ray greenblatt

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

snow

By Ray Greenblatt

Snow Country was written by Yasunari Kawabata in 1934 and translated into English in 1957. It is a story about a passionate affair between a wealthy young man and a geisha in training set in northern Japan. Komako the geisha cannot control her honest feelings, while Shimamura—despite his wife and children in Tokyo—cannot frankly face his deep feelings for her.

I – SCROLL PAINTING

A unique approach by Kawabata in telling this tale is structuring it like a scroll painting. Also, whatever the characters do is emphasized by the use of aspects from Nature. Needless to say, much poetic imagery arises. The author employs short sentences, even fragments, sometimes in short paragraphs to simulate brush strokes; the lack of chapters suggests an unrolling of the scroll itself. Here are some examples:

“ Children of the village were skiing in the fields.

As he started into the part of the village that fronted on the highway, he heard a sound as of quiet rain.

Little icicles glistened daintily along the eaves.” (49)

In many of these passages Shimamura is walking through a landscape of fields, forests and mountains, often covered by feet of snow in winter.

“In front of the cedar grove opposite, dragonflies were bobbing about in countless swarms, like dandelion floss in the wind.

The river seemed to flow from the tips of the cedar branches.

He thought he would never tire of looking at the autumn flowers that spread a blanket of silver up the side of the mountain.” (90)

This was one activity when he was alone where Shimamura could emotionally lose himself in the beauty of nature. Music, as we shall observe, moved him also in that way.

“ Slender autumn grasses grew along the top of an earthen wall. The pale-yellow plumes were at their most graceful, and below each plume narrow leaves spread out in a delicate fountain.

Yoko knelt on a straw mat beside the road, flailing at beans spread out before her in the sunlight.

The beans jumped from their dry pods like little drops of light.” (109)

You can imagine these various parts of the scene placed in a scroll painting that depicts people embedded deeply in Nature.

2 – THE GEISHA AND THE MAN

Komako dominates the novel. She is a very talented young woman: she can sing, dance and play the samisen. Besides being beautiful, she shows intelligence in knowing the history of Japanese theater. Another attribute is her complete honesty and lack of pretension.

Kawabata describes her in so many poetic ways: “In the moonlight the fine geisha like skin took on the luster of a sea shell.” (101) Her hair “glowed like some heavy black stone.” (39) What Shimamura liked best about her physically: “She must be clean to the hollows under her toes.” (18)

Sometimes a Japanese image jars us: “Her skin, suggesting the newness of a freshly peeled onion.” (73) “The bud of her lips opened and closed smoothly, like a beautiful little circle of leeches.” (32) And when she is distressed, “Komako’s face floated up like an old mask.” (168)

She is obviously in love with this man: “The naked heart of a woman calling out to her man.” (34) “Soft and yielding as if she were offering herself up.” (38) “She curled up like a little child, and grabbed at the neck of his kimono with her two fists.” (64) “Then, like a glow that breaks into a flame, the smile became a laugh.” (114) Shimamura saw her in a mystical way: “He was taken with the fancy that the light must pass through Komako.” (54)

However, there is tension between them: “She seemed on edge, like some restless night beast that fears the approach of the morning.” (47) “It was as though a strange, magical wildness had taken her.” (47) She knew how much she was risking: “She folded her arms like a bar over the breast he was asking for.” (35) “She bit at her sleeve as if to fight back the happiness.” (37) “She seemed ill at ease, like a young woman, still childless, who takes a baby up in her arms.” (146)

She gives so much more to him than he can reciprocate:” Like a warm light, Komako poured in on the empty wretchedness that had assailed Shimamura.” (62) “A childlike feeling of security came to him from the warmth of her body.” (146)

“The woman’s existence, her straining to live, came touching him like naked skin.”

(128)

His problem is that he cannot see her as a real person, only a singular image. “But, drawn to her at that moment, he felt a quiet like the voice of the rain flow over him.” (41) “This sighing for the human skin took on a dreamy quality like the spell of the mountains.” (112) He has made her a part of nature; and he loves the music that she makes.

Komako plays for him: “A chill swept over Shimamura. The goose flesh seemed to rise even to his cheeks. The first notes opened a transparent emptiness deep in his entrails, and in the emptiness the sound of the samisen reverberated. He was startled—or, better, he fell back as under a well-aimed blow. Taken with a feeling almost of reverence, washed by waves of remorse, defenseless, quite deprived of strength.” (71)

3 – SYMBOLIC NATURE

Kawabata’s use of Nature can emphasize the most minute aspects such as a  moth: “The wings fluttered like thin pieces of paper in the autumn wind.” (90) Or grasses: “The kaya spread out silver in the sun, like the autumn sunlight itself pouring over the face of the mountain.” (93)

But in this northern region snow dominates: “The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth.” (44)  “From the gray sky, framed by the window, the snow floated toward them in great flakes, like white peonies.” (149) “Little needles of frost like isinglass among the withered chrysanthemums.” (76)

Trees play a large part in the scenery since vast forests still abound here. Branches ” looked like stakes driven into the trunk with their sharp ends out, to make a terrible weapon for some god.” (30)”They came out of the cedar grove, where the quiet seemed to fall in chilly drops.” (119) “The house was old and decayed, like the pitted trunk of a persimmon.” (53)

You can see how the author ties Nature into the life of the people: “The innkeeper had lent him an old Kyoto teakettle, skillfully inlaid in silver with flowers and birds, and from it came the sound of wind in the pines.” (155) “The lines of the mountain and of the roofs on its slopes were floating out of the rain.” (38) “The low, dark houses along the street seemed to be breathing as they floated up in the light of the fire.” (170)

And then his view can become cosmic: “The stillness seemed to be singing quietly.” (30) “The light . . . flickered on and off as if crackling in the cold.” (45) “The moon shone like a blade frozen in blue ice.” (77) “The Milky Way came down just over there, to wrap the night earth in its naked embrace.” (165) A scroll painting would exist in a void if it did not have people and Nature combined.

You can find the book here: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/snow-country-yasunari-kawabata/1002419138

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

The Flash Fiction of Lydia Davis

varieties

By Ray Greenblatt

Lydia Davis is a successful novelist and highly praised translator of Proust and Flaubert among others. She has also written poetry, but I find as well poetics in her short short stories, many of which can be read as poems in themselves. To show these traits, I will concentrate on her more recent collection of stories Varieties of Disturbance (2007), which was nominated for a National Book Award.

I

The building blocks of most any poem are imagery and rhythm. Let us observe and listen to ORDER about a house aging:  “The doors will not shut; the floorboards separate and the clay squeezes up between them; the plaster walls dampen with rain; bats fly down from the attic and invade her wardrobe; mice make nests in her shoes.” The house certainly comes alive in its decrepitude.

The piece HEAD, HEART is even shaped like a poem:

“Heart weeps.

Head tries to help heart.

Head tells heart how it is, again:

You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But

even the earth will go, someday.

Heart feels better, then.”

Poetic devices are strong like personification and the repeated “h” sound to tie words together.

In HAND we see our hands in a different light: “Beyond the hand holding this book that I’m reading, I see another hand lying idle and slightly out of focus.” Again, not only is the image strong but also the rhythm.

Davis in few words brings out human character as in FOR SIXTY CENTS. Davis looks at the happenings inside and outside a cafe: “The company of the people inside, who are laughing and turning endless variations on one rather cruel joke at the expense of a little balding red-headed woman sitting at the counter and dangling her crossed feet from the stool, who tries to reach out with her short, white arm and slap the face of the man standing nearest to her.” Notice the “ands” and participles that continue the rhythm of the extended thought. ”Turning endless variations” is a marvelous phrase.

This man gains dimension in only a few poetic words in A DIFFERENT MAN: “At night she hardly recognized him: a pale man, a gray man, a man in a brown sweater, a man with dark eyes who kept his distance from her, who took offense, who was not reasonable. In the morning, he was a rosy king, gleaming, smooth-cheeked and smooth-chinned, fragrant with perfumed talc, coming out into the sunlight with a wide embrace in his royal red plaid robe.” Davis does not hesitate to repeat words for emphasis—“man,” “who,” “smooth.”

II

It is often difficult to separate Davis’ writing techniques because they mesh so fluidly. THE SENSES uses imagery, but the underlying philosophy is so true: “Many people treat their five senses with a certain respect and consideration. They take their eyes to a museum, their nose to a flower show, their hands to a fabric store for the velvet and silk; they surprise their ears with a concert, and excite their mouth with a restaurant meal.”

From GOOD TIMES: “The good times might multiply perhaps as rapidly as the square of the square, or perhaps more rapidly, like mice, or like mushrooms springing up overnight from the scattered spore of a parent mushroom.” Images like squares, mice, mushrooms are used, but is the intellectual thought more dominant?

Here is another short short story THE BUSY ROAD in toto:

“I am so used to it by now

that when the traffic falls silent,

I think a storm is coming.”

Davis often uses first person to give immediacy to the thought.

Here is one more complete story SUDDENLY AFRAID stressing emotions:

“because she couldn’t write the name of what she was: a wa

wam owm owamn womn”

This lacks capitalization as well as a final punctuation mark; truly modern poem techniques.

ABSENTMINDED also deals with the realities of life: “You think about how living with a cat and the demands of a cat make you think about simple things, like a cat’s need to come indoors, and how good that is. You think about this and you are too busy thinking about this to let the cat in.”

Ironies are built into so many of Davis’ stories as in THE FELLOWSHIP. Here someone is applying for a position: “When you have truly learned what it is to be patient, so much so that you forget all about the fellowship, then you will receive the fellowship.”

III

We must not overlook Lydia Davis’ sense of humor. It often keeps her more brutally honest topics afloat. Her sense of comedy runs throughout these stories, so we will examine just a few. Davis talks about her supposed 94-year-old mother in A MAN FROM HER PAST: “Though her body is old, her capacity for betrayal is still young and fresh.”

Here is the entire COLLABORATION WITH FLY:

“I put that word on the page,

but he added the apostrophe.”

Understatement works well where little suggests more.

One more complete story INSOMNIA:

“My body aches so—

It must be this heavy bed pressing up against me.”

This almost sounds like a one-liner from an old comic, like Milton Berle or Bob  Hope. However, the title suggests something more serious.

And finally the short story CHILD CARE. The father is in a bad mood and so is the baby. The father knows it is his turn to take care of the child and that he must do something. Davis renders a storyline and characterization as well as irony and humanity. The last line is: “Together they watch The Odd Couple.”

Lydia Davis has re-fashioned a relatively new literary genre, Flash Fiction, putting her own unique stamp on it. Yes, fiction tells a story, but by employing poetic techniques it can be an even more supple and evocative form of literature, no matter how brief.

You can buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Varieties-Disturbance-Stories-Lydia-Davis/dp/0374281734

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

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Maigret’s Memoirs by George Simenon

sim

By Ray Greenblatt

I have written reviews before of crime novels: Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon with detective Sam Spade; Ross McDonald’s Sleeping Beauty with detective Lew Archer; Donna Leon’s The Girl of His Dreams featuring Italian Commissario Guido Brunetti.

However, I have never encountered such a unique police procedural like Georges Simenon’s Maigret’s Memoirs, since Simenon himself enters the book as the obvious author as well as a character in his own right. Let us observe aspects of Simenon’s technique when interacting with the French inspector he created, Jules Maigret.

SIMENON MEETS MAIGRET

When Simenon first meets Maigret, the author immediately displays his own strong opinions: “’I find it hard to construct a character unless I know how he behaves at every moment of the day. For instance, I won’t be able to talk about millionaires until I have seen one in his dressing gown eating his boiled egg for breakfast.’” (15) Simenon is concerned with truth: ‘Truth never seems true. I don’t mean only in literature or in painting. I won’t remind you, either, of those Doric columns whose lines seem to us strictly perpendicular and which only give that impression because they are slightly curved. If they were straight, they’d look as if they were swelling, don’t you see?’”(24)

He explained to Maigret what type of people he was interested in: “’The others. Those who are made like you and me, and who end up one fine day by killing somebody without being prepared to.’” (11) Maigret was baffled by Simenon’s style: ”He still took no notes. He asked few questions. He tended, rather, to make assertions. He explained to me subsequently—and it doesn’t follow that I believed him—that a man’s reactions to an assertion are more revealing than his replies to a specific question.” (16)

“My guest looked at my pipes, my ashtrays, the black marble clock on the mantelpiece, the little enamel basin behind the door, and the towel that always smells like a wet dog.” (9) Maigret did not like him at first: “The fact is that I retained a wholly uninteresting memory of him, as uninteresting as the weather itself that day. If I made no effort to cut short his visit, it was primarily because of the Chief’s recommendation, and also because I had nothing important to do and it was, after all, a way of killing time.” (10)

MAIGRET’S EXPERIENCE

In the many novels that Simenon writes about Maigret, he wants to investigate in a realistic manner the variety of crimes committed.

As a policeman, Maigret recognizes kleptomaniacs: “We had to deal with a regular clientele. Whether at Bon Marche, the Louvre, or Printemps, certain familiar figures were always to be found, usually middle-aged women, who stowed away incredible quantities of various goods in a pocket concealed between their dress and their petticoat.” (81) Aliens: “And then, in their underclothes or stark naked, men, women, and children would scurry about in the dim light, in the stench, unfastening unbelievable trunks to hunt for a passport hidden under their belongings.” (95)

He got to know prostitutes: “Ten thousand go that way, on an average, every year, ten thousand who leave their villages and start off in domestic service in Paris, and who, before a few months or a few weeks are out, will have taken the plunge.” (101) Thieves: “There will shortly be a jewel robbery because a certain specialist who has seldom been caught red-handed has begun to run short of cash. He has left his hotel on Boulevard Haussmann for a more modest one in the Republique district. He has not paid his bill for two weeks.” (101)

Gangs were much the same in the Thirties as today: “We know the rival gangs, their interests and the points at issue between them. We also know their personal hatreds and resentments.” (102) Murder was ghastly but perfunctory: “On the ground, in the sawdust and spittle, a man lies crumpled up, one hand on his breast, from which a trickle of blood is flowing to form a pool.” (120)

Even runaway girls are predictable as Maigret confronts a bereft father: “He has brought several photographs, convinced that they’ll be useful in our search. If she’s pretty, so much the worse, for the number of chances is lessened. If she’s ugly, on the contrary, she’ll probably come back in a few days, or a few weeks.” (119)

“We possess more or less exact statistics for crimes of every sort.

“Except one.

“Poisoning.

“And any rough guess would inevitably err in one direction or the other.

“Every three months, or six months, in Paris or in the provinces, particularly in the provinces, in some very small town or in the country, a doctor happens by chance to examine a dead body more closely than usual and is puzzled by certain symptoms.” (105)

“We have seen too much, as you can well imagine, to be shocked any longer by certain forms of wretchedness and depravity. So the latter does not arouse our indignation, nor does the former cause us the distress felt by the inexperienced spectator.” (78) “With all due deference to novelists, a policeman is, above all, a professional. He is an official.

“He’s not engaged in a guessing game, or in getting excited over a more or less thrilling chase.

“When he spends a night in the rain, watching a door that doesn’t open or a lighted window, when he patiently scans the sidewalk cafes on the boulevards for a familiar face, or prepares to spend hours questioning a pale, terrified individual, he is doing his daily job.” (124)

MAIGRET MEETS SIMENON

Georges Simenon admits to Maigret that a novelist has to bend certain elements to appeal to a reading audience. Maigret writes: “The bookcase is full of Simenon’s books, which I have patiently stuffed with blue pencil marks, and I was looking forward to correcting all the mistakes he’s made, either because he didn’t  know, or else for the sake of being picturesque, often because he didn’t have the courage to call me up to verify some detail.” (129) Simenon responds: “’Maigret old fellow, you’ll have to be kind enough to do the job yourself, because I’ve never had the courage to reread my own books.’” (129)

Maigret finds some changes serious, especially if it concerns his wife Louise. “My nephew heads the list, and I understand why. He’s her sister’s son. I got him into the police a long time ago, at an age when he was fired with enthusiasm for it.

“Simenon mentioned him, then the boy suddenly disappeared from his books, and I can guess Louise’s scruples. She’s been thinking that for some readers this may have appeared suspicious, as though her nephew had committed some stupidity.

“The truth is quite simple. He had not done as brilliantly as he had hoped. And he did not put up much resistance to his father-in-law’s pressing offers of a place in his soap factory in Marseilles.” (132)

Some changes the reader might find comical and very French. “Simenon has mentioned a certain bottle we always had in our sideboard on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir—we still have it there—and of which my sister-in-law, according to a hallowed tradition, brings us a supply from Alsace after her annual visit there.

“He has thoughtlessly described it as sloe gin.

“Actually, it is raspberry brandy. And for an Alsatian, apparently, this makes a tremendous difference.” (133)

Despite differences Maigret and Simenon became friends. Maigret recounts: “He quickly became a friend of the family, and on the few occasions when we have traveled in summer vacations it has almost always been to visit him in his various homes while he was still living in France.” (36) “Simenon was just off for Africa, where he was to spend nearly a year.

“’Why don’t you move into my apartment on Place des Vosges until the job’s finished?’” (131)

Yet, Maigret wrestled with the ultimate irony: “It’s a strange sensation to watch on the screen, coming and going, speaking and blowing his nose, a fellow who pretends to be you, who borrows certain of your habits, utters sentences that you have uttered, in circumstances that you have known, through which you have lived, in settings that have sometimes been reconstructed with meticulous care.” (31)

P.S. MRS. MAIGRET

Louise Maigret has been the linchpin between Maigret and Simenon. “Actually, she’s delighted with Simenon’s picture of her, the picture of a good housewife, always busy cooking and polishing, always fussing over her great baby of a husband. It was even because of that picture, I suspect, that she was the first to become his staunch friend, to the extent of considering him one of the family and of defending him when I haven’t dreamed of attacking him.” (64)

“’On the whole,’ Louise said, ‘I don’t see all that much difference.’

“I always look rather anxiously at her when she’s reading what I have just been writing, trying to forestall her criticisms.

‘Difference between what?’

‘Between what you say about yourself and what Simenon says about you.’” (128)

Maigret comments: “I have felt a certain embarrassment on seeing attributed to me in his books certain smiles, certain attitudes I have never assumed, which would have made my colleagues shrug their shoulders.

‘The person who has understood best is my wife. And yet, when I get back from work, she never questions me with any curiosity, whatever the case I’m concerned with.”(98)

She maintains the relationship with the entire Simenon family through the years. “’Tell the Simenons I’m knitting socks for . . .’

‘But I’m not writing them a letter, you know!’

‘Of course. Make a note of it for when you do write. They’re not to forget the photo they promised us.’

“She added:

‘Can I set the table?’

“That’s all.” (134)

As a writer, I wonder about volume after volume that so many fantasy writers, especially, put out year after year. I work very hard to hammer out a handful of poems for a book every few years. Then I discovered Georges Simenon who published 11 novels in 1931alone! And continued to write 100 Maigret books as well as 250 other realistic novels. He set the level of productivity so high; critics agree that the quality remained high also.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Maigrets-Memoirs-Inspector-Maigret-Georges/dp/0241240174

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

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Venice by Jan Morris

venice

By Ray Greenblatt

I have read a number of books about Venice.  Joseph Links’ Venice for Pleasure (1966) describes the facades of the city. E.V. Lucas’ A Wanderer in Venice (1914) analyzes the paintings there. Wm. Dean Howells’ Venetian Life (1866) comes close to depicting the people, but his sentences are convoluted.

However, Jan Morris’ Venice (1974) brings the city, people, essence vividly to life. And her style is quite poetic. As a matter of fact, I can make a case that one typical chapter “The Seasons” from that book can prove my point to the fullest extent.

SPRING

With a unique simile Morris begins her discussion of spring: “Spring floods into Venice like a tingling elixir or a dry martini.”  The Venetians have lasted through the winter: “There is a sense of discomforts survived and prosperity to come.”  Although it is a city made mostly of stone, nature potentially abounds: “Streaks and flecks of green appear in the city at last, softening its urban stoniness.” “The very pavements of the city seem to be cherished and revived.”

“The ponderous mansions are burgeoning with flower-pots, canary-cages and varnish.” Morris loves to use a series to give life to an object: “Bits and pieces of gondolas hang fresh-painted on it walls, totems of May—shiny seats, velvet cushions, a brass sea-horse dangling from a window-knob, a black walnut panel propped against a door.”

The economy of Venice truly comes to life with foreign visitors; Morris animates the concept with personification. “Now the massive tourist machine of Venice greases its cogs and paints its upper works for the summer.” Massive liners begin to arrive. “The first cruise ship of the year anchors tantalizingly in the lagoon, bright with awnings, with a scent of the Aegean to her funnel vapors, or a thin flicker of rust from the Hudson river.”

“The first tourists parade the Piazza, wearing tarbooshes, Maltese slippers, Spanish skirts or burnooses, according to their earlier itinerary.” “If you want to book a room the receptionist no longer greets you with cheerful informality, as he did a month ago, but cocks a sophisticated seasonal eyebrow, turns a supercilious page.” Later on we shall see how different winter is from spring.

Morris can write pure Romantic prose, an eyelash away from poetry. “And sometimes, in the Venetian spring, you awake to a Canaletto day, when the whole city is alive with sparkle and sunshine, and the sky is an ineffable baby-blue. An air of flags and freedom pervades Venice on such a morning, and all feels light, spacious, carefree, crystalline, as though the decorators of the city had mixed their paints in champagne, and the masons laced their mortar with lavender.”

SUMMER

It is now summer when tourists dominate. “With a thud, a babble of voices and a crinkle of travelers’ cheques, summer falls upon Venice.” Morris’ poetics about Venice can be comical. “Her chief function in the world is to be a kind of residential museum, a Tintoretto holiday camp.” “The waiters of the Piazza brush up their brusquest manners.” Morris can be as acerbic as the topic she is describing.

The center of town can be the most vicious, but “as you custom farther from that avaricious fulcrum,” things calm down. “Souvenir stalls spring up like garish fungi.” Morris sometimes employs actual speech: “The cry of ‘Gondola! Gondola!’ follows you like an improper suggestion down the quays.” Bits of history are alluded to: “Enough people peer into the horrors of the dungeons each morning to make Casanova’s head reel.”

But it’s the concept of tourism in all its manifestations that takes her most drubbing:  “The guides and guide books presuppose an unflagging whip-lash energy in their victims.”  “Venice is one great itchy palm.” A photographer is always around to take your picture: “His old tripod camera (which stays in the Piazza all night, like a shrouded owl on a pedestal).”

“Thus through the loose gilded mesh of the city there passes a cross-section of the world’s spawn.” She does not mean that last word in a derogatory way; she is truly fond of tourists for their variety and desire to see a fabulous city. She is excellent in defining national types:

“Germans appear to predominate, for they move in regiments, talk rather loud, push rather hard, and seem to have no particular faces, merging heavily into a jolly sunburnt Volkswagen mass.”

“The Indians are marvelously fragile, exquisite and aloof.”

“The Australians are unmistakable.” (She doesn’t say how!)

“The Canadians are indistinguishable.”

“The Russians no longer come.”

“The Chinese have not arrived yet.” (Remember this is nearly fifty years ago.)

“Here a jolly soul from Iowa, every ounce a tourist, from the enameled ear-rings dangling beneath her bluish hair to the tips of her pink- varnished toe-nails.”

“Many a poor holiday-maker staggers home at the end of a day’s pleasure as though she has been grinding corn on a treadmill.”

With so much beauty around, Morris wonders if tourists can absorb it all. “Seen against so superb a setting, art and nature exquisitely blended, Man can seem  pretty vile.”  A mysticism hovers over the city. “The shadowy Merceria, with its glittering shops, falls away out of the sunshine like a corridor of treasure.” Venice is personified as a grande dame. “She lives for flattery, and peers back at her admirers with an opal but heavy-lidded eye.”

WINTER

Autumn does not exist in Venice, according to Jan Morris. When the tourists leave after the summer, the Serenissima, a personal word for Venice meaning ‘serene,’ turns inward to count profits and take stock: “To see the Serenissima without her make-up on, try getting up at three in the morning one foggy February day, and watch the old lady reluctantly awakening.”

Morris would be one of the few persons to get up at that awful hour, but she wants to experience the essence of all Venetian moods: “You are deposited plumb in the middle of an almost disused nowhere, so deathly silent is the place, so gagged and pinioned with mist.” “The fog marches in frowardly from the sea.”

“So the day comes up again, pinkish and subdued, a Turnerish, vaporous, moist, sea-bird’s day.” He often creates painterly scenes: the preciseness of Canaletto or the energetic massing of Turner. “In winter Venice wakes up at her edges.” “The fringes of the city curl, and color, and bust into wintry flame.”

In the stillness of winter one can now see parts of Venice like one wanders in an antique shop: “Lamplight shines sullenly among the alleys, and sometimes picks out, with a gleam of wet masonry, half a sculptured saintly nose, the tail end of a carved peacock, a crown, a crest, or a crab in a medallion.” Alliteration is strong. “A smell of eels, apples, onions and cheap tobacco”–listen to the sounds that link those items.

Other than sights and smells and nearly tastes, Morris hears things as a poet who scans her lines: “Allowing the echo of your steps to retreat around a corner.” Do you hear your own steps or those of someone else? Certainly you can also feel the cold and dampness emanating from Morris’ poetic prose.

“So Venice sits huddled over her inadequate stoves, or hugger-mugger in her cafes.” “The great hotels are closed or moribund, their echoing foyers haunted only by a handful of disillusioned millionaires and leathery ladies of intrigue.” “The myriad cafes are raising their shutters, and their bottles, coffee-machines and sugar containers stand sleepily shining in the mist.”

“Inside Santa Maria Zobenigo the twisted baroque angels of the altar look down compassionately upon an early Mass.” “There may even scurry by, wrapped in worn wool, with a scarf over her nose and mouth and a string shopping-bag in her hand, some solitary poor conscientious soul off to clean a heartless office or buy the first cabbage of the dawn. Marvelous fresh phrases: “heartless office” and  “first cabbage of the dawn.”

“The nights are vaporous and tomb-like.”  Yet, at this time of year the most activity occurs by the lagoon: “A chatter and clutter of life beside the wharves.” “Two hulking cement barges labor up the Grand Canal, their four oarsmen shouting to one another, grand, slow and heavy in the gloom, like ancient galleys.”

“Sometimes a layer of snow covers the city, giving it a certain sense of improper whimsy, as if you were to dress a duchess in pink ruffles.” And yet, this could be the presentiment of Christmas:  “Venice feels less like a grand duchess than a buxom landlady.’” Every passing barge seems full of bottles, or parcels, or little firs from the mountains, and every child in Venice seems to trail a red balloon.”

Relatives always abound at Christmas: “The interminable reminiscences of immaculate uncles.” Listen to Morris’ choice of “i” which ties words together. And church is integral: “Permutations of clergy, gold and crimson and misty with incense.” And we conclude with this ‘epic’ sentence: “The favorite melody of the day is passed from shop to shop, from square to square, down one dark alley to another, like a cheerful watchword in the night.” Morris’ philosophy of the city is woven smoothly into her descriptions.

Jan Morris knew Venice very well. She lived there with her growing family, returned many times, and learned a rough Italian. Although she never wrote a book of poetry, her prose was rich with poetic technique. She did the same in her books ranging from Trieste to Oxford; she captured the mystique whatever she described.  A mystery surrounded her as well for she transitioned from a man to a woman halfway through her life; she died this year at age 94, living a truly complete life.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Venice-Jan-Morris/dp/0571168973

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

The Short Stories of Tolstaya

porch

By Ray Greenblatt

Tatyana Tolstaya is from the noble and intellectual Tolstoy family. She was born and educated in St. Petersburg, then spent many years in the U.S. teaching. On her return to Russia she hosted a very successful interview show on TV. The first book she wrote—On the Golden Porch (1987)—is what I will write about. I found the two most outstanding characteristics were her startling imagery and raucous sense of humor.

IMAGERY

Tolstaya has a marvelous ability to bring children alive with all their idiosyncrasies.  “Flus would scream and bang at my ears, banging on red drums, surrounding me from eight sides and, swirling wildly, project a delirious film, always the same: a wooden honeycomb filling up with three-digit numbers.” (7, LOVE ME, LOVE ME NOT) She does not deny a child’s imagination: ”The children couldn’t shut their eyes at night, sitting up like white columns in their beds.” (122, DATE WITH A BIRD)

And yet, a sadness invaded them and could stay with them for life. A boy loses his grandfather: “Surfacing from the magical bottom of childhood, from the warm, radiant depths, we open our chilled fist in the cold wind—and what have we brought up with us besides sand?” (49, ON THE GOLDEN PORCH)“His soul was boiled like egg white hanging in clumps on the trees rushing toward him; sour sorrow filled his mouth.” (128, DATE WITH A BIRD)  The child can also pity others: “Lord, the world is so frightening and hostile, the poor homeless, inexperienced soul huddling in the square in the night wind.” (13, LOVES ME, LOVES ME NOT)

Under the oppression of Communism no one gets away unharmed emotionally,

women and men alike. “Rimma cracked—she looked around and saw that time kept flowing on, yet the future still hadn’t arrived.” (107, FIRE AND DUST) “Life had gone and the voice of the future was singing for others.” (112, FIRE AND DUST) “Thousands of years, thousands of days, thousands of translucent impenetrable curtains fell from the heavens, thickened, turned into solid walls, blocked roads, and kept Alexandra Ernestovna from going to her beloved, lost in time.” (35, SWEET SHURA) This image says it all: “Life had shown its empty face, its matted hair and sunken eye sockets.” (113, FIRE AND DUST)

Yet, moments of joy and love do exist. “His words glistened with winy sparkle. He led her to a restaurant and the crowd parted for them, and the coat check took her raiments as if they were the magical swan feathers of a fairy bather who had come from the heavens to a small forest lake. The columns emitted a soft marble aroma, and roses floated in the dim lighting. Vassily Mikhailovich was almost young, and Isolde was like a wild silvery bird, one of a kind.” (68, THE CIRCLE) And dreams can sometimes bode good: “Sleep came, invited him into its loopholes and corridors, made dates of secret stairways, locked the doors and rebuilt familiar houses.” (179, PETERS)

But memory fails. “Only a trace of her voice in my head, incorporeal, seeming to come from the black jaws of the telephone receiver.” (141, SONYA) “Now the backs of the seated people are translucent like gauze, and with frightening speed, their laughter falls to pieces, recedes in the distance—catch it if you can.” (141, SONYA) “How restlessly the transparent, tamed shadows of our imagination scurry when the noises and smells of real life penetrate into their cool, foggy world. (22, OKKERVIL RIVER)

Again we feel depressed. “The rain, darkness, and window-bending wind reflected the white solemn face of loneliness.” (17, OKKERVIL RIVER)  A person dies. “The yellow dog gently closed his eyes and left through the snowflakes up the starry  ladder to the black heights, carrying away the trembling living flame.” (49, ON THE GOLDEN PORCH) “Life had begun to turn its not-good side toward Pavel.” (131, SWEET DREAMS, SON) “Peters sat with his leftovers, as immobile as a suitcase.” (189, PETERS)

Children, women, men all find life at times hopeless, destructive. And yet, some weather through it all.  “Peters smiled gratefully at life—running past, indifferent, ungrateful, treacherous, mocking, meaningless, alien—marvelous, marvelous, marvelous.” (192, PETERS)

HUMOR

It is fairly easy for a professional author to come up with some imagery. However, not every writer can pull off humor. I feel it must be built into the nervous system. Tolstaya has that ability too. In HUNTING THE WOOLY MAMMOTH she shows it through the character of Zoya. She puts on airs: “She opened her lips only a millimeter to taste the profiteroles in chocolate sauce, pretending for some intellectual reason that it wasn’t very tasty.” (52) She poses again: “Her face was supposed to reflect the fleeting nuances of her complex spiritual life, like exquisite sadness or some refined reminiscence.” (53)

She doesn’t really love the man she is trying to capture. She hates the great out-of-doors: “Among offensively hearty strangers bawling cheerfully over their dinner made of pea concentrate.” (54) He just won’t play the game she expects him to: ”But this one comes on his own, gets up close, grazes, plucking at the grass, rubbing his side against the wall, napping in the sun, pretending to be tame. Allows himself to be milked! While the pen is open on all four sides.” (59)

What she wants is to be worshipped: “Oh, they would have sculpted her soul, her pain, all the folds of her blanket the right way, they would have sculpted her and then fixed it up on tippy top of a dizzying, lacy cathedral, at the very top, and the photo would be in close up: Zoya. Detail. Early Gothic.” (60)

In THE CIRCLE a man is married but takes his wife for granted. He sees her in a hair salon: “My God—long wires were attached to a reddened, albeit very happy head, with protruding diodes, triodes, and resistors.” (63) Women love clothes: “A cow gives birth in suffering so you can have shoes; a lamb is sheared screaming so you can warm yourself with its fleece.” (64) Women love make up: “Your pink cheeks come from boxes of flying dust, your smiles from golden containers with strawberry filling, your smooth skin from tubes of grease, your gaze from round transparent jars.” (64)

However, “you don’t pick wives: they simply appear out of nowhere by your side, and you’re struggling in fine netting, bound hand and foot; hobbled and gagged.” (65) He admits that they teach you many things but are they important. “How to clean spoons, and the comparative physiology of meatballs and patties; he knew by heart the grievously brief lifespan of sour cream.” (65) Some foods he found ugly: “In the face of annual death nature gets scared, turns around, and grows head down, giving birth in the final moments to coarse, harsh, clumsy creatures—the black dome of radish, the monstrous white nerve of horseradish, the secret potato cities.” (68)

He wants to escape. “Sometimes he wanted to be born a fiery southern youth; or a medieval alchemist; or the daughter of a millionaire; or a widow’s beloved cat; or a Persian king.” (65) Or even have an affair. “Once, dropping off sheets at the laundry, Vassily stared into the blossoming clover of cotton expanses, and noticed that the seven-digit notation sewn onto the northeast resembled a telephone number; he secretly called, and was graciously welcomed, and began a boring joyless affair with a woman named Klara.”(66)

He kept searching for the answers to life. Perhaps a Rubik’s cube: “Spent weeks twisting and twisting its creaking movable facets, until his eyes grew red, waiting in vain for the light to another universe to shine at last from the window.” (73) “He spent hours standing on his head with his legs crossed in someone’s apartment near the railroad station, between two unshaven, also upside-down engineers, and the rumble of the trains outside the house speeding into the distance shook their upraised striped socks.” (74)

Plot is limited in these stories, mostly no more than vignettes. However, the characters are 3-dimensional and varied. It is primarily the imagery that makes every page sparkle. And the humor makes us laugh at human foibles, often with tears in our eyes.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Porch-Tatyana-Tolstaya/dp/0679728430

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

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Lines of Defense by Stephen Dunn

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By Ray Greenblatt 
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         This is a very mature and yet somber book of poetry often with gleams of warmth and humor. This is Mr. Dunn’s most recent collection published in 2014. The poet employs the persona of an older man; we can never be sure what is the mask or the poet himself behind it. The man has worked through many obstacles and suffering, but over and over he manages to find life-giving resolution.
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          I like his technique of juxtaposing two opposed views. He explores the age-old question, in this poem, of THE CHICKEN AND THE EGG:
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          The chicken for dinner with earnest friends, the egg for breakfast
          with folks who like to play with their food before they eat it.
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          The chicken fills you up so you can’t move,
          The egg cracks open, and choices begin— . .
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           Yet sometimes the chicken is both necessary and sufficient 
          and sometimes your earnest friends instruct you
          about how to live with the beak and the gizzard.
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          The egg allows itself to be hard-boiled or deviled.
          It doesn’t worry. To live right isn’t an issue.
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Here you observe the obvious light humor but the philosophical observations are thought provoking. 
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In similar fashion he compares a poet to a priest in IF THE POET to achieve even more fascinating possibilities:
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          Would a good priest find the right words,
          as the good poet would, in among the many words
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          passed down for centuries
          on what to think, what to believe? . . .
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          That is, if the poet mistrusts words, as he should,
          makes them pass hard tests . . .
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          wouldn’t he,
          although self-ordained, be more reliable?
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          But what if the villagers believed
          they were saved by a prayer the priest said
          one Sunday among the ruins? And all the poet
          could do was elegize the ruins? . . .
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          things got worse
          and prayers proved useless,  and poems
          merely decorated the debris where a house
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          once was? Would it be time for the priest
          to admit he’d known but one book? For the poet
          to say he’d read many, and look, it hasn’t helped?
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The questioner in the poem ultimately decides that in this world of unclear answers just trying might be enough.
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        Another striking technique Dunn uses to further his philosophic probing is to focus on a strong woman. In BETTY FRIEDAN’S FINAL ADVICE this historical feminist gives her opinions:
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          Don’t let
          a ship’s captain marry you
          unless he’s adept at changing course . . .
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          Say the words you must say,
          but be sure to violate all the stupid stuff.
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          After the ceremony, change into that funky
          outfit that drives only the right men crazy.
          Hope your husband will be one of them . . .
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          Tell him also you have nothing
          against God, but remember only an insecure God,
          like an insecure man, insists that a woman
          must obey . . .
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          Your job now
          is to define what heavenly is, and heaven itself,
          and find ways to let him in.
          In the last poem a strong woman gives her opinions about relationships. However, in FOR MY SON a father warns his son about a woman strong in the wrong direction:
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          To marry Alison, Robert, will be to haul water
          from a deep well for the rest of your life.
          It will be to worry about beauty
          instead of enjoying it . . .
          You love her soul, you say,
          but Robert, a soul is unmapped territory . . .
          Well, you’ll have to learn a new language,
          hers, which she expects to be understood
          before it’s spoken . . .
          I just try to make things that last.
          I’ve  made you up; I’ve given you a chance.
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          Dunn revels in ways to use the Word IN LOVE, HIS GRAMMAR GREW:
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          In love, his grammar grew
          rich with intensifiers, and adverbs fell
          madly from the sky like pheasants
          for the peasantry . . .
          until roused my moonlight
          and the beautiful fraternal twins
          ‘and’ and ‘but.’ Oh that was when
          he knew he couldn’t resist
          a conjunction of any kind.
          For love
          he wanted to break all the rules,
          light a candle behind a sentence
          named Sheila, always running on
          and wishing to be stopped
          by the hard button of a period.
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          We have seen the shadows and the light in Dunn’s poetics. I’ll close with a very moving ending to his poem A COLDNESS:

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          That powdered stranger
          lying there, that nobody I knew?
          I was far away, parsing grief,
          turning it over in my mind.
          He was simply gone, a dead thing,
          anybody’s sack of bones.
          Only when his son spoke,
          measuring with precise, slow-
          to-arrive language the father
          he had lost, did something in me move.
          There was my brother restored,
          abstracted, made of words now.
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          I knew nothing about Stephen Dunn. Perhaps years ago I read some of his poems but had completely forgotten them. I had heard that he taught in New Jersey. That was all: perhaps a good way to come at a work of art for a fresh impression. There are many poets out there. Poetry is a thriving sub-culture like antique collecting, gardening, cuisine, etc. Poetry is used in advertising and song lyrics. Our challenge is to find the best among the many. I’ll choose Stephen Dunn.
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Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).
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Dovelion: A Fairy Tale for Our Time by Eileen R. Tabios

dovelion

By Ray Greenblatt

          This novel swirls with philosophies: historic, societal, militaristic, aesthetic, tribal . . . But its essence is a love story. Elena has had many difficulties in life. Meeting Ernst, an artist, allows her to find her way by support and caring. The author uses many poetic devices that we will see in the following sections: Writing, Love, Objects, and finally Abstractions.

                                                              I – On Writing

          Two major poetic devices loom early in the book. The title itself -–DoveLion—is strong symbolism. Elena learns through love to be humble as well as assertive, the yin and yang of human nature. DoveLion is also the name of her homeland where the peaceful are being besieged by the cruel.

          The author also employs repetition to emphasize certain feelings:
          “Once upon a time, I thought Poetry is a fairy tale . . .”(1)
          Elena, the main character, is a poet who did not think poetry could encompass all aspects of life, only the ideal.
          “Once upon a time, Elena approached a grey building . . .” (39)
          This is the moment she meets Ernst who forms her first real relationship.
          “Once upon a time, an emerald island laid upon a blue sapphire ocean . . .” (117)

          This is Elena’s homeland that she remembers as being very beautiful until a dictatorship took power, driving her away.

          These three essential elements in her life are repeated many times throughout the book to have us remember what drives and shapes her.

          Since the author is a poet, as is the character Elena, what is said about poetry carries extra weight. “As often occurs in poems, the words left behind the poet’s intention.” (88) The poet knows that each word holds a certain meaning; sometimes the meaning is lost if the words are not accurate.

          Sometimes the poet has to speak the words out loud to hear if that is what she really means: “Silently mouthing it as if to sense the words’ physicality against my tongue.” (222) In this case the words were sour. As a reader Elena escaped into poetry: “Living through words she read behind covers of cracked leather.” (295)

          Tabios uses delicate personification: “The empty page longs perpetually for its lover.” (2) In a way the writer lovingly adorns a sheet of paper with words.  “The pages seemed too fragile to hold their burdened past.” (209) As she rereads her journals, Elena recalls the pain she has encountered.

          “I am writing this along the infinite cave wall of my mind.”(263) Often a poet dredges up a thought out of the deep unconscious that every human has evolved through one’s life. We must even explore the tiniest of places to find ourselves: “So much wisdom exists in footnotes.” (33)

                                                  II – Elena Searching

          Elena has experienced so much sorrow as an orphan for so many years that she is often startled by an event. “My warm breast swiftly chilling against cold porcelain.” (11) Her fears “turned my scalp into a tundra.” (212) Her major release was crying:  “Crying is cathartic. It lets the devils out before they wreak all kinds of havoc.” (194)

          Sometimes everything depressed her.” The world looked as grey as her trench coat.” (86) “Greeting mornings as an exposed nerve.” (281) She expands this feeling to include all needy people through marvelous alliteration:  “We pockmark the planet.” (240) And sadly, “I forgot how one can sag into night.” (283)

          She often found herself uncertain. “Speechlessness allowed me to harness my scrambled wits.” (192) A glimmer of belief would appear then die: ”I graffitied a temple against my skin though I did not yet know where to place my faith.” (193) Then she would hide again. “I burrowed within its walls. I chose an apartment that could cocoon me.” (192)

                                              III – Elena Emerging

          Finally, these two good but hurt people meet. “It’s always interesting, they knew, when fallen angels meet each other in their human forms.” (52) They were very gentle with each other: “Their tone was the softness of cotton laundered over a thousand times.” (74) Having sex seemed to unlock their feelings: “Full lips which need only pout to unlock a bank vault.” (28) Elena had found an emotional island in which to rest: “She surrendered her fingerprints to the universe.” (81) This sentence uniquely defines her feelings of openness.

          Ernst’s main psychic wound was being deceived as a child by the lies of his father whom he adored. Now the lovers inched their way toward one another. “Each inevitable stutter of love.” (88) They mutually feel that “I forgot you were the altar that made me stay.” (157)

          Elena was being cured by love. “My cracks soldered with the Kintsukuroi gold of sun, light, lucidity.” (196) That Japanese word defines the art of mending broken pottery with gold threads. Lucidity for Elena and Ernst was the honesty between them. A sea metaphor stands for her emergence: “She was wading across a sea floor as she walked across the carpet. The algae of memories. The coral of possibilities.” (21) Even those sentence fragments reinforce her slowly cohering emotions. She has attained her goal: “My footsteps dancing away from youth into courage.”(281)

                                               IV – Things Touchable

          Tabios has the skill to bring objects to life, whether miniscule or cosmic. Let us first look at the building in which Elena and Ernst meet. “A building that looked like a grey egg. I cracked it open.” (19) This simile suggests the birth of something significant.  “The building’s multiple reflections encouraged the thought of parallel universes.” (33) Inside this structure all types of freedom of expression waited for her. Through direct address she challenges her fears: “”’I am not small and anonymous like you, Basement!’” (31)

          Her views of nature are truly poetical.  On the beach “she felt sand lick a cat’s tongue against her ankles.” (27) “Rock arches and a hundred caves presented an eyelet pattern whitened by sea salt over the years.” (255) And she remembered her Asian homeland: “The rice fields, sometimes melancholy at dusk.” (283)

          She uses strong verbs, as poets do today instead of resorting to strings of adjectives: “One road grappled north, the other south.” (271) And her descriptions can run almost to the comically absurd, as this one about a nose: “Hers tipped up unexpectedly for a bewitching endnote.”  (211) Those last two words are both uniquely vivid.

                                                    V – Things Intangible

          Some things clearly cannot be touched or at most can indirectly touch you. ”When sky turns blue, it becomes as physical as an organ.” (282) Or “when I stepped inside the sun continued to accompany me.” (18) When we see butterflies, we just want to observe their beauty, not touch them: “Silver butterflies who appeared from nowhere and lingered over her smile.” (75) Likewise, “a breakfast of rain.” (284)

          These are what we may call indirect senses. More so, flowers play a very special role in our lives and picking them is not foremost. “Inhaling their promiscuous scent, she admired the red, waxy petals.” (40) Notice that powerful adjective that suggests so much more than just smelling. “The door always opened to the scent of magnolias.” (286) Finally beauty unto itself: “The wisdom of flowers.” (168)

          Dance, also on one level, is physical for the dancer. However, the viewer has an entirely different sensibility. “The arm work in flamenco, unfolds with resistance—the arms move through air that seemingly has become physical resistance, like quicksand.” (44)

                                                     VI – Abstractions

          Let us conclude our discussion of DoveLion first with some comments about painting since Ernst is an artist. Like a poet writing words, an artist often had a wild compulsion to paint: “He kept painting the tango on a panel of the sidewalk.” (271) Almost a laughable situation, perhaps even to the artist himself. “The regret of crimson, the futility of pink, the astonishment of brown.” (280) Elena teasingly tells Ernst, “Your favorite color was water.” (280)

          Through Elena, Tabios’ philosophy is very far ranging. From the minor worth of a name: “Amy? So benign. Not sufficiently fraught with various significances.” (92) To power: “When one is powered only by power, joy becomes irrelevant.” (143) “To be poor is inherently to receive cruelty.” (216) And a clever play on poetic parentheses about misogyny: “Not perceived or articulated such that it often lapses into the parenthetical.” (221) A closing irony: “Ignoring reason is often a luxury for the privileged.” (191)

          Not much has been said about the author’s moments of comedy.
          “Capturing light through algebra.” (284)
          “Anthologies of glass.” (285)
I am not quite sure what the above mean, but I find them delightfully whimsical. Only a poet can say!

You can find the book here: https://www.acbooks.org/dovelion

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).
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Kim by Rudyard Kipling

kim

By Ray Greenblatt

          Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was an author of many poems and as much prose. He lived many years in India as a journalist , so he knew the inner workings of the country, even speaking Hindi. Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, he seemed to evolve into something different and grow to believe in the White Man’s Burden as he aged. However, we are not concerned with politics or economics. Our goal is to illustrate how Kipling blends his poetic skill into his unique early novel Kim (1901).

                                                                     Poetic Style

          Let us immediately analyze Kipling’s poetic approach. Afterwards, we shall observe how these poetics bring his characters and India itself to life. He the author sometimes interrupts the omniscient narrative to step forward into the scene. “There was a whirr and the voice stopped—as voices must if you ram a thrice-doubled coat on to the wax cylinder and into the works of an expensive phonograph.” (151)

           At times he makes it sound as if a report had actually been written about Kim’s spy work after he graduated from the St Xavier School. “The report in its unmistakable St Xavier’s running script, and the brown, yellow, and lake-daubed map, was on hand a few years ago (a careless clerk filed it with the rough notes of E. 23, second Seistan survey).” (170) As in poetry, inversion is used. ”Followed a sudden natural reaction.” (185)

          Kipling finds a series of phrases emphatic. “Bone by bone, muscle by muscle, ligament by ligament, and lastly, nerve by nerve. Kneaded to irresponsible pulp.” (275) Sometimes simple nouns: “Decked, brow, nose, ear, neck, wrist, and ankle with heavy native jewelry. When she turned it was like the clashing of copper pots.” (177) Repetition, even of clauses, plays a role:  “Because they knew and loved the Lama, because he was an old man, because he sought the Way, because he was their guest.” (195)

          That last paragraph contained a simile using “like.” Another is “gurgling, grunting hookahs, which in full blast sound like bull-frogs.” (71) His metaphors are prevalent too: “With the gait of a bogged cow.” (160) And how Indians speak like the British: “the tinny, saw-cut English of the native-bred.” (84) Often sight images like “watching the throat-muscles quiver and jerk” (180) blend with hearing imagery, “he caught the well-known purr and fizzle of grains of incense.” (179) The onomatopoeia is acutely used.

          Kipling’s poetic devices are numerous, so I will close this section with the imaginative use of verbs, such as “the Lama jibbed at the door.” (27) Gerunds: “with strivings and yearnings and retchings and agonies.” (288) Participles: “full-fleshed, heavy-haunched, bull-necked, and deep-voiced.” (225)  “Northern folk . . . swearing, shouting, arguing, and chaffering in the packed square.” (17) You can see all of these methods at work throughout the novel.

                                                                      Kim

          Kim, a half-English, half-Indian boy, we see grow up from ages 13 to 16 at the height of the Raj. He is bright and loves all aspects of life. He can blend in with a crowd, dressed like them and speaking their language. Kipling describes that phase of life as “years of indiscretion.” (2) If he is offended Kim is apt to tell a person off. “Consider for a while, man with a mud head. Think you we came from the nearest pond like the frog, thy father-in-law.” (60) And yet, Kim has a good heart, calling India “the great good-tempered world” (34) and “this broad, smiling river of life.” (61)

          After many adventures the ever-healthy Kim becomes ill. Usually his sleep was deep.  Noise “did not even weave a dream through his slumbers.’”(140) But now “his soul was out of gear with its surroundings—a cog-wheel unconnected with any machinery.” (282) As he heals he says, “I remember that the days and nights passed like bars of white and black, opening and shutting.” (276)

          However, the wise old Lama inspires him. “The cross-legged figure, outlined jet-black against the lemon-colored drift of light.’” (287) “The Lama was his trove, and he purposed to take possession.” (12) The Lama taught him to think deeply, beyond the common world of men. “Kim watched the stars as they rose one after another in the still, sticky dark.” (193) He practices meditation. “His mind drifted away from those heights with the rush of a wounded bird.” (185) He “threw his soul after his eye across the deep blue gulfs between range and range.” (233) The boy loves the Lama very much perhaps because Kim was an orphan. I see him following in the wise man’s footsteps not as a priest but as a teacher.

                                                            The Lama

          The Lama was old: “He turned his head like an old tortoise in the sunlight.” (6) Kipling describes “his thousand-wrinkled face.” (10) He often feels tired: “The Lama dropped wearily to the ground, much as a heavy fruit-eating bat cowers.” (66) “The Lama shrugged and shrunk into himself, a dingy, shapeless mass.” (33) But he has a quest to discover the river Buddha found to cure all ills. He is often unsure: “The boat of my soul rocked upon the waters of illusion.” (260) Yet, the people loved him for his holiness: “The Lama was a great and venerable curiosity.” (38)

          With Kim’s constant aid and love, he can energize himself: “It pleased him to curl himself up into the sudden sleep of old age.” (193) Then refreshed his “voice boomed like a Tibetan devil-gong.” (244) We see the Lama “speaking truth to chance-met people.” (16) He is sympathetic to all castes of individuals. “’And they likewise, bound upon the Wheel, go forth from life to life—from despair to despair,’ said the Lama below his breath, ’hot, uneasy, snatching.’” (54)

          He has learned to endure: “My spirit sits above my bones, waiting.” (212) The monastery in the mountains of northern India is where he calls home. To reach there and show Kim his country along the way becomes his goal. “With steady, driving strokes from the loins he strode upwards.’”(230) “The first freshness of the day carried the Lama forward with long, easy, camel-like strides.” (51) “He set his ivory-yellow face, serene and untroubled, towards the beckoning Hills; his shadow shouldering far before him in the dust.” (229) The Lama will learn that his magic river is anywhere that he is contented.

                                                         People

          At many moments in the novel crowds dominate the scene. “A solid line of blue, rising and falling like the back of a caterpillar in haste, would swing up through the quivering dust and trot past to a chorus of quick cackling.” (62) “The crowd drew a long, quavering breath.” (48) “A wall of uncertain darkness speckled with little flames and alive with half-caught forms and faces and shadows.” (71) “They scattered like frost on south eaves of a morning.” (259)

          Different characters occur then disappear. “A wild-eyed, wild-haired Sikh devotee in the blue-checked clothes of his faith, with polished-steel quoits glistening on the cone of his tall blue turban, stalked past.” (61) An evil holy man looks at the Lama: “The priest looked at him sideways, something bitterly—a dry and blighting smile.” (49)

         Kim meets a spy disguised: “Ash-smeared, ochre-barred, dusty-haired Saddhu . . . luminous with insolence and bestial lust.” (204) On another occasion the same spy is disguised so that two Russian agents refer to him as “the nightmare of a Viennese courier.” (239) His real intelligence is shown when he says: “To discuss medicine before the ignorant is of one piece with teaching the peacock to sing.” (218)

          The Lama becomes fast friends with an old soldier– the man, not his former profession. The soldier thinks of his long life: “It is to me as a river from which I am withdrawn like a log after a flood.” (57) But with the Lama’s ministrations he begins to recall: “”Last night broke up the fountains of remembrance in my so-dried heart.” (51) The two old men form a diptych as they nap: “The old officer’s strong-cut head pillowed on his arm, the Lama’s thrown back against the tree bole.” (55)

          A rich old woman who nurses both Kim and the Lama back to health springs vividly to life in the novel. She is a talker: “They could hear the old lady’s tongue clack as steadily as a rice-husker.”(75) She even screams: “She trotted forth to raise a typhoon off the cook –house.” (278) Yet she can be happy: “She chuckled like a contented parrot above the sugar lump.” (214) Although her language can be rough: “She paid Kim compliments that would have flung European audiences into unclean dismay.” (214) But her nursing shows her skills: “Have I shifted thee and lifted thee and slapped and twisted thy ten toes.” (277) Kim kiddingly admires her old face: “a Moon of Paradise, a Disturber of Integrity.” (75)

                                                          India

          Kipling can describe cities, like Lucknow. “She is the center of all idleness, intrigue, and luxury.” (120) “The house-lights scattered on every level, made, as it were, a double firmament.” (148) Some stores were weird like a tobacco shop: “Those who know it call it The Bird-cage—it is so full of whisperings and whistlings and chirpings.” (177) Kipling can depict a simple decoration: “The patterns on the gold-worked curtains ran up and down, melting and reforming as the folds shook and quivered to the night wind.” (71)

          Yet some buildings can be sinister as Kim encounters sounds and smells: “ The room was full of things that smelt like all the temples of all the East. A whiff of musk, a puff of sandalwood, and a breath of sickly jessamine-oil caught his opened nostrils.” (149) This description even approaches horror: “There leaped out from the walls a collection of Tibetan devil-dance masks, hanging above the fiend-embroidered draperies of those ghastly functions—horned masks, scowling masks, and masks of idiotic terror.” (149)

          Kim and the Lama traveled into the country. ”Mid-days in the dun-gloom of kindly oak-forests.” (269) “The smoke-scented evening, copper-dun and turquoise across the fields.”  (214) “The frogs were busy in the ditches, and the moon slid to her setting.” (220) “The solemn deodars, climbing one after another with down-drooped branches.” (146) “They walk farther north: “Golden, rose, saffron, and pink, the morning mists smoked away across the flat green levels. All the rich Punjab lay out in the splendor of the keen sun.”  (31)

          They longed for the silence and restorative air of the mountains. “The long, peaceful line of the Himalayas flushed in morning-gold.” (225)  “A thousand feet below lay a long, lazy, round-shoulder bank of mist, as yet untouched by the morning sun.” (254) “It was like sitting in a swallow’s nest under the eaves of the roof of the world.” (258) Those stupendous heights, “all day long they lay like molten silver under the sun, and at evening put on their jewels again.” (231)

          For the Lama his religion was an integral part of the landscape and its people. “Buddhism, overlaid with a nature-worship fantastic as their own landscapes, elaborate as the terracing of their tiny fields.” (232) “The easy, uncounted Eastern minutes slid by.” (188) “The soft, smoky silence of evening in India wrapped them close.” (287) Kim and his Lama had found fulfillment.

          By today’s standards Rudyard Kipling’s poetry is old-fashioned. However, some of his fiction remains powerful; from the short stories The Phantom Rickshaw and The Man Who Would Be King to the novels The Light That Failed and Captains Courageous. But for me Kim, employing diverse poetic effects, is the pinnacle of his success.

You can find the book here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/93144/kim-by-rudyard-kipling/

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).

North of Oxford – Spring 2021 Pandemic Issue #7

Dreamscape.
.
Dreamscape by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/
.
Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #7 from North of Oxford and Maria Keane for graciously providing her art. In order of appearance we present: Ray Greenblatt, Robbi Nester, Tim Suermondt, Charlie Brice, Wayne-Daniel Berard, Eileen R. Tabios, Stephen Page, Joan Mazza, Faith Paulsen, Marion Deutsche Cohen, Maria Keane, Wesley Scott McMasters, Megha Sood, Judy DeCroce, J. H. Johns, Charles Rammelkamp, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Linda Nemec Foster, Stephen Mead, James Walton, Antoni Ooto, Ethel Gofen, Michael A. Griffith, Ken Soyow and Bartholomew Barker.
.
Ray Greenblatt
.
2020 Summer
The boardwalk stretches away
straight and empty as if
          a landing strip waiting for the first plane.
Mr. Peanut exits his shop
squinches in his monocle
twirls his cane and peers
          around in disbelief.
And yet the tantalizers
of caramel corn
and pizza slices
          float on the air uselessly.
In the casino
the roulette wheel still spins,
          fanned cards lie on the green felt.
While on the wide deserted beach
the gulls seem to hoot and hoot
          derisively.
.
This is the dream of a million minds
thinking now in terms of six paces
thinking that their words are muffled
          with winding cloth.
.
Covid Days of the Week
.
minute a bug bite
an hour a mud ball
          in the eye,
but a day
. . . wednesday, thursday, friday, saturday . . .
we lug like a tombstone
tall    dense    mossy
gray    grainy    granite
obit etched,
until the end of the week
to add to the foundation
upon which we build
          a wall of months
so high and gray
it obscures the sky
.
Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018. Ray Greenblatt has two books out for 2020: UNTIL THE FIRST LIGHT (Parnilis Media) and MAN IN A CROW SUIT (BookArts Press).
.
Robbi Nester
.
Tu B’Shvat During the Pandemic, March 2021
.
I have been watching out this window, waiting for
everything to change, if only for a moment,
a day, a week. Now, outside my window, three slender
trees, young girls swaying on the sunny path, have
begun to bloom, buds bursting in the spring’s first warm
sunlight. The trees take on soft edges, branches raising
garlands to the sky. Soon, next month maybe,
blizzards of white petals will fall to the grass, and trees
unfurl their leaves. Let the bees enter the vaulted
chapel of each blossom, drink from each raised chalice,
bless us with the sweetness of continued life.
.
Robbi Nester, like so many, is just beginning to emerge from sheltering in place and finding it more challenging than she imagined. She is author of 4 books of poetry, who used much of this year to write and host readings, as well as editing an anthology, The Plague Papers.
.
Tim Suermondt
.
  The City is Returning
                      Easter, 2021
.
But the city is returning
only because more and more
people are—not in a torrent yet,
some streets still looking a bit
lonely, but the signs are there,
like the bridges across the river
that were shrouded in a Covid fog,
the bridges coming to life
in a flow of sun and gulls and human
traffic. I want to wave to and embrace
everyone, but I keep myself dignified
as best I can—there’s much living
to be done for those who made it,
over sorrow and resilience, to this day.
.
Tim Suermondt’s sixth full-length book of poems “A Doughnut And The Great Beauty Of The World” will be forthcoming from MadHat Press in 2021. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine, december magazine, On the Seawall, Poet Lore and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
.
Charlie Brice
.
Mugsi Doesn’t Wear a Mask
.
But I do because of the pandemic.
      Mugsi doesn’t because she’s a dog,
a black standard poodle that
      we don’t cut up to look like the freaks
owned by rich ladies in Manhattan.
.
On our walk we come across masked strangers
            who always appear menacing,
but who invariably wave because
            they are my neighbors and
we all like one another.
.
They remove their masks and I recognize them—
            a sheen of familiarity that brings relief.
It’s always good to see what’s behind a mask,
            even if the mask is an illusion of civility,
something that covers brutality and barbarism,
            even if what is unmasked is the bare bottom
of our culture, the butt end of racism,
            the guttural groan of fascism.
.
Mugsi wiggles her tushie while she walks,
            smells everything available,
is very intense, but always has time
            to wag her tail if we meet
a crossing guard who might
            have a treat for her.
.
Mugsi never holds a grudge even
            when it rains or snows too hard
for me to give her a walk.
            She always forgives me.
She loves to sit in my chair
            when I’m not in it,
and she knows exactly where she
            wants a scratch.
.
Charlie Brice is the winner of the 2020 Field Guide Magazine Poetry Contest and was awarded third place in the 2021 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize. His fourth poetry collection is The Broad Grin of Eternity (WordTech 2021). His poetry has appeared in The Atlanta Review, Chiron Review, Pangolin Review, The Sunlight Press, Sparks of Calliope, and elsewhere.
.
Wayne-Daniel Berard
.
Mars
.
The unhypocritical
virus says “aren’t
I lovely? Velourishly
spherical don’t you
adore my red fleurettes?
Don’t I deserve to live
just as much as you?
Person, it’s nothing
personal I can’t just
change lifestyle eat
plants eschew carbon
(not that you would)
you are my incubator
and the purpose of
viral sex is procreation
if the mother dies
you know how that is
impregnating your paradigm
because you can’t give it
up even if it kills you allow
me I learned from the best
worst case we sleep our
smallness in your big sleep
and catch the next meteor
to the next world wasn’t
that your backup plan too?
See you on Mars, mamma.”
.
Wayne-Daniel Berard, PhD, is an educator, poet, writer, shaman, and sage. He publishes broadly in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His poetry chapbook, The Man Who Remembered Heaven, received the New Eden Award in 2003. His non-fiction When Christians Were Jews (That Is, Now), subtitled Recovering the Lost Jewishness of Christianity with the Gospel of Mark, was published in 2006 by Cowley Publications. A novel The Retreatants, was published in 2012 (Smashwords). A chapbook, Christine Day, Love Poems, was published in 2016 (Kittatuck Press). His novella, Everything We Want, was published in 2018 by Bloodstone Press. A poetry collection, The Realm of Blessing, was published in 2020 by Unsolicited Press. Noa(h) and the Bark, was published in 2020 by Alien Buddha Press. Wayne-Daniel lives in Mansfield, MA with his wife, the Lovely Christine.
.
Eileen R. Tabios
.
The Covid-19 Hay(na)ku
.
There are other
ways of
dying—
.
But when it
occurs, we
wonder
.
even when we
sometimes must
forbid
.
ourselves from asking
such insensitive
questions
.
The Lockdown Tanka
.
But the near-strangled
planet shook off its blanket
of smog—the canals
reveal frolicking fish—we
see scales and eyes as sapphires
.
Eileen R. Tabios has released over 60 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in 10 countries and cyberspace. In Spring 2021, she released her first novel, DoveLion: A Fairy Tale for Our Times (AC Books, New York). Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku, a 21st century diasporic poetic form, and the MDR Poetry Generator that can create poems totaling theoretical infinity. More information is at Eileen R. Tabios
.
Stephen Page
.
A Virtual Constitutionalist Convention
.
A honey bee hovers around yellow flowers
Growing out of Teresa’s vertical garden.
.
In the rectangular cement planter that divides
My office and the living-room patio decks
.
Newly planted lavender stands tall
Vibrating gently in the breeze
.
Between red daylilies
And clusters of blue columbine.
.
Last night I watched a virtual convention
Where people talked disdainfully about Dictator Reginald.
.
They spoke about his autocratic, manipulative, bullying tactics,
His lies, his divisiveness, his homophobia, his racism.
.
Of course, the DR trilled epitaphs and threats at them
And is still trying to dismantle the United Colonies Postal Service.
.
The mandarin-haired DR sits in is square office watching TV
While the plague outside attacks his voters.
.
The Orchids
.
My wife is preparing French toast,
While I sip coffee in front of the sea
.
That for the last five years
Reached farther inland every high tide.
.
A sparrow lands on the patio deck,
Hops over closer and tilt his head while studying me.
.
On the coffee table behind me,
The orchids which have for four years
.
Had only been wire-supported stems
This morning blossomed with purple-streaked petals.
.
Last night, on the international T.V. news channel,
Non-mask wearing Nationalists sat side-by-side in droves
.
To gaze up at the non-mask wearing Dictator Reginald
Screaming “A phantom virus! Climate change is fictional!”
.
“Make our colonies great again!” he bellows,
While wild fires rage on the split screen.
.
Life with and Without Father
.
I love opening an old book
And am struck with sunlight
While standing in an attic
On a wood floor,
The air swirling with flecks of dust.
.
I am driving Father’s white pickup
On a state highway
No traffic
                        The open road
                                                            Trees lining the ditches.
.
I am at a baseball park
                        Lying on the outfield grass
                                                The afternoon sunlight bathing me.
.
My father died
Of a heart attack
While seated in a hospital admissions
Room, while ambulances were lined up
For blocks outside the hospital.
.
Today Tyrant Reginald said, “I have learned
A lot about COVID-19,
The old-school way.”
.
Our Own Demigod
.
And all this time I thought
That Tyrant Reginald was just
A dictator, but it turns out
He is a God, immune to the virus.
.
Yesterday, he sucked all the air around him
And raspingly declared, “You have nothing to fear,
Unless you are already dead! Go back
To work, go back to school, go
Eat inside restaurants, don’t
Wear masks!” His bleary eyes
Stabbing into the camera lens.
.
Then he turned around,
Grabbed a golf bag,
And bordered Sea Soldier 1.
.
Stephen Page is part Apache and part Shawnee. He was born in Detroit. He is the author of four books of poetry, several stories, essays, and literary criticisms. He holds degrees from Columbia University and Bennington College. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, a First Place Prize in Poetry from Bravura Magazine, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. https://smpages.wordpress.com/
.
Joan Mazza
.
Ode to Variants
.
You who insinuate yourself into every
living thing, you who invade and commandeer
the cell’s machinery to reproduce yourself
by the billions, with only a simple nucleic acid
in an envelope of lipids and protein,
.
let us praise your innovations. Proficient
at disguise, you are a survivor, evader
of antibodies, antivirals, phagocytes,
and cytokine storms. Ever mutating, you
sidestep human high tech assaults like
.
black belts in karate. Though invisible,
your morphing army marches forward,
adjusts to human precautions of masks
and distance, ever more contagious, more
virulent, resistant. O, mighty miniscule
.
life form, you never surrender. Ignorant
and mindless, without intention or will,
you keep us locked up, ever on standby.
You live by the command, Adapt or die.
.
Joan Mazza has worked as a medical microbiologist, psychotherapist, seminar leader, and is the author of six books, including Dreaming Your Real Self (Penguin/Putnam). Her work has appeared in Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, and The Nation. She lives in rural central Virginia where she writes a daily poem. www.JoanMazza.com
.
Faith Paulsen
.
Another Poem About Light
.
I
Homesteaders now, before going out,
we strap on our paper masks. Beyond our walls,
just steps away, the wind’s ashes toll like a bell:
The faraway dome is breached.
Rushing home, we slam the door
shed our shoes, their mouths open.
.
We are hungry—
We have nothing to eat or breathe that isn’t
tainted. We begin to think that the bad spots
are cherries. In cupped hands we hold
our losses.
.
II
One house has plenty of eggs. The other has all
the apples they need. You buy half the beans
in the market. We tell each other we can
make something out of this. Just then
a girl in a red satin headband recites a poem about light
and in spite of jinx and dread, we begin.
.
String teardrop bulbs from the streetlights,
dangle from windows our brave-enough flags.
Night comes,
a snow lantern, lit from inside.
.
III
Let us wake up now and eat rice with orange peel.
Let us spread our
bread with honey.
We will not live through. We will live
during.
.
We will sing a capella the chorus of light
not at the end —
but in —
the tunnel.
.
Faith Paulsen’s work has appeared in many venues including One Art, Ghost City Press, Seaborne, and Book of Matches, as well as Thimble Literary Magazine, Evansville Review, Mantis, Psaltery and Lyre, and Terra Preta. Her work also appears in the anthologies such as 50/50: Poems & Translations by Womxn over 50 (QuillsEdge). She has been nominated for a Pushcart. Her chapbook A Color Called Harvest (Finishing Line Press) was published in 2016. A second chapbook, Cyanometer, is expected in 2021. For more information, please check the website at https://www.faithpaulsenpoet.com/
.
Marion Deutsche Cohen
.
The Abandoned Muscles
      The Excel Physical Therapy mailing tells us that achiness is common during
      quarantining.
.
I do my exercises every morning.
Make sure to do a few extra wriggles in extra directions.
I walk 4,000 steps a day, 500 at a time all throughout.
I play my piano, Beethoven’s late sonatas, arms all over the place, am even beginning to
    trill with my left hand.
I move my writing muscle, Zoom muscies, cimbing stairs muscles, dancing muscles.
   sex muscles.
But there must be muscles I’m forgetting.
.
Outdoor muscles, Reading Terminal Market Muscles, grocery cart muscles, thrift-
    shopping muscles.
Muscles that are protesting
giving me gentle reminders
appearing in dreams
trying to move the way they’d move in reality
and therefore moving too much.
Clenching too much.
Cramping too much.
Aching too much.
.
Angry muscles, muscles turned mean.
Obsolete muscles that won’t go away.
.
Physical
.
Am I only imagining that I’m finally feeling my age?
Sinus crap, jaw pain, clenched back, the possible recurrence of trigeminal neuralgia?
And now I can hear my heart beating.
It sounds like water dripping from my childhood drainpipes.
Sometimes it wakes me up.
Or maybe it’s only the nightmares.
Different nightmares from before.
That people refuse to stay six feet away.
They come at me, hands dripping with droplets.
In one dream there was an orgy of them.
Or it’s past the equinox but the days are getting shorter rather than longer.
Every late-afternoon the darkness begins sooner than the late-afternoon before.
And my husband tells me his nightmare.
The door to our house was put on backward
locked from the outside so anybody could get in
and he needed the key to get out.
The locksmith arrived right away but then took away the entire door
said he couldn’t get back ‘til next week.
All week long outside kept seeping in.
Inside was disappearing.
There was no such thing as inside.
.
Marion Deutsche Cohen is the author of 32 collections of poetry or memoir; her newest poetry collection is “Stress Positions” (Alien Buddha Press), and her latest prose collection is “Not Erma Bombeck: Diary of a Feminist 70s Mother” (Alien Buddha Press). She is also the author of a book of #MeToo poems, two controversial memoirs about spousal chronic illness, a trilogy diary of late-pregnancy loss, and “Crossing the Equal Sign”, about the experience of mathematics. She teaches a course she developed, Mathematics in Literature, at Drexel University’s Honors College. Her website is  http://www.marioncohen.net
.
Lantern by Night

Latern by Night  by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/.

Maria Keane
.
A Reckoning
.
I beg
to hear the river rushing
an incessant rocking
down a deep corridor
where darkness—
its there
I am tied to it.
.
Not even wings can free me
from the black
for a reason we suppose—
is for the good.
.
Night blooming trees
feed a need to breathe.
Their perfume
saturates the senses
splinters a fracture
to eliminate hysteria.
.
Walking through a web
 I break, unraveling
the first silence
under the sole edict
of sound.
I see it now
and quench some dark history
in the presence of anxiety.
.
I will walk in shadow,
hold on to murmers,
listening for you to arrive,
You reduce the havoc of the trees
repair my will
to believe
all things are only in the moment.
.
Wesley Scott McMasters
.
A Haiku for a Pandemic
.
It is so quiet;
or have I grown tired
of the same voices?
.
Wesley Scott McMasters teaches and lives just within sight of the Great Smoky Mountains with his dog, Poet (who came with the name, he swears).
.
Megha Sood
.
Unclaimed Freedom
.
The cerulean tinge peeking through the barbed wires
a gaping hole, like an open, stretched out calloused palms
seeking empathy in hunger, in pain
color tinged rays making their way
 through the mishmash of thick wires
.
I squint my eyes to even the shades
 Even then I can see the mesh obstructing  my vision
there is too much restriction these days
the invisible virus boisterously ruling our lives
Holding lien to our breaths
making us beg for the next one, a novel privilege
.
I want to rip apart this entrapment
Pry it open the obstructed view of the open skies
Let the fraying ends come loose
Shifting wings like a soaring eagle
in the vast cerulean skies
laced with mellifluous melody,
I want to taste freedom through my squinty eyes
.
I know this calling,
I can feel the warmth in my bones
the sorrow draining from every iota of my existence
I take the clamps, cut the wires
one joint at a time
slowly but surely
.
Making way for my petite body
to pass through the thin gaps
of this corrugated mesh
and claim the freedom
which is truly mine.
.
Megha Sood is a Poet, Editor, and Blogger based in New Jersey, USA. She is a Poetry Editor at MookyChick(UK), Life and Legends (USA), and Literary Partner in the project “Life in Quarantine” with Stanford University, USA. Works widely featured in journals, Poetry Society of New York, Kissing Dynamite, and many more. Author of Chapbook ( “My Body is Not an Apology”, Finishing Line Press, 2021) and Full Length (“My Body Lives Like a Threat”, FlowerSongPress,2021).National Level Winner Spring Mahogany Lit Prize and Three-Time State-level winner of NJ Poetry Contest.Blogs at https://meghasworldsite.wordpress.com/ .Tweets at @meghasood16
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Judy DeCroce
.
A Repeat of the New
.
“It’s happening again, because it’s new to them.”
—Antoni Ooto
.
A reply
natural in the hum
.
beginning with the concrete
and then a buzz annoying
.
a mystery in context
for such a transparent idea.
.
Strangeness is marching
through a metaphor none saw coming.
.
Is it danger or a riddle?
(hard to know)
.
The moment shakes us in
and we grab its edges.
.
Along the way
ideas stand and rearrange.
.
It’s happening again…
because it’s new to us.
.
Judy DeCroce, is an internationally published poet, flash fiction writer, educator, and avid reader whose recent works have been published by The BeZine, Brown Bag Online, North of Oxford, The Poet Magazine, Amethyst Review, The Wild Word, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters, and many journals and anthologies.
.
J. H. Johns 
.
“There was a Time Before the Time” 
.
                                                           There was a time
                                                            before the time
                                                            when things changed;
.
                                                            slowly-
                                                            then instantly-
                                                            we went
                                                            from
                                                            the momentary past
                                                            being an instant away
                                                            to that same past
                                                            which became
                                                            a historical memory;
.
                                                            so quickly;
                                                            so instantly;
.
                                                            what used to be
                                                            our present
                                                            dissolved
                                                            in a viral concoction
.
                                                            that was out to kill.
                                                            There was a time before the time.
.
            J. H. Johns “grew up and came of age” while living in East Tennessee and Middle Georgia.  Specifically, the two places “responsible” for the writer that he has become are Knoxville, Tennessee and Milledgeville, Georgia.
.
Charles Rammelkamp
.
Coronavirus Cooties
.
“Daddy, Ian said I had cooties,”
Stephanie pouted to her father
about a kid in her first-grade class.
.
Amused and gratified to hear
the term still in use,
generations later,
her father asked,
“What are cooties?”
.
“They make you fat,”
Stephanie answered without hesitation,
disgusted by the fact,
body-type issues infecting
even elementary school children.
.
Originally World War One soldier slang
for body lice in the trenches,
cooties had mutated over the years,
just like any other virus.
.
In her dad’s day, girls gave boys cooties,
boys gave them back to girls,
like an unacknowledged venereal disease,
polio in the 1950’s,
AIDS in the 1980’s.
What next, in 2020?
.
The Bald Guy with Long Hair
.
I was in the Documentation Department
at Infodyne, in the late 1980’s,
working on operations manuals.
.
“Go talk to Woody,”
my supervisor advised when I went to him
with a question about COBOL coding.
.
“The guy who works with the mainframes,”
Paul clarified when I confessed
I wasn’t sure who Woody was.
.
“He’s always in here talking to Joyce,”
he went on, as if I knew
the people my colleagues consulted.
.
“The bald guy with long hair,”
Paul finally explained, a poker player
producing the ace up his sleeve.
.
“Oh!” I exclaimed.
Now I knew exactly who he was talking about,
the skinny guy with the shiny pate
and hair down to his shoulders,
a Fu Manchu mustache.
.
Why do I remember this now?
It’s been four months
since my last haircut,
wary about going into a barbershop
in this age of COVID.
.
That could describe me:
the bald guy with long hair
(not to mention eyebrows like caterpillars).
.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

Conversations

Conversations by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/

.
Thaddeus Rutkowski
.
Cold Day Outside
.
I see my homeless friend
sitting on a step and smoking a cigarette
on an unpleasant day.
The air is filled with water, and it bites.
“Where’s your mask, man?” I ask.
“I’ve got a mask,” he says. “But I’m outside.”
He’s right. “The virus doesn’t travel well through air,” I say.
Then I ask, “How long have you been here?”
And he doesn’t answer.
He looks like I caught him doing something he shouldn’t.
“How many hours?” I ask.
“Five,” he says.
Indeed, he should not been sitting outside,
in the cold and rain, for five hours.
It is not natural.
I give him a bill, and he says, “Bless you.”
But I’m not the one who needs blessing.
.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
.
Linda Nemec Foster
.
Pandemic Litany: The White Chair of Absence
.
If death has a color
it would be white, the color
that reflects and scatters
all visible light:
this chair, this chair
becomes my mantra–
.
white chair of solitude
white chair of isolation
white chair of the absent father
white chair of the abusive mother
white chair of the forgotten–(say it)
white chair of the forgotten–(say it)
white chair of the forgotten child
white chair of the silence that comes before
white chair of the cry that comes after
white chair of solitary confinement
white chair of the hole in the gut
white chair of the bone-white fist
white chair of the shroud
white chair of the wedding veil
white chair of the dark secret
white chair of the white lie
white chair of the what now (what now)
white chair that doesn’t leave
white chair that doesn’t arrive
white chair of the recurring dream
white chair of the yes
white chair of the no
white chair of the maybe
white chair of my birth
white chair of my–(say it)
white chair of my–(say it)
white chair of my death
.
and the wind in the long grass
above my white bones
above my white bones
is the only voice I have
.
Linda Nemec Foster has published eleven collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk, Talking Diamonds, and The Lake Michigan Mermaid (2019 Michigan Notable Book). Her work appears in numerous journals: The Georgia Review, Nimrod, New American Writing, North American Review, and Verse Daily. She’s received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and awards from Arts Foundation of Michigan, National Writer’s Voice, Dyer-Ives Foundation, The Poetry Center (NJ), and Academy of American Poets. Her new book, The Blue Divide, is forthcoming from New Issues Press (2021). The first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Foster is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College.
.
Stephen Mead
.
                     Blue Mask Seas
                                                                                   (for my Friend, Tom Stephany, taken by                                                                                                                    Covid on World AIDS Day 2020)
.
They are so easy to picture:
that ridge for the nose a wave’s curve
& the surrounding white outline being froth’s tips
creased pleat upon pleat…
Even the hue is a Madonna’s robe gentleness sky-expansive
though these horizons are grayer, often opaque,
a chloroform of loss stopping things up.
Face without a body, not modeled in the round
is how one dictionary describes that eye-less paper relief
there on the parking lot paving, blowing now across the sidewalk
& into the weeds lining the pharmacy’s brick exterior,
its chained-up trash can overflowing with refuse,
all the six-pack plastic for a tortoise’s intestines.
This stray one didn’t make it to that heap anyhow, whether a careless
sort of pocket-escapee or dropped on purpose as a take that
Mother Nature. Caring is sharing.  May others be touched
as you have touched me.
Come, don’t be cynical about how so many are angry
& searching for a companionable mob to show that their great misery
is oh so inconveniently displeased about shops & salons, (the nerve of them)
wanting their employees protected when Privilege
is now a Liberty Fight to carry Uzis through marches for Peace
to keep mutating and spreading genome A to genome Z.
No one is tear-gassing that, pleading “can’t breathe”
like in the sterilized wards the size of stadiums if put together
globally – see – waving white flags to reflective face shields,
goggles & layers of gowns stretched into latex, the gloved touch
an antiseptic cry of good-bye mirrored in beeping equipment,
the hissing, decompressing & pumping ocean of lives
named or unnamed in today’s pandemic headlines
tomorrow’s may forget once vaccines return normalcy,
that other great body, blood-red, industrious, tidal & churning
or is that just the fear, blue mask asks blue mask,
that the human species has learned nothing
.
James Walton
.
Tsundoku
.
(the condition of acquiring reading
materials but letting them pile up
in one’s home without reading them)
.
They are laid out for this Sunday
stations between lockdown dates
and if an ear is pressed to them
.
words singing out of lethargy
rise out of loose leaf castings
.
from waiting rooms across the city
a fall of sound as another bearer
signals to lounges kitchens hallways
.
that awakening hope of release
in the chugging unopened language
.
where skimmed pages delayed
hanging on by the faded light
of patience stretched amongst the piles
.
convey the railway alphabet
a slower mystery of words
.
stops to start again ticket less
written as we are by each other
for carriage into other lives
.
James Walton is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. He is the author of four widely acclaimed collections of poetry. ‘The Leviathan’s Apprentice’, ‘Walking Through Fences’, ‘Unstill Mosaics’, and ‘Abandoned Soliloquies’. His fifth collection will be released shortly.
.
Antoni Ooto
.
We’ll Remember…
.
“Stop the Steal”
.
that day—when the weight of the mob
breached the barricades.
.
When anarchy broke through,
.
scaling the walls,
crushing, storming The Hill,
bludgeoning police,
.
a shot fires into a woman
as the incensed mob screams on
.
scouring the hallways
crazed,
battering doors, disrupting the senate
.
through a “test by combat”
encouraged by our tyrant and his cronies
.
All this—
a performance of “might makes right”
.
as proudly grotesque figures
carry away trophies.
.
This was the worst and the least of our nature—
it was the winter of a nation coming apart
.
before a cell phone lens…
revealing no enemy but ourselves.
.
(January 6, 2021)
.
Antoni Ooto is an internationally published poet and flash fiction writer. Well-known for his abstract expressionist art.His recent poems have been published in Amethyst Review, The BeZine, Green Ink Poetry, The Poet Magazine, North of Oxford, The Wild Word, and many journals and anthologies. He lives and works in upstate New York with his wife poet/storyteller, Judy DeCroce.
.
Ethel Gofen
.
Coronavirus Haiku
.
Coronavirus:
Epic pandemonium,
Pandemic upset.
.
If you’re feeling scared,
Change those letters to sacred;
See it in each soul.
.
Vaccines have arrived.
Herd immunity awaits.
We shall overcome!
.
Ethel Gofen is a poet, author of two books in the series, Cultures of the World, for which she wrote the volumes on France and Argentina in 1990 and 1992.  She and her husband both survived Covid-19 in May 2020.
.
Michael A. Griffith
.
Mercy
.
What kills you fastest,
the fleece in your lungs or thorns
in your throat? Choking and the loss of vision
as constriction becomes everything.
.
Worms and fireflies swim across darkened eyes.
Everything becomes constriction.
Your hands not your own, your spine a jellyfish.
Pinprick of a voice over you: No,
everything is not alright.
.
Heat—wet, oppressive, surrounds you.
Heat—no air worth breathing,
what air is to be had? Gulping
is never enough, gasping is never a help.
Python oozes heavy around your chest.
.
Surrounding you, the urinal smell,
as the tube is taped to your lips
in a machine’s tinnitus whine.
A sting to your upper arm—
and constriction becomes mercy.
.
Michael A. Griffith teaches at Raritan Valley and Mercer County Community Colleges in central NJ. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, Bloodline, Exposed, and New Paths to Eden. Mike hosts a monthly poetry workshop through the Princeton Public Library. Recent work appears in Kelsey Review, 13 Myna Birds, Impspired, Page & Spine, Haiku Journal, and North of Oxford.
.
Ken Soyow
.
Deadly Virus
.
She cried when I left,
each time knowing it could be the last.
.
She used to keep meticulous records,
said the woman who did her taxes.
It’s sad watching her grow old, said a friend,
as my mother limped past with her walker.
.
I was there in March, as the rope tightened —
screening, testing, restrictions,
daily notices of what they’d do
if any cases in the county,
if cases among nursing home staff
or among residents —
.
I cut my visit short, skipping coffee
Friday morning for fear of a lockdown.
When are you coming back? she asked,
left alone with her caregivers
planted in front of the TV.
.
When the pandemic is over.
When they let me in, I said.
.
Pick me up and take me home, she said.
You are home, I said.
The furniture looks familiar, she said,
but this isn’t home.
.
Are you coming to visit today?
No, I’m six hundred miles away,
and they’re not allowing visitors, I said.
Maybe your brother could pick me up.
.
She sat in her wheelchair, often napping.
She dreamt her dead husband was calling
from the doorway.
.
It was a stroke, the doctor said.
.
Ken Soyow is a retired physician, living in Massachusetts.
.
Bartholomew Barker
.
A River Flows Through Us All
.
I was talking with this fish
the other day while I rested
on the banks of the Eno River.
She’d noticed a change.
.
The water was clearer,
the air quieter
even the bugs tasted better.
She felt lucky—
.
Lucky to be alive
in this glorious time.
She had no word for virus,
so I explained that my people
were sick and dying.
.
She sympathized— wished
the best for me and my school
and as she swam away she remarked,
In the weeds or over rocks—
by the shore or in the darkness—
a river flows through us all.
.
My Hermitage
– or How I Started a Pandemic
.
I last touched
a germ-covered body
over a year ago
and I am finally blossoming
into my hermitage
with a beard longer
than Longfellow’s.
.
I was bored with bookstore readings,
stale coffeeshop open mics,
workshops in sterile libraries
and tired of everyday showering,
putting on both socks and shoes,
the horror of going outside
in fetid heat or brittle cold.
.
So, with candles and wine,
I cast a spell of words,curling forth the RNA—
Rhythm, Neologism, Anaphora—
to spread through journals
and blogposts, infecting
my innocent readers.
.
All so I could languish
in these long nights,
sit in darkened rooms alone,
listen to Gnossiennes
and write, write, write
until the antibodies
kick down my door.
.
Bartholomew Barker is one of the organizers of Living Poetry, a
collection of poets and poetry lovers in the Triangle region of North
Carolina. His first poetry collection, Wednesday Night Regular, written
in and about strip clubs, was published in 2013. His second, Milkshakes
and Chilidogs, a chapbook of food inspired poetry was served in 2017.
Born and raised in Ohio, studied in Chicago, he worked in Connecticut
for nearly twenty years before moving to Hillsborough where he makes
money as a computer programmer to fund his poetry habit.
.

Hot Sauna

Hot Sauna  by Maria Keane   http://www.mariakeane.com/

Summer 2020 Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #5

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue/

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #6

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-6/

Spring 2020 Pandemic Issues

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #1

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/__trashed-2/

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #2

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-2/

North of Oxford- The Pandemic Issue #3

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/25/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-3/

North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #4

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2020/04/27/north-of-oxford-the-pandemic-issue-4/

 .

Stay Safe – Vaccinate – Mask Up
Diane Sahms and g emil reutter
.