Page 1

The Harvard Advocate Spring 2010 Vol. 145 No.3

COVER.indd 1


SPRING 2010 $8 5/26/2010 11:17:07 PM



come check out our new menu burritos & bowls wraps & salads smoothies & shakes

) m a 2 l i t n u ( e t a l n e p o y a d r u t a S d n on Friday a 71 mt. auburn st. 617.354.5838



Emma Banay, Ruben Davis, Molly Dektar, Julian Gewirtz*, Elyssa Jakim, Dana Kase, Rebecca Levitan, Rebecca Lieberman, Anna Murphy, Julene Paul, Thalassa Raasch, Anna Raginskaya, Madeleine Schwartz.


Ankur Agrawal, Ben Berman, Sanders Bernstein, Giselle Cheung, Diane Choi, Ruben Davis, Liya Eijvertinya, Catherine Humphreville, Andrew Izaguirre, Olivia Jampol, Andrew Karn*, Kenneth Li, Keri Mabry, Iya Megre, Jaron Mercer, Sasha Mironov*, Arielle Pensler, Logan Pritchard, Anna Raginskaya, David Tao, Daniel Thorn, Caroline Williams, Natalie Wong, Emily Xie, Millicent Younger, Lillian Yu.

The Harvard Advocate

Editorial Board President Publisher Art Editor Business Manager Design Editors Features Editor Fiction Editor Poetry Editor Online Editor Pegasi Dionysi Circulation & Publicity Managers Librarian Alumni Relations Manager Community Outreach Director


Board of Trustees Chairman James Atlas Chairman Emeritus Louis Begley Vice-Chairman Douglas McIntyre President Susan Morrison Vice-President Austin Wilkie and Treasurer Secretary Charles Atkinson Peter Brooks John DeStefano ESLIE DUNTON-DOWNER L A. Whitney Ellsworth jonathan Galassi Lev Grossman Angela Mariani Daniel Max CELIA MCGEE Thomas A. Stewart


Lucy Anderson*, Charlotte Alter, Isidore Bethel, Wendy Chang, Hanna Choi*, Jessica Henderson*, Dana Kase, Charleton Lamb, Joseph Morcos, Anna Murphy, Lauren Packard, Aimee Wang.


Anna Barnet, Brittany Benjamin, Sanders Bernstein, Emily Chertoff, Mark Chiusano, Rebecca Cooper, Ben Cosgrove, Eva DeLappe*, Sophie Duvernoy, Molly Fitzpatrick*, Anna Polonyi, Madeleine Schwartz, Kevin Seitz, Jessica Sequeira, Georgia Stasinopoulos*.


Katie Banks, Sanders Bernstein, Emily Chertoff, Molly Dektar*, Eva Delappe, William Eck, Erik Fredericksen, Justin Keenan, Seph Kramer, Michal Labik, Charleton Lamb, Max Larkin, Charlotte Lieberman*, Henry Lichtblau, Linda Liu, Teddy Martin, Ryan Meehan, Alex Ratner, Georgia Stasinopoulos*, David Wallace, Scott Zuccarino.


Matthew Aucoin, Courtney Bowman, William Eck, Erik Frederikson, Ted Gioia, Rachel Goldberg, Julian Gewirtz*, Chris Johnson-Roberson, Abram Kaplan, Andrew Klein, Jennifer Nicole Kurdyla, James Leaf, Jake McNulty*, Adam Palay, Joshua Wilson*, David Wallace.


Ben Berman, Jeff Feldman, Jeremy Feng, Kevin McNamara, Mark VanMiddlesworth, Lakshmi Parthasarathy*, Anna Roth*, Scott Zuccarino, Qichen Zhang*.

* The Harvard Advocate congratulates his newest members. The Harvard Advocate will anonymously consider all submissions of art, features, fiction, and poetry. Submissions may be emailed to art@,, fiction@, or Submissions may also be mailed to 21 South St., Cambridge MA 02138. All submissions should be original work that has not been previously published. If you wish to have your submission returned to you, please include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Questions about submissions may be directed to the individual emails above or to Founded in 1866, The Harvard Advocate is the nation’s oldest continually published college literary magazine. It publishes quarterly from 21 South St, Cambridge MA 02138. Published pieces and advertisements represent the opinions of the authors and advertisers, not The Harvard Advocate. Domestic subscription rates are $35 for one year (4 issues), $60 for two years (8 issues), $90 for three years (12 issues). For institutions and international addresses, the rates are $45 for one year (4 issues), $75 for two years (8 issues), $110 for three years (12 issues). Payable by cash or check made out to The Harvard Advocate and mailed to the above address, Attn: Circulation Manager. Back issues are available for purchase at No part of this magazine may be reprinted without the permission of The Harvard Advocate. Copyright 2010 by the Editors and Trustees of The Harvard Advocate.

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 1


5/26/2010 11:20:23 PM



The Mourners


Crystals in London


Monty in Cancer

Kayla Escobedo


Monty in Dementia

Kayla Escobedo

39 The Strawberry Eaters 48 Weltall, Erde, Mencsch 57


Spring2010.indd 2

Something Could Happen Here

Kayla Escobedo

Dana Kase

Boriana Kantcheva

Rebecca Lieberman

Anna Murphy

The Harvard Advocate

5/26/2010 11:20:23 PM



NOTES FROM 21 SOUTH STREET The Sound Collectors


Manhattan, Here and There


Love Letters to Socialism?


ENVOY Goodnightsparklehorseasleepinthebellyofamerica

Ben Cosgrove Rebecca Cooper Sophie Duvernoy David Rice


Good Soil


Ours is the God of the Flood and the Famine


Should I Bring Flowers



Landscape with an Aspen

Dwight Livingstone Curtis Mark Chiusano

Olga Moskvina


[born: drops]


Problems Worth Having


[Myself I am green in this:]


A sonnet. Eve.

Abram Kaplan


The Philosopher’s Children

David Wallace

TENTS Spring2010.indd 3

Tiffany Stanley

Matt Aucoin Allan Peterson Erik Fredericksen

Spring 2010


5/26/2010 11:20:23 PM


The Sound Collectors Ben Cosgrove


There’s a great photograph from around 1972 of Bruce Davis and Peter Huse recording the sound of gravel. Davis is walking methodically back and forth over a mess of the stuff, while Huse captures the moment with a cumbersome array of sound equipment. Both men look deadly serious about their work. At the time of the photo, Davis and Huse were members of the World Soundscape Project, a small but intrepid band of sound


Spring2010.indd 4

preservationists led by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer and based out of the communications department at Simon Fraser University, just outside Vancouver. The image catches them collecting material for one of the WSP’s more ambitious undertakings, a 10-hour radio series directed by Schafer and dedicated to the analysis and explication of Canada’s sonic environment. Airing over the course of several weeks in 1974, it was beamed

The Harvard Advocate

5/26/2010 11:20:23 PM

out nationally by the Canadian Broadcasting Company to what must have been a rather bemused listening public. The name R. Murray Schafer looms large in any discussion of “soundscapes,” on which he literally wrote the book. Schafer coined the term to refer to the aural components of the built and natural environment, long overlooked in favor of the visual ones. His interest in environmental sound owed a lot to 1960s environmentalism, and his texts outlined a grave and career-defining concern he shared with other WSP members: that the sounds of the world not only hung in a delicate balance but were in critical danger of being overwhelmed by a postmodern roar of homogeneous, indecipherable noise. Schafer and his compatriots founded the World Soundscape Project on this idea, that the sonic elements of the world they knew were disappearing rapidly and needed protection, that attention needed to be paid, at long last, to the planet’s “acoustic ecology.” With tape recorders and armfuls of notebooks, the agents of the world’s first sonic conservation group leapt enthusiastically into the field, painstakingly notating the subtleties of foghorns, peeling apart the layers in crowd noise, carefully cataloguing the pitches produced by power lines, traffic jams, cobblestones, animals, and airplanes. They published quickly and prodigiously, producing in short order an in-depth study of the Vancouver soundscape, a compendium of noise-abatement laws in Canada, and a comprehensive handbook outlining the principles of acoustic ecology for the amateur sound historian, among others. They wrote a great deal, but the written output of the WSP pales in comparison to the miles and miles of tape they recorded. In addition to the “Soundscapes of Canada” program, the group produced several other audio projects and, purely in the interest of preservation and analysis, filled a stupefying number of tape reels with sounds exceptional and mundane, in

locations ranging from Victoria to Vienna. Simon Fraser University has become something of a home base for soundscape analysis and composition in North America, and the WSP’s entire sound library currently resides in a digitized form on the university’s website. Links to various reels are organized there both by location and by subject, grouped under such subcategories as “small town ambiences,” “antique and/or disappearing sounds,” and, perhaps most intriguingly, “soundwalks.” The WSP came to favor this last type of recording, in which the recordist attempts to recreate a particular setting by moving a microphone through a series of acoustic environments—walking from a noisy marketplace down to a harbor, for example. In the later years of the Project, the WSP began to assemble soundwalks from component selections rather than one unbroken recording. One elaborate example carries the listener from the open ocean, to Vancouver’s harbor under the traffic of the Lion’s Gate bridge, to a baggage room in the inner harbor. Barry Truax, a devoted member of the project, names this recording as an important turning point in his career. For him, it was the moment when the presentation of soundscapes became a creative act, a product that could be interpreted symbolically as well as analyzed. He was not alone in this realization. Hildegard Westerkamp, a research associate for the project who has since published numerous articles on the subject of acoustic ecology, discovered that for her, environmental sounds provided the “perfect compositional language.” Notably, many of the acoustic ecologists— Truax, Westerkamp, and Schafer himself— were also composers. And though the WSP more or less faded away in the early 1980s, several of its members and contributors went on to create music with the same principles— sonic awareness, soundscape preservation, environmental responsibility—in mind. Soundscape composition—that is, composition using soundscapes as source Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 5


5/26/2010 11:20:23 PM

material—is now a startlingly busy and diverse field. It has responded well to the last thirty years of advances in audio technology, which have enabled composers to process their sounds in a seemingly endless variety of ways, highlighting, shading, or rendering unrecognizable the field recordings they used as source material. A broader sonic palette opened the door wide to more abstract representations of the places depicted in field recordings, and soundscape compositions quickly became more intensely personal, more subjective. And the composers of this music, many of whom have spent time as acoustic ecologists, have found that the sounds they collect mean less as raw, objective fragments in a catalog than they do when deliberately manipulated to evoke a sense of place, transformed into works of art. As a member of the WSP, Barry Truax helped contribute to an unbelievable library of field recordings that numbered well into the thousands. Some decades later in 1991, he composed a piece that combined field recordings with live instruments to craft a loving, stylized portrait of all of Canada in the space of 18 minutes. Of the two endeavors, it is hard not to feel that the latter more effectively communicates a sense of place. Another of Truax’s most notable compositions, Riverrun, is built from source recordings of moving water that have been electronically processed beyond any recognition, transformed from ripples and splashes into massive, ambient washes of sound. Remarkably, despite the use of what should be radically unfamiliar material, the piece still gives an unmistakable impression of river-ness. Not only do its minute textural shifts encourage careful and attentive listening, but, in the words of fellow composer Mara Helmuth, they also render it a “fluid, transforming entity with such internal subtlety that it is only understood on a large time scale”: nature’s rhythm, if not its voice. The recordings themselves might have had the nature ironed out of them, Helmuth says,


Spring2010.indd 6

but the art of their arrangement—and the space this arrangement allows for subjective interpretation—“closely connects the listener to the physical world.” Which is, of course, what the acoustic ecologists had wanted to do all along. After years capturing and pinning down sounds, the first generation of soundscape composers suddenly found combining this experience with personal impressions equipped them uniquely to show what a place—real or imagined—was really like, not only how it sounded. Place has at least as much to do with imagination as it does with objective reality, and as a result, the spaces represented in soundscape compositions tend to feel more tangible than the locations captured by field recordings. The difference between a piece like Riverrun and field recordings of an actual river could reasonably be likened to the difference between the idea of a favorite red sweater and that merely of the color red. Their creative work could—and does—accomplish what years of the most meticulous research could not. It wasn’t enough just to tell us to listen, or even what to listen for; they also had to show us how. Westerkamp, by now the creator of dozens of works concerned with the acoustic environment, knows well the power and responsibility of the soundscape composer. The field, she says, is one of the very few “[w]here cultural production can speak with a potentially powerful voice about one of the most urgent issues we face in this stage of the world’s life: the ecological balance of our planet.” She is not only talking about sound. “The soundscape,” she continues, “makes these issues audible. We simply have to learn to hear it and to speak back. The soundscape composer has the skill and the expertise to do exactly that.”

The Harvard Advocate

5/26/2010 11:20:25 PM

The Mourners Kayla Escobedo Acrylic on canvas 6’ x 5.5’ Spring 2010 Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 7


5/26/2010 11:20:27 PM

Manhattan,HereandThere Rebecca Cooper ILLUSTRATION BY LUCY ANDERSEN

“No no no. So let me tell you. I did this quiz in the New York Post: ‘How Much of a New Yorker Are You?’ Or some shit. Man, I’ve lived here my whole life, so I was like, I got this shit. But shit man. The quiz was hard. It’s like I don’t know this stuff: What’s the highest Subway station in New York?” I shrugged. “Smith-9th Street in Brooklyn. What!” the man continued, his flailing arms almost thwacking a girl in a fuchsia jumpsuit. She mashed her gum


Spring2010.indd 8

loudly. The man didn’t notice. “Who knows that shit? That’s not New York. Here’s the one I got: What’s the only borough that’s connected to the mainland?” I should know this. I’m walking down the length of Broadway to hand out blank maps of Manhattan to strangers. My roommate Ama Francis and I have 480 more maps and just over 12 more miles ahead of us. “The Bronx?” I say. “Yea! My friend lives there ‘cause it’s the

The Harvard Advocate

5/26/2010 11:20:27 PM

only part of New York that’s connected to the mainland, so if shit goes down, he can just keep running. You know, ‘cause elsewhere, it’d be like: Run—water! Ah!” The stranger pretends the boundary of his concrete block is the edge of the island. “Run!” He hits the crack in the pavement closest to me. “Water! Blah!” He spins 90 degrees and runs north on Broadway toward 214th Street—“Run!”—until he hits the edge of the concrete tile, spins again over his right shoulder, runs away from me, his black high tops practically screeching on the hot July pavement—Water!—spins again, runs. He looks like a pinball or a frenetic toddler in a tiny playpen. “But in the Bronx he could just keep running.” He breathes hard. “9 /11 did different things to people.” The summer air hangs above the asphalt as if it’s thick enough to stir. “Anyway, girl, I’ll take your map. I’ll do it for you. You want me to map the shit that means something to me? What Manhattan is for me? Okay. You got it, babe. Good luck.” My blank maps are 3.5” x 7” postcards with a cartoon outline of Manhattan on the inside. The island looks like, as Truman Capote puts it, “a diamond iceberg” floating between the East and Hudson Rivers. Or as Pat Flanagan writes in his postcard to me, months after handing him a map, “an abdomen without the appendages necessary for life,” “a halved steer,” “a leg of lamb” one meat hook shy of a slaughter house. I think it looks more like a jalapeno pepper, with a vein down the middle for Broadway, a transverse line for Houston Street, a rectangular blemish for Central Park and a baby pepper, or maybe a stray leaf, by its side for Roosevelt Island. It’s nearing the end of the first hour, the noon sun is just about standing over us, and Ama and I are finally past Inwood Hill Park. We’ve handed three maps to the Watchtower ladies sitting on the edge of the park, giving out the religious pamphlets. In return for their accepting our maps, we took our own reading material—two

brochures, one on depression and the other on “Global Warming?” I hand a map to a woman tending a churros stand at the corner of 198th and Broadway by trying to pass my Italian off for Spanish. Draw your mind is the phrase that finally got her to take it. A post office worker, dripping with sweat, palms one without listening to the explanation. Ama spots a tall, burly man leaning against an M100 bus post on Dyckman Street, where Broadway meets with the final segment of Riverside Drive. A baseball bat and a duffel bag large enough for four basketballs drape from his sides. Ama approaches him. Even with the sun almost directly overhead, she stands in his shade. “Hi! We’re doing a mapping project of Manhattan and we were—” He pulls out an earbud from under his sweatband. “Huh?” I realize it looks like he could eat her. “We’re doing a community art project, giving out blank maps of Manhattan, and asking people to represent Manhattan in a way that’’s meaningful to them. You can draw, write, label. And—” “Wait what?” “We... we want you to record the stuff in Manhattan that makes it home. Whatever you like. ” “I take this and draw anything I want on it?” We both nod. “Anything?” “Anything,” Ama says, “and then you mail it back to us.” He puts out a hand. The skinny map looks even more miniature in his grip. “Thanks!” Ama says, turning back south on Broadway. “Wait. Have you guys been to Inwood?” he asks, pointing uptown. “Some great basketball courts up there. Real good places to picnic.” “We just passed by—” “Because one time in that park I saw this hummingbird by a flowering tree, just like beating its wings a million times a minute. And I walk up close and that thing is beating faster than anything I’ve seen in my life. Its little heart going ba-boom ba-broom in its chest. Have you ever Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 9


5/26/2010 11:20:27 PM

seen a hummingbird?” Ama says in Dominica, where she grew up, yes. “I can map that?” he asks. “Of course.” “Because really. Have you seen a hummingbird from up close?” Broadway runs north-south across the length of Manhattan. It starts from Bowling Green in the south and cuts northwest across the island from 10th Street to 79th, where it unkinks itself, rejoins the grid, and forms the spine of the Upper West Side. From there, it runs almost perfectly straight the rest of the way to Inwood, jumps over the Broadway Bridge, continues through Marble Hill, a sneaky little part of Manhattan that’s not actually connected to the island, and goes up through Yonkers and Sleepy Hollow before disappearing into Route 9. It used to be a Native American path, cut through the brush and swamps of old Mannahattan, called the Wickquasgeck Trail. When the Dutch came, they took it as their main highway and renamed it Breede Weg. Then the English won out, and anglicized it to Broadway. But it wasn’t until 1899, when Mayor Robert Van Wyck signed a law changing the name of Western Boulevard—the segment above Columbus Circle—to Broadway that the whole avenue became unified under the same name. It’s hour three and it’s starting to feel like Broadway is a conveyor belt with Manhattan zipping by on either side. English appears out of the Spanish. Awnings for “CA$H LOAN$” and C-Town morph into red brick facades laced with ivy. The metal skeleton of the IRT subway line sinks into the ground at 122nd Street. Ama and I have started taking bets on who will and won’t respond agreeably. A woman hobbles out of RiteAid near 110th street, dragging her left foot behind her right. Ama says no. I say yes: “What? What do you want? Directions or money?” “Actually we’re doing a mapping project...” “And how much do I have to pay for it?” “Nothing.” “Oh in that case, thanks sweeties.”

10 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 10

5/26/2010 11:20:27 PM

Empirically, the hipsters are too snide. Three of four Columbia undergraduates stop, but the Columbia Medical Students can’t be bothered. Ama considers doing a sociological project in tandem with my cartographic one. An elderly man, hunched over his empty shopping cart, shuffles uptown on Broadway. We both bet no. He looks up from staring at his brown orthopedic shoes when I ask him to join the project. “Map my memories? All my memories are from here for the last 80 years.” His accent is the thick Polish-Yiddish one I imagine my father’s grandparents had when they settled in the tenements on the Lower East Side. He lingers on the r’s. I wonder if he was around as Jewish Harlem changed to Italian Harlem and changed again into Spanish Harlem. I wonder what he thinks of the Whole Foods opening 10 blocks away. Or of the mannequins in mesh underwear bent over in the American Apparel store window behind him. He takes a map.“This is all I know. Is that okay?” In 2000, the city of New York dedicated a division of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication (DOITT) to geographic information system (GIS) mapping. Its prize creation, NYCityMAP, is possibly one of the most complete maps of any city ever made. It was designed to be the first fully integrated map of the city, for use when multiple agencies need to be working from the same document, like in the event of a water main break. They’ve released an online version for anyone to use. Click on any building in the five boroughs and the map will tell you the year it was built, the real estate owner, the number of floors, the approximate number of units. Select from the menu on the right and you can see all the subway entrances, all the traffic cameras, every garage and off-street parking lot. Last month they added the ability to scroll between aerial views of Manhattan in 2008, 2006 and 1924. Now you can watch old Penn Station emerge from where Madison Square Garden currently buries it. The Map “may be the first great map in which Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 11


5/26/2010 11:20:28 PM

the old cartographic function, to point a path, matters less than a new one: to provide a picture of everything, in depth, in case, for now,” Adam Gopnik wrote in 2000 when the base map of NYCityMap was unveiled. “Yet the Map, being all maps to all men, will, in its nature, remain forever unfinished.”1 At 86th and Broadway, Ama and I spot a man in a floppy fisherman’s hat surveying the table vendors selling old books and wire jewelry. Pat Flanagan, he says his name is. “I just love this,” he says. “You know why? I just moved up to the Bronx, but for the first seventy years, this,” he gestures to Broadway, “this was it. It’s ALL memories. Nights out drinking. Old lovers and heart ache. People think they know this area, but you see that grille?” He waits until I follow the line of his pointing finger and face the street. “People pass by this street every day but they never notice that cast-iron fence. It’s got to be over 100 years old. If the subway was built in 1904, and the grilles needed to be there for ventilation from the very beginning… Well let me tell you. Your project is about creativity, yes?” I nod. “Well there’s nothing more creative than a bunch of 12-year-olds left to their own devices. I used to hang out there with the neighborhood boys when I was 12, and we would all go exploring. We’d never get in trouble or anything like that… but those grilles are the access points to the subway tunnels. And let. Me. Tell. You. It’s like the 19th century down there. I’ll map all of it for you. You’ll be hearing from me, Rebecca.” The summer after my freshman year of college, I worked on my own Sisyphean project for a nonprofit called CultureNOW: a giant map of all the public art work in Manhattan. My boss insisted that every street be named, every piece of artwork be both labeled and pictured on the front, and cross-referenced on the back, with information about the provenance, artist, location, and material. The selling point of the map, according to my boss, was that it was the 1 Adam Gopnik, “Street Furniture,” The New Yorker, November 6, 2000.

“largest compilation of art in the public realm to date.” For a while, the file was so unwieldy that every time I tried to open it, Adobe self-destructed. I doubt very much that anyone can make sense of the final product. It’s little more than noise, really—with a baroque system of organization. Yet for all that effort to be complete, the map still became, secretly, my vision of the city. Inside my lime green office, I decided what counted as public and what counted as art. Should a carousel count as a piece of public art? What about the statues in the gardens at the UN? Does the UN count as a public space? What about the artwork inside public schools and hospitals? It was from that mess that this fractured map project—with its aim to put the work of one cartographer into the hands of many—emerged. The idea was not just to acknowledge, but to celebrate the bias of the mapmaker, and to recognize the impossibility of completion from the start. 2PM: Ama and I are skidding just west of Central Park when the sky cracks and it starts to pour. Fearing a shoebox full of 200 moist maps, we seek shelter in the cafe by Lincoln Center where I run into my old high school history teacher. We make small talk; I hide my midafternoon mojito. Rain slides down the sheets of glass. I jot down notes about the expedition— something about New York starting to feel like a small town, the fear of going up to strangers, wearing off. The rain lets up, and we stumble out to 66th street. The air smells fresher, and it sticks less thickly. I slip three maps in quick succession through a McDonald’s store window, through the vent in a movie vendor’s ticket booth, into the hands of a Mr. Softee driver. Just past Columbus Circle, a man is digging through the recycling. “Can I have two?” he asks. “So I can keep one?” 42nd street speeds by. Or maybe we speed by it. I’m reminded of David Letterman’s description of it as a petting zoo now that they’ve closed the street down and have reserved it for “pinkening

12 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 12

5/26/2010 11:20:28 PM

Brits and pooped grandmothers.”2 I’m also reminded of my Russian roommate’s description of it—it really does look like an airport. But the signs are shiny and the theaters really are impressive. We hand a couple of cops some maps and they stuff them in the fronts of their uniforms. 34th street zooms by. Ama and I cut through the Flatiron District, and pass through the nondescript stretch of Broadway between 18th and 13th, where Broadway is the borderland between the Meatpacking District and Union Square. Distracted by some conversation about food—we’re starving by this point—we lose Broadway near 10th street. Finding our way takes 15 minutes. Ama teases me about getting lost in the city I grew up in. “Where is what you were looking for?” a voice calls after me. High-pitched, giggling. I look down at a head of duckfluff blonde hair, clumped from the humidity, and further down still at a set of bloodshot blue eyes hidden by glasses. “Truman,” he says, shaking my hand. “And, by the way, what are you looking for?” He slips me a piece of paper: “It is a myth, the city, for anyone, everyone, a different myth, an idol-head with traffic-light eyes winking a tender green, a cynical red. This island, floating in river water like a diamond iceberg, call it New York, name it whatever you like; the name hardly matters because, entering from the greater reality of elsewhere, one is only in search of a city, a place to hide or lose or discover oneself, to make a dream wherein you prove that perhaps after all you are not an ugly duckling, but wonderful, and worthy of love.”3 I have to admit, he says, that there is something essentially elsewhere about New York. It is a place that people come to precisely because it doesn’t ever offer itself fully. Truman asks if I can hear it—the typewriter, a mile uptown, going clackety clackety schpling in pursuit of Here Is New York. “There are roughly three New Yorks,” E.B. White bangs out in his room at the Algonquin during the feverish heat 2 Lauren Collins. “Zoo York,”The New Yorker, September 14, 2009. 3 Truman Capote, “New York” Portraits and Observations, 1946.

spell of July 1948. “There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there... and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter—the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last—the city of final destination, the city that is a goal.” Or what about those shears? Truman asks if I can hear Gay Talese, a few blocks down the street, splicing together ledes from Times articles. “New York is a city of things unnoticed. It is a city with cats sleeping under parked cars, two stone armadillos crawling up St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and thousands of ants creeping on top of the Empire State Building. The ants probably were carried up there by wind or birds, but nobody is sure; nobody in New York knows any more about the ants than they do about the panhandler who takes taxis to the Bowery; or the dapper man who picks trash out of Sixth Avenue trash cans; or the medium in the West Seventies who claims, ‘I am clairvoyant, clairaudient, and clairsensuous.’”4 New York is always here and there, n’est-ce pas? he says. You can live here your whole life and never own it. Have it always remain just beyond your reach. It’s intoxicating. Keeps you on your toes, keeps you drinking coffee, and keeps you walking. Listen, he says, and Adam Gopnik whispers, “New York is always somewhere else. Across the river or on the back of the front seat of the taxi... We keep coming home to New York to try and look for it again.”5 “How can you map something you’re still looking for?” Truman asks and skips off. Our knees ache by the time we reach SoHo, when the numbered streets give out to “Prince” and “Spring” and “Mercer.” It’s about 4:30pm and the easy conveyor belt of the Upper West Side has disappeared. We’re pulling ourselves 4 Gay Talese, “New York is a City of Things Unnoticed,” The Gay Talese Reader. 5 Adam Gopnik, Iintroduction to Through the Children’s Gate, 2006.

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 13


5/26/2010 11:20:28 PM

along now. Fifteen maps remain to give out. “And what, by the way, are you looking for?” echoes in the Canyon of Heroes. “Merci beaucoup,” I say, handing the last map to a young Parisian girl sitting at the edge of Battery Park, sketching the water into her book. Ama and I fall into a bench a few down from her. I’m sore and covered in dirt—literally. I swipe my finger across my chest, and it comes up black and greasy. I am hungry and tired and lost and satisfied and exhausted. We check the time: 6:27pm. I mark it down. It just feels so good to sit down. To sink into a bench warmed by the summer. We stare blankly ahead, at the pedestrians and the bike riders, at the waterfront just beyond, at the confluence of the Hudson and East Rivers in the distance. I try to remember why this map project meant so much to me. Why I needed to know that I could put a little bit of New York down on paper. Why I would walk 13 miles to capture just a fraction of it. Why I needed to believe that Manhattan would arrive piece by piece to my P.O. Box over the next few weeks. The waves lap at the base of the Statue of Liberty. My knees ache, my shoebox of maps is empty. I’ve tried my best to find it. I’m physically unable to go any farther—the street stops and the water laces protectively around. Yet the Statue still rises up in the distance, almost mocking my hereness. The city is still just ahead, essentially elsewhere. There.

14 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 14

5/26/2010 11:20:29 PM


Olga Moskvina

Morning is stark over the contours of two hillocks. The slopes are trapped in slow folds of air bright as the glass of an unused photo frame. The air gathers reflections from the undersides of leaves that look like quieted skin in a room with the curtains drawn. The leaves stick to one another and to the bark of the tree that swoons into the blue space off to the side, following the rules of good composition. There are no clouds and the sun is not pictured. Neither is the procession of women that had just passed through here. They wore hoods and held out cupped hands. Their cupped hands carried nothing. Perhaps a bell tolled in the distance and the echo followed them. That we could never have known. But the women, the women – the creases in their palms were thin smiles.

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 15


5/26/2010 11:20:29 PM

Good Soil Tiffany Stanley

The storm started coming through just then, the line pop popping with electricity, my mind wandering and thinking about sparks coming up through the holes in the receiver. “Mama, I got to go. The connection’s bad. You’re breaking up.” Only this time I wasn’t lying when I said that. The storm came and took the power with it. I had filled up the tub with water already. We didn’t have much food in the fridge to start, but I packed what I could on what was left of the ice. Nothing would last in this heat anyhow. Shelby thinks it’s all a game and I do a good job of not convincing her otherwise. We play pretend outside all morning, because I figure it’s more natural to be sweating out of doors than to be soaking through our skivvies in the house. I let her run around the yard with no shirt, even though I know she’s getting too old for that. From time to time, Mother says Shelby will pay me back for all I’ve done. She will be one wild heathen of a teenager too. I don’t say so, but I think no such thing. Shelby is smart in all the ways I am not. She will make better for herself. She will not be like me. And for that I am glad.

16 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 16

5/26/2010 11:20:29 PM

This afternoon, when the sun dipped down, she and I came out back to dig around in the wet dirt, pulling weeds out of my someday-flowerbeds. I don’t know what the protocol is on this kind of thing, or what the ideal weather is for yard work, but what I do know is the green strings come out easy this way, after a storm, just like plucking my eyebrows after a shower. Next to me, Shelby holds up one earthworm after another for me to see, all of them washed up with the deluge, whipping themselves wiggly-confused from her fingers. My child takes care of living creatures. Always has. When she was smaller, her daddy used to take her scouting for animals at night. We’d all hop in the truck and take the big flashlight, scanning the woods for their eyes, seeing how they reflected like mirrors when you shine on them. A green pair meant a deer; yellow dots were for coons. Once we went to the pond and saw pairs of red eyes glowing back, peeking from just above the water—gators they were—and Shelby started crying at their plain meanness. I tease her just now and say that worm would make some good bait. “Where’s my fishing pole? Let’s go catch something.” “No mama!” She squeals. “This isn’t a fishing kind of worm.” “Well, what kind of worm you think it is?” She sits and I can tell she’s thinking real hard. “It’s a breeding worm. We should keep it to make more worms and then we’ll have a worm farm all to ourselves for all the fishing we want.” My ex-husband was good for breeding, even if he was good at leaving too. Suit yourself, I told him. Don’t come around here again. I was fine either way, to tell you the truth. I hadn’t given him too many reasons to stay. I only loved him because he gave me Shelby, which is all I really wanted to begin with. It’s a wonder Shel is as pretty as she is. Robbie wasn’t a good-looking man, nothing handsome about him. His feet, I swear, they were tough as hide, made me cringe when he would wrap his legs around mine in the bed. But he was nice to dogs and I thought he might be nice to children and he was. He was good with Shelby, even when she was a baby. He didn’t ask me many questions, which was fine with me, because I didn’t have many answers. I know Shelby misses him fiercely. I’m sorry I don’t feel the same. “Shel, what do you think you’re doing?” “I’m making my worm a home.” “In my good china?” “It’s the only kind of bowl we never use.” I didn’t argue because I knew it was true. A dandelion, some dirt, a leaf—a nice home for a bottom feeder. Holding the thing in her palm, all curved and exposed, it leaves a trail of dirt along her hand. Shelby has my hands, I think. Otherwise, my babies do not look like me. The both of them, the spitting image of their fathers. See already my traits do not carry. They do not take after me. When I got pregnant in high school, they sent me away to have the baby. Nowadays, girls just go away for hours, but then, we were the girls who went away for months, months taken to give away our babies. The home for girls where they sent me was a big old house in Charleston, and we all slept in one room, like some hospital ward in an old war movie. At night there were moans from the heat and humidity, from swollen bellies and ankles. Someone was always sniffling in the dark. Things weighed on my mind all the time, with the baby pressing in on me; me worrying I gave her a bad start, by making her weak in nervous backseat love. The boy who did it, he was Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 17


5/26/2010 11:20:29 PM

not even a boy really. After it was all said and done, I heard he got someone else—as they say—in trouble. He married her straight off six months later. I would lie still in my bed and try to think good thoughts to send the baby. I was worried she would know she was not wanted and I wanted her to know that someone wanted her. I prayed and prayed she would get a good place to grow and set down roots, where they don’t have to clip coupons or add water to the soup or use too much lettuce in the salad. Of course that was then, and now is now, and things have changed. The cicadas have kicked it up a notch, keeping with the temperature, their wings running like loud little engines. Shelby looks to be wilting out here in the sun, so I splash her with water from a puddle, and she dances around me. We move and dance in the mud and the hair on our heads turns to slinky ropes and we twirl and it flings and hits our faces. My firstborn, I only saw her face once, and not even after I birthed her. Thinking back, I don’t remember much about the pain during, only the pain after. The pain of giving birth didn’t amount to what was next. Even the clean, bright hospital lets you scream and scream at the hurt—at first anyway. After, they want hushes and deep breaths, for you to swallow and fake yourself strong. I felt her in me, the baby, my baby and then she was out, in a nurse’s arms. Would that they had let me hold her, but reaching out my hands, the nurse moved away, too far away and she was wrapping her up and moving toward the door. There was talking all around me, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I was deaf to all but her crying and crying. Crying is good, the home told us. The cries after birth tell us they are alive, they are fighters, they are here and they are letting us know. The door shut and I was left with nurses. I cried for her, but no one listened. I do not know how long I slept or if it was true sleep, but it felt long and heavy. When I woke up, with a dry mouth and a wet pillow, I was alone, and I ached to numbness. On the table by my head was the room phone, and I picked it up to call Mother. “Mama, they just took her. She’s gone already,” I sobbed. She spoke softly, slowly. “Now, Dede, honey. Please. This is what we decided.” “No!” I yelled. “Not this way. They didn’t let me hold her. I have to see her before they take her.” I don’t know what Mother did to make it happen, but I can just imagine her screaming at someone, saying she was going to see her grandbaby somehow, some way. The papers are already signed, they would say. It’s standard procedure, ma’am. Less attachment lessens the grieving process, you know. Mother would say she didn’t give a damn. Three days later, they sent me home from the hospital. Two weeks after that, Mother and I drove to the county office off Greystone Boulevard, to a white room with black linoleum. When they brought in the baby, my baby, well, I cried until I couldn’t cry any more. I didn’t know if I was allowed to touch her, but I hugged and kissed her plenty. Mother took one picture, a photo she kept. I didn’t need a photo to remember her face. Sometimes, I think I see her in Shel’s mouth, especially when she is sleeping. This evening, I let Shel curl up on our company couch, or what would be, if I had the kind of furniture fit for company. We will sleep in the living room where I have opened all the windows wide to let the night air blow down on us. I brush back Shelby’s baby curls, drying now just to get soaked in sweat. Mother would look over at me, that day, on the car ride home, but I pretended not to notice.

18 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 18

5/26/2010 11:20:29 PM

We didn’t speak the entire drive, and our silences since have measured longer than the stretch of springs in our phone cords. After I went away, I never really went back home. Didn’t see the need, seeing as how I was broken, sixteen-going-on-something, worn in too old already. I found work and I found Robbie and I found this place, all out in the woods, where the only sounds are birds and bugs. Tonight, I am grateful for summer storms and the dark and disconnected phone lines. It’s just me and Shelby and her latest pet, sitting in my china bowl, setting on the end table. I thumb around in the soil for the worm and pick her up, but she does not contract in my hand. She lies limp in my palm, and even when I poke her, it’s all mushed flesh. I realize that Shel gave her water before bed and this drowning may have been her demise, if it wasn’t for all that touch. I stand with purpose, and getting the flashlight, I go outside. I step barefoot in the soil, soaked like a sponge, with nothing but bullfrogs and crickets to greet me. Collapsing on my knees in the beds to be made, I claw at the dirt. If I were to stop this mission for a moment, and you were to shine a light through that stand of trees, seeing my eyes glowing back, you might think you had seen some mad haint of a woman, out here digging, nails full of grime, feeling around for just one nightcrawler. She won’t have to know the difference. And I won’t tell her, even if, in her bones of my bones, she already knows.

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 19


5/26/2010 11:20:29 PM

LoveLetterstoSocialism? Sophie Duvernoy ILLUSTRATION BY JESSICA HENDERSON

The sidewalks of Rosenthaler Strasse are rainswept and empty. It’s a particularly dreary day—the kind that leaves you despairing about life in any European capital, when a curtain of misty drizzle falls over the city and the streets are Sunday-bare. Neoclassical houses nestled side by side are reduced to shuttered displays, grey lattices over the glossy storefronts. Suddenly, a lone open store appears, a low-ceilinged cavernous affair in a 1960s concrete bunker building. Its orange display glows, crammed

with pilot helmets made of cheap pleather, sequined belly-dancer costumes, and orange candles in the shape of the Berlin TV Tower. In the corner, Technicolor rooster-shaped eggholders jostle each other next to plastic radios and floral dinnerware jumbled together in a colorful smorgasbord of retro kitsch. Iconography spills over countertops—hammer and sickle badges, Sandmännchen and Pittiplatsch themed kitchenware, once prized by East German children as they wolfed down dinner above their

20 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 20

5/26/2010 11:20:29 PM

animated bedtime heroes. Each item in this store is just a bit out of the ordinary: the objects more folkloric in their brightness, the plastic more brittle around its edges, the pleather unabashedly declaring itself the best—and the only—luxury material of the time. This is Wahnsinn Berlin, one of many stores that carries gently used, mostly East German goods from the 1970s, a repository of ostcool. Wahnsinn’s various offerings are artifacts of a badly remembered past, items both highly prized and ordinary that once uncomplainingly inhabited some East German’s lace-curtained, walnut-bookshelved, state-issued apartment. Though they are still the cheerful debris of that partially forgotten era, laden with nostalgia, today they also clamor for re-adoption by young post-reunification Berliners. They are quintessential symbols of Ostalgie, a sense of cultural nostalgia and longing for the German Democratic Republic. Popular German culture is still struggling to understand the historical legacy of the GDR in the context of reunified Germany. Contemporary, Western-dominated rhetoric portrays life in East Germany as primitive and totalitarian. Former East German citizens are framed as helpless, repressed victims of a socialist state, with an infrastructure crippled by reparations East Germany made to the Soviets. How can one reclaim personal memory of a place whose political, cultural, and geographic markers have been almost completely eradicated? Former East Germans often struggle with the fact that they no longer have a territory to call their own or a shared material touchstone to help them re-imagine their past. Enter Ostalgie, this compelling sense of nostalgia for the East. It softens the contours of memory under actually existing socialism and provides an alternate way to read and recollect this history. In the last 10 years, there has been an explosion of ostalgic products, stories, and movies in Germany. It is a deeply problematic form of recollection, however, one that runs the danger of sentimentalizing or trivializing hardships and injustices of life in an undeniably repressive East German state—from the politicized kindergarten

education to the constant surveillance and supervision by neighbors, friends, and bosses. Ostalgie has evolved into a curious combination of memory politics, identity exploration, and consumerism that endorses an alternative, retrocool subculture. I. Photographs for Osaka A camera shutter immortalizes two boys running beside a bus, hands outstretched, greedily grasping, faces apparently distorted by hunger pangs, mouths agape with suffocated yells. The bus drives on as tourists press their faces against the smeared windows, as they loop through East Berlin and finally back over the border again. Western tourists, horrified by the scarce conditions behind the iron curtain, hand around the Polaroids they’ve taken of scenes like this to relatives in Osaka, Pittsburgh, or Barcelona, commenting on them with the helpless sadness of the shocked but disinterested tourist. Look at those children, they sigh. This is what socialism has reduced them to. In the mean time, the boys have run away laughing, back to their rooms where they smoke and listen to Exile on Main Street in the lazy glare of the afternoon sun. Mario and Micha, who have lives surprisingly similar to those of their West German counterparts, are the protagonists of Thomas Brussig’s novel Sonnenallee, which focuses on the process of coming of age in East Germany and satirizes the interaction between East and West. Brussig is a poster-child for Ostalgie: Sonnenallee, written in 1999 and made into a movie in the same year, was the first mainstream German film to engage with GDR nostalgia, as well as one of the highest-grossing hits of that year. Brussig’s novel is a comic account of teenage life behind the wall that veers from blatant slapstick to dark humor, washing a gentle sepia tone over the difficult memory of a socialist past. Micha and Mario’s first love affairs and discoveries of existentialism are dramatic events, while the socialist governance appears only in silly tangential episodes: Micha’s mother insists on calling him “Mischa” to get Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 21


5/26/2010 11:20:29 PM

him just one step closer to the elite Russian prep school she dreams of, and his petrified West German uncle smuggles suits and chocolates (all legal) over the border. Sonnenallee may have been wildly successful, but it endured a wave of harsh criticism in its wake—wasn’t Brussig simply trivializing the totalitarian past? The threat of creating what Anna Saunders terms a ‘KuschelDDR’, or cuddly GDR, is justified. The film version of Sonnenallee was even subject to a lawsuit by Help e.V., an organization for victims of political violence, which claimed that the film was offensive to political dissidents and others who had suffered at the hands of the East German state. To deny that part of GDR history would simply be wrong. Instead, Ostalgie is always highly anecdotal and personal in its attempt to get away from the myth of the Stasi-state; it declares that individualism is not just part of a Western framework. However, its alternate depictions are invariably of a happy socialist childhood. When memory narratives become programmatic, the line between personal remembrance and mass cultural consciousness is blurred, the promise of individuality betrayed. II. Stasi Tapes and Summer Camp Staged photographs, Western video footage, Stasi supervision tapes—private images are overlaid with public ones in a memory palimpsest. When my mother looks back on the dissolution of the GDR, she has difficulty discerning the boundary between her personal memories and those created by endless hours of video footage documenting the political breakdown. Recollections dissolved with the country, to be restored physically in the form of video projections or frozen, full-page newspaper pictures. Media images, usually western, crystallized memories of the GDR that fit neatly within its Stasi-state mythology. These pictures provoked crises of faith in individual testimony and created massive memory gaps for some East Germans. Zonenkinder, Jana Hensel’s popular

autobiography chronicling her post-wall identity crisis, charts the disappearance of her personal memory in generalized recollections. Instead of showing visiting Western friends the landmarks of her childhood and her everyday life, she takes them to the Secret Police Museum and the St. Nicholas Church where the Monday night demonstrations took place in 1989, pointing out surveillance towers, monitors, and cameras. Her friends are happy to have witnessed real GDR landmarks, whose pictures they had until then seen only on television. But Hensel’s own memories have in turn become “a series of strange, larger-than-life anecdotes that didn’t really have anything to do with what our lives had been like.” At dinner with her West German boyfriend and his family, Hensel is unable defend her past circumstances when faced with the father’s gentle but firm condemnations of GDR’s repression, surveillance systems, and weak infrastructure. The conversation about her former home ends as she weakly smiles and nods. Every one of her memories has been co-opted into an alternate framework in which she was once a naïve victim of political circumstances. How could she compete with the cultural capital of the fashionable West German girls, who still put a premium on bourgeois family heritage and learned French instead of Russian? Outdone in every arena—political, cultural, and historical—the only way Hensel can cope with her sudden memory loss is to rebuild her personal history from the ground up and critically examine her childhood to rediscover the positive aspects of her East German past. Maybe this is also why my mother used to tell me detailed stories from her childhood, rather than her student days in East Berlin. She skipped over how she learned to speak Russian or to shoot a rifle. I recently found a languishing, yellowed invitation embossed with officiallyendorsed socialist vocabulary, flowering over the page in ceremonial cursive. It’s the invitation to her socialist coming-of-age ceremony, or Jugendweihe. She doesn’t mention this much either; it’s a banal, common artifact, and the ceremony was probably equally forgettable. But

22 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 22

5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

these are the sort of relics that many Germans now cling to in order to remember the GDR, relics that are unequivocally emblematic of the happy socialist childhood. Despite this, though, all former East Germans (ostalgic or not) must concede that their recollections are never universal, but clearly tinged with the neat order of a socialist system. My mother suffered through typical history classes, but she was also shown movies documenting the heroism of the Soviets during World War II. She had school off on national holidays, but would sometimes have to put on a red bandana and parade in the streets with her classmates as part of a mass demonstration for the glory of socialism. III. Mokkafix Gold As socialism slowly becomes a more exotic concept in the Western European imagination, Ostalgie develops a dangerous undercurrent— that of commodification. It claims certain consumer objects as its own and imbues them with implicit cultural significance to trigger a stream of lost memories. Mass-produced items, exotic and alternative as they might be today, are expected to become containers for personal memory, functioning on the most intimate level of recollection. The unquestioned distinctness of GDR products and brands makes them a comfortable cultural foothold for reconstructing a personal universe of memory. This is satirized in Ostalgie’s biggest international hit to date, Wolfgang Becker’s 2003 Goodbye Lenin!. The film centers on Alex, a teenager whose mother dedicates her life to the socialist party of the GDR and collapses into a coma just before the fall of the Wall. When she wakes up many months later, a doctor tells Alex that his mother has a weak heart and might not be able to stand the further strain of learning about the dissolution of the country. Alex elaborately constructs a pseudoGDR around his mother, confined to bed rest in her apartment, by surrounding her with old Eastern products and television shows until he has cocooned her in a bizarre, patched-together

version of her former reality. This alternate world is inevitably doomed. Ordinary consumer products seem to carry the potential to recreate a believable cultural reality, but cannot fully succeed. After his mother wakes up from her coma, Alex is faced with organizing a birthday party for her, replete with East German presents and traditions. He goes to exorbitant lengths to recreate the now unavailable East German goods, frantically buying up old packages and labels for Mokkafix coffee, Spreewälder pickles, and Rotkäppchen sparkling wine (“the Communist champagne”), and decanting Western products into Eastern packaging. Alex’s mother picks up the gold Mokkafix package, face crinkling with delight, and uncorks the Rotkäppchen, sweet and bland in its deceptively genteel, cursive-inscribed bottle. Unlike the party’s guests (an alcoholic school director, some slightly decrepit neighbors, and two very confused young boys), the objects are reliable, completely trustworthy in their quiet ability to faithfully replicate the past. Throughout the entire sham, Alex’s co-conspirators nestle mutely in the gift basket, material renditions of the cultural illusion he is perpetuating. Unexpectedly, Goodbye Lenin! actually spurred sales of Spreewälder and Rotkäppchen, brands that have reemerged in the German consumer market. East Germans use old GDR products not just because they are used to them, but because these products form one of the only ways for them to legitimate their memories in the present. For former East Germans, they are a cheap way to validate the past in the present; for younger generations, they are an easy way to buy into an exotic, idiosyncratic past. IV. Smoked Glass Mirrors Most public markers of the GDR, like the bronze bust of Lenin that Alex’s mother despairingly watches recede from her, have disappeared by now. Lenin, arm grandly outstretched, is at the mercy of the helicopter carrying him off into the sunset, presumably to the dump. Even more significantly, the Palace of the Republic—the GDR’s grand political Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 23


5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

hub and convention center in Berlin—was dismantled two years ago amidst huge protests, one smoked glass window at a time. East Germans are powerless against the literal dismantling of their territory. Jana Hensel writes about the urban redevelopment in her childhood street that left her feeling lost and disoriented, reflecting that “home was a place we only knew for a short time”—culture, history and geography go hand-in-hand, all suffering from a process of simultaneous eradication. In this environment, the Ampelmännchen has emerged, functioning as both a high-profile tourist consumer item and a symbol that resists the complete erasure of GDR markers. He’s the little man on streetlamps, who wears a porkpie hat in East Germany as he walks or stands. After reunification, Western streetlights replaced East German streetlights and signs in order to create a more cohesive and homogenous urban aesthetic. Markus Heckhausen, a West German graphics designer, took up the Ampelmännchen in 1995 and created new lamp models that he championed in design magazines and city councils. Slowly, the Ostalgie movement adopted the Ampelmännchen as a forgotten cultural symbol of the GDR, and Easternstyle streetlights returned to Berlin, as well as other cities. However, the Ampelmännchen is infiltrating not only Germany’s streets, but also the international fridge magnet, coffee cup, bag, and t-shirt market. He is a commodified symbol of the GDR, endowed with a cultural capital that he did not originally possess.

V. Communist Champagne On January first, I wandered through the sleet of frosty Berlin streets and counted the empty 3-euro bottles of Rotkäppchen littered in the snow. There were bottles scattered throughout the city, sitting on top of power generators, thrown into backyard bushes, peeking out of overflowing trashcans. Perhaps Rotkäppchen is a fetishized, ostalgic drink—or maybe it’s just cheap. The scattered bottles around Berlin, remnants of the new year’s revelry, are part of this tenuous, vacillating web reclaiming cultural memories through everyday life. It becomes a form of idealistic protest for East Germans, a way of repopulating their world with positive memories. “The bakery is gone; the school is gone. It’s all been replaced,” Hensel writes. “The only constant in our lives is something we ourselves constructed: the feeling of belonging to a generation.”

Nonetheless, the Ampelmännchen, radiating a benign red and green, is one of the only highly visible, and probably last, testaments to a country whose infrastructure and buildings have been completely torn down and rebuilt after reunification. In the same way that Ostalgie mythicizes the happy childhood to construct a communal narrative of identity, the Ampelmännchen is a shared symbol that each East German can potentially use to personally evoke the lost arena of his or her past.

24 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 24

5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

OursistheGodoftheFlood and the Famine

Dwight Livingstone Curtis

The first time my mother ran away from home, she was eleven. At some point early in the morning, while her parents and a few other men from the neighborhood drank in the kitchen, she went through her mother’s purse and then let herself out the front door of the apartment. She took thirty dollars, a pack of Pall Malls, and a tube of lipstick. She stuck to the alleys until she got to the Marcy Avenue subway station, and in the stairwell up to the platform she put on the lipstick and smoked a cigarette. Then she jumped the fence onto the platform and hid under a bench until the train came. They didn’t know she was gone until they sobered up and couldn’t find the cigarettes. Her father went door to door in their building, bumming cigarettes and asking about a little girl, and eventually he took a break to drink. Her mother telephoned her two brothers, hard-working men who had always been good to their niece, and they drove up and down the avenues of Bushwick and Brownsville asking after her on street corners and in subway stations. Later that night one of her uncles found her smoking a cigarette on the platform of the Flushing Avenue station. She still had all thirty dollars. He drove her home, and by the time they got up to the apartment, her father was drunk and her mother had long since stopped crying. The uncle left, reluctantly, and my mother’s father scrubbed the lipstick off her face with a bottle of whisky and the sleeve of his shirt before giving her a few hard slaps across the face. He broke her nose, and it stayed crooked after that. Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 25


5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

The second time she ran away from home, she left a kitchen knife stuck between her father’s ribs. She ended up in Union City, New Jersey; God knows how. She had a lot more to bargain with that time. She had the nose, for one thing: men will hedge their bets on something like that. You know she’s seen worse. She made it to Union City and no one heard from her for two years. When she finally called her mother, she was pregnant, six months, and broke. She hadn’t had much bargaining power since she started to show. Her mother met her at the North Bergen Park and Ride and offered her three hundred dollars to come home. My mother refused, on the grounds that her father wasn’t dead yet. They sat on a bench at the Park and Ride for three hours and her mother prepared her as best she could. Dilation and contractions. Water breaking. Cash for a cab. What prayers to say. If she doesn’t make it to a hospital, stop the car in a parking lot, or bring the sofa cushions into the bedroom. Take three or four Demerol if you can find them, but nothing else. Don’t drink. Watch the cord around its neck. Breathe. I was born on a towel in the apartment of a hairdresser. The hairdresser was named Amara, and she and my mother had met through a pimp and become close over a shared, uncompromising, and often violent hatred of men. That morning Amara had left for work under the condition that my mother would promise to call her immediately if and when her water broke, and she did promise, although her water had in fact broken and been cleaned up in the bathroom earlier that morning. My mother went into labor shortly after Amara left, on a towel at the foot of the bed, and when the contractions got bad, she put on a tape of Diff’rent Strokes at full volume to hide her screams. When Amara came home that afternoon she found me on the floor, crying. In hysterics, she called her aunt, who drove in with her husband from Jersey City. They brought me and my mother, who had died from hemorrhaging shortly after delivery, to Christ Hospital, where I was washed and fed. My grandfather, the one with the scar along his ribs, put his stock in the Bible. We’d start with Mark, then Matthew, always in one sitting; then John and Luke, in another sitting. Then, for three days, we’d read Acts through Revelations, in order, but he always saved Galatians for last. He was interested in the works of the flesh. After Galatians, we moved into the Old Testament. We would read Deuteronomy twice. It took us a month to read the whole thing. The year I learned to talk we read it eight times. After my grandmother died we read it through ten times. Every morning before school kids played a game called Suicide. We played with a tennis ball against a brick wall at the back of the parking lot. The goal was not to fumble the ball. If it bounced off the wall and you messed up catching it, you had to sprint to the wall. If someone threw the ball against the wall before you got there, you got a strike. If you got three strikes before the bell rang, you had to march up to the wall and stand there with your hands against it, while everyone else got a chance to whip the ball at you. One morning a kid named Sammy got hit so hard in the back of the head that he fell forward and cracked his forehead against the wall. Another time a kid tripped while he was sprinting to the wall and broke his wrist so bad it looked like a Tetris piece. If you took your punishment, you were alright. But if you didn’t, or if you cried, or if you flinched too much, you’d catch a beating. Probably lose your money or your headphones. The kids who did the beating and the taking, we called them puffies. They sat on steps or car bumpers and wore big headphones and big, puffy jackets. Most of them didn’t go to school anymore. Some of them had weed in their jackets, or handfuls of money. One guy, Ray, would wave around a knife. But they didn’t mess with us too hard before school. When we were in class, older kids—they would have been in high school—divvied up eighths and dime-bags of weed and sometimes a few Percocets or little crack rocks among the puffies. When school let out, most of us went straight home, but every once in a while a puffy would get the attention of a kid hanging around the parking lot, or fall into stride with a guy walking out toward the bus stop, and those kids usually only had a week or two of school left in them. By the time I was in middle school my grandfather had started to go. He was done drinking, but he didn’t breathe so well anymore, and couldn’t stay on his feet for very long. When I was eleven he got

26 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 26

5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

disability and stopped going to work. He still read the Bible, and he watched a lot of TV, but he couldn’t use the remote very well and he usually forgot to turn it off. He didn’t go shopping anymore, and he didn’t really make any food, either. He ate rice and chicken breast and a lot of cereal, and coffee ice cream. I bought plastic silverware and paper plates and bowls after most of our other stuff broke or got so crusty I couldn’t clean it. One day the fridge started leaking. I opened it and everything was warm and rotten. I took five dollars from his dresser and paid a guy on our floor to help me carry it down to the street. One afternoon I found a paint can full of piss under his bed. After that, I took his wallet and went to a bodega where I knew the guy, and started cashing the checks that came in the mail. I was in seventh grade when I finally got hit up. A tall kid in a white puffy stepped out in front of me as I turned out of the gymnasium door after school. I walked straight into his jacket. He pushed me back, hard, and fronted like he was going to hit me. I squared up and tucked my chin and put my fists up, but he was already smiling at me. “Ey, cuz,” he said. I knew this kid, Yujhan, in elementary school. He used to sit in front of me and mess around, draw on his desk and things like that, pass notes to girls as they walked past. One time, I remember, he turned around and winked at me, before raising his hand. Our teacher called on him, and when he stood up, he had one hand down his pants, and his little finger sticking out of his fly. I remember, he says, “Miss James, can you turn up the heat? I’m freezing.” After that he got sent to the office and a couple of weeks later he stopped coming to class. He was a tall kid now, a puffy. He put his arm around my shoulders when he introduced me to some older kids, and I remember the sound of air squeezing out of the sleeve of his jacket. They paid me five dollars a day to shake down my classroom. “You ever smokin weed?” “You ever smokin crack?” “You ever skip school?” “You got a brother, huh? What he do?” “Your parents be fightin?” “Your daddy fuck with you?” “You got a daddy?” “You got some money?” “You wanna make some money?” Most of us that were still in school didn’t do that stuff, but we had family problems. The only thing worse than being at school was being at home. Outside of either of those, you needed protection, respect. Sometimes I gave a kid a dollar just to show I had my shit right. I made a profit. I still sat in class, but now I passed girls notes with fifty-cent chocolates in them. I drew on my desk. Kids knew my name. Kids still played Suicide, too. We gave them the tennis balls. We paid attention. If he was tough, if he took his punishment, if he had good hands, if he was big, we’d stop him after school. Shake him down, feel him out. Smoke with him. Get him a girl. That was the game: comb through the parking lot, through the classroom, for ambition, unrest, anger, and when you find it, add fuel. You can buy an ounce of Marcy project weed for $180. A quarter pound runs $600. It breaks down into $35 eighths. To buy an eighth, you just have to know where to stand. To buy an ounce, though, you have to know people. If you know people, in an eight-hour school day, you can make $150 selling eighths and dime-bags. On a Friday night you can tack on another $100 hanging outside the community center, and if you have pills or E or crack you can make another $50. Do that for a month, skipping a day or two of school a week, and you can buy in quarter pounds. Start lifting weights, get a puffy, a nice walkman, a fitted hat, don’t talk much. Get high. Buy a chain. Learn the rules: names, numbers, prices. Where to stand. What to wear. Who to listen to: Nas, Big, Jay, Mobb, Pun, Meth. Get out of your apartment, leave the screaming and the drinking and the beating, the babies, the poverty. Earn something. Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 27


5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

They got me when I was sixteen. Behind the school with half an ounce bagged up and a wad of cash. They charged me with possession with intent to distribute. The guy in the holding cell across from me had a fat bandage down the side of his face. Every few minutes, he would stand up against the bars, and yell down the hall at his girl, who was in another cell. She didn’t stop screaming at him the whole time, and it was easy to put together. He beat her up pretty bad, and they both just came from the hospital. After he hit her around, she’d called up her cousin, and he and some guys stomped the boyfriend out. At some point, she took a car key to his face—that’s what the bandage was from. I couldn’t see her. No one tried to shut them up, but a few other guys in holding cells started cracking jokes. How he can’t run his bitch, how he got keyed up, how he got a little bitch voice. After an hour or so, he started apologizing—he didn’t mean to fuck up her face, she’s his girl, she’s his baby, she’s the mother of his son. They brought us juice and sandwiches in wax paper. The guy with the bandage got up against the bars and told me to give him my sandwich. I didn’t look at him, just stared at the wall. He tried spitting blood into my cell. They came down and yelled at him for that. Someone told me to come to the bars so they could see me. Another guy told me not to give him the sandwich. They took the girl out around midnight. Her stitches had come loose. The guy with the bandage started crying, and someone called him a faggot. I got arraigned in the morning and sentenced to six months at juvie and a year of probation. When I got out things looked different. I didn’t enroll in high school. The only kids I knew were drug dealers, puffies. A couple of them were in juvie. Yujhan was in jail. They told me he stabbed a kid in a fight. I went back to my spot in the parking lot. Drugs had changed, too. Weed was more expensive. The kids I used to sell to, older kids, wanted crack and meth. And the cops were out. Dealers had beepers and safes. You sold alone and didn’t trust anyone. I bought my first bag of junk from a skeleton of a white boy at a playground in Bushwick. Squid—that’s the skeleton—he fixed me up the first time. It happened quick. He cooked it with a Bic, it in a spoon with a band-aid around the handle, and soaked it up with a piece of cotton ball. I closed my eyes while he tied my arm. When I looked again, he had the spike in me, and I could see my blood mushrooming up into the brown. A second later, he gave me half, and then finished me off. At first I thought I pissed myself, from the warmth. Like my blood just came out of the dryer. Everything went purple. Hot gold flooded through me. I was beautiful and separate and numb with pleasure. I listened to the bottom of the ocean and smelled flowers, I sank through clouds, I touched my face and laughed. My skin felt like soft glass. My hands were as heavy as dumbbells, but they floated like they were tied to balloons. Behind my eyes I watched a black canvas swirl and splotch and melt. And inch by inch, heartbeat by heartbeat, everything disappeared, until there was nothing left, sweet nothing, and the warmth. Nothing, that’s a junk lullaby. *** A couple years down the road my luck ran out. I was riding on a six bag a day habit when I got jumped in Prospect Park on my way back from Squid’s. Two old white guys fucked me up good, broke my nose and took everything, my junk, my jacket, my shoes, even my fucking cotton ball. After they left I puked all over the sidewalk. I got the sickness bad. For two days I stayed well on shots I begged off the skeletons I was living with. Then they cut me off. I couldn’t sleep. My bones scraped and my skin itched like wool. I made it two days. Then I attacked them. They were high, on the couch, and I beat them for as long as I could stand it, dry-heaving and crying, with a golf club we kept around for protection. I shot up their last two bags in the bathroom before I left. I came down that night outside a Duane Reade. I had nothing, no junk, no money, no jacket, and I

28 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 28

5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

was getting sick. My shirt was soaked with freezing sweat. My bones were bruised. My stomach was tied up with twine. My legs and feet were crawling with ants. I puked on the sidewalk and a cashier came outside and told me to leave or she’d call the cops. I had nowhere to sleep. My grandfather was two years dead. I’d been living on the couches and floors of other junkies since he died and selling weed and pawning furniture to cover the junk. I didn’t have a phone or a driver’s license. I left Duane Reade and walked to Prospect Park. It was dark and Squid wasn’t at his bench. He’d probably been back on his couch for hours, dead to the world. Instead there were gangbangers standing in groups and smoking cigarettes. I stayed out of the light. I got sick again in a trash can at the west end of the park. I walked down Prospect Park West looking for an alley, or a dumpster, or an open cardboard box; anything to sleep in. I saw an old Chinese guy rifling through a dumpster off 16th, and I started to walk toward him, but he shuffled away, dragging something. I climbed on top of the dumpster and pulled myself onto the roof of a building, some kind of restaurant. The roof was gravel. I was still sweating, and shivering, and when I tried to stand my legs cramped up. I crawled from vent to vent until I found one with hot air. On that bed of nails I curled up against the pain. I was getting a fix about three times a week. It wasn’t enough to get high, but it was enough to stay well. The rest of the week, I’d drink enough to sleep, and recycle bottles. If the opportunity arose, I’d rob a sleeping drunk or an unlocked car. *** The new kids will break your heart. They come from drunk dads or bus stations with backpacks and sleeping bags. They get soaked by sprinklers in the park. They stay up late, trying to beat the night, drinking and bumming cigarettes, and get their backpacks taken in the morning when the rest of us are up. The girls get used up for crack and meth. One night a new kid, fresh out of a project hallway, took another guy’s doorway. Didn’t know any better, but the guy whose doorway he took was a junkie, a sicko, a Vietnam vet who used to turn tricks with fake papers for the fags on Bergen Street. He found the kid sleeping on his cardboard. Started kicking him, spitting on him, screaming like an animal, talking about stabbing him, killing him. I was still awake at the time, looking for a spot. The kid couldn’t get up, just kept getting kicked. I took two beer bottles from my recycling bag. I got up behind the guy and smashed the first bottle against the back of his head. He crumpled into the doorway, on top of the kid. I dragged him off and broke the second bottle over the side of his face. There was blood all over the cardboard and I told the kid to leave it unless he wanted to get sick. I got my stuff and we left the neighborhood. There’s things you learn out here. Where to sleep, how to eat, where to shit, where to wash up, how to stay out of trouble. If you’re lucky, someone will teach you. Two layers of cardboard over cement can keep you warm enough to sleep. Parks have sprinklers. Brush your teeth. Avoid drainage pipes, sewers, park benches, and alleys. Don’t take someone else’s spot. Leave a few hours before nightfall to scout one out for yourself. Get to bed early. The kid’s name was Rene. I don’t know what you’d call it, but me and the kid stuck together. And sometimes, every once in a while, as the sun came up, early in the morning, on Linden Boulevard or at the edge of Prospect Park; after I took my shot and eased the sickness, and looked around at the black bodies and the sun-burnt faces, drinking from water bottles and taking cover from the heat; as we shuffled, dirty armies in loose formation, looking for that stretch of sidewalk or patch of grass, a little space on earth, one found pockets of comfort; in the slow heat, there passed moments of calm. Rene didn’t have junk before he came to the streets, but it didn’t take him long to find it. He and I stuck together, but I didn’t start him on it—I barely had enough to stay well myself. He was a skinny little kid, Haitian I think, but he was tough, and smart. Sometimes we scouted together at night; with two of Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 29


5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

us, we were safer, and it opened up a lot more places to sleep. He’d be gone when I woke up. He turned tricks, I think. He’d get beat up sometimes, but he made enough to pick up a daily junk habit. I don’t know where he got his shots, but he never brought it back to me. Bless his heart for that. One night, though, he got it bad. He’d turned down a guy who came around a lot, a big biker, a fag, who was positive. The kid told him he only did clean. That got him in trouble. Don’t know who got involved, but they worked him over pretty good. When they were done, they’d broken his arm, broken a few ribs, messed up his face. I found him up on the roof of a bakery where we sometimes slept. I don’t know how he got up there, with his arm. It hung loose at his side, with the elbow propped lamely against his ribs. He had his kit laid out in the gravel, and a ball of tar about the size of a marble on his spoon. Must have been more than a gram. More than he could handle. He didn’t say anything to me; I think his jaw was broken, but he looked down at his kit, and then his arm, and then back at me. He wanted me to prep him. I got out my knife to cut off a piece of the tar, but Rene shook his head, so I cooked him up the whole ball. He had a clean spike, a big 1cc allergy needle. There hadn’t been a needle exchange that night, so he must have bought it from a drug store. That stuck with me. I found a vein in his good arm. He closed his eyes while I gave him the shot; first half, then the whole thing. After that, it got dark again. We all took it pretty bad. This life has its share of indignities, and they pile up on a body over the years. But there’s things that people can’t accept. I knew a guy who slept under an overpass who still paid for a proper haircut every month. There’s a family I squatted with that would set a picnic table, week in and week out, with the fork on the left and the knife on the right, and say grace before eating, even though they got most of their food from a Key Food dumpster. There’s respect for that kind of thing out here, decency, consistency. Sometimes all it takes to stay sane is a toothbrush or a pair of sunglasses. The kid was no better than the rest of us, but he kept himself clean. He had papers. That made him something. He still would have gotten by, with a few more tricks a day, but it’s the deals we cut with ourselves that matter in the end. By the grace of a clean needle, he had his lullaby. *** For some of us it’s junk. More and more, it’s crack, or meth. We all need coffee and cigarettes. Some need a fifth a day to kill the shakes. And we’re sick. HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis. Lice. Then there’s the crazies: the schizos, the scribblers, the screamers, the moaners. We’ve got scars, burns, track marks, and rat bites. We carry knives, cigarette butts, napkins, needles, and, if we’re lucky, HIV-negative papers. If not, you can buy them for forty dollars in Crown Heights. We have no burials for the dead. So many have fallen here. We stumble all night over the bones of the dead, feeling nothing, tending fires. We lead one another, blind before blind. This is what I have seen. It peers out of stairwells, with dirty hair and dead eyes, and clings to blankets; it is cruelty with a human heart, and jealousy with a human face. I am not a wise man but I understand that ours is the God of the flood and the famine, of secrecy and terror, of eyes and teeth. His city is a forge, sealed with wool and cardboard, and from it we rise, and march, and fall, singing of weakness and of woe, and we return to the gorge no less hungry than when we emerged. On playgrounds and in project hallways, under street lamps and between holding cells, in footsteps and heartbeats and the chattering of teeth, throughout these streets, echo our songs.

30 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 30

5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

[born: drops] Matt Aucoin

born: drops of water, of sliding, of walled air deciding through, through: the bough bows its gem-pimpled palm: yielding, desertion, one gesture, a fresco, the three lives (chaos clear flight and chaos) speak nothing; rustle; nothing; the hand behind’s a master’s: look, varnish in-visible, doorholding air

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 31


5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

ProblemsWorthHaving Allan Peterson

At the corner of my eye is the most exasperating fringe at the oceanic hem of vision —the beveled edge of glasses. most of the world is peripheral it seems to what falls on the macula the fovea. Caught in a single flashlight that seems like trouble. look it’s clouding up again. the shadow of a palm is a lizard the wind runs back and forth on the handrail faster than the others. i think i could spend forever in the space of one Shefflera. lawn chairs drag their shadows back and forth daily. i wake up with pet clippers and the dog thinking it’s a bath so flattens and slinks away. but i am not awake and the dog is gone for years. the incoming gold is doubloons and escudos and chain and all the pinnate and ovate leaves are nodding of course to the light wind from mexico and its plundered treasure. waking up with not so much as a pause in delivery.

32 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 32

5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

i think i am awake and i think if i sit in a new place i will see new things dancing and dancing as well in the banks of my glasses chrome and backwards. what has come onto the window frame is the depth of blasphemy everything flattened by intent. the trees are cut-outs as if put together with a wrench and socket set. Carved birds strung before the doorway. but something solid is a problem worth having. we are such poor redeemers. glass. A substance you can make a dog out of and two gazelles with a blowtorch and still see the whole coast straight on as it is now edged in spectra.

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 33


5/26/2010 11:20:30 PM

34 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 34

5/26/2010 11:20:37 PM

Crystals in London Dana Kase Digital Photograph

Spring2010 2010 11 Spring 35

Spring2010.indd 35

5/26/2010 11:20:46 PM

Monty in Cancer Kayla Escobedo Pen and ink 9 x 12�

Monty in Dementia Kayla Escobedo Pen and ink 9 x 12�

436 the harvardAdvocate Advocate The Harvard

Spring2010.indd 36

5/26/2010 11:20:54 PM


� Spring 2010 Spring 2010 37 5

Spring2010.indd 37

5/26/2010 11:20:58 PM


5/26/2010 11:20:58 PM

Spring2010.indd 38

Erik Fredericksen

Myself am green in this: the moon let some light intensely on the grass The knots on the trunk would make a face on it, if one were further in. When clouds, the moon’s amok, becomes less relevant, and cannot hold much. What I think of is how, when the light is switched off, the last thing seen (a lamp) flashes on your eyelids. What I want is a chair to sit, of which I am very certain.

38 The Harvard Advocate

The Strawberry Eaters Boriana Kantcheva Gouache on paper 26” x 19” 6

Spring2010.indd 39

the harvard Advocate

Spring 2010


5/26/2010 11:20:59 PM

Should I Bring Flowers Mark Chiusano

On the first day, I told Shadman that his true love left the house every morning at seven thirty three in order to empty the garbage. She stepped gingerly over the double layer of bricks that separated the pavement from her family’s garden, in whose corner there was a trash can where she deposited the remains from last night’s meal. Usually the plastic Key Food bag would leak grease at the bottom and have noodles hanging off the over-stretched handles. At seven thirty seven she’d be outside again in order to lock the door and run around to the front of the house to catch the seven thirty nine bus which carried her to Kings Highway and, I presume, beyond, but I didn’t tell that part to Shadman because it wasn’t part of our promise. In school everybody called Shadman “Brown Bear” for all the obvious reasons. The promise I had with Shadman was for me to tell him one thing about his true love each day while we sat in my backyard doing whatever it was we always did. We were ten then when we started it, but this game went on for a long time. Shadman couldn’t find out about his true love himself of course because he lived 15 blocks east, closer to Flatbush, and she took a bus to school, far away. But she was my next-door neighbor. The first time we saw her together was the second time I had seen her, and she was long legged and dark haired enough to make us both turn the corner and hide in the bushes while she was still

40 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 40

5/26/2010 11:21:00 PM

three houses down. As she approached we furiously elbowed each other silent, thrashing leaves into each other’s eyes. I got a thorn stuck in my pinky. When she walked by, head turning neither to the right nor to the left, a scent of crushed wildberries overcame us, and her hair was dark like Shadman’s mother’s, and straight like lines drawn in glass. The second thing I told him was that his true love was a girl. When I had started saying this, prefaced by the statement that I was going to say the second thing about his true love, Shadman’s eyes had gone wide like he was about to hear the Word or the announcement of Lebron James’s signing with the Knicks. When he processed what I’d said his eyes got narrow and he hit me hard in the shins with a whiffle ball bat that I’d made heavy with many-colored duct tape. I got angry and instead of telling him about the intricacies of her skin I said that her father wore a button down shirt to work. I saw her father leave for work every morning—he drove. He came out of the house by the front door, suitcase and tie flying, throwing the papers he was always clutching to his chest into his car through the back window. Shadman’s true love always waved goodbye to her father from the front door. Then she would gather her books for the long trip to wherever school was hers. Sometimes she would peek her head out the doorframe to eyefollow his vanishing car under the trees and I imagined that she could see me, peeking through the curtains, but of course she never did. Then she’d go take out the garbage. The third thing I told Shadman was that once, her glasses had fallen off when she went to push her hair back. I told him that when she grinned, the edges of her cheeks went up towards the corners of her eyes, and her eyelashes bounced up and down. I said that she wore a blue bracelet on her right wrist. Number six was that when she was in the shower, she sang “Stitched Up,” the John Mayer song. It was hard for her to keep her voice low and raspy like his, and I imagined her cupping a hand over her mouth to hit the low octaves. Seven turned into a field trip, as I showed him the corner where she got on the bus every morning. This was the same corner that was home to the foul pole of mine and Shadman’s home run derbies. For the eighth thing that I told Shadman I said that she was Asian, and he scoffed at me and said he already knew that. Before I told him the ninth or tenth thing I asked him if he realized that I got the idea for this whole charade from a movie, one of my favorites, in which a shrimpy circus owner tells the actor who plays Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars that he’ll tell him one thing about the girl of his dreams every day as long as Obi Wan repays him in constant servitude. The things that he told him went like this: “She like roses!” Then Obi Wan would say, “Roses!” And repeat the word, “Roses!” while he raked the hay, or cleaned the elephants—“She like roses!”—or stood in the middle of a spherical cage yawning with the whine of high speed motorcycles. In the end the circus owner turns into a wolf, or a bear, or something heavyhaired like that, and relents. It’s a fairy tale ending of course. He tells Obi Wan all about Obi Wan’s true love, and then the story goes on from there, and Obi Wan brings his true love roses and eventually he goes to war and fights Commies and Siamese twins and all that, but at the end he sees his true love again. Shadman said, “Right, but what’s the ninth thing?” “She’s a lefty.” Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 41


5/26/2010 11:21:00 PM

“Not good enough.” “She only has four toes.” “No way you could know that.” “She has a boyfriend named Athens.” He pushed me and I fell backwards and my head hit the pole of the basketball hoop. It was one of those bumps where a piece of my head swelled into a lump immediately. I bit my teeth together so hard they went into the wrong grooves and I swung at him from the floor. I missed. “Don’t say that,” he said, pointing an angry finger at me. “You’re making that up.” The very first time I had seen her I had not been with Shadman and she had been moving in with her parents. Their moving truck was big and purple and said, “We Bump Less” on the bumper. She hopped out of the cab and stumbled a bit over the sidewalk, but caught herself before tripping. She saw that I had noticed and grinned at me, her cheeks collapsing into her eyecorners. My father went up to her father and said, “Hi,” drawing out the ending, as if it meant more than two letters. My mother shook hands awkwardly with her mother which was awkward because my mother hugged everyone. My father had on his Firehouse 92, “The Nut House!” t-shirt which he wore every Saturday, and the faded jeans that he put on after one o’clock. Shadman’s true love’s father wore a nice watch and smiled nicely, I thought, and he introduced himself and his petite wife. “And this,” he said, turning to true love who came hopping up beside him, “is Lily.” Lily! The first time I talked to Lily it was snowing out, even though it was only November. It was the type of snowfall where the best snowball packing snow was on the car windshields. Shadman and I would have snowball fights with the windshield snow, and when you walked down the street you could see angelfingers on the glass over the dashboards where we had gathered the stuff into clumps and tossed it. I was shoveling my front stoop, waiting for Shadman’s mom to drop him off, when Lily got off the bus at the bus stop on the other side of the street. It was one of those days when the street looked only half as wide as it normally did, because the snow was piled up on both sides, and the middle was merrily white, and there wasn’t much slush going black from the smog. It felt like a snowday even though it was the weekend. Lily saw me from across the street and she smiled at me. She waved. She bent down and her hands were fumbling in the snowdrift and I noticed that the buttons on her jacket were robin-blue. She was walking towards me with one hand behind her back, and I didn’t see the snowball sticking to her mittens until she was five feet away. When she threw it at me I was too surprised to avoid it, but when she laughed at the kaleidoscope it made on my chest I laughed too, and got her back with a nice firmly packed one right to the thigh. She laughed while she brushed it off. “You’ve done a nice job shoveling here,” she said. “It’s not a big deal,” I said. “I can do yours too if you want.” “No, no, that’s my job.” “That’s what my dad tells me too!” She smiled and didn’t answer, so I said, “I like your buttons.” She looked down. “The blue ones?” she asked. I nodded. “Me too. Blue is my favorite color.” I said that was cool, I liked blue too. Also that it would really not be a big deal at all for me to

42 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 42

5/26/2010 11:21:00 PM

shovel her front. But she said no, no, that was her chore, and actually she’d better get to it. I said well I’ll see you out here. She said it’s a date. Shadman has a round face and there’re stretch marks on the sides of his belly where the fat came dripping off when he started to play in the community soccer league. He had always been rolypoly before but now he was skinny and baggy, the folds of his skin like the loose jeans our friends would wear to school, the type that falls down without a belt. Shadman loved soccer, particularly the way they served donuts on the sidelines during halftime. His mother, who was only adoptively American, would pack sandwiches for him stuffed with rice and barley and pieces of chicken, enclosed in thick rolls of hot bread. These would be packaged like sausage links and wrapped in tin foil, and when Shadman’s mother handed them to him at halftime they would tend to be greasy with kitchen oil. Usually I ate them. I could afford to because I played goalie most of the time and stood just outside the net waiting for something to happen. My goalie gloves were always greasy from reaching into my pockets and eating bits of the chicken. Once, Shadman tripped in front of the box—he played defense—and the other team’s forward went right past him, just me and him and the ball. I had my right hand stuck in my pocket fingering for the last bit of rice. I almost blocked the shot with my left hand but the ball spun off behind me into the net. The kid threw his hands up and started running downfield. “Sorry man,” Shadman said. I flipped him off and spit in the grass, rubbed it out with my shoe. I looked behind me instinctively to make sure that Lily wasn’t watching. Sometimes she went for a walk around the park and she’d stop for a second at the soccer games. I’d wave from the left goalpost. She’d stop at the midfield out-of-bounds line where all the parents sat, and say hi to Mom and Dad. Once I asked Dad what she says to them and he said “Tuh,” and shook his head towards Mom. “We talk about great films, Johnny,” he said and rolled his eyes. Then she’d walk back towards home. I began to notice the way that the back of her neck curved into her shoulders. When I get angry at Shadman he knows it. There were often times soon after we’d met Lily when I’d be playing in his backyard and for one reason or another we’d be in a raging fight, and his mother would have to come around, straighten the hair out of her eyes, and yell at us sharply. How old are you, really? She’d bring us back inside and make me sit in one corner in a wicker chair while Shadman sat in the opposite corner. At first we stared over each other’s heads but then we just looked down at our hands. I’d trace patterns in the bamboo platform between my legs. Eventually he’d start to fake-dance in his chair, swinging his hips back and forth, humming pop tunes. Then he’d do the trick with his fingers that makes it look like his thumb is torn in two. When I kept ignoring him, he’d whisper, so his Mom couldn’t hear, “but I wanted to be head architect of the fort.” “You were head architect last time!” “You promised that I could be for two times in a row.” “You hit me in the neck when we played whiffleball.” “You could’ve jumped out of the way, stupid.” Shadman’s mom walked back in and I flicked my nails against my thumb. He rolled his eyes when she wasn’t looking. I wanted to laugh but I didn’t, I kept my mouth tight. “Tell me the one thing,” he said. I ignored him. Shadman leaned forward and whispered, “Tell me!” So I leaned back and traced my initials into the wicker patterns. I said, Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 43


5/26/2010 11:21:00 PM

“But then I get to be head architect.” He nodded hungrily. “So her favorite color is red.” He jumped up and shouted. “Red! Red! She loves red,” he said. Sometimes, when it’s sunny out, I like to sit at the window after school and watch Lily while she sits outside on her porch, reading. Mom walks by and says, you still like watching for Dad? I say yup, and she puts her hand on the back of my neck. Lily is curled around her book and I can see the way her hair falls, and how many pages she reads a minute. Some other things I like now that I’m older: soccer, ESPN magazine, knowing the exact number of steps in every stairwell of my junior high. I thought about writing a poem to Lily for English class but it didn’t work. I wrote about Shadman instead, and my mom read it and showed it to Shadman’s mom, but I made them promise they wouldn’t show Shadman. The poem was about hanging out in Shadman’s room and the posters on his walls. It wasn’t about any time in particular, exactly, but when I read it over it reminded me of the new game we’d play in his room, now that I’d stopped telling him new things, because I said he knew pretty much everything that I did at this point. So we entertained ourselves, while playing videogames, by repeating old numbers. “Four,” he’d say. “The blue bracelet.” “Six.” “The thing that you hit me for.” “Seventy-seven.” “Her hair looks blueish when it’s sunny out.” “I told you that one. And I thought that was fifteen?” “Maybe.” Shadman jumped up and eased a piece of paper out of one of the hardcover books on the table. He took a pen from his pocket. He’d begun to carry pens in his pocket. “We should write these down,” he said. I watched him carefully fold the paper at the top, and above the fold write in neat letters, List. Underneath he put the numbers from one to thirty-seven. This was taking forever. Then as an afterthought he came back to the heading and wrote, underneath it, What We Know About The Girl That Lives Next Door To Johnny. “Yo, this is a bad idea,” I said. Shadman kept writing numbers. 38, 39. “What if she finds it?” His 40 was loopy at the corners. “Shadman, that’d be so weird!” He looked at me, surprised, and said, “We have to tell her about it eventually.” I asked what he meant. “You know, she’ll eat it up. Two guys writing things about how great she is without her knowing. We’ll show her the highlights. The top ten. She’ll think it’s really cute and then I can take her to the movies by myself.” I grabbed the paper from him and ripped it into shreds, threw the shreds at him so they kaleidoscoped on his chest. After Shadman’s mother came up to ask what the hell was going on we stopped shoving. I went and sat in one corner looking at the computer desk and he took up the opposite one and hit Start on the video games. For a while Shadman’s mom stood in the doorway, pushing the straight hair away from her eyes.

44 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 44

5/26/2010 11:21:00 PM

A couple of days ago we talked to Lily for the first time together, on the bus coming home from school. It was cold out so we hadn’t wanted to walk. We were in the back sharing Shadman’s iPod when his eyes lit up and he nodded towards the front. He jumped up and started swinging towards her, switching hands from one hand-hold to the next. Halfway there he turned back to me and mouthed come on, like I was crazy to be waiting, but I rolled my eyes and leaned back. He stepped on an old lady’s shoe and said sorry, then squeezed past a baby carriage. When he reached her, her back was towards him, so he tapped her on the shoulder. She had earphones in. She took them out. I couldn’t hear what they were saying. At one point she put her hand on his arm, right above the wrist, and laughed. She nodded a couple of times up and down and widened her eyes. She shifted her weight to her right leg. She waved at Shadman when he waved at her, right before he turned around and started walking back to me. “Did you see?” I handed him back his iPod. “Sure.” “She was everything you said she was.” “Right, obviously.” “And,” he said. He paused. “Well, I’ll tell you later.” We sat there. “What,” I said. He lowered his voice. “She said we had a date.” He looked back towards the front where she stood. He asked, “should I bring flowers?” The thing about Lily was that she was an away-from-school girl. None of the girls in me and Shadman’s class were like her. They were pushy, taller than we were, always pointing and laughing when we stood up to go to the bathroom or whatever. I always had to step over the legs of Sophia, the worst one, to get to the door, and she always wore tight jeans that were lighter at the bottom than the top, and she would refuse to move her legs even a little bit. I’d accidentally brush up against her and she’d make that “tuh!” sound, point her thumb at me like check this guy out, and when I said sorry she rolled her eyes or turned to giggle with her friends on either side. Lily wasn’t like that. When she sat outside reading she always had sweatpants on that bunched up around her waist. If she saw me I imagined she would pat the chair next to her and say to come sit. She’d show me the book cover and read me the first few lines from page 77, and I’d nod as if I didn’t know them already, know that the first words were That afternoon, and that the page ended with and later, following along, Jackson paused a minute and set down his sword beside the heavy wrought iron gates. He watched while the peasants brought the wheat and barley up to the I had fitful thoughts about the two of them for days. Us living in the same house together, I don’t know why, in bunkbeds, me on the bottom and the two of them on the top, his leg hanging over the edge. I took our soccer pictures off the fridge. School was a mess. I’d turn to look at him right before the bell would ring for passing and he’d always have this look on his face, smug. “What?” he’d say, and smirk. At home he came over like always, to play in the backyard. We’d recently gotten a ping pong table that was in the garage. We stood out there at opposite ends of the table with the radio on. I had bloody ideas. First I would throw my paddle at his face. He would duck and it would hit the Styrofoam boxes of Christmas ornaments behind him. I would flip the table over on its end. He’d be stuck between the old wooden ladder alongside the wall and the bikes that would fall Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 45


5/26/2010 11:21:00 PM

in a heap. Then I’d start throwing things at him, baseballs, bats, more paddles, the old stereo. When he was lying on the floor with the inside of his elbow over his eye I’d jump over the table, stand over him, hit him in the side of the neck. I’d pick him up and throw him down so the ping pong table would start warping on one end. “Have you seen Lily?” I asked him. He nodded. “Yeah it was fun.” “What was?” “You know.” I was throwing the things back in the garage and they were landing with loud noises. Shadman looked a little jumpy. I think he was afraid of me. By the time everything was back in his mom came. As usual, she rang the bell in the front, and we could hear her and my mom talking even though the windows were closed. “Shadman!” she called. He got up. “Later man,” he said. I stayed outside and practiced my soccer kicks. The repetition of it was beginning to bow the red fence. It was about to be dinnertime when Lily walked by. She didn’t see me at first, and she turned around behind her to beckon towards somebody out of sight. I kicked the ball against the fence. It ricocheted against the chain link and she looked up. “Johnny!” she said. I opened the gate to come out. There was a short guy standing behind her, wearing a Yankees cap and carrying Lily’s bag. She turned to the guy. “Amir, this is my next door neighbor Johnny.” He said hi. He leaned forward with his hand stuck out. I thought he was going to slap me five, but he wanted a handshake. Our fingers fumbled. “How was school?” she asked. “Not bad, not bad.” “Ready for break?” “Yeah it’ll be nice.” “I know same.” Amir grinned at me. “You play soccer?” he asked. I told him a bit. “Cool,” he said. His fingers reached for hers. “How’s your friend?” she asked. She laughed. “Shadman.” “Yeah,” I said, “He’s ok. Just left actually.” She turned to look at Amir, who stared at her blankly. He mouthed the word Shadman. She pointed towards our little patch of garden, with the gnarled berry tree whose trunk was weathered like an old man’s face, the flowers trampled from soccer balls, the basil growing up against the fence, the bits of trash stuck in the crumpled leaves. She pointed at the flowers. His eyes widened and he started laughing. She started nudging him towards her door. He put a hand up to say goodbye. “Anyway, we better get going,” Lily said. She was laughing. She touched my shoulder. “See you soon.” “Hey nice to meet you man,” said Amir. He kept giggling. “Yeah same.” I think the very last thing I told Shadman about his true love was that it was her job to shovel the walk in front of her house when it snowed. This satisfied him and he reminded me of it every time we went shoveling together. Neither of us saw Lily much any more. He’d two-hand force his shovel into

46 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 46

5/26/2010 11:21:00 PM

a particularly deep snowdrift, lean on it, take off his Knicks beanie to wipe his forehead and say, “I bet she’s doing this right now.” I’d tuh and say, “Yeah.” We shoveled for money unless the people were old, then Mom forbade us to ask for it but we did let them know that yes, we were hungry. This year we shoveled an entire driveway for what felt like hours, and at the end the guy gave us four crisp twenties, and said get yourself something nice. But the shoveling had been so long and so hard. It was like shoveling an entire soccer field. It was just Shadman and me by ourselves for a long time. It wasn’t snowing any more. I made the same motions over and over again. I was sweating and grunting and tossing snow left and right like an animal. Towards the very end I didn’t feel human at all, and I couldn’t think how I was related to someone like Shadman, or the guy paying us, or anybody else. I felt like a bear, transformed, all sweaty and hairy in my nylon jacket, my arms and legs too long with tiredness, sweat spots appearing on my clothes. I kept tripping over my shovel. We kept working and I got more and more uncomfortable, my back sticking to my turtleneck, my blood going like mad. Walking home we dragged our shovels behind us.

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 47


5/26/2010 11:21:00 PM

48 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 48

Spring 2010


5/26/2010 11:21:01 PM

Weltall, Erde, Mencsch Rebecca Lieberman Video installation Two video projections, projectors, speakers, slide projection stands 2009


Spring2010.indd 49

the harvard Advocate

Spring 2010


5/26/2010 11:21:02 PM

[A sonnet. Eve] Abram Kaplan

A sonnet. Eve was curious but bold. Adam wondered if the branch above could hold her. he watched Eve’s body unfold above and touch the fruit. “i think this fruit was made,” she said. he once regretted her, so limber, not content to name. Chaos of time and dance... Adam engaged to teach her to relent:

5/26/2010 11:21:02 PM

Spring2010.indd 50

“the stars, their motions false, untimely. Earth is here. the triangle has properties no matter what. the mind too can give birth to number, natural law, mythology.” the will to teach was gone. the pomegranate seeds were gone. they were gone. A sonnet.

50 The Harvard Advocate

ThePhilosopher’sChildren David Wallace

for a.K.— trapped deep in the well for seven weeks, Starlight is our circumference. what is father made from? A disc of snow, he cuts under the false limbs. A game of string like jacob’s ladder, we bide time. imagine the hungry fox— he knows the way we smell. we play dumb, Present to you many of our schemes, As father is a bird who kills the other birds. A science is a parable, he says. we believe the food he fed us. our stomachs will burst. but starlight is our halo.

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 51


5/26/2010 11:21:02 PM


Goodnightsparklehorseasleepinthebellyofamerica David Rice


In 1996, while on tour with Radiohead, Virginia-born singer Mark Linkous, leader and often sole member of the band Sparklehorse, all but died in his hotel room after a massive overdose. He lay for several weeks in a hospital bed, undergoing operations to save what was left of him. Blanket … me, sweet nurse … and help me keep from burning, he sings, in Saint Mary. The song, like all of Sparklehorse’s masterpieces, lingers in this hospital bed, the supreme dark place, a cradle

of dreaming where he somehow touches death from both sides at once. Indeed, this simultaneous dimming and brightening of consciousness defines Sparklehorse’s musical universe. Many of Linkous’s songs yearn to nestle into very quiet places – deep underwater, hovering in mist and rain, sprawled out in the desert, on the moon or in the coldness of outer space: I’m so sorry … my spirit’s rarely in my body; it wanders through the dry country … looking for a

52 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 52

5/26/2010 11:21:03 PM

good place to rest. But there’s always a demonic counterpoint to this, so that his weary soul expects no quarter in its slumber: I would sleep in the fire, with snakes I have sired. From the title of his penultimate album – Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain – through the songs: with rocks in my dress, and smoke in my hair … I walked into a lake, to get some sleep down in there … will you promise me not to rest me out at sea, but on a fiery river boat that’s rickety, he searches for a place to sleep, and watches as legions of phantoms emerge from behind his closed eyes. Fourteen years ago, after a brief run of mainstream popularity, Linkous awoke from his hospital bed and began to create more intentionally cultish and transcendentally strange music, knowing that he had his greatest work still to do. Today, perhaps, he has finished it. He has, at the very least, come as close as he ever will: a few weeks ago, he shot himself in the heart in Knoxville, TN. 1. American Suicide / Ghost Folk The news was shocking, as suicides always are, and for faithful listeners the end of his musical output will always have come too soon. But, in the larger scheme of his artistic landscape, his death is something other than a tragedy. It is, rather, a deepening of the same sleep from which the music issues. His final act is prefigured by and in many ways completes his musical project: that of tracing the contours of deathly America, of the dead that inhabit America, of dying in America and America the dead. But in a way, this realization only increases its own mystery: where does death, let alone suicide, find itself in a nation founded on the mythic assurance of novelty and youth, the headlong rush of the immortal Frontier? This suicide raises another unanswerable question: who is it that we have lost? Someone named Mark Linkous, or something called Sparklehorse? It seems rash and insensitive to answer with a band’s name, as opposed to a real individual who in the end must somehow have been more than the sum of his sonic experiments. But what has silenced itself goes

beyond the human, under death to some other place, into the inhuman staticky whisper that distilled an impossible space-time of fevered innocence and rot, both always-already gone and only just dawning. Good morning my child, you’ve not got anyplace … to be. Sparklehorse’s America is one with a lonely interior, haunted by specters of decay, windswept stasis, unheeded wisdom festering unseen to break and rot a whispered fate. But he’s not without company in this America: that of the subgenre that has burgeoned in the last two decades into what might be called ghost folk. At the nexus of alt-country, lo-fi, and rugged, raspy balladeering, its constituents range from Bonnie “Prince” Billy and M. Ward; to Band of Horses, Iron & Wine, and Bon Iver; to the more pastoral melodies of Fleet Foxes and Midlake; back to the Wilco of A.M. and Summerteeth, and forward into the more beguiling corners of their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born; incorporating the starker, sparer ruminations of Vic Chesnutt and Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, who meet on Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul, his final work, with DJ Danger Mouse and David Lynch (which we’ll come back to). Sparklehorse was squarely at the vanguard of ghost folk in the mid-90’s, already cutting his Appalachian instrumental core – banjo, fingerpicked guitars, violin – with a strong dose of synths, organs, vocal distortions, mechanical drum triggers, and heavy blankets of feedback and reverb, both coddling the timorous acoustic lines and breathing waves of plague across them, corroding his whispered vocals into a far vaster tide of digital sequencing and stray radio bleeps, static, groans, bees buzzing at the margins of the melody. Can you feel the rings … of Saturn on your fingers? Can you taste the ghosts who shed their creaking hosts? he whispers, and, as long as he keeps whispering, you’re pretty sure you can. But by the time he stops, something else has come into view. 2. The Dim Interior What makes Sparklehorse literally more visionary than other ghost folk singers is his Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 53


5/26/2010 11:21:03 PM

willingness to peer more deeply into dead America, to see beyond the drifting specters, to where new, living forms are taking shape: the tree you planted has become fecund … with kamikaze hummingbirds … wings of hundreds of beats per second, of people whose wings are just a blur. While M. Ward or Iron & Wine channel the ghosts of Guthrie and Dylan, and the ghosts of abandoned lovers or the Holy Ghost, Sparklehorse sings as a ghost; his voice comes from the near side of death rather than the far side of life. Now, as Linkous finally slumbers in eternity, Sparklehorse’s music reaches us from a place “deeper than death” (as Jeffrey Eugenides once described suicide), maybe hell, maybe the Fountain of Youth, maybe both at once. As a ghost, he sees beyond ghosts, to a multitude that erupts, with renewed complexity, back into the carnal. His music strains to overflow itself in the very site of its finitude, at the base of its unconsciousness, deeper than death. Please … doctor, pleeeeeeeease, he pleads from his hospital bed. Please send me more … yellow birds … for the dim interior, he pleads in another song, readying to go into this place, both graveyard and nursery, with only his horse for company. This dim interior is our leitmotif, the place we want to know about, Sparklehorse’s America. It’s a place of terror and solace, resignation and possibility: simultaneously the only place left to hide, and also the source of all that’s frightening, a womb of both Oedipal retreat and unpredictable fecundity, breeding uncanny juxtapositions of the grotesque and the comforting: in the bloody elevator, rising, for their first cup of tea (of the day). Like falling asleep, lying ill, or readying to die, fading into the dim interior brings it with a gathering haze of non-differentiation, whereby the mind draws fewer and fewer moral and interpretative distinctions among things, approaching a state where it can hardly distinguish among them physically, where edges and borders fall away, or reveal that they have always been provisional. Here the creatures of the world breed together into one body that is also infinitely many. This un-differentiating “dimness” can, to the sufficiently wonderstruck,

open up the combinatory powers of plastic dream: the demonic craft of fusing what sunlit nature endeavors to keep apart. This is what Renaissance alchemists called Coincidentia Oppositorum, the merging of opposites. It’s the basis for the grotesque creatures Hieronymus Bosch painted under cover of medieval Christianity. Bosch’s chimeras, in turn, live on in Sparklehorse: I wore a rooster’s blood when it flew … like doves, I’m a bog of poisoned frogs … I wish I had, a horse’s head, a tiger’s heart, an apple bed … she was born, with the wings of a hawk, but now she combs her hair with blood. “Sparklehorse” itself, of course, is Linkous’ supreme chimera, a compound of physical beast and trick of light: Sparkle, a fantasia, the irreducible awed shine at the core of all terror and poignancy, plus horse, whose breadth of American symbolism can never be put into words. The journey into the dim interior yields the discovery of a nation as well as a self, the United States as states of being as well as swaths of turf.

54 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 54

5/26/2010 11:21:03 PM

The world of childhood and of an America returned to its youthful, unstable origins come together, at once alluring and obscene, ripe for reinvention, suffused with nostalgia but never despair. Like Jeffrey Beaumont, in Lynch’s Blue Velvet, rooting through the dirt in search of a “real mystery” buried under his ostensibly placid North Carolina town, Sparklehorse makes all of America seem alive and ready for adventure, but this life is a kind of death, or un-death, the seething presence of things that only children can see, but that maybe only adults ought to. Rather than through a European esoteric lineage, Sparklehorse relates to his family of animal totems in ways that seem innately ritualistic, as if improvised rituals were the only means by which men could commune with nature, today as in antiquity: I drink my liquor from the palm, of a child who spoke in tongues … and smelled like sun; white blood of wolves must be drained; I closed my eyes and killed a cock; bring me some luck, little Juuuuuuuuunebug. Blood, feathers, bees, oceans, sky: these are the elements, and they return again and again, stewing in one another’s heat, recombining in an infinity of new forms, genesis and apocalypse in nature’s very essence: seas will always boil, trees will turn to soil. The American backcountry is our theater of alchemy and ritual, the place not only where these rituals are performed, but where they are invented, and not only where they are invented but where they actually work: the only things that I really need, is water, a gun ... and rabbits. In this regard, Sparklehorse is the heretic of ghost folk, riding off on his own into uncharted territory, where wandering and sleep, grotesquerie and nothingness, resting and restlessness, can never be separated. They combine to make Sparklehorse’s best songs at once intricate and urgent, bizarre but never alienating. 3. The Dark Night of the Soul Frederick Jackson Turner opens his famous 1893 Frontier Thesis with the claim that, in penetrating the North American continent, the colonists lost their European identity and fell in

with the land’s primal ways, exchanging their cultural inheritance for an implacable ethos of progress, striving, movement. Sparklehorse’s dim interior is the corollary and hidden ground of this defining American myth. It’s the shadowy doppelgänger of the sunbaked West – a stand-in for the uncharted, still-primal territory lying in wait when the fantasy of endless discovery can no longer be maintained, or even convincingly reconstructed in celluloid – a graven image of American death. This location (or the image thereof) is the core of David Lynch’s films, and it’s the source of the ever-widening field of the American Surreal, which he, more than anyone, has brought into being. In Lost Highway, it’s the no-where desert at midnight, the flaming cabin, the naked woman disappearing over the horizon, and the “Mystery Man” wielding his camera like a weapon of satanic vengeance. This is where the legend of speed, gangsters, and porn stars, the 20th century’s answer to cowboys and Indians, flickers and forms the forbidden image of its own terrifying, nonsensical authority, before warping and finally fading to black. But even then, the Highway insists on continued, frenzied adventure, even as it veers past what can be defeated, discovered, domesticated, or even enjoyed. Lynch’s fidelity to the Highway’s code of wandering has something of the quintessentially American naïve in it, enough to invite comparison with Sparklehorse’s ride into the unknown. But there is a difference: Lynch is all too knowing, and so his assumption of innocence smacks of irony. Sparklehorse was always an artist of the palpable and the all-at-once, while Lynch is first and foremost an artist of the fantasy and desire of cinema itself; the fact that he’s also a filmmaker is secondary. This self-referential twist means that Lynch’s art is fully aware of how the cinematic is constituted by that which it purports to hide – the hallucinatory frontier of action, romance, celebrity and detective work is not just circumstantially but necessarily founded on disorientation and horror. Because of this, Lynch could only commit genuine suicide through cinema, raising the Mystery Man’s weapon to his own head, while, Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 55


5/26/2010 11:21:03 PM

perhaps, Linkous could only achieve artistic fullness through real, physical suicide. Lynch’s filmic suicide arrived with 2006’s Inland Empire, his self-professed final Hollywood project and first to be shot on digital video rather than film. Here, his trademark interplay of reality and illusion curls back in on itself into an undifferentiated gloom where things can only appear; any exchange across a frontier can no longer have any meaning. Inland Empire no longer skirts the dim interior but becomes it, sucked into its own mystery. Here at last, in his most disturbing creation, Lynch found the true seriousness of childlike dream, which he’d long evaded through his sophisticated irony. He also found himself about to collide with the imminently suicidal Sparklehorse. In 2009, hailing from two different reaches of the American Surreal, they merged under the auspices of DJ Danger Mouse’s concept album Dark Night of the Soul. Curiously, mashup artist Brian Burton’s DJ moniker shares with “Sparklehorse” the same chimerical form (there were debates at the beginning of their collaboration as to whether it would be credited to “Dangerhorse” or “Sparklemouse”). Burton himself has an alchemical propensity for heretical fusion, starting with his blend of the Beatles’ White Album and Jay-Z’s Black Album to create The Grey Album, which provoked a virtual inquisition from the label EMI to prevent its release. Dark Night of the Soul faced similar legal hurdles, so that at first it could only be heard in L.A. and Miami gallery spaces displaying Lynch’s accompanying photographs. It was not until recently, at almost exactly the time of Sparklehorse’s death, that news came through that the album will finally be available in stores this summer. As a piece of music, it doesn’t really register. It’s too diffuse, filled out by a variety of vocalists who don’t seem to share a vision, even though Sparklehorse wrote most of the lyrics, including the two songs that David Lynch sings. But as a work of conceptual art, it’s brilliant, and even a touch devastating: fusing two great American guerilla artists at the twilights of their respective

careers, it’s a Dark Night for all Souls concerned, but also a reflection on the possibility of American goodbyes, and unanticipated rebirths, and the real abiding mystery that underlies both. For us, the most immediately pressing mystery is: what becomes of the horse? It’s a question that Linkous anticipates, and leaves us with a question of his own: will my pony recognize my voice in hell? Will he still be blind or do they go by smell? As the dim interior fades into night, he wanders in a fever of synaesthetic confusion that seems eerily prescient, as though his horse had regressed into a pony at the same rate as he had regressed from adulthood through sickness, drug abuse, depression, maybe insanity, into the delicately recast form of a childlike seer, singing just loud enough into the dark to wake the spirits from their spirit ditch, for one last dance in this parking lot, as the sun burned down the West. His despair that I’ll never find my pony along the roiling swells remains thankfully unwarranted: Sparklehorse glimmers unflaggingly among the dead, no matter who manages to find what, and no matter what remains forever lost. This is what finally allows us to say: goodnightsparklehorsesasleepinthebellyofamerica.

56 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 56

5/26/2010 11:21:03 PM

Something Could Happen Here Anna Murphy Video 8 minutes 18 seconds


Spring2010.indd 57

the harvard Advocate

Spring 2010


5/26/2010 11:21:04 PM

SPECIALTHANKS The Harvard Advocate wishes to thank the following generous individuals for their support of our activities during the 2009-2010 academic year. They have made it possible for The Advocate to remain committed to publishing the best literature and art that the Harvard campus has to offer, four times each year. The contributions of the following individuals have not only supported the printing of our magazine, but have also made it possible for The Advocate to further our mission of promoting the arts on campus. Last year, our building at 21 South Street was home to a host of literary and artistic events, including visits from Jeffrey Eugenides, Denis Johnson, Robert Pinsky, and Forrest Gander to name only a few, as well as several concerts featuring local artists. We have expanded the Advocate’s presence in the neighborhood with a Community Outreach Program, offering a creative writing workshop run by our own members in a local homeless shelter. Our last issue, The Harvard Advocate Bestiary brought together several exceptionally talented members of the Harvard community as well as creative minds like Jay McInerny, Amy Hempel, Mark Strand, and Louise Bourgeois under one publication.

58 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 58

5/26/2010 11:21:05 PM

Your contributions have made possible the creation our new website ( and we are dedicated to improving and expanding further our new web presence. We have implemented new features such as video hosting and online subscribing, all while expanding the breadth of the back catalog of issues available for purchasing and viewing online. However, digital development can be costly and, as we pursue this project of digital expansion, your contributions to The Harvard Advocate are more valuable than ever. Please consider supporting The Harvard Advocate!

PATRONS David L. Klein Foundation, Anonymous BENEFACTORS Glenn Schwetz, Anonymous DONORS Bruce Boucher, Anonymous FRIENDS Daphne Abel, Jamie and Bobbie Gates, Nancy Hannaford Greer, Jessica Henderson, Walt Hunter, Robert Johnston, Taro Kuriyama,Anthony Pino, Gregory Scruggs, Emery Younger

All gifts to The Harvard Advocate endowment fund are fully tax deductible according to 501(c) (3) non-profit donation guidelines. Gifts will be acknowledged in the four issues following receipt according to the giving categories of Patron ($1000 and over), Benefactor ($500 and over), Donor ($200 and over), and Friend ($50-$199). Contributors will receive a complimentary year’s subscription to the magazine. Checks should be made out to “Trustees of The Harvard Advocate.” Envelopes may be mailed to 21 South Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. Please email with any inquiries regarding gifts to The Harvard Advocate. Thank you for helping to support Mother Advocate.

Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 59


5/26/2010 11:21:05 PM

60 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 60

5/26/2010 11:21:05 PM

CONTRIBUTORS’ NOTES MATT AUCOIN is not assailable. REBECCA COOPER wrote this in the Year of Dairy Products from of the American Heartland, give or take some subsidized time. MARK CHIUSANO held up his hands: women, suspects, widows, whattayagonnado? Throw sand on the floor and give BEN COSGROVE room. DWIGHT LIVINGSTONE CURTIS, on ice. SOPHIE DUVERNOY is hanging out with Adorno in Pacific Palisades. KAYLA ESCOBEDO watches the Big Lebowski twice a week. ERIK FREDERICKSEN gratias agit. BORIANA KANTCHEVA is originally from Bulgaria and has lived in Boston for over 15 years. She received her MFA from the School of The Museum of Fine Arts/ Tufts combined program. ABRAM KAPLAN checked, the omens are propitious. Now all DANA KASE needs is a roof. REBECCA LIEBERMAN, What big muscles you have! ANNA MURPHY, last apostle of the Church of Arbitrary Science. OLGA MOSKVINA is a cat tutor. ALLAN PETERSON’s chapbook, Omnivore was recently released from Bateau Press. All the Lavish in Common, his last full length collection, won the 2005 Juniper Prize, and Salmon Press, Ireland, will publish his next, As Much As, in 2011. Recent print and online appearances include: Gulf Coast, Northwest Review, Blue Fifth, Oranges & Sardines, Notre Dame Review. Work forthcoming in Shenandoah, Denver Quarterly, Paris Review, and Right Hand Pointing. DAVID RICE is a rogue Eli Epstein-Deutsch. TIFFANY STANLEY took the bait. DAVID WALLACE eats sprezzatura. COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF MOLLY DEKTAR Spring 2010

Spring2010.indd 61


5/26/2010 11:21:06 PM

Subscribe to The Harvard Advocate $35 for one year (4 issues) $60 for two years (8 issues) $90 for three years (12 issues) Online at via Paypal or Payable by cash or check made out to the Harvard Advocate and mailed to 21 South Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

62 The Harvard Advocate

Spring2010.indd 62

5/26/2010 11:21:06 PM



come check out our new menu burritos & bowls wraps & salads smoothies & shakes

) m a 2 l i t n u ( e t a l n e p o y a d r u t a S d n on Friday a 71 mt. auburn st. 617.354.5838


The Harvard Advocate Spring 2010 Vol. 145 No.3

COVER.indd 1


SPRING 2010 $8 5/26/2010 11:17:07 PM

Spring 2010  

The Spring 2010 issue of The Harvard Advocate

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you