistance. We had snow that winter. I took her to the park and watched as she leapt about in the pristine snow. Unless it was very cold or hot she struggled to tell where her skin began: she needed to feel the impact of temperature or contact to know for certain that she was really there. She liked cold, bracing winter days best, when the wind is like an ice-cube held against the skin; then she knew where her borders lay. As she threw herself into that chilly blanket of snow she left bodily imprints: proof of herself. I tried to stop her removing her gloves in case she caught a cold, but no entreaty or threat would stop her from her experiments. It must have seemed magical to her: those little lines her fingers drew on the white canvas must have seemed to appear from nowhere. She made chains of hand and foot prints, laughing wildly at the sight of them. ‘Mummy, it’s me, it’s me!’ she cried as she ran off into the bleak distance. I don’t know why we waited so long before we sought more help. Perhaps it was the shame of admitting that I couldn’t control it – what sort of mother lets her daughter disappear? Perhaps we thought that it would stop of its own accord. After all, we could see her perfectly well; sometimes we would forget that she couldn’t see herself too. But by the time she was twelve she told us that her neck had faded right up to her chin. Her vanishing was poised to conquer the last defences of her identity. As each month went by, her face and hair fading from her view, I often heard her crying at night. I would try my best to comfort her in the dark – describing her features to her, saying how her fine hair was growing longer, how her milky skin had begun to freckle in the summer sun. I would find ways of describing her eyes so that she would want to continue seeing them, just in case she might discover a way to allow her eyes to penetrate the mirror. Blue like the sky, the sea, like sapphires, like all the treasures imaginable.Yet I could barely look at those swimming eyes with their weary tears. One night, though, her terror turned into angry despair. I woke in the dead of night to a terrible commotion – the sound of thudding, overturned furniture, and a ferocious wailing. By the time I reached her, her face was scorched with raw red lines where she had clawed at herself, tearing at the skin that refused to show itself to her. Perhaps it was sleepless exhaustion, or just that I had reached the end of my patience, I don’t know. A furious rage took hold of me. I grabbed her shoulders, enveloped her small body in my arms, and dragged her to the bathroom mirror. I forced her crimson face to the reflective surface and harsh strip lighting. ‘What can you see?’ I cried, sobbing and frantic. She shuddered from weeping and gasped for air. ‘What can you see?’ I screamed. 68


‘Nothing,’ she cried, straining against my arms. ‘I can only see you.’ Each doctor we consulted was just as baffled by this pretty, pale creature who could not see herself. She was passed from department to department, without success. She took peculiar tests to establish whether she didn’t see her body because she didn’t want to see it. They asked her personal questions: was she pretty? What would she like to look like? They got her to lie on the floor while I drew around the edges of her body. I held the pen close enough against her that she could feel the pen travel around her contours, so then she could see that she did have a normal body. The experiment was not a success: she accepted that her limbs were there, but that was not the issue. She could not see them. To her, that line drawing of her body was no more than a theoretical drawing, a concept that she could comprehend but that she had no way of actually seeing. The tests were all inconclusive. The doctors said they wanted to help her but sometimes it seemed that they were more interested in immortalising their names through her odd affliction – they saw their eminence in her invisibility. They finally agreed that it made very little difference whether she had the physiological ability to see herself or not. It was obvious that something in her mind was unable, or refused, to see what everyone else could clearly see. They likened her to a shell-shocked soldier who cannot speak – not because his vocal chords are physically damaged, but from some deep emotional damage that renders him silent. ‘Look at her,’ our consultant said. ‘Your child cannot go on like this.’ I was with a group of specialists in a grey consultation room where she had been made to sit facing a large mirror. We all watched as she shifted uncomfortably, our gaze forcing her to keep her eyes on the mirror’s cold polish. Her eyes seemed to search for something to fix upon. She gave an awkward twitch, shuffled nervously and turned those wide eyes in my direction – silently pleading. One doctor made a radical proposal. Why don’t we make her a mask so that she can see at least some semblance of a face? He argued that her unhappiness at not being able to see anything in the mirror was resulting in undue stress for her, that we could at least enable her to see what everyone else could see. I desperately wanted her to feel happy, to feel normal – but I couldn’t believe that such a solution could make my daughter better. ‘But she’ll look like a freak if she goes around wearing a mask!’ I insisted. ‘I don’t want my daughter to grow up wearing a mask.’ But they discussed it at length, the psychiatrist talked about image, about self-perception. The doctors nodded sagely, my husband looked at me, searchingly. Our daughter had retreated from the mirror and now sat curled in a ball on the floor, 69


staring at the nothingness in front of her. ‘At least give it a try,’ they implored. I watched her as she looked up at me. She had heard their entreaties and gave me a small nod of compliance. I gave in. They cast her mask in a state-of-the-art modelling machine, moulding it with lasers to fit perfectly the contours of her face. It was the colour of dull canteen plates, that off-white matte plastic. We had spent so much time in hospitals, I’d seen the way the plastic develops thin grey strain fractures as it creaks and warps with the passage of time – like the fine lines fanning from my eyes. Someone had tried to decorate it, to give it a so-called lifelike appearance. The effect was ghoulish: too-bright pink lips painted under the contour for the nose, and a serene brow had been daubed on, too dark for her fair hair. It lay on a medical trolley, a grotesque Venetian mask lying on stainless steel, which they wheeled into the room where she sat staring forlornly out of the window. The winter sky was already starting to darken and her reflection was beginning to show in the large window. She angled her gaze carefully away, skilled with a lifetime’s practice. I felt the mask’s empty eye sockets seeming to fix on me as soon as the doctor wheeled it in. ‘Here you are, young lady!’ he announced, ‘your very own face that you will be able to see, just like everyone else.’ I watched as she examined the mask, her expression filled with awe and revulsion in equal measure. Her hand reached tentatively and took it from the trolley. ‘It feels so thick,’ she commented quietly, measuring its weight with her hands. ‘The plastic is quite lightweight, you’ll barely notice it once it’s in place,’ he assured her as he took it from her and held it against her face. She flinched, but he had already reached confidently over her head, setting the elastic band tight against her unfastened hair. She stood rigid, but submissively allowing him to fasten the bands around her crown. Finally he moved so I could see her face. A blank bleached face stared back at me, the wearer’s cobalt eyes shadowed beyond sight by its thick plastic. I felt my own face set rigid as I tried to control my horror and sadness. My throat was so tight I could barely breathe. For a brief moment I thought I saw something in her react to my expression. Sometimes I forget that she can see other people’s faces. I felt her hand clumsily reach for mine. ‘I’m happy now, Mummy,’ her frail voice assured me from behind that ghost-like face. I tried my best to summon a sincere smile for that monstrous mask, tightening my grip on her hand. ‘I’m happy if you’re happy,’ I whispered, trying to hold back my rising tears. Behind her mask, I think she smiled. 70


Tonight There Is No Friend by Timothy Liu Days when you were here were never enough, a fireplace full of ash needing to be emptied out. Torn from rusted staples, silverage comic books balled-up into tinder. Only green flames licking hardwood edges linger on in memory with log ends oozing. Only you and I were ever there. Nowhere. Moth wings dusting our fingers smeared on the plush of an Oriental rug where eggs might someday hatch—serrated mouths of grubs signaling dawn’s slow arrival.

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Aachu’s Kaleidoscope by M.V. Fabiyas Pickaxes and hammers resonate on the stones and planks of Aachu’s heart. Her ancient mansion loses its head, arms, trunk… She sees the changing patterns of memory in her mind’s kaleidoscope. “Dear Aachu, Received your letter. Thank you. Your words caused ripples of nostalgia in my heart. Here, loneliness wounds me. I wish I could fly back to India. But… the War is getting fierce. I fear bombing in this city. I plan to flee into the woods. How is our daughter Saisha? I don’t know when I can write the next letter to you. So…” The postman passed like her days, without stretching any letter out to her. Her mind crossed the sea and roamed in the Malaysian woods at night. She had never visited Malaysia. She found him in a wood. Her vision was blurred in the mist. Life always attempted to take diversion from death. Anxieties about her husband’s food and shelter twisted her wound. The west wind brought her the bucolic songs from her paddy farms near the Kanoli Canal, an ancient canal built by the British. Reapers bending like the sickles reaped the golden crops. Aachu owned acres of paddy farms and the groves of coconut palms. Poor villagers often sought refuge under her wings. Now she slowly falls into a nap. Today, the coolies demolish the kitchen walls of her old house. Aachu remembers Sudha, a maid who had helped her in cooking. Sudha used to blather in the kitchen. Her tongue never took rest. She poured calumnies from her vast tank into Aachu’s ear-buckets. Sudha’s words had occasionally tickled her mistress. Aachu’s nights were empty. Her ears often caught the mice piercing the silence beside her granary, which was always full to the brim. Night wind always frightened her, rattling the lone window of the top storey of her ancient house. Rural women, Aachu’s daily visitors, gifted her with the local news and strange stories that were coated with the superstitions and exaggerations. “Rajan, the cowherd, swooned at noon yesterday. He was lying under the 72


tall palm tree. He was indeed caught by a ghost” Aachu once heard from Parutty, a middle-aged woman. Aachu eyes the two dusty figures removing the rusty gate of her ancient mansion. Her mind’s nose catches the fragrance of an old Friday. The moon had bloomed fully on that day. Aachu noticed a coolie, with a big iron box on his head, pushing open her gate. A leather bag was swinging over his right shoulder. She saw a gentleman just behind the coolie – a tall man, who had put on a white shirt and dhoti. He filled in her eyes in the moonlight. She had felt an emotion that was beyond all definition. It was her beloved returning from Malaysia after many years. Thus endless varieties of recollections flash by in her yellow kaleidoscope. Her threshold had withstood several farewells, and jerked with unbound joys. A cluster of coolies from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu put their shoulders to the wheel. They pick the broken stones and mortar up, carry them in baskets and dump them in a large waste pond. A temporary wedding pandal raises its head again in Aachu’s mind. A bride – her daughter – stands, drooping her head in the rural Indian shyness. The glitz of dowry gold dazzles the guests, especially the rustic women. Delicious spicy smell of biriyani, prepared for the nuptial party decades back, wafts up again from her memory’s kitchen. Days die, one by one, on the walls. Demolishing works progress. Aachu sits on the veranda of her daughter’s home, chewing betel – a way to reduce her tension. Aachu had a powerful magnetizing effect on her husband Akku, who worked in a company in Malaysia. He had accumulated huge wealth for his wife and daughter, who lived in India. A heart attack had made Aachu a widow. She chews the betel without a pause, for she has been casting her mind back to all the sweat blobs and tension waves of the house construction time. Coolies will clear everything soon. Not even a single stone will remain there to announce the past glory of her mansion. She had lived in that big house for forty years. Her daughter Saisha resides in an adjacent house. Two years before, she cajoled her mother to stay with her. But Aachu couldn’t even imagine chucking her big house away, where sweet recollections came out of loneliness to give her company. There was a morning cool as dewdrops. Saisha came to her mother as usual. But the front wooden door remained closed. She peeped into the bedroom through the narrow gap of the window. She shrieked. Neighbours 73


crowded there like a flock of crows. The air was noisy. Someone broke the brass lock and the folk entered the house. They saw Aachu lying swooned. Somebody sprinkled water on her face. Then Aachu opened her eyes. Consciousness returned and regained control over her body quite amazingly. Blood pressure had blacked her out. “Once, Saisha had depended on me for everything. Today, I have to rely on her.” Aachu had contemplated on the reversal of roles in old age, while leaving her precious mansion behind forever. Jafi, Saisha’s husband, was kind towards his aged mother-in-law. At the same time, he had a cache of greed. He sold that deserted house for thirty lakhs. Demolishing works go on. Broken stones and planks are heaped up before Aachu’s wrinkled emotions. She watches all from her son-in-law’s kind veranda. She now sits between sleep and memory. Present is only a ghost of the past in her yellow kaleidoscope.

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Resquiescat by A.E. Stallings You were always where we didn’t want you, curled In the basket of clean laundry, shedding hair, Or braiding through my ankles in the kitchen, Or on the topmost stair. You were easy not to notice, brown and grey With flickering stripes, invisible when you posed As sleep itself snug in a dappled shadow With your green lamps closed. Overlooked obstacle, we nearly trod On you a thousand times. Now you stay put Beneath the sparse hibiscus in the garden Forever underfoot.

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“I was the person who wrote, directed and acted in the only Home Economics opera ever written”

Structo talks to Margaret Atwood The author of more than 30 books, including novels, poetry and essay collections, and other non-fiction, Margaret Atwood doesn’t need a great deal of introduction. We talked in London the day after she gave the annual Sebald Lecture at the British Library. The title of her talk that night was ‘Atwood in Translationland’ and it was a fascinating—and frequently very funny—autobiographical journey through many different kinds of translation: from the reality of growing up between Anglophone Ottawa and Francophone Quebec, through to the problems translators face when confronted with her own writing. We picked up some of those threads for this interview. — Euan Monaghan structo: Were you invited over specifically for the Sebald Lecture? atwood:

No. I’m a unesco City of Literature Visiting Professor at Norwich. They have the Writers’ Centre there and they also have the writing programme at uea, so the two of them collaborated on this. James Lasdun is the other one this year. I think they’ve got two a year. Ali Smith has been one. It is basically a way of getting people to come and interact somewhat with the community, and we did it because we used to live in Blakeney. We wanted to revisit our old haunts and connect with our bird-watching pals who were in Cambridge: BirdLife International. We’re associated with that. structo: It’s good that you could come over and talk about translation, because that is something that we are particularly interested in it. atwood:

Are you? 77


structo:

In that one [indicating a copy of Structo issue 11 on the table] we have four pieces of poetry in translation. We print both the original and the translation. The question of translation accuracy came up a little bit [at the lecture] last night. What level of oversight is there for you or your publishers? atwood:

Well, the publishers know the translators that they use, and if somebody’s done a rotten translation then they’re going to hear about it and they’re not going to use them again. They all speak their own language—they’re publishers—so they can read the book in the translated version and see whether it’s well written, whether it’s interesting. Even if they’re not that fluent in English, they can tell whether the translation that they’re going to put out is something that, ‘hey, this really is French!’ or ‘really this is not French’ or ‘French it may be, this other kind of French, but our audience is not going to understand it’. This is the problem that Québecal literature has had in France. People within Québec understand it very well, but people in France often think, ‘this is weird’. It’s like somebody writing English and putting a lot of Appalachian locutions in. structo:

You mentioned that [the translators] email you a lot.

atwood:

Some of them do. You actually worry a bit more about the ones who don’t. You think: what is it that they think they understand that they don’t actually understand?

structo: Something that comes through, especially in your poetry, is the—and take this the right way—the straightforward nature of your writing. It is not overly complex when it doesn’t need to be. Is that helpful for translators, or is that making it a lot more difficult, because of the subtlety? atwood:

It very much depends on the language that it is being translated into and what that language allows, how that language operates. You just marvel at people translating into languages like Japanese which are just so different. One of the weirdest language events we did was we had a musical and dramatic and bird life conservation event, to launch The Year of the Flood. structo:

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Was this the hymns?


atwood:

We did the whole shoot out. We had a script, and all it took was a singing group and three actors. We sent that to everybody who was going to do it and it was up to them how. In Bristol they had a full a cappella: about twenty singers raising the roof. Astonishing. They had rearranged the music to suit themselves. The only common thing was that I would be the narrator. But I would never know what they were going to do, so the day of the event was the day when I saw it. [Laughs] We had everything from sensational to, ‘we are going to get thrown out of here it’s so bad’. [Laughs] You just never knew and luckily it wasn’t Hamlet so people couldn’t say, ‘it’s supposed to be this other way’, because they didn’t know how it was supposed to be. Some of them made all their own costumes, some of them wore church choir gowns; it was just very, very different kinds of things. I think we did it in six or eight places [in the UK]. We launched in Edinburgh, at St John’s. It was fantastic. They made banners out of orange Sainsbury’s bags, which they blew up and put on sticks. [Laughs] Quite amazing. They were great. structo: There is a version on Spotify. Is that an official one? Did you work with the composer? atwood:

You mean the hymns? The hymns you can find through my website, they’re on the audiobook and you can, I think, digitally download them. I didn’t work with the composer, the composer was my agent’s partner—who happens to be a musician and songwriter—and he got into the manuscript before it was published and started channelling it at once, and so he wrote a couple of these things and I said, ‘go and write the others’. And so he did. So therefore we were able to do this because we already had the music. We would send the music to the people and they would do with it what they would. The ones in Bath—it was a girls’ school—they had to rearrange it all for sopranos. The most amazing language event was when they did it in Japan with three astonishing Japanese actors. Since their drama tradition is pretty weird anyway they didn’t have a problem with how odd it was. [Laughs] And we brought three Canadian singers. The text was in Japanese, the acting was in Japanese, the singing was in English but with the lyrics in the programmes in Japanese so [the audience] could read it. And then I was the narrator, and I spoke in English but I had a Japanese mini-me who would do each paragraph into Japanese, right on the stage. [Laughs] I thought, ‘this is never going to work’, but actually it worked a treat—it was great—partly because the actors were so good and because I knew what they were saying. I could follow their expressions and 79


how they were putting it across. They were just superb. structo: That’s amazing. And it leads me perfectly on to talk about The Penelopiad. It was simultaneously released in dozens of languages? atwood:

Yes, it was the largest simultaneous translation book launch ever. It’s young Jamie Byng, I call him young Jamie Byng—I suppose he’s not that young any more. Mr Thousand Ideas, who also started World Book Night. I think some people got drunk in Frankfurt [at the International Book Fair]—I think this is how a lot of these projects start. So he and Louise Dennis and the guy from Grove Press in the States, and Grove Atlantic, and Arnulf Conradi from Berlin Verlag… I think it was the four of them who cooked this up. They were going to ask all of these writers from all around the world, and the stipulation was that it can only be this long and you’re all getting paid the same. He jumped out at me from behind a potted plant in Edinburgh before I’d had any coffee and he talked me into doing this. Then a long time went by during which I was unable to do it because my first idea was that I was going to do a Haida myth. structo:

A—what, sorry?

atwood:

Haida, a language group of one. People familiar with the Haida mythology would be about two. So if I had done The Mouse Woman, which is what I started with, I would have had to have explained the whole thing first, so they would understand what it was I was rewriting. It’s kind of hard to rewrite a myth that people don’t know, or don’t know really anything much about, so most of the ones that have been done have been ones that are at least somewhat well known. It was going to be me, Jeanette Winterson, and a short history of mythology by Karen Armstrong. She wasn’t writing a story, she was writing a kind of overview. But I said, ‘you know I really can’t, I’m not getting on with this’. So I asked my agent, ‘do you think that Jamie would really mind a lot if I just didn’t do this?’ Frosty transatlantic silence. [Laughs] ‘Well’, she said, ‘I think Jamie would be gutted, but do as you please’. I thought, ‘I better do this’. So then it was The Penelopiad. structo: atwood:

And you then translated it into a play.

Let me put this in a frame for you: I’m so old that I come from a very do-it-yourself background. Everything that is out there and

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commercialised now was once was just stuff you did in the living room yourself. They’ve even commercialised something we used to play, called ‘dictionary’, in which you took the Oxford Shorter—I’m sure you know this, it was a graduate student game—you’d sit around the Oxford Shorter, and you’d pick the most obscure, stupid-sounding word that you could find. And if you were ‘it’ you would propose that word, okay, the word is this. The word is ‘vola’. Then the contestants, who are everybody else, would write out not what they thought the word really meant, but a definition of the word that would convince everybody else that it was from The Oxford Shorter Dictionary. The derivations, the usages from Old Middle English and some cognates. And then they would put them all in a hat and they would read them out. One would be the real one and the others would all be fraudulent. You would vote on the one that you actually thought was the real one and if your fraudulent one got the most votes you got a whole bunch of points. [Laughs] If your real definition didn’t get voted for you also got a whole bunch of points. structo:

[Laughter] Are there any that you remember?

atwood:

Well ‘vola’ was one of them. It was everything, including an obscure Siberian mole. It’s actually, I think, something to do with windows, but I can’t now remember what it really means. And so the idea of putting together a weird dramatic performance is not foreign to my background and mentality. I was the person who wrote, directed and acted in the only Home Economics opera ever written. structo:

[Laughter] You’re going to have to expand on that!

atwood:

Alright, it was a mistake of the Home Economics teacher who allowed us to vote on something. This is what happens when you’ve got democracy. [Laughs] She wanted us to vote on making stuffed animals for a sick children’s hospital but I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to put on a Home Economics opera instead. And because enough people voted for it she had to let us do it. structo:

How old were you?

atwood:

I would have been 16. This was 1956.

structo:

How did it go?

From our copy of the Oxford Shorter: vola n. (anatomy) the hollow of the hand or foot

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atwood:

It went very well. This is a person with no sense of humour. Grudgingly she said we could do it but it had to really be about the Home Economics subject. So it was. structo: atwood:

That’s amazing.

It’s about these three fabrics called Orlon, Nylon and Dakron who lived with their parent Old King Coal, because they were all coal derivatives. The dramatic interest was that a wandering knight came by whose name was Sir William Woolly—he had a terrible problem which was he shrank from washing. He came in somebody’s sheepskin rug. We did the costumes out of bed sheets and paper bags painted silver and it was a howling success. Of course I cribbed all the music from real pieces of music; the director of the Canadian Opera Company, when I sang him one of these songs having to do with washing—Wash Day—to the tune of Hoffman’s Barcarolle, he said it was ruined for him forever. Who directed Mamma Mia? Phyllida Lloyd. Phyllida Lloyd was the director of The Handmaid’s Tale opera when it premiered in Copenhagen in the year 2000. It was actually pretty good—I thought this is either going to be terrible and never seen again or it’s going to be pretty good—and it was pretty good. It had four other productions and one of them was in Toronto and she came over to tune it up. I was talking to her about it and I had The Penelopiad manuscript and I said, ‘this is something that has got a lyric dimension and how interesting would it be to change its form and turn it into a play?’ She got pretty into that and, to launch the book, we put on—in St James’s, Piccadilly, just down the road—we put on, for one time only, [a production of The Penelopiad] up until the point where Penelope sails away. I played Penelope, but I got to have the actual text—I wasn’t going to memorise all that! [Laughs] Then we had three brilliant actresses who could all sing and play an instrument, they were wonderful and of course they switched characters. We had little changes of costume, like sunglasses and for the naiad mother, I think she had a rain coat. [Laughs] Things like that. And that went jolly well. Phyllida was going to do [a theatrical run of The Penelopiad] but then she got diverted into directing Mamma Mia so we had to change those plans, but then it turned into a joint production between The Royal Shakespeare [Company] and National Arts Centre in Canada, with half of the actors from each one. It went on from there, and it’s been performed all over the place. When we did it the first time, she took the two acts that I had written and squashed them into one, which lost a few dramatic threads, but then we separated them again 82


and made it into two acts, which is actually much more comprehensible. The most recent one that I have seen was in Toronto with Megan Follows, who played Penelope, having debuted in the Anne of Green Gables TV series. She was the original Anne. She was great. You need a cast of one Penelope and twelve other people, although you could do it with fewer, but that works really well, especially in the hanging scene when you see them all getting hanged one after another. Heart-stopping. That was so successful that they brought it back again in the following year because it was completely sold out the first time. structo:

How did you find the process of writing a play?

atwood:

I have a long deep dark background in various sorts of japes and pranks of this kind. I ran my own puppet show in high school. You don’t need to know all this. But then I acted in college, and it was always comedy. I was not for the dramatic, tragic, parts. And then after that I did some writing for television. structo:

What was that?

atwood:

It was The Edible Woman, my first novel, which got optioned by this producer called Oscar Lewenstein, here in London. He said, ‘we would like you to write the script’, I said, ‘well, I’ve never written a script, surely you want real script writers’. ‘We don’t want some broken-down hack from Hollywood.’ Actually they wanted someone cheap and malleable. [Laughs] Anyway, it was very great fun, I should write about it one day because it was just a circus. I did a number of those things over the years. structo:

But you first surfaced in print as a poet.

atwood:

I know, because it was easier to surface in print as a poet! But it wasn’t that I wasn’t writing the other things, they were just harder to get published. So I wrote my first novel, which didn’t see the light of day praise the Lord. These days you would stick the thing out as a self-published digital [book] and then you would be really sorry later. Because it wouldn’t be very good, which [mine] wasn’t. But that was 1963. I was 23 years old. You don’t necessarily want to publish what you write at 23, but on the other hand sometimes you do. The poetry we could churn out in the cellar, or do it with an offset press or mimeo machines. Some of the first were published on the mimeo machines. I first published something 83


that got sold in a book store by hand, setting it myself on a flatbed press. There weren’t any computers, so you took the ‘a’ and you set it backwards… This must sound like the dark ages to you. structo:

No, I love this kind of thing. Did you enjoy the process?

atwood:

Oh, yeah. But I’m an old fixer person. I did grow up in the woods—you had to be able to fix lots of things when they broke. You couldn’t go the store. You can do wonders with a piece of wire and a couple of rubber bands. structo: It’s one of the reasons we are still a print magazine. It’s wilfully anachronistic.

atwood:

It’s coming back. The reason it’s coming back is that people have realised that you don’t get as deep a read online—it’s a neurological thing—they now have the studies, which is something we suspected earlier, because we experienced it. It’s great for reading the newspaper, you can scan the news, find this find that, it’s great for looking stuff up on Google, it’s awful for reading War and Peace. structo:

Do you read Medium or Matter?

atwood:

Matter. Yeah, I subscribe to Matter. I think all of these things should be encouraged, because they are all outlets, they’re outlets for writers. And it’s the usual problem, it’s always the same problem, people think that they’re gonna provide a different platform and it’s gonna solve the problem, but it never does, and the problem is simply this: there’s this many people doing it, the day has twenty-four hours, and you cannot read this many people. I could read everything published in Canada in 1960 easy peasy. You knew exactly who was doing what, because only this many people were doing it, but now, what with all the writing schools and various other things… Everybody is always whining about people not reading—that’s not true, they’re reading a huge amount, it’s that the market is fragmented, so they’re not all reading Charles Dickens. You can’t say, ‘wow, look at all these people reading, they’re all reading Charles Dickens’. Well they’re not, they’re reading this, they’re reading that. structo:

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It’s changing so fast.


atwood:

It’s changing fast but one of the things that hasn’t changed is people still read paper books and there’s a reason for that. We saw the ebooks go up, they went up to about 30%, and now they’re back down. structo:

Did they drop again?

atwood:

Yeah, they’re down around between 20 and 25% and that’s kind of where they’re sitting. The people that are gonna get knocked out of the paper books are probably the read-and-throw romance junkies. You know: read-it-read-it-read-it. The same sector that knocked out that kind of book in cheap hardback is going to get knocked out by that kind of book in digital. The Folio Society had the brilliant idea—which is what the record companies should have done at the first get go—instead of making their stuff cheaper and tackier they have made it more wonderful and must-have. structo: I’ve noticed cloth-bound books coming back. A great format.

atwood:

Yeah, cloth luxury editions of various kinds which are often pretty bogus but the Folio do a good job because—and they have a smart business model—you subscribe to it, and they work really hard matching the artist up with the text. I thought they did a brilliant job with The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s illustrated by two Italian identical twins. They picked a sort of Mussolini-era colour palette. It’s really brilliant. They won an award for it. I work a bit with the Folio. I did an introduction to Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales. structo:

It leaves me thinking about genre and categorisation, the thing that you and Ursula Le Guin talked about. atwood:

No one ever used to talk about genre at all.

structo: Exactly. Is the conversation useful? I mean I know it’s useful—I used to work in a bookshop—I know it was useful for me as a bookseller, and as a publisher I can see it being useful… atwood:

It’s not useful to readers, unless you only read one kind of thing. For me—and it always has been so—there are good books and I don’t care what genre they are. They’re good or they’re not good. I think a lot of this stuff that goes on is a kind of defence of, corralling off of, territory and saying, ‘you can’t come in’. ‘I know sci-fi and you’re not allowed in.’ 85


I think that’s pretty much broken down. The people who started it never thought like that. H.G. Wells didn’t even think, ‘I’m writing science fiction’. That term didn’t even appear until much later. He just thought he was writing interesting, weird books. I suppose that is what he thought. He actually thought, with [The Island of Dr Moreau], ‘I’m writing a piece of blasphemy’. structo: That was a very interesting piece in Other Worlds—the different takes on Moreau. atwood:

I think there are a lot of connections there. And when The New Yorker starts publishing sci-fi you know that that barrier has gone. Did you see that Egan one called ‘Black Box’? It’s screaming brilliant. She published it originally as a Twitter novel, so I’m told, I didn’t see it in that form. Jennifer Egan, ‘Black Box’, very brilliant piece. structo:

Our tastes tend towards what I’ve had to call slipstream.

atwood:

Oh yeah, slipstream is fine, we know that term. Who was it that thought that up? structo:

Bruce Sterling?

atwood:

Yeah, Bruce Sterling.

structo:

But that got me into trouble.

atwood:

Why?

structo: Some people then thought that because they weren’t writing slipstream then they wouldn’t be interested in the magazine, or we wouldn’t want to publish them. We publish all kinds of things; it’s just that we happen to publish possibly slightly more slipstream than anything else. atwood:

Why don’t you say we publish things that hold our attention?

structo: That’s good. I used to phrase it as ‘writing we love’… atwood: No. Make me turn the page. I’m an addictive reader so I will turn

the page, so don’t use me as the model. But give the reader a reason to

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turn the page. Lead me on and I don’t care how. Maybe you are just very funny. Maybe you have a wonderful way of sucking me into the landscape, maybe you put a corpse on page one. Whatever it is, give me a reason. The class that I’m doing at UEA is on first chapters only. Because I live, as I said to them. I don’t have a university job, I live in the real world and my real world includes the book store. So what do you do when you walk into the book store, whether it’s online or physical, and you see a book? You’ve never heard of the author, or you might have heard of them a little bit but you haven’t read them or encountered them, and there’s their book, and luckily it has a good cover on it—struggle number one—and a good title. Title is part of the book, by the way, it’s why we’re willing to stick with the narrator of Dracula through his tedious journal on the first page, you think, he doesn’t know does he? He hasn’t read the title, but we have! [Laughs] So. First chapters. You go into a book store; you pick it up, you open it. What do you do first? You read the description of it on the inside flap. This has originally been written by an intern. You have to rewrite it yourself. So the author has rewritten the inside jacket flap. And then you turn to the title page. You might even skip the epigram, the dedication. Chapter one. You read the first page. If you can get the reader to turn the page, you can get them through five pages, you’ve probably got them. But if you can’t, that’s it, they’ll never get to your brilliant description on page fifty, they’ll never get to the meaning of life on page seventy-five, because you haven’t given them a reason to keep reading your book. So if I were you, I would describe it as we publish writing that makes us turn the page.

“Make me turn the page. I’m an addictive reader, so don’t use me as the model. But give the reader a reason to turn the page. Lead me on and I don’t care how.” structo:

I’m glad I came to talk to you about this!

atwood:

Nobody can argue about that. ‘I’m sorry, but your story didn’t make me turn the page.’ It’s not that it’s slipstream or not slipstream, or this or that category or not. ‘Whatever it was; it didn’t suck me in.’ The 87


usual cop out for rejection letters is ‘not suitable for our purposes at this time’. structo:

Right.

atwood:

The other way of teaching writing we have done is we divide the class up into groups of five or so, and then get them to invent a magazine. Everything about it: the title, what kind of thing it publishes, how many times a year, how big it is, who funds it. Do you publish advertising? Have you got a patron? Do you have donations? Subscriptions? How are you going to run this thing? And then I make them read each other’s work and decide whether they’re going to publish that piece in their magazine. And then I want them to write the kind of acceptance, or rejection, that they themselves would like to get. That’s the unreal part: even if it gets rejected, I want you to tell them why, and if it’s not suitable for your magazine, suggest one of the others. And that was so interesting, because some of them would say, well, we decided our magazine was going to be for dog lovers, and we don’t publish anything that doesn’t have a dog in it. So: ‘we love your story, but it doesn’t have a dog in it!’ [Laughs] Things which got rejected by one of the magazines would be lovingly published by one of the others. It’s a very good exercise. And it’s in the real world, because they had to think about who’s paying for it. These things don’t just exist. structo:

I think that’s really useful, because several of the others who work on the magazine are writers, and I think it must be incredibly valuable, not only to see the kind of basic mistakes to avoid— atwood: Yeah, and the ‘this is pretty good but we rejected it anyway’. That there isn’t some big god person in the sky saying ‘this good; that bad’, it’s not any sort of absolute judgement. It’s just that this group of people didn’t go for that thing.

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structo:

I rejected my own fiction editor once.

atwood:

You rejected your fiction editor?!

structo:

Yeah. He submitted under a pseudonym.

atwood:

Uh oh.


structo:

Happily I gave him a very good rejection, and said ‘probably more suitable for somewhere like McSweeney’s’. atwood:

And did he send it to McSweeney’s?

structo:

Yes. He got rejected. [Laughter]

atwood:

How many submissions do you get?

structo:

We publish about five percent of what we get.

atwood:

Yeah. It’s hideous. We started in the 60s, and because we didn’t have a lot of outlets, writers started publishing companies. Not with magazines but with books. We would read our own slush piles because there weren’t any agents in Canada then. And that was then. Imagine what it would be like now. But at least there are now some intermediaries, at least there are some agents. But some of them don’t even take on unsolicited manuscripts any more. They can’t. structo: I’ve been thinking about the idea of the ‘gatekeeper’. Whether it’s a good thing or not. But I do think it’s a necessary thing, when it comes to some degree of filtering.

“There have to be gatekeepers, but there are a lot of different gates. When you stick [your writing] up online, the gatekeepers are basically the readers.” atwood: The world is now very, very diverse, so if you want to publish your thing you can put it into print, you can stick it up as a single on a number of different websites. You do a Lulu or any number of selfpublished books. Help yourself, you’ll learn a lot, including, ‘okay, here’s the book; how do I make it known? Now what?’ But gatekeepers, sure, there have to be gatekeepers, but there are a lot of different gates. So when you stick it up online, the gatekeepers are basically the readers, but of course that doesn’t really work because you have no way of letting the readers know that you even exist. So on Wattpad—which is

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free-for-all, anyone can join—there’s a certain amount of selection and promotion and stuff done by Wattpad itself. They read all this stuff and say, ‘this one has really got something, let’s put it on the front page’. They’re still gatekeeping, it’s just that it comes in different forms. structo:

And how did you find the process of writing Positron? The serial.

atwood:

It didn’t start as one. [Laughs] It started as a single thing. A lot of things that we now regard as deathless classics were enabled by a certain publishing platform. Had it not existed, that would never have been written. Had it not been for the magazine, no Sherlock Holmes. Dickens published serially in the first part of his writing life. That’s why there are three chapters and then a cliff-hanger. It has to be so. [The Canadian philosopher of communication theory] Marshall McLuhan was ‘McLuhanising’ just down the road when I was an undergraduate, so I understand how the means available is going to influence what is produced. Had there been no theatre at the time of Shakespeare there would have been no King Lear. It’s not that the platform automatically generates this stuff, but it permits it to happen. It gives a new set of toys that people can then play with, and produce things out of playing with those new toys. I think the ‘play with it’ era of the internet may almost have peaked; people have explored almost every niche that’s there to be explored—I may be wrong—and so now it’s a question of building on and elaborating those niches that already exist. structo:

It’s great to see someone embrace so many forms of writing.

atwood:

Explore, not embrace. Some work, some don’t. Explore. You’re read [McLuhan’s] The Gutenberg Galaxy? It’s all in there. But again, radio does work differently from television. Print books do work differently from online. And all these things have different ways of working. I’ve written in film too, and film is a different way of presenting a narrative: in pictures. We’ve just had a big hoo-hah about graphic novels. A graphic novel which has been made from a words-only text is not the same thing. You and I understand this, some publishers don’t. They think it’s an edition. It’s not an edition, it’s a new thing. A story told with pictures. structo: atwood:

Have you been involved in any graphic novels?

We’re setting one up right now for The Handmaid’s Tale. But of course I have a deep background in cartooning…

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structo:

Ah yes, I remember your drawings in The Tent. I have a question about that book. Are your poems sparked from a markedly different source from your short fiction? Because, to me, The Tent felt like it was on that border between the two forms. atwood: It is. Think in terms of wavelengths. In a novel, the waves are very far apart, so you might put in something on page 50 that has an echo on page 125 and then pays off on 250. Because all art is pattern. All art involves pattern. In a short story the crests of the waves are closer together, and in a lyric poem—but not in an epic poem—the crests of the waves are very close together indeed. Ripples like this [waves hand] rather than tsunamis like that. That’s number one. Number two: I think a different part of the brain is involved. I can’t prove it, because you can’t wire up a poet and say, ‘compose poetry now’. You can wire up a novelist and say, ‘work on your novel now’. We can do that. But I think the poetry part is probably closer to the same kind of patterning which goes into music, mathematics— structo:

It’s more structural?

atwood: Very structural. Maybe closer to song. I can’t prove it, but I think

so. I think it’s a different part of the brain, and most people are not ambidextrous in that way. They’re either good at poetry and don’t write prose fiction, or they’re novelists who don’t write poetry. There have been a few, like Thomas Hardy. There are a number of Canadians, because no one told us not to do it. We were pre the writing school where you had to do this or that. structo:

Is that what you ascribe your wide-ranging exploration to?

atwood:

No one told me not to. No one told me it was bad. [Laughs] I lived in a biological household, but my parents liked to read, and my dad liked a wide range of things. So we would have the collected H.G. Wells, all of Sherlock Holmes… just interesting stuff to read. structo:

It does make life more interesting.

atwood:

The funny thing with him… he was a fan of Georgette Heyer, because he thought she was funny. [Laughs] She amused him. You usually think of girls reading that, but a lot of men like Jane Austen pretty well 91


because she’s funny. Georgette Heyer is a kind of reincarnation of that. structo:

That was a revelation, finally reading Austen.

atwood:

She’s funny.

structo:

The social commentary is great, but she is genuinely funny.

atwood:

Yes, well, pretty acerbic.

structo:

I struggled with Emma.

atwood: Because she’s such a goodie-goodie. She’s so bossy. I shouldn’t say

a goodie-goodie. She’s bossy. That’s her thing. She thinks she can run it all. structo:

I’ll have to try that again when I’m feeling a bit more patient.

atwood:

The one I had trouble with was Mansfield Park, because Fanny is such a goodie-goodie, but I’ve come around to it. I get it now. Sort of. structo:

Just a few other things… Firstly to completely agree with your comment [at the event] about teaching [the Roman poet] Martial when teaching Latin. atwood:

It’s so filthy! [Laughs] You probably know that online there’s this site called The Well, where you can find all of Martial’s most filthy epigrams translated. So dirty. If Martial were alive today he’d be a stand-up comic called Rob Delaney. Another thing that you would probably enjoy would be… Did you know Chaucer has a blog? [We go completely off topic for a few minutes and laugh about some of our favourite websites, including Marie Antoinette’s blog (mainly court gossip), Slushpile Hell, and Old Finnish People With Things On Their Heads] structo:

The internet can be such a source of joy.

atwood:

And a source of procrastination.

structo: How do you manage that, as a writer? I know you refer to your—

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atwood:

The writing burrow. ‘Goodbye! I’m gone.’

structo:

Do you literally just disconnect?

atwood:

Well you have to, otherwise you’d get nothing done. It’s the same thing as reading the back pages of the newspaper with all the peculiar articles. There was a good one the other day about a US cheerleader who was suing the football company who employed her because she had calculated the amount of time she was putting in and the amount she was getting paid, and it was well below the minimum wage. They also have a list of things they have to do, to adhere to, which included, ‘no slouching breasts’. [Laughs] ‘No white lipstick, no slouching breasts. Support accordingly’. Now what did you want to ask? Something quite serious?

structo: This is probably the most serious question I had. [Laughter] Can you say a little about Payback and where your interest in the subject of debt came from? atwood:

I’m a Victorianist. You cannot read Victorian literature without the subject of debt coming up. A lot of the plots turn on that. It’s about money. It was the first age of full-blown capitalism, and people didn’t really understand how it all worked. So some were going up like bubbles, and some were sinking like stones. Even in Cranford, that village idyll, one of the characters loses all her money and she doesn’t know why. Something has gone bust. Anne of Green Gables: how does that end? Matthew has a heart attack because he gets a letter saying the bank has foundered and all of his life savings are gone. So this was happening to people. The Custom of the Country—Edith Wharton—this girl who was the daughter of a guy who has struck it rich on the goldfields social climbs her way all over Europe by marrying husbands and then divorcing them. It’s just about money. The Portrait of a Lady, it’s what it’s about. Dickens… Thackeray… Vanity Fair, what’s it about? Family number one loses their fortune and suddenly the daughter is not supposed to be married by this other guy. Heathcliff. Wuthering Heights. Where does he make his money? What’s going on there anyway? We know he’s probably made it in some kind of shady fashion, but we don’t actually know. Mill on the Floss, Middlemarch… who’s got the money? A little bit [in Middlemarch] but in The Mill on the Floss very much so: the family loses its money and that sets in train all these different things that the descendants have to deal with, and that’s the whole plot really.

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structo:

And what—

atwood: What made me do it? What made me do it is that there’s a lecture

series in Canada in which you have to do something pretty complex: you have to write the book, you have to then shorten it, and then give five lectures, which you then have to deliver across Canada, in different cities. And Canada is really big. And then those get condensed even more, and put out as a radio programme. This dates back to the 50s—the lecture series, the Massey Lectures. They were asking me to do it for years and years and years, and I said, ‘no thank you, I’m washing my hair’. But then it became so—through a publishing failure actually—the series was going to be taken away from publishing company A, which was not the publishing company which failed but had been distributed by it, and given to publishing company B. Publishing company A was the one which I helped found back in the 60s; I have a certain loyalty to it. I said, ‘if you do this terrible, terrible thing, I’ll never ever give the Massey Lectures’. [Laughs] They didn’t do the terrible, terrible thing, so then I had to give them. Then I said, ‘okay, it’s going to be about debt’. I think they then had a backroom meeting in which they tore out their hair because they thought I was going to write a book about economics. It’s not about economics, it’s about how we exchange things as human beings; how things get exchanged. The novel chapter is the third one, I think. The first is at a very basic level: how things get exchanged, what primates do, and what we understand. If I scratch your back you’ll scratch mine. It’s real scratching among the chimpanzees so they know that you owe them something. If you’ve been given something, you owe something. They know that, and they expect it. The higher up you go in terms of brain cells, the more that enters: how are we going to balance this out? Who gets the most? The biggest one generally gets the most, but the others have to get something. How does it all get spread around? Then there’s the religion [chapter], which is built on metaphor. Christianity is built on metaphors of death and payment. I’m very interested in the way that books get into that: signing a book, the contract. The devil’s contract: it’s very interesting to me that that is a piece of paper. The fourth chapter is about criminal activities, which is when it gets even more basic: what happens when you don’t pay, can’t pay, won’t pay? What happens then? And the fifth one is about the natural bank, which we have already heavily overdrawn. structo:

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It seems to draw together a number of threads of your interests.


atwood:

Which are wide-ranging. [Laughs] James Buchan has a brilliant book about money called Frozen Desire. He started thinking about it because he was living in Saudi Arabia and making all this money, but there was nothing he could spend it on that he actually wanted. [Laughs] It’s the Midas story: money is not good for anything until you can turn it into something else. It has to flow otherwise it’s not anything. It’s a made up thing. We made it up. But [the lecture series] was a work out because we went hither and thither around Canada, but it was a lot of fun because at the very moment that—actually I shouldn’t call it fun, it was horrible for other people—but for me it was very interesting to be the only person who had a book out on that subject just when the big financial meltdown was happening. structo:

When did it go out?

atwood:

In 2008. October. Everyone said, ‘wow, were you ever clairvoyant!’ I said, ‘actually not, I’ve been interested in this for a long time’. structo:

And the film [version of Payback]?

atwood:

Oh, those people are wonderful. Jennifer and Nick. She’s a deep thinker, but she is also just wildly fearless. They were in the mountains of Albania with the translator saying to them, ‘we need to leave. We need to leave now’. [Laughs] ‘We need to get out of here.’ She just made another [film] called Water. Brilliant. Very brilliant.

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Negotiating with the Dead: A self-help programme for composers Warning Under no circumstances should one attempt to compose without having one of the following motives: To satisfy my desire for revenge To make money so my children can have shoes To make myself appear more interesting than I actually am To allow for the possibility of my redemption To show the bastards Because I got pregnant Preparation Wonder at what you’ve been doing all this time. Steal the shiniest sounds and build a nest. Find a rock, then a hard place. Place a guitar amp equidistant. Step 1 – Orientation Develop an inability to distinguish the real from the imagined. Carry an unsounded and un-written composition with you at all times. Use marshmallows, small and innocuous, for sweetening timbres and softening the edges of field recordings.

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Step 2 – Duplicity Live vicariously through your songs. For the remainder of your time concern yourself only with mundane domesticity. Pen a series of forgeries of your manuscript, each with indiscriminate alterations. Disseminate. Step 3 – Dedication Start a cult. From this point on only write hymns in praise of yourself. Write your scores on £10 notes and you’re likely to be able to sell at £12 in time. Have you danced with your composition? Art would dance you to death. Set your recorded work on a turntable. Allow it to reveal itself using string, tape and other objects of divination. Step 4 – Temptation Completely re-score The Wizard of Oz. Remember, not being able to hit a high C is not redeemed by being kind to dogs. Consider whether you want your composition to be good, good at or good for. Let your vanity decide. Place a hanging microphone between a swinging door and a brick wall. Step 5 – Communion Write a memorial service for all those lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Consciously do not consider the listener. You do not know them and owe them nothing.

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On your next birthday retrospectively make a Krapp tape for each year that has already passed. Sonically acknowledge the passing of time in your voice. Repurpose all the notes from all your previous efforts, including repetitions and in chronological order, as a torch song melody. Step 6 – Descent Hold a séance with Elvis to receive musical intervention from the other side. Prepare a nightly meal for each of your unfinished compositions.

Lisa Busby April 2014 ‘Negotiating with the Dead’ is inspired by the Atwood text of the same name. Its contents were plundered to make this score.

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A Message from the Herd by Stuart Dischell Long ago in the tall grass by sweet waters We fed and let our young cavort and tarry. You performed your ceremonies by the river, And our kind listened to what you call your songs. You told of the hard times in your story, When you hung your harps in the willow trees And could not sing of joy in the strange land. Born on your fifth day, we of the field quiver And twitch. Asleep all night on our hooves, Our fears are common, our sounds monotonous. We do not crave the subtleties of your languages: Words like cleave and hide and head. Or how it is You pray to rain stones on your neighbor’s children. Lowing in the meadow, no enemies stand grazing.

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Don’t Ask Me to Sing by Shawna Rodenberg after Psalm 131 If I once knelt among these strange reeds to please you, it was because I longed for home: the ancient creekbed and voices rich as peat, secret in their longing, for fronds of ferns tickling my kneecrease on evening walks, and shoots cut neatly near the root and fried to ease early Spring hunger for anything green. I’ve no patience for these strings, and hung my song atop the poplars to chime through the dark hours with the mottled nightjar, smacking its mating wings like thirsty lips. These days, I cannot sing or laugh for you, my love. Your favorite tune forgotten quick as rushed trysts. How am I still strange to you when you know my smell, ripe as wind-felled fruit wasting in the shadows of the grass? I go to make the biscuits, but they will not rise. The air in this place is bone-dry and my hands, like hateful strangers, force the dough against the pan. I am too clever to be wise and talk myself out of my birthright time and again. My tongue rattles in my mouth like a wasp in a jar, false and desperate for home.

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My shame? You know what I am. I’ve held hollow finery dearer than my maiden name. Give me my due. Bring me to my knees. Raze me to the ground on this kiln-hard soil. Only, return my children to be blest by the mountains, where they can press their flushed faces against the cool rock and die in peace.

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The Blessing by Alex Sewter The white sun drops below the ridge, high above the wooden house. Landslips of shadow race down the valley sides. Now, all across the slopes below, bonfires start to blaze up in the darkness, the tiny flashes marking the start of the festivities. It’s the night of the first Sunday in Lent and the villagers are burning fires in their orchards, blessing the wormy trunks of the apple and pear and sweet cherry trees with smoking bundles of straw to ensure a good crop. He imagines the men – it’s always the men here – walking among the trees in the darkness, calling out to each other as they go. Out there somewhere, they’re moving from orchard to orchard, neighbour to neighbour, stopping from time to time in bright whitewashed kitchens to eat and drink, protected from the cold night air by the oily heat of homemade white spirits slugged from plastic bottles, by stone walls a good metre thick. He watches the little fires sparking up into the sky, and raises his glass to his reflection in the dark window. A car passes on the road outside. Headlights arch along the hallway and across the ceiling. They’re here, his wife says, looking up as he walks in. Who are? He looks past her, searching for the visitors. Your glasses. I assume you’re looking for them again, she says. Oh, he says. It’s still dark, he says. He turns on the radio. It buzzes quietly with static, and he hums along for a while. We could ride the surf together, while our love would grow... He picks up the glasses from the kitchen counter and looks at them in his hand. Just 40-plus grams of thick black plastic and glass, folded in on itself like a bird-eating spider. He looks at the little silver hinges and they make him think of tiny jaws opening and closing like an octopus’s beak, and the tarantula’s soft, fat body, of petrol-blue feathers on the jungle floor. The thrum and thud of an air compressor drifts in through the open 102


window – it’s their neighbour, up early as well. He can see the man’s dark shape move out from behind his car on his sloping driveway further up the mountain, hunched over with a head torch as he checks his tyres before going out for the day. Their kitchen light is on still. Theirs is one of five houses on this private road at the head of the high valley, and they’re all committed early risers here – a happy mountain community of insomniacs, obsessive compulsives, health nuts and freshair freaks. They are friendly enough people, and he mostly enjoys the liberal, easy-going neighbourliness of their lives together. It’s a place to feel at home. Last night he’d drunk a bottle of wine with his wife, watching the fires together as they’d burst up on the hillside in the valley below. They’d stayed up later than they’d done in a long time, drinking and talking and laughing, holding on to the kitchen table like survivors clinging to wreckage on a night-time sea, neither wanting to be the first to let go and say good night. They’d talked about the past, and laughed together about a man they’d both known a whole fifteen years before, who they’d both forgotten about and who they were surprised to even remember again. Now, this morning, she’s idly searching the internet for signs of the man’s life since. She fiddles with her phone while the kettle boils, pulls the terry-towelling dressing gown he bought her for her last birthday a little tighter around her. He can’t be dead, she says, he’s on Twitter. He raises his eyebrows at her across the kitchen. He remembered the man well enough if he thought hard about it – he certainly recalled the time they’d all spent together as research students, many years ago. But the group of friends had moved apart: just as surely as a few welcome hot days in summer can soon turn into a heat wave and then drag on, on into a long drought, so certain friendships also have a natural life too, he thinks. Sometimes we all reach a point where we just want to stop and move on. It’s growing lighter outside now. In the garden, the colours are soft, all dimmer-switch pastels, the flowers and shrubs drawn in a child’s chalks. Dew pools on the seats of the white plastic chairs on the lawn. He can now see smoke rising up from one of the gardens further down the hill, as if an artillery shell has just spiralled down among the swimming pools and the Scots pines and the trampolines. He imagines the snub nose of the deadly ordnance buried deep into the turf of one of his neighbour’s 103


lawns, imagines the shell’s painted metal casing steaming hard with the morning dew, still too hot to touch. They drink tea together at the kitchen table. Fresh loose breakfast tea, sent over by their grown-up son back home every month or so – they drink more of it now than they ever did before – and they listen to the morning news on the portable radio. It seems the reports of the fires had started coming in soon after midnight, and the news agency machines had quickly slipped into gear to respond, working overtime to beat each other to the story. Throughout the night, reporters on the spot huddled in cold farmhouses and isolated sheep huts in the high mountains, in train station waiting rooms and on garage forecourts lower down the valley. They roamed the fertile farmland of the plains with microphones and flashlights, held court in the churches and schools and in the all-night bakeries of the little towns and villages, all filing reports, doing pieces to camera, pulling first-hand accounts from frightened, sleep-deprived people, all filling time, all trying to stitch the big story together from the hundreds of little ones they were told. This much becomes clear – the fires on the valley sides and across the low country are spontaneous, and not man-made at all. They spring up from the ground at random, burning fiercely with a golden light that hurts the eyes. Natural gas flares, meteorite strikes and volcanic activity have all been ruled out, given the variety of different terrains that the fires are still burning on – and now, panels of experts and news anchors and chief science correspondents talk in endless circles as the man and his wife sit together, holding hands across the table and listening to the rolling news on the radio, and later on the new colour tv set they have balanced on the kitchen counter. Is this it? she says to him. Could this really be it? she says again. And then he grips her hand even more tightly and they both laugh, and they sit at the table, and the sun rises far, far above them, high over the black ridge above their little wooden house on the mountain.

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Contributors a–z

Luke Bowyer is from south-east London. He writes stories and songs. He works for a charity that uses the creation of music to inspire people to disentangle themselves from the criminal justice system, and believes that making things is essential to feeling human. He blogs at lukebowyer.com and occasionally tweets @Luke_Bowyer Lisa Busby is a Lecturer in Music, Goldsmiths University of London and a practicing musician, artist and researcher under the name Lisa Sleeps. She plays in two musical outfits: Sleeps in Oysters (electronic pop) and Rutger Hauser (noise improv), as well as working in installation and performance art. Her recent work has involved the development of experimental dj practices and instructional scores. Busby leads two research projects at Goldsmiths – Editions of You, celebrating self-publishing and self-releasing musicians and the handmade editions and releases they create, and Shit! I can dj which explores innovative and crossover dj practices Jen Calleja is a writer, editor and literary translator living in London. Her short fiction, poetry and essays have been published in many print and online publications including The Quietus, Langdon Olgar and Team. She is founder and editor of Anglo-German arts journal Verfreundungseffekt and is currently acting editor of New Books in German magazine. She has translated fiction and poetry for Bloomsbury, pen International and the GoetheInstitut and has written for Modern Poetry in Translation magazine. She is currently working on a first collection of short stories. She also performs in the bands Sauna Youth and Feature Monika Cassel was raised bilingual in English and German and received her PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Michigan. She is English department chair at New Mexico School for the Arts, a statewide public arts high school in Santa Fe; with the support of the Lannan Foundation, she developed a creative writing minor at the school and plans to launch a creative writing major there in 2016. She is working on a manuscript of poems on her German family’s wwii history; this is her first foray into publishing her writing since her college days in the early 1990s

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Stuart Dischell is the author of Good Hope Road, a National Poetry Series Selection (Viking, 1993), Evenings & Avenues (Penguin, 1996), Dig Safe (Penguin, 2003), and Backwards Days (Penguin, 2007) and the chapbooks Animate Earth (Jeanne Duval Editions, 1988) and Touch Monkey (Forklift, 2012). A recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, he is the Class of 1952 Distinguished Professor in the mfa Program in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Jordi Doce is a poet, critic, and translator. He holds a PhD from the University of Sheffield, and has taught both there and at Oxford. He is the author of the poetry collections La anatomia del miedo, Diálogo en la sombra, Lección de permanencia, Otras lunas (winner of the xxviii City of Burgos Poetry Prize) and Gran angular. His books of criticism and other prose include Hormigas blancas, Imán y desafío, Curvas de nivel, Perros en la Playa and La ciudad consciente. Ensayos sobre T.S. Eliot y W.H. Auden. He has translated into Spanish books of poetry by William Blake, T.S. Eliot, Ted Hughes, Charles Simic, Charles Tomlinson, Paul Auster, Anne Carson, and many others. He lives in Madrid M.V. Fabiyas is a writer from Orumanayur village in Kerala, India. He is the author of Moonlight and Solitude. His fiction and poems have appeared in The Literary Hatchet, E Fiction, Selected Poems (Pendle War Poetry), Inspired By Tagore, Indian Ink, Animal Antics, and in several anthologies by Forward Poetry and other publishers in India and abroad. He won the Poetry Soup International Award in 2011 and 2012, a prize from the British Council in 2011 and the rspca Pet Poetry Contest in 2012. He has been a finalist for the Mattia International Poetry Contest, and All India Radio has broadcast his poems Uschi Gatward was born in east London and still lives there now. She has been shortlisted for the Asham Award and the Bristol Short Story Prize. Her story ‘Pink Lemonade’ is in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology (vol 6), published 2013. Her work has recently been featured online at Litro, performed live at Liars’ League, and is forthcoming in Southword. She is currently a guest blogger for Mslexia Jessica Johannesson Gaitán grew up in Sweden and Colombia. She is now based in Edinburgh where she completed an MSc in Literature 106


and Transatlanticism in 2012. Her stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Gutter Magazine, The Stinging Fly and Witness Magazine among others. With her partner, she runs the website The Rookery in the Bookery (therookeryinthebookery.org), which highlights literature in translation. She also works at the Scottish Poetry Library Durs Grünbein was born in Dresden in 1962. His first book of poems, Grauzone morgens, was published in 1988 in West Germany; he has published more than thirty works of poetry, translations of classical authors, and essays. Although he is one of Germany’s most prominent contemporary poets, only two collections of his essays and one volume of selected poems have been translated into English. His 2005 Porcelain: Poem on the Downfall of My City deals with the bombing of Dresden (which his mother survived as a child) and the city’s history. He has received numerous awards, including the Georg-Büchner Prize Brett Elizabeth Jenkins lives and writes in Saint Paul. She is the author of the chapbook Ether/Ore (2012, nap Chaps) and in 2012 was nominated for Best of the Net. Look for her work in Beloit Poetry Journal, PANK, Potomac Review, RHINO, and elsewhere Timothy Liu is the author of nine books of poems, including the forthcoming Don’t Go Back To Sleep (Saturnalia Books). He lives in Manhattan with his husband Mark Mazzoli is currently haunting New York. His work has previously appeared in Instigatorzine, Slippery Elm, Moonshot Magazine, Crate, and the Mississippi Review Roisín O’Donnell holds a first in English Studies from Trinity College Dublin. She has been published in Colony Journal and Popshot Magazine. She was shortlisted for the Cúirt New Writing Prize 2014 and she received an honorary mention in the Fish Flash Fiction Prize. Her fiction is due to be anthologised in Fugue: Contemporary Stories, The Fish Anthology 2014, and in Young Irelanders, an Irish anthology of “the most gifted and daring contemporary short fiction writers” to be published by New Island in 2015. She is currently teaching in Dublin and completing her first collection of short fiction Jorge Ortega was born in Mexicali, Mexico. He completed a PhD in Hispanic Philology at the Universidad Autónomade Barcelona, where he 107


focused his research on the poetry of the Siglo de Oro and contemporary Latin American poetry. His list of publications includes nine collections of poetry, among them Ajedrez de polvo (tsé-tsé, 2003), Estado del tiempo (Hiperión, 2005), and Devoción por la piedra (2011), which won the international poetry prize named in honour of Jaime Sabines. His poetry has been translated into English and French, and published widely in journals, such as Letras Libres, Nexus, Crítica, The Bitter Oleander and Alforja Megan Palmer writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry and has just completed a creative writing diploma at Oxford University. She has almost completed her first novel and has been commended in several short story competitions including Writer’s Village and Five Stop Stories Ana Ristovic is the author of seven collections of poetry. Her latest collection is Meteorski otpad (Meteoric Debris). She often reads her work throughout Europe and South America Shawna Kay Rodenberg is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars. She works online as a writing instructor and moonlights as a poetry editor for the Southern Indiana Review’s poetry prizes. She is also the founder and host of Slant, a monthly poetry reading in Evansville, Indiana which accommodates both professional and amateur poets. Her work has appeared in New Millennium Writings and is forthcoming in Free State Review. When she is not writing poems or teaching, she works part-time as a registered nurse, caring for elderly nuns. She is also an unschooling mother of five (two in college) and she lives and works on a dairy goat farm in southern Indiana Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies and, since 2000, story collections. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. His work is a blend of genres and styles that can best be described as ‘frankrogerism’, an approach of which he is the main representative. By now he has a few hundred short stories to his credit, published in about 40 languages. Find out more at frankroger.be Anton Rose lives in Durham with his wife and their dog. He writes stories in his spare time, while trying to finish a PhD in Theology. His work has appeared in The Alarmist and Open Pen 108


Lawrence Schimel writes in both Spanish and English and has published over 100 books in many different genres, for both adults and children. He is the author of one poetry collection in Spanish, Desayuno en la cama, and two poetry chapbooks in English, Fairy Tales for Writers and Deleted Names. He has won the Lambda Literary Award twice, for his anthologies PoMoSexuals and First Person Queen, and his children’s books ¿Lees un libro conmigo? and Igual que ellos ( Just Like Them) were both chosen by IBBY for Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities in 2007 and 2013 respectively. He is the publisher of the independent poetry press A Midsummer Night’s Press (amidsummernightspress.com). He lives in Madrid where he works as a Spanish to English translator Anthony Seidman is the author of three collections of poetry, including Where Thirsts Intersect (The Bitter Oleander Press), as well as the artist book, The Motel Insomnia (AdeLeo Editions). His poetry, articles, fiction and translations have been published in numerous journals, such as World Literature Today,  Ambit,  The Black Herald,  Nimrod, Newsweek en Español and Caliban Alex Sewter lives in Leeds, although he was brought up in Cumbria, close to the Solway coast. He’s been writing short stories on and off for the last couple of years, and you can read a few selected ones at asterstories. wordpress.com. He’s occasionally on twitter too, at @as__te Christina Seymour’s work also appears in North American Review, Quiddity International, New Haven Review, Connotation Press, Wick Poetry Center’s traveling exhibit/anthology Speak Peace—American Voices Respond to Vietnamese Children’s Paintings, and elsewhere. She teaches English and edits the Computing Literature book series A.E. Stallings is an American poet who has lived in Greece since 1999. Her most recent collection is Olives. She is a MacArthur Fellow Keith Taylor has published some fourteen collections of poems, very short stories, translations or edited volumes. His most recent full length collection is If the World Becomes So Bright (Wayne State University Press, 2009). He teaches in the writing program at the University of Michigan, where he directs the Bear River Writers’ Conference and works as Associate Editor at Michigan Quarterly Review

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Steven and Maja Teref are the translators of Ana Ristovic’s Little Zebras: Selected Poems (Zephyr Press, 2016) and Novica Tadic’s Assembly (Host Publications). Their translations have appeared in Conduit, Asymptote, RHINO, and are forthcoming in Aufgabe and International Poetry Review Eley Williams is a writer and Visiting Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London. She has had work appear in printed journals Ambit, Night & Day and Belleville Park Pages, with a chapbook ‘Sketch’ published by Annexe. Recently shortlisted for The White Review Prize 2014, details of past and forthcoming work can be found at GiantRatOfSumatra.com John Sibley Williams is the author of eight collections, most recently Controlled Hallucinations (FutureCycle Press, 2013). He is the winner of the HEART Poetry Award and has been nominated for the Pushcart, Rumi, and The Pinch Poetry Prizes. John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and Board Member of the Friends of William Stafford. A few previous publishing credits include: American Literary Review, Third Coast, Nimrod International Journal, Rio Grande Review, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, Cream City Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon

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structo

Structowhatnow? Every issue of Structo contains an international mix of stories and poems from both new and established writers, alongside essays and interviews with some of the most interesting people in and around the world of literature. We operate on a not-for-profit basis, carry no advertising and receive no grant funding. structomagazine.co.uk

Profile for Structo Magazine

Structo issue 12  

Structo issue 12 features 10 short stories, 14 poems (four in translation, from the German, Serbian and Spanish), an instructional score, an...

Structo issue 12  

Structo issue 12 features 10 short stories, 14 poems (four in translation, from the German, Serbian and Spanish), an instructional score, an...

Profile for structo
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