Wednesday, October 30, 2013

House of cards

After the kids leave, I convert the second bedroom of my mother’s apartment into a bachelor pad. I deflate the air mattress Miles was sleeping on, and set the rickety card table up into a small, soft-lit paradise of books. I hold office there, taking notes on nothing, listening to the crickets. It definitely encourages nightowlness.

I finished Revolutionary Road on my trip, and now feel I never need to drink a martini. I also read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I found on my sister's shelf. It warned me sufficiently of Swedish mosquitoes.

Unable to find Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl in either of the big used bookstores I visited, I borrowed it from my mother’s library. It’s a devastating book. You can eat all the radiation you want, but you'll have to bury your shit in your head. 

I picked up poetry books by Sappho, Tao Lin, Michael Ondaatje and Alison Titus. In the poetry aisle of a bookstore I got into a conversation with a bearded gentleman. He asked me who my favorite poets were. My first (unrehearsed, unhesitant) answer was Charles Wright. 

In Future Tense, he wrote:

All things in the end are bittersweet—
An empty gaze, a little way-station just beyond silence.
If you can’t delight in the everyday,
                                                         you have no future here.
And if you can, no future either.

And time, black dog, will sniff you out,
                                                            and lick your lean cheeks,
And lie down beside you—warm, real close—and will not move. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Red, then orange

[Silence.] [A week later the village was evacuated.] [She starts crying.] [She is silent.] [Silent.] [Silent.] [Long silence.] [She is silent for a long time.] [She is silent.] [She becomes incomprehensible.] [She has trouble breathing.] [She is silent for a long time.] [She stands up, goes over to the window.]

[Starts crying.] [Cheers up suddenly.] [Starts crying.] [Starts crying.]

[Communist youth league.] [Silent.] [Closes his eyes.] [Laughs.] [Laughs.] [Laughs.] [Starts singing.] [Suddenly serious.] [in Moscow] [Starts crying.] [Starts crying.] [Cries.] [Cries.] [Cries.] [Cries.]

[Breaks into tears and completely stops talking.] [Silent. Then cries for a long time.] [Silent again.] [Silent.] [But she adds a bit more.] [She smiles suddenly.] [When we’re saying goodbye, she says some more.] [This effect occurred throughout the region and was presumably caused by toxic radiation.] [Stops.] [Tries not to cry.] [Cries.] [Tries again not to cry.] [Breaks down, Cries.] [The year of Stalin’s Great Terror.] [Silent. Smokes.] [Stops.] [Continues.] [Stops.]

[Laughs.] [Stops short, I can see she doesn’t want to talk.] [Either she’s listening to herself, or arguing with herself.] [After a pause.]

[Silent for a while.] [Laughs suddenly.] [Serious now.] [Silent.] [There’s a long pause in the conversation.] [Stops.] [a space launch center.] [He thinks.] [He is silent.] [Becomes upset.]

[In the days after the accident the pines and evergreens around the reactor turned red, then orange.] [He is in despair, then silent.]

[Valery] [head of the commissioned Chernobyl investigation who actually hanged himself in 1988, on the two-year anniversary of the explosion]

[She is silent.] [Stops.] [as does Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons] [Smiles.] [Cries.] [Takes a break.] [Laughs.] [Laughs.] [Laughs.]

[As he talks he spreads photographs on the table, chair, windowsills: giant sunflowers the size of carriage wheels, a sparrow’s nest in an empty village, a lonely village cemetery with a sign that says, “High radiation. Do not enter.” A baby carriage in the yard of an abandoned house, the windows are boarded up, and in the carriage sits a crow, as if it’s guarding its nest. The ancient sight of cranes over a field that’s gone wild.] [points to the photographs.] [Points again to the photographs.] [Calms down a little.] [Boris] [Gets upset again.] [Silent.] [Goes on for some time but it is impossible to understand what he’s saying.] [Considers this.]

[Thinks.] [Quiet.] [Leonid] [a city in the Southern Urals near the Mayak weapons facility, contaminated and largely evacuated after a nuclear waste tank exploded in 1957] [Silent.] [Extended silence.] [Thinks.] [1986]

[She is silent for a long time.] [Suddenly she smiles.] [She is silent.] [She is silent again.] [Stops.] [Quietly.] [We drink tea and she shows me the family photographs, the wedding photographs. And then, as I’m getting up to go, she stops me.]

-Complete author inserts in monologues from Voices from Chernobyl

Thursday, October 24, 2013

“next to of course god america i / love

Since I got here,
the shutdown ended,
NJ governor Christie dropped his appeal against gay marriage,
a school shooting in Nevada left two dead,
German Chancellor Merkel found out the NSA was tapping her phone,
a 13-year old carrying a toy gun was shot dead by police in CA,
a teenager committed suicide by driving head-on into another car on Rt. 27 (NJ), taking two innocents with him,
and I got a Macy’s credit card.

Friday, October 18, 2013

It's the slow city you built in a bottle that makes these blossoms possible

We've been in the states for a week and are enjoying the fall. Today we went to the deserted village in Watchung Reservation and took a short walk among the collapsing houses. There's a very small graveyard with five stones or so, though 24 people are supposedly buried there. This is the only original stone.They'll be having some Halloween events here after we leave, which I'm not unhappy to miss.

I've got three poem-like pieces in the new Menacing Hedge: Miniature City, Cabin and Die Taube. For a real fright, I read them, too.

Tomorrow we're off to New York for four days with some family. My dad and step-mother are taking the kids to a show on Saturday night, giving me a free night. My daughter insists I stay in the apartment. Laugh. If you see me out and about, wave.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


I've been checking the odds over the past few day on who might win the Nobel Prize for Literature. According to betting site Ladbrokes, for days Haruki Murakami had the best odds, followed by Joyce Carol Oates. Far down the list was Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian journalist, with 50/1 odds.

But this morning before the winner was announced, I saw she'd shot out ahead of Murakami to top the list. As with Herta Müller, I'd never heard her name, and it wasn't all that easy to find information about her. But what I found (mostly in German) was interesting - she writes about people's lives after the break-up of the Soviet Union, their dashed expectations, about Chernobyl, the Soviet/Afghanistan war, and other eastern European issues.

We all know now that Alice Munro won, and I'm glad. I've read her stories and think she's excellent, but can't help but feel lucky I stumbled on Alekievich, who sounds even more worthwhile. 

Otherwhere, earlier this week I put myself on a diet of 50 pages a day of Unbroken to ensure I'd finish before leaving for the US tomorrow. The world conspired against me, first through my own fault (i.e. forgetting to take it on my commute one day, minus 50), then through the chatty neighbor I met on the train this morning, who chewed my ear off during my reading time. Anyway, you'll be glad to know I finished the book anyway. Very moving story.

And now to pick out something for the 9-hour plane trip. Something (I hope) I won't mind leaving behind. 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

If not, overweight fee

I leave for the states Friday, and am embroiled in the pre-transatlantic drama that seems to strike whenever I take such a trip: I’m a good clip through a big book that it will be a trick to finish before I leave. So,

1. Do I stop reading, and resume when I come back? Not a good idea

2. Do I take it with me, finish at my mother’s and leave it there? Could do, but she's read it and I promised to lend it to a colleague

3. Do I take it, finish it, and lug its heavy ass back in my suitcase, in a pocket better left to a likewise large but unread book? Ugh. Worst-case scenario

4. Do I cram the whole book in before Friday morning? Yes, or go blind trying. The book is Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and it is an exciting read, so at least the book is cooperating. This is my best option, since today I ordered seven books to be sent to my mother’s house, all of which I’ll be lugging back, surely among others. Here they are: 

If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho - Anne Carson, trans. 

Sum of Every Lost Ship by Allison Titus 

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A plaque won’t give you your life back

Boy, it’s cold and grey and raining here. One feels the urge to stay inside and drink tea. In this case, fennel-anise-caraway tea. But we went out anyway, and bought a new tea kettle. The rain makes the cobblestones shine and I like the sound car tires make going through puddles. Shhhhhööööjjj.

Walking back through the Nordend neighborhood we found some Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones.” There are dozens of these around Frankfurt; they mark the addresses where Jews who were deported during the holocaust lived. They’re subtle but also striking, with their minimal information. I keep an album of them on Facebook. 

These are for the Levi family, which lived on Oberweg. Issak, Katinka and their son Karl. They were deported to Majdenek concentration camp in Poland in 1942. According to the stones, the father and mother were murdered there, whereas their 17-year old son is simply described as having died (‘tot’). 

All the stories that must be behind those stones. I think it’s a good thing these are installed around the city. But a plaque won’t give you your life back.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

la bella figura

The Italians put photographs of the dead on graves.
The Italians sleep through the warm hours after lunch. 
They tile their floors. 
They are not in a hurry. 
They are not always punctual. 
The Italians do not eat while walking. Eating is done sitting down. 
(Usually while watching TV.) 
The Italians touch you when they are talking, and this is also information.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


Sunny and cold enough to see your breath this morning. First turtleneck of the year: teal green. Found a moth hole later, not too difficult to conceal. 

Yesterday I forgot my book on my desk when I left work and have now done the work-->home & home-->work commute without it. I know the emptiness of trains, and the anxiety of not knowing what to do with myself. 

“Feel? Let those who read feel,” wrote Fernando Pessoa.
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